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Pirates for a Day or Two by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

"Torres, how is the warp core managing?" Chakotay commed down to the Val Jean's engine compartment.

"The static discharges have nearly caused three warp core breaches already,"B'Elanna Torres, his half-human, half-Klingon engineering genius and Starfleet Academy dropout irritably replied.

Chakotay couldn't quite suppress the smile that accompanied his successfully suppressed chuckle, "That's why I keep you on payroll."

He cut her off before she uttered her profanity laced reply. The Ju'day-class raider's seventy year-old warp core and engines were hardly suited to the rigors of being within the rim of the Rolor Nebula. But he had faith in the scout-modified-into-raider. The former Starfleet Lt. Commander had been an instructor had Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training program. He'd left when the Cardassians took over his home planet of Dorvan V and indiscriminately began slaughtering his fellow colonists and relatives. The Federation had ceded the planet to the Cardassian Union has part of the "peace deal" that also created the much hated Demilitarized Zone.

Commander Calvin Hudson had been assigned to the DMZ as Starfleet's liaison with the colonists and settlers now residing within its borders. The Cardassians immediately began arming their settlers that resided within the DMZ and were granted extraordinary administrative controls over most of the former Federation worlds. The Cardassians and the Federation had veto power over the planetary elections and appointments of colonial governors. So in most cases, the Cardassian Guard, through the despised Gul Evek, made certain Cardassian puppets and sympathizers were made government officials. But the Cardassians had no elective authority over the Colonial Council that met to address grievances between DMZ worlds with Starfleet and the Cardassian Guard.

Evek armed paramilitaries on the Cardassian worlds and Cardassian "immigrants" to the former Federation colonies. Most of whom were active reserve soldiers. Hudson responded by creating the Maquis. Armed resistance to Cardassian controls over their colonies and those formally ceded to the Cardassian government in territorial grants. Starfleet couldn't deploy starships or meaningful Security forces within the DMZ but the Maquis could move freely and strike any target.

Arming civilian craft they purchased or "acquired" through "extra legal" means, the Maquis built up a small squadron of raiders distributed throughout the various cells on colonial worlds. Former Bajoran Resistance fighters and ex-Starfleet officers and enlisted trained the various cell members in basic tactics and how to use weapons as well as fly ships and fight with them. The Maquis were instantly and universally branded "terrorists" The Cardassian paramilitants were labeled "independent extremists" that Cardassia officially ignored and covertly armed.

Starfleet, kneecapped by the Federation Council's official stances, hunted the Maquis and likewise ignored the Cardassian terrorists and their expansionist goals of killing or driving out Federation settlers. Unfortunately for Starfleet, after the twenty year border conflict with Cardassia, many officers and enlisted felt sympathetic to the colonists and especially to the Maquis' struggle. Soon, even expressing such views became a disciplinary offense. After Starfleet's botched infiltration effort failed and their trap within the Rolor Nebula revealed, the Maquis rarely operated together and never committed all of their star craft into a single offensive.

Today was a rare of cooperation. Chakotay's ex-student and Advanced Tactical Training graduate, who'd been the infiltrator that set and revealed the Starfleet trap laid out for the Maquis, had become the leader of the Maquis cell on Ronara Prime after Macius and Santos' deaths. The surviving veteran cell founder, Kalita, had rabidly endorsed Ro Laren's ascension to command. Ro, on the other hand, was discomfited by the burden of command and the dread of failing her people was counterbalanced by her resolve to do right by them. Chakotay operated a single command within his ship's interior. Ro had a planetary cell with over a dozen members and three raiders. One Ju'day-class like his own and a Ma'jel-class courier/scout along with an armed Peregrine-class courier. Individually, the Val Jean and her cousin, the Indomitable were among the most formidable Maquis vessels. But the two couriers were more maneuverable and faster.

"You sure about these newbies?" Ayala, Chakotay's second-in-command asked from outside the bridge module.

"Reasonably," Chakotay said of his newest recruits. The pilot, Tom Paris, was the wildest variable. But Sakonna proved that Vulcans like Tuvok made the staunchest and most loyal of Maquis.

"Besides, Seska will kill either or both of them if they step out of line," Chakotay chuckled. Seska, the "Bajoran" intelligence chief for the crew was hyper-vigilant regarding newcomers. She'd taken an extra cautious approach to the two men. Paris was a former Starfleet lieutenant drummed out of the service for falsifying official accident reports. Tuvok had resigned from Starfleet back in 2293 following his tenure aboard the original USS Excelsior under Captain Hikaru Sulu's command. But both former officers were gifted.

Paris was perhaps the best natural pilot Chakotay had ever encountered and Tuvok was a master at the weapons console. The military grade weapons and shields adapted to the raider required required finesse since its power systems weren't designed to accommodate the load. no matter how creatively Torres rebuilt the warp core and drive. Neither the Ju'day- nor Ma'jel-class scouts had ever been intended to be gunships. But the Peregrine-class couriers were the exact same build as the Starfleet Attack Fighters. But the civilian adaptations had merely lacked the weaponry the Maquis had restored to the design platform.

Tuvok was as taciturn as any Vulcan Chakotay had ever met. To the point that he brooded. Meanwhile Paris seemed as callow as any wayward wastrel Chakotay had encountered amongst the criminals and hustlers the Maquis frequently dealt with. Yet, something about Paris struck Chakotay as distinctly honorable. But time would ultimately tell and Seska would brook no betrayals.

The ship shook as another static discharge waved over her. Inside the nebula, sensors were clouded and the static based force field shields were inoperative. But the ships lingered at the nebula's edges giving them a higher resolution view out into the space beyond. The Yridian convoy they were targeting was being escorted by three Cardassian military freighters. The idea was that the Peregrine- and Ma'jel-class raiders would engage, and overcome, the Yridians while the larger Ju'day-class raiders dealt with the armed Cardassian freighters.

"So how do we know this convoy is coming through to Dreon VII?" Paris asked...again.

"It is logical to suppose that our information comes from within the Demilitarized Zone Cargo Consignment and Delivery Agency that hired us to drop supplies and other materials to the colony on Dreon VII," Tuvok answered.

Chakotay did know in fact that Kristiana Liu, another former Starfleet lt. commander from Logistics, had indeed supplied them with the data. Elijah Waters, a retired Starfleet admiral and Deputy Director of Starfleet Intelligence, had created the agency and brought aboard Liu and former Bajoran Resistance fighter to covertly aid the Maquis.

Tuvok continued his supposition, "Indeed, it is also logical to assume that the agency overtly assists the Maquis cause by arranging for cargo transfers and courier runs to supply the cause and individual cells with much needed hard currency."

"Be careful with your suppositions, Tuvok," Chakotay advised him, "They can be harmful to your health. And Paris, stick with piloting."

"Aye, aye, Captain," Paris said glibly.

"Chakotay, Seska's probe is signaling," Ayala reported from Communications.

"Bridge to Torres, prep the impulse engines. We'll be going in hot," Chakotay warned.

"Sure," Torres snorted over the comms.

Seska appeared on the bridge, arriving from Engineering to take up Torres' usual place at the Engineering console, "Readings are consistent with what we're expecting. Patching sensor data to every console."

Chakotay's seat had a side bar reader where he could duplicate any console, "I see them. The freighters are definitely moving off from the colony's solar system to skirt the nebula rather than the Badlands."

The Maquis had heavily infested the plasma storms that made up the Badlands.

"On my command, send the subspace pulse that will alert Ro's cell to act," Chakotay ordered Ayala.

"Will do," the second replied.

"Chakotay, they're in range," Seska was impatient.

"Not yet," Chakotay countered, "One of them could still jump to warp and escape the trap."

That answered barely mollified Seska.

"Now! Send the pulse and maximum impulse. Shields up and weapons hot. Prep for strikes against the weapons arrays and propulsion systems. We need the cargo holds intact," Chakotay ordered all at once.

"Ro has sent the confirmation ping," Ayala reported.

"The Indomitable and her escorts are moving with us," Tuvok elaborated, "Targeting Cardassian ships now."

The Indomitable was Ro's Ju'day-class command. Each major raider had a very finite supply of photon torpedoes so they were being employed as the first strike weapon to severely damage the unsuspecting freighters with phaser barrages to follow to finish crippling the three targets. the Ma'jel- and Peregrine-class couriers were accelerating towards Dreon's solar system to engage the slowing and unarmed Yridians.

"Jam their comms," Chakotay ordered.

"Got it," Ayala confirmed, "The Indie is as well"

The opening salvo was devastating to the unprepared ships. The three military freighters barely had an opportunity to respond before they were crippled.

"All three vessels are dead in space. Their shields are down and life support is failing," Tuvok reported.

"Chell, begin transporting their cargo," Chakotay alerted the Bolian cargo bay transporter operator, "Concentrate on weapons and torpedoes."

"On it," Chell confirmed.

