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Safehold - Part II 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 Five

Macen ventured further into the clinic and heard two voices. One was confident and authoritative and the other was less so. Macen recognized Bashir's voice as the confident one.

Macen burst into the examination room and Bashir was immediately upset, "How dare you? Get out of here! I'm treating this patient."

"I'll be right outside," Macen conceded, "And we need to talk before Sarina Douglas can interfere."

"Now see here..." Bashir took umbrage over the perceived slight of Douglas' character.

"Doctor, honestly ask yourself what your long term goals are and if survival is amongst them," Macen suggested before stepping out.

Douglas arrived at the clinic. She hadn't recognized any of the members of Macen's SID team. If they were even members of the team. Harri Mudd was present but she didn't affiliate with agencies like Starfleet's Special Investigations Division. Yet Douglas had seen all of them congregating around Macen and Rockford so something was afoot.

"Very well, Captain. What do you have to say?" Bashir brusquely asked Macen between patients.

"If you play this through you'll either leave Safehold a Section 31 agent or you'll be dead and left behind," Macen told him.

"You think I don't already know that?" Bashir asked bitterly.

"To be honest, I wasn't certain;" Macen admitted, "You're besotted with Sarina Douglas and have a major blind spot regarding her. She will kill you if ordered to and think it's a kindness to do so."

"I agree," Bashir said sadly.

"What cleared the cloud in your judgment of her?" Macen asked.

"Prison clears away a lot of delusions and frees the mind to concepts you'd otherwise find abhorrent," Bashir sighed.

"I know, I was sent to a penal colony on a murder charge;" Macen confided, "I was only there for two years but it gave me plenty of time to reflect."

"You?" Bashir was astounded, "I thought Starfleet Command protected you at all costs."

"I was released on a technicality," Macen shared, "The man I killed wasn't who anyone thought he was. He was a clone convinced that he was Bertram Sindis. Also, the evidence had been tampered with to hide that revelation. In the end, the Starfleet JAG Corps felt it was easier to wash their hands of the matter than pursue a capital charge for the clone's death."

"What does this mean to me?" Bashir asked.

"I told you that because you can have your life back if you choose it," Macen stated.

"How?" Bashir was as skeptical as he was intrigued.

"Come with me to Deep Space Nine," Macen urged, "Captain Ro has fought for your reinstatement and has won a major foothold on your behalf. You'll be returned to your post as Chief Medical Officer but you'll also be under scrutiny from Starfleet Internal Affairs and Starfleet Intelligence. A small price, don't you think?"

"Surely I was court martialled in absentia and found guilty?" Bashir had to wonder despite the embers of hope being fanned within him and Douglas' reassurances.

"Apparently Starfleet overlooked that procedural motion," Macen informed Bashir, "Ro convinced Admiral Noyce of Starfleet Security, Admiral Nechayev of Starfleet Intelligence, Admiral Cataan of the JAG Corps, and Admiral Neusx of Starfleet Internal Affairs to suspend any criminal actions against you until after the findings of the Andorian Imperial Court were known."

"The Directors of each department?" Bashir was impressed, "Ro certainly went to great lengths."

"You'll probably never have any idea," Macen assured him, "But my original question stands. Do you want to return to Deep Space Nine?"

"Of course!" Bashir quickly enthused, "But how do I simply walk out of here?"

"We begin by calling my support team," Macen said simply as he went to tap the comm badge on his belt.

"Let Agent Smith go, Detective Rockford;" Douglas grated as she came upon the scene.

Rockford had hoisted Smith back onto her feet and now she interposed Smith between herself and Douglas. Douglas shook her head, "A human shield? Really? In this day and age?"

"I'm betting you're willing to kill her to get at me," Rockford revealed, "I'm also just wondering how your fellow agents will respond to you afterwards. Besides you didn't mind when it was Bashir running interference for your escape."

"Are you saying you wouldn't want to be saved by the man you love?" Douglas scoffed.

"No, I'm just saying at least I'm no longer willing to kill the man I love when ordered or hired to," Rockford retorted.

Douglas surged forward and gripped Smith's nerve cluster between her neck and shoulder. The Section 31 agent crumpled to the floor. If Rockford was impressed by a human perfectly executing a Vulcan nerve pinch, she didn't show it. Instead she punched Douglas in the nose.

Douglas shook off the blow without staunching the blood flow and snapped off her own response. Rockford just backpedaled and forced Douglas to traverse Smith's fallen form. Douglas pulled free her Type I phaser as she did so.

Rockford clamped onto Douglas' wrist and bent it inward. Douglas gasped in pain as Rockford locked Douglas' elbow and then twisted her shoulder so hard it almost came out of its socket. Rockford slammed the palm of her free hand into Douglas' elbow and Douglas cried out as he elbow snapped.

Rockford then kicked Douglas back so that she stumbled over Smith. Rockford deftly scooped up Douglas' phaser and quickly stunned the glaring Section 31 agent. She then tracked her husband down.

"We need to go if we're leaving," she insisted.

"Now's the time to commit, Doctor;" Macen warned Bashir.

"The hell with this," Bashir decided, "I'm coming with you."

Kerber had walked Macen through of how to access the underground service tunnels. Bailey Smith was pulling the SID team out of Paradise Havens' courtyard. After slogging a kilometer underground, Macen and his party exited the tunnels and rendezvoused with the SID team.

Mudd spotted her father following the team. He saw Bashir and immediately began shouting into his comm badge. Mudd swore she'd kill him.

"We don't have time, Harri;" Rockford counseled her.

The SID team hurried across several blocks before boarding one of the city's elevated mag-lev trains. This one cut through the heart of the city where Utopia Gardens was located. The team withdrew into Utopia Gardens and Parva got the blast doors and shutters closed before the Tevara Gang could catch up with them.

"Looks like the Nalorian you told us about is leading these idiots," Parva fumed as Macen and Rockford joined her in the auxiliary control center located in the sub-basement.

"And everyone else is joining them," Daggit observed, "Any chance we could get Angelique and Bailey to fly the Corsair to the roof and extract us?"

"Way beyond their skill set," Macen informed the couple, "We'd need to get Tracy out to them."

Ebert's ears perked up from her place at a monitor station. Mudd suddenly interjected, "Even better, you send Tracy and I both to the runabout pads."

"You probably wouldn't be able to utilize the trains so you'd have to navigate through a hostile environment," Macen still couldn't believe Mudd was volunteering.

"I know several back routes that will save us time," Mudd promised, "I used them the last time I was here. It will take us two days tops."

"Okay, but Tony goes with the pair of you;" Macen decided.

"He'll just be in the way," Mudd dismissed the idea.

"He'd probably say the same about you," Macen mused.

"Whatever," Mudd said flippantly, "Could you get us out through those same tunnels you used to escape Paradise Havens?"

"Angelique is hacked into the system," Macen told her, "She'll get you in, guide you through, and get you out."

"Great," Mudd turned towards Ebert, "Ready to stretch your legs?"

"Beats just sitting here," Ebert grinned.

"Let me grab Tony," Macen requested.

Back at Paradise Havens, Eden Smith had set Douglas' broken elbow and was fusing it back together. Smith then slipped Douglas' arm through a sleeve cast and immobilized the joint. Douglas scowled.

"How long will this last?" she inquired snappishly.

"The bone will stay soft for another twenty-four hours. Afterwards it'll be just as strong as before the fracture," Smith answered, "But I'm betting you'll barely give it twelve hours."

"Sarina, Tom Fowler is on line for you;" Riley said from the examination room's entrance.

Douglas swore as she headed out to the waiting room's reception desk. A portable subspace transmitter had been brought in. Riley followed Douglas.

"My guess is that the plug has been pulled," Riley ventured.

"I'd say you're probably right," Douglas grimaced, "Just make sure you and Eden stay out of sight."

Douglas saw Tom Fowler's stern visage. Douglas couldn't recall a single instance where she'd seen the man ever smile. Seeing as how Fowler was just a few years older than her, she idly wondered if her expression would soon mirror his.

"Deputy Director, what a pleasant surprise;" Douglas bluffed.

"Skip the bullshit, Senior Agent Douglas;" Fowler said tersely, "Your mission is done. Is Bashir ready to commit?"

"Unfortunately not," Douglas admitted, "And even more unfortunately he isn't even present with us anymore."

"You opted to terminate him?" Fowler brightened.

"He left our custody in the company of Brin Macen," Douglas said gingerly.

Fowler's temper flared even more, "So you're saying he's essentially with Starfleet again. You assured me that wasn't an option for him anymore."

"Macen isn't Starfleet," Douglas feebly protested, "He's an independent contractor."

"Spare me the hypocrisy," Flower demanded, "Despite Starfleet's press, Macen is an active agent of the SID. Which means he works for Starfleet. So I really don't see the point of splitting hairs. What I see is a compelling reason to shut down a potential leak regarding our means, methods, and agents."

