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The Romulan Mission - Part II 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 7

"The three unidentified warbirds have fired." Daggit announced.

"Brace for impact." Chekova ordered, "Prepare to return fire."

"Commander!" Danan interjected, "The Valinor..."

"Yes?" Chekova demanded.

"She's encompassed us with her shields." Danan reported, "She's interposed herself between the hostile warbirds and ourselves."

"You said you'd found a way around the subspace interference blocking communications?"

"Yes, ma'am." Danan replied happily.

"Mr. Daggit, get on the horn with the Valinor. Find out what they're up to and co-ordinate our efforts with theirs."

"Aye, aye."

Kael grinned maniacally as he took aim at P'ris. Macen's right hand hovered near T'Kir's left hip, directly over the disruptor holstered there. He made a grab for the disruptor. Macen yanked upwards as T'Kir's knees buckled and she fell to the floor. Catching herself with her hands, she lay prone, gazing upwards at Kael as Macen took aim.

Kael saw the flash of movement off to his right and started to respond. He brought his weapon to bear in time for an emerald pulse of disruptor fire to catch him in the chest. His torso erupted in a gout of flame and he staggered backwards. Kael made one last attempt to aim his disruptor but found himself unable to raise his arm. He snarled one last savage curse and toppled to the floor dead

T'Kir pushed herself up to her knees, "Well, you know he won't be in the sequel."

P'ris gazed at Macen and T'Kir with something akin to awe. As Macen helped T'Kir to her feet, P'ris spoke; "That was incredible. The precision and timing required... unbelievable."

"You should see our full repertoire of party favourites." Macen quipped.

"But how did you..?"

"Honey," T'Kir adopted her most maternal tone, "when you've faced as many life and death situations as we have together, you start to think and act alike."

"So," P'ris said thoughtfully, "this is more telepathic trickery."

T'Kir shook her head, "None needed. Seven years of working intimately together accomplishes the same thing a mental link can."

"You came here for a purpose." Macen redirected, "I doubt that it was to simply hole up and hope that our orbital forces retook the base."

"You are correct." P'ris nodded grimly, "I intend to destroy this base and the various secrets stored here."

Macen grimaced as T'Kir whistled appreciatively, "Isn't that a little extreme?"

"You'd do it." T'Kir declared.

"It's insane." He protested.

"My point exactly." T'Kir leaned into his face. Macen's jaw clenched and worked but he remained silent.

"If I may," P'ris interrupted, "the decision has been made. Admiral Kormack supplied me with his codes, that coupled with mine, will ignite the anti-matter charges strategically located throughout this facility. We will be safe here in this bunker. The Remans, however, will fall prey to the destructive power of the anti-matter reactions. Once freed of this responsibility, we can devote our energies to contacting our respective vessels and escaping this Elements forsaken planet."

T'Kir merely shrugged while Macen slowly nodded, "Agreed."

Commander Donatra's image was static filled and cut out intermittently but the comm line was sufficient to communicate the essentials.

"These three warbirds are under the command of the Tal Shiar." Donatra informed the command staff of the Shadow, "They are here to capture you and take you back to Romulus for questioning."

"I thought it was illegal for the Tal Shiar to operate their own ships." Chekova clarified.

Donatra nodded, "It is. These ships are operating under the personal sanction and orders of the Tal Shiar Admiral Valrik." Donatra paused for effect, "Valrik also happens to be Commander P'ris' chief suspect."

"Oh crap." Chekova muttered.

"Pardon?" Donatra asked with some confusion.

"It just means we're in some serious trouble here."

Donatra smiled knowingly, "My universal translator disagrees but I'll submit to your interpretation. We have similar expressions in Romulan as well. They are useful in cases such as these."

"Don't they ever?" Chekova grinned, then cocked her head to one side as a sudden thought occurred to her, "Why haven't the three warbirds tried to take my ship since you enveloped us in your shields?"

"They are now content to repeat their demands while they seek clarification on how to deal with these developments. The Tal Shiar are not typically innovative or spontaneous. It would be best if you dropped your shields and manoeuvred between our warp nacelles. This would afford the most protection and provide them the most difficult target."

"We'll get right on it. Thanks."

"Repay the favour by not getting my crew killed, Earther." Donatra replied and cut the channel.

P'ris set the self-destruct charges to go off in five minutes and waited. Meanwhile, T'Kir activated the bunker's sensor network and took a look at what was occurring in orbit over Tharidon. What she saw caused her to alert Macen and P'ris.

"We've got trouble people!" T'Kir announced, "We've got four warbirds in orbit. Ours is caught in the middle of a triangular pincher formation."

"The rekvah trap." P'ris nodded approvingly, "A classic. Once used to capture your USS Enterprise."

"I believe that same Enterprise escaped," Macen clarified, "with the Romulan flagship's cloaking device."

P'ris' cheeks and eyes darkened in anger but she subsided, "I believe you are correct. I also believe Commander Donatra can be counted upon to provide a solution to this predicament."

"She has one ship against three." T'Kir scoffed.

"She has two ships against three," P'ris countered, "and she is one of the best the Fleet has to offer. If those other vessels are operated by Tal Shiar commanders, as I suspect they are, then they are severely outmatched."

T'Kir opened her mouth to protest but she glanced towards Macen as she did so. He shrugged and she let the matter drop. Her next task was to prepare the transmitter so that they could communicate with the eventual victor of the enfolding duel in the skies. The bunker had its own transporter array, so it would be easy enough to beam to the victor's ship.

A shuddering vibration filled the cavern they inhabited and P'ris smiled, "It has begun."

"How long will it last?" Macen asked, concentrating on keeping his balance.

The shuddering ceased and P'ris' smile widened, "Ah, the beauty of anti-matter. If we had installed conventional explosives, we would still be caught in the throes of devastation for several more minutes. This way, it is over in seconds."

"A lot of Remans just died." Macen reminded her.

P'ris' smiled turned feral, "Kill or be killed. The most essential law of the universe in motion."

Macen shook his head. He himself had been ostracised by his own people for employing violent, even deadly, means to accomplish his goals. He still had a problem with wholesale slaughter. He doubted the Remans would have surrendered but denying them the opportunity to seemed wrong. His condemnation was bitter in his soul since he had, over the last year, destroyed two starships and their crews without offering any chance of surrender. The first incident was why he was no longer an active duty officer of Starfleet.

Starfleet hadn't wanted another incident of "rogue behaviour" so they had offered him a singular choice: honourable retirement or face charges. The decision had, in fact, been the doorway into Macen's current life. He was now a freelance operative working for Starfleet Intelligence's Special Investigative Division. He was now freed from many of the constraints he'd faced as a Starfleet officer. Short of violating the Prime Directive, his means and methods were left to his own conscience. His present status notwithstanding, his customary arrangement with the SID provided Starfleet much needed plausible deniability.

Macen and his team drew the highest risk, most sensitive cases due to their

expendable nature. The rest of the team had willingly opted for such a life. Macen was grateful for their loyalty and fiercely returned it. There was little he wouldn't do for his teammates and the sentiment was repaid in kind.

"Is there any way we can assist them?" Macen asked.

P'ris shook her head, "The bunker's defences are purely defensive. We have shields and jammers at our disposal but no particle weapons or photon torpedoes.

"We have a comm system, right?" T'Kir piped up.

"Affirmative." P'ris confirmed.

"Spoof 'em?" Macen inquired with a grin.

"Spoof 'em." T'Kir agreed with a fiercely determined look.

"The enemy warbirds have opened fire on the Valinor." Daggit reported crisply.

"Valinor status?" Chekova inquired.

"They're taking minor damage but their shields are failing faster than expected."

"Helm, prepare to move us out." Chekova ordered.

"Co-ordinates?" Grace asked.

"Anything that takes us down the throat of the closest warbird." Chekova growled.

"Aye, sir!" Grace replied with relish.

"Tactical, prepare all phasers and photon torpedoes for snap shot acquisition and firing." Chekova snapped off.

"Yes, ma'am." Daggit responded without emotion. His psychological and physiological combat conditioning was taking over.

"Helm, on my mark." Chekova warned, "Three... two... one... mark!"

Grace propelled the Shadow out between the Valinor's warp nacelles at full impulse. She approached the closest warbird dead-on, zero degree bubble. Daggit immediately began firing. Grace banked off at the last possible moment to avoid collision and passed by the Romulan warship's starboard side. The Shadow's unexpected barrage yielded immediate results as the warbird's starboard nacelle began venting plasma.

Grace arced the Shadow into a looping "climb" above the damaged warbird. She reversed course and brought the ship back on a "dive" towards the warbird. Once again, the Shadow opened up with everything she had. The differences between the Shadow and a standard Nova-class ship became more apparent with every passing second. The nimble Nova-X testbed prototype was proving as rugged and nimble as a Defiant-class escort.

The Shadow veered off towards the starboard side and repeated its barrage of the stricken warp nacelle. The warbird attempted to roll with the Shadow's passing in order to minimise the nacelle's exposure to fire. Grace compensated by increasing the Shadow's speed. Daggit's reflexes automatically shifted and adjusted his targeting and rate of fire.

Grace matched the warbird's roll and maintained position with the massive D'deridex-class cruiser. The warbird's nacelle was freely spewing plasma now. The Romulan pilot had finally deduced Grace's tactic and halted the larger ship's roll. Grace broke off and careened away at full impulse.

"Bring us back in, target the forward compartments and the primary weapons array." Chekova ordered.

Grace brought the ship around and took her in at an angled attack. Until now, the Shadow had been spared coming under fire from the warbird's powerful primary disruptor array. Now the small ship's shields were taxed to their limits as they deflected pulse after pulse of raking fire. Grace's evasive manoeuvres kept the worst of the enemy's fire from hitting them.

Daggit unleashed volley after volley of counter-fire on the weapons array and was finally rewarded seconds before Grace had to pull away and start her starboard strafing run. The primary weapons array erupted in a massive explosive discharge that ended as it hit the vacuum of space. Daggit shifted priorities and pummelled the already damaged warp nacelle. It also erupted in a plasma ball. The warbird's primary weapons were now incapacitated and it was incapable of going to warp speed, in Chekova's book, this warbird became a none issue.

A frenzied Chekova ordered Grace to change course, "Helm, alter course. Draw off some of the fire from the Valinor and target the next closest warbird."

"A message from the Valinor." Daggit interrupted, "Commander Donatra reports that the Tal Shiar ships have received orders to immediately withdraw."

"We'll just see about that." Chekova fumed.

"Commander," Danan spoke up, "two of the Romulan warbirds are exiting the system at high warp. The remaining warbird is attempting to leave at impulse."

"And the Valinor?" Chekova asked.

"Sustained moderate to severe damage." Daggit reported, "They report they should have the worst of their problems under control within the next two hours."

"Move to intercept the remaining warbird." Chekova ordered.

"What?" Danan blurted out.

"Are you deaf, I said to intercept the remaining warbird. I don't want it leaving the system."

"They're moving at sublight." Danan reminded her, "It'll be decades before they reach another star system."

"Or until they patch a repair on that warp nacelle." Chekova countered, "Helm, comply with my order."

Grace shrugged and inputted the commands. Danan protested once more, "This is pointless."

Chekova stood and turned to face Danan, "Nothing is pointless, Commander. These are potential prisoners for possible interrogation. I'm simply securing them. If you have any more objections, then feel free to place yourself on report and to depart from the bridge. Am I clear?"

"Crystal."

"Good." Chekova retook her seat, "Mr. Daggit, hail the warbird."

"Channel open, ma'am."

"Order them to surrender and prepare to be boarded."

Daggit blushed, "Ma'am, I don't think I can repeat their reply."

Chekova steepled her fingers, "Very well, lock phasers on target and prepare to fire."

"Sacred Pools, woman! Listen to yourself." Danan demanded.

"Remove yourself from my bridge or I'll have Security do it." Chekova replied dispassionately.

"Go to hell." Danan remarked and proceeded to the turbolift.

"Lieutenant Grace, summon a relief officer for Ops." Chekova ordered, "Mr. Daggit, what is the Romulans' reply."

"I'd prefer not to say."

"Very well then." Chekova's eyes narrowed, "Open fire."

"What the hell?" T'Kir muttered then turned to Macen, "You'd better see this."

