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Uprising - Part II by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 8

The door chimed. A few seconds later, it chimed again. A third attempt was followed by a fourth. The door finally opened with the distinctive "whoosh" that marked Federation doors.

"Captain?" Nerrit asked softly as she waited in the doorway.

She waited for a reply. Her heartbeat had time to accelerate before she decided she wasn’t going to receive one. She stepped into the room and cleared the shelving unit that had obscured her view of the bed.

Macen lay still across it. For a moment, she thought he was dead. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness in the room, she could see the rhythm of his breathing. She asked the computer to raise the illumination. She’d awoken almost two hours ago and been briefed regarding her upcoming mission by Daggit.

He still didn’t respond. She crept closer to the bed. She knew he should be tired after the ordeal he’d been through. She also knew that his reflexes should be much sharper than this after years spent in combat.

She leaned forward and gently nudged his shoulder. He came awake in an instant. Awake, but not yet aware. He took her arm, spun her and placed her in a restraint that would allow him to easily snap her neck if he chose.

He blinked the last vestiges of sleep away and realised who he had a hold of. He released her immediately. He apologised profusely as she twisted and turned her head, testing the abused muscles of her neck. She laughed softly, alleviating his concern.

"It’s alright." She assured him with a smile, "I’d have been more concerned if you hadn’t responded."

"Yeah, me too."

She gave him an exasperated look, "How would you be concerned if you were already dead?"

"It’s an El-Aurian thing." He replied with a shrug.

She shook her head, "I’m not going to pretend I understand. All I know is that Lt. Daggit asked me to inform that we’ve arrived."

Dracas studied the cell’s interior. He’d installed and maintained brig systems, but he’d never designed one. As long as the cell was properly maintained, he had no chance of escape without any tools or instruments. Although the pirates had returned his clothes, he had no tools secreted in them.

As he’d lain on the cot, he thought he noticed a minuscule gap between the comm viewer and the surrounding wall it was recessed in. He wondered whether or not he could manage to widen the gap. If he could get to the isolinear systems, he might be able to override the surrounding systems and deactivate the forcefields holding him in the cell. If he accomplished this, then he could show the pirate the mistake they’d made by capturing him.

He scoffed at their earlier attempts to humiliate him. They’d obviously never dealt with a Troglyte before. His people had been slave labour for centuries before being freed. They’d lived in small, cramped hovels that prevented privacy. Stratosians seeking diversion had also used them as entertainment.

Although such practices had ended over a century ago as a result of James Kirk’s historic visit. He had heralded social changes that had changed every level of the planet. Those changes brought their planet into the Federation. It had also opened new opportunities for his people.

The pirates were inflicting pains that were cultural memories. They held no stigma for him, only a deep abiding determination to end the pirate’s power to inflict pain upon others. Each violent act or sexual assault hardened his resolve. He knew that human cultural mores would be far more vulnerable to such attacks and he wanted to liberate the other prisoners he’d seen as he’d been led to this cell.

The pirates were so confident of their prisoner’s helplessness, they didn’t even have a standing guard in the brig. Food was delivered via a slave replicator. It only delivered rations at designated times. If he could access the replicator’s master computer through the comm system, he’d be able to request weapons as well as arrange an escape.

This would be slow going, if it were even possible. It didn’t matter to Dracas how long it took, as long as he could try.

The cylindrical airlock doors hissed as they opened. Passengers immediately began disembarking from the transport liner Fractious. Two Bajoran Militia officers stood silently nearby, waiting for the station’s sensors to alert them to any "discrepancies" carried by the passengers. Their impassive eyes barely flickered as T’Kir and Kort passed by them.

The station still headquartered the Federation’s 9th Fleet, but the administration was now almost entirely in Bajoran hands. Colonel Kira Nerys was now the station CO, and she ran a tight command. With the exceptions of Dr. Julian Bashir and Lt. Ezri Dax, none of the original Starfleet command staff had remained after the close of the Dominion War. Even Dax wasn’t truly an original member, but the current host of the Trill symbiont that had been housed in an original mission member. That host, Jazdia, had discovered the wormhole that made this sector invaluable.

Their ace in the hole could be found in the form of Ro Laren, the station’s new Security Chief. Macen and T’Kir has served alongside Ro during their stint with the Maquis. After the Dominion’s extermination campaign against the Maquis, Ro has assembled a ragged band of fighters and continued a guerrilla war against the Cardassians, Jem’Hadar, and Breen forces. This campaign has been covertly supported by Bajor and granted Ro amnesty from Starfleet’s standing arrest warrant for her as long as she remained in Bajoran service or on Bajor.

As a hub of interquadrant commerce, the station received dozens of new visitors on an hourly basis. Two civilians, a Vulcan and Klingon, could easily blend into the myriad forms of humanity loitering about. Kort had been loath to relinquish his personal energy weapons, but had contented himself with the fact that he’d been allowed to retain his edged weapons. T’Kir had constructed a projectile weapon from composites that sensors didn’t seem to detect.

Kort wore his usual gruff demeanour like a shield. Although he was an intimidating presence, T’Kir was the one strangers shrank back from. It wasn’t just the fact that she readily displayed emotions, that was disconcerting enough from a Vulcan, it was the emotion she’d chosen to display during their two day voyage here from DS13. She calmly met anyone’s eyes that dared peer into hers with an unbridled, murderous rage.

She’d been infuriated since the moment she’d discovered her assignment. That anger had increased geometrically when she discovered what role Macen had chosen for himself. The thought of Macen and Nerrit alone together over the next week or two was enough to make T’Kir’s teeth grind. The fact that Macen had obviously recognised the source of her rage did nothing to alleviate her feelings.

The loss of the Odyssey had been a blow to her as well. Her only ambition in life was to stay by Macen’s side, in whatever capacity that entailed. She’d admitted to him that she considered him family, but didn’t think he realised how protective she felt towards him. Macen had lost his ship, and several centuries off his life in the course the last few days, she didn’t want him to lose anything else due to their newest teammate.

T’Kir tried to shrug her doubts and anger aside as she guided Kort through the labyrinthine corridors of DS9. She’d been here on two previous occasions, both were missions for the Maquis. Macen and Danan had been with her then. It was strange to cross the Promenade without them at her side.

He’d had devised this plan as well. It was because of him that they were about to accomplish what they were. She felt a sudden pang when she considered his absence. They’d separated two days ago when he and the others went on to Starbase 412 while she and Kort headed for DS9.

She stopped a few metres in front of Quark’s Bar and turned to face Kort, "Okay, this is it. It’ll help if you wore a really grim, bloodthirsty expression."

Kort glared at her, as she shook her head, "No That’s not good enough. I’m not talking about your ‘Doctor’ face, we need a warrior face."

The resulting glare was perfect, "Great! Just hold that expression and let me do the talking." His expression darkened even further.

She strode into Quark’s with a satisfied smirk. She took a second to glance about. Things were pretty much the same as she’d last seen them four years ago. She saw that the being known as Morn still sat at his customary stool. Scantily clad Dabo girls still ran the games as Ferengi waiters trolled the tables, encouraging customers to liberate more money from their purses.

Quark stood behind the hub of most of the activity. The Ferengi wore a suit of interwoven gleaming threads. It made him look as though he’d donned a rainbow. T’Kir had thought the outfit he’d worn on her last visit had been outlandish but it had paled in comparison.

She knew she looked outlandish herself if anyone were to apply Vulcan standards to her garb. Rather than don the loose robes or pants and tunic common to her people, she opted to wear leather pants and vest with a silk blouse and a woollen jacket. The typical Vulcan’s apprehension towards the taking of a life prevented them from comfortably wearing hides. She’d never felt bound by that restriction and saw no need to adopt it now.

Both the jacket and the pants were designed to prevent her from chilling. Like most Vulcanoids, she found the standard temperatures maintained on Federation ships and station too cool for her liking. She knew that other races also disliked the Earth based standard, but very different reasons. Trills, Andorians, and Tellarites all found the temperatures slightly warm whereas the Klingons and Bolians also found shipboard duty slightly chilly.

Kort wore his armour, but bereft of any house sigils or military insignia. He appeared to be a common ruffian seeking employment. Dishonoured or dismoded Klingons often hired themselves out as mercenaries or bodyguards. This was the impression they were trying to broadcast.

T’Kir saddled up to the bar and dropped the heavy shoulder bag she’d been lugging from transport to transport. The noise caught the attention of Quark’s highly sensitive ears and made his head snap around. His mouth curved upward in his characteristic smile. His facial expression froze as he recognised who was standing before him.

"Hello, Quark." T’Kir said with a malicious grin as she sat down on a stool.

"H...h...hello, T’Kir." Quark replied nervously, "I thought you were dead." He shook his head, "That’s not what I meant to say. I meant to say..."

"You meant to say you’d hoped I was dead." T’Kir amended for him.

Quark brushed the comment away with a wave of his hand, "Of course I wouldn’t! I could never want someone as beautiful as you dead."

She gave him a wry look, "I’m a telepath, remember? Don’t bother lying to me."

Quark assumed a look of contrite shock, "You misjudge me, my dear. I have never wanted any harm to befall you or your esteemed captain." His eyes narrowed, "Speaking of whom, where...ah...where is he now?"

"That’s none of your concern." T’Kir replied, "Suffice it to say, he’s not here...yet. He won’t be coming unless our negotiations go badly."

"Good, good." Quark’s body went rigid as her words sank in, "What negotiations?"

"The ones we’re about to have regarding a small, armed courier ship." T’Kir explained.

"Courier?" Quark repeated, "Like the type the Maquis used? I thought you two were done with that nonsense. I’d even heard rumours that Macen was the one that broke the Gulag conspiracy."

T’Kir’s eyes flashed dangerously and menace laced her voice as she replied huskily, "Don’t ever refer to the Maquis as ‘foolish’! We fought for our homes and our worlds without any help. Anyone would have done the same, except possibly the Ferengi."

"Fortunately, no one’s ever wanted it." Quark replied happily.

"Little wonder." Kort growled.

"Excuse me," Quark said, turning to face him, "I don’t believe we’ve been introduced."

"You won’t be," T’Kir informed him sharply, "That way you can deny everything if questioned by the Imperial bounty hunters."

"I see your point." Quark conceded with upraised eyebrows.

He clapped his hands together, "Now, let’s negotiate."

"The terms are simple." T’Kir said coolly, "You will deliver the type of vessel we’ve asked for. It must meet our specifications and inspection. You will receive five strips of latinum for brokering the deal."

"Five!" Quark sputtered, "That doesn’t even make it worth my time!"

T’Kir arched an eyebrow at him, "Very well, its now three strips."

"What?" Quark shrieked.

"What about the ship?" T’Kir asked stonily, "When can you deliver?"

"Why should I?" Quark demanded.

T’Kir pulled him forward by his lapel, "Don’t forget what you owe us. You can still make two strips, if you agree to act now."

"Okay!" Quark wailed, "I’ll do it!"

She let go and he massaged his neck, "You didn’t have to get so physical. I’ll be more than happy to find you a ship."

"That fits our requirements." T’Kir stressed again.

"Of course." Quark assured her, "What else would you expect from me?"

"I expect you to do something stupid." T’Kir replied honestly, "I also expect you to forfeit your commission in the process."

"I assure you, that won’t happen." Quark tried placating her, "When will you be needing this vessel?"

"Within the next three days." T’Kir informed him.

Quark sputtered. T’Kir gave him a victorious grin, "I don’t think I need to inform you of the potential consequences of failing to deliver."

Quark sighed, "I know. I suppose you’ll be on the station?"

Her smile was indulgent, "Of course. Where else would I be?"

"I don’t know." Quark muttered, "A mental institution?"

"I’ve been there." T’Kir said as she rose, "Couldn’t stand the food and decided to leave."

She left with Kort at her heels. Quark shook his head. He was trapped and he knew it. He’d learned the hard way about T’Kir’s expertise with cybernetic systems. He doubted even his new encryption protocols purchased from the Binars.

It was a challenge he didn’t want to issue. If she began rifling through his secure records, she’d find enough damning information about him to have him executed in over two dozen star systems. If that didn’t occur, then Macen would return to find him. That was a worse fate and one he wouldn’t dare risk.

Macen and Nerrit walked towards runabout pad 8, closely followed by Daggit. Macen and Nerrit both wore civilian garb of Bajoran origin. Daggit wore nondescript coveralls. He was leaving minutes after them and had already dressed for his part.

Macen and Nerrit had been assigned an older runabout of civilian origin. The Danube-class’ modular design was so versatile that it had proven a hit across the Federation and beyond. The Maquis had wanted them more than the scoutships they’d depended upon. The major advantage to the scouts was their size. The runabouts only possessed two cots. The scouts at least provided barracks style quarters,

"You don’t need to do this, sir." Daggit protested, not for the first time.

Macen stopped and sighed, not for the first time, "Yes, I do Rab. We need to determine how wide this net is spread. We’ve seen evidence that former members of the Bajoran Resistance and the Maquis may be participating with Spencer."

