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Prima Nox by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

Historical Note: these events take place mere weeks after the history unfolded in the Star Trek Deep Space Nine third season episode Defiant and the Star Trek Voyager first episode Caretaker.


Chapter One

In one of the outlier city-states on Ronara Prime, a wedding was poised to occur. It was to occur between two of the local Maquis organizers. They weren't part of Ro Laren's primary cell but handled recruiting and assistance at a local level. They dealt with Cardassians agents and thefts as well as distributing aid secured by the primary cell.

The enclave was the original home of the primary cell on Ronara Prime. It was here that Ro had first met with Macius, Kalita, and Santos. Both of the men were now dead and Kalita had been captured by Starfleet and sentenced to a Federation penal colony. That left the mantle of leadership solely on Ro's shoulders.

The bride and groom were nearly unique on the planet in that it wasn't an ethnically mixed human marriage. Ronara Prime's original colonists had been largely human but various other Federation races had come to join them. So-called "mixed" and "interspecies" marriages were a norm on the planet. Yet somehow, the wedding couple could trace their lineages back to neighboring villages in the Vietnam and Cambodia administrative districts on Earth. But everyone agreed that they were the perfect couple for each other.

They'd been one since their school days before the Demilitarized Zone was even conceived of. Back when the Federation still cared about its colonists. Before it gave territory and entire colonies over to Cardassian control or wrapped a DMZ under Cardassian administrative control around them.

Cais Phuong, the bride whose first name meant "rejoicing person" in Vietnamese certainly lived up to her name. Just as her husband to be, Kiry Thach, had a Cambodian given name meant "mountain". He certainly looked the part to be her personal rock in all things. Phuong and Thach, like all DMZ colonists had suffered generational losses over the course of the Border Wars with the Cardassians.

The DMZ was supposed to remove the military aspect from the environment. Instead, it just made the terror even more personalized as Cardassian "settlers" roamed the country sides as paramilitary bands inflicting strategic personal losses rather than just impersonal wartime conflict. Phuong and Thach had endured heartbreak over their lifetimes. Today, their most celebrated day of their young lives, would be no exception.

Phuong and Thach invited Ro and allowed her a small selection of "plusses" to bring along with her. Ro wished the couple every potential happiness but no longer believed in actual personal happy endings. But some members of her cell were pairing off anyway. She'd given most of the cell time off to attend to personal business. Vera Dragonuv stayed by the comm boards to alert Ro and the others to any Cardassian traffic near the planet. Or any alerts stemming from Calvin Hudson.

Emjin Thool pursued his maintenance schedule with Nick Locarno's assistance. Ro had assigned her deputy one very important task: spend time with the bartender from the Old Biddy: Annabeth Frinks. Gloria Leakes easily took over managing the bar in Frinks' absence. Frinks was one of the cell's most reliable allies and sources of information. She also had it bad for Aric Tulley. Tulley seemed oblivious and every member of the cell, except probably Thool who was twice as clueless, kept trying to set Tulley up with Frinks.

Ro had included Christina Noble and Elfi Hendryks as her extra guests. Surprising her was the appearance of Brin Macen, Lisea Danan, and T'Kir from the SS Odyssey. Macen played at being a freelance "information broker" but he was loyal to the Maquis and Ro in particular. Despite the fact that he was an undercover Starfleet Intelligence Commander and Ro was a mere Lieutenant and a deserter. Danan too held the rank of Lt. Commander as a stellar cartographer undercover alongside Macen.

T'Kir was three principle things: a Vulcan who expressed her emotions, a genuine terrorist, and mad as a hatter. T'Kir had been a member of Ro's cell for a mere two weeks before she was kicked out and referred to Macen as he assembled his crew. T'Kir was a computer specialist and hacker supreme. She served as the OPS Specialist for the Odyssey crew just as Hendryks did for Ro's Ju'day-class raider, the Indomitable.

In recent weeks, Tom Riker had presented a plan to steal the USS Defiant with the support of selected Maquis from Ro's primary and secondary cells. Chakotay and the crew of the similar raider, Val Jean, had begun directly harassing the hated Gul Evek's forces before the crew's disappearance in the Badlands. With Evek's confirmed demise came Gul Maret, the Prefect of the Dorvan Sector, and now of the DMZ civilian administration and unoddical command of the illegal paramilitary operations themselves.

Evek had been smart enough to appoint Federation collaborators as planetary governors and officials across most of the Maquis colonies. Only Volon III still retained a legitimate colonial government at Government House with leaders like Kobb elected to see over colonial affairs. It also hosted the Demilitarized Zone Council where Federation settlers and Cardassian settlers within the DMZ boundaries met with Starfleet liaisons and those from the Cardassian Guard to raise and settle grievances.

Even more strangely was Governor Donald White's presence along with his staffers Anne Pleasance, Paloma Hope and Erin Capshaw alongside the corrupt mayor of Ronara City, Krystal Gerin. Gerin's sister, Stephanie, was the former Lt. Governor and a Maquis sympathizer before her role was eliminated from the administrative ranks. But she and her foster daughter, Nikki Miller, and former Chief of Staff, Vicki Azerenka, now trolled the DMZ under the cover of young Miller's budding singing career gathering useful intelligence for Ro and other Maquis cell leaders. Cal Hudson personally enjoined every cell on every Maquis world to insure their protection while the trio visited their particular colony world. The DMZ Freight Consignment and Delivery Agency handled booking the trio's travels and generally hired Maquis cells with courier ships to ferry them to the next booking off world. Miller was scheduled to perform both during the outdoor ceremony and the reception afterwards.

Awaiting the ceremonies beginning, people snapped holo images of the happy couple together and separately. Gerin ignored Krystal and her sister, thankfully, resentfully ignored her. Gerin couldn't get over her sister literally sleeping her way through the Cardassian ranks to gain more power within their appointed, sham system of government. Gerin and Azerenka took a moment to speak with Ro and companions and Macen's team that was present.

"White is going to be making some kind of announcement and he knew the colony would be watching this event," Gerin explained. It was true that Phuong and Thach had an outsized presence on Ronara Prime because of their being the public face of the Maquis' support for the local people.

Hope, White's spokeswoman, interrupted the gathering, "Please be seated. The ceremony is about to begin. Officiated by none other than our beloved governor himself."

There wasn't even a polite clapping at that news. People simply sat down in the chairs provided. The intended couple wasn't surprised or alarmed so Capshaw, the Governor's Chief of Staff, had evidently dictated the terms of the ceremony to them beforehand. Gerin noted her sister's increasingly smug demeanor, "Krystal knows something. It won't be pleasant to bring that kind smile to her face."

"I'll see what I can get from the working staffers," Azerenka vanished. Some of the Governor's lower echelon staffers had formerly worked under Azerenka on Gerin's behalf. She'd managed to save several jobs through lateral transfers before her own role was dissolved. She hoped they'd be aware of the behind the scenes goings-on.

T'Kir looked nominally stable for her, Ro thought. She was festively dressed and in one of her "long hair" modes that indicated she was currently undergoing a less manic mode. Ro recognized Mariah Henley's influence in T'Kir's festive head scarf. Macen's communicator began beeping and he excused himself to both Danan and T'Kir's consternation.

"Sure? Why not? It's only an inspirational moment here," T'Kir angrily grated. Danan rolled her eyes. She knew, as Macen's former intimate and present XO, that he wouldn't engage T'Kir's fantasies of a romantic relationship while she was mentally ill. Of course, Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev had clued Danan into Starfleet's doubts regarding Macen's own stability where it came to the border colonists and especially the Maquis. But Nechayev had wisely deduced that if she refused to send Macen in undercover he'd simply go AWOL and enlist with them anyway.

At least this way he could influence target selection and maximize the disruptions to the Cardassian Guard's border defenses. He'd spent twenty years on the front lines and simply refused to come in from the cold. He was one of Nechayev's favored assets but there was an ultimate breaking point.

Ro's communicator sounded off, "Of all the...! I'll be back."

"Was that a threat?" T'Kir snarked. Ro saw Macen in the back of the assembled crowd having a very animated discussion via his communicator. With Danan and T'Kir on the ground with him, that left the other four crewmen aboard the decommissioned Starfleet Blackbird-class scoutship Macen had registered as the Odyssey.

"What is it?" Ro asked after flipping open her outdated Starfleet surplus communicator just like Macen's. Miller was beginning her first song as Phuong was walking down the aisle led by her only surviving relative, a female cousin named Xian. Thach joyously awaited her arrival at the podium. He had no best man to call upon. His closest friends had all been killed by Cardassian assassins. So he gripped the ring in his fist rather than risk dropping it.

The normally brash and assertive Phuong was rather shy and retiring as she meekly proceeded towards her future husband. It was endearing to most.

T'Kir, on the other hand, viewed quite differently, "Huh? He has her whipped instead of her having him that way?"

"For once in your life, just shut up and go with it," Danan forcefully whispered to her. But T'Kir always ignored her perceived rival.

"I wonder why everyone is callin' the bosses?" T'Kir suddenly blurted. Danan thought it was an odd time to finally concede that Macen had any authority over her. And she could see Hendryks and Noble wondered the very same thing as T'Kir.

"What the hell do you mean a Galor-class cruiser just dropped out of warp and assumed orbit? That's frinxing breaking the frinxing treaty!" Ro struggled to rein in her outrage at the blatant violation.

"It's Maret's flagship," Macen advised her, "Lacey had it on sensors during its approach and identified it. She also tipped off the sensor net monitoring the border with her sensor and positional readings. Starfleet will know about this. Whether they respond at all is another matter," Macen warned her. Christine Lacey was the type of Tactical expert that Ro wished she had for her cell. Tracy Ebert, though only fifteen, matched Nick Locarno for piloting skills. Tom Eckles and Heidi Darcy were the type of engineers that Thool could only dream of being. The Bolian ex-enlisted man excelled at maintenance but was hardly innovative.

Of course, Macen commanded an actual starship versus her Podunk raider. Ro promised herself she wouldn't get jealous...or at least stay that way. The bride and groom now faced one another with clasped hands and eager expressions of love.

White took over as Miller's song ended, "I traditionally we would conduct this ceremony in a far more formal way. But there is a legal precedent that needs be addressed before we can conclude this happy occasion. Earth customs included the right of nobility to invoke ius primae noctis. As Prefect over the administration of our colony, Gul Maret is here to claim his right."

Cardassian troops transported around the podium and the intended bride and groom. Maret himself materialized beside White, "Take her!"

"Like hell you will!" Phuong fought back against the grasping Cardassian troops. Thach was also engaged in a physical struggle with a pair of Cardassians. As the crowd dispersed, Ro saw that Noble and Hendryks had their concealed weapons out and were trying to clear shots through the fleeing civilians.

Danan and T'Kir also had their hold out weapons free and clear but were also stymied but Danan and Noble had each realized they needed to break up their cluster. Gerin rushed the front of the crowd to get Miller clear. Azerenka was focused on getting Gerin cleared. Eventually everyone knew Azerenka would have to come clean about her unrequited love for Gerin. Gerin was willfully ignorant and Miller just wondered how long everyone could keep pretending.

The troops had fanned out as well and began firing indiscriminately. The Maquis, now joined by Ro and Macen, returned fire. Settlers began pulling illegal weapons out their homes.

"Kill him," Maret decided. Thach was then executed. Instead of taking the fight out of Phuong, she fought all the harder in a blind rage. Eventually it took four Cardassian troopers to subdue her long enough for the cruiser's transporters to snare her. More guards awaited her aboard the orbiting ship.

Maret studied those resisting, "Have no fears. I'll return her to this very location. Just a little worse for the wear."

He was laughing as the transporter effect dematerialized him. The troopers left behind kept the Maquis busy while White, the other Gerin, and the Governor's spokeswoman and aides were evacuated to the cruiser. Later, Ro would learn that the humans were immediately deposited back into the heavily guarded Governor's Mansion. The final Cardassian trooper fell before Ro and the Maquis.

"Tom, beam everybody in my direct radius up!" Macen had flipped upon his communicator to direct Eckles who temporarily manned thr transporter. Ro led the sprint for the bridge once they aboard the Odyssey.

"She's gone to high warp on a direct plot out of the DMZ," Lacey announced as the turbolift deposited Macen, Danan, T'Kir, and Ro. T'Kir took up her station at OPS while Ebert plotted a pursuit course without needing orders and broke orbit.

"We can pace them but not overtake them," Ebert warned. The starship could only achieve a maximum of Warp 8 and even then only for twelve hours.

"Cross the border when we need to," Macen ordered. Danan set the sensors onto automatic to record any minute changes of aspect or condition. Noble and Hendryks reached the bridge then.

"We need the Indie here," Ro told Macen.

"I have clearance to enter Cardassian space. You lack that and will stand out to any patrols we'll inevitably encounter. But I have an idea," Macen grinned.

"No, not again," Ro adamantly refused.

"Laren," he chided her.

"Anyone but him," Ro protested again.

"He's available on short notice," Macen reminded her, "Harry Mudd the Third can gather your little lambs and drop them off wherever Maret's headed to and mount a rescue operation."

"I can't cover the cost," Ro feebly replied.

"I can. My plan, my fee," Macen told her, "Lees, contact Harry and send him to Ronara :Prime to pick up Ro's primary cell. Ro, the briefing room is yours to use to get Tulley motivated to gather the others and meet up with Mudd at the shuttleport."

Danan sent the coded message. They'd frequently collaborated with Mudd III. Ro hated that she had come to infrequently depend on Mudd. But she entered the briefing room behind the bridge module and got to work. Hendryks and Noble reported to Engineering to see if there was any task Eckles and Darcy needed extra hands for. And so began the rescue of Phuong...if she survived long enough to be rescued/

Aboard the Galor-class Treblinka, Maret gloated through the detention cell's force field, "I have never had a human like you before. I wonder how you'll taste?"

"I'd worry more about my cutting off your sexual organs and feeding them to you," Phuong advised him.

"The plan was to hold your intended groom over your head so you'd comply and then return to your colony to report back about our superiority over your treacherous rabble. I'll be visiting every wedding ceremony on every Federation colony to claim first night with every bride regardless of species. It just so happens I prefer humans as my Comfort Women. I've had enough Bajorans to fill several lifetimes. They were a broken people. But you humans are so...feisty. I enjoy breaking each of you," Maret gloated.

"It figures you're sadistic enough to see rape as a challenge," Phuong retorted.

"I'll have you begging me to take you over and over again," Maret predicted.

"Over my dead body," Phuong challenged him.

"If need be," Maret chuckled, "Even a dead female can still draw seed out of a man."

"You're sick in the head. And that's saying something coming from your people," Phuong really was sickened.

"If natural superiority in all things is a sickness to be had, consider me infected," he laughed as he exited what passed for a brig.

Finally, Phuong had a moment to grieve Thach's death. She also began to plan her revenge.

Frinks delivered news of the job to Mudd.

"Ah, my dear, the smell of insurgency is in the air," Mudd chuckled.

"You mean overcharging exorbitant fees," Frinks countered.

"That too," Mudd smiled slyly, "I believe this last round will be on Captain Macen's tab."

"He doesn't have one," Frinks scowled.

"Oh, I believe he has one now. And a bottle of your finest imported whiskey to go," Mudd ordered up, "Meanwhile I'll take a shot of the same."

Frinks got two bottles down. The fresh one and the one she serving from and poured Mudd his drink, "Enjoy it while you can, Mudd."

"So hostile," Mudd chuckled again appreciatively this time, "No wonder you and Tulley would make such a fine upstanding pair."

Mudd enjoyed the flush that came to Frinks' cheeks, "The man is a complete boor to allow such a fine flower to wilt."

"He's here," Frinks nodded towards the door where Tulley stood waiting.

"Ah yes, time to go," Mudd downed his shot and grabbed the bottle, "To celebrate our victory, of course."

"I'm sure," Frinks said sourly. After Mudd departed, she charged Macen's expense account. It was too be debited when Frinks was supplying "drinks on the house" to liquoring up would-be informants. She would've done it for free but the latinum was handy to have on hand. She did have a business run.

The Maquis and their gear were already gathered at Mudd's decommissioned Starfleet Mosquito-class runabout, the Fame & Fortune. Macen had provided him the ship after the loss of one his former vessels during a job for the Maquis.

