|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...
Kira Nerys and Elias Vaughn stood on the balcony overlooking DS9's Promenade. For three months, ever since the election of the Unionist Party in Cardassia, refugees had been pouring in. The first thing that had been declared by the newly reinstated Detepa Council had been the outlawing of all political parties except for the Unionist Party.
Iltz Garan was Prime Minister but the General Secretary of the Unionist Party, Anus Maret, truly ran the stellar nation. Maret's first act was to initiate a purge of the Monarchists and Democrats scattered across the Union. Any rival political ideologue that wouldn't swear absolute loyalty to the Unionist Party and subject themselves to surveillance was either shot or exiled.
The Obsidian Order was reborn. Its agents scoured the planetsides looking for potential rebels and traitors. No proof of an accusation was needed and the sentence was always death.
No foreign journalists were allowed inside of Union borders but reports from the exiles brought the estimated tally up to one billion dead and another five billion or so exiled. There was a great deal of fear in Cardassian space and abroad. The Federation was on high alert.
Bajor bore the brunt of the refugee wave. Its resources were being severely taxed and every day hundreds of transports were ferrying off Cardassians to colony worlds where they could contribute. Sadly, every effort seemed too little and too late.
Kira and Vaughn studied the morass of misery queuing up at the replimat. Kira was surprised to find that her heart broke for the refugees. It was true that they were Cardassians but all the same, they were hapless victims in all of this. All these people had wanted to do was live their lives in peace. A familiar voice broke her reverie.
"Hello, Captain." Elim Garak said from behind her, "I see you've taken to wearing Starfleet issue full time."
Kira turned and smiled, "You're behind the times Garak. I've worn this uniform for six years now."
"True." Garak conceded, "But I have been busy at home."
"I take it you're another refugee." Kira surmised.
"Yes, the Militia and Obsidian Order penetrated my last redoubt and I was forced to abandon my listening post." Garak confirmed her theory.
"Listening post?" Vaughn's interest was piqued.
Kira intervened, "Garak, this is..."
"The redoubtable Commander Elias Vaughn." Garak said in admiration, "There were a few times when I almost cornered you back when you were still in the field."
"I remember all too well." Vaughn smiled, "But you were saying?"
"Yes, after the fall of Ghemor's government I agreed to conduct surveillance operations on behalf of Starfleet Intelligence. It has taken a few months but they finally caught up with me." Garak explained.
"How did you escape?" Kira wondered.
"My dear Captain," Garak smiled, "one is always prepared."
"I'm just glad you survived and made it back to here." Kira assured him.
"Speaking of returning," Garak said, "I noticed that my old tailor shop has been abandoned. I wonder if I may set up shop there again? One never knows when one might need a tailor."
"Especially one with your talents?" Kira mused, "Consider it done. Will you be looking in on Julian now?"
"I'm afraid my reunion with the good Doctor must be postponed." Garak replied, "In my haste to depart Cardassia I was never able to make my final report. I have information that may prove to be vital for Starfleet Command."
"You can have access to one of our briefing rooms." Kira assured him, "If I may, can I ask what it's about."
"Portents of war, my dear." Garak said with his usual calm, "Portents of war."
Radil Jenrya bustled about their flat. She smiled to herself when she caught herself thinking about it in those terms. Abby Collins had moved in with her three months ago and life had been deliriously blissful since then.
Radil had told Collins the good news upon arriving at Barrinor following the disastrous Cardassian mission. Collins had first declared her attraction, and later her love, for Radil over a year and a half ago. Learning that Collins had a penchant for falling for her direct superior Radil had held off.
Their friendship blossomed and after Collins accepted the Chief of Security position aboard Tom Riker's ship, the Indomitable, Radil learned first hand that Collins' love was not a simple infatuation. When Radil gave Collins the "good news" it meant that she professed her mutual love for Collins and that she wanted to be with her.
Currently, Collins was out on a mission. She was due back any day now. The door chimed and Radil's heart skipped a beat. She ran to the door before allowing it to open.
Instead of Collins, Tom Riker stood on her landing. Riker looked stricken. Radil took a step back and clutched her heart.
"No." Radil started to protest, "It isn't true."
"Jenrya," Riker was obviously heartsick, "Abby...Abby didn't make it. She was leading a boarding party and one of the pirates had a hidden knife and he stabbed her through the heart. She didn't live long enough for us to get her to Sickbay and try to replace her heart. When she died, she died thinking of you. She wanted you to know that she always loved you and that the last three months were the best of her life."
Radil continued to shake her head, "No...it's not true. It's impossible."
"Jenrya," Riker sought the words, "I don't know what to say."
"Nooo!" she screamed and ran around Riker and out the door.
Riker exited the flat. His spirits were at their lowest ebb since Jamie Kirk's death. He'd lost people while serving as 1st Officer aboard the Obsidian but this was the first loss aboard his command. He sought out Lisea Danan and hoped like hell that she had some synthale handy.
Brin Macen and T'Kir were seated across the dining table in Rab Daggit and Parva's home. Neither Daggit nor Parva were currently a member of Macen's SID team. They had been in the past but those days were over.
Daggit was now an instructor at the Security Alliance Academy. Parva was the newly promoted Head of Maintenance at Outbound Ventures HQ. So far, the meal had been spectacular and the conversation had been light and flowed freely. That was about to change.
"Brin," Daggit leaned on his elbows after the dishes had been cleared and the drinks refilled, "I've been meaning to ask: why Annika Ryst?"
Macen sighed, "She's Celeste Rockford now and you should know better than any of us what that entails."
"Yes." Daggit grimaced, "I was an Infiltrator too. That's my point. She's repetitively tried to kill you in the past. Who says she won't try again?"
"You should know the answer to that." Macen scolded, "She is Celeste Rockford now and Celeste Rockford wouldn't do something like that."
"You still haven't answered my question." Daggit pointed out.
Macen took a swig of his coffee and attempted to explain the unexplainable, "You know of my ability to see probabilities, might have beens, or could be's. Occasionally I can see further into the future than at other times. Whereas during a normal 'insight' I see moments or maybe hours ahead and see the choices that will bring about myriad quantum universes."
Macen was settled in now, "After those insights, I follow the path laid out for the outcome that I deem to be most desirable. Extended time frames are problematic since I can't see the route that got us to that particular future. I have to pick and choose while always working towards the outcome that I desire."
"Okay." Daggit was a bit overwhelmed, "I knew some of that already. Not in those graphic terms but I had the basic concept. Where does Rockford fit into this?"
"If what I saw comes to pass, literally billions of lives hang in the balance while awaiting her decision to take action or not to." Macen revealed.
"What could jeopardise billions of lives all at once?" Daggit asked.
"I'd rather not say." Macen replied, "If it's all the same to you I'd rather hope that it all doesn't come to pass."
Daggit struggled with this answer and T'Kir decided to change the topic, "Parva, how d'you like your new job?"
Parva beamed, "It's great! I get to pick and choose my projects now. It's strange, though, to have everyone come to me for answers. I know I'm good but I'm still a fluffy bunny head compared to what I was before I was shot."
"How much of your past d'you remember?" T'Kir wondered, "I know we dug up quite a bit together but has anything else come back?"
Parva's face scrunched up, "Nothing nice. I told Rab about what I remembered and he told me I used to be a sex slave for somebody called Daveed B'nner."
T'Kir nodded, "Yes, you did, Honey. But you literally blew him up."
"I did?" Parva perked up, "I wish I could remember that."
"No, you don't." Daggit advised, "It was pretty gory. It also took hours to wash off all of the mess. I had to throw away all of my clothes."
"I could throw away all of your clothes and wash you now if you'd like." Parva offered.
Daggit grinned and leaned down to kiss her, "I like the idea but not the timing. Let's wait until they leave."
"Why?" Parva innocently asked, "We've a spare bedroom. They can have that one and do whatever they want."
Parva pointed a finger at T'Kir, "Except break the furniture! I remember what you two did to the Captain's office that time."
"Oops." T'Kir unrepentantly replied.
"Ooh you!' Parva wagged her finger.
"Truce." Macen suggested, "We won't use the room and no furniture will get broken. Fair enough?"
"Okay." Parva bubbled.
"So what has the SID team done lately?" Daggit sought neutral territory.
Macen grinned, "It's a good thing you retained your Starfleet Security clearance."
"Well, get to it. Speak man!" Daggit was enjoying playing Lord of the Manor.
"Well, three months ago..." Macen began.
Macen and T'Kir were walking home. The last three months had been those of sadness for the couple. T'Kir's pregnancy had been ended by a Cardassian disruptor wound. Since then they had turned to one another to cope with yet another personal tragedy.
Their combined life stories read like a Greek play. Macen had lost his people to the Borg, fought alongside the Maquis, and now lost a baby. T'Kir had lost her folks, who were Sybokian Vulcans, and their fellow colonists to the Cardassians. She'd fought in the Maquis alongside Macen, and, of course, lost her child.
They kept going though. They had a dream for a better tomorrow and they would die trying to see it become a reality. Sometime during that crusade they wanted to have a family. They just couldn't decide when to start.
Macen's ability to search the Currents of probability hadn't shown them an answer. He'd seen a future when he and T'Kir had two daughters but, as usual with long range forecasts, he couldn't see the path that produced that result. They just had to plug away one moment at a time.
When they reached their home, Macen noticed that the comm/comp was signalling that it had a message. Macen activated it and it was from Admiral Amanda Forger. The SID Director looked stressed and it was awfully late for her which meant that whatever business she had with Macen truly was important.
The screen shifted to an image of a Bajoran woman wearing a Starfleet uniform and Lt. Commander's pins, "Hello Ambril. I see they have you at the grindstone in the wee hours of the morning as well."
Ambril Delori wore a wry expression, "Everyone's at their posts. Starfleet Intelligence has gone gaga over some data brought in by Elim Garak. The whole fleet is being put on notice."
"What's the Defence Condition set at?" Macen asked. The rating system went from 1-5. 5 meaning peacetime and 1 as being all out war.
"We're at DefCon 3 but I've overheard gossip that we're about to go DefCon 2." Ambril relayed, "I'll patch you through to the Admiral. She's been pacing the room waiting for you."
"That's a pretty impressive feat considering that she's confined to a wheelchair." Macen quipped.
"That isn't funny." Ambril scolded, "It's true, but it isn't funny."
Ambril conferred with her other screen for a moment and then faced Macen's terminal, "I'm patching you through now."
The Starfleet emblem shown on his screen for a heartbeat and then Forger's visage replaced it. Macen was startled, "Fates, Amanda, you look like hell."
"Thanks." She wearily smiled, "If I could curtsy, I would."
"Your message sounded pretty dire." Macen remarked, "Since we're at DefCon 3 I'm assuming things are grim and getting worse."
"Actually, we just went to DefCon 2. The situation is breaking loose faster than we can contain it." Forger replied.
"What's the situation?" Macen wondered.
"Is T'Kir with you?" Forger asked.
Macen smiled, "Actually, she's sneaking up behind me as we speak."
"Dammit!" T'Kir hopped up and down, "You always know when I'm coming."
"All this time and she hasn't figured it out yet." Macen chuckled.
"She's young." Forger smiled, "She'll learn."
"Back to my question." Macen suggested as T'Kir pulled up a chair alongside his, "What's the situation?"
"The Nova Romans have marched off of the reservation." Forger grimaced, "They're gearing up for a civil war and they're engaging in commerce raids on nearby trade routes and planets."
"What kind of civil war?" Macen had to ask.
"It's the clones versus the natural humans." Forger answered, "It seems the clones are treated as untouchables in Roman society. Whereas natural born slaves have rights, the clones do not. Since roughly two-thirds of the Roman military machine is now comprised of clones, they decided to revolt and they have the training, access to military materials, and manpower to do it with."
"If the situation is that bleak, how has Alaric held out against the clone army?" Macen asked.
"The Roman subject nations do not have clones in their military units. Most are supporting the Empire. They see the clones as a threat to the natural order." Forger explained.
"Well, when you think about it, they are." Macen commented.
"Starfleet has dispatched the Hood to Magna Roma." Forger disclosed, "Merry Limerick is one of our most senior and capable officers. It is hoped he can bring about a peaceful resolution to this situation. Meanwhile, patrols of the area have increased in order to interdict acts of piracy."
Forger grimaced, "The dicey part is that Garak reports that the Cardassians are coming into it on the side of the clones. You see, Magna Roma does business with the Meirkus Conglomeration and it seems Bertram Sindis has made several promises which he will honour if the clones are victorious. Apparently the Cardassian intervention is his first step in fulfilling some of those promises."
"Have the Cardassians started to arrive?" Macen enquired.
"Three Keldon-class cruiser/troop carriers arrived yesterday. Passing through the patrols, the Cardassians stated that they were enemies of oppression and that they'd been asked to assist in prosecuting the war."
"'Enemies of oppression' my finely toned ass!" T'Kir snapped.
A ghost of a smile played at Forger's lips, "Exactly. Your job is to determine why the Cardassians are there."
"They won't like seeing me especially this close to the 'Broken Crown' affair." Macen replied.
"Too bad for them." Forger wore a vicious smile, "The Cardassians' interference opened the door to Federation intervention. All Alaric has to do is ask for help."
"Which he probably won't do without proof that the clones are being manipulated by Sindis." Macen pointed out, "It's an imperial pride kinda thing."
"I don't give a damn what it is." Forger said, "Get the proof. Convince Alaric to call us in. It's that simple."
"If only." Macen sighed, "Okay, when do you want us to go?"
"I know it's late evening there so you can wait until morning to depart." Forger answered, "Your contract and operational terms will be on your desk tomorrow for your approval and authorisation. Fair enough?"
"I guess it will have to be." Macen agreed, "Don't work too hard."
"I wish." Forger cynically replied, "Forger out."
