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Safehold - Part I by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter One

Andoria's highest security prison was receiving a visitor from the Federation. This was now an unusual occurrence since the Andorian Empire had seceded from the United Federation of Planets that it had helped found. The other unusual happenstance was that Ishara Yar was wearing Starfleet's medical division blue and flashing credentials to get her access to her "patient". Only in this case, the patient was already dead and Yar was only there to confirm Julian Bashir's death and collect his body.

"I'm here to inspect the prisoner's remains," she announced to the warden.

The warden fell into one of two Andorian "male" sexes. She couldn't tell which. There hadn't been any Andorians on Turkana IV.

"It's a shame Bashir died before your ship could reach us," Warden Hash dryly remarked.

"Still, this is a humanitarian mission," Yar replied, "Cooperating will go a long way towards bolstering your people's reputation amongst the Federation's public after you've already joined the Typhon Pact. And many felt Bashir got the raw end of the deal seeing as how he wasn't the actual assassin."

"Dr. Bashir was an accomplice in Emperor Thrak's assassination," Warden Hash said in ominously quiet tones, "He could have given us the actual assassin's name and location at any time. Instead he chose to remain silent. Both of the times he was remanded to our custody."

Yar sighed, "We could argue legalities and semantics all day long. May I see the prisoner now?"

"Of course," Warden Hash tipped his head, "He is in our morgue."

Yar reached Bashir's body and it was already a distinct shade of blue. Warden Hash smiled, "Frankly, I don't think he's ever looked better."

"And your doctors couldn't determine a cause of death?" Yar wondered.

"Such is their report," Warden Hash remarked, "He just seemed to succumb to natural causes despite his seeming good health. Perhaps genetic engineering isn't what it used to be."

"May I take custody of the body then?" Yar asked.

"Certainly," Warden Hash seemed relieved, "It is of no value to us."

"If you could arrange for it to be transferred to the transporter room, I'll arrange for it to be sent to my ship;" Yar offered.

"Of course," Warden Hash seemed even more pleased by that prospect.

Bashir's stasis tube was beamed aboard the Pathfinder-class courier USS Pony Express. In the transporter room, an emergency medical team waited as well as Lt. Commander Sarina Douglas, formerly the Deputy Chief of Security for Deep Space Nine. Of course, Yar was one of the few aboard that knew of Douglas' ultimate loyalty to Section 31. And Yar didn't care. She was just grateful she could stop pretending to be a doctor.

"Is he all right?" Douglas worriedly asked Yar as the medical team opened the stasis tube and went to work.

Yar gave Douglas a pained look, "All of the readings were exactly as I was told they should. He reads as dead. Whether or not he really is will be proven here."

The Starfleet medical team worked over Bashir, extracting the nanoprobes that Bashir had unknowingly ingested. They'd placed his body is a death-like state and were keeping his cells from deteriorating while he was held in that condition. Since Douglas and her cohorts aboard the Pony Express had all arrived wearing Starfleet Security gold, the crew thought they were assisting a Starfleet secret mission. The mission was secret. It just wasn't for Starfleet.

"I'll be getting changed now and then I'll tell Captain Rodrigo what our destination coordinates are," Yar told Douglas.

"While you're at it, let 'Lieutenants' Riley and Smith know it's time to start preparing to plug our potential leaks," Douglas calmly instructed.

Yar grinned, "You really are a cold hearted bitch. I can respect that."

Color returned to Bashir's normally swarthy flesh as the nanoprobes' purpose was altered and they began to revive his autonomic systems. Section 31 had received samples of Seven of Nine's nanoprobes when she arrived from the Delta Quadrant. It had taken a decade but S31 scientists had modified them to accomplish exactly what they had.

Bashir's eyes came open and as his vision cleared he saw Douglas leaning over him. Her expression was one of hope and yearning. He smiled back at her.

"Hello Sarina, how did you get in here?" he wondered.

Douglas smiled, "I came aboard the Pony Express and now you're aboard too," Douglas informed him.

That momentarily startled him, "I'm not on Andoria anymore?"

"No, once you were pronounced dead they wanted to get rid of your body as fast as possible," Douglas' eyes danced with merriment.

"I died?" Bashir had to ask. He felt fine.

"Technically speaking you were dead," Douglas corrected herself, "But the truth was your body was being held in a form of stasis by Borg nanoprobes."

Bashir wanted to ask more questions but Douglas shushed him, "You need to be examined to make certain there are no permanent complications from the procedure. And then you'll be brought to our quarters and I can speak more freely there."

Bashir frowned but he nodded his acquiescence, "Very well then."

Douglas had a foreboding feeling, He knows and he isn't very happy about it.

Later Bashir was able to sit up in a soft chair in Douglas' assigned guest quarters. He gave her a baleful look, "I take it my mysterious 'death' and resurrection came courtesy of Section 31?"

"Julian, you're out of prison and being taken somewhere safe where you can adjust to a life of freedom and be brought up to speed on how you can help me serve Section 31," Douglas said to him.

"As if I owe them something," Bashir sadly realized.

"If it weren't for my connections with Section 31 you'd still be rotting at the bottom of an Andorian hole," Douglas felt more than a little frustrated.

"And I'm grateful I'm out of prison," Bashir admitted, "But I'd hoped if I ever went free we could enjoy a life together."

"We can," Douglas assured him, "But this is my life. With or without you. I'd prefer you were with me but I can manage on my own. And don't bother begging to go back to Starfleet. They'd just as soon consign you to that pit again."

"Perhaps you're right," Bashir allowed, "I need to consider all of my options before reaching a decision."

Douglas had always known it would go this way. She just hoped she was wrong about what would come next.

In Brin Macen's office aboard the Serenity space station owned by Outbound Ventures, Inc, Macen's assistant, Bryce Fanning, paged her boss, "Captain, Admiral Forger is holding for you on the secure channel."

"I'll be right there," she could hear the suppressed groan in his voice.

Despite Fanning's prediction, Macen arrived in record time. She smirked, "So how is Celeste doing?"

Macen scolded her, "I was in conference with Tom Riker and Kathy Tyrol and you know it."

"So you should be grateful for the interruption," Fanning said sagely.

Macen had to admit she had a point. Tom Riker was CO of Serenity Station and Macen's former XO. Kathy Tyrol was the CEO of Outbound Ventures. The yearly review revolving around the station's expenditures and resource allocations was always tedious. And Fanning knew Macen would rather spend time with Celeste Rockford. After all, she was his wife.

"We'll see," Macen allowed at last.

"Well, get in there. Admiral Forger is still holding," Fanning motioned towards Macen's own office.

Macen kowtowed to Fanning before slipping into his office. He sat down at his desk and activated the comp/comm. The UFP symbol was replaced by Amanda Forger's frowning visage.

"This conversation is already off to a good start," Macen quipped.

"Julian Bashir died in Andorian custody today," Forger informed him, "They have no cause of death. He simply stopped living."

"That sounds...odd," Macen admitted, "Have they turned the body over to Starfleet?"

"They have and this is where it gets even stranger. A courier ship by the name USS Pony Express had already been diverted from its normal run and was waiting for the Andorian's call. They've already picked up the body and exited Sector 004. Prior to their diversion, they took on four additional crewmen. Unfortunately there's no trail leading to the arrival of the additional crew or why they diverted the ship."

"Are you certain the additional crewmen were the cause behind the ship being out of its normal route?" Macen asked.

"The three so-called 'mission specialist' were led by one Lt. Commander Sarina Douglas," Forger threw at him.

"So you think Section 31 killed Bashir and made off with the body," Macen surmised.

"Don't you?" Forger wanted to know.

"That would only make sense if Bashir weren't truly dead," Macen warned her.

Forger grew uncertain before she resolved whatever concern had been holding her back, "Brin, Starfleet Medical has been working with Borg nanoprobes to induce a form of death-like stasis in a living host. The idea is to use the capacity to stabilize severely wounded officers in the field until they can reach a proper medical facility."

"And anything Starfleet is working on Section 31 will be mirroring," Macen caught on.

"Or surpass because Starfleet Medical hasn't even begun clinical trials yet," Forger divulged.

"And you want me to find the courier boat and recover Bashir's remains, living or otherwise;" Macen gathered.

"With deductive reasoning like that you must be an intelligence agent," Forger retorted.

"Very droll, Amanda;" Macen replied, "Does Starfleet have any idea where the courier is headed now?"

"The ship's Tactical Officer managed to get a partial message out naming Pacifica as their next port of call. Which since the Pony Express is strictly assigned to the Beta Quadrant that doesn't make a lot of official sense."

"Pacifica is at the edge of the Orion Arm if I recall correctly," Macen sought to remember.

"Brin, I'm worried about the courier's crew," Forger confided, "Section 31 isn't renowned for leaving witnesses."

"Neither are they prone to eliminating Starfleet personnel unnecessarily," Macen reminded her.

"And if Douglas deems it necessary to secure the secrecy around the nanoprobes?" Forger posed the obvious question.

"Then you know as well as I Douglas and her agents won't hesitate to eliminate the ship and crew," Macen summed it up, "Except if Bashir is alive then they'll have to do it in such a way that he never learns of what happened."

"I'm just surprised Bashir hasn't tried contacting Starfleet yet," Forger admitted.

"Amanda, Starfleet remanded him over to the Andorians. He probably thinks they will again without hesitation," Macen counseled her, "And Douglas just rescued him and there's no stronger emotions than love and gratitude."

"And of course he's proven he's in love with Douglas and he'll be even more grateful now that she's freed him," Forger groaned.

"And she truly loves him as well," Macen stated.

"I take it your skills as a 'Listener' confirmed that?" Forger inquired.

"They didn't have to," Macen shook his head, "It's pretty obvious to anyone that meets her. I think if L'Haan had intended this pairing as a honey trap she seriously underestimated the chemistry between these two."

"You need to get underway," Forger determined, "Your position is closer to Pacifica than the Pony Express' origination point in the Beta Quadrant. But a Pathfinder-class ship can easily outpace you and with four nacelles and two warp cores, she can run at higher speeds almost indefinitely. And her max speed is Warp 9.92 while the Obsidian maxes out at Warp 8. That means she'll reach Pacifica first and be gone before you get there."

"I rather doubt Pacifica is their final destination," Macen warned, "We don't know much about what's beyond Pacifica and Mira. There's a lot of unexplored Alpha Quadrant yet."

Which is why the Vanguard, the Dauntless, the Specter, and the Sentinel have all been sent out for that area to explore those unknown regions. Captain Tom Magnum is leading the thrust from the Vanguard," Forger revealed.

"I met Magnum when he was XO aboard the Wellington," Macen recalled, "We seriously disagreed over his idea of 'border security'."

"Magnum is still very opinionated but he won two Pike Medals of Valor during the Dominion War and a third against the Borg, and a fourth against the Argyn and his fifth, and last, against the Iridian Enforcers. Just before accepting this assignment, he pushed back a Tzenkethi incursion near Starbase 621 without firing a shot. He has the aptitude we need to lead an exploratory mission and is well prepared for unknown emergencies."

"Is this leading to a point?" Macen wondered.

"Magnum reported finding a closed system around a planet the natives called 'Safehold'. From what he could gather, they provide a refuge to anyone for a price. And they seemed to have the firepower to secure their borders. Magnum commands a Nebula-class heavy cruiser and he wouldn't recommend testing their resolve."

"Where's this 'Safehold' located?" Macen asked.

"One hundred light years into the frontier from Mira and Pacifica and one hundred light years rimward from the Tholian Assembly's borders," Forger explained.

"I think I know just the person to act as a guide," Macen grinned.

