The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...
It was a bright and sunny day in Cervantes City, the capital of Nuevo Espana. In the famed Conquistador Park, out in front of the Parliament building, sat a nondescript human woman in her thirties. She normally did have one noticeable distinguishing mark but the disruptor burn on her cheek was expertly covered with make up. She sat in the park, quietly eating her lunch and reading a book. Unobtrusively, she checked her wrist chrono.
A smile of satisfaction spread across her face as she saw the time. She buried her nose in the book and counted down the seconds. With a thunderous noise, it began. Explosions began gutting the Parliament building. They ended with a deafening explosion that destroyed the prized crystal dome that sat atop the building.
People in the park stood mutely transfixed. The woman stood and stared with a look of horror on her features. Some of the crowd began to run away, to check on loved ones, to attempt to assist survivors or merely to crawl home and hide under the bed. The woman stayed, aware that the display wasn't over yet.
The emergency response crews were arriving now and racing into the building. Secondary explosions began to rip through the surviving structure, causing several levels of the building to collapse in upon itself. Aircars and lorries travelled to the uppermost levels of the building and disgorged rescue crews. The building's framework was too badly damaged by this time and the uppermost levels collapsed. Within moments, the entire structure imploded. Of everyone that had been in the building when this reign of terror began, none survived.
The woman slowly closed her book and still maintaining her look of sickened dismay, placed the book in her bag. She picked up her trash from lunch and took it to the nearest replicator for recycling. She then confidently strolled out of the park to catch a cab. She had a ride waiting for her and the rest of her team at the shuttleport.
The woman joined her teammates aboard a modified Ju'day-class raider. The ship's captain congratulated her as she stepped onto the cramped bridge and her team stowed their gear.
"Good job Deirdre." Captain Reynolds said, "If that doesn't get our point across, nothing will."
"It'll send a message but I'm not sure what kind. These people are stupid enough to deal with the Cardies for God's sake."
Reynolds noticed Deirdre picking at her cheek, "Point taken. Now get in back and scrub your face. Remember to have your people strap in to the crash couches, we're going into combat and I don't want to lose our vanguard covert operations team."
"Aye, aye sir." Deirdre snapped off a salute and went aft.
Reynolds' ship, the Viper, joined a dozen other raiders and light attack craft in orbit. They were waiting for the Galor-class Hurak to investigate. When she arrived, she would find a nasty surprise lying in wait for her.
Castellan Ghemor, Cardassia's first democratically elected official within living memory, swore as he tossed the report of the bombing of Cervantes City. Most of the legislative assembly for the planet was now dead, or buried under tons of rubble praying for death. Since the war against the Federation Alliance ended and Cardassia's new government had been ushered in, relations with the DMZ colonies had been improving from their pre-war conditions. Espana had been a guiding light in these improved relations.
Prime Minister Cortez had negotiated a treaty to be shown to the other DMZ worlds granting them the status of an autonomous region within the Cardassian Union. Defence and foreign policy would be handled by the Union. All other matters would be for the local authorities to handle. It was an arrangement that both Cortez and Ghemor hoped would resolve the lingering resentment of the colonies' treatment at the hands of first the Cardassian High Command and then the tender mercies of the Dominion.
The Dominion had captured over a hundred of the Maquis rebels, hundreds more had been slaughtered in the purge that finally established complete Cardassian control of the DMZ. The remainder of the colonies' populations had been used as slave labour and as hostages guaranteeing the good behaviour of their Maquis prisoners. Espana had been spared the worst of the Dominion's excesses through a carefully orchestrated policy of co-operation.
And now, Ghemor thought bitterly, someone's decided to label them as collaborators because of their war record and their efforts to being stability to the region.
"Careful." Elim Garak advised, "Your face is giving too much away."
"Damn it, Garak!" Ghemor snarled, "I'm not one of your former Obsidian Order cronies, I have feelings."
"As do I." Garak spread his arms wide in supplication; "I'm merely suggesting that you be more...circumspect in your emotional displays given the fragility of our blossoming democracy."
"Meaning an over eager Gul might interpret my orders to investigate these latest attacks as permission to slaughter anyone in his path based upon my facial expression."
Garak smiled and bowed his head slightly, "Exactly."
"They blew up the Parliament building of one of their own colonies." Ghemor vented, "Then they crippled one of our cruisers. They would have destroyed it if the USS Nimitz had responded our SOS. We owe their survival to Starfleet."
"Forgive me for asking," Garak gently enquired, "but why am I here? Other than to serve as a sounding board, that is."
Ghemor sunk low in his office chair and released a heavy sigh, "I need advice Elim."
"It seems to me you need to send a representative to meet with this new generation of Maquis."
"Great." Ghemor remarked flippantly, "And who could I send that won't get shot on sight?"
"Send heroes of the original Maquis rebellion." Garak suggested.
"And where am I going to find any of those sympathetic to our cause?"
Garak shrugged, "Starfleet has several on call. I'd ask them."
Ghemor leaned back in his chair with a speculative look on his face, "Really?"
Brin Macen, T'Kir and Shannon Forger stood in the transporter room aboard the SS Obsidian. The Nova-class surveyor was in orbit over Earth. It was the first time in six months the crew had visited the hub of the United Federation of Planets and of Starfleet. They had good reason to be here now. Captain Macen was to receive an emergency briefing on the ship's next assignment and they were picking up their 1st Officer.
Tom Riker had taken the last six months off to recover from the death of his fiancé. Jamie Kirk died in the rescuing of Macen and T'Kir from the hands of an Orion Syndicate Don. It had taken the death of that Don to persuade the Orion Godfather to end hostilities between the Syndicate and Outbound Ventures, Inc.
Outbound Ventures was a security consulting and surveying firm that contracted out to Starfleet Intelligence's Special Investigations Division. The Obsidian had been Macen's signing bonus. The firm was very strong and relied a lot on word of mouth advertising. Seeing as how business was booming, the word was very good.
Macen and T'Kir stood together, holding hands. Married for six months, a couple for six years and friends for a dozen, they were nearly inseparable. Not that the SID brass wanted them separated. Together they formed a formidable, and deadly, team. Each member of Macen's investigative team was remarkable. Together and as individuals, they'd faced impossible odds and walked away alive and whole.
The transporter hummed and Tom Riker materialised amidst a halo of incandescent energy. He was an unusually tall, barrel chested human. He wore his dark hair short and spiky and his beard neatly trimmed. His icy blue eyes warmed at the sight of his comrades and he grinned.
"Well, well, what's with the uniforms?"
Macen glanced down at his attire, "It's the same basic uniform I wore before, Tom."
"Yeah, but now you have T'Kir wearing it too." Riker observed, "And you've got this other lady looking like Rab Daggit."
Macen wore a charcoal grey Henley with black cargo pants and black boots. T'Kir wore an emerald green Henley with identical pants and boots. Forger, on the other hand, wore an outfit based upon the Earth M.A.C.O.s
"The bulk of the crew wear flightsuits or coveralls." Macen explained, "There are just a few that branch out. The investigative team can wear what they want and Security and Tactical wear the M.A.C.O fatigues. Medical, Sciences and Engineering basically rely upon coveralls in various colours."
"But I see the holster and utility belt remain the same." Riker commented, "And I also see we're still carrying Bajoran Militia issue phasers."
Macen patted the holster strapped to his thigh, "Best surplus latinum can buy."
"So what happens now?" Riker enquired.
"First," Macen gestured towards the grey eyed blonde standing to the side, "you confer with Lt. Commander Forger here. Shannon's the ship's 2nd Officer but she's been filling your shoes in your absence. She'll bring you up to speed on all the personnel matters of note. I suggest you stop by your office and learn about the filing system Shannon devised."
"What about my gear?" Riker asked indicating the two duffel bags on the transporter pads.
"Shannon will have someone take those to your quarters." Macen informed him, "And don't bury yourself in work. We're having a welcome home party at 1900 hours."
Riker grinned and nodded, "I never miss a party."
"If you'd follow me, sir." Forger's contralto chimed.
"Wait a minute." Riker protested, "We're using our reserve commission ranks, right?"
"Then why is she ‘sirring' me? I'm only a lieutenant. She's a lt. commander."
"Actually, you're both lt. commanders." Macen laughed, "You got promoted while you were on personal leave."
"Promoted?" Riker asked sceptically.
"They do promote in the reserves, Tom. I promise." Macen chuckled.
"Not me, they don't." Riker grumbled, "They'd promote Captain Will Riker, but not me."
"Well," Macen patted Riker on the shoulder, "They did this time. Sit back and enjoy it."
"Yeah, some of us are still stuck with being brevet lieutenants." T'Kir grumbled.
"And some of us will survive." Macen quipped.
T'Kir stuck out her tongue and Macen chuckled, "You two have fun. We're headed dirtside."
"We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz." T'Kir suddenly sang, "Because, because, because, because of the wonderful things she does."
Macen grinned as he and T'Kir stepped up to two empty transporter pads. As they disappeared, Forger turned to Riker.
"Do you have any idea what that was about?"
Riker his head while wearing a wry grin, "I got a reference to a classic children's book but that was about it."
Forger sighed, "I'll never figure her out."
"Don't try." Riker advised, "It's how the rest of us survive."
"I'll keep that in mind." Forger relented, "C'mon, I'll show you to your office and have someone pick up your gear."
"Sounds good." Riker agreed.
"Telrik!" Forger called out to the Tellarite Transporter Chief, "Call Yeoman Rizo and have him deliver the XO's bags to his quarters."
"Yes, ma'am." Telrik snapped off crisply and toggled the comm circuit.
"Let's go." Forger assertively "suggested" to Riker.
"Tight ship you're running here." Riker commented as he followed Forger's brisk stride.
"Not really." Forger replied, "The Captain's pretty laid back when it comes to protocol."
"You have no idea." Riker observed warningly.
Macen and T'Kir arrived at the SID headquarters located in Reading, England and were greeted by the SID Director's aide. Lieutenant Ambril Delori gave Macen and T'Kir security badges. The Bajoran warmly smiled at the couple.
"Since this is the first time I've seen you together since your wedding, let me congratulate you on your marriage."
Macen and T'Kir both broke into radiant grins, "Thanks." they said in unison.
The Bajoran laughed, "I see great minds think alike."
"Well, these minds are wondering why Amanda called us here." Macen informed Ambril.
"Admiral Drake hasn't divulged anything, beyond some cursory details, to me." Ambril divulged, "I can tell you this, I've been doing a lot of research on the DMZ with the Cardassians lately."
Macen and T'Kir exchanged meaningful glances over that piece of news. They'd met amidst the fires of the Maquis rebellion. That bloody conflict had forged a permanent relationship between them. Their time with the SID had merely fostered it and brought it to maturity.
Not many Maquis had survived the Dominion's purge of the DMZ. The only ones in the service of Starfleet were Ro Laren, Tom Riker, The captain and select members of the crew of the Voyager, Macen and T'Kir. If something was happening in the DMZ, and the Cardassians called for assistance, they would be the individuals called in. Now the question remained, were they here to consult or to accept a mission?
Ambril led them to Admiral Drake's office and ushered them in after buzzing Drake and securing her permission to enter. Ambril remained outside in her outer office as Macen and T'Kir entered. Drake rose from her desk and motioned for them to be seated in one of the two chairs placed in front of her desk. As they sat, Drake took a moment to observe her two guests.
Macen's appearance seemed ageless. As an El-Aurian, his lifetime was hundreds of years beyond that of humans. Although he appeared to be in his low to mid-thirties, he'd lived over four hundred and thirty years. His physical appearance seemed better than ever. Marriage had definitely agreed with him.
