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Freedom by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis


The one year anniversary of the capture of Maquis forces by the Joint Federation-Cardassian Counterterrorism Task Force was celebrated by Vera Dragonuv's escape from Cardassian captivity. And Ro Laren decided that escape would be just the beginning. Unfortunately, Dragonuv's freedom carried news of the fate of other Cardassian captives.

Tom Riker had also escaped with Romulan assistance. A tale told by the fires at night. But Amaktay and Rose Pinter had been killed, victims of Cardassian "scientific inquiry" into their genetics. The guards had taunted with that news before trying to gang rape her again. And Dragonuv had a harried enough tale to tell regarding the lives of female prisoners in Cardassian care.

Dragonuv had just been the victim of misfortune to be captured by the Cardassians while three of her fellow Maquis cell members on Ronara Prime were arrested by the Federation task force members. Emily Rossum and Jai Hunter had been killed in the skirmish. From the Cardassian end of things, they'd been the lucky ones.

Dragonuv knew her comrades captured by the Federation security forces were infinitely better off than captured by their Cardassian counterparts. Dragonuv had been deposited on a mining colony where forced laborers did the actual work. Most were Bajorans despite the official propaganda. But a remnant were humans and other Federation members captured over the course of the Border Wars. Most of them were Starfleet prisoners that were ostensibly exchanged during the armistice.

Female prisoners were frequently raped by drunken guards. Dragonuv's bleached hair had spared her this in the opening months of her captivity but her naturally dark hair grew out and the guards took notice of her. And the cycle began.

At first, would-be rapists accosted her and she maimed or crippled them. But that ended in a gang rape party. She killed two of her attackers, blinded another and took off the arm of a fourth with a spade shovel.

The colony's prefect had finally had enough of Dragonuv harming his men in their "lawful" right of "seeking comfort" from condemned prisoners. But pressure came from the Central Command to keep Dragonuv alive. It was believed she could be leveraged as a means of capturing Ro Laren, who had increasingly become a major irritant to the Cardassians' plans for the Demilitarized Zone.

So Dragonuv was removed to the outer edge of the camp where the enlisted female officers were overseen by a long female gil. There, as she recovered from the beating the guards "rescuing" her attackers had given her, she was put to general labor. It seemed the women were familiar with Dragonuv's unending struggle with the rapists and they quietly applauded her even if they were jealous of the male attention. The prefect was becoming aware of the prodigious number of personal batteries the women ordered every month.

They admired her to the point they put her offloading cargo from foreign contractors. By which she devised a means to send a message to Ro. Captain Yidro named a price Dragonuv promised Ro could meet. In truth, she had no idea of how the latinum strapped Maquis cell could ever meet his named price but she hoped Ro could persuade him to follow through for less latinum up front.

Weeks later, Yidro returned and offloaded an "escapee" corpse selected for its resemblance to Dragonuv. The female Cardassians went along with the plan in exchange for hefty payoffs that Dragonuv knew Ro couldn't afford. The Cardassians used the corpse as target practice to make it seem far more authentic.

Dragonuv was loaded aboard ship by Yidro before he lifted off, "It isn't good to be seen dying and escaping at the same time."

And inside the galley, Dragonuv received an even greater surprise. Ro had personally come to oversee Dragonuv's return to Ronara Prime. After leaving Yidro's ship, they caught another tramp freighter for a ride back to their base of operations.

En route, Dragonuv plagued Ro with endless questions regarding comrades still free and those captured. Ro was happy to inform her that Christina Noble, Kris Solo, and Nick Locarno had been located. But Kalita and Kassidy Yates had been transferred to other facilities. Many of the captured Maquis had not returned to the DMZ colonies. Most preferred to stay out of the action inside of the Federation.

Ro saw the fire that lit Dragonuv's eyes all the way back to the Maquis base on Ronara Prime. The tramp freighter rendezvoused with the Ma'jel-class courier orbiting Valos I. It was the same ship Ro and Kalita had used to steal supplies from the Enterprise. It was locked to Ro's voice print and reactivated for flight at her command.

Ro knew Dragonuv was ignoring the horrors she'd lived through at the labor camp. And Ro knew from her years in refugee camps and under Cardassian "care" Dragonuv might never be able to revisit those moments while awake. But she teetered on the verge of obsession regarding Noble, Solo, and Locarno. And obsession that threatened to consume her.

Dragonuv was briefed on logistics developments that had occurred within the cell upon returning to the fold. Her understudy gladly gave way to Dragonuv resuming her role as the Logistics Chieftain for the cell. Her first question at seeing the cell's modest, but healthy, funding was where had Ro secured the bribe money to pay off Yidro, the Cardassians, and the tramp freighter?

