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Conspiracy 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 One

Celeste Rockford's runabout landed atop Serenity Station's Landing Pad-A. After the pad had been brought into the station and the area sealed, the airlock coupled with the runabout and allowed its passengers to enter the station itself. Those same passengers were surprised by the greeting they received.

Rockford had expected her husband, Brin Macen, to be there. After all, he'd sent her to find her passenger. But Tracy Ebert was slightly overwhelmed by all of the attention.

Ebert had served as Macen's CONN officer aboard the Blackbird-class scoutship SS Odyssey. Of course, the ship had begun its service life as the Starfleet starship USS Tiberius. Ebert had served alongside Macen throughout his tenure with the Maquis up until the Jem'Hadar had hunted down the majority of the Maquis and butchered them. She hadn't heard from him since then.

When Macen had last seen Ebert she'd still been a teenager but now she was a woman in her prime. She surprised Macen by giving a fierce hug upon reaching him. He gladly reciprocated.

"What about me?" Lisea Danan said from behind Macen. Macen had been Macen's XO in those bygone days. Now she was Serenity Station's Executive Officer.

"Lees!" Ebert yelped with delight and nearly hugged the Trill to death.

"It's good to see you too, Tracy;" Danan laughed.

"It's good to see you again," Tom Riker said from beside Danan.

"Lieutenant," Ebert smiled, "I'm glad you got away from the Cardassians"

"Well, I had help;" Riker admitted, "And like before, I'm not with Starfleet anymore. I'm rated as a Captain with Outbound Ventures. I'm currently the Commanding Officer of this station."

"I was told the Captain owns the company," Ebert shared, "And he commands his own ship."

It was plain to see there was only one "Captain" for Ebert. Danan took Ebert by the arm, "Let me show you to your quarters. When you're not aboard the Obsidian this station will be your home."

"Tracy, there will be a briefing aboard the Obsidian in one hour," Macen informed her, "Lees will give you directions on how to get to Upper Pylon 1. You can meet everyone else then."

"Of course," Ebert nodded, "I'm looking forward to it."

"We're in for a treat today," Macen told her, "Ro will be in attendance."

"Really?" Ebert was surprised. She'd heard Ro Laren had successfully gone from being the Maquis cell leader on Ronara Prine to become a Bajoran Militia Special Forces officer and then went on to be a Starfleet officer once again. Ro had begun her tenure on Deep Space Nine as the Chief of Security before segueing to being XO and finally CO, "It'll be good to see her again."

"She feels the same way," Macen assured her.

Riker escorted Danan and Ebert on his way back to Ops. Danan could be heard explaining that she and Riker had married. Ebert was effusive in her congratulations.

Macen watched then go and Rockford watched Macen, "Sorry it took so long to find her. Like you'd told me she was a smuggler operating out of the Kalandra Sector. She also had no base of operations or a ship to track down. She was just a freelance pilot for hire and lived like one."

"That's the life I recruited her out of after the Cardassians gutted her family's freighter," Macen told Rockford, "So it's natural that she fell back on what she knew."

"Well, she wasn't going to give me the time of day until I mentioned your name," Rockford said, "Then she fawned all over me. To say she has a case of hero worship would be to seriously understate matters."

"The Odyssey crew was a family," Macen stated, "In some ways a tighter family than our SID Team."

"Yet you rarely mention them," Rockford observed.

"I went back to Starfleet after the Maquis were destroyed. I'd negotiated amnesties for the crew but I was still cut off from them for two years. After the war ended, I got swept up into the creation of the SID and time just seemed to go by," Macen explained, "But I kept discreet tabs on them all."

"But you didn't face them and your own survivor's guilt," Rockford opined, "And don't argue with me. I know the signs all too well. Lisea and Ro are exceptions because of how extraordinarily close you are to them. But the rest of your crew was disposable."

Macen winced and Rockford softened the blow, "Not in a permanent basis but you know how it goes. You El-Aurians tend to be a little cavalier about relationships with shorter lived species. It takes a lot for you to forge deep and lasting bonds. That's why you've always pursued romantic relationships with longer lived races. First was Arinae, a fellow El-Aurian. Next came Lisea, a Joined Trill. Need I mention that T'Kir was Vulcan? And now there's me. If I didn't have a Vulcanoid type life span I seriously doubt we would have ever married."

Macen knew better than to even protest. As usual, his wife's insights were dead on, "So why do I think you have an opinion regarding Tracy's smuggling activities?"

"I think it was more than familiarity that motivated her. If that were the case, the life of a simple freighter pilot would have sufficed," Rockford elaborated, "I think she still wanted to 'stick' it to the Federation by flouting their laws. When I gave her your sales pitch, the idea of joining a cause, even one preserving the Federation, appealed to her."

"Not only to preserve but also to improve the Federation," Macen brought up.

"You would go there," Rockford said sourly, "The only reason we've been asked to spy on President Bacco is because Admiral Jellico knows it's as illegal as hell. Starfleet answers to her so they can't get away with it but we just might. And if we're caught, then we become sacrificial lambs."

"So you don't want to do it?" Macen was slightly surprised she hadn't said so before.

"I didn't say that," Rockford corrected him; "If our suspicions regarding Bacco are correct then she needs to go down for her crimes. I just wanted to be certain you knew what the stakes were."

"They're the usual ones," Macen replied.

"That's my point," Rockford ruefully commented.

Macen let that go, "Tracy seemed slightly startled by me."

"It's your appearance," Rockford explained, "You've changed over the last decade or so. When I first met you you had a goatee and reddish-blonde hair. Then it turned auburn. And now it's as dark as my own and you've grown a full beard again."

Macen noted Rockford's own raven black hair, "Well, it's a family trait. First our fair hair darkens and then it goes snowy white."

"White is good," Rockford said.

"I still won't become Elias," Macen snarkily remarked.

"I don't want you to become Elias Vaughn," Rockford spoke about one of Macen's oldest and closest friends as she shoved him into a bulkhead. He was also one of Rockford's former lovers, "I just think that look would eventually suit you. And if I'd wanted to pursue something permanent with Elias I would have already."

"A fact I'm eternally grateful for," Macen assured her before wryly adding, "Except for when you bounce me off bulkheads."

"Don't talk trash and it won't happen," Rockford advised him, "And just for the record I think Elias is better off with Alyssa anyway."

Macen had to admit that Alyssa Munroe was the best thing that had happened in Vaughn's life in some time. He hadn't been that happy since meeting his long assimilated wife. Presumably she had joined the Caelier Gestalt with the rest of the liberated Borg drones. The only known example of a drone rejecting the offer was Seven of Nine. And now she was back aboard the USS Voyager as it led the Delta Fleet into the Delta Quadrant to seek out the Caelier and answer the mystery of what had happened to them and their newly integrated Borg Collective.

As Seven had amply demonstrated, her Borg implants had been replaced by Caelier catons. Catons were energy-matter constructs. The Caelier themselves were composed of them. But they powered them with external sources. Seven's were replenished by her own biological processes.

Seven's catons did little more than maintain her biological functions and integrity. Or so it seemed. That was one of the great mysteries that Starfleet sought to explain with the Delta Fleet probe.

Macen had found it curious no El-Aurians had volunteered to play native guide to the expedition. But then again, neither had he. He supposed the thought of meeting relatives long lost to the Borg and now enchanted with the Caelier would be unsettling enough to dissuade any potential volunteers.

"Hey!" Rockford snapped her fingers in front of Macen's face, "Are you still with me?"

"Sorry, I was thinking about the Delta Fleet," Macen admitted.

"Are you sorry you didn't go with them?" Rockford wondered.

"No," Macen emphatically stressed, "Not at all."

"I'm glad," Rockford admitted, "Anyway, I was complimenting you on your beard. What made you grow it out?"

"When I first came to the Alpha Quadrant I wore a full beard. It wasn't until I reported to Starfleet Academy that I trimmed it down. I thought about growing it out when Tom wore a goatee but then he grew his beard out. Now that he's clean shaven again I felt free to grow mine again."

Rockford gave him a droll look, "That has to be the stupidest thing you've ever said. Who cares what Tom Riker does? If you want to wear a beard, wear a frinxing beard."

"Yes, dear;" Macen quipped.

"I ought to hit you for that," Rockford stewed.

"And spoil our reunion?" Macen asked with mock seriousness, "Heavens forefend!"

Rockford sighed, "Why don't you buy me coffee and we can forget this idiocy. I may even forgive you if Roberta is manning the kiosk."

"Here's hoping," Macen grinned.

Macen met Ebert at the airlock where the Obsidian was docked. He took Ebert on a tour of the Nova-class science vessel while Rockford proceeded to the meeting place and downloaded data to padds for everyone to peruse during the mission brief. The first stop on Ebert's tour was her quarters.

"These are so much bigger than the Odyssey's," she observed.

"And these are small compared to the typical officers quarters on most starships these days," Macen let her know, "The Defiant-class' barracks style bunks are a rare example of the exception to that general rule. But our ship is bigger than Starfleet's mainline escort so we get better accommodations. But the ship is still only designed for short term missions."

"How large is the crew?" Ebert wondered.

"We have eighty crewmen aboard," Macen shared, "Which is the optimum number of crew according to the design philosophy. In comparison the Odyssey was built with a crew of twenty-two members in mind."

Ebert was surprised, "That's a lot of people."

"You'll mainly be dealing with my team of specialists, the bridge crew, and the shuttle bay crew," Macen soothed her nerves a bit.

"I suppose I'm the new kid on the block," Ebert ruefully remarked.

"Not quite," Macen informed her, "Celeste just brought three of her own people into the fold and I recently recruited three more specialists on top of that."

Ebert pondered tat before speaking again, "Whatever happened to the Odyssey? And where is T'Kir?"

"The Odyssey became my first command after the Dominion War. The ship was destroyed in the line of duty," Macen told her.

"And T'Kir was killed in the line of duty?" Ebert asked, "I tried to get the news out of your wife but she wouldn't talk about it. She just said I needed to talk to you."

Macen wore a wry expression as he began to speak, "After the war, I recruited T'Kir to join my first team. Six years later we were married. A few years later she died in the line of duty. However, our ship's EMH decided to clone T'Kir and her katra was transferred from my mind back to her body. Which sounds well and good but the experience left her a different person. Eventually she came back to try to kill me and Celeste killed her to prevent that."

"So that's why Detective Rockford refused to tell me," Ebert realized, "She must have thought I'd take the news personally."

"Probably," Macen allowed, "But sometimes Celeste moves in mysterious ways. She may have just though it would sound better coming from me."

Ebert shrugged, "Could be."

"C'mon, let me show you the bridge;" Macen suggested.

Macen showed Ebert around the various stations on the bridge but the Flight Control Station exclusively held her attention. Ebert studied the board's layout. She smiled brightly as she met Macen's gaze.

"I've been rated for LCARS interfaces so I'm golden here," she proclaimed.

"I'd still like you to confer with the Gamma Watch pilot," Macen advised, "Aglaia can clue you into the ship's various idiosyncrasies and response lags."

Ebert smirked, "Every ship has them. But some captains don't seem to realize that."

"I try to listen to my CONN officers," Macen told her, "My Chief CONN Officer since the Dominion War was also T'Kir's best friend."

"So what happened to him or her?" Ebert asked.

"I killed her just about six weeks ago," Macen said flatly.

"Can I ask why?" Ebert was a little surprised.

"She infiltrated my team for a rogue agency," Macen divulged, "She was trying to kill the rest of us. And it wasn't the first time. So I finally put an end to the threat."

"Hard to argue with death," Ebert accepted what he had presented to her.

"It can be done," Macen said enigmatically, "Come on, let's visit the Corsair."

"Not many get access to a Danube-class runabout," Ebert said with a hint of awe in her voice.

"It helps to be a contractor working for Starfleet," Macen said nonchalantly, "It also helps that I have a Starfleet security clearance higher than some admirals'."

Ebert looked at Macen with fresh eyes, "So you weren't just some little cog in Starfleet's gears."

"My work with the Maquis was very important to certain powers-that-be," Macen revealed, "A lot of plans had been built around Ro. But Eddington's true affiliation came as a surprise to those same people and threw all of those plans awry. And there was an added risk that Eddington would expose me."

"So why didn't Starfleet pull you out then?" Ebert was very intent when she asked the question.

"They tried," Macen confessed, "I just refused to leave. Fortunately, the admiral in charge of my mission was a personal friend so she covered for me as best she could."

Ebert beamed again, "I knew you were really one of us, Captain."

"I still am," Macen assured her.

Ebert gazed back at the Corsair, "Can we go aboard?"

"You're now her chief pilot so I'd have to say it's up to you," Macen smirked.

Ebert boarded the ship and sat down behind the controls and Macen sat beside her at the OPS station. She had a wistful smile on her face, "I spent a lot of time behind the controls of a Mosquito-class runabout over the last ten years. I carried all sorts of cargo. Some sentient, some not so much. I carried legitimate cargo and contraband. Whatever the job was I took it just so I could keep flying."

"Well don't get too attached. Ships don't seem to last very long around here," Macen warned her.

"What do you mean?" Ebert was puzzled by that remark.

"After the Odyssey was destroyed we went through the Eclipse, the first and second Solstice, the first Obsidian, and the first Corsair;" Macen listed his legacy of destroyed ships.

"Have you ever commanded a ship you haven't killed?" Ebert was aghast.

"Well, both this Obsidian and this Corsair are still going strong," Macen said lightly.

"What kind of work do you do that gets every ship you're in destroyed?" Ebert was a little dubious now.

"I'm licensed security agent bearing a Letter of Marque making me a privateer under the Federation's flag," Macen explained, "Celeste is a licensed private investigator and so is her staff. Together we typically work for Starfleet accepting assignments deemed too sensitive or dangerous for Starfleet personnel."

"Too dangerous for Starfleet?" Ebert nearly yelped.

"Think of it like still being in the Maquis," Macen grinned before his comm badge chirped. He tapped it, "Macen here."

It was Rockford, "Everyone's assembled in Cargo Bay Two like you requested. In fact, only you and Ebert are late."

"We're on our way," Macen promised as the connection closed, "At least I think we both are."

"I'm with you," Ebert said with some determination, "I didn't come this far just to run away now."

"Glad to hear it," Macen said with a great deal of relief.

The gathering in included personnel from the Obsidian, Serenity Station, and the Outbound Ventures starship Fury. Macen was the overreaching Mission Commander of this proposed venture, heading up both Riker and Ro. Macen was also acting as Commanding Officer of the Obsidian, the Mission Commander of its SID team, and the owner of the Outbound Ventures Corporation.

Under Macen, the chain of command split. For the SID Rockford fell under him as Lead Investigator. As he'd told Ebert, she'd brought three of her detectives into the fold. They were Arianna Forte, Shade, and Lee Kang.

Rab Daggit was the Special Operations Specialist and his wife, Parva, was both the Engineering Specialist and the ship's Chief Engineer. New to the ranks was one Anthony "Tony" Burrows. Also added to the team were two women from Ardana. One was a Troglyte named Anara and the other was a Stratosian named Maarta.

But no one knew Anara and Maarta's true identities or place of origin. They were wanted on their home world for acts of terrorism. They had fled Ardana and came across Sveta Korepanova who thought of Macen when she met the pair. Connecting them, Anara and Maarta forged new identities naming them as colonists from Vega Colony.

Anara had become Angelique Kerber and Maarta was now Bailey Smith. Kerber had one distinguishing mark that could threaten her cover. She had a tattoo that wrapped around her shoulder. It was off a blossoming bush whose branches reached out from the base of her neck and stretched down to her arm.

Smith was less flamboyant but she was just as notable. Smith had become engrossed by ancient human films of the "noir" genre. So she dressed in period piece clothing which gave her a distinctive fashion sense.

On the side of the ship's crew, Shannon Forger was present as ship's XO. Jaycee Miller was also present as Chief Tactical/Security Officer and her deputy, Jelena Kovic had been asked to attend as well. Edward Zimbalist represented the OPS staff, and the Eminarean Galen 3 headed up the Science department.

Tessa represented the medical staff. As the ship's Emergency Medical Hologram, Tessa had free rein of the entire ship, or at least where holographic projectors had been installed. Which covered just about everywhere but the Jeffries tubes.

Riker and Danan represented Serenity Station. Ro, having been forced to resign from Starfleet, currently commanded the Blackbird-class Fury. Under her were several ship's officers.

Scott Wolfe serves as both XO and Tactical Officer. Larissa Guderin was Second Officer and the Communications guru. Arven Bliss was the OPS Officer. Maxwell Stone was the CONN Officer. The Orion woman named Alana was the Science Officer and a Tellarite named Terk was the Chief Engineer. Besides them the Fury boasted thirteen crewmen.

Macen knew some of his recruiting had been due to losses in the team's ranks. Wyn Mesa had enlisted in Starfleet and Ziva Delain had been appointed Special Investigator for the Cardassian Legislative Assembly. Her time was now spent tracking down hidden collaborators who'd enable Maret's near takeover and had stayed in power to further their own agendas.

Macen got straight to the point, "You've all been assembled here because Outbound Ventures in general, and you in particular, are going to be investigating the recent activities of President Bacco. If the evidences points to malfeasance, then we'll be handing over the evidence to the Federation's Attorney General to do what she sees fit."

Forger asked an obvious question, "So we're enabling a coup right after reversing one?"

"This won't be a coup," Macen assured everyone, "This will be due process as proscribed by the Articles of the Federation. We will not take any direct action against President Bacco or her administration."

"So why us?" Zimbalist wanted to know, "Why isn't Starfleet launching their own probe? Or the Federation Bureau of Investigation or the Interstellar Security Agency? Why us?"

"Because all of those agencies report to Bacco and her Cabinet," Macen explained, "Whereas, we no longer report to anyone."

"Yeah," Miller snorted, "Starfleet cut us off."

