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Nativity 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 One

Brin Macen handed Ro Laren a padd. They occupied Ro's quarters in the abandoned Ronaran Militia base their Maquis cell had decided to occupy. Since its being sealed by the Cardassians over a year ago, no patrols or inspection teams had checked on the redoubt. Apparently Cardassian word was sacrosanct enough that they didn't need to review the results of their decree.

The mountain fortress, carved into the rock itself, had been a closely guarded secret until an infuriated public official handed over an illegal copy of the access codes and floor plan of the Militia HQ to Ro. Ro knew a Cardassian team would arrive someday, so other bases of operation were used as well. This rotating visibility kept the Cardassians from realising they had lost their reserve fortress on the planet.

Ro read the padd and scowled. Looking up, she leaned over and rested her cheek in the palm of her hand and stared at her Intelligence Officer with a hint of disbelief, "Are you certain?"

Macen wore a wry expression, "They'll be arriving in force within the month."

Ro let loose of a disgusted noise, "Time to evacuate. The Cardies will want to hole up here, of course."

"This is our own fault." Macen remarked.

Ro blinked in surprise, "What do you mean?"

"Our cell has been more effective than most of late." Macen explained, "I don't operate in a vacuum. They have their intelligence units as well. They've narrowed Ronara Prime as the source of their ills in this area and they're naturally going to crack down here."

"But sending an entire Order?" Ro scoffed, "That's extreme even for the Cardies."

"They aren't an Order any more." Macen teased, reciting the legal fiction developed to ensure that the Demilitarised Zone treaty with the Federation was observed, "They're colonists with military experience."

"Even the Federation Council won't be stupid enough to buy this cover story." Ro insisted.

"It won't get that far." The El-Aurian replied, "Starfleet Command will bury it before the Federation's political organs will see it."

Ro sat up straighter, "How do you know that?"

Macen shrugged, "I already filed this report with Admiral Nechayev's office. She has a gag order on it and has instructed me to do nothing regarding the matter."

Ro swore under her breath. Alynna Nechayev had been the mastermind behind Ro's insertion into the Maquis that had led her to "defect". She had then sent Macen in to observe and apprehend her. Instead Macen's true sympathies for the Maquis had been revealed and he now operated as a double agent. His assignment had been changed to accomodate new realities concerning the Maquis. Macen felt as though Nechayev knew of his divided loyalties but left both he and Ro to run amuck in order to aggravate the Cardassians enough to distract them from threatening the Federation's border.

Initially, Ro had been hard pressed to lend the theory credence but every new communiqué exchanged between Nechayev and Macen seemed to confirm his assessment of the situation. Personally, Ro found the situation as reprehensible as the DMZ treaty itself. She continually sought ways to louse up the conniving Admiral's intentions.

Ro's door chimed and she yelled, "Come!"

The door slid open, revealing Aric Tulley. Tulley leaned up against the doorframe and adopted a laconic air. Wearing a disbelieving grin, he finally spoke.

"You two are not going to believe what T'Kir's cooked up this time."

Ro and Macen exchanged nervous glances. T'Kir was their resident computer genius but she was also the most psychologically unstable member of the cell. Truth be told, she was probably insane but her job performance was so good it kept her out of an asylum. Not that you could have easily gotten her into one.

T'Kir was a high level telepath. Her true capabilities were unknown since she couldn't control her abilities. Macen could block her telepathy when he chose to but no one else was so fortunate. The incoming psionic flow created mercurial shifts of personality and mood. This was heightened by the fact that she a child of Vulcan dissidents that taught their children to embrace their emotions in accordance with the teachings of Sybok.

Knowing that T'Kir's manic swings could lead to anything, both Macen and Ro rose. T'Kir suddenly pushed her way past Tulley. She was carrying two mugs and atop her head was a long, red hat with white trim and a white ball at the end.

"Sit down." T'Kir ordered, "You can stop worrying. I haven't arranged another partner swapping lottery."

Ro looked to Macen to follow his lead. Macen had a singular talent for gauging T'Kir's swings and of guiding them. It required constant effort and time. It had already cost him his own romantic relationship. While Macen confessed that he regretted the loss of intimacy with Lisea Danan, he also admitted wouldn't alter a thing.

While T'Kir openly pined away for Macen, his intentions were vague. He was devoted to her and remained her truest friend and protector. He had just never displayed any overt romantic inclinations. Danan herself had commented that Macen would fall madly in love with T'Kir if he'd just let himself. Tulley had once caught Macen in a melancholy moment and Macen had let slip his wish that T'Kir would be cured of her affliction so that their lives could be different.

Ro shrugged all of that aside and her eyes widened slightly as Macen retook his seat. Ro took one last wary look at T'Kir and then she followed his example. T'Kir lit up with a beatific smile.

She handed a mug to Macen and then another to Ro. Urging them to wait, T'Kir ran to Ro's kitchen replicator and began giving it specific instructions. The replicator hummed to life and a moment later T'Kir emerged from the kitchen with two more mugs. She bustled over to Tulley and gave him one and then she returned to Macen's side.

Ro had been sniffing at her mug, "What is this and what's going on?"

"It's called egg nog and as for the reason," T'Kir threw in a dramatic pause, "all I can say is Merry Christmas!"

"Egg what and merry who?" a bewildered Ro asked.

Macen laughed and Tulley chuckled. Tulley tried to explain, "Egg nog is a drink and Christmas is a holiday celebrated on Earth and her colonies."

"Wait a minute." Ro grew suspicious, "If it's a holiday, is the rest of the cell participating?"

"You should see it Skipper." Tulley drawled, "She and her little helper elves have decorated the whole complex. Everyone's sampling this goop of hers and they're celebrating universal peace and good will towards men."

"And women." Lisea Danan said as she pushed past Tulley. She held a mug of egg nog in her hand and wore a cheerful expression, "We're just important as any man. Right ladies?"

Ro raised her mug and T'Kir yelled, "Damn straight!"

Danan shook her head but her smile remained. Turning to Ro, she shook her head in defeat, "To be honest, this is the best idea the little trollop has ever had."

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "I heard that!"

"I complimented you, nitwit." Danan replied.

"Not what you said." T'Kir's eyes narrowed, "I heard what you didn't say."

Danan rolled her eyes and turned back to Ro. Ro laughed. Returning her attention to T'Kir, she asked, "So what is this holiday about and how do we celebrate it?"

"It involves exchanging gifts, toasting the season, and...mistletoe!" T'Kir set her mug down and produced a sprig of plastic mistletoe. She held it over Macen's head with one hand and placed her left hand on his cheek. Leaning in, she kissed him. Falling into the kiss, she dropped her mistletoe hand and wrapped both of her arms around Macen's neck.

The kiss lingered for a few minutes. Finally, she straightened out but kept her hands on his shoulders. Falling into his lap, she giggled, "Merry Christmas."

"Isn't it though?" Macen murmured.

"So have we just seen a declaration of your true intentions?" Danan asked dryly.

"C'mon Lees," Macen invoked Danan's nickname, "she has three times my strength. How am I supposed to resist?"

"You could at least try." Ro quipped. This earned her a pat on the back from Danan. Tulley grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat. Macen released a long suffering sigh.

He lifted T'Kir up so she could regain her footing, "Grab a chair and behave."

T'Kir shot Danan a sullen look and pouted as she drew a chair in closer, "No one's drunk to my toast."

Everyone gathered round the table and drew their glasses into a clinking conflagration. Next, most everyone took a deep pull of their nog. Ro cautiously sipped it. Finding it to her liking she deeply swallowed.

"And you didn't think you'd like it." T'Kir playfully accused.

Ro started to scowl and then she realised that anyone could have surmised that with or without telepathic abilities. It didn't mean T'Kir was in her head, however, T'Kir's knowing grin suggested otherwise. Ro thought a particularly vile oath and T'Kir wagged her finger side to side.

Ro decided to let the matter go and focus on the issue at hand, "Is anyone going to explain what this Christmas hoopla is all about to me?"

T'Kir bounced up and down in her seat, "Me, me, me!"

"And what makes you an expert on Christmas?" Ro enquired.

"I pick up a lot here and there." T'Kir sniffed.

"It's a Terran holiday." Ro persisted, "You've never been to Earth."

"But we've got a lotta humans in our cell." T'Kir insisted.

"Ro," the normally taciturn Tulley spoke up, "Let her tell her version of things. I'll plug any gaps and correct any mistakes."

Ro's eyebrows went up and she gave Tulley a sceptical appraisal, "You know about Christmas?"

"My family and I celebrated it every year," Tulley's voice began to be strained, "right up until the Cardies murdered my wife and kids. A lot of the Zone colonists did. That's why T'Kir's roving band of volunteers handing out candy canes and hanging garland is so important right now. Things have been rough on us for a couple of months now and this is the perfect way to remind ourselves that there's something more than this war. We need to remember to hope for the promise of peace and to care for each other."

Ro was astonished, "Wow. That's more than I've heard you say in a year. You should try it more often."

Tulley blushed and lapsed back into silence. T'Kir clanged the side of her mug with a loose padd, "Ahem. The explaining will now commence."

T'Kir looked very prim and proper. Her hands were folded in front of her, her eyes were alert but lacking their usual manic gleam. Everyone wondered how long it last.

"On Earth, 2300 years ago, a child was born. Prophecy declared that this child was the incarnate Son of God and the Prince of Peace. Named Jesus, this baby would eventually spread a new concept of spirituality and try to establish the groundwork for a heavenly kingdom." T'Kir was very serious as she spoke, "His birth was celebrated by animal herders and kings alike. Since he was named the Christ, his birthday became known as Christmas."

T'Kir looked to Tulley, "Did I leave anything out?"

"Maybe." He teased.

T'Kir blew him a raspberry, "You suck, y'know that don'cha?"

Tulley bowed at the waist, "I try."

"Children," Ro asserted her authority, "let's behave. After all, it is Christmas."

Macen raised a finger, "Most of the principles taught by Christ are now part of daily life in the Federation. The man was truly ahead of his time."

T'Kir grinned, "Should I explain all about Father Christmas now?"

Macen shook his head but Ro nodded her encouragement. Ten minutes later, Ro was scowling, "This is all stupid."

T'Kir jumped out her seat and leaned across the table, "It is not!"

"No one man can accomplish all of that." Ro accused.

"Santa could." T'Kir growled.

"Not without modern technology." Ro insisted.

"Maybe he had it." T'Kir wildly speculated, "Dozens of races visited Earth before the Vulcans arrived. Maybe one of them bestowed a technology transfer to St. Nicholas."

"But why would they?" Ro wondered.

"Why would some stinkin' ol' wormhole aliens want to be Bajor's Prophets?" T'Kir shot back.

"Now that's uncalled for." Ro angrily replied.

"So's disparaging Father Christmas." T'Kir defiantly declared.

"Why you little..." Ro hotly began.

"Break it up!" Macen loudly demanded. He was on his feet and his hand was on the butt of his phaser, "Remember the season or I swear I'll shoot you both."

T'Kir grinned, "You wouldn't shoot little ol' me, would ya?"

"Try me." Macen ominously replied.

T'Kir plopped back down into her chair. Ro wavered.

"Sit down, Laren, before I make you fall down." Ro complied and Macen began to speak, "This holiday we're unexpectedly celebrating is all about goodwill towards others. We've been fighting the Cardassians for anywhere from decades to a few years. Have we forgotten how to love one another in that time? We've essentially gathered as a family, a fractured one, but a unit all the same."

Macen sat down, "Let's just try to get along."

"Good speech, Brin." Danan cheerleaded.

"Can I put the mistletoe back up?" T'Kir wondered.

"No!" came a universal decision from the rest of the room.

Tulley had moved out of the doorway so the door was sealed. It chimed and Ro called out for the door to open. Several men and women entered and each carrying a tray laden with food.

"Are these more holiday festivities?" Ro had to ask.

T'Kir's head gleefully bobbed, "Yup."

"How did you arrange all of this?" Danan asked as she stabbed a hardboiled Ktarian egg with her fork.

"I just started asking around if anyone would like to throw a party." T'Kir's smile was rapturously angelic, "After I'd gathered a dozen co-conspirators I explained the theme and everyone decided to run with it."

"We have had a lot of free time lately." Tulley pointed out.

"Not you too." Ro closed her eyes with a pained expression, "What was your role in this little conspiracy?"

Tulley smiled, "To keep you from noticing the work of my fellow elves."

"And to think I made you my second in command only to find out now I can't trust you." A smile crept across Ro's face as she spoke.

Tulley looked gut punched and Ro laughed, "I'm sorry Aric. It just seemed funny to me."

Although Tulley still looked stricken, he gamely smiled, "It's all right, Skipper."

Ro was contemplating saying something else but the words died in her throat as Macen intervened, "Laren, I think it's time to eat."

Ro blinked in confusion and then an embarrassed smile appeared, "Of course."

The gathered Maquis tore into their food. There was laughter and idle chatter, sharing and confessions. They exchanged the simple gift of friendship. It was a rare respite in bitter days.

 

Chapter Two

Ro's comm unit began sounded an alarm. It was a grating sound designed to be immune from being ignored. Muttering a curse, Ro moved across the room and examined the sender's ID.

The ID bore the signature of Cal Hudson. It wasn't his personal account but it was one of several secret accounts used by Maquis cell leaders to communicate with one another without fear of being traced. Hudson became Alvin Shunderson just as Ro became Deanna Crusher. Ro accepted the call and Hudson's features appeared.

"Hello ‘Deanna'." Hudson said as a perfunctory measure. He studied her for a moment and then he openly stared, "Why are you so happy?"

"We're celebrating something called ‘Christmas'. It seems to be a real morale booster." Ro explained.

"It would be Christmas back on Earth wouldn't it?" Hudson mused.

"So I'm told." Ro chuckled.

"Damn." Hudson ruefully exhaled, "I wish I'd thought of it."

"Start planning for next year." Ro suggested.

Hudson rubbed his weary face, "Maybe I will."

"I hate to be rude but why did you call?" Ro wondered.

Hudson snorted, "You never hesitate to be rude but you're correct, I have a reason for interrupting your festivities."

"Why do I think we should cancel the party?" Ro glumly enquired.

"This is important." Hudson grimly replied, "You can celebrate after you complete the mission I'm going assign to you."

"All right." Ro grew serious, "What do you have for me?"

"You're going to want to include Macen's group in on this." Hudson advised.

"Seeing as how they're sitting at my table, and pretending that they're not eavesdropping, I'd say I wouldn't be able to leave them behind anyway." Ro wryly confessed.

"Good." Visibly relieved, Hudson nodded, "Good. The mission depends upon them."

"Yea us!" T'Kir cheered.

Ro cast a reproving glance T'Kir's way. T'Kir stuck out her tongue in reply. Ro scowled and shifted her attention back to Hudson's image.

"What's the mission and why are we being hand selected for it?" Ro wanted to know.

Hudson settled back in his seat and folded his hands before him. His expression was one of amusement, "Have you ever heard of the legend of the Chrysalis?"

