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Pax Romana - Part II by Travis Anderson

The Spy, The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The Tinkerer,
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...

Chapter 7

The survey party materialised in a deserted alley adjacent to a main thoroughfare. Upon joining the street, they encountered their first glimpse of Roman life. Mechanised transports dominated central lanes skirted on either side by pedestrians. Thruster driven aerial vehicles and magnetically suspended ground units seemed to be the exclusive domain of military vehicles. Each proudly bore the Roman eagle and the mark of the Legion.

"Interesting." Daggit remarked, "By regulating the use of technologies, they've already segmented their society by giving a clear advantage to a certain portion."

"How nice for them." Dracas mumbled.

"Tactically, it's no wonder the dissenting broadcasts we caught rarely mention any significant headway against their foes. They have no means to compete with technology kept restricted from even the Roman citizenry."

"Sucks for them." T'Kir observed, "But how's that compute into our mission?"

"As a former Maquis, I'm surprised at your indifference." Daggit remarked, "If the Romans prove a threat, then the various rebels opposing them will prove an invaluable asset."

"That's why I'm indifferent." T'Kir snapped, "You don't see these peoples' causes, you just see a means to an end."

Daggit opened his mouth but Macen spoke before him, "Remember the mission people. We can settle any differences in interpretation later."

With that matter settled, or at least postponed, the quartet moved further along the highways and byways of Marseilles. As they walked along, military units passed by on a regular basis. The citizens frequently glared at the passing vehicles but did nothing to provoke the operators within. The Roman Imperium enjoyed peace but it was the peace of the sword.

Dracas pointed at a public terminal, "I think we can access the main data nets from there."

Dracas' prediction proved correct. The booth required payment in the local coin but T'Kir swiftly moved around that. The system was designed to allow free access to the military and the noble classes. After three minutes work, T'Kir deduced the necessary codes and entered the mainframe.

"Where do we want to go?" T'Kir asked.

"So you'll be travelling to this Magna Roma?" Riker asked. He was taking Macen's update from his Ready Room.

"Yes." Macen ‘s voice confirmed, "The Romans live under a highly centralised bureaucracy. If any of the Federation citizens survived, the bulk of them would have found themselves slaves in the households the nobility maintain in the capital."

"Or in the arena." Riker grimly reminded.

"Yes, but hopefully most of the scientists were smart enough to play the Romans' game and avoid that fate." Macen opined, "Unfortunately, there's no public records of the auction results. We'll have to access those from the local slaver franchise."

"Sounds like fun." Riker replied grimly, "Everything is all quiet up here. No one seems to have caught on that we're here. Despite some system troubles."

"What kind of troubles?" Macen asked with a tight voice.

"Minor systems mostly." Riker begged off, "Nothing to worry about. They've been good for testing Bruis and Thool's reaction times."

"Keep me informed." Macen didn't sound reassured, "That damn ship's balked too many times at an inopportune time. We can't afford to let it blow the mission. If it gets worse, beam us up and we'll withdraw and return by alternate means of transportation."

Riker cringed at scrapping his first command but nodded for his own benefit, "Roger that. When should I expect your next signal?"

"We'll try again in four hours." Macen told him, "Survey team out."

"Copy survey team." Riker replied, ending the transmission. Since coming aboard the Outbound Ventures' payroll, he'd commanded the quirky ship he was sitting in. Ju'day-class ships had a reputation for solid performance with increasingly eccentric performance behaviours as they aged. This ship was more eccentric than most, bordering on senile in fact, than most due to its retrofitted parts. It had never been designed with the thought of wielding the most powerful phaser batteries, warp core, and impulse engines known to Federation technology. If the Defiant-class had once been considered too overpowered for safe operation, then the Eclipse could be considered too powerful to remain intact.

As it was, the ship had repetitively blown systems during use. The team's last mission for the SID, proceeding Macen and T'Kir's scouting mission, had nearly resulted in disaster when the pulse phasers had failed directly after the cloak had dropped and fused every circuit within itself. On several occasions problems with both the warp and impulse engines had nearly ended mission at a critical juncture. Macen had sent the ship to Starfleet's SPYards with the request for a new ship. They had repaired the Eclipse and promised a replacement if needed. Riker hoped that wouldn't prove necessary.

"Sir, I've detected a transmission." Legion Communications Specialist Lucilla Canaris reported.

"We intercept thousands of messages every day." The surly Centurion of the watch growled, "What's so special about this one?"

"It's a subspace signal." Canaris explained, "Only the Star Legion has that technology. How would the barbarian rebels get a hold of that kind of equipment unless they had a mole inside of the Star Legion?"

The Centurion opened his mouth to reply but was surprised to hear another woman's voice instead, "They wouldn't. Excellent work Specialist, consider yourself promoted and on my personal staff as of this moment. Report to my command trailer after you tell me more of this mysterious signal."

The Centurion swallowed hard and moved out of the way of the twenty-something woman glaring imperiously at him. For she was Livia Germanicus, Commander of the Northern Legions. Her command was a tremendous achievement among men and unprecedented amongst women. Female service to the Legion had been one of Doric's reforms predating Ezexiel's first appearance. Livia's skill and her relation to Alaric Germanicus earned her command of the forces that faced off against her Germanic cousins, the Danelanders, the Northlandsmen, the Britons, Scots, Picti and the Eiremen.

Only the Eastern Legions surpassed the size of her command. They squared off against the united Persian and Han Empires.

As much as Livia wanted to promote the younger woman merely on her merits, it was also to make certain the little bitch did not discover the Commander's secret. Like her older sibling, Livia knew that despite his imperious name, Aurelius Romulus had traded his power away to the alien Ezexiel. Unlike her brother, Livia had set events into motion, events that would topple an emperor. Livia had approached the so-called Council of Free Peoples, a coalition of Rome's greatest enemies, and offered to dispose of the troublesome youth occupying the throne.

Livia knew the loose coalition's name was a misnomer at best. Some of the cultures represented treated their citizenry with far less dignity then they would have had under the Roman eagle. The leadership read like a who's who of Rome's hitless: Hwynn ab Hugh, the Celtic High King; Wotegang, the Free German Overlord; Sven Lofsen: High King of the Norseman; Chan Chiang, the Chung Kao Emperor; and Saladin, the Persian Caliph. All of these men were the most hated enemies of Rome. All of these men were her allies.

After centuries of warfare, all sides were ready to settle down and normalise trade and diplomatic relations. It had been difficult convincing her erstwhile allies of her sincerity and of her lack of desire to occupy the Roman throne upon its vacancy. In the end, it took her most powerful ally and friend in this venture to assure the foreign rulers of their safety. Having an Imperial Senator on your side always aided your cause, having Flavius Brutus on it assured it.

Brutus' honour and reputation were renowned throughout the settled world. His oath bound them all to a common cause. At Livia's signal, the Northern Armies would march on Magna Roma accompanied by the Celts, Norse, and Free German forces. The Slavs, Persians and Han would also attack and the Zulus would attack the Egyptian fields and canals. Overwhelmed by the tide of synchronised pressure, the Legion would crack and the Northern Army would be the first to ever attack Magna Roma.

All of these plans, however, depended on co-ordination. If her subspace array and messages were discovered too soon, it would ruin everything. It was far better to reel in her young tech and subvert her to the cause or eliminate her altogether. Both options were equally satisfactory to Livia. She was already committed to waging war against her fellow Legionnaires, slaying one a little early was a trifling matter unworthy of her time.

"Commander, the signal originated in or near Marseilles and was received by an orbital position." Lucilla explained.

"An orbital position?" Livia asked.

"Yessir." Lucilla replied crisply, "From the tracking record I made of its response and reception points, its path covers the northern pole and it makes rapid orbits that would allow it access to the entire northern hemisphere of the planet."

This is the last thing I need, Livia mentally groused, "Can you identify the vessel?"

"Negative. Nothing appears on our scopes." Lucilla replied.

Damnation! This was an Omricon plot if there ever was one. Livia fumed, "Upload your findings to the Command Staff of the Star Legions. They'll know how to deal with this mystery. We have enough problems right here on the ground."

"Yes, Commander." Lucilla replied brightly.

It'll be a damned shame to kill this one, Livia observed, Too bad it's unavoidable.

The SID survey team made their way towards the central railway depot. Magnetically suspended and driven trains dominated the mass transit system. Subsidised by the heavy levies and restitutions imposed vanquished foes, the Romans' own infrastructure demanded they go to war. Smaller versions of the trains ran throughout a maze-like warren of tunnels. This style dominated modern Roman architecture and city planning.

They'd taken two of the three subways required to reach the train depot from their original position. The first mag-rail car was a study in the Roman free plebeian class as well as household slaves entrusted with duties beyond their masters' property. The second car proved far more revealing when a young Ferengi came aboard bearing the bounty from his excursion to the markets. He briefly glanced in the direction of the survey team and froze. The Ferengi recovered by whistling to himself and staring at a slightly out of place bolt in the ceiling. Macen wished he could thank the Ferengi about his warning regarding the surveillance devices but it could wait. As the team disembarked, T'Kir dropped some currency she'd "liberated" from the Imperial Bank into the Ferengi's basket.

Stepping out into the courtyard was an immersion of smells. The dockyards where they'd initially set down had been a literal ocean of smells. Their second stop had been near the oldest section of town and reeked of decay and human consumption. Disease and delight ran their course there without restraint.

Here, at the mag-rail depot, the smells ran the gamut of the Empire's breadth and width in order to accommodate citizens from those same far-flung corners. Lutefish and glutefish boiled in pots alongside each other. Peppered meats from Byzantium hung beside lamb chops from Britannia. Slavic sausages contrasted German rye bread. It was an idyllic scene of one ignored the armoured troopers milling about every train car, examining papers.

Macen looked towards T'Kir, "I didn't know. I'll need another terminal and about ten minutes."

