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Surgical Incision by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

Chapter One

The Blackbird-class SS Odyssey sailed through Sector 004. It was a largely uninhabited portion of the sector devoid of stars, planets, or most other stellar bodies. The populated hub of the region was Terra Nova but even it was closer to Sector 001 while the former Starfleet scoutship was in that area nearer to the outer rim of the Orion Arm and closest to the Beta Quadrant. And it was here that Starfleet Storage Depot #2 stretched forth in concentric rings around a Class-A primary. The Light blue star only had one naturally occurring orbital body, a Class-B Geomorteus dwarf planet very similar in aspect and orbit to Mercury in the Sol system.

Storage Depot #2 was the repository "bone yard" of decommissioned Starfleet vessels dating back from Earth's 22nd century Starfleet to the end of the 23rd century Federation Starfleet. Of course several ship classes from that latter period were still in service. They included the Miranda-, Excelsior-, and Oberth-classes despite their all entering the beginning throes of being phased out of service after nearly a century of being Starfleet's workhorses.

The Maquis had once raided an unidentified yard such as this. Its selection had been simpler but all of those vessels had been in pristine condition. The Odyssey itself had begun its tour in Maquis service as the decommissioned starship USS Tiberius. Now the ship was registered to and owned by Brin Macen, an El-Aurian Starfleet Intelligence officer working with the Maquis as a scout and freelance information broker.

In reality, Macen had joined Ro Laren's Maquis cell on Ronara Prime. But the fiction kept doors open to him and his crew that were closed to Ro and her bunch of freedom fighters dubbed "terrorists". Macen's XO was a Lt. Commander Lisea Danan, a Trill stellar cartographer and astronomer that had technically left Starfleet to assist Macen in his efforts to aid the Maquis.

The Odyssey was designed to comfortably house a crew of three officers, one chief, and eighteen enlisted crewmen. They ran the ship with an entire crew of seven. Which was a considerable number given the Maquis' typical manpower shortages even amongst Ju'day-class raider crews. Those ships were rated for a thirty-five personnel crew. But no Maquis commander had ever fully manned such a vessel except for the MIA, assumed KIA, Chakotay.

The Maquis stole or scrounged any ship they could and refit it with modifications to make it a fighting vessel. Of course the Peregrine-class couriers they typically utilized were used by Starfleet as fighter craft. But the Ma'jel-class heavy couriers were smaller cousins to the larger Ju'days and, and although easily adapted into fighting craft, were not designed for that role.

But the couriers classes each only required a two man crew so they were exceptionally popular amongst Maquis cells. Other ships used were Bajoran assault ships retrofitted with warp capability. A half dozen Bajoran Militia ships had mysteriously "vanished" months before the Maquis publically revealed themselves. And so began a long gestating cooperation between the Bajoran Militia and the Maquis.

But today's exercise in potential futility had been devised by the former Lt. Commander Michael Eddington. Eddington had been assigned to Deep Space Nine as its Starfleet Security Chief after it was revealed that the Militia Constabulary officer, Odo, was from the race of beings referred to as the Founders. The Founders ruled the Dominion within the Gamma Quadrant with an iron fist. And the Dominion had ambitions to conquer the Alpha Quadrant.

So Eddington was brought in to oversee Starfleet's security aboard a Cardassian built, Bajoran space station. And neither Odo nor Major Kira Nerys, the station's XO and the Bajorans' liaison officer, took Eddington's arrival very well. What no one knew was that Starfleet began to receive intelligence reports about growing unrest in the newly established Demilitarized Zone in 2370 and buried them. It wasn't until Commander Calvin Hudson, the Federation and Starfleet liaison to the Federation Colonial Council within the DMZ, attempted to recruit the station CO, Commander Benjamin Sisko, that the Maquis revealed their presence.

Hudson failed to obtain Sisko's support and he went underground. Sisko even enlisted the aid of Gul Skrain Dukat, the former Prefect of Bajor and the CO of the station when it was originally known as Terok Nor, in an effort to capture the Maquis before they could grow. The joint exercise was a failure. In part because Sisko had an opportunity to capture Hudson and chose not to pursue him. A decision which embittered Dukat.

But Eddington contacted Hudson and became the Maquis' mole aboard DS9 after his arrival to the station in 2371. And he complicity served within the crew until 2372 when he laid a trap for Sisko in order to steal industrial replicators bound for Cardassia Prime. With Eddington's true loyalties laid bare, he'd earned Sisko's undying enmity and sacrificed a collaborating freighter captain named Kassidy Yates to Sisko's sense of righteousness. She was dating Sisko when he sent her to trial and a conviction to a penal colony.

"Sensors are reading power emanations from that Class-B rock. I'd say that's where the caretaker lives and oversees all this wreckage," Danan reported from the Science Station, "But the heavy radiation from the star is playing hob with the sensors though. A good thirty percent of the star's mass has converted to heavy metals."

"Some blue stars are easy to navigate around and others are like this one, a right mess," the teenage pilot, Tracy Ebert, complained from the helm.

"Maybe that's the whole frinxin' point," the Vulcan named T'Kir huffed from beside Ebert at the OPS station, "Who the hell would wanna come to this armpit to steal a ship anyway?"

"Besides us?" Danan drolly remarked, "And otherwise, she has a point."

Macen knew it cost Danan something to admit that. Her rivalry with T'Kir had intensified over the last several months. To the point it had severed his relationship with the Trill because of T'Kir's unbridled ambition to bed him. But he was equally at fault because he deflected her overtures but didn't outright squelch them. And Danan felt they needed to be stamped out and stomped on hard.

"I am detecting live ships though," Danan clarified.

"Can you feed those coordinates to Tracy?" Macen asked.

"I already have," Danan didn't sound as though she held any ire against Macen but they'd known each other, through one host or the other, for some time now.

"This place is easy to navigate through," Ebert grinned as she set out to do so, "Everything is arranged in neat orderly rows to make it easy to reactivate these ships in case of a crisis."

"Chris, call Ro to the bridge," Macen requested.

Christine Lacey was unique among the human crewmembers because she was a transgender woman. She was also the Odyssey's weapons officer and unofficial 2nd Officer, "Tom and Heidi are coming with her. They're dying to get a peek at the antiques."

"Eddington is many things but stupid doesn't rank amongst them," Macen said dourly, "I really doubt he'll have bought any 22nd century NX-, Intrepid-, or Daedalus-class ships. Eddington's the type that likes to get as much punch as possible for his latinum."

The lift doors swooshed open and a Bajoran led three humans out of cab. Ro was the Bajoran. The humans were her deputy, Aric Tulley, Macen's chief engineer, Tom Eckles, and Eckles' engineer's mate, Heidi Darcy.

"Have we got visual yet?" Ro asked.

"Just coming where we don't have to use magnification," Ebert announced.

The scene developed to show four starships, two freighters, and an antideuterium tanker. Tulley nodded at one of the ships, "That's the Xhosa. But Yates fell on Eddington's sword."

"Kassidy took the fall but exonerated her crew," Ro explained, "Despite official scrutiny; they're back helping by ferrying Maquis operatives around. The other freighter is the Waylaid."

"I can't say I know much about her," Tulley confessed.

"The crew's odd, even by Maquis standards," Ro said ruefully, "It's an all-Terran, all-female crew. Their badge of distinctiveness is altering every crewwoman's hair platinum white blonde, regardless of ethnicity. They want to stand out and so they do."

"Subtle, even for so-called terrorists," Darcy mentioned. But she was Asian and changed her hair color to a light blonde but in a society as racially blended as Earth's, she hardly stood apart. Looking like a human-Andorian hybrid would get one noticed though.

"Eddington must have brought his people here aboard the Xhosa," Ro observed, "The Waylaid is offloading deuterium pods."

"Is that a Constitution-class?" Lacey wondered.

"No," Eckles answered, "She's an Asia-class refit. See the ship beside her? They're essentially the same ship just one has undergone the redesign process the same way the Enterprise would later standardize. The Asias actually underwent the process first but it was experimental. They test bedded most of the components and developments they later incorporated into the Constitution- and Miranda-classes."

Ro was impressed. Not an easy thing to do. Ro had joined the Bajoran Resistance at age fourteen. By age seventeen she'd been herded off of Bajor and brought to Valo II where she stayed in the fight despite Keev Falor forbidding any refugee from engaging the Cardassians. A year later, Ro stole one of the two interstellar transports the colony had acquired. She went to Earth and took remedial classes in order to pass the stricter entrance exams to Starfleet Academy for nonaligned citizens.

Ro graduated near the top of her class. And with a nearly unprecedented reputation for insubordination. Commissioned an ensign, she was assigned to duties aboard the USS Wellington. In an incident that involved her disobeying direct orders, people died and Ro took the blame and was sentenced to Starfleet's stockade on Jaros II.

But Admiral Kennelly ordered her release so she could be the patsy in his efforts to help the Cardassians capture a Bajoran terrorist named Orta. But that event cost Kennelly his career and freedom whereas Ro's career was reignited. This included graduating from Advanced Tactical Training and being sent undercover into the Maquis cell on Ronara Prime. Only, to Captain Jean-Luc Picard's ire, his protégé chose the Maquis over her duty to Starfleet.

"I've got IDs if anyone's interested," Ebert announced.

"Give them to us," Ro ordered despite being a guest aboard Macen's ship.

"The refit is the USS Africa and the original is the USS Thule," Ebert told them.

"What's the crew rating on those classes of ships?" Macen asked Danan.

She called up the data on the library computer, "They're rated for crews of two hundred and eighty. So much for the Maquis manpower shortage."

"Eddington probably thinks some flashy victory will rally recruiting," Ro grimaced, "Are we sure that isn't an NX-class?"

"Nope," Eckles chuckled, "That's a Kremlin-class surveyor."

"Her hull registry marks her as the USS Rio Grande," Ebert helpfully threw in.

"Won't Sisko be surprised?" Tulley enjoyed the moment.

"What's her rated crew requirement?" Ro was intrigued.

"Eighty-six," Danan supplied the requested information.

"And what's the other pre-refit vessel. It looks like a small Nebula-class," Ro pointed out.

"She's the USS Polaris," Ebert stated.

"She's an Eclipse-class light cruiser," Eckles supplied the rest of the desired information, "She needs a crew that tops out over two hundred."

"Two hundred and twenty," Danan quipped.

"Does anyone care that Eddington is hailin' Ro?" T'Kir interrupted.

"Why didn't you say so?" Ro asked irritably.

"I just did, don'cha know?" T'Kir blew her a raspberry.

Ro shot a glare at Macen that would've been better served on T'Kir. And it would've been equally wasted. He thumbed behind him.

"Use the briefing room," he suggested.

Having served on a Galaxy-class starship, she recognized the precursor design to the Battle Bridge. But this older design incorporated a briefing room situated behind the bridge module. So she went through the rear door and utilized the comp/comm inside the space.

"Why Laren, I was beginning to wonder if you'd actually accept my transmission," Eddington wore an ingratiating smile.

"Why Michael, I didn't realize we were on familiar terms," Ro's ire was piqued.

Eddington's face fell and his eyes burned, "Fine Ro, I can cope with that slight. I suppose you're wondering why you're even here given our differences."

"I'm here as Cal Hudson's olive branch and to serve as your conscience while you grandstand," Ro said with a sickly sweet smile.

"Hmm...you and Hudson are so shortsighted. Who wants to join the losing side of a conflict?" Eddington asked.

"Besides you?" Ro wondered.

His eyes flashed a warning this time, "Victories inspire people to join causes. If we can prove we're a viable choice for an eventual victory, our numbers will swell."

"So will certain heads," Ro opined, "But we haven't done so badly since the Klingons declared war on the Spoonheads."

"But we haven't done very well either," Eddington countered, "Now that the Klingons have ceased hostilities and are withdrawing, the Cardassians will turn their attention back to us. I intend to make that turn as painful as possible."

"Why is there a fourth ship?" Ro changed the subject, "You only mentioned three in your proposal."

"The Africa is my payment for services rendered. My middleman made the appropriate introductions and in turn, I give him a commodity that he couldn't gain on his own," Eddington explained.

"So who is this mystery broker and why do they get the most advanced ship?" Ro understandably wanted to know.

"I believe you should have heard of Haken Min. He is a fellow Bajoran who served the Resistance during the Occupation," Eddington shared.

"Haken is a pirate," Ro glowered, "He helped the Resistance for his own profits."

"And we're considered to be terrorists trying to steal entire worlds," Eddington reminded her, "So who is actually the greater criminal? Haken came here on a whim ten years ago and bought himself some firepower. Firepower which ultimately aided the Resistance. But then he had the wise idea of proliferating the capabilities found here. In exchange for filthy lucre, he redistributes starships to developing worlds. And in exchange for a ship, he enabled us to acquire three starships beyond anything we've possessed before. You can't really imagine winning a war pitting raiders up against ships of the line?"

"So he nicely runs away with the only ship capable of supporting semi-modern weapons," Ro assessed.

"Don't underestimate the yield of a Mark IV photon torpedo. And Haken has referred me to a supplier that happens to manufacture perfect replicas of Starfleet's original Mark IV torps and now they're building up to mass produce Type VI photons within ten years," Eddington told her

"So we're one of his clients now?" Ro was still disturbed by the thought.