Macen was fair skinned and possessed fair red hair. He wore a moustache and goatee. He was physically trim and fit thanks to his regular workouts with the Obsidian's Angosian Tactical Officer. His lively blue-green eyes sparkled with a keen intelligence. It was that intellect that had merited being here.
Once upon a time, Macen had been one of Starfleet Intelligence's top analysts. Then he'd been sent out to the field during the Border Wars. Then had come his infiltration of the Maquis followed by his covert ops during the Dominion War. His tenure with the SID just continued the tradition of employing his analytical skills with his tactical abilities.
T'Kir also appeared far younger than her actual age. As a Vulcan, she had a life expectancy nearing three hundred years. At just over seventy years old, she appeared to be in her late twenties-early thirties.
T'Kir's natural beauty was unquestioned. Her copper based blood granted her a pale olive complexion that was the envy of most Mediterranean natives. She tucked her mid shoulder length raven hair behind her delicately upswept ears. Her slightly upturned balanced her full, "bee stung" lips. Her sapphire blue eyes flashed with a cunning intelligence.
T'Kir was the wildcard of the crew. Committed to a maximum security psychiatric facility after the Dominion's purge of the DMZ. Macen broke her out after the Dominion War concluded to enlist her skills for a covert investigation. T'Kir was a nearly unparalleled cybernetics engineer and hacker.
Her mental instabilities stemmed from her telepathic abilities. T'Kir was a high level telepath, able to glean the thought of everyone within a kilometre's distance. She'd been unable to control this ability and she'd been constantly barraged by intruding thoughts. Her own personality was submerged beneath the psychic turmoil.
Macen's research led the way to an ancient Vulcan remedy for such a condition. It greatly limited T'Kir's ability but it brought it under control. Now she only "read" those she chose to. Now her former curse often proved to be the crew's ace-in-the-hole.
Both Macen and T'Kir looked slightly anxious and Drake could practically feel their anticipation. Drake opted to end their suffering.
"I take it by your hungry expressions that Ambril leaked the fact that this concerns the Cardassian DMZ."
"Yup." T'Kir confirmed while Macen nodded.
"Here's the skinny," Drake cut straight to the chase, "a group referring to themselves as the Maquis have begun a terrorist campaign. So far they've crippled a Cardassian cruiser, sabotaged an orbital ore processor, raided the troop barracks of the Cardassian mission on Thetus III, and blown up the Parliament building on Espana. The Cardassian government has requested Starfleet's assistance in this matter. More to the point, they requested your assistance."
"I'm surprised the Cardassians even remember us." Macen replied.
"I understand the request was at the suggestion of Elim Garak." Drake informed them.
"'Plain and simple tailor' my ass." T'Kir muttered.
"Mr. Garak has a prominent role in the government." Drake said then looked at Macen, "But I suspect you already know that."
Macen shrugged and Drake continued, "You've been authorised to root out this new incarnation of the Maquis and stop them by whatever means are necessary."
"Executing them will only breed further resistance." Macen advised.
"The Cardassians prefer arresting them and having them stand trial over killing them." Drake clarified, "However, if lethal force is required, you are authorised to utilise it."
"That's acceptable." Macen agreed, "I suppose we're to ship out immediately."
"That's the plan."
Macen sighed, "That's what I thought."
"This filing system is impressive." Riker commented.
Forger smiled, "It was nothing."
"What were you in Starfleet? Admin?" Riker enquired.
"Tactical." Forger revealed, "In fact, my command experience is limited to when the CO and XO of the Patrick Henry were killed in the battle for Betazed. I was the temporary CO for a couple of months."
"And now you're the 2nd Officer of this ship."
Forger nodded, "And Assistant Tactical Officer."
"Well it seems to me you did a fine job as 1st Officer. Personnel matters seem well in hand." Riker observed, "Thanks for doing such an excellent job. You'll have my seat soon enough."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence." Forger grinned.
"Can I just mention that you look very familiar?"
Forger sighed, "I get that a lot. I closely resemble my older sister."
Forger sighed again, "Amanda Drake."
"Admiral Amanda Drake?" Riker exclaimed.
Forger nodded, "She's almost ten years older than me."
"What's with the different surnames?"
Forger shrugged, "Amanda's very traditional. She took her husband's name when they married."
"Admiral Drake is married?" Riker asked, incredulous.
"Listen, can we keep this quiet?" Forger pleaded, "I've worked hard to further my career on my own merits. I don't want any privileges because of who my sister is."
"I feel the same way about my ‘brother'." Riker revealed, "So don't worry Commander, your secrets safe."
Relief washed across Forger's face, "Thanks. And by the way, it's Shannon to my friends."
"Then I guess I've just joined select company. And it's Tom."
"Well Tom, I guess its time to show you to your quarters, unless you have any more questions?"
Riker shook his head, "No, I think you've briefed me on everything I need to know."
Forger moved for the door, "If you'd follow me then."
"Macen to Commander Forger." Came over the intercom. Forger moved to the desk and activated the comm circuit.
"Captain, you're back."
"Yup, and I've got an unpleasant task for you."
"Should I be afraid?"
Macen chuckled, "That depends. I need you to recall all the shore parties."
"Okay, I'm afraid."
"Can't be helped. We're shipping out as soon as everyone's recovered." Macen explained.
"Urgent enough." Macen replied, "People are dying and its up to us to stop it."
"I'll get right on it." Forger promised, then she closed the circuit and turned to Riker, "Sorry Tom but duty calls."
"Don't worry about it. I'll have Yeoman Rizo show me the way."
Forger smiled, "Thanks."
"No problem." Riker said and hit the intercom, "Yeoman Rizo, please report to the XO's office."
Forger began issuing the recall orders while Riker waited for Rizo to arrive. When the yeoman appeared, Riker made his request known. As they departed, Riker took one last glance at Shannon Forger. A remarkable woman. Riker mused, She reminds me of Jamie. And on that bittersweet note, Riker left.
Kiv Rever stood at the hotel suite's mini kitchen, scrambling eggs and making toast. Hal Dracas came out of the bedroom and tucked his shirt in. He came up behind Rever and put his arms around the Trill's waist.
"I'm glad we could finally co-ordinate our schedules." Dracas said softly.
"It is about time." Rever admitted, "And this morning was certainly...refreshing."
Dracas grinned, "Wasn't it?"
A beeping from the bedroom interrupted Rever's reply, "That's yours, Hal."
The Troglyte heaved a sigh and padded off to the bedroom. Once there, he tapped the offending comm badge.
"Sorry to interrupt your shore leave, Chief." Shannon Forger's voice rang out, "But your leave's been cancelled."
"What?!" Dracas snapped, "Why?"
"We're shipping out as soon as everyone boards." Forger explained, "I really am sorry. I know how much you were looking forward to this."
"Yeah, right." Dracas grumbled, "All right, I'll signal Telrik when I'm ready."
The circuit closed and Dracas swore. Then he started cramming his gear into his duffel bag. Rever appeared at the doorway.
"Kiv, I'm sorry. We're shipping out. It must be an emergency for the Captain to cancel shore leaves." Dracas said despondently.
"It's all right, Hal." Rever wore a wry grin, "I was shipping out tomorrow anyway. We'll just have to make the most of our time the next time round."
Dracas broke into a relieved smile, "Thank you."
Rever waved his hand, "Don't worry about it. I like you, Hal Dracas. I may even be falling for you but that remains to be seen. I knew the risks inherent in our schedules when we got together."
"Bless you." Dracas' smile grew broader, "Unfortunately, I'm on the clock. I've got to go."
"Then get already." Rever laughed and got out of the way. He slapped Dracas' butt as he passed, "Don't forget to comm."
"I won't." Dracas promised.
Rab Daggit and Parva moved through the Parisian crowds. For a metropolis that prided itself on its cosmopolitan atmosphere, the couple drew an inordinate number of stares. Daggit was a mountain of a humanoid but Parva was only ten centimetres shorter, making her the same height as Macen. Not only did their height draw attention but Parva's emerald skin garnered stares wherever they went.
Orion slave girls, even ex-slaves, were the stuff of sordid legends. Seeing an Orion female walking down the street was titillating enough to stop all activity within a block's radius. Activity generally resumed whenever Daggit's menacing glower was seen.
"Stop it." Parva whispered as she waved at another set of oglers.
"Stop what?" Daggit asked in all innocence.
"Stop threatening people." Parva replied, "I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself."
Daggit squeezed her hand, "I know you can. I'd just like to have you to myself."
Parva laughed, "Not on this planet honey."
Daggit took a moment to admire her. She had a heart shaped face with strong cheekbones and strong nose. Her upper lips were much thinner than her lower lip and her eyes were the deepest brown. Her wild, jet black hair had two platinum blonde streaks framing her face.
His own looks could best be described as rugged. Heavily muscled from hours in the gym, Daggit typified the humanoid ideal for physical fitness. The psychological and physiological adjustment his native Angosian scientists had made to him to craft a "super-soldier" marked every facet of Daggit's personality and responses to stimuli.
"I just wish people had spent more time looking at the art in the Louvre rather than at you." Daggit grumbled.
Parva placed her free hand on his check, "You're sweet, y'know that? But seriously, these people have been raised on lurid stories involving Orion slave girls. I wish I could say that they weren't based in truth, but they are."
"I..." Daggit was interrupted by the chirping comm badge clipped to his belt. "What now?" he fumed as he slapped the annoyance. "What?" he snapped
"Sorry Commander," Forger said contritely, "but I have bad news. Your leave has been cancelled. We have an immediate recall in effect for all personnel. That means Chief Parva too."
Daggit gritted his teeth, then released them with a heaving sigh, "Understood. We'll gather our things and signal you when we're ready."
"Acknowledged. Out." The circuit closed and Daggit met Parva's eyes.
"Looks like we're going back into the thick of it."
She smiled, "Should be fun."
Daggit grinned, "Have I told you how lucky I am to have you?"
"No." Parva answered, "But I know its true and should be told this often."
"It's a deal." Daggit replied and kissed her, "Now let's get going."
"What?" Parva protested, "No more kissing? I haven't filled my quota yet."
Daggit tugged at her arm and pulled her down the street towards their hotel.
"Shuk." Parva sulked.
Lisea Danan frowned as her comm badge sounded. The Daystrom Institute's Expo had been quite fascinating. The presentations in stellar cartography, Danan's specialty, had been decidedly fascinating. There was only one reason she'd be receiving a call and she didn't want to hear it...but duty overrode her personal considerations.
"Danan here." the Trill said after leaving the auditorium.
"Commander," Shannon Forger's voice rang out clearly, "I hate to intrude but all shore leaves have been cancelled. We're shipping out as soon as all personnel are recovered. The Captain requests that you come as quickly as possible."
Danan's frown deepened with this news. The situation must be bad for Macen to attach a personal message to it. She ran her fingers through her hair as she eased her frustration.
"I'll return ASAP."
"Thank you, Commander." Forger gratefully replied.
Several men of various races passed by and gave Danan the once over. Her sea green eyes narrowed and they went on their way. She pursed her full lips and proceeded towards her lodgings. As she went, she flipped her shoulder length hair to the side. Although naturally chestnut coloured, Danan dyed her hair blonde which contrasted the spots that typified her race.
I wonder why Brin specifically asked for me. Danan thought, There can't be a scientific crisis in Earth orbit.
Kort and Radil Jenrya materialised on the Obsidian's transporter pads. The Klingon and Bajoran had been exploring Minsk when the recall order had come in. The auburn haired Radil had recently resumed her romance with the now religiously sober Kort. The Doctor's experiences at rehab had changed his approach to life. He no longer wallowed in a sense of defeat over his exile from the Klingon Empire.
