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Uprising - Part I 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 1

"Maíam," Santos spoke up from Ops, "Iím reading a Federation distress beacon."

"From where?" Captain Hilde Edgars asked.

"Itís originating from what appears to be a freighter at the edge of our sensor range."

"Helm, set course for the those co-ordinates, warp 6."

Edgarsí ship, the U.S.S. Horta, was a Nebula-class starship. She was configured for long-range scanning operations and conducting stellar cartography update surveys of the Federationís border regions. It took nearly three hours at high warp to reach the periphery of her scanning range from their previous location. What they found was a gutted freighter.

Phaser blasts had pockmarked the hull and caused several breaches. There was no power and no signs of life. Edgars sent a boarding party in environmental suits to try and retrieve the shipís logs as well as collect forensic evidence to determine what happened. They found more than they had bargained for.

"Maíam, there were still people alive when the life support failed." Alicia Witt, Edgarsí First Officer reported, "The warp core didnít fail, it was shut down. Those people were murdered."

Edgars eyes hardened, "Do we have any idea whoís responsible?

"Someone tried to wipe the records." Witt answered, "We sent copies of everything we recovered to Starfleet Command. Hopefully theyíll have better luck then we did."

Edgars gave Witt a grim smile, "In the meantime, I suggest we conduct a few Ďsurveysí in this area and see if we can turn up anything more."

"Sounds like a plan, Captain."

Three weeks later.... "You couldnít resist, could you?" Alicia Drake asked in exasperation. On the receiving end of her scrutiny, Brin Macen merely shrugged and fought to suppress an unrepentant smirk. Drake shook her head and released a mournful sigh. Now she knew why Alynna Nechayev had placed him under her command.

"You couldnít resist lecturing a class of Starfleet cadets on the supposed similarities between the Federation and the Dominion."

"There are quite a few similarities." Macen stated calmly, "Both societies are utterly and thoroughly convinced of the superiority and inherent morality of their respective approaches."

"You are an officer sworn to the service of that Federation!" Drake sputtered.

"Which means that I, as well as any other citizen, should have the right to analyse and critique the system I serve in an effort to improve it." He said placidly.

The cherubic innocence he projected was the most irritating facet of the conversation, "I agree in principle, but donít you think that posing such questions to a freshman class is a tad premature?"

"No." Macen replied decisively, "I think they should be exposed to such questions years before that point. Facing such diversity at this point is almost too late."

"But theyíre so young..."

"And they will soon share the responsibilities we take for granted." Macen replied, "They need to decide for themselves why the Federation is their preferred system of government, based upon their own judgement, not what they have been force-fed all their lives."

Drake resisted the urge to bury her face in her hands. Arguing with a man over four hundred years old had its drawbacks. It also didnít help that Macen had seen more of the galaxy than the rest of Starfleet put together. She was suddenly grateful that most El-Aurians had avoided Starfleet after arriving in the Alpha Quadrant.

"Well, maybe its just as well." Drake said ruefully, "Iím giving you your first assignment as a member of the Special Investigations Division."

"I thought that my group wouldnít be receiving any missions until the shipís refit was completed and TíKir had finished her remedial training."

Drake grimaced at his words. Macenís insistence on using a fifty-eight year old scoutship that Starfleet had decommissioned six years ago frustrated her. Drake appreciated the fact that the ship gave its occupants a ready made undercover identity, but modernising it had been an annoyance. At least the engineers assigned to the task had had a field day.

TíKir was another matter altogether. Macenís damnable refusal to have her recommitted to an insane asylum baffled her more than his attachment to the ship. Drake happened to know that the unstable Vulcan had tried to murder him on at least one occasion. Drake didnít even want to guess at what personal imperatives drove him to keep TíKir around.

The only consolation was that TíKirís condition had improved. Some obscure herbal concoction that Macen had recommended for her had helped her bring her telepathic abilities under heel. Vulcan specialists had been brought in as well to give personalised instructions. One of them had left after she had propositioned him. Drake could only imagine the poor man was only half as scandalised as she had been.

The Admiral grudgingly had to admit that the Vulcan was a prodigy when dealing with operational and cybernetic systems. One of the counsellors had suggested that TíKir had been drawn to machinery since it did not produce thoughts that would then intrude themselves into her own mind. Drake didnít know where sheíd gained her knowledge. She didnít care. All she knew was that the damned lunatic was good at her job!

The groupís medical specialist was almost as off kilter. A doctor that dreamed of being a warrior was a guarantee for an empty sickbay. Kortís contentious nature often inflicted greater injuries to his patients than those they had arrived with. The sole consolation was that you knew that any patients subjecting themselves to Kortís care were well and truly incapacitated.

Lisea Danan remained the bedrock of this eclectic lot. The Trill Science Officer Lisea Togran had been a capable scientist, but Lisea Danan had blossomed into an investigator of rare ability. Of course, drawing on the experience of eight other lifetimes would give anyone a capability boost. The key factor in the equation was Lisea herself. Her obvious unhappiness with Starfleet and her ongoing leave of absence over the last three months had been a worry for Drake.

Brin Macen was the enigma that held his unusual team together. He had even more experience than a Trill, and all in a single lifetime. His personality brought back adages of "forces of nature". That certainly helped, but what set Macen apart was that he didnít see the universe the way others did.

Some had dismissed it as more ethereal El-Aurian nonsense. Nechayev, however, put a great deal of stock in Macenís "hunches". Jean-Luc Picard had certainly been willing to fly into the maws of death trusting in Guinanís instincts. Whatever it was, Drake had been impressed with his handling of the Gulag crisis and of his service during the Dominion War.

She also had to admit she respected his performance in the classroom. Sheíd had several of his lectures piped into her office and had been amused at their irreverence and audacity. Macen definitely saw the Federation in ways that wouldnít occur to a native of the Alpha Quadrant. He made students re-examine cherished beliefs and ideologies applying critical thinking to them to see how valid they seemed from an outsiderís perspective.

Other Academy instructors had either been ecstatic or frothing. The enthusiasts claimed that he was bolstering their dedication by making them enlarge their paradigms to include doubt. The detractors had gone so far as to accuse him of being a Changeling saboteur stranded on Earth after the war. Macen had merely smiled and informed them that he Federation had already won the war.

Heíd then asked two simple questions, "And that being the case, why are you still afraid of being defeated? Who is your enemy, is it a foreign power or your own fears?"

Drake and the Academy Commandant had spent an entire afternoon fending off outraged and sputtering Academy instructors after that courtyard confrontation. Macen had become a folk hero to the cadets and discovered a willing audience wherever he went on campus. For awhile, Drake was worried about what he might be urging them to do but swiftly learned from Boothby that Macen was merely expanding his lectures.

Drake smiled inwardly at recalling Boothbyís ringing endorsement of Macenís activities. The aged groundskeeper may have been officially "retired", but no one could keep him from his beloved flowerbeds or his latest crop of cadets. Over the decades, Starfleet had learned to listen to his insights. Boothby knew how to pick promising cadets and groom them the same way he could pick a bulb and groom it into an award winning bloom. His ringing endorsement of Macen had convinced her to leave him be.

"Heís good for the kids." Boothby had declared, "Makes Ďem think, by God. They need that. He makes sure they donít get stuck in mental boxes."

Drakeís face turned hard as she thought about why sheíd summoned Macen, "We have a situation and I think your group is the most qualified to solve it."

"That bodes ill." Macen remarked dryly, "Somebodyís knickers must really be in a twist if they think my group is the most qualified."

Drake smirked despite herself. Macen and his team had been accused of being "cowboys" and of being throwbacks to the days of James Kirk and Hikaru Sulu. Not surprising since Macen actually served under Sulu. She knew that their antics went far beyond anything Macen had committed. At least so far, she amended.

"You could say that." Drake replied and activated the display of her data terminal and swivelled it so that Macen could view it.

"This is the NDT-129016 S.S. Hornblower. She was discovered by the U.S.S. Horta three weeks."

"It looks like someone beat the hell out of her." Macen commented, "Where was she found?"

"Five hundred kilometres beyond the Andergani frontier."

Macen winced, "The Andergani havenít tried any shipping raids since the beginning of the war." He also knew why they had stopped those raiding efforts. Macen had been the commander of a mission to insert Angosian commandos into the Andergani capital. The commandos had "persuaded" the Oligarchy to stay within their own borders for the duration of the war.

The Andergani Oligarchy had been a persistent thorn in the Federationís side since First Contact twelve years before. The Andergani were humanoid. They also possessed a lower tech base than the Federation and were ruled by a twelve-member council known as the Polstice. The Polstice kept their grip over the populace by regulating the release of technology. They bought loyalty by rewarding privateers that were able to secure samples of more advanced equipment.

Colonisation near the frontier was strictly regulated. Trade, however, was virtually unregulated. Various shadow enterprises like the Orion Syndicate used this to their benefit but so did a multitude of legitimate businesses. Freighters like the Hornblower constantly ran across the border. Most escaped serious harm but occasionally a tragedy like this happened.

"You want us to see if the Andergani are responsible?"

"Iím afraid the situation is more complicated than that." Drake said, her voice weary, "Take a look at this."

The display switched to the interior of the craft. Bodies lay sprawled across the decks. Others were frozen, their faces captured in the rictus of death. No one had died easily.

"Their power and life support was cut after their attackers had control of the ship."

"What kind of weapons were used?" Macen asked, pointing at the burn marks across several victimsí chest.

"Federation issued phasers."

Macen gave her a sharp look, "I see you understand the problem. It gets worse."

"Iíd like to know how." Macen said sourly.

"Weíve lost contact with the Horta. We havenít heard from her in three days. They went of the charts just after they ran another comparison of the shipís crew manifest and the victim tally and realised that there was a discrepancy."

"Theyíve been kidnapped?"

"Looks that way." Drake agreed, "The Horta was supposed to transmit another report six hours after that discovery was mad. They never sent a signal."

"And I assume they were using encrypted channels?"

"The latest and greatest."

"This just gets better."

"Arenít you glad I called you in now?"

Macen gave her a look that indicated exactly how he felt.

The cadets stumbled out of the simulator. All were in various stages of shock. The Kobiyashi Maru simulation was infamous for rattling trainees, but this run had been something special. This "mission" had been commanded by TíKir.

Hannah Grace and TíKir were the last to leave. They were both laughing hysterically. They abruptly stopped when they suddenly found themselves confronted by Admirals Stoner and Arnor. Both of them came to attention, although TíKir had far less enthusiasm and her posture was much more lax.

"Ensign Grace, your presence is not required." Stoner informed her icily.

"Begging the Admiralís pardon," Grace began.

"Ensign, are you typically in the habit of ignoring orders from a superior officer?" Arnor asked dryly.

"No, maíam." Grace replied emphatically.

"Then thereís hope for you yet." Arnorís tone would have dehydrated the Pacific, "Dismissed."

Grace left, leaving TíKir facing the two Admirals. Stoner was a human male from the colony world Tarsus VI. It was a rugged mining colony on the edge of Federation space. Stoner reflected his native origins.

Arnor was Circian. She was essentially a six-metre celery stalk with appendages and eye slits. Arnor was only one of two members of her race to join Starfleet since her homeworldís introduction to the Federation forty years ago. She possessed no mouth per se. Vibrating her outer cellulose sheath generated her "voice".

"Lieutenant, I must confess that your...solution marks a new epoch in Starfleet history." Arnor informed her.

"I try." TíKir replied jovially, her head cocked to one side.

"Lt. TíKir," Stonerís voice rumbled, creating images of a landslide, "what were you thinking when you gave your last set of orders?"

"I was thinking about how to stop the enemy." She replied evenly.

"By inverting your warp field and destroying yourself and creating a subspace rift that made warp navigation impossible?"

"Yes!" TíKir replied hotly, "I was one ship against six JemíHadar attach ships while trying to hold the Bajoran wormhole and defend a freighter. I Ďneutralisedí the JemíHadar and made it impossible for any of their reinforcements to enter the Alpha Quadrant until Starfleet could recall the 9th Fleet to DS9."

"But you secured this victory by sacrificing your crew." Stoner intoned harshly.

"Yes, I did." She replied with satisfaction, "I thought Starfleet officers swore an oath to lay their lives down in pursuit of their duty?"

"They do." Arnor responded, "But that does not mean their lives should be thrown away recklessly."

"I donít think they were." TíKir replied defiantly.

"Hopefully, you will never be forced to relive this experience in actuality." Arnor said solemnly, "I fear to see how you would respond in reality."

TíKir stifled a yawn, "Can I go now?"

Stoner nearly choked over her impertinence. Arnor vibrated with her speciesí version of laughter, "Yes, youíre dismissed Lieutenant."

TíKir snapped off a sloppy salute and strolled down the corridor towards the exit.

"Deities preserve us." Arnor hummed.

"At least sheís Intelligence and not Fleet." Stoner commented, "I donít think God Herself could save us if that one ever got her hands on a starship."

Lisea smiled as Macen stepped into the flat sheíd moved into overlooking the Puget Sound. The Queen Anne Heights area of Seattle had been preserved intact and unchanged for three centuries now, indicating its residentís love. Macen had been impressed with the city and its surrounding areas. He could see why the fanciful nickname, the Emerald City, had stayed with the metropolis throughout the years.

Liseaís decision to reside here, as much as the look on her face as he entered, confirmed what heíd already suspected, "Youíve resigned then?"

His matter of fact tone surprised her, "You knew?"

He shrugged, "I suspected it. Iíve barely heard from you over the last two months, and when I have, itís been rather distant."

She sighed, sitting on a stool next to the counter, "I didnít want this to happen."

He gave her a grin, "I know."

She shot him an irritated glance, "You donít have to be so damned understanding about it."

"What díyou want me to be?" he asked sarcastically.

She leaned her head against her propped arm, "I donít know." Her voice was weary, "We were reunited after a three absence and then split apart again. I tell you Iím leaving and youíre being... so rational about it. Itís annoying."

Macenís face twisted in a wry expression, "Lees, when we were reunited, it was wonderful. It was also different. Youíd put together a new life, one that returned you to your career and your ambitions."

What you wanted before meeting me and joining the Maquis, he left unspoken as well as, before discovering that the Federation was exiling its own citizens to a Gulag in the Beta Quadrant.

"I still love you." She informed him, her voice catching.

