"What the hell happened here?" Ro Laren demanded angrily. The gutted hulk that hung before her Danube-class runabout was spinning out of control. The team she had aboard, her team, had yet to report in yet. Ro'd never expected to receive a command assignment of her own, much less so soon after her release from the stockade on Jaros II. She'd expected a nightmare when her and her crew had set out five days ago but the reality of the horror was another thing entirely.
She knew she owed a great deal to her riding the center seat on this mission to her Mission Specialist. Commander Brin Macen, of Starfleet Intelligence, was also an El-Aurian and a personal friend of Guinan's. It had only taken a few moments of them conspiring and Macen had been in the Captain's Ready Room requesting, demanding really, Ro for his Mission Commander. However it had been accomplished, Ro was thrilled for the opportunity to demonstrate her true talents.
Macen's mission seemed simple. Federation shipping all along the Cardassian border was ending up missing. One nearly crippled freighter had made it to Starbase 375 with tales of being attacked by an unknown type of vessel. The ship's sensor logs had verified the terrified crews' stories. Thanks to this information, over a dozen missing and overdue ships were credited to pirate attacks. Macen's task was to track down and determine the identity of the mysterious corsairs in order to end these assaults.
Macen had chosen his Mission Commander, it was up to Ro to select the rest of the team. Ro opted for a four-man team, which meant she only had two more slots to fill. She decided against any of the senior officers, her conditional rank would only prove burdensome and awkward when dealing with them. She was going to have that problem with just about anyone, being a lowly ensign herself, unless she exclusively dipped from the enlisted ranks.
That was when her first choice hit her. Chief O'Brien, before being ensconced in the transporter room aboard the Enterprise, had served during the Border Wars with Cardassia. His engineering, transporter, and combat skills would all make him invaluable in this little snipe hunt they were engaging in. Ro herself saw very little chance of success for their mission, but she was willing to go along with it to see what would happen.
The fourth member of them crew was Jenna D'Sora. As was inevitable on a ship, even one as large as the Enterprise, word had reach Ro about the other woman's attempt to replace an emotionless relationship with a relationship with Data. What had impressed Ro the most after hearing this story is how she would never have equated the lovelorn codependent loser with the capable, self assured woman Ro knew. D'Sora had grown due to her realizations with Data and come out the stronger for it.
They were a diverse lot. Ro was a Bajoran and tall for her height, as tall as Chief O'Brien if not a hair taller. She was rail thin but hard and wiry from a life of deprivation and desire. Her raven black hair had recently been cut short, passed the chin and was generally held back with a red elastic hairband. Her large brown eyes constantly swept her horizons, even when she was downcast and playing the loner. One habit of hers that hadn't been commented upon was her wearing her people's symbolic earring on the left ear instead of the customary right.
Miles O'Brien was as typically Irish as an earthman could get. He had a large head covered with curly red hair. His broad, open face made it difficult for him to hide his feelings on any topic. What his face managed to conceal his fair skin betrayed. His broad shoulders and stocky frame gave him the appearance Atlas, ready to assumed the weight of whatever task was appointed him. Ro was about to count on it.
Jenna D'Sora represented a random element in Ro's planning for the mission. Although Ro had familiarized herself with D'Sora's record while researching potential Security officers to bring along. While her record was spotless, it wasn't the same as knowing someone, and Ro didn't know Jenna. Worf had recommended, but only after a hair's breadth of hesitation. Ro had finally opted to put Jenna on the team because she was angry that they might still be judging D'Sora over her romantic life. Ro was nothing if not the child of second chances herself, she could spread the grace. Physically, Jenna was fit and trim, as he profession demanded. She was several centimeters shorter than Ro. D'Sora wore her ash blonde hair passed her shoulders. Although, stray elements running throughout her mane placed doubts as to the authenticity of the prevailing blond color. Her brown eyes weren't quite as large or as brown as Ro's.
That left the fourth, and most mysterious, member of the team. Starfleet Intelligence's addition to the team was fairly nondescript. He was broad shouldered and in shape Thirty-ish, fair-skinned with reddish gold hair with a mustache and goatee. He also had blue-green that shifted as the light changed Macen had a ready, lop-sided grin that was both mischievous and sarcastic. He'd proven upon his arrival that he was no intellectual slouch, the advantages of living over four hundred years. Before setting out in the Willamette, Macen debriefed Ro on the full parameters of his mission and her role in it.
"I'm authorized to observe these raiders and determine their base of operations or origins." Macen informed her, "It is a covert reconnaissance, not a combat mission. Are you fine with that?"
"Whatever Starfleet wants is fine with me." Ro replied neutrally.