"There's one." Daggit pointed without ever removing his steady gaze from any of the soldiers. Sometimes even he had to admit his enhanced abilities were desirable. T'Kir accessed the system as easily as before but now had to build an entire cover for each member of the team, including genetic records. Since none of the team members were human, she had to hack the central security system and create an override to disengage the alarms of the individual hand units. She'd nearly finished this task when a massive explosion rocked the plaza.

Three of the ten rail cars erupted into molten shrapnel. The Legion barracks next to the magnetic tracks was pulverised, the men and women instantly killed. The same could not be said for the Legionnaires out in the plaza. The transparent aluminium booth surrounding the public access terminal had spared the survey team. T'Kir blinked at several large and steaming shards embedded at her eye level. Strangely, not one of the shopkeepers had been present when the explosions occurred.

Several of the proprietors were now returning, but Daggit tensed up. Macen noticed the shop owners were wielding some form of weapons. They fired luminescent burst into the rare struggling body of a survivor.

"Plasma guns." Dracas marvelled, "I'd love to get my hands on one of those museum pieces."

"You may get your chance." Macen informed him, "Only it might be from the working end."

"How'd they pull this off?" Dracas wondered.

"They must have substituted their people for the normal shop owners." Daggit surmised, now they're performing ‘double-taps'."

"Double whats?" Dracas asked.

"Double-taps." Daggit explained, "An ancient military tradition where the standing group of soldiers ensures the fallen soldiers are truly dead by shooting them in the head. It's a practice that pre-dates most spacefaring races in the Alpha Quadrant."

"That'd explain the coffee lady." T'Kir mused aloud.

"The what?" Dracas asked.

"The elderly woman who was complaining about her coffee." T'Kir tones revealed she thought the question was inane, "She tried to order coffee, but prepared a specific way. The man didn't know how and she ranted about how Julius knew how to make it."

"Speed it up." Macen quietly urged.

"The point being, Julius chose today to be the first time in ten years to not operate his shop himself." T'Kir, "D'you think that significantly testifies to these peoples technical sophistication?"

"You heard all that?" Daggit asked.

"And a lot more." She confirmed.

"And everyone's thoughts?" Dracas inquired.

"Screened a few, blocked the rest."

"Now that's a helluva thing." Dracas remarked. in awe

"It ain't easy being cheesy." T'Kir bragged.

"What?" both Dracas and Daggit asked.

""We need to go." Macen interrupted, "They've spotted us."

The others saw a half dozen men and women cautiously approaching with weapons at the ready. The SID tem members slowly exited out of the booth in single file. They were lined up and patted down. Their phasers and non-energy weapons were taken and shown to the obvious leader.

"Who are you?" he demanded, "Are you more Praetorians sent to enforce the alien's will upon our will?"

"Not exactly." Macen answered, "T'Kir?" T'Kir threw her hood back, revealing the upswept curves of her ears.

"You're like the 1st One." The leader gasped, he turned to Macen; "That would make you the Chaplain."

"Pardon me?" Macen replied in surprise.

"The Chaplain, the 1st One and the Holy Healer." The Roman explained, "Those that followed after the Son, that taught us the Truth of Resistance. It has been our Crusade ever since to free the people of all nations from the shackles of Rome and particularly from the evils of Ezexiel and his kin."

"What's he talking about?" Dracas inquired.

"The Chaplain, the 1st One and the Holy Healer are their names for the Captain, 1st Officer and Chief Medical Officer. They relate to James Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy."

"So now I'm Mr. Frinxing Spock?" T'Kir protested, "I want off this team."

"I don't understand." The Roman asked in confusion.

"We loosely represent the same government Kirk and his officers spoke of while here. We've been sent to assess the impact of that encounter upon your society." Macen explained.

"The impact?" the man asked, "Millions of our fellow citizens have been converted to the Faith. We Crusaders carried the torch alone for decades but now we have a plan and a way. Our only fear has been the demon alien and our own star forces. But now that concern is gone."

"Why?" Macen asked ruefully.

"Now you're here." The Crusader explained, "And you will deal with those forces. Victory is finally at hand!"

Macen wanted to protest but T'Kir urgently spoke up, "I'm hearing several magnetically propelled vehicles that sound like those tanks we saw earlier."

"We need to go now." Macen urged the Roman; "My team needs their weapons back."

The Roman reverently handed them over, "That passageway leads to the main thoroughfare, it will still be possible to escape. Go with God and be safe from evil."

"Fates and Prophets guide you." Macen returned, causing the man to beam with delight.

Zealots, Macen mentally sighed; they're always up for a new flavour of extremism.

There had been a time in El-Auria's distant past when Macen's people had utilised their native listening skills to others and detect probabilities in conjunction with their ability to sense the nearby non-linear lifeforms. Macen personally suspected that either the Prophets or the Pah-Wraiths represented another extension of the beings his people had once worshipped as gods. As the El-Aurians had grown more sophisticated and skilled with their abilities, they'd grown to understand their "gods" were merely a different form of life. While Macen could intellectually empathise with the Romans' desire to believe in benevolent deities, he wasn't ready believe on the basis of faith alone. Trust had to be earned. The known entities closest to god/s were the Q Continuum and Macen would prefer dying an atheist rather than worship that brood of omnipotent nincompoops.

No sooner had he completed these thoughts than his team had found the entrance to the alleyway the Roman Crusader had directed them to. It was also when the first Roman tank hovered it's way into the plaza. A ceramic half-clamshell with a smaller clamshell atop it, the upper clamshell possessed a Type-5 phaser cannon analogue mounted within it. The lower section possessed four plasma cannons mounted equally around the circumference of the disk. The turret had two biaxial plasma guns as well as a third anti-aircraft cannon.

As the first tank ripped into the Crusader's ranks with its small arms, the second tank arrived. At this point, two sub-impulse fighters began to rain fire upon the hopelessly outgunned rebels. Dracas stopped running to attach an ovular device to the barrel of his phaser. As the fighters made another pass, he fired. An egg shaped missile flew off the end of his phaser and tracked the fighter. Even though it lacked the fighter's fuel supply, it overtook the fighter and killed it as its proximity sensor triggered the detonation fuse.

Early on in the Bajoran Resistance, the rebels had discovered that shoulder fired chemically propelled rockets easily eluded Cardassian sensors set to seek personal anti-matter and isomagnetic warheads. Over time, the technology shifted, allowing the warheads to be fired from the barrel of a particle weapon rather than from a dedicated launch vehicle. Dracas had studied the Bajoran designs and condensed them to palm-sized monuments to miniaturised destruction.

As the first sub-impulse fighter descended in flames, the tank turned towards Dracas. Another missile slammed into the tanks, destroying the commander's cupola.

Dracas turned to wave thanks to Daggit, who'd fired the first of his three missiles.

Dracas attached his second as Daggit reloaded as well. Daggit fired at the incoming fighter while it was still beginning its strafing run. Its burning wreckage landed amidst the destroyed rail cars.

Seeing what was transpiring, Macen called out to T'Kir; "Go! I'll gather up our lost lambs and catch up."

Seeing her hesitation, he yelled, "Dammit! Get going already."

Macen ran back towards his wayward men. Dracas had already expended another missile as the Romans tried to bring another tank in. It lay on its side, gutted and in flames. Macen cursed. They'd come to this world to conduct a survey, not fight a war. If they couldn't obey orders or mission protocols, then they'd better get used to living off the Federation dole.

As Macen cleared the alley and entered the debris strewn plaza, his worst fears were confirmed. Roman ground troops were rushing in en masse. Escape, much less survival, was swiftly looking increasingly unlikely. Pulling his own phaser free of its holster, Macen made his way towards Dracas and Daggit.

The Romans' armour shielded them from plasma bolts but it only deflected the lower stun settings of particle weapons. The swords they carried, it was proven, were far too effective to be merely ceremonial. Their particle weapons were nearly identical to those wielded by Terrans during their first deep-space explorations. If the Nova Romans truly did derive from seed stock plucked from Earth, the irony eerily smacked of convoluted destinies.

Macen reached the duo as the First Roman soldiers came within the Romans' weapon's range. Streamed phaser fire felled the Romans' first rank. Macen yelled for the other two men to follow. As they turned, they saw Romans approaching from the very alley that had been their way of escape. There was no sign of T'Kir, so Macen retained the hope she escaped.

A particle blast caught Dracas in the back, stunning him. Daggit dispatched the two soldiers bravely charging. Macen opened fire upon the alleyway. Most of the Romans were pinned but through the courageous efforts of Legionnaires willing to risk injury, Macen was stunned. Daggit's heightened reflexes and metabolism allowed him to fight on for far longer but eventually he too was brought down.

Afterwards, the amazed Roman Commander inspected the SID team member's weapons, "Alert the Star Legions and the Praetorians. We have aliens in our midst."

 

Chapter 8

Frinx! T'Kir swore silently to herself as she hurried away from the Legionnaires headed don the alleyway she'd just left. Macen, Daggit and Dracas hadn't made it out, and probably never would now. She needed to go underground and stay free to track their movements. So far, the closest thing to an underground movement she'd encountered was the religion oriented Crusaders. As much as she feared relying upon anyone, she needed to find another group of the rebellion minded zealots.

T'Kir understood revolutionary zeal. Often, it was the only thing that had kept the Maquis going. She'd even experienced it once or twice, but never regarding anything remotely religious. She'd watched the Bajorans deal wrestle with the faith in the Prophets. Faith seemed to provide more pain than comfort.

Okay, enough of this moping, she advised herself. Seeing another data terminal, she stepped into the line to use it. Most just wished to check in with family or friends and left quickly. The man before her, however, droned on and on to his companion about how relieved he was that they were safe. T'Kir politely reminded him of the line several times before she applied a nerve pinch and cut the comm line.

She received several cheers to along with the clapping of hands. She turned to take a little bow and activated the terminal. She found what she wanted within a few moments. Despite the danger of staying too close to the scene of the recent disturbance, T'Kir had found and procured temporary lodgings for the evening. The inn promised access to the Roman Central Net with which she could continue her search for allies.

