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Odyssey - Part II 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 Five

P'ris stared at the hologram displayed before her. It was a map, a map of every new Romulan outpost in the Beta Quadrant. She allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction. It was quite the accomplishment and it was largely due to her efforts.

P'ris leaned against the railing separating her from the astrometric display. She stretched her supple muscles. Her hair fell in ringlets across her shoulders. She had shed her accursed fleet uniform for her typical garb: a black bodysuit with a silver vest.

She had been amused when her appearance had once been compared to the Ship's Counsellor aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Commander Deanna Troi. P'ris herself found such comparisons laughable. It had been intended as an insult. It had been one made in poor taste, since it could not be supported by reality.

P'ris had been raised by the Tal Shiar. It had been an instructive childhood. She had seen the limitations of her society in intimate detail. It had also granted her the tools with which to address some of these limitations.

Utilising secrets that had been long entrusted to the Tal Shiar, she had forced the Praetor to allow her her grand experiment. Recruiting from the disaffected elements of the Romulan Star Empire, she had enlisted scores of scientists, colonists and soldiers. P'ris had virtually founded her own empire. When the Tal Shiar had been broken during their abortive attempt to destroy the Founders, she had taken most of the remaining pieces and struck out in a new direction.

Her position within the Empire was still tenuous, secured only through bribery and blackmail. Her enemies vastly outnumbered her allies. It was ironic that her strongest supporters were within the Federation. Having created a haven for dissidents, she had agreed to allow the Federation to house their unwanted within her territory in exchange for certain items she could not obtain within the Empire's borders.

Her use for her "allies" had almost expended itself. She had obtained the materials and information she'd desired. Her motivation to co-operate with the Federation cabal that had supplied those items was at an end. In the meantime, she had discovered a new reason to break from her erstwhile partners.

She was founding her fledgling nation out of the very sort she of people that the Federation was handing her. Integrating aliens into Romulan society would have been a virtually impossible task. Although her colonists were Romulan, they were mostly young and impressionable. They could be persuaded to accept a thousand or so foreigners.

"Commander." The voice came from behind her. It was her second, Sub-Commander D'ionn. Like herself, D'ionn had rejected orthodox Romulan society. D'ionn had abandoned more than Romulan fashion sense and politics. P'ris had intimate experience in D'ionn's explorations into the alternative. They still engaged in occasional forays of discovery.

D'ionn wore her short, far shorter than the average Romulan male. It was a spiky tuft upon her head. Her upswept ears protruded from the fuzz. Genetic holdovers from a human captured by an ancestor during the Earth/Romulan Wars granted her a smooth forehead, green eyes, and pale skin.

"Yes, D'ionn?" P'ris responded.

"Commander Vetrik requests that you make contact with him." D'ionn reported.

P'ris detected the sulky quality of her lieutenant's voice. P'ris was disappointed. Vetrik had been enjoyable. She had detected D'ionn's growing possessiveness. She'd hoped it was a passing thing, apparently, her hopes were in vain.

D'ionn's behaviours were infecting the crew. Most of them were now engaged in "alternative" relationships. Some had grown quite militant about it and were espousing their deviancies as the norm. Although P'ris enjoyed the occasional tryst with D'ionn, it was not "normal" to her. She found the affections exchanged between many of her male officers to be disturbing. She mentally sighed. Perhaps she was too traditional, but she still found those males less...masculine, less virile somehow.

She shook such thoughts aside, "Inform Commander Vetrik I shall speak with him directly."

She could see the disappointment in D'ionn's eyes as she bowed her acknowledgement of her command. Poor dear, P'ris mused, she hasn't realised that I don't love her. What a little fool, she laughed.

The Odyssey remained in orbit over the moon newly designated as BU-479. BU-479 was a class M moon that supported a small, pre-warp industrial culture. The crew had hoped that it contained the internment camp they sought. They had been disappointed. It had looked promising after they had trailed a Romulan Warbird to the system and it had beamed several people off the ship.

"What do you think they wanted here?" D'art asked.

"A life." T'Kir answered sarcastically, "Or maybe a plain old roll in the hay. Why don't we ask someone in a similar predicament?" She gave D'art a pointed glare.

"At least I discriminate." D'art countered, "Unlike some."

T'Kir stuck out her tongue. There were chuckles across the bridge. They were silenced by a venomous glance T'Kir threw over her shoulder. Macen wore a pained expression.

"Children," he asked with strained patience, "are we through fighting?" Danan snickered from her station. No one else dared. Macen sighed loud enough for the entire bridge crew to hear.

"What's the report from the surface?" Macen asked.

"The Romulans seem to be engaged in a survey of the planet." T'Kir reported, "Either that, or they're the first Romulan tourists in history."

Macen closed his eyes for a moment.

"It was your idea to bring her aboard." Danan whispered.

"I heard that." T'Kir sing-songed.

If it's not her telepathy, he thought sourly, then it's her damn ears.

"I heard that too." She said grumpily.

"What about system traffic?" Macen asked Derrico.

"No ships are moving within the system." He reported.

Macen took a breath, "Helm, break orbit. Plot us a course to the nearest solar system."

"Aye, sir." D'art replied, her voice less enthusiastic than it had been a week ago when they had set out.

Unless the Romulan border is a lot bigger on this side than it is in the Alpha Quadrant, then we're almost done looking. Macen assured himself.

"Anything yet?" Picard asked as the Enterprise slipped into the BU-479 system.

"We have a several warp signatures." Data reported, "One Federation, several Romulan."

"Were they here at the same time?" Riker asked.

Data shook his head, "The decay in the trails indicates that they were here at separate intervals. Based upon the evidence, I would say the Odyssey is discreetly tracking the Romulan ship."

Riker glanced towards Picard, "That seems likely. It's what we would do."

"Can you determine where they went?" Picard asked, "We must make contact with them as soon as possible."

"Sensors indicate that they entered the neighbouring solar system."

"Lt. Perim, plot your course. Warp factor eight." Picard dictated.

Seconds later, the Enterprise was in warp space.

Derrico and Kort stepped out of the holodeck. Both wore traditional Klingon battle robes. Derrico was drenched in sweat. Kort smiled and slapped him on the back.

"You truly have the heart of a warrior, my young friend." Kort praised him.

Derrico replied through heavy breaths, "If that's your typical workout, no wonder you're in such good shape."

"I am in excellent shape!" Kort roared proudly, "Now, I think it is time to initiate you in the other virtues of the warrior."

"Other virtues?" Derrico asked sceptically. He'd just tried the first, and wasn't entirely sure if his body would ever forgive him.

"Yes." Kort replied, no room in his voice for argument, "We must proceed to the lounge."

"Why?' Derrico asked uneasily.

"For wenching and drinking of course!" Kort bellowed, "Why else?"

"Why else indeed?" Derrico muttered unhappily as Kort cajoled him along.

It was third watch aboard the Odyssey. Most of the regular bridge crew was on stand down. Macen, Danan, and T'Kir had opted to remain due to their greater than human endurance. Several junior officers nervously monitored their consoles. Lisea was assisting the ensign manning the Science station.

"Sir!" Ensign Manning shouted from tactical, "We have a vessel entering the system at warp eight!"

"Classification?" Macen asked, far more alert than he had been moments before.

"Sovereign class starship." Manning reported, "It's the Enterprise!"

"Raise shields." Macen ordered calmly, "Red alert."

Derrico and Kort ran for the turbolift. They accidentally bowled over a couple in the hallway. The doors of the lift barely had time to open before they flew inside. Derrico was surprise that the lift wall squeaked as he bounced off o fit.

To his chagrin, he discovered the "wall's" name was Julia D'art.

"I'm so sorry!" he stammered, "I didn't mean to...I shouldn't have..."

"He didn't man to offend, if offence was taken." Kort cut him off, "He is a man of action, not words."

D'art smiled. She was still a bit dazed, but thought she was in one piece. If she discovered otherwise, then she'd complain. Until then, it was best to smooth things over.

"No blood, no foul. Right?" she said as cheerily as she could manage.

"Right!" Kort bellowed before Derrico could react, "By Kahless, I like you people!"

"I'm so relieved." D'art muttered. Derrico smiled at her sarcasm.

"They have raised shields and manoeuvred to face us." Daggit reported, "But they have not powered their weapons."

"Hail them." Picard ordered.

"They're hailing us." Derrico announced.

'On screen." Macen ordered grimly.

Picard was startled to see the bridge configuration of the Odyssey changed since his last communication with Macen, "Captain, I've been looking for you."

Macen gave him a wry smile, "I've sort of assumed that already. Any particular reason why?"

'To deliver a message from Admiral Nechayev." Picard answered, "I am ordered to invoke the Zenith Protocol."

Macen's face lost all trace of humour, "We'll lower our shields. You and your first officer can beam over in five minutes." The comm screen went blank.

"That certainly changed things." Riker commented with his usual ebullience.

"Yes," Picard agreed with some surprise, "it certainly has."

Riker and Picard stepped into the briefing room with apprehensive looks upon their faces. Macen supposed he couldn't blame them, he felt apprehensive himself. Danan sat at the table to Macen's right. They stood when the other captain and his first officer arrived.

Macen held out his hand. Picard took it firmly. Riker followed suite. Picard took Danan's hand in similar fashion, all business. Riker, though, took an extra second to appreciate her beauty.

Macen motioned towards the seats, "Please, take a seat." No one objected. Macen adopted a laconic air. Riker did likewise. Picard and Danan remained serious.

"Captain Macen," Picard began stiffly, "I am pleased to be meeting with you and Commander Danan, but I am afraid you have us at a disadvantage. I have been instructed to assist you in any way possible, but I have no idea what your mission is."