"Sir, I can..." Douglas began.

"You can terminate him yourself to prove your ongoing loyalty to this agency," Fowler insisted, "And if you prove unable, have Riley or Smith do it."

"I prefer doing it myself," Douglas admitted.

"Good answer," Fowler accepted her proposal, "Because otherwise Smith and Riley's secondary target would be you."

Douglas numbly nodded.

Daggit and Burrows worked with Macen to cobble together a workable defense. Kerber would coordinate everything surrounding Utopia Gardens. Bailey Smith would be handed oversight responsibility over Burrows and his two charges.

Burrows, Mudd, and Ebert were hovering over the access port to the underground maintenance tunnels. The hatch popped open and they began their descent. Smith guided the trio through a labyrinth of tunnels. Even if the Tevara Gang wanted to utilize the tunnels, Kerber had utilized Smith's encryption to seal the tunnel assesses to everyone the Ardanans wanted to exclude.

Burrows came out of the tunnel several kilometers away with his rifle drawn. He motioned for Mudd and Ebert to climb and get under cover of shadow. Smith had doused the street lamps so the gloom was particularly stygian.

They'd only traveled a few blocks before they found an intersection blocked by four armed beings. Burrows handed his rifle off to Mudd. Then he drew his katana. The four humanoids died well before they ever realized what was attacking them.

Ebert and Mudd gathered up phaser rifles and followed Burrows as he proceeded down another dark alley. At every intersection, Mudd would explain where they were turning to or proceeding straightaway before Burrows would lead them out into the open. Skirting train stations they came to realize every stop was being guarded by armed gang members.

A second encounter with a seemingly randomly placed gang unit left Mudd speechless, "Seriously, I don't know whether to be impressed or pee my pants."

"Try both," Burrows said flatly.

"You'll want this," Mudd handed him his rifle.

"What?" Burrows mocked her, "You're not a bad ass with a rifle?"

Mudd aimed her own captured weapon at Burrows, "Care to find out?"

Burrows swatted her rifle out of her hands and then had his own aimed between Mudd's eyes, "I don't need to."

"People," Ebert interjected, "Either just do it here in the street and relieve all of this sexual frustration or get back to the job at hand."

"Right," Burrows proceeded down Mudd's recommended path.

"He should've gone for the sex," Mudd mildly complained, "I would've eaten him alive."

"He probably already knows that," Ebert voiced.

They neared another train station and it was heavily guarded. Suddenly an echoing explosion ripped through the air. Flames could be seen coating one face of the Utopia Gardens quad.

Ebert started back and Mudd held her arm tightly, "Oh no! You're the reason we're out here. They're big boys and girls. They'll take care of themselves."

"You're right," Ebert said rather reasonably, "We have a job to do."

Mudd suddenly realized Ebert wasn't calm. She was just totally numb. Rockford had clued Mudd into Ebert's past inside what had become the Demilitarized Zone. Now her home colony was officially Cardassian territory. Ebert was just finally putting her life back together and major reasons for doing so might have just died.

Life sucks and then you die a horrible, lingering death, Mudd mused to herself.

The building still shook as Macen called Parva, "Parva, I need a sitrep."

"We have dozens of burned out systems but nothing vital has been hit yet," the engineer reported.

"Have you sealed the blast shutters?" Macen inquired.

"On every section except the north face," Parva told him, "And the fires there are spreading into the interior. I suggest you evacuate before they start peppering that side."

Macen and Rockford abandoned the primary control center. As they headed down the corridor the walls behind them exploded. The concussive wave of the blast hurled them down the hallway into the balcony wall separating the living spaces from the quad's hollow core with the courtyard lying far below.

"I think we pissed them off," Rockford commented through the ringing in her own ears.

Macen got to his feet rather unsteadily and gave Rockford a hand up. They cleared the northern section of the quad and Macen commed Parva, "We're clear of the north side. Drop the fire doors in every section and we'll use the lift to join you in the sub-basement."

"I'd have to seal the doors anyway. The fire suppression system is blown," Parva revealed.

"You're certain the access tunnels are blocked off in case they crack Angelique and Bailey's encryption?" Macen asked as he and Rockford entered the lift and began their descent.

Parva sounded insulted when she replied, "It'll take an antimatter detonation or a nuclear device to blow those lid caps off and lift the freight containers we placed on top of them."

"Thank you, Parva;" Macen signed off from her and contacted Kerber, "Angelique, can you feed the auxiliary control center all the satellite data you're receiving?"

"Certainly but Bailey insists that I ask if you lost anyone," Kerber told him, "The excursion team is rather anxious."

Macen looked over at Rockford and they both knew Ebert was the one doing the most fretting, "Tell Bailey to pass the word that we're all fine. And to especially tell Tracy that Celeste and I are all right."

"Will do," Kerber went silent and then suddenly her voice reappeared, "It appears the motivational crisis is over."

"We'll need regular updates on the goings on outside," Macen alerted Kerber.

"Three other factions have engaged the group that bombarded you. They don't seem to be organized in any fashion rather they just appear to be opportunists trying to pick the bones clean," Kerber offered.

"Good guess," Macen praised her, "Let me know how the fighting turns out."

"Of course," Kerber sounded rather chipper about the prospect.

"Macen out," he said as he terminated the connection for now.

"She's certainly warming up to her role," Rockford dryly commented.

"This is the type of role she and Bailey performed while working inside the Ardanan terror groups," Macen reminded her, "It's why I brought them into the fold. We needed support assets like this."

"Any ETA on the Guinevere?" Rockford asked.

"Twelve to twenty-four hours assuming the Remans don't hold Captain Gardner off," Macen shared.

"And until they get here we're locked in a basement with every cutthroat on the planet out to kill us," Rockford wryly remarked, "Just great."

Despite her obvious grumbling, Macen could see in Rockford's eyes that a part of her was actually looking forward to the upcoming confrontation. Which he understood. He also felt that way.

 

Chapter Six

"I need to take a break," Ebert suddenly said as they reached yet another intersection, "We've been walking for hours."

"Only ten," Burrows replied snappishly.

"Lay off her," Mudd snapped, "I'm totally with her on this. We need water. Food wouldn't hurt but water is a must. We're going to run out of our reserves before we even get close to the landing pads at this rate."

"You both need to start an intensive calisthenics regime and an aerobics program after this," Burrows declared.

"Look dumbass, you already know Tracy is a participant in both. And I get more than my share of exercise, so either shoot us now and put us out of our misery or find someplace where we can get nourishment;" Mudd demanded.

Burrows disappeared into the night. A while later he returned, "Follow me."

Mudd was delighted when he led them to a pub. There were no mandatory closing hours on Safehold so eating and drinking went on all day and night. Mudd knew diuretics and alcohol were off limits but Burrows also decided synthehol was to be avoided at all costs to.

Ebert and Mudd relieved themselves and then ordered up at the bar. Ebert and Mudd devoured their meals but Burrows spent more time discreetly observing their fellow patrons. Finally, Ebert and Mudd split up the rest of Burrows' meal. Ordering several bottles of fruit juices and water, Ebert and Mudd put them in their packs. Burrows abstained.

"Look pal, I'm not sharing so you'd best get your own supplies;" Mudd warned him.

"I'll be fine," he said tersely.

Ebert stifled a laugh as Mudd made faces behind Burrows' back. But both women were startled when he pulled then aside after exiting the pub. He drew his katana and stood poised. As the door opened, Burrows thrust his sword back through a man's chest. Then Burrows swung around and shot the man's female companion in the face.

"Don't try and follow us," Burrows sternly advised the pub's customers.

As the SID trio departed, Burrows contacted Bailey Smith and had her kill all the lights in the power grid section that they were in. Cries of surprise and protests were heard throughout the area as the trio spirited through the darkened neighborhoods.

At the edge of Safehold's solar system, the Guinevere had arrived and Captain Gardner was currently estimating her chances of survival if she launched photon torpedoes at the lead Reman ship, "We're here to deliver an Outbound Ventures security and administration force to your planet. I was told the arrangements had been made. Why then am I being held at the outer edge of the solar system?"

"Captain Macen is engaged in a gang war at this moment. Your arrival could tip the balance of powers. While the intercity affairs of our resident aliens aren't my people's concern, the disruption of the order we have established amongst our alien clients and our own settlements could disrupt the balance of power on our world and lead to a conflict beyond your reckoning," the same Reman Commander informed her.

"I seriously doubt that," Gardner replied, "I've seen wars and devastation that affected trillions of lives and hundreds of planets."

"Then you can appreciate what we're trying to avoid," the Commander said.

"Okay, I'll give you that;" Gardner allowed, "How do I proceed with delivering my personnel?"

