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Twilight - Part IV 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 Nineteen

"Look," Alyss insisted, "you have to surrender. I can promise you you won't get the death penalty if you surrender but if we come in after you, you take your chances."

"Look Lieutenant..." Macen retorted.

"Alyss." she interjected.

"Fine." Macen allowed, "I'll only surrender to Starfleet. Not to the Presidential Guard, the local cops, a mafia boss, or a private citizen. We surrender to Starfleet or not at all, Alyss."

Alyss pursed her lips, "That's not procedure."

"Having your High Admiral playing President isn't standard procedure either, but here we are." Macen pointed out.

Alyss shook her head. Macen knew too much about recent Iotian politics. Alyss herself had kept out of the whys and wherefores of the coup. She'd merely been honoured to serve in the Presidential Guard when Oxmyx's recruiter chose her. She knew it all revolved around a series of business deals the Admiral had made but that was as far as she'd listened to rumour.

"Fine." Alyss conceded, "We'll call Starfleet and arrange something."

"Actually," Macen couldn't help but add, "I have it on good authority that they're already on their way."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" a dumbfounded Alyss asked.

Daggit and Radil entered the reactor control room with phasers blazing. The techs manning the controls never stood a chance. Parva and Kort joined them.

"Can you shut down the reactors?" Daggit asked Parva.

"Puh-lease," Parva held up a hand, "can you fire a phaser?"

"Sorry." Daggit replied perfunctorily.

"I'm glad I'm not around you every time you're in combat." Parva admitted, "You can take terse all the way to rude."

"You knew what you were getting into." Daggit reminded her.

"Knowing isn't the same thing as always liking." Parva admonished, "That's where commitment comes in."

"Yes dear." a thoroughly unchastised Daggit retorted, "Now, can you shut down the reactors and then sabotage them so they can't be brought back online?"

"Stay out of my way!" Parva exclaimed and went to work at the controls.

No sooner had she begun working then a solitary tech that had lain low during Daggit and Radil's assault stepped into the open. He had a phaser from the emergency locker and took aim at Parva. He depressed the firing stud and a cobalt beam of energy lanced forward and struck Parva. Her comrades watched her working and then a blue energy discharge erupted from her chest.

Daggit responded immediately. He whirled around, drawing his two pistols from the shoulder holster and gunned the Iotian down. He turned to Kort, who was examining Parva.

"I need to get her to medical facilities immediately." Kort insisted, "She has a hole in her heart."

"Do what you can from here." Daggit replied and turned to Radil, "Can you finish what she started?"

Radil nodded, "I think so. Help me take this cannon off."

"You're killing the woman you love." Kort growled as he began trying to repair the rupture with a dermal regenerator.

"I'm completing the mission." Daggit snapped back, "I don't have any other choice."

"But at the cost of Parva's life?" an incredulous Kort demanded.

"At any cost." Daggit's voice was devoid of any feeling.

Daggit unhooked the last strap fastening Radil's cannon to her body. She got to work on the reactor controls. Daggit stood poised, phasers ready, ready for any other intruders.

Kort had set the regenerator on its highest setting in order to stimulate cellular growth. The problem was that he couldn't control the growth and he was leaving heavy scarring. The heart would undoubtedly be permanently damaged by this repair effort. If he were aboard the Obsidian he would have simply removed the organ and replaced it with an artificial heart.

Having fused the heart shut, Kort went to work on the damaged tissues surrounding the wound. He repaired the ribs and then concentrated on closing the wound. He placed defibulator modules on her heart and used the remote actuator to deliver the resuscitating charge. It took three attempts to restart Parva's heart. His new concern was the blood loss from having the heart opened to the atmosphere.

"The reactors are down." Radil announced triumphantly.

"What about sabotage?" Daggit asked.

"We set the cannon on overload and let it blow the battery and the spare power cell." Radil suggested.

"Do it." Daggit ordered and turned to query Kort, "Can she be moved?"

"What happens if she can't?" Kort snarled.

"Then I put her out of her misery here and now." Daggit answered without a qualm.

"She can be moved, you bastard."

Daggit holstered his phasers, "Give her to me."

"Isn't it a little late to care?" Kort sneered.

"I never stopped caring." Daggit stressed as he scooped Parva up into his arms, "There were no available medical facilities within easy reach. This base's medical station is on the other side of the complex. She'd have died before we fought our way there. You saved her life."

"She'll never be the same." Kort confessed, "Not without a heart transplant."

"That'll be her choice." Daggit said and turned to Radil, "Ready?"

"The charge is already building." Radil revealed, "We need to get moving."

"Then let's go." Daggit ordered, "Radil, grab Parva's rifle and phaser."

"I can overload the Iotian phaser she was carrying as well." Radil offered.

"Good thinking." Daggit nodded and she set the phaser into overload and threw it over to the pile of her equipment. She then took point and led the team out of the reactor control room. Their passage through the security room went unnoticed. They proceeded to the L in the corridor and cautiously came around the corner.

The administrative staffers were gone but there was a large contingent of Presidential Guardsmen gathered around the mouth of the corridor leading to Oxmyx's office. Macen and T'Kir were trapped.

"Could we distract them and lead them away from Macen?" Radil asked in a whisper.

Kort took umbrage, "My patient has suffered enough trauma. She may have already suffered brain damage from blood loss. I will not allow her to be jeopardised further."

"There's your answer." Daggit grimaced, "Unless we can secure a safe place for Parva to receive further treatment, we're paralysed."

Just then the various powerpacks detonated. The floor shook and a wave of energy collided with the walls behind them. The guardsmen looked around and pointed in the direction of the stricken squad.

"Great." Daggit muttered.

"What the hell was that?" Alyss asked as the floor shook.

"That would be the controls to your defensive array." Macen goaded her.

"You bastard!" Alyss went for her phaser.

The lights went out and the entire facility was plunged into darkness.

"Damn!" T'Kir shouted, "Who knocked out the frinxing power?"

"That would be Daggit's squad." Macen replied through the stygian gloom.

"Well, tell them to turn it back on." T'Kir demanded, "They just cost me a half hour's worth of work."

"The shield is down." a junior officer informed Crist. Crist punched the intercom button, "Crist to all transporter rooms. Begin beaming down the Security and IA personnel."

Crist strode across the room and stepped up onto the transporter pad, "Energise."

"What the frinx?" Radil asked the darkness.

The emergency lights came on and the guardsmen recovered from their disorientation. A female officer ordered a squad of her troops to arrest Daggit's squad. Six guardsmen surrounded the squad.

"We have a critically wounded teammate." Kort pleaded, "We need the use of medical facilities in order to stabilise her condition."

"Shut up!" a guardsman barked, "Drop your weapons and place your hands on your head."

"Rab?" Radil sought direction.

Daggit clenched his jaw.

The emergency lights came on and Alyss looked at where Macen had been...and was now gone. She swore violently. Then one of her NCOs pointed out the cluster of intruders near the reactor control centre. She ordered a detachment of men and women to arrest them.

"Chief, prepare to resume the assault on the Admiral's office."

"Aye, ma'am." the petty officer acknowledged and began to muster the remaining Iotian forces.

Footfalls could be heard coming down the stairs. Alyss' communicator began beeping and she flipped it open, "Yes?"

"Lieutenant, we're surrounded by Starfleet forces." a panicked voice replied, "They're demanding our surrender. What do we do?"

Alyss sighed, "You'd better surrender. I'll try to resolve the situation."

"Put your phasers down!" voices began to yell, "Hands on your head!"

A score of red shirted Starfleet Security officers were descending down the main stairwell. They easily outnumbered the beleaguered Guardsmen. Alyss abandoned all illusions of fighting her way out. She motioned for her troops to lay down their arms.

"All right people, its time to surrender." Alyss commanded with finality.

Starfleet red shirts in turn surrounded the squad surrounding the SID team. After a heated debate, the guardsmen surrendered. The Starfleet officer in charge of the detachment approached the SID team members.

"Do you require medical assistance?" she asked.

"Yes, we do!" Kort bellowed, "This woman needs to be transported to medical facilities immediately."

"We've secured an infirmary right here on the premises." the officer informed them, "I'll lead you to them."

"Thank you." Daggit replied.

The Lt. Commander led the way at a brisk pace. Kort was unhappy to see that Iotian medical technology was even more antiquated than the rest of their tech base. It didn't matter. All that mattered was Parva's survival.

Daggit lingered by her side and Kort growled at him, "Why don't you go kill something? It's what you're good at."

Anger clouded Daggit's face but he relented and left the Doctor to his work. If Daggit's speciality was killing then Kort's was combat medicine. If anyone could pull Parva through this, the Klingon stood the best chance.

Daggit felt hollow as he leaned up against a wall. The wall propped him up and prevented him from collapsing. The after effects of combat always weighed heavily on him but this time it was personal. The woman he loved more than life itself lay dying and he'd been willing to kill her for the sake of the mission. Daggit swore to himself that he would spend the rest of his days atoning for that.

Radil cautiously approached him, "Rab? Are you alright?"

"No." he admitted, "But I'll manage for awhile yet."

Daggit straightened up, "How can I help?"

"Apparently Admiral Crist has arrived and he's looking for us all." Radil explained.

Daggit's eyes narrowed, "I'll talk to Crist. You guard this door. Kill anyone who tries to disturb Kort."

"Literally?" Radil asked incredulously.

Daggit's eyes bored in on hers, "Of course." With that, he strode off.

Radil leaned up against the wall. She wondered if she could obey Daggit's order. A few years ago she'd have done so without a moment's hesitation. Now, things were different.

She knew the difference lay in Macen and T'Kir's influence. Either one of them could kill at the drop of a hat if it was justified but those instances were rare compared to the opportunities they were presented with. It was still far more often than Starfleet was comfortable with. This accounted for their status as privateers.

She instantly realised there wasn't a suitable provocation to jeopardise their fragile alliance with the Iotian Starfleet Internal Affairs Division. Radil also knew that under any other circumstances, Daggit wouldn't have issued that order. She'd disobey if not for her sake then for his. He'd have enough regrets from today without a murder being added to them.

Radil almost had her own regrets. Her relationship with Kort was all fire and passion but it lacked stability. She'd returned to Kort after rejecting him when Daggit had chosen Parva over her. She didn't know if it was her competitive nature or not but she wanted Daggit to change his mind. She didn't want to rejoice in Parva's death if it came to that but it would open the door for Radil's ambitions.

At one time Radil had kept Kort at a distance to avoid loss. Now it was the fact that she increasingly thought of him as a friend rather than a lover that drove her. She knew she had to settle things with Kort and she had to hurry. He'd already proposed once. She'd been flattered but she'd also realised that it was something she never wanted.

Kort would be crushed. It was only out of deference for his feelings that she'd held her tongue thus far. She knew this could very well send him back to the bottom of a bottle. The last thing he needed to do was start drinking again.

Radil knew there was no clean way out. She could simply be as honest as possible and Kort had to make his own choices. She wished she could spare him the inevitable pain he would endure but she couldn't do that and be true to herself.

She resolved she tell him as soon as this mission were over.

Daggit walked into Oxmyx's office to find a bear of a man hovering over T'Kir.

"You're hovering." T'Kir growled, "Go away."

"You wanted to see me?" Daggit asked from the doorway.

"How's Parva?" Macen asked.

"It's too early to tell." Daggit replied stoically but Macen could sense his pain.

"Is there anything we can do?" Macen enquired.

Daggit shook his head, "It's all up to Kort. He's already patched up most of the physical damage. Now the dangers are blood loss and brain damage."

Macen winced, "I'm sorry."

"She's a fighter." Daggit tried to convince himself most of all, "She'll pull through."

"Of course." Macen murmured, "Good job on bringing down the shields."

"Could you have done it without killing the power grid?" T'Kir complained.

"T'Kir." Macen said as a warning.

"I'm serious." T'Kir shot back, "We came here to get the evidence incriminating Oxmyx and discover his Solarian contacts and you go and kill the frinxing power just as I get there! Now I have to retrace all of my steps."

"I'm assuming you stored your pathway on your personal computer?" Daggit wondered.

"Of course." T'Kir replied.

"Then shut the hell up and leave me alone." Daggit snapped and turned on his heel and strode off.

"What did I do?" T'Kir asked and Macen rolled his eyes.

Macen moved over behind the desk and sat one hand upon the back of T'Kir's seat and the other on the desk. She smiled at him and returned to work.

"Why is he allowed to occupy that space when I wasn't?" Crist demanded.

T'Kir looked at him as if he were an annoying bug, "He doesn't hover."

Crist's jaw worked but no sound issued from his mouth.

Daggit returned to the Infirmary to find Radil standing guard.

"Any word?" he asked.

"Kort's been asking for you." Radil quietly responded.

Daggit nodded his thanks and entered the medical wing. Kort stood over a biobed containing Parva. For a moment, Daggit's heart stopped as he feared the worst. His eyes came to settle on the overhead monitors and telltales and he realised that Parva was still alive.

