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Pax Romana - 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 1

Sea-green eyes peered through the hazy smoke filling the bridge. Unlike the rest of the scientific crew, she'd previously served aboard deep space vessels. She also held the dubious honour have having been the only crewman aboard who'd survived being attacked aboard a starship. That is if you could count the surveyor we're aboard as a starship, Lisea Danan thought dryly.

The venerable Oberth-class science ships had a long and proud history dating back to the late 23rd century. Once the mainstay of Starfleet's survey crews, the ships had finally started to be retired a century later. Ironically the Nova-class ships that replaced the Oberth were now being replaced by the upgraded Nova-X-class. While that meant that the original ships were being refitted or retired, none had been made available to the Daystrom Institute.

Danan's Starfleet career had made her a logical candidate for this mission. The Advisory Planning Commission could not have expected a situation where her experience as a Maquis would prove useful, but here it was anyway. Danan could think of a dozen different ways to end this assault, even with the limited resources of the SS Countess. The Commission had selected the survey team's head to act as the Tessie's captain as well.

"Ca…" Danan began to say then gritted her teeth, "Dr. Syrik, we can't compete with their firepower and the warp nacelles are too badly damaged to outrun them. They've refused to acknowledge your request to surrender. We have to make a stand."

Syrik cocked an eyebrow as the deckplating shook from another phaser strike, "That would be illogical. We have nothing of value. Logically, they should cease their demands and pursuit and let us on their way. Since they have rejected the logical course, they should realise we have no quarrel with them and are content to let them have what they wish from us."

The ship shuddered again as Danan resisted the urge to strangle the stubborn Vulcan; "Logic doesn't have anything to do with this you moron! They won't know we don't have anything until they board."

The Vulcan bristled at her words; "I will not allow hostile aliens to view any classified research projects that are aboard this ship."

"They weren't hostile until you refused to abide by their demand to heave to for inspection." Danan snapped.

"You are being highly emotional and this is effecting your reason." Syrik remarked, ignoring another shuddering groan from the abused ship; "The Federation's astronavigation charts list this system to uninhabited. Therefore there is no legal authority to which I must surrender. I suggest you retire to your quarters and meditate on a…."

Syrik slumped over as Danan tucked her Type I phaser back into her pocket. She then rushed to the Helm, "Bring us about."

Although startled by the authoritative tone in Danan's voice, the slender Benzite manning the station refused, "Dr. Syrik ordered me to maintain this course."

"Do you want me to stun you too?" Danan's exasperated tone left no doubts as to her willingness to do so.

"Bringing us about." The Benzite replied.

"Arm phasers." She ordered, then softened her tone; "These people have reacted negatively to every conciliatory gesture. With luck, they'll respond better to a show of strength. Fire a shot across their bow."

A long tense silence followed before the communications circuits activated, "Acknowledged Countess. We will discuss terms with you. I'm looking forward to meeting the person with enough courage to challenge us."

Danan sighed as her shoulders sagged in relief. The helmsman was already slumped across her board. She turned to study Syrik's limp form. Her years with the Maquis had altered her methodology of dealing with the universe, perhaps permanently. She slowly came to realise that the remaining bridge crew was staring at her in fear. She couldn't blame them.

Her concern was with the voice she'd communicated with. It was impossible to judge vocal intonations until one became familiar with a species and a culture, as Danan's long life and wandering hosts could attest to. Still, there was an ominous quality lacing even the computer's rendition of those tones. Coldness clenched her gut and she turned towards the linguistic specialist manning the comm station.

"Check the translator logs." Danan ordered, commands flowing more freely now; "What similarities are there between this language and any known tongues?"

"That's easy." The linguist's expression bore both hope and fear as he answered, "It's nearly identical to an ancient Earth language. This variant is actually far more intact than the derivative samples left across Earth."

"And this language would be?" Danan asked impatiently.

"Latin."

Lisea plumbed Danan's vast experience and memories for a clue as to the significance of this news and the feelings of dread that it inspired. She shifted to her astrometric station and took a location fix. The ship's co-ordinates locked the last vital bit of information into place and she knew whom they faced. Lisea suddenly prayed her actions had aided her comrades' position, not simply delivered them to deaths more painful than those available in space.

Elim Garak wore darkness like a shroud. Despite his insistent claims as to having a dull imagination, his years of forced exile in the guise of a tailor coloured his perceptions. He saw the bomb-ravaged alley he'd secreted himself in as an intricate tapestry of light and shadow, symmetry and chaos, and in the final sum, death and hope. Untold lives had been lost here and the survivors driven to refugee camps. These same tenements were now slated for the next phase of reconstruction. Their once and future occupants already queuing up for volunteer labour units.

Seeing his people's vigour in the face of desperate losses revitalised Garak's limited faith in other beings. His return to his birth world was also something of a pilgrimage, having spent the bulk of his adult life offplanet undertaking missions for the dreaded Obsidian Order. His exile for failing that same order brought him to Terok Nor. When the Cardassians withdrew and the Bajorans renamed the station Deep Space 9, Garak remained aboard. Having no other home or refuge besides his tailor shop on the station's Promenade, Garak found himself alone on the wrong side of the border of his beloved homeworld while denied even the slightest hope of returning.

Much to his everlasting joy and sorrow the Dominion War brought him home. Garak offered his intelligence tradecraft skills to Starfleet during the war. Legate Damar's fledgling uprising against the Dominion drew Garak back inside Cardassian space and to his planet of birth. When Damar fell during the Cardassian patriots' fateful assault on Central Command, Garak picked up the rallying cry and inspired the others to rise up and overthrow the Dominion's puppet government.

Since the cessation of hostilities, Garak had briefly served as Interim Legate until elections could be arranged. He gladly stepped down and offered his services to the reconstruction efforts rebuilding his planet. Along the way, Garak discovered an ancient and long repressed religious faith that was once again taking seed amongst the people. As ludicrous as it once would have seemed, embracing the faith of his stepfather filled holes within Garak he'd never realised he'd had. Obviously his time in Federation space had changed him far more profoundly then he would have dared imagine.

His interstellar connections had led him to providing introductions for the Bajoran vedek peace delegation that successfully bypassed and thwarted the official talks sabotaged by the alien infested Shakaar Edon. With the First Minister's condition and culpability revealed, the civilian initiative garnered instant acclaim. Garak had been delighted at the course of events. So few things surprised or amused him any more that the rare quirk of fate that tickled his fancy was to be treasured. It was one such quirk that had brought him to this place on this particular evening.

This particular section of the capital had once been very affluent. Although the bones of the ruined homes had been picked over by scavengers many times over, there was still the occasional homeowner who returned in order to search for some lost titbit of personal treasure. Seeing as how the scavengers still made regular rounds of the debris sites hoping to find intrepid searchers, such outings usually went badly for the former occupant. The news agencies reported dozens of attacks every morning.

Owing to contacts in the gendarme, Garak knew these numbers were vastly underreported. He had few qualms however, as always he had prepared for his own excursion with meticulous care. The phaser at his side was hardly his only means of defence and primarily served as a distraction. The truly lethal implements were discreetly hidden about his person and a hundred-metre radius in all directions.

Hearing a noise, Garak tensed slightly. He slowed his breathing even as his senses focused and sharpened. The outline of two figures could be made out in the dim light. The number was correct but there was no guarantee that it was still Garak's expected party. He waited in perfect silence while they drew close enough for him to study their body language. It did not take him long to ascertain that the two approaching figures were not Cardassians, which meant they were here for the rendezvous.

The two figures stepped into the brightest patch of the alleyway and stopped. They were both humanoid. One humanoid was male, the other female. Although Garak had seen them before, he took a moment to reappraise them.

The man's name was Brin Macen. A former Commander in Starfleet Intelligence, Macen had left the service just under a year before in response to disciplinary action received for exceeding his orders. An El-Aurian, Macen departed with eighty accrued years of Starfleet service. He'd formed an independent consulting and security firm, Outbound Ventures, Inc., and taken to the life of a privateer.

Garak had first come across Macen's name in relation to the decade long undeclared border war between the Federation and the Cardassian Union. Macen had become something of an expert in Cardassian affairs and was highly observed by the Obsidian Order's agents. This body of knowledge later inspired Starfleet to insert Macen into the Maquis in order to observe, redirect, and if necessary, arrest them. Macen turned the tables on all expectations by throwing in with the Maquis.

The destruction of the Maquis and the ever-changing fortunes of the Dominion War provided Macen with redemption in the eyes of Starfleet. Macen and a select band of Maquis, including Ro Laren, provided intelligence and territorial expertise for Special Operations Forces operating far beyond enemy lines. The specially recruited commando force being comprised of Angosian super-soldiers. Time and again, they ventured into the heart of Dominion space and accomplished the impossible. The battered and exhausted veterans would return to Federation space merely to offload the wounded, restock supplies and head back into the conflict. It was warfare Maquis style and it achieved impossible results bought at horrendous costs.

After the war, Macen had been inducted into a newly created Starfleet agency christened the Special Investigations Division. It was while working for this entity that he was court-martialed. Many still wondered whom he truly worked for at this phase of his career. Was his defection another ruse or was Macen truly an independent operator?

His physical appearance was identical to Garak's recollection of their brief encounter several months before. Macen was still tall with a medium build. He had reddish blonde hair and a goatee that complimented his fair complexion. His eyes drifted between blue and green in adaptation of their surroundings.

His mode of dress was telling. Although not a uniform, it possessed a militant air that reflected his years in Starfleet and the Maquis. Macen wore a moss green shirt under a dark leather jacket that barely hid his holster. A Bajoran phaser hung from the black utility belt at Macen's waist. Black pants and boots completed his ensemble.

Macen's companion presented a far more conflicted image. Garak knew of T'Kir through reputation alone. Upon meeting her, he could see why many Cardassians still spoke of her. She could easily slide back into the "Mad Vulcan" role that earned her infamy.

The only evidence she presented of being of Vulcan origin was her delicate upwardly curved ears. Her ovular face found itself highlighted by high cheekbones, pouty lips, and a slightly rounded nose. T'Kir's blue eyes and voluptuous curves were unusual for Vulcan norms. Her trademark short, chaotically spiky raven hair was now blonde and nearly came to her shoulders.

Her known disregard for her people's rigid constraints extended beyond their emotional restrictions to their mores regarding clothing. T'Kir wore a leather trenchcoat over a charcoal sweater. Paired with that were black leather pants and Starfleet uniform boots that dated back over a century. The Vulcan anathema to wearing skins was nowhere to be seen here.

"You can come out now Garak." Macen broke the still silence, "You've had plenty of time to confirm our identities."

Garak smiled thinly to himself. No one took time to play the game properly anymore. Meetings like this weren't merely an exchange of information. They were a soliloquy, a performance to be savoured and enjoyed. Each movement and word a step in an interwoven tapestry of life and death. There were no losses or victories because there were no spectators, only judges, and an unsatisfactory performance yielded death.

Then again, Garak mused to himself, all the rules of changed.

Garak stepped out from the deepest shadows; "I am here as agreed Captain Macen. Now, if I may be so bold, may I ask why my presence was required here at this late hour?"

Macen smiled but his eyes did not, "Your presence is necessary to hand over information your government needs but I can't deliver to them."

Garak's interest perked, as did his wariness; "Indeed? And what manner of information might this be?"

Macen reached into his jacket. Garak's hand tightened around the discreet controller mounted on a ring around his finger. His hand relaxed as he noted that T'Kir had managed to draw her phaser without a sound. He nodded and flashed her commending smile.

Macen withdrew a Federation style padd and handed it to Garak, "The information is unencrypted so you can read it immediately rather than later. I'll sum it up for you in one brief stateroom: all the surviving Maquis arms stockpiles, ships and weapons are missing."

Garak's eyes widened slightly, "I thought all of the Maquis were either slain, enslaved, or driven from the Demilitarised Zone by the Jem'Hadar."

Macen nodded, "The Jem'Hadar were ruthlessly efficient but even they didn't have the time or numbers to trace every supply cache and remove its contents."

"Why are you telling me this?" Garak asked with more than his usual level of suspicion.

"Because Admiral Nechayev asked me to survey and catalogue these sites and then share the report with the Provisional Government here on Cardassia." Macen answered.

"Ah," Garak smiled knowingly, "so you are still a Starfleet operative."

Macen smiled his head but shook his head, "No, Garak, I'm just a civilian. I was contracted because of my unique knowledge of the area. My being here is a direct result of that same contract."

Garak mused over that, "I wondered what would make you betray your fellow Maquis."

"You truly misunderstand me." Macen replied with a trace of pity, "There are no Maquis to betray. The DMZ is still firmly in Cardassian territory with renegotiations planned. Most of the few survivors of the work camps are re-immigrating to the Federation. What that left was a sizeable amount of weapons scattered across the Zone. Now it seems as though someone else with the knowledge of where to look and the time to do so has recovered all the abandoned equipment."

"What do you think it means?" Garak asked, feeling uneasy for the first time.

Macen shrugged, "Who knows? You don't collect weapons unless you plan on using them. Whoever they are, they must know that there's been too much destruction in this region of space."

"And how vulnerable Cardassia, and especially her colonies, are." Garak commented bitterly.

"The help is there for the asking." Macen reminded.

Garak's smile was bitter, "You forget how stubborn my people are."

"I'll never forget that." Macen assured him, "Our job here is done so we'll be leaving."

"No reminiscing? I'm terribly disappointed." Garak chastised.

Macen turned back, "Speaking of which, thank you again for your help the last time I was here as well as on this matter."

Garak lifted the padd in salute, "I'm gratified that I took the time. Now in order not to undermine my efforts, I should warn you that you'll probably have a welcoming committee near your ship."

"The usual dockside reception committee?"

Garak bowed slightly with a pleased smirk, "Exactly. A pleasant evening to you then."

Garak sunk back into the shadows as T'Kir and Macen strolled back to the groundcar they'd rented. It was a triangular framed vehicle with three tires and a roll cage shrouded cockpit. T'Kir activated the engine and the driving lights. She threw the vehicle into gear and sped off towards the shuttleport where their runabout waited.

"What was that talk about 'the usual reception committee'?" she asked over the wind noise.

The instrument lights revealed Macen's grim smirk as he replied; "Cardassian ports are infamous for their roving band of dockhands that exact 'unofficial' duties from visiting freighter crews. The practice extends back before the Federation Wars and Dominion affiliation."

"So we're gonna get mugged?"

"Exactly."

"Cool." T'Kir replied brightly.

Admiral Amanda Drake sat back in her chair behind her desk in Starfleet Headquarters. So far, nothing in known space had occurred that required her attention. Since she commanded the Special Investigations Division of Starfleet Intelligence, things requiring her attention were generally unpleasant to say the least. Normally she couldn't go ten hours before receiving an unwanted report of distress of escalating tensions somewhere. Drake watched the chronometer mark the twelve hour since she had logged on duty and breathed a sigh of relief.

A new record, Drake thought happily, maybe things are finally settling down after the war.

Her desktop's insistent comm chirp deflated that notion, "Sorry, Admiral, but we're receiving a distress call that I think will interest you."

Drake grimaced. Ambril Delori was her most trusted aid and analyst. She'd attached her star to Drake's own and in doing so propelled Drake into her current job. Drake implicitly trusted Ambril's hunches without reservation.

"Send it to me Ambril." Drake's eyes widened as she saw the location indicator of the distress call and reactived the comm, "Ambril, get my Admirals Nechayev, Ross, Jellico, and Marrine as soon as possible."

"Yes, ma'am" Ambril replied crisply and signed off.

Dear God. What are we in for? Drake wondered dismally.

They left the transport at the rental provider T'Kir had chosen. An elderly Cardassian came out to assess the vehicle for damage and log its return into the office computer. He finished his tasks by issuing a refund chit exchangeable for Federation trade credits or gold pressed latinum. Macen studied the chit and then offered it back to the aged man.

