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Prelude to Dusk - Part II by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter Six

"Woo hoo!" T'Kir crowed as the ATV's raced through the surf. They were nearly lined abreast and each driver had the throttle hammered down. The wind was whipping through the roll cages of the buggies tossing T'Kir's hair to and fro. Her shoulder length hair was unfastened and the knots and rats being generated were tremendous.

T'Kir had her tricorder out. They'd utilised their powered binoculars to get a fix on the suspected Maquis base. Those coordinates had been fed into the tricorder and it was now linked to a positioning satellite. They'd driven for over an hour now and they were rapidly closing on their destination.

Macen and Radil throttled back as they closed to within 20 kilometres of the suspected terrorist base. It was still difficult for Macen and T'Kir to think of the Maquis as terrorists. They'd dedicated years of their lives to the original rebellion. The barbaric acts of the reborn Maquis had precluded their rejoining Aric Tulley.

In happier days, Tulley had been Ro Laren's lieutenant in the Ronaran cell. Macen, T'Kir and Lisea Danan had been attached to the cell but not under Tulley's command. They'd answered directly to Ro. Tom Riker had plotted the hijacking of the Defiant utilising Tulley's personnel and Macen's intelligence briefings.

Macen and Tulley had always enjoyed a pleasant working relationship. Macen had sensed Tulley's jealousy at his close relationship with Ro. The man had pined away over her for years. His failure to act was no one's fault but his own and Macen refused to be held accountable for it.

What Macen would be held accountable for was working for the Cardassians when he'd infiltrated Tulley's Maquis. He'd shattered their spine and revealed their alliance with the Omicron. Next, Macen had cut them off from their allies with the assistance of the Kelvans. Tulley had a lot to hate Macen for and Macen readily accepted that.

Macen's own rage over Tulley's bombing of civilian targets fuelled his efforts to capture Tulley. He preferred to take Tulley alive as a courtesy stemming from their previous years of camaraderie. He'd settle for killing him if he had to. It all depended on Tulley.

"Hurry up!" Tulley shouted from the balcony of the two-story bunker the Maquis had taken up residence in. The upper veranda wrapped around the blockhouse. Gun slits were positioned across the walls of the lower deck. A staircase led to the second level balcony. It came up one wall and attached to a corner section.

The Maquis were currently stripping the sensor netting of Tulley's flagship, the Indomitable II. The Ju'day-class raider was the most powerful ship left in Tulley's arsenal. The rest consisted of one Skylark-class, two Peregrine-class fighter/couriers. There was also one Dante-class runabout.

All the ships had been equipped with phaser banks and torpedo launchers. They'd all be uncovered in turn. Tulley was prepping his crews for launch. Macen only had one ship. He couldn't possibly follow them all. Tulley himself was his obvious target.

The netting had just come off of the Indomitable when Tulley's scouts on the coast reported two vehicles approaching. Tulley swore violently. They were here sooner than expected. He ordered his crew into the ship and began organising the defence of the base.

Macen slowed to a halt along the jungle line and Radil followed suite. The entire crew vacated the ATVs and entered the jungle. Macen's plan supposed that the coastal approached would be watched so it was better to insert through the jungle. They'd have the advantage in visibility since their tricorder was fixed on the suspected base's exact location and neither side would be able to easily see one another.

Macen's entire team had experience with jungle warfare so they stood a decent chance of surviving this. Daggit took the lead and silently crept through the arboreal terrain. Macen followed, leading T'Kir. Radil took rearguard.

Daggit stopped suddenly and crouched. The rest of the team did likewise. Macen glanced back at T'Kir who telepathically alerted him that there were four Maquis moving in a parallel course ten metres across from them. Macen held up four fingers for the others.

T'Kir telepathically relayed that the Maquis party had suddenly shifted their path and were now directly en route to the SID position. Everyone trained their weapons on the spot that T'Kir pointed to. When the first Maquis cleared the brush and became visible, he took a tricorder reading. The others emerged and gathered around him.

"There's a lifeform reading `round here somewhere." The lead Maquis said.

"This whole bloody jungle is a lifeform reading, dearie." another scoffed.

It was at that moment that Macen and the others stunned them. Following this, they searched the bodies for useful weaponry. They picked up four Starfleet surplus phaser rifles, decommissioned after the war in lieu of the pulse rifle. One was a compressed phaser rifle. Radil took that one.

Two of the Maquis were carrying sidearms of various manufacture. Macen and T'Kir holstered their pistols and took these. Macen had a Starfleet phaser from the turn of the century. T'Kir had an Andorian phaser.

Macen ejected the power cell and checked its charge. It was fully charged and he reinserted it into the pistol grip of the weapon. The rest of the team followed his example. They all found their weapons' status to be to their satisfaction. Macen signalled for them to move out and they resumed their previous travel arrangements.

They knew we were out here, T'Kir thoughtcast to Macen.

They had to have had coastal sentries. Macen replied in kind, We knew that was a distinct possibility.

Still depressing though. T'Kir thought, Now they're expecting us.

I'm pretty sure Boromov tipped them off already, so they've been expecting us for a while. Macen opined.

Why's it always happen to us? T'Kir complained.

Because we're lucky. Macen grinned as he replied.

Ian Delaney had discreetly followed Macen and his entourage to the vehicle rental depot. He observed them get in the vehicles and depart down the beach for the sand dunes. He wondered what purpose this activity would have other than drawing their enemies out further into the open. It was then that he realised that one of their number was missing.

Hannah Grace, the ship's CONN Officer, wasn't with the main group. Delaney had dubbed her "the Cute One". T'Kir was "the Exotic One" and Radil "the Bold One". Daggit was "the Solid One". That left Macen as "the Dangerous One".

Delaney's observations were based partly on looks and mostly on their records. Which one dominated in the estimation depended greatly on how he felt about the individual. Take T'Kir, here was a beautiful alien woman but she was exotic even by her own people's norms. Add her telepathy into the fray and you had an uncontrollable wildcat on your hands.

Grace was cute. By every measure of the word, she was cute. She wasn't remotely human but she was learning the meaning of humanity. She'd forsaken her people, the Kelvans, in order to greater embrace the essence of her blossoming humanity.

Lost in these thoughts, Delaney was surprised to feel the barrel of a phaser pressed into his back. Delaney spun, swiping with his arm to disarm the mystery assailant. The assailant pinwheeled out of his arm's reach and ended her spin with her weapon trained on him. Delaney was shocked to recognise his would-be attacker.

"Hannah Grace!" he blurted in surprise.

She reprimanded him, "Tsk, tsk. The fact that you know me and you've been following my comrades doesn't bode well for you."

Delaney took in her oval face and pinned back blonde hair. Large brown eyes carefully gauged his every reaction. She was cuter up close than at a distance. Delaney felt a twinge of attraction for her.

She wore a white tank top and Khaki shorts. Delaney noted that unlike her fellows she wore a hip holster. She wore ankle boots and little white socks.

"Turn around and lace your fingers behind your head." Grace commanded, "I'm sure you know the drill."

"More than you know." Delaney replied, "I'm with Starfleet Security. I'm Lt. Commander Ian Delaney. I'm here on vacation. I recognised Commander Macen and wanted to meet him."

"If you truly know anything about the Captain, then you'd know he isn't referred to by his Starfleet commission. He's a captain with Outbound Ventures and that's how we address him."

Delaney wanted to kick himself. That information was in Macen's file. It was also stated that his recommissioning within Starfleet was uncommon knowledge.

"How would I know that Macen's commission had been reactivated, like yours Lieutenant Grace?" Delaney countered, "I wouldn't unless I was Starfleet."

"Let's check on that." Grace said and tapped the comm badge on her belt, "Kort? Run a background check for me...look up one Lt. Commander Ian Delaney."

Several moments went by then a resonant bass replied, "Ian Delaney is assigned to the USS Intrepid as its Chief Tactical Officer."

Grace holstered her phaser, "You can relax now, Mr. Delaney."

Delaney unlaced his fingers and turned around, "A bit jumpy aren't you?"

Grace shrugged, "There's been several assassination attempts on my crewmates' lives. You appeared suspicious so I took the opportunity to interrogate you."

"Well, I'm harmless enough." Delaney asserted.

"I seriously doubt that." Grace said with a knowing look in her eye, "You seem to be quite the dangerous fellow to me."

"I failed to disarm you." Delaney chided himself.

Grace smiled, "I'm just more dangerous." With that said, Grace began to walk off.

"Don't you want to have a drink?" Delaney called out.

"Sorry, I have a date with a book. It seems safer than you, Mr. Delaney." She beamed.

As Grace walked out of sight, Delaney felt the barrel of another phaser pressed against his back, "What is this? The new standard greeting on Risa?"

"It seemed to work before." Susan Haywright said from behind him and lowered her phaser, "It seems to me you're attracted to two things Mr. Delaney, danger and strong women."

"Preferably both in one package." Delaney remarked with a suggestive smile, "And please, it's Ian. I've had enough 'Mr. Delaneys' to last me a lifetime."

"Ian, then." Haywright replied, "I'm Susan, or Suze to my friends."

"I think I'd like to become one of those."

"Then does that offer of a drink still stand?" Haywright asked.

"For you, make it dinner this evening."

"Anything's possible." Haywright returned with her own suggestive smile.

"Then can I walk you back to your office?"

"Please." Haywright looked pleased as they set out together.

Grace watched the exchange from behind a tree and continued to wonder where Delaney's loyalties truly lay. Was he in on the selling out of the local Starfleet force or was an innocent dupe in Boromov's plans simply here for a vacation. Grace doubted that. Delaney had an agenda, whether as an ally or a foe, he knew too much about the SID unit to be a bystander. He definitely merited closer surveillance.

The SID investigative team was nearing the edge of the jungle. Half covered ships could be seen having their sensor netting removed. A few armed Maquis patrolled the area surrounding the ships. Behind the ships sat a blockhouse. Aric Tulley himself was supervising the removal of the sensor nets.

Tulley's ship was already uncovered. He obviously was waiting to depart until all of his forces could lift together. That worked to the SID team's advantage. Unfortunately the element of surprise was lost as one of Tulley's sentries turned and fired into the jungle.

"He's a Betazoid!" T'Kir cried out.

"Deal with him." Macen called back as other sentries added their fire to the Betazoid's.

T'Kir ducked behind a tree and furrowed her brow in concentration. The Betazoid screamed and went to his knees. Blood began trickling out of his nose. T'Kir wore a feral smile as the man slowly died.

Macen shook her out of her reverie, "Stop it!"

Dazed, T'Kir shook her head, "It's too late. He's dead already, he just doesn't know it yet."

Daggit fired and then moved. He repeated this pattern several times, stunning several sentries. Radil would fire off several shots and then crawl to a new firing position. Macen and T'Kir stayed at the centre of the firefight, using their tree as shelter.

