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Protection by Travis Anderson

The Spy, the Rebel, the Daredevil, the Fighter, the Lightbulb, the Muscle, the Fixer, the
Rock, the Brain, and one ship shared by all. The tale continues...

Chapter One

Fleet Admiral Garrond stared out the viewport of the shuttle pod he occupied. An extremely nervous ensign piloted the craft. For the most part Garrond left the woman alone, only redirecting her when there were particular sights he wanted to see. And what he wanted to see was the culmination of three years of dedicated work by the Iotian Starfleet's engineers.

The Iotians had moved past the ship analogues with the UFP Starfleet's mid-23rd century. What they'd achieved in design and function between the Earth years 2271-2310 the Iotians had managed to recreate here in orbit of their largest moon.

Despite himself, Garrond still thought of these ships in terms of their UFP Starfleet's analogues. The Iotians had refitted all twelve of their Constitution-class heavy cruisers, all twenty-four of their Miranda-class heavy cruisers, and all twelve of their Asia-class light cruisers. Many ships were remaining at original design specifications.

These included the Eclipse-class light cruisers, the Mercury-class frigates, the Detroit-class light cruisers, and the Kremlin-class surveyors. Instead, the shipyards had yielded several new ship classes reflecting the new design philosophy. Among them were six Excelsior-class heavy cruisers, six Constellation-class cruisers, six Bolivar-class light cruisers, six Sparta-class heavy cruisers, and six Benjamin Franklin-class cruisers. And all of them were needed.

A Kremlin-class surveyor, the ISS Bootlegger, had reached a star cluster beyond the Romulan Star Empire's recognized borders. It was in nonaligned space unclaimed by neither the Khitomer Accords powers nor the Typhon Pact. Magna Roma lay between the Iotian Federation and the Dragon Cluster.

But the Nova Romans had withdrawn from any voyages beyond their own established territory. Slave revolts, clone rebellions, and successive defeats at the hands of aliens. But the Dragon Cluster had its own awkward history. Settled by humans who had deserted during a battle in the Earth-Romulan War, they'd moved past what would later be established as the Romulan Neutral Zone and discovered the worlds within the Dragon Cluster.

They'd easily overwhelmed the pre-warp civilizations native to the region. Establishing themselves as the Dragon Lords, a racially segregated ruling class, the humans had brought the various natives up to 22nd Century standards according to Earth's technological reckoning. They'd done so through introducing advanced designs into the populaces' manufacturing base.

The original squadron had been led by the NX-class NX-07 Fearless and accompanied by the six Intrepid-class starships, the USS Courageous, the USS Kitty Hawk, the USS Tirpitz, the USS Kirov, the USS Typhoon, and the USS Akula. The human crews had utilized orbital bombardments when displays of "magical" might failed to persuade.

Humanity conquered all five inhabited worlds. One occupied world dared to revolt and the humans withdrew to unleash a biogenic weapon that eradicated all sentient life on the planet. It was subsequently set aside for resource extraction and the various slaves brought there were shown the scattered remains littering the surface of the world.

Eventually some of the starships began deploying beyond the Dragon Cluster. What the Dragon Lords discovered was that they were next to an interstellar trade route. Finding they had nothing to bargain with, the Dragon Lords further devolved into commerce raiders.

The Orions learned of the Dragon Lords and sent a delegation. Bartering for technology, the Dragon Lords learned that Earth had won the war against the Romulans. Fearing the consequences of their actions should they return, they dedicated themselves to their struggling empire.

Orion convoys arrived every three months so the Dragon Lords had to stretch far and wide to the limits of their capabilities to acquire merchandise the Orions would want. And life continued in this fashion for two hundred and twenty years before the USS Voyager and the Delta Fleet happened upon them while on the way to the Delta Quadrant.

The Delta Fleet utilized conventional warp drive to reach the edge of the Beta Quadrant. From there they would rely on their quantum slipstream drives to get them across the Delta Quadrant in their search to discover whether any Borg remained or if they had all been integrated into the Caelier Gestalt. They logged the presence of the Dragon Lords so that the Luna-class explorers led by Captain Will Riker and the USS Titan could approach the Dragon Lords.

Still, Admiral Kathryn Janeway had Captain Chakotay place the fleet's voyage on hold for three days while the Starfleet crews learned more about the descendents of Earth's forgotten Starfleet officers. A little digging revealed that the starships and crews of the Dragon Lords' ancestors were listed as 'lost' and presumed dead. Janeway and Chakotay both knew there was more to the story that the Dragon Lords were spinning for them but that was a matter for another crew.

Janeway left the Dragon Lords with a padd filled with Earth history and the history of the United Federation of Planets that had formed after the Earth-Romulan War. This information sent the Dragon Lords into a tailspin. After seeing Voyager and her companions they knew that the Federation was far more advanced than they were. Desperate, they sent out a subspace radio message towards Orion.

The Bootlegger intercepted that message and traced it back to the Dragon Cluster. But unlike the Delta Fleet, the Dragon Lords saw the Iotians as dupes to be swindled. So they arranged for a trade delegation to come from the Iotian Federation.

Little did they realize that the Iotians felt the same way about the Dragon Lords. Fleet Admiral Garrond contacted the Iotians allies and a plan was swiftly devised. Instead of sending a trade delegation, the Iotians would send an invasion fleet.

The Iotian fleet would be led by Commodore Vinton. Vinton was a career officer and had been one of the original Constitution-class captains. Now he commanded an Excelsior-class heavy cruiser.

Vinton had participated as part of the Iotians' task force against Magna Roma at Tom Riker's behest. Now he had every advanced starship at his disposal while the older units would remain in within Iotian Federation borders and secure them. The crews of these starships were even better trained in interstellar combat strategies and tactics than his last fleet venture had ever been. Altogether, seventy-two Iotian ships were committed to this attack. The Dragon Lords would be so overwhelmed that their best option was to simply lie down without firing a shot.

While the Iotians deployed under Vinton's command, the UFP Starfleet Prudence-class starship USS Prudence was sailing into the Dragon Cluster. Owing to the fact every Luna-class explorer was busy in some region of the Beta Quadrant and couldn't be pulled away, the Prudence had been pulled off patrolling the Neutral Zone and dispatched to the Dragon Cluster.

What the crew found was what Janeway had described. The humans inside the four populated Cluster worlds were worshipped as gods and they ruled with an iron fist. The indigenous natives were a servant class and were looked down upon by their "masters".

The Prudence crew quickly learned the truth about the Dragon Lords' origins. Packing up to leave, they found themselves surrounded by six museum piece Intrepid-class starships from yesteryear. While they could have easily blasted their way free, the UFP Starfleet captain and crew refrained.

The standoff between the Prudence and the Dragon Lords was on its twelfth hour when the USS Fearless had joined her Intrepid-class siblings. It was during this conflagration that the Iotians arrived in force. Vinton offered one chance of surrender and the commander of the Fearless rejected it. While the Dragon Lord ships engaged an impossibly large enemy, the Prudence withdrew further into the stellar cluster.

The battle was as short and decisive as could be expected. All of the Dragon Lord ships were gutted ruins within ten minutes time. Vinton ordered a pursuit of the Prudence.

Vinton contacted the remaining Dragon Lords on the occupied worlds. The Iotians would provide "protection" in exchange for tribute otherwise they would be handed over to their allies who would mercilessly exploit them. The Dragon Lords succinctly said, "Go to hell."

Vinton washed his hands of them and prepared to summon his people's benefactors. But with three quarters of his fleet looking for the fleeing Prudence he knew he needed to even the playing field since the UFP ship was even more advanced than his mightiest ships. So, the bargaining chip was that the UFP Starfleet crew would surrender to the Iotian Starfleet crew or the Iotians would begin orbital bombardments of the inhabited worlds.

Captain Suvok made the call and the Prudence surrendered. The Iotians subsequently placed a prize crew aboard her and flew her back towards the Iotian Federation. But Vinton dispatched the bulk of his fleet to deliver the UFP crew to the Romulan Star Empire. He knew his patrons in the Typhon Pact would be pleased with this gesture.

The Breen waited inside of the Iotian Federation to take hold of the Prudence. Vinton took command of a placeholder squadron of ships. One of each of his service ship classes was represented. The rest sailed through Romulan space before traversing the Neutral Zone near Deep Space Four and heading home. Vinton knew their contract with the Romulans had been fulfilled. In exchange for the cluster and the UFP Starfleet crew the Iotians would receive hard currency and technology transfers. It was all in a day's work.

The Obsidian sailed through the void en route to Altair. The ship's Executive Officer joined her Commanding Officer in his Ready Room. The first thing Brin Macen noted was Shannon Forger's rueful expression.

"Captain, Vetig Kloomps is demanding to see you...again," Forger informed Macen, "Frankly, I think Jelena Kovic is going to simply shoot him."

Macen smirked at the thought of the ship's Deputy Chief of Security eliminating their current thorn, "I take it he wants to complain about his current lodgings."

"He still seems indignant about being tossed into the brig," Forger confirmed that guess, "He says it's beneath his dignity as Governor of Vega Colony."

"Well, the Governor should have thought about his future accommodations before he conspired to sell his planet's defense systems to the Orions," Macen retorted.

"Were the Orions really going to buy the planetary defense grid and sell it to the Typhon Pact?" Forger was still incredulous.

"According to the SID team that gathered the intel, the Orion Syndicate had already taken a good faith payment," Macen wore a gleeful smirk; "I'd like to know how they're going to try and dodge issuing a refund."

"Like that's going to happen," Forger snorted, "The only thing stingier than a room full of Romulans is a room full of Romulans and Gorn, Tholians, Breen, and Tzenkethi."

"With any luck the Typhon Pact will lash out at the Orions and cripple their operations for the next decade or so," Macen wished.

"But how could they get passed the subspace fluctuation detection nets we've set up around each of those nations?" Forger asked, "Even with cloaking devices they still give off subspace ripples."

"The Typhon Pact has been using proxies to engage enemies within Federation borders or next to them or even allied space," Macen shared with her.

"So they're resorting to using mercenaries," Forger mused.

"Among others," Macen corrected her, "Starfleet Intelligence has pegged the Typhon Pact as using various legal agencies as well as sovereign stellar states. The deal between Kloomps and the Orions was brokered by Solarian Security Systems."

"Ugh," Forger grunted, "Them again."

"That's just the beginning," Macen warned, "The Nova Romans and the Iotians Federation have evicted all of the Federation's diplomatic presence in their territories. That leaves them wide open to co-opting by the Typhon Pact."

"But they'd say 'no', right?" Forger hoped.

"The Nova Romans lost a lot of face when their clone soldiers revolted and they had to rely on Cardassian assistance to neutralize the threat. And then they had to rely upon us to combat the Cardassians," Macen explained, "Both groups view the Federation's reluctance to share more advanced technology with them as an act of betrayal and aggression. They deem it that Starfleet is keeping them weakened in comparison so that we can eventually conquer them both."

Forger opened her mouth to speak but Macen's comm badge chirped and he tapped it on his belt, "Macen here."

"We are receiving a priority message for you from Admiral Forger," Talera P'ris informed him. P'ris was a former Commander in the Tal Shiar who had prevented a war between the Gorn and the Federation. Her reward was an imperial death mark and permanent exile from her people who were still recovering from the Hobus disaster that destroyed Romulus and Remus. Ambassador Spock was still missing as well after launching a relief mission to prevent the subspace shockwave from destroying the twin worlds.

"I'll go relieve P'ris from the center seat while you say 'hello' to my sister for me," Forger exited the room.

Macen keyed up his comm unit, "Hello, Amanda."

"Brin, we have a situation;" Forger said without preamble.

"Why is it always dire news?" Macen complained, "Can't you ever call just to say 'hello'? Shannon certainly asked me to send greetings along."

"Are you done yet?" Forger sternly asked.

"Have you even bothered to congratulate your sister for undergoing Sexual Reassignment Surgery and finishing her transition into full womanhood?" Macen sharply inquired.

"Of course I have," Forger snapped, "I'll even call her later today. Satisfied?"

"Not yet but it's a start," Macen quipped, "What's on your mind?"

"I've rerouted the Hood to intercept you and relieve you of your prisoner," Forger revealed.

"We're halfway to DS3," Macen informed her, "Why bother Merry with Kloomps?"

"Because I need to send one of you into the Beta Quadrant and it won't be Merry Limerick," Forger divulged.

"I'll right, I'm game;" Macen confessed, "Where are you sending us?"

"The Dragon Cluster," Forger shared at last.

"Didn't I just read a bulletin on that region?" Macen sought to recall, "Something about Chakotay and the Delta Fleet finding a lost enclave of Terrans stemming back to the Earth-Romulan War?"

