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Breakout by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

"Another starbase beat to snot," Elfi Hendryks remarked, reviewing her sensor readings scrolling across her OPS station's display.

"No sign of Dominion forces," Rab Daggit, an Angosian commando, reported from the Newton-class science ship Asimov's Tactical station. The former Starfleet vessel had been "appropriated" by ex-Maquis turned Bajoran Militia operatives. Save for the Angosians aboard, who technically belonged to Starfleet's ranks.

Unlike Hendryks and the Bolian Chief Engineer, Emjin Thool, Lieutenant Ro Laren was an actual Militia officer. She was the Mission Commander of the Militia's Special Operation Squadron that was comprised of the eight Angosians aboard the Asimov, her former Maquis crew, herself. Additionally there was the Starfleet Intelligence operative, Commander Brin Macen, and his ad hoc crew fo the Blackbird-class scoutship, the Odyssey. With him was the majority of his Maquis crew and eight more Angosians. Tracy Ebert, Christine Lacey, Heidi Darcy, and Tom Eckles were the original crew members.

The Angosians comprised the rest of Daggit's volunteer platoon. The commandos hadn't undergone their planet's treatments to reverse the bioengineering and psychological conditioning that made the Augments. In exchange for their services, Angosia was finally allowed to enter Federation membership.

As the Mission Specialist, Macen had recommended a course of action that Ro had reluctantly agreed to. Utilizing his official legend as an information broker during the Maquis Rebellion, Macen had ingratiated himself with the Vorta named Kilana and arranged for the two crews to be employed as part-time spies for the Dominion. Equipped with two decommissioned Starfleet vessels, Ro and Macen had access to the Allied lines as well as the firepower to hinder pirates and raiders raiding Dominion supply lines. Many of those "pirate" attacks had been committed by Ro and Macen themselves. The Andergani and Orions largely taking the fall for those events.

Ro and Macen would subsequently be hired to exact the Dominion's revenge against the Oligarchy and the Syndicate. Their general area of operations being the Almatha and Dorvan Sectors as well as the former Demilitarized Zone. The Andergani just had the misfortune to be wedged in between Cardassian and Tholian territory. And their cultural imperative to "acquire" new technologies and plunder by any means necessary made them targets of availability that everyone in near space wanted to see bashed.

Ro had received orders to survey Starbases 47, G-8, 211, and 310. The outposts had been overrun in the Dominion's march into Federation space. No one had had heard from them and their supporting starships in that region since the invasion began. With the Allies pushing back the Dominion invaders, the concentration of efforts were still being focused out of Deep Space Nine and Starbase 375. And now with Romulan Star Empire joining the Federation and the Klingon Empire in repelling the Dominion, the tide of the war had shifted to a gradual Dominion retreat.

The Dominion had begun approaching stellar powers near Cardassian space to bolster their collective efforts and retake the initiative. Known approaches had been made to the Breen Confederacy, the Tholian Assembly, and the Tzenkethi Coalition. Mercenary cultures such as the Nausicans, the Miridorn, and others had also been contacted. Even powers as far away as the Gorn Hegemony had been been offered the galaxy.

Vorta and Jem'Hadar sent to recruit the Medusans, Melkots, and Tallosians had been driven mad and set adrift. The Excalibans had also repulsed "diplomatic" envoys. Starfleet's losses had initiated drastic responses from the entity. They'd re-activated decommissioned ships stretching back to the 2330s. But not to the turn of the 24th Century like the Blackbird- and Newton-classes. They'd also begun graduating Starfleet cadets in their second year. Civilian university graduates could become Officer Candidates through the "90 Day Wonder" training course.

Non-commissioned officers within Starfleet were also eligible for the 90 day course if their commanding officer accepted their application. Younger non-coms were generally more inclined to apply rather than career enlisted, such as Chief Miles O'Brien. As Chief of Operations aboard DS9, O'Brien saw little need to transfer to the Officer Corps. most Senior Chiefs, Master Chiefs, and Chief Warrant Officers saw things similarly. The rarified Command Master Chiefs definitely rejected the opportunity. The offer to forgo the highest enlisted ranks to become boot ensigns just didn't hold much appeal.

But Petty Officers 1st-3rd Classes were generally able to be persuaded to at least apply. Even the occasional Chief Petty Officer was convinced to apply. Meanwhile, the enlisted corps swelled with volunteers as the war progressed and dragged on. Sociologists noted that colonial settlers tended to apply to the enlisted training programs while citizens from the Member Worlds frequently demanded to only be considered as Officer Candidates regardless of educational status.

The trend not only persisted but worsened as casualty counts mounted and the threat continued to persist well into its second year. Equally surprising to the "experts" was the readiness of ex-Maquis released from penal colonies to enlist. With with Starfleet retiring the Earth Starfleet's MACO Division in lieu of the Starfleet Marines, that Corps was dismantled in the early 24th Century and integrated into Starfleet Security. The majority of the enlisted recruits were put into Security's ranks to provide foot soldiers for recapturing occupied territories or taking and holding Cardassian territories reinforced with Jem'Hadar.

