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Collaborators - Part II by Travis Anderson

The Spy, the Rebel, the Daredevil, the Fighter, the Lightbulb, the Muscle, the Fixer, the
Rock, the Brain, and one ship shared by all. The tale continues...

Chapter Five

Delain and Shade were roughly shoved into the center of the encampment by armed Cardassian women. The ruins that dominated the western face of the camp were from a civilization predating the Cardassian era. Shade vaguely knew the Cardassians were the second advanced civilization to rise on the arid world but seeing the fragments of statues she finally realized that an entirely different species had risen through the evolutionary process of survival or extinction. And she had no doubts as to what had happened to the Cardassians' competitors for the dwindling resources on their world.

It had been the quest for resources that had militarized Cardassian culture. Bajor hadn't been the first client world or the last. It was simply the only that had ground the Occupation forces into the ground and broken the spirits of the invaders. In the cost-benefit ration formula, Bajor simply grew to be too expensive to hold onto no matter what delusions Gul Dukat had over the matter.

And as Allon had alluded to, there was a significant Typhon Pact presence on the planet concentrated in this camp. A Romulan officer was conferring with an Andorian when Shade and Delain were presented to them. From all appearances it seemed every representative from a Typhon Pact species was also exclusively female. Or in the case of the Andorians, representing either of the two female genders.

There were no Tholians, Gorn, Breen, or Tzenkethi present it seemed. The Andergani, and the Iotians if rumors were true, were also excluded. So the Andorians and Romulans had the exclusive run of the camp besides the Cardassians present and accounted for.

"Terran?" the Andorian leader asked her.

"Fabrini," Shade tersely replied.

"You should be siding with these women," the Andorian told her.

"I'll pass," Shade replied.

"Too bad," the Andorian motioned to nearby guards, "I want four guards on her at all times."

The Romulans hesitated just long enough to get a nod from their ostensible superior. So it seemed the troops weren't as unified as advertised. One of the Andorian sentries got chatty on the way to Shade's internment.

"You could prove to be a valuable hostage, pink skin," she declared.

"I'm worthless to you," Shade promised.

"Then you can make the five hundred kilometer trek across the desert back to the nearest trace of civilization. Of course, we can't spare any supplies or water if you don't hold any value," the Andorian counseled her.

"Sorry," Shade replied.

She'd only been incarcerated in a tent for roughly twenty minutes by her estimation when the Romulan officer, she seemed subordinate to the Andorian commander but in a position of authority over her fellow Romulans, appeared. Shade had managed to ascertain that the sentries guarding her were spread out on a box formation around the tent. Now it seemed she was going to be interrogated.

"Speak softly," the Romulan advised her, "Two of the guards are fellow Romulans and their auditory acuity outreaches yours."

"Who are you?" Shade began to wonder.

"My rank is roughly equivalent to a military subcommander," she explained, "But my name is Lynn."

"That sounds awfully…human," Shade confessed.

"My great-grandfather and my own father were Terrans. My father was captured aboard the Enterprise-C," Lynn shared, "My great-grandfather was captured during the Earth-Romulan War."

"I didn't think that incident had any Federation survivors," Shade admitted.

"Precious few. And those that lived were kept as slaves. But a rare few were brought into Romulan households as consorts and concubines," Lynn described the past.

"And you're not Imperial Navy?" Shade had to wonder.

"No, my ship is a privateer vessel. We conduct scouting missions and antipiracy patrols to liberate Imperial resources for other duties," Lynn explained, "We're one of a hundred vessels across the Typhon Pact hired to destabilize the Khitomer Accords and break the treaty organization apart."

"You don't sound happy about that," Shade fully realized.

"It's a fool's errand," Lyn said bitterly, "The Star Empire will never thrive opposed to the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Only unity will prosper us as it did after the Dominion War and Shinzon's folly. Tal'Aura was an idiot to set us against your governments again and Donatra placates the masses by giving them a foe they can rail against."

"Why do I get the impression you're working to change things?" Shade inquired.

"There is a fifth column movement throughout the Typhon Pact nations. Both in the military and civilian sectors," Lynn explained, "I'm one of three operatives between our Andorian sisters and I."

"How did your crew get selected for this mission?" Shade asked.

"We had the necessary combat experience and the majority of our crew is female," Lynn answered, "But I have to tell you, we've arranged for your escape."

"What about my companion?" Shade wanted to know.

"She's Cardassian and she's female. She'll be chanting slogans beside them soon enough," Lynn said sourly.

"You don't know that," Shade accused.

"I know this society. Its inequalities abound. Even progressive males support the Underground to their own personal detriment," Lynn revealed.

"So how do I leave here?" Shade moved on rather than argue.

"Wait for my return," Lynn instructed, "Everything will be in place then."

As Lynn exited the tent Shade settled in to impatiently wait and wonder about Delain's fate…and ultimate loyalties.

Kai Winnow waited in her quarters for her meeting with Captain Ro. Her security detail had swept the guest quarters for surveillance devices and set up a jammer in case they'd missed anything. She was the first kai to ever demand a security force protect her twenty-six hours a day.

Of course, Winn Adami had Neela on a short leash in those days. The Vedek Assembly's "troubleshooter" was in reality Winn's private gun. But records indicated Neela spent the bulk of her time with Anara representing Winn's interest as the Militia dealt with Bajor's enemies and security concerns.

Anara was a known factor within the Militia. But Neela was even more unpredictable now that she didn't answer to the kai or the vedeks. Winnow had approached her to serve the kai's interest and Neela had flatly refused her. An insult Winnow had vowed to repay.

Her politicking amongst the vedeks had bought her election to kai. She'd richly rewarded her numerous supporters and financially broken her detractors. Most of her spiritual enemies had been consigned away to monasteries to engage in perpetual contemplation far away from her.

Only one secular official had ever threatened her. Kai Opaka Sulan had famously had a son who'd died in the Resistance. Winnow had secretly conceived and had an abortion, a betrayal of the faith's tenets. And it hadn't been just the one time. She'd undergone three abortions before being sterilized. Cardassian doctors were always so eager to take Bajoran lives even in these days of heady alliances.

Winnow started when she finally realized she wasn't alone in her quarters anymore. No doors had opened, no panels revealed, yet Neela had just appeared. Once Winnow caught her breath, she decided to find out just how that feat had been accomplished.

"How did you get in here without my noticing?" the kai demanded imperiously.

"Space stations all seem to be designed along similar principles," Neela answered, "Once you've been inside one you've pretty much navigated them all."

Winnow scowled, "Very clever."

"If you insist," Neela deflected the compliment.

"Are you here to kill me?" Winnow asked in a straightforward manner.

"No, and you brought a tricorder in here with you. You can scan me and verify I'm unarmed," Neela offered.

"You still have your own body," Winnow countered.

"I'm not going to move from this spot. It would be counterproductive," Neela announced.

"Then why are you here?" Winnow asked after scanning Neela and determining that she'd told the truth.

"To offer you a chance to prove me wrong," Neela explained.

"How?" Winnow inquired sharply.

"Deny plotting to kill Astris Beru and to take over the government and appoint yourself the sole, unchallenged ruler of Bajor's government and faith."

"But why should when it's all so deliciously true?" Winnow laughed.

"So you admit it?" Neela sought clarification.

"Of course, I confess to every wonderful detail. If Astris survives much longer, I won't be the only one gunning for her head," Winnow predicted.

"And what about the Prophets?" Neela asked.

"Why should I care about some crusty old aliens living in a wormhole? They certainly don't care about me," Winnow challenged Neela, "All I thank them for is the prosperity their wormhole has brought Bajor…and me. Otherwise they can stay the hell away from me and my planet."

"It isn't your planet just yet," Neela advised her.

Winnow drew a discreet phaser from a fold in her robes, "It will be. And you'll just be remembered as a killer who desperately tried to kill a kai out of some misbegotten motive to redeem yourself after serving Winn."

"My murder will be noticed," Neela warned her.

"Haven't you wondered why Security isn't even trying to get in here?" Winnow laughed again, "I'm the kai of Bajor and I'm untouchable."

The doors slid open and a flash bomb was tossed inside and blinded Winnow while Neela seemed to expect it and shielded her eyes. Ro marched in and delivered a right cross to Winnow's jaw, "There, you've been touched."

She looked over at Neela while Blackmer and his men secured Winnow, "You okay?"

"Do I have a choice?" Neela asked sadly.

Alarms across the station began to sound and Ro stepped away while she answered her comm badge. She came back to Blackmer, "I'm needed on Ops. Prepare teams to repel boarders if necessary."

"Yes, ma'am," Blackmer said dismally as he tightened his grip on Winnow's arm, "I'm sure this is about you."

"I wouldn't be at all surprised," Winnow spat blood on his face from her split lip.

"Take her to detention," Blackmer calmly ordered.

He studied Neela, "I was wrong about you. You really are one of the good guys now."

"Save your thanks for the Prophets dragging me kicking and screaming to a place where I can finally serve them," Neela replied.

"Your friend is far too modest," Blackmer informed Anara as she entered.

"It seems Winnow is involved with the Typhon Pact. Armed civilian ships have decloaked all around the station and are demanding Winnow's release," Anara told them.

"So she can create a shadow government and the faithful will follow her rather than the Council of Ministers," Neela assessed, "Or so they hope."

"I wonder how they learned that she'd been arrested." Anara asked.

"I'll be reviewing comm logs for a month," Blackmer predicted.

"Tell Ro we can solve her problem," Neela instructed.

"We can?" Anara blinked.

"Yes. We. Can," Neela promised her.

"Why don't you come with me to Ops and explain it to her?" Blackmer asked.

"We will," Neela volunteered both of them.

"What's this ‘we' shuk?" Anara wanted to know.

"You wouldn't be able to live with yourself if I left you behind," Neela warned her.

"Prophets! Tell me you're not thinking what I think you're thinking," Anara complained.

"Too late, sorry," Neela replied, "But when have my plans led us astray?"

"Do want the list chronologically or by subject?" Anara protested.

The station shook and Blackmer grimaced, "That was probably a warning shot."

Neela gave Anara an imploring look.

"Damn it! Okay, you win," Anara relented.

"Can we take this to Ops?" Blackmer sharply inquired.

"Celes, give me a tactical display," Ro ordered since the usual science officer manning sensors was aboard the Defiant during its patrol.

Ro was less than happy at the displayed results, "Slaine, you have them?"

"Yes, I can bracket each of them with phasers and torpedoes but if they begin evasive maneuvers the computer will have a harder time compensating as I direct the targeting priorities," Slaine reported.

"Celes, where's the patrol?" Ro asked.

"Sorry, Captain. They're jamming us and I can burn through it enough to survey the solar system but nothing beyond."

"Chief?" Ro addressed O'Brien.

"Sorry but I can't boost communications any further than they're already stretched. We're looking at similar degradations as the sensors since it similar transmission types," O'Brien told her.

Which mean neither Admiral Ross and the Ninth Fleet at Starbase 375 or Admiral Kira and the Seventh Fleet beyond Tzenkethi space would hear them much less their own nearby patrols. Blackmer suddenly made an appearance and Ro was irked, "Why aren't you getting the station ready?"

"Because we might not have to," Blackmer then told her Neela's plan.

Ro went into motion, "Get crews aboard the runabouts. I'm personally taking the Rio Grande. Signal the Ark of the Prophets and have them disembark on my signal."

Delain got word first and she opened fire on the privateers surrounding the station. Then four Danube-class runabouts deployed. Ro swung the Rio Grande by the docking ring the Ark of the Prophets was backing away from. Kicking forward propulsion as the assault ship came about, Ro escorted the Bajoran ship out of the system while the other three runabouts and the station forced the Typhon Pact captains to reassess their commitment to their cause.

Belatedly it seemed the captain recognized that two ships were escaping the Bajoran solar system. By the time they laid in pursuit courses, the Ark of the Prophets had gone to warp. And after heavily modifying their ship, the two engineers who occupied it could push the assault ship to Warp 7 in an emergency. The Typhon Pact privateers were left behind.