"See what?" he asked as he took a look at the sensor readings.

"That dummy message I whipped up drove off all the baddies except one. That one's too damaged to warp outta here. It's trying to crawl away at impulse instead."

"No one said my fellow Tal Shiar agents are nothing of not obedient." P'ris mumbled.

"Anyway, the Shadow is now firing on the crippled ship."

"Oh, hell." Macen swore, "We need to get up there."

"Chekova?" T'Kir asked with a reproving glare.

"Exactly." Macen grimaced, "She could end up destroying the whole ship. Get on the comm and try to get through to her."

Daggit was still shaken by the orders he'd just carried out and was surprised when the incoming signal alert flashed on his board. The signal's origin also surprised him.

"Ma'am, there's a signal coming in from the surface."

"What has the warbird crew have to say?"

"Nothing you'd care to hear." Daggit answered, "About this other signal, it could be the Captain."

"Commander Macen is dead." Chekova declared flatly, "Now target the enemy warbird and prepare to fire on my signal."

"Ma'am?"

"Don't disappoint me by succumbing to weakness now, Mr. Daggit." Chekova's scorn was laid bare, "Target the damn ship."

"Phasers locked."

"Then fire!"

"Dammit!" T'Kir snarled, "They're firing again."

"Let me raise the Valinor." P'ris suggested and moved in front of the comm screen. After a moment, Donatra's face appeared.

"Commander P'ris, I wish I could say I'm surprised to see you. I suppose all of that destruction was your handiwork?"

"I am flattered you took the time to notice. You seemed to have concerns of your own."

"Mere inconveniences. I trust I have you to thank for the departure of our Tal Shiar friends?"

"Thanks go to T'Kir for that particular brainstorm."

"So how can I help you?"

"We need to transport off this worthless rock."

"Undoubtedly. Sadly, our transporters are down and do not rank as a high priority."

"WE have a working transporter. We need the co-ordinates of one of your transporter rooms."

"Easily done."

The screen went dark and Macen cocked an eyebrow in P'ris' direction, "That seems adversarial."

"It's our way."

"D'you trust her?"

"As much as you trust T'Kir."

"Okay then."

Macen, T'Kir and P'ris materialised on the pads of the Valinor's primary transporter room. Donatra was there to greet them.

"Welcome back Commander. Welcome aboard Commander Macen, Lieutenant T'Kir."

"It's an honour." Macen replied, "How soon can we patch a message through to the Shadow?"

"As soon as we reach the bridge." Donatra replied, "Why?"

"I need to stop them from destroying that crippled warbird."

"Pity." Donatra commented, "I rather thought of it as poetic justice."

"Commander," Daggit raised his voice, "incoming message from the Valinor."

"Later." Chekova hissed.

"They say it's urgent."

"Oh, very well." Chekova sighed, "Put it on screen."

There was a collective gasp as Macen's image filled the viewer. That swiftly changed into a sullen silence as they recognised the anger he was barely containing.

"Stand down, Commander." He ordered sharply.

"What?"

"You heard me." Macen growled, "Stand down. Take no further actions until I arrive aboard. The Valinor's transporter is down so you'll have to use the Shadow's to beam T'Kir and I back."

Chekova nodded, "Right away."

Macen nodded once and the comm channel was cut. Chekova turned to Daggit.

"Inform the transporter room to co-ordinate with the Valinor in preparation for the Captain's return."

"Aye, ma'am." Daggit replied enthusiastically.

As Daggit set to work, Chekova retook her seat. Her hand idly drifted over to the command panel shared by the Captain and 1st Officer. She began inputting a series of commands and smiled grimly to herself as the panel's display altered. She then inputted a final set of commands and hesitated before pressing the final command toggle.

Daggit finished speaking to the transporter crew and noticed the alert on his board. He saw the ‘Command Override' designator flashing and despaired. He wasn't certain he could engage the manual override fast enough to counteract the command board. Fatefully, Chekova decided at that moment to press the ‘Fire' button and unleashed a brace of torpedoes at the limping warbird. They were targeted at the Romulans' engineering section. The tactic succeeded and the warbird lost containment of its artificial singularity. The ship imploded into an infinitesimally tight mass and the system gained a new navigational hazard.

Stunned silence ruled the bridge. The opening of the turbolift doors seemed thunderous in the auditory void on the bridge. Chekova turned to see who'd arrived and bit back a curse. Macen stood before her looking livid. With him were T'Kir, Danan, and Radil.

"Daggit and Radil, escort Commander Chekova to the brig." Macen's voice was so low as to be barely be heard.

"What?" she asked in incredulity.

"You are relieved from all further duties pending an investigation into what

transpired here." Macen informed her, "In Federation standard, that means you destroyed a ship that may or may not have been attempting to harm you. That remains to be determined by investigating panel. Your one indisputable crime was disobeying a direct order. I ordered you to stand down and take no further action but you went ahead and fired on that warbird anyway. I could hold a court martial for that offence alone but I won't. To be honest, I don't think I could be impartial enough so I'll let Admiral Drake convene the board of inquiry and the court martial. Since I no longer trust you, I can't let you run around the ship unsupervised. Your quarters aren't secure so that leaves the brig. Hopefully it'll be a short mission so you won't have to be in there long."

Chekova returned Macen's stern gaze with a venomous glare. Macen nodded Daggit and Radil forward and they moved to apprehend Chekova. Daggit reached out to take her arm and she recoiled away. Giving him a defiant look, she marched for the turbolift. She was last seen gazing out of the lift, looking unremorseful as the doors closed.

T'Kir turned to Macen, "Can I take this opportunity to say ‘I told you so'?"

"Yeah, yeah." Macen turned to Danan, "So, Lees, it looks like you're the new 1st Officer."

"Why can't Daggit do it?" Danan whined.

"Because he gets all flustered." Macen explained, "He almost had a coronary the first time I left in command of the Odyssey. This would be after you left the team and left me with no 1st Officer."

Danan held up her hands, "Enough with the guilt trip. I'll be unhappy to do it. I'm not doing much else anyway."

"So now what?" T'Kir asked suddenly.

"Now we make repairs, assist the Valinor however we can and get ready to make

way for Remus." Macen replied.

"Remus? As in Romulus' binary twin?" Danan inquired with some shock.

Macen nodded, "We have a few questions for a man named Shinzon."

 

Chapter 8

"Elements," T'Kir sighed as she stepped out of the sonic shower, "do I feel better."

Macen gave her a playful leer, "I'm starting to feet better m'self."

"Take a shower." She laughed, "And who knows? You might get lucky."

"Might?" Macen said with mock offence, "I was hoping for better odds than that."

"A lot depends on how fast you are." T'Kir confessed, "I'm still pretty buzzed from the fight but I feel a serious crash coming on."

"Duly noted." Macen said and proceeded to strip. He stepped into the shower and activated it. The high frequency sonic pulses relaxed his aching muscles even as it vibrated the accumulated detritus of the day from his skin. The meditative atmosphere caused him to reflect on the day's events.

The Remans' participation in Valrik's operation was highly unexpected. In Macen's limited experience, the Remans answered to one man, Shinzon. Shinzon had been brilliant and ambitious, but had hardly seemed the type to distribute classified weapons to "lesser" races. He'd utilise those same weapons to be sure, but never hand them out to a potential opponent. Paranoia ran deep in the collective consciousness of the Romulans and the Remans. Distributing weapons as powerful as trilithium warheads ran counter to that cultural imperative.

Then again, Macen reflected, Shinzon is human, not Reman nor Romulan. He may play the part but he's not truly a member of either side. That changes his cultural indoctrination and his potential actions

This realisation led to Macen exiting the shower, grabbing some undergarments and grabbing a padd to start jotting down notes for his next conversation with P'ris. It wasn't until he yawned and a bone numbing wave of exhaustion hit that he thought to check on T'Kir. He found her laying naked, asleep and curled into a ball. Feeling instantly guilty and protective, Macen drew the covers over her.

T'Kir tried not to let her vulnerabilities show very often but it didn't matter, Macen knew them intimately. Since the day they'd met, he'd accepted her flaws and all. He openly helped when she asked for it, and moved discreetly when she hadn't. She did the same for him and it remained an unspoken understanding between them. It was an understanding made easier by the telepathic rapport they shared.

Macen kissed T'Kir gently on the cheek then stripped out of his undergarments. He eased his way into the covers and immediately felt her body heat. An El-Aurian and a Vulcan, he mused, its rather like pairing off a Klingon and a Trill. There's an unlikely combination. He settled in and asked the computer to shut off the lights.

"As much as my professional pride hates to admit it, that Federation ship saved our backsides today." Donatra confessed to P'ris in the Commander's Galley.

"Elements!" P'ris swore, "Don't tell Macen that. He has cause enough to be arrogant already. First is that miserable time he saved my life from my own mutinous crew and now from this treachery. His actions on the ground were as courageous and as vital of those of his ship."

"I'd say his subcommander became overwhelmed with bloodlust." Donatra remarked a touch too coolly.

"Not unheard of even among our own forces." P'ris pointed out.

"But admittedly, an phenomenon far less frequently evidenced by the humans." Donatra, "Even as far back as the war with Earth, the enemy was valiant but rarely bloodthirsty."

"Beginning to admire them are we?' P'ris asked with a touch of professional curiosity.

Donatra caught her changing tone as well, "Do not even begin to suspect me of weakness or disloyalty P'ris. I've never met another Tal Shiar agent I could trust before. I'll wager that the reverse is also true."

P'ris sighed, "You are correct. I am seeking prey where there is none."

Donatra considered matters carefully before speaking again, "What will you do if Macen demands satisfaction of your blood debts?"

P'ris cursed before responding, "Do not remind me. It is bad enough that I owe this Starfleet officer one blood debt for his intervention in the mutiny that almost took my ship and my life. Now I owe him another for saving my life while being threatened by Kael. It is an embarrassment to have your life held by an inferior, much less an alien inferior, at that."

Donatra managed a half smile and took a sip of her ale, "I'm sure you'll manage."

Six hours later, the mission resumed. The Valinor still suffered from heavy damage but would continue repairs while underway. She set course and prepared to escort the Shadow to Remus. After the helms of the two ships verified course co-ordinates and speed, they leapt to warp and left the ravaged system behind.

Grace entered the bridge exactly ten hours after leaving it. She wasn't surprised to find Macen and Daggit already there. She'd expected T'Kir to utilise every minute of the ten hour respite Macen had given the senior officers and the crewmen involved in the battle against the three Warbirds. Perhaps there were a few disadvantages to sleeping with the Captain after all, Grace mused. Grace stopped by T'Kir's station and said good morning but didn't linger. She looked forward to resuming her post.

Grace relished her Starfleet duties. It was her other duties, her duties to her people that came much less naturally. She'd prepared throughout her entire childhood to serve the public good of her people, to pave the way for their introduction to the Milky Way Galaxy. Now that she was an adult, she found herself bound to these concerns but no longer enthusiastic about them. The SID and this team in particular had superseded her original loyalties. That couldn't last and the two causes were swiftly approaching a collision.

Her people, the Kelvans, were travelling from the Andromeda Galaxy to the Milky Way. One group of advance scouts had entered Federation space over a century ago. They had survived the different environmental pressures by adopting human form. They'd encountered and scanned a passing survey ship that picked up the Kelvans' distress call. The survey ship then relayed the call to the nearby USS Enterprise under command of the now legendary James T. Kirk. The Kelvan scouts took over Kirk's ship and tried to force him to assist their plans to return to the Andromeda Galaxy to alert the rest of the Empire to the feasibility of surviving in the Milky Way.

Kirk defeated the Kelvans by revealing to them that they had also adopted human frailties along with the appearance. Unbeknownst to Kirk, Rojan, the leader of the Kelvan expedition dispatched a message to Kelva, alerting his people to the potential rewards and risks of colonising in the Milky Way. Decades later, a return signal had been received: a small fleet of Kelvan ships was crossing the gulf between galaxies. Rojan and the others leapt into action. The younger Kelvans were swiftly trained as observers and scouts.