Macen and Danan exchanged glances. Macen took a deep breath and began the story of their mission. He noted that the colour drained from Picard's face during the telling. Riker's visage transformed itself into a dark masque of outrage.

Both men were suitably shaken by the story for Macen to feel comfortable with them as he concluded the tale. Picard stood and walked to the other side of the room. He was a man in a state of shock. Riker glowered at foes he could not reach.

"All this time." Picard murmured, "All this time, we have been sending people to...gulags. We've convinced ourselves we've built an enlightened society. But at what price?"

He turned to find Macen's cool eyes bearing down on him. "At what point does a free society close itself off and begin enslaving those that do not agree with it?"

"Is any society truly free?" Macen asked.

"We have the freedom to pursue our goals, to better ourselves." Picard defended, "We have rights that cannot be taken from us."

"They have been taken." Macen countered coolly, "Whether by war, fear, decree of the governors, or by the inaction of the citizenry, they have been taken. Our mission here is proof of that."

Picard looked somewhat taken aback as Macen continued, "It's a simple problem really. During times of crisis, how much freedom of speech is allowable? What is acceptable, and what is a threat to morale?"

Picard was aghast, "You support this?"

Macen shook his head, "Support, no. Understand, yes. Far too well I'm afraid." He leaned back in his chair, "All too often it is the choice of those with power to impose their views through force rather than employ a gentler means of persuasion."

"Sometimes during a crisis, it becomes necessary for that society to curtail certain liberties for the duration of that crisis." Picard countered.

"But to maintain a police force that actively investigates all forms of dissent?"

"There's no actual proof of this Section 31's existence." Picard pointed out.

"Nothing that would be permissible in court at least." Macen replied ruefully. Seeing Picard and Riker's puzzled looks, he shrugged, "I've...encountered Section 31 before."

"I take from your tone they did not appreciate your last 'encounter'."

Macen smiled, "You could say that." His eyes narrowed as they focused on Picard's, "You don't trust me."

"I don't know you." Picard admitted, "Trust is a precious commodity, especially of these allegations are true and members of Starfleet and the Federation are involved. The situation is compounded by your role, seeing how..." his voice trailed off.

Macen laughed, "Seeing as how I'm a Maquis?"

"Yes." Picard replied uncomfortably, "Seeing as how you were a Maquis."

"I still am." Macen replied with steel in his voice, "I always will be."

Picard started. Riker began to look edgy. They were unsure how to respond. They sat silently, awaiting a clue.

"Our methods may have changed." Danan's smooth contralto broke the tense silence, "But our goals remain unchanged."

"To destroy the Cardassians?" Riker asked provocatively.

Danan chuckled, "No, Commander, to try and insure freedom."

"By any means possible?" Riker wouldn't let go.

"Not at all." Macen cut in, his voice passionate, "We've learned from the mistakes of our past. We're learning from the mistakes of our present. Grave mistakes are being made right now. We need to put a stop to it."

Picard was nonplussed for a moment, "I'm impressed." He admitted, "I was afraid you might endorse a vendetta."

"I understand the need to punish wrongdoers." Macen confessed, "But people should not be locked away just because they disagree with you."

Picard smiled warmly and retook his seat, "Now that we have achieved a degree of understanding, let us discuss how we can address the situation."

"The situation may be even more complicated." Danan informed them, "I've had time to analyse many of the subspace transmissions floating back and forth around here. Most if them are Romulan."

"That makes sense." Riker commented, "We are near their border."

Danan shook her head firmly, "No, Commander. The transmissions are from this side of the border."

"You're saying the Romulan Empire is expanding further into the Beta Quadrant?" Picard asked.

Danan's voice was grim, "No. I'm saying the Romulans are expanding into the Beta Quadrant. There seems to be no sign of the Empire."

"Commander, we may have a problem." Vetrik's image said from the viewer in P'ris' cabin.

"What kind of problem, dear Vetrik?" she asked.

"The Enterprise has tracked the Odyssey down. They seem to be in communication with one another. Our ruse has failed." He informed her.

The pessimistic tome in his voice saddened her, "Vetrik, we knew that they would sort their differences out over time."

"I think they know about us, P'ris." He hissed.

"And if the do?" she asked lightly.

"Our colonies are not strong enough to counter a Federation invasion." He warned.

She laughed, "Vetrik, for shame. You sound like one of the Praetor's idiotic advisors. The Federation will not 'invade' us. Gods above, they'll likely support us in an inane effort to 'liberate' the Romulan masses and encourage better relations with the Star Empire."

"You don't find this threatening?" he asked, wearing a baffled expression.

"Vetrik, our people want greater exposure to aliens. The want to experience lesser lifeforms. We have to give them that chance." She said outwardly. Inwardly, she thought, And pray that they do not panic when they finally gain those experiences. If they do, the results will be far worse than anything the Praetor's lackwits could devise. It would be a crusade.

"Just monitor their activities, Vetrik." P'ris ordered, "Report to me if they do anything unexpected or approach one of our colonies."

Vetrik bowed, "Yes, Commander."

"How can there be Romulans out here, and not the Romulan Empire?" Riker asked in exasperation.

Danan leaned forward, her eyes fierce, "I don't know that. What I do know, is that there are scads of subspace messages floating around here. They are in Romulan, they employ Romulan frequency modulation, and many of them are directed towards the Empire." Macen almost pitied Riker as she continued, "What they do not employ is Romulan fleet encryptions or terminology. In fact, many of them are quite inflammatory."

"Inflammatory in what way?" Picard asked.

"They are focused on political and social change." Danan answered calmly, "Denunciations of societal stagnation and mandated orthodoxy."

"So, they are the work of dissidents?" Picard asked with an ironic tone.

Danan thought for a moment, then smiled, "You could say that."

"You should feel right at home." Riker jested. Picard gave him a longsuffering glance.

"It does indeed appear as though our puzzle has grown in complexity." Picard commented.

"Yes, it has." Macen said, an edge to his voice, "It has also dictated that we should proceed more decisively."

"What do you suggest?" Picard asked.

Macen's eyes met Picard's, "I think you should return to Starfleet Command. Get them prepared for this information. Alert the Federation Council."

"What about you?" Picard asked, not wanting to accept what he was hearing.

"We'll find the camps, and try to gather conclusive evidence of who's responsible." Macen told him.

Picard recognised Macen's tone. It was the tone of a commander that had made his decision regarding his next course of action. Picard hated to leave him out here alone, but recognised the underlying logic behind the request. Macen needed an ally within Federation borders that could insure his arriving alive at Earth with the evidence.

"Very well, Captain." Picard consented, "We'll depart immediately."

They exchanged handshakes again before the Enterprise officers departed. Lisea glanced towards Brin, a smirk playing at the corners of her mouth.

"Was he what you expected?" she asked.

He snorted, "No. He surprised me. I can see why Guinan respects him."

She put her arms around his neck and leaned her head against his shoulder, "I hope so. We may have just put our lives in his hands."

The chime of the comm drug P'ris out of a fitful sleep. Blearily, she reached for the display next to her bed. Her hand passed before it, activating it. Vetrik's face lay within its confines.

"Yes?" she asked irritably.

"The two Federation starships have separated." Vetrik reported, "The Enterprise is headed back in the direction she came."

"And the Odyssey?" she asked nervously.

"Headed for Sybok III."

Damn them! "Understood. Set course for Sybok, but do not engage them." She commanded, "I am en route. I will deal with them."

She released an angry breath as the comm went dark. Why did the bastards have to go there? She knew what they were searching for. She was prepared to give it to them, as long as they pledged not to interfere in her plans.

She flicked the intercom on, "Bridge, disengage cloak. Set course for Sybok, warp eight."

"Yes, Commander." She heard in reply.

P'ris settled back down in her bed, disturbed that she alone occupied it. None of the males aboard her ship were interested in "normal" relations. Curse D'ionn's influence! D'ionn would have been more than willing, but although P'ris found their occasional forays enjoyable, they did nothing to...satisfy her.

The Odyssey dropped out of warp in the Sybok system. Intercepted communications had informed them that the Romulans were aware of their presence. No ships had appeared to challenge them yet, and no communications had been sent. Macen rubbed his beard while he tried to figure out why.

"Are sensors detecting anything?" Macen asked, perplexed.

"No, sir." Derrico answered. The wary edge in his voice was greater than his norm. He could tell the situation disturbed the Tactical officer as well. "I suggest we raise shields." Derrico announced.

"That won't be necessary." Macen replied. At least not yet, he added to himself.

"We are receiving a voice only transmission from the third planet." Derrico reported, "They are requesting that we hold position here."

"Very well." Macen replied with a frustrated air, "Full stop."

"Full stop, aye." D'art called out as she implemented the order.

"I wonder why here?" Danan wondered aloud, "We're too far away for planetary based weaponry. We'll be able to detect any uncloaked ship's approach. Any cloaked ship will have to reveal itself before they can activate weapons. It doesn't make sense."

"I agree." Macen replied, "But I also don't want an incident because we don't like their rules. We may very well be in their territory. Let's act like guests, not invaders."

"Warbird de-cloaking off the port bow!" Derrico shouted, "Raising shields."

"Belay that." Macen yelled, "Hail them, but do not power weapons or shields."

"I hope y'know what you're doing." Danan murmured.

"The enemy vessel is hailing us." Vetrik's weapons officer informed, then added incredulously, "They have not powered their shields or weapons."

Vetrik nodded calmly, "Receive transmission."

Brin appraised the Romulan that appeared before him. He was fairly young for a Romulan officer of his rank. He could not have been more than sixty or seventy years old. His expression was one of curiosity, not the usual haughtiness his race specialised in.

"Hello Commander." Macen said in a friendly manner, "It is an honour to meet you. This is an unexpected surprise, since I was unaware of any Romulan settlements out here."

