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Twilight - Part VI 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 Thirty-Two

Macen stood in front of Zeist. Dracas stood to the side. Macen's hands were on his hips.

"How're doing Hiram?" Macen asked

"I wish you'd stop calling me by my given name." Zeist wearily protested, "You haven't the right."

Macen smirked, "You don't have any rights, Hiram. I'll keep you alive to face the courts but don't expect courtesy from me. You abandoned that right the moment you pitted the Iotians against my people."

Zeist looked askance, "I'm sorry about that."

"Repentance is nice." Macen said scornfully, "But it doesn't bring the dead back to life."

"I..." Zeist faltered.

"Spare me." Macen said dismissively as he turned and left.

"That man is going to kill me." Zeist predicted.

"I would." Dracas commented.

In the outer hallway, Radil looked over towards Daggit, "No one's coming. I think it's done."

"Stay alert." Daggit insisted, "There are always stragglers that escape the net."

Radil shrugged her shoulders and resumed her vigilant search for incoming trouble.

"Any luck?" Macen asked as he stepped up behind T'Kir.

"Call me next century." T'Kir retorted.

"She's not very happy." Grace observed.

"Then its time to rustle up some help." Macen tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Forger."

"Forger here."

"What's the situation?" Macen inquired.

"Everything's stable. The Romans have landed troops. The Intrepid transported a detachment to the surface and the Solarians have all been stunned or herded back into the complex."

"Any losses to our side?" Macen wondered.

"We lost the Eclipse to a portable photon missile launcher. It appeared as if Commander Riker escaped injury though. We haven't seen him since he entered the building."

"All right." Macen absorbed the i8nformation and began making plans, "Recall the Equinox. Round up the Ops department and have anyone not sleeping board the shuttle and get over here. Have them join us on the Fourteenth floor."

"After you've completed that, page Riker and get a situation report from him." Macen continued, "Lastly, contact the Intrepid and arrange a comm link between my position and their bridge."

"Aye, Captain. Forger out."

Macen shook his head. Forger had referred to Riker as "Commander" and addressed him as "Captain". It seemed his efforts to the contrary were ultimately doomed to failure. He'd have to talk to Riker and see if they could reach an accommodation.

Until then, he'd concentrate on the matters on hand. He hoped Johnson and McKinley had time to talk to him. He planned on recruiting their Ops department and their Intelligence unit.

Riker's comm badge started chirping and he quickly slapped it, "Riker here."

"This is Forger. The Captain wants an update on your situation."

Riker's lips twisted into a wry smile as her words registered, "I'm fine. I'm currently with Commander Delaney and the Intrepid's Security detail. The Romans are here with us as well. We have the bulk of the Solarian staff confined to a bunker in the subbasement."

"Roger that. I'll appraise the Captain. Stand by. Forger out."

Riker smiled. It was easy to tell that Forger's specialty was Tactical. She was very driven and forceful when she wanted to be. She also had a remarkably level head.

Riker turned back to Delaney and Agwynn, "Sorry gentlemen, you were saying?"

"Captain," the relief Tactical Officer said, "the Obsidian is hailing us."

Finally, McKinley thought but aloud he merely replied with, "Put it on the main screen, Lieutenant."

The screen shifted to a picture of a very poised young woman, "Captain McKinley?"

"Yes, I'm McKinley. And you are?"

"Lt. Commander Shannon Forger." she replied, "I'm the acting commander of the Obsidian while Captain Macen and Commander Riker are dirtside."

"I believe you are as well." McKinley observed dryly.

"Yes sir." Forger was unflappable, "However it doesn't appear that way when you're still inside a starship."

"I can imagine." McKinley replied, "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"

"Captain Macen wished to establish a comm link." Forger revealed, "We have his comm badge's ID ready and we can squirt that data to you any time you are ready to receive it."

"Please send that information now." McKinley requested.

"Aye, sir." Forger turned and gave the order.

McKinley turned expectantly to his Tactical station and waited. The Tactical Officer turned and confirmed the ID's arrival. McKinley returned his focus to the viewer.

"We have it Commander. We'll establish communications shortly. McKinley out." he informed her and the screen reverted to its tactical display.

Macen's comm badge chirped and he swatted it, "Macen here."

"This is McKinley. What is your status?"

"We have captured the central operations command centre and are now beginning an intensive search of the mainframe's database." Macen reported.

"Were there any casualties?"

"None on our side. We have two dead and a live prisoner." Macen answered.

"Have you ID'd the dead?"

"One is a Chalnoth named Grix Wilsce. The other is an Omicron named Ezexial." Macen described.

Johnson's voice cut in, "Excuse me, did you say Omicron?"

"Affirmative." Macen confirmed, "More to the point the Omicron that established alliances with insurgent groups across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants."

"My God." Johnson breathed, "We could have used him alive. He could have provided us with the names and locations of dozens of terrorist groups."

"There wasn't much choice at the time." Macen explained, "It was a kill or be killed scenario."

Silence lingered then Johnson replied in resignation, "What's done is done."

"Commander Macen, do you require any assistance?" McKinley asked.

"That's what I wanted to ask." Macen admitted, "Can you spare some members of your Ops department and your Intelligence section?"

"You want them to assist you in your search of the database." McKinley deduced.

"Exactly. We're on the complex's Fourteenth floor." Macen replied.

"We'll send them immediately."

"Thank you. Macen out."

It took thirty minutes for the various teams to arrive. When they did, Daggit and Radil ushered them into the ops centre. T'Kir distributed the various stations to the personnel and then stood back and directed them to the appropriate screens. Then she made the circuit again assigning various files to the individual investigators. Her last task was briefing the Intrepid's Intel Chief and handing over supervisory responsibilities to her.

T'Kir stood back with Macen and Grace, "I need a break. It's been a long day and I'm hungry."

"I suggest we take a stroll and see what's available." Macen suggested. Danan stayed behind as they gathered up the rest of the team, Zeist, and proceeded to the lifts. Piling up in a single lift, they travelled to the ground floor. Examining a building layout, they proceeded to the commissary.

"What a mess." Grace commented as they gazed upon the wreckage that was left of the commissary.

"Panicked people generally don't take time to observe the usual niceties, Hannah." Macen dryly rebutted.

"I guess." Grace conceded and blew out a puff of air, "How are we going to scrape together a meal out of this?"

"I've been in worse." Daggit divulged, "We can forage."

"Hell, yes." Radil concurred.

"Fan out people." Macen instructed, "And take no prisoners."

"Commander," one of Delaney's scouts reported, "the stunned civilians are starting to stir."

Delaney turned to Agwynn, "Can we borrow some of your Legionnaires?"

Agwynn clapped him on the shoulder, "Certainly."

Agwynn barked orders at his troops and Delaney began to instruct his personnel, "These people are going to groggy and scared. Handle them gently. We have the detention area set up so take them out there and Adams' squad will contain them. All right, move out!"

"Here we go again." Riker observed dryly.

"The fun never stops around here." Delaney laughed.

The SID team had discovered that most of the lunch servings were still sitting their respective pots and pans. They'd cooled but they were edible. Most of the dishes were quite savoury, at least an equal to the Obsidian's resident chef's handiwork.

Zeist's arms were placed in front of him and his wrists rebound. Daggit prepared a sandwich for the prisoner and they allowed him to eat. He sat in miserable silence while the Starfleet agents enjoyed themselves. Daggit wolfed down his meal and separated himself so that he could place a call to Parva with relative privacy.

"So is there going to fallout from your killing Ezexial?" Radil asked.

"Judging by Admiral Johnson's reaction, I'd say there will probably be an official reprimand coming." Macen shrugged, "Amanda is certainly going freak out."

"When doesn't she?" T'Kir chortled between bites.

"She usually has good reason to, at least by Starfleet standards. We don't exactly follow regulations."

"Most of that is your fault." Grace pointed out. When she received a bevy of stares from her teammates, she defiantly jutted out her chin, "Well, it is."

Macen chuckled, "It's all right, Hannah. I'm happy to accept the blame."

"Well Drake must be happy with us." Radil observed, "We're still employed."

"We're successful." Macen concurred, "She can't argue with that. While we violate Starfleet regs, we take care to observe the general thrust of Federation law."

"But not the finer points." T'Kir countered.

Macen grinned, "Who has time?"

"We certainly don't." T'Kir declared.

"And Prophets help those that do." Radil laughed.

"Omigod!" Grace gasped, "We forgot Kort!"

"Oh hell." Macen muttered, "He's probably torn apart the interior of the shuttle by now."

Radil rose, "I'll get him. He'll behave around me."

"Crafty witch." T'Kir laughed.

Radil smiled as she shrugged, "What can I say. I do what works."

"The Outbound Ventures motto." Macen saluted her.

Radil laughed, "I'd better get going."

As Radil strode away, T'Kir smiled, "She certainly has changed since we first met her."

"She's discovered love." Macen commented.

"She dumped Kort. I wouldn't call that love." T'Kir spoke as if addressing a backwards child.

"Not him. Us." Macen explained, "She's been embraced by the group. You were right back when you said we've become a family. Radil's needed that all her life."

"As I recall, you doubted my infinite wisdom at the time." T'Kir accused.

"I stand corrected, milady." Macen said regretfully.

"All right, you're forgiven." she adopted a wicked smile, "But I shall exact a penance from you later."

"Such as?" Macen asked.

"I'll just leave that to my imagination." T'Kir declared.

"Fates, be merciful. I'm only humanoid." Macen pleaded.

"No promises." her smile grew more evil and her eyes twinkled with merriment.

"I wonder how Rab's doing." Grace spoke up, "It's got to be hard coping with what's happened to Parva."

"I think the hardest part for him is her sudden vulnerability." Macen replied, "He's afraid of hurting her."

"So far he's done just the opposite." T'Kir observed, "She lights up when he's around."

"And that's what reassures him and gives him hope." Macen revealed.

"So you're all right?" Daggit asked Parva via comm link.

"I'm fine silly. I've been busy helping Tessa treat patients."

"I'm relieved." Daggit admitted.

"So am I. I was afraid that you would get hurt."

"Kort was with us. I would have been treated by the best." Daggit assured her.

"You know, that this is how it's going to be from now on. You'll go off to face danger and I'll be left behind."

"It doesn't have to be that way." Daggit insisted.

"Yes, it does. Kort's discussed my condition with me. I don't think I want to stay aboard the Obsidian. It would kill me to face your imminent demise every time you go on a mission."

"So you'll stay on Barrinor?" Daggit fervently hoped.

"That's the plan. Maybe I can get a job. There must be a market for crippled engineers that can't remember their craft."

"Move in with me." Daggit suddenly insisted, "My place is big enough for the two of us, unlike your flat."

"You mean it? I'd love to."

"We'll pack your things and move you as soon as we get back to Barrinor." Daggit decided.

"I can't wait!"

Daggit was pleased to hear her so happy, "This will be perfect."

"I'm glad you think so. I'd hate to be a disappointment."

"Never." Daggit declared, "I love you and I want you by my side no matter what you can or cannot remember."

"I love you too."

"I have to go now but I'll see you soon." Daggit told her.

"Hurry."

"Daggit out."

With a contented sigh, Daggit returned to the table and his teammates.

"Everything all right?" Macen asked.

"She's moving in with me." Daggit announced.

"Congratulations." Grace offered.

"About time." T'Kir commented.

"I hardly know you but I can see this pleases you." Dracas said, "I wish you well."

"Every happiness, Rab, for the both of you." came from Macen.

"So where's Jenrya?" Daggit wondered.

"She's retrieving Kort." Macen grinned, "We left him alone on the shuttle."

"Oh gods." Daggit muttered.

"She'll handle him." Macen promised.

Delaney stopped and wiped the sweat from his brow, "Thank God we're almost done. These SpecOps armoured suits are nice but they're hotter than hell."

"I was wondering." Riker said.

"Well, they are." Delaney complained. He tapped his comm badge, "Delaney to Intrepid."

There was a moment's hesitation then a voice came back over the circuit, "This is McKinley, report."

"The civilians are all alive and secured." Delaney reported.

"And the Romans?"

"Cooperating nicely." Delaney replied.

"That's a relief. Do you require any further assistance?"

"You should probably send down a medical team to check out the prisoners, just to be on the safe side." Delaney said, "Maybe a counsellor or two. Some of these people have been badly scared. There may be some trauma."

"Understood. Stand by to receive the additional personnel."

"Roger." Delaney acknowledged.

"McKinley out."

Delaney looked over towards Riker, "Looks like things are going to stay interesting."

"How do you mean?" Riker wondered.

"If Dr. Sikorsky discovers one instance of abuse she'll dress Agwynn down without a moment's hesitation."

"Really?" Riker was impressed, "I'd like to see that."

"So would I." Delaney admitted.

"Sorry for the mix-up." Macen offered.

Kort grunted and tore into his meal. He ate in silence for several minutes then finally looked up.

"You could have at least told me I could leave that cursed shuttle." he complained.

"I can only say I'm sorry so many times." Macen replied, "You either accept my apology or you don't."

Kort pondered that for a while then finally grunted again, "I suppose it's all right."

"Good." Macen replied, "Now we have to decide on our next move."

"You mean you have to decide our next move." Daggit replied.

"Actually, I'm open to suggestions." Macen admitted.

"I think we need to get everyone off the Obsidian." Grace piped up.

"Good point." Macen said and tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Forger."

"Forger here."

"Shannon, I want you organise a general evacuation of the ship." Macen ordered.

"Where are we going to go?"

"Have everyone break out the emergency gear and set up a tent city outside the wall. Have Chef arrange a basic kitchen and make sure everyone gets fed." Macen described his basic plan.

"I can have the Engineering staff set up sonic showers in every tent."

"Good idea. Also have two cots set up in every tent." Macen decided.

"That'll stretch our available resources."

"Yes, but people just survived a near death experience. They're going to want to pair off tonight." Macen shared.

"Gotcha. Anything else?"

"Not at this time." Macen replied, "I'll keep you posted if the scenario changes."

"Do it before we set up the tents. I'd hate to have to move all that crap after it's erected."

Macen smiled, "Understood. Macen out."

Macen looked expectantly at the others, "Anything else?"

"I'm done thinking." T'Kir declared and dropped her head into her arms on the table.

"I have to admit I'm tired as well." Daggit said.

Macen whistled, "You must be exhausted to admit that."

Daggit shrugged.

"Then I suggest I call Ceryx back to pick us up and we grab a tent." Macen decided, "But first we have to find Tom."

"He's probably outside." Grace opined.

"One way to find out." Macen went for his comm badge again, "Macen to Riker."

"Riker here."

"How are you, Tom?" Macen enquired.

"I'm fine. How did we do?"

"We're still working on it." Macen replied, "Where are you?"

"Right outside the main entrance."

"Stay there. We'll join you." Macen instructed.

"Time to go." Macen rose and touched T'Kir's shoulder.

"'M'comin'." she muttered.

"Eat and run." Kort grumbled, "Why is it always eat and run?"

"Because we're fortunate." Macen grinned.

"Hardly." Kort opined.

"Stow it." Macen chastised him, "Let's move people."

"Ian!" Grace called out.

