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Relics - Part III by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 11

The second day of the Obsidian's journey proved to be quite uneventful. Macen's evening, however, was beginning to be quite lively...

Macen stepped out of the shower and began dressing when T'Kir walked into the couple's restroom. Macen finished dressing without a second thought. It was a common occurrence.

"What's on your mind?" he asked T'Kir with a lopsided grin as he zipped up the fly of his pants.

"What d'you mean?" T'Kir looked more distracted than puzzled.

"Well," Macen slipped his shirt on over his head, "although you've been blocking your end of our rapport, I can still sense your emotions. Something's bothering you."

"How was your workout with Rab?" T'Kir evaded.

"Nice try." Macen's grin spread across his face, "You're not getting off that easily."

"I would hope not." T'Kir bantered.

Macen quirked his eyebrow and T'Kir shrugged, "Sexual innuendoes aside, I have had something on my mind."

Macen left the bathroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. He motioned for T'Kir to join him. As she did, he asked, "Like what?"

"Well," she hemmed and hawed, "It all started when I was talking with Hannah."

"Never a good sign." Macen jokingly commented.

"Maybe not in this case." T'Kir conceded, "Tell me, does my past bother you?"

"I don't see where you have anything in your past to be ashamed of." Macen replied and then added, "Except for stabbing me."

"Drop it already." T'Kir growled, "No, I mean my sexual history."

"Why in the worlds would that bother me?" Macen wondered.

"Well, I had a lot of partners."

"Fortunately, Federation science has reached a point where they've eradicated all known venereal diseases so I don't see the problem."

"Well, take you for an example." T'Kir tried to describe her point, "I only know of three partners that you've had. There was Lees, myself and Arinea." That's all I know about."

"That pretty much covered it." Macen replied with a shrug.

"You've had three sexual partners?" T'Kir couldn't believe her pointed ears.

"Well, you have to remember, I was with one partner for over two hundred standard years."

"Three?" T'Kir was still in shock.

Macen put a hand on her knee, "What you did doesn't bother me. Now if you'd continued sleeping around while we were courting or now that we're married, we'd have a serious problem."

"How serious?"

"Irreconcilable differences serious." Macen warned her, "I don't foresee this issue ever becoming a problem, but since you've brought it up you might as well know the truth."

"Thanks, I think." T'Kir looked perplexed.

"Just know this," Macen lifted her chin, "I love you. I trust you more than I trust anyone else. That says a lot. That trust is the foundation for everything we have."

Macen leaned in kissed T'Kir. It was a smouldering kiss, expressing all of his passion for her. The mood carried the day for several moments. When their lips finally parted, T'Kir bestowed Macen with a sultry smile.

"Don't stop now." she gently demanded.

Macen leaned her back on the bed and their lips embraced again. It was a slow and sumptuous feast, tasting each other's desires. They carried on like this for the better part of an hour. Eventually, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

Macen awoke to T'Kir tracing out the circular tattoo on his back. It marked him as a member of the Seekers of Truth. It was a contemplative order that was all but extinct now. The Seekers had spread beyond their birthworld of El-Auria so it was possible that others had survived. There were also the alien inductees.

Macen hoped that the Orders spread out across the Delta Quadrant had managed to avoid assimilation or annihilation. He'd killed the only other member that he'd known in the Alpha Quadrant and that had been his supposedly deceased wife. Arinea's demise meant that he was the last holder of the revered truths entrusted to the Seekers. Macen had carried two databases with him from El-Auria. One contained the scientific information recorded over his centuries of exploring the universe. The other contained the most vital of arcane secrets handed down from Seeker to Seeker.

What he was meant to do with that second database was still a mystery to him. T'Kir's gentle tracing became feathery light and began to tickle. Perhaps he'd just received his answer.

"Get up sleepyhead." T'Kir prodded, "I know you're awake."

"Fates, I hate mornings." Macen grumped as he rolled over. T'Kir thrust a coffee mug in his direction and he scooted himself back against the wall and sat upright, "Blessed art thou among women."

"Ha!" T'Kir scoffed as she handed over the proffered mug, "I'm not blessed, just thoroughly frinxed."

Macen's face twisted into an expression of distaste, "I may have done many things to you last night, but frinxing you wasn't one of them."

"I forgot," T'Kir laughed, "you're such a prude at times. I needed a good humping and you gave it to me."

"I'd like to think it was more than just physical." Macen complained.

T'Kir stroked his cheek, "It was. It was also very physical. I couldn't ask for a better fusion between the emotional and the purely sexual."

T'Kir stopped and stared at him for a moment, "What's on your mind?"

"I think I figured out my retirement."

"What are you talking about?" T'Kir definitely felt confused. How did discussing sex lead to retirement.

"I'm the caretaker of what could be the last vault of Seeker knowledge."

"And your point is?"

"I can disseminate that knowledge and then it won't die." Macen said excitedly.

"You're gonna train Seekers in our golden years?" Obvious disappointment laced every word.

"Maybe." Macen shrugged, "Mostly I was planning on publishing a series of papers and then doing the lecture circuit."

"That," T'Kir slapped her knees, "I can live with."

"You might have to change your mind about the second part." Macen warned her.

"Elements," T'Kir sighed, "I hope not."

"Don't worry," Macen chuckled, "I don't expect it to become an issue for at least a hundred years from now."

"Unless the Omicrons decide to kill us later today." T'Kir chimed in.

"Aren't we pleasant?" Macen teased.

"I just have a bad feeling about this one, Brin." T'Kir revealed.

"So do I." Macen admitted, "The probabilities are in flux. The effect increases as we approach Omicron. I have no idea how things will turn out."

"Welcome to what the rest of us live through."

"Shut up and find my pants." Macen took a slug of coffee, "I don't remember where I tossed them last night."

"Find them yourself." T'Kir countered.

Macen shrugged, set his mug down on the nightstand, threw the covers back and got up out of bed. T'Kir remained on the edge of the bed and clapped her hands.

"Woo hoo!" she cheered, "Full frontal nudity!"

As Macen and T'Kir arrived on the bridge, only Forger and the gamma shift Ops officer were waiting to be relieved. Macen cast T'Kir a sidelong glance and she had the decency to look guilty.

"How'd the night go, Shannon?" Macen asked as he sat down in the command chair.

From the exec's chair, Forger shrugged, "It was okay, I guess."

"I sense a very large 'but' looming in this conversation." Macen opined.

"But the closer to Omicron we get, the more creeped out my people get." Forger revealed.

"Its only natural." Macen assured her, "We're about to confront an entire planet full of beings that effectively mopped the floor with us the last time we encountered them. We may have one technical advantage this time but it doesn't offset all the disadvantages we face."

"Then how can we..."

"Through faith." Macen consoled her, "The belief that we serve a cause greater than ourselves and that the cause demands that we take action drives us on. We all serve purposes larger than ourselves, even if we don't acknowledge them as a vaster power."

Seeing doubt in Forger's eyes, Macen continued, "Our beliefs drive us to perform our duty, even when there is no apparent supervision. In this case, our belief in the Federation and preserving the security of our homeworlds spurs us to take action against the Omicrons. If we can determine a way to neutralise their aggression, then we'll take that information back with us and we'll give it to Starfleet so that they can effectively mount a defence."

"But you're not even from the Federation." Forger pointed out, "How can you be so driven?"

"I made the Federation my home after the loss of my birthworld." Macen explained, "I joined Starfleet, against the wishes of my fellow refugees. I've sweat blood and tears across ninety years and two quadrants. I haven't complained once because I believe in the Federation. For whatever reason, the Fates brought me into the Federation's fold and I serve her with all of my being. That's faith."

Macen rested his hand on Forger's shoulder, "That faith is in all of us or we wouldn't be here. This ship is an instrument of that faith. We serve the Federation to the best of our ability, even when the Federation doesn't want our help."

"And they labelled you a maverick." Forger's smile started to return.

Macen shrugged, "I serve as is needed, not how they want me to."

Forger's smile blossomed, "So you are a maverick."

Macen grinned, "There are worse things to be."

Forger shook her head, "Good night, sir. I'll be seeing you a little earlier tonight."

The statement was true. The gamma shift bridge crew was getting called in four hours earlier to cover for the investigative team when they vacated their bridge postings and headed down to Omicron's surface. It was a moment already filled with apprehension. Macen had no fears as to his crew's performance. They'd do their jobs, or die trying.

Macen knew it was his job to try and insure that none of his teammates died. He couldn't plan for everything though and he knew that they were pressing their luck with every mission they accepted. The irony was that Macen led those closest to him into the gravest danger. The same had been true in the Maquis. The only difference was that in the Maquis, the ultimate responsibility lay with Ro.

Macen sometimes wished Ro were here now. He'd felt more comfortable as her advisor than he ever had standing in her place as commanding officer. The Fates, however, had had different paths for the two of them following the Dominion War. Macen couldn't change the past. All he could do was affect the future.

Macen called up the varied plans for an insertion into an Omicron facility. Their goal was to access a computer terminal and download the Omicron operational plans into T'Kir's trusted microcomputer. Once that was accomplished, the team would withdraw and the Obsidian would vacate the system.

At least, Macen thought dryly as his eyes narrowed in concentration, that's the plan.

"Dropping out of warp and proceeding at half impulse." Grace announced as she executed the described actions.

"Rig for silent running." Macen ordered. All active sensors were immediately turned off and the passives were dialled to maximum sensitivity. "Stand by all weapons."

"Weapons hot, targeting sensors on stand by." Daggit replied.

The only active emissions originating from the ship were its navigational deflector and its impulse engine exhaust. All electromagnetic and subspace transmissions were shut down. The Obsidian could "hear" but she couldn't "see".

The star system contained fifteen planets. Only the third planet from the primary was capable of supporting life. If the Herzet records were accurate then even the third planet had been reduced to only marginally supporting life.

The tension levels throughout the ship ratcheted skywards as the Obsidian silently sailed through the system. For the bridge crew it was even worse. The visual feed of the main viewer displayed horrific scenes of the wrecks strewn about from the last great battle between the Omicron and their captive worlds. It seemed as though the entire system was filled with death.

It soon became obvious that even if the sensors were on that they would have been filled with too much static to be effective. Hopefully the reverse was true as well and the Federation ship was flying in undetected. For all of Macen's bravado with Drake, he knew his underarmed surveyor still little chance against an Omicron warship. He had no idea if the Omicrons' produced any other type of vessel. The entire mission was predicated on too much prayer and not enough fact.

Far too early, and not soon enough, the Obsidian reached the orbital track of the third planet. All twelve previous orbital paths had been free of obstruction, so to was this one. Macen called an all stop and ordered the main viewer put on maximum magnification. The debris stopped here. The rest of the system's interior was free of the signs of the cataclysmic struggle that had ended the Omicron's unholy reign.

"Holy shuk!" Grace quietly breathed.

"Hannah," Macen said quietly but firmly, "adjust our course and take us to Omicron orbit."

"Speed?" Grace asked so coolly that one would ever have known she'd ever wavered.

"Let's try one quarter impulse." Macen ordered ever so gently, "Let's not alarm the natives just yet."

With an appreciative smile, Grace implemented Macen's instructions.

It took forty-three minutes to adjust their heading and rendezvous with Omicron itself. They'd proven fortunate in that the planet's solar orbit was on an "approach" towards where the Obsidian had entered its orbital track. As they settled into a standard orbit, Danan began intensely scrutinising her instrumentation. The others were transfixed by the hellscape that lay before them.

The viewer's magnified scenes of the surface were pitiless as was the environment itself. The Herzet, Iconians and the other rebels had reduced this planet to its primordial essence. It was a barren rock with scattered oceans potentially filled with unknown scavengers and bottom feeders that had survived the holocaust that had been wrought upon the surface of this world. Algae, mosses, moulds and lichens were the only visible survivors scattered across the surface and the seas.

There were, even after this many millennia, ruins standing across various sections of the globe. It was a testimonial to a race so rugged that it took a coalition of worlds to kill an entire planet in a mad effort to eradicate their oppressors. It was an act of madness, but was it an act of rage? Macen related his own people's experience with the Borg to this scene.

The El-Aurians had never possessed the ability to strike back at the Borg, but if they had perhaps this would be a preview of what would result. There was anger here, it still permeated the entire system, but this was more than anger. This was something deeper, more pathological. It was fear.

For the El-Aurians, the fear was of assimilation into the Borg collective. For these rebels it must have been something equally terrifying. Macen began review every scrap of the Herzet database and the sights and sounds of the ziggurat in which it had been found. The answer was there...

"They experimented on them." Macen suddenly said with absolute certainty.

"What was that?" Riker asked from the seat beside Macen's.

"This," Macen rose, arm sweeping across the viewer, "all of this. It's not about anger, it's about fear."

"Seems pretty angry to me." Riker replied.

"There is anger, but it stems from fear." Macen explained, "These people were lab rats to the Omicron. Their DNA was harvested for the Omicrons' endless experimentation with biotechnologies. They used the other ultramatter fragment to rewrite the genetic code and produce unnatural creatures. They'd had enough and they were going to stop it, even if it meant killing every Omicron in the Milky Way galaxy."

"How can you be so certain?" Riker asked.

"The psychic scars here run so deep that the emotions that were felt in that last terrible conflict are still here. I can feel what they felt." Macen described and then he shrugged, "The rest is extrapolation based upon what we already know."

"He can tell you about the past." T'Kir interjected, "I can tell you about the present. There's life down there...and it's not friendly."

"Can you get a bearing on where they're at?" Macen asked.

T'Kir shook her head, "All I can tell you is that the Omicrons are grouped in large clusters. I cannot stress the word large enough."

"Any thoughts as to why you can't get a solid reading?"

"Their minds are unlike anything I've worked with before." T'Kir revealed, "Its like they're all psychotic."

"Lees?" Macen queried.

"Its possible." Danan answered, "They've had over 100,000 years to meddle with their natural evolution. Who knows what they were supposed to have developed into by now? That has to take a toll on both a society's and an individual's psyche."

"Any luck detecting ultramatter?" Macen asked as he approached Danan's station. He could feel her swell of pride every time the term was mentioned. She'd coined it for use when referencing the primordial fragment and its supposed cousin.

She shook her head, "We'd need the active sensors and even then, it's probably buried deep underground or underwater."

"Any luck identifying any potential Omicron settlements?" he tried a different tack.

"The dynoscanners have detected dozens of large scale thermal blooms. Several of these are of oceanic origins. About half are products of volcanic activity. The other half appears to be the result of habitation." Danan reported and pointed at the infrared image of Omicron on her screen, "This spot here constitutes the largest combination of thermal and other energy types. It's a rather small fissure leading to the interior of this mountain range but other, smaller caves and openings yield the same types of energies in the same ratios."

"So this could constitute a hub of underground activities?" Macen asked.

Danan nodded, "The Herzet database hypothesised that the Omicrons developed from a subterranean culture into a terrestrial civilisation. What if they'd never abandoned all of their old ancestral homes? This could constitute a major city on another, more familiar world."

"I'd say several cities given the size of that range." Macen opined, "What are the odds that these readings are the result of volcanic activity?"

"Slim to nonexistent." Danan replied, "The energies involved are far too differentiated to simply be the result of magma displacement. And then there's the matter of the mountain range itself. It's a granite range, not a volcanic one. It's rather unusual to see a granite range this large but it's not unheard of. My staff geologist is drooling over these readings as we speak."

"You could have just said, 'No'." Macen returned dryly.

"You wouldn't have, so why should I?" Danan retorted with an unrepentant smile.

Macen grinned in reply and turned to address Riker, "Tom, summon the relief crew. Page Radil, Kort, and Parva and have them join us in the staff briefing room."

While Riker attended to the business at hand, Danan spoke to Macen in hushed tones, "Brin, I should come with you."

"We won't be able to use our tricorders while we're down there, Lees." Macen confided, "I'm not certain what you could accomplish down there."