Ro's crew had already surveyed the damages at Starbase 47 and were now investigating Starbase G-8. An older G-class station, Starbase G-8 had been devastated compared to its newer cousin, Starbase 47. Armed with lists of the starships attached to each starbase, the mission was to ascertain the possibility of survivors and the escape of personnel and starships that hadn't reported in yet, for whatever reasons. Starbase 47 had been a lost cause. No M-class planets existed within the system it resided in. Neither were there any K-class adaptable, P-class glaciated, L-class marginal, or H-class desert planets or moons that humanoids could survive upon.

Starbase G-8 had least been situated in a system with H-, L-, and P-class planets in the orbital track of the system primary. They were the second, third, and fourth planets consecutively. But no survivors had been detected by the Asimov's powerful sensor suite. But, unlike Starbase 47, the surrounding starship wreckage indicated that three vessels were MIA. It wouldn't be until after the war that it be discovered that the crews of the three starships had mutineed and taken their captured starships into Andergani Oligarchy space and began lives of feudal piracy. That event wouldn't occur for another three years.

"Contact!" Hendryks alerted Ro, "Vessel dropping out of warp in the outer system"

"ID?" Ro asked Daggit.

"It's the Odyssey," he reported to everyone's relief.

"Hail them," Ro instructed Hendryks.

"I have them," Hendryks happily replied, "On screen"

Macen's image appeared and he looked as haggard as Ro felt, "I see this system matches up with what we found at Starbases 211 and 310."

"Maybe not," Ro offered a slim hope, "Three Starfleet ships are unaccounted for and the body count is too low."

"There were discrepancies in the casualty counts at our locations as well. Which could indicate that the Dominion is taking some prisoners," Macen shared.

"Poor bastards are probably enduring Cardassian labor camps now," Ro shuddered.

"Sveta and Kristine are close to identifying some of the worlds POWs could be held on," Macen reminded her.

Svetlana Korepanova and Kristine Liu were both former Starfleet Lt. Commanders and ex-Maquis that ran the revived Architect Program aboard DS9. The Architect Project had been Korepanova's brainchild. A dedicated strategic planning effort by a cadre of planners gathered under a single code-name, no one person could be traced back to an operation's origins. Korepanova had begun with a half-dozen strategists and two Militia liaisons as they also did consulting work for the Bajorans. The operation had been rooted out and shut down by then-Major Kira Nerys and Chief Constable Odo aboard DS9. Much to their mutual consternation, the Militia had been a recipient oo services rendered and had revived the program under Korepanova's watch again.

Where Korepanova had been a career strategic operations officer, Liu's specialty was logistics. When Admiral (retired) Elijah Waters formed his Demilitarized Zone Cargo Commissioning and Dispatch Service, he'd recruited Liu to arrange for cargo and courier runs to legitimize a Maquis presence in targeted systems and worlds. A former Deputy Director of Analysis for Starfleet Intelligence, Waters was an unlikely choice ot be Macen's "handler" as he performed tasks on Vice-Admiral Alynna Nechayev's behalf throughout the DMZ. A fortunate side effect of Liu's efforts was paying much needed hard currency funds to the Maquis involved in the deliveries. Now Liu was united with Korepanova in the Militia's version of a dedicated strategic ops planning board specifically tasked with three sets of operatives.

Ro and Macen's crews were frequently joined by Major Anara and Neela aboard the Ark of the Prophets. The Special Forces Major and the Kai's personal troubleshooter operated off books handling foreign affairs that the Militia wanted handled quietly. That included, on occasion, working with their undercover detail in the form of Ro, Macen and their associates. The Ark was a Karemma licensed warp capable troop transport. As such it easily blended in with Dominion derived transports supplying the front lines. Cardassian Groumall-class military freighters were also absolutely necessary to the war effort as well.

Ro also was surprised by Macen's appearance. He'd been growing out a full beard and she'd noted his red hair was darkening but now it was dark as her own.

"This is my natural hair," he explained on upon asking him in private days before, "Starfleet Intelligence had me alter my hair color and trim my beard down to a mustache and goatee to confuse the Cardassian Guard and the Obsidian Order while I was on the front. It just so happened the last treatment used lasted through our time in the Maquis but it's worn off now."

"Still, it's like a new you," Ro complained.

"Just an old me," he countered. She'd find he'd adopt his former look as he re-entered Starfleet service at the war's end. To a large to degree because of T'Kir. The mad Vulcan had met him with the later hair color and she'd have difficulty reconciling him with his natural look. A decade later, after her death, he'd let it return to its natural shade again and regrow his full beard. But that would be well after the advent of the Starfleet Special Investigations Division that he would serve in following the war's conclusion. But all of that was the yet unknowable future.

"We've received recall orders from the Architect. No one addressed Korepanova and Liu by name over easily intercepted subspace comms.

"Then I guess we'd better get underway," Macen acknowledged the order. Both starships set course for Bajor and DS9.

Once aboard DS9, they learned of the closing of the Bajoran Wormhole, or as the Bajorans themselves referred to it, the Celestial Temple had been sealed. Jadzia Dax was dead but the Dax symbiot lived. Captain Benjamin Sisko was on personal leave on Earth. Major Kira Nerys had been promoted to Colonel and was in command of DS9 until, or if, Sisko returned. General Krim had brought Kira in on the secretive plan for Bajor's role in the war effort. Commander Elias Vaughn, Starfleet's supervising officer over Macen and the Angosian platoon, was back from the liberation of Betazed.