"You use support craft like Macen did," the Commander directed, "Even his own ship is traversing the outer edges of our solar system. Macen understood what would happen if he didn't comply and so should you."

Gardner looked over to Anastasia Slutskaya, her XO;" Anything?"

"Besides these three cutters, three frigates have appeared as if on cue;" Slutskaya reported.

Gardner turned back towards the viewscreen pickup, "I see your point. We'll get operations underway."

"I shall inform Traffic Control to be expecting your ships," The Commander signed off.

"Okay Slutty, I'm putting in charge of this operation;" Gardner told her, "Do us proud."

"You've got it," Slutskaya declared as she headed for the turbolift.

"Kozlova, where's the Obsidian?" Gardner asked Ekaterina Kozlova, her Science Officer.

"Just coming into extreme sensor range. She's being escorted by two Reman cutters," Kozlova reported.

Gardner turned to her Communications Officer, Colburn Marks; "Marks, hail the Obsidian. Tell Shannon Forger that I want to speak with her ASAP."

Macen's comm badge chirped while he organized his forces down in Utopia Garden's sub-basement, "Macen here."

"Captain, it's Angelique. There have been major developments over the last fifteen minutes," she said to him, "The fighting briefly intensified and has now stopped. Sarina Douglas and her companions intervened and have gathered a summit of gang bosses. I have to guess that Douglas is coordinating a combined assault on your position."

"Any good news?" Macen had to wonder.

"First Officer Forger made contact several minutes ago. The Guinevere arrived and is being held at the system's outer marker. But like before only support craft are being allowed to transit at sublight to Safehold. Captain Gardner estimates it will take three complete transits to deploy everyone. She estimates that the shuttles will require slightly longer than the Corsair to arrive on Safehold and make the return trip. She estimates four hours each way."

"How much progress has the excursion team made?" Macen asked.

"Bailey told me that they've made better time than originally estimated and are halfway to our position," Kerber stated, "Tony Burrows asked Bailey to find him deserted quarters for them to rest for four hours but the urban density factors are sorely working against them."

"And the transportation hubs are still being guarded?" Macen sought clarification.

"Yes, by eight man squads. Tony estimates that his group could overcome the guards if everything happens perfectly," Kerber informed Macen, "And you know as well as we do how often that happens."

"Have Bailey pass on to Tony to risk it. We need to shorten their transit to something manageable. I doubt we'll hold out against an all out combined assault. The divisive nature of the gangs was the only thing giving us even odds. If that factor has been mitigated we need to step things up," Macen instructed.

"But the gangs will know exactly where they're headed for and how they're getting there is they do this," Kerber started to protest.

"We're running out of time all around," Macen warned Kerber, "Besides our situation, the Guinevere's first load of shuttles will be arriving in a few hours. We need the Corsair airborne to lay down cover fire while the Outbound Ventures teams make their approach on Utopian Gardens."

"I'll let Bailey know. She has experience in these matters," Kerber offered.

"I'm well aware of that," Macen assured Kerber, "But let it be known, this isn't a request."

"I'll rig her up a mobile unit so she can stay patched in with the excursion team while she sets up," Kerber ventured.

"Good luck then," Macen signed off.

"Repeat that," Burrows requested as the SID trio ducked under a building's foyer.

"The Captain has ordered you to board the train and come straight to the landing center. I'll be taking a mobile patch out with me and keep you appraised of the developing situation while I prepare to deal with your eventual reception committee," Smith informed Burrows.

"No offense Bailey, but you're a linguist. Can you even hit the broadside of a starship?" Burrows wondered.

"If I could, I'd tell you stories that would drain you of color;" Smith retorted, "But suffice it to say I have adequate experience in this sort of thing."

"Okay, where's the closest train?" Burrows asked.

"Check your tricorder. I already plotted you a route. I'd recommend spending fifteen minutes hydrating first. You may not get another chance until it's all over," Smith stated.

"Sage advice," Burrows admitted, "What kind of experience did you say you have?"

"I didn't," Smith said evenly, "But it'll be enough to make all the difference in the world."

"Have you always been an optimist, Bailey?" Burrows had to ask.

"I'll stay in touch and see you when the train arrives. Even if you don't see me," Smith told him, "Out."

"Seems she told you," Mudd said to Burrows.

"She gave us good advice," Burrows shared, "Break out the liquids. We'll set out in fifteen."

Outside of Utopia Gardens, representatives of all four remaining gangs met together. Solan stood in for Tevara. Kundark chose to represent himself. Glit Adder stood in for Trob. Gerin Stolz stood in for Tantz and Gomer. Douglas had called the meeting together and opened the forum up.

"We have to ally and work together if we are to break the Outbound Ventures representatives and return Dr. Bashir to his clinic," Douglas spoke to them all, "You all seem to want him under your direct control, an asset fit only for your petty concerns. What Bashir is offering is something greater. A chance for you to appeal to the very people that are lining your pockets. Give the doctor to the people and the people will give their latinum to you. Call it health insurance."

"Why does Outbound Ventures have Bashir in custody?" Kundark wanted to know, "And where are the Remans. Their law is no sentient can be taken from this world."

"Unless they want to go," Solan said silkily, "So why does Bashir want to go?"

"Douglas gave Solan an irritated glance, "Outbound Ventures does want to take Bashir off world. Where they want to take him is a mystery to me."

"Well, they obviously don't want to take him back to Andoria;" Solan smoothly ruffled Douglas' feathers.

Douglas ignored Solan, "As far as the Remans go, Bashir has already contacted them and made his case for leaving. If you want to see the only doctor this city has leave, then simply step aside and let him go. And you'll have to work together or you'll never retrieve him."

"How does this 'insurance' scam work?" Adder asked.

He was from Rutia IV and served as Trob's chief enforcer. While everyone waited for Douglas' answer blast shutters above Utopia Gardens' porticos opened up. The twin obelisks guarding the main entrance suddenly swiveled as their domed heads bisected, revealing a gun in each.

"Damnation!" Solan actually sounded perturbed, "They have been busy."

"Get everyone down!" Douglas shouted as the isokinetic rail guns opened fire.

Over a hundred gang members were instantly cut down. The guns then fired at a slower cycle rate at targets of opportunity. Eventually the weapons ran out of ammo and sealed themselves back up.

Douglas was the first on her feet. Only half of the assorted gangsters joined her. As the dust settled, she realized that the weapons had covered all four sides of the quad and that the devastation had to be just as severe surrounding the entire building.

"I think Captain Macen just went further towards making your point than you ever could have," Solan told Douglas.

"I know," Douglas said distantly, "But why did he do it?"

"Parva, you're sure every door is sealed?" Macen double checked.

"There are a few in the north wing that didn't respond but otherwise every fire and blast door is closed and sealed shut," Parva assured him.

"Rab, it's time to implement the defense plan;" Macen warned Daggit.

"I was afraid of that," Daggit grimaced.

Burrows opened fire with his Bajoran Militia surplus phaser rifle. Two of the gang sentries fell before the remaining sis returned fire. Then Mudd began shooting for across the street. Two more fell. As the survivors adjusted their fire to push Mudd back, Ebert finished off the remaining guards. Burrows kept Mudd and Ebert covered while they ascended the stairs to the elevated train platform. Then he joined them while they covered the area from their perch.

The train arrived and Mudd and Ebert quickly boarded. There were several flashes of particle energy discharges before Burrows cold get aboard. He found four humanoids on the deck with Mudd and Ebert sweeping the area with their rifles.

"Okay, I'm seriously impressed;" Burrows admitted.

"Move!" Mudd shouldered Burrows out of the train compartment's entrance. As she began firing, he turned to see four more aliens climbing the platform's stairs. They ducked under Mudd's energy barrage.

The doors sealed shut and the train rocketed off on its magnetic levitation rails. Burrows shook his head, "This is suicide. There will be more of them at every stop."

"No there won't," Ebert was dead serious as she paged Smith, "Bailey, we need a direct route to your position. No stops and no interruptions."

"I'm on it," Smith replied.

Ebert blushed at Burrows incredulous stare and Mudd's beaming expression. Mudd chucked her shoulder, "That's my girl."

"You're what? A year older than me?" At best?" Ebert quipped.

"It counts," Mudd protested.

"In your dreams it does," Ebert huffed.

Burrows just chuckled and started to relax for the first time all evening.

At the end game rail destination, Smith had set up her firing position. Her portable case held her computer and she had a phaser rifle in her hands. Back on Ardana, when she was still known as Maarta, Smith had participated in dozens of acts of terrorism. Not all of them had been while sitting at a computer.

Anara, or "Angelique Kerber", had always been the superior computer genius. She'd always been relegated to the role she'd played since their arrival on Safehold. Smith, on the other hand, was much more hands on. The fact that Macen had seemed to know this hardly surprised her anymore.