"Ancient scientists had no instruments beyond their eyes." Danan rejoined, "You'd be amazed at what I can do with just a camera."

Macen sighed, "You're not going to give up until I relent are you?"

"Nope."

Macen pinched the bridge of his nose between his closed eyes, "Tom and Hannah are remaining behind as well. Do you hear them complaining?"

"They don't know you well enough to argue with you." Danan's eyes glinted, "I do."

"Then you should understand this, I'm not trying to protect you. I'm protecting my ship and crew. I need you up hear monitoring the planet and local space for signs of a potential Omicron retaliation. You're the best qualified, understood?"

"Perfectly." Danan nodded in defeat.

"Good." Macen replied brusquely and turned away. Over the next several minutes, the entire gamma shift bridge crew arrived and relieved the alpha crew except for Riker, Grace, and Danan. The freed officers proceeded to the turbolift and from there to the main briefing room. Inside, Kort, Parva and Radil awaited them.

Having been briefed on Danan's discoveries and theories regarding the dynoscan readings originating from the granite mountain range, the team reviewed the insertion plan; such as it was at this point. After reviewing the plan and its objectives, the team separated to dress and arm themselves appropriately. They were to regroup in transporter room 1 in twenty minutes.

The uniform of the day was a black variant of Starfleet's field duty uniform dating back between the 2270s and the 2340s. The boots were both black and charcoal grey. The undershirt was not a turtleneck but rather a charcoal grey crew necked shirt.

When the team assembled in transporter room 1, they each inspected the variations that each individual had developed. Daggit wore twin shoulder holsters with his as well as a double holster rig. In the right holster, Daggit stored a sawed off pump action grenade launcher. It had been another gift from Parva. The left leg bore an Angosian Infantry issue combat knife.

Radil wore her phaser cannon on her right side. Her left hip carried a phaser pistol. Kort carried a phaser rifle in addition to his pistol. On his back he wore a medkit and in his left boot, he'd sheathed a Klingon combat knife.

Parva carried double phasers as well as a rifle. On her back, she wore a general utility tool kit. Macen and T'Kir each wore their usual holsters and phaser pistols. T'Kir's right hip had pouches for the microcomputer, a tricorder, and a cluster of isolinear data rods.

Macen saw the quiet unease that preceded any mission. More to the point, he saw the steely confidence exhibited by his people. In their minds, they had already succeeded and were on their way back to the Federation. It was this attitude that would guide them to true victory.

"All right folks," Macen spoke up, "we're at the crux of the most difficult mission we've ever attempted. We're going to go down there and we're going to find the information we're looking for. We're going to take this data back to Starfleet and we're going to use it to defeat these bungers. We're not going to let them rise from the grave and conquer us! We're going to take the battle to them and we're going to win!"

There was a shout in reply and Macen nodded, "We can do it. We are going to do it. As always, people are depending on us. We've never let them down before and we're not going to start now."

"That's right!" Daggit yelled and thrust out his hand, "To victory! Who's with me?"

The others put their hands on top of Daggit's and when the last hand rested itself upon the stock of others, they all broke their hands apart and yelled, "Hoo wah!"

"Take your positions." Macen ordered and they all drew their weapons and took up predetermined positions on the transporter pads.

Macen's eyes met Telrik's, "Energise."

The Tellarite nodded and activated the transporter. Halos of energy enveloped the team members as they began to disincorporate. The transporter room blurred and then refocused as...something else.

 

Chapter 12

The investigative team materialised outside of the fissure that led to the interior of the Omicron mountain range. It was snowing on the mountains and their surrounding foothills. Heat could be felt radiating out of the giant opening into the mountain's side. Water ran off of the fissure's edges as the snow melted off of them.

The rain was clean and pure. It was potable and safe for a humanoid lifeform to drink. It was also coming down in sheets. Despite the inclement weather, the team approached the cavernous opening very slowly.

Every team member wore sensor glasses. Their light intensification mode was proving the most useful right now. Daggit took point and led the team to the edge of the fissure. He carefully scrutinised the area stretching out before them.

The interior of the fissure was lit by bioluminescent bulbs of some kind. Some of the bulbs were mounted in the floor, others in the walls. A third type floated about and appeared to eat the insects it attracted.

The walls opened up and expanded into a space equal to the length of the Obsidian. A massive chasm opened up in that space, spanned only by a land bridge. The bridge could easily accommodate six humanoids lined abreast as they marched across it. No lasers, radar, or obvious motion detectors guarded this entrance. Of course, given the Omicrons' mastery of biotech, they could have easily developed an intrusion detector that did not rely upon on any of the aforementioned methods.

Daggit shook himself and refocused. He looked back towards the others and his eyes met Macen's. Daggit pointed two fingers, one at each eye, and then pointed at the cavernous space stretching out before them and shook his head. Macen nodded and made a 'go' motion with his left hand.

Daggit drew his other pistol from the shoulder holsters and proceeded with a pistol in each hand. Travelling one by one, the others trailed along behind him. Macen followed in Daggit's wake. T'Kir, in turn, followed Macen. Parva travelled behind T'Kir. Kort trailed Parva and Radil brought up the rear.

The team entered into the foyer created the attachment of the land bridge to the cavern walls. Daggit and Macen slipped out ahead of the others to take a look at the chasm stretching out before them. There was no visible limit to its depths. It might very well stretch out to the planet's core from all that could be determined without the use of a tricorder.

"So," Daggit said conversationally, "are we going across?"

"We won't if you can find a better route." Macen remarked dryly.

"Sorry, Captain," Daggit grinned, "I'm fresh out of alternatives."

"Then it looks like the land bridge is our only way across this chasm." Macen replied.

"Right." Daggit nodded and approached the bridge. Macen followed a few steps behind and he kept his weapon poised in a two-handed grip for instant action. Daggit lifted his foot and slowly, ever so slowly, brought it down onto the surface of the land bridge. When there was no response, Macen motioned for the rest of the team to reform their procession.

The group moved forward as before. All six members of the procession had their weapons drawn and being aimed at every shadow and niche in the rock walls. Daggit reached the end of the bridge and stepped of to the side of the fissure that led into the heart of the mountain range. Macen took up position at the other side of the opening. Daggit leaned his head inside the opening and he took a quick look around.

"Clear." he reported in hushed tones as he withdrew his head. Macen echoed his actions, facing the opposite direction. He pulled his upper torso back into the bridge's landing and grinned.

"No one there." Macen said and removed his sensor glasses, "Let's get 'em moving Rab."

"You're sure that's a good idea?" Daggit responded.

"Moving out or the glasses?"

"The glasses." Daggit replied, "We could still lose the lights."

Macen put the glasses in one of his belt's free utility pouches, "And I'll know right where they are for future use."

"Yes sir." Daggit said through gritted teeth. His mood worsened as he saw all of the team members, except Radil, remove and stow their eyewear as well. Daggit was in "combat" mode and his emotional ranges were virtually nonexistent but the psychotherapists that had developed his mental conditioning had allowed for feeling frustrated with superior officers that refused to listen to blindingly superior advice from subordinates.

"Very well, which way then?" Daggit asked, "Left or right?"

Macen stuck his upper torso back out into the passageway. He stretched out with all of his senses and sought some insight one where to proceed next. Drawing a blank, he telepathically sought T'Kir's opinion.

Which way sounds good to you?

They're about even. I sense active minds along both routes. T'Kir replied.

How close?

Hard to tell exactly. They seem closer down the left.

Thanks. Macen thought and told Daggit, "We'll go right."

"I take it T'Kir's not sensing any opponents in that direction."

"Just get moving." Macen groaned.

The team had proceeded down the passageway for over fifteen minutes without encountering a single Omicron. Although they'd encountered several doors leading to rooms or passages other than the one they were currently travelling on, Macen had avoided deviating in order to minimise the chances of getting lost. T'Kir took hold of Macen's shirt and stopped him. As he presented her with a baffled expression, she pointed at a door across the passageway.

"We need to go in there." T'Kir insisted.

"I'm getting some vague emotional readings, but nothing concrete." Macen divulged, "Are you certain?"

That earned Macen a disgusted look, "There's two Omicron techs in there, as well as... something wonderful."

"Rab, Kort." Macen quietly called out, "We need to take down two hostiles, silently if possible."

"Certainly." Daggit replied and Kort nodded and then drew his knife. The Klingon released the blade and two "hilt" blades. The butt of the knife possessed a small spiked ball, converting the butt into a miniature mace.

Daggit's knife was very similar to a Bowie knife. Its differences lay in the handle, which was curved in such a way to allow for inverted grips and the serrated edge to the typically unsharpened "top" of the blade. He drew it from the sheath strapped to his left leg. T'Kir concentrated on the door's lock and it released. The door slid aside and the two startled Omicron techs bolted.

Daggit's knife flew into the throat of the Omicron reaching for one of his people's sceptre-like weapons. Daggit was in constant in motion. He caught the larger, gasping Omicron before he or she could hit the floor. Kort was immediately behind the second Omicron and he smashed a hand reaching for an orange telltale with his mace end. He then bisected the alien's throat with his blade.

The black blood that fell from the Omicrons severed arteries and veins was a viscous fluid that resembled petrochemically derived grease. It fell and oozed across the terminal the tech was seated at. T'Kir stormed into the room and Kort winced.

"It was an accident."

"Shh." T'Kir held her hand up to her lips and her eyes scrutinised the cylinder near the other side of the room. She slowly, almost reverently walked over to the cylinder. She traced the cylinder's outline with her fingers all while whispering to herself.

Kort cast a puzzled glance Macen's way as the Captain entered the area. Macen shrugged and began watching the show himself. Kort opened his mouth to speak to T'Kir when her fingers found a release on the cylinder. The upper and lower halves of the cylinder began to retract into the ceiling and floor respectively. Floating in an inner container was an enlarged brain and spinal column. Nerve bundles from tubes connecting to its housing were attached to the spinal column.

"By all that's holy..." Macen breathed, "T'Kir, what is this?"

She stood transfixed, "It's a computer."

"Incredible." Kort said in awe.

"Are all of the Omicron computers biological?" Macen enquired.

"It feels that way." T'Kir revealed, "I'm sensing hundreds of minds like this one and they're all connected to one massive supermind."

"So this is basically a terminal hooked up to a massive, living mainframe?" Macen sought clarification.

"Essentially." T'Kir confirmed.

"Is it capable of transferring data to our isolinear rods?" Macen asked.

"I think so but let me check out the interface terminal." T'Kir answered and proceeded to the console where Kort had killed the Omicron tech. He pushed the two metre tall body out of the way. It slumped out of the chair and hit the rock floor.

"Very cute, Kort." T'Kir wryly commented.

The Klingon was unapologetic, "It served its purpose."

"At least Omicrons wear loincloths resembling diapers. I'd hate to sit in his faeces." T'Kir's nose crinkled at the thought. As it was, the odour wafting out of the corpses was pungent enough. Thanks to her time with the Maquis, T'Kir was inured to the smell of death. Still, she opted to stand, just in case of any leakage.

She examined the station and then she began to telepathically query the Omicron computer. She marvelled at how fast the system responded and pulled up the data she was requesting. As a cyberengineer, she was studying the system's architecture. It ran counter to any synthetic system she'd ever encountered before. It was a true, living brain and functioned as such. Her telepathy provided a truer, direct interface with the computer than the Omicrons' control board.

"It can be done." T'Kir announced and inserted a data rod into a receptacle off to the side of the board.

"Download any information you can acquire regarding the Omicron's Ops plan and end goals." Macen instructed.

"Anything else, O Lord and Master." T'Kir quipped.

"The location of their ultramatter fragment would be nice." Macen remarked.

"Roger wilco, Captain my captain."

"You do realise that people only understand half of what you say?" Macen enquired.

T'Kir shrugged, "Y'all get the gist. That's all that counts."

"Y'all?" Macen laughed, "What're you? A Texan?"

T'Kir stuck out her tongue, a sure sign that she was ending the debate.

"Just download the data." Macen chuckled.

T'Kir telepathically relayed the information requests and the terminal's screens immediately came to life, displaying information at a rate beyond the average humanoid's ability to track. It encoded the data on the isolinear rod as fast as it could lay down the code. It recorded in Omicron. The translation matrix loaded in the microcomputer and the Obsidian's mainframe would be needed in order to interpret the data.

"Can you display interior views of the complex?" Macen asked.

T'Kir frowned and daily scenes of Omicron life began to unfold. Most of the pictures were innocuous. Then a picture of a massive brain and spinal column with thousands of nerves branching out from it appeared. It was easily three stories tall and the brain had the length of a Danube-class runabout and a width equal to its length. The height was equal to a runabout's.

"That's amazing." Macen idly commented.

"The nutrient tank is as complex as the bioengineering that enabled the Omicron to develop a superior computing system." T'Kir said in reverent tones.

"You sound like you're in love." Macen dryly commented.

"This system is the dream of every cybernetics engineer. Its the perfect fusion of the organic and synthetic."

Macen bristled, "The Borg claim the same thing."

T'Kir winced, "I know it may evoke a knee-jerk reaction with you but its the truth. This is the capability ideal that drives cybernetics in the Federation."

Macen refused to be mollified, "See if you can pull up the location of the ultramatter."

T'Kir hesitated but then she nodded, "All right."

A schematic of the multiple levels of the mountain fortress appeared. It was as deep as it was tall. The ultramatter lay at the very heart of the sprawling complex. It would require a surprise assault in order to penetrate that deeply into the Omicrons' base.

The monitors suddenly turned orange and a flashing symbol dominated the screen.

"Frinx!" All eyes turned to T'Kir.

"They've locked us out." she explained, "We've tripped a security alarm. They know we're here and where we're at."

"How?" Macen asked.

"The computer." T'Kir complained, "Its sentient. It monitored what we requested and asked the central mainframe if we had clearance."

"And of course we don't."

"No, we don't." T'Kir fumed, "Even the techs that manned this post didn't have the clearance." She pulled the isolinear rod out of the terminal's data port. "WE need to get out of here."

"We are." Macen confirmed, "Kort, alert Radil that she's now point and we're headed back to our point of entry. Also tell her that our anonymity's been blown. We're expecting company."

"Yes sir." Kort thumped his chest with his fist and departed.

"C'mon Rab, you're rearguard now." Macen informed his Tactical 1st.

"Right." came Daggit's terse reply.

The remaining trio retook their former positions in the SID procession. The order was reversed now with Radil leading the group back to the land bridge. The corridor was large enough to accommodate three abreast but the team remained in single file formation. Until they met the enemy, that is.

The first assault was a frontal attack upon Radil's position. She immediately opened fire upon the six charging Omicrons. Kort joined her side and began shooting her opponents. Radil was momentarily surprised and then she bared her teeth in a feral grin and redoubled her efforts.

The second surprise came out of a side door located just in front of Parva's place in line. She got a quick shot off on the lead Omicron but was about to be grappled by the second when T'Kir intervened. T'Kir raised her left hand and opened fire. She gunned down the offending Omicron and allowed Parva to regain her bearings by shooting down the third Omicron out the door. Parva cut down the fourth and the attack halted.

A larger group of ten ran up the corridor at Daggit. Rab pulled the second phaser out of its holster and began gunning down the Omicrons with both of his phasers. Employing a two handed grip, Macen stood beside Daggit mowing down the Omicron security forces.

"Jenrya," Macen yelled, "push forward! We can't lose our momentum."

Radil gritted her teeth and with Kort at her side she pressed forward. Her original six attackers were dead but three more had arrived. The security forces had the advantage of knowing the terrain and were using every curve in the trail and outcropping of rock as firing positions. Radil and Kort had to rely upon their marksmanship to even out the odds.

In the rearguard position, Daggit holstered his phasers and pulled free his grenade launcher. He pumped the slide and took aim. He fired the miniature torpedo at the wall beside the advancing Omicrons. The grenade detonated, causing a backlash of energy to envelop the native forces. Shards of rock flew off of the rock face of the corridor walls and decimated the advancing reinforcements.

