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Relics - Part I by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 1

The George Kelly shuddered as multiple phaser wounds scored her hull. On the bridge, the surviving crewmen were desperately struggling to keep the ship alive. The centre of this effort was the Kelly's CO, Tom Riker.

"Engineering when can you give me shields?" Riker demanded into the intercom.

"When hell freezes over." Came the engineer's terse reply, "We just lost auxiliary power. That means we've lost weapons. All we have is the batteries. Captain, we're dead in space."

"No!" Riker snarled, "Restore auxiliary power and get me some phaser power."

"Captain," came a calmer voice, that of the ship's XO. She approached Riker gently, "We're outnumbered and outgunned. We've done all we can. Now its time to think of the crew."

"The crew wants to fight." Riker protested.

"Sir, the crew wants to live." she argued, "Which isn't going to happen if we make a false stand. Order a ship wide evacuation and scuttle the ship."

Riker looked at her as though she were mad. Another phaser strike brought down sections of the bridge's "ceiling". Fortunately no one was underneath when the support strut collapsed. Riker shook his head.

He toggled the intercom, "All hands abandon ship. XO, help me activate the scuttling charges."

"If the computer still works." she muttered.

It turned out that it did and the two officers easily activated the destruct sequence.

"Better get to your escape pod." Riker suggested.

"I'll go when you do," she countered.

Riker took one last look at his first legitimate command. It was in pieces and on fire. It needed to be abandoned. He ejected the ship's log then followed his XO to the escape pods. They easily fit together in the pod and she keyed the activation sequence. The pod's hatch closed and then it lurched away from the mothership. Gravity faded and the pair had to strap into crash harnesses.

"I hate flying these things." The XO admitted.

"Never had the opportunity before." Riker admitted.

"Lucky you." the XO deftly piloted the pod a safe distance from the imminently exploding ship and waited with a cluster of other pods. The raiders were breaking off, seeing that the crew had abandoned ship. A shuttle dispatched by the raider's mothership approached one of the Kelly's docking collars. It established a hard dock when the Kelly began to explode. The shuttle was destroyed as the saucer section erupted in a miasma of destruction. Within minutes, the Newton-class ship no longer existed.

Riker watched this all and sunk his head against the escape pod's viewport. The XO offered consoling words but they fell on deaf years. The raiders came about and went to prey on the convoy the Kelly had been protecting. His failure was complete.

Hal Dracas showed his lover Kiv Rever around his flat in Earth's famed Soho District.

"How can you afford this?" Rever asked, "And don't give me any crap about the Federation being a moneyless economy. Money still talks and this place practically screams it."

"I was well paid while I was with Outbound Ventures. My credit listing as a Starfleet officer will barely cover the uptake but who needs non-replicated food, right?"

"Wait a minute, you want to run that by me again?"

"This is ours. You return to Earth every three weeks. I work three-week shifts and get a week off. The beauty of being a Master Chief in a shipyard is that I get to set my own schedule. We can take our week off together."

"Wait a minute, you quit Outbound Ventures and rejoined Starfleet?" Rever asked in a stunned voice.

"Yes," Dracas confirmed, "I've been on medical leave for the last three months getting used to my biosynthetics. The optional time-date display in the eye took some getting used to put its proving pretty handy. You call it up and presto you know what day it is and what time it is for any time zone you're in."

"Oh god, how could you do this?" Rever wailed.

"I did it for us." Dracas confessed, "Well I did it for me but you were an important part of the equation."

"Hal," Rever sighed, "You didn't know this yet but Solarian Security Systems put me on retainer to learn all I could about Outbound Ventures. I figured since my boyfriend worked for them, I'd get all sorts of info during our more intimate moments."

The Trill ran his hands through his hair and fretted, "I already spent their deposit. I have no idea how I'm going to repay them."

"I..." Dracas hesitated, "I could give you all the publicly available information as well as insights intro the ships and crews. Nothing confidential but something beyond what's offered in the brochures. Of course my info is three months out of date but I've still got ties with the company. I'm sure I could catch you up on the latest events and gossip."

"Hal, you're a lifesaver!" Rever beamed.

"So what do you think of my plans for this apartment?" Dracas asked.

"I think its perfect." Rever replied, "I think your perfect."

"I try." Dracas joked.

"Have I told you how much I missed you?"

"No," Dracas said theatrically, "you haven't."

"Let's rectify that situation."

Brin Macen and T'Kir slowly danced together. It was a simple four-step routine but they were mostly swaying against each other. They were located in a boarding house in Mackenzie, Barrinor's northernmost settled state. T'Kir unconventionally wore a thick linen dress. Macen wore a sweater and jeans. The rest of the patrons had retired long ago, allowing the couple their privacy.

Macen stood at 1.83 metres. He was red haired with a moustache and goatee. His features were unremarkable and aided in his chosen profession as an intelligence officer. His one stand out features was his blue eyes that shifted colour with whatever shade he wore. Recent years of intensive workouts had produced a lean and muscular body.

T'Kir was a Vulcan, with the delicately upswept ears that implied. She wore her raven hair below her collarbone. She generally pinned it back to reveal her ears. Her sapphire blue eyes captured the attention of all who gazed upon her. These were coupled by a pale olive complexion that was the envy of most of Earth's natives. Her upturned nose and full, "bee stung" lips completed her look. She stood at 1,72 metres and possessed a slender, voluptuous body with the musculature born of being raised on a high gravity world.

Macen's comm badge, located on their dining table, began chiming.

"No." T'Kir protested, "You promised me a romantic week-end getaway. My week-end lasts for another four hours."

"I told the office to only call me in case of an emergency."

"Who's even in the office this late at night?"

"Time differential, it's only seven in the evening there."

"Tell them to go home, they're ruining my perfect week-end."

Macen tapped the badge, "Macen here."

"Brin, thank god." Christine Pike, the General Business Manager of Outbound Ventures spoke over the line, "We've got a situation."

"I assumed as much Christine." Macen replied dryly, "Why don't you run it by me."

"We've lost the George Kelly. She abandoned ship and scuttled."

"What about the crew?"

"Picked up by the merchant freighters they were supposed to be defending."

"And Riker?"

"Alive. He's already filed a preliminary report. Superior numbers and firepower overwhelmed them. The ship's log was recovered intact. It can be reviewed once it's returned to the company labs."

"We'll be flying back tomorrow. Keep me posted to any changing developments."

"The client's impressed. They say that even though their freighters were hit, the Kelly's tenacity has proven to them that we're the company to contract with on a permanent basis."

"Well, at least something good came out of this. Is there a casualty list?"

"Too early to tell. The survivors are spread out among six freighters."

"Understood. Macen out."

Macen turned to T'Kir, "I suppose you overheard everything?"

She shrugged, "It's the ears. They pick up on everything."

"Everything your telepathy misses, that is."

"No fair. You know I can't read you unless you let me."

"So, you want to finish our dance?"

"I thought we'd be packing up and rushing off for Outbound Ventures headquarters."

Macen shrugged, "Not much we could do there, and our flight isn't booked until morning. I say we finish our last evening her with panache."

"Anything t'get your arms wrapped around me again." T'Kir admitted.

"Your wish is my command." Macen bowed.

"Don't push it too far." T'Kir warned, "I could get used t'this."

One of Outbound Ventures' mainstay contracts came from Starfleet's Special Investigations Division. Macen's ship, the Obsidian, and crew were the designated contractors. Macen's senior staff also comprised the SID Investigative Team. As Macen and T'Kir arrived at Outbound Ventures, the rest of the crew was assembled there.

Surprisingly, it was Hannah Grace that first approached the couple to express concern for Tom Riker. Before Grace's "outing" as a Kelvan, Grace had altered Riker's memory. Once that had been revealed to him, there had been bad blood between them. Now she'd been stripped of her Kelvan technology and was "merely" a human woman...with enhanced hand/eye co-ordination, strength and memory.

She was still rebuilding her relationship with the crew. Her earlier attempt to hold them hostage and hijack the ship had almost been forgotten by some and inched ever so much closer to forgiveness amongst the rest. Her natural affability went a long way in her efforts at regaining trust.

The blonde with huge brown eyes would never be described as beautiful, cute yes, she was running out of her ears with cute. Over the last four years, Grace had learned to parlay her looks and to entice members of the opposite sex into relationships. So far none of them had lasted beyond a few months but her taste in men was becoming more selective. Perhaps the next one would be the one to go the distance.

Daggit and Parva made up the next couple to await news. Rab Daggit was an Angosian super soldier, physiologically and psychologically conditioned for combat. His body was a rippling mass of muscle that should have been carved out of marble. Parva was an ex Orion slave girl, with all the baggage that implied. Having gone from being a sex toy to a respected engineer had been the major accomplishment in her life.

Daggit looked as though he were hewn from stone. Parva could have been a runway model on any of a dozen urbane worlds. Her one foible was bleaching a strand of her hair platinum blonde. Theirs was a special relationship with many allowances.

Radil and Kort came up next. There's was a volatile relationship, always off and on. Judging from their relative distance from each other now was an "off" phase. Radil Jenrya was a Bajoran who'd been a mercenary in the employ of the Orion Syndicate. Accidentally "recruited" by Daggit, Radil was left with a bounty on her head.

Opting that joining the SID was better than facing every bounty hunter in the quadrant, Radil through in her lot with the motley Investigative Team. She now served as the Chief of Security aboard Macen's ship, the Obsidian.

Kort was a Klingon physician. It had taken him decades, and a battle with alcoholism, to accept his role. Now he was a surprising source of sage advice. Still a warrior at heart, Kort revelled in away missions.

Last was Lisea Danan. The Trill scientist often seemed the odd man out in the team. Although her skills, when utilised, proved invaluable. The crew's latest mission to uncover a money laundering scheme had been solved through Danan's insights. The apprehension of the ringleader had been comical.

The minor criminal had threatened Macen. Macen calmly walked up very close to the ringleader and spoke in hushed tones.

"Can you hear me? Good. I've faced off against Daveed B'nner, the Orion Syndicates Don for the Alpha Quadrant. What makes you think I'll even sweat a threat from a gnat like you?" The ringleader had been taken away, bawling like a small child.

Of anyone on the team, Danan had grown the closest to Riker. She'd been a constant source of comfort after they death of his fiancé, Jamie Kirk. Since then they'd discussed his hopes and aspirations towards his gaining his own command. She'd received her last letter from him a week before the incident.

Macen and T'Kir had received a padd via a courier service before board their flight back to the southern climes of Barrinor City. T'Kir had shed her linens for a short tank top, Capri pants and sandals. All of her tattoos were in full glory, drawing stares from her crewmates.

Macen was in his usual "uniform". Black cargo pants, black combat boots. A holster/utility belt was worn upon the waist. A charcoal grey tee shirt and his comm badge affixed to his holster.

The dress code aboard the Obsidian was fairly lax. Crewmen could wear what they wanted. It just so happened that the Engineering, Science, and Medical crew preferred colour coded coveralls. That left the Investigative team free to wear what they wanted.

Security wore the M.A.C.O. uniform of the Earth Starfleet. Daggit had shifted to the Starfleet battledress uniform of the 2280's to the 2340's. The rest, like Macen, had found a particular niche to become their individualised uniform. Then there was T'Kir, who wore what she wanted on any given day.

The one inviolate rule was that the Investigative team go armed at all times. The holsters contained surplus Bajoran Militia phasers and the utility belts contained surplus Bajoran tricorders. Since Bajor's alliance with the Federation and eventual admission, the quality of their military equipment now rivalled Starfleet's.

"All I can tell you," Macen raised his voice to be heard over the clamour "is that Tom, and the bulk of the Kelly's crew are alive and well. They're currently on Mephistos VII and are booking passage back to Barrinor. Since passenger slots are at a premium on a freighter, it's taking some time to secure passage for the crew. Tom's chartering several shuttles but even that won't solve the problems."