"What is so important that we had to be dragged back here like mewling targs?" Kort demanded. Telrik merely shrugged.
"I don't know Doctor." Telrik, "The Captain hasn't made an announcement yet."
"We should've known there was going to be trouble when Macen and T'Kir got summoned to that meeting with Admiral Drake." Radil opined.
"By Kahless, this had better be an emergency or I'm going to kill someone." Kort grumbled.
"Come along ‘dear'," Radil remarked, "let's go stow our gear and wait for Macen's inevitable briefing."
Kort muttered again but trudged on after Radil as she exited the transporter room. Telrik heaved a sigh of relief after they'd left.
Hannah Grace latched her atmospheric helmet and waited for the jumpmaster to finish inspecting her spacesuit. After the jumpmaster completed her inspection, she helped Grace shrug into her manoeuvring pack. The jumpmaster fastened her own helmet and moved towards the shuttle's main hatch.
The red light above the door turned green and the jumpmaster keyed the hatch open. She then patted Grace's helmet and Grace leapt out of the shuttle. The shuttle was in low Earth orbit and the planet's gravity well immediately caused Grace to start plummeting towards the planet. Soon, Grace's armoured suit began to glow as the atmosphere around her began to ignite.
Grace activated her pack and the countergrav unit began slowing her descent. Grace was enjoying the spectacular view of the planet below when her comm badge began chirping. Having no way to answer it through her suit, Grace ignored it.
She fell another few kilometres while her comm badge annoyed her the entire way. Finally it ceased its offensive badgering. Grace settled in for the rest of her jump when she felt the familiar tingle of a transporter beam. Grace swore as she was converted to energy and rematerialised over the Obsidian's transporter pads.
Grace bobbed a metre over the pads. She swung her feet underneath her and cut the countergrav. After her feet were firmly planet on the deckplates, she unlatched her helmet and ripped it off.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded.
Forger impassively stared back at her, "All shore leaves have been cancelled. We tried hailing you but you refused to acknowledge signal."
"If you hadn't noticed, I couldn't exactly reach my comm badge." Grace said hotly, "What's going on? Why was I beamed up?"
"We detected you plummeting from orbit and assumed you were in peril." Forger replied.
"It was an orbital skydive." Grace huffed, "People do them all the time. The situation was under control until you snatched me."
"I'm truly sorry, but time is critical." Forger informed her, "The Captain is holding a briefing for you."
Grace sighed, "Help me out of this gear then." Then she straightened up, "Who going to get my stuff out of my hotel room?"
"Yeoman Rizo is on that even as we speak." Forger revealed.
"Good." Grace nodded, "What about this gear? The skydiving outfit will want it back."
"The Captain authorised us to buy your equipment if you were doing a skydive." Forger said.
"Hah!" Grace retorted accusingly, "So you knew what I was doing after all."
The two women locked eyes. Grace's chocolate brown eyes were almost black. Forger's were grey. Both women were blonde. Grace had an upturned, snub nose and full lips. Forger had thin lips and an aquiline nose.
The mental contest ended when Forger admitted, "We suspected what you were up to. We had no means of confirming it though."
"Fine. Whatever." Grace pouted, "Help me out of this damned equipment so I can get to the briefing."
After Grace had stripped off the outer suit, she was left with a black body glove. She stripped off the gloves and handed them to Forger, "One final question: how did you know which hotel to send Rizo to?"
Forger smiled, "We're the SID. Its our job to know."
Grace entered the briefing room to find the rest of the investigative team assembled and wearing various modes of civilian attire. Although, Macen and T'Kir's attire could be considered civilian attire as well. Macen had removed his Henley and replaced it with a dark grey tee shirt.
Macen and T'Kir had studied all of Starfleet and the Cardassian's intelligence on the Maquis. There wasn't much and what there was indicated that the group was well organised and totally committed to their goal of an independent nation carved out the DMZ worlds. Reports continued to drift in. The latest reports indicated the Cardassian barracks on Dorvan V had been strafed by light attack craft. Another set of bombs had destroyed both the Cardassian mission on Federer and the Regent's mansion. The Regent's security had managed to detect the bomb in time to evacuate the residence.
The situation looked grim and Macen and T'Kir were left wondering how a peaceful solution could be arranged. None readily presented itself. Leading Cardassian troops in for an arrest was problematic at best. The Maquis would fight to the death. Then there was the fact they would have to be tackled cell by cell. Whatever the scenario, it seemed a dismal prospect.
Macen started by apologising to everyone for cutting their leaves short. He then laid out the details of their assignment. When he'd finished, the assemblage was sobered. Macen opened the floor to questions.
"What's the op plan?" Daggit led off.
"That's still being formulated." Macen confessed, "As our intelligence grows, so does our sense of how to best approach these people."
"What's our ultimate goal here?" Riker enquired.
"The apprehension and prosecution of these terrorists." Macen revealed.
"You seem awfully free with the term ‘terrorists' when you used to belong to the Maquis." Radil snapped.
"The old Maquis and these new Maquis differ in several ways." Macen calmly replied, "The original Maquis waged a guerrilla campaign, targeting military and paramilitary targets. These Maquis are utilising a bombing campaign that equally targets civilians as well as military units."
"Don't you mean former Federation citizens and Cardassian military units?" Radil argued, "Isn't that the real difference here?"
"That is a significant difference." Macen admitted, "But an irrelevant one in this case. The Cardassian Union requested Starfleet's assistance in this matter. That aid is being provided regardless of the demographics of the victims. The point is that there are victims and those victims are innocent."
"From the reports you read of the Maquis' claims of responsibility, it sounds as though they're merely taking out collaborators. The bulk of the civilian population is untouched." Radil countered, "We would have done the same thing in the Resistance."
"The difference being that on Bajor the bulk of the collaborators actually endorsed the Cardassian Occupation and struggled to keep it alive. Here, the civilian governments co-operated with the Dominion in order to lessen the Dominion's stranglehold on their worlds. These same worlds are now co-operating with the democratic government of Cardassia in order to bring safety and prosperity to the DMZ.
"You sound like a collaborator yourself." Radil snorted, "What happened to the ‘great hero of the rebellion'?"
"The political climate changed." Macen explained, "Cardassia's no longer under the control of the Central Command. There's a civilian government in place with Federation observers to advise and monitor the growth of the fledgling democracy. They've negotiated in good faith with the DMZ worlds. They didn't have to do that. They could have simply decreed their wishes. Instead, they're trying to form an alliance with the disaffected worlds."
"But why don't they hold a plebiscite to allow the DMZ worlds the opportunity to decided if they want to remain in the Union or choose independence?"
Macen shook his head, "I don't know. Castellan Ghemor has done a miraculous job of pulling the Union up by its bootstraps. But, there are still courses of action he's afraid to pursue for fear of the average Cardassian's reaction. Cardassia entered into the alliance with the Dominion in order to gain territory. They actually lost territory over the course of the war. Most of its been restored to them but there's this residual fear of losing any more of the former Empire."
Radil quieted down but she was still far from settled. Grace spoke next, "So what's our operational area?"
Macen sighed, "The entire DMZ. I thought we'd start on Ronara Prime. I might still have some local contacts there."
"Will these contacts have connections with the Maquis?" Kort's resonant bass rumbled.
Macen shrugged, "They did before. Whether or not they will with this incarnation of the Maquis is anyone's guess. We simply don't have any better alternatives at this juncture. Even if the local assets don't have any connection with the Maquis it's a good bet that they're under observation by both the Cardassians and the terrorists."
Radil bristled again but Macen ignored it, "All right, if there's no further questions, you're dismissed. Remember, we ship out in an hour. "
Once all of the crew had been recovered, Macen made a shipwide announcement. In it he laid out the basic outline of their latest assignment from the SID. Having completed this task, he ordered Grace to take the Obsidian out of orbit. Once they cleared the Jupiter boundary, they received permission from System Traffic Control to go to warp speed. Having set the destination co-ordinates, Grace initialised the warp engines and took the ship to warp 6.
"D'you think we have a chance of pulling this off?" T'Kir asked in a private conference between Macen, Riker, Danan and her. This meeting only included every member of the crew that was a former Maquis. Macen, T'Kir, and Danan comprised the finest intelligence unit the Maquis ever produced. Riker was the most infamous martyr of the cause.
Macen leaned back in his chair and grimaced, "I don't know. The odds are definitely against us. The shroud of secrecy that protects the Maquis from detection is the same obstacle that prevents us from taking direct action against them. This is a job requiring infiltration. Which brings us to us. One of the considerations for selecting this crew for this mission was our presence."
"Manipulated again." Danan sighed, remembering her and Macen's infiltration of the original Maquis. They'd parlayed their position with Ro Laren's cell by becoming double agents.
Macen nodded, "I admit, when I first heard about that aspect of the mission, I almost refused it. However, I find these people's methods reprehensible. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to shut them down. And to be honest, we stand the best chance of doing just that."
"Oookay," T'Kir chimed in, "I can accept that. But what are we gonna do if we infiltrate these ‘Maquis'? I won't bomb anybody."
"I plan on offering our services in a support role." Macen offered, "We can bring in supplies and transport personnel. We could arrange the occasional arrest that way."
"That's a dangerous game." Riker observed.
"Unfortunately it's the only game we've got." Macen replied, "If all else fails, we can offer them the chance to contract us for intelligence work."
"Contract?" Danan asked.
"We are a legitimate security consulting firm." Macen explained, "That effectively makes us mercenaries in the eyes of organisations like the Maquis."
"And if they hire us?" Riker enquired.
"Then we're in a position to alert the intended targets of a potential threat." Macen revealed.
"Sounds good." Riker concurred, "We should use that plan as our primary option."
"Is everyone agreed?" Macen asked.
"Yup." T'Kir decided, "We've already played that role before. They'll expect us to resume it."
"It makes sense." Danan acquiesced, "Like T'Kir said, we have a history in that role. It's only logical for us to return to type."
"All right." Macen chuckled, "That's the way we'll play it. Just don't expect every decision around here to be up for a vote."
There was a general round of laughter at this. Riker added, "Never fear. We know you too well, you tyrant."
"Good." Macen said with satisfaction.
It was a three day trip to the DMZ. Along the way, intelligence reports continued to pour in. None hinted at the identities or locations of the Maquis. Several planets were listed as suspected harbours for the rebels. Ronara Prime was among them.
The reports themselves were grim. A police station on Cestus IV had been bombed. The Cardassian barracks on Delvan were bombarded from orbit. The Planetary Governor's residence on New Halifax was bombed. The orbital industrial stations were alerted to evacuate and then attacked by lights attack craft and raiders after the evacuation was completed.
All of this indicated that the Maquis had access to the highest levels of government and were waging an economic war as well as a terrorist campaign. Macen wished he had a clue as to who was the driving force behind these tactics. Calvin Hudson had been the first Maquis Commander of the original Maquis. Michael Eddington had seceded Hudson after the older man's death. Each had defined the tactics and strategy of the organisation.
Hudson had waged a strictly guerrilla campaign. Eddington resorted to biogenic weapons but was thwarted by Captain Benjamin Sisko, the CO of Deep Space 9. Ro and Macen had opposed Eddington's plan. They even went so far as to arrange a meeting Sisko to alert him of the impending disaster.
Macen wished he had Ro by his side now. Unfortunately her duties on Deep Space 9 had made her attachment to this mission impossible. Her absence would be felt.