Delaney spun around, "Hannah!"

She ran up to him and embraced him, "It's good to see you."

"I missed you too." Delaney confessed, "I've been worried about ever since Commander Riker told me you were part of the incursion."

"Hello Commander Delaney." Macen said as he neared the pair.

Grace disentangled herself from Delaney's arms, "Sorry, Captain. Just swept away by the moment."

"This is one of those signs you've been looking forward to, Hannah." Macen observed.

Grace coloured and Delaney looked back and forth between Macen and Grace, "What am I missing here?"

"Nothing." Grace replied.

"I'm glad to see you as well, Commander." Macen said, "I have a prisoner to place in your custody."

Delaney peered past Macen's shoulder, "I see. Sorry looking fellow isn't he?"

"He's had a bad day." Macen said, "He needs a shower and a new pair of pants."

Dracas pushed Zeist forward and Delaney caught a whiff of Zeist's urine stains, "I see. We'll take care of it. Adams!"

"You yelled?" Adams retorted as he approached.

"Careful Ensign. That irreverence will get you in trouble with the brass." Delaney advised.

"Sorry sir." Adams said a little more contritely.

"Just don't keep doing it." Delaney implored.

"Yes sir." Adams acknowledged.

"Take this prisoner aboard the ship, bathe and dress him, then lock him in the brig." Delaney ordered.

"Aye, sir." Adams heartily said and took hold of Zeist's arm and hauled him off to the side. Moment's later the pair faded as the transporter took a hold of them.

"So what are you up to?" Macen asked.

"Our Medical staff is examining the prisoners and we're processing them at the same time. Once they're processed, we place them under house arrest. There's an underground dormitory." Delaney explained.

"Elements!" T'Kir exclaimed, "That has to be depressing."

Delaney grinned, "It wouldn't be my first choice either."

"Tom," Macen turned to Riker, "if you're done here, we're establishing a refugee centre for the crew. You probably want some rest. Now is your opportunity."

"Sounds good." Riker wearily smiled.

"Tell McKinley and Johnson that we'll be back in action in eight hours but not before."

"Why don't you tell them yourself?" Delaney asked.

Macen wore a mischievous smirk, "It'll sound better coming from you."

Delaney looked nonplussed and Grace told him, "I'll see you later."

"I hope so." Delaney replied.

The SID team walked towards the beached Obsidian. Macen called Ceryx while they walked and the Equinox was waiting for them. It took trips for the diminutive shuttle to carry them all over the wall. Once there, they threw themselves into the task of setting up their tents.

Once that was done, the engineers eventually arrived and set up a sonic shower in the tent. They also placed a portable toilet in every tent. Lamps were provided as well. Everyone went aboard the ship and got changes of clothing and undergarments. Riker grabbed a bite to eat.

Macen tried to raise Danan but she ignored her comm badge. He shrugged, kissed T'Kir and laid down on the cots they'd shoved together. He was asleep as soon as he lay down. T'Kir contently watched his breathing for a while. She finally rested herself and fell into a deep slumber.

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

The next morning, the team gathered together and had breakfast. Circadian rhythms across the ship had been disrupted as the Gamma shift personnel were suddenly expected to sleep during their normal duty shift. A lot of dazed crewmen wandered about.

The SID team gathered around a picnic style table. They carried their breakfasts over on trays. The cooks had wrought miracles out of their Spartan equipment.

"Does anyone know if Lees ever made it back?" Macen asked.

Riker shook his head, "No. I erected a tent for her but she's never returned from the Solarian centre."

Macen frowned, "We're going to have to go get her."

"I could." Riker volunteered.

Macen shook his head, "I need you here. The crew's in shock. They need a familiar and friendly face of authority to turn to."

"All right." Riker's disappointment was palpable to an empath.

"Joachim, I want you to gather the engineering compliment and do a survey of the Obsidian's structural damage. I want to know if we can salvage and repair her."

"A noble endeavour." Dracas commented, "It will be done."

"Kort, I want you in the camp as well. The EMH is deactivated and that leaves you as the last physician we have. If an emergency arises, you need to be here to deal with it."

"Agreed." the Klingon boisterously concurred.

"Rab, Jenrya, you coordinate with Starfleet Security." Macen ordered, "Start interviewing the Solarian employees. Determine who's a security risk."

"What happens when we determine there's a threat?" Daggit asked. Parva sat next to him."

"The Intrepid crew set up that detention centre. Put anyone you suspect of being a threat in there." Macen suggested.

"Parva," Macen gazed into the Orion's eyes, "I want you to assist Shannon Forger with determining people's needs and finding solutions for them."

Parva beamed, "Yes, Captain."

"Hannah," Macen said and Grace straightened up, "You're on the Paladin. Rhiann will use the Equinox's tractor beam to pull the Paladin out of the building and set her down. Determine her flight potential."

"And if she's broken?" Grace asked.

Macen shrugged, "Try and fix her."

"T'Kir and I will meet up with the Intrepid staff conducting the file search." Macen announced, "We'll see if they've come with anything and if so, what."

"Sounds like we'll all be busy." Riker commented.

Macen smiled, "I try my best."

"Please don't." Radil rebutted and everyone laughed.

"As soon as you turn in your plates gather whatever equipment you need. Rhiann will be making a shuttle run in fifteen minutes. Don't be late."

Those crossing over the wall gathered next to the shuttle and said good morning to Rhiann as she climbed into the shuttle. The Andorian strapped in and brought the engines to life.

"Everyone in?" she asked the assembled passengers.

A chorus of "yes" met her query. She smiled, "Good. We're out of room. Hang on."

The shuttle began its climb. She brought the shuttle up above the level of the wall. Applying power, she began a forward motion. The Equinox crossed over the threshold of the barrier and she descended. Putting her down, Rhiann opened the rear hatch.

"What a waste of a shuttle." she muttered as the others climbed out.

Beside her Grace smiled, "I'll contact you as soon as I'm ready. Give me, oh let's say ten minutes?"

"Sounds good." Rhiann replied, "I'll await your call."

Grave patted her on the shoulder on her way out.

The lift opened on the Fourteenth floor. Macen, T'Kir and Grace exited the cube-like car. As they reached the door to the central operations centre, Grace said her goodbyes.

"Good luck." T'Kir called out as Grace strode away.

"C'mon, let's see what the children have been up to in our absence." Macen grinned.

T'Kir inputted the security code and the door opened. They walked in and surveyed the scene. Several of the investigators were still at their posts but a handful were gathered around Danan on the rotunda. The Chief Intelligence Officer looked up and waved them on.

"We've been trying to contact you." the IO said, "She just passed out. We've called for medical assistance."

A chiming met them. The IO turned to a fellow officer, "Xerxes, open the door. That must be Dr. Sikorsky."

The other Intelligence staffer ran to the door and opened.

"Why is this door locked when there's a medical emergency?" Sikorsky demanded.

"Sorry ma'am." Xerxes quailed, "We weren't thinking."

"Don't do it again." Sikorsky insisted.

"No ma'am." Xerxes promised.

Sikorsky walked to the rotunda and climbed up onto it. She knelt next to Danan's still form. The Trill's eyes fluttered open. With surprising tenderness given her entrance, Sikorsky examined Danan. Gently talking to her the entire time she conducted her examination, Sikorsky concluded he investigation and stood.

"When's the last time she slept?" she inquired.

"I'd say close to twenty-six hours ago." Macen ventured.

Sikorsky grimaced, "Longer than that I'd say. Her fatigue poisons are peaked out. The poor girl is barely conscious and she's still trying to go."

"We have a bed prepared for her." Macen informed her, "We just need to get her there. We have a shuttle outside and a willing volunteer to carry her to her tent."

Sikorsky nodded in approval, "That sounds good. I'll give her a stimulant to bring her around enough to get to the shuttle."

"Xerxes," the IO said, "You can assist Ms. Danan to the shuttle then transport up to the Intrepid and get some rest yourself."

"I'd recommend that for everyone in this room." Sikorsky suggested, "You all look tired."

"But we're almost there." the IO protested, "We're finally getting results."

"Collins, I'll make it an order if I have to." Sikorsky warned her.

"Yes, ma'am." Collins relented.

Sikorsky turned to Macen and smiled. She held out her hand, "You're still the infamous Brin Macen."

Next she shook T'Kir's hand, "Hello T'Kir. A pair of rogues, the both of you."

"I think you have us mistaken with someone else, Andreja." Macen insisted.

Sikorsky laughed, "I don't think so. Admiral Johnson's told us all about you. Delaney can't say enough about your pilot."

Macen and T'Kir exchanged knowing looks and Sikorsky grew intent, "Does that mean what I think it does?"

"We'll see." Macen replied, "It could be a very interesting mission."

"Mmm, I see." Sikorsky tapped her finger against her lip, "Any prescriptions I could fill?"

"Nature'll take its course." T'Kir assured her, "Give it time and everything will take care of itself."

"You're the telepath, so I'll trust you." Sikorsky replied, "I think I'd better revive your friend so that she can go get some rest."

Sikorsky knelt again and prepared a hypo. Pressing it against Danan's neck, she activated the hypo and it released with a hiss. Moment's later, Danan groggily tried to rise. Sikorsky assisted her into a seated position.

"Take it easy." Sikorsky said soothingly, "I'm a doctor. You're going to be all right."

"What happened?" Danan blearily asked.

"You passed out." Sikorsky explained, "You're overtired. That's the diagnosis now here's the cure: go get at least twelve hours of sleep."

"Can't" Danan protested, "Busy."

"Not any more your not." Sikorsky countered, "Doctor's orders."

"Xerxes," Sikorsky summoned the Intel analyst, "Help her to her feet and get her to that shuttle."

"And tell the pilot to have Commander Riker escort her to her tent." Macen added.

Xerxes helped Danan rise and then escorted her out of the room. She wobbled and staggered a bit but she stayed upright. Sikorsky looked at Ezexial's corpse and wrinkled her nose.

"What's this about?"

"We need to perform an autopsy." Macen explained, "We're determining the cause of death."

"Just a guess," Sikorsky smirked, "but I'd say he bled to death."

"Ha ha." Macen said dryly, "The Doctor is also a comedian."

"And here I've heard that you're the master of sarcasm." Sikorsky rebutted, "Can't take competition?"

"You wound me." Macen put a fist to his heart.

"Somehow I suspect it would take more than that." Sikorsky smiled.

"I would hope." Macen replied.

"Collins, why are you still here?" Sikorsky wondered, "I told you to go to bed. I mean it."

"But I need to brief them." Collins insisted.

"Do it quickly and go." Sikorsky was adamant.

"I'll handle this." T'Kir said and took Collins by the arm and led her off of the rotunda.

"Good for her." Sikorsky cheered.

"So why did this little house call warrant the attention of the ship's CMO?" Macen asked.

Sikorsky broke into a sly grin, "Don't miss much do you?"

"That's why they pay me." Macen replied.

"All right." Sikorsky conceded, "I could have sent one of my other doctors. The plain truth is that I was hoping to run into you two, mainly you."

"Why do I warrant?" Macen asked.

"There are a lot of stories about you. Loose talk and whatnot." Sikorsky explained, "I wanted to see which ones were true."

"And so far?" Macen wondered.

"So far the better ones are ringing true." Sikorsky revealed.

"You could be wrong." Macen warned.

"I don't think so." Sikorsky said, "I'm a doctor and a trained psychiatrist. I'm also a pretty good judge of character. You helped us when we needed it and stood up for your ideals when it would count. I've also studied your file, at least the declassified portions of it, and you seem to be an honourable man."

"Thank you." Macen bowed his head.

"You also seem prone to a use of what I deem to be excessive force. Starfleet agrees with me which is why you were court-martialled."

Macen smiled, "I get lectures aplenty from Admiral Drake as it is."

"I was wondering what sort of trauma could catalyse this instinct?"

"Read the classified portions of my file." Macen instructed, "That's where my psych eval is."

"I will if I can." Sikorsky promised, "I'd like to help."

Macen shrugged, "Maybe you could. Who knows? I'm not holding out hope any more."

"It's a sad thing to lose hope." Sikorsky observed.

"If I'd lost all hope I wouldn't be here or doing the work I do." Macen divulged, "Hope is what keeps me alive. The hope of a better tomorrow."

"Yet you don't feel as though you'd be accepted in this future." Sikorsky deducted.

Macen wore a lopsided smile, "Very perceptive Doctor. You're better than most."

"Yet you don't trust me." Sikorsky acknowledged.

"I have no reason to as of yet." Macen explained, "When I know you better we'll discuss trust."

"A conversation I look forward to." Sikorsky smiled, "But if you'll excuse me, I have other patients to tend to."

"Certainly." Macen stepped out of her way, "Is there any chance we can use the Intrepid's labs to perform the autopsy?"

Sikorsky turned and nodded, "I'll even assist."

"Can't ask for more than that." Macen said by way of thanks.

Sikorsky waved goodbye and departed. Collins caught with up her and escorted her out of the centre. Macen walked over to where T'Kir was seated.

"So, what do we have?" he asked.

"Quite a bit." T'Kir was impressed, "Someone must have put a phaser to their heads. They've opened a new file and have transferred every incriminating document they to it. It reads like a who's who of bad guys."

"Who do we have?" Macen enquired.

"We have documents bearing the authorisation codes and countercodes of the Solarian CEO and the entire Board of Directors." T'Kir revealed.

"Outstanding!" Macen proclaimed, "We need to get this info to Amanda ASAP."

"Already ahead of you." T'Kir said with a triumphant smile, "I've warmed up the installation's subspace comm array and attached the Iotian data to the file. I uploaded it from my little 'puter."

"I love you." Macen said in awe.

"I know." T'Kir said confidently, "You should."

Macen scooped her out of the seat and kissed her.

T'Kir smiled indulgently, "That was nice."

"I wish we had time to do more of it." Macen admitted.

"What's on the agenda now?" T'Kir wondered.

"I have to confer with McKinley and put his people in for commendations." Macen revealed.

"Nuts." T'Kir pouted.

"Has to be done, m'love." Macen insisted.

"Get on with it then." She plopped back down into her seat.

The Paladin shrieked as she came free of the hole she'd created. A final groan announced that she was liberated. Grace had taken the controls off stand by but she couldn't get the engines or thrusters to flare to life. She activated the comm array.

"Set me down, Rhiann. The helm is dead."

The shuttle began to descend and Grace deployed the landing gear. She fervently hoped that it actually deployed as the ship settled on the ground. Grace popped the hatch and commed Rhiann.

"I'm down. Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Rhiann replied, "I have a passenger to pick up now."

"Get to it then." Grace chuckled.

Grace exited the shuttle. She walked several metres away so that she could get an overview of the shuttle's condition. The hull looked intact but she wouldn't try any extra-atmospheric exercises until she'd had that checked out by a team of engineers. The landing gear had deployed and was holding.

She moved to the rear of the shuttle and looked for damage to the primary impulse engines. She couldn't find anything wrong. She went all the way around the ship and could find nothing wrong besides scrapes and a few dents.

Fists on her hips, she muttered, "That means it's internal."

Climbing back into the shuttle, she fired up the Engineering console. She began searching for battle damage. Damage control sensors said that everything was fine.