The screen went dark and T'Kir turned to Macen, "So we have until tomorrow morning, right?"
"Right." Macen grinned, "Why?"
T'Kir slapped his arm, "Tag. You're it!" She sprinted away leaving a toppled chair in her wake. Macen righted the chair and then took off in pursuit. The whole house was soon filled with squeals of delight and manic giggling.
Joachim Dracas and Stan Guthrie sat in an intimate corner in one of Barrinor's most romantic restaurants. Dracas was Macen's SID Engineering Specialist. Guthrie was a Starfleet Special Operations Command team leader. A year ago they had met on Earth and they had fallen in love.
Dracas' secondary occupation was that of Chief Engineer of Macen's starship, the Nova-class SS Obsidian. Although the SID team had not been tapped since the Broken Crown affair, Macen had accepted short term civilian investigative assignments for the ship and crew. Dracas had just returned from the latest mission a day before.
Guthrie had accumulated leave time to burn and he took off a few weeks to be with Dracas. Due to the unpredictable natures of their assignments, and the irregular timing thereof, it seemed as though they were progressing in fits and starts. Now they were sitting down as a couple to discuss matters.
"I suppose that all of these little interruptions are good." Guthrie commented, "It keeps us at a slowed pace. Focused but slow. I know we shouldn't rush into anything too fast."
"I wouldn't know." Dracas confessed, "I've never had a relationship that lasted longer than a shore leave before."
Guthrie chuckled, "Than we're probably romantically progressing at a speed that you can safely digest."
"I suppose." Dracas hemmed, "I just wish that..."
Guthrie took his hand, "I know, Joachim, I know. But we can't rush. You've never faced the choice of whether or not to make a commitment before. You shouldn't have to make that choice until, or if, you're ready to. Don't worry about me. I've got all the time in the world."
"Isn't this sweet?" a rough voice sneered. Dracas and Guthrie each turned towards the voice and found two men facing them down. Two identical men in different clothing.
"Can we help you?" Guthrie politely asked.
"You can leave." The speaker ordered, "We have business with Dracas."
Guthrie and Dracas exchanged looks. Neither one knew why the man sneered Dracas' name and neither particularly cared at the moment. It was time to end this childishness.
They rose as one. Dracas spoke, "I have no idea why you are here but we can discuss it over drinks if you'd like."
"I'll never drink with you!" the man spat. To his look-alike he shouted, "Kill the Earther!"
The twins pulled knives out and they lunged at their targets. Dracas caught his attacker's arm and twisted it back. Slowly, ever so slowly, he drove the dagger point towards his would be assassin's throat. The man struggled but Dracas had spent every hour of every day of his life preparing for such occasions. Dracas plunged the knife into his throat without a moment's hesitation.
Guthrie latched onto the wrist of the hand wielding the knife. He twisted it and his attacker hissed in pain. Guthrie drove a knee into his opponent's abdomen knocking all of the air out of the man's lungs. He then applied a Vulcan nerve pinch and his attacker passed out.
Guthrie tossed his captured dagger in the air. As he caught it he turned to Dracas and smiled. Seeing the blood on Dracas' shirt he was at first alarmed, and then recognising that nothing was wrong with Joachim, he spoke.
"You had to kill him?" Guthrie asked.
Dracas shrugged, "It was reflex."
"Any idea who these gents were?" Guthrie asked.
"Yes." Dracas grimly replied, "Come here."
Dracas had pulled the shirt sleeve of the dead man up until his bicep was exposed. A tattoo could be found there. It read SPQR. On the faces of the two men, on their right cheek, were tattoos that read TITUS DXXXV and TITUS XLIII.
"What's that mean?" Guthrie wondered.
"It is the mark of the Legion." Dracas unhappily explained, "These men are Legionnaires. More specifically, they are clones that are Legionnaires. They have come to kill me."
Dracas turned to Guthrie with a feverish look in his eyes, "We must find Macen. He must be informed."
"Now?" Guthrie asked, "What about the Police?"
"There's no time!" Dracas insisted, "Come on!"
Together they ran out of the restaurant and down the street.
Kort bustled about the dining room table. He'd been trying out new recipes from Romulus and wondered how Hayley Galloway would like them. His friendship with Galloway had taken some strange turns but in the end they were still friends. She had news for him and he wondered what it was.
The door chimed and he approached with a lively step. The door opened and instead of a bright and sunny Galloway he was looking at a sobbing and distraught Radil.
"Jenrya," Kort gasped, "what's wrong?"
Radil threw herself into his arms, "She's dead, Kort. Abby's dead and I don't know if I can live with that."
Kort held her tight and steered her away from the door to the couch in the living room. Setting her down, he sat beside her and wrapped his arms around her, "I'm sorry about Abby. She was a strong fighter, one that would never give up. Do you know who inspired her to be that way?"
Radil sniffled, "No."
"You did." He confided, "She saw your tireless drive and endless reserves of strength as something she couldn't live without. That meant she wanted to be with you but it also meant she wanted to be more like you."
Radil looked even more shaken, "What are you trying to say?"
"You said that you didn't know if you could live like this, without Abby, and I'm telling you that you have to. Anything else spits on her memory." He was gentle but firm.
The door chime rang and Radil shot off the couch, "You're expecting company?" she looked towards the dining room table, "Oh, Prophets. Kort, I'm sorry!"
She raced for the door and pushed her way past Galloway on her way out. Kort followed. He paused to look at Galloway. She knew that look.
"It's all right Kort." She assured him, "Go after her."
Kort disappeared and Galloway walked back to the sidewalk and sighed. Today she was going to tell Kort that she'd decided that she wanted to start something with him. But not now. She knew that look and now she knew where his heart lay. She wouldn't interfere in that.
She used her communicator to leave a message for Kort. She would be staying at the Regent Plaza Hotel. If he wanted to he could find her there. She didn't expect him to come and wondered if it was too late to book a flight back to Bajor.
Riker groaned as Danan kneaded between his shoulder blades. She smiled, "Keep singing out. We've a ways to go."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Riker accused.
"Yup." Danan grinned, "Pays you back for being an over-protective, smothering boob that made me transfer to another ship in order for me to do my job."
"I thought you were over that. Ahhh!" Riker yelped.
"You've a vertebrae out." Danan informed him, "Hold still while I adjust it."
Danan slid the vertebrae back into alignment and Riker moaned, "Oh my sweet Lord."
"Feels better doesn't it?" she smugly enquired.
"Time out!" Riker demanded, "Move over."
He sat up and faced her, "I am really sorry that I forced off of my crew."
"If I came back would you do anything different?" Danan asked.
"Probably not." Riker admitted, "It's going to take more time and experience for me to relax and let my people do things on their own regardless of risk."
"You did it aboard the Obsidian." Danan pointed out.
"That was Brin's command. They were my mistakes but they were Brin's responsibility." Riker explained, "That's all different now."
"Mister," Danan laughed, "you have a problem."
"I know." Riker admitted, "It just gets worse. Not only am I a jumpy skipper but my girlfriend is aboard another ship with her ex-boyfriend. What am I to do?"
Danan kissed him, "You start by making love to me."
Riker's eyes twinkled as he grinned, "Aye, aye, Captain."
"Celeste, I don't know if this is necessary. Joachim and T'Kir have shown me a few moves." Tessa explained. Tessa was the Obsidian's EMH program. She was also the Medical Specialist for the SID team. Holoprojectors had been installed throughout the entire ship. She now had access to every nook and cranny.
"This will be better." Rockford promised, "We'll start with Kung Fu."
She inserted an isolinear rod into the master console and tapped a control. Tessa's eyes went wide, "I know Kung Fu."
"Just you wait." Rockford grinned, "That was just the beginning."
Dracas repetitively sounded the door chime, "Damn it! Why doesn't he answer?"
"Calm down." Guthrie urged, "It is late."
The door slid aside to reveal Macen. He wore nothing but a pair of shorts and was covered by a sheen of sweat. His expression was mix of frustration and curiosity. That all changed when Macen saw the blood on Dracas' shirt.
"Get in here!" he urged, "Do you need medical attention?"
"We're really sorry." Guthrie fumbled, "I know the timing is bad..."
"Hang the timing." Macen replied, "Joachim, are you hurt?"
"No." Dracas answered.
"You should see the other guy." Guthrie chuckled.
"You were attacked?" Macen asked.
"By two Legionnaires." Dracas angrily explained while he paced to and fro in Macen's living room, "They were regular Legion not Star Forces. Why would they want to kill me?"
"Better tell him." T'Kir said as she descended the stairs. Her robe shimmered as she glided. Guthrie took her hand, bowed, and kissed it.
T'Kir smiled, "I knew there was a reason why I liked you."
"Tell me what?" Dracas snapped.
"Let's all gather in the dining room. T'Kir do you want to make the coffee or should I?" Macen enquired.
"Hey!" she protested, "I want the easy job. I'll do the coffee and y'can deliver the bad news."
"What bad news?" Dracas demanded.
Macen winced, "Joachim, I'm not going to tell you anything until you calm down. I can tell you're in a state of shock but remember that stoic, taciturn Roman we've all come to know and love? Be him."
Dracas sat and tried to focus. He gradually calmed himself and gradually was his usual poised self, "I believe that I am ready now."
T'Kir took drink orders and returned to the adjoining kitchen. Macen agreed that Dracas was indeed ready and told him of the impending civil war on Magna Roma. He explained their mission and what assets and liabilities that they had.
"When do we leave?" was all Dracas had to say in between swigs of coffee.
"Tomorrow, 9:00 A.M. local time." Macen answered. Dracas started to protest but Macen quelled it, "We have time. Let everyone enjoy their last night before flying back into the fire."
Dracas was frustrated but he merely nodded, "It is as you say. Good night then."
"Later folks." Guthrie nodded as he proceeded to the door. Macen escorted them. When he turned around T'Kir had dropped her robe and left nothing to the imagination.
She chewed on one finger and wore a sly smile, "Now, where were we?"
Rockford sat atop the exam table while Tessa treated her wounds. She was grinning while the EMH was fussing and fuming.
"You should have told me that I was hurting you." Tessa scolded.
"You weren't." she smiled, "When I'm fighting I'm pretty much impervious to pain."
"Well, I..." Tessa was interrupted by the Sickbay doors opening. Elias Vaughn walked into the room with a duffel slung over his shoulder. He was conspicuously out of uniform.
Rockford was delighted, "My, you clean up quite nicely."
"I thought I was normally presentable." Vaughn grinned.
"Nah." Rockford waved the thought away, "There's too much starch in your uniform."
"Have you been in a fight?" Vaughn dropped his duffel and approached Rockford.
"Yup." She grinned, "With the ultimate fighting machine."
Tessa perked up, "That's me!"
Vaughn looked her over, "You don't look like it."
"Commander Elias Vaughn, the XO of DS9, meet Tessa, the EMH." Rockford handled the introductions.
"You're a hologram?" Vaughn was amazed, "I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Vic Fontaine is hologram..."
"Vic is my cousin." Tessa delightedly informed him, "His program and mine share the same base algorithms."
Vaughn chuckled, "Makes sense."
"I have a question, Mr. Starfleet Man." Rockford warned him, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm coming along." Vaughn replied.
"Coming along where?" Rockford asked.
"Oops." Vaughn was embarrassed, "I take it he hasn't announced it to the crew yet."
"Nope." Rockford confirmed it.
"The other thing is: I know who you were." Vaughn intently gazed into her eyes.
Rockford looked to Tessa, "Could you excuse us?"
"I'll be in the cargo bay if you need me." Tessa simply vanished.
"That's abrupt." Vaughn opined.
Rockford shrugged, "It's her way. Now you were saying?"
"Brin told me. I know why you can't go to Barrinor." Vaughn explained, "Then he told me why you're on the team."
"Did it make more sense to you than to me?" Rockford enquired.
"Probably not." Vaughn laughed.
"So what are you going to do about it?" Rockford wondered.
"Admiral Forger cleared you to be on this team. I'm not about to contradict one of my superiors." He promised her.
"Unless it's convenient." Rockford laughed.
Vaughn grinned and nodded, "Yes, unless it's convenient."
"You wanna blow this popsicle stand?" Rockford hopped off of the table.
"Sure." Vaughn readily agreed, "Where to?"
"I'll take you to the rec room. It has couches, chairs, replicators and more gadgets than I comprehend. It also has a fireplace." Rockford described.
"A real fireplace?" Vaughn was surprised.
"No, silly." Rockford laughed, "It's a mix of holography and a heating system but it's great for creating a mood."
Vaughn's eyebrows rose, "And will we require much moodiness?"
Rockford grinned slyly, "Ohhh, yeah. We're going to need a lot of it."
The next morning found Radil lying on a couch. More specifically, she was lying on Kort's couch. As burgeoning awareness began to dawn she realised she was using his lap as a pillow. Besides that, his hand rested on her shoulder. She began to wonder how on Bajor she'd gotten there.
Her memories of the previous night began to return. She'd fled Kort's house and he'd come after her. He'd caught her and held her in his arms. Then he escorted her back to his home. Once there, they sat together on the couch. He held her while she sobbed and keened.
In the early hours of the morning, she'd rested her head on his lap and he had gently stroked her hair, lulling her to sleep. Finally she realised what had awoken her was the chirping of her comm badge. Kort was beginning to stir so she gently lifted herself from his body and rose from the couch.
Kort came awake, "You'd better take that."
"Excuse me." she said and slipped into an adjoining room.
Once there, she tapped the offending comm badge, "Radil here."
"Are you all right?" Macen asked.
"I'm fine." Radil answered, "At least as fine as I'm going to get for a while."
"Tom told me the news." Macen said, "T'Kir and I offer our condolences. Abby was a wonderful woman. As an empath I can tell you that she was truly happy when she was with you. The last three months were the happiest in her life for as long as I'd known her."
"Thank you." Radil whispered while fighting back tears.