The gang sentries were assembled beneath the rail platform and atop it. She sighted in a few members from her present location. They were clustering up. That suited Smith. It would make them slower to react to her and add confusion surrounding her whereabouts.

The excursion team had no idea their train was listed as Train 4-1-A. Burrows could barely see the end of the line. And it literally was the end.

"Bailey, it looks like we have a welcoming committee," Burrows told her.

"I know. I've been observing them since they arrived ten minutes ago," Smith told him.

"Can you stop the train five hundred meters from the end of the line?" Burrows asked.

"Easily enough," Smith said cheerfully. The train slid to a halt, "Happy?"

Burrows couldn't believe the quiet, reticent linguist was now sassing him, "Can you pop the hatches?"

The answer came when all of the doors opened. Burrows shook his head, "Thanks."

Mudd slipped out the back and started firing at the Tevara gang members from the left side of the train. Burrows leaned out of the door on the right and also began discharging his weapon. Ebert used up her rifle's power pack creating a gun port in the transparent aluminum windshield. Pulling her phaser pistol free, she joined in the melee.

Smith sighted in the closest gangster at the end of the line waiting to go up the stairs and charge the train. Smith's love of archaic Terran cinema included a movie called Sergeant York. York's homespun sensibilities had included attacking the rear of a line and picking it apart one man at a time until everyone was dead or had surrendered. It had apparently been a true story but heavily embellished.

At the very head of the line, the last three remaining sentients noticed the bodies falling behind them. They bolted up the stairs. When they reached the top of the stairs they looked around for Smith's firing position. Unlike York's weapons in the humans' First World War., her particle beam weapon would clearly give her position away. Still she didn't hesitate to take out another man. Kerber ducked behind the barricade she sat behind as disruptor bolts flew her way.

Burrows' spirits rose when he saw the first phaser bursts lance up from beneath the mag rails. Smith's presence was distracting the force trying to siege the train. A flurry of phaser fire from Ebert alerted Burrows to the fact that she was incensed by the barrage pouring down on Smith. Burrows was about to warn Ebert to ease off when she suddenly announced that her power pack was dry.

He focused on covering her while she expertly swapped out the Bajoran phaser's power cell. Burrows was once again surprised by her skill and efficiency in doing so. He had no idea that Macen had stocked the Odyssey with Bajoran arms during his days with the Maquis and Ebert flew the scoutship.

Mudd discarded her captured rifle moments after Ebert had recharged her pistol. Pulling her phaser pistol free of its shoulder holster, Mudd began to return fire at the opportunistic gang members that had hoped that she was out of the fight.

No sooner had Burrows swapped out power packs in his rifle when Smith contacted him, "Get everyone clear of the train."

"Say what?" Burrows refused to believe she'd just said that.

"Get off the damn train!" Smith snarled, "Now!"

Burrows grabbed Ebert by the arm and dragged her off the train. He fired repeated bursts down the track as he forced Ebert clear of the train. Bereft of cover, Burrows expected to die in any second now.

"What's going on?" Ebert demanded to know.

"I have no idea," Burrows replied through gritted teeth, "Bailey plans to blow up the train or something."

The train's doors sealed and its magnetic repulsors began to hum. Then it lurched forward like a missile. It blew through, and over, the Tevara Gang humanoids. Hitting the end of the line, the train smashed its way through the barrier wall and fell down atop parked shuttles at the edge of the landing field.

Mudd pushed forward and performed a classic "double tap" on any surviving gangsters. Ebert finished any people that Mudd had overlooked. Burrows was unhappy but he also knew it could be a necessity.

On the ground, Smith packed up her portable computer and stowed it away in a courier bag. Slinging the bag across her body, she changed out power cells on her rifle and then hefted it as she rose. Waving, she alerted the SID team descending the stairs from the elevated train platform.

Burrows shook his head, "That was amazing."

"Only because you didn't think I was capable," Smith retorted.

"Where did you learn to do all of this?" Burrows inquired.

"I don't think you of all people want to go there," Smith replied ruefully.

"Surely you can..." Burrows began.

"Drop it, Starfleet!" Mudd snapped, "Not everyone has a past they're inclined to brag about. Some of us will survive longer if we keep our mouths shut."

Burrows looked at Smith. His curiosity had merely been kindled further. She hoped he was good at dealing with disappointment.

"What about the Captain's group?" Ebert asked, "Are they all right?"

"They were before I left the runabout," Smith told her, "I've been busy with your group. Angelique is providing support for the Captain's team."

"But you haven't asked for updates?" Ebert wanted to know.

"I was a tad busy assisting you," Smith was beginning to losing her patience, "Would you prefer I was back aboard the Corsair and not out here?"

"Of course she doesn't," Mudd sharply interjected, "She's just fretting. She'll be fine once she's aboard the runabout. Right?"

Ebert knew the question was aimed solely at her, "Of course I will be."

"I do have some good news though," Smith told them as she led them back to the Corsair's landing pad, "The Guinevere arrived four hours ago. Her shuttles should be setting down within the hour."

"How many shuttles?" Burrows was all business again.

"Four," Smith answered, "That's the Guinevere's entire complement. They landing effort is being led by the Guinevere's XO, named Anastasia Slutskaya, but the security force being placed here is headed up by one Colonel Tzu Ma."

"The security detail uses planetary forces ranks?" Burrows was surprised.

"So does the security team aboard the Obsidian," Smith chided him, "Jaycee Miller holds a rank of Major as the Chief of Security and Jelena Kovic holds the rank of First Lieutenant. You really should know these things."

Everyone fell silent for a moment. Ebert filled in the silence, "I think you've said more in the last few minutes than the rest of the time since you joined the team."

"Considering that you just joined the team and have no frame of reference to work with, it isn't surprising;" Smith remarked.

"And flashes of sarcasm too!" Mudd enthused, "You'll be a fully fledged wise ass in no time at all."

"I'll be certain to post a memorandum when I arrive," Smith quipped.

Explosions ripped throughout the Utopia Gardens quad. The echoes and vibrations reverberated throughout the buildings' frame all the way into the sub-basement. Parva kept an eye on the united gangs' progress. Despite the obvious ploy of Solan sending his rivals before his own forces as cannon fodder, she had to admit that the Section 31 team was seriously impressing her.

"I'll give Sarina Douglas one thing, she's a total badass when it comes to organizing a soiree to kill us all;" Parva commented, "And this Tav Solan person has leveraged himself and his forces to be the last men standing after his competition gets chewed apart by our interior defenses."

"She definitely knows where to place explosive charge for maximum effect," Daggit said with admiration.

"You'd better only admire me that much from now on, husband of mine;" Parva warned him.

"What's their ETA?" Macen asked.

"Twelve minutes," Bashir said from behind everyone, "And that's estimating delays in their progress."

"Would you reconsider speaking with her?" Rockford asked him, "The facility's PA is still working."

"I think it's safe to assume Sarina isn't here to simply retrieve me at this point," Bashir said with infinite sadness.

Rockford gave Macen a nonverbal nudge. He'd almost been killed by each of his wives in their various incarnations. He of all people should be empathetic. Yet he seemed disinclined to be.

Rockford had given it a shot, "You have to know I'm an Angosian Augment."

"Yes, the barest scar line on your right temple indicates where the cortical implant was placed," Bashir took refuge in clinical language, "Yet, I am curious about the tattoo on your right shoulder blade. It's a pattern I'm unfamiliar with especially amongst Angosian lexicons."

"You're familiar with Angosian cultural markings?" Rockford was amazed.

"We had several groups of Angosian commandoes based on Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War," Bashir reminded Rockford, "Your friend, Rab Daggit, was among those posted there. Macen was one of their leaders. I took it upon myself to familiarize myself with Angosian culture as best I could whilst under the pressures of war."

"Many of the commandoes bore tattoos reflecting native traditions," Bashir recalled, "It was rather melancholy consider..."

"They weren't welcome on their own world anymore?" Rockford ventured.

"Among other reasons," Bashir confessed, "But you haven't answered my question."

"It's of El-Aurian origin," Rockford shared.

"What does it represent?" Bashir knew that the El-Aurians had been obsessively reticent to share any aspects of their culture.

"It's representative of ultimate truth," Rockford revealed, "And those that seek it."

"That's far too metaphysical for me," Bashir chuckled.

"The quest for truth embraces all realities, even metaphysical ones, and seeks the path to ultimate knowledge," Rockford stated, "In the end, it's simply the path to determine what Fate has in store for us."

"Ah," Bashir said smugly, "but there you have it. I believe I make my own fate."

"And Fate laughed at you when you were thrown into prison," Rockford replied.

"And this is all some kind of El-Aurian mysticism?" Bashir asked.

"One being's mysticism is another's truth," Rockford countered, Why is it so hard to believe in an absolute truth?"