"You are correct." Vetrik replied with a tinge of aloofness, "There are no Romulan settlements out here."

Macen's face reflected the confusion he felt at the apparent paradox, "Commander, our sensors can detect several settlements upon the third planet of this system. Are you saying they are not Romulan settlements?"

"Again, Captain," Vetrik answered with the smugness of some teachers towards especially slow students, "you are correct."

"So whose settlements are they?" Macen cut straight to the point.

"They are ours." Vetrik replied cryptically.

Macen was tempted to have Derrico fire several quantum torpedoes up their aft, "And who might you be?"

"The Rihannsu." Vetrik answered proudly.

Macen bit off his retort of, "And who the hell are they?" Instead he merely replied, "I see. I am sorry that we have encroached into your territory. If you will give us details regarding your borders, we will amend our navigational charts accordingly. I would also like to extend the hope that a diplomatic envoy would be received in the near future."

Vetrik leaned back in his chair stunned. This wasn't how Federation types were supposed to act. They were expected to act cocky, arrogant, and overly sure of their own superiority. This attitude of respect had taken him completely off-guard.

"Sir!" his weapons officer hissed, "We can't give them the charts. That will give them the position of all our colonies. They'll destroy us."

Vetrik motioned for the officer to be silent. He smiled for the benefit of the viewer, "I will pass your offer to my superior. She will be here shortly. You can discuss the particulars of your situation with her."

Macen took a deep breath, "Very well. We'll await your signal."

"Sir, I must protest." Derrico announced quietly.

Macen stood and faced him, "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

Derrico had the decency to flush, "Sir, I just don't think it's wise to sit here with our shields down."

Macen nodded, "I understand, but answer me this: who's the invader here?"

"Sir! The Romulans are originally from Romulus."

"Actually, they're originally from Vulcan." Macen corrected him, then reminded him, "And I'm from the Delta Quadrant. Does that mean I'm less entitled to call the Federation home?"

Derrico became completely flustered. Danan broke the silence, "I think we need find out more about these references to the 'Rihannsu'."

T'Kir sniggered.

"Something you'd like to share with the whole class?" Macen asked with equal opportunity sarcasm.

T'Kir rolled her eyes, "It's simple. In the ancient Romulan, back when it was known as Ancient Vulcan, Rihannsu was the name for the settlers that humans later named Romulans."

"When did you become an expert on Romulans?" Macen asked in surprise.

"Oh, please." T'Kir responded with false modesty, "It was an easy one."

Macen shook his head, "Whatever. Good work." He shifted his attention to Lisea, "We may have a Romulan "grass-roots" movement here."

She still looked dubious, "Maybe. We've seen stranger things."

"Like what?" T'Kir asked sceptically.

"Like the Unjoined Separatists, for instance." Danan replied.

"Never heard of them." T'Kir said, slightly confused.

"Be grateful." Lisea muttered darkly.

"Okay." Macen said gruffly, "Can we focus?"

A relieved titter spread across the bridge. Danan gave him an apologetic, if amused, expression. T'Kir almost always looked amused, but rarely apologetic. The same held true even now. Out of the corner of his eye, he realised that D'art's expression was rather lifeless. He shrugged it off. He had far more vibrant personalities to deal with at the moment. Something nagged at his subconscious, but he couldn't determine what or why.

"We don't know how long we have to wait, so I suggest we commence with the watch change." Macen announced. There nods of agreement all around. Derrico scowled, but remained silent. D'art's expression remained inscrutable.

A loud, intermittent slurping punctuated the cafeteria. Every patron either stared unabashedly, or valiantly tried to ignore it. Brin couldn't believe that he and Lisea had volunteered to sit next to this culinary apocalypse. Tarrik hadn't begun his meal before they sat down he reminded himself. If Tarrik had been eating, the odds of his sitting here would have been geometrically reduced.

Tarrik's small hands were capable of wielding utensils, but like most Tellarites, he abhorred them. A Tellarite believed that any task worth doing got one's hands dirty. A monumental task included getting one's face, arms, upper torso, and preferably the lower, as dirty as the hands. Consuming a meal was the most monumental task conceivable in the cultural lexicon.

This knowledge did not make the witnessing of such an event any easier. Tarrik was almost obsessive about his hygiene. Others aboard doubted it only because they applied their cultural standards to what a clean odour should be. Macen was inclined to agree with the critics where meals were concerned.

"So, Captain." Tarrik glubbed between mouthfuls, "How much longer do you think we'll be here under the Romulan nose?"

Brin looked to Lisea for support. She gave him a wry smile. Macen sighed. He was on is own.

"We're here waiting for someone to approve the transfer of starcharts containing the boundaries of these 'Rihannsu'." He explained patiently.

"Well," Tarrik pondered aloud, "it's not as though we couldn't just steal the information out of their computers."

Macen sighed again, "We should at least give them the chance to co-operate."

"They're Romulans." Tarrik protested.

"Rihannsu." Danan corrected.

"Romulans, Rihan...whatevers." Tarrik grew louder, "The point is, they can't be trusted."

"Why not?" Macen asked.

"Because they're Romulans!" Tarrik said in exasperation.

"Rihannsu." Danan corrected impatiently.

"They refer to themselves as something different than 'Romulan'." Macen explained carefully, "Perhaps they act differently than Romulans."

"Once a Romulan, always a Romulan." Tarrik argued, "These Romulans are no different, skulking about with cloaking devices."

"Rihannsu." Danan repeated with a dangerous edge to her voice.

"They haven't done anything threatening." Macen reminded him, "Why shouldn't we give them a chance to prove themselves?"

"Give them a chance?" Tarrik scoffed, "These Romulans are going to...aaaggghhh!"

Danan came out of her chair and grabbed Tarrik's collar, "They are Rihannsu! Not Romulans, got it?"

Tarrik nodded weakly. Danan threw him back into his chair. She sat down with a huff. Tarrik glanced towards Macen who stared at him coolly.

"As has been pointed out, they are Rihannsu." Macen said evenly, "Why shouldn't we give them the same chance we would any other race?"

T'Kir sought out Marc Berent. She found him buried in Hydroponics. He was copiously studying a fern of some sort. She found the way he constantly tapped notes into his padd amusing.

"Hi there." She said.

"Waaah!" he shouted as he leapt to his feet.

She laughed, "I'm sorry. I thought you'd heard me."

"No." he panted, "I didn't." then suspiciously, "What are you doing here?"

Her eyes had a hungry look to them, "Why do you think?"

"Oh, God." He murmured, backing away. His eyes were wide with the fear of stalked prey. T'Kir's eyes narrowed in the manner of the predator about to spring. When she sprang, he surrendered to her hungers without a single protest, although, there were a few screams.

Kort stepped out of Sickbay. By Kahless, he thought, I hate it there. He disapproved of the humans that came in complaining over various ailments. If he were in the Empire, most of them would have been the laughingstock of the Mess Hall that evening for their insignificant whining. If only, he mused wistfully, I was in the Empire.

He was here as a repayment of an honour debt to Leonard McCoy. If it had not been McCoy that had summoned him, he would have laughed in their face. Although he had to admit to himself that McCoy's tale of a ship full of potential traitors had appealed to him. He had made it a point to visit virtually every section and department on "medical" pretences in order to evaluate the crew.

He had gained a great respect for Brin Macen. Both his acceptance of the ritual struggle between doctor and patient and his handling of the Romulan saboteur had won his approval. The Federation most likely didn't realise what a warrior they had in their ranks. He shook his head sorrowfully. They rarely comprehended such things.

Kort noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and stepped into an alcove. D'art was coming out of Auxiliary Control. That struck Kort as odd. The Helmsman was off duty, why would she be in a restricted area?

He observed her as she glanced furtively down the corridors. He had to lean back, blocking his own view. He heard her footsteps as they went away from him. He looked around the reinforcing strut he had hidden behind. She was gone. Finally, he had something to investigate.

"Captain," Derrico's voice rang over the comm, "please come to the bridge immediately."

Macen exchanged a glance with Danan. She gave him a wan smile and a shrug. Macen sighed. Derrico had stayed on the bridge when he'd ordered everyone to change shifts. He didn't envy the Tactical officer the reprimand he'd receive from Danan. Then, it would be his turn to rip the lieutenant a new orifice.

He stood and held out a hand for Danan. A few crewmen's eyes went a little wide at this. A few of the Federation's egalitarian virtues irritated Macen, and he made gestures like this in defiance of the popular unpopularity of them. Lisea accepted his offer with a smirk and followed him out of the Mess.

"You need to stop playing with their head s like that." She chided, "You know very well that my society was even more ideologically opposed to differences between the sexes then humans."

Macen smirked in reply, "What you Trills opposed was discriminating between the sexes, not treating them with respect."

Lisea punched him in the shoulder, "That's shiznit and you know it."

He laughed, "They don't know that."

"They can learn." She sing-songed.

They had reached the turbolift doors. Brin turned to face her, "You wouldn't?"

Her smile was positively wicked, "In a heartbeat."

"What do you want?" he asked with a sigh.

"Nothing you won't mind conceding to me." She said, shoving him into the lift as the doors opened.

Their embrace ended as the lift slowed to a stop. The doors opened and they stepped onto the excited furore of the bridge. T'Kir had beaten them here, but her hair was more unruly then ever and her uniform jacket was missing. Macen didn't even want to know how that'd happened

"Sir." Derrico's snapped, the man looked like he'd just arrived on a parade ground rather than manning his station for the last eleven hours, "The Rihannsu have made contact. They wish to speak with you."

"Very well, Lieutenant. Put them on screen."

P'ris appeared on the screen. Macen was struck on how much she violated the stereotype of a Romulan. She wore a smile that couldn't be called warm, but at least it wasn't hostile. If they could avoid outright conflict, that would be a radical upshot for potential relations.