"I called to tell you that you're on bereavement leave." Macen informed her, "Come back when you're ready and not before."
"Thanks." Radil croaked.
"We're leaving on a mission otherwise we could visit." Macen sadly revealed.
"I understand." Radil sniffled.
"Take care, Jenrya." Macen solemnly said, "I truly mean that."
"You'd better get going." Radil suggested.
"We'll drop in when we get back." Macen promised, "All of us will. Macen out."
Radil clutched the comm badge to her chest and cried. She felt warm, strong arms wrap around her and she leaned into Kort.
"Let it out Jenrya." Kort said, "You have to cleanse your pagh."
She wept for a time and then sniffling she asked, "Don't you have to go to work?"
"No." he answered, "I have resigned my post at Olympus Mons."
"What?" Radil was startled.
"I am now the CMO of Serenity Station." He announced, "I begin selecting my medical staff next week."
Radil was alarmed, "Where's Serenity Station located?"
Kort smiled and then he realised his mistake, "Macen hasn't made the announcement yet?"
"What announcement?" Radil was confused. Why would Macen announce that Kort had quit his post?
"Tom Riker won the contest." Kort revealed, "Serenity Station is the name of the new Outbound Ventures space station."
Relief flooded over Radil, "Serenity huh?"
"Apparently Riker enjoys some archaic entertainment program. It inspired the name but the name also has a deeper meaning. The station is meant as a refuge from the horrors the crews witness every day. It is a place of solace." Kort explained.
"I could use a little of that right now." Radil admitted.
"Then you have come to the right place. Consider this your refuge and I am your caretaker." Kort suggested.
Radil placed a hand on one cheek and kissed the other, "Thank you, Kort."
She moved into the kitchen and he held his cheek and savoured the fading warmth.
Dracas arrived at Outbound Ventures HQ. There was already a queue reaching the street lining up to get to the building's transporters. Dracas and Guthrie took a moment to say their goodbyes.
"I'm sorry. I wish we could have had more time." Dracas regretfully said.
"It's not your fault that your homeworld decided to start a planetwide civil war." Guthrie smiled, "I wish we could have had more time too but such are the fortunes of our professions."
"What will you do?" Dracas wondered.
"I'll return to Starfleet Command." Guthrie revealed, "SOCOMM will be glad to have me back early. If the Federation does get called in my team will be at the forefront."
"Maybe we would see one another." Dracas hoped.
"That would be spectacular." Guthrie admitted and then he sobered, "You haven't said, which side will you be on?"
"What do you mean?" Dracas wondered.
"I mean, will you support Alaric or will you back your fellow clones?" Guthrie asked.
"I will advocate for my brother clones but my first loyalty is to my Emperor and Nova Roma." Dracas asserted.
"Are you certain?" Guthrie softly asked.
Dracas just stared at him with bewilderment in his eyes. Finally Guthrie broke the silence, "I'll be going now. Good luck."
"Wait." Dracas said and he kissed Guthrie, to many cheers and whistles. They held one another and then Guthrie smiled, "Hurry back."
"I will." Dracas promised.
Guthrie strolled away. As he reached the corner he turned and waved. Then he disappeared and left Dracas pondering Guthrie's last question to him. He had to admit to himself that his resolve wasn't as firm as he'd like to believe.
Macen sat in his Ready Room while T'Kir was out at Ops uploading some new program that she'd written. His comm panel chirped. He tapped it.
"Yes?" he asked.
"You've a message from Amanda comin' in." T'Kir announced, "D'you want to take it?"
Macen smiled as he shook his head. For as long as she'd been a privateer, T'Kir still hadn't learned that Starfleet was her contracted employer. Amanda Forger represented Starfleet. When your employer called, you took the call. Therefore when Forger called, you accepted the call...unless you were dealing with a crisis.
"I'll take it in here." Macen replied. Forger's features appeared. She was drawn and haggard.
"Fates Amanda! Have you slept yet?" he was alarmed.
A wan smile appeared on her face, "I'm on my way. I had to have a final word with you. Has Vaughn arrived?"
"Vaughn?' Macen was perplexed, "Elias Vaughn?"
"Yes." Forger confirmed it, "Last night he reported arriving at Barrinor and boarding your ship."
"I haven't seen him." Macen informed her.
"That's odd." She opined, "Anyway, he's there to assess the strategic implications of assisting or not assisting the Nova Romans."
"I shouldn't have a Starfleet officer aboard. It'll compromise my position." Macen replied.
Forger smiled, "It's been taken care of. Forger out."
"Wait..." Macen protested but the screen had already gone dark. "Computer." He said, "Locate Elias Vaughn."
"Elias Vaughn is in Celeste Rockford's quarters." The computer declared.
"The old dog." Macen muttered. He activated the comm. Vaughn's Starfleet comm badge would be tied into the Obsidian's system...as the computer had just demonstrated.
"Macen to Vaughn." He said for the computer.
There was a protracted silence and then Vaughn's voice came out loud and clear, "Vaughn here."
"Elias, it's Macen." He told Vaughn, "Can I see you in my Ready Room?"
"Of course." Vaughn readily agreed. There wasn't a trace of guilt in his voice, "Would fifteen minutes work?"
"Perfect." Macen replied, "Macen out."
Fifteen minutes later Vaughn was in Macen's office. He was impeccably dressed and incredibly relaxed. He wasn't quite bouncing off the walls but he was genuinely pleased with himself.
Vaughn seated himself on the couch and Macen simply asked, "Celeste Rockford?"
Vaughn chuckled, "You're the one that suggested that I get to know her better."
"And I'm sure you have." Macen drolly replied, "Are you sure you want to do this? What if she expects more than an evening's encounter? She's young and you're..."
"Old?" Vaughn suggested.
"For a human you're getting there." Macen pointed out.
"Admiral McCoy passed away at the ripe old age of 153." Vaughn pointed out, "If I were to live that long it would give me another 45 years."
"Yes, but she's barely older than your daughter. She can't be more than..." Macen trailed off.
"She's 74 years old." Vaughn supplied the information.
"What?" Macen was astounded, "If she were human I'd place her in her mid-thirties."
"But like you inferred, she's not human." Vaughn's smile blossomed, "We know about the Tarsus Wars and the augmentation and conditioning that the Angosians did. What we never hear about is their longevity. Their average lifespan is within Vulcanoid standards."
"Neither Rab nor Celeste have ever mentioned that." Macen replied.
"They don't think about it any more than you dwell on your comparatively extended lifespan." Vaughn explained.
"Probably." Macen conceded with a laugh. Turning more serious he asked, "Amanda told me you're coming along to assess the strategic implications of the Roman civil war. When I objected to having a Starfleet officer aboard she said that wasn't an issue. Care to explain?"
"I retired as of yesterday." Vaughn grinned, "Like you, I am merely a reservist."
"You're kidding." Macen couldn't believe it.
"Of course," Vaughn's delight grew, "I'll be rejoining Starfleet when this little assignment is over."
"So I suppose that you're working for me now?" Macen asked.
"That's the idea." Vaughn confirmed it.
"What are your qualifications?" Macen inquired.
"Brin!" Vaughn protested.
"Okay, okay." Macen laughed, "Just tell Amanda to warn me and let me make a choice next time. Better yet, I'll tell her myself."
Macen suddenly got an evil gleam in his eye and Vaughn shifted uncomfortably, "What?"
"While you're here being my employee I'll put you to work." Macen decided.
"Fair enough." Vaughn agreed, "What am I doing?"
"You'll be the Security Specialist for my SID team." Macen declared.
"What happened to Radil?" Vaughn enquired.
"She's on bereavement leave." Macen explained, "Her girlfriend just died leading a boarding action."
"Your ship?" Vaughn wondered.
Macen shook his head, "No. It was Tom Riker's command."
"It's going to be rough on both of them." Vaughn pointed out, "Do you have people to take care of them?"
"Tom's starting to see a counsellor as of today and Radil is staying with a friend." Macen didn't reveal how he knew of Radil's location. Vaughn didn't need to know everything.
"All right." Vaughn spoke up, "I'll cover for her for this mission but only this mission."
Macen grinned, "Just remind me to fire you when we get back."
"Agreed." Vaughn smiled, "Any chance I can get some quarters. I don't think I should move into Celeste's quarters."
Macen queried the computer as to whether or not Kalista had boarded yet. Finding out that she had he summoned her to his Ready Room. She arrived with a cheerful smile.
"You wanted to see me?" she asked.
"Kali, meet Elias Vaughn. Mr. Vaughn will be joining us for a short while. Could you please assign him some quarters?"
Kalista eyed Vaughn up and down and a pleased smile spread across her features, "With pleasure."
Vaughn gave Macen a quizzical look. Macen threw his hands up in the air. Vaughn rose and followed the Deltan out of the room. As he passed through the threshold, Vaughn paused and gave one final shrug to his shoulders. When the doors closed Macen was having a fit of laughter.
Once the crew was aboard and accounted for, Macen gave a shipwide address from the bridge, "Attention all hands. As you know we are setting out once again. What you do not know is that we are headed back to Magna Roma. For most of you, you have memories of our last visit there when we were received with open arms."
Macen continued, "That won't be the case now. The Romans are at war. The clone population, created for military applications, has revolted. Treated as less than slaves, they are fighting to be recognised as individuals. They are committed, desperate, and determined to achieve their goals."
"The clones control a significant portion of the Legion's might." Macen explained, "Reports from Starfleet ships in the area indicate that the Star Legion's starships are divided in loyalty and are presently maintaining a balance of power by facing off with one another. This delicate balance could be upset by a single provocation. Such an incident could reasonably wipe out the entire fleet."
"The greater problem is that there is already foreign intervention. Starfleet Intelligence suspects that the Meirkus Conglomeration and the Orion Syndicate are manipulating this war. The Cardassians have already landed troops." Macen divulged, "Our mission is to acquire evidence of the Conglomeration's involvement. With that information we may pave the way for Federation intervention and the creation of negotiations that could reach a true peace settlement."
Macen concluded with, "I know you'll all do your best. I have faith in every one of you and you have my trust. Macen out."
Macen turned to his XO, Amanda Forger's younger sister Shannon, "Take us out, Shannon, and make way for 892 IV."
"Aye, sir." Forger grinned, "Ops, disengage umbilicals and clamps. Helm, set course for 892 IV. Make ready to proceed through the solar system at three-quarters impulse."
As the crew complied, Macen returned to his Ready Room. Vaughn was awaiting him there.
"Nice speech." Vaughn opined after Macen had entered and taken his usual place behind the desk.
"Thanks. I try." Macen admitted.
"So what did you want to talk to me about?" Vaughn asked.
"Some information has come my way." Macen divulged, "I want to gather all the members of the Club that we have aboard."
The door chimed and Macen allowed both Rockford and T'Kir to enter. When Rockford saw Vaughn her eyes sparkled and a smile played at her lips. T'Kir's telepathy picked up Rockford and Vaughn's thoughts and she broke into a gleeful smile.
"You little scamps!" she declared as she flopped down on the couch, "Good for you."
Rockford was as unapologetic as Vaughn had been earlier. Her choices and actions were her own, as was rightly so. There had been no commitments or promises made. If they bedded one another it was no one's business...except for nosy telepaths that was.
"Glad you approve." Rockford drolly replied.
"At least ya got good taste." T'Kir winked.
Rockford grinned, "I like to think so."
"Okay people," Macen spoke up, "it's time to get serious. Elim Garak filed the initial report that got this steamroller moving. Garak also had a private message for me which I received while the crew was boarding."
"Garak has proof that Sindis pushed the Cardassians into intervening on the clones' behalf. Technically, the clones requested aid but it was Sindis that persuaded Maret into granting it." Macen revealed.
"But why do it?" Rockford asked, "Maret is still consolidating his hold on the Cardassian Union. Why would he risk a foreign adventure?"
"I think I can answer that." Vaughn said, "Sindis has been sending a lot of traffic through Bajoran space. A lot of traffic and it's all headed for Cardassia. Maret can't risk Sindis' wrath because it'll alienate his principal supplier of precious commodities."
"Garak has a vid displaying Sindis and Maret's meeting." Macen divulged, "He's passed this onto us."
"If that's the case," T'Kir frowned, "then why're we goin' to Magna Roma?"
"Officially, it's to corroborate Garak's evidence." Macen answered, "Unofficially, I think we're there to talk to Alaric since he trusts us."
"He trusts you y'mean." T'Kir remarked.
Macen nodded, "Starfleet knows that either Joachim or I stand the best chance of persuading Alaric to call for assistance. The problem is: officially our company is neutral."
"Starfleet is our client." Rockford pointed out, "We could represent our client."
"But that wouldn't buy us access to the clones. We need to ascertain their grievances and points of view." Macen rebutted, "Starfleet has chosen to prosecute this war rather than mediate a dialogue between the factions. The Powers That Be want Alaric to remain as Emperor no matter the cost. That is our problem."
Vaughn looked uncomfortable, "I suppose you have an alternative."
"Not yet." Macen confessed, "But I'm working on it. Somehow we have to convince Merry Limerick to remain neutral and mediate talks."
"What about the Cardassians?" Vaughn wondered, "They won't just vanish into the night."
"We can handle the Cardies." Macen vowed, "There are only fifteen hundred troops and three cruisers to worry about. The Maquis used to eat those odds for breakfast."
"Yeah!" T'Kir enthused.
Vaughn and Rockford cast dubious glances towards one another.
"Lord, help us." Vaughn muttered.
Riker's door chimed. He opened it to find Daggit and Parva standing outside.
"This is a pleasant surprise." Riker said, "Come on in."
He led them to the kitchen and served the stimulating beverage of choice. As he took a seat he asked, "What brings you here on a sunny afternoon?"