The Betazoid finally toppled over. His fellows were unnerved by his actions and distanced themselves from him. Most of the Maquis broke from their open position and made for cover.

The investigative team rushed out of the jungle and made for over behind the landing struts of the various spacecraft. The defending Maquis were hesitant to shoot at their venerable ships. From the balcony, Tulley urged them on.

Macen made a break for it with T'Kir laying down cover fire. He reached the stairwell leading to the balcony and began to climb. As he reached the top, T'Kir flashed him a telepathic warning. This distraction gave Tulley the opportunity to deliver a right cross to Macen's jaw.

Macen dropped the phaser rifle and careened into the stairwell's handrail. He ducked and spun on his heel to face the original direction he'd started off in. Tulley's next blow sailed by overhead. Macen planted a punch in Tulley's gut as he rose.

Macen followed that blow with an elbow strike to Tulley's now. As Tulley's eyes watered Macen delivered a right cross of his own. Tulley was thrown backward and he realised that this wasn't the same Macen he'd known a dozen years ago. Twelve years ago, Tulley could have taken Macen out, as scrappy as he was.

Tulley slapped his comm badge, "One to transport!"

Macen ripped the captured phaser off his belt but there was nothing to be done but hit his own comm badge, "Dracas, beam everyone back to the ship now!"

The investigative team dematerialised, much to the relief of their Maquis opponents. They rematerialised on the transporter pads of the Solstice.

"Where's Hannah?" Macen demanded as he stepped off the pad.

"Coming...now." Dracas said and activated the transporter.

Delaney was enjoying, really enjoying, his dinner with Haywright. She was an intelligent, vivacious, engaging person and he was pleased to have met her. The idea of arresting her was growing less appealing by the moment. He'd entertained a slim hope that she nothing of Boromov's shadier dealings but quickly dismissed the idea because of her position of Chief of Security. Like on the Intrepid, everything would have to be cleared through her office.

Also interesting to note, as had been pointed out by Haywright, Hannah Grace was observing them, "Discover a new fan?"

Delaney shook his head, "I was under the impression that she didn't like me."

Despite his protestations, Grace had discreetly followed him all day. She was fairly good at surveillance but clearly inexperienced. He'd picked up on her throughout the day. Clearly the pilot was still trying to determine his loyalties. His dinner with Haywright must be leaving her fit to be tied.

"I was under a different impression." Haywright insisted, "Only you didn't pursue."

"Maybe I was looking for a better offer." he said over a sip of his Spanish red wine. He sat his glass down, "Suze, let's be honest with each other. We're both security professionals. Your Starfleet contingent on the island looks sloppy and incompetent."

"You noticed?" Haywright remarked with a wry grin, "Risa is considered an idiot proof assignment so we get the dregs of the service. Their equipment and data files are handy though."

"How'd you gain access to those files anyway?"

"That idiot Hawkins gave me the access codes." Haywright snorted, "He thought it would persuade me to go to bed with him."

"Did it?"

"Puh-lease." Haywright scoffed, "I only date humanoids not reptilians."

"Glad to hear it." Delaney smiled, "The thought of you with someone so idiotic was a tad repulsive."

"If you hadn't noticed, Ian, I have higher standards than that." She gave him a seductive smile.

"As do I." Delaney returned the smile, "Should we finish the meal and move our conversation to more intimate surroundings?"

"I'd like that." Haywright replied.

Just then, a halo of light encompassed Grace. "Dammit!" she could be heard to say as she dematerialised.

"How the hell?" Haywright said as she stood.

"Earlier, when she had me as her prisoner, she commed someone, presumably in her ship, to check my ID."

"Damn it all to hell!" Haywright snarled, "We never considered that."

Her wrist comm beeped and she stabbed a button on it, "Haywright."

The speaker's voice transmitted to a receiver in her ear, "Yes, I've gathered that. Alert Traffic Control, I don't want that ship lifting."

"Sorry Ian, but duty calls."

"Understood." he said consolingly, "Anything I can do to help?"

She shook her head, "You could go to your room and wait for me there."

"Sounds like a deal." he smiled encouragingly.

Grace appeared in the transporter and turned on Dracas, "Why am I here?"

"We're lifting off." Dracas explained, "presumably in hot pursuit of Aric Tulley. Now the longer we sit here and discuss it, the longer that will take."

"Sorry, Chief." Grace remarked and hurried out of the transporter room towards the lift. Dracas followed at a much more leisurely pace and headed for the lift as well so he could get down to the engine room.

Grace appeared on the bridge and Macen remarked, "Almost thought you were going to miss the party."

"Never, sir!" Grace vowed.

Macen swivelled his chair to see Kort standing next to the Tactical station, "Better man Environmental if you're going to stay on the bridge."

Kort walked over to the station and stood there observing its automated settings. Daggit took a seat at the Tactical station and readied the board. Radil entered the bridge and moved up behind Daggit. She didn't pretend to man a station.

Kort gave up as well as Macen began issuing orders, "Grace, begin ascent utilising full manoeuvring thrusters. T'Kir, begin full sensor sweeps of the horizon and the space ahead of us."

"Traffic Control is ordering us to stand down." Daggit reported, "They say they'll override our helm in fifteen seconds if we do not comply."

"T'Kir, encrypt the ship's controls." Macen ordered.

The deadline passed and nothing happened. Daggit shook his head, "Control is screaming for us to cease and desist."

"I've got a Ju'day-class raider engaged in a parallel lift off 500 kilometres off our port bow." T'Kir announced, "Her ID transponder lists her as the Indomitable II."

There was a moment of silence and then T'Kir reported, "They've engaged impulse engines."

"Go to maximum impulse, Hannah." Macen instructed. The Blackbird-class had a much more powerful impulse engine than the raider. If they could break orbit first, perhaps their superior positioning would convince the Maquis to surrender. It was a slim hope, but the only one Macen had at the moment.

The Solstice broke orbit 2.3 minutes before the Indomitable did. Macen ordered a course change and the ship vectored for an interception. The scoutship was faster in both sublight and warp and Tulley saw that his raider wasn't going to escape without a fight. The SID ship was more heavily armed as well so the only advantage the Maquis had was their fanatical drive to win and their ferocity.

Tulley ordered his crew to change course to 90.7 degrees and to raise the shields and arm the weapons. T'Kir reported the change to Macen and he ordered Grace to alter course for a near pass. Daggit armed the weapons systems and raised the shields.

The ships were already in weapons range so they opened fire immediately. All of the raider's weapons, torpedo launchers and phasers alike were fixed mount unidirectional weapons. As the two ships passed, the Solstice maintained fire and then utilised her aft torpedo launcher before swinging about.

The Indomitable had several hull breaches and was leaking atmosphere and venting flames to space after the second pass. Her shields were near collapse from the photon torpedo volley she'd endured. Macen had extended the range before turning to face his opponent knowing his shields were the more capable. As it was, Dracas was on the intercom complaining.

Seeing no hope for victory or escape, Tulley addressed his personnel, "Attention all hands, our situation is lost. I'm ordering a warp core breach rather than be taken prisoner. Anyone who wishes to be taken alive had better get to the lifepods now."

Much to Tulley's pride, not one pod was launched. The engineer reported in, "The intermix chamber is running unregulated, we should detonate in two minutes."

"That's still time to draw Macen in." the helmsman suggested.

"No." Tulley shook his head, "We were friends once. I won't kill him through deceit."

"As you say, Captain."

"The intermix chamber on the Indie II just went nuts." T'Kir reported.

"What do you mean?" Macen leaned forward in his chair.

"It looks like someone's forcing a warp core breach by deactivating the intermix regulator. They've got 90 seconds left."

"Daggit patch me in." Macen instructed, "Aric, you don't have to do this. We can find another solution. A new colony for you and your people to settle."

"It's never work, Brin. Our homes are in the Zone. We'd never rest until our homes are free." Tulley replied, "It's better this way. Now you don't have to come after me again."

"What's Boromov have to do with this?" Macen asked.

"He gave us guns and explosives." Tulley answered, "He offered us shelter but when you came he panicked and ordered us to eliminate you and your crew rather than implicate himself. That led you right to us. I should never have listened to him. That's why I'm telling you this now."

"Thank you Aric." Macen replied, "I'll deal with Boromov for you."

"Tell Deirdre it's all right to surrender, in fact I order her to."

"I will." Macen promised, "I wish things could have gone differently..."

"Give Laren my love." Tulley said then cut the channel. The Solstice's viewer reverted to a shot of the Maquis raider hanging in space. There was a flash of light from her engine compartment and then she exploded as matter and antimatter annihilated in an uncontrolled reaction. The Solstice rode out the shockwave and then there was nothing ahead of them.

"Assume standard orbit Hannah." Macen wearily ordered, "Rab, hail the surface. I want to talk to the surviving Maquis."

 

Chapter Seven

Deirdre looked crestfallen, "Aric's dead?"

"I'm afraid so." Macen replied over the viewer's pick up, "He chose self destruction over capture. He did relay instructions for you and your people to lay down arms and await the proper authorities."

"Yes." Deirdre said distantly, "I saw the message you'd broadcast, the exchange you and Aric had before he died."

"Deirdre," Macen began, "I can't help you with your grief but I can make this transition easier. I'll beam you aboard my vessel. I'll plead your case before a Federation Magistrate, just surrender."

"No." Deirdre shook her head, still remote, "I'll make you a counter-proposal. Arrest me alone and let my people go."

"I'm not here to negotiate Deirdre." Macen warned.

"Fine." she shrugged, "Our ships are powered up. We'll meet you in a few moments and we'll finish this dance of death."

"It doesn't have to go this way." Macen pleaded.

Deirdre nodded, "Yes, it does."

Macen sagged slightly, "They'll still have to contend with Starfleet and local planetary authorities."

"Yes, but they won't have you hunting them across the galaxy."

Macen turned to Daggit, "Rab, have you contacted the Starfleet authorities on Risa?"

"I signalled the mainland and told them the island's forces were vastly outnumbered." Daggit smiled nastily, "They agreed with me and are sending several air trams the Maquis' way."

"But they won't make it in time." it was a statement not a question, "Has there been any communication in or out of the shared Resort Security/Starfleet office?"

"Nothing on Starfleet channels." Daggit revealed, "The resort's security traffic has escalated to a new high though."

"They're expecting us." Macen said with a sigh, "I guess we'd better not disappoint them."

"The Maquis ships are lifting as a whole." T'Kir reported.

"Engage only those ships that fire upon us." Macen ordered, "There's been too much death already."

"How many do you expect to fight us?" Grace asked.