We have a solid plan. Macen mused, Now we just have to pull it off.
It was easier said then done. The entire plan was predicated that this new generation of Maquis would recognise the accomplishments of the soldiers of the first rebellion. The sophistication of the attacks suggested that veterans of the original Maquis were involved.
It will work. Macen vowed, It has to.
The Obsidian slid into orbit above Ronara Prime. The five-day transit from Earth had been spent making contingency plans in the event that the primary plan failed. The current op plan was designed to entrap the upper echelons of the Maquis in an effort to chop off the head of the organisations. With luck, the remaining cells would self-destruct.
Macen gathered Daggit, Radil, Danan and T'Kir together at the transporter room. Radil sported her portable phaser cannon. Daggit wielded his pump action grenade launcher along with a pulse phaser rifle slung across his back. Macen, T'Kir and Danan each carried their issue sidearms in their holsters.
Daggit wore the black and grey M.A.C.O. fatigues. Radil had donned the sandy coloured battle dress uniform used by Starfleet during the late 23rd and early 24th centuries. Danan adopted the Outbound Ventures' flightsuit. Modelled on the pre-Federation Starfleet uniform of the 22nd century.
T'Kir wore a forest green tee shirt underneath her black leather duster she'd received from the Romulan Tal Shiar. She also wore the accompanying leather pants and boots. Macen wore a charcoal grey tee shirt underneath a black flight jacket. It possessed a mandarin collar and an overlapping flap that covered the zipper. He'd unzipped the jacket and wore it loose. Macen rounded out his attire with black cargo pants and black and grey leather combat boots from the same period as Radil's uniform.
The team beamed down the capital city of Ronara. The street scene seemed normal. Citizens, from across the breadth of the Federation, bustled about intent on their own business. The beam in had drawn attention and curious spectators reacted in fear over the openly brandished weapons the team had.
An aircar descended and landed in the middle of the street. It bore the markings of the local constabulary. Two officers exited the vehicle, one human, one Cardassian. Seeing this co-operative police force, Macen wondered why the Maquis hadn't already struck on Ronara.
As the constables approached, Macen moved to intercept them with a smile, "Hello officers. Is there a problem?"
"Your weapons." the Cardassian informed him, "You must remove them and surrender them to the Constabulary. We will accept them for you. You can drop by the local precinct on your way offworld and pick them up."
"'Fraid not, Sport." Macen replied and reached for his utility belt.
Both constables went for their disruptors and Macen quickly raised his hands, "Whoa! I'm reaching for a padd. It establishes our credentials as well as the authorisation from Ghemor himself for us to carry weapons throughout the Cardassian Union."
Hand still on his disruptor, the Cardassian asked to see the padd. Macen slowly removed it from its pouch on his holster and handed it over. The Cardassian grunted as he inspected the electronic document.
"I'm going to have to call this in and verify its authenticity." The Cardassian police officer informed Macen.
"Take your time." Macen told him, "We're not going anywhere."
"They've made the call." Shannon Forger reported to Riker from Tactical.
Riker rubbed the information display console that sat between the CO and XO's seats, "Good. Maybe this'll grab the attention of any ‘Maquis' spies."
"It was kind of Ghemor to grant us an operational license identical to our Federation charter."
Riker broke into a humourless chuckle, "Kindness had nothing to do with it. We'd be neutered without that license. Ghemor is simply protecting his backside."
"Stop being so cynical." Hannah Grace reprimanded as she swivelled her chair around to face Riker, "Ghemor could have left us to hang. Giving us an operational charter inside his nation probably wasn't high on his list of preferred actions but he did it anyway."
"And he'll probably revoke our license the moment this mission concludes." Riker grumbled.
Grace gave Riker a raspberry. Forger laughed and returned her focus to her board. Riker shifted his weight in his seat and glared at Grace's backside as she swivelled around to monitor her helm controls.
Riker had learned to be civil towards Grace but he'd never forgiven her for altering his memory. Grace's history of subterfuge and lies also disturbed him. To be blunt, he didn't trust her any further than he could bounce her. He honestly didn't understand why Macen allowed Grace to retain her accursed Attuner.
Certainly, the device had proven useful on more than one occasion. It also gave her more power at her fingertips than she deserved. Her limits were barely known. She could, as demonstrated in the past, immobilise the crew and potentially destroy the ship with no ill effects to herself.
Nor was he alone in feeling this way. Dracas, Kort and Radil all had their suspicions where Grace was concerned. Riker strongly suspected Macen had his own concerns but was playing them close to his vest. What the Captain would do if his concerns were realised was anyone's guess.
By her own admission, Grace's people had sent her out to assess Starfleet's potential reaction when the remainder of the Kelvan ships destined for the Milky Way galaxy arrived. When the Kelvans arrived in force, Grace would have to make a choice. Currently her loyalties were divided between the crew and her people. No one, least of all Macen, knew which loyalty she would choose or if she would seek a compromise.
All Riker knew was that this was her last chance to prove her trustworthiness. If Grace betrayed the team the crew would disavow her. Riker supposed he didn't that to happen. To be honest though, his feelings on the matter were well and truly mixed.
"Maintain status people." Riker ordered, "We're still on stand-by to assist the away team if they run into trouble."
Forger and Grace nodded. The other ratings manning Ops, Science, and Engineering busily studied their boards. Over the last three days, Riker had begun to learn their names but he still wasn't certain that he'd get them right in an emergency.
I can assuage hurt feelings later, Riker thought, as long as they obey orders.
The Cardassian constable approached Macen with a chagrined expression on his face. He stopped to confer with his partner and she took her hand of her disruptor. Macen smiled as the Cardassian handed back his padd.
"I take it our credentials have been sorted out." Macen ventured.
"Yes, sir." The constable replied, "Your operating license has been confirmed...as well as Castellan Ghemor's personal authorisation for any and all activities." The law enforcement officer hesitated then added, "We apologise for any inconvenience."
"No problem, Officer." Macen smiled, "You're just doing your duty."
The Cardassian grinned ruefully, "I'm glad you see it that way."
Macen was about to reply when a particle beam struck the Cardassian. Macen whirled towards the direction the blast had come from. He drew his Bajoran Militia issue phaser as he did so. Another particle beam came from behind and struck the female constable.
The SID team consolidated in a "+" formation. Danan was in the centre while the others each formed a spoke of the cross. A small armed crowd approached from up and down the street. Gunmen appeared in the second story windows to either side of the street.
The lead gunman approached Macen. She was tall and lanky. She possessed curly brown hair, dark green eyes, and was striking rather than beautiful. She bore a disruptor burn scar on her left cheek. Her left hand was gloved and her right carried a Klingon disruptor.
"Deirdre." Macen said as he recognised her.
"Hullo Brin." Deirdre replied in a husky contralto. She'd been a soprano once. Macen wondered what the Dominion and the Cardassians had done to her, "I see you noticed the voice. That the least of it." Deirdre patted both her legs and then her left arm and her right eye.
"Synthetics." she explained, "Given to me out of the ‘generosity' of the same Cardassian government that destroyed my body in the first place."
"At least you're alive." Macen noted.
"I'm half a woman." Deirdre scoffed, "I hardly call that ‘alive'."
"I could show you dead." Macen said, his two-handed grip on his phaser aimed at her.
"You'd never leave here alive." Deirdre laughed.
"See this gentleman on my left?" Macen asked, "I'm willing to bet that he could kill half your personnel by himself."
Since the phaser and disruptor fire had begun, Daggit's entire mien had changed. Previously loose but alert, he was now a coiled instrument of death. He was poised to rain down destruction on the surrounding Maquis, if that's who these people were. A part of him was almost eager to release his programmed, bestial self.
"He didn't want to come here and he's looking to kill someone." Macen advised, "A lot of people actually. I suggest you don't piss him off."
"How can you expect one man to do that much damage?" Deirdre sneered.
"The man's an Angosian." Macen explained, "I trust that means something to you."
For the first time, Deirdre's confidence wavered, "We weren't dispatched to fight you anyway."
"Then why are you here?" Macen demanded.
"We're here to take you to a meeting." Deirdre answered, "Your weapons please."
Macen shook his head, "If I won't surrender my guns to the local law enforcement, what makes you think I'll surrender them to the Maquis?"
Deirdre laughed, "Still too smart for your own good, eh Brin?"
"It's not like subterfuge is in abundance here." Macen observed.
"True." Deirdre conceded, "Let me confer with my man and I'll let you know what's going to happen."
"Feel free." Macen agreed.
Deirdre retreated into the crowd of her armed associates and Macen spoke to T'Kir in hushed tones, "Get anything from her?"
"Some memories of what the Dominion did to her. She's got a right to be pissed. It was pretty brutal." T'Kir informed him.
"I thought she was dead." Danan admitted, "I thought she and her entire cell were eliminated on Quantal."
"Apparently not." Macen mused, "Any clues as to who her ‘man' is?"
"It's the Maquis Commander." T'Kir said, "Other than that I have no clue. She's grown used to resisting Breen mind probes. Her mind is very disciplined."
"Keep trying. We need more information before we can...hold that thought." Macen replied as Deirdre approached.
"All right, you can remain armed." Deirdre announced, "But the price of admission is that you put these on." she held up some black hoods, "You're going have to go through a transporter relay. We don't want you seeing anymore of our personnel that you absolutely have to."
"Fine." Macen replied and holstered his phaser. He accepted the hood and waited for T'Kir to stand beside him. He donned the hood and he felt a comm badge being pressed onto his jacket. The next sensation the weird tingling inherent in the process of being converted to energy and then having your molecules reassembled. Then a second transporter beam caught them and then they rematerialised.
"You can remove your hoods." a gruff voice informed them. Macen doffed his hood and turned to see that T'Kir, Danan and the others had removed theirs as well. Macen took a look around. They appeared to be in a cave or a subterranean warren of some kind. The cavern the transporter occupied was filled with a dozen or so armed Maquis.
"Step off the transporter pad." the same gruff voice ordered. This time Macen could identify its owner. He was highly muscular, rivalling Daggit's physique. He also mirrored Daggit with his hairline scars that dominated half his face. It was a solid bet that this man had also enjoyed the Dominion's "hospitality".
"Take it easy." Macen retorted, "We're still getting adjusted to the change in scenery."
The man stepped forward and swung a backhand at Macen. Daggit shoved Macen aside and caught the smaller man's arm in mid-air.
"Want to play, little man?" Daggit asked with a feral grin, "We can make the stakes interesting and fight to the death."
The cold blooded intensity in Daggit's eyes cowered the Maquis, "No, I'll...I'll take you to the Commander now."
"Good idea." Daggit replied with a hint of disappointment. He applied one last bone crushing squeeze before releasing his grip on the man's arm. The Maquis let out an involuntary gasp and then rubbed his arm once it was free.
"This way." The Maquis said, much more meekly than before. The transporter activated as the group began to depart the cavern. Deirdre and five of her gunmen materialised and immediately set to following Macen's team as the rearguard for the Maquis detachment.
Macen, T'Kir and the team were led through tunnels until they reached a large chamber. It was equipped with multiple control consoles and a ship's computer core. Communications and sensor stations were manned and in plain sight. A weapons station was also evident and manned. A central holographic plot dominated the space. Seated before the holotank's imagery was a man, presumably the mysterious Maquis Commander.
The man swivelled his seat around and Macen stiffened s he recognised the man. He could sense T'Kir's horror at this revelation as well. Only Danan seemed unaffected.
"Of course." she murmured.
Macen wanted to scream at her and ask how she could have expected this? As it was, he merely whispered, "Aric. Aric Tulley."