Radil watched closely as Riker shamelessly flirted with Sito. Luckily, the younger woman seemed well versed in such tactics and merely played along out of amusement. A telltale on her board sounded suddenly. The Roman communications activity had more than doubled over the last five minutes. She tried to isolate a channel and eavesdrop as to what was suddenly so important.

"Captain," Grace interrupted Riker's attempts, "three Roman vessels have suddenly moved into position around us."

"Sito, what's the status on the cloak?"" Riker inquired.

"All systems read fully functional." Sito reported.

"Sir, four more ships have set up a secondary perimeter." Grace informed him unhappily, "They're setting up a cordon."

"Can you get us out?" worry tinged Riker's voice.

"If we leave right now." she answered grimly.

"Now we know they uncovered the ground team." Locarno remarked.

"They've also penetrated the cloak." Radil observed, "We might as well forget that and regain the use of our shields and weapons."

"Agreed." Riker nodded, "Engineering, we may be in for some bumps."

"We'll hold things together for you Cap'n." B'nner grunted.

Riker clapped his hands together, "All right then. Grace, when I give the word, set your course and get us out of here. Sito, as she does so. drop the cloak and power all tactical systems."

Both women acknowledged their orders and inputted last minute instructions into their consoles before Riker gave the order, "Execute on three... two... one!"

The Eclipse banked hard as Grace applied the thrusters. Next, she jumpstarted the impulse engines to full power. Rather than trying to navigate through the encircling Roman cruisers, Grace slipped below one of the closest ships and committed the scout to a slingshot manoeuvre ending in an escape vector out of the system.

The four ships comprising the outer picket line were caught unawares but still responded swiftly enough threaten the fleeing Eclipse. The closest rained phaser fire upon the scoutship. Riker returned fire but refused to use either his torpedoes or his pulse phasers, They still had a long way to go to escape Nova Roman space and revealing their full weapons compliment this early in the game would remove potential advantages later.

Fortunately, none of the other ships were in position to fire before the Eclipse went into warp. She was faster than any Roman craft, so she need not fear pursuit from Nova Roma itself. However, that still left the Roman patrols between them and the border. Another difficulty was that the Eclipse had taken some severe damage in her flight towards freedom. Among the most critically damaged systems was the cloaking device, which would render them visible to the entire Roman fleet all the way to the border.

Macen slowly awoke. Aches and pains permeating every pore in his body reminded him of his last moments of consciousness. Dracas had fallen to a phaser beam. Macen went to him to check whether or not the engineer was still alive. No sooner had he confirmed that Dracas was still alive when he himself was struck down by a Legionnaire's blast.

This proved an embarrassment since Macen had escaped capture by the Borg, the Cardassians, the Breen, the Tholians, the Andergani and the Dominion with barely a scratch to show for it. Accepting his lesson in humility for what it was, Macen started the long, slow process of shifting to an upright position on the cot he was currently occupying. In all likelihood, the procedure did not take as long as it felt but such was the illusion cast by pain. Fortunately, the discomfort ebbed as he neared his goal.

"Here's too not reliving that experience." He muttered

He sat there letting his head clear when he heard the tromping of boots. Well, they're not wasting any time are they? He thought wryly. Obviously his captors had him under close observation. Not surprising since the Romans displayed the worst case of xenophobia behaviour encountered since the Zeon Holocaust at the hands of the Ekosians.

Perhaps too surprising here was the inadvertent interference by a Federation citizen. Historian John Gill had not intended to create a brutal regime of hate and terror when he helped remould Ekosian society on the Nazi model but the inevitable took its toll and Ekosia's neighbour, Zeon, paid the price. If not for the intervention of the USS Enterprise under James Kirk's command, Ekosia would not have rested until it murdered every Zeon man, woman and child. Afterwards, there would be no where else to go but out into the stars to repeat the pattern. Unless of course, they encountered a stronger race that repaid them in kind.

Macen's train of thought was broken by the arrival of two Roman soldiers. The man appeared to be of classic Roman lineage but the woman's red hair gave away her foreign ancestry. Judging by their uniforms, they belonged to the Star Legions rather than the Praetorian Guard or the regular Legions. Their hands nervously twitched near their weapons but they refrained from pulling them free from their holsters and scabbards, at least for now. Judging by their nervousness, neither of them had many dealings with offworlders. He couldn't say that surprised him much when the few ships that skirted the quarantine barrier around Nova Roman space were captured and their crews enslaved.

"You will come with us." the woman said through a heavy burr.

Since his universal translator had been confiscated along with the rest of his gear, Macen wondered if these two had been chosen to escort him because of their ability to speak English, also known as Federation Standard. As he followed them through the labyrinth composing the dungeon he currently resided in, he idly wondered if this was a specialised skill. As divided as this world remained, language specialists would be a prized intelligence asset. It could also explain the uncomfortability his two guards displayed towards their own weaponry.

They led him to a thick steel door at the end of the hallway and shoved him against the wall. One unlocked the door with a set of keys while the other kept his weapon trained on Macen. The weapons man glanced towards the door as it opened. Fates, but they're sloppy, Brin thought to himself as they directed him to step into the room. The door slammed shut behind him as he passed the threshold.

Well isn't this cosy? He thought as he looked around. The room was built along the lines of a rectangular briefing room. There was a table with chairs all around it. One chair at the end of the table possessed restraints and mounts, presumably for torture devices. The fact that the guards hadn't tied Macen down bespoke of special treatment. No torture probably meant that he and his team presented more of a mystery than a threat in the Romans' thinking. He'd have to be careful to maintain that status.

The locks to the door released and it swung open, revealing two figures. The first was human, fair skinned and very tall. The second stood a head taller than the 7' tall human and could not be confused with anything remotely human. The alien possessed obsidian-like skin and rugged, almost jagged, features.

Ah, the secondary source of cultural contamination, Macen deduced.

"Welcome to Magna Roma." the human said in passable English, "I assume you

are yet another one of our spaceborne ‘cousins' to visit our planet."

"Not exactly." Macen replied.

"What does that mean?" The human demanded, "What manner of men are you? One

of your men withstood ten particle blasts before succumbing."

"I hate to inform you, but none of us are human." Macen informed him, "We're just fortunate or unfortunate enough to look like one."

"How can this be true?" The human asked.

"Convergent evolution." the alien spoke at last in the same tongue, "His species is different though, his infrared signature differs from your kind."

"Where are you from?" The human inquired.

"You wouldn't recognise the name if I told you." Macen advised.

"Tell us." the alien answered, "You have no concept of what we know."

Macen had the impression the alien was excluding the Roman beside him in his use of the word "we".

"Let us wait a moment, Ezexiel." the human cautioned, "Civility has proven far more effective in obtaining information from these Federation types than force. Hostility will only derail our purpose here."

"You are a fool Alaric Vandalius." snarled the alien, now revealed as Ezexiel, "This one is not like the others. He is well practised in deceit. It ekes from his very core."

"Nonetheless," Alaric replied through gritted teeth, "he is an alien, not unlike

yourself, and therefore under the jurisdiction of my Star Legions, not your wastrel Praetorians."

Curiouser and curiouser, Macen thought, invoking the immortal words of Alice. They truly despise one another. How can I use this to my advantage?

"Gentlemen, if you please." Macen interrupted Ezexiel's sure to be angry retort, "It's true that I'm your prisoner, but I'm not your enemy."

"Then why were collaborating with the Crusaders?" Ezexiel demanded to know, "Have you been sent to assassinate the Emperor?"

"No." Macen answered truthfully, "It seems to me that plenty of people want to do that all ready. Personally, I never met the man and bear no ill will against him. My mission here is simple: I'm looking for a group of Federation citizens that recently disappeared near your system."

"Is that your only mission?" Alaric asked, wearing a pensive expression.

"No." Macen ignored Ezexiel's derisive snort of triumph, "I'm also to determine how much cultural contamination was caused by Merrick and the officers of the Enterprise."

"You see!" Ezexiel gloated, "He is a spy. I've warned you that extraterrestrials cannot be trusted."

"Yet you insist that we can trust you and your kind." Alaric shot back, "What makes you so different?"

"We are far older than these children." Ezexiel answered in menacing tones, "We have seen and accomplished more over the millennia than these pups will ever dream of. We are here to assist you in realising your potential… nothing more, nothing less."

"We don't need your help." Alaric replied angrily.

"Your emperor disagrees," Ezexiel gloated, "So we shall remain."

"Gentlemen, is this something you wish to discuss in front of me?" Macen chimed in.

"He is correct. He has heard too much. We must execute him." Ezexiel declared.

"No!" Alaric snapped, "If any harm comes to him or either of his men, Aurelius shall hear of it. Let us see how long you soil our world after that."

Ezexiel smiled, it was far chillier than his scowl; "Ah, I appreciate your open contempt Vandalius. It is far more refreshing than the skulking of his kind."

"I must ask you one final question for now." Alaric informed Macen, "How many other troops did you bring? How many are free?"

"I wouldn't know. I don't know how many you captuared." Macen deflected the question.

"Two." was Alaric's response.

"Than you've captured all of my survey party." Macen lied, all too aware of Ezexiel's piercing gaze.

"And your ship?"

"Flown away to await our signal to come in for retrieval." Macen lied again with still no response from the foreboding alien.

"Very well then." Alaric rose, "You will be returned to your cell. There you will be fed and rested before our next meeting."

"And when will that be?"

"After I report to the Emperor and find out what he wants to know from you." Alaric revealed.

With that, Ezexiel's smile widened.

T'Kir has secured lodgings in a local flophouse that offered comm and network access. Her first action was to strip the blonde tint from her hair. Reverted back to her natural raven locks, she opted to also cut them as well. She retained the length on top but tapered the back along the nape of her neck. The longer length on top allowed her to retain a feminine edge while also providing emergency cover for her ears.

Next, she logged onto the central database network. Customising the interface controls, she carefully constructed firewalls and tapeworm programs to erase any sign of her having entered a system. Once this painstaking labour was completed, she plunged headlong into the data streams.