"I didn't realise the operating budget of the George Kelly was so large." Daggit remarked.

"It isn't." Macen explained, "Outbound Ventures is covering these costs as well as any medical expenses. We take care of our own people. Never forget that."

There was a rustle of satisfaction at that and Macen continued, "It'll take at least a week for the first of the survivors to reach here. I suggest you enjoy what's left of your leave time and come back in a week, when there's more news."

There were nods of assent and the crowd dispersed. T'Kir gave Macen a wry smile, "Everyone gets leave but us?"

"We have to authorise all these funds transfers, then we're free." he assured her.

"Good, I want t'do some shopping." T'Kir missed Macen's eye roll.

They'd almost finished with their accounting when Christine Pike called again, this time wearing her Special Investigations Division liaison hat, "Sorry guys but Admiral Drake is on the line."

"Patch her through." Macen almost kept the disappointment from his voice.

Amanda Drake appeared on the screen, the living embodiment of her younger sister, the Obsidian's XO, "Hello Brin, T'Kir, I hope I haven't caught you at a bad time?"

"Actually, you have. We've just received word of the destruction of the George Kelly."

"Wasn't that Riker's ship?"

Macen nodded and Drake sighed, "He'll be taking it hard. Its always tough too lose a command but it's especially hard after just assuming the top job."

"I'll give him you condolences, Amanda." Macen assured her, "Now I'm sure this isn't a social call, what's up?"

"Have you ever heard of Harbinger?"

"Not outside of mythological circles."

"This would be in archaeological circles. Harbinger is a fringe world inside the former Iconian Empire."

That surprised Macen, "What does this have to do with the SID?"

"Harbinger is clearly on our side of the Neutral Zone, unlike the Iconian core worlds. Two days ago, the dig's team leader reported a significant find. Today a Romulan Warbird, claiming freedom of scientific inquiry as due our treaty stipulations, made orbit around Harbinger and began beaming down an archaeological team of their own."

Drake paused then added, "The team is under the command of Commander P'ris."

Macen wore a wry grin, "Everyone's favourite Tal Shiar agent. An archaeological dig seems an odd place to find her."

"Which is why I want you there. With your background on history, sociology and archaeology, you might even prove useful to the dig."

"Gee, thanks."

"So, when can you set out?"

Macen shook his head, "Not until Riker is debriefed."

"When's he coming in?"

"Inside of a week."

Drake looked nonplussed, "A week? A week. Oh, hell. I suppose the Romulans can't crack a 90,000 years old mystery in a week. Get Riker back and then get underway."

"You've got it." Macen replied cheerily and the connection went dead.

Riker boarded the shuttle. He'd been the last to leave. He'd made certain all of his people were situated first. As he walked up the passenger aisle, he patted a shoulder here, squeezed a hand there. He eventually plopped down next to Karisma Ko'rentz, his XO.

"Rough coupla days, eh Skip?"

"I've had better." Riker leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

"I've been aboard three ships that have been lost. You handled yourself better than most. My first skipper just sat around blathering to himself in ancient Vulcan." Ko'rentz relayed, "Where in the hell he'd learned ancient Vulcan, no one could figure out."

"I also have to say Outbound Ventures is treating us like royalty." she opined, "Solarian Security Systems would have left us hanging out to dry."

"Yeah, Brin is being really generous." Riker commented, "But he usually is."

With only a day remaining to the first arrivals from the Kelly, the Obsidian's Investigative team was rediscovering an old sport: two person beach volleyball. So far, after beating the initial court champions, Macen and T'Kir were taking all comers.

Kort and Radil had already been sent to the sideline. Shannon Forger and Grace had likewise been ousted off the sand. Danan was content to sit under her sunbonnet and watch. She'd recently reverted her hair to its natural chestnut colour, accentuating her species' body spots.

Now it was up to Daggit and Parva to salvage the dignity of the crew. Admittedly, there'd been cause for distraction early on with T'Kir's bikini revealing all of her body art. Macen's shirtless condition revealed the Seeker of Truth sigil etched into his right shoulder blade. Daggit wore a Speedo and Parva wore strings with gland problems. Distractions were abounding. The assembling crowd had thrilled at the earlier action and sensed an oncoming clash of titans.

Macen had first serve. His serve sailed mere millimetres above the net. Daggit scooped low and returned the ball to the other half of the court. T'Kir caught the ball with her forearms. Macen set the ball and T'Kir vaulted for a spike directly into Parva's face. Parva picked herself up out if the sand with an expression that promised vengeance.

Daggit and Parva gained control of the ball on the next volley. A point followed, followed by another. A turnover came next, restoring control to T'Kir. T'Kir varied between wicked cuts and spins and straight on powerhouse serves millimetres above the net.

Grace and Forger saddled up to Danan, Grace leaned over and asked, "Whom are you calling to win?"

"Brin and T'Kir."

"They've three games under their belt. Daggit and Parva are fresh. Besides that, Parva's from a high grav world and Daggit's built like a Greek god." Forger protested.

"You're forgetting that T'Kir's also from a higher gravity world. Brin's musculature while not as bulky as Rab's is leaner and designed for endurance. The most important contest, however, is being played out in the mind. Notice that neither Macen nor T'Kir have spoken once during these matches yet their movements are uncannily precise and measured "

"I'll be damned." Forger suddenly grasped it, "They're using telepathy to plan their attacks."

"To plan every aspect of their game without having to give any of it away." Danan allowed herself a small smile, "One advantage of an empath marrying a telepath I suppose."

"Why does T'Kir have a tattoo of the Romulan's Imperial sigil, the bird holding the two worlds, on her lower back?"

"I'd guess that it, like the Vulcan IDIC on her arm signifies that she's from two worlds." Danan answered, "I think you can guess the significance of the Maquis Command emblem on her ankle."

"Not to get too nosy..." Grace began.

"Yes, you are." Danan replied sagely.

"When you two were...y'know, together, did he have that symbol on his back?"

Danan nodded, "Yes, he did."

"Did he explain its significance?"

Danan pondered that for a moment and finally replied with, "He said the explanation would be far more perilous than the question."

"Do you think he's explaining it to T'Kir?"

"I have no idea." Danan replied with a pang of regret.

The game was settling into a grudge match. Macen and T'Kir won the first set. Daggit and Parva took the second. The third, and final, match had reached game point several times but had been halted by forced and unforced errors.

It was match point to Macen and T'Kir. It seemed fatigue had at long last begun to overcome the duo. T'Kir served. Daggit spiked it from the backfield. Macen volleyed it and immediately began to run behind T'Kir. T'Kir did a reverse set and cleared her way to the backfield. Macen tapped it over the net and Parva, expecting a spike, was too far back to intercept the ball. The game, at long last, was over.

Both sides congratulated the other and Macen and T'Kir sat out. Daggit, Parva, Radil and Kort played again. Macen opened a bottle of nutrition and flavour infused water, as did T'Kir and they sat down on the opposite side of Danan. Forger and Grace still sat to her right.

"Some set of games." Macen said, winded. T'Kir was fine, thanks to the thinner atmosphere of her homeworld. She'd once described her first experience on an oxygen rich world as a week of being constantly drunk.

"These sceptics doubted as to whether or not you could beat the 'Greek god' and 'Parva the Warrior Princess'." Danan remarked.

"I take it you weren't among these disloyal doubters?" Macen quipped.

"It helped that I figured out your edge."

Macen grinned like a little boy and T'Kir gloated, "If you've got it, use it. We certainly thumped the lot o' you." She flashed a victorious smile at Forger and Grace.

Although the crew was used to it, most people found the thought of a passionate Vulcan disconcerting given their past and the history of their cousins, the Romulans. T'Kir herself had been born on a colony populated by free expressionist Vulcans and Romulan defectors. After its inclusion in the DMZ, the colonists had been massacred by the Cardassians, hence T'Kir's enlistment in the Maquis.

That was where she'd met Macen. Macen was a Starfleet Intelligence operative with extensive contacts in the DMZ. What Starfleet hadn't counted on was Macen's sense of loyalty towards the colonists. He became a double agent, serving both Starfleet and the Maquis.

His first act for the Maquis was assembling an Intelligence task force. T'Kir had been assigned to Macen by Ro Laren. There was an instant connection that lasted twelve years before their marriage. Since Macen was an El-Aurian, it was likely he would outlive his long-lived bride.

After the crew had finished with the volleyball, showered and changed into less revealing clothing, they separated. Daggit, Kort, Parva and Radil sought out a dom-jot parlour. The others sought out a club featuring a talented, local musician.

 

Chapter 2

Ezexial, the Omicron Subversive Coordinator holographically stood before an assembled throng of just over two hundred of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants disaffected. Ezexial had spent years cultivating relationships with these men and women. He spoke only to the leaders; their followers could receive a filtered version from their commanders. Represented groups included the reborn Maquis, the ultranationalistic Romulan Imperium, and several Romulan subject worlds seeking their independence. A dozen Klingon worlds were represented. These stemmed from seekers of the "Old Empire" to revolting subject worlds. With Omicron assistance, all of these groups had lashed out against their home governments. Also gathered were the Tholian leader and the Gorn Alpha. Both were tired of being marginalized in the greater scheme of things. Both had recently launched attacks against the Federation and the Klingons.

In advance of the expected reprisals, the Omicron had divided their fleet and dispersed it across the stars. The unexpected Omicron presence had caught the various fleets unawares. Each had been delivered a stunning defeat. Now it was time for Ezexial to harden the resolve of the Omicron "allies".

"My brothers, now the die is truly cast." the two metre tall alien's image loomed over most of the humanoids and non-humanoids receiving this message, "You cast the first lot and awakened the enemy's ire. Our allied forces have stymied their initial response but we are too few in number to protect you all. We can stem the tide but the armadas being amassed against you now will easily overwhelm our forces. We will make an accounting of ourselves to be sure but the bulk of the vessels will slip by us."

"This means you have a choice to make, do you harden your resolve and fight to the bitter end, supported by us or do you seek an accommodation? We have told a new solar wind is sweeping the galaxy. That wind is here and we can best serve you by removing one of your major foes at a time. We have selected the United Federation of Planets to be first since they are the largest and their defeat will demoralise the rest. A resurrected order is coming to the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. There is only one question: who do you stand with?"

Macen and T'Kir entered the office the next morning normally attired. T'Kir wore leather pants, a red tank top and a leather duster. Both were armed. Macen's only variation was a sage Henley instead of the tee.

Pike met them at the door, "Here's the latest stack of reports. The Grand Lady herself is holding."

Macen activated the monitor and T'Kir sat on the edge of his desk. Drake's worried face appeared, "Have you read the reports?"

"Amanda, I just walked in the front door. I haven't even had my first cup of coffee yet."

"He lies." T'Kir piped up, "He had two cups at home."

"You do know of the truth behind 'Dead Men Tell No Tales'?"

"This is no time to banter." Drake snapped, "The Gorn and the Tholians launched a joint, mark my words: joint, incursion into Federation and Klingon space. The 2nd Fleet and the Klingon's 54th Battle Squadron were on hand but they got swatted like bugs by Omicron cruisers. The Romulans lost two fleets and the Cardassians lost the entire 9th Order! We've been given notice folks and the picture doesn't look pretty."

"How large were the Omicron battle groups?" Macen asked.

"Uniformly six cruisers for each of the major powers, one or two for the almost two hundred lesser powers that are screaming for help." Drake described.

"That was probably the extent of their forces." Macen observed.

"But we can't be certain."

"Sure we can." Macen countered, "None of us know where their homeworld is located and indications are that none of their proxies know either. They could afford to leave the home system undefended."

Drake shook her head, "You may be right but the Group of Five and Starfleet Operations are planning for the worst. I need you to depart for Harbinger immediately."

"Riker's coming in today." Macen informed her, "What's the rush?"

"The team leader, a Lt. Commander Dorik has found what may be a Rosetta stone for Omicron."

"Really?" Macen was surprised.