Forger looked pained, "Not Harri Mudd."

"Mudd saved your life," Macen reminded her, "And she has all the qualifications for needing sanctuary."

"Mudd was well paid for her efforts on my behalf as well as the exorbitant fees you've been paying her ever since," Forger complained.

"And I thought the Federation operated a cashless society," Macen chided her, "And here you are dickering over price."

"Laugh it up, mister;" Forger almost snapped back, "The Federation still holds a limited amount of hard currency reserves. We have the largest reserves based upon the fact we have the greatest access to latinum mines but we still only have so much and Harri Mudd is going to bankrupt us."

"Amanda, I need some who knows the local conditions;" Macen told her.

"And you think Mudd qualifies?" Forger asked in a pained voice.

"So do you," Macen countered.

"All right, take her;" Forger conceded, "But only because I know you will anyway and slip her fee into your bill even if I say 'no'."

"And here you thought Mike Reynolds only loved you for your cooking," Macen teased.

"That's Admiral Reynolds to you, buster;" Forger scolded him.

"Yet only last year he was a mere mortal with four collar pips. Takes those away, put a bracketed one on each collar and suddenly I'm supposed to genuflect," Macen complained.

"Alynna is right. You absolutely have no respect for the chain of command," Forger retorted.

"That's funny coming from Alynna. She only respects the chains that have proven themselves to her," Macen rebutted Forger's statement.

Forger fell silent. She knew her mentor, Admiral Nechayev, had a tendency to circumvent obstacles that impeded her intelligence agents in the field. It was a trait she had to employ repetitively over the years for certain key agents.

Macen grew businesslike again, "What's the op if I find Bashir alive?"

"What do you mean?" Forger stumbled over that query.

"Do I simply hand him over to Starfleet, and if so, what will they do with him?" Macen asked, "And will mitigating factors be part of the mental calculus if he returns to custody?"

"If he surrenders we'll see if mitigating factors can be brought up," Forger offered.

"That's no real bargain, Amanda. And you know it," Macen accused.

"Your friend, Captain Ro Laren, has a few thoughts on the matter. Check with her and see what she's proposed to Starfleet regarding this contingency," Forger directed.

"Amanda, the Andorians already think he's dead. Why change that?" Macen tried one last time.

"And if they ever learn he's alive, they'll want him back. Just check in with Ro. You might find your answer with her," Forger reiterated.

Macen wasn't happy and it showed, "All right, I'll assemble my crew and get underway ASAP."

Forger nodded her approval, "Good luck."

"Sarina, I'm well enough to move about the ship now;" Bashir insisted.

Douglas sighed. She'd kept Bashir sequestered for three days now and he was growing restless. He was beginning to see this set of quarters as just another prison cell.

"And you yourself once warned me that doctor's are the worst patients," Sarina lightly laughed.

"I knew I'd regret admitting that to you one day," Bashir faux grumbled.

"It's a moot point anyway, Julian. We arrived at our layover point," Douglas told him.

"Which is?" Bashir wanted to know.

"Mira," Douglas said succinctly, "But that's just our jumping off point."

"Then what is our true destination?" Bashir was full of eager energy again.

"We're leaving the Federation for unexplored, well, recently explored space;" Douglas could see she was just stoking Bashir's mental fires, "We're going to a planet called 'Safehold'."

"Quark mentioned the place one time," Bashir remembered, "He said if his cousin Gala was ever to come after him it's where he would travel to."

Douglas scrutinized Bashir's thoughtful expression and realized he was being forthright, "But you don't actually know anything about the planet?"

"No," Bashir answered honestly, "Should I?"

Douglas smiled, "No, but suffice it to say you'll be free from the Andorians there."

"But they think I'm dead," Bashir protested, "Why would they think about trying to find me?"

"Because, Julian, imperial assassins draw a lot of media scrutiny. Your face will be recognized across known space and beyond. Your image has been splashed across two quadrants. They probably even recognize you on Talos IV," Douglas reminded him, "And what can be recognized can be reported to Andorian Imperial Security."

Douglas allowed that to sink in before continuing, "What happens now is some misdirection to draw attention away from you so that we can discreetly slip you back into the Federation."

Bashir pondered that before asking, "How did Section 31 develop the nanoprobes used on me?"

"We copied research done by Starfleet Medical. Of course we were able to proceed further because we were able to get past the clinical trial stage," Douglas said.

"And who did you test them on?" Bashir had a foreboding feeling.

"We took volunteers from the Elba II psychiatric colony," Douglas explained, "If the trial was successful they'd get transferred to the Tantalus colony."

"And what defined 'success'?" Basher's gut began to clench.

"If they survived," Douglas shared.

"If they survived?" Bashir was appealed by her cavalier attitude, "You knew they might not?"

"At least during the initial trials," Douglas divulged, "They all knew the risks."

"Sarina, these patients all suffered from acute mental illness," Bashir protested, "And they were being held in a psychiatric prison facility. Of course they say 'yes'."

"But the whole point here is without those risks being taken you wouldn't have been freed," Douglas angrily told him.

"I'd rather be imprisoned than be a cause for murder," Bashir declared.

"Spare me your self righteous hypocrisy," Douglas snapped, "I saw the look on your face when you learned you were free. A rescue attempt would have cost more lives on both sides. Would you have preferred that?"

"Of course not," Bashir admitted.

Douglas closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "Just get your uniform on. We'll be transporting down to Mira's surface in fifteen minutes. You'll finally get to meet my fellow agents who are part of this mission."

"There's a mission?" Bashir was incredulous.

"Julian, there's always a mission;" Douglas said wearily, "This time you're just part of it."

"Why am I getting into my old Starfleet uniform?" Bashir wondered, "Surely I've been court martialled in absentia by now."

"That was a technicality that Starfleet overlooked," Douglas shared with him, "Largely based upon efforts by Captain Ro. She's in the majority camp that believed you didn't have a clue as to what L'Haan had recruited you for."

"I didn't," Bashir reminded Douglas.

"A technicality," Douglas dismissed the notion.

"A very important one to me," Bashir insisted.

"I'm offering you a chance to protect the Federation in ways you've never dreamt of before," Douglas enthused.

"And probably never wanted to," Bashir replied, "What happens if I refuse?"

"Then I will leave you behind on Safehold and I will resume my mission," Douglas explained, "But I'm hoping that won't be your choice because if it is I may never see you again."

"Unless you come with me," Bashir offered, "Think of it, the entire frontier lies before us."

"Julian ever since I joined Starfleet Intelligence, and later Section 31, I've spent more time beyond the Federation's borders then within them," Douglas said wearily, "Deep Space Nine was a rest stop in my journey. I've served the Federation faithfully without being able to actually enjoy the very society that I'm protecting."

"But don't you see, that's to isolate you so that you won't be swayed by the moral codes of the Federation;" Bashir insisted.

"Even when I'm in the Federating I'm isolated because of my genetic status," Douglas retorted.

"I was afraid you'd say that," Bashir said glumly.

"Join me!" Douglas enthused, "Put your talents to what they can be best used for."

"I have been," Bashir snapped back, "I'm a doctor at the gate to the frontier. Not some biological weapons developer."

"You were a doctor at the gate of the frontier," Douglas said sullenly, "Now you're a fugitive."

"Better a fugitive than a murderer," Bashir struck out at her.

"You wouldn't be a murderer," Douglas argued.

"No, my creations would be the murderers. I'd be devising untraceable pathological means of eliminating Section 31's enemies," Bashir snapped back.

"On occasion," Douglas admitted.

"My God, Sarina;" Bashir was appalled, "Haven't you heard the adage, 'first do no harm'?"

"But sometimes you have to do harm to prevent a greater threat from emerging," Douglas honed her argument, "What's worse, the deaths of a few or the deaths of billions?"

"Even one death is one too many," Bashir countered, "Sloan tried that argument with me when I'd discovered Section 31 had infected the Founders with a lethal virus. He killed himself in order to unsuccessfully guard the cure."

"Section 31's plan would have ended the war," Douglas claimed.

"Sarina, delivering the cure to the Founders not only ended the war but secured us a nonaggression pact," Bashir pointed out, "It was that versus the Jem'Hadar going on a genocidal campaign to avenge the deaths of their gods. What does the Vulcan dictate of 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few' say about that?"

"It says it's time to get to the transporter room," Douglas grated, "Agents Smith, Riley, and Yar are waiting for us there and they've been waiting long enough already."

Three humans awaited Bashir and Douglas' arrival. Yar spoke first while the others sized Bashir up, "You're certainly looking better than the last time I saw you."

"You went to the prison?" Bashir was surprised.

"Yes, and you were a rather Andorian-like shade of blue;" Yar grinned.

"So you're a doctor?" Bashir wondered.

"No, I'm from Turkana IV. We basically subscribed to a 'survival of the fittest' mentality there," Yar shared.

"I'm Eden Smith," the younger woman purred as she took Bashir's hand into her own.

"Are always 'on'?" Douglas asked Smith as she pulled the other woman's hands off of Bashir's.

"Hey, you wanted us to distract the captain;" Smith shrugged, "Colin here helped in that."

Riley smirked, "Don't advertise that too loudly. You may give the good Doctor ideas."

"I think he's strictly hetero," Smith assessed, "Or am I wrong?"

"You'd be correct," Bashir looked from Smith to Riley, "Sorry."

"Too bad for you," Riley chuckled.

"Can we focus?" Douglas interrupted.

"Someone feeling threatened?" Riley quietly catcalled.

"Our transport is awaiting us," Douglas informed them all, "And our cover is intact."

"Do you really believe anyone will but that we're Starfleet deserters?" Yar asked.

"We have Julian. Having an imperial assassin will bolster our street credentials," Douglas assured her.

"Besides, the best lies are the partially true ones;" Smith chimed in.

"You should meet my friend Garak," Bashir opined.

"Oh, I have. He made me the loveliest gown all while pretending not to know my actual vocation," Smith recalled fondly.

"And that vocation is?" Bashir asked.

"Sorry, Doctor. You'll have to pump me for answers," Smith wore a lascivious smirk, "I'll let you know when I've been pumped enough."

"Agent Smith, is Doctor Bashir's presence going to prove to be a distraction?" Douglas suddenly snapped.

"No," Smith quickly replied.

"Good, because otherwise you'll be left aboard this ship when the rest of us depart;" Douglas warned her.

Smith blanched but she hid it well, "Understood."

"Good," Douglas said firmly, "Ishara, if you'd call the transporter chief back in here. We'll get underway."

 

Chapter Two

The transfer to the surface was a painless affair. Douglas led the group across the port area to a rather disreputable watering hole. Patrons from every imaginable species frequented the bar. The sight of their Starfleet uniforms ended all activity inside. The Security colors worn by the Section 31 agents had a particular effect upon the customers.

As Douglas steered her assemblage through the drinking venue their holstered phasers were also noted. Bashir noted the profusion of carcinogenic smoke that blanketed the air with some distaste. He noticed a hand waved at Douglas and she guided the others towards its owner.

Bashir recognized the female Boslic captain before Douglas could speak. Douglas nodded her greeting, "Hello Rionoj, it's good of you to make it."

"And it's good of you to pay me so much latinum to do so," Rionoj smirked, "Care for a drink? It's already on your tab."

"We'll stay for one," Douglas consented, "And then we need to get moving."

"So what is it the Deputy Chief of Security and Chief Medical Officer of Deep Space Nine need to run from?" Rionoj slyly asked, "Rumor has it the pair of you assassinated the Andorian Emperor."

"Quark has a name you know," Douglas said wryly, "And you shouldn't pay him for old news that can be obtained on any commercial news broadcast."