"And I still love you, always will." He replied honestly.

"You could come with me." She suggested, "The Daystrom Institute is looking for social scientists."

He shook his head, "You know I canít. I have obligations."

"Sheíll be fine." Danan growled in irritation, "Sheís Nechayevís problem now."

Macen gave her an amused grin, "TíKirís not my only loyalty here. I have other promises to keep."

She nodded sadly, "I know. I just had to be certain."

He stepped closer and took her hand, "Weíve shared incredible times, Lisea. I hate for them to end, but I can see itís for the best."

She looked up, her eyes misting, "I hate to see you go like this, but I think I need to be alone now."

He nodded. He left without a sound. Lisea shuddered as emotions rippled through her. She knew her decision was for the best, but it would take awhile for her to feel that way in earnest about it.

 

Chapter 2

"Sheís beautiful." Alynna Nechayev exclaimed softly. The Admiralís surprise appearance at the dockyards had become less of a surprise when sheíd expressed her condolences regarding Dananís resignation and handed him a padd sent by Drake. The padd contained the personnel record of his new team XO.

Brin wasnít about to dispute her. Floating before them, the SS Odyssey sat in dock. Sheíd spent the last three months at the Utopia Planitia yards being refitted for her new assignment. Her modifications were complete, just in time for them to be utilised.

Heíd spent nearly three years aboard her together. It had been a defining time in his life. Although heíd infiltrated the Maquis for Starfleet Intelligence, heíd actually endorsed the cause of the freedom fighters. Many of his Maquis comrades were now dead, but he still had the ship and the memories. It had served as his home for years and was one of the few physical links he had to his past.

Starfleet had commissioned the scoutship in 2323. Sheíd spent her entire existence on or near the Federationís contested border with the Cardassian Union. Officially lost in action, the ship had been "acquired" by the enigmatic Section 31. Macen and Danan had led a team of Maquis to a secret storage facility and "liberated" the ship, and several others, from Section 31ís possession.

The ship was a smaller hybrid of the Excelsior and Ambassador-classes. It took a maximum crew of twenty-two, and could be operated by as few as three. Packing incredible power and speed for her size, she could engage ships several times her size. Unfortunately, Starfleet Operations tended towards larger starship designs. Unlike the Klingon Bird of Prey, the Blackbird-class was consigned to decommissioning and private ownership.

Admiral Drake had decided that the ship, once updated, provided more than served the Special Investigations teamís needs. Her maximum speed had been boosted from Warp 8.3 to 9.3. Her phaser arrays had been replaced with the new Type XI design. She now boasted quantum torpedoes and ablative armour. Her computers had also been augmented by the addition of neuro-gel components.

"They donít make them like this any more." Nechayev commented, "Although may change with the impact from the war. Starfleetís changing, returning to its past as a paramilitary organisation."

She stole a glance at his barely suppressed grin, "You like that fact donít you?"

He didnít try to hide his smile any longer, "Starfleet is a force for exploration and diplomacy, but it also needs a backbone of officers and ships specialising in defence."

"Youíd split the fleet?" she asked with surprised curiosity, "Establish a scientific branch and a military branch?"

"I wouldnít call it a complete split." Macen replied, "More of an interwoven framework. When Starfleet was first founded, it was set up along similar lines."

"I know. The Admiralty has spent a lot of time reviewing those records lately." She almost sighed as she continued to stare at the ship.

"Want a tour?" he asked.

She brightened immediately, "I thought youíd never get around to asking."

They strolled through the various decks. The bridge had been altered. It now resembled a hybrid between those of the Defiant and Intrepid-classes. The design gave the ship a sleeker, deadlier ambience.

The Flight Control station remained in the front of the bridge. Tactical and Science/Ops were in alcoves to either side slightly behind the Helm. The command chair was dead centre, between two terminal/displays. Behind the command chair were two wall consoles to busy relief crew.

The other decks were largely unchanged merely modernised a bit. Engineering had been redesigned with a much more powerful and efficient warp core. It also had an engineer bustling about. Macen and Nechayev stopped and waited for the man to notice their arrival.

After a few more adjustments, and more than a few expletives, the engineer looked up, "What the hell are you doing here?"

Nechayev blinked in surprise, admiralís rarely received that kind of reception. Macen laughed. Their reactions seemed to infuriate the engineer even more. He folded his arms across his chest and glowered.

"I happen to be the commander of this vessel." Macen informed him, "Who would you be?"

The man ran a hand across his nearly bald head. A few sandy strands remained atop with the rest forming a half crown around his head. He was a thin, reedy man with sharp features. His face and hands were heavily lined.

"Nameís Hal Dracas." The engineer answered gruffly, "Iím the supervising Engineer for the refit."

Dracasí eyes narrowed, "Iím also the new Chief Engineer for this tub according to the orders I received this morning."

Macen extended his hand, "Welcome aboard Chief. Iím Brin Macen."

"Thanks." Dracas replied, accepting Macenís hand.

Nechayev extended hers, "Iím Alynna Nechayev."

"Iíve heard of you." Dracas admitted, he glanced at Nechayevís rank insignia, "I wasnít expecting any visitors today."

"It shows." Macen replied lightly.

"Youíre not human are you?"

Macen grinned, "No, why?"

"Iím a Troglyte from Ardanna IV. Iíve noticed that humans generally exhibit the same arrogance as our native Stratosians. They wouldnít react well to my insulting one of their admirals," he nodded towards Nechayev, " but not you even though you look human. You carry yourself wrong."

Macen smiled appreciatively, "Thanks, Iíll take that as a compliment."

"Somehow Chief, I think youíll fit right in with this crew." Nechayev laughed as she handed him a padd, "Youíve been reassigned as this shipís engineer."

Dracas gave her a relieved glance and sighed, "Glad to hear it, maíam. And Iím glad Iím not getting court-martialled"

TíKir, Grace and Kort stepped off the runabout. Theyíd been cramped aboard its confines for the better part of a day. The first half of the day had been placid enough. The second half had been far more strenuous.

"You are wrong!" Kort thundered.

"I am not, you Klingon eflim!" TíKir shouted back, despite the fact he was walking less than a metre from her.

Grace shook her head and picked up her pace. Sheíd been listening to the same argument since Alpha Centauri. It had been tiresome fifteen minutes after it had started. It was even more tiresome ten hours later.

Kort stopped. His eyes appeared to be swelling. His breath came in sharp, ragged gasps as he struggled to contain his rage. TíKir stood before him, fists on her hips, not giving an inch.

"I will only say this one more time." Kort said slowly.

Thatíd be a relief. Grace thought sourly.

"Klingon medicine is not inferior to Vulcan methods." Kort snarled, "Klingons can endure greater amounts of pain than humans so we do not rely as heavily on pain-killers as Federation practitioners."

TíKir never wavered, "Vulcans can block all pain from their minds and induce healing trances which make physicians unnecessary."

"Block pain, eh?" Kort asked sceptically.

"All pain." TíKir challenged, then shrieked suddenly. She leapt away from Kort, bouncing herself of the stationís bulkhead. She tried rubbed her backside and her head simultaneously. Her face twisted into a frustrated pout.

Kort smiled broadly in triumph as he sheathed his dagger, "I guess there are some pains that Vulcans canít block."

He walked away chuckling to himself. TíKir stuck out her tongue at his departing back. Grace approached her friend while shaking her head. TíKir was often as frustrating as she was brilliant. Grace supposed that was the price TíKir had to pay for being a powerful but untrained telepath.

"I hope that issue is finally settled." Grace said dryly.

TíKir gave her a sullen glare, "He just caught me by surprise."

"Youíre a telepath." Grace retorted dryly, "Youíre not supposed to be surprised."

"The inhibitors Iíve been taking make it so I donít pick up everyoneís thoughts all the time, just stray ones here and there." TíKir sniffed in reply.

"Good excuse." Graceís teased.

"Whatíve I done to deserve this abuse?" TíKir threw her arms in the air.

"You were born." Grace laughed.

Passengers started filing out of the adjacent airlock. Most wore Starfleet uniforms. Two were in civilian attire. The last to exit wore a rust coloured Bajoran Militia uniform.

TíKirís head cocked to one side as she watched the other woman shift the large bag thrown over her shoulder. The Bajoran consulted a nearby display outlining the stationís layout. When sheíd found what she was looking for, she marched off with a purposeful stride. TíKir and Grace exchanged curious glances.

"Why díyou think sheís here?" Grace mused aloud.

"Sheís probably here for the same assignment we are." TíKir replied.

Grace rolled her eyes, "I suppose this is one of those Ďstrayí thoughts?"

"Nope." TíKir replied grimly, "Just an intimate knowledge of Bajoran uniforms. Thatís a Military Intelligence uniform. Thereís no reason a Bajoran intel officer would be here unless it was as an exchange officer."

"And since a shipyard hardly qualifies as a Starfleet Intelligence outpost, that leaves us." Grace continued.

"Course, she could always be heading for another ship." TíKir hedged.

"And the likelihood of that?" Grace asked wryly.

"Less than discovering youíre a Borg in disguise." TíKir replied grimly.

"Thought so."

The door to Macenís quarters chimed. Macen sighed as he called out, "Enter."

The door slid open to reveal a short, muscular figure. His hair was close-cropped and greying. A ragged scar ran down his left cheek. His eyes and movements marked him for what he truly was, a professional soldier.

"Rab Daggit!" Macen exclaimed in surprise.

"Hello, Captain." Daggit replied softly.

"Whoís your friend?" Nechayev asked as she stepped out of the head.

"Lt. Rab Daggit." the Angosian answered before Macen had an opportunity to speak, "I served with the commander during the war."

"Iím sorry." Nechayev replied sincerely.

Daggit laughed, "So was I, maíam."

Macen gave them both a rueful look, "What are you doing here Rab?"

"Iíve been assigned to your team, sir." Daggit informed him.

"How?" Macen asked in surprise, "I heard youíd been assigned to the Enterprise as a Tactical Officer."

"I was, sir." Daggit explained, "I turned down the assignment and volunteered for this one."

Macen couldnít hide his confused shock, "Why?"

Shame passed across Daggitís face before he replied, "I was aboard the Enterprise when you were on your way to find that gulag that Federation citizens were being deported to. I advised Captain Picard not to trust you. I misjudged you during the war, and I wanted a chance to make up for it."

Macen was both flattered and dismayed, "Do you still hold negative feelings towards me?"

"No." came the swift and fervent reply.

"Low opinions?"

"No!"

"Then Iím happy and you shouldnít have transferred off the flagship of the fleet." Macen told him.

"Iím also doing this for myself, sir." Daggit said softly, "I wasnít entirely happy in my duties."

Macen could understand that. The Angosian had undergone physical and mental modifications at the hands of his native government during the course of a war theyíd fought. The soldiers had been physiologically enhanced and psychologically programmed for warfare and survival. Unfortunately, they hadnít known how to reverse the programming once the soldiers came home.

That tragedy had caused the Federation to decline Angosiaís application for membership until a solution had been found. That policy had changed with the advent of the Dominion War. Starfleet had needed commandos with the skills and abilities the Angosians had possessed. Their planet had been allowed into the Federation in exchange for a wholesale enlistment of its former soldiers.

Macen had been the intelligence officer assigned to the commando unit. That had been his punishment for stretching his orders to the breaking point by aiding the Maquis while infiltrating them. He and the Angosians spent nearly three years behind enemy lines gathering military intelligence and conducting sabotage. It had been like being in the Maquis all over again.

Due to Daggitís programming and enhanced reflexes, Starfleetís normal protocols towards an aggressor would seem woefully inadequate. The Angosian commandos operated best under threat and while fighting for their lives. They were edgy and uncomfortable in times of peace. That was what had prevented them from rejoining their native society.

Macen held out his hand, "Then Iím happy to have you aboard." Daggit took it gratefully and gave Macen a beaming smile.

"Youíd better be." Nechayev interjected, "After all, Daggitís your new XO."

She relished the stunned look Macen gave her. It was fitting revenge for scaring her half to death by having himself beamed directly atop her desk in her office.

She smiled sweetly, "I gave you the personnel jacket. Itís not my fault you havenít read it."

Macen was on his way to one of the primary stationís briefing roomís loaned to the Special Investigation team. Everyone had already gone inside except for Kort, TíKir, and Grace. They exchanged pleasantries with Macen before proceeding into the Briefing Room. TíKir lingered a moment longer, extracting a promise from Macen to hear about her Academy exploits.

Macen hesitated for a moment as his eye caught a flurry of movement approaching down the corridor. A young woman in a rust Bajoran uniform was running towards him. Her expression alternated between desperation and anger. She skidded to a halt before Macen and struggled to catch her breath.

"Is this where the Special Investigations unit briefing is being held?"

"Yes." Macen answered, trying to keep his amusement out of his voice, "I take it no one offered to show you around the station?"

"No, they didnít." she answered with a wry smile as she extended her hand, "Lt. Nerrit Wen at your service."

He took her hand, "Captain Brin Macen at yours."

He watched the colour drain from her face. Her thin lips dropped open as her jaw went slack then clenched shut. Macen examined the fiercely determined expression that settled on her angular face. She was a feisty one.

Her blue eyes projected steel as she spoke, "Iím sorry Iím late, sir."

Macen shrugged, "Everyoneís allowed a few unfortunate circumstances, Lieutenant. Just donít make it a habit."

"I wonít, sir." she replied confidently.

Macen admired her spunk as she entered before him. Sheíd accepted the situation and adjusted to it quickly. Macen judged her to be just slightly older than TíKir. That meant she was old enough to participate in the last years of the Resistance against the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. If that were true, sheíd undoubtedly prove to be a mistress at improvisation.

Macen brought the meeting to order. He gazed across the room. There were sixteen people present. The ship wouldnít carry its full compliment of twenty-two due to the simple fact that civilian vessels rarely carried their maximum crew. A good quarter of the crew were engineers.

"Well, as you can see here," Macen spoke to the group, "weíre a pretty diverse bunch."

He examined the padd that contained a copy of their orders, "The senior staff will comprise of myself, Dr. Kort, Lt. Daggit, Lt. TíKir, Ensign Grace, and Chief Dracas."

He saw nods of approval at that. Although they were being assigned to the Odyssey, they werenít being assigned along traditional lines. Kort remained the medical specialist for the team. Most of them received this assignment more because of their paramilitary skills than their shipboard abilities.