"He's found an obelisk written in four languages. In Iconian, it warns of a tall black, stone-like leathery beings who wish to own the stars."

"Seems rather ironic coming from the Iconians." Macen mused.

Drake ignored him, "Apparently the Iconians and a coalition of other great neo-empires overthrew Omicron rule 100,000 years ago."

"And promptly went on to repeat the same mistakes." Macen quipped.

Drake pinched the bridge of her nose, "You make it sooo difficult."

Macen grinned, "I do. I really do."

"Worst of all," T'Kir chimed in, "he's proud of it."

"Regardless of the Iconians' own history, we finally have a link to them."

"So why involve me, other than to annoy P'ris?"

"The obelisk is written in four languages. We only know one. We were hoping your magic little database might shed some clues as to the others."

Macen's database was a collection of sociological, anthropological, and archaeological information spanning the Delta, Beta and Alpha Quadrants. Living for over four hundred years thus far had allowed him to be well travelled. The physical database was safeguarded on Earth with its translation ciphers. Macen always downloaded a copy of the database into the central computer of any ship he served aboard or commanded.

"As soon as I've finished with Tom, I'll set out. The crew recall went out yesterday and the rest of the Investigative team is already aboard." Macen informed Drake, "Tom's shuttle is due to land in two hours. Our interview is mostly pro forma. His initial reports laid out the situation well enough to establish a lack of culpability on his part. T'Kir and I have just have to sign off on the matter as the owner/operators of the business."

"Good luck and Godspeed." Drake intoned, "Give Tom my best but we really need you out on Harbinger post haste.

Riker looked pale, worn and haggard. Macen telepathically queried T'Kir as to how much sleep the other captain had had over the last week and a half. She replied with, Not much. He's running on fumes. He's also got a lot on his mind.

Like what? he mentally wondered.

You'd best hear it from him. She thoughtcast.

"Have a seat, Tom." Macen said as an aide ushered him into Macen and T'Kir's joint office. Riker hesitated and Macen made it an order, "Sit before you fall over."

Riker flopped onto the couch, wearing the weight of the world. Macen reviewed one of the reports Riker had filed and looked across the desk at T'Kir, who was curled up in a nearby chair. She raised her eyebrows but remained silent.

"This is strictly a formality, Tom." Macen began, "Your reports, and those of your subordinates, were quite concise. They laid the situation out clearly. You're not at fault. You were simply outmatched by superior numbers. The client's so pleased they've signed an exclusive convoy protection package and asked for you as soon as you have a new ship."

"Speaking of which, I've contacted the SPYards and they have a Q-ship nearing completion. Full military armaments, sensors and shielding based on a civilian platform. That should confuse the opposition. It'll be ready in five months. You're crew will go on half pay in the interim. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers are building an auxiliary repair yard here at Barrinor for Outbound Ventures. Some of your crew can assist with the construction and earn their full pay that way."

"I don't want it." Riker said as if from a daze.

"Excuse me?" Macen tried to clarify.

"I don't want the ship." Riker said more firmly, "I've had three commands and lost them all."

"I don't think the Defiant counts as a loss." Macen argued.

"Semantics." Riker countered, "The plain truth is I'm, not ready for my own command."

"Tom, I've lost three ships and a runabout. Do you see me quitting? I offered you that command because I thought you were ready. Your handling of the post action situation justified my faith in you. I still think you're ready for this command."

"I don't." Riker said defiantly.

"Here's a compromise, give it five months and see how things stand then." Macen then added, "The ship hasn't even been commissioned yet. You'd get to name her."

"The Jamie Kirk." Riker brightened, "All right all this enthusiasm and optimism is infecting me. I'll give this new ship a shot. The question is: what do I do for the next five months?"

"Look after your crew. See how many of them want to stay on." Macen suggested, "Then get on the horn and learn everything you can about your new ship"

"What can you tell me about it?"

"It's the same hull design of the ill fated Raven." since the return of the Voyager everyone knew of the Raven, her fate and her ship class, "The bridge design is copied from the Defiant-class."

Riker nodded, "Sounds good, but what about my immediate future?"

"What d'you mean?" T'Kir interjected.

"My immediate future, while all of this is occurring. I don't plan on sitting on my butt and moping over the loss of another ship."

"What did you have in mind?" Macen asked.

"Do you have any openings aboard the Obsidian?"

Macen leaned back and shook his head, "This is a bad idea."

"C'mon," Riker protested, "I'll scrub plasma conduits. Anything."

Macen started to argue but T'Kir cut him off, "Brin, we were looking for

an interim 2nd Officer to command the Gamma shift while we sort through résumés for a permanent replacement."

Macen shot T'Kir a venomous glare while Riker pounced upon her words, "2nd Officer, eh? I'll do it."

"This won't be the same as a solo command, Tom. You'll be under Shannon Forger, who happens to have your old job. Can you handle that?"

"Anything beats staying at home reliving losing my last tangible link with Jamie."

Ah ha, Macen thought and T'Kir nodded, now we get to the heart of the matter.

"Tom, the George Kelly was a ship. Nothing more, nothing less. It wasn't an avatar of Jamie nor was it a channel to her essence. You're that channel. She invested her life in you. Don't make her investment a vain one. Accept this new command and become the man she knew you are."

"You don't fight fair." Riker said in a subdued voice.

"But have I lied or exaggerated?"

"No." Riker said in resignation, "You haven't. All right. But Jamie loved me for who I am, whether or not that was as captain of my own ship or not. What she valued above all else was loyalty to friends."

"Which still leaves us looking for a permanent replacement for Shannon." T'Kir pointed out.

"Admiral Drake has a new second coming up the pipeline. Until then, Gilrooney can keep filling in."

"She'll be pissed when she doesn't get it herself." T'Kir warned.

"She's the Gamma Shift Ops officer, you'd think she'd be happy to discharge the responsibilities."

"Wait a sec," Riker interrupted, "a Gamma Shift Ops Officer?"

"Every position but Science and Engineering are filled during the Gamma Shift now. Rhiann is still the CONN officer." Shervarhia'annderi, "Rhiann" for short, was the Andorian second shift pilot. A relief pilot, Ceryx, had also been hired to supplement Grace and Rhiann. Since Tyrokians only required three hours of sleep, he was available virtually 24 hours a day

"Things are always changing." Macen said philosophically, "You of all people should realise that."

"Yeah." Riker stroked his beard, "I guess I should."

"I'd say our business here is done." T'Kir announced, "You'd better get your gear ready and get aboard the Obsidian." She turned to Macen, "Get us the hell out of here and on our way to Harbinger."

"Harbinger?" Riker asked.

"SID business." Macen explained, "Sorry Tom. You'll have to wait fro the team briefing."

Riker hesitated and Macen told him, "Ardra will see you out."

Macen buzzed his aide and she promptly appeared at the door. "Let's get Captain Riker situated and aboard the Obsidian."

Ardra nodded and appraised Riker, "If you'd follow me, Captain. We'll get you squared away."

After the two departed, T'Kir asked Macen, "D'you think this is a good idea?"

"I really don't know." Macen admitted, "What I do know is that Tom needs this."

"Yah, I got that to." T'Kir conceded, "D'you think this is a regression?"

Macen shrugged, "He 'felt' like the same old Tom Riker, depressed and guilt ridden, but the same vital spirit. I think his decision has been carefully weighed."

"Then should we be about it?" T'Kir enquired.

"After you, milady."

The pair exited their office and walked down the hallway to the hangar section of the complex. From there they entered a fully equipped transporter facility with ten pads. They gave the chief their destination and she conferred with Telrik aboard the Obsidian. Having established that everything was in order, Macen and T'Kir were beamed aboard the starship.

Many in Starfleet would argue that the Nova-class surveyor didn't qualify as a starship. Those arguments did not apply to the Obsidian. Starfleet Intelligence's Special Projects Yards had done their usual exceptional work on the surveyor. The SPYards had augmented her propulsion systems and her shields. Her ultra-sensitive sensors had also been upgraded. Only her weapons systems were stock. There wasn't much point in changing those since the ship was primarily a surveillance platform and she'd outmatch most civilian craft she came across.

Given the Obsidian's cover as a privateer, these considerations made sense. Also seeing as how the craft wouldn't be carrying a full compliment of scientists, the crew complement was cut to less than half. Danan had a couple of scientific techs that assisted her in her role as the ship's Sciences Specialist. Kort had a staff of four nurses and the EMH. Parva had an engineering team of twenty, the single largest department. Radil had a dozen Security officers under her command.

The Quartermaster doubled as the Shuttlebay Director. Telrik was the Transporter Chief. One overworked yeoman served both the Captain and the XO. Not counting the Investigative Team, the rest of the bunch made up the Gamma Shift bridge crew and the cross shift station relief personnel.

"Welcome aboard, sir, ma'am." Telrik greeted the ship's Captain and Ops Specialist, "We're all aboard then?"

"One last passenger to add to the list, Telrik." Macen informed the Tellarite.

Telrik's porcine snout quivered in anticipation, "May I be asking who it is then?"

"Captain Riker is joining us on this mission." Macen revealed.

"Oh ho! It'll be good t'have him back aboard."

"Be sure to tell him that." Macen patted the Chief's shoulder and left with T'Kir in tow.

Macen and T'Kir proceeded to the main briefing room where Macen commed the new yeoman Jennifer Gomez and asked her to pick up Riker's bags and place them in quarters. Since half the ship was empty, it was easy to accommodate guests. Next, Macen informed Gomez to send Riker to the Briefing Room. Next Macen summoned the Investigative Team.

They arrived wearing expectant expressions. Riker's sudden appearance only heightened the sense of expectation. Riker received a barrage of hearty welcomes. Even Shannon Forger, who had the most to fear by Riker's return, gave him a hearty hug.

Macen settled everyone down and explained the developing situation across the galaxy and on Harbinger, "Hannah, any chance your people might be convinced to join in on our side?"

"Parvac pretty much told you they wanted nothing to do with outside conflicts. My people were like these Omicron once. Like them, the subject worlds united against us. My people were looking for a new place to settle down and discover a new way of life. I'd take him at his word."

"Damn." Macen swore, "So far they're the only ones that have stood a chance against an Omicron cruiser."

"Give the Starfleet Corps of Engineers time, they'll come up with something." Parva said, boosting her old employers.

"Starfleet must consider Harbinger a top priority if they are sending us there rather than recalling us to Earth to consult on this Omicron situation." Kort opined.

"Starfleet has our reports and our conjecture." Macen replied, "They don't need us there."

There was a lapse in the conversation and Macen asked, "Are there any further questions or comments?"

There was a general consensus of being done and Macen dismissed the group with orders to immediately get underway.

"Are certain its wise to send Macen to Harbinger?" Drake asked Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev, the Director of Starfleet Intelligence.

"What's your concern?" Nechayev wondered.

"Well, to be frank, Macen is something of a blunt instrument and this is a delicate situation."

"If you've noticed, Macen is blunt when we require or circumstances warrant it." Nechayev countered, "Macen's previous dealings with the Romulans, and this P'ris in particular, have been the very soul of discretion."

"If you're willing to ignore Macen's prodigious Starfleet career, then observe the opinions of his commercial clientele. They all request his personal attention on every matter. That is not the reputation of a thug."

"It seems to me we were damned lucky to get him back under contract." Nechayev said as a final point.

"It certainly cost enough." Drake huffed.

"We're the one's that put him in the commercial market and allowed him to meritoriously earn exorbitant fees." Nechayev explained, "That man, and his team, are probably the best the SID has. That's why you give him all the difficult assignments. No one else can finesse them."

"He just built up one hell of a body count when he dealt with the Orions." Drake argued.

"They'd kidnapped his wife on his wedding day, then they captured Macen and T'Kir while they were on their honeymoon and executed them. I still don't understand how they came back to life. All I know is that I'm grateful they did and that the Orions got what they resolved. The ensuing power struggle in the Syndicate has certainly eased our workload."