"That's not your reputation nor your true inclination." Macen replied with a knowing smirk, "I think you'd go toe to toe with these raiders if given a chance."
Damn Guinan and her mouth, Ro thought uncharitably before replying, "I would like to see something immediately done about the pirates, sir."
"Don't 'sir' me," Macen chided, "you're the Mission Commander remember? Tell me more about your ideas for dealing with the pirates."
"The Willamette isn't much, but she's fairly rugged." Ro observed, "She'd hold her own against a lightly armed raider."
"Which isn't what the evidence indicates here." Macen warned, "Good luck though, we may get around to those thoughts regarding engaging and capturing the pirates at a later date. I don't think the crew should be bothered with that contingency unless it looks feasible."
"Agreed." Ro nodded, "And now may I suggest catching up with the crew at the Willamette it's almost time to cast off."
"Lead on, Captain my Captain." Macen retorted.
"Are you really going to refer to me as 'Captain' throughout the length of the mission? Ro asked wearily.
"It's naval and Starfleet tradition. The Commanding Officer of any vessel, outside of fighter craft, shall be addressed as 'Captain'." Macen explained somewhat testily, "I've been in Starfleet for seventy years. That means I'm a little more versed in the useless regulations and traditions department than you. Suck it up and deal with Captain Ro.":
Well, put that way, the whole idea suddenly gained a certain luster. It certainly resolved the temporary command and rank discrepancies between Ro, Macen and D'Sora. As an ensign, she was powerless to command them but as the CO of the Willamette they were entrusted to her command.
Ro fretted a bit over how the others would take this innovation of Macen's but O'Brien seemed well versed in the lore and had no problems adapting to it. He even seemed to approve of it. D'Sora expressed no opinion and seemed content to weigh in with the crowd. This earned Ro a contemplative frown from Macen.
Ro shrugged and welcomed her crew aboard the runabout. Once in the runabout, Ro herded them along to the crews' compartment in the rear of the diminutive starship. Seated and made comfortable, the team was briefed on their mission and its parameters. Here, divergent opinions began to emerge.
"Forgive me for sayin' so," O'Brien ventured, "but it doesn't feel right. Once we've found the bloody pirates, then we should capture them."
"Our orders are to observe and assess the pirate's capabilities." Ro replied before Macen could open his mouth, "Once sighted, we're to call in reinforcements to deal with the threat. Anything beyond that is at our discretion within the restrictions of our orders."
"I have to admit that I'm surprised to be hearing rules and regulations quoted by Ro Laren." D'Sora opined, "I figured you'd be the first one wanting to take a shot at these raiders."
And you'd be right, Ro thought, except that command weighs a lot more heavily than I thought it would.
"With all that said," Macen urged, "can we get underway?"
The Willamette departed the Enterprise's shuttle bay without incident with Ro at the helm, O'Brien manning Ops, D'Sora covering Engineering and Macen seated at the Science station. Once, while getting up to get herself some coffee, Ro discovered how Macen was running his station. He had the Science station's sensors doing dedicated scans for him but he was also mirroring everyone else's stations so he could monitor their progress. She'd merely smiled and shaken her head as she resumed her position at the helm.
That had been five days ago. Their search pattern had incorporated research provided by Starfleet Intelligence regarding the past movements of the raider and forecasts regarding future appearances. The crew had worked around the clock for days, hailed passing ships and swapped news tidbits, and all for nothing until they'd detected a distress beacon. The beacon had led them to the wreck of the Pirouette.
Macen and D'Sora were currently aboard the Pirouette. The ship had lost hull integrity so the pair was wearing EVA suits. Ro monitored their progress with the runabout's main sensors while Chief O'Brien kept a careful lock on them with the transporter. Emergency power and lights were still functioning, which meant the attack on the Pirouette had been intended as a surgical strike. Life support may or may not have been an accidental victim.
"We could really use the Chief's help over here." Macen grumbled again. Due to the fact that Macen wore the newly introduced blue shouldered Class B Sciences Division uniform, Ro and the rest of the team had incorrectly assumed he carried a General Sciences Officer rating. Macen's degrees were in History, Xenoarcheology, and Sociology. Although, his skill with sensors nearly made him a match for D'Sora's forensics training.
O'Brien was monitoring the away team's scans from Ops just as Ro was doing the same from the Science station, "Captain," O'Brien seemed to have no problem addressing Ro in this manner, "They've been over there for over four hours. The rebreather on the suit's only rated at six. Plus, they've scanned virtually every inch of that ship. I don't think there's anythin' more we could learn be leavin' them there."
Ro smiled ruefully, "Thanks for the admonishment, Chief. Bring the troops home."