"We can make that determination after we capture him." Daggit protested.

"We have no guarantees that T’Kir and Kort will be able to infiltrate the pirates." Macen replied wearily, "By trying to make contact with former members of both suspect groups, we may be able to establish a link that will produce hard evidence and information regarding our suspects."

"You’re the team leader. You’re place is here, co-ordinating the team’s efforts." Daggit snorted.

"The team’s all incognito." He reminded him coldly, "I can be the most useful by pursuing leads no one else is assigned to follow up and try to help put the pieces together."

His eyes narrowed as they bored into Daggit’s, "If you have a problem with that, Lieutenant, I suggest you put in for another transfer."

With that said, he turned on his heel and strode down the corridor towards the runabout. Daggit stood there silently, digesting what he’d just been told. He glanced over towards Nerrit. Nerrit gave him a wan smile and shrugged.

"He has a point, but then again, so do you." She said and then followed in Macen’s wake.

 

Chapter 9

Daggit fumed as he left the runabout pad access corridor. Macen was the team leader and was still recovering from extensive injuries. He was not supposed to be going off on some damned field mission leaving him behind to pursue another investigation. He was the team’s Chief Tactical Officer as well as team XO, he was supposed to handle the fieldwork in order to free Macen up for research, strategy, and analysis. Dammit! he thought bitterly, I’m the one who’s supposed to be out there taking the risks. I didn’t join up this time to let my CO get himself killed..

He went to the small archive room that had been allocated for the team’s use. He came in as though she was charging a squad of Jem’Hadar. He came to a stop as she realised that something was missing. He turned to Grace, who was sitting at a data terminal reviewing records surrounding starships that had gone missing during the battle for Betazed.

"Where’s Simms?" Daggit asked sharply.

Grace’s expression expressed her reticence to answer, "She’s been called away."

"By whom?" Daggit asked testily, "For what?"

"Apparently Admiral Drake has already reassigned the junior team members." Grace answered slowly, "The Admiral already cut everyone’s orders."

"Bloody hell!" Daggit exploded through clenched teeth, "How am I supposed to manage the safety of this team if I don’t have a clue as to their whereabouts?"

"You’d have to ask the Admiral that." Grace replied reluctantly.

"Oh, I plan to Ensign." Daggit growled, sorry to place Grace in the middle of this, "Trust me, I will as soon as I get back from kicking Orion ass!"

Daggit left Starbase 412 shortly after Macen and Danan’s departure. He’d booked passage on a freighter going to the Orion Confederacy. Rumour had it that Angosian commandos had been hiring on with the Orions as mercenaries. The Orions then provided "specialists" for the Andergani and other non-aligned powers. Daggit’s mission was to seek an assignment within the Oligarchy.

As much as Daggit loathed violence, he also knew that combat was one of the few outlets for the heightened adrenal levels his body maintained. His body was essentially a reactor constantly running "hot". During the Dominion War, he’d discovered that the stresses of infiltration and undercover work served as outlets as effectively as combat. He was glad of this assignment since it spared him the nerve-wracking tedium of the records search that Grace were now conducting as well as burning off some of the anger he felt at Starfleet’s bureaucratic interference in their investigation.

The runabout, christened Javelin, was underway into the heart of what was once the Cardassian/Federation DMZ. Nerrit had never seen it before. Macen had spent years out here, first serving Starfleet during the undeclared border war with Cardassia then with the Maquis after the Federation had abandoned her colonies here. Most of the original colonists had died when the Dominion swept through here, but those that had escaped were returning.

"It seems rather peaceful now." Nerrit observed from the co-pilot station, where she was running scans of the systems they passed.

"It’s a pleasant change." Macen admitted, "This area’s seen too much death."

"That does seem to be a reoccurring problem for these sectors." Nerrit agreed dryly.

He grinned at her irreverent humour. Most Federation and Bajoran citizens would balk at the apparent belittling of the tragedies that had occurred across this region of space for almost seventy years. Macen saw it has a coping mechanism. Rather than drown in sorrow over events that were immutably in the past, it allowed one to keep the events in one’s mind without succumbing to sorrow.

The senseless violence that had plagued this corner of the Alpha Quadrant shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored, but it also shouldn’t be an oppressive cloud stifling new life and hope. Macen saw the Federation’s attempts to portray all the events through a grim lens as demeaning as wilful denial of the abuse and warfare that had occurred.

"Y’know, it’s always seemed a paradox that most of these worlds were established as agricultural colonies." Macen mused aloud.

"Why?" Nerrit asked.

"They seemed to reap nothing but unwanted crops." Macen observed, "These planets had no obvious strategic value. Most of the minerals and raw resources were widely available in greater abundance elsewhere. The majority weren’t even all that temperate, which is the ideal for an agro planet."

"So you’re saying the fighting was a waste?" Nerrit asked, "Sorry, but I think a lot of people reached that decision a long time ago without your insight to guide them."

His lips twisted up in a wry expression, "What I’m saying is that the true war was over people’s right to exist. Everything else was window dressing."

"Isn’t that the essence of war?" Nerrit asked, joining in the philosophical air of the moment, "Isn’t it a struggle for supremacy and survival? Whether its the survival of a race, government, ideal, or religion it seems that all wars come down to the right of existence. I guess the question becomes, does everything have a right to exist?"

Macen gave her a rueful smile, "I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that question."

"Why not?" she retorted, "You’ve been alive for almost five hundred years, surely you have some insight?"

"My insight is that I have a lot to learn before I’m qualified to answer that question."

"Quitter."

His eyebrow rose, "Can you answer it?"

"No, but I asked the question." She replied with a twinkle in her eye, "You’re supposed to answer it. I’m just supposed to come up with another question after you answer it."

"I see. I’ll guess we’ll have to work on that."

"I guess we shall."

Dracas had managed to pry the comm panel loose form the wall. By changing the alignment of the isolinear rods controlling the system, he’d gained limited access tot he pirate’s systems. He still couldn’t access the security or replicator controls, but he was now able to eavesdrop on internal and external communications. If he had any tools, he could pry more out of the systems.

The pirates were pretty lax about security, but they watched the silverware issued with meals fairly closely. A guard would come during meals and observe their eating. The guard would then inspect the replicator logs from the guard post and verify that the silverware and dishes were recycled back into the replicator stores.

Dracas had spent a better part of the night perfecting his skills at tapping into their network. He’d been relieved to discover that the original Starfleet mainframe remained intact. It was easy to insert viral codes to obscure his access. He couldn’t manipulate primary systems yet, but he was working on it.

His first concern now was contacting the other prisoners he’d seen. If he could gather support, his odds of successfully escaping would increase. He was starting to get a feel for the pirates’ operating procedures and knew his chronometer was running out. His best estimate was that he had no more than forty-eight hours to make his move before Spencer ordered his death.

T’Kir strolled nonchalantly into Quark’s. The barkeep had sent word for her to meet him in his office upstairs. She’d delivered her request for ship yesterday. She knew Quark was crafty, but if he’d found a suitable vessel in this short of time then he might also be qualified as a miracle worker.

One of Quark’s waiters met her downstairs and led her towards Quark’s private office. It was strange to be here without seeing his brother Rom bustling about. She’d learned that Rom had proven to be an engineering savant, and then something of a cultural reformer by taking a Bajoran as a wife. Knowing that Rom was now Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Consortium had to be driving Quark absolutely insane.

That thought brought a satisfied smirk to T’Kir’s face. If anyone deserved a little insanity, it was definitely Quark. The Maquis had employed him as an information and procurement resource from time to time. Quark had tried to raise his profit margin by playing the Maquis against the Cardassians on more than one occasion. The last time he’d tried it, Macen had insured that Quark was caught squarely in the targeting sensors of both sides.

Quark escaped certain death, but only due to Macen’s intervention. That left the Ferengi indebted to Macen. It was a debt he had little desire to carry and would be more than happy to discharge. Macen had discovered the one thing Quark did not want broadcast across the galaxy: the Ferengi actually had a conscience.

Quark displayed more than the typical Ferengi habit of insuring that contracts were followed to the letter, if not the spirit, in which they were written. Quark had an amazing tendency to display altruistic behaviour. He, of course, denied any such impulses. That had ended when Macen had presented him with documentation of his various charitable acts.

Macen and T’Kir had painfully spent weeks compiling the evidence. Much of it was gleaned from Quark’s own records. He’d spent frenzied weeks after the confrontation trying to determine how T’Kir had accessed his records. The truly baffling part was that she’d done it while not even being aboard the station.

The door opened, revealing Quark sitting behind a desk with his feet propped up on it. He wore a satisfied grin. T’Kir was curious as to why he felt so flush with victory. She also knew better than to ask, he’d tell her soon enough.

After waiting several minutes, Quark finally grew impatient, "Well? Aren’t you going to ask?"

"Ask what?" she asked as she folded her arms across her chest.

"Why I asked you here." He answered with growing agitation.

She shrugged, "I assumed you wanted to talk to me."

"Of course I wanted to talk you." He admitted with greater urgency, "Don’t you want to know what about?"

"You’ll tell me eventually." She replied nonchalantly.

Quark became increasingly fidgety as he waited for her to inquire as to his reasons. Finally, his impatience won out over his desire to gloat. He came out of his chair with an indignant cry. His arms flailed as he began to pace about and irately announced his motivation for summoning her.

"I find you a ship and you don’t even ask how the search is going!" his tone was bitter, "I even track down leads regarding Maquis that haven’t been incarcerated. I thought you might want to try and rejoin some of them."

He stopped pacing inches from her, yelling all the way, "I’ve done all of this for you, and you haven’t even asked me how I’m doing?"

Her hands flashed out faster than his eyes could follow and took hold of his ears. She pulled outward, as though trying to pull his ears form his bulbous head. He shrieked as his knees buckled. Exerting upward pressure, she kept him in a kneeling position rather than letting him sink to the floor.

"Why didn’t you just tell me?" she chided, "This could have been very easy, but noooo, you wanted to gloat. If you hadn’t wanted to lord it over me, this wouldn’t have turned painful."

"I’m sorry." Quark whimpered, tears filling his eyes as she exerted more pressure on his ultra sensitive lobes, "I’m so sorry."

The sobbing was pathetic, so she released his ears. He stayed where he’d landed. After waiting a moment, she stepped back and gave him a curious look. He appeared disappointed by her withdrawal.

"What’s wrong with you, besides the obvious?"

"I was just taking a moment to enjoy the view." He answered with a lascivious grin.

"Get up." She sighed in resignation.

"Are you going to kill me?" he wheedled as he stood, "I’ve provided what you asked for, and more besides!"

"Shut up!" T’Kir snapped, "I’ll only kill you if you don’t stop annoying me. When will the ship be ready for inspection?"

"Tomorrow." He answered quickly.

"Where is it?"

"Does it matter?" he asked apprehensively.

"Where is it from Quark?" she asked again, her voice carried a dangerous edge.

"Well, I really don’t...urk."

T’Kir lifted him several inches off the ground with her right hand, which was wrapped around his throat, "Don’t make me show you exactly how strong a Vulcan is."

The way she’d hissed it caught his attention. "It was captured by the Cardassians." he managed to utter.

She released her hold on his throat. Quark crumpled on the floor with a gasping squeak. T’Kir moved away and went to his desk. She picked up his personal data terminal and hurled it against the wall.

"When were you going to tell me?" she yelled, "Don’t you think I’d figure it out when I went aboard?"

"Listen, I didn’t..."

"Shut the hell up." She cut him off viciously, "The ship had better be here tomorrow. If it isn’t, I’ll kill you."

She left in angry silence. Quark sat on the floor rubbing his throat. Until he’d met T’Kir, he’d assumed every Vulcan was cold and efficiently boring. She’d blown that stereotype and he was suddenly glad that she was the only one that had defied it.

Nerrit watched Macen as he monitored the navigational sensors. He’d grown increasingly silent the longer they were together. She wondered why that was. As far as she could tell, things were going well enough.

She finally had to ask, "Is something wrong?"

He blinked in surprise, then broke into a sheepish grin, "Just thinking about how this is a lousy reason for a reunion."

Her wry expression conveyed her empathy regarding his feelings. Her family had only returned to Bajor after the Cardassian withdrawal. Macen’s return to see his former Maquis rebuilding their colonies would undoubtedly be received as critically by some as her family’s choice had been. It wasn’t a stigma that was easy to live with. Then again, Macen didn’t seem to place much stock in what others thought.

Grace sighed as she set the padd down on the desktop. She rubbed her eyes and then pinched the bridge of her nose. She wondered what her superiors in Section 31 would think of her throwing in with Macen the way she had. D’art hadn’t been the only operative they’d infiltrated into Macen’s last crew. She’d begun to wonder if Macen suspected her or if T’Kir had detected her loyalties the way she had with Julia.

She’d intentionally cultivated a friendship with the Vulcan in order to distract her from penetrating her cover. The results of that effort had been startling. Rather than moving into a position to influence one of Macen’s closest friends, she found herself falling under Macen’s sway through T’Kir. The El-Aurian made a frightening amount of sense.