"I don't believe there's only one truth. Truth is relative;" Bashir rebutted her.

"Yet you believe in facts," Rockford pointed out, "And gather enough facts and you establish an irrefutable law. And laws comprise truth."

Bashir wasn't certain of how to argue with that. Rockford grinned, "So why can't you simply accept I have more facts at my disposal than you do?"

"You only believe you do," Bashir knew his refutation sounded weak even to his own ears.

"You'd best gather up my investigative associates," Rockford suggested, "The fighting is about to begin."

"Unfortunately I have an abundance of combat experience," Bashir offered his services.

"My associates don't and they need someone to mind them," Rockford replied, "And if we lose you our mission here was for nothing."

"I don't know," Bashir hedged.

"Look, you've met them all;" Rockford argued, "Arianna is only metabolically sixteen years old and never seen this kind of action before. Lee is a former police officer so he has some training. Shade is a Fabrini and has never been near combat before. I'm not going to throw them into the fighting if I don't have to. I'm going to be too distracted to even make that determination. But you can."

"Sixteen? You've brought a child into this situation?" Bashir was affronted.

"Technically she's as old as Macen but biologically she only rates as a teenager," Rockford divulged.

"She's from Miri," Bashir realized all at once.

"She's also exceptionally brilliant so go try and impress her and wait to see what happens," Rockford suggested, "It should be amusing for everyone involved."

"I'll need a weapon," Bashir said firmly.

Rockford escorted him to the duffel Daggit had brought the phaser rifles in. She handed him a Bajoran rifle, "I'm sure you're familiar with the design."

"Indeed," Bashir agreed.

In the interior corridors of the Utopia Gardens quad, Solan held the rear while his various counterparts attacked the sub-basement. One of Solan's intermediate level managers approached him, "Solan, Harry Mudd has abandoned his men."

Solan scowled. He'd left Mudd III with the perimeter force surrounding the quad. And that force was tasked with executing every rival gang member.

"Did he take his men with him?" Solan asked.

"No, he left Salara in charge;" the manager reported.

Solan knew Salara was a capable woman but she was rather abrasive. She'd be impetuous enough to begin executing the rival gangs well before the signal was given to do so. That would mean everyone would divert their attention from Macen's group and back at the Tevara Gang.

"Get back to the perimeter and relieve Salara," Solan ordered.

The man grimaced, "You know Salara. She might just shoot me for being the messenger."

"Tell Salara if she has a difficulty with one of my orders to take it up with me," Solan said in a chilling tone, "Better yet, just send her straight to me. I'll sort her out."

The man began to depart and Solan called after him, "And Tabor, find out which direction Mudd took of in."

Douglas approached from her position further down the corridor, "Trouble in paradise?"

"It's nothing I can't manage," Solan assured her.

"I have no doubts," Douglas replied easily, "But we've reached the sub-basement. Kundark, Adder, and Stolz want you present when they begin to breach it."

"Don't they trust me?" Solan wore a toothy grin, "Never mind that. Your agents in the tunnels can't penetrate the access hatch?"

"It would require a tri-cobalt photon munition," Douglas explained, "We just happen to be short on those."

"Many of my associates speak of Section 31 with fear and trembling," Solan jabbed at her, "I really can't see why."

"Maybe we'll change your mind before this is done," Douglas remarked.

"Perhaps," Solan allowed.

The blast doors shielding the access door to the sub-basement flew out of its recessed railing as Douglas' explosive charges blew away the reinforced guide rails. Douglas waited until some of the superheated metals cooled before placing the last of her explosives against the primary access door. When she got clear, she detonated the charges and the door flew inward.

Gang members of various affiliations charged through the newly opened doorway. Screams could soon be heard from the interior of the sub-basement. Douglas had no illusions that the screams weren't coming from the gangsters. And she was wise not to have any.

Inside the sub-basement, the SID team had cleared a killing field. Using various cargo containers and other debris, they'd erected barricades. Daggit and Rockford held the center. Macen was on the left flank while Parva occupied the right. A "pillbox" fortification had been erected around Bashir and his three charges.

Barricades had also been constructed around the more sensitive parts of the fusion reactor. No one trusted the gangs to have enough discipline and fire control to not blow the reactor even by accident.

Every SID member was armed with a rifle, even Macen under protest. Their defensive posture was aided by the fact there was a single entrance into the room. But it also meant there would be no retreating whatsoever. The press of bodies grew worse as the corpses of the slain piled atop each other in the doorway.

The gangs threw in photon grenades to force the SID to duck and cover. While they shielded themselves, many of the dead bodies were torn apart by the energies of the photon grenades. Several gangsters entered the sub-basement while the defenders gathered their wits.

But they did recuperate and reopened fire on the encroaching invaders. But they didn't regain the initiative that they'd held at the beginning. Parva declared that she needed to swap out power cells. Daggit yelled out a code word intended for such a situation. Macen and Rockford also switched out power packs while Daggit fired two photon grenades rounds at the doorway.

The detonation killed everyone between the door and the barricades. Macen, Rockford, and Parva each yelled they were ready. Daggit fired two more rounds through the doorway. Explosions ripped through the outer hallway. Daggit took the time to change out his own expended power cell.

On the next level up, the gang leaders met again. Solan noticed that one figure was notably missing, "Where's Kundark?"

He was torn in half by the energy wave discharge of a photon round," Adder informed him, "What was left after that was peppered by shrapnel."

"And just where were you during the fight?" Stolz asked the obvious question.

"Dealing with errant business associates," Solan said smoothly. Salara's corpse lay nearby.

"We need more men," Adder decided.

"Nonsense, we simply need to drop the building on their heads and force them to utilize the access tunnels that are already under our control," Solan suggested.

"You have that many explosives?" Stolz was skeptical.

"We do and we have a mercenary unit on retainer just for jobs like this," Solan promised, "They can have the building wired within the hour."

"That's an expensive proposition," Adder realized, "What do you want from us?"

"I want you to find Harry Mudd and bring him back to me," Solan informed Adder. Turning to Stolz he said, "I need you to harass Macen's group. They can't be allowed to leave that basement."

"Okay, we'll do it while you try to organize the Kundarks;" Adder suggested.

"Or we could simply destroy them now and divide their territories and assets," Solan offered.

"Tantz will want to weigh in on this option," Stolz said.

"Then contact him," Solan graciously requested, "And give my regards to Gomer."

"I'll be off then," Adder stated.

"Perhaps Trob will even allow Doreb a moment out of his cell to pretend to be in charge during these propitious moments," Solan watched Adder's irritated reaction and shrugged, "Or perhaps not."

Stolz briefed Tantz and the Orion chieftain agreed with Solan's offer. As he returned to the sub-basement, Douglas approached Solan; "You intend to kill them all and consolidate all of the power into Tevara's 'hands'."

"Very astute," Solan congratulated her, "And if you're wondering of the Eldebara Gang will prove to be an obstacle, let me tell you that I have a highly placed agent in the command hierarchy."

"How high?" Douglas had a feeling she knew already.

"Gomer herself," Solan boasted, "And if you're worried about the effects of Orion pheromones, I had the receptors in my nose and sinuses altered to reject them. So Gomer's considerable charms are just that."

"I see," Douglas admitted, "But you may want to advise Adder that Mudd III will be headed for the Outbound Ventures runabout."

"Why would he do that?" Solan wondered.

"Because it's unexpected and because his daughter will be aboard it," Doulas shared with him.

"His daughter?" Douglas was amused by Solan's bafflement.

"The leather clad platinum blonde human that spoke with Mudd III earlier," Douglas said to him, "That was Harriet Fedora Mudd, or 'Harri' with an 'I'."

Solan snapped his fingers and a female Bolian aide appeared. He instructed that messengers be sent to Adder informing him of this latest development. She crisply acknowledged her orders and went about to follow them.

"There is also the matter of the nearby Outbound Ventures starship. It may be registered to a civilian organization but it is still a Nova-class surveyor. Which makes it formidable in its own right. Trust me, I speak from experience;" Douglas warned Solan.

"That has already been planned for," Solan nodded somberly, "An Andorian mercenary ship will be engaging the Obsidian within the next fifteen minutes."

"You do realize the Remans may consider you a threat if you succeed at all of this?" Douglas inquired.

"Tevara knows this and has already planned for it," Solan assured her.

 

Chapter Seven

The Andorians' ship had long since been passed over by four civilian shuttles. But now as they headed towards the outer marker, they detected four Reman cutters and two Starfleet starships. Of course, the starships were a modern surveyor and then a heavy cruiser from the turn of the century. And they were both registered to the same corporation that the four shuttles had belonged to. So that mystery was solved.

The Andorian commander was very agitated. His contract called for engaging one foe, not two. And the Remans were doggedly pursuing a neutral stance except in warning that they would open fire on any vessels engaging in combat within the solar system. They couldn't care less what happened outside of it.