Neither Kira nor Vaughn had an inkling that after the war he'd return to DS9 on a permanent basis as Kira's XO. A very vacant role being partially filled by Worf in his capacity as Strategic Operations Officer. Jadzia's death had struck him the hardest since he'd lost a wife as well as a best friend. And Starfleet was content to have him command the USS Defiant on escort duties but not in regular combat. Which stymied his efforts win a great victory in her name and insure her place in Sto-vah-kor. So he was increasingly angry and erratic concerning his current role in the ongoing war.

Kira decided to leave Worf blind to the ongoing Militia operation because of his recent spat of behaviors. Even Kira herself had been denied any knowledge of why Korepanova and Liu's presence was tolerated by Admiral Bill Ross and Sisko. Sisko and Kira had had their run-ins with Ro and Macen's Maquis before. Kira had already known Ro was now a Militia Special Forces Lieutenant. But Major Anara and Neela's participation continued to surprise least on Neela's end.

Neela had at least made amends with Miles and Keiko O'Brien as well as reached out to her victims' families to make a heart wrenching series of apologies of how she'd betrayed the very Prophets she'd sworn she was serving. Kia Winn Adami, then Vedek Winn, never came up. Kira thought that Neela's participation in events on behalf of the Kai merely showed Winn's complicity in Neela's assassination plot and murders to try and achieve its goal of killing Vedek Bereil Antos. Who later became Kira's partner until his unfortunate and untimely death.

But he died as he'd lived: in service to the Prophets and their Bajoran people. Reunited, Anara and Neela had accomplished great things in defense of Bajor and its people. The meeting came together with Vaughn in attendance on Starfleet's behalf. Ro and Macen represented their meager crews. Daggit served as the platoon's leadership and rep. Kira stood in as the Militia's ranking officer. Anara and Neela were asked to participate as well. Finally the Architect, both Korepanova and Liu combined, conducted the briefing.

"We've managed to locate the primary POW detention facility housing Federation, Maquis, and Bajoran political prisoners," Korepanova said excitedly.

"However, Romulan and Klingon prisoners are held on different worlds," Liu advised them, "So I wouldn't quite share this news yet."

"We have former Dominion detainees that reported that Klingons are used for sport and training purposes by the Jem'Hadar," Kira reminded them, "Romulans just seem to irritate them."

"And everyone else," Vaughn chuckled. Macen appreciated the humor as much as anyone. Completely unaware that in two years he would meet a Romulan Commander whose life would frequently be intertwined with his or that in two years he would be reunited with both Lisea Danan and T'Kir. The two women he loved most. The Joined Trill being his lover before the Maquis and served as his 1st Officer aboard the Odyssey.

T'Kir was the woman his soul belonged to but she was incarcerated in a psychiatric prison on Earth. The Vulcan having endured trauma on an unprecedented scale. Macen understood after the Borg assimilated his people and the horrors of the Border Wars. He had a plan to help her when the current war ended. It didn't involve sitting in a psych ward. Under Macen's plan, T'Kir would retake control of her own mental health but be surrounded by willing help. The fact that during her last breakdown she'd nearly killed him with a stab wound would barely registered in his thinking. Such was love. But the planning was underway.

Macen introduced a new element into their planning that had surprised everyone when he acknowledged that he could add a fourth ship to the endeavor that could hold as many evacuees as the Militia troop transport, the Ark of the Prophets. Equally surprising was the fact that Macen assured everyone that the captain would have infinite knowledge of the planet they headed to as well motive to assist them. Everyone wanted to know who this mysterious person was but Macen would only confide in Kira in a quiet space separate from the briefing room.

"It could work," she admitted, "But will he help?"

"He has more motive than the rest of us combined to do so," Macen told her.

"Then go get him," Kira insisted, "The rest of us will plan accordingly."

"I know he'll want to see you again," Macen promised her, "He's spoken of it many times."

"Does he know about Odo and I?" Kira asked.

"I've told him. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to thank you personally for the advice gave him," Macen informed her.

Kira almost smirked, "And I wonder what advice that would be?"

"You'll have to ask him," Macen deflected the question.

"What's your ETA on his arrival?" Kira inquired.

"I'd already contacted him and he's en route," Macen told her, "Which means he'll need to receive an amnesty from the Bajoran government to avoid being arrested upon entering Federation space."

Kira groaned, "How long until then?"

"Four hours," Macen grinned.

"This is all a massive set up," Kira accused.

Macen shrugged, "Meh."

"Liar," Kira playfully accused, "I'll contact General Krim and First Minister Shakaar. That should accomplish the goal in time. In the meantime, brief everyone on this development while I do your evil bidding."

"You know you want to," Macen teased her.

"Everyone from Operations seems gathered today," Kira said.

"It's just no one has seen a Bonaventure-class before. The original ship, the SS Bonaventure, was lost for decades in a time warp encountered by Kirk's Enterprise," Chief O'Brien made a point of saying, "It's a piece of history."

Kira also knew O'Brien's interest was more than just professional curiosity. The Chief and Dr. Bashir had received a dressing down by Kirk himself when the Orb of Time had unexpectedly thrown them back in time of the Deep Space K-7 Tribble incident and in an extremely roundabout fashion, this was a connection to the infamous starship captain.

"Just don't burst into applause," Kira was rueful.