"Two months ago, the Delta Fleet was poised to enter the Delta Quadrant. A return trip for Voyager and most of her senior staff," Forger reminded him, "En route they discovered the Dragon Lords."

"There's a friendly name," Macen deadpanned.

"They're despotic thugs," Forger groused, "They conquered the indigenous races with superior firepower and set themselves up as demigods ruling slaves."

"So Starfleet learned of these people two months ago," Macen pondered it, "Why send us then? We're hardly diplomats."

"No, and you're not Starfleet. Which is why you're being sent to help gather information to diffuse the crisis," Forger finally got to the point.

"I know I'm going to regret this, but what crisis?" Macen inquired.

"Starfleet dispatched the USS Prudence to the Dragon Cluster," Forger explained, "All we've received from her is an emergency distress call claiming the Dragon Lords were hostile and then a garbled transmission that stated the Iotians had arrived."

"So the Iotians are holding the Prudence and her crew?" Macen ventured.

"No, the Romulans are;" Forger stated.

"I'm getting a headache," Macen complained, "You are aware that Romulan space is off limits once again?"

"Yes, I am. But this began in the Dragon Cluster and I need you to piece together how the Romulans came to be in possession of one of our crews," Forger ordered.

"Give me the spatial coordinates and I'll see what I can learn," Macen agreed.

"I suppose you see now why Starfleet Command can't dispatch a Starfleet vessel to the region?" Forger asked.

"I assume it's the usual," Macen opined, "Plausible deniability plus a de-escalation of tensions regarding a potentially disputed region."

"I knew there was a reason why I kept you on retainer," Forger jested.

"Just keep that in mind when you begin authorizing expenses and the contract rates," Macen urged.

"I will," Forger promised.

"You also realize that P'ris has a death warrant hanging over her head? If we get boarded by the Romulans, they will take her and her death will be very ugly," Macen pointed out.

"It shouldn't be an issue," Forger stiffly assured him.

"Why do I think you're lying?" Macen wondered.

Forger sighed, "The Romulans agreed to return the Prudence crew in exchange for one concession."

Macen's gut clenched, "They want P'ris."

"Jellico deferred acquiescing because he's opposed to surrendering to an armed threat and because Bacco granted P'ris' request for asylum," Forger shared, "But before you place any great faith in that, Bacco is now debating the merits of handing her over in order to close this deal relatively painlessly."

"Thinking like that brought us the infamous Demilitarized Zone," Macen reminded Forger, "Look how that turned out for everyone."

Forger sighed again, "If Bacco decides to surrender P'ris, you're going to be a pain in the ass, aren't you?"

"I made a promise to protect her," Macen said sternly, "That includes from Starfleet if it has to."

"Brin, if Bacco chooses this path, it will be a presidential order. All of Starfleet will be poised against you and we'll pressure our allies into denying you sanctuary," Forger said wearily.

"You do what you have to and so will I," Macen warned.

"Brin, don't..." Forger's words were cut off midsentence when Macen cut the connection.

The USS Hood rendezvoused with the Obsidian forty light years away from Deep Space Three. The Hood was a Galaxy-class carrier variant. Instead of stocking a full range of shuttles, one docking bay was filled with Peregrine-class fighters. A fact that their CAG, Lt. Commander Verity Jones, was quite proud of.

The Hood had served beside the Obsidian crew and her Special Investigations Division team on several occasions. The Starfleet vessel wasn't considered a ship of the line. Instead she served as a multirole troubleshooter for Starfleet Intelligence. A fact which Macen was commiserating with Limerick over the subspace radio.

"My transporter chief reports that Kloomps is aboard and my Chief of Security has informed me the governor is on his way to our brig. Wailing and bemoaning the fact every inch of the way," Limerick chuckled.

"You should be taking my assignment, Merry. You'd at least be able to ward off trouble," Macen stated.

"I have no doubts that you shall be able to do the same," Limerick assured him, "Now, enjoy the best of luck. We'll be getting underway."

"Try not to kill Kloomps on the way to Reyes' station," Macen grinned, "He hates the associated paperwork."

Merry Limerick smiled as he terminated the connection. Captain Alfonso Reyes was a mutual friend. And Reyes was also the paramour of one of Macen's closest friends, Captain Ro Laren, the commanding officer of Deep Space Nine.

Over the course of his conversation with Limerick, Macen had learned a few things about the developing situation. Admiral Alynna Nechayev, Macen's oldest serving friend in Starfleet, had ordered the Defiant-class USS Monitor and USS Merrimack to the Romulan border to facilitate an attempt to cross the Neutral Zone and snatch back the Prudence's crew. Rumor had it Nechayev had also allocated the USS Defiant under Ro's command to accomplish the task while the Monitor and Merrimack distracted the Romulan Navy. Unfortunately, President Bacco had overruled the plan.

Limerick's understanding, direct from Nechayev, was that Jellico had put the SID plan into motion. Macen found this extremely odd. Jellico had railed against him personally and the SID as a whole for over a decade. Yet in the last few months, there had been a total reversal of his prejudice. Now the SID, and Macen's team in particular, were his first option.

Macen supposed a galaxy without the Borg was strange enough to tweak Jellico's sensibilities. Macen just didn't know if he could adapt to the situation as smoothly as Jellico seemed to be doing. It was just frighteningly odd.

 

Chapter Two

The Obsidian headed coreward to skirt the Romulan Neutral Zone. Passing through DS3's patrol zone centered between the Romulans, the Iridian Enforcers, the Iotian Federation, and the Nova Roman Empire just to name a few, the area was nonaligned yet was rapidly choosing sides. At the furthest point corewards that the Federation had established a presence, Deep Space Four monitored the Neutral Zone's activity as it curved further into the Beta Quadrant into uncharted space.

The Romulan Star Empire had a defined limit as it stretched further into the Beta Quadrant but civilian scouts had reported military movements into new territories. As best as could be determined, the Star Empire now formed a shape similar to that of the symbol for infinity. No one could determine why the irregular shape had been adopted but the Dragon Cluster set just outside of the Neutral Zone's thinnest edges, which also squarely placed outside of DS4's patrol zone.

Starfleet's Outpost network had constructed a tachyon net around the Romulan Neutral Zone. But all that was known was that it worked against the older generation cloaking devices such as the Romulans had shared with the rest of the Typhon Pact. Newer Romulan vessels such as the Valdore-class Warbirds were said to not only boast a next generation cloak but a transphasic cloaking device as well.

If so, these devices could prove to be an effective countermeasure to Starfleet's quantum slipstream drive. But unlike Starfleet inability to equip every hull with a slipstream drive, the Romulans were regarded as holding out on their own allies simply because they wished to maintain an advantage over them. It seemed trust was a rare commodity amongst the Typhon Pact nations.

Both DS3 and DS4 had marked the progress of a large number of Iotian ship headed deeper into the Beta Quadrant. Both had also noted the return of most of the ships but several still seemed to be missing in action. No one had an inkling as to whether those vessels had been destroyed or if they were on station somewhere.

Making way past DS4, the Obsidian entered the territory of a group called the Zephyrites. They were a fiercely independent people. They also exacted a toll to traverse their region. The Hood had transferred raw materials rare in Zephyrite space into the Obsidian's holds. They had enough to afford to cross the area twice.

Following Delta Fleet's path, the surveyor soon neared the stellar cluster claimed by the Dragon Lords. In all, the voyage to this point as consisted of three days since learning of their assignment. Now as they approached the Dragon Cluster, a Constellation-class cruiser exited it. Identified as the ISS Rumrunner the ship moved to interpose itself between the Obsidian and the Dragon Cluster's interior.

Obviously distressed by the sight of a UFP starship, the Rumrunner had called for backup. The Benjamin Franklin-class Chicago and the Sparta-class Tommy Gun moved in to support the Rumrunner. Macen was not amused.

"Jaycee, hail them;" Mace instructed Jaycee Miller, his Chief Tactical Officer.

"They're responding," Miller said in a tone that implied she'd rather be locking weapons on target.

A rather stern man appeared on screen, "I am Captain Solex, why are you trespassing into our territory?"

"As of a week ago, this territory belonged to a group of humans called the Dragon Lords," Macen informed him, "My employers want to reestablish contact with them."

"When you say 'my employers' you are asserting that you are not UFP Starfleet?" Solex inquired sharply.

"No, I only work for them on occasion," Macen replied.

"Go home and report to the UFP Starfleet that this area is being held by the Iotian Starfleet until it can be turned over to its new masters," Solex insisted.

"I'd like to..." Macen began.

"Comply or you will be engaged," Solex demanded.

A score of other Iotian ships all exited the cluster and Macen knew there was no way he could win, "Very well, we'll be going. Give my regards to Proconsul Sela."

The Obsidian backtracked the way it had come. Macen briefed the crew that their job had just gotten harder. The Iotians were working for the Romulans the way the crew worked for Starfleet. It was altogether too likely they would be contracted to find out how the Romulans managed to hire the Iotians and how much influence the Star Empire and the Typhon Pact as a whole had on Sigma Iotia II. And however the Iotians went the rest of the Iotians Federation followed.

"Wyn, set course for DS3;" Macen ordered.

Wyn complied as Macen exited the bridge. Ensconced in his Ready Room he contacted Captain Reyes. After arrangements had been made, Macen contacted a few other friends and acquaintances before he went looking for Celeste Rockford. Macen's wife had Harri Mudd on retainer and Mudd was their best bet for penetrating the Iotian Federation. Perhaps all the way to Sigma Iotia II itself.

"Sure, I can contact Harri," Rockford referred to Harriet Fedora Mudd by her preferred familiar name, "But why?"

Macen laid out his plan to Rockford and her fellow detective, Ziva Delain. The Cardassian woman nodded to Rockford, "It's a good idea."

"But you want us to travel inside of Harri's ship," Rockford repeated, "She's awfully twitchy about who boards her. Would we be taking the whole team?"

"Just you two, Daggit, and P'ris;" Macen informed her.

"That might be doable," Rockford considered it, "We may have to lose Rab though."

Macen thought it over. Rab Daggit was an Angosian Augment, which meant he was a veritable one man army. But Rockford was also an Augment from the same planet. She was a rarified Infiltrator but she had all of the same training and skills that Daggit had. And Rockford had even beaten Daggit to a standstill despite being a foot shorter.

"If that's what it takes," Macen promised Rockford.

Reyes personally met Macen's team at the airlock. As soon as the Obsidian's captain and his group disembarked, Shannon Forger uncoupled from the station and took the Obsidian out on an investigative chore. She would sweep through the areas between DS3's patrol zone, Iotian Federation space, and Roman Imperial space.

"I have to say, Brin, your group is even more out of uniform than usual;" Reyes commented.

Macen appreciated the humor. His crew typically wore a variant on Starfleet surplus uniforms. The officers and crewmen wore the utility jumpsuits dating between 2369-2372. Officers were green shoulder panels and crewmen wore brown.

The actual SID team borrowed pieces from uniforms dating from 2150-2340. But for this outing, the team completely wore civilian attire. They were also heavily armed.

"Mudd is docked in berth Twenty-One. She's waiting in Quark's Bar for Celeste to arrive," Reyes advised Macen.

"Thank you, Alfonso;" Macen said earnestly, "Please update Amanda as to our comings and goings. Then update Laren."

"Why Ro?" Reyes asked protectively.

"Because if we're compromised she's the best equipped to facilitate a rescue," Macen informed him.

"She's also on the other side of the Federation," Reyes argued.

Macen gave him an amused glace, "And we both now she was here aboard this station just yesterday despite what the official story may be."

Reyes sighed, "I knew that story wouldn't hold."

Macen pulled a padd out of his jacket, "I want you told hold this for Shannon when she gets back. It contains her next set of orders. I also want you sworn to secrecy not to read them. It's probably better for you if you don't."

"Understood," Reyes accepted the padd.

Quark's was yet another of Quark's successful franchised copies of his original bar aboard DS9. Of course, the very original had been destroyed along with the Cardassian built station. But the replacement on the newly built Federation built station was an exact replica if even larger. Quark was even selling franchise rights to planet bound proprietors now.

"Quark probably has made enough latinum now to not only buy his cousin's moon but the planet it orbits," Rockford opined.

Macen checked in with the bartender and learn Mudd had reserved a privacy booth. The "booth" turned out to be a small conference room. Mudd was waiting inside and enjoying a meal.

She saw Rockford and smiled. And then everyone filed inside and Mudd's smile turned rueful, "Did we bring everyone?"

"If you think it's getting crowded in here, wait until we're aboard your ship;" Rockford warned.

Mudd nearly exploded, "Waitaminute! No one said anything about taking my ship."

"Ours is a little conspicuous," Rockford said evenly, "It may also be a civilian platform but its lines still scream 'Starfleet'. Yours doesn't. But you knew that already."