All in all, it was a good mix theyíd ended up with. Grace, TíKir, and Macen were all rated for the helm. TíKir, Kort, and Macen all held speciality ratings for the Science station. TíKir and Dracas were both Ops wizards while Daggit and their exchange officer, Nerrit, were highly trained Tactical experts, which did not factor in Macen and TíKirís guerrilla experiences.

Dracas held the title of Chief Engineer for the ship. Grace was the Chief Helmsman. TíKir would man the Science/Ops station. Daggit had Tactical duties, with Nerrit as his junior. Daggit and Macen would rotate command duties on the second watch as well as including juniors. The eight other officers would comprise the night shift and the Engineering crew.

It worked great on a padd. Now it was just a matter of getting the disparate personalities to blend together into a cohesive unit rather than a group of individualists. Since Macenís team had been built out of a group of determined non-conformists, transforming them into Starfleetís vision of a team would prove interesting indeed. Macenís head throbbed in anticipation of headaches to come.

"Weíre headed for Deep Space 13." Macen informed the gathered crew, "Itís a joint venture operated by the Kresh and the Federation."

The Kresh were an amphibian species, that thought technologically advanced preferred staying close to the world of their origin to space travel. Their territory bordered the Anderganiís. The Polstice had ordered several attacks on the laconic Kresh ion the past. Starfleetís mission there was to provide protection as well as a layover base for deep space exploration efforts.

"DS 13?" a junior repeated distastefully, "Itís in the middle of nowhere."

"Thatís why itís called the frontier." Macen replied dryly, "Are there any other questions?" Seeing no responses, he spoke again, "Then stow your gear and get your duty rotation form your department heads."

 

Chapter 3

The Odyssey sailed trough warp space effortlessly. Macen had slowly elevated speeds while testing the modifications to his satisfaction. Utopia Planitia had given the ship a certification before their departure, but Macen also knew a commander never took a dockyardís word for it. The true shakedown occurred when the shipís crew returned and put her through her paces.

As Macen glanced across the bridge, he realised how odd that thought was now. Beside himself, only TíKir had spent any significant amount of time aboard. Even then, TíKir manned a combined Ops/Helm console. Now Ops was separated from Helm and was coupled with Science instead.

TíKir had been a fair pilot, but nowhere near Graceís calibre. He was sorry heíd missed her stint at the helm while battling Section 31ís dupes in orbit above Earth. Heíd been on the ground trying to present evidence of their illegal gulag. The prison had been shut down and its inhabitants repatriated. While many Starfleet and Federation officials had been tried, not one Section 31 operative had been captured.

Macen had crossed Section 31ís path twice that he knew of. Undoubtedly it had happened far more often than that during his eighty year career with Starfleet Intelligence. Theyíd remained virtually undetected for almost 300 years. There was no way of knowing how many times heíd orbited their sphere of influence. It was a thought that both depressed and enraged Macen.

Macen was intimately familiar with both emotions. Heíd lost an entire civilisation and a quadrant to the Borg. His entire family and most of his friends had died or been scattered across the galaxy after the assimilation of the El-Aurian Commonwealth. Heíd replaced his lost family and society with the Maquis only to lose them to the Dominion. Heíd faced two of the most efficient and ruthless species in the galaxy. Section 31 paled in comparison.

Maven glanced towards the Science/Ops station. TíKirís mouth was twisted up in reaction to something. He laughed inwardly at her display. Although her impulsiveness was occasionally difficult to manage at times, TíKirís stark honesty had always been refreshing.

Lisea Danan had been Macenís first long-term romance since arriving in the Alpha Quadrant. His lifespan was several times that of most Federation species. Even a Vulcan or a Gideoniteís 300+ years was slightly under the average El-Aurianís. Dananís symbiont had at least provided a chance of a continuing relationship even if it would have been altered by the change of Trill host bodies.

Although the El-Aurians in the Alpha Quadrant had agreed not to share the secrets of their anti-ageing techniques, Macen sometimes wondered if that was not born out of a desire to remain unique. The Gideonites employed similar methods as well. Theyíd gone further and had been forced to re-introduce disease to their biosphere in order to curb their rampant over-population crisis.

As a member of the Expeditionary Survey Forces, Macen had been given the latest and most powerful series of treatments during his early training. A naturally long-lived race, the El-Aurians had long ago decided to give the most powerful treatments to their scientists and those that had indebted society to them. The typical treatments extended the normal centennial life expectancy by a factor of three. The more advanced treatments employed a factor of ten.

Macen could easily expect to reach an age of 1200. He was already over a quarter of the way there. His biologyís chronological age roughly approximated that of a 30-year-old human. His advantage lay in the fact that he had over 400 years worth of experience behind that apparent youth.

That had been a driving force behind his romance with Danan. Outwardly, she was nearly the same age but she carried a centuries old soul within her symbiot. That sense of experience outweighing outward form had been what drove them together. It had also been what drove them apart. Lisea had wanted Danan to pass on life experiences different from the wartime experiences and gritty revelations Macenís intelligence career entailed.

A sense of anticipation also rang through the crew. Still flushed with the Federationís victory over the Dominion, they felt invincible and eagerly awaited their opportunity to reshape the universe. Drake had assembled a strong group with combat experience. Macen wondered how well theyíd fare at investigation.

Although not an adherent of the pacifism taught by his people, Macen didnít quite hold with the upswing of interventionist fervour spreading across the Federation. The utopian dreams of non-interference preached by Federation officials had been shattered by the Dominion. The Founderís policies of cultural manipulation had almost toppled an alliance of the three strongest powers in the Alpha Quadrant. Most of the Federationís social theoreticians were now scrambling to revise their opinions of regulated societies.

The trend disturbed Macen. It stank of assimilation. No survivor of Borg aggression could ever view such things the same. The bitterest pill was that the Federation itself had repelled the Borg twice and chose not to recognise the similarities of such policies.

Whereas Starfleet previously would have held back before leaping into a fray between two sovereign stellar nations, now they tended to barge in and demand to mediate negotiations. Whether or either side wanted to negotiate was beside the point. The Federation, saviour of the Alpha Quadrant had declared that negotiations should begin, and begin they would. Macen seriously doubted how such decisions were beginning to appear to the Romulans and various non-aligned powers.

The Klingons were faithfully supporting the Federationís actions. This was due in part to their crippling losses during the war and also due to their echoes to former Imperial policies. Macen knew that although domestically the Romulans were facing the defection of entire segments of their society, like the Rhihansu, they were gaining interstellar prestige as the prophets of the Federationís arrogance and hypocrisy. It was a rather ironic vindication for a race that viewed itself as being physically and morally superior to all others.

Macen shrugged these concerns aside as he asked TíKir for a report. The Vulcanís eyes flicked lightly across the displays. Macen had run several drills over the last few days and she perused her equipment before answering in case of a sudden change in her readings. Macen managed not to smile as she replied.

"Nothing out there." her voice rang confidently, almost defiantly.

TíKir always reminded Macen of Ro Laren in many ways. She was quirky, stubborn, wilful, and impulsive. She was also caring and loyal. Even though sheíd tried to kill him in a fit of telepathically induced insanity, he trusted unlike anyone else aboard.

Macen heard TíKir mutter a curse under her breath, "What is it TíKir?"

"Iím detecting a glitch in our sensor array." TíKir replied, annoyance permeated her words.

Macen straightened up, "Can you resolve it?"

"Already on it. Iíve engaged the back-ups and widened the radius of the other sensors."

"I take it youíve isolated the problem?" Macen asked.

"Yes." TíKir replied glumly, "One of our port sensors was displaying an echo of its neighbouring unit. The differential was so slight, I hadnít noticed it."

Macen nodded. It was an easy mistake to make. Technically, the targeting sensors werenít her purview, but she took it upon herself to monitor all the sensor systems. The diagnostics hadnít detected it while Daggit used the systems. That meant the diagnostics might be faulty as well.

He nodded towards TíKir, "Get ahold of Chief Dracas and tell him what youíve got. I want to know how this happened."

TíKir was already contacting the Chief. They were eleven hours out of Kresh territory. They would make a short layover at the station there before entering Andergani territory. Their lives and their investigation depended upon the sensors operating properly.

Hilde Edgars lifted her head off the floor. This was no easy task considering that her arms were bound behind her. The bruises and broken ribs also worked against her. She managed to twist her knees underneath her by leveraging herself on her head.

Her head swung up only to nearly come crashing back down. The galaxy spun like a wheel in the universe and Edgars was suddenly intimately aware of it. She took deep, even breaths and forced her vision to clear. She tried to clear the mental cobwebs in order to remember why sheíd received the latest beating.

The Horta had been ambushed. Theyíd followed the trail left behind the raiders that had looted that freighter. What theyíd found...Oh God, what theyíd found. The Horta had been disabled within minutes.

Edgars had signalled her surrender but it had been to no avail. The pirates couldnít afford witnesses. Edgars had ordered her crew to abandon ship in a desperate hope that some of them would escape destruction. The only pod that had been spared was the one containing her, Alicia Witt, and her Chief Tactical Officer.

Chief Hadlin had been executed immediately upon their being beamed aboard the lead pirate ship. There was no other term to describe it. The moment they materialised, a high power phaser beam disintegrated him. Edgars had not been surprised. She no longer had the capacity for surprise.

Theyíd tracked the Hornblowerís destroyers down only to discover they were Starfleet. Three starships to be exact. They had escaped destruction during the Dominion campaign that captured Betazed. The battered and weary crews accepted the Andergani offer of protection in exchange for technology "infusions".

They augmented their ranks with displaced mercenaries from across the Alpha Quadrant. Some of them were former Maquis, Bajoran Resistance, and Symmetrists that found themselves in Andergani territory while fleeing capture. Their philosophical and political views twisted beyond recognition, poisoned by hate. The transition into piracy merely serving to fulfil impulses no longer satisfied while in pursuit of a "noble" cause.

The appearance of three starships had greatly changed the nature of Andergani piracy. Led by a former Lt. Commander, the Starfleet ships quickly decimated their rivals. The privateers that survived, survived at the sufferance of Herbert Spencer. With two Miranda-class and a New Orleans-class, they were unrivalled within the Andergani domain. They swiftly pinioned themselves into a virtual fiefdom of a solar system in exchange for the upsurge of bounty they produced.

Edgars had met Spencerís gaze levelly. His career had stalled years before. The spark that ignited in his eyes as he stared into her impassionate gaze had been his mind converting her into the imagined source of his lifeís failures. He saw the chance of breaking her as his chance to overcome the obstacles of his past.

She and Alicia were taken to junior officerís quarters and tied to the beds. He had several of his "officers", male and female alike, rape them repetitively over a period of two days. Whenever one was being raped, the other was forced to watch. Edgars had then subjected to witnessing Alicia being beaten.

No questions were ever asked of her or Alicia. They transferred her to the brig and left her in isolation. Sheíd been alone for three weeks when theyíd piped a visual signal into her cell. Alicia had been nursed back into a semblance of health so that the cycle of rape could resume.

It was during the long weeks alone that Hilde realised what Spencer wanted. She begged to see him after receiving the signal showing Wittís fate. She had thrown herself to the deck before him and pleaded for Alicia and herself. Rather than pleasing Spencer, it had enraged him.

Heíd claimed his victory had come too cheaply. That was when he personally attacked her. The only satisfaction she had was that heíd brought Aliciaís limp form to the brig and left her on a cell. She was safe from her tormentors now.

Edgars shifted her jaw. It was swollen but unbroken. Her left eye was swollen half shut, but she could still see. Compared to the brutality Alicia had endured thus far, Edgars had escaped virtually unscathed.

Her first duty was to survive. She had to survive. If she didnít, there would be no way for her to help Alicia. As long as they survived, there was a chance she could obtain justice for her First Officer.

Even in the fires of the Dominion War, Edgars had never felt the cold embrace of hatred. She felt it now. She now understood that feeling now. She now knew what could drive a man like Spencer into the pits of depravity. She refused to plunge there herself. She would remain unbroken and would find a way to see Spencer brought to heel. Her focus enabled her to ignore her own sense of violation.

Macen stepped into the mess to find it nearly deserted. He supposed it was due to the fact that the day watch had stood down almost two hours ago. Heíd discussed the nature of their sensor failure with TíKir and then quietly driven Dracas insane by standing by in the Science lab while the Chief and TíKir worked on replacing the faulty unit. He almost wished heíd left the Chief to TíKirís alone to tender mercies, then he really would have been driven insane.

Macen didnít truly understand why heíd taken TíKir under his wing. Ro Laren had foisted her off on him to be spared her increasing instability. It had taken Macen years to discover her problem stemmed from not being trained to deal with her heightened telepathic abilities. Her bouts of insanity stemming from her inability to quell the mental assaults she endured every waking moment.

Of course, there was also the matter of her trying to kill him. During their time together in the Maquis, heíd never realised her visceral attraction to him. He assumed it derived from his peopleís natural resistance to telepathic probes. As the person that didnít invade her mind, heíd seemed unbearably attractive.

Liseaís thoughts, however, had been an open book. TíKir had gleaned the details of their experiences together from her mind. During their final withdrawal from the Dominion assault on the Maquis strongholds, TíKir had snapped. The overwhelming tension in the air combined with her own jealousy had been too much to deal with and sheíd tried to stab him.

Macen shrugged that memory aside as he ordered his meal from the replicator. He took a taste and sighed. Living with the Maquis had been a hard life but at least the food had been fresh. Starfleetís self-imposed dependence upon replicated foodstuffs cut down on the need for frequent supply stops, but the fare was frightfully bland, no matter what had been ordered.

He sat down at a table and ate quietly alone. When he was done he returned the dishes to the replicator for recycling. He then deposited himself down at the nearest entertainment unit and called up a favourite strategy game of his. He had just finished selecting which scenario to play when Nerrit entered.

She nodded on her way to the replicator. After receiving a steaming mug of tea, she promptly sat down across from Macen. Her eyes quickly surveyed the game. Her lips curled up in a smile of delight.

"You play Telldright?" she asked.

Macen grinned, "I learned about during my time with the Maquis. It was a favourite among the former Resistance members."

