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Counterstrike by Travis Anderson

The Spy, The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The Tinkerer,
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...

Ro Laren's flagship, the Indomitable, limped along at Warp 2. The Ju'day-class raider had led the Maquis assault on the Cardassian shipyards in the Choris system. The attack had been moderately successful. Twenty-one Cardassian craft had been damaged or destroyed in exchange for seven damaged Maquis craft and two abandoned hulls.

The rest of the Ronaran cells light attack craft had already reached their home on Ronara Prime. Only the Indomitable and her Blackbird-class escort, the Odyssey, remained en route. The Odyssey was the cell's primary intelligence gatherer under the command of Brin Macen.

It took several more hours but both craft safely returned to Ronara. The Indomitable landed in the caverns of the Maquis base in the foothills of the major mountain range on Ronara. The facility had originally been the last redoubt of the Ronaran Volunteer Militia.

The Odyssey set down at the planet's primary shuttleport. The scoutship was one of the largest to reside at the port. Macen and his command staff used an aircar to reach the Maquis headquarters. The mood in the cave system secreting the rebel base was grim as the flying car landed in the huge cavern that served as the hangar. Macen and his group left the car and proceeded to the command center. At the heart of the Maquis nerve center, Ro and her deputy, Aric Tulley, were overseeing the latest crisis to befall the resistance organization.

"When did they strike?" Ro asked the image in the portable viewscreen laid out before her.

"Eight hours ago." Illya Oramov reported, "They came at us just as we received word you were commencing your attack run."

"How many dead and wounded?" Ro asked through a clenched jaw.

"Over a dozen wounded." Oramov answered, "Half that are dead. The entire action team has been shattered."

"Were any of the other urban units attacked at the same time?"

Oramov shook his head, "No, thank god."

Ro felt an echo of his relief, "How many were there?"

"From the preliminary reports we're receiving, slightly over two dozen."

Ro grimaced, "How soon until you can evacuate?"

"At least two more hours." Oramov wearily replied, "It'll take that long to stabilize the worst of the lot."

"Do what you need to." Ro informed her Chief of Urban Operations, "But clear out of there before the Cardies launch a second strike."

Oramov's head nodded in swift jerks, "Will do. Out."

The screen went dark and Ro looked up at Macen's team, "You heard?"

Macen nodded and Ro's lips curled back in a savage approximation of a smile, "Good. Then I won't have to explain most of it to you. A Cardie paramilitary group attacked our unit based at Douglas. I want them found. I want them hit and I want them hit hard! Got it?"

Macen's head bobbed once and Ro's "smile" widened, "Good."

Ro retreated to her quarters and splashed some water on her face and then ran her wet fingers through her shoulder length, raven hair. She gazed into the vanity mirror and her large, deep brown eyes gazed back. They were bloodshot from tears unshed but even here in private she would not allow herself the luxury of crying.

Although she would never admit it, what looked back at her was the image of an attractive woman. She was more striking than beautiful in the classic sense. She had a heart shaped face with prominent cheekbones. Her nose was slightly broad but proportional to the rest of her face. Her lips were rather thin and occasionally broadened into a broad smile that dimpled her cheeks. She was taller than the average humanoid female, a trait that, combined with Ro's normally brusque manner, intimidated most men.

She reflected on the Ronaran cell's current situation. Hell, she thought bitterly, the Maquis' current situation. Strife between paramilitary groups was inherent in the type of warfare the Maquis were engaged in. What was inherently unfair was the layout of the warfare.

The Cardassians had everything stacked in their favor, whether or not they wanted to admit it. The Cardassian paramilitaries were openly supported by sections of their government and covertly supported by a majority of the rest. Their "parent" government, on the other hand, condemned the Maquis. Starfleet, the Cardassian military and the Cardassian paramilitaries all sought them. Life, in other words, stunk if you were a Maquis.

Since, by its very nature, the Demilitarized Zone precluded the use of armed forces, the paramilitaries engaged in the actual combat within the Zone. Just as Starfleet officers resigned their commissions and enlisted in the Maquis, Cardassian "volunteers" left the Cardassian Militia and bolstered the ranks of the Cardassian paramilitary forces. It was an arrangement that provoked the continual escalation of the methods and tactics of the conflict. This brutal assault on Ro's unit was merely the latest example of the increasing violence.

Ro's thoughts drifted to her own leadership abilities. She'd never sought command but found it thrust upon her after the deaths of Santos and Macius. Macius' loss had been a hard one for Ro. It had been what galvanized her into leaving Starfleet. That decision, though, had come at the price of betraying her Starfleet mentor and commanding officer, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Picard had seen potential in a cynical ex-convict of the Starfleet stockade on Jaross II and had attempted to mold her into a highly competent and disciplined officer. Competence had been no problem for Ro. Discipline proved another matter. She was often at odds with the Enterprise's 1st Officer, Commander Will Riker. Well, except for when they'd both had their memories erased. That thought still brought a smile to Ro's face.

