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Twilight - Part V 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 Twenty-Five

The following day it was the same time at the same place and that found Rab Daggit in Lisea Danan's counselling office. Danan smiled as Daggit took his proffered chair.

"More relaxed this time?" was Danan's opening question.

"Yes." Daggit answered with a decisive nod, "Yes, I actually am. Part of that is the place, another is the method, and the last is the counsellor."

"Well," Danan fought the urge to blush, "let's see where we end up today."

On Thrandice, Hiram Zeist paced across the Command and Communications bunker built deep within the Solarian Operations Centre, "When will they be here?"

"Our Iotian contacts estimated that they'd do no better than warp six. That put them two and a half days away. They'll arrive later if these so called ‘Nova Romans' are the neo barbarians they've been made out to be." General Grix, the Solarian Chief Tactical Advisor, answered.

Zeist knew better than to argue with the Chalnoth military officer. His race's predisposition towards violence didn't end with their sharpened fangs and diet of raw meat. They often put their opponent's joints out of socket during a heated debate. Zeist was the civilian Operations Manager. He was to oversee the financial and strategic realities of an operation. It was left to military specialists like Grix to implement and supervise the daily affairs of the projects.

"Will that give us enough time?" Zeist fretted.

Grix snorted. The human's fear was exciting his bloodlust, "The Dreadnought will be operational before day's end. That will activate it well before the worst-case scenario of our enemy's arrival. Now quite fretting or I will have you for my lunch."

Zeist sobered at the threat. Grix had made the same threat to Zeist's predecessor. The two had gone walking into the woods surrounding the Centre and only Grix had returned. He'd forbidden search parties from deploying and had quietly explained the situation with the Solarian President and CEO via secure comm link to Earth. No one since had taken one of Grix's threats lightly.

"I have your word then?" Zeist was pushing and he knew it.

Grix growled deep in his throat, "I have said as much human! Stop your worthless questions before I force them down your throat. I advised at the beginning of this project of its potential liabilities and I was ignored then. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm ignored now."

"Of course not!" Zeist declared, "We made a mistake before but it won't be repeated here."

"Then we might survive this after all." Grix half barked, half laughed.

"All right." Danan sat her padd down, "I'm going to recommend to Doctor Tessa that you be reinstated to duty. That doesn't mean I'm done with you. I want to go on on a weekly basis to begin with. Is that all right with you?"

Daggit thought about it, mulled it over and nodded, "I think so. I'm starting to find this rather cathartic."

"You should." Danan replied, "You have years of heavy guilt to deal with."

Daggit sighed, "The price of every campaign."

"This kind of trauma can heal though." Danan said encouragingly, "Just give it time and effort."

"Explain the Captain then." Daggit retorted.

"Little time and even less effort." Danan sighed, "Combined with a human lifetime's worth of trauma."

"Is there hope for him?" Daggit wondered.

Danan smiled, "There's hope for everyone."

"Even T'Kir?" Daggit frowned.

Danan nodded, "Especially T'Kir. Compared to the bad old days, she's practically sane now." Danan snorted, "Hell, compared to when she first joined up, she's practically sane now."

"You should have seen her on Risa." Daggit argued, "She fell apart completely."

Danan nodded again, "I wasn't there but it sounds similar to the breakdown she had when we were retreating from the Jem'Hadar. Only this time Brin didn't get stabbed."

"He was the lucky one." Daggit commented, "His immunity to her telepathy spared him the psychic pressure we had to endure."

"And you're angry about that?"

"Let's say I'm cautious." Daggit clarified, "When people in my old units showed signs of mental instability, they were recalled and given nice long furloughs. They didn't just have the medication upped and be put right back in the thick of it as though nothing happened."

"So you feel unsafe around her?" Danan enquired.

"She seems fine." Daggit admitted, "It was just damned irregular."

"A little irregularity is a good thing, especially when you're understaffed." Danan remarked and then sighed, "I hate to cut you off but I have an appointment with Kort I'm already late for."

"I was going by Sickbay to see Parva." Daggit revealed, "I'll walk you and I promise, no shop talk."

Danan smiled, "Deal."

With Riker back on the bridge, Macen and T'Kir greeted Titus Scipio in the primary transporter room. Like Dracas before him, Scipio reacted strongly at the sight of Telrik but he refrained from violence. The Tellarite, in turn, was grateful not to be threatened with a sword.

"Greetings, Commander." Macen placed his fist on his heart, "You honour us with your presence."

"Remarkable machine but jarring." Scipio remarked absent-mindedly then became aware of his surroundings, "You have not received the news, then? I am an Admiral now, second only to Admiral Kohl. Some day soon, I may be Commander of the Star Legions."

"Double the honour then for us to have you aboard." Macen rejoined.

Scipio smiled, "You're a true Roman at heart, Macen. It is no wonder the Emperor trusts you."

"But you had your doubts." it was a statement, not a question.

"Of course." Scipio laughed, "You were an alien, an unproven one at that. Your deeds on Iotia have proven your mettle."

"I'm glad you approve." Macen remarked dryly.

"I wouldn't have followed you on this errand if I didn't." Scipio admitted, "Now let us end this bantering and talk of war."

"I thought a bite to eat first would be appropriate." Macen suggested, "It is time for our evening meal."

"Then lead on." Scipio jovially urged, "Business is best discussed on a full stomach."

Leaving Shannon Forger in command, Riker met with Grace in his office, "This won't take long. I'm sure you're hungry."

"I am a bit peckish." Grace admitted.

"I just wanted to congratulate you on how you took charge during our attempted hijacking and made one sound tactical decision after another."

"Actually it was Joachim that came up with the strategy." Grace confessed, "I just followed his lead."

"But you were in command of the bridge when he arrived and you were preparing for a counter strike." Riker contended, "When superior experience came along, you bowed before it. All signs of a seasoned professional, Hannah. You're no longer the ‘kid' of the group."

"I haven't been for several years." Grace remarked dryly.

"You've matured in more than one way." Riker elaborated, "Your decision to sacrifice your Attuner and embrace your humanity has made you a stronger person than I think you've realised."

"I'm certain Commander Parvac would disagree with you." Grace retorted.

"Then he'd be wrong." Riker confidently replied.

Grace thought about and then gave a tentative smile, "Thank you, sir."

"For what it's worth, you've finally won my trust Hannah." Riker announced.

Grace's smile blossomed, "Thank you."

"You're dismissed."

Grace practically bounded out of the office. Riker leaned back in his chair and thought about the last six years. He knew it had been irrational to keep harbouring resentment against Grace for tampering with his memory but it had become a habit. A habit he was now happy to break. The girl had been purified through fire and had become a spectacular woman. Riker was proud to know her.

Grace proceeded to the Team Room. No longer the "girl" of the team, she replayed in her mind. At thirty, Grace hadn't felt like a "girl" for a while. She knew that chronologically speaking, she was still the youngest member of the group. Although, Macen and T'Kir were at the respective species' equivalents to their early thirties and no one accused them of being kids. Grace knew she was just being touchy. She'd just received a tremendous compliment after all.

It had taken six long years for Grace to silence all her critics and atone from hiding her true identity from her teammates. To do so once was unforgivable but she'd done it twice. It had been through sheer force of will that Macen had coerced the others into giving her second chances. T'Kir's forgiveness flowed even more readily than Macen's.

Macen himself had been a tough sell after she'd commandeered the ship. He was not a man who took betrayal well. Only her decision to abandon her Attuner, the device that granted her god-like powers, and forsake her people in order to remain with her teammates had ultimately swayed Macen. Loyalty like that had to be rewarded and he had by sticking by her side through thick and thin. The fact that his wife was her best friend didn't hurt matters any.

As she stepped into the Team Room, Grace was delighted to see Macen and T'Kir sitting at a table. The only other occupant was a fully bedecked Roman soldier. She recognised Titus Scipio from his previous appearances on the main viewscreen. She got into the queue for the evening's offerings from the chef. As her portions were doled out, she revelled in the smells it produced.

As she exited the line, she saw T'Kir wave her over. Grace smiled in return and threaded her way through the tumultuous gathering. She reached the table and put her tray down. Scipio moved his helmet further out of the way and rose.

"I am Titus Scipio and you are...?"

"Hannah Grace." she replied and accepted his hand in a grasp that extended to the elbow.

"I must confess," Scipio said with wide-eyed awe, "you remind me of my wife. She was born a Germanic noblewoman."

"Well," Grace replied, "I'm neither noble nor your wife."

T'Kir smirked as Scipio laughed, "You have fire. That will take you far I'm certain."

"As long as we have a mutual understanding." Grace replied.

"Of course." Scipio tipped his head.

"Macen shook his head and grinned, "Now that you've met our Chief Pilot, may I simply state that my original plan was for your forces to form a perimeter while my ship engaged the enemy."

"Where is the honour in that?" Scipio demanded in between bites of his quelish parmesan.

"My government hasn't authorised your presence at this battlefield much less your participation." Macen said in a low voice, "Your presence is a precautionary one, in case we encounter a foe to great to handle alone."

Scipio leaned back and pondered these words, "I appreciate your candour, Commander. I will be equally frank. My Emperor has bade me to follow your instructions, whatever they may be. If you wish us to hold a line, then hold it we will."

"Thank you, Admiral." Macen replied gratefully.

"After we finish here, can we go on a tour?" Scipio asked, "I would love to see how this compares to one of our Banner-classes."

"Of course." Macen conceded and then noted Dracas' appearance. Gilan flagged the Chief Engineer over and Dracas nodded his acceptance and got into line for the evening's meal. At Macen's table a comparative analysis of the Roman and Federation ships began. It was a topic T'Kir and Grace were well suited for and Scipio seemed delighted.

Scipio's tour went without incident and the Admiral seemed contented, "I can see where your vessel is still superior to ours. Of course, we are better armed."

"This ship was designed for scientific inquires and is now primarily used for investigative purposes not combat."

Scipio sighed, "Such a waste."

Scipio eyed Macen holding T'Kir's hand and smiled, "On my ship that would be a punishable act."

Macen grinned, "Then it's a good thing I'm on my ship."

"It is indeed." Scipio chuckled and stood atop the transporter pad, "Here we go again."

Telrik's substitute keyed the transporter and sent the Admiral on his way.

T'Kir stole a furtive glance towards Macen, "Let's go do something totally forbidden on a Roman ship."

"You're on!"

Over and hour later, when an exhausted Macen and T'Kir were drifting off to sleep, Dracas returned to his quarters. The evening had been pleasant, far more enjoyable than expected. He'd ended the night in the gym. Now he was prepared to shower and catch up on some technical reading.

Although he grasped the basic engineering fundamentals of Federation starships, their more esoteric technology still eluded him. Quite frankly, he'd originally been amazed he'd been given the position of Chief Engineer. Now, he knew why.

Gilan had been offered the post and turned it down. He felt Dracas was more qualified and said so to the Captain and XO. Based upon his recommendation, Dracas had received the post. Gilan had been embarrassed to admit this but Dracas was grateful for his honesty. If he'd already secured the loyalty and trust of his second, then his job as a supervisor was halfway done.

Uncertainty had been a way of life for Dracas. He'd never been certain of his place with the Star Legions. A natural engineer, the Emperor's decree had placed him as a command authority over the entire ship. His being a clone had segregated him.

Here, there was a case or two of discomfort over his resemblance over the recently deceased Hal Dracas. Most understood that he merely wished to carry on his predecessor's legacy. A few were resentful of Dracas' swift assumption of Parva's former role. For most though, his skill had earned him a chance to further prove himself.

Dracas stepped into the sonic shower and revelled in its embrace. It was so much more soothing than the recycled water showers of the Roman fleet. His very muscles felt massaged by the reverberating ultrasonic waves. After his shower was done, he decided to forgo his evening stack of reading and simply turn in. Sleep came quickly.

Parva was still awake but tiring quickly, "Rab, what's your last name?"

"You're just now getting around to asking that?" Daggit laughed.

Parva looked sheepish, "It never seemed important. I can remember your first name. I can remember that I love you. I can even remember some moments we spent together but I can't remember your last name."

"What moments?" Daggit wondered.

"Our dinner on Pacifica where we decided to become a couple." Parva replied, "The time you spread rose petals all over my flat and a candlelit dinner was prepared. I remember walks by a lake but I can't remember the name of the lake or how to get there."

"Anything else?" Daggit asked in fascination.

"Little things." Parva explained, "Waking up beside you. The smell of you after sex. The feel of your body pressed up against mine. A hundred things I miss."

"They'll be yours again." Daggit promised.

"Rab," Parva scolded, "I can't even walk on my own."

"That may change."

"But probably not." Parva said pensively, "I'm not the woman you used to make love to. If I tried half of the things we used to do, or at least what I remember doing, I'll literally kill myself. Do you want to be stuck with that?"

"To tell you the truth," Daggit began to confess, "I only tried half of those things because you wanted to. A more intimate approach is appealing as well."

Tears welled up in Parva's eyes, "I don't deserve you."

Daggit gently kissed her lips and whispered, "And here I thought the opposite was true."

Kort discreetly watched the exchange between Daggit and Parva and silently wished that his own tumultuous relationship with Radil was far less...exciting. He wondered why she'd deemed him worthy of a second chance. Was it lingering love or was it pity? One he could accept, the other was to be cast aside, no matter the personal consequences.

Radil ran the Gamma shift security team through their second set of drills in four hours. This one involved volunteers from amongst the crew playing mutineers. The firefights were going hot heavy on Decks 2, 8, and in the shuttlebays. License being taken to assume the Corsair was still there. So far, Radil's six-man shift was winning. They successfully suppressed half the mutiny so far and were closing in on the "ringleaders".

Overall, Radil was pleased. The Alpha shift, led by Abby Collins, had fared much better at cutting off the rebellion earlier but Gamma was getting the job done. Not one mutineer had reached the bridge or Engineering. And that was the real point of the exercise.

Radil yawned. It was nearing a twenty-hour day for her. Luckily, Collins could cover while Radil caught up on some much needed rest. She still hadn't completely unwound from the Iotian mission and dropping her bombshell on Kort. She still didn't know why she'd given him the chance to change things between them. She supposed nostalgia played a large part of it.

Kort had been an important part of her life for several years now. But as she'd discovered, animal lust didn't forge a lasting relationship. It'd been fun though. She wanted something more now and was determined to get it. Her flirtations with Daggit aside, she wanted a stable man. No Brin Macens or Rab Daggits for her.

Even Tom Riker was too flighty. Radil sought bedrock. A firm foundation built with a similarly minded man. That was what she craved.

"If only Abby were a man." Radil remarked, thinking of her budding relationship with her deputy. She knew there those among the crew that would pursue Collins regardless of sex. Radil wasn't one of them. She was content to leave the same sex trysts to Joachim Dracas.

Frankly, she wondered how Hannah Grace possessed the patience to keep holding out for the man of her dreams. Then again, Radil had no inkling as to what those dreams might be. Although Radil no longer had reason to doubt Grace's loyalties, she'd never taken the time to get to know the younger woman. Then again, Radil thought, Kort and Daggit were the only members of the crew she'd ever reached out to until her overtures towards Collins.

It suddenly dawned on Radil that she was lonely. She needed friends. In her past, friends had been a liability since they'd just get killed anyway. She'd had comrades but never honest to the Prophets friends. It was time to change that.

Abby Collins had plenty of friends. Perhaps she would make a few introductions on Radil's behalf. That would solve half of her uncertainty where Kort was concerned!

Danan sat curled up on the couch in her room, reading a novel. She'd been reading scientific papers until she began reciting facts and theories to all around her. She sipped a cup of tea and just put everything behind her. She was surprised by how badly she'd wished Riker had dropped by.

He'd defiantly taken her advice to heart and was giving her personal space. It was just, at this moment, she wanted a little less space. Of course that thinking had been her downfall with Macen. She kept craving his company even after she'd realised that he was unstable.