"Hello Captain Macen." P'ris began without prologue, "What shall I do with you?"

Her voice rang with faint amusement, Macen played up to this, "I suppose I could make a suggestion or two, but they would all be fairly moot points."

Her laugh was genuine, "A man that recognises the reality of a situation."

"What's not to recognise?" Macen asked, "I could vaporise your ship, and most of Vedrik's ship before either of you could damage my own."

Her smile became wry, "Yes. We scanned your armaments. Quite impressive. So, what do you plan to do?"

"Talk with you." Macen explained, "Can I come aboard?"

P'ris looked a little flustered, then she relaxed, "You and your first officer can both come aboard."

"Thank you." Macen replied, "We'll see you shortly."

Macen turned to Danan, "Are you ready?"

"Sir..." Derrico began, but was cut off by a slashing motion of Macen's hand.

"Don't say it." Macen warned. He turned to T'Kir.

"You're in command while we're gone."

T'Kir's eyes bulged almost as wide as Lisea's. A choking sound escaped Danan's throat. T'Kir's eyes narrowed.

"I heard that."

Danan held her hands up defensively. Macen gave a thin smile.

"Just don't do what he would." He ordered, jerking a thumb in Derrico's direction.

"Hey!"

"Stow it, Lieutenant." Macen said as he and Danan left the bridge. They stopped the lift on C deck. They proceeded straight to Macen's quarters to pick up a few items. They emerged from his quarters wearing thigh holsters, each containing a pulsar pistol. Their next stop was Transporter Room Two.

They materialised into the midst of three armed Rihannsu. They held disrupters on their "guests". A Rihannsu woman stepped into the room. She had the shortest, spikiest hair either of them had ever seen on a Vulcanoid. Even more surprising was the fact it was died a peroxide blonde.

Macen resisted the urge to make a smart remark. He was studying her when he made an abrupt realisation: she was studying Danan. It was more than a professional interest. It was a blatantly sexual stare.

Danan held the woman's gaze evenly. Her eyes showing neither interest nor scorn. Macen knew of Lisea's own opinion regarding such things. She wasn't threatened, but she wasn't interested. Trill society was much more lenient than most regarding homosexuality than most owing to the influence of most of the symbiont's switching sexuality when they changed hosts. Danan had been unusual in the fact that the vermiform had decided it preferred female hosts exclusively. Previous hosts had dallied into such affairs before. Lisea had those memories at her disposal and had no desire to repeat them.

"We are here to speak with Commander P'ris." Macen informed the female Rihannsu. Her eyes turned towards him. The cold contempt in them disappointed him. She'd condemned him without meeting him.

"This way." She snapped and led a path out of the transporter room. Lisea gave him a shrug. They followed the churlish officer. The three guards followed them. They finally stopped at a door which Macen assumed led to the Commander's Quarters.

The door opened, the officer motioned for Macen to stand back as she entered, "The prisoners have arrived." She announced.

"They're not prisoners D'ionn. They are..." P'ris' voice went silent as she looked up from her desk, "Gods above! What have you done to your hair?"

"You don't like it?" D'ionn asked, hurt shading her voice.

"I am...just not used to it yet." P'ris answered diplomatically. She shook her head, "Please show our guests in."

D'ionn snapped her fingers and the guards shoved Macen and Danan into the room.

"Stop that!" P'ris shouted angrily, "Apologise at once!"

The guards murmured insincere condolences and left. They thrust the Starfleet officer's weapons in their direction after receiving a stern glare from P'ris.

P'ris looked truly chagrined, "I'm sorry. We are not used to having guests aboard."

"I had hardly noticed." Macen replied dryly.

P'ris laughed at his undisguised sarcasm, "Point taken, Captain. Please have a seat." She gestured at the chair across from her. D'ionn assumed a standing position with her hands behind her back slightly behind her commander's left. Danan did likewise behind Macen, but to the right.

"I could not help but notice that you are both armed." P'ris commented, "I have never seen sidearms of that design. Where are they from?"

"They are from my homeworld." Macen answered, "El-Auria."

"You didn't seem quite...human." P'ris commented.

"Thank you." Macen replied evenly, "May we get the negotiations underway?"

"Straight to the point aren't you?" P'ris asked with a trace of amusement, "Very well, you asked for starcharts laying out our territorial claims?"

Macen nodded, "Yes. I was also hoping to persuade you into revealing the location of the Federation prison."

D'ionn started at this. P'ris remained impassive. She was impressed. Neither Macen nor Danan had given the faintest indication of this topic arising. She chided herself for underestimating them.

"What makes you think I would know anything about that?" P'ris asked elusively.

Macen smiled. It was not a nice smile, she thought. It was the smile of a predator taunting its prey. He wasn't the typical Federation fool.

"The prison is located near Romulan space in the Beta Quadrant." He said nonchalantly, "I have a feeling that it lies near to your borders as well. I would further surmise that you have assisted its founders on occasion." His eyes grew cold, "Such as when you tried to dupe both the crews of the Enterprise and the Odyssey into thinking of each other as opponents."

"How could you..." D'ionn stammered before being silenced by a chopping motion by P'ris.

"Commander Danan is quite accomplished at wresting details out of the sensors." Lisea gave the Rihannsu a cold smile upon hearing Brin's compliment.

Demons below! P'ris thought, They're a deadly pair.

"If what you say is true," P'ris began slowly, "why would you risk believing anything that I tell you?"

"Two reasons." Macen explained without a hint of victory, "First of all, your entire colonial movement seems to be based upon dissatisfaction with typical Romulan life. Based upon that, I'm willing to wager that you aren't prejudiced against foreign contact or co-operation." His smile was wintry as he amended, "At least not yet."

"And the other reason?" P'ris asked, a sense of doom overwhelming her.

"I could blow both your ships out of space with marginal damage to my own." He stated matter-of-factly, "We both know it. Co-operation leaves both sides healthier and happier."

P'ris weighed her options. There were too damn few of them. Macen knew it as well she did. She had to give him credit, he wasn't smug about it.

"Very well." She exhaled, "I will show you where they are."

D'ionn exploded at that moment.

"Any word from the away team?" T'Kir asked.

"No." Derrico growled.

Poor baby, she thought, he doesn't like being supplanted by the ship's "psycho". She smiled victoriously, Too bad, cupcake. Get used to it.

She knew Derrico wasn't the only one that was tense. D'art had practically become a board since Macen's departure. At first, T'Kir had assumed it was due to concern. In that she was correct, she surmised, but concern over something other than the captain. T'Kir had come to the conclusions she had been mistaken in her original assessment that D'art was attracted to Macen. She was far more complicated than that.

T'Kir promised herself that she'd delve more into D'art's affairs after Macen and Danan returned. Hell, she mused, I hope I can prove young Ensign D'art does like him, just to piss Lisea off.

"Nooooo!" D'ionn screamed as she tore at her holster, liberating the disrupter secured within it.

Danan was slightly faster. She had her pulsar pistol out and fired at D'ionn before the enraged Rihannsu could aim. The yellow flash of light caught D'ionn in the left shoulder. Unfortunately, the disrupter was in her right hand. She squeezed the trigger reflexively, firing the pistol. An emerald beam of energy seared into P'ris' side.

P'ris cried out in pain. D'ionn moved towards the door, using P'ris as a shield. Macen had gained his feet, pistol drawn. Danan was tracking D'ionn's movements with her pistol.

The door to the quarters opened. The three armed Rihannsu guards burst in, weapons ready. Lisea pivoted and fired. The first shot caught the lead guard in the chest.

"Kill them!" D'ionn yelled.

The two remaining guards opened fire. Macen and Danan ducked. Sparks showered over them. P'ris fell to the floor.

She was still conscious, "Hold your fire!" she yelled hoarsely to the guards.

One ceased. The other aimed at her instead. Brin and Danan responded in unison. Both guards fell as yellow flashes of energy cut through them.

Macen covered the door while Danan went to P'ris and examined her.

"She'll live." Lisea called out.

"Are you certain?" P'ris asked dryly through clenched teeth.

Danan's smile was warm, "It's a flesh wound. A regenerator will repair the damage."

"How did you beat D'ionn at firing first?" P'ris asked in amazement.

Danan's face went red and she shrugged, "I knew she was going to do it. When she finally made the decision, I started to draw first."

P'ris' eyes went a little wide at that, then she laughed, "You are very dangerous."

Danan's smile turned wry, "If you only knew."

"Can she move?" Macen asked sharply.

"I think so." Danan answered in tone that stated the she shouldn't.

"Good." He said, looking nervously down the corridor, "We have about a dozen Rihannsu coming straight at us."

"Close the door." P'ris ordered, "Get me up to the desk."

Macen complied. Danan helped her into the chair. P'ris toggled several controls. A distinct clicking sound announced the door's locking.

"That will take them some time to cut through. It is protected by several force fields." P'ris explained.

Macen's face broke out into a daredevil grin, "What other surprises do you have?"

"Not many, I'm afraid." P'ris answered in disgust, "I never exactly expected a mutiny."

"I suggest you start planning from now on." Macen replied mirthlessly.

P'ris glanced towards Danan, "Is he always this way?"

Lisea chuckled ruefully, "You really have no idea."

"Are you two done bonding?" Macen asked impatiently, "We need to get out of this room so we can deal with D'ionn."

P'ris gave him a feral smile, "Oh, I think we shall leave this room. D'ionn will pay for her treachery."

"Commander Vetrik," D'ionn shouted at the main viewer, "you must surrender authority to me. Commander P'ris is being held hostage. I have assumed command of this vessel. Since this is the flagship of the Rihannsu fleet, that makes me Commander of the fleet. In that capacity, I am ordering you to open fire on the Federation vessel."