"Kort?" Daggit asked softly.

Kort looked as though he awakened from a trance, "Let's step over here."

Kort guided Daggit to the far side of the medical section, "This way she can't hear us in her sleep." Kort explained.

"So she's just asleep?" Daggit asked, his hopes rising.

"Not exactly." Kort squelched those hopes, "She's unconscious for now. Her recovery depends on her waking up but I can't predict if and when that will happen."

"So she may remain comatose?" Daggit asked grimly.

"If she does, she's likely to fade away and eventually die." Kort revealed, "Cases have been known to happen where the person just wakes up one day in the future and makes a full recovery."

"But you don't think that's the case here." Daggit said. It wasn't a question.

"Parva lost a lot of blood and her heart was stopped for several minutes." Kort described, "Her brain did not receive adequate amounts of oxygenated blood and there was damage. These instruments aren't as precise as those aboard the ship but they do reveal that Parva suffered damage to the part of the brain that houses memory. Until she wakes up, we have no way of knowing what she's lost."

Daggit looked sick and Kort steadied him, "I hate to say it but there's more. I may have repaired the hole to Parva's heart but my tools were inadequate. There extensive damage. Permanent damage without transplanting an artificial heart. That would have to be her decision of course."

Daggit shook his head, "Parva's explained to me the Orion stigma attached to biosynthetics. She'll probably refuse to undergo surgery."

This time Kort grimaced, "Then is many ways, Parva will be half the woman she was. Her heart is heavily scarred and cannot endure the stresses it once easily shrugged off. She is weakened and cannot afford to tax herself. To do so would kill her."

"Surely it can't be that bad." Daggit replied.

"She's crippled, Rab." Kort stressed, "You'll have to help her come to accept that."

"I...I'll try." Daggit was unsteady.

"Come on now." Kort urged him toward Parva's bed, "She's needs a familiar voice and a comforting touch right now to guide her back to consciousness."

Stunned, Daggit took up position beside Parva's bedside. He stroked her cheek and held her hand. Slowly, hesitantly, he began to talk. He expressed his regret at placing the mission above her health. Then he moved on to lighter fare, plans they had made for an upcoming leave, her desire to redesign the Obsidian's warp core and augment her phaser arrays. He laughed about the dinners they'd shared and reminisced over the conversations they'd had.

Kort stood back and watched. He found Daggit's grief to be reassuring and found himself forgiving his old friend. Now if he could just fathom Radil's responses. She'd been growing more distant since their evening on Magna Roma. Her blatant flirtation with Daggit was just another in a growing series of ill-fated trends.

Radil had run from him in the past and all the signs were there for yet another escape attempt. Their friendship was strong but their relationship as lovers was beginning to leave much to be desired. Radil couldn't bring herself to commit and that was crippling their relationship. He wondered if it were time for him to sever the bond between them. The more he pondered it, the more logical it seemed.

"I've got it!" T'Kir crowed, "Damn I'm good!"

"Let me see." Crist crowded in beside Macen.

"Back off big fella." T'Kir retorted, "I'm transmitting copies of this data to your computer aboard the station."

Crist clapped his hands together, "Excellent."

"You have the contracts and the contact lists?" Macen asked.

T'Kir's eyes sparkled, "Of course. The contracts have all been matched with the corresponding orders to deploy Iotian ships. There were three contacts but Hiram Zeist was the principle contractor and he happens to be an Operations Manager at Solarian Security Systems."

Macen grinned, "Now we go to Starfleet."

"How can we help?" Crist asked.

"Sorry." Macen clapped Crist on the shoulder, "The UFP Starfleet. It's all about jurisdiction."

"Of course." Crist nodded, "I understand, but surely we can provide an escort. Surely these Solarian Security Systems types will have a fleet of their own?"

"Most of it will be deployed but there's likely to be some reserve ships lingering about." Macen admitted.

"We'll see what forces are available after the battle and send what we can to escort you." Crist wouldn't take "No" for an answer.

"All right." Macen conceded, "We'll see after the battle. How's the battle going?"

"The Enterprise and her siblings have taken moderate to heavy damage in the first engagement. The Obsidian engaged the Vice and crippled her. She has been silent ever since. The last reports I heard were that the ship's warp core appeared to be failing."

"I need to get aboard my ship!" Macen insisted.

"I'm not certain we can get you there." Crist frowned.

"We'll use a shuttlecraft if necessary." Macen pressed.

"I'm not certain I should risk an unarmed shuttle in a combat zone."

"Then let us contact our ship and they can send an armed runabout to collect us." Macen offered.

Crist nodded, "I'll arrange the communications link."

"Problem?" T'Kir asked.

"Someone has shut down the warp core on the ship." Macen remarked, "That means saboteurs."

"Couldn't be a mechanical failure?"

"In Parva's engine room?"

"Nah, didn't think so." T'Kir wore a wry grin, "So what d'we do about it?"

"Mop up the mess." Macen growled, "And take one of them alive for questioning."

"I love questioning people." T'Kir brightened.

"I think you're about to get plenty of practice." Macen promised.

"Oh, goodie!"

 

Chapter Twenty

Dracas stared at the menacing Farruck and prepared himself for a twin bladed assault. Trevloi wore a feral smile. The Farruck's arms hung low, crossing the twin claws protruding from just above his wrists. The alien broke into a malevolent chuckle and lunged forward.

Dracas turned, facing his sword arm towards the oncoming attack. After blocking the first blow and ducking the next swipe, Dracas adjusted his stance to include a two-handed grip. The Roman Troglyte was turned sideways to his attacker. He curved his blade over his head and deflected Trevloi's first blow. Next he slashed his sword forward to catch the blow from the Farruck's left arm.

Dracas turned on his heel and delivered a slashing blow across Trevloi's ribs and abdomen. Dracas spun, deflecting another right handed attack and separated himself from his oppressor. Trevloi looked down on his bloodied ribs and gut and glared back at Dracas. Trevloi's jaw unhinged and a deafening roar loosed itself from his lips.

"Replicate me a long sword!" Dracas yelled at the assembled engineers. They hesitated for a moment and then leapt into action.

Trevloi pressed the attack again. Dracas blocked to his left and then parried to his right before spinning on his heel. The slashing attack caused Trevloi to back off for a moment. An engineer yelled for Dracas' attention.

"We have your sword ready!"

Dracas backpeddled from the momentarily confused Trevloi, "Throw it to me!"

Trevloi started forward as the engineer reluctantly threw the sword into the air. Dracas deftly caught it with his right hand. Trevloi paused before committing to the attack. Now Dracas was able to deflect each blow as it came. He allowed the Farruck to push him further back as he repulsed attack after attack.

"Finally, Dracas broke into a bright smile, "Now it's my turn."

He lunged forward with the long sword and then spun as Trevloi leapt backwards. He thrust his short sword behind him and stabbed it into the Farruck's chest. Dracas reversed his spin and pulled the blade from Trevloi's chest. He carried his spin and slashed his long sword across Trevloi's neck, beheading the Farruck.

Several of the Obsidian's engineers vomited on the deck. Dracas looked at them disdainfully and then headed straight for the antimatter/matter intermix controls. He ushered Gilan aside.

"Give me control."

Gilan nervously studied him, "Have you done this before?"

"Twice before." Dracas informed him, "It is as much art as science."

"It's yours then." Gilan deferred.

Dracas handed Gilan his long sword, "Hold this."

Dracas sheathed his short sword as Gilan wondered what to do with the blood soaked instrument of death he'd just been handed. James Kirk had brought disease and much needed population control to Gideon but they had died gratefully, not vying for limited medical resources. Warfare was still strange to the Gideonite even after his years in the Federation and his time aboard this ship. It all seemed rather abrupt to Gilan.

Dracas began rerouting warp plasma into the warp core, "This will jump start the intermix reaction. The plasma is a matter charged with energy from an antimatter annihilation."

"How much time will it save?" Gilan wondered.

"Since the magnetic interlocks were left on we'll be able to restart the core at full production in less then ten minutes." Dracas explained.

"Do you mind if I watch?"

Dracas gave Gilan a curious look and Gilan shrugged, "Parva was rather territorial regarding specialised repairs and procedures."

"A foolish attitude." Dracas commented, "We should train the entire staff in this procedure."

Gilan began to smile but quickly caught himself, "She thought that it was best to reserve such knowledge for specialists."

"And if the specialists are dead?" Dracas curtly asked.

"We never planned for that contingency." Gilan admitted.

"That contingency almost occurred today." Dracas declared, "Think about that."

That said, Dracas devoted all of his attention to his work. Gilan sat back and admired him and his attention to detail. Dracas' skill lived up to his namesake's. His personal courage and devotion to duty were already evidenced. He was a man of many surprises, Gilan mused whimsically.

Truth be told, Gilan was forced to admit to himself, with all the danger and adrenaline he found Dracas attractive. He still had to reconcile Dracas' coldly dispatching Trevloi but at this moment he thought he could do it. He knew on a Starfleet vessel, such a union would never be allowed. It would blur the chain of command but here, aboard the Obsidian, the Captain was married to one of his direct subordinates and most of the Senior Staff were involved with one another. So who knew what the future could bring?

"Main power is back on-line." Lawson reported.

"Way to go Dracas." Riker said aloud.

"Tom, I'm getting a message from Brin." Danan reported from Ops.

"Put it on screen." Riker ordered.

A sweaty and dishevelled Macen appeared, "Tom, we require immediate transport. Can you fly the Type-9s and pick us up?"

"Better than that," Riker grinned, "we can come to you."

"What about your warp core shut down?" Macen asked.

"Dracas already solved that particular problem." Riker smiled, "Looks like Parva's got someone bucking for her job."

Macen's face grew taut, "Parva's been injured. She'll never be able to perform her duties again."

"My God." Riker breathed as Danan took a sharp breath. Forger closed her eyes in sympathetic pain.

"Tell Joachim and Gilan they're both up for the job of Chief Engineer. We'll make a decision after we've dealt with Solarian." Macen said.

"You've found proof?" Riker enquired.

"And we're taking it to Starfleet." Macen announced.

"First we have to survive the upcoming battle." Riker countered.

"What's the ETA on the Romans?" Macen wondered.

"Fifteen minutes, give or take a few minutes." Riker answered.

"And the Iotians?"

"Pollux just signalled us." Riker grimaced, "Seven Iotian starships are due for the system in ten minutes."

"So almost two to one odds." Macen pondered, "We faced worse against the Omicrons."

"But we had a secret weapon then." Riker replied, "Now it's just normal ship systems versus normal ship systems."

"I have faith in you." Macen grinned, "You'll find a way to even the odds."

"Now wait a minute!" Riker sputtered, "You're the Captain."

"When you hired on, you were the captain." Macen pointed out, "I was the Mission Commander. Its time to revisit those roles, perhaps to even make them permanent."

"Brin, I..." Riker faltered.

"I know. The loss of the George Kelly has shaken your confidence." Macen calmly replied, "Its time to rediscover it. You said you wanted me to trust you. Here it is. Happy?"

"Not really but I don't have a choice do I?" Riker grumbled.

"Nope." Macen was cheery.

"We'll be in transporter range in five minutes." Riker informed him.

"We'll be ready." Macen promised.

Kort hooked up a portable transfuser and Daggit carried Parva up the stair while Kort carried the transfuser. The transfuser cloned blood cells based upon samples from Parva's Orion blood. She'd been on the machine for nearly twenty minutes now and she was nearly ready to be taken off of it. That was a good thing since its supply of plasma and blank cells was nearly exhausted.

The SID party climbed to the first floor and exited the mansion through the main entrance. The occasional phaser burn marred its opulence. The front doors were blown off their hinges. Red shirts patrolled the mansion and the grounds, seeking pockets of resistance. Fortunately for the Guardsmen, Alyss' final order had been transmitted throughout the base.

Kort removed the transfuser's wrist manacle, which withdrew the IV. He set the transfuser down on the ground several metres from the SID party's position. Soon, Macen's comm badge began to beep. When he activated it Telrik's voice came across the comm circuit.

"I have you on sensors, Captain. Are you ready to transport?"

"Energise." Macen ordered.

The group reappeared on the Obsidian's transporter pads. Telrik look relieved.

"Glad to have you aboard, Captain. Apparently there've been saboteurs running amuck."

"Are there any left?" Macen asked.

Telrik shook his head, "From what I've heard, Mr. Dracas and Ms. Grace took care of them."

"Any prisoners?"

"Four." Telrik supplied, "Started off with seven but those two deleted a few of them."

Macen broke into a feral grin, "Not surprising considering who we're talking about."

"Well, Mr. Dracas wanted to kill me, so I'm not surprised." Telrik huffed, "But Ms. Grace has always seemed like such a nice young lady."

"You'd be surprised." Macen replied and turned to the others, "Let's take our stations people. Rab, you drop Parva off at Sickbay first."

"Yes sir." Daggit responded enthusiastically.

Macen and T'Kir waited for a turbolift going up to the bridge while Radil waited at the next lift tube to go down to Security.