"Hopefully none." came Macen's hopeful reply

Delaney had no intention of waiting around for Susan Haywright. Something was afoot and the SID team was right in the middle of it. Ten minutes after Hannah Grace had beamed out of the main restaurant and lounge, the Solstice had lifted. In the horizon, another ship could be seen lifting against the darkening sky.

Whatever it was, it had ruined the evening plans of Haywright and sent the Resort Security force scrambling in every direction. Delaney returned to his room, donned his uniform, comm badge and phaser and commed his runabout. He ordered the computer to update him as to local traffic and uploaded the results of his researches into the local Starfleet Security office.

The office's security was as lax as its officers. It had only taken thirty minutes for Delaney to trace back payments made in latinum to the unit by the Resort Security Force. It didn't do anything to prove Boromov's guilt but it was enough to warrant an arrest of the Starfleet personnel. Delaney left his room and began to head for the Security office.

Any Resort Security personnel could be arrested as well for bribery.

Delaney quietly made his way past the Resort Security guards setting up firing point positions. Macen, if he was returning, was headed for his own slaughter. Delaney vowed that he'd do something about that. First though, he had to deal with the corrupt Starfleet officers.

Zitter poked his head into Nevil's office, "We've got a problem."

Nevil sighed, "What kind of problem?"

"Pytor." Zitter replied, "He's holding on subspace secure channel two for you."

"Any idea what it's about?" Nevil rested her jaw on her fist.

"He's convinced the SID is finally going to arrest him."

Nevil snorted, "If he's gotten sloppier than usual, then they probably will. Harbouring the Maquis on that island was a dumb idea."

"He's threatening to name names if he's captured." Zitter informed her.

"So what?" Nevil laughed, "He's a donor and a political supporter. We can easily survive the scandal of him turning out to be a notorious gunrunner."

"We have never had a face to face with him." Zitter mused.

"Exactly!" Nevil snapped her fingers, "And if he is eliminated, that's one less competing view of how the Federation should look."

"What about his allies?" Zitter asked.

"They can rescue him if they can. Our hands are tied. Please inform him of such." Nevil proclaimed.

"As you wish, my Lady." Zitter half bowed and exited the room.

Pytor, you idiot! Nevil thought to herself, Why couldn't you have been patient enough to utilise the political process rather than support all these unstable dissident groups?

"Damned bitch!" Boromov muttered as the comm circuit with Zitter cut off, "After all I've done for her."

Taking a moment to reflect, he realised he'd never done that much for Nevil. He'd orchestrated her campaign on Risa but that had been all. As a highly affluent citizen of the planet, and a native Terran, he'd soon learned of Nevil's ultimate goals and her plans for achieving them. As he'd grown in her confidence, and she in his, he'd eventually divulged the facts concerning his own political manoeuvring.

Nevil had always been cool towards his overt acts of terror and violence to shape public opinion. She preferred subtler, and much slower, means of persuasion. They'd been headed for loggerheads for some time now. His only reason for maintaining contact for this long was at the insistence of his covert allies in his struggle. Their plans mirrored both Nevil's and Boromov's methodologies. They'd speak softly but would arm a neutron bomb at the talks as well, just to insure they had everyone's undivided attention.

Boromov moved quickly to establish a comm link through the cut out he had. Given Macen's reputation, he didn't give Tulley long to live, nor did he have any illusions regarding the good terrorist's loyalties. Tulley would sell him out in a moment, as one of any number of his "clients" would do if offered the chance. They were survivors first and ideologues second.

Boromov knew Macen would return to arrest him. While he didn't expect the good captain to survive the attempt, precautions had to be taken. He needed to arrange an avenue of escape.

The dust had settled and as predicted, only Deirdre's Skylark-class scout had even slowed to acknowledge them them. The prisoner exchange had been swift and painless. Deirdre was now in Radil's tender care and being locked up in the ship's diminutive brig.

Macen rose from his chair, "Rab and T'Kir, you're with me. Kort you handle Tactical in our absence. Hannah, you're in command until I get back." Grace and Kort both beamed. Once they were in the lift, Macen ordered Dracas to the transporter room and Radil to the armoury.

T'Kir had donned her leather longcoat and was loading her spare utility belt pouches with powerpacks when Radil arrived. Macen had donned his flight jacket and was doing the same. Daggit had put on a Starfleet black field duty uniform shirt from the 2340s as well as a field vest that he was loading with grenades and powerpacks.

Not feeling particularly self-conscious, Radil entered, stripped and put on a set of M.A.C.O. fatigues. She ushered Daggit to her side to strap on her portable phaser cannon. When that was complete, they mounted a battery on her lower back and hooked it to the cannon. The spare battery was strapped level to her shoulder blades.

Macen and T'Kir stuck with their usual sidearms. Daggit wielded a phaser rifle, three phaser pistols, a grenade launcher and a knife. Radil carried the cannon and a back-up phaser pistol. Since the cannon was strapped to her right hip, Radil could only wear her left holster.

"Any chance we'll make it out of this alive?" Radil asked as she powered up her cannon.

"There's always that possibility." Macen grinned.

"In other words, you don't know." Radil grumbled.

"Yeah, but won't it be fun finding out?" T'Kir asked.

Radil looked over at Daggit, "They're both nuts."

Daggit shrugged, "I must be crazy too. I'd follow them through the gates of hell."

Radil sighed, "Me too. What kind of jaded cynic have I turned out to be?"

"One with a family." Daggit replied.

"Ohhh no." Radil waved her hands across her face in a warding gesture, "You're not getting sentimental on me now, are you?"

"Wouldn't dream of it."

"Good. I'd have to shoot you myself just to alleviate your pain."

"Are we done in here?" a smiling Macen asked.

"Or do you two need a moment alone?" T'Kir enquired.

"The final indignity!" Radil fumed, "They're finishing each other's sentences."

"Settle down, trooper." Daggit put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, "This too shall pass."

"Not with these two." Radil grumped, "She's a telepath..."

"And he's an empath..." Daggit groaned.

"Which means your pain could last an eternity." T'Kir laughed evilly.

"Or at least until you die." Macen countered with a nasty smile, "Since we'll outlive you both."

"Prophets help us both." Radil whispered in prayer.

They can't help you, T'Kir's voice filled all of their minds, but maybe I will.

It was only at that moment that Daggit and Radil noticed that Macen had already left the room. Their vision refocused on the odd smile worn by T'Kir's tilted head. Wearing polite smiles, they excused themselves and slipped out of the armoury. Just before the doors sealed, peals of demented laughter could be heard escaping the room.

Daggit exchanged a worried look with Radil, "Is she still on her meds?"

Worried are we? T'Kir's voice echoed through his skull, You needn't be.

Seeing Daggit's stunned expression, Radil grabbed him by the arm and hustled him further down the deck until they reached the transporter room and entered it. Upon arriving, they were surprised by Macen's absence. Dracas merely shrugged.

"He said he'd be back in a minute. He had something else to do."

In the brig, Macen observed Deirdre's posture of abject misery, "You truly loved him, didn't you?"

"You're the empath, you tell me." Deirdre sniped.

"Deirdre, I did everything I could."

"His shields were down." she hissed, "You could've beamed him out of there."

"And abandon the rest of the crew?" Macen asked, "You know I wouldn't do that. Aric made his choice. One way or another, he was going to die by his own hand."

"Don't say that!" Deirdre snapped, "Aric was a fighter. He was stronger than the rest of us put together."

"He'd also seen the death of his dream, been betrayed by an ally, and hunted by a friend. There are limits to a man's strength." Macen tried to persuade her, "He'd simply reached his."

"So what about you?" Deirdre asked sharply, "You've lost a homeworld, loved ones, the original Maquis rebellion, and your precious Starfleet career. What keeps you going?"

"Do you really want to hear about the times I put a phaser to my head and visualised pulling the trigger? Of all the sleepless nights I've spent agonising over why I lived and so many others died? Or, how about the faces of my fellow Maquis and Starfleet officers I can't erase from my mind as they're getting cut down instead of me? Do you really want to hear about that?" Macen demanded and then took a calming breath, "I go on because I have faith."

"Faith?" Deirdre asked incredulously.

"Faith that the universe will unravel the way it was meant to. Faith that I'll reach the next plane of existence when I'm supposed to." Macen struggled to explain, "Faith that life is a reflection of the ideal and that we can reach that ideal."

"You're a fool." Deirdre spat.

Macen shrugged, "Maybe, but I'm a living fool at least."

That last barb brought a fresh round of tears to Deirdre's eyes and Macen sighed, "It all comes down to how we respond to defeat. When the Jem'Hadar crushed our ranks, we each faced a choice. Aric's choice led him here. My choice led me here just as yours did."

"At least we never served the Cardies as a frinxing mercenary." Deirdre argued.

"And maybe that was your first mistake." Macen said and began to walk away.

"I'll kill you." Deirdre vowed, "I swear to God above and Satan below that I will take your life."

Macen turned, "And now you have an article of faith to hold on to."

Macen exited the brig and made his way to the transporter room. There he found Daggit and Radil in a worried huddle, Dracas was looking concerned and T'Kir was nowhere to be found.

"Does anyone know where my wife is?" Macen asked.

"She's in the armoury." Daggit answered, "She's...not quite herself. Has she been taking her medications, sir?"

"Damn it!" Macen swore and slapped his comm badge, "Macen to Kort, meet me in the armoury and bring a booster dose of T'Kir's medication."

"I warned you this would happen!" Kort accused, "You two should never have started to vary the dosages on your own."

"Criticism duly noted, Doctor." Macen replied dryly, "Now just meet me at the armoury."

"What do you want us to do?" Radil asked.

"Stay in here, out of the way." Macen ordered, "She'll already have picked up that Kort and I are coming from your minds. The less you know, the better our chances are."

"Won't she be able to read Kort's mind?" Daggit enquired.

"Not if something Parva and I have been co-developing works." Dracas grinned.

Twenty minutes later, Kort arrived. Dracas met him in the corridor and fitted him with a device that closely resembled a medieval crown. It was a circular band of metal with tangs protruding from it every two centimetres. Kort complained because it too closely resembled the headgear worn by Klingon brides.

"Shut up and wear it you big lug." Dracas retorted as he activated the diadem's power source, "This psionic scrambler should keep her out of your skull long enough for you to dose her."

"And if it doesn't?" Kort asked sceptically.

Dracas held up a second, bulkier circlet, "Slap this on her head and throw the switch. It should render her unable to form a coherent thought for at least ninety seconds. Could save your life."

"Save my life?" Kort was indignant.

"She can kill with her mind, remember?" Macen reminded him, "Besides the fact she's sitting in the armoury."

"Has she moved?" Kort asked.

"No." Macen shook his head, "She's just sitting...and crying. She feels overwhelmed."

"Will your telepathic rapport with her make you vulnerable?" Dracas wondered.