"Your tip, sir." Macen said with a smile.

The Cardassian wore a stunned expression, "What trickery is this? That chit is worth more than most people's life savings around here."

Macen shrugged, "Then give it to someone else, or several people. I'm on an expense account. The bill for the vehicle has already been submitted and it contains that deposit. Since I'm not in the habit of defrauding my employers, I prefer to give it away."

That caused the Cardassian to struggle for words, "I don't know what to say."

"Just say you'll try to prevent any future wars between your people and the Federation."

"It's a pact!" the Cardassian vowed.

"Good night to you then." Macen bowed his head.

The Cardassian watched, mystified, as Macen and T'Kir walked off into the shadows. The mysterious Vulcan had smiled throughout his exchange with the presumed human. That fact had sent as many shivers through his spine as his newfound wealth. Every day eroded the ingrained derision he'd always felt for aliens. Tonight had been no exception, in fact, it had provided the greatest instructor: personal experience. The Cardassian, a grandfather many times over, returned to his post and envisioned the delighted squeals of his family as they basked in comforts of a rebuilt house thanks to the Federation man's gift.

Meanwhile, Macen and T'Kir nonchalantly strolled onward through the docks.

With their ship, the Ju'day-class Eclipse, on its way to Starbase 514 Yards to repair damage inflicted during their last harrying mission, they'd had to utilise alternative means of transportation. They'd used a Danube-class runabout named Corsair. Unlike the hybridised Eclipse, the Corsair was a rugged, proven platform. Although listed as a downgraded civilian variant, the SS Corsair was fully stocked and loaded to Starfleet specifications.

One of her modules housed an emergency medical treatment centre. Another module served as an armoury and special equipment storage. The third module was rigged to serve as a detention cell. The fourth and last module contained beds and a shower to supplement the beds in the crew lounge.

She had performed admirably on her debut outing. Macen had decided to restrict the crew to himself and T'Kir owing to the tight quarters. Trying to cram the other seven members of the team aboard was possible but unlikely to be comfortable for any length of time. That led to the other reason the others were not part of the mission. The battle damage they'd sustained proved to Macen that although their ship could be adequately handled by the team members, hiring trusted individuals to serve as ships' crewmen would greatly relieve stress and fatigue. The team's XO, Tom Riker, was currently recruiting from a list of names supplied by Macen.

Macen felt a surge of anticipation at the thought of having a fully functional scoutship to call his own again. The last had been a decommissioned Starfleet Blackbird-class scout christened the Odyssey. He'd acquired the vessel during his tenure with the Maquis and used it as an intelligence-gathering platform. It was a tough ship that had met an unnecessarily cruel end at the hand of an ex-Starfleet officer working for the Andergani Oligarchy's pirate cartel.

T'Kir interrupted his thoughts with a light touch of her hand against his, We're not alone any more. I think our farewell party is about to begin.

Inwardly, Macen was impressed and proud of her ever-developing control of her once rampantly unbridled abilities. Releasing her hand, Macen spun while going for his holster. T'Kir did likewise in the opposite direction. They stopped standing back to back, Macen holding his phaser in his right hand, T'Kir in her left.

Four Cardassians stopped dead in their tracks. Their plan had entirely depended upon surprise and sheer brute force to overwhelm their intended victims. Working at the docks had granted them impressive physiques but little in the way of mental exercise. However, they were more than capable of undertaking the mental algebra required to assess the odds of three pry bars and a blade overcoming two phasers. Reaching nearly simultaneous and identical outcomes, the Cardassians dropped their implements and ran back into the shadows.

"Awww." T'Kir mocked, "They don't want to play no more."

Macen responded with a half-hearted scowl of reproof. He'd known T'Kir for far too long to expect much else from her. It would have alarmed most people to discover that she stood among the few beings he had absolute confidence in. As Guinan, Ro Laren, Elias Vaughn, and Svetlana Korepanova made up the rest of this extremely brief list, T'Kir stood amongst an illustrious assembly.

"Let them go." He advised, "I'd rather just stow our gear and be off this rock."

"I'm not gonna argue with that." T'Kir consented. Her past was filled with as much tragedy and injustice as nearly any other settler in what became the DMZ. The rage had been enough to drive her away from the logical upbringing of her childhood and into the bloody throes of her ancestral heritage. Even in ruins, Cardassia Prime still evoked a primal rage within her.

With the incentive to avail themselves of real beds and showers, they packed quickly and managed to lift off of Cardassia Prime within thirty minutes. The heavy shipments of relief aid being shipped to the surface and the Allied garrison patrols filled the Cardassian skies. The fact the Corsair had secured an early departure and avoided interference while headed into orbit was nothing short on the probability scales of successfully orbiting a singularity's event horizon in such a way as to complete a revolution while arriving at your same point and time of departure. Never one to argue with incredible fortune, Macen and T'Kir set course for Brackenburn and engaged the warp engines as soon as they cleared the planet's gravity well.

"It's gonna be so good to relax for a while." T'Kir sighed, "I bet those lucky stiffs back at home have been lounging about whining about nothing t'do."

"You wish, and so do they." Macen grinned, "If they are lazing about, then we'll be joining them in just over ten hours."

"Can't we detour to Risa?" she whined.

"No."

"Crap."

Macen smiled as he tilted his chair back and closed his eyes. Things were already getting back to normal.

 

Chapter 2

Admiral Drake cleared her throat before stepping behind the podium situated alongside the viewer mounted in the briefing room's wall. The table facing the viewer curved so as to grant an uninhibited to all seated. It also created the psychological image of a scimitar in the presenter's mind, and considering the power vested in the personages seated before Drake; it was little wonder why. The movers and shakers of Starfleet were rarely assembled in one place together due to security concerns but Drake's intel had drawn them in from across the quadrant.

There was far more than a viewer mounted within these walls. Between the transport inhibitors, communication jammers, subspace field distorters, electrostatic shields, and the small army of Security personnel waiting outside the armoured doors, one could well and truly say this was perhaps the most secure location on Earth. It was rumoured the Federation President didn't have such security but only because he didn't need it as much. The old joke reflected the conventional wisdom that such precautions were only undertaken to prevent an assault upon the officials gathered. No one ever realised that these labyrinthine precautions were designed to keep the secrets spoken within from ever escaping, and thereby harming, an unsuspecting public.

Each person in this room was there only because their position mandated them with the care and maintenance of the shroud of secrecy that surrounded the topic they were about to discuss. Only three other people outside of Starfleet held access to this information, not including the President. The highest ranking members of the Foreign Affairs and Interior Affairs cabinets in the Federation Council, along with the President's Interplanetary Security Advisor, were sworn into silence and monitored through the use of a cortical implant insuring they did not reveal to anyone that which they'd been entrusted with.

Less than a dozen civilisations or worlds fell under the regulations requiring these methods. Most had received their classifications requiring such extreme consideration over a century ago. As the Federation's science and borders expanded, so did her ability to deal with the new and outré. Now only these few remaining planets held the strictest of quarantines and even they had been quiet throughout living memory. Until now, that is.

Seated around the table were Alynna Nechayev, Drake's boss and Director of Starfleet Intelligence. Beside Nechayev sat Bill Ross, victorious commander of the Dominion War campaign and CO of the 7th and 9th Fleets. Next came Edward Jellico, the former starship captain and Deputy Director of Starfleet Operations. Jaroess Marrine, the first Ktarian flag officer and the Director of Starfleet Security, occupied the last seat set out for the meeting.

"Can we get on with this?" Jellico asked curtly, "I have a million things scheduled after this… and had been hoping to get a full nights rest."

"I apologise for the hour, Admiral Jellico." Drake bit her tongue on her preferred reply, "I have no control over when the Sanctuary Protocols will be invoked, only the natives of the worlds under their jurisdiction can be asked for a little consideration regarding one's own schedule."

Jellico turned a fuming shade of red and Nechayev mentally composed a congratulatory note to her protégé as Drake pressed on, "As a matter of procedure I have to remind you all that you are bound under Article 2 of the Sanctuary Protocols and no discussion of this meeting will transpire with any other sentients other than the duly designated members of the Federation Council and Executive Office. Only after a unanimous consent of all members can details of these Protocols or worlds under their protection be disseminated to other beings."

Drake took a deep breath, drawing sympathetic chuckles; "That being said, we have trouble."

Dryly, Marrine replied; "We would assumed so since we were all summoned with such urgency and haste. I do not wish to mirror Edward Jellico's impatience but my curiosity is overwhelming me."

Drake smiled humourlessly, "The world in question, like most of those falling under the Sanctuary Protocols, was discovered over a century ago. Again like most of the others, it was found by none other than Captain James T. Kirk. Between his first and second five-year exploration missions, Kirk discovered and made contact with two-thirds of the Sanctuary planets. It was the reaction of members of his crew that inspired Starfleet Command to install the Protocols in order to prevent quadrant-wide panic based upon rumours and theories of the existence of these worlds. Each planet was removed from the Federation's navigational charts, their surrounding sectors declared quarantined owing to lethal contamination and warning and surveillance buoys put in orbits throughout the sectors surrounding the individual star systems."

Marrine smiled indulgently, "And the system as been running smoothly for a century. Why are you summoning us here with vague threats with no supportive facts?"

"At 1743 hours, PST, Earth Standard Orbit, we received a fragmentary distress signal from a decommissioned Oberth-class surveyor released by Starfleet to the Daystrom Institute. They'd monitored explosions near star system 492 while conducting a non-invasive astrometric survey of the Regelious sector and went to investigate. At nearly that same time, Starfleet Communications lost contact with not one or two of our surveillance buoys surrounding 492, but with all of them. The last piece of data received was final burst transmission from the Daystrom ship, SS Countess, saying they were under attack from unknown forces. Nothing further has been heard since."

"You'll have to forgive me for not having brushed up on all these planets before," Jellico asked with far more humility than before, "but why are we monitoring this 'star system '492'?"

"492 IV is one of the Sanctuary worlds surveyed by James Kirk. The Enterprise, the original that is, was searching for a missing Federation survey ship, the SS Beagle. The Enterprise came across a badly damaged Beagle locked in a decaying orbit over an M-class world." Drake's features darkened, "In his haste to search for the missing civilians, Kirk failed to note the pivotal detail that would play so heavily in Commander Spock's Science Report. The M-class planet underneath the Enterprise was an exact duplicate of Earth."

"A Preserver World." Ross deduced grimly. Starfleet possessed an institutional distrust of the Preserver artefacts and planets left scattered across the quadrant, and presumably the galaxy. The very soul of the Prime Directive flew in the face of the practices of a species that would pull primitive beings from their world and place them on an entirely new world constructed by unknown means to match their old. Since most of those societies had subsequently self-destructed, the whole scheme began to smack of enigmatic experiments callously played out upon unwitting subjects.

"492 is one of the few of the Earth type worlds that hasn't been reduced by war or plague to a new barbarism. The culture discovered there was one comparable to the late Industrial Age in the Social Technology Scale or Earth's mid-20th century. Separation, time, and the Preservers' choices for test subjects bred some differences between Earth and her counter-part, but on the whole, the technological base was surprisingly similar."

Drake's eyes narrowed as she continued, "The single largest difference was that 492 was ruled by the Roman Empire. Labelling this second Roman civilisation the Nova Roman Empire, theorist have surmised that the ancestral Nova Romans came from Republican times evidenced by the convention of titling their leader as 'Proconsul' rather than as 'Emperor'. With the Preservers apparently providing the same localised 'barbarians' to contend with as their Earth analogue, the Nova Romans had roughly the same pressures and pitfalls to face as the Romans of Earth's past."

"This history lesson is well and good," Jellico interjected, "but where is it leading and what is its point?"

"The point is that one hundred years ago, Captain Kirk found a world governed by a martial philosophy whose every sense of values revolved around displays of strength and conquest. This same world had only recently begun constructing combustible fuel groundcars and unstable airships. The Nova Romans were still developing the technology to place a satellite in orbit around their world."

Drake's eyes bored in on Jellico's, "In one hundred years, they have advanced their technological base by an estimated three hundred period as well as provided evidence of possessing cloaking technology."

"This is disturbing." Marrine agreed, "How was this possible?"

Drake shook her head; "Due to the very nature of the very nature of the Sanctuary Protocols, we have no way of knowing. The Nova Romans were left with the remains of the Beagle as well as the information divulged by Captain Merrick of the races and technology beyond 492 IV. That being said, the Nova Romans shouldn't have been able to reverse engineer 23rd century technology in only one century just as they shouldn't have been able to construct a cloaking device since neither Federation civilian craft nor starships ever carried such a device in that era. My analysts and I agree that only leaves the possibility that another group or race as assisted the Nova Romans in their efforts."

Marrine and Jellico fidgeted uncomfortably as the latter spoke, "What makes you draw such a conclusion and who authorised you to grant access to this data to any personnel."

Nechayev stirred to Drake's defence but the younger woman waved her off, "In case you don't recall, operational jurisdiction regarding Sanctuary matters became part of the Special Investigation Division's mandate at its inception. A select analysis team monitors all transmissions and data received from the observatory buoys and all are sworn under the same oaths and bound by the same security precautions. This team, and I personally reviewed and endorsed their findings, suggest that the Nova Roman's remarkable technical progress is inconceivable without outside support. Rumours from the borders of Romulan and Breen space suggest the existence of an unknown race beyond charted space that is more than technically capable of offering such support."

"So you're basing this recommendation on rumours and guesswork?" Jellico asked between clenched teeth.

"If I may remind you Eddie, more often than not, intelligence is nothing more than smoke and vapours made into substance through hard work and insight." Nechayev mirthfully reminded Jellico.

Jellico harrumphed as Drake moved on to the next item, The SID, like Starfleet Intelligence, employs mainline Starfleet officers as well as irregulars."

"Mercenaries." Marrine commented sourly, "Guns for hire."

"Seeing as how most of the irregulars are former Starfleet officers, what does that assessment say about our service?" Drake asked meekly.

Marrine flushed as the briefing resumed, "The point of using irregulars, typically hired as contractors or consultants through secondary organisations, is to achieve legal plausible deniability. With the freedom to move across borders denied access to Starfleet, irregulars can then investigate matters inaccessible to Starfleet Intelligence. If captured, Starfleet can legally deny culpability but remains free to assist in diplomatic measures as well as any covert rescue operations."

"I assume you're planning on sending an irregular team to 492 IV." Bill Ross spoke up; "My only question is why an irregular team versus a mainline team?"

Drake nodded and changed the viewer's image, "The Sanctuary Protocols mandate that Starfleet personnel are to be used in the containment of a Sanctuary world only if no further recourse were available. The area around 492 is quarantined space and full disclosure would have to be made in order to convince a starship captain to violate a Federation edict. Starfleet Intelligence ships and crews could perform the mission but then they would constrained by the same security precautions as the rest of us."

"That still doesn't explain using civilians." Jellico spat.

"Our civilian teams have been thoroughly vetted. Most of the members are highly skilled former Starfleet personnel. These are small teams of eight to fifteen people. Which is a small number of potential persons to detain and relocate to a secure location in case of a security breach. These people have proven their loyalty to Starfleet and, most of all, repetitively to the Federation itself and the ideals it stands for."

"Well put." Ross congratulated with an appreciative nod of his head, "I take it you have a team in mind?"

"Yes." Drake with replied certainly, "I intend to use the first team recruited into the SID and the first team to reclassify as privateers. They are our most experienced and successful assets."

"Would it be too much to ask to know the identities of these miracle workers?" Jellico disdainfully inquired.

"Certainly, I have a presentation prepared on just this topic." Drake altered the viewer image again to display a service record picture of Brin Macen; "This is the team leader and mission commander, Brin Macen. Macen is a former Commander in Starfleet Intelligence with a highly decorated career spanning over eighty years."