"I'm proud of Hannah." T'Kir beamed, "According to Telrik's thoughts, she defended the bridge and then freed the Security force from the brig."

"Sounds like she's come into her own." Macen agreed.

"Maybe we should take on more of the investigative missions." T'Kir suggested as the lift doors opened.

Macen ushered T'Kir inside, "We'll see."

"We'd better." T'Kir warned.

Radil found Abby Collins nursing both a headache and a bruised ego, "How're you doing Abby?"

"First I let Mudd get away and then saboteurs nearly take over the ship. The whole Security team was neutralised."

"First off, Macen himself said that Mudd's escape was his failure." Radil cajoled, "Secondly, from what I've heard members of our own crew attacked you. You had no reason to suspect them until it was too late."

"Maybe so." Collins sighed, "But I still feel guilty."

"If you're wondering on whether or not I want a new deputy," Radil wore a half smile, "The answer is definitely not. You did the best that you could under the circumstances. That's all anyone can ask."

A faint smile tugged at Collins' lips, "Thanks Chief."

"Someday remind me to tell you about my first week with the Morticen Group." Radil said ruefully.

"One of your mercenary contracts?" Collins asked.

"The first contract." Radil admitted wryly, "I'd thought my years with the Resistance had prepared me for anything. I found out differently in a hurry."

"Tell me." Collins requested.

Radil sighed, "Okay, but this is between us, Abby."

"I swear." Collins vowed.

"It all began in the summer of the Earth year 2367..." Radil began.

Daggit gently laid Parva down on the biobed and her eyes began to flutter.

"Kort!" Daggit called and Kort dropped his interrogation of the EMH and ran over to the bed. Parva began to stir and her eyes came open. She looked around like a wild animal and then her eyes rested on Daggit and they lit up.

"Hey you." she said softly. Her voice cracked from dehydration. The EMH brought her a glass of water. Parva drank the water thirstily.

"Parva," Daggit began to ask, "do you remember what happened?"

"I remember a sharp pain in my chest and then the next thing I remember is your voice and your touch. You carried me after that and I felt safe."

Kort leaned forward, "Hello Parva. Do you remember me?"

Parva frowned, "You...you're a doctor." she struggled for a few more minutes then frowned, "I'm sorry, I don't remember your name."

"My name is Kort." he supplied, "Do you remember that we were friends?"

She shook her head, "I don't. I'm sorry."

"But you remember him?" Kort pointed at Daggit.

"Oh yes! I feel safe around him. I think I love him. It's all so jumbled."

"What's his name Parva?" Kort prodded.

Parva's eyes narrowed, "His name is...Rab!"

"Do you remember your own name?" Kort gently asked.

Parva thought about it and then smiled, "You called me Parva so I'm guessing that's it."

Parva yawned and was visibly strained by the conversation. Daggit squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead, "I have to report for duty and then I'll be back."

"S'kay." Parva slurred as she drifted off back to sleep.

Kort ushered Daggit and the EMH over to his desk, "It's as bad as I feared."

"So far it seems mild." Daggit opined.

"We still do not know the totality of her recall. What remains of her skill sets? Is she essentially an oversized child or does she recall enough of her adult life to be adequately prepared for daily life? One things for certain, between her cardiac condition and her memory loss, she's off of this ship's crew." Kort conjectured.

"Is that fair?" Daggit replied hotly, "What if she can function?"

"Her heart won't allow it." Kort shook his head, "Her memory is secondary. She can be retaught. Her heart, however, can't withstand the pressures of a crisis. And we all know how many crises this ship faces."

Daggit subsided, "But she can rebuild her life?"

"She can rebuild a life." Kort clarified, "It'll never be the same as it was."

Daggit squared his shoulders, "Then we'll just have to make the best of it."

Kort squeezed his shoulder, "Good man."

"Unfortunately, I have to report to the bridge." Daggit said ruefully.

"Go." Kort urged, "We'll watch Parva."

Daggit left and Kort turned to the EMH, "Would you mind explaining why you're on and why you have a bruise and a split lip."

The EMH explained the situation and Kort's visage grew darker, "It seems we owe a debt of gratitude to Joachim Dracas."

"I pulled his examination results." the EMH revealed, "Does he know his cellular structure is unstable?"

"Not yet." Kort admitted gloomily, "That's why I wanted to talk to him. His condition can be treated but it must be done swiftly or it will be too late."

"He has seventy-two hours before it's irreversible." The EMH added.

"I know." Kort closed his eyes, "Contact him. Tell him he is being ordered to Sickbay. Request that Security be there to escort him."

"Yes, Doctor."

"As soon as that's down, I'll reset your program so that your wounds will be erased." Kort offered, "Afterwards I'll have T'Kir encrypt your files."

"Thank you." The EMH, "Do you think that I could also be left on during my entire shift and my deactivation sequence be password protected, known only by you?"

"T'Kir would know it as well." Kort chuckled, "Nothing on a computer can be hidden from her."

"That's fine." the EMH replied and then hesitated, "And could I adopt a name? To sound more human that is."

"Certainly." Kort conceded, "Do you have a name already picked out?"

"I have a few thoughts." the EMH confided.

"Well, good luck." Kort wished, "Now if you could contact Dracas."

"Of course." The EMH replied and opened a comm circuit to Security. After she was done speaking with Radil, she contacted Dracas directly. He wasn't happy and she doubted he would willingly come in.

"Go Hannah!" Riker urged from beside Macen's seat. Daggit had just arrived and relieved Shannon Forger. T'Kir was at Ops and Danan was at Science where she belonged. Grace threw the Obsidian into full impulse and drove the ship out of Iotian orbit. The Enterprise and her two Miranda-class cousins were engaging three of the seven Iotian starships racing into the system. That left four for the Federation science ship and the orbital headquarters of the Iotian Starfleet.

Riker's plan was simple. He would manoeuvre the Obsidian around the attacking ships, laying down suppressive fire to keep them from attacking the station. The station, meanwhile, could bring its phaser banks and torpedo launchers to bear and thrash the raiders.

The entire plan depended upon a superhuman starship pilot and they had one in the form of Hannah Grace. Her augmented reflexes and situational awareness would be put to the test today. Grace relished the challenge and pushed the ship as hard as she could go towards the oncoming ships.

The Obsidian made a near pass of the lead Iotian raider. It was a Constitution-class starship. The Iotian ship didn't have enough time to lock phasers on the passing privateer ship. The Obsidian, however, raked the Iotian starship with her Type X phasers.

As the surveyor approached the next ship, a Mercury-class cruiser, it fired its Type V phasers at her. The Obsidian's shields shrugged off the energy assault and Grace corkscrewed around the ship. Daggit bombarded the ship with phaser fire as the surveyor outfoxed the Iotian's defences.

Daggit unleashed the ship's twin torpedo launchers at the two Mercury-class ships coming in on a parallel course. Grace kicked the speed up again and the Obsidian made a high velocity run between the two ships. Upon clearing those two ships, the crew learned the Constitution and original Mercury-class had come about and were coming back for a second chance at the Nova-class science ship.

In the interim, the space station had pummelled them but they had refused to return fire. There was some trace of honour remaining in them after all. Now if they could just be convinced to not fire upon the Outbound Ventures ship life would be grand.

The second set of Mercuries had no such compunction to spare their fellow Starfleet officers. They opened fire on the station even as it began firing upon them. Grace hurried back. The other two Iotian ships had them in a crossfire.

Half the Iotians' shots were missing but those that struck scored against the shields. Daggit reported that the shields were already at 75%. Macen called down to Engineering and requested that damage control teams be dispatched to reset the overloaded shield generators. Gilan complied. Dracas had already been hauled off to Sickbay by Security.

The truth of the matter was that ever since Dracas left Engineering, things had progressively gotten worse. Dracas had been holding everything and everyone together. Without his influence, things were falling apart.

"Both the impulse reactor and the warp core are steadily losing power." Lawson reported from his station.

Macen called Gilan, "What's happening down there?"

"We need Dracas." Gilan pleaded, "His touch on the warp core was the only thing stabilising it until the annihilation reaction normalises."

"What about the impulse reactor?" Macen asked.

"All my engineers are busy with the warp core or on damage control teams." Gilan reported.

"Where's Dracas?" Macen pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Security dropped by and took him to Sickbay."

"A Security escort to go to Sickbay?" Macen asked in disbelief, "Never mind. I'll deal with the situation and get Dracas back to you."

"Thank you, sir."

"Kort," Macen asked wearily, "what the hell are you doing with Joachim?"

"Saving his life." Kort gruffly replied.

"It's that serious?"

"It's that serious." Kort confirmed.

"How long will it be before he's fit to return to duty?"

"At least an hour and a half."

"We may be dead by then."

"It won't be my fault."

Macen held his breath before asking, "If I ordered you to return him to duty?"

"I outrank you on medical matters." Kort snapped, "He stays."

"Just get him on his feet ASAP." Macen relented.

"You have my word."

Macen closed the connection and turned to Riker, who wore a sour expression.

"We may be in trouble." Macen said calmly.

"No kidding." Riker groused.

 

Chapter Twenty-One

The Obsidian exchanged fire with the two attacking Iotian starships. She spiralled between them. Her phaser fire struck its targets. The Iotians' fixed mount phaser array was unable to track the UFP ship.

Having passed the two imminent threats, the surveyor loosed four torpedoes, two each for the ships engaging the Iotian Starfleet HQ. The torpedoes caught the broadsides of each ship. Visible damage was inflicted. Daggit repeated the volley and the starships staggered. The Obsidian shuddered as phaser fire pummelled her aft shields.

Grace flipped the ship over and Daggit rapid fired eight torpedoes, four for each ship. He followed this up with multiple phaser blasts. The Iotian ships halted their advance and Riker yelled, "Now!"

Grace settled the privateer vessel right between the two stricken Iotian ships and Daggit unleashed the phaser arrays on the engineering hulls of the two Iotians. Their shields, already fluctuating, collapsed completely. Within moments, the bridge was receiving urgent hails from the two Iotian commanders.

"Put them on screen, T'Kir." Macen commanded.

Each Iotian captain appeared alongside the other. Both looked panic stricken.

"I'm Brin Macen, Captain of the UFP starship Obsidian. I will now accept your surrender." Macen informed them.

"Please," one of the Iotians pleaded, "We're down to just the batteries. If you attack us again, we'll lose life support."

The female captain was more composed, "I offer terms of surrender."

"No terms." Macen replied, "Unconditional surrender or absolute destruction."

She pondered this ultimatum while her compatriot whimpered. Finally, she nodded, "I accept, on behalf of both our ships."

"Can you get your comrade to agree?" Macen enquired.

"He's crippled." the female captain replied, "Besides, he's weak. He'll follow whatever example I set...except to fight."

"Then can you persuade the crews of the ship fighting the station to surrender?" Macen asked.

"Possibly." the woman replied warily, "Why?"

"If they're still engaging the station by the time my ship reaches them, they'll be destroyed with no quarter given."

The woman's eyes narrowed, "You're a hard man, Captain. I can see why Solarian Security Systems wants you dead."

"And how would you know that?" Macen wondered.

"This is the second time I've engaged you, Captain." the Iotian grinned ruefully, "You left me damaged last time but nothing to compare with this turn of events."

"I suggest you signal your comrades." Macen urged, "It could save their lives."

Macen terminated the signal and turned to T'Kir, "They are crippled aren't they?"

"They're both on batteries and trying to get auxiliary power back on line." T'Kir reported.

"Once they get auxiliary power back, could they pose a threat?"

Danan shook her head, "They could possibly fire their phasers a few times or activate the self destruct sequence but that's about it. They've perfectly duplicated Federation technology. That includes its weaknesses."

"Thanks Lees." Macen acknowledged, "Let's hope you're right."

"It doesn't look like they're going for it." Riker noted as the Obsidian closed into weapons range.

"Dammit." Macen muttered, "Where's Scipio and his Romans?"

"Brin!" T'Kir called out, "I have multiple bogeys inbound for the inner system. They appear to be the Roman starships.

"On screen." Macen and Riker ordered in unison.

Six Eagle-class scoutships could be seen escorting six Banner-class assault ships. The Eagles opened fire on the three Iotian raiders attacking the Enterprise and the surviving, but crippled, Miranda. Heavy phaser barrages from the Banner- class warships finished off these ships.

The two Mercury-class starships engaging the station hailed the invading Roman forces and immediately surrendered. Scipio hailed Macen.

"Greetings Commander," Scipio placed his fist over his heart, "You seem to have accounted for yourself this day."

"Just a little space combat and overthrowing a President." Macen replied nonchalantly, "Nothing much."

Scipio's lips curled into a wry smile, "So, once again you have been empire building."

Macen wanted to protest but he knew Scipio had him, "The Hereditary President's heir is being put back into office. A regent will be elected to watch over him until he achieves his majority."

"It sounds nice and tidy but you still altered the course of a sovereign planet's development." Scipio grinned now, "What would your Federation say about your violating their most sacred law?"