The young were sent forth into the Federation to determine what sort of reception the incoming Kelvans could expect. Grace was given a long-term mission. She was to infiltrate Starfleet and ascertain the Federation's military contingency for an extra-galactic invasion. Along the way, Grace happened to draw the attention of Section 31, Starfleet Intelligence and eventually the SID. Macen had extracted Grace out of Section 31 after her growing division of loyalties between 31 and Macen's team of agents sparked a confrontation between Section 31 and Macen. Macen had liberated her from 31's service. That act had sealed her ties and loyalties to him.

This created her present dilemma. What if her duty to her people opposed her duties to Macen? Which side would she choose? Which side should she choose? She'd already acted once against Tom Riker and she prayed to his lost soul that he could forgive her for altering his memory.

Sadly, Grace knew, she'd already made her choice. She'd made it the moment she'd altered Riker's memories rather than have her true heritage revealed. The worst part of it all was its futility. In her heart of hearts, Grace truly believed that Macen and the others would not only accept the truth but would assist her in trying to pave the way for her people's arrival to this galaxy. Only Rojan's damnable demands for secrecy bound her to silence. Her own parents, Hanar and Drea, were far more amenable to co-operating with the Federation in the settling of their world. Even more than a century after encountering Kirk and his crew, Rojan was paranoid regarding a Federation attempt to block relocating the Kelvan refugees and ousting Rojan's crew and their offspring from their cosy little planet.

Grace's skills at astronavigation stemmed from her grandmother, Drea. Drea had been the chief pilot of the expeditionary force that remained in the Milky Way. Kelvans passed on knowledge genetically. Grace had been born as a fully qualified pilot and tactical officer for ships both familiar and completely alien to the Federation. She could have learned a new specialisation but for the expediency of her mission to infiltrate Starfleet, it had been decided that she would utilise one of her inherited skill sets. Grace opted for astronavigation despite Rojan's urging her to focus on her tactical skills.

Grace relieved her back up and took a seat behind the helm station. She took a moment to run her hands across the length of the board in front of her. It was a ritual she performed every time she took her station. She imagined that it helped her to reconnect with the ship before she touched the controls.

"Feel reconnected?" Macen asked softly.

Damn the man! Grace inwardly cursed, He notices everything.

Grace had long wondered how much of her secret Macen had deduced. Whatever it was, he was playing his cards close to his chest. He surely suspected something was different about her. If nothing else his accursed El-Aurian empathic and temporal/spatial abilities would "read" her differently than "real" humans".

Maybe he's waiting for me to confide in him? She wondered.

It was a tempting thought. Macen had readily accepted her when her connection to Section 31 was laid bare. Revealing she was an alien spying on the Federation couldn't be much more of a stretch after spying on Starfleet for a shadowy agency that didn't officially exist. Surely that couldn't be too much of a stretch in comparison?

Yeah, right. Grace mentally groused.

"Bridge to Engineering." Macen's voice interrupted Grace's train of thought.

"Dracas here." Came the Chief's voice.

"How are the repairs coming?"

"Finished them an hour ago. We're just waiting on the Romulans now."

"We'll wait. You'll grab some sleep."

"Sir?" Dracas was confused.

"When was the last time you slept?"

Dracas remained silent. It had been over twelve hours ago.

"Hit the sack, Chief." Macen ordered, "And if you report for duty any sooner than six hours from now, I'll have you spaced."

"Aye, sir." Dracas conceded wearily.

Danan rode herd over the bridge as while Macen and T'Kir conferred in his Ready Room. Lisea wished Macen would fob the 1st Officer's role onto the Ops Specialist. Heavens knew she didn't want it. She'd agreed to come back to the team merely as the Sciences Specialist, not as the damned second in command.

Danan wondered, not for the first time, what had compelled her to rejoin the team. All of her reasons for leaving were still valid. She was still broken up with Macen. Hell, he'd even started seeing another woman. It was with her blessing but that didn't mean that it didn't sting once in awhile. She still viewed Macen as being partially out of control. Ever since he'd joined the Maquis, his tendency for unrestrained action had increased dramatically. To be honest, his handling of Chekova rather surprised her since it's the type of stunt that he himself was capable of.

Danan had recognised Macen as an elemental force of nature during the symbiont's previous host life. Aural Danan had worked alongside Brin Macen in Starfleet Intelligence. Like Lisea, no one knew that Aurel was actually the minority form of humanoid found on Trill, the ones that subsumed the bulk of the very personalities in order to enjoy the fruits of joining. Ambassador Odan was the most famous representative of this second class of Trill hosts.

Over Aurel's lifespan, it was Danan that fell in love with Macen. These emotional feelings remained intact when the symbiont transferred host bodies. Lisea, like Aurel before her, underwent cosmetic surgery in order to appear to be of the mainstream order of Trills to offworlders. When the secret of Trill symbionts was revealed as a result of Odan's getting injured during the course of a mission, the acceptance of this unique co-existence between humanoid and vermiform surprised and delighted Trill society.

Lisea decided to use this moment of goodwill towards Trills to seek out and approach Brin Macen. Finally seeing someone who had the potential to "live" longer than he could, he readily plunged into a romance with Danan. It had been a long time since either of them had had a serious relationship and they jumped into things rather impulsively. Despite all of the little fissures in the relationship, Danan was willing to make a go of it, that is, until the Maquis mission came along.

Over the course of the mission, Macen's inherent instabilities came to light. On top of that there was always T'Kir. The Vulcan seemed to have permeated every moment of their lives. The final bruising insult was that Macen trusted T'Kir more than Danan even after the schizoid Vulcan had tried to kill him.

Danan sat out the Dominion War utilising long-range sensor arrays to detect and track enemy movement. This required two lifetimes worth of skills. At the close of the war, Admiral Nechayev approached Danan with an intriguing proposition. Macen had been selected to lead a starship on a covert mission and Starfleet Intelligence was seeking her to fill the 1st Officer's billet. It sounded too good to be true, so of course it was.

Once again, T'Kir came between them. This time Macen had to break her out of a psychiatric detention facility but that didn't dissuade him in the slightest. Throughout the mission, Macen's natural proclivity for unilateral action ran amuck. At the mission's conclusion, Danan left the team.

Unsure of whether or not to stay in uniform, Danan accepted reclassification as a Reserve Officer. She then sought to rebuild her life with the Daystrom Institute. She swiftly discovered though, if the bureaucracy of Starfleet seemed stifling, then that of the Institute was downright crushing. Danan persevered and advanced in the eyes and stature of her peers. .

Although unhappy, Danan made no trouble for any of her supervisors or co-workers until her survey ship came under attack by the Nova Romans. She then revealed the Type I phaser she habitually carried and threatened to shoot the ship's captain if he didn't relinquish command to her. Her first and last act as commander of that beleaguered vessel was to surrender to the Nova Romans. Her fellow scientists temporarily went into slavery but at least they survived.

This experience would have been permanent if not for the arrival of Macen and his Special Investigations Division team. Over the course of their adventures on Magna Roma, Macen and his team discovered an alien conspiracy to subvert the Roman Emperor, led an uprising, recruited and led an Iotian invasion force, overthrew the Emperor and drove the Omricons from the planet. All that and several action packed appearances in the gladiatorial arena. Upon being freed from her captors, Danan requested to be let back on the team. Macen, for reasons of his own, accepted her without question or reservation.

Danan found her thoughts drifting towards the Ready Room. Danan wondered whether or not Macen and T'Kir were really working or whether this was merely an excuse to.... She stopped herself there. That was a slippery slope that she didn't want to go down. She remembered Macen's touch. She'd had more skilled lovers over Danan's lifetime. Not that Macen was an unskilled brute, she reminded herself, His enthusiasm and willingness to experiment certainly made up for a lot.

Danan shook herself. That was exactly the slippery slope she needed to avoid. The last thing she, or anyone else for that matter, needed was a love triangle. Still, she always enjoyed a challenge and that Vulcan tart certainly seemed a greater challenge than one would assume. Again, Danan stifled these thoughts, but a warm afterglow remained after having them. Hmmnn....

Remus loomed before them on the viewer. It was a dark and forbidding world. A smaller binary twin of Romulus, Remus stalked Romulus' every movement. Possessing no axial spin, Remus possessed an eternal "day" side and a "night" side. The original, genetically engineered miners who came to the night side to harvest the world's wealth in dilithium gradually lost their ability to tolerate light in any abundance. This handicap was passed on generation to generation in the endless gloom of Remus' mines.

The children of the original miners became known as Remans. Later as the full heritage of their genetic enhancements and the pervasive exposure to dilithium transformed them, these offspring of the mines became known as Remans. Marked as different by "normal" Romulans, the Remans were systematically treated as second-class citizens. Romulan overseers directed the mines under the command of a Senate appointed Commandant. There had been a cry of victory across Remus when Shinzon, the adopted Reman, had been appointed Commandant.

No Reman had ever risen to any rank until the advent of the Dominion War. Then, out of desperation to match the brutality of the Jem'Hadar, the Remans were recruited as shock troops. Shinzon, his hidden genetic heritage granting him natural leadership abilities, was thrust into the foreground and granted command of the Reman battalions. Tactics and strategy were not new concepts to the Remans; the battlefield merely changed shape. Instead of an intangible war against the Commandant's never-ending quotas and reign of terror enforced by Romulan military units and Reman "bonebreakers", the Remans found a foe they could lash out against. It was little wonder they became so effective.

At the war's end, the Remans were offered a simple choice: return to the mines or stay with the battalions. Most opted to return home but a fair number remained within the Imperial Forces. These remaining units were scattered throughout the Empire, usually assigned to high security areas. Shinzon was rewarded with the post of Commandant. He used this post to maintain his high level contacts in the Fleet and began to regard members of the Senate as acquaintances.

The Tal Shiar maintained a presence on Remus as well. They had built an isolated facility on the "dayside". No Remans ever went there. Whether or not the agents posted there ever went to the "nightside" remained to be seen.

"Now remember, Commandant Shinzon is the absolute authority on this world. His word is law." P'ris reminded Macen, T'Kir and Daggit on their way to the Valinor's transporter room, "Since he was raised by the Remans, he is considered one of them. Do not provoke him lest you inspire their wrath."

"Why Commander," Macen wore an evil grin, ‘you sound as though you expect me to be impertinent."

"I expect you to act like an evil imp, which is what you are." P'ris replied with a small smile, "It is as the Elements formed you."

"You know what I find fascinating?' Macen asked, "This shared reverence for the Elemental forces of Water, Earth, Fire and Air. T'Kir...oof!" He was cut off by a strategically placed elbow strike by T'Kir.

She smiled beatifically, "The Romulan settlers on Shial also believed in the Elements and the honouring of the same was a matter of discussion between the Vulcan and Romulan settlers."

P'ris graced her with a warm smile, "I have heard you invoke the Elements under your breath, Lieutenant. You may unwittingly be the culmination of the renegade Spock's goals for our two peoples."

"Heavens forfend." T'Kir swore.

P'ris laughed, "I feel the same way. Perhaps that will change. I can see where our two people would be stronger united than apart. I wonder if that is treasonous to consider? It does not matter. I will think what I wish and the consequences be damned."

"Spoken like a true rebel." T'Kir grinned despite herself, "You'd have made a helluva Maquis."

P'ris' face puckered, "I am not certain how to take that."

"I am." The formerly silent Donatra interjected, "Such an affiliation would have got you executed by the Tal Shiar. Anything that warrants that can't be all bad."

Daggit chose that moment to clear his throat, "Can anyone tell me why I'm carrying a Romulan disruptor and pulse rifle?"

"Ammunition." Macen explained, "If you need powerpacks, you can readily use what's on hand in the planetary arsenals."

"Or the corpses of your enemies." Donatra put in; "The advantage to both ally and foe using the same weaponry is that you are assured ready access to components for your own armaments."

"Awfully cold perspective." T'Kir observed.

"This coming from a Maquis?" Donatra laughed bitterly, "You stripped the weapons off of dead comrades and enemies alike."

T'Kir took a step towards Donatra but Macen placed a restraining hand on her shoulder, "Perhaps we should discuss something else."

"I agree." P'ris said in a tone not to be countermanded.

"Commandant Shinzon has courteously extended his hospitality to you and your crewmates, Commander Macen. In light of the unexpected, and unexplained, actions of the Remans on Tharidon, Shinzon was willing to let the Starfleet team carry weapons for their own protection. This concession came at a small price; they could not proceed to any area on Remus without an escort. Ostensibly, the escort was for their protection but in reality they were there to spy on the visitors.

