The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...
Ro Laren stared out at the city streets stretched out before her. Bodies littered the area. Vehicles sat still, occupied by corpses. The strange thing was that none of them looked like they'd suffered or undergone the usual death throes.
"What the hell happened?" Ro voiced the thought on everyone's mind.
Being a Bajoran, she was used to Cardassian atrocities but this went above and beyond the usual. They only wiped out whole civilizations with careful calculation. They preferred to enslave native populations and use them as a labour force to rape the planet they were occupying. That approach typified the Bajoran Occupation.
Ro had escaped the Occupation as a teenager. She'd made it to the Federation and applied to Starfleet Academy. Passing the stricter requirements for foreign aliens, she successfully completed her courses and graduated as an officer.
A legacy of her background arose in her difficulty in accepting authority. She saw subservience as a sign of weakness and therefore recklessly pursued her own judgment whenever a situation requiring a modicum of restraint transpired. Her refusal to obey orders resulted in the deaths of eight other officers when she served aboard the Wellington.
Ro had offered no defence at her court-martial. She'd grimly accepted her transfer to the custody of the stockade on Jaros II without a word. She'd wiled away her time until Admiral Kennelly offered her a way out.
That mission had ended disastrously but Ro had impressed the captain of Starfleet's flagship. Jean-Luc Picard made Ro's temporary transfer permanent and she exceeded his every expectation. She'd eventually earned his endorsement to attend the elite Advanced Tactical Training course.
Ro successfully completed the program and returned to the Enterprise-D. Once there she was tapped by the Ice Queen of Starfleet herself. Admiral Alynna Nechayev wanted Ro to infiltrate the Maquis and arrange for their capture.
Once ensconced within the umbrella of the Maquis cell on Ronara Prime she'd come under the paternal graces of its leader. Macius treated Ro as the daughter that he'd lost. His unconditional love and shared hatred of the Cardassians began to shift Ro's loyalties. Despite a threat by Picard of an imminent court-martial if she betrayed her mission, Macius's death at the hands of Cardassian paramilitary agents caused Ro to galvanize her loyalties.
She chose the Maquis and had been a fugitive from Federation justice ever since. Leadership of the cell fell upon Macius's lieutenant, Santos. His death left the cell bereft of a successor. Finally, a vote was put out and Ro was unanimously elected leader of the Ronaran cell.
Ro had always assumed that command would come naturally to her. The reality of it opened up heretofore unknown doubts. They nagged at her and threatened to overwhelm her on occasion. Time had proven her abilities to herself. Help from her friends had also made a difference. One of them answered her query.
"We can only hope to find out." Brin Macen grimly replied. Her El-Aurian Intelligence Chief looked even more shaken then the rest of her Maquis. Having escaped the Borg assimilation of his world and having served with Starfleet during the Border Wars, he was no stranger to massacres. She just didn't want to know what was going on in his head.
Ro took a moment to study Macen. She herself was a thoroughly striking woman. She wasn't beautiful in the classic sense but she did turn heads. She possessed shoulder-length raven hair, voluminous brown eyes, and fair, almost pale skin. Her nose was slightly broad due to the distinct bone ridge on the bridge of her nose and her lips were thin. Her 5'10" height combined with her assertive manner threatened most men.
Macen wasn't one of them. Of course, she'd never considered him as anything other than a comrade at arms. He stood at 6'1" and had red hair, moustache, and goatee. He'd had a musketeer beard when they'd first met but she'd asked him to shave in order to avoid memories of Will Riker. His skin was usually fair. Right now it was ashen. His eyes were blue-green and were haunted by far too much knowledge.
"I'll need to transport a body up to the Odyssey in order to try and determine what killed them." Lisea Danan said. She was a stellar cartographer by profession but she was also rated as a General Sciences officer by Starfleet. Of course as a Joined Trill she also possessed resources beyond her résumé.
Danan had arrived with Macen. They'd been lovers up until recently. She still served as a member of Macen's intelligence unit but their ardour had passed.
A large part of that reason was represented by the third member of their unit. T'Kir was a Vulcan...at least by birth. Her parents had been holders to the tenets of Sybok. They found emotional expression to be the highest form of self-fulfilment. If that were the case, T'Kir was extremely self-fulfilled.
T'Kir's mood swings were severe and sometimes violent. Her telepathic abilities were nearly uncharted but they were out of control. She was in everyone's head all of the time. She didn't want it to happen but she simply couldn't shut the voices out of her head.
Physically, T'Kir was a stunner. Permanently dishevelled, wind tossed raven hair was merely the beginning. An olive complexion a Mediterranean native would die for and sapphire blue eyes only accentuated her beauty. The one so-called flaw was her lips. They were large and full, slightly too large for her face according to the fashionistas.
T'Kir was a hacker beyond compare, which is what kept her out of an asylum, but she'd proved so erratic that Ro had foisted her off on Macen. Macen's psychic shields were strong enough that he could block her telepathic intrusions. Seeing him as a lifeline, she developed an incomparable attraction for him. Of course, that didn't stop her from bedding every other male in the cell.
Macen served as her watchdog and protector. He reined in her wilder impulses and she in turn respected his instructions. They made a very odd couple.
Ro focused on Danan. The Odyssey was a Blackbird-class scout. She'd been a Starfleet vessel at the turn of the century but she'd been decommissioned some months before Macen acquired her.
Ro herself was the captain and helmsman of a Ju'day-class raider. The Maquis had acquired over a dozen of these ships and distributed them amongst the various cells. Ro's was named the Indomitable. It was a fierce name for a ship that had repetitively proven itself in battle.
However, the Odyssey possessed something the Indomitable could only dream of: a science lab. Designed for a crew of 22, the scoutship was typically manned by a crew of seven. The Indie on the other hand could hold 36 and typically required at least 24 to function.
Ro's reverie was broken by her second-in-command, Aric Tulley. He spoke though a clenched jaw, "Skipper, we're ten light years inside of Cardie space. They're not gonna take our snooping around lightly."
"Right." Ro shook herself, "Lees, beam anything you want back to the Odyssey. Just find out what happened here."
"You got it." Danan flipped open a surplus communicator and requested transport. She disappeared in a shimmer of light.
Ro looked to T'Kir. The Vulcan was vacantly staring into a building's window. Ro came up beside her and saw what she looking at. Row upon row of office workers were dead in their cubicles. They'd just laid their heads down on their desks and died or lain down on the floor to do the same.
Ro flipped open her own communicator and called Danan. Describing the scene to her, she negatively replied to Danan's request to get a sample from inside the building; "No. We're bugging out. Ro out."
She turned to Tulley. Her lieutenant was a taciturn man. He'd been a farmer on Arcadia until the Cardies killed his wife and children. Now that patience and endurance that had made him a successful farmer made him a methodical guerrilla fighter.
Ro abhorred the terrorist tactics increasingly utilized by her fellow cell commanders. She believed in fighting a war not an endless series of civilian bombings. Many members of her cell had transferred out after her ascension and her declaration of this policy. They had been replaced with others leaving other cells who disagreed with a terrorist campaign.
However, Tulley looked on the verge of losing control. She couldn't blame him. She was on the verge of apoplectic rage herself. Only her sense of duty to her Maquis kept her from seeking out a Cardassian colony and blowing it straight to hell.
"Aric," she said as gently as she could, "gather our crew and have them board the Indie. We're leaving before a patrol comes along."
"Right." He said stiffly. He turned to the others and began barking orders. Ro's heart softened a bit. Tulley was a good man and an excellent second. She was grateful to have him on her side.
T'Kir was still lost in thought so Ro separated from her and approached Macen. What she saw in his eyes chilled her. His eyes bespoke of death. He was obviously barely coping as well.