"That doesn't make sense." Grace said to no one.

Frowning, Grace moved to the Ops station and began searching for a computer problem. All systems read ‘green'. Grace leaned back in the seat stared out of the cockpit's window.

"Hello?" Delaney's voice called through the open hatch, "Is anyone aboard?"

"Ian!" Grace leapt out of her seat and proceeded headlong down the exit ramp.

"I'm happy to see you too." he laughed as she bounded in front of him.

"It's about time something went right today." Grace sighed.

Delaney frowned, "What's wrong?"

"The shuttle's broken and I don't know how to fix it. The helm is unresponsive but all the diagnostics say everything is operational. I've been beating my head against it for an hour and half and frankly I'm getting frustrated."

"I don't blame you." Delaney held his chin as he thought, "I think I know who to call."

"What are you up to?" Grace asked, "You've shed your armour and are wearing a standard issue uniform again so I assume the situation is stable."

"It's quiet enough for now." Delaney replied, "Your Daggit and Radil are rounding up all of Solarian's Security Services personnel and detaining them in our forcefield fence. The Romans are falling over themselves to help."

"We have a certain prestige with the Roman Star Legion." Grace admitted wryly.

"I'd guessed that." Delaney dryly observed.

"So what are you up to?" Grace enquired.

"I'm on my way to negotiate with the captives in the bunker." Delaney grinned, "Captain McKinley wants to expand my résumé."

"How thoughtful of him." Grace teased.

"Any way, I had a spare moment and wanted to see if you'd be free later." Delaney revealed.

"I think so." Grace considered her vague schedule, "We've synched our schedules with the planet's solar day."

"We have to." Delaney said and then he amended his statement with, "Well, at least I have. I stayed over on my duty shift in order to operate within the planetary day."

"You probably didn't have as long of a day as I did." Grace chuckled.

"No need to compete." Delaney scolded her.

"I wouldn't dream of it." she earnestly promised.

They shared a laugh and then Delaney's comm badge chirped.

Annoyed, Delaney slapped the badge, "Delaney here."

"Adams. The engineers have patched in a comm unit. You can talk to the prisoners now. Dr. Sikorsky is here with a medical team standing by."

"I'll be there in a moment." Delaney replied. Turning to Grace, he grimaced, "I have to go."

She nodded, "I know. Good luck."

"I'll get your help sent down." he promised.

"That would be greatly appreciated." Grace admitted.

"Until later." Delaney said hopefully.

"How will you find me?" Grace wondered.

"I'll search your entire tent city if I have to." Delaney laughed and strode off.

Grace held herself as she watched him go. Biting her lower lip, she pondered what she was feeling. She was definitely feeling something. It felt as though there was something left unspoken between herself and Delaney.

I wish T'Kir were here. Grace thought miserably, She'd help me sort out what's going on.

Turning back to the shuttle, she heaved a heavy sigh. All I have is this damned shuttle. Grace felt unaccustomedly vulnerable. I don't like this.

Girding up her resolve, she climbed back into the shuttle and lost herself in her investigations of the ship's mysterious ailment. It was that or cry.

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

Riker scrambled to meet the Equinox as it sat down. Rhiann popped the hatch and Riker climbed aboard. He rushed into the cockpit, almost knocking Rhiann back into her seat. Danan sat in the co-pilot's seat. She was limp, held upright by her crash harness.

"Whose idea was this?" Riker asked while surveying the harness.

"Mine." Rhiann confessed, "I didn't want her falling out of the seat and hitting her head."

Riker gave her a warm smile, "Good thinking."

Riker undid Danan's restraints and lifted her out of the seat. He carried her out of the shuttle and headed deeper into the assembled throng of tents. He reached her tent and went inside. Laying her down on the cot, he rose and studied his next project.

He gently undid her utility belt and removed it. Next he unbuckled her boots and took them off. After a moment's consideration, Riker unzipped the front of her coveralls. Finally, he draped a pair of blankets over her.

Riker silently stood and watched her breath. When he was assured that she would be all right on her own, he exited the tent. Zipping the front of the tent shut, he rose to face two confused crewmen.

"What did Captain Macen mean when he said you were in command now?" one of the pair asked.

"Is the Captain leaving?" the other wanted to know.

Riker gave them a gentle smile, "Gather everyone you can find. Have everyone gather behind the infirmary. I'll explain everything there."

"Yes sir." they chimed and scurried off.

That'll cover everyone outside of Dracas' engineers and those guarding the prisoners from the brig. Riker realised, Now if I could only give Brin the speech at the same time.

Riker sighed at made his way to the area he'd designated. Along the way he was met by a half dozen crewmen that had the same questions. Riker assured them that everything was all right and urged them to gather others with the same concern. By the time he reached the field behind the medical tent, over twenty crewmen had gathered.

Riker scanned the faces of the milling crowd. Some were expectant. Others were fretful. A few were angry.

"Can I have everyone's attention?" Riker called out.

Everyone's focus shifted to him and he motioned for them to approach, "Gather around. I have some explaining to do and an announcement to make."

Feet shuffled and the group packed in around him, "I've been asked several times about what happened to the change of command aboard the Obsidian. I can explain."

"You do that!" and angry voice called out from the back of the crowd.

"Captain Macen and I had decided to shift the change of command. The Captain would serve as the Mission Commander and I would be the Captain of the ship." Riker watched astonishment wash through the group as they realised they hadn't misheard the general ship wide announcement, "That decision has been reversed. Captain Macen will remain the Commanding Officer of the Obsidian."

Or whatever ship we get next, Riker thought as he continued, "I will serve as 1st Officer. I will be handling the daily functions of the ship so as to allow the Captain the opportunity to concentrate on the investigations we are assigned to."

"What about Forger?" the same angry voice bellowed.

"Shannon Forger will serve as Executive Officer." Riker revealed, "This position will be marginally lower than my own. She will be in command of the gamma shift and oversee personnel matters. When you are reviewed it will be by her."

"What happened to the position of 2nd Officer?" one of the Sciences team asked.

Riker smiled, "Hopefully, Hannah Grace will remain as the 2nd Officer. We'd be lucky to have her."

The assembled crewmen seemed satisfied with that. Telrik asked, "Where is the Captain?"

"Captain Macen is overseeing the final aspects of our investigation. Next, he will be arranging transport for all of you and arrange for a salvage team to retrieve the ship and take her to a repair yard." Riker assured him. Riker called out to the dispersing crowd, "If you have any further needs, see Commander Forger and Chief Parva. They will facilitate your requests to the best of their ability."

Riker stood still and let the group return to their tents or into huddles around the picnic tables. Kort exited the medical tent and came up alongside Riker.

"Good speech. Is it true?"

Riker grinned, "It will be once I tell Macen what my first, and last, command decisions as the CO of the ship are."

Kort chuckled, "Macen will not be pleased with being backed into a corner."

"No." Riker agreed, "But he will see reason. My plan is the best of all worlds. It accomplishes Macen's goal without alienating the crew. It retains the desired command structure with the swapping of a few titles."

"He will still command during moments of crises." Kort predicted, "Can you accept that?"

"He completely trusts me with the ship when he's not aboard." Riker replied, "He'll expand my responsibilities as that trust permeates our professional relationship."

"So be it." Kort grunted, "If you can live with it, so can I."

Riker grinned, "Thanks for the support."

Kort looked uncomfortable, "I have a favour to ask."

"Name it."

"Teach me to woo non-Klingon women." Kort requested.

"Thinking specifically of Radil." Riker clarified and Kort nodded. Riker rubbed his chin, "I'll see what I can do, but there's no promises."

"Agreed." Kort replied happily, "When do we start?"

"Not now." Riker said sternly, "We have other concerns right now."

"Of course." Kort agreed, "Perhaps tomorrow?"

"You're hopeless." Riker laughed and walked away.

"So does that mean we're on for tomorrow?" Kort called out.

"Form a line and everyone will be processed one at a time." Delaney announced.

Sikorsky and her med team were at the head of the line, examining every passer-by for injury. Agwynn stood by Delaney. The Roman wore a grim smile.

"See?" Agwynn boasted, "Docile as lambs."

"I can't say that reassured me." Delaney rebutted, "They could by lying low, waiting for an opportunity to strike."

"They still have to get past Daggit and Radil." Agwynn reassured his comrade, "They will ferret out the troublemakers."

Delaney frowned, "I can only hope you're right. Even with our combined forces these people outnumber us two to one. If someone were to arm them..."

"Most of them lack the will." Agwynn observed, "They will be easily herded and corralled."

Delaney shook his head at Agwynn's certainty. His job was to plan for every contingency and that included an all out revolt. T'Kir's programs had opened up the database so the Starfleet personnel had gained access to the Solarian employee's records. The SID pair could read a person's personnel jacket as they interviewed him or her.

Generally, it was easy to identify to identify the Security Services employees. They wore uniforms. Three off duty officers had been identified thus far. In all twenty-seven guards had been detained. Earlier Delaney had dispatched Starfleet officers to collect those stunned by the SID team members. His people had had located a hold out pocket of Solarian troops. They were on the roof, scared witless by the multiple fly-bys.

"My name's James Brewster." a stunned looking man informed Daggit. Daggit typed the name into the padd he held.

Daggit turned to Radil, "Administrative Assistant."

"Go back to your quarters, Mr. Brewster. We'll contact you if you're needed." Radil instructed. The young man numbly nodded and moved on. The next woman in line wore the Security uniform.

Radil snapped her fingers, "Legionnaire, escort this young lady to the detention centre."

The Legionnaire placed his fist on his chest then took hold of the Solarian officers arm and escorted out of the area. Another Legionnaire stepped up to take his place.

Daggit grinned, "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Of course not." Radil denied it.

"Come on," Daggit coaxed, "you can admit it."

A guilty smile crossed Radil's features, "It does make one feel like the Prophets themselves."

"Just don't get used to it." Daggit advised.

"Actually, I was thinking about making my Security team salute me like that." Radil eyes twinkled mischievously.

"Dracas would join them." Daggit opined.

"That boy is still in for a serious wake up call." Radil predicted, "Wait until he hits a Federation Home World."

Daggit smirked, "That'll be an interesting day."

"Hope it isn't fatal for someone."

Daggit shook his head, "We need to get back to work."

"Next!" Radil called out.

Macen and T'Kir materialised on the pads of the Intrepid's Transporter Room 1. McKinley stood there waiting for them. He wore a carefully neutral expression.

"Uh oh." Macen said, "I sense disapproval."

"Get over here." McKinley held out his hand, "Say hello."

Macen shook McKinley's hand. T'Kir held hers out next.

"Always a pleasure, T'Kir." McKinley said as he shook her hand.

"All right, the suspense is killing me." Macen admitted, "What's on your mind?"

"It can wait until we reach my Ready Room." McKinley replied.

"Where's Admiral Johnson?" Macen wondered.

"He's in the middle of an ultrasecure conference." McKinley revealed, "He can't be disturbed."

That means Council business, Macen thought. He didn't say anything. McKinley's crew knew about the Admiral's involvement with the Council of Five but the less said about the better. After a short turbolift ride, the group entered the Intrepid's bridge.

"Where's Pedrossi?" Macen asked.

"Off duty." McKinley explained, "Beta shift just came on."

"Oh, the beauty of three shifts." T'Kir wheedled.

"Stow it." Macen murmured.

"Give me what I want and I will." T'Kir countered.

Macen groaned as McKinley ushered them into his retreat.

"Have a seat." McKinley offered, "Makes yourselves comfortable. Can I get you anything?"

"I'd love some coffee." Macen said.

"Black?"

"Vanilla latte." Macen clarified.

"And you?" McKinley turned to T'Kir.

"A shot of whiskey." T'Kir replied eagerly.

McKinley laughed, "Will synthahol do?"

"In a pinch." T'Kir groused.

"We'll break out the real stuff later." McKinley offered, "I also have a cache of

Romulan Ale aboard."

"That'd remind me of home." T'Kir admitted.

McKinley placed the orders with the replicator and served everyone. Once he

was done he ordered his own beverage and sat down. Macen couldn't take it any more.

"What is on your mind?"

McKinley adopted a stern visage and sighed, "Do you know what kind of trouble

you've stirred up?"

"Nope." Macen admitted.

"You've created an interstellar incident by breaking the Roman quarantine and I have to clean up the mess." McKinley said with frustration, "I don't care about how many regs you broke but I am concerned with the mess you've created. The Federation's on the verge of a diplomatic disaster."

"I'm sorry about the trouble." Macen replied, "I really am. The last thing I want to do is create a brush fire that you have to put out but the lid was coming off of Magna Roma no matter what I did."

McKinley grimaced, "That's the worst part about it. We weren't ready for them to leap into interstellar politics. They may not be ready."

"They'll have to be." Macen said.

"Yes." McKinley sighed again, "They will."

The door chimed and McKinley said come. It slid aside to reveal Admiral Johnson. He looked weary. He strolled into the room and gazed directly at Macen.

"You have no idea what kind of shitstorm you've set off." Johnson warned, "Even Alynna is willing to let you hang for this one."

"Nice to be loved." Macen retorted, "I'm the unwanted stepchild."

Johnson chuckled, "It's not that bad yet. Amanda stuck by you, as did Edward Noyce. I threw my vote your way, God knows why, and we carried the vote."

"Thanks." Macen said cheerily.

"You could've fired us though." T'Kir insisted, "I could use the vacation."

"Ignore her." Macen urged, "She knows not what she says."

"Okay," McKinley laughed, "break it up. Do I have to separate you two?"

T'Kir crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out at Macen. He rolled his eyes and returned his attention to Johnson.

"So what does the Council want to do about the Romans?"

"I'm to pave the way for a Federation Diplomatic team." Johnson divulged.

Macen grinned, "A brilliant idea."

"Why are you so supportive of them?" Johnson asked, "This mutual admiration society you and the Romans are enjoying a mystery to me. According to your own report, they imprisoned you and tried to kill you."

"Pish posh." Macen waved the comment aside, "It was a simple misunderstanding."

"Are you sure you don't want to retire?" Johnson joked, "I think you've cracked up."

"Nonsense." Macen rebutted, "I am as sane as...well as her."

"Thanks." T'Kir retorted, "Label me as crazy why don'cha?"

"You were committed to an insane asylum." Macen reminded her.

"As if I don't remember that." T'Kir exclaimed, "Most boring two years of my life. Everyone was nuts."

"That's the point, m'love." Macen chuckled

"That's it." McKinley declared with a smile, "Opposite corners."

"If you don't mind I'll have a seat on the couch." Johnson said and lowered himself onto the sofa.

"You want anything?" McKinley asked.

"Two litres of Romulan Ale?" Johnson requested.

"That bad of a day?" McKinley asked.

"A Macen Council session is always taxing." Johnson admitted, "Our friend has an uncanny knack for creating situations with questionable legality."

"It's a gift." Macen smiled.

"Just be glad Jellico isn't on the Council any more." Johnson replied, "He'd have used this to ram down another prohibition of employing privateers."

"We survived it the last time it happened." Macen shrugged.

"The work was easier." T'Kir huffed.