"Oh, he didn't have to tell me that;" Rionoj agreed, "But he did have the juiciest news about the good Doctor's death. And I see he's been resurrected so I gather death didn't suit him."

"So why were you checking up on me, Rionoj?" Douglas sharply inquired, "You already said you were well paid."

"But the Andorians have placed a rather large bounty on the head of the actual shooter that killed poor Thrak," Rionoj maneuvered towards the point of the conversation, "I think it would behoove you to pay me an equal, or greater, sum to forget where I've dropped you off at after we reach our destination."

"And why didn't you just try and collect the bounty?" Douglas asked.

Rionoj wore a rueful smile, "I watched you clear out Quark's bar singlehandedly when a group of drunken Klingons tried to tear the place apart. I thought this approach would be more amicable."

"Plus you knew you wouldn't survive the first option," Douglas said in steely tones.

"There was that too," Rionoj allowed.

"So what kind of place is this 'Safehold'?" Bashir suddenly interjected.

All eyes fell on him and Rionoj gave him a pitying look, "You're not that bright after all, are you, Doctor?"

Bashir felt thoroughly insulted, just as Rionoj planned. Douglas retook the conversation, "You have berths for us all?"

"I have two rooms to spare with four bunks apiece. You'll be cozy enough," Rionoj said somewhat merrily.

"I suppose you have the credit transfer form all prepared?" Douglas asked wearily.

"I just happen to have it here," Rionoj impossibly pulled a padd from somewhere in her skintight bodysuit.

Douglas imprinted it, "There. And this had better be the last of it."

"Don't you trust me?" Rionoj asked in mock horror.

"Not as far as I can bounce you," Douglas informed the Boslic.

Rionoj laughed, "Good girl. Now let's finish our drinks and step outside beyond the range of the establishment's transporter inhibitors and get off this rock."

"How far will we have to go to get out of range?" Bashir asked.

"Just outside the door," Rionoj spoke as if to a dullard.

"You'll have to forgive him. He's just monumentally naive," Douglas explained.

"Mmm hmmm," Rionoj nodded her agreement.

Bashir's cheeks flushed from embarrassment. Smith thought it was the cutest thing ever.

The Obsidian docked at Deep Space Nine's outer pylon nine. Ro met Macen and Rockford at the airlock. The rest of the crew was staying aboard while they collected Harri Mudd for this little venture.

"She's here but she isn't happy about it," Ro warned the pair.

"Let's brighten her day then," Rockford suggested.

Ro took them to Quark's Bar, Gaming Establishment, Holosuite Emporium, and Ferengi Embassy to Bajor. Mudd's platinum head of hair was easy to pick out. Station Security Chief Lt. Commander Jefferson Blackmer was filling out a report while Quark stood by Mudd's table and tried to press charges.

Ro swooped in, "What seems to be the problem here, Commander?"

"Quark is accusing..." Blackmer began.

"That's Ambassador Quark to you," Quark dutifully huffed. Ro knew he always played the ambassador card when he thought it would benefit him in some way, "I don't know why my brother made me ambassador to Bajor if no one will use my title."

"Most ambassadors aren't part-time dignitaries and full time bartenders," Ro countered, "And Rom only made you an ambassador so that your establishment would be foreign soil and wouldn't fall under the Federation's economic policies. So your so-called 'idiot' brother did you the greatest favor he could. And how many times have you actually had to appear before the Council of Ministers?"

"Um...let me see..." Quark searched his memory.

"Four times," Ro reminded him, "In thirteen years."

"Yes, but they've come to me;" Quark insisted.

"Well, trust me, they're grateful it's only been four times;" Ro declared.

"Yes, but she's still cheating me!" he thrust an angry finger at Mudd's head.

She lunged forward and snapped her jaw shut. Quark jumped back and yelped, "She assaulted me!"

"She didn't even touch you," Ro groaned, "But if it makes you feel better I think it's because you outran her."

Blackmer pulled Quark further away from Mudd. Ro took over the so-called "inquiry". As the station's former Chief of Security she was more than qualified to.

"What's your side of it?" Ro asked Mudd.

"I haven't cheated anyone," Mudd insisted, "I merely stood by the dabo wheel and pointed out how Quark was cheating the players through a magnetic repulsor field coil that bounces the ball out of the chosen slot."

"Lies!" Quark thundered with appropriate umbrage.

"And he demanded that you pay for the lost revenues," Ro grasped it immediately.

"Which I adamantly refuse to do," Mudd declared.

"Which is when I got called in. Directly," Blackmer reported, "It seems Ambassador Quark has found yet another heretofore unknown way of tapping into the station's internal comm network."

Ro glared at the Ferengi, "Quark, that's a mandatory fourteen day sentence in a holding cell."

"It was an accident," Quark protested, "Besides I have diplomatic immunity."

"That's the oldest dodge in civilized history," Ro retorted.

"Check with the Council of Ministers," Quark insisted, "They granted me the privilege."

"Quark, forgive the so-called 'debt'," Ro instructed him. Or I'll shut this bar down and force you to permanently relocate to your establishment on Bajor. Commander Blackmer, have a team of engineers inspect the dabo wheels under your supervision."

Blackmer grinned, "Yes, Captain."

"You can't do that!" Quark protested, "It's an embassy!"

"According to the schematic you gave me, the area apportioned to be an embassy is that private conference room you have up for rent;" Ro threw back at him, "The rest is a bar and entertainment facility, which falls under jurisdiction of the station's administration, by the way. If the dabo wheels have been tampered with, they get confiscated and your gaming license gets revoked."

"I'll forgive the debt," Quark said sullenly.

"Before you send Command Blackmer my way again, did you rig the tables?" Ro asked.

Quark just gave her a toothy smile and Ro nodded, "That's what I thought. The repulsors are being dismantled and you'll be undergoing random weekly equipment inspections for the next year. Got it?"

"Yes," Quark was sullen again.

"Good," Ro said firmly, "Because my next step is to file a complaint with the First Minister and she can then have you declared persona non grata and you will be kicked out of the Bajoran Sector until such time as the Council of Ministers changes your status."

Blackmer had returned and Quark turned to him, "Can she do that?"

"In a heartbeat," Blackmer assured him.

"Fine," Quark was miffed, "Now if you'll excuse me, I have paying customers to attend to."

As the Ferengi stomped off, Mudd turned to Ro;" Thank you, Captain."

"Don't thank me," Ro warned her, "I'd just as soon have you escorted back to your docking port, seal the airlock, and have you cast off while the Defiant ran escort until you were in another sector."

Mudd looked around the room and saw Macen and Rockford near the bar, "Ah, I see."

Ro escorted Mudd to her increasingly frequent employers. She grinned, "I guess you are serious about hiring me. But where do you need me to guide you to?"

"Safehold," Macen informed her.

"Oh, hell no!" Mudd was adamant once again.

"You read my offer," Rockford replied, "You wouldn't be here if you hadn't seriously considered it. And you're being offered a considerable compensation package."

"I don't care about the numbers," Mudd was actually telling the truth about that, "The latinum is great for any other job. But I'm not going back to Safehold. Ever."

"I think the Freehold is long overdue for a safety inspection," Macen mused aloud.

Ro latched onto the idea, "I think you're right. The computer flagged her when she arrived. I'll pull Chief O'Brien and Lt. Commander Nog off of their usual duties and put them to the task. As my Chief and Deputy Chief of Operations, I'm certain they'll find every single hazard or code violation."

"You bastard!" Mudd hissed between clenched teeth.

"You really have no idea," Macen advised her.

Mudd seriously weighed her options. There wasn't a single item on her ship she hadn't had modified outside of code and regulation. And she'd even installed hidden weapons packages.

"Okay," Mudd sighed, "You have a guide. When do we ship out?"

"Immediately," Macen told her.

"Hey! Give a girl a little warning. I need to prep the Freehold. Get whoever you want aboard and we'll get underway."

"We're not taking your ship," Macen revealed to her, "We're taking mine."

"This isn't even remotely funny," Mudd growled.

"It isn't meant to be," Macen said, "You'll seal the Freehold's hatch. Captain Ro will seal the airlock. No one will go aboard her while you're away. Ro has also volunteered to waive any and all docking fees while you're gone."

"Yeah, I bet she has;" Mudd grumbled.

"Harri," Rockford intervened, "You read my offer. Can you really afford to turn it down?"

And here's where the economics of the thing mattered. Mudd knew she'd make what she typically earned in a year's time with this single job, "We'll do the usual. Half up front and half upon completion."

"Agreed," Rockford fished a padd out of her jacket, "Take a look at this."

Mudd sped read through the contract and then looked up, "What's this 'contingency clause'?"

"A little incentive program," Rockford told her, "If everyone gets back unharmed I'll double the second payment."

"That could take some creativity but I'm up for a challenge;" Mudd decided.

Two hours after the Obsidian had departed from Deep Space Nine, Macen called a meeting of the SID team in their dedicated briefing room. Mudd was included in the group. A fact which did not settle well with some members of the team.

Macen laid out the basic parameters of the mission before opening up the forum to comments and questions. Shade was quick with a remark, "This is going to blow our supposed truce with Section 31 straight to hell."

"Other than apprehending Sarina Douglas we have no interest in any other Section 31 personnel," Macen informed the group.

"What about this Dr. Bashir?" Angelique Kerber inquired, "Doesn't he qualify as such?"

"No," Macen clarified, "Bashir has been used as a pawn in all of this by Section 31."

Bailey Smith tugged at Kerber's sleeve. Kerber nodded at her longtime friend, "So what do we do about Bashir?"

"Officially we're to apprehend Bashir and hand him over to Starfleet to be given to the Andorians," Macen watched Kerber and Smith bristle, "Unofficially; Bashir still has friends that are trying to change that outcome."

"Bashir was a dupe yet the Andorians convicted him anyway," Kerber shot back, "So where is the justice in handing him over to them again?"

"The Andorians know Bashir didn't kill Thrak or anyone else for that matter," Macen shared.

"Yet the convicted him anyway?" Arianna Forte yelped.

"It wouldn't be the first time justice was trampled under by the wheels of expediency," Lee Kang stated, "The new emperor had to make a show of power in order to convince the populace he could hold the reins. Bashir was just a victim of political science."

"Yet it didn't do Emperor Thor any good," Tracy Ebert read off of her padd, "He was deposed and executed by the military chieftain as he then became emperor."

"I've met Bashir," Daggit voiced, "Back when our commando unit was stationed on DS9. He seemed a decent sort. Very idealistic."

"Bashir was a template in Tessa's basic personality programming," Parva pointed out.

"She's right," Tessa said, "They wouldn't use a monster in my core programming."

"Think again," Macen replied, "Look up Crell Moset and get back to me."

Tessa's eyes went vacant and then she exclaimed, "Oh! I see what you mean."

"I'm willing to give Bashir a lot of latitude and help him plead his case if he doesn't run," Macen shared.

"What can our 'expert' tell us about the local environment where we're headed?" Shade asked disdainfully.

Mudd took it in stride, "Over a century ago one Captain James T. Kirk and his crew discovered a world known as 'Sanctuary'. The natives offered protection at a price. It became a criminal haven. But it eventually went the way of Turkana IV and other worlds that broke down into pure anarchy. Few people travel to Sanctuary these days except the Orion Syndicate who supply all sides with arms and medication. Sanctuary is basically a teeming cess pit of death and destruction. Safehold is a modern equivalent of Sanctuary that hasn't devolved into chaos."

"How can Safehold secure its customers safety?" Lee wanted to know.