"Brin, we're leaving." She asserted, "Get T'Kir aboard the Odyssey and prepare to get underway."
Reminded of his duties as CO of the scoutship, he nodded; "All right. Hey Snickerdoodle! Get ready to go back to the ship!"
T'Kir waved him closer. When he came up beside her, she whispered, "It's so quiet."
He knew she was talking about the psychic pressure she normally endured. On a planet of dead people, the voices would be limited to those of her fellow Maquis. That was a drop in the bucket compared to normal. That was why she functioned so well aboard the Odyssey. She only had six minds to contend with.
"C'mon," he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, "let's go."
Ro watched them disappear and then trudged back to her own ship and made preparations to leave. She debated on whether or not to report this to Starfleet but thought better of it. This world was placed well within the Cardassian borders redrawn by the treaty that ended the Border Wars. It would be considered an "internal" matter by the Federation Council.
That same treaty had created the hated Demilitarized Zone between the Federation and Cardassian Union's common border. That thinking had also prevented the Federation from intervening on Bajor's behalf despite the pleas of her people. She hated the Federation Council for that. She still had a grudging respect for Starfleet though.
Starfleet had produced some of the most successful Maquis commanders. Calvin Hudson, Chakotay, Svetlana Korepanova, Michael Eddington, and Tom Riker had all been Starfleet officers and they served the Maquis well. Of course, Hudson was dead, Chakotay was presumed dead, and Riker was a Cardassian prisoner. Sveta was still free as was the new Maquis Commander, Eddington.
Ro herself had been Starfleet as had Macen and Danan. Dozens of former officers and enlisted men and women served the Maquis in a multitude of roles. They added a professional edge to an ad hoc organization. It was an edge they desperately needed.
The ships escorted one another across Cardassian space back into the DMZ. The Odyssey assumed orbit over Ronara while the Indomitable set down at a shuttlepad in the city of Moska. Urban cells littered the planet so even the discovery of one wouldn't prove disastrous.
Ro beamed aboard the Odyssey to find T'Kir to be her normal self.
"Hiya!" T'Kir said, "Wanna see the stiff?"
"I was hoping to get Lisea's report on the body." Ro grated. She found T'Kir to be annoying on a good day. Ro thought of some vile curses to reply with but she held her tongue.
Holding one's tongue was useless with the Vulcan though. She wagged her finger at Ro, "Bad Skipper bad! You oughta watch y'r thoughts."
"Stay out of my head, mind witch." Ro growled.
"Wish I could, but I can't, so I won't." T'Kir flippantly remarked, "Follow me if ya still wanna talk to boring ol' Lees."
"Please." Ro sighed.
T'Kir took her to Sickbay. All they found there was the corpse they'd brought along. Ro's heart went out to whoever it was but she knew well wishes were too late.
T'Kir then marched her two doors down to the main lab. She bounded into the room and went straight to Macen, "Miss me?"
"Terribly." Macen quipped, "Now behave."
T'Kir pouted, "I always behave. I behave badly but I behave."
Ro rolled her eyes as she witnessed the repartee. She went to Danan as the other laboured over her instruments. The Trill was peering into scanner display screen and looked reflective.
"Found anything yet?" Ro wondered.
Danan wore a weary expression, "I've found everything."
Ro frowned, "What do you mean?"
"The body had a micron thick layer of recent scar tissue in the ears." Danan described, "It's the result of a hypersonic sound attuned to a specific frequency. This particular frequency must've caused muscular relaxation. The sound agitates the nerves which in turn flush the body with the message to immediately relax and the victim..."
"The victim falls asleep and dies." Ro caught on.
"Got it in one." Danan remarked, "This sound was keyed for humans but it can be tailored to virtually any lifeform in the quadrant. If it weren't for the damage to the cochlear nerve, I never would've guessed the cause of death."
Ro suddenly felt like panicking. The Cardassians had developed a doomsday weapon and there was no way to stop them from deploying it. Or was there?
"Brin," Ro turned to Macen, "I want to know where this is made. I need the location, the size of the facility, and what its defences are."
"I might be able to get all of that." Macen cautiously replied, "But Laren, this goes way above and beyond and beyond any target we've attacked before."
"Don't you think I know that?" Ro snapped. After a second she composed herself, "Sorry. It's just a logistical nightmare already. I'm going to try and get help on this one. Just get the intel and get back to me."
"All right." Macen agreed, "But I'm going to need time."
"That's just what you don't have." Ro chuckled humourlessly, "It's time for one of your trademark lucky breaks."
Macen grimaced as Ro exited the lab. She wandered down the corridor headed for the transporter room. The enormity of her task threatened to crush her.
Her specialized training marked her as one of the Maquis' premier strategists. It also meant that she was an operational pariah amongst her peers. Gathering support for a raid might prove impossible. Then again, it was to avoid the mass extermination of every Maquis world within the Cardassian Union.
The Maquis relied upon small organized cell groups to avoid capture. The loss of one cell wouldn't compromise most of the others. The system had served the Bajoran Resistance well enough. It also contained the flaw the Resistance had: the inability to cohesively strike a major target.
Ro herself had arranged for the last united strike and that had been a Starfleet trap. She'd sprung the trap early and defected to the Maquis as a result but some of the cell leaders still harboured resentment. Despite all that she'd done for the cause over the last two and half years, they still viewed her as a liability.
She sighed over that. Her differences in methodology only served to acerbate the problem. She was seen as a self-righteous prig. In other words, she couldn't win.
"Sure can't." T'Kir opined from behind her.
Ro stopped and closed her eyes. She counted to ten before asking, "How long have you been following me?"
T'Kir perked up, "Since y'left the lab. D'you want me t'go back and chase y'down once y'realize that y'need me t'operate the transporter?"
"No." Ro said flatly, "Come on."
T'Kir brightened, "Y'should have realized that I'm basically harmless by now, Skipper."
Sure you are, Ro thought to herself. T'Kir frowned but refrained from commenting.
Ro beamed down to the surface and sought out Tulley. He was compiling operational reports from their urban operatives and she left him unmolested during that procedure. Afterwards she swooped in on him.
She relayed Danan's findings and her instructions to Macen. She also announced her intentions to gather up a combined Maquis strike force. Tulley shook his head.
"They're not going to go for it." He opined, "They don't like you because you won't participate in their campaigns."
"My fight isn't with civilians and children." Ro snorted, thinking of a school bus bombing the Siberran cell had recently pulled off. The bus stopped in front of the Governor's mansion every day, and the governor collaborated with the Cardassians, so he was considered a "legitimate" target when he met his child at the bus stop. Forty-one children had been maimed or killed. It was little wonder why the Maquis were outlaws wanted by every side.
The Federation condemned the Maquis' actions and actively hunted them within the DMZ and on their side of the border. Starfleet purged sympathizers from their ranks. The Cardassians had a "capture or kill" order on every Maquis. They preferred "kill" but captured Maquis made good slave labourers.
All of these factors weighed heavily on Ro's thinking. She addressed a waiting Tulley, "I'm going to need an hour alone...in private."
"You'll have it." Tulley vowed.
Ro went to her quarters while Tulley assigned Maquis to stand watch over her and turn aside petitioners.
"Why Laren, this is a surprise." Eddington's smiling face said from her screen, "I was beginning to think you didn't like me."
"I don't." Ro admitted, "But I've discovered something that affects us all."
"Do tell." Eddington was intrigued.
Ro related the entire story and then addressed her idea of combining forces to deal with the factory producing the sonic weaponry. Eddington shook his head, "I'm sorry. I'd like to help. I really would but you've made a few enemies. This may all be a trap to force us into the open. The Cardassians are losing to the Klingons and they need a final solution to deal with us. Fortunately, we have our own deterrent."
"We don't need a deterrent." Ro protested, "We can stop it before it begins."