"Seriously," Johnson leaned forward, "have you thought about retiring? You may have earned some powerful friends during the late domestic turmoil but you're fast using them up."

"Are you telling me its time to quit?" Macen asked.

"I'm suggesting to you that its time to be more circumspect." Johnson explained.

"I'd settle for you not creating a crisis every time you get an assignment. Take a break from old habits." McKinley added, "We have other assignments and we can't always be there."

"I'll keep it in mind." Macen promised.

"That's all we're asking for." Johnson said.

"Speak for yourself." McKinley interjected, "You're rolling in the latinum. Mind floating me a loan?"

Macen laughed, "We can discuss it later."

"Anything else we can do for you while we're here?" McKinley asked.

"I need a message sent to Starfleet requesting a salvage tug." Macen requested, "We think we can save the Obsidian."

"Is it possible?" McKinley wondered.

"My engineers are inspecting the hull even as we speak." Macen revealed.

"Well good luck. Losing a ship is hard." Johnson looked mischievous, "Although I suspect you're used to it by now."

"Ouch." Macen winced.

"Anyone else up for that Romulan Ale that was mentioned?" T'Kir asked.

McKinley looked at Johnson, "I am off duty."

"So am I." Johnson replied with a happy smile.

"It's a bit early for us." Macen commented then shrugged, "But what the hell? The company is worth it."

"Let's go." Johnson said gleefully.

"Hello?" a woman's voice called out, "Anybody there?"

Grace hit her head as she came out from underneath the helm. She muttered a particularly vile curse and rubbed her head. The voice called again.

"Is anyone here?"

"Yes." Grace yelled in annoyance, "I'm coming."

Grace scrambled to her feet and made for the hatch. She'd unzipped her flightsuit to her hips and shrugged out of the top of it. The sleeves were tied around her waist. Her gunbelt lay draped across a passenger seat.

Grace squinted as the sun hit her eyes. As her vision cleared, she made out two women standing in front of the shuttle. Both wore Starfleet uniforms. One, the younger, had two equipment cases draped from her shoulders.

"Can I help you?" Grace asked.

"No." Liefers replied, "But we can help you. We're Commander Delaney's rescue party."

Grace brightened, "Glad to hear it Lieutenant. But shouldn't you be putting your squadrons through their paces or conducting after action debriefings?"

Liefers smiled, "I've already done those. I'm all yours."

"Glad to hear it." Grace sighed, "Whose your friend?"

"This here is Ensign Emily Johnson, no relation to the big man. Johnson is one of our up and coming engineers. She's here to fix your ship." Liefers made the introductions then smiled, "With a little help from me of course."

"I'd be grateful." Grace admitted, "Come aboard."

Johnson trudged aboard and set her cases down. Liefers followed. They took a look around.

"Everything seems normal." Liefers commented, "There's no visible damage to the exterior or interior."

"You scanned the exterior already?" Grace asked.

"Yes." Liefers replied, "I did a visual search to confirm the readings."

"And?"

"Nothing." Liefers answered.

"That's what the Engineering and Ops stations say as well." Grace revealed, "But the helm is unresponsive. The board doesn't even activate."

Johnson shrugged out her uniform jacket. Next she rolled up her sleeves. Unzipping her shirt to her chest, she moved over to the Engineering station. She clapped her hands together and rubbed them.

"Talk to me." she said and sat down at the station. She closed her eyes and waited.

"What's she doing?" Grace whispered.

"Becoming one with the ship." Liefers whispered back.

"What?"

Liefers shrugged, "I don't know but it works."

Johnson's eyes flew opened and she furiously began working at the station. After a moment's worth of work, she frowned.

"This isn't right." she announced, "The diagnostics show the Helm as receiving power but we know that isn't right."

Grace looked abashed, "I missed that."

"That's why she's the engineer." Liefers said consolingly.

"Lieutenant," Johnson interjected, "would you man Ops? See if it shows a data feed to the Helm as well."

Lifers complied, "I don't see...wait, there it is. All systems read ‘green'. She shows she's active."

"Only she isn't." Johnson frowned, "Let's check the source. Shut your station down."

Liefers smiled as she did what she was told. Johnson was too deep in thought to remember the niceties of formal address so Liefers overlooked the omitted, "Ma'am".

Johnson moved to the centre of the shuttle's rear compartment and knelt. She opened a hatch and flipped open her tricorder. Visually examining the computer core, she noted a broken data shunt. She detached all of the various data shunts out of the core and hefted it to the deck.

Very intently, she scanned every inch of its surface and it's interior. Folding her tricorder shut she looked to Grace and Liefers, "This is the problem."

"The computer core?" Grace asked.

"Yep." Johnson wiped her hands of on her pant legs, "These things are hardened against electromagnetic interference, not impact."

Johnson stood, "There are fractures all across the matrices. The part of the computer that still works is just cycling the last scan completed before it was damaged. That accounts for the diagnostic discrepancy."

Grace looked over to Liefers, "She's good."

Liefers grinned, "You haven't seen anything yet."

"Please, I'm blushing." Johnson retorted then grew serious, "That accounts for the diagnostics but we still have a power flow problem that needs mending. But first, I have to complete this repair."

She rose and proceeded to her jacket. Plucking the comm badge off of it, she tapped it with her thumb, "Johnson to Smiley."

"Smiley here."

"Derek, I need you to replicate a computer core from a Danube-class runabout and beam it to my position." Johnson requested, "I also need a data shunt for the core."

"If I do this for you, will you be so grateful that you'll say "Yes" if I ask you out again?"

"Derek," Johnson scolded, "we've had this conversation."

"Had to try."

"Just get to the replicator and get my parts." Johnson instructed.

"Yes, ma'am. Smiley out."

"Now, we wait." Johnson said with a wry grin. She affixed the comm badge to her shirt and stepped out of the shuttle.

"I like her." Grace said to Liefers.

"Johnson is a good kid." Liefers agreed, "Caplan has plans for her."

Grace chuckled, "I bet."

"So," Liefers said cagily, "any thoughts on the suggestion I made to you the last time we met?"

"Which suggestion?" Grace wondered\.

"The one where you give up the glamorous life of a secret agent and become a fighter jock." Liefers reminded her, "You're a natural. I know a dozen Flight Ops commanders that would love to have you. I certainly would jump at the chance."

"I'm flattered." Grace admitted, "I really am."

"But?" Liefers asked.

"I owe it to Captain Macen and the team to stand by them." Grace explained.

"Is this a ‘Debt of Honour" kind of thing?" Liefers asked

"Yeah." Grace ruefully admitted, "I put them through hell and they stood by me. A few reluctantly did it but the point is they did it. I can't abandon them."

"Delaney will be disappointed." Liefers teased.

"Why is it that everyone that I talk to is trying to get me together with Ian Delaney?" Grace grew agitated.

"Maybe they know something you don't." Liefers offered.

"We're friends." Grace declared, "Period."

Liefers grinned, "I think thou dost protest too much."

"Whatever." a grumpy Grace replied.

Liefers merely smiled as Johnson reboarded the shuttle. She carried a computer core and a data shunt. The engineer knelt next to the core's access and storage port. She replaced the core and in installed it.

"Lieutenant, if you'll fire up the Ops station and test the core," Johnson suggested, "we'll see if this piece of junk works."

"Did Ensign Smiley program it?" Liefers enquired.

"If he didn't then I'll kill him." Johnson growled.

Liefers decided to leave that one alone. She fired up the Ops station and ran a diagnostic. She had to run a system calibration and then everything worked. A diagnostic revealed that Helm was not receiving data."

"It's working properly now." she announced.

"Good." Johnson replied. She sealed up the core's hatch and rose to her feet. returning to the Engineering station, she took a seat and activated the console.

"What do we have here?" she asked as she read the results of her diagnostic, "We have a disconnected power conduit at the third junction. Easy to fix."

"Well, it looks like you'll have your shuttle back, Lieutenant." Liefers commented as Johnson went to work.

"Why don't you join me for dinner as soon as the Ensign is done?" Liefers offered.

"It'd be lunch for me." Grace pointed out.

"Whatever works." Liefers smiled, "The boys and girls in the Squadron Mess would love to have you."

"All right." Grace nodded, "I'll do it."

"Good." Liefers was satisfied, "Once we can get this bird aloft and take her out on a shakedown flight, we can return to the Intrepid."

"Sounds good." Grace remarked.

 

Chapter Thirty-Five

"All right, move those cots into the detention area." Delaney instructed a team of Security officers. The forcefield was lowered and they proceeded into the confinement area. Daggit, Radil and Delaney stood vigil over the exposed Starfleet personnel. A team of engineers was erecting a tarpaulin roof over the detainees.

It took the Security team four forays into the detention zone to set up all the cots. Blankets were distributed and rations given at the same time.

"What?" a Solarian agent yelled as he held up a ration bar, "No warm meals?"

Daggit quailed the man with a look. The others shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. Delaney grinned.

"Nice trick." he murmured, "They actually think you'll kill them."

"I will." Daggit replied.

Delaney blinked. He was certain he'd misheard Daggit. Although, he conceded, the Angosian looked implacable. Delaney began to wonder if some of the wilder stories he'd heard about Macen's team were true.

Delaney shook his head. There's no way Hannah could be involved with a group as reckless as these people have been described as, he thought. Although, he knew from his own past that dark deeds were occasionally necessary. He couldn't condemn anyone for exceeding the usual bounds of morality in the pursuit of justice.

Still, Macen and company tended to fight criminals by being crazier and more ruthless than they were or so the stories went. The conviction in Daggit's voice certainly hinted at the truth behind the rumours. Radil's lack of response bespoke an intimacy with casual violence. Given her past it was to be expected Delaney supposed.

Delaney mentally shrugged and turned to Daggit and Radil, "It's been a pleasure working with you folks but my duty shift is up and I'm looking forward to a hot meal and some peace and quiet."

"Take care." Daggit replied, "We'll get back to our encampment in a moment or two."

"Tell Hannah I wish her luck." Radil smirked.

"All right." Delaney replied uncertainly, "If I see her that is."

Radil's smirk grew even more pronounced, "You're inventive. I'm sure you'll find a way."

"Right." Delaney was sceptical. He tapped his comm badge, "Delaney to Intrepid, one to transport."

Delaney disappeared in a shimmer of energy. Radil grinned and punched Daggit on the shoulder.

"No matter what happens tonight, that boys in for an interesting evening."

Daggit nodded, "I'm sure he is. Let's call Rhiann. I'm done here."

"Sounds good to me Boss."

Everyone in McKinley's quarters was enjoying a good laugh. McKinley took another shot of Romulan ale and shook his head, "He honestly thought he was a three year old girl after T'Kir was done with him? Remind me never to call you in on a hostage situation."

Macen grinned, "At least you'd know it'd be resolved."

"I just don't know how I'd be able to present it in my log." McKinley chuckled.

Macen's grin turned sly, "The worst part was when Dinnuvio wanted us to sing him a lullaby."

"You're certain you don't want any ale?" Johnson asked.

"I'm fine with my coffee." Macen replied.

"Just out of morbid curiosity," Johnson began, "may I ask why you don't want any? Do you just find it revolting or is there another reason? As best as I can recall, I've never seen you imbibe."

"And you won't." Macen said with a rueful smile, "I have nothing against alcohol. I just don't like its effects."

"That's why you drink it slowly." Johnson chuckled.

Macen shook his head, "My people have a problem with liquor. It causes dimensional dissonance."

"Dimensional what?" McKinley asked.

Macen smiled, "My people exist on more than one plane of reality at a time. Alcohol causes us to lose our footing on this reality, our baseline, and get lost in other planes of existence."

Johnson and McKinley exchanged glances. Johnson shifted his attention to T'Kir, "And what about you my dear?"

T'Kir finished her glass, "I just screw around in other people's minds."

McKinley cleared his throat, "Want another?"

T'Kir shook her head, "One's my limit. Any more and I'll lose all my restraint."

"It's just as well." Johnson sighed, "Its getting rather late for us."

Macen stood and handed his mug back to McKinley, "It's just as well. We have things that need looking after."

"I'm thinking about inviting Admiral Scipio over." Johnson revealed, "Any chance you'd put a good word in for me?"

"I'll order him to attend." Macen grinned, "He'll show."

"Whatever works." Johnson chuckled.

"I detailed your situation to Starfleet Command." McKinley added, "They're sending a ship to pick up your crew and a salvage team."

"Thank you." Macen said gratefully, "For everything."

McKinley shrugged, "We were passing by the neighbourhood and thought we'd stop by."

"Do you need assistance find the transporter room?" Johnson enquired.

"We're good." Macen assured him.

"See ya." T'Kir interjected on their way down the corridor.

"Do you think she was reading our minds?" McKinley wore a lopsided grin.

"Will we ever know is the question." Johnson remarked.

"That pair definitely form an unholy alliance." McKinley observed, "I'd hate to be the one threatening them."

"Too true." Johnson mused, "Well, good night Jim. Thank you for the ale."

"As if I need to remind you that the door's always open." McKinley smiled.

After dinner in the Pilot's Mess, Grace had tracked down Alessandro Pedrossi. The two had spent a quiet hour in the Officer's Mess comparing notes on starship navigation. Finding some of her complaints regarding the helm controls mirrored by her younger counterpart, Grace felt rather justified as she left the Mess. She also wondered if she'd ever been as young as Pedrossi.

She was wandering by Delaney's quarters when Delaney appeared. He was walking down the corridor towards his quarters. He seemed distracted. He was staring at the floor and she could swear he was muttering to himself.

Grace leaned up against the bulkhead next to his door. Delaney grew closer and a grinning Grace couldn't resist the urge to speak any longer.

"You aren't very observant." she teased, "And you being the Tactical Officer. For shame."

Delaney snapped to. His eyes focused on Grace and he grinned in relief, "Hannah, it's you. I was just going to start looking for you."

"I'm here." Grace waved her hands up and down her body.

Delaney's grin widened, "I can see that. You make a very inviting sight to come home to."

Grace smiled, "I aim to please."

"Want to come in?"

Grace brightened, "I thought you'd never ask, chum."

They entered his quarters and Delaney called for the lights. The lights came on and Grace took a look around. Holo pictures littered a corner of Delaney's living quarters and she strolled over and began to examine them.

"Is this your family?" she asked.

Delaney came up behind her, "Yes. That was all of us before my parents died. I still have my brother but it's still not the same."

"I'm sorry." Grace squeezed his shoulder, "I know how hard it is to lose someone."

Delaney's eyes met hers, "I guess you would. Losing your family and your entire race must be difficult as well. Why'd you choose humanity over your people?"

Grace shrugged, " I chose my adopted family. I'd hurt the others so badly. All I wanted was a chance to make it up to them."

"Do you ever regret it?"

Grace held herself, "Sometimes. Late at night I sometimes play the ‘what if' game."

"And in the morning?" Delaney wondered.

"I'm always relieved that I made the decision I did." Grace asserted confidently.

"Look, I was going to take a shower." Delaney explained, "Do you mind waiting?"

"Sure." Grace said brightly, "Take your time."

"Thanks." Delaney eagerly took off into the bedroom.