"How is that possible?" Marrine asked as Jellico groaned, "He appears far too young for such a rank much less such a lengthy career."

Drake nodded, "Macen is an El-Aurian, the only member of his race to ever formally join Starfleet. An explorer and social scientist for his native world before their assimilation by the Borg, Macen proved an adept student of Alpha Quadrant cultures and quickly developed expertise in Cardassian affairs during the Federation's violent first contact with Cardassian borders. He continued to enhance this reputation throughout Starfleet's subsequent dealings with the High Command."

Jellico snorted loudly, "I worked with this arrogant prig when he was assigned to me as an advisor during the negotiations that ended the First Cardassian War. He was wilful, insubordinate and tended to act without authorisation."

"But his methods achieved their desired results." Drake countered, "A fact noted in your own reports from the period."

"A fluke." Jellico rebutted, "One of the many that comprised Brin Macen's career before he was drummed out of Starfleet."

"Before we get to the end of Brin Macen's official ties with Starfleet, let's recap the events leading up to that event." Drake suggested, "After the conclusion of the Second Cardassian War and the subsequent treaty forming the Demilitarised Zone, Macen was sent into the DMZ to infiltrate the rebel colonists group known as the Maquis."

"A group which Macen sympathised with and defected to." Jellico glared down the table at Nechayev, "Despite what some may claim."

"While it is true Macen truly sympathised with the Maquis cause," Drake clarified, "he did not endorse the radical and xenophobic measures espoused by some cell leaders. Earning the position of Chief of Intelligence for the Ronaran cell led by another Starfleet defector, Ro Laren, Macen became privy to invaluable details of the Maquis command structure, cell leaders, and operational plans that he subsequently passed on to Starfleet Intelligence. Dozens of provocative attacks were thwarted due to this information as well the redirection of some cell's efforts towards a political solution."

Drake locked eyes with Jellico, "During this time, Macen knew of or learned the identities of the other few infiltrators and never divulged their identities to the other Maquis. This is not a man that defied orders and went rogue."

Jellico shifted unhappily but remained mercifully silent, "After the Jem'Hadar sweep of the DMZ, Ro Laren and Macen brought a ragged band of Maquis survivors to Bajor to seek asylum. Commander Elias Vaughn of Starfleet Special Operations was on hand and helped persuade the Bajoran First Minister Shakaar Edon to either grant the asylum requests or offer commissions in the Militia. This would allow the Maquis to act as guides and scouts for Starfleet commando teams sent deep behind enemy lines in the former DMZ and the Badlands. Macen was reassigned as an Intelligence officer for one of the teams and finished out the Dominion War in this capacity."

"That does not explain the period following the war." Marrine reminded.

"Macen was caught up in the inevitable mopping up after a war. Following this, he stumbled across a rendezvous that would herald his next assignment and lead to the formation of the SID. Before shipping out, he received a promotion to Captain and received his first starship command. After investigating the Gulag and the conspiracy within the Council itself that created it, Macen agreed to become the first leader of select team of special investigators.

The team's first official mission ended with tragedy and Macen violating direct orders not to fire upon the pirate responsible for the enslavement and torture of over a hundred captives. Macen was reduced in rank to Commander and allowed to retired with full benefits and honours. In actuality, with the SID's support, he founded his own private firm and his crew stayed on to become our first team of irregulars."

Do we have profiles of the rest of the team?" Ross asked, cutting off any chance of Jellico speaking.

Drake nodded gratefully, "The team's tactical specialist is Rab Daggit."

The image displayed a chiselled man with close cropped greying hair. His steely blue eyes held infinite sadness and inescapable menace in them at the same time. A small discoloration at his temple was nearly disguised by the thin white scars marring his face. It was the unmistakable sign of a cortical implant.

"Daggit is a former Lt. Commander in Starfleet Security. Starfleet recruited Daggit when the Federation Council voted to rescind the prohibition blocking Angosia's entry into the UFP in exchange for the services of the veterans of the Tarsian Wars. As you all know, these veterans were mentally and physically altered and conditioned to become veritable 'super-soldiers'. After the wars end, the problem was that the modifications could not be reversed and the Angosian government chose to imprison the veterans rather than pursue a cure.

Daggit first served as a commando unit commander. Brin Macen was the unit's intelligence officer. Daggit transferred to the Enterprise-E after the Dominion treaty and briefly served as Chief Tactical Officer under Jean-Luc Picard. It was while serving in this capacity that Daggit learned of Macen's involvement with the new-born SID and requested a transfer."

"Very touching." Jellico commented drolly, "Macen has his own pet soldier. Who else is part of this menagerie?"

The room chilled as the other senior officers turned a cold eye towards the irascible Jellico; "Hal Dracas serves as the team's engineering expert."

Dracas bore a hairstyle popular during the last century. His sandy brown hair was short and slicked down to form a crown of hair. His shaggy beard emphasised the fact that Dracas' face was wider and more stolid. His mouth was twisted up in a smile that made one think he found life an ongoing bad joke. His eyes held only dark humour.

"Dracas comes from Ardanna IV and is a member of the Troglyte caste. He achieved the rank of Master Chief before resigning from Starfleet. His record is as secret as it is exemplary. Dracas served in the Special Projects Yards section of Utopia Planetia for eighteen years. He transferred to the SID at his own request."

"Is it wise to let a resource such as this man go free?" Marrine asked.

Drake shrugged, "What can we do? Arrest him? We shut down the Gulag in order to prevent such actions. I'd hate to see us revive such practices."

"So would I." Ross agreed firmly, "That's why we'll do everything in our legally mandated power to prevent a re-occurrence of such a vile travesty. So, please continue."

Still only somewhat appeased, Drake forced herself to focus at the topic at hand, "Next comes Hannah Grace."

The viewer displayed a young blonde fair-skinned woman with brown eyes. She looked as though she'd just graduated Starfleet Academy. Her lips were drawn in a bright, ebullient smile. Sheer delight at life and of living emanated from her.

"Grace is the team's flight operations specialist. She left Starfleet with the rank of Lt. J.G., a promotion she had just received. There are indications that she was involved with, and actively serving, the elusive agency known only as Section 31. Her ties with that agency have since been severed and representatives of 31 took her prisoner at one point.

Those are the known quantities of Hannah Grace. There are a few mysteries surrounding this vibrant, seemingly innocent, young woman. The greatest of them being that when she underwent the physical for Starfleet Academy's entrance exam, her results not only came out perfect, they achieved the limit of human perfection. Medical experts attempted to contact her parents but it was though they had never existed in any Federation database or colonial census."

"And she was allowed to enlist?" Jellico sputtered.

"Her background was sufficiently complete to allow entrance and her medical condition has been closely studied over the last five years." Drake answered indifferently, "This leads us to the team's latest addition, Thomas William Riker."

"Isn't that Jean-Luc Picard's whipping boy 1st Officer?" a surprised Jellico asked.

Drake shook her head with a rueful smile, "No, it's much more complicated then that. Tom Riker is Will Riker's exact twin produced by a transporter mishap on Nervala IV. Tom Riker's existence was not revealed for another eight years. During that time, he survived isolated and alone believing he was the only Riker in existence. Meeting the rapidly promoted Commander Riker came as something of a shock to Lt. Riker."

"Rapidly promoted my ass." Jellico muttered, "Riker's turned down more commands than anyone in the fleet. At this rate, he's going to become Starfleet's first career 1st Officer."

"Lt. Riker was as appalled as you yourself, Admiral." Drake revealed, "He saw Commander Riker as having wasted all the opportunities that he had paid for. In the end, Lt. Riker adopted the use of both Riker's middle name and reported to the USS Gandhi as Lt. Thomas William Riker."

"Riker's start on the Gandhi was somewhat tumultuous. The 1st Officer saw him as a threat to her position. The crew viewed him as an oddity, the product of freak mishap and worried that they were somehow transporter duplicates switched for the originals. All these factors combined with Will Riker's fame within Starfleet drove Tom Riker to pursue his career in areas Will Riker had never ventured." Drake continued her biographical sketch, "He transferred to the Gandhi's Flight Operations department and became a courier pilot. It was in this facility that he met a Maquis crew while attempting to deliver medical aid to a plague infected planet. The leader of that Maquis cell was one former Lt. Commander Chakotay. I'm sure we're all familiar with his name due to his status as 1st Officer of Starfleet's only starship in the Delta Quadrant, the USS Voyager."

Drake took a deep breath before plunging, "Two weeks after Riker's contact with Chakotay, he went AWOL."

"See," Jellico grinned, "there's just something untrustworthy about a Riker."

"Including their father, the Ambassador-at-large?" Nechayev innocently asked.

Jellico's silence provided Drake with an opening to continue, "Tom Riker's last mission for the Maquis was nearly his first as well. Knowing that Starfleet Security would not have added sub-molecular scans in order to insure his identity as Will Riker, Tom infiltrated Deep Space 9, posing as Commander William Riker enjoying a much deserved shore leave. His true object was to steal the USS Defiant and penetrate deep inside Cardassian space to strike a hidden shipyard.

With DS9's CO Ben Sisko co-operating with Gul Dukat in Riker's pursuit, the shipyard was revealed to both Starfleet and the High Command. It belonged to the Obsidian Order and, as would soon be revealed, the ships produced there were intended for an attack upon the Founder's homeworld in the Gamma Quadrant. Surrounded by Cardassians on all sides, Riker was forced to surrender to Dukat. Sisko managed to convince Dukat to remove the usual death sentence for Riker's actions and have it reduced to hard labour. Despite Riker's misgivings he agreed after it was arranged his crew would face trial in Federation space."

"If he's supposed to be on a Cardassian labour planet, how is he Macen's 1st Officer?" Ross asked sceptically.

"Riker was freed from the labour camps less than a year after his arrival. His extraction seems to be the result of a rogue Tal Shiar operation headed up by Commander Sela. Riker had apparently befriended Sela's mentor, who had been held in the same camp as Riker. It seems in exchange for his friendship and for saving his life, the mentor wanted Riker set free. Rumours abound as to whether events unfolded according to the mentor's wishes but in the end, Riker was a free man." Drake answered without reservation, "Riker was not seen throughout the Dominion War but unverified reports have him smuggling in foodstuffs, medical supplies and weapons to local resistance cells on Dominion occupied Federation worlds. Wherever and however Macen contacted Riker, he immediately offered him the role of Executive Officer of the ship and team."

"Macen sounds like some mythical messianic character." Jellico groused, "Everyone that meets him takes up his phaser and follows him."

"Not in the case of the next individual." Drake advised, "Radil Jenrya is the other recent addition to the team after being recruited by Rab Daggit in the course of a mission."

The imagery displayed an intense looking Bajoran woman.. She wore her raven tresses in a plaited ponytail down her back . Her hazel eyes radiated a disturbing gleam that granted Radil the essence of the warrior poet of Bajoran myth. She wore the traditional earring of the faith of the Prophets in her right ear as well as sporting several tattoos on the exposed portions of her arms.

"Radil Jenrya was literally born into the Jerrien Resistance cell. When the cell needed capital to purchase weapons, Radil and several others were contracted out as mercenaries in order to acquire those funds. After the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor ended, most of the cell members accepted the Provisional Government's amnesty offer but many who'd been loaned out to other wars did not. Radil served in a number of campaigns across a dozen worlds. Her last contract as a mercenary was to the Orion Syndicate. It was there that Rab Daggit found her and… persuaded her to throw in with Macen's team. Since that time she has proven herself a redoubtable member of the group."

"My god!" Jellico exclaimed, "We're down to recruiting mercenaries now."

Drake ignored Jellico but worried about Ross' apparent discomfort considering who was next on the list, "Next comes the operational systems specialist, T'Kir."

The viewer first displayed a young Vulcan woman with a wild glaze to her eyes. This image shifted to a portrait of a contrasting individual. The frayed, flyaway raven hair had shifted to her current just below the jaw touseled coif that flipped outwards at the end. Her vivid blue eyes now sparkled with intelligence and impish humour instead of lunacy.

"T'Kir was born to the Vulcan colony of Shial located in the DMZ. The colony was founded by a group of Vulcan security agents who lived amongst Romulan defectors. After the destruction of the colony and the death of her family, T'Kir joined the Maquis cell under Ro Laren's command."

"And met Macen of course." Jellico remarked snidely.

Drake ignored him, "Shortly after joining the Maquis, T'Kir began displaying mental instabilities. Macen was one of the few willing to work closely with her and they became partners."

"They are lovers then?" Marrine inquired.

"No." Drake clarified, "Macen was involved with another woman when he and T'Kir met. They became the closest of friends instead. It's been observed that she's the closest thing he has to a family in the Alpha Quadrant, or any other quadrant for that matter. Following the Jem'Hadar purge of the DMZ, T'Kir underwent a total breakdown resulting in a psychotic episode in which she tried to kill Macen. Macen remanded her over to Federation authorities for psychiatric treatment.

Upon receiving the Gulag assignment, Macen decided he needed an Ops officer he could trust implicitly and broke T'Kir out of the Andes Institute. Doing his own research, he discovered that the Vulcans withheld vital information regarding treatments for her condition. T'Kir suffers from an acute condition stemming from an overdeveloped telepathic endowment. This ability can be curbed to manageable levels with a combination of herbal therapies bolstered by mind-melds. Since Macen is empathic by nature, he provides his services as her telepathic focus."

Ross squirmed uncomfortably, "I'm happy to hear the young lady is healthier but does that justify her continuing presence on the team?"

Drake gave him a thin smile, "For starters, Macen would quit if you forced her off the team and secondly, she the best damn cyberengineer anyone has ever seen. She can reprogram a starship in just under an hour to sit up and bark while taking you through a slingshot manoeuvre around the sun and there isn't a blessed thing anyone could do about it."

"No one's that good." Jellico refuted.

"You haven't seen this woman's work. She underwent a three-month crash course to prepare her for the SID. One day between classes she idly reprogrammed the Academy's computers to give everyone top scores and locked the computer out." Drake informed him with a humourless laugh, "It had to be replaced. Some of our best engineers are still trying to unlock that system."

"And you're allowing this woman access to Starfleet systems?" Marrine demanded with a note of panic.

"We couldn't deny her access if we wanted to." Drake replied in resignation, "We might as well 'grant' it to her."

"The final member of the team is their medical specialist, Kort." A typical blustering image of a Klingon appeared on the screen, but the eyes held a haunted quality; "The doctor was recruited after his banishment from the Empire and has proved an invaluable asset to the team."

"He was banished from the Klingon Empire?" Marrine asked, "That is extremely difficult. Can you expand on his crimes?"

"Kort was a member of the Chancellor's House Staff under Gowron.. Specifically, he was assigned to the stables to mind over Gowron's pet targs."

"The man's a vet and you have him looking after a covert ops team?" Jellico barely restrained his pique.

"Kort is a battlefield surgeon, which in Klingon culture means he is a warrior and a doctor." Drake fired back with equally restrained intensity, "Kort's original crime was achieving notoriety in the field. Gowron's punishment, disguised as a reward, was to take Kort into his House. Humiliated, Kort swiftly began drowning his sorrows in bloodwine. When Kort was finally called for an actual emergency, he was so drunk he couldn't treat them. Gowron had gone out with his pets to hunt game. Wild targs ambushed Gowron's and they were mortally wounded. Kort passed out while performing surgery and they died. Gowron stripped Kort of all honours and of a name in the Empire. His previous deeds were known to Starfleet Intelligence and an approach was made as soon as Kort crossed the Federation border. Now his only concern is about redeeming his name and serving his comrades' needs."

"I still don't see why we should approve assigning this team to the mission." Jellico proclaimed defensively, "What do they have to offer that the other SID teams lack?"