Macen knew exactly what the Council of Five would say about it, that and the court-martial tribunal they'd call. It didn't quite seem fair. Starfleet had only opted to reactivate his crew's commissions for just such an event. This way they could all be thrown into the stockade on Jaros II together.

Macen had been quite happy to forgo his former Starfleet rank. It had its uses but now he was beginning to see drawbacks as well. He sighed as he wondered how he was going to talk himself out of this one. The only thing he had going for him was that the Iotian Internal Affairs Division had requested his aid. That would be the cornerstone of his defence.

"Dinar for your thoughts?" Scipio chuckled.

"Just wondering how I would explain this to my employers." Macen admitted.

"They weren't expecting you to fight a private war?" Scipio asked.

"Not exactly." Macen asked with a rueful cast to his voice.

"Your actions have been honourable." Scipio opined, "The Emperor will speak on your behalf. Never fear."

Macen could see getting condemned over involving the Nova Romans as well. Despite their forays into interstellar flight, the Council of Five still considered them a quarantined planet, all contact between UFP personnel and the inhabitants of Magna Roma strictly forbidden. Macen's prior contact with the Romans had been at the Council's behest. This time it had been at his whim. He got a headache imagining the firestorm awaiting him at home.

"Never fear, Commander." Scipio's cheerfulness was annoying, "These things work out for the best."

"We'll see." Macen hedged.

"You what?" Drake's face was red as she shouted into the comm pick up.

"I enlisted the help of the Nova Romans and brought them with me to Iotian space." Macen repeated.

"My God." Drake breathed, "It sounds just as bad the second time through."

"There's more." Macen warned.

Drake's head sunk onto her desk, "Please let it end soon."

"The Iotian Starfleet's Internal Affairs Division was eager to hear our case and to assist us. Unfortunately their chief suspect was the High Admiral Oxmyx, the C in C of their Starfleet."

"That shouldn't have been a problem, especially not with a hacker of T'Kir's capabilities." Drake replied.

"Yes, but the criminal alliance between Solarian and the Iotians began after Oxmyx staged a coup and assumed the Presidency." Macen explained.

"Please tell me you didn't overthrow a sovereign government." Drake pinched the tip of her nose.

"We assisted the IA in restoring the rightful heir to the Presidency to office and in capturing Oxmyx for the crimes of treason and conspiracy to commit piracy." Macen described.

"Brin," Drake bemoaned, "you toppled a government."

"I also have all the proof linking Oxmyx to the raids conducted by the Iotians." Macen added, "I also have the links between Oxmyx and representatives of Solarian Security Systems that hired him to conduct these acts of piracy. Each time it occurred, the victim was a potential client of Solarian's. It seems these attacks pushed them into hiring Solarian for protection."

"Why weren't the Iotians trying to get their business?" Drake wondered.

"The trade routes were too far within UFP space for the Iotians to mount a self supporting protective detail but it was just close enough to Iotia to mount a hit and run raid. The Iotian captains and crews got to keep whatever plunder they acquired."

"Good work on the investigation." Drake relented, "I'm staying quiet on the rest until an investigation deems it necessary to try you or acquit you. I'm sending the USS Intrepid to help mop up these events. Admiral Johnson can investigate the Iotian and Roman angles to the case and recommend to the Council whether or not we should prosecute."

Macen smiled, "Of course."

"And don't just stand there grinning. Johnson doesn't owe you anything for getting him out of that Cell 51 detention facility." Drake warned.

"Of course not." Macen grinned.

"He'll be perfectly frank and will examine the evidence impartially."

"That's what I'm counting on." Macen continued to grin.

"Oh," Drake fumed, "you're hopeless. What's your current status?"

"Thanks to a combined effort by the Iotians, the Romans and ourselves, we've captured or destroyed every one of the suspected Iotian raiders." Macen reported.

"Destroyed?" Drake asked flatly.

"Some of the Roman crews were a little enthusiastic." Macen replied.

"Romans." Drake shuddered, "Based upon your last report, they seem rather uncivilised."

"Don't forget that a great deal of your planet's civilisation was based upon Roman legal traditions." Macen countered, "I've taken one of them aboard my ship and made him my Chief Engineer."

"Are you insane?!" Drake demanded.

"Parva's been critically wounded. She'll never be able to perform her duties again." Macen explained.

"But a Roman?"

"This Roman is a clone of Hal Dracas." Macen described, "He was looking for a sense of personal identity. I think he's finding it aboard this ship. He helped stave of a mutiny attempt by Solarian saboteurs and he's taken to his new duties with a relish."

"Is he qualified?" Drake had to know.

"He passed all of Starfleet's engineering tests with perfect scores." Macen revealed, "And that was before he studied the tech manuals."

"How is this possible?" Drake wondered, "Your reports listed the Roman ships as being 22nd century analogues."

"Their new Banner-class ships are 24th century equivalents. In fact they may be more advanced than the Luna-class explorers." Macen disclosed.

"That's very disturbing." Drake fretted.

"The technology was a parting gift from the Omicron." Macen explained, "It just took them the last six years to incorporate it into a viable system."

Drake's eyebrows raised, "And you would know this how?"

"Conversations with the Roman Emperor Alaric and with Joachim Dracas." Macen answered.

"So the clone shares his predecessors surname." Drake mused.

"By choice." Macen clarified, "After reading about Hal, Joachim wanted to carry on his legacy."

"It could be a convenient lie." Drake warned.

"It's pretty hard to lie to an empath," Macen countered, "especially one backed by a first rate telepath."

"So," Drake sighed, "where is this ‘Dracas' now?"

"In Engineering." Macen supplied, "He'd had to cold start the warp core but hadn't been allowed to stay to oversee the stabilisation of the annihilation reaction."

"Why?"

"Kort detected some anomalies in his genetic structure." Macen explained, "He was an imperfect clone. He soon would have started displaying congenital defects that would have ended his life. It's an error endemic to the Roman cloning process. We've alerted the Roman fleet commander, Titus Scipio. He's transmitting the details home as we speak."

"I'm assuming the Romans want to use their clones as soldiers." Drake remarked dryly.

"They do." Macen replied.

"The thought of cloned Roman Legions marching across the stars doesn't comfort me." Drake admitted, "Perhaps it would have been better if you hadn't mentioned Kort's treatment to them."

"They're not up to genetic resequencing on the scale that Kort implemented." Macen revealed, "It'll be a decade or more before they can treat their first batch of clones much less eliminate the defects out of their cloning facilities."

"This would be so much simpler if you'd held to the quarantine and not reinitiated contact with them." Drake sighed, "Now we have to make contact. They've progressed too far and pose to great of a potential threat. I just hope Robert is up to the job."

Admiral Robert Tavar Johnson was a member of the Council of Five as well as being Starfleet's liaison with the Federation Diplomatic Corps. He was fully credentialed as an ambassador in his own right. The Intrepid was his flagship. It seemed over the last year and a half that Macen's SID team and Johnson's crew had become tightly woven together, assisting each other in moments of need.

"Robert's a good man." Macen offered, "If anyone can strike a bargain with the Iotians and the Romans, it'll be him."

Drake snorted, "I'll pass along your compliments."

"Admiral," Macen paused, "the reason I was calling was to get permission to pursue the Solarian angle to this."

"The Intrepid will resolve the Solarian situation at their Operations Centre." Drake informed him, "I will personally handle things at their Earth based headquarters. My computer engineers aren't T'Kir but they're still awfully damned good."

"Johnson doesn't know what he's walking into." Macen argued, "That entire system will be a trap."

"And you can make the difference needed to overcome this diabolical scheme?"

"Maybe." Macen replied with conviction.

"Okay." Drake relented, "I know better than to argue with you when you're like this. Maybe you're getting some vibe off these ‘Currents' you keep talking about. All I know is you never obey orders when you get this way and you're always proven right."

Drake focused her eyes on Macen's image, "Don't take the law into your own hands. I'll give you the approximate time and date of the Intrepid's arrival. Don't take matters into your own hands until they arrive."

"And then I'll take matters into my own hands." Macen grinned victoriously, "Gotcha."

The screen went dark and Drake used a word admirals weren't supposed to know. Macen was going off half-cocked again. He'd had clear parameters for his investigation and look how he'd bollixed that up. Drake was almost afraid to send him out on missions these days. His adventures during the Federation's recent civil disturbances were hair raising at best.

Those had been difficult days when the entire fleet was taking chances. Macen just seemed to take more chances than most. Johnson had been branded an outlaw and Macen seemed determined to do the same. Macen didn't even have the cover of being an active officer and had been branded a pirate. In a worst case scenario, he and his entire crew would have been executed.

As always, Drake wished him luck and said a prayer that her sister would come out all right.

T'Kir looked across Macen's desk from the couch where she was curled up, "She seemed more unhappy than normal."

"Our incursion into Roman territory six years ago set a dangerous precedent." Macen thought aloud, "That pales in comparison with my recruiting them for this mission. Starfleet has to deal with the Iotian crisis which in turn means it has to recognise the Romans' involvement with it. That'll mean recognising the Romans and ending over a hundred years of secrecy around them."

"Sounds like it about time to me." T'Kir asserted.

"Perhaps." Macen mused, "But secrets have a tendency to breed other secrets. I wonder just what we've unravelled here."

"You can bet it'll lead to Section 31." T'Kir quipped.

"Or even a remnant of Cell 51." Macen referred to the rogue splinter group formed out of S31.

"I'd kinda been hopin' to have seen the last of 'em." T'Kir drawled.

"Me too." Macen admitted then hesitated, "Why don't we check on Parva?"

"Sounds good." T'Kir unfurled from the couch.

Macen shook his head, "I don't know how you do that."

"Its easy." she smirked and pinched his butt, "You simply tuck here, bend there, and curl this. Easy as pie."

Macen rubbed where she'd pinched and tickled, "What do you know about pie? You always replicate yours."

"D'you want a smackdown?" T'Kir laughed, "I know plenty about pie."

"Prove it." Macen grinned.

"The fruit goes in the crust...end of story." T'Kir jutted her jaw.

Macen kissed her, "Sounds about right to me."

"Then why are you giving me a hard time?" she asked as the Ready Room door opened.

"Argghh." Parva growled in frustration and tossed the padd aside, "I should know this. I know I know this it's just trapped somewhere inside."

Daggit picked up the engineering primer. She'd only answered the most basic of questions and that had largely been guesswork. He handed the padd to the EMH who substituted it for another. Daggit gave it a cursory review.

"How about a little face and name recognition?" Daggit asked cheerfully, "The padd will show you a face. Then you give that person's name, or what they do, or whatever you remember about them. If you get stuck, I can help you."

Parva smiled at him and he leaned in to see from over her head. The first face appeared and Parva frowned.

"I know her." she related, "It's like I know everything about her but her name escapes me."

"That's you." Daggit nudged her, "That's Parva."

"I'm beautiful." Parva remarked.

"I certainly think so." Daggit replied.

Parva leaned back and looked up. She wore a beatific smile, "Hey you."

Daggit leaned down and kissed her. The kiss lingered for several minutes before the EMH cleared her throat. Daggit seemed somewhat chastened but Parva was unrepentant. She stuck her tongue out at the hologram.

The EMH's cheeks coloured and she bustled off. Parva looked up at Daggit, "You're sure she's not real?"

Daggit's eyes narrowed and he replied with, "She certainly seems real enough."

Sickbay's doors opened and Macen and T'Kir strolled in, holding hands.

"You...you're Macen." Parva said as Macen approached her bed.

Macen nodded, "My full name is Brin Macen, but you never called me that."

"You're the Captain of the ship." Parva continued and then her eyes widened, "We're in a ship."

"That's right." Macen grinned, "Can you tell me which ship it is?"

Parva frowned, "No. I can't. I know it's yours though."

Macen squeezed her hand, "It's a start." he pointed at T'Kir, "Do you remember her?"

Parva brightened as she looked to the other side of her bed, "She's T'Kir. You love her like Rab loves me."

"That's putting it mildly." Macen remarked, "Do you know what she can do?"

"Something with computers?" Parva ventured.

"True." Macen nodded, "She can also read minds."

Parva looked over at T'Kir, "Is this true?"

"Yup." T'Kir affirmed.

"Could you read my mind and fix me?" Parva asked, voice bounding with hope.

"Sorry, Honey," T'Kir squeezed her hand, "all I can do is make it better. You'll still have gaps in your memory."

"Anything would be better." Parva sighed, "Will you help me?"

"Of course." T'Kir gathered up both of Parva's hands in hers and closed her eyes.

"What's going on here?" The EMH demanded.

"Just a mind meld to defragment Parva's remaining memories." Macen calmly explained.

"This must stop!" The EMH insisted.

Macen drew his pistol and aimed it at the computer housing the EMH program, "Interfere and I'll delete your program."

The EMH huffed, "I'll have to call Doctor Kort."

"Do what you need to." Macen told her, "This procedure goes ahead unfettered."