Betraying Picard, especially after he'd had the faith to send her to Advanced Tactical Training and then assign her to a vital mission had been gut wrenching. But she'd spent her childhood oppressed by the Cardassians and now, having the opportunity to do something about their tyranny, appealed to her. She had a sense of belonging with the Maquis that had always eluded her with Starfleet.

Next, Ro thought about her intelligence unit. They were good. They were damned good. The arrival of Brin Macen had granted Ro a professional caliber data gathering and analysis team.

Macen himself was a Starfleet Intelligence analyst and operative. He was operating as a double agent in order to assist Ro. He fed Starfleet accurate, but nonvital, information. In return he gave the Maquis declassified information on starship movements and antiterrorist campaigns.

Macen was an El-Aurian, the only one to ever join Starfleet. He was over four hundred years old but merely appeared to be in his early thirties. His natural skills as a "Listener" made him a perfect intelligence operative. Ro found it amusing that Macen was a Commander in Starfleet and she was a mere Lieutenant. In the Maquis, the roles were reversed. She commanded him.

Macen was as fair skinned as Ro but there the resemblances ended. Macen was a natural redhead. He wore a mustache and goatee and his eyes were blue-green.

Next came Lisea Danan. Danan had dyed her naturally chestnut hair blonde since joining the Maquis. She possessed sea green eyes and dark roots and brows to accentuate her native species trademark spots. Her cheeks were rosy and her skin was fair.

The Trill scientist had been Macen's official partner on a half a dozen assignments and it was thought that she would add legitimacy to his cover story of being a social scientist. Starfleet Command hadn't counted on her sympathies for the underdog of a situation owing to her experiences as an unjoined Trill before her surprise acceptance by the Symbiosis Commission. She'd vowed to never forget the stigma she'd endured as an unjoined.

Until recently, Danan and Macen had been a couple. Neither had disclosed the nature of the parting of ways but rumor had it that it was due to the inordinate amount of time Macen lavished upon the third member of the intelligence unit, T'Kir. It was no secret that the Vulcan had designs for Macen but no one knew his feelings on the subject.

T'Kir was young for a Vulcan, merely seventy years old. She appeared to be in the human equivalent of her late twenties. T'Kir was also mentally and emotionally unstable. She'd been born on Shial; a colony populated by Vulcan dissidents and Romulan defectors. Encouraged from birth to express her emotions, T'Kir found herself overwhelmed by them when she learned of the Cardassian slaughter of her home colony while she was away at school.

Unhinged and vengeful, T'Kir returned to the Zone to join the Maquis. Ro accepted her recruitment but swiftly found the unstable Vulcan too much of a challenge. Taking the first available opportunity, Ro foisted T'Kir off on Macen. To everyone's surprise, he was able to temper her wilder impulses and they now made a formidable team.

T'Kir's wild mane of hair fell a third of the way down her back. It was tousled and unruly, appearing permanently windblown. Her sapphire blue eyes were large and piercing. She had an upturned nose and full, "bee stung" lips. She possessed a pale olive complexion that was the envy of natives of the Mediterranean.

Ro hoped they could find Cardie paramilitaries that had struck their urban unit. She knew that, from an outside perspective, her hopes were pinned on a slim chance of success. She was counting on a double agent, a lovelorn scientist and a psychotic hacker for her results. The thing was, they'd never failed her before.

The Odyssey deployed and took readings off all the departing subspace trails. This led nowhere. Next, Ro and Macen spent a week in the seedier bars on Ronara buying rounds and information. They hit paydirt with an Acamarian captain who'd recently been to Gravis IV, three planetary systems away.

The inebriated Captain Griel's clan had been forced to accept work for the Cardassians in order to maintain their trade route through the Zone. Part of that contract had been supplying a paramilitary training center on Gravis IV. Ro gladly bought the woman another round but was infuriated.

"We let them build this right under our very noses!" she snarled.

"They probably feel the same way about our cell on Ronara." Macen consoled her, "It's an open secret that we're here."

"They'll know we're looking for them." Ro warned, "Let's see what they do next."

What came next occurred in only a few days time. Several Cardassian scoutships landed at Ronaran City's shuttleport and armed Cardassians streamed forth. They grabbed whomever they could and drug them back to their ships. The ships lifted and were gone as the Maquis ships began to scramble.

Macen's team and the Odyssey were left behind but every other Ronaran cell ship flew. They tracked the ships to Gravis IV but were warned off by Traffic Control. A reedy Cardassian official with a raspy voice appeared on Ro's comm screen.

"Proceed to land and we'll open fire on you." he sneered, "You wouldn't anything to happen to our ‘guests' would you?"

"Human shields." Ro swore as the comm line was terminated, "Just when you think the Cardies won't sink any lower."