"Let's discuss me fee for getting you in and out of the Iotian Federation and we'll see what I know or can remember," Mudd counter-offered.

Rockford jerked a thumb in Macen's direction, "He's the purse strings. Talk with him."

Mud eyed Macen, "You're the one that busted my brother, aren't you?"

"Yes," Macen said simply.

"Couldn't have happened to a nicer crook," Mudd happily mused, "I'm almost inclined to offer a discount."

"Don't stretch yourself," Macen said drolly.

"You just warmed your way into my avaricious little heart," Mudd grinned, "Take a seat and let's palaver."

"Okay," Macen sat down, "In a nutshell..."

Ten minutes later, Macen summed it up; "So basically we're trying to find out the Iotians' connection to the Typhon Pact and which members are involved."

"Including the Andorians?" Mudd wondered.

"Yes," Rockford broke her silence.

"All right, we're going to need something to get the Iotians' attention. Something they want and can't get from any other source," Mudd insisted.

"Any ideas?" Macen already dreaded the answer.

"Quantum torpedoes," Mudd stated, "The Iotians are crazy for them and no one will give them any. The Ferengi were negotiating a sale of them when the Khitomer Accords nations were ejected out of Iotian space. Grand Negus Rom cancelled all the contracts."

"Let me get this straight," Macen requested, "You want to hand over advanced weaponry to a potentially hostile power?"

Mudd simply shrugged, "It'll get you what you want. Just cough up half a dozen or so and you'll be in the Iotian Starfleet's good graces."

"I don't have any," Macen informed Mudd, "My ship isn't equipped to even fire them so we don't have any on hand."

"But this station is loaded with them," Mudd argued, "And you're chummy with its CO and even chummier with his intended. Get one of them to release some torpedoes to you. All for a good cause, of course."

Macen scrutinized Mudd until Rockford intervened, "She's serious, Brin."

Mudd decided to relent a bit, "You don't carry quantums because your launchers can't handle them. Neither can the Iotians and they'll have to engineer some based upon what they can reverse engineer out of the torpedoes. Given that they're still almost a century out of date with basic photon torpedoes, it'll take them time to tear the new weapons apart and finagle a way to devise a delivery system. Call it twenty years or so and I'd be very impressed."

"It took them a century to go from the industrial age past the information age and straight into the space age," Macen reminded Mudd.

"So they're wily little buggers," Mudd allowed, "But they aren't super geniuses."

"They still advance on a rapid curve," Macen reminded Mudd, "And they're intentions and motives are unknown."

"So what?" Mudd asked, "They just want to get ahead in this universe the same as the rest of us."

"And if they use them against Federation worlds and personnel? Doesn't that prospect bother you?" Macen wanted to know.

"Nope," Mudd happily confessed, "I just worry about is my income stream drying up. Everything else I'll find a way to survive."

"Brin, you've worked with the Iotians in the past. You've also worked alongside the Nova Romans, the Ekosians, Cardassians, Bajorans, and the Maquis. How does this differ?" Rockford inquired.

"The Bajorans joined the Federation. The Cardassians are now its ally. The Nova Romans, the Iotians, and the Ekosians are all massive variables. They can go any direction."

"That still leaves the terrorists," Rockford pressed in on him.

"The Maquis are dead," Macen said angrily.

"Most of the Maquis are dead," Rockford corrected him, "A few now hold valued positions within Starfleet while the majority have moved on."

Rockford's eyes bored into her husband's, "But what if the Jem'Hadar hadn't struck out at the Maquis? Wouldn't you have played out that dirty little war until either you won or died?"

"That's a lot like asking what if Annika Ryst had remained your dominant personality. Would she still be serving the Orion Syndicate?" Macen argued.

"Okay," Rockford slightly conceded, "so it was a lousy analogy. I think you still got my point anyway."

Macen fell silent. Mudd stared at Rockford, mentally urging her to press the argument home. Macen made his decision.

"I see your point but this violates our contract with Starfleet," Macen warned.

"How? They're a post-warp culture and they're evolution was warped by their first contact with human explorers," Rockford retorted.

"How does the 'noninterference in other cultures' clause grab you?" Macen inquired sharply.

Rockford smirked, "I always seem to overlook that part."

"I hate to interrupt this little love fest but we haven't discussed my fee yet," Mudd asserted.

"What are you asking for?" Macen asked.

"I want the profits I can get from selling the quantum torpedoes," Mudd insisted.

"You wouldn't even have them if I can't convince Reyes to hand some over," Macen rebutted her.

"I wasn't finished," Mudd huffed, "I also require one hundred bars of gold pressed latinum as my flat salary fee for delivering you and returning you to Federation space. Any necessary repairs necessitated by this little incursion will be paid for by you above and beyond my base price."

"Am I going deaf or did you just ask for one hundred bars of latinum?" Macen had to inquire.

"I'm your one way in and desperation is expensive," Mudd countered, "So pay up or get another ride."

"Oh really?" Macen called her bluff.

Only she wasn't bluffing. Mudd rose from her seat, "See ya."

"Sit down," Macen insisted, "I'll meet your price."

"I should charge another twenty-five bars just for testing me," Mudd grated.

"You really can go out the door at that price," Macen informed her, "You don't hold a monopoly here. My other option is just...messier."

Mudd sat down with a huff, "Yeah, yeah, your reputation doth precede you."

"So does yours," Macen admitted, "Take everyone else to your ship and prepare to receive cargo."

"You really think you can get the torps out of Reyes?" Mudd wore a Cheshire grin.

"You already know I can," Macen retorted.

"You want me to do what?" Reyes roared as he came out of his seat.

Macen angled himself so that if the Starfleet officer came around his desk, Macen could throw him face first into the bulkhead and pin him there, "You heard me."

"I am not giving you torpedoes so that Harri Mudd can sell them to a potential adversary," Reyes leaned on his knuckles as he leaned over his desk, well aware of what Macen intended to do to him.

"They don't have to actually be functioning torpedoes," Macen suggested, "They just have to function enough to make the Iotians believe they're getting viable weapons."

"The Iotians will figure it out," Reyes warned.

"And by the time they do, we'll be out of their territory," Macen stated, "And it's not like Mudd needs to go back there anyway. She'll obviously be blacklisted from entering their territory."

"It'd almost be worth it," Reyes mused. Mudd came from a long line of criminal entrepreneurs. Her great-grandfather was the infamous Harcourt "Harry" Fenton Mudd that James T. Kirk had encountered on several occasions. His son had enjoyed a far less stellar career. Harry Mudd III had redeemed the family honor and Mudd III had groomed Harry Mudd IV to take over the family legacy. Unfortunately for Mudd IV his ambition outstripped his ability.

Meanwhile his sister, Harriet Fedora Mudd, was a literal criminal mastermind. It was well known to Starfleet and the Federation's law enforcement organs that Mudd had pulled off some of the Federation's biggest heists and scams. She'd literally stolen dozens of fortunes. She had garnered enough to retire several times over on a privately held planet.

The problem was that Mudd was addicted to enhancing her own reputation so she delved further and farther into criminal enterprises. When Reyes had learned from Rockford that Mudd was now a stringer in her employ he'd nearly fallen out of his seat. Reyes didn't know why Mudd was cooperating with the SID but he strongly suspected it was in order to gain immunity from prosecution should the unthinkable happen and she was caught in the act.

"Look, I'll go through Starfleet Command if I have to;" Macen warned.

Reyes snorted derisively, "You mean you badger Nechayev and Forger into giving you what you want from them. Which is them forcing me to give you what you want and you putting in Mudd's holds."

"Do you really want to go there?" Macen wondered, "It'll waste a lot of time we may not have."

"You might have to," Reyes angrily countered, "Why is this so damn important to you?"

"The Romulans agreed to trade the Prudence's crew for P'ris. Bacco is mulling it over right now and she could make a decision at any second," Macen revealed, "I promised that woman I'd protect her after what she did for the Federation and I'll be damned if I'm going to hand her over to face a horrible, certain death."

"So why does this make the Iotians so important?" Reyes asked.

"Bob Johnson is leading the negotiating team," Macen reminded Reyes, "He needs hard facts to counter the Romulans' accusations and derive a different solution."

"It's going to take more than finger wagging at the Iotians to pull that off," Reyes warned Macen, "Sela has it in for P'ris and since she's become Proconsul she's turned into an even bigger vindictive bitch."

"But the Typhon Pact is increasingly reaching out for proxies to do their bidding outside of their borders. We've caught the Orion Syndicate doing so and we've also found agencies like the Solarian Security Systems are complicit as well. Overtures to the Iotians, the Magna Romans, and the Ekosians have been made and those are just the ones we can confirm," Macen recited, "And even members of the Federation aren't immune because the Andorian Empire seceded from the Federation they helped found and are now loyal members of the Typhon Pact. The Breen and Tzenkethi are engaging in all manner of foreign adventurism while the Gorn and Tholians are overcoming their xenophobic tendencies enough to engage in outreaches. And atop all of this, the Iridian Enforcers are ready to pounce any anyone that isn't them. So in the midst of all this, where do we go?"

"That's why we're pushing so hard into the uncharted regions of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants and why we sent Voyager back to the Delta Quadrant," Reyes asserted.

"Exploration should be about more than just looking for fresh allies to fill the coffers," Macen said bleakly, "And while Bob is here, he can't fulfill his mission to the Dominion."

"Starfleet is offering the Dominion some kind of treaty?" Reyes wondered.

"Bob's been authorized by Bacco, Jellico, and the Council of Five to offer the Dominion a nonaggression treaty. As part of it, the Federation would secure the Bajoran Wormhole against the Typhon Pact," Macen explained.

"Seeing as how the Breen and Romulans used the Federation's free transit rights to go through the wormhole and try and steal Dominion weapons technology, I guess that's a fair offer," Reyes admitted, "It took Ro by surprise when the wormhole released two Typhon Pact ships being chased by a squadron of Jem'Hadar fighters. It came as a greater surprise when it became obvious that the Tzenkethi and the Gorn were in the system under cloak."

"Ro released the Defiant and the station's three runabouts in support of the Jem'Hadar," Macen reminded Reyes, "When Gul Ocett arrived with three more Galor-class cruisers, the Typhon Pact ships auto-destructed rather than be taken prisoner and handed over to the Jem'Hadar."

"But if we protect the Dominion from its foes, what do we get in return?" Reyes wondered.

"The Federation and her allies get access to Dominion space as well as a clause covering catastrophe," Macen could see Reyes was hungry to know how catastrophe was defined, "If we're ever overwhelmed by superior forces the Dominion will send fleets to support us."

"That would have come in handy during the Borg and Argyn invasions," Reyes admitted, "But can we trust the Dominion to leave once they're here? I mean, the Cardassians are one thing but the Dominion too?"

"The Klingons are former foes as well yet now they're our most trusted ally," Macen stated, "Sometimes your enemy knows you so well that he becomes your best friend in a time of need."

Reyes nodded, "That's a little too philosophical for me but I'll concede you have a point. You can have four neutered torpedoes and Mudd will just have to call that good."

"I'll stress to her she doesn't have a choice," Macen agreed.

 

Chapter Three

Reyes' crew delivered the torpedoes just as promised. Mudd was less than happy about the scarcity of the quantity but she still gleefully directed their loading into her main cargo hold. Shooing Starfleet out of her ship, she sealed the outer airlock and then sealed her own hatch.

Proceeding to the bridge, she comfortably sat down at the helm. Her ship was a Bajoran variant Antares-class freighter christened the Freehold. Registered out of Xepolite, Mudd had made modifications to her ship that weren't strictly legal in the Federation.

Gaining clearance from Ops to depart, Mudd released all moorings and umbilicals. She used her RCS thrusters to clear the station's inner traffic zone. Engaging her impulse engines, she traversed the system DS3 occupied. Clearing the outer markers, she cut in her warp drive and proceeded at Warp 5 from that point on.

Mudd swiveled around to see how the ship's other stations were being occupied. To her right, Daggit manned communications. To her left, Macen operated the sensors. Mudd found it utterly delightful to be surrounded by men. Too bad they were both married.

Rockford, Delain, and P'ris occupied the crash couches near the auxiliary stations in the rear of the tight bridge module. Mudd felt the same way about Rockford that she felt about her husband. She idly wondered if the couple would ever seriously consider a tryst including her. Then again, Delain and P'ris were both attractive. And P'ris definitely swung both ways.

"Why does your station have weapons controls?" Daggit broke Mudd's reverie.

Damn it, Mudd inwardly fumed before replying, "Arming freighters isn't illegal on Xepolite."

"You have phaser guidance and well as a photon control panel," Daggit observed, "Just how armed is this ship?"

Mudd wanted nothing more than to aim a phaser blast at Daggit's head, "I have four Cardassian phaser banks, two fore and aft. I also have one forward photon torpedo launcher with a three round magazine."