Ro's brow wrinkled as she frowned, "No. Should I have?"

Hudson's eyes danced with sheer glee, "Ask Macen."

Ro turned to Macen and growled his name, "Brin!"

Macen grinned as he lifted his chair and carried it to Ro's side. T'Kir quickly snatched up her chair and came to sit by Macen's side.

"Oh, for Prophets' sake." Ro snapped upon seeing T'Kir's dogged pursuit. Ro was about to say something about the situation when she registered Macen's expression. He wasn't annoyed at all.

There was a genuine fondness there as well a yearning angst. Ro doubted that even Macen was truly aware of his true feelings on the matter. Loathing the idea of interfering where the players were unaware of their true motives, Ro let it go. As long as it didn't interfere with military operations Ro was content to remain a bystander. At least, to a point...

"The Cardassian legend of the Chrysalis relates to the origins of Christmas." Macen began to explain. Ro gave him an impatient look so Macen fast tracked his explanation, "The human Christ was prophesied to be both the Messiah of the Jewish people but also their literal king. In his role of Messiah, he defied expectations and opened up the racially segregated Jewish faith to the other racial groups surrounding them."

"Christ tried to explain to his disciples and the crowds that followed him that he wouldn't lead a literal kingdom until after his death." Macen continued. Ro looked confused so Macen went into greater depth, "The legal and spiritual authorities of the day saw him as a threat to the established order so they plotted to kill him. Christ knew this and it too fulfilled prophecy. Now all that remains is Christ's physical return to Earth to establish a kingdom there."

"What a load of crap." Ro laughed.

"That's what many aliens think about Bajoran faith." Macen pointed out.

"Here's one Bajoran that used to agree with them." Ro admitted, "But now that I know what the Prophets are, I'm a little more generous."

"And why's that?" T'Kir inquired.

"That's none of your business." Ro smartly retorted.

"Wait!" T'Kir gasped, "Don't think about it." A crooked smile announced T'Kir's victory. "A little lesson in humility, eh Ro?" T'Kir radiated triumph.

Ro responded with a glower that bespoke of revenge. Macen cleared his throat, "Ladies, we're off topic."

Ro shot Macen a threatening look. He ignored it. After facing the Borg and the Cardassians, there was little his nominal Maquis commander could do to truly threaten him. He doubted Ro were capable of the few things that would harm him.

Macen resumed his lecture, "Five hundred years ago, the ruling planetary monarchy of Cardassia Prime was overthrown. Few members of the ruling family escaped the brutal ‘justice' meted out by their subjects but the infant heir to the throne was spirited away and raised by a family servant. Since that time the family line has remained intact. There is a living heir to throne even now."

"Get to the point." Ro demanded, "What's the so-called connection between this Terran myth and the Cardassian legend?"

"Actually, both have their basis in fact." Macen pointed out.

"Just get t'the frinxing point, Brin." T'Kir barked. For once, her outburst met with Ro's approval. Macen gave T'Kir a genuflecting bow of submission. The Vulcan beamed.

"The Chrysalis legend states that a child, born five hundred years after the massacre of the royal family, will grow to assume their rightful place on the throne." Macen explained, "The five hundred years are now up and the child should be being born any day now if it hasn't already been delivered."

"Are we dealing with another messiah story?" Ro sceptically asked.

Macen nodded, "That's essentially true. The restored sovereign is supposed to lead the Cardassian people to their glorious destiny."

"Sounds Bajoran t'me." T'Kir piped up.

Ro ignored the comment, "The High Command has got to know about this."

"They do." Macen confirmed, "They also know that a large part of Cardassian society subscribes to this legend in spirit if not in fact. That means that this year billions of sentients are looking for word that their monarch was born."

"Is the baby a boy or a girl?" T'Kir enquired.

"The legend doesn't say." Macen answered her, "Since the Cardassians are a patriarchal people, it has always been assumed that the heir would be a boy."

"This is crazy!" Ro protested, "If there was a direct line to the throne, the High Command and the Obsidian Order would have executed them hundreds of years ago."

"The lineage continued on the basis of swearing loyalty to the ruling juntas." Macen detailed, "They appeared at public functions and made a show of deferring to the authorities. They were useful propaganda device so they were issued a modest stipend and travelled on demand."

"Up until a week ago." Hudson interjected, "The ‘Princess' is due any day now and the family has gone into hiding."

"The government suspects that this may be the Chrysalis child?" Macen enquired.

"They more than suspect it." Hudson was gleeful, "They know it!"

Ro was exasperated, "How can they know that?"

"When the baby was old enough to start recording dermal scans," Hudson happily explained, "they detected the royal birthmark. It hasn't been seen in a five hundred years."

"Incredible!" Macen breathed, "Is it in the right location?"

"Right on the royal derrière." Hudson laughed.

Macen grinned, "The legend was right."

"What birthmark?" that reference confused Ro.

"The Purple Peppercorn." Macen revealed to her, "All the previous sovereigns were chosen on the basis of having that mark on their left cheek. It hasn't been seen for five hundred years. The legend said it would appear on the chosen child. The timings right, the birthmark's right, all we need now is a baby."

Ro was incredulous, "The Purple Peppercorn?"

"That's what it looks like." Macen defensively insisted.

"Sure." Ro patronised him, "Whatever you say."

"Don't belittle what you don't believe." T'Kir warned through gritted teeth.

Macen put his arm around her shoulders, "Down girl."

Macen withdrew his arm and T'Kir punched his leg, "You didn't have t'take it away y'know."

"First, let me say ‘Ow'." Macen rubbed his leg, "We need to get focused. Distractions would only lead to things better not thought about."

T'Kir grinned, "That's what I was hoping for."

"Enough!" Hudson practically shouted, "I can see why Deanna's always complaining about you two."

"At least we're popular." T'Kir preened.

Ro pinched the ridged bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. Wearily, she pleaded, "Just be quiet for a few minutes and then we can go sailing off to our doom."

"Okay." T'Kir perkily chirped.

"Go ahead Alvin." Ro prompted.

Although irked, Hudson swallowed his ire, "We've been contacted by a group of Cardassian monarchists. The royal family is safely stowed away on a backwater world. They want to hire us to transport the family passed the Federation checkpoints where they can apply for asylum."

"Okay." Ro nodded, "Why us?"

"No other cell has access to the Odyssey." Hudson revealed, "She's the only deep cover vessel we have that's powerful and fast enough to get out of trouble if the worst should happen."

"Which is why I need Macen since it's his ship." Ro connected the last dots.

"Exactly." Hudson smiled.

Ro turned to Macen, "Brin?"

"She's in orbit with a skeleton crew of two aboard." Macen replied, "She can be ready as soon as she's crewed."

Knowing the Blackbird-class scouts were fully served by twenty-two crewmen, that wouldn't require many volunteers. Macen normally operated the ship with six people and three of those were Danan, T'Kir, and himself. Ro turned to the screen.

"We'll be setting out as soon we finish here." Ro said.

"Good." Hudson was pleased, "Are T'Kir's last encryption ciphers still uncompromised?"

"As far as we know." Ro replied.

"Hey! What d'you mean...Ow!" T'Kir jumped out of her seat. She glared at Macen, "You pinched me."

"The least I could do." Macen warned her, "Now sit down and shh!"

T'Kir plopped down into her seat with a stunned expression. It wasn't that Macen had reprimanded her. He did that frequently and often. The difference lay in the fact that he usually managed to do so in private. She was embarrassed and instantly sullen.

Oblivious to the sudden turn in events, Hudson and Ro carried on with the business at hand.

"The data's been received." Ro informed Hudson, "We'll set sail in a few hours."

"This is urgent." Hudson stressed, "Members of this monarchist movement can influence things in the High Command and even within the Obsidian Order. Gaining them as allies would aid our cause immeasurably."

Ro held up her hands in surrender, "I give up already. We'll start making preparations as soon as we conclude here."

Hudson chuckled, "In other words you want me to shut up and let you run the mission."

"Essentially." Ro grinned.

"Get to it." Hudson threw a salute, "Shunderson out."

Ro turned to Macen. Noticing T'Kir, she asked, "What's wrong with her?"

"She's pouting." Macen answered as though that were the most natural thing in the world.

"We'll need your crew." Ro started reeling of agenda points, "The Indie's crew is too large for your ship and besides your people know their vessel. I would like to bring Tulley and Thool along."

"Of course." Macen nodded, "It's your command. Do whatever you want."

Ro grinned, "No, Brin. It's your command. I'm just along for the ride. Although, I would like to man the helm. I've always wanted to try her out."

"But you're the cell leader." Macen protested via a reminder.

"Brin, you're the ship's captain." Ro asserted, "Disrupting a successful personnel formula for the sake of ego is not only detrimental it's destructive. So quit whining and marshal your troops, Captain."

"Aye, aye Skipper." Macen genuflected and rose. He nudged T'Kir, "C'mon compadre. We have hopes to ruin."

"Not gonna." T'Kir sulked, "You embarrassed me."

"You're lucky that's all that happened." Macen said with a hint of impatience, "You were trying to butt into a conversation that you hadn't been asked to join. I could have bent you over my knee and spanked you for that."

T'Kir lit up and clapped her hands, "Promise?"

"Forget I said it." Macen said regretfully.

"No, no!" T'Kir insisted as she bounced to her feet, "You promised. Now, what else would you spank me for?"

Macen ignored her and moved over to Tulley's side, "Aric? Would you help in tracking down my lost little lambs?"

Tulley rose, all while wearing a laconic grin, "Only if you promise to spank me."

Macen's brow knitted, "Don't give her ideas."

"Seems the lady's already got them, chum." Tulley advised.

Macen sighed, "True enough." He turned to Danan, "Better get up to the ship, Lees. We'll need her prepped in record time."

"Gotcha." Danan looked mischievous, "Would you spank me?"

Macen grinned, "Any time." With that said, he followed Tulley out of the quarters. T'Kir flashed her a venomous glare. Danan merely shrugged and blew T'Kir a kiss.

T'Kir blew out of Ro's quarters in a huff and scrambled to catch up with Macen. Ro chuckled softly as she came to sit next to Danan.

"Dangerous gambit." Ro observed.

"It is nice to know that he may try to win me back after all." Danan grinned.

Ro shook her head. She hadn't known many Trills, especially not many joined Trills. She absently wondered if they were all as carefree and adventurous as Lisea Danan.

Danan raised a hand, "Before you go thinking it, not all Trills are like me." Then she winked, "But most of the joined ones are."

Danan exited the domicile leaving Ro all alone. She gathered a few padds and then set out herself. She had to get the evacuation underway.

 

Chapter Three

As Macen watched his crew moved with single-minded purpose, the Odyssey came to life. The bridge was a round affair with five stations. Macen occupied the centre seat. This was the command station. Since the Blackbird-class was a Starfleet starship designed in the first decade of the 24th century, the armrests of the command chair were littered with controls.

The two forward stations were joined by their console. They consisted of Ops and CONN. As promised, Ro sat at the CONN. This relegated the usual pilot to the status of being a relief officer. That suited her. She'd been enjoying the solitude of the bridge before Macen and the others had arrived.

T'Kir sat at Ops. Her head bobbed and her body weaved as her hands flitted through the air. She'd once explained that she was "groovin' to the music in her head" at moments like these. She even accompanied the tunes with barely audible but discernibly off key vocals.

The rear of the bridge possessed two stations as well as the door leading to the briefing room. Tulley was running a diagnostic of the weapons array. Seated nearby, Danan calibrated the Science station's sensors. The cramped quarters of the diminutive bridge excluded any other occupants.

"T'Kir," Macen spoke in a firm tone of voice, "What's our status?"

T'Kir was instantly alert but still laid back, "We'll be ready t'go as soon as Chancy and Thool finish up in Engineering."

Macen activated the ship's intercom, "Masters Masthead and Thool, we're departing in fifteen minutes. Please complete your ministrations before then."

T'Kir gave him a thumb's up and Macen grinned. He wondered how Masthead was dealing with Thool wandering around "his" engine room. Since both were competent engineers Macen couldn't foresee a problem but stranger things had happened in both Starfleet and the Maquis.

T'Kir resumed her gyrating and singing. Macen leaned back in his chair and let his people do their jobs. Studying T'Kir, Macen wondered, for the billionth time, what was to be done about her.

Her condition wasn't her fault. As best as he could gather, it was a biological fluke. Her telepathy was out of her control and her sensitivity range covered at least half of Ronara Prime's largest continent. Having seen moments of lucid clarity from her, he found her vitality and keen intelligence to be compelling and he refused to abandon her. T'Kir's unique perspective on things also allowed her to see angles and solutions to problems that he overlooked.

Besides, he was in no position to judge anyone based on their mental health. During his last debriefing at Starbase 375, he'd been subjected to an exhaustive psychological review. It was a test that he miserably failed. Too many years of trauma: the loss of his homeworld and the scattering of the surviving remnant of his people combined with ten years as an analyst on the front lines of the Cardassian Border Wars had left him "scarred". Macen's penchant for boldly reacting to such situations was now seen as a liability. He was viewed as a "loose cannon" that "overreacted" tending towards "violence" with "murderous intent".

Macen had explained to the supervising counsellor that he took those measures appropriate to fighting a guerrilla campaign against a superior foe. The counsellor had informed Macen that he was an officer of Starfleet and not a Maquis. He needed to act appropriately. Macen broke his nose.

After being released from the brig at Admiral Nechayev's behest, Macen had a calm, quiet discussion with the newly minted Director of Starfleet Intelligence. Nechayev told Macen that he was no longer fit to serve in the fleet. She apologised for that and then promptly sent him back to the Maquis since that arena was where he could best serve Starfleet's interests.

Macen wondered what that meant for his career, if he was to have a career after the Maquis rebellion. If the Maquis secured their worlds then he'd have a place there and it wouldn't be an issue. If they failed, and he survived, Starfleet might no longer wish to welcome him. His having made the fleet home for the last seventy-seven years made that a daunting prospect.

Macen swivelled his chair around and took a look back at Danan. They'd once had a bright and engaging relationship. The amount of time he spent with T'Kir had undermined that. The natural course of the war had also played a significant part. As the Odyssey's 1st Officer she felt compelled to act as Macen's external conscience. His decisions increasingly struck a raw nerve with her.

Their relationship had not been a mature one when she volunteered to accompany him on his mission to infiltrate the Maquis. He knew that it was only natural that the pressures drove them apart. He also knew that he regretted that. He wondered if there was a way to start over. He swivelled back to facing the viewscreen. His own metaphysical senses were telling him something was about to occur.

His people's natural abilities to sense the "natural" course of the space time continuum and the intersection of probabilities had been amplified in those that had encountered the Nexus. Macen wore a wry grin at the thought of the "natural" course of history. History would unfold as the Fates deemed necessary and his people would alert those around them if that course of events had been sidetracked. It was their sacred duty.

"We got a green light!" T'Kir ebulliently announced.

Macen checked the chrono. Eleven minutes had passed since he'd issued his "ultimatum". He was impressed. He'd have to pass along his thanks later on.