"Discuss the matter with Hudson some day. The Maquis of been one of Haken's clients since its inception. Or do you seriously believe we've stolen every Ju'day-, Ma'jel-, and Peregrine-class raider we possess?" Eddington inquired sharply, "And the business of fighting an insurgent war requires a flexible morality that Hudson has never embraced. That's why the cell leaders are beginning to look to new leadership."

"Your leadership," Ro said dryly.

"They look to those they deem the best candidates for the role of Maquis Commander," Eddington oozed false humility.

Ro knew this aspect was the other major reason why she was present. Her participation would validate Eddington's methods in many cell leaders' eyes. And if Eddington could eliminate the two strongest proponents of Hudson's leadership, Ro herself and Sveta Korepanova, then he would be assured political victory.

But Hudson couldn't simply be sidelined. Too many of the old guard would always wonder what could have been. So Hudson had to go out a hero...or better yet a martyr.

"Let's just choose our ships," Ro finally said wearily, "I've already picked mine out."

Aboard the USS Rio Grande, Ro was situating her crew. She'd chosen the Kremlin-class surveyor as her presumptive command and belatedly realized Eddington had anticipated her choice. But it was the newest ship of the three.

Ro was amazed by the explosion of color schemes in the bridge, corridors, and sections. And the controls were a riot of bejeweled colors. Her Bolian chief engineer, Emjin Thool, had been delighted to find a team from Haken's crew had already primed the warp cores and impulse fusion reactors of every ship. It was obvious they had long experience doing so.

On the bridge, Tulley was prowling about looking for a weapons console to man. Mysra Tem, the young Bajoran pilot Ro's cell had "adopted" sat at the helm familiarizing himself with his station.

The cell had absorbed heavy losses over the last year. Tom Hennessy, Leah Chaste, and Talin Tora had all been killed within the last six months. They joined Macius, Santos, Jai Hunter, and Emily Rossum as martyrs to the cause.

Christina Noble, Nick Locarno, and Kris Solo had all been captured by the Federation after Tom Riker's theft of the USS Defiant. Kalita and Tamal were among those captured by Starfleet as a result of Riker's negotiated surrender to Gul Dukat. Amaktay, Rose Pinter, and Vera Dragonuv had all joined Riker in the joys of serving in a labor camp.

But Liam Hemmingway, Natalie Donner, Elfi Hendryks, Tulley and Thool were still old hands that had stayed with Ro's leadership. And they'd been joined by Mysra, Erika Sosa, Fren, Cynthia Harrelson, Priyanka Khan, and Kevin McConnell as replacements as the rest of the original members of the cell died or were captured.

McConnell was a former park ranger from Ronara Prime like Hemmingway. McConnell had been a supervisor and had granted Ro's cell access to the planet's entire network of ranger stations. Ro had also allowed herself to hesitantly be romanced by him.

"Aric, over here," Mysra pointed at the navigation station next to his own.

Tulley examined the board and saw it had targeting controls, "I'll be damned. OPS has weapons torpedo guidance controls."

"No, there is no OPS station," Eckles corrected him as he arrived with Donner, Hemmingway, and McConnell in tow from engineering, "Navigation doubles as a weapons station. Phasers are slaved to the helm controls. That's why there's a targeting viewer."

Eckles and Darcy had lent the crew a hand as they got the ship ramped up and ready to travel. Eckles grinned at Ro, "You have full power and Thool reports his team is ready for you to give the word."

"I'm sure Thool appreciated all your help, I know I do," Ro admitted, "How's the rest of our engineering ‘volunteer' staff doing?"

"Sosa is enjoying Darcy hitting on her," Eckles chuckled, "Heidi endures a straight crew so it's a relief for her to meet someone gender fluid. Your Andorian and Khan are settled in inside the reactor room. They seem knowledgeable of the systems involved."

Ro knew the Andorian zhen and East Indian from a Terran colony had both been power plant maintenance engineers before joining the Maquis. Eckles continued, "Harrelson has been dubbed one of Thool's personal wrench monkeys alongside Sosa. And I think he's trying to steal my Engineer's Mate away from me by offering Sosa's sexual services."

Ro playfully groaned, "Tell Thool I order him too release Darcy back to you."

"Thanks, Heidi and I need to get back to the Odyssey," Eckles admitted, "The Captain already has some information gathering scheme worked up."

"Then carry on carrying on," Ro saluted him.

Eckles disappeared into the turbolift. Ro decided to ease Tulley into the navigator's station, "Auto map and star chart pull ups are largely automated. Simply tap the padd control interface to input a destination name or coordinates and then the computer will plot a least time course. Adjustments can be made on the fly."

Tulley nervously nodded, "Cheer up, Aric. Modern CONN stations combine helm and navigation. But the photon controls are basically the same as you're used to. Aim the targeting sensors and point and click targets to lock on. The firing button is obvious."

Tulley sat down to play with the navigation system while Ro approached Hemmingway, "Liam, you were the comm expert in the ranger service. Why don't you man the communications board?"

"Okay?" Hemmingway questionably agreed.

Donner thought it was hilarious until Ro crooked a finger at her, "Follow me."

They proceeded to the Science Station, "Here you go."

"You're joking," Donner was crestfallen, much to Hemingway's utter delight.

"You were trained how to use sensors in investigations as a constable. These, despite their age, are even more powerful. You'll figure it out," Ro went to McConnell last.

Ro heard Donner grunt behind her, "Ugh."

McConnell looked as nervous as everyone else despite he was ten years older than the next man in line. Tulley had been a family man before the Cardassians struck. McConnell was a lifelong bachelor but seemed to be changing that inclination.

"So what about me?" the normally unflappable McConnell had definitely come undone by mid-23rd century tech.

Ro found it strangely adorable, "You have cross training in maintenance engineering. So you'll man the engineering station. Basically you'll just monitor power flow and levels and alert me to any drastic drop offs."

"I can handle that," McConnell seemed greatly relieved.

"You can expertly handle a lot of things," Ro laced every word with innuendo, "I'll be in Engineering and Sickbay."

Everyone laughed at McConnell over Ro's obvious meaning after she'd gone. Everyone except Tulley, who looked rather subdued. But Ro and McConnell's relationship was an open secret to all.

Eckles was already in Sickbay walking Hendryks through the equipment and supplies, "They kept these ships stocked so if they needed to be deployed again they would need a minimum of time and resupply to do so."

Hendryks served as the OPS operator on the Indomitable but she also rated as a medic alongside McConnell, Hemmingway, and Donner. Hendryks drew the short straw aboard the Rio Grande because the others were versed in first aid and triage. Hendryks' own training was more advanced, exceeding Ro's in most areas outside of combat medicine.

The doors opened to admit Darcy, who seemed ready to swoon from giddiness. Eckles warded her off, "Down girl, I know it's instant lust and I saw you two sneak off to a Jefferies Tube together, but we can't bring her home with us. And Macen still needs you."

"Ah, the price of being invaluable to the cause," Darcy let out a longsuffering sigh.

"Thool's waiting for you in the transporter room," Ro informed them.

The Odyssey's engineers left and Darcy found Sosa was waiting with Thool. Ro wouldn't learn that until later though. Her chief concern at that moment was Hendryks.

"Any concerns, Elfi?" Ro asked.

"Actually, most of the equipment here is more advanced than anything we typically have to offer," Hendryks said ruefully, "And the synthesizer has the capability of producing most of the medicines we're used to dealing with. The Indie definitely doesn't have anything to compare. And our portable med kits will never come close."

Ro felt slighted insulted by Hendryks' assessment of her own Ju'day-class raider dubbed the Indomitable, "We get by."

"Because we have to, Skipper. We've never had any other choice before now," Hendryks explained.

Ro felt a slippery slope giving way when one of her own people began buying into Eddington's grandiosity, "Careful, Elfi. We don't know all of the costs attached to having this shiny new ship yet."

"I know," Hendryks sighed, "But it's not like Starfleet will ever miss all of these relics, will they?"

Actually, Ro was afraid they would.

Captain Joellie Jones transferred her command and her crew from the SS Waylaid to the USS Polaris. And she'd never been more excited. Her chief engineer, Paige Donaldson, had almost orgasmed when she gazed at the warp core. Jones had a similar reaction to the bridge.

Donaldson had an engineering crew of six women. Each either of Asian or African descent. Jones knew the names by heart. They were Kwan Ziyi, Anij Botwan, Arana Poirot, Jess Harding, Nichelle Uhura, and Tatsu Toshira. Jones had often wondered if Uhura was even distantly related to the famed Admiral Nyota Uhura.

The cargo crew monitored the impulse reactor under Donaldson's indirect supervision. Janie Chan, Aisha Kole, Mikaela Quiff, and Gwen Harper had been selected for this duty. Each only had basic maintenance training and experience but the reactor had been judged to be stable by Donaldson so she was comfortable handing it over to them.

Jones' bridge crew was already adapting the controls were actually a little more advanced than their traditional vessel's but everyone was easing into their roles. Soma Hartford, Jones' XO, doubled at the Science Station. Jones thought of Hartford as her Spock.

Jena Cole manned the helm while Ana Novic studied navigation from beside her. Illyana Fermova occupied the commutation station. Engineering was left untended since Donaldson would be doing the actual monitoring from Engineering.

Jones knew each crew needed to become more familiar with their newly acquired starships but she couldn't understand why Eddington hadn't insisted on doing so while mobile. And then a sensor contact told her why.

Eddington lovingly gazed about the bridge of the USS Thule. As a child, he'd thrilled to the heroics of infamous Constitution-, Miranda-, Asia-, Mercury-, Eclipse-, and Detroit-class starship captains and crews. It seemed captains then had more prerogative in their actions since the subspace relay network hadn't been constructed beyond the Federation Core Worlds and Starfleet Command's voice could literally be weeks away.

Captains like Christopher Pike sacrificing himself to save lives and later be rewarded for it on Talos IV, Robert April retiring from Starfleet to become the Federation Diplomatic Corps' designated troubleshooter, Garth of Izar turning the Klingon tide at Axanar, and a dozen others resounded in Eddington's memory. Now he had one of those self same starships he'd dreamt of commanding.

Of course, Garth had ended his days in an asylum but not every hero had to be a saint. Look at all the people that admired James T. Kirk and then again at his career decisions. Yet, in the end he went out in a way that the entire Alpha and Beta Quadrants admired him for.

Rebecca Sullivan was situating every department. Eddington's chosen crew was made up of survivors from Quatal Prime or Solossus III. A purge had slaughtered the bulk of the cell on Quatal. The all-female population of Solossus had been enslaved by the Cardassians to use as a "recreation" world where every naturally genetic female and transitioned transgender woman was a sex slave. The colonists had been so desperate as to recruit partially transitioned transbians so that the resultant pregnancies would stymie the Cardies' lusts.

Eddington studied his bridge crew. The elderly and rough and tumble John Patrick Connery manned the helm. Nina Tokarev of Solossus sat beside him at navigation. Idina Menzar of Quatal busied herself with the communication board. And their other Solossus escapee on the bridge, Iris East, trained herself to use the Science Station. Sullivan would occupy the engineering station.

Nicholas Coppola, a former biochemist, was their medic. He was situating Sickbay and preparing it for use. Coppola was an eccentric man but a steady hand under pressure.

Lana Lane served as the chief engineer. Under her, Carol Farris, Abby Cross, Taylor Chase, Ashley Fowler, and Brittney Caulder joined her from Solossus to serve as ratings in both Engineering and the Reactor Control that powered the impulse engines.

"We have a sensor contact," east announced.

"Put it on screen," Eddington ordered.

To everyone else's dismay but to his delight, the contact was a mid-23rd century era merchantman. But this ship was new, freshly out of the dockyards that created her. It hailed for Sigma Iotia II and the population there had spent the century since Captain Kirk and crew visited tearing apart Dr. Leonard McCoy's communicator to tap into the Subspace Communication Relays and pilfering through the Federation databases, particularly the Open University classes.

The Iotians had kick started themselves into warp travel by copying proven designs. They'd sped through Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix to Earth's first Warp 5 starship in fifty years. Now they'd reached the zenith of pre-refit design 23rd century ships. And they'd discovered there was a market for Mark IV styled photon torpedoes as well as their surplus photonic warhead missiles.

So Haken hadn't just introduced Eddington to the yard caretaker, he'd also brought Eddington together with Iotian arms dealers. Which accounted for Haken neglecting sales of the 22nd century era ships. The Iotians were selling off their own surplus of them as they brought early and mid-23rd century designs into their own fleet.

"We're being hailed," Menzar announced.

"Captain," Eddington chided her, "Everyone is forgetting to address me as ‘captain'. How will I know a report is directed at me if you don't use my title?"

Even Sullivan thought it came across as a tad petulant and she was enamored with Eddington. He was the hero that brought the Maquis twelve industrial replicators, stolen from Starfleet and originally intended for the accursed Cardassians. Kassidy Yates was a side issue for her.

Menzar gave Sullivan a pained look. The XO shrugged. Menzar sighed.

"Captain, we're being hailed," she said mournfully.

"Put it on screen," Eddington said with relish.

