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Pax Romana - Part III 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 12

Dracas' shoulders remained slumped as he, Daggit and Macen re-entered the Gladiator's Armoury. They'd survived their third bout in the arena. The guards had laughed as they told them that this was their last night of single combat. Starting tomorrow evening, they would collectively face five armed opponents.

Dracas knew, just knew, that Macen and Daggit would each hurl themselves into combat with two assailants. Dracas was the oldest, and least skilled, swordsman among. Both factors had nearly gotten him killed on more than one occasion. Dracas was still twenty years younger than Captain Scott was when he finally retired, but that still ranked him as the "old" man of the ship. Macen and T'Kir both were older chronologically, but they were both younger in relative terms. Relatively speaking, they weighed in at half of Dracas' sixty years and right now he could feel every year.

"Hang in there Chief." Daggit said encouragingly, "We'll get through tomorrow."

Only because you and Macen will carry the day, Dracas thought bitterly.

"Dracas," Macen broke his silence, "you're facing men half your age and you're overcoming them. That's nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is Daggit's enhanced abilities or my years of training with a sword. We each have our strengths and weaknesses out there. What we can't afford is despair or doubt. Either of these will kill us."

"Too late." Dracas grumbled."

Macen strode over to him and pulled him up of the bench he was sitting on, "We're going to make it, Chief. Each of us, each doing our part. As long as stand together we'll be fine. We just have to hold out until they tire of this or help comes."

"All right." Dracas mumbled.

"I can't hear you mister!" Macen shouted into his face."

"All right!" Dracas yelled back.

"Good." Macen said with a nod, "Stay angry, it'll keep you alive."

T'Kir leaned over the display table, a beret perched atop her head, "So let me get this straight, your allies from Persia and the Middle Kingdom will simultaneously attack, driving through Rusland and the Near East, and assail Rome's eastern borders. The Scots will rebel in Brittania while supported by an invasion of Eirelanders. The Zulus will lead an uprising in central Africa and drive northwards while the Norse and the Free Germans gather around the elements of the Northern Armies loyal to you, and descend down Nova Roma. And you estimate 45,000-50,000 of your 60,000 troops will follow you, that about right?"

Livia nodded, replying in accented English, "Essentially."

"Ballsy." T'Kir whistled, "It has more potential holes in it than Swiss cheese, but ballsy."

"What do the Sweiss have to do with this, or anything?" Livia asked, "They were conquered long ago."

T'Kir sighed, "You people are too damned literal."

Livia's trusted subordinates bristled at that. Livia shook her head; "We are what we are alien."

T'Kir's eyes narrowed, "Then listen to this: to me, you're the aliens. Oddity is in the eye of the beholder. If you keep putting me at arm's length here, I can't help you. If I can't help you, you won't contact your Crusader allies in Nova Roma and I won't get the help I need."

Livia took a sharp breath, "Who told you that?"

T'Kir rolled her eyes, "C'mon, it wasn't hard to figure out. You need someone outside the military to observe conditions in the city and to revolt within the city, keeping both the Praetorian Guard and the Home Legion busy while you're rushing in to invade. The Crusaders are the only faction left within the Empire that hasn't already been tapped for your little plan. What did you offer 'em, religious tolerance?"

Livia nodded, "That and autonomy within Brittania. They have made major inroads inside the Isles of Brittania and Eire. Perhaps letting the Crusaders and Catholics set up their own kingdoms will stem the tide of their expansion."

"Doubt it." T'Kir remarked.

"As do I, but such was the price of their co-operation." Livia shrugged, her eyes then narrowed, "Remind me again, why are your companions so valuable that I should risk the security of my plans in order to liberate them?"

T'Kir grinned, "Dracas is an engineer. Not just any kind of engineer, but a weapons expert. He can design a fabrication unit that will produce molecular disrupters. These will outmode your current phase pistols and allow you to 'generously' turn a supply of them over to your 'allies' after you've secured a stockpile of the newer weapons. Weapons, I might add, Starfleet no longer produces."

Livia nodded, "Proceed."

"Daggit is a soldier. Your star forces are long on theory and short on experience. Most of your boarding doctrine is based upon close quarters fighting inside buildings. Daggit can teach you how to deal with forcefields and gas as well as other obstacles you'll face on a modern starship." T'Kir explained.

"And the last?" Livia asked, "This 'Macen'?"

T'Kir tried not to sigh forlornly, "Macen is the leader. Although he hates to admit it, he's an excellent operations planner. He can examine your plans and fill any gaps in the current contingencies and help you exploit opportunities you haven't spotted yet. He's the lynch pin to the whole deal."

Livia smiled knowingly, "And now I understand you. You have been an enigma. Now I know what motivates you. It is not money or power, it is love. From what you have told me, you rebel against the norms of your people. I can relate to this. You are also accustomed to acquiring what you desire. This too I understand. You desire this man and you will not suffer his loss lightly. This I can appreciate. I will assist you, not because of your promises, which may prove false, but because I respect you. You have opened my eyes to new possibilities. Not all aliens are as untrustworthy as the Emperor's Omricons. I thank you for this and will endeavour to help you however I can."

T'Kir swallowed hard, "Thank you. You have my gratitude."

Livia smiled, "Only your camaraderie is required."

"How many more days?" Riker asked in disbelief.

"Two." Kirk replied grimly, "The Leonard McCoy has developed a matter/antimatter intermix flow problem. It will require twenty-two hours to repair. After that, it'll take her four hours to get here. Calculate two hours to update her orders and acquaint her captain with our operational orders, six to eight hours to replenish her stores, and you're looking at roughly a forty-eight hour window."

Riker shook his head. Rather than marvelling at the similarity of the Iotian and Terran day, 24.7 hours vs. 24 hours, he was fuming over the unexpected delay, "Is there any chance of using another ship?"

Kirk shook her head in the negative; "The McCoy is one of our Montgomery Scott-class ships, based upon your own Mercury-class designs. We need her speed and firepower. The only other ships that could be freed up are Jonathan Archer and Benjamin Stiles-classes."

Riker knew those to be NX and Daedalus-class analogues. The Nova Roman Eagles, so dubbed by Grace, would chew those ships up. The thought of Grace momentarily made Riker uneasy but he shrugged it off as "hurry up and wait" jitters. So far on this mission, the helmsman had performed above and beyond the call of duty.

"I'm sure your Starfleet could manage something more, but this is the best we neo-barbarians can do." Kirk retorted impatiently.

Riker held up his hands in surrender, "I didn't mean to seem judgmental. I'm just concerned about my fellow officers, it makes me a little impatient."

Kirk nodded sympathetically, "I understand. I cringe every time a member of my crew is being held by a hostile power."

"Does that happen a lot?" Riker wondered.

"All the time." Kirk sighed, "The universe really is an antagonistic place to live."

Riker nodded, "That thought crosses my mind every day."

Kirk suddenly looked inspired, "Have you ever thought about quitting covert ops and starting up a new life? One out on the frontier?"

Riker grinned like a schoolboy, "Every day."

"Join the Iotian Starfleet!" Kirk suggested, "You'd be a conch for your own command. We're about to launch the new James Kirk-class, based on your own Constitution-class refits, and you'd probably be the first to receive one."

"You don't even know what kind of commander I am." Riker demurred.

"I know people." Kirk defended, "I know you. I think this would be a wonderful idea."

"Why?"

"You're not happy in the Federation." she explained, "You're especially not happy with how Starfleet has treated you. You can't mention them without a slight sarcastic sneer. You want to be somewhere where you can be free. That place is here."

Riker shook his head, "We'll see."

"The offer will always be open." Kirk assured him.

"I have contacted the leader of the Crusaders, as well as my political patron in Nova Roma, they have agreed to assist you in your endeavour." Livia reported to T'Kir, "You will leave immediately in order to catch the midnight train back to Nova Roma." she held out a packet of documents, "Here are your rendezvous instructions and your travel documents. You will find a credit voucher included. This is billed to the discretionary funds of the Armies of the North. Use it wisely and with prudence."

T'Kir nodded her thanks, "Okay. What about clothes?"

"Garments will be provided to better make you appear as your chosen role as a military courier." Livia explained, "We had best hurry and get you fitted."

"Thanks." T'Kir expressed honestly.

Hannah Grace found her life reduced to a constant state of paranoia. She kept waiting for Kort to confront her over Riker's throat trauma. It had been a couple of days now yet the accusation hadn't appeared. Kort doubled as the team's forensic specialist. It shouldn't have been too hard for him to detect the fingerprint-laced bruises on Riker's throat. Why the hell hadn't anyone approached her?

"Grace?" she hear Kort's bass rumble as she exited the Eclipse's mess hall.

She turned to discover Radil standing alongside the troubled looking physician.

Radil, as usual, looked spoiling for a fight. Wunderbar, she mentally groaned in a native language of Magna Roma, they're actually going to try a takedown. Fat chance!

"Yes?" she palmed the attuner in her pocket and depressed the activation stud, "I know there's no trouble because you have no evidence to suspect me of anything. Isn't that right?"

Both Kort and Radil nodded dumbly as Grace continued, "You were just coming to ask how I was feeling since you've noticed I've been looking a little peked. That was unusual enough to worry you."

Kort and Radil snapped out of their trance and spoke in stereo, "Is everything all right?"

"Yup." Grace answered with a sigh, "Just worried about T'Kir and the others. She's my best friend and all, so knowing she's in danger is wearing on me."

"Never fear." Kort snarled, "We shall be rescuing them within a matter of days."

Grace nodded, "I know, but it doesn't stunt the jitters."

"Buck up." Radil suggested, "You'll get your chance to bust some heads soon enough."

"Thanks you two, but I really should be headed back to the bridge."

Kort and Radil nodded and headed into the mess as Grace proceeded towards the lift. The things I do for the Kelvan Empire.

Twenty minutes later, Grace was weaving the Eclipse in between the assembled Constitution and Mercury-class analogues. The Iotian fleet was almost completely gathered for their planned invasion. Nearly two-thirds of the entire Iotian Starfleet would be committed to this plan. If the Romans somehow mustered a more advanced force than the one the Eclipse had faced while escaping Magna Roman orbit, then Iotia would be left destitute.

Kirk stood alongside Riker as he sat in the command chair, drinking in the view, "Impressive."

Kirk nodded, emotions straining her throat, "The pride of Iotia."

"I can see why." Riker admitted, "They're beautiful."

"Your ship is also a beauty." Kirk replied quickly, "It's so nimble."

Oh, please, Grace almost gagged, take her to your quarters and be done with it.

A quick glance over her shoulder revealed that Radil felt ill as well. Grace shook her head and wondered if the two commanders knew how blatant their mutual attraction was. More to the point, did both of them realise how doomed their feelings were from the start? Riker's life was far from normal and precluded any regular visits to anywhere in the Federation much less Iotia.

It'll all be over in a couple of days, Grace fervently wished, and everything will get back to "normal". Even as she thought it, she tasted the lie behind it.

T'Kir checked her gear one last time. She'd endured another broadcast gladiatorial bout while waiting for the train. Macen and the others were now the featured attraction. They were attracting a lot of attention and well as a lot of fans. It also meant a rise on the calibre of opponents. Daggit and Macen had visibly struggled while Dracas had floundered.