Ro watched them leave her sensor displays and returned the Rio Grande to Deep Space Nine. She wished Anara and Neela safe passage to Starbase 375. As she flew back to her own command, she signaled Admiral Ross and prepared him for what was coming.

The Obsidian had turned around and was returning to Bajoran space at Warp 8. That was the maximum emergency speed the Nova-class ship could undergo for a total of a twelve hour burst. Macen had managed to get through to Ro after the crisis had left the solar system. And she informed him of Rockford's distress call from Valo VI.

"Of course, I've been ordered not to tell you that," Ro wore a rueful smile, "But you're family and so is she now. So screw orders."

"I'll doctor up a reason we went there for my reports for Amanda and the Cardassians," Macen pledged.

"I almost wish you wouldn't. Starfleet is a tad moribund about these things. Besides, you were hired to assist the Cardies not Starfleet. If they have a problem with it, they can deal with it themselves. But given that Garan and Katreen Dervin each owe you their lives, I think they'll let you slide," Ro postulated.

"You should have been a JAG officer, Laren," Macen decided.

"Just shoot me now," Ro groaned and signed off.

"We're so screwed," Mudd lamented watching the displays showing the Cardassian Guard's battle inside the decommissioned surveillance post.

"Arianna, I need wide scans of the areas between here and the Bajoran Sector proper as well as monitoring of movements across Valo II and III. And Harri? Shut it or I'll shut it for you," Rockford declared.

Mudd finally found some humor in the situation, "I heard you had a temper."

Kemplan returned from inspecting a holding action, "That poor gil and all the garreshes are looking at me like I'm some kind of officer."

"Just heed my advice and the enemy will pay for every step," Rockford promised.

"I know Annika Ryst was some kind of hot shit merc but where do you come in?" Mudd inquired.

"When I incorporated Annika's memories, and every other personality, I was able to finally have a real chronology of my life but it took some time to cohesively merge all those memories together," Rockford admitted, "But I have and the Typhon pact is going to know it."

"I bet," Mudd realized.

Explosions echoed throughout the facility. Forte rechecked her displays, "They'd breached all of the defensive barriers this side of the airlocks."

"So what do we do?" Kemplan was on the verge of panic.

"Have the Guardsmen retreat to these positions," Rockford indicated chokepoints near the command deck, "Have them hold at all costs at the locations."

"They'll die," Kemplan realized.

"For their rulers and their stellar nation," Rockford confirmed it, "But we won't let the sacrifice go in vain."

"C'mon, this is cold," Mudd protested.

"This is warfare," Rockford informed them, "This is why everyone tries so hard to avoid it. At least if they're sane."

"Celeste, I have a new ship approaching from neighboring star systems. It's the Obsidian," relief washed over and flooded Forte's voice.

"ETA?" Rockford asked.

"Within the half hour at present speed," Forte predicted.

"I thought you said the sensors were all flotzed up," Rockford mentioned.

"Well, there's degrees and different types of flotzing," Forte demurred.

"I never question a miracle," Rockford admitted, "Now if Ro just got my message."

"Why Ro and Deep Space Nine?" Mudd inquired.

"This is sovereign Bajoran territory again," Rockford reminded her, "You don't think Starfleet and the Militia are just going to cede it over to hostiles, do you?"

"You cunning bitch," Mudd applauded her, "And I mean that in all the nicest ways."

"I was a soldier," Rockford said wryly, "I'm used to it."

"Celeste!" Forte was panicky, "The Cardassians! They're all…dead."

"Damn, look at the invaders. They're wearing respirators. They used some kind of biogenic weapon. Seal off the command post," Rockford instructed, "Then set the destruct sequence. We'll retreat to the bunker."

"But…" Kemplan began to protest.

"This monstrosity has outlived its usefulness anyway," Rockford tersely informed her, "Or do you enjoy spying on allies?"

"No," Kemplan said glumly.

"Then help Arianna set the timers. We need thirty minutes," Rockford instructed, "After we set the timers, we destroy every terminal."

Waiting outside the ruins of Caraden on Cardassia Prime, Shade waited for Lynn to return. She did so far more quickly than Shade had anticipated. Outside the tent, the four women guarding her were retching and passing out.

"A fellow conspirator lightly poisoned their food. They'll recover but they'll never forgive the cooks," Lynn explained as she pulled Shade out of the tent, "Slip into these."

Shade hastily put on Romulan coveralls with the ship markings for the vessel Lynn served upon. They were obviously designed for someone bigger and probably male given Romulan sizing. Lynn pointed at Shade's boots.

"I couldn't estimate the size of footwear needed so you'll have to make do with your own," Lynn advised her.

Explosions suddenly ripped through ammo dumps and fuel depots. Lynn hurried Shade along, "Straight that way inside the ruins is a vehicle depot. The Cardassian scout car nearest the edge of the ruins has been equipped for your escape. I need to direct the fire control and damage assessment teams. Just get to the car and you'll find your course plotted into the nav gear."

"How do I thank you?" Shade asked.

"By escaping and bringing an end to this idiocy," Lynn promised, "I have to go now."

Lynn reported to Ashtara zh'Stren, "I'm sorry for the delay, Tara. Someone poisoned the guards watching the Federation woman."

"She'll have to go for a vehicle to cross the desert," the Andorian decided, "Can you trace all of the cars' homing beacons?"

Lynn used a Romulan issue tricorder, "Everyone is accounted for except TR1132. Its beacon seems to have been disabled."

"She seemed far too clever," Tara complained, "Alert the Cardassians. It's time they earned their keep. And send the new arrival with them. She needs to prove her loyalty to their cause by killing her former comrade."

Lynn carried out her orders.

Lynn knew Donatra didn't know of this venture despite Sela's assurances that she did. Obviously Sela was undercutting Donatra's imperial authority to carve out an empire of her own. Not unlike Allon's own efforts on Cardassia Prime.

Allon and Armar had returned home. Marak was due to start dancing at the officer's club where she worked. She'd sift through the evening's officers and take the most informative candidate to her bed where she would drug him and have him hauled away to his own home while she remained untouched.

So Lynn handed over responsibility for Shade's capture to Drean Forlat. Forlat quickly understood the undercurrent of the request being made to her. And she happily took Delain with her in the hunting party in order to force the investigator to kill Shade to prove herself to the sisterhood. Forlat had worked to overthrow the government for so many decades she no longer cared which government it currently was.

Shade had mounted a high ridge off of the nav gear's path. The six wheeled scout had almost flipped over a few times but Shade made it over the top and settled in with macrobinoculars provided in the survival gear and waited to observe the pursuit.

Forlat stopped a four vehicle convoy to inspect Shade's tracks. And grew visibly agitated that Shade was now traversing rock rather than sand. It would slow down Shade's escape but hinder the tracking process.

Shade dismayed at seeing Delain with them. But Forlat threatened the other investigator with a disruptor so Shade had hopes that Delain hadn't been turned. But it was obvious Delain would be told to kill Shade if she were captured. And Shade wondered if she'd do it.

"So Winnow Sudra engineered the attack on Astris Beru," Bill Ross still found it difficult to believe, "I don't pretend to understand your people's religion but that seems extreme even considering your history of religious wars predating the Cardassian occupation of Bajor."

"One of your own officers recorded the confession and corroborating biometric data," Anara reminded him again.

"Yes, I reviewed the recording Captain Ro sent," Ross admitted, "I just can't believe she'd confess."

Starbase 375's Chief of Security requested admittance. Michael Trance was a transgender male. He'd fully transitioned prior to his admission to Starfleet Academy. But despite even the most modern advances in medicine, Trance had a constructed penis and an extant vulva complete with labial lips.

"I've never heard anyone so proud to confess multiple crimes before," Trance shared with the admiral.

"Because Commander, Kai Winnow fully expects Bajor's adherents to the faith to riot until they topple the government and then demand Winnow's release from Starfleet's custody," Anara explained…again.

"Will your faithful really do it?" Ross grew even more concerned. The Bajor Sector neighbored his own and fell under overlapping jurisdiction between his command and Kira's. If a newly christened religious war were to erupt on Bajor, Kira might deploy the Seventh Fleet to her home world leaving the Tzenkethi and Breen borders undefended.

"Admiral Kira won't redeploy her fleet to support Bajor unless Starfleet first authorizes it," Neela promised him, "I should imagine it would be a joint task force drawn from elements of both the Seventh and Ninth Fleets."

Ross' jaw dropped. Trance looked uneasy. Neela simply shrugged.

"It's her way," Anara offered as an explanation, "And Commander, you've obviously never interrogated a Cardassian or a Jem'Hadar before."

"Major, the Cardassians were a victim of their political and military system," Ross fed her the official line.

"Yet Anara has a point," Neela countered, "Cardassian elements had to have supported their own attacks on the Castellan and Queen Katreen. And the Federation and Klingons aren't above this sort of thing, are they?"

"That was nearly a century ago," Ross bristled, "And evidence has come to light that the Typhon Pact is orchestrating everything."

"So Starfleet will be busy," Anara reapplied.

"Official Federation policy is détente with the Typhon Pact nations," Ross reminded them, "Unless an overt act of war ensues we won't respond."

"And if Bajor and Cardassia decide to?" Neela asked.

"Then we will take diplomatic measures to reprimand them both," Ross informed them, "But you have a more immediate problem. While religious unrest is brewing all across Bajor, you two have become the official symbols of the kai's detention. In short, your lives are in jeopardy if you ever return to Bajor or her colonies until this passes from living memory. And extremists have long memories."

"We knew this would happen but we chose to save our people from themselves," Neela assured him.

Anara still looked like she needed convincing. Ross added, "Ro explained your particulars to Director Amanda Forger of the Special Investigation Division. I'm told she gave you both a glowing recommendation. I intend to do the same. Trance here can direct you to a private comp/comm where you can speak with Director Forger herself. I'm afraid it's the best I can do for now."

Trance led them to guest quarters and Anara heaved a heavy sigh, "It seems we're officially in exile now."

"But we've saved Bajor from Winnow's threat. Now officialdom can persuade the masses of her evil intentions," Neela promised her.

"Have we though?" Anara wondered, "If she stands trial back home she'll be acquitted before the trial actually begins."

"Under new Federation laws, a terrorist plot to assassinate a head of state within the Federation will be tried by the Federation Council itself. So Winnow will face trial on Earth," Neela explained.

"You looked into this before we took our assignment," Anara realized, "You haven't had an opportunity since we set out for Rentatha Village."

"I've suspected Winnow for some time now," Neela confessed, "And I took the liberty of contacting Director Forger and recommending she offer her services to Cardassia as soon as the bombs went off."

"You frighten me sometimes, Neela. It's like I don't know who you've become since you were released from prison sometimes," Anara admitted, "And it's only increased since Winn died."

"Prison stripped away many layers and left me with one purpose: to serve the Prophets in defense of Bajor," Neela assured her, "But Winn's death showed me how to truly be a servant. Now I'm a tool of the Prophets in Bajor's defense no matter where I am or ostensibly serve in this galaxy."

Anara felt a cold chill run down her spine.

Ro expected the transmission she'd waited for, "Hello, Admiral."

Amanda Forger clucked her tongue at Ro, "I'm hardly an ‘admiral' these days. No more than you're still a Maquis, Captain."

"We both have said our lies," Ro chuckled, "Shall we get down to it?"

"After your recommendation I spoke with Bill Ross. He sang Anara and Neela's praises and expressed concern over their sacrifice. General Krim admitted they were his best agents ever to serve under him. Astris Beru has been rather tightlipped and acts as though neither of them even exist," Forger stated.

"She needs the plausible deniability. Krim is going down in flames over his daughter's involvement so he just doesn't give a damn anymore," Ro told her.

"So I gathered. Krim gave me the distinct impression the pair have safeguarded Bajor when Starfleet couldn't or wouldn't. And he effectively gave notice that the Militia and the Bajoran government have destroyed nay evidence Anara and Neela ever worked for them outside official capacities. Which effectively erased Neela from Bajoran history after Winn Adami died," Forger explained, "Is there any way you can fill in the gaping holes here?"