"Given all that, is Macen still the wisest choice?"

"Even if he can't help with the translation work, Macen's relationship with P'ris will ease the tensions between our Vulcan archaeological team and the Romulans."

"If you say so."

"I do." Nechayev smirked, "And I outrank you so that automatically makes me right."

The Obsidian took just over four days to reach Harbinger. Once there they found the Romulan Warbird Valdore in orbit over the planet.

"All our old friends gathered together." Macen muttered under his breath to T'Kir then retook his seat beside Forger. Macen had been sensing a great deal of discomfort from her regarding her position. Since she'd opted not to speak of it thus far, Macen continued to merely observe.

Her anxieties had been heightened by Tom Riker's unexpected return. So far, the two officers had worked beautifully together and the Gamma Shift was performing as never before, yet another testament to Riker's command abilities. Macen could see no outward reason behind Forger's misgivings but then again, he wasn't psychic. All right, me mentally amended; some might consider empathy "psychic". Lets call it I'm not prognostic.

Macen chuckled to himself over that. Although he lacked an extrasensory ability to predict the future, his job called for him to do exactly that. For decades, his survival depended on how accurately he could forecast future events. His continued existence in this reality attested to his skill.

"Grace, put us in a standard orbit 5,000 kilometres dead astern of the Valdore." Macen ordered, "Let's see if we can rattle some nerves."

Macen turned to Forger, "Comm Radil and have her meet the investigative team in the shuttlebay. Tell her to loaded for bear, or Romulans, in this case. IN the meantime, the ship is yours." Macen rose and made for the turbolift, "T'Kir, Lees, Rab and Hannah, you're with me."

Harbinger's primary was a G0 yellow dwarf. It burned hotter than Earth's sun and therefore made the third planet in this solar system a M-class tropical garden. It's two supercontinents made up most of the planetary biosphere. There were only three small oceans, all roughly equivalent to Earth's Indian Ocean or Bajor's Cystra Ocean.

The atmosphere carried a residual ion charge. This charge could produce massive electrical storms but no storms were currently in sight. It did, however, make the use of the transporter impossible. The investigative team would have to disembark in the ship's runabout, the Corsair II.

Radil arrived in the shuttlebay lugging her portable phaser cannon, her preferred heavy weapon of choice. She would strap it on during the flight to the surface. Daggit was loaded for a small war. He wore two Bajoran Militia issue phasers in twin tactical holsters. He wore another pair in shoulder holsters and a tactical harness. The harness was laden with powerpacks for the phasers.

He had a 40 round magazine for his grenade launcher strapped to his back. He had a Bajoran phaser rifle slung across his back. He carried his grenade launcher with its strap slung over his shoulder. On his right leg, he had a large Bowie knife strapped to his boot.

Macen, T'Kir and Danan each only wore their sidearms. Macen had changed into a charcoal grey tee shirt but wore his black flight jacket. T'Kir had changed into leather pants, an emerald green Tranquillity Henley top and donned a leather duster. Danan sported a sage green Henley, khaki pants and Bajoran brown leather ankle boots.

Grace, who would only fly them to the archaeologists' camp and then return to the Obsidian, wore her customary flight suit, "Captain, I must protest. My presence on the ground could be invaluable."

"It could also be provocative." Macen explained, "My understanding is that tensions are running high enough without adding an armed runabout into the mix."

"But..."

Macen shushed her, "No 'buts' Hannah. Fly the ship and return home." Macen grinned suddenly, "Without creating an incident with the Romulans in the meantime."

Macen's use of humour seemed to assuage her doubts. Macen only wished his own doubts could so easily be quieted. Tensions between the Vulcans and the Romulans were running high. Matters hadn't escalated into a shooting match yet but yet was the operative word. Macen's job was to help solve the riddle confronting the scientists and keep the Romulans from killing the stiff necked Vulcans.

I just hope I can pull it off. Macen mused.

 

Chapter 3

Christine Pike sighed as Ardra buzzed her. She sat down the quarterly fiscal report she'd been reading down and flipped on the comm screen. The Outbound Ventures' corporate logo disappeared to be replaced by the image of the young Acamarian exile. She'd rejected her clan's piratical ways and had ended up here.

"Message, ma'am."

"Who's it from?" Pike wondered.

"Hal Dracas."

"Patch it through please." Ardra's image was replaced by Dracas'. It still took Pike time to recognise Dracas. He'd been an attractive man in his sixties before traipsing off to Ba'ku. Now he was in his thirties, and very handsome. Pike regretted the fact that Dracas was homosexual since it meant she'd never have a shot at the man.

"Hello Hal, what merits your comm?"

Dracas fidgeted somewhat, "Were you able to run the search I asked for?"

Pike shook her head and clucked her tongue, "Now Hal, I never suspected you of being the type to run a background check on a lover."

Dracas sighed, "Christine, do you have the data or not?"

It was Pike's turn to sigh, "Let me pull it up for transmission."

"Thank you." Dracas said as information began filling his database.

"I can give you a quick synopsis." Pike offered.

"Please." Dracas nodded.

"First off, your friend Kiv doesn't work for the cruise service he told you about. He actually works for Celestial Voyages, the second largest line."

Dracas' expression soured, "This isn't starting off very well."

"His position is that of Senior Flight Engineer. His tech school records are included with the data packet, as well as his compulsory educational records."

"What about his position with Solarian Security Services?"

Pike nodded, "He was approached and put on retainer three months ago."

"Why?" Dracas asked in desperation.

"Your friend amassed quite a gambling debt at Quark's aboard DS9. It appears Solarian's deal is to pay off that debt in exchange for information regarding us."

"How did you find all of that out?" a bewildered Dracas asked.

"Ask Brin." Pike replied, "He and T'Kir are the ones who ran this search and compiled the information."

"The Captain?" Dracas gulped. He chided himself for not seeing this eventuality. Macen was a professional investigator and spy. T'Kir could hack any mainframe. He should have thought about asking them himself. Except that you would have been too embarrassed too. Dracas confessed to himself.

"Thanks Christine." Dracas gave her a brilliant smile, "You've been a doll."

Pike blushed as her screen reverted to the corporate logo.

The Corsair was making her final, vertical descent. The ruins laid out before them were impressive. A massive ziggurat dominated a clearing leading to a cliff face. The cliffs themselves had buildings and columns carved into them, reminiscent of the Edomite city of Petra on Earth. The Vulcan camp lay to one side of the ziggurat while the Romulan encampment was set up on the opposite side.

Dorik's reports revealed that the ziggurat was hollow, a complex command centre and computer network encompassed by the multilevel interior. The cliff face construction contained a labyrinth of quarters and public courtyards. By all indications, the inhabitants of these structures had been highly advanced. No reasons for their demise or departure had yet been found.

The runabout touched down next to the Starfleet archaeological team's Danube-class craft. Two Vulcans approached the Corsair even as the SID team disembarked. They wore the grey and black Starfleet Class-A uniform with the turquoise Science division blouses. They stopped short of the team and raised their hands in the traditional Vulcan salute.

"Live long and prosper." the highest ranked officer spoke, "Captain Macen, I presume?"

Macen returned the salute, "Peace and long life, Commander. You have presumed correctly."

"Excellent. I am Dorik. Welcome to our dig." the officer replied and appraised the team, "I did not know we were preparing for war, Captain."

"A necessary precaution given the rampant tensions." Macen responded.

"Perhaps. Our relations with our cousins have been...strained." Dorik regarded T'Kir, "Speaking of which, may I say that it is agreeable to see a Vulcan amidst your staff, even if she is garbed in similar fashion to some of our Romulan colleagues."

T'Kir smiled, "That's because I got my outfit from the Tal Shiar during a mission to Romulus."

Dorik's eyes narrowed, "A renegade." he whirled on Macen, "We will not tolerate her presence here. Vulcan does not tolerate or acknowledge her ilk and neither shall we."

Macen stared down Dorik, "You look here. Not only is that officer invaluable to this mission, she happens to be my wife. She goes where I go. If you can't tolerate this, then we'll leave and leave in violation of your orders from Starfleet."

"Your orders match ours." Dorik rebutted.

"I'm a contract employee of Starfleet's SID." Macen said in steely tones, "I can live without a single paycheck. Can you afford to let us leave?"

While Dorik pondered that last point, T'Kir beamed, "He's defending me. He's my knight in shining armour."

Danan rolled her eyes and gestured for T'Kir to return her attention to the scene playing out before them.

"Very well." Dorik practically grated, "Since you say she is an invaluable member of your staff, we will tolerate her presence, but no more. She will not discuss her emotional paradigm with any of us. We will not allow our logic to be polluted by her rash emotionalism."

Deal? Macen telepathically queried T'Kir.

I can live with that. T'Kir thought back, Who needs to talk to 'em anyway?

"We have an arrangement, Commander." Macen said with a quarter bow.

"Very well then, we are in accord." Dorik offered Macen a quarter bow in reply.

"Then let's inspect the obelisk and see if we can be of any use to you." Macen suggested.

"If you would all follow me." Dorik gestured towards the looming ziggurat and set off towards it.

The SID team obediently followed. Grace, who'd been watching the unfolding scene, sealed the main hatch and returned to the cockpit. It didn't feel right, leaving the others, but she had her orders. Recent events had proven the value of obeying orders.

Three months ago, Grace had neutralised the crew and taken the ship hostage. Only Macen had proven immune to her Attuner. It could only affect objects or people she understood. El-Aurians proved beyond her comprehension.

Macen had given her the beating of her life and tossed her in the brig. Shipboard needs required her to be let out on a work release program. Then the ship had encountered the Omicron, a looming menace that seemed unstoppable. The ship seemed in danger of destruction when her People had intervened.

The Commander of the Kelvan Expeditionary Forces had offered her a choice: face punishment on New Kelva or stay with the crew of the Obsidian, living as a human. Grace had chosen humanity and the crew. Her choice had gone a long way towards healing the rift with the Investigative Team over present and past infractions.

Now, three months later, the Captain still watched her closely, but she was becoming trusted again. The team, following Macen's example was beginning to place their faith in her again. The knowledge that her seemingly infinite power was gone went the furthest towards healing the wounds in her interpersonal relationships. As the recent volleyball game had proven, she was being accepted as one of the group again.

Grace shrugged these thoughts aside and started the take-off sequence for the runabout. When she'd cleared the ziggurat, she began her impulse powered ascent. All the way, she watched what little her sensors could show her due to the ionic interference. As she cleared the atmosphere, her interference faded and she was able to see that Commander Donatra's Valdore hadn't launched any attack craft. Her subsequent docking aboard the Obsidian went flawlessly.

On the surface, Macen, his team and the Vulcan archaeologists had reached the entrance at the base of the ziggurat. Dorik waved his hand in front of an elliptical inset next to the massive double doors. With a groan, the doors swung outward revealing a wide passageway leading to the structure's interior.

"Welcome to Temple Mount." Dorik said in his emotionless monotone. Even without emotion, he managed to project all due gravity towards the occasion, "You are about to enter an abode that has been untouched for 50,000 years."

"Until recently." Macen remarked.

The Vulcan looked slightly piqued at being corrected, "Yes, of course. Now if you will follow me."

"Rab, Jenrya, you'll stay here and guard the entrance." Macen ordered.

"I, at least, should follow you to insure your safety." Radil countered. The mercenary turned Security Chief took her responsibilities very seriously.

"You'll ensure our safety by staying here and alerting us to approaching Romulans." Macen informed her.

Radil subsided at that, "All right."

"After you." Macen acquiesced to Dorik.

As Dorik led the way, it soon became obvious that there were recessed doors to either side of the corridor spaced at regular intervals. Macen stopped in front of one these and asked, "What are these?"

Dorik turned and seemed to brighten, "These lead to individual quarters. Up ahead there are intersections leading to other corridors and living units such as this one."

"May I see one?"