"Signal Ro," Chakotay requested next, "Have her people divert the Yridians to Ronara Prime where her cell can begin offloading their cargo."

"You're not just going to leave them die, are you?" Paris seemed uncomfortable with that idea.

"They'd do it to us," Seska argued.

"This isn't Starfleet. And we don't have the ordnance to spare to destroy the ships outright. They can transmit a distress call to Dreon VII when we depart. We'll leave it up to the Bajorans to respond or not," Chakotay ended the protests, "You're here to pilot the ship, not play our conscience over how we prosecute our war."

"Aye, aye," Paris sniped. Truth be told, Chakotay actually wished for the Bajorans to mount a rescue. But if they didn't, that was on them. Their own animosity and rancor towards the Cardassians was as great as any Maquis colonist's. Entering the DMZ through the Valo system went without incident. Starfleet's border patrol didn't question traffic entering the Demilitarized Zone. Especially since they had limited jurisdiction in the Bajor Sector.

The sensor grid along the Federation border detected every ship attempting to cross the imaginary line. But the Bajoran border was porous and the Maquis generally circumvented Starfleet's patrols by skirting the border in nearly neutral space. The Yridians knew the cost of trying to alert any nearby Starfleet vessels was the absolute destruction of their vessels. Even Ro would follow through with that implicit threat.

Their arrival at Ronara Prime had them greeted by local traffic control. Most of whom were friendly towards the Maquis' cause despite their puppet governor being appointed by Cardassian overseers and Starfleet's overt control of the planetary security forces. the controllers deleted the records and sensor logs of the Maquis' arrivals and departures as well as their hidden destination. Ro's cell had migrated to a discreetly "hidden" militia base carved into a natural cave system in a major mountain range within easy commute to Ronara Prime's principle settlement.

Ronara Prime had been one of three colonies with defensive base to coordinate colonial resistance to Cardassian attacks during the Border Wars as well as serve as early warning systems tied into local traffic buoys throughout the Dorvan Sector. The dedicated officer and enlisted corps had been scattered across Maquis colonies to assist and train various cells. Ro had inherited the base after Macius and Santos' deaths and the former militia still on the planet approached her with the long guarded secret location of the would-be fortress.

The planetary lt. governor, Stephanie Gerin was a sympathizer and had the records regarding the base destroyed. Governor White had never known about it. He was from Setlik III and had believed they had the only base of its kind. White was a collaborator of the first-scale. He truly believed Gul Evek's false promises of peace and equity throughout the colony even while Evek armed transplanted Cardassian soldiers posing as civilian settlers. Their sole goal was to kill or drive off the Federation colonists and formally plant the Cardassian Union's flag squarely on the colony.

Such paramilitary efforts were underway on every Federation colony. The Maquis and Cardassians waged vicious guerrilla warfare against one another in the streets of every former Federation colony. Even while the Cardassian colonies within the DMZ only faced the occasional disruption from the Maquis. The Yridians did as they were instructed and emptied their cargo bays onto the shuttle port's awaiting landing pads. afterwards, the freighters were free to depart.

The Val Jean joined the Indomitable and the smaller craft in the vast hangar complex Ro's cell had appropriated for themselves. Afterwards the entire cell joined those within the city's limits guarding the offloaded cargo. After inventorying it, Ro called in local interests and distributed any non-military items: foodstuffs or medical equipment. They had a base but they still suffered from a broken logistical support system now that Starfleet was against them rather than actively supporting them.

The bulk of the cargo went to the locals who would distribute and sell it off to off world interests to earn much needed Bajoran and Cardassian leks to spend with foreign traders. This in turn only reinforced the colonists' goodwill towards the Maquis. Goodwill that translated into loyalty when Cardassian and Starfleet interests came looking for them. Silence like that couldn't be purchased...merely earned.

With most of the cell back at base and securing and stowing their purloined items from this haul and their own ships' cargo bays, Ro asked Chakotay if he'd stick around and rotate his crew through a much needed liberty. The watering hole of choice was, of course, the Old Biddy. The bartenders, Annabeth Frinks and Gloria Leakes, were die hard supporters. Frinks had it bad for Ro's lieutenant and chief of security, Aric Tulley. He hadn't seemed to notice the obvious yet since he still wouldn't move on from grieving over his murdered wife and children. Killed on a sister colony in the Cardassian side of the border after the treaty's dust settled. But Frinks was patient and willing to help Tulley move on and offer an alternative after he did. So she had a vested interest in keeping Ro and her cellmates alive.

Chakotay brought Torres, Tuvok, and Paris along with him at Ro's invitation. He honestly enjoyed B'Elanna's company. He wanted to study and learn more about Tuvok. Mainly he kept Paris close to keep an eye on the young man. Paris was delighted to discover the Old Biddy had several billiards tables with players actively engaging in wagering over outcomes. So he threw his hand in. Tuvok also seemed intent on monitoring Paris. Torres still didn't trust either of them so she never let her guard down.

Ro had brought along Tulley and two intense looking women named Kalita and the other Vera Dragonuv. She'd left the cell under Christina Noble's watchful eye. Chakotay wondered if Ro naturally favored women in authority or it was mere chance that most of her executive squad leaders were women. Dragonuv, Kalita, and Torres sat together and chipped away at each others' armor. Ro and Chakotay shared a quiet conference while Frinks kept Tulley busy.

"You seem to have good people," Chakotay had observed the cell's smooth functionality.

"You have loud ones," Ro watched Paris' enthusiastic trouncing of his first opponent.

"He's hired on," Chakotay admitted, "But he may be the most gifted pilot I've ever met."

"That says a lot coming from you," Ro realized.

"He's just...irresponsible," Chakotay grumbled, "But, you didn't ask me here to socialize. You're hardly one for casual drinks."

"My reputation precedes me," Ro smirked.

"It has indeed," Chakotay saluted her with his drink. She echoed the gesture and they each downed their shot. It was real liquor. Synthahol was a rarity within the DMZ and the former border colonies.

"Have you ever wondered what brought Elijah Waters out of retirement?" Ro changed subjects.

"Idly. To be honest I'm just grateful for his support. And Kristine Liu's," Chakotay confessed.

"What do you know about Admiral Alynna Nechayev?" Ro inquired.

"The veritable 'Ice Queen' of Starfleet?" Chakotay chuckled, "I've never met her but a lot of people have stories from doing so. I understand she was a lieutenant scouting Bajor undercover when the invasion happened. She managed to get a seat on a transport headed to the Valo system where she arranged a Starfleet extraction. She stayed busy with other operations of the same sort as she ranked up and just recently became the Director of Starfleet Intelligence"

"She's also the one that ordered me sent into the DMZ to infiltrate and betray the Maquis," Ro told him.

"She would see us as a threat," Chakotay snorted.

"Not anymore. At least not privately," Ro told him.

"You care to share the origin of that wishful assessment?" Chakotay wondered.

"She could care less about our cause or our losses," Ro advised him, "But she sees as a viable asset to destabilize the Cardassian Guard."

"That's the Nechayev I've been warned about," Chakotay lamented.

"But she's also provided her own assets to help us," Ro explained a little further.

"Waters and Liu?" Chakotay was astonished, "But Waters is a former admiral. He was the Deputy Director of Starfleet Intelligence's Analysis section."

"And he's a volunteer. So is Liu," Ro revealed, "So are Brin Macen and Lisea Danan."

"I've heard of Macen's outfit. They're supposedly 'information brokers' that sell to any side," Chakotay said contemptuously.

"Macen, Danan, and the entire Odyssey crew are diehard Maquis supporters. Nechayev arranged their cover and feeds Starfleet intelligence reports to me through them as her backdoor channel as well as intel that Macen digs up on his travels," Ro also revealed.

"I know Macen was a Starfleet Intelligence analyst stationed on the border throughout the war," Chakotay admitted, "That's why I was surprised he'd be working with the Cardassians now."

"Macen is hardly a collaborator or a common analyst. He was the expert on Cardassia at the war's outbreak and he served on the front lines as both an analyst and a field agent for Starfleet intelligence. Add to that he was captured by the spooneheads not once, but twice, and thoroughly enjoyed their welcoming hospitality on both occasions," Ro outlined, "He has as much reason to hate the Cardies as anyone. But he's smart. And so are his crew. They play their part and the Cardassians get boastful and let all sorts of information fly."

"That covers Macen. Who is this Danan?" Chakotay inquired.

"Lt. Commander Lisea Danan is a stellar cartographer. But she's also a Joined Trill and one of the previous Danan hosts was a Starfleet Intelligence operative. So she's qualified as an agent among other things. Commander Macen and Lt. Commander Danan are also an item. So when he volunteered for undercover duty...." Ro left it to his imagination.

Which the thought took seed, "She came with."

"Macen and Danan are due to meet me here tonight to deliver their findings on their latest run into Cardassian space on an errand for Gul Evek. They're spoon feeding him disinformation directly from Nechayev's offices," Ro gloated, "The kind that gets Cardassians killed."