"No," Ro admitted, "But keep in mind they've sacrificed everything they are and know in order to avert a second attempt on Astris' life and the Council of Ministers. And they've defended their people since being teenagers in the Resistance."

"No wonder you like and respect them," Forger suddenly understood.

"I wonder if I'd do the same after all these years of respectability," Ro confessed.

"The mere fact you'd even bother to ask says you would," Forger assured her, "Anyway, I've invited them to Barrinor for a real interview. But I've already decided to enlist them if they'll agree."

"Where else can they go?" Ro wondered aloud.

Ro had even more pressing concerns aboard the station. Cenn commanded the Militia exchange officers under her supervision. And Cenn had been joined by Blackmer in sorting out potential troublemakers while the swelling discontent swept over Bajor. Cenn had voluntarily relieved every Militia officer of their duties and confined them to quarters. And then he stepped down until further notice.

Slaine became the acting XO. Ro just had to worry that Slaine would authorize Blackmer's shooting those committing criminal infractions. But things weren't bad enough to kick the nonresident civilian elements off the station yet. The residents would be hard enough to deal with by themselves.

"My men were slaughtered," Kemplan stared at the display in disbelief. Rockford found ironic they were suddenly Kemplan's men.

"They died defending Cardassia," Rockford assured her, "No soldier wants to die but if they have to they want to do it in defense of their world. Now, it's time to board the turbolift."

The lift descended to the planetoid's core. Now they were completely surrounded by a Class-D lump of rock. The lift shaft imploded in on itself. The only way to leave the bunker was through a transporter pad with relays planted throughout Valo VI's surface in order to project its passengers to a waiting ship.

"I have the Freehold queued up. It wants you to authorize lowering its shields," Forte informed her.

Mudd did it and the ventral shield grid deactivated, "We're ready."

"Time to beam out of here," Rockford pulled Kemplan onto the transporter pads.


Chapter Six

The foursome rematerialized on the Freehold's transporter deck. Mudd flew into action, "Raise all shields."

She was headed for the bridge already while the other three women were still stepping off of the pads. Rockford flew into motion, "Arianna, assist her in whatever she needs. Moran, we need to talk."

Forte reached the bridge and sat down at an auxiliary station. The Freehold, unable to release the docking clamps, melted them instead by superheating its hard points. Forte grinned.

"Very smart," she had to comment.

"A personal touch," Mudd said humbly, "One of many."

"Can I ask why?" Forte wondered.

"Some stations are so insistent that all your creditors be paid before you depart," Mudd explained, "It can be bothersome at times."

Forte chuckled while remembering Mudd was a career criminal at heart and practice. Mudd fired the RCS thrusters to back away from the station and Valo VI. Three privateer vessels were docked and four more were orbiting nearby but seemingly oblivious to the freighter's imminent departure.

And the station self destructed taking every boarding party with it. The three docked ships were severely damaged and leaking atmosphere and Mudd came about. Fort swallowed hard.

"The other four privateers are maneuvering to follow us. And the three ships damaged earlier are among them," Forte hated to report.

Mudd tumbled the ship and Forte smiled, "You've done this before."

"Playing dead is easy," Mudd admitted, "Resurrection is hard."

"What should we do?" Kemplan asked as she and Rockford entered the bridge.

"Strap in and shut up," Mudd ordered, "Rockford, you take weapons at the other aux controls. Forte, prepare to give me every iota of power the impulse reactor and warp core can deliver on short notice."

"Everything's set. Just give the word," Forte replied.

"Damn, you are a quick study," Mudd breathed.

"I tried warning you," Rockford said merrily, "Moran, grab a crash seat in the mess cabin. I think the inertial damper is about to be tested."

Kemplan didn't quite understand the physics but she scurried off. Mudd grinned from her forward station, "Thanks. Scraping her off the bulkhead would have been messy work."

"Get set…now!" Mudd engaged the impulse engines at full power. The ship's tumble had reached a point where it was aimed at the outer solar system. Now the Freehold shot away from the wreckage spewing forth from Valo VI like an antiquated missile.

The Gorn, Andorian, Tholian, and Kinshayan vessels set out in pursuit of the fleeing freighter. Mudd didn't seem worried, "These engines are rated for .9C so it'll take them awhile to catch up under relativistic physics."

"But they are closing," Rockford said, "Do you have an aft torpedo launcher."

"You know that would be illegal," Mudd chided her.

"Harri," Rockford scolded her, "Your own weapons displays are showing one but not the weapons load."

Mudd sighed, "Three Mark VI photons."

"And the forward tube?" Rockford pressed.

"They're behind us," Mudd yelped.

"But they may not stay that way," Rockford prodded her.

"Four photons," Mudd grumbled.

The freighter shook but the shields took the brunt of the torpedo detonation. Mudd sighed, "Crap."

"Um…we're being hailed?" Forte sounded uncertain.

"Put it on speakers," Mudd sound inconsolable.

"Maintain your present course and we'll cover you," a familiar voice spoke, "Then we'll rendezvous in the Dorvan Sector."

"Macen! I could learn to love you! I owe you a blowjob after this," Mudd enthused.

She became aware of Rockford staring at her back, "What? I always pay my debts."

"Not this time, Harri," Rockford grated.

Mudd chalked it up as an until later then payment. No one had ever refused her personal line of credit before.

The Obsidian slipped out of subspace and sailed over the fleeing Freehold while firing phasers and photon at the privateers pursuing the Bajoran built freighter. Mudd drove her ship into warp as she set course for the Dorvan Sector, specifically the Dorvan system at Rockford's behest. But aboard the Obsidian things were getting interesting very quickly.

"Tracy, take over phaser controls. Jaycee, empty the photon magazines if you have to. Target weapons and propulsion," Macen ordered.

"They still outnumber us four too one," Shannon Forger reminded him.

"Your sister is a pessimist too," Macen chided her.

"Then why do you work for her?" Forger inquired.

"All vessels bearing on us now," Ebert warned anyone that would listen.

The ship shuddered and Miller accusingly reported, "That would be bleed off from disruptor fire."

"Captain! Three more ships just entered the engagement. One Federation starship and two Bajoran assault vessels," Zimbalist excitedly reported, "The starship is the Defiant!"

The Defiant's pulse phasers and quantum torpedoes did more to disable enemy combatants than all the other ships combined. After accepting multiple surrenders, Tenmei contacted Macen, "Sorry we're late, Captain. The Bajoran patrol insisted on coming with. They top out at Warp 5."

"This is Bajoran territory, Commander. It's their jurisdiction. It wouldn't be wise to interfere with them given the events playing out on Bajor," Macen advised Tenmei.

"Speaking of that, Captain Ro relayed a data packet to pass on to you," Tenmei informed him, "She said you'd know the cipher key."

"Send away," Macen requested, "I won't keep you and the Militia any longer while you deal with your newly acquired prisoners."

"My orders were to relieve Detective Rockford, then pass the data to you, and then expedite your return to your rendezvous with Castellan Garan and Queen Katreen," Tenmei revealed.

"Carry on, Commander. And you have our collective thanks," Macen deactivated the viewer and it reverted to a picture of the Federation ships encircling the damaged Typhon Pact privateers, "Tracy, set course for the Dorvan system."

"Will Celeste even be there?" Forger asked.

"It was a verbal word play. By specifically mention the Dorvan Sector I really sent them to the actual star system," Macen shared, "It's a crude technique Celeste and I worked out in case of events like these."

Macen reported to the Data Center and supplied the Maquis cipher Ro hand encrypted the files with. He soon discovered why she'd encrypted them in the first place. Kerber and Smith didn't say a word but they knew a world of trouble awaited them still.

Shade had managed to trick her pursuers into flipping over two of their scout cars. A third had actually tried to climb such severe terrain that it gutted out the transmission. But the remaining car still carried Forlat, Delain, and four other Cardassian women.

Forlat's mood was decidedly lethal. Even if Delain proved her loyalties by executing Shade, Forlat would still kill her for bringing the foreign devil to Cardassia Prime in the first place. Forlat was already mentally savoring her victory when two airborne fighters strafed their approach on Shade's halted car.

Concussion grenades detonated on one side of the scout car, throwing it over but not quite testing its roll bar. The six Cardassians were sprawled in the dirt and gravel. Forlat dismally realized Shade had a tracer of some kind undetected by conventional scans. Yet the authorities had honed in on after a time.

But the jamming field erected over Caraden had effectively blocked it from working until Shade managed to escape its grasp. Now two Constabulary troop transports were leading a mobile detention van over the horizon.

Forlat drew her weapon and aimed at Delain's head. A phaser beam split the night and struck Forlat, stunning her. The four Underground revolutionaries lifted her up and disappeared into the dark.

Shade mounted up her scout car and drove to Delain's position. Delain was eking gratitude, "Thanks for saving my life."

"Now we'll never have to find out of you would've spared mine when they forced you to either kill me or die beside me," Shade officered as she stepped down from the car.

One transport landed beside the fallen scout while the fighters and the transport led the detention van to Caraden. Lee led the charge out of the transport, "I see you managed to get away."

"I need to report in with you both as well as the Chief of the Constabulary. The situation is even worse than we imagined," Shade assured the m both.

"Worse than having Typhon Pact mercenaries training a guerilla army on my planet?" Delain's head spun.

"Far worse," Shade warned her.

"Well, Rockford is en route to Cardassia with Macen riding escort. They've both had adventures too," Lee informed them, "And the Typhon Pact seemed to be behind theirs as well. Castellan Garan and Queen Katreen have demanded to hold a briefing session with Starfleet and Bajoran officials as soon as everyone is back on Cardassian soil."

"Never any rest for the wicked," Shade managed a slight smile, "It seems we'll be filing our official reports on the way to the meeting."

Starfleet's Council of Five represented the Federation through holographic avatars at Garan's central briefing hall. Akaar, Kira, Ross, Noyce, and Nechayev were all in attendance. Akaar, Noyce, and Nechayev were together in the bowels beneath Starfleet Command. Kira and Ross each attended from bunkers built into Starbase 375 and Starbase 621. Kira in particular felt more at home on a space station than aboard a flagship.

Starfleet's exploration efforts had begun in earnest once again. Captain Benjamin Sisko was the senior starship commander in the Gamma Quadrant. Captain Data led the efforts deeper into the Alpha Quadrant beyond the Cardassian Farside borders. Captain Will Riker led the Beta Quadrant thrust.

Captain Ezri Dax commanded the USS Aventine in leading Starfleet's defense of the Federation and its allies. Captain Mackenzie Calhoun also led a portion of that defense. Starbases across the borders with the Tholians and the Gorn were being built while being defended by entire fleets.

With the near annihilation of a generation of starships, Starfleet had reactivated mothballed ships dating back to 2330 to bolster the numbers. Even the Dominion war had not incurred such losses as the sequential attacks from the Borg, the Argyn, and the Iridian Enforcers. Even ships built in the first three decades of the 24th Century were being held in reserve rather than transferred to scientific agencies and privateers. The remaining Nova-class ships were being refitted into Nova-X-class vessels as that type was swinging into full production. Since the new ship class was designed around tactical mission lines, it seemed the era of small surveyors was done.

Ro attended the meeting through a holographic link as well. When she saw the wounded and recovering Astris Beru's avatar blink into existence, Ro wondered why she was present. She began to wonder just all who would be attending this bull session.

Garan entered in with Ocett at her side. Queen Katreen was next to arrive with Mariska shadowing her. Finally Macen's entourage was ushered in after just arriving. Macen represented the Autonomous Region mission while Rockford and Kemplan together stood in for the Valo mission. Shade and Delain were present on accord of their efforts on Cardassia Prime.

General Krim's image also appeared. It would be his first, and last, appearance before the Cardassian leadership. Krim had fallen on his sword to avert some of the zealot's wrath towards Astris, Anara, and Neela. News reporters badgered Krim for Anara and Neela's whereabouts and he honestly answered that he didn't know. Private citizens didn't have to report their movements to the Militia.