The Andorians used a standard Miradorn raider. As it approached the Outbound Ventures ships the captain was once again surprised as the two vessels raised their shields and armed their weapons. But the Obsidian's weaponry was entirely housed in its saucer section. This meant they had no chase armament. But the Guinevere possessed aft phaser banks and an aft torpedo launcher.

The raider assaulted the Obsidian as it flew over her dorsal plane. As soon as it came within range both the Obsidian and Guinevere opened fire. The Andorians applied braking thrusters and an RCS burn to angle away from the weapons and fly at maximum impulse along that axis. What happened next though was that both Outbound Ventures ships mirrored the maneuver and continued pounding away at the Andorians.

Captain Gardner spaced out the Guinevere by a ship's length and engaged in a crossfire. As the photon torpedo barrage intensified, the Andorian commander decided that retreat was his only option. Slipping into subspace, he vacated the area at his maximum available speed.

Mudd III hammered away at the Corsair's hatch with the butt of his Klingon disruptor pistol. The hatch door finally opened to reveal a very irate Mudd, "Stop banging on the damn hull!"

"Let me come aboard and I'll do whatever you want," Mudd III pleaded.

"No way," Mudd refused him, "There's always a price, Pops. What is it this time?"

"I have information that can save your friends back at Utopia Plantation," Mudd III insisted, "But I'll only give it to you if you take me aboard and give me shelter from the Tevara Gang."

"Give me the info and I'll consider your request," Mudd countered.

"That's not how this game is played, girl!" Mudd III roared.

"I learned the art of negotiation from you, Pops;" Mudd wore a wicked grin, "The more desperate the rube the more they'll give away for a little of nothing. Or did I misunderstand you all those years ago?"

Mudd III's shoulder sagged. His daughter had quoted him verbatim. He had always known she was too smart for her own good. Perhaps it was finally time to acknowledge she was her idiot brother's superior.

"Solan hired mercenaries to rig the quad with explosions. The idea is to bring the building down and force Macen and his team to employ the access tunnels to escape," Mudd III shared, "Of course; they have the tunnels manned and ready. Good enough? Now let me aboard."

"Old news, Pops;" Mudd breezily dismissed his request, "We already knew about the Rowdy Rangers and their contract. But you negotiated the contract, didn't you? Have anything useful to throw out there for our consideration?"

"I know the abort code that will call the Rowdy Rangers off," Mudd III said sullenly.

Mudd looked across the runabout's cabin. Kerber nodded and Mudd stepped aside for her father, "Welcome aboard, Pops. Now give us the code."

"First you'll need the mercs' comm frequency and encryption," Mudd sought to renegotiate.

"I'm already in their network," Kerber said disdainfully, "How else would I know about the contract?"

"Um...good point," Mudd III nervously agreed. The looks he was getting from Kerber and Smith made him very uncomfortable.

"Give me the code word," Kerber grated, "Now."

"It's 'panda bear'," Mudd III readily shared.

Kerber transmitted the abort code. The Rowdy Rangers acknowledged it and immediately began packing up with their work unfinished. That just left Mudd III at the mercies of Ebert, Kerber, Smith, and his own daughter.

"Congrats," Mudd told him as she thrust a phaser into his back, "You get to live another day."

Smith disarmed him while Mudd held her father prisoner. After she had collected an impressive number of weapons, Smith cocked an eyebrow Mudd's way, "Do you have him or would you like help?"

"Oh, I've got this;" Mudd said with relish and then she marched Mudd III back to the holding cell and put him in it. She hit the sound buffer so his monotonous protests couldn't be heard as she returned to the cockpit.

Macen's comm badge chirped while the fighting continued but it was much more subdued at the moment. He tapped it, "Macen here."

Kerber's voice came through, "We were able to call off the Rowdy Rangers' mission. Harry Mudd III surrendered to us and he had the abort code. But in further developments, the first four shuttles from the Guinevere have arrived. The force commander is wondering whether or not you want them to immediately try and relieve you or if they should stay immobilized until they have a greater number of forces."

"What price did Mudd III ask for this information?" Macen wondered.

"A lift off world," Kerber informed him.

"Good call on that," Macen congratulated her, "We'll place Mudd III in Captain Ro's custody when we return to Deep Space Nine."

"You still haven't answered my question," Kerber grew a little more insistent.

"Send them," Macen instructed her, "We're running low on charged power packs and Parva hasn't had time to rig up a modified recharger that can draw directly off of the reactor."

"Tony has been anticipating that scenario as well as Tracy," Kerber stated, "Tony is coordinating with the newly arrived forces. Tracy is just ready to lift off and blast someone."

"Tell them they're both authorized to proceed," Macen said to her.

"I'll also tell them to hurry," Kerber admitted.

Burrows addressed Slutskaya, "I really have no idea of why you're here. This is a ground mission. Your starship isn't even in the system."

"I'm here to oversee the landing operations," Slutskaya told Burrows.

"Then oversee the landing and let the professionals work," Burrows grated, "The Outbound Ventures mission here is an independent command is it not?"

"Technically, yes;" Slutskaya admitted, "But..."

"There are no 'buts'," Burrows insisted, "Oversee your own crew and leave the rest of us to do our jobs."

"All right," Slutskaya snarled, "But the casualties will be on your head."

"The first rule is that there are always casualties," Burrows said sternly, "The second is that the unexpected always happens."

Across from the Guinevere crews' landing site the Corsair lifted into the air and Slutskaya grew angry, "Where are they going?"

"He who controls the high ground controls the battlefield," Burrows pointed out another obvious maxim, "And we just took the highest ground."

"We'll see how well your plan works," Slutskaya said dismissively.

"Yes, we will;" Burrows replied.

Solan received a transmission from Adder that he didn't want to hear, "What do you mean the runabout was gone?"

"Four Outbound Ventures registered shuttles were lifting off when we arrived. The runabout was already gone. I can only suppose all the support craft were recalled to their mother ship," Adder theorized.

"Except for the fact that a Nova-class starship only has a shuttle bay large enough to accommodate a single runabout or a pair of standard shuttles," Douglas informed Solan with a shake of her head, "I'd guess that another Outbound Ventures ship is in the area and that they've just delivered ground personnel."

Solan scowled, "Adder, lift off and find that runabout."

"You know the Remans won't allow me to engage the ship in their space," Adder protested.

"They're not in space," Solan grated, "They're still on the planet."

"Well, that's a different matter;" Adder said.

"Just find them!" Solan snarled. He then contacted his agent overseeing the Kundark matter, "Are they all dead yet?"

"Yes, down to every last man, woman, and child;" the Boslic replied, "We also eliminated Trob, Tantz, and their faithful. Everyone else wisely decided to enlist."

Solan automatically nodded despite the lack of visual communications, "Excellent work. Bring everyone back here."

"Does that include the surviving Doreb and Endebara gangs?" the Boslic asked.

"Of course," Solan readily agreed, "Can you suggest a better means of proving their newfound loyalty then putting their life on the line to defend Tevara's interests by attacking these Outbound Ventures fools?"

"I thought you were dropping a quad on them," Solan's agent commented.

"I was but Mudd III betrayed me and aborted the Rowdy Rangers' mission," Solan said with more than a tinge of anger," The Rowdy Rangers won't negotiate to fulfill their original contract. Tevara is dealing with them."

Solan could hear the shudder in the Boslic's voice, "I almost pity them. It would be more merciful to kill them outright."

"I believe that's Tevara's entire point," Solan said with satisfaction.

"You can't risk underestimating Macen and his team," Douglas warned from Solan's side, "They killed Bertram Sindis among other events."

"Yes, I know;" Solan informed her, "But I was curious as to when you would bring that fact up."

"Now, obviously;" Douglas replied.

"You have a great deal of animosity for Macen," Solan had observed, "Why is that?"

"Macen has disrupted many long range plans that my benefactors have put into play," Douglas described, "This included killing several highly placed agents."

"I'm beginning to see the pieces of a very large puzzle falling into place," Solan admitted, "Tevara deemed it fit to inform me of some matters concerning Macen but a great many more were still obfuscated."

"How so?" Douglas dreaded the answer.

"There are rumors swirling about of a hired Starfleet agent that shut down a mysterious gulag full of political prisoners from the Federation. This agent was instrumental in the formation of Starfleet's Special Investigation Division," Solan listed, "Among career highlights are reopening contact with the Nova Romans, the Kelvan, the Iotians, and the Ekosians. They were center stage of the emergence of the Unionist Party overthrowing the nascent restoration of the Cardassian monarchy. He was instrumental in aiding Admiral Robert Tavar Johnson's charge to heal the rift created during the Federation's secessionist movement. Apparently the Argyn and Iridian Enforcer crises were other matters dealt with by the agent and his people."