"Anne Pleasance is making statement on White's behalf condoning Phuong's abduction," Dragonuv said grimly as everyone watch the FNS feed from the Governor's Mansion their padds and older data slates.

"The Governor regrets to inform the public that Gul Maret was forced to intervene in a wedding today. The bride and groom were suspected of having Maquis affiliations. The groom, one Kiry Thach, was killed resisting arrest and the bride, a certain Cais Phuong, has been arrested and detained for questioning," Press Secretary Pleasance recited from her prepared script, "Ms. Phuong has not been arrested for the purposes of a sexual violation as widely rumored by uncretidable so-called 'witnesses'. Gul Maret was simply exercising his legal authority as Prefect over the Dorvan Sector and the Demilitarize d Zone after the regrettable passing of the esteemed Gul Evek and his valiant crew in the pursuit of justice against these Maquis criminals. Fortunately, it has been widely reported that Evek was able to destroy the Maquis vessel he was in pursuit off in the Badlands. Cardassian Guard ships will continue to patrol the Dorvan Sector and the narrow corridor between the Cardassian Sector and the Bajor Sector that intersect at the beginning of the plasma storms dubbed the Badlands. The Maquis will no longer find refuge within them. Have a pleasant evening."

Pleasance's image was replaced by the FNS reports, Clarice Starr and Anna Shaw working the beat together.

Starr spoke first, "And there is the first word from the planetary governor's administration over this developing situation regarding Gul Maret's unexpected military incursion into the ironically named Demilitarized Zone. To remind viewers, Governor Donald White wasn't elected by Ronara Prime's citizens but installed by Gul Evek when the Federation ceded administrative control over their former colonies to the Cardassian Union. Over to you, Anna."

"Thanks you, Clarice. I've been gathering a census on public opinion. Most of the colonists on Ronara Prime are outraged by this seeming arrest of the very popular activist, Cais Phuong, and the murder of her fiancé, Kiry Thach, on their wedding day. Officials are denying that Gul Maret invoked an ancient long forgotten human law termed prima nox to demanded sexual rites to a bride before she can consummate the marriage with her husband. While the White administration and Mayor Krystal Gerin are denying these claims, the Cardassian Guard remains, as ever, silent regarding these issues. We can only assume Ronara Prime's delegate to the Colonial Council will bring this matter up to the Cardassian and Starfleet liaisons. Back to you, Clarice."

Starr ended the report with one last biting commentary, "This has been Claire Starr and Anna Shaw reporting to you live from Ronara Prime inside the increasingly poorly named Demilitarized Zone."

"Well, the Big Spin just continues unabated," Dragonuv said bitterly.

"You ready, Mudd?" Tulley tersely inquired.

"I just filed a flight plan into the Dorvan Sector. We're cleared to launch in twenty." Mudd happily reported.

"Macen will give precise landing coordinates when they become available," Tulley told him.

"I don't mind loitering," Mudd admitted, "I'm charging Macen an hourly rate besides the delivery transfer fee."

"One condition, I handle the helm until you sober up," Locarno demanded.

"Fine with me, boy," Mudd blearily agreed, "All aboard and all that rot."

Mudd opened the entry hatch and the Maquis grabbed their gear and filed into the larger capacity runabout that was designed to ferry 60 passengers at a time. The Fame & Fortune's holds were already filled with contraband so the Maquis simply strapped their gear cases and bags into unoccupied seats. If boarded by Starfleet the weapons were a criminal offense. In Cardassian territory it warranted an immediate execution. So it was in Mudd's best interest to keep them from being captured.

Harcourt "Harry" Fenton Mudd III had excellent survival instincts inherited from his infamous forbearers. Which was also why he generally avoided his children, Harry Mudd IV and Harriet "Harri" Fedora Mudd. They had a half-Bajoran sister they knew nothing about. Mudd Kenra lived in a resettlement camp in the Kalendra Sector. Mudd actually visited that daughter more than Harri or Harry.

Both of Mudd's daughters had his talent for criminal endeavors. Mudd IV was an idiot but he pretended to favor him to spur Harri on to outperform him. Kenra's life as a refugee had given her skills that were irreplaceable. Mudd pitied his daughters for the eventuality of their finally meeting. It would be an event to shake criminal empires. Mudd just wondered if he'd live long enough or stay free enough to witness it.

His other children in far-flung ports remained unacknowledged. Like his grandfather and father, Mudd had seeded his various children with various illegal skills but only Harri and Kenra had blossomed. It was just a pity that Harry IV had been born first and had gone to seed, criminally speaking. Mudd IV was lazy and it would get him imprisoned. He'd been detained multiple times as a juvenile offender already. Mudd had grilled it into Harri's head to simply abandon Mudd IV there. Kenra knew about her human siblings. Again to spur her on to outperform Harri. A daunting task it seemed.

Mudd felt actual affection for Harri and Kenra. An emotional stirring he'd never experienced before. Unlike his regards for Mudd IV, Mudd was genuinely proud of his daughters. He only wished he could show it. Eventually they'd both hate him. But they would also strive to excel beyond his feeble accomplishments and carry on the family name's legendary legacy. Even if it ended with the pair of them.

Mudd IV was barely worthy to carry the name but he was certain to yield Mudd a grandson if Kenra and Harri chose not to. Mudd just had to stay alive and liberated long enough to rear up his grandson. The fruits of Mudd IV's eventual lusts being Mudd's great hope. As Kenra proved, a Mudd didn't have to be completely human to succeed. They just had to be naturally amoral, occasional devils, and persistent mischief makers. Mudd knew his daughters would become legends in their rights.

So he returned to focusing on Mudd IV just to get him to pass on the name. Surely he could succeed at that one thing, couldn't he? While Mudd IV would grow into himself, his homosexuality would foul Mudd's dreams and plans. Harri at least would be omnisexual. Mudd was also forgetting the Bajoran custom for the family named to be passed along matriarchal lines. A custom Kenra's mother had abandoned when Kenra was born in unspoken deference to Mudd. So Kenra was his other great hope without his realizing it.

It would take another fifteen years before Mudd realized that and relented to let his son live his own life rather than fulfill his father's vain dreams of a legacy continued. He also neglected the fact that Harri could carry on the name under modern human traditions. So Mudd's burden was an unnecessary one that would one day sort itself out. In the meantime, he uselessly fretted and placed his worries upon his children.

Krystal Gerin led Paloma Hope and Erin Capshaw into the Old Biddy. Their formal attire, still worn for the abortive wedding, sharply contrasted with the ships' crews, dock workers, and other sundry locals that frequented the tavern.

"I need a word with my sister," Gerin stated without preamble.

"And that means what to me?" Frinks inquired while Leakes took care of the still thirsting paying customers.

"The City Constabulary established that Stephanie Gerin and her small tribe were here before boarding a freighter to leave Ronara Prime," Hope said, "We need the name of the freighter, her captain, and its intended destination."

"How would I know any of that?" Frinks wondered.

"Word is you know everything that happens on the planet," Capshaw shared, "Use your connections and find out if you don't already know."

"Is this where you threaten me, my establishment, and my customers?' Frinks asked.

"We're the government, not the Maquis," Gerin said coldly.

"That's an interesting perspective, Mayor. City officials shake me down every week for new fees and fines just to stay open. The Maquis, if they even visit, have never done so or interfered with my customers peacefully gathering for quiet company, food, and drinks," Frinks countered.

"What do you want?" Capshaw irritably asked.

"I want to only pay my due taxes and operating licenses. Stop the criminal shakedowns," Frinks demanded.

Hope knew that was Cardassian business practice in motion, "We can't guarantee the bureaucracy will obey any restrictions."

"I can't guarantee I won't begin broadcasting the fact you can't control your own bureaucrats and officials at either the local or planetary level. And I'll be listened to because everybody knows it. How long do you think it will be before it starts getting broadcast on FNS especially after this event?" Frinks countered.

The Federation News Source was becoming a particular thorn in the Cardassian appointed administrations. Maret already demanded that begin restricting the press which was the worst public relations move that could be made in Pleasance's professional opinion. So far White had resisted Maret's demands for martial law and revocation of the freedom of the Federation press. The Cardassian news services mouthed the party line and described the "horrors inflicted upon hapless Cardassian colonists within the DMZ and throughout the Dorvan Sector". But of course, those attacks were "lessening due to Maret's increased vigilance compared to Evek's abject failures". The truth was somewhere forgotten and undisturbed as the Maquis were gaining greater numbers, becoming better equipped and gaining vital experience.

Once the Klingons invaded in the near future, the Maquis would undergo a near Renaissance of increased freedoms as the Cardassian Guard shifted its emphasis onto the war effort. Maret's feverish ambitions would grow to include retaking Bajor and securing the DMZ for Cardassian territorial gains. All a centerpiece before humbling the Federation and the Klingons for daring to oppose Cardassian ambitions. Especially his own.

"Done," Gerin consented, "I'll call off my people."

"You'll have the Governor's writ of unwarranted tax exemption within the hour," Hope conceded.

"They're aboard the freighter registered in the Federation as the SS Falcon. Harry Graff is her captain. Their destination is Starbase G-4," Frinks saw no problem handing over the information since the Cardassians couldn't touch Gerin's sister and family there.

Gerin scowled, "Since when does Stephanie traipse off to the Federation?"

"Since Nikki started expanding her career horizons," Frinks just gave her a pleasant smile, "You should be proud of her."

"Let's go," Capshaw demanded.

"Remember the terms of our deal," Frinks called after them.

Then she shared the news with Leakes, who agreed the other Gerin as well as Miller and Azerenka needed warning.

Kepok Nor orbited the Cardassian claimed world of Teris II. It was here the Gul Maret directed his forces as Prefect of the Dorvan Sector and the DMZ. Teris, like Bajor before it, was an occupied world and the inhabitants little more than enslaved workforce used to feed the ore processors aboard the station and of its fields to feed the ever-hungry markets on Cardassia Prime. Unlike the advanced, but caste and religiously divided Bajorans, the Terisans had been an emerging industrial world ill-equipped to fend off a starfaring foe like the Cardassians. The Odyssey was closing in on the station.

"Some of the continental shelves are surprisingly similar to Earth's southern hemisphere," Danan reported from Sciences.

"Y'seen one planet, y'seen 'em all," T'Kir dismissed the evaluation.

"Any signals indicating if Maret is aboard Kepok Nor or on the planet's surface?" Macen prodded her into action.

"The station could prove problematic," Ro assessed.

"I'm more concerned with the Galor-class cruiser and three Lakat-class frigates patrolling the system besides Maret's own cruiser docked at the station," Macen shared. There were five frigates to the two cruisers defending the Teris system. Obviously, Maret felt threatened at his own command post.

Which coming up the ranks at Terok Nor and Bajor during the Occupation under Gul Dukat's Prefecture had obviously shaped Maret's views regarding the natives, the Maquis, and his own security. They'd been challenged by the frigate Revinak upon dropping out of warp inside the system ort cloud. The commander, a female Cardassian named Yelcit, held the rank of Dalin. The equivalent of a Starfleet Lt. Commander.

Macen's forged alternate credentials held and the Odyssey was escorted to Kepok Nor whereupon the Revinak resumed her patrol. The station XO, one Dal Evarak, greeted Macen's party at the airlock. For their purposes of scouting the station, Danan kept the ship on standby mode with the bulk of her crew aboard. T'Kir and Lacey were the sole exceptions. But Ro brought both Noble and Hendryks along with her. Macen deferred to Ro's seniority as cell commander for the reconnaissance.

"Captain Macen, We haven't seen you in these parts before," Dal Everak admitted, "Although the Obsidian Order has issued conflicting opinions regarding your activities within Cardassian space, they continue to endorse your transit clearances. Care to elaborate?"

"I'll leave that to the Obsidian Order," Macen deferred the question, "But I do have actionable intelligence for Gul Maret."

"Perhaps I'll inform him," Evarak played coy.

"The Maquis are planning an assassination attempt. To be conducted the next time Maret appears within twenty light years of the DMZ," Macen confided, "I have the likely cell commanders identified and their positioning for the strike has already begun," Macen shared.

Evarak sobered, "I'll alert Gul Maret. In the interim, the Promenade is always open for business."

"Lead on," Macen urged. Ro was letting Macen play his bluff. His "identified cell commanders" were already in the Cardassian Guard's records as such. The forward deployments were actually smugglers and other criminals that had swindled or betrayed the Maquis in the past. So both sides would be grateful for their guaranteed elimination. Maret didn't believe in half measures so their termination was almost certain. Maret could crow about "eliminating the threats to Cardassia" while thorns in the Maquis' side would be dealt with. Ideally a win/win scenario. Despite Ro's misgivings regarding aiding Cardassian propaganda.

As they proceeded to the Promenade from the Docking Ring, she wondered how her team was faring and how events back home were unfolding.

"We're coming to live from the Ronara Prime Governor's Mansion where mass protests from colonists have erupted over the perceived kidnapping and murder of a bride and groom over the course of the last several hours," Clarice Starr reported for FNS, "Press Secretary Anne Pleasance as been unable to quell the growing crowds. The Planetary Constabulary largely made up of newly arrived Cardassian settlers with military backgrounds have not yet repelled the crowds by force but tensions are rising. The Governor himself is expected to make a statement. The question on the Constabulary's mind is where are the Maquis in all of this? Have they goaded on the crowds or is this a natural consequence of Gul Maret's unanticipated escalation of Cardassian responses to perceived and alleged threats?"

Governor White appeared with Cardassian "constables' flanking him and providing a living shield before him.

"The Governor, appointed by Gul Evek rather than freely elected, eliminated the post of the elected Lt. Governor some weeks ago. Disposing of the last elected representative in the planet's legislative and executive circles," Starr continued, "This show of force is indicative of how entrenched the Cardassians seem to be in colonial affairs here on the former Federation colony of Ronara Prime."

"My colleague Anna Shaw has travelled to Volon III to attend the emergency meeting of the Colonial Council. It's understood that Gul Maret himself will not be attending the session but instead appointed a low ranking Gil to represent Cardassians interests and respond to accusation and charges of malfeasance. With a reported wave of protests erupting on every former Federation colony within the DMZ, it's inexplicable of what matters could Gul Maret be attending to that he finds more important than quelling this internal dissent?" Starr continued, "We can only hope the Governor's address will answer these questions. He's beginning his prepared remarks. Let's listen in."

Governor White looked old. He was an elderly man by human standards but had never seemed so worn and frail before.

"My fellow citizens, I ask you to calmly return to your homes and livelihoods. I'm imposing martial effective immediately. Every colonist has one hour to return home or to work. Anyone found on the streets afterwards will be questioned and detained if their reasons for being between home and work is not verifiable. This suspension ofhabeas corpus, freedom of assembly, and free speech are necessary to restore order to our fair colony. The foreign press officers will be ejected and native media outlets will be nationalized for the greater good of all. Please stand by from official announcements from official organs to receive and understand the developing situation," White made the outstanding declaration, "In one last clarification, Cais Phuong was taken by Gul Maret in accordance to the human custom ofprima nocte and she will be returned home after he has fulfilled his right as Prefect over the Demilitarized Zone. Gul Maret will continue to act upon this sacred human custom at every Maquis supporter's wedding throughout the former Federation colonies until such time as the Maquis have agreed to lay down arms and report themselves to their local constabulary offices for processing and for the criminal trials to proceed accordingly. Please respect the law and the law enforcement officers will respect you. No dissent will be tolerated during this time of adjustment should crises arise," White looked defeated and it was obvious to all why that he was. Gul Maret had unofficially seized control of the planet and was beginning to squeeze its population.

"There are the Governor's official proclamations," Starr looked angry, "This has been Clarice Starr reporting for the Federation News Service from Ronara Prime for presumably the last time for a while."

The transmission terminated at that point. But Starr and her team had no plans on being deported.

"What a load of shuk," Michael Hennessy loudly declared as the FNS report concluded from Ronara Prime. The rest of the Maquis aboard the Fame & Fortune agreed with the former Starfleet Security enlisted man. Before Governor White took office, the Planetary Constabulary had been composed of the Rangers. Rangers had served as ecological guardians and law enforcement, first responders and for disaster relief duties for the planet. Two former Rangers were aboard the runabout.

