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The Romulan Mission - Part I by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 1

Brin Macen lay on his stomach, peering at the Tzenkethi base stretched out before him. He slid back into the wet grass crowning the hillock overseeing the western portion of the encampment. The members of his Special Investigations Division team were lined up across the ridge facing the weapons depot. Tapping the boots of Rab Daggit and T'Kir, he summoned them for a brief conference.

"The base appears to match the layouts we obtained." Macen informed them, "What's your assessment on security and infiltration?"

T'Kir tapped a few commands into her tricorder then closed it, "I've got the electronic security systems wired. We can walk in and out as we please."

Macen indulged himself in feeling a moment of pride for his Vulcan paramour, "And physical obstacles?"

"The operational specs we were given outline a guard detail of ten troopers. Radil and I have come up with a plan that should shut them down."

"Should?" Macen asked with some amusement, and a little worry; "You are aware of the fact that they do outnumber us. You've forgotten to account for the scientists and technicians in your little estimate."

"I considered them a non-factor." Daggit admitted.

"Anybody that can pick up a disruptor is a factor."

"Let me consult with Radil for a moment." Daggit requested and crawled away.

Macen let out a sigh and set in to wait for Daggit's return. Besides himself, Daggit and T'Kir, the mission team consisted of Radil and Kort. Hannah Grace, Lisea Danan and Hal Dracas were aboard the cloaked Solstice in orbit above them. The starship crew hated being left behind but someone had to be in position to rescue the away team if disaster struck.

"You okay?" T'Kir asked in a hushed whisper. As an extremely powerful telepath that shared a permanent rapport with Macen, she needn't have used words but she knew he was more comfortable conversing than thought casting.

"When does it end?" he asked bleakly.

"This mission?"

"All of these missions." He replied bitterly, "When will we finally make a difference?"

"This is because we're after trilithium, isn't it?"

Tolian Soran, another El-Aurian and Macen's distant uncle, had been the first to isolate trilithium and used it to destroy a star. Now it seemed his secrets had not died with him. It was the second time in recent history that Macen had been called upon to mitigate the damage a destructive El-Aurian discovery could do. For a pacifistic race, his people tended to uncover highly volatile scientific secrets that could easily be used for brutal ends. Macen supposed that was true of every race. .

"Get over it!" T'Kir hissed, "Quit moping, we have a job t'do."

Macen shook his head as if to clear literal cobwebs, "You're right. It just gets to me sometimes."

"I know." T'Kir squeezed his hand, "I've been there longer than anyone else. I'm not going anywhere."

T'Kir could see the effect her words had upon Macen. As an El-Aurian, Macen was considered a highly skilled Listener. He also suffered from survivor's guilt for avoiding the assimilation of his homeworld by the Borg. His decades of serving on the front lines of the Federation's conflicts, the Border wars, the Cardassian War, fighting alongside the Maquis following the signing of the DMZ accords, and behind the lines throughout the duration of the Dominion War had left Macen suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This left him virtually unable to truly confide in anyone else and fearful of their eventual loss. To voice his doubts so readily indicated how troubled he truly was. It was a psych profile that would normally have excluded Macen from Starfleet service but Macen was a valuable weapon who served as a reservist and as a special "consultant".

Macen studied T'Kir in the pale moonlight and the faint glow of the base's lights coming over the ridge they occupied. Physically, they presented themselves as total opposites. Macen was fair skinned with red hair streaked with blonde. T'Kir's hair was the darkest black, worn all tousled and carefree.

Both possessed round faces. Macen's was dominated by the moustache and goatee he habitually wore. T'Kir's crystal blue eyes captured all attention given her face. Her large, sensual lips also drew the attention of those that studied her features. Her delicately upswept Vulcan ears also drew their share of looks.

Macen was tall for the average humanoid. He was born with a trim frame and lithe muscles that conveyed some sense of musculature but not that of bulk. He was also starting to carry a few extra pounds on his gut. In other words, he resembled the analyst and researcher he was by nature rather than the field agent he'd become.

T'Kir also violated the physical stereotypes of her people. Besides the rarity of her blue eyes and her abandonment of logic, she was also far more voluptuous than the average ascetic Vulcan. Her body type closely matched that of now-Admiral Saavik's. Whereas Saavik's body type was a result of her dual Romulan-Vulcan heritage, T'Kir's was a result of being raised by Romulan defectors to the Federation and Vulcan dissidents. Her diet and lifestyle had allowed her genetic predispositions to blossom.

Daggit chose that moment to slide back alongside them, "Radil and I worked things out. Luckily Hal made extra stun grenades for just an eventuality. Kort will assist Radil in clearing out the scientists' barracks."

Only Daggit referred to Dracas by his first name. Most others used his last name or referred to him as "Chief", his reserve rank with Starfleet,

"Which leaves us one short for taking the primary guard station." Macen pointed out.

"I can handle that task alone."

For all their experiences together, Macen tended to forget how adept at dealing out death and destruction Daggit truly was. Daggit had been born on Angosia and come to adulthood during the height of the Tarsus Wars. Selected and volunteered for a radical new weapons program, Daggit underwent psychological conditioning and received physiological enhancements. Recrafted into a humanoid "super soldier", Daggit, and those like him, were sent to the front lines. It was because of the efforts of these altered souls that victory was achieved and peace secured.

After the war, the soldiers received a far cooler welcome at home. Having no treatment in place to reverse the conditioning done to the afflicted men and women, there was no counter to their programmed, violent responses to situational stimuli. The authorities' solution was to lock them away on the lunar prison complex. This situation remained unchanged for a decade until a prison break occurred during a visit by the Federation starship Enterprise. The Enterprise was tasked with a final cultural inspection of Angosia for their bid for Federation membership. The revelation of the existence of Angosian super soldiers and their government's treatment of them put that application on hold until such time as a cure or an accommodation could be found for the afflicted commandos.

That decision was revisited during the Dominion War. The Federation approached Angosia and offered a trade: immediate membership in exchange for the use of the super soldiers. The soldiers were accepted on a voluntary basis, with most choosing to serve. They were placed in commando units specialising in behind the lines operations. This is where Daggit met Macen. Macen served as the intelligence officer and guide to one such unit attached to a fighting force comprised of Maquis survivors.

After the war, Daggit went on to serve aboard the Enterprise-E herself. The Enterprise encountered Macen while the Gulag mission was underway. During an encounter between them, harsh words were exchanged, which Daggit came to regret. After the Gulag crisis was resolved, Daggit requested a transfer to Macen's command. It was granted and Daggit had been a member of the SID's Special Unit ever since.

Unlike Macen, Daggit was a bear of a man. His limbs were tree trunks but without sacrificing speed or agility. His age was indeterminate but flecks of grey were appearing in his dark brown hair. His features were rather craggy and haunted but a spark of mischief glowed in his eyes.

"You're certain?" Macen asked.

Daggit nodded once, "I've done harder before."

Macen sombrely nodded, "All right then, that leaves the weapons lab for us."

The teaming up of Macen and T'Kir had occurred years before and had persisted ever since. Shortly after his arrival in the Alpha Quadrant, Macen had joined Starfleet. His skills as a sociologist and historian made him a perfect candidate for a Starfleet Intelligence analyst. After several decades slowly rising through the ranks, Macen made his mark with his insightful analyses of the newly discovered Cardassians.

Macen was sent to the front lines of the ever fluid Border Wars dispute. His time there enabled Starfleet to gain further insights into a hostile mindset. Macen was first initiated into the world of covert operations during this period. Macen was kept in place at the onset of the Cardassian War and once again provided his unique blend of intuitive analysis and special ops.

Macen's methods had drawn the attention of Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev. She appreciated his ability to think outside the Starfleet mould. His indifference to procedure occasionally proved problematic but she quickly took him under her wing. It was at this time that he was groomed for his next assignment.

The treaty ending the Cardassian War had ceded territory to the Cardassians in the form of a Demilitarised Zone. Many of the affected systems had been colonised by Federation citizens. These same citizens had now formed a militia group dedicated to liberating the newly created DMZ from Cardassian control. The militia group was named the Maquis after the French resistance organisation of Earth's Second World War.

Macen was assigned to infiltrate the Maquis and assume a deep cover within their ranks. As it turned out, Macen's role was perfectly suited to him. He deeply empathised with the Maquis' struggle and threw himself wholeheartedly into the Resistance. His skills as an analyst provided a much needed service to the Ronaran Maquis cell that he'd joined.

The cell was headed by the former Starfleet officer, Ro Laren. Both personally and professionally, Ro and Macen got on famously. Ro became one of the few people that Macen trusted. T'Kir was the other member of the cell to be so honoured.

T'Kir heralded from Shial. This was a frontier world that was later ceded by the Federation. Shial was a colony populated by Romulan defectors and Vulcan dissidents. It was a world devoted to honour, passion, and even logic. Shial had been among the first worlds "cleansed" by the Cardassians after they took possession of the planet.

T'Kir had been off planet attending school. The news of events had brought her back to the DMZ and into the arms of the Maquis. The elevated stress triggered an exponential increase in her telepathic abilities and they quickly spiralled out of control. This soon affected her mental and emotional stability and she teetered on the edge of madness.

Plunging headlong into the passions normally denied a Vulcan and even governed by a Romulan, T'Kir underwent massive mood swings. At wit's end of how to deal with her, Ro transferred T'Kir to Macen's intelligence unit. Macen proved to be a calming influence on the turbulent Vulcan. Although she was unstable, Macen saw a reflection of himself in her. Her loyalty to him proved infectious and he became her staunch, and oft, defender.

The turning point came at the end of the Maquis Resistance. The Jem'Hadar were overrunning the outmatched freedom fighters with no hope of stemming the tide in sight. Ro and Macen were leading their forces out of the Zone. Macen was headed for Federation space, then would meet up with Ro near Bajor. The tremendous losses and mounting stress finally overwhelmed T'Kir. She stabbed Macen with a Romulan Honour Blade that she habitually carried. Macen survived and negotiated the Maquis' surrender to a Starfleet cruiser.

Macen utilised his Starfleet Intelligence credentials to commandeer a shuttle and made his rendezvous with Ro. T'Kir was sent to the famous Andes Psychological Institute for treatment and care. Macen returned to the DMZ, this time with Starfleet commandos and eventually took his first glimpse of Cardassia Prime during the final battle of the Dominion War.

After the war ended and the treaties were signed, Macen was ordered to return to Earth. Once there he learned he was to lead a special team in a prototype ship on a mission to find an internment camp reserved for dissidents from across the Federation. Macen chose to fill the role of Chief Operations Officer with T'Kir. Lacking the time to officially process a possible release, Macen broke her out of the Andes Institute. The rest could be counted on as history.

In addition to their longstanding friendship, the two recently forged ahead into a romantic relationship. They'd discovered, and admitted to, mutual feelings of attraction and desire. They'd also learned that their separate psychoses formed a greater whole when united. They balanced out one another's extremes.

"Ready?" Macen asked.

She grinned, "Are you?"

"Mission status?" Lisea Danan asked as she strode onto the Solstice's bridge. She moved directly from the turbolift to the command chair in the centre of the space. Unlike the rest of the bridge, closely modelled after the Battle Bridge of the Galaxy-class starships, the Solstice's command chair was taken from a Defiant-class warship. The only other occupant of the bridge was the ship's helmsman, Hannah Grace.

"The infiltration team has just begun their incursion. No reports on their progress yet. No sign of trouble on our end." Grace reported.

"No ships on the horizon?" Danan inquired of the younger woman.

"Nope." Grace grunted, "Not that it'd matter. The cloaking field is holding fine. A Tzenkethi cruiser could drop out of warp right on top of us and we'd still be invisible."

Danan silently shook her head at Grace's unbridled, and somewhat naive, faith in their technological gadgetry. As a scientist, Danan was used to seeing inexplicable phenomena and unplanned for technical snafus. As Macen's former partner, both in his infiltration of the Maquis and in the bedroom, Danan had seen firsthand how often things went wrong when it was the most important for it not to. Sadly, in time, Grace would also share a taste of this knowledge.

For her part, Grace sat at her console all athletically blonde and perky. Danan sighed. She had to alter her own hair from its natural chestnut colour to achieve the shade of blonde she wore. She knew, and had it reinforced by the previous seven lifetimes of her symbiont's hosts, that she shouldn't be jealous but there it was and she simply had to find a way to deal with it. The Trill had a long history of positive self imagery and Danan was determined to uphold this tradition.

Danan tapped the command chair's comm switch, "Bridge to Engineering. How's it going down there Chief?"

"Fine." Came Dracas' usual terse reply.

"Let me know if there's any problems." Danan killed the circuit. You kept things to a minimal with Dracas. It kept him happy.

"What happens if the infiltration team gets caught?" Grace asked suddenly.

Did you skip the briefing? Danan thought but replied with, "Then we beam the team back up and raze the base with photon torpedoes."

"Wouldn't that let them know we were here?"

Danan suddenly had an image of Grace chewing something Dax had referred to, something called bubblegum. This wasn't the usual Grace. She seemed distracted by something. Watching her fidget at her post, it was like some internal problem was gnawing at her. Danan hoped it could be resolved swiftly. A distracted pilot could get them all killed.

