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Revolution - Part I by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter One

It was moving day for Outbound Ventures, Inc. The corporate and business offices were to remain on Barrinor. The ships and crews relocated to Serenity Station. Several of them, like Brin Macen and T'Kir, retained a residence on Barrinor for holidays.

Ephrim Zyrain was the new station administrator. He'd headed up other civilian stations in the past. This was his first posting with an armed station. Fortunately, the station wasn't expected to have to defend itself. It was merely a precaution after the Solarian attacks on Outbound Ventures.

Each ship was assigned a permanent berth. The crews received their living assignments at the airlock. Personal property would be offloaded and placed in pre-assigned cargo bays.

Macen and T'Kir were reviewing their quarters. T'Kir made a face, "It's so...Cardassian."

The irony wasn't lost on Macen. He'd served in the Federation's Border Wars. Afterwards he'd joined Ro Laren and T'Kir in the Maquis. Since the Dominion War, he'd lead a Starfleet Special Investigations Team.

Macen had already survived over four hundred traumatic years and, as an El-Aurian, he was expected to live quite a few more. His time in Starfleet had been good. His meeting T'Kir had been better and his marriage to her was wonderful...bumpy but wonderful.

Macen had retired from Starfleet under duress. It was that or face imprisonment. Since that time he had worked as a privateer. The Special Investigations Division was his biggest client.

Macen had survived several incarnations of the SID. It had begun as a regular forces unit. It had then transformed itself into a mixed irregular and regular forces agency. Now it was strictly an irregular forces outfit.

Over a dozen privateer crews were employed by the SID. It was a lucrative contract. Macen wanted for nothing. Starships, latinum, and weapons were his for the asking.

Starfleet Intelligence's Special Projects Yards equipped all of their vessels. Officially, the SPYards did not exist and would never exist. Similarly, SI's Q Branch did not exist. Q Branch supplied SI agents, SOCOMM operatives, and the SID with specialised equipment. It was generally one of kind technology and was considered extremely sensitive and valuable.

Macen smiled as he addressed his wife, "T'Kir, you approved of building a Nor-class station."

"Reluctantly." T'Kir groused, "You and Claudia talked me into it."

Claudia Tyrol was Outbound Ventures' CEO. While Macen and T'Kir owned the company, Tyrol actually ran it. Building a sister station to DS9 had been her idea.

"The price was right." Macen reminded T'Kir.

She stuck out her tongue at him, "Nyuh!"

Macen responded with a loving gaze and smile. T'Kir was an exception to every rule. A passionate Vulcan who'd been raised under the tenets of Sybok, she found fulfilment in emotional expression.

T'Kir's nearly limitless telepathy had opened her mind to entire solar systems. As a result, she'd lost her sanity. Although her abilities had been pared down to controllable levels, she'd never fully recover.

Dealing with his own traumatic issues, Macen found an anchor in T'Kir. T'Kir, adrift amongst her own personal demons found an anchor in Macen. In a strange way, their psychoses balanced each other out.

Changing the subject, Macen asked, "Do you want to see if our belongings are aboard yet?"

"Yah." T'Kir replied, "We gotta do somethin' 'bout this dump."

Laughing, Macen escorted her out of their new living area.

Radil Jenrya dropped by the Infirmary. She still bore the scars of Abby Collins' death but Kort had seen her through the worst of it. Having finished unpacking her belongings she wanted to check in on the newly appointed station CMO.

Kort saw her and beamed, "Jenrya, come in."

The Klingon looked and acted like a proud parent despite the fact that his facilities were in utter chaos. The Medical staff, like all station personnel, had moved in a week ago. Owing to shipping mistakes, the Infirmary had fared far reaching delays.

Radil had to admit to her self that she was pleased that Kort was here. Despite their tumultuous past, he'd proven himself to be her greatest friend. His enthusiasm at seeing her was infectious.

"It looks like a disaster in here." The Bajoran said.

Kort chuckled, "You should have seen it a few hours ago. The supply freighters arrived an hour before the mass migration started."

"Yeah, it's been crazy." Radil ruefully commented.

"I'm due for a break." Kort announced, "Would you like to grab a drink at the replimat?"

"I'd love to, kind sir." She replied.

Kort offered her an arm and she accepted it. They strolled out of the infirmary arm in arm.

Celeste Rockford looked around her quarters. She was quite pleased with herself. She'd arrived in her runabout and had unloaded most of its contents.

She was happy to finally have a place she could call home. She'd been living inside of her runabout for several months now and that was getting old in a hurry. Of course, if she weren't a fugitive from Barrinoran justice, it wouldn't have been a problem.

Rockford sighed. She hadn't even been convicted of anything; she'd just been dumped in prison. Her escape had cost a life and that prevented her from pleading her case in Barrinor's court system.

However, Barrinor was now part of the Federation and she could appeal to a higher court. Of course, she'd assumed a new identity and it was one of a respected Federation citizen. She supposed if she didn't rock the boat she'd make out okay. At least she hoped she would.

Taking one last look around she ascertained that everything was where she wanted it. Leaving her quarters, she sought company. She just wasn't sure whose door she should knock on first.

Gantz surveyed Dracas' rooms. They were decorated in classical Roman style with Greek trappings. Asian and African influences were present as well.

Dracas was a native of Magna Roma. That world had recently rejected him, placing him under eternal exile. It all stemmed from the simple fact that he was a clone. More to the point he was the clone of an alien to Magna Roma. The Ardannian Troglyte, Hal Dracas, had been his progenitor.

Like the previous Dracas, Joachim served with the SID team and as the Chief Engineer of the SS Obsidian. The Nova-class surveyor served as Macen's command. She'd been through hell and always gave her best. The crew was attached to her and would give their lives defending her.

Dracas sat his armour on the couch. He no longer wore the Star Legion's livery since he was no longer a serving officer. Now he wouldn't serve even if he'd been given a choice.

As if sensing his thoughts, Gantz said, "Let's go find an eatery. I'm hungry."

Dracas mulled it over. He considered Gantz. The Acamarian had begun life as a Gatherer. When his clan chose to forsake piracy, he traipsed off and became one of the quadrant's foremost bounty hunters.

Versed in dozens of languages and planetary laws, Gantz had grown tired of his career and his life. He was about to try the solitude of retirement when Macen had approached. Gantz had listened and been swayed by Macen's convictions.

Macen dreamt of a brighter tomorrow. A future encompassed by a peaceful union of all the stellar nations in the galaxy. All monitored by a benevolent cadre of philosopher-guardians: the Seekers of Truth. It was a dream worth fighting for.

Macen was laying the groundwork for such a movement here within the Federation. The SID team members were his recruits and the future was his horizon. Gantz could see the dream and he wished he could be there for the end but not even Macen would survive long enough to see the fruit of his labour.

It was a dream that Dracas was just starting to embrace. Up until recently he had served Macen out of obligation to Alaric Caesar. Now, he was serving of his own volition and he found Macen's goals to be laudable.

"All right." Dracas agreed, "There are several restaurants aboard. Which would you care to sample?"

"I dunno." Gantz admitted, "Let's just follow our noses, shall we?"

Dracas was nonplussed but he agreed and they set out.

The door opened to reveal Rockford on the other side. T'Kir ushered her in, "What's up, chica?"

"Nothing much." Rockford answered, "I finished unpacking and I realised that I wanted to hang out with someone."

T'Kir grinned, "Wanna see what Hannah's up to?"

"Sure." Rockford agreed.

"Honey, I'm leavin'. Decorate wisely." T'Kir departed before Macen could protest.

"He hates it when I d'that." T'Kir confided as they headed down the corridor, "But he'll forgive me."

"You hope." Rockford replied.

"Yup." T'Kir bubbled.

Hannah Grace let loose of a forlorn sigh. She'd been placing her pictures of Ian Delaney. It just served to remind her of how much she missed him.

Delaney was the Tactical Officer aboard the USS Intrepid. Like the Obsidian, the Intrepid frequently served in the hottest zones. A designated troubleshooter for Starfleet, the Intrepid faced more than its fair share of action.

Grace and Delaney had only been a couple for a little over a year now. Theirs had been a rollercoaster relationship until lately. Now everything seemed out in the open with no more secrets being kept.

Despite all appearances, Grace wasn't human. She was a Kelvan, one of the first generation of Kelvans born in the Milky Way Galaxy. She'd crossed the quadrant and joined Starfleet.

Her Starfleet career had led her to the SID. She'd served as Macen's helmsman and pilot ever since. Her enhanced physique, superior reflexes, mental discipline, and senses made her a formidable opponent in the cockpit or out.

She'd lost her Attuner, the device that allowed Kelvan to reshape molecular structures. However, after much focus and determination, she was learning to harness her innate abilities without her Attuner. She regretted the loss of both her Attuner and the power source that went with it but she was making progress.

She hadn't shared this fact with Delaney. She'd only had her first successful application of her abilities in the field. She wanted to be certain of her facts before she alerted him.

She felt guilty for keeping the fact from Macen and T'Kir. Macen had shown incredible patience in giving Grace a second and third chance. She didn't want to betray his confidence yet again.

T'Kir was her best friend and deserved to know. Unfortunately, T'Kir shared a permanent telepathic rapport with Macen. She could spill the beans without even meaning to.