They won't be able to keep this up much longer, T'Kir realised with despair. At least now she was on the midnight mag-rail to Nova Roma. She'd be in the city in a few hours. Representatives of the Crusaders would meet her at the train depot.

Even in her private berth, T'Kir kept her coat's hood up. She'd be grateful to leave this bloody planet and be able to show her ears again. Livia's provisions alleviated most of the worries of her previous trip. Now it was just mobilising before one of the other members of the team died in the arena. T'Kir wasn't certain it could be done in time. She turned off the berth's lights with a discontented huff and tried to take a nap.

T'Kir woke with a yawn. She checked the status screen and discovered they were pulling into Nova Roma's northern train depot. This was her stop. She gathered up her belongings, fixed her hood, and exited for the main passageway. She joined the queue at the car's exit and waited for the train to come to a complete stop.

The wind lifted T'Kir's ankle-length coat to her knees as she stepped off the train. The platform was filled with many people despite the early hours. She moved away from the crowd in an effort to better identify her contacts. All she knew was that they had her description and would meet her here.

A minute passed, then another. T'Kir rocked back and forth on her heels as her patience wore thin. She noticed two labourers, judging by their manner and quality of dress, watching her. Had Livia's security precautions failed?

She knew Macen would never willingly give her up but what if he didn't know he was? According to Livia, these "Omricons" that were advising the Emperor could wrest any information from someone if given enough time. Who knew what manner of tortures Macen and the others endured in between gladiatorial bouts? Then again, Livia's tales could simply be fear driven hyperbole.

T'Kir tensed and began identifying escape routes as the two men approached her. They stopped just short of arm's reach and fidgeted a bit. Seen up close, T'Kir could tell they were just as uncomfortable as she was. They were definitely her contacts, and amateurs at that.

"T'Kir?" the bolder of the two whispered at last.

"Yes." she replied confidently, trying to inspire her would-be caretakers to show a little bravado.

"We're supposed to take you to see the Pontiff." the same speaker informed her.

"I'm assuming that's your leader." T'Kir responded dryly.

The two Crusaders exchanged a wary glance, "Yes, Lady. Please follow us. Transportation is awaiting us."

Transportation proved to be a six-passenger aircar. Utilising magnetic repulsors rather than thrusters and impulse drivers, the car was far quieter than anything T'Kir was used to. It landed before the front portico of a rather sizeable manor house. It bespoke of money and influence; two commodities she'd assumed the Crusaders had in short supply.

Her expectations and assumptions elevated, she stepped out of the car and allowed herself to be guided to the house's entrance. On Earth, the style would have been labelled neo-classical. On Magna Roma, it was referred to as post-Republic. Architecture had remained stagnated in the name of orthodoxy for nearly two thousand years. Facades remained the same, only the interior fixtures and plumbing advanced.

The manor T'Kir was being led into outwardly followed the norms of the day, but its interior was a technological marvel only decades behind most Federation colonial dwellings. The DMZ had been filled with dwellings comparable to this one. A number of them, most notably Dorvan V, were less advanced. Needless to say, T'Kir felt right at home.

Only the decorating needed alteration. Portraits of past emperors and tapestries displaying the Roman eagle abounded. It seemed strange for the leader of the Crusaders to indulge in such "idolatry". Perhaps her research had misled her or she'd misinterpreted some vital clue.

"Ah, here's our guest." a middle-aged Roman in loose pants and tunic descended the spiral marble staircase that led to the living suites, "Show me you ears, dear, then we can get to business."

T'Kir recognised the man from a photo Livia had shown her. This was Germanicus' political sponsor, Flavius Brutus. He served as Livia's contact with the Crusader's Pontiff. T'Kir suddenly suspected he was far more than that.

"Does Livia know you're actually the Pontiff himself as well as a Roman Senator?" she asked.

Brutus stopped, nonplussed, then laughed, "Very good, dear girl. I sincerely pray you are who you purport to be or we shall have an issue betweenst us."

As Brutus reached the last of the stairs, T'Kir threw back her hood. Brutus gazed at her in wonder then clapped his hands in delight.

"How fortunate." he relaxed as he spoke, "I truly would have hated to have you executed for 'trespassing'."

"You and me both." T'Kir admitted, "Shall we discuss our little jailbreak now?"

"In the drawing room please." Brutus indicated the way with his head, "We can have coffee and a light breakfast served in order to stave off the bleakness of the wee hours."

T'Kir nodded and smiled, "I'd like that."

"Always a pleasure to serve a Lady."

 

Chapter 13

"So explain to me again why Hereditary President Kracko answers to High Admiral Oxmyx?" Riker asked Kirk in the privacy of her cabin aboard the Enterprise.

"It's really quite simple," Kirk sighed at the distraction from their earlier lovemaking, "High Admiral Oxmyx controls Starfleet. Starfleet controls both Iotia's terrestrial and extraterrestrial security forces. Although a paper fiction maintains the Oxmyx dynasty surrendered power when it handed the presidency to the Kracko cartel, in reality it gained both leverage and prestige in real political terms. The Hereditary President can't propose a single initiative without the High Admiral's endorsement."

"Has it ever been tried?" Riker wondered.

Kirk nodded, "Once, the fathers of the current Admiral and President disagreed over a policy change. Kracko tried to implement it without Oxmyx's support. He found himself surrounded by Starfleet Security officers and held prisoner until he relented and withdrew the legislation."

"So the planet is still run like a syndicate." Riker mused.

"Of course." Kirk grinned, "My namesake had it right when he said that it was the only way to unite my people. It's worked for us for over a hundred years now. No need to change something that works."

"Have you ever thought about joining the Federation?" Riker asked innocently.

"Join the Feds?" Kirk was honestly puzzled, "Why? We have everything we need right here. Despite the Prime Directive, the Feds would just send people, like before, to try and change us. We're comfortable being who we are. Why change?"

Riker had no ready answer for that question since it was the same query that governed his life.

Lisea Danan awoke with a start. She'd never started having nightmares until she'd been forced to endure watching Macen and his crewmen fight for their lives night after night. Although she still strongly believed in the reasoning that had ended her romantic relationship with Macen, she still deeply cared for him. She had no doubts that either Amanda Drake or her mentor, Alynna Nechayev, had used the same ties to motivate Macen into a rescue attempt.

She found it strange that she was more concerned over her former lover's fate than her own. She'd had plenty of concerns when she'd first been selected as a slave of the Imperial Household. She'd wondered whether or not the young Emperor's sexual tastes ran to the "exotic". She'd since learned otherwise.

Aurelius Romulus had his pick of willing, native, courtesans. He had no need to "sully" himself with an off-worlder when he had the fruits of Magna Roma stretched out before him. If anything, Danan had been treated with the utmost respect. Slavery may have evolved into a genteel establishment but at its heart it still remained slavery.

Danan's will was not her own and neither were her movements. Her beauty and intelligence had soon earned Romulus' trust as well, she suspected, as that of his Star Admiral. As long as she did her duties with grace and precision, she'd please her "master". Vandalius' motives were far murkier.

Born the scion of a subject German lord, Alaric had enjoyed the run of the Imperial Palace since he was a child. His devotion to Nova Roma and the Empire was absolute. He was, however, often a voice for social change and that voice carried great weight with his former charge.

The major item of contention between the former mentor and student was the ongoing involvement of the Omricons in Roman affairs. Vandalius hated these enigmatic aliens while Romulus seemed to think he had deceived into doing his bidding. Danan, like Alaric, saw the lie behind Aurelius' delusion. The Omricons served no needs but their own. For now, their needs just happened to coincide with Nova Roma's.

Although she'd never heard of them, nor had anyone in her symbiont's lengthy lifespan, the Omricons carried themselves with the confidence of an elder race. The onyx skinned giants comported themselves with enough arrogance to shame both the Romulans and the Cardassians. Although uncertain of their origins, she was reminded of tales of the Iconians at the height of their interstellar reign of terror. The Omricons saw themselves as the masters of all they surveyed and Danan couldn't help but feel some of that belief was warranted.

Ezexial, leader of the Omricon mission to Magna Roma, wanted Macen dead. As the commander of Nova Roma's internal security forces, he could easily make this happen. So far, he'd stayed his hand out of deference to the Emperor. Danan wasn't certain how much longer Ezexial would remain comfortable in his cloak of subservience. It was only a matter of time before the alien asserted himself and Macen and the others died. They needed an escape.

Lisea had made discreet inquiries amongst the other Household slaves. One, a native African who was drawn to Danan, offered a glimmer of hope. Household women were often rewarded with congical visits with gladiators. If Danan could earn such a visit, the she might be able to help Macen co-ordinate an escape. The African offered to help further, in exchange for congical rights of his own with the "leopard" woman. Much as Danan longed for some sexual release, it was all too mercenary for her tastes.

Today, she decided, she would request a tryst with Macen. The worst that could happen was a refusal. At the very least, she'd plant the idea of her intent and wait for it to be a spontaneous "gesture". Hopefully Brin and the others could stay alive that long. The "oldest" of them was really struggling while both Macen and his Angosian killing machine were showing signs of tiring.

"It just so happens that an alien within the Imperial Household is making inquiries as to how to assist your comrades." Brutus revealed over a goblet of wine.

T'Kir's eyebrow arched, "Let me guess, female with dark spots along her face and neck?"

"Indeed!" Brutus confirmed, "However did you know?"

"It's just my luck." T'Kir groaned.

"Is there a problem, my Lady?" Brutus asked solicitously.

"A former rival." T'Kir shrugged.

Brutus shook his head; "You have no rivals, my Lady. You are exquisitely unique."

T'Kir gave him a wan smile, "Thanks, but you don't know the competition."

"But I've met her." Brutus revealed, "She is now a slave in the Imperial Household. She seems quick-witted enough, but totally docile."

T'Kir laughed, "Lisea Danan is many things, but docile isn't one of them. She's biding her time."

"For escape," Brutus wondered, "or for the man you fear she'll try to acquire."

T'Kir's features contorted in outrage, then she subsided, "We have an agreement over that issue."

"Then what are your concerns?" Brutus gently inquired.

"That she'll forget about our little arrangement." T'Kir confessed despite herself, "There's a lot of shared history between the three of us."

"I think you have little to worry about." Brutus consoled, "Men seek capable women for mates and you are as capable as any woman I have ever encountered. If it were not for your strange ears, I might elect to pursue you myself."

T'Kir blushed, "Thank you."

Brutus waved his hand dismissively, "No thanks are required, my Lady. The truth is what it is."

"Not always." T'Kir grimaced.

"The truth remains constant, only our perceptions of it change." Brutus reiterated, "This is the first and most fundamental conflict between my brethren and the Empire."

T'Kir mulled this over while Brutus brightened, "Your connection to the alien slave may prove useful."

"How?"

"We can utilise her to deliver a message to your comrades." Brutus smiled.

T'Kir nodded, "Nice in theory but how're we gonna pull that one off?"

Brutus' smile widened, "Aurelius owes me a few favours. I think I can arrange it."