"We can't leave them there, Skipper." Tulley said from the Weapons console to her left. Tulley's granite features reflected the stoic bedrock that epitomized the man. A farmer whose family had been killed by the Cardassians, Tulley had discovered a cold, methodical rage that sustained him through his grief. He'd been Ro's first choice for her lieutenant.

"We won't." Ro vowed, "But we need something better than a headlong charge that'll get a lot of people killed. We need a plan."

"What kind of plan?" Tulley asked.

"Something sneaky." Ro broke into a feral smile, "Something that involves us knowing the inside of that base and all its defenses."

"Sounds like our intelligence unit is going to be busy."

Ro steepled her fingers and looked out over them towards Gravis IV, "They are indeed."

Captain Griel proved to be of immense value, especially after the Ro agreed to buy several cases of self sealing stem bolts she'd been unable to foist off on anybody else. A week later, Macen came to Ro.

"I've made contact with a Cardassian officer from the training facility on Gravis IV." Macen explained, "He's a stringer for the Obsidian Order and is willing to work under the table for virtually any side."

"When's he want to meet?" Ro enquired with interest.

"Two days from now." Macen answered, "I'll make the arrangements."

"You do that." Ro ordered, "And I'll accompany you to this meeting."

Ro and Macen strolled down the darkened street. The meet was occurring in the shuttleport district of Ronaran City. It catered to the local smugglers, corsairs and visiting freighter pilots. The pub they were rendezvousing at, the Old Biddy, was a particularly unscrupulous establishment.

"So tell me again," Ro whispered as she and Macen slogged through rain swollen streets. The downpour was so heavy, the drains were unable to keep up, "This Skrain Farak is a part-time spy in charge of instructing Cardassian paramilitary groups how to conduct intelligence gathering and analysis."

"Correct." Macen confirmed.

"Only he's so corrupt, he'll work for the highest bidder, whomever that may be." Ro added.

"Correct again." Macen affirmed.

"In fact, there's every likelihood he's sold the information regarding our meeting to the Obsidian Order or the very paramilitaries we're trying to strike." Without waiting for Macen's reply she asked, "And we're meeting with him because...?"

"Because he's the only source of the data we require that I can find on short notice." Macen explained again.

Both wore water repellant ponchos against the weather. The upraised hoods were wide enough to allow visibility but also obscured their features enough to prevent instant recognition. They also both wore concealed phasers. Ro wore a Ferengi model that resembled a sprinkler nozzle in the small of her back. Macen wore a Bajoran Militia issue phaser pistol in a hip holster on his right side.

"What's to prevent him from selling us a bunch of lies?" Ro demanded, stopping in front of the Old Biddy's door. Her fists were planted on her hips, arms akimbo. Her eyes flashed and her pale cheeks flushed.

"Because if any of us survived to tell the tale," Macen lectured, "his business would be ruined."

Barely mollified, Ro nodded, "Good enough. Let's get in out of the rain and meet the scumbag."

The pair attracted attention as soon as they walked in. Ro retained the attention of most of the males and a few of the females when she threw back her hood. She noticed a pair of Nausicaans in the corner table by the door. There were two more in the back of the bar playing dom-jot. Ro's sense for danger began screaming at her.

Macen threw back his hood and some of the men and women looked away from Ro. She noticed an increased amount of feminine attention began to come their way. Ro appraised Macen in a new light. She'd never been romantically interested in him and had therefore never noticed that he was moderately handsome.

Two women began to rise from their table and Ro glowered at them. They promptly sat back down. A trio of gentlemen and a woman rose and began to make their way towards Ro. Macen took hold of Ro's waist and gave them threatening glares. Only the most inebriated of the lot proceeded with his pick-up attempt.

"Hiya Honey!" the human male excitedly slurred, "What'cha lookin' fer?"

"To be rid of you." Ro replied and shoved the man backwards.

He grew angry and drew a knife. He lunged at Ro, who merely dodged the knife's thrust. She took hold of the man's wrist and inverted it. He gasped and dropped the knife. Ro locked his elbow, took a hold of the back of his neck and bounced his head off the bar.

The man fell in a heap and Ro look down at him with a mixture of contempt and pity, "Sleep it off, friend."

"Are you done terrorizing the local drunks?" Macen asked with a grin.

Ro wiped her hands off on each other, "I think so."

"Farak is sitting over there." Macen nodded in the appropriate direction, "Ready to do business?"

"Just don't break what little bit of a bank we have." Ro warned.

"Actually," Macen's grin grew wider, "Farak insists upon negotiating only with you."

"I wonder what the little vole's up to?" Ro wondered aloud.

"I've been curious about that myself." Macen admitted and followed Ro to Farak's booth.

Macen scooted into the booth first, sitting opposite of Farak. Ro sat next and scooted in beside Macen. Farak offered the Bajoran a false but toothy smile. He was overweight and greasy in that particularly Cardassian sort of way.