The door chimed and it broke Grace's reverie. She instructed the computer to open it. T'Kir bounded in and excitedly hugged her.

"Hiya kiddo!" T'Kir enthused.

"Hi!" Grace's reaction was a blend of excitement and surprise.

Grace noticed Rockford standing in the middle of the room, "Hi there."

"'Lo." Rockford waved.

"You done unpacking?" T'Kir asked.

"Not quite." Grace said, "I still have to..."

"You're done." T'Kir sternly informed her, "It's time for a Girl's Night Out."

"The infamous GNO, eh?" Grace mused, "All right. I'm in. Where to?"

"Quark's." T'Kir decided, "We can get a holosuite and then hog the dance floor."

Grace and Rockford smirked. Quark had decided to capitalise on his success at DS9. He was franchising his name to establishments across the quadrant. This particular Quark's boasted a dance club as well as a casino, holosuites, a pub, and an upscale restaurant.

"C'mon, let's go." T'Kir made for the door. Rockford and Grace exchanged a glance and then followed T'Kir. They were headed for trouble and knew it. They all found they didn't care.

Lisea Danan nestled up against Tom Riker. Danan was Macen's Sciences Specialist. Riker was the Captain of the Emden-class SS Indomitable. He was also leader of his own SID team. Despite Riker's past as XO of the Obsidian under Macen, his launch as a SID commander had already been marred by tragedy. Abby Collins' death had shaken him and shaken him hard.

Danan's TLC had nursed him back to emotional health. Former SID agents Rab Daggit and Parva had also helped immensely. The greatest aid, however, had been the lack of assignments for the last six weeks. Riker and Danan had luxuriated in each other's company and were now enjoying a respite.

"Thanks for helping arrange my things." Riker said.

"Don't think you're getting out of helping me with my quarters." Danan warned, "I have some items requiring your muscle."

"I haven't, I haven't." Riker assured her, "I'm just catching my breath."

"Sucks getting old don't it?" Danan asked.

"Who's old?" Riker gibed, "I'm going to live forever."

"With my symbiont, so will I." Danan remarked.

"I keep forgetting you're a Trill." Riker chuckled.

"What?" Danan said dryly, "The head to toe spots don't give it away?"

"You know what I mean." Riker prodded.

Danan leaned over and kissed him, "Yes I do. I'm always forgetting that you're merely human."

Riker pushed her over on the couch and jumped atop her, "I'll show you 'merely' human."

"Yum!" she replied.

The final member of the team sat alone in the bowels of the Obsidian. Tessa was the ship's EMH and was therefore restricted to the ship. Macen had had holoprojectors installed throughout the ship but it was still a lonely place when empty even if she could explore it all.

She was in the rec room watching old movies when Galen 3 plopped down beside her.

"Hi!" he enthused. Galen 3 was from Eminiar VII and was Danan's research assistant. He also had a crush on Tessa. While she occasionally found this annoying, she was just happy to see another face.

"Hi yourself." She replied, "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you." He admitted, "My room's prepared and I couldn't think of anyone else that I wanted to spend time with so here I am."

"I appreciate the thought." Tessa confessed, "I really do but if you think you're gonna put any fast moves on me, think again buster!"

"Fast moves." Galen 3 scoffed, "I am, above all else, a gentleman."

"All right." Tessa accepted him at his word, "Do you want to play springball?"

"What's springball?" Galen 3 asked.

Like an angler hooking a fish, Tessa crooked her finger and said, "Follow me."

 

Chapter Two

Two weeks later...

From the entrance to Government House, Vladimir Kirov gazed out across the sprawling courtyard to the buildings beyond. The brick yard and surrounding buildings had become affectionately known as the Red Square. An altogether fitting epitaph for the capitol buildings located in the city of Kremlin on the planet Bolshevik.

Bolshevik was the fulfilment of the communist dream. The planet went further economically than the Federation. Not only were physical needs provided for but the state also distributed belongings. These were doled out on the basis of need. The better the worker, the greater the need. But in the end, even this property belonged to the state and would return to it once the individual it was assigned to no longer needed it whether by death or illness.

While it was publicly heralded as a "worker's paradise", the system suffered from the same lapses than any centrally planned economy did. Inefficiency abounded. Infamously the SOP was the overproduction and underproduction of goods.

The mainstay of the planet's production was industrial output. Civilian starcraft modules and superliners built from the keel up were two prominent specialities. The planet boasted the highest quotient of engineers amongst its population in the Federation.

The state was regulated by a multiparty system. The Duma contained representatives from every walk of life. But it wasn't mere chance that the Communist Party had dominated politics for one hundred and thirty years now. It was a sign of its popularity and success.

Such domination had allowed Kirov to remain as Premier for over twenty-five years now. He'd literally grown old in the office. There were a couple of competent rivals vying for the successor's position but neither had completely dominated the other yet. As such, Kirov was still popular enough amongst the MP's to retain his position.

He had decided to step down though. A veritable lifetime of service to the state had grown tiresome. It was time to relax and have some fun. Risa sounded awfully nice. Maybe he'd move there.

Kirov shook his head and chuckled to himself. Bolshevik was his home and his life. He knew he'd stay here so he dismissed all such fanciful notions and concentrated on the task at hand.

Beyond the portico, his limousine had landed. The Kremlin Guard Patrol's special unit surrounded him. They wore the latest generation of ablative armour and carried the most modern weaponry. The KGP prided itself on the fact that they had stymied every attempt on a Premier's life since the creation of the office.

The limo itself resembled a Type 3 shuttle from the mid-23rd century. That was probably because it was. Lacking shields, the limo relied upon its duranium hull to deflect weapon's fire.

Instead of rows of bucket seats, the limo possessed two lushly covered bench seat, both facing each other. There were meal replicators and a comp/comm unit. The limo could still navigate in space but only at impulse power. Kirov loved his limo and he wondered if he could talk the Duma into letting him keep it when he left office.

A KGP sergeant was scanning the area with a tricorder. Satisfied with the results, he nodded towards his superior. The KGP colonel in charge of Kirov's protective detail tapped his comm badge.

"Iron Man is ready to roll." He announced.

Kirov liked his official code name. It reflected the firm hand he displayed in administering Bolshevik's government. He took pride in what the name stood for.

He and his minders began walking forward. They came out from underneath the arbour framing the front of the entrance into Government House. As they did so, they passed out of range for the building's shield emitters.

They only had two more metres to go before they reached the limo. Suddenly and surprisingly, a photon missile erupted out of a window on the building opposite of Government House. It was dedicated to the use of the Red Army. The missile slammed into the hull of the limo, rupturing it, and killing the pilot.

Kirov's agents began rushing him back to the House's entrance. As they did so, a powerful phaser beam slammed into one agent, piercing his armour, and killing him. Another fell and another. Only two agents made it back inside the protective embrace of the House. Kirov hid behind a column while his agents returned fire and the shields were activated.

"Colonel Villiers to SkyEye," the agent in charge commed, "weapons release. Engage target."

Several more phaser bursts uselessly lashed out at the shielded Premier. The shooting stopped when a hovering runabout descended to the same level as the shooter. Twin phaser blasts ripped into the building. Sensor readings indicated that there no lifesigns in that room anymore. Its first mission done, the SkyEye unit ascended to keep watch for suspicious looking characters in the area.

The wait wasn't a long one. Immediately, sensors showed a young man racing out of the building. Pausing for a moment, the relative youth began to drift towards the crowds gathering out in Red Square. SkyEye quickly stunned the man and signalled KGP officers to come and collect him. Within minutes, the man was in custody.

Edward Noyce rose from behind his desk and stretched. He'd been reading compiled reports, determining policy, and making recommendations for the Council of Five. Just another day in the life of the Director of Starfleet Security. He mused.

Noyce was a spry seventy-two years old. But as people like Elias Vaughn were proving, seventy was the new thirty. Age was hardly a factor in Noyce's performance at the job.

As was his custom, Noyce had one monitor tuned to the Federation News Service and one free for communication and computing. As he rounded back to his desk after getting a beverage from the replicator, he heard a report that interested him. He sat back down and watched for a moment.

The report detailed the assassination attempt on Kirov. Noyce frowned. Kirov was a friend.

Kirov was known for his lavish parties and loose sexual mores but Noyce wasn't one to judge. He'd partied hard in his day as well. Noyce knew that the attempt wasn't the handiwork of a jealous husband or wife. The assassins had been too well equipped for that.

Noyce's comp/comm began to chime. He activated it. His aide's face appeared.

"Admiral," he began, "Deputy Director Rosenbaum is passing off an urgent call to you. She says it's a matter you'll want to deal with personally."

"Transfer it here." Noyce said. He was slightly intrigued. Captain Rosenbaum prided herself on her ability to handle any emergency. For her to pass this one off marked it as a special case.

Kirov's image appeared on the screen. He looked frustrated and a little scared, "Ed, it's good of you to take my call."

"Anything for a friend, Vlad." Noyce assured him, "I heard about the attempt on your life. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Nothing harmed but my pride and my sense of safety." Kirov confided.

"Do you know who's responsible?" Noyce asked.

"Yes." Kirov replied, "We captured one of the two men involved. He was the missileer who fired too early. He'd grown jumpy and launched as soon as he saw me. Fortunate for me. Bad for my pilot."