T'Kir had several false starts before accessing the database with the information she sought. Macen, Daggit, and Dracas were being held at the Imperial Palace. There were also voluminous files on the Crusaders and other, foreign foes of the Empire. Taking her first bite from the meal she'd ordered from the host's kitchen, she buckled down in earnest and began researching the Roman Empire's enemies list.

Getting dressed, she reviewed the list displayed on the padd she'd brought. The list was voluminous. It seemed every independent nation remaining on this ersatz Earth was at war with, or openly hostile towards, Rome; or to be exact, Nova Roma (ie: Terran Paris). Those not at war were generally client nations who earned peace through tribute. These nations included Brittania (the United Kingdom), Germania (Germany and Austria), Norseland (Scandinavia) and Russka (Russia). The nations engaged in outright hostilities included Zululand (Southern Africa), Chung Kao (China, Korea, Mongolia, and Japan), and the Incan and Mayan Empires of North and South America. Those not at war wished to be. The only problem was that no one seemed capable of uniting them. Or was there?

T'Kir never completed that thought as a heavy handed thudded against her door and a harsh voice demanded entrance. The Legionnaires! her mind shouted, wondering how they'd penetrated her cyber defences to trace her here. Quickly strapping on her utility belt, she scooped up her padd and returned it to its pouch. she briefly considered pulling her phaser out but decided against it. Hand to hand would serve better in such cramped quarters.

"There's one coming about!" Sito Jaxa shouted in alarm.

"I've got him." Radil snarled, "Dammit! I missed. Grace, I need another pass."

"Don't want much do you?" Grace mumbled as she threw the Eclipse into a violent tumble that aligned both of their Nova Roman attackers directly in the sights of the fore and aft torpedo launchers.

"Yesssss!" Radil hissed in bloodthirsty anticipation as she depressed the firing button for the torpedoes. The computer took over and auto-fired both banks until the enemies' shields and structural integrity collapsed.

"Good job people." Riker commended, his status board showing the surrounding area of space littered with crippled Roman craft, "Now let's get out of here and make repairs before they call up reinforcements."

"Aye, aye, O' Captain my Captain." Grace replied as she laid a course into the Conn.

T'Kir braced as the door slid aside to reveal an awaiting Legionnaire. The armoured trooper charged her while waving a stun baton. T'Kir sidestepped while slipping her arm inside of his weapons arm. Sweeping his leg, she deftly dropped him to the floor while lifting the baton from him. She then applied its potency against him.

Watching the stricken Roman spasm and writhe, she cocked an eyebrow; "Cool."

The remaining Legionnaires, enraged by their comrade being handily dispatched, rushed forward as a mob. Wearing a feral grin, T'Kir launched into action. She met the first head on, jabbing him in the nose with the baton. As she whirled away, she thrust the baton under the armour plating of one his comrades and activated it. Next, she blocked a swing from the third man, which she used a nerve pinch on.

The last man threw his baton down and came at her in a ready stance. This man, she realised, was an experienced hand to hand combatant. They exchanged lightening quick blows, blocks and jabs before T'Kir bored and utilised her full Vulcan strength. Grabbing the Roman's breastplate, she hurled him across the room into the outer wall.

Not even having raised a sweat, T'Kir calmly strode out of her room and made her way to the inn's lobby. Having paid her bill in advance, not to mention the bribe the owner undoubtedly received, she left without any qualms. As she walked, she recalled the data she'd reviewed and her thoughts on one person unifying the various factions vying against Rome. At first glance no one seemed to fill that role. On further reflection, there seemed to be an unidentified source acting out the part. T'Kir's new priority was to unroot that person or persons and persuade them to rescue Macen.

"Are you certain this moon is safe enough?" Riker inquired.

"Certainly." Grace replied, "It's outside of Roman territory, tectonically stable and has plenty of kelbonite caves to masque the ship's power signature."

"Take us down then." Riker ordered.

Grace began the delicate landing procedure. The ship slowly descended through the atmosphere, keeping the shields raised in order to deflect the inevitable friction. As the Ju'day slid through the clouds, its wings levelled out to form an aerodynamic wedge on which to glide. This further stabilised the craft, granting greater manoeuvrability.

Scanning along the planet's surface as she guided the ship further down, Grace found what she was looking for. She lowered and slowed the craft until it hovered before a mammoth cavern. Next she rotated the ship 180 degrees and toggled the viewer to a rear view. Nudging the manoeuvring thrusters, she backed the ship into the cave.

Once in, she released the manoeuvring jets and activated the landing thrusters. These gently lowered the ship until the landing skids touched the ground. Automatic sensors registered this change and deactivated the thrusters, letting the ship's full weight fall on the skids. Hydraulic pistons tensed as the ship settled atop them, granting the Eclipse's passengers a levelled platform in which to work.

"Good work, Hannah." Riker praised, then activated the intercom; "All right people, thanks to Grace we have a safe haven in which to make repairs. Let's use it and get back in this fight. Riker out."

"And what will you be doing while the rest of us are fixing things?" Radil inquired suspiciously.

"Figuring out where to go from here." Riker replied flatly.

 

Chapter 9

Hal Dracas awoke to find his head throbbing like a poorly aligned plasma injector. It didn't make him very happy. Even worse, he could still remember why his head and body ached. The memory of over a dozen Roman soldiers firing on Daggit while Dracas slipped in and out of consciousness disturbed him even further.

Although Daggit hadn't a clue, Dracas had secretly admired the younger man for several months now. No one aboard (except maybe Macen and T'Kir, there was no telling how much they knew about anything) had a clue as to Dracas' sexual proclivities. Although the Federation claimed tolerance for any and all lifestyles, they also tolerated the same Ardanian prejudices that labelled his mores a deviancy. That, in Dracas' opinion, made the Federation partially responsible for the ongoing intolerance on his native world. He had been born the man he was, with the notable exception of his appearance, and no amount of discrimination could alter that.

Daggit himself remained rather ambiguous in his stated preferences but his continued attention towards Radil said quite a bit. Dracas pitied Daggit in his pining over what was clearly a lost cause. Radil favoured both Tom Riker and Kort over any other men and women on the team. Young Hannah Grace, however, would gladly succumb to any courtesies Daggit paid her. Dracas often wondered how such a gifted tactician could be so blind emotionally.

Daggit would never know of Dracas' true feelings for him. No man ever would. Although Dracas had long come to terms with his sexuality, his homeworld had not. Homosexual Troglytes were routinely executed, yet strangely, gay Stratosians were not. If Dracas' nature were discovered by his native authorities, he'd be drug home in irons and placed on the executioners block. All while the wretched Prime Directive ensured that neither Starfleet nor the SID would do a thing about it.

There was no telling what Macen might do, however. Dracas respected the Mission Commander. Macen did his best to take care of his people no matter the personal costs to himself. He'd been forced to leave Starfleet because of this, which only made him an even more effective agent for them.

Speaking of whom, it was time for Dracas to discover if his compatriots were alive. He approached the barred door of his cell and tested the lock. He studied it for a moment and realised he had nothing available with which to pick it. He hadn't been this helpless since the Andergani had… No. Best not to think about that. Focus on the task at hand.

"Commander Macen? Daggit?" Dracas called out, "Is anyone there? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine Dracas." Daggit's voice came back, "But Macen's been separated from us."

"Rab?" Dracas asked excitedly, his hopes rising; "Is that really you?"

"Yeah," Daggit replied forlornly, "it's me."

"Are you hurt?" Dracas inquired, trying to mask the true depth of his concern.

""No." Daggit replied morosely.

"Then what's wrong?" Dracas was confused.

"I failed." Daggit snarled, "I failed Macen and I failed you. We were captured and then separated. Who knows what these butchers are doing to Macen right now."

"As long as we're alive, there's hope." Dracas declared with more confidence then he felt.

"Strange sentiments coming from you, Chief." Daggit's sense of humour flickering to life, "Normally you're the dour one."

"I learned something during my recent… difficulties." Dracas explained, "As long as you're alive, they haven't won. As long as they haven't won, you still can."

A lengthy silence proceeded Daggit's reply, "Wish you could've been on the Tarsian Front with us Chief."

Despite his silence, Dracas concurred for entirely separate reasons.

Livia stood before the huge comm screen in the mobile HQ of the Roman Armies of the North. The screen was divided into several smaller screens for a conference call literally spanning the globe. The other participants were not other Roman generals, however, but the leaders of every free empire and disgruntled client nation across Nova Roma. This meeting would have been of utmost interest to the Praetorian Guard since it was a planning session for the dismantling of the Roman Empire.

Livia Germanicus saw herself as a patriot rather than a traitor. The Emperor had been deceived, and ultimately brainwashed, by aliens. Livia planned to liberate Magna Roma from this corruption. If she had to give away a few provinces in the process, so be it. The peace achieved by this bartering would enable the Empire to regain its former solidity. Her current "allies" would grovel before her soon enough.

That is, she amended to herself, if I can get them to stop bickering long enough to accomplish anything.

"Gentlemen! Lady!" she finally yelled out in frustration, "Enough!"

That drew everyone up short. Livia had always made a point of not losing her temper during these conference calls. They were so close to the fruition of their layered scheming that she couldn't help it. She wasn't about to let these various imbeciles throw everything away now.

"Listen here," she snapped, "we're almost ready to topple our common foe and yet here you stand ready to throw all our work away. I will not allow this to happen!"

The imaged leaders all shrank back from her wrath. She allowed herself a slight smile of satisfaction. It was no wonder none of these "great" and "noble" leaders had done little more than delay the Roman acquisition of their lands. The lot of them were nothing but squabbling barbarian whelps. She could tolerate their incessant feuding when it served her purposes but not any longer.