Riker had baggage to be sure but as they'd become friends Danan had seen past the scars and the fears that he presented to the galaxy at large. She still remembered the first time she'd met Will Riker. She'd been an Academy cadet and he was a newly minted junior officer. She was on liberty and they'd enjoyed a wild night on the town.

Years later, after she'd been joined, Tom had been separated from Will and was serving aboard the Gandhi. Macen and Danan had been assigned to find a secret Cardassian base and dismantle a new weapon that had been created there. It was their first professional pairing. Riker had been drafted for the mission due to his piloting and strategic skills.

Riker's unique history had also contributed to his involvement. The Cardassians had learned of Tom's creation and were attempting to replicate it on a mass scale. Clones had to be trained. Duplicates came with their skills and memories intact.

It had been a tricky business but it had been sorted out in the end. Danan had been reunited with Riker when he joined the Maquis and drafted his plan to steal the Defiant. She'd not seen him again until Macen recruited him for the SID team and he'd been involved in her rescue from Magna Roma. All through these chance meetings and adventures, she'd never imagined that she would one day become lovers with Tom Riker.

Lovers, she thought and the thought sobered her. She wasn't in love with Riker, at least not yet but that hadn't stopped her from bedding him. It had been a mutually delightful experience. It could have led to a series of faultless trysts if the ghost of Jamie Kirk hadn't reared its head.

Riker panicked. Afraid of losing yet another lover, he'd tried to force the union into being more than it was. He'd made significant strides towards dealing with his grief and fear and Danan had high hopes for him. Their relationship was actually therapeutic for him; at least that's what she told herself.

She was surprised to find that she was beginning to hope for more herself. She had to counsel herself from falling to far to fast. She'd been down that road already. Her present relationship with Macen was usually congenial and occasionally explosive.

As T'Kir put it, Danan was Macen's self appointed Jiminy Cricket. Whatever the hell that meant. All Danan knew was that she tried to tone down her CO's more extremist tendencies. That couldn't be a bad thing, could it?

Danan put the novel down. She was too lost in thought to read anyway. She recycled her tea and ordered a glass of wine from the replicator. She was frustrated to learn that the replicator was still locked down despite Kort's obvious ability to attempt to inebriate himself without the aid of a replicator. Sighing, she opened a cabinet beside her bed and pulled out an older vintage Chateau Picard and opened the bottle.

She poured herself a glass and then drew a bath. Thank the Pools officer's quarters have both a tub and a sonic shower, she thought as she slipped in. She ordered the computer to play a selection of melodies by Joran Dax and contently soaked herself.

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

"Welcome back, slacker." Riker joked as Daggit entered the bridge and headed for the Tactical station.

"Discuss it with my therapist." Daggit retorted.

"I may just do that." Riker laughed.

Daggit debriefed his opposite number on the Gamma shift and took a seat, "Where's the Captain?"

"In his Ready Room." Riker replied, "He's been in there with T'Kir for several hours now."

"Anything kinky happening?" Daggit asked.

"Not on last inspection." Riker informed him, "I was just in there. Call your relief. He wants to see both of us. Today we make contact with the enemy."

"Right." Daggit turned and it the comm button wired to his relief's comm badge.

"Hannah, you have the bridge." Riker ordered.

"You've made a wise decision." Grace remarked as she summoned Ceryx to relieve her.

"Greetings gentlemen." Macen said as he rose from behind his desk as Riker and Daggit entered. T'Kir was curled up in her usual position on the couch, leaned to the right, keeping her gunhand and holster free. Daggit and Riker accepted the offer of the two chairs laid out before Macen's desk.

"Can I get anyone anything?" Macen said as he approached the replicator.

"I'll take coffee, black." Riker replied.

"I'll take a double raktajino." Daggit requested.

A glance towards T'Kir prompted her to raise her mug, "I'm still goin' strong on my caramel latte."

Macen placed the orders and added a vanilla caramel latte for himself. Dispending the drinks, he sat down. He grinned as the other men sipped their drinks and Riker wondered why.

"What's so funny?" Riker enquired.

"Nothing's funny." Macen replied, "I'm just pleased to have all my top advisors involved in this planning session."

"It could've happened a long time ago." Riker reminded Macen.

"I think we've covered this ground, Tom." Macen reprimanded.

"Right." Riker conceded with a hint of defiance.

"If you two want to get personal," Daggit interjected, "T'Kir and I could leave."

"It's nothing Rab." Macen assured him, "Just rehashing some old business that has no place in these discussions."

"What've you got so far?" Daggit asked.

Macen pulled up a picture of the Thrandice system, specifically, and an orbital overhead of the planet itself. Marked on it were the positions of the Roman ships. The Banner-class warships were in a triangular formation around the planet. There was an Eagle-class scout above each polar region. The third was held in rapid reserve in case any ship in the formation required assistance. There were six enemy ships highlighted in high Thrandice orbit.

"So what's our role?" Riker asked.

"To manoeuvre through the Q-ships and reach the operations facility on the surface."

"And the Romans?" Riker wondered.

"Will prevent the Q-ships from breaking orbit." Macen explained.

"Without firing a shot?" Riker dubiously enquired.

"The Rules of Engagement will be to fire if fired upon." Macen announced, "That holds true for all ships."

"So we're flying into the midst of a band of cutthroats that want to see us dead and we can't shoot until they do?" Daggit asked incredulously.

"This will be a Starfleet supervised operation." Macen explained, "The USS Intrepid will be rendezvousing with us to oversee the detention of those responsible for attacking our shipmates."

"Just how did an Akira-class vessel get the name Intrepid anyway?" Riker suddenly demanded to know.

"While the original Galaxy-class Intrepid was operating, they built the Intrepid-class prototype. There's been a lot of confusion resulting from that special dispensation. It's been a headache for Starfleet ever since they granted it but now it's too late to change it. When that ship was recommissioned as the Bonaventure and lost during the Dominion War, they allowed Admiral Johnson to resurrect the name of his old ship in a different class. " Macen described the history of the ship name, "Satisfied?"

"Yes." Riker replied happily.

"All right gentlemen." Macen grew more serious, "We make contact with the enemy in approximately six hours. That gives you four hours to make any recommendations towards this plan."

"Does Commander Scipio know what you're planning?" Riker asked with a wry grin.

"Admiral Scipio knows the gist, not the specifics." Macen answered.

Riker whistled, "So they promoted him over that mess at Iotia?"

"More than that, they gave him a title." Macen replied with a rueful, lopsided grin, "He's now addressed as Scipio Iotianus."

"Give me a break." Riker snorted, "Between the Enterprise and her compatriots and then our efforts, we practically cleaned up before the Romans even arrived."

"Scipio was the first Roman to defeat an Iotian in combat." Macen shrugged, "It means a lot to them."

"I guess." Riker was far from mollified, "But one of the crews of a Miranda-class gave their lives in that action."

"The ship and crew of the ISS Tommygun." Macen informed him, "They are being remembered, by both the Romans and us. The Romans hail them as shining examples of barbarian courage."

Riker bristled and Macen shook his head, "Let it go, Tom. You can't change a culture overnight."

"You're trying to with ‘Dracas'." Riker retorted.

"People adapt faster than cultures." Macen said sagely, "Give him time. He's already embraced you like a brother."

"He has?" an astonished Riker asked.

"He knows of your ‘origins'." Macen explained, "He sees you as a kindred spirit."

Riker pondered that and slowly smiled, "I guess I am, in a way. Thank you. I'll try to reach out more to him."

"That's all he needs." Macen replied gratefully.

"I hate to interrupt," Daggit interjected, "but is this meeting concluded? I, for one, would love to review these plans."

"Both of you are dismissed." Macen made shooing motions with his hands, "Get out of my office."

"So," Macen turned to the replicator but looked at T'Kir, "what do you think?"

"I think I need another latte." T'Kir said as she uncurled from the couch. She approached his desk and Macen noted the new top she wore. It was a red, sleeveless, Andorian silk blouse with a Mandarin style collar that he had recently given her. It looked as good in reality as it had in his imagination.

Macen handed her her drink and she sank down on the corner of his desk, "Tom's abrasiveness is all bluster. He's just thrilled at being included in the strategic process."

"That was my ‘read' of his emotions as well." Macen took a swallow of his coffee, "What about Rab? He seems conflicted."

"He is." T'Kir confidently replied, "He's had three days to devote to Parva and now he's separated from her. He worries about how she'll do without him. On top of it, we're headed into combat, where anything can happen."

"By the way," she smirked, "thanks for talking the EMH into lowering my dose of meds. It makes things sooo much clearer."

"Anything happens, anything at all and the dosage goes up." Macen warned.

"I could just stop taking them altogether." T'Kir threatened.

"Do you remember what a mess you are every time that happens?" Macen enquired, "Let's avoid that, shall we? People get stabbed that way."

"Again with the stabbing thing." T'Kir protested, "When are you gonna stop bringin' that up?"

"When it stops motivating you." Macen revealed.

"I've got to remember that." T'Kir muttered to herself.

"Getting back to Rab," Macen steered the conversation, "does his preoccupation pose a threat to his ability to perform his duties?"

"I don't think so." T'Kir scrunched up her nose, "But you never know until the moment comes. You worried about this plan, aren't you?"

"It seems solid enough but the Currents are divided at the point where we encounter the enemy." Macen divulged, "Probability goes wild at that moment."

"Maybe you should concentrate less on the future and more on the present." T'Kir wrapped her arms around his neck, "Like now, for instance, "I'm sitting here full of unrequited desires and all you can talk about is work."

Macen kissed her and she melted into him. Then he pulled away, "That'll have to suffice. We're one duty, remember?"

"You could lock the door." she pouted.

"The whole idea of the Ready Room is to give the Captain a contemplative area as well as a point of contact with the crew. You can't have that with the door locked!"

"Fine." she said in resignation as she slid off the desk, "Now what?"

The door chimed and Macen grinned, "Now I take Joachim's report on the status of the engines and you go relieve Hannah as the officer of the watch."

"Can she be my XO?" T'Kir asked eagerly.

"Whatever." Macen replied dismissively and watched her scurry from the room. Dracas was nearly run over as he tried to enter.

"Does she ever stop?" Dracas asked as he tried to catch his breath from dodging the manic Vulcan.

"Not that I've noticed." Macen ruefully admitted, "How can I help you, Joachim?"

"You can start by scheduling some yard time for a refit after this next fracas." Dracas announced.

"How bad is it?" Macen sat out a cup of coffee for Dracas and replicated some apple juice for himself.

Dracas gratefully accepted the coffee. Macen had remembered how he took it from the first time he'd been in here. He took a swallow and saluted Macen with the mug.

"Perfect." Dracas' smile faded and he grew serious, "The engines are worn. Not so badly as to call off the mission and seek an immediate refit but their time is almost up. The only saving grace is that the entire engine room seems to be experimental, which allows us to exceed every operational parameter Starfleet has laid out for this class of ship. None of the technical journals cover this type of warp core or warp engines."

"Nor will you find an official journal that covers them." Macen explained, "They're the gift of the Special Projects Yards of Starfleet Intelligence. Officially, these engines don't exist and we don't have them. I suppose I can have some of the engineers at the SPYards send you some technical data on the core and the engines."

"I have the basics down." Dracas said, "But I'm uncomfortable having gaps in my knowledge."

"Yes," Macen grinned, "I've heard horror stories of you grilling a rating over their particular cog in the wheel and relieving them if they didn't know how it worked."

"I tutor them over the material we have on the components they monitor and that way we both learn." Dracas insisted.

"Whatever works for you." Macen conceded, "The bridge engineering station reports that warp core efficiency is up and engine performance is the highest it's been in two weeks."

"Are you criticising Parva's performance as Chief Engineer?" Dracas enquired with some worry.

"Hardly." Macen assured him, "It boils down to a difference of styles. Hal Dracas was a gifted engineer but he was a yard dog for most of his career. He thought in two-dimensional terms. Whatever his shortcomings were in his conceptualisation process, he saved our butts on plenty of occasions. There's no denying the man was good."

"His relations with his crew were laidback and loose. It was a jovial atmosphere. Every tech and rating knew their job inside and out though." Macen informed him, "Parva, though, was a brilliant engineer and innovator. If she had a fault it was that she wanted everyone dependent on her brilliance. This led to the lack of expertise you're encountering now. Old hands know their jobs and the newer replacements knew their specific duties, not the big picture."

"You knew this?" Dracas demanded.

Macen leaned back and drank some juice, "I prefer to let my department heads run their departments the way they deem fit. If you'd care for an observation, though, I'd lighten up on your crew a bit. They're terrified of you. You sliced an alien apart in front of them. They're worried that they'll be next."

"They think that?" Dracas was bewildered.

"According to the latest reports Commander Riker's been getting they do." Macen informed him, "Smile, crack a joke, eat lunch and dinner with different groups of them and see how it goes."

Dracas numbly nodded, "I'll try."

"You have to find your own rhythm, not try to emulate ghosts." Macen advised, "If you need any advice, ask Commander Riker."

"Would that be all?" Dracas asked, poised to stand.

"I think we're done here." Macen said and Dracas made ready to leave, "Call me if you have any concerns."

"Certainly." Dracas fist went to his heart and swung forward.

"You wanted to see me?" Riker asked as he bobbed his head into the Ready Room.

"Come on in and sit down." Macen invited.

He took a seat on the corner of his desk and Riker eyed the couch, "Since T'Kir is busy trying to run the ship aground on a planet, I guess it's safe to sit here."

"So what are the trouble twins up to?" Macen asked with a wry grin.

"Who knows?" Riker confessed, "I've been hiding in my office. I heard something about T'Kir wanting to fire a shot across a Roman bow. I left right after that."

"I do believe power has gone to her head." Macen opined.

Riker snorted, "Hannah is just as bad if not worse."

"So what do you think of my proposal?" Macen asked.

"It seems pretty solid, as long as the Solarians line up the way you've modelled.' Riker answered.

"Not that," Macen waved his hand dismissively, "my other proposal, the one where you become Captain of the ship and I revert to being Mission Commander."

"Is the title up for grabs this time?" Riker asked.

"If that's what it takes." Macen admitted.

"What about co-Captains?" Riker asked, "It worked on the Enterprise-A."

"Nice try, Tom." Macen shook his head, "There needs to be a clear chain of command. One ship, one Captain."

"What'll we call you then?" Riker enquired, "Mission Commander is a mouthful."

"Just plain Commander will work." Macen replied, "I held that rank for thirty-five years. I'm used to being called by it."

"And my XO?" Riker wondered.

"Call him or her XO." Macen shrugged, "Saves time and confusion."

"One last bit, the command chair?" Riker was hopeful.

"Sorry, Tom." Macen flashed a wicked smile, "I'm still in overall command."

"Damn."

"If it's any consolation, I won't use it very often." Macen said consolingly.

"I suppose you'll be keeping the Ready Room as well?"

"At least until we get an office built for myself."

"I'll put Dracas on it right away." Riker said eagerly.

"Wait until the mission's done." Macen scolded, "We'll be headed to the SPYards for some refit time after we've finished at Thrandice."

"I can't believe it." Riker said, "When do we announce it to the crew?"

"For someone that didn't want command, you're chomping at the bit here." Macen observed.

"It's not the same." Riker confessed, "I'll still have you around and like you said, this is what I hired on to do."

"Who do intend to make your XO?" Macen enquired.

"I'm torn between asking Shannon to do it but retain her normal hours and asking Lisea to do it."

Macen winced, "You'd have better luck with Forger."

"You think she's ready for it this time?" Riker asked.

"I do but she may not." Macen said, "Keep Lisea in the back of your mind, the very back." But he could sense that Riker was already determined to ask her first. Macen pitied him and wished him luck. Danan had received her fill of being an XO when she served with Macen during their infiltration into the Maquis.

"Are you frinxing insane?" Danan paused, "Or am I insane for not already having tossed you out of my office?"

"Your experience qualifies you." Riker insisted, "You were the XO on both the Blackbird and Hydra-class Odysseys."

"And I hated it." Danan snarled, "Don't ask me, Tom. You won't like my answer."