"That was a ruse to satisfy Bacco's desire for revenge and to enable us to conduct an independent investigation," Macen stated, "No one will see us coming."

"But we will have a credibility issue," Lee pointed out.

Macen respected Lee's opinion. He'd once been a Chief Inspector in Chung Kua's Constabulary. He knew the fragility surrounding politically charged cases.

"If we provide incriminating evidence, Fleet Admiral Jellico will back us up against any unwarranted criticism and vouch for our results," Macen promised.

Ro joined Macen, "This is going to be dangerous. Before you merely faced Section 31 but this time you're risking being pursued by every law enforcement agency in the Federation. And if we're right, there could be foreign agencies involved as well."

"Which is why Captain Riker and Commander Danan are present," Macen shared, "Once our investigations begin, they will become targets as well."

"We can take care of ourselves," Riker assured Macen, "All of our weapons upgrades are completed to Chief O'Brien and Lt. Commander Nog's specifications. Now we just need a big, fat happy target to test them on."

"It may happen," Macen advised him.

"So we're going to spy on Bacco?" Smith asked.

"No," Macen succinctly answered.

"But why not?" Smith wanted to know.

"It's virtually impossible," Burrows opined, "Not even Starfleet could penetrate all the layers of security Bacco is wrapped up in."

For a former Starfleet Special Operations Command agent to say that was something. Kerber came to Smith's defense, "I'd still like to try."

"We don't need to do so ourselves," Macen interjected, "Because someone else already is."

"The ISA's protective detail has the entire Palais de Concorde wired pretty tight," Burrows said.

"I was thinking of someone else," Macen remarked.

Rockford watched with amusement as various people guessed away. Even her three associates tried to hazard a few guesses. Finally Ro held up a hand to quiet everyone down.

"It's simple," she asserted, "We'll be going after Section 31."

"Who?" Shade asked.

Ro gave a rundown on Section 31 and their origins and later history. Their place in the Andorian succession and the recent coup that unseated Bacco were particularly noted. Daggit spoke after she finished.

"Call me stupid but won't Section 31 have it in for us even more than usual?" he asked, "There's always been bad blood between the SID and Section 31 and we seem to be at the tip of it."

"You're forgetting that will people in the Federation derailed the coup more people in this cargo bay thwarted a coup on Cardassia Prime as well," Ro reminded him, "Which is precisely why Section 31 will cooperate with our investigation."

"That's frinxing stupid," Parva declared.

Macen addressed the Orion woman's comment, "Section 31 wants Bacco out of office. Presumably that hasn't changed. We can make that happen for them."

"But how do we find them?" Forte wondered, "If they're a clandestine agency they're very good at hiding."

Ro was impressed by the teenager. The girl had left the planet Miri to expand her horizons and it had quickly been determined that the girl was a prodigy. She chose her vocation because of her fascination with puzzles.

"I have a list of suspected Section 31 agents," Macen divulged, "The plan is to approach them and bring them back to Serenity for questioning. At that point we'll offer to remove Bacco from office through legal channels."

"That could work," Forte supposed.

"Then again it may not," Shade said sourly, "What then?"

Macen knew Shade's cultural bias was at play here. As a Fabrini, her ancestors had ridden the world ship Yonada while being told by its computerized overlord that it was the planet of their birth. Starfleet's intervention prevented Yonada's collision with a populated world and opened up the greater Federation to the Fabrini. Given that past Shade abhorred deception and Section 31 was nothing if not deceptive.

"Like it or not folks, this is the plan;" Ro insisted, "So get used to it."

"So where do we start?" Ebert spoke up.

"We have the names of three suspects," Macen clarified, "We'll be dividing into three units and bringing them back here. It's that simple."

"Do you have any particular means of persuasion in mind?" Shade wondered.

"Use your imagination," Macen counseled.


Chapter Two

The three teams had been selected before the groups broke up to prepare for departure. Ro and the crew of the Fury were headed to Terra Nova. Rockford was taking Forte, Shade, Lee, Burrows, and Jelena Kovic to Cestus III. Macen and the rest of the team were heading out to an as of yet undisclosed location.

Rockford moved her group off into an actual briefing room, "Any questions?"

"How are we getting to Cestus III?" Forte wondered, "Are we hitchhiking?"

"Essentially," Rockford replied.

"Mind explaining that?" Burrows wanted to know.

"I employ a freelancer named Harri Mudd," Rockford shared, "She'll be taking us aboard her freighter called the Freehold."

"Is this Harri Mudd related to the Harry Mudd III and his son Harry Mudd IV?" Lee asked.

"Harri, also known as Harriet Fedora Mudd, is Harry the Third's daughter;" Rockford admitted.

"If she's like the rest of the family she's a criminal," Lee accreted.

"Part time," Rockford confirmed it, "But she's spending more and more time working for me."

"Why hire her at all?" Lee demanded to know, "She's trouble."

"Harri helped Ziva Delain and I rescue Bacco from Section 31 so she's proven herself to me," Rockford divulged, "And that's all that matters to me."

"Does Mudd know she's playing errand maid?" Shade asked.

"Not yet," Rockford admitted with impish delight, "I told her I had a job for her. I just haven't told her what it is yet."

The Freehold arrived two hours later. Mudd had been nearby so when Rockford contacted her it had merely been a two day jaunt to reach Serenity. Mudd couldn't quite believe Macen had such an ugly station constructed. And the notion of an ex-Maquis owning a Cardassian built space station was as incongruous as Ro, a former member of the Bajoran Resistance and later the a leader in the Maquis, commanding Terok Nor even if Starfleet had chosen to rechristen it Deep Space Nine.

"At least that monster got destroyed," Mudd said to no one while she waited for the airlock to open and let her aboard the station.

A Deltan woman named Kalista brought Mudd to a briefing room. Inside she found Macen, Rockford, Ro, and Riker waiting for her. She flashed a rueful grin.

"Am I late for the party?" Mudd flippantly asked.

"Please have a seat," Macen invited her.

"Look, before we begin anything I have to say a few thing to Captain Ro;" Mudd locked eyes on Ro, "I never thought I'd say it but I miss you being in command of DS9. Cenn and Blackmer have the place locked down. It's stifling."

"Well, Commander Blackmer is probably wound up from the changes in command and I know Colonel Cenn is," Ro tried to justify their actions.

"Cenn doesn't have anything to worry about," Mudd remarked, "Starfleet has assigned a new CO to the station."

Ro suddenly felt like she'd been hit in the gut. She'd always assumed she'd return to her old post when this was all over. Now she realized that might not be true.

Ro noticed that Macen was carefully observing her. She decided to suck up the loss and deal with it. She was an expert at it by now.

"So why am I here?" Mudd asked with a chipper tone.

"Can't we just enjoy your company?" Rockford queried her.

"You mentioned latinum and since I don't turn tricks I'm assuming that means you want me and my ship traveling somewhere," Mudd guessed.

"I and a group of associates need passage to Cestus III," Rockford decided to get down to business as well.

"One way or is a return in the package?"Mudd asked.

"There will be a return," Rockford informed her, "But we may have to exit faster than we arrived."

"Life is never dull around you folks," Mudd said ruefully.

"Yes, but we pay well;" Rockford countered.

"So do you have a figure in mind or should I toss out a rough figure?" Mudd wanted to know.

Rockford made an offer and Mudd whistled appreciatively, "You do pay well. Okay, I'll accept your offer with one stipulation. If I get shot at or detained, I get a hazard bonus equal to the original sum."

Rockford mulled it over. It would take a large bite out of her local reserve funds if she had to pay out the maximum. Outbound Ventures would reimburse her but that could take time especially if Kathy Tyrol sat on the latinum for a length of time.

"Done," Rockford decided.

Mudd pulled out a padd and began working on a contract, "This'll only take a moment."

"Put in there that you get half up front and half on delivery," Rockford specified.

Mudd grinned, "The contract rules I live by. So when do we ship out?"

"Three hours from now," Rockford told her, "Meet me in Quark's in half an hour and I'll authorize the funds transfer. Meanwhile I'll get my people ready to board."

"See you there," Mudd busily filled in contract terms.

Riker left with Rockford but Macen and Ro stayed behind. Mudd took note of this, "Can I help you people or are you just going to try and dicker me down some more?"

"I just think it's best if you know some of the pertinent details," Macen warned her, "Celeste is apprehending an ISA agent."

"Impressive," Mudd acknowledged, "But there won't be much profit in it."

"Yes, there will;" Macen corrected her, "It'll draw the attention of Section 31."

Mudd stopped what she was doing, "You're intentionally pissing off Section 31? Why?"

"I need to negotiate with them and in order to do so I need something they value," Macen admitted.

"I think you're starting to think like me," Mudd opined.

"The point is," Ro asserted, "this will also draw attention towards you."

Mudd shrugged, "I've been on Section 31's shit list ever since that Bacco debacle. So what else is new?"

"We'll do everything in our power to deflect attention and blame from you but in order to do so you'd have to stay within proximity of my company," Macen explained.

"Not gonna happen," Mudd brushed the offer aside, "I'm a big girl, Macen. You two aren't the only ones with rough pasts. I'm a survivor and I know not only how to survive but how to get ahead."

"I had to make the suggestion," Macen allowed.

"And you did," Mudd conceded, "Thanks but no thanks."

"Then we'll see you later," Macen rose and Ro followed as he exited.

Mudd actually felt better knowing Macen was worried about her.

Macen walked Rockford to the docking port where the Freehold was berthed. They held hands as they strolled through the docking ring corridors. It seemed they reached the appropriate berth far too soon.

"It seems we just did a variation of this not too long ago," Macen ruefully commented.

"Too bad Ziva isn't still here," Rockford said wistfully.

"Having doubts about your associates?" Macen wondered.

"I've worked with Shade a few times before. I also had contact with Lee when he was law enforcement," Rockford shared.

"But you're wondering about Forte," Macen realized.

"Not about her qualifications," Rockford assured him, "It's just that she's impossibly young."

"The inhabitants of Miri are deceptively youthful. Forte could easily be as old as I am," Macen reminded her.

"It's still the same thing," Rockford insisted, "No matter what world she's from she's still an adolescent."

"She knew what she was getting into when you recruited her," Macen assured her.

"But she has a romanticized version of what we do in her head," Rockford complained, "I know because I was the same way when I volunteered for augmentation. I brought her into this and I don't want to see her get hurt because of me."

"She made her choice and you have to respect that just as you respected her enough to offer her the position in the first place," Macen stated.

"She isn't trained the same way you and I are," Rockford warned him.

"Neither were most of the Maquis I worked with," Macen told her, "They either learned fast or got themselves killed."

"That's my point," Rockford grated.

"Rab and Tony have been working with her ever since she arrived," Macen shared, "They say she's a quick study. Tony's also a kendo master and besides being my sparring partner he's showing her the discipline."

"I'm just getting worked up over nothing aren't I?" Rockford bemoaned.

"Yup," Macen grinned, "But you look cute doing it."

"Just keep that in mind while I'm gone," Rockford slyly smiled.

Macen leaned in to kiss Rockford and they didn't want to part ways. Finally they heard a discreet cough from the airlock and they turned to find Mudd standing there, "Pardon me all to death but we need to shove off."

"I love you," Macen said to his wife.

"And I love you," Rockford promised, "Never forget that."

"True love," Mudd mocked them, "My heart bleeds. We're leaving now. Either get aboard or get left behind."

Macen watched as Rockford disappeared into the ship. Mudd sealed the airlock and then went aboard the Freehold and sealed its hatches. It wasn't until the freighter unclamped from the station and fired its RCS thrusters to back away that he finally left his spot.

Macen boarded the Obsidian and dropped by his and Rockford's shared quarters. Heading for the bridge, he encountered Ebert aimlessly wandering about. He decided to find out why.

"Tracy? Is there a problem?" he asked.

"I can't remember which quarters are mine," Ebert sheepishly admitted.

Macen took her to her cabin, "Mark the outer door with some tape and then you'll be able to find them next time. You do realize you did this aboard the Odyssey as well. You'd try entering every door until yours opened for you. Fortunately, you figured it out after six months had gone by."

"You would remember that," Ebert groaned.

"Did Edwin link your spectacles to the ship's navigational systems?" Macen inquired.

Ebert was one of those few people who were allergic to Retnax so she had to correct her vision the old fashioned way, "Yeah, he was really sweet about it. He didn't give me the third degree on why I wear glasses. Instead he was just fascinated by their Heads Up Display features."

"He would be," Macen grinned.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ebert got a tad defensive.

"Edwin is one of those rare individuals who can be confronted with a beautiful woman and he'll be more interested in the gear she's packing," Macen commented.

"How do you know I didn't rebuff him?" Ebert pointedly asked.

"You have no outside relationships to speak of," Macen informed her, "You've pretty much isolated yourself from anyone outside of a professional colleague or an ex-Maquis comrade."

"And how would you know?" Ebert was a little stunned.

"I've kept tabs on the crew since we went our separate ways," Macen told her, "Of course, Sveta and Chris did most of the leg work but they kept in touch with me."

Ebert was vaguely disturbed that Svetlana Korepanova and her ex-shipmate Christine Lacey had been reporting on her life to Macen, "Do you know what happened to Tom and Heidi?"

"Tom works luxury cruise liners and stays as far away from combat as humanly possible," Macen revealed, "Heidi finally went her own way and hired into a family run freighter business. She married the boss' daughter and is now overseeing maintenance and repairs over the shipping fleet."

"And of course you know Chris works as a weapons officer aboard a customs cruiser working the Demilitarized Zone with the Iridian Enforcers," Ebert ventured.

"In fact, only you and Chris never really settled down after the Jem'Hadar purge," Macen shared with her.

"Well my life after the Maquis wasn't any more conclusive to romance than my life with the Maquis," Ebert said with some resignation.

"Maybe that'll change now," Macen suggested.

"Stranger things have happened before," Ebert agreed, "Like getting involved with all of this."

Macen didn't comment so Ebert totally changed the subject, "How did you and Detective Rockford meet?"

"She was hired to kill me on my and T'Kir's honeymoon," Macen admitted.

"You have to explain that one to me," Ebert demanded.

Macen gave a brief history of Annika Ryst, her multiple personas, and her intertwined history with himself. When he finished, Ebert shook her head; "Don't you ever fall for sane women?"

"Celeste is sane," Macen defended his wife's honor.

"Maybe now, thanks to those watchamacallits;" Ebert dismissed the notion, "I'm talking then. When you first met."

"She was sane then as well, just not completely whole;" Macen insisted.

"But she was seriously trying to kill you?" Ebert wouldn't let that go.

"Until she teamed up with Bertram Sindis. Then she joined my team and helped me kill him after he killed T'Kir," Macen told the rest of the story.

"Your life is way too much of a soap opera for me," Ebert decided.

"I don't think so," Macen protested.

"It is," Ebert adamantly insisted, "So don't argue with me about it."

Macen grinned, "It's good to have you back."

"It's good to be back," she confessed, "Shouldn't we be going to the bridge or something."

"Or something," Macen smirked.

Ebert decoupled the Obsidian from Serenity and set a course for Deep Space Four. Aglaia then relieved her so she could attend another mission brief. This one was specific for the team aboard the Obsidian.

Macen led Ebert to the SID's dedicated briefing room. Inside Daggit and Parva sat at chairs perusing data on the padds provided. Kerber and Smith arrived after Macen and quickly took their seats. It was their first mission with the team and they were both anxious to get off to a good start. Tessa appeared right on schedule and she also took a chair for propriety's sake. Macen was amused to see that Tessa's medical smocks were getting shorter by the hour. Galen 3 had to have been in Nirvana by now.

Macen keyed up the personnel file he had set aside and the image and info of Commander Erika Benteen appeared on everybody's padds, "This is our subject."

"It says here she the CO of DS4," Daggit read off.

"Commander, formerly Captain, Benteen was Admiral Leyton's aide when he tried to assume control of Earth. Benteen was promoted to Captain and assumed command of the USS Lakota which then engaged the Defiant before ceasing fire and escorting the Defiant to Earth in support of Captain Sisko," Macen reported, "Benteen was busted back to Commander and spent the Dominion War at Starfleet Command."

"After the war concluded, Benteen was dispatched to Deep Space Four to assume command of the station. She's been there ever since without promotion or transfer. Internal Affairs reviews of her personal logs reveal that Benteen feels as though she's been exiled from Starfleet Command and that her career trajectory plateaued a long time ago," Macen elaborated, "Benteen's strengths are strategic planning, crisis management, and administration. Qualifications that make her idea to command a station at the very edge of both Federation and Romulan space. It also makes her an ideal candidate to join Section 31."

"So she's disaffected, why is she a suspect?" Parva wanted to know.

"Deep Space Four's staff has begun detecting anomalous subspace transmissions being sent through their own communications array," Macen explained, "They're encrypted at a level even Starfleet Intelligence hasn't been able to crack and there are no logs confirming a transmission has been sent, who its sender is, or who the intended recipient is. Given what we learned about Hannah's activities on Laos II from Jennifer Massoli we know this is consistent with Section 31."

Daggit and Parva knew Lt. Commander Jennifer Marie Massoli was the Intelligence Officer assigned to the USS Intrepid. She'd been the one to tip off Macen that Hannah Grace was still a Section 31 operative. Grace's choices had cost her her life.

"How did Benteen respond to her staff's discovery?" Daggit asked.

"She ordered the routine investigation and technical analysis," Macen answered, "But the transmissions have continued unabated. If Benteen is the mole then she's unconcerned about being discovered."

"It makes sense though," Ebert added, "If she really is bitter about being left behind, she might actually be looking forward to being caught."

Macen thought that said as much about Ebert's attitude as Benteen's, "Parva, I want you to modify the transceiver to intercept the signal. Angelique and Bailey, I want to you to tear it down and give us an idea of what it contains."