Your mind is fractured too. a surprised Parva thought.

More than you know. T'Kir admitted.

Can you help me?

I put myself back together with Brin's help. T'Kir described, I'm fairly certain I can help you.

Brin is Captain Macen, correct? Parva asked with childlike innocence.

I like him.

You didn't always like him in the past. T'Kir felt obliged to point out.

Too bad. He seems very nice.

I think so. T'Kir commented, Now relax. We have to go through your memory and see what you can remember. All of it.

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

"You're what?!" a flabbergasted Kort demanded.

"I'm ending our relationship." Radil answered, "At least the more committed aspects of our relationship. I'd still like to have a casual connection with you."

"Jenrya, I'm a Klingon." Kort growled, "Our relationship is as casual as I get."

"Are you sure you don't want to discuss this in private?" Radil asked, eying the milling spectators.

"You ambushed me with this in public, we'll discuss it publicly." Kort declared.

Radil heaved her shoulders, "All right then."

"Jenrya," Kort tried a soothing tone, "I know you're afraid of commitment. I've tried to be patient with you as you worked through your fears..."

"That's just it!" Radil spread her arms wide, "I'm not afraid of commitment. I'm afraid of committing to you."

"What did you say?" Kort's eyes narrowed.

"Kort, you're stifling. You approach relationships the Klingon way, all tradition and rigid rules of conduct. I'm a Bajoran. A millennia of experience has shown us that romance is organic. It takes two partners, approaching with similar expectations to make it work."

Radil placed her fists on her hips, "We don't even agree in the bedroom."

There were titters of laughter at that and Kort yelled at the assembled crewmen, "Get out of here!"

Kort wheeled on Radil, "Has it been so unbearable?"

"No." she said softly, "You've been rather sweet, in your own way. I just need a different way."

"A way like Rab Daggit?" Kort snarled.

"Rab's spoken for." Radil reminded him, "I have to find my own path."

"Good luck with that." Kort started to storm off when his comm badge chirped. He slapped it with all his might and yelled, "What?"

The much abused EMH tentatively spoke, "Doctor, T'Kir is here. She performing a mind meld on the patient in order to realign her memory."

"I'm on my way." Kort thundered and stalked off.

Radil lingered in the corridor as traffic began to resume. She felt badly about how things had gone but they'd needed to be said. She merely hoped Kort wouldn't resume his drinking ways. The last thing the crew and the SID team needed was an alcoholic for a Chief Medical Officer.

"What's going on here?!" Kort boomed as she stormed into Sickbay.

"Quietly Doctor or I'll be forced to stun you." Macen said quietly but with a firmness to rival duranium.

"What is she attempting then?" Kort asked in hushed tones.

"She's attempting to create new neural pathways and associations between Parva's existing memories."

"Has she done this before?"

"Not without my assistance." Macen revealed, "But the work we performed together formed the foundation of what she's attempting now."

"Are you saying that you two did this for T'Kir herself?" Kort was astounded.

Macen nodded, "When she came back from the Andes Institute, T'Kir was lost. Her memories were overshadowed by those that she'd gleaned from hundreds of minds. She needed help finding her core self."

"And those other memories?" Kort was fascinated.

"Buried beneath her own but accessible when the need arises" Macen explained.

"And Parva?"

"Only has her own memories so this should be a straightforward task." Macen reassured the Doctor.

"How long have they been at it now?" Kort wondered.

"A little over twenty minutes." Macen answered.

"How long will it take?" Kort worried about straining Parva's heart.

"It took T'Kir and I two weeks of three hour sessions." Macen said, "Parva should be done in a single session. How long it'll take is a mystery."

"I take it you and Rab are staying as long as it takes?" Kort expected.

"Yes, of course." Macen replied.

"Would you like chairs?" Kort asked, "We keep a supply on hand for visitors."

"Thanks." Macen smiled, "They'd be appreciated."

How d'you feel? T'Kir asked.

More complete. Parva replied, At least I know what I remember. Now I just have to find out how badly my ability to walk and hand-eye coordination fared.

Sorry I can't help with those. T'Kir apologised.

You've done enough. Parva remarked, I can't expect miracles.

They'd still come in handy once in awhile. T'Kir quipped, Ready to break the meld?

Yes.

T'Kir unravelled their minds. It was a painless procedure but she could sense Parva's sudden bout with loneliness. It could be disconcerting to have another mind interlinked with yours for a time and then disappear. She was suddenly grateful for her link with Macen.

T'Kir took a deep breath, opened her eyes and looked around. Macen was already on his feet and had his arms wrapped around her. She leaned back and revelled in his embrace.

Parva received a more cautious reception as he eyes fluttered open. Daggit bent down and kissed her.

"Oh, for Elements sake Rab!" T'Kir chastised him, "You're not going to break her. Kiss her like you mean it!"

Daggit grinned and then kissed her much more passionately.

Parva grinned, "Now that I remember."

"I could help you remember a few other things." Daggit wore a suggestive smile.

"Later." Parva sighed, "Let's find out how badly damaged I am first."

"That will take time." Kort said as he approached, "Do you have the patience for it?"

"I'll have to." Parva replied pragmatically.

"Then, how would you like to get out of that bed?" Kort asked, "I'd like to run a few tests and then you can get back to your memory exercises."

"Sounds good." Parva brightened despite Daggit's apparent misgivings, "When do we begin?"

"Now is as good a time as any." Kort replied.

"I think we'll leave." Macen announced.

Parva looked to T'Kir, "Do you have to leave as well."

"I should." T'Kir admitted, "I'm desperately tired and you want some privacy."

"Were we close before?" Parva asked.

"No." T'Kir responded truthfully, "But we'll be much closer now."

"Good." Parva insisted.

"Now step lightly." Kort urged. Daggit held on to Parva, supporting her as she swung her legs out from the bed. Her feet dangled above the floor and she pushed off the bed. Her legs held for a second and then buckled.

Daggit caught her and swept her up in his arms. Parva began to cry, "I'm crippled."

"No." Kort insisted, "Your brain has merely forgotten how to use them. We can reteach it to use the limbs."

"Is that why my arms work?" Parva asked.

"We still haven't tested how well your arms and hands work but yes, they appear to work because that neural pathway wasn't damaged." Kort explained.

"Let's try some motor skills tests and then resume our memory drills." Kort suggested. Parva gratefully relented. Her motor skills tests revealed a difficulty using her right hand but her left was fine. Being naturally right handed, this was an inconvenience but an easily surmounted one.

After that battery of tests was done, Parva begged off any more, "I'm really tired. Can I just sleep?"

"Of course." Kort agreed, "Let me give you something to help you rest."

Parva dozed off immediately after her injection. Kort cast a worried eye over Daggit, "Do you require a sedative as well?"

"No." Daggit wearily replied, "I'm fine."

"No, you're not." Kort asserted, "You don't lie very well, Rab. You're being consumed by guilt. In retrospect, there was little else you could have done. I let my zeal overwhelm me and I apologise for what I said."

"Thank you." Daggit said, "But it was still my fault. I should have cleared that room."

"You're not perfect." Kort responded, "You can't foresee every contingency."

"When I'm in that mode, I do." Daggit insisted.

"It seems to me you need to talk to Danan." Kort suggested, "She's the closest thing to a counsellor that we have."

"Thanks, but I'm fine." Daggit protested.

"You're relieved of duty until you talk to her." Kort informed him, "See her. That's an order from your CMO."

"Fine." Daggit growled and stalked out of the room.

Kort sat down to record the event in his log and he thought for a moment that the work was distracting him from his own disintegrating personal life. He needed to talk to Danan himself before he sought solace in a drink.

Before retiring for the evening, T'Kir asked Macen, "What do you think of Parva?"

"Her emotions are distraught, which is normal for a case like this." Macen answered.

"Do you think she'll ever resume her duties?" T'Kir enquired.

"You read her mind." Macen replied, "What do you think?"

"She could be retaught the technical aspects of her job." T'Kir insisted.

"But she couldn't physically withstand the stresses of the job." Macen countered, "Not without a heart transplant."

"So when can we do that?" T'Kir demanded.

"That's where it gets tricky." Macen explained, "Orions, as a society, believe in survival of the fittest. They don't subscribe to the theory that artificial organs and limbs can make a person whole. They feel that person should be left as they were to survive, or die, on their own."

"That's so...so...frinxed!" T'Kir yelled.

Macen held up his hands, "Peace. It's not my philosophy but it may be Parva's."

"If she remembers it." T'Kir said.

"That's the mystery." Macen replied in turn.

"What's your take on Rab?" she asked.

"He blames himself." Macen divulged, "If he doesn't lighten up on himself soon, he's going to be paralysed by his feelings of responsibility."

"That's what I got too." T'Kir affirmed, "Anything we can do about it?"

"Not yet." Macen shrugged, "Kort has to take point on this one."

"You're sure Kort's up for it?" T'Kir asked pointedly.

"Why?" Macen was confused, "Is there something I should be aware of?"

"Radil broke up with Kort." T'Kir answered, "In the middle of corridor two on Deck Five."

"You're sure the replicators are locked down from giving him alcohol?" Macen sighed.

"Yup." T'Kir nodded, "Did it myself."

"Lock everyone out." Macen ordered, "The last thing he needs is a ‘helpful' shoulder to cry on."

"I'll do it before I go to bed." T'Kir promised.

"Damn." Macen muttered, "It's just one thing after the other."

The Obsidian was in orbit over Iotia. She'd hung there for the last fourteen hours while all the combat officers got at least eight hours of rest. Daggit began the day in the gym. Afterwards, he had a hearty breakfast. Next, he spent two hours on the target range. He used mobile target drones.

Finally, Danan paged him. Reluctantly, Daggit reported to the small office that she had in her additional duties as ship's counsellor. To be fair, one of her previous hosts had been a psychologist, not Lisea. It was the closest thing the crew had so her days were divided between the science labs and her burgeoning practice.

Daggit entered the office and found a desk in the corner of the room. Two chairs were set in the middle of the room. One had an endtable beside it. The other, a loveseat, was unaccompanied.

Danan was already seated in a chair and she motioned for Daggit to place himself in the loveseat, "You can have a seat, Rab, or you can remain standing. Whichever makes you the more comfortable is the path to follow."

Daggit plopped down into the loveseat and growled, "And that's what this is really about isn't? Whatever's easy is the path to choose."

Danan held a finger to her lips and then spoke, "I was going to address your lingering guilt over the operation where Parva got hurt but if you want to discuss your ongoing desire to abandon her, that's fine with me."

"I do not wish to abandon Parva." Daggit snarled.

"Yes, you do." Danan replied calmly and certainly, "She's no longer the woman you fell in love with so your natural inclination is to leave her and start over."

Tears welled up in Daggit's eyes and he choked out, "How do you know?"

"From the case experience of millions of people in your current position." Danan remarked, "You're not alone. Millions have undergone the same drastic changes to their relationship and one thing always proved certain."

"What's that?" Despite his grief, Daggit was intrigued.

"If you're going to leave, now's the time to do it...before she becomes dependent upon you." Danan said.

"It's too late for that." Daggit remarked, "Besides, despite our never having made a formal commitment, it was ‘For Better or For Worse' for me."

Danan smiled, "I'm glad to hear it. That should resolve that particular difficulty."

Daggit hesitantly nodded, "Somehow getting it out in the open has helped clarify the matter."

Danan's smile grew brighter, "That's my job. Now, about the assault in the Presidential Mansion..."

Macen and T'Kir finished their late breakfasts and headed for the bridge. Grace was already there as was Riker. T'Kir stood on tippy toes.

"Can I, can I, can I?" she pleaded.

"Go." Macen relented and T'Kir bounded down to the helm to talk to Grace.

Riker observed this with some amusement and then Macen approached, "Tom, can we talk?"

Riker alerted T'Kir that she was now the officer of the watch, which didn't earn him a single reply. Macen nodded, "She understands. Let's go."

Macen led Riker into his Ready Room. Riker naturally took one of the chairs before Macen's desk while Macen went straight for the replicator, "Can I offer you something?"

"Please," Riker brightened, "I haven't had my caffeine quota for the day yet."

"Coffee or raktajino?" Macen enquired.

"Let's stick with coffee, a dark roast with a touch of Irish cream." Riker requested.

"I'm really dragging." Macen bemoaned and ordered a raktajino with vanilla. Macen doled out the drinks as they appeared and then sat down.

"I can't remember the last time we had a conversation where we observed the niceties." Riker admitted.

"There for awhile, there wasn't enough goodwill between us to bother with the niceties." Macen observed.

"I've said it before but I'll say it again." Riker began, "I'm sorry..."

"There's no need to apologise further, Tom." Macen interrupted, "It was both of us. It's time to move on."

"Speaking of moving on," Riker sipped his coffee, "are you really thinking of stepping down as Captain and handing things over to me?"

"Not in the way you think." Macen warned, "I want you to assume the role of captain, but more like the role of flag captain. I'd still remain as Mission Commander and overseeing what you do."

