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Odyssey - Part I 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 leaned back into the comforts of his command chair. Macen was flying a Starfleet scoutship. The single occupant design of Starfleet's latest creation suited Macen's tastes. There was only so much a person could be expected to say during a three-day warp voyage.

He chuckled at his last thought. He supposed it came from a cultural bias. El-Aurians were known as listeners, not orators. Even so, Macen was forced to admit that he took the stereotype to a bit of an extreme.

He unzipped the collar of his uniform blouse. He was wearing the blue Sciences departmental colours again. Before that, he'd spent several years out of any form of Starfleet uniform. He was surprised at how little that had bothered him.

He'd spent the last eighty years of his life serving Starfleet. He'd even received command of his own survey vessel. He'd surrendered all of that when Admiral Nechayev and Starfleet Intelligence offered him the chance to infiltrate the Maquis. Macen had been sympathetic towards the Maquis' cause since their inception due to his people's history with Borg. Any forced assimilation of another society disturbed Macen.

One of his primary motives in joining Starfleet had been to help dissuade any such efforts that may arise within the Federation. He had co-operated with Nechayev for the first year of his mission. After fighting alongside the self-labelled "freedom fighters", Macen found that they fought for the same principles he believed in.

Macen's "defection" was labelled as treason, a charge that neither Starfleet nor the Federation took lightly. Both Starfleet and the Cardassians hunted the Maquis and, consequently, Macen. He finally surrendered to Starfleet when the Dominion aided the Cardassians in finally crushing the resistance movement. He was able to deliver his ship, crew, and a handful of other survivors to Starfleet's unsympathetic hands.

Macen expected to stand trial. That trial never came. He was offered a choice, he could assist Intelligence with a new operation or he could face imprisonment. The offer was loaded by the reduction of sentence by those that had served under him as well as the conditional pardon of Macen's first mate and fellow Starfleet renegade, Lisea Danan.

Filled with both concern and regret over convincing Danan to join him on his mission to the Maquis, Macen accepted Starfleet's deal. Macen and Danan were reinstated, reduced by one rank. That fact had been irrelevant to them. The other stipulation of the deal was the hardest: they were to serve the war effort at separate assignments without the privilege of communications with one another.

Macen soon discovered why he'd been selected for the deal. Starfleet had enlisted the aid of Angosia's biologically enhanced commandos. They were to be utilised on hit and run missions behind enemy lines. Those enemy lines were now the same territories that Macen had fought in for the last several years.

The mission rankled Macen. It gave the Federation access to the very bio-enhancement techniques that had cost Angosia their admittance into the Federation. The former commandos were thrown away rather than cured. Macen knew that it had cost the lives of many soldiers that had wanted nothing more than to lay down their arms forever. The war was now concluded. Macen's mission was concluded as well

As he hurtled through the starless void of warp space, he wondered if he'd ever forgive himself for either betrayal. As he'd once told Ro Laren, the dead have no qualms. It is the living that have to deal with the loss and guilt. The soldiers of Angosia and the Maquis rested at last. Macen envied them.

Macen awoke as the scout's sensors chimed an alarm. He tilted his seat back into a fully upright position. He was detecting two vessels occupying the same system he was travelling through. One of the power signatures was Romulan. Macen was thousands of kilometres inside of Federation space.

Ally, or no ally, neither side had ever renegotiated the treaty establishing the Neutral Zone. The Romulan Warbird's presence was technically an act of war. Macen dropped his ship out of warp in order to investigate. The second ship was a Miranda class starship. The Romulans were obviously working with Starfleet. Macen could continue on his way.

The ship shuddered from a phaser blast. Macen was grateful he'd raised shields reflexively upon leaving warp. He checked his sensors. The Warbird was cloaking. While cloaked, she couldn't fire her weapons, effectively removing her from the fight.

The damned Starfleet vessel continued to blast away at him. His scout's manoeuvrability was all that was keeping him alive. He went to warp six. With luck, the starship wouldn't follow.

So much for luck, he thought as he watched his sensors. He tried raising them on the comm, "This is the U.S.S. Herodotus to unidentified Starfleet vessel. Hold your fire. I repeat, hold your fire. I'm a friendly." Another blast rocked the scout.

"I'll take that as a 'sorry, but I'm not friendly'." He muttered under his breath.

The starship still wasn't sending off an identifying code. All Starfleet ships had transponders built into them that transmitted a ship's ID when queried. Someone had disabled this ship's. Either it was stolen, or her captain was up to something that he didn't anyone to know about.

Macen plotted his course for the system's primary. His only hope was to lure the larger ship into following him. He hoped that the starship's greater power and speed had lulled her captain into overconfidence. That error would be his only chance at survival.

Warnings sounded as he neared the sun. He threw all of his auxiliary power into the shields. Any system that wasn't needed for this manoeuvre was deactivated to add power to the shields and environmental systems. Even with all of that, the temperature was rising swiftly.

He edged his ship down further and further into the heliosphere. Without his shields, his ship would have melted already. Macen was coated in sweat. The cockpit was a sweltering sauna.

He'd already shucked his uniform jacket and his blouse. He retained the undershirt only because he needed all his attention to prepare for the next manoeuvre. He double-checked the distance between his scout and the Miranda.

He was low enough, and they were close enough. He fired two photon torpedoes towards the primary's core. He threw all of his ship's thrust upward. He needed to escape before the torpedoes detonated, igniting a solar flare.

He shunted all the extra power he'd allocated to the environmental controls to the warp drive. He needed all the thrust he could manage. The Miranda, unable to manoeuvre as quickly as the smaller craft was only now trying to change direction. Too late, Macen thought as the torpedoes detonated.

The detonations caused a chain reaction. The star belched out a tremendous amount of heat, gas, and particles. The rising inferno squarely caught the Miranda class starship. She was engulfed in forces no starship had been designed to withstand.

Macen's scout cleared the star's gravity well and sped away. His course was vectored away from the flare. It lashed out into space, but claimed no further victims. Macen collapsed back into his chair and tried releasing the breath he hadn't realised he was holding.

He began to re-route power back to its standard operational norms. His next activity was to re-set his course for sector zero-zero-one. He had an appointment with Starfleet Command. With all of that done, he decided he needed a drink. He would prepare his report in the incident after that... and a shower.

"Spacedock Traffic Control, this is the Herodotus. Requesting docking billet." Macen spoke into the comm.

"Roger that, Herodotus. Please stand-by to surrender your helm to Traffic Control." A female voice instructed him.

"Copy, Traffic Control. Ready on your command."

"Transfer on my mark. Three...two...one...mark."

Macen felt the slightest shudder as Traffic's computers took control of his vessel. Although they knew the exact location of every ship in and around the massive station, they had no feel for flying. Turns were made according to programmed standards and lacked any grace or style. He supposed he shouldn't be so picky, but Macen had always enjoyed spaceflight. The nuances of it fascinated him.

Spacedock's computers brought him into the massive dockyard within the station's confines. Dozens of Starfleet ships lay moored to the station. He glanced to his right as he passed a class of starship he didn't recognise.

"Computer," he spoke to get the ship's attention, "identify Starfleet vessel off our starboard side."

"According to Starfleet records, that vessel is the NX- 59599 U.S.S. Odyssey." The computer's female voice informed him. The name struck a resonant chord within him. The ship he'd commanded during his tenure with the Maquis had been named Odyssey. She'd been a Blackbird-class scout built for Starfleet in 2319. She'd been retired from service in the mid-2260's. Retired until Macen took her for himself. Starfleet had confiscated the ship upon his capture.

"What class is she?" Macen asked in fascination.

"She is a Hydra-class starship."

Macen gazed at the ship in wonder. It was essentially a dagger with two warp nacelles serving as the hilt. The new Akira-class borrowed a lot from it. The craft was sleek and dangerous in appearance. She bristled with phaser emitters and torpedo launchers. She had the power to go where she pleased, and the speed to get there as soon as she wanted.

"Who's her commander?" he asked wistfully.

"Starfleet records do not contain that information."

Maven sighed. He'd thrown away any chance of reclaiming command. He only regretted it now gazing upon this ship. His record would forfeit any chances of obtaining another command.

The scout continued on through the dockyard. It began to slow as it neared a docking pylon. The scout landed atop of it. The pylon's clamp arose and fastened itself to the underbelly of the scout.

"You are cleared to disembark." A male voice came over the comm. Macen scowled for a brief second. He'd preferred the female's voice.

He transmitted the ship's logs to Spacedock's computer network. From there, it would be transferred to Command. He put the ship's systems on stand-by. He rose out of the cockpit and descended the ladder that led to the main portion of the ship.

He retrieved his duffel and his padds from the storage locker he had placed them in. He slung the duffel over his shoulder and proceeded to yet another ladder. He checked o see of anyone was below the open hatch. Seeing that there wasn't, he threw his bag down the open hole. Macen climbed down the ladder to find a very attractive human female waiting at the base of the ladder.

She thrust out her hand, "Hello, you must be Commander Macen."

"So they tell me." He replied as he took her hand and shook it. She had a firm grip. He broke into a lop-sided grin, "Can I ask your name, or has that been classified 'top secret' by SI?"

She gave him a strange look that he didn't understand before answering, "I'm Ensign D'art."

"And you came down here just to tell me that?" he asked teasingly.

She broke into a warm smile, "I'm supposed o escort you to Admiral Nechayev's office."

Macen rolled his eyes, "What? She doesn't trust me to show up for my 'appointment'?"

D'art shook her head, "I don't know anything about that. I'm just supposed to make sure you are on your way to the Admiral's office, and then I'm supposed to transport your belongings to your next assignment."

Macen looked at her quizzically, "You wouldn't happen to know what that assignment would be?"

"I was told you would learn that at your meeting." D'art informed him.

"Thank you anyway." He replied dejectedly. As he walked away, D'art overheard him mutter, "It's going to be a garbage scow." D'art lifted his duffel with an amused smile on her face.

Macen headed for the closest transporter station. He didn't have far to walk. He strode up to the Master Chief manning the unit's controls. The Chief eyed him with a disdain allowed only to Admiral's and Master Chief's.

"Can I help you?" the Chief asked.

Macen handed him a padd, "Orders to report directly to Admiral Nechayev's office."

"All right. Step onto the pad. I'll transport you to Starfleet HQ." The Chief replied sourly.

"Sorry, Chief." Macen replied, "That won't be good enough."

"Excuse me?" the Chief asked incredulously.

"My orders specifically state that I am to appear directly at the Admiral's office after disembarking form my ship. I'm off my ship, and now I need to be there." Macen informed crisply.

The Chief glanced over the orders, "Yes they do. Point for you." He lifted his head and met Macen's eyes, "You also know that it's a breach of regulations to beam you there."

"Regulation 134, paragraph C allows the use of transporters directly into HQ, if specifically ordered to do so."

The Chief shook his head, "Do you know what they'll do to me?"

"Give you a commendation for following orders properly and expediently." Macen smiled, "Then next time they'll know better than to write their orders this way."

The Chief broke into a mischievous grin, "That they will." He activated the transporter. He set the destination co-ordinates. He glanced up, "I wish I could see this."

Macen smiled wickedly, "You'll undoubtedly hear about it later." With that he dissolved into a glimmer of energy. Macen re-appeared standing atop Nechayev's desk.

"Sweet Jesus!" Nechayev shouted as she came out her chair.

Macen smiled and leapt off of the desk. Several Security officers burst into the room with their phasers drawn and ready. Macen put his hands up as they shouted for him to do. Nechayev waved them away from the wall she leaned against, clutching her heart.

The disgruntled Security officers holstered their sidearms and withdrew from the room. Nechayev returned to her chair, still slightly shaken. She is recovering swiftly, Macen thought. He accepted the chair she waved him towards.

"Thank you." He said with a victorious grin.

"Stop being so smug." Nechayev snapped, "That's an order."

Macen shrugged, "That's another one I'll have to refuse to obey."

Nechayev rubbed the bridge of her nose, "Your stubbornness is going to be the death of me." She stabbed a finger at him, "And of your career."

"I didn't know you cared." Macen snorted.

"Brin," she sighed, "You're one of the best operatives I ever had, and the best damn analyst I've ever seen. I can't always protect you. Don't throw what's left of your career away needlessly."

"Every insubordinate act I've ever committed has been deliberated and calculated before hand." He explained.

"You're an excellent tactician, but you're a lousy strategist." Nechayev commented. "Your methods generally alienate every potential ally you have regarding your position." Macen shrugged. Nechayev shook her head sadly.

"You would've been a flag officer by now if you'd just co-operated." She explained.

His eyes grew hard, "You've know that I don't want to be a flag officer. I have no political ambitions."

"Yes, you do." Nechayev sneered, "You want to found the Federated State of Brin Macen. You want the freedom to do whatever you want, and the rest of us be damned."

He stared at her coldly and she smiled, "You see, I do know you."

"What do you want?" he asked gruffly.

"I want to offer you your own command." She informed him.

Macen's eyes bulged in disbelief, "My own what?"

"I need you to take command of a ship and investigate something for me."

"I knew there'd be a price." Macen muttered.

"Of course." She admitted candidly, "There's always a price."