"Good work." Macen said as they continued their running retreat, "We're almost there."

"How can you tell?" Daggit asked.

"We passed twenty-seven doors on the way in." Macen answered, "We've passed twenty-two on the way back."

They heard the familiar report of Radil's cannon and counted off the shots.

"They seem to be mostly coming from our direction." Daggit observed.

"From what little I could make out from the enhanced view of the base before the biocomputer shifted to a facility wide perspective," Macen described, "we were closer to a lift by going that way then if we would have turned left."

"So they're able to funnel more troops at us from multiple levels this way."

"Precisely." Macen said and began shooting at the latest wave of Omicron security officers.

Daggit racked another round into his launcher's chamber and took aim.

Aboard the Obsidian, Grace and Danan were refusing to leave their posts despite the fact that the gamma shift had begun and hour before.

"I'm not leaving until Brin and the others are back aboard and we're safely out of here." Danan hotly declared to Riker, "And it'll take an act of God or a stun blast from Security to make me change my mind, Tom."

"If it came to that, Lees, I'd just shoot you myself." Riker patted the surplus Militia phaser he wore and then he turned towards Grace, "And I suppose the same goes for you too."

"Damn straight!" Grace snapped off.

Riker sighed, "That's what I thought."

As he retook his seat, he glanced over towards the Engineering station where Rhiann was milling about. Riker shrugged and Rhiann offered him a wan smile in return.

"There has to be an easier way to make living." Riker muttered to himself.

Radil was two-thirds of the way across the land bridge when she stopped and turned around. Kort stopped beside her.

"What are you doing?"

"My job." Radil said with steel in her voice.

"Then serve with honour." Kort intoned.

"You too, my love." Radil replied, "And haul your butt back over to the landing."

Kort double-timed it off the bridge. T'Kir and Parva were the next to meet Radil.

"Keep going!" Radil yelled, "Go! Go! Go!"

Macen and Daggit brought up the rear. They were taking heavy fire. Daggit expended one grenade and then another. As soon as the grenade's discharge and shrapnel dispersed, the Omicrons pushed past the fallen bodies of their comrades and renewed the attack.

Radil opened fire to support their withdrawal. She picked off the Omicrons that spread out across the opposite landing. Macen and Daggit reached Radil's position and halted.

"We need to get the others out of here." Macen ordered, "Jenrya, gather up the troops and get clear of this area."

"But..." Radil began.

"No buts!" Macen snapped, "Just do it."

Radil slowly retreated back to the landing, all the while maintaining suppressive fire. The rest of the team had already joined their fire to hers and were pinning down the Omicrons to the left of their position while Radil gunned down those on the right. When Radil reached the others, she began issuing orders.

"The Captain wants you to exit the cave and await us out there."

"Whadd'ya mean 'us'?" T'Kir demanded, "I'm not leavin'."

"Damn it, T'Kir!" Radil barked, "Macen was specific."

"Not me." T'Kir flashed a manic grin, "I'm the exception to every rule."

"I'm not leaving either." Parva declared.

"I cannot abandon you." Kort cried out.

Radil's shoulders sagged as she aimed and fired her next shot, "You're all facing Macen, not me."

"Not a prob." T'Kir dismissed Radil's concerns.

Meanwhile Macen had resumed crossing the bridge and Daggit was just now restarting his retreat. He fired off another grenade and then pumped his launcher and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. With no time to spare reloading, Daggit holstered the launcher and pulled his two phaser pistols free.

Macen kept up a constant rate of fire and had just reached the landing when Daggit was hit in the leg. Macen rushed forward despite Radil's efforts to grab him.

"Rab?" Macen asked as he came alongside Daggit.

"I'm fine." Daggit replied through gritted teeth, "Got hit worse that time on Minok V."

"I remember." Macen replied, thinking of that particular adventure behind Dominion lines, "Can you travel?"

"Just keep walking, sir." Daggit urged, "I'll be right behind you."

Reluctantly, and at T'Kir's shouted insistence, Macen returned to the landing. Parva was frantic.

"No!" she snarled, "We're not leaving him!" T'Kir and Kort held her back. Macen and Radil kept up their covering fire.

"I have no intention of leaving him." Macen yelled back.

"You lie!" Parva hissed. T'Kir applied a nerve pinch and the Orion went slack.

She and Kort began dragging the engineer out of the cavern. Macen and Radil stood their ground until T'Kir sent back a telepathic warning. Some type of membrane was sealing the mouth of the fissure up. Kort and T'Kir had already carried Parva out of harm's way. Radil and Macen began to hurry out of the cavern space.

"Rab!" Macen called out, "Run!"

Daggit had reached the landing and at Macen's warning he glanced back and saw the closing organic "door". Macen and Radil made it through but the space was getting awfully narrow.

"Hurry Rab!" Macen exclaimed.

"Go!" Daggit yelled as he hobbled along, "Forget about me. Think of the mission and go! I'll keep them busy for you."

"No." Macen said quietly, "No!"

Radil grabbed Macen by the arm, "It's my job to keep you safe, sir, and I'm telling you you're not going in there after him."

Macen violently swore and stepped back. The membrane sealed just as Daggit reached it. It was a translucent green and those to either side of the barrier could see one another. Daggit snapped off a crisp salute and then turned and resumed firing at the pursuing Omicrons. Macen fired into the membrane. There was a burning smell but the membrane healed so swiftly that the beam made little impact.

"Want me to try?" Radil asked.

"No." Macen said in resignation, "We're getting out of here."

"Sir?"

"You heard the man, the mission comes first. I won't dishonour him by refusing to do my duty." Macen said with grim finality, "Join the others."

Radil trudged over to where T'Kir and Kort held up Parva.

Macen spared Daggit one last glance. The Omicrons had overwhelmed him and were dragging him away. Macen's jaw clenched. He'd lost people in battle before, but he'd never abandoned one before. Angrily, he joined the others.

"She's gonna be pissed when she wakes up." T'Kir warned nodding at Parva's unconscious form.

"We'll take measures." Macen assured her.

"Good." T'Kir nodded her head forcibly, "Cus I'm too young to be a widow."

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Telrik, five to beam up."

"Yes sir." A moment later the familiar sense of dislocation overwhelmed the investigative team.

 

Chapter 13

The investigative team rematerialised in the Obsidian's transporter room. Telrik saw Parva's condition and went for the comm button on the transporter's control console.

"Belay that, Mr. Telrik." Kort informed the Transporter Chief, "Parva is all right."

Telrik blinked in confusion but subsided. If the ship's Chief Medical Officer felt there was no danger then why should he? Macen turned to Radil and Kort.

"Lock her up in a cell in the brig." Macen grimly ordered, "I'll deal with her later."

T'Kir passed off her half of Radil's body to Radil and stepped back. Radil and Kort exchanged worried glances and then set off for the brig. Macen tapped his comm badge as they were leaving.

"Tom, this is Macen. Set course for Earth and proceed at our best possible speed."

"Aye, sir." came Riker's reply.

"So now what?" T'Kir asked.

"Now we hurry off to the bridge and try to avoid getting killed by the inevitable Omicron bioship."

"Good plan."

Macen and T'Kir emerged from the turbolift and strode onto the bridge. Macen assessed the situation and began issuing orders.

"Lees, light up the sensors. They already know we're here."

Danan activated the sensors and began studying the various readings. Macen shifted his attention to Grace.

"Hannah, push as hard as you can to get through this debris field." Macen instructed, "We need to get back to Earth as fast as we can."

"You got it." Grace replied, "But where's Rab? Is he hurt?"

"He was left behind." Macen said simply, "We can mourn later. We have a mission to complete."

"But..."

"There are no 'buts' Hannah." Macen said harshly, "The Omicrons have Rab now. May the Fates have mercy on him."

Daggit's arms were being held by an Omicron to either side of him. They hadn't bothered to disarm him beyond taking his phasers away. They were holding Daggit on the bridge. Other Omicron troops milled about and then they snapped to attention.

An Omicron began approaching wearing a bandolier adorned with a golden symbol. It was the same symbol that had flashed on the computer monitors when the alarm was triggered. The way the other Omicrons deferred to him indicated he was a high ranking leader of some kind. Daggit steeled himself for the inevitable interrogation.

The Omicron officer stopped in front of Daggit. Using his captors for support, Daggit kicked his legs out at the officer. The Omicron merely stepped back and laughed a harsh laugh. He wore a cruel smile.

"I take it we've been raided by Captain Brin Macen." the Omicron's gravelly voice grated.

Daggit remained silent and the Omicron released a malicious chuckle, "Given the reports of your prowess in battle and your chosen armaments, I'd guess that you're Macen's Tactical Specialist, Rab Daggit."

"And if I were to guess, you're the head of this facilities Security Forces." Daggit replied coldly.

"Of the entire Omicron Imperium." The officer boasted, "Ezexial warned us of your group. We've been expecting you."

"You won't get anything from me." Daggit vowed.

"I don't plan to." the officer's smile grew, "Throw him off!"

Daggit's captors hurled him off the bridge and he sailed down into the darkness of the abyss. The Omicron officer laughed.

"Let the Lowlies have him." he pronounced and the rest of his men laughed as well.

"We're clear of the debris field!" Grace announced, "Preparing to go to warp speed."

"I have an Omicron cruiser on approach." Danan reported.

"Do you have it Shannon?" Macen asked.

Forger manned Tactical in Daggit's absence since there was no need for a 2nd Officer when the CO and XO were both present. She was also more qualified for the position than the gamma shift Tactical officer. She'd faced Dominion forces while filling that role.

"I have him." Forger confirmed, "Raising shields and ion shields. Weapons are hot and ready for use."

"Engage the warp engines." Macen ordered.

"Yessir." Grace replied and slipped the ship into subspace.

Macen activated the intercom to Engineering, "We're going to need maximum warp for as long as you can sustain it."

"Aye, aye." was Gilan's response.

"Now the chase is on." Macen told Riker.

Daggit didn't know long he'd hung there, embroiled in some kind of massive spider web. It had been a two hours at least. He estimated that the Obsidian should have cleared the system by now. She'd be at high warp, headed for Earth and getting further away every second.

Daggit cursed himself for being so supremely confident in his combat abilities. His overconfidence had left him alone and abandoned on a hostile world. To top it all off, he was about to be eaten by some horrible creature. If he could just free his arms, he could reload his launcher and use his knife to liberate himself.

Daggit strained with all of his impressive might and managed to rip the strands of webbing holding his arms in place. He pulled his knife free and began hacking at the webbing suspending his body. Eventually, he cut his way to the surface of the chasm he'd plunged down. The webs had saved his life and he was grateful. He really hoped he wouldn't have to kill the creature or creatures that had spun this web.

Looking about, he realised that someone or something had gathered up phosphorescent mosses and algae and staggered them about where he stood. Looking further down the horizon, clusters of lights were everywhere. They seemed to be the most concentrated half a kilometre or so away.

Daggit proceeded towards the cluster of light when he heard a strange scuttling sound. It sounded like six padded feet. Daggit swiftly loaded his grenade launcher and pumped the action on it, loading the first grenade.

A bizarre sight emerged from the shadows. The creature possessed the upper torso of an Omicron and the lower body of a spider. The lower body sprouted six legs. The Omicron torso wielded two arms.

Daggit took aim and the creature spoke, "Oy mate, what're you doin' down 'ere and what the 'ell did you do t'me web?"

"You speak Federation Standard?" Daggit asked in amazement.

"Naw." the spider being waved that assumption aside, "The microbes livin' in the fungus down 'ere act as translators. They lets you read the thoughts of uvvers when they talk. You got infected the moment you arrived. Probably living on me web, they was."

"Pardon my asking, but what are you?"

"I'm a Lowlie." The being explained, "I'm a 'failed experiment'. The Lord High Mucky Mucks in charge o' creatin' new lifeforms hatched me and then decided that they didn't want me. I didn't serve no purpose y'see. Tressib's me name."

"Mine's Rab Daggit." Daggit informed Tressib, "Is this where you eat me?"

Tressib laughed, a truly mind altering sight, "Naw. Me web's there to catch Lowlies when they throw 'em off the bridge."

"Throw them off the bridge?"

"Like they did t'you, mate." Tressib answered, "When a Lowlie gets made, they toss 'em down 'ere. The fall used t'kill most of 'em. But a few survived and created the Lowlie habitat. Since I arrived, we've 'ad a 100% success rate at savin' the newbies."

"And now I'm here." Daggit said.

"Yeah, I ain't never seen anythin' like you before." Tressib admitted, "I'm supposin' you're an alien rather than a Lowlie."

"That's right." Daggit said, "So what happens now?"

"Well, now you put that weapon away and I take you to the habitat where we'll grab a bite t'eat." Tressib suggested, "I'll introduce you t'me mates."

"I suppose you're referring to your friends rather than a spouse."

Tressib laughed again. The jiggling motion threatened to shake him apart, "That's a good one, mate. Me, I'm one o' a kind. Who'd I mate with?"

"Good point." Daggit mused, "Something to consider."

"All the Lowlies are unique and they're all male." Tressib explained, "There's no reproducin' down 'ere. Now, you want to meet me mates or not?"

"Lead on Tressib, lead on." Daggit holstered the launcher and Tressib turned around and motioned for Daggit to walk beside him, "By the way, what is there to eat?"

"Lots o' algae." Tressib chuckled, "Get used t'it."

"There's water?"

"A whole underground lake. You'll see it soon enough."

"They're catching up." Forger announced, "They'll be in estimated firing range in 1.2 minutes."

Macen looked over at Riker, "Now we find out if that shield is worth anything."

"I'd prefer a gentler field test." Riker confessed.

"So would I but that's just not going to happen." Macen replied.

"Time to weapon's range 3 seconds." Forger announced, "two...one...they're firing!"

Two balls of energy erupted out of the bioship's fins. They travelled faster than the speed of light and impacted the Obsidian. The ship's shields held but Macen ordered Grace to drop them out of warp.

"Let's make them think we're hurt worse then we are." Macen grinned.

Riker joined him in the grin, "I like it."

"I want you to direct most of this engagement, Tom." Macen informed Riker.

Riker's grin vanished, "I just lost a ship, Brin."

"And you won't lose another. You just need to prove it to yourself." Macen's grin blossomed into a smile, "I'll be right here."

That seemed to mollify Riker, "Helm, bring us about. Tactical, prepare to fire all weapons."

The bioship loomed on the viewer. The skin of the bioship rippled as its muscles contracted. A massive electrical discharge burst forth from the bioship and the ion blast lanced into the Obsidian. The energy enveloped the ship but the ion shield held. The blast dissipated without causing any damage.

The bioship fired its ion burst again but it was met with the same results. Forger opened fire with the torpedoes and the phasers. Gaping wounds appeared in the bioship's skin but just as soon as it was afflicted, the wounds began knitting.

The bioship began firing particle beams at the Federation surveyor. The shields took a hit and Riker ordered auxiliary power thrown to the shields. The two ships darted and weaved around each other exchanging fire. It soon became apparent that the Omicron ship had the advantage in firepower. It was taking significant damage and its self repair systems were slowing.

Riker was about to order the Obsidian back into warp speed when another ship dropped out of subspace. The USS Defiant came at the bioship, pulse phasers firing. The bioship reeled and it fired its ion blast. The Defiant shrugged it off and began firing its quantum torpedoes.

The bioship ceased fire, broke and ran. Riker ordered Grace to contact the Defiant's helm and coordinate proceeding out of the system at warp 6. Commander Vaughn hailed the Obsidian.

"Nice work, Macen." The elderly Starfleet officer, who still looked to be in his late sixties, congratulated the Obsidian's Captain.

"It wasn't me, Elias." Macen replied, "The credit goes to my 1st Officer."