She found herself questioning the nature of the organisation she was sworn to. She’d enlisted to protect the ideals of the Federation, not to deport its citizenry. Although she knew Section 31 had to take measures that others found contemptible, she had always comforted herself with the knowledge that they did so in order to protect those people’s right to condemn them. The Gulag threw that belief into the gutter.

She hadn’t reported to her superiors in months. She knew that Macen himself had walked a similar tightrope while infiltrating the Maquis, ostensibly serving Starfleet interests while forwarding the Maquis cause. She also knew that Section 31 held a tighter leash on its operatives and that its wrath was far beyond anything Starfleet Intelligence could dream off.

 

Chapter 10

Daggit stepped out of the gantry the commercial shuttle had linked to. He entered the shuttleport with every nerve in his body pulsing at an accelerated rate. His senses and reaction time were all far above humanoid norms. His stride bespoke brisk confidence.

Daggit had returned to his home environment: covert operations. He felt uncomfortable aboard starships and behind consoles. This is where he functioned best. He immediately recognised his contact when he saw her despite never having laid eyes on her before.

Radil Jenrya had been one of the handful of Bajoran Resistance fighters to be loaned out to mercenary forces in order to raise revenue for her cell. As with most of the exported terrorists, Radil had not accepted the Bajoran government’s offer of amnesty in exchange for a return to the homeworld and forsaking their destructive crusade. She’d plied her trade across a dozen sectors and built a formidable reputation in doing so. The Syndicate recruiter that had steered him to this planet had shuddered in recollection of his last encounter with Radil.

His steely eyes sized her up even as he felt hers do the same. Radil matched his holo-image of her. She was small, lithe, and emanated quiet danger. Other than her demeanour, the only evidence of her past was the jagged scar that protruded from the corner of her left eye, rounding her cheekbone to end at the corner of her mouth.

The shadows in her large, brown eyes were familiar to him. They were the shadows of untold deaths. She wore her auburn hair and closecropped enough to give T’Kir competition in the spiky hair department. Her pale complexion and hostility reminded him of the female Angosian commandos that had been confined alongside their male counterparts.

That confinement, spent on Angosia’s lifeless moon, had been especially hard in the half-dozen women who were incarcerated there. They had joined the military during their world’s darkest hour, despite traditional reservations. Their reward for successfully completing their mission was to be locked away. Fending off the attentions of four dozen of their male counterparts became a daily routine.

Daggit could guess why she hadn’t joined Bajoran Militia when given the opportunity. Many saw Bajor’s treaty with Cardassia as a betrayal of the suffering generations of Bajorans had endured under the Occupation. A surprising number accpeted the offer and retired to the countryside or a colony world. Others like Radil, unable to forget the bloodshed, refused and subsequently disappeared.

He’d been saddened, but not surprised to learn that many of the dissidents had enlisted as mercenaries with the Orion Syndicate. The Syndicate promised to pursue armament options that neither the Federation nor the Maquis would condone. He also knew that such promises were hollow. The mercenaries were far too effective and valuable in their "abandoned" mode and also readily expendable.

Daggit watched Radil’s face closely. Her expression never changed as he approached. That was either good or bad. He supposed it was an improvement over open hatred.

"It’s good to meet you." Daggit said pleasantly as he stood before her. Radil was purported to possess a keen intellect and multi-tasking abilities that Vulcan would envy. She operated on several levels simultaneously, which made her an invaluable ally or the deadliest of foes.

"I heard a rumour that you made Lieutenant." Her voice was flat, conveying no hint as to her feelings on the matter. It didn’t require heightened senses for Daggit fathom the danger he was presently in. One misspoken word or action and he was dead. Radil’s head may not have reached Daggit’s chin, but he knew she could easily kill him if she got the drop on him.

"Yes, I did." Daggit admitted.

"So why’d you leave Starfleet?" Radil inquired. This time her inflection betrayed her. Her distaste for Starfleet was too great to hide. Daggit took a breath and prepared to navigate the shallows of the cover story Admiral Drake and Macen had prepared for him.

"I resigned following a disagreement with my CO." he declared. It was close enough to the actual events to ring true.

She gave him a thin smile, "Picard must have been stymied to have a junior officer disregard orders in front of the crew."

Daggit tried not to react, but Radil laughed softly, "We have some highly placed sources."

I bet. He thought, If I ever find them, they’re dead.

"Why’d you come this way?"

Now for part 2, "I heard rumours of the Orions pursuing possible treatments for Angosians. I thought I’d check and see if they were true."

She nodded, "They’re true. Care to find out more?"

He nodded and she gave him a warmer smile, "Then we’ll meet someone further up the chain. All offers will be put on the table there."

Daggit followed as she led the way out of the shuttleport. He decided that he really didn’t want to know what the offer would consist of. He had a sickening feeling he already knew. He wondered how far he was willing to go to complete the mission.

Dracas whispered an oath as the panel he’d been prying on snapped back towards the wall, pinching his fingers painfully. The doors to the brig opened. Dracas insured that the comm panel was properly placed and did not show evidence of his attempts to get it out of the wall. Spencer himself entered and moved towards one of the other cells.

Spencer stopped when he reached Hilde Edgars’ cell. The starship captain sat quietly on her bunk, watching Spencer impassively. He stared at her for several minutes before a smug grin spread slowly across his face. Stepped closer to the forcefield.

"I see you’ve lost some of your bravado, Captain." He sneered.

"Why give you more reasons to hurt Alicia?" Edgars asked, "How is she?"

"She’s alive." Spencer answered, "How long she remains that way is entirely up to you."

"She’s alive, but how is she?" Edgars asked more insistently.

"She’s been rather unresponsive since her last... interrogation." Spencer replied with a shrug, "That doesn’t mean she still can’t serve as entertainment for the crew. Some of my men prefer women that don’t resist."

"Real holodeck enthusiasts, eh?" Edgars riposted smartly.

Spencer smiled appreciatively but waggled his finger, "Careful, Captain, resistance can prove unpleasant for your unfortunate friend."

Edgars sighed, "What is it you want?"

"Answers." He informed her simply.

"You haven’t asked any question." Edgars replied vehemently, "All you’ve done is rape and beat me and my first officer."

"And I will continue to do so unless I feel that you will answer honestly when the time comes for me to ask a question." Spencer warned.

Edgars’ jaw clenched, then slowly released, "I’ll answer you to the best of my ability."

He mulled over her answer for a moment, then shook his head, "Sadly, I don’t think so. I’m afraid I’ve scheduled several interrogators to come to your friend’s cell in a few hours. Maybe you’ll be more honest with me after that."

He turned and left without another word. Edgars’ shouted her rage after him, "You soulless bastard! If your men touch her again, I’ll kill them when I get out of here!"

Sitting in the cell next to hers, Dracas watched Spencer’s retreating back. After the doors closed, he returned to work on the panel. He wasn’t certain he could finish before the rape squad arrived, but he might be able to while they busied themselves with the woman. He regretted having to use her as a distraction but he had little choice in the matter.

The Javelin assumed orbit over Parra IV. It was located in the former DMZ. It was also a former Maquis world that was being resettled as Maquis refugees and prisoners were repatriated. Many of the colonists that had relocated upon the founding of the DMZ were returning. Their guilt at not staying and fighting as well motivated many of them and gave the new communities a frenetic energy.

Macen had visited this world often during his days with the Maquis. It was a sparkling purple gem in a system of lifeless brown worlds and two white balls of frozen gas. The slight grey tint to the skies served to evoke images of El-Auria in Macen’s mind. He wished that T’Kir and the rest if his former crew could be here to see the Maquis return to the planet.

This world had been a source of comfort to them in the midst of anguish and peril. He was pleased to see inhabitants return here. The Maquis had shed too much blood to lose a world like this. Eager anticipation permeated the cabin of the runabout.

Macen took a final navigational reading and locked their descent course in. The runabout lowered itself into the atmosphere. Grey clouds parted, revealing the purple tree crowing rolling hills and mountain ranges. Green lakes and seas permeated this world in place of oceans.

Nerrit’s breath caught in her throat for a moment as the splendour of the terrain unveiled before them. The Bajoran had readily admitted to never having travelled in Maquis space although it had been a frequent topic of studies and reports before and after the war with the Dominion. She’s also admitted a fascination with the Maquis, being the indirect heirs to the Bajoran Resistance. It was an attitude that had been frowned upon on Bajor, in light of their treaty negotiations with Cardassia and the alliance with the Federation.

Macen observed her wistful smile, "Thinking of home?"

She gave him a rueful look, "We’re so close, and yet we’re still hundreds of light years away."

"I tend to think of all of these worlds as home." Macen confided, "My homeworld is now a Borg enclave on the other side of the galaxy. These colonies are more of home to me than anywhere else in the Alpha Quadrant."

"But you serve in Starfleet." she asked, baffled, "Wouldn’t you feel more at home on a Federation world?"

He grinned, "It takes refugee worlds to make a refugee truly feel at home."

Daggit and Radil travelled by groundcar across the continent he’d landed upon on Wykyr. Transporters were rarely used for public transit. They were reserved for cargo and shipping. Repulsor and impulse driven craft were employed instead.

The car was wedge-shaped with an enclosed cockpit in the front and an open passenger area in the rear. Mounting brackets on the sides and cockpit roof revealed that the car could carry weaponry. Daggit suspected that the bulge in the rear of the passenger/cargo area housed a shield generator. Having spent years in enclosed spacecraft, racing at nearly ninety kilometres an hour at only a few metres off the ground was exhilarating.

Radil caught Daggit’s enthusiastic smile and returned it. Her hair was tousling in the wind. Her lean features were lined from years spent in combat or imprisonment. Her face brightened with the first signs of true happiness Daggit had observed from her since arriving.

He wondered if the car’s driver was Angosian as well. If not, his or her reflexes were exceptional. The repulsor field was expertly manipulated to compensate for the varying topography. Although the "road" was nothing more than a jagged collection of stones strewn across the plains they were traversing, their ride was fairly smooth.

Kind of like being on a boat in calm waters. He thought to himself.

"D’you always use these things?" Daggit asked Radil. He raised his voice to be heard over the repulsor’s hum and the wind noise.

She hesitated before answering, "They’re the primary means of transportation ‘round here."

"What about when you’re on other worlds?" he pressed his inquiry.

She gave him a wry grin, "So many questions."

He scowled, but she laughed softly, "Let’s just say that these cars are easy to transport and can be extremely useful in various environments."

He nodded in comprehension, then broke into an eager smirk, "Got anything bigger?"

T’Kir and Kort stepped into the cargo bay cautiously. Kort was irritable because he’d been gorging himself at the station’s Klingon restaurant and had been dragged away from his eighth helping of gackh. T’Kir’s dark mood stemmed from another source altogether. They were here to buy a craft that had once been operated by her comrades in arms. That did not settle well with her.

For all her apparent social impropriety, T’Kir had been deeply committed to the Maquis’ dream. Aside from her mental instability derived from telepathic sensitivity, her attitude and demeanour were sculpted by a rejection of a planet and society that had condemned its colony in the DMZ in the name of logical pragmatism. That had ignited the deep wellspring of turbulent passions that Vulcans typically strove to suppress. T’Kir had embraced her passions and followed them through their dark eddies and currents.

Buying a ship captured by the Cardassians, at the probable cost of Maquis lives, was nearly unpalatable. She could feel her gorge rising as her ears detected the sounds of quiet words being exchanged at the other end of the bay behind a stack of containers. This was Quark’s private bay. He’d wanted to conduct the transaction here.

"Quark!" she shouted, surprising Kort as much as she hoped it rattled the Ferengi and the Cardie, "Drag your pink, lobeless carcass into sight."

Quark moved out from behind the containers with his arms outstretched, "I knew you couldn’t resist my charms. Can’t you wait until we’ve concluded our business here before conducting any private transactions?"

"Keep your mind on business." She snarled in warning.

"I am." He assured, "My only thoughts are upon closing the deal."

"And my only thoughts are of gutting you where you stand." Kort growled.

"Did you have to bring him along?" Quark huffed petulantly.

"Tell the Cardassian to step out into the open." T’Kir said in a low voice.

"Certainly." He turned, "Eklam, would you join us?"

The Cardassian stepped out of the shadows. He wasn’t very tall. He was rather thick and squat even by Cardassian standards. He moved uneasily, with furtive gestures. His eyes flicked back and forth between Quark and his prospective buyers.

"Say ‘hello’, Eklam." Quark urged.

"Hello." Eklam almost whispered.

T’Kir snorted in derision. This man was certainly no soldier. He was a bottom feeder. A scavenger that peddled in spoils stolen from the dead and the wealthy. No wonder he and Quark collaborated.

"You brought the ship?" she demanded.

Eklam’s head nodded in a convulsive manner, "Y-yes."

