The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...
"Captain Benteen, what a pleasant surprise." Lieutenant Commander Chollap "Charlie" Scion beamed, "It's been so long since anyone came for munitions. Now both the ships and their replenishment carrier just by-pass us on their way to the front. It makes one feel unappreciated."
Erika Benteen forced a smile she didn't feel for the Bolian superintendent of the Richard Castillo Munitions Depot. The facility had been named for the valiant Weapons Officer aboard the USS Enterprise-C who died with all hands fighting the Romulan Warbirds en route to Khitomer. It wasn't a renowned memorial but it was a heartfelt one.
"I need phased plasma torpedoes, as many polyron phaser coils as you have and two cobalt torpedoes." Benteen answered coolly.
Scion froze. All of those items were banned under the 3rd Khitomer Accords and had been seized from various hostile parties that included the Nausicaans, the Chalnoth, and the Acamarians. Starfleet's Corps of Engineers had dissected examples of each and was stockpiling the remainder at this nearly neglected posting. Since knowledge of these confiscated munitions' whereabouts was highly limited, Starfleet confined its personnel to a small but highly motivated force.
"I can't do that." Scion scoffed, "These weapons are proscribed."
"I have authorization." Benteen assured him, holding forth a padd.
As Scion cautiously reached out, Benteen whipped a Type I "Cricket" phaser from the small of her back and fired. The bright orange contrasted the Bolian's blue skin. Alarms sounded as six of the twelve Starfleet Security officers rushed into sight, demanding that Benteen drop her phaser and remove the one holstered on her hip. She did so and then dropped prone on the floor.
Officers wearing the Special Operations Battledress (SOB's) uniform began firing from concealed positions. A comm signal relayed that the other six were likewise neutralized. It had taken three minutes for the platoon of men and women from the USS Tirpitz to secure this facility and everyone in it. As they assembled before the Tirpitz's Commanding Officer, Benteen gave them a nod of approval.
"Good job team, but don't forget why we're here." Benteen urged, "Let's go shopping."
"Ben," the intangible voice of Admiral Bill Ross resonated through the comm circuits of Benjamin Sisko's office on the station's Ops deck, "can you come to my office? I need to discuss a mission profile with you."
At last! Sisko thought. As much as he hated warfare, he hated sitting around even more. His time spent solely as Ross' adjunct had taught him that. His place was at the battlefield, leading the charge. Between his duties as station Commanding Officer, CO of the USS Defiant, and Tactical Advisor to Ross, he rarely had time to rest on his laurels. The last two weeks had been unexpectedly slow and Sisko had grown restless.
"I'll be right there." Sisko assured his superior and signed off. He rotated his broad shoulders as he rose from his chair. His holo-recreation of the 2014 Angels vs. Mariners World Series game 6 had been a long and grueling one. He wasn't as young as he used to be and needed to stretch more before playing.
Ops itself was surprisingly empty of the faces he knew best. He nodded a hello towards Kira and Dax as he headed for the turbolift. Chief O'Brien was using this lull, along with Ensign Nog, to run diagnostics and effect neglected repairs. Dr. Bashir was either in the Infirmary or pestering Garak, the station's Cardassian spy turned tailor. Worf was aboard General Martok's flagship, the IKS Rotarran, fighting along the front. Odo, as usual, would be prowling about the Promenade, keeping an eye out for petty criminals and enemy agents alike.
The lift stopped at the upper section of the Habitat Ring located below the Promenade and the housing units of the lower Habitat Ring. This area was reserved for offices and briefing rooms. There were many business interests represented here as well as ambassadorial missions and staff. It was here that Admiral Ross' office could be found alongside Martok's Staff Headquarters. Sisko pressed on the door chime and a heartbeat later the door spread apart to allow access.
"Ben," Ross rose from his chair behind his data terminal/desk, "glad you could make it so fast. I have good news. You're going back into action."
"Excellent." Sisko smiled, "Chief O'Brien assures me he can have the Defiant ready in under three hours."
Ross shook his head, "You misunderstood me. The Defiant and her crew are staying here. You're going back into action."
His hopes dashed and feeling wary, Sisko pressed for more information; "What kind of assignment is it and how long will it last?"
"Don't worry Ben, it be for very long." Seeing Sisko relax from relief, Ross continued, "Take a seat and take this for reference later. For now I'm just giving you the broad overview."
Sisko sat down as Ross activated a wall monitor. The face that appeared upon it seemed vaguely familiar. She wore her chestnut hair in a braid atop her head, large brown eyes, strong cheekbones, thin lips, pointed nose, and a mole accentuating her right cheek while creating a contrast with her adorned side.