The Ardanan fugitives both nodded while Kerber acted as spokesperson, "It'll fun to show up Starfleet Intelligence."

"How long has Starfleet known about these transmissions?" Parva asked.

"For the last three years," Macen supplied the answer.

"And it's taken this long to investigate Benteen?" Parva was incredulous.

"Actually, Internal Affairs isn't focused on Benteen. They have an open inquiry that includes every permanently assigned staff member," Macen revealed, "Starfleet Intelligence and Internal Affairs are actually trying to draw out Benteen's contacts. Benteen doesn't operate in a vacuum. And given her background, position, and expertise, her handler should be highly placed within Section 31."

"Okay, but still..." Parva began to argue.

"Parva, let it go for now," Macen urged, "We have five days before we reach DS4. In four days I want all of you familiar with the station, its personnel, its procedures, and IA's evidence. Then I want to reconvene and we'll make an ops plan to proceed with when we reach the station. So, unless there's other pressing business you're all dismissed."

Daggit and Parva were the first to leave. Ebert glanced Macen's way before exiting. Kerber and Smith stayed behind.

"Something on your minds, ladies?" Macen asked.

"What happens if we can't crack the encryption Commander Benteen is employing?" Kerber inquired.

"I won't kick you off the team and cut you loose, if that's what you're worried about;" Macen assured them,

"But we've only worked on a few minor tasks for you until now," Kerber argued, "You have no idea of what we can really do."

"I know what you did to Stratos and the mines on Ardana," Macen told her, "You were so effective the Troglyte Clan Elders are willing to throw you to the wolves in order to appease the government."

"We've been too grateful to ask, but why did you take us in when Sveta Korepanova asked you to?" Smith broke her silence.

Macen knew Smith was the more reticent of the two to draw attention to herself. Kerber's bare shoulder bore testimony to that. Macen thought they deserved an honest answer.

"I have a notorious soft spot for freedom fighters," Macen commented, "Plus I needed support personnel to give my investigative teams the ability to penetrate enemy systems."

"You have a softness because you were a Maquis," Smith guessed.

"Exactly," Macen confirmed it, "I saw things on the Cardassian border that altered my perception of the colonists and their cause. I knew I had to support them any way I could. Even if it meant being a terrorist."

"Which uniform will we wear?" Kerber asked, "Ship's Officers or Crew's?"

"Neither," Macen sighed, "The crew practically revolted over the distinction. Ship's crew will wear utility coveralls that don't distinguish rank. The investigative team will wear civilian attire of their choice. Only ship's security will wear a formal combat uniform."

Smith beamed at the idea of not having to conform to a uniform code. Kerber seemed pleased as well, "If anyone needs us we'll be in the Cyber Lab."

Macen watched them leave before gathering his padds up and heading for his Ready Room.

The Freehold cruised along towards Cestus III at Warp 5. A typical Bajoran variant Antares-class cruiser could only manage Warp 3.8 if it pushed its engines to maximum capacity. But the Freehold had incorporated the warp core and drive of an Andor-class transport into its hull so it could actually push Warp 6.3 for twelve hours if need be. It wasn't fast enough to outpace a starship but it could easily outperform most civilian platforms.

Rockford had gathered everyone in the freighter's ward room. Mudd stayed on the bridge but Rockford had insisted she listen in. She would've anyway so it was better to have permission.

Rockford began by handing out padds containing pertinent data regarding their quarry. Their suspected Section 31 mole was an ISA agent named Hoshi Kiratama. Kiratama was a cryptologist and signals officer in charge of Cestus III's surveillance platforms monitoring Gorn space.

Kiratama was in place to dictate signals analysis summaries that would directly affect policy. She could also greatly enhance Section 31's direct intelligence on the region. Rockford opened up the floor for questions.

"She's of Japanese descent," Lee noted, "Is she a natural blonde?"

"I doubt it," Kovic snorted.

"What does it matter?" Burrows had to ask.

"I agree," Rockford interjected, "Her hair coloring is of little value to us."

Rockford let a chill fall over the room. She knew she had the greenest SID agents and a non-agent loaned to her by Jaycee Miller. She was surprised by Lee though. His reputation as a crack investigator and forensics tech belied his asking that question.

Burrows hadn't actually been on a mission yet. But he'd been Elias Vaughn's handpicked successor in SOC before the injury that tore the cellular structure of his knees apart. Unable to regenerate the tissues Starfleet Medical had opted to amputate and replace with biomechanical replacements. But the biomechanics showed up far easier on sensors so his value as a covert operative had been negated. Rather than assume a standard role within Starfleet's ranks, Burrows had retired. It had been Vaughn that introduced Burrows to Macen and his recruitment to the SID had been all but assured.

Shade had travelled the Alpha Quadrant before becoming involved with a murder investigation. Solving the case, the local law enforcement had recommended she either apply to their academy or undergo training and an apprenticeship with a private investigations firm. She chose the training and was recruited by Rockford Investigations for her apprenticeship. Shade had displayed a remarkable talent for investigative work and she joined Rockford herself on three cases. Rockford remembered her from those and recruited Shade to her personal unit within the SID.

Arianna Forte's beginning with Rockford Investigations was similar but Forte's talents were even starker. Forte's powers of observation and deduction were frightening to behold. Only the literary figure of Sherlock Holmes even came close to comparison.

Jelena Kovic was the outsider. Miller's Deputy Chief of Security was along only because Rockford didn't want to involve Mudd in the hands on operation. Besides, Kovic was a former enlisted member of Starfleet Security so she knew her way around.

"Agent Kiratama's choice of hair color probably indicates that she's deflecting overt attention by courting it," Forte theorized.

"That's ridiculous," Kovic snorted.

"She has a point," Rockford asserted, "People tend to think if you're attracting attention you don't have anything to hide. We're all familiar with situations where it was best to brazen it out and let people make their assumptions. Same is probably true in this case."

"I agree," Lee supported them.

"So now that that's settled, how are we going to approach Agent Kiratama?" Shade asked.

"It'll be a simple snatch and grab," Rockford instructed, "Kang, Jelena, and Tony, you'll tail Kiratama from the local agency site to her home. Don't bother with discretion."

"You want her to know she's being followed?" Burrows wondered.

"Exactly," Rockford confirmed it, "Because while you're on the street Shade, Arianna, and I will be in her flat pillaging her private files. We'll just need advanced warning of when she reaches home."

"Are you sure about that choice?" Lee inquired sharply.

"Yes," Rockford said tersely, "Why?"

"Shade and Forte stand out in a crowd. They'll be seen entering Kiratama's quarters. They should be doing the outer surveillance work," Lee insisted.

Rockford studied Forte and Shade's appearance. Forte was your typical looking teenager...with fuchsia hair. Shade's hair was raven black like Rockford's but the strands framing her face were purest white. Then there was the fact Forte tended to favor black leather jackets and animal print skirts while Shade opted for black leather mini-dresses.

"I don't see a problem," Rockford said after a moment's consideration.

Lee held up his hands, "Okay, I surrender."

"Isn't Mudd going to be involved?" Burrows wondered.

"Harri will be prepping for a fast getaway while making it look like we're meandering because we have nothing to worry about," Rockford shared.

"She'll appreciate that," Kovic said acerbically.

"You have no idea," Rockford smirked.


Chapter Three

The Fury's senior officers were relieved from their posts. Assembling in the briefing room located behind the bridge, they awaited Ro's explanation for what they were about to do. It was very apparent Ro had a specific operation in mind to support the general mission that they'd learned about aboard the Obsidian.

"I'm sure our joint briefing is still fresh in your minds," Ro began, "Now we get down to the gritty details about our part in things."

"We're all ears, Captain;" Wolfe assured her.

"Our target is an Agent Blythe Winter of the Federation Bureau of Investigation," Ro announced.

That created quite a stir and Guderin spoke first, "That's quite...ambitious."

"It gets better," Ro promised, "Winter is the Special Agent in Charge of the Terra Nova Field Office."

Stone groaned but everyone else waited for more details. Ro obliged them, "We're going to conduct a snatch and grab by means of a honey trap. Now our information suggests she's bisexual so anyone can volunteer to be the honey."

"I'll do it!" Stone blurted, "I'm really into platinum blondes."

"You won't be getting any, Max;" Bliss advised him.

"Maybe we can make it an interrogation technique," Stone suggested.

"That's still called rape," Ro said coldly, "And I'll throw you out an airlock for it."

"It's not rape if she's consenting," Stone argued, "These FBI types are all work and no play. Get them away from the office and they become hellcats."

"Just how did you end up aboard this ship?" Ro wanted to know.

"I was kicked off the Guinevere," Stone named the Lancelot-class Outbound Ventures starship.

"You even touch Agent Winter and I'll slowly break ever bone in your body and then let her walk all over you," Ro vowed.

"But I still get to make an approach, right?" Stone eagerly asked.

Seeing no one else was volunteering Ro reluctantly agreed, "Agent Winter came to Starfleet Intelligence's attention because she was a counter-espionage agent for the FBI before being promoted and sent to Terra Nova. But even there, she's uncovered a dearth of information exposing Typhon Pact agents and she's expanded her repertoire to include the criminal element. The Orion Syndicate has put a price on her head because of her successes."

"I like this fem already," Alana cheered.

Ro gave the Orion a wry look, "She is still our number one suspect, Alana."

"I can still root for her," Alana defiantly asserted.

"All right," Ro conceded, "The field office is in the planet's capitol, Logan City. The entire planet has a population of over four hundred thousand Novans and a population of sixty thousand humans not born on the planet. Give or take twenty thousand various other races from around the Federation and the population is very diversified for such a low population colony."

Ro continued her briefing, "Winter's region of responsibility includes all of Sector 003. So she has a wide and varied network of informant and agents under her control. We cannot afford sustained contact with strangers while on site. We need to get Winter and get off planet before anyone realizes she's missing."

"I know someone local that might be able to help," Bliss spoke up.

"Do tell," Ro insisted.

"Privately, Captain;" Bliss threw back at her.

Ro was disgruntled but she went with the circumstances, "We have a three day transit. Two days from now I want to nail down our ops plan and who is doing what. Dismissed."

Bliss stayed behind as everyone else filed out. Ro gave her a wry look, "Care to share, Arven?"

"You know my people are called the Mishrya, correct?" Bliss asked.

"It's in your file," Ro agreed.

"But you have no idea where Mishryander is located, do you?" Bliss inquired.

"I didn't think much about it," Ro admitted.

"My planet is less than thirty thousand light years from Barrinor," Bliss shared, "But my people haven't had much contact with the Federation outside of Barrinor and Dreon VII. Except for the woman Captain Picard knew as 'Ardra'."

Ro searched her memory, "Wasn't she a con artist that tried to extort the Ventaxians?"

"Exactly," Bliss confirmed it, "She wasn't much of an ambassador for my people."

"What does this have to do with the local situation on Terra Nova?" Ro had to wonder.

"I'm getting there," Bliss promised, "I had the fortune to have a lot of dealings with the colonists on Barrinor and later on Dreon VII. So I was chosen to track down Ardra's associates. As such I have a lot of contacts with people of questionable moral values."

Ro snorted, "That's a pretty way of stating it."

"I chose to stay in Federation space and help lead law enforcement officials to those same associates," Bliss shared, "Local law enforcement believed me in half a dozen cases but I ran into a wall on dozens more. That's when I learned about Outbound Ventures and thought if I helped them then they could help me."

"That still doesn't explain the Terra Novan connection," Ro stated.

"There's a Ferengi trader named Glom in Logan City," Bliss shared, "He'll trade in anything for a price. Including alibis."

"What kind of alibis?" Ro asked.

"He could easily make it seem Winter's disappearance was due to the Orions," Bliss explained.

"You were tempted to volunteer for the honey trap," Ro recalled, "Would you be comfortable doing so?"

Bliss laughed, "Captain, bisexuality is a cultural norm on my planet. We feel heterosexual unions best serve the needs of procreation while true domestic happiness can only be found in a same sex union."

"So that's a 'yes'," Ro dryly remarked.

"I'd be very comfortable in that role," Bliss assured her, "I actually find Agent Winter to be quite attractive."

"Then get ready to step in if Stone blows it," Ro instructed.

"You think he will?" Bliss asked.

"I think it's a given," Ro replied.

Winter left her offices and exited the Field Office building. Unlike the ISA, the FBI openly advertised its presence. Knowing the Bureau was there reassured the population that local law enforcement across the sector had nearly unlimited resources to be brought in behind them. Winter was the youngest SAIC in the history of the FBI but she was still a comparably seasoned agent.

Therefore it would have come as a surprise to her to discover she was being followed. Ro was an expert at tailing subjects, experienced originally earned when she was a teenager with the Bajoran Resistance. Starfleet Security and the Maquis had only honed her skills to a razor's edge. Therefore when Winter slipped into a pub, she was still unaware of Ro's presence.

Ro summoned her crew and Wolfe, Stone, and Bliss converged on the premises. Guderin had been left in command of the Fury as it orbited over Terra Nova. She was monitoring official communications as well as the ship linked comm badges the crew wore on the surface. Guderin was pleased that Ro's team had cornered Winter already without drawing attention to themselves.

Inside of the pub, Stone made his approach. Winter was deep in conversation with a man in uniform. Appeared to be a police office of some sorts. There were a lot of similar uniforms being worn inside of the premises. Stone decided to interrupt.

"Excuse me, but aren't you Blythe Winter?" he asked her.

She frowned, "Yes, I am but I don't recall ever meeting you."

"I was a shuttle pilot for the Bureau back in 2378 when you were first assigned to the counter espionage unit on Azur III," Stone partially lied. He had been a pilot for the FBI. Just not on Azur III.

"Funny, I don't remember you," Winter confessed.

"Well, I spent most of my time in those days hiding from my own shadow;" Stone breezily explained it away.

"You seem to have gotten over your insecurities," Winter dryly remarked.

"Agent Winter, perhaps we could finish our discussion at a later time?" the police officer asked.

"Certainly, Bob. Contact my office at Three O'clock tomorrow. I'll be expecting your call," Winter said amicably.

The officer gave Stone a death glare before departing. Winter chuckled, "Police Commissioner Everett doesn't like being brushed off."

"Well, you didn't look like you were having a good time;" Stone said, "And I think you should have nothing but fun."

"I suppose you have a few suggestions in that direction," Winter said ruefully.

"As a matter of fact..." Stone was interrupted by Ro tapping him on the shoulder.

"Mr. Stone, a word please?" Ro asked archly. As Stone moved away, Ro gave Winter the barest of smiles, "Don't worry. He won't be back."

Winter watched Ro march a dejected Stone off towards the entrance. Then she heard a woman ask, "Having an interesting night already?"

Winter turned to behold Bliss. Winter was surprised to discover she didn't recognize Bliss' race, "I hate to admit this but I have no idea of where you're from."

"Mishryander," Bliss said easily. She then gave a short lesson in stellar cartography to explain where her planet laid in the scheme of things.

"You are a long way from home," Winter commented.

"You sound like you know the feeling," Bliss commented.

Winter blinked, "Good guess."

"It was hardly a guess," Bliss remarked, "Your public persona practically screams it. I wonder what you look like when the mask comes off."

"Was that an invitation?" Winter asked a little jadedly.

"More of a wish," Bliss confessed, "Pretenses are all well and fine but they also get in the way."

"You either have the strangest pick up lines in history or you're being sincere," Winter realized.

"A little of both actually," Bliss confessed, "But since you aren't dropping any walls yet I'll start off by introducing myself. I'm Arven Bliss."

"Is your name really Bliss?" Winter had to ask, "Or is that a stage name of some kind?"

Bliss wore a rueful grin, "'Bliss' is as close as a universal translator can render it in English. After I learned Federation Standard it was just easier to go with it."

"Fair enough," Winter conceded, "I'm Blythe Winter."

"And what do you do for a living, Blithe Winter?" Bliss asked.

"I'm the Special Agent in Charge of the local Field Office of the Federation Bureau of Investigation," Winter revealed.

"Is that as impressive as it sounds?" Bliss wanted to know.

Winter laughed, "Not really. It means I work a lot and don't get out very often."

"Sounds...frustrating," Bliss commented.

"More often than not," Winter admitted, "So what do you do?"

"I'm the OPS Officer aboard the SS Fury," Bliss shared, "It's registered to Outbound Ventures, Inc."

"The security company started by Brin Macen?" Winter was suddenly paying full attention to Bliss.

"The very one," Bliss admitted, "But, like you, it sounds like more than it really is."

"So," Winter suddenly wore a coy smile, "We're in the same business."

"To a degree," Bliss allowed, "We just answer to different employers."

"What are you doing right now, Arven?" Winter suddenly asked.

"I'm spending time with a very attractive woman who is a little wound up and desperately needs to have some fun. That about sum it up, Blythe?" Bliss wondered.

"It pretty well describes my life," Winter shared, "Care to drop everything and help me do something about it?"

Bliss smiled beatifically, "I'd love to."

"Let me use the restroom and then we can walk back to my flat," Winter offered, "I'll be back in just a minute."

"I'll be waiting," Bliss assured her.

Winter disappeared, feeling lot happier and freer than she had in quite some time.

Ro approached Bliss from her place at the bar while Wolfe babysat Stone outside around the corner, "Are you still with me?"

"What do you mean?" Bliss asked.

"You seem very chummy with her," Ro opined.

"I'll be blunt, if we didn't need to take her into custody I would accept her offer," Bliss confided.

"But we do need to take her into custody," Ro stressed.

"I know," Bliss said sadly, "I'll do my part."

"Meet us in the alley next to Glom's Emporium," Ro instructed, "He's agreed to my terms for producing an alibi but we need to capture her there so he can alter the imagery."

"Okay, we'll be there;" Bliss' mood hadn't improved.

"Arven, for what it's worth I'm sorry to put you in this position;" Ro stated.