"How strong is your shielding?" Macen wondered how committed Mudd was to getting into a fight.

"Military grade," Mudd boasted, "And I have an augmented deflector array so I can fire tachyon bursts and force beams as well."

"The Federation randomly inspects foreign registered freighters," Macen said, "How have you passed inspection?"

"I've only been inspected once and they just had me lock everything down," Mudd shrugged, "It's easy enough to unlock once I'm out of sensor range. And you'll note I have advanced generation sensors as well."

"How can you power all of this?" Macen asked, "Even the most updated Antares-class can't boast this much power generation."

"Well, most freighters can't claim to have a starship's warp core;" Mudd smirked, "I have a Starfleet Andor-class transport's warp core in my drive section and its nacelles integrated into my hull."

"So you have a max speed of Warp 6.8," Macen realized.

Mudd nodded, "I forgot. You were in Starfleet when those ships were new."

"I also noticed you had a closet listed as the 'armory'. Mind if I check it out?" Daggit wondered.

"Send Rockford this way and I'll agree," Mudd offered in return.

Daggit moved off and Rockford took his place. Suddenly from the outer corridor they heard Daggit yelp, "Ye gods!"

"I take it he found something interesting," Rockford dryly commented.

"Just a dozen hand phasers, a half dozen photon hand grenades, and a tetryon pulse launcher," Mudd divulged.

P'ris reentered the bridge, "Captain Mudd, I am uncertain as to your intentions of arming these Iotians. If they truly are pawns of my people, the granting them greater tools of force will only expand the Star Empire's reach."

"She has a point," Rockford regretfully admitted.

"I don't see the problem," Daggit said as he returned with Delain, "They're going to get there eventually anyway. If they get there a little earlier it'll just give us greater cause to squash them like a bug."

"He has a point," Delain opined.

"Commander?" P'ris asked Macen. She'd reverted to his Starfleet rank in order to preserve the fact that a ship could only have one captain.

"The Prime Directive forbids what we're about to do," Macen reminded them all, "But our agency and our missions frequently violate the Prime Directive. Taking Rab's position into view, he has a strong argument. It's more than likely we're going to uncover information that will blacklist the Iotian Federation in Starfleet's eyes. So in the end we'll probably only be advancing the timetable."

"I must confess I am surprised," P'ris confessed.

"Rab, can you relieve Celeste?" Macen requested, "Ziva, you can take my station."

"But I..." Delain protested.

"The controls are simple," Macen reassured her, "And the equipment is Cardassian. So you'll do fine."

The trio stepped off of the bridge and headed further into the ship. There Macen shared with P'ris how her fate was being decided and a decision would be reached any moment now. Thus inspiring the rush to get facts which could be parlayed into achieving the release of the Prudence crew without surrendering P'ris.

For her part, P'ris visibly paled; "Thank you for confiding in me. I shall prepare myself for the worst."

"Talera, even if Bacco decides to surrender you, I won't;" Macen promised her.

"I take it Starfleet would be willing to enforce this decision?" P'ris ventured.

"It doesn't matter," Macen assured her, "I have that contingency planned for."

"But you shall become a fugitive," P'ris pointed out.

"I was a fugitive when I was a Maquis," Macen reminded her, "I was undercover but I was so deeply undercover that Nechayev would have sacrificed me to the Federation penal system rather than admit that I was operating under her orders."

"Very well, I am forced to trust your judgment;" P'ris allowed.

"Hopefully that won't seem so onerous when the time comes," Macen hoped, "Now if you can excuse us?"

P'ris stepped away and Rockford looked at Macen's expression and sighed heavily, "What's the bad news?"

"Reyes neutered the quantum torpedoes," Macen informed her, "They'll hold up to initial scans but once they're dismantled or field tested, the Iotians will know they've been duped."

Rockford groaned, "Which means they'll put a warrant out for Harri. I may lose her as an asset."

"This is on me," Macen informed his wife, "I intentionally didn't tell you until now. You have to choose whether or not to share with Mudd."

"What makes you think she won't just head back to DS3?" Rockford wondered.

"Because I think Mudd enjoys a challenge. She'll proceed just because she can run a con," Macen shared.

"That and if Harri sees a way to profit from our mutual relationship she'll stand by us," Rockford ventured.

"Or so you hope," Macen deduced.

"You've run your share of stringers and assets," Rockford reminded him, "Hope is the name of the game along with cautionary measures that make betrayal painful. So, basically its hope and the conviction to kill them if they stray."

"Let's settle on arresting them until otherwise notified," Macen suggested.

"Killed is easier," Rockford tersely insisted.

Macen could see Annika Ryst and the other personalities that had been hardened killers in Rockford's psyche now. It had taken some time to filter through her persona but as her personalities grew even more integrated it made for some interesting discoveries. Such as the merciless way that Rockford had killed his former wife T'Kir.

Annika Ryst had been an Angosian Augment Infiltrator. She slipped into Tarsisian camps of soldiers by creating new personalities and becoming a Tarsisian soldier. Later, as a mercenary, Ryst had devised alternate identities as covers for her primary activities. This was how Celeste Rockford had been born.

In the end, when the Argyn integrated Ryst's fractured psyche, she'd chosen to invest everything and everyone she was into Rockford. Simply because Rockford was the only personality with any hope to cling to. It bespoke of the power of that simple emotion.

"So, are we getting back to keeping an eye on Harri or do we have other business to attend to?" Rockford asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

Macen drew her in and they spend several minutes kissing. Macen finally backed away and gave his wife a ruefully glance and she began to complain, "That's it? I got more when we were just living together."

"We weren't as crunched for time," Macen said wryly.

"C'mon, we have time for a quickie in the cargo hold;" Rockford teased, "I've never made love atop a torpedo casing before."

"And now isn't probably the time to start," Macen retorted.

"Oh, okay;" Rockford mock grumped, "We who are about to die and all that rot."

"That's the spirit," Macen grinned, "And later, aboard the Obsidian, we can mount a torpedo or two."

Rockford called him a few choice names in Angosian and Klingon as they reentered the bridge. Daggit chuckled over the Angosian selection. P'ris obviously understood the Klingon portion of the program. She wisely decided not to divulge what it was that had been said.

The Freehold was intercepted at the Iotian Federation border by the ISS Jimmyjack. The Miranda-class starship immediately locked phasers on Mudd's ship before hailing her. Mudd weighed her options before Macen reported his sensor readings.

"An Asia-class analogue just appeared at the edge of our sensor range," he told Mudd, "It may only be a light cruiser but it by itself can punch a hole through your shields to cripple your ship. The Jimmyjack is potent enough to worse."

"Okay, I got it;" Mudd protested as she received the transmission from Daggit's board.

A woman Mudd's age appeared on her screen. Mudd could see that her own appearance had caught the Iotian by surprise. Mudd's nearly waist length, platinum blonde hair was stark white it was so bleached out. It garnered Mudd attention wherever she went and it also distracted people so that they never saw what she was really up to.

Mudd could see the hungry look in the Iotian's eyes. She had her eye on rapid advancement. Well, Mudd could help with that.

"I am Captain Mynx of the ISS Jimmyjack. Who are you and what is your business in Iotian Federation space?" the other woman inquired.

"I'm Captain Harri Mudd. You can read my transponder plain enough to know my ship's name and registration," she answered, "I'm here to get you into an admiral's office."

"How?" Mynx sneered.

"I have four UFP Starfleet quantum torpedoes in my hold," Mudd explained, "Your superiors have been panting over them since the Ferengi reneged on their deal with your Starfleet."

"My people will board your ship and verify your claims," Mynx demanded.

"No," Mudd said shortly, "Once you're aboard you'll never leave. What's going to happen here is you're going to escort me back to Sigma Iotia II and you'll present me to the Fleet Admiral. I'll throw in all kinds of effusive praise your way and I'll sell him my torpedoes."

Mynx seemed a little stymied so Mudd interjected, "Your little buddy there can handle your patrol while you're gone. You seriously are going to have to think faster on your feet if you want an admiral's stripe on your sleeve."

"You think like a Ferengi and not a very trustworthy one at that," Mynx decided, "But I will escort you to Fleet Admiral Garrond."

Mudd grinned, "I knew you'd see reason eventually."

"I'm surprised they didn't just open fire on us," Daggit remarked.

"If they thought they could do so without damaging our torpedoes they would have," Mudd revealed, "Their phaser controls aren't as accurate as to what you're used to. Isn't that right, El-Aurian Boy?"

"Comforting thought," Daggit grumbled, "I thought you knew these people."

Mudd rolled her eyes, "I know Garrond. Everyone else is just a peon. Besides, why buy what you can steal?"

"Now we know why you're a crook," Daggit muttered.

"Too true," Mudd boasted, "Everyone does what they're best at. In your case your home planet saw something in you they could harness and enhance to turn you into a walking killing machine."

Daggit bristled but Macen stepped in, "That's enough."

"Aw, the big guy can't take it?" Mudd mocked Daggit.

"Actually, I was worried about your safety," Macen confessed.

Mudd's board chimed, "They've given us course and speed instructions. They also tried to load a pesky computer virus. But my core's scrubbers cleaned it out."

"You sound like you expected it," Daggit realized.

Mudd shrugged, "Remember my philosophy? They've tried it before. I have to say though; their programmers have learned a few things since last time. And these people are even more criminally minded than me. And that says a lot."

"Some of us have been here before as well," Daggit said harshly.

It had been on Sigma Iotia II that Daggit's Orion wife had been shot in the heart. Her heart had stopped beating long enough for brain damage to occur. But that had resulted because Daggit delayed treatment in order to fulfill his mission. He'd never forgiven himself for that.

As it was, the Obsidian's EMH, Tessa, had resequenced Parva's genetic code. Her nervous system and cranial capacity had been restored. In fact, Parva not only no longer required braces to walk she'd also grown more efficient cognitively. She remembered more and remembered it faster. Her learning curve was off the books. But the procedure was illegal and had to be hidden from Federation authorities.

"Who has been here before?" Delain suddenly asked.

She looked at Rockford and the Angosian detective shook her head. P'ris also deferred. Daggit chose to answer, "I have and so has Parva. The only other member of the current team to do so is the Captain."

"Commander," Mudd corrected with a quip, "And that's it? C'mon, you people have a major rep for being bad asses."

"Everyone else transferred off of the team or has died," Macen said with some remorse.

"Died?" Mudd didn't like the sound of that option, "You people better not be getting me into trouble again. I almost didn't survive that last ruckus. If this goes down like that you're walking home."

"Would we do that to you again?" Rockford teased.

"Without a second thought," Mudd realized.

"Just so everyone is clear, you'd prefer to do it to us first and that's you're only objection," Rockford countered.

"Of course," Mudd said cheerfully, "I'm just a simple businesswoman trying to get by in a hostile galaxy."

"Try the Mirror Universe out and see how 'hostile' this one isn't," Macen quipped.

"What was that?" Mudd had heard rumors of an alternate dimension that people kept crossing over to and vice versa. She'd never given it much thought.

"Nothing. Wouldn't want to give you any ideas," Macen smirked.

 

Chapter Four

Macen noted the increased commercial and military traffic within the Iotian Federation. Most of their Starfleet was still comprised of ship analogues to Federation ships pre-dating 2270. But the numbers of Iotian analogues contiguous between 2371-2308 seemed to be high according to reports generated by DS4. It seemed to indicate that ships operating beyond the border were relatively more advanced than those defending the member systems.

Of course, the Iotian Federation operated similarly to the Terran Empire from the aforementioned Mirror Universe. The Iotians overwhelmed other planets and then offered them the "protection" of joining their federation. Many were pre-warp cultures and most of the rest were barely industrial.

Iotia itself had undergone democratic reforms but the thing that had happened was an Okmyx had been voted Boss for life. No changes in conduct or operations had occurred within the Iotian Starfleet. But the member worlds had all agreed to stay within the Iotian Federation's umbrella, whether due to fear or because of benefits to their societies remained debatable by outsiders.

The Freehold was led to a space station in orbit over Sigma Iotia II. Superficially the station resembled a massive ball with an equator formed by gantry arms and each arm ended in a round disc. The discs were surrounded by docking ports. Owing to the Iotians' copying the UFP Starfleet wholesale the docking ports were fairly universal.

Macen recognized the design. It was one that predated Starfleet's Spacedock. The Federation's version now orbited Mars and provided a living habitat for sprawling Utopia Planetia Yards. It was easy to observe dozens of commercial craft originating across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants were docked at various discs.

Mudd refused to allow Traffic Control guide her ship in. Instead Mudd piloted her vessel in manually. Despite the nattering traffic controller, Mudd expertly docked.