"I can appreciate the irony," Chakotay chuckled.

"But that provides us the opportunity to be the killers," Ro explained fully at long last.

"I think I want to meet this Macen and Danan," Chakotay finally relented.

"Added to the mix is the fact Macen commands the only decommissioned Starfleet starship in Maquis service. The Odyssey is a Blackbird-class scout," Ro relished that thought, "And she's fully armed and equipped by Starfleet replenishment depots. Hidden forward depots Macen has been recently authorized to give us one-time access to."

"This round is on me," Chakotay grinned like a mischievous schoolboy as he went to the bar to order up from Frinks and brought back a bottle along with two additional shot glasses."

"I should've warned you, Macen doesn't drink. Which is weird because he's El-Aurian, with all of that cultural baggage surrounding food and drink. But he won't touch a drop of alcohol despite that. Danan is dependent on the news and how many hours off she has before sailing back out into it," Ro said wryly.

"You seem to know them rather well," Chakotay observed as he poured.

"They're both friends. But Macen more so. I met him while I served aboard the Enterprise. He made the note that got Captain Picard to recommend me for Advanced tactical Training," Ro divulged further.

"Where we met," Chakotay recalled, "No one ever earned smirking at me when I was giving them my 'you should be terrified' speech before."

"It was a good speech. It made a few boot ensigns piss themselves," Ro recalled fondly.

"It didn't faze you," Chakotay said glumly.

"None of them had been part of the Bajoran Resistance as a child," Ro downed her shot.

"Those days give you an insight in how to conduct guerrilla warfare," Chakotay admitted, "Superior insight even to my years of Starfleet experience."

"Puh-leeze," Ro snorted, "Now to totally change the subject until Macen and Danan arrive, What is it between you and Seska?"

"We...muddied the waters for a while. But I pulled back because I needed to see the big picture for all my crew rather than have outsized concern wrapped around her," Chakotay revealed.

"I understand that. But still, why?" Ro pressed further.

" feels like Seska is pushing her own agenda over the good of the group. I can't explain it further. It's just an instinctual hunch I get every so often," Chakotay elaborated. A rare confession from his normal silences.

"She's Bajoran. We all have revenge fantasies surrounding the Cardassians. It's cultural baggage," Ro shrugged.

"Sometimes it just feels like there's more to it," Chakotay let it go so Ro relented.

"There's always more to it," Ro grunted and poured a double.

"T'Kir is in the house!" an effusive Vulcan declared before manically ordering drinks for two women that entered the Old Biddy with her.

"Is that a...Vulcan?" Chakotay couldn't believe what he was plainly witnessing and neither could Tuvok it seemed. Especially as she honed in on Tom Paris. Ro face palmed.

"You know her?" Chakotay began to strongly suspect.

"All too well," Ro grumbled, "She's an OPS specialist and a hacker beyond compare. She's also Macen's problem."

"I take it she was yours before that," Chakotay grinned.

"For less than a week, trust me," Ro said quickly.

"Well, hellooo nurse!" T'Kir finger hooked Paris' jacket and began leading him away out of the tavern.

"Keep the money," Paris gleefully called to his seething billiards opponent. T'Kir nearly marched over Macen and Danan.

Who she greeted by sticking out her tongue, "This coulda been you, but nooo,"

She'd scolded Macen as she and Paris made their way down the street.

"That was fast even by her standards," Danan piously observed.

"Isn't it though," Macen mused. T'Kir never ceased to amaze and chagrin her commander and object of unrequited lusts.

"I see Ro," Danan let Macen order for them.

"Captain, if I may be excused," Tuvok meant to follow Paris.

"It's still supposedly a free planet, Mr. Tuvok," Chakotay shrugged, "Do what you will."

"They'll already be in orbit, literally and figuratively," Ro complained. Chakotay gave her a quizzical glance as Danan approached so Ro elaborated, "Blackbird-class starships can't operate or manage terrestrial landings."

"Inconvenient in a scout," Chakotay frowned, "Even that new Nova-class surveyor Starfleet just put into operation can make a planet fall."

Danan settled in beside Chakotay, "And who's our new friend?"

"Chakotay, meet Lisea Danan," Ro offered, "Over there is Macen himself."

"At least I rated two names," Danan teased.

"You are a Joined Trill," Chakotay smiled.

"I see someone has been telling stories out of school," Danan replied, eyeballing Ro.

"Commander Chakotay, I presume. Laren said she would be bringing you in on this," Macen offered as she handed Danan her preferred drink and he sat a steaming mug of coffee before himself.

"Wait a minute, Laren?" Chakotay was stunned, "You told him your given name and I had to review your personnel jacket to learn it?"

"Her Starfleet jacket?" Danan was impressed.

"Chakotay was my instructor who left Advanced Tactical Training to join the Maquis after the Dorvan V massacre," Ro explained.

"That Chakotay," Danan mused.

"Is there another I should be aware of?" he asked.

"That depends on how fanciful Ro has been while spreading your legend," Danan remarked.

"It's all lies, I assure you," Chakotay promised.

"I rather doubt that," Danan had already decided she liked him.

"They serve espresso here as well?" Chakotay asked.

"Annabeth is the best barista on the planet," Macen confided, "But the secret is that coffee is one of Ronara Prime's principle cash crops. So she gets first crack at the harvests after they've been roasted."

"I'll have to visit more often," Chakotay decided. The colonists on Dorvan V had also cultivated coffee crops. He'd missed those after he'd left and there was no going back now that the planet was Cardassian hands and the colonists were almost universally murdered. Only a few off world survivors remained. Most had become Maquis. As had Chakotay had returned to the area to do after his fateful meeting with Svetlana Korepanova.

Korepanova was another Border colonist that had made a career in Starfleet, specifically Starfleet Operations. She'd also left the service as a Lt. Commander. She and Chakotay had bonded in Starfleet Academy and remained lifelong friends. Now she ran the Architect Strategic Program for the Maquis from undisclosed locations. Even her staff was unknown to everyone. Even hidden from Cal Hudson, the Maquis Commander himself.

Hudson's own lifelong friend since the Academy, Commander Benjamin Sisko, saw Hudson's hand in founding the Maquis as a personal betrayal as well as an esoteric one by connection through the service. This had only incurred the wrath of Starfleet's Administrative Chief of the Bajor Sector and Commanding Officer of Deep Space Nine. Sisko currently only had three support craft, Danube-class runabouts to be precise, but he had arranged from the Bajorans to allow limited access to the Federation throughout their sector and the newly discovered stable Wormhole that led to the Gamma Quadrant some seventy thousand kilometers away at the other end. The Bajor Sector also represented a jumping off point from the Federation's frontier into the deeper Alpha Quadrant. Access heretofore denied to the Federation by the Cardassian, Tzenkethi, Breen, and Tholian borders. Each and every one hostile to the Federation's encroachments and overtures of friendship.

"I understand you aren't the mercenary I've been told about," Chakotay offered an olive branch.

"It's convenient as far legends go," Macen shrugged, "The Cardassians are spoon fed intelligence that will eventually get them killed and Starfleet is happy to see the Central Command weakened and the Cardassian Guard chasing its tail."

"Ro tells me you're a loyalist," Chakotay stated, "Why not completely break from Starfleet?"

"Nechayev knows my ultimate loyalties lie with the Maquis and the colonists thrown to the wolves in the sum of an artificial and highly flawed peace. The Federation bought peace at horrendous costs," Macen explained, "But I've been a valuable asset for sixty years so she's not only willing to let me run my little crusade but she backed me up with a support team."

"Waters and Liu," Chakotay had come to realize.

"Kris is a local girl while Elijah is simply sympathetic. Enough to get him away from his retirement villa on Izar," Macen revealed, "But they help as they can. But we have other more pressing matters to discuss."

"Such as?" Ro had been waiting for days to hear this.

"The Central Command has appointed a new overseer for the Dorvan Sector. Gul Evek's failures have limited his scope the DMZ efforts alone while he plays up being the Cardassian Unions rep with the Colonial Council," Macen reported, "Evek and the Council being revealed as being as farcical as everyone originally suspected when it was proposed. Gul Maret is a zealot and he will exterminate every Federation colonist that found themselves on the Cardassian side of the redrawn border. A promise Evek hasn't delivered on. Maret sees Dorvan as a launching point for his rise to Legate and the eventual reconquest of Bajor. He's staking everything to achieve goal. Even if takes decades."

"I hate him already," Ro decided.

"It does get better," Danan promised.

"How?" Chakotay had to wonder.

"Maret has been promised sufficient manpower and capital ships to complete his task. But all that's been committed to the Dorvan Sector's command detail is two squadrons of Lakat-class frigates. Maret is understandably angered by this and yet he also can't deny that greater firepower is currently required throughout the Union suppressing revolts on Subject Worlds inspired by Bajor's Resistance movement. Now word of the Maquis is spreading and even more planets are rebelling," Macen described the situation, "In order to further ascertain his command requirements, Maret is touring the sector unannounced in a lone frigate. Unsupported by the rest of his task force."