"What's the investigation?" he asked sullenly.

"You already know something of it." Nechayev said cryptically, Macen's right eyebrow rose. "It involves that rendezvous you happened upon."

"I take it this isn't the first time a Starfleet ship has been caught meeting with a Romulan ship within Federation borders?" he asked archly.

"No." she admitted in exasperation, "We've received reports of such things throughout the war. Your encounter was the first where one of our ships turned up missing."

"Which ship was it?"

"The Slipstream." Nechayev noted Macen's lack of recognition of her name. "She was a reserve vessel called into wartime service."

"Who was her captain?"

"A Lt. Commander Herris was supposed to be patrolling the border near Tholian space."

"How'd they end up that close to the Romulan border, then?" Macen asked, rolling the possibilities around in his mind.

"Exactly." Nechayev concurred, "They should have been dozens of light-years away instead of only a half-dozen."

"What other information is there?"

Nechayev's sharp features grew dark, "There have been reports from sources inside the Romulan Empire that claim there are Federation prisoners held be the Romulans."

"Where?" Macen asked sharply.

"In the Beta Quadrant."

Macen sighed. That meant it was on the opposite side of the Empire from the Neutral Zone. The area further from the galactic core was the Klingon Empire. Corewards, it was space that had been charted, but not yet affiliated with the Federation. That way was faster, but far riskier.

"I see you realise the implications." Nechayev nodded in approval, "Then you also realise that we also need to operate with the utmost discretion."

"Have you any leads as to who the Starfleet insider is?"

"Or are." Nechayev corrected miserably, "We finally rid Starfleet of all the Changelings and then this has to happen."

Macen understood. The Changeling infiltration of Starfleet had been one of the darkest moments in Federation history. Everyone was a suspect. Spouses and families turned to one another with suspicion in their eyes.

"We think a group known only as Section Thirty-One may be involved." Nechayev told him, "A young doctor out at Deep Space Nine has been badgering my office with stories of an ultra-secret conspiracy group operating within the Federation."

"Have you listened?" Macen growled. He'd had previous experience with Section 31. He'd stolen his scoutship, and several others, from them.

Nechayev's eyes met Macen's. She saw the bitter fury blazing in them. She hesitated. She reconsidered what she originally planned to tell him.

"Yes." She admitted.

For a moment, she feared that Macen may come over the desk to physically harm her, "Have you done anything about it?" he snarled.

"I can't!" she snarled back, "Not officially."

She sat back in her chair, visibly shedding her anger, "That's why I need you to accept this mission. I need someone I can trust."

"Why me?" he asked with a tinge of bitterness.

"I needed someone that I knew couldn't have been reached by Section Thirty-One. Both Command and Section 31 blacklisted you. They'd sooner kill you then recruit you. You have the skills and the motivation. The combination makes you the perfect choice."

Macen nodded, "Thank you." His eyes grew flinty, "Now, for the real reason?"

Nechayev sighed, "You were my second choice. The first wasn't available."

"Captain Calhoun up to his eyebrows in Thallonian troubles?" Macen retorted

"Precisely." Nechayev admitted, then shrugged, "Besides, I needed to someone who didn't have an already established command."

"It's a new command?" Macen asked, "Are you to send out an untested crew into a situation like this?"

"They are professionals." Nechayev replied with conviction, "It is no more or less than assigning a new captain to a ship."

"What ship is it?" he asked in resignation.

"The U.S.S. Odyssey."

Nechayev laughed at the gleam that appeared in his eyes upon hearing that name and then she continued her answer, "She was an early prototype for the Defiant-class."

Macen was familiar with the infamous class. The first true warship designed by Starfleet. His eyebrow arched, "A prototype for a prototype?"

She shrugged, "They needed to test the weapons arrays and direct power relays on a familiar hull configuration before trying something new."

"Good point." He conceded.

"You will proceed immediately to the Odyssey. The rest of your crew will be boarding within forty-eight hours. After you have everyone aboard, you depart for the Beta Quadrant."

Macen stood to leave, Nechayev motioned for him to wait, "First, you'll be going under the guise of charting unknown sectors in the Beta Quadrant. Second, be sure to change your uniform before you assume command."

Macen shook his head. Nechayev flushed in consternation. She held out her hands to signal that he should express his objections now.

"I'll do it, but on one condition."

Her eyes narrowed and her voice was brittle, "Offers of command are accepted or rejected. They are not negotiated."

"You'll like this one." Macen replied reassuringly, "I won't wear Command departmental colours."

"What?" she snapped, "It's a bloody shirt! Just wear it."

"I'm a Science officer." He replied, "An intelligence analyst to be precise. I have never been Command track. I don't want to be Command track."

"But you want command?" she asked enjoying the irony.

Macen nodded. Nechayev pondered it. It actually didn't matter what department the ranking officer belonged to. All that mattered was that there was a competent commander.

She nodded in acceptance, "Very well." She said in resignation, "Wear whatever uniform you want, as long as its regulation."

Macen's face lit up, flushed with victory. He turned and started for the door. He had reached it when the Admiral called out to him. He turned with a puzzled expression.

"If you won't wear the right colours, at least have the decency to wear the correct rank insignia, Captain."

She enjoyed the stunned look on his face as he comprehended what she'd just told him. The look of radian joy that followed it was priceless. He left after that. Nechayev sat back with a sigh. There weren't very many opportunities for reward in her field. She thoroughly enjoyed the rare moments when she could surprise someone with one of those rare treasures.

 

Chapter Two

Macen's next stop was a transporter pad. He had himself beamed back to Spacedock. After arriving he proceeded straight towards the pylon the Odyssey was moored to. He had to stop and ask for directions twice.

Having finally arrived, he was then challenged by two Security officers. They refused to let him pass until he could verify his orders. Macen was about to call for Admiral Nechayev when Ensign D'art appeared. She wore a broad smile of amusement when she recognised the plight he was in.

"It's alright Derrico." She assured the officer in charge, "He's the new captain."

"He's wearing Science colours." Derrico protested.

"And I'm going to continue to do so." Macen replied obstinately.

"You can check with Admiral Nechayev's office." D'art assured him, "He's cleared."

"I'll let him pass, under your recognisance." Derrico informed her, "And then I'll contact the Admiral's staff."

"Fine," she replied pleasantly, patting him on the arm. She turned to face Macen, "Would you like a tour, Captain?"

Macen wore a wry expression, "Let me guess, your part of the crew?"

Her smile grew, "Your Chief Helmsman to be precise."

Macen shook his head, "Figures. You could have told me my assignment earlier, you know."

"And deprive the Admiral of her fun, never!" she replied with mock horror.

"If we've dispensed with the banter," Macen said, turning serious, "maybe you can tell me about this ship as you escort me to the bridge."

D'art's smile became one of pure joy, "I would love to."

As they exited the turbolift onto the bridge, D'art was concluding her lecture, "So when they decided to flesh the ship out and make her operational, they were able to expand the bridge layout, and make it slightly more traditional."

Macen's eyes swept over the layout. It was a design he approved of. The command chair sat alone. Directly in front of it lay the Helm and the Ops consoles. Directly behind the Captain sat the Master Systems' console. To the captain's extreme right lay the Engineering console; the extreme left lay the Tactical console. Between Engineering and Master Systems lay the Environmental controls. Between Tactical and Master Systems lay the Science station. Each station was designed as its own alcove.

"How many officers do we have aboard?" Macen asked.

"About half the crew." D'art answered, 'I flew the ship during some test runs and have stayed with her since. Same holds true for most of Engineering. Everyone else is transferring in."

"Which senior officers are aboard?"

"The Chief Engineer, Science Officer, Chief Tactical, and your truly." She ended with a flourish.

Macen studied his helmsman for a moment. She was graceful and lithe. She had a naturally ebullient personality. Her brunette hair was braided behind her head.

"Who is the Security Chief?"

"You've already met him."

He rolled his eyes, "Derrico?"

She nodded, "Precisely."

"Oh, well...I'm sure we'll get off to a better start later."

"Doubt it."

Macen glowered at her, "And the others?"

"Lt. Commander Garm Tarrik is the Chief Engineer. He's a Tellarite."

"Have something against Tellarites, Ensign?"

She shook her head adamantly, "No, sir. Tarrik's just a little...well you'll see."

"And the Science Officer?" he asked wearily.

"A Trill named..."

"Lisea Danan?" Macen asked.

"You know her?" she asked, startled.

"You could say that." He mused, "Where is she?"

"Down in Astrometrics, helping them calibrate their equipment."

Macen nodded. He had a faraway look in his eyes. D'art didn't want to try to guess what that look entailed. She waited for him to speak.

"Have her join me in my Ready Room." He said at last.

"Aye, sir." D'art replied. From the way he said it, she knew that he didn't expect the conversation to go smoothly. Perhaps the earlier fall-out with Derrico was the least of the new Captain's problems.

Macen paced nervously in his waiting room. It had been almost three years since he'd last seen Lisea. Their parting had not been a happy one. They'd been forbidden any contact in the interim. He could only wonder how she'd react to his presence now.

His heart momentarily stopped as the door slid open. Lisea stood in the doorway. She hesitated before stepping in. She took a few tentative steps, then stopped and stood silently watching him.

She was very much as Macen remembered. The only change he could see was that the scar on her right cheek had been removed. It had received when a Galor-class cruiser destroyed the ship they'd been travelling in. A fragment had been imbedded in her cheek. Owing to the Maquis' limited medical resources, the scar had resulted.

"Reporting as ordered." She said slowly.

"It's good to see you again." Macen told her.

A flicker of a smile tugged at her mouth. Macen studied the lines of her face. She possessed a slightly oval face. Her high cheekbones granted her a look of unexpected strength. She had full lips that smiled easily highlighting a strong, angular jaw. Her eyes were the deepest brown, canopied by dark lashes and brows. The irregular spots of her race framed her face and neck.

During their time with the Maquis, Danan had taken to altering her chestnut hair to blonde. She still maintained that practice. Her hair had grown over the last three years. It now floated just above her shoulders, her bangs held back by a black band.

He realised that she was returning his scrutiny. He appeared virtually the same as well. He still wore his red-gold hair short. He meticulously maintained his neatly trimmed goatee. His green-blue eyes still changed colour to reflect whatever he was wearing.

"I didn't know you were aboard." He informed her softly.

"I knew you were being posted here." Lisea admitted, "That's why I requested the assignment."

Macen's eyes bulged in surprise, "You did? How?"

Danan grinned, "Nechayev asked me if I thought you'd accept another command. She explained the mission to me, and I volunteered."

"Really?" Macen asked, not believing his ears.

She'd been standing with her hands behind her back. Now she brought her hand forward, clasping them together, "Brin, I know that we haven't seen each other in three years. I also know that things may be rough between us for a bit. I was wondering if we could move past that?"

He nodded, "I hope so." He broke into a relieved smile, "I thought I'd have to search Starfleet records for weeks to find you."

Her eyes twinkled, "I can't let you be the only one with tricks up your sleeve."

Macen moved from around the desk. He stopped inches from her, "I'm really happy to see you." His voice caught slightly.

"So am I." She choked.

Their embrace was filled with the sadness and lonely despair of their forced separation. It was also filled with the vibrant hope of their reunion and an unspoken pledge to avoid future separations.

The Chief Medical Officer assigned to the Odyssey came as something of a surprise. Commander Viddan was a Romulan. His parents had defected to the Federation during the latter half of the twenty-third century. Despite the recent alliance with the Empire, many in Starfleet were unwilling to trust Romulans or any one of their lineage. It was especially surprising since the entire mission was essentially a Starfleet Intelligence operation.

Macen shook his hand warmly, "Welcome aboard."

Viddan regarded him with a look characteristic of the aloofness for which Vulcans and Romulans were typified for, "Thank you, Captain. I must confess my sense of relief upon discovering that this vessels commander would not be a human."

"Really?"

"Yes." Viddan replied with disdain, "I have encountered...difficulties with human commanders in the past. It takes another non-human to understand."

"I'm sure it does." Macen replied, fighting the urge to punch his new CMO. He was already certain that Viddan's "difficulties" had far less to due with his ethnicity than with his attitude. Macen forced himself not to inform the Doctor of his opinion.

"I'm sure we'll have ample opportunity to hear about your experiences." He said with feigned interest.

"I look forward to it." Viddan replied with genuine delight.

I wish I did, Macen groaned inwardly.

Twelve hours later, Macen was in the briefing room with Derrico, D'art, Tarrik and Danan. He finally understood the ensign's comments regarding the Chief Engineer. It wasn't that he was a bad sort; it was simply that he smelled. He didn't smell bad. He smelled like mud. A porcine race, Tellarites enjoyed mud baths to moisten their skin. Apparently, Tarrik was fanatical about his hygiene and "bathed" daily.

"Almost all of the crew is aboard and accounted for." Derrico reported, "The primary exceptions being our Exec and our Ops officer."

Macen drummed his fingers together, "Any word on when we can expect them?"

Derrico shook his head. Macen sighed. They were due to ship out in less than thirty-six hours. Both officers were expected to have checked in several hours ago.

"Contact Starfleet Command." Macen ordered, "See if they know anything."