"Safehold's citizens are armed to the teeth. Literally," Mudd explained, "Every native is armed at all times and they have an impressive array of frigates, system cutters, and strike fighters. They don't have anything powerful enough to challenge a Starfleet heavy cruiser one on one but they use numbers tp overwhelm foes. This ship wouldn't last long against the Safehold security forces. The situation on the ground is even more intensive."

"But what if they've heard of Outbound Ventures?" Forte wanted to know, "Won't that preclude us from entry?"

"Half of the mercenary companies in the quadrant maintain offices on Safehold," Mudd revealed, "They provide security for high rollers that even have enemies among their fellow fugitives."

"At my suggestion, Starfleet has never returned us to the 'active' list of contractors working for the SID;" Macen told them all, "Our approach is twofold. One is that we're protecting Harri here and our second initiative is to secure a branch office on Safehold."

"And how are we playing that?" Daggit asked.

"To the galaxy at large, we're just a security company looking for latinum," Macen stated, "And what better way to keep tabs on the greatest criminals in the quadrant than to put an office in their midst."

"If we have a mercenary connection why isn't Celeste using Annika Ryst's memories to act as our guide?" Parva wanted to know.

"Annika never traveled to Safehold," Rockford shared, "She only knew of it."

"So that leads us back to protecting Harri while she serves as our expert," Macen asserted.

"Which will be a factual occurrence," Rockford chimed in, "Several of Harri's fall guys and patsies from schemes gone wrong are currently reported to be seeking refuge from the authorities on Safehold. Needless to say, some of them may seek retribution."

Mudd tried not to let her startled expression show too much. How had Rockford dug that up? Mudd was suddenly very happy she was one Rockford's side and not the other way around.

"So we'll be telling enough truth to pass inspection," Macen assured everyone, "And Kathy Tyrol has dispatched the Guinevere to Safehold to ferry a security detachment to man the new offices."

"Oh, I bet Jennifer is just loving that;" Parva snorted while referencing Captain Gardner of the Lancelot-class SS Guinevere.

"Captain Gardner is especially suited for the task," Macen replied, "She's a Novan and Terra Nova descended into anarchy only to find their way back out of it. They're especially given towards orderly conduct."

Macen let the fact that Terra Nova was the hub of Sector 003's FBI, ISA, and Starfleet administrations fall by the wayside. Macen changed topics, "You have access to everything Starfleet has recently gathered on Safehold. I suggest you look it over and also remember you only have four days to break it down."

Macen dismissed everyone but asked Mudd to stay, "Harri, we need to talk about your personal style."

"What about it?" Mudd was already irked.

"It's rather provocative and it could be distracting to certain members of the crew," Macen warned her.

"I'm not dressing more modestly for you or anyone else," Mudd hotly declared, "And if anyone can't keep it in their pants I'll cut their dicks off."

"I'm more worried about you and latinum," Macen admitted, "You have a tendency to gather everyone else's latinum and walking away with it. You could end up facing a very disgruntled lynch mob."

"Reference my cutting their dicks off," Mudd grumped.

"No gambling and no confidence schemes," Rockford insisted, "You're being well paid. You don't need the grief the extra latinum would cost you."

"You two are no fun," Mudd pouted.

"Read your employment contract again," Rockford urged.

Mudd pulled her personal padd out and perused it before finally remarking, "Damn."

"For the most interesting experience aboard I suggest you hang out with Tessa," Rockford said.

"The EMH?" Mudd was surprised.

"Tessa is that and so much more," Rockford assured her, "She has wide and varied interests and we've set up Cargo Bay Two as a makeshift holodeck."

"Just don't be surprised if the cargo bay incorporates the physical realities of the cargo stored there in its environments," Macen advised her.

"Okay, where do I find Tessa?" Mudd inquired.

"That's easy," Rockford grinned, "Computer, summon EMH"

Tessa suddenly appeared in her tank top and little else, "What's the emergency?"

"Harri needs a playmate," Rockford revealed, "And since you have free time right now..."

"Cool!" Tessa enthused, "What are your hobbies?"

"Making money and having sex," Mudd quickly replied.

"I can't help with money but I'm an expert on sex," Tessa smirked.

"Maybe we'll find out later," Mudd agreed, "For now, what's Cargo Bay Two have to offer?"

"Follow me!" Tessa insisted and darted out of the briefing room with Mudd on her heels.

"I hope Harri doesn't corrupt Tessa," Rockford said as she met Macen's eyes.

"I think Tessa corrupted herself already," Macen opined.

"Just wait until Harri discovers Tessa's subroutine where she grows a penis," Rockford sighed.

"I don't think having or lacking a penis would slow Harri down anyway," Macen observed.

"And if she draws Galen 3 into it?" Rockford wondered, "After all, he and Tessa are a couple."

"Then I'd say Harri would have the time of her life...especially if Tessa grew her penis," Macen surmised.

Rockford groaned, "Okay, I'll ramrod my group so that they read everything."

"Include Tony, Rab, and Parva in that," Macen requested, "I'll watch over Tracy, Angelique, and Bailey."

"Sure, take the easy job;" Rockford accused.

"I know how to appeal to their mentality a little better, that's all;" Macen reassured her.

Rockford had to admit that as an ex-Maquis, he did indeed know how to guide the three ex-terrorists better than she.

The Boslic freighter Syris was well underway towards the star system containing the planet Safehold. As Rionoj had promised, there were two cabins with four bunks apiece. Bashir and Douglas shared one cabin while Yar, Eden Smith, and Riley shared the other. But on the third day of their voyage, Yar burst into Douglas and Bashir's cabin.

"You have to get me out of that room," Yar pleaded, "Eden can restrain herself but Colin Riley is trying to coerce me into having sex with him and he simply won't take 'no' for an answer. If he presses too much harder I'm going to have to kill him to make my point."

"You could simply give in and get it out of the way," Douglas suggested.

"Please, I do have standards;" Yar retorted.

"I'll have a talk with him," Douglas offered.

"Or she could move in here," Bashir voiced, "I could switch to a top bunk and let her have mine."

Yar blinked in surprise. Douglas had been perpetuating the myth that everything had fallen back into place between her and Bashir. Obviously paradise had been lost.

"You really think so?" Douglas was a tad jealous and more than a little snide.

"I'll sleep atop your bottom bunk if it makes you feel better," Bashir allowed.

Douglas studied Yar's imploring look and relented, "Go grab your things."

"Will Riley settle down with Smith now?" Bashir inquired.

"There's bad blood between them. They'll share a third partner between them in the line of duty but they won't couple when it's just them involved," Douglas explained.

"They seem overly sexualized," Bashir commented.

Douglas shrugged, "Their proclivities placed them at odds within the FBI and the ISA but now they're the perfect honey traps for all occasions and genders."

"Yes, Agents Smith and Riley boasted about seducing the starship captain that brought us out of Andorian space;" Bashir recalled.

"Riley is always 'on' but Eden can choose to be quite persuasive and seductive when she wants to be. It's like she throws a switch off and on," Douglas observed.

"I wonder if she recalls life before she learned to throw the switch." Bashir asked.

"Why?" Douglas snapped, "Do you want her to throw her little switch for you?"

"Of course not," Bashir was getting weary of Douglas' irritability, "I've been faithful to you, Sarina. I'll continue to be faithful to you until I've lost all hope."

"And what hope is that, Julian?" Douglas couldn't mask her scorn.

"That we can have a life outside of Section 31," Bashir answered.

"You may as well give up now," Douglas said tersely.

"I'll take it under advisement," Bashir sadly replied.

The door opened and Yar reappeared, "Thank you for this."

"Don't mention it," Douglas retorted, "We could use the company."

"And maybe now you could explain what really happened to the Pony Express," Bashir suddenly interjected.

"What do you mean?" Douglas asked.

"We both know Section 31 loathes leaving behind witnesses to its operations. The crew of that ship knows I'm alive. So precisely how did you respond to that fact?" Bashir wanted to know.

"Ishara, tell him;" Douglas decided.

"I planted an override in their antimatter injector relays," Yar explained, "It was set on a timer. Four hours after the ship left us on Mira the microcharges in the override blew open the injectors. They began flooding the intermix chamber with antimatter and resulted in a warp core breach within minutes."

"Minutes?" Bashir scowled, "So there wasn't time for the crew to evacuate?"

"Theoretically the crew barely had time to acknowledge that there was a problem," Yar informed him.

Bashir locked his resentful gaze on Douglas, "Were you ever going to tell me?"

"After you'd pledged your loyalty to the agency and were ready to accept the necessity of the action," Douglas countered.

"That was never a likely event," Bashir snapped, "And I would think you of all people would know that."

"Don't become a loose end, Julian;" Douglas warned him, "The Director doesn't like loose ends. That fact is why I was allowed to liberate you."

"We'll have to see about that, won't we?" Bashir was outraged.

"Yes, we will;" Douglas said with infinite sadness.

 

Chapter Three

The Syris made orbit over Safehold the next day. The Section 31 agents and their charge beamed to the surface and Rionoj had her ship immediately break orbit. Her role in the affair was finished and she had other prospective payouts to pursue.

A security team scanned the new arrivals and a customs official accepted the latinum transfer that would enable them to stay on the planet. Subsequent transfers would grant them perks. But part of the purchase price arranged weeks in advance was habitation in an otherwise abandoned housing quad.

The quad was a small tower built around a hollow core. The quad had been abandoned after the death of the fugitive who'd rented it and his personnel had transferred to new employment after his passing. As such, the building had some squatters but had been left largely whole and in repair unlike many quads that were abandoned after heavy fighting between resident aliens.

Yar left their company at this time. Section 31 had left two runabouts on the surface. Yar took one and departed since she had other assignments to report to.

A sign above the large open blast doors that led into the quad declared this site to be named Paradise Havens. The inner courtyard enjoyed the noonday sun and Bashir's interest perked up when he saw an abandoned medical clinic on the ground level. The courtyard was filled with the homeless.

"I feel safer already," Bashir dryly remarked.

"The gang problem seems to be escalating since our last tour here," Riley remarked, "It doesn't help that there was an influx of Coalition forces from Turkana IV after the Alliance pushed them out. Not all of them are as reasonable as Ishara."

"That's not what you said about her when she left our cabin," Smith quipped.

"Stow it," Riley retorted.

"I'm surprised the locals haven't put an end to the internecine gang wars," Douglas commented.

"They actually profit from the fees the gang bosses pay and the mercs also pay out a percentage of their contract rates," Smith reminded Douglas, "So the locals profit from the increased carnage. It also doesn't hurt their position to keep the resident aliens fighting amongst themselves since they outnumber the natives twenty to one. Plus the Orion Syndicate is rumored to be making a huge push into the aliens' enclave as well as Iotian elements. With all sides employing mercs as security minders and combat advisors the situation is only going to deteriorate further."

"Lovely vacation spot you've chosen, Sarina," Bashir quipped.

Douglas cast a scathing look his way, "You're the reason why we're here. Until the agency can determine how best to reinsert you into the Federation you, and by virtue us, are stuck beyond our native borders."

"Perhaps I should become a permanent resident," Bashir remarked, "There will certainly be no shortage of patients in an environment such as this."

"The Director anticipated your thinking along those lines," Douglas brightened, "We have supplies in the clinic you've been admiring and all of the equipment has been modernized and is fully operable. I can approach the various gangs and offer them a neutral place to get their wounded treated. With every combatant beholden to us, our security wouldn't be compromised by the mainstream elements."

"Plus it's just nice to help people in need once in awhile," Bashir baited Douglas.