Vetrik's response was a dry chuckle, "You really don't have any military experience, do you?"

"I don't see what that has to do with anything." She huffed.

"It means little girl, that as the next senior officer in this sector, that I assume command of the fleet." He informed her. He made no effort to hide his derision of her.

"Is Commander P'ris alive?" he asked.

"Who knows what those monsters have done to her?" she answered irritably, "That Federation bitch shot me! I can only imagine what she's doing to the Commander."

Vetrik raised a sceptical eyebrow, "I am certain that you have quite an...impressive imagination in regards to what you yourself would do to the Commander."

D'ionn's emerald flush told him what he wanted to know. P'ris' predicament was a result of this trollop's jealousy. He vowed he would kill her personally if her impetuousness caused P'ris' death. She would die even if P'ris lived, just for daring to presume ownership over the woman he craved.

"My first order, Sub-Commander, is that you stand down and contact the Federation captain."

He saw the defiance in her eyes and could have spoken the words she uttered before she said them, "I am afraid I cannot comply. I must destroy those that harmed my Commander."

The view screen went blank. She would now undoubtedly fire on the Federation starship. The question was: would they both fire on him. The Federation ship surely would after that slut fired upon them. He had no idea if she would fire on him.

"Communications," he said, making a decision, "raise the Odyssey. I wish to speak with her acting commander."

"Captain!" Derrico shouted, "The lead Warbird is raising shields and locking disrupters on us."

Oh, hell! T'Kir snapped off orders, "Raise shields! Power weapons. D'art prepare for evasive manoeuvres."

A shudder ran through the cabin. P'ris stood up, horror on her face.

"That stupid...c'elnt!" she shouted in outrage, "She's firing at someone."

The Odyssey shuddered as her shields shrugged off a disrupter blast. T'Kir held on to the armrests of the command chair. The only good news she'd received in the last few minutes was that only one of the Warbirds had opened fire. She wondered how long her fortune would last.

"Captain, incoming message." Derrico announced.

Not very long, she thought glumly, aloud she said, "Put it through."

"This is Commander Vetrik. I am the commander of the Warbird that has not initiated hostilities with you. Please target your weapons on the co-ordinates I will provide." A disembodied voice spoke.

"Why should I?" T'Kir asked caustically.

"Because I wish to stop the other ship with minimal loss of life." Vetrik explained patiently, "It may also spare your captain and executive officer."

"All right we'll do it.' T'Kir growled, "Send us the co-ordinates."

 

Chapter Six

The deck and walls shuddered. The lights flickered. Distant explosions echoed throughout the corridors. The air was no longer still, a sharp wind rose, then fell. The hull breach had been sealed.

"Well, that was interesting." Macen muttered.

Macen, Lisea, and P'ris were crawling through an access tunnel similar to a Jeffries Tube. It had been designed as a hidden route through the ship for the Commander's use. Monitors and sensors watched every compartment from these labyrinths. The system had been designed in the eventuality of a mutiny. They were finally serving their intended purpose.

"The shields were struck by both phasers and disrupters." P'ris observed, "That means Vetrik hasn't sided with that traitor D'ionn."

"That would be a good thing." Danan replied dryly, "We seem to be a tad short of allies aboard this ship."

"Sad, but true." P'ris murmured bitterly.

"Where are we headed?" Macen asked from the rear of the procession. His voice was tainted with impatience. Danan's mouth tightened around the corners. She knew that Brin hated small places. This access tunnel was about as small as he could handle for an extended period of time.

"We're headed for the secondary transporter." P'ris answered.

"Can we transport through the shields?" Danan asked in surprise.

"Yes." P'ris answered, "It requires an authorisation code. Only I have the code."

"Must be nice." Macen quipped from behind Danan, "To build ships around a siege mentality."

P'ris' face assumed a chagrined expression, but she remained silent. She led the way for several hundred metres. It was slow going. It felt as though they had been crawling for hours when they reached the access panel they sought. P'ris activated a small monitor and studied its display for a moment.

"There is only one guard." She said with a sense of satisfaction, "I know her. She may assist us."

"I hope so." Danan replied ominously, "For her sake."

P'ris ignored Danan's veiled threat and concentrated on the panel instead. She thumbed a release and the panel detached itself from the bulkhead. It fell outward, clattering on the deck. The guard spun, aiming her disrupter at the sound.

P'ris crawled out of the tunnel with her hands displayed in front of her, "Don't shoot, Centurion."

The guard was confused, "Commander?"

P'ris nodded, trying to project more confidence then she currently felt, "Yes, it's me."

"You're wounded!" the Centurion observed with alarm.

P'ris glanced down at the green stained hole in her uniform. Danan had applied a pressure bandage and a salve that stimulated cellular regeneration. It was still a half measure, merely concerned with stanching blood flow. The scar would be wicked to behold.

"I am all right." P'ris reassured the Centurion, "As are my saviours."

The Centurion's mouth opened questioningly. She sensed the movement in the access before she saw it. Her grip on her disrupter tightened as Danan crawled out of the tiny space. She seemed on the verge of a conniption when Macen followed.

"Stand easy." P'ris ordered. The steel in her voice tempered the Centurion's mood. She hesitated, then holstered her disrupter. P'ris smiled in approval.

"We need to set up the transporter so we can beam over to Vetrik's ship." P'ris announced.

Macen cocked his head slightly to the side, "No." P'ris and Danan turned and stared at him. He smiled, "I have a better idea."

"What idea?" Danan asked warily.

"We transport to the bridge and re-take the ship." Macen explained.

"Right." Danan snorted.

"Wait." P'ris interjected, "It may be possible."

They both looked to her for an explanation, "We can scan the bridge and find out where everyone is. It will not be a blind jump."

"We need to distract them while we materialise." Macen interjected, "Do you have anything up to the task?"

P'ris weighed the options, "Yes. We have luminescent grenades. We can set the timers and beam them over. They will blind everyone while you materialise."

Macen broke into a feral smile as Danan responded, "That should work perfectly." She paused, then added sombrely, "You do realise that most of your bridge compliment will be killed?"

P'ris sighed, "A necessity, I fear."

Danan shrugged, "Just so there are no misunderstandings."

P'ris' eyes widened. The hardness in Macen and Danan's eyes belied any belief she had previously held regarding the Federation's softness. It was apparent that these two would readily kill if they felt the situation warranted it. It was a rather militant attitude for a supposedly utopian society. It was also one she could respect under these circumstances.

"How much time will you need in preparation?" P'ris asked.

"We can go once the scans are complete and the grenades have activated." Macen replied.

"Very well." She took a deep breath, "I shall be ready then as well."

"No." Macen's reply was terse.

P'ris' mouth opened. She glanced towards Lisea. She found no support in Danan's face. Danan's eyes had gone hard and cold. She was committed in her support of her commander.

"Why?" P'ris asked sourly.

"You're wounded." Macen replied evenly, "You are also the commanding officer of this vessel. You need to be alive, in case our attempt fails."

She stared at them. Her defiance melted in the face of the logic of his words. She stood a better chance of rallying her fellow Rihannsu against the mutineers. If she died, Vetrik might also attack the Federation ship. His vessel would not survive such an encounter.

"You are correct." She conceded, "I will begin the scans."

"That seems to have taken care of their weapons array." Derrico reported.

"Do you confirm Commander Vetrik?" T'Kir asked the viewer.

The Rihannsu broke into a relieved smile, "Yes, Captain. I concur."

"Their shields are holding." Derrico reported.

"Yes." Vetrik conceded, "The shields are a separate system. We have to destroy the emitters...or overload the drive."

"That would be fun to watch," T'Kir commented, "but that wouldn't get our commanders back."

Vetrik looked disturbed by the comment, "No...it wouldn't."

"Has anyone heard from them?" T'Kir asked in frustration.

"No." Vetrik answered.

T'Kir's face lit up, "Then maybe we should just blow them to hell."

"Beaming grenades...now!" P'ris announced, "Assume your stations on the transport pads."

Brin and Danan hopped up to the pads. A moment later, the world shimmered into non-existence. When reality regained cohesion, the scenery had changed dramatically. They were on the bridge, surrounded by half-blinded Rihannsu.

They had beamed in with their weapons drawn and ready in two-handed grips. Macen shot the helmsman first. Danan turned and killed the tactical officer. Macen fired twice more, each burst catching another bridge officer in the chest. Danan walked to the auxiliary station consoles and began shooting the Rihannsu manning those posts.

Macen walked to the seat of command. D'ionn's vision was clearing and her face twisted into a masque of rage as she recognised him. She came to her feet and her hand dropped towards her holster. Macen fired.

D'ionn collapsed onto the deck. Her face was a charred pit in her skull. He calmly surveyed the rest of the bridge. The surviving Rihannsu had thrown aside their weapons and were standing in a corner under Danan's watchful eye.

Macen toggled the intercom switch on the Commander's chair, "Commander P'ris, the bridge is secure. You may transport at any time."

A moment later, P'ris materialised on the bridge. She took in the carnage that had been unleashed with a resolute gaze. She had accepted the deaths of her personnel before she had transported Macen and Danan. The corpses represented no sense of guilt for her.

She turned to where Macen and Danan had the surviving bridge complement under guard, "You may release them."

Macen glanced over his shoulder, "Are you certain?"

"They can prove their loyalty by lowering the shields and contacting our sister ship and your vessel and assuring them that we have no hostile intentions." She answered with a razor smile.

The crew wasted no time in proving themselves to their Commander.

Macen, Danan, P'ris, and Vetrik sat gathered around the conference table in the Odyssey's Briefing Room. Macen and Lisea had both been surprised by Vetrik's joy at seeing P'ris alive. Even now, he had his hand on hers. P'ris seemed to draw strength from this.

P'ris smiled wanly, "What now?"