"Good." T’Kir thrust out a padd towards Quark, "This authorises the latinum transfer. Thumbprint it and we’ll be on our way."

Quark perused it quickly. Nodding in satisfaction, he handed it to Eklam. Eklam pressed his thumb onto the appropriate scanner without hesitation. T’Kir found the hate eking from her.

He’s too pathetic to hate, she thought wearily, its like spacing a vole.

Quark retrieved the padd from Eklam and handed it back to T’Kir, "Now as for our other business?"

She gave him a look of pure loathing, "There is no other business."

"There could be." He said suggestively.

She rolled her eyes and strode away. Kort sniffed in disgust and followed her out. Eklam deflated, his nerve spent. Quark sighed.

And it would’ve been such a sweet transaction. He thought wistfully.

 

Chapter 11

The runabout settled gently onto the ground. The proximity sensors gauging the amount of thrust to apply in order to gently lower the craft rather than drop it abruptly. Macen knew pilots that preferred to land manually. He also knew he did not have the appropriate skills to land a craft this gracefully himself.

He placed the runabout’s main drive on standby and locked the controls with a command code. He left the computer active and the transporters active. If their reception began to get too unpleasant, they could call the ship and be beamed back to the ship. He rose from his seat and joined Nerrit at the equipment locker.

Although the colonists were receiving Federation and Bajoran aid for their resettling effort, there was no hard data on the colonists beyond census information. Macen and Nerrit had no idea what kind of reception awaited them. The attitudes and possible resentments felt by the colonists were a mystery. Macen supposed they couldn’t be too hard-nosed, they were accepting Federation assistance and allowing expatriates to return.

"Ready for this?" she asked.

"I don’t know how they’ll respond." He admitted, "Follow my lead. Some of them will probably know me. As long I’m in front, we should be fine."

"And if its not fine?" she asked dubiously.

He pointed at the Bajoran phaser on her hip, "Are you any good with that?"

"I’m all right." She answered, nervousness building.

"Are you a good runner?" he asked next.

She shrugged. He grimaced, "Well, if things get hairy just try to get out of the line of fire long enough to call the ship and have the computer beam you aboard."

She suddenly wished she were home.

T’Kir studied the navigational sensors of the ship she and Kort had purchased with satisfaction. She’d christened the ship the SS Idiot’s Delight. Kort had grumbled unhappily over the name. She simply reminded him that her name was on the papers as the captain, so the name was her decision.

It had been years since she’d last stepped aboard a courier-scout ship like this one. They’d been the mainstay of the ragtag Maquis fleet. Scoutships like the Odyssey and even runabouts had been difficult to come by. Sitting at the ships helm reminded her of her days at the Odyssey’s helm and her stint aboard Ro Laren’s converted Bajoran impulse cruiser before that. They were memories charged with more emotion than she wanted to deal with presently.

She sighed, I can’t run from the feelings forever. That’ll just turn me into a typical Vulcan.

Originally, T’Kir’s lapses into emotionalism had been due to her expanding, and uncontrolled, telepathic abilities. Since receiving help, she’d opted to explore her turbulent emotionalism out of a rebellious anger towards anything Vulcan as a retaliation of her people’s logical acceptance of the loss of her home colony to the Cardassians. Now she began to see it in larger terms. She was a living representative of a meeting of the two paths chosen by the Vulcans and their wayward cousins, the Romulans.

A satisfied smile played at her lips as she pondered how representatives from either party would accept that analysis. She also knew she didn’t give a damn what they thought. She was T’Kir of Eridi II, not of Vulcan or Romulus. Her smile faded and her mouth puckered as she tasted the lie behind that proclamation.

The colony had been established as a home for Vulcans whose logic was different than the status quo as well as a home for Romulan defectors to the Federation. Mixed marriages had been common and her own parents had been a rarity in both having come from Vulcan. Her upbringing in a blended culture was a topic she rarely discussed with anyone. Even today, with the wartime alliance between the Star Empire and the Federation still unofficially in effect, the Federation’s mistrust of anything Romulan permeated the culture.

It was T’Kir’s own opinion that Vulcan had been more than happy to sign off on Eridian’s hand over to the Cardassians in order to disguise the fact that peaceful co-existence was not only possible but had brought benefits to both sides. She had no evidence beyond her own experience with native Vulcans’ reactions after learning of her birthworld. She felt the bubbling tide of anger rising within her, threatening to overwhelm her. Her control had diminished since coming aboard a ship that had been captured at the expense of the lives of fellow Maquis.

She glanced down at the helm to catch her hands in a clenched on the board’s edge. She forced her hands to relax and strove to set her anger aside for now. She would not repress it in the Vulcan way. Rather, she opted for the Romulan way, she would bide her time until she could release her fury upon those that had killed her former comrades.

Macen and Nerrit had no sooner stepped out of the runabout and they found themselves surrounded. A mixed group of various Federation species aimed phaser rifles of myriad design at them. Macen’s hand hovered over his holster even though going for the weapon housed within it would be tantamount to suicide. Nerrit’s eyes coolly scanned the crowd. Silence reigned until an elderly human stepped through the ranks.

"As I live and breathe, Brin Macen." He said to himself, "Everyone, put your weapons down. They’re friends."

Nerrit sighed in relief as the weapons lowered. Macen recognised the newcomer. His name was Orville Willamaker. He’d been a member of the Maquis since its inception. He’d always commanded the respect of his fellows and that trend seemed to persist.

"It’s been awhile, Orville." Macen said with a smile.

"That it has." Orville agreed, "Would you join me for lunch and we can catch up?"

"We’d love to." Macen agreed as Nerrit nodded her agreement.

Radil’s face darkened as the car began to slow. A bulbous mound rose out of the dry fields they’d traversed. It appeared to be the car’s destination. It also seemed Radil was less than pleased to arrive here.

Daggit wondered why this was. Radil had signed on to work for the Orion Syndicate. It seemed to him that accepting such employment also entailed accepting the Syndicate’s mores and methods. Her discomfort sparked hope in Daggit’s heart.

Perhaps she’s not beyond reclamation after all, he noted with satisfaction. He found himself empathising with this disillusioned soldier. He’d come close to following the same path before accepting his fate and seeking an outlet for his war-bred reflexes that corresponded with his moral centre. Although he had several differences with Starfleet, they fulfilled that internal need better than any other institution that he knew of.

He could see a reflection of that need and desire in Radil’s unease as the car halted in front of the modular installation. Daggit presumed that the majority of it was whether located underground or a transporter beam away. The Syndicate’s understandable concerns for secrecy and security were not visibly met by an installation this minuscule. Radil turned her head his way.

"Get out." She ordered coldly. The price of non-compliance was not expanded upon, but her tone adequately addressed the issue. He noted that her hand hovered near her disrupter. She gave him a chilly smile as she saw he acknowledged his situation.

He hopped out of the car without a word. Radil waited for the driver to release himself from his cockpit and stand at the ready before she leapt lightly to the ground. Daggit was pleased to confirm his suspicion regarding the driver’s origin.

"This way." Radil informed him, nodding her head in the direction of the building.

His eyes quickly assessed the building. It was coloured to blend into the beige of the surrounding fields. It rose from the prairie grass like a multi-faceted growth. He’d seen similar installations on the trip here. A network of pipes had sprouted from the others, diving into the ground.

Daggit surmised that the other installations had been pumping stations. This one appeared to be one as well and included the pipes. The major discrepancy lay in the fact that unlike the other lush fields, this one’s crops seemed neglected and unhealthy in comparison. The illusion would easily fool an orbital sweep and only failed upon close ground based inspection.

They’d parked in front of a doorway and Radil’s nod indicated that was his destination. He approached it cautiously. Unlike Federation mag-lock doors, these doors did not slide into a recess in the wall. These were mounted on hinges that allowed them to swing out. A hand scanner alongside the door controlled the lock mechanism, backed by a rotating seal release that Daggit remembered from childhood classes on Angosia’s earliest ventures under the sea and into space.

These are pressure hatches, he realised in surprise. This type of technology was archaic. If this was the height of the local’s development, then this could very well be a pre-warp culture. The presence of the Syndicate here would constitute interference under the Prime Directive. That would mean little to the neutral and non-aligned worlders, but for Federation citizens participating in the Orion’s enterprise here were culpable of the Federation’s gravest charge in addition to the other criminal charges.

Since Radil had enlisted with the Syndicate during Angosia’s instatement as a probationary member of the Federation, she and the other ex-commandos would be found guilty of this charge. Indictment could earn a life sentence to a penal colony. Daggit suddenly found himself fearing the completion of his assignment. It had nothing to do with personal fear, but rather a dread of what he would discover and have to report.

Radil watched him impassively as the driver released the lock and opened the door. She jerked her chin towards the open hatchway. Daggit walked in, stooping to avoid hitting his head on the low confines of the doorway. He stepped into an open area filled only with transporter pads and a control console.

Well, I was right about that, Daggit thought ruefully as he dreaded how much else he’d correctly deduced.

Macen and Nerrit were led to down a short trail to a small village centre. The original colonists to Parra IV had built it. Macen was glad to see the Jem’Hadar had left it intact as they forced the Maquis’ retreat from the world. The architecture was a blend of styles and artistic influences from across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Its destruction would have been a senseless waste.

"Nice to see they left things intact." Macen commented as they entered the village.

Willamaker’s face broke into a grin, "The Jem’Hadar may be bastards in a fight, but they aren’t Cardies. They don’t destroy things for the pleasure of it."

Macen’s smile was wry, "The Founders probably removed that trait from their genetic stew."

The notion of the type of genetic manipulation the Dominion regularly practised was an anathema across the Federation. He understood Earth’s revulsion, having faced down genetically engineered supermen in its past. Other species had faced disappointments of their own. It seemed an Alpha characteristic to fail at genetic manipulation, with the rare exception of a species like the Gideonites.

Willamaker’s derisive snort was typical of the human reaction to the topic. Macen smiled. Nerrit shook her head as she shot him a reprimand with her eyes. He could almost hear her nervously admonishing him not to antagonise their host. So far, he was content with how well the young Bajoran was holding up.

Willamaker led them to a small building that resembled a dome on a square base. It was built out of native marble and its outer skin was lined with quartz. It was beautiful and the colours rippling through it seemed organic. It had been the old colonial governor’s house.

Macen turned towards Willamaker with eyebrows raised in surprise, "You’re the Colonial Governor?"

Willamaker shrugged, "As much as anyone is these days."

Macen’s eyes hardened as Nerrit spoke for the first time, "What do you mean?"

Willamaker cast a quick glance around. Several colonists were milling about. Many had recognised Macen and a flurry of conversation buzzed about the square. He gave them a broad smile.

"I think it’d be best to catch you up on local events inside. News of you’re arrival has spread and is swiftly turning into a reason to quit work on our restoration and planting work."

Macen exchanged a rueful glance with Willamaker, "I remember those days too well."

Willamaker ushered them into the house. The entrance led to a meeting hall with benches facing a podium flanked by tow tables. A door was located behind the podium. It led to the living quarters. Macen recalled that the upstairs held the bedrooms while the lower part, not occupied with the hall, held the kitchen, dining room, several studies and a day room.

They were led to the dining room and offered seats. Willamaker pulled Nerrit’s chair out and waited for her to sit before helping her push it forward. Macen grinned in recollection of scenes of Willamaker doing that for every lady of his acquaintance. The man had been bred to manners higher than those currently in vogue on Earth.

"Lunch should be served shortly." Willamaker assured them, "Two other guests will be joining us shortly as well. In the meantime, an I have any refreshments brought out?"

"Something to drink would be appreciated." Nerrit replied. Macen nodded his concurrence.

They watched with some amusement as Willamaker pulled a comm badge out of his vest pocket and activated it. The Maquis had certainly changed. There was a time that no communicator would have been used for anything as mundane as ordering drinks. It would have been a weapon employed in their war against the Cardassians.

Macen folded his hands in front of him, "You were going to update us on how things are going here?"

Willamaker nodded in recollection, "Certainly. Although, I was hoping you’d introduce me to your charming friend."

Macen grinned, "Orville Willamaker, meet Nerrit Wen."

"I’m delighted." Willamaker said elegantly. He gave Macen a questioning glance, "Whatever happened to Lisea Danan?"

Macen’s grin faded somewhat, "She joined the Daystrom Institute."

Willamaker’s eyebrows rose, "I’m impressed. A boon to science no doubt."

Macen quietly concurred as Willamaker began his explanation, "You know how the Dominion attacked and drove us off our worlds, just as the Cardassians were on the verge of capitulating."

Macen nodded as Willamaker continued, "Those of us that escaped were rounded up by Starfleet border patrols or Federation ships. We were all consigned to penal colonies. Some of us were released with the outbreak of the war since Starfleet’s early losses found them needing soldiers with intimate knowledge of the area."

"That was essentially the offer they made to me when the Odyssey was picked up." Macen replied.

Willamaker nodded, "We’d heard about your impressment back into service."