"If we are to defeat Nova Roma, then we must be united as one." she reminded them coldly, "Not just in word but also in deed. We must be kin to one another. If we are divided, we fail as one. If we succeed, we also succeed as one. You have put aside your fear and mistrust of Rome long enough to embrace me as your ally. Why can you not embrace one another, when all of you have more commonalities and shared grievances than disputes?"

"If you truly cannot abide one another, then depart this fellowship immediately. It is better to withdraw honourably than to bring the scourge of defeat upon our heads. Rome will not look any kinder upon one who is unfaithful than she will upon the rest. Once a traitor, always a traitor in Rome's eyes and I need not remind you of Rome's penalty for treason. We must stand now, united, or we must walk our own paths separately and know we let this one certain chance of victory slip through our grasp."

Livia let them mull her words over in silence. Twenty seconds passed, then thirty, and finally the nods of assent came. All of them agreed, without a single complaint or condition. This time, Livia did nothing to suppress her radiant smile as she basked in triumph.

Tom wandered onto the bridge. Thool and B'nner had Sito adjusting the targeting sensors. Radil was hip deep in the comm array while Lucarno struggled to repair the damaged shield emitters. The two engineers themselves were repairing more primary and secondary systems than Riker wanted to think about. Kort was using Sickbay as a makeshift galley, heating rations and distributing them as needed across the ship. That left Grace working alone on the bridge.

By some unforeseen happenstance, Navigation and Flight Control systems had hardly been damaged. That left Grace free to work on the most damaged bridge station: Ops. The entire link to the Main Computer had been severed. That essentially crippled Ops, not to mention whoever reported it to T'Kir if it wasn't at least partially repaired by the time she returned. If wasn't an option Grace would accept.

Free of prying eyes, Grace was able to use a little time saving device no one knew she had. It was a device that Federation science would be unable to explain despite the fact the technology was over a century old. It was a metallic, rectangular box with six lights aligned along its outer edges. In the centre was a single activation stud. The device was specifically attuned to her brainwaves and could not be used by anyone else, even if they deduced it purpose.

Eyeing the burned out isolinear rods that formally carried data back and forth from the MC to the Ops station, Grace concentrated, then pressed the activation stud. The six lights flashed to life and the molecular structure of the rods began to shift until the damage to them was reversed. It was then that Grace heard the crunch of a boot on burnt insulation.

Grace whirled. One hand fastened her device to her belt while the other sought out the throat of her eavesdropper. Finding it, she lifted and let her momentum carry her around until she slammed the entire body into the bulkhead.

Seeing that she had Captain Riker dangling in the air, feet inches from the ground, Grace swore violently in a half-dozen alien tongues, each oath more profane than the last. She dropped Riker and backed away. As he launched into a coughing fit, she mentally prepared a new set of orders for her instrument. Her hand hovered over the activation button while Riker finished coughing and lifted his head to glare venomously at her.

"What the hell?" he croaked in outrage, "What was that about? What the hell were you doing and what the hell is that thing on your belt?"

The last were the words Grace dreaded to hear. She depressed the button. The lights flashed and Riker's face went slack. Grace shook her head in pity before speaking.

"You will forget that I attacked you and most importantly, you'll forget you saw my silvex in action. It was simply a tricorder. I was testing the repairs I completed on the isolinear rods. Do you understand?"

Riker nodded dumbly.

"Good." she started pulling her hair back into a tail.

Riker blinked several times then shook his head, "Grace?"

"Sir?" she asked innocently.

"What am... " he shook his head again, "Never mind. Good work on Ops. Nice idea sending a data stream through using your tricorder." He coughed

"Are you all right?"

Riker rubbed his throat, "Just a sore throat. I'd better go see Kort. I can't afford to get sick."

"Good idea." she agreed, cursing herself for not repairing the tissue damage around his larynx.

"Well, I'm off. Carry on." with that, he left.

Hopefully Kort'll chalk it up to a battle injury, she thought miserably but knew better. The jig was almost up. Her teammates would soon discover her true identity… and her true loyalties. Hell, Macen probably already knows.

For someone attributed with a lot of knowledge, Macen was spending his time reflecting on what he didn't know. In order, those things were: 1) how to get out of his cell, 2) how the rest of his team was, and 3) how to complete his mission now that it was compromised by an unknown alien presence. He assumed he'd make a break for it when the opportunity presented itself. The when part of the equation was the greatest worry.

His thoughts kept lingering on the status of the rest of the team. With the ground team ferreted out, it wouldn't be long before they began combing the spacelanes. These unknown aliens posed a potential threat in this matter as ell as in others. They may have transferred over cloaking spoofing technology. With communications cut off, that left the separate units of the team ion their own.

Macen knew Daggit and Dracas had been captured alongside him. After the interrogation, he knew T'Kir was still free. Or, she had been as of his meeting with Alaric and Ezexiel. His thoughts lingered on T'Kir more than any other subject.

He inwardly berated himself for not confessing the depth of his feelings for her. Even if they were not reciprocated, and he strongly suspected they were, it would have been a necessary cleansing of the air between them. He felt inordinately concerned for her. It was selfish, he knew, since most of the escalated tensions derived from his unrequited desire to bare his soul.

 

Chapter 10

Macen wondered if the Romans knew what they were getting into. Despite a lack of formal training with edged weapons, Daggit's enhanced reflexes and strength would make him utterly devastating in the gladiatorial pit. Dracas' people still routinely settled disputes with their blade/picks. The man had been a knife fighter since adolescence.

Macen himself was no piker when it came to swordplay. Though little known in the Federation, El-Aurians routinely practised with a sword-like instrument. It was a neural rod, meant for stunning an opponent. It was quite a popular sport on El-Auria before its assimilation.

Combining elements similar to fencing and Zen swordplay, Farish would have been easily learned by an enthusiast of either technique. Macen himself had been an apt pupil with the Fari, but he had fared poorly with the Farii. Essentially a charged quarterstaff, Macen had stunned himself as often his opponent. He hadn't handled either in nearly ninety years but muscle memory took a long time to fade. He had little doubt he would acquit himself nicely with the traditional Roman shortsword.

Macen could only foresee Daggit or T'Kir being deadlier with a blade. Grace's inhuman reflexes would give her a tremendous advantage but her willingness to plunge her blade into another being's flesh remained untested. The others, Macen included, had already been tested and tried many times. Although Macen loathed the taking of life, he wouldn't shrink from it either. In his line of work, it was necessary far more often than not.

One bright note was that he was about to be reunited with Daggit and Dracas while hopefully not T'Kir. The guards' reference t rejoining his friends undoubtedly referred to the Special Ops expert and the engineer. Macen had an intuitive feeling T'Kir was still loose and affecting their release. He also had a gut level hunch he wouldn't like the arrangements of said release. Macen doubted even T'Kir could free them on her own. This meant she'd have to enlist allies.

The only enticement she had to offer was the team's superior technical skills. Any enemy of Rome would gladly jump at the chance to equalise Rome's technological superiority. The same superiority achieved through accidental and intentional alien intervention. Whoever elected to accept T'Kir's offer would have access to a knowledge base far more advanced than the assimilated Beagle crew and the wreckage of their craft.

The strange alien with Star Admiral Alaric would prove the ultimate key to success in defying Rome. What kind of technology transfers had these mysterious aliens granted Nova Roma? What kind of tech base were the aliens coming from? What were their ultimate plans for this beleaguered world?

It was these kinds of questions that nagged at Macen as he followed the guards to the Gladiators' Armoury. Once inside, the guards spread out while the armourer kitted Macen out. A trip to the dressing room revealed Daggit and Dracas had already been here. Their clothes lay neatly tucked and folded on the bench seat.

Macen removed his clothes and donned the traditional Gladiator's garb: a grey tunic and pants. Exiting the dressing room, Macen was swiftly measured by the armourer. He was given a traditional leather breastplate and finger-less gloves. He declined the offered helmet but accepted the shortsword, which he immediately began sharpening. Once done, he followed the lead guard towards the Armoury's other exit.

"Go in peace, and die with honour." the guard intoned sombrely, placing a closed fist on her chest.

"Strength and honour." Macen replied gravely, surprising the guard.

Macen walked up the small ramp that led to the arena. Kirk, Spock and McCoy had described the Nova Romans' arena as a set with cameras all around it. This had dramatically changed over the last century. The new arena played to the live spectators as much as the broadcast audience. Roughly half the size of the Coliseum on Earth, it still had seating capacity for twenty thousand rabid fans.

And rabid they definitely were. The auditorium was less than half-filled by the noise inside was deafening. Fans held placards decrying the "alien scourge". Ironic, since the commander of the Praetorian Guard was himself (herself?) an alien. Macen spotted two armoured figures standing silently on the field, taking in the sights.

Macen walked over and Daggit gave a mock salute, "Glad to see you alive, sir."

"Same here Rab." Macen turned toward Dracas, "Are you all right Chief?"

Dracas gave him a wry smile, "I wish I could say, ‘never better' but I can think of friendlier moments."

"They do seem eager don't they?" Macen mused, "I suggest we don't give them the satisfaction they want. To victory!"

Macen raised his sword in the air, as did Dracas. Daggit had opted for a trident with a dagger for his coup de gras weapon. The crowd cheered wildly at the sight of the aliens waving their weapons about. Most of the Federation prisoners had dropped their weapons at the first sight of their opponents and had been subsequently slaughtered. They detected a different sort of animal in the ring now.

"Whatever they throw at us, no mercy and no surrender. Understood?" Macen's tone was fierce as the message.

Three men emerged from the Gladiator's Armoury. All three were armoured and helmeted. Two swords and a mace made up their weaponry. They slowly approached the spot were the SID team members stood waiting.

The three gladiators warily sized up the team, their grips tightening on their weapons.

"Let's take them now!" Dracas hissed.

"No." Macen's voice restrained him as effectively as a limb; "The game hasn't started yet. See the men and women in the stands sporting phase rifles? They'll kill us where we stand if we don't adhere to the rules."

"Which are?" Daggit whispered.

"Fight against a single combatant unless in a team event, do not assist your fellow gladiators and do not attack the crowd." Macen explained.