"So you'd become Admiral Macen." Riker grinned, "And I'd be Captain Riker."

"No, Tom." Macen shook his head sadly, "I'd remain Captain Macen and you'd still be Commander Riker."

"But why?" Riker demanded, "If I'm doing the work, why not the recognition?"

"Because, ultimately, I'd still be Captain of this vessel. You'd just oversee more elements of it than you already do."

"And the only way out of it is to accept a command of my own." Riker grumped.

"You could just say ‘No'." Macen said dryly, "I just thought you might enjoy the extra challenges."

"Let's just leave things as they are and I'll get back to you if I want any more challenges." Riker decided.

"Fair enough." Macen agreed, "Now tell me about the battle and the saboteurs."

"So you distracted him with the rifle and took the head shot?" T'Kir asked.

Grace nodded, "He stared at me for half a second, like he knew the end was coming."

"He probably did." T'Kir commented, "He saw the resolve in your eyes and he knew that you weren't going to waste another shot on his vest. Head shots, even on heavy stun, are generally lethal."

T'Kir studied her friend, "How d'you feel?"

Grace shrugged, "Okay, I guess. I did what needed to be done and I have a minimum of regrets."

"Good girl." T'Kir squeezed Grace's arm, "You always want to know what a field op is like. Now you know."

"Moments of panic strung together by ugly necessity." Grace opined.

"Ain't it the truth?" T'Kir grinned.

"It's not much different from vessel to vessel combat, except that you see the faces of your victims." Grace commented, "In space, you can kill thousands without ever seeing a corpse."

"Statistically, that's incorrect." T'Kir replied, "Failing bulkheads, hull breaches and malfunctioning emergency forcefields all contribute to bodies in space."

"Don't be such a...Vulcan." Grace chastised, "They're just specks in the night. They aren't personalised."

"How can I not be a Vulcan?" T'Kir demanded, "I am a Vulcan."

"You wouldn't know it most of the time." Grace grumbled.

"Thank you." T'Kir beamed.

"And you can't be insulted." Grace complained.

"Not by you." T'Kir grinned.

"Oh God, I'm in hell." Grace dropped her head to her board.

"I'll leave you to your suffering." T'Kir said, "Want a raktajino?"

"Please." Grace mumbled.

"Coming right up." T'Kir promised her and moved off towards the replicator.

"Variables and unforeseen circumstances abound in combat." Danan was winding up her discussion with Daggit, "It isn't reasonable to expect yourself to account for every one and to prevent them all from occurring. In that way lies madness."

"You think I'm mad?" Daggit asked.

"I think you're driving yourself mad." Danan remarked, "If you can't derail this train of thought then you'll be no good to anyone, least of all Parva."

"I'll...I'll work on it." Daggit promised.

"Good." Danan said with relief, "That's a start. I want to see you again in two days from now. Same time and place. Your duty roster can be adjusted to allow you to come. I'll see to it."

"Thank you." Daggit said as he rose and accepted Danan's hand, "I mean it. I've been leery of psychoanalysts ever since the conditioning occurred on Angosia."

"I'm not trying to reprogram you Rab." Danan assured him, "I'm just trying to make you happier living with you. Now go see Parva, I'm sure she would be delighted."

"In two days then." Daggit tipped his head and exited the room and Danan wondered, once again, whether or not she should contact Tom Riker and tell him either to cool his jets or go away completely. She decided ‘why wait?' and paged him.

Daggit walked into Sickbay to find the EMH, the nurse and medtech all gathered around Parva's bed laughing.

"What's up?" Daggit asked.

"Watch this!" Parva declared and then began wiggling her toes.

"How? When? Why?" Daggit stammered.

I remapped several of Parva's neural pathways this morning while she slept." The EMH explained, "She can walk with the use of braces."

"Want to see?" Parva eagerly asked and threw the covers back revealing the metal frameworks encapsulating her legs.

"I'd love to see you walk." Daggit said and moved into position to help her off the bed. He lifted her from underneath her arms and placed her on her feet. She wobbled a bit but she stood. The nurse and medtech clapped.

Parva took a few faltering steps and Daggit forced himself not to reach out and grab her. She walked across the length of Sickbay and then returned to her bed. She was slightly winded but exultant.

"I did it!" Parva exclaimed and then wrapped her arms around Daggit's neck and fiercely kissed him.

"I see part of your memory's back." Daggit grinned. He beamed proudly for her effort a moment before, "How is this possible?"

"The braces run off of the same neural pathways as the muscles themselves. While the muscles are being retrained, the braces pick up the slack and grant her mobility."

"Tessa, why don't you tell him about your name?" Parva insisted.

"Well," the EMH looked embarrassed, "Parva wanted to know what to call me and I told her how I've been looking for a name. She dubbed me ‘Tessa" and I think its going to stick."

"Well, Doctor Tessa, I'm grateful to you for your efforts." Daggit said sincerely.

"What's the point of being programmed with forty million medical references and papers if you can't make someone's life a little easier?" Tessa wondered.

"I was visited by a nice lady with spots." Parva announced, "I don't remember her name but she smelled nice. I remember that smell."

Daggit thought he would have to mention that to Danan during their next session. He'd grown jaded to Danan's scent but she did use a pleasant body oil that was quite fragrant.

"Rab?" Parva was holding a padd in her left hand. On it was a picture of a person, "Who is this?"

"Her name's Radil. Do you remember her?"

"I don't like her. She tries to steal men."

"On occasion I guess." Daggit conceded.

"She's tried to steal you, twice."

"But I'm still with you."

Parva looked up at him, studied him, and smiled, "You're still sad but you are here with me. I won't have to hurt this Radil...yet."

"Parva...I don't want to cheat on you."

Parva shook her head, "I'm not worried about you. She's the troublemaker. She doesn't know what she wants."

Daggit studied Parva. In many ways, her reactions were childlike in their purity but they were stripped of the pretence adults used around one another. He found it refreshing.

"What?" she asked, watching him stare.

"I just love you." he bent and kissed her again.

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

Radil awoke feeling refreshed and light hearted. Part of it was due to the sleep. The other, more relevant, reason was her dealing with Kort yesterday. She'd regretted doing it in the middle of Deck Five but Kort had insisted on having it out right there so right there they'd stayed.

She went to breakfast and found Kort there. He excused himself from the table he was eating at and departed without a word to her. Radil had hoped for a smoother transition than this but she could deal. She had her breakfast and read the summary reports of yesterday's security fiasco.

Radil saw three errors. The first lay with the HQ outfit that initially vetted the new hires. Their primary allegiances should have been detected and by the Prophets they would be if she had to rescreen every applicant herself. Collins made the second mistake. She'd allowed unauthorised personnel to approach the Security Office without being challenged. The rest of the unit made the third mistake. They rushed in on the office, responding to the fake weapon's malfunction. Their concern overrode their situational awareness.

Radil blamed herself for the second and third items. She hadn't drilled it into their heads that they were in constant danger. In space or at port, threats loomed constantly. They were intended as the ship's first and last line of defence, not its first casualties.

Radil gathered up her padds, took a large travel mug of tea with her and proceeded to the main briefing room. All of the Security officers were present. She wanted to address them all before sending the gamma shift crew off to bed. Radil took a deep swallow of her tea and told them of her analysis of the preceding day's events.

Abby Collins looked like she was kicked in the gut but she seemed determined to roll with the punch. Radil opened the floor for feedback and the group honestly reviewed their actions and were contrite about their slump in vigilance.

"This has been good." Radil closed the meeting, "Expect a ton of new drills and more mandatory time at the range. Get to wherever you need to be."

"Where you off to, Chief?" Collins asked as they exited the briefing room.

"I'm off to run these reports by the Captain." Radil smiled, "Want to come?"

"No thanks." Collins almost managed a laugh, "The Captain already associates my face with one screw up. I don't want to become the poster child for the inept Security agent."

"Won't happen on my watch, Abby." Radil assured her, "I promise."

Radil arrived on the bridge to find T'Kir puttering away on some new project. Grace looked bored and subdued at the helm. Riker seemed distracted. The ratings at Tactical and Engineering paid her more attention than her teammates. Squaring her shoulders she went to the door leading to Macen's Ready Room.

She chimed the door and it immediately opened. Macen stood behind his desk, "I see you brought your own drink. Can I refresh your cup?"

"Earl Grey with milk and two sugars." Radil specified as she handed over her cup. Macen ordered her an identical cup and handed it over. He ordered another cup of coffee for himself. He sat down and studied her for a moment.

"Are you waiting for me to talk about Kort?" Radil suddenly blurted out.

Macen's eyebrows rose and he looked surprised, "No. Do you need to talk about Kort?"

"That's not why I'm here." Radil replied.

"Then let's stick with what you are here about." Macen suggested, "I believe you wanted to review the Security reports concerning the saboteurs?"

"Yessir." this was followed by a pause.

"Jenrya?"

"Yes?"

"I know you're a little distracted by personal matters," Macen commented, "but can we get underway?"

So Radil did...all the while cursing herself.

The door chimed and Macen instructed the computer to open the door. T'Kir bounded in.

"What are you doing in here?" Macen asked with suspicion.

"Do I need a reason to visit my husband?" she asked brightly.

"Yes." Macen replied, "You do."

"Radil was here." T'Kir said manically, "How was she? What was she like? How was she feeling? Does she miss Kort?"

"Take it off speed dial and take a breath." Macen laughed.

"What's speed dial?" T'Kir asked.

"Forget I said it." Macen replied, "What's on your mind Skipper, besides the Radil-Kort melodrama?"

"What else is there?" T'Kir demanded.

"Our departure for Thrandice and our imminent rendezvous with the Intrepid."

"And Thrandice is...?

"Solarian Security Systems' operations hub."

"Oh." T'Kir's head cocked to one side, "I guess that's important too."

"Thanks for that admission." Macen replied dryly.

"But it's still not as important as Radil and Kort." T'Kir insisted.

"If I give you a titbit, will you leave me alone?"

"I promise. You can plan your invasion in peace."

Macen was about to point out that it wasn't an invasion when he gave up, "What thoughts did you glean off of her when she came and went?"

"When she arrived she was full of confidence and thinking about nothing but security reports." T'Kir answered, "When she left she was mad at herself."

"That's because her confidence wavered while she was here." Macen explained, "She became defensive regarding Kort and grew distracted."

"That's it!" T'Kir shouted, "She still loves him."

"I doubt that." Macen remarked.

"Just you wait." T'Kir shook her fist, "I'll prove my theory."

"Don't get hurt." Macen called out as she departed. After a moment's consideration, he commed Radil and warned her of what was to come.

Kort faced Danan and remained completely silent. She waited for several minutes and finally said, "Most people come here to talk."

Faced with more silence, she changed her approach, "If I were you, I'd be dying for a drink right now."

"What would you know of it?" Kort's voice was dead.

"My third host acquired quite a taste for alcohol. Soon, she couldn't make it through the day without five or six drinks back to back. After awhile, she drank all day long in little increments."

"I'm surprised the Symbiosis Commission didn't have the symbiont removed."

"They did." Danan confirmed, "But by then the host was dying of liver damage so it wasn't a great loss. Anyway, every host since has fought that craving...that constant desire to lose oneself."

"You drink." Kort accused.

"Very carefully." Danan admitted, "I'm not her and hopefully I can control it."

"I can't." Kort said, "One drink and I crawl back into the abyss. I was doing fine. I wasn't counting every single day any more and then she did this too me."

"I'm assuming ‘she' is Radil."

"So you've heard!" Kort accused.

"Gossip is the only thing that can exceed warp 10." Danan joked.

"It's not funny." Kort growled.

"Sorry, but I'm not sure what you want. You're barely talking." Danan revealed.

"I want you to stop me from drinking."

"I can't do that." Danan admitted, "Only you can prevent you from taking a drink."

"Damn." Kort grumped.

"Ain't life a bitch?" Danan tried out one of T'Kir's sayings.

Kort chuckled darkly, "It is indeed. Thank you for your time."

"Will I see you again?"

"Perhaps." Kort s replied with grim finality.

"How many of your troops are ready to deploy, Commander?" Macen asked Scipio.

"I have committed some of my forces to the Iotian inner system defence until they can reroute some cruisers to take up the slack." Scipio responded, "That leaves three Banner-class and three Eagle-class ships at your disposal."

"That should be enough." Macen commented with satisfaction, "Stand-by for the coordinates for a world called Thrandice."

"And what will we find here?" Scipio asked.

"The people that hired the Iotians to attack my ships." Macen said grimly.

"My troops are yours to command." Scipio pressed his fist against his heart, "We arte ready to deploy at a moment's notice."

"Strength and honour, Commander." Macen returned the salute.

"Warrior's luck to us all." Scipio added with a smile.

Macen exited the Ready Room and headed for the centre seat, "Hannah, transmit the coordinates of Thrandice to the Romans."

"Isn't Thrandice in Federation space?" Grace asked.

"Yup." Macen replied.

