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Reprisal by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 1

Brin Macen followed Lisea Danan through the busy warrens of the Special Projects Yards. The SPYards were Starfleet Intelligence's private playground secreted within the sprawling Utopia Planitia complexes. If hiding in plain sight was the ultimate disguise, then the SPYards were well hidden by the massive shipbuilding projects surrounding them. Despite the laconic facade surrounding the facility, it was one of the most secure locations in the entirety of Sector 001.

Macen and his teammates had access to the SPYards owing to their affiliation with Starfleet Intelligence's elite Special Investigations Division and present due to their current lack of a ship. That lack was due to a brutal recent encounter with both the mysterious Section 31 the equally enigmatic Section 31. That encounter had resulted in the destruction of the team's ship and the ship's crew and commander. Tom Riker's loss was still being felt and no doubted that his ghost would linger for some time.

Macen found his pursuit of Danan both intriguing and annoying. At one time, he'd pursued her for far more than the explanation he currently sought. Their relationship had disintegrated in the aftermath of Macen's infiltration of the Maquis and the subsequent Dominion War. The harsh realities of both struggles had taught him harsher methods of dealing with obstacles and she'd recoiled from the person he'd become.

Danan, who'd only recently rejoined the team after an absence of some months, had reacted poorly to Macen's decisions regarding the Section 31 crew that had attempted to capture the team and had destroyed their ship with all surviving hands aboard. Macen had arranged Section 31 ship's destruction and had goaded her captain into triggering his vessel's own destruction. Both the swiftness of Macen's decisions and their brutality had appalled Danan. Although unopposed to justified applications of force, she'd disagreed with his reasoning surrounding his justification of the lethal methods he'd employed

Luckily, the SPYards had previously begun laying a new hull for the team. It had begun its shakedown trials when the team arrived on Earth. The group had quickly been pressed into service and had just completed the new vessel's final shakedown cruise. Throughout the two-week mission, Danan had avoided Macen in any context outside of duty. When the ship had docked back at the SPYards facility, Macen had inquired as to her behaviour. Her present flight through the construction facility had been her only answer thus far.

"Slow down Lees!" Macen demanded from behind her, "I can follow you all day long if I have to. I just want to ask you some questions."

"You don't want the answers." She shouted back over her shoulder.

"Maybe not." He yelled back, "But I still need to hear them."

She stopped and whirled to face him, "You really want to know? I think you're a soulless, murdering son of a bitch, that's what!"

That took him aback, "I knew our encounter with Titor and his crew had upset you but I never suspected this."

"You never gave them a chance!" she yelled again, "Boom! That was your instant decision."

"My standing orders are plain." Macen replied through gritted teeth, "I cannot allow the dissemination of the temporal drive or any components of it."

"Your orders?" Danan snorted, "It was your damned crusade! Most of those crewmen were oblivious as to what Titor was working on. They didn't have to die."

"I think you'd see things a little differently if it was your biology that provided the pivotal piece of a particular technology. Let's see what you'd do if someone altered the genetics of the Trill symbionts and turned them into weapons."

"Someone already has." Danan said in a low voice, "Or had you forgotten?"

Macen shook his head. Truth was, he had forgotten about Bajor's recent encounter with the mysterious parasites and the revelation of their link with Trill's vermiforms. It was a secret kept from the bulk of Trill civilisation and it's revelation threatened to unhinge the entire society. Even unintentionally, it was a cruel topic to bring up.

"Sorry." Macen said sincerely.

"It was just so damned abrupt." Danan silently accepted the apology, "Why did they have to die?"

"We didn't have the manpower to take or secure the ship." Macen sighed as he responded, "We had to eliminate all traces of the banned tech and prevent anyone aboard from replicating it later on. I chose the solution I did because it was the nicest fit to the problem."

"The nicest or the easiest?"

"Both." He replied with conviction, "Our team is thrust out into hazardous situations that require solutions that lay beyond the normal Starfleet paradigm. That's the job we were selected for and why we're given extra leeway when it comes to the methods at our disposal. It's also why we're contractors and not serving line officers. Starfleet demands plausible deniability."

"I know the technical details, I just want to know how you can live with your decision."

"Because I have to." Macen snapped testily, "My command decisions are my own. No one has to live with their consequences but me. I did what I thought was best and I still think that. That isn't going to change."

"I see." Danan replied though pursed lips, "your time with the Maquis changed you. The war just made the changes more pronounced."

"Admirals Drake and Nechayev seem to approve of the changes."

"Nechayev would approve of anything that furthered her goals." Danan replied sadly, "Drake is still trying to prove herself and her new command, and like it or not, you're her best operative."

"That isn't likely to change anytime soon."

"Maybe it should."

He shook his head, "Not going to happen. I don't know what else to do with myself."

"Too bad."

"So are you leaving gain?"

Danan released a heavy sigh, "No. I don't know what else to do with myself as well. Besides, maybe I can temper your judgement by sticking around."

"I don't need a conscience."

"Too bad. You're getting one as well as one helluva sciences specialist."

"Oh joy."

"Isn't honesty a wonderful thing?" she flashed a cheeky smile.

"I'll let you know." Macen replied glumly.

Macen stretched as he made his way towards the kitchen of his home on Barrinor. He'd stayed up all night again working on his latest analysis. He'd had the last three days off since the team concluded their last assignment. He'd caught up on his research while returning to Barrinor aboard the Solstice.

The Solstice was the Special Investigations Team's latest gift from the Starfleet. The Solstice had replaced their destroyed Ju'day-class raider with a built from the keel up Blackbird-class scout. Macen had commanded a stock decommissioned Blackbird during the Maquis rebellion and found it a superb craft. This one was anything but stock.

The Solstice sported five Type X phaser strips to replace the original's outdated phaser banks. She also possessed atmospheric manoeuvring capability, a boon over the standard design. The Solstice sported enhanced sensors and shields. Her three torpedo launchers could support quantum torpedoes, though her inventory typically lacked them. Finally, a Class 4 Klingon cloaking device rounded off the list of goodies. All of this, and Dracas was still making personalised tweaks.

He entered the kitchen to find T'Kir brewing a pot of coffee. She wore a baggy sweater over loose shorts. She'd been here the last three days as well. Since profession their mutual love, T'Kir and Macen had started a regular program of mental exercises to bolster her mental shields.

His own abilities to sense time/space fluxes. Had begun to taper off. At first this change was frightening. Kort had been at a loss to explain it until he ran a microcellular scan. The same radiation damage that had negated the life prolonging alterations to his body also seemed to be adversely affecting his preternatural abilities. That same radiation had also halved his natural life span. Where he had once faced another five centuries of life, he could only reasonably expect a little over two more centuries.

His ability to sense confluxes of time and space were now reduced to the same intuitive "hunches" normal to his people. He'd survived centuries at this level. His senses had only risen as a result of his exposure to the Nexus. It was vaguely disappointing to lose the extra sensitivity, but at the same time it had started to become a liability as the "power" grew in strength, and more and more out of his control.

T'Kir herself was facing a similar situation. After spending the last decade dealing with a telepathic ability too strong to shield out unwanted thoughts, her abilities were declining in strength. Part of that was due to the herbal remedies she'd been using to partially suppress her runaway faculty. Now though, when she took the herbs it negated her telepathic sensitivity altogether.

He wondered when the last time she'd seen her own home. She'd taken over one of the room's in his house and had moved the bulk of her things in. It was an ironic situation. Before their recent confessions, when they'd lived together on the same ship for weeks and months on end, they'd never avoided each other but had never spent nearly this amount of time with each other either. Of course, he had been involved with Lisea Danan at the time and T'Kir had enjoyed her flings.

T'Kir was bleary eyed and grumpy. Macen had been amused to discover this was often the case in the morning. To be fair, he hated mornings himself. He smelled rhohhian eggs cooking and bread toasting through the coffee scent.

"You read my mind." He said as he approached the coffeepot, his eyes locked on the frying pan.

"Piss off." She replied, waving her free hand at him, "This is my breakfast. Make your own."

Macen thought about reminding her that this was his house not hers, but opted not to. It would have had sounded hollow. He'd promised her that wherever he was, she was always welcome to join him. Trying to welch out of cooking breakfast wasn't a good enough reason to go back on that vow.

"I see you were up all night again." She observed with wry amusement, "What are you working on now?"

"An analysis on potential repercussions of prolonged alliances with the Cardassian Union and the Romulan Star Empire." He answered nonchalantly as he began to rummage around the cryo unit for food.

When she'd met Macen, she'd immediately known he was intelligent. It had surprised her to learn that he was a respected social scientist and analyst outside of Starfleet as well as within its ranks. His ideas were often controversial, and often proven correct. She'd laughed when she'd learned that he'd written several papers while fighting for the Maquis.

His analysis had captured the soul of the struggle and quantified it in terms the average Federation citizen could understand. Although official policies had never changed as a result, the de facto change had been to ignore the Maquis and allow them to drive the Cardassians out while the Cardies dealt with the Klingons and rebuilding from their losses. The Maquis had been on the verge of victory when the Dominion had allied themselves with the Union and everything changed.

Scholars still spoke of Macen's paper as the defining analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the movement. His papers on the Cardassians, the Borg, and various other topics had been equally acclaimed. He'd received a lot of pressure to pursue academia as a career. Most of that pressure had come from Lisea Danan.

Although Macen's Trill lover had joined the Maquis with him, she lost her revolutionary zeal after their defeat at the hands of the Jem'Hadar. While he went away to lead covert raids against the Dominion, she'd been reassigned to a research facility. She'd reunited with Macen briefly to help him on a mission but had resigned from Starfleet upon returning from it. Shortly thereafter, she'd revealed Macen's longstanding attraction to T'Kir even as the Vulcan struggled to come to grips with having fallen in love with him.

Now, six months later, both of them had come to terms with their mutual attraction during their mission on 492 IV, also known as Magna Roma. Their relationship had subsequently blossomed. It'd had more than its fair share of bumps along the way. That was the case when both parties were survivors of emotional and psychological trauma. But they found strength in one another's company and that made the difference.

Another factor was that T'Kir's telepathy and Macen's abilities had melded to forge an unusually strong telepathic rapport between them. No matter how foul a mood was outwardly projected, the underlying affection and love was never in doubt. It was advantage many couples would have envied. .

She sipped her coffee and watched him go to work on preparing his breakfast. He stood just over six-foot. His head was crowned with reddish-blond hair. He wore a moustache and goatee. She'd never seen him without it, although he'd shown her a holo of him without it taken almost over seventy years ago when he'd first joined Starfleet. His face was ovular, dominated by high cheekbones, full lips, and an indistinct nose.

She caught her own reflection in a nearby window. Her raven hair seemed permanently windblown. She'd grown it out and it still acted as though it had a life of its own. She consoled herself with the fact that her green blood gave her an olive complexion that Earth's Mediterranean natives would die for. She was finally accepting who she was rather than trying to flee her heritage.

She wondered what he though of her oval face with its puffy lips, high cheekbones, rounded nose, and large blue eyes. She realised it was a silly question. She was suddenly grateful she'd never asked Macen it. The way he sometimes looked at her was answer enough. He accepted her eclectic behaviours.

Besides, she mused, his face is almost the same shape as mine. She'd read somewhere that people were unknowingly drawn to people of similar build. It was a subconscious reflex at validating their appearance. In her years with the Maquis and since, she'd been amazed at the how many people looked alike despite species.

The last six months had captivated, and irritated, T'Kir unlike any time before. The time spent with Macen reinforced her conviction that they were made for one another. It wasn't that the time was idyllic, when they disagreed it was cataclysmic. T'Kir had come to realise that her willingness to go head to head with Macen was one of the great draws she had for him.

She watched with amusement as he cooked some eggs in a rather unorthodox manner, "Y'know you're doing it funny don't you?"

"I know what I'm doing." He protested, "Leave me alone."

"Fine." She threw her hands in the air, "Do want you want."

"Thanks." He muttered.

A comm panel started beeping. Macen swore and abandoned the eggs. T'Kir slid into place and finished the job while Macen went into the adjoining study to answer the incessant summons. When he returned, his face was twisted in a strange expression.

"Brin?" she asked suddenly concerned, "What's wrong?"

"Hmm?" it was like he was waking up, "Oh, Dracas says he can't manufacture the parts he needs for the final adjustments on the ship. He has a line on a shipyard that has them and has placed an order."

"So?" she asked slightly irritably, wondering why that deserved Macen's attention.

"Apparently they won't ship the parts, so we have to go get them." Macen explained, "Its supposed to a be a fairly nice planet."

"So?" she asked again, starting to lose her patience.

"So how d'you feel like going on vacation for a few days?" he asked.

She pumped her fist in the air, "Yes!" She ran out of the room to start packing.

"I take it you like the idea." Macen commented with a pleased smirk.

The comm badge chirped again. Macen stared at it incredulously. T'Kir stormed into the room. Her face was livid.

"Don't you dare answer that!"

His face twisted up in an expression of baffled irritation, "I have to."

"No, y'don't."

"Yes, I do."

"No. You don't" she said more assertively, "We're finally going on a vacation. The first one I've ever had and I'm not about to let anyone spoil it."

"It won't spoil it."

"Yes, it will. Just watch."

Macen rolled his eyes as he activated his comm badge, "Macen here."

"Its about damn time!" Admiral Amanda Drake's voice came across; "We've got a situation. You need to report to Argos immediately."

"Told you." T'Kir accused sullenly.

"Got it. Out." He deactivated the comm, "We'll check it out and get underway."

"Right." She said scornfully.

"Just get dressed."

The crops were overrun. The formerly lush fields were now stripped bare. It was a disaster that had overtaken nearly half the province's fields. There was only one word to describe the carnage wrought before them.

"Tribbles." Macen pronounced.