Liam Hemmingway and Natalie Donner were livid at the blatant sight of all of White's protective detail being made up of Cardassian "constables". Dragonuv, like Tulley, had been displaced from their original colonies that were now designated within Cardassian borders. Both had lost either all or the bulk of their family members during the purge and resettlement of Federation settlers with Starfleet observers objecting to the mistreatment and executions but refusing to intervene within Cardassia's newly established sovereign borders. Tulley and Dragonuv hated the Federation as greatly as they despised Cardassians. Both were latent extremists that only saw peace through the extermination of the Cardassian race and total rejection of whatever overtures the Federation could possibly make towards reconciliation.

"White can't do that!" Leah Chaste protested.

"He already has," Kris Solo snorted derisively.

"But why now?" Rose Pinter asked. Jai Hunter and Emily Rossum had to agree that was the pertinent question.

"Because the people won't just sit by and let Maret take Cais Phuong," Tulley assessed, "So he has to suppress the uprising before it happens."

"He just made it happen," Hennessy predicted.

"Too true," the Andorian called Fren agreed.

"It's on White's head then even though Maret obviously told him to do it,' Priyanka Khan decided. There was a mass consensus on that point.

"But Maret wants riots," Dragonuv realized, "So the Cardassians can kill the rioters and force everyone else into labor camps or to leave the planet."

"So raping Phuong isn't the point?" Tulley wondered about that.

"It's just the bonus," Donner said grimly.

The usual investigative team from the Odyssey was composed of Macen, T'Kir, and usually Danan. They were joined by fellow crewmate Christine Lacy as well Ro, Noble, and Hendryks.

"We are on a Cardassian station," Ro hissed between a clenched jaw.

"And they'll barely deem you worthy of attention unless you give them a tell to alert them to your being suspicious," Danan advised with a smile.

"You're not the only Bajoran in the room," Ro had a rectus of a smile.

"Here we go," T'Kir smirked as a glinn and two gils approached.

"I am Glinn Butrak, I'm here to inform you Gul Maret is otherwise occupied at this time," the unfortunate glinn ignored T'Kir's uproarious laughter upon hearing his name.

"And the presence of the two enlisted troopers?" Macen inquired.

"In case you decide to resist our kind offer of disembarking and moving on to your next location," Butrak informed him with a predatory smile.

"Stop that," Danan whispered to a snickering T'Kir.

"I'll tell y' what, I make you a private counteroffer an' we call it good," T'Kir told him.

"What could you offer me, Vulcan?" Butrak sneered at the contemptuous mocker.

"I know 'bout Marva," T'Kir snickered again, "An' I'll tell the whole station 'bout where she came from."

"You can stay," Butrak's gray skinned and paled to white.

"Sir?" a gil asked.

"On my authority," Butrak told them, "And you will accompany them."

"Yessir!" the other gil snapped to attention.

"Who's Marva?" Hendryks asked.

"The greatest entertainer this station has ever been privileged to host," a gil found her ignorance disparaging.

"Bet you've never heard of Nikki Miller then," Noble jested.

"Do not compare Marva with a human," the other gil snapped at them, "Marva is the epitome of a Cardassian female."

The gils took their distance to observe nut not overhear the Maquis.

"I gotta meet this Marva," Hendryks decided.

"Y'already have," T'Kir grinned, "She was standing here in full uniform."

"Butt rack?" Noble gasped.

"Yup, she's a CD. Only cross dressers and trans people are illegal in Cardassian space," Danan confirmed T'Kir's assertion.

"He must use a voice altering device when performing," Macen surmised.

"And he's definitely out of uniform," Ro smartly cracked off.

"An' she's scared t'death anyone will figure it out," T'Kir added, "An' there's our leverage."

"So we're free to walk the station," Lacey had gathered.

"Good job on disabling the weapons detectors, Snickerdoodle," Macen told T'Kir. She looked ecstatic.

"That doesn't automatically mean he'll sleep with you," Lacey warned her fellow bridge officer.

"Oh, foo!" T'Kir then stuck out her tongue at Lacey.

"Put that away. I don't know where it's been," Lacey chuckled. But the Cardassian ban on trans applied to her as well. So she could empathize with Butrak's plight. Gender dysphoria was considered a crime in the Cardassian Union rather than actual syndrome treatable through Hormone Replacement Therapy and Sexual Reassignment Surgery.

In the mid-24th Century, HRT meant actually genetically modifying the glands to secrete and maintain feminine hormone levels. STS had physically changed much except that puberty blockers were administered much sooner in life. Trans males could also have biosynthetic penises surgically attached. Genetic treatments could also make the surgically adapted trans females affected tissues more sensitive and were finally self-lubricating through the aid of an artificially developed gland that was added to a trans woman's resculpted vagina. Therefore bring mind and body back to a single reality.

But the Cardassians resisted any all such measures as being "impure". On Earth many such objections had been raised by religious communities and dogmas. But on Cardassia it was a secular and very cultural point of pride that men were manly and women weren't. Laws were even codified to support that societal "norm". The same draconian laws applied to homosexuals, who faced equal discrimination. Again, because of societal pressures within an atheist society. The argument simply was that homosexuality defied evolution's drive to reproduce a species. So they simply criminalized it as a "crime against the species". Much like any religious observance was deemed seditious.

Cardassia had once hosted two thriving sentient species. But the surviving species had decimated the environment in the successive wars over who was dominant. The religiously bent, technologically inferior other race were a precursor to Cardassia's experience with Bajor as zealots refused to surrender even the smallest pieces of ground. Modern Cardassians' ancestors committed genocide rather that suffer a single acolyte to live. Then they buried the very history of the competing race and explained away the environmental damages as having come from space debris.

Cardassia Prime used up the greater portion of its remaining resources to stretch into space to seize sources of greater resource and colonize worlds to insure the survival of their race. Yet even the hardiest and most devoted colonist would always yearn to return a home planet they might not have ever seen in real life. Cardassia Prime was the epitome of every Cardassians' cultural dream.

So a resource extraction station like Kepok Nor served three vital functions: processing valuable ore, shipping much needed agricultural necessities, and a base from which to cow the natives that had been reduced to slave labor. Unlike the Bajorans, the Terisans had been a pre-space industrial society that offered little resistance to the Cardassian Guard. The population had easily been enslaved generations ago. Whispers about the Bajorans' success at driving the Cardassian oppressor from their world rang in their ears and current tales of Maquis bravery had them acting out for the first time in their occupied history.

Gul Maret had established a lavish compound on Teris II precisely to lure the resistance fighters to him and to their eventual doom. It was here, T'Kir and Hendryks coaxed out of an information kiosk, that Maret had taken Phuong to. It was where he held all of his trophy women until they aged and were executed or displeased him in the slightest way and were executed.

Maret's wife approved his keeping Comfort Woman so long as they died in the end. Phuong's ongoing defiance just placed her at the front of the queue. Maret had finally decided to simply rape her and then kill her with his own hands when a signal came from Kepok Nor.

"What is it?" Maret snarled at the glinn interrupting his preparations.

"Emergency signal from Antok Nor! They are under attack," the glinn explained.

"By whom?" Maret knew Antok Nor was nearer the DMZ.

"The Maquis! They're on the station! Gul Fibrak has lost control," the glinn stammered.

"Gah! Hold the woman and put her with the others. Perhaps they'll convince to bend," Maret ordered, "Alert Kepok Nor and apprise them that I need transport."

"Yes, Gul Maret," the glinn hurried.

Maret was relieved that he liked taking women while in uniform. He merely reported to the transporter pads. Seconds later he materialized in Kepok Nor's Ops center, "Alert my crew and the nearest units. We'll crush these Maquis scum once and for all."

The soldiers present cheered even as they recalled the crews. Exactly as Ro had planned when she diverted the Fame & Fortune to the nearby Antok Nor. Making their insertion into Maret's mansion easier.


Chapter Two

Tulley led the saboteurs across Antok Nor's Promenade. Hennessy, Donner and Hemingway were in the fusion core scramming the reactors. Internal defenses collapsed as the main power was deactivated.

"Someone make certain Harry hasn't lost bladder control by now," Tulley ordered and Chaste hurried off to ascertain that Khan and Pinter hadn't released Mudd from his own cargo hold yet. Locarno had all the ship's systems fired up and ready to detach at a second's notice. He worried over Rossum.

Chaste worried about Hunter. Hunter and Solo had the Cardassians busy in the Habitat Ring where they'd blown a section out. Emergency force fields failed and the air locks automatically sealed to prevent explosive decompression. But unlike Federation space stations, Nor-class stations weren't built around frames. Rather the exterior hull plating was fused together into an exo-skeleton and the interior plates and equipment reinforced the structure.

Detonating a large explosive severing the Habitat Ring had not only eliminated a portion of the station's security complement, it also structurally compromised the station itself. Crossover Bridges One and Three were also destroyed as Tulley's force began their withdrawal.

After the Fame & Fortune pushed away, she used her tractor beam to wobble the Cargo Ring. The fractured station began to shear off its rings. Now Mudd was relieved to learn that Phase 2 involved transferring the Maquis onto another ship.

The Merchantman class freighter, SS Falcon met the runabout and beamed aboard the Maquis guests.

"Annabeth says you owe her," Veronica "Ronnie" Jane Graff warned Tulley, "And she intends to collect this time."

"Is everybody aboard yet?" came Harry Graff's gruff voice. Everyone knew Graff just played the curmudgeon. Ronnie had been an addition to Graff's life later in it. The freewheeling freighter captain and occasional smuggler had learned responsibility by becoming a single parent at age fifty-five.

At sixteen, Ronnie was young and idealistic. She also had an overly romantic view of the Maquis. Everyone knew Ronnie was their link to Graff and this handoff. "Barman" Brett was their navigator and cargo master. Graff was owner-operator as well as the ship's pilot. Ronnie was the engineer and fill-in for any station needing attending to. Since getting to know the Maquis cell, Ronnie had decided to go blonde. And like Solo, a distinctively unnatural shade of blonde.

"Do we have a destination yet?" Graff commed down to the hold.

"Without further word we're head back to Ronara Prime," Tulley informed Ronnie when she asked if they did.

"We're to head in," Ronnie couldn't hide her disappointment.

Just as Graff couldn't hid e his relief, "Heading back now."

'Maybe someday," Locarno consoled Ronnie.

"Not stuck on this ship," Ronnie sulked as she reported in at the bridge.

"You know Ro has a deal with Graff. Ronnie isn't to join up," Tulley chided Locarno.

"Everyone needs something to hope for," he argued.

"Not for this life," Dragonuv warned him.

The Odyssey assumed orbit over Teris II opposite Kepok Nor's geosynchronous orbit.

"I have them," Danan studied her sensors scans, "Damn! There are a lot of bodies. I have to believe the shielded portions are the prisoner's quarters. Maret was paranoid enough to lace the walls with kelbonite."

"So we take the fight to them," Ro decided.

"Still, Tom can do wonders with the transporter regarding the outer guards," Macen suggested, "He could move them to that lunar surface."

"It's airless," Danan warned him.

"So much the better," Macen understood. Danan knew the Symbiosis Commission would remove the Danan symbiont if she were ever apprehended and charged by Starfleet. The Cardassians' own morbid curiosity regarding Joined Trills inspired her to hide her true nature from strangers.

"That's cold. Even for you," Danan chided him.

"They'd do no less," Macen grimly replied. He'd been a guest of Cardassian severity services twice now. The first time he and Elias Vaughn had broken free. The second time, the commander of the security detachment had released him and doctored her logs. Lyoti Mariska gave him hope for Cardassians. Just not much.

"I'll get Tom to the transporter room and he can begin the relays," Macen went for the turbolift. Ro steered Danan's further scans when the Trill wanted to be following Macen. Their romance had been straining since joining the Maquis. Even if they officially hadn't ended it yet. But Macen had the crew getting increasingly involved in Ro's operations. It didn't take long before Cardassian guards began disappearing in twos and threes.

"They've figured it out," Danan watched the blips representing Cardassian bio signs converged on the mansion and into its protected spaces, "There's no element of surprise."

"There doesn't need to be," Ro decided and left the bridge.

Reporting in at the transporter, she carried with her an antimatter charge she carried with antigravs lift.

"That's a but extreme,' Eckles protested.

"Just beam it down to the entrance," Ro ordered. Eckles looked Macen, who nodded his agreement. Danan, Noble, Hendryks, and T'Kir reported to the transporter room. They brandished particle beam small arms and one photon grenade launcher.

"Sorry Lees," Macen told Danan, "I need you on board should the Cardassians on the station respond."

"Dammit!" Danan handed off her Type III "cobra head" phaser rifle to Noble.

"Then we nest get underway," Macen decided, "Tom, send the charge down and let me know when it's detonated."

""It's primed on a three minute countdown...and it's engaged," Ro stepped away from the charge.

The transporter halo dissolved the charge.

"Charge is set. Cardassian life signs emerging from the mansion. Charge detonated early," Eckles was surprised.

"They must have set off the proximity fuse," Ro smirked.

"I'm glad we only one of those," Hendryks remarked as scanned through the secondary console beside Eckles, "That took out a quarter of the mansion's center rooms."

"And should have rattled the rest of their security detail," Ro stated, "So let's get down there."

The intercom chirped and Macen answered it to find Danan reporting in, "Distress beacon sounded on the surface. Surface units and Kepok Nor are responding."

"Break orbit and initiate Distress Protocol Beta Two," Macen instructed.

"Distress Protocol Beta Two?" Ro inquired.

"You'll see," Macen grinned.

"T'Kir?" Ro asked the Vulcan.

T'Kir made an expanding gesture with her hands as well blowing an explosive sound with mouth.

"Greeeaaat," Ro groaned.

"Y'll love it, Skipper," T'Kir grinned.

"I am not reassured," Ro argued.

"We got problems," Barman Brett announced after running a navigational sensor sweep of the Ronara system. He'd brought then to an emergency drop out of warp.

Graff almost lost his famed cowboy had vaulting into the pilot's seat, "What is it?"

"Three Galor-class cruisers and three Lakat-class frigates are in Ronara Prime's system or in orbit," Brett laconically drawled.

"Damn! Our passengers are hotter than usual," Graff grumbled, "Set course for Starbase G-4. I want to talk to Kristine Liu about transferring our cargo to a different ship."

"Ronnie won't like it," Brett warned.

"I'll worry about Ronnie and keeping us out of labor camps," Graff informed, "Now plot that course."

Of course, the younger Graff did raise all sorts of objections until the Maquis settled her down.

"Captain, contact Starfleet and report the situation at Ronara Prime," Tulley requested.

"I already reported it and sent our sensor readings to the Starfleet Colonial Liaison on Volon III," Graff informed Tulley that he knew his business.

"It'll be interesting to see of Starfleet simply swallows another breach of the treaty," Tulley grimly mused.

"This is pretty egregious even for those peaceniks," Graff replied, "It's an occupation."

"Tell it to Bajor," Tulley griped.

Graff wisely decided to drop it, "I can push Warp 4 to get us to Starbase G-4 but it's still several hours away."

"Do what you can," Tulley conceded knowing how old the Falcon's engines were, "Ronnie has us situated in the cargo hold and our gear stored in the smuggling hold in case Starfleet pulls a surprise inspection at the border."

"Just don't tell her too many war stories," Graff groaned, "She already has a head full of ideas about the 'glorious' cause."

"It's hardly glorious or romantic," Tulley grunted and left the bridge behind. Graff wondered if Tulley would ever wake up to Annabeth Frinks' desperately unrequited love for him. Then the question would be: what would Tulley do about it?

"Two Lakat-class frigates attempting to prevent us from breaking orbit," Lacey told Danan.

"Tracy, teach them the error of their ways," Danan instructed, "Chris, focus all firepower on a single frigate. Tracy, keep our target between us and the second Cardie."

"You got it!" Ebert went to maximum impulse before cutting speed and reversing course from an outer approach.

She neared in on a single opposing frigate, "Hit them already!"

Lacey opened fire with both phasers and photon torpedoes. The other frigate maneuvered to relieve its stricken sister ship. But Ebert outmaneuvered the attempt by keeping the targeted ship between them. She was also sly enough to avoid the ship's forward weapons array. But the secondary disruptor batteries still hammered at their shields.