"Trust will not come easily to Shinzon, or any other Reman for that matter." Donatra informed the team as they entered the transporter room, "After centuries of exploitation, the war has given the Remans a voice in Romulan affairs and it is one they intend to use. I was able to arrange your meeting with Shinzon based upon the merits of our working relationship during the war. My credibility is at stake here." Her mouth twisted into a wry grimace; "I'd appreciate it if you didn't spend the currency of my good name too freely."

There was a soft, united chuckle at that and the team stepped onto the transporter pads. Donatra used this opportunity to revisit and argument already lost, "I'd prefer if you brought along a Romulan escort."

"Why?" P'ris countered, "Commander Daggit is perfectly capable. I have reviewed our file on him. The term ‘capable' is a misnomer. With any army of conditioned troops such as Daggit and his associates, the Federation would have had little use for either the Klingons or our forces during the war."

Daggit shifted uncomfortably at this description of his fellow "Super-Soldiers" but couldn't deny the basic premise behind P'ris' argument. If the Federation had been willing to subject its citizenry to the physiological and psychological alterations he and his comrades had undergone, then the Federation very well could have won the war on its own. The problems would be becoming apparent now that the peace was won.

First of all, the Federation's would have been expended to the point that they would now be unable to defend themselves against an aggressor, any aggressor. The second difficulty would be the same as the one faced by Daggit's homeworld: what to do with a portion of your population unable to reintegrate with society? Angosia had barely been able to ineffectively deal with a few hundred such individuals. The Federation would have produced tens of thousands.

When one considered that he, and the others like him, only felt calm and at peace while engaged in combat, it made one terrified to ponder what an army composed of Daggit and those like him would be like. It could very well be a force dedicated to endless warfare. The Federation would have to continually alter new conscripts in order to fill the ranks of the fallen or face imminent and crushing defeat. Whereas certain species such as the Tzenkethi and the Romulans saw the Federation as an encroaching hegemony, P'ris' vision would have transformed it into a militant empire.

"The matter is decided, Commander." P'ris declared, "Transport us to the surface."

Donatra frowned but stepped back tot he transporter's control console and nodded to the tech manning it. For Macen, T'Kir, P'ris and Daggit the transporter room blurred out of existence....

....and refocused in a low-lit duplicate. A Romulan Subcommander and a Centurion were there to meet them, as well as two armoured Remans. The Remans were armed with disrupting pulse rifles and their traditional personal knives. It was not a reassuring sight for anyone that had fought Remans.

The Remans bristled and Macen moved his hand away from the butt of the disruptor hung low from his hip. He reached out and tapped T'Kir's hand in order to initiate a telepathic link. Over it, he instructed her to keep her hand clear of her weapon. Her hand drifted away from the pistol and the Remans visibly began to relax.

The Subcommander stepped forward and presented himself to P'ris, "Commander, it is an honour."

P'ris struggled to peer through the gloom as she replied, "I am certain the honour is mine."

"I believe I can alleviate some of your present difficulties." The Subcommander announced and snapped his fingers and the Centurion stepped forward, "My adjunct, Centurion Pretak."

"And may I have your name, Subcommander?" P'ris asked.

"Koval." He replied with a cold smile.

"Fancy that." P'ris replied noncommittally at hearing the family name of the head of the Tal Shiar being bandied about, "You said something about relief?"

"Ah, yes." Koval smiled, "These," he held up a pair of wraparound ocular visors similar to what the Remans wore for protection against the sun, "are sensor glasses. They provide vision enhancement and night vision capabilities. You can also tie your disruptor into them and ‘see' an illuminated dot upon whatever your weapon is aimed at. It has proven invaluable for the guards and troops stationed on this miserable cave of a world."

"Is that a complaint?" a hint of a smile tugged at P'ris' mouth.

"An observation, Commander." P'ris had to grant him that he was a bold one.

The sensor glasses were distributed amongst the Starfleet team and Koval led them towards the door but P'ris stopped him when she reached the two Reman guards, "And what are your names?"

They stared at her blankly and she grew impatient, "Well? Can you understand me?"

"They can't believe you really want to know." T'Kir advised her, "They think its some kind of trick. Typically, they're treated as little more than furniture. Any Romulan who's treated them differently has had an agenda all their own."

Now the Remans bristled and shifted their weight uncomfortably. Shinzon's adjunct, their leader before his elevating Shinzon into the position, was a telepath. It was a trait retained by the Remans. It was not expressed very often but when it did appear, it was even more powerful than the touch telepathy of the Vulcans. The Adjunct could tap your mind no matter where you were on Remus. Now this slip of a Vulcan was displaying similar talents. A contest between such forces could have unprecedented consequences.

"Ayrk and Khimar." The Reman named Ayrk finally answered.

"I am honoured and pleased to meet you, Ayrk and Khimar." P'ris informed them, "As are my Starfleet comrades."

"We remember Commander Macen for his services rendered to the Reman battalions." Ayrk replied with a nod in Macen's direction, "As we remember Lt. Commander Daggit for fighting alongside us against the Jem'Hadar. Commandant Shinzon has ordered us to extend you every courtesy in memory of these actions."

"We thank you for your courtesy," Macen assured them, "just as we remember the valiant actions of the Remans on that historic day. Perhaps our days of co-operation lay before us rather than behind us."

The two Remans seemed mollified and motioned for the assembled Romulan and Starfleet officers to follow them.

 

Chapter 9

The labyrinths of Remus had been carved out over the course of centuries. Vast subterranean halls and cities had been hewn out of the stone. A Reman was born, lived and died in the stygian gloom of his cavernous environment. The entire native population lived in the scattered cities born from the original mining encampments.

One such city had risen in stature above the rest. Sharuz-dum was the home of the Commandant. Built from the original mining colony, Sharuz-dum served as the seat of Reman power. This truly meant it was the hub of Romulus' control over Remus' various mining settlements.

The dilithium ore lacing the crust of the planet negated the use of transporters within the passages. Orbital transports had to be conducted at selected sites. Most of the other passages cut into the rock were wide enough for two or three Remans to pass comfortably by. They were, however, too narrow for the use of repulsorlift or impulse driven vehicles like on the surface of Romulus. It generally made for a lot of walking.

The exceptions were the Romulan troops garrisoning Remus. They had access to motorcycles and quadrunners. Two motorcycles and four quads were parked in the passageway outside the transporter station. They all utilised high-density batteries so as not to pollute the Reman atmosphere.

The Remans mounted the motorcycles. P'ris and Daggit each took a quad for themselves. Koval mounted up behind Pretak on a quad, clearly intending to be driven about. Macen and T'Kir conducted a silent argument over who would drive and when Macen finally won, she snuggled up behind him on the last quad.

The Remans fired up their cycles and roared off down the passageway. Not to be outdone or intimidated, P'ris followed suit. Daggit followed on her metaphorical heels. Macen gunned the quad's engine and gave chase before the Romulans could respond. Lagging somewhat, Pretak began his pursuit of the briskly paced column.

The advantages of the Remans' natural adaptations tot he conditions coupled with their familiarity with the passageways soon became evident. They repeatedly had to slow their progress down to allow the others to catch up. It was during the course of one of these games of "tag" that Macen noted the cut-outs regularly carved out of the wall. Pedestrians, alerted by the high pitched whine of the vehicles' engines, could safely step out of the way of oncoming traffic.

Macen was disappointed at the speeds at which they navigated the passageways and settlements of Remus. The halls and homes of the Remans were carved out of the very rock and displayed the talents of master craftsmen. Great care and sacrifice had gone into the building of each edifice. The scientist in Macen yearned to study the Remans' societal make-up and observe its familial structures in action.

The transporter station was built near the surface of the Reman crust. It took nearly an hour to navigate down into the "capital" of Sharuz-dum. Upon arriving, Macen was impressed. It reminded him of a site he had visited on Earth. The Edomite city of Petra had been carved out of the rock in similar grand scale. Although the Edomite culture had long been extinct on Earth, their city lived on.

Massive columns held aloft the ceiling above the grand courtyard of Sharuz-dum. Here, in the courtyard, the daily life of the city transpired. All the homes of the city were built around a central hall with an opening whose style could have adorned a Vulcan temple. This hall housed the Commandant and his staff. Ayrck and Khimar led them through the bustling marketplace that occupied most of the massive courtyard. They parked their vehicles in front of the Commandant's hall and waited for the others to do the same.

"This way." Ayrck said as he motioned towards the steps leading up to the hall's entrance.

By the Pools, Danan thought miserably, I am sooooo bored.

With Macen down on the planet, Danan was in command. Grace was at the helm, doing a lot of nothing. Everyone else on the bridge was a relief officer. Radil stood guard over Chekova. Dracas was in Engineering co-ordinating diagnostics to see of the recent repairs were holding. According to reports and complaints, Kort was holed up in Sickbay, haranguing anyone who happened to drop in.

There just wasn't much to do while sitting in orbit. Danan had already utilised the Shadow's formidable sensor array to run virtually every type of scan on Remus. Donatra had quickly gotten on the horn to yell at her but the bulk of the scans had been completed by then. The Federation's knowledge of Remus was going to be substantially increased upon the ship's return home.

Silence dominated the bridge. The crew had been overtly avoiding the SID team since Chekova's arrest. Several rallies and protests had been conducted in the messes. No one had come forward to demand Chekova's release so Danan assumed it would all remain subdued. Reports and complaints would be filed and a generally sullen atmosphere would prevail but things would get done.

It was to her great surprise when she heard Tennison, the relief Tactical officer, raise her voice; "Commander, may I have a word?"

Danan rose from the dual command station and turned around to face Tennison. The Security officer was aiming a phaser at Danan. Danan glanced about the bridge and discovered that every relief officer, Science, Ops, and Engineering, were all aiming phasers at her. Grace, slowly rising from her station, had obviously noticed it too.

"You've been relieved, Commander." Tennison said emotionlessly, "Commander Chekova will be assuming command shortly."

Mutiny! Danan thought dismally, Brin is going to kill me.

Dracas wasn't surprised to be staring down the working end of a phaser. He was disappointed, however, to find that it was wielded by his Assistant Chief Engineer. He thought that he'd established a better relationship with the young tech officer than that. Even as he raised his hands in surrender, Dracas was already seeking a means of escape.

Kort threw out yet another mutineer with a roar. So far, they'd come at him one at a time. He'd easily disarmed and ejected every intruder into Sickbay. Eventually, though, they'd rally and rush him en masse with heavy weapons but until then he'd face them like a warrior born.

The Commandant's hall was richly appointed with the latest styles from Romulus. The previous Commandant had been summarily executed and Shinzon had inherited all of her possessions. Although not Reman by birth, Shinzon held to Reman customs. Most of the items littering his hall showed little signs of use. In fact, his office was the first room to exhibit any Reman character.

The office was austere. It possessed a single desk and workstation terminal. Four simple, metal chairs sat before the desk. The room was dimly lit, right at the comfortable level for Remans. Seated behind the desk, awaiting them, was Shinzon.

His relative youth was the first striking feature that caught one's eye. He held himself with a mien far beyond his years. His shaved cranium, coupled with the fierce intensity of his eyes, granted him an elemental visage. He wore Reman armour but unlike the typically ebon armour worn by common Remans, Shinzon's was purple hued with a pearlescent gleam.

The origins of the Remans' armour lay in both aspects of their heritage: warrior and miner. It was durable enough to protect one from cave-ins and other hazards while being flexible enough to allow unrestricted movement. All Remans wore their armour with pride. Only Reman children were without armour and adolescents were given communally owned suits to practice wearing until they matured and received their own custom crafted set of armour.

Standing to Shinzon's left was a tall Reman in black armour. It was to be assumed this was the Attaché that Ayrck had thought of. T'Kir had relayed the stray thought via their telepathic bond. T'Kir had dampened their personal telepathic bond in order to broadcast a general "jamming" field.

The Attaché stirred as his efforts to read the minds of Shinzon's guest were repetitively thwarted. He continually redoubled his efforts and the others began to show signs of the increased mental pressure in the room. Only Macen and Shinzon appeared unaffected by the mental duel waging around them.