"The ship just dropped out of warp," Lieutenant Sam Bowers reported from the Strategic Ops station.

Worf was currently aboard the USS Enterprise engaged somewhere called the Briar Patch. Captain Jean-Luc Picard had cleared it through Kira.

"Just out of my own curiosity, how does the ship ID herself?" Kira inquired.

"The Iron Boots, Colonel," Sam Bowers replied and Kira smiled.

"Well, this is quite a gathering," Ro echoed Kira's sentiment from the Promenade's viewing area. Thool, Eckles, and Darcy echoed O'Brien's statements as well.

"Hell, I just want to see him again," Lacey confessed.

"You still avoiding him, Skipper?" Hendryks wondered.

"If it all possible," Ro actually answered the question.

"Why?" Ebert asked.

"Now that, I'm not answering," Ro replied.

Kira arrived at the airlock at Lower Pylon 1 where the Iron Boots had docked.

"They say this Bonaventure-class was the first Starfleet vessel class to exceed Warp 5," Vaughn mentioned.

"A max speed of Warp 5.3 but who's dickering?" Macen cajoled him. The inner airlock rolled away and Thomas Riker reboarded DS9 for the first time in four years.

"Kira!" he said warmly, "I can't thank you enough. Your words go me through being in that labor camp."

"I can't imagine what I said," Kira confessed.

"And you've promoted and changed your hairstyle," Riker observed.

"It's Colonel Kira now," she smiled, "And I wore my hair long far longer than I wore it cut very short."

"Well, either way looks good on you," Riker confided.

"If you could follow us, we have a mission plan to finalize," Kira urged him onward.

"Brin! You old spy! When will you ever retire?" Riker gratefully shook his hand, "And you must be Commander Vaughn. I've hear d rumors and myths about you."

"Let's keep it that way," Vaughn's eyes twinkled in delight. They entered the turbolift and Kira selected the destination level.

"How did you manage to escape?" Kira asked, "Macen said Romulans were involved somehow."

"Sela herself rescued her mentor who was being held by the Cardassians. I'd befriended him and was protecting him from the guards. So she took me along with a scheme for me to disrupt my 'twin's' life and discredit him," Riker confessed, "When I refused, she cast me adrift."

He clapped Macen on the shoulder, "Brin and the Odyssey bunch rode to my rescue. He set me up with the Iron Boots and staked me for a shuttle service out beyond Federation borders. I use the Iron Boots to convey higher rent clients and to ward of would-be pirates."

"How long ago was this?" Vaughn wondered because he'd never heard the tale.

"Give it two years ago," Riker admitted, "So I actually only spent two years in the hellhole you're aiming for."

"It'll be enough to give us an edge," Kira opined.

"I really hope so," Riker admitted, "I only regret this has hasn't happened sooner but I never knew the name or location of the planet."

"No one's blaming you, Tom," Kira promised him.

"I blame myself. I promised Sito I'd come back for her. A promise I haven't kept," Riker looked haunted, "Until now, that is."

"Sito?" Kira asked, "It sounds Bajoran."

"I think he's referring to Ensign Sito Jaxa. A Starfleet officer who assigned an infiltration mission as a Bajoran prisoner and never returned to Federation space," Vaughn informed her, "We could confirm she was still alive. Until now."

"Or she was alive as of two years ago," Riker still looked haunted, "The things they do to female prisoners is unspeakable."

"Tom?" Kira had never such rage in his voice before.

"They gang rape women every night. Different women for different nights. Some literally die from it. Sito was a survivor but she was impregnated several times and they would beat her until the fetus wasn't viable and she'd miscarry," Riker described the scenes, "She was literally helpless after these beatings and could barely manage to drag herself back to the barracks. But it would get her out of the rape rotation for a while."

"That's disgusting," Vaughn shared Riker's outrage.

"That's the merest tip of the iceberg," Macen growled. Kira had grown up in the same environment that Macen had partaken of on the front lines of the Border Wars colonies.. Cardassian atrocities were only matched by the Gorn's birthing their young inside of living humanoids.

"The men would share the rape rotation of all of the women were recuperating from beatings," Riker told them, "I was generally beaten so badly for resisting I was never taken."

"Generally," Kira caught that word.

"There were a few times," Riker's eyes blazed with fury, "Then there were the torture sessions for reason than they simply could do it. At first I was a science experiment as they tried to duplicate what happened to split Will and I. But after enough failures, they simply packed me away to a labor camp off of Cardassia Prime."

"Kodosh II," Macen told him, "That's where you were held. Or so interrogations revealed."

"It's barely Class-L. It's more reminiscent of a Class-K world like Mars before the terraforming," Riker warned them.

"The better to keep you downtrodden," Vaughn realized.

"And it has some particularly valuable ore deposits that can be mined and refined by hand," Riker further revealed.

"They maintain a minimal presence in the surrounding system. A couple of Lakat-class frigates. Some Hidalki-class fighters based off of the ground. And the regular ferry runs of military freighters dropping off supplies and prisoners and receiving those ores that slave labor yielded," Macen told him.

"But the camp itself supports over a hundred troops," Riker stated, "And there are fewer than five hundred prisoners at any given time because of the mortality rate"

"We have sixteen Angosians and myself," Vaughn boasted.