"Captain Macen, if you will begin your report for the entire group this time," Garan suggested. She and Katreen had already digested every report from the SID and their own investigators. Allon and Armar had gone underground. Forlat had vanished literally into the night. Marak was still an unconfirmed variable. And less than a dozen Underground operatives had still been at Caraden when the Constabulary arrived. And no Typhon Pact citizens were to be found. But detonated ordnance matching Typhon Pact origination points had been discovered. And Mayar had spoken just enough to implicate her political masters.

"Having encountered Typhon Pact operatives on three fronts, and that doesn't include the Alliance members from Turkana IV that Captain Ro and Starfleet apprehended, we had to come to the conclusion that while domestics operatives carried out the actual attacks on officials, they wouldn't have been able to without support, material, and training from the Typhon Pact itself," Macen began, "But as previously alluded to, the Typhon Pact privateers hired by an unknown party have positioned themselves brilliantly in that they never actually engaged in the attacks or subsequent fighting that broke out across Cardassia client worlds."

"You said an unknown party?" Nechayev honed in on that part. Ro didn't buy it either.

"Unless Starfleet has intelligence it would like to share," Macen countered.

Nechayev smiled thinly, "No, not at this time."

Both she and Ro instantly realized Macen did in fact know where the privateers were coming from and who was hiring them. But Macen wasn't sharing with Starfleet. Because of the simple fact official policy would cause Starfleet from allowing Macen to counterstrike at the Typhon Pact.

"Is there any other pertinent data, Captain Macen?" Akaar wondered.

"Not at this time," Macen replied.

"Then we shall convene with the Fleet Admiral and consult with the Federation Council before deliberating on an appropriate response," Akaar's image winked out followed by Ross and Noyce's. Kira hesitated and then disconnected. Nechayev wagged a finger at Macen before vanishing. Ro decided to stay since everyone else had as well.

"Now for the unvarnished truth, Captain?" Garan requested.

"Every piece of this puzzle is being funneled through Faraway Station," Macen told her, "It's a civilian station built outside the Romulan Star Empire. But the Romulans use it to hire mercenaries from within the Typhon Pact and outside of it to conduct operations against Federation worlds. They've never been quite this ambitious before."

"So these contractors truly are private citizens?" Astris asked with revulsion, "So legally we can't blame any or all member nations of the pact?"

"That's technically correct," Macen conceded, "But my source and Investigator Shade here have gathered clues as to who might be ultimately responsible for these terrorist acts. And if so, I believe they will be on the station pulling every string."

"So what do you recommend?" Garan asked.

Ro held her breath as Macen answered, "We destroy the station."

"If the Bajoran Militia and the Cardassian Guard were to undertake a joint effort, it would pull every Khitomer Accords signatory into war with the Typhon Pact," Astris protested.

"Not if we use their own strategy against them," Macen suggested.

"You're volunteering, I take it," Garan realized.

"The SID is a civilian agency now and one that doesn't exist in any databank," Macen told everyone, "That's plausible deniability. And the SID just recruited two agents of General Krim's acquaintance that could be very valuable in this effort."

"Anara and Neela would be very motivated to end this threat once and for all," Krim agreed.

Ro had seen it coming and still marveled at the audacity of the plan. The unknown planner would see it coming and knowing Macen's team they would still be unable to stop it. Whatever "it" was.

"You have the complete support of the Cardassian people," Katreen promised him.

"My Queen forgets foreign affairs are my place," Garan said dryly, "But as our Head of State, she is fully authorized to endorse this endeavor presupposing I do not veto it and she needs to bring an override vote from the entire Legislative Assembly. But that won't be necessary today. I agree that these bastards need to pay dearly for what they've done."

"Bajor stands behind you as well," Astris pledged, "Invoking my executive authority, I'm contacting Director Forger and formally requesting this mission get underway ASAP."

"Castellan Garan and I will place Cardassia's call as a united front," Queen Katreen pledged.

"Let me remind everyone that Starfleet will find out about this venture and when they do they'll censure everyone involved," Ro stated, "But they won't learn it from me."

"Will you be able to conduct this effort so far from support?" Garan wondered.

"Deep Space Four is nearby on the very edge of Federation space," Macen answered, "The station CO, Commander Erika Benteen, owes me a favor. I think I'll collect."

"Until then?" Katreen asked.

"We need to gather our new teammates at Serenity Station," Macen told them all, "And then we'll set out."

"Brin, Akaar isn't stupid. He'll order me to dispatch the Defiant to stop you," Ro cautioned him.

"So do it," Macen grinned.

Kira's avatar looked irked. Ross was bored while Noyce and Akaar looked suspicious as they addressed Jellico. Nechayev was surprisingly sanguine about the whole ordeal.

"Macen is up to something," Jellico warned the Council of Five, "He's going to start a damn war."

"Sir, Macen stated that he didn't know about Faraway Station," Kira reminded everyone.

"And Macen will lie to your face in order to slink off and conduct some damned unauthorized raid," Jellico fumed.

"So we stop him," Ross shrugged.

"We'll have to send a starship to that private Cardassian monstrosity of a space station he had built," Noyce insisted.

Kira found it insulting to hear about a Nor—class station being besmirched. She hadn't had any love for Terok Nor at first either. But she'd grieved to learn the original Deep Space Nine had been destroyed.

"In the end, it won't matter what we say or do. Bajor and Cardassia are going to endorse any effort he makes," Kira warned them, "And they won't care about the politic fallout."

"I suggest you call a vote. I abstain in order to prevent an unlikely tie," Jellico ordered.

Akaar, Ross, and Noyce all voted to prevent a reprisal from taking place. Kira abstained as well because of her obvious conflict of interests. Nechayev voted against preventing the action from taking place.

"The SID is a literal hole in the wall," she argued, "It's the same situation as the Typhon Pact presented. Rogue civilian elements acting out on their own accord. The leadership can't protest or we'll bring up their own actions."

"Contact Captain Ro and make certain she doesn't warn Macen after she sends the Defiant to sit on his ass," Jellico growled.

Jellico then had the stunning shock of hearing from a united Garan and Katreen Dervin that Cardassia was committed to a reprisal against Faraway Station. Even more upsetting was Astris, a sovereign head of state of a Federation member world, had done the same. Jellico thought about warning the Romulans. But he reconsidered Nechayev's argument. So he contacted the Federation Diplomatic Corps and had them prepare to disavow Macen and the crew of the Obsidian as rogue terrorists.

Akaar personally served the orders to Ro, "Captain, you will assemble a crew aboard the Defiant and set forth for Barrinor. Your orders are to prevent Macen and his group from reaching the Beat Quadrant."

"I'm surprised you'd want me in command of the mission," Ro admitted.

"I don't and neither does Fleet Admiral Jellico. Commander Tenmei will lead a force; preferably one composed of a majority of Terrans, and set out. No Bajoran or Cardassian personnel will be allowed aboard. Am I understood?"

"Is Starfleet in the habit of racial profiling now?" Ro inquired.

"Don't be flip. I'm not human either but these orders come from the Fleet Admiral himself," Akaar responded.

"And Admiral Jellico is human," Ro had to point out.

"Do I need to relieve you of duty?" Akaar impatiently asked.

"No, sir," Ro crisply replied.

"Then you have your orders, Captain. Starfleet expects them to be obeyed," Akaar warned her.

His image faded and she hailed the Defiant, "Things went according to plan, Prynn."

"We'll endeavor to obey Starfleet's orders, Captain," Tenmei promised, "Just not too strenuously."

"I didn't hear that, Commander," Ro assured her.

Astris had personally appealed to Anara and Neela to participate in Macen's plan. They left Barrinor, the third planet in the system, and headed for the mid-point between the fourth and fifth planet where Serenity Station orbited the primary. The Cardassians listed the station as Antok Nor in their registries. Tom Riker had won a lottery for the honor to name the station and he'd chosen Serenity. Recent history had caused him to reconsider though.

At Riker's behest, and corporate decisions by the owner and the CEO, the station had been renamed Antok Nor for good. Although navigational updates had alerted traffic to the change, Starfleet had been exceptionally slow to adopt the new nomenclature.

Riker commanded the station and his Trill wife served as both XO and Sciences Officer. Owned wholly by Outbound Ventures, Inc. Antok Nor served as the base for the privateer fleet Macen had hired and equipped. Despite the numbers of corporate vessels, only Macen's team folded within the Obsidian's crew served as SID contractors.

Amanda Forger had relocated the SID to Barrinor when its Starfleet sanctioned headquarters in the United Kingdom on Earth was closed down. Most of Forger's staff reactivated their Starfleet commissions and were relocated throughout the quadrant. Two members of Forger's inner circle stayed with her. Gemini Trayce was promoted from Chief of Operation to Deputy Director. Simona Dalca rose from being Forger's administrative Aide to the chief of personnel. Dalca had pulled off a minor miracle in restaffing the SID's headquarters personnel while the agent pool remained unchanged.

Trayce was an anomaly amongst the citizens of the Alpha Quadrant. She'd come from beyond the Cardassian Farside and simply never left the Alpha Quadrant. She had purple skin and dirty blonde hair and a voracious intelligence. And that's all anyone really knew about her with any certainty.

Macen had convinced Forger to take Trayce on without giving her a concrete reason why. Although they were coy about it, Forger suspected Trayce and Macen knew each other. And they'd known each other well before the SID had ever come into existence.

The Ark of the Prophets rendezvoused with the Obsidian and the Freehold at the edge of the solar system. And then they set course for Tzenkethi space. Eventually they corrected their courses and took a roundabout path away from the Alpha Quadrant in general and Barrinor in particular.

The Defiant arrived some hours later. Riker smirked as he took Tenmei's hail, "Why Commander, how can I help you today?"

"I've been ordered to enforce a cease and desist injunction on Captain Macen, the Obsidian, and any vessels traveling with him," Tenmei was the picture of professionalism.

"You just missed them. They're headed for Tzenkethi space," Riker assured her.

"You won't mind if we verify that?" Tenmei asked.

"Here's their exit coordinates," Riker readily transmitted them, "You can alert Admiral Kira at Starbase 621 to be expecting them."

"I'm sure the admiral would find that hard to believe, respectfully," Tenmei replied.

"Why is it everyone labels disrespect as ‘respectfully'?" Riker wondered.

Tenmei broke off and verified that three ships, one of them being the Obsidian, had indeed charted a course for Starbase 621. Tenmei contacted Ro and requested permission to return to Deep Space Nine. After all, their specific orders were to prevent anyone from going to Faraway Station, not to investigate if they made it all the way to the Tzenkethi border.

A skeleton crew from the Obsidian beamed over to the Ark of the Prophets while three ships dropped out of warp so Anara and Neela could attend a conference aboard the surveyor. Mudd slaved the Freehold to the Obsidian's helm and also attended. Whatever course and speed Aglaia laid in, the freighter would match exactly.

Mudd was less than happy to be called in for a war council much less being involved in the current venture. She was becoming less and less a rogue adventurer with mercenary inclinations and transforming into a concerned citizen. She found the whole revolting development appalling.

Rockford was pleased to finally meet the legendary Anara and Neela. Of course, professionally they'd been ghosts. But rumors swirled around a pair of women that were the bane of Bajor's potential enemies. One in particular seemed touched by Bajor's gods.

Mudd also took an active interest in the pair. She'd distantly crossed their paths on more than one occasion. But Mudd had always detached herself from whatever business enterprises associates had embarked upon just prior to their mysterious fates. Invariably lethal fates at that.

Shade, Lee, Burrows, and an uncomfortable looking Forte stayed as far across from the briefing room as possible from Kerber, Smith, and Ebert. This irritated Tessa beyond belief. Only Rockford's influence kept the EMH from launching into a vitriolic attack.

Mudd saw the writing on the wall, "Whatever your trio is hiding, those assholes won't stop until they dig it up."

"Frankly I'm just disappointed Arianna seems to be with them on this," Rockford admitted.

"You didn't have peer pressure on your planet?" Mudd quipped.

Parva and Daggit entered in and Parva immediately sized up the situation, "Grozzit!"

Daggit trailed her as she marched off to have a little "chat" with the quartet. Tessa immediately joined them. Rockford felt like punching the bulkhead, or preferably, someone's face.

"Don't say I didn't try to warn you," Mudd happily sing-songed.