"This part was unexpected." Grace murmured and sat down on the couch. She folded her arms over her chest and waited while the sonic shower hummed. It turned off almost as fast as it had come on. A few minutes later, Delaney appeared wearing his uniform pants and a regulation undershirt.

"Do you ever step out of uniform?" Grace laughed.

"When I'm on leave." Delaney insisted, "Or undercover."

"Like on Risa?" Grace asked.

"Exactly." Delaney nodded.

"As I recall, you tried to disarm me when we met. You tried and failed." Grace teased.

Delaney grinned ruefully, "I remember. I was impressed. Still am."

"I have moves you haven't dreamt of." Grace smiled.

"I wouldn't be so sure." Delaney rubbed the back of his neck, "Look, there's something I've been meaning to tell you."

"Don't tell me you've met someone and we can't be friends any more." Grace was crestfallen.

"No." Delaney replied then more forcefully, "No. God, no."

"Thank god." Grace sighed.

"No, it's not that but it is about us." Delaney informed her.

Grace was apprehensive again, "What?"

"I've been doing a lot of thinking." Delaney ran a hand through his hair, "A helluva lot of thinking actually. We share so many of the same passions. You're intelligent, funny and beautiful. I look forward to you letters every day and I spend half my time thinking up reasons to send you a message."

"The plain truth of the matter is that I can't get you off my mind. I'm crazy about you. It's just that lately I've been thinking about what if we explored a relationship. Nothing concrete. No forced commitments but a chance to see if something develops."

Delaney looked expectantly at Grace, "That's it. I've spilled my guts, laid my soul bare. All I can do now is ask you, what do you think? Am I crazy?"

Grace bit her lower lip. She stared at Delaney for several moments and then she dove off the couch and tackled Delaney. Her lips met his and she kissed him hungrily. After several kisses, she sat up, straddling him.

"Does this mean yes?" Delaney grinned.

"Shut up and take me to bed." Grace ordered in a husky voice as she lowered herself atop Delaney.

"Gahhh!" Danan came awake with a start. She found herself drenched with sweat, sitting atop a pair of cots in a...tent? She scooted to the edge of the cots and gingerly put her feet on the ground. Socks? she wondered.

Danan had no memory whatsoever of taking her boots off much less arriving in this tent. The last thing she recalled was working over the Omicron corpse. Danan groaned. Has that bloody thing done something to me? Danan began searching for her equipment belt in the gloom that permeated the tent.

"Ow!" Danan cried out as she ran her head into a hanging object. She examined it with her hands and discovered that it was a field lamp. She switched it on and its light illuminated every corner of the tent. Standing stocking footed, she planted her fists on her hips and surveyed the area.

Sonic shower, hmmm. I could use that. Danan mused, wrinkling her nose at her own stench. She noticed the duffel bags across the way and she knelt to inspect them. Definitely my clothes. she concluded. Grabbing what she needed, she went to the refresher portion of the tent and zipped the "door" closed.

Using the portable toilet first, Danan finished stripping and activated the shower. Modulated sound waves washed over her, stripping her body of the unwanted debris and secretions. Danan groaned and stretched. A side effect of the harmonics was that they gave you a total body massage.

Reluctantly, Danan deactivated the shower and bent to retrieve her change of clothes. She dressed quickly. She unzipped the room divider and emerged clothed in sweat pants and a tank top. Using something T'Kir described as a "scrunchie", Danan pulled her hair back. She moved to the foot of the cots and found her boots and equipment belt. Retrieving her tricorder, she sat down and began reviewing the data she'd collected from Ezexial's corpse so far.

"Damn it." she muttered, "I'm missing something."

You're missing a laboratory. her mind taunted. Danan sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. I'm getting nowhere fast.

She heard voices outside of her tent and a shape loomed in front of her "doorway". Danan scrambled for her phaser and pulled it free in time for the "menace" to speak.

"Lees?" Riker softly called, "Are you up?"

Danan sagged in relief. She stood and went to the flap. She unzipped it and found a grinning Riker holding two trays of food. The smells were tantalising her.

"Going to shoot me, huh?" he teased.

"Shut up and get in here." Danan demanded, "Don't drop the food."

Riker bowed, "As you command."

Riker stepped into the tent and placed the trays, side by side, on the cots. He then retrieved the wrapped silverware from his flightsuit's breast pocket and laid it out next to the food. Danan was mesmerised.

"It's all yours." Riker coaxed her, "I've already had mine. Kort dropped by a few minutes ago and said you'd be rousing soon so I grabbed you one of everything."

"It's beautiful." a salivating Danan murmured. She plopped down on the cots next to the trays and grabbed a fork. She began tearing away at her food wolfing down one bite after another.

Riker chuckled, "Easy Lees. You don't want to get cramps."

"I haven't eaten in two days." she protested through a full mouth.

"We'd guessed that." Riker revealed.

"'We'?" Danan repeated, taking a pull from her glass.

"You've had a very thorough going over first by Dr. Sikorsky and then by Kort." Riker explained, "They're mutual prescription was for rest and refreshments."

"Andreja?" Danan's eyes went wide, "I needed to talk to her. I need a lab..."

Riker smiled, "It's taken care of. Brin arranged for that brute of a corpse to be transferred to the Intrepid. Sikorsky herself will assist you in performing the autopsy."

"When?" Danan asked eagerly.

"As soon as you're up for it." Riker revealed.

Danan stood, "Let's go."

"At ease Space Cadet." Riker laughed, "You still haven't filled all of your prescription. Besides, Sikorsky's off duty and probably asleep by now."

Danan subsided, "First thing tomorrow morning then."

Riker held up his hands, "I won't try and stop you."

Danan hesitated, "Thank you." She paused again, "You know, I'm starting to get glimmers from my trip here. I can remember someone getting me to the shuttle. The shuttle lifted off and then set down. Someone else picked me up and carried me away."

Danan's sea green eyes bored into Riker's blue ones, "What I remember most is that I felt safe."

Riker smiled and Danan asked, "That was you, wasn't it?"

Riker nodded, "It was the least I could do."

"It's been a long time since I felt that way." Danan admitted, "Thank you for that."

"What's the motto of the SID? ‘We aim to please'?" Riker joked.

"Not in this outfit." Danan snorted.

"Anyway," Riker got back on topic, "I know I came on a little strong at first. I'm still really sorry about that. I just wanted to prove to you, and me, that I can show my appreciation for you without making demands."

Danan smiled as she nodded, "Thank you. It's appreciated."

"And before I forget," Riker produced a hypo, "Kort wants you to inject this before you go to bed."

"What is it?"

"It's a sleep aid." Riker answered, "It'll help you rest better and longer."

"Okay." Danan agreed, "But won't you be here to inject it for me?"

Riker grinned, "I will. But first I have to talk with Brin."

"Uh oh." Danan grimaced, "Trouble?"

Riker shrugged, "We'll see."

"Good luck." Danan called as Riker exited the tent, "I'll be waiting."

Grace slid atop Delaney ands sat up. Delaney drank her in with his eyes.

"You're incredible."

Grace laughed, "You have no idea."

"I want to find out." Delaney assured her.

"Ian," Grace bit her lip, "I have to warn you..."

"Warn me about what?" Delaney asked.

"Compared to average humans I'd be considered...genetically enhanced. My people represent the perfect human genome at this stage of evolution." Grace explained.

"What's that have to do with what we're about to do?" Delaney wondered if she was trying to kill the mood.

"It means I'm about to rock your world." Grace declared.

"You already have." confessed Delaney.

Grace lowered herself down and throatily whispered in his ear, "Not like this."

Ten minutes later, a passer by in the corridor outside Delaney's quarters heard the Lt. Commander scream, "Oh my God!!!!!" She tapped her comm badge and alerted Security as she hurried past.

"Brin." Riker greeted as he approached the table where Macen and T'Kir sat, "T'Kir."

"'Lo Tom." T'Kir grinned, "You're in trouble."

"You've heard?" Riker grimaced.

Macen chuckled, "Calm down, Tom. I'm not mad. I find your solution to be rather eloquent. I was just wondering why you didn't come to me with it first before announcing it to the crew?"

"You could say it was my first, and last, command decision as Captain of the Obsidian. You aptly demonstrated that you were ultimately going to retain command no matter what our respective titles were. I just patched the holes up in the command structure and delineated the spheres of responsibility." Riker replied.

"You're sure this is what you want to do?" Macen asked.

"Whether I want to or not it's what has to be." Riker suddenly grinned, "And I'm off the hook when it comes to personnel management. Shannon's better at it anyways."

Macen smiled, "If you're happy then so am I."

Riker shook his offered hand, "I think this will work out." Riker grinned ruefully, "If we have a ship."

"Joachim's team just made their report." Macen divulged, "The secondary hull held. She's salvageable. A Starfleet retrieval team is on their way."

"How much yard time?" Riker wondered.

Macen shook his head, "To soon to estimate."

"You really want to sail in her again, don'cha?" T'Kir observed.

"She stood by us." Riker opined, "We should do the same for her."

T'Kir poked Macen, "Remember that. Stand by me."

"Always." Macen promised.

"How's Lees?" T'Kir asked.

Riker brightened, "She's up...for now. She's looking forward to performing the autopsy with Sikorsky tomorrow."

T'Kir shivered, "Yuck."

"I never knew you were squeamish." Riker's grin was absolutely triumphant.

"I've dealt with enough corpses, thank you." T'Kir declared, "I don't need to go looking for them and slice 'em up into little bits."

"Too true." Macen concurred.

"You too?" Riker was surprised, "You were a scientist."

"I'm a social scientist." Macen clarified, "I study past and living cultures. Archives rarely bite. Some of the cultures might but they're just being friendly when they do it."

"Ever wish you'd stuck to the academic arena?" Riker wondered.

"Sometimes." Macen shrugged, "But I can't give up this life of crime now."

"What about you?" Riker asked T'Kir, "Any regrets?"

"Nope."

Riker was startled, "None? Come on."

"I couldn't change myself and I'm what drove me to make the decisions I made. I like myself so I don't see any reason to regret what's happened."

"That...that's surprisingly well adjusted." Riker had to admit.

"Don't sound so surprised." T'Kir huffed.

"It's down right...normal."

"No need to get insulting." T'Kir protested.

Macen laughed, "I think you've struck a chord."

Riker nodded, "I think I have. T'Kir, you may be the sanest one out of us all."

"I coulda told ya that." T'Kir remarked, "I'm sane. It's the rest of the universe that's cracked."

Riker laughed, "I'll remember that."

"Enough of me." T'Kir shooed Riker away, "Get back to Lees. She needs you."

"I hope so."

"Keep the faith." T'Kir urged. Riker grinned, waved and walked away.

"Man's got a lot on his mind." T'Kir commented.

"Did you read him?" Macen wondered.

"He was thinking so loud it gave me a headache." T'Kir complained, "He's worried about the ship. He's worried about the crew. He's worried about the team. He's worried about you and me but most of all he's worried about Lees."

"How's he doing with it all?" Macen asked.

"He knows there's nothing much he can do so he does what he can and calls it good." T'Kir divulged.

"Good for him." Macen smiled, "He's learning."

"Not from you." T'Kir insisted.

"Even better." Macen's smile grew, "This way he'll internalise it."

"Are you done with your plate yet?" T'Kir demanded.

"What's your hurry?"

"I want to go back to our tent."

"Why?"

"Why do you think?"

Macen's eyes widened in realisation, "Okay, I'm done."

"You didn't take much convincing." T'Kir laughed.

"Should I?"

"No." T'Kir fervently shook her head, "You get rid of the plates and I'll go back to the tent."

Macen grinned, "I'll see you in a minute."

"It'd better only be a minute." T'Kir warned, "I mean it."

"It will be." Macen assured her, "I swear."

Macen hurried to the kitchen area and tossed his trays and plates into the growing pile. Running, he returned to the tent and entered it. Zipping the flap shut behind him, he and T'Kir quickly forgot the troubles of the outside world.

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

A panting Delaney swore as his comm badge started chirping. He rolled over and picked it. Tapping it with his thumb, he spoke.

"Delaney here." he gasped.

"Commander," McKinley's voice came across the circuit, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." Delaney struggled to catch his breath, "Why?"

"Security was alerted to a disturbance in your quarters." the CO explained, "They commed you but there was no reply. They've been outside your door for ten minutes chiming you and you haven't responded. Finally they alerted me. What's the matter?"

"Nothing." Delaney swallowed hard, "I've been...busy."

"What kind of explanation is that, mister?"

"It isn't one." Delaney replied miserably.

Grace giggled.

"Is someone there with you?" McKinley enquired.

"Yes sir." Delaney sighed, "Hannah Grace is in my quarters."

Delaney could visualise the smirk on McKinley's face, "Carry on then. McKinley out."

Delaney dropped the offending badge and flopped over onto his back. Grace smiled indulgently.

"Poor baby." she cooed, "Need a rest?"

"Hell no." Delaney grinned, "When the thrill ride is over you get back into line."

Grace smiled, "Good. I like your thinking mister. As your Captain told you, carry on. Pleasure me until I scream for mercy."

"I'll do my humble best."

The next morning, Danan emerged from her tent. She took a look around. Macen and T'Kir were playfully emerging from their tent. The object seemed to be to tickle and poke the other person while they attempted to zip the front flap shut. Shrieks and yelps abounded.

Danan strolled over to them, "Need a referee?"

They stopped and wore gleeful grins. T'Kir spoke first.

"Good to see you rested."

Danan nodded, "Feels good to be rested."

"How long did you go without sleep?" Macen enquired.

"Almost a week." Danan glumly admitted.

Macen opened his mouth but T'Kir pushed him aside, "Let me handle this." Wagging a finger at Danan's nose, T'Kir launched into a tirade, "We need you, Lisea. We don't need a lifeless husk of a Sciences Specialist. We require you to be alert and actively engaged in whatever task you're assigned to. Besides," T'Kir shrugged, "you're more fun that way."

Danan looked past T'Kir. Macen held his hands up. Slowly, a rueful smile crept across Danan's face.

"All right. Point taken."

"Good." T'Kir said pointedly and she turned to Macen, "See? This command stuff is simple." T'Kir marched off, leaving two stunned teammates in her wake.

"What did you feed her this morning?" Danan enquired.

"Nothing." a beleaguered Macen answered, "We haven't eaten yet.

"Maybe that's it." Danan said slowly, "What's she have in store for today?"

"Securing the ship's computer core." Macen revealed, "Fates help whoever gets in her way."

"You could have told me that before." Danan remarked.

Macen shrugged helplessly, "Who knew?"

T'Kir took her tray and sat down at a vacant table. Unexpectantly, Grace plopped down next to her. Grace was smiling deliriously. T'Kir's eyes widened in surprise.

"You've had sex!" she accused.

"Keep it down." Grace hissed, "I didn't want to make a shipwide announcement."

"It was Ian Delaney, wasn't it?" T'Kir eagerly asked.

"Why do I get the feeling you know the answer to that without reading my mind?" Grace grew suspicious.

"I can't read yours but I can read his." T'Kir smiled coyly, "He fell for you since the moment you met him on Risa. He took one look at you and the boy was gone."

"You've known?" Grace accused, "You've known all this time and you didn't tell me?"