As the psychic backlash increased, P'ris clutched at her head and Daggit struggled to keep his eyes open through the grimace he wore. Ayrck and Khimar were each staggered and sought support from the office walls. Macen and Shinzon calmly assessed one another as a fine trickle of sweat began to run down T'Kir's cheeks. The Attaché's lips began to tremble as he mounted his final assault.

As suddenly as it began, the contest ended. At first, the only visible signs of the cessation of hostilities was the sudden relaxation in T'Kir's shoulders and the renewed stiffness of the Attaché's posture. It took several more minutes for the others to begin to recover. Macen smiled coldly and crossed his arms over his chest as he levelled his gaze squarely upon Shinzon.

"Are we done testing each other's mettle or can we expect a repeat performance?"

Shinzon matched Macen's smile but a glimmer of respect shone in his eyes, "I believe we're done. You'll have to forgive my Attaché's... enthusiasm. He took me into his family when I was just a boy deposited on Remus to die. He moulded me into the man I am today. He will take any action he deems necessary to preserve my life. Since it is my life, I naturally concur with his judgement."

"Perhaps his concerns today were misplaced." Macen suggested.

"Perhaps." Shinzon allowed then paused for a moment's reflection, "My lieutenants made promising reports regarding you during the war. You advised your troops and then fought beside them on the front lines. That is a rare thing for one in your profession." Shinzon cast a withering glance towards P'ris, "As her comrades could tell you."

"Commander P'ris has comported herself beyond reproach during my association with her. I can't speak for any actions she has committed that I wasn't witness to." Macen replied.

"A legalism, Commander." Shinzon scoffed, "An evasive manoeuvre designed to avoid responsibility. Be bold, show that battlefield courage again and venture an opinion."

Without hesitation Macen responded, "P'ris is reliable. I've already entrusted her with my life and would do so again."

Shinzon nodded, "Good. That's all I needed to hear."

With that said, Shinzon spoke to the Attaché, who dismissed Ayrck and Khimar; "They'll await you outside." The Attaché informed them.

The team took the seats arranged before Shinzon's massive desk and he studied them over steepled fingers, "Now, Commander, How can I assist you?"

"Well, Commander, what's your decision?" Tennison demanded.

"You damn well know I can't surrender this ship to you." Danan answered in frustration, "So do what you need to do and be done with it."

Tennison straightened out her arm and took precise aim, "Sorry, Commander. Its nothing personal."

Oh yes it is, Danan thought bitterly. She waited for the shot but it never came. Instead the mutinous bridge crew vanished. To be more precise, they were replaced by little hexagonal spheres each with their own phaser lying beside them.

Danan cast about looking for a rational explanation and her eyes fell on Grace. Hannah had a rectangular device in her hand. In its centre it had an activation stud and to each side of the lengthways portions were three lights. Grace looked more terrified now than when the phasers had been trained on her.

"I couldn't let them kill you." She pleaded, "They're still alive, they're just recast in a harmless form. My grandfather told me about doing this to the crew of the Enterprise and it seemed appropriate for this situation too."

"Grace... Hannah, I'm not going to try and pretend I understand what you've done here." Danan informed her, "But I need to know, how many of the mutineers did you do this to?"

"All of them." Grace gulped.

"All?" Danan repeated in disbelief.

"Other than the team members, I couldn't determine who was on our side or not. It was easier and safer to transform them all." Grace explained.

"All of them." Danan whispered to herself. Earlier she had sought to delve deeper into the mystery that was Hannah Grace. Now she had received her first insight and it terrified her. What other secrets had Grace hidden from them?

Dracas blinked in surprise. One minute the Andorian Assistant Chief Engineer had been in front of him and then he wasn't. Theri'shran had been replaced by a small, hexagonal object. Shran's phaser lay beside the hexagon but the engineer himself was gone. Come to mention it, everyone in Engineering had been replaced by one of these... thingies.

Dracas momentarily felt a pang of regret. As a student of James T. Kirk's missions, he felt he might have a clue as to the fate of the assembled crewmen around him. The pang dissipated as Dracas recalled that although not everyone had been aiming a phaser at him, no one had exactly rushed to his aid either.

As the humans say, screw 'em. Dracas thought. He tapped his comm badge almost as an afterthought, "Engineering to Bridge."

"Bridge here." Danan sounded shaken Dracas noted.

"Everything all right up there?"

"Compared to what?" Danan retorted.

"Commander, do you have any idea what the hells just happened to my engineering crew?" Dracas had to ask.

A deep sigh was transmitted over the comm line, then a resigned sounding Danan replied; "Its a long story, Chief. One we're still sorting out I might add. You might as well report to the bridge and get the details with the rest of the team."

"Just us?' Dracas inquired.

"Yup." Danan remained enigmatic, "Just us. Bridge out."

"And what the frinx is that supposed to mean?" Dracas wondered aloud.

Kort swung and.... missed? His opponent just suddenly vanished. Kort found himself in motion and out of control. He felt, and heard, a strange and unexpected crunching as he regained his control. He looked to the deck to see what he'd stepped in. Half of a small hexagonal shape remained unbroken but the rest of it was shattered and crumbling to dust.

Kort braced for the next assault. Minutes passed and no one tried to force the Sickbay doors. Curious, Kort retrieved one of the multitude of phasers he'd been collecting from the various invaders into his domain. He'd maintained a practice of depositing the last fallen opponent out into the corridor to slow the next assailant. This last time, it hadn't worked that way.

The attacker had forced the doors before Kort had managed to dispose of the previous body. Since he couldn't find a trace of the man he'd just been fighting, he sought the unconscious form of the last woman to try her hand at besting him. Her body, too, was missing. In its place was an intact hexagonal sphere. Kort made a connection and grabbed a tricorder. The object contained all the essential mineral and elemental components of a humanoid body.

By Kahless, Kort mused in wonderment, It is her. Transformed but her nonetheless. Which means that other sphere I crushed...

Kort let that thought go and tapped his comm badge, "Sickbay to Bridge."

"Bridge." Danan's weary voice replied, "Come to the Bridge, Kort. Your questions will be answered there."

"How did you know..?"

"That question will be answered on your way here." Danan informed him, "Bridge out."

Radil ducked back into the brig. Just as quickly as the incoming phaser fire ceased, she spun on her heel, took aim with her pulse rifle and let loose her own volley. The corridor surrounding the brig had an independent forcefield system. Once activated by the watch commander, it could not be overridden by the Tactical station or the Security Office. Radil had activated the fields but several of the mutineers had been trapped within the confines of the electrostatic barriers.

She dodged another volley and relished the experience. This, in her experience, was when one felt the most alive. Radil's senses were aflame with sensation. She savoured every breath. Seconds ticked by slowly, each one a universe unto itself and relished like a conventional lifetime.

She knew of her planet's millennia long heritage of peace but she couldn't connect with that. She'd grown up during the decades' long Cardassian Occupation that had re-taught her people how hate and kill. Radil had tried peace. She'd returned to Bajor after the Cardassian withdrawal. That life had been stunted and dull.

When her former cell mates came to her and invited her to join them in pressing on with the war against Cardassia, she jumped at the chance. Having been loaned out several times to mercenary bands during the Occupation, Radil made a natural segue into professional soldiering. Despite all her protestations to the contrary, Radil had seen her involuntary enlistment as a natural progression in her evolution as a fighter. She saw more action now than she'd ever dreamt of as an agent of the Orion Syndicate.

Even her Syndicate deathmark merely spurred her on to enjoy life more fully. Caught up as she was in the moment's reflection, it took Radil a heartbeat to realise that her last volley had spurred on no return fire. Radil spun and took aim but found nothing to aim at. Everyone, including the stunned mutineers, was gone. Their weapons lay discarded on the deck but all that remained were a series of hexagonal spheres littering the floor.

Just on a hunch, Radil checked Chekova's cell. It came as no surprise to find another of those strange sphere's there. Radil deactivated the corridor forcefields and headed out for the bridge. Once there, she would either get the answers to the obvious questions or get steered in the right direction as to what transpired.

No sooner had the team sat down in front of Shinzon's desk than Macen's comm badge sounded, "Danan to Macen."

Macen's eyes rolled "skyward", "Please excuse me, Commandant."

Shinzon nodded his acquiescence and Macen rose from the chair he was seated in and proceeded to the nearest corner, "Macen here. This had better be damned important. I left instructions to be left alone."

"Does a mutiny count as important?" Danan asked flippantly.

Macen's blood froze, "Who's in control of the ship?"

"The team retains control of the ship."

"How'd you pull off that particular miracle?" Macen had to ask.

"Grace turned the mutineers into little hexagonal objects." Danan reported, "Kort says that each of the little ‘spheres' contains the same basic elemental and mineral structure as your standard humanoid lifeform."

A memory tugged at Macen's mind, "Was Hannah holding a rectangular box with a central actuator stud and two sets of three lights to either side of it when she accomplished this feat?"

"Yes." Came Danan's bewildered reply, "How'd you know that?"

"I know what's going on." Macen assured her, "You and the others are in no danger. Right now I suspect she's more scared about revealing her secret than you are about learning it."

"I sincerely doubt that." Danan muttered.

"Whatever else, remember that she's still the same Hannah Grace that you've known since she replaced D'art at the helm and piloted the Odyssey into battle under your command. She hasn't changed into someone else. She's merely blossomed into a more complete picture of the totality of Hannah Grace."

"Smooth talker." Danan gibed.

"Just keep the crew calm until I get there."

"Shouldn't be hard. All that's left is the team."

"The whole crew mutinied?" Macen asked in disbelief.

"Yup."

"Damn." Macen sighed, "Do the best you can. We're about to get underway down here. Hopefully this away mission will proceed more smoothly than the last one."

"Do you honestly expect that to happen?"

"No." Macen admitted, "But there's always hope."

"Problems?' Shinzon asked as Macen retook his seat.

"Nothing my crew can't handle." Macen assured him, "They were just calling me to advise me of their current situation."

"Very well." Shinzon conceded, "Now if you may explain to me how I might be of use to you?""

"Milord," P'ris began, "I am uncertain if you are aware of it or not but Reman troops were recently used against us at Theridon."

"I am aware of it." Shinzon revealed, "How does this affect me?"

"The ultimate loyalty of every Reman is to you." P'ris reminded him, "If you were to order all members of the Reman battalions to forsake their orders to impede our investigation, they would listen to you to the exclusion of all others."

Shinzon rubbed his lower lip, "I see. You wish for me to contravene what may be legitimate orders from those that exceed your rank in order for you to pursue your own agenda."

"My orders come from the Senate." P'ris declared hotly, "No authority, save from the Praetor himself, exceeds that mandate."

"Except for me in this particular case it seems." Shinzon mused.

"There does seem to be this one exception." P'ris allowed.

"There's always one." Shinzon gloated, "And what do our Federation visitors have to say about these matters?"

"I'd have to say that you're too smart to be played for a fool." Macen said, "That leaves two possibilities: you're involved in what's going on or you're blithely unaware. You don't strike me as the blithely unaware type. Your comrades are going to face justice. I give you my vow on that.

I won't ask you to surrender the names of your confederates. I merely ask that you give that aforementioned order, that and you provide transportation for us to the Tal Shiar base secreted on the dayside of this world. You can extract yourself from a situation that I strongly suspect was merely a diversion for you and your forces."

"You don't ask for much at all." Shinzon commented with a trace of a smile, "But I will accede to your requests." He steepled his fingers and continued, "You've made some very wise requests Commander. Your insights into the Reman motives are very perceptive, as are your expectations of a hostile welcome. The Reman Battalions across the Star Empire have indeed been ordered to kill you on sight. My orders, will of course, negate this danger. Here, the base you seek is guarded by a dozen plasma torpedo launchers and redundant shields. Any effort to breach its defences made from either, or both, of your vessels would only result in the loss of your ships.

My men will escort you to the base in a small shuttle. They will allow you to pass through their defence perimeter undetected and access the base. Furthermore, my men will escort on your assault of the base. They will have a mission of their own. The price for their assistance is to allow them to complete their mission without impediment. Is this acceptable to you?"

P'ris merely worked her jaw silently as Macen spoke for them, "We have a bargain."