"They'll kill you before you can regroup after transport," Riker warned him.

"You obviously have no idea of what Angosian Augmented soldiers are capable of," Vaughn chuckled. Riker assumed Vaughn was out of his mind.

"The sector and this station were hardly this busy the last time I was here," Riker remarked.

"Admiral Ross is coordinating another push into Cardassian space with elements of Starfleet's 7th and 9th Fleets as well as General Martok's task force and a fleet of Warbirds using this as their rally point due to our relative proximity to Cardassia Prime," Kira explained.

"And the invasion force will make a good distraction for us," Riker realized.

"Welcome to modern Bajor," Kira invited him into the crowded briefing room.

"I just don't understand how we'll brazenly cross Cardassian space," Riker admitted towards the end of finalizing their plan incorporating him and the Iron Boots crew.

"Ro and I 'freelance' for a Vorta named Kilana," Macen explained while Ro looked embarrassed, "The Dominion considers us assets so we have free transit. Major Anara and Neela are also officially renegades as well and have a Karemma designed and licensed built troop transport. The Karemma are a Dominion subject race and their transports assist Dominion operations here in the Alpha Quadrant."

"What would be cargo containers on a typical Karemma vessel are actually modular troop barracks aboard the Ark of the Prophets," Anara explained. Riker still didn't appreciate how Neela carefully studied his every motive, word, and deed. But everyone else seemed unnerved by her as well. Except Macen and Ro.

Ro seemed unflappable concerning everything and everyone except for Riker himself. She also rebuffed every attempt he or anyone else made to ascertain why. A situation that Macen seemed to find hilarious.

The quartet of ships were met at the edge of the Kodosh system by the Lakut-class frigates. As expected, they alerted Kodosh II and the Hidelki-class fighters were deployed as well. What the frigates and fighters were unaware of was that the four allied starships had deployed around the sector and systematically destroyed the nearby subspace relays. The cries for assistance would still eventually reach the Cardassian Central Command and Dominion troops would respond. But the gamble was that the Militia force would be long gone by then.

The Odyssey and the Asimov would deal with the frigates while the Iron Boots and the Ark would contend with the six fighters until they could be relieved by the scoutship and science vessel. The manually targeted photon torpedoes crippled the frigates before they had an opportunity to raise shields. Continued phaser fire and photon impacts guaranteed that the frigates were out of commission. But four of the fighters broke off to contend with the Bajoran flagged Federation starships.

The Ark of the Prophets had been upgraded by the Bajorans to include heavy polaron phasers and a photon torpedo launcher unlike her Karemma designed forebearers. She also came equipped with military-grade shields. Unfortunately, she wasn't maneuverable at all. The Hidelki fighter flew circles around her. Neela took over CONN/OPS while Anara focused on the fighting.

"Lock phasers and torpedoes dead ahead and wait for my command," Neela suddenly burst out.

"What?" Anara was confused.

"Just do it! Quickly!" Neela demanded. Suddenly the fighter came up ahead of them to engage head on. Anara repeatedly fired before Neela had to say a word.

As the fighter nearly destroyed, Anara was still in disbelief, "The Prophets?"

"Have spoken," Neela said smugly.

"Helm, bring us about! Standby on weapons," Riker ordered, "As soon as the target presents itself, open fire with everything we have."

Polaron phasers began striking the fighter as well as two torpedoes.

"Target that explosion and fire!" Riker ordered. The fighter was adrift in space and venting atmosphere afterwards.

"The Ark is hailing," Communications informed Riker.

"On screen," Riker nodded, "Thank you, ladies."

"Prepare to pay it forward, Captain," Neela advised.

"We have one fighter attempting to withdraw," Hendryks reported to Ro, who manned CONN versus Hendryks' OPS.

"I can deal with one or the other," Daggit complained from Tactical.

"No need, the Ark is taking care of our other problem," Hendryks happily reported.

"Go to work, Daggit," Ro lined up the shots as needed afterwards.

"Scratch one fighter!" Lacey called out.

"Bringing us about," Ebert informed her.

"Watch it, Iron Boots is moving into assist," Macen advised Lacey and Ebert from OPS.

"Riker's set up a beautiful crossfire," Lacey stated as she locked phasers, "If I could have children I'd want his."

High praise indeed from the transwoman.

"He signaling," Macen informed them, "I've given him the 'all clear' so we can get on task."

"You're going down with the assault team, aren't you?" Lacey dryly asked.

"Yup. You're in command until I get back," Macen told her.

"Don't bother coming back," Lacey grinned.

Vaughn and Ro also accompanied the Angosians as did Riker. Major Anara had bitterly accepted staying behind an d manning the Ark's troop transporter room. The Angosian platoon quickly fell into old habits with Lieutenant Daggit taking point and Command Master Chief Varglas bringing up the rear. Chief Veritas and Shipman Floas rid the ridge of Cardassian sentries using their knives. Master Chief Plenum took Shipman Dawd and Shipman Recuit Pultice to secure the adjoining ridge. Master Command Chief Verglas had Shipeman Apprentices Oblek and Bowlly assist in securing the ridge beside that. Before the Cardassians on the opposite ridge could react, Petty 2nd Gommery led Shipmen Lasse, Monty, and Sardin in taking that position.