"You worry to much," Ro replied, "It was a donation for just that cause. And we've begun raiding Cardassian banks so we're swimming in leks if not latinum."

Which still made Dragonuv burn with curiosity regarding the identity of the mysterious benefactor. But she knew Ro well enough to understand it was a dead issue. And no one else knew who had given the funds to Ro. And it had to be a cash transaction because none of the cell's hidden accounts showed any currency fluctuations.

So Dragonuv buried herself into two tasks. The first was the mundane acquisitions of war materials and their smuggling into the DMZ. The second was much closer to her hear and her true intentions.

Elijah Waters eventually contacted Ro from his offices in the Demilitarized Zone Consignment and Shipping Express Agency, "Ro, are you aware that your logistics officer is pressing my people for information regarding firms and trade routes supplying the Federation's penal colonies?"

Waters was a retired Starfleet admiral. More to the point he'd been Deputy Director of Operations for Starfleet Intelligence. Now he unofficially assisted Ro and other Maquis commanders. But very discreetly. He also provided work for their courier ships to near them closer to targets.

Upsetting Waters could be lethal to the Maquis cause wholesale and not just her cell, "I've been...unaware of the extent of Dragonuv's activities."

Which the news explained Dragonuv's distance from her former comrades amongst Ro's deputies. And Dragonuv would hardly acknowledge the existence of the recruits brought in after her capture. It seemed the realization that she would be replaced in her absence had unnerved Dragonuv.

Undoubtedly Dragonuv was uncertain regarding her future within Ro's Maquis cell. And she certainly doubted she could survive another captivity at Cardassian hands. Dragonuv thought she was being discreet. But Ro had seen the signs thousands of times before amongst Bajorans in the Camps.

Even though Federation penal colonies were luxury resorts compared to a Cardassian labor camp, the "guests" were still prisoners. And Ro could see that rankled Dragonuv. To the point Dragonuv was tracking down the arresting Federation Security Service agent that nabbed Noble, Solo, and Locarno. Brittany Darque undoubtedly had the answers Dragonuv sought.

Waters' agents were just a stepping stone in Dragonuv's quest to find Darque. Two of Waters' four shipping agents only handled Maquis "clients". But Dragonuv had been well aware that her efforts to get a Maquis vessel near a penal colony wouldn't go unnoticed or unreported to Ro.

"Vera, we need to talk," Ro announced as she stormed into the makeshift office Dragonuv had put together well before her capture.

"I'm really busy now," Dragonuv showed off a stack of padds containing account ledgers, inventories, and shipping ladles.

"Clear the room," Ro instructed the volunteer noncombatants that aided Dragonuv's accounting.

No one budged.

"That means get the hell out right now," Ro grated.

They scrambled to escape. Ro confronted Dragonuv without preamble, "Waters informed me of your inquiries. Missions go through me and not around me."

"You might have said 'no'," Dragonuv replied, "I couldn't afford that."

"I thought like you did on this before and I learned that I was usually wrong. I probably would have just said 'yes' matter of course before all this skulking. Now I want facts and details to bolster your proposal before I'll even think about committing our cell's resources to a break out," Ro told her.

"You used to just implement policy?" Dragonuv took that above else out of Ro's statement.

"Usually leading up to one of my epic clashes with Commander Will Riker," Ro confessed, "I usually ended prejudicing Riker against what I was trying to accomplish rather than get it done."

"I hadn't considered that," Dragonuv admitted, "I was just afraid you'd turn me down."

"Then don't give me a reason to. Like you already have," Ro suggested, "Pull everything you have together and show me what you've already got."

"How could you afford to bribe everyone to get me out?" Dragonuv veered off topic, "There's no record of those funds anywhere."

"It was a donation from Brin Macen and the crew of the Odyssey. They pooled their resources and bought your freedom. The price to be paid was it was supposed to remain anonymous," Ro explained.

"Way to keep a secret," Dragonuv snarked.

"You wouldn't give up until someone cracked. I might as well keep you focused and on mission," Ro shrugged.

"So how do we begin?" Dragonuv asked.

"First by framing the discussion in the knowledge we can't move openly," Ro saw Dragonuv's eyes protested even her jaw remained clenched, "Thanks to Macen and Waters I know Starfleet Command keeps a top secret advisory council of five members regarding security concerns. The advisories these individuals collectively put forth generally carries with them the weight of policy, both of Starfleet and the Federation President. And that Council of Five has issued a moratorium on active operations against the Maquis while the Klingons are waging their war against the Cardies."

"And this is good news?" Dragonuv knew there had to be a catch.

"Starfleet is aware of the Cardassians easing pressure on the expansion into the DMZ colonies. If we can prove the viability of self governance, Starfleet will push hard to secure the Demilitarized Zone as a Maquis Confederacy," Ro told her.