"They have a commander who has over four hundred years of experience. This experience includes dealing with the Borg, the Cardassians, and the Jem'Hadar. Macen possesses the discretion necessary to maintain the secrecy established by the Sanctuary Protocols. Finally, Macen and his team bring the right blend of skills necessary for the job in addition to an unbroken success record." Drake replied answered with conviction, "And if that isn't enough, there is another factor. Macen's team once had one other member. This woman was a Trill serving in Starfleet. The previous host of the Trill symbiont had known Macen as well and a relationship quickly formed. Volunteering to accompany Macen on his mission to infiltrate the Maquis, she became Macen's aforementioned lover. After the war, she was reunited with Macen for the Gulag mission but left the team, and Starfleet, upon its completion."

"How exactly does this pertain to the matter at hand?" Ross asked in bewilderment.

"Lisea Danan joined the Daystrom Institute upon leaving Starfleet." Drake answered while enjoying Nechayev's smirk; "She was aboard the Daystrom vessel as it came under fire. Presumably, if the crew is still alive, she is to. Although she and Macen are no longer lovers, they are friends, and Macen will move heaven and hell to help a friend."

"This mission is about far more than rescuing one hostage." Jellico sternly reminded her.

"Yes, sir. This mission is primarily about assessing the threat and capabilities of the Nova Romans. Secondly, if the hazard is considered imminent and considerable, neutralising the Roman peril to the Federation is the next goal. The final objective, if permissible, is to rescue any an all Federation citizens held prisoner by the Nova Romans." Drake summarised for the admirals, "This team is has, if not more, professional than any mainline service unit. The mission will be pursued as devised without interpretation or deviation. This ends my mission proposal. It's now up to a vote."

Nechayev and Ross immediately voted for Drake's proposed action plan. Jellico voted against almost as swiftly. Marrine hovered for several moments while reviewing pieces of the briefing on her tabletop terminal. Finally the moment of decision came and she voted in the affirmative.

Although disgruntled, Jellico tried to impartially move to the next set of questions; "So what kind of equipment does this team have? What do they employ as their mode of transportation?"

"The SPYards supplied a prototype Ju'day-class scoutship to Macen's possession." Drake answered with incorrigible mirth, "In fact, as stipulated in Macen's contract, the ship is now legally his property."

 

Chapter 3

"His contract says what?!!" Jellico shouted as he bolted upright from his chair and began marching around the table towards Drake, "You gave these lunatics a starship?"

"Careful Eddie." Nechayev warned from her seat.

Jellico nearly reached Drake. His imposing frame towering over her. His anger-fuelled intensity bestowed a primeval quality upon his darkened visage. He reached for her arm as he started to speak.

"How dare you hand away Starfleet property… yurk!" Jellico's tirade ended as Drake sidestepped his arm while throwing her arm around his, placing her elbow in his nose. Simultaneously, her leg swept his own out from underneath him. Jellico came crashing down without serious injury his pride would be bruised for some time.

Nechayev broke the silence by breaking into raucous laughter, "I warned you Eddie, she's a tiger."

As Nechayev wiped away her tears, Jellico painfully rose to his feet, "You and your damned protégés. They're a menace."

"At least it wasn't Mackenzie Calhoun this time. You'd still unconscious if it had been" Nechayev sniggered, "You shouldn't feel too bad though. Amanda there served in Starfleet Special Operation for twenty years before coming under my desk."

Jellico re-appraised Drake with newfound respect as he retook his seat and she resumed speaking, "Macen needs a ship in order to have freedom of movement while on assignment. He needs ownership of the vessel in order to prove his credibility if someone checks his credentials. While the vessel is clearly of Federation origin, there are no means of tracing it back to Starfleet since the vessel also is a civilian variant of a Starfleet scoutcraft decommissioned fifty years ago. The Eclipse is a prototype built upon a civilian platform of the Peregrine-class ."

Jellico sighed as Marrine nodded, "It seems the basic requirements of the mission are met. I would like a more precise accounting of the vessel if it is available."

Drake nodded, "It'll be in your secure in box in the morning."

"That only leaves one unanswered matter." Marrine warned, "When can the team be underway?"

Drake smiled in relief, having expected a trick question; "Macen and T'Kir are returning from a recently completed mission in the DMZ and the Badlands. The rest of the team just picked up their new ship at Deep Space 9. The team should reunite around the same time we could transmit the mission details and parameters. After that, it's merely a matter of making sure that ship and crew are ready before departing."

Marrine turned and held Nechayev and Ross' gaze for several seconds before returning her focus on Drake, "Then we should transmit those orders as swiftly as possible."

Macen decided he hated runabouts like he'd never hated anything before. Well, excluding the Borg, he amended. But if the pain in his arse and back didn't let up soon, he was about to check if his chair had been assimilated at during some past Starfleet encounter with the Collective. It could, after all, be some holdover Trojan horse weapon designed to weaken the Federation's defences through relentlessly tormenting those that sat in it.

"Oh, for Element's sake!" T'Kir huffed, "It's just a chair. It's also a helluva lot more comfortable than any seat we had aboard those rustbuckets we flew in the Maquis."

T'Kir's reprimand amused him. A year ago, he'd been the one doing the bulk of the chastising. While their frequent mind-melding sessions had drawn them closer together on levels stemming even beyond their years of shared experience, it was her own maturation that made it possible. She'd reclaimed herself and her status as anyone's equal with a ferocity that would frightened most.

He studied her as she studied the helm. She'd tucked her recently lightened hair behind her delicately curved ears, granting him an unobstructed view. Her face was a blend of contrasts. Dark brows framed vibrant blue eyes. Her rounded nose balanced by strong cheekbones, bee-stung lips and an angular jaw. By any definition of the word, T'Kir was a beauty.

Her eye flickered in his direction and she looked up at him, "What?"

"Nothing." Macen grinned, "Just observing."

"I thought El-Aurians were supposed to be listeners, not observers." T'Kir quipped.

"You're the one with the ears." Macen replied in kind, "I merely make do as best I can."

"You're a shiznit sometimes, y'know that?" T'Kir retorted.

"I try." Macen smirked, "I really do."

"It's a good thing I love you," T'Kir sighed, "otherwise I'd have to kill you."

That sobered him a bit. Although she'd undergone an epiphany of sorts during the Andergani mission, T'Kir was still completely unpredictable at times. Part of her newfound realisation seemed to revolve around their relationship but he was uncertain as to what conclusion she'd drawn. T'Kir rarely held anything back from him and the mere fact that she clung to this secret made him respect her privacy all the more.

Macen drifted up from his thoughts as he heard T'Kir contacting Barrinor System Control, "Barrinor Control, this is the SS Corsair, please advise we are starting an inner system approach and are requesting transit information."

Barrinor sat on the edge of both Federation space and the DMZ. Founded during the same wave of colonisation that seeded most of the Federation, and former Federation, colonies in the area, Barrinor retained strong ties to both without being mired in the conflicts of either. Having never joined the Federation, Barrinor avoided being bartered away in the negotiations creating the DMZ. Both its government and citizens had been ardent supporters of the Maquis as well as the strongest advocates for a negotiated peace.

During the Dominion War, Barrinor founded a defensive alliance with other nearby colonies threatened by the Jem'Hadar forces. Named after the Soummi Sector that their worlds resided within, the Soummi League repulsed several minor invasion attempts. Nestled between the Black and Argolis Clusters, the Soummi Sector was swiftly encircled in the Dominion's initial breakout following the war's launch. The Founder and her Vortas were content to isolate the colonies and await their surrender.

The League threw their efforts into breaking the blockade in order to acquire needed supplies. For every triumph over the Cardassians guarding their borders, there were ten failures that fatally ended. Starfleet's drive to retake DS9 caused the Dominion to retreat and Barrinor and her allies were suddenly released from the shackles of Galor-class cruisers patrolling their star systems. The League's valiant determination and resistance must have made a mark on the Dominion. Despite the League's proximity to the Breen, they remained unmolested throughout the remaining course of the war.

Following the war, the League worlds began to prosper once again and Barrinor was transformed into the hub of the looseknit alliance. Diplomats and heads of state attended conferences once reserved for the leaders of military and police forces. Retaining its close ties with the Federation, the League received hundreds of colonists every year. Over half the combined population of the League worlds held dual citizenship in the League and the Federation. With travel restrictions between the League members lifted and the barest margin of restrictions placed on Federation visitors, the League worlds discovered the tourist industry.

They'd also discovered the lucrative nature of foreign investment in the infrastructure. All of these elements made the League, and especially Barrinor, the ideal place for Macen's team to establish an operations centre at. Outbound Ventures, Inc purchased an extension off Barrinor's primary spaceport and constructed an office headquarters next to the ship hangars. The team took up private residences in the adjacent capital city of Morgian and were able to pursue private lives outside of the team and its missions. Barrinor's government welcomed the newcomers with open arms and gave them license to operate within League borders as well.

"Welcome home Corsair, your transit data is being transmitted. Be advised, atmospheric conditions over Morgian are less than pristine." The controller informed them.

Macen shrugged at T'Kir, who merely shook her head. Barrinor orbited its primary further out than Earth from Sol. Although squarely within the habitable ranges for most humanoids, it was out of the comfort zone for someone whose race developed on a desert world. As an El-Aurian, Macen enjoyed the cool, damp environment but T'Kir bitterly cursed the frequent rains and occasional snows.

"Frinx." T'Kir cursed, "Its raining over the whole subcontinent."

"Sorry." Macen said, at a loss for anything meaningful.

"Don't patronise me bucko." T'Kir snipped, "Or you'll be sleeping on the couch tonight."

"Haven't you forgotten something?" Macen inquired smartly; "I own that house, not you."

"I don't think so." She said huffily, "You promised a place by your side. If you want things to stay that way, and don't want to wake up castrated, you'll listen when I tell you you're in the sehlat pen."

"You're in a mood." Macen's tone softened, "What's really bothering you?"

T'Kir sighed, "I'm tired and sore. I don't want to get rained on but most of all, I don't see why we have to go back to working with the others."

Macen nodded then smiled, "You've always played the loner who needs a crowd."

"That's always been weird to me." T'Kir revealed.

"Does it bother you?" he quietly asked.

"Sometimes." She admitted, " People used to terrify me because of what may be in their minds but at the same time I couldn't stand being alone with my own thoughts anymore. Your brainpan was the only that resisted me. I've been in your mind dozens of times and know how you think and feel but I've also hit walls I haven't even dented. That disturbs me."

His expression grew puzzled, "Why?"

"C'mon, we've known each other for years, gone through hell and back, and

I still can't completely read your mind?" T'Kir argued, "This little band of spies you've put together is about as conflicted as a Ferengi at a charity auction. How can I back your plays unless I know what's going on in that thick skull of yours?"

Macen gave her an enigmatic grin, "The same way everyone else does, through trust."

"Trust?" she asked in disbelief.

"Trust." He affirmed, "Stronger than gravity, makes the galaxy go `round."

"And people think I'm nuts." T'Kir muttered under her breath.

"Up and at `em people." Rab Daggit urged the group lounging about in the recreation centre attached to the back of the Outbound Venture's hangar, "The Corsair's in-bound and that means the Captain and T'Kir are coming home."

"About time." Grace commented between dart throws, "I could use some competition."

Her opponent, Tom Riker, looked both amused and insulted, "I think I've done all right."

"Really?" she asked with a bemused smirk.

"Yes." Defensiveness crept into his voice, "Really."

"If you say so." Grace replied as she retrieved the darts from the board. Returning to the throwing mark, she threw all six darts in rapid succession while facing Riker and never looking at the board. She placed six for six in the bullseye. Riker's jaw hung agape.

"That's who the only people who regularly play her are Daggit and T'Kir." Radil laughed, "The rest of us are merely bar tab fodder."

Kort bristled as he rose from the couch adjacent to hers; "This is untrue. I too have tested my mettle against her and come out victorious. She refuses my challenges now."

"It's better than listening to your drunken boasting and advances." Grace muttered with a shiver.

"He's a frinxing male, girl." Radil soothed, "And a Klingon to boot. He can't help it if his genitals control his higher brain functions."

Kort growled in reply as the women laughed. Riker's jaw tightened as he tugged at his jacket, "Okay folks, fun time's over. We've had it easy for the last few weeks but lets try and remember that we actually work for a living."

"Too bad." Radil rejoined, "I rather like living like a Terran."

Riker didn't comment. He'd swiftly come to terms with Radil's prejudices concerning most Earth-born and dwelling humans. She felt they sat at the hub of UFP politics and grew rich as the other member worlds presented spoils. It was a radical view and Riker could understand her feelings without endorsing them. He'd seen enough of the elements underlying such opinions to know where they derived from.

"Thank you for your regularly scheduled bout of human bashing." Riker replied with a disarming grin, "But this concludes your broadcast day. Let's all get topside so we can show the Captain his new ship."

The hearty response he received in reply heartened Riker. Although Radil emoted with an equal amount of conviction, something else lingered in her eyes as she passed by him on her way up to the shuttle pad. Hunger filled her eyes. He couldn't be certain what that hunger craved; only that it was barely suppressed.

Great, just great. Riker bemoaned mentally, I hope she's not about to go psycho.

The Outbound Ventures' hangar facility was located underground. Access was gained when the descending craft touched down on a lift elevator pad. The pad would lower into the underground complex while the entrance was sealed by space station grade doors. The hangar facility could accommodate two runabouts or shuttles and one larger vessel with a maximum length of 150 metres. Coming in at 90 metres, the Eclipse comfortably fit within the hangar's confines.

The Corsair's pad had just settled on the floor and the runabout's final landing cycle had just concluded. The forward hatch opened, allowing Macen and T'Kir to disembark with all their gear. The entrance leading to the recreation area and business offices opened and the SID team surged forward. Their collective eagerness warned Macen that something was afoot.

"They either accidentally blew up a planet and want to put us in a good mood or the repairs went poorly and the Eclipse is laying around the hangar in pieces." Macen murmured to T'Kir.

She elbowed him in the ribs, "They seem genuinely happy. Tom's a little nervous about something but I can't pick it what from here."

"I guess we'll find out." He sighed in resignation.

Daggit was the first to reach them, "How'd it go, sir? Still in one piece I see."

Macen smirked, "There were moments but managed somehow."

"It was a lot easier without the rest of you getting in the way." T'Kir teased.

Daggit stiffened but Grace pushed past him to enfold T'Kir in a tight hug, "Shut up you brat. You know you love us as much as we love you."

"Speak for yourself." Kort boomed as he joined the rest, "I merely tolerate all of you."

"Oh, c'mon," T'Kir wheedled, "where's the love?"

"He saves that for himself." Radil remarked dryly as she stepped up, "Late at night in the sonic shower, Kort's all about the love."

Kort's cheeks turned purple as the rest of his teammates laughed. Riker broke the moment, and Kort's humiliation, with a flourishing sweep of arm towards the entrance to the adjacent hangar, "Come milord and milady, your command awaits inspection."

Lisea Danan sat miserably in her cell. When Syrik had proposed flying so close to the 492 Quarantine Zone, she'd never considered the possibility of the Nova Romans attacking the vessel. Lisea herself had never been privy to knowledge of 492 IV's existence or details surrounding the quarantine but Danan's previous host had. As the current host, Lisea mentally cursed herself for not recognising what the symbiot's half of their mind had tried to warn her of as the legionnaires boarded the ill-fated SS Countess.

Her inner reflections ceased as she heard heavy clad footsteps approaching. The Romans still preferred physical barriers to forcefields, so she had to wait until the cell door opened to view her visitor.

The door swung on its hinge to reveal a large man with fair hair and a ruddy complexion. Like all the Romans she'd seen since her capture, this one wore a breastplate made of a combination of duranium and ceramics. He wore a long sleeve burgundy tunic and black gloves. He wore pants of the same colour and black calf-high boots. The boots, as well as his elbows and knees, had duranium guards shielding them.