Amy Sharpe, Argos' Minister of Security, scowled at the amusement in his voice, "These damned furballs have eaten a year's worth of food."

"That's what they do." Macen explained while trying not to laugh, "That and breed."

"That's an understatement." Sharpe muttered darkly, "Yesterday, a single farm called in a report of 'strange creatures', now half the county of covered in these things."

Macen's reply was cut off as Kort marched up in an obvious state of distressed fury, "This is impossible!"

"If they're here, how can it be impossible?" Macen asked.

"A century ago, my people undertook a great crusade to liberate the galaxy from these vermin."

"Why?" T'Kir asked.

"They are an unparalleled ecological menace." Kort said hotly.

"Are sure it wasn't just because Klingons don't like Tribbles?" Macen prodded.

"They are a pestilence!"

T'Kir was now holding one of the furry creatures it purred softly, until she neared Kort. It began shrieking. Every shriek produced an unheard of reaction from the Doctor. He cringed every time it wailed.

"Take it away!" he bellowed.

"Obviously the feelings mutual." Macen commented.

"Oh, you're just mad because all the Klingons songs of the Great Tribble Hunt are lies." T'Kir accused as she walked away.

Macen turned to Sharpe, "It looks like you'll just have to gather them up and transport them somewhere off-planet."

She looked at him expectantly but he shook his head adamantly, "Oh, no. My crew and I are going on vacation. We'll call you when we get back."

He ignored the glare he could feel drilling into his back as he walked back towards the transport.

Macen surveyed the bridge of his ship. He still liked the way it rolled of the tongue, his ship. It was ironic that he'd replaced the lost Odyssey at a time when he rarely needed a ship. Most of their missions were planetside. The ship generally served merely as transportation to and from assignments.

The bridge closely resembled the Galaxy-class Battle Bridge. All the stations faced the main viewer while he sat centre point with control interfaces to either side of him. Helm and Ops lay directly before him. Ops sat to his left and Conn to his right. Behind him lay Tactical and Master Systems. MS generally was used as a back-up station to the rest.

Operating the ship only required the nine members of Macen's team. Daggit generally manned Tactical, Radil as his back up. The ever-versatile Radil also assisted Dracas in Engineering. Lisea Danan and Kort drifted between their respective posts in Sickbay and Science and the Bridge. Grace, as ever, manned the helm while T'Kir's mastery was felt at Ops.

The ever-changing interactions between his teammates constantly kept Macen either amused or irritated. Grace and T'Kir were still fast friends even though Grace was obviously jealous of the increasing amount of time T'Kir spent with him. The young pilot still adjusting to life outside of Starfleet and the Federation despite being born on a distant colony world. Macen had caught a few of the furtive glances Grace cast Daggit's way and he wondered if his XO had the vaguest clue.

Daggit had been smitten with Radil since inadvertently bringing her into the team. She still hadn't quite forgiven him for that even though she admitted her life was much better since joining. The fact that she'd been effectively blackmailed into joining to avoid prosecution rankled her over developed sense of independence. She'd overcome her initial reluctance after learning some of the darker histories of her new compatriots and had developed into a solid member of the unit.

T'Kir had noted, and informed Macen, of Radil's increasing chumminess with Kort. The two often exercised and hunted together. Daggit regularly scheduled drills for the entire team, but Kort and Radil enjoyed the physical demands of training and virtually monopolised the diminutive gym replacing one of the crew's quarters. Daggit and Macen got together on a regular basis but Rab had taken to spending most of his free time with Lisea Danan.

Danan's pragmatic insight counter-balanced Daggit's self-loathing episodes and provided some much needed levity in the Angosian's life. Despite her unfamiliarity with most of the team, Danan had quickly adjusted to the interpersonal terrain and carved a niche for herself. Her lifetimes of experience made her a favourite source for counsel for those that couldn't turn to Macen. Her natural humour naturally cheering up those that sought her advice.

Hal Dracas remained the loner par excellence of the group. He preferred to tinker with the ship or display his malevolent genius at designing and modifying weapon systems. Although raised in communal lodgings, Troglytes remained highly detached even within large crowds. The only privacy generally available to them was internal. Dracas made few complaints and expressed contentment with his new life. Macen just hoped his chief engineer wasn't a warp core waiting to breach.

The recent loss of Tom Riker still stung. Tom and the entire back-up crew of the Eclipse had died when she was lost. It had become an open wound amongst the team members but it remained a taboo topic that festered under the emotional surface. Hopefully this vacation would allow them to clear the air. An unspoken tension had been building over the last weeks and it was beginning to effect everybody aboard. It was time to settle matters.

 

Chapter 2

"Where the frinx are we?" T'Kir grumbled.

"This is your shortcut, you tell me." Macen replied teasingly.

T'Kir's response as she peered at her tricorder would have made an Orion pirate blush. While most Vulcans undoubtedly knew of the colourful metaphors lacing the languages they learned, T'Kir was the first he'd ever met that actually employed them. The Romulan influences in her upbringing became apparent in such moments. After four days of hiking, Macen had learned that her vocabulary was impressive.

The first three days had been spent travelling between the primary capital city of Linquist and the neighbouring city-state of Roun. The terrain between the two was comprised of magnificent valleys and gently rolling hills. The trail was one commonly used by the Kilranians and had hostels and villages scattered along the way. They were trying to make Roun by the fifth day in order to see the opening ceremonies of a music and arts festival.

On the morning of the fourth day, they'd realised that they would miss the opening if they continued to travel at their current pace. T'Kir had suggested an alternative route in lieu of enduring a forced march. On the map it appeared to be the answer to their dilemma. It would involve traversing some rugged terrain, but cut the total distance in half.

It was now getting late in the planet's solar day of thirty-one hours. Dusk would arrive in another three hours and Roun was nowhere in sight. T'Kir had followed the tricorder's readings religiously and somehow they'd ended up off course. She snapped it shut irritably.

"Still no luck?"

T'Kir shot him a glare, "Something's interfering with the readings. They come out differently every time I run a scan."

Macen's eyebrow quirked upwards, "Really?" He took out his own tricorder and tried to determine their location. It should have been a simple matter of comparing geological and electromagnetic landmarks against stored parameters, but the readings changed every few seconds. Macen felt a chill as something in the air demanded his attention. He couldn't place what it was, but his intuitive senses were coming to life.

"Think you can find Roun by dead reckoning?" he asked.

She looked towards the sky and sighed as she activated the mapreader, "Shouldn't be too hard. I should have given up on the 'corder and done this hours ago."

Macen grinned, "I should have though of it too, so don't feel bad."

T'Kir laughed wearily, "All right."

"Do you wonder what the others are doing?" Macen asked in an off-hand manner.

T'Kir's eyes narrowed as she focused on the map and her reply was absent-minded at best, "Probably in a pub somewhere getting pissed. Can't say I'd blame them."

Seated in a pub in Linquist, Daggit gave Kort an apprehensive look, "Tell me again why we're here?"

"The proprietor claims to serve beverages from every known world in both the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Think of it as a tour." Kort replied bombastically.

Daggit's look grew more concerned, Radil laughed, "Ease up Daggit. We are on leave. I don't think any life threatening emergencies will arise while we wile away a night here indulging in local customs."

There aren't any local customs here! Daggit wanted to shout, There aren't any locals in here! Every customer is an alien just like us.

Grace patted him on the shoulder, a rare move for the reticent young woman, "It'll be okay. Really." She looked around at the various other patrons; "I've never been to a place like this before."

"Really?" Kort asked with a devious gleam in his eye. It reminded Daggit of old holovids of mad scientists preparing to dissect their latest find. "In that case we shall have to begin our tour immediately. I suggest we start on Earth and work away across the Federation. By the time we finish, we should be suitably prepared for the delights of the Klingon Empire."

Daggit's stomach shuddered at the thought of trying to gag down bloodwine, "I'll go find the waiting staff and tell them we're prepared to start ordering."

Daggit excused himself and moved towards the bar. The others watched his departure. One person in particular watched with especially keen interest. Radil coughed politely to get Grace's attention.

"You seem to admire Rab quite a lot." She said.

Grace's cheeks flushed, "He's one of the best XO's I've ever served with."

"All two of them?" Radil asked sarcastically.

Grace glowered at her. Radil shook her head, "Hannah, if you like him, tell him."

"It wouldn't do any good." Grace complained bitterly, "First, we're in the same chain of command and there's rules against that sort of thing. Second, he only looks at you."

Radil snorted, "First, you're not in Starfleet anymore kiddo. The only rules about fraternisation are whatever Macen says they are. Trust me, you have nothing to worry about on that score."

"What do you mean?" Grace asked, feeling very lost already.

"Have you noticed that he and T'Kir are shacking up together?" Radil's voice rose slightly, "If those two weren't already sharing quarters, I'd throw them in the brig together so they could frinx each other's brains out."

Grace blinked, "The Captain would never just go to bed with T'Kir! He's romancing her."

"But you won't vouch for T'Kir, eh?"

"She's not like that any more!" Grace said hotly.

Radil held her hands up in surrender, "I never said she was. I've heard rumours about what she was like and it doesn't match up with the person I've met. And I'm not saying anything about a fling. Those two have got the worst case of 'true love' I've ever seen."

Grace was amazed by the scorn in Radil's voice and said so.

Radil gave her a worlds' weary smile, "I've seen too much to believe in love."

Grace flashed Kort a glance. She could see the reaction he tried to hide at Radil's words. "You may not believe in it now," Grace said with utter conviction, "but I think you'll see the error of your thinking someday."

Radil chuckled mirthlessly, "Believe what you want."

Across the room, Daggit was trying to explain his order to the bartender, "No, I don't want anything alcoholic. I want something without alcohol. Do you have any drinks that aren't inebriating?"

"Why did you come to a bar if you don't want alcohol?" the bartender retorted.

"I came to be with my shipmates." Daggit answered through clenched teeth; "I also came to get a bite to eat. Now, do you have any non-alcoholic beverages and can I get service at our table so we can order?"

The bartender shrugged, "Sure, I'll have one of the waiters stop by in a few minutes and I'll go get your drink."

"Thank you." Daggit said in exasperation. He glanced back towards the table where his companions were seated. Radil and Grace seemed to be having an intense conversation that was followed by several moments of silence. It ended when Kort decided to forgo his unusually restrained behaviour and made a comment that was undoubtedly crude judging by Radil's laughter and Grace's flush. He bridled slightly at seeing Radil drape her arm around Kort's shoulder to trade another anecdote with him.

He sighed and wished Danan had been able to come with them. The Trill scientist had drawn the watch and was overseeing the ship while Dracas and the Kilranian engineer conducted the installations. Daggit could really use some of Danan's insights right about now. He'd known that there was no chance for anything to happen between Radil and himself, but knowing and accepting were often separate matters altogether.

There had been a fleeting moment of hope when he'd first met her. There weren't many women that could understand what the augmentation program had done to him, but Radil could from personal experience. It didn't seem that they had much in common beyond that. Where Daggit tried to control the urges and suppress the automated responses programmed into him by Angosia's military scientists, Radil revelled in them. She no longer defined herself as anything but a soldier and a killer.

Daggit's train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a glass landing heavily against the counter. He turned and was confronted with the foulest drink, with the possible exception of bloodwine, he'd ever seen or smelled. It was frothy like milk, but had several large chunks of an unknown origin floating in it. It also had a suspiciously green tinge.

"What is that?" Daggit managed to ask.

"Non-alcoholic." The bartender replied tersely, "Its taken from the milk sacs of the qulta and then prepared. It's very nutritious and is often used as a meal substitute. We give it to our children every morning."

"And they survive?" Daggit exclaimed.

The bartender bristled, "It makes them grow strong."

Daggit had to admit he'd never met a small Kilranian. They were all at least two metres high. Their skin was covered with grey fur. They had a long, narrow face ending in a muzzle. Grace had described them as "goat people". They possessed strong muscles suited to traversing the hills and mountain ranges of their world. He had little doubts they could go head to head with a Gorn and come out comfortably.

The bartender tugged at his beard with his three-fingered hand, "Well?"

Daggit raised the glass and sniffed its contents. He winced as the pungent odour assaulted his nostrils, "When you say 'prepared', would you happen to mean 'curdled'?"

"Of course!" the bartender declared, "Now drink up."

Daggit held his breath and downed the obnoxious compound. He tried not to gag as he felt solid lumps of coagulated milk and mould sliver down his throat. Although the texture and smell were repellent, the flavour turned out to be rather pleasant. Daggit put the empty glass down and ordered another.

The bartender smiled, "I'll have the waiter bring it to your table with your menus."

Macen and T'Kir were resting after two hours of rapid marching. They'd climbed up a small mountain and could now see Roun laying the valley below. Even if they walked at a slower pace, they'd still make it to the city with time to sleep before the festival started. After eating some much needed snacks and drinking water, they'd fallen into a rather revealing conversation.

Shortly after joining the SID, Macen had taken T'Kir to see a Vulcan healer specialising in telepathic disorders. After a thorough examination, the healer had diagnosed T'Kir's difficulties and abnormally powerful telepathic abilities owing to three major factors. The first was her lack of proper training, the second was her unrestrained emotional states, and the third was a chemical imbalance created by years of subsisting off of outdated rations. He'd also uncovered another secret from her past.

"Why didn't you ever tell anyone you were raised by a Romulan?" Macen asked.

She gave him a wry smile; "I'd love to see Kort's reaction to that little piece of information."

"He'd get over it." Macen replied.

T'Kir shook her head, "Brin, he shouldn't need to get 'over it'. The fact my stepfather was a Romulan doesn't change who I am. You're one of the few people I know that sees things that way."

Macen shrugged, "I know you. I knew you'd been raised with Romulans, so I knew you'd seen them in a light most never get to see. I've only seen how that influence has strengthened you."