"Just go before she comes back," Bliss urged.

No sooner had Ro exited then Winter returned as promised, "You okay?"

"Yeah," Bliss lied, "Just got into it with my captain. She wanted everyone to berth aboard the ship tonight."

"So, you think I'll let you stay all night long," Winter smirked.

"You'll be begging me to stay when it's my time to ship out," Bliss promised.

"I think we'd better hurry home," Winter decided, "C'mon, it's not too far from here."

Bliss stopped Winter as they passed by the prescribed alley, "Wait!"

"What for?" Winter was puzzled.

"I can't wait," Bliss asserted, "Let's go down that alley."

"Why?" Winter was a bit apprehensive.

"Take a risk," Bliss urged, "Haven't you ever wanted to make love in a dark alley? I can think of all sorts of things I want to do to you after I back you up against a wall."

Desire suddenly overrode Winter's suspicions. But when they went further into it, Ro and stepped out to meet Bliss. Winter froze as she recognized Ro. Wolfe and Stone surrounded her from behind.

"Gawd, a honey trap;" Winter groaned, "And I fell for it."

"Come along quietly and we won't have to stun you," Ro advised.

Winter pulled a Type I phaser out of her sleeve, took aim, and depressed the firing stud. Only nothing happened. Ro pulled her own phaser from her jacket and found she achieved the same results.

"Glom!" Ro snarled.

Stone rushed Winter. She leveled him with a backspin kick to the temple. Wolfe moved in and threw a punch. Winter caught his arm and spun him around to throw him face first into the nearby wall. She kicked the back of his knee and he collapsed onto the pavement.

Winter tried to run but found herself tackled by Ro. Winter rolled as best she could to defend herself. Ro rocketed a punch into Winter's jaw that nearly tore her head off. Recognition finally dawned in Winter's mind.

"You're Ro Laren," she realized, "What's the CO of DS9 doing attacking me?"

"Long story," Ro grated, "Will you surrender?"

"Not likely," Winter defiantly asserted.

Ro threw several more savage punches. Finally Winter was subdued. Ro rose from her kneeling position.

"Wolfe, get over here and slap the binders on her;" Ro ordered.

Wolfe was feeling more than just a little afraid of his captain right then so he scrambled to obey. Ro hauled Stone to his feet, "Does your head hurt?"

"Hell ya," Stone winced.

"Good," Ro said tersely, "You walked into that one."

"Max, give me a hand;" Wolfe requested. Together they hauled Winter up by her armpits. Ro contacted Guderin and had the others transported up.

Glom chose that moment to appear, "Care to settle up?"

"Let me check the figures," Ro read over the details on the padd. Using her thumbprint, she authorized the transaction, "Make certain the Orion Syndicate gets the blame."

"Certainly," Glom said gleefully, "I know a few members that need paying back so they're elected to take the fall."

"You're all heart, Glom;" Ro said coldly. She turned to the rather subdued Bliss, "You okay?"

"That didn't go according to plan," Bliss sighed.

"It never does," Ro shared, "But like the Borg used to, we adapt."

"Can I talk to her after she regains consciousness?" Bliss inquired.

"You can try," Ro agreed, "There's no saying she'll listen."

"I know," Bliss said glumly.

Ro checked on Wolfe and Stone after beaming aboard the Fury, "Will you two live?"

"Of course," Wolfe put on a braver face than Stone.

"Guderin has us authorized to depart the system in the next twenty minutes," Ro informed them, "I need both of you on the bridge to make that happen."

"Yes, Captain;" Wolfe nodded his acknowledgement.

"At least she'll have a worse headache than me," Stone commented as he passed by Ro.

Ro went to the diminutive brig and found Liv Hara checking on Winter. Liv was a former Bajoran Militia nurse. She served as the medic aboard the Fury. She was reactivating the force field to Winter's cell.

"How bad is she?" Ro asked Liv.

"I've seen worse and she's responding well to treatment. She shows signs of similar injuries in the past," Liv reported.

"She certainly knew how to fight," Ro stated.

"So I gather from the boys," Liv smirked, "But I'd say Agent Winter has survived worse beatings than either of them is even afraid of."

"How long will she be out?" Ro wondered.

"At least a couple of hours," Liv revealed, "Even after she does I wouldn't interrogate her for a day or more."

"She's not going to be questioned aboard this ship," Ro assured her, "That's for after we reach Serenity."

"You were right about the implant," Liv shared, "I deactivated it the way Dr. Bashir and Chief O'Brien's notes said to. I just can't believe anyone in this day and age would have a 'suicide implant' in their skull."

"These people are serious about keeping their secrets," Ro told her, "The first thing she probably would have den upon awakening is activate the infernal thing."

"Now she'll never get the chance." Liv promised.

Two hours later, Winter was awake and her first visitor was Bliss. Winter glared at her, "Come to gloat?"

"I wouldn't have been able to convince to be with me if I wasn't telling you the truth," Bliss chastised her.

""If you want to help me then why aren't you?" Winter struggled to understand.

"Because you serve Section 31 and we need information they possess," Bliss divulged, "You're the bait to open a dialogue so we can negotiate with someone with the authority to give us what we need."

Once Winter got over her shock at being outed, she sneered; "And what do you need?"

"All of the incriminating evidence Section 31 has gathered against President Bacco. She needs to be removed from office," Bliss explained.

"This is news?" Winter blurted, "We already tried that."

"You didn't try it through proper channels," Bliss argued, "Instead you tried to set up a puppet government."

"The government is already nothing but puppets," Winter shot back.

"I was hoping you'd see reason and help us. I can see now that was a foolish notion," Bliss said sadly.

She started to walk away and Winter called after her, "If you really want to help, get me out of here."

Bliss sighed and left the brig. Outside the Rigellian Chelon named Ketrick stood by. Bliss addressed him before leaving.

"Keep a close eye on her. She's wilier than your average prisoner. She'll do and say anything to escape," Bliss advised him.

"The Captain already warned me," Ketrick admitted, "She wanted me to monitor you before she changed her mind."

Bliss nodded, "I know."


Chapter Four

Aglaia handled the docking procedure with Deep Space Four. But only because Ebert was being prepped for another mission aboard the station itself. DS4 was much larger than most had expected. It was equal in volume to the legendary Vanguard Starbase 47. It had a starfish shaped outer docking ring attached to the core cylinder and the upper portion of the station was mushroom shaped much like Spacedock.

The "mushroom" housed Ops and most of Starfleet's functions. The Infirmary was built into the core of the cylinder along the axis where the civilian portions of the station met the Starfleet section. The power core fully dominated the lower third of the cylindrical core.

Macen was meeting with Benteen while most the crew remained aboard the Obsidian to affect a hasty withdrawal. Daggit, Parva, and Ebert were also going aboard to insure that the retreat was feasible. From aboard the ship, Kerber and Smith were accessing the station's mainframe and locking onto the anomalous transmissions should any occur.

No sooner had Macen left the Obsidian when their target transmissions began to occur. Kerber and Smith excitedly realized that it was a two way conversation. Kerber kept tracking the intermittent transmissions while Smith began looking at their contents. She quickly deduced why Starfleet had quite a difficult time trying to decipher the messages they'd intercepted so far.

Without looking at a complete transmission it would be impossible to see what she was seeing. The message was easily composed of layers of different language fragments. And all of those languages were then converted into programming languages. Fortunately, Kerber knew every programming language readily used in the known portions of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Smith's specialty was the verbal and written languages forming the foundation of the programming codes. But Kerber and Smith discussed the task while they received more source code. It wouldn't be an easy one nor would it be swiftly accomplished.

Macen scheduled an appointment with Benteen. He was put off for an hour while Benteen presumably sought direction from her superiors. Macen had spun a story of Iotian movements expanding past the Romulan frontier into uncharted space.

Both the Luna-class starship expeditions and the Delta Fleet had moved past the Romulans' borders and Starfleet was concerned that the Iotians could follow on their heels and utilize the good will engendered by those forces to exploit the Federation's most recent contacts.

Macen had little to do but wait. Kerber would be using internal sensors to keep apprised of his movements and relaying them to Parva's team. Parva's job was to shut down those same sensors, main power, and the transport inhibitors surrounding Ops. Ebert would assist her while Daggit ran interference.

Ebert's HUD display would be acting as a padd since Kerber had linked her spectacles into the station's technical manual selection. Ebert would verbally guide Parva through the systems that needed to be shut down. Parva would have an intuitive grasp of them already but this technique would speed up the process immeasurably.

An hour went by and Macen was finally shown into Benteen's office off of Ops. Meanwhile Kerber signaled Parva to begin. Macen could see Benteen's apprehension at meeting with him but she valiantly tried to disguise it.

"Hello, Captain Macen;" Benteen offered her hand, "Just what is the nature of the threat that you wanted to discuss?"

"Why don't you simply ask your Section 31 handler?" Macen asked.

Benteen was just barely shaken, "I'm surprised you've even heard of Section 31."

"One hears about many things in a career as varied as mine," Macen deflected the comment, "But why shouldn't I be surprised that you've heard of them?"

"I was Admiral Leyton's aide when he was Chief of Operations," Benteen reminded him.

"A career defining post," Macen needled her.

"Yes, it was. Anyway, Admiral Leyton became aware of Section 31's existence," Benteen shared.

"Yet neither of you ever filed a report to that effect," Macen brought up, "Probably because Leyton had Section 31's tacit consent to seize control of the Federation."

"I'd be careful about going there," Benteen warned.

"Maybe you should have been as well, Commander;" Macen dug it in.

Benteen visibly became angry, "This is a complete waste of my time. Get out. Now."

"Not going to happen," Macen advised her.

Benteen tapped her comm badge, "Benteen to Tivok. I need Security in my office immediately."

There was no response so Benteen spoke again, "Tivok, do you copy?"

"You've been cut off from your Chief of Security and from Ops," Macen pulled a Bajoran Militia issue phaser from his jacket, "Now hold perfectly still."

Macen tapped the comm badge on his belt, "Macen to Obsidian. Two to transport."

The annular confinement beams grabbed a hold of them before Benteen could protest.

From inside of Jeffries tube 212-A Parva exclaimed, "Got it!"

The lights all went out before the emergency lighting came on. Parva tapped her comm badge, "Parva to Daggit."

Kerber had routed their comm badges into the station comm lines so they could freely broadcast amongst themselves. Daggit immediately replied, "You did it, babe."

"Of course I did," Parva huffed, "Now get aboard the Obsidian. Tracy and I will be joining you in a minute."

"See you there," Daggit promised.

Parva and Ebert secured the access panels they'd loosened up and down the Jeffries tube. Parva signaled the ship, "Parva to Telrik."

"Copy, Parva;" the Tellarite replied, "Are you secured?"

"Yes, we're awaiting extraction;" Parva told him.

"Stand by," Telrik instructed.

And then an annular confinement beams locked around them as well.

Daggit and Miller escorted Benteen to the brig. Parva went back to Engineering, still gloating over the havoc she's wreaked aboard DS4. Macen and Ebert reported to the bridge.

"Report," Macen requested of Forger.

"From what Kerber is reporting, all hell is breaking loose aboard Deep Space Four," Forger shared, "But we managed a clean getaway. I don't think they've even realized we've gone. A half a dozen other ships broke away as well."

"That'll add to the confusion," Macen mused. He addressed Aglaia, "Are you wanting to stay at the helm for a while longer?"

"Of course," Aglaia haughtily replied, "It is the middle of my shift after all."

"Good," Macen said with some amusement, "Tracy, report to the Cyber Lab. Give Angelique and Bailey a hand with their examinations."

"Me?" Ebert yelped.

"I know T'Kir took you under her wing back in the day," Macen revealed, "And you've made good use of those skills over the intervening years. Or at least use of them."

Ebert's cheeks blazed a bright shade of red, "Okay then. I'll just go pay my respects then."

As the turbolift doors shut behind Ebert, Forger looked at Macen for an explanation; "What was that all about?"

Macen ushered Forger into his Ready Room, "It's simple, Shannon. Harri Mudd isn't the only thief involved in this operation."

"No wonder you found her in the Kalandra Sector," Forger commented.

"Actually I just knew she was operating in the area," Macen corrected her, "It took Celeste to find her."

"So we're still headed back to Serenity?" Forger asked hopefully.

"As fast as possible," Macen assured her.

"Why do I feel like we have an even bigger bullseye on our backs than usual?" Forger wondered.

"Because I'm guessing Benteen delayed our meeting so she could talk with her handler," Macen ventured a guess, "And if so, we'll be Section 31's primary suspects in her disappearance."

"Kerber and Smith reported an hour's worth of two way conversation going on with the 'mysterious' subspace anomaly within the transceiver array," Forger told him.

"So, they know who to come after;" Macen surmised, "And Benteen isn't supposed to be taken alive. So she's being visited by Tessa to insure she stays alive."

"So why hasn't Benteen already activated her suicide implant?" Forger wanted to know.

"That's a good question," Macen admitted, "And it's one I'm going to ask her when she wakes up."

Benteen woke up to find a woman sharing her cell. A woman wearing a stretched out tank top and little else. Benteen noted her raven hair was dipped dyed blonde and wondered where the hell that trend had come from.

"Who are you?" Benteen demanded to know has she swung herself upright off of the holding cell's cot. She could still taste the residual tang left behind by the anesthezine gas that had put her under.

"I'm Tessa," she said brightly, "I'm the ship's EMH."

"Why did I need medical assistance?" Benteen wanted to know.

"I had to deactivate your suicide implant," Tessa said with a disapproving tone.

Benteen froze, "You're bluffing."

Tessa shrugged, "Try activating it."

Benteen tried to no avail. She lunged at Tessa. Tessa threw her up against the wall with Benteen's arm wrenched behind her back.

"I'm more than capable of defending myself," Tessa warned her, "Don't make me break your arm because I won't set it until I'm specifically ordered to."

Benteen wondered just who had designed and programmed this EMH. Benteen relented, "Okay, you can let go now."

Tessa vanished and reappeared outside the cell's force field, "Captain Macen is on his way here. I suggest you avoid angering him. He hasn't been in the best of moods for several weeks now."

"I'll try and remember that while I'm explaining to him that kidnapping carries a life sentence on a penal colony," Benteen sneered.

"Probably not your best approach," Tessa said sourly before winking out of existence again.

Macen checked in with the duty officer in charge of ship's security before visiting Benteen. Seeing her miserable expression, he asked; "Comfortable?"

"You bastard!" Benteen snarled, "First you gassed me and then you had a hologram screw with my head."

"I didn't want you to pull a 'Luther Sloan' on us," Macen watched Benteen blanche at that, "Starfleet may view Julian Bashir's reports with suspicion since he helped Sarina Douglas assassinate Emperor Thrak but I happen to know they're all true."

Macen's gaze hardened, "Which brings me to my next point. You can try and hold out until Section 31 dispatches some to liberate or kill you but I'll soon have three S31 agents in my custody. That's two more than I actually need. So whoever talks lives and the others die. Your call."

"You'll never do it," Benteen predicted.

"I'm a former terrorist, remember?" Macen reminded her, "I also spent ten years on the front during the Border Wars and left the Maquis' aftermath to fight behind the lines in the Dominion War. We won't even go into my career after becoming a civilian. I don't have to worry about legality because no one but Section 31 will ever know I have you. And who will they tell?"

"You're insane," Benteen decided.

"Actually that was the consensus of the experts at Starfleet Medical after the Maquis were slaughtered. Admiral Nechayev buried the report but I'm betting your covert superiors can access it," Macen told her, "But I wonder of they'll bother to heed its warnings."

Benteen's horror was out in the open. Macen elaborated a bit, "In four days we'll be arriving at a Nor-class space station that I own. You'll be detained there while we await the arrival of all of your fellow agents. Once you're assembled, the interrogation will begin. We'll see who survives that process."

There was a flicker of real fear in Benteen's eyes as Macen added, "Just think about it."


Chapter Five

Rockford reflected on the history of Cestus III as the Freehold assumed standard orbit. The original Federation colony had been destroyed by the Gorn in 2267. By 2271 the colony had been resettled and rebuilt. That same year, the colonists resurrected the Terran game of baseball and created six professional league teams.

Nanieta Bacco had been born on Cestus III and eventually became its governor before ascending to the Federation's presidency. As such, she had strong ties with the Gorn representatives that shared Cestus III's capitol city with its Federation residents. Those ties had led to Bacco's "backdoor" with the Gorn Hegemony and later the Typhon Pact at large. But it was Rockford's job to determine how that backdoor was being kept open.

The Freehold assumed a standard orbit over the planet. Mudd got Rockford's team cleared to disembark. They in turn passed through Customs with no trouble. Lee, Burrows, and Kovic quickly established a surveillance perimeter around the ISA's unmarked building.

Kiratama's Asian features mixed with her unusual hair color would make her stand out and be easily spotted as she exited her place of work. They'd arrived at Cestus III later than originally estimated. Therefore Kiratama would be leaving her post within the hour.

What the investigative team didn't know was that Kiratama had discovered a previously shut down line of communication with the Gorn had been reopened by Bacco. The Federation had closed that avenue of communication back at the turn of the century but the Gorn had shared with Bacco that they still monitored the frequency and would be open to private discussions with her.

Kiratama couldn't report her findings to her ISA superiors because her tap into the agency's comm array wasn't even legal. She wasn't allowed to monitor domestic traffic only Gorn flash traffic. But she had informed Section 31 and they had her transcribing everything for them after she wrote a summary report on each communiqué.

She did the bulk of her summaries from her quarters in the ISA Dormitory. But she collected the flash traffic recordings at her desk inside ISA. Since Kiratama's discovery of the covert channel, traffic had increased at a geometric rate. She literally spent her nights working on summaries. Tonight would be no exception.