"Does she look familiar?" Ross prompted.
"Vaguely." Sisko admitted.
"She was Admiral Leyton's aide de camp during the Changeling crisis during your stint as Chief of Planetary Security on Earth. You convinced her that her mentor was an impostor and provoked her into mutinying against his orders and let you stop his coup attempt."
"I remember now." Sisko's bass rumbled, "She received her own command as a result"
"That command was the Saber-class USS Tirpitz. The ship and crew are assigned to Starfleet Special Operations Command. Since the war began, they've been at the heart of some of the most violent and traumatic combat of the war."
"We've all suffered, Admiral." Sisko reminded, "I wouldn't single out Captain Benteen and her crew as hard luck cases just yet."
"Bear with me, Ben," Ross urged, "Where most starships have a counselor aboard and most station personnel can turn to the Psyche teams, the SOC ships return from a battle just to return to fight a new one."
"That's all we did at Starbase 375." Sisko reminded him.
"But you had access to a counselor, any counselor, to express some of your fears and anger to." Ross stressed, "Then again, despite your taking a Jem'Hadar fighter ship into enemy territory, you never stole several weapons of mass destruction and fled into the Badlands."
"She what?" Sisko was immediately alert. Early on in the present conflict, Federation diplomats had secured a treaty on weapons of mass destruction. As long as neither side used them, no one would. As a precaution against theft, Starfleet kept captured Dominion ordnance at a backwater station.
"Over the course of the last few months, Captain Benteen started making comments about engaging in total war tactics and eliminating entire garrisons using weaponry confiscated from other neutral species." Ross gave Sisko a bitter smile, "Apparently the irony appealed to her."
"How did she acquire this weaponry?"
"It's in your padd. Take a moment to read it."
After a few moments, Sisko looked up, "Impressive. And no one was hurt?"
Ross shrugged, "Their pride took a beating but the worst actual injury was a few mild phaser burns."
"So where is she now and where is she going?" Sisko rumbled, enjoying the mental chess game in advance
"That's for you to find out." Ross told him, "Our resident experts on the region have weighed and are waiting to confer with you regarding their conclusions."
"Admiral, is it possible for me to draw on just my officers for this?"
Ross shook his head, "We need Kira here to run things. Martok is using Worf as a living symbol of the Klingon/Federation Alliance aboard his flagship. I'd hate to undermine him right now. Dax and O'Brien are two assets I'd rather have to support Kira or command the Defiant in case of an emergency. O'Brien can have that Ferengi ensign of his...?"
"Nog." Sisko replied proudly, having originally sponsored Nog's admission to Starfleet Academy.
"Yes, Nog, helm the Defiant if necessary."
"What about Odo?"
"It's your call but I'd rather have him here to support Kira." Ross conceded, "Report to Briefing Room 6 and you can meet the rest of your team."
"Admiral, what is my mission?"
"You are authorized to use any means or methods of persuasion to prevent Captain Benteen from delivering weapons of mass destruction to Dominion targets."
"And if persuasion fails?" Sisko asked bleakly.
"You are authorized to use any measure of force necessary to stop Captain Benteen from achieving her goal." Ross grimly explained, "Any means whatsoever."
Sisko depressed the Briefing Room 6's door opening buzzer. The door opened and it spread apart to reveal a man and a woman huddled around the table. The woman wore the Special Forces grey of the Bajoran Militia. The man wore Tactical gold. It was their identities that caused Sisko and to go into action.
Sisko tried to get his phaser out to bear on the group when a particle beam stunned his hand. The man in Tactical gold had unleashed the blast. Sisko had never seen anyone so large move so fast. The scars and implant interface near the man's right temple revealed he was an Angosian super-soldier. Sisko felt no shame in being outdrawn by a humanoid killing machine.
"Well Sisko," the raven-haired woman wore a smug smile, "here we are again. Always calling in the Maquis for your dirty work."
"Ro Laren," Sisko growled, "you're under arrest for desertion and various acts of terrorism."
"See this uniform?" Ro laughed, "You can't touch me."
"Quite the contrary," Sisko's tone suggested victory, "that uniform gives me every right to ‘touch' you as long as you're on this station."
"People," the Security officer with graying brown hair, "let's calm down."
"Oh, I haven't forgotten about you." Sisko assured him, "Whoever you are Lieutenant, you're going up for aiding and abetting a known terrorist as well as assault on a superior officer."
"Captain," Ro said in measured tones, "we pose no threat and there are no outstanding warrants on any of us."
Sisko grunted in disdain as a commander in Starfleet Sciences blue walked in, "What the hell? Everyone, at ease!"