"T'Kir, configure the ship for standard travel. Activate our transponder beacon and have it relay our ID to all queries." Macen ordered.

In order to cover their various covert intelligence activities, Macen had registered the vessel as a free trader. In most circles, that was a euphemism for smugglers and pirates. The High Command allowed the Odyssey to operate within its borders in exchange for the occasional favour. It usually involved smuggling contraband into the DMZ. Little did anyone at the High Command realise that the locations and inventories of such items were immediately given to Starfleet and the Maquis.

They wisely waited for months before moving on the paramilitaries possessing the contraband. Usually by then Macen's unit had deduced where it had been distributed and what it was intended for. In one smuggling run, covertly watched by a Galor-class cruiser's long range sensors, two Maquis raiders had "attacked" Macen's ship. He'd "fought" them off and made his delivery. He now received weekly job offers. Combined with his other legitimate contracts, the crew had enough work to add to the cell's operating budget and justify their presence in higher security areas.

The grey area in all of this was the fact that the Obsidian Order also had to approve Macen's favoured status. Macen and the Order were longstanding adversaries. He also knew, through contacts on Cardassia, that the Order suspected him of being a Maquis.

In the end it was revealed that the Order intended to use him as a stringer to gather information about the Maquis. Macen delivered some out of date and useless information a few times and the Order dismissed his services. They had not revoked his transit rights and used the opportunities that he was in Cardassian space to monitor him to try and detect where the Maquis would strike next.

Everyone aboard knew this particular contract could scuttle their entire operation. If the Cardassians learned that the Odyssey had transported the Chrysalis child and the royal family there would be hell to pay. If they managed to discover that the ship had been dispatched by the Maquis, it would likely result in the loss of all employment within the Cardassian Union, if not their imprisonment and subsequent show trial by the Cardassian authorities.

"The ship's ready." T'Kir reported.

"Laren, break orbit and then set course for Malthus II." Macen ordered, "Set for warp six."

Ro grinned, "Aye, Captain."

As Ro's fingers flew across her board, T'Kir swivelled to face Macen, "You'd better not get used to this ‘aye, captain this' and ‘aye, captain that' shuk. I ain't gonna do it."

Macen grinned. He appreciated T'Kir's bald faced honesty, "Nor would I expect you to. We are the Maquis. We have standards of rebelliousness and disrespect to maintain."

"Damn skippy!" T'Kir retorted. Whether or not she detected Macen's teasing tone was a matter of conjecture. Quite pleased with herself, she turned towards the view on the screen and began playing with her board. Macen's own empathic sense led him to believe that T'Kir had indeed known about his teasing.

Ro cast a nervous eye T'Kir's way and then urgently motioned for Macen to join her at the helm. A bemused Macen quietly stole away from his seat and joined her. Kneeling next to her station, he almost laughed out loud when she took one last worried glance at T'Kir before speaking.

"Should she be doing that?" Ro whispered.

"Doing what?" Macen whispered back.

"Messing with the ship's systems." Ro explained.

"Laren, it's her job." Macen said patiently.

"But she's..." Ro bugged out her eyes, held her hands up in odd angles and weaved about in her chair.

"No..." Macen corrected, "She's more like that." He pointed across the console to T'Kir's station. T'Kir wore a manic smile. Her head was canted slightly to the left and her eyes were glassy.

"I heard you." T'Kir scolded, "Bad Skipper, bad!" With that said, she returned her attention to her screens.

Ro looked at Macen with a bit of panic in her eyes, "How can you just..."

Macen held his finger to his lips, "Shh. It's all right. Computers and cybernetic systems soothe her."

"She'll soothe all of your souls straight to hell." Ro warned.

Now Macen laughed, "Actually, the ship's systems have never run more smoothly or efficiently. Even Lees is bragging up how fast and intuitive the library computer is now."

That settled Ro somewhat. Danan was T'Kir's most vocal critic outside of herself. One of the Trill's previous hosts had been a psychologist. That didn't make her a fully qualified counsellor but it was a step in the right direction.

"Did she recommend this as a type of therapy?" Ro was still feeling cautious.

Macen nodded, "She did. T'Kir's not suicidal. She'd make this ship dance on the head of pin if she thought it would help save her life."

"Good to know." Ro murmured.

Macen smiled, "Just relax. You're in one of Starfleet's finest vessels. She may be old and decommissioned but she's a firebrand at heart. She's never let us down yet."

"I'm so relieved." Ro replied dryly.

Macen patted her on her shoulder as he returned to his station. All of Ro's concerns stemmed around T'Kir. She knew the strengths and weaknesses of the Blackbird-class. The ship truly was the least of her worries.

The problem, Macen decided, is that Laren doesn't know T'Kir's strengths. She knows about her weaknesses but next to nothing about her positive attributes. She's tough, she's spunky, innovative, motivated, a cyber genius, and basically brilliant.

T'Kir turned to face him. Her face radiated joy and she left her seat to join him, "Thank you! You're too sweet. Don't worry, I won't tell Lees you feel that way."

"I think it's time I start shielding my thoughts from you." Macen calmly replied.

T'Kir was crestfallen, "That's no fair."

"Neither is a random intrusion into my mind." Macen declared, "Or do we want to have an examination into your deficits?"

"No." T'Kir meekly replied and returned to her board.

Danan came up from behind him, "How do you feel about her?"

Macen rose, "Ro, you have the bridge. Lees, join me in the briefing room."

T'Kir cast a worried glance over her shoulder. Danan victoriously blew her a kiss. T'Kir's countenance darkened and she began to pound at the controls on her board.

The briefing room door slid shut behind Danan and Macen whirled on her, "What are you playing at?"

Stunned, Danan took a step back, "I wasn't playing at anything."

"Bull." Macen scornfully replied, "T'Kir provoked you. You took the bait and one upped her."

Danan opened her mouth but no words came out. This wasn't the reaction she'd been expecting. She'd expected a little guilt, a little contrition, maybe even an angst ridden romantic plea. She'd never expected wrath.

"You're the first officer of this ship." Macen continued, "You're supposed to lead."

"Wait a minute!" Danan hotly returned, "Who's the one being led around by his mishveks?"

Macen calmed down. His expression was one of pained tolerance, "I'm not involved with her, Lees."

"Yes, you are." Danan asserted, "You just don't recognise the symptoms yet."

Macen sighed, "I've been hoping that we could give ‘us' another try."

Danan knew that admission came at a price. Macen wasn't wont to express his own desires. Twice now all of his ambitions had been stripped from him. He'd subsequently become very cautious about what to hope for.

Danan shook her head, "It won't happen while she's around. I won't play second string to some psychotic trollop."

"That was rude." Macen chastised her.

"By the Pools, Brin, you're defending her even now." Danan was disappointed, "You're practically accusing me of character assassination all the while knowing she's slept with over half of the men in our cell. Who knows how many she's cavorted with from other cells?"

"Every encounter was consensual." Macen insisted, "I'm surprised that a jaded old soul like yourself is being so prudish."

Danan shrugged, "Call me conservative at heart. I wouldn't pine away for anyone who's bedding down everyone he or she meets."

"I'm not pining away for anyone." Macen declared.

Danan wore a sad expression, "Too bad. That was a perfect opportunity to say, ‘I'm only pining away for you.'"

Danan pitied Macen as she saw the twisting emotions fill his eyes and cross his face. She knew he truly loved her. The conflict was that he loved T'Kir as well. Until he admitted that to himself and decided who was better suited for him he would never truly be hers. She could easily embrace Macen as her own or remain a loyal friend to him if he chose T'Kir but this trap of self denial that he'd created would only destroy them all. She only stood a chance with T'Kir gone and that, in and of itself, was a sad testimony.

Danan shook her head, "It's all right, Brin. I just think you need to honestly re-examine the situation."

Macen nodded, "Fair enough. Are we done bickering with T'Kir?"

Danan sketched a salute, "Yes, Boss."

"Then let's see what the children are up to." Macen ushered Danan back towards the door. Danan sincerely hoped that Macen would admit to himself how he truly felt about T'Kir. From that moment on Macen could quickly come to realise where his ultimate loyalty lay. Danan wasn't sure of how much longer she'd be willing to wait before she chose for him.

 

Chapter Four

The journey to Malthus took twelve and a half hours. The duty shifts had changed twice during the voyage. Danan had minded the reliefs and Macen had the "normal" crew. Now they had entered the Malthus system and immediately detected by the Trefflin, a Galor-class cruiser in orbit around Malthus II. T'Kir closely watched it on the sensors as the Odyssey made her approach to slip into orbit around the M-class world. As the scoutship approached at three-quarters impulse, she was hailed by the Cardassian cruiser.

"They're hailing." T'Kir reported.

"Put it on screen." Macen ordered. The screen shifted to the sight of a Cardassian gul missing one eye. In its place sat a prosthetic orb mounted in a metal housing. Heavy scarring surrounded the housing. The mechanical eye glowed purple.

"Identify yourself." The gul demanded.

"I'm Brin Macen, captain of the free trader Odyssey." Macen revealed, "If you check your database you'll see I'm cleared for travel within the Union's borders."

"I'll decide what you're cleared for." The gul snarled.

"Of course." Macen remained deferential, "But if I may? I'd like your name, rank, and unit number for my report to the Obsidian Order."

The Cardassian commander's skin turned dark grey and his face twisted in rage. A female glinn urgently appeared at the gul's side and frantically thrust a padd in front of her commander. There were few female officers in the Cardassian military so it was easy for Macen to recognise this one.

"Glinn Mariska," Macen said very formally, "we meet again."

Mariska eyed him cautiously even as her superior glared at her, "Yes, Commander. It seems we both find ourselves in different roles now."

Out of range of the viewer's pick up, Mariska's superior barked a demand. She turned to the screen and with her sternest frown said, "We will get back to you."

As the screen darkened, Macen leaned back in his chair and grinned victoriously. Ro swivelled around and was surprised by his elation.

"Why are you so happy?" Ro enquired, "Our cover is about to be blown and you're grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat."

T'Kir took a particular interest in the conversation, as did the rest of the bridge crew, and she stopped everything to listen in and watch.

"Mariska and I first met five years ago. Her ship had been crippled after its attack on Ceta IV failed and the prisoners had been brought back to the colony. I was part of the interrogation team debriefing her. She appreciated the courtesies extended towards her and her crew especially the extra security to prevent the settlers from avenging their dead." Macen explained, "During that interrogation it came out that Mariska is a monarchist and that's how I learned of the Chrysalis legend."

"You liked her." T'Kir accused.

"She reminded me that not all Cardassians are monolithic monsters." Macen confessed, "I found that refreshing."

"Whatever." T'Kir pouted.

"Grow up." Ro harshly commanded, "And stop being a pain in the ass."

T'Kir looked startled and completely at a loss. After a moment, she visibly smoothed herself out and smiled sweetly.

"Why, you're right, Dear Laren. I shall endeavour to conform to your expectations from now on." She said in sugary tones. T'Kir waited a second and then she slapped herself upside the head, "Wait a minute! I am living up to your expectations."

Ro was ruefully contrite, "All I meant to say is that these jealous fits have got to stop. We're fighting for our lives here. Any distractions could get us killed."

"Yes, suh." T'Kir snapped off a salute, "Whatever you say, suh."

Ro turned towards Macen, "A little help here?"

Macen shook his head, "You got yourself into this mess. Dig your own way out."

"But don't you think it has to stop?" Ro wondered.

"Yes, I do." Macen revealed, "T'Kir, join me in the briefing room. Laren, contemplate your mistake. Lees, stall them until I get back."

"How?" Danan sought advice.

"Tell them I'm getting ready to contact Director Tain of the Obsidian Order." Macen flashed her a wicked grin as he left the bridge.

Macen leaned up against the briefing room table. His eyes sought out T'Kir's. He studied what he saw there. With a pained and weary grimace, he spoke.

"T'Kir, this has to stop." He exhorted her, "I know you think you love me..."

"That may be going a bit far." T'Kir laughed, "But you're definitely at the top of my list."

T'Kir's body language belied her humorous tone. She stood with her feet apart, knees bent and her arms held ready to grab what was before her, namely Macen. She was poised to lunge and Macen thought that she might. His empathic senses could read her underlying turmoil.

"Look," Macen tried to start over, "it's not that I'm not flattered. I'm..."

"In love with me." T'Kir wore a lopsided grin, "Yes, I already know that."

Macen was startled, "What?"

"I've read your mind when you're mulling things over," She placed her arms akimbo on her hips, "and you're not blocking me out. You're crazy about me. Always have been, always will be."

"Crazy is the operative word here. This whole idea is crazy." Macen's protest sounded feeble even to him.

T'Kir's eyes were bright and her smile was all too knowing, "I know what you want but won't sample. I know what you dream about. Lees was right to leave you."

T'Kir moved forward, "Take me. I've been here waiting, just draw me close and claim me."

She wrapped her hands around his neck and drew him in for a smouldering kiss. It turned hungry and lingered for a moment. Macen caught his breath and he took a hold of T'Kir's hips and pushed her back.

"No." he said in a thick, ragged voice, "This isn't going to happen. You're not well. If we found you help, maybe we'd stand a chance but not when you're like this. We wouldn't be able to form a healthy relationship. It would always be turbulent."

"Turbulence is good." She cooed.

Macen took hold of her wrists and lifted her hands away from his neck, "It's fun for awhile but if it grows too rough you crash. I don't want that to happen."

T'Kir stroked his cheek, "That's not gonna happen, baby."

Macen closed his eyes and drew on an inner source of strength, "I admit I've entertained thoughts of ‘us'. But that's all it's been: daydreams and fluff. We will not, and I repeat, will not be engaging in any kind of love affair while your telepathy is out of control."

"Teach me how to use it." T'Kir suddenly petitioned, all traces of the seductress gone.

"I'm not sure I'm qualified." Macen admitted.

"Your psionic shields are strong enough to block me out and you've got talents that I've only dreamt of. Who else is better qualified?" T'Kir implored.

"All right." Macen agreed in a resigned tone of voice, "We'll try it."

T'Kir clapped her hands and bobbed up and down on her feet. Her smile was an ecstatic one, "This is gonna be too cool!"

"I take it that's a good thing." Macen dryly commented.

"Let me tell ya..." T'Kir began but was interrupted by the sound of the intercom.

"Danan to Macen." the Trill's disembodied voice filled the room, "The Cardies are back and they want to talk to you."

Macen activated the intercom's briefing room receiver, "I'm on my way."

Macen exited the space and T'Kir lingered for a moment. She felt cheated by the interruption but her disappointment was overwhelmed by her sense of triumph. Macen had agreed to tutor her in the use of her psionic abilities.

That alone makes up for any quibbling by stupid old Lisea Danan, T'Kir relished the idea, Brin is going to spend even more time alone with me! He'll be mine!

T'Kir basked in the moment for another thirty seconds and then followed Macen's trail.

"Captain Macen," the gul was very aggravated, "I am Gul Demor. It is my duty to welcome you to Malthus II. I am also instructed to inform you that the Obsidian Order has requested that I monitor your visit."