Nerrit nodded. The motion caused the loops dangling from her traditional earring to sway. He noticed the dimples in her cheeks when she smiled. The bone ridges on the bridge of her nose almost imperceptibly descended down its length, disappearing millimetres above the rounded nub that tipped its end.

She had a high forehead that descended into a pointed jaw. Her thin lips, upturned nose, and large eyes balanced her "long" face. Her blonde hair was pulled into a long braid coiled around the back of her head.

Macen studied the lively eyes that peered back at him through her bangs. The intelligence heíd first detected there was grinding away at lightening speed. She was assessing him. He grinned wickedly, Well, if she wants a contest.

"Do you play?" he asked.

"Not as often as Iíd like." she answered simply, revealing nothing.

"Would you like to assume the computerís role?" he offered.

Her smile widened, it had a feline quality to it, "Iíd love to."

Macen had saved the games. She trounced him, not once but three times. At least the third round hadnít been a complete rout like the first two. Macen had been beaten at the game before but never that soundly or consistently.

After the third game sheíd gracefully given him an out by claiming weariness. Heíd gratefully accepted and they had ordered drinks instead and began discussing their relative paths to their current assignment. Heíd been surprised to learn sheíd made a study of his exploits among the Maquis.

He was more interested in learning more about her than in discussing himself. Sheíd enlisted in the Militia at 22 right on the heels of the Cardassian withdrawal. Macen asked her about it.

"The family had been allowed to visit out familial village upon the death of my grandmother. Sheíd been the leader of the village and fairly important in the politics of the Southern islands. While I was there, a local Resistance leader talked me into helping them."

She shrugged diffidently, "I was asked to deliver a package to a Cardassian sentry post. As I was walking away, it exploded. I returned to see whatíd happened."

Her eyes clouded as old memories came to the fore of her mind, "Only one glinn remained alive. He was missing his right arm. He just stood there in shock."

Her lips pursed as she remembered her reaction, "I stood there as well. I saw all the blood and the bits of flesh everywhere. I understood that I was responsible by bringing that package."

She shrugged, "The glinn saw me and recognised me as the messenger that had left the package. He tried to grab the phaser on his right hip with his left hand. As he fumbled about, I noticed a rifle laying in the debris and picked it up and killed him."

She gave him a wan smile, "After that, my family returned to the mining camps in Shakuur Province. I joined the Resistance cell there and scouted potential targets for them. I was considered too young by the Cardassians to pose a threat. I also wrote estimates on Cardassian movements based upon changing patrols and local shipping reports."

"And there lies the interest in Intelligence work?" Macen inquired.

She shrugged, "More of a talent than an interest. Iím good at it. I wanted to help my people rebuild after the occupation and it seemed the best way to utilise my talents, such as they are."

Macen smirked at her qualifier. He suspected she knew exactly how skilled she truly was. Her earring held several pendants. Each one indicated a higher level of schooling the Bajoran faith mastered.

"I have no doubts about your abilities." Macen told her earnestly, "Not after facing you at Telldright." That was certainly true. The game was waged on several levels. Many of them centred on ways of discovering clues as to the enemyís plans and reacting accordingly. Her instincts were amazing.

"Thanks." she replied with a rueful smile, "The occupation ended a few years after my joining the Resistance. After returning to Bajor, I finished school. I even went to the Academy at Bírehla. I graduated on an accelerated course and was recalled to active duty after the Dominion took over Terok..."

She smiled at the reference and corrected herself, "After the Dominion took over Deep Space 9."

"It must have been rough to see the Cardassians return." Macenís expression hinted at his own experience with the Cardassians and the Dominion.

She nodded, the movement more a reflexive spasm than a conscious effort, "Youíll never know the relief we felt at having the Federation return."

He saw the clouds in her eyes, "But?"

She flinched slightly, "What?"

"There was something about the Cardassians return that bothered you. Something you havenít mentioned."

Her eyes narrowed, "How?"

It was Macenís turn to shrug, "Itís a gift my people have. We listen, not only to whatís been said but also whatís been left out."

"It would have served us right if the Federation had abandoned us." she replied slowly.

"Why?" Macen asked in honest perplexion.

"We signed a non-aggression treaty with the Dominion." she replied bitterly, "We handed ourselves over to them trusting them to hold to the treatyís stipulation of sovereignty. We prayed that weíd be left alone, but we knew that we were occupied once again."

"The Provisional Government signed that treaty because they knew that Bajor could never repel the Dominion. They did what they thought was best for Bajor."

She gave him a disdainful glare, "They did it because they didnít believe that the Prophets would aid us."

"Do you believe in the Prophets?" Macen asked suddenly.

The question hit Nerrit like a physical blow, "What? What kind of question is that? Of course I believe in the Prophets!"

"But do you believe in them because you have faith they are shepherding Bajor, or because the belief is a cultural legacy?" He asked quietly

Her expression was a blend of outrage and shock, "Do you believe in the Prophets?"

"Yes, I do." Macen replied with a smile and a wave of his hand, "And not in the way that Starfleet does. I donít consider them mere Ďwormhole aliensí. Iíve studied Bajoran history and their positive influences every facet of your culture. Whether or not that influence is technological or supernatural in nature does not concern me. The simple fact is that they have impacted your world for thousands of years."

"It also stems from the fact I can feel their presence."

The last statement made Nerritís eyes widen a bit, "You can feel them? I thought only the Emissary could commune with the Prophets."

Macen chuckled, "I didnít say I was in communication with them. El-Aurians can feel time-space fluctuations. The Prophets produce an eddy of disturbances."

He shrugged, "I believe, but I believe in a different fashion than you. In ancient times that would have made us enemies."

She frowned, "Why do you say that?"

Macen grinned, "Bajor hit a cultural and technological zenith centuries ago. They were warping about this part of the Quadrant while the Cardassians were still employing chemically propelled weapons upon each other. Why did such an advanced society fall prey to the Cardassians later?"

"We fell from the path." Nerrit answered without much conviction, "They were a punishment sent by the Prophets."

"You may be right." Macen agreed, startling Nerrit even more, "Most vedeks would agree with you. What they wonít agree on is how the Bajorans fell from the path."

"And you have the answer?" she asked dubiously.

"I have a theory, just like everybody else." Macen replied simply, "Bajor was fine as long as there was a general consensus of belief. Different factions and sects arose, but they all agreed upon the right to disagree. It wasnít until a few of them decided their interpretation was the only one that things got ugly. Same scriptures and same prophecies but different subjective interpretations that people were willing to kill for. The religious wars lasted for two centuries and Bajoran society was shattered. Because each side had employed advanced weaponry produced by technology, the survivors banned most innovations and returned to a more primitive technology base."

"They decided the way to return to the path of the Prophets was to return to the tech base that existed when the Prophets first appeared. It was because of this decision that Bajor was easy prey to the Cardassians later on."

"Youíre saying the Occupation was our own fault?" She asked angrily.

"Only the Cardassians themselves are responsible for invading Bajor and the brutalities of the Occupation." Macen corrected, "I contend that the decision to abandon the previous tech base was in error. The fault lay in the interpretation of events. Technology didnít create the strife. The inability to respect differing viewpoints produced the religious wars."

"I canít say the situationís changed much." Nerrit admitted slowly, "Bajorís plagued by the same struggle."

"Every planetís plagued by the same struggle." Macen retorted dryly, "Even the Vulcans have a hard time seeing another Vulcanís perspective."

She watched him for several more moments before she spoke, "I underestimated you."

He smirked, "Most do. Thatís the secret of my success."

An intriguing glint shone from her eyes, "Somehow I thing its more than just that."

Macen shrugged. His comm badge chirped. He gave a Nerrit a wry expression as he tapped it.

"Macen here."

"Captain." Daggitís voice came over, "The computer said you were still up."

"Thatís true." he said dryly

"Weíll be arriving in two hours." Daggit informed him, "Do you still wish to take the bridge for our docking?"

Macen sighed. He and Nerrit had spent the last six hours together either playing games or in conversation. He gave her a weary look. She nodded and moved towards the replicator.

"Iíll be there." he informed Daggit.

He turned towards Nerrit as she awaited his request, "Coffee, with vanilla creamer."

She brought the mug over and handed it to him. He took a sip. The system couldnít produce a decent a decent Algerian tigerfrond barbecue, but it could make good coffee. He grinned appreciatively.

"Thanks."

Her grin was crooked and conveyed mischief, "Gladly, especially since it means I have you captive for another few hours which can be spent discussing philosophy and faith."

He broke into a lop-sided grin of his own, "Iíd love to, especially if it means finding out how you got posted to this team."

 

Chapter 4

Herbert Spencer sat in the command chair of his New Orleans-class starship as though he were mounting a throne. The ship, once named the USS Manticore, had been rechristened the Royalty. With this ship and its two siblings, Spencer had carved out a private empire within the Andergani Oligarchy.

Spencer was a reedy fellow that had maintained his rank of Lt. Commander for nearly ten years. Heíd been a department head, Chief of Environmental Systems, but answered to a Lieutenant that had made Chief Engineer. Spencer had seen that development as the climax of an unfulfilling career. When the senior officers of the ship had died in combat against the JemíHadar, heíd been more than willing to assume command.

Having served aboard the same starship for twenty years had given Spencer plenty of time to create his own covert ring of influence. Over the last ten years, Spencer had manipulated a web of profiteers and black marketeers that would have made a Ferengi blush orange. With the senior staff out off the way, it had been a simple matter to assume command and convince other ships containing cohorts to join him.

Their mad dash to escape the Dominion forces had been directed towards the Andergani from the outset. Spencer had dealt with the Andergani for years. He knew that three starships would go far in purchasing him a position of affluence. He had not been mistaken.

The fist tests of his strength had come when officers loyal to Starfleet learned of his plans and launched a mutiny. Theyíd nearly lost one of the Mirandas over that, the former USS Nelson. Reinforcements provided by mercenaries in the employ of the Andergani had tipped the odds to Spencerís favour. They now comprised the bulk of his crews.

The mercenaries were largely drawn from disaffected paramilitary groups that had arisen over the last half century. These were ones that could not reintegrate into their originating societies. They had grown accustomed to warfare. They had found new causes to fight for, either personal profit or personal satisfaction.

Spencer knew these people had skills that his Starfleet trained personnel had not developed yet. Their suppression of the mutiny had galvanised them. Death had united them in a common goal.

That goal basically translated into avoiding prosecution. It was better to be thought dead in battle against the Dominion than be dragged home in disgrace. Spencer smiled coldly. Every new atrocity bound his crew closer to him. This had led to his decision of leaving no witnesses.

Prisoners could be taken to serve as slave labour or entertainment. Once his crew had accepted their actions, theyíd taken to his orders with a vengeance. Their enthusiasm occasionally frightened Spencer. Heíd decided that it was better to know his crewmatesí depravities rather than remain unawares. It would make it easier to control their deviant urges if they were dependent upon him for their satisfaction.

It wasnít a standard means for establishing authority, but you made do with what you had. Spencer knew he was not a charismatic man, but a was devious. Spencer was a master manipulator. If he hadnít been, Starfleet Internal Affairs would have arrested him years ago. Employing his native skills he had managed to allude investigators and shift the blame to others.

Now, as Baron Herbert Spencer of the Andergani Oligarchy, he exercised authority over thousands. Every raiding party brought new "colonists" to his world. His contacts among the Orion Confederacy also brought him new subjects. Soon it would be time to capture a new ship. He smile would have chilled a supernova.

Macen was still smiling when he reached the lift. TíKir and Grace were waiting to board it as well. TíKir flashed him a disgusted glare at leaving her to help repair the sensors while heíd stolen off. Macen ignored TíKirís obvious unhappiness. He promised himself theyíd have their little talk as soon as time permitted.

Daggit shifted uncomfortably in the command chair. He could face a platoon of JemíHadar without a thought of fear. He hadnít expected to be made team XO, much less be given command duties of a ship, even if it was only a scoutship. He was grateful when the lift doors swooshed open, signalling the end of his watch.

The other senior officers entered wearing the uniform designated for Outbound Ventures employees. It consisted of a blue coverall trimmed with black. It had an upraised, black collar that closed at the collarbone. A black strip followed the zipper seam to its conclusion. A black strip cut from underneath the right underarm over the left shoulder. The legs both possessed pinstriped cargo pockets.

A black utility belt and mid-calf boots were part of the ensemble. Each crewman wore a black phaser that resembled a blend between the Romulan disrupter and a Bajoran phaser. It was a design from Macenís native Delta Quadrant. Each wore a tricorder as well.

They wore a gold octagonal comm badge on the left breast. The right sleeve bore a "company" patch while the left carried a shipís patch. They all wore grey Henley style undershirts. Maven and Daggit both wore their coverall sleeves rolled up. The sleeves had their own clasps to secure them.

"Any problems?" Macen asked Daggit with a smile.

"Of course not." Daggit answered with a wan smile.

"See you after we dock." He said with a grin as he stepped out of the chair and began to depart. Daggit groaned inwardly. Damn the man! He was going to force him to do this again..

Deep Space 13 resembled two onion domes connected by a small cylinder. The centre connection and the end of each hub had several docking pylons extending outwards, beckoning enticingly towards ships to mate with them. Macen let TíKir handle most of the stationís operational requirements while Grace handled the navigational chores. He blearily studied the stationís layout, envying TíKirís Vulcan stamina.

Each onion served a different purpose. The upper module served Kresh and Federation military needs. The lower module was devoted to commercial, scientific, and cultural exchanges. Each could detach itself from the other and still function unimpaired.

They were assigned to the central pylon that linked the two modules. This was fitting for their assumed status as a commercial scout. It also placed them well within reach of Starfleet and the Kresh officials if they wanted to query them as to their progress. Only the station commander, Captain Ovid Petris, knew of their true mission and identity.

Macen pinched the bridge of his nose as he gathered his thoughts and rested his burning eyes. He wasnít as young as heíd been a century ago and staying up all night without an appropriate amount of adrenaline accompanying the experience was not as easy as it used to be. When he opened his eyes, he glanced TíKirís way and caught her yawning.

He took an inordinate amount of glee from the fact she was as miserable as he was. Although he knew he was responsible for her current weariness, it would distract her from needling him on how heíd chosen to spend his evening. He reconsidered what her reaction would be once she discovered how heíd spent his evening and decided that he might prefer needling. Her jealous fits had faded, but she was still rather territorial regarding him especially with Danan gone. He understood her reaction, since they were the closest analogues to family either of them had.