She broke into a brilliant smile; "You don't know how rare that perspective is. Even with Vulcan's professed striving for 'Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations', they're rather bigoted towards Romulans."

Macen nodded sadly, "I know. I've seen some their reactions when confronted with Romulans."

T'Kir nodded, frowning, "My stepfather; actually, he's the only father I've ever known, came to the Federation and the Vulcan government asked him to settle off-world. A rather small but dedicated contingent of Vulcans disagreed with the official and left to help him and other defectors colonise a new world."

"Why did he defect?" Macen asked.

"He came from a minor House, but was related to the Imperial line." She stopped when she saw Macen's reaction, "Don't give me that shocked look. I told you, it's a minor House, its no big deal. There isn't much to the title accept a Senate seat."

"Anyway," she pressed on, ignoring Macen's astonished look, "my uncle died leading the first Romulan probe across the Neutral Zone since the war that introduced the Empire to the worlds that would eventually become the Federation."

"Your uncle was the Commander James Kirk chased down?" Macen sputtered.

T'Kir gave him an irritated glare, "Look, you wanted to know the story. I can't tell it to you if you keep interrupting me because you have a hard time believing what I'm saying."

"I'm sorry." Macen apologised, his head still swimming from multiple surprises.

"Anyway, my father became heir to the House after my uncle's death. Eventually he rose to command himself. He even encountered Kirk during Admiral Kirk's second five year mission aboard the recently refitted Enterprise." Macen sputtered again but remained silent otherwise, so she pressed on, "The encounter left an impression my father."

"I bet." Macen muttered.

T'Kir sighed, "It made him rethink his beliefs regarding the Federation. He'd confronted his brother's killer, a monster purportedly responsible for massacring a 'peaceful' Romulan expedition. Upon learning of the Warbirds destroying several outposts, it forced my father to re-examine official Imperial proclamations. It was shortly after this encounter he learned of the dishonourable experiment on a world known as Hellguard. Although unable to personally intervene, he applied pressure to have the base shut down and the captives returned to Vulcan. "

"When he learned of the base's evacuation and the abandonment of the prisoners, my father used his commission, his title, and his relationship with the Emperor to get an audience. The Emperor had been just as sickened to learn of the operation at Hellguard, but could not officially intervene because the newly created Tal Shiar had carried it out. The Emperor could not risk discrediting the organisation charged with guaranteeing internal security. The organisers had been dealt with and the Praetor charged with overseeing that no other experiments of such nature were undertaken."

"He pleaded with the Emperor to allow him to take his ship to Hellguard and rescue the prisoners. The Emperor told him that was impossible since he had just been removed from command on the Praetor's orders. The only help the survivors of Hellguard could expect would have to come from the Federation, specifically the Vulcans."

"He asked the Emperor permission to travel to Vulcan and inform them of the existence of Hellguard. The Emperor said that he could not officially condone such a mission however much his heart and his honour pleaded for it. If anyone were to undertake such a task, they would be exiled. My father drew his honour blade and asked the Emperor to give it to his younger sister for his honour demanded that he undertake the forbidden task."

"The Emperor gazed long and hard at my father and told him to keep his blade. His House would receive a new blade and the Emperor would award himself it himself. Although officially decried, my father's actions would be privately honoured. With those assurances, my father set out in a scout ship and crossed the Neutral Zone. He was picked up at a Federation listening post and eventually brought to Vulcan. The Vulcans dispatched a rescue mission to Hellguard, where they found one survivor."

"Admiral Saavik." Macen completed for her.

T'Kir nodded, "She was brought to Vulcan and raised by Ambassador Sarek's clan. My father requested asylum on Vulcan but it was denied. Ambassador Sarek protested the decision but it didn't do any good. Sarek told my father of other Romulan defectors scattered across the Federation. He contacted them all and convinced them to start a new colony near the recently discovered Cardassian border."

"The Vulcan protesters asked permission to join them, and my father agreed. Together they set out to build a new world. It was a task demanding both Romulan endurance and Vulcan patience."

"Who was your mother?"

T'Kir's smile was warm with fond memories, "She was a Vulcan priestess. She originally led the Vulcan faction."

"Figures." Macen chuckled.

"Anyway, together they managed to blend the best, and some of the worst of both cultures and create something special." T'Kir said wistfully, "It was a place where both sides could gather and be themselves. Since my biological father had died in an accident before they'd met, neither of them felt any compunction not to pursue the passion they felt for one another."

"The first test of Ambassador Spock's Unification theories." Macen interjected.

T'Kir nodded sadly, "Unfortunately, my mother died when I was very young. And after that, the Cardassians arrived and destroyed everything."

Macen was silent for a time while T'Kir dealt with dredged up emotions. Finally he spoke, "Why hide the truth? You have a proud heritage, on both sides. Why disavow either part?"

She shook her head forlornly, "No. There's still too much resentment and animosity towards Romulans. Even with the wartime treaty, old suspicions and anger flow too easily. You're about the only person I know whose opinion would remain unaffected by the revelation."

Macen shrugged, "If you're sure."

"Brin," T'Kir said with emphasis, "I've been in a lot of their heads. Most of them would have a negative reaction. The fact that biologically, I'm completely Vulcan, wouldn't matter. All that would matter is that I was raised by a Romulan."

"I'm sorry." Macen said miserably.

"I know you are." She said, "That's part of what makes you who you are."

She shifted in her makeshift seat on the grass, "So what about you? You rarely talk about your past. Why'd you join Starfleet and why don't you ever contact any of your people?"

Macen gave her a wry grin; "You don't ask the easy ones do you?"

"I told you my secrets, so spill." She ordered.

Macen laughed and began his story.

Kort finished yet another story of legendary Klingon prowess, as well as yet another bottle of liquor. He'd told at least a dozen such stories, each one accompanied by a bottle. His tales were becoming more lurid even as his actions were becoming more boisterous. Radil, matching Kort drink for drink, had made a lascivious comment about wanting a personal demonstration of Klingon prowess.

Kort now launched into a Klingon song. He stood and offered his hand to Radil. She joined him and began her own song in Bajoran. Daggit rubbed his head and wished they'd both shut up. Grace, inebriated for the first time in her life, had started rambling on about her past at Starfleet Academy, something about someone known as the Kelvans, and her hopes for the future. Daggit hoped she wouldn't be embarrassed to remembering the conversation the next day.

"I've always been too curious for my own good." Macen admitted, "Education came easily and I never really had to try. Eventually I applied for the Survey program and was accepted. I completed the University program as a rated historian and sociologist. I received the anti-ageing treatments and shipped out on my first assignment. I fell in love with exploration. Visiting new worlds and researching previously unknown histories and cultures became an addiction. I spent over two hundred years traversing the galaxy."

"Is that when you met Arinae?" T'Kir inquired.

He gave her a rueful nod; "It was a common custom for teammates to marry. We spent decades travelling together, so it wasn't as though we didn't know one another."

"Did you love her?" he detected an odd catch in her voice.

Slowly, he nodded, "Yes, I did. Although it wasn't a marriage conceived in passion, it was conceived in logic. It still hurt when it ended."

"The Borg?"

Macen throat tightened, "Yes. I was one of the first to detect the Borg's approach. When the Borg approached the first of out colony worlds, the decision was made to contact them."

"My own recommendation to rearm some of our vessels was rejected out of hand. My people had forsaken violence and discussed punishing me for even suggesting it. Arinae volunteered to contact the Borg cube. She was the first to be assimilated. The colony world followed. I felt her soul die as their nanites devoured her body and mind."

"I led an attack with hastily cobbled weapons. Knowing our peaceful traditions, the Borg never expected the attack. It was a desperate gambit that involved using our temporal warp engines. We folded space and inserted an antimatter bomb into the heart of the cube."

"Did Arinae die?" T'Kir asked softly.

"She was already dead." Macen replied, "I was able to convince many of my people to abandon our world. We fled on as many ships as we could. We had just finished the first boardings when the Borg fleet arrived."

"I helped guide the group that eventually arrived in the Alpha Quadrant. Other groups were scattered across the galaxy. Our group's leaders kept looking for the Nexus. It took us months to track it down. Our back-up plan was guided by a report made by a colleague of mine. It stated that Earth was a world where we could blend in and rebuild our population."

"During the voyage, I continued my studies into the forbidden parts of our past. I gave myself a crash course in tactics and strategy. I felt that they were as vital to our survival as the accepted philosophies. I also speculated that they might aid in our quest to rebuild our culture. My ideas were rejected and I was ostracised for my heretical beliefs. My final excommunication came when I joined Starfleet. The surviving elders feared I would eventually have to commit an act of violence to defend myself and that was unacceptable to them."

"Only one person came to my defence, the same colleague that recommended Earth. Guinan agreed with my argument that we kill other species by merely being alive. It would be wrong of me to merely sit by and try to remain detached from events in the universe. I had to follow my own conscience even as they did theirs."

"If you say so." T'Kir snorted.

"I don't, but my people do. That's why they won't have anything to do with me."

"How does that make you feel?" he could hear the concern in her voice.

He smiled, "It bothers me sometimes, but I've made a family here. You and the others are the best family I could ask for. You accept me without demanding I stop or start acting a certain way." With the notable exception of Lisea Danan.

"Much as we'd like you to." T'Kir teased.

He gave her a playful kiss, "C'mon, let's get going before we lose the rest of the light."

He helped her to her feet and they gathered their gear. They both had revealed memories rarely visited much less discussed. It was one a pivotal moment of camaraderie and understanding. They resumed the hike basking in the afterglow of camaraderie.

 

Chapter 3

Daggit sighed as Kort and Radil half danced, half boxed. Grace was standing on the table running a play by play. Daggit took another swig of his curdled milk and wondered how long it would take before they all passed out and left him in peace. He thought about leaving but knew better than to leave them alone. In their current condition, Kort and Radil were likely to try and start an interstellar incident.

Macen and T'Kir were at the edge of the forest skirting Roun. They were atop a knoll overlooking the main entrance to the walled city. Roun had been founded centuries before as a fortress. Although it was now a celebrated centre of the arts, the city still played a vital role in planetary defence. The city housed the central hub of the planet's defence grid as well as a prison.

The massive walls only had four main gates large enough to allow crowds through. There were dozens of smaller entrances as well. All of them were guarded. The Kilranians zealously protected the massive defence system that guaranteed their neutrality. The prison entrances were also heavily guarded.

Dusk was just descending as they cleared the woods. Another twenty minutes or so and they would be at the main southern entrance. Both of them were looking forward to a shower and a bed. Macen noticed as T'Kir stiffened suddenly.

"What's wrong?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know." She replied, her voice barely above a whisper, "Something's wrong."

"What's that mean?"

"There's a powerful telepathic presence here. Its as though a mental dampening field were being levelled." She explained.

"Can that happen naturally?" he asked, alarm growing within him.

"Yes." she replied grimly, "But the odds are astronomical. This feels created."

"By whom?" he whispered urgently.

"I wish I knew." Her voice was so tightly controlled it worried him. He'd seen T'Kir in this mood before. A lot of things generally ended up getting blown up as a result.

Daggit dragged Grace back to the table. She'd draped herself over a table populated by Yridian traders and begun asking them questions regarding their reproductive habits. He apologised for her and steered her back to the table. Kort and Radil were there arm wrestling. Daggit silently wondered which gods of shore leave he'd offended to deserve this.

Peering through the macrobinoculars, they could see a dozen cloaked figures approaching a small entrance in the southwest portion of Roun's main wall. The guards hadn't noticed them yet even though they were approaching in plain sight. Macen lowered the binoculars.

"What d'you think?" he whispered to T'Kir.

"I think we should call for back-up." She replied tersely.

"We don't even know if they're behind this yet." Macen rebutted, "We should move in closer and try to see what they're up to."

"Somehow I knew you were going to say that." T'Kir moaned, "Why couldn't we enjoy a real vacation?"

By the time they reached the entrance the mysterious figures had been heading for, the guards were dead, the door opened, and the dozen intruders missing.

"Just great." T'Kir muttered bitterly as she surveyed the scene.

Macen swung his backpack to the ground. He opened it and removed his comm badge and his phaser. T'Kir stared at him for a moment and then mirrored his actions. Macen grinned broadly at her.

"I thought you said you were on vacation." He teased.

"You're not the only one that packs a gun on vacation." T'Kir replied testily, "Let's just find these guys and bag 'em so we can still get a decent night's sleep."

The left their packs by the entrance, along with a note on a padd for any guards that discovered their fallen comrades. Macen proceeded with his Bajoran phaser held in a two-handed grip. T'Kir held her phaser in her right hand while her left held her tricorder. After a few moments of receiving erratic readings, she snapped the tricorder shut and put it in her pocket.

"Bloody useless thing." She hissed, "I can't tell if we're in the prison or the defence complex. They've got too many sensor jammers in place to take a solid reading outside of a few metres."

Macen grinned to himself as he cautiously proceeded down the narrow corridor the entrance led to. Bajoran phasers were boxy but they had excellent balance and ergonomics. It was designed to be much more rugged and hold a greater charge than its Federation counterparts.

The Bajorans built their weapons for fighting. The Federation's phasers were currently designed with deterrence in mind. A decade ago, one of Macen's colleagues had referred to the current Type II phaser as "the unholy offspring of a garage door opener and a dustbuster". While not understanding the obviously cultural references, Macen had wholeheartedly agreed with the intent.

The Bajorans designed their hand weapons while fighting for their independence from the Cardassians. They had large powerpacks with energy to spare and reflected the universal "point and shoot" philosophy that seemed to permeate every culture's handgun tradition until the Federation's recent break towards the wand style weapons. Although Macen appreciated the optimism behind the design goals, bitter experience and dissatisfaction born of handling the newer designs led him to scorn the Starfleet concept.

"Can you see or hear them at all?" T'Kir whispered.

"No." Macen said with disgust, "How about you? Sensing anything?"