The still unnamed Roman wore a brown utility belt that carried a particle weapon of some form in a pouch on his left hip. A silver dagger hung from the right side while various pockets with unknown contents bulged from all around. Strapped to his back was a traditional Roman thrusting sword. Danan guessed it to be ceremonial yet a nagging voice kept reminding her that every trooper who'd herded her fellow scientists away to these pocket corners of Hell had worn one as well.

It was his face that surprised her the most. Most of the Romans she'd encountered thus far were stoically aloof. Their emotional armour encasing them more absolutely than their physical armour was capable. She wondered what sort of training or discipline was demanded of these men to demand such a sacrifice.

Her visitor, however, wore an open expression of concern. This alone was startling but even more so that it seemed focused on her. This wasn't the only thing that set the officer apart. Whereas most of the Roman soldiers were swarthy, short and stocky, the officer standing before Lisea was tall, broad shouldered, possessed fair skin, hair and beard, and was thickly muscled. She wondered what produced these differences and what role they would play in the next few minutes.

"You are Starfleet?" he asked in thickly accented Federation Standard.

"No." She replied in English, grateful that previous hosts had also endured Starfleet's mandate that Academy cadets learn the Federation's primary trade and diplomatic language.

"What are you doing here then?" he asked. Lisea heard, "Vot are you doingg here?"

"We were surveying regional phenomena." She admitted truthfully, "No one else on my vessel knew of your peoples' existence."

"Why is this?" he asked in genuine surprise.

"After Starfleet's first encounter with you, the government decided it would be better to forgo contact. In order to ensure that your privacy was insured, they never told the civilians or officers they governed."

A glimmer of understanding lit up the legionnaire's eyes, "Ja, this is a common story on my world as well."

Danan could almost identify the origin of the soldier's accent. She knew she'd heard something similar in her travels across Earth during her various lifetimes. Of course, over twenty-five hundred years as well as thousands of light years separated the original Earth language and its Nova Roman cousin. There were other, subtler differences between her mysterious visitor and the other legionnaires she'd encountered.

"You're not Roman are you?" seeing the strangely horrified expression on his face, Danan scrambled to smooth over her apparent faux pas, "I mean, it's obvious that you wear the same uniform and perform the same duties, but you're possess different physical characteristics and speak with an accent."

The Roman grinned, "You noticed those differences between me and my legionnaires with the minimum exposure you've had with the crew of this galleon?"

Danan nodded defiantly, causing the Roman to laugh; "Minerva bless you, but I like your spirit already. I'll reward you courage and insight with some answers then."

He bowed without ever removing his eyes from her, "Let me introduce myself, I am Alaric Vandalius, of Germania; Admiral of the Emperor's 1st Star Legion. I have captured you and your fellows for violating the sovereign territory of Magna Roma. You and those captured with you will be returned to the Imperial capital. Once there, the Emperor will have his choice of captives to take as household slaves. The rest will be sorted. Those fit for work will be purchased and taken by their masters to the factories and fields." Alaric's words and been delivered as icily as his blue eyes had become, "Those that cannot work will serve in the games."

"The games?" Danan asked, horrible memories of Kirk's report drifting up from her dual subconscious.

"The gladiatorial arena." Vandalius clarified matter of factly, "Most aliens are sent directly there upon capture. Your decision to face my vessels impressed me, and more importantly, the Emperor. His decision to spare most of your people is based upon his desire to meet you."

"I'm happy to be appreciated." Danan replied half-heartedly.

"You should be." Vandalius assured her, "For Aurelius Romulus now holds your life, and the lives of your crew, in the palm of his hand. You cannot afford to upset him so I would concentrate on learning some manners and appreciation before meeting him."

With that said, Vandalius tapped on the door and exited upon its opening. Danan was left alone in stunned silence as she and her fellow scientists sped ever close to their potential deaths. This time, unlike so many that had come before, Danan saw no hope of rescue or escape. Even if anyone in the Federation realised they were missing, no one knew their captors existed.

 

Chapter 4

The door leading to the second hangar section slid aside, allowing Macen a glimpse of his ship. Occupying the bulk of the cavernous space, resting on landing struts, sat a Ju'day-class scoutship. During its prime, the raptor-like vessel had been an uncontested favourite amongst civilian prospectors, smugglers, and surveyors. That day had faded thirty years before and only the Maquis' desperation had brought the class back into the limelight. Ingenuity laced with fatalism patched the ageing vessels back together and sent them forth against impossible odds. The Eclipse sat before them as a proud bearer of a distinguished, if occasionally, tarnished record of service.

"Where's Dracas?" Macen asked, "Is she ready for boarding?"

"As of yesterday." Riker assured him. Tapping one of the nondescript octangular comm badges the team wore, Riker opened a channel to Dracas, "Chief, you ready to transport?"

"Whenever." Dracas' gruff voice replied.

"Lock on and take us aboard then." Riker ordered and felt his body begin to transform into energy seconds later.

Amanda Drake slid into her desk chair with a sigh of relief. Other than Alynna Nechayev, Drake usually found superior officers to be nerve wracking. Jellico held a classification all his own. Drake had never encountered a more arrogant tight-ass in the Admiralty before. Owen Paris may occasionally develop a god complex but at least he always remained approachable.

Nechayev, the dreaded "Ice Queen" of Starfleet, had taken Drake under her wing back when Amanda was a Lieutenant serving as Ship's Archivist aboard the USS Icarus. By that point, the role was a thinly veiled euphemism for Intelligence Officer. She transferred off the Cheyenne-class scout directly to Admiral Nechayev's Sector Command HQ located at Starbase 325. Nechayev soon began grooming the talents Drake hid behind a shield of shyness and moulded her into the woman who might well replace her one-day.

As Drake reflected on these and other matters, her doorbell chimed. Ambril Delori knew how tired Amanda was, if her assistant was willing to let someone past her, then her visitor was damn well important. Marshalling her resolve, she ordered the door to admit her waiting caller. Nechayev's rigidly upright frame entered the office with a measured stride, catching Drake by surprise with this unannounced personal appearance.

Drake attempted to hide how flustered she felt as she rose from her chair, "Admiral, I wasn't expecting you."

"Sit down Amanda." Nechayev gently urged.

Nechayev's new demeanour stunned Drake. Alynna had never been anything other than pushy, critical, devious, glacial and arrogant in Drake's experience, and those were the nice traits. As Nechayev sat down in the chair across the desk from hers, Amanda noticed something she'd never spotted before: Nechayev was exhausted. Not simply mentally, physically or emotionally tired but suffering from a weariness that ate at the core of her being.

"Admiral, is there anything I can get you?" Drake asked, unused to Nechayev's unabashed display of mortality.

Alynna chuckled, "Had a few illusions undermined, eh?"

"Yes… no!" Drake blurted, "I was just wondering if there was something your doctor could do?"

"There's no medicine or surgery for a guilty conscious." Nechayev replied with a bitter smile, " I suppose I just felt a need to warn you of that seeing as what department I put you in command of. You'll be swimming amongst controversy and second guesses. Your only hope for survival, for sanity, is that once you've made a decision, go with it and never question it. If it turns out to the wrong decision or not the best one, learn but don't doubts consume."

Drake appreciated the heartfelt intensity of the older woman's words, but wonder as to their necessity, Nechayev gave her another brittle smile, "Amanda, you've been given oversight and responsibility of the most secret branch of Starfleet. On top of this, half of your operatives operate off the agricultural colony. Generally neither Starfleet Command nor the Federation Defence Ministers have a clue as to the nature of your division's current and ongoing operations. Basically, I've thrown you out on a razor thin wire and can't do much if you slip and fall."

"That certainly made my day." Drake frowned.

"I wish I could have." Nechayev confessed, "I just thought it would be prudent to remind you of what's all at stake."

"Because of 492 IV?" Drake asked, searching out Nechayev's eyes.

"Yes." Nechayev answered tersely but honestly, "This is a problem that's been left around to phaser blast our rear deflector for far too long. No matter what happens next, it will change the fate of two quadrants."

"So, is she all fixed?" Macen asked while gently tapping a bulkhead in Dracas' domain: Engineering.

"Not only are all the damage and overloads repaired but I also took some time to modify some of the balkier parts of the integrated systems." Dracas came as close to a smile as he ever did; "She should run smoother than the day we got her."

Macen nodded in appreciation of that assessment. What made the venerable looking Eclipse unique amongst her fellow raiders is that although she appeared to date back to the earliest decades of this century, she had been built over the last year and incorporated some of the latest technology. Besides the usual complement of phaser and photon torpedo arrays, the Eclipse possessed enhanced shields; phaser pulse cannons mounted in her wingtips, a sensor system and countermeasure suite second to none and a Class 4 cloaking device. Unfortunately, not all of the systems had fluidly integrated upon leaving drydock and the ship had been plagued with minor mechanical difficulties for months.

Macen clapped Dracas on the shoulder, "I knew if anyone could get this bucket of bolts running smoothly, It'd be you Chief."

Dracas gave Macen another half-smile but his eyes glowed from triumph, "Thank you, Cap… Commander." Dracas shook his head, "Sorry, I'm still getting used to the whole title thing."

"Don't mention it." Riker grinned, "I'm still getting used to being called 'Captain'," Riker's grin grew wider, "but I really enjoy it."

Reviewing his history as a starship commander, Macen had been forced to admit a blind, deaf, and retarded mugato could've done better. Looking for another person to serve as the ship's captain, he started with those he knew. Ro Laren had finally settled into her new life on DS9 and Macen didn't want to tear her away from her newfound family there. After that, a very short list was soon exhausted. That was when Macen went looking Tom Riker. Riker had been incredulous at first but once convinced of the offer's authenticity, he'd readily accepted.

The nature of their respective roles was simple. As Mission Commander, Macen was responsible for the overall considerations for the mission, spaceborne and terrestrial. As Captain, Riker was responsible for the Eclipse's daily operations and her crew. Although Macen outranked Riker, he intended to essentially leave all starship operations up to Tom. This contributed to the need to recruit additional members of the crew that would not be part of the Investigative Team.

Macen's reunion with his ship was suddenly interrupted by a request from Outbound Venture's Business Manager to relieve her of the four candidates waiting to be interviewed for positions as ship's crew. Riker had approached thirteen souls with Macen's offer. Riker himself was surprised that as many as four showed up.

Macen and Riker proceeded to the above ground facility that served as Outbound Ventures' Corporate HQ. This public face of the company remained the personal fiefdom of Christine Pike. Pike was a former member of Amanda Drake's staff and a relentlessly methodical office manager. Taking a leave of absence from Starfleet to become the SID's liaison with their most prodigal progeny, Pike handled the daily affairs and contract negotiations while also acting as the team's handler.

Thus far, Pike had found her job to be as pleasurable as a disrupter wound. Macen and his bunch were too damned unpredictable for her taste. Macen's latest decision annoyed her most of all. Tom Riker came aboard the Outbound Ventures payroll as ship's captain. Macen had made this decision based upon his mounting tally of ship losses. No matter what his motive was, Pike fumed; a divided chain of command always amounted to a recipe for disaster.

Pike's mental rant was interrupted as the comm screen on her desk warned of an incoming message from Starfleet Command. The screen activated to reveal Amanda Drake herself wearing a grim expression.

"Can we talk?" Drake asked.

"No one is in the building and the anti-surveillance devices are active." Pike answered gravely, "No one is listening."

"Good." Drake's expression lightened up minutely, "Now listen, I have quite a bit of information that must be passed on to Commander Macen. You must stress to him the sensitivity of this information and that he should he regard it as 'Eyes Only' materials."

Drake's eyes bored in through the screen, "That means you as well Christine. If you view this information without authorisation from either myself or Admiral Nechayev, you'll be facing a lengthy stay on Jaros II. I am making myself understood?"

"Yes, ma'am." Pike replied out of shock and ingrained habit.

"Good." Drake sighed, "Be ready to receive transmission in 30 seconds."

Pike activated the necessary systems and inputted the necessary commands, upon completion she looked back at the comm screen; "May I ask a question, ma'am?"

Drake nodded and Pike posed her query, "If I hadn't agreed to your restrictions, what consequences would there have been?"

Pike could see the icy detachment in Drake's expression; "I have a courier ship standing by to deliver the data to Commander Macen and to drop off your replacement."

Pike's mocha skin paled upon hearing that; "Macen has job interviews scheduled for this afternoon. On top of that, he and T'Kir just returned from a mission. How am I going to get him to divert his attention to this data? Pike asked in a resigned tone, "He has to be the most stubborn man in the galaxy."

"I'll agree with you there." Drake confided, "I haven't known anyone so hell bent on his own destruction since my ex-husband."

"You were married?" Pike blurted before she had time to regret wondering it

Drake's cheeks flushed pink, "Yes, Lieutenant, I was once married, we went our separate ways and its all said and done now."

Pike knew by Drake's "mistake" of using a rank below her actual grade that was warning her subordinate to mind her curiosity and her tongue., "The matter is completely forgotten."

"Good." Drake grumbled, paused, then shrugged her shoulders; "Tell Macen the data involves one phrase."

"What phrase is that?"

"The Beagle is barking."

Drake's transmission ended before Pike could question her about the origin of the unfamiliar phrase. Of course beagles barked. That was no secret. She sat down in her chair and waited Macen and Riker to arrive. Strange things are unfolding here. Drake thought, And to call something strange amongst this group is really saying something.

The lift door connecting the underground chambers to the office opened with a whoosh. Macen shook his head as he and Riker stepped out of the lift.

"What?" a puzzled Riker inquired.

"Nothing." Macen sighed, "You'd just think that being this far out would allow oneself to escape from those doors and the damn sound they make. '

"What sound?" if anything, Riker was more confused now.

"That hissing sound that every automatic door in the Federation makes." Macen explained, ranted really, "You're so culturally programmed to ignore their noise. It doesn't even register on your conscious perception. Your unconscious, however, knows. It knows and it's rebelling. That type of door is going to be the end of the Federation as billions upon billions of sentients rise up and smash their doors. After that release of pent up hostility, they'll destroy every piece of technology around them."

Riker merely stared at Macen in mute silence, after several moments he finally got over his shock enough to speak; "So, they're a bit of a pet peeve?"

"I swear those things were built by a mad genius trying to take over the Federation." Macen muttered, "I did some research on it before the 1st Cardassian War. I never tracked down the culprit responsible for the original plans and test model but I did discover the facility also housed a genetics lab on the opposite side of the station. Two genetically altered and enhanced mice escaped from their cages mere days before the blueprints were mysteriously turned in by a janitor to the Head Engineer and purchased for an undisclosed sum. Afterwards, the janitor and the mice were never seen again."

"You can't be serious." Riker chuckled, then stopped upon seeing Macen's expression; "You can't be serious. That's insane."

"Not any more insane then dealing with some of the beings and situations we encounter every day. And they're blindly accepted as 'sane'." Macen retorted sharply,

"We tolerate despotic rulers butchering their subjects to reduce the population in years grain shortages. We stand by as two civilisations try to wipe each other out over un-winnable disputes over whose gods are more powerful. We sit back and shake our heads as more powerful forces blockade a planet and then enslave it as the defenders collapse from exhaustion as their pleas for assistance fall on deaf ears. These are absurdities, not being irritated by the sound a door makes."

Riker's response consisted of a blank and measured stare. Macen's indictments struck far closer to home than he wanted to admit. He'd always devotedly believed in the Federation's credos until he found himself an anomaly amongst the average. His faith in the infallibility of the Federation had eroded and finally erased during his stint in a Cardassian labour camp.

"Still," Riker finally offered, "the concept of two mice and a janitor conspiring to take over Earth and then the Federation?"

"I never said two mice and a janitor." Mace n corrected, "I'm fairly certain the janitor was a mechanoid construction allowing the mice to pass as human."