The scarred Gul wore a vicious smile, "That part of my orders will be carried out with brutal efficiency. My glinn will be transporting over to your ship in order to monitor your movements. Where you go, she goes."

Macen bowed his head slightly, "As you say."

Demor sneered, "You are proof that Starfleet's ranks are filled with incompetent cowards."

"Yet your own vastly superior forces were never able to achieve a decisive victory." Macen clinically replied, "What does that say about your troops?"

Demor sputtered and once again Mariska appeared by his side, "Commander, the High Command awaits your report on these matters. What shall I tell them?"

Demor looked as though he were contemplating striking her. It took several heartbeats but he reined himself in, "Very well. I'll deal with the High Command. You make arrangements to transport over to their craft."

"Yes, sir." Mariska replied with a bob of her head and Demor stalked off.

"Transmit the coordinates of your transporter room and I will be with you shortly." Mariska imperiously demanded.

"T'Kir," Macen prompted his Vulcan Ops officer, "transmit the coordinates to the Trefflin."

"Yeah right." T'Kir rejoined. After catching sight of Macen's disapproving glare she scrambled to comply.

"Our best tech will oversee the operation." Macen promised.

"As it should be." Mariska haughtily replied, "I will signal you when I am ready."

The screen went dark and Ro turned to face Macen, "That's our ace in the hole?"

"Have faith, Laren." Macen grinned, "The lady had an audience. Trust me."

"The last time I trusted you I ended up in a bar with a Cardassian informer and his four Nausicaan buddies." Ro grimaced, "All of whom wanted my head on a plate."

"Technically, the Nausicaans were bounty hunters in the employ of Farak." Macen reminded her, "And it ended well. The entire bar was cheering for us in the end."

"Mostly because we bought the house a round." Ro grumbled.

"C'mon," Macen rose from his seat, "meet Mariska in person. You'll be surprised."

"Don't you think you should tell Chancy or Thool to report to the transporter room?" Ro asked.

"Details." Macen cursed, "Always details."

Mariska materialised on a transporter pad within the Odyssey. Her cold contemptuous veneer was stripped away and she warmly embraced Macen. Turning to Ro, her bright smile never wavered.

"You must be Ro Laren." Mariska bowed at the waist, "I'm especially glad to see you."

"Exactly why are you happy to see me?" Ro enquired.

"The prophesied King has been born on the planet below." Mariska's voice took on a frantic tone, "Demor's troops are on the verge of discovering the child's location. We must extract the family and get them to safety. You are reported to be a master tactician. We have need of that today."

Ro almost reeled from the deluge of information and praise, "We're here to help but don't expect miracles."

"First things first." Macen started to prioritise, "Where is the family and can we transport to that location without alerting Demor's forces?"

"The family can be found by signalling their transponder." Mariska revealed.

"They have a transponder?" Ro couldn't believe her ears, "Why hasn't Demor managed to get a fix on it?"

Mariska smiled slyly, "Because the transponder's transmission crystals are attuned to Federation signal types. The Cardassian equivalents are broadcast on a much lower frequency bandwidth."

Ro grinned, "Which means we can find them first if we get on the ground."

The deckplates vibrated as the impulse engines gave a push. The Odyssey was assuming orbit. Her RCS thrusters completed and stabilised the orbital insertion.

"I have a suggestion." Mariska announced, "Demor's forces have already cleared several of the larger cities. We could, as you say, ‘beam' down to one of them and use it as our staging ground."

"It could work." Ro mused.

"Then we can proceed?" Mariska was excited.

"Just one moment." Macen advised. He stepped over to the intercom panel in the wall, "T'Kir, join us in the transporter room and bring a tricorder with you."

"Gotcha." A chipper sounding T'Kir replied as she cut the line.

Minutes later, T'Kir joined them in the transporter room. Masthead had been given the destination coordinates and was ready to commence transport. Mariska fidgeted.

"You are armed are you not?" she wanted to know.

Macen pulled a Bajoran Militia issue phaser out from a holster in the small of his back. Ro retrieved a small Bynterian produced phaser pistol out of her jacket. T'Kir reached under her sweater and produced a turn of the century Starfleet phaser.

Mariska was wide eyed, "Is it true then? Have you turned to the Maquis?"

Macen fielded that one, "Lt. Ro and I are both undercover. We infiltrated the Maquis in order to quell its terrorist tendencies. The Maquis Commander knows nothing of our true loyalties."

Mariska was visibly relieved, "And this woman?"

Macen moved behind T'Kir and held her shoulders, "She's a loyal confidant. We have no secrets from her."

"Why is she smiling at me?" Mariska looked unnerved, "Isn't she a Vulcan?"

"I'm a Vulcan, baby, I'm just not one of those repressed schmucks you see all the time." T'Kir proudly crowed.

"You were from Shial weren't you?" Mariska made the connection, "I heard about your colony before it was destroyed. It sounded amazing."

"You have no idea." T'Kir said tightly. Through his hands, he could feel T'Kir coiling up to strike out. With his empathic senses, he could feel her burning anger and wrath. The probabilities were in flux and he knew this was a pivotal moment.

Macen wrapped his arms around her and held her close to him. Her anger lingered for some time but then her dawning awareness of her present circumstance began to override all other concerns. Macen leaned over and whispered into her elegantly curved ear.

"Behave or you stay behind." He gently warned.

"Just try and tell me you aren't having fun." She whispered back.

"Maybe." Macen partially conceded as he distanced himself from her.

"Well," Ro stared at Macen, "that was informative. Wasn't it?"

"We can beam down at any time." Macen urged, "Morale and disciplinary problems have been solved."

"I'm sure they were." Ro grated.

The four stepped up to the transporter pads. Masthead activated the system and the landing party's molecular structure was converted into energy. That energy was then transferred to the surface of Malthus II and coalesced back into matter. The Trefflin's sensors dutifully logged the process and destination and then took no further notice of the landing party.

The landing party materialised in a side street connecting to a main boulevard. Their specific location was the city of Grinnil. The first thing everyone realised was that it was drastically warmer. Malthus was a G10 star. The orbital track of the planet was also on the inner edge of the habitable region for humanoid life.

T'Kir exulted in the warmth, "Thank the Elements! We've finally gone somewhere where I'm not freezing my butt off."

"It is rather nice." Mariska agreed.

Ro and Macen were already uncomfortable and that sensation was only going to increase over time. They both shucked their jackets. Macen's phaser was exposed but he said he was willing to take a chance. Ro's phaser disappeared into the nooks of her clothing.

"You'd be better served by a distraction to draw attention away from your waistband." T'Kir clinically appraised the situation. Next, she took hold of Macen's arm and hugged in close to him.

"I volunteer to be the distraction." She excitedly announced.

Macen took in the situation. She had a hold of his left arm with her right hand. Both of them still had their dominant hands free to use their weapons if need be. It was a rather elegantly simple solution.

"You do realise that we're doing this for the mission?" Macen whispered.

"Sure, sure." T'Kir patted his arm with her free hand, "Just keep telling yourself that."

Macen sighed and T'Kir giggled. Ro looked disgusted. Mariska looked baffled but refrained from questioning what she saw.

"Give me the tricorder." Ro demanded.

"Y'could say ‘please' y'know." T'Kir huffed as she handed over the requested device.

"Spare me." Ro retorted as she activated the small, box-like tricorder. She handed it to Mariska, "You know the frequency we're looking for. Plug it in and we'll set out after your King."

Mariska accepted the Federation device. It also came from the turn of the century and it took her a moment's study to deduce how to work it. After she inputted the frequency, she activated the device and handed it back to Ro.

Ro watched the tricorder's display while it processed the results of its scan. Ro's eyes never left the tricorder but her conversation did.

"So how did you come to have this frequency?" She asked.

Mariska smiled, "You mean how did a Cardassian officer come to have this particular frequency?"

A ghost of a smile played itself out across Ro's lips, "Something like that."

"We monarchists are organised into splinter cells." Mariska explained, "This is especially true of military cells. Virtually every ship and garrison has a cell secreted within it. As the head of the Trefflin's cell, I was forwarded the details of the transponder frequencies. It is my sworn duty to assist the royal family however I can."

Mariska stared into Ro's eyes, "Does that satisfy you?"

Ro nodded, "For now."

"I almost hate to interrupt," Macen suddenly interjected, "but a crowd is gathering."

Ro and Mariska took note of their surroundings. Cardassian men, women and children were milling about openly gaping at the strangers in their midst. The sight of a woman in military armour was no less a cause for concern than three aliens.

"If I'm reading this thing right the transponder's just over four hundred kilometres away to the Northeast." Ro informed her comrades.

"Then let's find transportation." Macen urged, "We need to get going."

They rented a six wheeled all terrain vehicle from a local merchant. Familiar with its design and operation, Mariska climbed into the driver's side of the open topped vehicle. Ro pushed past Macen and seated herself in the forward passenger's bench. That left Macen to T'Kir's mercies in the passenger compartment.

T'Kir plopped down next to Macen on one of the passenger bay's couches, "Goodie! A field trip."

"Behave." Macen warned.

"I do." T'Kir replied with wide eyed sincerity, "I behave badly but I always behave."

"Fates." Macen muttered, "This is going to be a long trip."

"I know how we could pass the time." T'Kir began to suggest as she leaned in close.

"Down girl." Macen held her back, "How about we start working on your telepathic defences?"

"Joy!" T'Kir's face lit up.

 

Chapter Five

The quartet had almost completed their trek across the barren wastelands separating Grinnil from their intended destination of Havrat. As the purveyor of their vehicle had elucidated them, Havrat was an agricultural commune. It only had a population of a thousand or so colonists. It was the perfect out of the way spot for the royals to hide in.

Macen and T'Kir had tried a few simple psionic exercises. They had come as a surprise to T'Kir. They were simplistic but opened up a whole new world to her. Afterwards, they had opted for conversation.

"So you believe in the divinity of Christ?" T'Kir was surprised.

"It's no stranger than attributing divinity to the Prophets or the Q. Some cultures probably revere the Organians and the Metrons. My cultural bias leans me towards accepting the concept of godhood."

"But to be born to reform a planet's spirituality and to have to die to accomplish it." T'Kir whistled, "Pretty tall marching orders."

"The pattern was repeated on 492 IV so maybe it's a human thing." Macen suggested.

"Where?" T'Kir was puzzled.

"Forget I mentioned it." Macen brushed the question aside. He couldn't reveal the answer anyway.

He could see her trying to permanently imprint the location's name in her mind. He poked her in the ribs. She squealed in delight and got a decidedly playful look to her eye.

"Behave." Macen reminded her.

"I'll show you ‘behave'." T'Kir warned.

She moved with predatory grace. She tickled him on both sides. He managed to fend her off because she didn't employ her full strength. The assault left him winded.

"Do I have to separate you two?" Ro called back.

"We'll behave." Macen called back, "I promise."

"I don't." T'Kir defiantly crossed her arms in front of her chest.

Mariska looked over to Ro, "Are they always like this?"

Ro grimaced, "They're not usually this bad."

"Are they lovers then?" Mariska wondered.

"No." Ro frowned, "They're just really confused."

"They should be." Mariska decided, "They compliment one another."

Ro's frown deepened. As much as she hated to admit it, she could see why Mariska had drawn that conclusion. In a low population area, and with Macen around, T'Kir was almost as close to normal as she ever became. Ro had to admit that when T'Kir calmed down she wasn't that bad. They'd never be the closest of friends but then again they shouldn't be.

Idly, she wondered if Macen resented her taking charge on the ground even after insisting he remain in command of the ship. It didn't seem to bother him but she found El-Aurians to be enigmatic at best. Who knew what was going on in that Vulcan muddled mind of his?

Ro had struggled for over a year now to tame her Maquis cell and wrestle with the doubts that lingered after she'd been unexpectantly elevated to the status of commander of the Ronaran cell. Ro's past had haunted her for months after attaining the top slot. Macen had helped her overcome her nagging doubts. She'd come to rely upon her strengths and to trust in her own vision of the future.

That, combined with her extensive Starfleet training, led her to become one of the Maquis' most celebrated commanders. Her star had risen under Cal Hudson's patronage. They had similar goals. However, Hudson also endorsed terror tactics. He knew Ro abhorred such methods and it remained a source of growing friction between them.

Macen trusted Mariska but Ro couldn't bring herself to do so. Too many duplicitous Cardassians littered her memory. Deaths were associated with those same Cardassians. If Mariska were leading them into a trap it would be the last thing that she ever did.

"You disagree with my assessment?" Mariska asked.

That brought a wry smile to Ro's lips, "You just aren't acquainted with all of the facts."

"Too true." Mariska readily agreed.

"Why does Macen trust you?" Ro finally asked the question that had been plaguing her.

Mariska smiled, "After revealing myself to be a monarchist, I divulged a weakness in Cardassian military shields that the Federation successfully exploited for over a year. If your government had so decided you could have taken the war to Cardassia Prime itself."

"Why aren't you dead?" Ro enquired, "Your people don't look kindly upon informers."

"They don't know that it was me." Mariska's smile grew wolfish, "Macen arranged for my ‘escape' and we covertly kept in contact until recently. I didn't know that he'd infiltrated the Maquis. That must be why he never responded to my last messages."

The sadness in Mariska's voice surprised Ro. Does our shy, retiring spymaster have a girl on every world? She wondered.

Sincerity was a draw and Macen was nothing if not sincere. Even Ro had found herself compelled by it. That had quickly ended when Ro realised that she valued Macen's friendship far more than she would any dalliance that they might enjoy.

Ro and Macen had grown close over the last year and a half. He was the closest friend that she'd had since Guinan had extended her hand in friendship. Ro sorely missed Guinan's dry wit and sage wisdom. The older woman's mere presence had brought comfort to Ro. Her unique perspective on life, love, and the universe had stretched Ro's internal boundaries.

While Guinan had embodied quiet grace and confidence, Macen personified restless intellect, unshakeable resolve, and a willingness to take swift, decisive action. Macen's own admissions had revealed that he was a pariah amongst his people for his "radical" ways. Ro wondered if that was one of the factors that linked him to T'Kir.

T'Kir was rejected by Vulcans at large. Her youthful immersion in the philosophies and teaching of Sybok marked her as a renegade by Vulcan's orthodox leadership. Her uncontrolled psionic abilities and erratic behaviours estranged her from her fellow Maquis. As Ro knew, it was hard to be an exile within a group you've chosen to join.

Ro's own experience in Starfleet was an unending tale of awkward tolerance. Only Jean-Luc Picard had accepted her for who she was. Will Riker had initially tolerated her on the basis of the Captain's orders. She liked to think that Riker had softened towards her after her completion of Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training.

Ro knew Macen's experience with Starfleet had been far different. Serving since the last years of the 23rd century, Macen had enjoyed success and received accolades within the framework of Starfleet Intelligence. Starfleet loved Macen and Macen loved the organisation in return. The Federation's Demilitarised Zone treaty had irrevocably altered Macen's opinion of the Federation and Starfleet.