"Certainly." Dorik approached the door and waved his hand to the side of it. With a slight grating noise, the door swung open and revealed the rooms within. The rooms were uniformly barren except for the furniture. It's shape and configuration followed familiar humanoid lines.

"Whoever these beings were, they left in a short amount of time. We found foodstuffs in refrigeration units and the storage cupboards on the walls." Dorik described.

"Refrigeration rather that stasis chests?" Macen enquired.

"Yes, it appears to an anachronism on their part given the general level of technology we've discovered thus far." Dorik explained.

"Are there other quarters in the facility other than this level?"

"No. The top three levels also contain shielding, sensor and weapons arrays." Dorik answered.

"Earlier you referred to this installation as Temple Mount. Where did this designation derive from?" Macen asked.

"From the central database. Sections of the database can be displayed in Iconian. That is where we derived all of our information. That information revealed that this is a military facility. It was charged with a single task, the protection of a relic of significant historical relevance. The Iconian text also contains explanatory links to other text written in one of the languages we have not been able to translate." Dorik divulged, "I understand you may be able to assist us in these efforts."

"That's the theory." Macen replied.

"If you are finished here, may we proceed to the command centre?"

"Of course." Macen said obligingly.

They exited the room and proceeded further down the corridor. They passed two sets of intersections along the way. At the heart of the complex was a central pillar located in a rotunda. There were doors evenly spaced in and around the pillar.

"Are these lifts?" Macen asked.

"Exactly." The Vulcan seemed pleased by Macen's grasp on the layout of the structure.

Once again, Dorik waved his hand over a panel to the side of the door. The doors slid apart with a hiss. Macen frowned at this and Dorik's eyebrows raised in surprise.

"You disapprove?"

"Just tired of that noise." Macen explained, "I hear it most of the day."

The Vulcan nodded, "I understand. The sound is...disturbing for those of us with sensitive hearing as well."

That admission seemed to cost Dorik so Macen left it alone. They entered the lift and Dorik selected a level. The lift began to rise. T'Kir began to curiously study the lift's walls.

"Something up?" Macen asked.

"I don't know." T'Kir revealed, "I'm sensing a limited intelligence in the vicinity. It seems t'be coming from the lift itself."

"Commander," Macen enquired, "have the lifts ever demonstrated any erratic behaviours?"

"No." Dorik answered, "Why do you ask?"

"Call it a hunch."

"Ah." Dorik responded, "Emotionalism."

Macen shrugged, "Call it what you will."

Macen returned his attention to T'Kir, "Can you nail down the source?"

"It'd be easier if I knew what I was dealing with, but yeah, I can track it down."

"Do it. I don't like the thought of an intelligent lift." Macen replied.

T'Kir closed in eyes in concentration. When she opened them again, they blazed with purpose.

"There." She pointed at the lift's controls, "The locus of the intelligence is right there."

"Can you communicate with it?"

T'Kir shrugged, "It's pretty primitive. The most I could do and be understood is send feelings and impressions."

"All right." Macen said, "Keep updated if this thing changes its mind about being cooperative."

"Will do." T'Kir snapped off a jaunty salute.

"Cut that out." Macen rebuked her.

The inevitable tongue stuck out. Macen sighed and settled back into studying the lift. Its one distinction was that it had no distinctions. It could have been the product of dozens of worlds.

It was utterly devoid of any personal touches, the staid hallmark of military complexes the galaxy over. Starships were a different matter. They were full of subtle colours, personal touches, and little personality quirks that imbued the ship with a life of its own. It was the little things that made a ship a home.

The lift stopped and the doors opened and revealed a large, half moon command centre. Macen guessed that they were in the heart of the ziggurat. Dorik confirmed this suspicion.

It took us some time to discover that this is the only lift that comes to this central hub." Dorik divulged, "In fact, this is its only destination."

"What role did the city play?" Macen asked.

"The city appears to have housed the families of those that served within this installation. It served as a recreational outlet for the officers and technicians keeping vigil over the mysterious relic."

"The Iconian text didn't reveal anything about this object?" Macen wondered.

"Only in the vaguest possible terms." Dorik momentarily appeared as though he wanted to sigh, "The exact description on the obelisk is 'the past incarnate, guarded for eternity against the evil ones, those whose skin is as the night. Those whose shackles we have cast off'."

"An ebon skinned oppressor?" Macen enquired.

"That appears to be the focus of the message."

"Have you applied the Rosetta Stone principle to the inscriptions?" Macen asked.

"Of course." Dorik replied with that Vulcan haughtiness that so annoyed other races, "The translation matrix didn't work. Too many of the early script reappears at differing locations. All we read was gibberish. The only logical conclusion is that the inscriptions differ in their messages."

Macen nodded, "I'd have to agree. Let's take a look shall we?"

"Of course." Dorik led them around the hub to the far right corner.

"Why can't access the rest of this level?" Macen wondered.

"We suspect that the rest of this level is devoted to the computer banks that run this facility. The entire level below us is similarly dedicated."

Macen's instincts told him that conclusion was erroneous. He didn't presume to argue with Dorik over it. He was here to assist the archaeologists on this world, not to refute their findings. As he shelved that potential move, he studied the obelisk.

The obelisk was a perfect rectangle. Its surface was divided into quadrants. Each contained text in a different tongue as promised. Two of the languages looked vaguely familiar and he could read another. The fourth was a mystery to him.

Macen pointed at one quadrant, "This is the Iconian?"

"Yes. Are you familiar with the language?" Dorik answered and asked.

"Only a passing knowledge." Macen admitted, "I do, however, speak another of the languages represented here."

Dorik's eyebrows shot up, "Indeed?"

"It's located in this quadrant." Macen pointed to the appropriate text, "Its written in mithrandii. It was the primary language of the Mithrandel. The language was widely spoken in the Delta and Beta Quadrants since the Mithrandel are a trading culture. They operate along similar lines as the Ferengi but with a mercantile bent."

"Fascinating." Dorik expressed his wonder at this revelation, "So they are an intact culture?"

Macen nodded, "They aren't as affluent as they were 20,000 years ago but their guilds are still prosperous. They have exclusive trade franchises with hundreds of worlds. Those exchanges satisfy even the greediest Mithrandel."

"And you have visited these Mithrandel?" Dorik asked.

"Yes, when I was part of El-Auria's Survey Forces. We were chartered to explore the galaxy and catalogue the worlds and races we encountered."

"And your role?"

"I was the triple threat: historian, archaeologist and social scientist." Macen explained.

"And the obelisk, what does it say?" Dorik was riveted. It was obvious his estimation of Macen and his teammates had just risen.

Macen began to read, "In the darkest hours, we plucked the shard of life from those that bend and shape life itself. Beware the dark men, those that dwell in shadow. They shall seek the shard and attempt to mate it with its" Macen paused, "It gets a bit hazy here, a difference of dialect, but here goes nothing: mate it with its sibling and reach out to reconquer the stars."

"Fascinating." Dorik breathed.

"I'm seeing a disturbing pattern here." Macen asserted, "I know of only one race that has midnight black skin and can bioengineer such things as living spaceships. And since I've travelled across three quadrants, that's a disturbing proposition."

"Who would these be?" Dorik asked.

"The Omicron." Macen revealed.

"Perhaps the two remaining inscriptions have the answers we seek." Dorik suggested.

"One way to find out." Macen declared, "T'Kir, give me the portable computer."

T'Kir reached into her utility belt and retrieved an object the size of a Bajoran tricorder. Macen scanned the text of a third inscription. The computer began searching the database for a match."

"What is that?" Dorik enquired.

"A computer containing a database I brought with me from the Delta Quadrant. It contains the records of my voyages throughout the Delta, Beta and Alpha Quadrants. I've seen this tongue before. If I've seen it then it's in the database."

"That would be most helpful." Dorik pronounced, "The central database is primarily written in that tongue."

The computer chimed. It had found a match. Although Dorik's face remained impassive, his eyes twinkled with delight. Macen was afraid the Vulcan might throw logic to the wind and kiss him.

"Here we go. The language is herzel. It was spoken by the Herzet."

"Spoken?" Dorik asked, "They are not an intact civilisation?"

"No, they obliterated the bulk of their civilisation 50,000 years ago. If this was a Herzet base, then that's where your missing officers, techs and civilians went. The war devastated the culture. The only survivors became refugees across a dozen worlds." Macen explained, "Anyway, the inscription reads: The Omicron came and conquered our worlds. They had conquered the stars themselves but we arose as one and threw of our shackles. We took a shard from them but they retain a fragment of the Great Eggfrom which all hatched. We bombarded their homeworld but it is possible they survived. We must be ever vigilant and guard the shard. For they shall seek it and when they have recovered it, their power shall be complete."

"So it is the Omicron that they speak of." Dorik noted.

"Just as I feared." Macen said in a dismal tone, "We knew the Omicron were heavy hitters out to create havoc across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. What we didn't know is that they're trying resurrect a galactic empire that died 100,000 years ago."

"How can you be certain of that date?" Dorik asked.

"Your own dating analysis of the obelisk." Macen replied, "The obelisk was cut and the inscriptions imprinted 100,000 years ago."

"Indeed." Dorik confirmed.

"They maintained this installation for 50,000 years waiting for a resurrection that would take another 50,000 years before it would occur." Macen summarized and then brightened, "But now we can access the central computer and download its contents and filter them through a translation matrix."

"My thoughts exactly." Dorik concurred.

"T'Kir, you're up." Macen said with a grin and tossed the computer back to her.

She grinned back and removed the isolinear rod from its receptacle. She removed a blank rod from her belt and inserted it into the minicomputer. T'Kir then strolled over to the largest computer terminal and examined it. The activation button was obvious so she depressed it and began to probe the terminal's surfaces.

T'Kir removed a tricorder from her belt and began to scan the computer. Finding the frequency that its wireless transmitter was on, she activated the minicomputer's transmitter/receiver. With the translation matrix in place she was able to scroll through the main computer's menus and select the options she required. Within minutes, the data was streaming in and being imprinted onto the isolinear rod.

"Impressive." Dorik said from behind her, "You have produced results that my specialists could only strive for."

"Thank Brin's database." T'Kir replied, "I just work here."

"Nevertheless, you duplicated in minutes what took my team three hours to accomplish." Dorik said approvingly.

"You just have to know computers." T'Kir looked tipped her head and peered "up" at him, "And I do."

"Indeed."

"Brin, I've found something here." T'Kir announced, "I've found a cartographical section with the exact location of Omicron." She turned around and wore a triumphant smile, "I also found a translation matrix for Omicronese."

"Beautiful. As soon as you're done there bring it over here and translate the final inscription." Macen requested.

"You got it, Babe." T'Kir called back. Her download took another seven minutes and then she returned to the obelisk, "Y'know what? I'm getting that funny impression again."

"Another intelligence?" Macen asked.

"Yup." T'Kir nodded, "And its just as dumb as the last one."

"What are you two discussing?" Dorik asked.

"Biotech. It seems your facility has examples of it incorporated in the walls." Macen revealed.

"We have not detected any such technology." Dorik protested.

"It's probably shielded." T'Kir replied, "The Omicron are masters of bioengineering. Who says they couldn't create stealth tech?"

"What would Omicron technology be doing in a Herzet base?" Dorik enquired.

"Remember, these people were part of the Omicron Empire. Their technology would be bound to be disseminated." T'Kir argued.

"Honey, could you look for the source of the intelligence you're sensing?" Macen asked, "I'll handle the translation."

"Sure." she said brightly and bounded off to the wall behind the obelisk.

"Her emotions are fluidic." Dorik commented.

Macen shrugged, "She's a Vulcan. That means she's very passionate."

"I am aware of that fact." Dorik said dryly.

"But of course you are." Macen remarked. He activated the minicomputer's sensor and scanned the inscription. It took a moment for the translation of a translation to appear but when it did, it appeared ominous.