"I was wondering." Vaughn grinned, "It didn't have your trademark madcap style. My congratulations then to you Mr. Riker."

"Thank you." Riker nodded in acknowledgement of Vaughn's praise.

"So, Brin, you've escaped. Now what are your plans?" Vaughn wondered.

"My next stop is Earth." Macen replied.

"We can escort you as far as DS9." Vaughn promised, "I don't know what'll happen then."

"That's more than enough." Macen replied gratefully, "By the way, how did you come to be exactly where we needed you?"

"Captain Kira sent us. We followed your trail to Omicron then laid in wait along your route home. Our sensors picked up you and the Omicron ship and we came running."

"Much to our eternal relief." Macen said.

"And you protested our coming out here with you." Vaughn teased.

"I've been shown the error of my ways." Macen vowed.

Vaughn chuckled, "If only it were true."

"Would you care to join us for dinner later?" Macen asked.

Vaughn flashed a brilliant smile, "I'd love to."

"We'll see what we can arrange." Macen promised.

"Until later then, or until trouble strikes again." Vaughn signed off.

"Lover, does he know you." T'Kir said to Macen.

"You don't know the half of it." Macen assured her.

Macen joined Radil in the brig where an infuriated Parva was doing her best to take her cell apart. Upon seeing Macen, Parva ceased all activity and coiled up like a predatory cat. Her teeth were bared and her eyes were wild. Macen was reminded that Orion women had a reputation for savagery.

"You left him." Parva accused, "You said you wouldn't yet you did."

"I had no choice." Macen calmly replied, "Rab wanted me to leave him so I could report to Starfleet."

"Liar!" Parva screamed.

"Its true, Parva." Radil informed her, "I was there. Rab wanted us to leave him. He stayed behind to keep the Omicrons busy."

"He died because of you." Parva hissed, "The only man I've ever loved is dead because of you!"

"He's not dead." Macen said quietly.

"What?" Parva was flabbergasted.

"I'd know if he were dead, just like I'd know it about any member of the investigative team. I sense probabilities shifting around a person. If Rab were dead, I would have felt his absence in the universe. I would have seen it as a possibility before we went into action. I've seen it before and some of those people died, others lived. It all depended on what whim the Fates followed next."

"Spare me your El-Aurian mysticism." Parva replied yet was pacified somewhat.

"Can you perform your duties?" Macen asked.

"Of course." Parva seemed offended.

"I'm going back for him, Parva." Macen promised, "I've never left a man behind before and I don't intend to start now."

"You'd better not." Parva growled, "You let me out of here and I'll do my duty. But when we go back, if he's dead, we'll finish this conversation."

"Fair enough." Macen said and nodded for Radil to drop the cell's forcefield, "Gilan has the engines buttoned down. I suggest you get some rest before your shift starts again."

"Just remember, we're going back and he'd better be alive."

"I've got that loud and clear."

"Good." Parva huffed and left the brig with one last snarl at the Security officer posted there.

"I hope he's alive, for your sake." Radil said.

"Tell me about it." Macen muttered as he departed.

Macen and T'Kir ate a quiet dinner in their quarters that night. The day's events had left both of them exhausted. T'Kir stabbed at her pasta with her fork, looking across the table at Macen.

"So, how'd Parva take the news?"

"About as well as could be expected." Macen confessed, "I told her Rab was still alive and that we were going to go back and get him."

"And?" T'Kir asked after swallowing a mouthful.

Macen swallowed and took a drink, "She insinuated that she'd kill me if any of that weren't true."

"So you..."

"Let her out of the brig." Macen took another mouthful and began chewing.

"She threatens to kill you so you let her out of the brig?" T'Kir's voice began rising, "Are you frinxing insane?"

"Not really." Macen countered, "Rab is alive, for now at least. Of course he could die between now and our return."

"Which means we'd still be dealing with a homicidal Orion." T'Kir lamented.

"Don't worry, you can take her." Macen grinned.

"You're assuming that I'll still want to save your worthless hide." T'Kir sullenly pushed her plate away.

Macen pushed his plate away as well, "C'mon, I'll recycle the dishes and then we can snuggle on the couch and catch up on some reading."

"Okay." T'Kir agreed, "You'd better not end up dead over this."

"I won't."

"You'd better not."

"He's alive and everything will turn out for the best in the end."

"Good."

Three days passed without incident. The Obsidian and the Defiant reached the Bajor sector and the Starfleet ship dropped out of warp. As previously agreed to, Vaughn raised the alarm upon reaching his base of operations. Soon every starship and Starbase in the quadrant knew of the SID ship's driving quest to reach Earth and traffic was being moved out of her path.

As soon as they were in range of Starfleet's subspace relays, Macen began reporting to Admiral Drake. He gave her details of their mission and of their discoveries. Drake was alarmed at the scope of the Omicron's plans. She also had good news.

"Every Omicron bioship in the quadrant has apparently been recalled. The Klingons and the Romulans are reporting the same thing." Drake informed Macen.

"They're preparing for invasion." he said grimly, "Its time to gather our forces."

"The Klingons and the Cardassians are willing but the Romulans are still holding out." Drake revealed, "Even the Tholians and the Gorn are suddenly willing to talk after their 'allies' sudden betrayal and departure."

"That's good." Macen observed, "I have another ally in mind but it's a wait and see kind of thing."

"Who?" Drake wondered.

"I'd rather not raise your hopes." Macen replied, "I'll let you know when I have something more concrete."

"Then I'll see you when you reach Earth."

Three days later, Parva was complaining about the toll being exacted on her engines. The Obsidian dropped out of warp and sailed into the Sol system. She proceeded at maximum impulse and swiftly passed the Jupiter boundary. The Mars defensive perimeter was the next barrier to be crossed.

The ship passed through the inner system and cruised past the Sun. Coming through, she was on course to pass Earth. As she did a bullet burn past Earth and Luna, the Obsidian transmitted all of her data stores containing the Omicron database they'd downloaded. With that accomplished, she kept on going out of the system.

"What are you doing?" Drake said as she hailed them, "Where are you going?"

"We have a date on New Kelva." Macen ignored Grace turning around suddenly and staring at him.

Drake's mouth hung open and then she recovered her composure, "Good luck with that."

Macen dismissed her sour tone, "Once you review the Omicrons' plan, you'll see why I'm positive that we can persuade the Kelvans to join in this battle on our side."

"Then good luck." Drake said with conviction, "I mean it this time. We need all the help we can get."

"Especially help with their capabilities." Macen agreed.

"Until later then." Drake said and terminated her transmission.

"Set the course Hannah." Macen said softly.

"But they..." Grace stumbled, "I..."

"It'll be okay, Hannah." Macen reassured her, "Now set the course."

With one final sigh, Grace plotted the course and laid it in, "Course set."

"Go for maximum warp and engage."

"Parva'll hate us." Grace warned.

"I'm learning I can live with that." Macen informed her.

It still took the Obsidian nearly two days to reach New Kelva. She'd sustained warp 9.65 for twelve hours and then dropped to warp 6. As predicted, her chief engineer was in a foul mood. Not only over the abuse her engines were receiving but also over this detour from returning to Omicron.

Two systems out from Kelva, the Obsidian was challenged. She dropped out of warp and was intercepted by a Kelvan cruiser. It possessed an ovular shape with two rounded outcroppings to either "side" of the ship. It was roughly the size and shape of a Sabre-class starship.

The transmission was audio only, "State your identity and purpose."

"My name is Brin Macen. I am the Captain of the Federation starship Obsidian." Macen paused for effect, "I am here to discuss matter of Kelvan security with Parvac."

There was silence for several minutes then the coolly detached voice returned, "Very well, follow us at subspace factor five."

"Grace?" Macen asked as the transmission terminated.

"That's roughly warp six." she replied, "Don't worry, I can do the conversions."

Her hands flew across her board and the surveyor leapt back in to subspace for ten minutes then she dropped out of warp. The Kelvan system lay before them and it was full. A half-dozen more of the cruiser types were floating about as well as two of the Kelvan style battlecruisers. The twin spired ships were more than twice the size of a Galaxy-class explorer. The cruiser led them to Kelvan orbit and then reversed course and departed the system in the direction it had arrived in.

"They're hailing us." T'Kir reported, "You gonna answer?"

"Put it on screen'" Macen instructed.

The viewer's image shifted from Kelva's skies to a picture of a robust middle-aged man who was smiling, "Captain Macen, a pleasure to see you again."

"You may not think so after you review the data I've brought, Parvac." Macen warned.

Parvac frowned, "Really? What kind of data is this?"

"A plan for conquering the galaxy and then attacking your people." Macen answered, " Well first you and then the Borg."

"Ah, the cybernetic creatures." Parvac was pleased to catch this reference, "Do you honestly think that this is possible?"

"Given enough numbers and subject races working for them, I think anything is possible." Macen replied.

"Then I suppose you had better employ that matter-energy conversion device of yours and transport yourself to my ship." Parvac insisted.

"Give my people the coordinates where you'd like me to arrive at and I'll be there momentarily." Macen informed him.

"Excellent. Perhaps we can lay this matter to rest." Parvac suggested

"I'd like nothing more." Macen assured him.

 

Chapter 14

Parvac greeted Macen in a cargo bay, "Welcome Captain. Please feel free to consider this ship a secondary home."

"Most generous." Macen replied, "However, I can see why you'd find this ship to be home, but its alien soil to me."

Parvac Chuckled, "Men like you and I make our homes aboard the ships we serve. If you were to serve aboard this vessel, you would make a home here."

Macen rubbed his hairy chin before answering, "You're probably right."

Parvac slapped Macen on the shoulder, "Of course I am."

"You've really gotten into this being human thing haven't you?" Macen enquired and Parvac laughed.

"So, how is Hannai?" Parvac asked, using Grace's Kelvan name.

"She's doing well." Macen remarked, "Remarkably well considering what she's given up."

"The choice was hers to make." Parvac replied in return.

"I think, for her, she made the right one." Macen admitted, "She'd been away from your people for so long and assimilated so well, I think she eventually feared rejoining you. She's sitting on the bridge of my ship right now dreading the very idea that she may be summoned to partake in our discussions."

"Then perhaps we should summon her." Parvac said gruffly, "No Kelvan should cower in fear."

"You forget," Macen warned, "That unlike Rojan and his crew and unlike your recent arrivals, she was born human with all the emotions and sensations that go along with it. You've had weeks, and in Rojan's scouts' case, year to slowly adjust. Grace was born this way with no memory of how it felt to be a true Kelvan. In addition to that, she's lived amongst true humans for ten years. In the human world, fear is a daily experience. What hallmarks a person is how they deal with that fear. She's afraid but she'd come if she were called. That sets her apart in my estimation."

"It is strange, I feel for her. I feel...pity is the emotion I believe I am after." Parvac revealed.

"Welcome to your own human experience." Macen grinned.

Parvac nodded, "Maybe so. Now let's adjourn to our tactical centre and see this information you are carrying."

Before departing the Obsidian, Macen had picked up T'Kir's microcomputer and all the original isolinear data rods containing the translation matrixes and the Herzet and Omicron data. Warned by Grace that the Kelvan ships would be twenty degrees cooler, he'd worn his flight jacket. It was a waist length, black leather coat that was favoured by Starfleet fighter crews. It possessed a Mandarin collar and a zippered front with buckled straps as a back up. The straps led to a "rib cage" that sported raised leather strips that the straps merged into. The flat strips melded seamlessly into the flat panel's that comprised the back of the jacket.

Parvac complimented Macen on his choice of attire. Macen didn't understand why until he saw various Kelvan crewmen carrying on about their business. They wore synthetic uniform blouses styled in a similar fashion. The Kelvan uniform looked remarkably like the Starfleet uniform of the late 23rd and early 24th centuries. Only there's was composed of some kind of black leather. The uniform also clasped its front flap with D-ring buckles like Macen's jacket.

Like Macen, all the Kelvans were armed. Only they were armed with their seemingly limitless Attuners, the mysterious devices that translated thoughts into reality. Fortunately, the Kelvans had to understand the make up of an object or being in order to affect it. They could also transport others across vast distances if they knew the exact coordinates of the destination. It explained why a technologically advanced species such as the Kelvans had never attempted to construct a transporter.

Despite the Kelvans' proclaimed openness, their insistence upon Macen's beaming over to a cargo bay retained their secrets. Those secrets included the locations of their bridge and other vital centres. After a turbolift ride to parts unknown, Macen was led to an anonymous door. The door opened akin to a French door and the ship's Tactical Centre stood revealed.

The space was a semicircle, rounded at one end and square at the other. The square end possessed a table with various controls on a lower lip beneath the table's edge. The circular part of the room was set up almost identically as the Herzet holomap room. A central projector dominated the centre of the area.

Various controls, monitors and stations encircled the room's central features. A half-dozen Kelvans stood post at various stations. Three Kelvans stood around the table. Parvac headed for the table.

Parvac stopped and held up a hand towards Macen, "This is Captain Brin Macen. Present yourselves."

A fair-haired man of indeterminate age held out his hand, "This is the traditional greeting, yes?"

Macen grasped the man's hand, "Perfectly executed."

The man seemed relieved, "I am Kiln."

A woman with the same timeless quality approached and shook Macen's hand, "I am Rea."

The third, an apparent youth eagerly approached as soon as Rea stepped back, "I'm Gozer. Is my syntax correct?"

Macen patted him on the shoulder, "You're doing fine."

"Can you tell us about the Federation?" Gozer blurted, "We have so many questions."

"Gozer!" Parvac admonished, "We are here to conduct military business not engage in some kind of comparative history class."

Gozer bowed his head, "I apologise. My fate is yours to decide."

Parvac smiled, "I believe I can forgive one such outburst due to your youthful exuberance and the nature of our guest."

"I'm a refugee the same as you." Macen informed them, "The Federation is my adoptive home, as it can be yours if you so choose."

The prospect excited Gozer. Kiln and Rea were each warily tentative. Parvac's emotions were carefully neutral. At a glance from Parvac, the other three quelled their emotions and adopted blank expressions.

"Captain Macen has brought us information which he claims will reveal a threat to our people." Parvac announced, "I want you to verify or debunk his claims."

Rea approached Macen and held out her hand, "The data please."

Macen handed her a crystal, "This one allows you to translate this one. That one translates this third one and the third one outlines the plan to attack your people."

"We shall see." Rea replied coolly. Gozer accompanied her to a workstation. Kiln stood back and supervised their work.

A few moments later, Rea and Gozer were in a deep discussion with Kiln. Kiln reviewed the data they'd perused. The individual pages of information were only viewed for a few seconds yet the Kelvans felt confident they had a firm grasp on the data being presented.

Kiln approached Parvac and the two stepped aside for a quiet conference. Macen could feel surprise and then outrage emanate from Parvac. When the Kelvan Commander next spoke to Macen, it was with barely contained fury.

"Give us their coordinates and we shall deal with them." Parvac vowed.

"Don't you have to answer to a civilian Chief of State?" Macen wondered.

"Rojan is our civil leader." Parvac described, "He is in charge of our re-education and of constructing domiciles for us all. I am the supreme authority concerning all military matters."

"I see." Macen replied thoughtfully, "Then I ought to tell you, my crew and I will be accompanying you."

"You have done your part." Parvac declared, "Your ship is vastly inferior to ours and will only get in our way. I would not wish to destroy you be accident."

"I don't intend to fight. I plan to reach Omicron and retrieve a fellow officer I left behind." Macen informed him.

"Your officer is lost. Forget him." Parvac said coldly.

"I can't do that." Macen stated firmly, "He'd come back for me. I owe him the same loyalty."

"You are adamant about this?"

"Never more so in my life. In fact, I won't give you the location of Omicron without your permission for us to accompany you." Macen bluffed. The location was found on the Herzet database but they hadn't perused it yet."

"We could force the information from you." Parvac declared.

"You could try." Macen said, "Hannah...Hannai made that mistake once."