"How do you know any of this?" Dracas asked in exasperation.

"Kirk made some fairly thorough notes about the arena and its codes of conduct." Macen replied, "I brushed up on my way here just in case."

"Could've warned me." Dracas muttered brusquely.

Privately, Macen wondered why it was taking so long to begin. When he saw the young figure surrounded by Praetorians and the hulking alien from his interrogation. Alaric followed along, as well as a female servant that seemed to be sporting the biggest freckles Macen had ever....

"Isn't that..?" Daggit hissed.

Macen slowly nodded, "Lisea Danan. Now we know where she ended up."

"Yeah, but how hard did she have to try?" Dracas mumbled.

"Stow it Chief." Macen warned in a growl, "Or I'll do it for you. Danan's no traitor."

"Didn't she dump you?" Dracas asked, Macen nodded, "So why are you defending her?"

"Because I know her." was all Macen said.

Trumpets blared and the young noble, presumably the Emperor of this backwater world, rose, "Welcome once again to the Imperial Arena. I wish you happiness and health as we watch virtue tested once more."

With that said, Romulus sat down motioned for Danan to attend him. She was slow off the mark because the sight of Macen and his fellows on the field transfixed her. A Praetorian delivered a sharp nudge to her ribs, urging her on. She stood alongside the young Emperor while he ate fruit from a basket she held. She felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Macen wouldn't be here if our ship hadn't been captured, she thought. I don't see T'Kir down there. He wouldn't travel without her, so she must be running around loose. I wonder if there's any way I can contact her?

The Arena's Master of Ceremonies stepped up to the mike Romulus had just abandoned, "Lords and Ladies throughout the Empire, tonight we bring you a true spectacle. No more weaklings or striplings, this evening we bring you the true scourge of the heavens. Alien infiltrators who by appearances alone cannot be separated from the average citizen. We bring you these otherworldly killers so that you can share his Imperial Majesty's pleasure in seeing them brought to justice. Our local champions will face a match that has been unheralded since the demon Kirk and his Starfleet devils fought our valiant warriors and lost. Tonight we fight not only for sport but for the Empire itself. Are you ready?"

The crowd answered with a deafening roar, "I thought as much." the MC smiled smugly, "Death and Honour gentlemen, the match has begun."

No sooner had the words left his mouth than the three gladiators attacked the team. The Mace came at Daggit, whirling his bludgeoning tool through the air. Unexpectedly, Daggit found the trident wrest from his grasp on the very first blow. He leapt back into a crouch and pulled the dagger from his boot.

Dracas was assaulted by the second of the two shortsword wielders. The other man's stabbing thrusts were easy to deflect but tiring all the same. Retreating, he tripped over Daggit's lost trident and went down hard. No sooner had the dust lifted then the swordsman was upon him.

Macen engaged in a game of dodge, thrust, and parry with his foe. Both combatants were holding back, waiting for the other to reveal a weakness. Macen obliged by lowering his sword slightly and leaning off to the side. Sensing his opponent's over-balanced position, the gladiator attacked with all his might.

Macen deftly returned his full weight to both feet and rolled off to the side as the opposing gladiator over-extended his thrust. Macen carried his roll to completion and swung the sword in his grip. Having the blade face downward from its previous position, he jabbed it into the gladiator's exposed ribs. Macen slowly turned to face his enemy and snatched the man's sword from his grasp. Macen withdrew his own sword from the man's gullet then slashed both blades across his throat.

The crowd gasped as Macen calmly turned to watch Dracas' struggle. The Chief had managed to place a double-legged kick into his opponent's chest, propelling him backward. While separated from his enemy, the gladiator watched Macen dispatch his partner. With a guttural cry of rage, the gladiator charged Macen. Macen flipped both swords in his hand, held them by the blades, and then threw them.

The two swords struck the rushing gladiator in the chest before the guards could fire a single particle blast. He slowly sank to his knees, then keeled over. Dracas rose and dusted himself off while Macen pulled his two swords from the other man's chest. Dracas shook his head as he approached.

"I thought you said we couldn't help one another."

"We can't." Macen replied grimly as he wiped sweat from his brow, "He attacked me. That changes everything."

"Whatever." Dracas dismissed the notion, then waved towards the crowd, "We've certainly garnered their attention."

"Yup." Macen agreed distractedly, the Mace was still chasing Daggit around, "Imagine of we were a trio of Klingons or Andorians."

"Ye gods, man." Dracas chuckled, "We'd be the star attractions for years."

"Maybe decades." Macen amended.

"So, do you think we should help out Rab?" Dracas asked with a touch of nervousness.

"Despite your feelings or fears, Daggit's a big boy. He slogged his way through both the Tarsian and Dominion wars." Macen reminded him, "After facing off with Jem'Hadar, I think he can handle a mere human gladiator."

Dracas reacted with stony silence, then spoke in a hushed voice, "How long have you known?"

"Since before the Andergani captured you." Macen shrugged, "Rab doesn't have a clue. That part is up to you."

Dracas pondered that for a moment before replying, "I she open to the idea?"

Macen chuckled, "Who knows? He's open to a lot but the tricky part is getting passed his guilt over what he is. That'll be the major hurtle if you decide to pursue things. Even if you don't, you'll find we'll protect you from your home government. So feel free to pursue whomever you will. You deserve happiness in your life, not fear."

Dracas was stunned, "I don't know what to say."

"Then don't say anything." Macen prompted.

Dracas nodded in silence and watched his friend dispatch the third gladiator.

Daggit rolled out of the way as the mace descended. He slashed outward with the knife and nicked his opponent's calf. Daggit could have severed the tendon but chose not to. If he ended this match too swiftly then his full abilities would be revealed. But as he rose out of his crouch, he watched Macen slay two gladiators in under a minute.

That surprised him. He'd have never guessed Macen for having any skill with a blade. Yet his commander took to the sword like a natural. He hadn't even tried.

The mace was swinging again. This time in an arc designed to catch him under the jaw. Daggit spun away, still not engaging. This was repeated once, then twice, and a third time before the crowd grew restless.

"Kill him!" an audience member shouted and it spread through the seats like a mantra.

Now came the swing and the miss. Daggit stepped in and stabbed his opponent through the heart. He recognised the death rattle in the gladiator's lungs as the man fell to his knees. Daggit lifted the mace off of him and then smashed it down upon the gladiator's helmet. The bone jarring impact hastened his death.

Daggit jogged over to where Macen and Dracas stood waiting. Judging from Dracas' face they'd been having an interesting discussion but now they'd both fallen silent. Dracas seemed introspective while Macen… Macen studied the crowd and the Emperor's Box with an expectant look.

"Destroy them!" Ezexial hissed into Romulus' ear. "My troops can cut them down where they stand."

"Don't be so hasty." Alaric cautioned, "By law and custom, they've won the match and the right to live another day."

"Alaric is right." Aurelius mused with a smirk, "They've shown courage, and that must be rewarded. They will face the games again tomorrow. Perhaps their fortunes will turn."

Danan's shoulders sagged ever so subtly with relief. Neither Romulus nor Ezexial noticed but the corner of Alaric mouth quirked upward in a lopsided grin. She cursed inwardly. Letting her emotions, any emotions, show before the enemy was a stupid mistake. What if they were to use her against Brin? That chivalrous idiot would probably accede to the Roman demands.

Romulus rose and approached the mike, "Citizens, we have new champions. Join us tomorrow when they again face the rigours of the arena in a new test of stamina and courage!"

What 'test of stamina'?" Dracas whispered.

"How long does it take them to die." Macen replied clinically, "We'll face a new match every day until all of us are dead."

"Wonderful." Dracas muttered bitterly.

The arena guards approached them while the Emperor and his entourage rose and left. Macen spared one last glance towards Danan. Her face was rigid and set. Seeing Alaric grinning conspiratorially down at him, Macen had a good idea why Lisea was upset. Despite his misgivings, Macen automatically trusted Alaric and knew that the Admiral's deductions wouldn't be used against him or the team.

"Status?" Riker asked.

From Ops, Locarno double checked his displays, "All systems green."

"Engine room?" Riker asked via intercom.

"Ready, sir." Thool answered.

"Grace," Riker intoned gravely, "take us out."

"Course heading once we're free to navigate?" Grace asked with a pang of guilt over earlier.

"The Sigma Iotia system." Riker explained, "We're going shopping for allies."

"The Iotians?" Grace asked.

"Yes." Riker replied smugly.

"Who the hell are the Iotians?" Radil demanded.

"A race of gangsters and thugs." Riker replied glibly, "You'll love them."

"Thanks." Radil replied caustically.

Back in the cell ward, Macen was now placed in a common cell with Daggit and Dracas. The cell contained four bunk beds, which meant there was room for five more prisoners. No one seriously expected any native gladiators to be placed with the "alien scourge" and no one held out any hopes for there being any more alien prisoners.

"So now what?" Dracas asked once the guards had departed.

"We survive until we can escape." Macen replied matter-of-factly.

"And if we can't?"

"Survive or escape?" Macen inquired, "Because one of those questions has a fairly obvious answer."

"Escape of course!" Dracas nearly exploded.

"We may have friends out there." Macen hinted without saying names, "Who have a vested interest ion our release. They'll work on our behalf."

"How can you be certain?" Daggit asked quietly.

"Because I feel it." Macen tried to explain, "I'd know if we were alone."

"Okay then." Daggit agreed, "We have friends out there."

"You're both delusional." Dracas accused as he lay down on his chosen bunk.

In the Security Office, Ezexial replayed their conversation. He noted that Macen never mentioned who his friends were. He undoubtedly suspected monitoring devices. Ezexial's job would be a lot simpler if the Romans recognised who their masters were.

They will soon enough, Ezexial reminded himself, then they'll march to my orders.

The Eclipse was challenged by a Constitution-class analogue upon reaching the Iotian border. Although the ship design predated the starship refits Starfleet underwent during the 2270's, the ship displayed the same power signatures as a post-refit Constitution-class. When the viewer came to life, however, it displayed a bridge setting from the 2260's.