The last time anyone had yelled at Sisko like that, it had been Curzon Dax. He immediately fell into a seat facing the viewports. Seated across the table were and the as of yet unidentified Angosian. The Sciences officer sat down at the end of the table and opened a portable computer and plugged it into the data port. Sisko recognized that this was Commander Brin Macen of Starfleet Intelligence. The only Starfleet officer nearly as infamous as Ro Laren.
The nearly legendary Lieutenant Ro Laren who'd served time in the stockade on Jaros II before coming aboard the Enterprise-D under Captain Jean-Luc Picard's command. After successfully completing the mission that secured her release, Picard convinced Ro to stay on. She left briefly to attend, and graduate from, Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training. Upon her return to the ship, she was sent undercover to infiltrate the Ronaran Maquis cell.
Ro's sympathies for the Maquis ultimately led her to betray Starfleet and join the same cell she'd infiltrated. Soon, she rose through the ranks and became the Brigade Commander of the Ronaran cell. The other Brigade Commanders comprising the Maquis Council swiftly respected her passion and professionalism. A large measure of the Ronaran brigade's success could be found in the form of Brin Macen.
Macen was an El-Aurian that arrived in the doomed freighter, Lakul. A refugee with a background in social sciences and his native worlds Expeditionary Scouts, Starfleet gratefully accepted his enlistment application. His skills and talents soon led him to Starfleet Intelligence. Macen swiftly became an expert on Cardassia affairs during the Border Wars of the 2350's and the 2nd Cardassian War of the mid 2360's. In light of his expertise on Cardassia, he was personally assigned by Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev to join the Maquis ranks in order to curb their activities and ensure that Maquis efforts would benefit the Federation. Like Ro, Macen had fallen in with his new comrades.
After the Jem'Hadar's purge of the DMZ and the Dominion/Cardassian assault on DS9, Ro brought the surviving, non-enslaved Maquis colonists to Bajor. Upon her arrival, 1st Minister Shakaar offered her a backdoor Starfleet amnesty deal. If she and any of her fellow Maquis would stay on to help plan and execute surgical strikes deep within Dominion territory, then they would be free from prosecution. If not, then they would be protected by Bajor's General Amnesty policy. As long as they remained within the Bajoran system, they'd be free from the Federation's grip but not from the laws of the Provisional Government or its Militia.
So they were teamed up with a platoon of Angosian super-soldiers lured by the prospect of receiving treatment for the conditioning their government bestowed upon them during the Tarsian Wars. The Angosian scientists that developed the physical enhancements and psychological conditioning had failed to find a way to reverse the alterations. Angosia's imprisonment of her unwanted soldiers had denied her admission into the Federation. That all changed with the Dominion War. The soldiers fought with the hope of returning to normal while their government cheered them on as they became Federation membership candidates again.
"Now first things first," Macen said sternly as he took his seat, "Captain Sisko will be the mission commander on this jaunt. Lieutenant Ro, you'll be executive officer and Daggit, as always, you're the Tactical specialist while I'm the Intelligence officer and Mission Specialist."
"Lieutenant," Macen asked the large man sitting next to Macen, "are your troops ready?"
"As always, sir." Rab Daggit answered, "Just say when and where."
"Glad to hear it."
"Lieutenant Ro and I have developed a basic mission outline. Lieutenant, please present your mission plan."
Ro activated the briefing room's main monitor, "Our plan is simple, we find Benteen and either cripple her ship or talk her down."
"What kind of ship are we talking?" Sisko rumbled.
"A Blackbird-class scout." Ro answered.
Sisko could hardly believe it. That class of ship had been replaced by the Saber-class ships, one of which Benteen commanded. Built after the turn of the century, the Blackbirds had seen their zenith twenty years before in the Border Wars. Since then, Starfleet had decommissioned all of its vessels. All the remaining Blackbirds were in colonial or surveyor hands.
"You expect to go up against the Tirpitz in an eighty year old ship?" Sisko scoffed.
"The Odyssey may not look like much," Macen counseled, "but you'd be wise not to underestimate her."
"There were reports of a Maquis ship called the Odyssey. May I presume that that ship and this one are one and the same?" Sisko inquired.
"Yup." Macen replied with a grin, "Now if Lieutenant Ro will complete her briefing?"
"Of course." Ro replied. She still retains a great deal of the military crispness Starfleet Academy drills into you, Sisko noted.
"Captain Benteen entered the Badlands at this point." Ro's illuminated pointer targeted the space that designated the immense, self-perpetuating plasma storms; "From the Badlands, there are three major known high profile targets. There are also seven secondary targets that the Saber could strike and reasonably return to the Badlands without being intercepted by anything larger than a Cardassian or Jem'Hadar patrol.