"I see." Parvac pondered Macen's words, "We could strike out at your crew."

"A move that would only strengthen my resolve." Macen revealed.

Parvac wrestled with his options. Rea interrupted his ponderings.

"Sir, we've located this 'Omicron'."

Parvac stared at Macen, dumbfounded, "You knew we could find this at any time yet you dared to try and deceive me?"

"Yes." Macen admitted, "I need to be in on this mission."

"Very well." Parvac agreed, "I was about to consent anyway. Your devotion to your crewman is inspiring to my kind. Up until recently we felt no feelings regarding one another whatsoever. A slain or lost officer was simply abandoned to their fate. Yet your conviction to save your man stirs feelings within me I have never encountered before. I cannot ignore this compulsion to accede to your request."

"Thank you." Macen said quietly, "When do we depart?"

"Immediately." Parvac said enthusiastically, " I will take half of my forces. The pickets will remain as well as my other battlecruiser."

"The forces arrayed against you will be formidable." Macen warned.

"I have engaged one of these Omicron cruisers before, remember? This time we will not hold back." Parvac wore a feral smile, "We will take you into one of docking bays for the transwarp voyage there and release you when we engage the enemy. Equitable enough?"

Macen shook Parvac's hand, "That's perfect."

Macen safely returned to the Obsidian. Once aboard, he shared the name of Parvac's battlecruiser. Touting the ominous title of Annihilator, the ship had been built for one purpose. Its redesignated role as a defensive craft had only come about with the near total destruction of the Kelvan race.

Neither Grace nor Parvac had yet discussed what or who had nearly wiped out the galactic wide empire birthed by their ancestors. Parvac had hinted that it stemmed from the Kelvans love of war and conquest. Macen had unleashed that aspect of them and it would be a terrible study to witness how effective they truly were at conquest.

Conquest wouldn't be an adequate term for what Parvac had in mind. His goal was the utter destruction of the Omicron fleet. Macen had to wonder if he was uncaging the beast that would next cast its eye on the Federation. He didn't have time for that concern now. His immediate goal was stopping the Omicrons.

While waiting for the Annihilator's signal to begin the docking procedure, Macen made a swift report to Admirals Drake and Nechayev. He sent the signal just in time for the Kelvans to contact the Obsidian. Grace received their instructions and proceeded to the "underside" of the pedestal that formed the base of the twin towers that comprised the bulk of the battlecruiser. Once there, they found a massive set of doors hanging open for them. Grace manoeuvred the Obsidian into the cavernous space that lay revealed with room to spare. Once there, they placed the impulse engines on stand by and waited for the Kelvans next instructions.

"You mean you're ready to strike but you've just been waiting for a leader?" Daggit asked incredulously.

"You got it in one, mate." Tressib replied, "We've got the manpower for a revolt, we're just lackin' the necessary military skills and leadership."

Daggit could believe it. Despite the Lowlies innate hatred for the Omicrons, they were among the most passive people he'd ever encountered. They had access to the lowest level of the Omicron fortress through a tunnel connecting the Lowlies' domain and the city. They'd never once entered it. Tressib had set up webs there but he never discussed what he did with the wayward Omicrons that became caught in them.

The arachnoid in question was currently polishing off a tub of algae paste. Although Daggit had been forced to subsist on captured Breen rations when caught behind enemy lines, he'd never gained an appreciation for algae paste. After this little adventure was done, he doubted he'd ever eat it again no matter how desperate the situation. He tasted the lie in that vow even as he made it. His conditioning would force him to eat any available foodstuffs on hand.

Tressib put down the algae paste container, "Actually mate, we wuz thinkin' o' askin' you to lead our little revolution."

Daggit had suspected this when Tressib and the other Lowlie leaders began discussing their plans with him but he was still surprised, "You barely know me. What makes you think I'm qualified?"

"Yore a soldier, mate, which is a 'elluva lot more than the rest o' us." Tressib argued.

Daggit thought about and then asked, "How many of you are there?"

"All told, there's roughly fifteen hunnert o' us."

"All right, I'll do it." Daggit conceded, "When can you be ready?"

"Try thirty minutes." Tressib said and scuttled off to spread the word.

Daggit checked his ammo. He still had fifty rounds for the grenade launcher, not counting the six in it already. He had his knife. He also had dozens of power packs for his phasers. The phasers had been stripped from him but the packs would make convenient bombs.

Daggit was looking forward to upsetting the Omicrons' daily lives. He imagined that he could maintain a guerrilla war for weeks if need be. Hopefully within that time Starfleet and its allies would be arriving and he would be rescued from his inadvertent incarceration here. The Lowlies were friendly enough but he was a stranger among them. He wanted to return to his unit, his crew...his family.

For twenty-six years, Daggit had belonged to a division, a team, or a defined group. In all that time, he'd never been alone. This was a new experience for him and one that he found to be terrifying. He longed for the simplicity of combat. At least while he was fighting he was incapable of loneliness.

As promised, Tressib had the entire Lowlie community gathered around Daggit in thirty minutes. Daggit surveyed the various adaptations of the Omicron genome and marvelled at the lengths the Omicrons would go to to try and improve their species. Soon Daggit was requesting specific abilities. Those with them presented themselves at the head of the assembled ranks.

Soon, Daggit had designated five divisions of three hundred. One was to remain behind and secure the Lowlie's line of retreat. The other four were tasked with destroying the "super" computer brain and securing the ultramatter relic. This was paramount in the minds of the Lowlies.

They did not wish to see another Lowlie or bioengineered person or thing created through the use of the ultramatter. They were willing to sacrifice all their lives in order to see this goal become a reality. Daggit wouldn't deny them their chance at fulfilling this dream. Instead he was going to do everything in his power to make it a reality.

"Are you ready?" he shouted at the assembled throng.

"Yes!" they shouted back. It least Daggit registered it as a shout. Knowing it was all inside his head just made it hurt. He wondered how T'Kir kept her sanity. He paused and reflected that she didn't always keep her sanity.

He could understand why. Maybe the microbes affected him differently since he wasn't an Omicron but he could thoughts that weren't associated with speech. All that was required was for the person to be thinking in sentences and Daggit could "overhear" them. The "noise" he was getting from the crowd threatened to overwhelm him.

Daggit shrugged it off and yelled, "Let's go!" and he charged off for the access tunnel with twelve hundred Lowlies in his wake.

In high orbit above Omicron, the Omicron fleet filled the skies and the near space. The bioships floated in space, their fins undulating and their tails twitching. Every Omicron ship was assembled and loaded with their invasion force.

The ships had originally been scheduled for recall in order to bring the Omicron ground forces aboard. The Lord High Ship Liege had joined the fleet and was anticipating a swift and crushing defeat of the expected attack from the Federation and its allies. The information Ezexial had gathered on the Federation, combined with the Omicron's battle tested tactics and weaponry, indicated that this battle would be completely one-sided.

Although there was a lingering doubt based upon the Federation raiders that had effortlessly shrugged off the ion weapons of the pursuing Omicron bioship. The possibility of the Federation having countered the Omicrons' primary weapon was disappointing but the bioships' particle weapons were powerful enough to adequately do the job. The High Ship Liege's oral orifice curled upward into a satisfied smile. This would be a glorious battle that would establish Omicron's return to intergalactic prominence.

"Prepare for transwarp passage." a Kelvan junior officer brusquely informed the crew of the Obsidian. Outside the battlecruiser a transwarp conduit opened up and the Kelvan forces entered the otherworldly passageway that lay revealed before them. The transit took a mere twenty-five minutes to cross the Alpha Quadrant. When the ships emerged, they appeared at the periphery of the debris field filling the system.

"Prepare to disembark." the same officer commanded.

Grace took over the conversation. By the time she finished her discussion the officer was far more polite. The bay doors opened up and the Obsidian's manoeuvring thrusters came to life. When the Federation ship emerged from the bowels of the battlecruiser her impulse engines flared to life and she pushed ahead of the Kelvan squadron.

Macen signalled Parvac, "Give us a five minute lead then follow us in."

Parvac smiled, "You have a canny mind, Captain. I look forward to meeting our enemy beside you."

"So do I." Macen said and cut the transmission, "Take us in Hannah."

 

Chapter 15

"Master," one of the multifaceted eyes of the bioship's scan tech came to rest on the High Ship Lord as he turned his head, "long range sensors are detecting movement within the debris field."

"Their course?" the Ship Lord asked.

"Directly for us." the scan tech answered, "They altered course in the debris field to accommodate an intercept with the planet and our forces."

"Ah, the Federation fleet has arrived." the fleet commander mused, "Alert the fleet. Scan, relay the visual imagery to my tank. Communicator, put me on a live feed with the fleet's Ship Lieges."

The Ship Lord sat down before a tank filled with a school of shrimp-like creatures. They originally appeared to be transparent. Upon neurochemical stimulation, they interconnected like a chain link fence. Their bodies began to assume colours and formed an image based upon the bioship's visual feed.

"You're live, Master." the Communicator reported. The Communicator sported bat-like ears for picking up the slightest feed from the bioship's comm array.

"All units begin charging your weapons systems and stand by." The Ship Lord ordered. He studied his plot. All that could be seen was the floating pieces of the carnage that had shattered Omicron's destined role as sovereign of the stars. The next few moments would re-establish this fact to the galaxy at large.

An object appeared out of the debris field and the Ship Lord leaned forward in his chair, "All units, target that ship and prepare to fire on any vessel that emerges from the field."

The Obsidian bore down on the Omicron fleet without wavering or manoeuvring. The Ship Lord was impressed, "He is not waving off but is coming straight at us. This must be the infamous Captain Macen we've been warned about. Make his death a dramatic one."

"The front rank requests permission to fire." the Communicator reported.

"On my signal." the fleet commander replied, "We must acknowledge his courage first." At that moment, the seven Kelvan ships emerged from the debris field as one.

The Ship Lord recognised the Kelvan battlecruiser from the Predator's

Ship Liege's after action report, "All units, target the new arrivals! Fire at will!"

The Kelvans had burst through the debris fielding a circular pattern centred on the battlecruiser. One hundred Omicron bioships vented their fury, spewing ion blast after ion blast at the invading extragalactic aliens. As had been demonstrated before, the Kelvans' shields were up to the challenge of repelling ion blasts. They advanced unimpeded.

"Forget the ion waves." The Ship Lord shouted, "Engage them with your particle beams."

The bioships broke formation and advanced on the Kelvan cruisers. They dove and rolled around the Kelvan formation spitting particle beams at the cruisers. The Kelvans responded by firing their primary weapons. Green bolts of an unknown energy type spewed from cannons located across the length and breadth of the cruisers. They began gouging impossibly huge chunks of flesh of the bioships. Caught in the crossfire of the battlecruiser and its escorts, dozens of bioships died.

Stunned, the Ship Lord summoned his remaining forces in an effort to overwhelm the seemingly unstoppable Kelvans. In the midst of this activity, the Obsidian had driven straight on into the heart of the Omicron forces. Grace ducked and wove the ship around, underneath and over the top of attacking bioships on their way to confront the Kelvan squadron.

Passing bioships lanced out with their ion blasts and particle weapons. Fortunately, all of the Obsidian's shields were holding up. The Obsidian fired upon targets of opportunity as they raced by. It had little effect but it did divert the bioships' energies from weaponry to healing factors. They'd nearly made it through the Omicron swarm when a passing bioship turned and pursued them.

His Communicator interrupted the Ship Lord's ranting orders to his crews, "Master, the Predator has broken off and is in pursuit of the Federation craft. The Ship Liege requests permission to run their quarry to ground."

"Permission granted." The Ship Lord growled, "By the Dark Egg, someone will die this day!" Besides us. The Ship Lord thought grimly.

"Lees," Macen called out as he approached Danan's station, "where's that thing's brain?"

"I could guesstimate but I can't..."

"Stop hedging and give me your best guess." the deckplates shook as the shields withstood another particle beam's strike.

Danan pulled up a sensor image of the bioship. There was a heat bloom concentrated behind its "nose".

Danan pointed at that bloom, "That's my guess. It corresponds with the location of seagoing rays."

"Highlight that area and copy a file onto Shannon's board." Macen looked over his shoulder, "Tom!"

"Hannah, prepare for a 'Crazy Ivan'." Riker began spouting orders, "Shannon, target the indicated area and pour it on. Ignore all other targets. Just concentrate all firepower on that spot."

"Yes, Mother." Forger replied.

Riker was about to retort when the Predator struck the ship another blow, "Hannah, are you set?"

"Ready to rock 'n ruin!"

"Stop hanging out with T'Kir." Riker groaned, "That's an order."

"Woo hoo! You go girl!" T'Kir cheered.

Riker ignored T'Kir and detested the tacit support Macen offered her by smiling at her antics as he returned to the command chair. He'd grown to appreciate Macen's relaxed command structure but an utter lack of professionalism rankled him. Riker had enjoyed the brief resurgence of military protocol that had permeated the Obsidian's ranks. The current protocol was being made up as time passed.

Riker mentally shrugged, accepted that he'd just have to live with it as long as he was with this crew and refocused on the task at hand, "Hannah, initiate the 'Crazy Ivan'."

The impulse engines ceased propulsion. The manoeuvring thrusters fired in opposite directions on opposite sides of the ship. The Obsidian did a 180-degree turn and reactivated her impulse engines. She was now flying down the literal throat of the bioship.

"Shannon, fire all weapons at your discretion." Riker ordered.

Forger immediately opened fire. All four of the Obsidian's phaser strips unleashed a torrent of destructive energy upon the "skull" of the bioship. Photon torpedoes began sailing forth as the phasers inflicted their first wounds. Although the Obsidian's collected firepower was in no way as impressive as a Kelvan cruiser's, she still managed to peel away the outer "hull" as she passed.

Grace "flipped" the Obsidian over and then rolled her and pressed the attack. The deckplates shuddered as the bioship returned fire. Her firepower was diminished due to diverting most of its energies to healing its wounds. She now had the equivalent of a Sabre-class starship's offensive potential.

Forger poured it on and relentlessly hammered away at the bioship, "They're reeling, Captain, but our shields are down to 60%."

Macen commed Parva, "Parva, can you throw all auxiliary power to the shields?"

"What do you think I've been doing, catching up on my beauty sleep?" the engineer snapped, "And just to let you know, the ion shield's close to catastrophic failure."

"Why?"

"How the hell should I know?" Parva demanded, "You told me to plug it in and I did. I haven't studied up on how the damned thing works or why."

"Good work." Macen said, trying to diffuse the situation, "I'll be in touch."

"Oh joy." Parva grumbled and severed the connection.

The two starships matched speeds and hammered away at each other with every erg of firepower they could muster. Soon, the particle blasts stemming from the bioship began to fade away. It couldn't have happened at a better time. The forward shields were close to failing.

Forger renewed her assault and was rewarded with a gush of freezing blood mixed with grey matter, "Bring me in Hannah. I want to concentrate the ventral phasers' output on that spot."

Grace edged the ship closer to the bioship, which granted Forger an unimpeded straight shot at the cranial cavity.

The bridge of the Predator of the Stars was a dead place. The brain stem made up the rear of the bridge and the cranial cavity was its "roof". The nutrient tank that encompassed the bioship's brain had shattered under the bombardment it had endured. This opened the Predator's bridge to the vacuum of space since the cranial cavity was now exposed to the void.

The bioship shuddered as it died. Now travelling on a ballistic course, the bioship was aimed directly at Omicron. The dead ship would burn up in the atmosphere, a testimony to the death and decay of the planet below.

The Obsidian altered course and prepared to assume a standard orbit over the planet. Macen and T'Kir excused themselves from the bridge as the surveyor settled into place. Fifteen minutes later, after a change of clothes and a stop at the armoury, the couple met another couple, Radil and Kort, in the transporter room. Telrik, the transporter chief, was standing by.