Riker blinked in surprise, "So now we're down to two mice trying to take over the world?"

"Ask me about the Poolquens some time if you want a history lesson on small beings with grand ambitions." Macen suggested.

"Only if you join in our poker night gatherings." Riker counter-offered.

Macen nodded, "Sounds like a fair exchange."

"And bring latinum." Riker suggested with a devilish grin.

"Macen, Riker, about damn time you got here." Pike irritably interrupted.

"And a pleasant hello to you too." Macen replied mirthfully.

"Damn it sir, I don't have time for this." Pike fumed, "Admiral Drake contacted me about an assignment and downloaded 'eyes only' documents for you to examine immediately."

Macen's right eyebrow arched upward, "Really?"

"Please?" Pike implored.

Macen shrugged, "Are you aware of the fact that I've just returned from a three week mission?"

Pike nodded, "Admiral Drake told me to tell you one phrase if you were resistant."

Macen sighed, "And that would be?"

"The beagles are barking."

Macen's face in a mask of solemnity, "Do you mean 'The Beagle has barked'?"

Same thing really." Pike replied defensively, uncomfortable with the deadly seriousness that Macen was studying her with.

"You'd better be damned certain, Christine." Macen said in quiet steely tones, "It could change everything."

Rattled by his reaction and his rare use of her given name, she nodded; "She phrased it exactly the same way you did."

"Damn." Macen whispered vehemently, "Tom, you'll have to conduct the interviews alone. They'll primarily be under your watch anyway so it'll be a good chance for you to establish your authority."

Riker nodded again, "I'll get on it."

As the big man left Macen wheeled on Pike, "Is the data loaded into my office computer here or aboard the Eclipse?"

"I thought the Eclipse would afford you greater privacy." Pike explained.

Macen wore a wry grin while shaking his head, "Not while T'Kir's aboard."

The bridge module of the Eclipse had been changed while she was in drydock. Unbeknownst to Starfleet, the alien con artist named Darla would later use a nearly identical design in her Delta Flyer mock up in the Gamma Quadrant. The Command chair sat just forward of the rear bulkhead. On either side were access doors, one leading to the corridor beyond and the other to the Captain's Ready Room.

Sitting just forward of the viewscreen were two stations. Two the Captain's left sat the helm. The right station contained the Ops controls. To the captain's right lay the Tactical station. Next to Tactical lay Engineering. Immediately to the Captain's left lay the Mission Specialist Station that was Macen's domain. Forward of his station lay the Science station.

T'Kir was at her post modifying the controls and program pathways to her taste. She heard the access door open and recognised Grace's stride as she approached. Having already glanced over Hannah's board, she new the team's chief pilot had already customised her board. If she knew Hannah, and the woman was her best friend, then she could imagine how badly Grace was chomping at the bit to get out into space and test the Eclipse's mended wings.

T'Kir paused a moment before swivelling her chair to face Grace, "I heard you y'know."

Grace smiled, "Of course you did. I still suspect those ears of yours pick up more than you'll ever let on… except maybe to a certain Brin Macen."

T'Kir started, "What'd make you think that?"

"Oh, come on!" Grace laughed, "I'm your best friend so I should be able to pick up if you're in love with someone."

Seeing T'Kir's shock at this, Grace tried to console her chum; "Hey, it's not that bad. When the rest of the crew starts noticing, then it's time to worry. And when Kort finally realises how you feel, then you know its either time to slap our beloved leader in the face or get the hell outta Dodge."

"Elements!" T'Kir breathed, "Can you imagine a worse matchmaker? You know he'd try to shackle me and throw me at Brin's feet and sing some damned Klingon opera about honour, virtue, and taking your mate with animal strength and a warrior's prowess."

Grace giggled, "Wouldn't he just?"

T'Kir put her hand on Grace's knee, "Thanks for not saying anything to anyone. I have to find my own way to deal with this."

"Why not tell him how you feel?" Grace offered, "It's simple and direct."

"And it may ruin or existing relationship." T'Kir explained, "I don't want to jeopardise that for anything. Not even for…."

T'Kir's mind was suddenly assaulted with images of immense beings of incalculable power and logic. They came from another galaxy to the Milky Way. In order to survive their new environment; they'd been forced to utilise their technology to transform themselves into a native lifeform while keeping their core identity. The lifeform had been human colonists on a distant world.

"T'Kir!" Grace cried out in alarm as she jostled her friend, "Are you all right?"

T'Kir blinked a few times as Grace's features took shape, "I'm here. What happened?"

"You stopped talking." Grace informed her, "You just stared off at nothing for a minute-thirty. I'm calling Kort."

"No!" T'Kir grabbed Grace's arm, "All he'll find is that I'm exhausted. It was gruelling mission. Be glad you weren't along for the ride."

"I am now." Grace admitted, "At first I thought be a cosy opportunity for you and Macen to get to know each other a little more but I can see that chance wasn't any where near the same sector."

"Never once." T'Kir confirmed.

"You sure you're OK?" Grace inquired.

"If you have anything else you'd like to do, do it." T'Kir assured her, "I'm fine, really. I'll have the computer monitor me and if there's another whatever it'll alert Kort."

"You're sure?" Grace sceptically asked.

"Go already." T'Kir pushed Grace out of her station chair.

"I'll check on you later." Grace promised as she walked towards the access door, "And for god's sake, do something about Macen!"

T'Kir waited for the doors to open before turning around. She missed the steely glare thrown over Grace's shoulder. The expression on Hannah's bespoke death of death's arrival. As the doors closed behind her, she fervently prayed to the ancient gods that she wouldn't have to kill T'Kir.

Macen deactivated the monitor on his desk. Part of the information he'd perused he'd written himself as part of a long ago "theoretical contingency plan". He hadn't liked the conclusions drawn then and he liked them even less now. However, the best choice was to follow their mandates.

He flipped his comm screen on and linked to Pike, " Tell Amanda we'll accept the mission."

"Yessir." She replied crisply, "Any other messages?"

"Tell her to watch out for Alynna's advice." Macen grinned, "It could ruin her career."

"Sir?" Pike asked, confused by his message.

"Just tell her what I said, she'll understand the rest." With that he deactivated the comm. He reclined back into his chair and contemplated what lay before them. The Currents, or what he could still perceive of them, were twisted to and fro. Extrasensory perception would be of little use here, only guile and skill would get them through this.

He activated the intercom, "Chief? You still aboard?"

"I was about to pack it in." Dracas informed him, "What's up?"

"We need to prep for an immediate launch." Macen explained, "I'll get you some help and send them on over. How soon can we be aloft?"

"Depends on how much help I get." Dracas admitted, "She's pretty well prepped for immediate launch now. Worst case scenario would be ninety minutes, best case is thirty."

"I'll expect thirty then. Macen out." He deactivated the intercom before Dracas could reply.

Rising from his chair, Macen headed out into the corridor and headed for the turbolift. Once there, he headed past the brig and armoury. He reached his destination between the Eclipse's two primary cargo bays. He descended the ramp leading to the hangar's floor and headed straightaway for the corporate offices. It was time to hire Riker's interviewees and send them straightaway to work.

Riker stepped into the briefing room set aside for today's interviews and found only three of the four candidates waiting for him. A young Bajoran woman seemed vaguely disappointed that he wasn't someone else. Probably knows Macen, don't take it personally, Tom advised himself. A Bolian male of indeterminate age sat beside her. Their ease around each other suggested a previous history. The sullen human sitting away from the group vaguely reminded Tom of someone but he couldn't place who it was. That merely left the matter of the missing sentient. Heavy footsteps behind him made Tom turn around.

"Where do you think…" The realisation that he speaking into another beings chest stopped Riker cold. He possessed a rather impressive physique supplemented by an equally impressive stature. The grey skinned being standing before him made Riker appears small and harmless.

Ignoring the fact that the alien's exposed upper body rippled with more muscles than he dared think about, Riker stared the alien in the eye and demanded an explanation for his tardiness.

"I'm sorry." Came the surprisingly meek rumbling bass, "But a sentient's gotta go when a sentient's gotta go."

"It's all right this time." Riker asked, "Please take your seat, but if you don't mind me asking, who are you and where are you from? I've never seen anyone else like you."

"Probably never will since I'm a freak amongst my own kind." The giant ended everyone's guessing game when he continued, "Name's Bruis B'nner and I'm an Orion. I just don't look it `cus I'm an albino."

Bruis swept his gaze at everyone in the room as he picked up a duranium model of a Constitution-class ship and crushed it in one hand, "And I don't like to be teased about it."

 

Chapter 5

Macen looked forward to a reunion with the various applicants interviewing with Tom Riker. He'd met Sito Jaxa when Ro had recruited her into the Maquis. Her tale of abandonment by Starfleet had struck a resonant chord with her newfound compatriots. Macen had found her eking out a living serving aboard a tramp freighter. It had taken little persuasion to convince her to join up as a crewman aboard the Eclipse.

Sito herself had suggested another of the recruits. Nick Locarno had been her quad leader in Starfleet Academy. The fatal accident that had caused Sito to undergo an extra year at the Academy had also demanded Locarno's expulsion. That stigma prevented his enlistment during the height of the Dominion War. Macen found him operating a charter flight service out near Sigma Iotia. Like Sito, Locarno required no coaxing to hire on.

Emjin Thool was a longstanding associate dating back to Thool's days as Ro's chief engineer. He'd fought for the cause until the bitter end. Thool had retired on his native Bolia and never expected to see any of his former comrades again. Macen's message had brought both joy and trepidation. In the end, Thool accepted Macen's offer out of the sedate boredom of a Federation member world that was now totally alien to him.

Bruis B'nner was another matter unto himself. The grey skinned Orion was an anomaly amongst his green skinned race. Seeing the dim view Orions took to mutations, It was a wonder B'nner had survived to adulthood. Most Orion children born with birth defects were slain by the father, the few allowed to live generally perished at the hands of their peers.

B'nner possessed the same stolid physique as his fellow Orions. In fact, he was larger and far heavily muscled than the average "free trader". Macen had met B'nner in the early 60's while helping out a Starfleet Intelligence investigative unit. The Orion Syndicate clan on Sigma Draconis II had begun a territorial dispute in order to make a lunge at expanding their powerbase. B'nner had been a repair tech on the dilapidated K-series in orbit over Sigma Draconis.

Seizing on the opportunity, B'nner gladly handed over information leading to the clanlord's arrest. Placed under a Federation witness protection program, B'nner soon discovered it was difficult hiding an eight-foot tall, grey-skinned Orion weighing half a metric ton. Just like before his supposed "betrayal" of the Syndicate, Bruis soon faced the occasional assassin that he would swiftly dispatch with aplomb. His childhood having been far more terrifying than anything the Syndicate could throw at him, B'nner was content to stay a lowly technician at whatever spaceport or freighter that would hire him. It had taken a great deal of persuasion for Macen to get B'nner to even consider working for Outbound Ventures.

As Macen neared the briefing room Riker was conducting the interviews in; he began to hear Tom's sales pitch; "So in the course of daily events, you will report directly to me."

"But what about Captain Macen?" Thool asked.

"Haven't you been listening, Bolian?" B'nner rumbled, "Riker here is the ship's captain. Macen serves as an overseer of sorts."

"Ahem," Riker cleared his throat, "Bruis is correct about me being the captain of the Eclipse. Commander Macen is her owner and mission commander."

"Not to mention the guy that thumbs our pay credits." Locarno joked.

Riker chuckled, "Even I can't forget that one. Look, here's the simple breakdown; you folks are the relief crew. You're only ship's crew and not part of the investigative team. While hopefully your duties will be more interesting than if you were on a cargo runner. Personally, I can vouch for the fact my short time with the company has been the most exciting days of my life. That said, you aren't under any obligation to engage in activities extending beyond the hull of the ship."

"So how do we designate authority and why do you refer to Mr. Macen as 'Commander'?" Sito asked

"Only three people aboard hold titles. As Mission Commander, Macen earns a little respect. As captain, you'd better think of me as your new personal deity." Riker waited for the chuckles to die down before resuming; "Chief Dracas gets his for being head of engineering. If you think of me as your god, then Dracas is the devil that can destroy us all. Other than that, Rab Daggit is the Executive Officer but that doesn't really give him any onboard title."

"So it's a pretty informal set-up?" B'nner asked.

"Yep." Riker confirmed.

There was a stretch of silence that Riker finally ended, "So any last questions?"

Silence.

"All right then." Riker grinned, "Whose ready to sign aboard."

Everyone rose at once, giving Macen the opportunity to enter, "Hello folks. I can't tell you how pleased I am that you've agreed to become part of the family. And in case you're worried that you'll be the unwanted bastard stepchildren, you won't be. Being a member of the team means you're a member of the team. And just in time too. I've just accepted a new contract. I hope everyone came packed and prepared for lift-off."

He received a few stunned nods before he turned to Riker; "The others have been notified and are on their way here. I'll give you and the others a briefing once they're aboard and we're aloft"

"Very well." Riker nodded, then turned towards his recruits, "Get your personal effects and meet me here and then I'll take you to the Eclipse and get you stowed away."

Everyone was bustling about on the crowded bridge of the Eclipse. Grace and T'Kir were at their posts prepping for launch. Daggit sat at Tactical checking his systems. Radil sat at the Communications station beside him. Across the bridge, Sito sat at the normally vacant Science station while Locarno sat at Macen's locked down Mission Control station. B'nner was missing due to the fact none of the stations could accommodate him so he remained in Engineering. Thool chose to spend the launch near the warp reactors in order to get a feel for how they operated.

The Command chair sat against the rear bulkhead with data panels to either side of it. Access door A to the right and behind of the Conn led to the ship's central corridor. Access B on the opposite side led to the Captain's Ready Room. This was modelled after that of an Intrepid-class starship. Sitting alongside the Ready Room via the corridor sat Macen's office, which again followed the design set by the Intrepid-class' Executive Officer's Office.

The centre seat was unoccupied since Riker was conferring with Macen in the latter's office, "We're almost ready to lift, any destination in particular?"

Macen ignored Riker's joke, "Set course for Sigma 492 as soon as we clear the warp threshold."

"Sigma 492? Isn't that a quarantined system?" Riker asked with concern.

"As I said, I'll brief everyone after we get underway." Macen replied firmly, "Any other questions?"

"Now that you mention it," Riker said with a grin, "what's up with Radil?"

"In what way?"

"She looks different." Riker said.

"She looks the same as she did the day you signed on." Macen countered.

""Yes, but before that." Riker persisted, "She's Bajoran isn't she?"

"Yes." Macen conceded.

"Then why the alterations?" Riker inquired, "What did she have changed and why?"

"She removed a lot of scarring as well as her vestigial bone ridges." Macen informed, "Daggit's recruiting methods bordered on kidnapping. The Orion Syndicate took a dim view of her sudden disappearance. When our very next contract brought her into conflict with both her former employers and the mercenary team she'd served with, she opted for the surgery to remove all identifying marks. Now she'll get a few seconds warning as someone tries to figure out who she is." Macen grinned, "And if you want to know more, I suggest you ask her yourself. Why the sudden curiosity?"

"I saw a picture of the team from before I joined and both she and Chief Dracas looked very different."

"The Chief received physical alteration as part of his mental health therapy."

"What?" Riker went pale; "He's not disturbed is he?"

"No." Macen kept himself from laughing, "But he did hate himself at one time. Now the person that he saw in the mirror is gone and he can function."

"But why?"

"A few months before you signed on, Dracas was captured and held by pirates in the employ of the Andergani. His treatment at their hands was particularly vile and invasive. It took several weeks after that for the emotional damage to reveal itself. Hating himself for his inability to stop his tormentors, Dracas literally mentally froze every time he saw his reflection."