"And then most amusing of all was the fact that they restored President Bacco to power only to unearth the very evidence that toppled her administration," Solan chuckled, "I'm assuming the gulag and Bacco's original departure from office were your doing. The Cardassian's nearly falling into civil war also smacks of Section 31."

Douglas frowned, "You're...very well informed.

"We're not as isolated as you might suppose," Solan chuckled, "Sindis was the first non-Orion leader of the Syndicate but he wasn't the last."

"Tevara?" Douglas suddenly realized how much sense it all made.

"Precisely," Solan nodded, "But you seem somewhat surprised."

"What about Gomer?" Douglas had to wonder.

"Why do you think she bent the knee?" Solan laughed.

"You seem awfully certain that my companions and I belong to Section 31," Douglas asserted, "How do you even know of the agency?"

"Please," Solan snorted, "Section 31 and the Orion Syndicate have been at odds, and occasional partners, since Starfleet founded the agency. And what you've confirmed is that these people have struggled against Section 31 and held their own and have even occasionally achieved having an upper hand."

Douglas bristled, "I think you're giving them too much credit."

"You're hardly unbiased," Solan retorted, "In fact your personal bias is undercutting your evaluation of the threat."

"You want brutal honesty?" Douglas was riled now, "Macen thwarted my aiding Maret's coup in the Cardassian Union and killed an undercover agent we'd had in place for over a decade. And he captured a mission specialist as well, revealing our complicity in the affair. Subsequently, Detective Rockford killed a rising star in the agency that happened to be Macen's previous wife and my handler who was a veteran agent with over seventy years of experience."

Douglas' eyes bored into Solan's, "There are two Angosian Augments in that basement. One killed Daveed B'nner with the aid of his Orion wife. The other was a mercenary employed by Robhurt B'nner. She left the Orion Syndicate's employ when Sindis killed B'nner."

"Which is why I'll be pitting the latest recruits against Macen," Solan told her, "They'll either face certain death at my hands or likely death at Macen's. Eventually, Macen's group will expend their last power packs and munitions. Then they will be crushed by my forces. Including the good doctor."

"So much the better," Douglas consented to the plan.

Adder sat at the communications board of a Skylark-class scout. The century old ship class had pioneered the modular designs now standardized in modern runabouts. There were four other crewmen aboard besides Adder.

In the front of the cockpit sat the pilot and the navigator. In the cabin, Adder was joined by a sensor operator. A flight engineer sat in a crash couch at the rear of the craft.

The sensor operator swore under her breath, "I can't find them."

"If they're any higher up they won't be as effective against ground based targets," the pilot opined, "Even Starfleet designed runabouts only pack so much firepower."

"Say what?" Adder blurted into his comm pickup while holding his earpiece close inside his ear. He turned to address the pilot, "Care to revise that opinion, dumbass? Someone just beamed six clusters of photon munitions into the crowd surrounding the Utopia Gardens quad."

"We're climbing," the pilot warned everyone.

"Someone aboard that Skylark just got smart enough to climb to our altitude," Mudd advised Ebert.

"I guess repositioning ourselves from atop them to nearby so we could initiate a transport cost us our invisibility," Ebert grinned, "So we'll just have to do something about that. Everyone hold on!"

The Corsair initiated a steep dive towards the heart of the megacity.

The Skylark pilot pursued and opened fire as he did so. Adder snarled at the pilot, "Are you sure you want to do that?"

"Why wouldn't I?" the pilot snapped back.

"Because you're managing to hit everything but them," Adder yelled at the pilot.

"Well, whoever is flying that crate is hell on wheels," the pilot bitterly complained, "Waitasec, they're trimming out."

"Why the hell would they just let us shoot them?" the sensor operator asked.

"Who cares?" the pilot asked jovially, "It's their funeral."

"I'm locking torpedoes on them," the navigator announced.

"Fire at will," the pilot ordered.

"Wait you idiots!" Adder demanded.

"Torps away!" the navigator crowed.

Ebert fired her braking thrusters and RCS thrusters to slow and climb at the same time. The Skylark passed underneath the runabout. Accelerating again, Ebert lined up an easy shot as Mudd transferred weapons controls to her station.

Down below, the second wave surging into Utopia Gardens was hit by two photon microtorpedoes. The Skylark peeled off but the Corsair stayed on target and let a phaser barrage fly. After strafing the quad's outer entrance, Ebert broke off and went hunting for the scoutship again.

Solan heard the cries of the wounded and turned on his Bolian aide, "Get a hold of the mercenary companies."

"Which ones?" the usually unflappable aide was showing signs of stress.

"Everyone!" Solan screamed at her.

Douglas stepped away and summoned Agents Smith and Riley. The Orion Syndicate was losing containment of the situation. Macen had slipped personnel out of the quad and now they had air support as well as an unknown number of reinforcements that had arrived in four very unexpected shuttles. It was time to break off and leave the planet.

Ebert dogged the Skylark's aft quarter while Mudd hammered away at its shields with her phasers. Ebert suddenly shifted the target lock to a new and seemingly nonvital section of the ship. Mudd cast a disparaging look Ebert's way.

"Why?" Mudd had to ask.

"Those couplings lock the two basic modules to the ship's framework. Blow them and the modules fall free of the ship and an already unwieldy airframe suddenly suffers from severe stress and friction caused by drag," Ebert explained.

Mudd grinned, "I like it already."

The Skylark-class employed a simple wedge-like cockpit with a narrow shaft that extended to the impulse drivers at the rear. The warp nacelles were underslung underneath the ship. As the Corsair's phasers penetrated the scoutship's shields, the two photon microtorpedoes launched by the Danube-class runabout blew the couplings just as intended.

The two large modules attached to the ship slid free as atmospheric resistance pulled at them. Both modules were weapons modules. They each contained photon torpedo launchers and an additional phaser bank. As the modules cleared the ship's frame and plummeted to the ground below, the Skylark suddenly found itself armed with only one phaser bank mounted underneath the cockpits nose.

Mudd released salvo after salvo of phaser fire. The scoutship's impulse engines were crippled and the crew hailed the SID crew and surrendered. Mudd pointed out the obvious to Ebert that it was a moot point anyway.

The Skylark crashed into Paradise Havens' upper stories and exploded as her warp core breached. Mudd cheered, "Score two for the good guys!"

"How's our torpedo inventory doing?" Ebert inquired.

"We still have four left to rock and ruin with," Mudd enthused.

"Well, as the saying goes, 'once more unto the breach';" Ebert said as she turned the ship around, "Or something like that."

Solan was trying to get his forces to leave a skeleton crew at the rear and sides of the Utopian Gardens quad. Only, no one was answering their comm badges. Mortar fire rained down on the plaza stretching before the quad.

Outbound Ventures had arrived. An Outbound Ventures fire team appeared at the western side of the quad. Firing isomagnetic disintegrators, they leveled fifty Syndicate thugs. The Outbound Ventures forces held their ground as a second group sought revenge.

Snipers atop the buildings all around the quad opened fire and lent their support to the force on the ground. Solan now fully realized why Douglas and her cronies had fled the scene. Solan was about to beat a hasty retreat when the sky filled with Reman gunships accompanied by the Corsair.

"All hostilities will cease immediately!" an amplified voice boomed.

All of Solan's fighters laid down their arms. That wise act spared their lives. Solan knew the gangsters inside of Utopian Gardens were still fighting. He hoped that they'd manage to kill Macen and his group before the cease-fire order reached them.

That was the Nalorian's last thought before Reman disruptor fire rained down on him. As the ranking survivor Gomer awaited further instruction. The Remans made their point very effectively.

"All fighting must cease outside the structure and within it," the Reman voiced echoed.

Gomer hastily complied. And then she congratulated herself on her cleverness. She'd betrayed Tantz to gain Tevara's trust. She'd bribed the Remans to intervene and execute Solan so that she could acquire his position. And now she would bide her time until she discovered a Medusan's weaknesses.

 

Chapter Eight

The SID team emerged from Utopian Plantations as the very last out. Burrows grinned as he came to face Macen, "Reporting as ordered."

"I take it the mastermind behind all of this is finally revealed?" Macen asked.

"The Orion woman behind the Eldebara Gang wanted Tav Solan's job within the Tevara Gang, which turns out to be the command echelon for the entire Orion Syndicate. Tevara is actually rewarding Gomer for her multiple betrayals," Burrows explained.

"It isn't easy to kill a Medusan so I wish Gomer well on her climb to the top," Rockford offered.

"The Remans already beamed Tevara's isolation tank aboard a derelict ship and have piloted it onto a collision course with the local star," Burrows shrugged, "Not even a Medusan can come back from that one."

Rockford smirked, "Well, you have to admire her efficiency and her ambition."