A middle aged near-human in dirty coveralls appeared on the main viewer, "Youse Eddington?"

"Captain Eddington," he corrected the Iotian. Sullivan cleared her throat several times and Eddington softened his stance, "Yes, I am."

"I got yer photons. Where does youse wants them?" the Iotian inquired.

Eddington began to wonder if there was something wrong with the universal translator. Then he recalled the societal reverence for "The Book", also known as the Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. The speech impediment was actually a chosen affectation.

"Approach our aft quarter," Eddington instructed, "We'll open the shuttlebay doors and you can offload there."

"Youse got it. Yer latinum spends as good as anyone's," the Iotian decided.

Two more Iotian merchantmen arrived to deliver to the Polaris and the Rio Grande. The independent Africa was heading to the Ferengi Alliance to obtain Mark VI photons for Haken's use.

After loading the torpedoes, and everyone's forward and aft launcher magazines were filled, Eddington called a conference aboard the Thule. Ro and Jones also brought Tulley and Hartford just as Eddington had Sullivan sit in as well after she guided them to the appropriate briefing room.

It was plain to see Eddington had unofficially declared himself the commodore over the captains. Ro and Tulley were disgusted by the overt power play. But Ro didn't challenge him despite her seniority in the Maquis ranks. Jones and Hartford basked alongside Sullivan in Eddington's presence.

"So what's our first target?" Jones asked before anyone else could speak. She had magazines full of Mark IV photons and she was dying to use them.

"You're a freighter captain," Ro blurted, "Exactly how many combat missions have you been a part of?"

"None," Jones said sullenly, "But not because we aren't willing, or wanting, to fight."

"Then you're stupid," Ro snorted, "No soldier ever wants to fight. They do so because there's no other choice."

"Ro, be kind. They operate a Norkova-class merchant ship. The control interfaces aren't far off from an Eclipse-class'," Eddington intervened. Which spawned a whole new round of hero worshipping gazes.

Ro felt nauseated and could see Tulley felt the same way, "It isn't hard to see why they're here."

"I think you've underestimated Michael," Sullivan accused.

"I think everyone has," Ro admitted.

"Can we hate each other later?" Tulley wearily asked, "We're here to fight Spoonheads and not each other."

"Your man is right, Ro," Eddington visibly smoothed out his ruffled feelings, "We have a productive task before us and we shouldn't be distracted or fettered by rivalries...or jealousy."

"Then why don't get on with it and explain who, what, or even where your intended target is?" Ro snapped.

"As you know, the strength of the Cardassian Guard is its ability to project force through the use of its fleet. That fleet relies upon repair stations built in every sector controlled by the Cardassian Union. As anyone who has served aboard Deep Space Nine can attest to, Cardassian technology cantankerous and prone to failures that Starfleet engineering doesn't even come close to," Eddington explained, "I propose that we take out these repair stations."

"Since you're using the plurals ‘we' and ‘stations' am I correct in assuming you've selected three to hit?" Ro wondered.

"See Ro, we can think alike," Eddington purred.

"Usually right before I vomit," Ro said dryly.

Eddington's glare promised retribution. Jones interrupted, "Where would these stations be?"

"Three aligned sectors, each nearer to our own territory," Eddington answered. Ro clearly heard the "my territory" in his voice.

"The closest to the DMZ is in the Chin'toka system within the neighboring Dorvan Sector. I needn't remind you all of the suffering of Federation colonists that dwelt in the Dorvan Sector after the UFP ceded the territory to the Cardassians," Eddington said melodramatically.

Tulley could almost feel his fist crunching the cartilage in Eddington's nose. Before his wife and three children were killed by Cardassians, they'd been farmers on a colony in that sector. He was less than happy about Eddington's theatricality.

"The second is in the Almatha Sector in orbit around the planet Panera. Joellie, that's your target," Eddington acted as though he were bequeathing a precious gift, "I'll take the station over Soukara in the Algira Sector."

"Any particular reason I'm getting Chin'toka?" Ro asked.

"You're going to attack first and when you do, forces from these other two sectors will respond alongside Gul Maret's forces," Eddington relished the thought.

"Besides the suicidal tendency that would imply, you have to be able to predict routine patrols," Ro cautioned him.

"I believe your friend, Macen, is receiving that data even as we speak," Eddington nearly swallowed his metaphorical canary he was so pleased with himself.

Odo and Major Kira Nerys led Odo's deputies and four Starfleet Security officers into breaking into a locked vendor's shop on Deep Space Nine's Promenade. Only no physical product was sold here. Only services which until now had remained a mystery.

Odo's deputies quickly rounded up the female office staff and braced them against the bulkhead. Kira pointed at the only remaining door, "Get that open!"

Starfleet Security went to work on it. Sisko had been enraged to learn the Maquis had been operating an intelligence gathering cell on his own station. He not only wanted them arrested, he wanted to twist them inside out until they gave up Eddington.

"Major, we're going to have to blow these doors open," the lead Starfleet ensign told her.

Then the door opened and a major in the Bajoran Militia stepped out. Kira had no idea who he was, so she asked him.

"Major Host Korb, Militia Intelligence," he greeted her, "I'm sorry we haven't ever been introduced but I'm supposed to keep a low profile."

"Clear that room!" Odo barked and Starfleet Security escorted two women out, one Terran and one Bajoran.

The Bajoran was a Militia junior officer and Kira also had no idea who the lieutenant was either. She'd seen the human though, "Who are you, Lieutenant?"

"Hera Renta, Major," she said crisply.

"I suppose you keep a low profile as well," Kira sneered.

"Yes, Major!" Hera proudly replied.

"And we know who you are Lt. Commander Svetlana Korepanova," Odo gloated.

"If you really knew, you'd know I resigned my commission over two years ago and that I'm usually referred to as ‘Sveta'," Korepanova told him, "But I'll forgive your ignorance the same way I ignore your political ignorance."

"Get her out of here," Kira barked.

All of the Maquis were led off in binders. Kira's comm badge chirped and it was Sisko that spoke through the channel, "Major Kira, do you have a Major Host and a Lt. Hera with you?"

"I was about to take them into custody," she admitted.

"Ensign Pulver will be escorting them directly to the hourly shuttle to Bajor. It's being held for them. Direct orders from First Minister Shakaar," Sisko regretted having to say.

"I think Shakaar and I are going to have a very terse conversation over this," Kira predicted, "But it'll happen."

Kira turned to Host and Hera, "If you ever board this station again, we will know it much faster next time. And if that happens, I'll break you in every conceivable way."

"Not if you want to keep your commission," Host advised her.

Starfleet Security escorted the pair out. Odo was now examining the communications logs, "Interesting. There's a record that they sent a message while we were storming the office. But there's no destination or recipient."

"Can you solve the riddle?" Kira asked.

"I intend to find out," Odo promised. And she knew he was as good as his word to her.

Vice Admiral Elijah Waters had retired after a six decades' long career in Starfleet Intelligence. Macen and Admiral Alynna Nechayev had persuaded Waters to return to semi-active duty by establishing a freight referral business to steer Maquis strikes into key zones. Waters had begun by acquiring an existing firm.

But Waters had grown disillusioned with the growing fanaticism and extremist tactics of the Maquis. So he retired for a second time leaving Kristiana Liu in control of the agency and the mission. The former Colonial and now Demilitarized Zone Freight Delivery Contractors and Referral Service was located on Galador in the Kalandra Sector several light years from Starbase 375. So Liu and her conspirators enjoyed Starfleet's protection will undermining its mandate.

Every member of the office staff was in on Liu's operation except the newly hired Russia Dawes and Yohanna Iversen. They actually did the bulk of the legitimate business the agency brought in. Three Bajorans made up the rest of the staff.

Hana Rynn was one of Waters' original recruits. She was related to the Hana shipping family that ran cargo in and out of Bajor during the Resistance and now they also serviced the DMZ. Cyd Charee and Lara Jina had been brought in by Hana. And they were enthusiastic about the cause.

But for now, Liu was just numb with shock and grief. Waters had been found brutally murdered on Denarius. And Starfleet was involved because of Waters previous association. But that very association meant he had a list of potential enemies that stretched across two quadrants. Starfleet didn't have a single lead and were requesting Liu's help instead.

Liu called Hana aside and shared the news. Hana seemed even more shaken that Liu, "He was such a nice old man...for a Terran."

"Tell Macen about this," Liu just couldn't bring herself to do it personally.

"What can Macen do?" Hana wondered.

"Probably more than anyone else at this point," Liu confided.

"We have all the patrol routes mapped out by Starfleet Intelligence itself," Sullivan happily reported to her lover-captain.

"And Macen is departing?" Eddington asked a touch too sharply.

"Iris has him leaving the solar system at maximum warp. Something seems to have a lit a fire under him," Sullivan explained.

"Curious," Eddington pondered what it could be for precisely two seconds before returning to his self appointed agenda, "As you can see by these charts, it can done."

"A simultaneous attack would be more effective," Ro pointed out, "You've been forgetting the Cardassian Sector where the bulk of their forces patrol and can be rerouted to any or probably all of the sectors we attack."

Eddington frowned before adopting his sales pitch smile, "Then let's work out the timing, shall we?"

Ro explained the final plan to her crew aboard the Rio Grande. The crew also represented 99% of her entire cell from Ronara Prime, "We're risking a lot more than usual this time."

"I'm in," Hendryks was the first to speak.

"Of course I'm in," Tulley shrugged.

"I'm all in," Donner stated.

"And those words are the bane of your existence when she plays poker," Hemmingway joked, "But I think we should do this."

McConnell looked tired, "I never anticipated this. I never set out to become a Maquis. You all just ended up literally on my doorstep."

"We can drop you off somewhere if you'd prefer," Ro was vaguely disappointed.

"No, you don't understand," McConnell protested, "Maybe this moment is why I joined."

"So that's a ‘yes'?" Ro wasn't certain yet.

"Damn straight it is," McConnell cheerfully verified for her.

Thool and the engineering staff all agreed as well. Mysra had a hungry look in his eye. Ro remembered it from mirrors when she was with the Resistance.

"Then I'll tell Eddington we are definitely a ‘go'," Ro told them all.

Tulley caught up with Ro as the Rio Grande circumnavigated the elliptical DMZ. Ro was frustrated beyond belief with the food synthesizer. She had a craving for good old fashioned hasperat and nothing here came close.

"Need a hand, Skipper?" Tulley asked. He chuckled when he understood her request, "I think a healthy touch of wasabi to a casserole will do it."

Ro found herself actually enjoying the horseradish laden meal, "Something on your mind, Aric?"

"Why Chin'toka?" he asked at last, "I thought Eddington would want it because it's in and out."

"Which makes him appear heroic for selecting the most difficult target while we cowards chose the easy route," Ro explained the power of perception.

"But he chose our target for us," Tulley complained.

"Won't matter," Ro shrugged between mouthfuls, "The public, and Maquis cell commanders, are fickle. We won't win this public relations battle however it turns out. Eddington has covered everything beforehand so he achieves victory by doing anything else than dying."

"And all of this is so he can sweep Hudson out of the way," Tulley miserably finally realized.

"The old guard still supports Cal but the young blood want a more aggressive leader," Ro explained, "And most the older hands are dead or captured. Not one of Hudson's original cell are free or still breathing except for Kobb. And she's a politician."

"Sveta's been arrested," Tulley hated to say, "Her whole unit has been. The Bajoran Militia just walked away. You think Eddington tipped Starfleet off?"

Ro couldn't answer because it made too much sense even if she didn't want to believe it.

 

Chapter Two

Nearly twenty-three Federation Standard hours had passed since the Kremlin-class Rio Grande had left Sector 004. She'd spent all that time positioning herself near the DMZ colony world, Salva, to arrange a straight angle approach on Chin'toka. When she did cross the Cardassian border, she was just beyond the ranges of the Cardassian listening posts at Outpost 47 and Valo VI. And she was at the furthest edges of the sensors of Starbases 310 and 211.

The repair station's sensors detected the Rio Grande's approach but Hemmingway used intercepted Cardassian subspace radio traffic too confuse the station. That and the ship design hadn't been seen outside of Federation space in nearly a century. But when Ro had Mysra dare drop out of warp inside the inner system nearly on top of the repair station with shields raised and weapons locking, the Cardassians desperately tried to defend themselves.

The Cardassians were caught with their shields down as the Mark IV photon torpedoes began to tear through the stations hull like it was tissue. Secondary explosions also ripped through the vessels being tendered there even as the station's power and life support faltered and ultimately failed. And the Cardassians then discovered the Type VI phaser mounts were just as destructive as the day they'd been built and installed.

The planet Torga represented the Cardassian Guard's sector command within the Dorvan Sector. After Gul Evek's sudden death in 2371, Gul Maret had been assigned as Sector Commander and had happily taken over Evek's lavish headquarters as it finished being constructed. They had even included harem chambers for Terran comfort women.

Maret's guest that day was the sector commander for the Almatha Sector, Akellan Macet. Maret had his eight favorite Terrans on display in Starfleet miniskirts from the 2360s. Except for one, who had been allowed to keep her Starfleet Sciences uniform after being captured as an ensign during the last border skirmish.