"Aye, sir." Derrico nodded.

"If there's no other business?" Macen asked, no one spoke, "All right then, dismissed."

Derrico and Tarrik were the first out the door, which suited Macen. "Commander Danan, Ensign D'art, a moment of your time?" They returned to their seats.

"Neither Commander Willis nor Lieutenant Margoro will be joining us." He informed them sadly.

"Why not?" D'art asked.

"They're dead." Macen replied flatly.

"What a wonderful way to start the mission." Danan commented dryly, "How did they die?"

"No one's sure." Macen replied sourly, "They both died in 'mysterious' accidents. Willis died in a shuttle accident four hours ago. Margoro drowned in the Pacific Ocean off of Fiji. "

"Are there replacements?" Danan asked.

Macen shook his head, "There's no one available that Nechayev has cleared."

"What's that mean for our mission?" Danan asked, a tinge of desperation in her voice.

"It means," Macen answered, his voice steel, "that you are now the first officer. I am free to recruit an Ops officer 'at my own discretion'."

"Do you have anyone in mind?"

An enigmatic smile crossed Macen's face, "That all depends on if you want to have an adventure or not."

Thirty minutes later, they were still arguing over Macen's proposal. D'art watched them go at each other with great amusement. She'd originally harboured interest in her new captain after meeting him. That had ended now that she'd seen these two together.

"Are you as nuts as she is?" Danan asked, throwing her hands in the air.

"She's not crazy." Macen argued.

"That's why she's in a mental institution, right?" Danan quipped sarcastically. She turned and stormed to the other side of the room.

D'art turned her head towards Macen to see how he'd reply. His face was a stony masque of rage. It faded by sheer force of will. He took a deep breath.

"Listen, we need someone we can trust." He said, "She's the only qualified person that we know that can't have been corrupted."

"I wouldn't say that." Danan retorted.

Macen's shoulders sagged and his head hung low, "C'mon Lisea, we know her. She can be trusted."

"She tried to kill you." Danan said accusingly, "Have you forgotten that?"

"No." Macen answered, "But I have forgiven."

"You may have," Danan replied harshly, "but I haven't."

Macen shrugged his hands on his hips, "It's the past. I looked up her records. They have no record of any 'incidents' over the last nine months."

Her arms spread wide, "So that means she's cured?"

He shook his head, "No, but it means she's better."

D'art looked at one then the other as though watching a tennis match. Macen and Danan both stopped and stared at her.

"What are you doing?" Danan demanded.

D'art's head jerked back, "I'm just waiting for you two to finish arguing."

"You could put forth an opinion." Danan snapped peevishly.

D'art's hands came up as though she were surrendering, "I don't even know who this T'Kir person is. It's your call."

"No." Macen growled, 'It's my call."

Both Danan and D'art stared at him in mute silence as he spoke, "We're going to release her from the Andes Institute."

Danan glowered at him, "I hope you know what you're doing."

He smiled thinly at her, "I'm about to break a prisoner out of a Rehabilitative Penal Colony and make her a member of this crew."

She rolled her eyes, "Well, as long as you know what you're doing, what the hell?" she threw her hands into the air and made for the door. She stopped before exiting and stabbed an accusing finger at him, "Just so you know, this is not the way to regain someone's affections."

She stormed out of the door. Brin stood silently, watching the door slide shut. He turned to look at D'art. She sat in her chair, carefully not making any noise.

Macen gave her a wan smile, "It's a long story."

She gave him an understanding smile, "I gathered as much."

Macen stood for a moment before turning back to D'art, "Ensign?"

"Yes, sir?"

"The meeting's concluded." He informed her gently.

"I thought you might want some assistance planning the break-out." She said eagerly.

Macen gave her a baleful look, "Ensign, you're dismissed."

"Bur, sir..."

He pointed at the door, "Ensign, you're dismissed."

"But..."

"Didn't they teach you what 'dismissed' means at the Academy?" he asked sarcastically, "It means 'leave now, before you get put on report'."

"Aye, sir." She replied crisply.

"I'll contact you and Commander Danan in fifteen minutes and fill you on the plan."

"Aye, sir." She acknowledged and departed.

She might work out after all, Macen mused.

Thirteen minutes later, they were re-gathered in the briefing room. The table's holo display had recreated a map of the facility. Two sections were highlighted in red, one atop the roof, and one within the facility. Macen pointed at the one within the facility.

"This is T'Kir's room." He explained. "She's being held in Section Seven, Quad Nine, and room thirteen."

Danan leaned closer to the display, resting her chin in her hand, "There are a lot of security posts."

"Coming in from the front door, there are three security stations before reaching the objective." Macen said flatly. His voice carried no emotion. He was in his analytical mode. Nothing but facts mattered to him now.

"Wouldn't it be easier to beam the target out?" D'art asked.

Macen smiled thinly, "The entire facility is shielded by a transport inhibitor." He pointed at the second highlighted section, "The emitter array is located on the roof."

"How do people get in and out then?" Danan asked.

Macen pointed to an area right in front of the complexes main entrance, "That is the only unshielded point in the facility's sphere."

"This makes it easier to screen unwanted guests." Lisea commented.

"The facility is located on a cliff in the Andes." Macen added, "If you're refused admittance, the weather's cold enough to discourage loitering."

"So what's your plan?" Danan asked, pulling herself upright.

"I've arranged the use of a shuttle. We assume orbit over the facility. D'art and I transport down and enter the facility." Macen answered.

"Why her?" Danan asked sharply. From her tone, it would have been easy to assume that the question was spawned form jealousy. Macen knew better. He and Lisea had been partners for years now. They knew each other's methods. A stranger did not have that advantage.

"Because I need someone in the ship overwriting their security systems." Macen replied, "You're a better systems engineer than she is."

Danan nodded agreement, "What happens after you reach T'Kir?"

Macen grinned, "Then D'art and T'Kir will relocate to a designated spot. They will wait there for the transport inhibitor to be deactivated. Once it's down, they'll be transported back to the ship."

"I take it you'll be doing the deactivating." Danan commented dryly.

"It's my plan." Macen replied with a shrug, "The responsibility for sabotage should fall squarely on my shoulders."

Danan's shrug was the slightest movement of her shoulders, "How d'you plan on withdrawing?"

"I'll make for the cliff face." Macen answered.

Danan's eyes went steely, "That's a sheer face. It's a two kilometre drop."

"That's why no one will expect me to go that direction." He said confidently, "Besides, I'll have you in orbit ready to beam me up."

Danan's face shifted expression as she began calculating options.

"Stop it!" Macen intoned darkly, "You won't be rid of me that easily."

She pantomimed a disappointed snap of her fingers. She smiled warmly all the while.

"Shut up." Danan hissed.

"I can't breathe." D'art complained miserably.

"Quiet." Macen turned in the cockpit and scolded.

"But I can't breathe." D'art complained more loudly.

"I'll make that a permanent condition if you don't shut up." Danan informed her comrade in an eerie voice.

D'art sighed. She and Danan were in the storage locker of the shuttle Oberon. Macen had arranged for the shuttle under the ostensible purpose of practice with the new class of shuttle. They had escorted him into the shuttle, but weren't logged in as occupants. They hid wrapped in layers of sensor defying blankets.

"We're clear of Spacedock." Macen informed them.

Danan emerged first. She took her station beside Macen. Although she disagreed with the purpose of this mission, she was too much of a professional to let it bother her. Macen was her Captain. He'd made his decision and she would support him in it.

Although, most of his decisions don't usually include breaking out lunatics, she mused.

"I don't care what anyone says," D'art complained bitterly as she extricated herself from the locker, "I am not going back in there."

"Yes, you will." Danan replied without turning around.

"No, I'm not." The Ensign blustered.

Danan turned slowly, her eyes flashing lasers, "Yes, you will. Conscious or unconscious, it doesn't matter to me. You will get back in there when ordered to do so."

"Yes, sir." D'art stammered, plopping down into the nearest seat.

Macen smiled to himself. Danan was the perfect first officer. She knew his command style intimately. She knew when to raise objections, and when to let things lie. Most of all, she knew how to maintain discipline.

"Assuming parking orbit." Macen announced and vacated his seat. He went to the back of the shuttle and programmed a set of co-ordinates into the transporter. Danan went to work at the comm panel. She swiftly accessed the Andes Institute's mainframe. She nodded to Macen as he and D'art stepped onto the small transporter platform.

"Good luck." She said softly.

"Thanks." Macen replied with a laconic grin, "Energise."

 

Chapter Three

Macen and D'art materialised in a snowdrift. Before them lay the expansive Andes Institute. The view was breathtaking. They could see for hundred of kilometres in every direction.

Macen would have enjoyed spending hours in appreciation of the view, if it hadn't been so bloody cold. He looked over towards D'art. She was suffering more from the change in temperature then he. He motioned towards the Institute.

She nodded dully. Even though Starfleet uniforms were resistant to cold and heat, they had their limits. Although D'art was human, Macen did not where she was from. She obviously had little tolerance for cold.

He helped guide her as they trudged through the snow towards the Institute. As they entered the shield that prevented transporting, they discovered that it had other properties. It also shielded the Institute from inclement weather. They warmed as they mounted the steps leading to the entrance.

They stood before the double doors and they slid open. Entering, they faced an expansive courtyard. There was a desk at the centre of the room. Two men armed with phasers sat at the desk.

"Can I help you?" one of the men asked in a desultory manner. Both his manner and his ebony skin reminded Macen of Derrico. Whereas Derrico spoke in with a resonant bass, this man spoke in a nasal wheeze. The whiny voice belied the stern exterior so greatly as to be a great source of amusement.

Silent amusement, Macen chided himself. He handed a padd to the man. The security officer activated it and read the orders Lisea forged for them. He nodded his approval regarding what he read and handed the padd back.

He pointed towards a turbolift shaft, "Go there and request Level Seven. Disembark and show the officers there your orders."

Macen offered his thanks. Taking D'art by the elbow, he guided her towards the lift. He stopped in front of its doors and waited. When the doors swooshed open, he entered, pushing D'art in before him.

"You don't have to guide me around like I'm a child." She snapped.

"That remains to be seen." Macen replied calmly, "You may be a great pilot. We'll see soon enough. On the ground, though, you have a tendency to drag your feet."

His eyes bored into hers, "If you hesitate, you draw attention. To remain inconspicuous you must move with confidence and purpose."

She opened her mouth to protest and then stopped herself. There was logic behind what he'd said. There was also what Nechayev had told D'art about Macen. The Admiral had claimed that Macen had been her best analyst, and "a damned fine field operative". Experience counted for something.

"Yes, sir. I understand." She asserted confidently.

Macen smiled, "That's more like it."

The lift slowed and then halted. The doors opened with swoosh. Macen realised that he hated that sound. He'd served on Starfleet vessels for nearly eighty years, and they all made that cursed noise.

As promised, the lift opened to reveal another security booth. Once again, there were two guards. This time it was a Bolian male and a Deltan female. Neither was armed.

He handed his orders to the Deltan. She gave his padd a perfunctory glance, then she settled her gaze on him. He could tell from the Bolian's reaction that she was flooding the room with her pheromones. Even D'art was getting a little hot under the collar. Obviously, the Deltan had no prior experience with an El-Aurian. His people were immune to the biochemical aphrodisiacs her race produced.

Her eyes became sullen as she pointed down the hallway, "Quad Nine is that way."

Macen murmured his thanks as he took D'art by the arm and led her down the hall. She still seemed overwhelmed and confused. He led her out of the booth's sight then stopped. D'art leaned against the wall and collected herself.

"What the hell just happened?" she asked angrily.

"A slight pheromonal overdose." Macen answered, trying to conceal his amusement.

"I thought Deltans had to take an oath of celibacy before joining Starfleet." She growled.

"They do." Macen replied, then shrugged, "This installation isn't part of Starfleet. Who knows what protocols they've established?"

"They need to establish a few." D'art said, her rage increasing, "I've never even thought about sex with another woman. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was rip of her clothes and taste her..."

Macen held up his hands, "I really don't need to know."

D'art flushed, "I'm so sorry. I don't know why I was about to..."

Macen patted her on the shoulder, "It's all right. Are you ready to continue?"

She nodded, "Yeah, I've got myself together." She stood and straightened her uniform jacket, "Thanks."

"Don't mention it." He said, then in conspiratorial tones, "Especially not to Commander Danan. You'd never hear the end of it."

D'art managed a laugh, "I'll keep that in mind."

"C'mon, let's go." Macen said, pointing down the hall.

They proceeded to the next booth. This one sat before the corridor leading to Quad Nine. Yet again, there were two guards. They were female, a human and a Trill.

Macen repeated the ritual. D'art fidgeted under the Trill's scrutiny, still uneasy about the reaction the Deltan had evoked. The human studied the padd. Her head rose and her face was hard.

"What is your business with the prisoner?" she asked in a fierce tone.

"I've been asked to consult on the case." Macen lied, thankful for his Sciences divisional shirt, "That's easier if you've actually met the patient."

The guard broke into a smile, "Don't scare easy, eh? That's good, means you'll stand a chance against her. I'll warn you though, she's a wily one."