"Sweetie, some things are better when you find them out for yourself." T'Kir counselled.

"Thanks a lot." Grace gave T'Kir a raspberry.

"I tried to steer you in the right direction." T'Kir reminded her, "You kept up with the same mantra, ‘we're just friends'. Whatta load of crap."

Macen and Danan came up to the table carrying their trays. Danan smiled.

"Who's the lucky guy, Hannah?"

Grace's head sank to the tabletop, "Do I just have it stamped on my forehead?"

"Don't feel bad." Macen advised, "Enjoy the moment."

"I want another moment." Grace said, head still down.

"Give it time, Sweetie." T'Kir stroked Grace's head, "I'm sure you'll have another romp."

Grace's head came up and she sat up straight, "I feel like I actually have a chance to build something here, if I don't screw it up."

"If you're always worried about destroying a new relationship, then you will." Danan pointed out, "It's a self fulfilling prophecy."

"So," Grace frowned, "just go with it and let things happen on their own."

"To a point." Danan clarified, "You also have to make your desires and feelings known."

"So far that's not a problem." Grace stated.

"Honesty, understanding, and the ability to compromise on the little things are the secrets of success." Danan said, "But honesty is the most important."

Grace nodded, "Got it. I think."

T'Kir squeezed her shoulder, "You'll do fine."

"I think I'll get some food now." Grace said and rose.

As she walked away, the other three huddled. Danan asked the question on everyone's mind, "Who won the pool?"

"I came close but I don't remember if anyone else is closer." T'Kir admitted.

"The padd with the estimates is in my Ready Room." Macen revealed, "I'll go aboard and get it."

"I wish I would have won." Danan admitted, "I just thought she'd be more skittish than she was."

"I didn't win either and I'm the empath." Macen admitted.

"That leaves Tom, Parva, Rab, Jenrya and Kort unaccounted for." T'Kir ticked off.

"Where are the tickets?" Danan asked.

"On reserve." Macen answered.

"Two weeks on Risa." Danan sighed, "All expenses paid. I could live with that."

"You'll have to settle for something local for now." Macen grinned.

"Spoilsport." Danan groused.

"So?" Liefers demanded, "Who won? Caplan or Striker?"

Liefers, Pedrossi, Johnson and McKinley were gathered in the Captain's Ready Room. McKinley was reviewing the data on a padd.

"Neither." McKinley said with surprise.

"They're his two best friends." Pedrossi protested, "How could they miss it?"

"Don't leave us hanging, Jim." Johnson insisted, "Who won?"

The door chime sounded and McKinley responded, grateful for the interruption, "Come."

Sikorsky walked in, wearing a knowing smile; "I expect to take my leave before the month is out." With that said, Sikorsky turned and exited the room. The room was stunned.

"She's a psychiatrist." Liefers protested, "Is that fair? I don't think that's fair."

McKinley grinned and held up the padd, "It's right here. She almost called it to the day. She was just a week off." McKinley grew more formal, "A wager is a wager. She won. That's it."

Liefers slumped, "You're right. But how?"

Johnson wore a philosophical smile, "We may never comprehend the mystery."

"All right, everyone back to their posts." McKinley ordered. Johnson left as well. McKinley studied the padd. Sikorsky never failed to amaze him. With one final shake of his head he sat the padd down and started piledriving through the various reports stacking up on his desk.

Daggit pulled up his pants and fastened them. Parva wrapped a blanket around her torso and watched. She smiled as Daggit's head emerged from the tee shirt he was pulling on.

"What?" he asked.

"Just basking in the moment." Parva confided, "What we did was nice. It was different then I remember. Gentler, more intimate."

"I enjoyed it too." Daggit admitted, "It brought out a side of me that I rarely see."

"Do you wish I'd lost my memory before?" Parva asked, "Were you unhappy?"

Daggit was shocked and it showed, "No. I wasn't unhappy. You were harder. Fiercer. But I was never unhappy. I loved you then and I love you now. I accept you for who you are."

Parva smiled in relief, "I'm glad. I was starting to worry."

Daggit knelt. He leaned forward and kissed her, "There'll be days when I'm unhappy and you will be too. They'll pass and we'll endure."

"That's why I'm so excited that you asked me to move in." Parva said happily.

Daggit shifted, "I wanted to talk to you about that."

"No." Parva was despondent, "You've changed your mind."

"No." he assured her, "But I have something to ask you. I've wanted to for a while but quite frankly I was intimidated."

"Me?" Parva was delighted, "I intimidated you? This is priceless. Who can I tell?"

Daggit looked uncomfortable, "I'd rather not have anyone know."

"Of course." Parva said consolingly.

"Back to the question." Daggit insisted, "Parva, will you marry me?"

"Are you serious?" she asked.

"Yes, I am." Daggit said firmly.

She was stunned, "I never thought... Of course I say yes!"

She threw the blanket aside and lunged over to him, embracing him, "I can't believe it."

"You'd better start." Daggit said as he squeezed her.

"When?" she asked as she pushed herself off of him.

"As soon as we can make preparations." Daggit revealed.

"I'll start planning as soon as we get back to Barrinor." she clapped her hands.

Daggit rose, "I'm looking forward to it."

"Do you have to go?" she wheedled.

"I have interrogations to conduct." Daggit said solemnly, "I can't shirk my responsibilities."

"Of course." she pouted.

He bent over and kissed her again, "I'll be back this evening."

"Looking forward to it." Parva confessed.

"Me too." Daggit unzipped the flap and exited the tent. He zipped it shut again. Parva laid down again and smiled beatifically. I'm getting married. she thought giddily.

"Let's begin." Sikorsky said for the examination lab's recorder, "The trauma to the neck is the most obvious cause of death. However, the mapping of the victim's anatomy will determine the exact cause of death. Begin scanning please."

Danan activated the table's scanners. A holographic image of the body appeared above it at chest level. Sikorsky took a moment to examine the image and then the body.

"Features of the scan image appear to correlate with the physical specimen. We will now begin to explore the interior of this being." Sikorsky related, "Please strip away the epidermal layer."

The image's skin disappeared. Ezexial's musculature was laid bare. Danan carefully rotated the image, revealing every cranny.

"The subject was very robust." Sikorsky recorded, "His musculature is highly developed. It is reasonable to assume that this would grant him superior reflexes and strength compared to the average humanoid species found in the Alpha Quadrant."

"There's a deviation at both wrists." Danan reported.

"Highlight." Sikorsky instructed.

Images of the wrists appeared above the original image. They were several times larger than Ezexial's wrists. Sikorsky frowned.

"Implants." she determined, "But they don't register with the sensors as being different than the implanted tissues."

"The Omicron are masters of biotechnology." Danan remarked, "They could easily construct a device out of his own cells."

"Isolate one of the implants." Sikorsky requested, "Let's see if we can determine what these things are for."

"Got it." Macen announced as he exited the Ready Room.

"So who won?" T'Kir asked as she inputted a series of commands.

"Parva nailed it." Macen revealed, "She was off by two days."

"How the frinx could she do that?" T'Kir demanded.

"I don't know but she gets a round trip, all expenses paid vacation for two to Risa." Macen grinned.

T'Kir muttered a particularly vile curse and Macen shook his head, "Listen with everything she's been through on this trip, I'm glad it's her. She could use a break."

T'Kir swivelled around to face him, "Speaking of Parva, what are we gonna do about her?"

"'We'?" Macen asked.

"Am I or am I not your business partner?" T'Kir huffed.

"You are." Macen allowed.

"So its ‘we'." she heatedly declared.

"She was injured in the line of duty." Macen reminded her, "It's only right that we keep her on the payroll and help her find a job that she can do."

"You think retraining is gonna stick?" T'Kir asked sceptically.

"She retained the first aid training the EMH gave her." Macen replied.

"She has the skill equivalent of a engineering tech." Macen said, "I've checked her qualification test scores. She's qualified to do basic maintenance. I'd keep her aboard as a rating but her heart can't take the stress of emergency situations."

"So we retrain her and give her a job on the ground." T'Kir decided.

"That was my thought." Macen admitted.

"Okay." T'Kir said happily, "I approve of this plan."

Macen bowed, "Thank you."

T'Kir tapped in a few more commands and the computer suddenly froze, "There! Everything is encrypted. No one's accessing our files now."

"C'mon, let's pay Joachim's team a visit." Macen suggested.

"Nope." T'Kir shook her head, "I have to find Hannah. Girl talk."

"You just want the gory details." Macen accused.

"Of course." T'Kir called the lift, "See ya."

The doors opened and T'Kir stepped in. As the doors were closing, she blew him a kiss. Macen stood there shaking his head.

"She never ceases to amaze me." Macen muttered and walked over to the lift.

Radil was striding through the tent city on the way to the shuttle when Kort literally ran into her.

"I'm sorry." Kort stammered, "My apologies."

"Dammit Kort!" Radil shouted, "Stop falling all over yourself when I'm around."

"I'm sorry."

"And stop apologising all the time." Radil snapped.

"What do you want?" Kort demanded, "What do you want me to be?"

Radil sighed, "I want you to be you. I want you to find a woman that will accept and love you. I want you to raise fat babies and regale them with tales of your exploits with the SID and Outbound Ventures." Radil listed, "Most of all, I want us to go our separate ways. What we had was fun and it was what we both needed at the time but our needs have changed. I want us to remain friends but if that's not possible we can at least be comrades in arms. Above all else, I want you to be happy."

Kort digested this, "You are right. I haven't been true to myself. I must retain my honour above all else."

"Then do that." Radil urged, "My demands and needs will only prevent you from achieving that."

"You are wise." Kort commented, "You are a good...friend."

"Let's leave it that way and grow from the experience." Radil suggested.

Kort slowly nodded, "Yes. As Dracas would say, ‘It will be done'."

Radil chuckled, "What do you think of our new, intrepid teammate and Chief Engineer?"

"Macen seems certain of him." Kort replied, "That's all that matters."

"Hmmm." Radil pondered this, "I'm still going to watch him. His loyalties are with his Emperor not with us."

"Perhaps." Kort allowed, "Loyalties change. Look at Grace or yourself."

"Me?' Radil protested, "I was a mercenary. Macen hired me."

"But you've stayed throughout all our trials." Kort countered, "You've developed a sense of loyalty and even affection for your teammates."

"Maybe." Radil conceded, "But don't tell anyone."

"I won't." Kort promised.

"Your word as a warrior." Radil insisted.

"I pledge my silence upon my honour." Kort vowed.

"All right." Radil nodded decisively, "I'm on my way to the shuttle. I'll see you later."

"Thank you." Kort said.

"For what?" Radil was getting impatient.

"For caring."

Radil frowned, "Just don't tell anyone."

"Of course." Kort smiled, "Hurry. You don't want to miss your shuttle."

Radil walked away then turned, "Anyone. Understand?"

Kort laughed and waved her on. As she turned Kort went on his way. He felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. What you have been feeling has been obsession not love. he counselled himself. Now he could finally stop the madness before it consumed him.

Danan and Sikorsky exited the lab. Danan wiped her brow.

"I'm glad that's over. All this biological sciences shuk is beyond me."

Sikorsky smiled, "Not so. You have the instincts for it. You found those implants, remember? I missed them."

"You would have noticed them." Danan assured her, "How did you know they were implants as soon as you saw them?"

"The scarring of the muscle tissue." Sikorsky explained, "It wouldn't have been there if it was a natural growth."

"Nasty bit of engineering." Danan observed, "Those stingers delivered the most lethal venom I've heard of."

"It was similar to the VX gas developed in the 20th century." Sikorsky went into lecture mode, "VX was an aerosol and this was an aqueous variant but the base chemistry was the same."

"It's no wonder he was trying grab Brin." Danan remarked.

"He wouldn't have lived for more than sixty seconds if he'd been caught." Sikorsky opined. She scrutinised Danan for a moment then spoke, "You still care for him."

"Who?"

"Commander Macen." Sikorsky said, "Are you still in love with him?"

"I thought I was but the same problem existed as before when I broke it off with him." Danan revealed.

"T'Kir." Sikorsky deduced.

"Got it in one." Danan wore a wry smile.

"That must have been painful." Sikorsky empathised.

"For a while but time heals and all that." Danan remarked, "Now I'm exploring new options."

"Sounds good." Sikorsky replied.

"It's confusing." Danan admitted, "I've got eight lifetimes worth of experience and I still am not sure how I feel."

"You may have the collected memories of eight other individuals that lived full lives but Lisea is still a relatively young woman. Give it time."

Danan's smile widened, "Sounds like something I said recently."

"Listen to yourself." Sikorsky suggested.

"Easier said than done." Danan complained.

"Isn't it the truth?" Sikorsky asked.

"Well, what now?" Danan enquired.

"How about a snack?" Sikorsky suggested, "Working with corpses always works up my appetite."

"That's slightly morbid."

Sikorsky frowned, "Think of it as comfort food."

"I could handle that." Danan agreed.

"The Mess is this way." Sikorsky jerked her thumb in the appropriate direction.

"Lead on."

 

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Seated before a portable comm unit set up on a table erected near the medical tent, Macen talked to a sceptical looking Scipio, "Yes. When Admiral Johnson extends an invitation for you to join him I want you to do it."

"And why is this?" Scipio still looked doubtful.

"Johnson's going to make several proposals. You need to evaluate them in terms of the security and prosperity of Magna Roma. Present them to Emperor Alaric if you find them acceptable."

Scipio pondered this for a moment and then nodded, "Very well. It will be done as you say."

"That's all I ask." Macen assured him.

"If that is all?" Macen nodded in answer to Scipio's question, "Scipio out."

"Having fun?" he heard T'Kir's jubilant voice ask.

Macen turned and T'Kir was approaching him. She wore a happy, victorious smile. She came to stand behind him.

"Found what you were after?" Macen enquired.

"Oh yeah." T'Kir's smile widened.

"Without revealing any details, what is the situation?"

"Without giving anything away, let's just say she's in for a fun ride." T'Kir shared, "He knows what to say and when to say it. He seems utterly sincere and he can shag like a rhino."

"That was slightly more information then I required." Macen wore a wry grin.

"Feeling inadequate?" T'Kir teased.

"You'll let me know when I am." Macen replied, "Until then I'll be content in my delusional self confidence."

"No worries." she assured him and bent to kiss him, "I'm well satisfied."

T'Kir planted her fists on her hips, "Now d'you have another call to make or are you gonna hog the transceiver all day?"

Macen rose and ushered her to her seat, "Be my guest."

"Thank you." T'Kir said, "Now piss off."

Macen wore a lopsided grin, "As you command, milady."

Macen strolled off and T'Kir activated the comm unit, "T'Kir to Intrepid."

There was a pause then McKinley's face appeared, "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I'd like to come aboard and get a haircut." T'Kir revealed.

"Your hair looks short enough already." McKinley opined.

"Trust me." T'Kir grinned, "I have a plan."

"Suit yourself. I'll alert the Transporter Room."

"Thanks. T'Kir out."

"I don't have to say anything." Ron Peters declared.

"That's true." Delaney replied from across the table set up in the conference room being used for the interrogations, "But you'll still be charged and the evidence points towards your being involved in this conspiracy."