Iotia's version of Starfleet Security met the "crew" at the airlock. Mudd was marched off to meet with Fleet Admiral Garrond while everyone else was shown to the part of the station known as the Commons. One part Promenade and one part Concourse, the center of the station served a practical purpose by distracting its inhabitants and guests from the fact that although they weren't aboard their ships they still weren't on a planet.

The first place the group stopped at was an information kiosk. The fact that menu options were offered in the native tongues of thee Typhon Pact member nations bode ill. P'ris utilized that fact to call up data on recent history and download it onto the padds each team member carried.

Moving into a watering hole, they ordered drinks and sat down at a long table. Perusing their newly acquired information, they began to learn how the Iotian Federation had fallen under the Typhon Pact's sway.

The Obsidian had reached its destination. The corridor stretching between the space claimed by the Iotians Federation and Magna Roma lay before them. As the ship arrived, she stretched out with enhanced sensors.

Wyn Mesa was at the CONN, having relieved Aglaia, and was looking forward to a few high speed maneuvers. But so far the day looked like it would be dull. Zimbalist suddenly relieved her of that notion.

"We have a massive tachyon surge developing all around us," he announced, "Several vessels are decloaking."

"Jaycee, go to red alert and raise shields;" Forger ordered.

"Commander, the vessels include a D'deridex-class Warbird, A Breen battlecruiser, two Tholian Webspinners, a Gorn cruiser, a Tzenkethi battleship, and Andorian cruiser obviously descended from the Kumari-class;" Miller reported, "Should I charge phasers?"

Forger gave her a disbelieving look, "Do you really want to provoke this crowd?"

"The Andorians are hailing us," Miller hid her disappointment well.

The Andorian captain appeared on the main viewer, "I am Commander Terynshah ch'Raimi. You may refer to me as Teryn. State your business here."

"This is neutral space so my business remains my own," Forger replied.

Forger was rather gratified to see that irked the Andorian chan. The Andorian replied tersely, "This is Typhon Pact protectorate space. I suggest you leave before your violation of our space is ...misinterpreted."

"There's no one within ten thousand light years of this location," Forger pointed out, "Who exactly are you protecting?"

"Magna Roma is under our protection as is the Iotian Federation. It would be advisable for you to avoid these territories," Teryn advised.

"But we're well outside either state's borders," Forger protested.

Teryn nodded to an unseen subordinate and the Andorian cruiser fired on the Obsidian. Forger was incensed, "Are you nuts? Do you know what the repercussions for firing on a Federation ship, even a civilian one, are?"

Teryn wore a chilling smile, "As you pointed out this was neutral space. You had no claim over it to begin with and you certainly do not now. Our diplomats can clearly prove that this territory was ceded to us by the Federation. So I advise you leave while you still can."

"Um, Commander?" Miller gulped, "They've locked onto us."

"Who has?" Forger asked irritably.

"Everyone," Miller was loath to report.

"Wyn, get us out of here along the same course we came in on," Forger hated to order.

"They'd better give us some room or an accident might happen," Wyn grated.

Forger reopened the channel with Teryn, "You've made your point. We'll withdraw but I will be reporting this incident to my government."

Teryn laughed, "Please do. We do so love to hear Federation diplomats prattle on. After all, it's what they do best."

The screen reverted to an image of Typhon Pact ships parting ways to enable the Obsidian to withdraw. As soon as Wyn had cleared the warships, she engaged the warp drive and headed back to DS3 at Warp 6. Zimbalist was the first to speak.

"What if they've figured out the Captain is already in their territory?" he wondered.

"Then P'ris is probably having a helluva day," Forger commented, "Edwin, try and contact Deep Space Three as soon as we clear their jamming. We need to warn Reyes of the Typhon Pact's little territorial grab."

"What about the Captain?" Miller asked.

"I'm sure he already has found out about it, one way or the other;" Forger said direly.

In the Commons aboard the Iotian Starfleet Starbase One, the SID Team was surprised when Typhon Pact personnel began filtering into the bar they occupied. Of course, the Gorn and Tholians were presumably occupying other facilities with them specifically in mind. The sight of Breen congregating about was also incongruous since they wouldn't remove their helmets to imbibe or eat. They simply seemed to be there for the company.

The Romulans and the Andorians mingled amongst themselves and seemed to regard the Iotians with a certain amount of mistrust. Of course, the Romulans mingled an air of superiority into their paranoia. A new wave of Iotians also flooded the premises as many of the former occupants departed. It all indicated a change of watch had occurred.

P'ris seemed equanimous about it all but both Macen and Rockford could see the tightness around her eyes and mouth. There was a sense of terror in her eyes. But she was hiding it well.

"Are you going to be okay?" Macen whispered to her.

P'ris nodded stiffly, "As long as they do not challenge my ID papers provided by Angelique Kerber I should remain incognito."

Kerber was one of Macen's latest recruits for the SID team. Kerber was a cybernetics and programming specialist but she wasn't field personnel. She was more than content to remain behind and coordinate operations from her station back aboard the Obsidian.

Tony Burrows was also a recent recruit. Burrows was field personnel but Macen had thought that it would be suspicious if Mudd had too many strong hands aboard. Burrows was a former Starfleet Special Operations Command operative. So his skills nearly matched Daggit's. Burrow was also fully qualified as a field medic.

Macen had discovered that Burrows was a kendo master. So he had a new practice partner with a sword. Burrows had already proven to be a resourceful opponent. Burrows had demonstrated to Macen that his own skills had atrophied recently without having a practice partner.

Two Romulan officers approached. The senior officer, a centurion, spoke for the pair; "You! freighter wench! Why do you sit here with humans and Cardassians?"

"They are not human. One is El-Aurian and the other an Angosian," P'ris calmly replied.

"They are still Federation scum," The Centurion sneered.

"If they were truly accepted within the Federation's borders, would they still be here?" P'ris asked.

"As I said, scum;" the Centurion mocked her words, "And what kind of scum are you? Only exiles and undesirables spend their days and lives with aliens."

"And what kind of exemplary service have you provided the Star Empire to be posted in a backwater world to suffer my very fate?" P'ris retorted without thinking.

The Centurion's eyes narrowed, "Come with me. I think a little trip to the station's security office will reveal who you truly are."

As the Centurion moved forward to take hold of P'ris' arm, he heard a voice from behind him; "I wouldn't do that."

The Romulans both turned to find themselves facing down Mudd. The Centurion flicked his wrist and his subordinate began to encroach on Mudd. She simply drew a Type I "cricket" phaser from her sleeve holster and stunned the Romulan trooper.

The Centurion let loose with an inarticulate cry. Macen, Rockford, and Daggit were already on their feet aiming Bajoran Militia issue side arms at the Centurion. The Centurion was stymied and he knew it.

"How did you get weapons aboard this station?" the Centurion demanded to know.

"Fleet Admiral Garrond and I are old trading partners," Mudd informed him, "I cleared our carrying weapons with him before we ever arrived. And we get to carry throughout the duration of our stay."

"You'd best keep those very weapons by your side at all times," the Centurion warned, "Because the Imperial Fleet will not rest until you are slain."

"Yeah?" Mudd mocked him, "You and what army?"

"You really haven't figured out the realities on this station, have you?" the Centurion sneered, "The Typhon Pact rules here."

"Really? I thought this was an Iotian station," Mudd quipped.

"The Iotians serve our interests just as our other protectorates do," the Centurion kept running at the mouth, "They will be lining up beside us to have a piece of you."

"I'm crying already," Mudd scoffed.

"You will be, I promise;" the Centurion vowed.

"Sure, sure, it bored me the first time too;" Mudd stunned him as well. She stepped over her fallen foes, "Hurry up. I've got you fifteen minutes with Garrond."

"Why did he agree to meet with us?" Macen wondered.

"Because I made it one of the terms of my agreement with him," Mudd shared, "But he shaved off fifty bars of latinum in return. I expect to be compensated."

"You will be," Rockford promised before Macen could reply. Macen knew Rockford would pay Mudd out of her detective agency's coffers and then bill Outbound Ventures for it. Outbound Ventures, in turn, would bill Starfleet. So in essence Amanda Forger's division would ultimately foot the costs.

The Obsidian had docked at Deep Space Three an hour before Reyes could manage to get Forger in his office. Listening to her report, he let out a disconsolate sigh, "This only confirms what the Endeavor already discovered. We just thought the circumstances were contrived and Starfleet Command didn't lend the events credence."

"Well, they sure as hell better from now on," Forger snorted.

"The Endeavor, the Forager, and the Rutledge are our support vessels. In addition, we have four Saber-class ships assigned to border patrol," Reyes shared to Forger's curiosity, "They'd all detected what could have been cloaked ships moving across the Neutral Zone and back again. Then again, the Iotians have been traversing the Neutral Zone with impunity."

"And no one took your suspicions seriously?" Forger was baffled.

"Let me put it to you as plainly as I can," Reyes decided, "The only Starfleet permanently positioned asset further out than us is Deep Space Four at the end of the Neutral Zone and along the delineator with the Delta Quadrant. They've been seeing a massive movement into the Beta Quadrant's reaches by the Romulans and the Iotians. They seem to be coordinating their efforts."

"Then why doesn't..." Forger began.

Reyes held up a hand to ward off her inevitable protest, "We've received orders to observe the movements but not to react to them. These orders derive from the highest echelons of the chain of command."

"In other words, the same echelon that's deciding P'ris' fate;" Forger realized.

"Decided," Reyes informed Forger, "President Bacco agreed to extradite P'ris. If I were you, I'd tell your friend to avoid Federation space."

"How can I?" Forger wondered.

Reyes stood and moved over to a panel in his wall. After a retina scan cleared him, it opened up, revealing a wall safe. A second retina scan and a thumbprint accessed the safe. Reyes pulled out a single padd.

Reyes handed the padd to Forger, "Macen gave this to me before he left. I haven't read it. Besides I think it only opens up to your biometrics. I also think Macen saw this coming and has an idea of how you can help him. But I'll warn you; under no circumstances will you tell me what's on that padd or where you're going next."

"So I'll file a bogus flight plan when we depart," Forger stated.

Reyes looked pained, "I did not just hear that."

Forger quickly unlocked the padd and read its contents. Looking up she grinned, "Sometimes I love the Captain."

"Laren usually does too," Reyes shared, "Come to think about it, so does your sister on occasion."

"When she's not plotting his demise," Forger smirked, "Thank you, Captain. I think my crew and I will need immediate clearance to depart."

"You'll have it," Reyes promised.

Inside of Garrond's briefing room, the fleet admiral sat everyone down after dismissing his adjunct; "Harri tells me you've accepted a contract from the United Federation of Planets to do a fact finding mission concerning our own federation. All you have to do is report to your President Bacco that everything has gone according to her agreement with the Typhon Pact."

"Which agreement?" Macen managed to say will Daggit and Delain were stunned into silence. Rockford was listening intently while P'ris seemed dismayed.

"When we asked the UFP President to withdraw her diplomatic presence, she quickly complied. Afterwards she signed an agreement to effectively avoid our territory from now on," Garrond shared.

"And she knew you were being courted by the Typhon Pact at the time?" Macen inquired.

"It was a comprehensive agreement covering over a dozen nation states," Garrond bragged, "It was quite a get together."

"Bacco wouldn't have happened to write this agreement with Empress Donatra of the Star Empire and Imperator Shhr'hsss of the Gorn Hegemony about six months ago?" Macen asked.

"Exactly!" Garrond enthused.

"That was Section 31's tipping point," Macen said for his team's benefit.

"I'm beginning to see their point," Rockford remarked. Rockford, Delain, and Mudd had risked their lives to liberate Bacco from Section 31's clutches while the covert agency engineered a coup.

"Is there anything else you can share with us?" Macen wanted to know.

"Not without betraying our allies' confidences," Garrond admitted, "Now go before the Romulan press gangs find you."

"I've used the service routes before," Mudd shared, "We can get to the docking port unseen."

Garrond crossed the room and opened an access door recessed into the bulkhead, "I'm sure you'll find your own way, Harri."

Mudd guided the SID team through the service tunnels lining the station as a Jeffries tubes lined Federation starships. When they exited the tunnels, they approached the docking port the Freehold was tied to. Four Romulans stood vigil.

Despite their dock hand coveralls, the Romulans had a distinct military bearing. Romulans as a society had an inflated sense of self worth but these gentlemen took it to a new level. Mudd pulled out a small scanner.

"Garrond deactivated security's energy sensors in this area so we're weapons free without tripping any alarms," Mudd said happily.

"Then let's stun them and get aboard as fast as possible," Macen urged.

"On three then?" Mudd smirked.

After a three count, all four Romulans were down. The SID team boarded the freighter and waited for Mudd to complete her personal little ritual. She sealed all of the hatches and the airlocks before returning to the bridge.

Mudd signaled Ops and got a priority transit clearance courtesy of Garrond. Rockford eyed Mudd, "Just what did you sell him?"