The truest difficulty was keeping the scoutship's own forward torpedo launchers aimed squarely at the target with an occasional flipped around move to place the aft launcher aimed at the frigate until Ebert could place the scout's forward phaser banks aimed squarely at their weakening foe. The second Lakat- broke free to engage from a distance as the Odyssey danced around the targeted vessel. The difficulty was that when the Lakat- missed the Odyssey, her weapons fire hit her sister ship. The frigates eventually positioned themselves into achieving a crossfire on the Odyssey. Which Ebert barrel rolled her way out of while Lacey engaged their primary target with the forward weapons arrays and the other frigate with the aft weapons.

"Primary target's shields are collapsing," Lacey at last.

The two Lakat-classes had just bombarded each other with disruptor fire and photon torpedoes.

"Take out their drive section," Danan ordered. Lacey did with relish.

"Now, we fix our attention on the other one," Danan decided.

"Its shields are weakened but it'll still put up quite a fight," Lacey warned, "And the aft torpedo launcher magazine is getting depleted."

"She's moving off," Ebert advised them, "They're trying to contain us without engaging us."

"Which means reinforcements are on their way," Lacey predicted.

"Get me Macen," Danan instructed.

Macen had stocked a single photon grenade launcher in the Odyssey's armory. Ro was taking the opportunity to blast away Cardassian guards with it.

"They have to be running out of sentries by now," Noble complained.

"Well, I'm out of grenades anyway," Ro slung the launcher across her back.

"Too bad, Skipper," T'Kir enthused.

"Is there any particular reason why your armory only had Bajoran and Cardassian built small arms?" Hendryks had been dying to ask, "Other than this one rifle?"

"Here he goes..." T'Kir lamented.

"Stow it," Macen told her, "Starfleet and Federation phasers are equipped with biosensors so they'll aim at a target even when the wielder's aim is off. But the biosensor can be fouled in battle and render the weapon locked and unable to fire. These are simple 'point and shoot' designs and rugged enough to withstand a pounding. I happily support Bajoran industry and we simply capture a lot Cardassian weapons in our little 'excursions' when we're with you folks."

"An' there y'have it," T'Kir drum rolled on a downed tree trunk.

"Good to know," Hendryks murmured as she scanned the mansion with a Bajoran (of course) tricorder, "I read just four Cardassian life signs left and seven humans."

"Macen and I can take care of the Spoonheads while you three liberate the humans," Ro instructed.

As they separated to make individual entrances into the afflicted mansion, Hendryks asked T'Kir, "Why take Spy Guy instead of Chris? She at least has Starfleet Security training."

"Ah, youth today. Y'got no appreciation f'r what's about t'happen," T'Kir snickered, "Let's just say they don't want witnesses t' the crime about t'be committed."

"Killing Cardies is hardly a crime," Noble snorted.

"Yeah, But they way they're t'kill 'em can get creative," T'Kir manically grinned. Noble and Hendryks were about as prepared as anyone could be for a mentally unstable and emotionally volatile Vulcan, but T'Kir seemed unhinged.

"Wait! I'm reading two Cardies coming in from around the back of the mansion. They'll intercept us in sixty seconds," Hendryks read off her tricorder display, "They must have a shielded bunker back there to not show up before."

"Which means the Skipper could be walking into Spoonhead reinforcements," Noble grimaced, "Elfi, you contact Ro while T'Kir and I take out these guards."

Hendryks flipped open her communicator, "Hendryks to Ro. Come in, Ro."

She heard a volley of particle beam fire and then silence.

"Y'can come out now!" T'Kir shouted. Hendryks stepped around from the portico she'd been shielded behind.

"We also located the back entrance," Noble pointed out, "Any luck?"

"She's not answering," Hendryks said grimly.

"That ain't good," T'Kir understated.

"We secure the release of the prisoners then we can double back and assist Ro and Macen," Noble called it.

Noble's communicator began beeping and irritably retrieved from her belt and flipped it open, "Yes?"

"You're running out of time," Danan warned her, "And I can't contact Brin or Ro."

"You're not the only one. Now we're about to affect the prisoners. Unless you want to keep me here talking until the Cardassian fleet arrives?" Noble snapped her communicator clamshell shut before Danan could reply.

"Now, I like you," T'Kir grinned.

"It's a comfort," Noble said dryly.

"Can we just get back to it?" Hendryks returned to the task at hand. Phuong was a friend of hers. This was supposed to be a happy day to celebrate beginning a new life with her loved one. Instead it had become one of trauma and terror. Hendryks had fantasies of using an enormous strap on to violate Maret over and over until he bled to death. Just to give him a taste of what he'd doled out. She'd forgo the gag ball so she could listen to his screams and cries for mercy. When she'd heard enough, she'd force the strap on down his throat until he asphyxiated. Afterwards she'd transmit the imagery to the Central Command so they could see just how "manly" Maret had been in the end a he begged for his life and dignity. Just as his victims had undoubtedly done. She prayed they'd show the imagery to Maret's widow.

T'Kir easily bypassed the door's security. They stepped in and Hendryks took another tricorder reading, "All seven prisoners are in rooms on the left side of the corridor."

"Let's get to it." Noble growled.

"Hold it," T'Kir blocked their path and drew her phaser. Then she sprinted down the corridor to arrive at a further door. Opening the door, the hall was filled screams of pain and anguish. T'Kir fired her phaser twice and the screaming stopped.

"Y'r needed here," T'Kir sidestepped to allow Hendryks through. Inside, Phuong had been stripped necked and hands were bound behind her back. She was now covered in welts, electrical burns, and sweat and streaming tears.

"Elfi!" Phuong desperately called to her.

"I'm here, Cais!" Hendryks scrambled to get her unclasped. Klingon pain sticks lay on the floor were the dead Cardassians had dropped them. Hendryks noted that their pants were undone and the genitals were hanging out, "Did they...?"

"No," Phuong said grimly, "They were 'softening' me up for Maret. They shocked me over and over again telling me it would end when I gave them oral satisfaction. Apparently, Maret prefers vag and anal sex."

"But he wanted you broken enough so he could beat you into it," Hendryks understood. There was turmoil outside the room.

"I have to go. Check the replicator and see if it's online and can whip you up some kind of clothing," Hendryks instructed after releasing Phuong's wrists.

Hendryks stepped out to see that T'Kir and Noble had liberated the other six women. Two were battered but still possessed an air of defiance. Two were broken and screaming to be left behind so as not to abandon Maret's needs. The final woman was simply feral.

A door across the hall opened and two Cardassians stepped and their eyes opened with amazement. It was the last expression they'd ever wear as Hendryks cut them down with her phaser.

"Against the wall!" T'Kir shouted and began shooting down the corridor as a door opened and two armed Cardassians stepped though to wade into T'Kir's particle beams.

"How'd you know...?" Hendryks asked, astonished.

"Intuition maybe?" T'Kir shrugged.

"Whatever you're doing, keep doing it," Noble requested. She was busy trying keep the defiant from tearing into the sycophants. The feral woman had already escaped down the opposite end of the hallway and was running naked and free across Teris II.

T'Kir spun and fired down that direction, blowing apart the door mechanism, "They got her an' are comin' f'r us," T'Kir warned.

Hendryks flipped open her communicator as Phuong came out, still naked and shrugged, "Hendryks to Odyssey. Come in Odyssey."

"We read you, Elfi," Danan told her, "We have eight humans and one Vulcan on our sensors. Is that correct?"

Hendryks could sense the Trill's underlying tension. They were missing El-Aurian and Bajoran life signs.

"Affirmative, Odyssey. That's our head count," Hendryks unhappily replied.

"Stand by for transport. We can only open our shields for less than a minute," Danan warned. T'Kir waved off.

"T'Kir is staying behind," Hendryks told her.

"Copy that," Danan sounded relieved. The two sycophants began irrationally screaming as the annular confinement beam grabbed a hold of them. T'Kir was glad they were gone seconds later. She knew Hendryks could expertly man her OPS station aboard the Odyssey while she stood the best chance of tracking down Macen and Ro. She either brought them back with her or she didn't return. It was that cut and dry.

Macen and Ro had quickly dealt with the remaining sentries within the mansion. The last thing the Cardassian expected was an all out assault. But the two Maquis had been caught surprise by the sixteen strong platoon that came to reinforce the mansion's defenders. Fortunately, they found cover with limited access points. But they were pinned.

"I blame you for this," Ro called out as she returned fire with her backup holdout phaser. She'd already expended all three of the power packs she had for her Cardassian disruptor rifle. She was also in no position to reach any of the discarded weapons dropped by the dead soldiers laying all about.

"Fine. I can take that," Macen said grimly as he ejected a power pack from his phaser and inserted a fully charged one and then resumed firing at the enemy.

"You don't even want to know why?" Ro was bewildered.

'Frankly, I don't care," Macen hit one of his targets and the trooper fell.

"I count eleven left," Ro called, "That includes the three moving into flanking position."

"I have them," Macen replied as the Cardassians lost the element of surprise. Phaser fire from their side killed them.

T'Kir appeared and innocently asked, "What'cha doin'?"

"Admiring you, Snickerdoodle," Macen said gratefully, "Laren, we have an out."

"They're massing for a charge and breaking off four to flank us again," Ro told him.

"T'Kir has the flankers," he informed her.

"Mighty gracious of her," Ro knew she'd never hear the end of it from the Vulcan. In the end, the Cardassians were dealt with and Ro ended up with a grazing disruptor burn on her upper arm.

"Can we just leave now?" she irritably inquired.

Macen flipped open his communicator, "Macen to Odyssey. Come in."

Danan's voice sounded relieved, "We can drop shields just long enough to beam aboard. We have aLakat-class covering our position trying to pin us while reinforcements arrive."

"Tell Tracy to break us out as soon as we're beamed aboard," Macen instructed. They felt the annular confinements and dematerialization process begin.

Ro forewent treatment to get to the bridge with Macen and T'Kir. She watched as Danan slid out of the center seat and returned to the Science station. T'Kir relieved Hendryks. Ebert was boosting the ship out of orbit and the frigate was moving to intercept, "They're trying to herd us into the station's firing range."

"Persuade them otherwise," Macen called back to Lacey.

"We only have so many torpedoes," Lacey advised him.

"Then make them count as you liberally apply the phasers as well," Macen shrugged. While Ro respected the fact Macen didn't want micromanage his crew, she wanted to anyway. Something that was required when she was aboard the Ju'day-class raider, Indomitable.

The Odyssey crew wasn't Starfleet and they generally weren't combatants but given the sight of a stricken Lakat-class beginning her burning descent into Teris II's atmosphere, they knew their stuff.

"Unload what you've got," Ebert told Lacey, "I'm going in close."

She passed the scoutship so close to the frigate both ships' shields flared into visibility. Then she engaged the warp engines and headed out of the system accelerating to the ship's maximum Warp 8.

"Care to have that nervous breakdown now?" Macen grinned at Ro. She replied with an archaic and vulgar human hand gesture.

"Better get that arm looked at," Macen suggested "We've got this."

Graff reported in with Tulley, Hennessy, and Dragonuv, "I bounced that message off of the nav buoys like you asked. If your friends are listening, they'll get it."

"I just wonder how bad it is on Ronara Prime," Tulley admitted.

"There's still a news blackout," Hennessy complained, "And I'm certain Maret will keep that way as long as he can."

"No one in the Federation will care anyway," Dragonuv angrily retorted.

"It'll build up individual's sympathy. The right individuals and will drive up recruiting," Tulley predicted, "Maret just made a huge strategic mistake."

"Still, Starfleet uphold the treaty despite gross violation of sending warships into the DMZ," Hennessy warned him, "Then they can hold their precious moral high ground."

"Screw Starfleet," Dragonuv snorted.

"I think this is such a slap in the face they can't ignore it this time," Graff reminded them all, "This is a declaration of war."

"Starfleet will still cave in," Dragonuv made her prediction, "No matter what happens on the ground."

"We have to hope our people stay safe," Tulley grimaced. Hennessy and Dragonuv had to wonder of Tulley was thinking of anyone in particular.

Maret himself descended upon Ronara Prime to berate Governor White and to take Krystal Gerin and force her into sex. Which she thoroughly enjoyed.

"It's been a long time since someone used my for sex and just threw me aside," Gerin purred, "I like it."

"You're almost Cardassian in that way," Maret tidied himself up while she basked in the afterglow of satisfaction, "Sex is about dominating and being dominated. Master-slave. Nothing else."

"And putting down slave revolts," Gerin laughed. It was then that Maret received word that his harem had been liberated. Including the unbroken Phuong. He went into a rage and raped Gerin again and again until his wrath was sated. The beating was too much even for Gerin and she lay in huddle, traumatized by Maret's abuse.

"Slave revolt indeed," he spat upon her and strode out of her chambers. She stayed where she was at, cowering in terror for hours while Cardassian troops and "peace officers" ransacked the city. She could hear the screams of men and women pleading as she just had. With just as little success. Still, with Evek gone Maret was her path to power within the DMZ worlds. She wouldn't risk compromising her path to it.

Even if it meant sucking up her trauma and burying it deep. She had to make herself indispensible or she knew next time Maret would kill her after beating and raping his pleasure out of her. Stephanie had warned her this day would come. Gerin wished she'd listened back then.

Frinks and Leakes had been serving drinks to Cardassian troopers nonstop at the Old Biddy for over twenty hours now. The screams and the shooting were an ever present soundtrack. With no traffic allowed in or out of the system, Maret foiled his own lure to bring Ro and Tulley back to Ronara Prime. The communications blackout further served to keep a lid on things. Frinks could tell Leakes had the same query in her eyes. Would they survive this? Would they even want to when it was over?


Chapter Three

"We're being hailed by Admiral Leyton's office in Starfleet Command," Lieutenant Charles "Chuck" Blow reported.

"On screen," his twin brother, Captain Everett Blow, instructed.

Captain Blow had entered Starfleet Academy immediately after graduating from secondary school. His twin had enlisted with Starfleet and opted to attend Starfleet Academy later in his career. The Starfleet Bureau of Personnel had presented the captain with his twin as a choice for Tactical Officer. Blow jumped at the chance knowing Chuck would never be hindrance to his CO, brother or not. Commander Samantha Cordell, the USS Madagascar's XO, looked intrigued when Commander Erika Benteen appeared on the main viewer.

"Commander, I was expecting..." Blow trailed off.

"Admiral Leyton himself?" Benteen seemed amused, "Despite this order stemming from his office, the admiral has to look apolitical in this matter."

"What matter would that be?" Cordell couldn't help but ask while Blow looked vaguely disappointed.

"It's good to see you, Sam," Benteen nodded at the screen, "You're to rendezvous with theExcalibur, enter the DMZ, and assess why Gul Maret has entered the 'Demilitarized' Zone with threeGalor- and threeLakat-class warships to sit in orbit over Ronara Prime. Furthermore you're to investigate why a communications blackout has been established."

"Two questions come to mind, Commander," Blow admitted, "The first is why does the admiral feel he need distance himself from a straightforward inquiry? Secondly, you seriously want to send a Renaissance-class and an Ambassador-class starship up against six modern Cardassian warships?"

"Good questions, Captain," Benteen admitted, "The use of less than modern capital ships is an attempt to de-escalate what the Cardassians have seemingly been provoked into doing."

"Which is to openly declare war," Blow replied, "That was the point of a DMZ, after all."

"The admiral doesn't want to be seen as sending two Starfleet vessels into combat against superior forces unless they prevail in getting Maret to exit the Zone," Benteen ignored Blow's commentary, "Consider the Cardassians' advantages as inspiration to work harder for peace."

"But the Cardassians are the ones violating the treaty and the express purpose of a DMZ," Cordell brought up.

"You'll follow Captain Korsmo's lead on this," Benteen was unruffled, "You're there as his support to prevent a war not to start one."

"Is that the only reason we're being sacrificed if necessary?" Blow asked curtly.

"Most in Starfleet Command are willing to look the other way and let Maret have his way with the colonists, citing the fact they left the Federation to remain on their colony. But Admiral Leyton arranged for you and theExcalibur to act as a compromise between blatant inaction and subdued response," Benteen explained, "Should I go on or will you obey your orders, Captain?"

"We're already on our way," Blow replied, "Out."

"Lieutenant Blow, raise Captain Korsmo and the Excalibur. I want to discuss matters with him in my Ready Room. Commander, you have the bridge" Blow rose and exited.