"If we can prove the viability of self rule," Dragonuv groused, "We became independent when the Federation abandoned us."

"Starfleet refuses to see it that way. They portray themselves as a scorned mother with unruly children," Ro added a wounded tinge to her voice.

"So we use volunteers and civilian transports," Dragonuv stated, "That was my whole premise anyway."

"I have something better. Two somethings. First we have the shuttle Tom Riker defected in," Ro reminded her, "And we've acquired a starship."

"A decommissioned ship?" Dragonuv was skeptical.

"An on the books reserve vessel. The Constellation-class USS Hathaway was a test bed for the Advanced Starship Design Bureau. Later it was utilized in a series of war games by the Enterprise. And it was left effectively abandoned in that same solar system. A salvage team found her and sold her to Calvin Hudson. She's been undergoing refits ever since," Ro said.

"But Starfleet is going to know where that ship is. It'll tell them," Dragonuv protested.

"T'Kir disabled that little gem and Tom Eckles and Heidi Darcy have been working beside our usual conversion experts to bring the Hathaway to life. And seemed to have worked because when the main computer was brought back to full operation, it downloaded every available security update Starfleet Operations had issued since the ship was rendered inactive. Lisea Danan is still an undercover Starfleet agent and she assumed command of the starship as soon as it requested voice print analysis," Ro revealed, "T'Kir tampered with its processing and it accepted me as its commanding officer."

"But will it accept us as crew?" Dragonuv had to ask.

"T'Kir has forged Starfleet bonafides for the entire cell and it's already been accepted as a crew manifest," Ro related to her, "I already sent Tulley and Thool in Starfleet uniform aboard our ill gotten Type 6 shuttle and they requisitioned the final parts we needed to complete repairs. If Eckles is still on schedule, she'll be ready to fly tomorrow."

"I can't believe you've let me just spin my wheels here," Dragonuv was crestfallen.

"Not necessarily, I persuaded Waters to assign Hana Rynn and Kristiana Liu to dispatching two scouts to our prospective targets," Ro shared, "Thadiun Okona and the Erstwhile will make a run past one colony and the Graffs and the Falcon will pass by the other."

"Thanks to Ronnie," Dragonuv knew all too well.

Veronica Jane Graff was the late teens-early twenties daughter of the seventyish Harry Graff. Thanks to fatalities inflicted by the Cardassians during the Border Wars, Ronnie was Harry's only surviving relative. And the elder Graff understood Ronnie's youthful zeal to assist the Maquis but he wouldn't allow herself to endanger herself in any sense other than legally. A quite snooping mission provided an opportunity to satisfy both Graffs.

"How long will it take to get our reports?" Dragonuv inquired sharply.

"Three weeks. Waters had to assign a deep run to facilitate the illusion that both freighters were used to operating within the Federation's deeper borders," Ro explained.

"Here's hoping for a successful mission," Dragonuv toasted Ro with a water bulb.

"I'm sure Harry feels otherwise," Ro relented.

Harry Graff was the owner-operator of the medium-light stock freighter, SS Falcon. Ronnie was the mechanical genius that kept the ninety year old merchantman flying long past its build date in 2281. With long faced Barfly Brett at the helm, the Falcon cruised from stop to stop and he assisted the Graffs with cargo loading and offloading.

Harry spent most of his time perusing the ever changing shipping regulations. He was reminded of why he generally chose to operate outside of the Federation. It wasn't that Graff didn't empathize with the Maquis. He oozed sympathy. But Ronnie wouldn't be satisfied until they were running contraband again or she was aiming a phaser at someone and they were returning fire.

Harry had been idealistic and impetuous as a youth. He'd done time in Starfleet's enlisted corps as a shuttle pilot. But he'd returned to his Boomer family and earned a ship of his own. Now every single one of them were dead at the hands of Cardassians. No one actually knew what happened to his brothers and sisters and their extended families. But his parents had been left behind broken and insane. So Harry dumped everything into the Falcon and still ran afoul of a gul commanding a Galor-class cruiser.

Personally watching the horrific gang rapes that killed his wife and oldest daughters, Graff had been released from Cardassian custody with a warning...and his youngest daughter. Ronnie had been nine and a child prodigy when it came to maintenance and engineering. After Harry had confessed to Ronnie how the Cardassians had placed a spinal tap to paralyze him and he'd been made a witness of the brutal deaths of his loved ones, Harry explained why he wouldn't allow his ship to be captured by Cardassian forces ever again.

Ronnie understood. And she vowed no one would have to suffer like her mother and sister had if she were able to intervene. And intervention was a wide road. Harry intended for Ronnie to take his place in a few years as the owner-operator. Ronnie intended to throw her every resource against the Cardassians.