Neither Macen nor Nerrit reacted to that bit of news. The Maquis had always been experts at ferreting out information. It was a survivalist trait that had served them well in the war. Macen had helped hone that ability.

"How did you return?" Nerrit asked.

Willamaker laughed as an assistant brought three glasses of lemonade then left, "With the Dominion gone and the Cardassian Union in pieces, both the Federation and the Bajorans wanted a buffer area in case things went sour in Cardassia’s resurrection."

"I thought the allies were behind the new Legat." Macen interjected, "Didn’t he aid their effort to defeat the Dominion?"

Willamaker’s smile had a cynical tinge, "The Legat is many things, but first and foremost he’s a pragmatic patriot. He wants to rebuild the Union and restore it to strength. Even though he’s spent years abroad, his notion of strength is still different than that of the Federation."

"So why abandon Cardassian claims on the Maquis worlds?" Macen inquired.

"Probably because they don’t have the ability or manpower spend patrolling them." Willamaker snorted, "That combined with the fact the Bajorans insisted upon it. Since the Bajorans are the conduit for the relief efforts to Cardassia, they really didn’t have much choice."

He shook his head sadly, "We’re another Poland." The reference was lost on Macen and Nerrit, but they could tell it wasn’t a positive one.

"So why return?" Macen asked.

Willamaker’s eyes flashed, "And abandon everything we bled and died for?" His temper settled somewhat and his wry smile returned, "Besides, who else would want to live here?"

Macen smiled warmly at him, "I just wanted to make certain you’d returned of your own volition and not because of some Federation deal."

Willamaker laughed, "There was that too. They offered early release to any Maquis that was willing to resettle. They provided transport, seed stock, communications gear, medical and technical supplies, even a few transports so we could travel between worlds and assist each other. Hell, they even threw in weapons so we could create our own police and defence forces."

Macen and Nerrit exchanged amused glances at this. The irony of Starfleet spending nearly four years trying to apprehend the members if the Maquis and strangle their supply lines only to provide them with freedom and an abundance of the very supplies they’d restricted before was too great not be appreciated. It’s also representative of the Federation’s policy reversals, Macen thought glumly. The only thing that seemed an enduring policy was the Prime Directive and even that was being bent beyond recognition if rumours surrounding the incident in the Briar Patch a couple of years ago were accurate.

"How much have you rebuilt?" Macen asked.

Willamaker smiled modestly, "We’ve planted colonies on fifteen of our worlds. We have survey teams and stake plotters on another dozen. We’ve established police forces and medical services on every world, however limited they are, and even established a central government that all the worlds are members of."

"Already?" Macen and Nerrit asked in startled unison.

"The draft for the constitution of the Maquis Colonial Confederacy was drafted before the Dominion attack. After the war, we just needed the Federation’s Colonial Office ratify it and we were set."

"And you’ve received approval?" Macen asked in virtual disbelief.

"Yup." Willamaker grinned, "The Federation Council’s so anxious to get people back into this region that they were willing to grant us virtually any concession we asked for. That’s how we got to skip the Colonial Office’s direct control and go straight to oversight status."

Macen’s expression was one of amazement. The disputed colonies had all been at that status before they were handed over to Cardassia as an appeasement to avoid another war. It was unheralded for a shattered colony to be returned to such independence without an extensively restored infrastructure. Although the Federation’s desperation undoubtedly arose from the ill will derived from the perceived abandonment of the colonies years ago.

"In fact," Willamaker continued, "as soon as we can raise our population levels, I’m willing to wager the Council will even be open to formal acceptance as full members of the Federation."

"That’s a bet no one here would take." A lightly accented contralto cut in as two figures entered the room from behind where Macen and Nerrit were seated. Although they recognised the voice, both turned to be certain of the owner’s identity. Her tall, lanky form, rounded features, snowy white hair and crystal blue eyes were as unmistakable.

"Sveta!" Macen said happily as he stood and embraced her.

Nerrit remained detached from the hug and noticed that the man that had entered with Sveta appeared as amused by the display as he felt. He was a Bajoran, around Macen’s own apparent age. He also had a vague military bearing although he looked too relaxed to ever have worn a uniform. His brown was long enough that he tucked the stray locks behind his ears even though they valiantly resisted the attempt.

Macen released Sveta and she turned towards Nerrit, "Its always nice to meet a friend of Brin’s." Nerrit shook her hand and was surprised by the strength of the other woman’s grip.

Sveta cast an impish glance his way, "What happened to Danan? I always thought you’d run away with T’Kir, not some new woman."

"Glad to see you are too." He replied wryly, then cocked an eyebrow towards her companion, "Who’s your friend?"

A smile of sheer delight formed on her lips, "This is my husband, Korepanova Roran."

The look of open-mouthed, utter astonishment she received from him only broadened her smile.

 

Chapter 12

"You’re what?" Macen exclaimed.

"My husband." Sveta replied, her pride evident in that fact evident, "Korepanova Roran, former Resistance cell leader and Maquis."

"Korepanova?" Nerrit repeated, "I know that it’s Bajoran custom for a man to assume the wife’s family name upon marriage, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a Bajoran adopting a human name."

Roran smiled sheepishly, "I told Sveta that even though she wasn’t marrying a Bajoran, or living a typical Bajoran life, that I wanted to have at least one small part of my cultural traditions survive."

Nerrit studied him for a moment, then smiled warmly, "You’re wiser about other cultures than I am then." Her obvious embarrassment over the topic piqued curiosity, but no asked.

"How did you two meet?" Macen asked, still stunned.

"During the war with the Cardassians." Sam answered, "I’d come to the Maquis after most of my former Resistance comrades accepted Minister Shaakkar’s amnesty offer. We met shortly after she’d recruited several of her former Starfleet friends and needed someone to assist a few of them in setting up their own operations." He glanced towards his wife, "Wasn’t Chakotay the first one I worked with?"

She nodded with a sad look on her face. Although it had been learned that Chakotay and most of his Maquis crew were still alive, the fact they were trapped in the Delta Quadrant meant that they would likely never see their old comrades and loved ones again. Svetlana Korepanova and Chakotay had attended Starfleet Academy together and later she’d recruited him into the ranks of the Maquis. She felt a twinge of guilt at knowing he’d still be in his home Quadrant if he hadn’t accepted her offer.

"You know Chakotay?" Macen inquired.

"I served on the Liberty. It was right after he assumed command. I helped him co-ordinate efforts with other cell commanders and recruit his own crew. I didn’t exactly get along with his second, Seska, and decided to assist other new commanders establish their operations." Sam admitted with a sheepish grin.

"Who did get along with Seska?" Sveta snorted.

"Chakotay did." Macen commented with a smirk, "On several occasions."

Sveta laughed, "God, what a memory. I think we should focus on some other topics right now though."

Macen caught the hint and turned towards Nerrit, "Could you excuse us?"

Roran smiled pleasantly at her, "I’ll wait with you. They’ll be discussing some dark secrets and as a newly married man, I prefer not to overhear incriminating confessions from my dear wife’s lips."

Sveta rolled her eyes at his sarcasm, but his words had their desired effect and Nerrit left the room wearing a smile. Macen turned back to find his former colleagues studying him closely, "Have I shown up at a bad time?"

"No." Sveta replied, her voice tensing, "But I have to ask you if you’re still working for Starfleet Intelligence?"

Macen’s smile was one born of comprehension and relief, "Yes, but that’s only indirectly why I’m here. Starfleet didn’t send me, I’m here because a group of officers has gone rogue, taken three starships and become privateers for the Andergani."

"I can see why that would bother Starfleet." Sveta admitted, "But why are you involved?"

Macen’s eyes held hers, "They’ve butchered at least one crew of a ship they raided, maybe more. I was sent to discover who they are. In my first encounter with them, they blew up the Odyssey and kidnapped my engineer."

Sveta could hear the anger underscoring his every word. She knew how much that ship meant to him, as well as those under his command. The latter trait had put him in good stead with the rest of the Maquis. Macen would move heaven and hell to protect his people and to recover them if they were captured.

"What brought you here?" Willamaker asked, "We’re a long way from Oligarchy territory."

"Analysis of their tactics revealed Maquis patterns." Macen informed them sadly, "I was hoping to track down leads on disaffected fighters that decided to forgo rebuilding the colonies and strike out on their own."

Sveta and Willamaker exchanged a long, solemn look before she spoke, "They’re rumours of Maquis survivors joining up with the Orion Syndicate and the Andergani Oligarchy. We haven’t had time to look into it thoroughly, but I’ll make some inquiries and give you what I have."

"Thank you." He said appreciatively.

"You know," she said with a hopeful glimmer in her eye, "we’re building our police forces. You could easily have a Chief Inspector’s post if you wanted to run our Intelligence division."

Macen gave her a rueful smile, "Its more tempting than you can possibly imagine, but I have to finish this first."

"I assumed that." She replied sarcastically, "I meant after the mission. You’re a Maquis at heart. That’s why you kept Starfleet Intelligence off our backs for so long."

Hid faced coloured in embarrassment, "I never knew how much Eddington discovered or suspected."

Sveta broke into a crooked smile remembering Michael Eddington, the former Security Chief of DS9 and the last leader of the Maquis, "He knew just about everything. What he didn’t, Ro filled him in on."

"I always wondered why no one came after me." Macen admitted.

"Michael had played the same game for almost as long as you had." Sveta reminded him, "He knew exactly how much it was costing you and Danan to walk that tightrope."

She saw the relief in his eyes, "So, what about that post?"

He chuckled, "Like I said, ask me again after this missions done."

"Would T’Kir be coming with you?" Sveta asked with a tinge of apprehension.

"Probably." He laughed.

Her face twisted up in an expression of annoyance, "I’ll have to think about whether or not it’s worth getting back to you."

The person Sveta and Macen were discussing was encountering a difficulty as vexing as they occasionally found her.

"What d’you mean you can’t pilot a ship?" she growled in Kort’s direction.

The Klingon shrugged, "I studied medicine and weapons design at the Imperial Academy. Piloting and navigation were not part of my curriculum." He replied haughtily.

"The computer practically flies the ship on it’s own." Her voice rose in exasperation, "How hard can it be?"

"I will not attempt to pilot this ship." Kort declared adamantly.

"Kort," her voice was low, "if I don’t get the damn engines back on-line, we are just going to drift helplessly through space until someone finds us or we get sucked down a gravity well. The former is unlikely and the latter is certain death. Unless you’ve suddenly developed engineering skills I’m unaware of, I’m the only one out of the two of us qualified to make the necessary repairs."

Her eyes narrowed as she leaned in close to his face, "So sit down, shut the hell up and let me get to work!"

The vehemence with which she said the words didn’t phase Kort whatsoever. The look in her eyes, however, caused him to obediently plop down into the pilot’s chair. Kort had never seen such a look upon a Klingon or a Romulan. It was a cold, calculating appraising stare that promised more violence than any heated stare could. For the first time since meeting her, he was painfully aware of the fact that she had been incarcerated in a mental institution.

He released a carefully held breath as she strode off the bridge and headed for the engines. They had been underway at Warp 6 for nearly two days now. In another twelve hours at that speed, they would reach the Andergani frontier. Kort was suddenly looking forward to getting off the ship.

Macen awoke, stretched and released a long sigh. He and Nerrit had been put up in separate rooms in the Governor’s House. After the meeting with Sveta and Willamaker, he’d gone on a tour of the farms surrounding the village. Nerrit had been left behind in town in order to "investigate the cultural synthesis of the town".

She’d been unhappy when Macen, Sveta, and Roran had returned late that evening. Macen had asked for a report of her investigation and she had given him a flip remark. This led to a reprimand that left the Bajoran tight-lipped, but far more informative. After concluding her summary, she had immediately retired for the evening.

Macen shook his head and did the same. He’d been reunited with nearly half a dozen former comrades in arms today. The experience had been a synthesis of joy and longing, as Sveta had undoubtedly intended it to be. He admired her subtle attempts at trying to persuade him to stay as much as he was annoyed by it at the same time.

Sveta had always been a master of gentle persuasion. Previously her approach had been tainted with anger, that was now gone. It seemed to be an effect brought on by her marriage to the taciturn Roran. Macen had to admit he liked Roran and thought he was a good match for the fiery Sveta. He was happy for her, and for the Maquis that had returned to complete their efforts of building new worlds.

Whether or not he was in a place where he could join them remained to be seen. His skills did little to lend themselves to building a colony. Fighting a guerrilla war or investigating criminals was more his area of expertise. He knew the shattered colonies needed capable men and women to help safeguard its future. He desperately wanted to participate in that effort but felt torn by the need he saw in the Federation.

The Federation was at a vital crux in its existence. The next few years could go a long way to amending the faults that had sparked the Maquis in the first place. They could also be utilised to hasten the Federation down the path towards reactionary empire. The delicate balancing act between idealism and pragmatism the Federation was founded upon had not always worked, but the effort itself was inspiring.