"You're being hopelessly naive." Eddington chuckled, "Do you even know where these sound projectors are being manufactured or how they're deployed?"
"No, but I..." Ro began.
Eddington interrupted, "Contact me when you have something concrete. Out."
The screen went dark and Ro fumed, "Arrogant sonuva..."
Ro pushed away from her comp/comm and paced back and forth in her quarters. She went into the restroom and turned on the sink. Splashing cold water on her face, she had a moment to cool down and see things a tad more reasonably.
Her cell could still make a preliminary strike against the manufacturing factories. Her cell had a total of four spacecraft. Two or more of those ships could be distracting Cardassians patrols while she pursued the origins of this weapon. She was already formulating a plan.
Tulley would take the Indie and lead a strike against the garrison on Falto IV. The Indie and her escorts could lead a fighting retreat into the Badlands. That would clear near space for the Odyssey to sail past.
She smiled to herself via her reflection and thought, I like it!
Now, Ro mused, if Brin can just hurry up and get the data I need so I can really plan this out.
T'Kir be-bopped down the street humming a tune that was only in her head. Behind her walked Ro and Macen. Ro was chomping at the bit to meet up with their contact but she was worried about T'Kir as well.
"Should we be bringing her?" Ro asked, "We'll be in public."
Macen shrugged, "You said you wanted a distraction. Well, there's your distraction."
T'Kir stopped in front of a cantina and she pointed at its door, "Here?"
"Here." Macen confirmed for her.
She led the way in and then stopped ten feet in. The space had a dance hall attached to the public house. T'Kir only had one thing to say in reverent, hushed tones, "Wow!"
"Go to it and remember..." Macen began.
"Behave. Yah yah. I got it." She said and traipsed off without a single glance behind.
Within seconds she was the primary focus for most of the men and a small group of the women. The crowd shifted into the dance hall and each vied to be the next dance partner. Macen was insufferably proud of himself.
"You've got a distraction." He proclaimed.
Despite resisting the urge to punch him, Ro had to admit that he was right. Then again, Macen had explained the El-Aurian ability to sift through probabilities and be guided towards the desired result. It also meant that they could sense disturbances in the space-time continuum. Guinan had never bothered to elucidate her with such knowledge. It was something she took quite personally.
Ro selected a table and Macen joined her. It was in the back of the pub and they sat with their backs against the wall so that they could have a clear view of the entire tavern. The place was half full. Most of the patrons were here for a meal. A few were dedicated drinkers. One freight crew had gathered for drinks before heading home. They were a jovial lot.
Ro envied them their merriment. Life with the Maquis wasn't always grim to the bone, life and death; it just seemed that way at times. Their victories, few as they may be, were celebrated with a zest for life that would have shut down a Bolian pleasure palace. Laughter, tall tales, song and dance filled the hours when life went their way.
The sad truth of it though was that the days were usually a life and death struggle whether any of them wanted to admit it or not. The Maquis lived on the knife's edge. It was a perilous balancing act that could end in plummeting to one side or the other, missing a step and slicing yourself in half, or rarity of rarities, you could even have a good day and thrive. The only problem was that the cycle started all over again at square one on every new day.
Ro knew how badly the odds were stacked against her. Over half of her cell had been captured or killed so far. New recruits kept coming in but not at the same rate as their attrition. She herself was at wit's end on most days. They expected her to be clever and clever only went so far.
Take this little meeting. They were here to meet with Harry Mudd. Actually, he was Harcourt Fenton Mudd III. Like his father before him, he'd been raised, suckled, and weaned on legends of his grandsire. He'd become a smuggler, con artist, and general scoundrel as the carrier of an infamously proud legacy.
Harry himself had a boy, Harcourt Fenton Mudd IV, and the boy was already a tramp freighter pilot showing a flair for the smuggling business. When it came time for Harry III to retire, Harry IV was already in the wings anxiously pawing at the ground.
"You're sure Harry's going to meet with us?" Ro asked, "Here?"
"He named the time, the place, and requirement of bringing you." Macen informed her...again.
"I know he's been reliable so far." Ro said, "But he's usually works with you or Tulley."
"You don't trust him." Macen surmised.
"Of course I don't trust him. He's a scam for hire." Ro reiterated.
"Good. It isn't safe to trust him." Macen said and then he nodded towards the entrance, "Head's up. He's here."
Mudd was a colourful personality. His manner of dress screamed that fact out for anyone who could see him. He was a caricature of a pirate from a holonovel.
He wore a loose, flowing shirt, tight breeches, buccaneer boots, and a dew rag for his head. Atop the dew rag sat a wide brimmed hat with one corner rakishly folded upwards. The hat also wielded a feather. All of the cranial adornment was to hide his thinning hair.
A thick walrus-like moustache distracted one from his bulbous nose. His brown eyes twinkled in delight when he recognized Ro and Macen. His round face lit up with a smile.
Despite Ro's earlier protestations, she had met Mudd on several occasions. He'd helped their cell liberate human shields as well as successfully "imported" various weapons for them. The working relationship between her cell and Mudd was without blemish but her instincts cried, "Foul" on this one. Macen's misgivings only cemented her opinion.
Harry came to their table, pulled out a wooden chair, and sat down. He jovially greeted Ro, "Lovely to see you, m'dear. You should get out more."
"You should sample some of the shuk you're shovelling." Ro suggested, "You'll gag on it."
"Tsk tsk, and here I thought we'd come together for an honest bit of trade." Mudd pouted.
"Get to the point, Harry." Ro countered, "Do you have the information we want?"
"The question is: do you have the latinum that I want?" Mudd retorted.
Macen handed Mudd a coin purse. Mudd opened the bag and peered in. He smiled with delight, "All slips and strips like I asked. Excellent. We can do business."
"Spill." Ro commanded.
"I did several supply runs for the Cardies." Mudd said, "I brought acoustic equipment and power cells to them." Mudd paused and then elaborated, "There was equipment from the Federation, the Star Empire, and the Klingons."
"Where did you take them?" Ro was ready to climb over the table and throttle the information out of him.
"To a facility on Cevrus II." Mudd revealed. He fished a padd out of his pocket and handed it over, "I hacked their mainframe. This is a map of the facility and a list of personnel. The daily and weekly cargo runs and patrol layovers are accounted for. Irregular patrols and stops aren't. Maybe you can convince Starfleet to do something about it."
"Harry," Ro warily began, "what have you done?"
All of Mudd's joviality vanished. Instead they were confronted with a snivelling, despondent Harry, "Starfleet caught me smuggling weapons in to Eddington. They made a deal. If I turned in a Maquis cell commander, I could go free. I knew Eddington would kill me so..."
"So you rolled on me." Ro began to rise, "You disappoint me, Harry. I should kill you but instead I'll kill your reputation. No one in the Zone will hire you once I'm done. Enjoy your thirty pieces of coin. I hope it lasts for you."
"Wait!" Mudd desperately implored, "Starfleet knows you're here. They don't know about Macen and T'Kir."
"I'll get T'Kir!" Macen hustled off to the dance hall.
"How long have I got?" Ro asked Mudd.
"Ten seconds." Mudd miserably answered.
Mudd was spared another sharp remark by the appearance of four Starfleet Security officers walking through the pub's door. They immediately recognized Ro from her service record. They drew their phasers and yelled at Ro to surrender.
Ro laced her fingers behind her head. Two of the officers approached her while the other two stood at a distance. They'd obviously read her file and knew what she was capable of. That threw the advantage their way.
She was frisked and her assault phaser was found in her holster beneath her jacket. One of the officers pulled her hands forward and locked a pair of restraints onto her wrists. The closest two then led her from the back of the room into the middle.
Ro sized up the opposition. There were three males and one female...all human. The woman was well trained. She moved with fluid grace and knew how to control her body. She was either a dancer or a martial artist...probably both.