The Cardassian legates that commanded the Central Command had been so assured of victory in the peace treaty process they'd begun construction at Torga and Chin'toka months before the treaty with the Federation was ever ratified. Maret reveled in Macet's marveling over his collection of human female flesh.

"I still cannot get over the mere fact of how closely these creatures resemble Bajorans," Macet confessed, "Even the skin variations from light to dark."

"And the one with the ink injected into her skin that you're so admiring," Maret pointed the blonde out, "That isn't her natural hair coloring. All four of the flaxen haired females alter their natural color. I doubt the flame haired one is natural either. But the three dark haired females, the dark skinned one, the caramel shaded one, and the pale one, they are as natural as their animal forbearers intended."

"You say these injections and alterations are common amongst the Maquis settlers?" Macet inquired.

"Quite," Maret chuckled, "As are other aberrations. The one you admire and my flame haired beauty derive as much pleasure from each other as I do them. Sometimes I allow them to enjoy one another as I derive my satisfaction from them."

Macet tried not to gape, "And you don't believe our women do the same?"

Maret scoffed, "No Cardassian female would lower herself. She knows her only true satisfaction comes from her husband and breeding children for our Union."

Macet doubted the validity of the official propaganda Maret was touting. He'd known dozens of women that had given each other lustful or admiring glances the way the men in the room had towards them. The same was true of certain soldiers towards one another as well. As a dal assigned to his first Galor-class heavy cruiser, the sector jagul had propositioned Macet to exchange sexual favors for rapid promotion. Macet had declined but it had opened his eyes to variations of Cardassian nature regardless of official propaganda.

Maret's cuff band began beeping at him. Maret rose from his cushions and irritably slapped at his communicator, "What?"

Maret received a report and then wheeled on his comfort women, "Get out!"

They left wearing smirks. Maret turned on Macet, "Just don't sit there! Your sector is under attack as well as mine."

And Maret explained the nature of the three simultaneous attacks on the repair stations within the Dorvan, Almatha, and Algira Sectors as they stormed off to his command center. Macet asked the obvious question, "Could this be the work of the Maquis?"

"Bah!" Maret sneered, "The Maquis are rabble. These are Federation starships. But Starfleet hasn't dared pit them against our superior forces for a century. This is their doing and I have had the Central Command advised of such."

"But is it really Starfleet?" Macet persisted, "The only Starfleet type ship ever purported to be employed by a Maquis was that Blackbird-class scoutship that spirited away the fabled Chrysalis Child."

"That child does not exist!" Maret hissed through clenched teeth.

"Report!" Maret bellowed as he stormed into his own command complex.

Several gils and glinns competed for attention. But Maret only had eyes for his dalin, "Arek! How could you let this happen?"

Arek calmly withstood the thunder as the junior officers scattered, "No one ever expected Starfleet vessels to cross the border regardless of their ages. They've always seemed too invested in the treaty stipulations."

"Then explain this cock up!" Maret demanded.

"Starfleet Command is unaware of any these older ship types being reactivated back into service or transferred to any other agency or individual's control. Furthermore, Captain Wolvenari of Starbase 211 has traced the ship's registries to a starship storage depot, where strangely enough, the ships are still listed as being at. They are investigating," Arek replied.

"So we're being attacked by phantasms?" Maret sputtered.

Macet admired Arek's serenity in the face of the emotional storm. Maret was a tidal wave of energy but no one since Macet's own cousin, Dukat, had risen so far so fast on sheer force of personality.

"Sir! Jagul Dirk wishes to speak with you. With both of you," a glinn dared report the overseer of the three sector commands' intentions.

So it seemed Dirk's neck bones were on the line as well.

"Skipper, the station is using a portable comm device to hail us," Hemmingway reported, "They're offering an unconditional surrender."

Ro had to admit her starship was tough buzzard. The Type IV torpedo had stayed in service almost as long as the Type VI later had for almost a century. And the phasers weren't as laughable as everyone at the Academy had been led to believe.

"Order them into the escape pods. Then we destroy the station," Ro instructed.

"I hope we won't be shooting escape pods afterwards," McConnell quietly expressed his concern.

"We're not here to inflict unnecessary casualties, Kevin. But this station is a legitimate military target," Ro reminded him.

"But we aren't a military force," he replied.

"We are today," she insisted.

"You'll have to rescind those orders," Donner warned as she peered through the sensor hood.

"Let me guess, their help has finally arrived," Ro groaned.

"Ten ships," Donner told her, "Two Galor-class heavies and eight Lakat-class light cruisers."

"Tulley chart us a course to the Badlands," Ro issued orders rapid fire, "Mysra take us through the Badlands and out to Free Haven."

"Why Free Haven?" McConnell found the choice of a Bajoran colony odd.

"Ask Eddington when he arrives," Ro urged.

"If he arrives," McConnell retorted.

"Oh, he'll arrive all right. That cockroach would survive an antimatter annihilation," Ro hated to confide.

Aboard the Thule, Eddington reveled in his mission coming off without a hitch. Despite it being older than Ro's surveyor, the Asia-class was a light cruiser. And it had been a test bed for many of the technologies and designs aboard the later Constitution- and Miranda-class workhorses of Starfleet.

The Thule was the slowest of the three starships, having an emergency warp factor of 5.1 versus the Rio Grande's Warp 5.8. But Eddington managed to destroy as much of the repair station and its serviced vessels as Ro had near Chin'toka. So Eddington crossed back into Federation space and began the journey across four sectors to reach Free Haven and the Rolor Nebula at the edge of the Badlands.

The Polaris didn't have as easy a time of it. The Eclipse-class light cruiser was as powerful and capable as the Thule but she had an inexperienced crew. Jones gave up the element of surprise and the Almatha Sector repair station got her shields up and weapons activated before the former Waylaid crew engaged them.

The station and the ships suffered damage before the Polaris withdrew but it was relatively light and would be repaired within two weeks. Whereas the stations in the Dorvan and Algira Sectors would require months of rebuilding and many of the ships were gutted ruins.

Jones and her crew felt nothing but regret because they had failed the Maquis and Eddington on their first ever tactical assignment.

Jagul Dirk had summoned Maret and Macet to Cardassia Prime. He gathered them in a briefing room. Accompanying them was Gul Malyn Ocett. Ocett had the distinction of being the first female officer to reach the rank of gul. She didn't command a single sector but she did command a squadron within the Second Order. As such she was mobile and had responded to Klingon threats with direct action where she had distinguished herself.

It had seemed to Maret and Macet that Dirk's intention was to launch a reprisal for the incursions into Union space but that logic faltered when Gal Lagos didn't report in from the Algira Sector. Maret so despised Ocett that he failed to acknowledge her presence as he entered the briefing chamber.

Macet gave her a respectful nod. Ocett's very first command had been of a Lakat-class cruiser that had patrolled the Bajoran solar system and as such she'd choked off nearly all of the foreign aid streaming in to the Bajoran Resistance. That combined with her recent efforts in the Klingon conflict had earned her his respect. After all, the Cardassian Guard had done more to resupply the Bajorans than any other entity.

Ocett's eyes flicked behind Macet. He turned to find Dukat leaned against the bulkhead. He gave Macet one of his trademark smug smiles before striding to stand beside Dirk.

"As of right now, you're all suborned under Gul Dukat's authority. You will answer to him and him alone until such time as he releases you back to my personal authority," Dirk announced without preamble before exiting the room.

"What?" Maret finally exploded.

"Save it for your Terran comfort women," Dukat sneered. An amazing development considering Dukat had used a string of Bajoran women during his tenure as Prefect of Bajor and had even impregnated one of them.

"Spare us your delusions of superiority, Dukat," Macet said wearily, "You fell from grace because of your half-breed daughter and yet you seemed to have clawed your way back to a position of authority."

"The Klingons aided in that," Ocett snorted.

"Yes, and they provided a valuable tool for our current endeavor when doing so," Dukat advised them.

"Your captured Bird-of-Prey," Macet realized.

"Yes," was all Dukat said in reply.

"So why do you need us?" Maret testily demanded to know.

"I need you to push your forces into the Demilitarized Zone in an effort to flush out the terrorists," Dukat explained very slowly and simply, "While your forcers are so occupied, Macet's will secure the regions adjoining the Almatha and Cardassia Sectors for any Maquis that try to flee your assault. In addition, Admiral Ross of Starbase 375 has committed forces from Starbases 310 and 211 to assisting in capturing any Maquis that crosses the Starfleet sensor net bordering the DMZ. Starfleet's entire border security patrols will be altered in order to seal off the region from the Bajor and Kalandra Sectors."

"And cut them off from the thrice-damned Badlands," Ocett assessed.

"Precisely," Dukat showed her favor now.

"And my part in this?" Ocett was insatiably curious now.

"You will brandish the torches that flush the voles to my location at Free Haven," Dukat told her.

"The Maquis are hiding near a Bajoran colony?" Maret sputtered, "How do you know this?"

"My network of informants on Bajor and her colonies remains unbroken and undetected," Dukat boasted.

"And your half-breed daughter is still aboard Terok Nor with the traitor, Garak," Maret sneered.

"Maret, you'd best be careful when referring to my daughter. Ziyal wants to make me into a better man. But I'm willing to put that process off long enough to break you," Dukat advised him.

Ocett knew the Cardassians' ability to breed with Bajorans was related to their yet unproven ability to conceive with Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, and Terrans. Dozens of galactic power species in fact that had all been seeded by a common ancestral race. Ocett had just never contemplated crossbreeding...until now. She competed with the males of her own species and they couldn't accept as an equal. Perhaps she needed to do as Dukat had and Maret was doing and collect comfort men to pleasure herself with.

"Why did Dirk defer to you?" Macet asked an obvious question, "As a jagul, he outranks you."

"Even legates and the Detepa Council tread lightly in my presence now," Dukat assured them all, "A small price for my engaging a heretofore unapproachable ally. I have begun to secure Cardassia's place in a new galactic order. But I have no pretensions to rise above the rank of gul since that alone has ever been my ambition."

"But ‘Prefect' had a nice sound to it, didn't it?" Macet verbally thrust at Dukat.

"What would a paper soldier know about anything, Macet?" Dukat's tone was silken but the words themselves veiled a threat, "You've experienced three tactical victories in your years of service. You've negotiated when you could have conquered. You've signed away spoils that should have been Cardassia's. It's little wonder the Central Command sent you to negotiate our initial treaty with the Federation. But you gave away a little too much, didn't you?"

"There's never been love lost between us, cousin. But tread lightly and I shall as well," Macet offered terms.

"See? Even now you broker a deal rather than confront," Dukat chuckled, "That is why I chose you to be Maret's safety net."

"Dukat, it has been said you lament that there are no statues of you on Bajor," Maret pointed out, "Why is this?"

"It isn't enough to subdue a people," Dukat opined, "In the end you must make them grateful for ever being conquered to begin with. That is why titles like ‘Prefect' are given to men with vision."

"So when do we begin?" Ocett asked.

Dukat distributed individual padds, "Here are your orders and operational plans. Creativity is encouraged. Serious deviations are not. In forty-eight hours, I want to be able to strike our targets. Or mind our fences."

Macet felt the sting of Dukat's scorn once again.

From the Free Haven system, aboard the Rio Grande, Ro contacted Liu, "Kristiana, is there any friendly faces on Ronara Prime right now?"

"The Graffs landed the Falcon six hours ago. They're running legitimate cargo but they have a twenty-one hour window between set down and lift off," Liu answered.

Ro hated involving Ronnie Graff. The teenager reminded Ro of herself at that age. Both good and bad. But she couldn't afford to be choosy right now.

"Pass a message on to Ronnie through Annabeth Frink at the Old Biddy. I need her to meet me here with the Indomitable," Ro informed Liu.

"You know Harry will come with her," Liu pointed out.

"Good, he can keep his daughter out of trouble," Ro conceded.

"It seems Frink is more than a bartender these days," Liu commented.

"Yes, the owner, Gloria Leakes, made her manager as well," butter wouldn't have melted in Ro's mouth.

"Fine. Keep her secrets and yours as well," Liu sighed, "I have news regarding Elijah Waters."

Ro felt a fist clench around her heart when she learned of Waters' death and the nature of it.

Later, after the Thule and the Polaris had reunited their Maquis with the Rio Grande, Eddington called a commander's staff meeting again to explain Phase Two of his plans. Jones and Hartford were still shaken up by their experience. Hartford's hands visibly shook.

Ro remembered the first few times she'd tasted combat as a youth she'd experienced more of the same. Her nerves steadied over time but her willingness to resort to violent means increased even as her horror and shock declined. She wondered if Jones, Hartford, and their crew would live long enough for that next step in the process to begin.

Ro preempted the meeting with a single question, "The Iotians use a monetary economy. How have you paid for all of this when Hudson hasn't authorized dipping into the few latinum reserves we still have?"

"Starfleet is paying for it all," Eddington boasted, "I've access to their operational funding for interfacing with local and foreign entities."

Ergo the Bajorans and the Ferengi, Ro thought. She also knew Starfleet threw gobs of latinum reserves at the Deep Space stations regardless of location since they did so much business with non-Federation members. Ro herself privately financed her cell through robbery. Payroll reserves and transports yielded millions of Cardassian leks. And many traders accepted leks. And the Bajoran economy was tied to the trade valuation of the lek. It was still a commonly used currency on Bajor despite its reviled origins.