"You can try and pin it on me." Peters remained defiant, "But my lawyer will chew these charges apart."

"Commander?" Daggit spoke, "Perhaps if you'd step outside for a moment?"

Delaney looked from Daggit to Radil. Both were preternaturally calm. It disturbed him. Both of these people were capable of incredible violence when the situation called for it and they were at their calmest in the heat of battle.

"I don't think..." Delaney began to protest.

"Commander." Daggit's tone was firmer, "This is primarily a SID investigation. We are cooperating with Starfleet but we retain jurisdiction. Don't force me to go over your head."

Anger washed through Delaney. The threat was implicit. He slowly rose.

"I'll be reporting any violations of this man's rights."

"You do that." Daggit said reasonably, "I promise we'll be gentle."

Disgruntled, Delaney exited the room. Daggit took Delaney's place. He levelled his gaze at Peters and began to speak softly.

"I'm not Starfleet." Daggit informed Peters, "I'm an officer of Outbound Ventures. You tasked Iotian ships to kill us and over one hundred of our fellow employees. You levelled our headquarters on the ground and crippled the remainder of our forces."

"I didn't do that." Peters declared.

"You processed the orders from your corporate executives that unleashed these forces and created these events." Daggit's voice retained its firm quietness, "Do you think I give a damn about what level of involvement you've had?"

"I don't think..."

"Shut up." Daggit said with iron resolution, "I'll tell you what I'll do if you don't cooperate. I'll begin with your fingers..."

Delaney had been standing outside for five minutes when the door to the conference room opened and revealed Daggit, "He'll talk now."

"What did you do?" Delaney demanded.

Daggit shrugged, "I talked to him."

Delaney squeezed past Daggit and took a look. Peters was white and sweating but he seemed unharmed. Radil was still placidly keeping a careful eye on Peters, alert to every movement the man made.

"You're certain he'll talk?" Delaney asked, still focused on the obviously terrified suspect.

"He's dying to confess." Daggit smiled thinly. It wasn't a pleasant sight.

"Lees!" Riker called out and jogged over to her position, "How'd the autopsy go?"

"Well enough." Danan replied, "I'm still lacklustre in the biological arena but I helped. Andreja did all the real work."

"Any exploitable weaknesses revealed?" Riker wondered.

"No." Danan shook her head, "Nothing beyond the norm of what we're used to. They're highly mineralised. They're almost a silicate lifeform but they share many traits with mammalian humanoids and saurians."

"Where are you headed?" Riker asked.

"I'm trying to find Brin." Danan confessed, "I want to report our findings."

"Want to do lunch afterwards?"

"Sure." Danan nodded, "Sounds good."

Riker grinned, "I'll see you then."

Riker walked off and Danan felt as confused as ever. She was fond of Tom and he was certainly attractive but did their affair have a chance of becoming a true romance? Patience, she told herself, heed your own advice. Resolved not to worry about it for now, she continued on her way, looking for Macen.

"So the warp core is shut down and the impulse reactor is being powered down even as we speak?" Macen asked.

Dracas nodded, "In twenty minutes, the entire ship will be lifeless. The salvage team will find her ready for towing."

"If they can lift her out of the atmosphere." Macen reminded Dracas, "Everything hinges upon that."

"It would be a shame to scuttle her." Dracas opined, "She seems to be a valiant vessel."

"We've barely begun to know her." Macen said wistfully.

"You fear she will not be recovered." it wasn't a question.

Macen nodded, "This is my dream command. I was actually offered command of a Nova-class ship once before. Of course, it was assigned to Starfleet Intelligence and relegated to information gathering rather than scientific inquiry. I turned it down in order to infiltrate the Maquis. Life twisted after that. I never thought I'd get another opportunity to command a ship like this."

Dracas wore a wry smile, "I know about unexpected events."

Macen silently urged him to speak and Dracas shrugged, "I worked on the construction of the Banner-class ships. I managed the orbital yards and tackled the most difficult engineering problems. Actually, the technology behind the Banners isn't terribly different than that of the Obsidian. That was why I easily passed your qualification exams."

"I'd wondered." Macen confessed.

Dracas chuckled, "I would to if a neo-barbarian suddenly mastered my tech base."

"So what happened to managing the fleet yards?" Macen asked, "You sound as though you were happy there."

"I was content." Dracas clarified, "I would have stayed there indefinitely. The Emperor had other plans for me. I assigned as Chief Engineer and 1st Officer of a Banner-class ship. The Javelin to be precise."

"And?"

"The Emperor desired to prove that a clone was as capable as any other officer in the fleet." Dracas said sadly, "The legionnaires, however, had difficulty obeying an engineer. When they discovered that I am a clone, they revolted. They would not follow a copy of a man."

"You'll note that you don't have that problem here." Macen pointed out, "Our culture doesn't care how a sentient came to be, they're still a sentient."

"It is appreciated." Dracas replied, "I find it very enlightened."

"We try." Macen grinned.

A flicker of a smile passed across Dracas' face, "There is much that the Federation could teach the Empire. Although, there is much that your Federation could learn from Rome."

"I'm sure that's true." Macen agreed, "That's what cultural exchanges are about. We can always learn something new from our neighbour."

"Magna Roma is hardly a ‘neighbour'." Dracas frowned.

"In interstellar terms, we're all becoming neighbours." Macen observed.

"Brin?" Danan's voice interrupted.

"'Lo Lees." Macen replied.

"I need to talk to you." Danan insisted, "We've completed Ezexial's autopsy and I have to report our findings."

"I think we're done here." Macen informed Dracas. The Roman nodded and strode off. Macen turned to face Danan.

"Let's get something to drink." he suggested.

"I'm fine." Danan shook her head.

"It wasn't a request, Lees." Macen revealed.

Macen led Danan back towards the picnic tables. He stopped at the portable replicators arranged stocked atop one another.

"Want anything?" he asked.

"I'll take a synthale, a port if you please."

Macen's eyebrow quirked, "This must be bad."

"It could be better." Danan replied.

Macen ordered her drink and handed it to her. He mustered up a coffee for himself. Next, he guided her to an empty table. As they sat down Macen smiled.

"Now what has you rattled?" he asked.

She took a pull from her glass then leaned forward, "Brin, according to all our known biological surveys, the Omicrons shouldn't exist."

Macen frowned, "What do you mean?"

"Their biology is too perfect." Danan answered, "It balances disparate elements to easily. Genetic flaws are almost unseen. We tried to take into account that the Omicron had had two hundred thousand years in which to toy with their own biology on a cellular level, after all, they do seem to have mastered the art of biotech."

"But you don't think these attributes are the result of their own efforts at improvement." Macen surmised.

"The altered elements show. They utilised implants for most of their alterations. We saw the results of their efforts to improve themselves." Danan reminded him, "Remember the Lowlies?"

"You have a point." Macen allowed, "But where does that leave us?"

"Brin, the Omicron have ten base pairs in their genes." Danan looked scared, "No lifeform in known space has ten base pairs. The average humanoid has four. A few species have been discovered with six but ten is unheard of. It's no wonder they reacted so easily to the ultra matter."

"So, in your estimate, what does this point to?" Macen enquired.

Danan leaned back and looked uncomfortable, "Ten base pairs give them the ability to evolve in months instead of tens of thousands of years. Their genome is too perfect. The only comparison we can draw is with the Jem'Hadar. That has some nasty implications."

"You're saying they may have been created, not naturally developed." Macen deduced.

"That's exactly the conclusion Andreja and I reached." Danan said emphatically, "That's why I'm sweating. Someone created these monsters. If they're still out there somewhere, we may not stand a chance even with the Kelvans on our side."

"Have you filed a report?" Macen asked.

Danan nodded, "Andreja and I dictated a joint report and attached all our finding to it. We sent it to Starfleet Intelligence and Starfleet Medical. They can wrestle with it for a while."

Macen stared off into the distance for a moment and then sighed, "Good job, Lees. I know you were out of your element so the effort is appreciated."

"What do you think of our conclusions?" Danan wondered.

"I'll worry about godlike aliens when we encounter them." Macen shook his head, "I hate godlike aliens."

"Some viewed the Borg the same way when we first encountered them." Danan remarked, "Then we discovered their weaknesses."

"I hate them too." Macen grumped.

Danan smiled, "Of course you do. Poor dear."

Macen rolled his eyes, "I'm not an emotional cripple. You don't have to nurture my feelings."

"I know." Danna assured him, "But it was the perfect opportunity to fire a shot across your bow."

Macen grunted, "Maybe."

"Have I told you how much I appreciate you?" Danan suddenly asked.

"What?" Macen was confused.

"I'm talking about us." Danan explained, "We could have hated each other after we broke up but you allowed me to come back and life has been good ever since. There isn't any awkwardness. Even T'Kir is fine with the situation."

"And that worried you?"

Danan nodded, "It did at first but everything slid into place over time."

"And now you're wondering whether or not you're burgeoning relationship with Tom will prove to be more than a recreational distraction?"

"Something like that." Danan admitted.

"To be honest, I don't think Tom's ready for that." Macen confided, "He thinks he is. He was with Jamie but he hasn't put her death behind him yet. That's why he came on so strongly at first."

Danan gaped, "How do you know that?"

"Lees," Macen said wearily, "I'm an empath. My wife is a telepath and one of the ship's biggest snoops. I couldn't possibly avoid knowing."

Danan frowned, "I thought she was past casually probing other people's minds."

"Surface thoughts broadcast like a loudspeaker." Macen explained, "They're like your emotions right now. They can't be ignored."

"So you say." Danan griped.

Macen rolled his eyes, "It happens. Deal with it."

Danan took another swig of her drink, "She'd better not run around telling everyone what I'm thinking."

"She only tells me." Macen assured her then twisted his lips into a rueful expression, "And Hannah. But that's it. We're the inner circle."

Danan sighed, "So where is the little mindwitch?"

Macen shrugged, "She's aboard the Intrepid. She didn't tell me why."

"Probably trolling for new victims." Danan grumbled.

"Lees!" Macen accused.

"I know, I know, deal with it."

T'Kir looked at herself in the mirror. She radiantly smiled. The results of her "cut" exceeded her expectations.

T'Kir brushed her raven hair. It now cascaded a third of the way down her back. She hadn't dared wear it this long since she was in the Maquis and then she'd totally lost control of her telepathy. She'd worn it short after that. She'd recently worn it at shoulder length but it wasn't as luxurious.

"Fetching look." Johnson grinned from the salon's entrance.

T'Kir curtsied, "Thank you. Hold your applause."

"It's a pretty drastic change." Johnson observed, "Why now?"

T'Kir shrugged, "It's almost a return to more innocent days. I wore my hair like this for years before I joined the Maquis. The style lasted for a few years into the struggle but then I had to cut it. I've always meant to grow it back. Now I can."

Johnson smiled, "It's good that you're happy."

T'Kir frowned as she tied a scarf around her head to keep her hair out of her eyes, "But you're not."

"I just read a very disturbing report prepared by Dr. Sikorsky and your Lisea Danan. It has grave portends."

"So why tell me?" T'Kir wondered, "This is Brin's arena."

"I'm sure he already knows the contents of the report." Johnson said, "Please relay a message for me. The contents of the report have been classified at the highest level. He's to discuss it with no one."

"We're telepathically bonded." T'Kir reminded him, "I'm gonna learn what it's all about."

"You're an exception." Johnson informed her, "The only one. Macen and Danan are sworn to secrecy."

T'Kir frowned, "So why have me deliver this little message? You're an Admiral, just order him to keep quiet."

Johnson sighed, "And how long would he listen? Brin barely tolerates authority as it is. Imagine his reaction when I order him to suppress what may be the greatest discovery in the quadrant."

"Yeah." T'Kir grinned, "There'd be trouble."

"So you see my point."

T'Kir smiled slyly, "Don't worry. I'll cushion the blow."

"Thank you." Johnson said gratefully, "He'll listen to you at least."

"You seem distracted." T'Kir observed.

"I'm on my way to meet with Admiral Scipio." Johnson divulged.

T'Kir laughed, "Good luck. The man would kill you without a qualm if someone ordered him to and he thinks Brin's a god."

Johnson wore a rueful smile, "I have to go. Duty calls and all that."

T'Kir was still chuckling as he left. With a bright smile she thanked the stylist and exited the salon. She headed for the transporter wondering how Macen would react to the change.

"Ahem." T'Kir cleared her throat as Macen conferred with Daggit.

"And most of them are giving up information on the various orders that came from the Board of Directors?" Macen asked.

"Yes. They're practically falling over themselves in a rush to cooperate." Daggit reported.

T'Kir whistled, "Hey you."

Macen turned and his eyes went wide, "Oh wow."

"You like?" T'Kir spread her arms wide.

"You're stunning." Macen admitted, "But why?"

"I've always wanted to go back to this style." T'Kir revealed, "I had a chance so I took it."

"You're beautiful." Macen verbally applauded.

"Does this mean you didn't like my previous haircuts?" T'Kir asked accusingly.

"No." Macen insisted, "You were gorgeous then. You're gorgeous now. Whatever makes you happy is what counts. I'm just lucky to have the chance to appreciate you."

T'Kir beamed, "You say the nicest things. And the best part is that you mean them. So, are you busy?"

"We were wrapping things up when you came along." Macen answered.

"Well, carry on." T'Kir instructed, "I have to show Hannah."

T'Kir traipsed along and Daggit whistled, "Quite the difference."

"That's how she looked when I met her." Macen disclosed, "I was immediately attracted to her even back then."

"But you were involved with Lisea." Daggit replied.

"You can still find someone attractive while you're dating someone else. I didn't ogle her or spend my days consumed with desire." Macen confessed, "I accepted my attraction and my situation and moved on from there."

"Yet in the end you ended up with T'Kir not Lisea." Daggit pointed out.

A rueful smile came to Macen's lips, "It seems I was more smitten than I led myself to believe. Lees recognised that. It's why she let me go."

"She's an insightful woman." Daggit conceded, "We're lucky to have her on the team."

"Yes, we are." Macen agreed, "Now tell me what Radil is doing."

"She's finishing up the interrogations with Delaney."

"Fates help him." Macen invoked.

 

Chapter Thirty-Eight

In the middle of the planetary night the Romans boarded their shuttles and lifted off. An hour later, the Roman ships broke orbit. The three Roman cruisers rendezvoused near the dreadnought and exited the system. They were headed home.

Hours later, near the planetary dawn, the USS Sutherland and the USS Nighthawk arrived. The Steamrunner –class Nighthawk came to position next to the dreadnought while the Nebula-class Sutherland slipped into orbit. The gamma shift Engineering, Security, Bridge crew and XO beamed aboard the dreadnought and relieved Striker and Caplan's forces. The Sutherland transported Security teams to the surface.

Relief forces also beamed to the surface to assist the Outbound Ventures in packing up and stowing their refugee centre. The Solarian commandos were also transferred into Starfleet's custody. Macen and the SID team were slated to leave Thrandice on the Paladin. During a pause in the coordination effort Riker turned to Macen.

"If it's all the same to you, I'd like to ride back to Barrinor with the crew." Riker said, "They need a familiar face of authority right now."