When she exited the ISA building, she carried an isolinear rod containing today's Presidential communiqué's with the Gorn. That's when she spotted Kovic following her. She also recognized when Kovic handed off to Burrows. Burrows in turn traded off with Lee.

Kiratama didn't know who her pursuers were or why they were following her. She didn't recognize them from ISA's Internal Affairs department on the planet but that didn't mean they weren't from off world. Kiratama hurried back to the dorm and straight for her quarters.

Rockford and her conspirators had been in Kiratama's apartment for an hour now. When they'd arrived, Shade easily got them in; "That had to be the easiest lock I've ever picked."

"It was nice of the ISA to have Kiratama's bioscans on file she we could use a tricorder to spoof the door sensors," Rockford agreed.

"Just how did Macen get all of the information that we're basing all of this on?" Shade had to ask, "No offense to your husband and all."

"Brin served in Starfleet Intelligence for over sixty years before becoming an independent agent for the last thirteen," Rockford explained, "In that time he's earned a lot of favors. That and Nechayev and Amanda Forger never revoked is security clearance, which is frighteningly high."

"So we are secretly working for Starfleet," Shade deduced.

"That's the story Brin and Ro told when they left a private meeting with Fleet Admiral Jellico," Rockford shared, "I'm afraid no one else was present."

"So this may just all be some quest for revenge concocted by these two," Shade ventured.

Rockford shot Shade a scathing glare, "I have laid my life on the line for Brin Macen more times than I can count and he always came through for me. And he didn't have to because I'd spent the better part of four years trying to kill him."

"Look what I found!" Forte suddenly called out from another room.

"Care to drop it?" Rockford asked before budging.

"Hey, you're the boss;" Shade allowed.

Rockford and Shade found Forte inside of Kiratama's home office. She'd already hacked her way into the comp/comm system, "Our Miss Kiratama has been monitoring Executive level communiqués in her spare time."

"Is it in the clear?" Rockford felt a surge of hope.

"No, it's encrypted and it's locked up tighter than any messages I've ever seen. But her summaries are in the clear," Forte shared, "And she's been transmitting them on a daily basis."

"Give me a summation," Rockford requested.

"President Bacco is in secret negotiations with the Typhon Pact," Forte revealed, "She's following a policy of appeasement, trading territories for sustained peace."

"That's what the Iotians said as well," Rockford realized, "Copy everything surrounding the Executive files. All of the encrypted material, the summaries, and the logs of where they've been sent."

"The end user data has been scrubbed," Forte warned, "We have no idea who received these files or where they're located."

"Grab everything else then," Rockford insisted.

"If you're carrying any blank data rods now's the time to hand them over," Forte urged, "There a lot of traffic to record."

Rockford and Shade fished data rods out of their utility belts. Rockford's comm badge chirped ad she tapped it, "Rockford, go."

The Freehold was acting as a comm relay while in orbit. This kept the team off of the official channels. This way no one could track down the team's communication records.

"Kiratama is en route to you," Kovic informed her, "I just handed her off to Tony and he's preparing to switch off with Lee and then I'll take over again. I'm on a bus headed further into town to make my intercept."

"Get ready in case I give word to delay her," Rockford advised, "What's her present ETA?"

"Twenty minutes," Kovic answered, "She's on foot and seems content to keep it that way. She seems to be trying to determine if we're from her office or not."

"She has good reason to," Rockford informed her, "Just wait for my signal before you intervene in her flight home."

"Copy that," Kovic's professionalism shone through.

"You heard her, Arianna. You have twenty minutes," Rockford warned Forte.

"It's not enough time," Forte replied sourly.

"We can't stun her or the building's alarms will sound," Rockford reminded her young associate.

"So keep her busy and just don't stun her," Forte replied nonchalantly.

Rockford and Shade exchanged pained looks.

Kiratama entered her quarters and called for the lights. Nothing happened. She tensed up but still took a tentative step forward while she drew a Type I phaser from a small pouch on her belt.

A shadow moved from beside her and a hand chopped down on her wrist. Kiratama lost possession of the phaser as her wrist exploded in a miasma of pain. Her hand began to go numb even as a sharp pain reverberated and lanced through her wrist. She had a flicker of realization when she realized her wrist was probably fractured.

Next an incredibly strong chop landed on the nexus between her shoulder and her neck. It wasn't quite as effective as a Vulcan nerve pinch but Kiratama still collapsed upon the floor. Kiratama began to panic as she felt the weight of a body upon her buttocks and an arm slipped around her throat. Kiratama remotely knew the arteries feeding her brain were being cut off as well as her trachea.

Kiratama passed out and Rockford released her. She got to her feet, "Lights."

The lights came up revealing Shade watching her in appreciation, "Damn, you're good."

"The fruits of decades of sinful living," Rockford quipped.

"I guess it's my turn," Shade knelt next to Kiratama's prone form and she laid a comm badge on her, "Shade to Mudd. Come in."

"Are you people almost done or what?" Mudd asked impatiently.

"It's an or what," Shade said testily, "We have two to beam up. Lock onto my signal and begin transport."

"Yes, O my Queen," Mudd was apparently feeling a little bitchy.

Shade and Kiratama dissolved into a halo of energy and vanished. Rockford rejoined Forte, "Reverse the house systems back to Kiratama's voice print and make mine disappear forever."

"Easy enough," Forte bragged as she got busy.

The door chimed and Rockford released it and Lee, Burrows, and Kovic entered the flat. She explained that Kiratama was already aboard the Freehold and that Shade could probably use a hand. Burrows called Mudd for an extraction.

Once aboard the freighter, Burrows lifted Kiratama's limp form over his shoulder and started to haul her off to the hazardous cargo hold they'd converted into a makeshift detention cell. Mudd gave Burrows a lustful once over.

"Any time you want to throw someone over your shoulder, I'm game;" she cheerfully offered.

"I don't think so," Burrows said matter of factly.

"Watch out Mr. Covert Ops Man, I grow on people when they least expect it;" Mudd warned him.

"So do rashes," Burrows called back as he and Kovic moved Kiratama to the holds.

Forte got the last of the data and the room was reset to Kiratama's specifications. Mudd transported them aboard and Forte headed off to her cabin to try and review some more summaries. Rockford accompanied Mudd as she went to the bridge.

"I've taken on perishable cargo headed for Valeria," Mudd named a planet near Barrinor, "So I'll have just enough time to drop you lot off and get to my destination."

"Feel free," Rockford conceded.

"I'm glad you feel that way because I already booked us a departure time," Mudd clarified, "We'll be leaving the Cestus system in forty minutes."

Rockford wondered why Mudd had even bothered to tell her all of that. She decided not to ask though.


Chapter Six

The Fury was the first ship to return to Serenity. Gerrit Gren and a squad of deputies greeted Winter as she was led off the ship. Ro marched beside her as Gerrit led the way. Wearing binders and surrounded by a six man team of deputies besides the station's Chief of Security and the Fury's captain, Winter didn't have much hope for escape.

Deputy Chief of Security Radil Jenrya had a second squad of deputies posted on the Promenade's upper walkway. Radil herself kept an eye on the formation's progression through the station's visual feeds. Winter was delivered to the Security Office and deposited in a holding cell without incident.

Gerrit had two deputies stand by in the Detention Center while the rest of the deputies resumed their normal duties. Riker dropped by to inspect the scene, "Any incidents?"

"None," Ro reported, "Thanks to your security staff."

"Gerrit and Radil are two of the best," Riker admitted.

"Didn't Gerrit used to work under Radil?" Ro seemed to recall that arrangement aboard the first Obsidian.

"Times change," it was obvious Riker didn't want to get into it, "Radil wouldn't even be a part of Gerrit's staff if she hadn't needed to transfer off of the Obsidian because of her daughter."

"Who's the father?" Ro wondered, "Because Brin told me she and Kort divorced."

"Shannon Forger is the father, or mother, however you feel like phrasing it;" Riker explained, "Radil artificially impregnated herself with Shannon's semen."

"Care to explain that one?" Ro wondered, "Because last I knew Shannon Forger was a woman."

"Not completely, at least not until recently. Before she underwent Sexual Reassignment Surgery she had a pair of working testes," Riker divulged.

"I see," Ro grasped it immediately.

"Does the FBI have a clue surrounding Agent Winter's disappearance?" Riker asked.

"The FBI put out a Federation wide alert while we were halfway here," Ro shared, "But thanks to a Ferengi contact of one of the Fury's officers the FBI thinks the Orion Syndicate took her."

"I'm surprised a Ferengi would go against the Syndicate," Riker opined.

"Grom has a grudge against several members so he implicated them in Winter's disappearance.," Ro explained, "I've told Gerrit that I don't want Winter having any contact with anyone outside of him and his deputies."

"We have alternative holding cells put together in a cargo bay," Riker assured her, "They'll hold the usual drunken brawlers and petty thieves that we get."

"I want my crew off limits as well," Ro told him.

"Any particular reason why?" Riker wondered.

"Arven Bliss laid out the honey trap with expert precision," Ro revealed, "But she was actually speaking from the heart when she persuaded Winter to join her for a weekend romp. I think she actually fell for her. Or at least as much as a person can in twenty minutes."

"Well, I have a solution;" Riker stated, "My Strategic Operations Officer wants to take the Indomitable out on a sector wide patrol. He's requested that the Fury join him."

"Good idea," Ro agreed, "The crew is still aboard. I'll tell Wolfe he's taking the ship out under Berent's direction."

"That seems to work for everyone," Riker was pleased, "Have you gotten word from Brin or Celeste?"

"No, I thought they'd communicating with you;" Ro admitted.

"They're probably staying off of official and commercial comm buoys to make their movements harder to trace," Riker surmised.

"Mudd has modified her engines but the earliest she'll reach Serenity is in another week. Brin will presumably be here in half that time," Ro estimated, "But it may take longer because he may be taking a circuitous route to avoid traffic control buoys. He was at a Deep Space station when its CO went missing."

"All we can do is wait," Ro grimaced.

"I hate waiting," Riker confessed.

"Me too," Ro admitted.

Over the next week, the Indomitable and the Fury swept through the sector, from as close the Federation as the Rolor Nebula and as far away as the Breen Confederacy's border. Both Barrinor and Dreon VII, as Federation planets, were routinely visited by Starfleet ships. The ships currently assigned to the patrol were the Yeager-class Buzz Aldrin, the Springfield-class Orbit, and the New Orleans-class Mardi Gras. They moved about throughout the sector but given the Outbound Ventures ships' credentials they weren't challenged. It just so happened that the Orbit was in the Barrinor system when the Obsidian arrived.

But the Starfleet vessel didn't challenge the surveyor on its way to Serenity. After the ship had docked, Gerrit Gren and his deputies were once again on hand to receive Commander Benteen into custody. Macen and Daggit escorted Benteen through the corridors.

Station Security had cleared the corridors and the Promenade for the transfer. It wasn't until Benteen was safely locked away that Gerrit gave the okay for life to return back to normal. Daggit rejoined Parva aboard the Obsidian. Only Kerber, Smith, and Ebert departed from the ship because it was joining Berent's patrols under Forger's command.

Macen joined Riker, Ro, and Danan in Riker's office. Riker was the first ask the obvious question, "Did Benteen let anything slip en route?"

"No, she knew it was in her best interests with Section 31 to hold her tongue," Macen replied, "But that calculus will be changing as soon as Celeste arrives with Kiratama."

"Winter seems very confident that Section 31 will come to liberate her," Ro commented, "I suppose Benteen is the same."

"I told Benteen that we had other agents in custody and that we only needed one. The others are all expendable. The first to talk gets spared," Macen said.

"Nice bluff but they'll call it," Danan remarked.

"They would if I were actually bluffing," Macen asserted.

Danan was too horrified to speak. Riker spoke for her, "But how would that accomplish the task of drawing their superiors in?"

Danan glared at her husband for being so nonchalant while Macen answered, "Their suicide implant shave transponders that activate upon death. So while they're floating in space, their bodies will still attract Section 31."

"They'll come but they may come in strength," Ro warned.

"I'm betting on it," Macen replied.

"You can't be serious!" Danan finally found her voice.

"Lees, these women were all willing to take their own lives rather than reveal any pertinent information," Macen explained, "The only way to break them is to fully test that resolve."

"We deactivated Winter's implant," Ro said, "She tried to activate it once she was conscious and knew she'd been captured."

"So did Benteen. In fact she attacked Tessa upon learning her implant was disabled;" Macen shared, "So the wild card is Kiratama. She always has been. Tony had no means of disabling Kiratama's implant. So she's either dead or alive right now. Either way, she'll be a deciding factor in how this all plays out."

"You're such a bastard," Danan said angrily, "Does Celeste know that this is your plan?"

"Lees, Celeste is even more of a cold blooded bitch than I am a like-minded bastard. She was a professional assassin before becoming a mercenary. The whole full time private investigator part of her life is less than three years old. She's just very good so she very successful at it but beforehand killing was a daily part of her life. She understands what's at stake here," Macen divulged.

"What this all boils down to now is the waiting," Macen sighed.

Danan suddenly recalled it had been almost a month since Macen and Rockford had seen one another. That undoubtedly fostered some of Macen's ruthlessness. But then again, that aspect of his personality had been the wedge that drove her and Macen apart.

The Freehold arrived at Serenity four days later. Rockford, Lee, and Burrows escorted a very frightened looking Kiratama to the Security Office. Over a week of isolation had allowed Kiratama's mind to run away with itself concerning her intended fate. Unlike Benteen and Winter, who were serving field officers, Kiratama was a deskbound analyst. She'd never expected to be abducted by anyone despite warnings that she'd received during her induction training into Section 31.

Kovic caught a shuttle out to the Obsidian's position while Burrows coordinated with Gerrit on how to act as a rapid response asset bolstering Station Security's efforts. Kalista brought Mudd to the Security Office and told Rockford that Macen and the others were waiting for her in the main conference room.

Rockford authorized the rest of Mudd's payment before she went. Mudd threw a two fingered salute Rockford's way, "It's been real. When you have more latinum to throw around, call me."

"Stay lucky, Harri;" Rockford urged.

Mudd laughed, "You know I will."

Rockford arrived at the conference room to find a chair next to Macen waiting for her. She sat down and quietly slipped her hand into Macen's. They didn't say a word. That would come later.

"Believe it or not, the easy part is over;" Ro advised everyone present. Riker and Danan blanched. They had over twelve hundred lives under their responsibility. So if Section 31 were to actively threaten their safety it would take a heavy toll out of their souls.

"Shade and Arianna are dropping off a collection of data to Angelique and Bailey," Rockford announced, "What this data pertains to is the transcripts of secret communiqués between President Bacco and Imperator Shhr'hsss and Empress Donatra."

Rockford uploaded the summaries to the station's computer, "What I have here are Kiratama's summary reports of each conversation. You can peruse them at your leisure. My staff and I reviewed as many of them as we could and what we discovered was that Bacco's plan of appeasement goes further than already demonstrated. Indications are that she's negotiating the Federation's withdrawal from the Khitomer Accords and leaving our allies alone against the Typhon Pact."

"But we'd be next," Riker protested, "She has to see that."

"That's for another generation to deal with," Rockford shared, "She's secured a ninety-nine year peace accord that restricts the Federation from assisting the Ferengi Alliance, the Cardassian Union, the Talarian Republic, or the Klingon Empire in the event of an invasion."

"It's even worse than we thought," Ro realized, "Do you have the original transcripts?"

"They're encrypted with a cipher none of my people came close to unlocking," Rockford admitted.

"Bailey and Angelique have been working on Section 31's encryption for a week now," Macen spoke, "If this data is similarly secured, or even remotely like it, they'll unlock the information."

"But how long will it take?" Riker asked.

"I don't know," Macen confessed.

"I have Lee, Arianna, and Shade finishing up on the summaries. It'll give Angelique and Bailey an index to work from so they'll have an idea of what the end product will look like," Rockford shared.

"As soon as they're finished have them switch to their next assignment. It may prove just as useful," Macen requested, "In the meantime, you and I need to meet Tony in the Security Office. The prisoners are going for a little stroll."

Rockford knew what that meant and she wholeheartedly approved.

Burrows and Rockford helped Macen march the three Section 31 agents to the Docking Ring. They went to an unoccupied airlock and stopped. Macen lined the three up against the opposite bulkhead.

"I've already informed Commander Benteen that we have a surplus of potential informants. I'll ask each of you a series of questions. If you refuse to answer them, you will be placed in the airlock and ejected out into space," Macen declared, "And if you're think you have vital information to keep you alive, Agent Kiratama's computer yielded the evidence we need to convict Bacco. What you will be providing is contact information to reach Section 31's command hierarchy."

Macen approached Kiratama first, "Agent Kiratama, who is your handler and how do I contact them?"

Kiratama fidgeted but she didn't speak. Macen tried again, "Will you answer the questions?"

Tentatively, Kiratama said; "No."

"Tony," Macen trained his phaser on Benteen while Rockford covered Winter. Burrows grabbed Kiratama and dragged her into the airlock. Sealing her in, he awaited further instruction.

"Depressurize the airlock," Macen ordered.

He moved over next to the airlock's circular door. Through the transparent aluminum viewports, Kiratama could be seen panicking. She pounded away at the door. Eventually Macen could make out that she was begging to talk.

"Tony, pressurize the airlock;" Macen instructed, "Then escort these two back to the Detention Center."

"What kind of monster are you?" Benteen asked with disdain.

"One that gets results," Macen replied, "So do your superiors. Have you ever been squeamish about their methodology?"

Benteen was silent as Rockford and Burrows marched her and Winter back to their cells. Macen summoned Gerrit from his position further down the Docking Ring. Gerrit arrived and wore a rueful expression.

"Now I know why you wanted the visual recorders turned off in this section," Gerrit stated, "Are we letting her out of the airlock now?"

"And taking her straight to P'ris' old quarters," Macen explained.