"I totally agree," Douglas assured him, "We just differ in our reinterpretations of the word 'help'. I see a world dedicated to aiding and sheltering criminals and fugitives from justice. My idea of helping them is undermining them to the point that they flee Safehold and are apprehended by the various law enforcement entities pursuing them. Your clinic is the first cog in those wheels."

"I'm glad my plight is so convenient for you," Bashir quipped.

"Try to recall that the galaxy contains trillions of beings, not just you;" Douglas retorted, "We've risked a lot in freeing you and haven't asked for much in return. All you need to do is embrace the realities of your situation and stop playing up to your fantasies of being the great hero and the even greater martyr. You really want to help people and make a difference, join us in Section 31."

Bashir noted the careful usage of the word "us" rather than "me", "As I've said before, I'll take it under advisement."

"You'd better seriously consider it," was all Douglas had to say.

"I don't know if anyone else has noticed but the replimat located in this courtyard has been gutted for parts," Riley suddenly spoke up.

"A meal break would so us some good and introduce us to the locals," Douglas decided.

"I'll stay here if you don't mind," Bashir ventured.

"That's not happening, Julian;" Douglas warned him, "You're too important for us to lose to resident scavengers looking to hold you for a ransom. Plus, I'll put you in restraints and drag you behind us before I leave you behind."

Bashir was shocked by her vehemence. Where had the sweet Sarina Douglas he'd first encountered during the Dominion War gone? He nodded his acquiescence.

"That won't be necessary," Bashir advised Douglas.

Smith and Riley were greatly amused by this exchange.

The Obsidian reached the solar system containing Safehold two days later. The science vessel's enhanced sensors had detected the three frigates that had been trailing the surveyor for almost forty-eight hours. The ships' designs were vaguely Romulan in nature, akin to the Bird-of-Prey designs from the late 22nd Century and still utilized in an upgraded fashion by the Romulan Star Empire through the 23rd Century. These ship's actually more closely echoed the Bird-of-Vengeance frigate classes that Romulan privateers had used throughout the 23rd Century within the confines of the Star Empire and into the unexplored regions of the Beta Quadrant beyond the Federation's reach.

At the edge of Safehold's star system, four cutters intercepted the Federation starship. Again, the Romulan ancestry of the ships was undeniable. And when the commander of the quartet hailed the Obsidian and was revealed to be a Reman, it all made sense.

The Commander chuckled at Macen's obvious surprise before speaking, "Yes, I am a child of Remus."

"I wasn't aware that your people had ever settled on any worlds after adapting to the mines of Remus," Macen confessed.

"You mean, you weren't aware that the Romulans had ever allowed any of us to depart those mines alive," the Commander corrected Macen, "There was a great deal of confusion during the Star Empire's war with Earth. It made for some opportunities to escape the darkness of the dilithium mines."

"Over two thousand Reman slaves commandeered Romulan ore ships and fled out across the void. We reached this star system before our ships gave out on us. Building a new society, we eventually were approached by others seeking refuge and we opted to provide it for a price. Now it is what we are known for," the Commander imparted a history lesson.

"That being said, no Starfleet vessels will ever be allowed to enter our domain," the Commander warned Macen.

"We're a civilian vessel," Macen advised the Reman Commander, "We represent a security corporation that I own. Our mission her is two-fold, to provide security for a fugitive seeking refuge on your world and also to establish a corporate presence on your world."

"Transmit the details of your proposals and a verification of funds and I'll pass them along to my superiors," the Commander requested, "Once I have them you should receive a decision within one of your standard hours."

"Very well, prepare for our transmission along this signal;" Macen cued Edwin Zimbalist at OPS to send the data packet he'd prepared.

Zimbalist nodded and Macen turned back to the Reman, "I look forward to your reply."

"You may not," the Commander chuckled darkly.

An hour later Macen was given permission to proceed with stipulations. The Commander explained, "You may use support vessels to reach the surface but your starship must remain outside of our solar system. Two of my cutters will escort your ship wherever you decide to take her since I assume you will want it close at hand."

"Thank you, we'll launch within the hour;" Macen informed him.

Macen spoke to Ebert, "Tracy, get Aglaia up here at once and then gather your gear and report to the shuttle bay."

Ebert nodded and hit the 'call' button on the side of her console. This would transmit an automated summons to the designated relief pilot. There two other pilots aboard qualified to man the helm of the Obsidian outside of Ebert and Aglaia. The ship's Executive Officer, Shannon Forger, would alert them of their change in designation.

"Any specific instructions before you go?" Forger asked Macen.

"Like he said, just skirt the system and standby to run like hell into it to get us out of things get hairy;" Macen told her.

"Right," Forger said warily.

Douglas had left Paradise Havens behind and was taking a meeting with Gomer. Gomer was a female Orion who somewhat secretly ran one of the five main gangs contesting control of the resident aliens' megacity. Over the course of the previous two days, Douglas had met with all of the other gang bosses while Smith and Riley got Paradise Havens' defense grid up and running and Bashir readied his clinic for its first patients.

Gomer was obviously displeased with Douglas, "I really should have you killed for slighting me like this. After all, of all the gang lords you've visited, I'm the last?"

"I simply saved the best for last," Douglas replied.

"Don't try and sugar coat this," Gomer warned Douglas.

"You have the most territory, the most arms, and the most personnel. Why shouldn't you also have the most patience?" Douglas wondered.

"I should still have you killed," Gomer pouted, "It just looks bad."

"You'd eventually succeed but you'd lose a lot of lives in the process," Douglas confided, "Including your own."

Gomer slyly smiled, "So what is it you want to discuss with everyone?"

"My people are setting up a medical clinic. I'm asking everyone to grant us neutral status so that we can treat people from all affiliations equally," Douglas explained.

"A clinic in Paradise Havens?" Gomer laughed, "And who is your doctor? You?"

"Julian Bashir is our physician," Douglas supplied the name, "Perhaps you've heard of him?"

"The imperial assassin?" Gomer was intrigued despite herself, "Although I heard the actual shooter was another. You perhaps. All right, I'll consider limiting my operations near Paradise Havens."

"I need a definite answer now," Douglas insisted.

"Or what?" Gomer asked.

Douglas exploded into action. She came up onto her feet and delivered a backspin kick to Gomer's forehead. Dropping into a crouch, she swept her right arm across that side of the room. Her Type I "cricket" phaser spat out a lethal particle beam.

Diving out of her crouch and rolling across the floor, Douglas landed on her feet and repeated her sweep but this time on the opposite side of the room. Two more shots took care of the guards at the other end minding the door.

Now only Gomer remained a threat. The Orion had a Class 3 disruptor in her hand. It appeared to be of Breen origin.

Douglas deftly shot it out of Gomer's hand before the Orion could even manage to aim it. Gomer rubbed her mildly burned hand.

"It seems I underestimated you," Gomer ruefully admitted, "You are Thrak's assassin, aren't you?"

"Among other things," Douglas replied, "Now about that answer?"

"You can have your precious neutrality," Gomer decided, "Is that enough to purchase my life?"

"It is," Douglas agreed.

"You really could have driven a harder bargain," Gomer smirked.

"And allow the second wave of guards catch me outside?" Douglas scoffed, "Don't insult my intelligence. Now, call them off or I will come back and kill you with my bare hands if need be."

Gomer went to where her comm badge lay on the ground. Activating it she ordered her people to stand down. Gomer eyed Douglas.

"You get to walk free, Sarina Douglas;" Gomer said haughtily.

"And you get to live another day," Douglas remarked nonchalantly.

"Too true," Gomer was feeling agreeable now.

"Don't forget, your people are welcome at our clinic as well," Douglas offered a parting invitation.

"How could I forget?" Gomer asked dryly.

The Corsair had been committed to its landing approach. Ebert manned the CONN and guided the ship in. Kerber sat at OPS and kept an eye on every system. Parva occupied the Engineering station and dutifully monitored the engines and power systems. Macen utilized the sensors at the Science station. Behind them at a freestanding console, Daggit hovered near the Tactical station.

In the aft cabin, Rockford, Forte, Shade, and Lee sat around the center table. Tony Burrows sat in a chair sharpening his katana sword. Mudd and Bailey Smith sat across the room each mildly evading the other's questions.

"Tracy, give me as much of a flyby over this continent as possible without being too obvious about it;" Macen requested.

The Corsair had already flown over what the natives termed as the Western Hemisphere and were now well into the Eastern. They'd been directed into the Northern hemisphere. There were three continents altogether on the planet. The Western portion of the globe was inhabited solely by Remans. The third, and smallest, continent located in the Eastern Hemisphere was roughly the size of Australia. It was also completely covered by one megacity. Island chains also surrounded the continent reminiscent of Earth's Oceania territory.

The population of the megacity topped out at over 1.5 billion. Over ninety-nine percent of them were aliens to this world. There was one landing port located at the western edge of the city. The various landing pads were half empty. It seemed most who came to Safehold planned to stay for life.

Ebert sat the runabout down on the assigned pad. They were all inspected upon disembarking by a security team. The sight of weapons didn't even faze the Remans. The bureaucrat assigned to greeting them was more concerned with fund transfers than public safety.

Macen and Rockford were taken to the City Administrator's offices while the others were moved along to their prospective new corporate hub. The quad was euphemistically named Utopia Gardens but what it really was was a bombed out, gutted ruin. But the security officials were unaware that not every SID team member went out of the landing area.

Aboard the Corsair Kerber and Bailey Smith diligently worked the planetary networks. Kerber had stayed at the OPS station to explore the Remans' various computer hierarchies. Smith reconfigured the Science station into an OPS platform and mirrored Kerber's progress before branching out on her own after they'd isolated the megacity's systems and covertly began taking them over.

Douglas rejoined her Section 31 agents at Paradise Havens. Douglas only had one question for Eden Smith, "How is he doing?"

Smith immediately knew "he" referred to Bashir and not Riley, "He's got Colin playing nurse for him. Colin seems to think it'll get him in the Doctor's pants. Once that delusion evaporates, he'll be a sullen brat again."

"And that shift in attitude won't sit well with Julian," Douglas warned, "Medicine is an end all be all for him."

"Then why are we trying to recruit him?" Smith wondered.

"Luther Sloan made it an agency priority. L'Haan backed his play and Director Fowler still likes the idea," Douglas explained the history, "So I was sent in."

"And you actually fell for him," Smith knew all the signs despite never having experienced them.

"Julian can be very...charming," Douglas allowed.

"And he probably has genetically enhanced sexual skills as well," Smith smirked, "Plus all those years of studying anatomy and all that."

"Combined with perfect muscle memory and endurance that just won't quit," Douglas sighed.

"Too bad you're not getting any," Smith remarked.

"Are you asking my permission to try for yourself?" Douglas wryly asked.

"Bait and switch," Smith suggested, "While he's irritated with you, I swoop in and seduce him. When I ultimately betray him, he seeks succor in your arms."

"I don't know..." Douglas wasn't comfortable with signing off on the tactic.

"Sarina, Jack Fowler gave us a directive to either bring Bashir into the fold or leave him dead in a ditch;" Smith reminded Douglas, "So what would hurt more, me screwing your boyfriend or executing him at close range?"

"You win," Douglas sighed.

Smith wore a victorious smile, "Then I'll just tell Colin to take a hike and I'll get busy showing Bashir how well I can play 'nurse'."

Douglas winced.

In the sub-basement of Utopia Gardens Parva called out, "How's this?"

She was in the maintenance pit underneath the building's fusion reactor. Daggit called back, "Everything's still dead."

Daggit was squatting before the pit cradling a rifle. Up in the living quarters area, Burrows stood vigil in the hallway while the others searched their ransacked rooms for usable equipment. With the doors frozen open the only thing keeping scavenger and raiding parties away was their knowledge that there wasn't anything usable left to take.