T'Kir brightened, "Then let's do it!"

Danan was surprised to be summoned away from her cleaning duties. She'd discovered that the drudgery of household chores was comparable to that of time compressed astrographical survey scans. Hours of labour yielded little visible results and yet it still had to be done. Her years of running deep space scans granted her the patience to excel at this work while other alien slaves failed to adapt.

She was brought out to the garden veranda. Seated in a semi-circle was Aurelius Romulus and his courtesans. Standing before the Emperor was a solemn looking young man. His eyes met Danan's with an earnestness that surprised her. More rattled than ever before, she passively followed the slave that had summoned her as he led her before the Emperor.

"Ah Danan," Romulus said with delight as he diverted his attention from his favourite of the moment, "it seems you have honoured one of my loyal comrades with an act of service. Flavius Brutus is an honourable man and wishes to honour you in return. You have been given an afternoon in the gladiatorial pens. It has been arranged for you to be tended by the leader of the aliens currently courting the public's favour."

Romulus paused thoughtfully, "If this continues, aliens may find a foothold on our world after all."

Danan let Ezexial's presence pass as she curtsied, "Thank you, my Lord."

"Thank Brutus." Romulus chortled, "Accompany Brutus' man here. He will take you to the Coliseum and return you when you are done."

She silently bowed her head and followed the unknown slave. Silence continued as she boarded the aircar. She wondered if he would speak at all as he activated the craft's repulsorlifts. The droning hum of the outdated lifts reverberated through the car's cabin as it took flight.

"I have a message for you." The unnamed slave announced suddenly.

"Really?" she asked sarcastically, "From whom?"

"From T'Kir." the slave informed her.

Danan listened in wide-eyed shock as the message was delivered verbatim.

"So, we're ready to go?" Riker asked eagerly.

"In two hours." Kirk replied, "I want to give the latest arrivals a rest before departure."

"Finally." Riker breathed, "We can get some action."

Jamie Kirk smiled at him, hinting at all the action he'd already endured.

Macen accompanied the guard, surprised at the interruption of the afternoon's normal routine. He was led to a boudoir. Minutes later, the steel door to the bedchamber opened again. Although prepared to once again rebuff the advances of a slave or a Roman lady, he was not prepared for the presence of his fellow occupant.

"Lees?" he asked in utter disbelief.

"It's really me, Brin." she assured him.

"How?" he stammered, "Why?"

"Well, you saw me with Aurelius Romulus. That explains the how. I'm currently a slave with the Imperial Household. I'm told it's an honour." She gave him a wan smile, "As far as the why goes, you have to come over here to discover that for yourself."

Although surprised by the suggestive tone she'd used, Macen complied and Danan began whispering in his ear, "Ruffle my clothing as though we were making desperate love. I'll provide sound effects as needed. They monitor these rooms but they won't observe too closely if we put on a show."

Danan let out a yelp of excitement and then continued, "T'Kir and a native group of insurgents known as the Crusaders are going to free you tonight. They have it all planned, just be ready to react when they make their move. Slam me against the wall and start dry humping me. It'll add to the theatre." She moaned for added effect.

"T'Kir will make her move after you dispatch your opponents tonight. Their connection has provided them with military phase pistols. I don't know how good these Crusaders are but they're supposed to the best they have. Hold on... Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Macen fought a smirk; "You were never this vocal when we did it for real."

"That was for an audience of one and far more sincere than this tripe." she hesitated, "Oh Brin, I'm sorry to have dragged you into this."

"And when did you do this?"

"I'm sure Nechayev or Drake used my presence here as an inducement to volunteer for this mission."

"I would have volunteered anyway." he assured her.

"Let's end this." she whispered, "I can feel you!"

Macen groaned.

"Oh baby." Danan cooed as they separated. They made a show of rustling their clothes like they were redressing.

"Now what?" Danan asked.

"Don't know." Macen admitted, "I've turned everyone else down."

"There were others?"

"Ever since we started winning." Macen confessed, "Daggit's been a virtual one-man army."

"He hasn't!"

Macen shrugged, "Don't ask, don't tell."

"What about Dracas?"

"A few ladies were shot down but the powers that be quickly deduced Hal's true preferences and began sending men." Macen ran a hand through his hair, "I haven't checked on the results since then."

"It'd be immoral." Danan protested.

Knowing Trill's liberal views on homosexuality, Macen took the comment to mean the whole practice in general, "James Kirk indulged while here."

"He practically indulged every time he landed on a planet." Danan fumed.

"True," Macen conceded, "but it did set a precedent."

"It's taking advantage of vulnerable women." Danan argue.

"Or men, in Dracas' case." Macen reminded.

"Whatever."

"Although they're slaves, they're still consenting adults." Macen said, "Trill philosophy is filled with countless volumes revolving around the freedoms of consenting adults and their decisions. It's practically the basis for your society. I'm surprised to find you being ultra conservative on the issue."

She nodded, "It's the whole slavery thing. I just overreacted because I wasn't sent here by choice. That means that some of these others aren't either."

"Then why assume they are being forced after they get here?" inquired, "These are honourable men. If they find solace while facing death every night, let them enjoy it."

"And you?"

Macen shrugged, "I'm a one woman kind of guy."

"Who is she?"

Macen grinned, "That'd be telling."

Danan was about to protest when the door opened. The guard summoned her and she left without protest. Macen's guard arrived several minutes later. The smirk on the guard's face let Macen know his escort was one of the eavesdroppers for that afternoon.

Grace hovered over her flight control board like a raptor seeking prey. She was in her element now. Her skills and aptitude were partly her own and partly a result of her having received her mother's skills and memories along with those of her entire ancestral line. The memories weren't active, but were rather like a wellspring of knowledge and skills from which to draw on. Drea, her mother, had the strongest influence since she was the closest link in the generational dynasty.

Hannah hated the fact that she had to hide the true scope of her abilities, and her mission, from those that she considered her friends. Grace's parents had adopted human form upon entering the Milky Way galaxy. Their native physiques, born and bred for the Andromeda galaxy, could not withstand the fundamental environmental differences of the Milky Way. The dying Kelvans scanned a nearby human settlement and altered themselves at the genetic level. Having adopted humanoid form, they could now survive the formerly hostile environment surrounding them.

Encountering James Kirk and the crew of the NCC-1701 USS Enterprise, the Kelvans swiftly learned several things. They had recreated themselves as the ultimate expression of the human genome as they found it. Their bodies and reflexes were several times faster and stronger than any native-born human. Combined with their massive intellects and generational memories, the Kelvans were more than a match for any humanoid they could encounter. However, they had not counted on gaining the capacity for human emotion as well.

This proved their undoing. The centuries long voyage back to Kelvan would only reinforce the behaviours in the offspring since the alterations they'd undergone were irreversible. Genetics combined with dynastic memory transfer would completely alienate the returning scouts from their people. The effort to return to Kelvan was doomed before it was begun.

The Kelvans settled on the world they'd been found upon. Unknown to Kirk, they transmitted a message home describing life in the Milky Way and the price of living there. They then set out to make a new life for themselves. Procreation came and a second wave of Kelvans entered the Milky Way. Following Starfleet's survey of the system, humanity surged outward and settled on the small world alongside the Kelvans.

Ro-Jan adopted the course of hiding the true nature of his people and created the fiction that they were prospectors that had "gone native". The Kelvans were readily accepted into the human community and a new plan was devised. The Kelvans were send forth select youngsters into the wider whole of the Federation to determine what reaction incoming Kelvan refugees could expect. Free of disease and harmful mutations, the original Kelvan scouts possessed nearly Vulcan lifespans. They produced several children before age inhibited their procreative capabilities. Now the children were producing the children.

Grace was born in the last wave of offspring produced by the elder Kelvans. Named to allay human suspicions, Grace had been chosen before birth to be among those sent into the Federation. She would have the most dangerous task of all, the infiltration of Starfleet. She was groomed from birth for her task.

When the time arrived for her to undertake her mission, several minor changes were made to her appearance. Her naturally dark hair was dyed blond, a practice she continued. She was given brown contact lenses to mask her green eyes and their retinal pattern. The new pattern matched a created colonial dossier prepared for her and her Starfleet Academy entrance exams. The rest came naturally; her waif-like physique belied her paranormal strength and endurance. Her reflexes and intelligence could both could be attributed to talent.

Hannah Grace had been transformed into the ultimate infiltrator. It amused her when Section 31 approached her and asked her to "observe" other members of Starfleet. She planned to use them even as they used her. Accessing Section 31's resources, she could more easily gauge the prevailing temperaments of the Federation. She had not counted on being placed as Julia D'art's back-up on both the CONN and Section 31 duties. Both Grace and D'art shared the same first name, so they'd elected to refer to D'art by her middle name.

D'art was revealed as a Section 31 spy but Hannah escaped detection. Watching Macen in action inspired Hannah and she broke off her connection with Section 31. Desiring an agent-in-place within the newly formed Special Investigation Division's premier action team, Section 31 responded by kidnapping Grace and holding her until they could speak with Macen. Once again, Macen astounded Grace by forgiving her lie of omission. She was accepted back into the team without qualm or reservation. It was Grace's first concrete experience with the forgiving ideals of the Federation. Strange that a man born outside of the Federation taught this lesson.

From that moment on, Grace struggled with her conscious. Her mission was supposed to remain secret but she strongly suspected Macen wouldn't care one way or the other. Her task was a peaceful one. Why then must it remain shrouded in mystery?

Grace felt lied to by the very people that had given her life. The emotional schism created by this sense of betrayal threatened to spill over into her professional life. She could maintain the duplicity as long as she performed her duties but a breach of those same responsibilities would garner greater scrutiny. Frankly, Grace found it hard to care any more.

Discovery would bring with it a sense of relief. She still couldn't bring herself to reveal any details of her past but if someone were to discover them on their own. It would elicit a torrent of confessions. Grace yearned for this release. The growing tension she felt could only find temporary reprieve in combat, which is why she fixated on the navigation sensors and viewscreen in anticipation of the upcoming conflict with the Nova Romans. Perhaps this time she wouldn't be fast enough or clever enough and her guilt would die with her.

 

Chapter 14

T'Kir swallowed hard as she passed the ticket booth of the Coliseum. Of all her masquerades since arriving on Magna Roma, this seemed the most dangerous. Still clad in her military courier garb, T'Kir joined the milling throng inside the Coliseum's massive walls. Built earlier in the century, the Nova Roman Coliseum would have encompassed twenty of the original Roman arenas. It was designed for grand spectacle for the naked eye as well as the television lens.

Remote cameras studded every surface. Any single point on the arena floor could be filmed from dozens of viewpoints. The studio complex controlling this system was a massive underground labyrinth dwarfed only by the gladiator pens. It was also about to be proven to be the complex's weakest point.

The Crusaders' plans were simple. They placed gunmen at every level of the seats. Several Crusader moles in both the studio and arena control rooms would grant access for Crusader action teams. These teams would secure the various control rooms and deactivate the cameras and security measures. The teams in the crowd would control the riotous spectators. T'Kir and a select volunteer would join Macen and the prisoners and lead them to safety. A dozen aircars would be waiting for the escapees and their liberators.