"At least the casualties were contained." Noyce reminded him, "The body count could have been higher."

"A fact I'm all too aware of." Kirov admitted.

"Who did it? You said you knew." Noyce repeated.

"It was the NKVD." Kirov revealed.

"The who?" Noyce was bewildered.

"The New Kremlin Vigilante Detachment." Kirov explained, "They appeared around six standard months ago. They feel that the KGP is inadequate to the task of apprehending criminals. They've taken to street justice. They seize, try, and condemn certain individuals. Apparently I've become a certain individual."

Noyce smiled at Kirov's dark humour, "Do they have the means to carry out their plans?"

"Yesterday I would have said, 'absolutely not' with unwavering confidence." Kirov shared, "After today, I just don't know."

Noyce sympathised with his friend, "That's understandable. Tell me, has the Starfleet Security detachment on Bolshevik been helping your people out?"

Kirov nodded, "Oh, yes. They have advised, assigned undercover agents, run sensor sweeps, and interrogated suspects. None of it has done any good. Their advice, while good, isn't tailored to our needs. Their undercover agents are obviously Starfleet so they're stymied before they begin. Their sensor sweeps, though a little bit better than ours, reveal nothing. And the interrogations do not get any better results than our own."

Kirov intently stared at Noyce, "We need help. We need specialised help. I was hoping you could provide that."

Noyce frowned, "It sounds as though my people there are doing everything within their purview. I have agents that might fit the demands that you have but they are all assigned to other cases."

Kirov was crestfallen, "I see."

Noyce smiled, "Don't give up, Vlad. I think the Special Investigations Division can provide exactly what you need."

"The what?" Kirov was hopeful but confused.

"You have a high enough clearance to hear this but you can't disclose what I'm about to reveal to anyone." Noyce warned, "The penalties for doing so are rather...stiff."

Kirov nodded, "The secret is safe with me."

"Very well then." Noyce consented, "I see that you're on a secure channel, so I can begin. The SID began as..."

Admiral Amanda Forger sat in her wheelchair situated behind her desk. The term wheelchair was laughably outdated because she sat in a hoverchair. Antigravs suspended it in the air and miniature repulsors propelled it.

The desk itself was set on a hinge so that it could be swivelled away and put up against the wall in order to grant her free access in and out of her office. It was true that her role as the Director of the SID kept her pretty well confined to her office but she didn't want to be trapped there. It was nice to get away and have a life.

It was both strange and sad that she had more of a social life now that she was crippled and divorced than when she was single, dating, or married. She enjoyed many activities not related to her duties now that she'd previously ignored while climbing the ranks in Starfleet Security and then Internal Affairs. Though she couldn't walk, she had discovered that she could have a life on top of Starfleet and that it was okay to have fun.

As far as her condition went, the nerves that enabled her to walk were still severed but ancillary nerve connections were still intact. As a result, with proper medical attention, she had rediscovered sex. She found it both eerie and exhilarating that she could still embrace such a fleeting thing while her legs remained utterly useless.

Her upper body work-outs were more intense than ever. She cringed when she looked down because the carefully developed and sculpted muscle tone was withering away into nothing. It was depressing but there was literally nothing she could do about it. Physical therapists moved her legs for her and electrically stimulated them but the muscle was still converting itself into fat.

The great tragedy of it all was that her ex-husband, Richard Drake, had been the one to damage her back while he was trying to kill her. He'd been programmed to do so by Bertram Sindis. Drake could no longer look at her without succumbing to the mental conditioning that forced him to attack her. Appropriately, Forger had divorced him and taken her maiden name back.

One good thing about it had been the fact that her younger sister Shannon had been battling withdrawals and drug addiction at the time. Focusing on her older sibling had given her a new purpose and direction for her life. It had also brought them closer together.

Amanda and Shannon were separated by a ten year gulf in age. For a time, Shannon had been occluded by her older sister's accomplishments. Both of them had joined Starfleet Security. Whereas Amanda moved on to Internal Affairs, Shannon became a Tactical specialist.

Shannon was leery when Amanda, the newly promoted Director of the nascent SID, invited her to sign up. Amanda convinced her to forsake Starfleet and hire on with Outbound Ventures, Inc. There she could work for Brin Macen, privateer and SID agent. If Macen selected her to serve with him, she would be amongst the greatest, and most troublesome, SID team contracted by Starfleet. Shannon had done so and was now the XO of Macen's ship.

Forger's musings were interrupted by the chime of her comp/comm. Ambril Delori's sunny features appeared on her screen. Although...the Bajoran seemed concerned.

"What is it Delori?" Forger called her by her given name.

"Admiral Noyce is on the line." Ambril explained, "It seems he has a case for you to consider."

Forger smiled. It was her aide's job to screen her calls. Apparently this one passed the litmus test for importance.

"Pipe it in here." Forger instructed, "Let's see what Ed wants."

"Yes, ma'am." Ambril signed off.

Noyce appeared and his greeting had its usual friendliness but there was a hint of stress in his voice. Forger enquired as to why and Noyce explained the situation to her. After finishing, he transferred Kirov's call to her.

 

Chapter Three

"Mr. Premier," Forger said to Kirov's shaken image, "Admiral Noyce has explained the situation to me. I believe I can help. Or more accurately, agents in my employ can help."

"I still find it hard to believe that Starfleet employs privateers." Kirov admitted.

"Starfleet licenses and monitors the law enforcement activities of privateers, private investigators, and private security. Why shouldn't we also employ them? They often have access to areas that Starfleet can't get into." Forger explained, "And as civilians, they're ideal for undercover work."

"That would be useful in this case." Kirov said.

"So I've gathered." Forger replied, "You stated that you didn't believe the NKVD was capable of an attack on this scale until now. Why is that?"

"We don't have any portable photon missile launchers on Bolshevik. Even the Red Army lacks them." Kirov answered, "As far as high powered phaser rifles go, there are only five on the planet and they were all secured and accounted for during the incident."

"So you suspect offworld assistance?" Forger sought clarification.

"Of course." Kirov vigorously nodded, "Exports make up ninety percent of our trade. We have offworlders on our planet by the thousands because of freight pick-ups."

"You said the NKVD targets criminals. Why are they suddenly after you?" Forger enquired.

"They now view me as the pinnacle of the 'corruption pervading Bolshevik.' The captured suspect recounted several of my more sordid affairs to demonstrate my moral turpitude." Kirov explained.

"I'll relay that information to my team." Forger promised, "Don't worry. I'm contracting my best team. They've successfully completed over a hundred cases so far."

"I trust your judgement and your choice." Kirov said, "Now if you excuse me, I have panicking security officers to deal with."

"Of course." Forger conceded, "My agents should be with you in a matter of days."

"Tell them to hurry." Kirov urged.

"I will. Bye now." Forger cut the connection. Forger pondered the situation for a moment and then contacted Christine Pike at Outbound Ventures HQ. Pike served as the company's liaison with Starfleet. She would find Macen and have him contact Forger's office.

Afterwards, she contacted the Director of Starfleet Intelligence, Alynna Nechayev. They then participated in a conference call with Edward Jellico. When all was said and done, Macen's orders were cut.

Macen and T'Kir were walking across the corridor to their office. Each ship's captain and executive officer had an office within the station. Unlike most of the other captains Macen shared his office with his wife. It had worked for them on Barrinor and it was logical that it would work here.

"Shared" wasn't quite the term that it had been on Barrinor. Here, they each occupied a separate office area. There just wasn't a divider between them beyond the usual structural supports. They could pursue individual goals or unite for a common front.

Their assistant, named Bryce Fanning, had an adjoining office. Shannon Forger's office was next door. It was exceptionally easy to assemble the command team on short notice. Beyond Forger's office lay a briefing room dedicated to the Obsidian crew.

Macen ducked into Fanning's office as he entered his own space, "Hi Bryce, anything new?"

Fanning smiled, "We have the usual plethora of offers. More importantly, Chris commed. You're supposed to contact Admiral Forger."

"Oh, really?" Macen mused. He'd told Forger that he'd be unavailable this week. She wouldn't call unless there was some dire mischief afoot.

"D'we got a mission?" T'Kir bounced on over to his side, "Hiya Bryce!"

Fanning smiled and laughed, "Hello T'Kir. Are you always going to enthusiastically greet me as though you haven't seen me for years instead of just a few hours?"

"Yup." T'Kir enthused.

"Good." Fanning decided, "I like it."

"Me too." T'Kir confided.

T'Kir looked around only to find Macen was already at his comp/comm. She flashed a bright smile Fanning's way, "Gotta scoot!"

"Go away, you loon." Fanning giggled.

T'Kir literally leapt away in a faux ballet move. She continued with her mad dance until she reached Macen's desk. Although disjointed it was still a valiant effort by someone in combat boots.

The boots were Angosian. Celeste Rockford had supplied them. They were still manufactured on her home planet and were quite popular. She'd wryly commented that the Augments, the Angosian super soldiers, should have been so lucky. Then she could have stayed home.

Macen was in a discussion with Ambril. She quickly transferred him to Forger's desk. At that point the admiral explained the situation. After she was done, she paused for a moment to allow the information to be digested.

Forger waited. Macen had been one of Starfleet Intelligence's premier analysts before he transferred to field work. He was weighing the evidence carefully. After a moment, he spoke.