O'Brien grinned and activated the transporter. Macen and D'Sora materialized facing each other with hands and arms gesticulating. They were silent to all but themselves. Ro nodded towards O'Brien, who began to rotate through Starfleet frequencies until the suits' subspace transceivers could be heard.
"...well we'll never know now will we? Chief O'Brien beamed us back before I could scan that particular cargo bay. You forcibly kept me out of it." D'Sora's angry words spilled forth over the Willamette's comm circuit.
"I'd already checked those rooms, and the remaining cargo." Macen argued, "Nothing turned up There was no need for redundancy."
D'Sora jerked forward so that the top of her faceplate bounced off the bottom of his, "So you say!"
"I do." Macen replied firmly, "And I also outrank you."
"And on this mission, I outrank both of you." Ro cut into the comm line, "We have a dead ship full of dead bodies. Explosive decompression isn't a pretty way to go and I'm sure it's gone a long way towards your current dispositions."
Macen unlocked his helmet, "Laren, there's more: the bridge crew was alive when they were executed."
Ro closed her eyes for a moment before asking, "There's no doubts?"
"Tricorders confirmed it." D'Sora affirmed, removing her helmet "They were killed in an oxygen atmosphere and their vital organs were all functioning. They were alive."
"Damn it!" Ro hissed, "How many total dead?"
"Crew manifest calls for forty-three hands." O'Brien reported, "At least as of their last port of call."
"Where was their next stop?"
"Pretixx." O'Brien responded.
Ro knew Pretixx. It was one of the worlds hosting Bajoran camps, "Chief, get me a cargo manifest. Mr. Macen, you and I are going to dissect that list."
"Aye, Captain." Macen replied without hesitation, then got a mischievous grin, "May I at least get out of this space suit and shower first?"
Ro fought back the urge to laugh, "You have permission to disrobe and shower. You also have strict orders to dress in proper uniform before returning."
"There goes my fun." Macen pouted as he headed aft. D'Sora started to follow but Ro called her over.
"What really happened over there, Jenna?"
"I went to run a series of scans in the number four cargo hold and Macen blocked, I mean he physically blocked me."
"Do you think he's hiding something?" Ro's eyes narrowed with suspicion.
"I'll tell you this, Captain," It was the first time D'Sora had seemed comfortable using Ro's brevet rank, "the Intelligence section aboard the Enterprise is supposed to 'cooperate' with Security. I can honestly say I've never seen it happen. They keep their secrets and we keep ours."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Ro nodded appreciatively, "You've helped out immensely."
"Now I know what to watch for." Ro answered, and to not take the bastard at his word any more.
In the meantime, the Willamette's quarry was already tracking their latest victim. The ship itself was the latest generation Miradorn raider. It flew under an Andergani flag now but that had not always been so. The ship had originally been owned by a Tzenkethi but it had been boarded and seized by an opportunistic Andergani captain and it had been made the flagship of his fledgling pirate "fleet".
As a society, the Andergani Oligarchy had abandoned self-directed technical advancement in lieu of plundering other civilizations gains. Advancement and promotion in the Oligarchy came through feats of daring and reward. The greater the plunder, the greater the reward awaiting the ambitious captain who's risk paid off so well.
The raider, named the Tenzil, was commanded by a young woman named Illira. Illira had assumed command of the Tenzil after her former commander had tried to drunkenly take advantage of her one night after dinner. She'd nicely done away with him and contacted the other members of the "fleet" and told them their debts to the Captain had been paid in full. The crew of the Tenzil supported Illira's actions and eagerly awaited seeing what would follow.
What came next was so unexpected as to be unprecedented. Illira offered her services as a privateer to the Cardassians. She would act as a commerce raider, give the Cardies a cut, and yet providing them with complete and utter deniability. It was a dream to good for High Command to pass up. Their operation was down to a science now. A dedicated Galor-class cruiser maintained position nearby awaiting the Tenzil's signal. When signaled, the Cardassian ship would approach the border in a threatening manner towards a colony or observation platform. Meanwhile, all nearby Federation starships would deal with the Cardassian "threat" and the Tenzil would be free to strike.
Currently, the privateer was tracking the Bolian flagged Drixhal's's Flower. The ship regularly traversed the border run. Criminal rumors and Cardassian intelligence indicated a substantial prize aboard. Their last haul had brought in some impressive merchandise, authenticating the veracity of both rumor and intelligence report. Illira practically salivated over the anticipated yield of this particular raid.
Ro and Macen were in the small crew's lounge in the aft of the ship reviewing the cargo manifest when Ro came across an entry labeled "Starfleet Surplus", "What's this she demanded?"
Macen sighed, "It's a small matter really. Intelligence isn't certain or not it's even related to the larger case."