"So is it Lt. Ro Laren or Captain Ro now days?" Farak snidely asked, "After all, you are an AWOL Starfleet lieutenant and captain of the Maquis raider, Indomitable. Or should I refer to her as the Indie as the crew does?"

"You can call her, and me, whatever you like." Ro started to rise, "Just as long as you go to hell, you pompous..."

"Come now, Captain." Farak chided her, "We haven't even begun to negotiate in earnest and already you make to leave? Bad manners that."

Ro's self control never wavered. She calmly and coolly settled back in her seat and fixed her eyes on Farak's, "Fine. Let's negotiate but knock it off on the 'Captain' stuff."

Farak leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial tone of voice; "These are freighter crews and other less savory types that ply the star lanes. Addressing you by your current title and rank allays suspicion." He smiled malevolently and added, "Captain!"

Ro's expression remained neutral, "Let's get down to business. You know the paramilitary training camp on Gravis IV."

"I know of it." Farak sniffed.

"You'd better know more than that." Ro warned, "Or you won't get paid."

"Speaking of payment," Farak said, "let us discuss these matters over a meal. Your treat, of course. The Ferengi are quite correct. Never deal on an empty stomach."

"And afterwards?" Ro demanded.

"We haggle." Farak shrugged, "If we reach an accommodation I approve of, then I tell you all the intimate secrets of the facility at Grekhor. That tidbit was free by the way."

"Let's order up then." Ro replied.

The Maquis ate frugally. Farak, however, ordered the most expensive Cardassian entrée. While Macen ate a Shepard's pie and Ro dined on a hasperat soufflé, Farak enjoyed braised gralier fish covered in yamok sauce. Although she remained outwardly calm, Ro was incensed by the extravagant use of her cell's meager latinum reserves.

Farak pushed his plate away and amiably smiled, "That was palatable. They could use a little help with their replication program though."

"I'll be sure to tell the proprietor on our way out." Ro remarked dryly.

"And therein we come to the very heart of the matter." Farak drew his hands together and spoke gravely. "I have done some research into your motley band of rebels. Even at your highest funded level, you wouldn't be able to meet my asking price for this information."

"Then why bring us here?" Ro growled.

Farak shrugged and spread his hands wide, "To enjoy a meal and to collect a prize. A pair of prizes, in fact. The bounty on your head, Captain, is quite large and makes an investment of time and manpower feasible. Our good Commander Macen, however, is useful only to the Obsidian Order. They will look kindly upon his capture and perhaps reward me as well."

Farak raised a hand and snapped his fingers, "I hate to abuse your hospitality but, as Macen would tell you, business is business."

The two Nausicaans playing dom-jot put down their cues and began confidently striding towards Farak's booth. Ro swung her legs out from the booth and sprinted away from its confines. Her hand flew to the small of her back and retrieved her phaser. She shot one of the bounty hunters before he could react.

Ro overturned a nearby table and ducked behind it as the remaining Nausicaan of the pair pulled his disruptor free and opened fire. The rest of the patrons of the pub were either standing or cowering behind furniture themselves. The ones standing were slowing down the two Nausicaans near the entrance. They were shouldering their way through the crowd but slowly enough to give Ro time to finish off this next one.

Where's Macen? Ro thought bitterly as she heard the heavier report of his phaser. The sound repeated itself and the closest Nausicaan collapsed. Macen jumped to the other side of the table.

"I'd get over here if I were you." he shouted.

Ro looked over her shoulder and saw that the second pair of Nausicaans had almost cleared the crowd. She leapt over the table top, tucking and rolling as she landed. Disruptor bolts followed her as she cleared the top of the table. She immediately scrambled back behind the cover of the tabletop.

"Where's Farak?" Ro enquired of Macen.

"I dealt with him." Macen replied with a shrug.

"You didn't...?" Ro trailed off.

Macen was offended, "We still need the data locked in that thick skull of his. I figure T'Kir can dig it out with a mind meld."

"Thank the Prophets." Ro sighed and then her resolve reasserted itself, "Let's take these two out and get away from here."

Ro leaned to her right and took aim. Her shot was true and the third Nausicaan fell. The last unleashed a torrent of fire. The surface of the table began to heat up.

"I'm more expendable." Macen said, "I'll distract him."

"How?" Ro demanded.

"I'll jump up and take a shot at him." Macen explained with a grin, "While I'm doing that, you'll make sure I'm not needlessly expended."

"On three?" Ro asked.

"Why not five?" Macen suggested, "I've always wanted to go on five."

Ro rolled eyes, "Whatever you want.

"Than let's go on two." Macen decided, "Why wait?

"Bu...but." Ro stammered.

"One..." Macen counted and Ro steeled herself, "Two!"