The Allies’ victory over the Dominion spawned a new sense of superiority that Macen found distasteful. Confidence in one’s culture to survive and adapt to new stimulus was one matter, a deep rooted belief that the culture was inherently superior and would therefor tolerate "lesser" cultures until they were enlightened smacked of imperialism. Macen saw the signs of this mentality filtered in various degrees throughout the young officer corps.

These officers had been inducted into Starfleet just prior to the war or during its pursuit. They had endured the darkest days in Starfleet history and seen triumph snatched away from the gravest sequence of sequential disasters. The fleet had been ill prepared for the Dominion attacks following on the heels of the Borg attack on Earth and venture into the past. Its ships undermanned, ill repaired and facing a relentless foe, Starfleet had nevertheless overcome in the end with the aid of the Klingons and Romulans.

All three governments had suffered as a result of the war. All three had also received a strong ego boost as they faced their defeated foe across the negotiating table. Victory possesses its own intoxicating qualities that the Romulans and the Klingons built their societies around. Macen feared the Federation would follow suit after facing its own near destruction. They had repulsed the Borg invaders that had destroyed his planet and people on multiple occasions, but those Borg came in single cubes, not in the massed forces they preferred in the Delta Quadrant.

The Jem’Hadar had been the first seemingly inexhaustible foe the Federation had faced. The Founders’ abilities to disguise themselves as loved ones and friends had left its impact on the collective psyche. The Breen attack on Earth had scarred public perception far more than the land or buildings. The occupation of Betazed and other outlying colonies had risen a clamour for a stronger defensive network, an increase in the number of ships, and new member worlds from which to draw resources and recruits.

Macen had eschewed the growing shift of Starfleet towards purely scientific missions but had never sought a purely military mission for the service either. The fleet functioned best as the Federation’s protector and explorer. The number of hulls constructed around purely military lines was increasing since the success of the Akira and Defiant-classes. The new Sabre and Steamrunner-classes were much more heavily armed and less geared towards scientific inquiry than the predecessors they were replacing.

Starfleet had been caught unprepared by the Dominion. Many of the changes in design and mission philosophy were necessary and just. There was a limit, however, and Macen feared the frightened Council members and their constituents would not recognise it when they saw it. The Special Investigations Division was designed to investigate flaws in the system and to promote reform as well as external threats.

Macen knew the formation of the SID resulted primarily from the growing revelations surrounding Section 31. That enigmatic organisation’s 300 year old shroud of mystery had been pierced as a result of the efforts of Dr. Julian Bashir on DS9 and Macen’s discovery of the Gulag. The SID was an attempt by Starfleet to assume many of the roles Section 31 had assumed. Due to the very nature of the tasks, it would be incalculably easy for the fledgling Division to follow in its predecessor’s path.

Section 31 acted as a law unto itself. They were the shadowy "subconscious" that dealt with the seamier and more ideological threats to the Federation’s wellbeing. They proactively removed potential obstacles to growth or security as well as suppressed internal "social digressions". They had been founded by the Federation Charter but no longer had direct oversight from the Council. They operated in a void and had exploited that fact to circumvent the laws that typically restrained Starfleet and the Federation’s other offices.

Macen knew how appealing that methodology was. More than once over his eighty years in Starfleet Intelligence, he’d wished for free reign to dispose of a situation as he saw fit. Those moments were typically bred out of frustration and following through with his impulses would have been disastrous. Operating an entire organisation along such lines was a malignant cancer that would consume the organisation and that which it ostensibly served to protect.

He released a sorrowful sigh as he headed off to the sonic shower. His loyalties were well and truly divided. He’d joined the SID in order to help steer its course away from following its predecessor. The knowledge that the Maquis Confederacy had been founded and could use his expertise also weighed heavily upon him. He wished he could synthesise his obligations to both, but saw no way to do so. When the time came to choose, he had no idea which he would pursue.

He stepped out of the shower and completed his other hygienic preparations for the day after dressing. He’d put his clothes in the ‘fresher overnight to be cleaned. The small cubical device worked along the same ultrasonic principles as the shower. Bajoran clothes were woven from domestically grown fibres, it was a waste to recycle them in a replicator when other methods were available to care for them.

Macen buckled the holster belt then strapped down the thigh pouch that would carry the weapon. He picked the phased plasma pistol up from the dresser and shoved it into place in the holster. Unlike Federation worlds, weapons were typically worn in the Maquis colonies. It was the heritage of a decades long border dispute guerrilla war.

He placed his tricorder in its pouch on his belt and proceeded downstairs. Willamaker was already in the dining Room, as well as Nerrit. The Bajoran intelligence officer still seemed stiff, but no longer sullen. That suited Macen. He was in no mood to have to coddle her bruised feelings.

Sveta entered the Room just as Willamaker had begun to ask if Macen would like anything. Macen recognised her purposeful walk and the stern expression on her face. She had news for him, and it was news she didn’t like. Macen knew instantly that his suspicions had borne out.

"I’ll have coffee and oatmeal if you have any." Macen informed Willamaker.

"Two of our principle crops." Willamaker replied happily and proceeded to the kitchen to inform the cooks.

Sveta stopped in front of Macen with her arms akimbo. Her fists, firmly planted on her hips, seemed to be seeking targets. Her normally clear eyes were clouded with a furious storm of emotion. Even during the worst of the war, Sveta had rarely been in a mood this dark. The time Macen had seen her this way was when they’d been betrayed by one their own.

Remembering how she’d dealt with Cardassians, Macen wondered if he should prepare for the worst, "What’d you find?"

"You were right." She snarled with indignation, "Several Maquis cells sought refuge in Andergani territory during the Jem’Hadar’s purge of the systems. They’ve been operating as ‘free-traders’ ever since."

Macen smiled grimly at her savage use of the euphemism pirates typically applied to themselves, "Any idea where I can find a few of them?"

Her smile expressed the bitter irony of the situation even before she spoke, "They have quite an enterprise going on looting Cardassia Prime and her colonies."

Macen shook his head. He could see the temptation in the act, but knew it was petty, "I’ll find them."

Her eyes locked in on his, never wavering, "I know you will. Do what you have to do. If Starfleet balks, tell them to go to hell."

He broke into a lop-sided grin, "I’m sure they’ll love hearing that."

Sveta snorted, "How long has it been since either one of us gave a damn what Starfleet thinks?"

Macen shrugged, "Just figured it needed to be said."

 

Chapter 13

Daggit and Radil materialised, for the fourth time, in a dimly lit room. Daggit shook his head, trying to clear the disorientation he felt. Single stage transports were strange enough, a multiple stop, sequenced transport was totally unnerving. They had solidified to be instantly transported again five times by Daggit’s count. They were no longer even necessarily on the same world much less the same system depending on how much power the relays had had where they were placed.

Radil gave him sardonic grin, "You get over it after a few times."

Daggit eyed her sceptically, "Frankly, I’d rather not have to."

Her laugh had a bitter edge, "If you sign up, that’ll seem pleasant compared to other assignments."

He gave her an inquiring look, but she wasn’t divulging any details. She nodded towards a doorway that Daggit could see now that his eyes had adjusted to the gloom and restored solidity. Unlike the pressure hatch at his departure point, this was a standard mag-lock design. He was slightly amused by Radil’s insistence upon hanging behind him, granting her the ability to shoot him if he attempted an escape or a fight.

The door slid open. Beyond it lay a brightly-lit room with opulent furnishings. A mix of various aliens filled the room. All were armed and with a few exceptions, looked skilled in their use. A lushly cushioned chair sat atop an upraised platform dominated the room.

Seated in the chair was the most corpulent Orion Daggit had ever seen. The race’s high gravity origins tended to breed stocky males anyway, but this exceeded stocky by at least a hundred kilos. Two thickly muscled Orions stood to either side of him. The Orion’s requisite harem of dancing girls sat before his chair, each of their eyes blazing hatred for their "master".

Daggit suppressed a shudder after glancing into their eyes. Half the galaxy wants to mate with an Orion dancing girl? He wondered dubiously, Half the galaxy’s nuts! He supposed the attraction lay in the women’s reputed lethality, which he believed in instantly.

The Orion seated upon the chair spoke a few words in his native tongue. These words were then shouted by one of his bodyguard/attendants. All noise in the room lapsed into silence as the milling bodies divided to grant the Orion a clear view of Daggit. The Orion’s eyes narrowed as he appraised the Angosian. After a moment, he motioned for Daggit to step closer.

"Good luck." Radil breathed cynically as he obeyed.

Thanks a lot, Daggit thought bitterly as he warily approached the waiting Orion chieftain. He’d researched the cultural structure of the Orions as he travelled for this meeting. They were arranged in complex clan structures derived form ancient nomadic raiding parties. The latest twist in their operational mentality had resulted from discovering Iotia and the "Book" left behind by early Federation scouts.

The Book had been a historical study of the Terran mobsters of the early 20th century. Unexpectedly, the Iotians had subsequently based their entire culture upon this text. After a subsequent visit by the Enterprise commanded by James T. Kirk, they’d added emulating Starfleet to their cultural niche. Much to the Federation’s chagrin, they still retained elements of the Mafioso mentality and tended to trade with anyone that showed up out of a stubborn sense of defiance.

The Orions had copied the book and engaged in a copious study of it. From their research the Syndicate had been born. The fractured clans were united for the first time in their turbulent history. Unfortunately for law enforcement officials across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, their newly united efforts were squarely aimed at expanding their cartels and smuggling franchises.

The Syndicate had stumbled upon a great secret for success. They could simply suborn local criminal elements, place them under their influence and backing, and let them take the majority of the risks. The clan lords were literally swimming in latinum and had supplicants coming in droves. The Syndicate had transformed itself into a massive corporation complete with benefit packages and retirement programs.

Which would be great if they weren’t built around sentient exploitation. Daggit observed bitterly. Their lure for acquiring Angosian soldiers was typical of the Syndicate’s tactics. They dealt in every known vice, and a few that probably hadn’t been widely disclosed yet.

Daggit was halfway to the "throne" when one of the two bulky Orions stepped down and began to approach him. The man’s square jawed face was permanately drawn into a sneer thanks to a jagged scar that ran from the left corner of his mouth to his temple. The eagerness in the man’s movements hinted at impending violence.

"The applicant will now prove his qualifications." An Andorian major domo announced.

"And how do I do that?" Daggit shouted over the din of wagers being placed.

The Andorian’s face split into a bemused smile, "You survive a battle to the death."

T’Kir stared listlessly at the viewscreen. It seemed as though they’d been travelling out here for days. Technically, they had but the journey seemed longer due to her unreleased desire to exact vengeance upon someone. The boredom and frustration had inspired her to add to her "renegade" appearance.

Her curved ears now sported several studs and two hoops apiece. Vulcan women typically only wore a single ruby stud in their left ear until marriage then they went unadorned. T’Kir kept the ruby, but it was now near the apex of her pointed lobes. She liked the effect and pondered whether or not to add an earcuff to the right to balance the extra stone the ruby gave the left.

She dismissed the question as she ran her fingers through her dark hair. She’d used a follicle stimulator to grow her hair out. She’d kept it fairly short throughout the war and her incarceration. It now reached the nape of her neck.

The new length created problems that she hadn’t faced in years. Her hair kept falling over her eyes, blocking her vision. Luckily, Grace had shown her a human device for keeping it restrained. T’Kir wondered where Terrans had ever derived the word "scrunchie" from, but at least the blasted thing worked.

Or at least it does most of the time, she thought bitterly as she tucked another errant strand behind her ear, at least my ears are the perfect shape to hold some of this back.

Looking in a mirror earlier, she had to admit she liked how she looked. She wondered how Macen would react when he saw the change. She’d first cut her hair shortly after meeting him. It had been a desperate act. She’d been so overloaded with trying to block out everyone else’s stray thoughts and fears that removing any other concerns seemed "logical" at the time.

She smirked at her immediate referencing of logic. She was a cultural aberration, but she was still a Vulcan. Logic had been bred into her since before she was born. It was one of the reasons why she was so good with computers. She understood how they thought and how they didn’t, which was their weakness.

"Are we almost there yet?" Kort growled as he entered the cockpit.

She gave him a cross look as she answered archly, "I don’t know, and d’you know you sound like a child?"

Kort sneered at her. She expected him to stick out his tongue, but he refrained. She didn’t. She returned to her instruments while listening to Klingon curses muttered behind her.

At least he’s getting creative, she observed dryly as Kort took a deep breath and launched into another tirade of murmured threats and descriptions of ancestry.

She was about to comment on his description of how he would abuse her corpse when the sensors detected a ship ahead of them, "Heads up! We’ve got company."

"Where do you want me?" he asked, instantly serious and professional.

"Man the weapons." She replied.

She ignored his gleeful smirk as he sat down behind the console.

Dracas coldly watched the display on the vidcom for several moments before turning away. Alicia Witt had been curled in a ball, the tatters of her Starfleet uniform drawn about her when her tormentors had arrived. She had launched herself at the first with savage howl. He’d been taken away, broken and bleeding after they managed to subdue her with a neurocortical suppressant.