Tulley smiled, "I see you remember me, Brin. I'm touched. Especially after what I went through because you and Ro abandoned me."
Aric Tulley had once been Ro Laren's lieutenant. As such, he had closely co-ordinated the cell's activities with Macen's intelligence findings. Tulley had escaped the Dominion sweep of the DMZ aboard Macen's ship, the Odyssey. He'd been turned over to Federation authorities in a deal brokered by Macen upon their capture in Federation space.
"You spent eighteen months on a Federation penal colony. That's not all that rough, Aric." Macen rebutted.
"You obviously don't know about what I did after my release." Tulley said, and then sneered, "Of course not. You were too busy working for Starfleet."
"I was busy fighting the Dominion." Macen said with a trace of anger in his voice, "I was willing to let past differences be bygones for a chance at the butchers that had decimated our forces."
"While you were being so noble, I did something about it." Tulley revealed, "I gathered a force of likeminded Maquis veterans and slipped back into the DMZ. Our mission was to rescue any POWs we could find and harass the Cardies and the Jem'Hadar."
"Unfortunately, my ship and crew were captured before we could achieve our objectives." Tully expounded, "We spent the duration of the war in the same prison camp as the rest of the veteran members of the Maquis. After the war, we waited to see if the Cardassians would liberate the DMZ but it never happened. We began to recruit from the disaffected colonists that suffered under the Dominion occupation."
"I see most of your ‘soldiers' are mere youths." Macen observed.
"The young are more inclined to take action than their parents." Tulley shrugged, "They're all old enough to know what they're doing. There are no universities or trade schools for them to attend. All they have is the revolution."
"I see the life and times of the DMZ has remained the same." Macen commented.
"Which brings us to the question: Why have you returned?" Tulley asked.
"I came to offer my services." Macen answered.
"How convenient." Tulley said dryly, "As I recall, the last time you ‘volunteered' you were working for Starfleet."
"No one can question my loyalty to the Maquis cause or my efforts to achieve our goals." Macen countered, "And I'm not volunteering. I'm offering you a contract. We conduct intelligence gathering missions in exchange for a fee. Seeing as how you're an old friend, I'll even do it for just above cost. Figure a 40% discount from our regular rates."
"How...generous." Tulley smiled indulgently, "I'd heard you'd turned mercenary. It seemed...appropriate somehow, as did your marriage to T'Kir. You'd always seemed to be secretly pining away for each other." Tulley smirked, "Or not so secretly in T'Kir's case. I see Lisea is still with you as well. A little threesome action going on?"
"Don't be stupid Aric." Macen replied, "Being rude is beneath you."
"You don't know what's beneath me." Tulley snarled.
"I know bombing civilian targets isn't." Macen revealed.
"So, still the idealist after all." Tulley mused, "It's a wonder you're willing to work for us."
"Latinum is latinum." Macen replied with an edge to his voice, "I still agree with your general goals even if I dislike your current methods."
"What makes you think our methods will change?" Tulley enquired sceptically.
"Your having a conscience perhaps?" Macen suggested.
"Cardies and collaborators don't deserve pity or mercy." Tulley said coldly.
Macen shrugged, "That's not for me to decide. The only decision I'm worried about is whether or not you'll hire me."
Tulley's laugh was devoid of humour, "I think I like you better this way. You were always too much of an idealist before."
"So were you once upon a time." Macen reminded him.
"That man is dead." Tulley warned, "Don't try to resurrect him."
Macen held his hands up in surrender, "Just playing Devil's advocate. It's part of my job."
"Wait until you're hired, then play all you want."
"Just consider it a freebie." Macen advised.
"Freebies will get you killed." Tulley coldly notified him.
Daggit racked the pump on his grenade launcher and took aim at Tulley. Every Maquis in the room drew weapons and aimed them at the SID team.
"No matter what you do, no matter what else happens, you'll die." Daggit calmly informed Tulley.
Tulley laughed, eyes full of humour, "I like him Brin. How did you manage to acquire an Angosian?"
"We served together in the war." Macen revealed, stifling Daggit's reply.
"We happen to have an Angosian too." Tulley's smile turned decidedly nasty, "Annika!"
Annika Ryst walked into the chamber. Her eyes immediately swept the cavern. Her eyes widened momentarily at the sight of Macen and T'Kir. Her moment of hesitation allowed Macen and T'Kir to clear their holsters at the same time as Ryst.
"It appears you know one another." Tulley said with great amusement.
Macen recalled his first meeting with Ryst. She'd been an assassin sent by the notorious Orion gangster, Daveed B'nner. She and an entire platoon of hired guns had interrupted Macen and T'Kir's honeymoon. The operation had ended with Macen and T'Kir's capture and execution.
"So," Tulley asked, "how did you three meet?"
"My last employer hired me to capture Captain Macen and his wife..." Annika began to explain.
"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "I have a name y'know."
A thin smile appeared on Ryst's features. It wasn't a pretty sight, "Captain Macen and T'Kir were to be brought to my employer's base of operations. I assisted in the capture, got paid, and went on my way."
"And in doing so, you avoided B'nner's destruction." Tulley summarised.
"Exactly." Ryst's voice was tight.
"I suggest we all put our weapons away." Macen interjected, "I'll start."
He put his phaser back in its holster. T'Kir followed suit. Daggit slung his launcher with some reluctance. Danan heaved a sigh of relief as Radil aimed her cannon at the ceiling.
The Maquis also stowed their weapons. Only Ryst kept her pistol trained on Macen. Cold hatred flashed in her eyes.
"Annika," Tulley growled, "are we going to have a problem?"
Ryst's eyes flicked in direction then she relented and holstered her sidearm, "No. No, we won't have a problem Boss."
"Good." Tulley said with satisfaction, "I need to consult the other cell leaders. Then I'll have an answer for you Brin."
"Take your time." Macen replied.
The team had been herded into a corner of the command centre's copious space. Annika Ryst watched the SID personnel like a ravenous sabrecat watches its prey. On the other hand, Deirdre struck up a conversation with Macen, T'Kir and Danan. They reminisced over the former Maquis' successes. They were laughing and joking when Tulley approached. The group sobered up and Deirdre looked chagrined.
"Sorry Aric." Deirdre apologised.
"No need for apologies, Deirdre." Tulley smiled indulgently, "After all, its not often you get to meet living legends of the original Maquis."
"Stop." T'Kir waved her hand in false modesty, "You're too kind."
"And to think I once missed your sense of humour." Tulley's smile thinned.
"So what was the decision?" Macen enquired.
"You're in." Tulley said without a smile, "We'll hammer out the exact figures later...after your first mission."
"My people don't work for free." Macen countered.
"They do this time." Tulley replied, "You mentioned something about ‘freebies' earlier. Consider this an advertising expense. We want to see what your capable of, and what your willing to do, in order to secure this contract."
Macen's eyes narrowed, "Fine."
Tulley's smile returned, "Good. I have the perfect mission for you. And just so you don't get lonely, Deirdre and her team will be accompanying you. Annika will also join you, as a personal minder. These arrangements are all temporary of course. Once you've earned our trust, you'll be free to act independently."
Tulley could see the cold, murderous glint in Macen's eyes and he chuckled, "Ready to do business?"
The Obsidian sailed towards Lopso. The Lopso system was a visual binary located towards the coreward side of the DMZ. Located almost directly across from the Outbound Ventures' homeport of Barrinor, the system contained two habitable worlds. The first orbited the primary Lopso-A and the second orbited around Lopso-B.
The primary was a K1 red giant. Lopso-A III was an artic M-class world. There was one permanent settlement on the frozen world. It was primarily a mobile, smuggler's clearinghouse. It had been a roving settlement since it's founding in the late 23rd century.
As was so often the case, the criminal element had charted the system well in advance of the forces of "civilisation". Deducing that no permanent, non-scientific base would ever be established on the world, it seemed a perfect place to set up a portable fencing operation. The "colony" had operated for over a century, throughout the various regime changes, relying on the host planet's inhospitablity to ward off unwanted attention.
Gemini orbited the G2 yellow dwarf secondary. It was technically labelled as Lopso-B II. It was a dry arid world, with one great ocean and several great lakes with smaller lakes and rivers and streams. The bulk of the terrain was high desert country lining mountain ranges. Large stretches of sterile desert also existed, including one entire subcontinent.
Gemini's primary product was livestock. Great herds of cattle and sheep roamed the natural ranges of the high desert. Irrigation had expanded the high desert's frontiers into the sterile regions. In actuality, the outer borders of the sterile deserts more closely resembled the Mojave of Earth rather than the Gobi-like stretches of the interior.
Upon taking possession of Gemini, the Cardassians had immediately fallen in love with its meat products. Beef jerky made from Geminian cattle was now standard issue amongst Cardassian field rations. In fact, owing to their export contracts with various Federation worlds, the Ferengi, and the Cardassians, Gemini was flush with latinum.
The demand had grown so high that a Cardassian construction firm was in the midst of building yet another shuttleport and an orbital mooring for freighters and their support craft. It was this construction, and the Geminians' willingness to do business with the Cardassians, that had brought the planet under the scrutiny of the Maquis.
The Obsidian slipped into orbit twenty hours after Macen's fateful meeting with Aric Tulley. Seven "guests" were aboard. They included Deirdre Armstrong and Annika Ryst. Macen was less than happy with the presence of his unwanted guests.
Deirdre had brought along six members of her covert action team. Up till now, the CAT had conducted its own reconnaissance and relied upon local contacts for intelligence. Although still wary, Deirdre had high hopes that Macen and his crew would prove their dependability. Macen's original Maquis intelligence group had become an institutional legend. Both the Cardassians and Starfleet had come to respect their competence and ability to overcome overwhelming odds with minimal resources.
The core of Macen's team was present. T'Kir and Lisea Danan had been the crux of that unit. Their continued presence was a huge vote of confidence in the eyes of the newest generation of Maquis. And right now, Macen thought miserably, I need all the votes I can get.
The mission already posed the greatest question an undercover officer faced: how far do I go to establish my cover? Although their outing to Gemini was ostensibly a mere intelligence gathering and reconnaissance mission, the presence of Deirdre's commandoes suggested a darker purpose. Her presence, and the presence of her personnel, was unnecessary in light of Annika Ryst's attendance. Ryst could easily fill the role of executioner at the first sign of betrayal.
Deirdre's attitude had softened during her time with Macen. Ryst's, on the other hand, was more intransigent. Then again, Deirdre had served with Macen and the others in the old Maquis. Ryst had only encountered Macen in a duel to the death. It was a duel he'd won, which was unforgivable in her eyes. Macen wondered if Ryst's personal feelings would cloud her judgement and cause her to attempt to kill him before he actually betrayed the Maquis to the Cardassian authorities.
That he'd have to betray them had become evident from his conversation with Aric Tulley. As an empath, Macen had sensed Tulley's fanaticism. Tulley had always been a fervent soldier of the rebellion, but now his obsession for unilateral victory bordered on mania. It was a frightening shift of mentality but not the scariest.
T'Kir, through her shared telepathic link with Macen, had alerted him to the other major change in Tulley's outlook. He'd become a nihilist. If he couldn't achieve his victory on his terms, he'd destroy and maim as many Cardassians and colonial "collaborators" as he could before he himself was killed. He'd throw every member of his organisation to his or her death before he'd ever entertain the notion of surrender. Even then, he was philosophically committed to dying in a fiery chasm of destruction.
This was a far cry from the stoic farmer that had become Ro's lieutenant. A Cardassian paramilitary group had executed Tulley's wife and children during the Cardassian acquisition of the DMZ's Federation colonies. This atrocity drove Tulley into the arms of the Maquis.