Macen also provided his crew's profits to the cell. He kept operating and staff expense monies on hand but his "freelance information brokering" and smuggling of Federation luxury goods kept the latinum flowing Ro's way.

Of course, the Ferengi Alliance and Orion Syndicate would accept any currency made available to them. But dealing with either annoyed Ro, or even more frequently, made her skin crawl. Even in the darkest days of the Resistance they'd limited their dealings with both parties. Yet Eddington seemed the type to bed both of them.

"I arranged to restock our torpedo magazines at this location well before I finished acquiring our ships," Eddington displayed his supposed strategic "brilliance".

"You made some sweeping assumptions given not all of us may have met you here," Ro asserted.

"Nonsense. But sometimes enthusiasm doesn't overcompensate inexperience I'll grant you," Eddington relented.

"But most Maquis were novices at one time or another," Sullivan angrily began to argue.

"And not all of them survived to become veterans," Ro accepted the challenge.

"Ladies, please," Eddington wore beatific smile as though they were arguing over him; "We need to prepare for what comes next."

Ronnie Graff sat the air skimmer down at the foot of the trail that led up to the park ranger's station. Harry was over seventy and beginning to slow down. But she doubted the hillside trail they had to conquer would slow him down. Ronnie herself had recently turned eighteen and could literally run circles around her father.

"I don't know why I'm out here," Harry grumbled, "It's not too later to turn around and go back."

"You'll be going alone," Ronnie reminded him.

"I thought we were done smuggling for these people. This is a helluva lot more than smuggling," Harry complained.

"No, you're done smuggling. I'm helping out however I can as long as the request is reasonable," Ronnie countered.

"Getting shot at flying a Maquis raider doesn't count as reasonable in my book," Harry argued.

"No one said there would be shooting," Ronnie groaned.

"They're Maquis. There's always shooting involved," Harry protested.

"Dad, you have to decide. I'm going. With or without you," Ronnie declared.

"God, you're just as stubborn as your mother," Harry grumbled.

"Thanks," Ronnie brightened.

"It wasn't a compliment," Harry warned her.

"Pass?" four park rangers seemed to just appear and a transporter hadn't been involved.

Ronnie gave the countersign and she and grudging father were led to a small needle valley where the Indomitable sat beside a Ma'jel-class and a Peregrine-class courier. Ronnie had the pass key Frink had supplied to engage the Indie's transporter and she beamed her and her father aboard. She grinned ear to ear. She finally had a chance to pilot a ship that didn't just lumber along. Harry saw her glee and despaired.

Starfleet Security stormed into the cargo referral agency's offices and arrested Liu and the Bajoran employees. Only, Dawes and Iversen were left unmolested. So Liu instantly knew who'd informed on them. The timing was just too coincidental that Waters had died just a day before all of his accomplices were rounded up. And Korepanova's cell had been arrested en masse on Deep Space Nine.

Liu had served in Starfleet Intelligence as a logistics planner for the Operations division. Waters had handpicked her to assist him knowing she'd come from Ronara Prime and her parents were still there struggling under the Cardassian yoke. But it seemed Waters' legacy with the Maquis had ended abruptly.

"Sir, Deep Space Nine is reporting a potential border crossing from Cardassian space into the Bajor Sector," a junior officer reported to a lt. commander.

"Any idea of why Cardassians are navigating foreign territory?" the commander inquired.

"Nossir! The squadron is reported bearing straight for the Rolor Nebula," the junior officer explained.

"Why would they choose that armpit?" the commander wondered.

Ro had taken the Rio Grande out on a patrol of the outer system. Eddington and Sullivan were distracting themselves by instructing Jones and her women on how to operate their own starship. Ro felt it was a waste of time. It was better to get them back to the Waylaid where they could actually do some good.

"Skipper, we've got Spoonheads headed this way," Donner announced, "I make four Galor- type heavy cruisers and eight Lakat- light cruisers."

"Shields up! Arm weapons systems. Liam, get word back to Eddington and Jones," Ro fired off orders in rapid succession, "Mysra, run an evasive pattern and make way for the nebula."

The Rio Grande ran to transit the entire system and intercept her own brethren. But Dukat decloaked his stolen Klingon ship and engaged the Polaris while she was still raising her shields. The light cruiser was crippled and dead in space. But she retained structural integrity and atmosphere. So Ro ordered they engage in rescue operations.

Aboard the Thule Eddington recognized the significance of Ro's course. And as Dukat blew the holy hell out of Jones' ship, he also knew there was only one explanation of why a Klingon would be assisting Cardassians.

"Dukat!" he whispered with a manic gleam in his eyes.

"Target the enemy combatant and fire three photons at it," Ro ordered Tulley to engage Dukat, "Mysra, keep phasers on that ship and push her back."

"The Thule is committing everything to fighting the Bird-of-Prey," Donner reported.

"The glory hound wants Dukat's head on a platter. Much as I'd like to see it, it won't be happening," Ro announced, "Liam, get Eddington's attention. We need him between Dukat and us so we can rescue Jones and her crew."

"I'll see if they're bothering to listen," Hemmingway promised.

"The Thule is changing aspect. She's blocking the way for us," Donner happily cried.

"Get Thool to the transporter room. When he reports in, drop shields," Ro ordered.

"Skipper, these are universal shields. We can't just drop one plane at a time," Tulley warned.

"Drop the shields anyway, Aric," Ro wasn't in the mood to argue.

Thool called the go ahead. Tulley raised the shields and Ro ordered Mysra to engage Dukat while they did a flyby. Donner made an additional report.

"Jones set up an imminent warp core breach and used the thrusters to send her at the incoming Cardassian cruisers," she told everyone.

"Maybe she has chops after all," Ro mused.

"And the Thule is following us towards the nebula. Dukat is pursuing," Donner informed them.

"Fire at will, gentlemen," Ro instructed.

Dukat's greater weapon's yields severely damaged the elderly starships. But a crossfire from two Mark IV torpedoes detonating on his forward bridge module blew out every power conduit in his ship. Dukat was adrift with his ship beyond Cardassia's ability to repair it.

The Rio Grande and the Thule made it inside the nebula perimeter in time for their impulse drives to fail. With the warp core down, the impulse reactors scrammed and lifeless, both ships had to resort to their emergency batteries.

Ocett was swiftly approaching the lifeless Polaris when her sensor officer yelled, "Warp core breach inside that ship in ten seconds!"

"All ships raise shields," she yelled over the communicator.

The explosion damaged all of the Cardassian ships. They could affect their own repairs but they would be delayed by several hours. Hours in which Starfleet or the Bajoran Militia could find them in.

"Oh. My. God," Ronnie breathed as she entered the system and witnessed all of the Cardassian cruisers adrift in space.

"I told you there's be shooting," Harry grumbled.

"Where's Ro?" Ronnie started to panic.

"Have you tried hailing her?" Harry wondered.

"Um...right," Ronnie couldn't hide the blush rising in her cheeks.

Ro took an inspection tour with Thool. He'd put Jones' crew to work assessing the damage. It was grim.

"Status report?" Ro asked.

"We're down to the batteries and that's where we'll be staying," Thool grimaced, "The rest of the ship needs yard work just to get underway again. And the batteries are rated for seventy-two hours if they're fully charged. They were stone cold dead when we began this little fiasco."

"How long do you think we have then?" Ro got right to it.

"I'll gamble at twelve hours. Everything past that is a miracle," Thool shared honestly, "I hope you had a backup plan."

"We'll see," Ro demurred.

Khan approached, "Ro, the bridge is calling for you."

Ro went the intercom and hit the activation button, "Ro here. Tell me you've got good news."

"That depends," McConnell spoke, "Did you give the keys to the Indie to Ronnie Graff?"

"She made it safely past the Cardies?" Ro almost fainted from relief.

"She reports every ship in the system is dead except for hers...ours...yours...whatever," McConnell was actually flustered.

Harry linked with the Rio Grande's transporter and began bringing personnel aboard. Jones' crew came with Ro's cell. Ro explained to Eddington that everyone else was departing the system.

"I contacted my people in the Badlands. They're dispatching a spare raider to retrieve us," Eddington explained. Ro felt he was holding out on something.

"I'll deliver Jones and her crew back to their real ship," Ro declared before setting the transmission.

"I wonder if Eddington got away." Tulley asked out of nowhere as he sat at the weapons console.

"Easiest course of action was to skirt the nebula and head for Dreon until all the ships were cleared away," Mysra replied from the helm.

"With everything Starfleet looked to be throwing into the Free Haven system, there's no way Eddington could've made it back to the Badlands," Hendryks opined from OPS.

"Although, he is very resourceful," Fren commented from the engineering board.

Everyone stared at the Andorian as though she'd grown a third antenna, "What? I'm not saying I like him. But he is very capable."

"Ro's been in the comm booth for a long time," Mysra complained.

"She wanted to contact Liu about target selections and getting work near them," Hendryks reminded him, "In other words, we're back to business as usual."

Ro entered looking shell shocked. She fell into her seat and Tulley panicked, "God, Laren! What's wrong?"

"What isn't?" Ro wondered dully. She explained about the sequence of events that had led to that point. Waters had been murdered. Korepanova had been arrested. Liu had been arrested as well. And finally, Hudson had led the meager defense against Maret's onslaught and died doing so.

Hudson had never tried to repel a Cardassia incursion into the DMZ before but peer pressure and the advent of Eddington's rise had forced Hudson into an act of desperation. And it had cost him and his copilot their lives.

"And who was made Maquis Commander?" Fren wondered.

"Eddington was universally accepted by everyone...except me and I wasn't there to say anything in protest," Ro's mind reeled.

"So where do we go from here?" Tulley asked quietly.

"We try to save the Maquis from themselves," Ro sighed, "Eddington is going down the literal slippery slope and he's dragging all of us with him."

"And Jones?" Mysra wondered.

"First we unload her crew," Ro decided, "And then we find Macen. Liu steered him into Waters' murder and he's been missing every since. We're going to find him and sort all of these ‘supposed' coincidences out."

"I wish you were being paranoid but you're making one helluva point," Tulley complained.

"If I were you, I'd stick with what you know," Ro advised Jones before the other captain was beamed aboard her own ship.

"She isn't going to listen, is she?" Thool wondered.

"Not a chance," Ro sighed.

"We need another ship," Jones demanded of the starship depot caretaker.

He spread all four of his arms wide, "And what do you offer in trade?"

"We have our ship," Jones offered.

"Ah yes, I conducted an external examination of your vessel. Hidden weapons, sensor stealthing materials, I'm assuming you have smuggling compartments?" he inquired.

"All of the above," Jones confirmed it.

"I have a certain clientele that would pay handsomely for such a ship," he admitted.

"Then show me what you have," Jones requested.

"Let's take my tug, shall we?" he requested.

"These two specimens were prepared as yours were earlier but the buyer reneged," the caretaker showed her the NX-class NX-05 Atlantis and the Intrepid-class NT-Saratoga, "Aren't they beauties?"

"What differences between them besides size?" Jones ignorantly wondered.

"The NX-class was the first Terran starship to reach Warp 5," the caretaker shared some history with her, "The Intrepid-class of ship cannot exceed Warp 4. But that is the speed your own freighter is capable of so you should be quite comfortable with it."

"Why are you steering me to the slower ship?" Jones was suspicious.

"The Atlantis was refitted for early model, Mark I, photons. The Saratoga utilizes photonic missiles," the caretaker described, "Now, even the Iotians do not manufacture torpedoes beneath a Mark III. Whereas I had a complete inventory of obsolete photonic missiles. I'll throw them in if you take the Saratoga," the caretaker offered.

Jones pondered it before shaking two of his hands, "You have a deal."

"I might have to take a detour before heading to Ronara Prime," Ro advised the Graffs.

"Is this how you repay my daughter's trust?" Harry was incensed.

"Easy, Dad," Ronnie counseled him.

Ro's communicator chirped and she pulled it off of her belt and flipped open and stepped out into the corridor. Coming back into the bunk room, she wore a rueful grin, "You get your wish, Harry. We're headed to Ronara Prime."

"Why?" Harry was stunned by the turnaround.

"Don't argue, Dad. You're getting what you wanted," Ronnie advised him.

"I'll even take the two of you out for dinner as extra thanks," Ro offered.

Ronnie knew that the cell struggled for money, "We couldn't."

"Ronnie, we'll be in town anyway," Ro insisted, "Let me indulge you both."

Harry grinned for the first time since boarding the Indomitable, "Well, since you're insisting."

Rolothar Village on Dreon was being very quiet despite the violent interrogation that had been underway for the last hour. Bajorans had grown very accustomed to the sound of sentient beings in agony in times past. And the victims weren't Bajoran, so why should they get involved?

The Andorian named Strell had been the one to break, after Macen had nearly broken every one of his bones and dislocated a fair number of joints. The Klingon mercenary named Koroth had proven resistant to T'Kir's telepathy because of the savage nature of his thoughts. She'd essentially lobotomized him as she recoiled from them.

They returned to the Odyssey to deliver new instructions to Frink to pass on to Ro as well as too contract her a ride to rendezvous with him later on.