"How about now?" Parva asked.

The lights flickered and died so Daggit told her, "You're making progress, babe. We had lights for two whole seconds."

Parva snarled a few choice Orion oaths and Daggit could distinctly hear a clanging noise made by a heavy tool beating something solid. The lights sputtered back on and stayed on this time. Daggit shared the good news.

"You did it!" he told her.

Parva appeared in the pit's entrance and held up a hand. Like the rest of her, it was filthy; "Give me a hand."

Daggit helped pull his wife out of the long neglected pit, "That's one hurdle down."

"And a thousand left to go," Parva sighed before tapping her comm badge, "Parva to Corsair."

Kerber's voice came back over the circuit, "Corsair here."

"Are we patched into the city's comm grid yet?" Parva inquired.

"Already done," Kerber assured her, "We are now tied into and operating off of their domestic comm relays and surveillance monitors. What they see and hear we do too."

"Good work," Parva admitted. The two Ardanans never failed to impress. Of course, the entire SID team excluding Macen and Rockford thought Bailey Smith and Angelique Kerber were human, "What's our sitrep? Anyone spying on us yet?"

"The city administrators are aware of the power being restored in your quad," Kerber reported, "They're uncertain as whether to be impressed or annoyed."

"The hell with them," Parva retorted, "I'm already annoyed and I'd love to share that wonderful feeling."

"I've arranged for a parts drop at your location," Kerber shared, "No repair techs will be arriving to assist but you'll have a full assortment of parts and tools as well as the replicator templates for anything a quad facility requires."

"And how did you arrange that?" Parva mirthfully asked.

"Bailey broke the administration's encryption protocols while you were undoubtedly tearing everything apart. We can flash official traffic now," Kerber stated nonchalantly.

"Tell Bailey she just saved a few lives," Parva chuckled, "Someone will be checking in with you within the hour. Probably the Captain."

"Looking forward to it," Kerber admitted as she signed off.

"Poor kids sound bored and lonely," Daggit grinned.

"I'll trade them any day," Parva shared, "And have you noticed how Angelique, Bailey, and Tracy all gravitate towards Macen?"

"Well, Tracy was a member of his Maquis crew so that's a natural," Daggit stated.

"There's some common thread here though," Parva insisted, "Something that lumps them together."

"I'm sure you'll figure it out in time," Daggit reassured her.

"Stop trying to cheer me up," Parva mock grumped.

 

Chapter Four

Rockford didn't know how Macen felt but she was about ready to shoot somebody. In fact, a whole room full of somebodies. The Remans had thrown every department manager in the megacity's administration at them and they all wanted to throw obstacles at the couple. In fact, Rockford's jaw clenched as Macen's Starfleet past was hurled back into his face yet again.

"You say you resigned from Starfleet yet you subsequently began working for them after forming your corporation," an aide droned on, "Do you deny this?"

"I haven't yet so why should I start now?" Macen cheekily replied.

"Are you being flippant with me?" the aide demanded in his umbrage.

"Extremely," Macen readily confessed.

Rockford wanted to cheer as the officious bureaucrat's face went from ashen gray to a dull purple. She finally decided to let her voice be heard too, "Are we getting anywhere near a point?"

"This brings us back to our original question: why are you here?" The City's Chief Administrator asked once again.

"We've explained the business end of the venture," Macen reminded them all, "For our direct part, we're here at Harri Mudd's behest."

"I rather doubt that," The Chief Administrator replied, "The falling out between Harcourt Fenton Mudd III and Harriet Fedora Mudd was so legendary my offices were brought into it. She left Safehold vowing never to return and that is a sentiment I agree with. Now why is she really here?"

"You have two particular guests upon your world," Macen decided to tell the truth, "One is a Dr. Bashir and that other is a Lt. Commander Sarina Douglas, both of Starfleet. They've gone rogue. My job isn't to apprehend them, as that would run counter to your basic policy that no one will involuntarily leave Safehold. Rather I'm to try and convince them to return to Starfleet or remain here as outlaws."

"So you do have a basic grasp of our fundamental tenet," The Chief Administrator was pleased, "No resident alien may be removed from Safehold without his or her consent. That is our promise to every resident and we will enforce it at all costs. But otherwise, the dealings between residents are entirely up to them. We try to interfere as rarely as possible."

"What would it take for me to establish my business credentials with you and set up shop?" Macen felt a bridge had been crossed at long last, "After all, another Outbound Ventures vessel is already on its way here."

The Chief Administrator turned to his financier who named an exorbitant sum for a fifty-year lease. And then he added a smaller annual fee. As well as a comparably miniscule percentage tax upon every contract based on Safehold itself.

Macen knew Kathy Tyrol would hate him forever but he agreed to the sums. Authorizing all of the latinum transfers, Macen asked how it was that the administration had found his group an entire quad so fast. He didn't enjoy that answer when it was explained to him Utopia Gardens had been the planetary hub for Solarian Security Systems. They'd been driven off world. Or at least the survivors had been.

Macen and Rockford were then taken to the quad after the meeting broke up. En route, the aide leading explained that somehow his team had procured parts to repair the dilapidated building and that the how of it was being looked into. Macen and Rockford merely shared a knowing look.

Mudd had thrown in with Parva. Her experience as her own shipboard engineer served her well as she assisted the engineering savant. Forte was another certified genius amongst that group and quickly picked up the engineering principles necessary to affect repairs to the various sites she was assigned to.

Daggit and Burrows stood guard while Lee and Shade tried out some basic maintenance and repairs. Mainly they just swapped out various units like replicators, sonic shower emitters, and waste and sanitation convertor coils. Ebert was put in charge of testing and adjusting the pieces of equipment as needed.

Macen and Rockford arrived to find Burrows discreetly hidden away in that main courtyard having obtained a clear field of fire. He told them of the loosely organized chaos within. Macen sought out Parva and Mudd in that sub-basement while Rockford decided to check on the troops in the living quarters areas.

Macen quickly received an assessment from Parva. The building's fusion reactor was slightly antiquated but it had been brought to life and stabilized. The quad had a defense network that had been heavily damaged but it was repairable and thanks to Kerber and Bailey Smith they had the replicator patterns to repair and rearm anything within the quad. The industrial replicator was already up and running thanks to Mudd's efforts.

"Of course the exterior and interior weapons systems are all slug throwers," Parva frowned, "I tweaked the projectile matrix a bit to make it more like rounds utilized by a Starfleet TR-116."

"Good thinking," Macen was pleased by Parva's initiative. Her genius in these types of matters had grown exponentially since she'd had her genes and neural tissues resequenced. Of course, that also meant there was a threat she could become increasingly unstable and erratic like the famed Jack Pack that Sarina Douglas had once been a part of.

"My next project for Harri and I is trying to update the EPS conduits into something a little less primitive," Parva announced.

"I'll be giving Harri some homework that you could help her out on," Macen advised Parva, "Think of it as a 'thank you' gesture."

Parva grinned, "No problem."

Macen contacted Kerber and Smith, "Angelique, Bailey, have you found Bashir yet?"

"Negative," Kerber answered for the pair of them, "But it's a large city and there are rumors of a recently installed health clinic. Bailey and I are currently pursuing that angle since it seems a natural fit for a doctor and just opened today."

"Definitely stay on that," Macen agreed, "As a side note, could you get me a list and description of every ship landed at the city's pads?"

"Certainly," Kerber assured him, "Can you give us twenty minutes or more to compile the data?"

"Just sometime tonight would be good," Macen assured her.

Twenty minutes later, Macen downloaded the information from the quad's library computer. Taking his freshly loaded padd to Mudd, he asked her to look over the ships listed by it; "Keep an eye out for anything interesting."

"How interesting?" Mudd asked.

"Like something Section 31 might fly," Macen told her, "I think you'll know it when you see it."

"I hope you don't want this back today," Mudd grimaced, "Parva's working my gorgeous ass off."

"Parva already agreed to help you go through the list," Macen informed her, "So this isn't entirely on your head."

Mudd actually looked grateful, "I'm glad."

Riley finished installing the call button next to the clinic's door so Bashir could be summoned in an event of an emergency. Bashir walked the last patient out and Eden Smith trailed him. She shrugged at Douglas. Part of Douglas felt exalted by Bashir's faithfulness. But another portion of her wanted to scream over his innate stubbornness. It was going to cost him his life and there seemed to be no avoiding it.

"No luck at all?" Douglas asked as she sidled up to a weary Smith.

"In one way you should count yourself lucky. I'm very hard to resist but your boyfriend has very determinedly evaded my every suggestion or flirtation," Smith sighed.

"Pigheaded jackass," Douglas vented slightly.

"Look, Colin told me he found a new eatery to try nearby. It's about half the cost of the ones we've been sampling so far. And with our replimat down, we need to forage," Smith reminded Douglas, "And I swear most of the proprietors on this planet think it's the Ferengis' Divine Treasury with the prices they charge."

"Or at least a Reman's," Douglas tried to joke, it sounded tired even to her.

"At least the Remans don't rape you with their eyes," Smith stated, "We had a dozen Ferengi patients today and every one of them made a federal case over my being clothed."

"Well, since Grand Negus Rom made it legal for Ferengi females to wear clothes, I'm assuming most of the throwbacks left the Alliance and more than a few made it here. Probably with the Treasury Guard and FCA in hot pursuit," Douglas opined.

"Who names their military after bank guards?" Smith complained.

Douglas grinned, "The Ferengi Alliance regards itself as one large conglomeration of wealth. Therefore the term 'Treasury Guards' is apropos in their eyes."

"But it shouldn't require an explanation," Smith commiserated.

"Like Section 31 just rolls off the tongue to inspire fear and loathing?" Douglas inquired.

"Don't go there," Smith groaned, "And I think it's best that we rejoin the boys. It looks like Bashir is rejecting Colin's advances again. He only puts up with that for so long."

"And then?" Douglas asked apprehensively.

"What Colin can't conquer with words and flattery he just simply conquers," Smith informed Douglas.

"And that's why you two had a falling out?" Douglas asked.

"He wouldn't take 'no' for an answer so I hospitalized him. He was in a coma for three weeks before he came to with few memories of the event. We've avoided each other ever since."

"Until now," Douglas pointed out.

"Jack Fowler wanted this team put together with these people," Smith sighed, "You don't tell Jack 'no' either."

"Why does Jack put up with Riley?" Douglas wanted to know.

"Because he gets results, one way or another;" Smith said warily, "And Jack is all about results."

"It's best we get to dinner. Riley and Julian are about to go at each other;" Douglas observed.

Douglas swooped in and pulled Bashir away, "Tell me about your day."

Bashir shared his tales and she noted that he was truly happy for the first time since they'd left Deep Space Nine for Andoria. She hated to take that away from him. If nothing else, he'd have a brief taste of happiness before dying.

The work at Utopia Gardens ended for the night. There were still a multitude of repairs that needed doing. Most everyone was sharing rooms even the married couples. Ebert slept in Macen and Rockford's guest room. Mudd slept in Parva and Daggit's. Forte and Shade shared a room with Lee and Burrows. That constituted all of the rooms that had been successfully repaired.

Parva and Mudd went over the list of ships before retiring for the evening. They'd narrowed it down to five suspects. Having Kerber and Bailey Smith do a thorough check on the vessels' registration would yield more clues.

Earlier, Daggit and Burrows had scouted the outlying districts and found a dozen food vendors. Using the corporate coffers, they'd purchased meals for everyone. While the replicators did fine on liquids, solids seemed outside their programmed grasp just yet.