"What is this?" Ro's anger mounted as she stood and aimed a phaser at Macen, "What else aren't you telling me?"
Macen rose and held his hands up in surrender, "I'd have preferred to bring you in from the beginning but I had a hard enough time of convincing Command to back my decision to place you in the role of Mission Commander. You were seen as something of a reactionary hothead."
That brought Ro up short and caused her to stare down at the phaser she was wielding. Chief O'Brien stepped in to the use the replicator and stopped dead in his tracks, "It can wait."
With that said, O'Brien ducked out of the compartment, Ro called out after him, "Miles wait."
Macen moved in suddenly and put his right hand under her left shoulder socket. He placed his left hand on the phaser in Ro's left before placing his right leg and hip across her torso. Utilizing his right arm, he lifted her up and threw her over his hip. Ro did a half flip and came to a roll as her Starfleet combat training engaged. Her eyes were as a wild as a Bajoran razorcat's as she began to assess her chances of reclaiming the phaser.
"Stand down, ensign." Macen ordered and lowered the phaser, "I'm willing to divulge, if you're ready to listen."
"You weren't ready to give up." Macen answered, "That's precisely the attitude this mission needs."
They each warily returned to the central table dominating the lounge area. Ro tested her shoulder as she sat and noted that Macen retained possession of the phaser as he moved from the table to the personal lockers being used by the crew. He released the lock to his and retrieved his portable computer. He placed Ro's phaser in the locker and sealed it shut.
Macen placed the computer on the desk, opened it and pivoted it so that both officers could see its display, "Computer display data correlations on cargoes tagged Corsair-One through Thirteen."
That number caught Ro's attention. Officially Starfleet was only attributing seven crimes, plus the one they'd examined, to these pirates. What did Intelligence know, or suspect, that would make the number so high. There were very few correlations between the cargoes...except her old friend, "Starfleet Surplus".
"Okay, give...what's "Starfleet Surplus"?
"Weapons." Macen replied without blinking, "Outdated hand phasers, some ground defense pieces. It's all intended for the local constabularies and colonial militias."
"Some one's arming these people for a war."
"In case you hadn't noticed it Laren, these people have been fighting a war for over ten years."
"Starfleet's been fighting for a decade. The civilians..."
"Should just keep on dying?"
Ro sighed, "Of course not. But I'm not sure I approve of arming a civilian Resistance."
"Especially since you're still ambivalent over your feelings regarding their own Resistance movement?"
Damned El-Aurian mind tricks! "Enough about me!" Ro declared, "Why are you so concerned with the welfare of these people?"
"I've been here since the beginning, right after our first failed first contact with the Cardassians. I've been in most of the major battles and cleaned up after most of the major massacres. I've spent more of my time in the Federation along these border worlds then anywhere else in the quadrant. I guess that makes this area home."
"And Starfleet Intelligence knows how you feel?"
"Vice Admiral Nechayev herself was commended me for it, saying it 'properly motivated' me."
"Who the hell knows?" Macen chuckled darkly, "But I do know how far I'd go to protect these people."
"How far is that?" she asked with morbid curiosity.
"As far as I'd need to." Then gave her a devilish grin, "Within the limits of regulations, of course."
Ro shook her head, somehow she doubted that, "Now that you've just confessed your plans for career suicide, let's get back to the matter on hand: what else weren't you telling me?"
"The crediting of the theft of all thirteen weapons containers to the same set of culprits may be a bit premature." Macen warned.
"It's in the computer that way." Ro countered.
"That's one Senior Analyst's opinion. It doesn't hold the same merit with others."
"Who was the analyst?" Ro demanded.
"I don't see where that's important...."
"Who? You said you'd divulge, now divulge!"
"I was the analyst. My analysis was shelved due to the facts I'm about to present you." Macen voice keyed a new set of data for the computer to access. It charted incursions into Federation space by Cardassian forces near at exactly the same time distress calls from what later turn out to our raider's victims begin issuing forth. The Cardie keeps everyone busy long enough for the distress beacon to be cut and the ship is left to drift until found by a search and rescue effort after being declared overdue at their next port of call."
Illira stared hungrily at her viewscreen, "Alert the Cardassian cruiser Traxar to begin their run." The Traxar was positioned just on the Cardassian side of the border from Ronara Prime. The colony presented both a technological and an agricultural prize.
"Captain!" O'Brien's voice cut over the intercom, "I think you'd best be comin' forward."
Ro led the way back to the bridge where the Chief and D'Sora were quietly seeing if Macen would join them. Ro rolled her eyes at seeing their expressions at his appearance.
"We worked it out." She assured them, My left shoulder may never be the same but we worked it out.