Then of course, there are the unlikely targets. Quite frankly, I think these are our best bet."
"Why is that?" Sisko asked, his fingers steepled together.
"In this game, and I speak from experience, the most committed wins." Ro explained, "If you look at the outer edge of conventional targets, you suddenly see Ardann III. It's an M-class world and the Sector Command Headquarters for the Dominion and Cardassian forces stretching across the DMZ. It's a vital, strategic asset. The Cardies lose that, and they're blinded across one entire front."
"One ship could never pull of that kind of strike." Sisko countered, "We'd need at least a squadron of modern starships."
"You're missing the point." Ro bluntly opined, "A squadron would set off every alarm the Dominion has but one ship could slip through. Never underestimate an opponent whose only goal is killing you."
"I'll remember." Sisko wryly promised, "Resolve set aside, how do you expect a Blackbird-class ship to fare against a Saber-class?"
"In a straight head to head battle, not very well." Macen admitted, "But our plan is to set up an ambush. Between Ro and I's intimate knowledge of the DMZ and Badlands, we should be able to find them and then head them off."
"What makes you so certain she'll strike Ardann III?" Sisko inquired.
"Because it's the last thing any rational commander would think of." Ro said with a rueful grin, "So it becomes the perfect target."
"And you're basing this conclusion on what exactly?" Sisko pressed.
"The mindset of a desperate commander fighting a losing guerrilla war." Ro answered, "I happen to be an expert on the subject."
Sisko sniffed in disdain "The Maquis were nothing but thugs and terrorists. I don't see how you can blind yourself to that."
Before Ro could reply, Macen intervened; "We're not here to debate politics or engage in petty name-calling. We're to plan a mission. So, Captain Sisko, what are your initial impressions of our proposal?"
"Thank you ladies and gentlemen." Benteen said from the head of the table, "Thanks to your efforts, we are poised to make a fateful and forceful impact in this war."
Turning to her 1st Officer, Hun Cheung, she nodded, "Please explain the next step of our plan for those that haven't been informed yet."
Cheung stood and made his way beside the main monitor. He surveyed the room, looking for dissenters. It was hard to keep a secret on a ship with only 40 people on it. Seeing inquisitive looks on Department heads' faces they'd maintained a modicum of security thus far. Cheung activated the monitor, which came to life with an outlay of the Ardann system and its fifth planet in particular.
"As some of you may know, yesterday we acquired several weapons being held by Starfleet's Corps of Engineers. These weapons are extremely powerful." Cheung's sharp eyes swept the room, "So powerful in fact we're going to use them to destroy this Cardassian Sector Command Headquarters on Ardann III."
Benteen picked up where Cheung left off, "There's a more pressing need here. Starfleet Intelligence suspects that the Dominion has stockpiled weapons of mass destruction on the world. Since area is the reserve for the forward area of battle, it is only a matter of time that these weapons will be distributed to the Jem'Hadar and they will destroy dozens of worlds, if not more."
Seeing the paled faces staring back at her, Benteen quickly segued; "Our plan is as simple as it is bold. After installing the heightened phasers and loading our new torpedoes in our magazines, we'll set course for Ardann III. Once there we'll slip by their defense grid and utilize our cobalt/deuterium bombs on their storage bunkers."
"Pardon me for asking ma'am," the Flight Control Officer spoke, "But exactly how are we going to by-pass their security."
Benteen smiled brightly, "With our other little souvenir: a Romulan cloaking device."
The Blackbird-class scouts were far more elegant than Sisko remembered. Its stark lines and features reminded him of his own beloved Defiant. Essentially a squashed down version of the Excelsior-class, the Odyssey resembled two clamshells faced in opposite directions. Armed with five phaser batteries, three photon torpedo launchers, and a top speed of Warp 8, she'd been a tough contender in her day. Sadly, militarily at least, her day had long since passed. One civilian garbed Sisko wondered aloud why Starfleet's Special Operations Command was using an outdated ship for critical covert missions."
"For exactly that reason." A similarly doffed Ro said looking away from the helm, "No one ever expects it."
"But surely patrols stop and board you." Sisko insisted.
Ro shrugged, "All the time."
"Then how do you avoid capture?" Sisko impatiently demanded.
"I'm a simple Bajoran surveyor captain and this is my crew." Ro explained, "Neither Angosia nor my El-Aurian boss," Macen waved as Sisko glanced in his direction, "have any reason to be at war, so my crew and ship are searched and let go."
She flashed Sisko an impish grin, "From there we go on to wreak havoc."