Harry knew movements like the Maquis rarely built enough momentum to succeed. So he was waiting them out. Once they were obliterated, Ronnie could inherit guilt free. In the interim, Harry had to keep Ronnie pacified enough so that she wouldn't leave him.

Graff knew Elijah Waters was an ex-Starfleet admiral and Liu was former Starfleet Operations. Hana Rynn was a former Resistance fighter back on Bajor. It didn't take a genius to know people like that rarely operated a cargo consignment firm. The outstanding agents, Russia Dawes and Yohanna Iversen, were honestly career schedulers. Two of Hana's relatives, also ex-Resistance, served as the administrative aides whose job it was to keep Dawes and Iversen innocent of the skullduggery.

The Graffs' target was in the Durand system. Durand IV was a late stage K-Class Adaptable planet being terraformed into M-Class Terrestrial standards. Durand IV had begun as a Mars type planet and was now transformed into a L-Class Marginal world awaiting large scale planting and transplanting of both flora and fauna.

The Falcon's computer alerted the crew to the fact the Durand was just ahead of them. Barfly Brett dropped the freighter out of warp and entered the system at three-quarters impulse. Ronnie echoed the navigational sensors to her engineering station. Harry was left with ship's operations and communications. Which befit his status as captain.

"They've four high impulse interceptors," Ronnie announced before Barfly Brett could.

"And we're being hailed by Traffic Control," Harry informed his exuberant offspring.

Harry met the system's defenders with the challenge question answers Waters had provided. Everything was double checked back on Durand IV and by the Federation Security Service via subspace comm relay.

The four inner system planets contained the habitable and soon to be habitable planets. A Starfleet installation had been constructed on the third planet while the penal colonists labored to terraform Durand IV.

The eight outer worlds were gas giants including one super giant with a brown dwarf at the very edge of the system. But between Durand IV and Durand V were three dwarf planets with more scattered between orbital tracks across the outer system. It was from these that the inceptors scrambled from. Besides the four, it appeared the ability to launch dozens was within Starfleet's capability.

"Got 'em!" Ronnie congratulated herself.

"Dare I ask who?" Harry inquired.

"You remember every Home Sector within the Federation as three light cruisers or comparable frigates on patrol? Anyway highly secured systems within a Home Sector will warrant an additional asset to insure the security of that system," Ronnie explained, "I just detected a Yeager-class light cruiser approaching from beyond the system."

"With navigational sensors?" Harry was aghast. And who'd been teaching his daughter strategy and tactics?

"I've been slowly upgrading the sensor package with my own money," Ronnie confessed, "Even when we're not helping the Cause we can still detect trouble long before it reaches as and plan a response."

"There is no response," Harry was irritated beyond reasoning, "We give whoever what they want."

"Then after you retire, I'll plan a response to whatever situation develops," Ronnie heatedly shot back at her father.

Harry instinctively knew he had to quell this situation or when they orbited another habitable world, Ronnie would disembark and trek her way back to the DMZ. And get herself killed because he didn't stop her.

"Look, honey. We're not a starship. We're not even an armed courier like the Maquis use. We deliver cargo. That's all we do," Harry tried to soothe her frayed nerves.

"We're doing more than just deliver cargo today," Ronnie asserted.

"Just take your sensor readings and we'll deliver the assigned cargo. When we return to Ronara Prime you can give the data aback to Ro. Then we'll get back to business," Harry offered.

"So why are we even here?" Ronnie asked, "Ro doesn't target outside the DMZ and Cardassian space."

"Why don't you tell us," Barfly Brett broke his longsuffering silence.

"There's a fortified compound on the surface of Durand IV. It doesn't look like a Starfleet barracks yet it's got defensive shielding and shield fencing," Ronnie studied her readings, "But the fences are arrayed to keep people in rather than out. This is a penal colony!"

Harry and Barfly Brett exchanged weary glances.

"Ro has people interned there," Ronnie finally realized, "You knew!"

"I knew it was a penal colony. That's all," Harry defended himself.

"Why else would Ro scout it out? She's going to break her people out," Ronnie was excited again.

"Elijah Waters confirmed there were Maquis imprisoned her but he never said which cells they were from," Harry shared at alst.

"Were you ever going to tell me?" Ronnie's anger was stoked once again.

Harry cast an aggrieved glance Barfly Brett's way. The taciturn alien merely shrugged. Harry gave up.

"It's all likely that Ro has personnel down there and she will try to break them free," Harry finally divulged.

"And Guvan XI?" Ronnie asked curtly.

"Same story only Okona is handling the scouting on that one," Harry stated, "He's a another sucker for lost causes."

"Causes are only lost when people believe they are," Ronnie grated, "And I don't believe the Maquis fall under that category."