"In order to free him from a lifetime of institutionalisation, Dracas opted for a cosmetic makeover. His once nearly baldpate now has a thick shock of dark, greying hair. His once reedy physique is now medium-build and athletic. Even his vocal chords were altered to allow him to undergo a rebirth that freed him from his ailments."

Macen leaned forward over his desk, "Now this started with Radil. What sparked your curiosity?"

"She gave me a strange look earlier while you were landing." Riker explained.

Still not comprehending the magnitude of the supposed problem, Macen asked; "Strange how?"

"It was sort of a… it was hungry is all I can say." Riker struggled for words.

"Have you ever considered that she might be attracted to you?" Macen suggested, "You have a certain reputation with the ladies and Radil is still a young woman. She might be attracted to you."

"I don't know why she would be." Riker confessed, "I haven't been a ladies' man for some time."

"No, you've seasoned and matured. You've endured hell and bounced back with an amazing resiliency. You're rebellious without being foolish. Added to your natural charisma, humour and charm you comprise a picture Radil could find very alluring."

"Great." Riker sighed, "I don't know how I should handle this. How do you handle it?"

"Handle what?" Macen sounded perplexed.

"You and T'Kir."

A pin could have dropped in the silence that followed until Macen finally cleared his throat and spoke with a strained voice, "T'Kir and I what?"

Riker suddenly that he'd entered a Romulan minefield here, "The fact that T'Kir is in love with you."

Through clenched teeth Macen asked, "And what gives you that idea?"

"Haven't you ever seen the way she looks at you?" Riker had to ask, "It's painfully obvious to anyone that watches you together."

Macen's mind reeled, "We've known each other for nearly a decade. We're friends. Nothing more."

"Are you sure?" Riker asked, "A friend of mine once tested me by asking who the most important person in my life was, the one I would abandon everything for. That person is the person you truly love. Who's your person?"

Macen was surprised and yet startled to discover that T'Kir fit that billet. He loved her but wasn't certain he was in love with her. As far as her feelings went, how long had she felt this way? Why hadn't she told him?

"You really didn't know?" Riker asked in mild horror.

Macen slowly shook his head, still distracted; "I had no idea. I suppose I'm the last to know?" Macen asked in mild disgust.

"If they didn't know, they suspected." Riker confirmed, "But I'm sure the newbies haven't figured it out yet."

"Give them five minutes with Hannah and they'll know all." Macen observed bleakly.

Tom spoke again, "So any ideas on how you'll handle the situation?"

Macen shrugged, "I'll tell her my feelings around the situation and she what happens."

"And these feelings are?" Riker fished again.

Macen silently resisted the urge to strangle Riker, "That's a matter between her and I."

"Uh oh." Riker mumbled under his breath.

"What's 'uh oh'?" Macen demanded. Seeing Riker's startled reaction, he added; "There's a reason my race is stereotyped as listeners."

"We've accepted a contract and are setting out on a mission, the particulars still unknown. As I understand it, the last time she became enamoured with you and you rejected her advances, she stabbed you. Can you see why I'd be worried if your answer is, 'No'?"

Macen sighed as he reclined back in his seat. He knew exactly why Tom was worried and so was he. T'Kir's contribution to the team would be pivotal during the mission. Maybe he ought to wait and discuss the matter with her until after they finished their contract.

"All right." Macen conceded, "I'll wait until we're back in friendly territory before bringing the matter up with her."

"Thank god." Riker's head lolled forward as he relaxed his tense shoulders, after rolling his head he rose; "I have to get back to the bridge. Are you sure you don't want to join us?"

Macen shook his head, "Too much work besides the fact the newbies need the experience more than I do."

"See you at the briefing then." Riker nodded and departed.

She loves me, Macen mused, I never thought I'd hear those words again. I wish I knew exactly that made me feel. It's such a jumbled mess I don't know where to begin. Maybe I don't want to know.

The Roman commander's cruiser landed before the Imperial Residence. The private pad there rarely entertained any craft but those of the household. The Praetorian Guard maintained their ever-vigilant presence, but no other military units had stepped foot on these grounds for almost a century. Alaric Germanicus knew this display meant Aurelius Romulus was both pleased and eager to inspect his booty.

The Roman cruiser resembled a giant bird. The length and breadth ship came in at 180 metres, the width provided by two extensions moulded to resemble wings. The forward module was sleek like a raptor's lines and mounted a variable dispersal photon torpedo launcher. In combat, the ship displayed the might of the Roman Eagle.

As the 1st Admiral of the Star Legions, Alaric also knew that the Roman cruisers were not entirely the result of Roman efforts. Engineers had poured over the wreckage of Merrick's ill-fated SS Beagle. The Proconsul utilised this opportunity to be named Emperor of Magna Roma and Dictator of Gaia. Seizing upon the mobs' newfound fear of alien invasion, a program designed to create starships was born.

Fifty years afterwards, the first warp capable craft departed Nova Roma's atmosphere. It was little more than a cockpit mounted atop a warp engine. If Zefram Cochrane's warp flight could be heralded as the birth of the Federation, so too could this flight be labelled as the birth of a darker alliance. Alaric stood amongst an elite cadre of peers, living at least, that knew of the Emperor's allies in this quest for the stars.

Shortly after the Gladiator's historic flight, Emperor Doric Romulus received a midnight visitation from two cloaked strangers offering technology to enhance the Roman's starship achievements. Doric scoffed at that and his hooded "guests" merely chuckled.

We shall see, they informed him in sibilant tones. The following day, the project managers overseeing the Gladiator's next launch discovered several changes to their design. Once launched she tripled her speed and ran more smoothly.

The next night, Doric's visitors returned. Still swathed in the dark robes, the two revealed themselves as ambassadors from a powerful and ancient power that wished to establish relations with emerging races in this part of the galaxy. Promised autonomy and technology transfers in exchange for aiding their benefactors if the latter were at war. Doric readily agreed.

The two visitors stayed on as "students of Roman life and advisors regarding stellar knowledge". Five years had passed since Doric had refused to officially acknowledge one of his alien advisors. The next morning the Emperor was found dead of a previously unknown, and never seen again, virulent infection. Aurelius Romulus rose to power with full knowledge of who smoothed and assured his ascension to power. He also knew the price of his throne.

That price bore the name Ezixiem. No one knew what lay beneath his intertwined layers of black cloth, or under his metal gauntlets and boots. When asked his place of origin, he (she?) merely replied with one word: Omricron. No one knew if humanoids, saurians, or energy beings dwelt there. In fact, no one recalled having heard of it before. This fact seemed to anger Ezixiem, who acted as though the name should have been on the tip of every tongue.

The sight of the mysteriously clad stranger looming over the rather diminutive Emperor was unsettling to senior military officers as well as the Senators that now had to deal with their unexpected "observer". The explanation given the mob was that Ezixiem was a badly burned commander from the millennia long border war with Germania and her allies.

The crowds cheered at the Emperor's compassion and the devotion to his legionnaires. With the Omricrons' help the Romans constructed the twenty-five vessels serving the Roman Star Legion. These vessels were to be the first of many soaring the atmosphere of their enemies.

Unfortunately, Alaric knew the Omicrons had completed most of the construction. The ship was a biomechanical wonder and a terror at the same time. The bioneural interfaces between computer systems amazed the Roman engineers. The charging systems could absorb stellar winds to replenish phaser banks in half the time Starfleet vessels could. The ships also came equipped with a biomemetic fluid spread between the inner and outer hull. If damaged, the biomemetic cells formed a sealing "scab" over the hull breach. The ships' distinctive green hue resulted from a thin veneer of the biomemetic gel.

Alaric could easily attest to the cruisers' capability. Dubbed the Sparta-class, the fleet had already proven itself against a half-dozen incursions of Magna Roman space. The ultimate victory had been the co-ordinated destruction of the accursed surveillance devices the Federation had placed around Sigma 492 IV. The real glory went to Alaric and his crew aboard the Javelin for not only planning and executing the Roman liberation from the Federation yoke, but for capturing Federation spies at the same time. This singular event earned Alaric and his ship landing privileges at the Imperial Residence.

No sooner had Alaric's troops aligned their prisoners than the Praetorians snapped to attention. The door from the residence to the landing pad opened, revealing the youthful Emperor. Aurelius Romulus strode forward, eager to congratulate Alaric and to inspect the prisoners. Behind him came the Consul and Chief Legate of the Senate. The Consul led the Senate's proceedings and decided which motions would carry on to committee meetings. The Chief Legate was responsible for maintaining civil order across the vast Empire including the suppression of dissident faction and self-proclaimed "freedom fighters". The ever-hooded Ezixiem was the last to step out of the palace's shadows

"Come, see what my greatest Admiral has brought me!" Aurelius shouted to his advisors, "He has given us safety in the heavens and brought us crippled angels so we might know what their masters think of us."

Alaric silently cringed at his Emperor's words. Although the young man fancied himself a poet of some talent, Alaric wished he could send the boy to Gaul in order for him to hear real poetry. As things stood now, he merely endured the half-wit's inane chatter. Soon enough, Alaric thought with a satisfaction that didn't register on his face, I'll have all the Legions behind me and then this fool will be dethroned.

Aurelius was pacing furiously up and down the line of prisoners. Occasionally, he would stop and speak with one. Ezixiem slid up beside Alaric. The Admiral's skin crawled as it did every time he stood in the presence of the unseen wraith. Alaric's attention had been diverted for a moment and now Aurelius had discovered Lisea Danan.

Alaric silently cursed as Ezixiem slid away. Bastard! He distracted me on purpose…but why?

Alaric held his breath as Aurelius began questioning Danan, "And where are you from my Spotted Lily?"

Danan started to reply but saw the grave concern in Germanicus' eyes, "Trill, milord."

"Trill?" Aurelius mused aloud, "I've never heard of it, but than again, your Federation has done its best to keep us uninformed."

A subtle shake of Alaric's head warned her off on this topic as well, "We've been just as ignorant of you, much to my current dismay."

"Don't fret, milady, you're safe now." Aurelius cooed, "Guards, I'll be taking this prisoner. Take her to the slaves' quarter and have the Matron of the House assign her quarters."

Alaric held his breath as two Praetorians stepped forward to herd Danan into the palace. Although the Trill looked like a human with enlarged freckles running down her temples and neck under her collar. Her eyes betrayed the youthful visage she wore. Her eyes held an ocean of time within them.

Germanicus breathed a sigh of relief as Danan passively accepted the guards' instructions and let them lead her into the palace. it was at this moment Aurelius declared; "Take these others to the Star Legion Command and let the interrogators have their with them. Those that refuse to co-operate will be sent to the games."

As a German, Alaric hated the games. As a Roman officer, he understood the necessity for the execution of enemies of the state and subversives. As the bulk of Germania above the Rhine still opposed Roman rule, the fighting there had endured for two thousand years. As the Roman Empire had expanded across the globe they met more enemies.

The Free Gauls, or Celts, in Eire and Scotsland still resisted the Roman yoke. Viking raiders, or Northmen, terrified Roman coastal settlements throughout the European and Asia Minor coastlines. The Han Empire of Chung Kao held sway over the entire Asian continent and the islands of the South Pacific providing Rome with her greatest challenge. Both empires had footholds in the uninhabited New World. Rome chose to colonise the North and Chung Kao the South.

Alaric had faced the Han and the Gauls before receiving command of the Star Legion. His record was spotless, but that offered little protection from the Emperor's increasingly erratic whims. Many had said that Aurelius was too sensitive as well as too young for the duties of Emperor. Alaric had never given much credence to the grumbling until he saw his Emperor dancing to the strings of an alien puppet master.

The boy emperor possessed the gawky lean frame of late adolescence. His raven hair curled around his face. Rumour had it the Emperor chafed under more than his duties. His closet was said to have more gowns than the entire collection of the Household courtesans who sat idly by and pleasured the occasional Praetorian or the favoured guest.

Alaric studied his Emperor's face as he beamed at Germanicus. The boy's nose was a little too large, his eyes too squinty, and his teeth too rodent-like. The Emperor's vanity demanded they cover his face with a computer-generated image during his weekly address to the empire. Ezixiem had been far too pleased to provide the technical toys required for this feat.

"Excellent work Admiral." Aurelius practically glowed with pleasure, "How can I reward you?"

Alaric mulled it over. He had no material wants. The only needs he had were for his troops. His troops and the mysterious alien beauty that had enchanted him. Of course, Ezixiem's demise would work just as well.

"Really Germanicus," Aurelius urged, "there must be something."

Alaric slowly nodded, "Two things."

"Well then, what are they?" Aurelius was beginning to lose his patience.

"I want celebrations for my men. The cruiser patrols can be rotated to allow a third of my crews to feast, a third on home system defence and the last third on outer patrol."

"If you hadn't suggested it, I would have." Aurelius crowed, "And now, for that second matter?"

"The alien prisoner you just selected," Alaric tread lightly on this topic, "if it pleases you, give her duties in the kitchen or anywhere else but do not make her a concubine."

"You fancy her?" Aurelius asked slyly.

"I respect her." Alaric corrected, "I've read her eyes, her will is unbreakable. She would kill whomever chose to take from her that which she alone can give."

"Very poetic Admiral." Aurelius, "Don't fret, I already have a plan. She will tutor my niece and my youngest sister. You don't think she'll kill children do you?

"No milord." Alaric replied with great relief.

"Good." Aurelius mused, "My great-grandfather's notes on this Federation is that they are peace-seeking cretins that will avoid bloodshed at any cost."

"He also listed an exception to that rule." Alaric reminded him, "The enforcement arm of the Federation."

"Yes… Starfleet." Aurelius gave Alaric a feral smile, "This time we're prepared for them, don't you think?

"Without a doubt." Alaric answered with genuine conviction.

"Let them come then and we shall rattle them to their very fibre." Aurelius said.

It was at that moment Alaric knew the Romans were going to war.

 

Chapter 6

Macen briefed Riker separately from the Investigative team in order to allow him time to observe the new recruits at their stations and to change uniforms. The ship's crew now wore the tan surface fatigues worn by Starfleet personnel from the 2270-2340s. A variant black mock turtleneck with matching boots and belt replaced the original white turtleneck undershirt. B'nner wore a sleeveless vest of his own devising. The Investigative team, excluding Riker, wore the Officer's moss-green version of the same uniform along with their standard utility belts and holsters.

When the Investigative team heard the shocking news, they were disquieted but remained levelheaded. "Our first priority is the assessment of the Nova Roman capabilities. Secondly, we're to uncover any potential alien intervention. Thirdly, we're to neutralise any such intervention. And last but probably least, rescue any hostages held by the Romans."

Macen sighed and sunk into his seat, "Any questions?"

"How are we supposed to come out alive?" Dracas asked dryly.

"I know this is a challenge." Macen started to concede before being cut off.

"This is a job for a Starfleet starship." Radil grumbled, "Why aren't they handling it personally?"

"If you'd have paid attention earlier," Macen replied snidely, "You'd know that Starfleet doesn't even know this planet exists. We're expendable, so we can go in without the risk of locking permanently locking up valuable officers and specialists. For the Federation Security Council, it's a winner takes all scenario."

"And before anyone gets starts complaining about your assigned duties… Forget it. The duty roster stands. Dracas, Daggit, and T'Kir are part of my landing party. Grace, Daggit and Kort will remain aboard the ship. Tom will need veterans aboard to assist the ship's crew so don't even start complaining. That goes especially for you Radil."

Daggit shifted uncomfortably in his seat, "Sir, as team XO, I should…"

"…lead the away missions and hazardous duty contacts." Macen finished for him, "The only problem is that's Starfleet regulation and we're not Starfleet. This is my ship and I can do damn well whatever I please."

Daggit settled his enhanced bulk further into his seat as he bitterly digested Macen's decision. Rab had only just started becoming so insistent about protecting Macen. It made Macen wonder what Daggit knew that he didn't. He might have to hold Daggit after the briefing and find out the reason.