"Hannah." Danan said softly.

"Hmmm?" Grace continued chewing on her thumbnail.

"I know we haven't known each other long, but I hope you realise that I've sort of become the team's unofficial counsellor. If there's ever something bothering you, well I'd hope you'd feel free to discus it with me."

"S'kay." Grace mumbled as she studied her board.

Well, I tried. Danan sighed to herself; It's up to her to make the next move.

Danan studied Grace for a moment longer and amended that last thought, Maybe I'll see what T'Kir knows.

The beginning of the insertion had proceeded flawlessly. T'Kir's manipulations of the security system allowed them to freely penetrate the perimeter. Now they were inside the base, where Tzenkethi troops stood post and walked the fenceline. It was also the most delicate phase of the mission.

Daggit used a judo chop to stun a passing guard. Radil and Kort each separated from the group and disabled troops standing guard. The three reunited with Macen and T'Kir merely to confirm the completion of the individual tasks before splitting up again.

Daggit headed off alone for the base's main security centre. Radil and Kort aimed for the barracks. There was a guard shack where the guards "hotracked" or completed a shift to be relieved by a replacement who had vacated a bunk that was now open for his or her use. Another barracks building served as the scientists' quarters. Macen and T'Kir proceeded towards the laboratory where they were holding the prototype trilithium device.

Daggit crept up to the security tower. It stood twenty metres tall and had clear views of the entire complex. Luckily, the warren of walkways between the observed buildings created concealing shadows and blinds. Daggit reached the corner of the building he was using for cover and paused. There was a thirty metre "clear" perimeter around the tower's base. This was designed to allow the on duty personnel the opportunity to challenge any approaching bodies.

Daggit studied the guard facing him. The young Tzenkethi routinely surveyed his surroundings before returning his attention to some unknown form of entertainment, but he did it at regular intervals. Daggit was willing to bet he could make it to the base of the tower in the span of one of those intervals.

Daggit took a deep breath, and as the guard looked away, began sprinting. He ran flat out... ten metres... twenty metres... thirty... The arms sounded and voices began shouting. Daggit cursed and pulled a small cylinder out of his backpack. Dracas had assured him that the device had enough explosive power to crack open a bunker. It should handle this tower. He strapped the bomb to a support strut, set the timer, and began running away.

Daggit ran a careening zigzag pattern while the alerted and angry Tzenkethi guards fired at him. He dove behind the building he'd started from and finished the silent count that had been ticking down in his head. The bomb detonated, shredding the support and throwing the guard station into the air. It all collapsed to the ground in a mangled heap. None of the guards were left alive to molest Daggit further.

Radil was doing a silent countdown with one hand and holding a stun grenade with the other. The alarms went of and she bit down several suggestions that her father had committed unnatural acts with domesticated animals. Waving frantically, she urged Kort to open the doors and throw the grenades anyway. They each lobbed their entire cache of grenades and retreated from the barracks's entrance.

"What in the name of Kahless is going on?" Kort demanded.

"I don't know." Radil admitted, "But one things for sure, we'd sure as hell find out in a hurry."

"Elements!" T'Kir hissed under her breath, "It's no use. The computer locks down the laboratories during a crisis then goes into stand-by."

"Can you restart the system?"

"It's a critical dump." T'Kir explained, "They scram the entire security system. You have to reload a new one in order to regain operational control of the classified areas."

"Damn it." Macen sighed then shrugged, "On to Plan B."

He tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Solstice."

"Danan here. Are you all right? A distress signal has been issued from the planet requesting immediate assistance."

"You wouldn't happen to have scrambled that signal would you?" Macen asked hopefully.

"No. Why?"

"No reason." Macen said in a forlorn tone, "We just need an immediate extraction."

"Easily done."

"We also need to decloak, target the base, and pound it into oblivion with photon torpedoes."

"That bad?"

"Yup, that bad."

"We'll beam you up in a minute."

"Looking forward to it."

Macen closed the circuit and glanced over to T'Kir, "Guess we can't win then all."

She hugged him.

"What's that for?"

"For being you."

He returned the hug and waited for the transporter beam to grab them.

Macen entered the bridge and immediately went to stand behind Grace, "What's our status?"

"I've bombarded the base with six photon torpedoes so far. Sensors indicate catastrophic damage."

"Lisea or T'Kir?"

T'Kir plopped down at her Ops station alongside Grace's helm, "Confirmed. All structures appeared to be down and gutted."

"Let's be sure." Macen ordered, "Fire four more torpedoes, then cloak us and plot us a course back across the Federation border."

"Aye, sir." Grace replied.

Atta girl, Danan thought happily, Just needed some focused activity and attention.

After the Solstice safely crossed the border into Federation space, Macen met with Daggit in his small office attached to his quarters. Daggit looked stiff and uncomfortable.

"Relax Rab." Macen urged, "Just tell me what went wrong?"

"I don't know." Daggit replied haltingly, "I thought I'd made it but then they'd spotted me. In the end it all came down to the simple fact that I wasn't fast enough."

"Thank God." Macen laughed, and seeing Daggit's bewildered expression laughed harder; "You've always been somewhat superhuman. It's reassuring to us mere mortals to discover that you really do have limitations too."

"You're not angry?"

"You tried." Macen told him, "That's all I can ask."

"But we failed!"

"We failed to make it appear to be the work of some unknown insurgent group or terrorists." Macen clarified, "What we did accomplish was our task of destroying the lab and equipment. We may have left some evidence behind that could link it to forces originating in the Federation but nothing that could be tied to Starfleet. We've maintained plausible deniability and that's what the special unit is all about."

"Thank you, sir." Daggit nodded, "I feel better."

"I'm glad." Macen grinned, "Now get back to your post."

"Yessir!" Daggit exited, leaving Macen alone.

Now, he mentally groaned, just how exactly am I going to explain this to Admiral Drake?

 

Chapter 2

Commander P'ris stormed out of the Senate subcommittee chamber looking for suitable prey. She stopped amidst the swirling clerks and assistants and her eyes lighted upon Administrator Tarmut. Tarmut wasn't the most powerful civil servant in the Senate halls, but he had been there the longest. It was said that in that time, especially over the course of the war with the Dominion, he had become something of a political moderate.

Regardless of his politics, P'ris began her approach. Even a rejection would speed her on her way to finding an eventual ally. The Tal Shiar had been stripped of much of its former independence. Even the personal credibility of their new Director had not removed the stains of the doomed mission to destroy the Founders and the more recent Gulag fiasco. The Tal Shiar's activities outside Romulan borders were highly scrutinised by the Senate and its contacts with aliens even more so.

The Senate's growing isolationism since the war's end wouldn't lend itself toward the investigation she sought permission for. Even if the operation were not proposed as a joint effort with Starfleet, the intended goal of examining potentially embarrassing Romulan secret relations could easily spell the end of this inquiry before it ever truly began.

P'ris stopped in front of Tarmut and waited for the older man to finish reading his padd. Seconds stretched into minutes and P'ris didn't have much time. She cleared her throat loudly and waited for a reaction. When she received none, she repeated her efforts with even more vigour.

"Anybody ever tell you that you can be annoying?" Tarmut chided her.

"Only when I need an answer and I need it immediately."

"Then you're out of luck. I don't give any answers I haven't mulled over for as long as it took to produce them."

"Please, I need your help." P'ris confessed, "I've tried everyone else. You're the only one left to listen."

Tarmut frowned then sighed, "Very well. Tell me your petition."

"This time," Admiral Edward Jellico, Chief of Starfleet Operations, crowed, "your ass is in a sling and I own you."

Joining Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev in her office were Jellico and Amanda Drake. The matter at hand was Macen's report and the operational fallout it had created. Despite any hard evidence, the Tzenkethi were loudly blaming the Federation for the loss of their base and their personnel and were threatening to go to war. It had caused many in the upper echelons in Starfleet to re-examine the SID and its role in the affair.

"Macen and his team don't answer to you, Edward." Nechayev reminded him, "They answer to Amanda here, and even then, only in their role as freelance operatives."

"This is intolerable!" Jellico sputtered, "They're criminals."

"Not true." Drake pointed out, "The Maquis elements in the team have been pardoned and no warrants or charges are outstanding on any other member."

"Except the Klingon." Jellico sneered.

"Kort's exile has been revoked by Chancellor Martok. He simply hasn't seen fit to return to the Klingon Empire as of yet." Drake explained.

"You're all insane." Jellico said in disbelief, "These people violated every regulation and principle we hold dear, almost started a war, and you're still defending them?"

"They're the best we have at what they do." Nechayev declared forcefully, "And what they do isn't pretty. We don't have many replacements ready to fill their shoes and we can't rely upon Section 31 to get the jobs done."

"We can't trust Section 31 period." Jellico muttered in a defeated tone.

"So we're agreed then?" Nechayev asked sharply, "Macen and his team will remain on the SID roster."

"Agreed." Jellico conceded through gritted teeth.

"Good." Nechayev said with some satisfaction, "Now if that's all, I do have other appointments for today."

Jellico's jaw worked as though he were about to say something else, but he bit his tongue and exited the office.

As soon as he was gone, Nechayev buzzed her aide; "Please have Captain Macen join us."

Macen walked in and glanced around, "Is it safe?"

"Eddie's gone. Have a seat." Nechayev replied easily. Although Macen's rank in Starfleet was only that of Commander, he enjoyed a much more equal with relationship with Nechayev. A great deal of it had to do with the fact that he was nearly four hundred years older than she was.

"We already have your next mission outlines." Drake informed him, "Now its just a matter of seeing whether or not the current political realities will allow it to transpire."

"Sounds interesting." Macen nodded, "What is it?"

"The Romulan Tal Shiar has proposed a joint investigative operation to track down these trilithium technical leaks." Drake explained.

"I think I can already see why my team is going to be involved." Macen commented, "Given the post-war tensions with the Romulans its likely that any such co-operative effort will be less than well received. For an off the books mission you need an off the books operations team. Am I warm?"

"Combustible." Nechayev replied, "To add to matters, the Romulan heading this effort requested you by name."

"And who might this be?"

"Commander P'ris. I believe she assisted you during the Gulag mission." Drake recalled.

"So what's our cover?"

"You're going in as Starfleet officers." Drake announced, "You'll even be assigned to a starship. Of course, the starship will be a dedicated SID vessel."

"And exactly what position will I serve aboard this ship?" Macen asked a little defensively.

"As the mission commander, I presume that you would command the ship as well. Unless of course you'd prefer to leave any and all shiphandling duties up to your executive officer." Drake smiled.

"What class is she?" Macen asked, excitement lacing his voice.

Nechayev fielded this one; "She's a Nova-class survey ship. She's not just any Nova though, she's received performance upgrades as a technology testbed for the upcoming NovaX project."

"Crew?"

"Slightly reduced over a typical crew roster. More security and less scientific personnel. The scientific staff will be limited to a few key assistants and techs for your team specialists." Drake answered.

"What happens to the Solstice in the meantime?" Macen wondered.

"Your ship and your runabout will remain property of Outbound Ventures, Inc." Drake detailed, "They'll remain in storage until needed."

"You're making it sound as though this transfer will last longer than one mission." Macen observed.

"Things are complicated." Nechayev admitted, "The ship needs a permanent commander. Ideally, Amanda and I would like you for the job. However, there are a lot of politics in the way of that happening. There's also the vital role the special team plays a vital role in what the SID does. Until we can replace your team, or until your group is no longer viable as an asset, we have to keep you in place."

Macen sighed, "Damn."

Drake bit her lip then hesitantly asked, "By the way, how do you think your team will do at playing conventional line officers?"

Macen shrugged, "They should be fine. Daggit, Dracas and Grace only became reserve officers in order to join the special team. Kort's worked for Starfleet Intelligence for years. He should fine."

"I see you're excluding the two we're the most worried about." Nechayev pointed out, "How will T'Kir and Radil Jenrya respond to being put in Starfleet uniform?"

"T'Kir's already worn the colours when she first joined the SID. She'll do again, if only for me. Radil is the only one I'd expect an attitude from. Ever since her cosmetic surgery made her look human, she's been vociferously pro-Bajoran."

"She could have kept her old face," Drake interjected, "and the Orion deathmark that went with it."

"We were partly responsible for her receiving the deathmark, let's not forget that." Macen reminded her, "I don't blame her for being bitter. I know what it's like to be never able to go home. I imagine its worse to be able to go home but have no one recognise you."

"Will she pass muster, yes or no?" Nechayev cut to the chase.

"Yes." Macen answered with as much conviction as he could muster.

"The discussion is ended." Nechayev declared.

"How will I find the ship?" Macen inquired, "I don't even know her name."

"She the USS Shadow and she's right here in Spacedock at slip five." Nechayev announced, "You and your crew are to report to SID headquarters for kitting and standard issue equipment. After that, it's waiting on the Romulans to decide whether or not they want to do this for real or not."

Macen stood and nodded towards Nechayev, "Understood." He turned and nodded towards Drake, "Admiral." With that done, he exited the office.

"Still think he's the one best suited for this mission?" Drake asked Nechayev.

"The Romulans specifically requested him. This mission does not happen without Macen's participation in it." Nechayev rebutted.