He heard her sigh before she replied, "My telepathy isn't as sensitive as it should be with this infernal 'jamming' field in place. It makes it easier to control, but it also reduces my range by quite a bit. I'm pretty much line of sight right now."

Macen knew from their rapport that she was downplaying the differences. She used to cut through minds like a knife through butter. Now she would have to batter through an alerted mind's defences. He had no doubts she could pry the information out of most minds, but the increased effort was the price for her new found privacy.

"You should probably take point." Macen conceded, "Your ears will still pick up more than mine."

T'Kir knew that concession was a difficult one for him. Macen preferred to lead from the front even though he wasn't a skilled fighter. He wanted to bear the lion's share of risk. She knew how every person lost under his command gauged a wound into his soul. He'd accepted that responsibility and the inevitability of such losses but tended to overcompensate by throwing himself into harm's way first.

There were many other reasons behind this as well. T'Kir was an expert in self-destructive behaviours. She'd indulged in enough of them to recognise them in others. Macen carried a great deal of anger inside and occasionally it turned inward and led him to reckless actions.

It was this sense of kindred spirits that had originally drawn her towards him. When Ro Laren had transferred her to his unit, she'd been angry. Now she saw what Ro had seen. Macen struggled with similar internal battles. They unwittingly helped each other through their struggles and in turn helped themselves.

She stopped as she heard something up ahead. It sounded like a struggle. She heard several blows and then the sound of something or someone being dragged. She indicated that two or more suspects were ahead of them and proceeded slowly when Macen signalled to do so.

They crept down the hallway slowly and quietly. The darkened corridor opened into a wider, circular room with several exits. The wall surrounding Roun had turrets overlooking the clear approaches. This room was the base of one such turret.

T'Kir strained to hear what was occurring before carefully glancing into the room. She pulled her head back and held up two fingers for Macen. He nodded and held up five for her. He began to drop one every second until he closed his fist and they both rushed forward.

T'Kir was the first around the corner. She fired her phaser and stunned one of the cloaked figures. Another attacked her from her left, knocking the phaser from her hand. T'Kir mentally snarled a curse as she realised that two more had stationed themselves against the wall and she hadn't seen them. Her attacker flew towards her in a flurry of kicks and punches that she tried to block and dodge.

Seeing what happened to T'Kir, Macen cut down the figure to his right before he or she could react. The one across the room rushed towards him while drawing a knife from its belt. Macen knew he'd never get a shot off in time so he feinted right and then dodged left.

His attacker's momentum worked against him. He couldn't adjust to the right fast enough. Macen swung the phaser up and caught him in the side of the head. That staggered Macen's opponent and gave him time to shoot him.

Macen turned to see the flurry of blows T'Kir was exchanging with her opponent. He knew she wasn't holding back and wondered how her enemy was withstanding her Vulcan strength. As she took another blow, he realised that her attacker was at least as strong as she was. Duck! he thought as loudly as he could.

She dropped to the ground and Macen's phaser blast caught the last foe in the chest as he swung his fist at a body that was no longer there. He staggered then fell with a groan. Macen reached T'Kir as she rose to her feet. She had a nasty purple yellow bruise forming on her cheek and a smouldering fire in her eyes.

"He was using Romulan martial arts." She snarled and reached down to pull the fallen man's hood back. Stripped of the obscuring cowl, her opponent was revealed as a Romulan male. Macen went to the others and began pulling back their hoods. The first one T'Kir had shot was an Andorian. A quick check revealed a Bajoran and a human.

Macen checked the two fallen Kilranians. They were both dead. He searched their equipment belts and found what he was looking for. He bound each of their new prisoners with a monomolecular shackle. They could pull their wrists free of the single molecule width chords, but only at the price of their hands. This, and the presence of solid metal doors to each side of the room, revealed they were in the prisons of Roun

"Can you telepathically interrogate one of the prisoners?" Macen asked T'Kir. She nodded and knelt before the Romulan she'd fought.

After a moment, she let go of the man's face and rose. Cold fury shone on her face; "They're a pirate band trying to free a comrade held here."

"Any clue as to who they are?"

She shrugged, "I didn't stick around long enough to find out. His surface thoughts were pretty vile. I didn't want to probe any deeper than I had to."

Macen looked at her with concern on his face, "I'm sorry. I forget how hard it must be to deal with some of the things you find in other people's heads."

"I volunteered." She said, "I knew it wouldn't be pretty and was braced for it. The question is, what next?"

Macen adjusted the setting on his phaser and stunned the Romulan. T'Kir's mouth dropped and the snapped shut. She couldn't protest. They'd executed Cardassian prisoners if they didn't have the ability to transport or care for them during the war.

"If he'd regained consciousness he could have warned the others." Macen explained in a flat voice.

"So what now?" she asked.

"We try to call for help." He answered with a shrug, "Even if that doesn't work, we try and stop them. Starfleet and the SID would take a credibility hit if we just let these bozos waltz out of here after learning what they were after."

T'Kir gave him a grudging smile, "Can't fault the logic in that."

He gave her a smirk; "I'm surprised that argument would win you over."

She punched him in the arm, "Just take advantage of my moment of new found sense of propriety why don'cha?"

He laughed, "Why d'you think I said it?"

Kort and Radil were facing each other down as they each downed shots of some black, oily looking liquid. They'd consumed thirty-six apiece with no sign of either about to quit. Kort gulped his thirty-seventh and slammed the upturned glass on the table with a victorious shout. Radil picked her drink up and chugged it down in a single gulp.

She put the glass down. As Kort bent to reach for his next drink, her fist rocketed into the side of his face. His head bounced off the table and he lay sprawled on the floor. Radil drank her next shot and sat down with a victorious grin.

Daggit sighed. He glanced over towards Grace to check on her condition. She'd fallen into a sullen stupor. She glared at him with bloodshot eyes.

"Why don'cha ever look at me the way you look at her?" she slurred as she jerked her thumb at Radil.

"What?" Daggit asked in utter confusion.

"Don'cha think I'm pretty?" she asked defensively.

"I think you're lovely." He assured her.

"You're just saying that to shut me up!" she accused, "Why don't you look at me?"

"I do look at you." He said again, "I observe you all the time."

"Not like that." She said angrily, "Like a woman. I am a woman y'know."

"I was aware of that fact." Daggit said with a straight face.

"Yer makin' fun of me." She scowled, "I can prove it y'know." She reached down and took hold of her tunic and began to pull it upwards.

Daggit took hold of her wrist and prevented her from pulling her shirt off, "I've noticed, okay. I really don't think you want to pull off your shirt in here."

Grace's head lolled side to side as she glanced around at some of the unsavoury characters loitering about the bar at this late hour, "See? You're a gentleman. Why can't I ever get a nice guy to ask me out? I always get conceited losers."

"Hannah, I'm flattered that you'd even consider me appealing." He informed her honestly, "But the truth is that I've got at least twenty years on you. It'd be better for you if you waited until you met someone closer to your own age. I'll even help if you'd like. I can be the threatening father that weeds out undesirables."

"That's so sweet." She wailed and buried her face in her arms on the table.

Daggit waited a few moments to let her cry, then tentatively put a hand her shoulder to console her; "It'll be all right."

She didn't respond and he nudged her gently, "Hannah?"

He lifted her head and she snored loudly. Daggit's face twisted up in a wry expression. She's passed out. I hope she doesn't remember this tomorrow.

He softly put her head back in place. He looked over towards Radil. She sat there with a blank expression on her face. He waved his hand in front of her face and she didn't react at all.

"Just great." He muttered.

 

Chapter 4

Dracas swore under his breath as his comm badge started beeping. Although raised in a communal atmosphere, one of the attractions Starfleet's Engineering Division had held for him had been the opportunity to lose oneself in a project and forget other people. He supposed things could have been worse and he could've been born on Gideon. He shuddered at that thought. Even with the reintroduction of disease into the biosphere the planet was crowded.

He also knew that another attraction was a hierarchical system that tried to avoid discrimination between ranks. Even the lowest enlisted personnel enjoyed the same rights and privileges as an officer. That was a far cry from his upbringing on Ardana IV. Troglytes remained second-class citizens even after a century in the Federation.

The Federation's principle of self-determination allowed this practice to continue. Like Trill's unjoined population, the Troglytes enjoyed the technology and health benefits that Federation membership brought. They just had to work harder than the Stratosians to acquire the same opportunities. They were still viewed as little more than serfs by the cloud dwellers.

For the most part, Dracas liked his teammates. He'd never expected to enjoy working in a group again, but their easy acceptance made him glad he'd stayed with them as they abandoned Starfleet. Every member of the team had a troubled past and had left their world of origin to build a new life. Most were unwelcome on their homeworlds.

With the command team on liberty and the ship populated only by native engineers, Dracas thought it unlikely that this message would be anything less than important. All the engineer's were present here in Engineering. Wandering in his domain. That left one of the investigative team finding him or herself in trouble.

He slapped the badge and tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, "Dracas here."

Macen's voice whispered across the channel, "How soon can you have the ship powered up?"

"For travel or for transport?" Dracas asked, "We can use the transporters now."

"I know that." Macen didn't even attempt to hide his irritation, "How soon can you have the ship ready to break orbit?"

"It will take me at least thirty minutes to bring all systems back up." Dracas reported, "I was supposed to have two more days. What's the rush?"

"A dozen armed men just broke into the central prison in Roun." Macen's hissed reply came, "The Kilranians aren't aware of this yet and we don't seem to be able to reach them."

Instantly, Dracas was alert, "I'll be ready. Do you want us to get a transporter lock on you?"

"Lock on to T'Kir and I. Stand by for our signal. If we call, it means we need immediate evac." Macen ordered.

"Understood. Anything else?"

"Lock onto the rest of the team and prepare to beam them up ASAP."

Dracas nodded even though Macen wasn't there to see it; "I'll relay the orders to Danan and get things underway."

"I knew I could count on you." Macen replied, "Wish us luck. We're off to save the planet."

"Or at least part of it." Dracas heard T'Kir quip sarcastically.

He almost smiled as he tapped his communicator and asked for Danan. Macen and T'Kir always seemed to stumble into trouble even on the most peaceful of planets. They seemed to thrive on successive catastrophes. Then again, that seemed true of most of the team he thought forlornly.

Macen and T'Kir continued their pursuit of the mysterious invaders. There were far too many variables to even attempt guessing at what had motivated this attack. The prison was considered impregnable by Kilranian standards. With luck, they'd capture more prisoners and at least one of them would be persuaded to divulge what they knew. If not, then at least this attack could be halted.

Their situation reminded Macen days gone by, eluding and hunting Cardassian Death Squads in the DMZ. Those had been desperate, dangerous days spent in isolation like this. No help or hope in sight, success could only be won through resourcefulness. He hoped that his past luck would hold.

Time felt like it was dragging through molasses. What had felt like hours to find the next group of raiders was revealed as less than a dozen minutes with a quick glance at a chrono. They squeezed themselves into the shadows as best as they could. Macen studied T'Kir as she observed their foes.

The treatments she'd received had eliminated her instabilities but none of her fiery spirit. She'd passed through the forge and emerged purified and strengthened. She now synthesised the warrior ethos of one side of her heritage with the scholarly discipline of her other cultural inheritance. She was the living embodiment of Spock's theories on reunification between Vulcan and Romulus. He could understand the benefits of union, as well as the fear that it provoked.

"I think we can take 'em." T'Kir whispered.

Macen squinted through the darkness and nodded, "I agree. We'll do a high-low assault. Concentrate on the exit first. We can't allow any escapees alerting the rest."

"Got it." She replied, "I'll take low."

"Guess that leaves me high." Macen smirked.

"If only we always agreed that easily." T'Kir sighed.

"Easily done. Just make every decision revolve around life and death situations."

"Tempting in your case, but no thanks."

"On three?"

T'Kir nodded and took a breath. She willed herself to relax. There were at least five in opposition. There would be no time for thought, only instinct.

One...two...three! she heard Macen's voice in her head.

Their telepathic link was strong enough to broadcast thoughts without a deliberate and focused effort. She wondered why he bothered after all the whispering they'd already done. That was the last focused thought she had as she and Macen threw themselves into action. They came out of the shadows as one, phasers firing.

The two closest to the exit fell first. Two more fell. The last threw him towards them with an enraged hiss. His cloak fell as his massive shoulders bowled them off their feet.

T'Kir bounced off a wall as Macen landed on the floor and continued the motion so that he rolled onto his feet. As he dropped into a fighting stance, his heart sank. He'd never fought a Gorn hand to hand before. In fact, no one had since James Kirk's famous bout arranged by the Metrons. Federation psychologists classified such ambitions as suicidal impulses.

The Gorn were incredibly strong as a race, but slower than humans. El-Aurians were slightly stronger than humans but the difference was negligible. The Gorn charged again. Macen ducked under the saurian's outstretched arms and landed a blow to what he hoped were its kidneys. The Gorn barely seemed to notice the blow.

Macen had noticed the blow. His hand hurt worse than the time he'd punched Kort. He'd always wondered if there was any species physically harder to fight than Klingons and he was afraid he'd just met the answer. The Gorn shuffled towards Macen again and was surprised when an unexpected kick hit his ribs.

T'Kir, having regained her feet, launched into a series of lightening quick blows. The Gorn was punched, jabbed, kicked, and pummelled from every direction. He repetitively tried to grab her but to no avail. The lithe Vulcan was far faster than he could ever hope to be.

Macen used this time to reclaim his phaser. Concentrating, he sent a warning to T'Kir. She threw herself towards the Gorn. It hissed in pleasure as she finally made the mistake that would cost her life.

As she dove for the floor and rolled away, he realised it had been a feint. Macen squeezed the trigger and a golden beam of energy lanced out, striking the Gorn in the chest. The Gorn merely stood there for several heartbeats as Macen and T'Kir gaped at him. He released a mournful hiss and sank to his knees before falling face first.