One of the men was a scrapper by the look of it. He was more of a brawler than a hand to hand combatant but he also knew how to comport himself. The other two were obviously green and probably hadn't had much more than their basic Academy courses.
Macen and T'Kir strolled out of the dance hall and nonchalantly started to pass by the newbies. T'Kir applied a nerve pinch to one and Macen stunned the other with his own phaser. The female Security officer went into overdrive. She aimed at Macen and prepared to fire.
Suddenly she clutched at her head and screamed. Collapsing onto the deck she stopped screaming. T'Kir's head canted to one side as she stared at the body.
"Nobody hurts my boyfriend." She warned.
The brawler was using Ro as a human shield and trying to get a shot off at either Macen or T'Kir before they could shoot him. Or do whatever they'd done to Simmons.
Ro stomped on his insole, drove her elbow into his solar plexus and then smashed him in the face with the restraints. He dropped his phaser and clutched at his broken nose. Not letting up for a second, Ro smashed his nose again with her elbow and then again. He doubled over and she drove her knee into his face, and subsequently, his nose again.
The brawler passed out and joined the rest of his squad on the floor. Ro held out her hands and Macen released her wrists. She looked around and said, "Grab their phasers and let's get out of here!"
Back at HQ, Ro was sifting through Harry's data. Danan had done a work-up on Cevrus II so they had all the details of the planet and the surrounding systems. Macen, T'Kir, and Tulley were helping her sort through the information on Mudd's padd.
T'Kir had organized and collated all of the data. Tulley was reviewing traffic throughout the system and nearby space. Macen was running background checks on the personnel and Ro was concentrating on the interior layout and the security to be found there.
Three hours into their examination, Ro called a break. Ro remained behind while the others sought a meal and refreshments. Lost in thought, she was startled when Macen and T'Kir brought her a tray. Not realizing how hungry she'd become until then she wolfed the sandwiches and coffee down.
"So how's your progress so far?" Ro asked Macen.
"I hacked him into the Science Ministry's mainframe." T'Kir boasted, "I also pulled up the Cardassian Militia's Bureau of Personnel. We've pulled up all sorts of interesting titbits."
Ro looked to Macen with an unspoken, Well, you deal with her. Now!
"T'Kir, could you get Laren and I refills?" Macen asked.
"Why?" T'Kir pouted.
"Because we're thirsty and we need the caffeine." He answered.
"Oh, okay." She huffed and stormed off with their mugs.
They watched her go and then Ro cautiously asked, "In the tavern she called you her boyfriend. Are you and she...?"
Macen grinned, "Of course not. She's a very sick girl. Now, if she were well...who knows?"
Ro saw trouble coming but she kept her advice to herself, "What have you found?"
"The Cardassians have assigned their best technological researchers and weapons developers to the factory. Wipe it out and you wipe out three generation's worth of talent." Macen explained.
"And the military side?" Ro wondered.
"The military garrison guarding the base is led by one Dalin Argus Merik." Macen said.
"Merik?" Ro was surprised.
"You know him?" Macen asked.
"Every Bajoran knows the name Merik." She explained, "He was Dukat's chief enforcer. He enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks until he hit dalin. He was the youngest officer to receive the rank. His star fell with the withdrawal from Bajor. Dukat shifted the blame from himself to Merik. I guess that's why he's never been able to advance one more rank and become a gul."
"My sources agree with you." Macen commended her with a smile, "Merik's grown bitter and has been shuffled off to wayside postings for the last couple of years. He made the mistake of complaining about his assignments and the High Command's been trying to unofficially bury him ever since."
"It couldn't happen to a nicer Cardassian." Ro sarcastically remarked, "What about troops are under his command?"
"Pretty boring. Most have been recruited from penal units." Macen answered, "His lieutenant, one Gil Saskya Oret, is one of those rare female officers. She's eager to prove herself and is informing on Merik's activities to Command and the Obsidian Order."
Ro smirked, "She is ambitious. I like her already."
Macen knew without question that Ro's facetious use of the word "like" indicated that she thought Oret was beneath the usual sort of Cardie scum that she dealt with every day. Informers were the bane of both the Maquis and the Cardassian paramilitaries they fought. The discovery of one usually meant that a quick death was meted out.
That was the heart of the threat that Ro had promised Harry Mudd. Once the other Maquis cells learned of Mudd's treachery they would actively hunt him within the DMZ and beyond. The Maquis, Ro included, had hunted down informers in the past in Federation, Bajoran, and Klingon space. While betrayal could serve as a sop for one's conscience or provide a profit, it was unlikely to serve up absolution or wealth.
"Is there any chance at all that any of the other cells will join us?" Macen changed the subject.
Ro sighed, "I really don't think so. Eddington has already told me that we'd be on our own and I don't think any of the other cell commanders are going to go against him."
"So once again we're a moral majority of one." Macen ruefully remarked.
"I think you've got a firm grasp of the situation." Ro opined.
Ro's communicator chose that moment to sound off. She removed it from her belt and flipped it open, "Ro here."
"Skipper, this is Tulley." He announced.
"Go ahead, Aric." Ro urged.
"I was called to the Old Biddy because a Starfleet captain landed in a shuttle and is asking for you. He says he can help us." Tulley reported, referencing a pub that was frequented by freighter crews and the Maquis, "Want me to bag him?"
Ro grinned, "Why not?"
"Aye, aye, Skipper." Tulley acknowledged with some relish.
"This could be trouble." Macen warned.
"Talkin' 'bout me again?" T'Kir said as she re-entered the room with a tray of beverages.
"Of course...if you're a Starfleet captain." Macen replied.
"Huh?" T'Kir replied. She sought out Ro's mind and found what she was after. Grinning, she said, "I get it now. Thanks f'r the info, Skipper."
Ro cast an annoyed glare in T'Kir's direction and Macen laughed. Ro turned her ire on him, "Why are you suddenly on her side?"
"I'm not. Really." Macen chortled, "But she wouldn't pick on you if she didn't get a rise out of you. Ignore her and she'll lose interest."
T'Kir cuffed him upside the head, "G'on, spoil my fun."
"Has to be done." Macen chastised her, "We need dear Laren's mind clear so she can get us in and out of trouble."
"Good." T'Kir declared, "Cus I don't wanna g't killed."
"If you two are done," Ro dryly interjected, "let's tidy up for our guest."
The trio met the hooded Starfleet captain in the planning room. Tulley pulled off the hood to reveal a gray haired man of Semitic origins. He grinned at Tulley.
"An original Type II phaser. That's an antique." The captain remarked.
"It still vaporizes what I aim at." Tulley growled.
"Aric!" Ro snapped, "The Captain is our guest not our enemy."
"Your sentiments do you credit Lt. Ro." The captain spoke, "I am Selim ebin Hasid al Ghul. I am Captain of the USS Scimitar. Fitting, no?"
Ro was perplexed, "I have no idea if that's appropriate. Earth history and culture were never my strong suit. I understand that you have a message for me?"
"Yes." Al Ghul seemed crestfallen that his little jest had fizzled but he carried on, "Admiral Nechayev has learned of your little problem through Commanders Macen and Danan. She in turn presented it to the CinC. They agree that the Cardassians have developed a first strike weapon that could change the balance of power in the region. Despite the treaty, the Cardassians will not be afraid to use it to further their territorial ambitions...or so the leading analysts agree."
"So what does Starfleet intend to do about it?" Ro asked.
"Nothing." Al Ghul replied.
"Then why are you here wasting my time?" Ro asked testily.