"My psychological profilers have raised several red flags concerning Macen's recent behaviours." Drake warned, "They predict he may compromise a mission out of sheer nihilistic frustration with life. It may have happened already during this last mission."

"Tell your profilers to forget everything they know, or think they know, when it regards Macen." Nechayev advised, "Once given a mission, Brin Macen will contort natural laws in order to see it successfully completed. This doesn't stem from any overblown concept of honour nor does it spring from any overwhelming loyalty to us or the Federation. He'll do it to make a difference. All Macen seeks is the chance to change the universe for the better. It's as simple, and as complicated, as that."

"You're gambling a lot upon that assessment." Drake commented.

"It's not an assessment, its fact. I've known that man for over thirty years now. His actions may continue to surprise me, but his principles are as unchanging and unflinching as they ever were."

"I hope so." Drake replied glumly.

"Trust me." Nechayev flashed her a smile that hid as much as it revealed.

"It is done." Tarmut informed P'ris, "Your motion as been carried to the Senate floor."

"By which Senator may I ask?"

"A stripling from the Outer Marches." Tarmut answered, "He's young but he believes your cause is just and is still naive enough to motivated by such factors."

P'ris sighed wearily, "What hope have I then?"

Tarmut patted her on the shoulder, "Never fear. I gave him some advice. Things may yet come to pass."

"My time is short and my need is great." P'ris entreated him, "The Empire's need is great."

"Then let us hope wisdom will prevail today."

"Okay," T'Kir demanded, hands on her hips; "how could you let this happen?"

"Let what happen?" Macen asked in confusion.

"We're going in as Starfleet officers? I thought I told you I never wanted to wear that uniform again."

"You only wore it for a few months." He reminded her.

"The worst few months of my life." She huffed.

"You know what the problem is? You're too used to playing the rebel. You have it so ingrained that you're the Maquis rebel squaring off against the Federation and the Cardassians that you can't move past it."

"You want to know you're problem?" she squared her shoulders and got into his face, "You're too used to playing the spy and going where your told to and becoming what your told to. You don't remember who you really are."

"Do you really want to fight about this?" Macen asked in a steely voice.

"Maybe I do." T'Kir shot back.

"Is that what you really think of me?"

T'Kir hesitated. She hesitated not only to weigh her answer but also to measure the menace in Macen's tone. Their relationship hung in the balance here. Macen could, and was ready to, end things depending upon her response.

"No." She admitted, "It's a concern sometimes. I hate watching Drake and Nechayev yank you around simply because they know they can. I hate that they use your principles against you."

"Well," Macen replied, softening up; "You should be glad they yanked me around when they assigned me to infiltrating the Maquis. I not only met you there, I think I was more myself there then anytime following the assimilation of my world."

T'Kir moved up close to Macen and snuggled into him. He put his arms around her as she looked up at him; "I forgive them for that, but not the rest."

She rested her head on his chest as he chuckled, "I'll be sure to tell them that."

"Good."

The various Senators exited from the Senate floor in an orderly fashion. When they had all vacated the august hall, the clerks followed in their wake. Tarmut was among the first to leave. He headed straight for an anxious P'ris.

"Well?" she demanded breathlessly.

"The official pronouncement has yet to be drafted, but your motion has passed milady." The elder Romulan revealed.

"Thank the Elements." P'ris breathed, "Now to get things underway. Thank you old man. You have the gratitude of the Tal Shiar. We will not forget."

"I'm counting on it." Tarmut smiled and waved her on.

Macen awoke to find that T'Kir was already up. He groggily exited the bedroom of the guest quarters he and T'Kir were sharing. He found her watching a news channel feed. The news anchor was announcing a breaking story.

"We bring you the latest footage from the Aurelius Observatory, located near Deep Space 5." the Announcer described, "These images illustrate the total and unexpected collapse of the solar primary in the Izbexa system. It may be noted that over the last twenty years the Izbexans have successfully thwarted the forced annexation of the system by the nearby Tribbian Empire. Those efforts, and the brave sacrifices made for that cause, have ended in tragedy today.

As can be seen by the incoming footage, the star has gone nova. Izbexa and her eleven sister planets are now destroyed by the shockwave caused by the star's destruction. Scientists have no explanation for this sudden disaster. Previous estimates had placed the star's lifespan in excess of twenty million years. Astronomers the Federation over will be recalculating stellar life expectancies."

"Bummer, huh?" T'Kir asked between sips of her coffee.

Macen fetched himself a cup and joined her on the sofa, "There's only one explanation for this, and its entirely humanoid made."

"Trilithium?"

"Yup. Somebody gave, or sold, it to the Tribbians." Macen grimaced, "They're a bunch of ruthless fanatics. I wonder who'd be insane enough to put such a powerful weapon in their hands?"

"I wonder if we'll get assigned to the case?" T'Kir mused aloud.

"I doubt it." Macen reflected, "Nechayev and Drake are pretty set on us undertaking this Romulan mission."

"That could be fun too." She grinned.

"Now that you're stable and sane, or at least as much as you'll ever be," she stuck her tongue out at him, "I'll need your counsel on this one. I've never dealt with Romulans. The longest I've worked with them was back during the Gulag mission when we first met P'ris."

"Are you suggesting that just because my stepfather was a Romulan and because I came from a colony founded by Romulan defectors that I would know something about Romulans?" she asked irritably, "That I myself may be some sort of Romulan collaborator?"

"I'd never thought of that, but now that you mention it...ow!"

"That's for calling me a collaborator, you ingrate. You should be grateful to have my vast wealth of knowledge at your disposal."

"I was before you hit me."

"Keep this up and I'll hit you again."

The door chime interrupted them, "Now what?" T'Kir muttered.

Macen answered the door to find Danan standing in the hall, "Have you heard about Izbexa? It has to be trilithium. I surveyed that system myself not six months ago and it was stable."

"Calm down. I already saw it and drew the same conclusions."

"Good." She bit her lip, "I see you're not dressed yet but can I come in?"

"Sure."

"Why not?" T'Kir murmured under her breath, "Why not invite the whole station?"

"Morning T'Kir." Danan said cheerfully.

T'Kir gave her a wan smile in reply.

"How can we help you?" Macen asked.

Danan chewed on her lip for a moment before answering, "I don't need help per se, I need assurance."

"Of what?" Macen sat down.

"That my decision to return to the team was the correct one. That my skills aren't being ignored or wasted." She explained.

"Lees, you not only the scientific expert for the team but you're operating as the acting executive officer." Macen replied, "Quite frankly, I don't see how your skills could be utilised to any greater degree."

"That being said, was my return a mistake?"

"No." T'Kir answered for him, "You've said it yourself, your time with the Maquis and in covert ops had left you dissatisfied with a life of pure research. You're just having a few doubts. Trust me, I can see what's going on in your head and your just having a case of the jitters."

Danan started at the revelation that T'Kir had telepathically probed her but Macen intervened before she could say anything, "I hope we've been helpful. If you need anything else, feel free to ask."

Sensing Macen's dismal, Danan nodded and rose, "Thank you but that should be all for now."

After she'd departed, Macen turned to T'Kir, "That was kind of rude."

"What'd I do?" T'Kir asked, throwing her hands in the air.

"You probed Lisea without her permission." Macen explained.

"So?" T'Kir questioned, "I've always probed people without their permission. It never seemed to bother anyone before."

"That was before you had your telepathy under control." Macen clarified, "The rules changed once you reined your abilities in."

"No one told me about it."

Macen grimaced, "We all assumed it had been covered as part of your upbringing."

"My mother died shortly after I hit adolescence." T'Kir revealed, "My stepfather was a Romulan. He didn't know enough about Vulcan telepathic practices to teach me anything."

"Sorry. I'd never asked. I'd just assumed..."

"The danger of assumptions," T'Kir interrupted, "is that they're rarely right."

Macen had to ponder that one and admitted that she was right.

 

Chapter 3

Later that morning Starfleet received word from the Romulan embassy that the joint operation was a go. The "cultural attaché" hand delivered the waiver that would allow Starfleet Intelligence to send one of their vessels across the Neutral Zone. It was a historic and unprecedented event.

Macen and his team boarded the USS Shadow one hour after confirmation of the Romulan waiver. Lt. Commander Ekaterina Chekova, the ship's 1st Officer, met them at the boarding dock. Chekova held her rail thin body stiffly at attention with eyes forward and mouth closed. With her was an honour guard replete with dress uniforms and phaser rifles.

"Commander, if I'd known our coming aboard was an occasion, I'd have dressed for it." Macen joked. A received a few stoic blinks in reply. He sighed then began issuing orders, "Company, stand at ease. In fact, you're all dismissed. Thank you for coming, but the show's over."

The confused security officers milled about for a moment but then T'Kir began shushing them away. Through it all, Chekova remained perfectly still, with the same blank expression affixed on her face. Macen studied her for a moment then shook his head. He conferred with T'Kir for a moment then returned his attention to Chekova.

"Commander, I'm willing to bet a dozen bars of gold pressed latinum that you rose through the ranks during the recent war." The merest flicker in her eyes told him it was true, "I'd also wager that that same war has made quite an impression on you. Let me impress upon you that it has not made the same impression upon me. Starfleet's military role is its secondary function. Exploration and research are Starfleet's top priorities and will be reflected as such throughout the fleet even aboard a vessel such as this. This ship may not engage in the usual fare of scientific surveys but her missions are designed with peaceful intentions in mind. There will not be a repeat of the heavy handed display of force that I saw upon coming aboard during my time here, am I clear?"

Only now did Chekova stir, "Aye, aye, sir."

"Good." Macen subsided, "Have a yeoman show us to our quarters. Afterwards we'll meet you on the bridge. I'd like to debrief you at that time in the Captain's Ready Room."

"Aye, sir." Chekova snapped off smoothly, "Looking forward to it."

"Then I'll see you then." Macen dismissed her.

After Chekova was out of earshot, T'Kir moved up alongside him, "She doesn't like you."

Macen gave her a look and she held up her hands, "Hey, she was throwing the thoughts out there. I'd have to be mindblind not to ‘hear' them."

"I'll see what I can do about mollifying her at our debriefing."

"Good boy."

"Arff." Macen retorted.

The team members reported to the bridge after stowing their gear. Macen and T'Kir were the last to arrive. The circular design of the Shadow's bridge was in direct contrast to the semi-conical shape of the Solstice's bridge. In the forefront of everything, directly in front of the viewer, was the helm. Grace was already there personalising the controls. The rest of the duty stations were arranged along the circular bulkheads. Daggit was at Tactical and T'Kir proceeded straight for Ops. Danan was belowdecks in Astrometrics. Kort was terrorising the medical staff. Dracas was making himself at home already in Engineering.

The command chair was actually two seats connected by a common workstation. It could mirror any control station on the ship or be defaulted to a situation board. Chekova had disappeared into the Ready Room upon Macen's appearance on the bridge. Now was the time to brief her on the mission parameters. Hopefully he could heal the instant rift that had formed between them.

Upon entering the Ready Room, Macen was pleased to see that the tightly wound Chekova had managed to change out of her dress uniform at least. She was primly seated at one of the two chairs positioned in front of the CO's desk. The Ready Room wasn't very large and was closely modelled along the lines of those aboard an Intrepid-class starship. It was cosy without losing its formality.

"Listen Commander, I know we got off to a bad start." Macen offered as he sat down on the corner of the desk. He could sense it was all Chekova could do not to wince, "I'd like to amend that."

"That won't be necessary, sir." Chekova replied emotionlessly as she offered him a padd, "I'm prepared to offer my resignation as 1st Officer and put in for an immediate transfer."

Macen's lips thinned, "I can accept your stepping down as 1st Officer but I can't allow you to transfer off this ship. I need you to stay on as 2nd Officer."

"If I may ask," she said stiffly, "why is that?"

"You know the crew and the ship." Macen answered frankly, "I could see changing the commanding officer or the executive officer but not both without retaining a support officer with existing relationships with the crew. They'd feel adrift otherwise. Also, a visible show of support from that same officer would go along way to building a bridge between the crew and the new command staff. I'd prefer to keep you on as exec but ultimately that's your choice to make."

He let her mull that one over in silence. Finally, after several minutes, she spoke; "All right, I'll stay on as 1st Officer but I'd like to clarify a few things first."

"Feel free." Macen gave her an ingratiating smile.

"First off, I may have been promoted during the war but so were a lot of junior officers." Chekova declared hotly, "Secondly, my experiences in the war may have moulded me somewhat but that doesn't mean I'm a pre-emptive warmonger now. I lost a lot of friends to the Dominion and I don't want to lose any more for a lack of preparedness. Starfleet was far more militant a century ago and its scientific and exploration efforts did not suffer for it."

She took a deep breath before plunging on, "And thirdly, I don't want to be lectured on the proper role of Starfleet by a man that's lived outside the rules and regulations binding the rest of us. I've heard all about your ‘special unit'. Your complete disregard for even the spirit of Starfleet protocols is a disgrace for all of us still wearing the uniform." She paused then added an emphatic, "Sir!"