Macen exchanged a grin with Danan, "We were hoping you'd still provide us with charts outlining your colonial boundaries."

P'ris either snorted or laughed, "That is the least I can do for you."

Macen's gaze hardened, "There is another service you could provide."

Vetrik tensed, but P'ris soothed him with a pat on his hand, "No. He is correct. It is the least we can do."

She cocked her head slightly to the left as she met Macen's gaze, 'May I ask you a question?"

He nodded and she fielded her question, "Why was this task given to you?"

"You know why." He answered gruffly.

Her smile was sad, "Yes, I do. You are quite formidable. Starfleet must trust you implicitly."

Lisea snorted. Macen shook his head ruefully, "Quite the opposite actually."

That answer confused P'ris, so Macen explained, "Before I was assigned to command this ship, I left Starfleet and fought for the Maquis. I survived their defeat at the hands of the Dominion and was recruited to help Starfleet's war effort. Some would feel that I am more loyal to a non-existent force than to Starfleet."

"Are you?' P'ris asked softly, understanding his ease with violent warfare in a new light.

Macen shrugged, "I don't honestly know. When I was assigned to infiltrate the Maquis, I felt more loyalty towards their cause then I have felt towards anything since the destruction of my homeworld."

Vetrik looked stunned, "You were a Maquis?"

Danan smiled, "We were both Maquis."

Vetrik looked towards her, "I am surprised by the pride you obviously feel about that."

"Why?" Danan asked warily.

"The Maquis were nothing but cowards and terrorists." Vetrik spat.

Danan's voice lowered, "Don't you ever..."

"Enough!" Macen slammed his fist into the table, "We have different perspectives on this matter. The Maquis can be viewed as the heroes we knew them for, or the terrorists they were to others. That's superfluous at the moment. We need to move forward."

"I agree." P'ris spoke up, "How do you suggest we do so?"

"Take us to where the Federation gulag is." Macen informed her.

"Nothing else?" she asked with a hint of mischief.

"Any other assistance you're willing to offer won't be refused." He replied with a smirk.

"I can't believe this." Derrico muttered miserably.

"Believe what?" Kort slurred.

"That we're teaming up with Romulans." Derrico whispered conspiratorially.

"I agree." Kort hissed back, then bellowed for the benefit of the entire lounge, "We have allied ourselves with treacherous thieves!"

Several crewmen shuffled out of the lounge. Others resumed their conversations, ignoring the inebriated Klingon. Kort shouted several insults in his native tongue at them and fate in general. He snorted derisively and returned to his drink.

They sat in miserable silence for several minutes before Derrico spoke again, "I thought you were going to teach me the other virtues of the warrior."

Kort nearly choked on his shot of bloodwine, "On this ship? Pah!" He swung his arms out expansively, "Do you see any females worthy of notice?"

"Actually..."

"None." Kort snarled, cutting Derrico off, "The only one of worth is Commander Danan. She is the Captain's mate. I would not dishonour myself by interfering in that coupling. The Vulcan is a fighter, but too unstable. The helmsman, now there mystery."

"You think she's attractive?" Derrico asked in disbelief.

"No." Kort dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand, "She is too skinny. She also lurks about the corridors when she is not on duty. It is very odd."

Derrico sobered immediately, "She lurks about what corridors?"

"Places like Auxiliary Control." Kort replied in disgust, "At least T'Kir goes to Botany and takes her pleasure form that Lieutenant. Not D'art, noooo, she skulks about like some thief."

"Are you sure?" Derrico asked again.

"I saw her!" Kort roared, "With my own eyes. I left Sickbay because I could not stand to hear some pathetic crewman whine about a meaningless scratch or an ache. Such mewling babes." He spat in disgust, "I cannot believe that Starfleet cowed my people. I truly am amazed that Starfleet defeated the Dominion. These cretins cannot even work an entire shift with a muscle pull. They fear a scar as though it is life threatening." He cast a scornful eye about the lounge, which was far less populated then when he began his diatribe, "A scar is a badge of honour! Wear them with pride!"

With that said, Kort's head hit the table and remained there. Derrico made sure he was still breathing, then excused himself from the table and left the lounge. He proceeded straight to his quarters. From there, he pulled up several Starfleet Security files. Two hours later he found what he was looking for: absolutely nothing.

"They're being insufferable." Danan complained.

Macen sighed and poured her another glass of wine. He handed it to her and returned to his seat. Lisea took a sip of the wine and then looked between the candles at him. She found his dour expression annoying.

"What?" she asked defensively.

"Nothing." He muttered.

"Liar." She retorted, "What is it?"

Another sigh, "I think we could have reached an agreement with the Rihannsu if you hadn't antagonised Vetrik."

"What?" she replied derisively, "A lecture on diplomacy from you? Who's the one that made an enemy of virtually every Starfleet admiral proclaiming the sainthood of the Maquis?"

Brin gave her a chagrined smile, "Alright, so maybe I'm not one to talk."

"Damn straight." She agreed enthusiastically.

"But we'd know exactly we stand now rather than having to wait until morning."

On the other hand, if we knew now, we'd probably be underway." She replied in a sultry voice, "Which means we wouldn't be having this dinner." She stared long and hard into his eyes, "And we definitely wouldn't have a chance at desert."

"Maybe there's something to be said about a lack of social graces." Brin mused.

Lisea rose from her chair and seated herself in his lap, "Shut up and kiss me you idiot." That was one request Macen was more than happy to oblige.

P'ris let out a moan as she lowered herself onto her couch. Vetrik watched this with some amusement. The Commander had been making quite a show out of shrugging off her wound. Her display of mortality in front of him indicated her trust in him.

He glanced around the damaged remains of her quarters. He remembered his initial surprise at the utilitarian sparseness of the décor. P'ris had no images displayed, no luxuries to relax upon, no reminders of home at all. He wondered if this trait was what made her the ideal administrator for the Rihannsu colonies.

No, he answered himself cynically, what makes her ideal is the simple fact she has no ambitions of her own.

He smiled pleasantly, "Can I get you anything?"

She frowned at him, "Just an answer as to why D'ionn betrayed me."

He bowed, "As you order." He turned on his heel and departed. P'ris opened her mouth to call out for him and inform him that she had only jested. She stopped herself. If he really could answer such questions, then she would have a confirmation or denial of her own suspicions. Such data would prove invaluable as she pondered her response to Macen's request.

Brin and Lisea lay together in his bed. She faced outward away from the bulkhead. He lay behind her with his arms wrapped around her. Lisea stared out into space for a long while before speaking.

"Brin...does it ever bother you?"

She could feel his muscles tense up. His voice was wary when he replied, "Bother me in what way?"

She rolled over, putting her arm under her head. His face was barely visible in the grey light. What she could see led her to believe that he was remorseful. Her eyes locked on his as she spoke.

"Did you ever wonder..." her voice sounded strangled as she sought the proper words, "Do you ever wonder of we could achieve our goals with less..."

"Violence?" he asked cynically, "Or, less killing?" His voice was bitter, "I used to. Now I just accept it as the price for securing the comfort of those that condemn the payment."

She crooked her arm up and laid her head upon her hand, "What do you mean?"

He released a long, weary sigh, "The Federation has become softer than when I joined, less willing to pay the price for the freedoms of its citizenry."

"I tend to agree." She admitted, "But how do you see what we have done as the price?"

He propped himself up with his arm, "When the Federation and the Cardassian Union formed the Demilitarised Zone, it was a moment of expediency. Forget the lives that would be affected. Buy off the aggressor and move on and enjoy our toil free lives."

He snorted bitterly, "What neither side realised was that there were people willing to commit their very lives to the task of rectifying that wrong." His voice lowered, "Right now, that's our role inside of Starfleet."

"Isn't that the job of the Inspector General's Office and the Judge Advocate General?" she retorted.

"Partially." He replied grimly, "We were given this assignment because Command knew that we'd take whatever steps were necessary to complete the mission."

"But killing nearly the entire bridge complement aboard P'ris' Warbird?" she protested.

"How were we going to distinguish potential allies from foes?" Macen asked pensively.

Lisea's mouth quirked, "I don't know. I haven't come up with a better plan yet."

Macen shook his head sadly, "Neither have I. We have to accept what happened."

Her eyes flashed angrily, "Is that all? There's nothing better we can do next time?"

She could see his resilience and determination in his eyes as he slowly shook his head, "If you were in the same situation right now, this moment, what actions would you change?"

She held his gaze for a moment longer, then she faltered. "I don't know." She whispered.

"The past is done." He said clinically, "We can strive not to repeat mistakes, but we cannot alter what is already done. We can only accept the consequences of our actions. No more, no less."

She flopped back down onto the bed with a snort, "Well, that's certainly a comfort."

He smiled indulgently, "You weren't seeking comfort. You were seeking absolution." His expression turned serious, "You have to find that within yourself. You've found it before. You'll find it again."

She turned and smiled at him. Her smile was warm and inviting, "You realise that this is why I love you?"

"Because I can discuss killing people without getting upset?" he asked sarcastically.

She knocked his arm out from underneath him, "No, silly. It's because you'll take the time to at least discuss these things with me. And help me sort out six previous lifetimes' worth of experience."

She could see his eyes soften, "That's why I'm here."

"And I, for one, and very happy that you..." she was interrupted by the beeping of her comm badge, "Damn! Who could that be?"

Macen wore a wry smile as she twisted in the bed to reach for her uniform jacket. She slapped the badge as though she were swatting an annoying insect. Macen found the metaphor applicable. He also pities whoever was at the other end of the line.

"Danan." She snarled, "What is this about?"

"Tavers, sir." A female voice answered, "I am the Security Officer of the Watch. We are receiving complaints regarding a disturbance on Deck Five. I thought you would like to be informed."