Riker sighed, "Forget I brought it up."

Danan's shoulders unhunched, "Shannon Forger is better suited for this and she knows she's ready."

"You know this for a fact?" Riker asked.

"She was in this very office two weeks ago saying how she'd made a mistake leaving the XO's slot." Danan replied.

"Aren't you breaking confidentiality by telling me this?"

Danan shrugged, "The session was over when she said it and it fulfils her wish. I don't see the harm."

Riker kissed Danan on the forehead, "You're a good woman, Lisea Danan."

With that, he departed and Danan found herself wanting more.

Macen activated the intercom and spoke to the entire ship, "For those of you I'm disturbing, I'm sorry. Perhaps you'll forgive the early wake-up call once you hear the news I have to relay. Effective immediately, the Obsidian will have a new captain. Tom Riker has agreed to accept the post. I will remain aboard as well as Mission Commander and will be in overall command of the ship and her missions. This has not been an easy decision to reach and I hope that it will settle well with those that count the most: the crew. For ease of use, my title will be that of Commander but make no mistake about it; I will not be subordinate to any officer aboard. I remain the ultimate authority aboard this ship so in effect, little has changed."

The transmission terminated and Riker leaned in close to Macen, "Nothing but the strategy planning sessions."

Macen grinned, "So when are you announcing Shannon's promotion?"

"In a few minutes." Riker revealed, "I wanted to give the crew time to accept your news first."

Five minutes later, Riker was on the comm, "This is your Captain speaking. I know it will take some time to get used to that but that's the new reality. I'm speaking with you to reveal two new choices for positions opened by this change up. Shannon Forger has agreed to be my XO and I'm promoting Hannah Grace to 2nd Officer effective immediately."

Grace looked stunned and kicked in the gut at the same time. It was apparent to all on the bridge the announcement came as a surprise to everyone, including Grace.

Riker signed off and Grace stood, "I can't be your 2nd Officer. I'm the Chief Pilot for the Alpha Watch."

"No one's taking that away from you, Hannah." Riker placed a hand on her shoulder, "It's just that Shannon's remaining on Gamma shift. That meant I had to select a ship's officer, not one of the Investigative Team, to sub for me when I step off the bridge. You're SID as well as a shipboard specialist."

"But I'd hoped to get away on more away missions."

Riker looked to Macen, "I'm certain we can work something out."

Macen smiled and nodded and Grace heaved her shoulders, "Are you sure about this? I mean really sure?"

"As sure as I am about anything else." Riker said reassuringly.

"Okay," Grace shrugged, "then I'm your woman."

"What's our ETA to the Thrandice system?" Macen asked.

"Forty-four minutes." Grace answered without the aid of her equipment.

"Sound battle stations." Macen ordered, "From this point on we could hit a Solarian patrol."

As the alarm klaxons sounded and Macen took his seat in the command chair, Riker sat beside him and leaned over, "Shouldn't that have been my order?"

Macen shrugged, "You took too long."

Riker bristled but forced his mind clear for the engagement ahead.

"Rab," Macen said softly, "if you'd like to go down and reassure Parva, now's the time to do it. Shannon can cover your station."

Forger put her hand on Daggit's back and gently nudged him out of his seat. She sat as he left and adjusted the seat for her requirements. Next she configured the station's LCARS profile to the file designated ‘Forger 1'. Satisfied, she began running tactical sensor sweeps.

"Rab!" Parva squealed with delight as she struggled to walk across Sickbay. Kort had been discharged. He was not returning to his duties until after completing a period of observation. That left Sickbay Parva's private domain.

"I thought you'd be preparing for the battle." she said as she stiffly walked to him and threw her arms around his neck.

Daggit passionately returned the embrace and kissed her, "I am but Ca... I mean, ‘Commander' Macen gave me a few minutes to see you and see if you're all right."

"Tessa, Stefan and Alyssa have been reminding me of first aid and how to triage patients." Parva smiled, "I should still be useful."

"Always." Daggit assured her.

Parva blushed, "You don't sound as though you're happy with the change in command."

"I'm not." Daggit admitted, "No one else I know is either. Its true it doesn't change much but the titles but I don't think Riker's going to last long with Macen still calling the shots."

Parva frowned ion concentration, "Neither do I. For all his lamenting over his first command, what Tom Riker really wants is his independent command."

Daggit stared and Parva shrugged and adopted a sheepish little smile, "I remember some stuff."

Daggit kissed her forehead, "I think you're right. Question is, who are we going to get to replace him?"

"I don't know." Parva frowned, "I don't know who the candidates are."

Daggit laughed, "I'll let you know as soon as I know."

Parva nodded, "Deal."

After Daggit had returned to the bridge, T'Kir chimed up, "I have an intermittent contact at fifty thousand kilometres at bearing 32.7."

"Are they cloaked?" Macen asked.

"Negative, they seems to have sensor absorbent hull plating like ours and are deliberately masking their emissions profile." T'Kir reported.

"Lees, see if you can nail it down." Macen ordered, "T'Kir, keep your sensors peeled for any more contacts."

Macen could sense Riker chafing at the bit at sitting by while Macen ran the show. That was the price of being a flag captain when the admiral took direct control. This was Macen's operation and he was going to run it. Riker had to simply learn to deal with the situation.

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

The Obsidian dropped to impulse. Their mysterious monitor having been identified as a heavily modified Skylark-class scout. The Solarians were alerted to their coming and the Outbound Ventures ship could expect a very warm welcome. As the surveyor sailed through the system, the reception committee appeared to be missing.

The Romans faithfully tagged along and escorted the Nova-class science ship in. As Thrandice came into sensor range, only the previously identified scout and one armed freighter were within sensor view. Macen's extrasensory perceptions were screaming "Danger!"

"One quarter impulse." Macen ordered, "Pass the word to the fleet."

"Why?" Riker demanded, "We can sail in, disable them and be on our way to the surface."

"It's a trap." Macen's eyes narrowed.

"With what?" Riker enquired, "They have no ships!"

"They have one." Macen replied as the leading edge of a vessel began to clear Thrandice's backside.

It began as a thin slice of a ship, only five decks or so high. As it made its way around the planet, it thickened to a depth of twenty-six decks. It possessed an arrowhead shape stretching over a kilometre long. At the arrowhead's spar were four warp nacelles. There was no familiar bridge "blister" common to Starfleet ships. The Nova and Defiant-classes being the first to depart from this scheme.

"So this is the ‘Dreadnaught'." Macen said, standing with his arms akimbo, "Tactical analysis?"

"Redundant shielding." Daggit began his report, "Fifty-six disruptor banks powering up. Power output readings seem confused."

"That's because this thing has a dual warp core." Danan announced, "Which means virtually limitless power."

"My God." Riker breathed, "Starfleet's been trying to successfully create a stable dual core for a century now."

"What's it do?" Macen wondered, having never heard of the project.

Riker, a former Starfleet Operations officer, began to explain, "The two warp cores are balanced in such a way that they provide interlinked powergrids running throughout the ship. Ostensibly, there's never a shortage of power because there's enough to function on one core."

"So it's overpowered?" Macen asked.

"That's the problem Starfleet's had. They blow the power grid every time they activate the warp cores." Riker answered.

"Signal the fleet." Macen ordered, "Scipio and the Banner-class ships are going to engage the Dreadnought. The scouts can secure the other two Solarian ships."

"You're sending the Romans into combat?" Riker demanded, "They, and we, are going to fight that?"

"Just long enough to make it pop a fuse." Macen clapped Riker on the shoulder.

"What the hell's a fuse?" Riker wondered as he retook his seat.

The Obsidian led the charge. She swung in low, five hundred metres off the Dreadnought's deck and raked her shields with phaser fire. Scipio's ship, the Imperator, followed suit. The other two Banner-class warships attacked from a different vector along the larger ships ventral line.

Disruptor cannons fired and sent volley after volley of particle energy into space. The attacking ships were too low for the weapons mounts to acquire. The Obsidian drifted from one end of the ship to the other pummelling the Dreadnought with phaser and torpedo fire. The Imperator drew their capital ships fire.

Finally, several of the Dreadnought's gunnery crew overwrote their disruptor banks safety protocols and began to fire on the Outbound Ventures ship. Grace pushed the surveyor to full impulse and began making strafing runs on the Dreadnought. The SID contractor and the three Romans dodged and wove their way around the massive ship all the while firing with everything they had.

"Where did they get this thing?" Riker wondered aloud.

"According to Ms. Peterson, the saboteur's XO," Macen calmly replied, "the project's been on the books for six years. Solarian was presented the plans and examples of the technology by an outside party and they've had separate modules constructed by competing firms. The essential systems were built at Solarian's yards."

"So you knew about this thing?" Riker accused.

"I knew they were building a ship code-named ‘Dreadnought'." Macen replied evenly, "I didn't know it was nearing completion."

Riker cast one last suspicious glance Macen's way before returning his gaze to the main viewer.

"I have another ship dropping out of warp in system." T'Kir reported and then she smiled, "It's the Intrepid."

"What the hell is that?" Captain James McKinley asked.

"Whatever it is, Jim, its engaging the Obsidian." Admiral Robert Tavar Johnson replied, "That means Captain Macen needs our help."

"I want to know what those ships fighting alongside Macen are." Lt. Commander Ian Delaney, the ship's Tactical Officer spoke, "They're incredible. They're not in the database anywhere."

"My guess is that they're Nova Roman." Johnson remarked wryly.

"I've never heard of them." McKinley admitted.

Johnson shook his head, "You shouldn't have. They're a quarantined culture."

"Then what the hell are they doing with Macen?" McKinley demanded.

"They have a history." Johnson deferred.

"Leave it to Brin Macen." Commander Jonathan Striker, the ship's XO, remarked dryly.

McKinley was bothered by Striker's blatant trust regarding this violation of Starfleet security protocols and the Prime Directive. McKinley knew most of Striker's admiration stemmed from their mutual pasts as Starfleet Intelligence officers, but still...there had to be a limit. Macen was a legend on par with Elias Vaughn but with half the discipline.

The saga of an analyst becoming a field agent was the stuff of holonovels. For that agent to subsequently become a double agent for the Maquis and then being recalled by Starfleet Intelligence to undertake vital behind the lines missions during the Dominion War was unheard of. To follow the war by becoming the premier agent in the newly crafted Special Investigations Division capped off a notable career.

Macen's court-martial for excessive force and insubordination seemed to herald the end of his Starfleet career. His subsequent career as a privateer extended his life with Starfleet. It also opened the door for him to violate regulations left and right. McKinley knew that his friend, Bob Johnson, sat on the ultra top secret Council of 5 and that the Council's chief headache was often Brin Macen.

"Mr. Pedrossi, bring us in." McKinley ordered Alessandro Pedrossi, the chief Helmsman.

"Does the Captain wish for an attack vector?" Pedrossi asked.

"Unfortunately the Captain does." McKinley sighed, "Ms. Liefers, Its time to get the Fighters underway."

Seated at the Flight Control station, Elizabeth Liefers gave the order for her two squadrons of Peregrine-class fighters to deploy. Using her station, she ordered up the attack vectors and primary objectives and relayed it to the fighters. An experienced fighter pilot herself, she was the perfect choice to command the squadrons.

From Ops, Ensign Lindsey Wen, reported, "I'm reading a dual warp core on that thing. The power's spiking but she's got enough to power Eurasia."

"Thanks Ops." McKinley turned to Ensign Emily Johnson, manning the Engineering station, "What can you tell us, Ensign?"

"Starfleet's tried to make the dual core work since the 2280s." Johnson replied and then relayed essentially the same history as Riker.

"Thanks, Miss Johnson. Keep up the good work." McKinley was always surprised by Emily Johnson's endless repertoire of technical facts. Besides that, the kid had a good head on her shoulders. He knew Robert Caplan, the Chief Engineer, kept a special eye on her.

McKinley tapped his comm badge, "Andreja," he said, addressing Andreja Sikorsky, the ship's Chief Medical Officer, "we're going into combat. Prepare for casualties."

"Noted." Sikorsky replied professionally and cut the line. McKinley mentally winced. Back when Bob Johnson had been CO and McKinley had been XO, he and Sikorsky had been lovers. That all changed with the destruction of the Galaxy-class Intrepid. For the most part, their present relationship was a good one but there were moments of nostalgia, like a moment before, that cut him to the quick.

For her part, Sikorsky was a devoted physician. She gave everything she had to her profession. Her only regrets came from losing patients. She was also a dedicated humanitarian and would doggedly fight for her cause. The chief thing that had brought her back to the Intrepid crew was its status as Bob Johnson's flagship and Starfleet's premier diplomatic offering to the galaxy.

Unfortunately, she thought wryly to herself, diplomacy sometimes came after the fighting had ceased.

"The Intrepid's rolling fighters and accelerating to attack speed." T'Kir announced.

"Inform the Romans that the incoming forces are on our side." Macen ordered.

"You got it!" T'Kir bubbled.

The fighters streaked in first. They fired phaser volleys and microtorpedos. The Intrepid sailed in behind, flanked by the Obsidian and the Imperator. On board the Akira-class flagship, Wen announced, "They had a power spike and had to shut down one warp core!"

There was cheering across the bridge and McKinley smiled, "Good work people. Let's keep it up."

"Flash our operations plan to the Intrepid." Macen instructed, "The part where we detach and head for the surface."

"All right." T'Kir sounded more dubious.

Delaney reported the plan to Johnson and McKinley. Johnson shook his head but smiled, "Send Macen my regards and wish him luck."

"Is it wise to split our forces?" McKinley asked.

"Jim," Johnson chuckled, "what difference is a Nova-class surveyor going to make in this type of firefight?"

McKinley smiled, "I guess you're right. Maybe they can get someone on the ground to end this fiasco."

"At least these Romans are highly disciplined and motivated." Johnson mused.

"Give Scipio the Intrepid's comm frequency." Macen instructed, "Inform him to coordinate with Johnson and McKinley from this point forward."

"Already done." T'Kir flashed an impish grin.

"All right, Hannah," Macen said, "take us to the surface."

Scipio appeared on the Intrepid's main viewer, "Commander Macen says that you are a man of honour and worth following. I bow before your experience, Admiral. Lead us well."

The screen reverted back to the view of the Dreadnought and McKinley leaned over towards Johnson, "Wouldn't he be disappointed to learn I'm directing our battle."

"He's a Roman." Johnson shrugged, "Titles mean everything."

"Are these Romans as in Roman Empire Romans?" McKinley enquired.

Johnson nodded and McKinley shook his head, "Too weird."

"You don't know the half of it." Johnson warned him.

"Mr. Delaney," McKinley changed mental tracks, "Coordinate the Romans into a second wave of the next fighter run. Commander Liefers, alert Delaney when you're about to sortie and then we'll do some damage."

"And Ian?" McKinley added, "Afterwards, hit them with everything we've got."

"Aye sir!"

"Venting warp plasma." Grace announced, "Maximising thruster output. Decelerating to half impulse."

"What's our tactical status?" Macen enquired.

"Shields at 37%. Dracas has teams working on that but he says don't expect much. Several generators are blown. Phaser reserves are recharging but the coil emitters are 77% used up. Our torpedo magazines are severely depleted. We have roughly a quarter of our original stockpile."

"Roughly more than 25% or roughly less?" Macen asked.

"Less." Daggit grimly answered.

"Damn." Macen calmly replied.

"Brin, we're in no shape to mount an attack against an entrenched target." Riker forecasted, "This is a suicide run."

"They only have four Type 8 phaser emplacements and a starship shield generator. We faced worse against the Dreadnought." Macen replied.

"You're letting your emotions cloud your judgement again." Riker accused.

"I'm proceeding on the available intel." Macen retorted.

"Uh, guys?" Grace interjected, "We're nearing their probable firing range."

"Hannah, as Captain of this ship, I'm ordering you to wave off."

"And as Mission Commander, I'm overriding your order." Macen said and turned back to the viewer.

"Fine." Riker replied, rose, and proceeded to the turbolift.