Daggit had Kullin and Jago secure the officers. Now they had isomagnetic disintegrators aimed at the camp from each compass point and they exploited them against the guards at the entry points and against the Ops centers overhead comm array as well as its faltering shield emitters. The base was constructed as the upper rings, portions, and pylons or a ground based Nor-class refinery station. For everyone other than Riker, it seemed an odd construction choice yet made a simplistic amount of sense. It also formed a perfect occupational barracks, refinery, and prisoner ghetto.

"Where are the prisoners?" Vaughn inquired.

"In that quarry just between the opposing ridges. They'll have twenty troops guarding the prisoners. Everyone else is in the three ore processors," Riker answered, "Cardassians will be securing the hatches leading into the ore refineries which also serve as a choke point to emit prisoners and lead them to to their ghetto within what would be the Promenade ring inside a space station. The troops barrack in the habitat ring and secure every ring and pylon. The Commandant rules from the Ops Center."

"And he's doing such a fabulous job of it," Ro snorted.

"We'll have to be really, really stealthy to gain access to the prison and the prisoners," Riker warned.

"Leave the prisoners at the quarry to us and let Vaughn, Macen, and Daggit secure the prison itself," Ro suggested.

Despite the Cardassians initial surprise and heavy losses, the remainder put up a stiff resistance. The Angosians entered though two hatchways hatchways making up the entries to the ore processors at the base of each pylon. Vaughn assisted Daggit's reassembled squad in the push to reroute the Cardassian defenders their way. Macen naturally worked with Verglas' squad as they affected a much more secretive access through the second refinery access.

With the Angosians reunited at differing points, Daggit took the largest assembly but divided up his most experienced noncoms with the other officers. Vaughn chose to stand beside Daggit as they made a frontal assault, inside of the facility. That left Daggit with Chief Monty as his second-in-command and the squad comprised of Shipmen Jorgan, Oblek, Lasso, Sardin, Kullin, Pultice, Jago, Bowlly, and Ladwen. All were highly experienced veterans. The mere fact they forstalled receiving their corrective treatments for their physical and behavioral modifications back on Angosia to fight a foreign and enable Angosia IV to join the Federation bespoke much of them.

So Daggit had no fears that they wouldn't put forth their ultimate efforts and the battle was quickly enjoined as they were pushed back from the ore processor they'd attempted to breach and ended up in the analogue of a Nor-class station's docking ring. Here it served as storage for the processed ingots. The cargo containers serving as barricades against a Cardassian onslaught from fore and aft.

Vaughn took Jorgan and went inside the maintenance tubes to secure them from a possible breach. Monty had Oblek, Lasso, Sardin, and Kullin at his side. Meanwhile Pultice, Jago, Bowlly, and Ladwen fought by Daggit's. Explosions registered in the tubes. Both Vaughn and Jorgan carried three weapons. A Type III pulse rifle, a Type II hand phaser, and a double barrel photon grenade launching pistol. Evidently both men had come under fire and immediately repulsed the incursion.

The Starfleet officers dropped out of the tubes after rupturing them within the confines of the storage center they currently occupied. The Cardassians would have to retake the cargo section to attempt to flank the Starfleet position making it a moot point.

"I hope this distraction serves its purpose," Daggit admitted.

But from within the refinery, the discontented roaring voices of POWs and political prisoners could be heard surging like waves.

"I think the Cardassians are about to regret holding so many prisoners together at once," Vaughn estimated.

"We'll give them their opening," Daggit vowed.

Macen led Verglas and Verity quietly through another processing access point as Verglas and Veritas silently eradicated the guards that arrived to reinforce those already lost to the portable artillery weapons earlier. But Daggit and Vaughn's action and stripped the detail down to a four man squad. Macen didn't have to fire a single shot as the Angosians used knives to dispatch their foes. They stormed the processor and took out the five man detail within. Thus, the workers inside were freed and armed themselves. Additionally they collected arms from the fallen outside. Rather than push inward with Macen's team, they followed their oppressors in an effort to relieve the Starfleet team under fire.

Ro and Riker fought beside Master Chief Plenum's squad as they attempted to liberate the quarry crews. Riker had no issues with this being a Bajoran operation and therefore lethal force was invariably employed. Ro, Macen, Anara, and Neela couldn't afford to blow their covers by leaving witnesses and the four starships barely had enough room for the prisoners. Plenum and Gommety set up a crossfire using their Type III pulse rifles from the ridges over the quarry. While the Cardassians fought back, Ro and Riker infiltrated the quarry from its well trodden entry point. To the Cardassians' dismay, the prisoners decided to assist however they could at whatever cost to their own lives.

Daggit's team was startled to find POWs and Bajoran prisoners entering their cargo section after eliminating the reinforcements attacking Monty's position. Continuing to collect weapons their arrival aided Daggit's counterattack. The workers behind the Cardassians also revolted. With desperation tinging every move, the Cardassians at the third ore processor abandoned their posts and sought refuge deeper into the facility. At the central core, they encountered Macen, Varglas, and Veritas. The trio then arrived at station ops to quickly and decidedly deal with the personnel on duty. The Commandant took his own life rather than face execution.

Ro and Riker led a victorious procession back to the facility and found a warm welcome awaiting them inside. They quickly discovered, as Macen pilfered the Cardassians' database, an accurate head count.