"We heard about Abby Collins." Daggit said, "Radil is nowhere to be found but we decided you could also use a 'pick-me-up' since you were her commander and the first loss is the hardest to take."
"Yeah, what he said." Parva chimed with a nod in Daggit's direction.
"Well, I am seeing a grief and trauma counsellor." Riker replied, "I don't know..."
Daggit put his hand on Riker's shoulder, "Lees is away. Let us help."
Riker hesitated and then he finally nodded, "All right. Where do we start?"
"Do you feel like going out?" Parva asked.
"What?" a startled Riker yelped.
"We're here to remind you of how to live." Daggit smiled, "There's an entire planet out there and we're going to show it to you."
Slowly, ever so slowly, a grin crept across his face, "Sounds good. When do we start?"
"Right now!" Parva enthused as she dashed over to his side and began dragging him out the door.
"Just relax, Tom. Go with it and forget about your troubles." Daggit advised.
They hit the streets running and headed off for adventure.
"Jenrya, please forgive me but I must know, are you having a hard time being here?" Kort asked over brunch.
"What?" a surprised Radil responded, "No, Kort. I'm fine with being here. In fact there was no other place I wanted to go. I feel safe with you and I needed that feeling."
"But you and Abby..." Kort drifted off.
"Kort, I like men. I enjoy their company and I enjoy sleeping with them. I especially enjoyed your company and sleeping with you. You were just overbearing." Radil replied.
Kort smiled sadly, "I suppose I was. I have learned a great many things about myself over this past year and I found I didn't like a lot of them."
Radil peered at him as though she'd never met him before, "You have changed. Not only are you being nicer to me then you ever did while we were dating but now you're introspective and reflective?"
"I realised my shortcomings on my own but Hayley helped show me the alternatives to what I had become." Kort divulged.
"Hayley Galloway?" Radil asked. When Kort nodded, Radil asked, "Are you and she...y'know...?"
Kort shook his head, "No. She and I are comrades in arms against the forces of infection and injury. We are friends and nothing more."
"But she was here last night." Radil said, "And she had an overnight bag."
"Really?" Kort chuckled, "I hadn't noticed."
"Shuk, Kort. I blew your chance to..." Radil began.
Kort interrupted, "I didn't want a chance. Hayley understood. She insisted that I go after you."
"Why did she do that?" Radil wondered aloud.
"She is a doctor." Kort replied, "She knows how to best treat pain."
"I wonder..." Radil mused.
The computer chimed its announcement that someone wanted access to Macen's Ready Room. He sat down the padd he'd been working and instructed the computer to open the door. He was surprised to see Danan walk across the threshold.
Danan was pleased with herself, "I know that look. You're surprised to see me. Well, that's me! Always turning up when least expected."
Macen returned the smile, "For at least three major events over the last eight years, not counting today."
"Has the SID actually been in existence for eight years?" Danan asked wide-eyed.
"Actually, if you recall, our first official mission predated the SID by three months." Macen reminded her.
"Pools and Symbiots! Brin, if you count our time with the Maquis as well, we've been together for fifteen years." Danan gasped.
"I know." Macen's eyes held a merry twinkle.
"Wow." Danan breathed.
"How can I help you today?" Macen asked.
She handed him a padd. He groaned, "Lees, I have a long enough reading list right now."
"Not like this you don't." Danan warned, "Several months ago the USS Solarflare was doing some routine surveying in Romulan space. When they returned to Romulus, they scanned the system's primary. What you are holding is a copy of that data."
"So what does it add up to?" Macen enquired.
"The Romulan star is going to explode." Danan pronounced.
Alarmed, Macen asked, "Now?"
Danan shook her head, "In the next few years. It shouldn't take longer than a decade."
"So there's still time to evacuate?" Macen asked.
"There's time but the Senate has banned dissemination of this report. Merely reading it is considered treasonous." Danan grew alarmed, "They're sitting on it. They're content to just do nothing. Billions will die and they don't care."
"Maybe they need to hear it from a different source." Macen suggested.
"Like Commander P'ris?" Danan eagerly suggested in return.
"So that's why you're here." Macen realised.
"She gave you her personal comm cipher." Danan protested, "No one else has it."
"T'Kir could have easily gotten it." Macen reminded her.
"Yes, but you're easier..." she faltered.
"To manipulate?" he suggested.
"To talk to." Danan amended.
"All right." Macen conceded, "I'll believe your lie. I'll call P'ris and forward the data on to her."
Danan jumped to her feet, "Thanks."
In a flash she was gone and Macen was comming P'ris. He was about to give up when she finally answered. She was dishevelled and obviously tired. He'd woken her.
"Yes?" he eyes came into focus, "Oh, Commander, it's you."
Macen sighed, "How many times do I have to tell you that it's 'Captain' now? I'm the CO of my own ship and no longer with Starfleet."
She wore a playful smile, "And how often do I have to explain that I will always think of you as 'Commander Brin Macen of Starfleet' for as long as you accept Starfleet contracts?"
Macen's head hung low in defeat, "All right. Can we change the topic?"
"Certainly." P'ris jovially agreed, "After all, as the human's say, 'it's your nickel'."
"I have information here that may prove to be vital for your people's survival." Macen revealed.
P'ris grew concerned, "What is it?"
"It's concerning a supernova." Macen explained, "Your system's primary is going to explode."
A wry smile twisted P'ris' lips, "I have heard this fable before."
"Did you read the raw data and have the facts checked out for themselves?" Macen asked.
P'ris frowned, "No."
"Then why don't you try to?" Macen inquired.
"Possession of this material or knowledge of it is considered treasonous." P'ris argued.
"But how can you recognise what material is treasonous unless you have examined it for yourself?" Macen wondered, "After all, you are an agent of the Tal Shiar."
P'ris smirked, "Good point. Transmit your data."
He did so. When the transmission ended, P'ris spoke, "I will have this data analysed but I make no promises beyond that. Have a good night, Commander."
"Rest well, Commander." Macen replied and then he cut the transmission.
Talking to her is always an adventure, He thought.
Justinian V looked out the terrace of the Roman garrison the clone comprised Free Legions had captured only yesterday. This site had been the headquarters of the Far East command of the Nova Roman Legions. Built along the border between the Rus and Mongol lands, it marked the farthest extension of Nova Roma's absolute control.
The clone Legionnaires serving there had willingly thrown of the shackles of their captivity and opened the Fortress' gates. It was happening all across the world. Magna Roma was in chaos because the clones wanted civil rights. It was even more basic than that. They simply wanted freedom.
Roman slaves had rights. Roman freemen had even more rights. Roman citizens had a plethora of rights. The clones had none.
Clones weren't granted furloughs or liberties. They were forbidden to fraternise with women. They were given the most hazardous tasks and assignments. In short, pack animals had a better and easier life than a clone.
Although the clones dreamed of freedom, Justinian V was simply the first to act upon that desire. He'd lead a mutiny in a garrison possessing an entire clone Legion with only natural born officers. The officers had been vastly outnumbered and had no means of exerting their authority.
Despite the fact that the officers remained unharmed, the clones were automatically under a sentence of death under Roman law. Insurrection could not be tolerated in any form. Knowing this, Justinian V had plunged ahead.
He led his forces to the closest outpost. The Roman commanders there ordered the execution of Justinian V's Free Legion. The other clones revolted and joined the Free Legion. This continued throughout Africa and then they moved into Asia.
Word spread like wildfire and there were open revolts throughout the Roman world. Since the composition of the Legion was so lopsided, with only officers and centurions being naturally born Romans, the world swiftly tilted in the clones' favour. One notable exception was Nova Roma in the province of Gaul. No clones served there.
The Star Legions also proved to be an exception. The crews were equally comprised of clone and natural born. The mutinies were a 50/50 gamble. In the end, the fleet was equally split, with no ship firing on another for fear of vaporising their captured comrades.
In terms of raw firepower the naturally born humans came out on top. They captured more of the powerful Banner-class warships. The clones seized control of the bulk of the Eagle-class escorts. The resultant stand off had everyone on a razor's edge.
Justinian V's mind reeled as he thought of the added complications brought on by the arrival of the Federation Starfleet and the Cardassian Militia. The clones wished for the safe passage of the Militia. The natural born Romans desired to see the arrival of Starfleet. Neither side would allow the other to pass.
Justinian V had contacted Bertram Sindis directly. He sought war materials and advisors for his troops. It wasn't until now that he realised that Sindis had taken over the direction of the war.
In spite of Justinian V's tactical leadership on the ground, Sindis had appointed himself to be the strategist of the campaign. It was Sindis who had summoned the Cardassians. Justinian V, like all the clones, had been weaned on the horror stories of the Omicrons' quiet usurpation of the Imperial throne.
The xenophobic nature of the Roman character was alive and well in the clones. The last thing Justinian wanted to see was that he and his fellow clones would be beholden to Sindis and became ersatz slaves to him. They could not, and would not, fight a war for freedom just to hand it over to aliens.
"Justinian V," Augustine CM said from behind him, "it's time."
Justinian V sighed heavily. The moment he'd been dreading had finally arrived. He had to decide the fate of a thousand of his brethren.
The brother clones trapped aboard the ships held by the natural born Romans had been left undecided until now. They had lingered in captivity long enough. Now it was time to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause.
Cardassians were threatening to leave if they did not gain passage through the blockade. Justinian V gave the word that it was all right for them to blaze their way in. Orders were issued to the clone held ships to do the same. Mere moments after Justinian V issued the orders the matter was decided.
The combined might of the Cardassian Keldon-class cruisers and the Roman Eagle-class escorts tipped the balance in favour of the clones. Each and every one of the Banner-class cruisers was crippled or destroyed. Half of the Eagle-class ships were also crippled or destroyed. The estimated fatalities, clone and natural born alike, exceeded ten thousand souls.
"It's over." Octavius XII, Justinian V's Tribune, reported, "The Cardassians are preparing to disembark."
"Let them." Justinian V wearily replied. Turning to his Free Legion Praetor, he asked, "Are the troops prepared to receive alien guests?"
"As ready as they can be." Marcus CLXII answered, "Are these creatures really as repellent as you say?"
Justinian V grimaced, "I've only spoken to their leader via subspace radio but the visuals were disturbing enough."
"Yes," Marcus CLXII agreed, "you described them as the 'Crocodile People'."
"We'll know soon enough." Octavius XII said, "They're beginning to transport down."
"We need to acquire that technology." Marcus CLXII muttered.
"We shall." Justinian V assured him, "Sindis has promised us technology transfers in exchange for our allying with his 'Meirkus Conglomeration'."
Octavius XII frowned, "I'm still uncertain as to whether or not we should ally with this Sindis. Once we win the war we'll have enough domestic problems without adding foreign adventurism to the mix."
"I've told you, we need Sindis and his allies." Justinian V stressed, "With Chung Kuo and Nippon leading the way for the subject nations to rise against us in support of Nova Roma we need additional support in order to carry the day."
Energy halos began to appear in the grounds laid out before Justinian's balcony. Each Cardassian ship transported fifty soldiers at a time. This continued until all fifteen hundred troops were on the ground. Finally, the officers beamed down.
The Cardassians were lined up in columns. Their officers stood before them. Ahead of them all stood the squadron commander, Jagul Grek Litol.
Bearing an equivalent rank to a Starfleet Commodore, Litol had been personally selected by Legate Macet to lead this mission. He was in direct command of both the cruiser squadron and the ground forces. His tactics were laid out. He was going to employ similar methods as those used to capture Bajor.
General Secretary Maret had designs upon Magna Roma. He, like Sindis, wanted her as a client nation. She would be annexed, in all but name, into the Cardassian Union.
Magna Roma would at first be approached as a sovereign ally. Steps would then be taken to increase Magna Roma's dependency upon the Union. When the clones were utterly reliant upon their Cardassian "brothers' they would be militarily occupied.
Like the Bajorans before them, the Romans were viewed by the Cardassians as neo-barbarians. Since neo-barbs couldn't properly fend for themselves, it was beholden upon the Cardassians to show them the light of civilisation. It didn't matter whether or not the Romans wanted to be shown this light, it was simply to be.
Litol smugly stood before his troops content in the knowledge that his fifteen hundred could massacre the one hundred thousand surrounding them. The Nova Romans stood at attention, hands on their phase pistols and swords. Litol resisted the urge to sneer. They were pathetic in his eyes.
Justinian V and his party remained on the balcony reviewing Litol and his forces. Litol was amused by their grave expressions. He knew they didn't trust him and well they shouldn't. Still, he craftily thought, it was his job to falsely inspire trust.
Justinian V spoke into his mike pick up, "Take heed Free Legionnaires! Our allies from beyond have arrived. Their might is ours and our combined strength will unleash a fury upon this world the likes of which it has never seen!"
A mighty cheer arose from the hundred thousand Legionnaires. Justinian V continued, "We shall have our freedom, my brothers, we shall take it by force if necessary. We will not surrender, we shall not forsake our objective, and we shall fight until there are none left who oppose us."
A mighty chorus of "Ooo-rah!" approved of his words. Justinian paused and then concluded with, "The moment is upon us. More of our brothers have been liberated from their shackles. We have received reports spanning this globe that uprisings have secured bases all across the world."
"Unfortunately, Chung Kuo, Nippon, Britannia, Eire, Upper Germania, the Northlands and now the Rus have sided with Nova Roma. The Persians, Arabs, Africans, Meso-Amerigos, and Tribal America have stayed out of the conflict so we have little to fear on those fronts. It is time to consolidate our forces and march against the forces of oppression!"
The Free Legionnaires cheered as one. Justinian turned to Marcus CLXII, "Bring the Cardassian officers to me and dismiss the men."
Marcus CLXII saluted and went about his business. Justinian V summoned Augustine CM. Augustine CM was the Free Legion's Chief Scribe.