The quartet was dressed in the black and grey field duty uniforms again. Radil had forsaken her usual phaser cannon in lieu of a phaser rifle that offered more manoeuvrability and speed. She wore a double holster for her phaser pistols. Kort carried a rifle as well in addition to his medkit and a pistol. Macen and T'Kir also carried rifles and all wore black tactical vests over their uniforms. Each vest was a storehouse for powerpacks for their weapons.

"Same coordinates as last time, Chief." Macen instructed Telrik.

"Seem to recall you gettin' into some trouble last time, sir."

Macen grinned, "And we'll get into more today but at least they'll know we've been there."

Telrik chuckled, "Righty O, Captain. Ready when you are."

"Energise." Macen ordered and they were spirited away.

"We seem to be running out of targets." Kiln said, wearing a grim smile, "I doubt there's anyone in this galaxy that could stop us."

"Careful." Parvac warned, "That kind of thinking cost us our empire and our home galaxy. This galaxy has its share of powerful threats. From the descriptions Rojan's infiltrators brought back either the Dominion or the Federation could rise up against us. These Borg I've read up on may match us for technological superiority."

"Perhaps these Borg could match us but the Federation?" Kiln, "Their vessels are nothing compared to ours."

"The Federation has beaten back the Borg three times. A feat unrivalled across an entire quadrant. There are billions of Borg and their numbers grow by the billions every day."

"And the Federation has defeated them?" Kiln asked in disbelief.

"Through cunning and guile." Parvac nodded, "They are a wily collection of races, all banded together for common causes. They are a marvel that we cannot yet comprehend."

"You're thinking of joining with them." Kiln was aghast.

"An alliance only, not membership." Parvac stated, "We have much that we could teach one another."

"Such as?" Kiln scoffed.

"Such as the meaning of courage." Parvac revealed, "Take Captain Macen. His ship and crew are horribly outmatched yet they plunged into the fray anyway. Our long-range sensors have confirmed that they have even killed one of the enemy ships. Even now they prepare for a surface assault."

"How can you know this?" Kiln asked.

Parvac chuckled darkly, "All of Rojan's offspring and their offspring were implanted with cortical implants at birth. Those implants were replaced with larger and more advanced models as they grew."

"Without their knowledge?" Kiln was shocked.

"It was standard procedure for us in our original bodies so don't be squeamish now." Parvac scolded, "The implants were used to record the events around the infiltrators in order to insure the accuracy of their reports."

"Since when does a Kelvan mistrust a fellow Kelvan?"

"Since the day we received these accursed emotions and physical sensations. Who knows how our younglings will react to these newfound pressures? Or you and I? Steps had to be taken. Rojan displayed infinite wisdom in his actions."

"So you are monitoring Hannai?"

"Even as we speak."

"Won't the Federation forces find it?"

"It is biotechnology beyond their ken. It is subtle, not the overt creatures these Omicron breed." Parvac explained, "They will appear as microbes or as scar tissue. These Federation types will never suspect the truth."

"But if they do?"

"Only we can remove the implant. If they attempt to remove it, it will kill Hannai and our troubles will be solved." Parvac revealed with a shrug.

The Obsidian's insertion team entered the fissure leading to the land bridge. Macen took point. T'Kir had his back. Kort followed T'Kir with Radil taking rearguard.

Upon entering the great crack in the mountainside, all eyes ascended to the roof of the cavern, seeking the membrane that had previously cut them off from their comrade. All four team members activated the lights mounted on their rifles and began sweeping the stygian darkness covering the ceiling. Upon finding nothing but bare stone, Macen pulled his tricorder out from his belt.

"According to this, there's nothing there." Macen announced, "No organic tissues, no thermal readings...nothing."

"It has to be somewhere." Radil protested.

"T'Kir?" Macen prompted.

T'Kir's brow was already knitted as she telepathically sought answers, "All I sense is death. Death and a resounding joy surrounding the death."

T'Kir looked around at her comrades and saw the consternation on two of their faces. At least Brin's accepting my explanation without a qualm, T'Kir thought to herself.

"We just have to accept it." Macen said as he put the tricorder away, "The membrane is gone. We don't know how or why but that's the plain simple truth and we need to move on."

Everyone nodded or shrugged their agreement and the party moved out across the land bridge. Once they reached the landing on the other side, they proceeded through the opening into the tunnel on the other side. To retain some sense of familiarity, they turned right and proceeded down the corridor.

Unfortunately, what was also familiar was the stench of Omicron blood. Pools of it were gathered all across the floor. Blood painted the walls and even the ceiling at spots. Mixed with the blood were corpses. Some had been hit by weapons fire. Most were bludgeoned, sliced, or otherwise mangled.

Weapons fire and screams could be heard echoing down the tunnel. Macen proceeded cautiously, weapon poised and ready. The others followed suit. Soon they came across a pile of smashed Omicron bodies. Another body was laid out before them. This one was bisected. One half of the body was that of a typical Omicron. The other half was grotesquely malformed; a bulging twisted mass of muscle and bone.

"What the frinx is that?" T'Kir wondered.

Kort bent and pulled out his medical tricorder. He then scanned a dead Omicron. He shook his head at the results.

"This is an Omicron." Kort gestured towards the fallen oddity, "The DNA is a close enough match to establish common ancestry."

"Why common ancestry?" Macen enquired.

"There are variations in the genetic profile of the mutant that are missing in the normal Omicron." Kort replied, "I do not know if that stems from this being being a offshoot species or the result of artificial origination."

"That's it!" Macen grew excited, "The Omicrons haven't just experimented on other races, they've experimented on themselves. Think about it, not every experiment would be a success. You'd need a place to store the rejects. What if they escaped?"

"An uprising?" Radil asked.

"Exactly." Macen grew more fervent, "This answer 'feels' right. We need to contact these 'rejects' and enlist them into helping us secure the ultramatter."

"Why would they want to?" Radil asked.

"T'Kir?" Macen deferred the question.

"To prevent the Omicrons from making anymore freaks." T'Kir said with a steely tone to her voice.

Kort watched Radil bristle. Theoretically, these Omicron mutants represented an oppressed segment of their society. That was something that neither the ex-Maquis rebels nor the ex-Resistance guerrilla could tolerate. Oppression of any form was an anathema to them.

Subject races were nothing new for the Klingons. The Empire had been built on conquest. They'd curbed their conquering ways following the destruction of Praxis but that heritage coursed through the Klingon bloodstream. Now the Klingons acted much as the Iotians did, presenting themselves as defenders of protectorate systems. Occasionally a reluctant system found itself surrounded by Klingon influence and soon found itself economically forced to join the Empire.

Kort decided to join in with his comrade's determination, "Death to the enemy!"

"It may come to that in the end, Kort." Macen said with a touch of sadness. Macen had endured over twenty years of warfare. He knew the realities of war and accepted them. That didn't mean he had to warmly embrace them.

"All right." Macen broke the silent reverie that everyone had lapsed into, "It's time to move out."

The team resumed their exploration of the Omicron citadel. T'Kir initiated the next stop.

"This is the room with the computer." she said pointing at the door leading to the computer station they'd visited before.

"What's its status?" Macen asked.

"It's confused, almost panicky." T'Kir said with a slightly vacant look in her eyes, "It can't reach the supermind of the mainframe. It's never been alone before."

"Now isn't the time to sympathise with an enemy computer." Macen reminded her, "We're here to capture the ultramatter and retrieve Rab."

"But it's all alone." T'Kir said plaintively.

Macen shook his head. It figured that it would take a computer to bring out maternal feelings in T'Kir.

"We need to get moving." Macen coaxed her, "The computer's not going anywhere."

"Maybe we could rescue it and install it in the Obsidian."

Macen closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, "I really don't have time for this. If you want to take care of something, we'll get a cat."

"With the way we lose ships?" T'Kir protested, "We'd kill the poor thing."

"Same goes for your computing brain." Macen pointed out, "Not to mention the fact that it only speaks Omicron."

"All right!" T'Kir threw her right hand in the air, "I get it. No living computers for me."

"Sorry," Macen consoled her, "but that's how it needs to be."

Macen waved them forward with his left hand and proceeded further down. Dead Omicrons littered the corridor. Streaks of blood where fingers had scraped the floor as they'd been drug away began to appear. It was a disturbing image with even more disturbing implications.

The team moved on without a word being spoken. That changed when they reached a terrace that opened up to the central core of the citadel. Down below, the nutrient container housing the huge brain that made up the mainframe of the Omicron computer system was broken open and the brain collapsed in upon itself. T'Kir stiffened and then Tressib lowered himself on a strand of web.

Macen raised his rifle but T'Kir slapped it down, "Down boy. He's a friend."

Thank yew, miss. Tressib's me name. Who are you?

Name's T'Kir. T'Kir thoughtcast, through their telepathic rapport Macen listened in on the exchange, Can you explain what's happening 'round here?

Us Lowlies are revoltin'. Bad day to be an Omicron. Tressib smiled, revealing needle sharp teeth and fangs.

Okay, T'Kir mentally sighed, two questions. First off, how many of you are there and how are you managing to attack an entire city?

"We started off with twelve hunnert. That's cus we left three hunnert behind as a whatchoo call it, a rearguard, yah. Also the Omicrons loaded up most of their forces on their ships in a move to invade somethin' called the Federation. We've been hittin' the leftovers and the civvies stupid enough to resist us. So far, we've hit a coupla dozen pocket's o' resistence.

Thanks. Second, have you encountered someone like us? His name's Rab Daggit.

Tressib chuckled, Course I know 'im. He's bloody well leadin' this revolution.

Macen and T'Kir stared at Tressib before T'Kir shook off her disbelief, How can you project your thoughts? Are all Omicrons telepathic?

Nope. The caverns where we live grow a special mould that gets infested with a particular type o' microbe. This lil' critter lets us mind talk.

Could you lead us to Daggit?

Shore. Follow me. Tressib lowered himself to the terrace and began scuttling off down the corridor. Macen was visibly resisting the urge to shoot the Lowlie.

"Lead on." T'Kir said with a flourish and a bow.

Macen shot her a venomous look and then began to follow in Tressib's wake.

 

Chapter 16

The Ship Lord and his vessel, the Crown of Stars, were dead. Over three quarters of the Omicron fleet had been destroyed. Local space was filled with pieces of torn flesh and dead or dying carcasses. Mixed in with this carnage was the bodies of vacuum desiccated Omicrons. Although the Kelvan vessels were finally showing signs of damage, the survivors had lost heart.

"The enemy is routed, Commander." Gozer reported to Parvac, "The surviving units are beginning to break and flee."

"Disperse the squadron." Parvac ordered, "Have them hunt down and destroy the highest concentration of 'bioships'. Then, move the flagship into planetary orbit. We shall see if Captain Macen requires assistance."

"Your will be done." Gozer bowed his head.

"Of course." Parvac said softly to himself.

Tressib led the team through multiple corridors. When they took a lift, he crawled out of the nearby terrace and crawled down the wall. His crawl was almost as fast as the lift. T'Kir reported that the left was far more organic than the one in the ziggurat on Harbinger. When Tressib appeared again, Macen still had to forcefully refrain from shooting him.

Steady, Lover. T'Kir exhorted, You're doing great.

He gets too close and I will blast him. Macen warned

I'll let him know. A moment passed then T'Kir thoughtcast, He thinks its funny and promises not to offend your sensibilities.

Thanks. I feel better already. Macen lied even though he knew T'Kir would see through his deception.

Don't you just? T'Kir teased.

Macen sighed and stopped the bantering. Tressib had led them to a vast underground hall. It was the size of a starship. It was open spaces interrupted by massive columns. At the end of the hall there was a door being protected by a contingent of Omicron soldiers.

Angry Lowlies of every shape and description surrounded the area. They all wielded captured weapons. In their midst stood Daggit, who was directing the Lowlies' movements like a general in the field.

"'Lo Rab, whassup?" T'Kir called out as the team approached. She waved her free hand to get his attention.

Daggit spun and then broke into a huge smile, "Hello all. Welcome to our party."

"You're smiling?" Macen was incredulous, "You're in the middle of a combat operation and you're smiling?"

"Strange isn't it?" Daggit laughed.

Macen and T'Kir exchanged worried glances.

"Kort, Radil, I could use you." Daggit beckoned and the other SID agents followed him back into the fray.

"What did you do to him?" Macen demanded of Tressib.

It wasn't intentional. Tressib's mental voice was anguished, We didn't even know 'e was different until the fighting started.

That's fine and dandy, T'Kir replied sternly, what the hell did you do to him?

Its the spores is all I can figure. Our caverns are filled with algae, moulds, moss and lichens. Theys is filled with spores y'see. 'E's not an Omicron. Who knows what they's doin' to him?

"Great." Macen growled.

"They didn't know it would affect him this way." T'Kir argued.

"I'm not blaming them." Macen said and Tressib sagged in relief, "I'm just wondering of the effects are permanent."

Theys is no way o' tellin'.

"You can understand what we say?" T'Kir asked.

The microbes make me like 'oo. I can read strong thoughts, 'specially when peoples is thinkin' o' sayin' somethin'.

"He's telling the truth." T'Kir confirmed.

Oy, you read me mind?

T'Kir snapped her fingers, "Like that!"

Bugger me.

"No offence, but no thanks." Macen said.

Tressib laughed and Macen and T'Kir witnessed the same mind altering sight that Daggit had witnessed in the gloom of the abyss.

You're all right, Mate.

"So are you." Macen admitted, "But I'll still shoot you if you get too close."

A look of consternation crossed Tressib's face but he shrugged and turned to join his fellow Lowlies.

"You've got t'get over this." T'Kir scolded.

"You can't." Macen protested, "That's why it's called a phobia."

"Whatever." T'Kir replied dismissively.

Macen rolled his eyes and moved forward to join Daggit. Daggit was in the middle of shooting grenades at the guards. Most of the Omicron defenders had died. The Lowlies surged forward and finished off the rest. With that accomplished, they broke down the doors leading to the adjoining chamber and surged in.

"What's in there?" Macen asked Daggit.

"The Omicron Overlord." Daggit explained, "Once we have him, this ends."

"What happens then?" Macen asked, already knowing the answer.

"A very brief trial by jury and then he meets the working end of an Omicron sceptre blaster."

"How terribly Cardassian of you to arrange the trial to justify the predetermined verdict and sentence." Macen remarked sardonically.

"Since when do you get overly concerned with the end outcome beyond what's on your agenda?" Daggit asked angrily.

Macen cold cocked him with the butt of his rifle. Daggit went down and was barely conscious.

"That's what this place has done to your brain." Macen said coldly, "I never should have been able to do that. Jenrya!"

Radil appeared," What's up?"

"Strip Rab of his weapons." We're taking him back as soon as we secure the ultramatter."

Would you be talkin' 'bout the Great Egg?

"Yup." T'Kir confirmed as weapons fire could be heard echoing out of the Overlord's chamber.

Be right back. Tressib promised and climbed a column onto the "ceiling" He scuttled out of the great hall and up the outer wall. Several minutes passed and then he reappeared holding a bundle of webbing. He returned to T'Kir's position and cut the web off. An identical container to the one aboard the Obsidian stood revealed.

I'll even carry it for 'oo.

"Why?" T'Kir asked.

There can never be another Lowlie or Overlord this way. Omicron deserves to be a backwater world. Let's rebuild our world naturally and see what 'appens.

"Wise words. Will you be able to live up to them?" Macen said as he approached.

The Omicron are without leadership. They'll be easy t'persuade.

"In that case, can I ask you for one last favour?" Macen enquired.

Name it.

"Bind Rab's hands. I don't need him trying to kill us all when he comes to."

Tressib chuckled, Very smart, guvnor.

Tressib bound Daggit's hands with a web and then picked up the ultramatter storage container. Kort filled a hypo with a stimulant and injected Daggit with it. Daggit's eyes snapped open. He struggled against his bonds and then subsided.

"What do you plan on doing to me?" Daggit growled.