Ro had left McConnell in charge while she'd be away. He'd protested, "Laren, I'm not a soldier. I'm just a ranger. Sometimes I'm a part-time constable."

"You're a good man, Kevin. And that's what these people need right now especially if I'm gone," Ro encouraged him, "Especially if we don't come back."

"Damn, but you're hard headed sometimes," McConnell complained.

"That's the attraction," Ro grinned naughtily considering what they'd been up to for the last two hours.

"Maybe. Occasionally," McConnell couldn't help but smile.

"Then I'll upgrade my chance to ‘when' I get back," Ro kissed him and headed to join the others meeting Macen's transportation.

Ronnie was disappointed when Ro gave them a pouch filled with slips of latinum and set them on their way. Ro was joined in the Old Biddy by Thool, Hendryks, and Tulley. Frink was relieved to see them.

Frink saw Tulley and blossomed like a flower in the morning sun. He seemed oblivious. Ro wanted to kidney punch him on general principle.

"Your...um...ride...is here," Frink looked to the rear of the tavern.

"Crap. Him again," Tulley griped as he spotted Harcourt Fenton Mudd III. Ro moved off, "Stay here and keep Annabeth company."

Ro approached Mudd, "Here to sell me out again, Harry?"

"Ro, why quibble about such things? You escaped Starfleet's grasp didn't you?" Mudd asked jovially.

"So did you it seems," Ro pointed out as she took a seat.

"Well, I had my wee bairns to think of," Mudd confessed.

"You? Kids? I don't get it," Ro confessed.

"It's the cycle of life, Ro. It happens if you allow it to," Mudd felt philosophical.

"You actually have children?" Ro still didn't believe it, "Where are they and how old are they?"

"Young Harry Jr. is twenty and serving three years on a penal colony in the Taurus Reach," Mudd said proudly, "My youngest is sixteen and Harriet Fedora is currently attending a reformatory academy on Mars."

"No wonder you're proud," Ro deadpanned.

"Well, they did get caught," Mudd allowed, "Next time they'll be smarter."

Ro sighed. It wasn't like being a Maquis didn't involve having an elastic morality. She'd cut Mudd his break.

"I hate to tell you, but the times are a'changin'," Mudd grinned.

"Speak Federation standard, Harry," Ro glared at him.

"Macen wasn't specific about how many people would be coming with me," Mudd admitted, "I only had time to doctor up credentials for you and Tulley. The others stay behind."

"Damn," Ro hated the fact this all felt too rushed, "Where are we headed anyway?"

"Sol system in Sector 001. You're going to Pluto and I'm going to Mars to visit my sweet little girl," Mudd shared.

"Harry, she's going to eat you alive some day," Ro warned him.

"She'd damn well better if she wants to get anywhere in this universe," Mudd chuckled.

 

Chapter Three

One of Pluto's attractions was its ice volcanoes. And there were the rugged mountain ranges capping vast plateaus. The dwarf planet wasn't suited for terraforming but it had fascinating sights and a collection of rare gaseous compounds locked in its layers of ice. As well as an atmosphere, although inhospitable to most humanoids, made for exciting extreme skydiving activities. The population, both permanent and transitory, was kept inside atmosphere domes unless the citizen was wearing an atmosphere suit.

But neither Ro nor Tulley would ever experience these facts. The Odyssey sat at the edge of the Sol system's Kuiper Belt waiting for Mudd's Fame & Fortune. The Mosquito-class runabout was spacious enough to serve as a light freighter. Mudd's long range sensors detected a flurry of Starfleet runabout activity swarming around Pluto.

"Seems Friend Macen has been busy," Mudd chuckled. Ro saw the display and swore.

Darcy greeted Ro and Tulley as she beamed then aboard, "Hiya gang! Sorry you couldn't go sightseeing but we had to make a real quick exit from Pluto. Seems the Captain and T'Kir got up to some trouble. He's waiting in the Mess to bring you up to where we're at on Elijah Waters' murder investigation."

"Who authorized an off the reservation style investigation to begin with?" Ro had to wonder.

"Waters did," Darcy replied, "If you'll follow me?"

Macen was enjoying coffee in the Mess awaiting his guests' arrival. Darcy grabbed a sandwich and headed back to Engineering. Macen nodded at the synthesizer.

"Help yourself. T'Kir will be joining us as soon as we get underway," Macen told them.

Tulley happily did as requested. Mudd's replicator only held the matrix formulas for twelve options. And eight of those were for synthehol beverages.

"Where are we headed?" Ro inquired.

"We're headed to Darius. It's between Pacifica and the Tholian borders," Macen replied.

"Dare I ask why?" Ro looked worried.

"I'll actually let T'Kir handle that topic," Macen deferred, "She found the clue we're now following."

Ro sampled the food selection which she thought was a damn sight better than the Rio Grande's had been. But then again, the Odyssey and been built over fifty years later so parts and programming had improved over time. The doors swooshed open and T'Kir bounded in and gripped Ro in a tight hug.

"I didn't know we were on a hugging basis," Ro grunted.

"Sure we are," T'Kir happily assured her, "Y'just never let y'rself realize it 'till now."

Ro sighed and thought of the billions of annoying reasons she avoided T'Kir. T'Kir sulked, "Now y'r just gettin' insulting."

Ro always assumed that T'Kir's rampantly out of control telepathy was actually an uncanny ability to "read" people's expressions and body language. She looked plaintively towards Macen, "Can we get to it?"

"Hold on," T'Kir huffed, "Y'r all fillin' y'r faces. It's my turn."

Macen sat a very modern and standard Starfleet-issue portable computer case on the table they sat at. The Mess hall was designed to accommodate up to seven crewmen at once so there were two tables. The group gathered around just one of them.

T'Kir tied a padd into the computer and began rifling through the files stored there, "Sorry 'bout the interruption but whoever killed Elijah didn't search the walls t'find this baby. It provided a backup to the other three backups that were easier t'find. It was an awesome system by the way. Anyhoo, I got visual files on these two."

Two men in dark clothing appeared for three seconds, "Now the interestin' part is this was the only scrap of data to survive so it's like someone wanted it found."

"So who are they?" Ro asked as T'Kir froze the fragment so that the men were clearly displayed, "And why would someone erase everything but them?"

"We were intended to find the scrap so that we would assume these were Elijah's killers," Macen explained.

"You don't think they are?" Tulley asked.

"I think it's within the realm of possibility," Macen replied, "But I think the so-called ‘answer' came too easily."

"So who are these two?" Ro repeated.

"According to Federation citizen rolls and census data, they don't exist," Macen smirked, "But I've dealt with them before. They're called Sloan and Browder and they represent some kind of security agency."

Ro knew, as well as Tulley, T'Kir, and Danan, that Macen was a former Commander in Starfleet Intelligence. What only she and Danan knew was that Macen had served as the head of Starfleet's Cardassian desk for twenty years before cross training with the Operations end of things and becoming a dual functioning field operative. He'd been hand trained by the Illustrious Elias Vaughn and they'd frequently been partnered together throughout the Border Wars.

The Director of Starfleet Intelligence, Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev, had sent Macen to join the Maquis in order to steer the Ro's cell towards Nechayev's own directives for the Maquis. Nechayev had wanted everything done in secret but Macen had confided certain facts with Ro and others. Ro had in turn entrusted Tulley with the secret. No one else had been enlightened but even so, enough knew after Macen invoked the Avalon Protocol to liberate Ro from Starfleet custody that Nechayev had officially and unofficially cut Macen and Danan's mission off. Yet they'd remained loyal to Ro's cell.

Macen's crew didn't have any concrete reason to defer to Ro's leadership. But Macen and Danan led by example so they followed it. So Ro's authority superseded his own on his own command.

"You know them?" Ro got back to business.

"I've encountered them," Macen clarified, "They killed a friend to satisfy their own agenda. Just like Elijah."

Macen was taking Waters' death harder than Ro had anticipated. And the revelation of these two men's involvement just seemed to push him further towards the edge where personal revenge overrode objective reasoning. It was a failing common amongst the Maquis.

Not that Ro could blame most of them. They'd endured horrendous losses over their lifetimes. But Eddington was a different animal. He was after personal glory and not revenge because he hadn't endured any personal losses.

"Brin, how exactly do you know these men are agents for a security agency?" Ro asked carefully, "Particularly a Federation agency?"

"A direct encounter on Dorvan V during the border conflicts," Macen said coldly, "They purported to be Starfleet officers but instead of bolstering the colony's defenses, they disabled them in order to utilize an experimental weapon that could dissolve living tissues. When the colonists objected, Sloan killed the tribal chieftain and deployed the weapon. It was highly selective and Terrans were exempted from its effects. The Cardassians all died horrible deaths. The Central Command blacklisted the colony until its cessation to the Cardassians because of that event."

"That's pretty damn direct," Tulley blurted.

Ro shot him a scathing glare, "Are you certain there's no record of either of them?"

"Nada," T'Kir answered, "They've been ghosted and I thought that was just a theory 'till now."

"Ghosted?" Ro asked.

"Erased from livin' memory," T'Kir explained, "Total erasure of any and all records pertainin' to the subjects chosen for the process."

"Starfleet Intelligence?" Ro asked Macen.

"Even Starfleet doesn't have the capability to eradicate domestic records to this degree. Only their own," Macen informed her.

"Then who?" Tulley wanted to know.

"You recall my mentioning my friend Elias Vaughn?" Macen asked.

"Only a hundred times already," T'Kir grumbled.

"He joined Starfleet in 2293, the year I arrived here in the Alpha Quadrant. I didn't enlist for another ten years. Vaughn has a theory about a shadow agency that operates behind the scenes. Behind every scene. Over the last seventy years, Elias and I have met their work firsthand on several occasions. This cabal believes the rules don't apply to them. Only the ends justify and the means are unimportant," Macen elaborated.

"And you think Browder and Sloan are part of this," Ro surmised.

"The facts fit the theory," Macen admitted, "But they've never been sloppy enough to leave a trail before. So that makes me doubt it's really them."

"Look, Eddington has made significant inroads over the last seventy-two hours. He's been named Maquis Commander," Ro warned them.

"Care to explain?" Macen listened to her recount the events of the last three days, "This could actually be part of the pattern we're seeing emerge."

"What?" Ro didn't want to see it.

"Nechayev wanted Lees and I in place to guide you," Macen reminded her, "What if Sloan is steering Eddington?"

"Laren, Starfleet changed every account pass code when Eddington defected. How would he gain access to those altered accounts unless someone shared the pertinent information to grant him access?" Macen asked, "Starfleet didn't do it. I never received direct funding to share with you, or any, Maquis cell."

"I knew it was a steaming pile of shuk but you still want to believe, you know?" Ro said defensively.

"But every obstacle Eddington faced in consolidating his command over the Maquis evaporated within the last three days," Macen shared, "Including Elijah. You're the last piece of the puzzle. You and your cell on Ronara Prime."

"Oh hell!" Ro was on her feet, "I need a comm channel!"

"Use the briefing room," Macen called out as Ro headed for the turbolift to catch a ride to the bridge.

"We'll catch up after we've given her a minute to get through to friendlies on Ronara," Macen suggested.

Danan was rising out of the center seat when Macen entered the bridge with T'Kir heading for OPS and Tulley miserably staring at the rear door that led to the briefing room, "Brin! What the hell has Laren spooked?"

The entire bridge crew felt as well. They'd never see Ro unnerved...until now.

"You'll want in on this too, Lees," Macen told Danan, "I'll fill you in while Ro's communicating with whoever she can back on Ronara."

Danan didn't like the sound of that, "Aric?"

"Things are bad, Lisea," Tulley admitted.

"Chris, you have the bridge. Don't let Tracy suck us into a singularity," Macen teased.

Ebert playfully huffed, "As if I ever would."

"Dammit!" Ro snarled as the trio entered into the briefing room, "They're gone."

"Who?" Tulley's anxiety level was as high as when he watched his family gets killed.

"Our entire cell at the ranger station. The Cardassian appointed constables came in with Starfleet Security and arrested everyone wholesale," Ro was as dismayed as anyone had ever seen her, "They even captured our ships."

"What about Thool and Elfi?" Tulley wanted to know, "We left them in town."

"According to Annabeth the streets have been swept looking for any potential Maquis," Ro hated to answer, "She doesn't have definite word yet but it doesn't look good."

"And the Graffs?" Tulley hesitated before asking.

"Lifted off before the crackdown began," Ro assured him, "Ronnie and Harry are safe."

"And...Frink?" Tulley almost didn't ask.

"Annabeth is fine," Ro was happy he was finally marginally concerned over Frink, "She's being observed and none too expertly."

"Who talked?" Macen asked.

"I don't know," Ro confessed, "But you're right. Only Maquis knew we were working with the park service to use ranger stations as bases."

"What's been happening?" Danan finally couldn't help but ask.

Ro briefed her and the Trill was as shaken as Ro felt. Ro dismally looked at Macen, "So where are we headed again?"

Macen brought T'Kir and told her to explain the rest of her lead. T'Kir saw how somber everyone was and decided to find out why in a minute, "We're goin' to Darius. There are maybe four people with the skill to ghost clients. One works for the Orion Syndicate. Another works with the Ferengi. A third freelances for Federation types."