"I see the opportunity," Chakotay's pulse quickened.

"He can't really be that stupid," Ro scoffed.

"Maret's weakness, like so many other Cardassians, is his delusion of invincibility. Put frankly, he thinks he's untouchable inside of his own command sector," Macen rebutted her.

"And you have his schedule," Chakotay ventured.

"And we have his schedule," Danan confirmed it with a grin.

"From a trusted source that views Maret's ambition as monstrous," Macen explained, "And she's never wrong about these things."

"I'd like to meet this source," Chakotay hesitated.

"You really wouldn't. She works in military security. So the only to meet her is to get captured," Macen warned him.

"Which you were," Ro reminded Chakotay.

"And she managed to create an escape opportunity at the risk of her own career and life," Macen added, "So I won't risk it further by naming her or arranging a meet to satisfy your curiosity."

"Even I don't know who she is," Danan shared, "But Brin trusts her intel with his life. And has on repeated occasions. She's always been honest with him and therefore with us as a crew."

"It's good enough for me," Ro pledged.

"How can I doubt anyone so vouchsafed?" Chakotay wondered.

"You can't," Macen insisted.

"Can't is a strong word," Chakotay argued.

"Then walk away from this conversation and this opportunity," Macen urged, "Because when I reveal the rest of this, you're locked into the effort or you'll meet an untimely end."

"Did you just threaten me?" Chakotay took umbrage.

"Military Security knows there's been a breach. But Maret is carrying on anyway. Any independent action taken by you alone because of any misgivings will waste our chance and guarantee your capture or death. Along with your entire crew," Macen warned him, "As bad as it seems, we have forty-eight hours before our window opens and then another twelve before it closes forever," Macen explained the details of the cost of involvement, "So either you're all in with our joint effort or you're completely out of the loop and you'll be best advised to forget this conversation ever happened. Because you'll be the sole leak if things go south on our end."

"The Ronaran cell numbers over two dozen people. You won't suspect any of them?" Chakotay asked.

"I've fought beside them and personally vetted them without their knowledge. Plus Ro vouches for every one of them. And I trust her word and her judgment. You and yours are the variables here," Macen informed him.

Chakotay considered that, "All right we're in, for better or worse. What do you know?"

"We know Evek is transferring his official flag from Antok Nor to Deiden, on the edge of the DMZ boundaries. Maret is relocating to garrison deeper within the Dorvan Sector. But, he will call on Deiden while Evek is busy elsewhere patrolling for Maquis incursions. Deiden itself barely boasts security measures much less anti-starship weaponry," Macen explained.

"There's a 'but'. I know it," Ro lamented.

"Always," Danan commiserated.

Later that evening, Ro chose her team for the impending strike. She continued to rotate people in larger droves out to a night out and the next morning, work began in earnest. Chakotay first spoke to the assemblage when they gathered. Those delegated to stay behind were in town while the others began a mission prep.

"From this point forward we are on comms lockdown," Chakotay announced, "It'll appear to be a comm buoy failure after we take out the near space network."

"That means we are the teams that will strike out at Evek's base in order to take out the newly appointed Gul Maret," Ro took over, "We all knew Evek. He's your typical blustering Cardassian soldier. But Maret is hardcore. And he knows about Evek's stash of human comfort women."

A still silence fell as a pall over the crowd.

"That's right," Chakotay confirmed it, "Evek has been, as deeply rumored, been keeping captives taken during eth Border Wars hand keeping them as sex slaves. Some of them have been held for as long as six years."

"Maret's goal is to seize hold of them and transfer them to his new base of power where we can only assume they'll serve the same purpose," Ro was angry and let it show, "This degradation at its lowest. Our mission, if we only succeed at one thing, is to end this practice and free those women."

"Which means, both crews will put boots on the ground," Chakotay added, "We've drawn up rosters of who goes to the surface and who stays aboard ship."

"How long do we have until we have to intercept the target?" Natalie Donner, an ex-Forest Ranger, inquired. Governor White had disbanded the Rangers who'd served both as law enforcement as well search and rescue.

Liam Hemingway had been Donner's service partner, "And what kind of resistance are we talking?"

"Evek has just transferred his command flag to Deiden, taking up residence in the former colonial governor's mansion. The governor had also been the plantation owner who owned the colony. He hasn't had time to reinforce or harden the installation," Ro explained, "So other than security details, of which we know little about, we're dealing with a single Lakat-class frigate with Evek on patrol and Maret's forces ordered to patrol deeper within the sector in order for Maret's 'inspection' tour to remain secret."

"Is this reliable information?" Elfi Hendryks, the cell's primary OPS specialist asked.

"It comes from our usual source," Ro confirmed her veiled question. Macen had asked that his participation remain secretive until such time as he trusted Chakotay's entire cell. An awkward meeting had been when Nick Locarno was introduced to Tom Paris. their appearances and histories were uncannily similar.

"Do I know you?" they both asked in stereo.

"The comm network is down," Christina Noble reported. She would be the base commander while Ro's team was underway. She and Dragonuv had taken up the adapted Peregrine-class courier and blown away the near space comm relays. Now the entire colony was cut off. Others would investigate but they'd only arrive after the two raiders were underway. Unbeknownst to her "fellow" Maquis, Seska inwardly seethed with rage. With Tuvok monitoring communications aboard the Val Jean, she'd never get a message out to Maret that would reach him in time. But she was gratified to learn she was on a ground team.

Chakotay himself would lead the raid while Ro took charge of system defense and extraction. Ayala would command in Chakotay's absence under Ro's seniority. Tom Hennessy would lead Ro's force on the ground. the Indomitable would be nearly emptied of personnel during the mission. Only Ro, Tulley, Locarno, Hendryks, and Thool would remain aboard as essential crew.

Torres was enraged to learn she'd be left behind. Paris was as cocksure about remaining aboard as Tuvok seemed discomfited by it. Hennessy, a former enlisted Starfleet Security man, along with Donner and Hemingway, represented the bulk of the experienced ground force from Ro's ship. Others would include Jai Hunter, Emily Rossum, Leah Noble, Rose Pinter, Priyanka Khan, and Kris Solo. They were tasked with actually finding and liberating the comfort women.

Chakotay was fielding a team whose role was to secure the security office and potentially assassinate Maret himself. Seska would be his deputy guiding Chell, Lon Suder, Michael Jonas, Jor, Ann Smithee, O'Donnell, Tabor, and Mariah Henley among others. Chell and Tabor were Chakotay's team weak links in direct assaults. Both were highly motivated but had a tendency to squirm under fire. But Ayala needed utterly reliable Maquis under his command during the taking of Evek's mansion. So did Chakotay. But under his and Seska's seasoned watch, his team could outperform themselves.

On Ro's side, that explained Hennessy taking over the ground force rather than Ro's deputy, Aric Tulley. She needed Tulley's veteran hand at the Indie's weapons controls. Chris Noble was another ex-law enforcement officer from Ronara Prime. That was how she got elected to remain behind with Vera Dragonuv and oversee replenishment and the stringers that aided the Maquis without formally joining it. Noble and Dragonuv had also served in the Colonial Militia before the treaty established the DMZ and ceded administrative control of their colony over to Cardassian authorities.

In a showpiece maneuver, the Cardassians appointed "local" officials that were willing collaborators to rubber stamp any decrees and decisions Gul Evek handed down. But lower officials were retained from the previous colonial governments. This is how on Ronara Prime, the Lt. Governor supported the Maquis cause and did her level best to thwart Cardassian intentions. But Stephanie Gerin's sister was a loyal lapdog and mayor of the primary colonial settlement.

The questions after the brief were salient and to the point. Some questioned their assignments while others simply accepted the reality of the situation. Chakotay found it difficult to forget Macen's warning that infiltrators could have filtered into his crew. He hadn't hand selected every member. That much was true.

Ayala had recommended many of them while Cal Hudson had steered others to him. Tuvok and Paris were notably fresh arrivals whose loyalties hadn't been tested yet. The chilling factor was that of the Cardassians had somehow slipped a member aboard; they were actively killing their fellow foot soldiers. Which was rumored to be common place for Obsidian Order agents imbedded within the Bajoran Resistance and now possibly within the Maquis as well now that Bajorans were liberated and the fight had shifted to the DMZ worlds and beyond. which a cold blooded mentality even for the notoriously brutal Cardassians.

The Cardassians had mastered the art if disguising their people as Bajorans though it wasn't frequently done. But Chakotay trusted Seska with more than just his faith in her. their intimacy had briefly clouded Chakotay's judgment as a commander so he'd ended that. She'd taken it rather poorly in his opinion but she was eventually stoic about it and they kept their affair a clandestine secret between themselves. Tabor was just a kid just off of a farm and rather inept as a guerrilla soldier. So while it may have been an act his youthfulness generally precluded any in-depth training he could have received to blend in as a Bajoran.