"We'll see, all right?" Harry offered, "I'd truly like to see the Maquis win. But I've fought in wars. I know more than you what the Maquis are truly up against both in Cardassian and the Federation."

"Let's just agree not to agree,": Ronnie decided, "Meanwhile I have patrol routes to catalog."

"Since we're already here, we should drop off our cargo. Maybe that'll give Ronnie a chance to determine their landing procedures," Harry urged Barfly Brett.

Barfly Brett grunted his approval. Ronnie accepted the gesture as the closest thing she'd get to an apology. But she was determined to prove her father wrong.

Three weeks later...

The Graffs presented their sensor logs and some rudimentary analysis on Ronnie's part to Liu at the consignment offices. Harry grumpily turned down Ro's stipend that was intended as a bonus above and beyond the commission the freighter received from the sales of cargo and the flat fee for delivery. Liu advised them she'd hold the latinum in reserve in case the Graffs would be willing to accept a future consignment for resupply and provisioning. Harry knew this was code speak for smuggling weapons and ordnance.

Starfleet currently had its hands full in a propaganda war between Doctors Without Borders and Federation policy regarding the DMZ. Starfleet was compelled to allow the doctors and nurses to travel in but any and all medical equipment and supplies were embargoed. Which smugglers were assisting the medicos...for a price.

The Cardassians were threatening any carriers transporting medical staffers into the DMZ. And Starfleet was promising retribution if the Cardassians should kill Federation citizens. And deep within Klingon halls, laughter resonated.

Much to Ro's chagrin, she didn't personally travel to the Kalendra Sector to retrieved the data provided by Okona and the Graffs. Stephanie Gerin's chanteuse foster daughter, Nikki Miller, and Vicki Azerenka happened to be on the same planet as the shipping offices so Hana handed the data rods over and let the Maquis sympathizers smuggle the information through.

Even when Gerin had been Lt. Governor of Ronara Prime, she'd assisted the Maquis as best she could from her offices. Miller had a concert on Dreon VII so Gerin arranged for a wide travel arc to sweep them past the Badlands and into the DMZ so they could venture home for a few days on Ronara Prime. Gerin's sister, Krystal, was mayor of Ronaran City, the colonial capital. Gerin could set up an afternoon of her sister bragging about sexual conquests amongst the Cardassian hierarchy in order to deliver the data to Ro.

But Krystal was incensed because she had discovered Gul Maret had a weakness for human flesh that extended far beyond her boudoir. Maret had been taking human captives since the earliest days of the Border Wars. Captives he kept prisoner at his sector command base in the Dorvan Sector. Just as Dukat kept Bajoran comfort women for he and his higher ranking subordinates, Maret passed around humans and a Vulcan whose last Ponn Farr had been legendary amongst Cardassian inner circles.

And unlike the average Cardassian, Maret wasn't repelled by blonde hair. Which the casual brutality and lust factors of occupying forces were immunizing unfavorable perceptions towards flaxen hair. It was beginning to be seen as exotically attractive rather than repellant.

Which explained the artificially blonde Krystal Gerin's increasing number of sexual trophies amongst the Cardassians. And the increasing attacks of human females by Cardassian troops and colonists throughout the DMZ worlds. The vast majority of human, and some other races, females had bleached their hair various shades of blonde to escape attention. Now it was the very magnet bringing sexual predators to them. A pithy fact for Krystal to share with some flagrant disregard for the women's safety.

"Dammit, this complicates things," Ro was frustrated, "No good thing can last forever but thanks to Maret's propaganda films, we have almost ninety percent of the female population now serving as rape bait to a bunch of oversexed Cardie troopers."

"How does it complicate an already bad situation?" Dragonuv asked.

"I'm going to forgive you asking tat because of what you went through in the labor camp. But imagine the majority of our female population living through that same ordeal every single day outside of a Cardassian world," Ro hated to have to explain it, "We left those women in Maret's hands because we were ignorant. Now we aren't and we have to do something about it."

"Why can't another cell deal with it?" Dragonuv refused to budge on the rescue operation. Her fellow Maquis had to be free. Today if not sooner.

"She has a helluva point," Aric Tulley went against Ro for the first time since becoming his deputy.

"There are dozens of other cells," Emjin Thool brought up, "Let Cal Hudson brief one of them."

Ro expected such a concession from the Bolian but not from Tulley, "I'll...discuss thing with Hudson and advise him of our pending operations."

"Now that's reasonable," Dragonuv allowed.

Calvin Hudson had helped inspire the creation of the Maquis. Sent to Volon III after the signing of the treaty establishing a Demilitarized Zone, Starfleet Lt. Commander Hudson was Starfleet's official representative at the United Council representing every colony within the DMZ and also those now finding themselves in Cardassian space amidst the redrawn border. Hudson had been Gul Evek's counterpart.