Macen and Rockford took a report from Burrows who spoke on Daggit's behalf, "Everything lined up the way Angelique and Bailey said it would. There were dozens of shopkeepers working out of apartments. They'd all been housed in this quad before Solarian was decimated. They're very interested in subleasing properties again."

"Did they reveal who drove Solarian out?" Macen asked first thing.

"An up and coming group called the Tevara Gang. They aren't quite Orion Syndicate and they aren't quite independent. But they're climbing the hierarchy of gang supremacy through raw power, force, intimidation, and wanton violence," Burrows reported, "And you couldn't help but notice that this piece of real estate is the epicenter of the megacity. That makes it the most prized location on the continent. The only reason it wasn't already occupied is the Remans demanded incredibly high contract rates to dwell here."

"Which are exorbitant enough to dissuade everyone," Rockford realized, "You do realize our presence might be the tipping point that devolves this entire scenario into an outright gang war?"

"Half our team is well versed in the arts of warfare," Macen reminded her, "We just have to carry Arianna, Shade, and Lee through. As far as the Outbound Ventures forces en route, most of them are ex-Starfleet veterans of the Dominion War. They know what they're doing."

"What about the Guinevere herself?" Rockford wondered, "Because I don't think the Remans will let her into the system."

"Probably not," Macen agreed, "Only three Lancelot-class cruisers were ever built and although the ship may be seventy-seven years old, I think the Remans are just paranoid to block her entrance."

"Which means ferrying personnel via shuttles," Rockford pointed out.

"Because the shuttles won't register on their threat o'meter," Macen opined.

Rockford rolled her eyes, "I can't believe you just said that."

"I blame my ninety-five years of being corrupted by humanity," Macen stated, "No offense, Tony."

"No problem," Burrows replied, "I think my fellow humans and I are pretty silly bastards most of the time."

"I was 'born' to be human and I don't sound like that," Rockford complained.

"You don't know what you're missing," Burrows gibed, "I can see why Elias warned me about you two."

"Elias Vaughn warned you? About us?" Rockford was slightly insulted.

"Yes, ma'am;" Burrows grinned, "And if you want to take it up with him, feel free."

"I suppose you go along with this ridiculous sentiment?" Rockford accused Macen.

"Of course," Macen nodded, "Elias would do the same by directly approaching us."

"I'm walking away before I stun you both and kick you while you're down," Rockford huffed as she strolled away.

Burrows cast a sidelong glance towards Macen, "I heard you've been married before. Once to a member of your own race and then again to a Vulcan."

"Is there a question here?" Macen wondered.

"I also have been told you and Captain Riker's wife were in a deeply committed relationship at one time," Burrows added.

"Also true," Macen confirmed it, "So I repeat my question about yours."

"What happened?" Burrows finally asked.

Macen smirked, "Why didn't you ask Elias?"

"I did," Burrows confessed, "He said to ask you."

"Good man," Macen approved of his friend's action, "My first wife, Arinae, pretended to be assimilated by the Borg. Over the decades she came to the Alpha Quadrant through alternate means and was recruited by Section 31. She'd gone insane by then and threatened the entire SID team so I killed her. She was actually grateful when I did so."

Burrows was visibly shaken, "And the Vulcan?"

"T'Kir and I met in the Maquis," Macen shared, "After the Dominion War ended I recruited her to my fledgling SID team. Eventually we married and in another eventuality Bertram Sindis killed her."

Seeing Burrows' look of relief, Macen decided to burst his bubble, "But Tessa had cloned T'Kir's body and I held her essence in my head. We reconnected the two and she left for Vulcan. While there she fixated on Celeste and I's deaths and she too joined Section 31. Celeste personally killed T'Kir the second time around."

"I can see why there's bad blood between you and Section 31," Burrows ventured.

"No, you really can't;" Macen countered, "Ask Daggit about Hannah Grace some time."

"Don't tell me Lisea Danan ever joined Section 31," Burrows pleaded.

"I won't because she didn't," Macen assured him.

"So what happened with her? Why did she marry Tom Riker?" Burrows asked.

"Because Tom is a very special and very lucky man," Macen stated.

"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Burrows realized.

"Ask her," Macen encouraged him.

"I may just do that," Burrows decided.

"If you do, keep it to yourself afterwards," Macen requested.

"This seat taken?" Rockford asked Mudd at the courtyard tables.

"Does it look like it?" Mudd asked sardonically given that only Daggit and Parva sat in proximity to Mudd but they were lost in each other.

"It's not like you're trying to fit in, Harri;" Rockford accused.

Ebert suddenly approached their table, "Can I join you?"

"Why would you want to?" Mudd asked acerbically.

"Harri!" Rockford growled.

"It's no problem, Ms. Rockford;" Ebert replied with a shrug.

"It's Celeste to you, Tracy;" Rockford assured her, "Please take a seat."

"I think she should answer the damn question," Mudd obstinately dug in.

"Because I spent most of my life on the other side of the law even before I joined the Maquis," Ebert divulged, "My family owned freighter was a smuggling vessel. And only the Captain ever gave me a chance to do anything that meant anything. Twice he's asked for my help and twice I said 'yes' without regretting it."

"'Yet' being the operative word," Mudd grumped.

Ebert shrugged, "Look, I can eat by myself. I'm used to that too."

"Wait!" Mudd ordered, "Sit down before I start bawling."

"Thank you, Captain Mudd;" Ebert beamed.

"Oh, hell no;" Mudd exclaimed, "There's obviously only one 'Captain' for you. Just call me 'Harri'. And if that doesn't rock your world, call me 'Mudd' like most everyone else."

"Thank you, Harri;" Ebert said slowly, "I understand you own and operate a Bajoran variant Antares-class freighter with the warp core and warp nacelles from an Andor-class transport melded in. I have experience with both ship types and am wondering how the crossover is working."

"I'm beginning to like you already," Mudd decided.

"And afterwards, if you could, tell me how you pulled off the Rostelian Heist on Deneva Prime;" Ebert requested.

Mudd wore a Cheshire grin, "I definitely like you already."

Douglas' comm badge sounded so she tapped it, "Douglas here."

"We have company," Riley explained from the control center, "Very well armed company."

"I see," Douglas pondered the matter, "Are the disruptor gun pods working?"

"Yes, Yar seemed to know what she was doing when she installed our network," Riley had admiration in his voice.

"She should," Douglas told him, "The Coalition forces on Turkana IV relied heavily on these types of systems for perimeter defense."

"Should I fire a few warning shots just to let them know we mean business?" Riley asked.

"No, but if I tap my comm badge twice take out the muscle;" Douglas requested.

"You got it," Riley sounded happier than he had in a while.

Douglas exited her quarters to find Bashir doing the same. Surmising the worst, she asked him; "Where are you headed?"

"Someone paged me from the clinic," Bashir said with a note of concern, "Could you page Eden? I can't seem to reach her."

"She's probably already aware of the situation," Douglas consoled him knowing Riley would have contacted Smith as well as herself.

"Good," Bashir brightened.

Douglas wondered just how Bashir would react to the crowd actually awaiting them.

"This is an outrage!" Bashir thundered at a rather dapper Nalorian, "If you people aren't actually injured then get the hell away from my clinic!"

"Your clinic? I don't think so," the Nalorian smoothly rebutted Bashir's claim, "This quad and everything in it belongs to my employer. That includes you."

"What is it you want?" Douglas inserted herself into the scenario.

"As our Iotian friends succinctly put it, my employer wants a piece of the action;" the Nalorian's white teeth shown like a light against his flint-like skin.

"What action?" Bashir wondered.

"The fees you're charging your patients," the Nalorian explained, "My employer wants a ten percent cut."

"There aren't any fees," Bashir asserted, "This is a free clinic providing health care to any and all patients."

"You're joking," the Nalorian didn't buy into it yet.

"I wish he was," Douglas said wearily. She was still wondering how she would justify Bashir's charity work to her superiors.

"You're the only trained physician in this city and you're simply handing your services away for free?" the Nalorian scoffed, "Well, not anymore."

"What do you mean?" Bashir was growing angrier by the second.

"What I mean, Doctor, is that you and I are going to sit down and arrange a list of service fees," the Nalorian decided, "And if you even think about protesting I recommend you look at the fact that there twenty of us against two of you. That's twenty weapons versus yours and I do believe you're not even armed, Doctor."

"What's your name?" Douglas suddenly asked.

"Tav Solan," the Nalorian answered, "Why?"

"You said you're a minion," Douglas continued as though he'd never asked the question, "I spoke to another mouthpiece several days ago who agreed to our neutral status. Do you actually have the authority to overwrite his decision?"

"I may be a minion but I am a highly placed one. The fool who made promises before consulting with his betters has been terminated for his arrogance. Now you are dealing directly with me and I speak for Tevara," Solan iterated.

"Then you are high on the echelon to personally explain to Tevara how you got nineteen of his men killed today and you can also pass along a simple message," Douglas spoke.

Solan chuckled, "And what is that?"

"Go to hell," Douglas double tapped her comm badge. Blisters emerged from hidden ports all around the courtyard and their disruptor bolts killed Solan's men while leaving him very much alive.

"Aren't you a little strumpet?" Solan calmly asked while keeping his hand clear of his holster.

Smith came out of her hiding spot carrying a compressed phaser rifle, "Want me to finish this one off?"

"No, he's a mouthpiece so let him speak for us to Tevara," Douglas decided, "Tell your boss he doesn't want to start a war with us. He won't survive it."

"I will," Solan promised, "And I'm certain he'll give you to me to be my plaything after we've killed the rest of your lot. Just be warned, I tend to break my playthings."

"I'm quaking already," Douglas dryly retorted.

"You should be," Solan said smugly and then he departed.

"He's going to be trouble," Douglas predicted.

"Too true," Smith agreed, "But you have to wonder how he breaks people down."

Douglas and Bashir just looked at her as though she were crazy.

The following morning Kerber contacted Macen, "You wanted to follow the violent skirmishes across the city. There were several last night but only one was of note."

"And that was?" Macen wondered.

"A recently reoccupied quad called Paradise Havens had just opened the medical clinic. It seems one of the local gang bosses sent a group in to collect a cut of the clinic's fees," Kerber explained, "Only the physician is treating patients for gratis and a skirmish broke out with nineteen casualties reported. All on the gang's side. Which is fairly impressive given that Paradise Havens only lists four occupants."

"Any visuals on the occupants?" Macen inquired.

"None as of yet," Kerber sounded disappointed, "They took their central computer off of the city's network so we haven't found a backdoor yet."

"Keep at it but I think you found our quarry," Macen congratulated the cyber team, "Let Bailey know thanks go to her as well as you."

"Will do. Kerber out," she signed off at that point.

Macen decided to grab some scouts and take a look around Paradise Havens.

The SID team fanned out around Paradise Havens in three groups. Shade and Lee took one approach while Burrows accompanied Forte on another. Macen and Rockford had dragged Mudd along with them.

Shade and Lee talked to merchants and shoppers along the way. They learned that not every resident was a wanted criminal. There were those that had simply been born on Safehold owing to their parents' hiding there. Many of the vendors came from nearby star systems that had attempted to forge new businesses in an entrepreneurial spirit. Most also regretted that decision now but the Remans wouldn't allow them to leave.

In turn, Forte interviewed many of those coming to and from Paradise Havens. They were mainly potential patients that had heard about the clinic. They came from across the city. Their only options before this were half trained, or completely untrained, medical practitioners with homemade equipment and pharmaceuticals.