"Members of my crew have decided to retire from Starfleet and settle in the DMZ." Al Ghul grinned, "It just so happens that they are a group of Security and Tactical specialists cross trained in combat medicine and engineering. What they do with themselves after they resign is none of my affair. I do have a strong suspicion that they will have a change of heart and petition to rejoin my crew once the current situation is resolved. Don't ask me why I suspect this."
"I suppose that Admiral Nechayev shares this suspicion." Ro slowly grinned.
"You could be right." Al Ghul chuckled, "My people have already landed. They have a privately registered Type 6 shuttle at the port and are lodged in the Holiday Inn in Ronaran City, rooms 46, 52, 103, and 215. Give them a day off before meeting with them. Of course, I officially have to warn you away from trying to recruit them. But a friendly get together between ex-Starfleet officers wouldn't be amiss."
"You're a sly man, Captain." Ro commented.
"As are you and your officers from all reports." Al Ghul grinned, "Now if I were to suggest to them to gather in the hotel lounge, at say, nine ‘o clock local time; it would fit your schedule?"
"Nine would be perfect." Ro agreed.
"Good." Al Ghul rose from his seated position, "Commander Elias Vaughn is the informal leader of the ‘settlers'. I will advise him that you are coming."
Ro held out her hand and gratefully said, "Thank you."
Al Ghul clasped her offered hand, "Sadly I fear that you don't have many opportunities to utter such sentiments. I wish you luck. May Allah smile upon your efforts."
The Starfleet captain turned to Tulley, "You may put that ridiculous hood upon me again."
"Never mind that, Aric." Ro ordered, "I have a gut feeling that Captain al Ghul won't betray us."
"And they say wisdom is lost among the youth." Al Ghul grinned, "Farewell Ro Laren. May we meet again on a happier day."
Macen grinned as al Ghul was escorted out. Ro noted this, "Why are you so happy?"
"I know Vaughn." Macen replied, "He's even more reliable than Aric."
"Let's hope." Ro opined.
They arrived at the Holiday Inn the two mornings later five minutes before nine. Ro brought Tulley, Macen, and T'Kir with her. The last was brought along against Ro's better judgment but Macen had insisted...as had T'Kir herself. Ro merely looked skyward and invoked whatever deity was listening's well wishes.
The Starfleet contingent consisted of two men and four women. One of them, an older man that appeared to be in his sixties, approached. He headed straight for Macen.
"Brin!" he said with a delighted smile as he embraced Macen.
They broke apart but the man grasped Macen's shoulders as they separated. Macen grinned, "Hello Elias. It's been a while."
"It's going to be like old times." Vaughn promised.
Macen wore a wry expression, "As I recall, we were both lucky to survive some of those ‘old times'."
"But surviving them has made for happy memories." Vaughn laughed.
"I think you've gone senile." Macen joked.
"Nonsense. I'm only ninety-eight years old. I have plenty of years left in me." Vaughn chuckled. He turned to Ro, "You must be Ro Laren. I've been watching you for some time now. If you ever tire of the Maquis, look up the Bajoran Militia. I think they just might have a place for you within their ranks."
"Thank you...I think." Ro warily said.
"Now," Macen interjected, "we can get to business."
Vaughn's humour died but his enthusiasm could still be seen in his eyes. From what Macen had said earlier to Ro, he and Vaughn had served on many of the worst hit border planets. Massacres and invasions had been the course of the average day. In turn, Macen would gather the intelligence for Vaughn to strike key Cardassian outpost and installations. Vaughn would act upon the information, typically bringing Macen along.
Ro had come to respect, and rely upon, Macen's fighting skills. She'd long ago realised that he wasn't the simple analyst he claimed to be and had been engaged in field ops for some time. Her only cause of concern was his increasingly extreme responses to crises.
When he'd first come to her cell, he seemed like a moderate when it came to crisis management. He still revered life but he was more and more willing to kill in the course of combat. He didn't torture his targets, he simply dispatched them. He repaid extreme violence with finality.
One of Danan's previous hosts had been a counsellor. When queried, Danan bespoke of Macen's history with the Borg and the Cardassians during the decades long war. It had been the longest engagement in Federation history thus far and Macen had been in the heart of it for fifteen years. Now the Maquis Rebellion has arrived and he was at the forefront of the action once again. Such experiences scarred a psyche.
Ro considered Vaughn. Macen had said that they had entered Starfleet at roughly the same time. However, Macen's relative youth had made her forget that a human would be considerably older.
Vaughn was Starfleet Special Operations Command. SOC only accepted those that had graduated from the Advanced Tactical Training course that she'd successfully completed. From there they were taught even more rigorous forms of combat, infiltration, and sabotage.
For Vaughn to have escaped permanent harm all of the time said that he was good at what he did. Very good. That only left one question.
"Just how did you come to be aboard the Scimitar, Commander?" Ro asked.
Vaughn wore a wry expression, "Let's just say that Admiral Nechayev was looking for a few good men and women. And she happened to stage them where she wanted them."
"You're whole unit is SOC?" Ro yelped.
"Not so loud." Vaughn advised, "The walls have ears. Anyhow, we're settlers, not soldiers."
"I forgot." Ro admitted.
"She does that sometimes." Macen joked.
Ro elbowed him in the gut and smiled sweetly, "Shall we be going?"
"You have adequate transport?" Vaughn asked.
"We have a Grevit-class transport waiting outside." Ro grinned, "We sort of ‘borrowed' it from the local Constabulary."
"You stole a troop transport?" Vaughn was both surprised and impressed.
"It makes moving around town a lot easier." Ro confided.
Vaughn's smile was appreciative, "I bet."
"Anyway, it's outside. If you could gather your group, we can offer you a place to live." Ro said.
"Thank you." Vaughn replied, "We appreciate it."
"So do we." Ro confessed.
The group gathered their belongings, which included long Starfleet surplus duffels. They type that are perfect for carrying Type II phasers and Type III phaser rifles with room to spare for explosives. The Maquis knew this from experience.
After the group had left the hotel, the innkeeper commed the local Constabulary and informed them that he'd had suspected Maquis in his establishment. The Cardies dispatched a unit to investigate and left it at that. Anything more would require the attention of the DMZ's Special Joint Directorate, comprised of Cardassian and Federation representatives, including those from Starfleet and the Cardassian Militia. Of course, in order to bypass this formality, the constables had orders to kill all the suspects in "self defence".
T'Kir joyfully greeted Macen's return. Her enthusiasm, and his, caused Vaughn to pause.
"Problem?" Ro asked.
"I thought Brin and Lisea...?" Vaughn trailed off.
"They were. Now they're not." Ro informed him, "As for those two, as Brin likes to say, ‘It's complicated.'"
"I bet." Vaughn mused as he watched the emotionally volatile Vulcan in action.
"So which one is your friend?" T'Kir asked.
"The one standing next to Ro." Macen answered.
"The geezer?" T'Kir exclaimed.
"It's true he's older than you but that doesn't make him a ‘geezer'." Macen pointed out knowing that Elias had thirty-five years on her, "I'm hundreds of years older than you. Does that make me a ‘geezer'?"
"Yah." T'Kir teased, "But in a cute way."
"Thanks...I think." Macen remarked.
"Don't mention it." T'Kir happily declared.
"Oh, trust me; I won't breathe a word of it to another living soul." Macen retorted, "It's liable to get you shot."
"Oh foo." T'Kir waved the concern aside, "Lees won't touch me."
"Actually, I was thinking of Laren." Macen revealed.
T'Kir's eyes grew large and her mouth formed a little "O", "Oh! Never thought of that."
"I know." Macen confided, "As a great man once said, ‘Now you have something new to think about. Carry on.'"
"Are y'quotin' Captain Kirk again?" she asked.
"Nope. He was an admiral at the time." Macen sagely replied.
"I'm gonna have t'hurt ya now." T'Kir warned.
"I think I'll survive." Macen quipped.