"What's the cause for panic, Chief?"
"Ronara Prime, sir." O'Brien answered crisply.
Ro could get used to this "Captain" stuff, "And that means what?"
"Ronara Prime is a Federation colony." Macen answered from the Sciences station, "It is currently transmitting a planetary alert, citing an imminent attack by a Cardassian cruiser."
"We need ta do somethin'!" O'Brien declared hotly.
"A single runabout will have little effect against a Galor-class cruiser. Ronara Prime, however, is well equipped to defend itself, especially against a single cruiser." Macen grinned then sobered up and faced Ro, "Remember the pattern. We have to be ready to respond to the distress call."
"Captain!" O'Brien protested.
"He's right Chief." Ro tried assuaging O'Brien, "There's only so much we could do at Ronara Prime but we may have the opportunity to save an entire freighter."
"How?" D'Sora asked.
Ro glanced back to Macen who merely shrugged. Ro then began to deliver a brief report on the coordination between the Cardassian movements and the corsair raids. O'Brien was outraged and D'Sora professionally impressed by the tactic. Everyone in the runabout's tight cockpit froze when the distress signal from the Drixhal's Flower came in.
"Triangulate that signal, Chief and feed the coordinates to the helm." Ro ordered as she swiveled her chair to face her controls and the viewport.
"Coordinates triangulated." O'Brien reported, all business now that the crisis was at hand.
"Course laid in." Ro announced, "And we're underway. Prep all weapon and defensive systems. We may be under orders to merely observe but we are approaching a hostile situation and I prefer coming in prepared."
There were murmurs of agreement from O'Brien and D'Sora. Macen kept his own counsel but Ro sensed a bemused tacit consent implied by his reticence. The runabout hurtled through subspace at warp 5. O'Brien swore he could coax more out of her but Ro declined.
The Tenzil was currently bombarding the beleaguered Drixhal's Flower with disruptor fire. The battered freighter continued to blare out their emergency distress calls and take further damage. When the warp drive went down, the Flower finally signaled her capitulation and lowered the last vestiges of her shields. The Tenzil's crew prepared boarding parties and moved into transporter range.
The Willamette arrived at the system where the distress call originated from and dropped out of warp at the system's Oort cloud. The runabout then proceeded in-system on a ballistic course, not utilizing the impulse engines beyond the original preparation of the flight path. Sensors were also on passive modes. No electromagnetic or subspace broadcast of any kind was allowed.
The objective was to track the distress beacon to its source without alerting the pirates of their presence. A call for reinforcements could then be made. If the pirates fled or sought to engage them, then Ro would have a whole new set of worries to contend with. She had no orders covering those contingencies.
Unless I do and Macen's just withholding again, she though uncharitably.
She struggled to drive those thoughts away. Unless Macen's earlier statements were completely untrue, and the rumor mill aboard the Enterprise supported his version of events, Macen had fought to instate Ro as the Mission Commander of this assignment. She even thought they'd reached a place of mutual understanding, and maybe even a little trust, after that bout in the lounge. What was easier to believe was that Macen had been ordered to play certain details of the mission close to his vest. That little move he'd pulled on her proved he was far more than a "Senior Analyst".
O'Brien was proving his ever efficient self. Given a problem, O'Brien was a tireless worker. Even tasks like passively scanning the system for pirate activity proved far more restive to him than sitting at his station with nothing to do. He must have recalibrated and tweaked everything on the runabout four, five times over the very first day of the mission. Now he was focused and ready for anything.
Jenna D'Sora proved to be something of a mystery. Ro had never bonded well with other women, but D'Sora was another self-imposed social exile. While Ro's stemmed from anger and a sense of awkwardness, Jenna's derived from a self-imposed moratorium on romantic entanglements. Since all her female friends continually tried to set her up, she'd curtailed contact with them as well. Jenna had remained friendly but aloof throughout the mission
Macen was the enigma. Part devil may care master of witty repartee, part grimly serious spy, part supportive lieutenant, and that culturally dictated part that made him a father confessor. Despite all the difficulties Macen's orders had created, Ro still liked him. She could see how it could go the other way, he was just that type: you loved him or you hated him.
"Captain," Ro could not get used to hearing that from O'Brien, "I think we've got them."
"Transfer it to my board so I can use the maneuvering thrusters to move us closer."
Ro adjusted the runabout's course and initiated the impulse engines. As they closed on the two ships, she cut engines and returned to a ballistic approach.
"I'm pickin' up a lot communications traffic between the two ships." O'Brien reported.
"Probably instructing the boarders on what to do, who to kill. The usual." Ro muttered.
"Any idea what kind of ship that is?" Ro asked, looking at the pincer design at the fore of the ship. It gave it a very formidable air.