Macen had spent almost a decade on the Federation's frontier that bordered the expanding Cardassian Union. The resultant skirmishes had killed thousands of colonists. Starfleet had committed ships and personnel to the problem as well as diplomatic pressure. Macen was there to assess the Cardassian's military and civilian capabilities. He was there to illuminate a portion of the mentality of the High Command. His findings had been used to craft the controversial treaty.

The Federation's decision to go forward with the treaty came as no great surprise. Ten years of struggle and bloodshed wore heavily on a society purported to live in paradise. The civilian government, and their constituents, had lost sight of the goals behind defending the border colonies. Peace became the golden calf to be worshipped at any cost.

Starfleet's participation in the treaty negotiations came as no surprise but the results were a shocking disappointment. Starfleet's endorsement of the treaty was an outrage. The subsequent relocation of settlers was a betrayal. The abandonment of the colonies to Cardassian control was unforgivable.

Macen had become cynical over the course of these events. Only Nechayev's grace kept him in Starfleet. Her tacit support of his activities helped fan whatever embers of faith in the system that he had left.

All of this came as a surprise to Ro. Nechayev's attitude towards the Maquis had been quite different when Ro had been recruited for her abortive undercover mission. The fact that the treaty had held up despite the Maquis obviously swayed the canny Admiral. The Maquis had become a tool, an expendable tool to be sure, but an asset nonetheless.

The problem with Nechayev's gambit is that it was forbidden by Starfleet Command. Officially, Ro, Macen, and Danan were all rogue officers actively sought by Starfleet Security and Internal Affairs. All Nechayev had to do to escape official wrath is doctor some reports to explain where operational support had been going. Ro's proficiency with computers would suffice to smooth away any questions as to how the renegades had gathered Intelligence reports. Macen's knowledge of Intelligence operations and bases would account for their obtaining material support.

How far Nechayev would go in keeping her ersatz operatives from capture was a matter of conjecture. Personally, Ro and Macen agreed that Nechayev would sacrifice them in a moment's notice. Macen accepted this with equanimity. He'd been friends with Nechayev throughout her career and he was willing to give her considerable leeway. Ro was not so magnanimous.

Ro blinked and checked her wrist chrono. She'd been lost in thought for almost twenty minutes. Mentally reviewing her ruminations, she reached a new conclusion. Perhaps it was time to give T'Kir a break. The Vulcan could still be helped while Starfleet was an immovable wall.

Besides, Ro mused, T'Kir isn't insufferable all the time.

T'Kir suddenly appeared in the gap between Ro and Mariska's seats, "Thanks Laren. I love you too."

"Go back to your seat before I shoot you." Ro growled.

T'Kir kissed her on the cheek and retreated before Ro could react. Mariska laughed, "She certainly is a livewire."

Ro looked askance as she asked, "Where did you hear that expression?"

Mariska shrugged, "It's an archaic expression dating back to when we Cardassians used copper alloy wiring to route electrical power. Why?"

"Humans have a similar metaphor. It has a common origin." Ro revealed.

"More reasons not to fight them." Mariska sighed.

"You disapprove of the violence?" Ro was surprised.

Mariska wore a wry expression, "I may be in the military but I'm not a purveyor of official propaganda. We aren't inherently superior to aliens and we aren't born to rule them. That attitude is what went wrong on the border and in the DMZ."

"Not to mention Bajor." Ro sported a malicious smile.

Mariska saddened, "Yes. We had a great opportunity to forge a lasting friendship with a great moral and philosophical people yet all we could do was lust after conquest. Cooperation between our two societies would have bred greatness. Instead all we have is tragedy."

Mariska noticed that Ro was gaping at her. She self consciously touched her face,

"What?"

"You're just so different from every other Cardassian I've met." Ro said with a touch of respect in her voice.

"Is it because I think for myself?" Mariska dryly asked.

A rueful grin spread across Ro's face, "Yeah, I think that's it."

"My people are rather dogmatic." Mariska sighed, "Innovation and change do not naturally occur within our society."

Ro's grin turned jovial, "Give me and my cell time. We'll stir up enough controversy to provoke change."

"But will it be for the better?" Mariska wondered.

Ro had no answer for that question.

 

Chapter Six

The transport had driven through the town and was now heading into the surrounding hills. A small gathering of cottages littered the roadway. Ro signalled Mariska to stop. She pointed at a structure dug into the hillside.

"That's the location." Ro declared.

Mariska frowned, "There are quite a few people gathering at this roadhouse."

"All I know is that it's getting dark." T'Kir interjected, "Let's either get rooms or grab this kid and let's go."

"If the nervous glances we're receiving from the line outside of the stable are any indication, I'd say we found the right place." Macen said. This observation derailed any disgruntled comment Ro or Mariska could offer T'Kir.

Macen knew Ro objected to T'Kir's irreverent tone. In Ro's mind, T'Kir wasn't taking the mission seriously enough. Mariska was offended because of T'Kir's indifference for what, to her, was a sacred moment. She had to forcefully remind herself that these were aliens and therefore viewed the fulfilment of a Cardassian prophecy different than she did. It wasn't a good or a bad thing, it just was.

"Let's check out that stable and see what's going on." Ro said. Everyone climbed out of the transport and strolled over to the stable entrance. Several strapping men blocked their path.

Ro was unimpressed, "Can I help you?"

The Cardassian she addressed noted the flippant sarcasm in her voice, "This is no place for you." He eyed Mariska's uniform, "Any of you."

"Sorry pal," Ro gave him her most charming smile, "but I've got a date with destiny."

Ro started forward and the Cardassian used his hand to stop her. Ro's smile became vicious as she took hold of the hand pressed against her chest, "Wrong move, boy."

Ro twisted the Cardassian's hand and inverted the wrist. Twisting the arm, she hyper-extended the elbow. The hulking farmer let out a shriek. Ro had time to see one of his fellows charging at her. She kicked the side of her captive's knee, dislocating the kneecap, and released his arm. He collapsed to the ground, yelling out in pain.

The charging farmer lunged for Ro. She neatly sidestepped the move. Catching his passing arm, she used his momentum to arc his arm around behind his back. Catching him from behind, she used her knees to buckle his. Putting him on the ground, she knelt atop him.

Wondering where the next attack would come from, Ro quickly looked around. All the remaining Cardassians were frozen in place. Looking back at "her" people she saw that the others had their weapons drawn and aimed at the offending crowd.

The line into the stable watched in transfixed horror as they saw the Bajoran lass soundly disabling the two best fighters in the commune. A tall, regal looking figure emerged from the stable. Seeing the spectacle before him, he straightened his tunic and advanced.

"You there, stop!" the man cried out.

Mariska dropped to the ground, "Your Majesty."

That garnered Ro's attention. She craned her neck around to scrutinise the owner of that voice. The latest Cardassian to join the party was immaculately groomed. His clothes cost more than these people saw in a lifetime. He also stood there quietly, and humbly, petitioning them to stop their fighting.

Ro released her prisoner and rose to her feet. Macen had already holstered his phaser. T'Kir's was still visible but she was no longer aiming it at anyone. Mariska was still practically prone.

"You must be the Maquis we were expecting." The Cardassian Prince said with an apologetic smile, "I'm sorry but we don't receive many alien visitors on Havrat."

"You're familiar with this settlement?" Ro's surprise showed.

The Prince chuckled, "Back in my formative years, the authorities wanted to show me my place. They sent me here for six years. I made many friends."

"All of whom are saving your life right now." Ro deduced.

The Prince nodded, a sad air hung over him, "I'm afraid that more of my people will die over this. That is why we must leave."

"We can leave immediately." Ro assured him. Turning to the rest, she waved them over, "Brin Macen, I'd like you to meet Prince...?"

"Feist Dervin." The Prince supplied, "Just Feist Dervin."

Ro grinned, "Works for me. This is T'Kir and this is..." Ro looked over to Mariska's prostrate form, "Oh, get up! He's not going to bite."

"Please get up." Dervin implored.

"Yes, Your Majesty." Mariska slowly rose. Her eyes gleamed with reverence and awe. Ro wondered how she'd react when she was confronted with her King.

"Follow me please." Dervin led the quartet towards the stable.

The crowd parted and let them through. Inside, seated upon a bale of something resembling straw, was a handsome woman cradling a child. The milling crowd was a mix of local farmers, commune magistrates, and "shepherds". Dervin guided the Maquis through them.

"This is Aneesh, my wife, and Katreen, my daughter." Dervin proudly presented his family.

"Daughter?" Mariska sputtered.

Macen grinned, "So much for assumptions."

"We were surprised as well." Dervin admitted, "But she bears the royal mark."

"The Purple Peppercorn." T'Kir happily chimed in. Dervin nodded his agreement. She nudged Macen, "See? I pay attention."

He leaned down and whispered into her ear, "Only when it suits you."

"True." She conceded and then broke into an angelic smile, "This is a happy scene. Think we'll ever have one?"

"I believe so." Macen revealed, "Otherwise I'd have given up...on many things."

There was a catch to his voice that T'Kir wanted to pounce upon but a farmer ran into the stable, "Troops are transporting down everywhere!"

"Dammit!" Mariska snapped, "They tracked my communicator."

"Let's see them track this." Macen flipped open his surplus communicator, "Macen to Chancy." Macen looked at Mariska. She took a deep breath and nodded.

"Chancy here."

"Seven to beam up." Macen instructed, "Lock on to these coordinates and transport the lifesigns surrounding this communicator."

Life dissolved into a rush of colours and then formed into the confines of the Odyssey's transporter room. Mariska activated her wrist communicator, "Activate threat matrix zero-zero-nine-five, authorisation Mariska Fraena."

"What was that about?" Ro demanded.

"I just issued a command that will fuse the deuterium injector and create a deuterium leak. The magnetic interlock in the antimatter injector will also fail. The micro explosion caused by the unregulated mixing of matter and antimatter will destroy that injector as well. It will cause a maximum amount of damage with little collateral damage. The fused injector will require four hours to repair. The antimatter injector assembly will have to be replaced. The replicators aboard can't replace it and the spare has been sabotaged. You can assume that it will take six hours to replace the primary with the spare and another two hours to cycle the replacement and discover the sabotage. It will take an average of five more hours to cobble together a replacement out of the components of the two injectors. You figure another hour to cycle that conglomeration and this gives you fourteen hours in which to escape."

"You mean ‘us'." Macen firmly said, "I'm not going to sacrifice your life." He pointed at the young Queen, "Not when she'll need you."

Dervin rest a hand on Mariska's shoulder, "Katreen needs you. For that matter, Aneesh and I need you. You're plainly comfortable dealing with the Federation. Neither my wife nor I are. We need you to help ensure our daughter's future."

Mariska squared her shoulders, "As you wish, Your Majesty."

Dervin grinned, "I really do need to teach you not to be so polite."

"T'Kir," Macen grabbed her attention, "Show our guests to some cabins."

"And a change of clothes if you have it." Mariska smiled, "This uniform has suddenly grown too small."

"I think I can do all of the above." T'Kir bubbled, "Follow me."

The alert klaxon went off about then. Macen ran to the intercom as Chancy ran out of the room and headed for his engines, "Macen here. What's going on?"

Danan's cool voice met his ears, "The Trefflin has locked disruptors on us. We've raised shields and broken orbit. They're using thrusters to try and cage us but they haven't fired or primed their warp engines yet."

"If my information is accurate they can't do either." Macen informed her, "Set course for Deep Space 9. Our passengers can apply for asylum there."

"And how, precisely, will we avoid going to jail?" Danan wanted to know.

"Trust me." Macen grinned, "I have that covered."

"Oh joy." Danan grumped, "Another brilliant plan."

"You have a problem with my plans?" Macen gently laughed.

"Just the ones involving T'Kir." Macen could hear Danan's frown.

Part of him felt guilty but another portion of his soul remained unrepentant. Macen loved Danan. He truly did. The problem was that had more in common and a greater affinity with T'Kir then he did with Danan. Not for the first time he wished that he'd met a stable T'Kir.

"Noted." Macen replied and killed the circuit.

"I guess she told you her thoughts on the matter." Ro smugly smiled, "What are you going to do about it?"

"It's complicated." Macen replied.

"It doesn't have to be. Just choose who's more important to you." Ro declared.

"I can't choose who I'd want and it isn't fair for Lisea to win be default." Macen angrily retorted.

Ro's eyes went wide, "Well, that answers that."

Macen sighed as he fidgeted, "I just want to be sure I'm choosing Lisea for her own merits not because I feel I can't have T'Kir."

"You could." Ro said in a quiet voice.

"No, I can't." Macen said with grim finality, "She can't control her telepathic abilities and she's half mad as a result."

"I thought that was the source of her charm." Ro drolly retorted.

"Let's drop it before..." Macen never finished before the door slid aside and T'Kir bounded in.

"I thought that Herod was supposed to wait eighteen months before sending the troops in." she manically grinned.

"What is she talking about now?" Ro demanded.

"It ties into the Christmas story." Macen explained, "The local king heard stories of a rival king being born and decided to eliminate the threat by killing every male child under two years old in that region."

"You don't think they'd...?" Ro couldn't voice the thought.

"They could." Macen's experience counted in his assessment, "And since they don't know the sex of the child it would be a universal planet wide slaughter."

"But Cardassians prize their children." Ro couldn't accept Macen's conclusion.

"They prize social order even more and Katreen represents the end of everything they know." Macen said darkly, "They'd kill her even if she were God herself."

"Happened once before." T'Kir jutted in.

"Don't confuse her with Easter just yet." Macen advised.

"Okay." T'Kir happily agreed.

"Brin, about this..." Ro faltered.

"It's conjecture, Laren." Macen stressed, "As long as the High Command is in charge of the search then everything will be fine. What you have to watch out for are the goons in the Obsidian Order's Internal Security Services division. The ISS would raze the planet without a qualm. Massacring thousands of children merely pales in comparison."

"Brin," Ro desperately implored, "you have to contact them. Warn them!"

Macen sighed, "It won't do any good."

"We have to try dammit!" Ro snarled.

"All right." Macen relented, "We'll try."

"That's all I ask." Ro calmed down.

"No." Macen grimly replied, "You're asking me to succeed and I can't guarantee that's going to happen."

Taken by surprise, Ro was silent during the turbolift ride back to the bridge. Macen relieved Danan and T'Kir took residence at the railing separating the aft stations from the forward ones. Ro did not return to the helm. Instead, she hovered near Macen's side.

"Aric," Macen rotated his chair to face Tulley, "contact the Colonial Governor of Malthus II."

Four minutes passed. Macen swivelled around to see Tulley. Ro moved to Tulley's side.

"What is it?" she asked.

"They're not responding." Tulley answered, "There isn't a response on any channels. Even the commercial bands are dead."

Ro faced Macen, "We have to turn around. Helm, bring us about."

Macen intervened, "Cancel that order. Maintain course and speed."

"Brin, we have to turn around." Ro insisted, "That cruiser's crippled. We could finish her off."