Macen leapt up and fired off a wild shot at the Nausicaan. It glanced off his shoulder armor and the gigantic alien shifted his aim and prepared to fire. Ro leaned over again and hit the Nausicaan squarely in the unarmored chest with her phaser blast. As the bounty hunter began to fall, Macen leveled his phaser in a two handed grip at the crowd.

Ro rose and one of the corsairs recognized her at long last, "You're Ro Laren of the Maquis!"

Ro lowered Macen's gun, "I'd just as soon you'd forget that you saw me or heard my name."

Some nodded but most looked skeptical. The pirate that had identified her asked, "What's in it for us?"

"A round for the entire house," Ro announced, "minus our unconscious friends of course."

There were cheers and proclamations of good will for the rebellion at that. Macen doled out the latinum to the barkeep while Ro pulled out a surplus flip-open style communicator from the turn of the century.

"Aric, this is Ro." she spoke into the grilled audio receiver, "We have a pick-up at the Old Biddy. Get here as fast as you can."

"We're circling the block now." Tulley revealed, "We'll be there in under two minutes."

Almost exactly two minutes later, Tulley burst through the door of the Old Biddy. He wore a leather coat, a wide brimmed hat and a scarf. Thool, Ro's Bolian chief engineer, followed. Behind them came Toik and Harrelson, two members of Tulley's strike team.

The three men and one woman carried Farak's bulk out of the pub. Ro bought another round and departed to cheers. It was still raining and she pulled her hood up. Tulley had stuffed Farak into the back of an aircar. He saluted and fired up the car's antigrav generators and lifted off and departed.

With Macen in tow, Ro walked down the street to her own aircar. Technically it belonged to the entire Maquis cell on Ronara Prime. As a privilege of command it was reserved for her exclusive use. Compared to a Galaxy-class starship, the car was simplicity itself to fly. It dated back to the turn of the century and its controls reflected that but Ro found the buttons and levers appealing compared to the LCARS flight controls on the Enterprise-D.

Ro landed the car beside Tulley's at headquarters. Farak was already awake and indignant. Ro's appearance in the room set aside for the interrogation momentarily silenced him. Ro bestowed a cold smile upon him.

"Surprised to see me?"

"Honestly?" Farak replied, "Yes. I'd assumed your comrades had seized me to learn your location." Farak's eyes narrowed, "Why am I here?"

"Same deal as before." Ro offered, "We pay you a considerably reduced sum and you provide the information we need and you go free or we take what we want from your mind and see if your still capable of coherent thought afterwards. Either way we win."

"I've been trained to resist mind probes." Farak boasted, "Even Romulan ones."

"But what about Vulcan probes?" Ro wondered.

"Vulcan probes?" Farak repeated.

"Send T'Kir in." Ro ordered.

The door opened and Macen led a wild-eyed T'Kir in. It wasn't until T'Kir tucked a stray lock of hair behind an elegantly curved ear that Farak understood the nature of Ro's threat. His smile was confident and his voice full of bluster.

"Vulcans won't mind meld without permission." Farak insisted, "And I refuse."

Ro leaned down and whispered in Farak's ear, "Look at her. She's not entirely stable and she doesn't give a damn about Vulcan etiquette. I know for a fact that she'll telepathically rape anyone she wants. "

"She wouldn't." Farak was worried now.

"See those eyes and that smirk?" Ro enquired, "She's ready to start."

Farak assessed T'Kir's state of mind and panicked, "I'll tell you whatever you want!"

"That'll be all for now, T'Kir." Ro said softly.

Macen led a sullen T'Kir to a seat and sat next to her. He held her hand and gently consoled her.

"What she still doing here?" a worried Farak asked.

"She's here to verify the truth of what you say." Ro said with a feral smile, "So be honest and this can remain pleasant."

Farak answered all of Ro's, Tulley's and Macen's questions and got a thumb's up from their resident telepathic Vulcan lie detector. Soon they were underway in the Indomitable, Odyssey and the Fame & Fortune. The latter vessel belonged to a smuggler frequently employed by the Maquis. It belonged to Harcourt "Harry" Fenton Mudd III and today was a hallmark day.

Today, Mudd would carry people rather than weapons. Mudd had been hired, primarily because he was trusted and he was available on short notice. His ship would be responsible for ferrying the hostages home. The Fame & Fortune had previously had previous dealings on Gravis IV therefore providing an excuse to land there. Slipping into Grekhor would be more difficult but Harry was a professional conman. His credentials were impeccable. It was literally in his genes.

Tulley's strike team resided in the cargo hold of the Indomitable. Macen's team commanded the Odyssey. Lisea Danan's expertise in astrophysics was about to come into play. She was going to provide the Indomitable with the means of landing on the planet.

The plan sounded simpler than it would be to execute. First the two Maquis ships would push a cometary fragment out of the system's Oort Cloud and vector it to enter Gravis IV's atmosphere. Next, the two ships would employ their phasers and photon torpedoes to reduce the cometary mass into smaller fragments, ones that would burn up in the planet's atmosphere. Macen and T'Kir would beam aboard the Indomitable and leave Danan in charge of the Odyssey.