"It's a new class of Miradorn raider that's just hit the open market. Their standard crew complement is only twelve bodies, so we could take them in all other avenues have fair fight." Macen supplied.
"Give me active sensors and I can lock up that things engines and then it won't be going anywhere." Jenna declared.
"Which would still leave the freighter crew to act as hostages." Macen countered, "The pirates need to be able to move off but with enough damage to slow them and make them easier to track."
Ro gave him a wicked smile, "I think I have just the plan."
Illira and one other crewmember were monitoring the Tenzil's bridge while the rest of the crew boarded the prize ship. The routine turn of every event so far had lulled Illira into a mild stupor. She sat in her command chair, nursing a mug of tea and battled to stave off sleep. The sudden blaring of every threat detection alarm woke Illira up in a hurry.
"Target their engines with only two of our microtorpedoes." Ro ordered, That would leave an additional four in the runabout's "rollbar" in case of an engagement. These pirates tended to be very aggressive towards defenseless targets. Who knew what their reaction would be toward someone with teeth.
"By the way," Macen spoke up suddenly, "we're technically violating orders by doing this."
"We're requesting back-up." Ro replied with an innocently blank look.
"I meant the imminent attack on the pirate ship and you know it." Macen replied with a hint of irritation.
"Are you ordering me not to attack the ship?"
"We can't leave these people to the mercies of these.... butchers!" O'Brien protested.
"You're the captain, Captain. You lead, I follow." Macen finally replied.
"Jenna?" Ro asked.
"Yeah?" D'Sora replied.
Illira and her other crewmember, some useless fop who'd just joined the crew and she couldn't remember his cursed name, were struggling to raise the shields. Apparently her chief weapons officer had tried to achieve job security by passwording the defense systems. Illira swore as the thrice-damned computer announced the two incoming torpedoes. When this was over, she was going to torture those codes out of that fat fool and then kill him slowly.
The ship shuddered but there were no explosive decompressions. That was the danger in a ship this small: one catastrophic hit could decompress the entire ship. Illira decided to take matters in hand through alternate means. Since she apparently couldn't fight this unexpected threat without her crew, she'd bring her crew back aboard.
"Stand by phasers." Ro commanded. She then committed the Willamette to a strafing run on the Tenzil. Ro deftly brought the runabout in low and fast over the Miradorn raider. D'Sora unleashed a phaser barrage that pummeled at the pirate ship. As Ro began to execute an impulse turn to make another pass, the raider's shields went up.
"Their weapons are hot!" Jenna alerted her crewmates.
The Tenzil's impulse engines flared to life and the privateer surged away from the Drixhal's Flower. Disruptor blasts erupted from its cannons and forced Ro to take evasive action. D'Sora returned as good as she got and continued to hammer at the corsair's shields. Finally, Ro swore and slammed her hand against her console.
"Chief, realign the deflector array to act as a tachyon emitter."
"Why'd you want ta do...oh, right, to force them to remodulate their shields." He realized with a sly grin, "Give me a second."
"Jenna, can you sneak two torpedoes in through their shields while they're being remodulated?"
"Try and stop me." D'Sora replied fiercely.
"Emit tachyon pulse...now!"
"They're remodulatin' their shields." O'Brien reported.
"Fire torpedoes." Ro growled.
Both torpedoes penetrated the pirate's shields and impacted with the engine room. Their warp core went off-line as the matter/antimatter injectors scrammed in order to avoid an unregulated intermix. The impulse reactor remained and therefore auxiliary power was activated within moments. Illira's hope of outrunning the Starfleet craft had just been obliterated.
What remained was combat. If they could overwhelm and board the craft, perhaps it could become the first in a fledgling "fleet" of their own. The ruse of being a Starfleet vessel certainly would be an asset to Illira's operations. The Cardassians might even pay extra just for the opportunity to examine the ship. Illira slapped the armrest of her chair and began issuing orders.
"Captain, they're turnin' ta fight." O'Brien reported.
"I see them, Chief." Ro replied, "What makes you think they're getting ready to fight?"
"By the fact they haven't surrendered yet." O'Brien replied succinctly.
What do you think?"
"I think you should get ready for a bare knuckled brawl."
Damn, that hadn't been what she'd wanted to hear.
"Well, we still have the tachyon pulse and two more torpedoes." Ro assessed some of her options.
"The marauder doesn't appear to have any photon capabilities. Its only weapons are its disruptors." D'Sora surmised.
"Here they come!" O'Brien announced. Ro danced and wove the runabout in random patterns before the incoming privateer. The pirate ship did the same. Both, all the while, unleashed particle beam after particle beam after each other. They were only marginally successful. Ro looped the runabout in a spaceborne variant of the Immelman.