"Why do you ask?" Mudd inquired as she detached the Freehold from the station and used RCS thrusters to clear the station's periphery. Afterwards she proceeded at full impulse.

"I would advise raising shields," P'ris advised Mudd, "My people are likely to be lying in wait throughout the Iotian Federation's borders."

"Great," Mudd grumped.

"You're avoiding the question, Harri;" Rockford pressed the point.

"Look, I figured Reyes gummed up those torps so when I cut the deal I pushed the idea of selling two dozen more to Garrond on my next visit into the Iotian Federation. Considering that they're likely to extend a 'shoot on sight' order after they figure out they were duped I leveraged myself to the breaking point," Mudd shared, "Was I wrong about the torpedoes."

Rockford smiled, "No, you were right."

"And thanks for telling me beforehand," Mudd said scornfully.

"Would you have told me?" Rockford countered.

Mudd thought about it and then laughed, "Hell, no."

"There you have it," Rockford said gracefully.

 

Chapter Five

"What's your ship doing out here?" Mudd drolly asked Macen.

"Waiting to receive us," Macen replied, "Then we'll be off of your ship and you can scoot on to DS3 and collect those fund transfers I authorized."

"In other words you expect trouble and you're getting me out of the way," Mudd conjectured, "Why else would you have your ship waiting at a backwater border? You're expecting trouble with Starfleet or you would have gone with me to DS3."

"Something like that," Macen confirmed.

"Okay Rockford, I have to admit. Spending time with you is never boring," Mudd said jovially.

Macen stepped into the Obsidian's bridge, "Shannon, I need you in my Ready Room. You too, P'ris."

In private, Macen shared with them; "As soon as the Freehold is out of sensor range, we're going to be met by another ship. P'ris, you'll be going aboard it."

"Why?" this prospect alarmed her.

"If Shannon is here then Bacco decided to trade you off. I'm not going to let that happen. But I'm also an obvious target so Starfleet is going to throw everything in the region at me," Macen shared, "I'll keep them busy while you travel to the Cardassian Union. Castellan Rekena Garan owed me a favor. She's paying it off by granting you sanctuary."

"Cardassia?" P'ris said with some revulsion.

"Think of it this way, you won't be cold all the time anymore;" Macen tried to encourage her.

"But you promised that you would protect me," P'ris said a tad desperately.

"I can't. Not anymore," Macen said, "But I have a friend that will personally oversee your safety. She's been in charge of Katreen Dervin's safety for over a decade now so she's amply skilled and equipped to shelter you as well."

"And his name would be?" P'ris inquired.

"Her name is Lyoti Mariska. She's a dal in the Cardassian Guard so she has the authority to go with her expertise. She'll care for you as though you were own sibling," Macen assured P'ris.

"Do I even have a choice in this matter?" P'ris wondered.

"Not really," Macen gently informed her, "It's this or be captured by Starfleet and handed over to Sela."

"What about the uncharted regions?" P'ris wanted to know, "Could I not seek shelter there?"

"You'd always be on the run," Macen replied, "I've lived that way. I wouldn't recommend it."

P'ris fretted before Macen added, "And I'm certain Bacco will offer to conduct a joint search effort with the Imperial Fleet."

"But my people and yours will work at cross purposes," P'ris predicted, "It shall end badly."

"Maybe. Maybe not," Macen commented, "We managed to smooth things over long enough to win the Dominion War."

"Captain, the Defiant just decloaked off of our port bow," Zimbalist reported.

The trio exited the Ready Room. Macen had a discreet word with Miller and she frowned, "I've never heard of anyone using that bandwidth for communications."

"It's a Maquis trick," Macen told her.

"Will the Defiant be looking for this message?" Miller wondered.

Macen grinned, "Her captain taught me this trick. Just hail her."

"How long have they been waiting for us?" Zimbalist wanted to know.

"They were probably here before you were," Macen assured him.

"But Deep Space Nine is on the other side of the Federation," Forger pointed out.

"Ro was pulled out here to lead a rescue mission should the negotiations stalled. With Bacco finding an alternative to negotiating, Ro was freed up;" Macen explained, "Jaycee, do you have her?"

"Yup," Miller perkily confirmed it.

"I'll take it in my Ready Room," Macen instructed.

"You're late," Ro said a mite testily.

"The timing was an estimate and you know it," Macen replied.

"Well, while you've been gallivanting about I have an entire station and the admiralty wondering where I am," Ro informed him, "I'm running a story of a 'classified mission' for the crew but I had to invoke a communications blackout in order to avoid the crew finding out about the arrest and detain order concerning P'ris."

Macen's comm badge chirped and Zimbalist's voice filtered into he conversation, "Captain, Admiral Akaar wants to speak with you."

"Tell him I'm busy," Macen replied.

"Akaar will not appreciate that approach," Ro warned.

"Maybe his irritation will slow down his deductive reasoning," Macen theorized.

"Not likely," Ro snorted, "Let's hurry up this transfer so I can get the hell out of here and at least get within sight of Cardassia before they roll out all the guns to stop me."

"Have your transporter chief contact Telrik," Macen instructed, "We'll be there in five minutes."

"Will do. Out," Ro acknowledged.

Macen joined P'ris on the bridge, "I guess packing is out of bounds."

"I shall manage," P'ris was being stoic again; "After all, I have been without a home or world for some time now."

"I'll escort you," Macen offered, "Akaar can wait that long."

Rockford was waiting for them inside the transporter room. Seeing P'ris' surprised reaction, Rockford shrugged; "Shannon let me know you were leaving."

P'ris nodded, "It is good to say our farewells."

Rockford wore a sad smile, "I'm sorry for this, Talera. I actually never wanted it to come down to this even knowing you had intentions towards my husband once upon a time."

P'ris smiled, "True, but he wasn't your husband yet."

Rockford's smile turned to one of amusement, "A minor technicality."

"Yes, but it was an important one;" P'ris decided, "But it soon became apparent you had no rival in the Captain's eyes."

"So that's why you backed down," Rockford mused, "You never seemed the shy and retiring type."

"Um...ladies? Can we not discuss my life as though I'm not here?" Macen wondered.

P'ris leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, "Thank you for all of your efforts. I am grateful our exchanges of weapons fire never killed you."

"If you ever need us, just call;" Macen urged.

"I shall," P'ris promised as she stepped onto a transporter pad, "I am ready when you are, kind Telrik."

"Yes, ma'am;" Telrik replied crisply.

After P'ris had dissolved in a halo of energy, Rockford turned to Macen; "I never thought she'd be the type to tear up."

"She'd thought she'd already lost everything but she just found out there's always something more that can be torn from you," Macen said from intimate experience.

Zimbalist commed Macen, "Sir, the Defiant has cloaked and is presumably underway. And Admiral Akaar sounds mad enough to order a torpedo strike on us."

"Tell him I'll be with him in ten more minutes," Macen ordered.

Zimbalist sighed, "Yessir."

"Ten?" Rockford was surprised, "It'll take you five tops to get to the bridge."

"Akaar's been waiting all this time, I'm sure he can stand another ten minutes;" Macen chuckled.

"Brin?" Rockford was uncertain, "Akaar is Cappellan. They take this sort of thing personally."

"Good," Macen asserted.

"Just don't get us all killed," Rockford pleaded.

"Trust me, I promise we'll be fine. We just need to be the fox for the hounds long enough for Ro and P'ris to get away," Macen tried to encourage her.

"Promises, promises. That's all I ever get;" Rockford complained.

"You'd better get Ziva ready. It's going to get bumpy and there may even be a boarding action or two," Macen warned.

"Is it any wonder why I hate starships?" Rockford groaned.

"Can't be helped," Macen shrugged.

This time Forger called, "Captain? He's getting pissed off."

Macen grinned.

Akaar's stern visage appeared on Macen's screen in the El-Aurian's Ready Room. The centenarian was visibly angry, ""Just what the hell are you playing at, Captain? I've been waiting for almost thirty minutes."

"I'd say it's a good thing there's a complete network of subspace buoys between us then because otherwise you'd be waiting for weeks," Macen quipped.

"Cute," Akaar growled, "Forger, Nechayev, and Johnson warned me about you. I don't care what they allow, don't play cute with me."

"Is that why you called?" Macen inquired, "To deliver a stern lecture?"

"Nechayev shared the younger Forger's report with the Council separately and we all confered and I was elected to bump it up to Jellico. He, in turn, reported directly to the President," Akaar shared.

"And her response was?" Macen wondered.

"She's holding a press conference as we speak," Akaar stated, "And she's ordered you to turn over Commander P'ris to Starfleet so that she can be remanded over to Romulan custody."

"Oh really?" Macen asked snidely.

"You can always find another employee to fill her slot on the team," Akaar advised him.

"She's not my employee," Macen retorted, "She's my client. She hired me to protect her from the Tal Shiar. I put her on my SID team to keep her close so I could fulfill that contract."

"Let me understand this, you put her life in jeopardy on a regular basis in order to protect her?" Akaar was incredulous.

"That sums it up," Macen concurred.

"Are you going to defy presidential orders and refuse to surrender this woman?" Akaar wanted to know.

"If I have to," Macen promised, "But I'm hoping saner heads will prevail."

"Don't do this. You'll be throwing away your life," Akaar warned.

"I've done so several times already and I've always managed to come back from the brink," Macen assured him.

"You won't this time," Akaar promised, "In fact; you might not even survive the experience."

"So be it. Was there anything else?" Macen inquired.

"You're a brave man, Macen. An utter fool but brave nonetheless," Akaar commented.

Macen's screen went dark she he rejoined everyone on the bridge. Moving to Wyn Mesa's side, he ordered the Bajoran to set course for the Briar Patch. She called up the coordinates on her nav charts.

"That's quite a ways away," she reminded Macen, "And it's restricted space."

"That's why we're going," Macen remarked, "No one will expect it."

"So we're playing hide and seek?" Forger asked.

Macen smiled, "Exactly."

Starfleet Commander-in-Chief, Fleet Admiral Edward Jellico finished speaking with Leonard James Akaar and scowled. Knowing what he had to do next, he genuinely despised this moment. While he vehemently opposed Bacco's decision, Macen was being a pigheaded jackass by defying a legitimate presidential order. Of course, Bacco's actions leading up to this moment may have been highly questionable.

Contacting the President's office directly, Jellico spoke with Bacco and explained the situation. Bacco scowled, "How disappointing. I thought Macen was smarter than this. It's one life versus over four hundred."

"Macen doesn't play that kind of mental calculus. It's cultural baggage from being an El-Aurian," Jellico explained, "It's only been accentuated by their loss of population after the Borg assimilation of their race and the disappearance of hundreds of them into the Nexus."

"I understand you have a contingency in place for this event," Bacco said.

"Yes, we've kept Captains Ro and Reyes out of the loop owing to their strong ties to Macen," Jellico stated.

"Should they be relieved from duty?" Bacco wondered.

"No," Jellico grated, "They are loyal officers. They might just be a little liberal in interpreting orders in this case."

"I want them both removed from their respective posts and confined to quarters. Impose a communications blackout on both of them. I don't want them talking to Macen," Bacco ordered.

"That isn't necessary," Jellico insisted.

"Do I have to ask for your resignation, Admiral?" Bacco asked archly.

"No, Madam President," Jellico struggled to contain his fury.

"Then do as I've instructed," Bacco ordered before severing the connection.

Jellico decided not to tell Bacco that Ro wasn't even aboard Deep Space Nine at that moment and that no one truly knew where she even was.

Akaar was in oversight command of the task force delegated to bring Macen in. He had the Nebula-class USS Endeavor rerouted from DS3's command to lead the search. Also, two Akira-class cruisers, the Sentinel and the Specter, were also designated to play a part in it. Two Prudence-class starships, the Pegasus and the Friendship, were pulled off of patrol to join the task force, and finally two Intrepid-class vessels, the Bellerophon and the Saladin joined as well.

The ships all converged on the Federation's border with the Iotians. The idea was to box Macen in within the sector. Akaar watched the plot adjust in nearly real time. Nechayev and Amanda Forger had warned Jellico how Macen would react which is how this grouping had been thrown together so fast.

Nechayev and Forger couldn't blame Macen his feelings. Bob Johnson didn't either despite being at the forefront of the negotiations with Sela. But Jellico had decided to side with Akaar and Edward Noyce on this. Macen would be hunted down like a criminal and P'ris would be forcibly removed from his custody. Afterwards, the official charges would flow like water.

Starfleet converged on the area Macen was suspected to be at. The Endeavor arrived first. The starship's sensors swept the area for a Nova-class surveyor. Intelligence had the ship fully loaded with a Starfleet issue trim. Which meant the Obsidian was armed. It also meant she couldn't exceed Warp 8.

