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Twilight - Part II by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter Seven

"...so in other words, life is normal around here." Grace finished her explanation to the viewscreen. She was recording a message for Ian Delaney, the Tactical Officer of the USS Intrepid. The two had met before the constitutional and succession crises that had so recently gripped the Federation. Delaney had been assigned to a mission to support the SID team during one of their investigations. Grace and Delaney had concluded the mission by going on vacation together.

Since then, the two had kept in constant contact. Given the delicate nature of both of their assignments, they couldn't often describe their missions in anything other than the broadest terms possible but is was enough to stay in touch. It was nice to have a friend removed from the situations they found themselves in and yet still understood the nature of the conflicts that they dealt with. Given Delaney's position as the chief tactical officer and head of security aboard the flagship of Starfleet's resident diplomatic troubleshooter, he often found himself in as precarious a position as Grace was usually in.

"I hope this finds you well." Grace wrapped up her message, "I miss you. Are we still on for hiking Vulcan's Forge this winter? Let me know. Hey, just comm and let me know how you're doing regardless of our hiking prospects. Take care. Goodbye."

Grace deactivated the recorder and transmitted the message. She leaned back in her chair and ran her hair through her hair. It was loose and flowed down around her shoulders. Her lips puckered as she wondered what to do with the remainder of her free hours before returning to duty and guiding the ship throughout the insertion into Roman space.

Grace had mixed feelings about returning to Magna Roma. Their first visit here, they'd come to rescue Lisea Danan and a band of scientists that had been captured and enslaved by the Romans. The landing party had been captured, all except T'Kir, and taken to the gladiatorial arena and forced to fight for their lives. While Macen, Daggit and Dracas struggled to stay alive, Riker took the Eclipse and charted a course for Iotia. Recruiting the Iotian Starfleet, Riker returned to 492 IV and engaged the Roman fleet in an effort to free the captured SID team.

Meanwhile, T'Kir had offered her services to the Roman general, Livia, who was plotting to topple the Roman Emperor. Allying themselves with the religious movement called the Crusaders, Livia and T'Kir coordinated the rescue of Macen and the others to coincide with the military movements against the empire. Their final move against the Emperor was complicated by the fact that the Emperor was a puppet for the Omicron.

The Omicron abandoned Magna Roma when the emperor was toppled. Popular opinion swayed against Livia and she was forced into exile while her brother assumed the mantle of Emperor. Alaric stepped down from his post as General of the Star Legions and humbly took the reins of the most powerful political and military power on the planet. Alaric Germanicus began his reign with a gesture of reconciliation towards Upper Germania. Alaric was a native of Roman Germania and he swiftly steered the two German states towards reunification under a Roman banner.

At least, Grace mused, that's how far he'd gotten when we returned to tell him of his sister's death. Alaric was deeply moved that Macen had returned in person to inform him of his sister's valiant death facing the Omicron. So much in fact that he publicly declared Macen and the team to be permanent "Friends of the Empire". It was Alaric's subsequent invitation to return to Magna Roma at "any time" that was fuelling Macen's decision to go there.

Magna Roma had endured three years of repressive reparation payments to the Iotians. Grace assumed that Macen had seen this indignity as an exploitable motive to spur the Romans into taking action against the Iotians. The Romans had achieved a technology base equivalent to mid-22nd century Earth's. This had been largely due to their reverse engineering hundreds of components from the crashed UFP scoutship, Beagle.

The Omicron had also infused the Romans with technology transfers. For all their dependence on biotech, the Omicron displayed a staggering mastery of inorganic technology. Macen had theorised that the Omicron were a technologically advanced, starfaring people when they encountered the ultramatter that was to grant them such a vast array of biotech. They used their inorganic tech to control the ultramatter and develop the biological devices.

Macen said the Federation's advances in genetic manipulation and biochemistry as their inorganic technology grew more advanced was a good comparison to the Omicrons' history. Without the ultramatter, the Federation couldn't duplicate the Omicrons' efforts but they could do their best to mimic them through more conventional means. It would take time but it was conceivable.

Grace released a long, drawn out sigh. She rose from her desk and moved over to the bed. She threw herself atop it and rolled over onto her back. Staring at the ceiling she spoke to the computer.

"Computer, wake me at twenty hundred hours." With that said, she closed her eyes and willed her self to sleep.

Daggit sat down at the small bistro table in Parva's quarters. Situated before him was a plate of Thai red curry atop Algerronan rice and mixed with a meat of unknown origin. Parva had a widespread culinary appetite but most entrees boiled down to the basic hot and spicy motif. One dish she'd served had actually brought tears to his eyes.

Fortunately, Daggit's modified metabolism and digestive tracts could digest gaghk without a hiccup. Parva's selections occasionally battered Daggit's olfactory senses and his sinus passages but he had to admit they were flavourful. Equally spicy was their love life. Over the past few months, Daggit had engaged in carnal activities he'd never imagined existed. Somewhat to his surprise, he found he liked most of them.

Over the last year, Parva's walls had slowly begun to melt. What Daggit had discovered was a precious vulnerability that was as fragile as a soap bubble. Parva's life had left deep emotional and physical scars. Given what she'd told him, Daggit could easily understand why she'd have psychological turmoil.

The physical trauma must have been something beyond reckoning. Orions possessed incredible regenerative capabilities. They could survive almost anything short of explosive decompression and survive virtually unscathed. For Parva to still bear the marks of Daveed B'nner... It made Daggit sorry that B'nner had died a nearly painless death. Fortunately it had been by Parva's hand so there was some closure at least.

Parva was entrusting him with her most valuable secret treasure: her heart. Daggit was touched in a way that he hadn't thought he was still capable of feeling. Daggit repaid her in kind and freely offered his love to her. He'd thrown down his defences and merely took the days as they came now. He was finding them to be much better now that he had.

Their relationship was a cathartic one. Both bore wounds from the past and they were able to share their pain and gain strength from the sharing. Daggit had seen the darkest corners of Parva's soul. Then he'd seen the glorious heights that her heart could climb to. In the end, he accepted them both. She did the same for him. Daggit strongly suspected that naked openness was the strength behind Macen and T'Kir's bond.

"What do you think?" Parva asked, scrutinising Daggit's expression.

"Think about what?" Daggit swirled his rice with his chopsticks.

"The curry, dummy." Parva laughed, "Why? What were you thinking about?"

"To be honest, I was thinking about us." Daggit took a pinch of rice and ate it.

Worry flickered across Parva's emerald features, "And what did you come up with?"

"I concluded that I was damn lucky to have met you." Daggit smiled, "And even luckier in that I listened to Hal and began a relationship with you."

Parva broke into a bright smile and then it took on a wistful quality, "I'm lucky too. I'm going to miss him."

"Me too." Daggit took a swallow of the spring wine they were drinking.

"You act as though he just stepped out for a breath of fresh air and that he's coming back." Parva noted.

"When you've dealt with death as long and as extensively as I have, it begins to seem that way. If you believe in an afterlife then you can be comforted by the fact that you're likely to run into Hal Dracas in whatever paradise you wind up in."

"That's a bold statement coming from an agnostic." Parva laughed.

Daggit took another bite, chewed and swallowed, "It just goes to figure."

Parva took a sip of her wine, "I hope so."

"We'll know soon enough." Daggit replied, "Come on, let's finish lunch and figure out what to do with the rest of our afternoon off."

Parva gave him a sly smile, "I have one or two ideas."

"I thought you might."

In the gym, in the boxing ring, Radil and Kort were battling with bat'leths. They were wooden mock-ups of the long, curved bladed weapons. Radil had pushed Kort into a corner and he was now fighting his way out of it. Kort was one step below a Dahar master and Radil was a fast learning novice. This reversal of fortune had caught them both by surprise.

"By Kahless, woman," Kort bellowed as he disarmed Radil, "that was magnificent!"

Radil stepped back and placed her hands on her hips, "Thought you might like that."

"The student nearly became the teacher. You are truly a gifted apprentice." Kort beamed.

Radil wiped sweat from her nose. Her traditionally short auburn hair was grown out and reached her shoulders now. It was held in a braid. Her bangs clung to her forehead. These were all experiences that Radil had thought past her.

"Remember, tomorrow we play springball." Radil reminded Kort.

"If we have an opportunity." Kort held up his hands to ward off the accusing glare he was receiving from Radil, "Peace, my heart, we will play springball at the earliest possible opportunity. I was merely pointing out that our duties were about to be radically shifted from their normal routine. Look at today for instance."

Radil pursed her lips but remained silent. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and shook her head.

"You really like my hair this long?"

"Jenrya, my dear, I like you regardless of your looks but yes, I prefer your hair to longer than was your custom to wear it." Kort replied, "I used my follicular stimulator to grow out your hair to a length I found most attractive."

"Macen lets T'Kir wear her hair any length she chooses to." Radil pointed out.

"You will note that we aren't discussing the good Captain or his marital policies." Kort responded, "Secondly, I never forced you to grow your hair out. You volunteered. It was your idea."

"Yeah, but you were supposed to say ‘no, Jenrya. Leave your hair as it is. I love you for who you are.'" Radil grumped.

"I do love you for who you are. You can wear your hair any length you choose and I will still love you." Kort assured her.

"So I can go cut it now?" Radil asked eagerly.

"Any time you want." Kort said.

"Let's go now!" Radil urged.

"Showers first." Kort insisted.

"Anything." Radil agreed.

Macen and T'Kir were entering the Team Room when Danan caught up with them, "Brin, T'Kir can I speak to you?"

Macen nodded and they all took a table in one of the corners of the room. Macen took drink orders from everyone and went to the replicator and then came back with the requested beverages.

"We can order lunch in a moment." Macen said and faced Danan, "Something on your mind, Lees?"

"I just had a serious talk with Tom Riker." Danan announced.

"After this morning's hijinks I'm not surprised." Macen grinned.

"You can't tell me that either of you found this morning's rendezvous surprising." Danan remarked.

"The event, no. The timing was a bit of a surprise. I suppose I helped drive you into each other's arms by relieving both of you."

"That helped." Danan smirked, "What isn't helpful is this ongoing contention between Tom and you."

"Tell me something I don't know." Macen quipped.

"He's convinced that you don't trust his counsel." Danan said.

"I don't." Macen admitted.

"Then why did you choose him as your 1st Officer?" Danan exclaimed.

"Keep your voice down." T'Kir warned, "Both of you. The natives are growing suspicious and attempting to eavesdrop."

"Attempting?" Macen asked.

"I'm pulling off a little telepathic misdirection here." T'Kir revealed, "Gimme a break."

"I won't ask." Macen promised.

"Dammit Brin, answer the question." Danan demanded.

"When I recruited Tom, I was looking for a ship's captain. He was to replace me as the captain of the Eclipse. I never intended for him to be my XO." Macen divulged.

"Does Tom know this?" Danan enquired.

"Tom was pretty shaken up by his time with Arinnae's research team." Macen answered, "He was adrift, without a place in the galaxy. I carved out a niche for him to fill."

"But you didn't expect him to stay with it." Danan concluded.

Macen rubbed the back of his head, "I expected him to move on to a command of his own by now."

"But why don't you trust him?"

Macen grimaced, "I like Tom, I truly do. He's an excellent commanding officer but he approaches problems from a diametrically opposed viewpoint."

"I thought that was effective command staffing?" Danan pointedly asked.

"Tom suffered because of rushing command decisions and poor strategic planning." Macen continued, "He's far too hesitant and cautious for my taste."

"And you rush in where angels fear to tread." Danan held up a hand, "I know that expression was once used to describe your own personal hero but face it, this isn't Jim Kirk's time. This is a brand new century and we need a new type of thinking here. A little balance is a good thing Brin."

"It's more than a simple difference of opinions." Macen informed her, "Tom and I have radically different styles of command. They're incompatible. The pressures building and eventually it'll force the crew to choose between us. I'm not going to let that happen."

"Sounds like your mind is made up." Danan observed.

"It is." Macen replied, "Tom can either accept a command of his own or a lesser position aboard another Outbound Ventures vessel or he can leave our employ."

Danan's eyes narrowed, "He doesn't respond well to threats, Brin."

"It's not a threat." Macen clarified, "It's a certitude. It can be a wonderful opportunity if he chooses to make it one. The former crew of the George Kelly would love to serve under him again. We have another refitted Newton-class coming to us from the SPYards. Tom could command that ship or the new Q-ship we're receiving in the next few weeks. He could assemble a crew out of the survivors of our other ships and take the ones that are spaceworthy back out."

"Sounds like you've got this all thought out." Danan remarked.

"I've had it thought out ever since Tom assumed command of the Kelly." Macen admitted.

Danan finished her drink and pushed her chair back from the table, "I guess I'll let you two have lunch."

"You could join us." Macen offered, "You just have to change the topic."

"Please." T'Kir quipped, "I'm getting a headache and several crewmembers have gone to Sickbay to get their hearing checked."

"Why's that?" Danan wondered.

"Let me show you." T'Kir grinned, "What you're hearing now is what they've been experiencing."

What Danan heard amount to, "whou at're hing eano rwis wat thy e've enbe erienexcing."

"Danan whistled, "That's damned effective."