Macen studied her for a moment. As he'd noted before, she was painfully thin. Her face was long and lean, dominated by Slavic cheekbones. Her blue eyes were framed by black eyebrows that belied the authenticity of her shoulder length platinum tresses. These doubts were doubled by the hint of dark roots lining her part. She had a long nose that turned upwards at the tip and a full mouth. Macen concluded that she would be very pretty if her attitude would soften up.

Gaining at least twenty pounds wouldn't hurt either, he mused inwardly.

"Well said, Commander. That couldn't have been easy." Macen retained his smile, "I think you'll discover we're not actually scofflaws, if you give us a chance."

She responded with the barest of nods, "Perhaps."

"Its a start at least." He shrugged then moved behind the desk and sat down, "Now down to business."

"I thought you'd keep it between your officers." Chekova admitted.

Macen shook his head, "That doesn't make sense. If something were to happen to me, then command of this vessel falls to you. You have to know what the stakes are."

"What would happen to your investigative team?" she asked.

"Command would fall to Commander Danan and she'd carry on to the best of her formidable ability." Macen informed her, "See why I prefer having you stay on as exec?"

Chekova responded with a hesitant smile, "I see."

"Our mission is complex in its simplicity. We're to enter the Romulan Neutral Zone and rendezvous with a ship operated by the Tal Shiar. Once we've done so, we're to conduct a joint investigation into the illegal transfers of trilithium technology."

Chekova whistled in disbelief, "Is that all?"

"Those are the basics."

"But why?" Chekova asked the obvious question, "Why a joint operation and why now?"

"I've only had one night to peruse the files regarding events up to this point but here's the gist of things: The Romulans were fed technical specifications on trilithium based weaponry by Tolian Soran. His death cut off their access to the data but they were far enough along to complete a working model on their own. Starfleet was able to reconstruct Soran's system from the files recovered from his base on Veridian III. In a rarity for interstellar politics, the destruction of the Armagosa star convinced both the Empire and the Federation that such weapons were ill conceived. Working at a level of co-operation unseen since the war, the two powers worked to guarantee that they alone possessed the technology and that safeguards were in place to prevent its use."

"The Romulans have been working with us all this time?" Chekova shook her head, "I wouldn't have guessed."

"The system of checks and balances worked... for a short time. Soon second and third rate powers, powers technologically far behind the Empire and the Federation, began to acquire trilithium components and secrets. The Romulans accused the Federation of the leak and demanded an inspection of our secure storage facilities. The President herself acquiesced and the Romulans left with the bitter knowledge that the leak was from within their own borders."

"So why call us?" Chekova wondered, "Why not let the Tal Shiar deal with it internally?"

"Most of them want to, especially their Director Koval." Macen admitted, "But cooler heads prevailed. The Tal Shiar's power was severely trimmed after the attack on the Founders' homeworld. Plus, no one knows how far the corruption spreads. The technology transfers couldn't have happened without the Tal Shiar's knowledge. They need a neutral second party to verify their findings... and that leads to us."

"So why this ship and your team?"

"I'm not certain about the ship and crew. Mostly I think it's a matter of availability. As far as my team goes, the leader of the Tal Shiar team knows and requested our presence."

"Oh." Chekova had obviously been hoping for another reply.

"What d'you say Commander? Ready to save civilisation?" Macen teased.

"Is it really that important?" her eyes grew a little wider.

"We're preventing people from gaining the ability to blow up stars at leisure." Macen replied, "I'd say that's important." He grinned suddenly, "Relax Commander, my team and I do this all the time."

Chekova still looked slightly ashen as Macen led her to the bridge.

"USS Shadow, this is Starfleet Operations. You are cleared for Spacedock and system departure. You may proceed at your discretion." Came the efficient sounding voice over the bridge loudspeakers.

"T'Kir, clear all moorings." Macen ordered.

"Moorings cleared. All umbilicals withdrawn and docking clamps disengaged. We are free and clear to navigate." T'Kir reported happily.

"Grace, take us out at one-quarter impulse."

"But sir..!" Chekova yelped.

"Trust me." Macen grinned, "She's the best."

"But regulations clearly..."

"Aren't meant for a mission of our importance." Macen interjected, "The Admiralty wants to report to the rendezvous point with all due haste. I'm just getting hasty a little sooner than they expected."

"Yes, sir." Chekova subsided but was clearly unhappy.

T'Kir stifled an urge to laugh. Macen had negotiated an uneasy truce with Chekova but he clearly hadn't won her over. From the snatches T'Kir was getting from her surface thoughts, the seemingly repressed young officer was on the verge of mutiny. Seeing as how the mission had only been underway for less than five minutes, that could prove problematic down the road.

T'Kir remembered when she was Macen's largest headache. Those had been turbulent times. She'd never known who she was or what she about to do next. She was getting a sense of the same turmoil within Chekova.

T'Kir wondered what she could do to help the Lt. Commander. T'Kir had required medication, which she still took daily, and months of therapy to reach a semblance of normality. In the end, she'd come as far as she had because of the support of one man, Brin Macen. His belief in her, even when she'd doubted herself, had enabled her to reach where she was today.

That still didn't solve the problem of what to do about Chekova. Perhaps she'd discuss it with Danan. The Trill had seemed to adopt the role of team counsellor. Seeing as how one of her previous hosts had been a counsellor, it seemed a natural progression.

Her other concern was for Hannah Grace. Her friend was troubled and she wasn't talking. Despite her nearly flawless execution of the departure from Spacedock, it had been far below her usual standards. Danan had briefly mentioned trying to talk to Hannah but receiving only a cursory acknowledgement of her words. Perhaps she'd have better luck; after all, Hannah was her closest friend.

T'Kir noticed a shadow lingering over her displays and swivelled her chair towards the centre of the room to get a better look. Macen was standing alongside her station, wearing a dopey grin.

"What d'you think?"

"Of what?" she asked, all innocence and naiveté.

"This ship." He answered excitedly.

"I like ours." T'Kir answered, "The one we own. The one that suits our cover."

"You're right of course." His mood deflated a bit, "Our ship is more practical but this one has some toys I'd dearly like to keep."

"Tell Dracas." T'Kir suggested, "He's always on the prowl for new improvements to make."

Macen brightened, "Good idea. I might get a new sensor suite out of this yet. Of course, it all depends on what improvements the Advanced Starship Design Bureau has to offer."

"Never give up hope."

"Seems I recall telling you that on more than one occasion."

She gave him a raspberry.

"How'd you like a break from that station?" he suggested.

"I've barely been here thirty minutes." She replied in disbelief, "I can't believe you want to break in the mattress so soon. Normally you're all work before pleasure."

He grinned sheepishly, "I am this time too. I want to start going over Starfleet Intelligence's reports on the trilithium situation and match them up against what little the Romulan government and the Tal Shiar have given us."

"So do it." T'Kir replied, "You're the intelligence officer."

"Yes, but you're my Romulan advisor. I need you to go over the reports as well and give me your opinion regarding what you see happening, or lack thereof."

"Fine." She sighed, "But I'd rather break in the mattress."

"That'll be our reward for reviewing the files."

"Yum!" she beamed.

Hours later, they were still at it.

"Elements, I'm bored." T'Kir groaned as she tossed aside the padd she'd been reading.

"Can't stop now." Macen muttered, focused on his own padd.

"Oh yes, I can." T'Kir's eyes blazed defiantly, "I was promised some... recreational exercise and I'm collecting... now." The last word was a growl.

Macen continued his reading so T'Kir crawled toward him on hands and knees like a hunting sehlat. When she reached him she reared up and ripped his padd out of his hands. As he started to protest, she grabbed the sides of his face and planted her lips fiercely on his. The kiss lingered then broke apart.

Breathless, Macen asked; "So now what?"

T'Kir's reply was a feral smile. She pulled at him and he rose out of his chair and followed her to the bed. She reclined on the mattress and beckoned for him to pursue. He lowered himself atop her and their bodies melted together. Instinct swiftly took over and banished all conscious thought from the room.

Later, as they were gathering their strewn about clothing, T'Kir released a contented sigh; "Now that was relaxing."

"Wasn't it though?" Macen grinned, "I hadn't realised how much I needed that release until now."

"Told ya." T'Kir teased with great satisfaction, "Next time just listen to me."

"And now you'll tell me what's on your mind."

"Meaning what?"

"C'mon, don't play coy. You know our telepathic rapport strengthens during the close proximity of sex. Something was on your mind."

"Besides ‘don't stop'?" she laughed.

"Yes." His tone grew serious.

"What d'you think of Chekova?"

"I think she's wound a little tight but she can come around." Macen answered as he retrieved his trousers from the floor.

"I think she's strung tighter than you think." T'Kir bit her lip, "This afternoon, she considered relieving you of command over the traffic restrictions inside of Spacedock. That doesn't bode well for the smooth handling of our already somewhat murky mission."

"Murky how?"

"This marks the first time the Tal Shiar and Starfleet have worked together. That didn't occur even during the war. There's going to be a lot of ambiguity and improvising. Chekova doesn't strike me as someone who can accept our unorthodox methodology."

"Congratulations," Macen grinned, "you've just completed your first intelligence assessment."

"But it was on our own side!" T'Kir shouted in exasperation.

Macen shrugged, "You can't honestly evaluate how someone else can harm until you evaluate your own weaknesses."

"This sucks."

"Welcome to my life."

"No wonder you're so frinxing paranoid."

He shrugged again, "I try. Ready for bed?"

"Only if you're not up for another round of recreational exercises."

He grinned, "I'm sure I could be persuaded."

On the bridge, Ekaterina Chekova fumed. Starfleet was supposed to have sent someone, anyone, other than the renegade currently in command of the Shadow. She, and the crew, had been betrayed. Macen had said that he would work with her but that had ended before they even left Spacedock. It was up to her to protect the crew and, if necessary, apprehend Macen and his team as they betrayed every principle that Starfleet and the Federation held sacred.

Lieutenant Soorik relieved Chekova and she headed for her quarters and a night of sleep. Along the way, she decided to stop by the Crew's Lounge. There she was met by the sight of a massive drinking party underway led by the SID Klingon doctor. Kort and Radil were taking turns in leading the various techs and crewmen in drinking songs about ancient Klingon battles and Bajoran campaigns against the Cardassian occupation. The sight of the debauchery sickened her.

She tapped her comm badge, "Chekova to Security."

"Daggit here."

"Report to the Crew's Lounge with a full detail Commander. There's a small riot underway."

"Understood. Daggit out."

Now here was a member of Macen's team that Chekova could appreciate. He'd displayed nothing but military discipline and precision since his arrival aboard ship. As he arrived minutes later leading an armed detachment, Chekova's fears that he wouldn't intervene on his comrades' "fun" dissipated. This man was all business.

"Kort and Radil?" he asked bleakly.

Chekova nodded.

"Leave it to me, Ma'am." Daggit turned to the Security detail, "Wait here unless they overwhelm me."

With that said, Daggit proceeded on alone. Chekova found herself going weak at the knees. Daggit muscled his way through the gathered crowd until he was centre stage with his two inebriated teammates. Daggit gave them each a reproving glare then began to address the crowd.

"All right, shake it off. You've been swilling synthehol so you're not really intoxicated." Seeing that his words were being obeyed, he pressed on; "You're all to report to your quarters and enjoy a nice restful evening before returning to duty tomorrow."

There was some grumbling but the milling crowd dispersed. Radil and Kort lingered and Daggit superimposed himself between them and the drink replicator.

"That includes you two."

Both looked inclined to protest but Daggit's expression dissuaded them.

"The Captain will hear about this." Kort vowed.

"I'm sure he will." Daggit just avoided patronising Kort, "But it'll be in the morning. He's in his quarters for the night."

"He'll be awake." Kort argued, "That little tart T'Kir will see to that."

Daggit looked to Radil, "Let me guess, something other than synthehol?"

She nodded, "Bloodwine."

"Can you get him to his quarters or do you need assistance?"

"I can manage."

"Take care of him."

Radil smiled gratefully, "Thanks."

"Good evening then." Daggit nodded once and exited the Lounge. He found Chekova waiting for him with her arms crossed across her chest.

"Is that all?" she demanded.

"There was no riot." Daggit replied simply, "They weren't even disorderly. Quite frankly, I don't see on what grounds they were dispersed."

"They were dispersed on my authority." Chekova informed him somewhat defiantly.

"I leave it to you then." Daggit told her, "Discipline is a matter for the 1st Officer, not the Head of Security."

"I'm glad we agree." She hesitated then added, "Thank you, by the way, for your actions."

"Simply doing my duty." Daggit gave her a polite nod, "If there isn't anything else, I'm scheduled to be relieved."

"Yes, of course." Chekova refocused, "Dismissed."

Daggit turned but then Chekova called after him, "Commander, may I ask... what did you do during the war?"

"I served in a commando unit performing covert operations behind the lines."

"I see." She pondered that than waved him off, "Sorry. It's late and I'm tired. You really are dismissed this time."

"Ma'am." Another nod.

As he strode away, Chekova thought to herself, Be still my heart. This one has potential.

 

Chapter 4

The voyage to the Neutral Zone passed without further incident. Chekova had restricted everyone involved in the drinking party to work or quarters for twenty-four hours. Macen let the matter pass without comment. The crew was severely unhappy with the 1st Officer and she needed to discover that on her own. If she continued unabated then he would interfere but he wanted to give natural selection a try first.