T'Kir felt trepidatious. She hadn't been this nervous since her earliest days in the Maquis. The crowd also affected her. It was difficult to shut off all the psychic "chatter" generated by all the minds around her. Some days it sucked to be a telepath.

She nestled in to her assigned seat. Brutus had arranged for her placement so it was as close to the arena floor as possible. She wondered if the Senator were tipping his hand and then waived her concerns away. If Livia's plan succeeded, then the Empire would be toppled within the course of a day or two.

It would have been easier to wait for Livia's plan to succeed or fail. This option was not acceptable to T'Kir. There was too great of a chance that Macen and the others would be executed during the confusion of a revolt. She also foresaw Macen as having the best chance to overcome the Omricon contingent operating out of the Imperial Palace.

Of course, T'Kir still had to convince Macen to lead the assault on the Palace but she didn't see the difficulty in this. After all the mistreatment he'd endured, Macen would undoubtedly relish a chance to strike back at his captors. T'Kir certainly would and she and Macen were far more alike than either generally cared to admit. It had made them a potently effective pairing during the Maquis rebellion and could undoubtedly lead to a far more interesting union now.

Stop thinking that way dammit! T'Kir chided herself. She had the mission to think about, the task at hand, one of a hundred things to concern herself with that didn't involve her frustrated love life. Ah hell, who'm I kidding? she mentally sighed, My love life's why I'm here.

Try as she might, and she'd thrown everything she had into it over the last few months, she couldn't separate herself from thoughts like this. Thanks to the mental link she shared with Macen, discovered while trying to unravel one of the numerous Andergani pirate cartels, she knew he struggled with the same emotions. Lisea Danan's message to her admitting Macen's long-standing attraction to T'Kir hadn't helped either. Now she knew how both she and Macen felt but not how either was going to respond to those same feelings.

T'Kir hated feeling helpless. She was undergoing the same gut wrenching spiral of destruction that overcame her when her telepathy overwhelmed her. The similarities were disconcerting at best. At their worst, they led to the same maddeningly destructive behaviours and self-destructive impulses.

She craved closure, a certainty one way or the other as to where this emotional miasma was headed. Did he truly love her? If so, was he willing to make a go of a relationship? Could he forget or forgive incidents in their mutual past and ever completely trust her? Was the ghost of Lisea Danan finally put to rest?

T'Kir had hated employing Danan as the instrument of her message to Macen. Combining Macen and Danan's complicated past with the pretence of sex practically unnerved T'Kir. Had they pretended to copulate or had they thrown caution to the wind during a moment of stress and opted for as much realism as possible? Combined with the rest of her uncertainties, these additional concerns threatened to drive her mad.

One resolution T'Kir had made was that her friendship with Macen was her primary concern. His friendship through the years had often been the bedrock of her sanity. NO matter what decision was reached concerning a potential romance, the friendship came first and foremost. She'd lost a lot during her life; this was the one thing she would cling to no matter what happened. She'd kill anyone that interfered with her relationship with Macen if need be.

She shook her head at the last. Although true, it sounded a tad extreme. She'd have to keep that one to herself. She might tell Hannah though, what was the point of having a best friend if you kept secrets from her?

T'Kir endured the opening death matches with a minimal amount of muttering to herself. The increased psychic pressure was wearing on her. She still had several days to go before she needed take her medications again. Drugs weren't the problem, stress combined with enormity of the crowd was.

She'd been afraid of this. Ever since Macen had deduced the nature of her disorder, T'Kir had dreaded learning the repercussions of her disability. It seemed her ability to efficiently operate inside large crowds had been compromised. Still, it was an improvement over her previous state of uncontrolled outbursts and actions.

Her place on the team was secure though. It wasn't as if Macen himself didn't have a disorder himself. T'Kir had decided he had the worst case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder she'd ever seen, and it had been common amongst the Maquis. Between the assimilation of his homeworld by the Borg, the Border Wars with Cardassia, the Maquis rebellion and the Dominion War, Macen was a veritable timebomb of dysfunction. .

Not that he'd admitted it. Macen's position often precluded any doubts regarding his sanity. The team was built around Macen. He held together the fractured pieces of the team... and there were a lot of them.

The entire team, if one was honest enough to admit it, was a collection of lost and bruised souls. Daggit was wracked with guilt over his actions in war and otherwise. The ultimate killer cursed with a fragile conscience. Dracas was twisted and bitter from a lifetime of hiding his true nature. Radil... Radil was the opposite of Daggit. A soldier bred to war and willing to fight for the highest bidder. Kort, the heartbroken exile, who dreamed of glory on the battlefield rather than in sickbay. Finally came Grace, the repentant spy. Who knew how many surprises she still possessed?

As the first preliminary match concluded, T'Kir took and released a deep breath. There were three bouts scheduled before Macen and the boys appeared. Tonight was a special crowd pleaser; three native gladiatorial champions on the cusp of freedom had been arrayed to face the "vile" aliens. It was the ultimate elimination match with the last man or woman standing claiming his or her freedom.

Only it wouldn't end that way. Macen, Daggit and Dracas would refuse to fight each other. This would "force" the arena officials to execute them. The Praetorian Guard's concerns would finally be addressed in a way that satisfied Roman ethics and sensibilities.

"Not if I can help it." T'Kir growled low in her throat, "And you'd better damn well better believe I can."

"Status Mr. Locarno?" Riker asked as he shifted his weight in the Eclipse's command chair.

"Five by five." Locarno replied crisply.

"What the hell does that mean?" Radil asked from Tactical II.

"It means everything's okay." Locarno explained.

"No, its not!" Radil snapped, "I know a lot of Federation Standard, and I've never heard that expression. I'm wearing a damned universal translator and its gagging on it as well."

Riker hid his grin behind his hand as she continued to rant; "If you want to report that everything is fine, then frinxing well say so!"

"Such language!" Riker scolded, "I'm shocked."

"Don't you start with me." Radil warned, "I've got a few salvos here with your name on them too."

"Try me." Riker prompted.

Radil shrugged, "All right, what the hell were you thinking back at Iotia?"

Riker looked nonplussed, "Thinking about what?"

"You were sleeping with the commander of the task force we're leading." Radil clarified, "What was that about? Ever heard of not mixing business with pleasure? Or should I rephrase and urge you to stop thinking with your..."

"That's enough." Riker cut her off, "What I did on my own time is strictly my business."

"Macen wouldn't have done it." Radil's teeth ground, "He would've restrained..."

"I'm not Macen." Riker cut in icily, "I don't know if you've realised this or not."

"It's been made obvious." Radil replied disdainfully.

"Can you perform your duties?" Riker asked, "If you can't, I'll happily relieve you and you can ponder my sex life in your quarters."

"I'm fine, sir!" Radil barked

"Good." Riker nodded, "Carry on then."

Macen, Daggit and Dracas strode out of the gate into the arena proper. Daggit knelt, as he always had since their first bout, and scooped up some dirt into his hands. After spreading a fine layer of dust across his palms, he dropped the rest of the dirt on the floor. He'd repetitively urged his companions to do the same, claiming it granted one a better grip on their weapons. Today was no exception.

"I'm telling you, this got me through the Tarsus Wars." Daggit cajoled, "I never once dropped my weapon due to sweaty hands."

"I'd just end up with mud." Dracas balked.

"I've been sword fighting half my life." Macen reminded, "I'm used to the feel of a blade."

"Why did you drop your weapon if wasn't due to sweaty hands?" Dracas inquired.

Daggit scowled.

"Hey, it's just a question."

"Look at today's bruisers." Macen interrupted, pointing at the three fighters emerging from the opposing gladiatorial pit.

"I've got the woman!" Dracas chimed.

Macen and Daggit stared at him and he shrugged, "I don't mean to sound sexist, but I think I'd stand a better chance against her than either of those thugs."

Macen and Daggit shifted their gaze towards the advancing fighters then to each other. Daggit shook his head; "She'll be fast."

Macen shrugged, "It's your funeral."

"Not today." Dracas crowed.

The sounding trumpets alerted the combatants to the commencement of the event. The announcer revealed the stakes and rules of the competition to the gladiators and crowd alike. With that over with, a second chorus of trumpets announced the initiation of combat. The fighters paired themselves off, as if by instinct, and the match began in earnest.

Dracas advanced on the woman and was surprised by the viciousness of her answering onslaught. Armed with a short sword and a dagger, she came at Dracas with both weapons flying. Armed with a matching set of weapons, Dracas did his best to stave of the venous harpy seeking his death. He'd underestimated her, forgetting that female gladiators had to be twice as good as their male counterparts in order to offset their greater size and bulk.

Daggit fought a giant armed with a mace and a sheathed sword. Daggit himself was armed with an axe and a dagger. Daggit quickly stepped into his opponent's inner ring of defence and disarmed him. The gladiator leapt back and drew his sword.

Macen faced a man armed with a weapon reminiscent of a Vulcan lirpa. The Roman variant, however, had blades at both ends of the staff. Macen wielded a short sword and a shield. It required the use of both to fend of the whirring attacks of the bladed staff. Macen found himself pressed to the limit of his ability with the sword.

Daggit threw his sword at his opponent. Amazingly, the Roman swung his sword up in time and deflected it. Not waiting for the Roman to recover, Daggit charged towards him, drawing his dagger. Daggit locked a visegrip on his opponent's sword arm while trying to stab the man with the dagger. The gladiator threw Daggit back but Daggit performed a backspin with his knife arm outstretched and caught the Roman across the throat. Daggit lifted his enemy's sword and hurried to assist Dracas.

Dracas was backpeddling as fast as possible. His opponent had scored several flesh wounds that were beginning to slow him down. On top of that, he was tiring rapidly. I'm getting too old for this... Dracas thought before being interrupted by the sight of a blade protruding out of his opponent's leather chest armour. A grinning Daggit pulled the sword free as the woman's body slowly fell to the ground.

"Where would you be without me?"

"In a box." Dracas wheezed.

"You need to get in better shape, old man." Daggit pronounced, "You should spend a little less time in Engineering and more time in the gym with me."

"Not all of us have those engineered reflexes and responses of yours." Dracas reminded him, "I could spend all day in there and it wouldn't make a difference."

"What about him?" Daggit nodded towards Macen's struggling form.

"Him?" Dracas asked, "He's proud, let him be. If he wants help, he knows where to find us."

Many in the crowd began to boo and jeer at Daggit's assistance of Dracas. The fact that the two men did not begin to fight riled the throng even further. T'Kir cringed as a lone voice, then many others, demanded that the arena officials intervene. It was almost time.

Macen repelled a strike above his head with the sword then countered a counter-strike aimed at his knees. His opponent's swiftness and dexterity with his double-edged weapon was frightening. Macen took a step back and re-examined his options. The true danger here was that damned double bladed pike. If he could eliminate that, it would even the odds enough for Macen to prevail.

He moved forward, thrusting at his opponent. His blow was blocked but it gave Macen the opportunity to spin around backwards and catch his opponent in the face with his shield. The Roman reeled and Macen pressed his momentary advantage. His next attack was a slashing blow with his sword.