T'Kir beamed, "Thought you'd like it. I just run an interference pattern in the frontal lobe disrupting interpretation of auditory signals and woila! Instant confusion."

"The hard part is sparing you the effect and tailoring the disruption pattern to interfere solely with this conversation." T'Kir boasted, "Takes a lot out of a girl."

Macen grinned, "I assume you're done with that."

"You betcha." T'Kir let go of a deep breath, "When d'we eat?"

Macen laughed, "Right now. What do you want?"

"A tenderloin steak, medium rare, topped with mushrooms and onions. On the side let's have long grain rice with plenty of soy sauce." T'Kir's mouth watered as she spoke.

"Hearty lunch." Macen commented.

"We are going to the gym after this. I need my proteins and carbs to fuel my potential energy expenditures." T'Kir haughtily replied.

"You've been taking nutrition notes from the EMH again, haven't you?" Macen asked.

"What of it?" she asked, a tad defensively.

"Never mind." Macen chuckled, "Your order will be placed. Coming Lees?"

"Right behind you." Danan answered with a smile.

Later in the gym, after finishing their aerobic conditioning and weight training, Macen and T'Kir took to the ring. Crewmen stopped what they were doing to watch the couple spar. T'Kir had the advantage with three times the strength and speed of her husband coupled with three decades' worth of martial arts training. Macen had his training from Rab Daggit and centuries of experience.

Both wore protective headgear, padded gloves and shinguards. Macen slipped in his mouthpiece and faced off with T'Kir. Her smile revealed her own mouthpiece and she stepped forward and kicked a feint with her right then hopped up and fully extended her left for a kick aimed at Macen's chin. Macen stepped back and let the kick fill empty air.

He stepped in close and threw an elbow "punch". T'Kir ducked beneath it and threw a jab into Macen's stomach. Macen hopped back and took a moment to breath deeply and check to see if his diaphragm had been struck. T'Kir followed up with a side kick that swept upwards towards his head.

Macen blocked the kick and threw one of his own, striking T'Kir in the stomach. T'Kir involuntarily let out a breath and spun back wards to check on her breathing. She approached Macen and struck out with another side kick. This time Macen ducked under the kick and spun a leg sweep.

T'Kir's landing was hard. She let out a frustrated cry as she vaulted back to her feet with a handspring. She flew at Macen, throwing punches and jabs as fast as she could. Macen blocked most of them and absorbed the punishment from the rest before he delivered a right cross that staggered T'Kir. She blinked in surprise and her eyes narrowed.

T'Kir snapped of a backspin kick and Macen did the unorthodox. Instead of ducking, blocking, or stepping back, all of the typical responses, he stepped forward and allowed the back of her knee to strike his shoulder. Her momentum ground to a halt and her leg bent at the knee. Her foot harmlessly struck Macen in the left shoulder blade. He then took a hold of her leg and flashed her an evil grin.

Her eyes widened as he threw her leg straight up into the air. Her body unbalanced and she was thrown to the mat again. Macen leapt atop her and put one knee across her chest and the other across her throat. Her eyes cleared from the shock of her landing and she glanced up into his hard set eyes.

"Yield." Macen commanded. When she hesitated he put pressure on her diaphragm and her throat.

T'Kir reached up and touched his glove with hers. After Macen released her, she removed her mouthpiece and grinned.

"You realise I let you win." she asked.

"I've suspected as much." Macen admitted after removing his own mouthpiece. He helped her to her feet.

"I tried to be as slow as a human." T'Kir revealed, "How'd I do?"

"Pretty good." Macen commented as they left the ring and headed for the equipment room, "You started to speed way up when you were throwing those punches and your side kick was too fast for a human but overall you did really well."

"I wanted to give you a fighting chance." She divulged.

"It was appreciated." Macen replied, "I expected you to put up more a fight at the end though."

"I thought about it." T'Kir admitted, "Especially after the way you dumped me on my butt twice."

Macen grinned, "And you opted not to because...?"

"I want to take a nap before we return to the bridge." T'Kir said, "That ain't happenin' as long as we're sparring."

"You belittle my victory with every word." Macen complained melodramatically.

"Hey," T'Kir stressed, "you knocked me on my can twice without any help from me. It's a rare day when I get knocked down at all."

"I know." Macen said proudly, "Let's go back to our quarters, shower and go to bed."

"Sounds good to me." T'Kir grinned, "You're on."

"Afterwards, we can realign the balance of power in the local sectors." Macen said with a gleam in his eye.

"Choppy waters loom ahead." T'Kir warned, "Every time you play empire builder we get shot at."

Macen smiled, "But we have right upon our side."

"We always have right on our side and we still get shot at." T'Kir stripped her various guards off and returned them to their storage containers.

"Maybe this time will be different." Macen stashed their helmets.

"I'll believe it when I see it." T'Kir said sourly and left the equipment room.

 

Chapter Eight

The Investigative Team returned to their posts at twenty hundred hours and relieved their gamma shift opposite numbers. The boundary crossing into the quarantined sector surrounding the 492 system went without incident. It took another hour of travelling at warp 6 to be intercepted by Roman vessels. Two of the three ships were a familiar Roman design.

The raptor looking Eagle-class ships remained unaltered. They were half the size of the Obsidian and only capable of warp 6. The other ship was new to the SID team's experience. It superficially resembled a Defiant-class. It possessed the jutting navigational deflector that typified the Federation warship.

The saucer-like ship had two struts that aligned to either side of the deflector array. These housed the forward torpedo launchers. The sides of the ship encased the warp nacelles. A phaser emitter was mounted beside the Busard collector. Atop the central hull was a torpedo turret. It could fire in every direction except down.

The eagle emblem of the Roman Empire was painted atop the nose of the deflector emitter. The ship was obviously built for combat and was nearly the size of the Federation surveyor. The Obsidian dropped to impulse and the Roman ships did likewise. They manoeuvred themselves into a pyramid surrounding the science vessel.

"We're being hailed." T'Kir announced.

"Put it on screen." Macen ordered.

The screen shifted from a picture of the Roman warship and an Eagle-class scoutship to that of a stone faced Roman commander, "State your business in the stellar reaches of the Greater Roman Empire."

"My name is Brin Macen." Macen replied, "I am captain of the Federation surveyor, Obsidian. I request an audience with your emperor."

The Commander placed a fist upon his chest, "Forgive us, Commander. You are known as a friend of the Empire. There are standing instructions to bring you to Magna Roma post haste and deliver you to the Emperor's court."

"No apologies are necessary, Commander." Macen assured him, "You are simply performing your assigned duties."

"Thank you, Commander Macen." the Roman replied with a bow of his head, "If you will follow us."

"Of course." Macen returned the Roman salute, which made the Legionnaire smile.

"We shall proceed at warp factor 5." the Roman commander announced.

"Signal us when you're ready to proceed." Macen said and cut the transmission.

"What's with the ‘Commander' stuff?" Riker wondered, "Do they know your Starfleet rank?"

Macen shook his head and grinned, "They remember me as the Mission Commander from our previous visits. They also refer to their ship captains as ‘commanders'. I qualify under both criteria so they refer to me as ‘Commander'. It's simply a generic honorific."

"Sounds Romulan to me." Riker observed.

"The Romulans share several cultural and linguistic characteristics with the Romans of Earth and Magna Roma." Macen explained, "The militarism that permeates both societies is the simplest, most basic similarity."

"Even the forms of government are similar." Macen remarked, "A comparative study of the two cultures would be fascinating."

"So you'll be resigning from the SID to undertake this study when? Riker joked.

"Don't laugh." Macen advised, "It's tempting."

Riker shook his head, "You wouldn't last. You'd miss the action and intrigue."

"Probably." Macen sighed.

"Definitely." Riker asserted, "So what comes next?"

"We meet with Alaric and outline our suspicions." Macen answered.

"And he volunteers to send forces to watch our back?" Riker was dubious.

"Something like that." Macen said with an enigmatic smile.

Only the Roman warship escorted the Obsidian to Magna Roma. The two scouts resumed their patrol. En route, T'Kir obtained some detailed scans of the Roman ship.

"That thing is nearly on par with a Defiant-class ship. The similarities aren't merely superficial." she reported to Macen.

Macen stood up from his crouch to view T'Kir's displays, "How'd they technologically jump two centuries?"

"You're the one that always lectures everyone on the fact that different societies develop at different rates." T'Kir retorted.

"It's a human society." Macen replied, "They should follow the same general pattern as Earth. They were three hundred years behind the times when the original Enterprise visited. We can attribute this attrition to the rebuilding of the various civilisations across Magna Roma after the Preservers moved the various representatives of the affected nationalities."

"But they went from a 20th century tech base to one rivalling 22nd century Earth in a century." T'Kir argued.

"They had the wreckage of the Beagle to reverse engineer from. They duplicated the warp engines but they rely on fusion reactors to power them. Fusion was harnessed on Earth in the 21st century. That coincides with the Roman development of the technology."

"Yah, yah." T'Kir remarked, "They got the tech from a wreck and their own scientists. But how does that explain a 24th century type warship?"

"The only thing I can come up with is technology transfers from the Omicron. They were on the planet for two years before we arrived." Macen answered.

"That's what I was afraid you were going to say." T'Kir groused, "Any idea what other surprises are in store."

"I don't have a clue." Macen admitted, "Section 31 probably keeps an eye on Magna Roma but Starfleet Intelligence adheres to the quarantine. Our visit was the first official Federation venture in over a century."

"They're warp capable." T'Kir argued, "Why does Starfleet maintain the quarantine?"

"The quarantine is in place at the behest of the Federation Committee." Macen explained, "Until a majority of the nine members of the Committee agree to drop the quarantine it'll stay in effect."

"How much do you want to bet that the Committee members have never heard of 492 IV?" T'Kir asked acerbically.

"Wouldn't surprise me at all." Macen agreed, "The nine members of the Committee are charged with the smooth running of the Federation's legislative body. They probably don't pay much attention to old business."

"What a frinxing mess." T'Kir commented dismally, "Promise me you'll pressure Amanda Drake to help change that."

Macen kissed her forehead, "I'll do what I can."

The Obsidian entered Magna Roman orbit 2 hours 12 minutes after her intercept by the Roman Star Legions. The crew swiftly received a hail originating from the Emperor's major domo. They were provided with coordinates for transporting to the surface and were invited for an immediate audience with Alaric.

Macen summoned the entire Investigative Team to the transporter room, leaving the ship to a wide-eyed Shannon Forger, "Remember, this all deeply classified. You never saw this world and you don't know where it is."

"Of course." Forger swallowed hard and nodded.

"Spread the word to the crew." Macen ordered, "Inquiries of any kind, discreet or otherwise, will not be tolerated and will result in a termination of their services. Starfleet regulations will demand that they be taken into custody and detained."

"I'll definitely pass that last part along." Forger offered a wan smile.

"We know these people and they consider us friends." Macen advised, "If you and the rest of the crew just quietly sit back and bide your time, we'll all go home unscathed."

Forger had a hunted look to her eyes but she nodded again and squared her shoulders, "Yes sir!"

"Beep my communicator if any problems arise." Macen instructed.

"I will." Forger replied, "Take care."

Macen grinned, "We will."

In the transporter room, Riker began to protest, "We shouldn't go down armed to the teeth."

"Sidearms won't offend them." Macen responded, "This is a militant culture. Personal weaponry is allowed and even encouraged."

"You'd better be right about this." Riker growled as he stepped up to the transporter pad.

"Try trusting me for once." Macen advised.

"I'll trust you the day you return the favour." Riker informed him.

The rest of the crew remained silent throughout this exchange. Macen could feel T'Kir's anger but she was still in check. Daggit was also simmering under the surface. The others were uneasy and trying to decide who had a greater case for their position. So far, at least, he still held the advantage.

Looking to Telrik he ordered, "Beam us down."

"Yessir." the Tellarite replied and the room shimmered out of existence.

The team rematerialised in an open courtyard outside of the Imperial Palace. Praetorian guardsmen in black armour wielding phaser rifles, pistols and long swords emerged from the shadows of the surrounding arboretum. They levelled their rifles and the Captain of the Guard approached with his hand on his sword.

"Lay down your arms or be cut down." he barked.

The team tightened into a circle, hands on their weapons. A booming voice cutting through the night ended the standoff.

"At ease, Captain." Alaric Germanicus commanded from the portico leading into the Palace. Alaric wore a simple tunic and pants. His clothes and bearing still reflected his lifetime of military service that culminated in his commanding the Star Legions. Now he governed the most powerful nation on this world.

The Praetorians shouldered their weapons and the Captain bowed, "I'm sorry, Caesar."

"No need to apologise, Captain." Alaric replied, "Just try not to be so hasty about killing unexpected guests until you've had a chance to confirm their identities."

"Yes, Caesar." the Captain came to attention and then turned on his heel and he and his troops disappeared into the night.

Alaric approached the SID team and appraised them, "I trust no one is the worse for wear?"

"It was an interesting greeting but we're unharmed." Macen informed him.

Alaric approached Macen and clasped his shoulders, "Excellent. I have a table prepared for us. Let us retire and discuss what has transpired since we last met."