"Sucks to be us," the other Blow muttered. Cordell happened to agree.

Blow wasn't as impressed with Korsmo as the man was with himself.

"This will hardly prove a challenge for a man of my stature, Captain Blow. Just sit back and watch how it's done," Korsmo happily boasted. Morgan Korsmo and Jean-Luc Picard had enjoyed a friendly rivalry until Korsmo made captain first. Then he became insufferable. Korsmo had been transferred to command the Excalibur after William Riker returned to the Enterprise-D. His first command since sitting in the center seat of the USS Chekov during the Battle of Wolf 359. The rumor mill was awash with tales of Korsmo's enforced "medical leave".

The man himself had an extra swagger about him as he would brag about being unkillable even by a foe as fearsome as the Borg. Of course, there were those that wondered exactly who Korsmo was trying to convince of that fact.

"It's all in good hands, Captain. My hands. Just be at the rendezvous on time. Out," Korsmo's image winked out, leaving a distinctly bad impression with Blow.

The rendezvous wasn't scheduled for another twenty minutes. It was time for Blow to generate some secondary options. He summoned Cordell, Lieutenant Blow, and Lieutenant T'Lisa, his Vulcan Chief Medical Officer, to his ready room.

T'Lisa was from a DMZ colony so she'd be the local expert on Ronara Prime and the colony there. The other Blow and Cordell were the tactical and strategic planning commission to work with. One couldn't patrol the DMZ without reading briefs on Maret. Pitting Korsmo's ego against Maret's seemed a recipe for disaster.

"You wanted to see me, Lieutenant?" Captain Pamela Tillis asked Starbase G-4's Chief of Security.

"Yes, ma'am. I believe a ship load of Maquis just arrived," Karen Fultaine answered.

"Any particular reason why?" Tillis inquired. She trusted Fultaine's instincts but Starfleet needed evidence to act upon.

"They came aboard Captain Graff's Falcon," Fultaine began her explanation, "His passenger manifest lists them as coming out of Ronara Prime."

"Which we lost contact with," Tillis saw an opening, "And Graff himself reported spotting Cardassian warships."

"So how did he escape?" Fultaine asked, "And why do his auto nav logs indicate he came from within the Dorvan Sector and bypassed Ronara Prime afterwards when he supposedly picked up his passengers?"

"Has Graff made an actual run to Ronara Prime lately?" Tillis asked.

"He came from there yesterday and dropped off that singer," Fultaine reported, "Then he picks up passengers in an uninhabited system inside Cardassian space and came here when the Cardassians embargo Ronara Prime looking for Maquis?"

"Pull the rest of their logs and inspect the ship. Have Lieutenant Jelenic look her over too," Captain Tillis instructed. Mira Jelenic was the starbase's Chief of Operations.

"Should she look for something specific?" Fultaine asked.

"Just grounds to hold the ship in port long enough for your team to make a very thorough inspection," Tillis clarified.

"Yes, ma'am," Fultaine happily excused herself.

"Harry, what are you into?" Tillis sighed. Graff and Ronnie were well known aboard Starbase G-4 and Tillis hated the idea of having to arrest the crew and impound the family owned freighter.

"Your gear is stowed away in shielded cargo pods listed as containing antimatter headed for the primary power core on Ronara Prime. Elijah Waters and Kristiana Liu will be getting you there," Graff explained, "Meanwhile, enjoy the station. Ronnie, Brett and I will be stuck here undergoing inspections and your people will be watched closely by Lieutenant Fultaine. She's the local Chief of Security. And she takes her job veeery seriously."

Tulley chuckled over many things. One was that Liu typically went by "Kristina" or just "Kris" rather than her given name. Another was the idea that a Starfleet Chief of Security wouldn't take his, her, or their job seriously. Starfleet was too anal retentive to allow a slacker to take the post. Part of being a Maquis was getting used to the idea that everybody but the locals where you lived was out to get you. So that ended the list of things to chuckle over.

"Got it," Tulley assured him.

"Just follow Donner, Hemmingway, Hennessy, Rossum, Locarno, and Pinter's leads. They act the very least like criminals," Ronnie suggested.

"Thanks," Tulley said dryly.

"She has a point," Dragonuv admitted, "Most of us look guilty as sin itself. We look like we're ready to blow the place up and steal its weapons and ordnance."

"Maybe because we are," Tulley's tone dried further.

"Then stop it," Ronnie suggested, "Nikki Miller is singing here for the next three days. Catch a show."

Miller's repertoire included musical stylings of popular music from a dozen cultures.

"Sounds like a good plan. After we get quarters assigned," Dragonuv insisted.

"Book us in a hostel. It's about all we can afford after paying Mudd," Tulley grimaced. He didn't know Macen had already paid Mudd for the voyage. Another in a long list of crimes Ro would someday deduct out of his hide if need be.

"Waters covered my fees," Graff promised them, "So all my expenses here are covered. I'm also getting a high profit cargo run out of it."

"That's a relief. Now we can afford a nice hostel," Tulley almost grinned.

"We have several hundred Bajoran litas to spend," Dragonuv remanded Tulley.

"But that's our emergency fund," Tulley reminded her.

"I consider housing an emergency," Dragonuv retorted. The lita was the newly established Bajoran Provisional Government's internal currency. A vestigial form of the Cardassian lek was their foreign currency whose value was determined by interstellar currency exchanges whereas the lita traded at an even, if depreciated, rate in gold pressed latinum slips. The Bajoran lek was tied to the Cardassian lek's value and was more volatile but traded at a higher rate in gold pressed latinum strips and occasionally bars. Mudd had cost the cell almost all of their Bajoran and Cardassian lek reserves that Macen had donated before the trip.

Tulley and Dragonuv had access to a Bajoran account with over a thousand litas available but the cell would be hard pressed to replace them without Macen's continuing donations and the courier work provided by the DMZ Consignments and Shipping Agency run by former Vice Admiral Waters.

Waters had been Deputy Director of Starfleet Intelligence-Analysis Division when he retired shortly after Alynna Nechayev became the Director of Starfleet Intelligence. Previously she'd been an admiral without purview. Allowing her to direct multiple operations throughout Starfleet Command without official oversight. Her work was typically "Eyes Only" to the Starfleet Commander. The directorship generally came with a fourth rank pip. Nechayev allowed for that to be an oversight in exchange for moving several of her black bag operations under Starfleet Intelligence's umbrella. And for the right to appoint a new M over the Single and Double 0 Sections she'd just inherited. She also retired the serving R, the Quartermaster for the 0 Sections.

The man had served in the position for nearly eighty years. His mind was as acute as ever but he was increasingly frail. He'd wretchedly failed his last twelve annual Starfleet physicals. But the acting M had overrode Starfleet Medical's objections. He'd even sent R out into the field chasing after the Sections' most illustrious agent, the serving 0086, James Smart. R had barely managed to return even with the agent gone rogue Smart's assistance. 0086 had had his license to kill revoked but he pressed on in a personal matter of vengeance anyway.

His replacement, then 023, became the new James Smart, Agent 0086. There had been a James Smart serving Starfleet Intelligence's Double 00 Section since the days of the United Earth Starfleet. Before that the legend had originated with British Intelligence in the mid-20th Century during a period known in history as the Cold War. A James Smart had served, first Britain and then the United Earth, since 1952. Not even Nechayev knew yet that the current 0086 would be forcibly retired by the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief after James Smart would be captured and detained by the Romulans. Only liberated in a prisoner exchange following Shinzon's brief Praetorship and thawing of relations between the Romulan Star Empire and the Federation.

The official reasoning was that the agent had simply aged out of field work and refused a desk assignment. The truth was they'd feared he'd cracked under interrogation after several intelligence leaks were traced back to the 0 Sections. Afterwards the serving 093 became 0086, it was uncovered that 0212 had leaked the secrets to the Romulans. He was permanently detained on Jaros II and Sarina Douglas was recruited as the replacement 0212.

He professed his undying love for the Romulan agent, Sela. Which Starfleet interrogators knew to be a false hope because Sela went to the greatest lengths to affirm her Romulan heritage as her only heritage in a culture that despised hybrids. Even half-Vulcans were rejected. Despite their being historical and genetic kin.

So it hardly seemed plausible that that half-human Sela would honestly love a human or a member of any other race other than a full-blooded Romulan. Sela had condemned her mother, Tasha Yar, to death when she tried to escape her father's compound in Ki Baratan. Sela had no regrets and hated the fact that she looked like her mother and had very un-Romulan blonde hair. When she'd been younger she'd dyed it black but everyone always reminded her that she was less than Romulan anyway so she let her hair return to its natural shade. She would mock her tormentors by being more Romulan than they themselves were.

"Let's check in with the station quartermaster and see about those rooms," Tulley suggested, "And we'll put someone on watching Graff's cargo"

"Sound good," Dragonuv agreed.

Lieutenants Jelenic and Fultaine's crews weren't finding anything out of sorts with the Falcon or her crew. Jelenic's engineering team discovered the Falcon's small, shielded cargo space but it was empty.

"That space is licensed for transporting radiothermic isotopes and antimatter pods," Graff neutrally explained. Jelenic and Fultaine had to agree that the license was on file and in order. Graff had even dropped off antimatter pods that were supposed to be en route to Ronara Prime. Whose current blockaded status Graff wanted to speak with Captain Tillis about. Tillis, abreast of Graff's reports and sensor logs, dispatched a Lieutenant JG named Wilson Ford to take any further commentary or statements down.

Fultaine found it extra aggravating that Graff copped to meeting with Harry Mudd III and the Fame & Fortune to take on Federation colonists passengers from the DMZ worlds coming out of Antok Nor. The Central Command was full of blame and outrage over the damages inflicted upon Antok Nor by suspected Maquis saboteurs. Yet the Cardassian Guard couldn't or simply wouldn't, provide visual logs and bio scans of the suspects. Nor would they confirm or deny Gul Maret's operation on Ronara Prime was beyond anything other than an "internal administrative matter".

So Starfleet duly advised the Legates that the USS Excalibur and USS Madagascar were crossing into the DMZ to discover why Maret had brought three cruisers and three frigates into it. Which even under the revisions of the peace treaty allowing for military intervention regarding the Maquis had to place ships from both sides in parity with advance notice. Maret had sent no requests and no spur of the moment tactical situation updates necessitating a military incursion.

He seemed to be flouting the treaty simply because he felt he could as the new Prefect of the Dorvan Sector and Administrator over the DMZ colonies. Maret had been a mere senior functionary on Terok Nor during Gul Dukat's Prefecture over Bajor and had risen to gul status under Evek's tenure over the DMZ. His current stellar rise seemed less earned than arranged for as a reward for loyalty.

Starfleet Intelligence labeled him a fanatical patriot. His fanaticism extended to publically advocating a re-conquest of Bajor, resumption of the Border Wars with the Federation, and militarily occupying the DMZ. This was the man the Central Command thought best to place in command of a vital sector who'd been secured by the very treaty that created the Demilitarized Zone as well hand over administrative chores over the DMZ after Evek's confirmed death in the Badland.

What was less clear was the results of Maret's own searches for the Maquis raider, Val Jean, and her crew led by former Starfleet Lt. Commander Chakotay. Or the fate of the USS Voyager under Captain Kathryn Janeway when she sought to ascertain the same facts. Elements of Starfleet Command wouldn't rule out Cardassian foul play in either disappearance. Vice Admiral Nechayev being one of them.

Danan had detected strange trans-temporal energies at the area where Evek's cruiser had been lost. The decay rate was accelerated by the Badlands plasma storms but an older event had preceded a more recent one. But positive time stamps couldn't be applied to either. The best Danan could provide was a time frame within a two-month period. Which would encompass both disappearances and then some.

Oddly, the USS Equinox had gone missing nearby, outside of the Badlands, after reporting she'd been detecting strange trans-temporal tachyon particles. Captain Rudy Ransome was known for going dark for extended weeks at a time near Cardassian and Tzenkethi space where the Nova-class surveyor frequently operated. But the Equinox would be due resupply at DS9 within a week or so and if she remained missing a SRO would be launched.

The younger Graff, Ford had noted that she demanded to be called "Ronnie" rather than Ms. Graff, was extremely agitated over the Ronaran affair.

"Are you political Ms. Graff?" Ford inquired, using the honorific to needle her.

"I have friends on that colony. On most of them," Ronnie grated, "You call this your 'protection'?"

"What are your political leanings, Ms. Graff?" Ford continued.

"I want people to safely live their lives. I thought that used to be codified in the Federation," Ronnie huffed, "Excuse me for being wrong."

"So you are political," Ford smiled like a cat toying with its prey.

"Which she is, Lieutenant Ford, is a minor," Fultaine intervened, "Now leave security matters to the professionals and you stick to whatever junior Command officers do."

Ford looked irritated and dejected all at once as he was dismissed.

"Lower Decks, always trying to unravel Maquis plots here on the border," Fultaine sighed.

"So you're the 'good cop'?" Ronnie crossed her arms across her chest.

"Do I need to be?" Fultaine liked the girl's fire, misplaced though it seemed to be.

"No," Graff put a restraining hand on Ronnie's shoulder.

"Captain Graff, Lieutenant Jelenic's team has a list of suggested repairs and potential upgrades for you to peruse. Otherwise, you pass inspection," Fultaine handed him a padd, "I understand you have a departure filed for tomorrow local time once your new cargo is brought aboard. Enjoy your evening and enjoy safe travels."

The Starfleet Security and Operations teams departed. Barman Brett ran the surveillance tracking sensors that Waters and Liu had provided.

"Ship's clean, Cap'n," Brett reported.

"There's a surprise," Ronnie snorted.

"Not every Starfleet officer or starbase commander is on a Maquis sympathizer witch hunt, Ronnie," Graff admonished his daughter, "For the most, Starfleet is filled with high caliber people. They're just caught in an impossible situation by a treaty politicians negotiated."

"Lieutenant Ford was doing his best to trap me," Ronnie scowled.

"Enjoy Nikki's concert," Graff sent her on her way, "Brett and I will handle taking on the cargo and getting a drink afterwards."

"She's performing at a Bolian nightclub," Ronnie told them, "You should drop by."

Barman Brett preferred dive bars and Graff appreciated their economy.

"Just have fun," Graff ordered, "And stay safe."

"I got this," she palmed her Type I stun-only phaser off of her belt. Fultaine had already cleared her to carry it. She wondered what the Security Chief was reporting as she set the transporter and linked it the station's civilian-side personal transporter.

Fultaine, Jelenic, and Ford reported to Tillis.

"Well?" the captain impatiently inquired.

"They're dirty," Ford proclaimed before his superiors could speak.

"Lieutenant?" Tillis asked Fultaine.

"On paper, they're clean despite taking on passengers from Harry Mudd," Fultaine purposefully ignored Ford.

"Any Engineering issues?" Tillis inquired.

"A classic stock merchantman vessel," Jelenic cast an irritated glare Ford's way, "The only retrofit was for a shielded hull with magnetic field emitters to store antimatter pods. Graff does a lot of business as a low yield deuterium hauler now that most higher capacity haulers won't enter the DMZ. Several colonies rely on his services."

"Maquis colonies," Ford spat.

"This seems to be an awfully personal issue for you, Lieutenant Ford," Tillis noted.

"My sister, who was a full lieutenant in Starfleet, left to join the Maquis. They got her killed for nothing. She died a terrorist for a futile cause. I won't rest until I bring them all to justice," Ford explained.

"I note that you kept this out of your personnel jacket. I suppose this is why you requested a border transfer?" Tillis inquired.

"Yes, Ma'am," Ford confessed.

"Your record indicates a disciplined and highly motivated officer in the making," Tillis went on, "Will this heightened concern prove to be a problem for me?"

"No, Ma'am," Ford pledged.

"Then remember, Starfleet requires proof. Not hunches," Tillis reminded him, "Dismissed."

"He's going to be a problem," Fultaine predicted.

"He may surprise you," Tillis offered.

"That's what I'm afraid of. He was harassing Graff's teenage daughter, treating a conversation as a full interrogation where he'd already determined her guilt," Fultaine shared, "She's aboard the station with intentions to attend the concert."

"And you think Ford may attempt to reconnect with her," Tillis didn't have to guess.

"I'd like to keep an eye her," Fultaine volunteered, "I have people watching over Graff's passengers."