Macen nodded, "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

The officer nodded to her Trill companion, "Drix here will unlock the door for you."

"Thanks again." Macen threw her a jaunty salute.

The trio proceeded down the hall until they reached room thirteen. Drix motioned them to stand aside as she waved a passkey over the lock. The door emitted a chime then opened. As it opened, Macen pressed a hypo against Drix's neck and depressed its injection stud.

The hypo hissed and the Trill fell unconscious into Macen's ready arms. He dragged her into the room. D'art followed him, glancing about nervously for the room's occupant. She found her huddled in the corner.

The darkness of the room did little to occlude its purpose. The walls were padded. The furniture was barren, and bolted to the floor. Breaks and deep scratches etched into the floor tiles indicted that the bolts had not been effective against Vulcan strength in the past.

T'Kir sat in a feral crouch, watching them. Her dark eyes flashed with conflicting emotions D'art could not identify. The Vulcan's hair was wild. It looked as though someone chopped it off with a dull hatchet. It was of varied lengths that stuck out in every conceivable direction.

T'Kir's head canted in an odd angle as she watched them. Macen turned and there was the light of recognition in her features. The wariness in posture disappeared. She slumped into a lounging sprawl on the floor.

"Well, you've certainly taken your time getting here, Brin Macen." She scolded, her voce rising and falling in a strange, child-like cantor.

"I've been busy." Macen replied brusquely, "Would you like to leave?"

She sat up, pleading in her eyes, "More than anything."

Macen pointed at D'art, "Then follow her." He instructed her sternly, "Don't let anything happen to her." His eyes narrowed, "And more importantly, don't do anything to her."

D'art thought for a moment that T'Kir was pouting for a moment, but dismissed the idea. Who'd ever heard of a Vulcan vamping before? It was an absurd idea. She quickly dismissed it.

"I don't want to go with her." T'Kir protested, "She doesn't like me."

"Yes, she does." Macen assured her, "She has no reason not to."

""She thinks I'm strange." T'Kir accused.

"You're different than any Vulcans she's known." Macen explained, "Give her time, she'll grow to love you."

"She'd better." T'Kir muttered than rose to follow D'art.

Macen turned to the young ensign, "You know what to do."

D'art nodded, "Get to the pick-up site, stay out of the way, and most of all, don't get caught."

Macen nodded proudly, "Good girl. Get going."

D'art motioned for T'Kir to follow her. She slipped out of the room. She noticed that T'Kir was dressed only in the typical blue jumpsuit common to Federation medical facilities the quadrant over. She was also barefoot, which gave her a considerable advantage in walking softly.

She paused while Macen passed them. He strode up to the security booth and went to the other side of it, distracting the officer there from D'art and T'Kir's approach. Macen's sudden reappearance and her partner's absence puzzled the woman. She barely had time to register T'Kir's presence behind her before the Vulcan's hand snaked out and squeezed the vulnerable nerve junction in her neck. The guard tensed, then went limp.

"Good job." Macen commended T'Kir's effort.

T'Kir's eyebrow rose in disdain, "It was far too simple."

"Just remember that if you two encounter any more guards." Macen urged and then proceeded alone further down the hall.

"Where is he going?" T'Kir demanded to know.

"He has another mission." D'art stated simply.

"What other 'mission'?" the Vulcan asked archly, "I should be the only 'mission'."

"Don't we think highly of ourselves?" D'art shot back. T'Kir's eyes flashed. D'art could see danger rolling behind the frozen masque of a Vulcan face.

"You have taken a great risk to free me." T'Kir nearly snarled, "It is only logical to assume that it is because I am of great worth to you."

D'art noted the sarcastic tone surrounding her use of the word "logic", but couldn't argue with the reasoning behind it. "He has to disable the shield that prevents the transporters from working."

T'Kir's head quirked to one side, "Then we should go wherever it is you're supposed to take me and be ready for our imminent departure."

The Vulcan's mercurial mood swings (did Vulcans have mood swings?) were really beginning to bother her, but once again, she couldn't refute the 'logic' of the suggestion, "Follow me."

Macen had reached a maintenance hatch. He opened it. On the other side a Jeffries Tube style access tunnel lay revealed. Macen reached out and took hold of the ladder. He began his climb towards the roof.

He had to climb six levels before reaching the roof. He keyed the door panel. It opened slowly. He stepped out onto the roof.

The section he stood atop was one of the few flat sections. Behind him rose a tower. He instinctively knew that it contained a security detail. Before him lay the array. To either side, the roof slanted towards the ground. To the right, it led to a thirteen-story drop to the ground. To the left, a two-kilometre drop to an outcropping of the Andes awaited.

He moved forward purposefully. He made straight for the array, careful not to look sideways as that panoramic view. He went to the other side of the array, blocking him from the tower's view. He opened an access panel.

Macen quickly went to work pulling out chips and connectors. The field began to waver. He worked faster, knowing that he was undoubtedly tripping alarms. Voices drifting in from across the roof confirmed his suspicion.

He ripped out the last circuit board. All the indicators went dead. The array was deactivated. He hit his comm badge.

"The field's down." He hissed to D'art, "Get out now."

"Acknowledged," she replied in a whisper.

Macen reached to the small of his back and withdrew a surprise concealed there. It was a pistol grip with a hinged cylinder atop it. He released the safety and the cylinder rolled into place over the right side of his hand. He peered around the right side of the array, gun hand ready.

Several Security officers were approaching him. He raised his right hand and fired. A green ball of energy erupted from the diminutive weapon and sailed over the officers' heads. The stairwell they had just vacated erupted into a shower of sparks as the energy burst cut it in half.

The volley of phaser fire that he drew in response was as overwhelming as it was futile. The random bursts they were wildly firing at him were causing more damage to the array then he could have ever hoped to accomplish. Macen shook his head in disgust. They'll give anybody a phaser these days.

D'art and T'Kir materialised atop the two person transporter pad within the shuttle. T'Kir glanced quickly about the shuttle before breaking into a beatific smile. D'art's eyes went wide and her jaw went slack. She'd never seen a Vulcan smile before. There was something about it that made it more frightening then any of T'Kir's oddities.

"What, you've never seen someone smile before?" T'Kir asked sarcastically.

"No, not like that." D'art admitted.

"Get used to it." T'Kir replied forcefully, then turned and waved towards the cockpit, "Lisea, how nice to see you again!"

Danan never turned, never budged. Slowly and calmly she said, "Get off the transporter pad and try to get a lock on Macen."

"Certainly." T'Kir replied cheerfully, "I wouldn't want Brin to get hurt. He has only just rescued me."

Oh my God, D'art thought to herself, she really is crazy.

T'Kir turned. Her eyes were venomous, "I heard that." She hissed, then stepped off the pad.

D'art's eyes swelled wide, as though they would burst.

Sparks flew over Macen's head. The phaser bursts were not overloading various systems within the array, causing them to discharge. The blasts weren't getting through, yet.

He tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Oberon, are you ready yet?"

"Just a moment, we need to get a lock on you." Danan replied.

"Well, hurry up." Macen said irritably.

"It's your plan." Danan snapped back, "Live with it."

"Just keep a lock on my comm badge." Macen replied. He turned and fired several shots over the Security officers. He broke and sprinted to his right. He had almost made it to the slant before the first phaser blast sizzled by.

He jumped. His body was angled when he landed. He slid down the roof feet first. The edge was nearing.

"Anytime now!" he shouted into the comm badge.

"Well?" Danan asked in a surly tone.

"I'm trying to!" D'art answered, voice rising in panic.

"Hurry," Danan urged, "I've got him on sensors. He's headed off the edge!"

"I'm trying!" D'art repeated.

T'Kir rolled her eyes, "Whatever. Let me do it."

"I can do it!" D'art protested.

"Stop arguing and activate the damn transporter!" Danan shouted back.

T'Kir grabbed D'art and threw her aside. Her eyes flitted over the board. Hands flew across the controls. Her mouth twisted into a satisfied smile as she activated the transport beam.

Macen's feet slid over the edge, followed shortly by the rest of him. He was plummeting in freefall. He wouldn't reach the ground until he had fallen for two kilometres. He would reach terminal velocity far before then.

His mind was still distantly analysing this possibility when he felt the familiar sense of dislocation common to the transporter. He faded and then rematerialised on the shuttle. He had changed locations, but he had not had a chance to shed all of his momentum. The moment he became solid, he flew forward off the pad.

Everything was a blur. He knew he'd collided with something, but had no idea what. Whatever it was, it was underneath him. Its warmth and suppleness surprised him.

"I'm happy to see you too." T'Kir purred.

Macen pushed himself off the floor, and her, "We need to stop meeting like this."

'No need to leave." She said silkily, rolling onto her stomach, "I was just getting...comfortable."

"I'm sure." He muttered as he took his seat at the helm. He glanced over at Lisea. Her expression was livid. He gave her an "I know" shrug.

She snorted and typed plotting instructions into her board. Macen was surprised she didn't break the panel with the degree of force she was employing. Behind them, he heard T'Kir's manic giggle.

Okay, maybe this wasn't the greatest idea. He thought.

"I heard that." T'Kir said accusingly.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Nechayev roared. Within the confines of Macen's Ready Room, it was nearly deafening.

Macen sat in his chair behind his desk alcove. His hands were laced behind his head, supporting it as he leaned back in his chair. He wore a small, satisfied smirk across his face. His twinkled with mischievous delight.

"I thought I was obeying your instructions." He answered.

"Damn you." She pointed a finger at him, "Don't you dare twist my words to suit your actions."

He leaned forward, lacing his hands together. His expression was sombre, "I'm not twisting. I just...improvised." He gave a slight shrug.

"Next time you want to 'improvise', ask for my permission first." She said, her rage subsiding. She took a seat opposite him. "Why did you do it?"

"I needed someone I could trust." He held up a hand to ward away her obligatory objections, "My mission's been compromised." His eyes locked with hers. There was no doubt there, she saw. She nodded for him to continue.

"My Exec and my Ops officer both die before they can get here. Reasons unknown." Macen said sardonically, "I'm willing to wager that two 'qualified' candidates mysteriously appeared while I was incommunicado."

She nodded, "You're right. Commander Torres and Lieutenant Avery both came up in our records search."

Macen snorted, "It doesn't surprise me. Whoever is handling this is getting sloppy. They're taking unnecessary risks."

She caught his underlying tone, "You mean besides the deaths of Willis and Margoro?"

He smiled, "Whoever thought they could slip a Romulan into the crew with such a weak cover story has serious mental deficiencies."

"A Romulan?" she asked, "What Romulan?"

"Doctor Viddan." He answered disdainfully.

She shook her head, "No, that's not right. Dr. Viddan is Hynathean."

"Not anymore." He replied.

The Admiral released the deepest sigh Macen had ever heard. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and muttered obscenities to herself in Russian. Macen had never learned the human tongue himself, but understood from others that it contained choice metaphors. After a few sentences, she opened her eyes.

"Any others?" she asked in resignation.

"Confirmed or suspects?" Macen retorted.

"Either." Nechayev said sharply.

Macen shrugged, "No confirmed, but as far as suspects..." he swept his arms expansively, "take your pick."

"What a way to start the mission." Nechayev commented dryly. Macen snickered. "Is there something I should be aware of, Captain?"

"No, sir." He replied with a straight face, "It just seems that that's a popular opinion."

Nechayev nodded her understanding. No news, or opinions, travelled quite like those of the negative variety. It was a phenomenon that could fill volumes of social science research periodicals. If they could ever actually quantify it in the first place. No matter, now was the time to contain what damage they could.

"What do you require at this time?" she asked pointedly.

"I could use a replacement CMO for when the current one 'blows' his cover." He informed her.

She thought for a moment, then replied, "I'll ask Admiral McCoy."

Macen looked at her sceptically, "If you don't mind my asking, but isn't he a little old for a human?"

Nechayev chuckled, "I'll ask if he has anyone to recommend." She shook her head, "If you want to run around the galaxy acting like James Kirk, you'll need a good physician. McCoy will be the expert on who qualifies."

She looked at him sadly, "I just wish I had a Mr. Spock for you."

Macen shook his head, "I'm quite happy with Lisea, thank you."

Her smile was one of approval, "I'm sure you are."

"Although..." Macen said.

"What?" Nechayev asked wearily.

"I could use Aric Tulley."

"No." Nechayev said flatly, "I'm not setting up a Maquis reunion here. When, if, you get beck, we'll talk about his release."

After Nechayev departed, Macen had T'Kir sent to his Ready Room. Someone had taken a comb to her hair, but it was still dishevelled. Macen doubted any amount of brushing could bring her wild tangle under control. The rest of her was dressed smartly in a Starfleet uniform and yellow Division shirt.

"I'm giving you the brevet rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, is that acceptable?"

She stared off towards the wall, "Fas...cin...a...ting." She replied. Macen's head spun from that one. An officer had once made a joke about such dictation, referring to it as "Valley" speak. The officer had made the reference scornfully. Macen could understand why.

His eyes narrowed and his voice lowered, "Can you do the job?"

Panic flashed across her features, "Of course." She plopped down into the seat across from him and reached for his hands. "I can do it, really!"