"Y'wish." T'Kir retorted.
"Children," Ro clapped her hands, "if we could take our stations?"
The SOC agents had already climbed into the transport. Macen jumped in back with them. Tulley climbed into the gun turret. It mounted a Class III disruptor cannon. T'Kir took the OPS station next to the pilot's station, which Ro occupied.
Ro fired up the antigravs and the transport lifted off. She then fired the impulse engine and flew off towards Moska. The constables saw a transport lift off and assumed another precinct had been called in as well and had responded first. They turned around and went back to the station.
The city of Moska was divided up into four quarters. Each quarter functioned as a veritable city-state. Most of the divisions were along racial lines but everyone came together by travelling throughout other quarters and the central hub that comprised the central government of Moska itself.
The government's hub served to provide services and police protection. Medical offices were liberally spread throughout the city but were centrally controlled from the hub. Sadly, most of the doctors' offices had been cut off from their regular allotments of medical supplies.
The hub was controlled by the Cardassians' administrators. Before the advent of the Cardassian arrival the city's official had been elected. Now they were appointed by the Cardassian Colonial Committee. This isn't to say that they didn't appoint Federation collaborators.
"Well intentioned" Federation citizens frequently accepted posts handed down from the Cardassian authorities. This practice was fading though. Too many lynch mobs had formed...and been successful. The Cardies wasted no manpower defending their proxies. Security was up to the individual in question. Needless to say, the system had faults.
Most of these faults were exploited by the planet's Maquis cell. They'd found shelter in the human/Bajoran quarter and every campaign drew them closer to the residents' bosom. That quarter was suspected of Maquis activity but the Cardassians didn't know how valuable it was to the rebels.
Ensconced within their current headquarters the Maquis and the SOC personnel had a meeting of the minds. Their first unified decision made Ro angry.
"What do you mean I can't come?" she demanded.
"The distraction units need you more than we do." Macen explained, "Elias and I have worked together for decades. To be frank, you'd get in the way. Go where you're needed not where you're wanted."
Ro suspected that there was a compliment hidden in there somewhere but all she could focus on was the middle of the statement. "In the way" indeed! Who cared how good Vaughn and his team were supposed to be. They'd be lost without her. This was her operation after all.
Macen smirked, "I know what you're thinking, Laren. We'll manage. Trust me. It's your job to bring the others out alive."
"But..." she began to protest.
"Aric's no ship driver. He'll get everyone killed." Macen predicted, "You're their only hope."
"But you..." she faltered.
"I've had a good teacher." Macen assured her, "I'll be fine."
Intellectually she knew Macen and his team would be. Macen was proving to be an outstanding tactician. His strategic skills were weak, not surprising since he was a cultural analyst. Her instincts just cried "foul" at being left behind. Relegated to a secondary role, Ro became more of an observer at the planning table than a participant.
The following day found Macen's team aboard the Odyssey. Vaughn's SOC personnel were aboard as well. They were trying to find niches to fill. Mostly they met with hostility from the Maquis crewmembers.
Vaughn made a note of this while the bridge crew was getting ready to get underway. Macen just shook his head, "Your people need to understand that my crew has been hunted by Starfleet for almost two years now. That's not something that can be easily overlooked. Sure we're allies for now but as soon as this mission is over we'll be enemies again. We can't forget or forgive that."
"You need to stress that we don't have to be enemies." Vaughn said, "All that needs to happen is..."
"Is for these people to abandon their homes and surrender to Starfleet." Macen cut him off, "Why not serve a few years in a penal colony and come out freshly rehabilitated citizens of the all beneficial Federation."
Macen hammered his next point, "If I went here at Alynna's behest you'd be after me too."
"You are beginning to sound like one of them." Vaughn counselled him.
"These people are risking their lives and even more than that." Macen argued, "They're fighting for their cultural soul. We traipsed across half the border fighting for and alongside people like this every day. What's changed now? A line on someone's three dimensional map?"
"Brin, I empathise. I truly do." Vaughn assured him, "But it's policy."
"And what happened to right and wrong?" Macen countered.
"I'll tell you what happened to right and wrong." Vaughn angrily retorted, "It went out the window when children started getting blown up. Don't play the self righteous martyr on my watch. You're a Starfleet officer on a deep cover assignment. Remember that and you'll avoid a lengthy stay at Jaros II."
The two friends glared at one another before they both began to realize that the entire bridge compliment was staring at them. Lacey at the helm was shocked. Danan was quiet at Sciences. Matthews was staring at his console at Weapons. Only T'Kir looked happy.
"Take your station, Commander." Macen instructed Vaughn.
Vaughn frowned. The intentional use of his Starfleet rank only accentuated the differences between the present crew. He'd expected Macen to try and smooth things out by encouraging his crew to forget their differences. After all, they were all Federation citizens. That bond should override all other concerns. It was true, he decided, the Maquis truly were traitorous rebels.
Macen took his place in the centre seat, "All right Lacey, take us out."
The helmsman did as she was told. They set course for Cevrus II as soon as they cleared the system. From there on in things just grew more tumultuous.
Macen was down in Engineering. Toonsen had nearly taken off the head of the Starfleet interloper that had dared adjust "her" engines. Vaughn was desensitising the Starfleet chap. Macen dealt with his own crew.
"Vilya, they're trying to help." Macen cajoled her.
"They should all stay the hell away from my engines." She fumed, "There's no place for them in here."
"I'll make that clear, okay?" he conceded.
Macen laid out the new boundaries for Vaughn. His people were excluded from Engineering and only allowed on the Bridge by invitation. Vaughn chafed under these restrictions but he agreed. Macen did make a concession in allowing the Starfleet troops to rearrange a cargo bay so they could practice their deadly arts.
Vaughn laid down a few restrictions of his own. Only Macen was to be allowed to the surface with the SOC team. Macen insisted that T'Kir come as well. At first Vaughn resisted but Macen was intransigent. Vaughn mentally sighed and wondered how much damage could the quirky little Vulcan do?
Vaughn's major concern was for Macen. His friend's attitude shift concerned him. Macen had always been leery of the Federation. The El-Aurians had established a similar model of government but had built it along purely pacifistic lines. The Borg had carved through them like slicing through tissue paper.
Those scars ran deep. The Federation's perceived betrayal of their colonists also scarred Macen. Of course the fifteen years of combat hadn't done his psyche any good either.
At the close of the Border Wars, Macen had been called in for a psych eval. Rumour had it that the therapists had wanted to commit him. Nechayev didn't allow that to happen. She tapped Macen for the infiltration of the Ronaran Maquis cell and was hell bent on having him and whoever he chose as a partner to do it.
The Borders had transformed Macen from a simple cultural analyst to a first rate Spec Ops agent. Vaughn was proud of that transformation in his friend and the part that he played in it. What frightened him was Macen's increasing indifference towards lethal action.
Vaughn had had full access to Starfleet Intelligence's files on Macen's cell and his own personal activities. Macen was increasingly becoming a "shooter", a person that solved extreme circumstances with violence. Reports from other cells confirmed this change.
Vaughn supposed that was all well and fine of you were a terrorist but Macen was a Starfleet Officer. During his review he'd discovered that Macen's commission had been suspended indefinitely during his stay with the Maquis but the essence remained. Macen was Starfleet, not a Maquis, and he'd damn well better start acting like it!
The Federation Council and Starfleet were considering sending SOC units into the DMZ to capture or "neutralize" the Maquis. Besides violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the treaty with Cardassia it had bad precedents. On Earth alone it had two glaring examples: The SAS invasion of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. That action alone had escalated the violence to a new level.