So far the approach had worked. The crew had decided not to test Chekova's rather prickly whim and had opted to focus on their duties instead in order to stave off another round of punishments. It was not an ideal environment but it seemed to be working. Macen had requested that Chekova remain on as 1st Officer, he wouldn't interfere in her handling of the ship and crew unless it were vital to do so. Feelings had been bruised but nothing irreparable had occurred... yet.

The Shadow and her crew poised to become the first Starfleet vessel since the USS Bellephoron to enter the Neutral Zone with the Romulans' permission. They had merely stopped to await the arrival of their Romulan escort. They hadn't had to wait long before a D'deridex-class warbird decloaked on the other side of the Zone. Several moments passed before the warbird attempted to hail the Shadow.

Daggit routed the call to the main viewer. A confident looking woman appeared on screen. Her hairstyle deviated from Romulan Orthodox norms, it was worn to the shoulder and had no bangs. It was held out of her face by a metal clip. As before, Macen found Commander P'ris of the Tal Shiar to be a formidable, and attractive, woman.

"Commander Macen, so nice to see you again." P'ris gave him a guarded smile.

"The pleasure is mine, Commander." Macen exchanged pleasantries.

"The situation must be grace for Starfleet to reactivate your commission for this errand."

"Your insistence motivated them." Macen wondered why the sudden verbal sparring had begun. Was she verifying his identity?

"My wisdom has been questioned." P'ris warned, "Others said you were of a far too... mercenary outlook to be of any assistance to us."

Macen began to get an inkling of where this was going, "Are they doubting my ability?"

"Just your loyalties." P'ris answered, "Personally, I think your present role as a privateer ‘consultant' for Starfleet provides the perfect cover for covert operations. Those that I have mentioned believe the Federation lacks the subtlety or the guile to run such a... deliberate stratagem."

P'ris' insight had allowed her to penetrate the true nature of the special unit. Fortunately, it was all speculation. Even at the zenith of its power and influence, the Tal Shiar had possessed limitations to its ability to collect data. Those limitations still applied, protecting the SID's secret for that much longer.

"Enough fishing." Macen decided, "Have you verified my identity so we can get down to business?"

P'ris allowed herself a small smile, "Astute as ever, Commander. Very well, we can proceed. If your vessel will come alongside mine, we can get underway. My helm officer will contact yours regarding course and speed."

"Sounds excellent."

"If I may, without being to forward, inquire as to transporting over to your vessel so that we may confer in person."

"I don't see where that's a problem." Macen replied.

Chekova cut the audio feed, "Captain, no! She's a Romulan. We can't take a chance of her seeing the prototype technology integrated into the Shadow."

Macen stared her down, "This particular Romulan happens to be our ally in this particular mission. That means we'll working closely together and accommodating one another every courtesy. Am I making myself clear?"

"Yes, sir." Came her reply through gritted teeth.

Macen reactivated the audio, "Sorry about that Commander. I'll have my transporter chief co-ordinate your arrival."

"That would be agreeable. I look forward to our reunion."

"As do I." The screen returned to its usual starfield. Macen rose from his seat.

"Commander Chekova, you have the bridge. T'Kir, you're with me."

T'Kir hit the button her console that summoned relief and rose from her place. She and Macen entered the turbolift together.

"She was close to losing it again." T'Kir primly informed him.

"Scanning her again?" he asked wearily.

"Just her surface thoughts." T'Kir admitted, "She's a reactor waiting to meltdown. She's on the knife's edge, Brin. I don't think its safe to leave her in a position of authority."

"I doubt Starfleet would allow her to remain aboard if she were considered a threat to the ship's safety." Macen opined.

"This ship doesn't have a ship's counsellor." T'Kir informed him.

"Maybe I'll have Danan talk with her." Macen suggested.

"Too little too late." T'Kir vetoes the idea.

"What do you suggest then?" he asked in exasperation.

"I don't know." She admitted in frustration, "I just know what I know. That woman's unstable... and you should remember, I know unstable."

"I seem to recall something to that effect." He tried to hide a smile.

"Wipe that smirk off your face before I remove it for you." T'Kir sternly warned.

The turbolift stopped and its doors opened. Macen motioned for T'Kir to step out ahead of him.

"You don't have to be so old fashioned." She sighed.

"Who said anything about being polite?" Macen asked, "I merely like the view."

T'Kir stopped and looked at her rear. A green flush crept into her cheeks and she stuck out her tongue at Macen. Macen grinned and winked at her. He then stepped around her and proceeded on his way to the transporter room.

T'Kir cursed and followed. She joined Macen in the Transporter Room. Dracas was present as well. He'd opted to handle the beam over himself.

"It's time." Dracas announced and unlocked the transporter controls. He monitored his systems as the Romulans received transport co-ordinates. Moments later, a green halo of energy appeared on the transporter pads. This energy patter coalesced into Commander P'ris.

P'ris took a moment to survey her surroundings before stepping down from the pad. She smiled warmly as she approached Macen.

"It does my heart good to see you are well, Commander." She intoned with sincerity; "I have followed your career with some interest since our last encounter."

"I wish I could honestly say the same." Macen admitted, "My departure from Starfleet's active forces has limited my ability to track specific individuals."

"Oh, of that, I am quite certain." P'ris wore an enigmatic smile as she replied. She turned her attention to T'Kir, "You must be T'Kir. I understand you have been a bosom companion to Commander Macen since your days in the Maquis. I regret the failure of your noble cause. The Tal Shiar would have provided assistance of not for our arrangement with the Obsidian Order in preparation for our attack on the Founders."

"Too bad, maybe you would have had better success with us than you did with the Founders." T'Kir quipped.

P'ris ignored the barb, "I understand you were born and raised on Shial. Did you have close contact with any of the Romulans living there?"

"My stepfather was a Romulan expatriate." T'Kir's voice went even and quiet, two dangerous signs.

P'ris nodded and turned to Dracas, "And this must be Hal Dracas."

Macen gave Dracas a prompting stare and the Chief nodded, "Yes, ma'am."

"And where is that lovely Trill woman that accompanied you to my ship?" P'ris inquired, "I gathered last time that she was far more than a fellow officer."

"Lisea Danan is aboard," Macen answered, "and as far as anything else goes, times change."

"Paving the way for you." P'ris suggested to T'Kir, "Or have you already filled that vacancy?"

"Listen, "if you have something to say, or a problem with me, let's have it out right now." T'Kir replied hotly, "I for one am sick to death of your little games and innuendoes."

P'ris laughed in delight, "Well done. You do have the heart of a Romulan. I can speak freely in front of you. Forgive my tests. I knew of no other way to evaluate your mettle."

"If we're done with the tests, then maybe we can proceed to my Ready Room and discuss the mission particulars?" Macen suggested.

"Agreed." P'ris nodded in assent.

"Only if she behaves." T'Kir warned.

"You have my oath." P'ris vowed.

That satisfied T'Kir, "Let's go then."

After they exited, Dracas shook his head grimly, "Hardcase 1st Officer, Romulans, and T'Kir... what the hell have we gotten ourselves into to?"

"How could you do it, old man?" Valrik demanded, "How could allow that bitch's proposal come to a vote before the Senate?"

"There was little chance that it would pass." Tarmut replied calmly. He'd served in the Imperial Senate for over a century now. There was little ruffled him.

"P'ris is good, too damned good. She could actually uncover our operation." Valrik muttered to himself.

"What operation is that?" Tarmut asked nonchalantly.

Valrik chuckled darkly, "No, old man. I'm not giving you any information. You're bound to my associates and I and it will stay that way."

"My nephew has done nothing." Tarmut argued once again, "He should be released."

"Your foolish nephew became associated with that accursed Vulcan's reunification movement. He is being held as a traitor. Only your co-operation spares his life. He will be released if, and when, you are no longer of value to us."

Tarmut prayed that day would come soon. If Commander P'ris were able to disrupt, or even capture, his tormentors then he would be able to capitalise on the debt of honour between them in order to get his nephew freed. Having long ago deduced what Valrik and his associates were up to; it had been his hope and plan along.

As Macen, T'Kir and P'ris traversed the bridge to get to the Ready Room, Chekova graced them with a relentless glare. As the entered the sanctity of the captain's office, P'ris made a comment regarding Chekova's scrutiny.

"I am beginning to think that your 1st Officer does not appreciate me or my presence aboard this vessel."

"I'm afraid my 1st Officer does not appreciate many things," Macen confided, "including how fortunate she is to have this posting during this particular mission."

"Yes." P'ris mused, "Careers will be made or shattered during our time together."

"Speaking of careers," T'Kir interjected, "the last time we saw you, you were setting up a colony for dissidents. What happened? How'd you get here?"

"That particular assignment was intended as a punishment." P'ris smiled conspiratorially, "However, thanks to your unexpected arrival and revelation of the Gulag, I was able to trace the involvement of no less than five regional governors with the founders of the Gulag. I received a citation from the Praetor himself and was transferred to this case."

"Which, I take it, brings us to now?" Macen sought clarification.

"After months of painstaking effort, yes." P'ris supplied.

"Perhaps we could begin with your providing an accounting of what your investigation has uncovered so far, with an emphasis on who your primary suspects are." Macen suggested.

P'ris cocked an eyebrow and Macen added, "The information provided by the Tal Shiar was less than... thorough."

P'ris chuckled wryly, "We at the Tal Shiar are used to being less than forthcoming. Transparency is a concept that is foreign to us."

"Its a damned nuisance is what it is." T'Kir griped.

"I agree that it can be given a situation such as this." P'ris agreed, "Perhaps in our exploration of uncharted territory we will forge new pathways to prevent such an occurrence should the need arise."

"Huh?" T'Kir cocked her head to one side, "Mind saying that in English?"

"Perhaps we'll forge permanent ties that will prevent a repeat of the mistakes made thus far."

"Why didn't you just say that to begin with?" T'Kir grumbled, "Bloody Tal Shiar agents, always have to try and turn a phrase."

P'ris gave her a rueful smile, "I'll try and refrain."

T'Kir's only reply was a derisive snort.

"I must admit, I expected some hostility from members of the crew." P'ris admitted, "But I confess I didn't expect such a frigid reception from you. You were raised amongst my kind, surely you have a greater respect for their memory than this."

"I honour their memory." T'Kir replied coldly, "What I don't honour, or appreciate, is your position and the agency that you represent. The Tal Shiar hunted my elders for arbitrary or imagined crimes against the state. I can't forget that and I'll never forgive it."

P'ris paused before cautiously speaking, "I... understand your position. While it is true that your lack of trust will make things more difficult, your honesty has earned my respect. If I may ask, what was your stepfather's name?"

T'Kir answered and P'ris winced before shaking her head, "It is little wonder that you hate us so."

P'ris paused again before venturing on, "The true responsibility for the massacre on Shial lies with the Tal Shiar, not the Cardassians."

That particular revelation sucked all life out of the room.

"Go on." T'Kir Commanded in a thick whisper.

"We, the Tal Shiar that is, revealed to the Obsidian Order the presence of the Romulan defectors living on Shial. We... emphasised, no, let me rephrase that... we exaggerated the military prowess of the defectors and the capabilities of the colony as a whole. The rest, sadly, is history."

"You cold-hearted bitch!" T'Kir snarled and lunged for P'ris. Macen intercepted her and held her back.

"Lemme go!" T'Kir yelled at Macen.

"No!" He shouted back, "As much as I hate to say it, we need her. We need the bloody Tal Shiar on our side. Otherwise, more systems will die. Billions will needlessly die unless we stop it."

"I don't care." T'Kir snapped coldly, "The planet I cared about is dead, and she helped make it happen."

"Did you do it?" Macen asked over his shoulder.

"What?" a rattled P'ris stammered.

"Were you directly involved in manipulating the Cardassians?"

"No!" panicked revulsion filled her voice; "I only learned of the operation during the war while reviewing our previous encounters with the Cardassians."

Macen's eyes locked on T'Kir's, "Satisfied?"

"No." Came her angry reply, "She could be lying."

"You're a damned telepath. See if she's lying."

T'Kir's eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed. P'ris sucked in air between her teeth and raised a hand to her temple. As quickly as the attack had come on, it subsided. T'Kir's expression softened.

"She's telling the truth." She informed Macen, sounding tired and drained.

Macen turned to P'ris, "Are you all right?"

She valiantly nodded despite the pained expression she wore, "Valuable talent."

"It has its uses." Macen concurred.

P'ris faced T'Kir, "I know that we may never be allies but can we not unite long enough to pursue a common enemy?"

It was T'Kir's turn to measure her words. Finally she nodded, "Sure. I can agree to that."

"Praise the Elements." P'ris heaved a sigh of relief, "I truly don't think my head could survive another assault like that. Tell me, what would you have down if you'd found I'd been lying?"

"Fired every one of your synapses until they burned out and left you catatonic." T'Kir remorselessly informed her.

"Ah," P'ris was hesitant, "I see."

"Can we return to the matter at hand?" Macen wondered, seeking a distraction from what had just transpired.