His expression remained dubious, "I read your fitness reports. This kind of behaviour wasn't in them."

She leaned back into the chair, a smug smile settling across her face, "Their encryption was sooo easy to break."

A wry expression flashed across Macen's face, "Well, it's nice to know your skills haven't atrophied."

He extricated his hands from hers, "Seriously, I need to know...can you do the job?"

She looked at him, eyes large and pleading.

He leaned closer, "If you tell me you can't, I won't send you back. When this mission is done, I'll drop you off wherever you want to go."

There was a mixture of relief and sadness in her eyes, "I can do it. Trust me."

The longing and conviction in her voice convinced Macen of her sincerity, "All right. The job is yours. If at any time, you don't think you can handle it, let me know. You'll have as much time off as you need to pull yourself together."

She smiled gratefully, "You'll be the first to know."

"We're launching in ten hours, you should spend some time getting acquainted with your post." He suggested.

She nodded, then winked at him, "I could also spend some time showing you how grateful I am."

He shook his head, "That won't be necessary."

"Alright, but if you ever change your mind" she shrugged started to leave "You know where to find me." She called over her shoulder as she went through the door.

If you think that's going to happen, you really are crazy, he thought to himself.

"I heard that!"

An hour before their scheduled launch, Macen received word from Derrico. Their newest, and final, member of the crew had arrived. Macen informed Derrico that he would meet the new doctor in Sickbay. He authorised Security to seal the ship in preparation for departure.

Minutes later he entered Sickbay and received one of the greatest surprises of his life. The new doctor was there, and he was a Klingon. A Klingon in full battle dress who seemed to be in the midst of a personal crusade of applying every known Klingon curse to the layout of the Sickbay. He was creating several of his own towards the hapless staff caught in the midst of his tirade.

"What's going in here?" Macen demanded.

The Klingon turned. His fierce eyes burned with rage as he glowered at Macen. He was several inches taller than Macen. He drew himself up and moved towards the Captain.

"Who are you?" the Klingon bellowed.

"I'm Captain Brin Macen, the commander of this vessel." Macen said levelly, his eyes never wavered from the Klingon's.

"What do you wish of me?" the Klingon snarled.

"I want you to stop screaming at your fellow officers like an Orion hag." Macen replied coolly.

The Klingon's eyes narrowed and his voice dropped several octaves, "If you were not my commanding officer, I would kill you."

"Try it." Macen replied.

Derrico and a Security team rushed to Sickbay, responding to a report of a riot. When they arrived, they found half a dozen Medical personnel standing terrified outside of the room. Guttural yells and loud crashes could be heard emanating from within. Derrico positioned his men on either side if the door before opening it.

The door opened and they rushed in high-low pairs. They found the Klingon lying on his back, blood dripping from his cracked lips and bruised nose. Macen stood warily nearby. His uniform was torn, and he was bleeding as well.

"Sir?" Derrico asked unsteadily.

"At ease, Lieutenant." Macen replied, dropping his guard position, "The good doctor and I were just getting acquainted."

Derrico nodded. He didn't understand the situation, but understanding was unnecessary. The Captain said it was all right. The question remained how would the Klingon "doctor" respond?

The Klingon sized Derrico up, "You appear to be a warrior."

Derrico remained impassive, "I am the Chief Tactical Officer."

"I knew it!" the Klingon boasted proudly as he stood, "Those massive shoulders, that proudly shaven head, the dusk, Klingon-like features. A warrior born, like the Captain!"

The Klingon turned to Macen, "I am Kort, I am honoured to serve with you."

"The honour is mine." Macen replied respectfully.

"If there is no call for Security's presence?" Derrico asked.

Macen waved his hand, "It's all right. You can go. Tell the Medical staff to come back in here."

The Security officers departed and the Medical staff returned. A worried looking nurse approached Macen, "Sir, would you like me to tend to those wounds?"

He smiled, facing Kort, "No. I'll wear the bruises in remembrance to a fine opponent." With that he departed from Sickbay. Behind him he could hear Kort bellow for all to hear, "A true warrior!" Macen just hoped he wouldn't regret delaying medical treatment too badly.

An hour later, Macen was on the bridge. He was in the centre seat. Everyone was flush with excitement. Macen swivelled his seat around to steal a glance at the faces of his new bridge staff.

Derrico sat at Tactical, his face an inscrutable masque. Danan sat next to him at Science. She'd opted to remain at her post rather than transfer her station to Master Systems. That post would now double as a relief position along with Environmental. Danan's face was bright and eager.

An Engineering rating was seated at the Engineering station. Tarrik opted to stay with his warp core. Macen appreciated an engineer reluctant to leave his charge behind to go sit on the bridge. It stank of trying to gain the Captain's attention, in Brin's humble opinion.

D'art and T'Kir's backsides were facing him. They were both occupied with their panels, being the two busiest people on the bridge. T'Kir seemed more controlled, although her movements were still accented by odd tics. D'art's focus was razor sharp. Nothing mattered to her except her plot.

Kort and Viddan had both come to the bridge, albeit opposite sides of the bridge. McCoy had briefed Kort on Viddan's true allegiances prior to his arrival. Macen could tell by Kort's body language that he longed for the moment when he could rip the Romulan's spleen out and force-feed it to him. The Romulan, on the other hand, seemed taken in by the spectacle of a starship departing from dock.

"Status, Mr. Tarrik?" Macen asked via the comm.

"Ready when you are." Tarrik called back.

"In that case, activate running lights, Mr. T'Kir." Macen called out.

"Running lights enabled." T'Kir announced.

"Clear all moorings." Macen ordered.

T'Kir manipulated controls, then replied, "All moorings are cleared."

"Odyssey to Spacedock Traffic Control." Macen spoke.

"Spacedock here, Odyssey, how may we be of assistance?"

"Requesting permission to depart." Macen informed them.

"Permission granted Odyssey. Traffic will update Sector Control and grant you immediate transit status."

Brin smiled, that cleared the ship to engage warp at the Io boundary, "Thank you, Traffic."

"Godspeed Odyssey." Traffic replied before terminating the transmission.

"Helm, take us out. One quarter impulse." Macen ordered, as a feeling of satisfaction rushing over him.

The Odyssey slipped away from her moorings and vectored towards the awaiting open space doors. She easily slid past them out into open space. As she cleared the confines of Spacedock, Macen ordered full impulse. The ship throbbed with power as she increased velocity.

She cleared the moon within moments. Mars' orbit passed by. Sensors alerted them to approaching ships. Several Starfleet fighters swept in to give their larger sister a send-off.

At the Io boundary, the fighters broke off. D'art barrel rolled the ship in a salute to them. Silence enveloped the bridge. They were about to go to warp.

"Engineering, are you ready to engage the warp drive?" Macen asked.

"Just give the word." Tarrik replied confidently.

"The word's given." Macen replied in kind. He glanced towards D'art's back, "Plot course for the Ktarrian frontier. Warp six."

"Aye, sir." D'art answered crisply, "Course laid in."

"Let's do it." Macen ordered.

D'art tapped the warp control on her board and the ship altered time-space. The warp field enveloped the ship. The starfield became a miasma of colours, then faded altogether. Nothing but brilliant streaks were visible as they travelled faster than visible light.

"Go to warp eight." Macen ordered. D'art complied accelerating the ship even faster. The ship responded perfectly. Macen leaned forward, "Warp nine."

The ship accelerated even more. The Odyssey, unlike her siblings could maintain speeds of up to warp nine point six for sustained periods. That made them one of the fastest ships in the fleet. Macen ordered the ship, decimal point by decimal point, accelerated until she reached her maximum speed. They maintained there for several moments.

Macen called to Engineering, "How's your status, Mr. Tarrik?"

"Everything's perfect!" Tarrik called back proudly, "Better than the design teams expected."

"Glad to hear it." Macen said with a laugh. "Helm, drop speed to warp six. Maintain that speed and current heading."

"Aye, sir." D'art replied with the satisfaction they were all feeling. All save Viddan, who was putting on quite the show. Macen couldn't fault the Romulan's acting abilities. Macen leaned back into his with a general sense of well being, and a lot of soreness. He was already regretting his earlier refusal of treatment. That's the price of living for over four hundred years, he mused.

 

Chapter Four

The Enterprise-E glided gently through space. As always, the flagship of Starfleet had been busy. The ship and crew had just finished negotiations with the Zynz'ynerts. The species had proven almost as indecipherable as the name. The crew had come through, and negotiations towards greater co-operation would now begin.

Picard stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge awash with a sense of approving satisfaction with his crew's efforts. The insectoid Zynz'ynerts' language was the result of vibrations transmitted through their chitinous carapaces. It had taken quite a bit of ingenuity to produce a supplemental device to the universal translator in order for the two species to communicate. Picard had a long list of commendations that he was recommending for many of the Science specialists serving aboard the ship.

His eyes drifted across the bridge, savouring the sights he beheld there. His Executive Officer, Will Riker was at his post alongside the captain's chair. Data was at Ops. Lieutenant J.G. Kell Perim manned CONN. Picard knew Beverly Crusher was down in Sickbay. Geordi LaForge was in Engineering. Deanna Troi was seeing crewmembers in her role as Ship's Counsellor. The only one was truly a stranger to Picard was his Chief Tactical Officer, Rab Daggit.

Daggit had joined the crew at the closing of the Dominion War. The Angosian had served with an elite Tactical unit prior to his posting to the Enterprise. He had only been aboard a few weeks. Picard had been curious to see what the former commando's reactions would be during their encounter with the Zynz'ynerts. He had not been disappointed. Contrary to Picard's last encounter with Angosian commandos, Daggit had been coolly collected even when tensions had escalated and violence appeared eminent.

Picard walked down to his seat and assumed it with a pleasant smile, "How goes it, Number One?"

Riker grinned at him. He'd decided to grow his beard back. His relationship with Counsellor Troi seemed as vibrant as ever, despite her initial disgust regarding his decision towards the beard. Riker's enthusiasm was contagious and he often inspired the best from the crew.

"Everything is going smoothly, Captain." Riker answered with his characteristic ebullience, "We should complete our plasma displacement study on schedule, and be underway for our geological survey of Kruneb VI in eighteen hours."

Picard's smile of delight mirrored Riker's, "Excellent!"

Data turned at that moment, "Captain, you have an incoming transmission from Starfleet Command."

Picard was surprised by this news. He wasn't expecting any transmissions from Command. A hollow feeling filled his stomach. He feared that another crisis was upon them. The Federation had had too many of them as of late. He was disturbed the after effects that the war had left upon many people.

"I'll take it in my Ready Room." Picard informed Data as he stood. He gave his uniform jacket a slight downward tug as turned to Riker, "You have the bridge, Number One."

Picard proceeded straight for his desk upon entering his Ready Room. He sat down in his chair and activated the comm screen. Picard smiled amicably for the aide that originally appeared. His smile disappeared when Admiral Edward Jellico image replaced the aide.

"Greetings, Admiral." Picard said stiffly.

"Hello, Jean-Luc." Jellico replied with forced cheer. There was little love lost between the two men. Jellico had assumed command of the Enterprise-D while Picard had been a prisoner of the Cardassians. The tales he had heard upon his returned of Jellico's browbeating his crew had infuriated him.

"How are you?" Jellico asked politely.

"Very well." Picard answered honestly, "Our last assignment proved more successful than we had anticipated."

"That's good to hear." Jellico replied flatly.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?" Picard asked, forcing himself to remain professional.

"I'll get right to the point." Jellico replied. Picard wished he'd done so at the onset, "We have a situation."

Picard groaned inwardly, but remained silent as Jellico continued, "A starship, the U.S.S. Odyssey, just set out for the Beta Quadrant." Jellico paused dramatically, "There may be a problem with her crew."

"What kind of problem?" Picard asked, still trying to get Jellico to the point.

"Her captain is a former Maquis." Jellico dropped on him.

Picard's eyes widened, "I thought all the surviving Maquis were scattered across various penal colonies."

Jellico frowned, "It's more complicated than that." He shifted position, leaning forward, "He was working for Starfleet Intelligence. He was assigned to infiltrate the Maquis. He became sympathetic towards their cause and compromised his mission."

"How?" Picard inquired.

"The damned fool actually fell in for their 'noble, oppressed cause' claptrap. He stopped sending reports and started fighting for them."

"How did he survive the Dominion sweep of the Maquis?"

"He turned tale and ran for Federation space." Jellico said derisively, "He also brought in as many ships as he could convince to follow him."

"You don't sound as though you approve." Picard commented dryly.

Jellico's eyes narrowed, "I never approve of traitors or terrorists."

"I'm certain they would never label themselves as such." Picard countered.

"Just as I'm sure a Jem'Hadar would never label himself a butcher."

"How did the ship fall into Maquis hands?"

Jellico sighed, "The man in question, Brin Macen, was recruited to conduct intelligence missions in Dominion space during the war. Upon returning to Earth, he managed to finagle command of a ship and take of for the Beta Quadrant."

"I would have thought that Macen's earlier defection to the Maquis would have prevented his acquiring a command assignment."