"Fates, there's nearly twelve hundred prisoners," Macen informed Ro. Riker oversaw the removal of the shock collars that kept the prisoner s in line but the Cardassians could only individually activate one collar at a time. Starfleet POWs quickly took over the chore while Daggit's team went back to staging the scene to appear as though external forces other than the Federation and the Bajorans were involved. As the POWs unlatched each other's collars, Riker then switched his attention to locating Sito. Which mercifully, the unusually tall human found the unusually small Bajoran and crushed her in a bear hug.

"I'm so sorry it took so long, Jaxa," he apologized over and over again.

"At least you arrived," she was crying now, "At least you arrived. And you brought friends."

"I brought you a way home," Riker promised.

"To be honest I don't return to either Valo III or the Federation," Sito confessed.

"Well, I have my own company now. You could work for me," Riker offered.

"Let me think about it," Sito was indecisive in the emotional upswell.

"Let me introduce you to Ro Laren," Riker offered instead.

"The Ro Laren?" Sito gasped.

"She's the Mission Commander. This is a Bajoran Militia op," Riker explained.

"Wait!" Sito held up a hand and stopped abruptly, "Ro Laren is a member of the Militia? How did she survive the Jem'Hadar? We were told by the Cardassians that all the Maquis died."

"And you believed them?" Riker almost laughed.

"The new POWs didn't have much else to say about it," Sito told him.

"There weren't many survivors but Ro and Macen's crews are ex-Maquis," Riker dropped the other bombshell, "I even have a few in my crew."

"Your crew?" Sito wouldn't budge just yet, "You have been busy"

"I own my shuttle and courier service now," Riker explained, "Brin Macen staked me. And we mainly operate in neutral space."

"Your offer is getting better by the second," Sito admitted. They arrived at the Commandant's office to find Ro and Macen conferring with Anara.

"How many can you actually take? Not the rated version?" Ro inquired.

"We have a maximum evacuation limit of maybe seven hundred," Anara replied.

"I can take fifty," Macen estimated.

"Same here," Ro shrugged, "But that still leaves nearly four hundred for the Iron Boots. Think she can handle it?"

"I can probably squeeze them in," Riker report as he and Sito arrived.

"This must be Sito Jaxa," Ro smirked.

"Thank you for this, Captain," Sito said earnestly.

"Whoa! I'm just a lieutenant. Macen's a commander in Starfleet Intelligence. Captain Riker here is the only real starship captain. The rest of us just fake it," Ro told her, "Daggit is the only Angosian officer present. Even Commander Vaughn hardly rates as a 'captain'."

"Ahem," the voice over the transmitter cleared its throat.

"And then there's Major Anara and Neela," Ro waved at the device.

"You outrank a major?" Sito was bewildered.

"It's complicated," Ro shrugged.

"I guess so," Sito sighed. Macen had deactivated the collars that the various POWs were manually unlocking, now he had the Angosians separate the enlisted and noncoms from the group.

According to the official records there were just few more than 700 prisoners that qualified, "Anara, begin transporting up the detached group"

"I get it," Ro said as she signaled Daggit, "Lieutenant, seperate junior officers and Bajoran nationals into a detached group."

Turning Riker, she told him, "This will be yours."

"Riker to Iron Boots, prepare to transport," Riker turned to Sito, "Coming with?"

"I guess I qualify," Sito wore a wan smile.

"You'll be the guest of honor," Riker promised her, "Iron Boots, two to transport"

They dematerialized and Ro arched an eyebrow at Macen.

"Purely platonic," he promised her.

The Ark of the Prophets could beam up fifty people at a time while the Iron Boots managed six. Seeing as how they were handling the bulk of the load, it still take them quite a deal of time.

"Ro to Thool," Ro reactivated her comm badge, "Prepare to initiate transports."

" in plural?" Thool yelped.

"Approximately fifty Starfleet senior officers," she could imagine the Bolian squirming now. Macen had made similar arrangements with Darcy aboard the Odyssey. It took several hours but every former prisoner was now aboard either the Asimov, the Odyssey, the Ark, or the Boots.

Ro opened a channel between all the ships, "With luck, the fleet action will still disrupting the lines so we can get through back to Deep Space 9 undetected."

"We never get that lucky," Anara said snidely.

"Actually, a Cardassian patrol is entering the system," Neela warned everyone.

The four ships broke orbit.

"Verdammt noch mal! Why is she always right?" Hendryks snarled as she viewed the sensor readings.

"What are we dealing with?" Ro asked.

"I make two Lakut-class frigates and a military freighter," Daggit reported.

"Does the freighter have prisoners aboard?" Ro grew concerned.

"No non-Cardassian life signs," Daggit assured her, "But there are a lot of them."

"Troop transfers," Hendryks theorized, "That's why you caught them so easily. They all had short-timer's syndrome."

Many Maquis who'd decided to "leave the life" had gotten sloppy as their exit loomed.

"We can't afford witnesses," Ro belatedly realized.

"Riker might balk at firing on crippled ships," Hendryks warned.

"First we have to destroy the newcomers before we lash out at the ones we already fought," Ro told her.

"They're running with shields up," Daggit advised Ro.

"Inform the others to push out of orbit and circle the planet," Ro ordered, "We'll come on them while they make orbit and the frigates take on survivors. Their shields will be down for the transfers."