"And the fourth?" Danan asked.

"That'd be me," T'Kir wasn't proud. It was just a statement of fact.

"So why Darius?" Ro was still trying to get a grip on this.

"The freelancer, named Crispus, lives there. He's mainly hired t'work on a project dubbed ‘Memory Omega'. It's some kinda secret archive of things that aren't supposed to exist," T'Kir described it, "On the side, Crispus contracts to security system consultants and builds highly specialized systems. Like the one Elijah had. Everythin' 'bout earmarked itself as being Crispus' work."

"This is giving me a headache," Tulley complained.

"It gets worse; the contractors in charge of Memory Omega are pretty clandestine. It took me hours to breach even the smallest scrap of their security. All I got back was Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter," T'Kir revealed.

"Which established Starfleet's security organs. Security and Intelligence get their mandates from Section 31. And now it seems our mystery players may as well," Macen dissected the information at hand.

"What do we know about Darius?" Ro felt like the deck plating was turning to gelatin beneath her.

"Darius is settled primarily by Terrans," Danan answered from the library screen, "It's a pretty typical Class-M world with four main continents. Each continent settled by reenactments of one of the classical Earth empires. Rome, Greece, Babylon, and the Medo-Persians are all recreated with a 24th century flair."

Danan accessed the library computer and had it display on the three table terminals and the wall display, "Darius was a Medo-Persian emperor. As you can see, there are dozens of island archipelagos surrounding the four continents and the four ‘empires' playfully engage in mock wars to capture the islands and harvest their resources. But in the end its all for fun and everyone jointly benefits from the resources harvested."

"Why this obsession with Earth history?" Ro asked.

"Why do Bajorans obsess about B'hala?" Danan asked.

"Ouch," Ro winced.

"Platonian survivors from Setlik III also resettled on the Grecian continent," Macen pointed out.

"Great. Aliens that want to be human," Ro groused, "Why doesn't anyone ever want to be Bajoran?"

"There are those," Macen reminded her and she recalled the Cardassian orphans left on Bajor as well as the rare hybrid child.

"At least the orphans aren't viewed as incubating monsters out to devour society anymore," Ro sighed.

"We can solve universal injustice later," Danan interjected.

"I can't believe you people put up with her," Ro teased Danan.

"It isn't all bad," Macen cheerfully admitted.

"Until you let a Vulcan screw things up," Danan wasn't as merciful.

"What happened to staying on topic?" Macen wondered.

Danan loudly cleared her throat, "Other than its societal affectations, Darius is a prototypical Federation colony."

"And they chose the four empires with the greatest cultural impact. The British Empire was a greater economic force than agent of cultural emphasis," Macen described it.

"You've been reading history again," Danan smirked.

"It comes in handy," Macen admitted.

Danan's previous host had been a Starfleet Intelligence operative that Macen had known in her later years. When Nechayev assigned Macen to infiltrating the Maquis, he'd met Lisea and was impressed by her. After a brief whirlwind romance, she'd been reassigned to an observatory at the edge of Federation space. He'd come to her first to recruit her to assist him with his new mission.

To that day, Danan had no idea of how Macen had found and selected the eventual Odyssey crew. T'Kir had come their way after Ro had dismissed her from her cell. The Vulcan was a Sybokian who believed that emotion was the path to self realization. Nearly the entire colony of Shial had been filled with such acolytes.

But their extermination at the hands had deranged T'Kir while she studied abroad. Now she was as much benefit as perennial pain to the crew. And her constant sexual overtures towards Macen had driven a lethal wedge between Danan and Macen. Of course, his tendency to deflect rather than quash T'Kir's attempts angered Danan.

Since their breakup, Danan had enjoyed some memorable flings. Macen had not. Whether it was some form of loyalty to her or a perverse pining for T'Kir, Danan couldn't say. And she wasn't certain she even wanted to know the truth of the matter.

"We have three days before we reach Darius," Macen announced, "Laren, the ship's communications array is yours. Find your people."

Two days later Ro discovered what had become of Thool and Hendryks. Nikki Miller had been playing a nightclub across town. Stephanie Gerin, Ronara Prime's former Lt. Governor and Miller's stage manager as well as foster mother, recognized events as they unfolded. Conspiring with Vicki Azerenka, Gerin's former Chief of Staff and now Miller's booking agent, quickly doctored up employment documents for Thool and Hendryks.

But Miller had a concert on nearby Salva to perform so Thool and Hendryks played their parts as stage hands and escorted the group off planet. Before they departed, Azerenka reported the development to Frink. And Frink dutifully updated Ro.

Frink also informed Ro that McConnell had begun transferring the cell to a new base. The Indomitable was still available for Ro's future use. The sole ranger that had escaped custody and reported in to Frink with all of the necessary coordinates. Then the ranger left Ronara Prime.

"So what good does it do to even go to Darius?" Tulley asked. Ro had everyone studying architectural plans, street layouts, city planning layouts, power and utility providers and grids.

"'Cause I set up a trap when I visited this Section 31 archive. I basically implied Crispus was sellin' 'em out to us," T'Kir revealed.

"Damn. I'm actually impressed," Danan hated to admit it, "But I'll deny it for forever from this joint on."

"Thanks, Lees," T'Kir grinned ear to ear.

"Please don't mention it. Ever. Again," Danan groaned.

"We'll have to assume they'll already be in position when we arrive," Macen warned everyone, "They're very secretive and seem to plan for almost every contingency."

"Well, we're sneaky bastards too and way more unpredictable than the average," Ro promised him.

Crispus lived in the corner unit of a three story apartment block. At the adjacent corner sat a manufacturing plant. But the plant shut down at 2200 hours local time inside a twenty-eight hour day. Tulley was inside the plant and had removed a window pane in order to peer into Crispus' apartment with a spotting scope.

Ro, Macen, Danan, and T'Kir were atop the apartment building itself. Each monitored the entrances from four directions of the cube shape with sensors attached to the roof ledge. T'Kir was already fidgety.

"I didn't tell 'em we'd be here 'till tomorrow," she protested.

"We're early. They will be too," Danan promised her.

As T'Kir fell into a sullen silence, her mood cheered Ro and Danan up. Ro's open communicator whistled before it auto-answered, "Skipper someone just exited the building headed my way."

"I have him, Aric. But I don't have a visual lock on his face," Ro warned him.

"My tricorder is chewing on the scope image. Waitasec! It's Browder!" Tulley was elated.

"They're on to his position. He needs to evacuate," Macen advised Ro.

"Tulley! Get out of there! Now!" Ro desperately refrained from shouting.

"C'mon, it's one guy," Tulley argued before shutting down his communicator.

"T'Kir, go keep him alive," Macen ordered her.

"Whatever happened t'please?" she whined.

"Now," Macen insisted.

"'Kay, 'kay, I'm goin' already," T'Kir pouted.

"I'll go with her," Danan volunteered, "And no, I don't actually believe I volunteered too, either."

"Both of you, come back in one piece," Macen implored.

"You realize one of them has a bag of cats in her head and the other has a major chip on her shoulder over the crazy one?" Ro wondered.

"Bag of cats?" Macen had never heard the expression even though the meaning was clear.

"I heard it from a boyfriend in the Academy," Ro sniffed.

"Alfonso Reyes?" Macen inquired.

"How did you...?" Ro was baffled.

"It certainly wasn't Kevin McConnell or Will Riker," Macen said mirthfully.

"Riker was an...accident we both ignored afterwards," Which Macen knew was a lie since Ro had some very fond memories of that encounter, but she got to the point, "Kevin is just so much human wreckage in the path of my life."

"I'm sure he doesn't think so," Macen promised her, "In fact, I know he doesn't."

"This is a Listener thing, isn't it?" Ro groaned, "Guinan pulled that crap too."

"McConnell will be questioned and held and very lightly sentenced since he really didn't participate in any ‘terrorist' activities. The most they'll have on him is aiding and abetting," Macen shared.

"If you ever manage to serve aboard a Starfleet ship again, don't volunteer to be the ship's counselor," Ro drolly replied.

A beeping sound announced their alarm mounted in the stairwell had been triggered. Ro and Macen abandoned their equipment and sought cover at different locations. Sloan cautiously emerged from the stair house. Seeing the lift well house was the most obvious place for the people who'd been manning the sensors to run to, he used a portable holographic projector to produce an image of himself that preceded him.

Ro stunned him before he had time to react to her presence. Ro snatched up her communicator, "Tulley, can you hear me?"

Browder made record time reaching Tulley. He lightly stunned the Maquis before Tulley spotted him. Then he slammed the bigger man face down in the concrete flooring to bind his wrists behind him with a cable tie.

"Who are you working for?" Browder demanded with a southern drawl before he recalled that Tulley could only speak incoherent gibberish until the stun blast wore off.

The lift arrived and the doors swooshed open and Browder discharged half his phaser's battery pack into the cab. But no one was there. A phaser set at stun hit his hand and he dropped his own phaser as his hand went numb.

"Nice shot," he admired Danan's performance...and the rest of her assets.

"Don't move," she ordered.

"Or?" he dropped to one knee and pulled the Type I "Cricket" phaser from his ankle holster and stunned the Trill. He made a swath towards T'Kir's but she ran up on the window and kicked off in a spin to shoot him while she was in midair.

His ablative vest burned away layers as it absorbed the particle beam. T'Kir shoved the heel of her hand into his nose and when he finished reeling from that, she dropped him with a backspin kick. Browder would argue otherwise later on, but she'd actually pulled her blows in order to leave him alive.

Darcy and Eckles gathered up the abandoned equipment while Lacey treated the stunned and wounded Maquis aboard the Odyssey. Ebert manned the bridge while Ro and Macen muscled Sloan and Browder into the two detention cells in the ship's brig. T'Kir terrorized Crispus and pilfered his files in the duration.

Sloan and Browder were stripped down to their undershorts and thoroughly patted down and scanned before being restrained again and dragged into the cells and the force fields activated. Ro and Macen went to Sickbay too check on Danan and Tulley.

Lacey excused herself from medic duty and beamed the engineers and T'Kir back aboard. T'Kir showed up in Sickbay and found both Tulley and Danan were awake now.

"Sorry Skipper, I let you down," Tulley said miserably.

"You just should have listened to me," Ro cautioned him, "I know the type of training these men had."

"But you make it look so easy," Tulley confessed.

"So you thought you could too," Ro chided him, "That's the type of mistake that becomes your last."

"Okay, I get it," Tulley looked totally browbeaten despite her easy tone.

"Let's go check on our ‘guests'," Ro suggested.

"I'm looking forward to that," Tulley admitted.

"How're y'doin', Lees?" T'Kir happily asked Danan.

"I've been better," Danan confessed.

"Can you give is us a minute?" Macen asked T'Kir.

"Um...sure?" T'Kir unhappily stepped out of the exam room.

"I'm sorry, I should've..." Danan began to apologize.

"I'm just glad you're okay," Macen interrupted her, "But you probably owe your and the Danan symbiont's life to T'Kir. She stabilized your neural pathways until Chris could work on you."

"Pools!" Danan swore, "And the little tramp will never let me forget it."

"Hey! I heard that!" T'Kir called from the next room.

"I always forget about her damn Vulcan ears," Danan complained.

"Romulans are worse," Macen tried to console her, "I don't care who has to save your life, just concentrate on staying alive."

Danan was surprised by the tenderness. So she finally asked a question that had bugged her since they ran away to join the Maquis together, "So, do you like me better as a blonde?"

"I just care about you," Macen said with conviction, "The rest is all good."

Macen exited the examination room with Danan processing those revelations and she heard him say, "C'mon, Snickerdoodle! We have prisoners to interrogate."

"Oh goodie!" T'Kir happily bound after him.

"Morning, gentlemen," Ro told Sloan and Browder. It was dawn at the local they'd been captured from. Both men had expectedly slipped free of their restraints. Ro knew field agents were often trained to dislocate a thumb to slip free of shackles.

What neither Section 31 operative had known until after they'd awoken was that Eckles and Darcy had run rampant with modifications to the cells. The electrostatic force fields intensified upon two or more seconds of contact. With building waves of intensification until they could fry carbon-based flesh.

Contact with the walls or attempted contact with the ceiling initiated a sonic disruptor blast brought to the fore from Eminear VII. Prolonged thermal registry with the deck plates of any heat source greater than two feet would also trigger the sonic blaster. So if a prisoner was stunned by the sonics then they had to scramble either to their feet, their cot, or the toilet in short order to avoid a second dose.

Suffice to say, Sloan and Browder each looked like hell. Sloan grudgingly allowed Ro some respect, "Congratulations Lt. Ro, you've admirably lived up to your reputation. Both the best and worst parts of it."

"Now why do I think that's a backhanded compliment?" Ro asked rhetorically.

"Because you're notorious for making life wrecking decisions," Sloan told her.

"I've been told Frank Sinatra did it ‘his way' and yet came to a celebrated ending," Ro commented, "So I'll wait for my ending."

"And what about you, Commander Macen?" Sloan inquired, "This is your ship, isn't it?"

Macen sat at the observer's desk with T'Kir atop the desk. Ro stood before Sloan, who Macen had tipped off as the senior man in the partnership, with Tulley protectively flanking her.