"Speaking of which," Macen interrupted, "I'm picking up a Federation built vessel headed for Ardann III. Its engine profile matches the parameters for a Saber-class ship."
Sisko matched Ro's smile with his own, "You heard the man. Set an intercept course."
"Aye sir." Ro remarked with pleasure.
"Captain, we've detected a vessel closing on us." Benteen's Tactical Officer reported.
"Sound Red Alert." Benteen said as she swiveled her chair towards the main viewer, "Ship's identification?"
"Her Identification Friend or Foe marker reads her as being registered to a surveying concern licensed as Outbound Ventures Inc." the Tactical Officer, one Lieutenant Poindexter, reported, "The vessel is consistent with Federation model craft. The computer has identified the vessel as a Blackbird-class scout."
"What the hell would a civilian scoutship be doing out here?" Benteen wondered aloud.
"Whatever it was, they're hailing us now."
"Put it on screen." Benteen ordered.
Erika Benteen's features filled the scout's main viewer. She wore an apprehensive look as Sisko broke into a broad smile.
"Hello Erika." His tone was soft and soothing.
He registered the signs of her surprise. Her brown eyes widened and her lips parted slightly. SOC personnel were rarely taken unawares. There would undoubtedly be many self-recriminations later, providing they survived penetrating this deeply into Dominion-held territory.
"Hello Benjamin," had Benteen managed to regain her cool composure swiftly enough, "I didn't expect to see you in this neck of the galactic woods, much less in an antique."
"Hey!" Macen protested from his station.
"The owner of this vessel doesn't seem to share your opinion, Captain." Sisko warned her.
"I really don't care what the owner has to say, I care about what you have to say." Benteen replied, "Why are you out here... and don't tell me some cockamamie about surveying. Every rock and asteroid within forty light minutes around here has been picked, scanned, and catalogued. I've heard stories of a SOC black bag operation being run with Bajoran support. I assume those stories are true?"
"You can assume anything you want." Sisko answered evasively, "I'd be more worried about where you're headed."
"And where is that?"
"Ardann III." Sisko appreciated Benteen's expression at being exposed, "You're staging a pre-emptive strike against the munitions depot located there in an effort to destroy most of the Dominion'' weapons of mass destruction." Sisko paused, holding his gaze study for the viewer's pick up receiver, "Most but not all. Think about what will happen with those remaining stockpiles distributed across the front. Biogenic plagues designed to slaughter Humans, Bajorans, Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites alike. Torpedoes capable of devastating entire continents. And the random slaughter of civilians by the Jem'Hadar. Is that what you want Erika?"
Benteen fidgeted, "They're already planning to use the WMDs. Our intelligence reports indicate..."
"Indicate that ‘the Dominion is moving their WMD stockpiles from the major fronts to sideline systems'." Sisko quoted, "But nowhere in the report is it mentioned that either the Dominion or the Cardassians were planning to use these weapons."
"Bringing the weapons into the DMZ escalates battlefield tensions as well as giving Dominion scientists Federation citizens to test their weapons on."
"But have we received any reports of that occurring?" Sisko inquired.
"We already abandoned these people to the Cardassians once. I refuse to allow them to now be exploited by the Dominion."
"Damn straight!" Ro muttered.
Sisko cut the audio pickup, "A little unbiased help here, please."
"Gotcha." Ro with a non-committal shrug.
Sisko reactivated the audio, "Sorry about that, I just had to quell a minor mutiny."
"You're forgiven, but you're also soon to be forgotten. That bucket of yours tops out at Warp 8. I can easily out-factor you by 1.45. Take a nice look at our hull as you come alongside, because it's the last you'll ever get to see if you try anything aggressive."
"I'm not here to fight." Sisko assured her, "I'd prefer talking."
Benteen responded with a brittle laugh, "Fight us? In that tin can?"
Macen stirred at his post, objecting to the slander against his ship. Sisko was pleased he remained silent and cut off the audio pickup, "Lieutenant Daggit, are we within optimal weapon's range?"
"Yessir." the Angosian's reply came with military precision, Weapons ready at your command."
"We should try and board her sir." Daggit suggested, "We could fire a brace of torpedoes at their engines and warp nacelles, forcing them to re-modulate their shields
and giving my squad an opportunity to beam over and deal with them."
"We'll hold that option in reserve." Sisko informed him, "I still have one last argument left. Sisko reactivated the comm channel with the Tirpitz. Ro swiveled around to face Sisko, "Remember what I said before Captain, in this game it's the most committed who wins. Even if that commitment forces you to make choices you'd normally hate."
"So you're saying she's a homicidal fanatic?" Sisko queried.