"Shannon, you're relieving Captain Riker." Macen informed her.

"Aye sir." Forger left the auxiliary station she'd been manning and took the XO's seat.

Forger cast her grey eyes upon Macen, "What's going to happen to Captain Riker?"

"Judging by his emotions he's going to request an independent command." Macen replied, "But we'll wait and see how he feels after he's calmed down."

Macen toggled the intercom, "Attention all crewmen, I'm once again assuming the mantle of Captain of this vessel."

Through the comm circuit cheers could be heard, "That'll be all."

"Ouch." Forger said, "Poor Tom."

"That was cruel Brin." Danan accused.

"A clear chain of command had to be established." Macen replied, "Don't let your newfound attraction for Tom Riker confuse that issue."

Chastised, Danan returned her attention to her instruments. She had spoken out of emotion rather than what her own command experience had taught her. There couldn't be two commanders of a starship and the why behind Macen dividing the lines the way he had eluded her. Had he been seeking just such a confrontation?

Danan knew that Macen had been pushing Riker to accept a command of his own. She also knew that Macen still felt uncomfortable in the role of a starship strategist. He deemed his successes thus far to blind luck and the guidance of the Fates. This lack of confidence would eventually prove to be his undoing.

Like now, was he pushing so hard to prove himself or was it more pathological than that? Macen's psych profile was a mess but the one thing that was certain was that he would respond to threats with excessive force. Solarian had proven themselves to be a dire threat by hurting and killing hundreds of Outbound Ventures employees. These were people Macen deemed under his protection.

As had been proven earlier in this case, Macen sought vengeance not justice. How far would he go? How far should she let him go? As the ship's ersatz counsellor, she had the right to relieve him of duty. But could she bring herself to do it?

"They've acquired us and are opening fire." Daggit reported.

"Evasive." Macen ordered serenely.

Grace began juking the ship and performing all sorts of rolls. T'Kir worked at electronic warfare. She was trying to hack into the fire control computers and throw their aim off. Danan created sensor echoes to multiply the targets available. In the middle of it all, Macen confidently watched it all unfold.

The ship shuddered several times and then it lurched. T'Kir began listing damage reports, "Hull breaches on decks 5, 6 and 8. The port nacelle took a direct hit and was sheared in half. We've lost the capacity for warp speed."

"They're firing at us with eight phaser emplacements. Four look recently installed. They have two more they're trying to bring on-line."

"Hannah drop to the deck." Macen ordered, "Rab, hit them with everything we've got."

"Captain!" Grace cast a worried glance back towards Macen, "That structure is a central complex surrounded by a turreted wall. The phasers are in the turrets."

"I know, Hannah." Macen assured her.

"But at this altitude, we'll hit the wall!" Grace was desperate to make her point.

"I know that." Macen replied calmly, "Before we collide, you'll reduce impulse power to zero and take us in on thrusters only. Momentum and mass will do the rest. All you have to worry about is staying under those phaser arrays' ability to track targets."

Danan's moment of crisis was at hand, "Brin, is this wise?"

"It's wiser than letting those phasers shoot us full of holes." Macen replied looking back at Danan, "The reinforced hull and structural integrity field will protect the ship from most of the damage. The inertial dampener will help protect the crew. Once we warn them to brace for impact then it's just up to the Fates to protect us."

"We seriously need to have a talk about relying upon deities for a plan's success or failure." Danan scolded.

"Schedule me when we're done." then Macen snapped his fingers, "That's right! You can't counsel me because of our past involvement. I have to rely upon Starfleet for that service."

"Like you'd listen to anyone anyway you bullheaded jackass." Danan snapped back.

"This is why you're not my therapist." Macen grinned.

"Um, we're five thousand kilometres from the installation." Grace reported, "Can I please start slowing down now?"

"Drop to one quarter impulse." Macen instructed, "Reduce to zero one thousand kilometres out."

"But..." Grace began to protest.

"Just do it, Hannah." Macen hit the collision alarm and activated the intercom, "All hands, brace for impact."

Riker was in his office keeping abreast of the unfolding action. He hurriedly strapped himself in with the seat belt located on his office chair. Fortunately, the chair was bolted to the floor. Everyone's cabins had crash harnesses as well. He wondered how the engineers in Engineering would fare.

Crash seats unfolded from the very walls, Dracas was amused to learn. His entire team was strapped in and awaiting the worst. Hopefully the loss of the nacelle was the most catastrophic event they would face.

One thousand kilometres passed and Grace cut the impulse engines and fired up the thrusters on maximum. The wall loomed ever closer until it filled the view screen and then came impact!

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

"The ship's remaining warp core has been ejected." Ensign Wen reported.

"She's on auxiliary power." Delaney announced, "Her shields are holding at a fraction of their previous strength. Disruptor banks across the ship are powering down."

"Flight Ops, place Alpha and Gamma flights on stand-by." McKinley ordered, "And someone call off the Romans."

"Time for diplomacy." Johnson said wryly, "Here's where I take over, Jim."

"It's all yours, Admiral." McKinley deferred.

"Oy vey," T'Kir moaned, "did someone get the number of that truck?"

"It was a wall." Danan grumped, "Can we get a little light in here? The only things I can see are my instrument panels."

"T'Kir, emergency lights." Macen ordered, shrugging out of his crash harness.

T'Kir tabbed a control on her board and red back-up lights came on across the ship, "Here ya go. Annoying colour though."

"We seem to be settled." Macen stood, "But we're listing to one side."

"I tried deploying the landing pads but they were sheared off." Grace explained, "And then the engineering hull dragged along the surface for five thousand metres or so."

"I bet that was noisy down below." T'Kir remarked as she shed her own harness.

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Joachim, what's our status?"

"The warp core spiked and automatically shut down like I'd instructed it too." Dracas explained, "We still have the impulse reactors and we're on auxiliary power."

"Can you give me shields?"

Dracas laughed, "Not a chance in hell."

"What about phasers?" Macen enquired.

"As long as you don't use too much power, we should be fine."

"I just want to clear the sky for our air support." Macen informed him.

"If you limit it to a half dozen quarter yield shots, we'll do okay."

"Copy that. Macen out."

Hannah was stretching next to her board and Macen approached her, "Are you in any shape to fly the Waverider?"

"I'm fine." Grace assured him, "A little shaken, but who isn't? The question is, will she fly?"

"T'Kir?" Macen prompted.

"The shuttle suffered no damage in the crash. The wall is behind her and she seems able to decouple. The forward torpedo launchers, sensor pallets, auxiliary deflector array and primary deflector array are toast though." T'Kir reported, "Besides the Waverider, the impulse reactors and the computer system, only Sickbay seems to be operating at maximum capacity."

"What about the auxiliary shuttlebay?" Grace enquired.

"Shut down to conserve power."

"Can we power it up and launch the Type 9s?" Grace wondered, "We could get Captain Riker and Ceryx to fly them and provide additional air support."

"Good thinking." Macen patted her on the arm, "Contact Riker and Ceryx, see if they're up for it. Then call Dracas and have him divert the necessary power."

"D'you think Tom will do it?" T'Kir asked.

"Why wouldn't he?" Macen asked in reply.

I shouldn't do it. Riker thought, I should tell Macen where to stick it. Unfortunately, Riker knew his actions could ultimately save lives so he was honour bound to accept the mission. He might feel slighted by Macen's dismissal of his command decision but that was no reason to take it out on the crew.

He had to seriously consider his future though. He couldn't have Macen undermining his authority all the time. He was still essentially a glorified XO. Macen had even announced his intention of reclaiming the captaincy. So where did that leave him?

Riker needed to seek direction. He needed to talk with Lisea Danan. She was a trained impartial observer. She'd help him sort things out.

Riker made his way to the shuttlebay and met Ceryx there. The reptilian member of the crew still made many crewmembers uneasy but Riker rather liked him. He was affable and easygoing. He was a philosopher and tended to take things in stride.

"Sorry to hear how brief your promotion was." Ceryx cut to the chase, "It is understandable though. Commander Macen is not one to relinquish control of a situation, no matter his intentions."

"So you think he honestly wanted me to be captain and found himself trapped by his own nature?" Riker asked, somewhat in disbelief.

"Commander Macen believes in control." Ceryx replied, "As long as he's aboard, there will only be one commanding officer of this ship and that officer is not you. The question before you is whether or not you can live with that?"

Riker nodded, "Thank you Ceryx. You've helped put things in perspective."

"My pleasure, Captain." Ceryx bowed his head, "Now if you excuse me, my shuttle is ready."

Riker saw that his own shuttle was ready and climbed aboard. Riker was flying the Eclipse. The shuttle was named after the ship Riker had commanded back when Macen's Mission Commander and Captain arrangement still worked. Riker could still see it working, he just had to straighten a few things out with Macen...and win the confidence of the crew.

Ceryx flew the Equinox. This shuttle was named for the ill-fated Nova-class ship that had been drawn into the Delta Quadrant like the Voyager. It was Macen's way of trying to redeem the once proud name of a disgraced ship and crew. Macen could be surprisingly sentimental, Riker mused.

The two pilots ran their final checks and double checked the atmospheric seals of their respective ships. Giving the controller a green light, the bay depressurised. The outer doors opened and the open sky stretched out before them. A blast shield arose, separating the two shuttles. Ceryx throttled his ship to full impulse and launched.

Riker activated the shuttle's antigrav and hung in the air while the blast shield descended into the deck. When it was clear, he also exploded out of the bay at full impulse. He brought the shuttle around and could see the damage done to the Obsidian. There was a good chance she'd never be spaceworthy again. That saddened Riker but he cleared his thoughts and focussed on the mission ahead.

"Thank god they're willing to surrender." Johnson said as he sat down in the Mission Specialist chair.

"Thank god there's only three hundred of them aboard." McKinley added, "Between the Romans and our Security forces, we should be able to contain them."

"We also need an engineering detail to go over and review their technology." Johnson insisted.

"I'm sure Caplan will want to lead that detail personally." McKinley said dryly.

Johnson laughed, "I'm certain you're correct."

McKinley turned to Striker, "Jonathan, I want you to lead this mission."

"With pleasure." Striker replied.

"Pilfer their database." McKinley ordered, "See how that monstrosity was built."

"I'm your man." the Intrepid's resident computer genius assured his CO and made to leave.

Delaney started to rise but McKinley stopped him, "Sorry Mr. Delaney. I need you to coordinate the dirtside occupation."

"It's okay." Delaney said, looking forward to the greater challenge.

Daggit's relief had arrived and now sat at the Tactical station. Macen leaned over her. She still seemed rather shaken by the crash.

"Take it easy and concentrate your fire on the phaser emplacements you can target." he advised.

"Don't worry, sir." she replied, "I'm all right. I'll get the job done."

"I know you will." he said and gave her a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder.

"Hannah, proceed to the Waverider and prepare her for decoupling and launch." Macen ordered, "The rest of you to the armoury to grab what you need. This includes you Lees, as well as Kort and Joachim."

"I'll let 'em know." T'Kir announced, "Dracas is going to be pissed though. He and his team are inspecting the damage to the ship."

"Don't worry about it." Macen counselled, "His entire staff is about to get reassigned."

The Dreadnought lowered its shields and Striker and a team of Security officers materialised on the bridge. Caplan's team of engineers and Security officers simultaneously appeared in Engineering. There less than half a dozen men and women on the bridge, all from various species.

"Who is the Captain?" Striker asked.

A scarred Bajoran stepped forward, "I am. Jokarr Merrit is my name."

"Well, Captain Jokarr, I'm Commander Jonathan Striker. I'm the XO of the USS Intrepid. By order of Starfleet regulations and Admiral Robert T. Johnson, I'm placing you and your crew under arrest."

"But we merely defended ourselves." Jokarr protested, "That other Starfleet vessel and those other ships fired first."

"That will be taken into account at your tribunal." Striker assured him, "But your particular crime is conspiracy to commit murder and acting as an accessory to murder."

"Cardassian!" Jokarr cursed.

"I've been called worse by better, sir." Striker calmly replied.

On board the Intrepid, Johnson surveyed the scene, "The Romans have finished shuttling over their occupation crews. Let's send some help Macen's way."

"Good idea." McKinley concurred, "Flight Ops, reroute your squadrons dirtside to give the Obsidian some support."

"You got it." came Liefers' chipper reply.

"I wonder how they're doing down there." Johnson mused.

Macen and T'Kir joined the SID team in the armoury. Macen had donned his flight jacket and T'Kir her coat. They wouldn't be carrying any weapons other than their sidearms so their presence was necessary for other reasons.

"Abby," Macen addressed Collins, "arm the entire crew. Everyone. Be prepared to repel boarders. With the shields down, they can beam in anywhere they want."

"I was thinking that, sir." Collins confided, "Frankly I'm surprised they haven't already begun."

"Right now they're dividing their forces between boarding parties and internal security teams." Macen replied, "Remember, this is largely an administrative post."

Daggit arrived and went straight for his locker. Macen pulled him aside, "How's Parva?"

Daggit lit up, "Happy as a lark in summer. She was shaken by the impact but they have her triaging the incoming patients and applying first aid. She's really learning to move around in those braces of hers."

"What are the casualties like?" Macen worried.

"Mostly ligament pulls and bruises from not properly securing their crash harnesses." Daggit reported, "Two major concussions, a fractured skull and a few other broken bones from not strapping in at all."

"So," Macen was philosophical, "we got off lightly."

"Pretty much."

Macen turned to Forger, "It's your job to rally the troops and keep the ship secure. I'm counting on you, Shannon."

"You can rely on me." Forger assured him.

"I knew I could." Macen sincerely replied and then turned to address the others. Collins and Danan were helping Radil shrug into her cannon harness. Daggit was replacing his single holster for the one containing the grenade launcher. This was a newer model launcher, designed by Parva just prior to the last mission. It was smaller, half the size of the pump action model. It was a two-barrelled breach loader. It hung in the holster like an oversized pistol.

Macen handed out padds displaying a face and a bio, "This is our query. His name's Hiram Zeist. He's the Operations Manager for Solarian Security Systems and the man responsible for hiring the Iotians to strike Outbound Ventures. We want him alive for questioning. Any questions?"

Dracas fingered his holstered phaser and glanced down at his Bajoran phaser rifle, "Yes, I do. Why am I coming along for this raid?"

"Earlier, I explained to you how we often hire out to Starfleet. The branch of Starfleet that employs us is known as the Special Investigations Division. It is part police department and part covert operations intelligence agency. Most of the people in this room comprise this ship's SID team." Macen revealed, "You're being invited to join that cadre."

"What would my role be?" Dracas asked, "And who else is in it and what are their roles?"

"You would be the team's Engineering Specialist." Macen explained, "Daggit there is the Strategic Operations Specialist. Lisea Danan is our Sciences Specialist. Kort is the Medical Specialist. T'Kir is the Operations Specialist. Captain Riker is the Starship Operations Specialist and I am the Mission Commander and Intelligence Specialist."

"Is Tom still Captain of the ship?" Danan asked archly.

"That depends on whether or not he recovers from his tantrum and still wishes to serve in that capacity." Macen replied.

"I don't see how his protesting your usurping his authority could be called a ‘tantrum'." Danan argued.

"You're hardly neutral, Lees." Macen revealed, "You forget, I'm an empath. I can feel your conflicted emotional state regarding this matter."

"Excuse me," Dracas demanded, "can we get back on topic? Why are you offering this to me? You barely know me."

"I've seen what you can do." Macen revealed, "You're a proficient engineer. Not the best I've seen but you're good. You also have military skills. Your Emperor told me you were the finest Centurion in the Star Legions. From what the log recorders showed me of your actions during the attempted take over, I can see why he'd make that assessment. I need team members that can think on their feet and lead others when called to. You qualify on both counts."

Dracas still looked dubious and Macen heaved a sigh, "Look, I only had the luxury of intimately knowing T'Kir, Danan, and Daggit before they joined. Riker was an acquaintance. Every one else was a complete mystery. I'm will to give it a try. The question is: are you?"