Another irreparable incident had come when Earth Starfleet SOC had dispatched units to quell a miner's strike on Mars. Hundreds had been killed including dozens of SOC troops. The Vulcans had their own misguided history of intervention on Coridan. The Andorians had Mefarius VII. The majority of Federation member worlds and colonies had incidents where the governments had mistakenly dispatched specialised troops and the effort had only escalated the conflict. Vaughn could only see disaster looming if Starfleet's SOC intervened in the Maquis Rebellion.
If Vaughn knew the truth, he'd discover that Macen's evolving sense of lethality wasn't born of psychosis but of idealism. Macen's most fervent dream was of a time where inequality, division, and intolerance were a memory. The El-Aurians had established such a state but they had neglected to incorporate a hybrid like Starfleet; dedicated to exploration, diplomacy, and military defence, and that had been their downfall
Macen was so certain of his dream's necessity that he was willing to do literally anything to reify it. He was an extremist. An extremist with laudable goals but like all extremists he walked a fine line between sanity and madness. He still had limits as to what he would do but those boundaries were retreating on a daily basis. What would happen when they disappeared altogether?
Such was the crux of the matter. Vaughn's reticence to discuss the issue with Macen, and to simply assume certain factors, was creating a rupture in the decades' long friendship. A rupture that could ultimately prove fatal during their incursion on Cervus II.
Since they had reached a mental impasse, Vaughn left Macen to the task of getting them through Cardassian space in one piece. He went over the plan with his five teammates several more times. Not wanting to do it, he gave them the night off with a promise of returning to it on the advent of the actual event.
Macen had an advantage over the Cardies. The Odyssey was a scout and was exclusively utilised as an intelligence gathering platform. She even possessed a license to operate within Cardassian space in exchange for "favours."
It was under this aspect that Macen was operating. His team's part in the plan was to meet with Dalin Merik and to take him hostage while Vaughn's happy little cohorts blew the manufacturing and research facility straight to hell. They'd leave him alive. This further disgrace would only bury him further under the High Command's avalanche of disapproval. Claiming Macen's ship was a Maquis operative would only seem to be a self serving excuse.
"Stand by on the weapons." Ro instructed Tulley. She signalled the other two ships in her "formation." The sensors on Falto IV had detected them and a Galor III-class had been dispatched to investigate. Falto was the primary sensor station guarding Cardassian space from the DMZ. The Odyssey would only be cursorily challenged if Falto was presented with a real Maquis threat.
The Maquis ships came straight at the Cardassian cruiser with shields up and weapons hot. The Cardassian was still assessing the strength of its opponents when the Maquis opened fire. Each of their ships was equipped with two Type VIII phaser banks. The Indie herself wielded photon torpedoes. True, there were only four of them but the first two temporarily knocked out both the cruiser's shields and warp drive.
It wasn't until a second cruiser was dispatched that the Maquis began a retreat. The Cardassian was faster so it kept pace with them and their military grade shields were thoroughly tested. The aft torpedo launcher of the Indie was also unleashed. The two torpedoes wreaked havoc with the Cardie. It gave them enough lead time to get to the Badlands before the cruiser could chase them.
The Odyssey established her credentials and flew by Falto with hardly any notice paid to her. Her flight to Cervus II took twenty-three hours. Since the Cardassians were trying to minimise their presence on the planet, so as to avoid drawing attention to their activities, the starship went unchallenged until she reached the inner system.
The Odyssey's presence had to be creating havoc within the base's command structure. The ship was typically Starfleet. A saucer section attached to an under slung engineering hull with upraised warp nacelles. The closest description was that the ship was a miniaturised hybrid of the Excelsior and Ambassador classes.
The class had served on the Federation's border during the wars. It had cut its teeth in the thickest fighting earning a formidable reputation amongst the Cardassians. Although the class had been decommissioned and handed over to civilian interests, the presence of a "battle bird", as the Cardassians referred to them, had to be unnerving.
The system Traffic Control eventually contacted Macen. He introduced himself, "I'm Captain Brin Macen. The Odyssey is my command. We're here to give Dalin Merik some valuable information regarding his project here."
"And what would that project be?" the seemingly bored Controller asked.
"Producing high frequency, ultrasonic weapons capable of killing very humanoid life on a planetary scale. Now if you'd like to know how I know this, you'll make an appointment for me with Dalin Merik."
Now the Controller was fully alert and giving her full attention to Macen, "Stand by."
Ten minutes later her anxious face reappeared on the screen, "If you'll follow our designated path and assume standard orbit, Dalin Merik will meet you at these designated transport coordinates."
"Thank you." Macen replied, "Inform the Dalin that we look forward to meeting him."
"Thool's got the repairs underway." Tulley informed Ro, "The Scabbard may never fly again though."
Ro sighed, "We can't afford these losses, "We've already lost the Arclight and the Leigh Burke. That leaves us with the Indie and the John Paul Jones."
"Don't forget the Odyssey." Tulley advised.
"She's not a fighting ship." Ro reminded him.
"It may be time to revisit that notion, Skipper." Tulley opined, "She can outgun and outrun every ship that we have or had."
"What's the point of a dedicated intelligence unit if they can't infiltrate enemy territory?" Ro asked.
"What's the point of being a Maquis if you can't fight?" Tulley countered, "We need every hand. Everybody that can carry a phaser should be fighting."
Ro frowned, "How popular is this sentiment?"
"At least half of the cell is grumbling and it's spreading." Tulley said, "You may have to face changing the status quo or face a riot."
Ro pursed her lips, "Thanks for the update. I'll keep it in mind."
"You'd better Skipper." Tulley warned, "It could get ugly."
"Great." Ro said sourly.
Macen and T'Kir beamed down to the designated coordinates. Dalin Merik personally greeted them...with an escort of six troopers. Merik looked positively disgruntled.
"You are Captain Macen?" Merik asked.
"Yup." Macen confirmed it.
"I thought you would be transporting down alone." Merik grated a bit.
"Sorry." Macen lied, "Where I go, T'Kir goes."
"Natch." T'Kir flipped off a mock two fingered salute.
Merik's disgruntlement grew, "I have never met a Vulcan before. I was led to believe that they comported themselves with dignity."
"I ain't that kinda Vulcan." T'Kir grinned.
Merik ignored her, "You said you could explain how you came to know about this base?"
"Harry Mudd told me about it." Macen explained, "Word is that he sold the information to the Maquis."
"That rabble will never be able to strike us here." Merik proudly boasted, "Now I expect that that you expect some form of gratuity in exchange for this information."
"A favour only." Macen replied, "A report to the High Command the Obsidian Order that I helped you in this matter. My professional reliability was recently doubted. I'd like to quell those concerns."
"I see." Although outwardly cool, Merik was secretly pleased, "If you will follow me I will guide you to better accommodations."
"Of course." Macen replied.
He and T'Kir were flanked by Cardassian troopers as they followed Merik. If this bothered T'Kir at all she didn't let it show. She knew Macen's plans and seemed perfectly content to play along.
Vaughn's team beamed down simultaneously with Macen and T'Kir. They arrived at a dark intersection between manufacturing plants. They immediately fanned out. Each one had a designated target. As the most experienced veteran, Vaughn had the most difficult task.
The others stayed in the shadows as they quietly put down Cardassian patrols and minders. Moving secretly, they avoided the light as they approached the power plant. Once security was penetrated, the two tasked with overloading the fusion reactor went to work.
Two more accessed the warehouse and began rigging explosives to the completed weapons. There weren't many and the atomic explosion from the rector should destroy them all but the Starfleet officers weren't taking any chances. Now they just had to make certain Vaughn succeeded.
After these tasks were completed Vaughn and his partner confronted the various scientists. The fleeing scientist found the exits blocked by Vaughn's team. They ran for the bunker under the manufacturing plant. Once they were barricaded in there, Vaughn and his partner blew up the entrance to the bunker, sealing the scientific and technical crew inside.