"It shouldn't." Macen replied, "Even with the rapport, she can't access my thoughts unless I allow her to. The same principle seems to be in effect here. I can perceive her dilemma without getting overwhelmed myself."

"I still don't know what you two were playing at lowering her doses all these years." Kort snarled.

"T'Kir wanted to try and develop her own natural defences and rely less on the herbal remedy. She knew if the replicator ever broke down or lost its memory, she'd be in a bind." Macen explained through clenched teeth, "I supported this idea as long as it was done in incremental steps. I supervised the process and for the last three years it's worked. It's just obvious that with the action this afternoon we've reached a saturation point. It's time to pull back and start over."

"How far back are we pulling?" Kort wondered.

"A full dose now, to stabilise her and back a year ago, before she started having trouble, for the duration." Macen answered.

"A year ago?" Kort shouted, "She's been having trouble for a year now and you haven't thought to warn anyone?"

Macen held a finger to his lips, "Shh! Even if she can't read your mind she still has those wicked ears of hers."

Kort's anger was blunted but it simmered. Macen keyed the armoury's door and its slid aside. T'Kir was beside the door, seated on the floor with her arms wrapped around her body and head. She sobbed uncontrollably. Macen knelt beside her.

"Its okay now." he assured her, "We're here to drive the demons back."

She released her grip on herself and threw her arms around him. Kort readied the hypo and placed it against her neck without resistance. It hissed as he depressed the activation stud. Kort checked his wrist chrono.

"She should start coming out of it in twenty minutes or so."

"Tell the others the mission's scrubbed for an hour."

"You can't honestly expect her to function after this event in a mere hour?"

Macen's gaze was heavy as it met Kort's, "We've been through worse."

Knowing something of T'Kir's turbulent years with the Maquis, Kort nodded, "I'll alert the others. You do realise this eliminates the element of surprise?"

"There is no surprise." Macen laughed harshly, "He knows we're coming. This'll give his troops some time to stew."

"I see." Kort replied and slipped off the psionic scrambler, "Is there anything else I can do for you, either of you?"

T'Kir's sobs had mellowed to mere crying now and Macen shook his head, "Some privacy would be appreciated."

"Of course." Kort nodded stiffly and left the armoury.

Macen kissed T'Kir's forehead and held her closer, "Hang on, Honey. We'll get through this too."

Delaney strode into the Security office. All six of the assigned Starfleet personnel were there as well as one of the Resort officers. Delaney's phaser set off of the alarm and he went to draw it. He'd stunned four of the six before the others even reached for their weapons. The last two were caught in mid-draw. Only the Resort officer actually fired on Delaney. The shot was hurried and wild.

Delaney tucked his phaser under his arm and fired across his chest at the Resort Security officer. The stun blast caught her in the chest and knocked her out. She slumped down into the terminal chair she'd been working from. Delaney contacted his runabout and beamed back aboard. Next, he beamed aboard the Starfleet Security team two people at a time.

He disarmed each officer and removed their comm badges and then drug them into the brig cell modules his runabout carried. Once he had three in each cell, he activated the forcefields. It was a tight fit but not as tight as the noose Boromov would put on their necks for having been discovered. Grabbing a pulse rifle out of the ship's weapon's locker, Delaney beamed back to the Security office.

He disarmed the unconscious young lady and carried her into a holding cell. He removed her wrist communicator and stepped out of the cell with her phaser in his other hand. He activated the cell and returned to her station. She'd been monitoring communications.

The Resort people, having set their trap, were observing subspace radio silence. Delaney decided to help facilitate this by jamming all the Resort communicators. Starfleet badges would still work. Although Macen's comm badges wore a generic appearance, they were manufactured for Starfleet and would therefore work.

Delaney assumed Macen would try for the direct approach: a quick snatch of Boromov and withdraw. Haywright didn't have Delaney's advantage of having studied the man and had to deploy her forces to cover every contingency. The audacity of a head on confrontation wouldn't occur to her. Delaney had just seen to it that she wouldn't be able to rapidly respond once she'd realised her error. On top of that, they'd be facing Delaney as well as Macen's crew. This threw yet another variable into the mix.

Hopefully, Delaney thought, there are enough variables to insure survival.

 

Chapter Eight

"Are you sure you're ready?" Macen asked T'Kir from the privacy of their quarters.

She gave him a pained expression, "You're not gonna start babying me now, just because I got a little overwhelmed?"

"You got a lot overwhelmed, m'dear." Macen corrected.

"The thoughts of an entire solar system are a lot to take in." T'Kir protested, "I'm better now."

"Better isn't 'fine'."

"I'm fine, really!" T'Kir protested, "We knew this day would come and that it wouldn't arrive when it was convenient for it to. Like you told Kort, I've been through worse. Let's go. There's a bad guy to catch."

"There's always a bad guy." Macen protested, "I just want to be sure you're all right."

"Except for this sudden bout of overprotectiveness, I'm better than 'all right'." T'Kir protested in kind, "Let's accomplish the mission and go home. Then I'll be fine."

"All right." Macen conceded at last, "You're the boss."

"And don't you forget it!"

Macen grinned and tapped his comm badge, "Macen to landing party, the mission's back on. We'll see you in the transporter room in ten minutes."

T'Kir belted her holster back on and affixed the tie-down, "We could've been there in five minutes."

Macen shrugged, "I know. I just wanted to spend a few extra minutes with you."

She rolled her eyes, "More worrying?"

"Less worrying, more snogging." Macen replied and T'Kir's eyes lit up.

"Now you're making sense."

When the arrest team gathered in the transporter room, T'Kir could sense Daggit and Radil's discomfort despite their placid expressions. She was used to this duplicity from her days in the Maquis. She would fray every last nerve and then be presented with a calm front. The only person that it seemed genuine was Macen. Knowing what she knew now, she realised that Macen's own sense of fractured disparity had always made him more sympathetic towards her plight.

She wished she could say that she reeled in guilt over her actions in the jungle regarding the Betazoid, but she honestly couldn't dredge up any remorse. She knew Macen felt the same way over the death of foes and was less judgemental than most. It still disturbed him how she took delight in causing torment in her victim. That hadn't been the case before Adrya.

The Orion mob boss' torture of her had elicited an unexpected reaction from her. She enjoyed making him and his cronies suffer before they died. It seemed fitting. Nothing else she'd done would have compared to what she would have inflicted upon Daveed B'nner. She had been gratified to learn Parva had detonated the bastard with a grenade.

The sight of Daggit and Parva covered in B'nner's blood and bits of charred flesh had contained a vicarious thrill for her. This newly revealed aspect of her personality disturbed her. She'd always thought of herself as an essentially moral person. Now she knew herself for the killer she truly was.

She just hoped Macen hadn't put the pieces together. She couldn't stand to lose him. He was her link with normalcy. He was the crutch she used to curb her darker impulses. Her inner resolve was growing daily but for now she greatly relied upon his strength.

As they stepped up to the transporter pads, Macen cast her a piercing gaze that seemed to cut right through her illusions. Although a stab of fear ran through her heart, another part of it soared. He knew what she struggled with and was willing to stand by her. That was all she could ask and more.

Dracas activated the transporter beam and the team felt the familiar sense of disassociation associated with beaming down. They rematerialised in the Royale's main lobby and assumed a box defence. Assessing that there were no current threats, the team headed out for Boromov's private wing.

Delaney witnessed the SID team's beam in over the security office's monitors. He deactivated the monitors and then fried the station with his pulse rifle. With the monitors darkened, he did the same to the comm station. Blinded and deaf, Resort Security would initially have a difficult time responding to Macen's assault. Delaney knew Haywright was personally commanding the defence of Boromov's quarters.

Delaney judged Susan Haywright to be competent, more so then the Starfleet personnel assigned to this island at least. She and her men would offer up stiff resistance. Macen could use every hand he could get and Delaney's orders were to support him however he could. His decision made, Delaney jogged off to join Macen's ragtag band.

"Brin, we've got someone approaching." T'Kir warned, "Feels like our counter-assassin."

"Get ready folks." Macen ordered, "We're about to have unexpected company."

"Which way?" Daggit asked. The hallway only ran north and south. T'Kir pointed south. Every SID member trained their weapons in that direction.

Delaney came around the corner and found himself facing four guns. It was rather unnerving, particularly given the reputation of these individuals. Daggit in particular could shoot the eye out of a fly. Radil was nearly as dangerous. Macen and T'Kir were no slouches with a phaser pistol either.

Delaney held his rifle up above his head, "Don't shoot! I'm on your side."

"Mind if we ask for proof?" Macen asked, wearing a wry grin.

"Have her read my mind." Delaney nodded towards T'Kir, wearing a similar grin.

Macen and T'Kir exchanged a fleeting glance, enough for Delaney to detect that something was wrong. T'Kir hesitated and then nodded. Her brow knitted in concentration and Delaney suddenly felt inside out. Even if he'd wanted to use his Vulcan mind defences, they'd have crumbled

T'Kir sighed, "He's our counter-assassin. Admiral Robert Johnson sent him to provide back up. His name is Ian Delaney."

"Johnson's a Council member." Macen clarified for his crew, "I'm rather disappointed in the Admiral's lack of faith in us."

"The Admiral was just concerned given Boromov's track record with SID teams." Delaney retorted, "And can I put my arms down yet?"

"Go ahead." Macen allowed, "As far as the assassin was concerned, his name was Kolon Raeder. He was trying to use a thermal sight to peer through heat reflective umbrellas. He had no shot."

"But how do you..." Delaney began and then realised the obvious as T'Kir sketched off a two-fingered salute.

"You were the only mystery." Macen informed Delaney, "I could have had T'Kir crack your shields like an egg, but I didn't want to leave you a babbling idiot in case you were an ally."

"Thank you." Delaney replied dryly, "So now what?"

"You joining up or what?" Macen asked.

"Yes. I want to see Boromov go down." Delaney replied enthusiastically.

"Then welcome to the team." Macen said, "Just follow our lead and you'll be fine."

Delaney squirmed at that, "You do realise that I'm usually in charge of leading the team?"

"Be my guest." Macen smiled, "Just wait and see if anyone follows your orders."

Delaney's wry grin returned, "I didn't mean any disrespect. It's just as the Chief Tactical Officer and Head of Security aboard the Intrepid, I'm used to giving the orders."

"Under your captain." Macen replied, "Just think of me as your captain."

"That'd be a stretch." Delaney remarked, "I've read your personnel jacket. You're nothing like Captain Mckinley."

"Just pretend that you're on Temporary Detached Duty then." Macen advised.

"Easy enough since I'm already TDY with this mission."

"If we're all in agreement then, maybe we can go meet the bad guys." Macen retorted.

"Certainly," Delaney nodded, "there's..."

"Eight of them lying in wait around the next bend." T'Kir described.