"Wait a minute!" Riker interjected, "You're leading Nova Romans into Federation space?"

"Think of it as an opportunity for First Contact." Macen said philosophically.

"What's Admiral Drake think of it?" Riker pointedly asked.

"She's sending the Intrepid to meet and greet the Romans." Macen bent the truth.

"As long as we're not getting into trouble again." Riker said ominously.

"Of course not." Macen patted Riker on the back and looked back at T'Kir. She winked and resumed working on her security upgrades.

The Obsidian set out with the pride of the Roman Star Legions. Scipio deployed his ablest commanders and crews. Macen passed along all available knowledge of the Solarian fleet. Scipio was confident of victory.

"My Banner-class ships are marginally more capable than yours. We should overcome civilian craft easily enough." Scipio said as he and Macen toured Scipio's flagship, the Reaper.

A cowled human skeleton wielding a scythe was emblazoned on the ship's bridge. Macen asked its significance and Scipio laughed.

"We have Death for us. Who can stand against us?"

"The Fates control death and none may control them." Macen pointed out, "They may be influenced but their will is its own."

"Well said." Scipio smiled, "I think we have an understanding. I understand you can sense fate?"

Macen shook his head, "I can sense probabilities, what may be and what is supposed to be when Fate goes awry."

"That is a rare gift." Scipio remarked.

"It's common amongst my people." Macen replied, "The difference is how greatly we hone it."

"Can others possess this trait?"

Macen nodded, "It's rare but it can be developed. I'm a practitioner of a philosophy known as the Seeker of Truth. The Seekers teach their pupils to quiet their minds and sense the ebb and flow of the Currents of the universe."

"This teaching must be brought to Magna Roma." Scipio insisted.

"And some day it will be." Macen promised, "I have other obligations now but the day is coming when I will gather students and teach them to Seek."

"When?"

Macen closed his eyes and then opened them again, "Sooner today then it was yesterday."

"Hard to see when you'll be free of your current obligations?" Scipio ventured.

"The man I've chosen to replace me as ship's captain is slow to step up to the responsibility. His doubts and fears weigh him down." Macen explained, "I haven't found someone to replace me as Mission Commander."

"But when you do?"

"Then I'll be free." Macen smiled.

"I ‘heard' what you told Scipio." T'Kir told him over dinner, "Why didn't you walk away during the three years the SID blacklisted us?"

"The crew needed us." Macen said, sipping his juice and nodding toward Daggit, "Rab! Have a seat."

Daggit sat his tray down and accepted the offer. T'Kir studied him for a moment, "You seem happier."

"Parva can walk. She's using braces of course. She may have to for the rest of her life but she's mobile!" Daggit exuded, "Tessa's fantastic."

"Who's Tessa?" Macen wondered.

"The EMH." Daggit explained, "Parva named her that and the EMH likes it so she's keeping it."

"Will wonders never cease?" Macen asked.

"Rab, you seem happier today." T'Kir pointed out, "You don't seem so careworn."

"Guilty you mean?" Daggit asked and T'Kir nodded, "I had an insightful discussion with Lisea that helped bring things into perspective."

"Someone mention my name?" Danan asked as she carried her tray over. She took a seat beside Daggit, "I thought you'd still be with Parva."

"She's down for the night. She ate and fell asleep. Tessa gave her a sedative and she'll be out until morning."

"Tessa being the EMH?" Danan asked and Daggit nodded.

"How'd you know that?" Macen demanded.

"I visited Parva before my shift started and Tessa gushed about her new name." Danan grinned.

"I see Radil's circling the wagons." T'Kir commented. Across the room, Radil sat with Abby Collins and some of Security staff.

"The whole ship is abuzz with what happened between her and Kort." Danan remarked, "The rumour mill is working overtime on this one. She needs to find all the comfort she can."

"Speaking of comfort," Macen said, "has anyone seen Kort?"

"I saw him in a counselling session today." Danan answered, "It didn't go well."

"He never reported in to Sickbay." Daggit replied.

"Oh no!" Danan exclaimed through hurried bites of her dinner, "I think he may be drinking."

"I locked all the replicators down." T'Kir announced.

"Kort's a doctor." Danan reminded her, "All he needs are the raw components."

"Bug juice." Macen commented.

"Exactly." Danan finished wolfing down her food and tapped her comm badge, "Locate Kort."

"Doctor Kort is in his quarters." the computer replied.

"Let's go." Macen said and the quartet rose as one. They left their trays behind and hustled out of the Team Room. Radil watched and thought about advising Security. If the officers in question had wanted Security's involvement, they would have asked for it, she decided.

The concerned quartet arrived at Kort's quarters within fifteen minutes. They'd run to and from the turbolift. They chimed the door and there was no response.

"Remember if he's drunk, he won't want to come with us." Daggit advised.

Macen and T'Kir drew their weapons and assumed shooter's poses. Daggit and Danan stayed in reserve.

"Computer, override door lock Deck 5, 32, authorisation Macen Delta THX 1138." Macen ordered and the door slid aside. Inside, furniture was overturn and hacked to pieces by a bat'leth. There were several bottles full of something that smelled like solvent. There were several more empty bottles.

Macen hit his comm badge, "Sickbay, we have a medical emergency at Kort's quarters."

"We're on our way." the medtech replied.

"Well, his insides should definitely be clean." Daggit said, sniffing a bottle.

"His internal organs might be liquid by now." Danan remarked, "At least he's still breathing."

"He's lucky Klingons have redundant organs." Macen replied, "Otherwise I don't think he'd still be with us."

"Hey!" T'Kir called from the bathroom, "He's got a tub full of this stuff."

"His version of bathtub gin." Macen shook his head as the medtech and the nurse rushed into the room and began stabilising Kort's condition. The med tech set up the framework of the antigrav gurney and then lifted the burly Klingon as though he were a feather.

"I knew it was a mistake for the senior officers quarters to have bathtubs." Danan remarked.

"Hey!" T'Kir and Daggit protested at the same time.

"I see." Danan said with worldly wisdom.

"Kort gets new quarters tomorrow." Macen decided, "Kalista can move his stuff while he's recuperating in Sickbay."

"And if this happens again?" Danan asked.

"He's relieved of duty. Tessa can cover the CMO slot. Voyager proved that." Macen said sternly.

"If he's not already over the edge, that'll send him there." Danan warned.

"I can't be worried about his mental health." Macen snapped, "I'm worried about his job performance. If he's going to endanger lives, he needs to be dealt with and in short order."

Danan hesitated and then acquiesced, "You're right."

"I wish I wasn't." Macen said miserably.

"Maybe you should drop by my office once in awhile." Danan suggested.

Macen gave her a wry look, "My problems run too deeply for you to help."

"I forgot." Danan laughed, "You're married to T'Kir. You've got to be nuts."

"Watch it missy!" T'Kir growled, "I'll make you think you're six year old boy with a booger permanently stuck up your nose."

"You wouldn't."

T'Kir lifted her eyebrows up and down and bit her lower lip, "Try me."

"You know what I just realised." Daggit said while inspecting the damage to Kort's quarters, "We haven't seen our new Chief Engineer since he got the job."

"You're right." Macen sighed and turned to T'Kir, "Next stop, Dracas' quarters."

"Now remember," Macen remarked, "he thinks you're an evil pixie."

T'Kir rolled her eyes. Macen hit the door chime. A moment later, the door opened to reveal a shirtless Dracas. His physique was far superior to his predecessor's.

T'Kir whistled, "Too bad you're wasted on women."

"Maybe not all of them." Dracas said, his face was disturbed, "I've been becoming aroused around a certain woman."

"Bald, stands yay-high." T'Kir described, "Goes by the name Kalista."

"Yes." Dracas said miserably and sank into a chair, "I can't go out for fear of meeting her."

"Honey," T'Kir waved her hand, "your troubles are over. She's a Deltan. They exude pheromones that excite the sex drive. Every man on this ship gets a boner around her. Except for," she jerked her thumb towards Macen, "Captain Courageous here. Hell, half the women aboard get horny around her."

"What a relief!" Dracas ran his hands through his hair, "I thought there was something wrong with me."

"Did you ever find her attractive?" T'Kir asked.

"Well, no."

"Just erotic?"

"Er...yes." Dracas admitted.

"Guess what?" T'Kir threw up her hands, "You're still homosexual and a human being to boot."

"You know what?" Dracas smiled, "I like you."

"Now my life's ambition has been fulfilled." T'Kir quipped, "Now what am I t'do?"

"You were right, Captain." Dracas said, "Despite differing appearances, everyone aboard is essentially human."

"Just don't say it too loudly, people might get offended." Macen warned, "And you didn't get it from me."

"I'm certain you didn't stop by to solve my sexual angst, so why the visit?"

"Just concerned because you haven't been mingling with the crew or the Command team." Macen informed him.

"Now that I know the hallways are safe, I'll make it a point."

"Eaten yet?" T'Kir asked.

"No."

"Put a shirt on." she ordered, "You're about to."

"Yes, ma'am."

Macen gave her a quizzical look and she shrugged, "We can have coffee or juice."

"All right, Captain."

"That's right." T'Kir bumped him with her hip, "Just remember who keeps this boat flying."

Chapter Twenty-Four

The following morning, Kort was highly sedated. Parva was bright and perky though.

"Captain, T'Kir, come in!" she waved.

"How's everyone's favourite patient doing?" Macen asked.

Parva smiled, "Not everyone's. The man stealer was in earlier to check on Doctor Kort."

"The man stealer?" T'Kir chuckled.

"Her label for Radil." Daggit explained, holding Parva's hand.

"Something I should know about?" T'Kir happily enquired.

"Down girl." Macen advised, "We just came by to check on everyone. Rab, we're on our way to Thrandice to engage Solarian forces. Any idea when you'll be back on duty?"

Daggit shrugged, "That depends upon Lisea and Tessa."

"Well, you have three days from now so get better." Macen patted the larger man's arm, "You're relief is good but she's not you."

"I'll be there." Daggit assured him.

Macen's comm badge chirped and he slapped his belt, "Macen here."

"Its Shannon," Forger's voice came across the sound field, "am I getting relieved some time soon?"

"I'm on my way, Shannon." Macen promised. He turned to Parva, "Duty calls."

"Give them hell." Parva cheered.

"Later." T'Kir waved goodbye and followed Macen out.

"I like them." Parva told Daggit.

Daggit smiled, "So do I."

"Sorry 'bout that." Macen told Forger, "We were in Sickbay checking up on the patients."

Forger smiled, "I think I'll visit Parva after dinner."

"She'd like that." Macen replied and moved over to the helm, "Well, Hannah, how long until we reach Thrandice?"

"Same as before." Grace grumped, "Loping along at a leisurely warp 5, it'll take four days, seventeen hours, fifty-three minutes and sixteen seconds."

"And she's not even a Vulcan." T'Kir crowed from the Ops station.

"We need to go this slowly in order to not tax our allies' engines." Macen reminded her.

"They shouldn't even be coming along." Grace hissed just loud enough for Macen, and T'Kir, to hear, "T'Kir told me about your conversation with Drake. The Intrepid is supposed to travel to Magna Roma to meet the Romans, not have a surprise encounter at Thrandice."

"That may be," Macen whispered back, "but I don't know what's waiting there for us. The Roman Banner-class has almost as much firepower as a Defiant-class. I'm not going to neglect an opportunity to use them, especially when Solarian Security Systems has been one step ahead of us this entire time."

Grace pursed her lips, "I see. I'll stop second guessing you now."

"It would be appreciated." Macen replied dryly.

Riker chose that moment to arrive on the bridge. Macen turned to face him, "You're early, Tom. Problems?"

"Just can't sleep so I thought I'd do something useful." Riker explained, "You probably have a million things to do right now so I'm here to free you from the bridge."

"Thanks." Macen said, "I do have things to attend to. Have fun. T'Kir, you're with me. Also page Joachim Dracas and have him meet us in the brig...and tell him to bring his sword."

Dracas joined Macen and T'Kir outside of the brig. Kalista had escorted him in order to guide him on his way. She smiled upon seeing Macen and T'Kir.

"And what are you up to?" she asked playfully.

"You know," T'Kir quipped, "The usual. Scaring information out of the prisoners."

"Nice to see you again, Captain." Kalista remarked. Macen's immunity to her pheromones made him one of the safest people aboard for her to talk to.

"It's good to see you again, Kalista." he replied, "You hardly ever visit the bridge."

"I'm not certain that Commander Riker would appreciate it. My effect upon him is particularly profound." Kalista sighed.

"Mr. Riker needs to learn to deal with it." Macen replied sternly.

"I was surprised when Chief Dracas called me." Kalista laughed, "I was under the impression he was avoiding me."

"You were right." Dracas admitted, "But that issues been resolved now."

"I take it I have you two to thank for that?" Kalista looked at Macen and T'Kir. They each studied the ceiling and the bulkheads.

"I'll be going now." Kalista waved as she departed, "Good luck with your torture session."

Dracas looked at Macen and T'Kir and asked, "You two are really immune to that?"