Daggit rubbed his scalp wearily. That had been one of the longest duty shifts of his life. Several of the juniors had complimented him on it and he was relieved. They apparently had ignored his nervousness and concentrated instead on how heíd dealt with them. As a former grunt, he avoided squashing juniors whenever possible.

The Odyssey had docked and Daggit posted a shore leave rotation. TíKir glared indiscriminately at anyone and everyone after learning she had the bridge for the rest of her watch. Dracas and the engineering crew would stay aboard to sound out the shipís equipment. Most of the juniors would get at least two hours aboard the station.

Kort would be picking up additional med supplies. The doctor had been irate upon discovering he only had an EMHm.2 for an assistant. He was determined to procure more emergency kits. Heíd also muttered something about finding a programmer as he left.

Daggit and Nerrit would wander the station. Their goal was to obtain information from local traders on recent events in nearby sectors. Macen and Grace had the dubious honour of dealing with Customs. They had a conference with Petris afterwards supposedly to discuss local regulations regarding exploration.

Macen and Daggit appeared at Petrisí office after a gruelling hour with Customs. Macen had discovered the advantages of being Starfleet. Heíd never posed as a private ship captain before. He wondered how anyone dealt with myopic officials and terabytes of forms without becoming homicidal.

Petris recognised the weary expression upon their faces as they entered his office and smiled. He was a swarthy man. Short with a portly build, heíd that had spent his career in station and starbase administration. His dark hair was reduced to a few wispy strands atop his head and even these were shot through with silver. He wore a thick moustache that reminded Macen of pictures heíd seen of several Terran dictators of the 20th and 21st centuries.

"Come in." he said warmly, gesturing towards a couch facing his desk, "Do come in."

He pointed towards a porcelain carafe, "Do you desire coffee? This is the real thing. North African beans brought to the station and then personally ground fresh for brewing."

Macen smiled affably at the Commanderís enthusiasm. The manís Mediterranean roots were being purposefully displayed in every decorative choice in the office. Although TíKir in particular would have died before admitting it, she displayed similar behaviour regarding her own roots. It seemed to be a peculiarity of Federation members.

He stifled the impulse to chuckle dryly, Itís not my fault they were born on the wrong side of the galaxy.

"Captain, you seem very amused." Petris commented, "Would you care to elaborate?"

Macen waved his hand in protest while adopting a wry expression, "Iíve just been awake far too long and the missions just begun."

Petris smiled appreciatively, "Iíve felt that way every day since my arrival. Take heart. At least the Kresh are sincere in their desire to develop closer ties with the Federation. They should provide almost any assistance you desire."

Grace shuddered at the memories his words dredged up. Her first assignment as a junior officer on a deep space assignment when her ship, the Robert April, had conducted a survey on the Kreshís borders. Theyíd definitely wanted to develop closer ties then. Her mind still twisted around the group sexual activity the Kresh envoys had suggested as a way of "breaking the ice". Theyíd described things even Bolians, Deltans, and Rigellians would have qualms about.

Petris noticed her reaction and hesitated, "Is there a problem, Ensign?"

Her posture became rigid and her face reddened, "Of course not."

""Then Iíll assume it is safe to begin my briefing regarding local conditions and regulations." Petris announced grimly.

Daggit and Nerrit wandered about. The Bajoran was fast gaining respect for the Angosianís instincts. The same indoctrination techniques that made him a superior soldier were proving invaluable as an undercover agent. He had an incomparable ability to sense danger.

Sheíd seen the type on Bajor. The oldest Resistance fighters had survived to get old by developing similar talents. Those that had joined the Militia had proven to be formidable adversaries to malcontents trying to exploit Bajorís wounded society after the Cardassian withdrawal. Bajorís growing revitalisation owed a great deal to such people.

Daggit was nearly old enough to be Nerritís father. His granite face was heavily lined. His right temple still bore the tattoo his peopleís engineerís had placed in their elite soldiers to designate who had received the "enhancements" thought necessary to win the war. He wore his hair cropped to a fine stubble.

His steel grey eyes searched every nook and cranny as they passed by. He noted the way people moved and how they reacted with one another. Nerrit had no doubts that every detail was burned into his memory just in case such data became useful for survival. Having faced dealt with Klingons and faced both the Cardassians and the JemíHadar, she could honestly say that none of them had rivalled the sheer sense of lethality that Daggit projected. She thanked the Prophets that she did not have to face him in combat. She had little doubts as to who would win such an encounter.

Theyíd spent the last two hours gaining a feel for the locals. Several of them had made suggestions to Nerrit that had made Wenís cheeks burn. Bajorans were a deeply spiritual people, as the Kresh were rumoured to be. However, the theological discussions that had been offered had little to do with any form of theology Nerrit knew of.

Daggit had dispersed the last gathering of the "faithful" that had made Nerrit cringe even though it was issued on her behalf. They had successfully learned the location of the local pub and eatery. Every station had one recreational site that was the hub of social life and trade aboard. On DS9, it had been Quarkís. On DS13, it was Theronís.

Nerrit had actually set foot in Quarkís once during a six month tour aboard the station during the closing months of the war. She had found the Ferengi proprietor to be cheerful, if tiresome in his attempts to persuade her to buy unwanted trinkets or diversions. The only pleasant memory of her visit had been her conversation with a fellow patron named Morn. Heíd regaled her for hours with tales of his trading runs through the quadrant.

She straightened her shoulders as she and Daggit prepared to enter Theronís. She reminded herself that the Kresh were a civilised race. She needed to be respectful of their cultural differences and beliefs. She saw children entering and leaving. How bad could it be?

A chime interrupted Petrisí discussion with Macen and Grace. He stepped away from the wall display he was using for territorial charts. He excused himself, stepped behind his desk and proceeded to have a low conversation with someone on the built-in comm system. Macen and Danan occupied themselves by discussing the finer points of a few navigational anomalies.

Petris approached them with a wry expression on his face, "It seems your presence has been requested by the Constabulary, Captain."

"Trouble with my crew?" Macen asked ruefully.

Petris nodded gravely.

"Let me guess, Kort?" Petris shook his head.

"Daggit?" Macen asked with a tinge of irritation. Petris shook his head.

"One of my juniors?" Macen asked, growing confused. Petris shook his head. Grace cleared her throat and tapped the bridge of her nose. Macenís jaw fell.

"Nerrit?" he asked in bewilderment.

Petrisí cheshire grin was answer enough

 

Chapter 5

TíKir read the traffic flash update on the padd she held. Sheíd swivelled the command chair sideways and had her legs draped over the console to the seatís right. She snickered as she read the request the Kresh constables had sent for Macenís presence. He thought that heíd make his life easier by leaving her aboard.

Well, shows him doesnít it? She thought with satisfaction, The little Bajoran princess is just as much trouble as the rest of us. TíKir had queried the computer as to Macenís location last night to discover he was alone in the Mess with their new exchange officer. It had irked her that heíd made her work while he spent time with a stranger.

TíKirís lips twisted at that thought. She knew she wasnít being fair. Macen had stuck his neck out for her since theyíd first met. She could never repay him for the opportunities heíd provided for her.

She also realised that his current position had to be difficult for him. Macen wasnít exactly known for following Starfleet regulations. Heíd joined in the last decade of the 23rd century and still reflected the operational mentality of that era. Riding herd on a group of individualistic rabble-rousers had to be hard on him since he was traditionally the chief rabble-rouser around.

Starfleet Intelligence had always been the most pragmatic branch of Starfleet. Undercover work demanded that they be willing to participate in activities that typical officers would condemn. Analytical work demanded a degree of objectivity that could alienate others outside Intelligenceís private domain. They walked a tightrope while attempting to balance the ends and the means.

Starfleetís ideals had grown loftier over the course of the 24th century. Other service branches increasingly looked down upon Intelligence. The loyal agents continued to venture into harmís way with little or no support. They chalked up an enviable reputation among rival organisations and criminal cartels like the Orion Syndicate for their success rate. But they were looked down upon at home because duplicity was a weapon of choice.

That fact that starship captains commonly employed lies and false identities in the course of their duties mattered little to the critics. Starfleet was a paragon of the Federationís ideals, it was claimed, they had little use for falsehoods when they had the combined might of the Federation behind them. The arrival of the Borg, the crisis over the Maquis, and the war with the Dominion had opened a few eyes in political offices everywhere.

TíKir knew that Starfleet Command still had no idea of what to do with Macen. He had too much credit with the Federation Council after discovering the Gulag crisis. Command had been ready to retire him for his involvement with the Maquis. They would have earlier if they hadnít needed him to participate in a suicide mission of gathering intelligence behind enemy lines.

Sheíd sat out the war in the Andes Mental Sciences Institute. Typically, the rare Vulcan mental patient was sent home. As a former "terrorist", Starfleet wasnít about to let her off Earth. Theyíd never counted on Macen breaking her out of there.

TíKir had finally given up on any chance of fulfilling her more carnal fantasies about Macen just in time for Lisea Danan to resign Starfleet and leave Macenís life. Sheíd desired it for years, but the act carried a stinging sense of loss that TíKir despised. TíKir and Danan had never got along very well and it irked the Vulcan to feel saddened by her departure. The Vulcan hoped the Trill would take a few host bodies sorting out any mental anguish sheíd caused.

TíKir craned her neck to one side until she heard a satisfying "crack". Her lips pursed together as she contemplated a diagnostic sheíd just run on the LCARS interfaces across the ship. Their performance times could be much faster. TíKir had only a marginal grasp on Vulcan propriety, but she damn well knew starship systems.

One part of her mind began devising software changes to enhance performance as another part of her mind contemplated how to get Macenís attention. He had never responded to her blatant attempts. She wondered if heíd respond to subtlety. The problem was that she had no idea what the subtle approach consisted of.

Humans were easy. They found Vulcans exotic. The very notion of a Vulcan willing to display emotion and engage in recreational sex was enough to wrap one, or more, around her finger. El-Aurians were harder.

She couldnít read his cursed mind very easily. It had been difficult even when her telepathy hadnít been tapered by medicinal means to a manageable background hum. Unlike a human, whose every fantasy was hers for the reading, she knew very little about what intrigued him. She also knew that by couching her fascination with him in purely sexual terms she could avoid the true cause of her feelings for him.

Sheíd fallen in love with him the moment sheíd met him. The universe had dealt Macen one tragedy after another and he refused to surrender. He always came back and struck the universe harder than it had him. She did know that other Vulcans would undoubtedly frown upon her seemingly futile quest. She shrugged that thought aside.

When didnít the average Vulcan frown upon her life? She wondered to herself.

Petris led the way to Theronís Place. On the outside, it appeared very calm. The truth was revealed upon entering. Macen assumed that it had been an inviting establishment, once. That had changed decidedly. Now every shop window was shattered and several pieces of furniture lay strewn across the Promenade in front of the establishment.

A half dozen Kresh were gathered in the wreckage of several tables and chairs. Debris from shattered decanters and glasses littered the floor. The Kresh typically stood at a height of at least 140cm. They were bipedal with six multi-jointed limbs.

They walked upon two powerful double-kneed legs and were renowned for their leaping ability. It made sense to Grace, since the Kresh were related to an amphibian reminiscent of Terran frogs. They also had a triangular head with thick lips and upraised nostrils. Their primary limbs were double-jointed as well, with three long fingers and an opposable thumb. Their other set of limbs extended out from their mid-section and were a quarter of the length of the primaries, with tiny fingers.

They wore simple loincloths at their waist as well as elaborate turbans atop their heads. They were wider than they were tall. The stout bodies of the Kresh were almost entirely composed of muscle. Only a masochist ever truly desired an opportunity to engage a Kresh in unarmed combat.

Two of the Kresh were aiming weapons of native manufacture at Daggit. Daggit sat atop a table looking nonchalant. Macen knew how deceiving appearances could be regarding an Angosian. Daggit could, and would, launch himself into lethal motion with little or no warning.

Three more Kresh stood watch over Nerrit while the last took statements from witnesses. Wen looked miserable. Macen was glad to see the remorse in her eyes. He was also disturbed to see weapons aimed at his people.

"I donít think thereíll be trouble." He spoke up, "You can stop pointing your weapons at my people."

The Kresh taking statements was the only one that moved. The others remained as they were. The Chief Constableís eyes briefly passed over Macen. After a moment, he made a croaking chirp and his officers lowered their weapons.

"You are their commanding officer?"

"Iím the captain of the ship they work on." Macen answered.

"The proprietor is willing to forgo charges if they compensate him for damages."

"Certainly." Macen agreed, "Have him send a bill to my ship."

"Easily done." the Constable replied.

Macenís face grew grim, "How did it start?"

The Constable shook his head sadly, "Many of our people have heard of the deep spirituality of the Bajorans. Several worshippers gathered here invited your Nerrit Wen to join them in their practices. She did not respond well."

Macen took another cursory glance at the wreckage around him, "Iíd say she didnít."

Macen turned back to the Constable, "Are they free to go."

"Yes." the Constable answered, "Provided they proceed directly to your vessel and stay aboard. Their dockside privileges have been rescinded."

Macen gave the Constable a wry smile, "I donít think that will pose a problem."

"That is good." the Constable continued amiably before adding, "Two of my agents will accompany your crew to your berth."

Macenís eyes flickered darkly. The Kreshís colour shifted slightly, a sign of his discomfort. A muscle in Macenís cheek pulsed slightly as he bit down his anger. He broke into a rueful grin when heíd mastered his reaction.

"I can see your point. When will they be ready?"

"As soon as you are."

Macen nodded. He turned and met Daggitís eyes for a moment. Daggitís expression remained impassive but his eyes projected a dry appreciation for the situation. Nerritís face was a frozen mask, revealing nothing.

Macen led the way back to the ship. Daggit, Grace and Nerrit followed closely on his heels. The two Kresh security officers brought up the rear. Macen stopped at the docking collar as his crew proceeded onto the ship.

"If I can have my officerís comm badges?" he asked with an outstretched hand.

The Kresh returned the badges without comment. They strode off without further comment. Macen studied them as they left. He stifled a sigh as he turned to board the ship.

Macen sat alone in the Briefing Room. Heíd just finished discussing the dayís events with Daggit. Having heard his account, Macen wanted to discuss matters with Nerrit alone. This was going to be an informal test of both the womanís character and training.