Ebert approached Rockford, "The Captain had me project a parabolic course for DS4. Wouldn't it be better to avoid the station?"

"We're splitting up before then," Mudd explained her own marching orders, "I go through the area first. Our new Bajoran friends follow some time later and finally you folks dock with the station."

Macen entered the room at that point. He'd held a conference with Director Forger, Garan, Queen Katreen, Astris, and Ro advising him of his progress so far. And requesting Ro contact Benteen at DS4 and make a case for him.

"Everyone please find a seat," Macen urged them all. If he was aware of the awkward situation brewing inside the briefing room, he didn't mention it. But he was well aware and listening in on everything.

"The First Minister, the Bajoran Council of Ministers, Castellan Garan, Queen Katreen, and the Cardassian Legislative Assembly are all unanimously in support of our objective," Macen informed everyone, "But their uniformity doesn't guarantee our success or help achieve it in any way. That just covers the blowback after the mission s accomplished. Now we need to determine how to accomplish our goal."

"What is it they want?" Daggit inquired.

"The total destruction of the Typhon Pact's Faraway Station with little to no loss of civilian lives," Macen told the group.

"It's impossible," Burrows retorted.

"No, it's conceivable," Neela replied.

"How?" Lee asked, "And just who the hell are you anyway?"

"Anara and Neela are SID agents," Macen explained, "They come with more recommendations than you."

"Romulans employ gravitic tides from artificial singularities to power their vessels and energy producing power plants," Neela explained, "They utilize a complex array of containment fields to prevent the singularities from consuming the vessels or cities around them. If they were to lose containment on a world, the singularity would eventually consume that planet."

"And how do you know how to disable the containment fields?" Parva asked.

"We captured a Romulan scout ship that had been hijacked by Orions who slaughtered the original crew. After…dealing with the Orion pirates, we had an opportunity to reverse engineer the ship. And we learned through experience what a loose singularity could do to a Class-D planet," Neela shared, "There won't be a single trace of Faraway Station after the containment fields fail. And the artificial singularity will attach itself to one of the binary stars in the system and begin to consume it as well before moving on to the surviving star."

"Why did you study doing this exact procedure?" Shade wanted to know.

"The Prophets guided us in an academic exercise. Now it seems fortuitous because the day that precise knowledge is needed has now arrived," Neela told her.

Only Anara knew the inner turmoil underneath Neela's seeming serenity. The Vedek Assembly had issued a bull of excommunication against both of them for their role in arresting Kai Winnow. It seemed the vedeks saw Winnow's intentions as being those of the Prophets themselves. They'd become blinded to the differences to one Bajoran spiritual leader's mad ambitions and the will of the Prophets. Bajor was one step aware from a religiously inspired civil war the likes of which hadn't been seen for two hundred years before the Cardassians invaded Bajor.

Aftr the Cardassians left Bajor, Sisko came to the Prophets and they had been revealed as translinear aliens who'd constructed a pocket dimension to dwell in. And part of that dimension manifested itself as a conduit from Bajor to the Gamma Quadrant. Ancient Bajoran star farers had transited the Wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. There they had settled on a world and intermixed with the natives.

And so the Mishryans had been born. A Mishryan fugitive had desperately utilized an unstable wormhole to arrive in the Alpha Quadrant. And Ardra had simply gone back into the business of her confidence schemes and blackmailed worlds.

Arven Bliss had been dispatched through the Bajoran Wormhole to find Ardra. After detaining Ardra and returning her to Mishrya, Bliss had decided to return to the Alpha Quadrant to make her way in that side of the galaxy. And so, Bliss had eventually been hired on by Outbound Ventures and assigned to the Fury.

"So you're saying you can destroy the station," Macen surmised.

"Yes, and they'll have enough time to evacuate," Neela promised, "But disabling the containment fields is a lengthy process. I'll need the station personnel distracted. Preferably already in the process of evacuating is possible."

"And if it's possible, we'll need an estimation of what type of containment generator they have built around the artificial singularity," Anara spoke up again.

"I can manage that," Macen assured them.

"So we're doing this?" Lee was angry, "What if we refuse to help you destroy an entire space station and endanger its population?"

"You seem to be under the mistaken assumption that this is some form of democracy," Macen said quietly with menace in his voice, "This is an absolute dictatorship built along a strict hierarchy of a precise chain of command. You don't get a say in the final decision of what we do. Your input is valued and will be registered in the final factoring of the mission parameters. But I have the final word on the course this team and this ship will lay. And sole responsibility for the outcome of that course decision rests on me."

Frankly, Rockford was surprised by Lee's outburst. He'd been a Chief Inspector with Chung Kua's police force. So he was used to a chain of command, even if it had been considerably looser than the military styled variant Macen ran his ship under.

Rockford frequently had to run interference between his approach and her staff's civilian sensibilities. But she could see there would be obstacles this time. Macen could sense it as well as she could observe it, Lee and Shade thought this plan was too extreme of a reaction. Forte was still open-minded. Burrows had been career Starfleet Special Operations Command and SOC performed sabotage missions all the time. The injury that transferred Burrows out of SOC and later inspired his discharge from Starfleet had been very similar in nature to this proposed mission.

"I'll be recommending this proposal to our sponsors and they will make the final decision regarding our course of action," Macen shared.

"But you're still recommending this as our game plan," Shade pointed out in case anyone wasn't paying attention.

"Yes," Macen said steely, "I recommend everyone adjourn to the Team Room and standby for an official planning session."

Later, the inevitable meeting took place. Macen made the much dreaded announcement, "The sabotage plan has been green lit. We will approach the target in three stages. First, Harri will flyby the station in the Freehold after acquiring a suitable cargo at Deep Space Three. The station will inevitably ask her to dock rather than go straight to her consumers beyond claimed space. The investigative team will provide a list of Federation ventures in that region. Harri will then be Harri and that will be the first stage of our distraction."

Macen elaborated further, "Anara and Neela will dock first at Deep Space Four before proceeding to Faraway. At DS4, Commander Benteen will establish their bonafides as fugitives looking for work beyond the Federation's reach. At Faraway, they'll likely be offered employment. How you proceed from there is unimportant as long as you stall for time until the Obsidian deploys from DS3 and then DS4 to reach Faraway."

Macen explained the strategy, "The goal is simple. All eyes will be on Harri and the SID Away Team. In order to win the station commander's trust, Shannon Forger will pose as having led a mutiny. Celeste, Rab, Parva, and I will be prisoners traded off to the Typhon Pact. Once aboard, we'll begin the diversion process in earnest."

"Captain, you need Bailey, Tracy, and I on the station as well," Kerber promised, "We can corrupt the computer network and redirect efforts to stymie the collective efforts of the team as well as begin the evacuation process."

"It's a good idea, Captain," Neela assured him, "The evacuation will take longer than the time allowed after the containment fields collapse."

"Consider yourselves volunteers," Macen promised them.

"And how did I get volunteered again?" Mudd inquired.

"Harri, you want to do it. Just be you and things will work out perfectly," Rockford replied.

"But it's not because I'm becoming a model citizen or anything like one," Mudd protested.

"The investigative team will answer everyone's question that they'll be submitting while we're en route," Macen informed everyone, "For now, we hammer out the broad strokes details of just how we'll approach this operation."

"It's basically Three Card Monty," Mudd explained, "You just keep the mark from tracking the real threat."

Afterwards, Macen contacted Mariska, "Have any new info for me?"

"Enzi Mayar is very resistant," Mariska unhappily admitted, "And she's endured real torture before not just the limited techniques allowed us these days."

"I thought you didn't believe in torture, Lyoti," Macen quietly reminded her.

"I don't but this taking too long," Mariska complained.

"We'll just have to go in with whatever data we can pull ourselves," Macen promised her.

"How much time do I have?" Mariska sighed.

"We'll begin our operation in seventy-two standard hours," Macen told her.

"You certainly know how to give a woman performance anxieties," Mariska groaned.

"I don't remember that ever being an issue," Macen assured her.

The Freehold cruised towards Deep Space Four's outer sensor range at Warp 4. Mudd's own passive sensors detected the active sensor wavelengths and wave bands before Starfleet ever acknowledged her presence. But they did.

"Attention Freehold, we have you identified and flagged out of Cestus III. This is Deep Space Four Traffic Control. Please state your intended destination," the bored officer stated.

"Copy Traffic. This is Captain Mudd, I'm bound for Farina III and beyond to deliver parts and consumables to mining interests and other corporate ventures," Mudd had selected a wide range of generic parts given the nature of the businesses she was actually headed to. Part of her arrangement with Macen was that he fronted her the goods and she kept the profits.

There was a noticeable pause before the voice spoke again, "Please forward a copy of your cargo manifest."

Mudd happily did so. She knew Starfleet was being cautious now that the Typhon Pact was unofficially implicated in the attacks on Bajor, Cardassia Prime, the Cardassian client worlds, and Earth. The last thing the Federation needed now was for some trader handing over material listed on the contraband manifests.

Mudd would balked at her part in all of this but she'd erected pressure domes on her moon and still needed raw capital to purchase and transport atmospheric convertors as well as the biological bacteria and fauna to speed up the process.

"Freehold, stand notified there is a traffic advisory in effect for all travelers going past this point deeper into the Beta Quadrant," the traffic controller didn't sound bored anymore.

"I stand advised, Traffic. But I'm going on anyway," Mudd declared.

"Starfleet has little presence beyond this point," the controller stressed.

"I'll pass along your greetings if I come upon a Starfleet vessel then," Mudd cheerfully offered.

"Freehold is cleared for departure," the controller sighed, "Good luck."

The Ark of the Prophets was granted priority docking access. Some of those that had been in the queue vociferously complained at the sight of the Karemma designed assault ship bypassing the line. Anara and Neela found themselves greeted by a perky Starfleet junior officer when they cleared the airlock.

"Hello," she was so chipper it made Anara's teeth ache, "I'm Yeoman Ayn Rand. Commander Benteen has asked to speak with you immediately."

"And why should the commander care?" Anara asked.

"That's for her to explain," Rand didn't miss a happy beat.

Neela gave Anara a look to prompt her to follow the yeoman. They ended up in a cargo hold. Anara looked around, "This is…charming."

"You won't be interrupted in here," Rand explained, "Now if you'll excuse me."

"Do you think she's having us arrested?" Anara wondered after Rand cleared out.

"I doubt it. We'd be in Security right now if that were the case," Neela commented, "This might have something to do with L'Haan."

"You're kidding," Anara was appalled by the thought.

"Benteen is also a member of Section 31," Neela explained, "Their Chief of Operations to be precise."

"Prophets help us," Anara muttered.

"They will," Neela said confidently.

"Sometimes I wish I had your faith," Anara admitted.

"It's a choice. Simply choose to," Neela replied.

Benteen arrived and she was older than Anara had expected but still not much older than either her or Neela. Benteen wore a welcoming smile, "Captain Ro shared what you're planning. How can I help?"

Mudd docked at Faraway while Benteen was busy sculpting Anara and Neela's cover story and having them make all the appropriate reappearances in the dives in the station. They made the approaches they were supposed to and generally were seen grubbing for work doing illegal things. The Bajorans rather enjoyed it. It was a game they'd frequently played since their days in the Resistance.

Mudd was met at the airlock by a security detachment. It was composed of a Gorn, a near human she supposed was Iotian by the reports Macen had given her to read up on, an Andorian, and an Andergani while being led by a Romulan. She supposed Romulans still had the best jobs simply because they'd built the station before the Hobus disaster.

Mudd actually respected the Iotian Starfleet. They aggressively expanded the borders of the Iotian Federation. With an emphasis on "aggressive".

The Starfleet would make first contact and then threaten the planet with orbital bombardment if they didn't capitulate to joining up, paying tribute for "protection", and serving as menials for the greater Iotian interests. From what had been gathered regarding the Terran Empire in the so-called Mirror Universe it was a familiar motif.

The Iotians had only annihilated two civilizations that anyone could confirm. Everyone else caved in as soon as they arrived or began actually torpedoing the planet. Photon torpedoes were notoriously persuasive.