Alaric led the group through the portico into the palace. They followed the Emperor down a corridor that led to a vast rotunda. It was made of marble and trimmed with darkly varnished hardwoods. Tapestries and imperial coloured cloths hung everywhere.

On a raised dais, a throne sat by itself. Chairs were aligned to either side of it at floor level. Before it stretched a sea of tables and stadium style bench seating lining the opposite walls. The symbol of the Roman eagle was the dominant theme. It was prominently displayed on a cloth draped across the throne.

"Forgive the pomp." Alaric begged, "But this is the very heart of the Imperial Residence."

"Is this room filled with courtiers or with citizens seeking the attention of the Emperor?" Macen asked.

Alaric chuckled, "Both actually. Now that the Empire has stretched across the globe, we also entertain ambassadors from our new protectorates here."

Seeing Macen's surprise Alaric paused to explain, "Since your last two visits we have reached out to the various foreign powers that my sister united in her insurrection. Upper Germania was the first to come into our fold. Having a German born Emperor was enough to convince them that their interests would be protected. The Northlands followed as well as Eire, thanks to the Crusaders of Brittania and Scotia."

"The kingdoms of the Next World next followed. Roman colonies have been established on the East Coast of the northern continent. The Far East and Southern Africa were the last to be persuaded. Now the Middle Kingdom is a staunch ally and the African nations have joined the Empire proper."

"What about the slaves?" Macen softly asked.

"I have pushed through new reforms granting the Empire's slaves greater rights but they remain slaves. Citizenship is a hard won privilege. There are millions of freemen that live within the Imperial borders but they have never earned citizenship."

"How does anyone earn citizenship?" T'Kir asked.

Alaric straightened to his full imposing height, "They serve the state. Whether it be on a local level or serving in the Senate, they toil for the prosperity of all. Military service is a guarantor of citizenship. It is one of the reasons military service is the preferred route to citizenship."

"I know this is all foreign to you." Alaric said, "Captain Merrick explained to us all about the Federation and your system of universal citizenship. It was quite surprising to us to learn that a galactic power could be so...weak."

Macen grinned, "You haven't said anything the Romulans or the Klingons haven't already said."

Alaric broke into a relieved smile, "I'm glad I haven't offended you. Now, if you'll follow me, we'll adjourn to the dining hall."

Dining "hall" was the appropriate description for the cavernous space Alaric led them to. Several of Alaric's ministers joined them for the evening meal. Also joining them were Alaric's wife and children. The meal was sumptuous. The conversation mostly consisted of stories describing life in the empire or the stars beyond. Kort and Parva fielded their fair shares of stares. The others gradually relaxed and were soon laughing with their hosts.

After the meal was done, Alaric led them to a parlour filled with couches and cushions. Alaric sat down on a wingback chair and his young daughter crawled into his lap. For the first time all evening the soldier turned ruler looked peaceful. Alaric's daughter fell asleep and his wife collected her.

"It has been a privilege meeting you." she offered and ushered her remaining children out of the parlour and headed for the residential wing.

"So...Miss Lisea, how does it feel to return to the very palace where you were once a slave?"

Danan's eyebrow's raised and she pensively mulled the question, "Aurelius treated me with respect so I have no bad memories of this place. Most of my unease occurred when the Star Legions attacked my ship or when I learned that Brin was in the gladiatorial pits."

"Speaking of the gladiatorial games," Alaric grinned, "We've made the matches non-lethal now. Would you consider a return the Coliseum? You are undefeated. It would be a grand spectacle."

Macen shook his head, "Sorry but no."

"Where is the third man that fought beside you?" Alaric wondered, "I see your colossus but the older fellow is missing."

Macen grimaced, "He was lost in the line of duty on our way here."

Sensing Macen's sorrow, Alaric apologised, "I'm sorry. I know how difficult it can be to lose a comrade in arms."

"It never gets easier." Macen admitted.

"Perhaps I have a way to relieve some of your anguish." Alaric brightened and rose to cross the room and activate an intercom.

"Giorgio, send in Joachim." the Emperor ordered.

He stood by the door until a soldier appeared wearing the livery of the Star Legions. Macen did a doubletake as T'Kir gasped. Daggit bolted out of his seat. Danan stared open mouthed at the man. Grace kept rubbing her eyes. Kort and Radil slowly rose to their feet and tensed, ready for anything. Parva sat hunched like a cat poised to strike. Only Riker seemed unaffected.

The person standing before them was Hal Dracas, exactly like they'd last seen him. Only now, Dracas wore Roman armaments and carried a legionnaire's helmet with inborn confidence. He looked at home in these clothes and he calmly studied the reactions of those watching him. Whereas Dracas would have quailed at such scrutiny, this...duplicate stood unwavering.

"Come Joachim, please join us." Alaric guided the younger man towards a chair. Alaric's Interior Minister vacated his seat to the Emperor's left and excused himself to another couch.

"How is this possible?" Macen managed to ask.

"The young man in question is a clone." Alaric smiled at "Joachim", "We harvested genetic material implanted into the comfort men we offered your friend. We would have done the same thing to you and your other friend but neither of you availed yourself to the services of the comfort men and women."

"And it's a shame that he didn't." T'Kir quipped.

"I did it because I realised that you were the only person I cared about being with." Macen replied, "So spare me the lecture."

T'Kir beamed, "That's my man, a one woman type a guy."

T'Kir blinked, saw everyone else's impatience, and bit her lip, "You were saying..."

"We'd developed cloning techniques prior to the visit by Captain Kirk." Alaric explained, "Roman scientists had even cloned a human being in the century that passed but it required the same amount of time to raise as a conventional person so that eliminated the benefits of cloning."

"You wanted a rapid replenishment method for your troops." Macen surmised.

"Exactly." Alaric nodded, "We thought our goal was dead until the Omicron came. Ezexial gave us cloning cylinders that could force grow a clone until they reached any age we desired. This should have eliminated our problems but in truth they'd only begun."

"You couldn't find any volunteers to undergo the cloning process." Macen theorised.

"Again, you are correct." Alaric confirmed, "My fellow Romans felt that it was a diminishment of their humanity to participate in the program. We tried to force a legionnaire to undergo the process but he committed suicide before we could extract any DNA."

"So you sought aliens to finish your experiments on." Macen concluded.

"Yes." Alaric looked embarrassed, "We would put the males in the gladiatorial arena and harvest their sperm through the comfort slaves we gave them and we would utilise the females as slaves in Imperial households."

"So what about...Joachim was it?" Macen enquired.

"Joachim Kohl here was cloned and emerged from the tanks three months after you left here." Alaric explained, "He was subliminally taught for his future roles and then extensively conditioned for proper court life. He was housed by a General of mine, Gerhard Kohl during this time."

"So what is his current role?" Macen asked.

"I understand his predecessor was an engineer?" Alaric wondered.

Macen nodded and Alaric smiled, "That explains his natural affinity for machinery. Joachim can take apart and rebuild any one of the Star Legions vessels."

"But that isn't his role." Macen surmised.

Alaric shook his head, "We needed to test the process to see if it could breed soldiers, not engineers."

"So he's a foot soldier?" T'Kir interjected.

"No, dear lady, he's a legionnaire amongst our space forces." Alaric bestowed Joachim with a paternal smile, "Young Joachim here is the finest centurion in the fleet."

Kohl blushed but the Emperor waxed on, "Joachim has exceeded every demanded put upon him. He's single handidly proven the validity of the cloning process. An extensive search is now underway across the empire to find the ideal candidates for cloning and to begin mass producing them."

"How do the candidates feel about that?" Macen wondered.

"Trepidatious but as they're about to become Heroes of the Empire and be elevated to the status of country nobles, they are acquiescing."

"I'm not sure whether or not I should be disturbed or intrigued." Macen admitted.

"You should be happy." Alaric insisted, "In a fashion, your friend lives on. He has all of the same talents and...preferences that we saw displayed. He probably resembles your comrade in ways we cannot fathom without having known him."

"Perhaps." Macen allowed, "But we can't know that without working beside him."

"That can be arranged." Alaric slapped his knee, "But you will not have a problem serving beside a clone?"

"Within the Federation there were entire worlds populated by clones." Macen looked towards Riker, "We also have experience with duplicates."

"Excellent." Alaric beamed, "I've been wanting to send an envoy out to learn about the stellar realms beyond our borders. Joachim can act as my agent."

"Travelling with us will only lead him to the problem spots of the galaxy." Macen warned.

"He will still learn from you and see how the Federation deals with its enemies and friends." Alaric assured him.

"We don't operate like Starfleet." Macen advised, "We're privateers. We're hired to deal with delicate situations that the regular fleet isn't equipped to handle."

"This is perfect." Alaric enthused, "He will learn crisis management from the best of the Federation's forces."

Seeing the Emperor wouldn't be dissuaded, Macen tried a different tack, "As long as we're discussing working together, let me tell about a problem we're having. It starts with Hal Dracas' death and ends up with the Iotians. They..."

 

Chapter Nine

Macen's story incensed Alaric. The Emperor rose from his chair and began pacing about the parlour.

"Again!" Alaric fumed, "Again it is the accursed Iotians. We bore the brunt of the heavy reparations. Romans, citizens, freemen, and slaves alike vigorously toiled to repay that thrice-damned debt in just under three years. It nearly crippled the Treasury but we achieved the impossible."

Alaric whirled and turned on Macen, "After the debt was paid, they demanded more! We unveiled the Banner-class starship and we proved to them we would not accede to their demands without a struggle. Seeing that our new ship type was more advanced than theirs, they retreated and have not been heard from again."

"Where did your new ship type originate from?" Macen asked, "It closely resembles a Federation design."

"The design and technology were transfers from the Omicron." Alaric grimaced, "It was one of the few decent things that they left."

Macen recalled how the Omicrons had overwhelmed Aurelius and virtually taken over the Roman government during their brief "alliance" with the Nova Romans. There was little love lost between the Romans and the Omicron. Alaric had declared war on the Omicrons. Any Omicron found within Imperial space was to be summarily executed.

"Can your people handle the technology?" Macen asked. It was a fair question and not intended as an insult.

Fortunately, Alaric understood that, "The Omicron left behind extensive training programs. My crews are well versed in how their vessels and their various subsystems operate."

Alaric turned to Kohl, "Isn't that right, Joachim?"

Kohl spoke for the first time, "That is correct, Caesar. I have paved the way for a future generation of clones."

"Are you always so robotic?" Macen asked. T'Kir elbowed him in the ribs, "What? He's coming aboard my ship. I want to know what he's like."

Alaric opened his mouth but Kohl spoke first, "It is a fair question, Caesar. I utilise the courtesy required by a person's rank and title. I tread lightly where my Emperor is concerned but I do not have to offer you the same degree of respect."

Macen grinned, "Nice. I like your fire Joachim. You'll fit right in with my crew."

Alaric looked relieved, "Now I will summon the Commander of the Space Legions and we will dispatch a fleet to assist you in your investigation of the Iotians."

"Much obliged." Macen offered.

"Wait here while I set the wheels in motion." Alaric commanded. He rose from his chair and strode over to the intercom. He activated and began dictating orders to the unknown voice on the other end. The conversation ended with the faceless voice snapping off a, "Yes, Caesar!"

"That should mobilise the troops." Alaric said with a feral smile.

It took the Commander of the Space Legions an hour to arrive at the palace. He entered the rotunda and found Alaric seated upon the Imperial throne. The War Minister was present as well. Macen's team sat at the various tables laid out across the room. Joachim Kohl stood in an unoccupied curve of the room.

The Commander straightened himself up and then bowed from the waist, "You sent for me, Caesar?"

"Gerhard, I want you to deploy half of our space forces in order to escort the Federation ship currently in orbit around this sphere." Alaric ordered.

"Such a request will take time." Gerhard Kohl pointed out, "We need to revise patrols and scouting expeditions."

"You have twelve hours." Alaric determined.

"Yes, Caesar." Kohl bowed his head.

"One further thing, Gerhard." Alaric added, "Your adopted son will be departing with the Federation personnel. I suggest you say your farewells within the next twelve hours."

Kohl bobbed his head, "Understood." With that said, the general turned on his heel and strode out of the audience hall.

"Joachim, come here." Alaric motioned for the younger Kohl to approach, "Take a knee."

Kohl knelt before Alaric and raised his head so that he could look his Emperor in the face, "Yes, Caesar?"

"You will be my eyes and ears in the outer world." Joachim intoned, "I give you five years and then you must return and report."

"Yes, Caesar." Kohl's head bobbed.

"Go now." Alaric ordered, "Pack your belongings and prepare for the journey ahead."

Kohl nodded and then slowly rose and turned to exit the room. He hesitated at the door but shrugged, squared his shoulders, and left.

"There's a man with a lot on his mind." Macen observed.

Alaric stepped away from the throne and approached Macen, T'Kir and Grace's table, "You truly think so. I felt he would be better suited to serve beside you. You, at least, will treat him like a man."

"What do you mean?" Macen asked.

"The Senate has decreed that clones are fit to serve in the Legions but they are not to be awarded citizenship nor will they be freemen."

"They'll be slaves?" Macen's temper flared.

Alaric nodded sadly, "The first the Army has known. We'd kept slaves as workers and valets but they weren't soldiers. Slaves released by their masters to military service earned their freedom and citizenship."