The cooling tower to the fusion reactor detonated while Vaughn and his team were at work. There would be an inescapable thirty minute build up before the fusion reactor went critical. Then it would be as though a star were born on the planet's surface. Vaughn and the others reached the beam out coordinates as the weapon stockpile was destroyed.
The SOC team returned to the ship as Cardassian troops swarmed the area. Now everything rested upon Macen and T'Kir.
Merik led Macen and T'Kir to his outer office. Oret was there waiting for them, "What does this mean? Are you a Maquis collaborator? A Federation spy? What are these humans doing here?"
"Who're ya callin' ‘human'?" T'Kir shot back.
"You're a human if I say so." Oret imperiously declared.
"Come over here and say that." T'Kir growled. Macen took hold of her shoulders and held her back. Merik did the same for Oret. He shoved her into his office and then entered himself.
He waited until the door was sealed behind him, "These people are informing me of a traitor."
Oret looked distinctly guilty, "What traitor?"
"The human, Harry Mudd. He gave them the details of our operations and also sold the information to the Maquis." He explained.
"That scum will never be able to touch us." Oret sneered.
"That's what I said." Merik dryly commented, "For now I must advise Command. You can confirm my report with Command and the Obsidian Order."
"You know?" Oret softly asked.
"I know everything that happens in my command." Merik took relish in saying.
"May I use your auxiliary terminal?" she asked.
"Be my guest." He waved her over.
"We've waited long enough." Macen declared, "Vaughn's bombs are going off in sixty seconds."
"Want me to take care of the guards?" T'Kir asked.
"Please." He requested.
She frowned. Nothing happened. She scrunched her face up and all of the Cardies grabbed their heads and screamed. They all fell to the ground.
T'Kir was woozy, "Whoa!"
Macen steadied her, "Are you all right?"
"You sound like ya care?" she grinned.
"Of course I care." He assured her.
"No, I mean care." She said with a husky voice.
"Don't press your luck." Macen warned, "I'm going in."
Macen planted a micro bomb on the door. He retreated a few steps and then detonated the bomb. The door's transparent aluminium shattered. He and T'Kir strolled in wielding Cardassian disruptors.
"Don't bother." He advised, "We're not here to kill you. In fact, we're about to save your lives."
Oret moved but T'Kir shot her gun hand, "Bad doggie. Stay!"
"What are your intentions?" Merik demanded to know.
"Your reactor's coolant tower is going to explode right about...now." Macen was watching the time on his wrist chrono. A resounding explosion rocked the office.
Macen grinned, "Next will be your weapon stores." The subsequent explosion rocked the base just seconds later.
"Now what?" Merik grated.
"Now you and Glinn Oret lock yourself in the command bunker. The reactor's build up is unstoppable now. It will overload in thirty minutes. You may be able to get a cruiser or a transport here before then but the rescue operations will be hampered by the rising radiation. It's best if you two just stay in the bunker. If you'd like, you can kill one another. I won't feel bad." Macen informed them.
"You were worried about your reputation. I will ruin you with the High Command. You'll be a hunted man." Merik vowed.
"You're a disgraced officer who lost his command and a valuable state secret. You brought the supposed saboteur into your offices. You just sent off reports detailing my good graces and virtues. Now you'll go back? On the eve of losing everything? It'll seem as though you're pursuing a scapegoat." Macen scoffed.
"Oret will verify my claims." Merik said but after meeting her eye he doubted his own assertion.
"Oret's chances for professional survival lie in eliminating a potential traitor. Oh, that would be you. From there she can point to the fact that she was the voice of reason in all of this." Macen suggested, "Of course you could always deal with her yourself and claim everything stemmed from her failing to do her duty. The duty logs and records can be suitably altered from the bunker."
"Now, my friend here is going to scramble the program that locks the door. You'll be trapped inside until the High Command can figure out a way or retrieving you. If they decide to." Macen happily explained, "Dalin, if you'll toss your disruptor to the side. Don't worry, you'll get it back. If you move fast enough."
Macen and T'Kir marched the captive officers over to the entrance of the bunker. T'Kir plugged a mini computer into the door assembly. She inserted a tapeworm and the door's programming was reduced to nothing. Once it locked it would stay locked.
Macen herded the Cardies into the back of the bunker. He retreated from them, tossing down a disruptor as he reached the door. It sealed even as Merik and Oret were scrambling to reach the weapon first.
"Damn we're good!" T'Kir proclaimed. Grabbing Macen she kissed him. She was delighted to find that he didn't resist. She broke free of him and smiled victoriously.
"May I remind you that we need to get off of this planet?" Macen asked.
"Yah, but afterward we could..." she began.
"No." He said.
"But you..." she argued.
"No." He stood firm.
"But we..." she was growing desperate.
"There is no ‘we.'" He insisted.
"That ain't fair." She sulked.
"Tell me about it." Macen murmured. He flipped open his communicator, "We're ready. Lock onto us and get us out of here."
In the end, the High Command rescued Merik and they weren't very happy about it. Merik was dismissed in disgrace and subjected to the worst sentence Cardassian military justice had. He was to retain his uniform and be forced to wear it. An unemployable pariah, he would be forced to beg in the streets. The sight of his uniform would alert civilians that this man had betrayed his people and they would shun him.
Granted a disruptor with one lethal shot, he could kill himself at any time or he could attempt to rob a food vendor. If caught the authorities would consign him to a labour camp. Generally such an officer was assigned to a camp of alien prisoners. His days spent living amongst him would be brutish, nasty, and short.
T'Kir had achieved a victory of sorts. Ever since she'd kissed him, Macen was more attentive than ever. He was also far more conflicted about his feelings for her.
He still felt a loyalty towards Danan. That much was obvious. But he was inescapably drawn to T'Kir. She was determined to ensnare him through any and all means at her disposal.
He would be hers. She just knew it. Something made it inevitable.
Vaughn and the SOC team left in their Type-6 shuttle. Few words were spoken by either side. They had worked together and accomplished the task but now they were enemies again. Vaughn thoroughly disapproved of Macen's solution of what to do with Merik. The public announcement concerning Merik's fate only deepened Vaughn's scowl.
"It's not too late." Vaughn tried to persuade Macen, "All you have to do is climb aboard this shuttle and come back. At least think of Lees. She should come even if you stay."
"Our mission isn't done yet." Macen replied, "Goodbye Elias. I hope the next time we meet it's under better circumstances."
"So do I." Vaughn sighed, "Take care."
"I will." Macen assured him, "Stay lucky."
They parted with no other words between them. Nothing else could be said. It was the same conflict that Ben Sisko had had with Calvin Hudson. Unfortunately, that precedent boded ill since Hudson had died at the hands of the Cardassians.
Still, Macen had the ability to see probabilities within the space-time continuum. All of his possibilities pointed at staying with the Maquis. In some of them he died. In others he lived. Macen was willing to play the odds and pursue those paths that seemed to lead to success.
Macen had friends here, a family. A highly dysfunctional family but a family nonetheless. Even after being with Starfleet for fifty years he had few friends there. It was little wonder that he wanted to stay.
He felt needed here. A feeling that he'd lost as Starfleet shifted priorities away from the Border Wars to the new uneasy "peace." He didn't know how long he would be necessary but from the look of it it would be for a while.
Ro struggled with her decision. Macen's group functioned best as spies, pure and simple. Involving them in combat operation would just confuse matters even more and get them all killed. But she had little choice. Her cell was a democracy and the majority wanted Macen's team in the fight in a tangible way. She just worried that she was consigning her friends to their deaths. Okay, maybe it wasn't all bad. After all, T'Kir could get killed. Relishing that thought for a moment she paused before reconsidering it. It couldn't work. She'd never get that lucky.
|Last modified: 02 Jan 2014