Cardassians, even the Obsidian Order, were rigidly constrained by traditions of age restrictions and years of indoctrination before a youth could join a service. So better seasoned adults were generally posted in the field or as undercover agents. That mental reasoning reassured Chakotay that Macen's skepticism was unfounded where his unit was concerned. The mere fact that the Val Jean crew was untethered to any planetary cell made getting aboard even more difficult because the crew was a dysfunctional family of sorts. Secure in his crew's unwavering loyalty to the cause, Chakotay was bolstered in his decision making regarding assignments as he fielded questions.

Ro certainly trusted her cell members. Even those that she'd inherited when Macius and the Santos died. Kalita was her strongest supporter even after being her most vocal critic. But Ro had come through by overtly betraying Starfleet. Thereby allowing the Maquis to escape the very trap Ro had lured them into and in doing so burned any chance of returning to Starfleet.

Her choice had been made and there was no questioning it now. Kalita had deferred and recommended Ro for the role of cell commander rather than take it upon herself. Like any good leader, Ro was circumspect enough to realize she didn't have every answer and therefore relied upon trusted counselors and delegated authority as needed. Chakotay had detected a little too much doubt in her own ability to successfully lead the cell but she soldiered on for the sake of those willing to place their lives in her hands. She never seemed to shirk from her duties. Even at the expense of her own personal life and happiness. It was that resolve that had gained her her graduation from Advanced Tactical Training. The only Starfleet training course that infamously washed out most of its candidates.

Chakotay himself had barely passed is his estimation yet Starfleet had requested that he take up a teaching position with the program after his last promotion and extended service with Starfleet Special Operations Command. SOC service was equally infamous for relying upon small covert ops teams rather than starship crew complements. But his tenure had prepared him for his current role. Chakotay had little more than sixty people under his direct command and even that number felt too large. But the cantankerous Maquis raider demanded a higher crew complements that a standardized Ju'day-class scout would.

Its modifications had modifications. He couldn't imagine how Torres kept the ship going with their extremely limited resources but the Val Jean not only performed but she excelled. Ro's chief engineering specialist was a tool pusher rather than an engineer. He was good at maintaining equipment but modifications and ingenuity on the fly weren't Emjin Thool's forte. But maintenance was generally all Starfleet trained their enlisted engineers in. A Chief Miles O'Brien was the exception not the rule. Ro was currently skirting the issue of where their intel had come from and how they'd obtained the skant details of the internal and external security precautions as well as Maret and Evek's schedules.

For once, Chakotay wasn't having to deflect questions of why Kristiana Liu had hired them to make deliveries in systems they would later strike. Tuvok had obviously put the matter into perspective and made the obvious deduction. But everyone else loyally played dumb. Still, finally knowing that Elijah Waters had come out of retirement at Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev's behest answered so many questions.

He'd known there was a groundswell of support amongst junior officers and enlisted for the Maquis plight and cause. But Nechayev was using that impetus for her own devices. Which also helped explain why some informants were so adept at evading attempts to uncover their "treasonous" acts of abetting "terrorism". Nechayev had people running interference in those cases. Yet other supporters in Starfleet were court martialed and sent to the stockade on Jaros II for years at time. So Nechayev definitely played favorites.

Ro had further explained that Nechayev had two premier agents that she preferred above all others. Macen was one. Mackenzie Calhoun was the other. both were notorious for creatively interpreting orders. But they each got the job done. Period. Mission accomplished despite whatever reservations Starfleet had over the methods employed to achieve that end.

Each could employ the fabled Avalon Protocol as an absolute get of jail card just once in their career. So they had to be absolutely certain there was no other recourse. Afterwards, Nechayev would let Starfleet hang the agent that already spent his card the next time Starfleet boxed him in. The danger of invoking the Avalon Protocol was that it forced officialdom to acknowledge the agent was working for Starfleet Intelligence. A potential black mark on Starfleet Command and a revelation that the agent's legend was hollow.

Word could then leak out from the command that the agent had been confronted by and sully their reputation amongst the criminal or hostile elements that the agent had been affiliating with. Macen had been disavowed twice in his long career on the Cardassian border when he'd been captured. Both escapes had been made despite Starfleet's lack of efforts. The Obsidian Order and the Cardassian Guard knew, of course, that Macen had been Starfleet Intelligence. Therefore with them, his "disaffection" for the service was genuine.

Of course, Macen had to do very little acting to portray the part. he was angry at the Federation and Starfleet for abandoning his longsuffering colonists that had been nothing but loyal to their home government. Their reward was to be effectively handed over to the very political and military power that had just spent fifty years trying to eradicate them. Only now, they were finally succeeding with Starfleet's assistance.

"You know we don't have time to properly prepare," Chakotay cornered Ro after the briefing.

"Do we ever?" Ro inquired sharply, "We'll get it done simply because we have to and no one else will."

"The very story of the Maquis," Chakotay ruefully chuckled.

"Look, I need to babysit and so do you," Ro advised him, "We'll reconvene the group think in four hours after I've had to time to pick some brains."

"Sounds good," Chakotay conceded. He was particularly interested in Seska and Tuvok's takes on things.

Liu came through once again and had priority cargo that needed delivery to Gryma. The Cardassian colony was situated near the DMZ border. The Indie and Val Jean easily slipped into formal Cardassian territory since, unlike the Federation border lined with sensor drones, the Cardassian was intentionally porous since they intended to annex the DMZ into their established territory through a "fair" proxy voted from all "concerned citizens" on colonies throughout the DMZ. The "vote" wouldn't be binding or legal but it would arm Cardassian negotiators in their next round of talks with the Federation Council. With the entirety of the former Federation colonies "clamoring" to join the Cardassian Union's umbrella of safety how could the Federation deny the populist will?

All to maintain an irritating Demilitarized Zone rife with terrorists? Terrorists the Cardassian Guard would be allowed to snuff out. It was so simple to the Central Command but the colonists still had access to the Federation's comm networks. That had to end or the actual colonial sentiments would leak out. The trick was to convince the Federation to completely cut all ties with their former colonies and adhere to their border beyond the DMZ.

Starfleet couldn't be risked entering the DMZ once Galor- and Lakat-class warships began pouring in and troops were landed. The rigged election had to be staged in order to at least pretend to have legitimacy of purpose. Chakotay dealt with the issue on a cerebral level. He and his crew had no fixed port to call home even though most of them came from one colony or another. Seska, Torres, Paris, and Tuvok being the exceptions. Seska had supposedly left Bajor with the Kohn Ma and migrated to the Maquis as the Bajorans began to lose their zeal and accept the amnesty offered by Bajor. Even amongst the Maquis, Seska was an occasionally bloodthirsty zealot. But it was a fire that helped sustain the others. She never wavered in her convictions and that helped inspire the crew to do the same.

Ro faced a vastly different situation. Governor White was hell bent on staging the faux elections within a month's time. Even with Lt. Governor Gerin feeding them the names and locations of "elections officials", the Maquis were struggling to put down or dissuade the chosen officials fast enough to derail White's agenda. Meanwhile, Mayor Gerin was literally sleeping with enemy. The elder Gerin had recently discovered that the ex-Terok Nor officer was in fact, the newly promoted Gul Maret.

Maret had served under Dukat's reign as Prefect of Bajor and he still obsessed over retaking that world. But since leaving, he'd developed a taste of human flesh. Feminine flesh. Bajoran comfort women had become passé. He wanted the challenge of breaking human colonists until they not only serviced his sexual desires but begged him to allow them to do so.

Evek had his own harem of captured colonists and one or two Starfleet personnel under his roof. Maret had decided to simply take them rather than collect his own. The Dorvan Sector having been pacified and most resistance stamped out. but the Maquis? There was a challenge worth his time and lust.

The women complicated the mission. In straightforward terms it would be far easier to just bombard the mansion from orbit. But no one was suggesting they do so. Maret himself was a secondary concern to liberating Evek's harem. Maret wasn't going anywhere and there would be other opportunities to assassinate him...if Evek didn't do the job first.

Their transit from Gryma to Deiden went largely unnoticed. They were barely even tracked by local subspace comm relays. The two raiders dropped out of warp speed at ten light years' distance from the system and proceeded to destroy the comm. Relays at that vantage point. The mansion and frigate's comm systems being able to broadcast that far unaided within minutes. The signals would degrade and slow from that point until they reached the next relays at fifty thousand light years distance. The relays boosting the signal beyond any capability the planet or ship generated transmitters' capabilities. Federation starships routinely dropped buoys and relays along their voyage routes during interstellar exploration missions.