"Administering a full anti-toxicology protocol into you." Kort said and applied his other hypo to Daggit's neck and hit the 'Release' button. One hiss later, all eyes were on Daggit. It only took several seconds for Daggit to collapse to his knees, clutching his head.

"Damn you!" he shouted, "What've you done to me?"

Then he folded over and his breathing was laboured. Kort pulled his medical tricorder out and began an examination.

"The inflammation of the cranial tissue is subsiding." Kort announced, "I believe he'll be fully restored."

Daggit's eyes opened for the second time and he struggled to get to his feet, "Captain?"

"Welcome back." Macen said warmly.

"What happened to me?" Daggit said woozily, "The last thing I remember is meeting up with a giant arachnoid person whose thoughts I could read."

Howdy mate, feelin' better?

"That's the one." Daggit said more in keeping with his regular terse self, "Only now I can't read his thoughts."

Too bad, you were a swell chum.

"Can I get my hands free?" Daggit asked, holding up the webbing glob that contained his hands.

Macen paused, stretching out with his empathic senses. It seemed the old Daggit was back. His eyes shifted to Kort and Kort nodded. Macen beckoned for Radil.

"Jenrya?"

Radil pulled out Daggit's Angosian combat knife and sawed at the webbing. Soon, with some hard work and effort by both Radil and Daggit, he was freed from his confinement. Radil handed the knife back to Daggit. Daggit promptly sheathed it, conscious of Macen's rifle tracking his every move.

When he was done accepting and putting away his grenade launcher, Daggit moved closer to Macen, "Well done, sir. I taught you well."

Macen remained vigilant and Daggit gave him the barest of smiles, "I have taught you well."

"You'll take point, following Tressib." Macen ordered.

Tressib began walking out of the great hall. Daggit followed, calmly reloading his grenade launcher. The rest of the procession went as follows: Macen, T'Kir, Kort and then Radil. Tressib retraced his steps and led them back to the lift they'd arrived on.

Once again Tressib scaled the outer wall and the lift barely beat him to the desired level. Levels stretched forth above and below them. The Omicron complex was vast, unknowably vast. Macen wondered how the Lowlies intended to keep control. Perhaps they truly intended to launch a cooperative rebuilding effort.

Tressib calmly led them past the carnage of the tunnel the Outbound Ventures crew had entered in. He crossed the land bridge without a moment's hesitation. In fact he seemed eager. Once outside, Tressib stopped and stared at the stars.

Beeutifool! he thought in awe.

"You've never seen the stars before?" T'Kir asked, sensing Macen's sorrow for the arachnoid.

Never. I've never even seen the Omicron city before today.

"It seems today is full of firsts." Macen encouraged Tressib, "I'm hoping it won't be the last of them."

Nossir, it won't be. Tressib vowed.

"Glad to hear it." Macen reluctantly reached out and patted the man-spider on the shoulder.

Tressib beamed, Where d'you want this?

"Put it anywhere but then step back." Macen informed him.

Shore, shore. Tressib scuttled ahead and set the ultramatter container down. The arachnoid then sidled off to the side and waited for whatever came next.

"So long Tressib, good luck with the revolution." Macen said.

"Call us if you need anything!" T'Kir waved as she and the others gathered around the container.

"I wish I remembered our time together more clearly." Daggit called out while Macen commed Telrik and arranged for the beam out. The team disappeared in halos of light and Tressib watched, transfixed.

Cor blimey, they wuz star people.

"Commander," Kiln said, "one of the enemy ships is headed back to its homeworld. The Obsidian is in orbit around there. They're sure to be attacked."

"All ahead flank. I want this monster killed."

Aboard the Obsidian Radil and Daggit were taking the ultramatter to the science lab to rejoin its long lost twin. Macen and T'Kir were headed for the bridge while Kort returned to Sickbay after dropping his rifle off at the armoury. Telrik disposed of Macen and T'Kir's rifles. Red alert sirens began sounding and the couple ran to the turbolift.

The turbolift opened to the bridge and to Riker issuing orders, "Hannah, break orbit and go to full impulse. Shannon, raise shields and prepare the weapons array."

T'Kir manned her station and Macen moved down to the command area to confer with Riker, "What's going on, Tom?"

"We have an Omicron cruiser bearing down on us." Riker answered, "Time to intercept is..."

"Twenty-one seconds." Forger supplied.

"Carry on then." Macen said and then sat down.

Riker looked back at Macen in consternation but recomposed himself in time for Forger to report, "Entering Omicron weapons range in five...four...three...two...one..."

The ship rocked as the bioship's ion blast enveloped them. The ion shield held...barely. Various subsystems shorted out across the ship. Riker ordered Grace to cut the impulse engines and fire the retrothrusters in a braking manoeuvre for a moment while Macen called down to Engineering.

"Parva, what's the status on the ion shield?"

"The status is that the damned thing is going to explode, taking my engineering crew out with it." the Orion snapped back.

"Hang on. Put a forcefield up around it."

"What a brilliant idea." Parva groused, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Macen ignored her comments and cut the line. He refocused his energies and saw that Riker's gambit had worked. The Omicron ship had overshot them and was now being barraged by their weapons. Once again they were concentrating on the cranial cavity.

The Omicron bioship replied with an ion blast. This time, the shield failed. Over three quarters of the energy was deflected but the remaining quarter wreaked havoc with the Obsidian's systems. Sparks flew and screens went down across the length of the ship.

"Full stop!" Macen ordered as he leapt out of seat, "Bring us about and make for the Kelvans' position."

"The Kelvans are on an intercept course for us." Forger announced.

"Hannah, close the distance. Full impulse if you please." Macen instructed.

Macen returned to his command chair and turned to Riker, "Fortunately, the Omicron's ion blast is short-ranged."

"There's still the ship's particle beam weapons to contend with." Riker pointed out.

Macen opened a channel with Engineering, "How bad are you hit?"

"The frinxing generator blew and shorted out the forcefield in the process." Parva coughed, "The whole fershluginer place is filled with smoke."

"What our status after the ion blast?" Macen asked through gritted teeth.

"A couple of dozen back-up systems engaged." Parva reported, "Nothing to get upset about."

"We're about to get attacked again." Macen replied with forced patience, "How are the repairs on the shields coming?"

"You should be back to eighty percent."

"No more?" Macen couldn't hide his disappointment.

"Sorry. We're working as fast as we can."

"I'm sure you are. Out." Macen refrained from sighing, "Well, it looks like we're in for a bumpy ride."

Riker grinned, "Aren't we always?"

The bioship had turned and was "swimming" its way towards the Obsidian. On the bridge of the Kelvan battlecruiser, Parvac leaned forward towards his holotank master plot.

"Will the Omicron enter weapons range before we do?" Parvac asked Kiln.

"Yes, Commander." Kiln answered, "The Omicron vessel will be able to fire upon the Obsidian for approximately two minutes before we can engage."

"I want more power!" Parvac demanded, "Close the distance and engage the thrice damned Omicron."

"What of our Attuners?" Kiln enquired.

"We know nothing of Omicron biology or that of their living ships." Parvac spat, "Our abilities are useless."

"But what of the Obsidian?" Kiln wondered.

Parvac's eyebrows rose.

"How soon until the Omicron vessel closes into weapons range?" Macen asked.

The ship shuddered and Forger rocked back into her seat, "Try now."

Chagrined by her dry tone, Macen ordered, "Return fire."

The two dorsal phasers began to fire at the bioship, searing the ship's flesh. The bioship responded with return fire, concentrating on the impulse engines. The shields strained under the barrage.

"Aft shields at thirty percent. They're nearing collapse." Forger reported.

"Evasive action." Riker ordered.

Grace began juking and jigging the starship but the Omicron cruiser stayed right with her. The ship shuddered suddenly between particle beam volleys and the viewscreen went white for a second.

"Did the shields collapse?" Macen wondered.

"Captain!" Grace cried out as the Obsidian sailed past the Kelvan battlecruiser.

"They must have used an Attuner to transport our ship away from the bioship." Macen mused, "Put the screen on its rear view."

The scene shifted to that of the looming battlecruiser and the turning bioship. The Omicron ship was curved with its "wings" rippling as though it were underwater. The Omicron vessel had turned around and was started the other way when the Kelvan ship opened fire. It unleashed a single lancing beam of green energy that sliced the bioship in half. Frozen blood filled the area as did Omicrons of all shapes and descriptions.

The Kelvan battlecruiser halted itself and began to retreat along its lane of approach. Soon it sidled up along side the Obsidian and halted. Next, the Federation surveyor received a hail from the Kelvan ship.

Parvac's white haired image filled the screen, "Greetings Captain, I see you're still alive."

"My thanks for insuring that I remained so." Macen said.

"May I join you on your vessel?" Parvac enquired, "I have matters to discuss with you."

"Supply us with the coordinates and you'll be brought aboard." Macen replied.

"Very well then. I shall be with within ten minutes' time." Parvac announced and terminated the signal.

After the viewer reverted back to a starfield, with the Kelvan ship looming to the right of the screen, Daggit exited the turbolift, "What did I miss?"

"Shannon, you brief him." Macen instructed and rose from his seat and retired to his Ready Room.

The ship's yeoman brought Parvac to Macen's Ready Room. The Kelvan looked around the room appreciatively as he strode in. He looked at the pictures in the display case and the Starfleet uniforms hung on the wall.

"You seem to revel in nostalgia." Parvac said.

"Reminders of my past allow me to see the path that brought me to my present." Macen remarked, moving out from behind the desk. He motioned for Parvac to sit on the couch as he took the loose chair and swivelled it around to face him.

"So what's on your mind?" Macen cut to the chase.

"I wish to propose an alliance between the Kelvan Commune and the Federation." Parvac was equally blunt.

"I'm not authorised nor qualified to negotiate on behalf of the UFP. I can convey your intent to the proper authorities and they'll dispatch a diplomatic team." Macen promised.

"As long as they don't send the spineless curs that they did last time." Parvac growled.

Macen shrugged, "I can't guarantee anything."

There was a moment of silence before Parvac spoke again, "The Omicron forces were routed yet this lone cruiser faced certain death to attack you. Why is that?"

Macen debated before answering, "Probably because they'd received a signal indication that we'd captured their ultramatter fragment. The fragment is the basis for all of their technology."

"Ultramatter?" Parvac was puzzled.

"A piece of primordial matter predating the creation of the current universe." Macen explained, "The Omicrons used it to develop their biotech."

"You must surrender this substance at once!" a livid Parvac demanded.

"Why?" a bemused Macen enquired.

"This substance is too dangerous to be allowed to be exploited." Parvac seethed.

"I take it you've had personal experience with ultramatter." Macen observed.

"The damned Killowoq found a fragment and used it to develop a biogenic virus tailored made to kill Kelvans. Over four-fifths of our total population was terminated. I will not allow this fragment to escape our grasp."

"Actually there are two." Macen explained and Parvac's eyes nearly popped out of his head.

"Captain, I cannot stress the lengths I will go to to obtain this material."

"I can imagine." Macen said, "Before I commit my crew toward a suicidal course, what will you do with the fragments once you have them?"

"Send them beyond the energy barrier that rings this galaxy. By the way, what is the source of that barrier?"

"Ask the Q." Macen replied.

"The who?" Parvac was confused.

"Forget I said it." Macen said dismissively, "I like your plan, Commander. I only have one caveat. I want to retain possession of the fragments until I can verify that you're truly sending them out into extragalactic space."

Parvac relaxed, "Easily done. As soon as my units cease combat operations, we'll be ready to return to galactic rim. Do you wish to relocate to our docking bay?"

Macen shrugged, "Let's wait until your ships return."

"As you wish." Parvac stood, "I'll return to my vessel now."

Macen felt dismissed even though the visitor was leaving, "I could escort you to the transporter room."

Parvac shook his head, "Your yeoman will suffice. I shall see you again when we reach the rim."

"Guaranteed." Macen nodded.

 

Chapter 17

Macen remained in his Ready Room as "Yeoman" Gates escorted Parvac to the transporter room. The yeoman was really a Security officer. Macen suspected that Parvac knew this or at least suspected it. It felt like a move that Parvac himself would play. It was easy, judging by his emotional tint, to see that he fully expected the Obsidian crew to try and abscond with the ultramatter fragments.

Sorry to disappoint you. Macen thought with satisfaction and rose from the chair and exited the Ready Room. He was surprised to see Daggit still deep in conversation with Forger. Stranger yet was the fact she was manning Tactical.

"Something wrong, Rab?" Macen asked.

Daggit looked embarrassed, "I just saw Parva...and her greeting was enthusiastic to put it mildly." Daggit paused and came to the point, "She did complain about my odour. I request permission to shower, shave and change clothes so I can have a proper reunion with my girlfriend, sir."

Macen laughed, "Good idea. In fact I think the entire shift could benefit from a little down time. Call all reliefs to man the critical posts and alert the gamma shift that they're on call until their duty rotation starts."

Macen turned towards Riker and Forger, "Sorry you two. One of you has to stay until Chief Gilrooney relieves you."

"You go." the pair said in stereo.

"Shannon, you engaged multiple targets for an extended period of time. You're tired. Get some rest."

"What about you?" Forger asked.

"I'll be fine. It's the price of command." Riker explained and sat down in the XO's chair, "Really."

"I'll keep him company." Danan volunteered, "Its not like I've had much to do besides worry."

"All right." Macen conceded, "You can stay. Keep him out of trouble will you?"

Danan grinned, "He's a hopeless case but I'll try."

Riker made a protesting noise but Danan silenced him with a beatific smile, "Surely you don't object to spending time with me?"

"No...of course not." Riker almost stammered.

"Good then its settled.

Macen refrained from laughing until the turbolift doors closed.

"What's so funny?" T'Kir demanded, "I didn't 'listen' in."

Quietly, Macen thoughtcast to her, I don't want this getting all over the ship.

I'm the soul of discretion. T'Kir vowed.

Hardly, Macen retorted, but you'll pry it out of me one way or anther anyway.

So what gives? T'Kir's eyes were gleaming excitedly.

Well, you know how Lees has been without a partner for a while? Macen asked.

Nooo! T'Kir's face gave her thoughts away, Tom Riker?

The very same. Macen revealed.

But he just lost Jamie. T'Kir protested, growing more agitated, This is almost as bad as when she chased you for the second time.

Lees is aware of that fact. Macen said, All I sensed from her were sympathy and attraction, not ambition or lust.

The turbolift had emptied but Macen and T'Kir lingered for a moment.

"There'd better not be." T'Kir growled, "I'll reduce her to a mental infant."

"Tom's a big boy." Macen assured her, "He can take care of himself."

"He'd better." T'Kir carried on, "Lees is aggressive, a sexual predator."

"Like you used to be?" a bemused Macen asked.

"Exactly!" T'Kir slammed a fist into her other hand, "I know what I'm talking about."

Macen opened up the lift door. A crewman waited on the other side.

"Whose been holding up the damned lift?" she demanded.

Macen and T'Kir exited the lift and started down the corridor towards their quarters, "Promise me you'll stay out of this."

"I promise." T'Kir said while wearing a cherubic expression.

"I mean it." Macen warned, "I expect a genuine promise."

"Oh, all right." T'Kir heaved a sigh, "I promise I won't interfere in Lees' plans for Tom."

"And you won't mention it to anybody." Macen added.

"Oh, c'mon!" T'Kir whined.

"T'Kir!"

"Okay, okay, I'll be good." T'Kir sulked.

"Glad to hear it," Macen replied, "only, don't be too good. I wouldn't know who I was married to."

T'Kir backhanded his arm and then laughed, "Ain't it the truth?"

On the bridge, Danan was engaging Tom in some light conversation. In reality she was gauging his moods and emotional well being. Riker had come further than she'd feared but not as far as she'd hoped. She had to settle for friends first and then see if anything else blossomed. It was a longshot but it was one she was willing to risk. Just being friends was fine with her.