Tulley had come to the Maquis as an ardent supporter of Cal Hudson's guerrilla warfare doctrine. Tulley had supported Ro's decision to detach the Ronaran cell from the main body of the Maquis Council when the various cell leaders embraced Eddington's plan to use weapons of mass destruction. His convictions had been so strong that he'd actually proposed a coup, intended to substitute Ro for Eddington.
Ro herself had vetoed the idea. She opted to speak out against Eddington's proposed operational doctrine in the Maquis Council. The majority of the Council sided with Eddington's plan. Ro and the other dissenting Maquis cell leaders struck out on their own, forming a loose coalition of forces.
Tulley had been a strong advocate of these moves. His current operational philosophy was born of bitterness and hate, not of prior convictions. It was a sad spiral into madness. Macen truly wished he could pull his friend out of the abyss he was in but he only saw a bad ending in the near future.
Deirdre approached Macen's Command chair, "We're here. Now what?"
Macen rose from his seat and proceeded to the rear of the bridge. He stood in front of the MSD, between the Ops and Science stations. T'Kir and Danan each looked at him.
"T'Kir, being probing their municipal and defence mainframes. Lees, run a complete geophysical and atmospheric scan. Rab, run a survey of their defensive capabilities and of their municipal layouts. Route parallel scan data to my board." Macen ordered and returned to his seat.
He activated the monitor located between Riker's seat and his own. Riker perused the incoming data even as Macen scrolled through the information flow. Daggit interrupted their examination.
"Captain, the Trade Guild would like to know the purpose of our visit to Gemini."
"Put `em on the screen." Macen sighed.
A hard bitten Andorian woman wearing a cowboy hat appeared on the main viewer. Holes had been cut in the body for her antenna. In some ways she reminded Macen of Shervarhia'annderi, or Rhiann, Grace's relief.
It's the mouth, he decided, they have a similar smile.
"Hello," Macen smiled, "how can I help you?"
"Actually, Captain," the Andorian rancher smiled, "I was wondering how I could help you. What's your business on Gemini?"
"Simple R&R." Macen lied, "We've heard about some of the sights on Gemini and were hoping to offer some dirtside liberties."
The Andorian looked disappointed, "Sure I can't interest you in some mutton or beef?"
Macen chuckled, "I'll have my Quartermaster contact your offices. I'm sure she wouldn't mind supplementing our stores with some fresh meat."
The blue skinned woman brightened, "Good. Our local merchants would be delighted to take your latinum Captain. Send your people ashore whenever you want."
The comm circuit was cut and the viewer returned to an image of the planet's "horizon".
"That was odd." Riker noted, "That's normally a job for a government official."
Macen shrugged, "I think our friends on Gemini have taken a page from the Cardassians and the Ferengi and adopted capitalism."
"Capitalism." Riker snorted, "The Federation was wise enough to do away with that nonsense almost a century ago."
"And instead adopted Capitalism's antithesis: communism." Macen observed, "The difference between the 20th century and 24th century variants being the lack of totalitarian controls."
Riker frowned but dropped the subject, "So what's the plan?"
The plan is to let some of the crew go ashore." Macen answered, "We'll send along the investigative team and we'll conduct reconnaissance of the capital...as requested by our potential employers."
Ryst, who was within earshot, bristled, "Your employer's goals should be your own."
"In case you've forgotten, we haven't been hired yet." Macen pointed out, "My primary objective is the safety of my personnel. The mission is a secondary concern. That's the way I ran my operations during the rebellion. I won't change now just because Aric's changed the operational doctrine of the Maquis."
Ryst's hand came to rest on her phaser's grip. Daggit swivelled around and took aim at Ryst. Deirdre pulled her phaser out and aimed at Daggit. Macen and T'Kir rose as one and took aim at Deirdre and Ryst respectively. Deirdre shifted her aim and focused on Macen.
"This doesn't have to happen." Macen said, eyes boring into Deirdre's, "Call off your dog and we'll get back to the business at hand."
Deirdre hesitated and then nodded at Ryst. Ryst's hand moved away from her pistol. The Outbound Venture's personnel stowed their weapons in their holsters and returned to their previous activities.
"Your people have fast reflexes." Deirdre commented.
Macen looked up from his reader, "They need them. This contract is a cakewalk
compared to the rest of our résumé."
"So I've heard." Deirdre admitted.
"How is it everyone in the Maquis seems to know what I've been doing for the last five years?" Macen enquired.
Deirdre grinned, "When Aric first planned this revival of the Maquis, he quietly put out feelers searching for original Maquis veterans. You came up in his search. Sympathisers in Starfleet informed him of your war record and your subsequent court-martial following the war. Using public record searches, he learned of your forming a private security company. Word of mouth attested to your crew's competence."
"Aric would have contacted you at the very beginning of the movement but he was trying to avoid employing mercenaries." Deirdre informed him.
"Then why the change of policy?" Macen nodded towards Ryst. He could sense her anger. T'Kir flashed him a warning that Ryst was teetering on the edge of losing control.
"As you noted, most of our recent recruits are youngsters in their species' equivalent of their late teens and early twenties." Deirdre explained, "My team and Tom Reynolds' crew are the only two groups entirely comprised of veterans."
"Tom Reynolds?" Macen repeated.
"That's right, you've never met him." Deirdre remembered, "Tom's the skipper of the Viper, our most powerful raider."
"I'm sure I'll meet him this time 'round." Macen remarked.
"He's a good man," Deirdre commented, "and he'd love to meet you."
"Maybe we shouldn't get so friendly with our ‘hosts' until they prove their loyalty." Ryst growled then snidely added, "Which I doubt they'll be able to do."
"Ever the voice of confidence, eh Annika?" Macen quipped.
"Don't you dare use my given name!" Ryst hissed, "You haven't the right."
"What exactly did I do to piss you off so badly?" Macen wondered.
"You survived." Ryst's eyes narrowed into slits, "First you beat me, tarnishing a perfect record, and then you somehow survived your execution. Finally, your team, in an effort to rescue you, killed the most lucrative employer I've ever had. He was a misogynistic pig but he was a rich misogynistic pig."
"I wish I could say I was sorry, but the plain truth is that I'm not." Macen admitted, "Such are the fortunes of war and our business is to conduct campaigns for currency. If you want to take it personally, that's your affair. If you want to let it interfere in business, then you should consider a new line of work. Personally, I don't like you because of your part in my wife and I's abduction. That's well and good on a personal level. We won't ever be friends but that doesn't mean I won't work with you. I'll be getting paid to conduct intelligence surveys. If that means including you in the mission, so be it."
"Pretty words." Ryst sneered, "Let's see you live up to them."
"I already am." Macen countered, "Let's see you do the same."
Ryst snarled and stalked off to the rear of the bridge. Macen looked back towards Deirdre.
"Quite a temper she has. Let's hope it doesn't get her killed."
"Aric wouldn't look kindly on her sudden demise." Deirdre warned.
Macen shrugged, "That's up to her. She's here to play observer. Fine. Let her observe but if she chooses to play executioner, she'll be dealt with."
Deirdre broke into a thin smile, "I'll pass the word along."
Macen nodded, "It just might keep her alive."
Macen, T'Kir, Deirdre, and Ryst beamed down together to the heart of the capital city. They strolled about its concourses, took a public tour of the congressional rotunda, perused a shopping centre and were now moving towards an avenue of restaurants and pubs and gambling houses. They entered one of the more popular saloons and took a look about. The clientele was primarily composed of ranchers. Since 90% of the populace was involved in ranching, it was no great stretch of the imagination.
Even the politicians and bureaucrats were at least part time ranchers. Most of the shopkeepers had stakes in ranches or herds. Even the police and military forces kept herds of cattle and sheep. One of the local hospitals had a herd of llamas. The physicians were the subject of much shaking of heads and idle gossip.
These were hard men and women from over a dozen Federation worlds. They came in various hues, shapes, and sizes. They wore a menagerie of clothing styles. Denim and leather were heavily favoured. Wide brimmed hats were a necessity.
The Maquis scouts immediately stood out. T'Kir had donned the same outfit she'd worn on Ronara Prime. Macen had also repeated his wardrobe selections from the previous evening. Ryst wore a pair of Outbound Ventures coveralls. Deirdre came the closest to blending in.
Deirdre wore denim jeans, a denim jacket over a black tank top. She also wore a leather vest under the jacket. Clad in cowboy boots, a belt with an enormous buckle, and the prerequisite wide brimmed hat, the only thing missing to her appearance was the sun baked, wind bitten appearance of the locals.
Their weapons did not draw attention since everyone else in the establishment, except the dance hall men and women, were armed as well. A large number of the original Maquis had come from Gemini. They'd been employed as weapons instructors and heavy weapons specialists and snipers.
The Cardassians had never established a presence on Gemini. The locals, with their romanticised notions about freedom and independence, would have revolted en masse at such a move. To this day, the only Cardassians on the planet were the local "Governor" and her staff.
The Cardassian governorship was a largely ceremonial position. The actual work involved was more akin to an ambassador's or a trade negotiator's. The Governor only had a dozen security guards guarding the entire Governor's "mansion". The mansion proved to be little more than a converted warehouse. The various mission members both lived and worked in the mansion.
The Cardassians maintained a low profile in order to avoid offending the Geminians delicate sensibilities. They were virtually restricted to the mansion at all times. The turnaround rate for the staff was phenomenally high. The isolation wore heavily on the various workers and few lasted longer than 18 months.
The rest of the investigative team had beamed to various locations across the capitol. Members of Deirdre's team accompanied each group of SID investigators. Daggit and Parva had gone to scout out the Governor's mansion. Dracas and Grace had checked out the city's shuttleport. Radil and Kort observed the emergency response crews and hospital trauma staff. Riker and Danan had gone to inspect the planet's commodities exchange.
As Macen and the others took a table at the bar, Daggit commed in, "Captain, we're wrapping up here. Do you require any assistance?"
"The others have already checked in. They've all concluded their various tasks." Macen informed him, "We're currently at an establishment called the Cowlick. If you want, call the others and invite them all for a drink. It's on the company."
"Kort and Radil will probably refuse but I'm sure Hal and Hannah will oblige. Parva and I are on our way." Daggit replied.
The comm circuit shut down and Macen smirked. Daggit had been very careful not to mention their escorts. He had a nasty suspicion that the Angosian and Orion had pulled a fast one and ditched their "observers". He idly wondered how the volatile Ryst would react to this development.
Although their weapons had not drawn any stares, their attire did. Soon, a pair of burly wranglers wandered over. It was immediately apparent that the two had had too much to drink but not enough to hamper their reflexes in a major way.
"Git up." The larger of the pair told Ryst, "Lemme git a look at you."
Ryst ignored him and concentrated on her drink. The wrangler grew angry, "I said git up!"
Macen rose and moved around the table, "Why don't we all calm down. How about we buy you gentlemen a drink?"
"Sit down you pantywaisted pretty boy." the smaller of the two spoke in a reedy voice.
"Suit yourself." Macen said with his hands held up.
"I'm only gonna tell you one more time," The tall wrangler growled, "git up so I kin get a looksee at you."
Ryst was immobile but T'Kir rose. The wrangler went for his phaser but T'Kir snap drawed her phaser and stunned him. His companion shifted his aim from Macen to T'Kir. Macen drew his own phaser and stunned the man.
"Well, that was certainly fun." T'Kir said with a grin.
"Yeah," Macen said tightly, "but I think we riled the crowd."