"We've overcome greater odds with less material and technical support." Macen reminded them, "We'll come back alive… or at least a reasonable facsimile of it."

"Now if no one else has any other items to raise, we'll dismiss from here so you can each greedily grab one of the padds on the table and succinctly breakdown each facet of the mission and the Nova Roman society in particular."

As the team members filed out, Macen softly called out, "Rab, could stay for a moment?"

"Of course." Daggit replied, slipping into the stance his native military called, "at ease".

"Relax." Macen admonished his teammate; "I just want to ask you a question."

"Well, two actually." Macen amended as Daggit retook his seat.

"I never touched her, before or after the surgery." Daggit said immediately.

"Who, what? Macen stumbled a bit, "You never touched whom?"

"Radil." Daggit confessed tightly, "I once asked her out to dinner during a shore leave. She turned me down. That was the end of things."

"Then why did you assume that's what I wanted to discuss with you?"

"Thought she might've complained. She's been very vocal lately." Daggit surmised.

"My questions don't involve either you or Radil, but they do potentially effect the whole team." Macen warned him.

"Is this about you and T'Kir?" Daggit winced, "Because we pretty much know about you two."

"Know what?" Macen yelped, "Everyone seems to know more about the alleged 'us' than we do."

Daggit looked wretchedly discomfited, "I didn't know."

"It's alright. Neither did I." Macen grumbled bitterly, "Is this why you've been playing mother sehlat around me."

"Possibly sir." Daggit demurred.

"Don't 'sir' me, just answer the damned question." Macen growled.

Daggit heaved a sigh; "I'd like to see you live long enough to have another relationship."

Macen slumped in his chair, "I didn't realise my lack of romance was straining everyone."

"I seem to be the only one who's concerned. Grace is rooting for T'Kir's unannounced dreams to come true, Kort says, and I quote, 'you should simply break her, take her, and dump her' end quote." Daggit shook his head, "Nice, isn't he? Dracas is too busy building bombs to care and Radil is too busy ranting about humans to distract herself from the fact she now appears human and has her eye on Captain Riker."

"Radil?" Macen asked in surprise, "Who would have thought? Where was I?"

"The DMZ as I recall." Daggit replied dryly.

"Touché." Macen bowed his head.

"I'm surprised she didn't mention something to you then." Daggit admitted.

Macen shook his head; "I'm not. We were too distracted by the missing Maquis arms caches to spend a lot of time in reflection or interpersonal discussions. It didn't help that we were losing the chase throughout the entire ordeal."

"What chase?"

"Our initial scans revealed that the arms and ships were removed just before our arrival." Macen explained, "Most had been taken days before but two of them had been raided mere hours before we investigated the various hiding places."

"Any clues as to who's behind this?"

Macen frowned as he shook his head again, "None. We used every sensor the Corsair has looking for warp or impulse trails and exhausted our tricorders' battery packs scanning the actual sites. It was as if a massive hand had just picked everything up and put it down elsewhere."

Daggit began to worry. Macen wasn't known for his hyperbole. If the only evidence left behind evoked comparisons to some god-like manifestation, Daggit would believe it. The situation still begged one question.

"Who'd have motive for taking those weapons?"

"Lots of people I suppose." Macen replied, "There are thousands of former Maquis and DMZ settlers that suffered under the Dominion's hands during the war. It probably wouldn't take much to convince some downtrodden colonist to strike back at the closest and weakest link of the Dominion's forces."

"Cardassia." Daggit drew the obvious conclusion.

"Although their turning sides at last minute hastened the end of the war, they spent most of it as an ally of the Founders. With the Jem'Hadar recapturing most of the world the Maquis had pushed the Cardassians out of, most of the settlers there worked at slave labour camps." Macen elaborated "The Maquis sabotaged the war effort as best they could while enduring massive losses. Starfleet's decision to by-pass the DMZ in its drive for Cardassia Prime was seen as a greater insult than the original formation of the Zone. The Federation's assurances to the Cardassian interim government that the Zone will remain intact may have been the final straw for the militant and moderate Maquis alike."

"I don't blame them." Daggit replied solemnly.

Macen could empathise with the Angosians pain. He'd been recruited by his home planet to undergo a mental and physical program intended to create super-soldiers designed to end Angosia's war with Tarsus. Daggit and his fellow soldiers achieved victory but once returned to their native populace, they could not shut down their quick, and often lethal, reactions to seemingly routine tasks and situations. All of the surviving enhanced soldiers were rounded up and locked away in a lunar prison.

That imprisonment cost Angosia its bid for Federation membership. That was until the Federation wanted those same enhanced soldiers. In exchange for aiding Starfleet, Angosia would receive their coveted membership. The soldiers were promised an end to their uncontrollable psychosomatic responses to threatening stimuli. Daggit had served with Macen during the Dominion and had sought out SID membership in order to serve under him again. Unlike the Starfleet commandos that quivered when Daggit and his fellows entered a room, Macen accepted Daggit just the way we was.

Rab also knew that Macen was pressing Starfleet for the promised cure. Having served Starfleet for eighty years Macen had quite a bit of clout and personal markers at his disposal. Daggit knew Macen would never willingly abandon one of his teammates. That was the one sure reason Daggit trusted Macen with his life.

"So," Daggit broke the silence, "this one will be rough?"

"The hardest we've ever attempted." Macen revealed, "But I think we'll be fine. I wouldn't have accepted the contract otherwise."

And that was enough for Daggit.

Lisea gazed about the quarters she'd been taken to. She'd already tried to find it predictably locked. She then turned her attention to the obligatory surveillance devices. After discovering eleven devices, two of which were obvious decoys, she gave up. From this point on, they'd earned the right to spy on her.

Her Roman observers were impressed. None of their other charges had so deftly eliminated all but one surveillance device, and it was the one they understood the least. This device had been a gift to Aurelius Romulus from Ezixiel. It moved about the room but was never seen.

Next, Danan carefully inventoried her assigned clothing. She found simple tunics and pants in earthy tones. Her sandals were simple and functional. Nothing here resembled the quarters of a Cardassian "comfort" woman.

She slipped out of her soiled and torn uniform. Her observers ogled as they discovered how much a Trill's spots covered. Danan eased herself into her bath and let the hot water ease her troubles. Tomorrow, she was told, she'd learn her new duties. Time enough then to spend the next few hours recuperating before planning her escape.

It took the Eclipse three days to reach Starfleet's designated border for the Roman territories. Debris from the various sensor drones could be found floating about every surrounding system. For the Romans to have destroyed every Federation drone encompassing that border was nothing short of a logistical miracle or evidence of undreamed of technical sophistication on the Romans' part. It was cause enough to stop and assess the situation.

"Anything on sensors?" Riker asked from the centre seat, "Any clue as to how many ships passed this way."

T'Kir double-checked her sensors, "By the plasma decay rate, I'd say three ships came through here almost a week ago and opened up with everything they had."

Riker looked towards Macen, who was reviewing the same data. Macen nodded assent to Riker, who swivelled his chair slightly to the right as he issued his next order, "Tactical, cloak the ship. Helm, lay in a course for Sigma 492 IV and execute it."

Grace and Radil carried out their respective orders and the Eclipse became the first Federation vessel to willingly penetrate Magna Roma's territory in over a century

It would take nearly another three hours to reach Sigma 492's system. In the interim, Dracas was schooling his two techs on the Eclipse's eccentricities. Daggit focused on Familiarising Sito with the tactical systems while Lucarno focused on learning the helm.

"You wanted to see me, my liege?" Germanicus knocked his arm over his chest as he came before the Imperial Throne. He did not bow, as most Imperial citizens were wont to do. The Admiral's victories had earned him a special dispensation. It cleared Germanicus of genuflecting Romulus in either of his roles: Emperor and Chief Priest of Magna Roma.

A century before when Jim Kirk and his landing party encountered the Nova Romans; their religious ideologies had just introduced their analogue to Earth's Christian movement. Where the might of Rome struggled against the Grace of Christ for over three centuries, Nova Roma embraced the new doctrine, if only to tame the messengers and modify the message. Barely a century later, the so-called Son of God merely stood alongside a pantheon of other gods. What took two thousand years on Earth had occurred within one hundred on Magna Roma.

"Come, Alaric," Romulus rose and stretched forth his head, "let us walk as we discuss pressing matters of state."

Germanicus' mind cried out "Red Alert" and his mental shields went up. Before Doric's death, Alaric had been a Court favourite and a frequent guest of the Emperor. He'd become a mentor to the Imperial Heir before the latter even lost his virginity to one of the courtesans. All of this had changed with Doric's untimely death and Ezexiem's rise to power and influence.

Alaric's role as mentor had ended with the Omricon's ascent to Chief Advisor. Point in fact, while Alaric had been appointed commander of the newly constructed Star Legions, he had been removed from the inner circle of Imperial favourites that shaped Roman life. The Roman Senate had been removed, in all but name, as well. Complaints were filed, petitions raised, decrees issued but the daily business of rubber stamping the Emperor's latest legislation continued unabated.

Alaric suspected Aurelius' growing distance stemmed from Ezexiel. The alien made no effort of hiding that he knew Germanicus detested him. Although Alaric made no moves to publicly denounce the Omricon representative, he'd levied enough complaints to his friends to persuade many of them of a duplicity within Ezexiel's motives and actions. Alaric's own posting as Admiral of the Star Legions placed him almost directly under Ezexiel's authority.

Despite the Roman constitution's proscribing non-citizens from military command, Ezexiel had suborned the Star Legions by placing them under his Advisory Commission on Foreign Stellar Nations. Since the Star Legions would be the first to fly the Roman eagle before aliens, they needed to be controlled by the very department created to facilitate such scenes. To Alaric it stank of removing the authority from its rightful wielder, the Emperor, and handing it over to the parasitic fob who now plagued Roman life. The longer things progressed, the more certain Alaric was of Doric's death at Omricon hands only he had no proof and proof was everything in the Roman courts.

"Certainly, your Excellence." Alaric half-bowed, "Might I make a suggestion?"

Aurelius look momentarily puzzled, then with a slight smile nodded his assent, "Speak your mind."

"Let us walk together as we did in days past." Alaric implored, "Let us walk as old friends, alone save your private guard. Let us discuss these pressing matters as men and not as a roving committee."

Ezexiel drew in a sharp breath of disapproval but Aurelius beamed with delight, "Excellent idea! It's been far too long since I talked with you, my oldest and dearest friend. Come with me, I know the perfect venue."

Aurelius stepped forward and Ezexiel moved to follow prompting the young emperor to turn on his heels, "What is it my Counsellor? Did you not hear me, or have you merely failed to understand? This evening is devoted to Germanicus, not to Omricon and all its fabled power. I choose to spend time with my neglected friend. Go skulk away into shadow as you do so well."

Alaric's heart swelled with pride at his former charge's words. Seeing the barely constrained wrath contorting Ezexiel's features, he also feared for his Emperor's life. Doric's last words had been ones of defiance to the aliens' faces. Judging from that, Aurelius may have just placed his life in his own hands.

"Sire, I'm concerned for your safety. Perhaps humiliating Ezexiel isn't the wisest course of action. Consider your father…" Alaric urged.

"I am far more cognisant of my father's fate than you shall ever be Admiral!" Aurelius snapped, "I at least know when to hold my tongue. Even these walls are privy to secrets best kept secret."

The mere knowledge that his former student recognised Ezexiel's fawning overt manipulations as well as his more insidious attempts was enough to warm the cockles of Germanicus' heart. If his emperor saw the evil, then he must also be developing a plan to thwart it. Good old-fashioned Roman discipline would serve here. Just as it had withstood every other test.

After several tense, but thankfully uneventful hours, the Eclipse entered into a high polar orbit over Nova Roma. Macen, T'Kir, Radil, Daggit and Dracas each began studying the Romans from the perspective of their individual specialities. Macen studied the social-political arenas, T'Kir, the information systems and infrastructure, Radil listened for the developmental shift from the common Latin origins of the language and adjusted the universal translators accordingly. Dracas deciphered architectural designs and industrial capacity while Daggit sought targets and evaluated potential enemies.

The rest of the crew kept the ship running and watched the skies around them, trying to remain unseen. After a day's work, the team met together as a group; Including Riker, who'd left Locarno in command.

"As best as can be determined, captured aliens are brought before the Nova Roman Emperor. At this point, they are divided into three categories: slaves for the Imperial Household, private slaves for auction, and fodder for the gladiatorial pits. This means our missing scientists are already scattered across the Empire or dead. We need to focus our efforts on accessing their data networks, assessing their technology compared to the Richter Scale, and how they achieved their current level. Based upon those determinations, the big question becomes what is their intention towards the Federation, and if its hostile, what's their military capability?" Macen summed up, "As stated in our first briefing, I'll be leading a survey team comprised of Daggit, T'Kir and Dracas. No complaints will be heard and all protests can be shoved out an airlock. All team members will follow Radil to Stores to pick up the closest approximation she could whip up of native dress for our chosen landing sight."

"Where is that sight?" Riker asked.

"Their analogue of Marseilles." Macen replied immediately, "It's close enough to the capital to be privy to the latest gossip while being a port city and therefore used to strangers asking questions."

Riker glanced at the padd containing Macen's findings, "And their capital is named 'Magna Roma' and sits where Paris does on Earth?"

Macen shrugged, "An all too likely event if the Romans hadn't begun to rely so heavily on German conscripts and mercenaries. During the Roman Empire's last few centuries, Roman Provinces provided the width and depth of service and culture that the Romans no longer seemed capable of providing. They forged an Empire but leadership soon passed to the conquered lands that became more Roman than the Romans themselves. While the Provincials strove to reshape the world in the Roman mould as they had been, the Romans sought to physically emulate the very Germanic tribes that would soon breach the Eternal City."

"Stop." Radil demanded, "No more. I already don't like looking human. I don't want to go around spouting their history too."

"But the burial of the Vandal leader, Alaric, is fascinating." Macen interjected, "His clansmen diverted a river, buried him, then redirected the river back to its original course. All so no one would ever be able to defile their greatest leader's remains."

"And why the hell would I need to know that?" Radil asked crankily, "Are we starting a mission or what?"

"As soon as your ready." Macen demurred.

"Prophets and Wraiths!" Radil swore, "I'd have been ready a lot sooner of you hadn't been giving a lecture in ancient Earth history."

"It could come in handy." Macen opined as they proceeded don the corridor.

"Like when?" she snapped as the turbolift doors closed.

"Like a timewarp." Macen rebutted, "Slingshot around the sun or any number of anomalies to yet be explained. You could suddenly find yourself in Roman times."

"For the lovva…" Radil growled as they exited the lift, "That's the biggest load of crap I've heard since…"

"The two-week notice clause on your contract with the Orion Syndicate?" Daggit offered.

"Hey friend," she whirled to face him, "this face is your doing. If you hadn't kidnapped me, I'd still look Bajoran."

"If you'd wanted to go back, you would have done so when given the opportunity." Daggit countered, "So spare us your whining."

Radil shot him an angry glare but remained silent. Instead she pulled out a bundle of clothes and handed it to each person. Following that, she handed everyone a modified utility belt/holster designed to conceal their weapons. Everyone took turns using the common head for Deck 3 to change clothes.

When they were all done, they each wore a variety of leathers, woollens, and synthetics. They wore a variety of coats, vests, and cloaks. T'Kir especially required the use her cloak's hood. All in all, the desired effect was achieved.

Stepping over to the transporter, Radil's features softened, "I'm sorry. I get really edgy before an op."

"No harm no foul." Daggit assured her before anyone else could speak.

Macen mirthfully eyed his Tactical Specialist; "You have the co-ordinates Jenrya?"

"Yessir." She replied.

"Then energise."

"Walk with the Prophets." Radil whispered as her teammates dematerialised.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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