Federation starships also had superior comm tech. The Cardassian Guard spent more on weaponry and defensive measures than communications. Passive sensors were also a lesser priority. The Cardassians didn't believe in overt stealth or passivity. But they did believe in guile. The Lakat-class' commander, a Dal ranked veteran being so deeply ensconced within the formerly disputed Dorvan Sector that the Cardassians had gained undisputed control over at the negotiating tables with Starfleet officers ordered to secure the cessation of the protracted hostilities at nearly any cost, hadn't felt the need to keep active sensors running.

So the two Maquis raiders came in from opposite directions from the system primary's orbit. It would enable Ro to challenge the frigate directly while Chakotay came in from nearby a gas giant to attack the frigate's aft quarter.

"They've got us locked," Tulley announced to Ro.

"Good," Ro said grimly.

"Your measurement of good and mine really differ," Locarno announced as he began evasive maneuvers to evade enemy weapons fire.

"I'm trying to penetrate their systems and commence an override," Hendryks reported.

Elfi Hendryks was no T'Kir but she was damnably getting good at penetrating Cardassian security lockouts through comm. channel accesses.

"Fire a brace of torpedoes to weaken their shields," Ro ordered.

"You know even with our magazines stocked we only have eight torpedoes total?" Tulley reminded her.

"Just target the damn ship," Ro snarled. ODN and EPS lines and conduits sparked as power surges resulted from the increasing battering the shields were taking.

"Skipper! She can't take much more of this!" Thool protested over the comm. channel from Engineering.

"Shove it, Thool. Just keep the power and shields up," Ro retorted. Thool always complained and gave dire warnings when there was still a large margin of error. The lights flickered and the systems wavered for a second.

"Or maybe not that dire," Ro muttered.

"The Indomitable is under increasing fire. I am unable to calculate how much further damage she can tolerate," Tuvok advised Chakotay as the frigate began to fill their screen.

"Ro's cell employed a racing engineer to modify her ship into a raider," Chakotay tried assuage Tuvok's obvious concern, "He is a malevolent genius where fitting civilian ships with military grade hardware is concerned."

"Why didn't you go to him for the Val Jean's refit?" Paris inquired.

"This girl was one of the first heavier outlet raider's modified to raider specs," Chakotay wondered why he was explaining this, "No one knew about the other man until Ro suddenly introduced him to Cal Hudson."

Lisea Danan had actually made the introductions to Ro. The engineer was more than slightly obsessed with the Trill stellar cartographer. But she was willing to string him along for the Maquis cause. Chakotay didn't even know the man's name. Like the Architect and the Architect Strategic Operations Program, no one knew who or where they were. The sheer bulk of the proposed missions generated by the Architect suggested that it was more than a single person involved. But they also had access to current, real time actionable intelligence that no other Maquis source other than Macen could rival.

"Prepare for a phaser strike. Target with aft torpedoes as we pass by," Chakotay instructed both Paris and Tuvok with those statements.

"Coming into before a Lakat-class frigate is inadvisable," Tuvok counseled him, "Their primary weapons systems all face forward."

"Mr. Tuvok, I'm not about to let Ro take all of the barrage that could be split up between us, lessening their chances of being crippled and doubling our chances of doing that very thing to the Cardassians. Understood?" Chakotay said sternly.

"Understood," Tuvok acknowledged. Secretly, Tuvok admired Chakotay's discipline and tactical capabilities. But then again, both he and Ro Laren and successfully graduated from Advanced Tactical Training. A feat even Tuvok hadn't ever been recommended to attempt. They also applied sterner measures of control over their cells than most other Maquis. Who seemed to simply go on murderous rampages in Tuvok's opinion.

Chakotay and Ro strictly went after targets with military value. For all their protestations of fighting a war, the Maquis as rule favored soft targets rather than hardened ones, such as the Cardassian Guard, their paramiliatry agents, and law enforcement officers. The frequent street clashes between Maquis and the Cardassian paramilitaries weren't intentionally planned in most cases. The two sides were simply inflicting damage on an opportunistic basis.

The Maquis also spent an inordinate amount of effort at rooting out those they labeled as collaborators. Subsequently meting out lethal "justice" upon them as a warning to others similarly inclined. Tuvok was pleasantly surprised that Chakotay and Ro abstained from such witch hunts. It would lessen their criminal charges.

As it was both were AWOL and guilty of numerous charges of terrorism. Against the Cardassians, it was true, but accords made in the post-treaty reality made them equally culpable under Federation law and Starfleet regulations. Of course, being brought to justice in the Federation was ultimately kinder than the show trials and torture that would precede any Cardassian legal execution. At least the Maquis would survive to claim they were political prisoners in the Federation's penal system.

"Ro, the Val Jean is making a run in the Spoonhead's ship," Tulley advised her.

"Bring us closer and hammer away at the Cardies' shields with the phasers. When Chakotay fires his torpedoes, prep to empty our forward torpedo magazines," Ro ordered.

"Skipper!" Tulley protested.

"Do it, Aric," Ro demanded.

"They're passing over and firing torps," Tulley announced.

"Track their vector and aim for the same spot," Ro told him.

"Collapsing their forward shields," Tulley finally understood as he went to work.

"Learn to trust, Tulley," Ro admonished him, "And prep phasers for a full barrage."

The Val Jean's torpedo explosions flared and strained the Cardassian frigate's shields. The four in-bound torpedoes from the Indomitable collapsed their forward shields. As the Dal in command tried to make an evasive turn to present his shielded broadside, Locarno matched the rotation and Tulley used the Indie's wingtip Type VIII phasers to hammer away at the unprotected hull. The Val Jean joined them and added two torpedoes to the mix. The bridge destroyed, the explosions ripping through the Lakat-class frigate ended when the drive section also exploded from overloads overtaking the crippled systems,

"Chakotay is hailing," Hendryks advised Ro.

"Put him on," Ro instructed.

Her screen was filled with her opposite number's face, "Good work, Captain. Now let's say we take the fight to the ground pounders."

"Sounds beautiful," Ro had the Indomitable moved into orbital position and beamed down her ground team assembled in the cargo hold. The Val Jean mirrored her move. Then the raiders split up to maximize their patrol of the system. The ground teams that had beamed down to the mansion began their operation.

Hennessy commanded the bulk of Ro's crew on the ground. With the Quarren Hakatay and Kalita remaining on Ronara Prime with Noble and Dragonuv, that left the bulk of the cell under Hennessy's leadership. Hakatay having arrived through the Caretaker's transport mechanism in a reversal of his beginning scans of the Alpha Quadrant focused on the Badlands. The Caretaker's equipment able to detect the plasma storms from deep within the Delta Quadrant. But in a calibration attempt, the Caretaker had transplanted Hakatay's small scout in the Badlands where he was swiftly discovered by Maquis smugglers. Quickly coming to hate the Cardassians' oppression, he managed to enlist with Ro's cell after Hudson tried to determine what to do with the mysterious alien who wildly claimed to be from across the galaxy. Ro didn't believe or disbelieve Hakatay's claims. She just accepted his help as offered.

Besides Donner and Hemmingway, Hennessy's team included Kris Solo, Emily Rossum, her lover Jai Hunter, Priyanka Khan, and Rose Pinter. Solo was a former professional mixed martial arts fighter. Hunter and Rossum were orphaned by Cardassians during the Border Wars. Khan and Pinter had also lost family and lovers to the decades' long struggle before the Federation's betrayal of their faith, struggle, and sacrifices. The dark haired Solo hadn't yet begun bleaching her hair an unnatural butter blonde as she would in days to come.

Rossum stood out by virtue of her pale violet hair that was naturally shaded due to alien DNA somewhere in her lineage. Hunter's family had moved to Ronara Prime from Australia when he was a boy. He'd been a witness to their suffering as the Cardassians used disruptors to fry away layers of flesh from them. He'd been saved that fate by arriving Starfleet enlisted personnel. He'd even gone as far as enlisting himself before the DMZ was established and Ronara Prime placed within it. Not yet having reported for training, he saw no point in it if he was no longer even considered a Federation citizen.

Khan's family had owned the planet's coffee roasting and packaging house the local growers principally relied upon to prepare their product for shipment off world. Her family had "ceded" their plant before being executed by the new Cardassian "owners" that paid a pittance for the crop and didn't share the profit any longer. Pinter's family and fiancé had been killed on her wedding day. The Cardassians sparing her but not her family or bride. It was an act of "charity" the glinn in command of their effort had told her.

As was "curing" her of her "unnatural" homosexuality through repeated rapes that left her hospitalized and near death. Pinter was recruited from the Med Center by Macius just prior to Ro arriving on Ronara Prime. Following Santos' death, Pinter had been Ro's staunchest opponent regarding Kalita's recommendation that or assume command of the cell. But Kalita successfully persuaded Pinter to accept the cell's vote and Ro herself earned her trust through action. Pinter was still closed to dating but overt attraction and encouragement from Gloria Leakes at the Old Biddy was slowly warming Pinter's heart and changing her mood regarding the pitfalls and perils of romance once again. Pinter just wished she could get Tulley to begin to move on as well. The idea of double dating Leakes with Frinks and Tulley made Pinter warm in the frozen places of her heart.