Ro shrugged, "All I'm saying is that she's been put in a position where she thinks everything dear to her will be lost and she's willing to do anything to prevent that from really happening."
"I'll keep that under advisement." Sisko said, looking over his clasped hands, "It's your turn Ro. You're my last argument"
Ro shifted uncomfortably as Benteen's face reappeared on the viewer. This was a long way from fighting Cardassians across the DMZ. At least there she knew what to do and how to do it.
"Captain Benteen, I presume you know who I am?" Ro inquired
"Of course," Benteen's eyes narrowed, "you're Picard's former pet Bajoran."
"Lady," Ro's voice became steely, "I'm no one's pet anything."
"Then why are you here?" Benteen asked, "Protecting Bajoran interests then?"
"No." Ro retorted, "I'm here to tell you that you're a sucker playing into the Founder's hands."
"What?" Benteen's cheeks grew red with fury.
"My intelligence specialist assures me that no data intercepts revealed plans for deploying the terror weapons." Ro disclosed, "The intercepts you received were designed to incite you into doing exactly what you're doing now. It seems that'd make you the Dominion's pet."
At first, Benteen seemed stymied then angry; "Nice try Captain but I'm not going to be persuaded to abort my mission." With that, the screen went dark.
Ro flew into action, "Computer, command lock-out authorization code three five Ro Brigade Alpha. Daggit, launch torpedoes at the Tirpitz's warp nacelles."
Sisko's "What the hell?" tied with Daggit's "Aye ma'am."
"Sit down and read file designator Sisko One." Ro ordered, "It'll unlock to your access code."
Sisko did as instructed as the deck plates minutely shuddered in response to the torpedo magazines feeding and firing at the cruiser ahead of them. The file was a personal memo from Admiral Ross and a SOC Commander named Elias Vaughn. It revealed Sisko's role in the mission was secondary. Talking Benteen down had been viewed as problematic at best. His purpose had been to distract Benteen long enough to beam Daggit and his platoon aboard the Tirpitz and allow them to secure the ship.
"They're dropping out of warp." Macen reported, "I've locked the co-ordinates of the engine room, armory, and bridge into the transporter."
"Execute transport." Ro ordered grimly.
Daggit dematerialized from his seat and Ro turned towards Sisko, "Would you mind manning Tactical?"
"So, all along, my being here has been a ruse?" Sisko asked
"There was always the stray chance she'd actually listen to you." Macen answered, "But no one thought it was very likely."
"Then why include me?"
Sisko's question hung in the air for several tense seconds until the silence was broken by an alarm at his station, "We've been scanned."
"It was a general navigation scan." Macen reported as he studied his read-outs.
""Now we've been ‘painted' by a dedicated sensor platform." Sisko informed Ro.
"Who the hell are they?" Ro asked, dreading the answer.
"The sensor profile matches known Cardassian standard sensor suites." Macen answered.
Ro released her held breath, "At least it's not the damned Jem'Hadar. We might still pull this off if we scuttle the ship."
"There are forty plus officers aboard that ship." Sisko reminded her, "This ship can hold maybe half that number. What happens to the rest of the crew?"
Ro turned to meet his gaze and he saw the answer he dreaded in her eyes, "You can't be serious."
"If I have to, I have to." Ro informed him in pitiless tones.
"I won't let you." Sisko said, rising from his chair.
Macen drew a hidden phaser from underneath his station, "And I'll stun you if necessary. Please take your seat."
Macen entered a series of codes into the main computer as Sisko retook his station, "They're coming in at high warp."
Ro toggled the comm system, "Ro to Daggit. Status report please."
"Daggit here." The Angosian's voice resounded throughout the bridge, "We've secured both the Main Bridge and Security. The rest are actively engaged in a firefight down in Engineering. We may have a bit of a situation there, Captain Benteen and the Chief Engineer has threatened to blow the ship rather than let her be captured."
"Him or her?"
"Let her blow the damn ship." Ro ordered, "Encourage her if you have to."
"We have three Galor-class cruisers bearing down on us." Ro explained, "We need that ship scuttled if we're to convince the Cardies our cover is valid."
"Understood." Came Daggit's crisp reply, "How long do we have?"
"Their ETA is eighteen minutes." Macen answered for Ro.
"I'll contact you again in thirteen minutes and advise you as to our status. Daggit out."
"You've detected what?" Gul Merris asked in disbelief.
"Two Federation ships battling." Glinn Therok, Ship's XO, reported; "One ship fired upon the larger vessel, bringing it to a halt."
"Who does the smaller ship belong to?" Merris inquired.