Mudd also noted that here at least the Iotians and the Andergani officers were treated as equal partners even though their planets were junior members of the Typhon Pact. Mudd had also spotted the zeppelin-like carriers the Ekosians utilized near the station. So it seemed the Ekosian Reich was negotiating with the Typhon Pact as well.

Mudd was scanned, searched, groped, felt up, and generally violated before she was marched off to the residential wing. There she was shoved into private quarters. Private quarters that she deemed more immaculate than the station commander probably enjoyed. And the table laden with delicacies not only held Romulan delights but Terran choices as well.

Which, given the fact the Star Empire was enduring austerity measures after the destruction of Romulus and Remus, seemed outright treasonous. Whoever dwelt in these quarters, permanently or temporarily, had expensive tastes that the common Romulan wasn't allowed to even dream about.

The interior soundproofing was inadequate considering the station was designed by Romulans with an institutional degree of paranoia. A door opened and the conversation died. Several uniformed Romulans exited both the bedroom and the quarters themselves. They'd all worn similar fashion as the security detail.

And then Proconsul Sela exited the bedroom. Sauntered was a more appropriate term in Mudd's estimation. And, upon seeing Mudd, the saunter became a swagger.

""Please, help yourself," Sela gestured at the table.

"I'd rather be tortured on an empty stomach," Mudd replied matter-of-factly.

"Oh, it won't come to that," Sela promised, "You're a career criminal, something rare in the Federation, and even rarer you're descended from a line of career criminals. Yet you associate with Brin Macen."

"His wife pays reeeaaally well," Mudd admitted.

"So can I," Sela's eyes sparkled.

"What is it you're really after?" Mudd asked.

"You didn't expect to find me here," Sela didn't have to guess.

"Sorry, I didn't have a clue," Mudd was honest.

"Is Macen coming here?" Sela inquired sharply.

"Of course," Mudd said, "Can I go now?"

"Does he expect to find me here?" Sela pressed for answers.

"I have nooo idea," Mudd admitted, "We're not really on a secret sharing basis. He usually sets me up for things like this."

"What does he want at this station?" Sela wondered.

"Macen wants to take whoever planned those recent attacks back to Cardassia to stand war crimes trials," Mudd fudged the truth that time.

"So he doesn't know who ordered the attacks," Sela mused.

"Not that I'm aware of," Mudd shared, "Are we through yet?"

"Yes," Sela tapped a control strapped to her wrist and security came pouring through the door, "But somehow I think you're a valuable hostage."

"I didn't have a thing against you until now," Mudd glared at her, "But I really hope Macen kicks your green blooded ass."

"We'll speak again," Sela promised, "Soon."


Chapter Seven

The Obsidian docked at DS4 just thirty minutes after the Ark of the Prophets left the system behind to reach interstellar space. Rand brought Macen and Rockford to the same cargo bay. This time, Benteen had a table and some chairs waiting, "Please make yourselves comfortable."

"Does Fowler know we're here yet?" Macen asked.

"Edward knows you have been contracted by the Cardassians and the Bajorans to deal with the source of their problem. He doesn't know anything else about it. I'll probably inform him that you were here in, say…three days?"

"That's more than enough time," Macen admitted.

"Of course, in twenty-four hours I'll report your presence onto Starfleet and let them know you proceeded to nonaligned space," Benteen revealed.

"May I ask why you're being so cooperative?" Rockford inquired.

"I've seen transcripts of the information pulled from the various prisoners captured by Federation, Cardassian, and Bajoran authorities," Benteen answered, "I'm more then inclined to arrange a Section 31 team to go in with you. So my private prejudices as a citizen are competing with my responsibilities as a Starfleet officer."

"There has to be more," Macen stated, "You seem happier than I've ever known despite what's happened."

"I've resigned from Section 31. And they have to let me go because I was the keeper of the broom closet. Jack Fowler owes me because of your incursion to Turkana IV," Benteen replied, "And I've been reinstated to the rank of captain. In two weeks time it becomes official. And that was in no small part because of Amanda Forger."

"Well, like Anara and Neela, we could use some help firming up our cover," Macen smiled.

"You'll love it," Rockford promised.

"How can I help?" Benteen asked. And when she was told, she did love it.

Anara had the helm was Neela availed herself of the private chapel she'd set up in a storage locker. Given she'd been allowed thirty minutes for prayer and meditation, Anara was surprised when Neela came forward early. Usually she tended to be late although Anara overlooked it each time.

"You weren't due to relieve me for another ten minutes," Anara admitted.

"I already learned what I needed to know," Neela shrugged as she assumed control of the ship.

"Mind sharing?" Anara felt like it was like pulling teeth some days.

"There's a temporal convergence at Faraway. The Prophets can't see who or what it is," Neela did share, "They feel it's the result of a bloodline from an alternate timeline merging with one in this universe."

"I thought the Prophets were able to see all of the quantum realities and alternate universes," Anara was disturbed by this thought.

"They usually can," Neela shrugged again, "But you have to keep in mind they're highly advanced beings but not gods."

Anara almost felt out of her seat, "I thought you practiced the traditional faith."

"Even traditionalists can admit they're not god-like. Why call them deities if they really aren't gods after all?" Neela asked far too reasonably for Anara's taste.

"But you pray to them," Anara protested.

"Prayer is a form of communication," Neela explained, "Think of it as meditative telepathy."

"You never cease to amaze me," Anara sighed.

"And that's a good thing," Neela decided for both of them.

Sensors sounded an alarm seconds before fighter craft buzzed them. Anara activated the tactical sensors, "Reman designed Scorpion-class fighters."

"How many?" Neela wondered.

"A dozen and they're surrounding us in an escort formation," Anara grimaced.

"It seems we've made an impression," Neela was nonchalant.

"It's damn unsettling," Anara complained.

"We used to ride shotgun in the engineering seat of subimpulse raiders we put together ourselves," Neela reminded her, "The design is more advanced but they still have to obey the laws of physics."

"The station is finally hailing us," Anara announced.

"So answer them," Neela grinned, "I'm just the pilot."

"I'm so going to get you for this," Anara vowed.

The Bajorans endured a lesser degree of security's attention to detail than Mudd had but it was still intrusive. In her detention cell, Mudd could tell something had stirred the security personnel up. Which meant her Bajoran partners had probably arrived. So she could finally break out of the cell.

The Bajorans were also taken to Sela's quarters. But this time she wore her full regalia of state, "Greetings and welcome to Faraway Station."

"You seem to be a long way from home, Proconsul," Anara remarked.

"Can any homer truly replace Romulus?" Sela asked rhetorically, "I tend to think of wherever I'm staying as ‘home' these days."

"Especially neutral territory?" Anara wondered.

"My people built this station," Sela still seemed unruffled, "Can you blame us for pressing our claims to this region in these times of uncertainty? And neutrality seems an ever benighted aphorism these days."

"Yet your Empress wishes to keep neutrality intact…with your urgent support, I'm told," Anara replied.

"And what concern is that of Bajor's?" Sela's eyes began to narrow.

"The Romulan Star Empire aided Bajor during the Dominion War…and violated her people's trust at the same time," Anara reminded Sela, "Bajor's concerns are over whether or not Romulans are trustworthy allies in these perilous days."

"But I'd been told you no longer represented Bajoran affairs," Sela spoke.

"We don't. Our own people want us dead," Anara freely admitted, "But after a lifetime of service, even wayward civilians look after the interests of their people."

"But even the Council of Ministers advised you both to avoid Bajoran centers of population across the Federation," Sela stated.

"People are fickle," Anara shrugged, "This too shall pass."

"When you're dead at the hands of an angry mob, perhaps?" Sela quipped.

"Maybe," Anara said cautiously.

"These and other territories are definitely out of Bajor and the Federation's reach," Sela commented, "You don't have to worry about its ‘benevolent' population out here."

"Bajor only joined the Federation twelve years ago. We still remember the days before it dominated our planet's life," Anara admitted, "And before Cardassia influenced Federation policies."

"The Typhon Pact has opportunities for people like you," Sela finally began her pitch.

"We would never betray any confidences," Anara pledged.

"Nor would I ask you to," Sela vowed, "But the Typhon Pact has begun taking on junior partners just as the Federation grants protectorate status to marginally developed worlds. These partners have militaries per se but they lack training."

"You're speaking of the Alliance, the Andergani, and the Iotians I take it," Anara countered.

"Precisely," Sela was happy Anara wasn't as dimwitted as she'd been led to believe all Bajorans were.

"And the Ekosian Reich?" Neela suddenly spoke up, "Would they be included in that list?"

Sela realized Neela had been studying her through her long silence, "Hopefully. Someday. It seems we all talking now at this point."

Neela understood that the Ekosians were holding talks with the Typhon Pact on a space station located near the Star Empire's border with the Holy Order of the Kinshaya, "So it seems."

"Would Magna Roman forces be included in this list any time soon?" Anara asked.

Sela wore a sly smile, "The Magna Roman Emperor is a stubborn man. But I'm certain we can persuade him to join the common cause."

Sela made a sweeping gesture and a map of the charted regions of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants holographically appeared in midair. She ran her fingers over certain spaces and they highlighted themselves. The Bajorans knew they represented the Andergani Oligarchy and the Iotian Federation. And finally, the pinprick that was Turkana IV was brought to light.

"Here are our immediate concerns. The Alliance forces are eager but have limited experience. The Andergani are simply greedy opportunists but they need to be instructed on how to capitalize on opportunities that arise. And the Iotians are the most capable of the triad but they have limited experience dealing with more advanced cultures. Their technology base is an equivalent of the Federation's a century ago. In fact, they still employ duotronic components," Sela explained, "My request is that you instruct volunteers from each group in covert operations."

The Bajorans mentally digested that. Sela gave them a moment before continuing on, "The Kinshaya have yielded a world that can be employed to train these Special Forces that would arise from specialized instruction."

"These forces could also be used against Bajor," Anara replied, "The Alliance already has been."

"The Typhon Pact doesn't seek dominance over the Khitomer Accord nations," Sela assured them, "We seek parity. So when we observe that those nations are striving to surpass our own strengths, we pare down the member nations and reestablish détente."

"Promises are so easily discarded by both sides," Neela observed.

"Which is why we need a scalpel rather than a broadsword," Sela clarified.

"Do your junior partners realize they're sacrificial principals that will endure the losses and wrath of their opponents in your place?" Neela inquired.

Sela wore a broad smile, "Consider my offer. Quarters have been arranged for you. I hope you don't mind bunking together. At least separate beds were available," Sela seemed to be insinuating the there wasn't a necessity for separate bunks.

"We'll discuss it and get back to you," Anara pledged, "Say twelve hours time?"

"I'll mark it on my schedule," Sela assured them before asking; "You will seriously consider the opportunity represented here, won't you?"

"We're open to many opportunities now that we're homeless. We didn't even have an opportunity to retrieve any personal possessions. All we literally have is the clothes on our backs," Anara informed Sela.

"I'll arrange a settlement with the local shopkeepers. You'll have a limited line of credit. After you reach its limit, you won't be extended any more unless you sign on to work for the pact," Sela offered them.

She then summoned security and they in turn escorted the Bajorans to their guest quarters and then departed, not to be found. The duo knew looks were deceiving.

Mudd had been getting the rhythm of the guard detail. Every security team had a certain pattern they followed ritualistically. And she'd gotten a feel for this team's.

Slowly removing components hidden within undiscovered pockets sewn into her clothing and boots, Mudd reassembled a lock pick. Mudd simply activated the device after inserting its power cell and the force field keeping her inside her cell winked off. She did the same to every cell in the detention block. But she waved the other prisoners back as she crept towards the actual security office.

The watch detail was on patrol and had left only two guards behind. One was an Andergani and the other an Andorian. She honestly felt bad for the Andorian but she was going to enjoy kicking the crap out of the Andergani considering how the one that had searched her pawed at her crotch. She still felt like she needed a bath.

It seemed every guard on the security team carried Andorian designed and manufactured phasers rather than Romulan or Breen disruptors. Even the Gorn had been outfitted with oversized variants. So Mudd whistled at the pair of guards as she strolled towards them.