She entered the room and immediately put herself at attention. Macen was halfway sitting on the conference table and was amused by the contrast in their posture. He stood up and began to circle her. He could see the muscles in her cheek and throat clenching.

"Do you have any testimony to offer in defence before I render a verdict?" he asked.

"Has the Captain been informed off what the Kresh asked... what they wanted... of what they wanted me to participate in?" she asked with revulsion in her voice.

"Welcome to the wider world of the Alpha Quadrant." Macen replied dryly.

Her head snapped around and her jaw hung open until she caught herself and returned to her stoic pose. Macen chuckled softly.

"Youíre not on Bajor any more Lieutenant." his voice was low but firm, "Your beliefs are very important to you. That does not give you permission to attack others that do not share them."

"Sir, they asked me to mate with them!" her voice was frantic, "With all of them!"

Macen unsuccessfully tried to hide a grin, "In ancient times, the Kresh were hunted by a larger predator species. Until they developed tools and weapons capable of fending off the predators, their only defence was their rapid reproductive cycle. They celebrated every birth and held it in reverence, for it guaranteed the survival of their species in a very tangible and personal way. Even though they no longer face immediate extinction, the cultural emphasis remains."

"They said it was worship!" Nerrit protested, "Reproduction is not worship!"

"Not on Bajor." Macen corrected, "The Kresh see the universe as a literal extension of the Pond their society ascended from. Every facet of life is an act of worship as they swim the Great Pond."

"Thatís fine for them." Nerrit growled in exasperation, "Why ask me to join in? And why indulge in the middle of a restaurant?"

"Their native language has no words for modesty or for sex." Macen replied, "These concepts are foreign to them. Since constant reproduction is no longer required for survival, they now see it as a conduit for sociability. They view the experience as a sharing of mind, body and soul. They want to share themselves and their culture freely with others."

"Yeah, they like to share." Nerrit retorted sourly.

"And you can say Ďnoí without resorting to violence." Macen admonished, "You can respect another racesí cultures, beliefs, and opinions without subscribing to them."

A hint of a smirk played at Nerritís lips, "A bit like helping rebuild Cardassia without becoming a Cardassian."

Macen grinned at that. It was one of the cosmosí greater ironies that the Cardassians were utterly dependent upon the Bajorans as the funnel for the reconstruction effort. The race they had ground under their heel now held the future of the entire Cardassian race in their hands. Although the Bajorans had been woefully tempted to close their borders to slowly choke the Cardassians to death, they had chosen to rebuild the relations between the two races at the same time the Cardassians rebuilt their ruined worlds.

"Something like that." Macen agreed, "The question is, why didnít you know any of this?"

That startled her, "What?"

"Why didnít you familiarise yourself with Kresh customs?"

"I just never..." her voice drifted off.

"Thatís right." Macen replied sternly, "You didnít think. Thatís something we canít afford. You have to be smarter. Our lives depend upon it. You have to keep an open mind. Narrow thinking and close-mindeness will get you killed."

"You must be able to think like both your enemies and your allies." his voice was hard and inflexible, "This enables you to outwit your opponent and draws you closer to your ally."

Nerrit nodded, "I understand."

"No." he snapped, stepping in close, "Its not enough to understand it here." he pointed at his skull, "You have to understand here."

He pointed at her breast and smiled, "It must become instinct and instinct is born in the heart." Nerrit swallowed and met his eyes.

"You can go now." he said softly.

She hesitated, then started out the door.

"Just stay out of any more trouble." He called after her before the doors closed behind her.

Daggit handled the undocking procedures. His crew needed the experience and it was their rotation. Macen monitored their progress from the Briefing Room. TíKir and Grace watched as well.

Kort was busy amusing himself in Sickbay. Macen hoped heíd stay sober enough to be able to treat an injury without inflicting more damage. He shook his head. Kort couldnít manage that sober. Being drunk might improve his bedside manner.

Daggit murmured approval to himself as he watched the relief Tactical officer on the bridge. Macen pitied Ensign Simms more than the rest. Daggit was a Strategic and Tactical Specialist. With both the shipís XO and immediate superior riding herd atop her, she didnít have much margin for error.

TíKir chortled to herself as Ensign Chadwick pressed the wrong button at Ops and re-engaged the docking clamps. Macen gave her stern glance but his heart wasnít really in it. The systems were designed to prevent that kind of mishap. Chadwick had to get his act together or he might inadvertently blow up the ship.

Chadwickís mistake was the last. Departures from a station were always highly regulated. Surprisingly enough, in contrast to the general flow of history, civilian craft in the Federation were under stricter traffic controls then their military counterparts. These controls were in place to protect civilian pilots that may have little or no training.

Macen switched off the monitor when it became apparent that the rest of the departure would run smoothly. Grace left, shaking her head and chuckling softly. TíKir started to follow with a grin that Macen knew all too well. She was about to cause trouble.

"TíKir." he growled a warning.

Her shoulders slumped, "What?"

"Donít say anything to Chadwick concerning his mistakes."

She spun to face him, "Címon, the manís completely dim!"

"Heís also young and inexperienced." Macen defended.

"That wasnít an excuse used in the Maquis." she retorted.

To her surprise, Macen laughed, "Yes, it was. Inexperience was blamed for every operation gone sour. We were just damn lucky that more people werenít killed by their own stupidity. We lost too many that way as it was."

Her eyes narrowed, "It still bothers you that we lost."

She saw a flicker of fire in his eyes as he answered, "Yes, it does. If that had been the end of it, that would be fine. Now, weíre facing the same battle again."

"Youíre talking about against the Federation?" she asked in surprise.

He nodded, "The war has changed Starfleet. It opened their eyes to a lot of things, but it also frightened them. Fear is driving them to make changes that make Cardassian appeasement look downright benign."

Her head shifted slightly to the side, "You think theyíll nurture the Dominion back to health?"

His laugh was bitter, "The Dominion has never been unhealthy. If the Prophets hadnít sealed the Wormhole, weíd have been overwhelmed by the JemíHadar. I think weíre safe from the Dominion for now. That virus, and Odoís return to the Great Link, will keep the Founderís in check for awhile."

"Then what are you worried about?"

"Iíve noticed that Starfleet is starting to throw its weight around more." he said slowly, "Theyíve seen their own mortality. Theyíre trying to gather allies as fast as they can, regardless of cultural or technological differences. Races that would have only been eligible for First Contact before are now instantly admitted as a protectorate or signed as an ally. Theyíre moving too fast."

"Like the Kresh?" her eyebrow arched.

"Like the Kresh." he admitted with a rueful smile, "We barely understand them. Rather than establish a cultural mission, we base a large military presence here."

"The Andergani are next door, figuratively speaking." TíKir reminded dryly.

"But theyíre a known quantity." Macen replied, "Theyíve never warranted this kind of presence before, and I doubt they warrant it now."

She shook her head, "And weíre in Starfleet because...?"

"To keep these damn fools from destroying themselves." he snorted.

"Good luck." she replied sourly, "Chadwickís performance seems to be the rule rather than the exception."

"Which is why we need to help him bring his performance up without humiliating him." Macen said with a grin, "Heíll never learn if heís hiding in his room, afraid to come out for fear of being mocked."

She gave him a wry smirk, "Youíre a sneaky bastard."

He just stared at her. She shrugged, "Okay, Iíll leave him alone."

"Thanks." he said with a lop-sided smirk. Now if he could what Graceís smirk had been about. Sheíd been a relatively junior officer on board for his last mission to investigate the Gulag. Heíd never spent much time learning much about her. He knew sheíd been both startled and pleased to assist him with the Customs paperwork and then to accompany him to Petrisí office. TíKir seemed to get along with her well enough. Heíd have to ask her more about their Chief helmsman.

Daggit was pleased with the crewís performance, despite Chadwickís less than stellar performance. The rest of Beta shift was shaping up nicely. Life was looking good, and then the distress call came. The rest of the day was about to go to hell.

 

Chapter 6

Spencer licked his lips in anticipation. The freighter his starships were stalking had already been captured by a competitor. A competitor that Spencer wanted to see dead. Heíd already destroyed Larnackís raider, now it was time to capture the freighter and destroy the Ktaarian himself.

Unlike Spencerís typical prey, Larnack was well aware of the true loyalties and objectives of the USS Manticore, USS Horatio Nelson, and USS Buzz Aldrin. His ship had immediately opened fire on the starships while Larnack began transmitting a distress call. The smaller, more manoeuvrable scoutship was able to distract the larger starships long enough for Larnack to get a subspace signal off. Spencer cursed the Starfleet engineers that had programmed the communication array with lockouts preventing the jamming of a distress call.

Deep in the recesses of the dark hole he called his heart, Spencer knew the fault lay with him. Heíd never considered rewriting the comm protocols at the same time they rewrote the command codes. Now theyíd paid a price for his oversight. The target was fleeing and had transmitted a signal that could provoke a real Starfleet response.

Spencer leaned forward in his seat as his helmsman pushed the ship after the lumbering freighter. The scout had been destroyed. The Aldrin suffered minor damage in the engagement. Sheíd affect repairs as the Manticore and the Nelson pursued her target.

"Whatíve we got on scanners?" Macen asked.

"Long-range sensors have detected the source if the distress signal." TíKir reported, "It is a freighter with Bolian registration, the SS Barituu."

"Any sign of why they activated a Priority One distress?"

"It might have something to do with the two Federation starships chasing it." TíKir replied dryly.

"Sir," Joe Alberts, Spencerís Tactical 1st spoke up, "sensors have detected an incoming ship."

"Starfleet?" Spencer asked apprehensively.

"No, sir" Alberts replied, "A civilian craft. It appears to be a decommissioned Starfleet scoutship."

Spencerís terse expression shifted into a predatory smile, "Well, it seems our bounty may have just doubled. Can you determine what class of ship it is?"

"The computer labels it a Blackbird-class scout."

Spencer thought about that. The scouts had been built at the beginning of the 24th century. Most of them were being retired as the new Sabre-class assumed its border patrol duties. Even stripped for civilian service, the scout would still boast a powerful warpcore that could easily power any weapons they saw fit to install."

"Prepare to hail them." Spencer ordered, "Standby to target their warp drive. I want to capture this one and press her into service."

"Aye, sir." Alberts acknowledged with a leering grin.

"Theyíre hailing us." Nerrit announced.

"The question is, who are they?" Macen asked.

"The signal is on general frequencies but the ships are both Starfleet."

"Run their names through the computer." Macen Said towards TíKir, "I want to know who these ships are and what theyíre doing out here."

"You suspect something?" Nerrit asked, her professional paranoia tickling.

"Petris didnít mention any Starfleet vessels being nearby." Macen explained, "It couldíve been an oversight. It canít hurt to check while I talk to them."

The viewer shifted to a close up of a portly man without any hair save a Van Dyke beard. It was grey and the man sat with an air of assumed importance. He wore Starfleet command divisional colours and the four insignia pins of a captain. The image struck Macen as being wrong.

"Greetings." the "Captain" spoke, "Iím Captain Herbert Spencer, commanding officer of the USS Manticore. Thank you for responding to the Barituuís distress call, but as you can see, we have the situation well under control."

Macen rose an eyebrow, "Captain, it appears as though the Barituu is running from you."

Spencer barked a brittle laugh, "Fair observation, Captain...?"

"Macen." he allowed.

"Well, Captain Macen, you just missed the exciting part where raiders captured this freighter and then attacked us as we responded to her crewís calls for aid."

"I see." Macen said tactfully. He didnít Spencer to catch scent of Macenís suspicions yet. The man had a vole-like quality. He looked capable of stealing whatever lay in front of him and then running like hell.

"Perhaps I should simply leave and not distract you further?" Macen suggested.

Spencer weighed the suggestion for several moments before replying, "No, that shouldnít be necessary. You will be in no danger."

"Thank you for your guarantee." Macen said, suppressing a shudder. Spencerís smile reminded him a constrictor slowly squeezing its prey, "Weíll adjust our course to avoid you and your quarry."

"Thank you, Captain." Spencer purred, "Iíll contact you when this is over."

The screen switched back to the space lying before them. On maximum magnification, the fleeing "fox" and the chasing "hounds" could be seen. The freighter was a tube with warp nacelles. It was obvious that it would never outpace the older Miranda, much less the newer New Orleans.

The Miranda-variant dated from the same era as the Odyssey. The original design dated back a century to the late 2270s. The New Orleans dated in from the mid-24th century and was related to the Ambassador-class the way a Nebula-class was the more versatile cousin of the Galaxy-class.

Whoever was aboard that freighter knew they would never escape, but had started their flight with their distress beacon wailing. Without the beacon, the freighter captain may have been able to hide. With the beacon transmitting, there was no evasion. That meant the beacon was the reason behind the flight and pursuit.

Macenís gut clenched as he put these suspicions together. The freighter was running in order to keep its beacon broadcasting. The starships were pursuing in order to shut it down before a signal reached DS13 and Starfleet responded. It was a nice theory, but it needed more facts to support it other than the fact Spencer came across like a Ferengi-Orion crossbreed.

"Anything on their ship IDs?" he asked TíKir.

TíKir smiled grimly, it was a chilling sight, "The computer identifies them as the USS Manticore and the USS Horatio Nelson."

"Are they really Starfleet?"

"They were." That drew a sharp glance from Macen, "They were listed as MIA after the defence of Betazed."

Macenís eyes went hard, "That certainly changes things. Are you running a sensor log of their activities?"

She nodded in the affirmative, making Macen smile, "Hit them with every active sensor weíve got. If theyíre up to anything, that should shake them up."

TíKir tapped a few controls. She frowned as she monitored her displays. Within seconds, she spotted anomalies that the Tactical scans had missed.

"Skipper, weíve got trouble." her tone carried her concern although her facial expression never changed, "Iím detecting two class 14 torpedoes aboard the Manticore."

Macen froze for a second. Class 14s were the largest thing in Starfleetís inventory. Powerful enough to create a subspace tear, they were rarely distributed and even more rarely used. Admiral Hwrath had been desperate indeed during the final battles against the Dominion regarding Betazoid territory.