As hoped for, the Roman used the pike's shaft to block the strike. The shaft splintered and broke, but Macen's blow was spent. He received a kick to the ribs before he could block it with his shield. Macen staggered back and recaptured the air forced out of his lungs. The Roman now pressed the advantage and came at him with a single half of the pike wielded like a sword.

Several minutes passed undergoing a constant cycle of thrusts, dodges, and parries. Macen's shield barely offset the Roman's advantage in speed and dexterity. He'd finally been paired with a better swordsman and it was costing him. His only hope was to outwit his opponent for he was no match for the other's skills.

Macen confused his opponent by flinging his shield at him. Although the gladiator clearly expected Macen's follow-up, he hadn't anticipated on the savagery of the attack. Macen rained blows upon his enemy. His entire being was now focused on this single moment. The few nicks he received from the other man's weapon only drove him on further.

The deciding moment came when the Roman, backing away from Macen's frenzied assault, tripped on the other half of his broken weapon. Macen lunged upon him, impaling him through the heart with the sword. Crouched on one knee, it took Macen a moment to rise He'd first learned he was capable of such desperate savagery during the Maquis rebellion and his actions came as no surprise to him. What surprised him, then and now, was the lack of remorse he felt.

Although he cognitively knew that it was a kill or be killed situation, he still felt it should have bothered him more. The El-Aurians had been avowed pacifists. This had contributed to their helplessness before the Borg. During the survivor's frantic odyssey voyage to the Alpha Quadrant, Macen had vowed to never again let circumstances or people threaten him again.

He'd first tested his resolve when assigned to the Cardassian border during the Border Wars. His intelligence gathering efforts were often undertaken under fire. He'd learned to kill during these skirmishes and he'd learned to live with it. Once a life was taken, one either accepted the consequences of one's actions or went insane. Macen chose his own form of sanity and it proved reliable during both his time with the Maquis and amidst the Dominion War.

What he was beginning to appreciate was the cost of his sanity. It was a high cost to bear but one that was necessary. Macen was a self-appointed crusader determined to right whatever wrongs were in his power to affect. The fact Starfleet supported him in this role only made it easier for him to continue on, content in the justifications he and Command collaborated in creating

Macen knew enough about psychology to admit that his behaviour and mentality wasn't considered the norm. Macen now felt constrained by the norms of Federation society. He fought to defend the Federation and its way of life but no longer felt truly accepted or comfortable there. His long-standing acceptance and attraction to T'Kir was proof enough of that.

Macen had accepted and supported T'Kir because he saw much of himself in her attitudes and actions. Many had supposed Macen had taken her under his wing out of pity. The plain truth was that he'd done it because he'd found a counterpart in her. This was the realisation that had driven Macen and Danan apart. Once Danan understood this elemental truth, she knew she'd never be able to compete with T'Kir for Macen's affections.

As Macen stood, he felt weary. Weary down to the very core of his being. Ever since the assimilation of his homeworld and the loss of all his loved ones, Macen had maintained a barrier between himself and others. Truth be told, Macen didn't completely trust others.

It was a strange contradiction. Macen engendered the trust of his subordinates and teammates owing to his intense loyalty towards them, but he never fully trusted them. He always waited for them disappear or betray him. He was tired. Too much paranoia and anxiety over the past eighty decades had worn at him. He wanted to love again... and who better than a telepath?

Macen knew if he committed to a relationship with T'Kir, he'd have to give all or nothing. There could be no holding back, not if he wanted it to work. This had been the factor that had previously held him back. He'd been a prisoner... no, a slave, to his fears long enough. It was time to act, to take the risk, no matter the cost or consequences. As he stood before the expectant crowd, he made his resolution. As soon as he saw T'Kir, he'd confess his true feelings to her.

 

Chapter 15

"The crowd's getting ugly." Daggit commented as he and Dracas approached Macen.

"No worries." Macen grinned weakly, "I have it on good authority we're about to have a jail break."

"What?" Dracas exclaimed, "How do you know this?"

"Lisea Danan told me during my last congical visit." Macen informed them.

"When?" Daggit inquired, all business.

"After we won the match was all I was told." Macen replied, "T'Kir's leading the assault team."

Daggit grinned, "Good for her."

"Wait a minute." Dracas interjected, "Lisea Danan told you?"

Macen sighed, "She's a slave in the Imperial Household. T'Kir arranged for her to earn' a congical visitation and inform me of the plan."

"Spunky." Daggit mused, "And damned clever.

"Did you two... y'know?" Dracas inquired before Macen could respond to Daggit.

"No." Macen was offended, "I never touched any of those slave girls."

"What about you?" Dracas demanded over the angry shouts of the crowd.

"Never." Daggit assured him.

"Let's turn this around." Macen insisted, "Did you have sex with anyone?"

Dracas reddened, "I never touched a single woman."

"That's not what I asked."

Dracas looked extremely uncomfortable, "I..."

The loudspeaker blared to life as the Master of Ceremonies instructed the trio to resume fighting.

"Uh oh." Macen muttered.

T'Kir rose. It was finally time. Another spectator behind her protested her blocking his view. T'Kir backhanded him, sending his unconscious form sprawling. She added to the spectacle by pulling the hood off of her head. The sight of her ears started a stampede out of the stands.

This distracted the guards stationed along the arena walls. Freed from observation, the various Crusaders that had come with T'Kir were free to pull their weapons out from hiding. Weapons were extremely regulated in the Nova Roman Empire. Properly licensed individuals, like Flavius Brutus, could equip a small personal army but it was an unspoken contract that this army would never publicly brandish its armaments or challenge the authorities. The sight of rebels wielding military grade hardware was enough to send the rest of the crowd into a rout

The resultant panic allowed the Crusaders to pick off the potential opposition quite easily. The sight of the Coliseum's guards going down broke the camel's back and the fleeing citizens lost all semblance of order in their flight. The Praetorian Guard assembled around the young Emperor and hustled him out of the building Ezexial spared one last loathing glance at the arena floor before disappearing with his Roman troops.

T'Kir rushed to the edge of the arena wall and leapt into the pit. She ran headlong towards Macen without thought of embarrassment. Macen caught her up in his arms and passionately kissed her before she could react. T'Kir melted into his embrace and returned it with equal fervour.

"Took you long enough." She whispered hoarsely when their lips parted.

"I have something to tell you and it can't wait." He met her eyes and held them, "I'm in love with you. I have been for a long time but I've only recently discovered how much. I wanted to say something before but..."

T'Kir pressed a finger to his lips, "Took you longer." she smiled and patted him on the chest, "I've felt the same way so don't worry about it."

Daggit discreetly cleared his throat, "Pardon me, but isn't this a rescue?"

T'Kir happily grinned at him, "Yeah."

"So shouldn't we be leaving now, before the Romans send reinforcements?"

T'Kir jutted out her lower lip, "You're no fun. We're having a moment here."

"Respectfully, I suggest you have it later." Daggit urged.

"He's right." Macen sighed heavily, "We'll finish this when we have time."

"How are we supposed to get out?" Dracas asked.

The door to the gladiator's armoury opened and T'Kir gestured towards it, "Through there."

The escapees and their Crusader rescuers exited the Coliseum and boarded the waiting aircars. Being owned by a Roman Senator, the cars escaped scrutiny and the descending net of military units and Praetorian Guards encircling the Coliseum. The cars separated and flew circuitous routes home just in case they were being pursued. Once satisfied they were safe, the pilots headed for Brutus' mansion.

Macen and the others were silent as they exited the car and headed into the manor house. All through the ride Macen had tightly gripped T'Kir's hand and he refused to relinquish it as they entered the Senator's home. T'Kir basked in the obvious display of affection and contentedly matched Macen's grip.

Brutus himself awaited them in the foyer, "Ah," he clapped his hands together in delight, "I see T'Kir had found her lost lambs."

Brutus approached and clasped each of their hands, "Greetings stalwarts, welcome to my home. May its comforts be yours."

"Thank you." Macen nodded his thanks and stood closer to T'Kir to better utilise her universal translator, "Especially since its obvious you arranged for our release."

Brutus brushed aside the notion, "Never mention it again. It was the least my brethren and I could do since it the blame for your imprisonment falls upon our heads."

"So you are Crusaders." Macen congratulated himself on that prior assumption.

"But of course." Brutus nodded and motioned for a subordinate to carry in three bundles, "I believe you will find these to be your clothes and weaponry."

"How?" Dracas had to ask.

"I have a great deal of influence with our young Emperor. A currency of increasingly limited value, I assure you." Brutus offered as an explanation.

"Ezexial?" Macen inquired.

Brutus' features darkened, "I see you have met the monster. His growing control over the Empire is distressing enough but now there is Livia's revolt, set to transpire on the morrow, as well."

"Livia?" Macen shook his head.

"I see you did not have time to discuss tomorrow's happenings or your role in them." Brutus tugged at his beard, "Let us adjourn to more a comfortable setting before proceeding. Come, follow me to the dining hall."

Macen turned to T'Kir, "Our role in them?"

She smiled wanly, "You're gonna love it."

He shook his head; "You certainly keep things interesting."

"That's why you love me." she replied hopefully.

Macen was pensive after hearing Livia's plan and his predetermined role in it, "So why us? Why is our team slated to apprehend Ezexial and the other Omricons?"

"I convinced Livia that we were the best suited to the job." T'Kir explained.

"But we know next to nothing about them." Macen reminded her.

"We know we don't like them." she offered in reply.

That's the truth, Macen mentally conceded, "We're still going in blind."

"So would they." T'Kir argued, "The difference is we're used to it."

How I wish that wasn't true, he commented before speaking, "I'm not backing out of the deal you made. I just wish we had more data."

"I can provide complete schematics and the Praetorian Guard's response plans." Brutus assured him, "I also have eyewitness reports concerning the Omricons' compound located beside the Imperial Palace."

Macen shrugged, "Those'll have to do."

Hours later, Macen and T'Kir found themselves alone in a bedchamber set aside for them. They whiled away several more hours in deep conversation. Having known each other for nearly a decade, the conversation easily flowed into in depth discussions on what each hoped for and feared from the pursuit of a more romantic relationship between them. The weight of years also added itself in making such a pursuit a given at this point.

"Do you realise we've talked through the night?" Macen asked with a grin.

"We haven't pulled an all-nighter like this since Parnell V." T'Kir reminded him, referencing a night spent before a raid on a Cardassian communications post in the DMZ.

"I've missed nights like this." Macen revealed.

"I wonder if that's when Lisea realised." T'Kir mused.

"Realised what?"

"That you were in love with me." T'Kir confessed, "She called me right after our 'encounter' with the Andergani cartel and let me know the truth."

"Which was?" he asked with amusement.

"That you'd been in love with me for years but felt constrained from admitting it to yourself." T'Kir revealed with a gleeful smile.

"I've always hated it when she was right." Macen admitted.

"So what changed?"

Macen shrugged, "Ever since that mission I've felt closer to you than ever... and further apart. I liked the closeness and was afraid of the distance. It made me wonder why. The answer to that question led me here."