Delaney looked dumbfounded then he grinned and tapped the side of his head, "You can read them."

T'Kir shook her head, "Not today, not precisely at any rate." She pulled a microcomputer out of one of her utility belt's pouches, "I was tapped into the resort's security network, before somebody decided to blow it straight to hell."

Delaney had the decency to look embarrassed, "Sorry."

"This is why uncoordinated investigations rarely work." Macen opined, "They move at cross purposes."

"I'll relay that to the Admiral the next time I see him."

"I'll relay it myself when I see him." Macen promised, "Which will be as soon as this mission's over."

That had an ominous ring to it but Delaney let it go, "So, are we getting underway?"

"Jenrya," Macen thumbed towards the awaiting corner, "take point."

Susan Haywright was growing nervous. Her units had all been in position for over an hour. Besides this team, she had two other groups in play, all roughly the same size. If she was feeling edgy, than her other team leaders had to be positively frantic.

Disobeying her own orders, she activated her wrist communicator, "Haywright to squad leaders. Report in."

There was dead silence. There wasn't even the static of the signal being jammed. It was just dead. As if someone had taken down the communications post back at Security.

Haywright cursed herself for even trusting this arrogant Starfleet fools, "Tighten up. The opposition is on its way!"

"How can you be..." a subordinate began to ask and then an energy discharge struck him and his companion. They collapsed to the floor. Haywright blinked and then her eyes traced the energy blast back to its source. A Bajoran woman with a portable phaser cannon strapped to her body was taking aim at her.

"Gun!" Haywright yelled and fired at Radil's position. Her frightened subordinates unloaded everything they had at Radil. Radil ducked behind the corner and watched as part of the wall was blasted away. She edged closer to Macen.

"You wanted their attention." Her deep-set eyes glanced back towards the destructive energies still being released, "I think you've got it."

"Cease fire." Haywright yelled, and then repeated. "Cease fire, damn you!" she snapped at one last remaining holdout, "They know our numbers now and we're down by two."

"There should only be four." a lieutenant offered, "That's all they used to go after the Maquis."

"But that was before we knew they had a reserve aboard their ship." Haywright growled, "Who knows how many they brought with them?"

"Right now they should be wondering how many of us are there?" Macen explained to Delaney, "They know how many we went after Tulley's forces with but they also now realise we had extra men aboard our ship."

"How many extra?" Delaney asked with high expectations.

"Two." Macen answered, "Three now with Hannah aboard."

"So, Grace is out of danger?" Delaney asked with genuine concern.

"For now." Macen allowed, "Is there something between you I should be aware of?"

"Lieutenant Grace observed me spying on your departure this morning and confronted me." Delaney admitted, "I attempted to disarm her but she thwarted me."

"Our Grace does that." Macen smirked, "I'd be willing to bet she thwarted you in more than one attempt."

Delaney coloured slightly, "I may have made a pass or two."

"She's a wily creature, our Hannah." Macen patted the younger man on the shoulder, "If we survive this, I might give you a few suggestions."

"Brin!" T'Kir hissed.

"What?" Macen asked defensively, "It would do Hannah some good and Mr. Delaney needs something to live for."

"Hey!" T'Kir and Delaney said in stereo.

"You!" Macen pointed at T'Kir, "She's your best friend and she's lonely. This could be a positive step in resolving that issue. I'm an El-Aurian 'listener' remember? Ian here has been saying all the right things with more than just his words."

"You!" he pointed at Delaney, "If you want to have a chance at the girl, listen to us and we'll steer you as close as we can but in the end you'll have to trust your own instincts. Understood?"

Delaney dumbly nodded feeling as though he'd just been swept over by a hurricane. T'Kir subsided and he could feel her gently probing his deeper thoughts. Her face relaxed and she began to look on him with approval. Delaney supposed she'd missed the fate of his parents' murderers.

"Good job with the raiders." she said suddenly and his hopes were dashed. Her look of approval remained and Delaney reminded himself that Macen, T'Kir and Lisea Danan had all been in the original Maquis. Her views, and the Commander's, would be far more lenient on vigilantism.

Delaney still struggled with rank address with this SID team. Each member of the team had a proper Starfleet rank. Only, none of them used it. The only one to use a title was Macen and that was as Captain of the ship. For someone steeped in Starfleet lore and protocol, it was a difficult transition.

"Commander Macen," Delaney began.

"Captain Macen, please." Macen corrected, "There may be one or two people left on this planet that still buy my cover story."

"Very well, Captain, what's our next move?"

"Rab?" Macen prompted.

Daggit slung his rifle and pulled the grenade launcher free from its holster. He stepped up to the destroyed corner and pumped a round into the launcher's chamber. Daggit took a deep breath and pivoted around to clear the corner and face the enemy. He fired one round, pumped the launcher's action and fired again. That done, he moved back behind the shelter of the corner as explosions rent the entrance to the executive wing.

"Now, together!" Macen ordered and led the charge around the corner. T'Kir was by his side. Delaney was in hot pursuit. Daggit and Radil hung back, securing the corner vantage point and positioning themselves to provide cover fire. Only two of the remaining six defenders were still upright. One was wounded and the other was Susan Haywright.

Delaney took up a covering position and ordered her up against the wall, hands first. The wounded woman was allowed to lay down arms and shrink to the floor. T'Kir went to the door lock and pulled out her microcomputer.

"We could've had something, Ian." Haywright said over her shoulder, "Still could."

"Sorry Susan." a heartsick Delaney said, "Our relationship became a ruse when I discovered you'd been bribing Starfleet officers."

"Bribing Starfleet officials?" Haywright laughed, "Is that what this is about?"

"Hardly." Macen said grimly, "Your boss has admitted links with terrorists."

"So do you, I gather." Haywright laughed again, "I'd prepare your apologies and hope that Mr. Boromov is in a gracious mood. Your career will be ruined, Ian, and as far as you go 'Captain' Macen, your company will go bankrupt fighting litigation."

"We'll see." Macen said with a satisfied smile as T'Kir picked the lock and the door opened to Haywright's surprise, "We have a tendency to overcome the odds."

"Mr. Delaney, you secure the prisoners here." Macen ordered and then he made a hand gesture towards Daggit and Radil and they took up position to repel invaders coming through the same route the SID had.

Macen and T'Kir stepped into the interior of the office/residence wing with their weapons held in two-handed grips. They slowly swept the areas, with one searching and the other covering through several rooms before they reached Boromov's private office. A particle beam nearly cut Macen's head off as he began to peer into the space. Both he and T'Kir returned fire and the shooting ceased.

They slowly, ever so gingerly, entered the office. Boromov's hand came up from behind the desk. He rose with his phaser's emitter pressed against his temple. Both Macen and T'Kir tensed, ready to take the shot.

"Do it and I'll die." Boromov warned, "This phaser is set up with a 'Dead Man's Switch', it's only deactivated as long as I thumb the trigger."

Macen tasted Boromov's emotions. He was extremely confident rather than desperate. A mental query to T'Kir revealed the same thing. Boromov felt he had an escape all laid out. The question was what was it?

"Put it down, Boromov." Macen ordered, "No one needs to die here."

"Is that what you told Aric Tulley?" Boromov asked and registered the victory with the wounded look in Macen's eyes.

"So you don't deny aiding and abetting Aric Tulley and the new Maquis?"

"Why should I?" Boromov laughed, "I revel in it. Tulley's cause was just, as you yourself once believed."

"So you endorse blowing up civilians and children?"

"If the cause requires it, of course." Boromov ignored Macen's anger. He glanced at his computer display and smiled, "It's been a pleasure but now I must say farewell."

Boromov's thumb moved off the phaser's activation stud and Boromov disintegrated right before their eyes. Macen holstered his weapon and ran over to the fallen phaser. Noticing phaser burns but no further disintegrations. He pressed the firing stud and stripped the powerpack out of the weapon.

"T'Kir, scan the room for a transporter signature."

"Why?"

"Just do it, please."

She flipped her tricorder open and then whistled, "You were right. How'd you know?"

"This phaser is a Starfleet issue Type II post 2365, it doesn't have a disintegration function." Macen explained, "It sounds a lot like a suspected Section 31 action on Romulus. One of their directors was 'disintegrated' on the Senate floor yet miraculously showed up alive elsewhere days later."

"You think Boromov is associated with Section 31?"

Macen shrugged, "It seems to fly in the face of their stated goal of defending the Federation at any cost but they've had some odd interpretations of that maxim before. I'll have to ask Hannah her opinion on it later."

"Well, let me at that computer." T'Kir said and edged past Macen. She plopped down in the office chair and swore. She furiously began pounding at the computer's controls.

"Tapeworm?" Macen asked as he rose from the floor.

"Yah, it's a frinxing tapeworm. Whoever wrote is at least as good as I am."

"More S31 evidence but it doesn't feel right." Macen opined, "S31 disarms terrorists not the reverse."

"They armed the original Maquis." T'Kir rebutted.

"The Maquis weren't domestic problems. They destabilised the Cardassians." Macen explained, "That's a classic Section 31 plot. This is different. It has all the hallmarks of a S31 operation but none of the right motives."

Macen's comm badge chirped before T'Kir could comment, "Sir? It's Daggit. We're taking heavy fire from at least sixteen Resort Security officers."

"Hold them off for another two minutes." Macen instructed, "I'll call Hal and order up an immediate extraction."

"Roger that."

Macen tapped the badge again, "Macen to Dracas."

"Dracas here."

"Hal, we need an extraction."

"I've got you all locked on just give me a second."

"We've a complication by the name of Ian Delaney. He's wearing a Starfleet comm badge and he's in our general vicinity."

"I see him."

"He has another humanoid lifeform directly ahead of him."

"Got that one too."

"Beam them up as well."

"Yes sir...now?"

Macen sighed, "Yes, Dracas."

"Very good sir."

A few seconds later, Macen felt the familiar sensation of molecular dissociation overtake him. As was usual in cases such as these, he was very grateful for that feeling.

 

Chapter Nine

Haywright made a move to escape upon rematerialising but was blocked by Rab Daggit's massive form. Radil seized her by one arm and Delaney grabbed the other.

"Settle down, Suze. Just enjoy the ride." Delaney suggested.

"Rab, take Mr. Delaney and our other guest to the brig and find her appropriate quarters." Macen ordered.

"Yes sir." came Daggit's bombastic reply. He took hold of Haywright's arms and began to lead her out of the transporter room. Delaney followed, poised to shoot her if necessary.

"That woman's literally got the weight of the world bearing down on her." Dracas chuckled to himself after they departed.

"Rab can't help his size." Macen rejoined, "Exercise is compulsive with him."

"You know what I mean, sir." Dracas retorted, "Both of them looked ready to tear that woman apart."