"Yes, well," P'ris cast one last cautionary glance towards T'Kir as she resumed her previous train of thought, "We began by conducting a general investigation of those that held the knowledge of the existence of trilithium weaponry. Amongst Senators, this accounts for five individuals. Amongst the Imperial Fleet, there over three thousand who either have direct knowledge of the weapons or directly oversee them in their storage facilities. No investigations were conducted of Tal Shiar officers with this knowledge but I accounted for over fifty agents with enough access to accommodate weapons transfers and sales."

"That's a lot of people to look at." Macen commented grimly.

"Not if you narrow the field by who has the most to gain." P'ris flashed him a feral smile, "I began with the Senators and one candidate leapt into the forefront: Senator Cherand. Is a recent addition to the Senate's rolls and is a supporter of Senator Cretak's initiatives. She is a true Romulan patriot, which is good since she has little else to her name."

"Meaning?"

"Cherand's family is virtually bankrupt. Her recently deceased father kept the clan's funds tied to traditional investments that did not allow for adaptability to the changing nature of the Imperial economy. Their seat in the Senate is about the only treasure the family retains. The customary bribes and gifts could keep them afloat for centuries to come.

Cherand's trademark position is her insistence upon developing client states. She has no difficulty envisioning technology transfers to a weaker state as long as it makes them dependent upon the Star Empire for maintenance and resupply. She has even advocated the sending of troops or weaponry to allow such a client to eliminate or subjugate their principal rivals. The final link is the fact that Cherand filled the vacancy left by her father's passing and he sat on the Council of Five that oversees the trilithium storage and development facilities."

"Why not appoint another Senator to the post?" Macen asked, "Why induct the offspring of the passing Senator?"

P'ris flashed him an indulgent smile that made T'Kir's blood temperature rise, "Senators groom their offspring to replace them. Another Senator would have to be taught nuances of the post that the incoming Senators have already mastered."

"So," Macen mused, "In reality there are at least nine Senators, or would-be Senators, that possess the knowledge of the trilithium based weapons."

P'ris froze, "That hadn't occurred to me."

T'Kir silently cheered.

It was Macen's turn to be indulgent; "It's called ‘cultural blindness' and its an investigator's greatest weakness."

"So how certain are your suspicions of Senator Cherand in the light of this re-evaluation?"

"I must confess that my certainty has ebbed somewhat." P'ris admitted, "I will have to confer with my files aboard the Valinor."

"The Valinor?" T'Kir repeated inquisitively.

"The Warbird that has been suborned to my command." P'ris explained, "Commander Donatra is a capable and proven officer. Her loyalties completely lie with the Imperial Fleet and that is both her strength and her weakness. For her services to me her Tal Shiar record gets certain... youthful indiscretions expunged "

"So, a true believer in the cause." Macen remarked sarcastically.

"She will not fail us." P'ris asserted, "Unlike, perhaps, your ill-tempered 1st Officer."

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "Chekova may be an unstable jerk but at least she's our unstable jerk. Leave her out of this."

"So, she has a name." P'ris remarked dryly, "Excellent to know."

T'Kir growled low in her throat but Macen interceded once again, "Who else do you have for us to look at?"

"At this time, I will only give you the names of my chief suspects." P'ris replied haughtily, "The other names will only serve to confuse the issue at hand. I also feel justified in my assertion that we need only view the other candidates if these individuals prove innocent, which they shall not."

"Glad to know you're guilty until proven guilty here in the scenic Romulan Star Empire." Macen remarked sharply.

P'ris opened her mouth to protest but was cut off by the Red Alert warning klaxon. Macen hit his comm badge, "Macen to bridge, report!"

"Three unidentified Romulan cruisers have decloaked and are in-bound on an intercept vector. They're running weapons hot and have their shields up." Chekova reported smoothly.

"I'll be there in a moment." Macen cut the circuit and then glared at P'ris, "Well?"

P'ris hit her own comm badge, "Commander Donatra, please report."

"Three Bloodwing type patrol cruisers have decloaked and our now poised to challenge us. They are refusing to acknowledge hails or communicate in any way."

"Arm the weapons and prepare to defend the ship." P'ris ordered, "Your defensive goals include the survival of the Starfleet vessel."

"With our shields up, we cannot transport you back aboard." Donatra reminded.

"Our allies will protect me." P'ris assured her.

Donatra was unconvinced, but complied, "Luck be with you."

P'ris turned to Macen, "And what follows?"

Macen's eyes hardened, "Now you learn how a starship fights."

 

Chapter 5

The Bloodwing cruisers were the modern descendent of the venerable Bird of Prey. Like its predecessor, its primary hull was saucer shaped with two outcropped "wings" mounting warp nacelles. The design was far more reminiscent of the pre-Earth/Romulan war era but it had been enlarged. The overall length of the ship had been increased to 225 metres. Intended to act as border patrol craft and auxiliary capital ships, the Bloodwing type boasted the latest Romulan military hardware. Theoretically, two Bloodwings should have been able to occupy the Warbird while the third fatally dealt with the Shadow.

The attacking Romulans had based their plan of attack based upon outdated force projections. The Shadow possessed augmented phasers, enhanced shields, a more powerful warp core and faster engines than any standard Nova-class. In short, the unsuspecting Romulans were facing an entirely different breed of sabrecat. The battle, such as it was, lasted a mere thirty minutes.

"I must confess my surprise, Commander." P'ris admitted as Macen rose from the command chair, "I had not expected either your vessel nor its crew to fare so well."

"What happens to them now?" Macen indicated the three crippled vessels displayed on the viewer. All had suffered severe structural damage and two were leaking atmosphere.

"Commander Donatra will transport a number of them into our Warbird's holding cells for interrogation. You will not do so. It is an internal matter and will be handled by the authorised agents for internal security."

"Fine." Macen's frustration was plainly evident, "What about the rest? Do we just leave them here?"

"Precisely."

"My office." Macen growled, "Now!"

T'Kir started to rise but Macen motioned for her to remain at her post. Through their telepathic bond, she could sense the depths of his frustration and anger. He felt trapped and trapped was not a good place to place Brin Macen. He had a tendency to overreact when he felt pushed.

Once in the Ready Room, Macen turned on P'ris, "What the hell is this? I won't leave these people out here to die."

P'ris gave him a pitying look, "Perhaps I've misjudged you. You reflected a certain... ruthlessness upon our previous encounter. Was I mistaken?"

"My opponents then were armed and dangerous." Macen replied stonily, "Here the people in question are defeated and helpless."

"How little you understand the Romulan psyche." P'ris laughed bitterly, "Your decades of service against the Cardassians works against you here. A Romulan is at his most dangerous when he is caged and wounded. The crews of those ships are plotting nothing less than our total destruction. We will rob them of any opportunity to harm us. I will contact Romulus and they will dispatch Warbirds to this location to retrieve these traitors. Before we depart, we will lay a minefield in anticipation of an abortive rescue attempt by these fools' co-conspirators. With luck, and the Elements' blessings, we will capture them as well when the retrieval units arrive. Does this resolve your moral dilemma?"

Macen hesitated then nodded, "Yes. It's a start at least. What about the prisoners aboard your ship?"

"They will remain my prisoners."

"No, you misunderstand. Can I have observers present at some of the interrogations?"

"Why?" P'ris asked with some suspicion.

"To more accurately relay information gleaned from the questioning of the prisoners."

"Very well, but be warned, they are my prisoners and my methods will not be questioned or interfered with." P'ris warned.

"Agreed."

The Valinor and the Shadow were underway and headed for the remote garrison world of Tharidon. Danan and Radil had beamed aboard the Valinor to act as Macen's observers during P'ris' interrogations. It was not a duty that Danan relished.

"I hate this." She whispered to Radil.

Radil merely shrugged, "Can't be any worse than watching an Orion interrogation."

Danan blanched. She'd forgotten about Radil's time with the Orion Syndicate just prior to joining the SID special unit. Between Radil's time with the Bajoran Resistance and her days as a mercenary, she'd seen horrors Danan had never yet imagined in any of her lifetimes. It was little wonder that she was the cynic of the team.

She did seem to soften somewhat around Kort. The exiled Klingon and the hunted fighter seemed to find solace in one another's company. Danan hoped that they embraced that comfort for all it was worth. It was cold, perilous universe and warmth of any kind was to be treasured.

"What I hate is this Prophets' forsaken uniform." Radil growled as she tugged at her collar, "I want my own clothes back... and my phaser."

Danan had to admit that she preferred the surplus Bajoran Militia phaser that the team generally carried over the standard issue Starfleet Type II. The ergonomics were just wrong. For Radil, it was a matter of pride. The team's phaser was Bajoran and Radil was a Bajoran, even if she no longer looked like one.

Danan wondered what it would be like to no longer look like a Trill? What if she had her spots removed? Or what if she looked like the other species of humanoid Trill? Of course, the latter would involve a whole other range of issues as well. Still, the point had been made. It would be costly. A large part of one's identity stemmed from their planet of origin and their ties there.

What would I do if all my ties to Trill were suddenly severed? Danan wondered to herself. She never examined that thought further for P'ris arrived with a brace of guards and a frightened yet defiant looking prisoner.

"If you would follow me." P'ris unlocked the doorway to the room they'd been waiting outside of led the disparate contingent inside. Another Romulan woman in a grey jumpsuit awaited them. The only features in the room were a control console, a chair with many restraints and a hood over it and a viewer on the wall. At P'ris' silent direction, the guards placed the female prisoner in the chair and fastened all of the proper restraints. The mysterious hood remained in place above her head, its purpose as yet unknown.

P'ris conferred for a moment with the grey suited woman behind the console. Afterwards she positioned herself in front of the prisoner.

"Do you know who I am?" P'ris inquired.

The prisoner's eyes blazed as she answered, "Of course. Do you know who I am?"

"You are Kom Ron, the Harbingers of Death." P'ris replied, referring to the Tal Shiar's elite execution squad.

"Then you know fear." The woman stated smugly.

"No." P'ris was acidic, "I know contempt. You've sold your services to a traitor. You will reveal that traitor's face to me."

"Never!" came the easy vow.

"Do you know what this?" P'ris asked nonchalantly as she patted the enigmatic hood poised above the prisoner's head, "This is crude compared to what our Vulcan ancestors were capable of, as I learned firsthand earlier today, but it is effective nonetheless. You see, Imperial scientists have spent centuries mapping out the functions and synaptic connections of the brain. This device is specifically derived from our researches into the memory centres of the mind. What you know, and recall, this machine can extract and display on that monitor for all to see." P'ris pointed to the viewer mounted in the wall, "Care to try it out or will you simply give me a name?"

Silence was the prisoner's only reply.

"Very well." P'ris sighed and lowered the hood into place. Once it was situated above her head, a small infrared laser dot appeared on her forehead. The entire hood began to track her head in a synchronised lockstep.

P'ris leaned down and met the assassin's widened eyes, "Just for your information, this is supposed to be excruciating. You really should have chosen to talk."

"I will!" The prisoner stammered excitedly, "Ask me your questions."

P'ris gave her a vicious smile, "Too late." She looked to the tech at the console, "Lanera, proceed."

The machine activated and the interior of the hood filled with more lights. The terrified assassin tried to shake the device off her head but it tracked her every movement. The lights narrowed and focused. The prisoner groaned sharply and clenched her eyes shut.

The viewer came to life. At first it only displayed static but soon geometric shapes began to materialise. The lights refocused within the hood and the woman cried out, spittle collecting on her lips. Fuzzy images began to take shape on the monitor. They vague enough to be to be useless but distinct enough to almost make out.

This process continued again and now the imagery was clear. The prisoner's discomfort had also increased. She was suffering greatly. Tears streamed down her face uncontrollably and drool fell from her contorted lips. Her face was a mask of agony. A rivulet of green blood was flowing from her nose.

"Stop this!" Danan shouted, "She can't take any more!"

P'ris shot her an angry glare and motioned for the two guards who'd escorted the prisoner to move closer to the two Starfleet "guests". Radil leaned in close to Danan and whispered in her ear.

"I wouldn't do that again. These people are on a hair trigger."

"Doesn't this bother you?"

"I've seen a lot worse done to people who hadn't just tried to kill me, Princess."

Danan clenched her teeth and tried to force herself to endure whatever came next. She made a mental note to kill Macen for this later.

P'ris turned to the tech, "Lanera, full power!"

The tech touched her controls and the assassin let out a bloodcurdling cry that the two SID officers, and even the Romulan guards, jump.

P'ris bent down and shouted through the screams, "If you want it to end, all you have to do is remember who gave you this assignment."

An image of an older Romulan man appeared on the screen and P'ris gave Lanera the "kill" signal. The memory probe deactivated and the hapless prisoner bound to it was left a wretched sobbing, bleeding, and drooling mess. P'ris lifted the hood from the assassin's head to reveal what the machine had wrought. A young and vital woman not ten minutes before, her hair had greyed and she appeared to have aged sixty years. Danan was appalled.

"Will she receive medical treatment now?" Danan demanded.

P'ris looked at her as though she were insane, "She will be returned to the cells and then I will process the next prisoner."

"You're doing this again?" Danan couldn't believe her ears, "That poor woman just gave you what you wanted to know."
"She gave me one man." P'ris replied coolly, "There are undoubtedly others. Perhaps the other prisoners will know something of them. We shall see."