"What kind of disturbance?" Lisea asked impatiently.

"At first we thought it may be an attempted murder." Taver's voice reported, Macen fought to suppress a snicker, "But we soon realised that the disturbance was of a...different nature."

"I'm assuming it's of a sexual nature." Lisea replied wryly.

"Yessir." Tavers agreed in the relief of not having to offer any more descriptions, "The occupants of the room are refusing to acknowledge comm alerts...and frankly, no one wants to go in there. It sounds like a war zone."

"Very well. I'll deal with the problem." Lisea replied. And quickly too, Brin sounds like he's going to bloody well choke himself trying to suppress that laugh. "Who are the offending parties?"

"Lieutenants T'Kir and Berent." That certainly evoked a reaction from Macen, who was now red and convulsing from the effort of restraining himself.

"Danan, out." She said to the bridge officer, "Danan to T'Kir."

There was no reply, "Reply, T'Kir." Still no answer, "Answer the bloody comm or I'll have you out the nearest airlock!"

"T'Kir...here." The Vulcan's voice was strained and breathy. Her breathing was heaving, punctuated by groans in the background. Macen was nearly hysterical now. Lisea's face twisted in annoyance at the fact that T'Kir hadn't even bothered to cease her offending activity in order to receive the reprimand.

"There have been complaints of noise in your section."

"I...haven't...heard...a...thing." T'Kir replied in heaving gasps.

Macen's head was under a pillow as Lisea persisted, "Lieutenant T'Kir, I do not give a personal damn what you do with your free time. Just don't do it so loudly that you keep everyone on Deck Five awake!"

A final moan came over the comm. After a moment's silence, T'Kir's voice came across. She was now coolly dispassionate and devoid of emotion. In other words, she sounded like a typical Vulcan.

"I do not believe that shall be of further issue tonight. Any future activities will be conducted more...discreetly."

"Thank you." Lisea replied in exasperation, "Danan, out"

Now that the channel was closed, Macen finally indulged in a howling fit of laughter. Lisea stared at him in stony silence for a moment. Seconds later, a ghost of a smile was tugging at the corners of her mouth. Seconds after that she was laughing as well.

"The nerve of that woman." She gasped.

"She's a corker." Macen gasped in reply, trying not to hyperventilate.

They took a moment to gather their breath. Once that was accomplished, they rolled onto their sides facing one another. A mischievous smile played at Macen's lips. Lisea's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"What?"

"We could give them a run for their money." He suggested.

"Captain!" she said in alarm, "I'm appalled. We're the two senior officers aboard. We should be setting an example."

He rolled his eyes, "Yes, of course. How silly of me."

She pounced on top of him, rolling him onto his back. "How silly indeed." She purred.

The next morning, Derrico intercepted Macen and Danan on their way to Transporter Room Two, "Sirs, may I have a moment?"

Macen nodded assent, "Captain, I made a search of Ensign D'art's file last night."

Macen's eyebrow rose, "And why this sudden interest?"

Derrico looked uneasy, "Kort informed me that he had seen D'art loitering around Auxiliary Control at odd hours. I wanted to check her records and see if there were any discrepancies."

"Were there?" Macen asked, a concerned edge to his voice.

"No." Derrico answered to his obvious relief.

"Then why are we having this conversation?" Macen asked in a bantering tone.

Derrico saw through the feigned amusement, "I apologise, Captain."

Macen shook his head, "You don't have to apologise, Lieutenant. Just be sure you have a little more to go on before bringing it to me next time."

Derrico knew that Macen's friendly tone was genuine this time. He turned to depart when Macen called back to him.

"Derrico, I understand that you have become friends with Doctor Kort."

"Yes, I suppose you could say that." Derrico admitted uneasily.

"Can you pass a message on to him for me?"

"Certainly."

"Tell him that if he's ever so drunk that he cannot respond to an injury I will have him thrown in the brig." Macen's voice lost all traces of humour.

Derrico swallowed, "Yes, sir."

"Carry on, Lieutenant."

"Uh...yes, sir."

"Doctor," the nurse poked his head into Kort's office, "There's someone here to see you."

"Silence you smooth browed stain upon your mame's virtue." Kort yelled, then clutched his head, "Have Dr. Melbus see to the patient." he groaned miserably.

The nurse smiled, "He's here to see you, not receive treatment."

"Then send the excrement sample in." Kort rumbled in resignation.

His face brightened when he saw it was Derrico, "Greetings my...ahhhh!" he clutched his head, wincing.

"Hung over?" Derrico chuckled.

"You find this amusing flat-skull?" Kort groused.

"Yes, I do." Derrico answered with relish.

"So would I in your place." Kort admitted with a grin, "Please sit." He motioned towards a chair opposite his desk.

Derrico waved his hand, "No, I'm on my way to the bridge. I just dropped by to deliver a message from the Captain."

"Which is?"

"If you ever get too drunk to attend an emergency, he'll lock you in the brig." Derrico amended the message.

Kort growled, but nodded, "Very well. Inform the Captain I will abide by his decision."

"Tell him yourself." Derrico chuckled as he left the office.

Kort smiled in appreciation. Derrico was transforming himself into a fine man. The Klingon no longer cowed him. Kort admitted that the human was even displaying...what was it called...piss and vinegar?

"Doctor," the nurse poked his head in again, "I really think you should examine the next patient."

"Silence!" Kort bellowed.

The lift Derrico was in arrived at the bridge when his comm badge chirped. He tagged it with his hand, "Derrico here."

"Mr. Derrico," Macen's voice came over, "might I suggest a follow-up to your earlier efforts?"

"Certainly." He replied, wondering where this was going.

"I would suggest contacting Tarrik and assessing which portions of the ship are the most vulnerable. After that, you may want to assign a rotating patrol through those areas."

Derrico smiled, "Yes, sir. I'll get on it right away."

Lisea gave Brin a smile of approval, "Did you hear the enthusiasm in his voice?"

Macen shrugged, "I think he's just looking for a little recognition."

"Aren't we all?" she asked with an impish smile.

"I think not." He answered cockily.

"You don't think" She retorted snidely.

He rolled his eyes, turning to the transporter tech on duty, "Are you ready?"

"Awaiting final co-ordinates." The male Bolian replied.

"Commander Danan." Kort's voice came over the ship's intercom.

"Danan here." She replied smoothly even though her expression was puzzled.

"Can you please come to Sickbay?"

"I'm in the middle of something, can it wait?"

"Curse you woman." Kort snarled, "I am following procedure here. I wish to discuss the safety of a crewman, and you want to dither in a transporter room?"

Her eyes met Macen's. They were aflame. "Very well, Doctor. I will be there shortly." Her voice was acidic.

"Get to the Briefing Room as soon as you can." Macen requested as she started to stalk off, "And one more thing?"

She turned to glower at him, he ignored it, "Try to leave him alive. We might actually need his skills someday."

She fought to suppress a smile, "Very well, but only because you're ordering me to."

"Order is probably an overstatement." Macen muttered to her departing back. He turned to the tech, "Do we have those co-ordinates yet?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then what are you waiting for? Beam her over, man."

Danan strode into Sickbay, "Very well, Doctor, why am I here?"

"Do not be impertinent with me, woman." Kort rumbled drawing himself to his full height.

Danan moved closer. Her hand snapped out so fast he couldn't see the movement. She now had a knife to his throat. Her eyes narrowed as she whispered just load enough for him to hear.

"I am the First Officer aboard this vessel. I suggest you remember that fact in all further communications with me."

Kort smiled expansively, then laughed, "I am heartened to see you as learned in Klingon greetings as our esteemed Captain."

Danan stepped back, smiling narrowly, "I've had a long time to acquaint ourselves with your culture."

He studied her movements as she returned her blade to its wrist sheath. Her every movement was a study in graceful destruction. She, like the Captain, was battle tested. If asked, Kort would guess that the commanding officers were veterans of dozens of hard fought battles. They would have made excellent Klingons, he mused.

"Why'd you call me up here then?" she asked slightly impatiently.

"It involves Lieutenant Berent." Kort informed her direly.

Danan caught herself starting to snigger. Kort obviously found this distasteful.

"Have I said something humorous?"

"Not at all." She assured him, "His name just came up last night."

"Yes." Kort rumbled, "His name and that of Lieutenant T'Kir has been the focus of conversation of those inhabiting Deck Five."

"I see you're familiar with the problem already." Danan said with amusement.

Kort nodded gravely, "I am, but I am not sure anyone else is."

"What do you mean?" she asked, suddenly serious.

"Observe." He said as he activated the monitor on his wall. The scene was that of three biobeds. Berent was seated on one of them, staring blankly ahead. His face and arms were covered with multiple bruises and scratches.

"What happened to him?" she asked.

"T'Kir happened to him." Kort replied in disgust.

Danan turned towards him, hands folded across her chest, "I'm afraid I don't understand."

Kort sighed as he sank into his chair, "Vulcans are touch telepaths."

She nodded, "Everyone knows that."

Kort glared at her, annoyed at being interrupted, "They form especially lasting bonds during periods of...intense physical contact."

"Namely sex." Lisea replied dryly.

Kort coughed uncomfortably, "Precisely. Apparently T'Kir is an exceptionally powerful telepath, but she is poorly trained. She has only the barest control over her own abilities. Her encounter, or encounters, with Mr. Berent have left him a state similar to catatonia."

"Can he be helped?"

Kort nodded, "Yes. We have medications that will diminish the effects of the bond." He paused before adding, "The best treatment, however, is his being quarantined from T'Kir. Her very presence can affect him now, and for the presumable future."

Danan's mouth tightened, "I'll deal with that. You just start him on the drugs."

Danan stepped out of the lift onto the Bridge, "Lieutenant T'Kir, please in the Ready Room please."