"Mine was simpler." T'Kir professed, "During said mission, I came to realise that the one person in the galaxy I trusted was you. That made me realise how I felt about you, how I'd always felt about you, and that changed everything."

"Yeah," Macen sighed wistfully, "it does, doesn't it."

"I'm excited and scared all at the same time." she admitted.

"Me too." Macen revealed, "But the only to get over that is to move forward. Frankly, there isn't anyone else I'd rather be excited with. This feels right, comfortable is the word that springs to mind, so let's just try it out."

"Okay." T'Kir agreed brightly.

"It's also very early in the morning." Macen reminded her, "Maybe we should get some sleep."

"Who needs sleep?" she asked playfully.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded, "You said it, it's all different. Let's take a plunge."

"Sounds good to me."

"One thing though, sex with Vulcan's tends to establish a light telepathic rapport. It fades away if ignored but I'm not sure how my telepathy is going to react to your empathic abilities."

"Let's find out." he suggested.

"Oh really?" she arched an eyebrow, "Just like that?"

"No, like this." with that he pounced upon her and began wrestling her.

Dawn came swiftly. Daggit stood in the main banquet hall where the selected Crusader action teams were assembling. Dracas entered, looking bleary eyed. Despite garnering his freedom, the engineer had slept poorly.

"Morning." Daggit said by way of greetings.

Dracas poured himself a cup of coffee. The Chief was famed for his inability to articulate before his first cup of caffeine. He took several deep drafts before levelling the cup, ready at hand for the next needed swig. He blinked away sleep and levelled his gaze at Daggit.

"Why are you so damned chipper this morning?"

"I finally have an enemy I understand and a mode of combat I excel at." Daggit explained with a feral smile, "We're going to war and thanks to the scientists back home, I'm good at war."

Dracas felt an involuntary shiver go straight down his spine at hearing this. Judging by Daggit's tone, the pre-programmed combat responses Angosia's psych team had instilled in Daggit and the other super-soldiers were already activated. His friend was now little more than a humanoid killing machine. He found solace in the appearance of Macen and T'Kir.

There was something in the spring of their step, the shared glances, and the glowing smiles that caught his attention. He'd chalked up their display back at the Coliseum as sheer exuberance. That opinion radically changed as he observed the couple now. It had often, and in hushed whispers, been asked why the two of them hadn't been involved. He was getting a taste of the answer now.

"By all that's unholy, you've had sex!" Dracas hissed, "Oh gods, life as we know it is effectively over."

"You're acting like this is the end of the world, Chief." Macen chided him; "Don't you think that's an overreaction?"

"No, I don't." Dracas huffed, "You two were practically inseparable before, if you're going down this road, then you really will be two ends of the same reactor."

"Thanks." T'Kir ignored the criticism lacing the comment.

Dracas shook his head and muttered under his breath, "Hopeless."

"I heard that." T'Kir warned him accusingly then hit him squarely on the shoulder, "And I heard that too."

Trying to mind both his thoughts and words, Dracas moved forward towards the centre table, where Brutus was assembling the action team leaders. Macen and T'Kir each took a seat at the leaders' table. Joining the other action team members at various tables around the centre, Daggit and Dracas sat down beside the four Crusaders slotted to join them for the assault. Dracas shifted in his seat uncomfortably, causing Daggit to elbow him in the ribs.

"What's the matter with you?"

"It's them." Dracas accused, "They're scary this way."

"Happiness is a problem for you?" Daggit scowled, "Thanks for the heads up."

"It's not that." Dracas sighed, "They're just... too comfortable already."

"That's because this should have happened years ago." Daggit opined, "If it had, T'Kir may have stayed out of that psychiatric prison Macen broke her out of."

"She got there by trying to skewer him." Dracas dryly reminded his younger comrade.

"Which she did because she was tired of Lisea Danan being in the way of them. Danan was the target, not Macen."

"And this justifies it?" Dracas asked in horror, his friend really could be a soulless bastard when his combat reflexes were in control.

"All I'm saying is that Macen forgave her, so should we." Daggit informed him, "They're consenting adults. They can take care of themselves. Besides, Grace will keep an eye on T'Kir."

"How come we always watch her?" Dracas wondered, "How come we never watch him? In his own way, he's as nuts as she is."

Daggit's glare told him he'd gone too far, "Sorry for wondering."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if we may come to order?" Brutus' voice rang through the banquet hall. He stood at his table and every noise surrounding him subsided. The night before, Macen and the team had learned Brutus was the Crusader's secret Pontiff. His actions concerning them had cleared up considerably upon this revelation.

The assembled Crusaders attended to his every word as only the truly devout could, "My brethren, our moment is at hand. If we, and General Livia Germanicus, are successful, tomorrow Rome will have a new Empress and we shall have our own Holy Land. The Leaders of Brittania have forwarded their well wishes and eagerly await our promised umbrella of religious tolerance. We must not fail them. We must not fail ourselves. Working from a respected base of power as an autonomous province of Rome, we will have the freedom to persuade others of the righteousness of our path. They will observe the witness of our lives and recognise the piety there. Slowly, ever so slowly, we will convince them of the truth of our quest and all within the Roman sphere will hearken to our call."

A massive cheer erupted in the previously silent hall. Macen and the rest of the team refrained. This speech was not for their benefit nor was it suited for any of their personal beliefs. Their abstinence did nothing to curb the enthusiasm of their native fellows.

"Now it is time to discuss each team assignment." Brutus motioned for the euphoric tumult to stop, {"We have been given a solemn and sacred task. We are to occupy the Emperor's Praetorian Guard until Livia's forces can arrive. Our goal is not the apprehension of the Emperor but rather to worry him so that he cannot rally his embattled troops across the globe."

"Our honoured guests have the penultimate task." Brutus gestured towards Macen and T'Kir, carrying the room's attention with it, "They are tasked with ridding us of the alien blight that has infected the Emperor's mind."

Macen raised an eyebrow in T'Kir's direction. This version of the plan was far different than the tamer edition from the previous night. The early version had Macen's team running interference to prevent the Omricons from intervening on Rome's behalf. The Star Legions were already an unknown variable in the upcoming conflict. There was no need to add the Omricons unknown capabilities into the mix.

"They have weapons far superior to ours." Brutus went on, "With these they can smite the enemy."

"After all," Macen whispered to T'Kir, "we're all about the smiting."

She suppressed a giggle as Brutus continued, "All teams will now assemble and review their operations plans. I will confer with the Omricon team but feel free to ask me any questions regarding your team's role in the coming revolt."

Macen, Daggit, Dracas and T'Kir were assembled in an aircar headed for the Imperial Household. Gathered with them were four Crusaders. Alexander, Demetrius, Galen, and Elfgina were assembled from separate corners of the Empire. Alexander was from Byzantium, Demetrius from Nova Roma, Galen from Britannia and Elfgina from Lower Germania. Each was determined, in their own way, to make a difference.

The plan was simple, once on the ground, the team would proceed straight to the Aliens' Compound. The air defences would be neutralised by Crusader slaves living within the Household. These martyrs were not expected to survive. Once at the Compound, Daggit would assume point and lead Macen, T'Kir, the four Crusaders and Dracas, each in that order, through the Compound's interior.

Modifying tactics utilised during the Dominion War, the team would seek out and engage enemy combatants. Each Omricon encountered would be stunned, disarmed, and left behind in the team's quest for the Compound's control centre. The control centre would be subsequently destroyed and the recovering Omricons herded together on the Compound lawn and detained there. It was a neat little plan rife with holes.

No one knew what intensity of "stun" was required to subdue an Omricon physiology. No one knew what types or numbers of armaments were inside the Compound. No one knew the interior configuration, apart from the construction plans, inside the Compound. Most of all, no one knew how an Omricon would react to the threat of violence.

The aircar's driver informed his passengers that they were now inside the interior of the Imperial Household's air defence perimeter. Since they weren't being blown out of the sky, it was safe to assume that part of the plan, at least, had gone smoothly. A dozen more aircars detached themselves from the informal formation and settled down at various points across the Household's sprawling grounds.

Their aircar descended sharply and came to hover in front of the Aliens' Compound. The car settled with a slight thrummm of magnetic energy. Macen and the rest cautiously got out of the car. Daggit took the lead and the rest assembled behind him as he approached the Compound's entrance.

 

Chapter 16

"Captain," Sito called out, "I've got multiple ships in orbit around Magna Roma."

"Type and number?" Riker asked, pensively stroking his beard.

"Twenty-four of the ship type designated Roman One." Sito reported.

"Radil, raise the Enterprise." Riker ordered, "Time to let the Iotians know they're going to war."

The microcharges detonated, blowing the doors off the compound. Daggit and Dracas still retained several phaser mountable weapons as well as more explosives. Phaser poised, Daggit stepped through the wreckage of the main entrance. Each following team member slipped though the doorway's gaping maw with their weapons drawn.

The front portico split off into two passageways. This had not been in the plans. The only effective way to explore both passageways was to divide the team. Macen got a headache in expectation of the response that order would elicit. He wasn't disappointed.

"Are you insane?" Dracas demanded, "The plans call for all of us staying together."

"Plans change." Macen shrugged.

"So what's the new configuration?" Daggit asked without so much as a ruffle in his voice.

"You and Dracas will take Demetrius and Galen with you and explore the hall on the left." Macen laid out, "T'Kir and I will take Alexander and Elfgina down the right."

"Why do we get the left?" Dracas moaned.

"It was entirely random." Macen explained, "Do you want the right?"

"We're fine." Daggit cut off Dracas' reply. He unhooked a pouch from his belt, "Take these."

T'Kir clipped the explosives to her belt, "Any other surprises you'd like to give us?"

"No." Daggit replied mechanically.

"I hate it when he gets like this." T'Kir muttered.

"Tell me about it." Dracas muttered back.

"Let's go." Macen urged and started down the right passageway. T'Kir followed on his heels with the two Crusaders bringing up the rear.

Daggit resumed the lead down the left hallway. Demetrius and Galen followed suit. Dracas took the rear. No one was very happy with the new arrangement.

Macen crept forward, every nerve taut and every sense alert. He remembered how Ezexial had jangled his extrasensory perceptions. The memory served him well. He sensed the approaching Omricon before he saw him.

The hulking Omricon seemed to appear out of thin air. He was brandishing a thin tubular device, presumably a weapon. Macen fired point blank into the alien's chest and all he did was stagger backwards. Macen quickly thumbed his phaser's intensity setting to "heavy stun" and fired again.

Once again, the Omricon was shaken but unfazed. T'Kir fired at the Omricon and he went down. Macen used his tricorder but the readings were unlike any he'd ever seen. Only the rise and fall of the alien's chest indicated he was still alive.

"What setting was that?" Macen asked T'Kir.

"Lethal." she replied with a whistle.

"Okay, everybody reset for 'kill'." Macen advised.

Two Omricons met Daggit's team. Like their teammates, they quickly discovered the uselessness of the "stun" setting. As the first Omricon went down, the second aimed and fired his weapon. A bright violet discharge spat out and caught Demetrius in the torso. Demetrius crumpled to the floor as Daggit and Galen brought the Omricon to the ground.