Shinzon smiled for the first time, "Excellent! All depended upon your answer. I'm so pleased I won't have to kill you after all."

 

Chapter 10

Another harrowing ride through the tunnels of Remus led to one of the closest port facilities on the surface of the planet. The port was primarily geared towards lifting modular cargo containers to awaiting transports in orbit. It also berthed several shuttles and shuttlepods for transporting individuals. Ayrck led the team to one such shuttlepod and boarded it along with Khimar.

Once everyone was loaded into the shuttlepod, Ayrck requested clearance to depart. Shinzon's personal authorisation granted them immediate departure clearance. The pod lifted and Ayrck laid in a course halfway across the globe. Both Ayrck and Khimar donned protective goggles and then engaged the pod's impulse engines.

As they circumnavigated the globe, the system's primary became visible over the horizon. The sensor glasses worn by the away team now served their secondary purpose and acted as solar shields. The imaging capabilities of the glasses were still engaged and granted everyone a far better look at the sunbeaten world below them then they could have received from the naked eye.

Below them stretched the stark, rugged landscape of Remus. It was a collage of wildly varying geological formations. Millennia of solar bombardment had left its stain upon the terrain as assuredly as any mechanically produced orbital bombardment would have. The shuttlepod flew over a seemingly endless sea of chasms and mountainous outcroppings before coming within visual range of a sprawling complex entrenched into one of the innumerable valleys.

"We have arrived." Ayrck announced.

"Shuttlepod Nightstalker, please respond." The comm panel came to life, "Identify your purpose and intention. Over."

Ayrck toggled the reply key, "Harbinger base, this is Nightstalker, I am requesting permission to land and enter. Over."

"Nightstalker, identify your passengers. Over."

"Myself, the co-pilot and four representatives dispatched by Commandant Shinzon. Over."

"Understood." The first flicker of emotion could be heard at last, "Please wait while your request is being processed. Over."

"Acknowledged. Over." Ayrck switched off the comm's transmitter, "And now we wait. Shall I give you the tour, eh?"

Ayrck piloted the shuttlepod in a lazy circle over the massive complex. The base wasn't wide so much as "tall". Filling the cavernous valley, the base was easily over a kilometre deep. Plasma torpedo launchers ringed the complex and shield generators studded its surface. Buried deep within the facility was a powerful cloaking device capable of concealing the entire base.

"Nightstalker this is Harbinger Control, you have been cleared for landing on docking platform nine. Release your flight controls and we'll bring you in."

Ayrck glanced back at the team members and shrugged. Once nav control was released, the base's computers took over and began to guide the diminutive pod in. Macen wondered if the others were suddenly wishing that they would have been allowed to use one of the Romulan military shuttles at Shinzon's disposal. The idea, although appealing, was impractical since all of Shinzon's dealings with the Tal Shiar base were conducted via shuttlepods.

The base itself, as told by P'ris, was a redoubt. It had been designed as a last stand fortification from which to command and launch an invasion force to retake Romulus. It wasn't fully manned during non-crisis periods. Only a garrison force of a hundred select Tal Shiar agents currently occupied the base. These agents specialised in guarding the Tal Shiar's secrets. The only other residents were a dozen communication and sensor techs that monitored every transmission and vessel arriving and departing from Romulus.

Although the numerical odds clearly favoured the Tal Shiar, things were expected to proceed smoothly as long as there were no surprises. Of course, every member of the away team, and especially their Reman escorts, expected things to go awry. After that, it became a game of averages. The least likely, and best case, scenario would have the team investigating and possibly arresting Admiral Valrik. The most likely, and least favourable outcome, scenario consisted of getting T'Kir to a computer terminal and allowing her free reign in Valrik's personal database.

The shuttlepod set itself down on the specified pad. The pad then began to descend, lowering the pod into a hangar area. Blast doors closed above the hangar and pressurisation of the chamber began. An atmospheric sensor within the pod chimed when the outer air mixture became capable of supporting humanoid life.

"Here goes everything." Macen quipped as the pod's occupants hesitated before vacating their seats. The Remans grunted with appreciative chuckles as they gathered their personal small arms. Daggit merely gave him a wry grin in reply.

T'Kir leaned in and whispered to him, "Remind me to tickle you to death if we make it back from this."

Knowing she'd discovered all his vulnerable points and how best to sue them, he replied with; "You have to catch me first."

She thrust her face into his, "Just watch me, buster."

"Pardon me," P'ris interrupted, "but is this really an appropriate moment?"

Macen gave her a pitying look; "You've obviously never been in love, Commander. Otherwise, you'd realise there's never a better time."

P'ris merely snorted and returned to her preparations. T'Kir on the other hand tensed up, "Tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"That you love me."

"Didn't I just do that?"

"You told her that you loved me." T'Kir corrected him, "Its not the same thing."

"I love you."

"How much?"

Macen's eyebrow arched.

"Humour me. We may be rushing off to our deaths."

"We've rushed of to our deaths countless times." Macen reminded her, "There was never any call for a moment like this."

"We never faced odds this lop-sided in the Maquis. We always had a slim chance of survival."

"We still do now." Macen assured her, "You've never seen an Angosian or a pair of Remans unleashed. It's a pretty terrifying sight."

T'Kir smiled despite her misgivings, "Oh really?"

"Then there's the fact that there's no one else I would trust my life with. The mere fact that you'll be there beside me makes whatever happens worth it." Macen confided, "And to answer your question: madly, passionately, and with all my heart and being."

T'Kir took hold of his uniform jacket and pulled him in closer and kissed him fiercely. Macen wore a goofy grin after the kiss ended.

"Ah...the benefits of dating a rebel." Macen sighed, "Such fire, such ferocity, such passion... what a woman!"

They embraced again and separated to find the rest of the squad staring at them.

"Are you two done for now?" Daggit asked dryly.

"Never." Macen laughed, "Now, I must ravish her."

"I don't think so." Daggit shook his head but wore a smile.

"Oh, please." T'Kir clasped her hands together, "Just one defilement before I die?"

Macen, T'Kir and Daggit all broke into fits of laughter. The Remans exchanged knowing glances between themselves. Only P'ris seemed left out of the loop. Whether this was by choice or honest ignorance was left unknown.

After the laughter had died away, P'ris exited the shuttle followed by the two Remans. The SID members of the team remained on the shuttlepod. Their parts in the unfolding drama about to come into play. The airlock door opened and a Tal Shiar officer entered into the landing hangar flanked by two guards.

The officer, a centurion, greeted P'ris, "Salutations Commander. We had no knowledge of your presence aboard the Reman delegation's shuttle. We would have arranged a proper reception for someone of your rank if we had been informed."

"There is no need to stand on ceremony Centurion." P'ris informed him, "I am here at the behest of the Senate. I need to speak with Admiral Valrik as I have done with Commandant Shinzon."

"Is there a difficulty I need be aware of?" The Centurion asked.

"Only that co-operation, like that given by the Commandant, is required."

The centurion drew his disruptor, "I am afraid I cannot allow you to pass. Shinzon will be dealt with at a later date."

Ayrck glanced towards Khimar and both sprang into simultaneous action. Ayrck plunged his dagger deep into the Romulan guard facing him before the stripling youth could respond. Khimar threw his blade into the heart of his adversary. Distracted by the sudden deaths of his underlings, the centurion missed P'ris' sudden wheel kick that caught him alongside the head. When he came to a few moments later, Khimar was holding him aloft. Ayrck stood before him wearing an ugly grin. Behind the Reman stood P'ris, Macen, T'Kir and Daggit.

"Co-operate and you shall live." P'ris declared.

"Traitor!" the Centurion spat, "You've brought Starfleet here! You know this is our most secret redoubt in the empire."

"They are sworn to secrecy." P'ris replied, "Something I trust them to hold for they know something of honour and duty. Let us see if you do."

The Centurion merely glared in stony silence as P'ris continued, "My orders come the Senate. That means my authority in this matter exceeds that of Admiral Valrik. You owe him no fealty in this. Your allegiance is due to the Senate and the Praetor they serve."

The Centurion merely spat at her again and she waved her hand dismissively, "I am done with him. Ayrck, dispose of him however you wish."

Ayrck's grin became a vicious leer as he drew his blade and then virtually disembowelled the Tal Shiar officer in one swift stroke.

"Was that necessary?" Macen asked coolly.

"The death was." Ayrck replied, wiping his blade off on the still twitching corpse, "The method was purely for entertainment's sake."

"We're not here to ‘entertain' ourselves." Macen replied coldly, "I suggest you restrain your impulses until this is over. We kill only those that require killing and only in an effective, precise fashion."

"This was precise."

"This was gratuitous and you know it."

"You were warned not to interfere with our mission." Khimar spoke for the first time since boarding the shuttlepod, "That includes our methods. Do not seek to hamper our sport in any way."

Macen began to reply but P'ris put a restraining hand on his shoulder, "We need them as allies, Commander. Whatever they do, they do on their own consciences."

"That's not how Starfleet operates." Macen was angry now, "Its not how I operate."

"You never had to work with unsavoury allies during your time with the Maquis?" P'ris asked pointedly, already knowing the answer.

"You know I did." Macen reluctantly answered, "You also know I did my best to get those types out of the Resistance."

"Sometimes with lethal results." P'ris nodded, "Others you allowed to remain but attempted to curtail their extremist methodologies."

Macen thought that was a nice euphemism for some of the acts of barbarism that had been committed by both sides of the Maquis/Cardassian conflict. His cell, the Ronaran cell, had tried to curb the excesses of the other cells. His commander, Ro Laren, had been an honourable woman and a stickler on the rules of war. It hadn't been an easy example for other Maquis commanders to live up to. Those unwilling to attempt to abide by the strictures imposed upon them were dealt with harshly if necessary.

"So we complete our mission and they complete theirs and we leave each other alone?" Macen wondered.

"Exactly." P'ris smiled encouragingly.

"Nope." Macen shook his head; "I have another plan. T'Kir, have you found a computer terminal yet?"

"Not in this hangar." She answered.

"Standard Romulan military design calls for a terminal access point at the central ‘T' junction connecting the hangar wing to the outer primary corridor." P'ris revealed.

"Then what are we waiting for?" T'Kir inquired.

Macen turned to Ayrck and Khimar; "We should stick together as far as the access terminal."

Ayrck and Khimar exchanged a look before Ayrck nodded his agreement. With P'ris once again in the lead and the two Remans serving as her escort, the team exited the hangar and proceeded down the corridor towards the central computer access terminal. The terminal itself consisted of a screen built into the wall with a flat-panel control interface mounted at an angle out of the wall. The similarities to the Federation's LCARS system were far too numerous to be coincidental.

P'ris moved in to activate the system but T'Kir intervened, "Now, now dearie, I can read Romulan y'know." She then went to work on the data system. Within minutes, the screen had had begun to change and flash by at an incredible rate. T'Kir whistled, "This is so much smoother than Federation systems."

She turned and winked at Macen, "Easier to manipulate too."

"How much longer?" Ayrck demanded.

"Who the hell knows?" T'Kir shot back.

"They will soon send others to investigate the fate of that centurion and his lackeys." Ayrck advised, "We need to be prepared to respond to them."

"Too late!" Daggit cried out and opened fire on an approaching squad of Romulan sentries.

Khimar and Ayrck joined in with relish and soon the squad was decimated. The alarm, however, had been sounded. T'Kir sough, and found, an override and silenced the wailing bell noise. Macen turned to Daggit and the Remans.

"Ready for my plan gentlemen?" Macen asked. Not really expecting a reply, he let the question hang in the air for a moment before continuing, "How'd you like to be the diversion? T'Kir can reprogram the internal sensors to ignore P'ris, her, and I but we'd allow them to ‘see' you while you pursue your mission."

"Why do we need him?" Khimar asked, indicating Daggit.

"Daggit's the best soldier I've ever worked alongside, including your own forces. I'm offering his services to you in order to guarantee your mission's success and the fostering of improved relations with Commandant Shinzon." Macen explained.

"We accept this challenge." Ayrck said with a toothy smile. He then turned to Daggit, "Come little brother, we won't let any harm befall you." As Daggit and the Remans separated themselves from the others, they proceeded down the direction the troops had come from.

Macen turned to T'Kir, "Am I a liar?"