The airlock door rolled away and a trembling Kiratama emerged, "Aren't I going back to my cell?"

"No, you're being given secured quarters. There are now people who would kill you without hesitation. Some of them may already be aboard," Macen warned her, "But I have to ask one thing, we never deactivated your suicide implant yet you didn't use it. Why?"

"I had it surgically removed two years ago by a Ferengi doctor. I paid for his discretion," Kiratama confessed.

"I thought as much," Macen admitted, "That's why I started with you. You want to live. And if you expect to stay alive you'll cooperate. Otherwise your Section 31 superiors will have you silenced along with this entire station."

"I've kind of guessed that," Kiratama shared, "I'll cooperate. Don't worry about that."

"The one problem is you'll never be able to g back to the ISA," Macen told her, "But I can offer you a job when this is all done."

"Maybe," Kiratama said, "I'll let you know after I've had time to think about it and if we survive the next few days."

Macen and Gerrit led Kiratama to her quarters. Two deputies stood by and Gerrit smiled at her, "You'll have a permanent security detail while everything happens. I'm sure it won't be necessary if you stay on. In the meantime, I need to establish a voice print and your biosigns."

After they entered, Gerrit excused himself. Kiratama looked around, "I didn't expect decorations."

"The former occupant was recently forced into exile in the Cardassian Union," Macen explained, "She didn't have time to pack."

"You're talking about Commander P'ris," Kiratama realized, "That's why you implied this is a secured room. The Tal Shiar wanted her dead for betraying them."

"She preferred to think they betrayed her," Macen said.

"I know the feeling," Kiratama confessed, "So you have questions?"

"Do you have the cipher for encrypted communications transcripts?" Macen asked.

"No," Kiratama fervently shook her head, "The encrypting protocol was placed on my computer by a third party. I was never given the cipher. I wrote summaries of the transcripts and then encrypted everything and sent it off. I don't even know who the recipient was."

"Did you know who your handler was?" Macen asked.

"A man named Wes Petrie and on occasion I dealt directly with an analyst name Guadalupe Gutierrez," Kiratama revealed.

"Who is the Typhon Pact's first target?" Macen inquired sharply.

Kiratama hesitated. Macen grew more insistent, "Agent Kiratama, we've been studying your summaries. We know Bacco has agreed to withdraw from the Khitomer Accords in exchange for a ninety-nine year peace accord. The Typhon Pact wouldn't request such an action unless they were poised to strike out at someone. Who is it?"

"The Klingon Empire," Kiratama sighed, "The Romulans, the Gorn, and the Kinshaya are going to come at them from three sides simultaneously. It's going to be a genocidal campaign."

"And Bacco is aware of that fact?" Macen sought clarification.

"It was made plain to her," Kiratama confirmed it, "Frankly; she doesn't care as long as she gets her treaty."

"Get comfortable," Macen suggested, "You won't be free to move around for some time. If you decide to stay on after things settle down, this station will become your base of operations."

Macen exited at that point to find Gerrit waiting for him outside, "You think Section 31 already as a mole aboard."

"Wouldn't you?" Macen retorted.

"I can place men in the fusion core but my forces are getting stretched pretty thin," Gerrit admitted.

"I'll place Tony Burrows there," Macen suggested, "Then all you need do is send an additional person to relieve him to sleep. I understand the core regulatory office has cots available."

Gerrit smiled, "Tony did volunteer to help my people out."

"Then it's a perfect fit." Macen decided.

"I'll talk to Captain Riker," Gerrit mused, "Merik Cardan helped built this station before becoming its Chief of Operations. He can help out in case of sabotage."

"Sounds like a plan," Macen enthused.

Macen went straight to the Rockford Investigations Agency office aboard Serenity. It was the most far flung of all the Rockford offices but also possessed the one thing all the others lacked: Celeste Rockford herself. Inside, her team was pouring over various records and files.

Forte was going over Kiratama's personnel jacket again. Shade was exploring Winter's file. Lee was perusing Benteen's service jacket. Rockford herself was going over the broader canvass of the summaries while her team tore the details apart.

She brightened at seeing him in her doorway. He grinned, "It's good to know I can still elicit that kind of reaction."

"I'd love to show you what other kind of reactions you elicit but I'm seriously bogged down with work," Rockford tried to console him.

"I can spare you some looking," Macen told her, "Kiratama said the Klingons are the Typhon Pact's first target."

"You believe her?" Rockford wondered, "After all, she may be trying to draw us off."

"She knows her life is in constant jeopardy now that she's betrayed Section 31 and we're the only ones with a vested interest in keeping her alive," Macen shared, "And she doesn't seem the type to die for a cause."

"Unlike others who will go unmentioned," Rockford quipped.

"It takes one to know another," Macen replied.

"Touché," Rockford tipped her head, "Did she mention who her handler was?"

"A Wes Petrie," Macen divulged, "And she had direct dealings with an analyst named Guadalupe Gutierrez."

"That's a start," Rockford admitted, "I'll see if I can run down anyone interesting with those names. I have everyone else looking at traffic patterns. Benteen and Winter will have regular contact with their own handlers. If we can establish who their frequent contacts are and eliminate them in turn, we should be left with the Section 31 contacts."

"Benteen will be harder to pin down," Macen advised, "She's a strategic affairs and crisis management expert. She might very well be high up in the agency's hierarchy. Her contacts might be reporting to her."

"Interesting theory. Have any way of proving it?" Rockford asked.

"What about Sarina Douglas?" Macen asked, "Before she transferred to Starfleet Security, she worked for Starfleet Intelligence as a field agent. In both roles she may have had extensive contact with Benteen."

"Since we have Kiratama's contacts I'll put Arianna on them and pursue the Douglas angle myself," Rockford decided, "But we know Douglas reported to L'Haan. Why the DS4 connection?"

"As a Starfleet Intelligence operative and later the Deputy Chief of Security for DS9 she had every reason to occasionally report in with Benteen. But if it was more than occasionally then we may have established a pattern that can repeated by others who may prove to be Section 31 moles," Macen stated.

"And I thought my mind worked in scary ways," Rockford said wryly.

Macen came closer and leaned over her desk to kiss her, "I have to warn Alynna about the Klingons. We don't have enough to prosecute Bacco yet but we do have enough to alert Starfleet to Bacco's possible collusion with the Typhon Pact. Jellico can then take steps to help prevent an invasion."


Chapter Seven

The next day, Macen caught up with Kerber and Smith; "You wanted to see me?"

"I've managed to parse through all the programming language and mathematical code surrounding the transcript files. However that was just the beginning," Kerber advised him.

"How so?" Macen wondered.

Kerber pointedly looked over at Smith. She nervously straightened her double breasted jacket and the hat perched atop her head, "The math all layered an amalgamation of seven language elements. These elements are all blended into a single newly created language."

"Have you been able to isolate the language groups?" Macen wanted to know.

"There are seven distinct trace languages that the amalgamation is formed from," Smith answered.

"Have you been able to identify the languages this is sourced from?" Macen asked.

"Most of them," Smith replied, "They include Iconian, and the basic tongues of the Promellians, the Menthar, the First Federation's High Tongue, and the Patriarchy's Elder Language."

"All dead languages," Macen observed.

"Which is both a blessing and a curse," Smith admitted, "It makes them harder to translate but it on the other hand, it gives us a major clue as to what to look for."

"Well, I won't keep you;" Macen informed them, "Congratulations, you've accomplished more in one week than Starfleet had in three years. Think about that."

Back at Rockford Investigations, Macen checked in with Rockford herself. Their parting that morning had been rather rushed as both of them were in a hurry to get to the day's tasks. Rockford was rather pleased to see him standing in her doorway.

"So how are Angelique and Bailey?" she asked with a smile.

"You wouldn't believe what they've accomplished so far," He promised and then he described the Ardanans' progress thus far.

"Wow," Rockford breathed, "They really do live up to their reputations."

"So it seems," Macen mused.

"Well, we've made progress here as well;" Rockford revealed, "Your hunch paid off. Sarina Douglas has been a regular visitor at DS4. Having 'personal consultations' with Benteen every time she was aboard. I'm also going through her comm logs to see how often she remotely contacted Benteen."

"Jennifer showed us that Grace could communicate without a trace," Macen reminded her.

"But Douglas was a ranking Security Officer aboard DS9. Consultation with a superior officer on another station would just be part of her regular duties," Rockford replied, "I'm betting she played this out in the open as much as possible for Bashir's sake if for no other reason."

"It makes sense that she'd play her role as Deputy Chief of Security to the best of her ability while she tried to recruit him," Macen allowed, "And she had to make it seem as though she weren't hiding anything from him."

"Besides L'Haan," Rockford amended, "Douglas could openly consort with the CO of DS4 and all the while no one would suspect she was actually engaging Section 31."

"It certainly caught Ro and Blackmer by surprise," Macen agreed.

"It seems Section 31 operatives only resort to slinking in the shadows when moving in the open threatens to reveal their double lives," Rockford observed.

"It was true for the Maquis as well," Macen admitted.

"I'd wager it's the same for most intelligence operatives," Rockford ventured, "isn't it?"

"As you've said before, touché;" Macen conceded.

"Well, it's true for private investigators as well;" Rockford let him know.

"Another congruent point for all our subjects is that they all attended the Center for Strategic Studies," Rockford revealed.

"So did Elias and I but that was decades before this crop would have," Macen shared.

"Which hat did you wear there?" Rockford wondered.

"It's a cross-agency school for field operatives and analysts," Macen told her, "So I unofficially got to wear both hats. Elias and I attended the two year program starting in 2342. I'd just been certified as a field agent and Elias thought I could use the additional training. I was technically there as an analyst but Elias arranged for me to attend field operative seminars as well."

"The current Director is Edward Fowler," Rockford added.

"Ed Fowler?" Macen was slightly surprised, "I'd heard he retired as the ISA Director."

"He did," Rockford confirmed it, "But he just moved over to the Center for Strategic Studies instead."

"Fowler was a field operative later trained in the analysis end of things," Macen divulged, "By the time the Border Wars concluded and I was in the Maquis, Fowler was head of the ISA. He was known for two things on that front. The first was his labyrinthine operations plans and the second was his judicious use of the Argus Array to monitor all traffic within the regions surrounding the DMZ. Civilian and Cardassian alike."

"A perfect résumé for becoming the Director of Section 31, wouldn't you say?" Rockford had to ask.

"He would fit the presumed qualifications," Macen agreed, "And he should have time enough on his hands. I guess your search has just expanded."

"I already began looking into Fowler," Rockford grimaced, "His file is as blotchy as yours. Most of his career was spent in black ops. There are the usual euphemisms, of course, but the truth is he was rarely where he was purported to be even after becoming an administrator."

"Fowler has always been very hands on," Macen shared, "Even as a director of a major intelligence agency."

Rockford sighed, "I'll keep digging but I don't expect to find much more."

"You're not getting out of it," Macen scolded her.

Rockford groaned, "I knew you'd say that."

"I'd hate to disappoint then," Macen quipped.

"Just go," Rockford ordered, "Before I forget why I love you."

Macen moved to her desk, leaned over to lift her chin, and kissed her; "If anyone can put this together it's you."

"Flattery like that won't get you anywhere," her eyes twinkled, "But another kiss might."

So he obliged Rockford.

Macen then checked in with Burrows and Cardan. Macen had had few dealings with Cardan after the Cardassian engineer switched hats from building the station to overseeing its maintenance and repairs, "How are you gentlemen doing?"

"It's been fairly quiet," Burrows admitted.

"Is there any particular reason why you have your katana with you?" Macen wondered.

"I needed a close quarters weapon that wouldn't damage the equipment," Burrows replied, "And I'm better with a sword than a knife. Although I do have a tanto here with me as well."

"Do you approve, Chief?" Macen asked Cardan.

"Of course," Cardan nodded, "Particle beams will cause damage we might not have time to repair."

"Very well then," Macen relented, "Can I get you anything?"

"Security Chief Gerrit has my personnel inspecting the station for sabotage in sweeps," Cardan stated.

"I noticed," Macen agreed.

"They've found several items that need imminent repair," Cardan said with some frustration, "These items can lead to catastrophic systems failures if they aren't attended to."

"So why don't your teams attend to them?" Macen had to ask.

"Gerrit doesn't want to interrupt the sweeps," Cardan said bitterly.

"Were these the result of potential sabotage?" Macen wondered.

"It's highly unlikely," Cardan admitted, "More likely it was mistakes we missed during construction. They've just taken a few years to get noticed and frankly we're lucky there haven't been systems failures before now."

"So pull your people off of the sweeps and undertake repairs," Macen advised, "You outrank Gerrit on these matters."

"But Captain Riker seconded me under Gerrit for the duration," Cardan revealed.

"Well, I'm Riker's employer so I outrank him," Macen assured Cardan, "I'll settle things with Tom. Just get those repairs underway."

"Thank you," Cardan nodded his head and stepped off to use his communicator.

"Riker isn't going to like this," Burrows commented.

"Tom shouldn't have overridden a repair concern in lieu of a tactical concern that would become moot if the systems supporting the defense grid failed," Macen explained.

"I'm not arguing," Burrows replied, "But you may want to tread a little lightly. My understanding is you made this his turf and now you're yanking the carpet out from underneath him. He's not going to take it well."

"No, and we've walked this path before;" Macen recalled, "Thanks, Tony. I'll be careful."

"Just remember, we all need to work together to get through this;" Burrows advised.

"You sound more like Elias every day," Macen mused, "He taught you well."

"He told me he taught you well as well," Burrows allowed, "I'm seeing that more and more."

"Thanks, I have to see Tom now;" Macen said, "Let me know if I can get you more help."

"We'll be fine," Burrows promised.

Macen was relieved when Riker took the news rather well. He had one question though, "Why didn't Cardan come to me?"

"It's the Cardassian cultural psyche at work. You seconded his department to Security. He was hell bent on obeying his orders. But when a neutral party stepped in and could negotiate his true position without threatening his complying with the original orders, he sought an intervention."

Riker wore a rueful expression, "I guess I just got used to this beast seemingly running on its own. I never seriously considered that the repairs might be vital. Could it the very sabotage we're looking for?"

"Cardan doesn't think so. He's of the opinion that all of the faults occurred during construction and we've just been lucky that something hasn't blown until now," Macen reported, "Of course, that doesn't mean it wasn't sabotage on the Cardassians' end."

"You're kidding, right?" Riker hoped.

"There was a lot of initial resistance towards a Cardassian firm building a Cardassian designed space station for a foreigner. Especially a foreigner who had fought the Cardassian Union for decades," Macen revealed, "Only the lure of profits from a successful build spurring on new orders changed the minds of officialdom."

"Did it?" Riker wanted to know.

"Between the legends of Terok Nor before Deep Space Nine's destruction, the rehabilitation of Empok Nor, the successes of Ampok Nor and Audrok Nor, combined with the wide spread news of the success of Serenity have created a boom economy around orders for Nor-class stations;" Macen divulged, "By the way, did you know there's a Cardassian designation for Serenity?"

"Doesn't surprise me," Riker said wryly, "What is it?"

"Antok Nor," Macen informed him.

"I like 'Serenity' better," Riker insisted.

"You would," Macen said dryly, "You picked the name."

"But was I wrong?" Riker grinned.

Ebert was uncertain of what to do while everyone else was busy aboard the station. She was a pilot. She couldn't very well fly a space station. She seriously wondered why Macen hadn't sent her along to the Obsidian. At least then she'd be in her own element. And why the hell was he meeting with her in the Habitat Ring near a Runabout Pad?

Macen arrived with Danan, "Thanks for meeting with me, Tracy."

"It's not like I was doing much else," Ebert said dryly.

"That's about to change," Macen promised her, "You and Lees are going on a trip."

"Where?" Ebert was intrigued now.

"Across the Cardassian border," Macen informed her, "Lees is meeting with Legate Ocett. You're meeting with Special Investigator Delain. You'll be collecting the Cardassian Information Bureau's reports on all Section 31 activities and personnel that they're aware of."

"Cardassians?" Ebert shifted uncomfortably, "Are you sure?"

"Tracy, enough mutual saving of lives as occurred between everyone involved that trust has been built. You'll be fine," Macen assured her.

"So what I'm flying?" Ebert wondered.

"The Jolly Roger is here at Pad-C," Macen told her, "She's a Danube-class runabout just like the Corsair."

"It'll be nice working with you again, Lisea;" Ebert admitted.

"You too," Danan shared, "Tom has my scientific projects shuttered while we're on a war footing. So I literally have nothing to do but assign ships to docking ports. Frankly, that's why I have an Ops staff. So I'm really looking forward to catching up with you."

"I'm sure you'll have all the interesting stories to tell," Ebert replied.

"Ladies, can we conduct the catching up inside the runabout?" Macen urged.

"Spoilsport," Danan quipped.

Later, the Jolly Roger was headed for the Cardassia border at Warp 4. Danan opened with a confession, "I really only flitted in and out of Brin's group after the Dominion war ended. I was part of it yet not all at the same time."

"I bet you were the mother figure holding everyone together just like on the Odyssey," Ebert remarked.

"Something like that," Danan agreed.

Did you hear about Tom and Heidi?" Ebert asked, "I always thought they'd run away together. I never realized she was a lesbian."

"She kept it fairly quiet since she was surrounded by heterosexual women. There definitely wasn't going to be an on board romance happening," Danan said, "So she did what most of us did and buried her sexuality while the fighting was underway."

"But Tom?" Ebert wondered, "Why didn't he ever find someone?"

"Tom Eckles was never looking in the first place," Danan confided in her.

"And Chris?" Ebert wanted to know.

"Christine has her own set of special circumstances," Danan shared, "She's a transsexual woman whose transition was halted during the fighting. I don't think she's ever gone through SRS since the fight ended."

"Chris is a tranny?" Ebert yelped.