Macen strode over to T'Kir and offered her a hand, "Well, that was certainly fun."

She shook her head as Macen pulled her to her feet, "And I thought Cardassians were bad."

"This could be worse. The Gorn have never intentionally co-operated with anyone before."

"Not that you know of." She amended.

He shook his head, "Not that anyone knows of. They've always been too xenophobic to indulge in anything but the most limited contact with other species."

"But the Gorn have a peace treaty with the Federation."

"Distant peace, yes, any form of interaction, not a chance."

"Why?"

He chuckled mirthlessly, "The Federation's diversity scares the hell out of them."

"So what's wrong with a Gorn allying with pirates?"

"It could indicate a larger movement to establish a stronger toehold in the Alpha Quadrant. The last time the Gorn tried that, they killed every Federation colonist they came across." Macen replied, "It'd be like the Federation starting a genocidal war with the Romulan Empire."

"Oh." She replied tonelessly.

He suddenly knew this mission wasn't going to be easy.

The Andergani fell as T'Kir applied pressure to the sensitive nerve cluster at the base of his neck. She turned to see Macen hit his opponent in the face. The man stumbled backwards, hitting the wall. He staggered forward only to receive another blow from Macen's elbow.

He turned towards T'Kir while rubbing his knuckles, "You're gonna have to show me how to do that someday."

She followed the direction of his nod towards her Romulan and chuckled, "You wouldn't have the strength for it."

"I might surprise you." He replied sourly.

"Not in this. Humans don't have the necessary strength in their fingers. You may be marginally stronger than a human, but not strong enough."

Macen conceded the point. Bickering would only draw attention. They'd disabled almost all of the mysterious invaders. The few remaining were undoubtedly the leaders and the rest were the muscle. The others had been left on account of their greater expendability to the mission.

"How many d'you think are left?" T'Kir asked suddenly.

"Not more than two or three." Macen answered absent-mindedly, "The real question is who are they here for?"

T'Kir shrugged, "Half the prisoners in this place are pirates or smugglers. Take your pick."

"Most raiders would cut their losses and depart as fast as they could after their leader's capture." Macen replied, "These people are ignoring that code. Something extraordinary must be going on."

"But what?"

"I don't know."

"What?" Macen clamped a hand over T'Kir's mouth to prevent any more outbursts. Their eyes locked as they listened for any response to the noise. When nothing happened, he let go.

"What d'you mean 'I don't know'?"

"The only thing Kilran is known for is their shipyards. They rely on outfitting proven designs. They don't even build new hulls."

"So why steal from here?"

"Because they do have replacements for just about every component for a starship, including weapons and cloaking devices."

"How?" she blurted and then repeated her question more quietly while Macen glared reproachfully.

"Its part of a treaty they made with the major powers during the Dominion War. Every side stockpiled parts in separate facilities. Only the Kilranians know what stored where.

"How d'you know all this stuff?"

Macen gave her a weary look. She nodded, "Years with Starfleet Intelligence. Got it."

"C'mon." he urged, "Let's see if we can catch them."

"I don't think we should." Dracas argued.

"If you were down there, wouldn't you want it done?" Danan rebutted.

"Yes, I would. But I'm not Macen and he didn't order me to inform the Kilranian authorities."

"The man's got a lot on his mind right now." Danan replied, "He probably just assumed we'd call."

"Do what you want, but it's on your head." Dracas conceded wearily.

"I knew you'd see it my way, Chief." Danan smiled.

"I'll be in Engineering supervising the warp core restart. Don't call me." Dracas announced as he headed for the lift.

Unconscious Kilranians littered the hallway. Most lay with their weapons untouched. They had been taken completely unawares. They would awaken and spend hours trying to reconstruct what had happened to them.

Three cloaked figures had opened a cell and were arguing with the occupant. Macen and T'Kir were pressing themselves into the shadows as much as possible while approaching. The narrow entrance to the vault did not afford much of a view or a clear opportunity to stun their opponents. The anteroom leading to the cell was an open space with no concealment.

"Well, this sucks." T'Kir muttered.

"They shouldn't be able to beam through the prison's transport inhibitors." Macen observed, "They'll have to step out to transport away."

A ringing clang echoed out of the vault. T'Kir gave him a wry look, "Or they need to have brought pattern enhancers."

Her head jerked up, "They're initiating a transport!"

Macen sprinted for the cell with T'Kir on his heels. He plunged in to find it still occupied. A transporter sensor enhancer sat in the middle of the room mounted on a tripod. The vault contained two opposing bunks. The bunk to the right was still occupied and its occupant sat studying the enhancer.

The cell's occupant was a rather intense looking woman. Macen recognised the telltale blend of neck, eye and node ridges. She was half-Bajoran and half-Cardassian. Her ash blonde hair was short and spiky. This young woman was rejected by both sides of her heritage and had made her way in the galaxy on her own terms.

"Who are you?" Macen inquired after exchanging a look with T'Kir. She'd recognised the implant scar as well.

"Captain Ilisa Kendil." The woman replied distractedly, her focus remained on the pattern enhancer, "And I'm trying to figure out how to get back to my ship before my crew does something really stupid."

"How stupid?" Macen asked then regretted it as the ground trembled.

"That stupid." Kendil replied bleakly.

"What are they after?" T'Kir inquired.

Kendil sighed before replying, "Klingon and Ferengi cloaking devices. This is the only place you can obtain one and retain economic stability."

"You were going to purchase one?" Macen wasn't certain he'd heard correctly.

"I was." Kendil said darkly, "My 1st Mate had other ideas. After the mutiny, they handed me over to the Kilranians complete with stolen merchandise to attest to my guilt."

"Did you actually steal the goods?" Macen wondered.

"Yes, but that's not the point." Kendil snapped, "They mutinied and handed me over to the port authorities. That's low, even for a pirate."

"How can I find them?" Macen asked and Kendil truly noticed him for the first time.

"Take me with you!"

"I don't think so." Macen scoffed.

"I know all the Ravasher's codes, including the command codes Darrien doesn't know about." Kendil insisted, "I'll still be in your custody and it'll give me a chance to pay that bastard back. The little vole doesn't know the meaning of the word 'treachery'. But he'll learn."

Macen glanced over to T'Kir. She shrugged. She wasn't sensing any deception coming from the pirate. She seemed quite earnest

"I can't detect any reason not to." T'Kir pronounced at last.

"So you'll do it?" Kendil rushed to her feet.

"Yes." Macen sighed, "We'll do it. There are a few rules though. You'll be escorted throughout my ship. You'll obey my commands, and you'll concede to whatever decision I make regarding your future after we capture your former crew. Agreed?"

"Sure." Kendil nodded, "Who are you again and who do you work for?"

"I'm Brin Macen and this is T'Kir." Macen explained, "WE represent Outbound Ventures, Inc."

"That's right!" Kendil snapped her fingers; "You're privateers! Who's financing this job then?"

"I expect the bounty offered by the Kilranians will more than pay our way." Macen replied dryly.

Kendil tapped her head; "Good point. So when do we leave?"

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Dracas?"

"Here."

Lock on to the pattern enhancer near our location. You'll find three patterns, beam all three aboard."

"Sir?"

"I'll explain later."

"Yessir."

And with that, the world dissolved.

 

Chapter 5

Macen and T'Kir barely had enough to time to ready themselves. They materialised on opposite sides of Ilisa Kendil. Although braced for the pirate captain to attempt something, their concern was misplaced. Kendil merely contented herself with studying Dracas. The Troglytes' expression was one of suspicion.

"Sir!" he exclaimed, "Are either of you hurt?"

Macen and T'Kir stepped off the pads. Macen went directly to the controls, "We're fine. As you can see, we've picked up a stray along the way."

Dracas grunted, ignoring the fact that a great deal was left out of that explanation; "I was about to beam up the rest of the team."

Macen motioned for Kendil to step off the pad, "Transport away."

Dracas touched his controls and energy patterns flared to life on the pads. They condensed into recognisable physical forms. Almost recognisable, Macen amended. Daggit quickly sprang to his feet from what had been a seated position. He at least knew there was no longer a chair to support his weight.

Grace was nowhere near as fortunate. She collapsed in a heap on the floor. It was plainly obvious she had been asleep slumped across the table. Kort lay still on his back, snoring loudly. Radil remained seated upright on the floor for a few seconds then fell over backward.

T'Kir was snickering while Macen addressed Daggit, "Seems you had a good time."

Daggit blushed at Macen's smirk; "I've had better."

"They'll wish they had too soon enough."

Daggit's combat reflexes flared to life at Macen's tone, then his eyes flicked towards Kendil "Trouble?"

Macen nodded, "Someone just tried to spring Captain Kendil here from the Kilranian lock-up. They then engaged the defence centre in combat trying to retrieve restricted components. The good Captain here has agreed to help us apprehend her former crew. "

Daggit carefully ignored his fellow super soldier, "I'll have the team detoxed and ready in fifteen minutes."

Macen shook his head; "I'll get them to Sickbay. Danan can detox them. You escort the Captain to the brig."

"Wait a minute!" Kendil protested, "No one said anything about a brig."

"You'll be released when my people have the time and energy to escort you about the ship. Until then, and until you've earned a modicum of trust, you'll remain in the brig. Understood? You either agree, or I beam you back to your cell."

"Aye, aye Captain." Kendil snapped off a mocking salute. Daggit took her by the arm and their eyes met. Daggit's expression dared her to try something. She passively went with him as he stepped out of the transporter room and headed for the lift.

"She's gonna be trouble, sir." Dracas opined.

Macen wished he could disagree.

Daggit arrived on the bridge and relieved Radil at Tactical. She then headed for the brig. Grace sat at the helm, massaging her temples. T'Kir grinned over at her.

"Little too much to drink?"

"Don't remind me." Grace groaned, "Even with the detox, my head is still pounding."

"Ah, the folly of youth." T'Kir wore a wicked smile.

"Don't 'youth' me." Grace warned, "You're not that much older than I am. And the ugly truth is that Vulcans mature more slowly than humans."

"What a load of crap!" T'Kir scoffed, "Vulcans age more slowly than humans, but we complete adolescence and childhood at about the same rate. Humans are expected to make mistakes as a youth, Vulcans are held to a higher standard and so more closely embody the human standards of 'maturity at a younger age."

"I thought you hated being Vulcan?" Grace asked in confusion.

"I don't hate being Vulcan, I hate the hypocritical standard Vulcans live by."

"Damn you're confusing." Grace complained, then winced.

"That's what you get for being snarky." T'Kir chided.

"Oh shut up and watch the helm as I go get another analgesic for my head."

I hope you learned your lesson, stick with synthehol."

"Yah yah." Grace excused herself and departed with an apologetic glance towards Macen.

As Hannah stepped into the lift, Macen turned to T'Kir; "Any sign of the pirate ship?"

"They broke off their surface attack and retreated while we were retrieving the crew." T'Kir reported, studying her sensor readings, "No sign of the Good Ship Lollipop either."

"What about a departing warp trail?" Macen ignored her last comment.

"Several ships broke orbit or departed the shipyards during the melee." T'Kir informed him, "All but one can be assigned to previously vetted quantities."

"And you thought running security checks on parked ships was a waste of time." Daggit crowed.

" I bow to the infinite wisdom of your anal retentive ways." She took a half bow from her seat, "Just don't expect me to join the paranoia parade."

"Okay, back to work." Macen advised, "Compute the course of the wayward ship and set the course into the helm."

"Want me to implement the course?" T'Kir asked.

"No." Macen replied, "Leave something for Hannah. Giving the bad guys a little head start won't hurt as long as our informant pays off."

"Think she will?" T'Kir asked with a crooked smile.

"Too early to tell."

The Solstice had been underway for an hour when Macen came to the ship's detention centre. The Blackbird's brig, not unlike that of the later Defiant-class, consisted of two single occupancy cells. Kendil unhappily sat on the bunk of her cell; one leg stretched across the mattress and the other propped up. Her left arm rested against her knee and crooked at the elbow, propping her head up with that hand. She swung her feet to the floor and leaned forward upon seeing Macen.

"Are you ready to let me out yet?" she asked eagerly.

Macen sensed Radil bristling, "Excuse me for a moment. Radil, can I have a word with you outside?"

Radil followed Macen into the corridor, "Yeah?"

"What's your problem with our guest?" he asked, "You've spent enough time with various criminals. I wouldn't expect a pirate to bother you."

"Its isn't that and you know it." Radil countered, "You've seen what she is. Doesn't that bother you?"

"No, and I suspect attitudes like yours are what drove her to a life of crime."

"She's a damned half-breed!" Radil snapped, "It's an abomination."

"No." Macen replied through clenched teeth, "It's an inevitability. Now that Bajor's in the Federation, how long do you think it'll be before another mixed birth occurs?"

Radil opened her mouth to reply when the Detention Centre's door opened. Kendil stood there with an impish smile on her face, "Don't stop on my account. I love these discussions."

"What discussions?" Radil snapped.

"Arguments over whether it'd be kinder to space me than let me live life as a half breed bastard." Kendil waved a finger under Radil's nose; "It's all right there in your eyes."

"Move your finger or lose it." Radil growled.

"So, I was right." Kendil giggled, "I always hate it when I'm wrong. Fortunately, it never happens."

Macen cleared his throat, "How, exactly, did you get out of your cell?"

Kendil shook her head while wearing a pouty expression, "I can't tell you. What if you stick me in that hole again?"

Macen broke into a wry grin, "Somehow, I don't think that'll happen again. Would you prefer another escort?"

Kendil gave a sombre nod, "I think that would be best. Where's that yummy man that brought me down here?"

Macen couldn't stop from grinning, "Radil, relieve Daggit and have him join us here." Radil nodded and started down the corridor when Macen spoke again, "And don't forget to tell Daggit he's 'yummy'."