"Any news on that front?" Tillis inquired.

"They've set a watch on the cargo pods Graff dropped off when he couldn't deliver them to Ronara Prime. The manifest says they belong to a consortium they represent selling the antimatter to local power grid providers. It's textbook on paper. With the alarm over Ronara, I could see them eyeballing their cargo. It's a valuable commodity out here. Especially now."

"Just make certain their little 'citizen's watch' doesn't get violent," Tillis instructed.

"I have some of my best people on it," Fultaine promised.

"Lieutenant, why don't accompany Fultaine?" Tillis suggested to Jelenic, "You could use a night off. And Lieutenant Ford might respond better to you."

"Me?" Jelenic yelped. Tillis had observed her Chief of Operations giving the new transfer the once over on several opportune occasions. She also seemed unaware that Ford was reciprocating when he thought Jelenic wasn't aware of his pining looks. If anyone had a chance of easily talking Ford down it was Jelenic.

"I don't like to reroute," Ro complained...again, "I should be on Ronara Prime."

"No traffic is getting in and out," Macen reminded from inside the briefing room accessible through the Odyssey bridge's aft section, "I'm just glad Harry Graff thought to attach a general broadcast warning to everyone through the local traffic buoys."

"You don't think it was one of mine?" Ro was irked.

"It's more Graff's kind of call. Your cell operates space craft but they hardly have starship or freighter experience so they don't think outside planetary boxes very often. For them raiders are simply transportation and first strike weapons," Macen assessed.

"I hate it when you're being logical," Ro complained, "I hate it more that you're right."

"Bridge to Macen, we're coming up on the asteroid Maquis base near the edge of the Badlands," Danan's voice came over the intercom, "It's been abandoned and a coded relay message is being broadcast. T'Kir cracked it in seconds, of course. Elfi's a fit of pique over that."

"We're coming out," Macen promised.

They stepped onto the bridge where Hendryks had just a request from Noble to help assist with their comfort women and Phuong.

"On screen," Macen requested.

Calvin Hudson's image appeared, "Ro, Macen, when you get this transfer your rescues to Kalendra. Waters and Liu are working overtime to get relief agencies to take them into the Federation. Maret is ripping Ronara Prime apart to retrieve Cais Phuong and kill your cell for rescuing her and the damage Tulley and your cell inflicted uponAntok Nor. Estimates are it'll be inoperable for months maybe a year. So congratulate them. Starfleet came sniffing for us so we had to permanently withdraw from this base. The Architect is up and running so strategic operations will be coming from Deep Space 9 from now on. I'm returning to Volon III to assist Kobb in her dealings with Starfleet and the Cardassians. Apparently the woman that replaced me is a pain in the ass. Sorry, I had to enjoy that for a second. Hudson out."

"You heard the man, Tracy. Make our course for Kalendra and our speed Warp 5," Macen instructed, "Everyone grab a bite while we're still relatively safe in Bajoran space."

"Estimating Kalendra Sector border in four hours, sixteen minutes and Kalendra II b in five hours and two minutes," Ebert reported after engaging the warp drive, "Give or take."

"Yeesh," T'Kir muttered.

The Kalendra system's habitable planets were a binary pair. The larger world was a Class-L marginal world but Kalendra II b was Class-M. Kalendra II b profited greatly from the criminal enterprises that dominated the settlements on Kalendra II a.. The Lagrange Point between the planets was so powerful as to permanently hold whatever was built there without periodic adjustments or station keeping chores needing to done. The planets orbited one another as they orbited their primary stars. A red giant and a yellow dwarf slightly brighter than Sol. They also rotated on their axis to bring about nights and days in between monthly eclipses.

Kalendra II a, the larger and marginally classified world, barely had any above ground fresh water. Whereas Kalendra II b also had great oceans, coupled with fresh water lakes, rivers, and streams across its smaller body. The native Kalendrans adhered to a strict neutrality. Which was seemingly enforced by the criminal cartels operating off of Kalendra II a.

It was time for Ro to explain to the liberated women that they would be met on Kalendra II a by Federation relief workers. Even if Starfleet did the chore, they had no jurisdiction in the Kalendra Sector. So she would be free to engage the relief agents without fear of arrest.

The two suffering from Stockholm Syndrome still begged to return to Maret. But they weren't hysterical anymore. But Noble and Hendryks had to take turns guarding them so they wouldn't attempt to leave their quarters and sabotage the ship. The Odyssey was designed for four officers and eighteen enlisted crewman. She had a permanent crew of six. Even with Ro's presence and her two cell members aboard, there was plenty of space for the guests. The quarters were Spartan by modern Starfleet standards. But then the scoutship was smaller than even a Defiant-class escort vessel.

The escort type warships' quarters were even smaller than the Blackbird-class' since they were required to carry more crew. The turn of the century design had been remarkable for its day. Now Starfleet had decommissioned the class en masse. They weren't as adaptable as a Miranda- or Excelsior-class it turned out. Their very specificity of purpose outmoded them. But that meant that starships of the class had been available to civilians with the proper credentials.

Nechayev had made certain that Macen had such credentials even though he was officially "retired" from Starfleet. Acting as her agent provocateur had it upsides and downsides. But it meant he had the latest Starfleet Intelligence reports specific to Cardassia and its territories available to give to Hudson, Sveta Korepanova, and Ro. In exchange, Ro had agreed to undertake specific missions on occasion. But she'd made it very clear she no longer worked for Starfleet. Not until Starfleet liberated the DMZ colonies from Cardassian control. She would find that they never would. Not even after the Dominion War.

Instead the Federation abolished the DMZ and ceded the territory as a gesture of good faith. They only asked that the Valo system be returned to Bajor. Castellan Ghemor had happily agreed. Achieving for a newly founded democracy what the Central Command could never deliver without the Dominion's forces.

Ro knew she had a tough sell to pitch. Two of the four women we ex-Starfleet captured during the last war and listed as KIA after Maret had arranged for their deaths to be reported to Starfleet. The rest were human colonists. No two were alike. The only attractor they'd all displayed was adamant resistance to Maret's overtures. Until he'd resorted to force. Still, only two had been completely reshaped into a Cardassia's version of a "perfect" woman. The rest still defied him. Some just in small ways and others having to be physically brutalized to be beaten into forced sex.

Phuong had become known as a Maquis agitator on Ronara Prime. Maret had made it a personal mission to abduct every non-fighting Maquis operative in the colonies and to forcibly bed them at his whim. If he couldn't force the colonists out or kill them en masse, he'd simply take his pleasure from them. The Maquis had driven Maret to distraction. He was even willing to comply with Bajoran independence until the Maquis were vanquished. The presence of the Maquis had even begun to spark homoerotic fantasies within Maret that were universally condemned by his culture but looked askance on a battlefield. Many Cardassian soldiers on Bajor had their way with the men as a form of sexual subjugation. They were always disposed of afterwards to hide the evidence of the deviancy in Cardassian eyes.

Dukat himself frowned upon the events but turned a blind eye to support troop morale. It sickened Maret that supposedly piously spiritual people like the Bajorans resorted to such violence against their betters and harbored and embraced their homosexual brethren in the faith. All the more reason to exterminate all traces of their hedonistic religion. Maret had such ambitions for when he made Legate. He would drive away the humiliations heaped upon the Cardassian people by their withdrawal from Bajor.

No other Subject World had defied them for so long nor driven them out. It had inspired unrest amongst all the natives on the Subject Worlds. The inspiration for that rebellions spirit had to be crushed and every Bajoran slaughtered. Then Cardassia could repopulate Bajor however it saw fit. It was this type of madman that had systematically traumatized six women that they'd found alive.

Ro could only dismally wonder how many corpses they would unearth if they were to excavate Maret's manorial grounds. Dukat was a case study in how one man tired of his comfort woman/.women had disposed of their previous one to make room for the newest attraction. But Dukat would find a comeuppance when his half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal, was revealed to his family and they universally rejected him and the Central Command repudiated him. Only the ever faithful Damar would stand by his side throughout everything. But that was yet to come in the next years.

For now, Ro settled in to her task. She knew, looking into these women's eyes, she would personally beat the life out of Maret if she ever got a hold of him.

With Korepanova on Bajor with Maj. Host Korb and Lieutenant Hera Renra, discussing plans the Architect Program had developed by Bajoran Militia interstellar operations, that left Bobbi Moran in charge of the Architect. So she was one fielding the response to Cal Hudson's revelations regarding Maret open occupation of Ronara Prime. Assisting her were the other members of the Project.

Syl Martin was the next oldest and a gifted tactician. Korepanova was the strategic genius among them but Martin had the head for short term tactics. Jayden Joyce and Zara Morse were the experts in implementing the shorter and longer term plans. Moran was the administrative ingénue amongst them so her job was to keep the ideas flowing and everyone in sync. So far Martin was rolling out options for the others cells with the Ronaran cell off world and being rerouted from Starbase G-4.

Liu had already contacted Thadiun Okona to retrieve the cell but getting them past Maret's blockade was nearly impossible it seemed. Macen's update detailing the Madagascar and Excalibur mission made the Architects' mission so much easier. Instead of a meaningless and costly frontal assault, the Maquis would engage Maret's force as it exited the DMZ, inflict what harm it could, and then return to the DMZ while the two Federation starships were still in monitoring range. The Maquis would then disperse and filter their way back to their individual colonies. Hudson himself gave his blessing to this plan.

Now everything depended on knowing when the Cardassians would withdraw and where they would be heading tp. Logically, Maret should be drawn to Antok Nor to survey the damages and get repair estimate. But Maret rarely appeared logical it seemed.

"Everything depends on getting what forces the various cells can spare to the approach to Antok Nor," Martin urged Joyce and Morse, "You have to begin coordinating them now."

"You can sell it with Hudson's blessing," Moran promised but they know you two as the voice on the other end of subspace"

No one outside of selected leaders knew Sveta Korepanova headed a team of Architects rather than it being a solo effort. Morse and Joyce were never seen on screen. Everything was communicated through voice scrambler. Each had their list of contacts.

"It still won't be easy," Joyce warned.

"No one wants to coalesce into a collective effort since Ro led them into and out of a trap," Morse added.

"Zara, Jayden, you're our best hope at finding a way to strike out at Maret. After meeting with Starfleet, Maret will be distracted and Sveta estimated he'll disperse his other two cruisers along a patrol along the DMZ border only to be shadowed on the Federation side."

"When did you speak with Sveta?" Morse was a bit awestruck by the former Starfleet Operations officer.

"As soon as Syl had a plan. I ran it past her and Hudson at the time," Moran revealed at last, "She approved it."

"Which sold it to Hudson," Martin added.

"Now, you silver tongued sirens, sell it," Moran urged them. Morse and Joyce got to it.

Governor White was giving an impassioned defense of Maret's occupational forces to the outraged crowd surrounding the Governor's Mansion.

"Stand by to execute the crowd," Maret told a nearby glinn charged with security.

"You want them dispersed?" the glinn inquired.

"I want them all dead!" Maret snapped back at him.

His communicator on his sleeve cuff began chirping, "Maret here. What is it already?"

"Two Starfleet ships have dropped out of warp and are demanding to speak with you," the Dalin left in command of Maret's Treblinka informed him.

"Postpone the executions," Maret advised the glinn, "But if a single colonist even attempts to harm a Cardassian, kill them all."

"And the Governor?" the glinn sought clarification.

"Is hardly a Cardassian therefore he's expendable," Maret chuckled at the thought, "Mayor Gerin can easily replace him."

He transported back aboard his starship command.

"Have the Starfleeters identified themselves yet?" Maret demanded to know as he stomped into his bridge.

"They're two older vessels. We could destroy them with our combined firepower," the dalin reported, "But the heavy cruiser is commanded by a Captain Morgan Korsmo."

"Korsmo? I know the name. His arrogance his unsurpassed amongst humans. Starfleet must be shorthanded to send him. Who commands the lesser vessel?" Maret was intrigued.

"A Captain Everett Blow," was the reply.

"Inform the good captains I will meet to parlay with Captain Blow and selected members of his staff on Ronara Prime. What is the name of that drinking establishment the men prefer?" Maret wondered.

"The Old Biddy," he was told.

"Good, we'll meet there. Arrange a kill box around the tavern," Maret ordered, "And make certain Korsmo knows he's uninvited. His ego will force him to make a mistake that we can capitalize on."

"It will be done," the Dalin promised as Maret exited to return to the transporter with an entourage of troops.

"He said what?" Korsmo came out of his command chair upon receiving the news, "I'm the ranking officer!"

"Gul Maret was quite specific. He will speak with captain Blow. And only Captain Blow," the Dalin was pleased at the reception of the news.

"I demand a representative be present. That isn't excluded," Korsmo raged. The Dalin mulled it over. Maret hadn't excluded this possibility. But it seemed to play into his hand.

"Very well. A single representative from your command staff," the Dalin terminated the transmission.

"Commander Shelby, you will represent the honor of this vessel and of my personal interest in these negotiations," Korsmo ordered Commander Elizabeth Paula Shelby.

Shelby had been assigned as Korsmo's first officer to temper him. Also to raise the standard for a lagging crew.

"Aye, Captain," Shelby headed to the turbolift.

"Damned peculiar is what it is," Korsmo grumbled.


Chapter Four

Leakes was getting some sleep as the bar emptied to staff the governor's press conference. Frinks would get a nap soon enough. But Maret led a squad into the establishment.

"Bar's closed," she said flatly.

"Not anymore," Maret boasted, "Your dilapidated excuse for a bar is about to become a diplomatic venue. Kanar all around."

"I'm afraid your people drank my shelves dry. You'll have to accept replicated beverages," Frinks grated.

"I'm surprised, this close to the Cardassian border," Maret scolded her.

"We don't get many Cardassian customers. And we have supply problems every day thanks to the Federation and the Central Command's incessant searches of incoming freighters. I can't keep my shelves adequately stocked," Frinks explained.

"Perhaps I can help you...if you help me after this meeting," Maret offered. Everyone knew how he "helped" Krystal Gerin's career.

"I'll take my chances," Frinks retorted.

"You're not afraid of me," Maret realized, feeling a swelling in his pants.

"You'd better keep that in your pants or you'll lose it," Frinks advised him, "And I've been serving Cardassian Guard troops for eighty-six hours straight. I'm too tired to be afraid."

"If we're to rely on a drinks replicator, one of my men can handle the chore," Maret softened, the better to entrap her.

"No, I don't need the favor," Frinks replied. Maret's lust was getting stoked ever higher.

"Very well, we'll sample your replicator's program," Maret allowed as three Starfleet officers entered in and Frinks was visibly relieved. Captain Blow was escorted by his twin brother and Doctor T'Lisa.

"Extraordinary! I wouldn't be able to tell you apart," Maret was indeed intrigued.

"Gut Maret, I take it?" Blow asked.

"Why a science officer?" Maret wondered.

"I am, in fact, a physician. And I wish take the opportunity begin examining colonists. Beginning with the staff here," T'Lisa told him.

"By all means. We haven't harmed any innocent people," Maret felt magnanimous.

"Define innocent," Lieutenant Blow requested.

"Friends of the Cardassian Union, of course," Maret chuckled. "Now why you tell me why you're violating the treaty?"

"We came in reply se to your gross violation," Captain Blow informed him.

"I see," Maret pondered the matter, "So, I came on humanitarian grounds and you reply militarily?"

"Having troops in the street doesn't seem benign. Nor does cutting communications and blockading the planet," Captain Blow informed him.

"But I am here to administer the cure to a plague," Maret said expansively.

"What plague is that?" T'Lisa was curious.

"The scourge of the Maquis, of course," Maret chuckled. "A common ailment to both our peoples."

"We have different opinions of what constitutes a cure then," Captain Blow replied.

"As I'm certain you will elaborate on end about," Maret was already bored.

"If you could see my friend in the back," Frinks asked T'Lisa, "She's this way."

Behind closed doors, Frinks and awoken Leakes began explaining what had occurred over the past few days and what set it off. As Captain Blow hoped the colonists would feel free to tell a doctor.

"Gul Maret, in the interest of avoiding a war, I suggest you pack up your troops and withdraw from the DMZ. We will do likewise but stay on station on our side to insure you comply with the treaty terms," Captain Blow said bluntly. Shelby walked in at that moment as Maret's temper began to fray.