Danan would then command the scoutship as it took an ostensible survey of the comet field. Meanwhile, the Indomitable would utilize her tractor beams to hold the comet debris together as a screening cloud and proceed to Gravis IV at half impulse. The debris would confound the ground sensors and provide a sensor blind as the raider entered the atmosphere. The Indomitable had to land or face ground based phaser arrays once the comet burned up.

Gravis IV had been a Cardassian colony swallowed up by the Demilitarized Zone treaty. The increase in trade brought on by the sudden access to Federation markets had created a boom economy. The principle trade good was high quality textiles and Cardassian fashions, which were slowly catching on in the Federation's Home Worlds.

Grekhor was a supplier of ryrie fiber for the mills. Mudd's principle plan was to pose as a raw fiber buyer. Failing that, he was going to pose as a buyer and purveyor of medicinal muds, Grekhor's second largest industry was supplying raw mud for ceramics factories. Either way, he'd scout out suppliers for future business deals.

The training facility only stood two kilometers outside the city's walls. It was the original farming commune that had been pioneered out this way. Why it had stood alone rather than be absorbed into the greater city remained obscured by history but the Cardassian High Command had taken advantage of its abandoned state.

Converting fertile fields into training grounds, the barracks could accommodate one hundred students and ten instructors. Security was accomplished through sentries and sensor nets. It was Tulley and his raiders' job to sort out the sentries. T'Kir would handle the electronics.

Now it was simply time to execute the plan...

The comet chunks entered Gravis IV's atmosphere and began vaporizing as planned. The resultant release of gases and thermal pockets effectively disguised the Indomitable. At the helm, Ro rode out the storm and kept the raider in the midst of the self-destructive maelstrom.

As more of the comet burned up, sensor returns began to bounce of the Indomitable. Ro responded by diving for the surface below. She trimmed out at five thousand meters since their intelligence said the ground based phaser arrays couldn't scan below a kilometer's elevation.

"Did they ID us?" Ro called out.

"Ree-lax." T'Kir grinned, "I killed the transponder. They'd have to flag us from Cardassian military sensor records."

"Aric?" Ro glanced over towards her lieutenant.

"They haven't bolstered their scans which probably means that they haven't raised their alert status." Tulley replied.

"Good enough for now." Ro refocused on the task at hand, "Let's get this over with."

"Have fun dealing with the mud farmers." Traffic Control sneered.

"Thank you." Mudd replied amiably, "I think I will." He terminated the transmission and scowled, "Reptile."

From beside him, Harrelson leaned in closer, "What's the problem?"

Mudd glanced over at the leader of the two Maquis escorting him and smiled, "He doubts me. Me, the infamous Harry Mudd!"

Harrelson kept her opinions regarding Mudd's infamy to herself, "Are we on schedule?"

"Of course, my dear." Mudd assured her, "Just sit back and enjoy the view."

Ro did a flyby of the training facility. T'Kir outlined the sensor coverage and Thool beamed down the strike team just outside the screen. Ro set the converted scoutship down in a nearby field. Thool switched from the cargo transporter to the four-man main transporter unit and beamed Ro, T'Kir, and Macen to the same location occupied by Tulley and the strike team.

"So now what?" Tulley asked Ro as she came to stand beside him.

"Now we watch T'Kir perform her magic." Ro replied with a tight grin.

T'Kir knelt onto the ground and opened the case she carried. Contained within it was a portable computer. It was the latest Starfleet model courtesy of Macen and Danan. She activated the computer and flipped open a tricorder.

"Remember," Macen reminded her from his position beside her, "the Cardies are using a modulating subspace frequency pulse."

"Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs." T'Kir snapped, "I've been hacking Cardie comm channels since I was a kid." Quickly finding the frequency, she went to work on the computer. She began modifying a tapeworm program she'd started developing during the voyage here. She pressed the "Transmit" key and waited.

"Done!" she announced happily, "Now you could walk right up and knock on the front door."

"How do you know?" Ro asked.

"Puh-lease," T'Kir waved her hand dismissively, "This was child's play."

"I guess we test it by moving forward and letting our snipers deal with the sentries." Tulley suggested.

"Do it." Ro nodded and then turned to T'Kir, "You'd better be right about this."

T'Kir stuck her tongue out at her. Ro ignored the gesture and watched as her Maquis crept through the native crop towards the swathe of dirt cut out by the Cardassian military advisors. The stalks were as tall as corn and had pods full of cotton-like ryrie fibers. Tulley double clicked his communicator and Ro tapped her badge once.

Several bursts of phaser fire lanced out and felled the assembled sentries stationed around the north, east, and west sides of the building. The south faced the training grounds and the sentries there were more exposed due to direct observation by their superiors. The southern sentries lined the fence surrounding the training encampment. Given the all clear by Tulley, the strike team approached.