"Augustine CM," Justinian V said, "I have need of your services. This is a historic day and I need its events recorded for posterity. I am about to meet with our Cardassian allies' leadership. I want you there transcribing everything that occurs."
Augustine CM nodded, "It would be an honour."
"Your insights into the affair may prove to be invaluable." Justinian V declared.
"I'll try to be as accurate as possible." Augustine CM swore.
Justinian V smiled and rested a hand on Augustine CM's shoulder, "I know you will, my friend. I know you will."
Octavius XII, Marcus CLXII, and Aquinus CDLIV joined Justinian V and Augustine CM in the meeting with the Cardassians. Aquinus CDLIV was an Immunes. His specialty was Covert Operations. His training in counter intelligence was thought to be valuable for discerning the Cardassian mindset.
"Before we begin," Litol said with an ingratiating smile, "I would like to introduce my ground forces commander and his officers. Dal Hafet is the CO of the Expeditionary Force. Dalin Dan is his XO. Glinn Fern is their adjutant."
Fern was an exception to the Cardassian rule. He was a Jarrot. Whereas most of the Cardassian subject worlds chafed under Cardassian rule, the Jarrots welcomed it. The saurian, orange skinned Fern was the first of his kind allowed into the Militia.
"May I express what an honour and a privilege it is to ally with you and come in your hour of need." Litol said with enthusiasm, "May we always be there for you."
"If fortune smiles upon us we need not have any future relations beyond trade." Justinian V replied.
"Ah yes," Litol said a little more soberly, "but unforeseen circumstances can arise. I just want you to know that we are available to you. In fact, I propose a mutual defence pact. That would cement our relations far beyond what a mere trade agreement can accomplish."
Justinian V hesitated and then warily replied, "We'll have to think about such a pact. Leave your proposals with us and we shall consider them all."
"I can ask for no more." Litol agreed, "Shall we now discuss capabilities and joint tactics?"
"Indeed." Justinian V heartily concurred.
"Caesar, the situation is dire." Gaius Africanus, the Nova Roman Commander, reported, "All of the foreign fortresses and garrisons have fallen. The clones run amuck."
"What is the status of our Star Forces?" Alaric Caesar asked. Alaric Germanicus had once been the Commander of the Star Legion and it remained close to his heart.
Jerome Astris, the current Commander, answered, "Our fleet is crippled, Caesar. As you know, we retained the loyalty of most of our Banner-class starships. Those ships have been either crippled or destroyed. Rescue operations are underway. Even the clones are assisting. However, the aliens that provoked the exchange are not."
"The clones are assisting?" Gaius asked, "That is an odd move."
"They wish to engender goodwill." Alaric explained, "This Justinian V desires a peace conference, a forum where he and his fellows can seek equality with the natural born."
"How does Caesar know this?" Senator Grachus asked.
"I have been in communication with him." Alaric replied, "His demands are simple and straightforward."
"The Senate will never bow before these terrorists." Senator Meacham declared.
"May I remind the honoured Senator that the Senate classified the Crusaders as terrorists and in the end the Empire granted them territorial concessions." Alaric pointed out.
"And may I remind Caesar," Meacham archly rebutted, "that such concessions were his idea and did not originate in the Senate."
Alaric's eyes narrowed, "The Senate approved of each and every one of those concessions."
"At your insistence." Meacham countered, "If you ask us to accede to these demands we shall refuse. The Crusaders were human. These abominations are merely..."
"Clones?" Alaric suggested.
"Mere copies of men." Meacham spat.
"Grachus?" Alaric shifted his attention.
"I feel negotiations are the way; but, we now have allies and I fear I could not persuade my fellow Senators to pursue such a path." Grachus replied.
Alaric was disgusted but he hid it well, "Gaius, these 'Cardassians' have landed?"
"Yes, Caesar." Gaius confirmed the earlier report.
"I will confer with our allies." Alaric announced, "We must coordinate so we can strike as one."
"And what of the Federation?" Jerome asked.
"I will speak with Captain Limerick." Alaric conceded, "But we are Nova Romans. We do not need extraterrestrial assistance."
Shannon Forger finished reading the Obsidian's operational directives. Eyebrows raised, she addressed Macen, "So basically we stay out of the way and try not to get shot."
Macen wore a wry smile, "Essentially. It must suck to get the cushy assignment."
"What's left of the Roman fleet?" Forger asked.
"Seven clone controlled Eagle-class escorts." Macen answered, "Of course, the three Cardassian Keldon-class cruisers are also in play."
"And they're blockading the planet?" Forger inquired.
"Actually, two of the clone ships are in a stand-off with the Hood." Macen divulged, "They attempted to transit the system with an approach vector for the closest trade route. The Hood intercepted them and the clones balked. However, they won't engage a Federation vessel for fear of irking Starfleet."
"Smart." Forger opined, "Still, I wouldn't want to hear all the sabre rattling that's going on."
Macen chuckled, "We'll try to spare you that."
"Thanks." Forger replied, "I have to tell you, the crew is really worked up over this one. They remember the Nova Romans coming to our aid against Solarian Security Systems. There's also the attack on Dracas. The clones haven't made any friends here."
"Our mission isn't to pick a fight." Macen reminded her, "We're here to clear the way for Starfleet to intervene. How they intervene is up to The Powers That Be."
Forger smirked, "The infamous TPTB."
Macen grinned, "Exactly."
"Well," Forger lifted herself out of her seat, "I'd better relieve T'Kir before she has us take a lap around a supernova."
"She would too." Macen affectionately admitted.
Forger started to exit and then she hesitated. Turning towards Macen, she spoke, "Have I told you how grateful I am that you gave me a second chance?"
Macen smiled, "Once or twice."
"I mean it." Forger assured him, "Most COs wouldn't give an addict a second look, much less assign her to the XO slot."
"You deserved a second shot at the XO position. That's all that needs to be said." Macen replied, "Now get out there before I give T'Kir your job."
"Heavens forefend." Forger laughed as she left.
Macen counted down from five. As he reached one, the door chime sounded. He bade the visitor welcome and the door opened to reveal T'Kir. She was imminently pleased with herself.
"We flew true and safe." She crowed, "No laps 'round a supernova. But only cus Hannah couldn't find one." She winked.
"Eavesdropping again, I take it." Macen smirked.
"You're the one that didn't shield your thoughts." T'Kir sniffed, "What's the point in havin' a telepathic rapport if you don't visit each other's heads once in a while?"
"The point is: you were in command. That means you're supposed to be focused on the ship." Macen scolded her.
"But there's nuthin' going on." T'Kir whined.
"Poor baby." Macen quipped.
"Nyuh!" T'Kir stuck out her tongue.
Macen wore a wry expression, "As fun as this has been, it's time to grow up."
T'Kir's normally mercurial behaviour immediately shifted, "You're goin' for a 'stroll' aren't you?"
"Yup." Macen disclosed, "Want to come?"
"Of course!" T'Kir enthused, "What's a stroll without me?"
"I hope I never have to find out." Macen admitted.
"Aw shucks." T'Kir's cheeks burned bright emerald, "You say the nicest things."
"C'mon. Let's go." Macen came around the desk and took her hand. He then escorted her to the turbolift.
A "stroll" was when Macen and T'Kir took a walkabout around the ship. Rather than conducting a formal inspection, Macen just dropped by the various departments and casually chatted with the crew. He also stopped by the Team Room, The Rec Room, and the gym in order to converse with crewmen he didn't normally see. It was a great morale builder and kept him up on the pulse of the ship.
The last stop on his tour was Engineering. They entered to find the place morosely quiet. There was no spark of life in the area. Everything was clamped down tight.
The Deputy Chief Engineer, Gilan, approached, "Thank Hanerach, you're here. He's out of his head. He can't approve of anyone or anything."
Macen instinctively knew that Dracas was the topic of the conversation, "Don't worry. I'll deal with him."
Macen and T'Kir approached Dracas. His back was turned to them and he was engrossed in some minutia of his job. When they were two metres away Dracas spoke.
"Hello Captain. Hello T'Kir. You needn't bother with trying to sneak up on me."
"Let's go somewhere and talk." Macen said.
"We can talk here." Dracas replied.
"No, we can't." Macen asserted, "In case you hadn't noticed, you're being a disruptive influence. Your crew can't relax enough to do their jobs efficiently. Because of this, we're taking you elsewhere."
Dracas took one long, painfully honest look around. When he had finished he looked defeated, "Very well. Where do you suggest?"
"Let's try Sickbay." Macen replied.
"What?" Dracas protested.
"This is a direct order: report to Sickbay." Macen stressed.
"Very well." Dracas tersely responded.
In Sickbay T'Kir prompted the computer to activate the EMH program. Tessa appeared wearing a sports bra, tennis shorts, and tennis shoes. She was also wielded a springball racket.
"Oh poop!" Tessa exclaimed, "I was winning."
The trio ignored her pout and she desisted. With a nod her racket disappeared and her sports attire was replaced by surgical smocks. She turned to her prospective patients and smiled.
"How can I help?" she brightly asked.
"Joachim needs a full work up." Macen said.
"I don't need..." Dracas faltered off.
"Remember: direct order." Macen reminded him.
Dracas sat down on the exam table and faced his trial with his best stiff upper lip. Tessa scanned Dracas without comment. When she finished, she frowned.
"Joachim," she began, "Your stress hormones are up, your neurochemicals are unbalanced, and fatigue poisons are lacing your muscle tissues. What's up?"
Dracas turned to Macen. His eyes pleaded. Macen was unrelenting.
"Tell her." He commanded.
Dracas relayed the details of the assassination attempt and the identity of his attackers. He became visibly agitated while doing so and Tessa's instruments began chirping. She reached for a hypo and injected its contents into Dracas.
"All right, Joachim, that will help your agitation. The following injections will curb your depression, insomnia, and fatigue." She explained, "You're to see me after every watch that you stand. We'll re-examine you at those times and administer medication as needed. I also recommend scheduling a session with Lisea. She's a fully certified counsellor. She can work wonders."
"What of this evening?" Dracas grimaced.
"You'll invite some friends over, go to your quarters, and have a quiet meal. After that you'll go to bed." Tessa grinned, "I can guarantee the latter because I'm going to give you one whopper of a sedative."
"How long will I have?" Dracas enquired.
"An hour, an hour and a half tops." Tessa answered.
"And I will awake in time to prepare for my watch?" Dracas sceptically asked.
"Yes." Tessa replied without reservation.
"How can you be sure?" Dracas was dubious.
"Hey, buddy; I'm an EMH mark 5." Tessa lightly lectured, "I have all of the medical data stored at Memory Alpha, The Federation Medical Association Library, the Starfleet Medical Files, and the Encyclopaedia Galactica."
That stopped Dracas cold, "I suppose it's wise to trust you then."
"Damn straight it is." Tessa huffed.
Tessa finished her injections and then handed Dracas a padd with her medical instructions. After he left, T'Kir addressed Tessa.
"Hey Sweetie, we're goin' to the Team Room. Wanna come along?" T'Kir enthusiastically invited her.
"Sure!" Tessa enthused.
"C'mon then." T'Kir motioned for her to follow.
They entered the Team Room and found a table. The 1st Watch was still on duty. Members of both the 2nd and 3rd Watches were present but in low numbers. The major meal had already been served for this watch. Also seated in the room were Vaughn, Rockford, and Gantz. They seemed to desire their privacy so Macen's group respected that desire.
Tessa happily described her latest hobbies. Like that infamous hobbyist, Hikaru Sulu, Tessa madly pursued a hobby until she had mastered it. After that she madly pursued her next passion. The crew delighted in showing her new pursuits and joining in with her.
Tessa explained who her newest hobby partners were. Then she conspiratorially related who was her core group that followed her from one pursuit to another. She found it flattering and bewildering at the same time to have a "following".
"You deserve it, Honey." T'Kir assured her, "You're an amazing person."
"Thanks." Tessa said appreciatively, "A lot of people still just think of me as a piece of software."
"Point 'em out and I'll kill 'em." T'Kir growled.
Sensing that T'Kir was serious he began to step in but Tessa laughed, "Thanks, but I'd like to handle this on my own."
T'Kir subsided, "Whatever you want. I'll do it."
"You're sweet." Tessa said with a perky smile.
"So," Macen grinned, "what's going on with Galen 3?"
Tessa's face scrunched up in a rueful expression, "I'm not sure. One minute he's nice and enthusiastic and the next he's a jerk."
"Is he a jerk when you talk about your hobby buddies?" T'Kir wondered.
"He's one of them." Tessa complained, "He's distant and cold while we're with people and warm and fuzzy when we're alone."
T'Kir laughed, "Oh Sweetie, I don't mean to laugh but he's jealous. He needs to grow up and realise you can have other friends and interests."
"So that's what it is." Tessa understood, "Jealousy sucks."
"Tell me 'bout it." T'Kir heartily agreed, "I'll talk to Lees and she'll set him straight."
"No," Tessa replied, "I'll talk to him and then I'll talk to her if that doesn't work."
"An even better plan." T'Kir enthused.
"Thanks." Tessa gleefully replied. Settling down she began to scrutinise the other SID table, "I wonder what they're talking about?"
At the other table, Gantz was chuckling, "I'm sorry but I wouldn't have expected you two to get together...even for a dalliance. Macen's told me about you, Commander, and I've known Celeste here, in various guises, for ten years now. From what I know of you both it would seem you'd be diametrically opposed to one another's views."
"Not really." Vaughn smiled, "We're both professionals and many of our sordid specialties overlap. If I'd met her as Annika Ryst we might be having another conversation."
"But what if the Ryst personality becomes dominant?" Gantz asked.
"Brin told me that the various identities can be merged back into one gestalt." Vaughn shared, "I know Rab Daggit and he's proof that the process works. Once it happens with Celeste, Ryst, and the various others, I'll see who they've made and get to know her."
"So you're reserving judgement until later and enjoying some friendly frinxing in the meantime." Gantz surmised.