The Odysseyís own quantum torpedo magazines were shielded in order to maintain the fiction that theyíd been deactivated. Although far more powerful than any photon torpedo, they paled before a class 14 neutron torpedo. Theoretically, a neutron torpedo could be launched against a planetary surface with devastating effect.

The subspace rift would literally suck a portion of the planetís crust away and release the magma lying beneath the surface. The tectonic forces released would devastate continents and be felt across entire globes. Larger planets would be permanently altered. Smaller bodies, such as habitable moons, would be rendered lifeless.

"Sir!" Grace said urgently, "One of the starships has altered course and is now inbound on an intercept course."

"Looks like we rattled them." Macen murmured darkly. He began issuing orders, "Raise shields and arm phasers. TíKir, keep me informed of what happens to that freighter. Grace, evasive manoeuvres. Keep space between us and that Miranda."

"Nerrit, hail them." Macen growled.

"No reply." Nerrit responded, "Theyíre locking phasers."

"Theyíve opened fire on the freighter." Danan reported, "The freighter is damaged."

Grace threw the scout into a rolling cartwheel around the starship. It fired phasers, but was unable to hit its erratic prey. Macen ordered Nerrit to return fire. The Odyssey struck two blows unopposed before the Nelson struck back.

"Shields holding at 84%." Nerrit reported.

"Target their weapons." Macen snapped off, "TíKir, whatís the freighterís status?"

"A lot of subspace communications." She reported, "The Manticore has inflicted several hull breaches. Every section but the bridge is streaming air."

"Have you intercepted any of those transmissions?"

TíKir was tapping at her console furiously, "No, but I have patched a comm link into the Nelsonís main computer. We may be able to shut her down if we override her command codes."

Macen grinned. It was streaks of brilliance like this that redeemed TíKirís other aberrations. The Special Investigations Division had access to a series of codes that could lock any Starfleet computer system. They were meant to place records in stasis for further investigation without the risk of deletion. An unexpected benefit was that the system would be temporarily unresponsive as it locked all its memory archive from all access. It would require a retrieval code to access or delete the shipís memory.

He turned to the data terminal beside him and tapped in the codes known only to Daggit and himself. He transmitted them across the link TíKir had established. They all waited for a breathless moment to see if theyíd been successful. Nerrit was the first to pronounce success.

"Their shields are down and the weapons deactivated!"

"Hit their weapons while we have the chance!" Macen ordered, "Grace, set course for Manticore."

"The freighter has been destroyed." TíKir snarled announced suddenly, dampening the flush if success, "They beamed the freighterís cargo from its holds and then used photon torpedoes to destroy her."

"Was her crew still aboard?"

TíKir nodded angrily. Macenís eyes tracked back to the screen. A cold, contemptuous rage built within him. Killing a resistant foe was one thing, slaughtering a helpless crew just floating in space was another. It served only one function, the elimination of witnesses.

It was an act of calculated coldness. It blended the mentalities of the Borg and the Cardassians. It was mechanically utilitarian while being personalised. Both were racial imperatives Macen had spent a better part of his life fighting. Spencer had just made an implacable foe.

Macen had not been concerned over the Odysseyís confrontation with the Nelson. The scout had faced a Constitution-class before under Macenís command. The Miranda-class variants were slightly more powerful than the legendary Constitution design, but not significantly so. Facing a New Orleans was another matter altogether.

Macen had faced Cardassian Galor-class warships in this scout. They rivalled the Ambassador and New Orleans-classes for firepower. Fates knew the Maquis had faced enough of those in less equipped ships than the Odyssey. The enemy stayed the same, his species had merely changed.

Now wasnít the time for hesitation, it was a time for resolve. Resolve and split second decisions. He was about to find out how good this team was. He hoped theyíd live up to their records.

"Lock torpedoes on target and fire at will." Macen ordered, "Helm, use attack pattern Theta 9."

Grace began the spiralling corkscrew that began the theta series. Nerrit fired torpedoes as fast as the magazines could load the two froward tubes. Phaser blasts accompanied the streaking torpedoes. Their shields shone with reactive energy as return fire struck.

The Manticore possessed more phaser arrays than the smaller Nelson. They were much more effective at hammering back at the Odyssey. The scoutís agility and more powerful torpedoes gave it a slight advantage. Those advantages were severely offset by the renegade starshipís power, speed, and stamina.

Starfleet tacticians across the fleet would consider pitting a scout with a maximum crew capacity of 22 persons against a cruiser with a crew capacity of 1,100 slightly ludicrous. Macen never thought twice about it. Defying conventional thinking had enabled him to survive against the Borg and the Cardassians. Most Starfleet officers tended to slide into operational ruts and Macen wanted to exploit that as much as possible.

"Sir!" Nerritís voice was urgent, "The Nelson has recovered her systems and is approaching to engage."

"TíKir," Macen asked through the clamour of the battle, "do you have any signs of reinforcements en route?"

"No." her voice was dismal.

"Grace, get us out of here." Macen ordered unhappily, "Target aft torpedoes at the Nelson. We need to slow her approach. TíKir, do what you can to scramble their systems."

Silence descended. There was nothing to be said now. Macen had to trust in his peopleís abilities. He watched the monitors, waiting for an opening to develop.

He cursed silently as none appeared. Unlike the more inflexible manoeuvres used by military units, these ships employed tactics designed to prevent escape. While that meant that they weren't trying to destroy the scour outright, it still narrowed their options considerably. The only favourable benefit was that the scout was given even more opportunities to inflict damage that could be exploited by Starfleet later.

On an intellectual level, Macen was impressed by the pirateís use of their tractor beams. Rather than try to grab hold of the scout, they projected beams that formed a perimeter. It reduced the scoutís evasive options, making them a more presentable target. The scout shuddered and systems blew as weapons fire rained down upon it.

Nerritís console exploded, hurling the commando into the bulkhead. The Helm exploded. Grace barely had time to get clear as it went up in flames. She escaped with minor burns.

"Engineering reports plasma leaks!" TíKir shouted over wailing alarms, "Main powerís offline, as well as warp engines."

TíKir transferred Tactical controls to her station then shook her head, "Weapons are down."

"Same with propulsion." Macen replied grimly as he tapped his console in futility.

"Brin!" TíKirís voice was urgent now, "Dracas reports an imminent core breach."

"Jettison the log buoy." He tapped the intercom, "All hands, this is the captain, abandon ship. I repeat, abandon ship."

He rose out of the command chair and went to Nerrit. Heíd begun to lift her when TíKir and Grace joined him. TíKir helped him get the surprisingly muscled Bajoran up and an arm over each of their shoulders. Grace led the way towards the lift.

The first lifepod jettisoned with four officers from the second watch. The Nelson destroyed it without a qualm. The captain, a former Maquis named Rachel Darnett, had no desire to take unnecessary prisoners. She already had a life sentence awaiting her in the Federation. Additional murders at this point would make little difference to her future if she were ever apprehended.

Dracas scrambled around Engineering. He desperately tried to slow the core breach. One of his juniors had died when the containment fields had failed for a split second. The other died when a coolant line ruptured, liquefying his flesh as it struck him. The two alter-watch engineers had arrived and were helping him erect a portable magnetic field projector. It wouldnít halt the intermix destabilisation underway, but it could slow it long enough for the crew to evacuate.

Dracasí hopes faded as he felt a transporter beam yank him out of material existence. He regained solidity to discover several men brandishing weapons surrounded him. He tried to ask where heíd been taken when one of them struck him in the jaw with a disrupter.

They marched him off in silence. Every step of the way, Dracas wondered how his ship was doing. The Odyssey refit had been his baby every step of the way. She was also the first ship heíd ever taken out after working on her. Her destruction generated a sense of loss akin to the loss of a child within the stoic engineer.

Macen and TíKir struggled to get Nerrit to a nearby pod when Daggit happened by. He had Kort and two junior officers in tow. Kort immediately began examining Nerrit as the juniors took over supporting him. Macen noticed that no Engineering personnel were present and mentioned it to TíKir and Daggit.

Both wore worried expressions. Daggit spoke first "I donít know. I could go look for them."

Macen shook his head, "Get these people out of here Lieutenant. Iíll check Engineering."

"Sir..."

"Bloody hell! You have your orders." Macen snapped as he strode off. TíKir and Grace followed. He turned to find them behind him. He scowled and his face darkened as his emotions mounted, "What díyou think youíre doing?"

"Helping." TíKir replied before Grace could finish blinking in surprise, "You might need help if theyíre injured."

"Besides which," TíKir continued, "we wouldnít have been able to squeeze into that coffin of a pod with all the rest anyway. If weíre gonna die, we might as well do it aboard rather in that ration can."

"And weíre the only other ones that know this ship as well as you do." she reminded him.

Macen gave them a grimace, "Címon then."

They reached Engineering to find the main door open. One engineer was left alive. He was staggering towards the door but collapsed several metres from it. Macen charged in.

He helped the engineer to his feet and half dragged, half carried the wounded man down the corridor. A high pitched whine began to wail forth from Engineering. TíKirís face lost colour. Grace paled.

"Itís the rad containment system." TíKir commented, "Its about to overload."

"Go!" Macen shouted as he tried to accelerate. TíKir grabbed Grace and dragged her further down the corridor. Grace resisted all the way.

"What are you doing?" she demanded to know when TíKir released her.

"There are shield emitters placed 100 metres beyond the entrance." TíKir explained breathlessly, watching Macenís progress, "We should be safe here, as long as the systemís still working."

"We canít leave him!" Grace protested passionately and started forward.

TíKir reached out and slammed her against the bulkhead using a single arm, "Donít be stupid! If we get exposed, weíll be of no use to them if they get hit."

"Theyíll die." Grace growled, "Theíll die.

TíKirís face blanched, then she recovered, "Macenís a survivor. He wonít die today. Not like this. Besides, díyou really think he wants us in harmís way of this?"

Grace answered with stony silence.

A burst of energy sailed forth from Engineering and flooded the corridor. Macen and the Engineering rating had been centimetres from the shield projectors that engaged. Grace and TíKir both stood behind the energy wall that protected them. Thick liquid sprayed out from the ceiling, neutralising the heavy isotopes.

The shield dropped and TíKir sprang forward. Her fingers flew to Macenís neck. She broke into a bright smile. She then hefted him up like a sack and threw him over her shoulder.

"Heís alive."

"Thank God." Grace sighed in relief. TíKirís eyes burned towards her for a second, then softened. Grace knew how protective TíKir was towards him. Sheíd quickly discovered her friendís unwavering devotion to her commander.

"What about the other man?" Grace asked glancing back towards the body.

"Dead." TíKir replied without hesitation.

"How can you tell?" Grace asked accusingly, "You never checked."

"Iím a Vulcan mídear." TíKir replied dryly, "Only a Ferengi has better hearing than me. The man has no heartbeat."

"You checked Captain Macen." She replied without considering her words.

TíKirís eyes bulged for a second. "I heard a heartbeat." TíKir explained as she recomposed herself, "I wanted to make sure I wasnít just imagining it."

"So now what?" Grace asked a moment later..

"We get the hell out of here." TíKir answered firmly.

Spencer saw the second lifepod eject. It was followed several minutes later by another. Heíd ordered his gunners to stand down. He wanted to know how a survey vessel had acquired quantum torpedoes.

He watched the helpless pods as they drifted away. He literally held the power over their lives and deaths in his hands. It was an invigorating realisation. Every time he was in this position, the rush of power nearly overwhelmed him.

His hand hovered over the comm switch. He lusted for their deaths. He wanted to give the word, wanted to exercise his power. His heart hardened and his finger drifted down towards the control.

"Darnett to Spencer." The comm speakers spoke up.

He tapped the switch in irritation, "Spencer here."

"We have three Starfleet vessels approaching at Warp 9."

"ETA?"

"Under two minutes." Darnett replied sourly, "Shall we destroy the pods?"

No." Spencer replied with a pang of disappointment, "Theyíll stop to pick them up. That will give us time to escape. Set course for the Aldrin and get out of here at maximum warp."

"You got it. Nelson out."

Spencer cursed to himself as he saw the pods drift away. The scout exploded suddenly in a brilliant flash as the warpcore detonated. Denied his cargo, his prize ship, and his chance to kill those that had wounded his ships. He felt a bitter hatred the likes of which he hadnít experienced since the Manticoreís captain had died. He was a patient man. He would avenge himself. He would rip the identities of this crew from the engineer theyíd captured.

 

Chapter 7

Two guards in front and two to the rear flanked Dracas. They werenít marching him to the brig. He knew the layout of a New Orleans-class intimately. Heíd served aboard an Ambassador-class for eight years. They were on their way to the Cargo Bays.

Dracas didnít know how these thugs had got aboard a starship, but they definitely werenít Starfleet. As they rounded a corner and approached the door labelled Cargo 1, he saw a man whose posture screamed "Fleet". The engineer entered the Cargo Bay with preternatural sense of calm. The descendent of a labour class, physical discomfort was a racial memory.

A large section of the bay was cleared. A strange conflagration of pipes was fitted together in the centre of the room. It was hinged in several spots, allowing its shape to be altered. It also possessed various restraints attached to numerous pipes. It was obviously an interrogation device of some kind.

"Strip." The Starfleet man ordered.

Dracas paused and received a blow to the head for it. He shrugged and removed his uniform. He was ordered to continue and he shed his undergarments as well. He stood naked before them and wondered if this was supposed to embarrass him.

Troglytes lived in communal work camps and mine shafts. Heíd been raised in an environment where nudity was not taboo, merely a potential work hazard. He could see that his lack of response irritated his captors. He smiled inwardly, he vowed not to give them any response whatsoever throughout his interrogation.

He was ordered to the restraint system and ordered to raise his arms. His wrists and ankles were shackled, forcing him to stand in an X. His calm, level gaze met the ex-Starfleet manís. They regarded each other coldly for several seconds before the pirate spoke.

"Bring them in." was all the pirate said.

Four men and two women entered. One male was Bolian. One female was Klingon. The rest were human. All were scantily clad and wore leering expressions.

"Begin." The pirate officer commanded without a trace of inflection.

Daggit pointed at several key points of the data retrieved from the Odysseyís log buoy, "As you can see by the data here, the vessels had modified their tractor beam assemblies. These modifications allowed the pirates to use their tractor beams as containment nets. It was not powerful enough to control a shipís movement, but contained enough power to alter the flight trajectory. Thus making the afflicted vessel vulnerable while they regained control of their ship."