Danan smirked, "She never told you because you came from Umoth and have a fairly rigid definition of gender and sexuality."

"I probably came across as a bigot, didn't I?" Ebert sighed.

"Maybe a little narrow minded but we all knew you weren't a bigot," Danan assured her, "That's why I told you. So you could celebrate Chris' differences with her."

"Sounds like a plan," Ebert decided.

Macen stood opposite Benteen. The only thing between them was an electrostatic force field and both of them knew it. Benteen looked angry and defiant. She wanted nothing more than to toy with him.

"Tell me about Edward Fowler," Macen asked abruptly, "What position does he hold within Section 31?"

Despite her best efforts to conceal it, the question rattled Benteen' "You'd best be careful. Fowler knows who looks his name up."

"I'm counting on it," Macen decided to share; "I need to talk with him."

"He'll never get near you," Benteen scoffed.

"Edward Fowler's two flaws are that he likes to overcomplicate ops plans and he insists upon being near the action when they occur. I'm betting on both occurring this time."

"Not this time," Benteen promised.

"You really don't know Fowler well, do you?" Macen realized, "His favorite quote is from James T. Kirk. 'Risk is our business' is his personal motto. He's always preferred the hands on approach and I don't think he'll have mellowed with age."

"Everyone aboard this station will die if you don't release us and hand back Kiratama. Fowler doesn't believe in loose ends," Benteen advised Macen.

"Thank you for confirming my suspicions on so many levels," Macen said.

"Just give us a ship and I'll turn Fowler back," Benteen promised.

"So that he can just send hit squads instead?" Macen asked, "I really don't think so."

"You've bloodied Section 31's nose lately. There will be retribution," Benteen warned.

"We'll see," Macen left the Detention Center at that point.

Ro joined Macen in Kiratama's quarters. No sooner had they settled in around the dining nook table when the door chimed and Rockford was granted admission. She came with padds for everyone.

"Here are our rough findings so far," Rockford explained, "Our information is riddled with holes because the only Section 31 we can track are Commander Benteen, Agents Winter and Kiratama, and Director Fowler."

"How rough is 'rough'?" Ro wanted to know.

"Think sandpaper," Rockford admitted, "A lot of this is conjecture based on the few facts we now know."

"Lees and Tracy will be returning with more data to plug some holes with," Macen promised.

"You're investigating Edward Fowler?" Kiratama's voice trembled slightly.

"Is there a problem?" Rockford wondered.

"Part of my induction included a warning that Fowler would know who was looking into his past and that there would be dire consequences," Kiratama shared.

"Good," Rockford replied, "We need to get in contact with him anyway."

"Dire consequences include disappearing, dying, or being rendered into a vegetative state;" Kiratama warned.

"Or in Benteen's words, an entire station being destroyed;" Macen added.

"Fowler will arrive to find a well defended station and three starships," Rockford assured Kiratama.

"Except that those starships are two turn of the century model ships and a lightly armed surveyor," Ro commented.

Rockford gave Ro a baleful look, "You're seriously not helping."

"Don't lie to her," Ro said a tad snippily, "She should know the facts. Brin already told me Section 31 has a Ramses-class starship capable of firing while cloaked. They also have other Starfleet designed starships that are state of the art."

"Whatever they arrive in, Fowler will accompany the Section 31 agents commanding the starship," Macen told them all, "He's very hands on so he won't be kept from a ringside seat."

"What about Jack?" Rockford asked Kiratama, "Is Fowler's son also Section 31?"

"Jack Fowler is Section 31's Deputy Director of Operations. He's as hands on as his father," Kiratama revealed, "Jack was with Starfleet Special Operations Command before being attached to an ISA mission on the Breen border. There was a skirmish and Jack never returned. Starfleet has him listed MIA. But the truth is he transferred into Section 31 full time."

"If Jack Fowler is the Deputy Director, who is the actual Director of Operations?" Ro asked sharply.

"Robert Roy," Kiratama answered, "Roy was also a SOC officer."

Macen grimaced, "Before Elias Vaughn chose Tony Burrows to be his successor at SOC, he first chose and trained Roy. Roy rose to the rank of Commander but disappeared behind enemy lines along with a team of Angosian Augment commandoes."

"You can bet those commandoes are also Section 31 operatives now," Rockford sighed.

"If you and Elias knew all of these people, how old are they?" Ro wondered.

"Well, they're all human so bear that in mind;" Macen suggested, "Edward Fowler is in his late eighties but going very strong. Jack Fowler should be in his early fifties. Roy is in his early sixties."

"How do you know all of this?" Rockford asked Kiratama.

"I'm ISA, it's part of what I do. I learned as much about S31 as I could as insurance," Kiratama confessed.

"Who else is there?" Ro inquired.

"Commander Benteen is the Chief of Operations," Kiratama divulged, "I don't know who her deputy is."

"We'll find out," Rockford promised, "Next?"

"Katie Munroe is Chief of Intelligence and her deputy is Lydia Martins," Kiratama recited from memory while Rockford furiously took down names.

"Katie Munroe is a chief analyst and advisor to the Interstellar Security Advisor to the President," Macen filled in a blank, "She's also Alyssa Munroe's older sister."

"I knew she sounded familiar," Ro said sourly, "Martins has to also be a part of the intelligence community. I can't believe that's everyone you know about."

"Well, there are also field personnel;" Kiratama added, "Thora Collins is the Director for Logistics and Field Support. Sarina Douglas was just promoted to Senior Agent and she took over L'Haan's contacts. Other senior agents include Li Kwan, Hakatay, and Sekona."

Ro and Macen froze at the latter names. Ro grew angry, "You can't be serious."

"Who are we talking about?" Rockford paused her note taking.

"I don't know any Li Kwan but Hakatay was a Maquis from Dorvan V and Sekona was a Vulcan colonist who joined the Maquis when it was first founded," Macen explained.

"And now Hakatay and Sekona head up Section 31's Counter-Terrorist Unit," Kiratama elaborated.

"I don't believe it," Ro angrily asserted.

"Sveta ran into them a year ago and both of them wanted nothing to do with her," Macen revealed, "She didn't know why but the answer seems obvious now."

"But Section 31?" Ro struggled to accept the facts as presented.

"It's easy to check on," Macen suggested, "The ISA keep stabs on all ex-Maquis so we should be able to track down who they've had contact with."

"What?" Ro's voice was low and held a dangerous edge to it.

"Laren, Starfleet Internal Affairs does the same for ex-Maquis in Starfleet," Macen told her, "This includes you, B'Elanna Torres, and Chakotay."

"So everything I've worked for has only happened because IA has approved of it?" Ro's question dripped acid, "How did I receive command or how did Chakotay become captain of Voyager?"

"In your case, Captain Picard intervened to even get you transferred from the Bajoran Militia into Starfleet. But your ties to Bajor and obvious ties to DS9 facilitated your promotion to station XO and then CO when Elias stepped down," Macen shared, "Admiral Janeway did the same for Chakotay. If she weren't guiding the Delta Fleet, he wouldn't be in command of its flagship."

"That's bullshit and you know it!" Ro snapped.

"I agree," Macen concurred, "And I have to live with it too. The only reason I was allowed back into Starfleet is because Nechayev demanded it. I was allowed into the SID was because Amanda Forger was Internal Affairs before she became Director of the Special Investigations Division. It took both of them together to get me my Letter of Marque after I was forced to resign from Starfleet and even then I was forced out of the SID for three years at one point and convicted of murder and sentenced to a penal colony at another. It took them realizing I hadn't killed Sindis to allow me to return to the SID and get off that infernal penal rock."

"But Starfleet doesn't look over your shoulder," Ro asserted.

"That's because I'm a civilian contracting with Starfleet," Macen countered, "Or at least I will be again. Half the time the ISA doesn't even know where I am so they have a hard time tracking me."

"He's right," Kiratama put in.

Ro gave her a scathing glare, "Hell of an excuse."

"It is what it is," Macen allowed, "If it weren't for the fact Nechayev chose Mackenzie Calhoun as one of her 'go to' agents he wouldn't be a well respected starship captain now, and as the other agent, I wouldn't have been hired by the SID."

"Do you think Fowler knows any of this?" Ro wondered.

"Edward Fowler knows our lives better than we do," Macen warned her, "Never underestimate him."

"Remind me again of why we're doing all of this?" Rockford suddenly asked.

"We're proving or disproving that President Nanieta Bacco has betrayed her oath to the Federation and is working against the Federation's best interest and the interest of her allies," Macen rattled off.

"She is," Kiratama insisted, "Two weeks ago I intercepted her promising Empress Donatra and Imperator Shhr'hsss that she would remove all Starfleet personnel from the watch posts along the Klingon border. Border patrol vessels were supposed be pulled back one hundred light years except when a starbase needed defending."

"Makes sense that we hadn't reached that one yet. We examined them in chronological order before switching off to track down individual agents," Rockford admitted.

"It also explains Alynna's disposition when I told her about Bacco's plans for the Klingons," Macen realized, "The withdrawal had already been ordered."

"So, will we unravel all of this before or after the Klingons get invaded?" Ro asked the question weighing on everyone's mind.


Chapter Eight

The next day, Burrows and Cardan grabbed hold of a saboteur trying to disable the fusion core. Unfortunately for the engineer both Burrows and Cardan slept lightly. He also hadn't expected the silent motion alarm that alerted the sentries to his presence. Gerrit personally led two deputies to the scene to apprehend the hapless engineer while Cardan inspected the equipment. He gave it a quick bill of health before Gerrit left.

Macen and Ro arrived to the Detention Center to find the engineer in a cell across from Benteen and Winter. Benteen was furiously arguing Gerrit. The Bajoran seemed tempted to end the conversation right then and there.

"Commander, if you don't shut up right now I will have your cell flooded with anesthezine gas and re-gas you every time you speak afterwards;" Gerrit advised her.

"Don't you understand anything?" Benteen was exasperated, "That man was sabotaging systems so that Section 31 could destroy this station without a fight. All you've accomplished by capturing him is delaying the inevitable."

"And since you don't seem inclined to help us prevent the loss of this station and the lives within it at least have the courtesy to shut up and let us save your own miserable life," Gerrit grated.

"Fine," Benteen huffed.

Gerrit turned to the two deputies on duty, "If she speaks again, have Radil gas her."

The deputies happily nodded. Gerrit saw that Riker had joined the two ships' captains by now. Gerrit made his way to them.

"Gerrit, do you have any idea of who this man is?" Riker asked, "Because I don't have a clue."

"Cardan said his name is Rick Tyler," Gerrit reported, "Cardan hired him shortly after Serenity went operational. He'd worked on the Terok Nor station while it was being administered by Starfleet. He was an enlisted Crewman. He then briefly served as a technical advisor on Barrinor's KX-7 station before it was decommissioned. He declined an offer to work alongside the Starfleet Corps of Engineers while they built Starbase 667 in orbit around Barrinor."

"Presumably at Section 31's behest," Riker theorized.

"That's my guess as well," Gerrit supported the notion.

"Excuse me Gerrit, but did Tyler make a move to leave the station when Sarina Douglas tried to destroy it?" Macen inquired.

"Not to my knowledge," Gerrit admitted.

"They may not have told him," Macen realized, "And if that's true, he has no idea of what is really coming at us."

"So you're going to enlighten him?" Ro mused with some glee.

"Care to join me?" Macen asked.

"Why not?" Ro replied, "It'd probably do my mood some good to scare the hell out of someone today."

"Hi Tyler, remember me?" Ro asked the engineer upon reaching his cell.

"Hello Lt. Commander," Tyler was amiable enough, "Did you ever get promoted to Commander and become CO yourself?"

"I did," Ro nodded, "And then I made 'Captain'."

"Then what are you doing here?" Tyler had to ask.

"I'm helping a friend," Ro answered, "Besides; you had to have heard the old DS9 got destroyed."

"Yeah, I did. Made me glad I left the cruddy place behind," Tyler said.

"Yet here you are," Ro countered.

"They were hiring and I had experience," Tyler shrugged.

"But you could have gone on to Starbase 667," Ro reminded him, "So why didn't you?"

"I had my reasons," Tyler said a little warily.

"And they all revolve around Section 31, right?" Ro probed deeper.

"I don't know what you actually know and what you think you know but it isn't healthy to talk about certain people," Tyler offered free advice.

"We already know," Macen interjected, "Section 31 is on their way here to destroy the station."

"Destroy?" Tyler was skeptical, "They would have told me."

"Did Sarina Douglas order you to evacuate when she tried to overload the fusion core?" Macen asked.

"No, she would have told me about attempting that;" Tyler insisted.

"You're in contact with Douglas," Macen realized.

"She's my contact," Tyler admitted.

"Because L'Haan was before and she's dead now," Macen pushed a little further.

"How do you know all of this?" Tyler was a little afraid now.

"Because we killed L'Haan," Macen told him, "Those women across from you are also Section 31 agents but unlike you they're senior agents. Section 31 would rather have anyone and anyone that might have talked dead rather than leave living witnesses behind so they could talk again. So in order to accomplish that, Section 31 has to kill every living soul aboard the station. That includes you."

Macen's eyes bored into Tyler's skull, "How do you contact Sarina Douglas?"

"I have a personal communicator," Tyler answered, "It locks on to any comm panel she's logged into."

"Where is it?" Macen asked.

"Give me a shuttle and I'll tell you where it is after I clear the station's tractor beam and transporter range," Tyler smugly offered.

"I'll give you those things after I have the communicator in hand," Macen counter offered.

"Without my cooperation you'll never speak to her," Tyler gloated.

"I'll take my chances," Macen said and abruptly strode out past the deputies. Ro was on his heels.

"You heard all of that?" Macen asked Gerrit and Riker.

"We can search his quarters," Gerrit offered.

"I doubt you'll find anything but feel free," Macen replied.

Gerrit looked Riker's way and his CO nodded. Gerrit turned to a deputy, "Gad, you're with me."

"What now?" Riker wondered.

"Tyler is going to place the communicator somewhere he feels he can control the environment," Macen postulated, "Which means it's somewhere he feels is safe yet obscure enough to avoid detection in a typical search."

"So how do we run an atypical search?" Riker wondered.

"You have your Chief of Operations and members of his staff run it," Ro explained, "They know the best places to hide things aboard this station."

Riker nodded, "I'll do that. Excuse me."

Riker stepped out of the Security Office and tapped his comm badge. While began a conversation, Ro turned to Macen; "The Fury is swinging by here later today. I'm going aboard."

"I wondered how long you'd stay aboard Serenity," Macen admitted, "I'll recommend to Tom that he have Berent hand over command of the search to you."

"Thanks," Ro nodded, "Good luck."

"You too," Macen acknowledged her well wishes.


Chapter Eight

Three days passed with more updates and greater progress into the languages used to create the hidden language of the transcripts. But it was also a time of building tensions and finally that tension reached a head.

In his office, Riker noticed his comm panel screen was flashing. He activated it and was greeted by his wife, who had returned from Cardassia two days earlier, and was running Ops.

"What is it, Lees?" he asked.

"Tom, we have a message from the Indomitable. They have an unknown vessel in bound for the Barrinor system and Berent wants permission to engage it," Danan reported.

"No," Riker said sternly, "What kind of vessel is it anyway?"

"Sensor readings show a Sovereign-class starship with extensive modifications of their weapons systems. They easily have enough firepower to destroy Serenity," Danan told him.

"My order stands," he said firmly, "Call the Obsidian and the Fury. Let Ro know to have everyone rendezvous in this solar system."

"And if this mystery ship engages the station?" Danan had to ask. It was her job.

"Then all ships are weapons free," Riker decided.

Macen joined Kerber and Smith in their Cryptology Lab, "What's your progress report for the day, ladies?"

"We cracked it!" Kerber exuded, "Or at least Bailey did. I helped find reference materials."

"Really?" Macen was ecstatic.

"The last language in the puzzle was the hardest. The Cardassians suppressed all references to the Hebitian cultured that preceded them. The only trace elements of linguistic and alphanumeric lexicons and codices are found in the vaults of the Cardassian Information Bureau that they inherited from the Obsidian Order," Smith explained, "Once I had that, everything came together. We've unlocked the transcripts and they're fully readable now."

"May I ask how you accessed the CIB's vaults?" Macen said with great amusement.

"It wasn't that hard," Kerber downplayed the issue.

Macen went straight to his office where he compiled all of the transcripts and summaries for Fleet Admiral Edward Jellico. He directed the station's comm array at Cardassian space. Unaware of Bacco's position, allied traffic would still be carried to its destination on Earth. Now, even if Section 31 destroyed the station and killed everyone, Starfleet would still be in possession of the evidence they needed to oust Bacco.

Macen explained the situation to Benteen and then added, "We just don't know if we're dealing with Edward or Jack Fowler at this point."

"You've killed us all," Benteen breathed in horror, "It's too late now. Even Winter and I can't stop them from coming."

"But we want the same thing. Bacco will be removed from power now without resorting to an overmuscled coup attempt to set up a puppet government," Macen explained, "But in order to persuade Fowler, I need to talk with him."

"Jack will be in ostensible command," Benteen wearily said, "Edward will be aboard acting like a flag officer in overall command of the project. Jack will ignore straightforward hails. If I had my S31 communicator, I'd do the job for you."

"So Jack will run interference?" Macen asked.

"Jack Fowler will present the illusion that he's in overall command. But Edward will be listening in on everything. Once you've intrigued him, he'll step in;" Benteen advised, "But you'd need one of our communicators to get their attention in the first place."

"Hold that thought," Macen instructed. He moved to Tyler's cell, "Where's your communicator?"

"I have no idea of what you're talking about," Tyler smugly replied.

Macen pulled his phaser pistol from its holster. Thumbing up the power level, he deactivated the cell's force field and shot Tyler in the leg. Tyler screamed and fell back on his cot. Gerrit's two deputies stood by, wondering whether to hinder or assist.