The Andorian approached, drawing his weapon as the Andergani rose from his seated position. Mudd disarmed the Andorian in a matter of seconds before jamming the heel of her hand into his nose. As he staggered back, obscuring the Andergani's attempted shot, Mudd dropped the Andorian with a stun blast and then as the Andorian was still falling, she shot the Andergani.

Signaling the other prisoners, they pilfered the personals locker holding their confiscated goods. Mudd only had her comm badge taken away. But it was a vital link with the Freehold's computer. When her badge was taken from her, it transmitted a signal to the freighter.

The Freehold subsequently went into lockdown mode. Melting the docking clamps the ship used thrusters to back out of the docking ring. But it stayed too close to the station for the personnel to lock a tractor beam on the ship or employ weapons against it. And its shields were raised so a boarding party would have to attempt breaching the ship's airlock rather than simply transport across. And the airlock was guarded by a secondary force field.

Mudd didn't go far from Security as the other liberated prisoners scattered. She knew the fighters that consisted of the station primary defense couldn't fire on her beloved light freighter because to do so would be to threaten the station itself should their miss or the ship self destruct.

But with the shields up, Mudd had to physically reach her own ship or commandeer a transporter unit to sequence a beam over between the shields switching off and raising again. Until she could manage that she had to blend in. The Iotians made that task easier but they were all wearing copies of the Starfleet uniforms that were worn between 2285-2350. But her own leather outfit blended in well enough with several of the freighter crews she'd spotted. So it came down to her flowing platinum white blonde hair. Something no one outside of the Andorians seemed to have.

Neela's wristband transmitter shorted out every surveillance device mounted in the bulkheads and other structures. Afterwards, the room was filled with acrid smoke. Anara tried waving it away.

"That was a lot of equipment," she commented.

"More than our average," Neela admitted, "Sela is known to be paranoid as well as ambitious. She's obviously running this operation without Donatra's knowledge or consent."

"Why do you say that?" Anara inquired, "Or should I even bother asking?"

"Sela quoted official Typhon Pact doctrine and policy yet she's already exceeded that mandate in an effort that will provoke a war if it's publically acknowledged by all sides," Neela explained, "And Sela is the temporal convergence I spoke of earlier."

"I know she's half-human. That's common knowledge," Anara replied.

"That human had to have come from an alternate timeline," Neela theorized, "That would explain why she claims to be the daughter of a Tasha Yar that briefly served aboard the Enterprise yet Yar would be Sela's own age if she'd lived."

"Sela also implied we were lovers," Anara said wryly, "Just because we keep our relationships discreet causes most to assume we're only sexually active with each other."

"You always meant to settle down and raise a family," Neela said softly, "Yet you never have."

"Bajor always needed me," Anara sighed, "And relationships don't last long in our line of work."

Neela knew she was a large part of the "Bajor" Anara considered needing her. Anara finally broached a topic she'd long avoided, "I always talk about the men in my life but what about you? You're not celibate but you've never spoken of an attachment to anyone."

"There was a prylar," Neela knew Anara didn't know she'd also taken religious vows as a prylar, "But he was increasingly devoted to Winnow. So we grew apart because of our different opinions regarding Winnow's place on Bajor."

"And now you just arrested her," Anara realized glumly, "I'm so sorry."

"To make matters worse, I've been excommunicated," Neela shared.

"You'd have to be a member of the clergy to be… Oh Neela, I never knew," Anara gasped.

"You never needed to," Neela said with the barest trace of remorse, "And it's no greater a loss than you being separated from Colonel Vicker."

"How did you…?" Anara stopped herself, "Don't bother. I already know the answer."

"Vicker Anon is a very devout follower of the Prophets. They warned me he'd turn against you for a time," Neela shared with Anara.

"A time?" Anara repeated.

"I don't have a specific hour and date but Vicker will reconsider his rejection of you," Neela informed her, "Before that hour comes, you need to decide how you'll respond and why you'll respond that way."

"And what about you?" Anara asked.

"The Prophets have led my path to the SID. I don't know why or for how long. But for now, that's where I belong. There's a crisis coming and I'll be positioned to help stave off disaster for Bajor if I'm with Admiral Forger's agency," Neela announced.

"Any specifics on this threat or just a general warning?" Anara groaned.

"Just a general warning for now," Neela grinned.

"Fire Caves! What is it with the Prophets anyway? Can't they ever proclaim something in a straight line?" Anara grumbled.

"I don't think they think any way near what we would recognize," Neela guessed, "So, no."

"We've come so far together, I won't abandon you now," Anara pledged.

"I thank you," Neela said gratefully, "And so do the Prophets even though they knew your answer before you ever gave it."

"Seriously, don't ruin the moment," Anara warned her.

"They aren't kidding, are they?" Shannon Forger asked as two dozen Reman fighters buzzed the surveyor vessel.

"I'm guessing the only reason we haven't been engaged is because of Benteen's efforts at a cover story," Macen told her.

"Whoopee for her," Forger grumbled, "Next time, she wears the bull's-eye."

"Shannon, she's honestly only ever tried to serve the greater good," Macen stated, "She just chooses poor role models."

"I'm going to get locked in the brig now," Macen vacated his chair and ushered her into it; "You're the captain now. Just two words of advice, first is don't get my ship blown up."

"Hey, it's my ship now," Forger grinned.

"And two, get a really high price for our heads," Macen urged.

Macen used the turbolift to get to the appropriate deck. There he joined with Rockford, Parva, and Daggit to wait being put in two of the three cells. Burrows stood by with ship's security to do the deed.

"I have to admit I'm looking forward to this," Burrows joked.

"Just remember Part 2 of the plan," Daggit advised him.

"Part what?" Burrows feigned ignorance.

"Trust me Tony, for all of Macen's sturm and drang you really don't want the pair of us after you," Parva counseled him.

Burrows silently nodded.

"Faraway Station is hailing," Zimbalist reported.

"Is it too much to throw in ‘captain' once in a while?" Forger asked.

"I think a little power has gone to your head," Miller warned.

"Put it on screen, Edwin," Forger ordered.

A severe looking graying Romulan appeared, "We've been expecting you. Rumor has it you've seized control of the ship and are willing to offload yore former commander and his loyal conspirators."

"That's correct, if the price is right," Forger replied.

"And what type of price are you asking?" the station commander inquired.

"That's negotiable," Forger assured him, "We're looking for the bounty placed on Captain Macen's head as well as a place in the galaxy."

"Present your former commander to our security detail and an aide will take you to somewhere private where your future disposition can be discussed," the commander offered.

"I accept that generous offer," Forger happily told him, "I'd also like to schedule a shore leave rotation. Say three crewmen at a time for a four hour stay?"

"That would be permissible," the commander conceded.

"And if it isn't too inconvenient, I'd like one of my security detail to accompany our prisoners to your detention cells, afterwards, we wash our hands of them," Forger requested.

"Easily done. My staff will transmit approach instructions and docking protocols. Do not deviate from them one iota or your fighter escort will destroy you. Understood?" the commander wanted to know.

"Perfectly," Forger assured him before he disconnected, "Aglaia, do you have those instructions yet?"

"Of course," the Platonian woman answered disdainfully.

"Why do I ask?" Forger sighed.

"Because you're masochist at heart," Miller snarkily replied.

"I'm not feeling the love here, Jaycee," Forger complained.

"You would if you weren't strictly hetero," Miller cheerfully offered.

Which gave Forger something new to consider.

"Forger got us permission to board the station," Ebert reported to Bailey and Angelique.

"So we'll set up and get underway while the station personnel are torturing the captain and his confederates," Kerber said with satisfaction.

"That won't happen," Ebert insisted.

"Tracy, it is a very real possibility and Macen and the others know it," Smith warned her.

"And it's not like it hasn't happened to every one of them at some time before," Kerber stated.

"It has?" Ebert was startled.

"I think it's time you reviewed their undoctored personal files," Smith offered, "It took some doing to compile Celeste and Parva's histories but Macen and Daggit had Starfleet do the work for us."

"Load a padd and I'll review as much as I can before, during, and after the mission," Ebert promised.

Burrows led a security detachment that marched the "prisoners" to the primary airlock. Ebert, Kerber, and Smith stood nearby awaiting permission to board the station. Forger stood at the head of the line and Burrows formed a living barrier between the prisoners and the newly minted captain.

Everything went as smoothly as the preliminary negotiations. Burrows was attached as the observer as security marched the SID team to the Security Office and searched and scanned them before placing everyone in cells alongside the escapees they'd recaptured. No one saw Burrows plant the small device Parva had designed and manufactured.

Security still hadn't recovered Mudd so they were in the foulest of moods. The team's induction into the detention center was fairly rough. But within legal limits of most of the Typhon Pact member nations. Burrows thanked the Security Chief for taking the problem off of the ship's hands and departed.

Mudd had stolen a leather trenchcoat with a hood. She rather admired how it made her look. And it went with her ensemble as well as hid her distinctive hair. Although her leather jacket caused some of her movement to be hindered since it was underneath the larger trenchcoat.

The coat also had inner liner pockets so she had somewhere to stash her stolen phaser. Mudd comported herself as though she belonged in every location she visited. She'd discovered a long time ago if you simply looked like you belonged, people simply assumed you did.

Mudd stopped in a trader's tavern and asked for a booth with a touch screen display so she could check on regional market prices and requests. For a few slips of latinum she got a table replete with her first draught. Mudd's elation quickly evaporated as two Bajoran women slid into the opposite side of her booth.

"Go. Away," Mudd growled, "You'll blow my cover."

"You don't have a cover and you're running from security," Anara replied drolly, "We're getting you off of this station and back aboard your own ship."

"How?" Mudd was intrigued despite herself.

"By getting you aboard our ship where you can standby for our signal and then beam over to yours and set course out of the system," Anara told her.

"And what'll stop them from slapping a tractor beam on me or dispatching all those lovely fighters at my gorgeous ass?"

"It'll be taken care of," Neela simply promised her.

"I don't want to know how, do I?" Mudd realized.

"Definitely not," Anara confided.

"Let's take a look at your ship," Mudd conceded.

"The person behind everything already thinks we're lesbians. Just act like a prostitute and she won't suspect anything when we bring you aboard," Anara instructed.

"You mean you're not?" Mudd was surprised to learn.

"Do we need to carry around signs disclaiming our gender preference?" Anara groaned.

"We might have to from now on," Neela said impishly.

"Let's just get going," Anara groaned.

Kerber, Ebert, and Smith wore shielded Type I "Cricket" phasers. Starfleet had phased the Type I phaser out of circulation by 2368. However, SOC continued to use the shielded variant for undercover work. The SID had gained access to them before its separation from Starfleet. Invisible to sensors, the three women wore them in different fashion.

Kerber had a discreet hip pouch containing the phaser and an extra power pack. Smith used an ankle holster. Ebert carried hers in the small of her back just as Ro had throughout her years with the Maquis. Ebert was one of the few that knew Ro still carried a Type I in the same manner despite Starfleet regulations.

The Type II "Cobra" phaser had been designed to be concealable enough to phase out the Cricket phaser. But the larger Cobra was unwieldy for concealed carry so special branches of Starfleet kept the existing inventory in use. But there was no plan even amongst SOC and Starfleet Intelligence to replace the Cricket with an updated model. Instead, the Type II Heavy Phaser, which resembled a traditional pistol would be rendering even the Cobra obsolete in several more years.

Kerber located a maintenance alcove and stunned the occupants. Smith prepped them and Ebert carried the restraints and gags that would neutralize them. Ebert marveled at their efficiency.

"You two have done this before," she realized.

"A time or two," Smith barely admitted.

Kerber and Smith opened the reportable computer cases and utilized a hard link cable to patch into the station's central node. Kerber explained what they were doing, "We can't use a transmission link because it can be jammed. Also, Bailey had to program these computers in Romulan programming language because the usual translation matrixes would be detected and station personnel would be alerted to our attempt to breach their security."

"Fortunately I speak and read all three Romulan dialects," Smith murmured.

"We need you to keep watch," Kerber informed Ebert.