Megan Gilrooney and the rest of the gamma shift arrived and wanted to know what to do when the Kelvan cruisers arrived.

Tom shrugged, "You fly under the battlecruiser then switch the impulse engines to stand-by. Deactivate all the manoeuvring thrusters and let the BC's tractors do the work. They'll bring us in. Then you sit back for a few hours and enjoy the ride you can't see. Finally, an obnoxious twerp of a Kelvan will order you to vacate the bay."

Riker grinned, "At that point you reactivate the manoeuvring thrusters and push us out of the docking bay. And then you assume standard orbit over the planet. When that's done, call the Captain."

"Yes sir." Gilrooney said with far more confidence then she felt.

"Join me for a cup of coffee?" Danan asked and Riker nodded his assent. After they entered the turbolift, Riker turned to face the door. He missed Danan's beaming smile.

The transit to New Kelva went without incident. The Kelvan cruisers basically returned unscathed. What damage that there was, the Kelvans were addressing with their Attuners. It was a technology that the Federation would dearly love to acquire. It was unknown of it was purely technological or if there was some form of psychokinesis involved.

Macen returned to the bridge freshly showered and with a change of attire. He wore his usual outfit with a light grey crew neck tee shirt. He glanced about the bridge as T'Kir followed him.

She wore her usual ensemble of leather pants and emerald green Henley. She frowned as she noted that they were still inside of the battlecruiser.

"Why the frinx are we being held here? Is this some kinda trap?"

Macen slapped the comm badge mounted on his belt, "Hannah, get up to the bridge now!"

Just then, the air charged and then there was a feeling of dislocation.

"We've entered a transwarp conduit." Macen observed.

"But to where?" T'Kir asked.

"My guess is to the edge of the galaxy." Macen replied.

"You think they'll really do it?" T'Kir asked, "Launch it out into the extragalactic void?"

"Parvac's fear was real enough." Macen replied, "If his story were true, then the Kelvans have good reason to fear ultramatter and its uses."

"I saw Parva as she was bounding off to meet Rab." T'Kir said, "She said we should implicitly trust anyone named 'Parva'."

"Or at least have it in their name, eh?" Macen mused, "I'll keep it in mind."

"Captain, they're hailing." the gamma shift tactical officer reported.

"Put it on screen." Macen ordered.

"Captain, we have a devised a docking collar to fit your craft's airlock door." Parvac smiled, "I invite you and the ultramatter aboard so that you can witness our final preparations."

"I'd be pleased." Macen replied, "I'll also be bringing along my cybernetics specialist so that she can overlook your work."

"Excellent!" Parvac beamed, "Bring her aboard then."

"And I want to bring aboard Hannah Grace, or Hannai if you will, as a translator."

Parvac chuckled, "We'll make it a party then. We'll see you in fifteen of your minutes."

Hannah entered the bridge, "What's going on?"

"We're going aboard a Kelvan battlecruiser. You're coming along as a lie detector." Macen explained.

"Why me?"

"You speak and read the language." Macen replied, "T'Kir's telepathy is spotty at best with these people, just like with you. My empathy is imprecise. I can only get a general feel of a person's emotions and the Kelvans are still adapting to their emotions. They're so flighty as to cause me physical pain."

"I had no idea." Grace replied softly.

"You weren't meant to, Hannah." Macen reassured her, "You're only being told now in order to help you get over your fear of being reunited with your people."

Grace took a deep breath, "I'll give it a shot."

"That's a girl!" Macen squeezed her arm and headed for the turbolift. T'Kir and Grace followed him into it.

Fifteen minutes later they'd crossed the docking umbilical and entered the docking bay's reception area. An entire party awaited them. A boson piped them in as they entered. Parvac noted the arrival of the people but seemed concerned.

"Where is the ultramatter?"

"Waiting on the other side." Macen allayed his fears, "The containers are being handled by two members of my crew. We hadn't discussed their coming aboard your ship so I left them behind."

"Very wise of you Captain. My people will retrieve the containers now."

"My people will stand by and observe the transaction." Macen informed him.

A fleeting glimpse of irritation passed over Parvac's features but he managed to smile and physically wave his concerns aside, "As you wish. If we are to build an alliance we must first establish trust through mutual cooperation."

"Well said, Commander." Macen allowed.

When two of Parvac's crewmen returned with the antigrav sleds carrying the ultramatter, Parvac ushered his guests into the ship.

"The name of my vessel is the Annihilator." Parvac announced proudly, "A fact I think we amply demonstrated against the Omicron."

"Yes, I noticed that you hadn't left many of them alive." Macen said softly.

"Why allow an enemy the chance to rebuild while you can prevent it from the outset?" Parvac wondered.

"The Federation has proven to be remarkably successful at turning former foes into allies. The Klingons and the Cardassians started out as enemies and now they're friends. Even the Romulans are making headway towards a peace treaty." Macen explained.

"That has not been our experience." Parvac brusquely replied.

"You've also always been conquerors and not peacemakers." Macen pointed out, "If your proposal for an alliance with the Federation does go through, you'll have the opportunity to see the other side of the equation."

"Yes," Parvac murmured, "I'm sure we will."

Macen found Parvac's mood to be unsettling. He suspected the Commander of holding some undefined motives for this treaty proposal. Instinctively, Macen mistrusted those motives. Despite the Kelvans professions of the best intentions too many of their former ways lingered with them. He would trust Grace's generation but not these recent arrivals.

Parvac was very cordial with Grace but he never spoke to her or addressed her. His subordinates followed suit. Rea stared at her like she was a bug while Gozer seemed ready to burst out of his own skin from curiosity. It added to Macen's sense of unease.

"This is the transport pod." Parvac announced as they entered another section of the docking area. The "pod" was the size of a runabout.

"This unmanned drone will fly through the galactic barrier and then engage its transwarp drive and take the ultramatter far into extragalactic space. One it arrives the pod will self-destruct. We've placed enough energy cells aboard to hopefully ignite an explosion within the ultramatter and allow it to finally become what it was destined to."

"If it doesn't, will anyone be able to find it?"

"Possibly, but the odds are remote. The explosion will hurl the matter in different direction towards parts unknown. We're sending it away from the Andromeda Galaxy so perhaps if someone does find it, they will have no knowledge of how to use it." Parvac explained.

"I suppose that's the best we can hope for." Macen conceded, "You mind if my people take a look at your drone's programming?"

"Be my guest."

"T'Kir, Hannah, you're up." Macen instructed and both entered the drone's cockpit. After several minutes, Macen poked his head into the area.

"What's up?"

"They seem to be on the level." Grace said, "The flight controls are set exactly as advertised."

"Could they use their Attuners to pull the ultramatter out of the ship?"

Grace shook her head, "They don't understand what composes ultramatter so they're powerless to affect it."

"T'Kir?"

"As best as I can figure, this things completely automated." T'Kir answered, "I need Hannah to translate a few screens but I suspect they're telling the truth."

"Captain, I can't stress to you how terrified these people are of the ultramatter. They're afraid of contamination from just having it aboard. They want to get rid of it as badly as you do." Grace stressed.

"Turning psychic are we?" Macen asked wryly.

"I just know my people." Grace replied, "We were told ghost stories of the killer virus engineered from a mysterious rock our entire lives. These people are terrified."

"Yeah." Macen concurred, "I'd noticed that. Parvac still being arrogant about it though."

"He's saving face. He can't look weak in front of his subordinates or they'll force him to resign." Grace explained.

"I thought it might be along those lines." Macen mused, "You two hurry up so we can launch this bad boy and go home."

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "That's my line!"

"I know." Macen grinned, "If you're going to steal, steal from the best."

He leaned down and kissed her and then departed.

T'Kir sighed, "Is it any wonder I love him?"

Grace shook her head, "You two are so weird."

"But we're partners and we're in love." T'Kir replied brightly

"Okay, I'll give you that." Grace allowed.

In a few more minutes, Grace and T'Kir had finished their inspection and declared the craft ready to "fly". Parvac ordered the two ultramatter containers loaded aboard the pod. Then everyone vacated the area and moved to an observation deck with a clear view of the galactic barrier. Parvac gave launch authority and the drone flew out of the bay towards the barrier. It slammed into the barrier doing warp 9.

According to Parvac, the pod, like the rest of his fleet, was designed to penetrate the barrier. They received an automated hail signifying the drone had entered a transwarp conduit and went off to complete its mission. The pod would drop out of transwarp when its coils had failed and then it would self-destruct. The explosion would be visible to long-range telescopes.

Parvac took Macen over to a display and he watched the explosion. A dust cloud rapidly expanded from their explosions location. A miniature galaxy was being born as they watched.

"Impressive." Parvac commented.

"Its bloody fantastic. It'll give our scientists new insights into the birth of galaxies." Macen said elatedly.

"Ye, of course." Parvac said without enthusiasm, "I suppose you'd like to depart now."

Macen knew a dismissal when he heard one, "That would be excellent."

"I'll have my officers escort you back to your ship." Parvac announced.

"Very well." Macen agreed, "Hopefully this spirit of cooperation between our people will continue."

"Perhaps they shall." Parvac said and left the room.

Macen turned to Rea and Gozer, "Lead on."

The Obsidian departed the Annihilator's docking bay thirty-three minutes later and set out for Earth at warp 8. The journey took three days. Upon arrival, the Obsidian was granted priority clearance for an orbital slot. Macen was also summoned to an emergency conference with Drake and Nechayev.

It was winter in England so Macen wore his flight jacket in addition to his usual attire. T'Kir accompanied him. She wore her leather duster in addition to her usual Henley and leather pants. They were stopped at the door of the SID headquarters by Security because of their sidearms. Macen and T'Kir underwent an ID scan and it showed they had Class 9 clearance: authorisation to bear arms anywhere in the Federation.

Security allowed them into the building and proceeded straight to the turbolift. They requested the executive floor and emptied out into Drake's office area. Ambril Delori, the Admiral's aide invited them to sit and announced their presence to Drake. As always, Ambril nervously eyed the pistols that the couple wore.

Drake's office door slid open and Macen and T'Kir entered the threshold. Nechayev was sipping a glass of tea on the couch to the side of the space. Drake rose from behind the desk, "Dammit Brin, I said for you to come. Singular. No offence, T'Kir."

"None taken. Now I won't have to call you a stupid cow. Saves a lot of trouble this way." T'Kir smarted off.

Drake blinked and Nechayev nearly drowned from a drink of tea that went down the wrong pipe when she laughed but she managed to cough out, "She has you there, Amanda."

"Amanda, T'Kir is my wife and my partner in Outbound Ventures. Anything that affects Outbound affects her as well." Macen informed her, "Either she stays or I go."

"He's defending me again." T'Kir beamed to Nechayev.

Nechayev had almost recovered from her tea incident and spoke with a strained voice, "I can see that."

"He's my knight in shining leather."

"I knew it would happen eventually." Nechayev said with a beaming smile of her own, "Congratulations."

"Thanks." T'Kir said with a broad smile.

"Amanda, let her stay. She was part of the events, hip deep I'd imagine, and she's a member of the team."

Barely mollified, Drake moved to the replicator, "I hate to admit it but you're right. Its just...why can't you bring Riker some time? He is your XO."

"Didn't you hear the whole partner part of my speech?" Macen asked dubiously.

"Oh take a seat, for God's sake!" Drake ordered a cup of black coffee, "Do you two want anything?"

"A vanilla latte." came Macen's request.

"A white chocolate mocha." T'Kir asked.

Drake got each of their drinks in turn and sat down behind the desk, "I've read your reports. Your unilateral action against the Omicrons is receiving mixed reviews amongst the upper echelons of Starfleet Command."

"We prevented a major engagement that would have cost thousands, more likely millions, of lives." Macen defended his actions.

"That part isn't being debated, what is being debated is that you're a Starfleet reservist, not a serving officer. And then there's the matter of the Kelvans. At best, from your reports, they're bloodthirsty. And now they want a treaty with the Federation and from your reports its for ulterior motives."

"That was my impression." Macen said, "As it was that Starfleet wanted the plausible denialibility inherent in my not being part of Starfleet's regular service."

"It was." Drake admitted, "But times of changed. You're no longer contract irregulars. You're now full agents of the SID. But you'll still be deep undercover with Outbound Ventures. As far as the galaxy will know, you're simply privateers. Starfleet officials will know your true ranks upon verification of your identities."

"So you're reactivating our commissions and brevet commissions?" Macen asked.

"Yes." Drake answered.

"We don't play well with others or within regulations." Macen warned.

"That's why you're agents and not serving officers. You have more latitude this way, a fact that you should be used to from your time with Starfleet Intelligence."

"Just clarifying." Macen replied then thought over the matter for a moment, "I still don't like it. I like the current arrangement."

"And you'll still essentially have that freedom." Drake insisted,

"Brin," Nechayev spoke up, "the Federation Council is considering pressing charges against you for engaging in a private war with the Omicrons. This plan will place you under Starfleet's protection. The Council of Five has already drafted a resolution stating that you acted on Starfleet's behalf and that you're a fully authorised agent of the SID."

"So its this or the gallows?" Macen grimly asked.

"Most likely." Nechayev nodded.

"Who am I to ignore the advice of my employers...I mean my superiors." Macen remarked, "So what happens to my crew?"

"They all get reactivated." Drake assured him.

"What happens to those members that refuse to reenlist?"

"Then they remain with Outbound Ventures and you can find them a slot within your organisation." Drake replied.

"I feel like we've come full circle." Macen grumped.

"If we could get the ruling of your courts-martial reversed, then we'd be full circle." Drake commented.

Macen finished his coffee, "Is there anything else? We have a week's worth of shore leave while the SPYards techs collect our ship and perform an overhaul."

"Have fun." Drake replied, "By the way, where's my sister?"

"At the San Francisco Hilton waiting for a dinner invitation." Macen replied.

"Thanks for bringing her back in one piece."

Macen grinned, "Always a pleasure."

T'Kir finished her drink and the pair rose and exited the office.

"Well, that went as well as could be expected." Drake remarked.

"For all of Brin's protestations, his heart lies with Starfleet." Nechayev observed, "We just left him in the field for too many decades. He's too used to operating on his own. The regular service doesn't allow for that."

"I still feel like this solution is an unholy compromise." Drake complained.

Nechayev laughed softly, "That's because it is. Trust me, he'll find the holes in the arrangement without any encouragement from us."

"Stop trying to cheer me up. I think I'll call my sister and invite her to London for dinner."

"Good idea."

From Ambril's desk, Macen contacted the investigative team and gave them the news. Most were receptive. Radil and Kort were indifferent. Riker stayed on the line when the others signed off.

"Tom?" Macen enquired, "Something on your mind?"

"You don't need to look for a new XO." Riker informed him.

"You have someone in mind?"

"Me." Riker replied.

"Tom," Macen groaned, "we've been over this."

"Brin, I'm not ready. And if I don't believe I am it doesn't matter how many people believe I am, it won't work out. I'll always be unprepared. Jamie valued loyalty and honesty above all else. I honestly am not ready for an independent command. My brother spent fifteen years as the 1st Officer of the Enterprise. I can spare a few years to be your XO. You need help and my sense of loyalty demands that I help out." Riker paused, "Don't deny me this Brin, please."

"Okay." Macen conceded, "Welcome back aboard."

"Thank you." Riker said solemnly and signed off.

Macen sat back and then looked up at T'Kir, "Where's Lees staying?"

"With Tom."

Macen blew air out his mouth, "That's working fast."

"Hannah seemed put out about it." T'Kir mentioned.

"A triangle?" Macen asked and T'Kir nodded, "This could get disastrous."

Macen rose from behind Ambril's desk, "Thanks Ambril."

"Where can I tell the Admiral you'll be staying?"

"You can't." and with that Macen and T'Kir vacated the building, hand in hand.

 

The tale continues...

 

- The End -

 

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