"It should have." Jellico nearly spat the words. He brushed the discussion aside with a wave of his hand, "The heart of the matter is that the vessel has departed Sector Zero-Zero-One in the wake of a series of unexplained mishaps."

Picard's curiosity rose, "Such as?"

"You name it. The ship's commanding officer is a former terrorist and rogue. The slated Executive and Chief Operations officers both die of 'mysterious' accidents mere hours before she departs. The 'replacement' for the Exec is the Science Officer, which happens to be the captain's former partner when he infiltrated the Maquis. Added to all of this, a penal psychiatric Institute was penetrated and one prisoner was freed. That prisoner was a former Maquis of the captain's acquaintance. Does any of this strike you as odd?"

Picard nodded, "I can see cause for much of your alarm, but why contact me?"

Jellico began to exhibit impatience, "Captain, en route to assuming command, there was a report of this officer rendezvousing with a Romulan Warbird. Now, he is taking one of the most advanced ships in the fleet near the Romulan border. That seems suspicious to me."

"I see." Picard replied, growing more concerned, "What is our assignment?"

"I want you to discreetly monitor the Odyssey's activities. If she makes contact with the Romulans, then you intercept her and arrest the commander."

"Isn't that presumptuous?" Picard asked, "We would have to investigate the situation before making any..."

"Just follow orders, Captain." Jellico snapped, "Despite your recent actions surrounding the Baku, you do remember how to follow orders?"

Picard nodded, suppressing the outrage he felt, "Yes, sir."

"Then find them." Jellico ordered, "Find them, arrest whomever you have to, and bring them to me."

The screen winked out. Picard sat back in his chair. What the hell is going on? Ignorance was far more lethal than inaction. Picard decided that it was time to acquire some more perspective on the entire situation.

Picard returned to the bridge, "Lieutenant Perim, please set a course for the Ktarrian border with the Federation."

"New orders, sir?" Riker asked the question on everyone's mind.

"I'm afraid so." Picard answered glumly, "We're looking for another Starfleet vessel that has gotten itself into a curious situation."

He turned to Data, "Mr. Data, "I need all the information of the U.S.S. Odyssey, her captain, and her crew that you can find."

"Certainly, sir." The android paused, "I believe I can be ready in two hours, is that acceptable?"

Picard smiled, "Certainly Data. When you're prepared, we'll convene in the briefing room."

"Yes, sir."

The turbolift doors opened, depositing Macen on Deck Four. The ship had been underway for a day now. There had been no problems with the ship whatsoever. He was uneasy though, wondering when the known and unknown agents planted on his ship would strike. Sounding alarms informed Macen that his wait was over.

His hand instinctively flew to his comm badge, "Macen here, report."

Derrico's bass rumbled the reply, "Security alert, sir. Dr. Kort reports that Dr. Viddan has gone mad."

"What happened?" Macen sighed. He'd been hoping the Klingon wouldn't provoke Viddan.

"A crewman went to Sickbay after a minor accident in Engineering. Kort insisted that Viddan treat the wound."

"And Viddan went berserk, took the patient hostage, and fled from Sickbay." Macen finished sourly.

There was a pause, "Yes, sir. How'd you know?"

"It's cliché." Macen sighed, "Full security alert, all decks."

This time the turbolift doors opened to reveal the bridge. Macen stepped out to find the bridge in chaos. Derrico was shouting orders into his comm. Several crewmen were shouting at each other. D'art kept frantically looking back at the commotion. Only Lisea and T'Kir seemed unaffected, although he seriously doubted the ship exploding would affect T'Kir.

"What the hell is going on here?" he shouted.

Everyone stopped. T'Kir sniggered. Danan met his eyes with an "I told you" look. Macen looked around at all the extra crewmen on the bridge.

"Clear the bridge." He ordered calmly. He turned towards Derrico, "Seal the shuttle bay."

"Yes, sir." Derrico replied smartly.

Macen leaned over the rail and whispered to Danan, "And how much longer were you going to let this continue?"

"As long as it took you to get here." She answered, "I wouldn't want to hog all the fun."

"Thanks." He muttered.

"Sir," Derrico rumbled, "the computer lists Dr. Viddan as being on Deck Seven, section nine. He's in Astrometrics."

"His comm badge is in Astrometrics." Macen replied, "He's in the shuttle bay."

An alarm sounded on Derrico's board. He swivelled to face Macen, "Someone has activated a shuttle. They are firing phasers to try and penetrate the force field."

"Are the shuttle's shields activated?" Macen asked, "Or the engines?"

"No, sir." Derrico replied happily, "Neither are activated."

"T'Kir, access the shuttle's computers and deactivate the shuttle." Macen ordered.

She went to work as Derrico protested, "You said he'd be aboard. Won't he just reactivate the shuttle?"

Macen shrugged, "I was wrong. The engines weren't on-line, which means he didn't intend to use the shuttle to escape. Danan, run a sensor sweep in Engineering. Are there any non-designated Vulcanoid life signs?"

Danan studied her instruments, then smiled grimly, "There is one Vulcanoid without a comm badge moving towards Engineering."

"Sir!" Derrico said, "Security has found Chief Yates. She is unharmed."

"Good." Macen replied, then motioned for Derrico, "Come with me Lieutenant. Commander Danan, inform Tarrik he has company coming."

"You've got it" Danan called out as Derrico joined Macen in the turbolift.

When Macen and Derrico reached Engineering, several unconscious engineers and Security personnel littered the deck. Before entering Derrico double-checked the setting of his phaser. When he was satisfied, he grunted approvingly. Hr glanced over towards Macen in time to see the Captain withdraw a weapon from his waistband.

Macen reached around his waist and pulled out a pistol. Derrico stared at it in confusion. At the Academy, he had studied ancient and modern weapons form across known space. It resembled a projectile weapon from early Twenty-first century Earth.

"What is that?" Derrico asked disdainfully.

"It's a pulsar pistol." Macen answered, amused by Derrico's attitude.

Derrico sniffed, "I could have issued you a phaser."

Macen shook his head, "Can't stand the things. Their design makes me think they're made to vacuum up lint."

Derrico's jaw hung slack for a moment before snapping shut. He entered Engineering first, weapon upright. Macen followed in similar fashion. Both searched the cavernous space high and low.

Unconscious crewmen were also sprawled across the deck here. Macen had to give the Romulans credit. They'd developed a powerful, concealed weapon. Its discharges had not alerted Security as to its existence.

The sound of a spanner hitting the deck alerted them to another presence in the room. Derrico went around one side of the throbbing warp core. Macen skirted around the other side. Macen happened upon Viddan first.

He was using a small device to create microfractures in the plasma coolant lines. Some time later, the lines would break. Every engineer in the room would be killed by the plasma discharge. They would either have to eject the warp core, or let it destroy the ship. Either way, the Romulan spy's interests were served.

"Freeze!" Macen shouted, aiming his pistol at Viddan.

Viddan gave him a smug smile, "If you do not put your weapon down, I will rupture the hose now."

"You'll die." Macen reminded him.

Viddan shrugged, "Better that then surrender and dishonour."

"I feel the same way." Macen informed him.

"Then it appears we are at an unfortunate impasse, Captain. A pity your crew has to die to satisfy your vanity."

"Oh, well."

Viddan's eyebrows rose, "I truly believe you would do it." He chuckled, "I have always wanted to meet a human that thought like a Romulan, and I finally have. I can die peacefully."

He turned his head back towards the coolant line. His thumb moved towards the activation switch on the small device. A strange expression crossed his face and then he slumped over. Derrico moved closer from his position behind Viddan.

He knelt down and checked Viddan's pulse. Macen kept his weapon trained on the Romulan, just in case he was feigning. Derrico stood and holstered his phaser. Macen tucked his back into the rear of his waistband.

Derrico hit his comm badge, "I need a Security team in Engineering. I also require a Medical team. There are wounded."

He glanced over to Macen, "I thought you were going to let him do it."

Macen grinned, "That's what I wanted him to think. You shot him a moment before I squeezed the trigger."

"You could have distracted him just as greatly by placing your weapon on the deck."

Macen gave him a quizzical glance, "I meant what I said about surrendering, Lieutenant." With that Macen walked away.

Viddan awoke in the brig. He heard the last rush of air from a hypospray as it emptied its contents into his body. He jerked his head towards the sound. He found Kort's face looming over him smiling.

He looked around the room. Derrico, T'Kir and Macen were also present. T'Kir was giving him a malignant smile that he found disturbing. That one was crazy. Derrico was staring sternly at him, trying to give his best "bad cop" impression. Viddan had always been amused by that particular human tactic. On Romulus, all cops were bad cops.

He met the captain's eyes. Where T'Kir's eyes disturbed him, Macen's eyes terrified him. There was no emotion in those eyes. No mercy, no understanding, his eyes were utterly devoid of any human feelings at all.

"I must say, I expected to be treated better than this. To be awakened by a Klingon, really?" he said with haughty bravado.

Macen's eyes never flickered, never wavered, "Tell me what I need to know, and no harm will come to you."

"Or what?" Viddan replied scornfully, "You Federation types are all talk. You can't do anything to me. Your precious regulations prohibit it."

"Lt. Derrico," Macen announced coldly, "you are dismissed."

"Sir?" Derrico asked in bafflement.

"I'm taking charge of the prisoner." Macen informed him, "You and the other officers standing watch in the brig are dismissed."

"That may be unsafe." Derrico protested.

"You are dismissed." Macen repeated. His tone was machine-like. His eyes were merciless. His voice promised death.

Derrico glared at him and then broke. He left without a word. The two officers stationed at the brig left as well. Macen returned his attention to Viddan.

"One last chance." He said, "Tell me."

Viddan assumed an imperious air. Macen nodded towards Kort. The Klingon released the Romulans bonds. Viddan stood. He faced Kort for a moment before the Klingon struck him. Kort struck again, and again, and again...and he kept on striking.

Fifteen minutes later, Viddan sat bleeding in the chair he had started in. Kort was panting in a corner. Macen and T'Kir now stood before him. T'Kir was swaying side to side, eagerly anticipating what was coming next. Macen remained as inscrutable as ever.

Macen knelt, sitting on one knee, "Ready know?"

"Never." Viddan replied hoarsely through swollen lips.

Macen jerked his thumb towards T'Kir. Viddan's eyes followed the motion. She giggled and waved at him. Viddan shook his head wearily.

"You think that having some Rigellian trollop throw herself at me will loosen my tongue?"

Macen smiled. Viddan's blood froze. It was a predator's smile. It was a smile of victory.

"She's not Rigellian." Macen explained slowly, "She's Vulcan. She's going to rip the information from your mind."

Viddan's heart skipped a beat, "She can't. There are rules. Vulcans don't take information."

"Take a look at her my friend." Macen advised, "She's not stable. I really don't think she gives a damn about Vulcan etiquette."

Viddan shook his head, "No." He pleaded.

"The information." Macen replied, "Who sent you?"

"I can't." Viddan hissed.

"You will." Macen promised, "One way or another."

"You should understand!" Viddan whispered, "You said you would choose death over surrender."

Macen's expression hardened, "So you've made your choice then?"

Viddan's head gave a weak nod. Macen shook his head in disappointment. He stood and stepped aside. He motioned for T'Kir to take over.

She knelt before Viddan. She ran her tongue over her smiling lips. She put her hands on either side of his head. Viddan began to scream.

"This isn't right!" Derrico shouted. His voice echoed across the briefing room.

Danan stood impassively before him, hands on her hips, "Then you file a report, Lieutenant."

"That's what I'm doing." He explained.

"I don't think you have a full appreciation of the situation, Lieutenant." Danan explained in a voice that was too patient, "We have a saboteur in our custody that was able to penetrate the best security Starfleet Intelligence could devise. We had two dead crewmen before we launched. We may have more now. He was stopped trying to arrange the destruction or capture of this vessel by the Romulan Star Empire."

Her voice grew hard, "We have a prisoner that may provide us with valuable information regarding these events. Both our lives and our mission may depend on obtaining that information. I will support any and all efforts the Captain authorises to gain it."

Derrico gazed at Danan as though seeing her for the first time. There was an underlying fierce determination emanating from her that Derrico had not recognised before. He was suddenly relieved she was an ally. She would be an implacable foe.

"There are regulations." He protested weakly.

"That do or do not apply here!" Danan snapped, "The Captain will brief you more on the nature of our mission. All I can ask of you is that you at least try and trust him until then." Her eyes narrowed, "If you cannot, then may I remind you that you are compelled to follow legal orders. Any actions that you perceive as illegal, you may report in your log and file with the appropriate authorities."

Derrico decided not to argue with the steel in her voice. She had correctly read the regulations to him. He could not accuse his superior of failing to abide by regulations if he was not willing to do so himself. He nodded assent.

Macen led Kort and T'Kir into the briefing room. Danan, Derrico, Tarrik, and D'art were already present. Brin was relieved to see the Chief Engineer had recovered quickly from the Romulan weapon. He also noted the way Derrico glowered at him.

"What's the status of the warp core?" Macen asked.

Tarrik shrugged, "The damage is repairable. Another few seconds and things would be bad. As it is, we'll have everything repaired in four hours."

"Glad to hear it." Macen replied. His face was set in stone, "Its time we all realised what's going in here."