Dracas met Macen's gaze and nodded, "I never refuse a challenge. This seems like the greatest challenge aboard."

"You have no idea." Macen grinned and shook the Roman's hand.

Macen looked around, "Now, shall we be on our way?"

There were general nods and murmurs of assent as the group filed out of the armoury. They proceeded to the turbolift and got off on Deck 4. They walked down the corridor until they reached the airlock door leading to the Waverider shuttle. The name Paladin was emblazoned the door. It slid aside upon request.

Grace was already at the Paladin's helm. All the primary systems were up and running. T'Kir slid into Ops. Dracas took a seat at the Engineering station. Macen took the command chair located between all the other stations. Everyone else found a passenger seat to occupy.

The Waverider was intended for ferrying larger groups of scientists dirtside to a planet. It doubled as the Captain's Yacht. It was unarmed but it did possess warp drive. Located in the underside of the primary vessel's saucer section, the Paladin mated virtually seamlessly into the hull. Since typical shuttlecraft could generally handle the personnel load, the Waverider was rarely used.

"Hannah, what's our status?" Macen enquired.

"We lucked out really." Grace turned to face Macen, "Penetrating the wall merely scraped the lower hull and that of the whole lower saucer section. There's been no buckling of the outer hull."

She took a deep breath and plunged on, "Where we really lucked out is when the primary deflector array pushed through the wall, it cleared all obstacles out of our path. We're powered up and ready for deployment."

"Good work, Hannah." Macen said encouragingly, "Let's get underway."

Grace swivelled her seat around to face her controls and murmured to herself, "‘Let's get underway'. Just like we didn't go through a fortification."

From her left, T'Kir gave her consoling smile, "At least we're still flyin'."

"But will the Obsidian ever lift again?" Grace asked plaintively as she began her checklist.

"Time will tell." T'Kir replied philosophically and began her own checklist.

Dracas ran through his list while prompted by a padd. Finally all three reached the point where it was time to detach the shuttle and fly free. T'Kir detached the air and power umbilicals. Dracas primed the shuttle's antigrav and impulse drives. Grace held her hand over the release control.

In normal spaceflight operations, the Paladin would be manoeuvred away from the main ship by thrusters upon release. In a gravity release, they would plummet for nearly thirty seconds before the antigravs kicked in. After that, it was merely engaging the impulse engines and going forward.

"Release on my mark." Grace said and began a countdown, "Five...four....three....two....one!"

She hit the release control and everyone suddenly felt the ship drop. Although it was only for a few seconds, it felt longer to people used to inertial dampeners. Grace and T'Kir both wore childlike smiles of delight. Macen wore an amused grin as he lounged in his chair. Soon, all too soon for some, the antigravs kicked in and the ship slowed to a halt and hovered in midair.

"Where to, Captain...Commander...whatever you're calling yourself right now?" Grace asked.

"Aim for the corporate headquarters." Macen instructed, without answering the query regarding his title.

"Are we going to ram a building now?" Grace asked plaintively.

"No, Hannah." Macen replied, "We are not going to ram the building. We are, however, going to be falling through it."

Grace looked over at T'Kir, "Do you have any idea of what he's talking about?"

T'Kir shook her head and wore a manic grin, "No. But it should be fun finding out."

Grace shook her head in disgust, "You two are sooo made for each other."

"Ain't it great?" T'Kir responded perkily.

"Don't you two ever not get along?" Grace asked as she cut in the impulse engines...

"All the time." T'Kir smiled, "We just try to keep our fights between us."

"Good." Grace said, "Too much perfection is annoying."

"That include you?" T'Kir queried.

Grace ignored her and hailed Shannon Forger as the Obsidian unleashed another brace of phaser blasts at an air defence tower. Rather than aim at the phaser bank itself, Forger had opted to blow up the base of the tower. It collapsed, gauging into the Solarian base of operations as it went down.

"Hey Obsidian, you about done? We've deployed and are headed for the primary structure." Grace asked.

"I see you, Paladin." Forger replied, "That was the last tower within range. The Eclipse and the Equinox are already ahead of you, holding the potential boarders at bay."

"Roger that, Obsidian." Grace acknowledged, "I have a visual of the situation."

"Be advised Paladin, the shuttles are being overwhelmed." Forger informed her, "I don't recommend a landing at this time."

"Acknowledged Obsidian." Grace said, "Paladin command concurs. We are attempting an alternative method of landing."

"What kind of ‘alternative' Paladin?" Forger asked.

"I have no idea." Grace admitted, "But it's sure to be memorable with the way today's going."

Forger laughed, "Roger that, Paladin. Keep safe."

"Plan on it, Obsidian, thanks." Grace cut the circuit and called out to Macen, "We're coming up on the building's outer walls. What do we do?"

"Climb above the roof." Macen ordered.

"And land on the roof." Grace said with approval. She touched the controls and brought them above the roof, and directly into the sights of the remaining air defence phaser arrays. They immediately opened fired and Grace quickly plunged the shuttle below their line of sight.

"Shields are nearly gone." T'Kir reported.

Ozone filled the air and Dracas announced, "Several subsystems have been fused."

"Bring us level with the 14th floor." Macen ordered.

"I don't like this plan already." Grace muttered.

"Wait for it, then decide." T'Kir suggested.

"Level with the 14th floor." Grace reported, "May I ask why?"

"According to Solarian's own advertisements, the 14th floor contains the heart of their operations centre." Macen explained, "We're going to enter here and storm the centre."

"May I point out that there is an entire wall of glass separating us from the interior of the building?" Dracas pointed out.

"Which makes it a time for bold initiative, wouldn't you say?" Macen asked in reply.

Dracas settled down, a tight smile forming on his lips. Grace turned around, "How are you planning on wrecking my shuttle?"

"First I want you bring us in closer, nose first." Macen explained, "Then I want you to swing us about, gauging the plate glass with the wing and giving it a direct blast from the impulse thrusters. Next, we'll withdraw away from the hole and come alongside. Using the impulse thrusters you'll wedge us into that hole. That done, we'll just pop the main hatch and enter the 14th floor."

"Are you insane?" Grace asked, "No, wait, you've already proven that today."

"Hannah, I'm not insane, merely determined." Macen replied evenly, "You've always trusted me in the past, even when it cost the life of a ship. Ours can rise above and live again. I don't see what your objections are based on."

"I'm just tired of losing ships, even little ones." Grace admitted.

"So am I." Macen revealed, "C'mon Hannah, the Obsidian was my dream command. You don't think I'd cripple her and leave her to rot do you? Would I do that to any of you? That ship's as much a member of this team as any sentient."

Mollified, Grace asked, "When do you want me to hit the building?"

"ASAP." Macen replied.

Grace swung the shuttle out and then brought in closer until the nose was nearly touching the reflective glass panes, "We'll teach them not to use transparent aluminium."

She set the shuttle in a spin and it shook when the wing began its swathe of destruction. The impulse thrusters blew the debris away as the passed. The second wing finished what the first had started and once again the thrusters did their work. Grace then brought the starboard side of the shuttle even with the gaping wound in the side of the otherwise pristine building face.

Directing all of her thrusters sideways at maximum power, Grace hurled the shuttle into the side of the building. It shoved half of itself into the structure and then ground to a halt. Grace shut down her systems.

"You wanted in." she said as she swivelled around to face Macen, "We're in. We scratched the paint but otherwise we came out fine. Of course we'll have to be tractored out of this hole."

Macen smiled, "Excellent work Hannah."

Macen swivelled his seat around so that he was facing the passenger section, "Get ready people, the real work is about to begin."

Macen turned to face Grace, "I want you to come too Hannah."

"Who'll guard the shuttle?" she wondered.

"I'm leaving Kort with the shuttle."

"Here now!" Kort protested, "I'm the field medic. I should be in the field."

"Joachim, is the transporter operational?" Macen enquired.

"It's active." Dracas answered, "I don't see any reason why it shouldn't work."

"What's he know about transporters?" Kort demanded, "The Romans don't have them."

"He's passed Starfleet's examination on transporter maintenance and operation." Macen disclosed, "I don't know how he does it, but as long as he can, I'm going to use it."

"Now you are going to set up a field hospital in here and transport the wounded to you where they can be safely treated." Macen ordered.

"This is because of Parva." Kort said in resignation.

"Partly." Macen confessed, "But mostly it's about you. I want to see how you'll react to the pressures of waiting."

"I won't disappoint you." Kort vowed.

"I don't expect you to." Macen replied, "All right people, saddle up."

"Wait a minute." Grace advised, "Something's coming in over the Starfleet guard channel."

They all listened in to the chatter on the subspace transceiver, "Attention Obsidian forces, this is the Alpha and Gamma flights of the USS Intrepid. We are inbound and we are aware of you situation. Our sensors reveal you have three shuttles deployed. Two are actively engaged in a firefight and the third has collided with the central building."

"We are receiving fire from planetary defence phaser arrays. Alpha flight will deal with these. What requests do you have for Gamma flight?"

Forger's voice replied, "This is Obsidian, requesting that Gamma flight allow our shuttles to withdraw and then proceed with crowd suppression."

"Roger that. We register a large crowd approaching your vicinity. Can you confirm that these are hostiles?"

"Hostile status confirmed. Obsidian advises heavy stun to neutralise the crowd until ground forces arrive."

"Copy that. Gamma flight will comply. Alpha leader out."

"Now why couldn't they have come ten minutes earlier?" Grace whined, "Then we could have landed on the roof."

"But now you get to brag up how you landed inside a building." Macen grinned, "Now c'mon, we proceeding with Hiram Zeist's detention and arrest."

Everyone gathered by the door. Daggit and Radil stood to either side of the hatch, phaser cannon and rifle ready. The hatch opened to reveal a wrecked space. Walls had been sheared as well as the outer glass. The debris was all pushed along the opposite wall.

Grace whistled, "I'm glad no one was in here."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that." T'Kir countered knelt down and held up a coffee mug. Its interior was still slick from the liquid it had contained. A streak of spilled coffee pointed towards an overturned table and piled up office chairs, "Looks like they had time to run for it though."

"Remember," Macen advised, "These people were hired to kill us. They may not be using the stun setting on their weapons."

"D'we?" T'Kir asked.

"For as long as possible." Macen half-answered.

They reached the exit out of the room and they had to clear some debris out of the way. Radil and Daggit took up their previous positions. Everyone had their weapons drawn.

"Beyond this is Tholian country." Macen remarked and there were a few smiles upon hearing the old adage.

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

"Alpha Leader to Alpha flight, form up and select your targets." The squadron commander told her wingmates.

The twelve Peregrine-class fighters formed two staggered columns of varied elevation. They dove for the deck and buzzed the angry mob below. Sonic booms bowled over dozens of people. Then the fighters climbed, unleashing volleys of microtorpedoes and pulsed phaser fire. It was a clean sweep. All of the defensive phaser batteries were destroyed.

Alpha squadron regrouped at an altitude of twenty-five kilometres and began a Combat Air Patrol to insure air superiority. No sudden lift-offs of Solarian personnel would get by. Now it was Gamma squadrons turn.

Gamma flight came in low and slow. Barely clearing the defensive walls, the squadron was divided into three groups of delta wings. One went west the other east and flew north alongside the building. The remaining delta wing split in half, two fighters each following the primary wings.

Their phasers were set at their lowest level: heavy stun. The fighters swooped down upon the crowds. Pulsed phaser fire tore through the security and office personnel. Dozens fled, dozens more were left insensate upon the ground. Gamma squadron broke, regrouped and began a slow circular patrol of the installation's courtyard. Riker and Ceryx began returned to their positions hovering before the fallen Obsidian.

On the bridge of the Obsidian, the gamma shift Ops officer reported to Shannon Forger, "XO, there's an incoming transmission from Admiral Scipio."

"Put it on the main screen." Forger ordered.

A rather pleased looking Scipio appeared on the main viewer. He saw Forger seated in the XO's seat and began to search the image displayed on his own monitor.

"Where is Macen?" he demanded.

"Commander Macen is currently within the Solarian headquarters attempting to apprehend the Operations Manager." Forger answered matter-of-factly.

"Does he require assistance?" Scipio eagerly enquired, "We are useless here."

"We could use some help with riot control." Forger replied.

"We're on our way!" Scipio declared and terminated the transmission.

"Heaven help us." Forger murmured, "What have I just unleashed?"

"Sir, the Nova Roman ships are breaking position and moving towards the planet." the Intrepid's Wen reported.

"What the hell do they think they're doing?" McKinley asked.

"I suppose they think they're supporting Macen's effort on the planet." Johnson replied with a shrug, "We'll never know until we ask."

"Mr. Delaney, hail the Roman flagship." McKinley said with a tinge of anger in his voice, "I want to talk to Admiral Scipio."

There was a slight delay as Delaney conferred with the Roman Communications Officer. When he finished he addressed McKinley, "All right, I have Admiral Scipio."

"Put it on the main screen." McKinley decided.

An irritated Scipio appeared on the viewer, "Yes, gentlemen? How can I assist you?"

"You can start by explaining why you're departing the combat area." McKinley stated.

"I do not answer to subordinates." Scipio sniffed, "What does Admiral Johnson have to say?"

Johnson rose from the Mission Specialist's seat and moved in front of McKinley so he'd be the focus of the viewer's visual pick up, "I have the same question, Admiral."

Johnson could feel McKinley bristle behind him as Scipio answered, "We are no longer needed here, your men have secured the enemy ship and we have received word that Macen needs us. The orders of my Emperor are explicit: I am to follow Macen and protect him as I would my own liege."

"I would feel more comfortable if you were to leave behind one of your starships to support our boarding action." Johnson asserted.

"One does not enter combat to seek comfort." Scipio sneered.

"One does not abandon one's allies in a moment of need either." Johnson countered.

Johnson knew by Scipio's torn reaction that he had played his trump card. Classic Roman virtues demanded strict adherence to their concepts of duty, loyalty and honour. Johnson had placed Scipio in a position where his only chance of fulfilling his sworn duty was to accede to Johnson's request. Johnson almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"Very well." Scipio decided, "What role will my men have?"

"They'll augment our boarding party and hold station to insure that we have a crossfire in case of the crew overpowering our troops and reigniting the remaining warp core." Johnson explained.

"The crew will not overcome my soldiers." Scipio replied with stolid confidence, "You have your ship and your support personnel. Do you require anything else?"

"No." Johnson replied with a tight smile, "That should be everything."

Scipio broke into a feral smile, "Good. I have other pressing duties to attend to."

The transmission terminated suddenly and Johnson turned to face McKinley, "I guess we're done."

"'Overpowering our troops'?" McKinley repeated.

Johnson shrugged as he retook his seat, "You have to appeal to the mentality, Jim. You should know that better than most."

McKinley bowed his head, "Yes, O wise sensei."

Johnson laughed, "Let's call Striker and get an update on his progress."

"Sounds good." McKinley agreed.

Macen led the SID procession. He held his phaser in a two handed grip. He moved slowly, alert to every sight and sound around. The team was approaching the third corner they'd encountered since entering the Solarian Operations Centre.

The building was laid out in two sections, a central rectangular space with no visible entrances as of yet. The outer section was comprised of surrounding offices and conference rooms. The offices all seem to be deserted. It made sense in way. A building layout posted on a wall listed an underground bunker in the subbasement. Administrative personnel would generally be deemed as non-combatants during an assault on the centre and be assigned places in the bunker.

Macen came up to the corner and placed his left shoulder against the wall. He barely peered around the corner. He brought his head back almost immediately. Macen turned to Rab Daggit, who stood next to him.

"Ask Radil to step up." Macen whispered.

Radil moved up from her place in the processional and asked in a whisper, "What is it?"

"Guards." Macen explained, "Six of them. They have portable barricades erected and they appear to be guarding an entrance into the central core of this floor."

"What are your orders?" Daggit asked.

"Actually I was looking for your recommendation." Macen admitted, "Let's scan their position and see if they have any hidden surprises and then you can give me your battle plan."

Daggit thinly smiled, "My thoughts exactly."