"Reports from other encounters with a ship of this type indicate it is owned and operated by a ‘privateer' named Brin Macen." Therok, explained, "Apparently he's a Maquis that feels more betrayed by the Federation than hatred for Cardassians."
"Even now that Federation is at war with Cardassia?" Merris voiced his disbelief.
"Macen is an El-Aurian from the Delta Quadrant." Therok clarified, "He has no true allegiance to any Alpha Quadrant power."
Merris rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "Perhaps we should offer him a job, and see what fruit it bears, eh?"
"You mean to recruit him as a double agent?" Therok inquired.
"Yes." Merris answered firmly, "And then we'll see how ‘unaligned' he truly is."
"He only has seven minutes left." Sisko commented, peering over laced fingers.
"Thanks for the update Mr. Cynic." Ro replied as she revectored the viewer pick up to her station.
"You honestly think the Cardassians are going to simply let us walk away?" Sisko asked.
"No." Ro admitted, "I expect them to ask for something in return."
Sisko mulled it for a brief moment then broke into a feral smile, "You want the Cardassians to recruit you as double agents."
Macen nodded, "We've had the basic plans laid on how to run a double agent sting. We just needed the perfect opening for the Cardies to buy into it."
"So Captain Benteen is just playing along?" Sisko asked.
"No." Ro answered, "Benteen's really gone 'round the bend. Someone should've pulled her off the line way before this came down."
"But you're willing to use this situation for your own purposes." Sisko said disapprovingly.
Ro smacked her hands on her station's control before she swiveled around to glare at Sisko, "How many times do I have to tell you? In a guerrilla war, or a war of espionage and covert missions, the most committed wins! Am I sorry Benteen turned into a fruit loop? Of course I am. Will that stop me from exploiting her? Of course not. And why is this? If I have to sacrifice the lives of twenty men and women to save the lives of thousands more, I will do it in a heartbeat. Will I be able to sleep at night? I don't even know what that is any more. I rest when I can and as long as I can before the voices come and then I wake up."
Ro's fierce expression bore into Sisko, "The worst part is that I didn't have this trouble until I started working for Starfleet Special Operations Command. If I'm this way, think about the people aboard that other ship. My hands were cleaner when I was with the Maquis but at least now no one wants to arrest me."
Sisko slumped back into his chair. Ro's passion left little doubt in his mind as to her sincerity but surely Starfleet Command's 1st priority was to Captain Benteen and her crew? Every time Sisko donned his uniform, he took it in faith that Starfleet cared as much for its officers as they did for the institution they'd sworn to obey.
"We have to save those men and women!" he demanded, rising from his console.
"Calm down Captain." Macen spoke in even, measured tones.
"Don't patronize me." Sisko warned.
"Enough!" Ro shouted, "We'll do what we can, but no promises. Happy?"
"Delighted." Sisko dryly conceded as he returned to his temporary post.
"Wonderful." Ro grumped.
"You're certain the Blackbird-class fired on the Starfleet Saber-class?" Merris asked for the third time.
"Yes." Therok droned.
"Wait! What's happening?" Merris pointed at the screen as it read an alarming power surge in the stricken ship.
"Brace for impact!" Therok yelled out as the all call siren began to wail.
"Did they make it? Sisko demanded to know, "Did we manage to get everyone before the core exploded?"
"Our transporter chief brought everyone aboard." Macen reported, "They're in the cargo bays, the science labs, the shuttle bay, and anywhere else we can stick them. The situation is stable and Daggit is on his way back here."
"You can retake the centre seat Captain." Ro informed him, "The action's over and it's down to the lying."
"The lead Cardassian cruiser is hailing us." Macen alerted Ro.
"Wonder what's taken them so long?" Ro mused aloud, "Could that warp core breach taken them by surprise?"
The lift doors opened to deposit their charge onto the bridge. Rab Daggit moved to his station at a brisk pace, the only clue as to the action he'd just seen. Ro ran a finger through her hair and activated the viewer. A middle-aged Cardassian stood before her, his slick hair just starting to grey.
"A Bajoran, eh?" Merris said with a raised eyebrow, "This wasn't mentioned in any of our intelligence reports."
"Spies get lazy when they're not being watched." Ro verbally fenced.
"Indeed," Merris chuckled, "I am Gul Merris. And who might you be?"
"Ro Laren." It was a challenge not an answer.
"Ah!" Ro hated his melodramatic airs but restrained herself as he went on, "The famed deserter. Starfleet spent a lot of time and effort trying to find you. What was your secret for evading them?"
"Work for the highest bidder and then make yourself indispensable." Ro advised, "Never ask questions when you won't like the answers."