"No, I don't;" Macen remarked.

"How is everyone aboard the Corsair doing?" Rockford inquired.

"Mudd III is doing fine," Burrows explained, "But he's blissfully unaware of his endgame destination at Deep Space Nine."

"Keep it that way," Macen urged.

Macen reported to the Reman administrator's office. The Reman offered a toothy smile, "Do you suppose you can keep from disrupting my city from now on?"

"Gomer has left people to run the criminal activities and you're collecting a share," Macen stated, "My people can work in this environment and find our starships employment. So it'll be best for everyone around."

"Excellent," the administrator accepted the news with aplomb.

"And now it's time for me to go," Macen started to turn.

"I think that also would be for the best," the administrator called after him as he departed.

Slutskaya met up with Burrows as he was boarding the Corsair. She promptly threw herself in his arms and kissed him. Then she retreated and began to stroll away.

Casting a wink over one shoulder she merely said, "See you around."

Daggit and Parva had witnessed the entire exchange. Daggit pulled at Burrows' arm, "Come on. We have places to be."

"Actually, I think we fifteen minutes to spare if the restroom hasn't been destroyed. We could always beam her to the surface before we break orbit," Parva suggested.

"No, I'm good;" Burrows said despite his obvious distraction.

Mudd stayed beside Ebert as the pilot flew the runabout back to the Obsidian's waiting arms. Kerber and Smith manned the two support stations. Everyone else, except for Mudd III, was in the rear galley.

Macen waited until they were halfway back to the ship before greeting Mudd III, "So kind of you to take a moment, Captain. Have you had any thoughts on where you'll be dropping me off?"

"I have," Macen confessed, "I've arranged for you to be taken care of by good hands. You'll be amply rewarded for your efforts."

"So pleased to hear it," Mudd III looked insufferably sure of himself, "I always said you were a good man despite what happened with my boy."

"Let it go, Harry;" Macen advised as he opaqued the force field and reactivated the sound buffer.

Macen went forward to greet Kerber and Smith, "I'm going to be in the office module. I'm going to be on a secure channel. Please make certain it stays secure."

"Of course," Kerber assured him. Smith merely nodded her nonverbal promise.

Macen contacted Amanda Forger. Forger was eager, "Did you find Bashir?"

"Of course," Macen assured her.

"Will you be remanding him to Starfleet's custody?" Forger asked.

"I'll be turning him over to Captain Ro," Macen told her.

"Why all the way out at Deep Space Nine?" Forger wondered.

"You know why, Amanda;" Macen cut through the pretense.

"All right, no BS. I agree with the sentiment but I'm not certain of the legality of what you're doing," Forger admitted.

"You're going to mobilize Starfleet Command and determine the legality of it," Macen stated, "And if you side against Bashir I'm making certain he disappears."

"I...see," Forger knew better than to argue, "Send your action report before you reach Deep Space Nine."

"I always do," Macen reminded her.

Macen paged Ro but he ended up leaving a message. He warned her he was about to drop both Bashir and Mudd III on her lap. So she'd best prepare.

Shannon Forger briefed Macen on their seemingly endless orbits around the star system culminating in a vaguely interesting firefight, "Pretty tame stuff compared to the normal."

"Write it up and I'll tack it to my report to your sister," Macen instructed.

"I know you brought a prisoner aboard but who's in the guest quarters?" Forger asked.

"If I told you Starfleet Command, in the form of your sister, could possibly try and tell you what to do with our guest. I'm not letting that happen," Macen said to her.

"So, the guest quarters are all empty?" Forger ventured.

Macen grinned, "Exactly."

Ro Laren looked across her office, "I'm glad you're accepting my offer, Doctor."

"It's good to be home even if it is completely different now," Bashir commented.

"Starfleet has returned you to duty on a probationary basis. You'll be monitored in case Section 31 tries to contact you again. If they do, and it's discovered you haven't reported the contact, Jaros II will become a new and uncomfortable reality for you," Ro warned him.

"What about the Andorians?" Bashir asked.

"You were physically dead and therefore legally as well. You were sentenced to life in imprisonment. Death commuted that sentence;" Ro tried to explain, "Admiral Johnson and Captain Beverly Crusher are throwing the diplomatic and medical scientific book at the Andorians. So you'll be in the clear there."

Ro turned to Colonel Cenn, "See to it Dr. Bashir gets to his Quarters safely and introduce him to our interim Chief Medical Officer."

Ro turned to her Chief of Security, Lt. Commander Blackmer; "Has Harry Mudd III been brought aboard?"

"Yes, ma'am;" Blackmer replied, "He's in a holding cell awaiting transport to his trials."

"Plural?" Ro was surprised.

"I took your suggestion and shopped around the fact that Mudd III was going to be in custody," Blackmer described how it happened, "Several nations stepped forward to press charges."

"Good luck, Harry;" Ro said ruefully.

Blackmer excused himself and that left Ro and Macen alone. She gave him a wry look, "I suppose you're just content to drop a world of trouble on me and my station you'll be taking off ASAP."

"I have people that need to get back to our own station," Macen informed her, "Otherwise we'd stay a few days."

"You know the other Mudd tore out of here like her tail was on fire," Ro lamented.

"She'll be back," Macen promised her.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Ro grumbled.

Late during the night cycle aboard Serenity Station, Macen's comm badge began demanding attention. He slipped out of his shared bedroom and activated it. It turned out to be Edward Fowler, the Director of Section 31.

"I'm at Quark's. Please join me," Fowler requested.

Macen returned to his bedroom and dressed. As he was strapping on his utility belt, Rockford commented; "That bad, huh?"

"Edward Fowler wants a meeting," he told her.

"He's here?" Rockford couldn't quite believe it.

"In Quark's," Macen revealed.

She threw back the covers and he held up a hand, "Not so fast, Celeste. I appreciate the effort but an implied condition of the meeting is that I come alone."

"I can still wait in my office for your call if it all hits the fan," Rockford insisted as she began pulling clothes on.

Macen smirked, "I knew I couldn't hold you back. I appreciate the support. I wouldn't want anyone else watching my back."

"The bastard probably wants to kill you for yanking Bashir away from Sarina Douglas," Rockford commented.

"I don't think so," Macen admitted.

"Neither do I," Rockford sighed, "But I'm hoping it's that simple."

Macen entered Quark's. The franchise owner himself was serving Fowler at the bar. Macen supposed latinum greased a lot of wheels. And probably spoke volumes on who the owner reported to about movements within the station and beyond.

Fowler was eating scrambled Ktarian eggs and ham, washed down by orange juice. The nearby planet of Barrinor had hundreds of acres of orange groves. Macen opted for a glass himself.

"This is excellent. I didn't realize Barrinor grew oranges," Fowler confessed.

"The oranges are freshly squeezed but the ham and eggs come from cloned stock," Macen advised him.

Fowler sighed, "I don't quibble about such things anymore."

"How can I help the head of Section 31?" Macen asked.

Fowler held up a solitary finger as he looked around. The proprietor was already gone. Fowler nodded his acceptance of the situation.

"I've been considering your offer," Fowler shared, "Of a truce between the SID and Section 31?"

"You think I speak for the entire organization?" Macen thought the idea was laughable.

"Amanda Forger will back your play," Fowler promised, "She usually does. Even with Bashir."

"Our agencies functioned best before the secessionist crisis," Fowler recalled, "When our two entities operated independently and rarely crossed paths. The waters have muddied since then."

"So you don't want me looking at you," Macen conceded, "Where should I look instead?"

"Turkana IV," Fowler said, "The Alliance gained control of the planet and pushed the Coalition off world."

"They would have needed space craft to depart," Macen reminded Fowler.

"And we gave them the support they needed," Fowler shared, "The Alliance, on the other hand, was supported by a loose alliance of powers that later gelled into the Typhon Pact. Now the inhabitants of Turkana IV serve the Typhon Pact in various roles and the Coalition survivors work for us."

"And what do you suppose I do about it?" Macen asked.

"Turkana IV is a nonaligned world. Which means Starfleet has no jurisdiction," Fowler explained, "But a simple businessman looking to expand weapons sales or some such fiction could obtain proof of these collusions and enable Starfleet to act."

"I'm surprised you haven't acted already," Macen admitted.

"Section 31 is a surgical instrument and what is needed on Turkana IV is a cluster bomb," Fowler told him, "Starfleet must be made aware of the Typhon Pact's activities there. Before it is far too late."

"I'll pass it along," Macen promised.

Fowler wiped his lips with a napkin and depressed a control on his wristband. He vanished as a transporter effect grabbed hold of him. The Ferengi reappeared and Macen ended up paying Fowler's tab.

Macen reunited with Rockford in her office. Using her comp/comm, he contacted SID HQ. Things were about to get interesting again.

 

- The End -

 

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