Both Vaughn and Rockford laughed. Rockford replied, "That about sums it up."
"More power to ya." Gantz toasted them with his glass.
"Speaking of getting friendly..." Vaughn slyly winked at Rockford.
She beamed and told Gantz, "Gotta go!"
Vaughn led Rockford by the hand. He gave Macen a grin and a friendly nod as he passed by. Rockford flashed T'Kir and Tessa a wicked smile and then they were off.
"They're lucky." Tessa sighed.
"You will be too someday." T'Kir assured her, "The right guy'll come along and 'Bam'!"
"But can I...?" Tessa trailed off.
"Honey, you're anatomically correct and fully functional." T'Kir laughed.
"But what's it like?" Tessa begged to know.
T'Kir looked to Macen, "Brin, go away. It's time for Girl Talk and I don't wanna embarrass you."
"That's all right." He laughed, "I've been meaning to have a one-on-one with Gantz."
"Good." T'Kir firmly replied, "There he is. Have at."
Macen rose and moved to Gantz's table, "Mind if I join you?"
"Go ahead." Gantz grinned, "Girl Talk, huh?"
Macen smiled, "Exactly."
Gantz sobered up, "You look like a man with something on his mind. Care to share?"
"Actually I've been waiting to talk to you about your role on the team and your future with it." Macen revealed.
"Oh shuk, I've been fired, haven't I?" Gantz squirmed.
"What?" Macen was flabbergasted, "No, and I mean no! You haven't been fired. Far from it. I was wondering if you'd accept a new type of job within the team's framework."
"First of all, let me say that I'm relieved." Gantz admitted, "Second of all, it would depend upon the job."
"It's one you're already doing." Macen shared, "The team looks to me to be its anchor. In my absence they look to T'Kir. The problem is that T'Kir's generally at my side when I'm absent."
Macen's gaze became piercing, "In such circumstances they look to you. You've more experience than anyone else on the team, save Celeste. She still isn't fully trusted by most of the team. They respect you and look to you for guidance. You're 'The Rock' they rely upon. How'd you like to make it official and start attending strategy meetings?"
"What about Vaughn?" Gantz asked, "He's got more experience in the field. More even than you. You've said he taught you most of what you know about tradecraft."
"Elias is only with us for this caper and then he goes back to Starfleet." Macen explained, "What about the job? Will you do it?"
Gantz squirmed, "Let me think about it."
"Of course." Macen allowed, "Let me know when you decide."
"Sorry to rush off now," Gantz rose, "but Dracas asked me to join him and a few select friends over for dinner in his place."
Macen smiled, "Don't want to miss that. I believe it's Joachim's first dinner party."
"Yeah." Gantz grinned, "Later."
As the former Gatherer departed Macen cast a glance T'Kir's way. Grace had joined her and Tessa. They were in deep, dark conspiracy mode now. Suddenly Danan appeared before him.
"Want to join me for dinner?" she asked with a mischievous grin.
"Happy to have startled me?" Macen wryly asked.
"Yup." Danan happily bobbed her head, "Now what about my offer?"
Macen's smile was one of delight, "I'd love to."
Lt. Commander Verity Jones, CAG of the USS Hood's Rascal Squadron, finished strapping herself in. Flight techs finished assisting her passenger, Captain Merry Limerick. They were flying to Magna Roma in Jones' Lightning-class fighter.
With the balance of power shifted to the clones' favour, they had sealed off the planet. No traffic, other than that in support of their cause, was allowed in proximity of Magna Roma. It was Limerick's plan to slip past their sentries in the fighter. What remained in doubt was whether or not the Cardassians would intervene.
Although they were wearing airtight helmets, Jones still turned around to address her Captain, "All set, sir?"
Limerick's humour laced voice came back over the comm link, "All set, Commander. Take 'er out when you're ready."
"Aye, sir." Jones then addressed the Flight Controller. Hangar Bay 1 was depressurised. Jones activated the fighter's antigravs. Blast shields rose behind the craft. Jones turned on the tractor beam, anchoring her to her position.
She throttled the impulse engines to maximum. She received launch clearance from the Controller and she released the tractor beam. Rascal Lead and her passenger rocketed out of the hangar into open space.
Jones turned in a wide arc. Limerick was able to see the full splendour of his Galaxy-class command. He beamed as they sailed past.
"Thank you for that, Verity." Limerick gratefully said.
"No problem, Captain." Jones lightly replied, "Better get ready. The fun's about to begin."
Limerick was seated in the Weapons Officer station. He activated the sensors. Two Eagle-class escorts were interdicting the nimble little fighter. Jones handled communications with them. Limerick could hear her part of it and it didn't sound good.
"Hang on, sir!" Jones suggested as she threw the fighter into an 8g evasive turn. Fortunately, the inertial damper and the artificial gravity blunted most of the force. Phaser blasts surrounded their fighter as Jones went into a random set of jukes and jinks trying to avoid getting hit. Nevertheless, despite all her skill, they were still getting hammered as other escorts joined in.
Limerick's screen scrambled. "What happened?" he asked.
"Cardassian ECM. They've got the latest generation jammers. Our countermeasures should be burning a hole in their jamming field but it's not working." Jones explained, "We're going in on visual guidance. Wish me luck."
Limerick wished her the best of it. Inwardly he cursed the Meirkus Conglomeration and the Orion Syndicate. Between the two of them, they'd equipped Cardassia with ECM gear capable of spoofing Federation issue equipment. Starfleet R&D needed to achieve a breakthrough and fast.
They were entering Magna Roma's atmosphere and the concentrated firepower directed at them limited their movements. Limerick grimly watched as the shields died. A Cardassian disruptor took out their primary engines and the fighter went down in flames.
"Justinian V!" Marcus CLXII cried as he entered the room. Justinian V, Octavius XII, and Dal Marl Haffet had been finalising their plans for the march on Peking.
"A Federation craft attempted to run the blockade." Marcus CLXII reported, "Jagul Litol intervened and the Starfleet ship has been shot down."
Justinian V turned to Haffet, "Thank the Jagul for us." Focusing on Marcus CLXII he asked, "Where is the craft headed for?"
"The Britannic Channel." Marcus CLXII answered.
"Deploy Aquinus CDLIV. The crew may yet safely eject and land in Nova Roma, Espana, or Italia."
"It will be done." Marcus CLXII saluted.
"If I may," Haffet spoke, "I'd like to send a squad in support of yours. It will be our first concrete test of our joint tactics."
Justinian V smiled, "Excellent. Summon your men."
"I've got us partially stabilised." Jones informed Limerick, "If we punch out now we'll end up in Northern Italy."
"Sounds like a plan." Limerick replied, "Let's do it."
"Brace yourself." Jones warned and then she pulled the yellow handle. The canopy blasted off and then their seats ejected.
"Where did they go down?" Alaric grimly asked.
"Their ship landed in the Britannic Channel." Gaius reported, "However, a patrol sighted the parachutes of the crew going down in the foothills of the Italian Alps."
"Deploy a patrol to recover them." Alaric commanded.
"Already done, Caesar." Gaius proudly admitted.
Jones unclipped herself from her parachute and fell the last metre to the ground. Letting herself fall into the soft grass, she expended most of her inertia and avoided injury. She shrugged out of her harness and began to examine the contents of her survival duffel.
Unclipping the bag from her harness' tether, she opened it and found the shoulder strap and fixed it into place. Then she removed her helmet and cast it aside. Next, she retrieved her phaser and tricorder. Also inside were two months worth of combat rations, a portable heater, a tent, palm and wrist lamps, glowrods, a medical tricorder, and an emergency med kit.
Most precious of all, the duffel contained an emergency subspace locator beacon. She activated it and it immediately began transmitting her coordinates into space for Starfleet to hear.
She tapped her comm badge, "Jones to Captain Limerick." Silence met her and she tried again. Worried, she pulled out her tricorder and got a fix on his comm badge. He was 1.3 kilometres away. Settling her equipment she set out on a nice, measured march.
Jones had been hiking for over an hour now. Every fifteen minutes she called her captain again. Finally, he responded.
"Yes, Commander, I'm here." Limerick's dry tones came across the circuit.
Relief flooded Jones' being but she could hear in his voice something was wrong, "Sir, are you all right. You sound...off."
"My ankle's broken." Limerick revealed, "I can't get to my survival duffel. It's hung up on the same tree as I was."
"Never fear." Jones insisted, "If this planet's solar day is as long as I estimate then I should reach you before dark."
"Take your time, Commander." Limerick jested, "I have a flock of sheep for company. Maybe there'll be a shepherdess that'll happen along the way."
Jones snorted, "You wish. Hang on, sir. I'm coming."
"I know." He reassured her, "I'll be here. See you when you get here."
When Jones arrived she found Limerick on the ground backed up against the tree he'd been tangled up with. His duffel hung a mere six centimetres above his reach, even on one leg. She met him and plopped down onto her knees.
She unslung her duffel and rooted out her medical tricorder and her med kit. She thoroughly examined Limerick's offending ankle. When she'd finished she frowned.
"I have a mixed bag of news." She warned, "The good news is that the bone can be regenerated. The bad news is that I'm going to have to set it. That's going to hurt like Hell."
"It can't be any worse than breaking it." Limerick hoped.
"I wouldn't take that bet, sir." Jones replied.
"All right," Limerick protested, "enough of this 'sir' nonsense. We essentially serve the same function. I command a starship; you command a fighter wing. We should, and will, meet as equals."
"Just like that?" Jones smirked.
"Yes." Limerick was adamant, "Just like that."
"Fine." Jones held out her hand, "Hi, I'm Verity."
"What are you doing?" Limerick wondered, "I know who you are."
"I'm meeting you as an equal." She replied and bobbed her hand in front of him.
He took it with a smile, "Hello, I'm Merry."
"Well, Merry, I'm going to hurt you bad." Jones reiterated.
"Just do it and get it over with." Limerick requested.
Jones set out to work. She laid out the makings of a splint and the regenerator. Next she cradled his ankle in her hands. Taking hold, she adjusted it.
Limerick screamed. Jones was unrelenting. She double checked her work with the tricorder. Then she used the regenerator. When she'd finished with that, she rechecked her work. Finally she applied the splint.
A sweating, panting Limerick asked, "Why the splint?"
"The bones regenerated but it still isn't stable. Naturally, it would take an Elvin four weeks to heal such an injury. This way I've accomplished the same thing in four minutes." Jones explained, "The fresh bone needs time to settle and harden. If you were to go without the splint you'd rebreak your ankle."
"Good to know." Limerick replied and then asked, "How do you know so much about field medicine?"
Jones smiled, "All us pilots do. If you have to ditch your craft on some backwater M-class planet and have to spend a few weeks alone, you'd better know the basics."
"Well, Verity, I for one am grateful that you know the basics." Limerick returned her smile.
A sharp whining sound pierced the air. Off in the distance they could see blazing lights.
Jones turned to Limerick, "That's an airfan engine. The Romans use that type of craft."
"So do the Free Legionnaires." Limerick reminded her.
"Good point." Jones opined, "I'll scout it out."
"Verity, we're not here to fight a war, at least not yet." Limerick informed her, "We may as well sit here and wait to see who it is. We're forced to surrender to whoever it is anyway."
"But they fired on us." Jones argued, "Doesn't that make us combatants?"
"No." Limerick shook his head, "We violated a legal blockade. Technically we're provoking them."
"I hate this stuff." Jones confessed, "I want back in my cockpit."
"So do I." Limerick admitted.
"So, what do we do now?" Jones asked.
"We sit down and tell each other about our version of a perfect day." Limerick suggested.
"Okay." Jones agreed, "We can try that."
Just as the first Nova Roman Legionnaire appeared, Limerick laughingly scolded Jones, "You are an action junkie."
"And me being a fighter pilot, go figure." She laughed.
The Roman squad approached, "You there! Stand and be recognised."
Jones stood and assisted Limerick to his feet, "You need to go on a diet."
"Try and tell that to our CMO." Limerick dared her.
The Romans interrupted the repartee, "Are you the Starfleet Captain?"
"I am." Limerick declared.
"The Emperor has dispatched us to escort you to Nova Roma." The group leader announced.
"We'd be happy to..." phaser and disruptor whines cut Limerick off. The four Legionnaires fell where they stood. The Starfleet duo turned to see Free Legionnaires and Cardassians emerging from the trees.
Aquinus CDLIV approached them with the working end of his phase pistol pointed at the ground, "Captain Limerick, I presume."
"You presume correctly." Limerick replied, "Was it necessary to kill these men?"
"They aren't dead." Aquinus CDLIV replied, "Despite our allies' proclivities we merely stunned them. They can report to the Emperor that we have you."
"And why do you want me?" Limerick asked, "We're not a part of your war."
"But you could be." Aquinus CDLIV said, "We need you. Alaric will listen to you."
"And what do you want me to say to him?" Limerick wondered.
"We desire a peace conference." Aquinus CDLIV answered, "There has been little bloodshed up until now. When the subject nations become involved, that will change."
Limerick's face twisted in a wry expression, "I see your point."
"Good." Aquinus CDLIV smiled, "Then you'll accompany us."
"Now wait a minute..." Limerick began to protest.
His words were cut off by, "Dalin Dan to Letrog, eighteen to transport."
With that, Limerick and Jones' world faded away.
Vaughn rolled onto his side and propped his head up with his hand. He lay there admiring Rockford's prone figure. She was lying on her stomach with her arms cradling her head. He visually tasted every curve of her back down to the edge of her buttocks where the sheet tantalisingly hid her arse.
"What are you thinking about?" she softly asked.
Vaughn smiled as he heard the contentment in her voice, "Just admiring the landscape."
"Do tell." She purred.
"I'd love to but I have this nagging question." Vaughn admitted.
"Shoot." She replied.