"I will not stand here and be witness to that again..."

"Then return to your ship." P'ris suggested flatly, "If Commander Macen insists upon maintaining an observer, perhaps your companion will remain. She seems more... amenable to our methods."

"Radil?"

Radil shrugged, "Go ahead, so. I'll be fine."

"We'll see what Brin has to say about this after I deliver my report." With that Danan exited the room.

"Is she always so... passionate?" P'ris wondered.

"Near as I can figure." Radil sighed.

Hal Dracas leaned against the injector controls and just listened. Everything just sounded right. Dracas had previously refitted conventional Nova-class ships during his tenure with the Special Projects Yards. Even at their peak, none of those ships ever sounded so perfectly crafted. It had taken Dracas months of fine tuning to get the Solstice running this effectively. He wished he could congratulate the engineers that had refit her.

Dracas glanced about the main engineering room. Ratings and techs were scattered about monitoring and calibrating various pieces of equipment. Dracas signalled to the lieutenant under him that he was leaving. Once clear of engineering, Dracas headed for the Crew's Lounge.

The Lounge was frequently empty this late into the alpha shift sleep cycle. That suited Dracas just fine. He preferred to be alone. No, he corrected himself; I'm just used to being alone.

Dracas' life on Ardanna IV, and in Starfleet, had been a lifetime of loneliness punctuated by brief interludes of happiness. All of his solitude and euphoria stemmed from the fact that Dracas was a homosexual. On Ardanna IV, his native world, that was a capital crime punishable by death. Starfleet had seemed a refuge until he'd realised that word of his proclivities could reach home and he could be extradited back to Ardanna to watch his family be punished before he was finally put to death.

Dracas had concealed his lifestyle from all but a chosen few selected for their discretion. He'd not dared to breathe a word of his secret to his current teammates. He wasn't sure what their reactions would be. He also wasn't certain he wanted to find out.

He was fairly confident that Radil would be repulsed. The Bajoran faith was fairly rigid about the sexual roles of men and women. Kort, too, would react negatively. Klingon males saw homosexuality as an affront to their masculinity.

Grace was an unknown. She was human, and humans were generally accepting of divergent sexual lifestyles. But, Grace was also from a distant colony world and there was no telling what particular set of mores held sway there. Danan was his one sure bet on acceptance. Trills were easily the least judgmental race in the known galaxy.

The remaining three members of the team were the biggest unknowns. It was unlikely T'Kir would cast any aspirations. Heavens knew she had enough baggage of her own to deal with. In Dracas' experience, Macen could be almost as accepting as Danan. It all depended on the topic. He'd just never broached this subject matter with his CO before.

He'd had that opportunity in the gladiatorial pits of Magna Roma. When the Romans had supplied them with men and women to... recreate with, Dracas had taken the opportunity to enjoy himself. His all too cleaver reply to Macen that he'd not touched any of the women had seemed to elicit a knowing look from the El-Aurian's eye. Macen was a canny bastard and Dracas had feared ever since that he'd given too much away.

Dracas knew all about Macen's ability to sense time-space distortions but it was his other abilities that frightened Dracas. It was only after the Roman mission that Dracas learned that El-Aurians were also low level empaths. This is part of what made them effective Listeners. To top it all off, who knew what kind of abilities he'd leached off T'Kir?"

Dracas shivered as he nursed his synthale. His every waking moment for months now had been filled with dread. The fear of discovery was gnawing away at him every moment of every day. His last hopes lay with Rab Daggit.

Daggit's reaction to the news, when and if it came out, was also an unknown but Dracas prayed that it would be positive. Daggit was the closest to Dracas' age, excluding T'Kir or Macen, of anyone on the team. Daggit's experiences as a soldier had left him far more comfortable with the brotherhood of men than the companionship of women, much to the disappointment of Hannah Grace. And last but not least, Dracas liked Daggit as well as found him attractive.

Dracas didn't know if any of those factors would matter one whit. Soon it wouldn't matter. If he couldn't stem his fears, he was going to have to leave the team. He'd rejoin Starfleet's active duty roster and resume the life he left behind. Then his fears would be pointless.

"Hold, please." Grace called out as the turbolift doors started to close. Moving with a reflexive speed surpassed only by Grace herself; Daggit caught the lift doors. Grace slid between the open doors and took up position beside Daggit.

She gave him an inviting smile, "Thanks."

Daggit uncomfortably shuffled his feet, "No problem."

Grace hit the ‘Stop' button on the turbolift's controls and turned to Daggit with an earnestly vulnerable expression; "I have to confess something."

Daggit felt trapped, "Confess what?"

"I like you." She breathed.

"I like you too." He said good-naturedly.

"No." She said in a husky voice, "I really like you."

"Hannah," Daggit tried to remain calm, "I'm old enough to be your father. Given the recklessness of my past before the Tarsus Wars, I might be your father if you were Angosian."

"Dammit!" Grace swore, "I knew honesty was a mistake."

"Not at all." Daggit warily smiled, "I'd suspected for awhile now, or at least since our last leave. Now the air is cleared and we can move on like seasoned adults."

"But I'm not seasoned." Grace complained, "I'd like to have a little spice in my life right about now."

"Hannah, there are sixty-odd officers and crewmen aboard this vessel." Daggit pointed out, "Surely at least one could prove adequate for now."

"Live for the moment?"

Daggit nodded as he released the ‘Stop' on the lift, "It's been my motto since the wars."

"Then why don't I ever see you with a woman?"

Daggit cleared his throat and the lift came to a halt. An irate Kort waited outside the parting doors, "Who has been holding up the accursed lift?"

Grace exited and called back over her shoulder, "Thank you."

"Ah," Kort waggled his eyebrows suggestively, "young lust, eh?"

"Just a friendly chat."

"Just how friendly?"

"Friendly." Daggit warned and exited as the lift halted and the doors opened.

"Suit yourself." Kort huffed as the doors closed again, "But my interpretation is more fun."

"We can't let this go on!" Danan nearly shouted

"And how do you propose that I stop an authorised investigation conducted by a Romulan authority within Romulan space?" Macen wondered.

"You bend the rules all the time." Danan reminded him, "This is the time when you're going to let normal diplomatic channels get in your way."

"Yes."

"This is some tacit approval of their methods." Danan accused, "You wouldn't be this complacent if you hadn't used her to interrogate prisoner's minds in the past."

Seated at the coach in the quarters she shared with Macen, T'Kir looked disgruntled; "Just a reminder, her is sitting right here and can hear you."

"Everybody on this deck can hear you." Macen muttered.

"How can you just sit by and let this happen?" Danan was beside herself.

"Lees, calm down." Macen ordered, "There's nothing we can do. If we interfere now, this mission ends and we prove the sceptics on both sides right. I may have been dragged back into this uniform but as long as I'm wearing it I'll do my duty by it."

"So we do nothing." Danan's tone was resigned.

"We have no authority to intervene." Macen stressed, "We can merely hope that Radil's presence will rein P'ris in somewhat."

"Radil seemed oblivious to what was transpiring." Danan remarked darkly.

"She's had a harsh life. Its been filled with choices we can't imagine."

"Then why is she on the team?" Danan demanded.

"Being on the team is a choice she's never imagined." After a moment's silence, Macen asked; "Is there anything else?"

"Yes. No....Oh hell, I don't know." Danan replied out of frustration, "I'm going to bed now and hopefully I'll be able to sleep. Either way, no one had better disturb me for at least eight hours."

With that said, Danan departed. T'Kir whistled at her wake, "Cranky."

"It's been a trying day." Macen sighed as he sat down beside her.

"Hey, my day has been trying too." T'Kir protested, "Helping Dracas' engineering techs repair the ship wasn't exactly easy either."

"I'm sure it wasn't." He said soothingly.

"Don't patronise me, buster. I'll pop you one."

"Duly noted." Macen held up his hands, "Want to go to bed?"

"Sure." She replied cheerily, "For sleep or sex?"

"Sleep."

"Thank god."

 

Chapter 6

Tharidon wasn't a resort world by any stretch of the imagination but it was secure. Some of the Star Empire's most powerful weapons were stored here. Since Starfleet Intelligence had long ago ascertained the world's existence and location, P'ris had had little difficulty in clearing the Shadow's approach to this facility. Permission to allow members of the SID team on the ground was still proving elusive.

During a last minute round of haggling, P'ris managed to obtain permission from the Senate, the Tal Shiar and the Imperial Fleet for both Macen and T'Kir to accompany P'ris to the surface. One of the trade-offs was that they were to be unarmed and carry no scanning equipment. Chekova loudly protested in the sequestered privacy of Macen's office. Due to the privileges of command, she once again lost, and once again, she wasn't happy about it.

"This smells like a trap." Chekova warned, "Someone in the Tal Shiar has already tried to kill us already. Has Commander P'ris ever told you who this mystery man is?"

"First off, it could very well be a trap. We'll cross that hurdle if and when it arises. T'Kir and I have escaped from a few tight spots before."

"Did any of them include a garrison world filled with potentially hostile Romulans?"

"Technically?" Macen hedged, "No."

"Ha!" Chekova gloated, "I thought so."

"Look," Frustration began lacing Macen's voice, "I never said this plan was perfect."

"Anything would be better than this." Chekova protested.

"Just keep a transporter lock on us and be ready to yank us out if anything happens." Macen ordered.

Chekova nodded briskly at that, "Aye, sir!"

Macen and T'Kir beamed to the precise co-ordinates provided to them by Tharidon's command centre to find P'ris already waiting for them. Also waiting for them was a squad of heavily armed Romulan troops. Most disconcerting of all was a half squad of hulking, heavily armoured Reman heavy infantry supporting the Romulan regulars. The Remans each wore dark visors to protect them from the glare of Tharidon's twin suns.

Macen found the planet's temperature akin to stepping inside a blast furnace. While the overhead yellow star and red giant did not oppress one as badly as Vulcan or other desert planets it still did a fair job of dehydrating someone from as temperate a planet as El-Auria or Earth. All Macen wanted to do was shrug out of his uniform jacket. He also knew that would be a mistake. It would be one thing to admit such a weakness in front of the Romulans, it was quite another to do so in front of the Remans.

The Romulans would meet such a display with a sense of smug superiority. The Reman, though, would incorporate it into a slow way to kill you. The Remans were the closest thing to Jem'Hadar the Alpha Quadrant had. He was one of the few Starfleet officers alive to have seen the Remans in action. It wasn't an experience he'd care to repeat. He'd also decided then that he never wanted the Remans' lethal attentions focused on him.

Macen studied the differing uniforms that the various players wore. The Romulan squad wore the standard Imperial forces broad shoulder padded grey jacket and black trousers combination. The Remans wore segmented black armour over every part of their body except their heads. These they left uncovered in order to utilise their greater than average Vulcanoid hearing.

P'ris had changed out of Fleet standard issue for her visit to Tharidon's surface. Now she was dressed in black leather. She wore a black leather vest over a black turtleneck and black leather pants and mid-calf length laced boots. Over all of this she wore a leather longcoat. Macen felt heat exhaustion setting in just looking at the outfit.

He noticed T'Kir scrutinising P'ris' garb as well, "Jealous?"

"Of what?" she asked somewhat defensively.

"Well, that outfit of P'ris' is right up your usual alley. I just thought you might your own pair. After all, Romulan leathers are highly sought across the quadrant." Macen explained.

"There's a reason for that." T'Kir sighed wistfully, "Romulan leathers aren't as stiff as Klingon clothes but are just as durable. They're softer even than Andorian skins but twice as resilient."

"Want me to see if I can get you a set?" Macen grinned.

T'Kir wrestled with it for a moment then eagerly nodded, "Just don't trade away the Federation."

"Since when did you care so much for the Federation?" he asked with some surprise.

"Must be this stupid uniform." T'Kir retorted, "Its having a negative influence on me."

"It can have that effect." Macen remarked then fell silent. A new player had emerged on the scene. Similarly dressed as P'ris, Macen supposed this latest arrival was also Tal Shiar. P'ris briefly conferred with the man, then brought him to Macen and T'Kir.

"Commander Brin Macen, Lieutenant T'Kir, allow me to introduce Commander Kael." P'ris intoned formally.

Kael bowed his head ever so slightly, "So you are the El-Aurian P'ris has raved about. I hope you have better luck with this mystery than we have."

"I offer a more objective focus, nothing more." Macen replied.

Kael smirked, "A warrior and a diplomat. You are dangerous."

Kael shifted his attentions to T'Kir, "And you are a Vulcan? You are not the dispassionate arbiters of cold logic that I have heard some much about. You have fire. Tell me, is it true that Vulcan women must mate every seven years or perish?"

"First off, you don't know the half of it. Second of all, the Vulcan pon farr isn't something to be... hey! I heard that!" T'Kir accused P'ris.

P'ris did her best to look innocent but merely ended up looking guiltier. Kael looked surprised and was unsuccessfully attempting to conceal that surprise. Macen tapped into the telepathic rapport he shared with T'Kir to get a clue as to what had set her off. He sensed her frustration and agitation but her thoughts were too chaotic to gather what she'd picked up from P'ris to upset her.

What happened? He thoughtcast to her.