The starship commander also wore the gold, command department tunic/miniskirt popular during that period; "This is Captain Jamie Kirk of the Iotian Starfleet vessel, ISS Enterprise. Place state your identity and purpose in our sector."

Riker straightened his tunic before replying to the blue-eyed blonde, "I'm Captain Thomas Riker of the Federation privateer SS Eclipse. We've travelled to Iotia to discuss a business opportunity with your leaders."

When the original Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise came across Iotia, he'd found a world modelled after a book left behind by previous Earth explorers. That book, Chicago Mobs of the 20's, had become The Book and every facet of Iotian life revolved around its contents. Kirk had eventually secured visitation rights for Federation sociologists by unifying the planet's various gangsters into a world government. The Federation visits were ostensibly to collect their "piece of the action", a percentage of the gross planetary product dedicated for Iotian education and reformation. What no one had counted on was Dr. McCoy leaving his communicator behind.

This act allowed the Iotians to dissect the transtator and build a subspace communications array. Tapping into the Federation relay left behind for the use of the Federation observers, "Overbosses", the Iotians were able to peruse Federation records and technical data. Discovering that the Federation Charter protected their previous lifestyles, if not actually promoted by it, they happily translated their mobster mentality into spacefaring terms. Using the pirated technical details, they built their first warp engine a mere fifty years after Kirk's visit and the Federation's introduction to the planet.

As a warp culture, they were no longer bound by the restrictions of the Prime Directive. They were also not eligible for Federation membership. Making another technological leap, the Iotians launched three NX-class analogues. These ships began charging "protection" money to hapless traders plying the local spacelanes. Next, they travelled to nearby, and less advanced, worlds and began charging them for defence contracts whereby the fledgling Iotian Starfleet would defend their worlds from outside attack.

Fifty years after their launch into space, the Iotians now had fourteen client worlds and had tripled their borders. The Iotian Starfleet currently consisted of six Constitution-class analogues, three NX-class ships, twelve Mercury-class cruisers and six Daedalus-class recreations. Although a century behind Federation standards, these ships demonstrated a two hundred year technological leap that occurred in a mere fifty years. Once the Iotian taps into the Federation relay were discovered, the relay was cut off from the Federation datanets but the damage had already been done. The Iotians had been loosed upon an unsuspecting Quadrant.

Riker had looked all of this up before deciding the Iotians were the perfect candidates for helping taking down the Nova Romans. They weren't members of the Federation, and therefore not subject to the quarantine surrounding the 492 system. They were also adventuristic and hard to intimidate. And best of all, they could be bought with little fear of betrayal.

"I'm here offering a large contract with substantial profit potential." Riker added.

"Follow my ship." Kirk instructed dubiously, "We'll discuss your offer at Starfleet HQ."

"Lead and I'll follow." Riker replied jovially, if only all my ‘allies' looked that good.

 

Chapter 11

The Iotian Starfleet's HQ proved to be an orbital installation. It was a pyloned structure reminiscent of the Federation's K-7 station rather than Earth's mushroom-like Stardock. The Enterprise took up station alongside the facility. The Eclipse was directed to one of the station's smaller docking ports.

Once the docking clamps took hold, an umbilical secured itself to the Eclipse's docking hatch. This provided an access gantry as well as the power and life support connections to the station. When the primary hatch opened, Riker wasn't surprised to see Kirk waiting for him with her arms crossed across her chest.

It was an understatement to say Riker found Kirk attractive. Despite his professional demeanour, he'd been smitten by her since first viewing her on the Eclipse's screen. Her hair fell to her shoulders, having been released from the tight bun she'd worn aboard her own command. For once, Riker was at a loss as to what to say.

Kirk spared him the agony of trying to determine what to say next, "C'mon, we don't have all day. Follow me and we'll see Admiral Oxmyx."

"I'd like to bring my senior officers as well." Riker informed her.

She gave him a curt nod, "Very well, two unarmed officers would be acceptable."

Riker tapped his comm badge while ignoring the classic Type I phaser hanging on her belt, "Radil and Kort, report to the docking hatch."

"Right behind you Skipper." Radil casually replied.

"How..?"

"Didn't take a genius." Radil remarked with a victorious grin.

"Very well." Riker sighed, "Fall in behind me."

"As my Prefect commands." she gibed.

Riker let it go, choosing to focus on a bemused Kirk, "After you."

T'Kir pulled her hood tighter about her head as she disembarked from the train. She'd purchased the fur-lined coat before setting forth from Nova Roma. Every aspect of the coat presented an atrocity to Vulcan sensibilities. It was little wonder she liked it so much. She'd always been more akin to a Romulan than a Vulcan. Perhaps it came from growing up on a mixed colony of Vulcan dissidents and Romulan defectors.

The province of Germania officially ended at the southern bank of the Rhine. Greater, or "Free", Germania lay north of that. The ostensibly pacified Germans hosted the Romans' Armies of the North. These armies watched over Norseland, Greater Germania, and the Roman Provinces of Brittania and Eire. Rusland also fell under their jurisdiction by default. In actuality, the Home Legions of Nova Roma kept a sharp eye on Britania and the unruly Scots that filled her northern region. It was at the very heart of the Northern Armies' Command that the secret transmissions originated at.

Also included in the recipients’ list were Chung Koa, and Persia, as well as the Zulu Empire of southern Africa. A regular Who’s Who of Rome’s enemies. Only the North and Southern American continents were left out since the strongest empires there had been ravaged by disease brought by the invading Romans. Now the Mayans and the Incans offered mere token resistance. Neither was strong enough to garner the attentions of the Council of Free Peoples.

Every inhabitant on this Earth lived under a monarch's heel. Rome's affluence only strengthened her enemies' resolve. T'Kir knew enough of Earth's history to know that this isn't how it happened there. It was similar enough to send chills down her spine.

If Earth had followed this path, would the Federation be an Empire instead? she asked herself. Perhaps this is how the Terran Empire of the Mirror Universe began. She'd never know. Interaction with the Mirror Universe was strictly proscribed. Doesn't seem to stop the crew of DS9, she thought crossly.

T'Kir collected her bags and stopped at the local ATM. Inputting her credit line's code, she withdrew a small, but sizeable enough, sum to put her up for the night and finance her search for the Northern Armies' HQ. She'd make another withdrawal on another account tomorrow before hiring a ride to the base. After seeing last night's gladiatorial bout on television, she knew she didn't have much time.

T'Kir almost couldn't bear to watch the televised broadcast on the train. Then she'd remembered Macen telling about Farish. After that, she knew he'd be fine. It was still a brutal spectacle and it had turned her stomach.

And wasn't the rich irony? After years as the Psycho Vulcan in the Maquis, she was getting squeamish. After a moment's reflection, she realised that her objections stemmed more from the danger to Macen than the actual combat. Reading a Vulcan text was more than enough to inure one to the concept of bloodsports.

Now was not the time for such considerations. Now it was time to find the mysterious rebels. She hailed a passing cab. Getting in, she asked to go to the nearest border checkpoint.

Not for the first time, Riker wished Radil had opted to wear a more conservative version of the Outbound Ventures uniform. Typically, everyone wore black utility pants with either a black T-shirt or a surplus grey turtleneck. Macen often wore a surplus Starfleet Captain's sweater. Radil wore black shorts and tank top coupled with her double holster.

She drew stares as Kirk led them through the Iotian Starfleet Command's station. It wasn't due to her weaponry either. Every Iotian Starfleet officer they passed wore a century old Type II phaser on their belt. Not that the staring was exclusive, Kort drew nearly as many glances as Radil.

"We're here." Kirk announced suddenly. Riker chastised himself for being so caught up in his own thoughts.

"Thank you Captain." he smiled with all the considerable charm he could muster.

Kirk gave him a curt nod in return and motioned towards the door, "After you."

"Ladies first." Riker continued to lay it on.

"No." Kirk replied with a cold smile, her hand dropping to her phaser, "I insist."

Unsettled, Riker stepped forward, triggering the door's actuator. It slid aside, revealing a large office within. Admiral Oxmyx sat behind a large oak-like desk and smiled like a well-fed sehlat. He motioned for Riker and the others to step closer. The door slid shut behind Jamie Kirk.

"Well, well, what kind of strays have you brought me today, Jamie?" Oxmyx chuckled. Riker guessed him to be between 50-60 years in age.

"Feds, sir." Kirk replied crisply, "And they claim to have a job opportunity."

"A job, eh?" Oxmyx mused with a twinkle in his eye, "What kind of job?"

"Just your type." Riker grinned with new confidence, "Like yourselves, we're what you might call private security ‘consultants'. The Feds hired us to investigate and neutralise a planet called Nova Roma in the 492 system."

"Never heard of it." Oxmyx replied.

"We can provide star charts." Riker said dismissively, "The point is, we're a small outfit and the jobs too big for us."

"How big?" Oxmyx asked dubiously.

"Twelve starships." Riker answered, "And several terrestrial armies. They won't pose much of a threat after their so-called ‘Star Legions' are knocked out."

"What kind of profit margin are we talking here?" Oxmyx rose, interest piqued.

"You'd be supplying the lion's share of the manpower, so you'd get the largest percentage of the contract." Riker seemed to count figures in his head, "Say, 75%, that's factoring in a finder's fee for my team, and whatever reparations that you slap Nova Roma with."

"Reparations, huh?" Oxmyx mulled this over, "Tell ya what, draw up the figures and whatever info you have on these ‘Nova Romans' and my staff'll look `em over first thing."

"So you'll consider it?"

"That's what I just said." Oxmyx insisted, "You got a hearin' problem pallie."

"He merely misunderstood your… dialect." Kort clarified.

Oxmyx appraised him, "A Klingon huh? Never met one'a you bruisers before. You the Security Chief?"

"I am the Chief Medical Officer." Kort growled.