"What aren't you telling me?" Macen asked.

"I conferred with Alynna, as is typical since she's my direct superior, and received some foreboding news. The NKVD has pushed Bolshevik to the edge of revolutionary action. The vigilantes are beginning to sway ordinary citizens. While most of the persuaded citizenry won't take up arms, they won't defend the current government either." Forger explained, "In turn, the sitting government leaders are in complete denial concerning the threat. Something has to be done."

"What's stipulated in my contract?" Macen enquired, "What am I authorised to do?"

"Alynna and I spoke with Jellico." Forger revealed and Macen winced, "Brin, it's not bad news. Jellico approves of our sending you. In fact, he recommended it."

"It's a trick." Macen warned, "Don't trust him."

"Brin!" Forger scolded him, "He's the Alpha Quadrant Theatre Commander. That makes him my boss. I have to take him at his word."

"I don't." Macen replied.

Forger shook her head and then continued, "Getting off of this particular rabbit trail, your assignment is two-fold. You're to track down and disable whatever foreign adventurers are supplying the NKVD. You're also to lead Starfleet Security and the KGP to the NKVD itself."

Macen's eyebrow quirked, "Nothing like the impossible, eh?"

"I thought the impossible was your stock in trade." Forger quipped.

"Not lately." Macen grumped.

"Brin," Forger countered, "You drove the raiders out of Ekos and Zeon. Your report on their having achieved warp flight freed us to drop the quarantine and to open relations with them. You didn't capture Sindis but that was never part of your contract."

Forger was unrelenting, "You were hired to find Katreen Dervin and bring her safely home. You couldn't know that a coup was about to take place and it wasn't your responsibility to prevent one. Katreen Dervin is alive and well in her old home in the Federation."

Forger didn't let up, "You were hired to prevent the Magna Roman emperor from losing power and assist him in quelling the uprising that threatened him. Vaughn's told me you had other intentions in addition to those orders. They were noble, misguided, but noble. Alaric stayed in power and the crisis was brought to a halt. You may not have wanted the clones to die but that was an internal decision on the Nova Romans' part. Your mission was accomplished to a tee."

"On top of it all," Forger had one final point to make, "you helped prevent a Cardassian invasion of the planet. No one wanted to see Magna Roma as a subject nation to the Cardassian Union, least of all the Romans. In each and every case you faced incredible odds and snatched victory out of them. Don't belittle that and don't second guess yourself now. I need you focused on the mission."

Macen pondered her words for several minutes. Wrestling with his sense of guilt, he saw that she had made some very valid points. He would never totally expunge his sense of responsibility over events gone sour but he wasn't solely to blame either.

"All right, I'm focused." He said at last with conviction in his voice.

"When can you depart?" Forger asked.

"In just under two hours." Macen replied, "It'll take that long to clear everyone through the checkpoints."

"Checkpoints?" Forger repeated.

"Identity verification stations." Macen explained, "I don't want any uninvited guest aboard. Station Security and the ship's security team run the checkpoints together. Even I can't board without them crosschecking my biometric data."

"And you can do this in just a few hours?" Forger wondered.

"Amanda," Macen smiled, "I only have a crew of eighty people. They're all contained on one space station instead of an entire planet and a space station. We've already run a couple of drills. This works."

"Well, I'm glad." Forger affirmed, "You don't need any more headaches."

"I agree." Macen said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a general recall to begin."

Forger smirked, "All right, you're dismissed."

"Good. Macen out." Macen cut the connection and went to ruin Fanning's day.

Grace carried an overnight bag as she strolled through the Habitat Ring and headed for the crossover to the Docking Ring. Like most of the Obsidian crew, she had a complete wardrobe and toiletries selection aboard ship. What she carried back and forth were her own personal treasures. They mostly consisted of holopics of her with Delaney, T'Kir, and the rest of the two incarnations of Macen's SID team.

She'd just spent two weeks on Barrinor with Delaney. The repairs of the Intrepid were almost completed and, seeing how his part was wrapped up, he was granted three weeks leave. He'd spent six days travelling and the rest was spent with Grace. They'd gone sailing across the Opal Sea situated near one of Barrinor's southern continents. It was twice as large as Hudson Bay. The sea was replete with island chains and they'd explored most of them.

The last two nights had been spent in the guest bedroom of Macen and T'Kir's house. They shared, they laughed, and they'd cried together reminiscing over recent events. It was a great time of developing their relationship and learning to share intimacies. In short, it ranked as the best holiday they'd taken with each other...so far.

T'Kir caught up with Grace, "Hiya Ace."

Grace smirked. T'Kir had taken to calling her "Ace" in light of her feats of piloting wizardry during the Magna Roman Civil War. Technically, it wasn't an accurate label. She hadn't shot any fighters down but she had blown the hell out of a row of Cardassian hovertanks. Although...she'd heard through Liz Liefers, the Flight Operations Officer aboard the Intrepid, that Starfleet had recently redefined the term. Maybe it was accurate after all.

"I got one question for ya." T'Kir grinned, "Did'ya change the sheets?"

At one time in recent history, such a question would have embarrassed Grace to death. As things stood now, it just made her righteously indignant, "Who do you think I am? Of course I changed the sheets."

T'Kir laughed, "Calm down Hannah. I'm just frinxin' with ya. D'you honestly think I would think badly of you?"

Now Grace was embarrassed, "No. I honestly don't think that. I'm just sorry Ian's gone. I keep remembering all the good times we had and I miss him."

"I take it there were a coupla bad times as well." T'Kir remarked. Grace possessed one of those few minds T'Kir's telepathy couldn't read. Despite this, she knew her friend well enough to read between the lines.

Grace sighed, "Of course we butted heads. Were adults and each have our own ways of dealing with things. Fortunately, with time and patience, we worked things out and the good times could begin again."

"Good f'r you." T'Kir smiled brightly, "I have trained you well."

"You trained me?" Grace scoffed, "I don't think so. You taught me how to get laid not how to manage a blossoming relationship."

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "What about Cecil DeWitt?"

"Laid." Grace flatly replied.

"Onyx Caleb?" T'Kir tried again.

"Laid." Came Grace's droll reply.

"What about..."

Radil popped into the Infirmary and proceeded to Kort's office. Kort was surprised, "I thought you were shipping out?"

"We are." Radil replied, "I just wanted to say, 'See you later!'"

"I appreciate the thought and the sentiment." Kort admitted, "But you'd better hurry along."

"Yeah," Radil sighed, "once more unto the breach and all that rot."

"Jenrya," Kort said softly, "are you up for this?"

Radil gave him a sad smile, "I'm still grieving but I'm also moving on. This'll be good for me."

"As long as you're certain." Kort replied.

Radil laughed, "Who's certain? I'm just making this up as I go. Anyway, later!"

Radil waved goodbye as she exited. Kort watched her go and wished her every success and plenty of good luck. With the missions Macen frequently got, she'd need all the luck she could get.

As she waited in the ID queue, Danan wished that Riker were here to say goodbye to. She'd known that these situations would arise when she opted to serve on another ship other than his. Still, theory and reality were often two different animals. She had to admit to herself that although she missed him already, setting out on would likely prove to be a life threatening mission just made her pangs worse.

What this situation made clear to her is that she was not only in love with Tom Riker; she was falling deeply in love with him. It was a case that warranted permanent commitment. Although Riker would jump at such a chance, Danan was still leery. Her time with Macen had left her gun shy when it came to deep, personal commitment.

Danan loosed a deep, forlorn sigh. She was in the midst of a quandary and she didn't know who to turn to for advice. She was used to issuing counsel, not receiving it. She shrugged her shoulders, straightened them, and moved forward in line. Her personal problems would have to wait until another day.

Gantz sat and pondered the news he'd just received. His younger brother had called and informed him that their father was dead. Gantz was the inheritor of the clan's mantle of leadership. He'd stunned his brother when he refused to return to Acamar and claim it.

Gantz had put the clan behind him when they, and the rest of the Gatherers, had abandoned piracy for transport hauling. Gantz's decision to become a bounty hunter was born of his knowledge of the criminal world and his familiarity with a few dozen worlds. He had excelled at skip tracing and bounty hunting.

Gantz's reputation amongst law enforcement agencies spanned the quadrant. He'd been on the verge of retirement when Macen had approached him. His appeal swayed Gantz and he'd held off retirement for at least a few years more.

The door chimed and Gantz reluctantly ordered the computer to open it. A concerned Dracas walked in, "Haven't you heard? We're deploying."

Gantz went into his bedroom and retrieved the comm badge that was stuffed underneath the pillows. He tapped it, "I already know. Gantz out."

Gantz returned to the main room and found Dracas expectantly waiting there. Gantz noted the Troglyte's attire. Born on Magna Roma, the genetically Ardannian Dracas wore leather Roman armour and carried a Roman short sword along with his phaser pistol.

"Well?" Dracas impatiently asked.

"Keep your armour on, Joachim. I'll join the queue in ten minutes." Gantz assured him.

"Then I will see you there." Dracas turned on his heel and departed.

Gantz chuckled to himself. It was a good thing that Dracas had a boyfriend now. He seriously needed to unwind.