Tell you later. She replied.

The answer did little to satisfy Macen but he let the matter drop. T'Kir would reveal what had transpired when she was ready and not before. He didn't trust easily or often but T'Kir had earned his a hundred times over. He'd give her the time and space she needed before she'd be to ready discuss the incident with him.

Whatever had transpired, she now kept a wary eye on the Romulans, including P'ris and Kael. Macen stretched out with his own limited empathic senses to discover broiling tensions emanating from their escorts. The Romulans were uneasy but the Remans were focused to a razor's edge. They were poised to strike.

During the war, while preparing for their joint mission with the Romulans, Macen and Daggit had studied everything Starfleet had to offer about the Remans. That had been scant and insufficient data at best. Macen had fielded far more questions from the mission's commander, the Reman leader Shinzon, than he'd had answered. The largest remaining question was how did a human, presumably a defector or offspring of human defectors, earn the absolute trust of the Remans and the grudging respect of the Romulans? Shinzon had been far more interested in the Angosian commandos under Macen's care than he had been in sharing information regarding his own troops.

Macen regretted not being able to bring Daggit along. Daggit had worked hand in hand with the Remans and would be able to tell him if their current hyper-vigilant state was normal for them or not. He thought about contacting the ship but thought better of it. In their current state, the Remans might mistake his actions for a provocation and open fire on everyone. He wondered of any of the Romulans overseeing them truly knew how agitated the Remans were. Not sensing any heightened concern from the Romulans, Macen sincerely doubted it.

They were led to a large bunker adjacent to several warehouse facilities. Half the Romulan squad and the Remans detached themselves at the entrance of the command bunker. Macen, T'Kir and P'ris were led through a warren of passageways until they reached a medium sized office with transparent aluminium windows granting an unobstructed view in three directions. The bunker's armoury lay across the hall. Two Romulan guards and one armourer manned the post at all times.

"Welcome to my humble offices." Kael ushered them into the office, "They may not look like much, but they are the most secure site on this planet."

"Does that include the base CO?" Macen asked.

"Especially the Admiral's office." Kael chuckled, "Why do you ask?"

"Because I think he's standing behind you and he's looking extremely angry." Macen informed him.

Kael turned around to indeed find Admiral Kormack standing in his doorway. He cursed himself for not closing the door. The Admiral's features were flushed a greenish bronze. His eyes were narrowed and his nostrils were flared. His left hand kept twitching near his belt and Macen presumed that that's where he typically wore his disruptor.

"Admiral," Kael assumed his best snake oil salesman demeanour, "what a pleasant surprise. I was just about to inform your adjunct that the special investigators dispatched from Romulus have arrived."

"I can see that." Kormack managed to growl disdainfully, "Another Tal Shiar spy and a Vulcan and a human."

"Actually," Kael chuckled nervously, "that's a common misconception. Commander Macen here is not a human. He is in fact an El-Aurian, a native of the Delta Quadrant."

"So," Kormack's eyes refocused on Macen, "an alien from the Delta Quadrant. Why are you here? Are you the advance force for an invasion?"

"Hardly." Macen snorted, "Ever hear of the Borg?"

Kormack nodded and Macen resumed, "So did my people, after they arrived at our outer colonies. They swallowed world after world until they assimilated the homeworld itself. Several hundred survivors were scattered across the galaxy. My group headed for the Alpha Quadrant. We knew we could blend in and the Borg hadn't reached this far yet."

"And you just happened to join Starfleet along the way?" Kormack asked suspiciously.

Macen shrugged, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"And now?" Macen's answer seemed to upset him even more.

"Let's just say that I've been out of this uniform long enough to see the advantages of serving the Federation outside of Starfleet."

Kormack harumphed his approval at long last, "They say that a Romulan is never so much a patriot as when he is out of uniform."

Kormack wheeled on Kael, "Some, however, are spineless quiridtches no matter what uniform they don. After this ‘investigation' has concluded, you and I are going to have words."

Kael swallowed hard but managed a wan smile; "Will you be joining us then?"

"You sure as hell am." Kormack said gruffly and took a seat.

"Status Mr. Daggit?" Chekova asked.

"Same as before." Daggit answered grimly, "They've entered a shielded location. We're unable to maintain a transporter or transponder lock on either Captain Macen or T'Kir."

Chekova rose from her XO's seat and moved across the bridge to Ops, "Any luck cutting through the interference?"

Danan shook her head; "I've tried everything. If T'Kir were here, she'd probably tap into the base's internal sensors and get a bead on them that way."

"And you can't do this because...?"

"T'Kir's the hotshot cyberengineer. I'm an astrophysicist and a general sciences officer. I can cover Ops but I can't match her skill at this post."

"That really burns you up, doesn't it?"

"Yes."

"Good." Chekova replied, "That'll motivate you."

"Commander!" Daggit interrupted suddenly, "Neutrino emissions just went off the scale."

"Show me!" Chekova ordered. The viewer came to life and displayed two Warbirds decloaking in front of them.

"There's a third warbird behind us." Daggit reported.

"Shit." Chekova muttered and retook her seat, "Raise shields. Let's find out what they want."

P'ris had begun with a description of the information she'd extracted from her Kom Ron prisoners. She emphasised the universality of the responses she received to her line of questioning. There could little doubt as to the authenticity of the memories extracted and therefore of the guilt of the man they incriminated. That man was one Tal Shiar Admiral, Emon Valrik.

"That's impossible." Kael protested, "Admiral Valrik himself was here merely two months ago. He and a hand picked squad of Tal Shiar agents were here to inspect the trilithium weapons." Kael's voice slowed and his tone descended as he spoke, realising that he'd just made P'ris' case.

"What exactly did Valrik say he was doing?"

"A simulation. Testing our security by attempting to steal a trilithium warhead." Kormack replied.

"Did he succeed?" Macen inquired.

"No." Kormack suddenly sounded tired, "The Remans caught him during both attempts."

"What if they didn't." T'Kir spoke up, "What if the Remans were in on it?"

"Then a third of my troops would be collaborators." Kormack's ire rose as he realised the implications. It was then that the Admiral's comm badge buzzed. Kormack angrily swatted it, "What?"

"The Remans, sir. Tbey've...."

A burst of static terminated the transmission. Kormack's repeated efforts to contact his command post were met with silence. Macen stood and shucked off his jacket and his uniform blouse. He affixed his comm badge to his undershirt and met the questioning stares of the Romulans.

"We're going to have to fight our way out of here." Macen explained, "Admiral, are there any back, or secret, ways out of this bunker?"

"Two." The Admiral warily admitted.

"Then let's arm ourselves and get out of here." Macen recommended.

"No." Kormack protested, "The agreement was that you were to remain unarmed. This is all too convenient for my taste."

Several Romulan troopers were now pounding on the office door. Kael opened it and the two seemed relieved to see Kormack.

"Admiral, the Remans... they're overrunning the base."

Kormack shot Macen an accusatory glare as he strode out into the corridor. Macen, T'Kir, P'ris and Kael proceeded into the armoury. The Admiral conferred with several troopers out in the corridor while the others gathered weapons. Seeing Macen and T'Kir strap on gunbelts and load up on powerpacks, the armourer moved to intervene. P'ris intercepted him.

"This is on my authority." P'ris informed her, "Prepare to scuttle this room. It is vital that the Remans not capture this armoury. Can you arrange that?"

"Its in the manual." The armourer nodded and got to work.

Macen and T'Kir had selected disruptor pistols and were now choosing rifles. Kael gathered a shoulder bag filled with photon grenades. Weapons fire could now be heard down the corridor. Kormack's voice bellowed exhortations to his troops but the sound of the fighting drew closer.

Macen finished off his gearing up by donning a pair of black leather gloves. In the Federation, this style of gloves were popular among racing shuttle pilots. Apparently their lineage descended back to contests between wheeled vehicles. T'Kir gave them an appraising look then grabbed a pair for herself.

"Time to get going." Macen declared as he rammed home a power cell into his disruptor rifle.

"If we are to do this," P'ris replied primly, "then we must be in accordance. I am in command of our ‘unit'."

"Fine." Macen sighed, "You're in charge. Can we go now?"

Disruptor bolts sailed passed the door and screams filled the corridor.

"They're heeeere." T'Kir grimaced, "Now what?"

Macen turned to the armourer, "Are the charges set?"

She nodded. The two troopers assigned to guard the room shifted nervously. Kormack was at the door now, yelling at his men. He was silenced when a disruptor bolt caught him in the chest.

T'Kir laid down suppressive fire while Macen drug Kormack into the armoury.

"Sir," P'ris knelt beside him while Macen joined T'Kir's efforts, "are you all right."

"Stop these bastards." Kormack sputtered, "Don't let them take the base. Too... too many secrets here... cannot fall into enemy hands." Kormack motioned her closer and began whispering in her ear.

"Whatever he's telling you commander, have him say it faster." Macen urged.

P'ris rose, "He is finished... and he is dead. You two," she pointed at the two guards, "begin laying down suppressive fire. Armourer, what is your name?"

"Zhasev, sir."

"Zhasev, you will set charges for a five minute countdown and then evacuate with us." P'ris ordered.

"If we're going to go, we'd better get to it." Macen warned, "They're massing for a charge."

"Sentries, man your post." P'ris crisply ordered. As the two guards took up position at the doorway, P'ris turned to Kael, "You do know the way to the command bunker, do you not?"

"Of course." He replied instantly, "But..."

"Then lead on and ask no questions." P'ris commanded, "We are to fulfil the dying wishes of Admiral Kormack."

Kael hesitated, then nodded, "Very well."

P'ris turned to Macen and T'Kir, "Keep up and shoot anyone wearing armour."

"Not a problem." T'Kir replied grimly.

"They're locking weapons on to us." Daggit reported.

"What's the Valinor saying?" Chekova asked.

"I'm still trying to cut through the subspace interference field they're generating." Danan replied.

"Work faster." Chekova ordered.

"Now!" P'ris commanded.

The two guards began methodically laying down a field of fire. The unsuspecting Remans, having believed they'd cleared the corridor of resistance, took initial heavy losses. P'ris and Kael made it out of the armoury before the Remans could recoup. Macen and T'Kir followed next. They set up a firing position further down the corridor and added their firepower to the fray. P'ris called for Zhasev and the two guards to follow.

The corridor filled with pulses of green and blue light. Zhasev was caught in the back by a Reman burst and went down. One of the two Romulan guards carried her while his comrade added his efforts to the suppressive fire. They made it the protection of the ‘T' junction where the others had made their stand.

P'ris examined Zhasev's vitals and wounds. She shook her head, "She is dead."

One of the guard's, Tomarek, cursed. The other, Livar, joined Macen and T'Kir's efforts to repulse the Remans. P'ris got the two guards' names from them and ordered them to repeat the previous procedure. They assumed a high-low position on the left hand of the junction and began to fire at the enemy. T'Kir was then able to cross over from the right side and follow Macen's cautious retreat down the corridor.

At the next junction, which merely consisted of outcropped support struts for the ceiling, they stopped and set position to retrieve Livar and Tomarek. The guards hurried back as swiftly as they could. This routine was repeated several more times until they reached the final corridor leading to the command bunker.

By now the Remans had deduced where they were headed and attempted to flank the investigative team. Tomarek was cut down in a savage crossfire. Kael desperately keyed in the access codes that unlocked the doors while the others kept the pressing Reman horde at bay. They managed to enter the bunker and secure it.

Kael smiled, "All the codes have been scrambled. No one can enter now unless we allow them access."

"I'll verify that, if you don't mind." T'Kir said, moving to a nearby console. Macen went with her, discussing her progress as she navigated the Romulan systems.

Livar took up position near P'ris. She'd gone to the Master Tactical Display and begun calling up situation reports from the sensor logs. Her brow furrowed as she came to the report concerning the three unidentified warbirds in orbit. Cursing under her breath, she called up a different screen.

This screen required an access code. P'ris keyed it in and started as Livar was suddenly hit by disruptor fire. Macen and T'Kir whirled at the sound to find Kael holding a weapon on P'ris.

"Drop your rifles and keep your hands where I can see them, or she dies." Kael promised.

"You," Kael pointed his pistol at P'ris, "remove your disruptor in a two fingered grip and throw it here."

"Why?" P'ris demanded.

"Why did I order you to do that, or why am I doing this at all?"

"I think you know the answer to that one." P'ris replied sharply.

"Indeed I do." Kael's smile grew, "With Admiral Kormack's code, which you've so nicely inputted into the computer for me, combined with mine, I can disable the alarms and locks on all the treasures stored here."

Kael's smile faded, "Now step away from the computer and throw me your weapon, or I will kill you where you stand."

He turned towards Macen and T'Kir, "And don't worry, I haven't forgotten about you two. The Remans will be happy to meet those responsible for the loss of so many of their comrades."

"Something to look forward to." Macen and T'Kir muttered together.

"You know," Kael's smile returned, "Perhaps I will just kill you after all."

"I've done it!" Danan announced gleefully, "I've isolated a subspace band that isn't being jammed."

"Send a message to the Valinor." Chekova ordered, "Find out who the hell these ships belong to and why they're here."

"Too late!" Daggit yelled, "They're firing on us."

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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