"That wouldn't change the situation on the ground," Macen was coolly collected, "which is where the danger lies. You also neglecting the fact that the cruiser's auxiliary power is now up and running and a Galor-class cruiser can destroy us. Even if she's reduced to auxiliary power, she would still outgun us."

"But we can't..." Ro's throat chocked off her protest.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few today." Macen brutally hammered at her sense of logic, "That little girl represents hope to billions not mere thousands. If we go back, the mission fails and this was all for nothing. I can't live with that. Can you? "

Ro tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and respectfully admitted, "No. No, I can't. Carry on Captain."

"I'd like you at the helm, Skipper." Macen returned the respect and added some affection.

"T'Kir," Macen's voice was raised, "get back to your station."

"But I wanna..." T'Kir began to whine.

"Now, T'Kir." Macen's voice grew steely.

T'Kir sprinted over to the Ops station and relieved the crewman seated there. Ro took the CONN and double checked their speed and vector. Finding both to be satisfactory, Ro tried to drown the sound of children screaming out of her mind. She finally managed to push it into the background but her sense of guilt lingered, as it would for the rest of her life.

 

Chapter Seven

The Odyssey sailed through the night of space. She ran quickly and quietly. The Trefflin undoubtedly had raised the alarm. The ship's cover was destroyed and any Cardassian ship they might encounter would either fire upon them or vector in a larger ship to do that very thing.

The Bajoran border was minutes away. Macen and Danan had changed into their blue shouldered Class B Starfleet uniforms. Now within DS9's sensor range, they hailed the station.

Macen faced the viewer with Danan standing at his elbow. The Bajoran officer that appeared on Macen's viewer seemed anxious. Macen recognised her as Major Kira Nerys, the station's XO.

The ship's ID transponder labelled the ship as the NCC-14274 USS Tiberius, the ship's identity prior to her decommissioning. It was another of the vessel's alternate identities. Macen used this one when dealing with Starfleet. T'Kir had even hacked into Starfleet Operation's fleet registries and reactivated the ship under Starfleet Intelligence's umbrella.

Kira asked the first question, "Tiberius, what is your status?"

"Our current status is fine." Macen answered, "That may change at any instant. We are being actively pursued by the Cardassians."

Kira wore a wry grin, "I don't doubt it. You are in violation of treaty."

"You don't know how true that is." Macen returned the grin, "Inform Commander Sisko that we're coming in hot and we have passengers he needs to speak with."

"So advised." Kira acknowledged, "We'll keep an eye on you."

"We appreciate it." Macen honestly admitted.

"Whoa Nelly!" T'Kir blurted, "We've got a Galor-class cruiser lighting up its active sensors, activating its impulse engines, and priming its warp drive."

Macen rubbed his chin, "So, they were lying in wait and relying on their passive sensors to find us." He pondered that for a moment longer and then began organising their defence, "Ro, will the cruiser overtake us before we reach the border?"

"It's guaranteed at our current speed." Ro supplied the answer, "It'll be close if we jump up to warp 8."

"Push us to the max." Macen ordered. He hit the intercom button, "Macen to Engineering. Attention, we'll be needing warp 8 or better for a while."

"You'll have it!" Thool exuberantly promised.

Knowing warp 8 was his ship's maximum emergency speed, Macen began to look for alternate weapons. His photon magazines were nearly empty. The Maquis never had enough of those. He could requisition them from Starfleet but then he'd have to explain who he was shooting at.

His phasers were primed and ready for battle but even they would need time to batter through a Galor's shields. Time was something he didn't have. He did have one secret weapon.

"T'Kir," Macen said hopefully, "can you hack into the Cardassian ship's mainframe and shut her down?"

T'Kir wore a desperate smile, "I can try!"

"DS9 is hailing." Tulley reported.

Commander Sisko's grim visage appeared, "Tiberius, we are aware of the Cardassian cruiser bearing down on you. However, we can't cross the border to assist you. You must cross the border. We'll have the Defiant standing by."

"Understood Commander." Macen grinned, "Hopefully we'll stay in one piece."

"Hail the Cardassian." Macen ordered.

The screen switched to the picture of a reed thin Cardassian, "I am Gul Ocet. Do you wish to surrender? If you surrender now I can guarantee your crew will be spared."

"Life in a labour camp isn't being spared." Macen retorted, "What of my passengers?"

"Their lives are none of your concern." A contemptuous Ocet said.

"No deal." Macen grimly decided.

Ocet smiled. It was a vicious thing, "We'll hold this channel open for you when you change your mind."

The screen returned to its view of the approaching starfield. Danan bristled, "The smug bastard. I'd like to change his mind."

"I'm workin' on it." T'Kir called back.

Several moments hung in the air like dead silence. Macen asked, "Time to the border?"

"Three minutes." Ro answered, "And before you ask, they'll overtake us in three minutes."

"Why haven't they fired?" Danan wondered, "They've been in weapons range for a few minutes now."

"They saw our uniforms." Macen explained, "Combine that with the station scrambling the Defiant to our rescue and they have to be wondering if this is a Starfleet operation. If so, should they fire? What are the consequences of them letting us go? The High Command is chewing on that even now."

"Will they fire?" Tulley asked.

"They have to." Macen replied, "They couldn't save face otherwise."

"More importantly, will they cross the border to fire?" Danan enquired.

Macen nodded, "The principle of sovereign territory is at stake. Theirs was defiled, and Bajor should be theirs, so it all works out in the end. As long as we're dead, that is."

The ship shuddered. Macen looked up at Danan, "They've resolved the matter of whether or not to shoot. You'd better get back to your station."

The latter was said with such concern that Danan was touched. She lingered for another second, right up until an annoyed look from Macen sent her on her way. She'd known of course that he still cared for her but she wasn't relying on anything while T'Kir was still around.

"Evasive manoeuvres." Macen calmly ordered as the ship shook again, "Time to border crossing?"

"Fifteen...no, make that thirty seconds to account for the evasive tactics." Ro answered.

"T'Kir?" Macen prodded.

"I'm workin' on it." she declared.

The deckplates began to lurch as the ship was hit by volleys of disruptor fire. Tulley called out, "Shields at sixty-two percent. Can I please return fire?"

"No." Macen called back over his shoulder, "Laren?"

"You should see what isn't hitting us." Ro grimly replied, "But I'll do my best."

"Got it!" T'Kir jubilantly cried.

The ship continued to get pounded on and Tulley dryly remarked, "Got what?"

Suddenly there was no turbulence, no overloading circuits, and no explosions so the ship hadn't been destroyed. T'Kir twisted her chair around to face Macen. She grinned triumphantly.

"And you doubted me." She playfully accused.

"I stand corrected." Macen allowed. In truth, her comments stung because he had doubted her rather formidable abilities.

The ship suddenly rocked from a passing subspace wake.

"What the hell?" Ro muttered and then more loudly, "That was a photon torpedo."

She cast an accusatory eye T'Kir's way. T'Kir's grin turned wan, "The torpedoes are in a separate directory. I had to pick which one was more important. At the time the disruptors took precedence. Excuuuse me for trying to help."

"We've crossed the damned border." Danan snapped, "Where's Starfleet?"

"They're probably polishing their comm badges." Tulley quipped.

"Drop us out of warp and engage the impulse engines." Macen ordered, "At sublight we're more manoeuvrable than they are. Let's take advantage of that."

The streaks of starlight reverted back to a starfield on the viewer. Ro immediately threw the scoutship into a series of feints, turns, rolls, and loops. Every contortion was designed to keep them steered amidships with the cruiser. That way her forward and aft torpedo launchers couldn't be brought to bear.

"She's helpless." Tulley's eyes and voice were predatory, "We should open fire and destroy her."

"We're being scrutinised." Macen turned to face Tulley. His eyes were cold and unflinching, "If so much as a single phaser gets locked on to that ship and you'll be out an airlock."

"Yipes!" T'Kir shrieked, "They're about to regain the use of their disruptors."

"Well do something about it!" Ro yelled.

"Like what?" T'Kir yelled back, "Want me to beam over and pull the plug?"

"Stop it!" Macen forcefully demanded, "Look! The cavalry has arrived."

The Defiant was on the screen. She was bearing down on the Cardassian ship. Danan reported that both her pulse phasers and her quantum torpedo launchers were charged and loaded. Tulley intercepted Sisko's hail to Ocet.

The two commanders had just concluded their mutual introductions when Tulley brought the signal onto the screen. Ocet was incensed and Sisko appeared resolute. From the Commander's reputation, the Gul would have a better chance of spontaneously combusting than of swaying Sisko but Macen wished him luck all the same.

"I am pursuing fugitives and must be allowed to destr... to detain them." Ocet demanded.

"That ship is a Federation vessel with Federation markings, registration, and a Federation crew." Sisko rumbled, "I cannot allow you to molest them in any way."

"That ship is commanded by two Starfleet officers." Spittle flew from Ocet's lips, "The crew is Maquis. They have kidnapped a notable family from Cardassia Prime and are intending to use them as hostages."

"I was informed that there were passengers aboard." Sisko's thin smile was challenging, "I was told that they wished to speak to me. If they are hostages, I will ensure their safety and return them to you. Furthermore, I will investigate the status of everyone serving aboard that scout and will detain members of her crew as necessary. They will be tried afterwards."

"Did I say that they had been kidnapped?" Ocet tried charm instead, "I meant to say that they are convicted criminals. This Maquis vessel has liberated them and brought them here where they can perpetrate some hoax about them being the Royal couple and their infant daughter."

"Official Cardassian newsfeeds said that the Princess died giving birth and that the Prince committed suicide shortly thereafter." Sisko's smile grew, "Nothing was said of the baby."

Ocet looked crestfallen, "You are well informed, Commander."

"It pays to keep tabs on one's neighbours." Sisko allowed.

"They will be liars." Ocet said with conviction, "The Royals are dead."

"We'll know once we see, or don't see, the Purple Peppercorn." Sisko let slip.

Ocet was defeated and he knew it. He started making quick calculations in his head. Sisko saw that too and cut him off.

"Ocet, if you destroy them I will be forced to destroy you. The war would start all over again." Sisko coldly, logically laid it out, "Is that worth the life of three people? How much harm can they do living outside of Cardassia?"

Ocet redid his mental calculus and arrived at a different answer, "We will be leaving but we will also keep tabs on our neighbours. This crew should, must, be arrested and sentenced. Justice must be served."

"I agree." Sisko nodded, "Good day to you, Gul Ocet."

"And to you, Commander Sisko." Ocet managed to say with some sincerity.

The transmissions terminated and the viewer reverted back to its default status. Macen ordered that a tactical depiction be displayed. The three starships were displayed on a 2D map of the system. Data concerning the fighting capabilities and weapons status of each ship was laid out next to the icon representing the individual ships.

The Cardassian stood down its weapons array and used its RCS thrusters to change its aspect. When it had completely reversed its vector it engaged impulse engines and headed back towards the Cardassian side of the border. The Galor crossed the border and came to a complete stop. It wanted to view what was to come next.

"We're being hailed by the Defiant." Tulley reported. He was once again the epitome of professionalism.

"Put it on screen." Macen replied. Sisko's face appeared. He still wasn't smiling.

"Please accept our escort back to the station." The Starfleet Commander requested.

"Certainly." Macen readily agreed, "I look forward to meeting you."

"You may not when we're done discussing what happened here." Sisko darkly intoned, "I have questions and you're going to provide answers no matter how incriminating they are. Understood?"

Macen nodded with a smile, "It's completely clear."

The screen went dark and the bridge crew all stared at him.

"What?" he asked.

"Are you frinxed in the head?" T'Kir managed to blurt out before anyone else could speak. Everyone else followed along in the same basic vein.

Macen held his hands up to quell the rising flood of concerns, "People, we're fine. I have a back up provided to me for such occasions."

Ro's station began to chirp. Macen pointed at the CONN.

"That's for you. It's the station's Traffic Control officer. They've arranged our course and assigned a docking berth." Macen prompted.

"You're sure about this?" Ro sceptically asked, "All of this?"

"Laren," Macen said soothingly, "I guarantee that none of us will be detained."

"How can you be so certain?" Ro wanted to know as she laid in the recommended course.

"Because we have friends in high places." Macen grinned.

 

Chapter Eight

Major Kira stepped aside and let Macen into Sisko's office. Sisko was seated behind his desk with his hands folded together. It was plain to see that he was unhappy. Macen's change into civilian attire wasn't greasing any wheels here.

"Please sit down, Commander." Sisko motioned towards one of the chairs laid out in front of the CO's desk. Macen accepted despite knowing it placed him squarely in the sights of Sisko's personal targeting array.

"My Chief of Operations says that you have denied him access to your ship despite admittedly having taken damage from Gul Ocet's cruiser." Sisko was a study of self control. Macen idly wondered when that veneer would begin to crack. He could sense the other man's anger, suspicion, and frustration.

Sisko propped his elbows on his desk and leaned forward, "Let me come straight to the point: Gul Ocet levelled some serious accusations at you. He claimed you were a Starfleet officer assisting the Maquis. Except for your 1st Officer, all of your crew consists of civilians. Are they Maquis?"

"Yes." Macen answered truthfully.

Sisko stared at him, reeling out of a sense of shock. As he recovered, his hand drifted towards his comm badge. Macen smiled and shook his head.

"I presume you've accessed my file." Macen said. Sisko nodded and Macen elaborated, "Use the following code words: Arthur Five One Excalibur."

Sisko did as he was instructed. The screen shifted and Sisko's eyes widened as he read what was displayed. Macen delighted in the man's sense of disorientation.

"This is..." Sisko's voice drifted off.

"The Avalon Protocol." Macen explained, "It grants me carte blanche authority to exercise my operations as I see fit. I need those Maquis in order to complete my assignment. I'm afraid you'll have to release them into my custody, Commander."

Sisko bristled, "You won't mind if I confirm this ‘protocol's' veracity with Admiral Nechayev?"

"Take your time." Macen settled into his seat and relaxed. Noticing the replicator in the nearby wall, he asked Sisko, "Can I use the replicator?"

Sisko was reluctant but he nodded. Macen rose and ordered himself a cup of coffee. He asked Sisko if he wanted anything while he waited for Nechayev's schedule to clear. Sisko opted for a raktajino.

Macen delivered the drink and sat down, "So, have you decided on the Royal family's amnesty petition yet?"

Sisko softened somewhat, "I've granted it. The Hornblower will be returning from a survey of the Frondike cluster. They can take the family on to the Federation's heartland."

Macen nodded in satisfaction, "That's good. They literally have nowhere else to run to."

"You could have taken them to Bajor or even to the DMZ." Sisko suggested.

"Either way, they'd be dead in a week." Macen grimaced.

"That was my assessment as well." Sisko admitted.

"I'm relieved to find that we're in agreement." Macen admitted.

Sisko was about to reply when Nechayev's aide informed him that the Admiral would now accept his call. Nechayev's razor sharp features appeared in the confines of the screen. She wasn't smiling. Rather, a look of grave concern had settled on her face.

"Commander," Nechayev sternly began, "I understand that you have Commander Macen aboard your station."

"That is correct Admiral." Sisko confirmed, "However, there are concerns regarding his legal status."