But where Evek had the Central Command's orders and authorization to mount paramilitary raids and insurgencies, Hudson had been ordered to repress any such uprisings on the Federation colonists' side. But outside of council sessions, Hudson preached the fact that the colonists were no longer within the Federation, were being excluded from its protections, and had seize control over their own planets to secure their futures on them.

And so Lt. Commander Hudson's disavowal of Starfleet became official when he revealed himself as the Maquis Commander of the Volon III cell and the de facto leadership of a Maquis Confederacy made up of cell commanders on every colony. With Hudson exposed and Sisko unable or unwilling to arrest him, Starfleet sent a replacement to Volon III. Lt. Commander Milla Roberts was an A&A Officer. As an anthropologist and archeologist she was well aware of the ebb and flow of politics and insurgent movements. And to aid Roberts in not enlisting with Hudson, her two adjuncts were both Starfleet Security officers.

Since her promotion to lt. commander, Roberts had served in administrative posts at starbases and space stations. Berto Rodrigo and Dara Harris were competent but were known to play it fast and loose with the local nightlife. Harris had a revolving door for the local women and Rodrigo did the same for the men. Enough so, Internal Affairs investigators kept tabs on them to make certain they weren't the ones recruited into the Maquis.

Miller's non-watchdog staffers were Lt. Evie Williams and Lt. Jordan Constantine. Constantine was from Balair II where the local populace's features had so inspired Dr. Noonien to model Data and Lore after the natives. And as a concession to Balairian sensibilities, Constantine wore black leggings and a skirt rather than regulation trousers.

After the Maquis embraced former Bajoran Resistance fighters, the Militia sent Lt. Arlys Hela to speak for the Bajoran Government. Despite Bajor's courting the Federation and grateful for its aid, there was a great deal of resentment that the Federation Council had ceded away the Valo system as part of its treaty stipulations. The Bajoran ministers thanked the Federation for securing the Bajoran with the same treaty and then lambasted the diplomats for signing away three Bajoran colonies in one fell swoop.

It was an open secret most of the councilors on Volon III had strong ties to the Maquis cells on their native worlds. On Cardassia, the suspicion of the same would be enough to condemn them. But the Federation demanded greater proof. And the councilors were wise enough not to provide it very easily.

Hudson kept his base on Volon III right under Federation and Cardassian noses. But the greatest taunt of all was Svetlana Korepanova's cell on Deep Space Nine. Operating as a civilian logistics and planning firm, they actually contracted out to the Bajoran Militia and Provisional Government. But in addition, the former Lt. Commander Sveta Korepanova was the infamous Maquis mission planner called the "Architect". And only Hudson, Ro, Macen, and Danan knew her dual identity.

Few Maquis even realized that Korepanova had held a strategic position within Starfleet Operations. She'd personally recruited Chakotay and shared her secret with him. But now he and the crew of the Val Jean were missing and presumed killed. The only rewarding happenstance from those circumstances had been Gul Evek's destruction and that of his cruiser and its crew.

Hudson travelled back to his base after conferring with the Colonial Council to contact Korepanova. Then he related Gerin's discovery. When the DMZ was first fashioned, the planetary militia serving the colony had merely transferred for the defunct Volon system defense forces to the Maquis. As such, Korepanova was quick to point out, they had Starfleet trained fighters and a willingness to serve beyond the planet.

Most of the Maquis' Ju'day- and Ma'jel-class light attack and raider craft came from planetary militias like the ones on Volons II and III as well as Ronara Prime. Other modified attack craft had come from Bajoran Resistance cells and thefts of courier craft which were built on the same frames Starfleet fighter craft were developed from.

In addition to militia regulars, the Volon II cell had a small handful of Starfleet enlisted men and women. And the militia personnel were draw from every DMZ colony that had built a fighting force. Hudson agreed with Korepanova's choice to employ them to rescue Maret's comfort women and called the cell leadership for a meet. They dispatched two deputies rather than casual mules.

Kaitlyn Marz and Cameron Lynd were easily marked as colonist by their dyed hair. Even Lynd, who was of African descent, bleached her hair blonde. Hudson delivered the bad news of the Cardassians' changing tastes as well as the revelation of Maret's captives taken from Starfleet and different colonies over the decades. The longest surviving captive had been an ensign aboard a starship the Cardassians destroyed. She'd been Maret's captive for ten years. Longer than she'd served in Starfleet.