The lift doors shut on Radil and Kendil leaned closer to Macen, "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Not prejudging me." She sighed, "I get the impression both you and the girl you were with aren't gauging me based upon racial prejudices."

"I am curious about your career before we found you in that cell," Macen admitted, "and where the material your 1st Mate used to frame you came from but those questions can wait."

"Wait a second... I thought the Federation frowned on piracy and those that engage in it." Kendil frowned.

Macen shrugged, "In my line of work, one has to be more... flexible... than Starfleet or the Federation's various bureaucracies tend to be."

"Hah!" Kendil clapped Macen on the shoulder. She removed her hand at his pained expression, "Sorry. Little too personal. You with the pointy eared lady and all that."

Macen was surprised Kendil had deduced that fact so quickly but refrained from commenting, "If you don't mind my asking, how were you raised?"

She snorted, "You mean, how did I survive until adulthood when both sides of my mixed heritage hate half breeds."

"Something like that."

"As usual, my mother was Bajoran and my father was a minor Cardassian official." Kendil recited emotionlessly, "My mother was shocked and ashamed at becoming pregnant by a Cardassian and my father was equally, if not more so, outraged. My mother was exported off Cardassia to the neutral world of Lyssium. My father was disgusted but he still had a sense of obligation. His obligation included transport off Bajor but failed to include work upon arrival.

Desperate, my mother returned to the same life that had introduced me into the universe. It turns out certain men will pay handsomely for a night with a pregnant woman. My mother's business actually tapered off after my birth and she was forced to widen her customer base. Taking in willing freighter jocks and 'free traders' kept her afloat as well as provided the means for her to get pregnant again and bring in the high rollers.

My assorted siblings and I spent most of our childhood trolling the streets and bars recruiting customers for our mother. The talkative ones would lavish us with tales of their interstellar voyages and I dreamed of traipsing about the stars. As soon as I reached late adolescence, I apprenticed myself to a free trader and he showed me the life of a pirate. The deal involved sex of course, but I couldn't complain. My ever expanding duties included more than laying on my back, which is more than I can say for my poor benighted mother."

Kendil coldly looked him in the eye, "Shocked you?"

Macen released a weary sigh, "I only wish you had."

"Not pathetic enough for you?" she probed, "I have lots, lots, of details if you want to hear them."

"Tell me how you became a captain at such a young age?" Macen steered the subject.

"I killed my 'mentor' when he tried to hurt me. He'd beaten me before but this time he'd lost it. We'd had to dump a valuable cargo while pursued by Federation Customs Cutters. It was worth several hundred bars of latinum and we'd lost it. That burned our bridges with our contact and we were shut out of operating in the Andorian sector." "Kendil explained tonelessly, "After killing the captain, I assumed command on the basis that I was the only one aboard that knew the ship's command codes."

"The former captain gave them to you?"

"He talked in his sleep." She shrugged, "Especially after being given Locuminisal."

Macen winced at the name of the powerful Cardassian truth agent while Kendil continued, "Darrien, the former 1st Mate, tried to torture the codes out of me but I endured everything he could throw at me. Eventually he consented to being my 1st Mate. Lot of good that did me."

"I think I want you to see our doctor before I debrief you." Macen informed her.

"Why?"

"You've got a slight limp and you stand as though you're in pain. I think the multiple beatings combined with Darrien's torture have left a lasting mark on you." He explained, "If something can be done about it, I want it done."

"Are you going soft on me?"

Macen's eyes steeled over, "Honey, if I have to, I will cut you down without a moment's thought. Since we aren't there yet, and probably won't get there, I want to make you more comfortable. You feeling better will make you more inclined to help me."

Wearing a lopsided grin, Kendil nodded once, "Honesty. I like it. You've got a deal."

With that settled, the lift doors opened and Daggit strolled over.

"Yum!" Kendil's eyes sparkled mischievously.

"Rab, take her to see Kort and then join us in the briefing room." Macen ordered.

Daggit gave his captain the barest of nods as he studied Kendil, "Understood."

An hour later, Daggit, with Kendil in tow, arrived at the briefing room located just behind the bridge. T'Kir was seated beside Macen when the pair entered the room. Danan was covering Ops, running the continuous sensor sweeps that allowed Grace to track the pirate ship. Kendil took a seat opposite of Macen while Daggit took a seat beside her.

"Tell me about the command codes." Macen instructed.

"I can disable every system aboard the Ravasher." Kendil boasted, "The only difficulty is that I have to be aboard her to do it. The system won't accept remote access."

"Let's just see about that." T'Kir cracked her knuckles.

"The system doesn't have the capability of remote access. The main computer is a direct interface-only model." Kendil explained, "The entire computer network dates back to the mid-23rd century. The entire ship is held together by spit and paint."

"What model of ship is it?" Macen inquired.

"I don't know the exact model but the hull is a turn of the century construction. The engines are from the 2360's and the rest of the systems are a hodgepodge collection spanning across decades. It takes a lot of work and attention to keep the old girl running."

"Why wasn't the computer core upgraded?" T'Kir wondered.

"The previous captain assembled the ship through salvage. He slowly put the ship together over a twenty-year period and then raised a crew and set sail as his own master." Kendil described, "It beat going back to being 2nd Officer on the freight tug he'd previously served on."

"How do you select your targets?" Macen asked, steepling his hands.

"My crew and I aren't much different than yourselves." Kendil insisted, "We may not be as selective as you but we take the jobs given us. Most of our work is legitimate but occasionally we fracture the occasional law or two."

"Like operating in the Federation without a license?" Macen offered.

"That's one." Kendil confirmed, "We have standards. I won't accept any jobs where murder, slaves, stealing of medicines or distributing narcotics are involved. Other than that, we take the job offered and spare as many lives as possible."

"So you targets are chosen for you by your various employers?" Macen clarified.

"Yeah."

"So how do you propose we stop your ship?" Macen asked.

"By intercepting her and beaming me aboard." Kendil explained, "I'll immobilise the entire ship. Afterwards, you can have the mutineers and I'll take the rest of the crew on our merry way, all nice and reformed as model citizens of the quadrant. I can honestly swear I won't operate within Federation borders again. It's too damned risky. Fun, but risky."

"You don't want a share in the Kilranian bounty?" Macen had trouble believing this.

Kendil shook her head; "I just want my damned ship back."

"We might have an agreement." Macen informed her, "We just need the particulars on the intercept."

"They're headed for the Andergani border. The rendezvous with our employer was set at Hirish."

Macen's head throbbed at that thought. Hirish was the Andergani's only free port. It collected and gathered representative from across the Alpha Quadrant. Even the Federation dealt with the thieving Oligarchy at Hirish. Although it would be their best chance of inserting Kendil aboard the Ravasher without a firefight, it would still require an intensive search to locate any members of the crew who'd beamed down to the surface.

"So be it." Macen declared, "We may not have a deal on you just sailing away, but the rest of the arrangement is fairly solid."

"When can I expect an answer about my going with ship?" Kendil's tone froze over.

"Before we go into action." Macen assured her, "I just want to get to know you so I trust you'll keep your word."

Kendil paused then nodded, "Fair enough. I guess that works both ways."

After Daggit and Kendil departed for a brief tour of the ship and T'Kir resumed her station, Kort gave Macen his report on Kendil's condition.

"Her body was still recovering from the interrogation methods employed upon her." Kort growled, "Those miserable slimeworms nor only used electrical shocks and welding torches, they used bladed instruments on her sexual organs. If I hadn't repaired the damage, she may have been sterile for the rest of her life. As it is, these actions combined with her already jaded view of sex may have psychologically scarred her for life."

Typically, Kort was uncomfortable in his role as the team's psychiatrist. The Klingon Empire didn't have a science comparable to psychiatry or psychology. All his knowledge came from extension courses from Starfleet Medical that he'd received after joining Starfleet Intelligence. As it was, Kort's gruff and unyielding manner prevented any of his teammates from confiding in him. Kort's typical cure for an ailment was to get drunk.

"How stable do you think she is?" Macen quietly asked.

Kort exhaled loudly and disdainfully, "From what I heard of her background, she is either very strong or very weak and damaged. I think it is too soon to be able to tell which she is."

Macen's own limited empathic senses and T'Kir's telepathic glimpses into Kendil's psyche indicated she'd overcome impossible, and horrifying, odds to rise to her current position. She seemed honestly concerned over the fate of the crew that hadn't mutinied against her. Macen was inclined to let her sail off into the night when the mission was completed, the only question was, what would she do once she left?

"I do think she's a criminal." Kort added unexpectedly.

"So do I." Macen agreed, "But I also think she's criminal in the same sense you are one or Radil's one. If you want to take the analogy to its logical extreme, T'Kir and I are still criminals for joining the Maquis. Circumstances play a large role in criminality. I think she's done the best with what she had to work with. There's a sense of honour about her and I think she'd die rather than betray it."

"But what does her code of honour include?"

"That's the question of the hour."

"God, I'm bored." Grace complained over her replicated Egg Foo Young.

"Would you prefer overtaking the pirate ship and engaging them in a winner takes all firefight?" a bemused T'Kir asked, toying with her hasperat.

"Yes." Grace huffed, "I know it's probably the last way we want to approach this but I get sooo sick of tip-toeing around all the time."

"I'll tell Macen you said so." T'Kir chuckled before taking a mouthful.

"And that's another thing, you and the captain are dating now." Grace lectured, "Why don't you ever call him by his first name?"

"I've served under him for almost seven years, Hannah." T'Kir reminded her, "Some habits are hard to break."

"Yeah," Grace conceded, "that would be kinda weird."

"It's not really strange." T'Kir corrected, "Its more like overdue."

Grace broke into a wistful smile, "I wish someone were overdue for me."

"You'd find someone of you stopped mooning over Daggit."

"That's not fair!" Grace protested, "Look how long you mooned over Captain Macen."

"At least his head wasn't squarely up his own butt." T'Kir riposted, "Rab Daggit hasn't learned how to accept and live with himself. Until he does, he can't accept anyone else in his life. Besides," she twirled her fork in the air, "he himself has got to give up on his fantasy of dating Radil."

"You don't think she will?" Grace asked in a hopeful tone.

"Never." T'Kir declared, "Our favourite Bajoran is developing a crush on our good doctor."

"You think?"

T'Kir gave Grace an annoyed glance, "I'm a frinxing telepath. I don't have to think or guess. It's all right there for me to overhear. Gets old, y'know?"

"Sorry." Grace replied sulkily.

"Don't take it personally." T'Kir sighed, "You and Macen are about the only people I have to try and read. It's rather refreshing."

"Is that all I am to you?" Grace accused, "A challenge?"

"Hannah, I..."

"I'm just teasing." Grace playfully shoved at her shoulder, "I guess you really can't casually read me."

"Sometimes I can't read you at all." T'Kir admitted, "And when I do, all I get are surface thoughts."

Thankfully, Grace mentally breathed a sigh of relief; I'd hate to have to reshape your memories. Hannah had never pitted her Attuner against a telepath of T'Kir's calibre. It was a struggle that would likely scar the affected mind.

 

Chapter 6

Hirish was the Andergani word for vine. It was an apt description of the moon below the Solstice. The dominant lifeform was a creeping vine that tended to smother all in its path. The Andergani had to stave off the encroaching vines with disrupter sweeps. Day and night, the trading port located on the surface was filled with the stench of burnt vines.

The Andergani Oligarchy, a backward province surrounded by the Federation, the Tzenkethi and the Cardassian Union, had sought technological progress through piracy and technological transfers obtained by theft. Although this promoted a technological revolution within the Oligarchy, modifying and building specialised raiding vessels, it did little to close the gap between the Oligarchy and its two more aggressive neighbours. Only the Federation's insistence on maintaining existing borders had pared the Oligarchy's assimilation into either empire flanking it. The policy of granting territorial fiefdoms to pirate captains that had impressed the Oligarchs also did little to change the strategic situation.

Thus was born the Free Trade Port. The Andergani endorsed the barter and sale of any commodity. They accepted a commission for all transactions and guaranteed the security of their guests. All the major powers of the Alpha Quadrant exchanged wares here under the Andergani's attentive gaze. Whether you sought technological wares, information, accords or fleshly delights, it could all be had at the Free Trade Port.

The Solstice docked with the orbital Transfer Station. Visitors to the planet passed customs here and caught hourly shuttles to the surface. Direct beaming to the surface was prohibited and shielded against. The Transfer Station granted one their first taste of the commercial atmosphere of the planet below.

Standing at the Customs counter, Macen and the Investigative team were negotiating their way to the surface.

"You'll need permits for all those weapons." The customs official informed them, "Will you be needing assassination licenses? No? Then you'll require self-defence permits as well as arrest warrants? Yes. Those will be included with your documents. Now then, add that with your docking fees and shuttle service fees and slip fees including water and power and that makes your total come to..."

The official slid a padd over to Macen. After perusing the litany of charges and fees, he authorised payment and handed the padd back. The official smiled upon receiving payment verification and prepared their documents. Handing them over, the official pointed towards the shuttle queue.

"There are the shuttle docks. Now, in event of a capture, any payments received in-system are eligible for the commission fee. Shuttle charges of the detainees will be applied to their accounts and credits. You've paid for one transit to and from the surface. Any other trips will require a ticket available at the shuttle berths. Thank you and have a productive trip."

Aboard the Solstice, T'Kir fumed; "How can he leave me here?"

Danan clucked her tongue in disapproval; "Your place is with the insertion team. I need your help in getting Ilisa back aboard her ship."

"This would be easy of we could use the stupid transporter."

"Yes, it would." Danan cautiously agreed, "But we can't and so we'll have to go in through the docking umbilical. That means I need you to open the door if they've changed the access codes."