The Willamette dropped down behind the Tenzil and fired a tachyon burst into the raider's aft quarter. Two torpedoes and several phaser volleys followed on the heels of the tachyon burst. Several explosions vented from the Tenzil. The privateer slowed as her impulse engines quit and she was now a ballistic object.
"Lt. D'Sora, hail the vessel." Ro ordered.
Aboard the Tenzil, Illira was working with the other two survivors of the engagement. They'd outgunned and outmuscled the smaller Federation craft but they'd been beaten by superior tactics. It was time to reward the enemy commander...by killing them. The impulse reactor was now rigged to explode. All they needed to do now was draw the Federation ship in and they could destroy it.
"Captain, we're being hailed by a Captain Illira of the Andergani Free Trader Tenzil." D'Sora reported, "She's willing to discuss terms of surrender."
Ro paused for half a heartbeat and glanced back at Macen. He shook his head, "This is why we're out here."
"This is? Capturing the pirates that might be working with the Cardassians? That's why we're out here? Not to save innocent freighter crews?" Ro demanded angrily.
Macen looked pained, "You should know me better than that! Guinan said you had good instincts on you. Employ them on me. I want to see the killings stop, first and foremost. Capturing the pirates rather than leaving them to die merely insures we remain the good guys while they remain the bad guys. It's all about choices and the consequences they have."
Ro was annoyed at having been lectured to but it assuaged her feelings towards the man.
"Captain," Jenna was more insistent now, "she wants to talk and she wants to talk now."
Ro rose from her station but Macen did as well and cut her off, "Why does she need to talk so badly? They have air and life support. What's so vital?"
"No hurries." D'Sora relayed, "They're just in a hurry to be beamed aboard."
"Hold on!" Macen protested, "No pirate is ever in a hurry to relinquish his or her freedom. Something's up."
Ro paused, then nodded, "I agree. Jenna, inform 'Captain' Illira We'll be on a slow approach and if anything unusual readings or fluctuations will result in the destruction of her ship."
"They acknowledge and say they will comply."
Ro was slowly bringing the Willamette alongside the crippled Tenzil. Macen scrutinized every sensor reading, looking for the dark cloud. As they neared transporter range, the crew, except Macen, began to relax. D'Sora rose and retrieved a hand phaser in anticipation of transferring prisoners.
"Go to warp speed now!" Macen yelled suddenly, "Just do it!"
Ro's hands flew across her board. Her sensors displayed the destruction of the Tenzil as it faded into their wake. She dropped out of warp at the edge of the system and turned the ship around and returned to check on the Drixhal's Flower. They didn't have much to offer in the way of medical supplies, but they could share what they had until Starfleet arrived in force.
The crew was seated in the Willamette's lounge. They were taking a four-hour break before getting underway for the Enterprise. The starship Eclipse had arrived to relieve them. The Challenger-class starship was now addressing the Drixhal's Flower's needs
O'Brien had been regaling them with tales of boyhood antics in Dublin. D'Sora told stories of intrigue while temporarily serving with the Starfleet Intelligence unit aboard the Enterprise. Macen recounted stories of cantankerous colonists and stubborn old farmers from across the Cardassian Border region. Ro declined to relate any stories.
This was met with disappointment but was expected by all present, even Macen. O'Brien rose early to run yet another diagnostic on his station and Jenna followed muttering something about preventing him from "reprogramming her whole damned station". Ro quietly sipped at her coffee but remained silent. Macen matched her silence for ten minutes, then spoke.
"Would you tell me something about the mission?"
"I'll tell if you will." Ro smiled
"You know that depends." Macen frowned.
"This was during the mission. It shouldn't be classified."
"Then my lips, within discretion, are yours to command." Macen did a mock bow.
"You're strange, even for an El-Aurian."
Macen sighed, "So I've been told. What's your question?"
"How'd you know the ship was going to explode?"
Macen grinned ruefully, "A poor man's dead man switch. The reactor is prepped to overload and rigged with a trigger. The start-up initializer still needs to be activated to run the sequence and it runs hot if it's been rigged."
"I would have figured that would be more up the Chief's alley." Ro admitted.
"Mr. O'Brien didn't know what to look for. No harm done. I can show him the sensor logs and he'll know in the future."
She gave him an enigmatic look, "And your question?"
"How'd you know the tachyon pulses would work on Miradorn shielding?"
"Well, the Miradorn bought their initial shielding technology from the Federation. Now they keep it up to our standards and specifications. I just merely assumed the weaknesses would be there." She revealed.
Macen grinned, "Good thinking, Ensign."
"What happened to 'Captain'?" Ro asked.