Meanwhile, on DS9, Michael Eddington signaled Korepanova that Odo intended to infiltrate her offices again. She alerted the five women on her staff and Maj. Host Korb of the Militia Special Forces and Lt. Hera Renra of Militia Intelligence. There was never a shortage of legitimate work to discuss and address during Odo's frequent "raids". His major suspicions had been aroused by the fact all six Maquis listed DMZ addresses as places of origin Even Korepanova's status as an ex-Starfleet officer did little to dissuade him.

Host and Hera weren't listed on the station's Militia personnel. An idea which continually vexed Maj. Kira Nerys. After the inconspicuous mouse left, Korepanova contacted Volon II. And she assigned a team to work on an action plan. Bobbi Moraine and Jayden Joyce were research and would determine the particulars surrounding Maret's headquarters. Pasha Kutain and Syl Martin were tasked with mapping out Cardassian patrol route sand schedules. The Cardassians were nothing if not habitual. Zara Morse would penetrate the security network and patch the details into the company's computers.

Korepanova would take everything and make an action plan after alerting Volon II's cell they were on alert. First and foremost, she needed a reason for civilian vessels to be in that solar system. So tapping a Cardassian Underground source, she enlisted the aid of a Lakat-class light cruiser. While the Lakat delivered "prisoners" the cell could patrol the system and arrange for a speedy retreat. The Lakat crew would provide further assistance by running interference in the name of "pursuit" to keep the larger and faster Galor-class responders off of the Maquis' collective backs.

Two weeks later...

"Between the Graffs and Okona we've mapped out the patrol routes, schedules, and which commands are involved. In addition, we know how the system defenses work and how traffic control operates," Ro began the planning session referring to the charts, assessments, and graphs inputted into each individual's padd, "Through Starfleet contacts we've confirmed Locarno is a incarcerated on Durand IV and Hope and Solo are imprisoned on Guvan XI. No word as of yet on anyone captured from the Defiant and especially no word on which labor colony Riker was sent to. But intercepted diplomatic channels between Cardassia and Romulus indicate the Cardassians are aggravated by a recent prison break orchestrated by Sela herself. And despite Cardassian silence the descriptions of the prisoners make them out to be a lone Romulan and a human matching Riker's description."

"Why the hell would Sela break Tom Riker out of prison?" Tulley had to ask what was on everyone's mind.

"She knows Will Riker and you can be guaranteed Sela has a reason for doing so," Ro advised everyone, "Rumors also suggest Kalita is on Earth at New Zealand."

"So can't Macen spring her?" Thool asked.

"Macen won't directly compromise Federation security and neither will Waters," Ro frowned, "Fortunately for us, Liu and Hana don't feel similarly inclined. But it is Sector 001. The most fortified and secure sector in the Federation."

"Liu's from Setlik III so she has a grudge against Starfleet," Dragonuv reported.

"Whatever her motivations, we still need her help," Elfi Hendryks added to the discussion.

"Okona has finally agreed to participate in our scheme and the Graffs have signed aboard over Harry's very loud protestations. So we can go forward with a dual, two pronged action plan."

"And remember, prisons are designed primarily to keep people in rather than keeping people out. Getting the prisoner's transferred into our custody will be the simplest portion of the program. But our façade has to last until we're safely out of the resident solar system," Hendryks reminded every. She'd put the most time into the approach exit strategies.

"I'm still uncomfortable splitting the cell into two teams," Tulley bellyached.

"No, you're upset about leading one the teams," Ro said sagely, "You'll do fine. Just emphasize to your teammates we only have the element of surprise once. After that, it's infinitely harder to try again."

The Maquis overcrowded the Type 6 shuttle Derringer to fly into the Badlands. Once inside they navigated to one of the half dozen Class-M worlds where the Hathaway was in orbit. Ro an her team beamed aboard to where the ship was on standby. But internal sensors registered the presence of life and ramped heat and power up quickly. A ship designed for thirty-two officers and two hundred crewmen could surely support nine Maquis.

Thool oversaw the rise of main power as the warp core began to mutually annihilate matter and antimatter. Leah Chaste, Cynthia Harrelson, and Priyanka Khan acted as Thool's engineering mates.

Ro took the center seat on the bridge after helping various crew members revive their stations. Mysra Tem manned the helm. Ro's confidence in the teenage boy had grown since his acceptance into the cell scant weeks ago. But Mysra had proved he could fly just about any Maquis craft. And flying the cell's raider, light attack craft, or any of the couriers was tantamount to flying a starship. Ro knew because she'd graduated from flying sub-impulse raiders to eventually manning the CONN on the Enterprise

Hendryks sat beside Mysra at the OPS station. The Constellation-class ships were the first Starfleet vessels to have a dedicated Operations station replacing the former navigation console. Taking a cue from civilian craft, navigation and flight control were mixed into a single duty station. And photon torpedo control had been delivered to the weapons station back when the original NCC-1701 Enterprise had undergone her major refit following the conclusion of her first five year mission.