After that, they placed her immobile form on the floor. They destroyed the last vestiges of her uniform before beginning their "administrations". Dracas could see the horrified comprehension of the events in her eyes. They took her singly and in groups. The fact that Dracas had once considered these beings fellow officers disgusted him.

Being born in darkened tunnels had granted Dracas a well-developed sense of hearing. They picked up a cry of pure frustration and the static discharge of the forcefield in the cell next to him. Trapped within, Hilde Edgars managed to pull her cot from its brackets and throw it at the field. Seeing that fail, she pounded on the walls of her cell yelling threats in the vain hope it would distract Witt’s attackers.

Edgars had worn herself out in the hour it took for Witt’s tormentors to exhaust themselves. Spencer made an appearance as his followers were leaving the cell. The ship’s medic went in to check on Witt. She reported treating Witt for various bruises, contusions, and a bleeding vulva before departing.

Spencer stood triumphantly before Edgars cell, "Have you had enough, Captain? Commander Witt undoubtedly has."

"Go to hell." Edgars managed to snarl, despite her ravaged throat.

"If it exists, I undoubtedly will." Spencer replied nonchalantly, "We are almost at my base of operations. The Commander has already proven she has usefulness. If you do not do the same, and that you are properly subservient before we arrive, then I shall execute you and that will leave you hapless first officer in my tender care."

Bastard knows what buttons to push, doesn’t he? She acknowledged bitterly.

"What do you want?" She asked wearily, "If you’re after a roll in the hay, several of your men and a couple of the women beat you to it."

Spencer laughed, "I assure you Captain, I’m not after sexual gratification. What I want is far more heady and far more satisfying."

"What?" Edgars asked, perplexed.

"I want to swear loyalty to me in a broadcast ceremony." He replied as though it were a small matter, "Then I want you to surrender Starfleet’s latest security and encryption ciphers."

She stared at him slack-jawed, Spencer tried soothing her, "I know it seems a bit much, but how else can I ensure your loyalty, and you secure dear Alicia’s privacy?"

He chuckled at the glare of unbridled hatred he received, "Think about it. You have almost a day to consider it."

Spencer began to walk off. He stopped a brief second to spare a glance into Dracas’ cell. The engineer sat mutely, staring blankly at the wall. Spencer shook his head and went on his way.

Dracas waited until the vidcom blanked out before returning to work. The unit slid easily out of the wall. He began rerouting ODN lines and isolinear chips. It took several experimental combinations and adjustments before he was able capture an image of Hilde Edgars in her cell.

The Captain paced the outline of her cell like a caged predator. That image remained constant as Dracas made another set of changes. Edgars flopped down on her cot with a frustrated sigh. Dracas chose that moment to activate the comm into her cell.

"Don’t worry about it, Captain." His voice piped in suddenly, startling her, "We’ll be out of here soon enough, and then we can feed that sick son of a bitch his heart."

Grace took a break from the seemingly endless record search. She’d known there was a reason she’d opted to be a pilot rather than an administrative officer. She found the weekly conn reports to be excessive. This stack, comprising the careers of over 3000 individuals, was the biggest waste of terabytes Grace could imagine.

She stood from her chair and stretched. Her back made a cracking noise that made her wince. Her body was going to be unhappily reminding her about this assignment for weeks to come. She wondered if her teammates were having greater success when the door to the small office slid open.

Grace turned, expecting to see the yeoman that had been assigned as her liaison. Her chagrined smile faded as she recognised the lurking presence before her. Although he wore a Starfleet uniform, he wasn’t entirely Starfleet. He was her controller from Section 31. They’d come for her at long last.

The Javelin leapt to warp speed as Macen locked in their course for Cardassia Prime. Nerrit spelled him at the conn while he retreated to the back to change into his Outbound Ventures uniform. She had already done so during their departure. She sat impassively, watching the shifting display of the warpfield as he returned.

"Okay, what’s bothering you?" He asked as he slid back into his seat.

Her eyes narrowed, "What makes you think anything’s bothering me?"

"Maybe the way you react to every question like I’m a Dominion interrogator." He replied.

"It’s... nothing." She equivocated.

Maven rolled his eyes, "Listen to me, we’re on a dangerous assignment. Our survival depends on how ell we co-operate. Right now, you’re not very co-operative."

She gave him a stony glare, "Like you were co-operative when we were on Parra IV."

Macen broke into a victorious grin, "So that’s what’s bothering you."

Her gaze became angrier, "You cut me out of most of the discussions and I still don’t know what the hell happened down there. All I do know is that we now on our way to Cardassia Prime to find some more of your friends!"

Macen couldn’t quite tell which term she applied the most apprehension, Cardassia or friends. Although Bajor was leading the way in rebuilding Cardassia, it was primarily motivated by a desire to prevent any further Cardassian intentions towards the Bajoran worlds. Macen knew that the wounds in the Bajoran soul inflicted by the Cardassian occupation would linger for decades, if not centuries. The fear of Cardassian aggression had been the motivator for the official Bajoran condemnation of the Maquis.

His expression became stern, "Listen to me, you were left out of matters that don’t concern this mission. You have all the pertinent details. Anything else that was shared was on a personal note and privy to your ears."

She looked slightly taken aback, Macen broke into a grin, "Fair’s fair, after all, have you disclosed all the details of your life in the Militia?"

Slowly, a rueful smile took control of her lips, "No. I suppose not."

Macen shrugged, "Everything you need to know, you know. I suggest you change your attitude and get your mind back on our mission."

Nerrit nodded, "I see your point. I’ll try to stay focused."

"Good." Macen said gruffly as he turned back towards his console, "Otherwise, I was going to beam aboard the first Bajoran transport we came across and send you back to your homeworld."

Nerrit descended into remorseful silence for the duration of their trip. Macen heartened to see that this one was had a reflective tone rather than the previous sulkiness. Fates knew he’d spent enough time critiquing his own mistakes. He hoped she was as fast a learner as she appeared, they really didn’t have any time for education.

He really couldn’t blame her for her relative inexperience. Although the Bajorans were one of the first spacefaring races in the known galaxy, they’d abandoned interstellar flight a thousand years before most of the Alpha Quadrant had taken to the stars. They’d settled down to their own system and happily stayed there, obscure and unnoticed until that fateful day nearly seventy years ago when the Cardassians arrived. The sixty-six years of occupation permanently altered their outlook on interstellar travel.

The ship dropped out of warp and both of them had their first glimpse of Cardassia Prime. It was a golden orb in the distance. It was still too far away to make out continents or features. Macen glanced at Nerrit and saw her face reflect the mix of apprehension and morbid curiosity he felt.

Although the last two decades of his life seemed to revolve around this place and its people, he’d never visited it before. He suddenly longed for a familiar face from his days of fighting against this planet’s offspring. Danan, Tulley, Chakotay, and countless others were all gone. Only T’Kir, and Ro in an obscure way, was still with him. He suddenly realised how much he wished she were here with him on this mission rather than Nerrit.

Security officials commed him. After several minutes of transmitting credentials, he received permission to land. The planet was ringed with native Galor-class cruisers as well as Federation starships, Klingon battlecruisers, Romulan warbirds, and freighters of every model and description from across two quadrants. The tiny runabout went unnoticed amidst the bustle as it descended into the atmosphere.

They landed in a spaceport adjacent to the capital city. Sveta’s informants had revealed that a raiding party would be looting areas still under reconstruction. The Cardassians’ rebellion against the Dominion in the final days of the war had cost them millions in lives as well as the destruction of entire cities and suburbs. The inner city of the capital had been spared only due to the Founder’s presence there.

Even with the massive aid it was receiving, the Cardassian Union was making slow progress rebuilding its shattered neighbourhoods. Many of them had turned into warrens for looting and pillaging. The security forces were desperately trying to capture the predators, but they were understaffed and woefully exhausted. Aid workers and natives alike had an unfortunate tendency to disappear in the wrecked areas. Macen and Nerrit were headed into the heart of just such an area. It was not something either of them looked forward to.

 

Chapter 14

Daggit ducked as the Orion’s massive arm swung overhead. Not only was the brute massive, but damnably fast. Daggit was unarmed, but his knife-wielding opponent continued to press his advantage. Daggit sported several shallow cuts, but the Orion’s nose and lisp were spilling opaque blood as well from a few well-timed blows.

A human, Klingon or even a Romulan, would have been fairly hobbled by the precise attacks Daggit had delivered to his foe’s knees, wrists, and face. The Orion’s thick musculature and bone structure kept minimising the damage. Only the Angosian’s heightened reflexes continued to spare him. The mental conditioning received from the creators of the Angosian "super-soldiers" provided subconscious analysis of the Orion’s techniques, but he was having little success in defeating the simple genetic advantages the Orion was blessed, or cursed, with.

Daggit dodged another jab and snapped a kick into the side of the Orion’s knee. He finally heard a crunch and the Orion emitted a rewarding cry of pain. He didn’t go down, but he now had a noticeable limp. Daggit was pleased, seeing fear in the Orion’s eyes for the first time.

And that could save his life. It was all he could do not to reveal his own exhaustion. He forced himself to flash the brute a confident smile he didn’t feel. The effect was worth effort.

The Orion hesitated. He was far too used to his foes simply crumbling before him. Dedicated resistance was as unexpected as it was unprepared for. Essentially a bully at heart, the Orion began to swiftly lose heart after tasting pain.

Daggit instinctively read the change in the Orion’s eyes and flew into action. He snapped rapid punches and kicks at every vulnerable point common to humanoids. Several of the blows connected to devastating effect. The irony was that the damage was far more psychological than physical. The Orion stood paralysed by his own fears before being felled by a massive wheel kick with all of Daggit’s energy and momentum behind it.

The Orion fell and lay on the floor with a stunned expression frozen upon his features. Daggit moved in for the killing stroke when an ear-shattering gong rang out. Daggit disengaged and turned his focus to the throne. The Orion chieftain sat with a beaming smile of approval.

"You have done well." The chieftain spoke Federation standard with a harsh and guttural accent, "We are pleased with your strength and skill. A contract will be offered if you wish a place in my clan branch of Orion Syndicate."

Daggit hoped he didn’t sound as winded as he felt as he replied, "I accept."

The chief let out a bellowing chuckle, "Excellent! Bura Radil will act as your patron. Obey her as you would me."

Daggit bowed his head while maintaining eye contact with the chief. He could see that this pleased the clan lord immensely. He turned to see Radil giving him a relieved smile. The former terrorist looked as though she’d fretted throughout his match. That pleased him, although he knew he shouldn’t allow himself to feel that way.

The hours passed slowly for Hilde Edgars. The transmission she’d received from Dracas had lifted her hopes far more than she knew she safely allow. She couldn’t help it. There was a very real chance she could now help for Alicia, as well as justice.

The unknown engineer, Dracas, had to be Starfleet. He was far too intimate with the ship’s systems to be otherwise. Subtle vocal clues also alluded to the fact. He spoke standard with an accent she couldn’t identify, but that was common enough. There were thousands of variants among humans alone. He also maintained a military undertone in his verbiage.

In his cell, Dracas had managed to access the main computers. Not for the first time, he wished T’Kir or another operational systems engineer was with him. Dracas was intimately familiar starship hardware. The software was outside his normal range of experience.

He was successfully patching codes in, he was just taking longer than a techno-witch like T’Kir would. He’d monitored her activities upon boarding the Odyssey and accessing Ops for the first time. She’d re-routed, reprogrammed, and modified every operational system within minutes. He’d watched the shifting cascade of codes from his master systems terminal in Main Engineering and had been stunned.

She’d inserted ciphers and programs faster than he could identify them. None of the programs had been prepared before she sat at her console. She finished by sending a "friendly" message to his console warning him off from eavesdropping in the future. He’d taken every precaution known to Starfleet and Intelligence to make his observations as discreet as possible and she’d still discovered them.

He could only hope his own efforts here were equal to the simplest of her accomplishments. He’d reprogrammed the vidcomm to deactivate the cell’s forcefield. He didn’t dare manipulate the system further than that. He’d have to deactivate Edgars and Witt’s cells upon his own release.

He’d just replaced the unit back into the wall when the doors to the brig opened. Four men entered. From the leering expressions on their faces, it was painfully obvious that Spencer had authorised another visitation to Witt in order to pressure Edgars. Dracas sat passively as they passed his cell.

A cry of rage and various obscenities flew from Edgars’ cell as they passed. Dracas heard a keening wail followed by the sharp snap of a hand slapping flesh. Silence followed, broken only by the arrogant laughter of the men. Edgars continued to berate the men, desperately trying to anger them into abandoning their pursuits with Witt.

Dracas moved to within an inch of the violet field trapping him within the cell. He couldn’t see any sentries. He quietly moved to the vidcomm and keyed in the code sequence that would bring the shield down. It winked out of existence and he stepped out.