"Oookay, here's what it says," Macen said, "Beware doombringers. If you attempt to retrieve the shard of potentiality itself, you will be destroyed. This complex will rain down upon you like kerups upon a sheglat. Forsake your vain quest. The shard is lost to you, for now unto eternity."

"What does it mean?" Dorik wondered.

"It means that this place is rigged to implode if you're an Omicron and you try to retrieve the 'shard of potentiality'." Macen replied.

"How can you be so certain?"

"The same way I'm certain that what's behind this wall will reveal the location of the shard." Macen said and went to join T'Kir.

"You find it yet?"

T'Kir pointed at a dark stain on the wall, "Its behind there."

"So what do I do?" Macen asked, "Wave my hand in front of it?"

T'Kir shrugged, "It's the way the rest of this place works. Y'might as well try it."

Macen reached at chest level and waved his hand in front of the dark spot. Nothing happened.

"Is it broken?"

"It senses you." T'Kir assured him, "It also knows you're not an Omicron. What it doesn't know is what you are. You're not in its database."

"Can you nudge it?" Macen wondered.

"I guess I could try."

"That would really be appreciated."

"Afraid of looking bad in front of the Vulcans?"

"Hey, who went to bat for you?"

"You did and you're a sweetheart for it."

"So can you help me open the damn door?"

"Working on it." T'Kir said, "Try again...now."

Macen waved his hand again and this time the wall began to move. It rumbled as it sank into the floor and dust fell from the ceiling.

"Woohoo! That's my man!" T'Kir shouted and then she hugged and kissed Macen.

Dorik and his fellow archaeologist looked uncomfortable with this naked display of emotion. "What is this place?" Dorik asked.

"This is where all the questions get answered." Macen said as the wall settled into the floor. When it stopped moving, he took T'Kir by the hand and walked into the chamber that lay revealed.

 

Chapter 4

Macen and T'Kir entered the chamber and looked around. It was a half moon space, just like the outer chamber. Situated at the centre of the room was an oval slab made of metal. At the heart of the slab was a recessed piece of equipment that looked similar to a holo emitter.

Danan, Dorik and the second archaeologist, Velrik, followed Macen and T'Kir into the space. Dorik and Velrik gazed about and took in the pictographs on the chamber walls. Both scientists immediately pulled out a holo-imager and began recording the scenery. Danan used a tricorder to scan the table at the heart of the room.

"This is 100,000 years old and it's still in pristine condition." Danan said with wonder in her voice.

"This seems to be the control panel." T'Kir announced, "Its the only surface on it that has any writing."

Macen handed her the computer, "Get a translation."

T'Kir scanned the panel and scrutinised the translation of the text, "Its definitely the controls to this thing. The symbols to the left of the text are the activation buttons." Seeing Dorik and Velrik's intense interest, she continued her description, "The buttons are arranged bottom to top, right to left. There's buttons here to activate, deactivate and operate the machine. There's a keyboard with the Herzet alphabet and numbers for the programming sequences."

"Dare we activate the machine?" Dorik asked.

"You activated the computers without incident." Macen replied, "This room was meant to be found by non-Omicrons. I think we're supposed to activate this machine after coming this far."

"Another hunch?" Dorik enquired.

"A feeling." Macen clarified.

"Thus far, your instincts have accurately led us." Dorik conceded, "Your apparent insight into this culture is proving invaluable."

"So your willing to proceed?" Macen asked.

"Indeed."

"Do it." Macen told T'Kir.

She depressed two of the symbols on the panel's surface and an image appeared in the air above the table. It was a schematic of the ziggurat. It fit in with the Vulcans' preliminary layout of the facility except for this depiction possessed a room that had yet to be discovered. That room was buried deep beneath the ziggurat.

"T'Kir, can you highlight and enhance the shaft that leads to the hidden chamber." Macen asked.

"Of course." came her haughty reply.

Watch the lip, Macen mentally teased, or I'll be forced to spank.

Promise? T'Kir thought eagerly.

"I think the shaft portrayed is the same one that leads to this centre." Macen said as the route to the formerly disguised chamber changed colour, "See, the end of the lift's run is this command post at one end and the vault at the other."

Dorik's eyebrows rose, "Why do you refer to the chamber as a vault?"

"It has the security of one. This entire facility has an architectural siege mentality. They buried a secret and they intended to keep it buried for the rest of time." Macen declared.

Dorik touched the bridge of his nose with steepled fingers, "Perhaps you are right. You seem determined to rewrite all the conclusions my team have written about this place."

The last was said dryly and Macen grinned, "Only one way to find out. That's to go to this vault and see what they were hiding."

"Agreed."

T'Kir's eyes widened, "We've got company."

Macen's comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Macen."

"You have a party of Romulan scientists coming up," Daggit reported, "that and an officer of some sort. Dresses a lot like T'Kir."

"That'd be P'ris. Thanks Rab."

"Should Jenrya and I come up?" Daggit asked.

"No. Stay put and await my next signal." Macen said, "Both of you."

Macen could practically feel Radil's answering glare but left it at that and closed the circuit, "All right people, let's clear this room!"

Macen ushered the Vulcan scientists and Danan out of the room. He turned towards the section of remaining wall that possessed the door sensor. He waved his hand I front of it. Nothing happened.

"T'Kir?" he inquired.

"Sorry Brin," T'Kir shrugged, "its unidirectional. It can only be activated from the other side. They hopped to the other side of the wall and tried again. T'Kir sent along her telepathic prodding and the sensor registered the request. The wall/door began to rise out of the floor.

Dorik approached, apprehension in his eyes, "Captain, how is it possible that your...wife knew of the incoming Romulans or that she is necessary to activating the door sensor?"

"T'Kir's a class 4 telepath." Macen answered. With telepathy ratings verging from class 1: barely able to register the thoughts of others through touch or other means of close proximity, to class 5: limitless range and potential. A class 4 was virtually unheard of. If the doctors of the Andes Psychiatric Institute would have known what they were looking at, the too would have consulted the Vulcan databases for aids in curbing such potential.

As Dorik's eyes widened in surprise Macen was glad that he alone knew T'Kir's terrible secrets. During the height of the Maquis Rebellion and her subsequent imprisonment in the Andes Institute, T'Kir reached the full potential of her class and was able to peruse the thoughts of billions spread across an entire sector. It was a miracle that she'd retained what vestiges of sanity that she had.

Although her abilities were pared down to a level she could control, her mastery over her psionic abilities was growing. As a result, she and Macen were slowly, ever so slowly, reducing the amount of medication she took. Although her long-range abilities were intentionally blocked, her short-range abilities were increasing geometrically. She'd used these abilities to kill.

This was T'Kir's most haunted secret. She'd begun to enjoy inflicting pain upon others. It had become a trait after her capture and subsequent torture at the hands of an Orion Syndicate crime boss. From that time onward she'd preyed upon those that preyed upon the weak. She saw herself as the great equalizer.

Macen had expressed his concerns regarding these matters to his wife. She'd responded by asking for his help to assist her in avoiding such behaviours in the future. So far, she'd gone the last three months without lashing out with her mind. It wasn't perfect but it was a start.

Although the Vulcan would have denied the emotion, Macen could sense his fear, "Dorik, it's all right. She's in control of herself."

"The ancients wrote of beings such as her. They were primarily responsible for the chaos that threatened to overwhelm Vulcan."

Macen looked to the side as the door/wall slid shut with a resounding thud that echoed throughout the command centre, "She's under treatment. We're using the klymerish treatment model to curb her abilities back to a class 3." Macen neglected to mention that she had been as low as a class 2.

"Very well then." Dorik said warily, "She appears stable enough, although instabilities may be shrouded by her emotionalism."

"Give it a rest." Macen snapped, "She's already done more for this investigation then you have. You laid out the groundwork and she's helped me put the pieces of this puzzle together."

Dorik blinked in surprise, "Perhaps we should continue this dig without you, Captain."

Macen wearily sighed, "Two problems with that scenario: first, you need T'Kir to operate the lift and second, how do you propose to get whatever you find past the Romulans to your runabout for analysis?"

"I..." Dorik began to speak but paused, "Very well, it is only logical that your team continues with us."

"Wrap this up fellas." T'Kir advised, "They're here."

The lift door opened and Commander P'ris of the Tal Shiar stepped out. As promised, she wore leather pants, boots and duster identical to T'Kir's. Little surprise since both came from the same Tal Shiar equipment room. P'ris' blouse, however, was a stone grey, typical for Romulan fashion. Her holster was also typical Imperial military issue.

P'ris' appearance had changed. Now her hair was worn in a bevelled bob, being angled and shorter in the back. Her bangs were long enough to disguise the vestigial crests in the Romulan forehead. Her brown eyes flashed with mirthful pleasure at seeing Macen, T'Kir and Danan again.

"What an expected surprise, Commander." P'ris commented.

"Its 'Captain" now. I've retired from Starfleet's active duty roster." Macen corrected.

"Maybe, but Starfleet still reactivates your commission from time to time, such as when you last visited Romulus, as well as contracts you to engage in covert operations for them." P'ris countered.

"That was four years ago." Macen amended, "Another lifetime ago."

"Yes, Donatra reported that you'd arrived in a starship rather than a scoutship." P'ris replied, "A vessel similar to the one that you used inside the Romulan Empire."

"Considerably less well armed." Macen informed her, "It's a surveyor, like those used by Starfleet."

"With enhanced warp engines and shield emitters." P'ris described, "Our scans have been quite thorough."

"I can imagine." Macen remarked dryly.

P'ris turned and embraced T'Kir, "It's good to see you again, my dear."

"Really?" T'Kir's eyebrows rose.

"Yes." P'ris steered T'Kir closer to Macen so that they bumped together. Macen instinctively wrapped his arm around T'Kir. P'ris smiled.

"I understand that congratulations are in order for you two." P'ris preened.

"Our marriage is old news, P'ris." Macen informed her.

"Not your marriage, your victory against Daveed B'nner and the Orion Syndicate." P'ris laughed, "Those Syndicate scum have ceased their operations in the Neutral Zone and smugglers have stopped bringing in most of the contraband from the Federation into the Empire. Life has improved since you married."

"We'd like to think so." Macen said dryly. T'Kir's head snapped around to look at him so fast her ponytail swayed. She looked confused by his acquiescence to P'ris' interpretation of events. Seconds later she relaxed, visibly relieved. P'ris took note of the obvious telltale of their telepathic rapport in action.

"But of course you do." P'ris remarked then turned to Danan, "And what do you think? You and the Captain used to be lovers after all. Does their marriage bother you?"

"It did at first." Danan answered with unexpected candour, "But I soon grew to accept it. They're better together than with anyone else or simply apart."

"I see." P'ris said quietly, then more boisterously, "The notion of mixed marriages has become quite the fad among the Romulan colonists occupying subject worlds."

"I assume this trend hasn't reached the social hierarchy of Romulus yet." Macen theorised.

"The capital has proven...resistant to change." P'ris reluctantly admitted.

"Whatever happened to the Rihannsu colonists under your care?" Macen asked suddenly.

P'ris' eyes narrowed, "They are prospering, to the best of my knowledge."

"But you haven't bothered to find out." Macen observed, "The Tal Shiar beckoned and you enlisted without a second thought to those colonists that placed their faith in your tolerance for their cause."

"I stood before the Director of the Tal Shiar and defended your actions on Romulus. How is that for keeping faith?" P'ris angrily demanded.

"Not the same thing." Macen replied, "Our actions resolved an internal struggle within your government and military. The Rihannsu were an embarrassment to the Romulan 'people'."

"They were executed!" P'ris hissed, "The Senate decided to revoke the amnesty they'd granted the members of the movement and had them all killed. I nearly died the day I heard of this." P'ris regained control of her breathing and wiped her eyes, "Are you satisfied now?"

"Just seeing if you were still the same person I'd known four years ago." Macen admitted.