"You mean as to whether or not Macen is a Maquis?" Nechayev's lips twisted into a wry expression, "He is not. Commander Macen is an agent of Starfleet Intelligence. His assignment is the infiltration of Ro Laren's Maquis cell. I'm certain that you recall that name, Commander."

Sisko took this with aplomb, "A woman matching Ro Laren's description came aboard the station alongside Commander Macen. Constable Odo can easily detain her and make a positive identification."

"I need to speak with Commander Macen." Nechayev said tartly.

Sisko vacated his chair and motioned Macen towards it. Macen stood beside the chair and met Nechayev's gaze, "Hello Alynna."

"Brin," Nechayev sounded concerned, "is Ro with you?"

"Yup." Macen confirmed.

"Has she been compromised?" Nechayev needed to know.

"No." Macen assured Nechayev, "Her cover is intact. Her true allegiance is unknown...even to herself."

Sisko wondered what he'd stumbled upon. Ro, the deserter, was really working for Starfleet Intelligence without her knowledge or consent? Sisko would dismiss the notion but he knew just enough about Ro's history and service file to know anything was possible with this woman.

Commander Sisko leaned in from the side of the chair he stood next to, "Admiral?"

"Lieutenant Ro is not to be detained, harmed or molested in any way while she is aboard your station. Understood?"

Truthfully, Sisko was uncertain of anything. He'd wandered into the middle of a very deep, dark operation and he wanted no part of it.

"Admiral," Sisko drew himself up, "if I might have some clarification as to Lieutenant Ro's status?"

"Ro is currently a renegade but she is also, by default, an agent of Starfleet Intelligence. A crucially placed one and that means she is hands off to you and your Security forces." Nechayev explained.

"Very well." Sisko rumbled, "Is her privileged status permanent?"

"If her status changes, you will be notified, Commander." Nechayev informed him, "Now if you will excuse us, I have to privately confer with Commander Macen."

Sisko was disgruntled but he hid it well, "Commander, I'll be in Ops. If you need anything..."

"I'll call." Macen assured him and slid into Sisko's chair. Sisko stood there for a moment mutely watching Macen. Having satisfied himself with the fact that Macen was well and truly occupying his chair and controlling his desk, Sisko left.

"I don't think I've won any friends here today." Macen surmised.

"That's because you invoked the damned Avalon Protocol." Nechayev retorted, "It makes ship's captains and starbase commanders feel powerless. They don't respond well to that."

"I had to trump Sisko's hand." Macen explained, "My crew, and Ro, were about to be arrested."

"Well, that issue has been decisively settled." Nechayev snorted, "Will this tip your hand?"

"No." Macen shook his head, "I've already ‘theorised' to Ro that you're unofficially supporting our campaign. This will only lend credence to that idea."

"You know her far better than I ever will. I trust your judgement." Nechayev confessed, "Have you gathered evidence of Federation groups and organisations actively supporting the Maquis?"

"I've found evidence supporting the theory that there is some nebulous entity funding the Maquis and channelling material support to them. I can't pin down their identity but I did steal the Odyssey from them." Macen grinned.

"I always wondered where you obtained that scoutship." Nechayev smiled, "I suppose all of those ships taken from that spectral shipyard originally belonged to this enigmatic agency of yours?"

"I had to draw them out." Macen shook his head, "Whoever they are they're masters at staying in the shadows."

"Your friend Vaughn has approached me with similar speculations." Nechayev revealed.

"I'd trust Elias' instincts on this." Macen advised, "He hasn't survived for as long as he has by being wrong."

"I could say the same about you." Nechayev softly replied.

"You could but you won't." Macen jested.

"That's right." Nechayev let the moment pass, "Is Ro still on target for becoming the Maquis Commander if Calvin Hudson should fall?"

"The odds are good but Hudson has a new, secret protégé." Macen answered, "No one knows anything about him or her except that they're well placed within Starfleet and in a command situated near the DMZ."

"Damn." Nechayev muttered, "That could ruin everything."

"Another thing," Macen refocused her attention, "the Odyssey's cover is blown. The Cardassians know she's a Maquis ship. I won't be able to reconnoitre inside of Cardassian space any more."

Nechayev shrugged, "That's unfortunate but it's not that great a loss. What's more important is that you got the Royal family out just in time. Our PsyOps people are already conjuring up new ways to use the fact that they're alive and well."

"The monarchists themselves will faithfully spread the word." Macen predicted, "I may be able to set up a supply line for propaganda materials since I'm now in the monarchist movement's good graces."

"Propaganda?" Nechayev looked shocked, "Who said anything about propaganda? We call it ‘educational information' nowadays."

Macen smirked, "Whatever it's called it's still the same thing."

"It's the ‘Hearts and Minds' campaign." Macen and Nechayev laughed together.

Nechayev's mirth was short lived, "Are you ready to rejoin the fleet?"

Macen shook his head, "Sorry Alynna, there's still too much to do out here."

"Just don't get killed." Nechayev implored, "I couldn't replace you, you old rogue."

"Sure you can." Macen grinned, "Give my assignments to Mackenzie Calhoun."

Nechayev rolled her eyes, "You and Mac need to get over this rivalry of yours."

"It keeps us sharp." Macen explained, "Besides, you get all the benefits of it so why are you complaining?"

"Because I have to pick up the pieces when one of you, or both of you, goes too far." Nechayev complained.

"Cry baby." Macen retorted.

"I've got command privilege so I get to complain and you get to listen." Nechayev huffed.

"Listen," Macen grew serious, "before Sisko chews his way through the door and retakes his office by force, was there anything else you wanted to say?"

"Take whatever assistance and supplies you can get from Sisko. You've invoked the Avalon Protocol so he is in no position to deny you anything. This may be your only chance. He can still go over my head and get the whole thing overridden."

"Noted." Macen nodded his acknowledgement, "I'll get what I can while the getting is good."

"Good." Nechayev seemed satisfied, "Send in Sisko. I want a private word with him."

"Will do." Macen rose, "Later, Alynna."

"Stay lucky, Brin." Nechayev commanded.

"Always." Macen grinned.

Sisko had unhappily returned to his office. Macen stayed to confer with Major Kira. He gave her a list of supplies, material needs, armament, and medical services and supplies that he and his crew required. The Major looked sceptical.

"Handing over medkits and blankets I can understand but photon torpedoes?" Kira dubiously enquired, "Your crew is Maquis, right?"

Macen nodded and Kira pressed on, "And you do realise that Starfleet has issued a general order to arrest any and all Maquis?"

Macen nodded and Kira, finally exasperated, threw up her hands, "Then how do you expect me to fill this request?"

"The crew is serving at Starfleet's behest." Macen explained, "Think of them as privateers."

"That's pretty difficult," Jadzia Dax chimed in from her station, "considering the Maquis typically use terror tactics to accomplish their goals."

"That's the whole point with aiding Ro Laren's cell." Macen grew excited, "She abhors terror tactics. She utilises time honoured guerrilla tactics. She only engages military and paramilitary targets. The goal of my current mission is to replace Cal Hudson with Ro Laren. The entire operational framework of the Maquis would change as well."

Kira's eyes widened. Dax whistled, "Ambitious."

Kira shook her head, "Commander Sisko told me Ro knows you're with Starfleet. How can she trust you?"

Macen shrugged, "My position with Starfleet is tenuous at best. I serve at Admiral Nechayev's whim. Ro knows I endorse the goals of the Maquis and from there we make natural allies."

"Does she know about your plans for her?" Dax asked.

"I've suggested them to her." Macen revealed, "She's far too modest to take them seriously."

Kira's board chirped. She activated a small viewer attached to the console and Odo's half formed features appeared. Odo appeared beside himself but Kira tried out a smile on him anyway, "Kira here."

"Major," came Odo's gravelly voice, "we have a disturbance in Quark's. My deputies are poised to go in and pacify the situation but Commander Eddington's forces won't allow us to."

"Put Eddington on." Kira demanded. Odo redirected the viewer's pick up and Michael Eddington appeared standing in front of Odo's desk. Odo's office also held each man's lieutenant. They squared off against one another.

"Commander," Kira forced herself to be patient, "why are you interfering in Odo's attempt to keep order? You're responsible for Starfleet security on the station. The Promenade is within Odo's jurisdiction."

Eddington grinned, "Sorry Major. The trouble revolves around our ‘special' guests. I didn't think Commander Sisko would want them detained."

"I'll go down there." Macen volunteered, "I can probably smooth things over."

"I'm coming with you." Kira informed him, "Odo, Eddington, try to contain the situation until we get there."

"Understood Major." Odo sounded somewhat placated. Eddington merely nodded. He looked for too smug about events and Macen said as much.

"Starfleet made the decision to split up our Security forces because of the Dominion." Kira bitterly remarked, "It was a bad idea and it's still a bad idea."

"I agree." Dax admitted, "But I can also see Starfleet Command's perspective on this."

"Can you?" Kira inquired of Macen.

"I see their perspective and I don't like it for all the reasons that they do." Macen smoothly replied.

Kira blinked and then she smiled, "I may start to like you after all."

"And why is that?" Macen wondered.

"Sisko showed me your file." Kira explained, "I respect your loyalty to the border colonists. I also like the fact that you do what you're going to do regardless of regulations."

"That only works if you're successful." Macen ruefully reminded her, "Otherwise they lock you up."

"And that's why I could never be part of Starfleet!" Kira firmly declared.

"You'd be surprised, Major." Macen said softly.

"What do you mean by that?" Kira wondered.

"I can easily see you as a Starfleet Captain someday." Macen's eyes twinkled with arcane knowledge.

Kira was unsettled, "Just keep thinking that."

"Shouldn't you two be going?" Dax asked with a mirthful smirk.

"Right." Kira was suddenly all business. Macen winked in Dax's direction.

"Give my love to Lisea." Dax called out to Macen.

Macen sketched a salute and the lift descended.

 

Chapter Nine

"Get those people out of here." Eddington called out to the officers surrounding Quark's. Quark was busy tallying up damages, expenses, and lost revenue costs for a lawsuit he was planning on filing. Odo stood next to him.

"You never give up, do you?" he asked the diminutive Ferengi.

"These people are going to pay, Odo." Quark vowed, "They have to. My evening's profit is ruined not to mention the physical damage. Look at that! Another injured patron. Do you know who they'll blame? They'll blame me! I'll go out of business fighting lawsuits."

"Like the one you're filing?" Odo scoffed.

"I'm an injured party." Quark insisted, "How did they smuggle weapons onto the station? That's your department, Odo. I'm suing you too. This is all your fault."

"Quark..." Odo growled a warning.

"We have all the uninjured customers out of the bar and back to their quarters or ships." Odo's Chief Deputy reported.

"Good." Odo pointed at Quark, "Watch him."

"Me?" Quark squeaked, "What did I do?"

"Well, Commander, are you ready to escort the guilty parties to the security cells?" Odo wanted to know.

"You know my orders, Constable." Eddington looked strained, "The Maquis must go free."

"Those orders are..." Odo's reply was bitten off by Kira's arrival with Macen in tow.

"Report." Kira barked.

"The perimeter is contained." Eddington described, "No one enters or exits either level of the establishment without clearing our checkpoints."

"This is ridiculous Major." Odo grated, "Let me take my men in there and arrest them."

Kira truly regretted what she had to say, "I'm afraid Eddington is partially correct. The Maquis cannot be held but the others are culpable under the law. They'll face the courts. I promise"

"So, now what?" Odo demanded.

"Macen and I are going in." Kira informed him.

"Major," Odo pleaded, "Let me accompany you."

"I'll be fine, Odo." Kira assured him. Turning to Macen, she asked, "Ready?"

"Willing and able." Macen grinned, "Should we try the old fashioned, direct approach."

Kira's grin joined his, "You read my mind."

The bar fight had started out innocently enough. Ro, Tulley, Danan and T'Kir had taken up occupancy of one table. Thool and Chancy were at another. Everyone else was in a holosuite. The trouble began when T'Kir began trolling the tables.

"What is she doing?" Ro miserably wondered.

"Looks like she's looking for a good time." Danan remarked.

"She's practically mesmerised that whole table of Ubekian traders." Tulley said with the overtones of awe.

"Apparently she's looking for a very good time." Danan hefted her mug and took a swig.

"They're not the only ones." Ro grimaced, "Here comes that group of Klingons from the corner table."

"This should be good." Danan cheered up, "I don't think T'Kir's ever bedded a Klingon. Let's see how adventurous she is."

"One?" Tulley was surprised, "There's five of them."

"As I said: let's see how adventurous she is." Danan smirked.

Ro was startled, "You're enjoying this?"

Danan shrugged but her smile broadened, "It's about time the little trollop gets some comeuppance."

"This could be interesting." Tulley murmured.

"This is going to lead to trouble." Ro lamented.

"One can only hope!" Danan's smile turned evil.

Across the room, T'Kir stood, despite Quark's frustrated outcries, dancing on a table. The six Ubekians were loudly cheering and making propositions. T'Kir wagged her finger at them and ran her hands through her raven hair. The five Klingons circled the table.

The biggest of the group tapped an Ubekian on the shoulder, "Leave!"

The Ubekian rose and stared the Klingon down, "This is our table. Find your own."

The Klingon, impressed with this display, smiled, "Fine. We'll leave but the girl comes with us."

"No!" The Ubekian shouted, "She offered herself to us. She belongs to us!"

"Excuse me, chum, but I don't belong to anyone!" T'Kir jumped off the table and started to walk by the feuding pair.

The Ubekian caught her arm, "Stop. You offered yourself, we accepted. You belong to us throughout the night."

T'Kir's eyes narrowed, "Take your hand off of me."

"Or you'll...urk!" The Ubekian captain started to ask before T'Kir's knuckles met his throat.

"Excellent." The Klingon thundered, "Now you can accompany my crew and I back to our ship."

"Listen, Chuckles, I'm going back to my fiends and you can go to hell." T'Kir ground out.

"You trollop!" the Klingon bellowed, "You'll pay for...uggh!"

T'Kir's backspin kick met the Klingon's temple and felled him. The Ubekians and the Klingons were all on their feet and reassessing T'Kir. Almost at once they all lunged at her.

T'Kir dropped to a crouch. The assorted traders collided with each other. Several went down. T'Kir rose cat-like and began applying nerve pinches, elbow strikes, and punches to the remaining merchantmen. Those left standing were quickly knocked down.

The Dabo girls erupted into cheers. The rest of the room applauded. T'Kir glanced back to her comrades and awaited their reaction. Ro buried her face in her hands while Danan and Tulley toasted her. Flush with victory, T'Kir took several bows.

One of the Dabo girls screamed while the other yelled, "Look out!"

T'Kir spun around to see the Klingon captain rising to his feet. In fact, all of the Klingons and Ubekians were rising. The Klingons all wore vicious smiles as they pulled daggers free from hidden sheaths. This time, the Ubekians stood back and waited to see how the Klingons fared.

The five Klingons circled T'Kir. The captain wore a lascivious smile, "Last chance."