T'Kir stepped forward and flipped open her tricorder. She switched places with Macen. Holding the tricorder as close to the edge of the corner without crossing over to the visible range, she activated the scan function. She quickly deactivated the active scan, silencing the tricorder and held the device closer to inspect the results.

"Bad news." she frowned, "Those barricades are made of duranium. We don't have anything big enough to blast through them."

"Then we'll just have to keep their heads down until we can get close enough to neutralise them." Daggit said. He grew cold and feral. The psychological conditioning imposed upon him years before was displaying itself as he readied himself for combat. His transformation completed itself and he was now the perfect soldier, a motivated and physically enhanced killing machine.

"Remember Rab, we want them alive." Macen advised Daggit.

"If you insist." Daggit said with a tinge of disappointment, "Here's my plan: I'll take the opposite wall. Radil you take centre. Captain, you take the left. Fire at anything that moves. We need them to cower until we can surmount their barricades."

"Sounds doable." Macen nodded, "Let's get on with it."

Daggit sprinted over to the opposing side of the corridor. He stopped short of running into the wall and began firing at the surprised guards. Radil walked out into the centre of the passageway, firing her cannon the entire time. Macen spun around the corner and began shooting at the security personnel's position.

Herb Tanner was a Sergeant in the Solarian Security Forces. He'd been the top graduate of his basic training class. He'd been rapidly promoted and had deployed with the Solarian fleet several times as a squad leader of the shipboard Marines. Up until this moment, he'd never faced an obstacle he couldn't easily overcome.

Beside him crouched his second in command, Frederick "Freddie" Jones. Jones had graduated second in the same class as Tanner. He and Tanner had become fast friends. With a life almost as charmed as Tanner's, his career had closely followed Tanner's throughout their service records. What happened to Tanner would inevitably happen to Jones.

Jones leaned in towards Tanner, "No one said anything about going up against a phaser cannon."

Tanner grimly smiled, "It was in my briefing. I was ordered to stay silent."

"You could have made an exception." Jones bitterly complained, "My security clearance is as high as yours."

Tanner shrugged, "My orders came from the top. Sorry chum."

"Doesn't make it right." Jones grumbled.

"All right people!" Tanner shouted, "Let's take these bastards!"

All six guards rose as one. Tanner and Jones were in the centre of the group. Macen stunned one on the left. Daggit took the two furthest right. Radil hit Tanner squarely in the chest, knocking him backward. Jones watched his friend hurtle away and swore. Radil neatly picked him off next. It was funny how some things remained a constant. The remaining two guards dropped their weapons and put their hands on top of their heads.

Daggit rushed forward. He pulled the first guard's hands behind her back and slipped a pair of binders around her wrists. He then repeated the exercise with the other security officer.

"They're secured, sir" Daggit crisply reported.

Macen called for the others to rejoin their comrades. He approached the two Solarian employees.

"Give me the access code to this door." Macen demanded.

"Go frinx yourself!" the female guard snarled.

Macen smirked humourlessly, "Rab, reset your rifle to ‘disrupt' and shoot her in the foot."

"That won't kill me." the guard countered.

"No." Macen said, "But it will hurt like hell."

Daggit shouldered his rifle and took aim. The guard began to plead.

"You wouldn't shoot me." she said as innocently as she could to Daggit, "I'm a woman."

Daggit shrugged, "Equality of the sexes. Now don't distract me or they'll have to amputate your foot."

"I'll talk!" the guard was sweating now, "The code is 12NEXUS6BAKER."

Macen smiled, "Thank you. You've been most cooperative."

Macen turned to T'Kir, "Do you want the honours? You do love to push buttons."

"In more ways then one." she remarked with a smile.

"I'll take point." Macen instructed, "T'Kir follow me in followed by Joachim."

"Yo." T'Kir remarked.

"It will be done." Dracas replied.

"Hannah, Lees, come on in when the shooting stops." Macen ordered, "Rab, Radil, hold the corridor."

"Yes sir." Daggit nodded once in acknowledgement.

"Sure." Radil agreed.

Macen turned to T'Kir, who stood in front of the door's keypad, "Ready?"

"Whenever, whatever." she flashed him an impish smile.

"Punch it in." Macen ordered. The door slid aside and Macen rushed in, his phaser held before him in a two-handed grip.

A security officer began to bring his rifle to bear and Macen shot him. He continued moving into the Operations Command and Control room. T'Kir came up behind him. Dracas followed.

A tech moved out of his seat and T'Kir stunned him. Another tech broke and ran. Macen gunned her down. A third tech made for the weapons locker. T'Kir levelled her pistol and picked him off with a single-handed shot.

"There doesn't appear to be much for me to do." Dracas remarked dryly as silence descended over the room.

The room was immense. The opposing wall from the entrance mounted a massive viewer. The viewer extended several metres out from the wall. The room's lights were angled away from the viewer panel in order to enhance its imagery. A stygian shadow fell beneath the massive piece of equipment.

The rest of the room was arranged around a circular rotunda. Various techs from dozens of worlds sat at the workstations forming a semi-circle around the rotunda. Two figures stood in the rotunda, a human and a Chalnoth. The Chalnoth seemed on the verge of frenzy.

"Hiram Zeist, I presume?" Macen dryly asked.

"You know who I am, Macen." Zeist answered angrily, "Get on with it, if you can get past my compatriot here."

The Chalnoth shifted his weight from foot to foot in anticipation. Dracas came to stand beside Macen.

"Allow me." Dracas urged, "You have other matters to attend to."

"Be my guest." Macen said with a lopsided smile.

"Come beast." Dracas holstered his phaser and drew his sword, "Come face a warrior of Magna Roma."

The Chalnoth snarled his acceptance of the challenge, "I welcome the opportunity to make you my meat for the evening meal."

"You have a name?" Dracas enquired.

"Grix Wilsce." the Chalnoth replied, "Remember it as you die."

Wilsce cast aside his disruptor and drew two long knives from sheaths on his back. The Chalnoth rushed forward with a roaring battle cry. Dracas angled one foot ahead of the other and turned slightly to meet the incoming charge.

The fight was joined with Dracas stepping back to allow the Chalnoth time to expend the energy of his headlong rush to battle. Dracas was fighting with one hand, deftly blocking and parrying a flurry of stabbing thrusts. The flash and clang of metal upon metal filled the chamber.

"Get down!" Grace yelled and fired down the corridor at the six-man Solarian Security team that had just turned the corner. Danan dropped to one knee but Daggit and Radil merely turned and opened fire. The entire squad was incapacitated in a matter of moments.

Danan rose and surveyed the damage, "Glad you left some for me."

Radil gave her a wry smile, "Happy to accommodate."

Daggit peered into the CinC and observed how quiet it was, "Shouldn't you two be running along now? We'll man the ramparts."

Grace grabbed hold of Danan's arm and began dragging her through the doorway, "Come on!"

They passed through the threshold and came upon T'Kir keeping a watchful eye out on the techs at their posts. T'Kir cast a glance over her shoulder.

"Glad you ladies could make it." she said with a grin, "Mind helping me baby-sit?"

"Glad to." Danan replied as Grace turned her attention towards Dracas.

"Shouldn't we help him?" Grace asked.

"Nah." T'Kir's grin grew wider, "Its good exercise. He's getting his frustrations out. Leave the lad alone and let him get on with it."

"What's Brin up to?" Danan asked.

"He's arresting the man we came after." T'Kir nodded in the direction of Macen climbing up to the rotunda Zeist occupied.

"Its over Zeist." Macen said with finality, "We have the Iotian records. Your little criminal operation is over."

"You don't know what you're getting into Macen." Zeist laughed, "You won't arrest me."

"Because I'll have a generous change of heart I suppose?" Macen remarked.

"No." Zeist smiled triumphantly, "Because he won't let you."

Macen followed Zeist's gaze and it led to the area beneath the viewer. Macen's eyes narrowed. As he peered into the darkness he realised that something, or someone, was moving down there. Macen drew his phaser and aimed it at the mysterious shape.

"Come out." he called, "You've been made. Resisting will only result in you getting a phaser burn and a headache."

"Really mammal?" a raspy voice sneered, "I thought it would end in your death."

Macen's right eyebrow rose. There was something familiar about that voice. Something from the past. Something bad.

"Have you not realised it yet?" the voice continued, "Your cause is lost. No matter how many times you think you defeat us, we will arise from the ashes to conquer you anew."

Macen almost had it when the figure strode out of the darkness. His loinclothed onyx body made it abundantly what Macen's opponent was. He faced an Omicron, one that had escaped the Kelvans' annihilation of his people's fleet. As Macen studied the Omicron, the source of that voice came back to him.

"Ezexial." Macen spoke the other's name as realisation dawned.

Ezexial's face curled up in the Omicron's grimacing approximation of a smile, "Ah, the mammal remembers. I have much to owe you for. First you destroyed my ambitions on Magna Roma. Then you disrupted my plans for the Maquis resurgence."

Ezexial's eyes narrowed into slits to match his "nose", "Finally, you ignited the fires of destruction that engulfed my people. My day is at hand. Now I shall repay you many kindnesses with the agony they deserve."

Macen thumbed his phaser up to maximum power, "I can still kill you."

"I think not." Ezexial replied and vaulted from the floor towards the rotunda. He grabbed hold of the railing and swung his legs over. Landing on his feet, he swung a backhand at Macen. The blow caught the El-Aurian's hands, knocking the phaser free.

Ezexial chuckled darkly, "Now you are mine."

"These Romans are damned effective." Striker grinned as he reported via subspace radio, "As soon as they cleared their shuttles they cowed the dreadnought's crew and herded them into the cargo bays literally at the point of a sword."

"Careful, we don't know anything about them." McKinley advised, "Keep your people sharp. Report back to me when Commander Caplan is ready to report his findings on the ship's design and origin."

"Aye sir." Striker acknowledged, then hesitated before speaking, "But as far as these Romans go, isn't now a good time to introduce ourselves. We do seem to have an alliance with them for the moment."

McKinley rubbed his chin, "We'll take it under consideration and get back to you with definitive orders. McKinley out."

As the viewer switched back to his its rendering of the dreadnought McKinley leaned over towards Johnson and he spoke in hushed tones, "What about it Bob? The lid does seem blown off regarding the Romans, proscribed planet or not."

Johnson ran a hand through his hair, "My orders regarding this contingency are pretty clear. We limit initial contact and ask for a diplomatic courtesy call to their planet."

"With us as the wielders of the olive branch as soon as we've finished with the Iotians." it was a statement not a question.

Johnson chuckled, "Of course. Such is the curse of being me. You get the privilege of coming along for the ride."

"Lucky us." McKinley laughed.

"I knew you'd see it my way." Johnson smiled

McKinley turned back around towards Liefers, "Flight Ops, what's the status of our fighters?"

"They dispersed an angry mob and are currently holding station for further ground support and air superiority." Liefers reported.

"Excellent." McKinley smiled, "Have them continue holding station and warn them to expect company. The Romans will soon begin landing operations to disembark ground troops. Have them report events and await further orders."

"Aye sir." Liefers crisply acknowledged.

McKinley turned to Johnson, "Now it seems everything depends upon Macen."

Johnson sighed, "That's what scares me."

 

Chapter Thirty

Dracas blocked another stabbing thrust and Wilsce roared his frustration. He raised his arm and brought it down in a slashing motion. Dracas sidestepped the attack and delivered a backhanded blow that severed the Chalnoth's arm just below the elbow. Frothing at the mouth, Wilsce charged the Roman with his knife suspended over his head. Dracas took the head from the body with a single sweeping arc of his sword.

"Farewell beast." Dracas intoned, "You were a noble opponent." Looking up, he saw Macen battling a towering, raven black monster. Dracas surged forward and made for the rotunda.

"Shoot him!" Danan insisted.

"I'd like to but he and Brin are weaving around each other too much." T'Kir replied angrily, "I'm as likely to shoot Brin as I am that Omicron."

Grace kept her weapon trained on the battling duo but held her fire for the same reason. Bitterly she muttered, "If I only had my damned Attuner."

T'Kir glanced at her but kept her own counsel.

Macen ducked underneath a right cross. The advantage of fighting a two metre tall alien was that he couldn't easily stoop to your level. The major disadvantage was that the alien in question had the musculature to go with that frame. So far, Macen had done a fine job of alluding Ezexial's blows but he was tiring and his reflexes were slowing.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dracas pass Zeist as the Solarian man exited the rotunda and the Roman entered. Dracas stopped and called out to Macen.

Macen spun around to face Dracas, "Sword!"

Dracas immediately understood and tossed his sword towards Macen. Ezexial saw his opportunity to strike while his enemy was turned and stepped forward. Macen deftly caught the sword's handle and thrust the sword blade behind him.

Ezexial gasped as the sword plunged into his abdomen up into his heart. Macen pulled the sword free, turned and stepped back. Ezexial fell to his knees. Macen stepped forward and swept the blade across the Omicron's throat. Black blood sprayed forth from the severed arteries in Ezexial's neck and he fell face forward into the floor.

Macen impassively turned away and handed Dracas back his sword, "Thanks."

Dracas smiled, "I couldn't let my new commander get killed."

"Now," Macen grew intent, "where did Zeist get off to?"

"Lieutenant," the Alpha Squadron lead said via subspace, "We have the shuttles in sight. They are arranging themselves for landing and deployment."

"Copy that." Liefers voice replied, "Monitor the situation but do not engage."

"Aye ma'am." the pilot responded, "Alpha Lead out."

The Roman shuttles arranged themselves around the Solarian building. The only place they avoided was where the Obsidian lay beached and her two shuttles where standing watch. They landed and before they were settled the rear ramps lowered and Roman Star Legionnaires rushed out. They immediately formed a cordon around the assembled Solarian employees.

"Steady." The presiding Centurion commanded, "Do not engage until ordered to do so." His communicator transmitted his orders to every Legionnaire.

As the Romans settled in, an upper story window was smashed and a Security officer appeared sporting a shoulder mounted photon missile. He fired at the Eclipse and struck the rear of the shuttle. The aft section exploded into a fireball and the shuttle crashed to the ground.

The Centurion witnessed and activated his communicator, "All units engage! Repeat, all units engage. Do not kill unless forced to. We want prisoners."

Riker saw the approaching missile but there was no time to do anything beside duck. The rear of the shuttle exploded and flames licked at him. Fortunately, Starfleet seats were designed to withstand fire. He stayed bent as the shuttle plummeted to the earth. A bone jarring crash awaited him.

Shaken, battered and bruised, Riker unstrapped his crash harness and blew the emergency hatch. The canopy of the shuttle flew away from the shuttle. Riker climbed over the instrument console to get out. Once settled on the ground he realised that a small group of Solarian employees were rushing to his position.

Suddenly grateful at Macen's insistence that the SID personnel always go armed, he drew his phaser and began mowing down the oncoming rush. Stunning them all, he began searching the building face in time to see the Solarian Security man aiming a reloaded missile launcher at his location. Riker began to run and ran until the missile slammed into the battered shuttle. The concussion wave knocked Riker off of his feet and onto the ground.

Zeist tried rushing past the SID ladies' trio but T'Kir swung his way and aimed her phaser squarely at him, "Give me a reason. I'm pissed, frustrated, and looking for someone to shoot so make a move."

Zeist wisely decided that discretion truly was the better part of valour, "I surrender."

"Too bad." T'Kir growled.

Grace spun Zeist around and pulled his hands behind his back. She locked his wrists into a set of binders and held him there as Macen and Dracas approached.

"Not bad Hannah." Macen grinned, "You may have a future in ground ops after all."

Grace smiled, "Thank you."

Macen moved towards T'Kir, "What do you think you can make these computers reveal?"

"I'll make 'em spin and dance." she confidently replied.

"Then let's clear the room shall we?" Macen replied and turned to face the cowering Solarian techs. Loudly he proclaimed, "Everyone evacuate now!"

The mad rush towards the door ensued as the SID team members cleared out of the way. They heard shrieks as the panicked employees encountered Daggit and Radil. As the stampede took them towards the lifts Radil poked her head into the CinC.