I'll also need you in case of a fight, was left unsaid. T'Kir merely nodded and continued to sulk. Kendil watched this with some amusement. Grace patted T'Kir on the shoulder.

"It's not like you're being left aboard the ship like Dracas and I."

"He wants to be left aboard." T'Kir moaned, "Ever since our mission to Magna Roma, he'll barely leave the ship."

"He left when we faced Titor."

"He was beamed off the damned ship. That doesn't count."

"Ahem," Kendil cleared her throat, "If it means anything, I don't expect much trouble once we're aboard. The rest of the crew is probably already sick of Darrien. He was never very popular."

"Who is this Darrien anyway?" T'Kir demanded.

"His full name is Richard Darrien." Kendil explained, "He was a farmer on Presserius V until it became part of the Cardassian DMZ. After that, he joined the Maquis for a short time until getting thrown out because of someone named Ro Laren. He was accused of excessive force and torturing the Cardassians. He still harbours a grudge. He met up with Tizziel, the first captain of the Ravasher and signed on as 1st Mate owing to his spacefaring skills learned with the Maquis."

"Oh hell!" T'Kir swore and saw that Danan recognised the problem too, "Macen was one of Ro's lieutenants. Odds are, Darrien will recognise him a kilometre off."

"Oh." Was all Kendil could say.

Danan tapped her comm badge, "Danan to Macen. Danan to Macen, come in. Damn! They must have a jamming field to prevent people on the ground from contacting their ships."

"Yeah." Kendil confirmed, "You have to pay to use public comm units."

"All we can do is hope for the best." Danan sighed, "He's come through worse before and he has Daggit, Kort and Radil with him."

"Maybe not." T'Kir said, focusing on Macen then she shook her head in frustration, "Frinx it all! I'm getting the same static I did back on Kilran during the prison raid."

"We have a Reman aboard." Kendil explained, "He's a telepath as well. He was one of Darrien's supporters. He likes to throw up a scrambling field just to confuse other telepaths."

"I meet him and I'm gonna kill him." T'Kir vowed.

"Be my guest." Kendil assured her, "He's a ruthless bastard."

T'Kir suddenly had the distinct impression the Reman had helped torture Kendil. Just one more reason the universe is better without him. Even in the Maquis, pirates had been the bane of spacefaring existence. On some days, it had seemed as though Ro's cell had spent as much time battling raiders as Cardassians.

"So, what are waiting on?" T'Kir wanted to know, "Let's go knock on their door."

Macen's landing party arrived via shuttle on the surface of Hirish in just over an hour. They were tasked with finding and apprehending Darrien and whatever other officers were with him. Those with him would be chosen for their loyalty since their task was to protect their captain on an opportunistically hostile world. It made sense that Darrien and his erstwhile employers would use this location as their rendezvous and exchange site.

Despite her relative youth, or perhaps because of it, Kendil was a surprisingly charismatic individual. Her concern for her crew suggested that the some, if not the majority, of them would share her feelings of camaraderie. Mutineers were frequently power hungry opportunists that lacked real support from the crew. Their loyalty was generally purchased or received under threat of force. Based on Darrien's track record, force seemed to be the favoured method of persuasion.

Macen met with a retired Yridian spymaster operating an information kiosk and purchased the whereabouts of Darrien and his ship's complement. He'd brought three others with him, including a Reman. The Reman would prove difficult and might explain T'Kir's telepathic fuzziness back on Kilran. Fortune had been kind in that the odds were even.

They navigated the sights and smells of the Free Trade Zone. Macen was glad that he had three of his most experienced and hardened teammates with him. The wares being peddled included slaves intended to satisfy every lust imaginable. The poor blighted souls frequently bore hollow, haunted expressions.

Macen quietly cursed his inability to offer any hope to the slaves. He didn't have the manpower or the mandate to eradicate the slave trade outside of the Federation's borders. Inside the Federation he could have launched a small war on the slave's behalf with Starfleet's blessing. Here, he was impotent.

He didn't want to imagine T'Kir's reaction to such a sight. Her own near miss at becoming a Cardassian chattel had left an indelible mark upon her. Confronted with this reality, she would make it her mission in life to end this gross barbarity. Macen had fought by her side the last time she'd been consumed by a cause. He wasn't certain she would survive a second crusade.

They neared their destination. A Ferengi had acquired exclusive rights and built a large casino/bar. The closest rival for prosperity and diversity was Quark's Bar on DS9. Unlike Quark's, this establishment lacked the added prestige of being Ferenginar's embassy to Bajor.

It also lacked Quark's subtlety. Lodar's was a testament to garishness. No expense was spared in the flagrant assault on the senses and aesthetics. It was a monument to crass commercialism.

Lodar had divided his mammoth facility into three basic sections. Section One contained the games and the gambling. Section Two was the Restaurant and Section Three was the Lounge. It was in the Lounge that deals were made and transactions conducted. A representative of the Oligarchy was always on hand to oversee the final transaction and to collect the requisite fee.

Darrien and his cohorts were in the bar finishing their deal. Their employers turned out to be an Andergani Oligarch. This same Oligarch had been Herbert Spencer's patron. With Spencer dead, the Oligarch's dreams of securing a cloaking device had been crushed, until now.

"My men will collect the three cloaking devices in six hours time." The Oligarch, one Ren Gherrin, reiterated.

"We'll be ready." Darrien gave him a toothy smile. In a bygone age, Darrien's appearance would have been described as "horsey". Nowadays, his long faced, toothy visage merely drew discreet stares and whispered comments after he'd passed. The bright, puckered disrupter scars on his forehead and cheek didn't help his already unusual appearance any. The event that seared these marks into his flesh also drove him into the embrace of the Maquis.

Even engaged in a desperate struggle, the Maquis hadn't been ready to accept a man with as much hatred as Darrien. Assigned to Ro Laren's cell on Ronara Prime, Darrien soon found himself ousted from the cell for torturing and decapitating Cardassian prisoners. No other cell would accept him either. Darrien left the DMZ with another target for his all-consuming rage.

His scant months in the Maquis had taught him basic spaceflight operations. That knowledge, combined with Darrien's anger driven focus, had been enough to garner him a role as Tizziel's 1st Mate on the free-trading ship, Ravasher. Tizziel was a brutal man, but an honest one. He only took contracts he could successfully complete. He also kept casualties to a minimum.

This was the breaking point for Darrien. Darrien's bloodlust craved a building body count. Tizziel's death at the hand of his chosen successor played into Darrien's hands. Unfortunately he'd been unable to pry Tizziel's precious codes from that prat of a girl.

One of Tizziel's great weaknesses as a captain stemmed from his inability to separate his command decisions from his sexual ambitions. He'd found Ilisa Kendil attractive and wanted her for his bed, so he took her aboard and "groomed" her for command. The fool had actually begun to believe his own lies and begun treating her as his successor. Darrien was furious. He had to eliminate the pair of them so that he could assume his rightful place as the Ravasher's commander.

When Kendil had agreed to acquire cloaking devices for an Andergani Oligarch, Darrien saw a way to double their profits. Rather than pay for the devices, they could simply steal them and pocket the moneys set aside for the purchase. Kendil balked and Darrien found enough crewmen to back his scheme and he mutinied. Darrien had no illusions as to his men's loyalty; they followed him for the promise of wealth. If Darrien couldn't deliver then his days of command were over.

"Let's have another round and head back to the ship." Darrien suggested to his "faithful" contingent. There was a chorus and nods of assent. Darrien signalled the closest waiter, who cautiously approached as the Oligarch and his entourage departed. In the rash of self-congratulations to follow, Darrien missed spying the arrival of Macen and his team.

"There they are," Radil hissed while matching Darrien to his Starfleet Intelligence dossier photo, "let's just take `em."

"Too many other bodies in the room." Macen warned, "We'll move in on them in a more controlled environment."

"Hate to say it, but there are way too many people on the streets." Daggit advised, "Except for the lack of cover, our best opportunity is here."

"And if they cut down civilians?"

"It is a dishonour upon their heads." Kort rumbled.

Macen sighed before replying grimly, "All right, let's do this as cleanly as possible."

"Darrien, trouble." The Reman, Shakrit, grumbled.

Darrien appraised his goggled Reman cohort, "What kind of trouble?"

"I sense intentions to seize us." Shakrit's gravelly voice replied.

Darrien glanced about the room. Not much was happening. Several new faces had drifted in since his crew's arrival. Four newcomers, wearing the same ship's uniform, were currently entering the bar from four different directions... that was odd. Darrien focused on the fair skinned redhead approaching along the booths along the outer wall. He seemed oddly familiar. He couldn't quite place...

"You motherless sonuvabitch!" Darrien cried as he jumped to his feet and pulled his disrupter, "I'll kill you!"

Macen dove into an unoccupied booth as disrupter bolts sallied forth from Darrien's weapon. Darrien's men were rising to their feet as Macen's team sprang to life. Daggit, whose phaser cleared his holster as Darrien rose, fired. Darrien slumped to the floor. Kort drew and fired a burst into the Bolian standing around the table. Daggit picked off the other human as the Reman lifted the table off the floor and threw it at Daggit.

Kort momentarily froze as the lumbering Reman charged him like a mad targ. First one, then another amber flash seared into the Reman's chest before he stumbled and slid to a halt at Kort's feet. Radil slung her rifle over her shoulder and began to move toward the other assorted prisoners as Kort checked the Reman for vital statistics. Anger clouded his features as he rose to his feet.

"He's dead." Kort accused.

Radil shrugged, "Habit."

Macen joined Daggit and Radil as they finished securing the prisoners' wrists, "Daggit, Kort, good job. Radil, we'll talk later about unnecessary force."

Radil's face screwed up in disgust, "Aye, aye Captain, sir!"

"Stow it." Macen warned in a low voice.

"Who's going to pay for all these damages?" a gaudily dressed Ferengi, presumably Lodar himself, demanded.

"Take it out of Captain Darrien's tab." Macen suggested, "He fired first."

"True." Lodar considered the fact that he already had Darrien's authorisation for charges, he just had to adjust the bill, "Excellent suggestion. Please return to Lodar's at any time."

Next on the scene were two Andergani license inspectors. Upon seeing that Macen's permits were in order they busied themselves with reversing charges to the Ravasher's accounts for disposing of Shikrat's body. Macen and the others had a quiet drink while waiting for Darrien and his two cohorts to awaken. Despite Macen's silence, Radil grew more and more uncomfortable.

"It was instinct, okay?" she burst out suddenly, "He was charging down Kort and my thumb just scrolled the selector switch."

"It's a habit you'll need to break if you want to stay on with the team, Jenrya." Macen informed her, "We don't kill on a whim. It has to be a matter of last recourse."

"Tell that to Titor's crew." Radil regretted it has soon as it was said.

"That decision was a command prerogative." Macen addressed her in a voice so low that it was almost a whisper, "There were factors there that you know nothing about."

"So you get to decide who lives and dies?" Radil asked scornfully.

"No." Macen stressed, "The individual circumstances dictate our response. I'm not a casual killer, Radil, when I take a life it because there's damn good reason to. I didn't see a reason to kill the Reman."

"Our cuffs wouldn't fit him?" she knew it was stretch.

"Lame." Macen chastised, "If the circumstances warrant lethal force, I'll back you to the hilt. Otherwise, you'll have to face whatever consequences arise due to your actions. Understood?"

"Maybe I should outline a clear protocol?" Daggit offered.

Macen shook his head, "The situations we're involved in are too fluid for a set policy. It has to be a matter of individual discretion based upon the situation. I want to be able to trust everyone's judgement. We won't always have time for rational thought, which means we need to hone everyone's instincts."

"So, a specialised training program?" Daggit suggested.

"Sounds like what's needed." Macen agreed.

"Can I order another round?" Kort interrupted.

"Synthale only." Macen advised. The Doctor looked crestfallen.

"Here's the docking slip." Kendil announced.

T'Kir and Danan's hands tightened on their weapons. T'Kir approached the airlock door and holstered her phaser. She pulled a tricorder from her utility belt and went to work. Moments later, the airlock slid aside.

"Wow." Kendil breathed, "Can I convince you to join my crew?"

"Nope." T'Kir replied, pulling her phaser free.

"Had to ask." Kendil shrugged and stepped aboard the awaiting ship.

Danan entered behind Kendil with T'Kir bringing up the rear. Kendil proceeded cautiously but not fearfully. Her movements were controlled and methodical. She knew the ship intimately and used that knowledge to her advantage.

Kendil guided her two SID companions to her quarters, "Wait here."

"Wait a minute." Danan objected, "This is a little unscheduled. Why are we stopping?"

"I need to get something. I'll only be a moment." Kendil said earnestly.

"Hurry up." Danan relented.

"I wouldn't have done it." T'Kir revealed as Kendil slipped inside her cabin, "She's up to something."

"You have something specific?"

T'Kir pursed her lips in frustration, "Just general thoughts. She's after something she feels is vital for our success but doesn't want us to know about."

"Hardly a crime." Danan commented, "Let's let things play out and see where it leads."

"If you say so." T'Kir replied glumly.

The cabin door slid open and a pleased looking Kendil emerged from the space within, "All done."

"Let's go then." Danan urged.

"Follow me." Kendil ordered.

 

Chapter 7

Daggit and Radil marched Darrien and the anonymous Bolian through the streets at gunpoint. Kort carried the body of the other human. He'd been stunned again while attempting to escape the team's custody outside of Lodar's. Darrien remained silent while glaring at Macen.

"What exactly is your problem with me?" an exasperated Macen asked.

"You were with that bitch when she ruined my life." Darrien spat.

"Which bitch and what life?" Macen inquired.

"My life with the Maquis!" Darrien snarled, "I was paying the Cardies back day by day and then everything ended when she showed up."

"Who?" Macen asked angrily.

"Ro Laren." Darrien whispered, "May she rot in whatever hell is reserved for Bajorans."