"And the only difference is that they aren't going to be naturally born?" Macen asked.

"Yes." Alaric's sorrow deepened, "I've treated Joachim like a favoured nephew. I do not wish to see him enslaved. He must go with you. Return him here in five years so he can be debriefed and then spirit him away again."

"Well, I'll say this for Joachim, he shares his predecessor's lack of a homeworld." Macen revealed, "Dracas was condemned on his own world due to his homosexuality."

Alaric shook his head, "It is a readily accepted truth here. In fact there are schools of thought that say a man or a woman must marry in order to procreate but they must take a lover of the same sex in order to find true happiness."

"The Federation has proponents of the same theory." Macen admitted, "They are a small but very vocal minority."

"Here they are a majority." Alaric revealed, "Only the Crusaders believe in strict monogamous heterosexual coupling."

"You seem to as well." Macen commented.

Alaric laughed, "Tell that to my many mistresses."

Macen shrugged, "Each to their own."

"This does not shock or offend you?" Alaric was surprised, "You stated earlier that you reserved yourself for relations with your wife."

"That's my choice." Macen said, "My choices are not for everyone, merely for me. My people were rather urbane. They embraced many lifestyles and creeds. The Federation teaches non-interference and non-judgement in regards to other cultures."

"A lesson that Rome is now learning with the addition of all of our protectorates and new provinces." Alaric remarked, "If we continue down the path of forced assimilation, all will be lost."

"Cooperation always serves a cause better than force." Riker forcibly clarified upon hearing Macen's statement, "Unless, of course, when you're dealing with a military or paramilitary operation."

Alaric nodded, "I'm beginning to see your point as the day's march on." Alaric suddenly smiled, "You and your crew must be tired, let me show you to your rooms."

"That's unnecessary." Macen replied, "We can beam back up to our ship."

Alaric insisted, "I would be remiss in my duties as a host if you were to leave now. My honour demands that I shelter you."

Macen shrugged, "Okay."

"Everyone, follow me to the guest mansion." Alaric called out like a tour guide. He gave a blow-by-blow explanation and description of every wing as they passed it. He showed them the vast kitchen complex and introduced them to the four overnight cooks and servers.

"Ask them for anything and they will bring it to you throughout the night." Alaric boasted, "It is an innovation that improves the lives of the Praetorian night watch as well as midnight cravings that cannot be quelled."

Alaric chuckled conspiratorially, "I've gained twenty pounds since I became emperor."

"Fortunately, it doesn't show." Macen consoled him.

"I spend an extra hour a day in the gymnasium." Alaric divulged, "I've turned my excess food into muscle."

"Congratulations." Macen said.

"Your physique is much improved over the last time you were on Magna Roma." Alaric observed.

"The benefits of clean living." Macen quipped. T'Kir chortled and broke into a fit of laughter. Macen frowned.

"Don't go spilling any secrets." he advised.

"Don't worry," T'Kir gasped, "I wouldn't want to embarrass Alaric."

"I don't embarrass that easily." Alaric assured her, "But I do know when to respect another's privacy."

"Your loss." T'Kir retorted.

"I'll live." Alaric replied, "Now if you come this way, I'll lead you to the guest mansion."

He led them outdoors and up the gently sloped grounds to an outbuilding. The SID ground team remembered it as the temporary headquarters for the Omicron. During their first visit to Magna Roma, they had waged a deadly battle within the mansion's walls.

"Do not worry." Alaric seemed to sense the thoughts of the former ground team, "We've repaired the damage...and removed the stench."

Macen grinned, recalling the pungent stale smell of the Omicron, "That's a relief."

Slaves opened the doors to the mansion as they neared it. As before, the doorway opened to reveal a foyer leading to two hallways. Both of them led to areas with rooms to either side of them. The kitchens were in the rear of the building.

Alaric noticed the stares of his guests, "What is it?"

"It wasn't nearly so opulent last time." Macen confessed, "It's a bit overwhelming."

Alaric laughed, "And you haven't seen the rooms yet."

"I'm afraid to." Macen quipped.

Alaric chuckled, "Perhaps you should be. I promise you we will spoil you while you're here."

"Good." T'Kir interjected, taking hold of Macen's arm, "Can't wait to get started."

Alaric beamed, "At least one of you knows how to be an appreciative guest."

"We'll learn," Grace piped up, "or we'll die trying."

"Just think of it as a night on Risa." Danan offered.

"You can be a palace lord with a harem of one." Parva commented. All eyes turned to her and she shrugged, "What?"

Kort bristled, "All this finery. It is not befitting of a warrior."

"Think of it as being a warrior in my bed." Radil countered.

"Ahem," Alaric cleared his throat, "how many rooms will be needed?"

"Six." Danan answered, "One for Hannah, one for Tom, one for Brin and T'Kir, one for Rab and Parva, obviously one for Radil and Kort and one for me."

Alaric clapped his hands and the chief steward ran over, "Prepare six rooms for occupancy. Spread them out throughout the mansion so that there will privacy. Alert the staff that they are on constant alert." Alaric turned towards the SID team, "The servants are at your beck and call twenty-seven hours a day. I wish you every happiness but I must take my leave of you now. My own family awaits my arrival."

"Thank you." Macen replied.

"It is the least I can do for those that freed my world and fought beside my sister."

Alaric exited the mansion and was escorted by a squad of praetorians back to the palace. The praetorians had been discreet enough to hide their presence when the emperor was escorting his guests to the mansion but all such restrictions were gone now.

"Well, now what?" Daggit asked.

Parva grabbed his arm and began dragging him off towards a room, "Now we get wild!"

The steward interrupted with a polite cough, "These ladies will show you to your rooms."

After everyone was escorted to their rooms, they were given instructions on how to alert the staff to any wants or desires. Any wants or desires, it was stressed.

T'Kir closed the door behind the departing maid and looked at Macen like a tigress views her prey.

"Oy!" Macen exclaimed, "This is going to a long, but very fun, night."

"You don't know the half of it." T'Kir growled as she coiled and pounced.

Grace stepped out of the bath and dried herself. Wrapping herself in a towel and wrapping her head in another, she exited the bathroom and headed into the bedroom. There, waiting for her, was a tall, muscular Latin holding a bottle of oil.

"Greetings, Milady, I am your masseuse." he said softly, "Any pleasure you can think of, I am here to provide."

"Oh...my." Grace said as possibilities began swirling through her brain.

Danan was luxuriating in the bubble's of her bath when she heard knocking at her door. She sighed and called out in return.

"I'm busy right now. Please come back later."

After a moment's silence she heard the door creak open. Cursing under her breath, Danan rose and stepped out of the tub. She stealthily crossed the room and reached for her holster. She pulled her phaser free and cradled it in a two handed grip as she pressed her back up against the wall next to the doorway.

She was getting cold but she could hear her intruder rooting around near the bed. She stepped out and saw that the intruder was kneeling next to the bed. She raised her arms and aimed squarely at the back of the perpetrator's head.

"Freeze!" she yelled, "Make one false move and I'll drill you into the wall."

The man, Danan was sure it was a man now, raised his hands and Danan barked, "Slowly get up and turn around." The man started to rise but at a rapid pace.

"I said slowly." Danan growled, "Don't make me castrate you."

The man stopped and then crept up into his full, daunting height; "Good now turn around but do it slowly."

The man slowly turned. Halfway around, Danan recognised who her burglar was, "Tom! What the frinx are you doing?"

"I came to say good night." Riker grinned sheepishly, "I couldn't find you but I heard something so I looked under the bed."

"What would I be doing under the bed?" Danan grated.

"You know, avoiding an unexpected intruder."

"I can handle an intruder." Danan retorted, "What I can't handle is you."

"Can you put the phaser down?" Tom suggested.

Danan lowered the phaser and Tom grinned, "This is a good look for you."

Danan snapped the phaser back up, aimed at Riker's chest. His arms flew upright of their own accord.

"Damn it Tom! You scared the shit out of me. I should give a heavy stun blast and let you sleep it off."

"That would hurt."

"That's why it's tempting." Danan growled.

"Has anyone ever told you you're sexy when you're angry?" Riker wondered.

"Yeah." Danan relaxed her stance and lowered the phaser, "Brin used to, all the time."

"He was right." Tom lowered his hands, "Look, I'm sorry about creeping into your room. I was hoping that even if you weren't here, I could leave a surprise."

Danan grew suspicious, "What sort of surprise?"

"This." Riker stooped and retrieved the most beautiful rose Danan had ever seen.

Where did you find that?" a captivated Danan asked in awe.

"A rose garden on the estate." Riker answered, "One of the maids led me there and helped clip it and remove the thorns. It's a native to the planet."

"That was actually very sweet." Danan admitted.

"Now that I'm here, and you're here, what's the point in my leaving?" Riker asked.

"I'm taking a bath." Danan said sternly.

"I could use a bath." Riker grinned.

"Oh." Danan's mouth formed an O, "Why not? Sounds fun."

"It will be." Riker promised, "Trust me."

A sentry delivered Parva and Daggit's request. They swiftly donned Roman armour and wielded wooden swords.

"A night in the arena." Parva said with relish, "The winner of the bout decides how we spend the evening."

"Agreed." Daggit replied and tightened his grip on his sword.

Parva lunged. Daggit sidestepped her jab and smacked her bottom with the flat of his blade. Parva yelped and spun around. She wore a look of wounded pride.

"Remember, I did this for real." Daggit smiled thinly.

Parva delivered a slashing blow that would have bisected Daggit's chest if he'd not blocked it above his shoulder. She stepped back and rotated her shoulder so that she could jab from underneath. Daggit stepped in towards the blow but let it merely graze his shielded ribs. He wrapped his left arm around her right and then straightened his arm, hyperextending hers.

Parva dropped her sword but Daggit wasn't finished. He released her arm with his left and cracked her across the mouth with the pommel of his sword with the right. Parva flew into the wall and slumped to the floor. Daggit knelt before her and placed the wooden blade of his sword into her throat.

"Yield." his voice was merciless.

"Never!" she shot back fiercely.

Daggit threw down his sword and took by the arms and rose. He pulled her in close and roughly kissed her. Her entire body relaxed and when he ended the kiss, she smiled up at him. She wiped her blood off his lips.

"All right, I'll yield."

"My rules, agreed."

"Whatever you say. You won." she wiped the blood from her own lips, "I'll win next time though."

"You usually do." Daggit smiled.

"Have you ever been sorry?"

"Well, there was that one time involving a pair of shackles and a riding crop."

"Oh, don't be so conventional. You enjoyed yourself even if you don't want to admit it."

"Rule number one for this evening..."

"Yes?"

"No more arguing."

"Okay." Parva acquiesced, "Then what?"

Daggit pulled her close then spun her around and propped her arms up and then put her into the wall. As she was leaned up against the wall, he kicked her feet apart.

"First, I'm going to get you out of this armour."

"Fun!" Parva squealed.

Kort and Radil were making so much noise in their love making that the kitchen staff were gathered around their door and were taking bets on endurance and utterances. After a prolonged silence the staff began grumbling amongst themselves. The door flew open and a very naked, very enraged Kort flew out of the room. The beleaguered slaves scattered before this howling demon become flesh.

Content that he'd done his job properly, Kort returned to the room, "Jenrya my love, now we can truly indulge ourselves."

"Prophets! What's it been up until now?"

"I believe the human term is ‘foreplay'."

"By all that's holy, I don't know if I can survive much more."

"You will Jenrya. Your heart will ascend to the stars with mine and we will both be overcome by it."

"Ah, what the hell. Ascend away."

"I trust the evening went well?" Alaric asked as he stood in the foyer of the Guest's Mansion.

"We were collectively swept off our feet." Macen admitted with a smile.

"Good." Alaric beamed, "Now your attention must turn to military matters. My generals are here, as well as my ablest Space Legion commander. He will guide my forces as they accompany you to the wretched Iotian territory."

"I'm looking forward to it." Macen replied.

"We shall break fast and then attend to business." Alaric informed them assembled group, "Now yesterday you learned of my world's progress. Now I wish to hear of life beyond our provinces."

"We'll do what we can." Macen assured him and then followed Alaric out into the courtyard.

 

Chapter Ten

Alaric met with his generals and laid out his instructions for them. Gerhard Kohl had already re-prioritised the fleet's movements. The ground forces were ready to deploy as ship based shock troops. All that was left was having the squadron commander, Titus Scipio, confer with Macen. Joachim Kohl was present as well.

"Titus, Joachim will serve as your liaison with Commander Macen's crew." Alaric informed Scipio.

Scipio looked uncomfortable and shuffled his feet before responding, "Would it not be better for me to assign one of my own centurions to the task? Centurion Kohl could then serve aboard my flagship."

"Where he will undoubtedly be assigned some menial duty below his station." Alaric grated, "Joachim serves aboard the Obsidian. That is final."

Scipio bowed his head, "Yes, Caesar."

Alaric took Joachim aside and allowed Macen and Scipio to confer. Utilising stellar cartography charts from the Federation surveyor they were able to select the point in which the Roman forces would fall back and allow the Obsidian to proceed into Iotian space without them. They also chose subspace bandwidths by which to communicate. They even discussed possible coordination during an engagement.