Macen grinned, "And you say you're not command potential."

"I know I am." Riker replied confidently, "I'm just not seasoned yet."

"Keep doing this and you will be." Macen assured him.

"I know." Riker agreed, "Until then, I'll do my current duties to the best of my ability."

"No one can ask for more." Macen said.

Runners began announcing the imminent departure of the stranded crew. Riker grinned.

"That's my cue. See you around, Brin."

"See you soon. Tell Christine we'll deal with the rebuilding effort as soon as we get back." Macen instructed.

"I will." Riker called as he walked away. He waved goodbye and purposefully continued on his way.

"Problem?" T'Kir asked from behind Macen.

Macen turned, still grinning happily, "Nope. Everything is right."

"Except for the fact that our starship is crashed next to us." T'Kir remarked dryly.

"There's always something." Macen brushed the comment aside

"C'mon," T'Kir tugged at his arm, "Johnson and McKinley beamed down to say goodbye."

"What about Delaney?" Macen wondered.

"He and Hannah are having a moment by the shuttle." T'Kir revealed.

"Good for them." Macen said brightly. The pair strolled over to where Johnson and McKinley were talking with the rest of the team, including Parva.

"So isn't your presence a violation of some regulation?" Macen asked.

McKinley shrugged, "If it is, who cares? Certain rules need to be broken from time to time."

"Tell that to Admiral Drake." Macen retorted, "Please!"

"We just came down to wish all of you goodbye." McKinley said, "As always, our meeting has been interesting."

Macen grinned, "We aim to exceed expectations."

"Which means we'll get into more trouble next time." T'Kir clarified.

"Figures." McKinley grimaced.

Johnson joined the conversation, "What's the problem?"

"They're already planning their next caper." McKinley explained.

"Oh, must be good." Johnson replied.

"Don't ask."

Johnson grinned, "Can't wait."

"Trust me, we'll have the Council abuzz." Macen promised.

"Speaking of the Council," Johnson looked tired, "I just received a message from Ross. He's stepped down and Jellico has resumed his seat on the Council of 5."

Macen rolled his eyes, "Here we go again."

"You might want to keep that in mind during your next assignment." Johnson advised.

"Gee thanks." Macen remarked, "By the way, pretty sneaky recruiting T'Kir to deliver your bad news."

Johnson shrugged, "Just thought it would go down easier."

"Yeah. It did." Macen admitted ruefully.

"Good." Johnson smiled.

"All right. It's time to go." Macen decided, "If we can pull our pilot away from your Tactical Officer that is."

Johnson and McKinley laughed, "That could take awhile."

"I have to go, Ian." Grace said sadly.

"I wish you didn't have to." Delaney admitted and then brightened, "You could always transfer. Lt. Liefers would love to have you under her command."

"Ian, I outrank her." Grace reprimanded him.

"Well," Delaney looked for a bright spot, "there's always subspace. We grew closer through our messages. We can keep up with it."

"I can always put in for a vacation the next time you're on leave." Grace suggested, "We could always go hang gliding on Asgard like we've talked about."

Delaney grinned, "It's a date."

Delaney moved forward and lifted her chin, he kissed her. Grace wrapped her arms around him while he held her waist. It was a lingering kiss and they slowly parted. Cheers and clapping met their efforts.

Grace blushed, "It seems we have an audience."

"Always." Delaney grinned ruefully.

"It's time." Grace insisted.

"Until next time." Delaney said and made for Johnson and McKinley. The SID team joined Grace at the shuttle. They all climbed aboard. Grace paused, waved to Delaney and then climbed aboard last.

The hatch sealed and the shuttle's engines hummed as they came to life. Grace ran her pre-flight and then activated the antigrav when her diagnostics read green across the board. The shuttle lifted one hundred metres above everyone's head and the impulse engine flared to life. The shuttle hurried off, climbing into the atmosphere, leaving the planet's gravity well behind.

"Well, they're off." Johnson remarked.

"Yeah." Delaney replied wistfully.

Johnson and McKinley exchanged knowing glances. They knew when to leave a topic alone. Delaney had to find his own balance. McKinley was confident that he would.

He tapped his comm badge, "McKinley to Intrepid."

"Intrepid here."

"Three to beam up."

"The transporter room will be advised, out."

Macen left his seat and came up behind Grace, "Hannah, you said that you had ideas on how to track down Harry Mudd."

"Yeah." Grace nodded, "He has to have gone to Paradine. It's the closest shipyard slash broker. It's one of the largest ship markets in the quadrant."

"How far is it?"

"We could get there in a day and half if we pushed it."

"Push it." Macen instructed, "I want to get there before Mudd sells the Corsair."

"Yes sir." Grace replied brightly.

The Paradine system contained a sprawling shipyard near its primary asteroid belt. Closer to the M-class planet that dominated the system, there was a large series of drydocks. Used spacecraft for sale berthed here. On the planet's surface resided a huge shuttle port. It was the size of many cities and all of the vehicles were for sale.

Mudd had obtained accommodations and was busy dressing. He'd finally found a buyer for the runabout he's stolen from the Obsidian. The purchaser was a retiring cargo master. He was willing to trade Mudd his transport for the runabout.

Mudd fully intended to resume his principle career as a legitimate freight hauler and occasional smuggler. Confidence games rarely paid off and besides, they'd grown boring. Mudd had finished dressing, combed his hair and cleaned his teeth and then made for the door. Today he was exchanging the key codes for the Cargo ship for the forged title on the runabout.

There was a loud clang on the door and Mudd froze. Several seconds ticked by and then there was a deafening explosion and the door crumpled and sailed across the room. Mudd dropped to a huddle on the floor. As the din of the explosion died down, Mudd rose to a kneeling posture and stared at the doorway.

Macen jumped in through the hole and aimed his phaser pistol at Mudd. Wearing a demented grin, he spoke, "Hi Harry! It seems you took something of mine."

Mudd began to calculate his chances of getting past Macen when T'Kir calmly strolled into the room. Her phaser was also drawn. Mudd held up his hands.

"All right." he said forlornly, "You've found me. I don't know how. I disabled the transponder."

"You didn't wipe the computer clean." T'Kir smiled, "There's a program that activates the comm system when triggered by a received code. It transmits a recognition code and then we track down the location of the ship."

"Show me where my runabout is Harry." Macen demanded.

"I'll do it in exchange for immunity." Mudd countered.

"Harry, I'll shoot you and find the ship myself before that happens." Macen declared, "Either way you'll be in custody."

Mudd sagged in defeat, "All right. I'll lead you to it. Just note it as cooperation with the authorities."

"Get up and put your hands behind your back." Macen instructed.

"Really!" Mudd protested, "The usual method of restraint is to place the hands forward. It's more comfortable that way."

"I don't care about your comfort." Macen replied, "We're attaching a leash to your binders this time. You aren't disappearing on us."

Mudd swore and placed his hands behind his back. Macen holstered his pistol and slipped the binders onto Mudd's wrist. He cinched them tight causing Mudd to wince. Next, he attached the steel cable that served as the leash.

"Move it." Macen nudged Mudd with his knee. They marched to T'Kir's position and she holstered her sidearm. She took hold of the leash and pushed Mudd out the door.

"You don't have to be so rough." Mudd exclaimed.

"You made everyone mad, Harry." Macen said scornfully, "We now have a vested interest in turning you in. It wasn't personal before but now it is."

"Can't you take a joke?" Mudd asked.

"It wasn't funny, Harry." Macen rebutted.

"At least one good thing has happened." Mudd said philosophically.

"And what's that?" T'Kir asked.

"Everyone is finally calling me Harry."

Mudd was stowed away in the Corsair's brig. Macen was seat at the Ops station and T'Kir was manning the helm. Macen activated the comm and called the Paladin.

"We're all set here, Hannah." Macen reported, "You're free to fly back to Barrinor."

"How long are you two going to be?" Grace wondered.

"It depends on how many reports Drake wants us to file." Macen sighed.

"We'll look for you." Grace promised, "Give T'Kir my love."

"Will do." Macen promised and cut the transmission.

"Hannah's sweet." T'Kir mused.

"She's a good kid." Macen remarked.

"Brin, she's hardly a ‘kid' anymore." T'Kir retorted.

"T'Kir, compared to the two of us, they're all children." Macen explained.

"Okay." she allowed and then counselled, "But don't rub their noses in it."

"Never." Macen vowed.

The Corsair arrived at Earth nearly a week later. Mudd complained incessantly about the "abuses" being piled upon him. This was met with a universal, "Shut up, Harry."

"There it is." T'Kir announced as the Earth came into view.

Macen took his seat, "About time. I'm ready to go stir crazy."

"Tell me about it." T'Kir grumped.

Macen activated the comm system and contacted the SID headquarters. He arranged for landing rights at London's shuttleport. It took another several hours to reach the planet at sublight speeds. When their landing was accomplished, T'Kir popped the hatch. Outside, Starfleet Security waited to take custody of Mudd.

Mudd protested and screamed as he was hauled away to a lorry. Macen and T'Kir caught a bus and travelled to the public transporter system. They selected Reading as their destination.

Taking the time to walk across town, they finally reached the SID complex. Met at the foyer by Security officers, their identities were verified and they were given access to the building. Macen and T'Kir travelled up to the fifth floor of the twelve-story building and exited the turbolift. Before them stretched a row of glass enclosed offices. At the end of the row sat Ambril Delori.

The Admiral's aide smiled as Macen and T'Kir approached, "She's been waiting. Rather rabidly. Its murder on her blood pressure so be warned."

"Thanks." T'Kir remarked, "Now I know she can be easily tortured."

Ambril rolled her eyes and paged the Admiral, "Admiral, Commander Macen and T'Kir are here."

"It's about time." Drake said with relief, "Send them in."

The door to Drake's office opened and the Admiral shouted, "Get in here!"

Macen looked skyward, "Here we go."

Macen led T'Kir into the inner sanctum, "Hello Amanda."

"Hiya." T'Kir said cheerfully.

"Sit down." Drake said curtly.

"Hey!" T'Kir snapped, "We were nice to you Crabbypants. Cut us some slack. We've been cloistered in a runabout for a week now. Spare us the 'tude"

Drake blinked in surprised. She closed her eyes and pinched her nose. With a deep breath she opened her eyes.

"You're right." Drake conceded, "I should be polite. The least we can expect is common courtesy."

"That's what I'm talkin' 'bout." T'Kir huffed.

"But you've created absolute havoc for this department." Drake shared wearily, "I've got Alynna crawling up my ass as we speak."

"I heard about that." Macen informed her, "A sudden shift of allegiances."

"She's allowing Jellico's investigation of SID procedures and methods to proceed." Drake sighed, "He's going to be on a witch hunt."

"So what's new?" T'Kir asked.

"You have your commission again. You all do." Drake reminded them, "That means you're answerable to Starfleet regulations. They don't have co-ed cells on Jaros II."

"Is it too early to resign?" Macen asked.

Drake stared at him and Macen leaned forward, "I'm serious."

T'Kir shrugged, "I never wanted to be commissioned anyway."

"The Council would probably terminate your SID contract." Drake warned.

"I'll live." Macen said evenly, "I survived when it happened the last time."

Drake lowered her head and stared at her desk. She lifted her head and straightened her shoulders, "How can I help?"

"Field ops require flexibility." Macen replied, "Situations that aren't covered by regulations arise. I need the absolute authority to proceed on my judgement during those times."

"Jellico's investigation will probably kill any chance of that happening." Drake forecasted.

"Then get ready to say goodbye." Macen declared

"You'll really resign?"

"Give me a padd." Macen instructed.

"Yah. Me too." T'Kir piped up.

Drake sighed heavily and pulled out two padds from her desk, "I honestly don't know how this will affect your operational status."

"That's fine." Macen allowed, "I just want my ship repaired."

Drake nodded, "That was part of the agreement. It was damaged in the line of duty so it will be restored."

"Anything else?" Macen asked.

Drake activated the viewer to her left, "I thought you might like to see this."

The image came to life. It portrayed an office conference room. Men and women in stern business attire sat around an oval table. As a rather dour gentleman rose, the doors to the office slid open. Amanda Drake stood revealed. Armed Starfleet Security officers flanked her.

"What is the meaning of this?" the dour man asked in umbrage.

"I'm placing each and every one of you under arrest." Drake declared.

"This is preposterous." the man protested, "On what charges?"

"Conspiracy and murder." Drake explained, "You colluded with a foreign government to attack shipping convoys in order to pressure them to contract with you for your protective services. Most recently you tasked them to the assault and murder of members of a rival corporation."

"These charges have been revealed by your foreign partner, your own computerised records, and by testimony provided by your own employees." Drake continued, "Your collusion with the Iotians may be construed as espionage. These charges are being investigated. You also accepted a contract from a known enemy of the Federation. The Omicron Ezexial has been sought for terrorist acts and attacking a Starfleet investigations team. This may construe treason."

Drake's visage was unforgiving, "As you know, Federation law has become much sterner since our recent upheavals. The last two allegations are considered to be capital crimes. Your ultimate fate will be determined upon sentencing. God save you."

The image ended and Drake turned to face Macen and T'Kir, "That was taken from Solarian's internal security system."

"All I can say is that they'll still get off lightly." Macen remarked.

"We'll see." Drake replied, "They'll probably never set foot off a penal colony again."

Macen sighed, "That's something at least."

They sat in silence as Macen and T'Kir filled out their resignations. Once they finished, they handed the padds back to Drake.

"Dammit Brin," Drake urged, "we can't afford to lose you. Especially not now."

"Insure that my contract isn't terminated and you won't have to worry." Macen replied.

"I guess there isn't anything left to be said." Drake said in resignation.

"Nope." Macen agreed.

"How long are you staying?" Drake enquired.

"A day or two." Macen answered, "We'll catch some of London's sights and head back to Barrinor."

"Take care, both of you." Drake implored.

"Don't we always?" T'Kir remarked with a grin.

"We'll see you, Amanda." Macen said and left.

Walking the streets of London, T'Kir turned to Macen, "I'm starving."

"Want some pub grub?" he asked.

"I want to go somewhere nice." T'Kir declared, "I want to be pampered."

Macen smiled, "Your wish is my command."

"I also want to stay somewhere nice." T'Kir insisted.

"Easy enough." Macen agreed.

"And I want to go to the theatre."

"Which show?"

"How should I know? I just got here."

"Let's start with food." Macen suggested and stopped at a public information terminal. He tapped in several search parameters and the results appeared almost instantly. He downloaded the information to his padd and handed it to T'Kir.

"Pick one."

She scrolled through list and then grew excited. Handing the padd back to him she said, "This one."

"We need to catch a bus." Macen decided.

"Goody!" T'Kir clapped her hands, "And the hotel has to have room service."

"No replicators?" Macen asked.

"Pampered." T'Kir insisted, "That means having every whim indulged and catered to."

"Fates." Macen muttered, "We're in for an extravagant two days."

"You betcha lover, now c'mon. The bus is here." T'Kir excitedly tugged on Macen's arm. They boarded the bus and it whisked them away to indulgent adventures.

 

The series continues...

 

- The End -

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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