"And on that note, I do believe you've struck a resonant chord." Merris' demeanor stiffened up, "What are you doing in Cardassian territory?"
"Well, the way the borders keep shifting around here, it feels like the '50s again." Ro detected a hint of an amused smile on Merris' face, "And second of all, a war makes for better salvage. We were hiding in the Badlands when..."
"Who were you hiding from?" Merris inquired.
"It isn't any of your business." Ro snapped, "We were in the Badlands when that crippled starship came up on our sensors. We decided to take her for salvage and prisoners."
"Why didn't you save the vessel?" Merris asked offhandedly
"The captain initiated a self-destruct." Ro complained, "We were lucky to get the spoils we did out of her."
"You wouldn't have retrieved the ship's sensor logs?" Merris asked.
"First thing." Ro admitted, "What are they worth to you?"
"Your survival." Merris declared, "And that of your ship and crew. You may even have the chance to further serve the Cardassian Empire some day."
Oh joy, Ro mentally groused, "I'm always interested in making a profit."
"Excellent, give me your subspace transponder code and if something comes up, we'll give you a call." Merris said amiably, "Just attach that information to the sensor logs and then we'll escort you to the Badlands."
"A pleasure doing business with you." Ro lied and cut the monitor feed. Her head and arms slumped over her station, "Brin, you can send the information whenever you want."
"Now wait a damned minute!" Sisko thundered.
"Now you hold on!" Ro rose and shouted back, "You don't know a damned thing about my team or our mission."
"It's a good think." Sisko growled, "I'd have you back in the stockade on Jaros II so fast your head would form its own warp bubble."
"Captains," Macen spoke in icy tones, "we need to be underway before the Cardassians suspect anything more than they already do."
His eyes deadlocked on Sisko's, "The sensor logs are forgeries. They're authentic enough to pass inspection, but there's enough disinformation to confuse the hell out of them as well. This is what we do and we know how to do it. It isn't pretty but it always seems needed by some higher authority. Just be glad it's us and not you doing it."
"Afraid I'd retain too many morals?" Sisko baited.
"Exactly." Macen agreed, "The job doesn't make you immoral, just more flexible. However, rigid morality codes induce bouts of insanity as the person relives their past in an endless wheel of guilt."
"So you never feel guilty about lying and killing?"
"You feel guilty for it every day." Ro voiced. "But that's part of what keeps you alive. The eternal search for redemption is a lofty goal, eh?"
"You people are all crazy!" Sisko accused.
"Trust me," Ro warned, "a day will come when you get sick of this war and you'll say to yourself, ‘I'd do anything to stop this damned war' and then you'll understand us. At that moment, you'll discover how committed you are."
Sisko's certainty wavered as he and the others retook their seats in silence. After the Cardassians departed and Ro was expertly piloting the Odyssey through the plasma storms of the Badlands, Sisko went down to the cargo bays acting as holding cells. At each bay, eight Angosians in Starfleet black and gold monitored their SOB clad charges.
Ensign Prax, a woman who barely reached Sisko's shoulder yet could break him in half, brought Captain Benteen to see him.
"It seems I'm in a bit of trouble." Benteen's composure was fragile at best, "Thank you for trying to help."
"You'd have done the same for a fellow officer."
Benteen's eyes shifted away, uncomfortable, as Sisko forged ahead; "Command will take care of you. They don't have time for formal inquiries and reprimands. You'll have another ship in no time at all."
"You think?" it was as though an anchor had been thrown.
"Certainly. They'll need an experienced crew for the Defiant-class rolling out of Utopia Planitia."
"That's a nice thought."
Prax cleared her throat and Benteen gave Sisko a wan smile, "Thank you for the lie regarding my own command. It was nice to have hope for even just a second."
"I hope it wasn't a lie." Sisko admitted in all sincerity.
"Computer, delete log entry." Sisko's voice resounded through his empty cabin. Since Jake had moved into separate quarters with Nog, life just hadn't been the same. Dourly, he surmised that after the events of the last few days, his life would never be the same again regardless his surroundings. It struck him again that he'd assassinated a Romulan Senator.
As he sat in the silence, his memory stirred. Who'd warned him this night would come? He couldn't quite put his finger on it then revelation occurred. It had been weeks since his excursion with Ro and her cronies. It was they who'd warned him of the gut-wrenching turmoil that "ambiguous" actions brought with them.
Sisko's resolve stiffened. This could be a learning experience. He really could get past this. After all, it was only his innocence and his moral code. Even if he couldn't forgive himself now, someday he could. Surely he would... he'd have to...someday...
|Last modified: 02 Jan 2014