"That was an official commendation, it warrants your real rank." Macen said and departed the lounge.
"Too bad." Ro muttered, "I'd rather keep the 'Captain'."
"Please, come in Ensign." Picard motioned for Ro to approach. The team had returned aboard the Enterprise yesterday but hadn't finished filing reports until today. Shortly after dropping her after action reports with Commander Riker, Ro had received this summons to the Captain's Ready Room. Part of her wondered what she'd done wrong to warrant coming here.
"Please, sit." Picard proffered one of the chairs in front of his desk, "Would you care for anything? Some coffee perhaps?"
"No, thank you, sir." Ro replied as she sat down.
"Oh, come now, Ensign. You've been on an arduous mission and you're tired. A little refreshment is called for." Picard insisted.
"Since you put it that way, coffee please." Ro conceded in complete bafflement.
"Excellent!" Picard was pleased by his minute victory and traveled to the replicator. There he ordered one cup of Earl Grey and one cup of coffee exactly as Ro liked it. He brought her her cup and saucer and retreated to his side of the desk.
"You must be wondering why you are here." Picard said between sips.
"Yeah," Ro remarked, "you could say that. What have I done now?"
Picard looked puzzled then his eyes widened in amazement, "Ensign, did you think you were being brought here for some kind of reprimand regarding your recent mission?"
"Well," she hesitated, "yes, sir."
"Heavens, no." Picard chuckled, "Quite the opposite in fact. Upon reading your after actions reports, Commander Riker has put you in for a commendation. Commander Macen has also recommended you for a citation."
He sat his cup down and locked eyes with her, "Most importantly, Commander Macen has suggested, with Commander Riker and I's full support, that you attend the next enrollment of Starfleet Advanced Tactical Training School. The next enrollment is coming up and Commander Riker and I have been seeking a qualified applicant. I think we've found that person."
"Advanced Tactical Training?" Ro repeated, "The class where half the students wash out every term?"
"The very same." Picard acknowledged, "But I seem to recall a certain young lady once telling me she rarely refused a challenge."
Ro took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and thrust her hand out towards Picard, "And she won't this time."
Picard grasped her hand and pumped it warmly, "Glad to hear it Ensign. You'll make us proud."
Ro turned to go then hesitated, "Sir?"
"Picard looked up from where he was leaned over his desk, "Yes, Ensign?"
"Those commendations? I was really put up for those?"
"Yes. Every one." Picard assured her
Ro left with a satisfied smile and a queasy stomach.
Ro's farewell party had been one-part jubilee and nine-parts hell. Guinan had outdone herself in her efforts to get her reticent friend out of her shell. The next morning she reported to the shuttlebay to pick up yet another runabout for the journey to Earth. Her first surprise was that she was again being assigned the Willamette. Her second surprise was that Macen was among the passengers accompanying her to Earth.
Flight ops kept her busy the better part of the first day and his silent visits to the cockpit were brief. Finally Ro encountered him in the lounge. They had to speak quietly so as to not disturb those sleeping on the lounge cots. The four modules for the runabout were arranged with one medical/trauma unit and three sleeping berths. Most were taken
"What were you thinking?" Ro whispered.
"About what?" Macen whispered back.
"Advanced Tactical Training." Ro hissed, "What makes you think I can cut it?"
"You forget I've seen you in action." Macen replied firmly, "And despite this maudlin display of self doubt and angst, my opinion remains the same. You have something in you that one in a hundred students dares attempt to cultivate. One in a thousand truly has it. I've seen you under fire. I know how you react when the plasma hits the fan. In another society, you'd be a killer. Here in the Federation, under Starfleet's guidance, you'll be molded into something else. You'll be a finely honed instrument."
"An instrument for what?" Ro asked.
"That'll be up to you. That's the beauty of democracy."
The Willamette had set down and Ro and Macen were preparing to part company. Ro thanked him for all the advice and his recommendations. He waved her off.
"I'm a Listener so advice comes free and you earned the citation request."
"Any final words of wisdom?" she asked with a grin.
"There's a Lt. Commander at Advanced Tactical Training I think you'd respect and I think the reverse will be true. Let me give you his name. Just mention my name and you won't be seen as a kiss up."
"Thanks again." Ro wore a sad, determined smile.
"See you on the other side." Macen said just as an aircar pulled up to collect him.
Ro, hefting her duffel with all of her belongings over her shoulder, was jealous of Macen's preferential treatment. With the Intelligence Officer gone, she turned around and began her trudge towards the nearest available transporter station. She'd accepted this challenge and now her one mission in life was to become the most capable student in class. This would validate Captain Picard's faith in her.
|Last modified: 06 May 2012