Captain Talia Alvarez of the Endeavor was the senior officer so she assumed control of the task force as it arrived. She deployed the ships in a wide search pattern looking for residual signs of the Obsidian. The ever expanding net wasn't yielding any signs of their quarry.

Sensor sweeps were being clouded by a massive subspace distortion. It seems a matter-antimatter annihilation occurred here. It was likely Macen had intermixed an antideuterium pod with a deuterium pod through an unregulated fusing. It had the effect of sweeping away warp signatures. It was a Maquis trick and Alvarez suddenly realized she needed to know more about Brin Macen and his crew.

Starfleet Intelligence provided a vetted version of Macen's personnel file and the file on his SID activities. Alvarez could plainly see the file omitted far more than it shared. She smelled covert operations all over this mess. And that meant her hunt was going to be far more difficult than she was led to believe.

Alvarez was disturbed on many levels be this operation. If Macen were a privateer employed by the secretive Special Investigations Division than he could possibly be a security risk. And this behavior was first indicated while he served undercover with the Maquis where he so effectively meshed with Ro Laren's cell that arrest warrants were issued in his name.

Yet despite these facts, Ro was now a respected Starfleet captain and Macen was a revered figure amongst the Intelligence community. So what was the truth? Was Macen an actual threat or was his only crime protecting a friend from an order he didn't like? Either way, what he was doing would still construed as being illegal so Alvarez's duty to track him down was inarguable.

At the edge of the distortion field, the Pegasus detected a warp signature headed back to DS3. Alvarez discounted that one. At another edge, the Bellerophon detected not one but two subspace wakes. Both with the same warp signature.

Alvarez quickly contacted the Klingon Defense Force and put them on alert as to a possible attempt by the Obsidian to cross the border. She issued a capture and detain request. She then ordered Captain Selima Hussein of the Saladin along with the Friendship and the Pegasus to pursue the Klingon route.

The other warp trail ventured off towards the Federation's border with the Klingons but the vector would keep it on the Federation side of the divide. The Bellerophon set out after this clue. The Endeavor, the Sentinel, and the Specter's best speeds would be hampered by the distortion field but they would catch up as soon as they were able. As it was, the task force had lost six hours sniffing around for a trail to follow.

Captain Martin Harriman of the Bellerophon knew that a Nova-class ship's best speed was far below his. At Warp 9, the Bellerophon would overtake the Obsidian without putting too much stress upon her engines. Harriman sat back and mentally gloated at being the one to capture the renegade ship.

One hour later...

Harriman was mentally cursing at this point. They'd reached an interstellar trade crossroads and the Obsidian's trail had disappeared. It hadn't just been muddled by the intersecting warp signatures, it had utterly vanished.

Harriman began sensor sweeps of the area while waiting for Alvarez and her group to arrive to assist. It soon dawned on Harriman that the Obsidian's engineers had effectively altered the ship's warp signature on the fly. That was a task that was difficult enough in a port facility. Of Starfleet's engineering staff, only B'Ellana Torres had pulled off the feat with a starship. Which mean someone aboard the surveyor was a certifiable genius.

 

Chapter Six

"Any signs of pursuit?" Macen inquired.

"Still none," Zimbalist said with great relief, "Parva's magic seems to be throwing them off. Where did s learn how to do that?"

"Chakotay once told me B'Elanna Torres could manage it so I simply challenged Parva to do the same," Macen chuckled, "She couldn't resist the challenge."

Macen looked towards Miller, "Jaycee, has security been posted to all decks?"

"Jelena has dispersed security throughout the ship in four man teams on each deck. Daggit is bolstering security inside of Engineering and Detectives Rockford and Delain have secured Sickbay," Miller stated, "Assuming that Starfleet will board us."

"If they stop us they will," Macen promised her, "I had Tessa rig a tricorder to emulate Romulans biosigns and Galen 3 has devised a lookalike hologram."

"That'll draw them in," Miller muttered miserably.

"Wyn, how long until we reach the Briar Patch?" Mace asked the Bajoran pilot.

"Eight hours and four minutes," Wyn answered ruefully.

"Go to maximum warp," Macen ordered, "And be advised, when we reach the Briar patch you'll have to reduce to one third impulse."

"Why?" Wyn was incredulous.

"Because the local gases will burn out our impulse manifolds otherwise," Macen explained.

"Why are we running so fast if Starfleet can't track us?" Wyn complained.

"Because Parva managed to alter our warp signature within range of a navigation buoy. If the buoy got a recording of that event, and Starfleet finally figures out to check the buoy records, they'll be after us," Macen revealed.

"That could be bad," Wyn mastered understatement all at once.

Starfleet Task Force, Element A

Alvarez cursed as a five hour search ended. It had taken a cadet on a middie cruise to suggest searching the logs of the navigation buoys to acquire the signature shift the Obsidian had undergone. Alvarez had ripped her officers a new one and in turn they'd ripped apart their subordinates. Even the cadet got reamed as the XO chewed her out for not speaking up earlier.

Alvarez recalled Element B of her task force, who'd turned out to be chasing a probe. They'd rendezvous near the Briar Patch. Alvarez now thought that was where Macen was headed. Either way, this hunt would end soon.

Three hours and four minutes later...

"Ugly mess," Wyn muttered as another gravitic eddy push clouds of noxious gases against the Obsidian's hull. Macen had been right, she decided. This was and remained a navigational nightmare.

Although it's probably great to hide in, Wyn thought with great amusement.

"It gets better," Macen assured his helmswoman.

"When?" Wyn asked.

"When you near Ba'ku or exit altogether," Macen said.

"Do we have coordinates to aim for or are we just getting hopelessly lost with a purpose?" Wyn inquired.

"Lost with a purpose," Macen answered.

"Figures," Wyn dismally replied, "For how long?"

"Six days and then we can surrender," Macen informed her.

"Even better," she murmured.

"Are you going to tell the crew that last bit?" Shannon Forger wondered.

"Yup," Macen said as he keyed the intercom to make a ship wide announcement.

Day One...

Starfleet Task Force, Element A arrived at the Briar Patch to discover the Obsidian had already entered in. The Specter, Sentinel, and Bellerophon were deployed in a triangular formation outside of the Briar Patch. They could easily maintain communications with each other and Starfleet Command. And, their sensors could sweep the areas assigned to them and marginally overlap their brethren's sensor grid.

Meanwhile, the Endeavor ventured into the Briar Patch. Inside of the Patch, Starfleet had built a small station, designated Starbase 699. Two starships were assigned to it as well. The Bremen-class frigate USS Tirana and the Eagle-class heavy cruiser USS Hudson were the designated explorers of the Briar Patch and the defenders of the Ba'ku. Only the Son'a had unrestricted access to the planet and its settlers.

The Hudson had already discovered other planets within the Briar Patch while the Tirana's patrols had roosted out several smuggler camps. The Endeavor called through the interference the Patch created and informed the two starships that the Obsidian was within their designated area and was a renegade fleeing Starfleet's wrath. Both starships were ordered to secure Ba'ku and the known planets within the Briar Patch in case the Obsidian should seek refuge on them.

Finding that Macen hadn't charted a course to Ba'ku, Alvarez ordered her CONN Officer to devise a search pattern and implement it. Alvarez was already wishing Hussein and her group had rejoined the others so that it could free up Element A to join in the search within the Briar Patch itself. She already had a foreboding feeling this would drag on for days.

Day Two...

The Saladin, Friendship, and Pegasus had rejoined the main task force and relieved the Sentinel, Specter, and Bellerophon so they could enter the Briar Patch and assist the Endeavor's searches. They then spent the next three days futilely roaming the Briar Patch. At Day Four Alvarez exited the Patch to send a clear transmission requesting reinforcements from Starfleet. On Day Five, Alvarez was still awaiting support and growing increasingly frustrated.

Day Six...

"We've got another contact," Zimbalist announced.

"Run and hide again?" Wyn asked irritably.

"Not this time," Macen decided, "We've hidden for long enough."

"Thank the Prophets!" Wyn exclaimed as she straightened in her seat.

"Approach her dorsal plane and camp us out right over her saucer section," Macen instructed Wyn, "Match her course and speed."

"I like it already," Wyn blurted as she went to work on her LCARS controls.

"Isn't this a teensy bit stupid?" Forger had to ask.

"Wyn likes it," Macen replied.

"That only reinforces my point," Forger argued.

"Hey!" Wyn yelped.

"The Endeavor has been running the same search pattern for three days. Wyn knows it in her sleep," Macen asserted.

"Probably because she has been asleep for the last three days," Forger said drolly, "And I'll give you that it's ballsy but it's still stupid."

Starfleet Command

"Why is the Defiant listed amongst the ships reporting to the Briar Patch?" Akaar asked the Deputy Chief of Operations as he studied the main plot.

"Deep Space Nine reported that Captain Ro had laid over at Deep Space Three for an extended period. Ro herself contacted Captain Alvarez two days ago and volunteered to assist in the hunt for Macen," Captain Lenore Cassidy explained, "She said her personal expertise could prove invaluable."

"The problem is, Captain, that Ro was relieved of her command six days ago," Akaar grated, "She should have been detained by Lt. Commander Tenmei by now and transferred to custody on Deep Space Nine so Colonel Cenn could take officially assume full command and lock his captain in her quarters."

"So we should inform Alvarez?" Cassidy wondered.

"Ro isn't reporting to Alvarez," Akaar rumbled from deep in his chest, "She's defying orders and helping Macen."

"She would have made it back to Deep Space Nine by now if she continued on to where she was supposed to be," Cassidy replied.

"Or she should just be arriving if she delayed long enough to rendezvous with Macen," Akaar realized, "But returning to DS9 or Bajor would only exacerbate her problem if Macen transferred P'ris over to the Defiant. Unless..."

Akaar's eyes went wide, "Alert the Border Patrol along Cardassian lines. Ro's taking the Defiant into the Cardassian Union and she's taking the fugitive with her."

"I'll inform them at once," Cassidy nodded briskly and headed off to a comm panel.

Akaar leaned across the railing separating the overseer's deck from the main plot, "Very clever, Macen. But all you've done is cost Ro her captaincy and her career."

Akaar alerted Jellico of his suspicions. Jellico bounced it up to Bacco. Bacco informed Donatra and then tried to reach Garan. Stymied on that front, she wondered what Donatra's Typhon Pact allies could do about it?

The Briar Patch...

"Sir!" Zimbalist suddenly yelped, "When the Endeavor cleared into the open space around the undesignated planet, three other Starfleet ships converged on her."

"I told you this was stupid," Forger muttered.

"Wyn, set course .90 and engage at one third impulse," Macen ordered.

"Remind me again of why we can't run like hell?" Wyn queried Macen as she implemented his instructions.

"Because we'll burn out the plasma manifolds if we go faster no matter what Parva does," Macen reminded her, "And I'll point every finger I have at you if you burn them out."

"Shields raised," Miller reported, "Should I charge weapons?"

"No, that will only provoke them;" Macen remarked.

"Like camping on top of a starship wasn't a thumb up their nose?" Miller wanted to know.

Macen just gave Miller a wry look. Zimbalist reported what they didn't want to hear, "Every Starfleet vessel is now pursuing us."

"Is it time for the Riker Maneuver?" Forger pointedly asked.

"Set it up," Macen instructed.

Forger had engineering utilize the nacelle's ram scoops to collect the gases native to the region. On the bridge, Macen asked Miller how their pursuers were lined up.

"Three ships are directly behind us and the Sentinel is the lone outrider all at fifty thousand kilometers astern," Miller reported.

"Release the gas and ignite it with phaser fire when we clear ten thousand kilometers of the discharge," Macen requested.

Miller watched her board and finally announced she was firing. The gases ignited into a plasma field, effectively blocking three of the Starfleet ships from a direct pursuit course. But the Sentinel was clear of the discharge was coming in strong.

"They're locking phasers," Miller warned.

"Evasive," Macen told Wyn.

The Sentinel fired and the ship and plasma plumes ignited around the energy beam. The Sentinel ran into the plasma field of its own creating while the Obsidian shrugged off the particle beam attack and plunged further into the clouds. But the Sentinel refused to break off and fired three torpedoes in rapid succession.

Two went astray but the third found its target. Now Macen's tactics worked against him as the detonation ignited the gases around his ship, "Damage report."

"Shields are already down to fifty-seven percent," Miller said grimly.

"This is starting to get a little dicey," Macen realized. Starfleet would destroy them while simply trying to cripple them, "Wyn, it's time to prove why Ro recommended you for the job."

"I'd love to," Wyn beamed, "Hold on `cause the inertial damper won't keep up."

Cardassian-Federation Border...

"Captain, the Border Patrol is setting up a tachyon net directly in our path," Dalin Zivan Slaine reported to Ro.