"Let him work!" Benteen shouted at them, "He's saving all of our lives."

"That wasn't even maximum disrupt," Macen let Tyler know, "But a hit on a vital organ could still be lethal. But what this is, beyond anything else, is painful. And you have a lot of extremities to burn through before I get anywhere sensitive."

"You're crazy!" Tyler cried out.

Macen shot his bicep. Tyler screamed again and then began pleading, "All right! All right! I'll tell you."

"Where is your Section 31 communicator?" Macen asked the question again.

"Airlock 24, access panel C-8;" Tyler panted.

Macen stepped out of the cell and reactivated the force field. Macen paused by the deputies, "Contact Kort and tell him he has a medical emergency in the Detention Center. Advise him an analgesic is unnecessary."

The mysterious Sovereign-class vessel came to a full stop twenty-five thousand kilometers away from Serenity. Obviously, those aboard hadn't expected to find the station's shields up and its phasers armed and photon torpedo launchers at the ready. Then the Fury led the Obsidian and Indomitable into a triangular formation around the ship whereby they had clean lines if fire without threatening one another.

The ID transponder on the Section 31 vessel came alive and identified the ship as the NX-101 USS Stronghold. From Ops, Riker informed the crew that a Stronghold had been present when the SID had confronted the Ramses-class Sentinel that had attacked Serenity. Silence ruled the moment and Riker signaled Ro.

"What are they waiting for?" he wondered.

"To see if we have any other surprises in store for them," Ro said grimly.

Rockford joined Macen in his office as interfaced Tyler's communicator with his comp/comm. Activating the computer he simply said, "I need to speak with Sarina Douglas."

Macen still had the visual recorder of his comm unit turned off so Douglas was in the dark as she replied, "You are not Rick Tyler. Please identify yourself."

"It's Brin Macen, Sarina. Drop the pretenses and let me speak with your commander," Macen instructed.

He turned on the visual feed and an image of Douglas appeared. She appeared thoughtful, "And what would the ostensible purpose of this conversation be?"

"You're not simply going to be able kill everyone and get away unscathed. You might find yourselves damaged beyond repair as well," Macen painted a grim picture, "That can still be prevented. Let me talk to Jack Fowler."

Douglas wore a sour look, "I'll see if he'll communicate."

A man matching Jack Fowler's Starfleet ID appeared, "What would you like to discuss, Macen. Because there's no way I'm leaving anyone on that station or your ships alive."

"I already transmitted the transcripts of Bacco's negotiations with the Typhon Pact to Starfleet Command," Macen informed Fowler, "Bacco will be arrested and she will be charged with treason. The invasion of the Klingon Empire will be avoided and the Federation's alliances will stand. But you could have easily accomplished all of this yourself. So why didn't you?"

"I'm sure you'll tell me," Jack Fowler said scornfully.

"Because you're still too busy trying to set up a puppet president to bother actually saving lives. It smacks of your father's ambitions. Let me talk to him," Macen demanded.

"My father is not aboard," Jack Fowler grated.

"I don't think so," Macen countered, "Edward wouldn't miss a chance to see the demise of a thorn in his ambitious side."

"Which why I'm going to open fire and begin exterminating that thorn," Jack Fowler declared. His head snapped to one side and the screen went dark.

"Enter Edward Fowler," Macen smirked.

The screen suddenly displayed an older man with snowy white hair and a matching beard. The family resemblance was striking. Fowler wore an appreciative grin.

"Well played, Macen. But then again you've always been a good opponent," he commented.

"We don't have to do this, Edward;" Macen stated, "You can have all your people that didn't talk back. What you do with them is your own business."

"Kiratama broke, didn't she? She always was a weak link. But her intel was too good to ignore," Fowler commented.

"She has nothing left to tell so you shouldn't mind her being under my protective custody," Macen suggested.

"That isn't how we do things," Fowler began to argue, "And even if you drop her off on Cardassia Prime, Castellan Garan will only offer so many favors in repayment for her staying in office."

"Then there really is no alternative to fighting," Macen realized.

"That's the way it was always meant to be. But you can make it easy on everyone and drop your shields," Fowler counter-offered.

"Actually I suggest you take a look at your tactical board and watch the two dozen Galor-class cruisers transit in from Barrinor past Odin," Macen said, "I'm willing to bet Legate Ocett would be more than willing to engage you."

"Damn you, Macen!" Fowler snarled, "You can't get away with this."

"Edward, you've never been able to let go of a plan gone awry until the body count reached a limit you no longer could tolerate. This time, that body count will include your entire crew. Yourself included. Even if you went hog wild and unloaded everything you had at this station, we'd take minor damage while Ocett and her ships closed the distance," Macen described in detail what was about to occur, "Care to change your ways?"

Fowler visibly struggled with the decision. Macen softened his tone, "I'll give you back Benteen and Winter. I'll even throw in Rick Tyler. And I want our truce reestablished. In exchange, I'll call off the Cardassians."

Fowler scowled, "It seems I've underestimated you and your group...again. Very well, I agree to your terms."

"You won't regret it," Macen assured him.

"You were rejected by the SID and Ro was forced to resign. Why are you still doing this?" Fowler wanted to know.

"It became obvious Bacco represented a threat to the Federation itself," Macen explained, "We were in a position to do something when no one else could...or would. So we did what needed to be done."

"It's really too bad I couldn't recruit all of you. We could use your talents and patriotism. But I guess that's a moot point," Fowler conjectured.

"You'd be correct in that," Macen agreed.

"That's what I thought," Fowler conceded, "I expect to receive my people in fifteen minutes."

"A runabout will meet you and you can transport your people from there," Macen offered.

"Very well. Fowler out," the transmission cut out.

Macen turned to where Ebert was sitting, "Okay Tracy, you're on."

"It'll be my pleasure to get rid of everyone." Ebert declared before she exited the office, "It's a strange day when Cardassians ride in for the rescue though."

"Welcome to a brave new galaxy," Macen happily replied.

"You need to make a general announcement and then we celebrate," Rockford smiled slyly.

"Well, we'll be going aboard the Obsidian and heading for Earth;" Macen told her.

"Fine. We can celebrate there just as well," Rockford insisted.

"Are you thinking dinner?" Macen asked.

Rockford's voice turned husky, "I'm think we get together and celebrate the way a man and woman can do together."

Macen suddenly felt stupid for not catching on earlier, "It has been a while, hasn't it?"

"We've been busy for a month," Rockford reminded him, "Now we can be unbusy for the five days it takes to reach Earth."

"I like it," Macen readily agreed, "Let me get this announcement out of the so everyone can stand down."

"And then we can get busy in a whole new way," Rockford said with delight.

Ro left the Fury behind and rode back to Starfleet Command aboard the Obsidian. Wolfe would be taking command of the scoutship in Ro's absence. Wolfe promised he was merely holding the center seat down for her should she ever decide to return for it.

Ro was greatly amused by Macen's sporadic absences. Rockford's investigative team was bemused as well. While they journeyed, Ro watched the Federation News Service. There were rumors of trouble brewing o n the Klingon borders with the Typhon Pact. Starfleet assembled and dispatched two fleets into the empire and began assembling another two more.

Correspondents from across the Cardassian Union, the Ferengi Alliance, and the Talarian Republic took note as Cardassia shipped out three Orders, the Ferengi dispatched a fleet of from the Treasury Guard, and the Talarians also sent a fleet the Klingons' way. But rumors swirled around the President's Office that she had denied transit rights for all of these forces and had in fact ordered Starfleet to withdraw away from Klingon space. Starfleet watchers knew that Jellico had been summoned to Bacco's office and everyone awaited word on the fate of the Fleet Admiral.

Jellico stiffly stood in front of Bacco's desk. Her ISA Security Detail had left them alone in the room. Bacco stood fuming behind her desk with her chair behind her. She'd bolted out of her seat at the sight of him.

"Just what the hell are you doing, Admiral?" Bacco demanded to know.

"I don't take your meaning, Madame President:" Jellico replied evenly.

"You know full well what I mean," Bacco retorted as she visibly shook from her anger, "I strictly told you not to commit any forces to the defense of the Klingon Empire should they face invasion. Yet today three members of the Typhon Pact did invade and you sent two fleets into Imperial space to coordinate with the Klingon Defense Force and I hear two more fleets are also already en route to joining the others."

"To be fair, the Third Fleet will be positioning itself along the Romulan border in case they try to invade our space to attempt a pincer maneuver behind the Klingon's hallowed out interior forces," Jellico stated.

"Take the Third Fleet off the Romulan border this instant!" Bacco shouted.

"No, Madame President;" Jellico said firmly.

"I should ask for your resignation this second but I'm going to give you a ledge to hold onto," Bacco offered, "I understand you've granted the Cardassians, Talarians, and Ferengi transit rights across the Federation to join up with the Klingons. Is this true? Despite my express orders to the contrary?"

"It's true," Jellico admitted, "And it's in keeping with our treaty obligations."

"I'm abrogating the Federation's part in the Khitomer Accords, Admiral;" Bacco shouted, "So get those forces back home."

"I must respectfully decline, Madame President;" Jellico said with steel in his voice, "You have not abrogated anything yet and therefore those forces are obligated to support the Klingons as are we."

"Get them out of the Federation and our forces out of the Klingon Empire or I'll have your job, Admiral;" Bacco decided, "And then I'll debate about having you arrested on a charges of treason."

"Are you certain you want to go there?" Jellico suddenly asked.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Bacco asked in exasperation.

"Starfleet gained possession of the transcripts of your private conversations with Shhr'hsss and Donatra. We know how you've been negotiating away territories both inside and outside of the Federation...including the Klingon Empire," Jellico explained, "And for what? A ninety-nine year armistice that would never be honored. That's problem with feeding predators, Madame President, they always want more."

"So I've been dealing in secret," Bacco dismissed it all, "Every president does."

"Not to this extent and it will stop today," Jellico declared.

"Are you threatening me, Admiral?" Bacco got very fierce.

"All of the evidence was handed over to the Federation Attorney General five days ago," Jellico told her, "I can only presume her telling me she was prepared to proceed today can only mean she will be presenting her case before the Federation Council who will then draw up Articles of Impeachment. Afterwards, I know the AG is waiting for your immunity from prosecution to be done with so she can file criminal charges."

Bacco sank into her chair, "You did what?"

"You heard me quite clearly, Madame President. Enjoy the title while it lasts," Jellico remarked.

"You bastard," Bacco hissed.

"You brought this on yourself," Jellico said coldly.

"We couldn't face another conflict," Bacco desperately tried to justify herself, "First the Borg came in force and we lost a trillion citizens and a third of Starfleet. Then those freakish Argyn came and we lost another third of Starfleet. The Iridians nearly finished off what was left. We had to recommission ships that had been built sixty years ago and decommissioned for twenty just to man the patrol routes. To get manpower we commissioned every third year class in Starfleet Academy for the last three years running. Then we reduced the number of officers, lowered our enlistment standards, and increased the number of crewmen aboard every starship."

"I know," Jellico said without compassion, "I implemented every one of these measures."

"Then how were we supposed to survive another war?" Bacco pleaded.

"I don't know," Jellico said sternly, "But you don't begin by surrendering."

"The Klingons don't deserve to be our allies!" Bacco snarled, "They're brutish and revel in war. As long as we're tied to them they'll draw us into one endless conflict after another."

"You really can't be serious," Jellico couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Think about it!" Bacco demanded, "Klingons glorify killing."

"And the Romulans view it as an art form while the Gorn eat their victims," Jellico reminded her, "Who do you suppose is better?"

Bacco found herself in an apoplectic rage and she couldn't speak. Her door chimed and she screamed, "Come!"

Esperanza Piniero entered wearing a guilty mien, "The Federation Council has called for a special session and they want you there to answer questions. I called around but only the Justice Department had a clue. They say an impeachment trial is going to occur."

"I know it is," Bacco snapped.

"Would you like to discreetly leave the building?" Piniero asked.

"No, maybe I can make these idiots see reason;" Bacco huffed and stormed out of the room. Piniero hurried to catch up while Jellico was amused by the sight of the security detail barely reaching the lift in time.

"It's good to see you in that uniform again, Captain;" Jellico said as he shook Ro's hand, "I hate to admit but thought you'd be half tempted to join Macen's outfit and hare off around the galaxy."

"New information did come to light that made it tempting," Ro admitted, "But when all is said and done, my place is on Deep Space Nine."

"I agree," Jellico nodded, "Admiral Akaar has arranged for fast transportation to get you home."

"What about the current CO of the station?" Ro asked, "Will they be a problem?"

"Commander Reddex was the Acting CO only serving at Colonel Cenn's request to be relieved from said post," Jellico explained, "Reddex knew it was a temporary assignment at best."

"In that case I'd like to get underway as soon as possible," Ro stated.

"See Akaar and he'll give you the details," Jellico suggested.

Ro left Jellico's expansive office and he turned to face Macen. He fell silent though. Nechayev snorted from her seat.

"Tell him he's done a good job, Eddie;" Nechayev cajoled Jellico.

"You have," Jellico agreed, "Both your and Ro's record have been purged of the staged trial. You can accept contracts from the SID again. Which I understand, Admiral Forger is looking to shop a few cases by you, if you're still interested in working for Starfleet."

"Trust me, you haven't quite gotten rid of me yet," Macen grinned.

Macen nodded towards Nechayev, "Always a pleasure, Alynna, but my wife is in Beverly Hills desperately seeking escape from some consulting work that ambushed her when we arrived. Tell Amanda we'll be in Belfast at the end of the week."

"Thank you for everything, Brin. I'm sorry we had to put you through hell," Nechayev offered.

"No, you're not;" Macen amended for her as he went out the door.

Nechayev gave Jellico a wry look, "Is it really so hard to say 'thank you'?"

"No, but the facade has to stay in place for now;" Jellico shared.

"Facade?" Nechayev repeated.

"I settled my differences with Mac years ago," Jellico reminded her, "Macen took longer but ever since he did his stint on a penal colony I've come to terms with him."

"You have a strange way of showing it at times," Nechayev observed.

"Macen needs external limits," Jellico explained, "The penal colony was a lesson in limitations. My gruff exterior is another. Mac has an internal barometer to tell him when he's reaching a limitation. Macen lacks any such instrument. That makes Mac a sword while Macen is a weapon of mass destruction. But both are very good at what they do. And those differences are why one can serve in Starfleet and the other can't."

"I'll right, I'll give you that;" Nechayev agreed.

"In the meantime, Macen learns some restraint and Starfleet reaps the benefits;" Jellico surmised.

"We always have," Nechayev shared.

Macen met up with Rockford at her agency in Beverly Hills. It was Rockford's only office on Earth. The Managing Detective, Melina, saw Macen and smirked; "Watch out."

Every Rockford Investigations Agency office had a small office set aside for its founder. This was no exception. Macen found his wife pouring over padds while wearing a scowl. Seeing him lightened her mood somewhat.

"We're going to need a room," Rockford informed him, "I don't have a flat on Earth. When I stop by I usually just grab a room at a nearby hotel. Fortunately Beverly Hills has some fairly nice ones."

"Any preferences?" Macen asked.

Rockford gave him a wry look, "Look m'love, we have no reservations and we need a room tonight. Take what you can get and call it good."

"I invited Amanda to join us for shop talk while we're in Belfast. Do you mind if she joins as at the Dark Man?" Macen inquired.

Rockford smirked. The Dark Man was the pub Macen and met her in to recruit her to the SID team. That meeting had literally changed both their lives forever.

"She should join in on the history," Rockford agreed, "After all, without her there wouldn't have been a team to recruit me to."

"Will you be done by then?" Macen wondered.

"There are actually only two cases that need my ongoing input. One on Rigel IX and the others on Trillius Prime," Rockford revealed.

"On Trill?" Macen couldn't quite believe it.

"Somebody tried to steal a symbiont," Rockford explained, "The interesting part is that the culprits got by the pool keepers and the symbiont was only discovered when a piece of luggage showed a biosign when the culprits were apparently trying to get off world."

"And no one has a clue as to who did it?" Macen had to ask.

"And the two detectives the agency sent to Trillius Prime don't have a clue either," Rockford grumped, "So therefore my unparalleled skills, intelligence, talents, and beauty have been called upon for advice."

"You forgot immeasurably modest too," Macen teased.

"Oh ye of little faith," she dismissed him with a wave, "Find me lodgings. Now."

"I live to serve," Macen bowed.

"That's why I keep you around," Rockford grinned.

"I thought it was the empathic cascade you experience when you..." Macen began.

"Stop right there, buster. These walls have ears," Rockford warned.

"Wouldn't want the office staff to talk, would we?" he smirked.

"Brin?" Rockford called out as he made it to the door.

He turned to face her, "Yes?"

"We pretty much saved civilization again, didn't we?" she inquired.

"Yup," he confirmed it.

"You'd think we'd get better compensation then," Rockford mused.

"Maybe next time we'll take a lesson from Harri and haggle a price," Macen suggested.

"Don't laugh," Rockford advised, "Harri Mudd is quite wealthy."

"So are both of us in our own right," Macen reminded her, "So who are we to worry?"

"I guess it's the principle of the thing," Rockford opined.

"Don't bring principles into it. Then they'll never pay," Macen quipped, "Besides, we have my corporation, your agency, our space station, and my ship and all our friends and coworkers. What else do we really need?"

"Your ship?" Rockford teased, "What happened to our? Serenity got an our."

"You don't even like starships so why are you quibbling?" Macen bantered

"Go away now or I may have to hurt you," Rockford warned.

"That could be fun too," Macen joked.

"Stow it until after we have a room," Rockford insisted.

"Your wish is my command," Macen bowed before leaving.

Rockford smiled because she knew it was true.


- The End -


Last modified: 14 Aug 2014