Burrows watched over his young charges safety all the while spotting out a gathering number of armed gang members. Burrows knew trouble when he saw it and so did the residents. But many pressed ahead to the clinic regardless of the brewing danger.

Macen and Rockford gathered much of the same information as they approached Paradise Havens' main entrance. Mudd had gone along with their activity with a modicum of complaints. Now as they neared a large group of armed aliens she swore.

"What is it?" Rockford was concerned by Mudd's sudden agitation.

"My father is helping lead this lot," Mudd hissed, "We have a lot of bad blood between us. He swore he'd kill me if he ever saw me again."

"Yup, I see him;" Macen told her.

"You know my father by sight?" Mudd was surprised.

"Harry the Third was a chief smuggler supplying the Maquis back in the day," Macen informed her, "He also helped with a few more delicate operations before he was picked up by the Starfleet Border Patrol."

"The hell you say," Mudd didn't believe a word of it.

"He avoided being sent to a penal colony by turning state's evidence and fingering his suppliers," Macen recalled.

"Now that I believe," Mudd conceded.

"Harry the Third had weaseled out the names of several Maquis still in Starfleet in various drinking contests," Macen elaborated.

"Hah! My father can drink an android under the table," Mudd laughed.

"So we learned," Macen was slightly more reflective, "The last time I saw him, Harry Mudd III had parlayed this knowledge into a free ride out of the Federation. Last time I saw him he was beyond Talarian space."

"Waitaminute!" Mudd yelped, "You were his ride?"

"That's the short version of the story," Macen shared.

"The hell with this," Mudd squared her shoulders, "Try and keep up."

Mudd approached Mudd III, "Hi Pops, how's it hanging?"

"What in the name of the Seven Devils are you doing here, Sweet-Tart?" Mudd III asked incredulously.

"Did I just hear you correctly?" Rockford asked with great amusement.

"You did," Mudd III bragged, "My little girl has always been a little sweet but mostly tart."

Mudd glared at Rockford, "If you ever call me that I will hand you your ass, Angosian or no Angosian."

Mudd III eyeballed Macen, "What brings you here?"

"I have business with the doctor," Macen said evenly.

"You know, Macen, I should probably have you gunned down. You put my boy away," Mudd III griped.

"Your son is an idiot," Macen retorted, "He literally fell into my lap and thought because he resembles his mother I wouldn't recognize him or recall all the warrants out for him. And to compound his stupidity, he broke out of my brig, blinded me, and stole my runabout. And then he tried to cut a deal after I tracked him down to where he was trying to illegally sell my runabout."

Mudd III sighed, "You're right. He was never that bright."

"Yet he was the apple of your eye," Mudd scornfully remarked.

"This isn't the place, Harriet;" Mudd III warned.

"And why isn't it, Pops?" Mudd caustically inquired.

"Because Harry the Third here is trying to figure out how to get inside Paradise Havens without getting killed and then executing the current occupants," Macen said to her.

"Well, have fun with that;" Mudd chortled.

"You think this is a funny business?" Mudd III was instantly angered by his daughter's flippant attitude.

"Not at all," Mudd assured him, "I just know who these people work for and I know as soon as you try anything, you're a dead man. So I'll just say my goodbyes right here and now."

"She's right, Harry;" Macen declared, "You don't stand a chance."

Mudd III weighed his options, "Whatever happened to that Vulcan mind witch that hung all over you? You finally trade up?"

"She died," Rockford said with equanimity, "Twice."

"How did she do that?" Mudd III had to ask.

"First Bertram Sindis killed her. She was resurrected and then I killed her," Rockford explained.

"You lot brought Sindis down?" Mudd III yelped.

"We had help," Macen said quietly.

"And what Harriet is saying is these people inside are...?" Mudd III faltered.

"Just as dangerous and determined," Mudd asserted.

"Look, go on in and take your time;" Mudd III suddenly allowed, "I have to contact the boss anyway."

"You're too kind, Pops;" Mudd quipped.

As the trio proceeded towards Paradise Havens' entrance Mudd erupted, "What a blowhard!"

"I understand you felt slighted by your father but what turned you two against one another?" Rockford wanted to know.

"In order to try and save my brother my father sold me out," Mudd explained.

"Had you done whatever he was accusing you of?" Rockford pressed.

Mudd bitterly laughed, "For once, no. And also for once, the prosecutors weren't so lazy as to try and pin it on me."

"Maybe your father realized that," Rockford couldn't believe she was suddenly sticking up for Mudd III.

"The only thing my beloved father cared about is that my brother got away," Mudd incredulously insisted.

"I agree," Macen confided.

"Why the hell are you suddenly riding in to my rescue anyway?" Mudd demanded to know.

"My people are called 'Listeners' for a reason," Macen explained, "Everything I've seen and heard said Harry the Third was ready to throw you under the train just for being on this world again. I may not agree with every aspect of your life choices but you're part of the extended family now. Which means I'll do my best to help you against threats like your father."

Mudd stopped in mid-stride. Rockford and Macen were a little slower to react.

"You're serious," Mudd realized, "You both feel this way?"

"Of course," Rockford assured her.

"I'll be damned," Mudd breathed, "I don't know what to say."

"Well, you don't have to say anything but actually saying something once in a while wouldn't hurt," Rockford smiled.

"But why me?" Mudd had to know.

"You remind me of myself when I was younger," Rockford confessed, "And in turn that kind of makes you the ersatz sister I never had before. I saw a spark of greatness in you when we rescued Nan Bacco. Despite how that later turned out I got to see more of you in action and I think you can blossom into a terrifyingly awesome person."

"And you?" Mudd asked Macen.

"Celeste recognized it first but I agree with her now," Macen told her, "So we kept you on the payroll."

"I'm not a hero," Mudd warned them, "No matter what anyone might think."

"Neither are we," Rockford assured her, "We just get the job done and move on to the next one. Just like you."

"This is way too weird," Mudd complained.

"Look, all you have to do right now is either enter this courtyard on the other side of the that raised blast door or go back to Utopia Gardens and help Parva and Tracy out," Macen offered.

"That'll be the day," Mudd snorted, "I'd rather take a chance on getting my ass shot off than bore my but back at that dilapidated quad."

"Then let's get it done," Rockford urged.

The SID converged Paradise Havens' courtyard. Ensconced in the control room, Riley carefully monitored the actions and presence of the armed men and women. He cursed the fact that Yar hadn't had time to install audio monitors. Because it was plain to see that the SID team was engaged in a debrief of their encounters coming to Paradise Havens.

"So it seems there are actually four gangs now with the demise of the leader of the Acamarian led Delters Gang," Macen realized, "So let's break it down. The Eldebara Gang is led by an Orion gangster named Tantz. Tantz in turn is run by an Orion woman named Gomer. The Eldebara's were the movers and shakers until the fall of the Delters."

Macen continued his summary, "Then there's the Doreb Gang, founded by an Iotian but now led by a Ferengi named Trob. Rumors persist that Doreb is still alive but there's no conclusive evidence to support that supposition."

"The Kundark Gang is led by a Nausicaan of the same name. They're essentially overmuscled thugs with a taste for power achieved through intimidation," Macen summed up that group.

"Typical Nausicaan thinking," Burrows opined.

"And now comes the fast rising up and comers," Macen mused, "The Tevara Gang is the newest on the planet and now the largest. Our good friend Harry Mudd III works for Tevara among unknown others."

All eyes fell on Mudd. She grew defensive, "What?"

"Harri can't help who her father works for," Macen reminded the group, "Now Tevara has never been seen. He or she arrived in an armored vehicle offloaded from a transport and taken to his or her quad straightaway. A Nalorian had arrived with Tevara and served as his or her lieutenant. The story goes that Solan recruited a lens crafter to make special visors for Tevara's guards. This in turn implied to some that Tevara was a reclusive Medusan."

Macen could see the blank looks on half of his team's faces, "Medusans are noncorporeal beings specializing in spatial navigation. But their appearance drives most humanoids insane. No one quite understands how Medusans process information so Tevara could potentially monitor everything on Safehold and its surrounding space without the aid of external monitoring devices."

"The locals reported an incident here yesterday," Forte spoke up again, "A Nalorian led a group into the quad and only he left alive."

"Angelique reported that before we set out today. That's why I'm guessing Harry the Third works for Tevara. Tevara has the most to lose by leaving the Section 31 group unpunished," Macen shared.

"Pops would get on the wrong end of this fight," Mudd groaned, "It was always his way."

Macen gave Mudd a pained look and she threw a glare his way, "Oh, come off it! You and your Maquis buddies did lose in a spectacular fashion."

Rockford snickered, "You have just spat on holy ground."

"Excuse me all to death but you have to admit that the Jem'Hadar royally handed you Maquis your collective asses. You're just lucky to be alive at all," Mudd ventured further.

"I won't debate how the movement ended but that never meant we weren't solidly in the right," Macen argued.

"Except to the rest of the rational universe," Mudd shot back.

Rockford interposed herself between the two verbal opponents, "Peace and harmony everyone. Let's not slay everyone's sacred cows all in one afternoon."

Rockford turned to Forte and the others, "Did any of the locals mention Bashir by name?"

"Oh yeah," Forte said heavily, "Most of them have a severe case of hero worship."

"And the rest are already eulogizing him," Shade put in, "Most the locals respect Bashir's willingness to stand up against the Tevara Gang but many more think he just should've taken whatever deal they were offering."

"Which the other gangs know Bashir and the agents with him stymied Tevara's plans and that is why they're gathering here as well. It's pretty much a photon charge waiting to annihilate at this point," Lee stated, "Douglas was smart when she offered Paradise Havens' clinic up as neutral ground. But the Tevara's went against that and tried to claim sole possession. That's pushed the others closer to forming an effective alliance than any other single event on the planet."

"But they're still not a united front," Macen surmised.

"I think most of them would rather wade into random disruptor fire than work together," Lee guessed.

"This is going to be a long day," Macen sighed.

As the SID approached the clinic a disruptor bolt discharged near them. Burrows snapped his rifle up and honed in on the gun pod. Pods appeared all across the courtyard as the milling crowd fled. Rockford pushed Burrows' rifle barrel down towards the ground.

"Ease off, Tony. The area is saturated with them," she advised.

"I see your point," Burrows relented.

Macen pulled his phaser out of its holster and handed it to Lee, "Hold onto this." Rockford did the same with Shade and they entered the clinic. The waiting area was full of bodies. A fairly sensual woman entered the area and smirked.

"Well, you certainly don't look mortally wounded or ill;" she gibed.

"Agent whatever-your-name-is, I need to talk to Bashir. Call Sarina Douglas whenever you want and she can rudely interrupt," Macen demanded.

Eden Smith grinned, "I'll tell the doctor you're here."

Smith called out a number and escorted the fresh patient to Bashir. Presumably she also spirited off to confer with Douglas.

"And now we're waiting for Douglas to arrive," Rockford ventured.

"It should be an interesting confab," Macen agreed.

Smith chose that moment to reappear, "I'm afraid the doctor doesn't have time to see you today. Please return when you have a medical emergency."

Rockford exploded into action faster than Smith could react. She slammed Smith bodily into a wall, pinned her arm behind her back and her face against the wall. Kicking Smith's feet wide apart so she'd lose balance if he tried to leverage off of one leg or the other, Rockford turned to Macen.

"Go," she simply said.

Smith kept struggling but found that fighting Rockford was like trying to bend a duranium beam with her bare hands. She simply folded one leg and fell to the ground. But unexpectedly, Rockford dropped into a crouch behind her. Now Smith found herself pinned into the base boards with her prone body pinioned against the wall and floor by Rockford's hands and knees.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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Last modified: 03 Oct 2014 
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