Nerrit approached from the side and stood alongside Daggit, "What about tactics? Did the sensors record their movements?"

Daggit nodded, "They used a variant of the Brekar Trap."

"The what?" Captain James Philips, captain of the USS Victorious, asked.

Nerrit took a deep breath and answered for Daggit, "It was a tactic invented by the Bajoran Resistance. The Maquis used it as well. Normally, the sizes of the vessels would be inverted. The small ships attacking the larger. Although it was adapted, it still contains several key similarities."

"Iíve noted the similarities and the changes in my report." Daggit offered.

"So they might be Maquis?" Philips asked with a tinge of hope.

"Maybe some of them." Daggit replied, "Not all of the surviving Maquis were recovered by Federation or Bajoran authorities. It makes sense that some of them would engage in piracy. That doesnít explain how they came in possession of two, possibly more, Starfleet vessels."

"No, it doesnít." Philips sighed, "Damn."

"How long until we reach DS13?" Daggit asked.

"Another two hours." Philips replied.

"Please inform Commander Petris to have us brought aboard as civilians, not Starfleet officers. For all we know, our cover is intact. That may prove useful in later efforts to gather intel on these scum."

"You want to try and gather intelligence?" Philips asked in surprise, "Lieutenant, your team has been cut in half and your ship destroyed. Your CO is in my Sickbay and we still donít have a prognosis on his condition. Iíd think youíd want us to mount a pursuit rather than another investigation."

Daggit eyed him coldly, "We can only pursue them if we know where to find them. Right now, we donít know where they are. We donít know what other ships or surprises they can throw at us. Until we know that, I donít think pursuit is our best option, do you?"

Philips glared indignantly for several seconds before his gaze softened, "No, I suppose I donít. Iím sorry. This has to be harder on you and your team than anyone else. If youíre advising caution, I guess we should listen."

"Once we know about them and know their vulnerabilities, I promise you, weíll go after them with everything we can spare." Daggit assured him.

Her comm badge chirped. He swatted it, "Daggit here."

"You wanted to know when the Captain was awake." Kortís weary voice rang out.

"Thanks Doctor." He glanced across the other taut worried faces, "Anyone want to go to Sickbay?"

Nerrit nearly ran through the door to get out. Philips smiled, "I think Iíd like to tag along if you donít mind?"

He gave him a thankful smile, "Whoím I to tell you where you can go on your own ship?"

Kort waited for them outside of Sickbay. TíKir and Grace were already there. TíKir had refused to leave the vicinity until she had word on Macen. Grace had refused to leave TíKir.

The Intrepid-classí Sickbay was far larger than anything the Odyssey would have dreamed of boasting. Dr. Villar had been gracious enough to allow Kort to treat his own superior. The decision had been influenced by the fact Villar knew little about El-Aurian physiology.

Kort waited until everyone was assembled before delivering the news, "Heís fine. Thereís no cellular damage due to the radiation. His El-Aurian biology and health treatments spared him degenerative effects."

"But?" TíKir asked, hearing the catch in Kortís voice.

"But the radiation has neutralised the anti-ageing treatment he received several centuries ago." Kort said evenly, "He is now ageing at a normal rate again."

"Thatís still over three hundred years." Grace replied.

Kort nodded wearily, "The natural lifespan of an El-Aurian turns out to be slightly longer than an average Vulcanís. He can easily expect to reach an age of over three hundred and fifty standard years, and has the potential to live up to four hundred."

"I thought he was over four hundred years old." Grace blurted.

"His biological age is roughly thirty years." Kort clarified, "Captain Macen still has a long and full life ahead of him."

"Does he know?" Daggit asked.

Kort nodded, "Yes. He took it like a warrior. It did not seem to phase him. He took the news of the Odysseyís destruction much more personally."

"Weíve been through a lot in that ship." TíKir muttered, "It meant a lot to him."

"Is he all right?" Daggit asked, "Can I speak with him?"

Kort smiled, "Heís ready for duty. Dr. Villar is taking a few final readings. After that, he will be cleared for duty."

"In that case, will you both join me in the Officerís Briefing Room as soon as youíre ready?" Philips asked.

Hilde Edgars watched as several of Spencerís men brought Dracas to the brig. Unlike Witt, they hadnít allowed him to dress. This time, the pirates did not wear smug expressions of satisfaction. They were angry.

Dracas appeared battered and weary. His eyes were complacent. She caught a glimpse of the steel in his eyes as he was shoved past her cell. That explained the anger the pirates displayed. Theyíd subjected Dracas to their worst and he remained unbroken. She knew the savagery would only intensify. She wished she could speak with him and enlist her in her goal of escaping.

Spencer had displayed the events of Dracasí "interrogation". The females had been as bad as the males, cheering them on and offering suggestions as to what to do next. Theyíd gratified themselves while the males expended their energies on Dracas. When it became apparent that Dracas would not be humiliated by their efforts, theyíd resorted to torture. Those efforts had apparently failed as well.

Macen stepped out of Sickbay to discover a small crowd waiting for him. Embarrassment permeated his expression. Every wish or encouragement only intensified the feeling. He finally changed the topic by asking where Captain Philips had gone.

"Heís in his Officerís Briefing Room." Daggit answered, "He wants to see us two ASAP."

Macenís expression was one of resignation, "Right. I guess Iíll catch up with the rest of you later."

They gave a murmur of approval and began to disband. TíKir gave him smirk as she stayed. Kort had told him of her carrying him to the pod. He had a feeling heíd never hear the end of that.

He glanced back at Lisea, "I guess I have you to thank for getting me out of there."

"Brin, you almost died." She replied accusingly, "How can you just stand there like nothings happened?"

"Iím still alive." His reply held amusement.

Her eyes froze into an angry glare, "That isnít funny. You scared me half to death. We lost the Odyssey."

She regretted her last words as she saw the stinging effect they had upon him. That ship was one of the last tangible pieces theyíd had to many of their lost comrades. It had been more of a home to them then virtually any world over most of the last six years. Its loss was as personal as that of any living being.

"Weíll survive." He said firmly, "Weíll survive and get the bastards that blew her up."

She watched him go with mute fascination as he and Daggit left to meet Philips. Once again, the universe had drop kicked Macen and he refused to surrender. He was already looking for a way to return the favour and restore things to the way they ought to be rather than the way they were. She wondered which of them was crazier, and knew the answer really didnít matter. Sheíd follow his lead into the gates of hell itself if he ordered it.

Macen and Daggit entered the Briefing Room. Philips was already seated comfortably. Philips thrust out a hand in Macenís direction. Macen accepted it and shook it firmly.

"A pleasure to meet you, Captain." Philips said with a toothy smile.

"Most people donít find it one." Macen shrugged as he released Philipís hand.

Philips guffawed. The Captain motioned for everyone to take a seat. Macen listened as they updated him as to what had occurred while he was unconscious. He silently noted Daggitís comfortability with Philips. That spoke highly of the man.

Macen shrugged sadly, "At least youíve arranged to have us inducted to DS13 as civilians. Maintaining our cover may be more important now then ever."

"I donít follow." Philips admitted.

Macen grinned, "We need to infiltrate these pirates. If my team were revealed as Starfleet agents and their identities got out, that could prove disastrous to any effort to accomplish that."

"I take it you have candidates in mind?" Daggit asked with a sardonic smile.

"Yup." Macen affirmed, "Kort and TíKir are perfect."

"Why not Nerrit?" Daggit asked, surprised by his nominees, "Why not me?"

Macen shook his head, "Wouldnít work. These guys have Starfleet connections. We have to assume they can penetrate any cover identity that Intelligence can produce."

"That doesnít explain how Kort and TíKir could succeed under those same conditions." Daggit countered.

"Kort is still listed as being in exile by Imperial records." Macen explained, "TíKir is still listed as being an escaped mental patient. She is wanted in order to finish her treatment in lieu of a penal sentence."

Daggit and Philips both wore shocked expressions. Daggit spoke first, "How is she in Starfleet?"

"Her records are sealed at the highest levels. Only the President, the Fleet Admiral, The Director of Starfleet Intelligence, the Director of Special Investigations, and myself."

"Of course, TíKir has probably already accessed them herself. Sheís funny that way." Macen added with a smirk.

"She can break Omega Level encryption?" Philips sputtered.

Macenís facial expression conveyed the answer.

Philips shook his head ruefully, "You sure you want to let her loose? She sounds too dangerous, and too valuable to let go off."

"Who said anything about letting go?" Macen replied, "This is an undercover op. Its not like she wonít be coming back."

"As far as yourself.," Macen looked directly at Daggit, "I have another mission for you."

He turned to Philips, "If you could book passage for TíKir and Kort to DS9, it would be invaluable. Have them contact Quark."

"Are you sure?" Philips asked dubiously, knowing the Ferengiís reputation.

Macen nodded, "He owes me. Heíll provide TíKir anything she needs."

"Okay." Philips sighed.

Macen smiled enigmatically. He alone knew why Quark would co-operate and it wasnít a pleasant memory.

"Next, get the rest of us passage to Starbase 412." Macen ordered, "I want Grace to review the records of any and all starships that are listed as missing from the assault on Betazed. Compile a list of suspects."

"What about me?"

"You will track down leads concerning possible Orion connections with the Andergani" He told him.

"You want to split up the team?" He asked.

"It seems to the best way to obtain the information we need." Macenís tone reflected his determination.

Daggit shrugged in resignation. There was no point in continuing to protest. He grimaced mentally as he realised that resistance was futile. He and the other Angosian Starfleet commandos had learned there werenít many forces in this galaxy that could challenge Macenís resolve. TíKir seemed the closest to having the ability and even she had a bugger of a time getting through.

Macen made his way to his guest quarters. He knew they were fortunate to have cabins for everyone. The rest of the team had to sleep barrackís style. Daggit and Kort would undoubtedly enjoy it, as much as TíKir and Grace would hate it. Macen wondered how Nerrit would get along with three other juinors.

He sighed as he sank down onto the bed. His head swam with the events of the last day. Heíd awoken to discover heíd been unconscious for almost fourteen hours. Philips and the other starship commanders had used this time to investigate the wreckage and recover the Odysseyís log buoy.

Thinking about the buoy forced Macen to confront his sense of loss regarding the shipís destruction. It was a final severance with his adopted family within the Maquis. The ship had lived a charmed life while he, Danan, and TíKir had fought the Cardassians. Now the ship was destroyed.

Having lost his homeworld almost a century ago, Macen was no stranger to sorrow. He knew heíd survive this, just as he had before time and time again as heíd seen beloved comrades whither and die while heíd remained virtually immortal in comparison. He knew his ambivalent reaction to learning of his increased ageing process worried the medical staff aboard.

They didnít know him. If they had, they would have realised that Macen had accepted his own mortality years ago. He saw every day as a gift. Even facing a diminished life span was a gift. He no longer had to keep as many walls up, afraid to watch another dear friend die while he stood by and reminded them of youth long gone.

El-Aurians embraced old age. It was a time when centuries of experience could be taught and shared to eager younger minds. It was a time of leadership, when passions had been tempered and skills had been honed and tested countless times. Heíd never understood the fear Terrans displayed when confronted with the topic.

He knew it was a cultural nuance heíd learned to appreciate mentally, but would never comprehend in his heart. He knew this topic amused Bajorans and confused Vulcans. Both were made of sturdier stuff than humans and shook their heads at the shorter-lived whirlwinds that heralded from Sol III.

Humanity had a passion for life and a lust for action that, while not unique, was nearly unrivalled. Longer-lived species tended towards more contemplative, introspective existences. The relatively short-lived humans wanted to get things done quickly. Their ambition limited only by timeís eternal stopwatch counting down their remaining days and their own willingness to pursue their dreams.

Macen welcomed the shortening of his days. It would allow him to experience the universe in a way that heíd thought lost to him. El-Aurian philosophy taught that time was the fire in which all life burned. Some life burned hotter and faster, some cooler and steadier. His fire had heated up quite a bit; maybe it would give him the energy to accomplish what needed to be done.

TíKir plunked down onto the bed behind him, "Whatíre you thinking about?"

"Lifeís little ironies." He chuckled, "We brought that ship through worse odds than that a dozen times over, and this time we canít save her."

He shrugged, "That, and the first time I have a chance to find out what you thought of the Academy, its because we no longer have a ship."

She smirked, "How about the irony that the first time I get you alone in a bedroom, its right after youíve almost died."

He gave her a wry expression, "I didnít die."

"You almost died." She asserted fiercely, "Right in front of me. Youíre the only family I have left, Brin Macen. I donít want to watch you die if it means I have to live with that memory."

Her sudden admission caught him by surprise, "I never realised that."

"I never wanted you to feel sorry for me." TíKir growled, "I donít want you to want me around because you pity me."

Macen laughed, "Thatíll never happen. Iíve never felt sorry for you, TíKir. Iíve been angry, frustrated, confused and irritated, but never sorry."

"Hey!" she protested.

His eyes filled with warmth, "Iíve also been proud of you, impressed by your ability, grateful for your friendship, and pleased youíve stuck around."

She was momentarily speechless, then stammered, "You never said anything before."

He shrugged, "I didnít want your head to get any bigger than it already is."

She gave him a wintry glance in response to his teasing, "So what happens now?"

"Well, when we get to DS13, you and Kort will be going off to DS9. From there youíll be heading into the Andergani Oligarchy to try and infiltrate those pirates." He replied quickly.

An incensed light began to burn in her eyes, "And the rest of you will be...?"

"Daggit will be going undercover trying to figure out of the Orion Syndicate is involved somehow. Grace will be perusing personnel and shipís records to see if she can get a bead on our attackersí identities."

"What about you?" she asked irritably, instinctively knowing she wouldnít like the answer.

"Iíll be returning to the Maquis worlds and trying to track down any possible connection between the pirates and former comrades."

"Will you be going alone?"

He hesitated, knowing the emotional firestorm the answer was going to produce, "Nerrit will be coming with me."

Macen sighed as she TíKir rolled her eyes in disgust. She then proceeded to lambaste him with questions regarding the wisdom of the decision. Her arguments were well crafted and tested every potential flaw in the plans made thus far. He wondered of sheíd ever realise that she was the most Vulcan when she was really angry.

 


Proceed to Part II of III

 

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