"Am I interrupting?" she hastily inquired, assessing the building tensions.

"Who are you?" Maret snapped.

"Commander Elizabeth Shelby, I'm first officer aboard the USS Excalibur. I'm Captain Korsmo's representative," she explained, "Hasn't your exec explained that?"

"I unwisely turned my communicator off," Maret admitted.

"You never excluded the possibility of my presence so here I am," Shelby said brightly.

"An oversight," Maret grated.

"So it seems," Shelby allowed, "Shall we proceed anyway?"

"What could you possibly add to this discussion?" Maret sneered.

"A simply fact," Shelby offered, "Two dozen starships are six hours from here. If you haven't withdrawn by the time they arrive, they will force your compliance. In the name of peace, of course," Shelby explained, "Unless you intend to either fire unprovoked on our vessels and these colonists or you really do wish to preserve what your government signed off on and willingly depart."

"Korsmo is a fool. But I see you are not," Maret allowed, "It will take me several days to withdraw."

"You have six hours," Shelby countered, "And the clock is already running."

"Very well," Maret smiled, "I shall enjoy breaking you some day, Commander."

"I rather doubt that," Shelby confidently replied.

Maret ordered his return to his ship. The Cardassian withdrawals began immediately as fast as the Cardassians' transporters could keep up. The comm blackout ended as well.

Clarice Starr was able to begin broadcasting her saved reports to an unsuspecting Federation populace. Anna Shaw took statements for the Colonial Council's head, the woman named Kobb, even as an incredulous Starr covered a press conference where Anna Pleasance recited the story that the Cardassians had been invited to quell a domestic disturbance by Governor White. Starfleet still held Maret accountable for violating the treaty rather than finding a civilian based solution.

The Central Command's embarrassment was reflected in Maret's prefecture over the DMZ being stripped from him. He would remain Prefect over the Dorvan Sector but the near destruction of Antok Nor by handful of Maquis had served notice to the Central Command that the conflict, on the heels of Tom Riker's incursion and the revelation tha the Obsidian Order had covertly built a fleet, all served to unnerve the legates. Maret's free hand in the Dorvan Sector was officially curtailed. Any remaining human prisoners were to be released. That was his penance.

The surprise attack on Maret's ship only reinforced the Central Command's fears despite the effort ultimately being thwarted. For now, the Maquis issue was secondary to the Obsidian Order's ambitions and the growing civilian unrest in Cardassia Prime and her colonies. Issues that Maret's behaviors had only heightened rather than lessened. It would take Maret's actions against the Klingons and in the Dominion War to officially raise his star again.

Kobb railed against Starfleet for being caught unawares and letting Maret rampage across Ronara Prime for three days. Added to the recriminations was Maret's boldly, and baldly, staged kidnapping of Phuong on her wedding day. The Colonial Council credited the Maquis with being the only successful responders to the crisis. Captain Korsmo, making an appearance beside Commander Shelby and Starfleet liaison Commander Sharon Tate, vehemently disagreed.

"May I remind Councilor Kobb that only Starfleet's direct intervention liberated Ronara Prime?" Korsmo sniffed.

"Yet Starfleet allow the occupation to commence and continue unchallenged for three days," Kobb sneered, "We're comforted by the fact Starfleet could be bothered to respond at all. Once again, the truly effective response came from the Maquis."

"It was the attack on Antok Nor that provoked Maret's response," Tate corrected Kobb's narrative.

"An unprovoked attack upon my people," Gul Terrik, the newly assigned Cardassian liaison, spun it.

"After Gul Maret had kidnapped Cais Phuong and killed her husband at their wedding," Kobb retorted, "I'd say Antok Nor was a measured response considering it allowed for a rescue of Phuong and four other captive human women on Teris II."

"More Maquis lies," Terrik spat, "Those women were Maret's honored guests."

"Guests akin to Mayor Gerin on Ronara Prime?" Kobb inquired, "They seemed to have served similar purposes."

"Maret's dealings with Mayor Gerin are strictly professional," Terrik sneered.

"I'm certain Gerin's role is strictly mercenary," Kobb tartly replied.

"If we can look past of all this," Shelby suggested, "I'm certain the Central Commands admonishments will keep Maret from interfering in the Demilitarized Zone from this point forward."

"Which goes to prove that a Cardassian gul can invade the DMZ, occupy a colony world, and begin summary executions of its populace and get away with a slap on the wrist," Kobb angrily told her, "Something we've always known to be true. At least Commander Hudson honestly fought for our rights and safety."

"Commander Hudson dishonored himself and the uniform when he joined the Maquis," Korsmo angrily railed.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Morgan," Hudson said as armed Maquis stormed into the Council chambers.

"You'll never get away with this!" Korsmo raged.

"My friend, Ben Sisko, once said the same," Hudson chuckled, "Yet here I am."

"I'm afraid I have to place you under arrest for desertion and terrorist acts against the Federation and the Cardassian Union," Shelby coolly replied.

"I've heard about you, Commander," Hudson allowed, "You're cool under pressure. Which is why Starfleet attached you to this faded star."

"Now see here...!" Korsmo started towards Hudson.

The mixed race Maquis guards shouldered their phaser rifles.

Korsmo stopped in tracks, "Then again...I may have overreacted."

"I'm here to plainly state one ultimate truth going forward: where Starfleet fails to protect the Federation's colonists the Maquis will always step forward and do so. Regardless of the political price the Federation has to pay. Am I clear?" Hudson stated, facing Anna Shaw's imager, "The Maquis will never abandon these people the way the Federation and their Starfleet puppets have. Interview the captives taken from Gul Maret's clutches and learn firsthand what the Cardassians have planned for these people."

"Commander, we will find you," Shelby promised.

"Then I hope you're not the one who does so, Commander," Hudson nodded his respect to her, "Unlike others who I welcome to try and do so."

Korsmo bristled at the slight. Hudson backed out of the room and his guards exited the same ways they'd entered.

"Korsmo to Excalibur!" the captain slapped his comm badge, "Come in, dammit!"

All it did was chirp.

"They've jammed the signal," Shelby assessed, "And they'll have watchers over the building."

"I wouldn't sully myself stooping to their level to engage in a foot chase," Korsmo announced for the camera, "The Maquis can dare besmirch Federation policy and Starfleet on the ground where they have superior numbers. But in space, Starfleet holds the high ground."

"Thank you for that quote, Captain," Shaw told him, "Councilor Kobb, any comments on this development?"

"This meeting is adjourned," Kobb decided and stacked her padds to carry them off as the various colonial councilors dismissed themselves.

"We need to talk," Terrik told Korsmo, Shelby, and Tate, "Privately."

"No press," Shelby translated for Shaw.

"The people have a right to know, Commander," Shaw protested.

"The people don't need to know this," Shelby decided.

"Aboard my ship?" Korsmo asked.

"Perfect," Terrik agreed.

Korsmo tested his comm badge again to find the jamming field had been dropped. The transporter halo took the Starfleet officers and the Cardassian representative. His adjuncts returned to their embassy on Volon III.

Shaw concluded her broadcast and uploaded it into the comm system far transmission back to Earth. Still, she wondered what Terrik had to say off the record.

Terrik was brought to the Observation Lounge, "It's not a Galaxy-class, is it?"

Korsmo rattled under the gibe, "She's Starfleet's finest!"

"But she's...outdated and outmoded, don't you agree?" Terrik was enjoying taunting the egotistical captain.

"She gets the job done as does her crew," Shelby interrupted, "Can we get to it?"

"Central Command has placed me in official command over administrating the DMZ," Terrik told them, "In reality, Gul Maret is still in command no matter what official admonishments were spoon fed to the Federation. Starfleet needed a scapegoat so we simply provided one."

"Why tell us this?" Tate asked.

"Because I honestly want the treaty to work. We're no longer actively arming our colonists yet the Central Command still actively supports them," Terrik warned them, "Official policy is to make the living situation on the Federation colonies untenable to drive the colonists out of our territory."

"Or simply kill them," Tate surmised.

"The Central Command will not condemn paramilitary groups who 'defend' themselves," Terrik spouted, "But Maret overplayed his hand."

"Otherwise it'd be business as normal," Shelby remarked.

"It already is. To be sure, Maret has been chastened for revealing the Central Command's ultimate ambitions. But otherwise, Maret's duties remain unaltered despite what any official trail indicates," Terrik informed them, "I answer to him directly."

"Then why risk this meeting?" Shelby asked.

"Maret knows it's occurring. He thinks I'm relaying platitudes to assure Starfleet of the Central Command's strict adherence to the treaty and devotion to peace," Terrik said simply.

"So there is still a risk," Shelby stated.

"What can they do? Exile me to the DMZ command?" Terrik dryly asked.

Starfleet dispatched the Springfield-class USS Sulu to pick up Maret's liberated captives. Macen and Ro checked in with the Demilitarized Zone Cargp Commission and Delivery Agency. There former Admiral Waters and former Lt. Commander Liu briefed them on unfolding events in the DMZ.

"I'll kill Maret is I ever get the chance," Ro vowed.

"I've been in contact with Okona. He's dropping Tulley and rest off at Ronara," Liu told them, "I've also been in discussion with Annabeth Frinks. They had it pretty rough. Okona is bringing her a cargo hold full of liquor we're paying for to thank her for her efforts during the occupation. She and Gloria Leakes helped hide a few dozen families from the Cardies."

"My intel sources doubt Maret is really being punished for his actions. Rather that he embarrassed the Central Command," Waters said gravely.

"That would be my take on it as well," Macen had contacted several Cardassian clients to get a read on the developing situation. Most were located throughout the Dorvan Sector. Despite using a fake transponder ID, the Odyssey would likely never be able to return to the Teris system again. The odds of getting identified as the assailant were too great.

Still, Maret would through every effort into finding the SS Deep Horizon. An undersea maritime craft servicing Earth's underwater cities. Macen wished the gul the best of luck in finding that ship. The Odyssey still had its Starfleet registration of NCC-14274 USS Tiberius in its transponder as well for getting past certain Starfleet outposts and starbases. Starfleet Intelligence still listed the Tiberius as an active covert asset. Which helped the Odyssey slip in and out of Starfleet's border sensor nets. They couldn't avoid detection but the misdirection preserved Macen's autonomy.

Macen and Danan could reactivate and deactivate their active duty status at leisure. Which enabled them to gain unhindered access to nearby starbases and Deep Space 9. Commander Sisko was especially suspicious of any and all vessels departing the DMZ for the Bajor Sector. Maquis aligned smugglers had found great success transferring cargoes in the Bajor Sector near Dreon VII. The Federation didn't have jurisdiction to search ships entering from the Valo system into the Bajor Sector or from those departing the sector into the Valo system.

The Bajoran Militia espoused cooperation but seemed overly sympathetic to the Maquis cause. Modified warp capable Bajoran assault ships had ended up in the Maquis' inventories. As Gul Evek had first discovered to his dismay before his demise. The Federation complained to the Provisional Government but it had taken up dealing arms to "reputable" planetary governments. Who in turn sold the arms to the Maquis at a mark up. Just as Quark had brokered arms deals on a commission basis for Sakonna before her arrest.

Sakonna had been tried and sentenced to a Federation penal colony. A much kinder fate than she would have received from a Cardassian court. There her execution would've been guaranteed. Sakonna received a longer sentence than the other Maquis captured alongside her. Their sentences were largely based on their affiliation with kidnapping Gul Dukat, their admitted Maquis affiliations, and for firing on Starfleet officers.

The crew of the Peregrine-class courier captured attacking the Cardassian colony of Gryma also received lengthier sentences for their part in threatening civilian population. Despite Dukat confirming that an illegal weapons depot had been located within it. The colonial officials had moved the depot before outside officials could verify its whereabouts and existence. But the Maquis attack force had attempted to strike before it could be moved.

Dukat wasn't inclined to investigate further after Sisko willfully let Hudson go rather than destroy his attack courier. He held Sisko responsible for Hudson taking command of the Maquis as a whole. But he was grateful for Sisko's part in the Riker affair. Even if it came at the cost of imprisoning Tom Riker in a labor camp rather than outright executing him. Riker had been sentenced to a life sentence at a labor camp. He would escape in a few months with the inadvertent assistance of Sela as she liberated one of her mentors. A mentor that refused to be rescued unless Riker accompanied him.

Sela saw Riker as an opportunity to lash out at his twin. Riker managed to escape the Romulan Star Empire with the help of disaffected privateer named Aelynn. Aelynn, like Caitlin Dar, had a human grandparent captured during the Earth-Romulan War of the 22nd Century. Dar became a diplomat while Aelynn became a privateer-scout who became a Section 31 operative prior to the V'ger encounter.

Aelynn had commanded her own Romulan Bird of Prey for nearly a century now. It was she who got Tom Riker, like Mira Romaine a century ago, out of Romulan space. Commander Romaine had retired as the Chief Archivist of Memory Alpha. A position she'd held for forty years after her adventure on Romulus. S31 had rewarded her for her service. Yet penalized her and blocked her career advancement for her constant inquiries into who and what they were. Romaine's ultimate fate after retiring from Starfleet remained unknown. Some suspected the worst.

Macen knew Riker's final location on Kodosh II as well as the internment of another Starfleet prisoner, Ensign Sito Jaxa. But Kodosh II was along the Cardassian Farside Border past the Cardassian Sector. Therefore out of the Odyssey's customer base range. The ship and crew would never be allowed near the prison. Especially not in a decommissioned Starfleet starship. But one of Macen's "preferred customers" kept tabs on Riker and Sito for Macen in exchange for gratis information. When Riker would break out, Macen would know.

Just as Liu would eventually know Riker would set up as shuttle and courier service in the Kalendra Sector. Macen would persuade Nechayev to allow Riker access to a decommissioned Bonaventure-class starship. To be named the SS Iron Boots. But that was a year away.

"Maret is safe in Kepok Nor or on Teris II knowing the station or the civilian populations shields him," Macen assessed, "With the Central Command slightly curtailing his activities and hiding his ultimate control over the DMZ, he'll have to be drawn out to be attacked."

"Leave that to me," Ro stated, "Sveta and I can come up with an action plan. It might just take time to implement."

"Time is on Maret's side," Waters warned, "He'll further retrench knowing his bases of operation were struck."

"But Starfleet is temporarily vigilant regarding who comes in and out of the DMZ again," Liu pointed out, "So we won't see a second invasive operation for a while yet."

"One can only hope," Waters said dismally, "This wasn't how I planned on spending my retirement."

"You were bored senseless," Macen cajoled him.

"So Nechayev dutifully told me," Waters said dryly.

Like Ebert, Liu was allergic to the Retnax series of vision correcting medications. And like Ebert, she utilized HUDs in her lenses to keep abreast of the computer feeds. Ebert did it keep track of the nav sensor inputs. Liu to keep track of consignments needing to go out and Maquis needing routes to take them near targets.

"Ro, I have cargo needing to go to Ronara Prime and the Falcon is coming to collect it," Liu said brightly.

"Graff is probably sick of my people," Ro chuckled.

"Ronnie won't let him be," Liu rejoindered the humor.

"Meanwhile, the Cardassians have work for you," Waters told Macen. The old admiral ran Macen's "information brokerage" contracts, "The contract takes you to Starbases 375, 310, 211, 47, and G-4. Then back to Grenerwock."

"Gul Ocram?" I haven't heard from him for a while," Macen was intrigued. Grenerwock was a Cardassian Subject World and Ocram was its Cardassian Prefect. But Maret was Prefect over the entire Sector.

"I think Maret is playing a hand here through Ocram," Waters opined, "Word has undoubtedly reached him that a Blackbird-class starship was involved in the Teris II incident," Waters went on to say.

"So a proof of mercenary intentions if not loyalty test," Macen understood. The starbases all bordered the DMZ. One starbase per bordering sector.

"We've reimbursed your cell for hiring Harry Mudd," Waters told Ro, "But your cell's expenses on Starbase G-4 are all yours. Though I'm told they enjoyed Nikki Miller's concert as her backstage guests."

"There was a little excitement after the show," Ro smirked. Tulley had messaged her regarding Lieutenants Fultaine and Jelenic's intercepting Lieutenant Ford when he sought to cause trouble after the show. As Captain Tillis had suspected, Ford responded best to Jelenic. Whereas Fultaine stood by in case Ford should get out of hand. Instead, Jelenic got Ford to join her for a quiet drink in a private corner in the bar Miller performed in.