T'Kir looked baffled. Several officers stared at her as she followed Danan into the room. The door shut behind them and Lisea took a seat on the desk. She left T'Kir standing.

"You are hereby ordered to refrain from any further contact with Lieutenant Berent."

"Why?" T'Kir snarled.

Danan folded her arms across her chest, "Because you're killing the boy."

"Hardly." T'Kir snorted, "I'm helping him fulfil his fantasies."

"He's fulfilling yours." Lisea replied coldly, "Right now, I don't think he's capable of having any."

"What are you talking about?" T'Kir asked with her arms spread wide, "When I left him this morning, he was fine."

"He was fine before you left." Danan explained, "It was after you left that he slumped over and became vegetative. You've formed a mental bond with him, and his mind isn't strong enough to accept it. When you're gone, he ceases to function."

"How was I supposed to know?" T'Kir protested.

"You should know!" Danan snapped, "I'm holding you responsible for this. You've endangered this boy's mind and possibly his life. If I find out that you've done this to anyone else, I'll drop you off on the nearest uninhabited planet so fast it'll make your molecules separate."

"And how am I supposed to enjoy recreation if all the males on this ship are the same way?" T'Kir complained.

Danan rose of the desk and stood centimetres from T'Kir's face, "You don't. You don't touch another crewman unless you're absolutely sure of the effect it will have upon them."

"How am I supposed to find another man under those conditions?" T'Kir whined.

"That's not my problem." Danan informed her frigidly, "Be sure that it never becomes my problem. Understood?"

T'Kir stood silently. Lisea was about to speak when the comm chirped, "Commander Danan?" It was Macen's voice.

"Danan here, Captain."

"We need you in the Briefing Room. Please come immediately."

"Understood, I'm on my way." She turned to see T'Kir starting to depart. "One moment, Lieutenant, I asked you a question."

T'Kir muttered her reply under her breath. Danan stepped in close again, "I can't hear you. What is your answer?"

"I understand." T'Kir replied sullenly.

"Again." Danan snapped, "Convince me that you understand."

"I will avoid sexual relations with anyone that I suspect it will affect mentally." T'Kir nearly shouted.

The Trill gave her a thin smile, "Very good. I think you have received the message. Dismissed." Lisea then went straightaway across the bridge to the Briefing Room access. She had heard the quiet dread in Brin's voice. She didn't want to know what had frightened him, but knew she had little choice in the matter.

P'ris materialised from the transporter beam and blinked. Macen stood before her, as well as a Starfleet technician manning the transporter controls. She'd never been aboard a Federation vessel before, much less a Starfleet starship. Her contacts had given her some data on this vessel, and she was curious as to how much of it she'd be allowed to see.

"If you follow me, Commander," Macen said with a smile, "I'll escort you to our Briefing Room."

P'ris suppressed the frown she felt coming on, not much apparently, "Thank you Captain."

P'ris sat close to the display system. The conference table was an oblong affair. The technical specialists being placed closer to the displays in order to present and explain their material. Although, as a consolation they received an excellent view of space denied to the Captain since the viewport was behind him/her.

Macen wore a charming smile, "Can I offer you any refreshments?"

He can be a dangerous one when he wants to be, P'ris mused. Aloud she replied, "No thank you. I would like to begin a review of the material I have brought as soon as possible."

"Certainly." Macen maintained his ingratiating smile, "Commander Danan will be joining us shortly. Will you require any assistance?"

She shook her head, "No. Your systems are quite similar to our own." She turned and activated the display panel. A star chart was immediately displayed.

"This is an outline of all Rihannsu territorial claims." She explained, "For security reasons, the planetary data has been removed, but the borders are clearly illustrated."

Macen gave the border a cursory glance before commenting, "This is a fairly small region of space."

P'ris gave him an illusive smile, "The Rihannsu do not require much, Captain. We simply wish to live out our lives as we see fit."

Macen looked faintly amused as he replied, "I don't see where that will pose a problem."

P'ris' eyes narrowed, "It does for some."

Macen shrugged, "It doesn't for me."

"We shall see, Captain." P'ris replied archly. She changed the display. It now showed a star system. A single planet within the system was highlighted. "This is Gulag." She explained without a trace of inflection on her voice, "It houses the prison facility you are seeking."

"And how did you come by this location?" he asked innocently.

She gave him a reproving glance as she answered, "I believe you know quite well I came by my knowledge. In exchange for certain...favours, we transported prisoners and guards from the Neutral Zone across the Empire to Gulag."

"What kind of favours?" Macen asked.

"Guarantees of political, and potentially military, support if the Empire ever attacked us." P'ris replied hotly, "As well as material support for our colonies."

"Who are these people?" Macen asked.

P'ris activated the next display, "This is an orbital scan of the prison."

"Ye gods." Macen muttered, "It's a fortress."

"Yes." P'ris' tone indicated her admiration of the facility's designers. She pointed towards several highlighted sections, "These are anti-ship phaser emplacements. The shield generators are staged so as to provide layered, ablative shielding. The weapons emplacements surround prisoner barracks so as to prevent surgical strikes. No strike upon the defensive systems will avoid collateral damage."

Macen was as surprised by the similarity of Romulan and Federation military terminology as he was at the strange familiarity of the prison's layout. He knew that some verbal similarities were a result of the universal translator. He also acknowledged that certain euphemisms of warfare were universal, no matter the original language. The prison, on the other hand, shouldn't feel so...comfortable?

P'ris shifted to the next display. Macen's blood froze and his heart stopped. It showed a man in a grey and black uniform. He wore boots and pants similar in design to the earliest Starfleet fashions. The tunic was a grey fold-over design with black highlights. The rank insignia was a rectangular pin worn on the right side of the grey under-tunic's collar. The under-tunic was identical to that worn by Starfleet as part of their recent jumpsuit styled uniform. It was the uniform Macen had appreciated the most.

His eyes narrowed as he continued his examination of the display. The figure wore a tactical thigh holster, strapped down twice. The holster held a rectangular pistol. He cradled a rifle in his hands. The grip was forward, near the barrel. A scope was mounted along the body of the weapon.

"Can you enhance the image?" Macen asked hoarsely, "Concentrate on the rank insignia on the neck."

P'ris complied, enlarging the image of the man's neck. Macen recognised the insignia. The man was a Colonel. It was a title analogous with his Starfleet rank of captain. It was a Starfleet Marine's uniform, insignia, weaponry, and apparently prison as well. The Marines had been disbanded nearly a century before.

"Where did you get this image?" he asked, his throat constricted by dread.

"It was one of the guards we transported." P'ris answered, observing his discomfort with fascination, "It was a uniform I was unfamiliar with. Do you know its origin?"

"Yes." He admitted grimly, "All too well." He tapped his comm badge, "Commander Danan?"

"Danan here, Captain." Lisea's voice replied.

"We need you in the Briefing Room. Please come here immediately."

"Understood. I'm on my way." The connection fell silent. He could hear the frustration in Lisea's voice and knew the situation in Sickbay must have gotten fairly unruly. He'd explore the issue later. Right now he desperately needed Lisea's insight regarding this revelation.

Danan breezed into the Briefing Room, "I've got the situation is Sickbay settled down. Now can someone tell me..."

Her voice faded out as she recognised the image on the display. She stood in the doorway looking stricken. Her pale features were drained of all colour. She looked faint and quickly took the nearest seat before her knees buckled.

"How...?" she choked out, "Where is this from?"

"The Gulag." Macen answered, his voice deadened from shock.

"How is that possible?" she asked, trying to deny the evidence before her.

"I don't know." Macen admitted dismally, "All Marine equipment and uniforms were retired a century ago."

"Except for the archival pieces Starfleet kept for itself." Danan amended.

"Who are these 'Marines'?" P'ris asked, reminding the others of her presence.

"A military force that used to be part of Starfleet." Macen answered, reminding her of what he'd told her before, "The Marines were ground troops. Utilised for taking and holding territory."

."We'll never be able to penetrate their security." Lisea murmured despondently

"Why not?" P'ris asked.

"That installation is specifically designed repel orbital assaults." Lisea replied in a surly tone,

"Trust me. It can't be done with this ship."

"What if you don't use this ship?" P'ris asked.

A flicker went through Macen's eyes as he asked, "What do you mean?"

"I have a plan." P'ris informed them, then proceeded to explain what that plan was.

"I don't like it." Danan said in a huff, hands on her hips.

"We don't have to like it." Macen countered, "We just have to make it work."

Her glare followed him across his Spartan quarters. He hadn't had time to bring any personal effects, only what was in his duffel.

"No." she replied acidly, "We don't."

He turned. His gaze was fierce. Danan could not recall ever seeing this look ever being directed at her before. It made her uncomfortable.

"Are we going to have a problem now?" he asked tartly.

"Only of you continue with this plan." She replied hotly.

"Lisea," Macen said in an overly restrained voice, "you are the love of my life. You are also the First Officer of this ship. Don't ever confuse the two."

She felt a fiery blush rushing to her cheeks, "Don't worry. I'll remove at least one of those obstacles before that happens."

She could see him mentally switching gears into his analytical mode. She knew that's what was required of him in order to carry out his mission. She also found it damnably annoying at this moment. She forced herself to take several deep breaths before speaking again.

"I do not think it is prudent to place a team aboard Commander P'ris' Warbird and have them enter Gulag space while the Odyssey waits outside of sensor range." She said as calmly as she could.

"Can you come up with a better way of circumventing their security precautions than by posing as a relief unit being transported by the Rihannsu?" He asked dispassionately.

"No." she admitted angrily.

"Then we proceed with the current plan." He said abruptly, "Now, let's go meet with Derrico and select which crewmen will become Marines for this mission."

 


Proceed to Part III of III

 

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