Meanwhile, from a corner of the room, Alaric was addressing Joachim, "This is why you must go to the outer realms. They will accept you there."

"I should stay and fight for the rights of my kind." Kohl insisted.

"You will accomplish nothing." Alaric said curtly, "The Senate has decreed that all future clones will be educated in their military roles and nothing else. They will be completely indoctrinated for combat effectiveness and obedience. You are considered to be an anomaly. General Kohl despises you. He only took you in to obey my edict."

"There is no love lost between the general and myself but he despises me?" Joachim was shaken.

"Has he bid you farewell?"

"No."

Alaric wore a pained expression at seeing the sorrow in Kohl's face upon admitting that, "And this is after my direct order to make his peace with you."

"What am I to do then, Caesar? You are more of a father to me than any man alive." Kohl pleaded, "Say what I am to do and it will be done."

"Learn where you came from." Alaric suggested, "The man that you derive from was a good man. Study him and perhaps you will wish to adopt his family name and carry on his legacy."

Alaric granted Kohl a warm, paternal smile, "And perhaps you will continue to regard me as a father even as I see you as my eldest son."

The two men embraced and Kohl struggled to hold back tears, "It will be as you say, Caesar."

"Remember, the crew of the Obsidian will be your new family." Alaric advised, "Treat them with respect and acceptance and they will return the favour."

"I discovered this morning that Tom Riker is a duplicate of another man." Alaric said, "They accept him and treat him with the same respect that they would the original man."

"He is a clone?"

"A duplicate." Alaric explained, "Created by that transporter of theirs in a freak accident. Apparently it had a one in a billion chance of occurring but it happened and he's been adjusting, just as you have, to being the ghost of another."

"Which one is he?" Kohl asked.

"The tall, bearded one." Alaric answered.

Kohl pondered that for a moment, "He seems normal enough."

"As are you." Alaric assured Kohl, "I know you will exceed my every hope for you. Go now, meet your new shipmates."

Kohl bowed his head, "As you command, Caesar."

Alaric watched Kohl depart with a sense of pride. It was good, the Emperor mused, that he could bestow a renewed sense of purpose to the young man. It was his decision that caused the youth to come into being. He had a responsibility to see that the manufactured man had a chance at happiness, the same happiness that his government would deny him. Since Rome was the planetary government that meant there was no safe harbour to found on this globe.

Alaric turned and saw Macen and Scipio shaking hands. They must have reached an accord. Alaric thought, Good. Now we can deploy our forces and repay the remainder of our debt to the Iotians.

Scipio nodded to his approaching liege, "I go now, my Emperor, to inform my gathered comrades as to our mission and our intent."

Macen looked to Alaric, "I'm going as well. I need to prepare my crew as well."

Alaric balled his right fist and held it to his breast, "Strength and Honour."

Scipio returned the salute as a matter of rote but Macen surprised Alaric by his return, "I'm surprised to find you indulging in our custom."

Macen shrugged, "It's similar to a benediction used by philosophers from my world. The Seekers of Truth taught me the sword, as well as many secrets of the universe. I think their teachings would be widely accepted here. I'd like to return some day and take on some pupils."

"We would be honoured." Alaric returned.

"Let's discuss this in greater depth when I return to allow Centurion Kohl to complete his report." Macen suggested.

"I look forward to this conversation." Alaric promised, "It will be a long five years."

"Not for me." Macen grinned, "The price of having lived for over four hundred years. I notice decades not years."

"The wonder of it." Alaric said reverently.

"Your people will learn how to surpass a century." Macen assured him, "Give it time."

"We can only hope." Alaric remarked.

"Have faith." Macen urged.

"I wish you good fortune." Alaric said.

"Thanks." Macen acknowledged the wish, "My team seems to have more than its fair share of luck. Hopefully, we haven't expended our supply of it yet."

"I'm sure that you haven't." Alaric returned, "You toppled Rome. That was no easy feat. Then you overthrew the Omicrons. You are destined for great things. Like Julius Caesar before you, you have a great destiny laid out before you."

"I hope I end better than he did." Macen said wryly.

"I'm sure that you will." Alaric said with confidence.

"Well," Macen wore an embarrassed grin, "I'm going to go before you offer me the throne."

"Would you accept?"

"Hell, no." Macen laughed. While Alaric chuckled Macen exited the anteroom and entered the rotunda. He was pleased to see several of his teammates talking to Joachim Kohl. He was rather surprised to see that T'Kir wasn't one of them.

"What's up?" he asked as he moved up beside her.

"Mr. Kohl is bothered by aliens." T'Kir replied, "Kort, Parva and I make him edgy. Radil and Lees are close enough to human to be accepted."

"What's wrong with you?" Macen wondered.

"Apparently my ears resemble an artist's depiction of an elf. Apparently these beings can either be benevolent or pure evil itself. You never know until it's too late."

"Well," Macen said mirthfully, "you are rather predatory."

"Shut up." T'Kir backhanded his arm, "This isn't funny."

"Actually it is rather amusing." Macen said while rubbing his arm, "The Romans are a provincial people. He's probably never seen another species before. He's lived close to the palace for the bulk of his short life and now he's being sent off into space with strange beings from planets he's never heard of."

"Yeah," T'Kir relented, "He's pretty terrified isn't he?"

"He's hiding it well though." Macen opined.

"Icy exterior." T'Kir observed, "But it just hides a fount of anxiety."

"Let's not blow his cover." Macen suggested.

"What d'you take me for? A snitch?" T'Kir protested.

"Perish the thought." Macen assured her.

"Shouldn't we be going now?" T'Kir asked, barely mollified.

"Right you are." Macen grinned and then called out, "All right people gather 'round."

Grace manoeuvred Kohl into place and then Macen tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Telrik."

"Telrik here, Captain. How can I help you?"

"Ten to beam up, Chief." Macen informed him.

"I've got you on my scanner." Telrik announced, "Prepare for transport."

Alaric came out in time to see the team disappear in a shimmer of light. After the light was gone, Alaric shook his head.

"I have to get one of those."

Kohl's first reaction to rematerialising was to vomit. Next, he saw Telrik and drew his sword. He started forward but found himself blocked by Macen.

"Sheath your blade." Macen ordered in a calm, yet firm, voice.

"And if I don't?" Kohl challenged.

Macen's eyes narrowed as he dropped into a fighting stance, "Then I sheath it for you."

"I have the sword." Kohl reminded him.

"If you can get past me, then you can kill Telrik." Macen offered, "No one will stop you."

"And if I kill you?" Kohl enquired.

"It's a training accident." Macen replied.

Kohl lunged forward, thrusting the point of his longsword to where Macen had been a split second before. Macen now stood alongside Kohl. He had ahold of Kohl's sword arm. Macen's left hand was firmly planted in the Roman's elbow while his right had ahold of Kohl's wrist. Macen was slowly bending Joachim's arm and aiming the sword at its wielder.

Kohl flailed the sword about with his wrist but that that was swiftly proving dangerous as the blade approached his face and throat. Finally, Kohl dropped the sword.

"I yield."

Macen released him, "I expect you to obey an order the next time one is given."

Kohl wipe sweat from his brow, "You've proven yourself worthy of respect. I will obey."

"Telrik, summon Yeoman Kalista to the transporter room and have her escort Centurion Kohl to his quarters." Macen instructed the Tellarite.

"He'd better stay away from me." Telrik huffed as he reached fro the intercom controls.

"He's learned his lesson, hasn't he?" Macen looked directly at Kohl.

The Legionnaire nodded, "No violence against the crew...no matter how strange they may seem."

"Got it one." Macen smiled, "We'll be on the bridge if you need us, well, all except Kort. He'll be giving you a physical in an hour. Be sure to have your gear stowed by then. Also, have Yeoman Kalista assist you with selecting more casual attire to wear aboard ship."

Before Kohl could reply, Macen and the bulk of the SID team had exited the transporter room. Kohl looked to Kort, who stood behind him, watching him. Kort smiled and leaned in closer.

"See you in an hour." Kort laughed and exited the room. Kohl nervously paced until Kalista showed up. He half expected her to be covered in fur and sporting a tail. Strangely though, she was bald. She also evoked a reaction out of him that no woman had ever produced before: he became aroused.

Kalista noticed and giggled. Kohl coloured and began apologising profusely, "I'm sorry. This has never happened before."

"Then I'd say it's about time that it had." Kalista softly laughed, "Blood flow is very important."

Kohl darkened, "I didn't mean that ‘it' had never happened before. I meant that no woman has ever produced such a reaction from me. I'm at a loss."

Kalista responded with another tinkling laugh, "I am a Deltan. My oath of celibacy is on record. I wouldn't want to take advantage of any of you sexually immature species would I?"

Kalista winked and Kohl began to relax, "The Captain said I was to ask you about more appropriate attire for this ship."

"Now there's a joke!" the room filled with Kalista's delightful laugh, "Have you seen the leather attire his wife wears? I'm the tailor aboard this ship and whatever the replicators can't produce I do. Although, Kort might become jealous of anyone else wearing armour but if you want to wear it, the Captain will understand."

"I would but maybe I could try a different style. Something not used by the Legions." Kohl suggested.

"I'm sure the databanks will have something in your taste." Kalista said, "Come, let's go see your quarters."

Kohl smiled and followed her out. If everyone aboard were this pleasant, he'd have an easy time of it.

The turbolift doors opened, revealing the Obsidian's bridge. Kohl cautiously stepped out. He was dressed in a long sleeved black crew neck tunic. He also wore black pants. His leather boots were laced up to his calves. The boots were brown to match the leather armour he wore. The armour was composed of interlaced leather strips with a shoulder shield over the left arm.

Kohl paused and stared at the main viewer. Magnified within its screen were Titus Scipio's features. He and Macen were discussing departure schedules.

To Kohl's right sat...T'Kir...he was reasonably sure that the elfin creature sitting there bore that name. What he was certain of is that she was married to the Commander. He supposed he'd have to overcome his reluctance to make her acquaintance in order to appease his new commanding officer.

Rab Daggit sat to Kohl's left. The man was an obvious soldier worthy of the name. Kohl couldn't fathom how Daggit could be attracted to the emerald skinned Parva but that wasn't his concern.

To the right and ahead was the lovely Lisea Danan. Kohl found her spots to be distracting but he was trying to assimilate. He found the ridges on the bridge of Radil Jenrya's nose an equal deterrent but he was struggling to rise above his prejudices.

At the forefront of the circular space sat Hannah Grace. She sat poised and ready for the order to embark on their mission. Kohl found her to be quite beautiful. She'd been kind to him on the planet's surface. He could see himself befriending her.

At the centre of the room sat Brin Macen and Tom Riker. Kohl felt a natural empathy for Riker. Their common origins made them natural allies in this universe.

Macen was proving to be as great an enigma as Alaric had mentioned on countless occasions. Kohl had been raised on tales of Macen and crew's legends. Alaric had done so out of a sense of history to be passed down to Kohl. Kohl's predecessor, this Hal Dracas, had been a member of Macen's crew. Unfortunately, Alaric's dealings with Macen and company had been all too brief to provide any real insight.

Kohl's reflections brought a sour taste to his mouth. He'd never been comfortable with the name Kohl but after his discussion with Alaric he now had an opportunity to discover the man that he'd sprung from. If Hal Dracas met with Kohl's approval, he was determined to take Dracas' family name for his own.

"We'll depart in one hour then." Macen said, concluding his conversation with Scipio. The screen went dark and Macen rose and turned to face Kohl.

"Hello Joachim, feeling a bit overwhelmed?"

Kohl was feeling a bit in over his head but he tried to project a brave front. He had a feeling Macen could pierce his illusions.

"I came to inquire as to my duties."

"Well, at first you'll just be learning the ropes of the ship." Macen answered, "I've ordered a set of padds to be provided to you with the technical specifications of the ship. Next will come briefings on personal weaponry, navigation, stellar cartography, computer operations and field medicine. Alaric said that you were technically gifted so this should prove to be no real challenge."

Kohl felt overwhelmed already, "What am I to do as far as shipboard duties go?"

"You'll sit in on the first half of my watch and get a feel for the command structure of this ship." Macen explained, "The rest of your duty shift will be spent studying aspects of the ship, her crew, and her mission."

"Could...could I make a request?" Kohl was uncertain and felt certain that Macen knew exactly how uncomfortable he was.

"Say the word." Macen reassured him with a warm smile.

"Could I research my progenitor?" Kohl said in a rush, "The Emperor bade me to do it and I must confess that I am personally fascinated by this opportunity."

Macen chuckled, "I took the liberty of granting you access to Hal's service jacket but that's rather dry so I invoked special privilege and granted you access to his personal logs as well."

"I am honoured." Kohl was astounded.

"Honour Hal's memory and we'll both be honoured."

"How do I access this information?"

"T'Kir's our resident computer sorceress." Macen grinned, "Ask any question you have and then you can peruse the files in your quarters or the Team Room."

"The Team Room?"

"Tom, call Kalista up here." Macen laughed, "It seems we forgot to throw in a tour with the rest of this afternoon's activities."

Macen focused on Kohl, "How was your physical?"