"Why don't you become merciless when you're in combat?" Vaughn asked, "I've seen files on you, you stay 'normal'. Daggit transformed yet you don't. Why is that?"
"Baby," she laughed, "you have such strange pillow talk."
"I'm sorry, but don't change the subject." Vaughn implored.
"I'm not your typical Augment." Rockford explained, "My aliases don't 'transform'. They're stable. Now, if I was reintegrated like Daggit was, then I'd be your typical Augment with all the associated problems included."
"But Daggit seems to have overcome his 'associated problems'." Vaughn countered, "Nice euphemism, by the way."
"Even reintegrated I'm still an Infiltrator." Rockford struggled to explain, "I, like Daggit, can move beyond my programming and lead a fairly average life. It just takes time."
"So I may have to wait longer than anticipated to meet the real you." Vaughn said.
"Elias, all of these facets are the 'real' me. Reintegration just brings out the complete me." She finally revealed.
"Well, Celeste, I look forward to meeting Annika Ryst. I can only hope she'll feel the same." Vaughn said softly.
"Trust me," Rockford slyly smirked, "she will."
Grace examined herself in the mirror. Her hair was still blonde and her eyes were still brown. Her asymmetrical bob now hung in wavy curls. In short she was very cute but not beautiful. Cute is good. In fact, it's damned fine. She thought to herself.
She finished primping and sat down at her room's comp/comm. She was nervous and she knew it. It had been thirty days since she'd last spoken with Ian Delaney. That was their chosen incommunicado period. He'd had all of this time to digest her revelations of her "true" self...that it is, those facets of her that were determined by Kelvan biology and genetic memories.
Delaney had received the news and details without a qualm but she knew things could change once he began to ruminate upon the facts. What scared her the most is that this could even cost her her friendship with him. She didn't believe she could live with that.
If I can't live without his friendship, what else can't I live without? She wondered and not for the first time.
Forcibly shrugging these worrisome fears aside she typed in his comm access and transmitted. It took several minutes for the Federation's subspace communications relay to find the USS Intrepid. It took longer for Delaney to accept the call. Thankfully though, he did.
A beaming Delaney met Grace's image, "Hannah, this is great. You just caught me preparing a surprise inspection of the 2nd Watch. What's going on?"
"It's been thirty days." She said with both hope and dread lacing her voice.
He checked his calendar, "Wow! To the day."
"Well," Grace said with meek embarrassment, "I've wanted to talk to you."
"Yeah," he said, "I've wanted to talk to you too. I've done a lot of soul searching and..."
"I understand." Grace said with bone crushing disappointment.
"Hannah!" Delaney snapped, "Let me finish. You've shared your most intimate secrets with me. I can't help but be touched and honoured that you trust me so much. In turn, I've shared the darkest skeletons and recesses of my soul with you."
"As far as you being a Kelvan and therefore non-human, so what? It makes you more exotic and even sexier in my opinion. In the end, I'll say what I've said before: I want to share something with you. I want to pursue the hope of someday creating something that will last. That's my thought on the subject." He declared.
Grace was crying, "Oh, Ian. That's what I want too."
"So we can forget this whole 'breaking up' nonsense?" Delaney hoped.
"Of course." Grace laughed.
"Good." He strongly asserted.
"When is the Intrepid laying in to port?" Grace asked.
"Starfleet Command hasn't decided yet." Delaney sadly reported, "The where is also in much doubt."
"Let me know." Grace said suggestively, "And I'll have a scrumptious reunion planned."
"Yum!" He enthusiastically replied.
Gantz met Macen in his Ready Room. Macen was sitting behind his desk and he motioned for Gantz to take a seat. Gantz opted for one of the chairs laid out in front of the desk.
"Can I get you something to drink?" Macen asked.
"I'll have whatever it is you're having." Gantz replied, "It smells good."
Macen went to the replicator and whispered instructions. It produced the beverage and he delivered it to Gantz.
"Here you go: one Italian Roast Caramel Vanilla Latte." He announced as he handed it over.
He retook his seat as Gantz took his first swallow, "Well?"
"I think I'm addicted already." Gantz ruefully admitted, "How did you find out about this?"
"Celeste introduced me to them." Macen answered, "I'm hooked."
Gantz took another drink and Macen said, "You called this little meeting. What's on your mind?"
"I made a decision about your offer." Gantz revealed.
"Overnight?" Macen asked, "That was quick."
"I'm turning you down." Gantz said, "I have to disagree with you that I'm the bedrock of the team. Radil is. Everyone follows her, even me. The position is rightfully hers."
"I agree." Macen replied in chipper tones.
"Then why...?" Gantz angrily demanded.
"Jenrya is a natural leader, and you're right, her teammates follow her lead." Macen admitted, "However, she is undergoing a loss that may change her forever. I can't offer her the position until I'm certain she's at 100%."
"You coulda said it was a temporary posting." Gantz was still irritated.
"Would it have changed your mind?" Macen bemusedly enquired.
"No." Gantz grumpily admitted.
"Then my approach made little difference." Macen replied, "Anything else?"
"Er...no." Gantz was rattled.
"Then you'll have to excuse me." Macen rose and took his coffee with him, "I have to see Joachim."
"Oh." Gantz made to follow him, "Carry on then."
Macen cast an amused glance Gantz's way, "Thanks."
An excited Grace found T'Kir, "He loves me!"
"I'm happy for you. Who 'him'?" T'Kir asked. Grace was totally resistant to T'Kir's telepathy. Spock's hybrid physiology allowed him access to Kalinda's mind but T'Kir was well and truly rebuffed by Grace.
"Ian!" Grace enthused, "He loves me, you silly goose."
"Congrats!" an excited T'Kir responded with genuine enthusiasm, "When did he tell you?"
"He didn't." Grace replied, giddy happiness unaffected by that statement, "In all concrete terms, he said it. In using those actual words, I struck a big zero."
"What did he say?" T'Kir demanded.
Grace laid out the conversation and T'Kir grinned, "He's talkin' commitment. That's a good sign."
"So," Grace smiled, "you agree?"
"If he doesn't love you already, he's awfully close to it." T'Kir surmised.
Grace pumped a fist, "Yeeesss!"
"So now what?" T'Kir happily asked.
"Ian doesn't know when or where the Intrepid will make port." Grace disclosed, "I'd like to have a very sexy and naughty reunion planned for us when they do dock somewhere."
"So," T'Kir mused, "a readily available plan that can be plugged in almost anywhere at a moment's notice."
"Essentially." Grace's confidence wavered for the first time.
T'Kir bolstered her friend's spirits, "Not a prob! Let's go to the computer in my quarters and we shall work miracles."
"Thank you." Grace kissed her on the cheek, "You've just saved my life."
"Don't get too cocky." T'Kir warned, "We haven't even tackled the problem yet. I don't expect trouble but y'never know."
"Duly warned." Grace promised, "Let's go!"
They dashed off, leaving bewildered passers-by in their wake.
Macen and Dracas sat in some over-stuffed chairs in Dracas' quarters. They room was lavish yet Spartan with several pieces of simple furniture filling the space. Although he rarely entertained, he was well prepared for it.
Dracas had received an 'Improved' bill of health from Tessa. His medications were lessened and his sedative was to be injected right before he retired for the night by house call. This morning he'd awoken in time to adequately prepare for his watch and arrive there with a clear head. His faith in Tessa had grown immeasurably.
While Macen was pleased to hear all of this, it wasn't why he was there, "Joachim, I'm here to discuss your mixed feelings towards our mission and how they'll affect your performance."
Dracas was aghast, "What do you mean? My duty lies with the team."
"That's not what you hotly declared in this morning's mission briefing." Macen reminded him, "You insisted your loyalties lay with Alaric yet you were also impassioned about the plight of the clones."
"I cannot condone my Emperor's course of action yet I owe it to him to persuade him to abandon this mad course." Dracas explained, "Yet I cannot embrace my brother clones' actions either since they tried to kill me and others. I still do not understand that."
"Have you ever considered that they do not see you as a brother?" Macen suggestively asked.
"What do you mean?" Dracas was too curious to be wary.
"You're not marked as the other clones are. You're the only one of your series. You're bred from an alien. You were given a privileged upbringing and you have the Emperor's love." Macen explained, "How can you be their brother?"
"I see you've been paying attention to the press releases of the Magna Roman embassy on Earth." Dracas ruefully opined.
"I have to get my information from somewhere." Macen admitted, "The Legion has an information black out in place. They'll talk to me but all they'll say is that there is 'a situation'. The embassy is held by the clones so the information is slanted in their favour but at least there is information."
"If the embassy is being forcibly held, why doesn't Starfleet intervene?" Dracas asked.
"It's foreign soil and we're non-combatants. The Federation as a whole will not act until we've been invited into the conflict." Macen tried to explain.
Dracas shook his head, "I will never understand this democracy of yours."
"Neither will I." Macen concurred.
"Do you truly believe we can end the conflict?" Dracas was almost afraid to ask.
"I think we can try." Macen disclosed, "If the clones cooperate and the Cardassians are their usual selves, we stand a good chance of working out a peaceable agreement."
"This plan is why I say my duties lay with the SID." Dracas reiterated, "Your goals and mine overlap."
"And if they didn't?" Macen wondered.
Dracas hesitated, "I do not know."
"I think you will before this is over." Macen predicted, "Good night."
Macen left Dracas' quarters, leaving Dracas to ponder the imponderable.
T'Kir kneaded Macen's neck and shoulders, "Why so serious?"
"I've been in contact with Commander Sima Havelick, the XO of the Hood. Captain Limerick and the ship's CAG are prisoners of the clone Free Legion." Macen revealed.
T'Kir whistled, "How long've ya been sittin' on this one?"
"Just a few hours." Macen confessed, "I spoke with her right before we went to dinner."
"And?" T'Kir prompted.
"Amanda called me while you were busy with Hannah." Macen kept the stream of divulgence flowing, "We're to try and extract Limerick and Jones. If we can't, the Hood goes into action."
"So we're supposed to end a war in the Nova Romans' favour, rescue an errant Starfleet captain and his CAG, and stave off the Cardassians' ambitions." T'Kir recited.
"Yup." Macen confirmed it.
"Damn, we must be good." T'Kir said mockingly, "Not bad for a team that got their asses kicked the last two times out."
"We freed the Ekosians and Zeons from Sindis' marauders. It was felt that that more than made up for our failure to apprehend the head man himself." Macen explained.
"What about Katreen and Ghemor?" T'Kir asked archly, "The Cardies' democratic government collapsed and we couldn't do a damned thing 'bout it."
That failure was topped with the death of their unborn child. It was a stinging slap in the face that both of them still felt. It would be a long time before that mission could be viewed without recriminations.
Macen drew T'Kir into his arms and whispered, "I know. We've a chance to stop Maret. A very real chance to stop both Maret and Sindis. We have to try."
"Okay." T'Kir whispered back, "Let's save civilisation from itself again."
Macen pulled her in close and delivered a tender kiss. T'Kir smiled, "I like it, sir. May I have more?"
"Certainly." He replied and resumed his efforts.
The next morning found Macen on subspace radio with Justinian V. Although the conversation had begun with an amiable air, it was swiftly descending into intransigence.
"I cannot allow you to assume orbit." Justinian V insisted, "You may attempt to land ground troops."
"I don't have any ground troops." Macen argued, "I have twelve Security officers. That's it. My ship may be a starship but it's a planetary surveyor. It's designed for scientific research not combat."
"But this 'team' of yours...?" Justinian V left the matter hanging.
"My team and I are investigators." Macen explained...again, "My mission is to assist all parties in resolving the conflict."
"How does that involve 'investigations'?" Justinian V warily asked.
"We have information that the Cardassians and Bertram Sindis are manipulating your efforts for their own purposes." Macen informed him.
"Can I see this evidence?" Justinian V enquired.
"Of course." Macen readily agreed, "I'll transmit it immediately."
"I will give you my decision after I view such a transmission." Justinian V warned.
The wait wasn't a long one. Justinian V's countenance was wary but open.
"You may assume orbit, Captain. I, too, would like more light to be shed upon these matters." Justinian V admitted, "I presume that you will also be in contact with Alaric Caesar?"
"Of course." Macen confessed, "I'd be useless as an arbitrator otherwise."
Justinian V nodded, "Well said. I will issue orders that you are allowed to freely cross the battle lines."
"Thank you." Macen nodded his appreciation, "We'll be arriving in 5.5 local solar hours. I will see Alaric first and then I will come to you."
"That is agreeable." Justinian V replied, "Until then, Captain."
Justinian went to an antechamber near the fortress' dungeon. Limerick and Jones awaited him. Unsurprisingly enough so did Dal Hafet.
Hafet became more meddlesome every day. As Macen's evidence had warned, the Cardassians wished to run this war. Litol and Hafet's attitudes bespoke of this. Justinian V began to wonder what plans the Cardassians had in store for Magna Roma after the war.
Justinian V's mistake was that he supposed if the Cardassians' early intentions were tamed their overall plans would also be appropriately lessened in scale. His naiveté was born of ignorance. Limerick desired to educate his captor. Hafet was there to minimise the damage.
"Greetings Captain Limerick, Commander Jones," Justinian V said as he sat opposite them at a prepared table. The Federation officers were surrounded by three Free Legionnaire Milites Gregarii, a Discentes, and two Cardassian Garresh. In other words, there was little to no chance for the Starfleet officers to threaten anyone or escape.
"I'm sorry I've been unavailable." Justinian V apologised.
"We understand." Limerick amiably replied, "You've a war to plan."
"Be careful." Hafet warned, "They hide their lies within cloaks of friendship."
"And be warned," Limerick interjected, "the Federation has already fought two prolonged conflicts with the Cardassians. There is little love lost between the current Cardassian government and the Federation."
"And why is that?" Justinian V wondered.