Half of the pub's patrons were now on their feet and approaching. Macen and T'Kir holstered their weapons and moved around to the front of the table.
"You gonna help?" T'Kir asked over shoulder.
Ryst shook her head and Deirdre shrugged, "We didn't start this. I see no reason to get involved."
"Great." T'Kir groused as she returned her focus on the approaching mob.
Macen slapped the comm badge on his belt, "Rab, you'd better hurry if you want to see us alive."
"Gotcha." came Daggit's taciturn reply.
Divide and conquer? Macen mentally suggested to T'Kir.
T'Kir nodded her assent and surged forward towards the crowd. The lead cowboy mirrored her move and charged forward. T'Kir snapped off a wheel kick, breaking the man's jaw and hurling him back into the crowd.
Macen thrust his elbow into the face of the closest shepherd. The man staggered backwards. Macen kicked him in the groin. As he doubled over, Macen grabbed a hold of his head and drove a knee into it. The man collapsed in a heap on the floor.
The next cowhand threw a right cross at T'Kir. She deftly blocked it with her left wrist. She then punched the man with her left hand. As it was her dominant hand and she was a Vulcan, it struck with considerable force. The woman went down with a broken nose.
The next cowboy threw a roundhouse punch at Macen, which he ducked under. As the man overextended, Macen punched him. The cowhand then threw his arm in a backhanded sweep. Macen ducked and spun out of the way. As the man came to face Macen, Macen rose from his crouch and placed a punch squarely on the man's nose. The man dropped to his knees and tried to staunch the blood flow as tears welled up in his eyes.
T'Kir delivered a side kick into a man's jaw, levelling him. She then spun around and delivered a savage backhand into an approaching woman. The rest of the milling crowd hesitated after seeing the casual brutality Macen and T'Kir could inflict.
Daggit and Parva charged into the saloon at that moment. The crowd took one look at Daggit's expectant, fierce expression and began to retreat. The couple dove into the scattered remnants of the mob.
Daggit grabbed the first man by the neck and the crotch and lifted him up. He then threw the man behind the bar counter. The bartender started to object but stopped when she saw the cold lethality in Daggit's eyes.
Parva came in swinging. Her high gravity musculature enabled her to severely damage the first two cowboys she came across. A resounding explosive sound ended the combat. Daggit spun and levelled his phaser at the shotgun wielding bartender before the woman could level the gun at the crowd.
"Easy partner," she said evenly, "it's filled with rock salt. It's non-lethal. This scatter gun's just for stopping ruckuses like this."
"And you haven't used it before this because...?" Daggit asked dispassionately.
"Hell sonny, everyone appreciates a good brawl. We had one helluva betting pool goin' on." The bartender cackled, "Now, you gonna put that hogleg down?"
"Put your rifle away and we'll see." Daggit replied.
"Well, I don't see how that's rightly fair. I suggest..." the bartender was cut off by Daggit thumbing his phaser's power setting into the lethal range. "I see your point." she said and stowed the shotgun behind the counter.
Daggit holstered his phaser and turned to the crowd, "This fight is over. But if I see one of you so much as twitch in the direction of your phaser, I will cut you down."
His statement carried so much certainty, the rest of the establishment's patrons readily believed it. They quieted down and resumed their previous activities. One pair drug the first two wranglers off into a back room to recuperate from the stun blasts Macen and T'Kir had delivered.
Macen and T'Kir retook their seats and Daggit and Parva joined the table after ordering drinks.
"Here's to a peaceful evening." Macen toasted with his cup of tea and everyone took a shot of his or her chosen beverage.
"We should get so lucky." T'Kir remarked, setting her mug down.
Dracas and Grace burst into the bar at that moment.
"Rab told us you were in trouble!" Grace gasped.
"We're fine now, Hannah." Macen said with a grin, "Why don't you order a drink and sit down before you fall down."
"Sounds like a plan." Dracas wheezed, "I may have a thirty year olds body again but I seriously need to spend some time in the gym."
Daggit chuckled, "That could be arranged, Hal."
"Ha!" Dracas scoffed, "I'd rather take my chances with Kort or Radil."
"I'll take you on as an exercise partner." Parva offered.
"Gods woman, you'd kill me!"
"Yeah, maybe." Parva agreed, "But us engineers have to stick together especially when everyone else on the team is spoken for."
"There's still Lisea." Dracas protested.
Parva shrugged, "Let me know what you decide. But remember, don't take too long. A fem has got t'do what a fem has got t'do. If that means finding another partner, I will. Rhiann has offered to be my gym partner and I'm seriously thinking of accepting her proposal."
"Saved!" Dracas heaved a sigh of relief.
Parva stuck out her tongue at him.
"Wait a minute!" Ryst suddenly erupted, "Where are your escorts?"
Daggit and Parva and then Grace and Dracas all exchanged conspiratorial glances and collectively shrugged.
"Somebody had better tell me where their damned escorts are or I will begin killing you one by one." Ryst snarled.
Daggit and Ryst each pulled their phasers so fast that only Grace could, barely, keep up. Macen, T'Kir, Parva, and Dracas all followed suit and the entire team thumbed their phasers to maximum power while they aimed at Ryst. Deirdre remained completely still.
"Well?" Ryst demanded, "Aren't you going to help?"
"Not my fight." Deirdre replied, "You got yourself into this, get yourself out of it.
Ryst slowly shifted her aim to Macen, "Even if you kill me, he'll be dead first."
Ryst suddenly let go of her phaser and it fell onto the table. She began to feel a strange pressure in her skull and her vision blurred.
"You don't have one of those fancy helmets this time `round." T'Kir's tone was glacial, "And I, for one, am sick and tired of your threatening my husband and my friends. So, unless you have something very persuasive to say, say goodbye."
Ryst opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Her head swam and then darkness overtook her. Her body went limp and her head slammed down onto the tabletop.
"Well, now you've done it." Deirdre sighed, "This is guaranteed to put Aric's nose out of joint."
"Relax," T'Kir batted Deirdre's concerns aside, "she's not dead. I just gave her something to think about. She'll just wake up with a migraine. No worries, eh?"
"I'll say one thing," Deirdre observed, "that was as impressive as hell."
"That's nothing." T'Kir replied, "I could have made her stick her phaser up her arse and..."
"T'Kir!" Macen forcefully interrupted, "That's enough."
"Well, she asked for it." T'Kir sulked.
"No one's denying that," Macen agreed, "but we don't have to divulge everything."
"Oh." T'Kir's mouth formed an "O", "Oh, right."
Deirdre began to respond but Macen cut her off, "Now, the question is what happened to Tom and Lisea?" Macen asked.
Riker and Danan entered as if on cue. With them were all six members of Deirdre's team. Riker looked nonplussed. Danan merely appeared mildly irritated.
Deirdre laughed, "Why don't you all find a seat? And take her with you."
Deirdre's people removed Ryst and placed her at the adjoining table with them. Riker and Danan sat down with Macen's group. Macen glanced over at the Maquis team and smirked.
"What?" Deirdre asked.
"Your people look decidedly upset." Macen observed.
Deirdre shrugged, "They'll get over it. They just know that I'll be running them through surveillance drills for the next couple of months."
Macen's smirk broadened into a grin as T'Kir replied, "Don't treat them too harshly. After all, they were up against the best. Well, everyone except Tom and Lees that is."
Riker reddened but Danan remained diffident, "It wasn't as though we weren't going to try and shake them. It's just that one minute there was one of them and suddenly there were six."
"Easy Tom." Macen urged, "No one's accusing you of anything."
"I am." T'Kir spouted off.
"Ignore my beautiful but ever so misguided wife." Macen countered, "She knows not what she says."
"Yes, I do." T'Kir asserted, "If they didn't spend so much time aboard ship, they'd have the necessary skills to evade pursuers."
"Honey, love of my life," Macen said sweetly but with an underlying steely tone, "They weren't selected for their evasive skills. They were hired for the very skills that keep them shipboard."
"Hannah's always shipboard but she managed to escape." T'Kir argued.
"Hannah's...special and you know it." Macen contended.
"Yeah, but..." T'Kir faltered.
"But what?" Macen enquired.
"I don't know!" T'Kir admitted, "But there's an argument here. I just have to find it."
Deirdre broke into a fit of laughter. Macen and T'Kir each looked at her incredulously. Deirdre fanned her face and explained.
"Its nice to see that some things remain the same as always. It reminds me of the ‘good' old days."
"Don't get too nostalgic." Macen advised, "They weren't all that good. We just did what we had to and prayed we'd live to see the next day."
"I was being ironic." Deirdre replied, "Besides it's not that different now."
"I'd say there's a big difference." Macen said, voice taut, "We didn't blow up civilians."
"If it bothers you so much, why are you here?" Deirdre snapped back.
"Call it a training exercise." Macen's eyes narrowed and his voice grew hard, "The bulk of my crew inexperienced at intelligence gathering. Our contract with your modern incarnation of the Maquis would serve two purposes: one, it would give my crew some practical, hands on practice at reconnaissance and analysis; and two, it would allow me a chance to repay a debt."
"I take it you feel indebted to Aric." Deirdre deduced.
"Got it in one." Macen agreed.
"But you didn't know he was the Maquis Commander." Deirdre pointed out.
"I wasn't even sure there was a Maquis revival." Macen revealed, "I was taking a chance that I could garner your attention and secure an audience with the current Commander."
"Your identities alone grabbed our attention." Deirdre disclosed, "That little display where you flashed a free pass signed by Castellan Ghemor himself secured it. How did you arrange that?"
"My company has earned a lot of clout in a short time." Macen informed her, "We do the job. Period. We get hired and we get the job done no matter what."
"Aric will be pleased to hear that." Deirdre admitted, "Of course, he's checking your references while we're on this outing."
"I assumed as much." Macen confessed.
"Then you also realise that your failing this test will probably result in your death."
Macen grinned, "You and Aric are welcome to try but I have no worries."
Deirdre frowned, "And why's that?"
"Because we've already passed." Macen's grin broadened into a smile and he took another swallow of his tea.
Once again in orbit over Ronara Prime, the Obsidian beamed down Macen, T'Kir, Riker and the Maquis team. Ryst had fully physically recovered from T'Kir's mental assault. Emotionally though, she was more frayed than ever. She was ever watchful, and twitchy, around T'Kir.
Aric Tulley, on the other hand, jovially greeted them as old friends, "Brin, T'Kir it's so good to see you again!" He individually embraced them both then grasped Riker by the shoulders, "It's good to see you as well, Tom."
This came as a surprise to the SID team. Tulley had never met Tom Riker before this moment. Tulley recognised Riker's astonished expression and chuckled.
"You have to realise your value as a symbol." Tulley informed Riker, "You successfully completed one of the most daring raids in Maquis history only to be betrayed by the Federation and handed over to the Cardassians. You endured captivity for two years only to escape. Neither the Cardies nor the Federation could touch you."
"Your story became a legend among those of us held by the Dominion." Tulley revealed, "We'd exchange stories of meeting you and the stories we heard about your escape. It gave us hope when there was none. You're a damned hero!"
The Maquis in the room erupted into cheers and T'Kir leaned in close to Macen, "Remind me to take you to the crappy world where I'm a goddess."
Macen gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and she subsided, "Do I count as a world?"
"No." she said philosophically, "But you'll do."
"I hate to interrupt," a smirking Deirdre interjected, "but the great hero is about to give a speech."
The normally cocksure Riker looked uncertain for once, "I guess I have to say thank you but the real credit goes to you folks. You survived Hell. I can't imagine how many of you didn't or what you paid to survive. All I know is that you made it and you're making yourselves known. You're a force to be reckoned with and the major powers are taking notice. Never surrender, your dreams can become reality!"