Dracas checked Demetrius' vitals and shook his head; "He's gone."

"Tighten up." Daggit ordered, "The minute you see one of these bastards, open fire and don't stop until they're down."

"Rest in peace, brother." Galen made the sign of the Cross over Demetrius' still body and drew in closer behind Daggit's already moving form.

Macen visually swept the room. He'd already run a check on it with his other senses. All indications were that it was empty. It was the third such room.

The team had avoided incident since their first encounter with an Omricon. It had also been their last encounter thus far. Macen motioned T'Kir forward and leaned in close to her.

"Do these guys register at all with your telepathy?" he asked in hushed tones.

"Not really." she confided, "They read like loud background noise."

Macen sighed, "That's what I was afraid of."

"Why d'you ask?"

"I pick up a slight temporal and spatial distortion around them." he explained, "It's like they're not entirely part of this universe."

"Weird." T'Kir commented, "How many others are you picking up?"

"None." Macen answered, "That's what bothers me."

The Iotians deployed with a grace that revealed their recent tumultuous history in space. The Romans aligned themselves with precision but their lack of combat experience reared its head when it came to tactics. Although possessing a technical edge over the Iotians, their predisposition towards working independently hurt them when faced with the Iotians' teamwork. Although the battle had waged for scant minutes, three Roman vessels were crippled compared to the Iotians' loss of one light cruiser.

A new tactic had developed after a fashion. The Iotians would engage a Roman cruiser and fight it to s standstill. The Eclipse would then swoop in and finish off the Roman's weapons and engines with their pulse phasers. What had started by accident was swiftly becoming the preferred method of engagement.

The Romans, however, had deduced this new game and assigned two ships to the destruction of the Eclipse. With each Roman cruiser mirroring the capabilities and firepower of a venerable Miranda-class starship, the Eclipse found herself outgunned by two Roman ships. The fox had become the prey.

Grace deftly manoeuvred the Eclipse around battling ships. The two Romans pursued as best they could. In the end though, it was the Eclipse's more advanced shielding that was sparing her. As the ship cleared out of the way of a duelling Constitution-class analogue and a Roman cruiser, she found herself caught between a crossfire of her pursuers' phasers.

"Came left to 127 mark 6." Jamie Kirk's voice crackled over the comm circuits.

Without waiting for orders, Grace pitched the ship into the recommended vector. As the ship responded, the ISS Enterprise surged into view, phasers blasting. Once again, Grace took the initiative and looped the raider over, back onto their original course and behind the embattled Roman ships. Riker gave the order to fire at will and Radil and Sito responded with a volley of fire that disabled their former antagonists.

"Thanks for the save Enterprise." Riker commed over to Kirk.

"Don't mention it." Kirk replied brusquely, "We have two ships in trouble, want the co-ordinates?"

Riker nodded towards Radil as he replied, "We're as good as there."

Gathered in a "secret" bunker beneath the Imperial Residence. Alaric Vandalius angrily paced while reports of the conflicts spreading across the face and near space of Magna Roma filtered in. Aurelius Romulus was understandably unnerved. His empire was coming apart even as he huddled in this cramped space for safety.

Alaric's mood was soured by the fact that his Star Legions were facing an unknown foe without him. It was worsened by Ezexial's increasingly churlish behaviour. The final blackening note that rankled him was that this planetwide revolt seemed to have been planned by his own sister! Every attacking army was in subspace communication with Livia's rebellious Northern Army.

To make matters worse, they seemed to be employing a new type of encryption that had Rome's finest cryptographers baffled. The experts claimed it was based on the same five dimensional mathematical warp theories the Omricons had tried to introduce to the Roman Corps of Engineers. This was the price they paid for accepting Omricon handouts. They didn't possess the expertise to crack what Ezexial assured them was a rudimentary code.

Alaric smiled darkly at the thought that the accursed alien interloper had also been unable to penetrate the secrets of the code thus far. Perhaps the gods he perfunctorily worshipped did exist after all. Alaric shoved all such thoughts aside and focused on his sister. What in the pits of Tartarus could she be planning?

Livia had always been ambitious but surely even she had to see how she'd only risen to her present stature by the grace of the Emperor's patronage. Livia saw herself as a visionary leader, freeing women from the drudgery of common expectations. Surely this couldn't be just about that. What else was there?

A snarling curse in the Omricons' indecipherable tongue drew Alaric's attention. Could that be it? Alaric had freely vented his feelings towards Ezexial and his perceived threat towards Rome to Livia. Had she taken it upon herself to act? If so, should he, in all conscience, try to stop her when she may very well be saving the Empire?

Alaric forced his thoughts to subside as Ezexial wheeled on the Emperor; "My personnel in the Compound have been attacked and subdued. Your vaunted "Star Legions" are even now being bested. Your armies across this miserable globe are in retreat and one is presently bearing down on this location. Tell me, where is the mighty Roman Empire that would plant its standard on a thousand worlds?"

Romulus merely gaped at Ezexial's sneering tone, "We promised you greatness and in return you promised us success."

Ezexial spat at Romulus' feet, "I despise failure but I despise incompetence even more. I leave you to your fate child-emperor. May you enjoy the bitter fruits of defeat you have harvested for yourself."

That being said, Ezexial wavered out of existence.

"Damn." Alaric muttered, "I didn't know he could do that."

Macen entered the hall at the opposing end of the Aliens' Compound only to almost be shot by Daggit. Daggit's team had beaten them there by a few minutes. The only thing in the room was a single pedestal with what appeared to be a large clamshell situated upon it. Dracas was taking readings of it with his tricorder.

"It seems to be biomechanical in origin." Dracas reported, "I'm detecting organic and inorganic materials melded together. It seems to be emanating a subspace field."

He scratched his head and shook it, "If it weren't such a perfect blending of synthetic and organic components, I'd say it was Borg tech."

"I'd say we're getting our first glimpse of Omricon technology." Macen observed. And like all things Omricon, it seemed slightly out of phase with this space-time continuum.

Dracas fished one of the Omricon weapons out of his backpack, ran the tricorder over it and whistled, "Same story with these babies. My nearest guess is that these are laced with tissues similar to those employed by electric eels and erlshreks."

Each being creatures that could toss off huge amounts of electricity through muscular contractions The Omricon version, though, spat out particle beams. Such a device (creature?) might only have one lethal setting. What if all of the Omricons' technology was similarly based? Could the Federation defend itself against such specialised, arcane mixtures? What were the moral ramifications of destroying such devices? Were they alive at all?

With that final thought left unspoken, the device opened. It's maw widened until it resembled a handheld communicator. Lights and colours played against the interior of the device's pearlescent shell. Macen motioned for everyone to take a step back from it.

It began to hum and the lights intensified. A thin, laserlike wall of light erupted from between the clamshell halves and began sweeping the room. Dracas had his tricorder on and was taking constant readings. Macen gave him a quizzical look and the Chief shook his head in the negative.

So, Macen thought, it's not dangerous. What is it then?

As if on cue, Dracas spoke, "It seems to be a sensor sweep."

The light faded after it had washed every surface of the room in its eerie glow. It then slowly closed again. It seemed to waver out of existence and then disappeared entirely. Dracas rechecked his readings.

"It was some kind of matter/energy conversion." Dracas informed them excitedly, "Like a transporter beam."

"Check the prisoners." Macen ordered.

Daggit took Galen and Elgina with him as they proceeded down the hallway Daggit's team had come. T'Kir took Alexander and did the same for her team's approach. Dracas checked his pack and discovered all the weapons were still there. Macen silently waited until the two teams checked in.

"Our two prisoners are missing." Daggit reported.

"T'Kir here." her voice rang over Macen's comm badge, "Our bad guy has buggered off."

"That's what I was afraid of." Macen grunted, "WE think they may have been transported to a ship."

"An Omricon ship?" came her disembodied reply.

"Yup."

"Shit."

"Yup."

"You can stop that now." she warned, "Alexander and I are coming back to your area."

"Hopefully I'll have our next move figured by the time you get here." Macen signed off.

"They're forming up." Radil warned.

The Eclipse had easily aided the besieged Iotian ship Kirk had referred them to. Now the Romans were repositioning, forming a line between the Iotians and Magna Roma. It was a tactic of last resorts. Hopefully, the Roman commander could be dissuaded from fighting to the last man. The Romans had already lost half their fleet, two of those total losses to the Iotians' loss of a third of their fighting forces, all of those drifting wounded in space.

Romulus stared at the plot board dominating the command room of his bunker; "Half our spaceborne forces are lost?"

Alaric nodded grimly, "Only two of the twelve stricken vessels are a complete loss. The enemy has been very judicious in their use of lethal force. They are normally content with merely crippling our craft rather than destroying it."

Romulus practically fell into a nearby bench, "Half."

"We can still spare the rest." Alaric urged, "Contact the enemy commander and discuss terms."

"Discuss terms?" Romulus ranted, "When my forces have been pushed out of Asia and Africa? When one my own armies, led by a former friend, is only two hundred kilometres from Nova Roma's gates? Surrender while my very home is under siege?"

"Yes." Alaric replied matter-of-factly, "While you can still salvage your throne."

"Traitor!" Romulus screamed, spittle flying from his lips, "I'll have you executed for this treason."

"And who will do the killing?" Alaric mused, "All but a handful of your Guards are defending this palace's gates. Do you really think the two sentries in here with us will obey this order?"

"They must!" Romulus shrieked, "I am their emperor! They must obey me even as they must lay down their lives for me. If this Empire falls, it will be upon the corpses of every soldier under my command. I will ask no quarter nor will I give any."

"I am truly sorry to hear that." Alaric whispered then straightened himself out, "Sergeant!"

"Yessir!" the Praetorian barked.

"Detain the Emperor so I can end this madness." Alaric ordered.

"Yessir!" The Praetorian replied and seized Romulus by the shoulders.

"I'll see you crucified!" Romulus yelled as the two Guards dragged him away.

Alaric turned to the room's only other occupant, a very frightened communications tech, "Signal the Star Legions to stand down, then alert our field commanders to do the same."

"Yes, my Lord." The tech squeaked.

"And don't call me that!" Alaric snapped, "I'm not your emperor, you ninny."

"Yes sir." The tech nodded in reply and went to work. After several moments of talking into the subspace arrays mike, the tech looked up expectantly, "Now what?"

"Now put me on an open channel." when he got the go ahead signal, Alaric began to speak, "To any and all enemy combatants, this is Admiral Alaric Vandalius of the Roman Star Legions. Five minutes ago, I detained First Citizen Aurelius Romulus and stripped him of all Imperial privileges. For the time being, I speak for the Empire. I have ordered my forces to cease fighting and call upon you to do the same. Peace can be had, let the violence end. Transmit a list of demands to me and I will see about accommodating them. Vandalius out."

"Let's see how they react to that." Alaric muttered afterwards.

Off the Normandy coast, the incoming swells surged towards the beach, higher and faster than the norm. Locals stared in amazement as a dark shape appeared under the water and then broke the surface. It was the size of an Intrepid-class starship. It had a vague, elongated resemblance to a stingray.