"Why are we cloaked anyway?" Prynn Tenmei asked from CONN/OPS.

Ro decided to come clean, "Starfleet wants our passenger. She's defector that gave the Federation information that enabled us to avoid a war with the Gorn. In response, the Romulans put a death mark over her head and she had to seek asylum in the Federation. Her reward for this act is the President's decision to rescind the asylum and to hand her over to the people that want her dead."

"The hell with that!" Prynn cried out, "Dad told me about P'ris. There's no way I'm simply handing her over."

"Why are we headed into Cardassian space?" Slaine asked the obvious question but it meant more to her since it was home territory.

"Castellan Garan has agreed to shelter P'ris," Ro explained, "And she's enacted the gesture as policy to be followed for as long as P'ris lives."

"By the way, we're across the border;" Tenmei slipped in, "I got us through in a high speed run through the tachyon net."

"Now we see if Starfleet wants her bad enough to violate my people's space," Slaine commented.

Ro felt the same way, "Keep sensors banging away. I want to know if those ships make a move to cross the border."

"Captain!" Slaine was alarmed, "Two Romulan Warbirds are decloaking dead astern."

"Evasive!" Ro ordered.

The Warbirds fired on the Defiant's last position. Ro realized what had been long suspected, "They can see through our cloak. Drop and raise shields. Charge the weapons systems and get ready to defend ourselves."

"Captain, I did as you requested and I took the liberty of contacting the Cardassian Guard," Slaine admitted, "A squadron has been looking for our arrival as per Captain Macen's instructions."

Ro decided right then and there she was going to kiss Macen at their next meeting, Rockford or no Rockford; "Good work, Slaine."

"Oh hell," Tenmei suddenly said ominously.

Ro looked forward and the viewer revealed why Tenmei's disposition had changed. Before them Tholian, Gorn, Breen, Tzenkethi, and Andorian warships had decloaked.

Ro scowled, "I see your point."

Briar Patch...

Wyn had turned the Obsidian around using impulse engines combined with an insane amount of RCS thruster burns. She flew the ship straight back at the Starfleet group. Not relenting she allowed them to lock phasers and began to fire as she passed between two of the starships,

Having locked onto the Obsidian, the Sentinel and the Specter weren't prepared for Wyn's barrel roll over the Specter and the two Akira-class ships fired on one another. The Bellerophon's commander, agitated by this result launched another barrage of torpedoes. All of which detonated near her brethren starships and buffeting them with a plasma wave.

Wyn made a run at the Endeavor and then broke off at the last second. The Bellerophon fired more torpedoes and they weren't so merciful. Alvarez finally overrode all the subspace chatter and got the various starship captains to cease fire. It was then that they all realized they'd lost track of the Obsidian once again.

The Obsidian emerged from the Briar Patch's clouds to find two starships converging on her position. The Friendship and the Pegasus had also alerted the Saladin and the other ships tasked with finding Macen.

One of those messages went further afield then the rest and Macen was dismayed as a Vespa-class starship disengaged its quantum slipstream drive to intercept the Obsidian. Macen didn't even need to query her ID transponder to know it was the Aventine.

"They're hailing," Miller said sullenly.

"Put it on the main viewer," Macen requested.

Ezri Dax's features formed on the viewer. She did not look pleased, "Captain Macen, I believe I told you we needed to stop meeting under dire circumstances at out last meeting. This isn't the type of change that I had in mind."

"Trust me Captain, it isn't mine either;" Macen shared.

"You'll be happy to know that Captain Ro made it into Cardassian space but at last report she was being engaged by a Typhon Pact task force similar to the one that you've run ragged," Dax informed him.

"And I suppose it's just coincidence that the Romulans knew where Ro might be?" Macen inquired.

"I don't like it either but she's there and I'm here," Dax told him, "And I'm specifically here to arrest you."

"What about my crew?" Macen wondered.

"They'll be confined to quarters while a prize crew takes the ship back to Earth," Dax announced, "But you and the SID team will be placed in the Aventine's brig. Sorry."

"I'll let them know so there won't be any misunderstandings," Macen replied, "Give us five minutes and we'll be prepared to greet you."

"Peacefully I hope," Dax fervently wished.

Cardassian Border...

"We're surrounded," Slaine said with disgust.

"I might be able to..." Tenmei began to suggest.

"Ease of on that idea," Ro instructed, "Just be ready to punch us free at a moment's notice."

"You're betting on the Cardassian Guard?" Tenmei wondered.

"I've already won that bet," Ro boasted.

Twelve Galor-class cruisers and six Keldon-class battlecruisers accompanied them. Slaine swiveled her seat to face Ro, "The squadron is led by Legate Ocett. She's hailing the Typhon Pact commander. The Romulans are replying."

"Ocett made Legate? Can you get us in on that conversation?" Ro wanted to know.

"No, Ocett is using the same encryption the Obsidian Order used to stay in contact with the Tal Shiar. It has never been released to Starfleet and it is only accessible Legate ranked commanders of an Order," Slaine explained.

Ro was increasingly curious, "What Order does Ocett now command?"

"She commands the Ninth Order," Slaine revealed, "The Typhon Pact ships are cloaking and subspace eddies indicate they are breaking off."

Slaine turned towards Ro again, "The Gormek is hailing us. Legate Ocett herself wished to speak to you."

"On screen," Ro said unnecessarily.

Malyn Ocett's features filled the viewscreen, "Greetings Captain Ro, I bring you tidings from Castellan Garan."

"Is she prepared to honor the bargain?" Ro had to know.

"Would I be here otherwise? And with Starfleet at our border demanding we surrender your guest?" Ocett dryly asked.

"I'm curious, how has Mariska arranged for P'ris' safety?" Ro wanted to know.

"Dal Mariska has placed Commander P'ris within the royal residence. The Queen's own guard detachment will also protect the Commander," Ocett explained.

"Fair enough," Ro conceded, "I'll inform her that she's disembarking and escort her to the transporter room myself."

I look forward to meeting such a remarkable woman. I await the conversations that we shall have," Ocett purred.

The screen reverted to a view of the Cardassian squadron. Ro rose from her seat, "Tenmei, you have the bridge."

"I am surprised that you agreed to Captain Macen's plan," P'ris admitted as they moved through the corridors, "I was under the impression you did not care for me."

"I don't," Ro confessed, "But if this is the price for getting you out of Brin's life then I'll pay it."

"But you have sacrificed your Starfleet career," P'ris was aghast.

Ro shrugged, "It wouldn't be the first time."

"I shall never understand Bajorans. I sacrificed all in order to preserve a greater good and spare the lives of trillions. What of you?" P'ris needed to know.

"I just have a different perspective on the greater good," Ro shared, "I'm willing to put my life on the line for a single individual I care about. That isn't a Romulan credo. But don't worry, Bajorans understand your people all too well."

Ro's eyes hardened, "Legate Ocett is waiting for you."

"And you cannot be rid of me soon enough," P'ris nodded, "Very well, Captain. Inform Captain Macen I shall be eternally grateful."

"Sure," Ro said curtly and then she returned to the bridge. Slaine turned to her again, "Transporter Room reports that Commander P'ris is away."

"Set course for Deep Space Nine," Ro said heavily, "I have a court martial to prepare for."

 

Chapter Seven

One week later...

The Council of Five held a special tribunal. Starfleet's JAG Corps was not invited and the defendants did not receive counsel. Nor would their sentences ever be made public.

Jellico was the sole observer of the meeting. Akaar called the tribunal to order, "Captain Ro Laren and Captain Brin Macen, you are here to receive administrative justice for violating presidential orders and assisting a fugitive from justice."

"What was P'ris accused of?" Macen wondered.

"You are out of order," Akaar snapped, "But if you want to know, she was charged with treason."

"Against whom?" Macen had to ask, "She wasn't a Federation citizen so she couldn't be charged with treason against this government only espionage. But I think the charge is rather profound in that count. P'ris was only accused of treason by the Romulan Star Empire. So are we now administrating Romulan justice?"

"One more outburst and you will be tried in absentia, understood?" Akaar threatened.

""How do you plead?" Nechayev interrupted.

"Not guilty on the basis that the orders were illegal in the first place," Ro asserted, "Like Macen asked, are we police officers for the Romulans now?"

"We are not here to discuss the purview of diplomats," Akaar countered.

"I think we are," Macen rebutted him, "That's what this is all about. We stood to make points with the Romulans if we gave them back one of their own despite the fact that she did prevent us from going into a manufactured war with the Gorn. A war manufactured by the Romulans themselves. So why are seeking to reward them?"

"Do I detect an accusation here?" Akaar asked while his fellow admirals fell gravely silent.

"It is what it is," Macen allowed.

"We are adjourned and shall reconvene in forty-five minutes," Akaar announced.

Macen and Ro were taken to a side room. Ro looked concerned, "I know my staff on DS9 is fine but what about your team? Weren't they detained as well?"

"The ship's logs showed that the team knew next to nothing of my plans and took no actions to impede Starfleet in their pursuit," Macen shared, "And my crew isn't contractually obligated to Starfleet so their escaping unscathed."

"Cenn is probably panicking over being in command," Ro chuckled.

"Shannon's probably gloating," Macen mused.

They avoided discussing the trial except to note that the tribunal had no legal authority. But they consensually agreed that wouldn't matter. If things played through Bacco's way they'd be buried in a hole so deep no one would err find them.

Then the door slid opened and a Starfleet lieutenant stood in the opening, "They're ready for you."

The hearing resumed as soon as Macen and Ro got to their seats. Akaar spoke for the group, "Your defense is purely conjectural yet it also raises a good many questions. Questions that need to be answered. However, this isn't a forum to explore those questions. To be blunt, this is a forum to figure out just what the hell to do with the two of you."

Akaar was warming into his topic, "You two have consistently broken the chain of command throughout your careers, especially after your involvement with the Maquis. This sole point needs to be addressed."

Akaar addressed Ro, "Captain Ro, your service after joining the Bajoran Militia has been exemplary until now. But you have demonstrated that your skills and temperament are suited for tasks other than commanding a starbase. Therefore you are being removed as Commanding Officer of Deep Space Nine effective immediately."

Ro accepted this news with grim stoicism as Akaar continued, "And your insubordination regarding lawfully, if questionably, issued orders strikes at the very heart of whether or not you can continue commanding a starship. It is the consensus of this quorum that you are unable to. In order to spare you and the service the embarrassment of a court martial you are being asked to tender your resignation from Starfleet."

"Gladly," Ro threw back at him.

"Captain Macen, you are a civilian contractor with the Special Investigations Division. Therefore are not being asked to resign but your status as a contract is being revoked. No further SID contracts will be offered to you. Am I understood?" Akaar put forth.

"Clearly," Macen evenly replied.

"Good," Akaar nodded, "Lieutenant, escort them to the waiting room."

Macen and Ro waited for twenty minutes before the door opened and Admiral Jellico entered in. Macen gave him a dubious look, "Come to gloat?"

"Actually I'm setting the story straight," Jellico said as he sat down, "That little circus was for President Bacco's consumption."

"So it wasn't real?" Ro asked.

"Oh, it was real enough but it also doesn't carry any legal weight," Jellico revealed, "We need the illusion to last long enough for the pair of you to uncover just how far President Bacco's complicity with the Typhon Pact in general and the Romulans in particular goes. It seems that Section 31 was on to something after all."

"You want us to spy on a sitting Federation President?" Macen sought clarification.

"Yes," Jellico replied, "And I want you to turn over any evidence to the Attorney General."

"Do you know how many laws this is going to violate?" Ro needed to know.

"Forty-three to be precise," Jellico readily replied, "Which is why a serving Starfleet officer, or a current Starfleet employee, cannot be the ones doing it."

"You're seriously scaring me," Ro stated, "What happened to the real Admiral Jellico?"

Jellico sighed, "Ro, Macen, we're desperate. We had to contrive this solution in order to satisfy Bacco's lust for revenge for making her look bad before the Romulans."

"That motive alone says a lot," Macen commented.

"Doesn't it?" Jellico mused, "But our play acting also opened up a door for you to resolve this situation."

"You're assuming we'll agree to this," Macen countered.

"You will," Jellico predicted, "Both of you have spent lifetimes making the Federation or Bajor a better place to live. I'm trusting you don't want to live in the Federation we're becoming if you can possibly help it."

"Damn, you do know me after all;" Macen remarked.

"I was thinking the same thing," Ro admitted.

"Your ship is in orbit," Jellico told Macen. He turned to Ro, "And for the sake of convenience I suggest you depart with him. Deep Space Nine is expecting you so you can pick up your belongings."

"I travel light," Ro said.

Jellico stood, "Good luck. All our hopes go with you now."

He exited and Macen looked over at Ro, "Celeste is not going to believe this one."

 

- The End -

 

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