"If they'd accept the help, I'd give them a hand." Radil remarked and exited the room.

"Not so much in your cases, I take it?" Dracas wondered.

"I want her employer." Macen admitted, "She's just a means to an end."

"I'd personally mindwipe her boss." T'Kir growled.

"I take it we didn't get her boss." Dracas observed.

"No, Chief." Macen admitted, "This one was one step ahead of us. He had friends we weren't aware of."

"First time for everything." Dracas remarked philosophically, "You can't win them all."

"True enough aphorisms, Chief, but that does little to quell the sting the failure leaves behind." Macen advised, "I suggest you return to your engines and let us lick our own wounds."

Dracas shrugged, "Can't say I didn't try."

Macen patted Dracas' shoulder as he ushered him out of the room, "No one can fault you there, Chief."

After securing Haywright in a cell, Daggit checked on Deirdre in the second of the three cells, "Are you all right, miss?"

"Just perfect." Deirdre groused, "Give me one of those phasers you're carrying and watch my day get better."

Daggit was about to reply when Radil entered sans phaser cannon. She wore her double holster again, "Are we complaining again Deirdre?"

Delaney was confused. Everyone on the team referred to outsiders by their last names and each other by their given names. This Deirdre seemed an exception and Delaney asked why.

Radil wore a wry grin as she answered, "Deirdre's from Britannia. It's impolite to refer to Britons by their last names, so we oblige her."

Delaney nodded understanding. Britannia, before being handed over to the Cardassians, was one of the most informal planets in Federation space. Formality was considered a social faux pas. Politeness, however, was mandatory...it was actually legislated and regulated.

"I see." Delaney remarked, "Yet she seems to be being rude to Commander Daggit."

Radil laughed, "The advantages of being a Maquis. You get to rebel against social norms as well. Take a look at our captain and his wife."

Delaney's eyebrows rose. It did explain a lot. T'Kir and Macen both were unlike any representatives of their respective races that he'd ever met. Of course, with there only being forty-six El-Aurians in the span of the Federation, his experience on that note was rather limited. It consisted of a bartender in an establishment in Paris called Sadrine's. She'd once served as the hostess aboard the Enterprise-D.

Delaney had fond memories of Guinan, "The Captain seems an enigmatic man. Much more than his files let on."

"The files probably don't mention that the Captain's personal idol is James T. Kirk." Daggit offered.

"Ah." Delaney remarked. That went a long way to explaining the puzzle. Kirk was a rational commander but he'd always tenuously balanced logic with passion. He'd had Ambassador Spock and Admiral McCoy to act as the voices of each. First and foremost, he was a man of action.

Macen didn't have the voice of logic in his life, just passion in the form of T'Kir. His insistence on daring do was now made plain. Macen was willing to take risks that others would quail at. Part of that stemmed from his abilities to perceive temporal movements but the rest was just sheer recklessness.

It was a testament to the skills of the crew that they'd lived this long. Macen's nearly unparalleled record with Starfleet Intelligence was based upon sheer audacity. It also accounted for the sheer number of commendations and reprimands that laced his personnel jacket. The man was up for promotion one day and on the verge of being demoted the next.

It was no wonder that his wilfulness had cost him his Captaincy after only a few days in the rank. Permanently derailed to the rank of Commander, his odds of assuming command of another vessel had been nil until the revival of the Starfleet privateer program. The loose regulations of the privateer program had allowed Macen to blossom. His chances of thriving within mainstream Starfleet were now nonexistent.

That was why although his commission had been reactivated, Macen and his crew still operated under their letter of marque. Chief of Starfleet Operations, Edward Jellico, had used his time on the Council of Five to derail the privateer program. The advent of Johnson and Noyce, combined with the SID's need to regain Macen, had reinvigorated the program. So far the reenlistment of the privateers had proven successful beyond Admiral Drake's dreams.

Privateers could slip into ports of call that were denied to all but deep cover Intelligence operatives. Such operatives, however, walked the same fine line of ultimate loyalty that the privateer faced but with far greater restrictions. Whereas a traditional Starfleet officer was constrained in how involved in a criminal enterprise he or she could get while infiltrating it, the privateer has no preset boundaries. They are free to commit whatever acts as are necessary to gain the trust of the pirate or cartel leader short of rape, torture and murder.

Privateers were licensed to "defend the interests of the Federation". How they were to go about defending those interests was a matter of great debate. Some felt privateers should adhere to the same guidelines as Starfleet, others did not. It was an argument that literally divided Starfleet, much the way the original Maquis question had.

Delaney was one of those officers that supported the privateer program. Having reached, and exceeded, the constraints of the law and Starfleet regulations, he saw the need for an equalising force. Delaney wasn't proud of the actions he'd taken in killing the pirates that had killed his parents but he still saw them as necessary. As a privateer, he could have done so with Starfleet's unwitting blessing as long as he asserted that lethal force had been justified. It had been a kill or be killed situation so that assertion would have been easy to prove, despite Delaney's firing first. The matter of violating the Neutral Zone would have been a little harder to defend.

"So what happens now?" Delaney asked.

"Jenrya here baby-sits our prisoners while you and I take a stroll to the bridge." came Daggit's terse reply, "The Captain can decide what to do with you there."

Delaney suddenly felt apprehensive. He'd already felt as though Macen had decided his fate. If that were being thrown into question, his opinion of the man may have to change. He also had prisoners to care for aboard his runabout. He couldn't abandon them.

He felt bad enough that he had three people locked up in cells designed for single occupancy. Hopefully, he had a member of each shift represented in each cell so they could arrange sleeping habits accordingly. He wasn't worried about escape. Theoretically, those cells could hold fifty.

"Lead on Commander." Delaney replied nonchalantly.

"I'm a Lt. Commander to Starfleet." Daggit corrected, "Around here I'm just the Special Operations Specialist."

"Sorry." Delaney said contritely, "Lead on then, Specialist."

Daggit looked at him as though he were an especially slow child then shrugged and led the way out of the brig. Radil remained behind, mirthfully snickering. As Daggit approached the turbolift shaft, Delaney realised he still had his rifle slung over his shoulder. Surely if he were being led to his doom, they'd disarm him.

The ride in the lift was a short one. The Blackbird-class ships only had five decks. The brig, transporter, shuttlebay and sickbay were all on Deck 3 along with storage bays. Their trip to Deck 1, or the bridge, took less than two minutes. The doors opened to reveal Macen in the centre seat, T'Kir and Grace manning CONN and Ops and a Klingon sitting at what had to be the Tactical station.

The Klingon rose upon seeing Daggit, "All systems read nominal, Daggit."

"Thanks Kort." Daggit nodded as he ushered Delaney into the heart of the bridge.

"So you're saying there was a massive neutrino reading for several minutes and then it disappeared?" Macen asked Grace.

"Yep." Grace replied with a nod, "After the readings disappeared, I detected what appeared to be a diffused warp trail."

"A cloaked ship at warp." Macen tapped the armrest of his seat with his fist.

"That was my take on it as well." Grace concurred then her eyes lifted and she registered Delaney, "Oh, its you again. Couldn't stay away could you?"

"Your beauty enchants." Delaney bowed.

"We're not on the planet any more, you know." Grace grinned, "You can stop pretending to be the ultra suave secret agent."

Delaney sighed in relief, "That's good. I'd used up my last line anyway."

"Too bad." Grace remarked, "You had some good ones, when you were being more yourself."

"I'll try and remember that." Delaney smiled.

"I hate to break up this blossoming romance, but I have to ask, do you need a ride Mr. Delaney?" Macen interjected.

Delaney seemed shaken from a trance, "What? Oh, no. I have a runabout, the USS Hood, landed below. I also have six prisoners aboard that require my attention."

"We can't send you off woefully outnumbered." Macen's eyes took on a mischievous glint, "Hannah, why don't you escort Mr. Delaney back to his runabout and accompany him back to Earth. We'll escort you in case of further trouble."

"No offence Captain, but you and your prisoners seem to be a greater lightening rod for trouble than me and my six Starfleet detainees." Delaney observed.

Macen grinned, "Maybe, but I may require your assistance Mr. Delaney. Have you ever considered that? With Hannah aboard, I'll know you can some to our aid at a moment's notice."

Grace opened her mouth to protest but Macen swivelled his chair around to face Kort, "Kort, why don't you relieve Radil in the brig and have her report to the bridge for flight duties?"

Kort grinned ear to ear, "It'll be my pleasure. May I have five minutes to deliver the message?"

"Go." Macen waved his hand, "Suck her tonsils out while you're at it."

"Captain," Kort said with wounded pride, "Bajorans don't have tonsils."

"Just go." Macen said in a pained voice.

Macen swivelled his chair again to a neutral point between Delaney and Grace, "As soon as Radil gets here, T'Kir can take you down to the transporter and whisk you away back to the Hood."

Grace looked over at T'Kir and whispered low enough that only Vulcan ears could pick it up, "He did this on purpose."

T'Kir smiled indulgently and whispered in reply, "Of course he did. Just sit back and enjoy the time."

"I'll be in the briefing room making my report to Admiral Drake." Macen announced, "Tell Radil to break orbit as soon as the Hood clears the atmosphere and is ready to depart the system."

"Aye, sir." Daggit replied, being the ranking officer remaining on the bridge.

Zitter entered Nevil's office and sat down on the couch off to the side of the Presidential desk, "Well, I have mixed news, Madame President."

"It must all be bad for you to address me so formally, Hans." Nevil retorted.

"Not true, Sarah." Zitter defended himself, "I just feel a little decorum and respect are due from time to time."

"What's the news?" Nevil sighed.

"My contacts at the SID have reported in." Zitter informed her, "Commander Macen has made his report to Admiral Drake."

"And?" Nevil was slightly anxious now.

"Aric Tulley is dead. He apparently committed suicide rather than accept capture." Zitter reported, "Pytor Boromov is another story."

"Should we start rolling with the counter story now?"

"No." Zitter smiled broadly, "For the first time in his career as an SID agent, Macen failed to bring in his man."

"Really?" Nevil asked in wonder and laced her fingers to sit her chin upon them, "And how did dear Pytor accomplish this miracle?"

"He had help from his esteemed allies." Zitter explained.

"They came out of hiding long enough to assist Pytor?" Nevil remarked, "He must be more valuable to their plans then we thought. Does Macen suspect their existence?"

"He knows someone utilising Section 31 tactics and possibly equipment was involved but he doesn't suspect the involvement of S31." Zitter elaborated, "Unfortunately, he's determined to uncover who aided Boromov."

"Given the Commander's reputation, this could prove a problem."

Zitter shrugged, "Only for Boromov. Our plans remain unaffected. Pytor managed to erase his database. All the data was lost, including his ties with us."

"I'm surprised, Macen is rumoured to have a cybernetics genius among his crew."