"Excuse me, sir, what happened to Viddan?" Derrico answered.

"Mind-lock." T'Kir answered with her annoying habit of overemphasising sections of a word.

"What's that mean?" D'art asked.

T'Kir snickered, "It means that he was trained to resist a mind-meld. It burned him out."

"Will he recover?" Derrico asked in alarm.

"Kort is looking after him." Macen answered, "We'll do whatever we can for him."

"It's our fault he's like this." Derrico growled, "It's our responsibility to cure him."

Macen's voice was brittle when he spoke, "Lieutenant, would you like to know what we're doing out here?"

Derrico hesitated, then nodded. Macen began to explain the reports the Federation had received. Then, he explained how the slated senior officers had been killed. Derrico had visibly paled by the time Macen began to explain what Viddan had revealed.

"Viddan's real name was Letal Siddran. He was a member of the Tal Shiar. His order has had a working arrangement with a group from the Federation. He did not have access to any of the group's members. What he did know was that there is a planet in the Beta Quadrant bordering Romulan space that is occupied by citizens from the Federation. The Tal Shiar does not operate this facility. The group they have their 'arrangement' with maintains it. The Romulans merely provide transportation for the prisoners through their space. In exchange for this, they may whatever information they can from the prisoners while they are in their care."

Macen stopped for a moment, his eyes were burning flames, "The prisoners on this planet are a select group from the Federation. They are dissidents. They have been captured by their respective governments and removed to this place. Apparently, this arrangement has been in place for quite some time. It was not noticed until the war quadrupled the number of prisoners being shipped off."

His eyes swept across the room, "We have also learned that Starfleet personnel are involved. They gave the Romulans our mission plans." He paused, "This means we are alone. We do not know whom we can trust. From this moment on, we are under communications silence. All transmissions must be authorised by Commander Danan or myself." Silence descended over the room.

Finally, Derrico spoke, "Sir, I...apologise for my earlier attitude and remarks."

Macen nodded acceptance, "It's all right. Feel free to speak your mind. Just remember that you can ask for more information. I'll let you know if I can't give you more."

Derrico nodded assent.

"Dismissed."

"You may proceed, Mr. Data." Picard informed his Second Officer.

Data looked about the briefing room's table. The familiar faces were there, Picard, Riker, Troi, Crusher, LaForge, and the newer faces as well: Perim and Daggit.

Data found it odd that Perim was still considered one of the newer faces. The Trill had joined the crew after the death of Lieutenant Hawke. She'd been with them during the Ba'ku Insurrection and throughout the Dominion War. She'd proven herself a highly competent and loyal officer.

"Yes, Captain." Data said, beginning his presentation, "The U.S.S. Odyssey is a fairly unique ship. It was originally designed as a prototype to test the weapons arrays and power relays that would later be employed in the Defiant prototype."

"I thought that the Defiant-class had gone into full production." LaForge commented.

Data's eyebrows rose, "Indeed. The war slowed the production of more vessels of the class. It was decided that the Odyssey should be made operational and commissioned into service."

"What are her capabilities?" Riker asked.

"She has twice the defensive capability of a standard starship. She is also capable of sustained travel at warp nine point six."

Geordi whistled at that. Daggit scowled upon hearing the Odyssey's offensive punch. Riker and Picard exchanged worried glances. Troi suppressed a smile at seeing this.

"What about her captain?" Picard asked.

"A truly fascinating individual." Data commented, "Commander Brin Macen has served with Starfleet for Seventy-nine years."

"How is that possible?" Crusher asked.

"He is an El-Aurian, Doctor." Data replied.

"An El-Aurian?" Picard asked in surprise, "I was unaware of any El-Aurians serving in Starfleet."

"According to Starfleet records, there is only one." Data informed him.

"I'm surprised." Picard admitted, "The El-Aurians are pacifists. I'm surprised they would be actively involved with Starfleet."

"Guinan served aboard the Enterprise-D." Troi reminded him.

"She was aboard, but not as a member of her crew." Picard made the distinction, "Her role was more of...advisor."

"I'm afraid that perception is a bit of a misnomer." Data corrected.

"Of her being an invaluable advisor? Explain."

"I would not presume to disparage Guinan in any way." Data amended, "But it is a popular misunderstanding that the El-Aurians are a completely pacifistic race."

Picard and the others were perplexed, so Data continued, "The El-Aurians enjoyed centuries of peace prior to the Borg invasion of their territory. That peace, however, was achieved by military means." There was quite a stir at that revelation.

Data pressed onward, "The El-Aurians spent several millennia defeating invading neighbours. They then abandoned such efforts and turned towards more peaceful pursuits, as well as a philosophically based quest for perfection."

"Where've we heard that before?" Crusher laughed, "It's no wonder the Borg sought them out."

"Yes, Doctor." Data agreed, "The cultural fascination with establishing balance combined with the longevity of most of the race would make the El-Aurians valuable drones."

"That doesn't explain why he would join the Maquis." Picard said.

"The Maquis?" Riker asked in surprise, "A serving Starfleet officer that was also a Maquis?"

"Commander Macen appears to be an enigma of sorts." Data replied, "He is a respected analyst and scholar. He is also a feared Maquis commander. It may take some effort to truly try and comprehend him."

"Begin an analysis of his known tactics and prepare a report for Commander Riker, Lt. Daggit, and myself."

"Yes, sir."

Brin walked to the table with two trays. Lisea sat at the table waiting for him. He handed her one of the trays, "Here's yours." His smile was one of chagrin, "If I'd known we'd have the opportunity for a quiet dinner, I'd have replicated something more...romantic."

The woman's smile broadened with delight as she surveyed her plate, "This is fine. I haven't eaten squab since..." she frowned and shook her head.

"Right before we joined the Maquis." Macen replied.

"Before we were assigned to the Maquis." The woman corrected.

Macen shrugged, "Call it what you will."

The woman leaned back and laughed. It took her moment to stop. Her eyes were wistful. She bit her lip as remembrances of previous meals with Brin flooded her mind.

The thing that complicated matters was that she'd never actually been at all of them. As the spots running down her neck indicated, Lisea Danan was a Trill. Her symbiont's previous host, Thora, had been an associate and close friend of Brin's. Lisea had met Brin years later while they served together aboard a survey ship.

She smiled and turned away, looking out the window. She knew Macen was studying her, just as she was studying him. She found him relatively unchanged from her last memories, except for the goatee. His red-gold hair and blue-green eyes were the same as always.

She turned her head back towards him. Her dark eyes met his light ones. They weighed and measured one another. It was apparent that both of them were flooded with memories and feelings from their time together.

"You looked troubled for a moment." Brin commented, controlling the level of concern in his voice.

She smiled reassuringly, "Just a moment of dissonance. It's one of the reasons the Commission frowns on hosts interacting with previous hosts' loved ones, friends, or family."

"Must be difficult trying to sort out six people's lives while trying to resume your own." Brin replied.

She chuckled, then teasingly added, "A bit like trying to sort out four centuries and three quadrant's worth of experience?"

He grinned in chagrin, "A bit."

Brin had started his meal. Lisea remembered why Thora had considered him a dear friend. He was a bit mercurial and abrupt, but he was also decent. He had a forceful personality combined with a strong sense of honour. The first time she'd spent an hour with him and felt ready to trust him with her life.

Macen broke into a rueful grin, "Anyone ever tell you that you're dangerous?"

"No." Lisea replied, lacing her fingers together and laying her chin atop them.

"Well, you are." Brin informed her. They sat in silence for several minutes, staring at one another

"Well, we're a pair, aren't we?" he asked.

"Meaning?"

"Neither of us is saying a word." He replied with a wry grin.

"It's been a long three years." Lisea admitted.

"Tell me about it." He muttered.

"I can think of a few other things we could be doing to get...reacquainted." she said coyly.

"I see some things remain haven't changed." He said with a grin.

"No, they haven't. Lisea admitted, "I still love you."

"I still love you." Brin said solemnly, "Knowing you were out there, that's what kept me going during the war."

"Was it rough?" she asked.

There was a shadow in his eyes, "It was bad at times. I saw things that made the Maquis look like saints."

"Was there ever..." her voice caught, "I'd understand, three years is a long time...was there ever anyone else?"

He shook his head, "No. Call me old fashioned, but all I could think about was getting back to you."

Her smile was one of relief. It turned wry when Brin asked, "What about you?"

"No." she confessed, "For all my cosmopolitan Trill upraising, I couldn't stand the thought of being with anyone else."

"I guess that means we should stay together." He said dryly.

"You think?" she retorted with equal sarcasm. Sarcasm, banter, and their meal were all forgotten as they fell into each other's arms.

The door to T'Kir's quarters chimed. She growled in annoyance as she dropped her fork and yelled for whomever to come in. To her surprise, it wasn't Lisea Danan. She'd been expecting her to come and try and mark territory over Brin Macen since her arrival.

Who was standing there was a young lieutenant in science blues, "Can I come in?"

"I already said yes." T'Kir snapped testily, "What do you want?"

"The Captain asked me to drop by." The young man nearly stammered.

"The captain?" she repeated irritably, "Why would the Captain send a young morsel like you to me?"

The officer gulped, it was kind of cute, "He asked me to bring you these." He held out a bag contained several herbs and roots.

"Who are you?" she asked, baffled.

"Lt. Marc Berent." He answered, "I'm in Botany."

"And why did the Captain send you to me?" she asked again, rising from her chair and moving towards him like a predator.

He gulped again, "He wanted me to bring you Vulcan herbs."

"Vulcan?" she asked, momentarily stopping her approach.

"He wanted a series of herbs used to treat Vulcan children with over-developed mental powers. They use the herbs until they receive enough training to control their abilities." He shrugged, "At least that's what the computer said."

She grabbed him by the jacket lapels and kissed him fiercely. It was like no kiss he'd ever received. He was being devoured. There was a desperate passion to it that threatened to explode.

She released him, taking the herbs, "Thank you." She said demurely.

He stood there silently, waiting to see what happened next. She turned, "Are you still here?" she wave her hand in a shushing motion, "You can leave now."

He nodded mutely and stepped outside into the hall. That was the most erotic experience of my life, he thought as the doors began to close.

"I heard that!" T'Kir called out before the doors finished closing.

Marc Berent ran down the corridor as though for his life.

"Counsellor, do you think that Macen can be reached?" Picard asked, sitting across from Troi on the couch in his Ready Room.

"Captain," she said with a smile, "I think anyone can be reached."

Picard chuckled at the ambiguity of his statement, "I meant, do you think that he really has gone rogue again, if so, can he be convinced to surrender peacefully?"

Troi pondered the question a moment, then sat her teacup down as she answered, "I have no basis upon which to judge whether he has gone rogue or not. As far as whether he would listen to reason, I have been studying his histories and anthropological studies. He seems to be a reasonable man."

"That very well may be," Picard interjected, "But coming from such a radical background?"

Trio gave him a reassuring look, "He really doesn't have such a militant attitude. He is unorthodox. Frequently, he ignores regulations, but has always proven just cause for doing so. His career is a testimony to a brilliant researcher an analytical mind."

"Sounds like another Starfleet captain I know." Troi said with amused irony.

Picard grinned appreciatively, "Maybe that's what I'm afraid of. My encounter with the Borg brought out the worst in me. Perhaps I'm afraid the Maquis has done the same for Macen."

Troi nodded, "A legitimate fear. But remember, it can also have brought out the best in either of you."

Picard was about to thank her for her encouraging words when the comm transmitted Riker's voice, "Captain, we've reached the Ktarrian border, and sir, there are two Romulan Warbirds already here."

"I'll be right there." Picard informed his first officer as he stood. Troi accompanied him as he proceeded to the bridge.

"Can I help you, Lieutenant?" Macen asked, looking up from one of the computer screens of his desk.

"I wanted to thank you for the herbs." T'Kir informed him. She still exhibited tics and her moods were still mercurial, but the edge was off. She was more restrained. Macen doubted she'd ever be "normal", either for Vulcans or humans, but she had definitely mellowed some already.

"Well, I finally had a clue about what was happening when you kept reacting to people's thoughts." He admitted, "Vulcans are typically touch telepaths. My reading revealed that occasionally a prodigy demonstrates superior ability. They are selected for intense mental training. Having been born on a colony world in the middle of the Demilitarised Zone, you didn't have access to that kind of training. The strain of always trying to block out thoughts all around you was a strain that eventually overwhelmed you. You react more to what others are thinking and feeling than to what they are doing."

"All I know," she said with a snort, "is that I actually got a good night's sleep."

"Glad to hear it." Macen replied.

"Of course, if I see Lt. Berent again, I doubt either of us will sleep at all."

Macen grinned, "Don't worry, T'Kir, I don't think anyone will ever confuse you for a 'normal' Vulcan."

"Good." she huffed as she left.

"Status of the Warbirds?" Picard asked as he took his chair.

"Ten thousand kilometres off our port and starboard sides." Daggit answered.

"They haven't raised their shields or armed their weapons systems." Riker reported.

"Hail them." Picard ordered.

Daggit busied himself for a moment, then lifted his head, "The Romulans are responding."