"They intrude upon our space, meddle with our dealings with the subject worlds, and they try to forcibly assimilate us." Hafet accused.
Justinian V looked to Limerick for a rebuttal. Slowly, Limerick responded, "We've only entered neutral space. Cardassian claims upon it were made after we'd already colonised the disputed worlds."
Hafet snorted, "They claim to adhere to free transit of their territory but they mined an area of space that our allies were trying to cross. We had to declare war in order to protect our allies."
"The Dominion was trying to transit an invasion force." Limerick sighed, "It was Bajoran territory and we mined the area with Bajor's consent. They wished their sector to remain free of external claims upon it."
"Bajor is rightfully a Cardassian subject world!" Hafet snapped.
"Bajor is a sovereign member of the United Federation of Planets and we will defend it." Limerick growled.
"It seems I merely need leave you two alone in a room and you shall attempt to reconcile your masters' disputes." Justinian V wryly mused.
"My mission here is to assist you in ending your dispute with the Nova Roman Empire not to debate old issues with your Cardassian allies." Limerick insisted.
"Ah," Justinian V paused, "But to whose advantage?"
"That remains to be seen through negotiation." Limerick said with less confidence.
"I have a copy of your orders." Justinian V revealed, "Dal Hafet has provided me with this information. You are to preserve the peace but with the Nova Roman Empire making little to no concessions. We are to be freed but as slaves to the empire."
"You could earn your freedom." Limerick argued.
"I could also embrace reality." Justinian V snapped, "No Roman Emperor will ever grant us equality."
"I'm getting the impression that you aren't going to surrender us to the Romans." Limerick admitted.
"You are correct." Justinian V divulged, "Your fate rests in Captain Macen's hands."
"Captain Macen?" Hafet sputtered, "As in Captain Brin Macen?"
"Yes, that is his name." Justinian V nonchalantly replied.
"This man is the quintessential devil!" Hafet took umbrage at Justinian V's cavalier attitude, "He is guilty of crimes against our state spanning a thirty year period."
"But I take it he has never been in your custody." Justinian V surmised.
"No, but he has been tried in absentia and found guilty." Hafet huffed.
"Everyone is found guilty in a Cardassian court." Limerick interjected.
"Listen, you Federation brillak, they wouldn't stand before the court unless they were guilty." Hafet angrily retorted.
"I see both of your positions and can endorse neither one." Justinian V said, "Dal Hafet, Macen has shown me disturbing evidence concerning your true motives for being in our space."
"What kind of evidence?" Hafet warily asked.
"A transmission showing Bertram Sindis meeting with Gul Maret." Justinian described, "It details Sindis persuading Maret to send forces to Magna Roma and that the Cardassians' future plans for Magna Roma are acceptable to Sindis." Justinian V's eyes narrowed, "What are those plans?"
"We have no plans beyond militarily assisting you during your bid for freedom." Hafet delivered the official line, "Afterwards we would like to extend our hand in friendship."
"So Jagul Litol has assured me." Justinian V replied, "Surely you wouldn't mind if your words were put to the test?"
"You and your men are free to examine any record we may have so that you may satisfy yourself as to our veracity." Hafet promised.
"What about Macen?" Justinian V enquired, "What if I were to have him examine the records?"
"You would trust him?" Hafet sputtered.
"He is a hero even among my kind." Justinian V admitted, "He is a civilian. He is neutral in this affair."
"Where do you get your information?" Hafet wondered.
"From the Outbound Ventures' brochure. Macen sent it along with the evidence." Justinian V allowed himself a sly smile, "He is a licensed privateer, not Starfleet, or any wing of the Federation."
"He is a gun for hire." Hafet spat, "He readily accepts Starfleet contracts. Did he tell you that?"
"A note attached to the brochure detailed his contract with Starfleet on this case. It also included his interpretation of those contractual orders." Justinian V added, "Now, will you allow Macen to investigate for us?"
"I'll..." Hafet struggled for words, "I'll have to discuss it with the Jagul."
"Do that." Justinian V said, "Much depends upon his answer." He looked around the room, "This meeting is concluded."
Justinian V departed. The Federation officers were taken back to their cells. Hafet silently stood by and wondered how everything could go so wrong so fast. He activated his wrist comm and was transported to the Jagul's flagship. Damage control had to begin and it had to begin now!
The Obsidian slowly entered 892's inner system. The Hood stood 500,000 kilometres of her port side. When the ship had reached an undeclared boundary, three Free Legion escorts moved in to intercept.
Macen ordered full stop. Minutes later, T'Kir reported an incoming hail. Macen wished it to be put on the main viewer.
The clone that appeared before them wore the Imperial rank of Immunes, "I am Jerome XV. You are violating a lawful blockade."
"I'm Captain Brin Macen of the Obsidian," Macen smiled, "contact Justinian V and confirm our clearance to cross this blockade line."
"I shall." Jerome XV promised and the screen reverted to the view of the three Free Legion ships floating ahead of them. Mere seconds later an almost pleasant Jerome XV reappeared, "Proceed to Magna Roma. One of our vessels will escort you. Do not deviate from a direct vector towards the planet or attempt any entry manoeuvre outside of a standard orbital insertion. Understood?"
"Understood." Macen replied, "We're more than happy to comply."
"Another thing: you are forbidden from utilising your transporter once in orbit."
"Very well then." Macen acknowledged, "We'll restrict ourselves."
Litol was on the surface. He and Hafet had squirreled themselves away in a foreboding and abandoned section of the Roman fortress. Hafet was agitated but Litol sought to ease his anxiety.
"Macen's arrival is fortunate for us." Litol assured him, "These clones are too weak-kneed to be allowed dominion over this world. Cardassia must save these neo-barbs from themselves. Six more Keldon-class cruisers and three Galor V-class are in bound. With them are 3,000 more troops. I have ordered the off-loading of our hovertanks and crews. The armoured cavalry is also being deposited upon this mud ball. With these in place, the neo-barbs will fall before as their 'wheat' before a scythe."
"But won't the Starfleet units intervene?" Hafet sceptically wondered.
"Starfleet won't act until they've received an invitation to. And then only if their wretched Federation Council has approved of the intervention. We merely need to ensure that no such request leaves the planet." Litol replied with a nasty smile.
"Orbital jammers." Hafet replied.
Litol was pleased that his ground commander was beginning to stretch his imagination, "As for Macen's ship, we shall simply board her and hold her until the dust settles."
"But what of Macen's proposed investigation?" Hafet asked.
"Measures have been taken." Litol wore a confident smile, "Macen will not discover anything. My experts and Glinn Fern have seen to that."
"So you approve of Macen's effort?" Hafet double-checked.
"With proper supervision." Litol laughed, "I'm on my way to inform Justinian V of my endorsement of his plan. Are you coming?"
Hafet shook his head, "I'm going to oversee the landing of our armoured divisions."
Litol nodded, "Excellent thinking. Until later then."
The launch of the Corsair was flawlessly executed. As it descended nearer Roman airspace, atmospheric interceptors approached. Grace took the hail and followed them to Nova Roma. Local traffic control then guided her to the Imperial Palace. There, the base's own traffic controller set her down.
The Praetorian Guard met the runabout. As Macen descended the ramp, they saluted. The guards relaxed as the others exited from the runabout. Dracas appeared last and when he did so, the Praetorians went for their weapons.
The SID members were quick on the draw. Within seconds there was a stand-off. Finally, the Praetorian Commander approached.
"Hail Dracas." He raised his fist to his chest, "I bid you welcome if you come unarmed."
Dracas looked to Macen and Macen shook his head, "Not a chance. My personnel are armed at all times on the ground. That's my regulation."
"Always a gladiator, eh Captain?" the Commander smiled.
"Always, Scipio." Macen replied, "As you should know."
"Very well." Scipio relented, "Joachim Dracas, you may enter the Emperor's abode on my recognisance. If you betray my trust, you will die."
"Understood." Dracas acknowledged.
"Follow me." Scipio commanded and the SID team followed while flanked by the Praetorians.
Macen and the group were led to the Imperial Command Centre. It was fully staffed and occupied. Given that it was 3:00 A.M. local time this came as a surprise.
Displayed on the viewing screens was satellite imagery of Peking. Owing to the 6 hour time differential, it was 9:00 A.M. there. The pictures were of troops massing for a battle.
The pictures of the clones showed legion upon legion. They had well and truly massed their forces for this engagement. Conspicuously mixed amongst their ranks stood the Cardassians. Hovertanks, wheeled vehicles, aircars, and antiaircraft units moved alongside the Free Legion tanks, tracked vehicles, missile launchers, mobile artillery, and jeeps.
The odds seemed stacked in favour of the Chinese. After all, the Middle Kingdom's army outnumbered the clone and Cardassian forces ten-to-one. The Chinese also possessed the planet's largest air force.
Macen knew they would be slaughtered, "I must speak with Alaric. Now!"
Macen and Dracas were brought before the Emperor. Alaric beamed and embraced both of them, "Greetings my friends. I'm sorry our reunion had to take place under such circumstances."
"The circumstances are what I must discuss with you." Macen said, "The Chinese are about to be butchered. Call them off."
"Are you mad?" Alaric laughed, "The advantage is ours. Besides the Middle Kingdom's forces, there are two Roman aircraft carriers off-shore. We also have ten squadrons based in the Middle Kingdom. The locals call them "the Flying Tigers." Besides all of that, there are three missile submarines flanking the carriers. They are the new Firedrake-class. Nothing can stop their missiles."
"The Cardassians can and will." Macen promised, "Call this off before hundreds of thousands needlessly die."
"No." Alaric replied with steel in his voice, "The battle must be fought. The clones must learn their place."
"Call Starfleet in." Macen implored, "They can help both sides reach an understanding. A peace treaty is still possible. Don't throw away the chance to end this before it's truly begun."
"There can be no peace." Meacham said as he approached the gathering, "These mockeries are traitors and must be punished accordingly."
As Dracas bristled, Macen turned to the Senator, "Who are you and why should I care?"
Alaric smiled, "May I present Senator Meacham and beside him is Senator Grachus. They are my minders."
"Since when does the Emperor have Senatorial minders?" Macen wondered.
"This is still a republic." Meacham answered, "One governed by the rule of law. The Emperor is the 1st Citizen, an example to all Roman subjects. He is the absolute commander of our Legions and the enforcer of our laws. He must also be reigned in by the laws of our state or chaos will carry the day."
"What is this 'punishment' that you've mentioned?" Macen asked.
"The punishment for revolting is death." Dracas supplied the answer, "The sentence can be decided without trial. It is a military matter."
"But as the absolute commander of the Legions Caesar can commute the sentence?" Macen hoped.
"The Senate has issued a decree," Meacham boasted, "All Roman clones are to be executed. All of them."
Dracas caught the implication as Meacham stared at him while making his announcement. So did Macen.
"You refuse to call in Starfleet?" Macen pointedly asked Alaric.
"Yes." The Emperor was confused as to why Macen was repeating what had already been decided.
"And if I can prove the Cardassians are here to invade?" Macen enquired.
"You think they are?" Alaric was more urgent now.
"I think they are and I think I can prove it." Macen revealed, "But I need to go to them to get the proof."
"I will order your vessel to be listed amongst the inviolable craft. No Roman shall harm it." Alaric vowed, "You have free passage within Roman airspace."
"That's all I ask." Macen turned to his people and the Praetorian Guard, "We're leaving folks."
Dracas cast one last discerning look Alaric's way before following his CO out of the Palace.
Justinian V and Hafet monitored their troops progress from a mobile communication, command, and control centre. A comm tech summoned Justinian V.
"We have unidentified craft approaching."
"Visual." Justinian V ordered.
A vessel of an unknown type appeared on the screen. Hafet bristled.
"That is a Federation runabout." He revealed, "Let my troops destroy it."
"And let you slip past Macen's investigation?" Justinian V gloated, "You profess cooperation one moment and then utilise every form of persuasion to try and prevent such a thing from occurring."
"I merely wish to spare you Macen's lies." Hafet offered as an explanation.
"Let me discern what is a lie and what is not. Hmmm?" Justinian V counselled.
Justinian V turned to the comm tech, "Alert all wings and air defences, the Federation craft is allowed free access to Free Legion held territories."
The battle of Chung Kuo had been a swift and lethal affair. The Cardassians carried the day. Their ground assault equipment was a century more advanced than that of the Chinese and the Romans. The Cardassian troops had been hand selected from crack Orders that had served in the front lines of the Dominion War.
The Cardassian antiaircraft capabilities had stunned the allied forces. The surprise appearance of Cardassian assault shuttles had decimated what forces were left. Even the corpses of the vaunted Flying Tigers were spread across the field of battle.
Macen and the group surveyed the wreckage as they landed. One good thing was that Peking was taken intact. Even now the clones were rolling in in a victorious column.
Justinian V and Hafet stood back as Octavius XII and Dalin Dan led the troops in. While the SID team waited at the runabout, Macen was brought before the two commanders.
"Greetings Captain." Justinian V saluted Macen, "It is an honour to meet you."
"The honour is mine." Macen replied, "Will the probe commence?"
"Immediately." Justinian V said with amusement in his voice. He handed Macen a flimsy, "Here are the coordinates of the clone and Cardassian encampment where you will proceed. The Cardassians have offered you assistance and equipment."
"We have our own equipment." Macen smiled, "It will suffice."
Hafet looked disgruntled, "Glinn Fern will oversee your efforts. You will report to him and he will report to the chain of command."
"Fair enough." Macen said agreeably, "Then my team and I will be leaving so we can begin."
"God speed." Justinian V wished.
"May you find what is there." Hafet offered.
Macen cast a dubious glance Hafet's way. He didn't pursue the matter and headed back to the Corsair. Once there, he boarded and the starship lifted off and headed for the Ruslands.
Proceed to Part II
|Last modified: 02 Jan 2014