Gantz threw a few personal items in a duffel and exited his quarters. Not surprisingly, Dracas was in the corridor waiting for him. Gantz shook his head and escorted his friend to the ship.

 

Chapter Four

As the SID team members began to gather, Macen had Gantz meet him in his Ready Room. Gantz was mildly curious as to why he had been summoned but he took his seat and laconically gazed at Macen. Macen, in turn, grinned.

"Congratulations." Macen began, "You're the newly promoted squad leader for the team."

Gantz stifled a groan, "I thought we'd covered this. You offered, I refused. We agreed that Radil was a better candidate."

"The old Radil was a better candidate." Macen corrected him, "The new Radil isn't."

"She's still grieving." Gantz reminded Macen, "She'll recover."

"Speaking as an empath, I'm not sure." Macen revealed, "Jenrya has lost her fire. There's no joy left in her. She performs her duty out of a sense of obligation but she does so just to get by. The depth of her sorrow is such that she may never recover. Her single source of joy is..."

"The Klingon doctor." Gantz finished for him, "Yeah, I've noticed. We all have."

"The problem is: Kort and Radil have a complicated history together." Macen explained, "Kort still carries a torch for her and that might make things messy down the road."

Gantz ruefully rubbed his chin, "Yeah, I can see that. If she doesn't get over Abby's death and Kort makes a play..."

Macen nodded, "You have a keen grasp of the situation."

"So that leaves me as your new squad leader." Gantz wryly remarked.

"The team has a need and you're the most qualified candidate to fill the gap." Macen said, "T'Kir picked up your turmoil over your family affairs. I'm sorry that this places you in a similar situation."

Gantz waved the thought away, "The two are nuthin' alike." He took a deep breath and then spoke, "Okay, I'm your man. What happens next?"

Macen smiled, "Next we tell the team."

"Great." Gantz grumped.

Macen convened the meeting in the team briefing room. The Obsidian possessed two briefing rooms. One was a standard, Starfleet issue, briefing room. It was used by department heads to gather their staff and convey vital messages.

The other was the sole property of the SID team. It was slightly larger and contained more exotic equipment. It utilised a holoprojector rather than a viewer. The imagery appeared in 3D atop the conference table. Replicators were also on hand in order to provide refreshments.

Tessa was thrilled to see everyone. She relished the thought of another mission because it afforded her the chance to share the ship with someone.

Macen began with the announcement of Gantz's new position in the ranks. He received wide plaudits to which he modestly deferred the attention back to Macen.

Macen began by describing the particulars of the mission. They each received a padd containing all of Starfleet Intelligence's reports and those of the KGP. Macen encouraged them to go over them and come back the following day with recommendations and action plans. At that point, he dismissed them all.

Later that day, Gantz strolled into the Rec Room. He found Rockford cosied up on a couch alone, sipping at some coffee, intently reading a padd. She seemed quite peaceful. Gantz hated to interrupt but he needed to discuss matters with her.

"Yo, Celeste. Got a moment?" he asked as he sat down in a nearby stuffed chair.

"I guess I do now." Rockford dryly commented.

"Look, I just wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings between us." Gantz said.

Rockford looked puzzled, "Why would there be?"

"Well," Gantz began, "as Annika Ryst, you've led troops into battle for years. I've led pirates on raids and teams of bounty hunters but it's not the same."

"Gantz," Rockford smiled, "you're leading investigators, not troops. It'll be similar to those bounty hunters you mentioned."

Her smile grew, "As far as hard feelings go, I don't feel slighted in the least. I have no desire to lead this group. I'm a P.I. who's working within the framework of a team. I'm quite content being a grunt for a change."

Gantz was visibly relieved, "Now that that's settled...are you looking at the Captain's data?"

"Yup." Rockford confirmed it, "I've already have a few ideas."

Gantz grinned, "So do I. Want to swap stories?"

"Sounds good." Rockford agreed, "First of all, let's..."

After they'd shared, the conversation returned to Gantz's promotion.

"I still don't know why Macen didn't go with Radil." Gantz admitted.

Rockford adamantly shook her head, "Nope. No way. Bad choice."

"That's what Macen thought. He says her spirit's been quenched. I'm not convinced. She's a fighter." Gantz insisted.

"It's true that Radil has been broken before and come back, at least partially." Rockford countered, "But this is different. Radil spent her life losing people so she never took the chance of revealing her vulnerabilities to anyone and truly sharing her heart before. She did that with Abby Collins. She's making a stab at reclaiming her life but it may turn out that she truly is one of those people that can't live without their partner."

"How do you know this?" Gantz wondered.

"Radil and I have a similar background." Rockford confessed, "The major difference is that she can go home to Bajor and I can't return to Angosia. I'd give anything for that chance. Literally. I gave up everything I was and had to defend my world and now I can't even set foot on it. Life just ain't fair sometimes."

"I had no idea." Gantz admitted.

Rockford shrugged, "I don't advertise the fact but it's true. But hey, I'm a survivor. I'll cope."

Gantz smirked, "Not to change the subject, but have you noticed that we're all starting to talk like T'Kir?"

Rockford grinned, "She has a very infectious personality. As relaxed as this team is, it's only natural that we'd adopt a more relaxed mode of speech. I was already half way there due to my Rockford persona's supposed human origins."

"My Federation Standard training was pretty formal but our Gatherers' tongues were pretty loose. I've just blended the two." Gantz revealed.

"Your Federation teachers would've cringed at that statement." Rockford teased.

Gantz beamed, "Ain't it great?"

"I'll reserve judgement on that." Rockford noted the latest arrivals, "Heads up. They've changed the guard and Hannah and T'Kir are headed our way."

"This should get interesting." Gantz commented.

Macen had received a transmission from Kirov. In it, Kirov was describing the latest NKVD related events on Bolshevik. Needless to say, the man was unhappy.

"They have killed nine MP's so far. It's true they had left Kremlin to return to their districts but they still retained bodyguards. Our local forces are impotent against them." Kirov lashed out.

"Take it easy." Macen advised, "I'm on your side."

"Of course, Captain." Kirov sighed, "I'm all too grateful for that. I still remember your assistance during the New Order affair. You and your team performed admirably under intense scrutiny and pressure. I'm certain you will repeat such miracles here."

"I know Admiral Forger has undoubtedly sung my praises but it's only fair to say that we may not be able to accomplish all that you desire." Macen warned.

Kirov sagely nodded, "A fact I'm all too aware of, Captain. Nevertheless, Admiral Forger's assurances and my own experience lend credence to the idea that our fate is well entrusted in your hands."

"I appreciate your faith." Macen assured him, "We'll try to live up to expectations." Macen shifted gears, "Now, there should be no physical contact between us. We won't visit you or the KGP when we get on the ground. How many of your staffers or advisors know we're coming?"

Kirov was surprised, "None."

Macen was pleased, "Keep it that way. When you try to contact us, call the ship, they'll relay that you want to communicate to me and I'll decide if the situation allows for a conversation."

Kirov nodded, "I understand."

"Good. Have the KGP gather all of the reports and evidence and turn them over to Starfleet Security. I'll get them from Starfleet." Macen instructed.

"If that's the way you want it done..." Kirov began.

"It is." Macen insisted.

"Then it shall be done." Kirov promised.

"Another thing," Macen reminded himself, "I need your private comm address. I need your direct line, answered only by you, and not by one of your flunkies."

"I'll piggyback it onto my transmission...now." Kirov immediately acted upon the request.

"Yes, I have it." Macen confirmed, "If that is all, I'll get back to strategising our approach to the problem."

"By all means!" Kirov urged, "Don't let me interfere."

"Thank you Mr. Premier. We'll get the job done." Macen assured him and signed off.

Macen had a general outline of a plan but he wanted the others' input. He strongly suspected they'd have many of the same ideas and he wanted them to participate in finalising their action plan. He usually stayed away from the democratic approach but it was a new team. Maybe it was time for a few new methods as well. The worst that could happen is that he'd have to create a plan on his own on short notice. That was the usual M.O. so where was the harm?

Macen shrugged and went back to work.

Radil finished showering and got dressed. Her attire was entirely Bajoran. Loose trousers, oversized blouse, open knit sweater, and mid-calf high boots made up her ensemble. She hated to wrap it up with her utility belt but she was the Security Chief. She had an example to set.

Not that she cared all that much about setting an example. The thrill and determination behind her work was gone. Macen had given her a new life, one with a purpose, and that had been lacking during her days as a mercenary. The Resistance had consumed her as a youth and she had reawakened that passion with the SID. Only, even that was stifled by her pain. Kort assured her that it would pass.

In an odd twist, Kort had proven himself to be an immeasurable source of comfort. Their romantic union had been turbulent beyond words. It had been fun at times but they had also faced some terrible rows. In the end, their differences had driven them apart. Or, more precisely, Radil's differences with Kort had driven her away.

Kort was a changed man, a hard enough transformation, even when the said male wasn't a Klingon. Kort was now a beloved and trusted friend. They had previously been lovers but not friends. She embraced her new reality. It helped keep her sane.

Macen and T'Kir were a help. Each had faced tremendous losses in the distant, not so distant, and recent past. But they had one another and that set them apart from her situation. She couldn't quite see the universe through their eyes.