"The tapeworm program used to erase the database was a gift from Boromov's 'friends'. It appears they were covering their backsides as well as inadvertently protecting ours."

"Delicious." Nevil remarked with a beatific smile, "We truly can proceed with finally uniting the Federation."

"It's only a matter of time now." Zitter promised, "My staff is already poised to pass regulations requiring the member planets to expend more of the Gross National Product on planetary defence in order to lessen the role of Starfleet in defensive affairs. Their scientific and exploration efforts will remain at the forefront of their charter and the military role will be diminished."

"Excellent." Nevil continued to beam, "That should easily pass through the Council once the planetary defences are up to par. We can use Bajor and Andor as models."

"Excellent idea." Nevil commended him, "Both of those worlds maintain extensive Defence Forces."

"We just need to upgrade the Bajorans spaceforce to modern warp capable ships." Zitter observed, "With Bajor's limited resources, that will prove to be difficult."

"We can assist them Hans." Nevil promised, "The central government will be pressing the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and the Planetary Aid Agency to ramp up the building activities. The Utopia Planitia Yards can remain strictly Starfleet but the Copernicus Yards and the Divan Yards will have to accommodate Defence Force construction. The planetary yards that will have to transfer some of their efforts from freighter construction to military hull construction as well."

"I see you have an astute grasp of the situation." Zitter complimented her.

"One doesn't reach this office without having a grasp of the big picture."

"I suppose not." Zitter replied demurely.

"What's Macen's ETA for Earth?" Nevil asked.

"Three days." Zitter answered.

"Why so long? Risa isn't that far away from Earth?"

"He's escorting a Starfleet runabout."

"A runabout? Why?" Nevil was perplexed.

"Apparently an Admiral Robert Taver Johnson sent one of his subordinates to Risa to act as a back-up to Macen."

"Did he have orders to?"

"No, but the good Admiral sits on an important council within Starfleet. Only the C-in-C could have overridden this order."

"What kind of council is this?" Nevil demanded, "What is this Johnson's role in Starfleet?"

"I can't tell you what kind of council it is." Zitter winced, "Constitutionally, the President doesn't have any knowledge of the Council in order to adhere to plausible deniability strictures. Only the Starfleet Commander in Chief, the Interstellar Security Advisor and the head of the Federation Council's Chief of Interstellar Security know anything of this board and its activities."

"This is ridiculous!" Nevil raged, "How covert can this group be?"

"Not even Starfleet Command knows it exists." a pained looking Zitter explained, "Yet the Council shapes the policies regarding covert operations the galaxy over."

"What's wrong with you?" Nevil demanded, noticing Zitter's infirmity.

"I have a cortical implant that prevents me from discussing the Council." Zitter revealed, "Even discussing the periphery of the Council's business is uncomfortable. Soon I won't even be able to speak."

"Mind control!" Nevil hissed, "The bastards are employing mind control. This tactic sounds like something S31 would employ."

Zitter's eyes watered, "Sarah, we need to drop this subject. I've already said too much."

"What would it take to remove this implant?" Nevil asked.

"An act of God." Zitter sighed as the pain ebbed away, "The implants are permanently installed."

"What happens when the fusion battery depletes?" Nevil wondered.

"First off, that would take close to two hundred years." Zitter's voice regained some of its strength, "Secondly, Admiral Leonard McCoy or his latest protégé would just install another."

"McCoy is over 150 years old, he'll die any day now." Nevil dismissed his charge.

"People have been saying that about McCoy for over fifty years." Zitter rubbed his temple, "As long as he keeps pioneering new medical breakthroughs, he'll outlast us all. Must have something to do with that Vulcan katra he carried. He's approaching a Vulcanoid's lifespan."

"This is ridiculous." Nevil fumed, "What's so secret that the President can't know about it?"

"Attend a meeting and find out." Zitter replied with a wince.

Delaney and Grace beamed aboard the Hood and Grace immediately went for the CONN. Delaney followed and took a seat at Ops.

"I hope you realise that this wasn't my idea." Delaney said apologetically.

"Is there something wrong with my company?" Grace demanded.

"No!" Delaney asserted, "I'm thrilled to have you here. I was hoping we'd get a chance to speak privately."

"Well thanks to my frinxing Captain and my so-called best friend we'll have our chance." Grace said angrily.

"Have I said something to offend you?" Delaney asked, "You're being awfully hostile."

"No." Grace sighed, "I just hate it when people try and set me up."

"So do I." Delaney admitted, "It's one of the reasons I'm still single with no long term relationships in sight."

"Me too." Grace confessed as she lifted the runabout so smoothly it took Delaney several moments to realise they were airborne.

"So, peace?" he extended his hand.

She grasped it, "A truce for now."

"Ouch." he chuckled.

"Well," she said with a coy smile, "it's a long way to Earth in a runabout."

"Hannah reports a successful transition to Warp 3." Daggit reported.

"Thank you, Rab." Macen acknowledged, "Bring us alongside, Jenrya. Keep us a 5000 kilometres off her starboard side."

"You got it." Radil replied.

"Here's to a milk run." T'Kir remarked.

"Amen." Macen agreed, "We could use a little peace and quite. Rab, you have the bridge. I'm going to check on Kort and see if he's killed our two 'guests' yet."

Macen entered the brig to find Kort wielding a bat'leth, running through a series of exercises. Haywright and Deirdre looked suitably intimidated by the Klingon's martial skill. Denied the role of a warrior, the physician had transformed himself into one of the deadliest hand-to-hand combatants Macen had ever seen. Only Daggit and T'Kir could spar with him and stand a chance. With a bladed weapon in hand, Kort was nearly invincible. He had rarely lost a bat'leth contest and even then usually to a Klingon Starfleet officer named Worf.

Kort had been banished for being drunk while treating Chancellor Gowron's prized hunting targs. The beasts had died and Kort had been banished from the Empire for gross incompetence. Starfleet Intelligence had taken him in and transformed him into a covert operative. His joining Macen's crew had been a turning point in his life.

Kort's life had two other recent major turning points. His romance with Radil was one. The other was his treatment for alcoholism and his subsequent sobriety. Kort was a renewed spirit, no longer broken by his exile.

"How are the ladies?" Macen asked as Kort finished a complex sequence of movements.

"They are hardly 'ladies', Captain." Kort remarked, "They've each expressed sentiments that would offend an Orion."

"Don't take it personally." Macen advised, "Your honour's intact. Theirs isn't."

"Agreed, Captain. I have taken the liberty of wheeling a cot in here to allow me greater vigilance day or night."

"Good thinking."

"I thank Chief Dracas for it." Kort grudgingly admitted. Dracas' homosexuality flew in the face of Kort's concepts of masculinity, "He did the same to monitor the transporter."

"Really?" Macen was surprised, "I'll have to go thank him."

"Thank him for me as well." Kort rumbled.

"Kort, that's extraordinary."

"It won't become a habit."

"I'll relay that as well." Macen said with a grin and departed before Kort could protest.

 

Chapter Ten

The Hood docked at Utopia Planitia, next to the nearly completed Intrepid. Starfleet Security was there in force to take custody of their disgraced comrades. As Grace and Delaney exited the runabout, Grace shivered. She was still wearing her tank to and shorts.

Delaney shot back into the runabout and emerged carrying a field jacket, "Put this on."

"I'm fine, really."

"Put it on, Hannah." Delaney ordered, "For one, I outrank you and for two, I'm being sensible and you're being muleheaded."

Grace gratefully shrugged the jacket on, "So now what?"

"Now we catch a shuttle to Earth." Delaney replied, "Captain Macen and Admiral Johnson each promised us a week's Rest and Relaxation. I'm going to show you Paris and..."

"I'm going to introduce you to orbital skydiving," Grace finished for him, "and white water rafting."

Exactly, but first we need to liberate a shuttle."

"Get me behind the controls of a shuttle and I'll give you a ride you won't soon forget."

"Plan on showing off?"

Grace grinned, "Just demonstrating the extent of my skills."

Delaney returned the grin, "Then let's find a shuttle."

"Preferably a Type 6 or a clunkier model. I want a challenge." Grace said with a feral grin.

The Solstice docked within Spacedock. The sight of a Blackbird-class scout sailing into the massive hangar area of Spacedock caused quite a stir at several of the officer's lounges. Waiting in the lounge nearest the Solstice's docking pylon, Admiral Amanda Drake anxiously awaited the return of her prodigal investigative team. She knew not all of the team was represented and that only made her anxiety worse.

Macen's team was the SID's first and that garnered a special place in Drake's heart. She'd stood by them through Macen's court-martial and their transition to being privateers. She'd endured Macen's irreverence for rank and title. She'd protested the cessation of Starfleet employing privateers and fought for Macen's reinstatement.

She'd objected to Macen's commission being reactivated, knowing it would just rekindle his rebellious streak. So far there'd been no problems but she'd sensed a storm brewing in Macen's report of Johnson's man, Delaney, becoming involved in the mission. There was no ire towards Delaney that much was clear. Macen's rancour was reserved for Admiral Johnson.

Macen, with his temper in a twist, was a force of nature. He'd have his objectives and he would literally move heaven and earth to achieve them. Drake was here to deflect Macen's wrath.

The umbilical sealed against the ship's primary hatch. The Security officers standing with Drake tensed. They were here to receive two prisoners. It was a four-person detail, all armed.

The hatch opened after what seemed an eternity. Macen exited first followed by T'Kir. Daggit and Radil held onto the prisoners as they exited. The Security officers took charge of them and looked askance at the weaponry carried by Macen's crew. Dracas and Kort were the last to vacate the ship.

"Where's Grace?" Drake enquired.

"With Delaney." Macen replied, "Getting acquainted."

Drake wasn't certain how to take that so she ignored it, "Brin, I'm here to warn you off from confronting Admiral Johnson."

"I was wondering what drug you out of SID headquarters." Macen remarked, "I knew it couldn't be the English weather. You seem to thrive on it."

"Brin, Johnson's a moderate. He convinced Admiral Noyce to vote for restoring Starfleet Intelligence's privateer program and we carried a unanimous vote. That's rarely happened in the history of the Council."

"I'm assuming Noyce sided with Johnson." Macen commented, "What caused Ross to change his mind?"

"Johnson's persuasive arguments." Drake confessed, "Hell, If Alynna and I hadn't already been pushing for it, we would have been swayed."

"All right." Macen decided, "I'll let him live, crippled but alive."

"Brin," Drake lectured, "Johnson already feels you need to be reined in. Don't antagonise him."

"So crippling is out?" Macen asked, "What about a broken bone or two?"

"Brin." Drake said as a warning.

"All right but I'm still going to tell him what I think of his stupid idea of sending unwanted and unneeded back up."