"Your doctor is abrasive but no more than Roman doctors. Once you get past his appearance, he's a decent sort."

"Just remember that when you meet Ceryx." Macen advised.

"What's a ‘Ceryx'?" Kohl was completely baffled.

"You'll know when you see him." Macen warned.

"Yoo hoo!" T'Kir called out, "Hey Roman boy, get up here. I have to show you how to access your database, the ship's library computer, and a padd."

"What is a ‘padd'?" Kohl asked as he warily approached T'Kir's position.

"Personal Access Data Display, or one of these." T'Kir withdrew a padd from her belt, "To use it you do this, ‘computer, transfer files to padd 110-086'. The computer will then transfer the selected files to the padd and you can carry it with you and study it at your leisure."

"How do you select a file?" Kohl wondered.

"Brin, I'm going with him back to his quarters and showing him how t'do this on his computer." T'Kir announced as she stood up. She graced Kohl with a wicked smile, "Don't worry, I don't often bite."

Kalista arrived at that moment and ushered the pair onward for Kohl's tour. T'Kir stopped at Kohl's quarters and stepped inside and began preparing Kohl's place in the mainframe.

"Darlin', I hope you know what you're doin'." T'Kir said to an absent Macen as she set out to work.

 

Chapter Eleven

Kohl sat before Macen's desk in the Captain's Ready Room. T'Kir was curled up on the couch just behind and to the left of the Legionnaire. Macen could sense Kohl's sense of uneasiness and quickly tried to negate the tension.

"One of the things which you will be taught during your stay aboard is the history of the Federation." Macen began, "You've received a version of this story as handed down by Captain Merrick."

"Yes," Kohl agreed, "I've received a full tutorial on the history of the outlanders."

"You've received a version filtered by Roman prejudices and tailored by Merricus to impress the Emperor." Macen countered, "What you'll learn here is the versions of the story as taught to our young."

"Still filtered," Kohl rejoined, "just this time by your prejudices."

"Exactly." Macen confirmed, "It's up to you to decide which versions are true and which versions ring false."

"It is strange to think that your history has many faces." Kohl admitted, "On Magna Roma, all histories must be approved by the Imperial government."

"Welcome to a purportedly free society." Macen remarked, "You're free to do anything but threaten the government."

"I don't see the distinction." Kohl said.

"It's the difference between overt and covert control." Macen explained. Seeing Kohl's ongoing confusion he dismissively waved his hand, "You'll figure it out."

"Perhaps." Kohl replied, "But it will take me time to observe the differences between the Empire and the Federation just as it will take time to discern the differences between Starfleet and the Legions."

"I hate to disappoint but this ship and crew aren't Starfleet." Macen revealed, "We're privateers licensed by the Federation and Starfleet and hired by Starfleet to handle matters too sensitive for Starfleet's regular forces."

"You're civilians?" Kohl asked in disbelief.

"Yup." Macen replied, "At least for the most part. Most of the senior staff retained their Starfleet commissions. Those that didn't have regular commissions have been granted conditional ranks and titles."

"Why...how can your military do this?" Kohl asked.

"Starfleet is a multi-role organisation." Macen explained, "It has defence and policing responsibilities but its primary focus has generally been on exploration and scientific inquiry. We serve in order to grant Starfleet plausible deniability in matters involving classified secrets or delicate political considerations."

"You would be martyrs?" Kohl enquired.

Macen nodded, "If we were taken prisoner, Starfleet Intelligence might mount a discreet rescue mission. The Federation would deny any involvement with us and would disavow us."

Kohl abruptly stood, "You mean to say I am travelling with pirate mercenaries? Pirate mercenaries that will be discarded by their employers if they are captured or killed."

"We're privateers." Macen returned passionately, "We're a paramilitary force licensed for scouting, security, and general cargo delivery work. We do not plunder or loot innocent bystanders or those that oppose us. Almost every crewmember is a former Starfleet officer. We still hold to the ideals laid down by that service."

T'Kir cleared her throat and Macen amended his last statement, "Within limits of course."

"This is interesting." Kohl said, "The Empire has employed mercenaries for centuries but none of them ever declared their ideals or intentions to be the same as Rome's."

"It's a tradition among Federation privateers." Macen revealed, "The paramilitary forces strive to live up to a similar standard as the regular forces. They just undertake tasks the regular forces are unsuited for."

"So the mercenaries are auxiliaries for the military." Kohl surmised.

"That's one way of looking at it." Macen confirmed, "Only, we aren't mercenaries."

"You'll forgive me if I withhold judgement on that detail." Kohl remarked, "At least until I have observed your crew in action."

"Of course." Macen clasped his hands together on the desk, "You're free to take the rest of the day off. Your shift will begin at 0700 shipboard time."

"Understood." Kohl rose, "I would like to use the gymnasium. Is that permissible?"

"All of the ship's facilities are at your disposal." Macen informed Kohl, "Feel free to make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you. I shall." Kohl raised his fist to his chest and then turned on his heel and departed.

Macen wore a wry grin as the Ready Room doors closed, "You're dismissed."

"Well, he's certainly gotten in touch with your lax command style." T'Kir quipped.

"His emotions are still in turmoil." Macen grimaced, "What about his thoughts?"

"Are you suggesting that I would monitor someone's thoughts without their permission?" T'Kir demanded.

"In a heartbeat." Macen laughed.

T'Kir shrugged, "Okay, so you're right. He was disturbed to find out this wasn't a Starfleet vessel but he's willing to give us the benefit of the doubt."

"Good." Macen leaned back, "Now if I could only sway Tom over."

The door chime sounded and T'Kir grinned, "Speak o' the devil."

She ran to the door and released it. Riker stood on the other side looking surprised.

"I'd love to take over the watch." T'Kir beamed and ran past Riker to the centre seats. Riker's head snapped around and then came back to true. He stepped into the Ready Room and rubbed his head.

"I really wish she wouldn't do that."

Macen broke into a lopsided grin, "This is mild. You should have seen her before she was medicated."

"I bet she was hell on wheels." Riker chuckled.

"Like she isn't now?" Macen mirthfully asked, "What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering what our next plan of action might be and..." Riker hesitated, "and I'd like to apologise. I've been holding our disagreement against you. That's wrong of me. I do trust you Brin. I wouldn't be able to serve under you otherwise. I just wish you'd trust me more."

Macen nodded, "This apology just went further towards accomplishing that goal then anything else you've ever done. This had to be painful."

"More than I care to admit." Riker confessed.

"I'll tell you what." Macen offered, "I promise I'll weigh more of your considerations into my planning as long as you remember that doesn't mean you'll always get your way."

"You were planning on getting rid of me weren't you?" Riker asked forthrightly, "I know I would have in reverse."

"Yes." Macen repaid the honesty in kind, "I won't battle with my XO."

"I wondered if that's why you jumped at having Kohl aboard." Riker admitted.

"It crossed my mind." Macen revealed, "But he's too new to the worlds beyond Magna Roma. He needs seasoning. I'll give him that chance. I owe that much to Hal."

Riker took one of the seats laid out in front of Macen's desk, "I still think we can work out our differences."

"I'm sure we can." Macen confirmed, "It'll require effort from both of us but I think we can reach a happy medium."

"Just don't expect a yes-man." Riker warned.

"I'd lose all respect for you if you suddenly agreed with every decision I made." Macen admitted.

"So, what is our next course of action?" Riker asked.

"Now we proceed to the Iotian frontier." Macen began to explain, "There, we'll leave our Roman escort behind. We'll proceed into Iotian space, get picked up by one of their patrols and get taken straightaway to Iotia itself."

"Unless of course we run into one of the vessels that attacked Outbound Ventures." Riker darkly hypothesised.

"That is a very real possibility." Macen conceded, "Which is why we have the Romans on hand as back up."

"Let's say we get past the outer patrols and we do get escorted to Iotia," Riker began, "how will we convince the Iotians to let us investigate whether or not they attacked us?"

"They'll want to clear their name." Macen replied, "Besides their protection rackets, the Iotians have become moderately successful traders. Trade is playing an even bigger role in each successive year's economy. They don't want their reputation damaged in order to expand their market share."

"It sounds like a similar argument to the one you made for recruiting them." Riker pointed out.

"But now I have concrete evidence on my side." Macen leaned back and placed his hands behind his head, "The Iotians recently approached the Federation and requested greater access to our markets. When they were confronted with allegations related to their forcing worlds to hire them as planetary defenders, the Iotians quickly recanted their previous policy and assured the Finance Minister and the Secretary of the Interior that practice had been terminated."

"Two weeks later, Starfleet Intelligence received the hard data supporting the Iotian claims." Macen continued, "A year before, The Iotian Starfleet had stopped pressuring potential clients and instead let them select or reject the Iotians on their own merits. Those that rejected the protection program were offered weapons and starships instead."

"So now they're weapons dealers." Riker grimaced.

"They also do a brisk trade in alcoholic beverages." Macen revealed.

"I'm surprised the Ferengi haven't sought them out." Riker confessed.

"First contact with the Ferengi Alliance took place two years ago." Macen divulged, "Most of the changes in their trade practices have come about as a result of dealings with a Ferengi shipping magnate named Zem."

Riker grimaced, "What's his story?"

"Zem is a hold out." Macen disclosed, "He believes in the pre-reform Ferengi Alliance. He was an opponent of Grand Nagus Zek's initial reforms and has become a self imposed exile under Rom's administration."

"Angry that he can't fleece the customers any more?"

Macen sat upright and swung his hands down to the surface of the desk, "Something like that. He pioneered the Alliance's move into Iotian space and he's the primary broker for any and all Ferengi related deals in the region."

"Could he have something to do with the attacks?" Riker enquired.

"It's a distinct possibility." Macen shared, "At least, we can't rule it out."

"So what, theoretically, will happen after we share our incriminating evidence and the Iotians choose to save face?" Riker wondered.

"I have no idea." Macen admitted and then shrugged, "Hopefully they'll allow us to investigate and they'll even support our investigation rather than impede it."

"We'll never get that lucky." Riker wore a wry expression.

"The Fates will provide." Macen intoned, "You must have faith."

"I need more than El-Aurian mysticism to engender hope in me." Riker disclosed, "It may work for you but I don't believe in anything higher than the Q Continuum. I find them to be poor gods so I'll settle for nothing but my own goals to drive me onward."

"You're missing out on an entire realm of experience." Macen said sadly.

"I don't need god." Riker declared.

"I'm not asking you to believe in a deity." Macen clarified, "I'm asking you to believe that when the dust settles and time has moved on, the universe will have unfolded as it's destined to."

"That still smacks of a predetermined outcome for life." Riker argued, "I can't hold that view."

"I could start a whole debate based upon semantics but I'll spare both of us." Macen allowed.

"Thanks." Riker rose, "I'd better be getting back. Who knows what T'Kir's ordered in my absence."

"You're the one that left her in charge." Macen quipped, "I'll hold you responsible."

"Sure, blame your whipping boy and leave your wife unprosecuted."

"As long as we have an understanding." Macen grinned.

"I think we do." Riker said and opened the door, "T'Kir! Get out of that chair and get back to your own post!"

Macen's grin blossomed into a smile and he returned his attention to the latest set of dispatches he'd received from Starfleet Intelligence.

After Macen and T'Kir got off their shift, they had a light dinner in the Team Room and then changed clothes in their quarters and headed for the gym. There they found a small crowd surrounding the sparring ring. Inside the ring Joachim Kohl stood bare-chested wielding a wooden mock up of a Roman short sword. He was practicing with it against an imaginary foe.

Macen put his fingerless gloves on and went to the equipment room. He exited carrying two wooden swords and headed for the ring.

"Hold up there." he called out as he climbed into the ring, "How about a little challenge?"

Kohl appraised Macen then nodded, "All right. You prefer the long sword?"

"These are styled after Japanese katana blades. They only have one edge." Macen described the sword as he held one out, "However, they offer a degree of precision not easily found in other blades."

Kohl hefted the sword. He dodged, thrust, and parried against a shadow. He then did a complicated manoeuvre involving several blocks and cuts from multiple angles. Satisfied, he returned his full attention to Macen.

"Would you care to warm up?"

Macen shook his head, "I was given less time than this to prepare for my bouts in the gladiatorial arena."

"Yes," Kohl nodded, "the Emperor said you were undefeated. We shall see soon enough.

Kohl lunged forward, thrusting his sword outward. Macen deflected the thrust with his sword and then spun on his heel, bringing his sword upward into an arc that descended onto Kohl's throat. Kohl paused while wearing a stunned expression. Macen grinned.

"Let's try again." Macen stepped back and fell into a guard position. Kohl stepped forward to attack. He feinted with another short thrust and then spun and dropped to one knee while sweeping his sword in front of him. It was a good plan only Macen was no longer in front of him.

Macen dove and rolled out of the way of the slicing blade. He came up and swung his sword around to catch Kohl in the back of the neck. The Roman's face was scarlet when he rose.

"Enough games." he demanded, "Stand your ground and face me."

Macen spread his feet apart until they were lined up with his shoulders. He leaned forward, bending his knees slightly and raised his sword vertically in front of him. Kohl pressed the attack, slashing downwards from his right side. Macen blocked the attack but did not press his own in return.