Grace had faced the loss of contact with her people. Dracas was permanently exiled from his birthworld and was also unwelcome on the planet of his genetic origins. It was also true that he'd been hit hard by the executions of his fellow clones. That allowed them to empathise but not completely understand.

Tessa had no scope. Danan couldn't relate. Gantz had forsaken his people but he'd never faced a personal loss.

Celeste Rockford was the only one she could truly turn to on the team. Rockford, as Annika Ryst, had lost her world, her people, her lover, her freedom, and a touch of her sanity over the years. She understood loss and she was coping alone. It was true she engaged in friendly sexual liaisons with the XO of DS9, but at this time it served to fulfil a physical desire not an emotional need.

Radil never thought that she would confide in Rockford. Originally, she barely tolerated the Angosian's presence. Despite that, Rockford had lent her emotional support and become a trusted confidant. It was funny how tragedy changed one's views.

Radil considered finding a teammate to confer with but thought better of it. She'd review Macen's information alone. Grace and T'Kir had last been seen ensconced in the information together. Maybe she should contact Dracas and get his perspective. Thinking better of it, she replicated her beverage of choice and sat down in her easy chair and began to read. It was going to be a long evening.

 

Chapter Five

The following day, Macen convened his meeting in the team briefing room. He updated all of them as to the additional assassinations on Bolshevik. He gave them half an hour to digest the data and make any adjustments to their recommendations. While the others poured over the new details, Macen and Tessa conferred outside.

They stood out in the corridor outside of the briefing room. Macen cradled a mug of coffee while Tessa, not requiring subsidence, leaned up against the bulkhead. She was bright and cheerful while he was more restrained.

"Tessa," Macen slowly began, "I've been meaning to talk to you for a while now."

"What about?" she was all full of curiosity.

"T'Kir has run some checks on your program..." Macen started to say.

Tessa interrupted, "I'll say! She's reviewed the line code twice, run dozens of diagnostics, and let me tell you, those diagnostics drive me batty. They induce a tingling sensation and it'll make me mental if she does it again."

"There's a reason she's been doing that." Macen assured her, "Do you remember when she started?"

"Right after our mission to Magna Roma." Tessa supplied the answer.

"And what happened there?" Macen asked, guiding her towards the answer.

Tessa was immediately sullen, "I dunno."

"Vaughn reported that you killed four Cardassians." Macen informed her.

Tessa motioned towards herself and adopted her best "Who me?" look.

"You can quit it." Macen advised, "I'm not buying it. The internal sensors have you alone with them when they died."

Tessa scrunched up her face and muttered, "There's always something."

"First you cave in a man's skull with your bare hands and now you try to lie and sham out of it." Macen pointed out, "What's strange is that there's no conflict with your ethical subroutines. Felix says your program is an adaptive, self writing template. Your experiences and added modules let your program modify itself for new situations."

He continued, "Your holomatrix is stored in a positronic CPU. It's already been proven that positronic devices can allow program algorithms become self aware and that they can evolve. Thus making them sentient life. Artificial life but undeniably sentient."

"I want to encourage your personal growth but I have to say that I'm alarmed about where certain aspects have gone. You need to reflect long and hard over the potential consequences of your recent actions." Macen concluded with, "We're here to help, not to condemn you. Reach out and we'll be there."

Tessa slowly nodded, "Thanks."

"'Thanks, but I'm not ready to talk.'" Macen said, "That is what you mean isn't it."

Tessa broke out into a sheepish grin, "Yeah, that's about it. But I promise to talk about it when I'm ready to."

"I can't ask for more than that." Macen smiled and checked his wrist chrono, "It's about time to shake up our little lambs. Coming?"

"Right behind you." Tessa replied.

The group quieted down as Macen and Tessa retook their seats. Danan volunteered to speak first, "I was thinking we could use nanites, planted on our suspects, to track them and use high resolutions scans to determine who they are and what they're doing. Heavens know this ship has the sensor capability. Let's put that to use."

"And what if we can't find the NKVD?" Macen mused.

"Brin," Danan scolded, "you'll run into them. You always find trouble or it finds you."

"I like it." Macen smiled, "We can utilise that. Next?"

T'Kir, speaking for her and Grace, spoke next, "Like Lees said, we're gonna find 'em, so why not use it to our advantage? We can make 'em interested in us, enough that they come find us, and have them try to recruit us."

"How do you propose we do that?" Macen enquired.

"It's illegal to own or carry weapons on Bolshevik, right?" T'Kir began, "We can flash the fact that we're armed and licensed t'carry anywhere we damn well please. Add that t'the fact that we can transport weaponry and we're for hire and I think we'll hook 'em."

"We think we'll hook them." Grace reminded her friend.

"Right." T'Kir sheepishly relented, "That last bit was Hannah's."

"Good thinking." Macen said, "It appeals to their mentality and their weaknesses both. We'll use it."

Macen looked around. Dracas stirred so Macen spoke, "Joachim? Any ideas?"

"We find them and kill them." Dracas replied.

"That's it?" Macen sought clarification.

"That's it." Dracas confirmed for him, "We find them and kill them all."

"I'll keep that in mind." Macen promised, "Gantz?"

"Actually, Celeste is doing my talking. We sorta collaborated like Hannah and T'Kir." Gantz answered.

"The plan is a two-fold approach." Rockford explained, "One is to question the dockside workers and see if any mysterious or suspicious cargos have been regularly loaded or off-loaded. The second part is questioning local manufacturers regarding losses or missing product. Between the two, we should get a more accurate picture of what's going on. We'll also draw the sort of attention that you want."

Macen grinned, "I like the way you two think. Excellent plan."

Macen turned to Radil, "Anything?"

Radil shook her head, "They used all the good stuff."

"I know what you mean." Macen grinned, "Now, our cover story is taken care of. A local shipper headquartered on Bolshevik wants to renegotiate her contract with Outbound Ventures. She worked with Captain Aenic several times and she's impressed with his work. She wants to put him on retainer."

"I've volunteered to go over her proposal and to discuss it with Aenic." Macen revealed, "It impresses her, gives kudos to the company, and legitimises our being here. It's a win-win-win scenario."

"T'Kir and I will meet with her." Macen announced, "Celeste, you're coming along as well."

"Oh really?" she dryly quipped.

"Gantz, Jenrya, and Joachim, you'll handle the dock side inquiries. While you're at it, inquire about a decent local eatery. One favoured by dock rats."

"Gotcha." Gantz nodded.

"T'Kir, Celeste, and I will handle the manufacturing end after we clear up the contract negations." Macen disclosed, "Lees, you'll be on stand-by with the sensors. Hannah, you'll be aboard in case the ship needs to manoeuvre. Tessa, you can't come for obvious reasons."

Tessa sullenly stuck out her tongue. Macen shook his head. T'Kir's influence was everywhere.

"That concludes our meeting." Macen announced, "Everyone's dismissed."

Colonel Harb Villiers of the KGP was furious. He commanded the Special Unit in charge of the Premier's safety and his investigation into the recent attempt on Kirov's life was going nowhere. He and his unit had eliminated all the suspects except for one and that one was known only to Villiers himself. It was his brother Rafe.

Rafe Villiers was the leader of the opposition Truth & Liberty Party. Truth & Liberty had nearly toppled the Communists' monolithic hegemony in the last election and seemed poised to give them a run for it once again. The party was calling for new general elections, citing corruption and incompetence as the key reasons to vote again. It just so happened that was the same rallying cry as the NKVD's.

The NKVD strove to force a vote and topple the existing government. The Truth & Liberty Party hadn't endorsed the NKVD's actions but they hadn't condemned them either. Everyone knew there was a connection but no one could prove a thing. This ambiguity allowed Rafe Villiers to ably skirt the issue, playing off both sides of the public's sentiment concerning the NKVD.

The public in Kremlin, and beyond that across Bolshevik, was torn between those that condemned the NKVD and those that lionised their actions. At first, the NKVD had been universally condemned. As their message spread, and proof of their accusations increasingly came to light, they garnered support. Now they were certified heroes to half of the planetary population. Frankly, the KGP was at a loss of how to combat the grassroots propaganda campaign.

Setting such considerations aside, Harb Villiers commed his brother. Rafe's distinctive features filled his screen after being passed about by some staffers at campaign headquarters. Rafe smiled upon seeing sibling.

"Harb!" he enthused, "It's great to hear from you. I didn't expect you to call. I assumed you'd be out chasing the NKVD."

"That's what I may be doing." Colonel Villiers replied.

Villiers sighed, "Now Harb, we've been over this. I am not, in any shape or form, affiliated with the NKVD. They're considered to be criminals...no matter how unjustly that label may be applied."

"It's your ambiguity that makes you a potential suspect." Col. Villiers informed his brother, "The only person outside of my officers and agents that knew of Kirov's plans that day was you. How can you explain that?"

"I can't. Harb, I hold what you say to me in strictest confidence." Villiers lied. Technically, he had no overt contact with the NKVD. However, one of his aides was in contact with the vigilantes. She wasn't one of them but she knew how to contact them. Villiers knew of this and had positioned her as one of his confidants. She thought she was using him but in truth they were using one another...especially after hours.

Harb looked doubtful so Rafe added, "Feel free to investigate me. I've nothing to hide."

The Colonel relented, "All right, Rafe. You win. Just don't be surprised if I don't share much of anything from now on."