"I'll need one of your phasers," Ebert told her, "If I get into a firefight I doubt I'll have time to screw around with a power cell. I'll feed you empties and you recharge them."

Kerber grinned, "And it sounds like you've done this before."

"I've lost count," Ebert admitted.

"Our Bajoran friends are already busy," Smith warned Kerber.

Kerber began pulling up status reports, "They've initiated high level diagnostics and repairs on the hangar controls, transporter pads, and the tractor beams. Whoops! Now they're after weapons."

"Why?" Ebert asked, "Have they approached engineering systems?"

"No, they're concentrating on external response measures," Kerber frowned.

"It has to be for Harri Mudd," Smith ventured, "Station Security is on alert to apprehend Mudd."

Kerber did some checking, "According to security logs they arrested her upon arrival and detained her. Somehow she managed a jail break and took every prisoner with her."

"Sounds like Harri," Ebert grinned.

"Sensors just registered the Freehold's shields dropping and raising again," Smith read off, "RCS thrusters are engaging and the Freehold is coming about. Station systems operators are now aware of the diagnostics. But Mudd is applying more thrust than her ship is rated for."

"What about manual override?" Ebert asked.

Kerber smirked, "I peeled back the layers on the override controls. All pass codes have been transformed into various Klingon words for excrement."

"But even though the fighters can't deploy, there are still visiting starships. The Iotians in particular have a Mercury-class analogue in the vicinity," Smith reported.

"The Iotians are refitting all of their Asia-, Miranda-, and Constitution-class analogues into post 2271 Starfleet models. They're also building Excelsior-, Bolivar- and Franklin-class analogues. Their Mercury- and Kremlin-classes are being relegated to diplomatic and courier functions," Ebert recited from memory.

Kerber and Smith stared at her, "What? You know computers and languages, I know starships."

"She is a pilot," Smith reminded Kerber.

"Riiight," Kerber allowed, "Can the Freehold outrun an Iotians ship?"

"It'll come down to warp speed decimal points but Harri will stay out of weapons range and eventually pull far enough away for the Iotians to abandon pursuit," Ebert predicted.

"I'm registering EPS overloads and feedback destabilizing the power core," Smith suddenly announced.

"They're building a case for why the containment fields collapse so it doesn't look like actual sabotage," Ebert deduced.

"I really think we need to get to know these Bajorans," Kerber realized.

Anara and Neela committed their sabotage and then returned to the same tavern where they'd found Mudd. Security returned them to Sela's quarters. She wasn't in a pleasant mood.

"Captain Mudd has escaped," Sela announced without preamble, "Or as just as good as."

"Isn't Mudd the name of a family of criminals whose careers date back to pre-Federation Earth?" Anara asked.

"Yes, precisely," Sela was coiled and ready to strike, "Have you reached a decision concerning my offer?"

"We'd like to discuss the current situation with the Iotians and Andergani representatives currently aboard," Neela stated.

"I can arrange meetings within the hour," Sela guaranteed them; "Afterwards I hope you'll have reached a conclusion. There have been some maintenance issues with your assigned quarters. You're free to explore the station some more but be available for security to find you when the time to meet the appropriate representatives comes."

The Bajorans were escorted back to the Mall but Sela had a feeling something awry was going. And then the station commander admitted to her what was transpiring with the computers and power grid. Sela immediately blamed Macen and ordered security to learn what was going on from him and his team.

Burrows reentered Faraway Station's Security Office, "I need to see the prisoners.

"That won't be happening," the Security Chief informed him.

"The former captain initiated a computer lockout triggered by Captain Forger's officially assuming command. I need to get him to release the computer," Burrows told him.

"Heh. That could be interesting," the chief admitted, "But you'll have to surrender your sword."

"It's my means of persuasion," Burrows argued.

The chief debated the matter, "Even better."

Inside the cell block, Burrows stepped back as the Romulan deactivated the force field on Macen's cell. Burrows stabbed the man through where a human liver would be. For a Romulan, it was the location of his heart. Burrows wiped green blood off the blade while Macen exited the cell and deactivated every cell's force field.

"All of them?" Burrows asked.

"We need to create utter chaos," Macen reminded him, "Do you know a better way?"

The other detainees stormed the security office proper. Parva's device had isolated the office from the computer network. No matter how frantically the guards tried, they couldn't raise the alarm or contact reinforcements on patrol.

Burrows activated a transporter transponder and bags containing everyone's personal weapons materialized. Daggit strapped on his gun belt and then his bandolier and began loading his grenade launcher with photon grenades. Macen and Rockford strapped on their pistols. Parva manned the control station while Burrows handed rifles out to everyone.

Burrows then pinged Kerber's comm badge.

Environmental and gravitic controls began to go mad all across the station except for where internal sensors placed the Bajorans and inside the security block. Some people were floating and mere feet away people were pressed to the deck, unable to rise. Most alarming of all, the power core began signaling an imminent collapse of all containment fields and an evacuation was ordered.

Security tried to maintain order and hierarchy as the freighter crews ran for their ships and station personnel queued up for escape pods. Delegates from a half dozen worlds desperately began calling for extractions made possible by their own ships. Sela was whisked away to a Warbird off the station. It fled under cloak back to the new Romulan capitol world.

The fighters were still locked inside of the hangars as were the shuttle complement. Security abandoned the panic masses in response to being unable to raise their own office. And when they arrived, they besieged the captured office. Parva activated their own disruptor grid to keep them at bay. Shields were raised across the transparent aluminum windows. Sonic disruptors added to the total weight of fire and the SID team stood by for when the automated defenses broke down.

"Time to go," Kerber announced and she and Smith packed up their equipment. Ebert handed back the extra phaser and then swept the area as they exited the alcove.

Kerber contacted Telrik and they were beamed off the station without any incidents.

"Are our allies still aboard?" Telrik asked.

"I shouldn't wonder but it is interesting to note they could be delayed by opposition forces," Smith ventured.

"Well, that was a workout," Anara breathed as she wiped sweat from her brow.

"Remind me again of why we typically avoid hand to hand combat with Vulcanoids?" Neela requested.

"I think this fight should've been reminder enough," Anara chided her friend.

"Oh, right," Neela sighed.

They examined the various displays and then began inputting the necessary commands to disable the containment fields and fed back energy to fry them so they couldn't be reactivated ever again.

Neela tapped her comm badge, which given the length of her pressing its surface, signaled Macen's team in a prearranged alert. Anara sighed as she contacted the Ark of the Prophets and they were beamed aboard. Utilizing similar methods as the Freehold, they liberated their ship and set course out of the system and back towards DS4 and Federation space.

"You realize we're now officially SID agents," Anara remarked.

"I hear regret," Neela commented.

"I had an opportunity to join Starfleet and I turned them down," Anara said glumly.

"Because you didn't want to leave home," Neela understood, "It's simpler for me. I haven't had a home since I went to prison."

"But why?" Anara asked plaintively, "You're just as devoted to our people as I am. Why doesn't this bother you more?"

"I serve the Prophets in all things," Neela answered, "And the first thing they ever shared with me was that I would have to leave home someday."

"Because of that threat you alluded to earlier," Anara saw everything sliding into place.

"Is there anything else you'd like to finally share?" Anara teased her but she was hurt at the same time.

"Angelique Kerber and Bailey Smith aren't humans," Neela said absentmindedly, "Angelique is really another Anara, a Troglyte from Ardana IV. Bailey is really Maarta from Stratos, the ruling city of Ardana. They're wanted terrorists already tried and convicted to death sentences."

"We were branded as terrorists before too," Anara reminded Neela.

"I'm not condemning them. I happen to respect their cause," Neela shared, "But they have a part to play in things to come. And half their own team wants to expose them."

"They were rather fractured," Anara stated.

"Light them up!" Macen ordered.

Emergency beacons were activated and Telrik grabbed all of them with the Obsidian's transporter, "Welcome aboard, Cap'n. I brought the other up ten minutes ago."

Macen hailed Forger, "Get us out of here."

It only took ten more minutes for the containment fields to fully collapse and Faraway Station was consumed and compressed into atoms. Sela's Warbird had fled long before. The other ships all made it clear of the event horizon before it was released. The Typhon Pact launched an immediate investigation.


Chapter Eight

The Ark of the Prophets returned to Barrinor where Amanda Forger redirected them to Antok Nor before they reached the planet. It was there that she conducted a meeting between herself, Anara, Neela, Riker, and Danan.

Macen and Rockford found themselves in another meeting with Benteen, "Starfleet has been apprised of Faraway Station's destruction. The Typhon Pact is screaming but Starfleet and the Federation can neither confirm nor deny that potentially rogue agents acted against them. Instead it has been offered that several of the Typhon Pact's own disgruntled privateers acted against Proconsul Sela's plans. Sela herself has been brought to heel by Empress Donatra."

"Sela won't take this well," Macen predicted.

"Sela doesn't take anything well," Rockford reminded him, "Any word on Harri Mudd?"

"I dispatched the Sutherland to find her," Benteen revealed, "Captain Mudd is currently making latinum hands over fists."

Benteen changed the topic, "Most Federation agencies are experiencing shortfalls owing to the massive efforts to rebuild Starfleet. How can a new agency on the block like the SID compete for resources?"

"Amanda says they're throwing latinum at her like it was out of style," Macen shared.

"But even a cashless society needs hard currency reserves when dealing with outside economies," Benteen was stunned.

"It's as though the Federation has tapped into a new supply of latinum," Macen remarked, "I'll let you figure out where."

Riker and Danan led Anara and Neela to their adjoining quarters. Anara was glum, "After all these years, it's like stepping back onto Terok Nor."

"Without the slave labor or ore processing plants," Neela tried to be encouraging.

"We converted the ore processing sites into large scale industrial replicators for ship repairs," Riker happily informed them.

"I hope you can be happy here," Danan honestly expressed.

"We'll…see," Anara allowed.

"It is more secure just like Director Forger argued," Riker promised before he and Danan left to return to duty.

"Get unpacked and we'll go out," Neela offered.

"Unpack what?" Anara grumped.

"At least Quark has a franchise here. It'll be somewhat familiar," Neela tried to cheer her friend up.

"Joy," Anara was still depressed.

"C'mon, time to rediscover life," Neela insisted and dragged Anara off.

Forger met with Macen upon his return to the station, "I put Anara and Neela on Antok Nor."

"Riker's security chiefs are Bajoran, if you recall. I don't know if it'll be an issue or not but we'll see," Macen told her.

"Any news from Mudd?" Forger asked.

"Harri will drop by when she gets bored," Macen promised.

"You and your strays. Speaking of whom, how's your pilot friend?" Forger wondered.

"Tracy has been looking for a fight almost her entire life. At least I've got her pointed in the right direction to put that inclination to good use," Macen explained.

"And your Ardanan pair?" Forger needed to ask.

"Same story," Macen opined.

With the Obsidian docked at Antok Nor, Lee, Burrows, Shade, and Forte met in the deserted Team Room. Burrows made the report that he discovered Kerber and Smith's true identities. After he'd done so, he explained how.

"Angelique, or whatever we'll call her now, has that tattoo all across her left shoulder. It's a Troglyte tribal symbol. Tracing that down, I looked into fugitives from her tribe. And she appeared bold as brass. Narrowing the field down to Ardanans, I found Bailey is the same but from Stratos. Little rich girl gone bad."

"So they're wanted fugitives?" Shade inquired.

"No, they're convicted and condemned criminals," Burrows clarified.

"A death penalty?" Forte looked alarmed.

"You know the Federation frowns on killing criminals," Lee pointed out.

"But Ardana isn't a Federation member," Burrows reminded them all, "Look; I'll contact the Ardanans myself. You won't have to dirty your hands at all."

He stormed out. Forte looked worried, "Can we really do this?"

"Like he said, they're already condemned," Shade shrugged and the trio exited.

Tessa had been observing the entire scene play out. First she contacted Macen and then she warned Kerber and Smith. Tessa herself had killed people and her ethical subroutines were still tied in knots. She wouldn't add to the blood on her hands by leaving the Ardanans to their legal fate.


- The End -


Last modified: 02 Dec 2022