"What the hell was that?"

"Just clearing the air, Jenrya." Macen grinned.

"Next time warn us." she admonished, "We almost shot those people."

"Noted." Macen said.

T'Kir strode towards the workstations and began inspecting them. She started at one end of the semicircle and worked her way all the way around. Moving back around, she picked a station and sat down at it.

She cracked her knuckles and pulled her microcomputer out of its pouch on her belt, "Let's introduce you to my homemade decrypting recipes."

Plugging her computer into the station OND port, she began instructing the computer to upload her programs. Once it did so, the tapeworms attached to the software began rewriting the access codes. She pulled open the main library menu and began searching for active operations plans. Finding that category, she unleashed her decryption algorithms upon the security protocols.

Macen came up behind her, "Any luck?"

"My critters are working on it." T'Kir assured him, "We'll know within the hour. D'you really think they'd be so stupid as to put incriminating evidence on their database?"

"They're arrogant." Macen observed, "They never thought anyone would get this far."

"It'll be good for us if you're right."

Macen grinned, "Trust me. Now, I have to interrogate Zeist."

"Need any help?" T'Kir wondered.

"Nah." Macen replied, "I've got Joachim. He'll get results."

T'Kir rolled her eyes, "If he doesn't dismember him trying to get the info."

Macen smiled, "Either way, we win."

Macen left T'Kir to her work and strolled back to the others, "Hannah, you want to keep T'Kir company while she waits for results?"

An already exuberant Grace vigorously nodded her head and scooted off. Macen shook his head and continued his trek. He stopped when he came up to Zeist.

"Hiram," Macen said congenially, "let's have a little chat."

"I have nothing to say to you." Zeist was indignant.

"Don't be so petty, Hiram." Macen continued unfazed.

"Why should I incriminate myself?" Zeist countered.

"You're already incriminated by the Iotian records we have." Macen informed him, "Think of this as confessional."

"As what?" Zeist was confused.

"Confessional." Macen began to expound, "A religious custom from Earth. Still practiced on a few of the colony worlds despite the tradition falling out of favour on Earth."

"What does this ‘confessional' involve?" Zeist was suspicious now.

"In the actual practice the confessor would divulge all the wrongdoings they had done." Macen continued his lesson, "The priest hearing the confession would then absolve the confessor from all wrongdoings and be sworn to secrecy as to what had been divulged."

"So, you're saying if I make a confession to you you'll take it and go after my superiors and let me off the hook?" Zeist had a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

"Hiram, Hiram, Hiram," Macen clucked as he reached out and put his hand on the other man's shoulder, "you are still going to have to go to trial. I will report that you cooperated and testify to that effect. What happens after that will be up to the jury."

"That's not much incentive." Zeist grumbled.

Macen's smile turned feral, "Then think of it as self-preservation."

"What do you mean?" a suddenly worried Zeist enquired.

Macen stepped back and nodded towards Dracas, "See this man? He's a soldier, born and bred. That sword is more than decoration. As your Chalnoth friend discovered, he's quite adept with it."

"What does this have to do with me?" Zeist shifted uncomfortably.

"If you don't want cooperate for the sake of your soul then do it for your flesh." Macen said harshly, "I will let him shave of pieces of you until you talk."

"You're bluffing." Zeist rebutted with renewed confidence.

"Joachim, repeat your interrogation technique from the bridge." Macen ordered.

Dracas drew his sword and stepped forward. He drew back his arm with the blade readied for a stabbing thrust into Zeist's leg. He hesitated ever so briefly and Zeist saw the resolve in the Roman's eyes.

"I'll talk!" Zeist screamed as his bladder released. Dracas stood still as stone. Macen gently touched his shoulder.

"Thank you, Joachim. I'll take it from here."

Zeist's knees buckled. Macen knelt down. Zeist looked up at him, still shaking.

"He was going to stab me!"

"Yes, he was." Macen calmly replied.

"You were going to let him."

"Yes, I was." Macen was still resolute.

"You're insane." Zeist gasped.

Macen turned pensive, "Officially, I am."

Zeist wearily shook his head, "What do you want from me?"

"Why was Ezexial here?" Macen demanded, "What was your arrangement with him?"

Zeist nodded forlornly, "All right. Here's what I know..."

"The Romans are doing what?" Liefers exclaimed.

"What's going on?" a suddenly concerned McKinley demanded.

Liefers swivelled to face him, "Someone swatted one of the SID shuttles and the Romans just went berserk. They're attacking everyone."

"Oh hell." McKinley muttered and turned towards Johnson, "I told you this was a bad idea."

"We'll see." Johnson sagely replied.

"Tactical, raise Commander Striker." McKinley ordered.

Delaney manipulated the communication controls on his board and waited, "I have Commander Striker, sir."

"Commander?" McKinley asked the open comm circuit.

"Striker here, Captain." Striker replied.

"How secure is your situation?" McKinley asked.

"I'd hate to even be a rat on this ship." Striker chuckled.

"We'll be moving off to deal with a situation developing on the planet." McKinley announced, "Can you hold?"

"We can hold indefinitely." Striker assured his CO, "What's going on?"

"The Romans on the surface have gone insane. We're mobilising to stop them."

"Good luck." Striker replied, "These guys put Klingons to shame."

"Are you suggesting that we're outmatched?" McKinley wondered.

"No, just advising you to be cautious." Striker explained.

"Duly noted." McKinley acknowledged, "Take a note from your own advice and call us immediately if the Romans aboard the dreadnought so much as twitch."

"Yes sir." Striker replied to McKinley's satisfaction.

""Lt. Pedrossi, take us into orbit." McKinley ordered.

"Aye sir." Pedrossi replied. Maintaining a stationary position near the crippled dreadnought had become tedious and Pedrossi was grateful for the chance to at least do something for a minute.

"Here's what I know," Zeist said dully, "Ezexial approached one of our representatives and suggested that he was interested in hiring us. He offered the corporation access to exotic technology in exchange for our services. He gave the representative several handheld weapons as an example of what he was offering."

"Can you help me up?" Zeist requested, "I'm kneeling in a puddle of my own piss."

Macen stood, "Joachim?" The engineer took hold of one of Zeist's arms and firmly helped hoist the Solarian agent off the floor.

"Thank you." Zeist said weakly, "Now where was I? Oh yeah, Special Services contacted Ezexial via the transponder he'd left us. It seemed to be alive. The techies were going ballistic over it. Any way, Ezexial returned to the office he'd originally approached and arranged a meeting. He travelled to Earth and met with the CEO and the Board."

"Ezexial reached Earth?" Macen growled.

"Solarian used one of their own ships to bring him." Zeist shrugged, "The bigwigs were drooling over the weaponry Ezexial had given to us. I was present at the meeting. Ezexial stood calmly as the maintenance people adjusted a chair to fit his frame. After sitting down, he dropped the bombshell on us."

"Which was?" Macen prompted.

"He knew about our operational arrangement with the Iotians." Zeist chuckled darkly, "The CEO denied it and Ezexial presented sensor records and visuals of a meeting between one of our ships and an Iotian raider. A report of the Iotians' engagement was given and they received payment for their services. No one could explain how he'd done this."

Zeist shook his head, "He said, ‘This is why I have chosen you. You have the fortitude and mentality that I require. In exchange I will offer you the keys to the heavens themselves.' The Board could only drool as Ezexial described some of the ‘credit' he was offering. He offered so much and all we had to do was one job."

"Which was to destroy Outbound Ventures, right?" Macen asked with disgust.

Zeist sighed and nodded, "Exactly. He wanted your company, and you in particular, killed or neutralised."

"How did you build that dreadnought so fast?" Macen enquired.

Zeist wore a ghost of a smirk, "It's all modular. We hired over fifty companies to simultaneously build a piece of it. We'd just finished fusing the hull plating together a week ago. We didn't even know if the damned thing would work when you showed up."

"It didn't." Macen replied flatly.

"You cheated." Zeist laughed, "You were supposed to be alone."

"Such is life." Macen said and he turned to Dracas, "Watch him." He crooked his finger towards Danan, "Follow me."

Danan took a deep breath and hurried to catch up with Macen. Walking beside him, she leaned over.

"You were really going to let Joachim stab him." she whispered.

"Yup."

"They'd never be able to try him if that happened." she pointed out.

Macen stopped and smiled at her, "But he'd never want to do it again now would he?"

Danan stood there at a loss as Macen returned to the rotunda. She shook her head and quickened her step to join him. She dispassionately observed the gory scene.

"You certainly leave much to chance did you?" she remarked.

"I didn't have much a choice. He was stronger and faster." Macen replied.

"So why am I here?" Danan enquired.

"You always said you'd like to study Omicron physiology." Macen said earnestly as he waited for her reaction.

"You're kidding." Danan's eyebrows rose.

"Nope." Macen grinned, "I know you'd prefer a willing, live subject but a cooperative dead one is almost as good."

"Brin, that's experimentation." Danan protested, "That's illegal."

Macen rolled his eyes, "Lees, I'm not asking you to dissect him. I'm asking you to assist Kort on an autopsy. Determine the cause of death."

"Brin," Danan planted her fists on her hips, "I saw what killed him. I'm an eyewitness."

"Yes." Macen eagerly agreed, "But why did it kill him?"

He sobered and gazed intently into her eyes, "We know nothing about Omicron physiology other than its extremely flexible at a genetic level. This is our chance to learn what makes them work."

Danan sighed, "Oh, all right. I'm drawing a line though. We study his anatomy. We do not experiment with his corpse."

"That's all I'm asking." Macen assured her

"Okay." Danan gathered her thoughts, "I guess I'll start with his blood since there seems to be an abundance of it lying around."

Macen kissed her on the cheek, "You're a beautiful person."

Danan laughed, "Get out of here before your wife gets jealous and rewires my brain for me."

"Good point." Macen smirked and descended the ramp leading to the floor.

Danan set her rifle down and pulled out her tricorder, "All right. Let's see what this is made of."

"Orbit is stable, Captain." Pedrossi announced.

"Mr. Delaney, gather up your remaining Security forces and transport to the surface. Evaluate the situation and secure the safety of the civilians down there. Those people are our prisoners, not our targets."

Delaney summoned his relief and made for the lift. McKinley called out to him, "And Commander?"

"Yes sir?"

"Be careful."

Delaney grinned, "Yessir. You can bet on it."

As the lift doors closed, McKinley asked for a tactical view of the surface. The sensor feed coming in from the fighters presented an excellent picture. The stranded Obsidian could be seen bisecting the outer defensive wall. The burning wreckage of the Eclipse could be viewed as the Equinox erratically dodged and weaved.

The courtyards were empty. The fighters had reported the Romans pushing the Solarian employees back into the complex. Nothing moved. Stunned bodies from the fighters' attack littered the ground.

"Looks like a war down there." McKinley observed.

"In many ways it is." Johnson observed.

"How do you mean?" McKinley was intrigued.

"Macen is fighting for the survival of his company, his crew, and his employees. People fighting for their very existence are capable of incredible acts of valour and desperation."

"Like ramming your starship into a wall?" McKinley grinned.

"You see my point." Johnson pointed at the screen, "Don't forget that shuttle wedged into the building."

"I stand corrected." McKinley remarked dryly.

"See that you are." Johnson said imperiously as he straightened his uniform jacket.

Riker came to with a nosebleed and a raging headache. He rose to his feet and looked around. Overhead the Equinox was diving and climbing, weaving side to side. A photon missile leapt out of the building towards the shuttle. It narrowly missed.

At first, Riker wondered why Ceryx was staying in place to subject himself to the harassment. Then he looked further away. The shuttle was providing a distraction. The only other available target was the Obsidian.

Good job, Ceryx. Riker made up his mind to give the Tyrokian a commendation and a raise when this was all over. This has got to stop. Riker thought and looked around. Nothing and no one was moving.

Looks like it's up to me. Riker decided and he ran towards the building's doors. He opened one of the glass doors cautiously. No one could be seen. As he entered the complex, screams and phaser fire could be heard in the distance.

Warily, Riker moved forward. What appeared to be a lift presented itself just up ahead. Riker pushed the call button and tensely waited as the noise in the background continued to unnerve him.

The doors whooshed open and Riker stood there aiming his phaser at empty air. He stepped into the car and depressed a button. Counting levels from the outside, he'd guessed that the missileers were on the Seventh floor. Riker pressed the appropriate button and the doors slid shut.

What are you doing Tom? Riker wondered. It had been years since he'd been on an Away mission. Even longer since he'd seen combat. That had usually been in simulations.

You're doing what needs to be done. he counselled himself, That's what captains do.

The truth of the matter though was that although Macen had given the title of ‘Captain' to Riker, Macen truly was, at the ship's heart and soul, her true master. Riker had planned on revisiting this issue with Macen but he hadn't realised until this moment that he was going to capitulate. Macen doubted himself when it came to starship command but it was his destiny and Riker was going to make him see that. His only nagging problem was Forger and Grace's promotions. He had to find a way of saving them, and his own position, as well.

The sounds of the lift moving ceased and Riker held his phaser before him as the doors opened. Riker slowly, ever so slowly, edged his way out of the lift. As he cleared the door and could look to the left, he realised he was staring down the barrel of a Starfleet surplus Type II phaser. A very disgruntled Solarian Security officer held it.

"Looking for me, Sweetie?" she blew him a kiss.

 

Chapter Thirty-One

Riker smiled and turned towards his captor, offering her his phaser butt first, "Hi there."

She plucked the phaser out of his hand with her left, "You seem awfully nonchalant about being captured."

Riker shrugged, "Its better to be captured by an attractive woman than a thug of a man." In truth, Riker found her rather plain looking.

She snorted, "Nice try. Now its time to play the hostage card."

Riker shook his head, "It won't work. I'm expendable."

"Let's find that out the hard way." she motioned for him to move forward with her phaser.

Riker trudged along. He found this entire incident to be rather embarrassing. He'd never hear the end of it when the rest of the team found out about. He needed to find a way out. I'm supposed to be a tactician, dammit, now's when I prove it. he thought bitterly.

The female guard frog marched him to the area where two men were shooting at the Equinox. One had the launcher on his shoulder while the other hung back and reloaded it. Several cases containing missiles were scattered about.

"I have a present." she announced.

The loader looked up as he hefted another missile, "Good. We can use him to bargain with."

"Stand there." the woman gestured towards a place near the wall.

Riker obeyed. He stood there bobbing up and down by flexing his feet. The woman looked at him scornfully.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm bored." Riker replied with a shrug.

"Whatever. Just stay put."

The loader fumbled and the missileer growled, "Hurry up you idiot!"

The woman turned to appraise the situation and Riker vaulted forward. He shoulder checked the guard and kept going. He slammed into the back of the missileer, hurling him out of the Seventh story window. Feeling proud he turned to find a livid guard aiming both phasers, his and hers, at him. The loader stood beside her, mouth open as he gaped at Riker.

"You bastard! You've killed him." she snarled.

"Seems rather fair since he tried to kill me." Riker said.

"You're the shuttle pilot!" the loader was pointing at Riker.

Riker grinned, "At your service."

"Don't look so happy." the guard said angrily, "You're about to die."

Riker's comm badge chirped and he dropped to the deck. The Equinox hovered outside the window. Her twin phasers opened fire. Ceryx swept the phaser beams back and forth. Both Solarian agents were stunned.

The barrage stopped and Riker stood. He slapped his comm badge, "Riker to Ceryx."

"Ceryx here."

"Thanks."

"Any time, Captain. Ceryx out." the shuttle moved and resumed its stationary post ahead of the Obsidian.

Typical Tyrokian, Riker thought, completely inscrutable. Riker strolled over to the stunned Solarians and stripped them of their weapons. Holstering his own phaser, he thumbed the two Type II's down to ‘Stun'. Setting out for the lift, he decided to return to the ground floor and find out what the panic was about.

Delaney and his Security teams rematerialised outside the Solarian building. The Security unit formed a phalanx. Delaney led them into the building. Inside they found no sign of activity.