"I've already rigged the sensors and the forcefields." She informed him, "What I'm having trouble finding is the Admiral's database. I can find him but not his database."

"Damn it all." P'ris swore, "Why did I not foresee this? He has a portable computer. He will only link to a mainframe when he is at Tal Shiar Headquarters on Romulus. That system is impregnable."

T'Kir snorted, "That I'd like to see."

"Whatever the case may be, the portable computer isn't impregnable. Let's grab it and the Admiral at the same time." Macen suggested.

"You are mad." P'ris declared, "The both of you, simply mad."

Macen and T'Kir merely grinned mischievously.

In geosynchronous orbit above Remus, Commander Donatra paced about the confines of the Valinor's bridge. Despite the Warbird's vastly larger size, it had a bridge module roughly the same size as the Shadow's. By comparison, that made the Romulan command centre appear tiny and cramped.

The command chair dominated the centre of the space. Laid out before the command seat were the helm and navigation stations. Behind and to either side of the command seat were the weapons and communications stations. Auxiliary stations lined the walls of the bridge area.

The helm served its obvious function as well as retaining control over the primary forward disruptor array. Navigation was nearly analogous with the Ops station on Federation starships. Most of the sensors were routed through the Navigation station as well as many of the shipboard operational controls. The weapons station maintained dominion over the plasma torpedoes, the photon torpedoes and the secondary disruptor arrays. Communications was a secondary station, primarily manned by Romulan intelligence officers seeking electronic intelligence, or ELINT, from the many enemies of the state.

Donatra gazed over the bridge of her ship. It had served her well these past decades but she had her ambitions stoked for a new posting. A new class of Warbird was currently under construction. Planned for even before the war with the Dominion, the ship incorporated hard won lessons from that conflict. In form, it did not resemble any existing Romulan craft in military service. In function, it more closely epitomised the Romulan ideal of D'era than any previous warcraft built.

A dozen of these vessels had already begun construction with more slated to begin building at an accelerated pace as soon as the slips were clear. Those first twelve captaincies were prized and highly sought after. The prestige that would go along with such a posting would be incalculable. Donatra knew that her service record and loyalty to the Star Empire placed well within contention for one of those ships.

If she were not given one of these new prestigious commands, then perhaps she would transfer to one of the new next generation birds-of-prey currently rolling out of the yards. With Warbirds less frequently assigned to the border regions and beyond sue to their losses during the war, transfer to a smaller vessel might place her in the heart of more action. There she could win more acclaim and guarantee her promotion to one of the new warships within a short span.

Her patrons relied upon her and she delivered results. That was the highest praise a Romulan Commander could strive for. Her career seemed on a meteoric rise. More troubling was this mission.

Her orders had been simple: to observe P'ris' investigation and derail it whenever it neared too close to one of her patrons or their interests. Despite her nominal friendship with P'ris, it had been decidedly easy for Donatra to agree to spy on her. After all, P'ris' official function on the Valinor was "to assure the loyalty of the crew and her commander". That constituted spying and more in Donatra's opinion and turnabout was, as they say, fair play.

Her career seemed made. Only an ill act of providence could easily derail her ambitions. What was far more troubling was her situation here above Remus. She was out of contact with P'ris, unable to observe her interactions with the Federation interlopers. More disconcerting yet was the last ship to shore communication between the Shadow and her acting CO insinuating that a mutiny had occurred and been quelled aboard the Starfleet vessel. Her Communications officer had been unable to intercept any other comm traffic originating from the ship that could shed further light upon the situation.

Dammit it all to the Nine Hells, Donatra fidgeted slightly, What are they up to over there?

"I'm not leaving the bridge, not while she's here." Radil hissed between clenched teeth.

"I can hear you, y'know." Grace protested

"She could have just as easily turned you into a little geometric shape as look at you." Danan pointed out, "She didn't. That counts for something. She single-handedly stopped a mutiny that was going to easily overwhelm us. That counts for a lot. Macen said not to worry and that he'd deal with the situation when he returns. That tables this discussion."

"This isn't over." Radil promised.

"That's the definition of ‘tabling'. The matter is dropped until a future date." Danan said in her best professorial tone. In truth, she was too tired and shell-shocked to care if she stepped on Radil's oversensitive toes at this point.

"I think our first task is gathering up all... the crew and putting them in their quarters." Danan ordered, "Grace will remain her on the bridge with me to oversee the ship's systems."

"The Valinor has been hailing us for some time now." Grace informed them, "I didn't mention it before while you were deciding whether or not to lynch me."

Danan winced. That had been the mentality behind their impromptu meeting here. It was time to demonstrate that they were made of better stuff than that. They had to, not only for Grace's sake but for their own.

"Get to it people." Danan barked, "And be careful. Don't step on anyone."

An unexpectantly bashful looking Kort suddenly spoke, "Too late, Commander." He looked around at the others' accusing stares; "It was an accident!"

How'm I going to file that report? Danan wondered but said aloud, "Hope to it then and watch your feet. I don't want any more fatalities. Who knows, it might be considered murder."

That seemed to sober them up as they proceeded to the turbolift. As the doors closed, Danan turned towards Grace; "I'm assuming you aren't even remotely human."

"That depends on how you look at it." Grace bit her lip, "My ancestors weren't but we became human in order to survive in this galaxy."

By the Pools! Danan's mind almost short circuited, Extragalactic life living here! Waitaminute, what if they're hostile? What if their goal is to colonise our galaxy and exploit our resources?

Grace rewarded her musings with a bitter smile, "I see you're playing out the same scenarios Section 31 has."

"They know about you?" Danan stammered, "Your people?"

"My people? Yes. Me? No." Grace laughed, "Imagine them discovering that their trained infiltrator had in reality infiltrated them and discovered all their contingency plans for dealing with her people."

That evoked a bittersweet feeling within Danan. She was glad to hear of this case of comeuppance on the part of Section 31 but was still frightened that it was a victory for this newly revealed stranger standing before her. The power and precision it must have taken for Grace to single out select members of the crew and rearrange their molecular structures as she did. That kind of ability invoked images of the Q, the Metrons, and the Organians.

She knew her terror stemmed from a hindbrain reaction to the unknown. It was a survival mechanism hardwired into most humanoid psyches. Social evolution was supposed to compensate for this reaction but it didn't always override instinct. Danan's reaction was doubled in that his/her host's reactions melded with his/her's.

"Why?" Danan asked without thinking, "Why did you lie to us? We trusted you, even after your connection to Section 31 was revealed."

"You weren't around for those particular events." Grace pointed out.

"And you're avoiding the question." Danan rejoined.

Grace sighed heavily and shrugged her shoulders; "I had my orders."

"That's it?" Danan sputtered, "That's all you have to say?"

"That's all I'm willing to say until Captain Macen returns." Grace declared firmly.

 

Chapter 11

Daggit ran, trailed by the hulking forms of Ayrck and Khimar, in hot pursuit of a platoon of Tal Shiar sentries. In the first two previous encounters between the insertion team and the Romulan defenders, they had devolved into a pitched battle each time. On this third brush between forces, Daggit had tried a new tactic.

When confronted by the approaching Tal Shiar troops, Daggit had fired several times into their midst and charged them. So used to simply intimidating their opponents by their mere presence, the Tal Shiar guards had no idea of how to respond to this new situation and began a rapid retreat down the corridor by which they'd come. As Daggit and the Remans mounted a pursuit the retreat became a full-fledged rout.

Nearly half of the Romulan squad had been slain in the ongoing pursuit. Each death just spurred the survivors on further and faster. As they careened around corners and down by-ways, Daggit wondered where this was leading them. More to the point, could the Remans lead him back out?

Despite seeing the Remans in action during the war, he was still taken aback by their casual ruthlessness. Still, there were motivating factors to be sure. He remembered how badly he and his super-soldier comrades wanted to lash out at the Angosian government upon escaping their lunar imprisonment. The Romulans had oppressed the Remans for hundreds of years. That was a lot of hate to suddenly tap into.

Daggit's moment of reflection ended as the Romulans filed as quickly as they could through a doorway. Daggit slowed and came to a halt in front of the door. Ayrck and Khimar came up beside him and flanked the other side of the doorway. Khimar shot the access controls and the door slid aside, revealing a large, two-story exercise/training area... and two dozen more Romulan guards.

"Left at the next junction." P'ris ordered.

"No. Right." T'Kir tossed her hands in the air, "Ah, frinx it, we're lost."

"Ladies," Macen said with a wry smile, "is there any hope of a consensus being reached before Ayrck and Khimar complete their mission and take off in the shuttlepod?"

T'Kir cocked her head to one side, "Is that why you sent Daggit off with the Brothers Grim?"

"Mostly." Macen admitted, I'm also concerned with their ability to complete their task and I want to know why they were sent here."

"They will never reveal that." P'ris warned, "Remans are amongst the more secretive beings ever conceived."

"And coming from a Romulan, that's saying a lot." T'Kir jabbed.

P'ris ignored the jibe, "The Remans are taught secrecy from birth. They are immersed in it; it permeates their very beings. They see their secrets as n act of rebellion against my people. We allow them their petty confidences knowing that they will never lead to revolution."

"How can you be so certain?" Macen quietly asked.

"Despite the centuries of genetic manipulation and cultural drift, at their heart the Remans are still Romulans. They crave order and the stability that stems from obedience." P'ris asserted.

"Don't be so certain." Macen warned, "Commandant Shinzon seems far more comfortable with the role of planetary leader than of puppet for the Senate."

"Shinzon serves at the leisure of the Senate." P'ris rejoined, "He knows this."

"I wouldn't bet the agricultural colony on it." Macen chuckled darkly, "Shinzon isn't one to surrender power once he's tasted it. Neither he nor his Attaché are to be trusted."

"They will be watched." P'ris assured him, "As all potential enemies of the Empire are."

Macen knew where he fell under that classification and decided to avoid the provocation, "So back to the original question, which way do we go?"

‘Left." P'ris asserted.

T'Kir swore under her breath, "Listen tribble brain, that's the long way around. If we go right we can reach the turbolift sooner and proceed to the twentieth level where we'll find Admiral Valrik's private office."

"But we'll pass by a security checkpoint that way." P'ris protested.

"It's a two-man checkpoint and we have three people." T'Kir was trying hard not to shout, "Who d'you think will win?"

P'ris studied the expectant gazes bearing down on her from Macen and T'Kir and finally admitted defeat. With a heavy sigh, she shrugged; "To the right then."

Macen and T'Kir's eyes danced with glee. T'Kir proudly wore a triumphant grin as she began to explain her thoughts on how to proceed next, "Now, here's what I've been thinking. P'ris, that Tal Shiar uniform of yours is going to run interference for us again by causing the guards to hesitate before firing. Macen and I will...."

Life had taken on a familiar rhythm for Rab Daggit. Disruptor bolts filled the air, as did the stench of charred flesh. He would fire several aimed shots into the Romulan mob in the training room then duck behind the doorframe. A volley of return fire would add the smell of molten metal to the fray.

The Remans had pretty much fallen into the same staccato pattern of fire and counter-fire. Although the insertion team was slowly whittling away at the opposition forces, their numbers weren't dropping fast enough soon enough. The team was exceptionally vulnerable and in danger of being flanked at any moment.

"How many are there left?" Daggit shouted over to the Remans.

Khimar pulled a photon grenade from a recess in his armour and smiled nastily, "There will be a lot fewer in a moment." He depressed the activation stud and threw it into the room. Its three-second timer counted down and it detonated. The miniature antimatter/matter reaction levelled one of the guards' key defensive points, killing or wounding all who were behind it.

"Now how many are left?" Daggit asked.

Ayrck fired a few shots but was forced to retreat by the weight of the return fire,

"Too many I'd venture."

"This is ridiculous." Daggit said through clenched teeth, "It's time to take action."

Daggit rose from the crouch he was in and ejected the powerpack on his disruptor rifle. Slapping in a fresh pack, he also drew his pistol and held it in his left hand. He sighted down both weapons and neared the edge of the doorframe. He addressed both Ayrck and Khimar before making another move.

"Whatever happens next, capitalise on the confusion and try to end this deadlock." Daggit said then stepped out from behind the doorframe. He began walking into the middle of the training room. He began firing as he walked. He also began a seemingly erratic spinning, zigzag. He fired into the second floor as well as the first. The Romulans, stunned by this undreamt of tactic, failed to rally a defence before nearly half their number were cut down.