"They all acknowledge," Hendryks informed her. The quartet of starships pushed to the opposite side of the planet while the Cardassians cautiously entered the system. The Militia ambush was set when the freighter entered orbit over the prison and began beaming down the new transfers.

As per Ro's orders, the Ark and the Iron Boots dealt with the military freighter and then would bombard the prison from orbit. all Starfleet personnel were banned from the bridges as this went underway despite Ro's hunch many of them would be sympathetic to the cause. The Asimov and the Odyssey quickly moved on the two frigates with torpedoes launching. The Cardassians, still taken unawares, offered token resistance. The Militia targets included the previously vanquished enemy vessels. When they'd finished, their were no Cardassian survivors in the system and the Odyssey and Asimov's complicity was hidden.

"Riker is signaling," Hendryks informed her captain.

"On screen," Ro told her.

"Captain, we need to depart before anyone shows up and that fleet action has patrols scrambling to investigate outlier systems," Riker advise d her.

"We break for Prophet's Landing now," Ro promised him.

"Why there?" Riker asked.

"It's the closest Bajoran colony to Cardassian space and Starfleet heavily patrols it," Ro explained, "And the station is going to be occupied with tending to the wounded and the damages caused by the incursion"

"And the Militia can spin any story it wants about how the prisoners were recovered," Riker instantly understood the underlying reason.

"You got it," Ro mentally applauded him. He was dangerously too much like Will for her comfort.

The return to the Bajor Sector was uneventful even cruising at Warp 5. Which strained both the Ark and the Iron Boots' engines. Starfleet recognized their ID transponder codes and allowed them access to the sector. Vaughn got off with the returning POWs and political prisoners.

"I wish I could say it's been fun," he jested with Ro as he was the last to depart.

"It's been...interesting meeting you, Commander. You live up to what I thought were Macen's tall tales," Ro confessed.

"So do you, Lieutenant," Vaughn confided before Thool beamed him down the Prophet's Landing's surface.

"So that's a living legend," Ro murmured to herself as she she headed back towards the bridge. She was about to order they break off when Riker and Macen contacted her separately but at the same time with similar concerns. She had them come aboard.

"I have witnesses that were aboard my ship," Riker complained, "We don't have many viewing ports aboard the Iron Boots but there was a crowd gathered when we fired on the freighter and the surface."

"I have an identical problem. Only mine consists of a Starfleet Captain and several Command level officers," Macen informed Ro, "They exited the Odyssey at phaser point."

"Oh, hell," Ro muttered darkly, "Did they realize you and the Angosians are considered Starfleet officers?"

"No," Macen assured her, "They believe we're independent contractors employed as freelancers by the Militia. We just got 'out of hand' when dealing with the Cardassians. They swore they'd level charges."

"Same with some of the junior officers aboard my ship but most enjoyed seeing some payback," Riker added.

"If they make too many waves it'll get back to Kilana and threaten our position with the Dominion," Ro said angrily.

"The Militia could always initiate a lock down," Riker suggested, "For 'medical' reasons until the Militia Joint Chiefs can straighten out the 'official' story."

"Admiral Ross is aware of our operation. He can be swayed to support whatever statements the Joint Chiefs make," Macen included into the damage control discussion.

"Skipper, Anara and Neela are headed off to another assignment," Hendryks advised Ro via her comm badge.

"Got it," Ro acknowledged.

"We need to resupply and reload our torpedo magazines," Macen counseled Ro.

She groaned, "Not the Iotians. Again."

"The Militia is their best customer," Macen reminded her.

"Tom, we're resupplying you as well," Ro promised.

"I'm grateful," he said with that trademark charming smile that made Ro twitterpated. She shook it off. Riker didn't share her memories of her evenings with his twin. During, and a few chance encounters after, their shared memory loss before she was accepted into Advanced Tactical Training and left the Enterprise. Which made her pointing a phaser at Will so difficult besides her betraying Picard's trust. That was the reason she'd avoided ever meeting Tom until now.

"So are we," Macen broke the silence before Ro offered to sleep with Riker. As an El-Aurian Listener and a career intelligence officer he knew the signs well. He handed Riker a padd, "I've set you up a voucher for as much ordnance as you need. We should probably visit the Iotians separately."

"Understood," Riker nodded, "I'll see myself out."

"I'll have Thool standing by," Ro promised.

"What the hell was that?" Ro demanded of Macen as the Briefing Room/Office door closed.

"Now is not the time to get weak in the knees over Tom Riker," Macen warned her.

"I was not...!" Ro began to exclaim before she pinched the ridged bridge of her nose and visibly calmed herself, "All right. Maybe I was."

"Some recreational sex would be good for your soul but you look ready to plunge into something deep with a man you don't even know," Macen advised her, "You can't afford that distraction. And he doesn't know you at all."

"You're right," Ro looked exasperated, "You're right. Okay?"

"Now Kira, she could have him with the slightest word," Macen told her.

"Damn her anyway," Ro muttered, "She gets everything that was supposed to be mine."

"That may be truer than you realize," Macen conceded, "But you'll never know so don't torture yourself."

"Sadly, again, you're right," Ro sighed, "So what now?"

"Now, we rearm and get back into the fight," Macen encouraged her, "Just like every other day."


Last modified: 09 Dec 2023