"Feel free." Drake heaved a sigh of relief, "Just be polite."

"When am I otherwise?"

Drake rolled her eyes, "Your seven days of R and R begin as soon as you've finished 'reporting' to Admiral Johnson."

"Perfect." Macen said, "And then T'Kir and I are headed for Vancouver B.C. and Victoria."

T'Kir patted her duffel bag, "Packed and ready."

"Just don't go packing weapons all over the place." Drake stressed, "Earth is peaceful. You won't run into trouble here."

"If the size of the secret caches of weapons Starfleet Security has found on Risa are any indication, then Boromov was supporting terror groups across the quadrant. I'm willing to bet that included Earth." Macen hypothesised, "Not everyone is happy leaving in a utopia."

"Like yourself and your band of merry men." Drake retorted.

"Exactly." Macen agreed, "We're dangerous and so is anyone like us."

"Earth will take its chances. Just don't topple the UFP while you're here." Drake remarked.

"The sacrifices I make for the cause." Macen sighed and then he turned to T'Kir, "C'mon, we have a date with a transporter."

As they filed by, Drake could overhear snippets of conversation.

"I've heard nothing but wonderful things about Minsk." Kort was trying to convince Radil.

"Uh huh." she replied, thoroughly unconvinced.

"Hurry up Rab." Dracas urged, "Kiv's in town and he's dying to meet you. Wait until you see my place in Soho. My time with Outbound Ventures paid off."

Drake watched them go and hoped they wouldn't get arrested for anything. Macen's people were likely to take out several city blocks while resisting arrest. While she felt better about Macen's upcoming confrontation with Johnson she still had a pit in her stomach.

Why couldn't these people be more normal? she asked herself for the hundredth time. As before, there was no answer to that question. She was merely left with the realities of the situation and the iron will to meet them.

Johnson sat down behind his desk at Starfleet Command and slowly savoured the pasta vijoule soup he'd prepared the night before. Johnson disdained food replicators and cooked his own meals at every available opportunity. He specialised in Mediterranean cuisine and loved to share his creations. His yeoman was currently enjoying a bowl herself out at the office's reception area.

A perplexed sounding yeoman interrupted Johnson's meal, "Sir, do you have a noon appointment?"

Only with my soup, Johnson thought but he said, "Not that I'm aware of. Have you checked my schedule?"

"Yessir. He doesn't appear there."

"He who?"

"A Commander Brin Macen."

Johnson's heart leapt, "Send him in."

"Sir, there's a woman here...a Vulcan and she's smiling at me. Should I alert Security?"

"Send her in as well if she's so inclined."

The door slid open and revealed Brin Macen. The man looked exactly like his personnel image from fifty years ago. It was astounding. He was also armed. Johnson wondered how he'd gotten past Security. Then seeing Macen's expression, he wondered if he had cause to be alarmed.

"Please, Commander, have a seat." Johnson rose and gestured towards one of the two chairs facing his desk, "Would you like a cup of soup? I'd offer a bowl but I'm running low."

"No, thank you." Macen said as he took the offered seat.

"What about your wife, I'm assuming that's your wife in the reception area. There aren't many passionate Vulcans around."

"There's passionate Vulcans everywhere, Admiral. They just refuse to express those emotions. Vulcans are probably the most passionate race in the UFP." Macen replied tightly.

"Would I be correct in assuming this impromptu visit has something to do with my sending Commander Delaney to assist you?"

"You would indeed." Macen replied, "It was a reckless act and it endangered my team."

"Mr. Delaney reported that you had an issue with his presence." Johnson leaned back and steepled his fingers, "He reported that you said uncoordinated missions often worked at cross purposes. Is this still your position?"

"Yes, it is." Macen replied, "Without a measure of cohesion, two groups can actually hurt one another."

"But the results of the mission were positive."

"Mr. Delaney knocked out the security monitors, a system we were using to track the enemy, including Pytor Boromov. If we had spent less time briefing Mr. Delaney on our progress thus far and moved more quickly, with accurate read outs of Boromov's activities, we may have circumvented his escape."

"So you are attempting to place the blame for your failure to capture Boromov on Delaney?"

"No." Macen shook his head, "The blame lies squarely with me. I never anticipated Boromov having a ship in support. Where I am placing blame is the unnecessary risk Delaney took in interfering in our operation. My pilot almost shot him. That blame falls on you, Admiral."

Johnson drew himself up but Macen interjected before the Admiral could speak, "You're not an intelligence specialist, Admiral. Don't presume to be one before you send a man out on a covert mission. That's what Intelligence specialists are for."

Johnson deflated, "Perhaps I was rash. I just didn't want to see Boromov get away again."

"But he did, even with your man in play." Macen pointed out.

"All right." Johnson conceded, "From now on I'll consult with Admiral Nechayev or Drake before interfering in one of their operations."

"Wise decision." Macen commented, "I'd heard you were a man of reason."

"And I've heard that you're an idealist. We are each of us what we are."

Macen rose, "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Admiral. I look forward to getting to know you better."

Johnson rose and extended his hand, "As do I."

Macen accepted Johnson's proffered hand and firmly shook, "You're a man of surprises Admiral."

"As are you Commander but might I make a suggestion?"

Macen nodded and Johnson proceeded, "Try wearing the uniform once in a while. I'm willing to bet you look good in it."

Macen broke into a rebellious grin, "We'll see."

Macen departed and Johnson shook his head. The man had been everything the files had said he was and more. He admired Macen's sense of self-control. When he'd entered the office, he looked ready to gun Johnson down. He'd refrained though and had sat down and engaged in an intelligent and persuasive argument. Then he'd left as a potential issue ally rather than a dedicated foe.

Johnson sat back down to his soup he found it cold. He'd long ago discovered that the replicator could warm food as well as synthesise it. He stuck his bowl in the replicator and specified the temperature he wanted. He sat back down behind his desk and counted the noontime encounter as a victory.

Zitter sat down on the office couch, "I don't believe it."

"What now?" Nevil asked.

"Macen." Zitter said, "Brin Macen waltzed down to Starfleet Command and confronted Admiral Johnson over the Admiral sending his own personal agent to Risa."

"So what rank is the former Commander busted back to now?"

"That's just it!" Zitter leaned forward, "Macen won the verbal sparring match and left with the Admiral's approval."

"Hmmm." Nevil rubbed the tip of her nose, "When our plans come to fruition, which side will the good Commander take?"

"Unknown." Zitter admitted, "Macen's a maverick. He fought for colonial freedom during the Border Wars and again with the Maquis. His allegiances are just too murky to fathom. He follows his conscience but no one knows where that leads but him. Personally, I don't think he has a clue as to how he feels about an issue until he has to confront it."

"I doubt that." Nevil rebutted him, "From the records you've shown me and some of Macen's own analyses, I'd say the good Commander knows exactly how he feels about every issue. What varies is the level of force he's willing bring to bear on an issue. He'll swing from simple conversation to lethal force depending on the topic."

"Regardless of any pattern." Zitter jumped on the theory.

"Exactly. The man is an idealist. He reacts forcefully when his ideals are threatened and violently when he or his crew are threatened."

"It's so simple, why didn't I see it before?" Zitter wondered.

"You tend to look at the little picture, Hans. You examined Macen on the basis of every single reaction and saw no pattern. When you look at the picture in its totality though, it changes drastically."

"Once again you're the big picture woman." Zitter said admiringly.

"My lack of attention to details is why I have people like you around Hans."

"You seem on top of the details of our political agenda."

"It's my life's passion." Nevil said with a gleam in her eye, "It's my destiny to at least try to integrate the colonies into the membership of the Federation."

"Then I guess its mine to help you." Zitter said.

"I guess it is." Nevil gleamed.

Zitter squirmed and then finally asked, "Are we still on for tonight?"

Nevil laughed, "Of course we are, Hans. This President needs to relax."

"I'm sure I can arrange that." Zitter promised.

"I'm sure you can." she replied with an anticipatory twinkle in her eye.

Macen and T'Kir stepped off the ferry onto the cobblestone streets of Victoria. The waterfront was still filled with Victorian architecture. Scenic parks and flowerbeds abounded. They'd spent three days in the metropolitan sprawl of Vancouver and were here to appreciate the slower pace and world famous gardens. They'd spend their last day in Canada back in Vancouver.

That had been a compromise between the couple. Vancouver was T'Kir's environment. Victoria was Macen's idea. The provincial capital had remained more provincial in more ways than one. It had the same amenities but without the nightlife Vancouver was famed for.

Macen had appreciated the music scene at Vancouver. T'Kir revelled in the nightclubs. Now that her medication had been upped again and her telepathy was under control, she delighted in being with people. Macen was more private and preferred isolation.

As in most things, the pair evened each other out. Shortly after disembarking from the ferry, a police officer approached and questioned them regarding their weapons. The couple, as in Vancouver, shortly found themselves in the local police station verifying their identities and security clearance. Again, as in Vancouver, a bulletin was issued concerning the pair and they were free to go their way.

T'Kir pulled the map reader out of her belt's pouch, "Okay, the hotel's that way."

"Don't you want to take a look around?"

"I want t'get rid of this duffel, O' Husband of Mine. It's cumbersome and it gets in my way. We can explore afterwards."

"Fair enough." Macen relented.

After checking in and divesting themselves of their luggage, they found a coffee shop that served sandwiches. They took one of each and made for the closest park. As they sat under a tree, Macen sighed.

"Isn't this relaxing?"

"Maybe for you." T'Kir countered, "I've got an ant eying my sandwich rather suspiciously."

"I think you can deal with one ant."

"What if they're more?"

"There's always more." Macen said, "They're like the Borg. You have to kill the scouts to keep the hive away."

"You'd better be right."

"Of course I'm right."

"Well, it's dead now and my fingers stink."

"Hold your breath while you eat."

"You never said anything about stinky fingers!"

"You've been covered from head to toe in soot and blood and you're complaining about a little smell from an ant?"

"Okay, when you put it that way." T'Kir paused then added, "It is nice though."

"I agree."

"Of course you agree." T'Kir retorted, "It was your stupid comment that got us going on the ant problem."

"I wasn't aware that one ant constituted a 'problem'" Macen said.

"You said there'd be more." T'Kir accused.

"T'Kir?" Macen interjected.

"Yes?"

"I love you."

T'Kir nestled in closer to him, "I love you too...even if you pick parks with ants."

"There's barely a spot on this planet without ants." Macen sighed.

"That's disgusting." T'Kir commented, "Do they all want my sandwich?"

"If they could get at it."

"I'd better hurry up and eat it then."

"That's probably a good idea."

"D'you still love me?" she asked expectantly.

"You know it." came the reply she'd been hoping for and expecting.

They quietly finished their lunch and then discussed their plans for the next three days.

 

The series continues...

 

- The End -

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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