Starbase G-4 hosted a single bar/entertainment/restaurant center and a single dive bar. An older model starbase, it had been built on what had the edge of Federation space decades before the Cardassians were first encountered. Even then, Federation colonies had been planted up into the newly charted Dorvan Sector before the Cardassian Union began colonizing the area as well.

The Border War shifted to and from across and ever changing front until the Treaty of 2369 established a permanent border and a Demilitarized Zone between the Cardassian Union and the United Federation f Planets. Containing a winding ribbon of worlds ceded to Cardassian administrative control but with a Starfleet oversight for the Federation colonists who refused to vacate their worlds. Unlike Dorvan V itself, the Cardassian Guard couldn't be employed to militarily intervene and depopulate the planets by any means deemed necessary. As Maret had just tested out.

Maret had brought the Federation and the Cardassian Union to a fraying point regarding the treaty. Accusations and diplomatic missives were being fired back and forth. Hence the Central Command officially reprimanding Maret while secretly congratulating him. But the ruse had to be maintained while Maquis endured. But Maret's tactical ability, previously undemonstrated because he'd risen through the ranks as an administrator, was displayed in full during the Klingon War. He reinforced his budding reputation during the Dominion War fighting the Allies.

Maret did not join Damar's rebellion but he was one of the first ship commanders to turn his Galor-class cruiser against the Jem'Hadar and Breen. Maret always would be a Cardassian patriot first and foremost. His ideas of how to promote Cardassian interests would frequently clash with the Central Command after the withdrawal from Bajor and especially after the formation of a stronger Detepa Council. But he was loyal through the wars.

After the Reconstruction period, Maret would be a legate and would constantly agitate to re-engage the Federation and to re-conquer Bajor. Political views that would land him in a Cardassian penal colony. Macen had no idea those events lay in his future. It was hard enough to get through each day much less unknowable tomorrows.

"Give me Ocram's list of asks and I'll get underway," Macen stated.

Waters handed him a padd, "Most of it has been granted by Nechayev. There are a few data points you'll have to prevaricate. We're leaving the fabrications up to you."

"The near truth sells best. I'll fudge the details but give him an accurate overview without selling state secrets," Macen promised.

"Take care, Laren," he flipped open his communicator, "Macen to Odyssey. One to beam up."

"Chris, Elfi, and I will be on the town until the Graffs arrive. Signal me when they do," Ro excused herself.

"Like I said before, not how I saw my retirement going," Waters grumbled.

"You could've simply refused to participate," Liu scolded him.

"And let someone else have all the fun?" Waters asked indignantly.

Days later, Ro strolled into the Old Biddy. There she saw Tulley nursing a drink while Frinks anticipated his every need.

"Ro, good to see you," he said halfway cheerily, "When did you get back?"

"Several hours ago," Ro told him, "Vera told me you'd led a team of volunteers into the city to help rebuild."

"I also have Donner, Hemmingway, and Hennessy providing security for a few local notables," Tulley told her, "Considering what happened to Phuong."

"Poor girl," Frinks said sadly, "How is she?"

"Never returning here," Ro told her, "Not her idea of course but Maret's people in the Governor's office or constabulary could snatch her and ship her back off to Maret. Crazy thing is, two of the women want to return to him. They're in for years of therapy."

Frinks shuddered, "I actually met him. He got a hard on raping me with his eyes."

"What?" Tulley growled out.

"Starfleet was here," Frinks promised him.

"Who the frinx cares?" Tulley was angry now, "It's not like they stopped Maret from coming here in the first damn place."

"Aric, I need to speak with Annabeth alone," Ro intervened.

"Gloria, can you take over?" Frinks asked Leakes.

They retreated to the office the bartenders had been using for sleeping quarters over the eighty-four hours of the occupation. The cot was still laid out and clothes and hygiene items scattered around.

"Sorry 'bout the mess," Frinks still displayed the exhaustion she felt. The Old Biddy had been closed since the Cardassians withdrew. Frinks and Leakes, with Tulley's help, had unloaded the cases Okona had delivered. He'd stuck around as well and courted Leakes while he was still on the planet. He'd left yesterday and Leakes was looking very refreshed.

"How can I help?" Frinks asked.

"It's how can I help you?" Ro inquired, "I've asked around and you were a bedrock to those in need. You sheltered fugitives and kept the Cardassians distracted from performing their duties properly. Liu may have paid for the liquor but our cell wants to repay you in kind. How can we help prevent you from being in that position again?"

"Gloria and I had a very long discussion with a Doctor T'Lisa, a Captain Blow, and a Commander Shelby," Frinks shared, "Shelby was especially interested in how the Cardassians casually violated the treaty when the whim struck and how Starfleet seemed to take a blind eye. It offended her and I got the impression she wasn't a person you wanted to have offended."

Shelby's brief tenure on the Enterprise had certainly generated war stories that were still told amongst the veteran crew members even when Ro was aboard. She'd certainly made an impression on Riker, who had compared Ro to Shelby on several occasions. Not always in a complimentary fashion. Still, Riker had selected Shelby as his first officer when he'd been made the Enterprise's captain after Picard had been assimilated by the Borg.

Shelby had warned him when he refused a second command of his own that Starfleet would tire of asking someday. Picard didn't know that Riker had turned down yet another command opportunity after the Enterprise-D was lost in the action over Veridian III. The captain himself took a long overdue extended leave while Riker was assigned to Utopia Planetia to run starships through their shakedown cruises since he wouldn't accept command of his own Galaxy-class command.

Members of the Admiralty began to doubt that Riker would ever leave Picard's shadow so the offers for a command of his own dwindled. Picard was given first option to command the new Sovereign-class Enterprise-E. Of course he'd opted to keep as many crew men and senior officers as would accept the transfer. But it would be another year before the starship left the yard. Worf would accept a transfer into Captain Sisko's command at DS9. But for now, Commander Sisko was unaware of Worf's impending arrival or his own pending promotion.

Nor was Sisko aware of Korepanova running the Architect program out of DS9 as a "consulting" company hired by the Bajoran Militia. Major Kira Nerys and Constable Odo were left out of the loop even as Major Host and Lieutenant Hera operated as the Militia's liaison with the Maquis. Hudson having agreed to undertake selected operations on the Militia's behalf in exchange for certain considerations. Including amnesty deals for those willing to leave the Maquis and resettle on a Bajoran colony. Not many had yet but it was an open invitation.

Meanwhile Odo and Kira were beginning to suspect that the consulting firm was something more that appeared on their business license application. They rented an office on the Promenade and shared adjoining quarters. Host and Hera didn't report to Kira but were members of an independent command structure. Something neither Kira nor Odo saw the need for.

Kira was also unaware that members of the Kohn Ma cell had been accepted as Militia officers and the rest of the cell cooperated fully with the Maquis. The Architect Program running their strategic operations as well. In time, Kira and Odo would discover just how entrenched the Militia's sympathies for the Maquis and Resistance cells still fighting really were. And of just how radicalized Keeve Falor was becoming after the Federation claimed the Valo system and then ceded it into the DMZ.

"Don't give up," Frinks shrugged, "I guess that's how you could help us here. No matter what Maret throws at the people of Ronara Prime, it just cements our faith in you."

"But we weren't here," Ro said with great guilt.

"You were liberating Phuong and those other women. Anna Shaw and Clarice Starr ran stories on it. Stories of women going missing throughout the colonies make sense now that Maret's little hobby of collecting human women has been discovered and ratted out," Frinks told her, "That brought closure to a lot of families. And angered them even more. Maret did more to generate support for the Maquis than Phuong ever did on her own. Your cell helping rebuild lives that had been shattered by Maret is doing even more to make the people love you all. So. Don't. Give. Up."

"But we weren't here," Ro complained.

"You can't be everywhere. You were where you needed to be. Next time you'll be here. Maret proved there'll be a next time. So just get ready for it and make them pay when they try it again," Frinks demanded of her.

"I can do that," Ro promised.

"We know. That's why people like Stephi Gerin and Vicki Azerenka go out of their way to help. That's why I do it," Frisks confided in Ro, "Because you want to make a difference and you are. Maret never would've reacted as scared as he did if your group hadn't blown the holy hell out of Antok Nor and his mansion, freeing his captives at the same time. Maret was scared because you could get at him and he knew it. So he tried to get back at you and just succeeded in pissing off an entire planet."

"Good to know," Ro smirked.

"And for the luvva God, somebody convince Aric to ask me out. A woman's got needs," Frinks complained.

"That is entirely out of my hands," Ro backed away from that challenge, "He likes you. He really does and in that way."

"I hear a massively big 'but' coming," Frinks said coldly.

"He feels like he's cheating on the memory of his family when he entertains how much he likes you. It sends him down a massive guilt trip. He has to process that and no one can do the work for him,"

"How about I kick his ass and make him have sex with me?" Frinks offered, "Maybe a romance afterwards?"

"Good luck with that," Ro goy up from her seat, "I have rounds to make."

"So do I," Frinks sighed, "We're reopening in a few hours."

"I wish you luck and will drop in later and try to steer Tulley into just letting go. That's the best I can do," Ro told her.

"Yeah, yeah," Frinks reluctantly conceded.

"Annabeth?" Ro was suddenly hesitant.

"Yeah?" Frinks was uncertain now.

"Despite the official noises, Maret is still in charge of the DMZ worlds. He'll be back to finish what he started here. I intend to make pay for every inch and every life he tries to take," Ro vowed.

"I know you will," Frinks said brightly.

"That's my version of a pep talk. Don't expect much more," Ro advised.

Frinks smiled, "It was great."



"They're doing what?" Shelby was out of her seat and leaned across her CO's desk.

"Sit down, Commander, before I write you up as sympathizing with terrorist scum," Korsmo warned her.

"The Cardassians violated the treaty, wrongly occupied a world, and killed God knows how many civilians for the sheer vicarious thrill of it and the Federation is forming up a Joint Antiterrorist Taskforce with the Cardassians?" Shelby was in a state of disbelief.

"The Federation feels that appeasing the Cardassians by eliminating the Maquis threat will dissuade them from feeling as though they need to violate the treaty again," Korsmo said coldly, "Is there an issue, Commander? For the record?"

"For the record I believe we're playing into their hands by doing their dirty work for them," Shelby grated.

"It'll be a civilian operation run by Federation Security and overseen by the Cardassian Guard," Korsmo informed her.

"So they point and we shoot?" Shelby was aggrieved, "What happens when we began targeting peaceful political dissidents in the name of bringing peace to the DMZ?" Shelby inquired.

"There are no peace loving political dissidents in the DMZ. They're all Maquis or their supporters. If we have to, we'll detain every last colonist. Even if we have to chart out and establish new penal colonies on unestablished worlds," Korsmo predicted.

"So we sweep them out now like trash where we were willing to at least leave them be before," Shelby digested it.

"That was before they all became Maquis," Korsmo grew colder and more distant.

"You weren't on the ground, sir. You didn't see what happened to those people," Shelby stated, "Because we weren't doing our duty."

"Whose fault is that?" Korsmo roared in his rage, "Maret chose to sideline me despite my being the senior officer on the scene. And we don't violate treaties because the other party violates it first."

"Then what good is having a treaty with stipulations?" Shelby sadly asked.

"Dismissed, Commander. With some afterthought, I may not log this conversation into your record," Korsmo was done.

"I hope you do. For the record," Shelby stood and marched out, calmly and professionally. Korsmo replayed the flight recorder and understood he sounded histrionic. He decided then not to record the commentary into Shelby's record. He wouldn't reprimand her obvious insubordination and terrorist sympathies because he'd have to verify his account of events with the log. Korsmo would be damned before he brought attention to this incident.

It was bad enough to have swallow his pride end allow that upstart Captain Blow to personally meet with Maret. Now there was a man whose career needed destroying. Korsmo began plotting the ways he could make Blow and the USS Madagascar look incompetent. He made note of it in his personal log. So long as a Board of Inquiry wasn't called, his personal logs would be excluded from the record. So he laid out his petty plans in infinite detail.

Little did Korsmo realize he'd soon be killed in a surprise attack by the Klingons. Captain Mackenzie Calhoun would assume command of a repaired and restored Excalibur and specifically tasked with introducing the Federation to the Thallonian Empire. A rather irritated Shelby would remain as first officer and wonder why she was passed over for command herself. But together, with their eclectic crew, they'd make history.

Over the next two weeks, the Maquis cell on Ronara Prime helped restore order to the colony. Governor White was helpless to stop them since every constabulary squad sent to detain them came back unarmed and naked. A little perverse humor from Ro's cell. White pleaded with Maret to restore a semblance of Cardassian order on the colony and was informed of the impending deployment of the taskforce. White gleefully looked forward to the day when they would arrive upon Ronara Prime.

The Deathblow arrived in the Lanaris system to discover that the prisoner they'd sought to liberate from the labor camp on Lanaris II had been moved to Kodosh II, closer to the Cardassian Farpoint border. Sela instructed her privateer crew to cloak their Bird of Prey and proceed at warp to the Kodosh system. Her mentor had shielded her as she rose through the ranks dually within both the Imperial military and the Tal Shiar. Then he'd been taken prisoner by the Cardassians as he paid an inspection upon the military intelligence desk of the Romulan embassy on Cardassia Prime.

The Cardassians soon discovered he was a low value prisoner since he would neither divulge any information even under the most arduous torture nor would the Star Empire trade him for anything or anyone of value. Rather, the Star Empire shut down its embassy and increased its intelligence gathering. Tiring of his presence, the Obsidian Order consigned the elderly Romulan to an apparent death sentence on Kodosh. Where it would turn out both Thomas Riker and Sito Jaxa had been sent to as well from Lanaris.

The young commander of the vessel, a certain Tekana, was beamed up from the surface still brandishing a bloodied dagger she'd used to interrogate the gul in command of the labor camp. No survivors, Cardassian or otherwise, had been left behind to indentify the Romulans.

"I've laid a course for Kodosh II and engaged at maximum warp. Which sadly, in these older vessels means a maximum or Warp 4 while under cloak," Tekana reported to Sela.

"Be glad you received an upgrade to travel at warp at all," Sela smiled coldly. The older Bird of Prey and Bird of Vengeance-classes were now restricted just to privateers and their ilk had just recently begun receiving more advanced cloaking devices than the impulse-only models that they'd originally been designed around. Warp core refits also gave them more power reserves while under cloak. The vessel types being among the few Romulan ships of the line that still utilized warp cores rather than artificial quantum singularities for power.

"Of course," Tekana lowered her head but never took her eyes off of Sela. Sela was beginning like this young private army commander. She had no idea of why Tekana hadn't enlisted with the regular fleet. But promotions and commands were handed far more regularly amongst the privateers scouts and antipiracy patrols. Of course, some frontier privateers erected themselves up as warlords over less advanced cultures. And why shouldn't they? It was the Romulan way.

Tekana had come highly recommended to Sela for both her skills and her discretion. Even the Tal Shiar wouldn't support Sela's mission. Therefore Sela had needed a crew that was willing to undertake the task, capable of accomplishing it, and utterly expendable if they should prove indiscreet. Commander Tekana had proven herself by recognizing and acknowledging all of these facts to Sela unbidden and without any clues from Sela herself.

Tekana would prove useful in the years to come, Sela predicted to herself, should she remain loyal. The young commander seemed to know already that her entire crew would have to be summarily executed upon their return to Romulan space. But Sela would give her the financial means to recruit a new one. Privateers weren't specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Algeron. So Tekana could very well prove to be a vital asset for incursions into and operations within Federation space.

A new crew would be raised up knowing those facts and therefore as reliable as Tekana herself was proving to be. Sela appreciated that Tekana didn't view her as half-human. Or as a barely tolerated outcast striving to prove her worth to their fellow Romulans. Tekana saw her for the power she wielded and had earned. And as a pathway to similar power. So very Romulan of her.

"Time to target?" Sela inquired.

"Twenty-seven hours," Tekana informed her.

"Get some rest. You'll be needed for the extraction," Sela instructed the commander.

"Yes sir," Tekana excused herself from the cramped bridge.

"I'm still coming Setok," Sela promised her old mentor.


Last modified: 26 Dec 2023