Although he was bitterly disappointed, Rafe shrugged; "You have to do what you feel is best for the Premier. I completely understand."

"I will tell you this," Col. Villiers said, "You're being observed by Starfleet Security. So make certain your nose stays clean."

"Starfleet?" Rafe yelped, "I thought this was a local matter."

"It was." Harb replied, "Kirov handed it off to Starfleet so you'd better watch your back...just in case your hands are a little dirty."

"Thanks." Rafe tersely replied, "You've made my day."

"I thought it was time to make someone's." Col. Villiers said and signed off.

Rafe Villiers sat back and then called his favourite staffer. He had news for her and her erstwhile compatriots.

 

Chapter Six

Nicole Harrington finished reporting to the local NKVD cell leader. She took off her dedicated comm badge and returned it to her pocket. Wrapping up her coffee break, she returned to Truth & Liberty's campaign HQ.

Dustan Ripoll zipped up his coveralls. They hid his NKVD issued comm badge and bore his official Dock Yard comm badge. As a foreman, he was expected to be constantly on-call while at work. Fortunately, there had been no crises today so he'd been able to slip away to take Harrington's call.

Starfleet Security, eh? He thought to himself, How interesting.

Harrington was Ripoll's most reliable and productive asset. She wasn't a member of his cell but her brother was and she sympathised with the cause. She just refused to personally dirty her hands.

He needed to comm Vasily Gregor, the leader of the NKVD, but his job wouldn't allow it. There were too many prying eyes and ears about. He'd just have to wait out the rest of his six-hour shift and call Gregor when he had a chance.

Ripoll pondered Gregor's improbable name for a moment. Gregor had dropped his surname so that none of his cell leaders could betray his true identity. It was rumoured that "Vasily Gregor" was a pseudonym hiding another self altogether. It didn't matter to Ripoll. He just wished he'd thought of it first.

Gantz sat in Macen's Ready Room awaiting the Captain's pleasure. Macen was conferring with Forger, setting up the final details for their approach to Bolshevik. As the Obsidian dropped out of warp, Forger excused herself. It was Gantz's turn.

Gantz remained on the couch. He was ruminating over the fact that he'd become the third in command of the SID team. It struck him as being odd since he'd nearly forsaken the opportunity to join the team in the first place.

He'd just finished collaring a gang of smugglers. He'd blown down the door of their hideout and leapt in to surprise them. They'd gone for their scattered weapons. Gantz opened fire with his flechette rifle and ended up killing them all.

Afterwards, he'd considered using the rifle on himself. The blood and endless carnage in his past had finally gotten to him. He was at the lowest ebb of his life.

Sitting in his hotel room and despairing, he was surprised and irritated at the door chime sounding. Reluctantly, he opened the door only to find Macen standing on the other side. Despite his pain, Gantz invited him in. He just had an odd sense of destiny playing about in his mind.

Macen began by admitting that he knew of Gantz's current struggle. He offered an alternative.

Gantz scoffed. Macen began explaining to him about his own life. A lifetime of horrors and unconquerable setbacks unfolded. It was the type of tale Gantz knew well.

Gantz's own life had been steeped in violence since childhood. When the Gatherers reunited with the rest of the Acamarian clans, Gantz was just supposed to abandon the life he knew. Rebelling, he left Acamar and toured the wider galaxy. Needing employment, he was referred to a skip tracer by the local police on Aquinar VII. The grizzled old bounty hunter tutored Gantz in the ways of skip tracing and bounty hunting. Soon the old man retired and Gantz inherited the office.

Licensed to operate within the Federation and beyond, Gantz steadily built up a respectable clientele list and a fearsome reputation. But decades of struggle had worn at his soul. Although the police inspectors had cleared him of any wrong doing, the last bit of killing had pushed him over the edge. Now he wondered if it wasn't his time to quit as well.

Acamarians didn't have much a faith in the great beyond. He was apprehensive over a potential afterlife but he supposed anything was better than the universe he currently inhabited. Only, he instinctively knew Macen's story led to something that might change his mind.

Gantz asked him what the point of the story was. Macen began describing a quest. A quest to build a better tomorrow. A quest that yielded a future where sentient life was united in a common goal and lived under a common banner.

Macen described the Federation as the tip of a broad sword. The respect for life and individual rights would permeate the cosmos and bring the inhabitants of the galaxies themselves together. All it took was an individual choice by each and every sentient lifeform.

Gantz was unsettled by the enormity of Macen's dream. Macen sensed this and told him that it would take lifetimes to accomplish the goal. He also said that the foundation of the dream was the most important aspect since it would shape all that was to come.

Macen asked Gantz to think about it. He gave him an isolinear card with his comm address. He said he'd give Gantz three days to think it over and then he'd be gone.

Macen left and Gantz mulled it over. It was a daunting task. A larger endeavour than any Gantz had ever pursued. He seriously considered tossing aside the idea as pure rubbish. It was an impossible dream. Let some other fool pursue it.

He thought of his desire to retire and hide away from life. He grew angry with himself. He'd never bowed down to anything before and now he was going to let this event best him? He didn't think so!

Gantz refused to be beaten by anyone or anything. He'd live his life by that credo yet here he was about to abandon all in cowering submission to a happenstance. The more he thought about it the more Macen's offer sounded appealing.

He'd been a pirate, now he could be a privateer. He liked the ring of that notion. Even as a bounty hunter he'd never been fully legitimate. Now he could have the backing of the entire Federation.

Gantz put the isolinear card in the comm unit's terminal. After a moment, Macen appeared. Gantz told him of his desire to join up and become a member of the Outbound Ventures family. Macen was pleased that Gantz had made up his mind so swiftly. He asked that Gantz meet him at shuttle pad berth Twenty-one at local noon the next day. Gantz agreed and the rest had been history. It had been full of...coffee?

Gantz blinked and became aware of Macen holding a mug of steaming coffee in front of him. Macen smiled, "Sorry to break your reverie. I thought you might like a cup."

A sheepish grin spread across Gantz's face, "I guess I've been caught."

"Sort of." Macen grinned, "Ready to get down to business?"

"Sure." Gantz moved from the sofa to one of the chairs situated in front on Macen's desk, "Ready when you are."

Macen leaned back, "I know you're apprehensive about leading the dockside investigative team. I just wanted you to know you have nothing to worry about. You have twenty years experience chasing down clues and perpetrators. This won't be anything new for you."

Gantz sighed, "I know. It just feels different."

Macen's answering grin was a rueful one, "I know the feeling. When the Maquis handed me a ship and an intelligence unit to command, I almost panicked. Later, when Starfleet gave me command of a starship, I almost refused. Then I formed Outbound Ventures and took command of my own ship and my SID team. It was quite the leap of faith in my self. I managed to do it. So can you."

"But I'm used to working on my own." Gantz protested.

Macen laughed, "And I wasn't? I was a desk jockey turned field agent. I was sent out alone with no support. Working as a team player was something I learned. Leading a team was also something I mastered. No one expects perfection, Gantz. They just expect your best effort. Can you provide that?"

Feeling that old urge to overcome any obstacle, Gantz nodded; "Yeah. I can do it."

"Good." Macen approved of the sentiment, "Now here's a few things to look for..."

Vasily Gregor closed the connection with Ripoll. He'd known Starfleet Security would eventually become involved but later was always better than sooner. He mentally shrugged. It was just one more detail to be overcome.

Gregor turned to Henri Lavelle, the organisation's Communications Chief; "Henri, spread the word to the cell commanders. They need to know about this development."

Lavelle turned to his staff and went to work. Next, Gregor addressed AnnaBeth Korepanova, the NKVD's Intelligence guru, "What have you heard, Annie? Have your moles in the KGP and Starfleet found out if Security is closing in on us?"

Korepanova shook her head, "I haven't heard anything. All of my spies have been quiet."

"Perhaps too quiet." Gregor opined. He faced Mier Dragul. The Operations Chief was one of the few non-humans involved with the NKVD. The Farruck was fierce and bold in action. Those were traits he needed in his position.

"Do you think your plans have been compromised?" Gregor inquired of Dragul.

Dragul bared his fangs in an approximation of a smile, "Nary a one. Everything is going according to schedule. We'll have to revisit the arrangements for our next strike package but the dockyard and orbital works are proceeding apace."

"Good." Gregor commented, "Let's keep it that way. As long as we have to potentially revise our plans on tomorrow night's strikes, we might as well start now. Annie, take seat. Mier pull out your plans one more time. We have to see if there's a gap we're missing. If there is, this is our last chance to plug it."

Gregor's officers agreed and they set out to work.

 

Chapter Seven

With the Obsidian safely ensconced in orbit, the investigative team beamed down to the surface. It was mid-morning local time when they materialised in Kremlin. They appeared before the Customs Office. Their business there nearly took an hour.

Having cleared Customs, they acquired motor scooters. Gantz selected one with a two passenger rickshaw while Macen and T'Kir shared one and Rockford rode alone. They split up, each pursuing their assigned goals.

Magnum Shipping's head office was located in the Dockside district. Upon arrival, Macen, T'Kir and Rockford met Magnum Rostov's impossibly young great-granddaughter. She was barely old enough to be out of school much less guiding an interstellar shipping concern.