"Put on screen." Picard told him.

The image that appeared on the screen surprised Picard. She was Romulan, but unlike any Romulan he'd ever encountered. She possessed the upswept ears and eyebrows that marked her race. From that point on, she defied the norms. She did not display the slight ridges in her forehead that differentiated Romulans from Vulcans. Her hair was long and curly, not short and straight, as was the custom within the Empire.

"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the Federation starship Enterprise. Whom do I have the honour of addressing?"

A faint smile played across her lips, "I am Commander P'ris. It is a...honour to meet the infamous Captain Picard."

"I am sure that 'infamous' would be an exaggeration." Picard replied modestly.

"Not at all." P'ris laughed pleasantly, "You are a celebrity among my people. Many would gladly give everything they have for the prestige your death at their hands would bring."

Picard's face remained impassive, "I find that unfortunate, our people have been making great strides recently..."

"Captain," P'ris interrupted, "the war is over. Any alliances formed during the war are also over. It would be best to remember that."

Picard noted the implicit threat in her words, "May I ask your business here?"

Her smile was confident as she spoke, "You may ask, but it is really none of your business. This is not Federation territory."

"Neither is it Romulan territory." Picard noted.

"Yet, we are both here. Curious is it not?" P'ris asked artfully dodging his verbal challenge.

"Captain, I will state our purpose...as a professional courtesy." P'ris announced suddenly, "I am awaiting an envoy from the Ktarians. We are discussing a new trade agreement."

"I was unaware of any trade arrangements between the Ktarians and the Star Empire." Picard admitted.

"There are a great many things you are unaware of, Captain." She replied scornfully, "You should not allow yourself to be distracted by your shortcomings."

Picard remained impassive. Riker started a bit at that comment. He could see that several crewmen were visibly upset. That was what P'ris wanted. He had to find a way to outmanoeuvre her.

"I shall take your words under consideration." He said pleasantly, "It so happens that I am awaiting a vessel here as well. Would you mind terribly if I wait alongside you?"

P'ris' face remained smug, but he could see a door shutting behind her eyes. The Commander was upset by his presence. She held up a finger. A subordinate appeared to her right and leaned in to whisper something to her.

She nodded to Picard, retaining her smile, "Very well. I shall not interfere in your business, if you do not interfere in mine."

"Thank you." Picard replied humbly, "Maybe relations between our peoples have warmed, regardless of the war's cessation."

The monitor screen went blank. Picard glanced about the bridge. Several crewmen returned to monitoring their stations. Picard suppressed a grin. He'd done the same as a junior officer.

"She's not happy, Captain." Troi spoke from his left, "But she is not displeased."

Picard turned her way, 'Explain."

Her brow furrowed, "She did not expect our appearance, but it has done nothing to alter her determination to fulfil her purposes here."

"Any clue as to what those might be?" Riker asked.

She shook her head sadly, "I'm afraid not. She's very good at controlling her emotions. She is also a person of frightening intelligence."

"Unfortunately, that still doesn't explain why there here." Picard commented, "Is there any truth to their alleged purpose?"

Troi shrugged, "Her mental discipline is too great. I cannot tell."

"Captain," Daggit's voice called out, "the two Warbird's are cloaking."

"One consolation," Riker muttered, "is that they can't fire on us while they're cloaked."

"Very true." Picard agreed, "But it also gives them the element of surprise." He straightened himself, "Mr. Daggit, raise shields."

"Yes, sir." Daggit replied as though it was the most sensible order he'd heard all day.

"Captain," Danan spoke up, "sensors are detecting a Federation starship at the extreme edge of their range. They are accompanied by two Romulan Warbirds."

Macen turned, "Can you tell what they are doing?"

Danan shook her head, "I can't tell. We're too far away." She paused then frowned, "The Romulans are cloaking."

"What about the Federation vessel?" He asked.

"She's staying put."

"I think we should pay her a visit." Macen commented turning towards Derrico, "Raise shields and power the weapons."

"Yes, sir." Derrico replied happily.

"Ensign D'art, take us out of warp."

"Yes, sir." She replied, far less enthusiastically than Derrico. Beside her, T'Kir began to softly sing to herself. The Vulcan seemed to relish the thought of going into combat. God, get this nut of the bridge. D'art miserably thought.

"I heard that." T'Kir sang.

"Sir," Daggit's voice rang across the bridge, "Sensors have detected a vessel dropping put of warp."

Picard shifted in his chair, "Who is she?"

Daggit's voice shook with surprise, "She's one of ours, sir. It's the Odyssey."

"Sir," Derrico's voice wavered, "The Federation starship." All of the colour drained from his face, "It's the Enterprise."

Macen's jaw clenched, "Put her own screen."

The screen came to life. Inside its picture display lay the flagship of Starfleet. Macen had never seen the Sovereign class before. He was amazed to see that its lines were almost as sharp as his own ship's.

Although, he mused, it's about three times as large.

"Status of the Odyssey?" Picard asked, out his seat.

"Her shields are up and weapons armed." Daggit reported.

"Has she targeted us?" Riker asked.

"No, sir." Daggit replied.

Riker stood and moved to where Picard was standing, "She isn't making any moves. What do you think it means?"

Picard turned towards Troi, "Counsellor?"

"There is a lot of confusion and worry." Troi informed him.

"And the Romulans?"

"A sense of purpose."

"Let's see how they respond to a hail." Picard decided aloud, "Open a channel, Mr. Daggit."

"They're hailing us." Derrico announced.

"Let's see what they have to say." Macen replied.

Picard was again surprised by the image that appeared before him. He was familiar with the fact that El-Aurians were long-lived, but seeing a four hundred and twenty-seven year old man look as though the first four hundred years never occurred was unnatural. Macen's appearance vaguely reminded him of his own first officer. The ease with which he sat in the command chair marked a born leader.

"Greetings, Captain Macen." Picard said jovially, "What an unexpected surprise."

Macen's expression remained carefully neutral, "Indeed it is, Captain Picard."

"Is there any particular reason your defensive systems are activated?" Picard asked.

"We detected some anomalous readings on our approach. It is merely a precautionary measure." Macen explained.

"Now that you know what those readings are, perhaps you could power down your weapons." Picard suggested.

Macen's eyebrow quirked, "Who said the readings had been explained?"

"Traitor!" Daggit shouted, 'You betrayed us all."

Macen started at the voice. Picard spun, staring at his Tactical officer in outrage. Riker stood and approached his station. Picard returned his attention to the screen as Riker dealt with the outburst.

"I'm dreadfully sorry, Captain." Picard said honestly.

"Rab Daggit." Macen muttered to himself, "He's still alive."

Picard was confused by Macen's shaken condition. Did he know Daggit? How? When? Why hadn't he said anything? Damn it all!

A moment later, all hell broke loose.

"Romulan Warbirds de-cloaking!" Danan announced.

"Where?" Macen demanded.

"Port and Starboard of the Enterprise." Derrico called out.

"Engineering." Macen called into the comm, "Tarrik, can we go to maximum warp."

"Yes." Tarrik answered ruefully, "But I wouldn't recommend it."

"No choice." Macen replied sourly. He turned to Derrico, "Fire phasers starboard, quantum torpedoes port. Helm, plot an escape course along our original destination. Go to maximum warp on my command."

Derrico and D'art acknowledged their readiness in unison.

"Fire." He said.

"The Romulans have de-cloaked!" Riker declared from Tactical, "They're powering weapons."

"Power ours." Picard snapped off.

"The Odyssey has fired!" Riker reported, "So have the Romulans."

The Odyssey shook from the impacts on the shields.

"Damage report?" Macen asked.

"Shields at sixty percent." Derrico answered, "No other damage reported."

Why do the shields always drop to sixty percent? Macen thought, aloud he said, "Execute warp drive."

Space warped around the ship as she accelerated to warp nine point nine.

"The Odyssey has exited the system at...warp nine point nine." Riker reported, not grimacing over the number as he said it.

"The Romulans are also departing." He continued, "They're powering down weapons and cloaking."

"Secure all stations." Picard ordered, "Stand down from red alert."

He turned towards Daggit, "My Ready room. Now!" he paused, "Commander Riker, will you join us as well?"

He turned to Perim, "Follow the Odyssey's warp trail, best possible speed."

He followed Riker and Daggit to his Ready Room. The door closed behind them with an ominous hiss.

"What the hell was that?" Picard demanded, whirling on Daggit.

Daggit's eyes narrowed, "I know him, sir. Starfleet sent him to Angosia. He was sent to bring us into the Dominion War. He said we would receive treatment for the engineering they did to us. He lied."

"Did you receive treatment?" Picard asked coldly.

"Yes," Daggit admitted slowly, "But only after half my commando unit had died."

"Was Macen responsible for the delay?" Picard asked.

"Not directly, sir." Daggit answered, shuffling his feet. He averted his eyes.

"You will look at me when I am addressing you." Picard snapped, "It seems to me that you are blaming Captain Macen for things that were out of his control."

"But he said..."

"What he thought was the truth." Picard said sadly, "I think that both sides were manipulated by Starfleet Command."

Daggit remained silent for a long time then grudgingly he said, "That may be possible."

"You're dismissed, Lieutenant." Daggit left. Picard turned to Riker.

"I'm beginning to feel manipulated myself."

"I agree." Riker said grimly, "That situation with the Romulans was too pat. It was a trap."

"But for whom?" Picard asked, "That is the mystery that must be solved."

"Engineering, what's our status?" Macen asked.

"The warp core is starting to heat up." Tarrik reported, "We haven't had time to finish all our repairs."

"Understood." Macen replied, "Helm, drop us to warp six." D'art grunted as she obeyed.

Macen turned to Lisea, "Commander Danan, please join me in my Ready Room. Lt. Derrico, you have the bridge."

After they entered, Macen began angrily pacing, "What the hell was that?"

Danan's face was as grim as his mood, "I wish I knew."

Macen was stymied, "I cannot believe Picard was there. What was he doing with two Romulan Warbirds?"

Danan frowned, "Was he with them, or are we meant to think that he was?"

Macen shook his head in frustration, "I don't know. I have a hard time believing Picard would be involved. Especially not after his stance regarding the Ba'ku relocation."

"It may have been a ruse." She warned.

"I doubt it." He replied, wearing a wry expression, "He commands too much respect from Guinan to be that sort."

Danan snorted, "It's not as though you and Guinan exactly see eye to eye."

"No." he admitted, "But we have always respected one another. I respect her judgement in this." His eyes met hers, "The Enterprise never fired."

"He may have been worried about surviving records." She said, continuing in her role as devil's advocate.

"No." Macen answered with conviction, "The commander of the Slipstream had no such convictions. I doubt that Picard would have either if he'd been involved."

"Do you want to try and contact them then?"

"No." he said with a sigh, "They were still sent here by someone in Command that wanted us observed or stopped. Until we know what the Enterprise's role here is, we can't afford to trust her."

"So the rules of engagement are?" she asked impatiently.

He chuckled at her, "Avoid if possible, hail if necessary."

"And if they shoot?" she asked darkly.

"We face that alternative if it arises." He said with finality.

She nodded assent, "Sounds fair enough."

"You take the bridge." He ordered, "I've some research to do that may shed some light on this."

Danan nodded and began to depart when Macen stopped her, "And Commander, inform me if the Enterprise appears on our sensors."

She smiled as she stepped out. Macen sat down at his desk and activated the data retrieval systems. This was going to take work. With luck, they could avoid a crisis long enough for him to find what he was looking for.

Admiral Nechayev's sharp face appeared on Picard's private comm viewer in his Ready Room, "Greetings Admiral." He began politely.

"Captain, I don't have a great deal of time to waste on idle chit-chat," Nechayev replied impatiently, "please get to the point."

"I have just had a strange encounter with two Romulan Warbird's, and a starship that appears to be operating under your orders."

"You had a run-in with the Odyssey?" she asked sharply, "Her mission area is hundreds of light years from your assigned survey. How did you come to be in that region of space?"

In for a penny, Picard thought, "I was given orders by Admiral Jellico to intercept and investigate Captain Macen and his crew."

Nechayev rubbed her eyes, "What the hell is Eddie playing at?" She straightened up, facing Picard's image, "Captain, we've had our differences in the past, but you are an officer of considerable ability. I respect you and your integrity."

Picard was stunned by these admissions, but he opted to remain silent as Nechayev continued, "I am relying on that integrity now. What I am about to tell you Captain is of the utmost secrecy. Captain Macen is on a mission of vital importance. Any and all assistance you can give him will benefit the entire Federation."

"I shall do my best, but a clearer understanding of the situation would enable me to..."

"Captain, I cannot trust Starfleet's communication security enough to divulge anything at this time. When you next encounter Macen, invoke the Zenith protocol. He'll take into his confidence after that." She paused, "And Captain, I must request that you do not inform Admiral Jellico on any of this."

Picard sighed, "I feared as much."

"I'll handle Jellico." Nechayev assured him, "You help Macen. He's one of the best, Picard. You just have to make...allowances."

"Understood." Picard replied as he deactivated the comm. He was certain that he didn't want to learn what sort of allowances would be required from him.

 


Proceed to Part II of III

 

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