The room erupted with thunderous applause and Tulley lifted Riker's arm above his head. T'Kir's mouth twisted in a wry smile, "Not bad for pulling it straight out of his ass."
"It certainly had the desired effect." Macen said quietly.
Tulley marched Riker back to the group, "You've done well. By God, you've done better than well; you've exceeded all expectations! Deirdre told me that thanks to your scouting and analysis of Gemini's defences and infrastructure, she's already got an ops plan ready to go."
"On top of that, I screened your references." Tulley grinned from ear to ear; "The Security Consultants Association and Guild had nothing but praise, for you in particular, and your outfit in general. You've made a name for yourself by being utterly loyal to your employer and for getting the job done. You may have become a mercenary but I see some of your old scruples and ideals remain."
"You could have asked." Macen remarked dryly.
Tulley laughed, "The same old Macen, eh?"
"Something like that." Macen replied, "The circumstances and loyalties change but the people essentially remain the same."
"That's only true with some people." Tulley said dourly, "The rest of us bend with circumstances."
Macen chose not to comment and Tulley shook his head, "Still too polite to confirm an old man's doubts about himself."
Macen shook his head, "Too wise. You still have a half a dozen guns in here trained on my personnel."
Tulley grinned, "Nice to see you haven't gotten sloppy with age."
Macen bowed his head slightly, "Same to you."
"All right," Tulley roared, "all nonessential personnel clear out. In other words, well wishers and sycophants begone!"
The cavern cleared itself of all but a few monitor watchers, three armed guards excluding Annika Ryst, and four strategy planners, including Deirdre. Macen, T'Kir, and Riker were brought to the briefing table and seated. Tulley activated the table and several solar systems were displayed on its screens. Tulley altered the display in front of Macen's team, splitting the table and showing each solar system as a whole on one side of the table and the target planets in the nearer displays.
"These are our problems." Tulley explained, "All the information we have on them is hopelessly out of date or stems from the Cardassian Ministry of Information. Since their propaganda is liable to list anyone as a collaborator, we need an on-site inspection of each of these worlds."
"Get the pulse, the vibe of each planet and then, if necessary, nail down the details on their infrastructure like you did on Gemini." Tulley divulged, "Deirdre's team will be busy so you'll only have Deirdre herself as a ‘local guide'."
"What about Ryst?" Macen enquired.
Tulley's smile turned nasty, "Consider her your very own political officer. She aboard to insure your loyalty."
Macen rolled his eyes. Ryst fidgeted nervously as T'Kir put a finger to her temple and made a shooting motion. Deirdre stifled a laugh over the entire scene. Tulley looked from one to another with a confused look on his face. T'Kir gave him a beatific smile and he turned to Riker who merely shrugged.
"Whatever's going on here," Tulley warned, "it stays here."
"Sort of like Risa." T'Kir chimed in.
Tulley gave T'Kir a reproving glare and Ryst smirked. T'Kir sweetly returned the smile and Ryst's knees buckled. She went from standing at attention to sitting on the floor in a split second. Ryst was red faced as her fellow guards assisted her off the cavern's floor.
"You!" Tulley wheeled on T'Kir, "I don't know how you're doing it, but you're responsible!"
T'Kir silently gave Tulley her best angelic expression. Tulley continued to glare at her for several minutes but finally softened, "Ah frinx it. She probably deserved it anyway. The woman's good at her job but she can be insufferable."
"Then why keep her around?" Macen pointedly asked.
"Why do you keep your pet Angosian on a leash?" Tulley barked a harsh laugh, "They may be arrogant about their abilities but they are, hands down, the finest killers around."
"And why, if we've proven ourselves to you, do you need a killer aboard my ship?" Macen angrily enquired.
"In case I'm wrong." Tulley's smile took on a feral quality, "Annika's the only fighter I have that can go head to head with your Rab Daggit. Once she gets passed him, the rest of you are dead."
"She had her shot already." Macen's voice was cold precision itself, "Her second attempt will merely get her killed."
Tulley shrugged, "Hopefully we won't find out."
"Bad planning is built on hope." Macen retorted.
"Then you'd better hope my plans for you turn out better than expected." Tulley replied, then seeing Macen's confusion added, "I hired you based on the hope that certain ugly rumours regarding your ship and outfit weren't true."
"What kinds of rumours?"
"The rumour that Starfleet is your single largest client."
"They are." Macen replied so matter-of-factly that all Maquis activity at the briefing table ceased.
Tulley forced a nervous chuckle, "You're kidding."
Macen shook his head, "No, I'm not. Starfleet provides the bulk of our contracts. Some are for transport but since we're not set up for those kind of operations, we normally participate in convoy operations or perform minor tasks for Starfleet Intelligence."
Several phasers, including Ryst's, slid free of their holsters. Macen rolled his eyes, "If I were here at the behest of Starfleet Intelligence, why would I tell you I occasionally work for them?"
Tulley rubbed his broad, craggy chin and pondered that exact point, "You have been even more forthcoming than the last time you worked with the Maquis. Do I have your word that you aren't here working for Starfleet Intelligence?"
"I'm not here for Starfleet Intelligence. They consider this Maquis revival a purely domestic matter for the Cardassians. They'll provide emergency assistance and logistical support but that's all." Macen assured Tulley, "They have no reason to hire me."
Nice verbal footwork, T'Kir thoughtcast via her telepathic rapport with Macen, Tell 'em we weren't sent here by Starfleet Intelligence but neglect to mention the SID, or the fact that our wages are being paid for by the Cardassian Union.
Macen mentally shrugged, What they don't know will be their downfall.
"Speaking of contracts, I suppose you've had time to peruse our proposal?" Macen asked, changing the subject.
Tulley motioned for Ryst and the others to put their weapons away. The Angosian mercenary was the last to do so, and did so with great reluctance. Tulley pulled Macen's padd out of his vest pocket and set it down on the table.
"The figures are acceptable. However, if that's a discounted rate I'd hate to see your normal rates."
Macen shrugged, "People pay for the best."
"I suppose they do." Tulley demurred, "I don't suppose we could discuss credit options? We're a little short on latinum right now."
"All this shiny new hardware your people are packing, and consistently aiming at my people, suggests otherwise. They're top of the line pulse rifles of a make and model I don't recognise. That says something." Macen paused then continued, "Your heavy and light attack craft numbers already parallel the old Maquis' usual tally...and you have more ships on the way."
It was Tulley's turn to shrug after shooting Deirdre a glance, "Donations from concerned parties."
"Generous donors." Macen remarked, "I'd like to meet them."
"Maybe someday." Tulley deflected the issue, "They're rather...shy."
"I can imagine." Macen agreed, "The Cardies would likely launch reprisals against them."
Tulley smiled slyly, "Not against these allies."
Macen noted the shift from "donor" to "ally" but refrained from comment, "So, about the mission?"
"What about the credit line?"
"Call our business office and they'll arrange something."
"Sounds good." Tulley said, pacified, "We'll upload a complete file before you depart."
"Our departure window?"
"Okay," Macen rose from the table, followed by his officers, "no sense in wasting time then. Deirdre, you ready?"
"As ever." Armstrong nodded.
"I'll transport up to the ship in a moment." Ryst said stiffly, "I have to confer with the Maquis Commander."
"Suit yourself." Macen replied, and then grinned, "Just don't take too long. I'd hate to leave without you."
After the SID team, and guest, had beamed back to the Obsidian, Ryst took Tulley aside for a private conference, "I don't think its wise for you to hire Outbound Ventures. Brin Macen can't be trusted. You should keep the organisation strictly volunteer oriented."
"That's a bit hypocritical coming from you, m'dear." Tulley remarked dryly.
Ryst shook her head, "That may be true but at least I believe in the cause. Macen doesn't, at least not this incarnation of the Maquis. The man has made a career of arresting people like us."
"He's arrested criminals not revolutionaries." Tulley protested.
"Are you certain he sees a distinction in this case?" Ryst pointedly asked.
"The man was my friend."
"A friend that turned you over to the authorities." she reminded him, "Who's to say he won't do it again?"
Tulley had no answer for her.
"Have fun on the surface?" Macen asked Ryst as she stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge.
"That's none of your concern."
"I suspect it probably is but we'll leave it at that." Macen said with a sly grin.
Ryst held her tongue. She knew that Macen was a short range empath. She just wasn't sure of how short a range he had. She suspected though that most of his comments aimed towards her were solely meant to elicit an emotional response of some kind or another.
"Hannah, set course for Deutschland and engage at warp 6." Macen ordered.
"Happily." Grace replied and made the necessary astronavigational calculations, "Course laid in, Captain."
"Then engage warp engines."
"Aye sir. On my mark...three...two...one...mark!"
The Obsidian spent three days in orbit over Deutschland. It was a densely forested world with rugged, snow capped mountains. It abounded with streams, rivers, and lakes. There was one great ocean that covered 74% of the planetary surface. The rest was comprised of a massive, northern continent. The four seasons provided every variation of weather.
Scouting out the planetary capitol of Weimar, the investigative teams found no trace of collusion with the Cardassians. Quite the opposite was true. Engineering and manufacturing were Deutschland's great strengths. The planet had hundreds of off-world contracts but none were with the Cardassian Union. The citizens and corporations paid their mandatory taxes. The collectors reinforced by Cardassian troops.
The next stop on the tour, New Reykjavik was equally fruitless. The hard-bitten settlers dwelling on a glacial world had little time to support, or fight the Cardassians. Their tantamount concern was their massive geothermal taps. What industry they had to spare was devoted to trade amongst the Zone colonies. Which was token resistance enough to win Deirdre's approval.
Their next stop was Kendra. It was a planet settled by Bajorans during the Occupation. Having escaped the Cardassian's clutches and made it to the Federation, they'd never expected to be returned to Cardassian hands. During the rebellion, Kendra had been a key recruiting station for the Maquis. Now, during the revival, Kendra was strangely silent.
The Obsidian was en route to investigate this change of attitude. Next to come was Freislind. An Andorian colony, Freislind possessed a similar recruiting history with Kendra. Tulley wanted to know why the normally fierce Andorians were sitting the campaign out.
Between transit time and visitations, the Obsidian had already been underway for nine days. No one expected any deviations from their intended course. That was before Grace felt a vibration in her flightsuit's pocket. She removed her Attuner and stared at its surface. The activation display lights blinked in rapid sequence. When they'd ended, Grace knew what she had to do.
Dammit! she swore to herself, Why now?
Distantly, she heard the background noise of the bridge. The Captain was asking Deirdre to join him in his Ready Room. Grace decided to wait until Macen was off the bridge before plotting her next move. She heard the Ready Room doors close and she swivelled her chair around to face the rest of the crew.
Riker saw her, and then saw the Attuner in her hand. He leapt out of his chair, "Rab! Stop Hannah!" Riker himself was grapping for the phaser at his belt.
Grace formed the thought in her head and then depressed the Attuner's activation stud. Life stopped. Daggit and Riker were frozen in mid-motion, as were the rest of the crew, all of the crew. That done, Grace returned her focus to her station.
She altered course and set them towards the galactic rim. They had a rendezvous with the Kelvans and they wouldn't miss it. It was the call Grace had long been dreading...and hoping for all the same. It meant her people had arrived in the Milky Way and they'd chosen Macen and the crew as representatives of the Alpha Quadrant. The Kelvans' next plan of action would depend on the outcome of these meetings.
Proceed to Part II
|Last modified: 29 Aug 2018