"I'm just wondering why Section 31, that is what you call yourselves isn't it, I'm wondering why you'd have Elijah Waters killed," Macen replied evenly, "It makes no long term sense for a Federation agency."

"We didn't. Elijah was a friend and a frequent working partner," Sloan told him, "We entered Waters' flat but he'd been dead for several hours by then."

"But do you know who killed him?" Ro asked sharply.

"I know who brokered the actual assassination," Sloan replied, "I can guess who ordered it and so can you. Who stands to gain from Waters' death?"

"He's telling the truth," Macen sighed.

"What?" Ro yelped, "How can you be certain?"

"I'm a Listener, remember? I listened and he told the complete truth. Or at least what he's convinced is true," Macen told her.

"Then why did Crispus earmark the data fragment with their imagery and set us on a trail after him?" Tulley asked.

"Citizen Crispus has been selling information regarding my agency and my superiors. In addition to his knowledge of our archival storage facility," Sloan explained, "My associate and I were on our way to have a discussion with Crispus when word of Elijah's murder came available. We were in the vicinity so we checked it out. Apparently, Crispus utilized the opportunity afforded him to set us up as the killers on the off chance someone could intercept us. Which you successfully did."

"So who brokered the deal?" Ro wanted to know.

"Please, allow us to clothe ourselves and prepare to return to the surface before Crispus manages to flee Darius and I'll tell you what I know," Sloan offered.

"Why do I think I won't like this?" Ro wondered.

"What part of it have you enjoyed so far?" Sloan asked with dark humor.

The Odyssey was underway for Starbase 310. Macen and Ro shared the relief watch. Everyone else, even Tulley, was off duty. Sloan had led them to a Lt. Commander Sylvia Korbel, the starbase's chief of security.

"There's no direct link between Korbel and anyone in the Maquis," Macen said as he studied the files he'd accessed from the library, "Just like Sloan said."

Ro knew "the Maquis" referred solely to Eddington. Ro still didn't want to believe it and Macen was simply humoring her, "He had a private word with you. Care to share what it was about?"

"The future and its diminishing returns," Macen stated.

"I thought Nechayev had you covered," Ro knew Macen had said the admiral had cut support as well as unofficial ties but would she abandon an agent in the field?

"Alynna won't risk anything else to assist me now that the Avalon Protocol was used," Macen wearily reminded her again, "Other than that she just turns a blind eye when I tap her databases."

"You wouldn't have even been helping Katreen Dervin if I hadn't persuaded you to give me a ride," Ro sighed.

"And Katreen would be dead now if I hadn't," Macen reminded her, "So; it worked the way it was supposed to work."

"You and your Fates," Ro snorted, "You're like Bajorans that worship the wormhole aliens as gods."

"El-Aurians know Deity exists just as we know that the Q Continuum, the Organians, the Metrons, the Prophets, the One at the center of the galaxy, and dozens of others don't qualify," Macen tried to explain, "My people are attuned to the time-space continuum throughout the multiverse so you might want to lend me an ear and a little credence when I tell you God exists.

He could see her doubt, "Deity saw the creation of our multiverse and will see its death. Isn't the Infinite worth believing in?"

Ro had no answer.

Starbase 310 sat at the apex of the horseshoe shaped curve of the DMZ. It took the Odyssey twenty-one hours at Warp 6 to reach it from Darius. Eckles was beginning to complain that he wanted unfettered and uninterrupted maintenance time with the scoutship. But Macen had to put him off for just a little longer.

Ro took Macen, T'Kir, and Danan aboard the starbase while everyone else prepped for a quick evacuation. Danan and T'Kir peeled off to head their own directions. T'Kir set up in the public comp/comm booths and quickly hacked the Starfleet station's network.

A dozen freighter captains watched in horror as the entire Starfleet Security watch descended on their ships for cargo and safety inspections. Then the engineering teams arrived as well. T'Kir delighted in the chaos she'd created as well as the fact she'd emptied the station of security and operations personnel.

It took Ro thirty seconds to subdue Korbel. An emergency transponder beacon allowed Darcy to lock onto Korbel with a transporter and beam her off the station. T'Kir had blacked out the Security Office so no alarms were raised and no records taken of Korbel's disappearance or of her abductors.

The four Maquis reunited at the airlock and boarded the Odyssey, which received a priority transit out of the system. Ebert asked the obvious, "Why didn't they raise an alarm and tractor beam us?"

"'Cause I disabled the tractor beam," T'Kir giddily answered, "And they probably haven't figured out yet their Chief of Security is missing."

"And I was also busy disabling the long range sensors," Danan explained, "By the time they get them back up, we'll be long gone and out of range."

"Pretty damn sneaky, Lees," Lacey admitted.

"Thank you very much," Danan happily replied.

"Isn't anyone going to mention what I did?" T'Kir wondered.

"No," Danan and Lacey said in stereo.

"So are we going to be kidnapping anyone else?" Ebert asked.

"I have no idea," Danan glumly answered, "But taking Starfleet personnel prisoner will attract attention we don't want."

"That sounds like the last seven days in toto," Lacey sighed.

Danan could hardly blame her.

 

Chapter Four

Korbel miserably awoke with a splitting headache and an aching jaw from the mild concussion Ro's right cross had inflicted. She blearily looked around and recognized the near universal design of a starship brig. And the hum of the electrostatic force field confirmed she was detained by someone...or several someones.

She swung her feet out and rose to a seated position. Looking out she saw two men, both in civilian attire. The one seated at the observer's desk was dark haired but she had the impression it had once been lighter and probably red. The other, larger man was nearly bald and wore what remaining hair he had nearly shaved to his scalp.

"Is she finally awake?" Korbel heard a distinctly feminine voice inquire.

A raven haired Bajoran woman presented herself to Korbel, "Hello again."

"You!" Korbel snarled, "You're Lt. Ro Laren. You're wanted on charges of being AWOL and desertion."

"You mean Starfleet can't decide which to charge me with?" Ro sounded disappointed.

"Hey! She's awake!" T'Kir bounded into the area.

Korbel gaped in terror at seeing a presumptive Vulcan displaying so much emotion. She finally came to a distinct realization, "You're all Maquis."

"Bingo!" T'Kir made a shooting motion with her thumb and forefinger.

"But this is a Starfleet ship," Korbel was even more horrified by that thought.

"Y'can be taught," T'Kir applauded her.

"If you surrender now, I'll insure you won't be charged with kidnapping and unlawful detainment," Korbel offered.

"Sure, why not?" Ro shrugged.

"You aren't being serious, are you?" Korbel asked dismally.

"Neither were you," Ro replied.

Fear clenched Korbel's innards as Macen said, "We're Elijah Waters' ghost here to seek retribution."

T'Kir burst out laughing, "Jeez, she almost had a frinxin' heart attack over hearing Elijah's name."

"She had more than that," Macen told her, "She just had a crisis of conscience."

"I don't know what any of you are talking about," Korbel bluffed.

"You don't lie very well," Macen warned her.

"Let's begin by stating that the people Crispus set up to take the fall for the murder aren't very happy," Ro stated, "I think you're better off with us."

"I can give you the assassins," Korbel pledged.

"No, you'll give us the name of who ordered the hit," Ro countered.

"I'll never survive giving you that information," Korbel advised Ro.

"Remember, it's not the dying but the manner of the death that can make all the difference," Ro did her own warning.

Red alert klaxons began to sound. Macen and T'Kir bolted for the turbolift to take them to the bridge. Korbel moaned in terror.

"Oh God, I warned you," she lamented.

"I suggest you cleanse your pagh before something unfortunate happens," Ro suggested.

"Shields!" Danan ordered as a Klingon D-5 decloaked and began arming its weapons.

"People still use these things?" Lacey was astonished.

"Arm phasers and photons," Danan instructed Lacey, "Tracy, get us a clear vector out of here.

"How'd they know we'd come to Free Haven?" Ebert asked.

"They probably didn't," Danan corrected her, "They just put ships at every port we regularly call upon."

"Damn, we're predictable now," Ebert grumbled.

Macen and T'Kir burst out of the lift. Danan excused herself to the Science Station. Macen asked for a visual on the enemy combatant.

"A D-5? Seriously? I haven't one of those in decades," Macen commented.

"Captain, that class was outdated before you ever reached the Alpha Quadrant," Ebert chided him.

"Was it now?" Macen mused, "I must be mistaken then. But all these dates always seem the same."

"We're faster so we'll lose them," Ebert promised, "Do I have a heading or am I just winging it?"

"I think we should visit Sector 004 and a certain Starfleet starship graveyard," Macen remarked, "Our opponent seems to know our habits. So let's be a tad unpredictable and see what else he has happened there."

Macen turned to Danan, "You have the bridge. Warn Laren that I need to talk with her."

They met in the Mess Hall. Macen asked for an update, "Will she talk?"

"Whoever is after us is scarier than we are," Ro griped.

"We know who is behind all of this," Macen asserted, "Who else stood to gain from every single event and movement that's occurred. All that's left is eliminating you."

"What about you?" Ro asked archly.

"Eddington probably thinks he can earn or buy my loyalty," Macen told her, "Let's prove him wrong."

It took two days to reach the graveyard. The caretaker contacted them and inquired as to their purpose for being in the area. Ro addressed him.

"You remember me, correct?" she asked, "The freighter crew I dropped off here, where did they go?"

"They already returned here to await your arrival," the caretaker leered at her.

The Odyssey shook as a photonic missile detonated on their shields. T'Kir terminated the transmission as Ro demanded to know, "What the hell was that?"

"A...missile," Lacey couldn't quite wrap her mind around it.

"We're facing a refit Asia-class ID'd as the USS Africa and an Intrepid-class ID'ing as the NT-Saratoga," Ebert clarified, "They really can't be serious can they?"

Ro stared at Haken's ship and the elderly Earth Starfleet vessel that was giving Macen flashback's to yesteryear, "They couldn't possibly be that stupid."

"I take you know everyone involved?" Macen inquired.

"Unfortunately," Ro muttered.

"Ready to finally believe?" he asked.

"I don't have a choice, do I?" Ro said miserably.

"Tracy, full impulse. Angle us so we pass between the two starships. If the museum piece even qualifies," Macen ordered.

"I've always wanted to do this," Ebert happily declared.

Everyone aboard the bridge was white knuckled except for Ebert and T'Kir. T'Kir yipped, "Do it again!"

"Pick a direction at the end of this row and cut port or starboard. They'll have to split up to search for us," Macen instructed, "Then we divide and conquer."

"You're learning," Ro said happily.

"I've kind of looked to you as my mentor," Macen admitted.

"Tell me another one," Ro snorted.

"Fine, choose not to believe me," Macen sighed.

"We've cut starboard," Ebert announced, "Now what?"

"Pick a random row and go down it back towards the enemy," Macen told her.

"This is so cool," Ebert said with delight.

"Keep a weather eye, Lees," Ro had grasped the nature of Macen's ambush.

"You'd better believe I will," Danan retorted.

Minutes ticked by as Ebert used the RCS thrusters to push the ship down the row. Danan got excited, "I've got a return inside of my active sensors. Some ship is banging away with their main sensor dish and it's showing on my screen."

"Punch it, Tracy!" Ro ordered.

The Africa moved into position, blocking the row. But she was turned broadside and therefore could still engage with phasers but not with either her fore or aft torpedo launchers. Ro ordered Lacey to open fire with both photons and phasers. Battering away at the engineering hull, the crippled the centenarian Africa.

"Cut starboard," Ro ordered as Ebert sailed the Odyssey over the stricken Asia-class pirate ship. She could have predicted Jones would be rushing forward, outmatched and out experienced. But still, the bravery of fools abounded.

"Lacey, cripple that ship," Ro requested.

"She's running with shields down," Lacey was astonished.

"She doesn't have shields," Macen groaned.

They believed him seconds later. Ro gave final instructions to Lacey, "Leave an emergency beacon marker buoy. I want Starfleet to find them. And have Thool beam Korbel over to the caretaker's office."

"Where to now?" Ebert wondered when everything had been done.

"Back to Ronara Prime," Ro felt it was time to pick up whatever pieces she could.

Ro and Tulley stopped in at the Old Biddy to find Frink had wonderful news for them both, "Nikki Miller's act is on planet again. Thool and Elfi are still working with them. I can contact Steph Gerin and have her send them here."

"Thank God," Tulley breathed, "At least it isn't just you and I."

"Any other news, Annabeth?" Ro inquired.

Frink gave her the location of the Indomitable and a key cipher to unlock the ranger station it was hidden at. The station didn't exist on the planetary rolls. And McConnell had stocked it up for it to serve as a hidden base.

Gerin, Azerenka, and Miller came with their soon to be ex-employees. Gerin pulled Ro aside, "We need to talk. Privately."

At the same booth Mudd had used earlier, Gerin began to tell Ro a story, "Nikki played a gig on Galador recently. It was at a nightclub that's also a front for the Orion Syndicate. Your man Eddington was there meeting with a smuggler."

"He's a fan of pirates as well," Ro said snarkily.

"This smuggler specializes in Tzenkethi biomemetic gels. The type that can be made into biogenic weapons," Gerin told her all at once.

Now she had Ro's rapt attention.

 

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