"Emotionalism." Macen heard Dorik say. P'ris was reaching for her disruptor when Macen yelled, "Stop!" Next he turned on Dorik, "From now on, keep your comments to yourself. I'm beginning realise that the provocateurs here aren't the Romulans."

Dorik's lips pressed together so tightly they turned white. It was the most emotional display Macen had seen out of him yet. It was rather heartening to know that Vulcan's self discipline was strong enough to ward of an incident with the Romulans. He was far more circumspect angry than under normal conditions. That was an invaluable insight that Macen could use.

"Bickering is pointless." Macen sternly pointed out, "The Romulan science team is here now. Let's give them some space."

"What have you discovered?" P'ris asked, all suspicion.

"The same thing you have," Macen replied, "the obelisk and the computer share common languages. Unfortunately the primary language in the computer is also indecipherable without an outside translation key."

"Are you certain that's all you want to tell me?" P'ris leaned forward, eyes boring into his.

Macen levelly met her gaze, "That's all I want to tell you."

"Very well. We appreciate your offer of unobserved investigation into the mysteries of this place." P'ris relented.

"We'll get out of your way then." Macen said and ushered the Vulcans and his team along towards the lift.

Once in the lift, T'Kir waved her hand underneath the control bank and offered up the mental command, Accept.

The lift started downward. It travelled to the base of the ziggurat and then continued on. It took over ten minutes to travel to the lift's destination. When the doors opened it was into an age of wonder.

Dracas sat in his flat waiting for Kiv. He'd left the lights off as the sun set in the West. Finally, the door's locking mechanism released and Kiv walked in.

"Damn." Kiv said as he saw the inner darkness, "Lights!"

The lights came on and revealed Dracas sitting alone in the living room. His eyes were hollow and he was pale and drawn. Kiv shifted his weight uneasily.

"Hal, what are you doing?"

Dracas rose and silently approached. In his right hand he clutched a sheaf of flimsies. He stopped when he stood centimetres from Kiv's face. His bloodshot eyes blazed with unspoken rage.

"How could you?" rasped Dracas. He dropped the flimsies on the floor and stalked off to the bedroom.

"What the hell?" Kiv remarked as he scratched his head. He stooped over and retrieved the flimsies off the floor. When he read the first one, his knees buckled and he dropped to the floor.

"Oh frinx." Kiv said in a hoarse whisper, "frinx, frinx, frinx! What am I going to do?"

Tom Riker and Kort sat down to a meal in the Team Room. For Riker it was an early breakfast. For Kort it was dinner. The ship's watch rotations fell in the middle of Harbinger's day and night. It was almost mid-day on the planet's surface. That meant that Riker would soon be coming on duty.

Kort would officially be off-duty when Riker assumed command of the Obsidian. Normally he would share half of his watch with Shannon Forger but since Shannon had been on-duty since before Macen departed, Riker doubted she would share his shift. Since Harbinger roughly had a 28-hour day, which meant that the 24-hour shift changes aboard the Obsidian would constantly move fours hours in the Harbinger solar day. Macen had beamed down shortly after dawn. Riker's Gamma shift would take the watch seven hours after that event. Macen and the others had been planetside for six hours now with no communication with the ship.

Riker was worried. He'd decided to alleviate his concerns by heading for the bridge early. Kort, on the other hand, looked as anxious as Riker felt. Riker felt for the Klingon. To be left behind to worry about someone you care about was a mind wracking experience. Despite their most recent estrangement, Kort was agonising over Radil's fate.

"I'm sure she's all right." Riker said.

"Hmnn." Kort's reverie was interrupted, "Yes, I'm certain she is. Whom are we talking about again?"

"Radil." as soon as Riker spoke the name, pain flashed across Kort's eyes, "Have you told her how you feel about her?"

"What is there to tell?" Kort remained evasive.

"That you love her." Riker responded.

Kort sighed, "Is it that obvious?"

"To those that know you." Riker informed him.

"Why doesn't she see it then?" bemoaned Kort.

"Have you told her?" Riker asked.

"No." Kort admitted, "Klingons formally declare their intention to court before seriously proceeding with a romantic endeavour."

"In a way humans and Bajorans follow the same rule." Riker explained, "One thing is certain, females across the galaxy appreciate a declaration of how their suitor feels about them before permanently committing to a relationship."

"I should tell her I love her?" Kort enquired, "Won't such an admission be considered a sign of weakness, of surrender?"

"Surrender to passion, yes. A sign of weakness, no." Riker replied, "Take this to heart, the one thing I learned from my relationship with Jamie is that as soon as your certain about your feelings, express them. If I'd followed that rule, Jamie and I would have had years together rather than just under a year. It's my one regret from our time together. I knew how I felt and that I wanted to marry her shortly after we met but I waited until it was too late. Don't make the same mistake."

Kort sat back with a surprised look upon his face, "What do you mean?"

"Radil...Jenrya has a dangerous profession." Riker elaborated, "She's been fighting a war in some form or another since she was born, first as a Resistance fighter then as a mercenary. Her current role as Security Chief aboard the Obsidian isn't much safer since it usually requires her to travel to a planetary surface with the Investigative Team to help insure their survival."

"You're not helping." Kort grumbled.

"What I'm saying is you have to express your love for her while you still can." Riker exhorted, "Don't carry around the guilt I bear if you don't have to."

Kort paused in rumination for some time. Finally he lifted his eyes to meet Riker's, "You are correct. I cannot deny myself any longer. I must declare my feelings and I must do it upon her return."

Riker clapped his shoulder, "That's the spirit."

"If only we knew what was happening on the surface. This thrice damned ionic interference is maddening." Kort complained.

Riker rose, "I'm on my way to the bridge to see if I can help in some way. Want to come?"

Kort nodded and rose, "It would be a pleasure."

In Engineering, Parva swore as she broke another stem bolt. Gilan, her second, came to see if she required assistance. She let him take over and shifted to a simpler task. Something that only required muscle memory.

Intellectually, she understood that Daggit stood the best chance out of anyone else on the team of coming back. Telling her heart that was another matter. She couldn't afford to lose Daggit. Not right now.

Her heart had just begun to mend, under Daggit's tender ministrations, from the years of abuse she'd suffered as a slave. She was mistrustful of men, except Daggit, but she no longer wanted to see them all dead. It was a start, a slow and painstaking start but a beginning nonetheless. Parva knew she needed Daggit's deft touch in order to continue her progress.

Wearing a sly smile, she remembered his other deft touch. Her enjoyment of the physical bond between them surprised Parva. She'd thought herself ruined to a man's touch by her time as a sex slave. Fortunately for her, Daggit was no ordinary man. The Angosian could accept any amount of punishment she dished out and kept coming back with a fervent intensity of his own. For a man that had killed countless souls, his touch could be surprisingly gentle and intimate. He also knew when to discipline.

Parva sighed as she stalled on her project. It was useless. If she could at least call the bridge and ask for an update but it was pointless. The bridge crew knew less than she did.

Parva had never loved before. Sometimes it was a very frightening experience. This was one of those times. She could almost see why her people had done away with romance. It could be quite burdensome.

Taking a deep breath, Parva called Gilan over and began reviewing their current diagnostics and repairs on the warp drive and the impulse engines. Gilan seemed relieved to see his Chief back in her stride. Parva said nothing. She knew her exterior appearance was a sham. Inwardly, all she could do was worry about Daggit.

By all that's holy, Parva vowed, you'd better come back Rab, or I'm gonna kill you.

Kiv Rever cycled the door's locking mechanism and stepped into Dracas' bedroom. Once again, the lights were off. Kiv could just make out Dracas' shape sitting at the edge of the bed.

"Lights." Kiv requested. Nothing happened.

"C'mon Hal, let's talk about this." Kiv pleaded.

"You want to talk?" Dracas bitterly laughed, "Fine. Let's talk. Why did you lie about your employer? Why did you lie about the terms of your contract with Solarian Security Systems?"

"I didn't want to sound boastful about my job, especially when I hadn't been promoted in ten years." Kiv grimly explained, "As far as Solarian goes, my contract with them was my doing. I'm trying to get out of it. They want me to use you for more technical information. I'm not going to do that. They threatened to sue me for the latinum they spent paying off my gambling debts. I'm trying for an arrangement where I work off my debt. That's all."

"Illuminate." Dracas said and the lights came on. Kiv and Dracas both blinked. "Figures," Dracas said with resignation, "I fall for a liar and a cheat. Why can't I ever love an honest man?"

"You love me?"

"As a former colleague would say, 'sucks, don't it?'" Dracas quipped.

"Oh, Hal." Kiv got emotional and stepped forward to embrace Dracas.

"Just don't do it again." Dracas whispered, "You've been weird. It's time to stop."

"All right. I promise." Kiv swore and squeezed Dracas.

 

Chapter 5

Macen, T'Kir and Danan all let out a collective gasp upon seeing the vault beneath the Herzet ziggurat. The Vulcan scientists maintained their stoic silence. The chamber that stretched forth in front of them was filled with various samples of technology. Situated in the middle of the room was a fragment of an unknown composition suspended in an antigravity field above a rectangular litter.

Macen started to step forward but T'Kir grabbed his arm, "Don't. There's another organic AI guarding this room. If you're not Iconian or Herzet, it'll kill you. Let me convince it that we're Iconians and then step out."

T'Kir closed her eyes and then opened them, "I got it. I think."

"How will we know if it's worked?" Macen asked.

"If it starts killing people, then it didn't work." T'Kir shrugged.

"All right, I'll go first." Macen decided only to be grabbed by T'Kir.

"You're insane. I should go first."

"That doesn't make sense. If we lose you then there's definitely no way across this room. I'm expendable for the mission."

"You may be expendable for this mission but not to me!"

"Listen, I'm not going to argue about this..."

Danan interrupted by saying, "Fine, I'll go." She pushed past Macen and stepped out into the awaiting chamber.

"Lees!" Macen tried to grab her but T'Kir held him back.

"Its her choice." T'Kir whispered as she closed her eyes.

After a moment, Danan turned around and smiled, "See? Still alive."

As soon as T'Kir let go of him, Macen proceeded over to Danan's side and began to lecture, "Don't you ever proceed into a hazard zone without permission."

"Nice to see you still care." Danan smiled brightly.

"Of course I care." Macen snapped, "You're a member of my team and we have..."

"A history." Danan nodded, "It doesn't change anything between us but it does mean you'd be a little more upset if I died then let's say...Rab."

"Lees, I..." Macen started to say but Danan interrupted.

"You're happily married to the perfect woman for you." she said, "I'm not contesting that. What I am saying is you care about my well being, otherwise you wouldn't have risked so much during the Magna Roma mission."

A grinning T'Kir came to stand beside them, "See Lees, what did I tell ya? Deep down he's just a sentimental softy."

"I remember." Danan purred.

"Okay, if we're done embarrassing me, can we get back to business?"

The two ladies exchanged a knowing look and ceased. Dorik and Velrik came to stand beside the SID team members.

"Emotionalism." Dorik pronounced with distaste.

"Listen pal," T'Kir blurted, "emotionalism this!" T'Kir's hand shot up in a crude Terran gesture.

Dorik and Velrik ignored this display and moved on. Danan looked bewildered. Macen was shielding his eyes with one hand and rubbing his temples with it.

"I never thought I'd see that particular hand gesture again especially since it died out in the mid-21st century." Macen spoke through a strained voice.

"They didn't get it and they'd have to wait seven years to act it out." T'Kir replied.

Macen sighed, "Focus people. We have a job to do. Once we retrieve the artefact we still have to get it by the Romulans. Neither P'ris nor Donatra are slouches in the covert ops department so we're going to have to proceed cautiously."

T'Kir caressed Macen's cheek, "You'll think of something. You always do."

"Flattery will get you no where." Macen replied, "This time the controlling variable is the Vulcans."

"We're screwed." T'Kir said in resignation.

"Captain," Dorik called out, "I believe we have located the relic."

"Just because it's in the centre of the room and is the most prominent object down here?" Macen muttered.