Fallen bodies littered the entrance. Delaney nodded towards his field medic, "Struthers, check out the wounded."

The medic approached the nearest body and examined it with a medical tricorder, "These people are stunned, Commander."

"But the fighters reported a massacre underway." a surprised Delaney remarked.

Struthers shrugged, "I don't know what to tell but these people are alive and unharmed."

Delaney's face screwed up, "Let's find these ‘Romans' and have a little chat with them. Squad, move out. Stay on me."

"Hah!" T'Kir crowed, "Got it!" She lurched forward in her seat and began scrolling through the opened database, "Holy shuk, there's a lot here."

Grace leaned over her shoulder. Her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed, "I see what you mean. These guys have enough documents to record the movements of an army."

"It's gonna take forever to sort through them. The search engine on this system is crappy beyond measure." T'Kir complained.

"What's that mean?" Grace asked.

"We may have to ‘physically' search these files. That means opening reading every one of them." T'Kir explained, her frustration was plain to see.

"Problems?" Macen asked as he walked up.

"This frinxing database sucks." T'Kir commented.

"What's the specific problem?" Macen enquired.

"The search engine is archaic." T'Kir vented, "It won't search the breadth of the files at once. You have to open each individual file and run a search."

Macen sighed, "Sounds tedious and time consuming."

"You have nooo idea." T'Kir grumbled.

"Luckily, we can get help." Macen replied, "The Obsidian's Ops Department can help out."

"Maybe we could get help from the Intrepid too." Grace suggested, "This is an official Starfleet investigation."

"Good thinking, Hannah." Macen said, "I'll contact Captain McKinley and put in a request."

"I'll take whatever I can get." T'Kir muttered.

"Hang on, Hon." Macen chuckled and began massaging her shoulders, "We will persevere."

"Mmmm. Don't stop." T'Kir went limp and let Macen do what he wanted as his fingers kneaded her neck.

"Where do I get one of those?" Grace whined.

Macen grinned, "Not my department, Hannah. Fend for yourself."

"Figures." Grace mumbled.

"Ask Joachim." T'Kir suggested, "He's safe."

"I don't want ‘safe'." Grace retorted, "I could use a little romantic danger right about now."

"What about Ian Delaney?" T'Kir prodded, "He's in the same solar system."

"I don't know." Grace frowned, "Ian's fast becoming a good friend but I don't know if he has any romantic notions."

"D'you?" T'Kir wondered.

"I dunno." Grace shrugged, "I really like him and he is attractive but I don't know if that's a path I want to go down with him."

"You could always use him for sex and toss him aside." T'Kir wickedly grinned, "It was my motto."

"First off, I'm not you." Grace ticked off her fingers, "Second, the entire point is that I don't want to alienate this guy. And third, that's just a bad way to live."

"Since when have you been so rigid?" T'Kir was suddenly alarmed, "You used to be pretty free wheeling."

"And I ended up alone." Grace sighed, "I want to build a relationship this go around. I want to hold on to something. Is that so wrong?"

"Nope." Macen said as he ground into T'Kir's knots, "I think you're being wise Hannah. Hold the faith. It'll happen for you."

Thanks." Grace replied, "I could use all the encouragement I can get."

"Having travelled down this same path, I can honestly say it's worth it." T'Kir admitted, "Have patience, Sweetie. It'll come when you least expect it."

Grace heaved a sigh, "Okay. One question: how will I know when love has arrived?"

T'Kir released a bubbling laugh, "Trust me, you'll know. It'll overwhelm you. But don't jump at simple lust. It also has to make sense. Think about it before you commit."

"Oookay." Grace bit her lower lip, "So I'm supposed to feel passionate but also logical?"

"Bizarre mix isn't it?" T'Kir smiled, "But it works. Trust me."

"And it can take years to realise." Macen added, "Look at T'Kir and I."

"Yeah," T'Kir jerked her thumb towards Macen, "I had to wait years for slowpoke there to catch up."

"What you felt at first wasn't lust." Macen leaned over her, "It was infatuation. I was the only ‘safe' person you knew so you wanted me."

"Okay." T'Kir recanted, "So it was only six months or so."

"That's better." Macen teased and resumed his work on her neck and shoulders.

"Brin." Danan called out as she leaned over the rotunda's railing, "I have something to show."

"Sorry ladies, but duty calls." Macen kissed the top of T'Kir's head and then joined Danan.

"He's a good man." Grace opined.

"Yah." T'Kir agreed, "I got lucky."

" So will I." Grace determined.

"That's the spirit." T'Kir encouraged her, "Hold out for what you want."

"I think I will."

"But be ready to compromise on certain issues." T'Kir advised.

Grace looked nonplussed.

"Wait up!" a voice called out and Delaney's entire squad turned around to see its source. Delaney stepped out from the head of the phalanx and took a look. He recognised Riker as the older man jogged to catch up with his men.

"Commander," Delaney observed, "You look like you've been through hell."

"Nearly." Riker extended his hand, "You must be Commander Delaney. I've heard good things about you."

"As I have about you." Delaney replied.

"Oh really?" Riker was surprised.

"Admiral Johnson gave us a full background briefing on your SID team." Delaney explained, "Of course, I've also met most of your team."

"Yes, of course." Riker nodded his understanding, "I had to miss out on that mission."

"It looks like you've made up for it this time around." Delaney pointedly stared at Riker's singed uniform.

Riker chuckled, "It's a story, Commander. Maybe I'll tell you about it when this all over."

"I'll admit I'm certainly curious." Delaney said, "But right now I have more pressing concerns."

"Such as?" Riker asked.

"I'm tracking down a group of Romans." Delaney explained, "We're to safeguard the lives of the Solarian employees."

"Romans huh?" Riker rubbed his bearded chin, "I was wondering what this small war was about."

"Any fatalities that you've discovered?" Delaney enquired.

Riker shook his head, "No. Everybody I've checked as been alive."

"That's a relief." Delaney relaxed a bit, "They seem to be holding back for now."

"But you're worried about the near future." Riker surmised.

"Exactly." Delaney smiled, "Care to come along?"

It was Riker's turn to smile broadly, "I'd love to, Commander."

"You wanted to see me?" Striker asked Caplan.

Caplan grinned, "I have an initial report. This whole ship is modular. It was built in segments then assembled. The outer hull was put on last to weld it all together."

"Novel approach." Striker admitted, "Any clues as to how they synchronised the dual warp cores?"

Caplan shook his head, "The whole warp system involved here is one advanced piece of engineering. It involves components that are beyond Federation science. It'll require in depth study to figure them out."

"Did they invent the tech?" Striker wondered.

Caplan snorted, "I seriously doubt it. I can follow some of it but I'll admit some that some of it has me stumped. I can design and build you an entire starship and this is beyond me. That tells you something."

Striker whistled, "I'll say. How did they come up with it then?"

"I'd say it was a technology transfer." Caplan surmised, "I'd say those answers are on the surface of that planet."

"I'm sure you're right." Striker agreed, "And Captain McKinley and Admiral Johnson are taking care of that right now."

"I'd love to crack this mystery myself." Caplan said hungrily.

"So would I, Commander, but we have our orders and they are to stay put for now." Striker sympathised.

"I'll just keep beating my head against the bulkhead until something shakes loose." Caplan joked.

"You do that." Striker chuckled, "Now I have to get back to babysitting modern day Roman soldiers."

Caplan broke into a wry grin, "Good luck with that."

"Thanks." Striker replied, "I think I'll need it."

"What's up, Lees?" Macen asked as he approached Danan's position.

"Take a look at these readings." she handed him her tricorder.

"Let's see." Macen studied the scan results and then shrugged, "The blood's iron based and the tissues are carbon based. So what? So are you and I."

Danan angrily snatched the scanner out of his hands, "Did you look at the percentages? This guy is practically mineral."

"Really?" Macen asked in surprise.

"He isn't a silicon based lifeform but he's far more mineralised than any lifeform I'm aware of. That's why he was practically chitinous. He's skin is essentially a crust."

"Anything else of note?" Macen was intrigued.

"I can't be sure yet, not until I have access to a lab anyway..." Danan trailed off.

"What?" Macen urged, "C'mon, don't leave me in suspense."

"I think he has ten base pairs in his DNA." Danan revealed.

"But most humanoids only average four base pairs." Macen remarked.

Danan nodded, "Which is why most humanoids look so much alike. It's convergent evolution."

"Yet Ezexial has ten." Macen said in awe, "No wonder their genetic structure is so malleable. They're designed to rapidly adapt."

"Exactly!" Danan exclaimed

"I wonder what else we'll learn?" Macen wondered.

"I don't know but I know one thing is certain." Danan remarked, "We need to return to Omicron."

"Put that in your official findings." Macen encouraged her, "You may get the Nobel for this."

"No, I won't. They don't give out academic awards to secret agents." Danan opined.

"Don't sell yourself short Lees. Ever." Macen said firmly, "Got it?"

"Yes sir." Danan saluted.

"If you weren't the best scientist I knew I wouldn't have let you rejoin the team." Macen revealed, "Think about that." With that said he exited the rotunda and walked away.

Danan smiled, "Well, will wonders never cease?" With a shrug she returned to her examinations.

"I hear voices ahead." Delaney said and held up a fist. The phalanx halted in mid-stride. Delaney pulled a tricorder from his belt. He and his entire detail were wearing the standard issue Special Operations ablative armour used by Starfleet. Everyone was also issued equipment belts designed to hold their phasers, tricorders, bandages and rations. Every person in the unit also brandished a pulse rifle.

Delaney held the tricorder aloft and studied its readings, "I'm detecting life signs. Human. Dozens of them."

"Could be our missing Romans." Riker whispered.

Delaney folded the tricorder shut and returned it to his belt, "Could be. There's only one way to be sure." He waved the phalanx forward and they resumed their advance.

They pushed forward a hundred metres and reached a turn. Delaney motioned for a halt and then moved over to the corner and peered around it. He crept back to his unit and whispered his report.

"They're there. They are milling about. I don't see any civilians. They have guards posted around a large, circular door. It appears to be a vault or bunker."

The word was passed to every member of the unit and Delaney waited until all the assorted whispers had silenced, "We're going to advance and confront them. Do not fire unless fired upon. Understood?"

Another wave of whispers erupted. A wave of nods followed. Delaney returned to his position and waved the Security unit forward.

The phalanx rotated, placing Delaney at the forefront to face the Romans as they cleared the corner. Delaney motioned and the Starfleet personnel began moving sideways. As the first Security officer passed into the Roman's view, an alarm was raised. As the phalanx settled into position, the Romans were alert and poised to strike.

"Wait!" Riker shouted and raised his hands, "I'm Commander Thomas Riker. I'm the 1st Officer of the Obsidian. We're here to help."

Silence loomed as the Romans stood by, impassive to Riker's words. The Security unit stood tense and alert, ready for instant action. The Roman ranks were disturbed as a figure pushed his way through the crowded area. He emerged from the gathered soldiers and studied the Security detail.

"You are Starfleet?" the Centurion asked.

"Yes." Delaney confirmed, "I'm Lt. Commander Ian Delaney, the Chief Tactical Officer of the USS Intrepid."

"Ah," the Centurion's lit with recognition, "The other starship. Why are you here? The situation is contained."

"We were dispatched to insure the safety of the civilians here." Delaney, "We've seen the aftermath of your engagement. We appreciate your restraint. By allowing the enemy to live, you have made a friend in the Federation."

The Centurion nodded, "It is as Admiral Scipio wished then. At ease Legionnaires. We are among allies."

The Romans shouldered their rifles. The Centurion strode forward to meet Riker and Delaney. He stood before Riker and extended his hand. Riker met it and the Centurion grasped his forearm. Riker did likewise.

The Centurion repeated the exercise with Delaney. Afterwards he smiled, "I am Agwynn, Centurion in the Star Legions of Magna Roma."

"Agwynn?" Riker repeated, "That doesn't sound very Roman."

Agwynn chuckled, "I am originally from the province of Britannia. Now I call the Legion my home."

"I see." Riker replied.

"Centurion," Delaney spoke, "I have to ask, where are the rest of the civilians?"

Agwynn chuckled darkly and pointed at the massive door, "They are within the bunker beyond this door. They are trapped and helpless."

"They're unharmed?" Delaney enquired.

"My orders were specific, Commander." Agwynn explained, "I said ‘no casualties' and any Legionnaire that exceeded these orders would be flogged."

Delaney contained his surprise at hearing this. He remembered from history classes that Roman discipline was brutal but that was a far cry from hearing someone casually referring to such violence. He had to practically chant the Prime Directive to himself.

"You are welcome to join us." Agwynn offered, "But if you will excuse me, I have some matters to address."

"Of course." Riker allowed. As the Centurion departed, Riker turned to Delaney, "Very smooth, Commander."

Delaney shrugged, "You learn a thing or two being around Admiral Johnson."

"I need to meet him." Riker said, "It isn't often that Macen is deferential towards authority but he seems to respect the Admiral."

Delaney smiled, "They have a history."

Riker grimaced, "Another mission I was left out of."

"So was I." Delaney replied, "Don't feel bad. We can't be everywhere. Duty sometimes demands that we sit on the sidelines."

"Wisdom beyond your years." Riker sighed, "Care to join me for a drink when this over?"

Delaney grinned, "I'd love to."

"I'll ask a friend of mine to join us then." Riker said.

"So will I." Delaney decided.

"Until then." Riker grinned.

That decided, Delaney turned to his Security officers, "All right people. They've declared peace for now. Take a moment to relax but don't get too comfortable. We have a lot of prisoners to gather up and detain in the near future."

Delaney took an ensign aside, "Adams, assemble a squad and return to the ship. Collect the portable forcefield generators. Have a squad of engineers beam down with you and erect a detention facility in the outer courtyard."

"Aye sir." the ensign replied.

"Well," Delaney massaged his temples, "Let's enjoy the quiet while it lasts."

"I understand Admiral." Johnson said to Scipio, "We had to dispatch a team of our own to the surface. I'm certain they won't engage your forces." Unless they absolutely have to remained unspoken.

Scipio calmed but was hardly mollified, "I am disappointed Admiral Johnson. I thought we had trust. I am saddened to see that this is not true." The screen went back to its view of the planetary horizon.

"Well, I'd say he's not going to forget this." McKinley opined.

Johnson sighed as he retook his seat, "I'm afraid you're right about that, Jim. This could colour our burgeoning relationship with the Nova Romans."

"Is that a bad thing?" McKinley wondered, "Isn't best to let them know upfront that we'll be watching them?"

Johnson pensively stroked his beard, "Perhaps. It's important to remember though, the only thing greater than a Roman's sense of duty is his or her pride."

"Great." McKinley grumbled, "Give me plain old Romulans any day."

Johnson laughed, "It's not that bad."

"At least you expect that kind of attitude from a Romulan." McKinley observed, "I'm just not used to this kind of brazen arrogance from a fellow human. They are human right?"

"Oh, they're human enough." Johnson replied, "As far as arrogance goes, have you ever spent time in the company of Edward Jellico?"

"The Starfleet Chief of Operations?" McKinley asked, "No, I don't think so."

Johnson wore a wry grin, "You'd know it if you had. Let's just say he gives a Romulan a run for their latinum. It just goes to show you that human beings can be as puffed up and misguided as any alien we've ever encountered. We only recognise these attitudes and emotions because we've had them as well."

McKinley digested this, "You're right of course. I'm just confused because they're human. They really are an alien culture though and I need to set my sights accordingly."

"I'm having trouble as well so don't feel too bad, Jim." Johnson assured him.

"Now if we'd only hear from Macen." McKinley said.

Johnson's face twisted up in a wry expression, "He'll contact us when he's ready to but not before."

"He's a maverick isn't he?" McKinley asked.

"Some would say so." Johnson admitted, "Look at it this way, his hero is James T. Kirk."

"Oh God." McKinley moaned, "We're in trouble now."

 


Proceed to Part VI

 

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