Ayrck and Khimar opted to join Daggit's whirling swathe of destruction. They came charging in, shooting at every Romulan that dared move. Overmatched and overawed, the surviving dozen or so guards surrendered. Despite the Remans' desire to the contrary, the prisoners were merely secured in the training room's equipment locker.

Their way now freed of obstacles, the trio set forth again on the Remans' mysterious mission.

The security checkpoint outside of the computer nexus node was manned not by the specified two troopers but by five guards. P'ris, prodding along two Federation "prisoners" at disruptor point was less than pleased. Fortunately, none of the guards had noted that although the prisoners had their hands up in surrender, they were still armed.

"I knew this would not work." P'ris hissed through clenched teeth.

"Quit your bitching!" T'Kir snapped back in a whisper, "Just follow the plan. What're three more bodies anyway?"

"You are insane." P'ris complained.

"You betcha." T'Kir gloated, "It's one of my more redeemable traits."

"Ladies," Macen interrupted, "the moment is upon us. I suggest you refrain from further bickering or the opposition might get suspicious."

"Yes, dad." T'Kir retorted then fell silent. All of the guards were shifting position now that the "prisoners" were nearly in their midst. One stayed behind the computer console that comprised this station. She was flanked by a guard to either side of her. The remaining two guards took up a position across the corridor. The female trooper rose and addressed P'ris.

"Commander, I was unaware of the intruders having been captured."

"They were captured mere moments ago on this level." P'ris lied.

The trooper, knowing that Daggit and the Remans had last been encountered on Level Thirty-three, not here on Level 2, caught wind of the ruse being perpetrated. Her eyes flicked to the waists of the "prisoners" and she saw they were still wearing weapons belts. She began to cry out in protest as she reached for her disruptor but P'ris had already had her weapon out and shot her squarely in the heart. P'ris pivoted slightly and shot the guard to the dead trooper's right. Macen drew his disruptor, beating the superior reflexes of the last sentry at the station. The final two, caught by surprise, were no match for T'Kir.

P'ris sighed heavily, "What a waste."

"Death is always a waste." Macen replied, "But sometimes waste is necessary for survival."

"Pithy." P'ris growled sarcastically.

"And here I was going for ‘trite'." Macen shot back.

"Now children," T'Kir suddenly smiled with all innocence, "Do I need to separate you?"

"We just need to reach the frinxing twentieth level and be done with this accursed place." With that said, P'ris stalked off for the turbolifts.

"Y'know, I think I'm starting to like her." T'Kir beamed like a proud parent.

Macen put his arm around her waist to usher her along as he rolled his eyes, "You would now that she's starting to act like you."

"Exactly."

Daggit leaned back behind the protective cover of the "+" junction outlet he was standing at. At the other end of the "L" curve of the junction stood what could only be described as a bunker. Gun slits were visible in the walls and there was a guard detachment walking post. The Remans had brought Romulan military-issue tricorders and were taking passive scans.

"No sensors are currently active." Ayrck reported.

"That'll change as soon as we start trouble." Daggit observed, "What we need is a way to distract them while we get closer. Can we pose as guards and prisoner?"

Khimar shook his head, "No. If you hadn't noticed, that's no lockdown facility."

"I assumed as much." Daggit nodded, "I'm also assuming that the guards inside have been instructed to fight to the last man rather than let this position get taken."

Ayrck wore a carefully neutral expression, "That would be my guess as well."

The Reman's carefully phrased reply answered Daggit's question as effectively as a direct response, "How many guards are there then?"

"Four walking post and an unknown number within the vault." Khimar answered.

Vault? Now that's revealing. Daggit thought before offering a new solution, "Shall we try the direct approach? It scares the hell out of them and seems to work every time."

"Agreed." Ayrck flashed his teeth in a predatory grin, "Let us herald them into the halls of Erebus."

Khimar nodded his agreement and the three of them raised their disruptor rifles to their shoulders. Khimar led the charge this time. He spun around the corner the insertion team had secreted themselves behind sand fired. His shot was true and the first Romulan fell.

Ayrck followed suit and also dispatched a Romulan guard. Daggit felled a third. All three shot the last roving Romulan. They rushed the vault entrance arriving just as the gunslits opened. Ayrck took hold of one of the sweeping rifles and yanked it out of the guard's hands. The slit promptly closed. Khimar merely sliced off the hands of another guard with his disruptor and his slit also closed.

Daggit was left to deal with the access terminal mounted alongside the door. He cursed as he activated the system and began staring at the unfamiliar symbols. Lost in the complexities of Romulan, he stepped aside and put Ayrck in his place.

"Just type in what I say." Were Daggit's instructions to Ayrck.

Bodies littered the deck outside of Admiral Valrik's office. Inside, T'Kir was seated at the admiral's aide's desk. The aide's body lay crumpled alongside the desk, her neck twisted at an unnatural angle. P'ris and Macen stood to either side of an interior door with their disruptors drawn and aimed at it.

"What's the status on the door?" Macen asked tersely.

"Workin' on it." T'Kir replied, tapping away at the aide's computer.

"He could be erasing all of his files." P'ris fretted, "We need access to this room."

"Workin' on it." T'Kir was starting to get a little brusque herself. The data interface device she'd liberated from the first computer terminal she'd accessed began to beep. She pulled it from her pocket and studied it. She smiled broadly as she glanced back over at her shoulder at Macen.

"Daggit and the Remans have reached their goal." She announced, "He figured out that I'd be monitoring the network. They need my help to by-pass a security lockout."

"Hon?" Macen said as gently as he could manage, "We need this door opened now. The whole mission may depend on it. Think you could work on that first and help out Rab and the boys in a minute?"

T'Kir's mouth started to open but P'ris cut her off, "Damn it woman! Open this accursed door or I will shoot you in Valrik's stead."

T'Kir harumphed and stabbed at a control at her terminal's controls. The door to Valrik's inner office slid aside with a hiss. P'ris entered in high while Macen followed behind low. Valrik stood at his desk hunched over a case sized computer. P'ris fired, catching Valrik's right shoulder while Macen fired, catching Valrik's left leg. The Admiral collapsed to the ground with a cry of pain.

Valrik struggled on his back to rise. His efforts ceased when P'ris placed her booted foot squarely in his chest and aimed her disruptor at his skull. Her eyes were hard and unforgiving. Macen inspected the portable computer.

"T'Kir, get in here!" he shouted.

"I'm busy." Came her tart reply.

"This thing's bleeding data like a gutted whale." Macen described, "We need you to save what's left of the evidence."

"Okay." T'Kir sighed, "I'm almost done here."

"Sooner would be better than later." Macen urged, trying not to lose his temper.

T'Kir appeared in the doorway, "So, is anyone planning on shooting me?"

"You know I've only planned on it." Macen retorted.

T'Kir stuck out her tongue at him and fixed her gaze upon P'ris, "Well? I'm waiting and your data is slipping away."

P'ris visibly reined herself in and pressed her foot down harder into the Admiral's chest, "I apologise. If I shoot anyone, it shall be this treacherous viper."

Mollified, T'Kir sat down in front of the computer and began entering commands. Valrik sputtered indignantly and spoke while gasping for air, "Traitor? You call me a traitor? You've brought the Federation to one of our most secure and secret installations and you call me a traitor?"

"It seems I am a part of a fleeting minority." P'ris replied, her venomous rage never abating; "I learned something during this last war. We were stronger because of our alliances rather than weakened by them. That flies in the face of the wisdom of a thousand years but it is true. We need to learn from this lesson and grow. The Federation has offered other joint ventures such as this one, ones that shall benefit both our societies. We should take them up on their offers. The Klingons are offering terms of reproachment, signalling a desire to end decades of conflict between us. That would free us to rebuild our fleets and our infrastructure. And all of this would only cost us a measure of our pride."

P'ris forced the air out his lungs as she stomped down, "What is more sane, Admiral? Giving proscribed weapons to unreliable allies or co-operating with known entities?"

"You treacherous bitch." Valrik hissed through clenched teeth, "For all your highborn pretensions and mannerisms, you're still that gullible little gutter snipe that Koval found and moulded into a Tal Shiar agent. Only now, your loyalty is divided isn't it? You're having to choose between the Tal Shiar and your new-found alien masters."

P'ris thumbed up the intensity setting of her disruptor and aimed it at Valrik. The Admiral showed no fear. He merely leered, victoriously, at her. Her finger began to depress the firing stud on her weapon when Macen's voice intervened with a warning.

"You do this Commander and you won't find justice."

"But it is the Romulan way." She said icily.

"Maybe." Macen allowed, "But I just heard a very stirring speech on how and why the Romulans need to re-evaluate some of their traditions. Maybe this is one of those?"

Valrik cackled as P'ris lowered the intensity of her disruptor and the killing intensity within her ebbed. Macen came to kneel next to the prostrated admiral.

"I'd be a lot more cautious if I were you." Macen warned in menacingly steel tones, "The Commander wants you alive for her case. My personal opinion is that we can get by just as easily with your private database. This makes you expendable. She may have dreams of a better tomorrow but I have to deal with today. And for today, the reality is that you're my enemy. I don't have many enemies that are still capable of breathing."

Macen patted Valrik on the top of his head, "Consider yourself warned."

P'ris shot Macen a quizzical glance as he rose. Macen ignored her and proceeded to the Admiral's desk, where T'Kir sat furiously tapping away at the portable computer's controls. Her brow was furrowed in concentration and she was chewing on her lower lip. Macen found the image irresistibly adorable.

"Any progress?" he asked, leaning over her.

"I've stopped the deletion process and have already recovered most of the lost files." She announced proudly, her eyes bright; "Am I good or what?"

"The best." Macen concurred and kissed her on the top of her head.

"You should see some of the stuff in here." T'Kir told him, "He's got files on everything and everybody."

"Excuse me," P'ris interrupted, "but you have stopped the tapeworm program from destroying the data files we require and have already required the bulk of the ‘lost' files?"

"Yeah," T'Kir answered, slightly confused; "I just said that."

"Can a Tal Shiar technician proceed from this point onward?"

"You could proceed from this point onward." T'Kir unsuccessfully tried to keep the edge out of her voice.

"Then suspend your work."

"Why?" T'Kir demanded.

"Now!" P'ris commanded, "Prepare the unit for transport and let us be away from here before we are discovered."

Although a sound argument, Macen sensed the lie behind her words. Even without her telepathy, T'Kir did as well. The computer's files held secrets more precious to the Tal Shiar than even the existence of this fortress. Macen felt the light touch of T'Kir's mind on his and he instructed her to accede to P'ris' demands.

Disgruntled as she was, T'Kir secured the computer and closed it into its case-like configuration for easy transport. P'ris removed her foot from Valrik's chest and Macen helped the wounded man to his feet. Once up, Valrik made a grab for Macen's holstered disruptor. Macen sidestepped the Admiral's reach and cold-cocked Valrik in the nose.

The admiral spiralled backwards, arms pinwheeling and he landed on his posterior.

Macen rubbed the knuckles of his right hand and watched Valrik gently probe his smashed nose, "Y'know, one in awhile it can be strangely satisfying to just beat up the deserving."

T'Kir patted him on the shoulder, "Aren't you gonna have one helluva a karmic debt to pay when your turn comes?"

"I, for one, am righteous and pure." Macen preened for effect.

"As if." T'Kir guffawed.

"Get up you worthless piece of trash." P'ris waved her disruptor at Valrik, "On your own this time." P'ris spared a heartbeat to glance back towards Macen and T'Kir, "Is the system ready for transport?"

"Damn skippy." T'Kir reported happily.

P'ris sighed, "I'll take that as a yes."

Macen drew his disruptor from his holster, "Back the same way we came?"

"No additional alerts have been raised." P'ris observed, "I would say we have avoided detection thus far."

"Let me check." T'Kir consulted her information access device, "Yup. We're clear. They're busy mustering everything they have left to throw at Daggit, Ayrck and Khimar."

"Can we warn them?"

"Look who you're talking to."

"And then we depart." P'ris urged.

"Yah, yah." T'Kir waved and got to work.

 


Proceed to Part III

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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