Kohl, seeing this as weakness, pressed on with greater fervour. Macen blocked a thrust towards his heart, then a sweep towards his legs, and finally a hammer blow from above. Macen then grinned and punched Kohl in the face. As the Centurion staggered backwards, Macen kicked his legs out from underneath him. He then dropped to one knee while driving his sword towards Kohl's chest. The point of the sword was firmly planted in Kohl's breastbone when the Roman yielded.

"I admit it." Kohl gasped, "You are a better swordsman than I...and far craftier."

Macen lifted the sword out of Kohl's chest and stood up. He leaned down and offered Kohl his hand. Kohl gratefully accepted the help and rose to his feet.

"I can see now why you remain undefeated in the arena." Kohl admitted, "Where did you learn the sword?"

"Swordplay was a meditative practice amongst select students on my homeworld." Macen replied, "We focused more on the energy and precision of the movements rather than the violence of the actions themselves."

"Whatever the motive, the outcome is damned effective." Kohl tenderly touched his swelling lip.

"Have Kort or the EMH look at that and then call it a night." Macen suggested, "Read up on Hal Dracas or get to know some of the crew."

Kohl nodded, "Perhaps it is time for that."

Macen smiled at him, "Glad to hear it."

"Hey, you!" T'Kir called out, "Get over here."

Kohl looked over towards T'Kir but the Captain shook his head, "It's me she wants."

Kohl frowned, "Roman wives are not as disrespectful as she is. It is improper."

Macen grinned, "Improper is her middle name."

"Truly?" Kohl was surprised.

Macen laughed, "It's an expression. Vulcans don't have middle names and they only use their last names at formal occasions with other Vulcans."

"Do you know her last name?" Kohl wondered.

"Yes," Macen revealed, "but I can't pronounce it."

"I mean it!" T'Kir yelled, "Get over here!"

Macen left the ring and walked over to T'Kir, "What is it?"

"Shut this damned thing up!" T'Kir said as she flung Macen's comm badge towards him, "It's driving me crazy."

Macen caught the chirping badge and went into the equipment room. He returned his sword to its rightful place and tapped the badge with his thumb. T'Kir followed him into the room and leaned up against a storage locker.

"Macen here."

Radil's voice came over the link, "Sorry to bother you, Captain, but we've got a situation."

"Are you telling me we have a security alert?" Macen incredulously asked.

"It's Harry Mudd." Radil explained, "He's threatening to kill himself if you don't speak with him."

Macen sighed, "I thought I'd managed to avoid him for too long. I'll be right down."

"Hurry." Radil urged, "His whining is going to force me to shoot him."

"Feel free." Macen chuckled darkly.

"Don't tempt me." Radil growled and closed the circuit.

"So..." T'Kir smirked, "Harry Mudd. Are you gonna play nice?"

"Not if I can help it." Macen returned.

"D'you think handing him over to Radil is the best idea?" T'Kir enquired, "I thought the Bajorans wanted him intact and undamaged."

"They'd prefer him that way." Macen corrected, "However, they just want him and will accept him in any condition."

"As long as they don't protest." T'Kir remarked, "We've got enough trouble with the Council of Five as it is."

"Careful." Macen advised, "That's one group you don't want to be actively referencing unless you want a cortical monitor planted in your skull."

"How did you avoid that anyway?" T'Kir's eyebrow rose.

"I simply informed them that El-Aurian minds work differently then your average humanoid's. They checked their medical records and agreed with me. I was allowed to tell you about the group because you'd get it from my mind through our telepathic bond anyway."

T'Kir's eyes widened, "But you can block my telepathy."

"I can easily shut you out completely." Macen explained, "Precise topical exclusions are infinitely harder and require constant concentration."

"So," T'Kir grew pensive, "to keep a secret you have to block me out completely and for the rest of our lives."

Macen grinned, "That's about it."

"Good to know." T'Kir remarked with a matching grin of her own.

"Let's change clothes and meet with Mudd." Macen took her hand and led her out of the equipment room. Outside of it, Kohl waited to access the room and return the katana mock up to its place. He had to ponder what he'd overheard of Macen and T'Kir's conversation. It had proven to be as confusing as it had been enlightening.

The elfin woman could read thoughts. Elves were supposed to have magical powers and she was no exception. Kohl knew he'd have to be careful around her. He had to study her weaknesses and be prepared to kill her if the need arose.

Knowing he'd accomplish little else today, Kohl returned to his quarters and accessed Hal Dracas' personnel jacket. Impressed with what he found there, he then shifted to personal logs. Those kept him up until the wee hours of the morning.

Having showered and dressed in freshly cleaned and pressed examples of their usual attire, Macen and T'Kir made their way to the brig. Radil was sitting in the adjacent security office. She seemed inordinately pleased with herself.

"How long ago did you stun him?" Macen asked.

"Roughly thirty minutes ago." Radil happily replied.

"Told ya we should'a been faster." T'Kir chastised Macen.

"Do you have a stimulant ready?" Macen asked, ignoring T'Kir.

"Yes, but we had to guess at the dosage." Radil answered, "We could call Kort in."

"Your calculations are probably pretty close to the mark." Macen remarked, "Let's just revive him."

Radil shrugged, "It's your call." She retrieved a hypospray from the office and crossed the corridor. The door slid open to reveal the brig. Two the three cells were empty and darkened. The third had its lights and forcefield on. Mudd was laid out on his bunk snoring softly.

"I hit him with the lightest stun setting the phaser has." Radil revealed.

"Drop the forcefield." Macen ordered.

"Do we have to wake him up?" Abigail Collins, the Deputy Chief of Security, asked.

"'Fraid so, Abby." Radil answered, "Captain's orders."

"Damn." Collins muttered.

"I can watch the brig during this." Radil said to Collins, "Take a break then have Jynx relieve me here."

"You got it!" Collins replied with enthusiasm and quickly exited the room.

"Has he really been that much trouble?" Macen asked.

"He just won't shut up." Radil bitterly replied, "He's constantly wheedling, trying to persuade us to release him and get him off the ship. I have to confess that we're all tempted to do it just to get rid of him."

"Well, hopefully I can shut him up." Macen responded.

"May the Prophets guide you." Radil intoned. She then deactivated the forcefield and stepped into the cell. She stooped and pressed the hypo against Mudd's neck and depressed the activation stud. It emptied its contents into him with a hiss.

Radil back-pedalled out of the cell and let Macen step in while Mudd's eyes fluttered. His vision cleared and he looked up to see Macen standing over him. Mudd looked angry for a second and then he broke into his best ingratiating smile.

"Captain!" Mudd exclaimed as he swung his legs onto the floor and rose to a seated position, "You're a hard man to reach."

"I'm here now, Mudd." Macen said tersely, "What do you want?"

"Please, call me Harry." Mudd insisted.

"What do you want, Mudd?" Macen grated.

"I can tell that you're a hard man, Captain, so I'll play this straight." Mudd replied, "You're a business man, like myself. I am prepared to offer you a substantial reward for my release. It will be far superior to whatever pittance the Bajorans are offering for me."

"They aren't offering anything but a pat on the head." Macen informed Mudd, "But I'd rather take their pat versus your latinum."

Mudd's features hardened as he shrugged off his jacket, "You're forcing my hand then."

"Brin!" T'Kir yelled, "Watch out!"

Mudd ripped open a section of his forearm and withdrew two small devices. He activated a small ball and it began to glow. Macen drew his phaser as Mudd held the glowing ball aloft. Mudd shielded his eyes and T'Kir yelled for Macen and Radil to close their eyes. Before Macen could heed her warning the room filled with a searing, blinding light.

Macen staggered and ran into the cell's bulkhead. He heard a slight humming noise followed by a phaser blast.

"Damn it!" T'Kir snarled and then a comm badge chirped, "T'Kir to Collins, we've had a jailbreak. The prisoner beamed out of the brig. His location is unknown."

That said, T'Kir rushed to Macen's side and began inspecting him for wounds, "You seem all right except for your vision." She slapped her comm badge, "T'Kir to Kort, medical emergency in the brig."

"How'd he rip his arm open?" Macen asked as he rapidly blinked his eyes.

"He has a biosynthetic arm." Radil answered even as she widened and closed her eyes, "We scanned it but it looked normal to the tricorder. How the hell did he escape?"

"After setting off the flash bomb, Mudd activated a small capsule. He beamed out at that point."

"A remote transport?" Radil wondered.

"No." Macen said firmly, "A portable transporter. Starfleet has been field testing similar prototypes. I'd love to know how Mudd got ahold of one."

"You can ask him as soon as we catch him." T'Kir growled, "Or I can rip it out of his mind."

"T'Kir..." Macen began firmly.

"I know, I know." T'Kir defensively interjected, "No tearing other people's minds apart. I've heard the lecture."

"Mudd's still on the ship." Macen asserted, "The microtransporter can only beam to preset locations or fix on a homing beacon."

"He never opened his arm up before." Radil promised, "He was monitored 24/7."

"He must have planted a beacon while he was wandering all over the ship." Macen concluded, "He'll try leaving the ship next."

"Radil tapped her comm badge, "Abby, lock down the shuttlebays!"

"Already on it, Boss." came the reply.

The brig door slid open and Kort bounded into the room, "What is the emergency?"

"Brin and Jenrya looked a flash bomb full in the eye. They're blind." T'Kir described.

Kort moved towards Radil but T'Kir blocked him, "Don'cha think the Captain of the boat should get looked at first?"

Kort looked abashed, "You are right. I'm sorry."

He began an examination of Macen's eyes. When he finished his scans, he moved on to Radil. Closing his tricorder, he turned to face T'Kir.

"Can you help guide the Captain to Sickbay?"

"Of course." T'Kir replied, "Can their eyesight be restored?"

"I think so." Kort cautiously replied, "But I need to regenerate their corneas and optic nerve endings. There may be complications. Their prognosis is guarded but hopeful. I think they both can make a full recovery."

"Then what are we waiting for?" T'Kir demanded, "Let's get them to Sickbay!"

Kort took Radil's arm, "Trust me Jenrya. Let me be your eyes."

T'Kir took Macen's arm, "Same story Brin."

"Not a problem." Macen assured her. The quartet moved out. Slowly and awkwardly, they made their way out of the brig and into the turbolift down the corridor. They made it to Sickbay a few minutes later and Kort set to work restoring their vision. Meanwhile the hunt for Harry Mudd began in earnest.

 

Chapter Twelve

On the bridge of the Obsidian Riker and Forger were galvanised into action. The security alert had been issued ten minutes ago and there still hadn't been a sign of Mudd. Danan had returned to the bridge and was guiding the gamma shift Ops officer utilise the internal sensors in an effort to trace Mudd's transporter beam. The work had been engrossing until an alarm sounded at the Ops station.

"Commander," the Ops watch officer began to report, "someone has activated a lifepod on deck six, section five."

The ship lurched out of warp and everyone took hold of something.

"The computer has overridden helm control in order to facilitate a lifepod launch." Rhiann reported.

"Lifepods across deck six, sections four and five have been primed for launch!" Danan reported, shoving the Ops officer out of the way.

"Alert security." Riker growled, "And prepare the tractor beam. I don't want a single pod escaping our net."

"Commander," Danan said urgently, "Someone is trying to override the lockdown on the main shuttlebay."

"Redirect Security there!" Riker ordered, "Insure that the lockdown stays in effect."

"We need T'Kir." Danan replied, "This guy's too good. His abilities surpass mine."

"Can't you encrypt the control files?" Riker asked.

"I can try and activate one of T'Kir's encryption protocols." Danan said.

Forger was standing by the Tactical station, "Security reports that they already have a man down in the shuttlebay but that he's not responding to hails."

"Inform Security that Mudd is considered armed and dangerous." Riker commanded.

"Security acknowledges and is en route to the shuttlebay." Forger acknowledged.

"Good." Riker shifted in his seat, "I want this bastard caught."

Harry Mudd sat in the cockpit of the Corsair desperately trying to override the computer's lockout of the shuttlebay's control system. He was all too aware of the ticking minutes and seconds displayed on the runabout's chronometer. Sweat poured from every pore. Mudd wiped his eyes and glanced over at the centrally located clock again.

Too long, his frenetic brain thought, Too long, they'll be here any second from now.

Harry knew he still had the phaser he'd taken from the guard outside of the shuttlebay. He also realised that he'd probably never get a chance to use it. He wasn't a violent man by temperament. Despite being a gunrunner, Mudd had never fired a phaser in his life.

He'd crept up on the guard and hit him over the head several times with his synthetic arm. Unlike proper Federation biosynthetics, Mudd's arm was of Ferengi manufacture and possessed more weight than a natural limb. With the neural sensors deactivated his clubbing of the guard was akin to bludgeoning him with a truncheon.

Suddenly, his probes penetrated the computer's security routines. He quickly began inputting commands and the bay depressurised. He put his own encryption matrix around the bay's tractor beam controls. Opening the bay doors, he activated the runabout's manoeuvring thrusters.

The runabout sailed out of the bay and its impulse engines. Mudd swore upon seeing the squadron of Roman vessels surrounding the Obsidian but quickly realised that he had to escape. He couldn't prevent the strange ships from pursuing but that was a chance Mudd was willing to take. He cleared the Roman ships and activated the warp engines. He slipped into subspace and was away.