"Let me guess... you were a little zealous when dealing with prisoners?"

"That was the accusation but it wasn't true. Nothing could be foul enough or torturous enough for a Cardassian."

"And I was her cell's Intelligence Officer."

"Yes."

"Well, now I'm your captor." Macen's voice went cold, "The bounty on you hasn't been set yet but I'm willing to bet it reads 'dead or alive'. Mess with me or mine and I'll show you first-hand what your victims went through."

Darrien blinked in surprise. That wasn't the response he'd expected. Something in Macen's eyes and voice told him the El-Aurian wasn't bluffing. Although no stranger to violence, Darrien was at his heart, a mere bully. Confronted with the certainty of pain, he crumbled. Watching his "vaunted" leader's courage evaporate caused all thoughts of resistance to dissipate in the other human. They made quite a pair of snivelers while queued up waiting for the next shuttle.

"The bridge is up ahead." Kendil whispered.

"Why are we whispering?" T'Kir asked in kind.

"The bridge access door was removed." Kendil explained in hushed tones, "This section is always open to the main bridge."

"Why?" a surprised Danan inquired.

"Tizziel didn't want to be trapped on the bridge in the event of an emergency or a systems failure." Kendil offered.

"Didn't want to get trapped there by mutineers, y'mean." T'Kir gave voice to the general opinion.

"That'd be my guess." Kendil conceded.

"How should we do this?" Danan wondered aloud.

"Y'mean y'don't know?" T'Kir teased, "My image of you is irrevocably shattered."

"I'll go first and identify any threats." Kendil stated blandly.

"Honey, you're not armed." T'Kir reminded her, "That could be a suicide mission."

"I point, you shoot." Kendil persisted, "What could be easier? Unless you're both terrible shots. I guess I should've asked that first."

"We'll get the job done." T'Kir assured her, "I just don't want to see you hurt."

"You're sweet." Kendil blushed, "But without my ship or my freedom, I might as well be dead. I'll take the risk."

T'Kir glanced over towards Danan, "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Any pearls of Trill wisdom?"

"Not really."

"Damn." T'Kir sighed, "I guess we do it your way."

Kendil broke into a radiant smile.

Kendil's sudden appearance on the Ravasher's bridge stopped all activity. Not that much was going on anyway. There's only so many diagnostics that can be run while docked to a station. The two guards left behind by Darrien froze as well.

The bridge, unlike the circular designs favoured by Starfleet, was rectangular. The helm was located at one end of the narrow box with the other primary stations located along the longer "walls' of the structure. The end opposite from the helm was the captain station. The command station could mirror any other station while enjoying unlimited access to the main computer.

The two guards, a Romulan and a Nausicaan, continued to stare as Kendil flicked her wrist and a palm sized disrupter appeared in her hand. She killed both guards before either could react. Silence descended over the bridge then cheers erupted. Everyone vacated their stations in a rush to embrace Kendil.

Danan and T'Kir ran into the bridge at the sound of weapon's fire. The corpses, and the crew's reaction, left them both speechless. Kendil made her joyful greetings to the crew then waited for the questions to die down. It was about this time that T'Kir and Danan's presence was felt.

"Who are they?" the Ops officer asked Kendil.

Kendil smiled, "They're my friends. They made this possible."

"What's Darrien gonna do? What are you going to do?" asked Weapons

"They're captain is arresting Darrien as we speak."

"Arrest?" Communications asked sceptically.

"They're privateers." Kendil reassured her, "They're after the bounty Kilran put on the ship and its stolen cargo."

"We have to give up the cargo?" Ops squeaked.

"Are we gonna be arrested?" Communications asked dubiously.

"Yes, and no." Kendil answered, "We broke the deal so everything's going back to square one. I'm refunding the Oligarch's money and we're giving back the cloaking devices. After that, we'll see if we can't negotiate another deal while we're here."

Communications turned towards the SID women, "And you're really letting us go?"

"We're not Starfleet." almost true, "Darrien is enough to satisfy our claim to the bounty. Affidavits from Captain Kendil and various crewmen combined with the cargo should be enough to suffice."

T'Kir could have blown several holes in Danan's statement but opted not to. Technically, there wasn't a Kilranian bounty. Hell, they didn't even have authorisation from the SID to undertake this particular operation. Starfleet still showed them as being on vacation, a status T'Kir much preferred

"There's two more of the bastards left aboard down in engineering." Helm informed them.

"We'll see about that." Kendil huffed and strode over to the nearest intercom switch, "Attention crewmen loyal to Darrien, this is Captain Ilisa Kendil. I'm back and I control the bridge. Surrender now and I'll be merciful. Resist and you'll die like your unfortunate comrades up here."

Kendil expectantly turned to T'Kir and Danan, "Well, they're all yours."

Thanks, T'Kir's sardonic glare said.

"This is Hiram Wells, they've taken me and my crew hostage." The intercom crackled, "They want to talk with Captain Kendil."

Wells' message ended with the sound of a blow. He was replaced by a gruffer, more desperate voice, "Get down here bitch, if you dare."

Kendil's eyes narrowed, "So they want to play, do they?"

Her smile turned venomous, "Let's show them how we play."

Other than the incessant whining, the trip back to the orbital station went without incident. The third pirate had awoken and joined in the communal blubbering. Macen had been on the verge of shooting them all by the time they were secured in the Solstice's brig. Leaving them to Radil's tender mercies, Macen headed for the bridge for an update regarding the other team's progress.

"Hello Hannah." Macen said by way of greeting as he stepped onto the bridge, "Any news yet?"

"Nothing." Grace grumped, "And I'm getting worried. It's about time you got back."

"We ran into some slight delays." Macen explained.

"And they were supposed to finish before you." Grace reminded, "I think you should check it out."

Macen considered things for a moment and nodded as he reached for his comm badge, "Macen to Daggit."

"Daggit here."

"Meet me at the airlock."

"Trouble."

"That's what we're going to find out."

"Roger." The comm circuit closed.

"What the hell does that supposed mean?" Macen asked Grace, "Who's Roger? I've been asking this question for eighty years and know one knows the answer."

Grace suppressed a smile and merely shrugged.

Having studied the ship's blueprints, the beleaguered team aboard the Ravasher decided they were ready.

"When this is over," T'Kir suggested, "change the name of your ship."

Kendil thoughtfully nodded, "I've been thinking of Solace. What d'you think?"

"Sounds great to me." T'Kir admitted.

"Sounds beautiful." Danan concurred.

"We ready to squash these unrepentant bastards?" Kendil asked.

Danan and T'Kir nodded and Kendil broke into a tight smile, "Then let's do it."

Macen and Daggit arrived at the airlock only to find it guarded by Ops, Helm, and Communications.

"Hey, yer wearing the same outfit as those two ladies that are helpin' the Captain." Ops observed.

"We're here to help too." Macen assured them, "where are they?"

"Not so fast!" Communication propped her phaser rifle into position; "No one's gettin' arrested today."

All three crewmen brought their weapons to bear. Macen motioned for Daggit to remain still.

"We're merely here to help." Macen tried again.

"If'n you were here to help," Helm offered, "then you'd already know the situation. Do ya?"

"We've been observing a communications black out in order to avoid involving the Andergani." Macen explained.

"Ah ha!" Communications cried out, "So you don't know!"

They all fidgeted while Macen tried one last time; "I'm here to assist my teammates. Are they in danger?"

"He doesn't know about the hostages!" Helm cried.

"Fry him!" Communications demanded.

"Daggit." Was all Macen said.

Daggit whipped his phaser out of its holster faster than the various humanoids could see and stunned them in one sweeping arc, "You have a definite mastery over the subtle art of negotiations."

"Stow it." Macen grimaced, "Paranoid people are never easy."

"My way worked." Daggit smiled, "We should use it first and negotiate only if it fails."

"Well, that'd certainly keep us out of trouble." Macen quipped.

"Which way do you suppose they are?" Daggit asked, looking down at long corridors to either side of them."

"You're guess is as good as mine." Macen sighed.

Danan and T'Kir were secretly making their way to the engineering compartment by way of a maintenance tunnel. It was dark, cramped, and utilitarian. All of these elements combined to make it starkly uncomfortable. So far they'd endured in silence. That silence was about to be broken.

"What is this tub?" T'Kir groaned, "A frinxing Cardassian freighter? The last time my knees hurt this bad was when we all boarded that gunrunner and had to crawl from the cargo bays to the bridge."

"I remember." Danan grimaced, "They'd locked out all the doors but forgot about the maintenance accessways."

"And you said you never had any fun with the Maquis." T'Kir chided.

Danan laughed despite herself, "Seems life hasn't changed much has it?"

"Mine has." T'Kir replied thoughtfully.

Reminded of all the immense changes T'Kir had undergone since those bleak days, Danan was forced to nod, "Me too. I guess a life can undergo irrevocable changes and still be filled with the same circumstances."

"We're living proof." T'Kir smiled, "Now here's hoping we stay alive."

Kendil stopped outside the engineering section's primary access and tapped her borrowed comm badge, "Kendil here. Are you in place?"

"We've just arrived." Danan's voice answered, "T'Kir's begun work and estimates she'll be finished in two minutes."

So, to distract the mutineers for two minutes and stay alive while doing so. No problems. Kendil tried to sound confident as she replied, "I'm going in."

Kendil pressed the engineering section's door buzzer/intercom, "I'm here."

The doors slid open to reveal the ship's ovular power facility. Four engineers were cowering in the corner while being subdued by a human waving a Klingon disrupter about. Another Romulan held Hiram Wells at gunpoint. The Romulan broke into a smug smile at the sight of Ilisa Kendil.

"So the genetic mishap found a way back to the fold." She sneered, "I warned Darrien that it would be better to kill you and simply be done with it."

"That would've been the smart money." Kendil agreed.

"So what did you do to Zakram?" the Romulan's voice was softer, more urgent.

"Your mate's dead." Kendil explained matter-of-factly, "It seemed the smart thing to do."

"You little trollop!" The Romulan raged, "You'll die for that!"

Has it been two minutes yet? Kendil thought as the Romulan, Rasya, took aim.

The lights began to flicker, distracting and disorienting Rasya. Kendil flicked her wrist, revealing her own disrupter. Rasya reached for Wells, to use him as a shield. Kendil snapped off a shot that caught the Romulan squarely in the chest. Rasya's accomplice turned and aimed through the strobe-like effects.

A bright orange energy burst caught him the side, felling him. Kendil glanced up towards the maintenance access hatch. There, Danan waved back, smiling. Kendil gave a slashing "kill it" gesture and Danan voiced instructions back to T'Kir, who promptly killed the strobe effects and normal lighting resumed.

Kendil whirled and Danan took aim as the main doors opened again. Macen and Daggit cautiously entered, weapons drawn. Kendil lowered her pocket disrupter with a sheepish grin. T'Kir clambered past Danan and ran to Macen. They embraced while Daggit checked the former mutineers for lifesigns. He clapped restraints on the stunned human.

"You seemed to be very efficient about getting your ship back." Macen commented.

"They hurt my people." Kendil explained, "They paid for it."

"And now?" Macen prompted.

"You take the living ones, collect the cloaking devices, I refund the money to a sure to be disgruntled Oligarch and then get the hell out of here." Kendil sighed, "After that, I take a contract with a more reputable employer."

"Want some help with that?" Macen inquired.

"No thanks." Kendil flashed a brilliant smile; "I prefer doing it on my own, based on my own reputation."

"Suit yourself."

"Fist thing I need to do is organise a clean up crew to deal with three corpses."

"And here's where I leave you on your own."

"Coward."

"You betcha."

The Andergani provided a service whereby ship's ID's and markings could be altered. The newly rechristened Solace departed the system ahead of the Solstice. Not to be thwarted, the Oligarch had signalled the Solstice with a bid for the cloaking devices. Macen didn't bother to reply.

Sitting in the ship's compact wardroom, Macen and T'Kir were joined by Danan.

"Made a decision yet?" Macen inquired as she sat down.

"Decided what?" Danan wondered.

"Whether or not you're staying." T'Kir blurted, then looked contrite, "Sorry, it's this damned telepathic link of ours. I sometimes confuse strong enough thoughts as mine."

Danan decided not to go there, "I'll stay until I get a better offer from Nechayev or Drake."

"So, you'll stay in the SID but maybe not my team." Macen summed up.

"The work we do is necessary but quite frankly, being part of this particular team scares me." She stabbed her salad with her fork.

"Fair enough." Macen nodded, "Just let me know when you plan to leave so I can replace your position."

"No protests?" Danan was shocked.

"He tried that already. No sense in repeating failure." T'Kir blinked then hunkered her shoulders, "Doing it again aren't I?"

"Luckily I think you're cute." Macen reassured her.

"I think its damned annoying." T'Kir protested.

"We'll cope and adapt." Macen countered, "Give it time. This is a first for me too."

T'Kir sighed and angrily concentrated on her soup.

"So what happens next?" Danan asked.

"I just received word from Admiral Drake." Macen explained, "She's approved our recent jaunt and is authorising more leave time to compensate for our lost vacation."

T'Kir's fists pumped in the air and Macen continued, "Afterwards we're to report to SID HQ on Earth for an update to a brewing crisis that may require our special talents."

"Never a respite, eh?" Danan asked ruefully.

"Only brief ones." Macen concurred

Unbeknownst to the team, on an uncharted and unknown planet, a man climbed to the pinnacle of a pile of rubble and lifted his head the heights stretching above the chasm he stood in. Lifting his bearded chin to the absent stars, he cried out for the echoing walls to hear.

"I am not beaten! So long as I'm alive, I will find a way out of here and once I'm out of here I'll find a way to tear down this empire of yours. Do you hear me? My name is Thomas William Riker and I'm still alive! D'you hear me, Tom Riker is still alive!"

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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