"I was born in the wrong quadrant." Macen shrugged.

"I'm horny enough already." T'Kir explained, "I don't need help from her."

Dracas looked to Macen, who nodded, "Trust her on this one."

"So why am I here?" Dracas asked, "There's some routine maintenance in Engineering I've been overseeing. Just to get the crew used to my expectations."

"You're here to help Mr. Harkins recall everything that he possibly can." Macen said with a wicked grin.

Dracas and T'Kir matched his smile.

Abby Collins relieved Miress, the Bolian female watching the prisoners, "They're all yours, Captain."

"Which one's Harkins?" Macen asked as he studied the faces behind the forcefield.

Dracas drew his sword and pointed, "That one."

Harkins and Peterson had cells to themselves. Hamish and Smythe shared a cell. Macen approached Harkins' cell and drew his pistol. T'Kir drew hers and stood further back.

"Step forward." Macen ordered.

"Why?" Harkins scoffed, "So you can shoot me or stab me again? I've already been traumatised enough on this assignment."

Macen's eyes took on a manic gleam, "Do you really want to know about trauma? I can arrange that for you."

"I thought you were Starfleet!" Harkins cried, "That's what they told us."

"Ex-Starfleet." Macen's gleam intensified, "Big difference."

"I can't." Harkins whimpered.

"Dracas," Macen said coldly, "castrate him."

Macen deactivated the forcefield and Harkins began to shout, "I'll talk! I'll talk!"

Dracas hesitated and Macen waved him off. He reactivated the forcefield to put the captive's mind at ease and holstered his pistol. T'Kir did the same as Macen moved to the Security desk. Collins moved aside for him and he sat down. T'Kir sat on the corner of the desk.

"All right, Mr. Harkins." Macen folded his hands together out in front of him, "Let's begin with the defences at Thrandice. How many ships are there and of what type?"

"I don't know." Harkins replied.

"Eeehhhh." T'Kir responded with an obnoxious buzzing sound, "Wrong answer. Never lie to a telepath. You get caught."

"Shall we proceed with Plan A?" Macen asked.

"No." Harkins' shoulders slumped, "There's typically six ships held in reserve. They're all Q-ships, armed freighters and the like."

"Any thing new or different?" Macen asked.

Harkins looked pained, "There's a black project. A new ship design. It's code-named ‘Dreadnought'. It's a prototype for a new ship class to take the place of the existing fleet. That's all I know."

Macen looked to T'Kir, who nodded.

"Very good, Mr. Harkins." Macen congratulated him on his cooperation, "Now what about ground defences?"

Afterwards, Miress resumed her post and Collins returned to the Security Office. Macen shook Dracas' hand.

"Thank you Joachim." Macen acknowledged, "It wouldn't have been nearly so easy without you."

"I thought she could read minds." Dracas said, pointing at T'Kir.

"I can." T'Kir affirmed, "But how easy it is depends on how much of my medication I've been given. Lately I've been taking too many to be useful."

Macen ignored her accusation, "Kort and I simply don't want to see you reduced to a babbling mess on the floor any more."

"Collapse into a neurotic heap once and a while and you get branded for life." T'Kir huffed.

"I'd like to cut that down to ‘never collapsing into a neurotic heap' if I can help it." Macen remarked.

"You're too cautious." T'Kir pouted, "I was fine on a lower dose."

"We'll see." Macen considered her statement.

"Can I go now?" Dracas asked, clearly uncomfortable.

"Yes, get back to your maintenance projects." Macen smiled.

"Thank you." Dracas placed his fist on his heart, "This ship will soon outperform all others of her class."

"Doesn't she already?" T'Kir asked Macen after Dracas had left earshot.

"Not the NovaX prototypes." Macen replied.

Riker stepped into Science Lab A to find Danan there alone, "Should I be worried?"

"That would be if I called you into my counselling office." Danan smiled brightly.

"So I haven't done anything wrong?" Riker asked.

"I wouldn't go that far." Danan replied, "Remember when the saboteurs had stunned most of his and then Dracas arrived with the medical staff to revive us?"

"Of course." Riker said.

"You immediately came to my side and checked on me." Danan explained, "While I was flattered and reassured, I also noticed that you never checked on Shannon the way you did me."

"Your symbiont made you a higher risk for complications." Riker defended himself.

"You did it because we're involved." Danan replied, "As the acting CO, you're duty was to the entire crew, not just me. If our relationship is going to be a distraction for you it will end."

"You're serious?" Riker asked.

"Deathly."

"Then it won't be a distraction." Riker vowed.

"That's what I wanted to hear." Danan smiled brightly, "Now you just have to live it."

"I will." Riker smiled, "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to relieve Grace."

"You left Hannah in command?" Danan was astounded.

"It was better than tracking down T'Kir."

"Not by much." Danan snorted.

"She's come through in the recent crises." Riker admitted, "She deserves the chance at the centre seat."

"As long as she doesn't get to comfortable." Danan amended.

"Exactly." Riker grinned as he departed.

"Lisea, my love, you're falling for a man that's a closet daredevil. We all know where that led last time." she said to herself in the silence of the lab.

Radil stormed into Sickbay, "Is he all right?"

"He's resting but conscious." Tessa told her, "We had to regenerate several of his internal organs, including the liver and kidneys but he'll be fine now."

"Thank you." Radil stole a glance towards Parva and Daggit. Parva waved and wore a knowing smile. Radil wondered what she could know. She herself was far too conflicted to know anything.

She tentatively approached Kort's bed and whispered, "Kort, are you awake?"

Kort's eyes opened and he spoke. His normally resonant bass was scratchy and faint, "Yes, Jenrya. I'm here."

"What were you thinking?" she demanded.

"I was trying to kill the pain," Kort answered, "and myself apparently."

"This all my fault." Radil declared forlornly.

"Nonsense." Kort coughed, "I made my own decision. Your only decision was to follow your heart."

"I didn't want to separate from you." Radil confessed, "It just all those damn Klingon rules of conduct. The Way of the Prophets is so much easier. You meet, decide you like each other, sleep with one another and eventually fall in love or go our separate ways."

Kort smiled, "Sounds nice."

"You could try it, you know." Radil suggested, "That's all I was after."

"I'm not sure..." Kort wavered.

"Kort, just because you sleep with someone doesn't mean you have to marry them!" Radil insisted.

"I...I can try." Kort offered.

"I don't know." Radil frowned, "It might be too late for that."

"At least let me try, one last time." Kort pleaded, "If you're still unhappy, we can go our separate ways and never try again."

"I promise one date, Kort." Radil assured him, "We'll see where it goes from there."

Kort smiled gratefully, "Agreed. It'll be a ‘date'."

"I suggest you look up what that means." Radil urged.

"I will." Kort promised and then shrugged, "It's not like I have much else to do right now."

"True." Radil agreed and then more softly asked, "Is it all right if I visit you tomorrow?"

"I'd like that." Kort admitted.

"'Till tomorrow then." Radil said and strode out of the room.

Kort watched her backside as she departed and wistfully said to himself, "I could watch that all day."

Ten minutes later, Macen and T'Kir came calling on the patients. T'Kir went to say hello to Parva and Daggit while Macen used the distraction to interview Kort.

"How are you, Kort?"

"I've been better." Kort admitted, "My liver regenerated nicely but my kidneys had to be replaced with biosynthetics."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Macen confided, "But I'm interested in how you are doing. Will there be a repeat of this incident?"

"No." Kort replied.

"Kort," Macen's voice was pained, "help me out here. I have a CMO that just about threw his life away drinking a concoction that would strip paint off of walls and I need to know whether or not I need to permanently relieve him of duty."

"No, Captain." Kort said more forcefully, "You don't."

"How can I be sure?" Macen demanded.

"Can't you smell it?" T'Kir sidled up next to Macen, "There's a hint of Bajoran lilacs in the air. Radil's been here. I bet she's even given you a second chance."

"Demons woman!" Kort sniffed the air, "Vulcan noses are almost as sensitive as Klingon ones."

"Is that why you won't try this stunt again?" Macen asked.

"Yes, Captain."

"I'm sorry, Kort." Macen looked exasperated, "That's not good enough."

"As long as there is a chance for my redemption, I will abstain." Kort stated.

"And if she rejects you again?" Macen asked pointedly.

"Then I swear upon my honour that I will remain sober." Kort vowed.

Macen leaned closer, "Your honour is your last commodity. Value it highly."

"Yes, Captain." Kort replied in a subdued voice.

"And for what its worth," Macen added, "I wish you all the luck in the world with this second chance."

Kort broke into a toothy grin, "Luck will not be required, just heartfelt effort."

"May you have it just the same." Macen wished and walked away to Parva's bed.

"Just lighten up and you'll do fine." T'Kir advised and followed Macen.

Riker strode back onto the bridge. He'd stopped by his office to review some personnel matters and had straightened out some problems with the shift rotation of the Sciences department. They'd marched their grievances out before Danan and found no resolution. As XO, Riker was the last recourse in all personnel matters. He'd seen an easy solution so he'd offered it. He wondered where this would send his fledgling relationship next but he was eager to find out.

Riker stepped down to the command chair and leaned up against it, "Well, Hannah, enjoying the view?"

"I'm actually more centred to the screen at the helm." Grace replied.

Riker laughed, "No danger of getting a swelled head then?"

"No more than usual." Grace admitted dryly, "It's hard to be humble when you're the next best thing to perfect."

Riker shook his head, "Its no wonder you're still single."

Grace made to reply but Riker's comm badge chirped. He patted it and Danan's irate voice erupted from the sound field.

"Tom, what the hell did you do to my work rotations?"

"Perhaps you'd like to meet in my office so we can discuss it?" Riker suggested.

"You're damn right I do." she growled and signed off.

"Trouble in paradise?" Grace quipped.

"No more than usual." Riker replied.

"And you wonder why I'm still single." Grace remarked.

Danan was still livid when Riker met up with her at his office. She'd been pacing in the corridor for nearly ten minutes when he'd arrived.

"Hello Lees."

"What the bloody hell are you playing at?" Danan demanded.

"Do you want to have this discussion out here or in the privacy of my office?" Riker calmly responded.

"Office." Danan growled. Riker punched in the authorisation code and the door slid open with a distinctive hiss. Perhaps it was overexposure to Macen's prejudices but that particular facet of starship life was beginning to annoy Riker.

Danan plopped down in the couch before being invited by Riker to do so. Riker moved behind the desk and took his seat, "Can I offer you anything?"

"An explanation of why you reversed my decision and allowed Frelax and Hunt to swap shifts would be nice." Danan snarled.

"Frelax works better in the early morning hours. Hunt is naturally a later riser and is more alert later in the day. You had these people fighting their circadian rhythms to suit your own ends."

"Hunt is a better researcher." Danan remarked.

"According to their files, excepting their different areas of expertise, their skills are identical." Riker paused, "This is a case of playing favourites, isn't it? You feel more comfortable around Hunt and therefore put her on a shift compatible with your hours."

"Don't be absurd." Danan said rather defensively.

"Let's be honest, Counsellor." Riker leaned forward and folded his hands together, "Frelax's fitness reports are generic. They could have been written by anyone that knew his name. On the other hand, Hunt's jacket is full of personal observations. This isn't neglect, this is a simple case of not knowing someone."

"All right!" Danan threw her hands in the air, "I've barely spoken to him over the last two years but his research is immaculate. This guy is a spokesmodel for the scientific method. All of his conclusions are invariably proven correct. He's scary."

"But your people are invariably late or overtired during their shifts." Riker pointed out, "Doesn't that worry you?"

"Yes." Danan was forced to admit.

"So you'll abide by my authorising their shift changes?"

Danan shrugged, "You're the XO, I have to abide by it."

"And as a Department Head, you have to try and make it work." Riker reminded her.

Danan nodded, "Done." She glanced up at him and grinned, "Wasn't this so much more clear cut, each of sticking to our roles?"

"Clearer?" Riker asked, "I'm not so sure. Easier though."

"You took a big step today." Danan flashed a wicked smile, "I'm going to have to reward you for it later.

"Now that I can look forward to." Riker smiled broadly.

"Hey, Hannah." Macen said as he exited the turbolift, "Where is everyone?"

"Commander Riker is in his office deescalating some crisis Lisea was having. Rab's probably in Sickbay with Parva since he's still relieved of duty through tomorrow. Dracas is in Engineering fiddling with everything. Kort's contemplating the meaning of ‘stupidity' and you two just returned. Did I leave anyone out?"

"Just one wise ass sitting in my chair." Macen remarked.

"I could help you track down Harry Mudd when you have time." Grace offered, "I know where to lay my hands on ‘hot' runabouts and starcruisers."

Macen grinned, "I'll take you up on that when the time comes."

"Want your chair back?"

"Fight T'Kir for it." Macen suggested, "I'll be in my Ready Room avoiding everyone."

"Have at thee base pretender!" T'Kir cried and lunged for Grace.

 


Proceed to Part V

 

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