"Frinx you and the garbage scow you rode in on." T'Kir snapped back.

The captain thrust his blade forward. T'Kir sidestepped the blow. Wrapping her arm around his, she hyperextended his elbow. With her free hand, she deftly plucked the blade from his hand.

Kicking the captain's legs out from underneath, she leapt through the gap his absence made in the circle. T'Kir barely had enough time to tuck the dagger into her belt when the two closest Klingons attacked. She kicked the one to her left in the stomach. With her right, she caught the downward stroke of the other Klingon. Since her right hand was her weak hand, the Klingon slowly, inexorably, brought his blade ever closer to T'Kir's chest.

T'Kir's movements were like liquid lightning. She slipped aside and let the knife swing into the empty space where she had been. As the Klingons knife hand swung wide, T'Kir drove her knee into his crotch. Grunting loudly, the Klingon began to topple forward. She finished him off by taking hold of his head and driving her left knee into his face.

T'Kir twirled around to face the remaining two Klingons. Holding their knives high above their heads, they charged in unison. T'Kir held her ground until the last moment. Then she dropped down to the floor. The ill fated Klingons tripped over her and sailed into the bar counter.

T'Kir watched them huff and collapse into heaps. She spun on her heel, a victorious smile on her lips. Her smile faded as she realised that she was staring down the barrel of a disruptor. The Ubekian smiled cruelly.

"You are ours." He hissed, "Come quietly or be silenced forever."

T'Kir leaned over so that she could see Ro's table, "A little help?"

Ro wore a disgusted expression, "I told you this was going to be trouble."

Danan cast a sidelong glance towards Ro, "Well, you let her traipse off."

"At your suggestion." Ro shot back.

"Shouldn't we do something right about now?" Tulley asked. Chancy and Thool were anxiously awaiting orders.

Ro stood up, "Leave her alone, shuk for brains! The lady's with us. She came with us and by the Prophets she's leaving with us."

"We have the weapons." The Ubekian captain replied, "Therefore we win."

"People," Ro grated, "show the gentlemen what we have."

Every Maquis rose and drew a small phaser from discreet holsters. The weapons possessed a pistol grip and wielded a small cylinder atop the grip. It looked very much like a hose nozzle. The room was now at a standstill.

"We still have superior numbers." The Ubekian chuckled.

"Guess again." T'Kir growled.

The captain turned and found himself staring down the barrel of a diminutive phaser. He shook his head, "You'll never win."

"Neither will you." T'Kir promised.

"Lay down your arms." A Bajoran deputy shouted, "You're all under arrest."

Four deputies stood outside of the entrance to Quark's. Every man and woman had their hands hovering over their holstered phasers. A tall, thin man wearing a Starfleet uniform approached the lead deputy. After conferring with the Militia officer, Eddington pushed the Bajorans back with his own forces. Anger began to swell outside of the bar.

Quark fearfully traversed the "path" carved out between the two armed factions and exited his premises. He began to make demands of Eddington. Eddington shrugged them all off. That is when Odo appeared and he and Eddington retired to a quieter corner of the Promenade.

T'Kir slapped aside the Ubekian captain's disruptor and leapt over the bar counter. The Ubekian fired at the counter. Several expensive bottles of Quark's finest broke. T'Kir took a swallow out of the fluid cascading down the shelf behind her and then rose and returned fire. The Ubekian's eyes momentarily widened in shock and then closed as he fell to the floor.

The remaining Ubekians saw this outrage and fired at T'Kir. The Vulcan knelt behind the counter and listened as disruptor fire assailed Quark's reinforced counter. Having been installed during the Cardassian's occupation of Bajor, it was built with protection in mind.

While T'Kir waited out the salvo, and replicated herself something to drink, the remaining Maquis tipped their tables over or moved behind support girders. The crowd had begun stampeding out of the bar. As they passed through the line of Starfleet officers, they were visually checked for injuries. So far there were no injured bystanders.

"Surrender to the authorities and you won't be hurt." Ro called out.

"Never!" The Ubekians called out in unison. The unleashed a volley of disruptor fire at the Maquis to prove their intentions. Several fleeing patrons were wounded in that assault.

Ro cursed, "We can't fire because of the civilians and we can't walk out of here with the Ubekians waiting for us."

"Bad odds, Skipper." Tulley concurred, "How're we going to get out?"

Ro shook her head, "I don't know. We're going to have to rely upon Macen's miracle."

Danan grinned, "Trust me, it's a good one. It's probably why those Starfleet goons have taken jurisdiction away from the locals and why they haven't rushed us yet."

"And that's a good thing?" Ro wondered in disbelief.

Danan shrugged, "Beats getting arrested."

"True enough." Ro readily agreed. Memories of the stockade on Jaros II filtered through her mind. It wasn't a place she would choose to revisit.

Meanwhile, Odo had angrily protested Eddington's continuing resistance to end the siege. He and Eddington stormed off to the Security Office in order to receive clarification on the matter from Ops. Unfortunately for the situation in the bar, the Klingons were waking up. They were not happy.

"What is this treachery?" The Klingon captain bellowed to the station at large.

"Where is the wench?" another Klingon yelled.

Stay down, Ro desperately thought, For once in your life do the smart thing and keep your fool head down.

T'Kir jumped up and blew the Klingons a raspberry before ducking down beneath the counter. The Klingons all began to converge on the counter. The Ubekians forgot about the Maquis and formed a line in front of the Klingons.

"Move on." The lead Ubekian ordered, "The female is ours."

The Klingon spat out a large glob at the Ubekian's feet, "Out of my way slime devil."

The Ubekians all raised their disruptors. "Leave or die." The ultimatum came in surround sound.

"Cowards." The Klingon snarled.

The Ubekians fired without further warning. The Klingons all collapsed, their lives spared only by the armour they wore. The Ubekians conferred amongst themselves. Finally, the ersatz leader spoke.

"We will give you the female. We only ask that we be given a chance to chastise her." He announced.

"Exactly what does that entail?" Ro enquired.

"Each of us gets to strike her however we wish." The Ubekian explained.

"Tempting," Ro replied, "but no."

"Then we take her by force!" The Ubekians shouted as one.

"How do they keep doing that?" Ro whispered.

Danan grimaced, "Ubekians are low level telepaths. That was probably the draw for the little mind witch."

"Excuse me," came Macen's familiar voice, "but I think I can resolve this."

"Who are you?" the Ubekian chorus asked as they swung their disruptors in Macen and Kira's direction.

Macen kept his hands in the open. Kira looked fierce and determined. Her hand hovered near her phaser. T'Kir chose that moment to pop her head up.

"Honey," she ebulliently declared, "you've come to rescue me!"

Two of the Ubekians swung in her direction. T'Kir wisely sought the path of discretion and ducked back down below the counter. The Ubekians grew angry.

"You are this female's mate?" they demanded.

"No, I'm not." Macen answered.

"Hey!" T'Kir squeaked from behind the counter, "Don't lie to them man, men, whatever...just tell them you love me!"

"Is this true?" the Ubekians demanded.

Macen grimaced, "It's complicated."

"Who are you?" The Ubekian captain said as he rose to a seated position on the floor.

Macen jerked his thumb in the direction of Ro and the troops, "I'm their captain." He nodded in T'Kir's direction, "Hers too."

"Captain," the chorus chimed, "we have them."

"We have nothing." The captain retorted, "Even if we cut them down, we still have this station's Security forces to deal with." The Ubekian stared at Kira, "Isn't that true?"

"You'll never get off the station." Kira vowed, "Your only chance is to surrender now and reduce the number of charges that can be levelled against you."

"Words of wisdom." The captain grunted, "Lay down your arms."

"We hear and obey." The chorus intoned as they set their disruptors on the ground.

"Now," the Ubekian captain grimaced, "I suppose there will be a whole series of embarrassing questions as to how we brought weapons aboard."

"You can count on it." Kira confirmed. She motioned for Eddington to send his forces in. With a nod of his head Starfleet Security officers swarmed into Quark's. They took the Ubekians into custody. Security stood by while the Klingons were examined and then took them into custody.

Quark rushed in and confronted Macen, "I want compensation fro the damages your people caused. One of your crew started this. I want latinum and I want it now!"

"Or?" Macen bemusedly asked.

"Or I'll talk." Quark threatened, "I know things about you. Things Starfleet Security and Commander Sisko would love to hear."

"Like that I'm a Maquis?" Macen asked.

Startled, Quark took a step back. Macen grinned, "Old news Quark. By the way, I think you've just incriminated yourself."

Kira stared at Quark. Flustered, Quark began babbling, "I don't know anything. I've never met him before in my life."

"Odo!" Kira called out.

The shapeshifter made his way through the milling Starfleet officers, "Yes, Major?"

"Quark's under arrest." Kira happily declared.

"Really?" Odo brightened, "Why?"

"Aiding and abetting." Kira informed him.

Odo took hold of Quark's arm. His smile was beatific, "Come along Quark."

"But..." Quark feebly protested.

"Please," Odo pleaded,"resist. I've had a very bad day. Give me a reason to have good one."

A snivelling Quark was led away. Eddington shook Macen's hand.

"We'll get you next time." Eddington said sternly. Macen could sense the other man's inner happiness. He wondered why there was a discrepancy.

Ro approached and Eddington took her hand, "It's a genuine pleasure to meet such a beautiful lady."

Ro was flattered but flustered, "Thank you...I think."

"If you could," Eddington was all courtesy, "accompany Lieutenant Pesces here to your ship."

"Just a minute." Macen walked over to the bar counter, "All right, Snickerdoodle, it's safe now. You can come out."

T'Kir bobbed up and clambered up onto the countertop, "Didn't I tell you it'd be a Merry Christmas."

"It's been great." Macen placated her, "Get down."

"Just a minute." T'Kir fished her mistletoe out of her pocket, "Catch me!"

T'Kir leapt off of the countertop and into Macen's arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck. She held the mistletoe above his head. Her lips met his and a drawn out kiss followed. Ending the kiss, T'Kir smiled victoriously.

"Still mad at me?" she asked with delight in her voice.

"Furious." Macen deadpanned, "Can you walk or do I have to carry you through the station?"

"Carry me, sweet paladin." T'Kir feigned a swoon.

Macen let go of her legs and she wobbled as she suddenly came to be upright. T'Kir's exultation was gone, "But we were having a moment."

"There'll be another one." Macen sighed.

"Promise?" T'Kir brightened.

"I don't think I could avoid it." Macen said in resignation.

"Good." T'Kir said in triumph.

"Can we follow the nice Lieutenant back to our ship now?" Macen asked sarcastically.

"I like the sound of that, ‘our ship', it's lyrical." T'Kir grinned.

"Move." Macen pushed her forward by the waist.

"I'm goin' already." T'Kir protested.

"Scoot," Macen cajoled, "I'll be there in a minute."

Macen turned to Kira, "Well, we're off."

"Interesting crew you have there." Kira smirked.

"You caught them on a good day." Macen grinned, "You should see them otherwise."

"I'm afraid." Kira admitted.

"Look," Macen looked uncomfortable, "someday Starfleet may offer you a captaincy. Don't disregard the offer when it comes. I think both you and Command will be different people by then and you'll be able to work with each other."

Kira looked bewildered and Macen sighed, "Just keep it in mind, okay?"

"Okay." Kira nodded.

"Later." Macen waved farewell as he walked away.

Kira stood there, hands on her hips, "Well, that was interesting."

The Odyssey was back in the DMZ but the debate in the briefing room that had started back at DS9 continued unabated. Danan minded the store on the bridge while Ro, Tulley, and T'Kir grilled Macen on the Avalon Protocol. Finally, Ro's questions began to die down.

"So I work for you?" she asked, "Funny, it feels the other way around."

"I had to cover my bases with Nechayev." Macen said, "Let it go."

"I wanna hear how Ro's supposed to become Maquis Commander again." T'Kir piped up.

"It's never going to happen, Brin, so give up on it." Ro firmly proclaimed.

"It's almost forgotten, Laren." Macen promised.

"Almost?" Ro countered.

Macen's voice hardened, "Listen to yourself, let it go."

Ro was surprised by Macen's sudden anger. She opted to drop the matter since it was a dead issue anyway. She would never willingly accept the role of Maquis Commander so there was no point in entertaining fantasies of power plays.

T'Kir looked absolutely perky. Macen looked at her and remarked, "Don't be so happy. You're giving me a headache."

"It's been a wonderful Christmas." She said dreamily, "Didn't I say today would be good?"

"We flew off on a mission that could've gotten us killed." Ro retorted, "What was so good about that?"

"We got the family out and they're safe now." T'Kir ticked off points on her fingers, "We spent the day together and finally, I got kissed three times."

"You also almost got us..." Ro's eyes went wide, "three times? I only remember the two."

Macen looked decidedly uncomfortable. T'Kir wore a rapturous smile, "I'm not going to kiss and tell but the third one was the best of all."

Ro and Tulley stared at Macen. He looked surprised, "What?"

"Is there something you would like to share with the group?" Ro asked.

"No." Macen said without a trace of guilt.

Ro suddenly wondered if T'Kir weren't being led on and this was fuelling her obsession. Then again, T'Kir was doing quite a bit of leading around herself in Macen's absence. Not for the first time, Ro wished T'Kir were well. However, for the first time Ro wished T'Kir were well so she and Macen could resolve their relational issues. Having heard Macen's side of things so suddenly wondered about T'Kir's position.

T'Kir looked at Ro and grinned, "Maybe I'll tell you someday."

Ro remembered what it was like to keep her thoughts to herself.

 

Epilogue

The Odyssey was in orbit and the Christmas celebration at the cell's master HQ was over. The evacuation was now underway. The cell's members still wore smiles and wished Ro a Merry Christmas and thanked her for the party. Ro looked over at T'Kir.

"Good job." She smiled, "I may keep you around after all."

"Here's a little something that I made for you." T'Kir held out her hand to Ro. In it was an isolinear rod. T'Kir was quite giddy, "It's a complete systems overhaul for the Indomitable's main computer. She'll process commands faster and has an encryption upgrade."

Ro was shocked, "I don't know what to say."

"Say ‘thank you and Merry Christmas'." T'Kir replied.

Ro took the gift and hugged T'Kir. The gesture was so unexpected it unnerved both participants. Ro gathered her composure first.

"Look, I know I ride you too hard sometimes..." Ro faltered.

T'Kir smiled, "Don't worry 'bout it. Brin has to ride herd on me all the time to keep me focused enough to function. I can do all right with small groups but with a crowd this size...I'm already slipping away."

Ro suddenly realised what Macen saw in T'Kir, why she was worth fighting for, "We'll find a way to help you. I swear it."

Tears welled up in T'Kir's eyes, "Just go easy on Brin. He doesn't have a magic formula for dealing with me. He just makes it up as he goes. Take care of him and he'll take care of me."

"All right." Ro said solemnly and took T'Kir's hand, "I will."

"And another thing?" T'Kir brightened, "Can we do Christmas again next year?"

"We'll do it every year from now on." Ro promised.

 

The series continues...

 

- The End -

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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