"I know that look." Miranda Rostova sighed as Macen, T'Kir, and Rockford entered her office, "I get it all the time. Let's just start with the prelims: I have advanced degrees in Logistics and Business Administration from Oxford. I graduated with my post-doctoral degrees before I was twenty-one. I've always wanted to run the family concern and my father was more than happy to step aside and take over running the Federation's Emergency Management Service. Business is up by a 3.4% margin and the company is thriving. Any questions?"

Macen and T'Kir exchanged wry grins. Rockford had the grace to merely smirk to herself. Macen made the introductions. Upon hearing Rockford's name Rostova was intrigued.

"Are you the Celeste Rockford?" she asked, "The celebrated private eye?"

"I don't know how celebrated I am but I am a private investigator." Rockford modestly replied.

"You worked for my father." Rostova enthused, "He spoke very highly of you."

"I could speak highly of him as well." Rockford admitted, "Although, I can't discuss the case."

"That's what he said." Rostova pouted and then changed the topic, "What are you doing working with Outbound Ventures? Captain Macen's reputation equals yours but I thought you were an independent?"

"I was." Rockford began to explain, "Macen made me an offer I couldn't refuse. My agency is now a subsidiary of Outbound Ventures and I'm working with his investigative team. They're good people and professionally they're a cut above the rest."

"High praise coming from you." Rostova admitted. She then returned her attention to Macen, "So Captain, I don't think you came here just to negotiate a retainer agreement."

"You'd be correct." Macen confessed, "Your labour negotiation was actually second on my list. Originally the government contracted with me to investigate material losses. With Kirov's near miss they're now more concerned with security than manufacturing."

Rostova's interest grew, "I'd be willing to take over that contract. There have been severe delays in receiving designated cargos because of mysterious losses that extend beyond the usual nonsense. These are items that were produced in number, or even overproduced, and there are still not enough units to fill my holds."

"I'd be interested in a list of the manufacturers that weren't able to meet their orders." Macen said.

"And I'd be more than happy to provide such a list." Rostova confessed.

"Then let's get started." Macen urged.

Rostova twinkled, "I'd be happy to. I'll call my assistant and have refreshments delivered by our caterer."

"'Bout time." T'Kir piped in.

Macen closed his eyes, "You'll have to be tolerant. She's apt to say whatever is on her, or your, mind."

Rostova laughed, "So I've heard. Never fear, I appreciate such candour."

"Then how 'bout I look up your lists and you call ahead to the manufacturing sites and make sure we're welcome?" T'Kir suggested.

Just then, Rostova's assistant appeared. Rostova smiled, "Judith, could you escort these two ladies to your desk and let them use your computer?"

"Certainly, "Judith drawled, "it'll give me an added break."

"Before you luxuriate could you call catering and have an early lunch served to our guests?" Rostova asked.

"Of course." Judith sniffed, "Now, if you two will follow me?"

T'Kir gave one last, lingering glance in Macen's direction. Included was a telepathic message. He smiled and sent a message of his love back to her. She left with a carefree smile and a jaunty bounce to her step.

"Now," Rostova cracked her knuckles, "Let's get busy."

Gantz pulled the motor trike up to the foreman's office. Radil and Dracas dismounted from the carriage and took a look around. They'd spoken to many people but in the end they were always referred to one man: Dustan Ripoll. Giving up on individual inquiries, for now, they sought out Ripoll.

Two KGP officers stopped them outside of the Dockyard Workers' Office. After a brief conference, and an identification verification, the SID trio were sent on their way. They entered the office and there was quite a stir as the employees realised that their latest visitors were armed strangers.

Gantz asked to see Ripoll and the secretary paged him. Ten minutes later he came through the main entrance. His eyes widened and his eyebrows rose as he was pointed in the direction of the waiting visitors. He composed himself and, after making introductions, led them back to his office.

Ripoll ushered them into some scattered chairs that they arranged in front of his desk. He began the conversation.

"Outbound Ventures, eh?" Ripoll mused, "I thought you were a group of privateers. Always looking for pirates and the lot."

Gantz hesitated so Radil jumped in, "We are privateers. We're also licensed private investigators. This inquiry falls under both labels. Shipments have gone missing. The government did want to investigate that. Now we're working for state firms. The disappearances may or may not have anything to do with pirates. We just don't know at this point."

Ripoll was impressed. On top of it, Gantz and Dracas were impressed. Ripoll mentioned his feelings to Radil. She merely shrugged. Ripoll took the opportunity to use the lull to redirect the conversation.

"I've heard of a fellow named Gantz who was in your line of work." Ripoll admitted, "He was some sort of bounty hunter."

"That's me." Gantz revealed.

"I heard you were retired." Ripoll countered.

"Not hardly." Gantz retorted.

"I see." Ripoll paused and then spoke again, "How can I help with your inquiry?"

"Have you noted any unusual activity on your docks?" Gantz asked.

"No." Ripoll replied.

"Any unassigned cargoes going into orbit?" Gantz enquired.

"No." Ripoll answered.

"Any cargo without proper billing and lading?" Gantz inquired.

"Again, no." Ripoll chimed.

Gantz rose, "Well, thanks for your help. We'll show ourselves out."

After the SID team members had left, Ripoll wanted to contact Gregor. He held off for fear of a nearby comm array tuned to his subspace frequency. He didn't know whose side Outbound Ventures was on and he needed to find out.

He started by contacting Outbound Ventures directly. They were willing to tell him which ship the trio were assigned to. Traffic Control logs confirmed that the Obsidian was indeed in orbit. Outbound Ventures also divulged the fact that the Obsidian was at Bolshevik to negotiate a retainer with Mangum Shipping, LLC.

Captain Brin Macen, the ship's CO, had also just generated contracts with Magnum and several other firms to investigate material losses. The interesting part of the contracts was that Outbound Ventures split their fee between latinum and the Federation's usual gift exchange. Plans began rolling around in Ripoll's mind. There were so many possibilities. Of course, he needed Gregor's direction before he could proceed but he may have just solved dozens of their problems all at once.

A woman in coveralls was waiting at the trike, "I've heard about your questions. I have answers."

"So did the foreman." Gantz replied.

She wore a rueful smile, "I'm sure he did. Listen, pads Forty-seven and Forty-eight have unlisted flights in and out all day. They're cargo shuttles, orbital hoppers, and they take off and return in cycles. The pads are rarely empty for more than twenty minutes. The cargoes aren't labelled and they came from nowhere. Take a look for yourself."

"Thanks...?" Gantz asked.

"It's better that we never had this conversation." She said and walked away.

Dracas spoke as they all watched her retreating back, "Can we trust her?"

"Ripoll lied to us." Gantz said, "She sounded nervous enough to be telling the truth."

"Do you think Ripoll is part of it?" Dracas wondered.

"I wouldn't be surprised." Gantz admitted, "Anyone else up for a ride to pad Forty-Seven?"

He received affirmatives in stereo. They all took their places and Gantz wove through the foot traffic. They were going to get answers one way or another.

The other firms decided to collate their data all at Magnum Shipping. Ferris Designs sent over an engineer. Bernd Schneider was their best. His starship and starcraft designs had caught the attention of the Advanced Starship Design Bureau and he was joining their illustrious ranks in the following week.

The ASDB and the SPYards had an informal rivalry going on. Whereas the ASDB designed the starships of the future, the SPYards adapted the current generation of technology to be able to perform "beyond the specs" feats of wonder. Conversely, the ASDB frequently had to invent the technology going into their vessels.

While the SPYards functioned in absolute secrecy, like Q Branch, the ASDB worked hand in glove with the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. If the SCE couldn't operate and maintain the exotic next generation of ships, then the ASDB was wasting its time. There had been failures and impractical designs in the past but for the most part the Bureau worked wonders.

Schneider reviewed the compiled lists and leaned back in his chair, "You have trouble."

"Why is that?" Macen asked.

"Individually, these components are harmless." Schneider explained, "Combined and installed within a spaceframe you'd get either an armed merchantman or an armed superliner. Actually, there's enough here to do both. Or, instead you could do four merchantmen or mix in some scouts instead. It all depends on what your end goal is."

"Let's assume it's power projection." Macen suggested, "Given what types of spaceframes are manufactured in orbit what would be the ideal usage of these components?"

Schneider thought about it and then replied, "I'd begin with the superliner. It'll require the most components and time to complete. You'd also want to construct at least one escort to engage smaller, faster, and manoeuvrable opponents. You could expand upon this formula as more materials and workers became available."

Macen pondered his words and then smiled, "Thank you, Doctor. Your assistance has proven to be invaluable."

"If you say so." Schneider rose, "I pointed you towards an industry. I was hoping to nail down the culprit. Sadly, there are too many shipwrights to point at any one and say 'there they are!'"

"You've pointed us in the right direction." Macen assured, "We couldn't ask for more. Congratulations on your appointment to the ASDB and good luck. I look forward to your next design."

"You will be around for it, won't you?" Schneider mused, "All right, I'll leave you to it. Good luck to you as well."

Schneider left and Macen turned to T'Kir, "You're on the data trail. When you find something curious, forward it on to Celeste or I and we'll examine it more closely."

"Y'got it Sweetcakes." T'Kir enthused, "Let's nail these bastards!"

Macen appreciated her sentiment but knew it would be far more difficult than it seemed.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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