Ro waited while Tulley assessed the hazards of entering the barracks, "T'Kir, wait here and stay out of trouble."

"Where's the fun in that?" T'Kir retorted.

"Bo good, or I won't let your boyfriend ride home with us." Ro jerked a thumb towards Macen.

Macen smiled reassuringly at T'Kir, "Relax. I'll be fine."

T'Kir was barely mollified but her protestations ended. Ro and Macen ran to the barrack's main entrance and she asked as they reached it, "So what is it between you two?"

Macen leaned against the wall and squinted his eyes against the sun, "It's complicated."

"I'll say." Ro remarked and Tulley strode over.

"There appears to be four interior guards." Tulley said snapping his tricorder closed. Direct observation has the captives working as domestics. There's thirty-one of them."

"Mudd's cargo transporter can handle that many." Ro affirmed.

"Then my team will slip in, neutralize the threat, liberate the hostages and regroup at the rendezvous point." Tulley rattled off as if reading from a list.

"While you're doing that, Brin and I will be planting the explosives." Ro said and looked at Macen, "And where did a spy learn about explosives?"

"I've told you, before coming to the Alpha Quadrant, I wasn't a spy." Macen replied.

"What were you again?" Ro asked suspiciously.

"A social scientist." Macen proudly announced, "Trained in history, anthropology, sociology and a little psychology."

Ro rolled her eyes, "Whatever you were, today you're helping me plant bombs."

"With aplomb." Macen snickered. Ro made to hit him but Tulley stopped her.

"Are we ready to proceed?" he asked.

"You've a green light." Ro told him and he moved off. Ro held a finger up in Macen's direction, "No more bad puns. I mean it!"

Macen nodded and joined Ro as they watched Tulley and his volunteers storm into the barracks, phasers blazing. The familiar whines and pitches soon ceased and Tulley called back, "All clear."

Ro entered and registered the fear in the hostages' eyes. Bruises, split lips, limps and cradled ribs attested to the maltreatment they'd endured. Still, Ro inwardly recoiled. Some still had fire in their eyes and she respected that. Most, though, had the beaten and hounded looks that had caused her to abandon her people. It had only been fighting alongside Bajoran Maquis and ex-Resistance fighters that she'd regained a modicum of respect for her race.

"Tulley, form a squad." Ro ordered, "Get these civilians to the beam in zone."

"You got it, Skipper!" Tulley exclaimed and then barking orders at half of the strike squad. The raiders gently but briskly guided the hostages out of the buildings. A few needed assistance in walking but the march proceeded without incident. Within ten minutes, Ro received a comm call confirmed that they'd arrived.

"Contact Toik and Harrelson on Mudd's ship and have them beam you out." Ro ordered.

While Tulley's team guarded the southern entrances to the barracks, Ro and Macen strategically placed small brick-like explosives. Each one had a detonator rigged with a subspace receiver. It took Ro and Macen under ten minutes to place and arm the explosives. Ro gave Tulley a thumb's up and he squared his phaser rifle to his shoulder and fired.

The particle beam struck a military advisor and killed him. His students were shocked at first but then swiftly recovered. Points and shouts were directed in the way of the barracks. Tulley's troops unleashed a volley of fire, striking down almost a dozen more instructors and students. The Cardassians replied in kind and Tulley and his remaining raiders evacuated at a dead run.

Ro and Macen were barely ahead of them when they reached the wall of ryrie stalks Ro turned and waited. The Cardassian appeared out of the main entrance and she lifted her hand. In it was a small cylindrical device. It was a subspace transmitter keyed to a single frequency.

She depressed the activation button and the building was rocked with explosions and collapsed. Soon the cries of the wounded and the dying could be heard but that had nothing to do with the Maquis. They were here to deal destruction not succor the enemy.

They returned to their original transport site and found T'Kir and one of the hostages waiting for them. The former hostage was an intense young Bajoran with deep brown hair and pale blue eyes. Those eyes now flashed with a burning rage.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Ro demanded.

T'Kir cocked her eyebrows up and down, "Told ya she'd be mad."

"I want to join up." the youngster proclaimed.

"And what could you possibly do?" Ro asked.

"I was a helmsman on a freighter." he declared, "Give me a day or two and I can fly one of your raiders."

Ro looked him over appraisingly, "You have a name?"

"Mysra Tem." he answered.

"Welcome aboard Mysra." Ro smiled and tapped her comm badge, "Thool, there'll be fourteen to beam out."

"I've got you locked on with the cargo transporter." Thool replied, "Hang on."

Soon, the world dissolved and then reformed as the Indomitable's cargo hold

Mysra whistled, "What a piece of junk."

"Watch it boy." Ro growled, "Or we'll have you get out and push and leave you on this rock."

"I'm duly chastised." Mysra promised.