Chakotay and his team beamed down at another site near the mansion's service entrance. Evek's security was light during his absence. But it was geared towards maintaining discipline amongst Evek's human and Bajoran slaves. All men who were obviously starved and beaten into submission. Evek, it seemed, enjoyed subjugating both sexes. The slaves wore shock collars and the guards wielded the controllers as well as basic pain stick styled prods. Chakotay's blood ran cold at seeing these humiliations.

Slaves were shocked and prodded for doing nothing but obeying. Disobedience, or even the merest hint of hesitation to obey, wrought terrible consequences. The screams would echo throughout the halls of the mansion.

"Move in slowly and quietly. We'll deal with closest guards at close quarters before they can sound the alarm," Chakotay instructed, "Seska, Suder, you're on me. Everyone else spread out and assume flanking positions."

Chakotay winced at the amount of noise his fellow Maquis made snapping and stumbling their way through a wooded area surrounding the Evek's "appropriated" mansion. Unfortunately for the torture victims but not for their would-be liberators, their screams drowned out the unintended cacophony. The Cardassians were so enthusiastic about their "motivational" lessons; they never saw the three person team come up on them and lethally phaser them at point blank range. While and Suder secured the entrance, Chakotay waved the rest of his Maquis team in.

Kneeling before the terrified men, he focused on one elderly individual, "How many of you are there?"

"There are a dozen staffers," the old man croaked.

"How long have you been here?" Chakotay probed further.

"Some of us were captured over a decade ago but most of the newer staff have died or committed suicide," the man answered.

"I can see why," Chakotay admitted, "Where are the security officers located?"

"There are six in the bedroom reallocated as a security office. Six more with the women. And that Cardassian gul that just arrived unannounced has half a dozen with him. He has a ship in orbit," a younger man eagerly informed him.

"Not any longer," Chakotay promised, "Stay here. Chell, Tabor, and Henley will stay with you as well in case any security guards happen to mount a foot patrol."

Chell and Tabor looked relieved while Henley was aggrieved at being left behind.

Hennessy's group transported in within the tree line. Donner and Hemingway scouted the area.

"Sloppy. Very, very sloppy. They haven't rigged any kind of sensors whatsoever," Donner reported. The screams began.

"Male voices. Near Chakotay's intended beam in site," Hemingway assessed.

"Think you can take the guard on the right?" Hennessey asked Hemingway.

The younger man hefted his crossbow, "At this range? Of course."

"Donner?" was Hennessy's next prompt.

She unslung her air rifle and chambered a round, "Do you have to ask?"

They both settled in and adjusted their scopes.

"On your mark," Donner prompted Hennessey.

"!" Hennessey quietly counted down. The duo each fired. One had a projectile spear him in the throat. The other found his skull exploding out the back of his head as a lead round penetrated the distinctively Cardassian "spoon" on his forehead and exit out the back.

"Next time make it challenging," Donner complained. She and Hennessy slung their silent weapons and drew their Type II phasers.

"Hunter, Rossum, cover us," Hennessy instructed. The rest of the team moved towards the entrance. Once Hennessy at the door open and jammed that way, they secured the hall and the pair in the treeline advanced.

"Two by two advance," Hennessy instructed, "Take the opposing walls. Donner and Hemingway, lead out. Cover doors and exits until every pair has advanced past you."

And so the Maquis began their egress within the mansion halls.

Chakotay's remaining team burst into the master bedroom on the ground floor, sweeping phaser fire in intersecting arcs that killed the detail before they could mount a resistance.

"They're understaffed," Ann Smithee was the first to observe.

"I have eyes on," Seska reported from the monitor viewers, "Our opposites are about to meet an unwelcoming party."

"We should warn them somehow," Jor mentioned.

"Too late," Jonas replied.

A Cardassian foot patrol advanced ahead of Maret as he stomped his way down a corridor towards the lift. Hennessy's team had just secured the lift and was prepared to advance a small investigative unit upstairs. The harem was imprisoned on the second floor and Maret was eager to meet them and take possession of Evek's trophies. He, and his detail, weren't expecting to run afoul a Maquis insertion team.

"Kill them!" he raged. But the Maquis were quicker to react. As Maret retreated, calling in an alert, Hennessy's team devastated the guards left behind to "deal' with them.

"Send a team upstairs!" Hennessey called out as Donner and Hemmingway supported his and Chaste's advance. Hunter and Rossum worked with Solo and Khan to ascend to the upper floor. Using a photon grenade, they blew the advancing Cardassian guards apart.

"That's always messy," Hunter chuckled.

"And loud," Rossum complained.

"Let's find out who they were guarding," Khan refocused the group. What they discovered was that six rooms each contained two women apiece. All human and all younger colonials and capture d Starfleet officers and enlisted.

"We're here to get you out," Solo explained. Everyone's fears melted away. Except one woman who panicked. Apparently Stockholm Syndrome had taken effect as she started screaming she couldn't be taken from Evek.

Solo stunned her and threw her over her own shoulder, "That settles that."

"This was them?" a far more composed Starfleet junior officer noted the gore.

"It was," Hunter was still enjoying his private joke on the Cardassians.

"Good," she spat on some the scattered entrails.

"Damn, they reinforced," Hennessey and Chaste were forced into a retreat. Donner and Hemmingway were still exchanging fire with the two remaining guards. But they'd erected riot control force fields.

"We are not getting through that," Hemmingway predicted.

"Can you snap shoot around the shields?" Hennessy asked.

"Why not?" Donner shrugged and holstered her phaser to take another crack at it with her rifle. Hemmingway retreated around the corner they were fighting over and prepped his crossbow.

"We'll distract them then," Chaste offered. She and Hennessy volleyed particle beams at the shields. Then they backed away from the corner and waited. The Cardassians took up their shields and began a slow advance. Donner and Hemmingway came around the corner, high and low, and fired. The unexpected maneuver caught the Cardassians behind the shields and they were too slow to duck behind the same. Donner and Hemmingway retreated to allow Hennessy and Chaste the opportunity to secure the corner.

"Weapons fire ahead," Hennessey noted.

"They must've retreated all the way back to the other team," Chaste ventured. Everyone aimed at the lift as the doors opened.

"Oi! It's us?" Hunter raised his hands, "We secured the birds."

"Our missions accomplished," Hennessey decided, "Leah, call it in."

She unpacked a field transmitter and contacted the Indomitable.

"What about the others?" Khan asked.

"We can't defend everyone here and we're too vulnerable advancing further. Chakotay's team is experienced. They can handle the remaining guards and that gul that beat feet," Hennessy made the call.

"It's on you, Tom," Rossum shrugged.

"Let's get out of here," Solo pointed at the buttocks resting next to her head.

"The Indie is en route. They're expecting us at the extraction point," Chaste announced.

"'re Maquis?" the coolest headed harem veteran asked.

"The one and only," Hunter attempted to flirt.

Rossum elbowed him, "He's like that. Ignore him"

"We're used to unwanted advances," the vet scathingly stared Hunter down, "Evek mentioned you all a few times. He finds the entire movement...vexing"

"We'll take that with pride," Donner grinned.

"Let's move," Hennessy urged, "We don't want to keep the other s in robot for too long."

Chakotay learned of the Dreadnaught. Maret was captured with great outrage as his detail was killed before him and Seska and Jor flanked him.

"So, you're vaunted Maquis Evek can't exterminate," Maret chuckled mirthlessly, "It doesn't surprise me you penetrated his defenses so thoroughly."

"Stalling won't help you. The way you were running away, I'm betting on the fact you met our other team," Chakotay was humorless.

"I was hardly running," Maret sniffed.

"You practically pissed yourself when you saw us," Smithee argued.

"Aren't you all very...parochial," Maret said derisively, "I'll be doing civilization a favor when I kill you all."

"I doubt that will be happening," Chakotay told him.

"I needn't bother sullying my hands, Maquis. All I have to do is wait," Maret smugly announced, "I have a Galor-class cruiser awaiting my signal. If I don't check in in precisely ten seconds, they have orders to approach this system at maximum warp."

"Expecting trouble, were you?" Chakotay was even grimmer.

"Evek is a flea that might have needed dealing with," Maret boasted, "And my sense of time is famed. I've missed my deadline and you're all dead anyway. Not to mention Volon II and III"

"Excuse me?" Chakotay prodded Maret's ribs with his phaser.

"You heard me; they will be close in orbital proximity within a few days. We have a planet killing Dreadnaught missile aimed at Volon II. Its absolute destruction will shift the orbit of Valon III, laying it waste as well. And the famed birthplace of the Marquis will be snuffed out as well as that damnable Colonial Council," Maret laughed coldly.