The apparition hovered for a moment, then streaked off into the distance, headed straight for Nova Roma. It reached the capital within moments and slowed as it passed the Imperial Household. Bolts of energy erupted from its sides, strafing the Household grounds. Crusader and Praetorian alike were caught in the devastation wrought by the energy burst.

The Aliens' Compound caught the full torrent of the creature's wrath. The structure imploded upon itself after receiving a full broadside. With this work finished, the mysterious entity flew upwards at an arc intended to allow it to break orbit. It departed as swiftly as it had arrived.

Halfway between the Household grounds and the Compound, Macen and the rest rose off the ground, dusting themselves off.

"I'd say we just met another example of Omricon technology." Macen observed dryly.

"It looked alive." Dracas said in reverential tones, "Imagine what it's capable of, what the engines look like."

"It'd look like sushi if the outside is any indicator." T'Kir commented.

T'Kir ignored Dracas' glare as Macen's comm badge began to chirp.

"What the hell?" he muttered as he swatted the offending machine, "Macen here."

"Thank god." Riker's relief was plain even over a comm circuit, "How is everyone?"

"Alive, despite Rome's best attempts otherwise." Macen replied.

"I've brought help. We're in orbit even now."

"Starfleet?"

"The Iotians."

Before Macen could reply, Riker asked, "Do you know anything about a ship trying to break orbit?"

"It's a hostile." Macen warned, "Get everyone you can out of its way. This includes any Romans lingering about."

"All right, Riker out."

The Omricon ship crossed paths with the Romans and Iotians before anyone could react. It opened fire at any vessel in its line of sight. Both the Romans and the Iotians took heavy losses. Only Grace's faster than human reflexes spared the Eclipse. She was able to swing behind the Enterprise during the Omricon flyby.

"What the hell was that?" Kirk demanded to know.

"An alien ship would be my guess." Riker answered.

"I just lost half my damn fleet." Kirk informed him, "It'll take us months to get every ship out of here now."

"If its any consolation," Riker tried to change the subject, "the Roman fleet is a complete loss. Sensors show three more completely destroyed and the rest crippled."

"Hooray." Kirk replied sourly, "That doesn't do jack for my ships. We'll have to wait around while Starfleet musters up enough repair tugs to get us all home. This isn't going to look good with Admiral Oxmyx."

"Sorry." Riker added as the comm circuit was broken.

"Sir," the comm tech grabbed Alaric's attention, "The reports coming in from the Star Legion are bad. On the other hand, every terrestrial combatant has responded to your request. They all say to parlay with Livia Germanicus. She has their demands."

"The aliens?"

"Not a word. According to our commanders, the aliens were struck has hard as they were."

Great, something else to blame on us, Alaric thought bitterly as he braced himself for the next question, "What is General Germanicus' ETA?"

"She should be in the capital in the next hour."

Alaric nodded his thanks. He hated negotiating with Livia. Even as a child, she had always found point to be intransigent over and would thereby nullify any and all deals already made. It was bad enough when negotiating a play schedule but intolerable when haggling over the fate of an empire.

Ah well, he thought grimly, I'll have my work cut out for me.

"What now?" Daggit asked, still searching the horizon for any threats.

"Now we make our way to the Household and check on the slaves there." Macen revealed.

"All of the slaves?" T'Kir asked.

"You can check on Lisea." Macen conceded, "We'll assist the rest."

"Assist with what?" Dracas wondered.

"Packing." Macen replied with a grin, "Anyone not born of this rock is going home."

"So, how did it go?" Macen asked, leaning against the balcony rails. The Imperial Palace, though a bit rundown by recent events, remained an example of sumptuous architecture. The team had spent the last three days in the Palace, overseeing the repatriation of the Federation slaves.

"The negotiations with the various global leaders have gone better than expected. When I contacted them and expressed my desire not only accede to all their demands but also to negotiate further trade and cultural liaisons with them, it undercut my sisters position and left me free to save the former empire. In another boon, Senator Brutus has agreed to oversee the soon to established Autonomous Province of Brittania." Alaric explained.

"A republic huh?" Macen opted not to reveal Brutus' identity as the Pontiff of the Crusaders.

"Rome began as a republic, she should have stayed that way." Alaric spoke with conviction; "We are constituting a Lower House for the common citizens and even representation for the slaves. I know it cannot compare with governments you are used to, but for us it is a rebirth."

"Any changes would be an improvement over what I experienced here." Macen admitted, then broke the awkward silence, "So what about your sister?"

"Thank you again for taking her in." Alaric replied, "Too many here would always remember her as a traitor to the Empire. They would not see that her actions gave us this chance to recast ourselves in a kinder mode. One that is true to the ancient Roman ideals."

"She's not going to be trouble is she?" Macen asked.

Alaric laughed, "My sister has always been trouble. It stems from her ambition. Give her a week and she will lusting over your command."

"She can have it." Macen snorted, "T'Kir vouched for her. That's good enough for me."

"I am pleased to hear it. Speaking of new crewmen, I hear one of the Romulus' former slaves has requested a berth aboard your ship."

"Lisea Danan is an old friend and an ex-teammate." Macen clarified, "She was growing uncomfortable with her life outside the unit. I'm more than happy to let her back in."

"I'm glad to hear that." Alaric confided, "I've always thought there was more to her than met the eye."

"Yeah, it's in her abdominal pouch." Macen quipped.

"Pardon?"

"Never mind." Macen waved the last comment aside, "How're things going with the Iotians?"

"Difficult." Alaric sighed, "The reparations they are demanding would cripple our economy."

"Give them time." Macen suggested, "Once you establish that the damage done by the Omricons wasn't you fault, and that's evidenced by the damage your own ships took, then their case will lose its validity and you can proceed on far more level ground. If you want, I can recommend that a Federation arbitrator be assigned to oversee the negotiations."

"That would be greatly appreciated." Alaric sighed in relief.

"Glad to help." Macen assured, "We're still departing in the morning. Will you be fine until arbitrator arrives? My team can stay if we're needed."

"No. Get those poor souls whose lives we've stolen back to their loved ones."

Macen held out his hand, "It's been pleasure."

"Thank you." Alaric met Macen's grip; "It could have been a far different story."

"Be glad it wasn't." Macen gave him a wolfish grin, "Otherwise, I'd be gunning for you right now."

The trip back to Earth was uneventful. The former slaves were glad to be back in the Federation and to go their own ways. Starfleet Command, it seemed wasn't satisfied with Macen's reports on what had transpired at 492IV and summoned him to Admiral Drake's office. Macen knew things were going to go poorly when Admiral Nechayev sat in on the meeting.

"So where's the firing squad?" Macen asked.

Drake gave Nechayev a questioning glance before proceeding, "No one's angry with your performance or the performance of the team. Review of this case has provoked a lot of discussion in a relatively short amount of time and we're here to inform you of some changes that are going to occur as a result of these events."

Ooookay, Macen thought to himself, "What kind of changes?

"Due to the secrecy of the mission, and of the principles involved, it has been reviewed and decided that Starfleet officers should have been employed instead of contracted individuals."

"Mainline Starfleet personnel couldn't have come up with the solution my people implemented. They would have been too handicapped by moribund regulations." Macen pointed out.

"Which is why we're opting for an alternative to mainline officers." Drake informed him, "We 're instating all Starfleet personnel on your team and placing them on inactive duty. The same holds true for the non-Starfleet members of the team. T'Kir holds a brevet rank of Lieutenant while Radil will possess a brevet rank of Chief Petty Officer. The same classification will applied to them."

"This is one of Jellico's brainstorms, isn't it?" Macen demanded, "He doesn't trust anyone without rank pips."

"Actually," Nechayev broke in, "This compromise was my idea. Eddie wanted you drummed out of Starfleet Intelligence and the Special Investigation Division. This option satisfies critics like Jellico that require an official Starfleet presence while the duty classification allows you to retain your autonomy."

"While you retain your plausible deniability." Macen added.

Nechayev dipped her head, "And rightly so."

"In the end, nothing changes except your ability to oversee Starfleet personnel." Drake resumed, "You retain the rank of Commander with all the rights, privileges

and responsibilities thereof. As Mission Commander of the SID unit, you already have the authority to supersede anyone shy of an Admiral. This gives you a little added clout is all."

"All right, I can live with that one." Macen conceded, "What's next?"

"The Omricons." Drake leaned forward on her desk, "From now on, we're all interested in who they are, where they came from, and most of all, do they pose a threat to the Federation."

"So I'm becoming a full time Omricon hunter?"

"Not quite." Drake explained, "You'll still perform your regular assignments but you'll always keep an ear open concerning Omricons. If you encounter them during the course of a mission, the Omricons take precedence. Obtain that information at any cost."

"Is Starfleet Command issuing these orders to everyone?"

"No." Drake replied firmly, "They're our bailiwick. All SID teams are being put on alert. We need to do a threat assessment on them before Section 31 rears its ugly head. The advocate we sent to Magna Roma is sending back reports from the new Consul, Alaric Germanicus, that are alarming at best. If what he says is even partially true, the Omricons are grooming less developed planets into Omricon foot soldiers."

"For what purpose?" Macen asked warily.

"Domination, pure and simple." Drake informed him, "The reports claim the

Omricons feel destined to rule the entire galaxy. They promised the Roman Emperor a chance to rule beside them. Apparently he thought he or his ancestors could wrest away control of this interstellar empire when opportunity presented itself."

"Chilling thought." Macen commented, "Any other news?"

"We've nearly finished construction on a replacement vessel for the Eclipse. You've had way too many problems with its various mated systems. We'll correct that by giving you a proven, stable platform."

"Dracas will be crushed." Macen warned them, "Nursing that ship along has become an obsession with him."

"Tell him to get over it." Drake remarked, "The new ship will be ready in six months."

"I'm glad I travel light." Macen joked, "I'd hate to be constantly re-packing all the time."

"This ship should last you for awhile." Drake assured him, "If not, I'll be forced to kill you."

"Promises, promises." Macen tut-tutted.

Macen left Starfleet Headquarters looking forward to a quiet, romantic meal with

T'Kir. T'Kir had been less than thrilled by Danan's rejoining the team but had contented herself with the knowledge that she had her man. Danan was less than a rival and more than a simple friend now. Macen truly hoped they could get over their past differences. He needed them functioning as a cohesive unit.

Daggit seemed unshaken by recent events although Dracas was crankier than usual. He hoped the Chief realised that Macen's door was always open. Maybe he should reiterate that to him tomorrow. He'd save the news about the new ship until the last minute. Dracas didn't respond to change well.

Riker had gotten a new boost of confidence thanks to the Iotian affair. Grace had a guilty look every time she looked at Riker. Macen wondered if Tom had stumbled upon her little "secret". Kort and Radil seemed their usual, opinionated brusque selves. The new crew had proven themselves under Riker's command. It would be interesting to see how Livia would fit in with the rest of Riker's crew.

All in all, the team had done good work. Macen was proud of them all. He might not know what would happen next, but at least they'd face it together. It was the closest thing to family that he'd had since the Borg invasion of El-Auria and everyday he was grateful for the dysfunctional lot of them.

 

- The End -

 

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