Ro charged off for the bridge and landed in the pilot's chair. She took the systems off stand-by and fired the thrusters for an immediate launch. Tulley, Thool, Macen and T'Kir were still struggling into their seats while the Indomitable climbed higher into the sky.

"I knew I needed to work on the artificial gravity and the inertia dampener." Thool bewailed as he leaned to stay "upright" and was squeezed into his seat.

"Did Mudd already launch?" Ro demanded.

"He lifted off five minutes ago." Thool supplied, "He gave us the Fame & Fortune's course, heading, rate of climb and filed exit vector from the system."

"Good." Ro smiled thinly, "Time to use the concept of a human shield to our use."

Ro flew until she was beside Mudd's freighter. Cardassian Traffic Control had only moments before identified her ship from Cardassian military records. Firing on her while she was so close to a civilian freighter wasn't out of the question but the merchant in question had just purchased a large amount of specialized mud and had promised the Cardassian producers access to the Federation markets.

Ro dogged Mudd's trail until they hit high orbit and then she peeled off and exited the system along an independent vector. They would rendezvous in Ronaran City in a day or two. This approach left Mudd's reputation with the Cardassians intact and would also draw off any paramilitary response towards the Indomitable, which was more equipped to handle it.

"I can't believe you bought forty tons of mud." Ro said from the booth at the Old Biddy.

"They possess medicinal properties and will fetch a high price." Mudd insisted.

"It's used to make ceramics." Ro countered.

"Ah, but it will have great curative powers when I sell it to the spas on Risa and Tellar."

Ro shook her head, "I don't know whether to be proud of you, Harry, or to hit you."

"I'll take pride any day." Mudd stood, "Thanks for the drinks," he hefted a duffel bag, "and the prompt payment. If only more criminals and revolutionaries were as honorable as you lot."

"Thank you, Harry." T'Kir raised her glass, "We love you too."

"My dear," Mudd shook his head, "your brand of love scares me. Stick with what you know, I always say. Ta ta."

Mudd departed and left the Maquis alone. Ro was there, as well as Macen, T'Kir and Tulley. In another booth across the way sat Thool, Harrelson, Toik and Mysra Tem. Tulley observed them a moment longer and then turned to Ro.

"I think the kid's going to work out, Laren."

Ro nodded, "He's devilishly fast at learning how to fly our ships and he's a natural with a phaser."

Ro leaned back and she addressed Macen, "How are the Cardies taking our little strike?"

Macen shrugged, "Since the camp never officially existed, it's being touted as a Maquis terror strike against innocent farmers. Unofficially Gul Maret is making a lot of noise about immediate reprisals and the destruction of all of the cell's craft when they enter Cardassian space. It's the usual 'iron man' propaganda that plays well to the High Command."

"The local reaction's been amazing." Ro said with some incredulity, "We've gotten good press and word of mouth. Donations of food, supplies and latinum are pouring in like never before. All in all, I'd say we did good work people."

They all lifted their glasses at that and Ro continued, "I'm proud to serve alongside each and every one of you."

She pointedly looked at T'Kir, "Or at least most of you."

T'Kir looked plaintively towards Macen, "See what I had to put up with before I was transferred to your command?"

"You survived." Ro replied and took another sip of her synthale.

An unruly Klingon swaggered up to the table and laid his disruptor on the table, "Hello Captain Ro. You others clear out. She's my prize and I'm taking her straight to the High Command."

"Another bounty hunter." Ro fumed, "Go away. We're celebrating."

The Klingon snatched up the disruptor and aimed it Ro, "I said move!"

Ro, who was seated on the outside of the booth, swung her legs out. She scooted forward in a resigned manner and the Klingon smiled. She came up fast and smashed his nose with the palm of her hand. While he was stunned, she inverted his wrist and then released it, now holding his disruptor.

"Scat!" she ordered and moved forward with the weapon. The Klingon broke and ran out of the pub. Ro set the pistol down on the table and lifted her mug.

"To the finest Maquis cell!" Ro proclaimed, "Let the Cardassians bring on their worst. We'll be ready for them."

There were cheers to that. Each knew they had the full confidence of their chosen leader and that inspired them. Ro suspected her Maquis would follow her to the bitter end. It was her responsibility to see that was never necessary.

Whatever her personal doubts were regarding her leadership skills. She led and people followed. What greater testament of loyalty could there be? After a day like the other day she even felt worthy of their respect.

She may not be able to pull off a miraculous operation every time, but she could give it her damndest. That's all anyone could ask. She'd know when to step down and would gladly do so when that day finally came. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she couldn't foresee that day for some time to come.

For now at least, Ro was content with her lot in life. She'd found her calling and was leaving up to her ideals every day. Not everyone could claim that and it had taken her a long time to find her place. She had finally in the DMZ and she wouldn't leave.


Last modified: 02 Jan 2014