"Jonas, contact Ro and Ayala. Tell them we have in-bound," Chakotay ordered.

"Let me question him further," Seska requested, "Privately."

"I pity you," Chakotay warned Maret, "Let's wrap it up and collect our liberated friends."

Seska kept her phaser aimed squarely at Maret as the other Maquis exited. Wearing a cold, calculating smile, she finally lowered her weapon, "You needn't worry, Gul Maret. I'll hardly kill you. Though Evek will probably make you suffer for this."

"What would you know of it?" Maret sneered.

"I know Evek very well. He's been my handler since I infiltrated the Maquis," Seska revealed.

"A Bajoran collaborator," Maret chuckled, "Your kind knows no bounds when it comes to personal treachery."

"Despite my appearance, I'm hardly Bajoran. My name and rank are Dalin Seska. I'm military intelligence and I've been modified to appear Bajoran. The Maquis rarely doubt a Bajoran entering their ranks so they've never suspected my true allegiance," she explained.

"I doubt Evek came up with this gem himself," Maret continued to sneer.

"Never underestimate Gul Evek," Seska raised her weapon and fired, "Especially after he finds you as the sole survivor of 'our' little raid."

She reunited with Chakotay and the team just outside the mansion.

"Did he suffer?" Chakotay fretted.

"Not for long," Seska promised with a calculating smile he knew all too well.

Dal Refrak, the second in command of Maret's personal command, bored into the Deiden system at high warp until reaching sensor range of the planet itself. There he detected a Maquis raider leaving orbit and headed out of the system at high impulse.

"Set for pursuit. Raise shields and arm all disruptor banks. And someone raise Gul Maret," he ordered.

Ro decided to proceed first and distract the approaching Galor-class cruiser and told Chakotay as much. The Val Jean had pushed ahead to the other side of Deiden as the Indomitable broke orbit to draw the Cardassian cruiser after them.

"We'll buy you the time to intercept that missile," Ro promised Chakotay.

"They're in pursuit," Tulley unhappily announced.

"Someone find out of our guests have skills we can use," Ro told Chaste and she exited the bridge to investigate the possibilities. Down below Solo was restraining the reluctant victim who was screaming to be taken back to Evek.

"This is old already," Solo ruefully remarked to Khan.

"Heads up people!" Rossum interrupted the stilted conversations in the wardroom, "We have a Galor-class in pursuit. Anyone with starship experience volunteers now for whatever duty we need you for and everyone else shuts her up."

The Starfleet vets quickly filled in the blanks and were deployed across the ship. Meanwhile, the former colonists tended to their distraught fellow sex slave.

"We could use some torpedoes," Tulley ruefully remarked.

"We have two. Both in our aft launchers," Ro reminded him, "And when they close on us, fire them both. Locarno, go to maximum warp at that point and just try to stay ahead of them long enough to get us into the Badlands. We'll let the plasma storms deal with them."

The voyage to the Badlands was fraught with near destruction and perilous moments as powers systems balked and were restored. The ex-Starfleet volunteers all proving to be invaluable. Locarno skimmed alongside shifting plasma funnels. The cruiser, not nearly so nimble, was quickly caught by a funnel and destroyed.

"Get us out of here, Nick. Set course for Volon II," Ro instructed, "Aric, you can finally say it."

"You right all along," Tulley glumly replied.

"Words I love to hear," Ro relished the moment.

"Just what the frinx are we looking for?" Torres asked from the bridge engineering console.

"Something that goes 'boom' in a big way," Paris snickered.

"Our course is designed to follow a least time approach from Cardassia Prime to Volon II's expected position," Tuvok explained.

"God, you make it sound so boring," Paris complained.

"Do you take anything seriously?" Torres snapped at the pilot.

"Not if I can help it," Paris glibly retorted.

"I have something," Torres mentioned.

"I have it as well," Tuvok mentioned, "It is moving at a low war velocity and matches the projected course perfectly,"

"Of course it's perfect, Tuvok. You plotted it," Paris snarked.

"That's enough," Chakotay had decided, "Tuvok, arm torpedoes and fire at will."

"Um...should we be this close?" Paris asked.

"It's inert, you idiot. It won't arm itself or be destructive until it reaches its target," Torres explained.

"And you know this how?" Paris inquired.

"Any Cardassian schoolchild could explain it," Torres snorted.

"I am firing," Tuvok fired a single torpedo that detonated against the Dreadnaught. To no apparent effect. He repeated the action three more times and the Dreadnaught merely dropped out of warp to assess itself.

"It's hollow inside," Torres remarked as she scanned its interior, "It has a drive section, the biggest warhead I've ever seen and an operating system that seems to have an access chamber for programming the target information."

"Again, you know this how?" Paris inquired.

"Do you ever listen anyone talk besides yourself?" Torres irritably snapped at him.

"Usually over dinner and drinks," Paris playfully suggested.

"That'll never happen," Torres growled.

"Can we focus?" Chakotay wearily asked.

"Beam me over," Torres suddenly suggested looking back at Chakotay, "I'll reprogram it."

"And send it where?" Chakotay wondered.

"Indeed," Tuvok agreed with this line of questioning.

Torres just stared at Chakotay for a moment before answering, "I'll send it back along its pathway. It'll have navigational records. I'll simply chart into a star."

"Or Cardassia Prime," Paris joked. Torres gave him a Be quiet! look. Tuvok look nonplussed for a Vulcan and Chakotay shared Seska's horror where she'd positioned herself at the bridge access.

"I'm only joking," Paris promised.

"It's either that or we figure out a way to destroy it. My way doesn't involve trying disarm and then remotely detonate a massive warhead," Torres explained.

"All right. Who do you need?" Chakotay asked.

"It's better if I do it on my own," Torres replied. Seska looked suspicious but she remained silent.

"You have two hours. Someone will notice us before then and send someone will investigate our presence here," Chakotay warned, "Afterwards, if you can't reprogram it, we find a way to blow it up however we can."

"Understood," Torres headed aft past the bridge access to head for Deck 3 where the transporters and cargo bays were. Deck 2 housed everything else whereas Deck 1 was the smallest deck, just the bridge module and Sickbay along the ship's upper "spine". Chakotay trusted Torres but there was something in her eye when she mentioned reprogramming the Dreadnaught missile. Something he'd only seen in Seska's eyes before. The ability and desire to kill an entire planet of people. He could only hope his faith in her wasn't misplaced.

As they'd discover over a few years in the Delta Quadrant, Chakotay's faith in a great number of people was misplaced. And the one person aboard whom he totally distrusted would prove to be faithful after all.

In a street café on Ronara Prime, one of the few left operating, John Browder met with Luthor Sloan at a small table, "Anti-surveillance is set."

"Your call regarding Chakotay's actions seems justified Agent Browder," Sloan allowed the slightest of smiles.

Browder was the Section 31 agent charged with "managing" the Maquis situation. Exacerbating when needed. Agitating it at times. Curbing its excesses when they threatened to spill out over the DMZ's demarcations. Prevent a renewed total war against the Cardassian Guard. The usual for S31 agents in place.

Sloan was a Senior Agent and had managed the Alpha Quadrant Frontier Department for several years now. The opening of the Farther Alpha Quadrant through the negotiated liberation of Bajor opened up new avenues for Section 31's role in the area to expand, as did the threats it faced.

But the discovery of the stable Wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant had Section 31's Director James Fowler all a-twitter. The Gamma brief was still under Sloan's authority...for now. Sloan sipped at his very excellent coffee and mused. Ronara Prime had always excelled at yielding coffee crops. As had Dorvan V before the Cardassians began their occupation.

"Your analysis regarding Elijah Waters and Brin Macen's roles in the DMZ was very enlightening. Nechayev is certainly stretching her official mandate here. Despite her precautions, her agents could still be potentially exposed and disavowed with Starfleet then actively hunting their own," Luthor assessed.

"Which means we can approach both Waters and Macen," Browder suggested.

"We have," Sloan looked irritated, "They're both men of conscience. Without revealing who we were or what we represented, a soft pass was made at them both and rejected."

Sloan had read into the reports that both Macen and Waters knew exactly which agency had made the pass. Both had been trying to prove the existence of Section 31's existence for decades. With Water's inclusion, it seemed Elias Vaughn's cabal to prove and reveal said existence had gained a member.

"Stay focused on your task here," Sloan recommended, "This situation is rife with so many possibilities.

"Yet even Ro and Chakotay would recoil knowing that we tipped the scales towards Macen learning of Maret's inspection tour," Browder unhappily said.

"There are other Maquis willing to listen other than Cal Hudson and Sveta Korepanova. Take Michael Eddington. We're arranging his transfer to Deep Space 9 through the normal channels. All that's currently lacking is an existential threat to warrant his transfer," Sloan revealed.

"Then maybe the Maquis can provide one," Browder already began scheming.


Last modified: 03 Dec 2023