"Dammit!" Danan snarled, "He locked me out of the bay's tractor controls."

"Can you access the runabout's computers and shut it down?" Riker quickly asked.

"He's disabled the subspace transceiver." Danan answered, "He's a communications black hole."

Riker turned to Forger, "Can you disable his engines?"

Forger shook her head, "He's travelling too close to the Nova Roman ships. We'll risk hitting them."

"Damn." Riker swore under his breath, "What about the ID transponder can we get a lock on that?"

"If we're in the same system, sure." Danan replied.

"Commander, the Commander of the Roman forces would like to speak with you." the Tactical rating announced.

"Put it on screen." Riker said wearily.

"It's my fault." Collins miserably reported.

Macen, his sight restored, shook his head, "It's more my fault than yours Abby. I should have had Mudd locked in the brig from the moment he stepped foot on the ship. I also should have had the forcefield to his cell reactivated and interviewed him from the room's security desk."

Collins blushed, "I didn't mean to impugn you, sir."

"You didn't." Macen assured her, "My own mistakes did."

The Sickbay door opened and admitted T'Kir, "I don't believe it." she muttered, shaking her head, "He beat one of my encryption protocols. Sure, it was one of my more elementary codes but still..."

"This means I'll have to revise all the simpler codes across every system." T'Kir whined.

Macen put an arm around her waist, "Buck up little trooper, it'll be a challenge. Someone somewhere was bound to crack one of your codes eventually."

"They could'a waited 'till I was dead." T'Kir bitterly replied.

Collins looked perplexed so Macen explained, "Her encryption codes are her babies. She takes violating one of them very seriously."

Collins nodded, "That's how I feel about my security protocols."

"So you understand the self flagellating aspect of the whole ordeal." Macen surmised.

"Don't worry, ma'am." Collins urged, "We can both get through this."

Macen was gratified to hear the confidence in Collins' voice but T'Kir's ire was piqued, "Did you just call me ‘ma'am'?"

"Yes, ma...yes, I did." Collins stammered.

"I'm...not...a...ma'am!" T'Kir grated, "Got it?"

Collins' head bobbed, "Yessir!"

T'Kir snorted, "That's a little better. ‘T'Kir' works best."

Collins looked shell-shocked as she stammered, "Yes, ma...yes, si...I mean, yes, T'Kir."

T'Kir beamed, "Has a musical quality don'cha think?"

"Stop torturing poor Abigail." Macen instructed T'Kir and then he returned his focus to Collins, "I look forward to your after action report, Deputy. Just make sure it's not full of self-recrimination. If you need help being objective, have Radil help you out."

"Damn straight." Radil said from the biobed where Kort was regenerating her optic nerves.

"Hold still." Kort commanded, "Or you'll stay blind."

Radil subsided and Kort turned off his equipment, "Your vision should return in a moment. I'll check on you in a few minutes and take a few readings." He released his hold on Radil's shoulder and returned to Macen. He waved a tricorder in front of Macen's eyes.

"How's your vision?" Kort asked.

"It started off blurry but it's come back to normal." Macen remarked.

"Look into this." Kort handed Macen an opaque pair of goggles.

Macen put them on. He saw a series of red and blue dots light up followed by a purple light that seemed to penetrate his eye.

"Keep looking straight ahead." Kort said as he monitored the goggle's readings from a panel behind his diagnostic station, "All right, you can remove the device now."

Macen removed the goggles and widened his eyes before blinking a few times, "I always hate those tests. How's my vision?"

"Better than before your exposure to the flash bomb." Kort revealed, "That may be temporary or it may be permanent. Cases can go either way. Either way, you'll at least have normal vision."

"Thanks." Macen said gratefully, "Can I go now?"

"Yes." Kort replied, "It would be best if you rested your eyes for the rest of the evening. You shouldn't have any trouble with your following duty shift. Call me if you have any problems."

"You got it." Macen grinned.

"I mean it." Kort stressed.

"I know." Macen said, "Good night. Hang in there Jenrya. The worst is past you."

Radil blinked in the direction of his voice, "I'll believe it when I see it...literally."

There was a chorus of chuckles at that and Radil smiled, "I'll be fine. Go take care of yourself."

"Aye, aye Captain." Macen retorted and he and T'Kir exited Sickbay. Collins stayed behind to hear Radil's opinion Mudd's escape. Kort clucked his tongue.

"When I discharge you, you have to go straight to your quarters. I'll escort you personally."

"Will you stay?" Radil asked.

"Of course." Kort gently affirmed, "Someone has to care for you. You won't do it for yourself."

"That's not true!" Radil protested.

"Yes, it is and we both know it." Kort's bass was low and soothing in its gentleness, "Jenrya, my love, you are my worst patient."

"Hey, you're kind of blurry now." Radil suddenly remarked, "Can I go now?"

"Case in point." Kort chuckled, "You aren't going anywhere until I see how the nerves have regrown themselves and then I shall have to test your visual acuity."

"Oh, very well." Radil huffed.

Kort lifted her chin and softly kissed her on the lips, "I'm glad you've opted to cooperate. I'd hate to sedate you."

"You wouldn't dare!" Radil exclaimed.

"Try me." came Kort's rejoinder.

"Oh." Radil's mouth formed a perfect "O", "I see."

"I'm glad." Kort admitted.

"I love it when you're stern." Radil confessed, "It's sexy."

"Aren't I though?" Kort teased.

"Watch it mister." Radil warned, "When I can see clearly again I might have to kick your backside."

"Of course you will." Kort rumbled, "How is your vision?"

"Blurry but I can make out general shapes and sizes now." Radil reported.

"Excellent." Kort smiled, "We're almost out of here."

"What do you mean ‘we'?" Radil asked, "I'm revoking my invitation."

"I'm the CMO of this ship." Kort replied, "I can go into any cabin that I deem there's a medical emergency."

"I see." Radil said pensively, "And my case qualifies as a medical emergency?"

"It does to me."

Radil smiled despite herself, "I think you need to work on your objectivity, Doctor."

"That's why we have an EMH." Kort responded, "So I can handle the house calls."

"My ‘house' better be the only one you're calling on." Radil growled.

"Assuredly." Kort took her hand and pressed it up to his chest, "How are you doing?"

"Vision's almost back to perfect." Radil happily informed him.

"Good." Kort activated his tricorder, "It means the neurons are reintegrating nicely." He waved the device over Radil's eyes. She frowned.

"Watch it with that thing buster."

"You should be ready for the final set of tests in another...five minutes or so."

"So what do I do until then?" Radil complained.

"Reassure young Abigail here that her efforts were not in vain." Kort suggested and stepped away.

"Abby, I swear, if you ever utter the words ‘it's my fault' in connection to this incident again I will skin you and tan your hide into a leather coat for T'Kir to wear." Radil clutched the air in front of her.

"No, ma'am." Collins fired off.

"That sounded a tad rehearsed to me." Radil chastised her, "Try it now...with conviction."

"Yes ma'am, I mean no ma'am...I don't know what I mean. All I know is he got away and I'm confused as to who's at fault."

Radil squeezed Collins' arm, "We all are, Abby. We got overconfident. We were so certain that no one could escape that we let a prisoner, a fairly dangerous prisoner as that it turns out, escape. Besides you only had six Security officers on duty and eight decks and 180 metres of ship length to patrol."

"The Captain already admitted he shouldn't have been in the cell with Mudd. I shouldn't have let that situation develop and T'Kir relied too heavily on her techno wizardry." Radil continued, "You and the others probably thought, ‘He's just a podgy middle-aged man. He can't evade us forever.' Was it something like that?"

Radil heard a sniffle and caught the bobbing of Collins' head, "I thought so. All the earlier mistakes outweighed your natural reaction. We got careless, the entire ship's company, that is. I have a few drills in mind that I think will rattle a few cages."

Radil could almost make out Collins' wan smile, "Now, off with you. Prepare your after action report but don't file it until I've signed off on it."

"Yes ma'am." Collins replied with some of her usual confidence, "Have a good night."

As the doors closed behind the departing Collins, Radil leaned back onto her bed and yelled out, "So, Loverboy, what are your plans for this evening?"

"I thought I would hold you in my arms until we both fell asleep." Kort said as he walked up behind Radil and wrapped his arms around her.

"This is nice." she purred, "Tonight sounds a little tame compared with some of your recent exploits."

"There is a time for fervour and a time for tenderness." Kort replied.

"And this is?"

"A time for fervent tenderness." Kort kissed the back of her head.

"Yeah." Radil smiled, "That's what I thought too."

On the bridge, Riker had just fended off the last of Titus Scipio's questions and he leaned back in his chair. Danan joined him by sitting in the XO's chair. Forger was still assisting the Tactical rating's attempts to track the rapidly departing Corsair.

"Tough day." Danan remarked.

"Losing a prisoner and lying to an ally over what actually happened?" Riker asked scornfully, "Nah, happens every day around this time."

"Sarcasm notwithstanding," Danan replied, "you did a good thing. The Romans wouldn't understand the reality of the situation and the last thing we need right now is for them to pack up and go home."

"That's what I thought." Riker mumbled miserably.

"Tom, look at me." Danan commanded and Riker complied, "Deceptions and half truths are our stock in trade. We handle the cases no one wants to know about. The SID invents cover stories to explain our proximity to events and then spindoctors the entire affair so it appears no Federation forces were involved."

"I know our job Lees." Riker whispered, "I'm just not entirely comfortable with it. Starfleet is above this type of secrecy and sleight of hand."

"You're not in Starfleet any more." Danan reminded him, "You work for Outbound Ventures, Inc.. Starfleet hires us to do jobs they'd rather not be involved in but that commission you're sporting is purely ceremonial. They'll only drag that out to crucify you in case of a foul up. Your reserve commission carried far more weight."

Riker looked on the verge of becoming upset and then his anger subsided, "You're right. I know you're right. It just galls me."

"Then you need to find a berth on another ship. Preferably a command slot." Danan advised.

"Now you sound like Macen." Riker bemoaned.

"Great minds sometimes think alike." Danan shrugged, "Just think about it, okay?"

Riker nodded, "All right. I will."

"In the meantime, support your crew." Danan rose and made to leave.

"Will you still be up when I get off duty?" Riker asked.

"I think so." Danan smirked, "Why?"

"I'd like to finish our conversation in private."

Danan's smirk became a consoling smile, "I'll be waiting with dinner."

"Thanks." Riker gratefully smiled in return.

After Danan stepped into the turbolift and departed, Riker stroked his beard and mused to himself, How'd I get so lucky to get a friend like that?

Joachim Kohl sat reading in his quarters. He'd shucked his armour and had transferred from the desk to the bed. It had taken some time to adjust to the padds, but now that he had, he enjoyed them. He could adjust the font, bookmark favourite passages, and run topical searches. It was so much easier than reading a book.

It was also less rewarding. Reading a padd was a lot like doing research or searching a database. It lacked the intimacy of a bound manuscript. In the end, Kohl couldn't decide which he liked better.

He'd started with the technical manuals assigned to him by Comm...no, Captain Macen. He'd soon tired of these and switched to the topic that had been nagging at him ever since he'd encountered these aliens: the life of Hal Dracas. The chance to study his progenitor, in the man's own words, was a golden opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

Kohl was hesitant. What if Dracas turned out to be a reprobate or some other kind of lout? What if he was a coward? Kohl could handle anything but that. If his progenitor was a coward, who was to say that wasn't part of his genetic make up?"

Kohl began with Dracas' service jacket. It showed him to be an exceptional officer with a rare gift for understanding theoretical and practical engineering. The bulk of his career had been spent in a dockyard but the last few years had been spent with Macen and company. It was with them that his talents came out into the forefront.

He'd displayed, and been cited for, personal courage on several occasions during his tenure with the SID team. Macen's report outlining Dracas' death was testament to his commitment to his comrades and his utter lack of fear in the face of mortal danger. He'd known he was about to die when he gave himself to the mob and yet did it anyway. This was a moment Kohl was proud of and it struck a resonant chord with him.

After finishing Dracas' official records, Kohl turned to Hal's personal logs. Kohl was already beginning to feel a great affinity for Dracas but the personal logs were the capstone. Dracas' struggle to come to terms with his sexuality in the face of his people's violent condemnation of his lifestyle gripped Kohl. He too struggled with his identity. He'd been forced to hide the fact that he was a clone most of his short life.

When the truth was revealed, Kohl would lose his friends and the respect of his superior officers. Dracas lost his life. Kohl would merely lose his freedom and his rights as an individual. Dracas had faced his persecutors and shamed them with his courage and resolve. Kohl could only wish that he could meet a similar fate.

Looking at the chronometer on the nightstand, Kohl realised that he'd read throughout the nigh and he only had fifteen minutes to report for duty on the bridge. As he bustled about and learned the intricacies of the sonic shower, Kohl came to a startling realisation. It was as Alaric had suggested. Kohl no longer wished to bear his "stepfather's" name. From this day forward, he would be known as Joachim Dracas and he would carry on the proud tradition set forth by his predecessor.

 


Proceed to Part III

 

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