"What was that, Captain?" Dorik returned.

"You'd think I'd remember the ears by this time." Macen grumbled.

"See?" T'Kir grinned, "Most of the time I don't need telepathy."

Macen cupped T'Kir's face in his hands, "With some of us, you've never needed telepathy." As she pondered his reference to his and Grace's immunity to her psionic gifts, he brushed aside the stray locks of hair covering her face and stepped forward to kiss her. T'Kir breathed deeply and pressed herself into his embrace.

Danan cleared her throat, "You may want to stop. You're embarrassing the Vulcans."

"I'm no longer inclined to care." Macen said, gazing at T'Kir.

"Then care about the mission." Danan urged.

"Right. Back to the mission." Macen sighed.

"Lees, we were having a moment." T'Kir complained.

"Have it later." Danan replied sternly.

"She's right." Macen conceded, "We'll have time for a romantic interlude later."

"Fine." T'Kir said sullenly.

Macen approached Dorik and Velrik's position next to the litter with the suspended object within its canopy. He bent over to peer inside the canopy. The rough edged fragment was roughly the size of a baseball. One of Macen's fellow Academy students had been from a colony where baseball was all the rage. This baseball however looked like debris from an explosion.

The relic, if this was indeed, the "orb of potentiality", glowed from within. Every particle it was composed of seemed to be backlit. Danan bent over it with a tricorder in hand. T'Kir went to work translating the controls.

Danan went down on her knees while T'Kir announced her findings, "This is the relic all right. This is essentially an antigrav unit. There's also forcefields backing up the antigrav field. In essence, it's a much more powerful version of the containment units the Romulans use to control their artificial singularities."

"Is this a singularity?" Macen wondered.

"No." Danan replied with awe in her voice, "The antigrav field may be preventing the relic from compressing the planet in its gravitational pull but its no singularity. This is the densest object ever recorded outside of singularities. As it stands right now, the densest singularity recorded by Federation scientists is light compared to this. This is the densest material science has encountered thus far."

"Federation science." Macen clarified, "These people, and the Omicron, were already well versed in its properties."

"Ahem," T'Kir cleared her throat, "I'm done here Boss. Can I go look at the assorted toys spread across the room?"

"Please." Macen replied, "Grab anything that looks useful."

"Check." T'Kir replied and scooted off.

"That was a dangerous assignment to hand out." Danan remarked wryly.

"I don't think any of the tech will harm her." Macen countered.

"I meant assigning her to choose what's valuable or not is a dangerous proposition." Danan explained, "She may be a cybernetics engineer but she's still an engineer. She's liable to bring everything back."

Macen shook his head, "Careful, you're short changing her again. This isn't twelve years ago when we were all with the Maquis. She's changed, more than you know."

"Maybe, but she's still childlike at times." Danan observed.

"A healthy sense of wonder is an amazing thing to have." Macen said, "Like this object. It literally represents probability."

"What did you say?" Danan urgently asked.

"This thing doesn't just warp probabilities, it reshapes them." Macen informed her.

"Brin, this thing is older than what the tricorder can record." Danan emphasised.

"Tricorders are fairly limited." Macen replied, "Let's see what the ship's lab sensors can determine."

"Did you ever study the encounter of the original NCC-1701 Enterprise's encounter with a giant space amoeba?"

Macen frowned, "I seem to have missed that one."

"I'm surprised since it involves your hero." Danan remarked, "Anyway, the Enterprise encountered this impossible creature and they tried to determine where it came from. Federation scientists have studied the sensor logs of the event for a century and what they determined is that the amoeba somehow survived the heat death of the previous universe and the birth of our universe. Of course, it didn't survive Kirk."

"Are you theorising that this is something similar?"

"I'm your Sciences Specialist but my speciality is stellar cartography. In order to be a good cartographer, you have to be an astronomer, a cosmologist and an astrophysicist first." Danan described, "This relic perfectly fits all the models we have for the 'cosmic egg', the contracted stellar mass of the previous universe right before it explodes outward in a chaotic miasma of matter and energy."

"Lees," Macen breathed, "the records in the control centre mentioned the Omicrons having a mate to this fragment. Could this be harnessed as a weapon?"

"Brin, this is potentially dozens of solar systems and the life that will arise in them. If you had the proper technology, you could harness the potential of this...treasure and..."

"And create the most sophisticated biotech anyone has ever seen." Macen finished.

Danan nodded, "Something like that."

"Brin!" T'Kir called out, "Come here."

Macen gave Danan a sidelong glance and then went over to T'Kir even as the Vulcan archaeologists crowded around Danan and began plying her with questions.

"What's up?" Macen asked.

T'Kir pointed at the object on the pedestal with one hand while holding the minicomputer with her left, "Check this out."

"You have the translation matrix." Macen reminded her, "Why don't you just tell me what you've found?"

"Cranky." T'Kir scolded, "This is an ionic shield. It's designed to withstand Omicron ion blasts."

Macen kissed her, "You're a brilliant, beautiful and gifted soul."

T'Kir shrugged, "I know."

Macen grinned, "And modesty is foremost among your many virtues."

T'Kir passed her hands down her body, "It's hard to be humble when you're this perfect."

Macen rolled his eyes, "Is there enough room for your ego and the rest of us down here?"

"Well," T'Kir put her free finger to the corner of her mouth and pursed her lips in concentration, "you did said you were expendable."

"Keep this up and I will have to spank you." Macen warned.

"Promises. Always promises." T'Kir sighed.

"Downshift, Speed." Macen advised, "Gather the gear and an installation manual if you can find one."

"Can do." T'Kir said jauntily, "And about that spanking..."

"Later." Macen replied. T'Kir wiggled her arse in Macen's direction and scampered off in search of an operations and installation manual.

Macen spared a moment to watch her bustle about before returning to the antigrav unit with a smile on his face, "So, what have we determined?"

"This unit's mobile." Danan said as she rose from her knees and closed her tricorder, "That grav sled over there should be sufficient to move the whole assembly."

"We'll need the use of your runabout's comm array to signal our ship." Macen informed Dorik, "They can dispatch our runabout to retrieve us and the relic."

"I must insist that Velrik and I accompany you." Dorik replied.

Macen nodded, "Easily done."

Dorik hesitated, as though he had been expecting an argument, "That is very gracious of you, Captain."

"We're on the same side." Macen responded, "Both of our goals will be met by investigating the nature of this fragment. Yours is so all the citizens of the Federation can benefit from this discovery. My mission is to facilitate and assist that goal. More importantly, with the introduction of the Omicron element, is to determine the true capabilities of their military machine and to determine how these people defeated them."

"So once again, science is subverted for military means." Dorik observed dryly.

"The scientific nature of your inquiry will remain unimpeded." Macen assured the Vulcan, "However, your discoveries will enable us to combat the Omicron aggression that's currently sweeping our galaxy."

"I have read the latest dispatches from Starfleet Command." Dorik replied, "Surely we will overcome these aggressors as we have done in the past."

"I've faced the Omicron three times now, and given my druthers, I won't do it again." Macen informed Dorik, "As it stands right now, we all soon be in conflict with the Omicrons and I can tell you from experience, as things stand now, we won't win."

"But we have defeated the Borg, on two separate occasions." Dorik argued.

"A feat which hasn't been accomplished by thousands of species before you, mine included." Macen remarked, "Eventually, the Federation will develop the technology and the tactics to counter the Omicron weapons but how many lives will be lost in the interim? We have an opportunity to shorten that period of discovery and save millions of lives in the process."

"Very well, Captain. Your arguments are as logical as they are persuasive." Dorik conceded, "I will not hinder your extrapolations based upon our research."

"That's good." Macen revealed, "I wasn't going to give you a choice. Now what about that grav sled?"

Velrik appeared as if by magic with the pallet sled. Carefully, he slid the front forks under the containment unit and then increased the antigrav of the sled. It lifted into the air. The sled's controls were attached to it by a cable.

"Hon, are you ready?" Macen called out to T'Kir.

"Just a sec." she called back, "Come check this out."

Macen trudged on over to her position in front of another pedestal, "You have something?"

"See this unit?" T'Kir pointed to a circular object reminiscent of the projector in the hidden half of the command centre, "This is the instruction manual."

"How does it work?" Macen asked.

T'Kir picked up a crystal shard and inserted into a receptacle in the front of the potential holoprojector. Within seconds, a holographic text appeared in the air above the circular device. It was written in Herzet but they had their translation matrix.

"Grab it, the data crystals and the shield projector." Macen ordered, "There's grav sleds in a corner over there."

"Yeah, I'd noticed that Cutie." T'Kir remarked and trotted off to retrieve a pallet sled. Fortunately, both of their acquisitions were big enough not to fall between the sled's forks. The crystals went into T'Kir's belt pouches. They shared space with the minicomputer's isolinear rods.

The troupe returned to the lift and squeezed their sleds in. As the doors closed, T'Kir let out a long breath of air.

"Whew. Am I glad we're out of there. Fooling that computer was beginning to give me a headache."

Macen had noted T'Kir's increasing distress despite her jovial repartee. Sharing a telepathic rapport with her helped in his observations but his own empathic powers were sufficient to alert him to her discomfort. Her feelings of frustration and of pain had spiked near the end. He wondered if she'd ever admit to it but that was a concern for

later.

T'Kir activated the lift and it started to rise. Dorik cast a disapproving eye over the other grav sled.

"Pillaging archaeological sites now, Captain?"

"No more than you, Doctor." Macen countered. Although Dorik's face remained impassive, it did turn a shade greener.

The lift opened on the "ground" floor of the ziggurat and no one was around. T'Kir pulled Dorik over to her grav sled and ordered him to push. The Vulcan's eyebrows rose but he remained silent for a moment. When he did speak, it was addressed to Macen.

"Captain, do you typically allow your crew to manhandle whomever they please?"

"Generally." Macen replied.

Macen and T'Kir took point while the two grav sleds travelled in a line behind them. Danan took the rearguard position. They'd almost reached the entrance when a door to one of the quarters opened and two Romulans strode out.

"Go! Go!" Macen yelled and punched the lead Romulan in the face. T'Kir did a backspin kick and connected with the other Romulan's temple. He went down but was still conscious, dazed but conscious.

T'Kir's Romulan reached into his tunic and pulled out a mini disruptor. T'Kir pulled her phaser and stunned the man. Macen ducked under the other Romulans hastily thrown roundhouse. He punched the Romulan while he was overextended and moved in and wrapped his arm around the Romulan's as the Vulcanoid threw a backhand.

Macen hyperextended the Romulan's elbow and delivered a punch to his throat. The Romulan collapsed, holding his throat while he struggled for air. T'Kir backhanded Macen's arm.

"You doof! The last thing we need right now is to start a war with the Romulans!"

"It was him or me." Macen protested, "C'mon, we need to catch up with the others."

T'Kir subsided, "Okay."

They sprinted out of the ziggurat to find Danan, Dorik, and Velrik standing with Daggit and Radil.

"Let's move it." Macen urged, "We need to make it to the runabout before the Romulans know something's up."

There was a sudden explosion that blew a large hole in the runabout's cockpit. A tumultuous cry lifted up from the Romulan camp as dozens of Romulans streamed forth from their tents and began running towards the Federation personnel.

"I'd say they know somethin's up, Tex." T'Kir remarked dryly.

"Captain." Dorik was impossibly calm, "There is a communications array in our camp. We can contact your ship and request an extraction from there."

"Excellent!" Macen exclaimed, "Rab, Radil, we're going to be engaged in a running retreat. Cover us, but I want a zero, and I repeat, a zero body count."

"Affirmative." Daggit replied.

"If I have to." Radil sighed.

"All right, let's move out." Macen said as he and T'Kir formed a protective barrier between the Romulans and the Vulcans. Danan escorted the Vulcans. Behind them, Daggit's grenade launcher and Radil's phaser cannon could be heard discharging.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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