"Really?" Oxmyx's surprise was plain to see, "Go Figure. What about you dollface? Communications?"

Radil snatched Oxmix’s wrist and bent it unnaturally; “I’m a Tactical Officer. Communications is just one part of the job. Squeezing disrespectful little pimples like yourself is the other, more enjoyable, part.”

Kirk snagged her phaser off her belt and aimed it at Radil, “Let him go!”

Kort withdrew a Type I phaser from a nook in his armour, “Surrender your weapon.” 

Riker's head slumped into his hands just before Oxmyx managed to chuckle through the pain, "Okay sweetheart, I give."

Radil released him but Kirk's aim remained steady as the Admiral rubbed his injured wrist, "Nice moves Darlin'. I think I can work with you folks."

Kirk's surprised, "Sir?" raced with Riker's stunned, "What?"

"You people know what you want and don't take any crap." Oxmyx grinned, "I respect that. Kirk here will help you gather up the intel and draw estimates and then you two can present it to my staff, let say in two hours?"

Riker nodded, "Easily."

Kirk holstered her phaser with a stunned expression, "Yessir."

"You can put your gun away now, Sonny." Oxmyx told Kort.

The doctor snarled as he complied.

T'Kir crossed the border without incident. She was now ostensibly outside the Roman Empire. Upper Germania had been occupied since the late 15th century as converted into Terran timekeeping since the Provincials, Legionnaires and various peoples gathered by the Preservers had maintained their traditional calendar dates. There had been unrest since that time. The "free" Germans chafed at having to host the Armies of the North and at being their Scandinavian cousins' primary target when striking at Rome.

It was an arrangement, like most Nova Roma entered into, where the Empire received any benefit. The medical and technological advances that had been promised during the surrender were largely suppressed as in other client nations. Rome was to remain penultimate in every facet of life in order to force all other to bow before her. Even the knowledge that Nova Roma was a pale shadow of a long fallen empire did little to quell this drive. It had, however, inspired hope within the breasts of Rome's enemies.

T'Kir desired to bring even more hope. Her offer of weapons designs superior to those of the Romans would undoubtedly enable the varied embattled and beleaguered nations a chance to overthrow the colossus. T'Kir's research had revealed that many of Rome's rival empires weren't much kinder or gentler but at least they were indigenous. It also depended on the plans these erstwhile allies had already made.

Rome had remained superior for centuries by playing her enemies off of one another like a puppetmaster. She'd even throw in with one side or another when it suited her purposes. If the subspace communication logs were any indication, someone had finally gotten them past all of that. T'Kir had monitored the amount of correspondence while on her way here, and the traffic was increasing. Events were coming to a head and she had to move quickly in order to capitalise on the opportunities presented

Finding transportation to the Armies HQ proved easier than she expected. Local produce vendors and butchers sent shipments to the encampment on a daily basis. 60,000 Legionnaires had a lot of stomachs to fill. T'Kir merely purchased a seat aboard one of the transports headed out the next day.

With that taken care of, she sought a room for the night. Again, this proved far easier than expected. T'Kir's accent may have marked her as a foreigner but it also marked her as a non-Roman. The Germans were far more accepting of anyone not wearing the stench of Rome.

T'Kir had traced the signals back to the personal transceiver of the General of the Northern Armies, Livia Germanicus. Two things were surprising about this: 1) a woman had reached staff level command in the Legions, and 2) she was from the southern German Province of the Rhineland. Both factors should have limited her to the rank of Brigade Commander.

Livia was fortunate in that her family were long associates of the Imperial family and that her brother, Alaric Vandalius, was the first Admiral of the Star Legions. These attributes had opened doors that would have been otherwise blocked by ferrocrete. On top of it, Livia was an outstanding commander. She'd never lost an engagement, even as a junior officer. She was an inspiration to the relatively few women serving in the Roman Legions.

All that and a traitor to boot, T'Kir thought gleefully, Can't wait to meet her.

Now all she had to do was wait and endure Macen's second gladiatorial bout. .

"So, their technological base is roughly equivalent to ours?" Kirk asked.

Riker nodded, "Actually, your Constitution and Mercury-class analogues are slightly superior. They, however, do have cloaking technology."

"And they bested your ship even though your technology exceeds them?" she asked sceptically.

"There were six of them, with more on the way." Riker explained, somewhat defensively.

Kirk nodded, "Understandable."

Glad you agree, Riker though sarcastically. Jamie Kirk was becoming less appealing all the time.

She studied the pictures of Macen, T'Kir, Daggit and Dracas displayed on the briefing room's main viewer, "So you left your commander and his team behind?"

"In order to get help." Riker replied, his nerves getting on edge.

She scrutinised Macen's image; "He seems very… complex. I wager there are depths to him that no image could ever convey."

T'Kir was next under the microscope, "The same with her. They know pain beyond description."

Riker was stunned as she returned her attention to him, "What?"

He shook his head, "I don't know. That analysis was very… poignant. How did you do it?"

She looked at him as though he truly were alien; "I'm a starship commander. It's my job to know people, to think like they do. Is this really such an alien concept to you?"

"No," he grudgingly admitted, "but it's more an art than a science. I have to admit I've rarely met a more gifted artisan." Namely Deanna Troi.

"I guess I should thank you, but all I really want to say is that you should brush up your own skills." Kirk said pensively.

Riker shook his head, "I can't believe I'm getting a lecture from you."

"Why?"

"You've wanted to be like us." Riker struggled to explain; "I guess its just weird wanting to be like you."

Kirk pondered this then nodded, "Sounds like a long overdue lesson."

Riker opened his mouth to reply then shut it. His jaw muscles worked as he formulated his next response. Finally, he settled on nodding back, "I guess you're right."

"The Federation Starfleet isn't really trained for these sort of encounters." Kirk added, "So it's a good thing you came to us."

Riker managed to smile, "I guess it is."

"We'd better get back to work." Kirk replied curtly, "The Admiral's expecting us."

"And I'd hate to disappoint." Riker grinned playfully.

"You'd better not." Kirk warned, "Otherwise you'll be looking at some pretty hefty fines besides transit fees."

Stunned, Riker chose the better part of valour and busied himself with data collation.

The presentation was a smashing success. Oxmyx forwarded summaries of it to the rest of the Admiralty and Hereditary President Kracko. Since Oxmyx was the Iotian Starfleet's Commander-in-Chief, the decision was already made. Orders went out and starships' were diverted. Jamie Kirk was temporarily bumped up to Commodore and appointed Fleet Commander.

Oxmyx clapped Riker on the shoulder, "Looks like you've got yourself some allies."

"Thank god." Riker breathed, "After watching your people in action, I'd hate to have you as enemies."

"Don't you know it." Oxmyx rumbled heartily.

Kirk gave Tom a conspiratorial wink. Suddenly she seemed much more attractive again.

As with every other aspect of life since entering Germania, T'Kir's trip to the Northern Armies HQ went astonishingly easy. Upon arriving at the gate, however, that all changed. T'Kir had forged a convincing courier packet marked "Eyes Only" for Livia. Despite containing all the proper codes and verification markers, it was still challenged at the gate. She sat in a bivouac alongside the main gate while sentries made the necessary calls.

It took nearly an hour, but she was finally cleared and escorted to Livia's tent. As counted on, the "Eyes Only" label had cleared away Livia's aides and moved their meeting to a private location. T'Kir was not disappointed by what she saw when she entered the General's tent. Livia was in her mid-thirties with chestnut hair, sea-blue eyes, and unmistakably German facial features.

"Well?" Livia asked in accented Latin, "Give it to me."

T'Kir handed over the package and waited while Livia opened it. While she did so, T'Kir assessed the silliness of wearing both a sword and a phase pistol. She wondered if the breastplate Livia wore was protection against particle weapons or merely blades. Macen and the boys had certainly proved last night how little protection the armour truly offered.

"There is nothing in here." Livia glared, hand reaching for her pistol.

"Ya might want to reconsider that." T'Kir advised.

"And why would I want to do that?" Livia's eyes narrowed as her grip on her pistol's grip tightened.

T'Kir threw back the hood of her coat, revealing her ears; "I don't know. Just a thought."

Livia gaped as her grip lost all tension, "Gods above." she whispered in slowly dawning comprehension.

"See, I know about your chats with what may be termed, ‘enemies of the Empire'. I also know that if I can figure it out, so can someone else. I, however, can ensure that never happens."

"But why?" Livia stammered, still unnerved.

"I need a favour." T'Kir grinned, "Some friends of mine have been arrested. I need you to break them out."

Livia blinked in surprise, "Go on."

T'Kir's' smile grew wider, "General, have I got a deal for you. First off, you'll get weapons…"

The Iotian fleet was assembling. Four of the five other Constitution-class ships had gathered alongside the Enterprise. They were, in order of arrival, the Kracko, the Chicago, the Capone, and the Kelly. The Federation was still due to arrive. Half of the twelve Mercury-class ships were still en route to join their brethren.

While the Constitution-class ships amounted to heavy cruisers, the smaller Mercury ships were their lighter cousins. Slightly over half the size of the larger starships, the light cruisers also sported a nacelle configuration not seen again in the UFP until the advent of the Excelsior and Ambassador-class ships. The Iotians, although gifted at mimicry had done nothing to improve or alter their "borrowed" designs.

Tom Riker watched the work with a growing respect and awe for Jamie Kirk. Like her infamous namesake, she was the youngest captain on record with her service. She'd acquired her rank with the same attention to detail that she'd demonstrated earlier. Her keen insight enabled her to often circumvent problems before they arose. It was a talent Riker was grateful for as the fractious Iotians gathered together.

It was plain to see they still had far too much of the gangster mentality in their culture. Riker wondered how they managed to accomplish anything. The only saving grace was that they also accepted a CO's word like mob law. Disobedience could carry equally harsh penalties as well. It was a situation that made Riker doubt his earlier decision to incorporate the Iotians in his rescue plans.

 


Proceed to Part III

 

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