One of the men stood outside the cells, leaning against a section of panelling located between Witt and Edgars’ cells. Dracas deactivated her cell’s field as he crept past. His hands lanced out, taking the man’s jaw in one hand and the back of his head in the other. He twisted hard and was rewarded with the sharp sound of bones breaking.

The man crumpled to the floor. Dracas lifted his phaser of his belt and moved towards Witt’s cell. The field was already down. One man was savagely thrusting his member into Witt as the other two watched gleefully, occasionally offering a comment. One of the observers began to turn towards Dracas.

Dracas fired his phaser, cutting the man down. The other spun only to find a phaser burst striking his chest, throwing him backwards. The third tried to disengage from Witt and go for the phaser clipped to his discarded pants. Dracas caught him by the shoulders and hurled him headfirst into the bulkhead.

He pinned the man by bracing his arm across the back of the man’s neck. He placed the phaser’s emitter in the crack if the man’s anus and held it there. The man shook with fear as Dracas hissed a warning to be quiet and still. Dracas wondered if his prisoner expected the same kind of treatment that he’d meted out.

Edgars’ breath came in a ragged gasp as she entered the cell. Witt lay curled up in a ball on her cot. The shreds of her clothes had been cast aside and lay under a corpse. Edgars rushed to Witt’s side and tried to comfort her. The only response she received was a blank stare as Witt’s eyes gazed at demons only she could see.

"How many crewmen are there aboard?" Dracas asked harshly.

"I don’t know." The pirate responded.

Dracas jabbed the phaser further up his rectum, "A little over two hundred! The number changes all the time!"

"Where’s the rest of the crew?"" Dracas asked, "A ship of this class normally carries a crew of eight hundred."

Half of them were killed in the battle over Betazed. The one’s that weren’t killed in the mutiny are slave labour at our base of operations. That’s our destination. We’ll be there in twenty minutes"

"How long before someone checks on your activities here?" Dracas asked coldly.

"We were given forty minutes." The answer came in a feeble voice.

Dracas pressed the firing stud. The man lurched suddenly as the phaser blast arced up his colon into his organs. He gurgled as he slumped to the ground. The smell of burnt feces hung in the air.

"Can she travel?" Dracas asked Edgars.

She shook her head, "I don’t know. She’s practically cataleptic."

Dracas left the cell and went to the replicator. He returned with a simple combination of black tunic, pants and boots. He also had an emergency med kit. While Edgars dressed Witt, he prepared a stimulant.

"At least she’s co-operative." Dracas commented, noting Witt’s reflexive actions of putting arms through sleeves, lifting so pants could be pulled up, and so forth. She was vaguely aware of what occurred around her, she just refused to be drawn out to deal with it. Dracas hoped she could be coaxed out of her mental closet once she was returned to safety.

"What now?" Edgars asked.

Dracas was faintly amused that a starship captain was asking an enlisted engineer for tactical leadership, "Now we get to the Jefferies Tubes and try to get to Auxiliary Control. We can hold out there for days and access subspace communications."

She nodded, "Good plan. I should have thought of it."

He gave her a grim smile, "Its not as though you aren’t dealing with other things at the moment."

She gave him an appreciative grin as he gave her a phaser, "Thanks."

"You take care of your officer. I’ll take point and lead the way."

T’Kir’s eyes narrowed as she studied the nav sensors. The ship bearing down on them adjusted for every course change she made. Persistent bastards, she thought wryly. She could have snapped the scout into more elaborate, and effective, evasive action but she wanted to be boarded.

This close to Andergani territory, the oncoming ship was likely a privateer in their pay. She brushed a stray lock of her ebon hair out of her eyes and swore under breath. Although she was used to long bangs, the creeping hair trying to escape from her scrunchie to rejoin the rest of her tresses draping over neck annoyed the hell out of her. She regretted growing it out in an effort add to her cover profile.

She spared a glance towards Kort, "What sort of capabilities do our friends have?" He blinked in surprise and gave her a blank look.

Her voice could have frozen plasma, "You have scanned the ship, haven’t you?"

He fidgeted as she spared a moment to check her system monitor. Damn him! The idiot’s concentrated on the targeting sensors. Her head whipped to face him again.

Kort withered under her fierce gaze, "Scan them you moron! I’m running every other system on this damn rustbucket. I don’t have time to do that and coddle you too."

Kort bristled, but began his scans. T’Kir tried to ignore the throbbing in her skull as she returned her attention to the helm. Alarms sounded across her board. She snarled a curse as she banked the ship in a high g turn.

"What happened?" Kort groaned.

"They locked a disrupter or phaser cannon on us." She snapped, "Y’know, the ones you were supposed to warn me about?"

She looped the scout under and over the armed freighter. The ship fired off two more busts that she was able to evade. The gunner was eager, but not that good against a manoeuvrable foe. She was grateful for that, those blasts looked military grade.

"Locking phasers" Kort announced.

"No!" T’Kir countermanded, "Hail them."

Kort hesitated, which only infuriated her more, "Listen, we came here to infiltrate them, not start a shooting war."

Kort grudgingly obliged and a moment later gruffly announced, "They’re transmitting."

A plump blue, Bolian face appeared on her monitor, "Do you wish to surrender?"

T’Kir snorted, "As best as I can tell, I’m running rings around your gunner. You’ve sacrificed speed to get all that firepower aboard, so I can probably outrun you."

"Then why haven’t you?" he sneered.

She couldn’t keep the mounting exasperation out of her voice, "Because I want to talk to you! D’you think I’m running empty into Andergani space for my health?"

The Bolian’s eyes narrowed, "You certainly look Vulcan, but you do not act very Vulcan. Are you a Rigellian or a Romulan?"

T’Kir sighed, "I’m as Vulcan as the next sentient. I just don’t like acting stuffy. Now, are you or aren’t you s privateer working for the Oligarchy?"

"Why do you want to know?" the Bolian asked suspiciously.

"Because I want a job, you officious genetic defective!" T’Kir snapped.

"And what can you do, besides be captured by my crew?"

T’Kir bit off a vicious curse and pressed a button on her console. A trojan program invaded the subspace signal and nestled itself into the pirate’s mainframe. It passed unnoticed by the ship’s security systems. The Bolian stared at her contemptuously while this occurred.

"Well?" he asked.

"Thy’lla." She answered. The lights around the Bolian died. Various consoles behind him died. The outer running lights and impulse engines died as well.

"Almost every system is off-line!" a Kynderin woman reported to the Bolian in near panic.

"I can re-activate your systems, if you shut up and actually listen to me." T’Kir informed him coldly, "Otherwise you’ll just sit here and drift until you freeze or die of oxygen deprivation."

Macen and Nerrit slowly made their way through the warrens that comprised the devastated section of the Cardassian suburb they’d arrived at. Nerrit had a tricorder out in an effort to detect their quarry or potential assailants. Macen had his phased plasma pistol drawn and was stretching out with his El-Aurian senses, trying to detect disturbances in the natural area.

What he felt was the agonised disruption of the area resulting from the Dominion’s bombardment. Subspace itself had been damaged. It wreaked havoc with his non-physical senses, rendering them impotent. He relied upon intuition and experience instead.

He caught he flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye and reacted instantly. He dove for the ground in a sliding motion, kicking Nerrit’s legs out form underneath her as he dropped. She went down with a startled yelp as phaser blasts intersected where they had been seconds before. Macen continued his motion and launched himself into a tuck and roll behind a pile of debris. The attack followed him, granting Nerrit the opportunity to get behind cover and begin returning fire.

"Why’ve you been asking about us?" an angry voice called out.

"I heard you were ex-Maquis." Macen called back, listening for subtle noises to indicate his opponents repositioning while their leader tried to distract him.

"What of it?" the voice replied, "What difference does it make to you who we are? What do you want with us?"

"My name’s Macen." He answered, "I’ve been sent by Starfleet. I can arrange repatriation and freedom from prosecution in exchange for information."

"Brin Macen?" the voice asked.

"That’s my name." Macen replied. He turned his head slightly as he heard shifting rubble to his left. His flanker would be in position in a few moments.

"I’ve heard of you." The voice admitted, "I even met you a few years back. What kind of information?"

"Answers regarding a former Starfleet officer and three starships that work for the Andergani." Macen replied as he quietly shifted position to get a shot at his would be assailant.

"Why would Starfleet work for them?" the voice scoffed, "You’re a bad liar."

"They care because that bastard attacked me and destroyed my ship." Macen replied angrily. The flanker moved into position, which brought part of him out into the open. Macen snapped off a shot. He heard a groan as the other man crumpled.

"That wasn’t hospitable." The voice accused.

"Neither is an ambush." Macen retorted.

"No." the voice admitted, "But it is effective."

Phaser bursts erupted from several directions at once. He and Nerrit laboriously returned fire. The renegade Maquis were short on fire discipline and often exposed themselves needlessly. That trait cost them dearly and soon the odds were equalised.

Macen was trying to determine where the last two had gone to when he spotted one emerging from a burnt out home near Nerrit’s position. He tried to shout a warning, but it was too late. The phaser blast caught her in the rib cage. Macen snapped off two rapid shots.

He spun and fired behind him, catching his assassin in the chest. Macen stood and ran to Nerrit’s side. He checked her vitals with the tricorder. She was dead.

The muscles in his cheek twitched as his jaw clenched. He heard her killer groan. One of Macen’s shots had hit him in the leg. Macen rose and walked over to the man.

He stopped an arm’s length away and levelled his pistol at the wounded man. He snapped off two bursts into the man’s chest. He turned without a word and returned to Nerrit’s body. He stared at her silently for a moment before a noise caused him to snap up, bringing his weapon to bear.

A middle aged Cardassian held up his hands while wearing an enigmatic smile, "No need to fear. As you can see, I’m unarmed."

"What are you doing here?" Macen asked, his voice hard.

"I heard the commotion and decided to investigate." The Cardassian replied, "I must say, I was impressed with how you dispatched of them."

Macen shook his head, "It was stupid. I needed information only they could provide."

The Cardassian nodded, "Yes, I managed to overhear part of that." He brightened, "Never fear, there may be hope yet."

Macen gave him a sceptical look, "Are you going to interrogate a dead man?"

The Cardassian’s eyes widened in delighted surprise, "Exactly! Please, help me move the most recently expired man to a building nearby."

Macen still felt sceptical but he helped the Cardassian carry the dead man to a nearby house. It was gutted, but the basement was intact. Macen paused to cast a worried glance back towards where Nerrit lay. The Cardassian saw this and clucked his tongue in a reassuring way.

"You’re friend will be safe, I assure you."

Macen followed as he was led into an underground bunker. It was filled with various electronic devices of unknown purpose. The Cardassian bustled about with purpose. He pointed at a table.

"You may place our departed friend there."

Macen laid the man down. The Cardassian placed a headset filled with microelectronics atop the head and moved off to a console. He activated the system and waited as several displays shifted though various read outs. A moment later, a datarod was ejected.

The Cardassian handed it to Macen, "This should be accessible to any Federation computer. It may require a medical filtering program to convert the chemical composition readings into useful imagery."

Macen gave him a thin smile. By mapping the chemical layout of the memory centres of the brain, it was theoretically possible to reconstruct memory fragments. The images would be random and centred in the short-term memory areas. If Macen’s comments about the Andergani had sparked any recollections in the man’s mind, they might be recorded on this rod.

"Why are you doing this?" Macen asked.

"I no love for the Andergani. They have plagued my people for decades." He replied nonchalantly.

"There’s another reason." Macen stated.

The Cardassian’s eyes twinkled with delight, "As with our dispatched friends, I’ve heard the name Brin Macen as well."

Macen’s eyebrow rose, "And that makes you want to help me?"

"Consider it a professional courtesy in an age where such things are fading." The Cardassian offered as an explanation. He gave Macen a broad, but faintly insincere smile, "If you would like, I can deal with returning your comrade’s body to Bajor while you pursue your inquiry into these pirates." He held up a hand to deflect Macen’s protestations, "It would be an honour. I came out here to investigate rumours of smugglers despoiling our graves and looting our heritage. I discovered these to be true just as you resolved a portion of the problem for me. Returning the young lady to her family would be the least I could do."

Macen nodded, more out of defeat than agreement, "Her name is Nerrit Wen."

"Very well then," the Cardassian continued on amiably, "I do believe you should be going now. Several members of the Civil Patrol will be arriving shortly, as well as two distraught members of the Elite Guards."

"They’re assigned to protecting high ranking officials." Macen commented.

The Cardassian chuckled, "So they are. They are also frightfully unimaginative and far too easy to elude."

"If it isn’t too much trouble, can I ask your name?" Macen felt he already knew what the answer would be.

"Yes, of course." His benefactor radiated goodwill and cultivated charm, "My name is Elim Garak. You may of course simply call me Garak."

"Garak as in the unofficial leader of the Cardassian rebuilding effort?" " Macen clarified.

Garak shook his head, "As in plain, simple Garak."

"Right." Macen agreed dubiously as he tapped his comm badge and asked the runabout’s computers to transport him back aboard.

 


Proceed to Part III of III

 

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