Dragonuv manned the weapons station, duly dubbed Tactical, another first for the ship class. Kevin McConnell sat at Engineering despite his rudimentary skills regarding the subject. His primary role was to serve as medic and to provide counsel for Ro. As the former Chief Ranger of Ronara Prime's Forestry Service, McConnell had law enforcement experience and administrative as well as an appreciation for the finer touches of paramilitary commands.

Dragonuv was Tulley's understudy on the weapons system aboard the Ju'day-class raider, Indomitable. She'd served as his deputy alongside her duties as Logistics Chieftain for the Ronaran cell. Tulley had vouchsafed for Dragonuv to earn her her role aboard the Hathaway.

The Derringer set course for Guvan XI. But the shuttle had a maximum capability of Warp 2. Fortunately the planet was the closest penal colony to the DMZ region. It would take the packed Maquis crew a twelve hour burn at Warp 2 followed by a second twelve hour burn at half that speed topped off by a third twelve hour burn at Warp 2 once again to reach Guvan XI on time.

Coinciding with that effort, the Hathaway would employ her standard cruising speed of Warp 6 to cross a vaster distance to reach Durand IV. The clock began as soon as Ro's crew boarded the starship. A timer counted down the window for the attack. When it reached "zero" it would commence whether any or all of the players were actually in position. The Maquis would maintain subspace radio silence in order to lessen their chances of being monitored and revealed.

Korepanova rechecked the data in front of her. It wasn't as if achieving the objective was impossible. Instead it was as if it were impossibly too easy. Stripped of two-thirds of his fleet assets, Maret spent the bulk of his effort patrolling the DMZ. In addition he committed a single Lakat light cruiser to defending his command post. And, even more incredibly, all of the patrols were on rigid timetables. Thereby taking Cardassian models of efficiency to new and outer extremes. All which pointed out Korepanova's initial planning estimates would work out. Synchronized approaches could evade all of the patrols and penetrate into Cardassian space.

As agreed upon between Hudson and Ro, the infiltration of the sector command post wouldn't begin until Ro's cell was back in position on Ronara Prime to serve as a ready reserve should Marz require assistance. Hudson himself had volunteered his cell's service but the Colonial Council talked him down. An increasing occurrence which didn't settle well with the former lt. commander. Korepanova felt assured Ro would react the same way when her time to be sidelined from the trenches came.

Marz served not only as the Volon II cell leader but also as the captain of their Ju'day-class raider. Lynd served at the OPS station, Meisha Tatum handled weapons, Charlotte Flare served at the CONN and the engineering chief was Elizabeth Phoenix. It was an oddity that every flight trained Maquis on Volon II was a woman. But despite the obvious lack from the Starfleet and militia trained personnel, the ten women accepted their roles.

Aboard the converted, warp capable Bajoran assault vessel Evie Maries stood as captain. Gina Carinna sat at weapons, Mikeala McCool flew from the CONN, Naomi Catalyst handled OPS and engineering was run by Shelly Kelly. In addition, each Maquis raider or assault vessel carried with them six to seven additional support personnel that doubled as shock troops. The Volon II cell had been envisioned as a tactical team to send into the worst environments to inflict the greatest amount of damages. Sadly, Hudson's dream for them had yet to be realized.

Both ships had been modified or adapted to handle Mark VI photon torpedoes. But the Maquis of every cell were still woefully short on even those outdated weapons. Mark VI's had been standard issue before the Constellation-class starships had been constructed.

And while modern Starfleet vessels boasted Type X phaser strips, the Maquis only had as recent as Type VIII phaser mounts. But the modification crews had found that the Type VIII phaser emitters installed on Peregrine-class couriers could be ramped up to fire staccato phaser bursts like a precursor to the Defiant's pulse phaser cannons.

The greatest liability to Korepanova's plan was her cell's inability to ascertain the manpower stationed at the Dorvan Sector command. The Maquis had to assume they were hopelessly outnumbered. But surprise was on their side and stealth and guile could them as far as bravado could.

In further planning Hudson and Korepanova had coordinated a series of smaller strikes to occur both in and beyond the DMZ while the Volon II cell deployed. The idea was to create multiple brush fires forcing the Cardassians into responding to those rather than defending their own headquarters. But it was the largest Maquis offensive to date and failure could spell the end of cooperative efforts in the future.

Thirty six hours later...

Dragonuv returned to the bridge rafter examining the Hathaway's four torpedo launchers, "Ro, there are no torpedoes in the magazines. And when I test the phasers, they read nominal but when I charge them, the indicators show no power. Thool looked into and said the power is available but the phasers aren't registering it."

"Because Starfleet removed the phaser banks when they offloaded the torpedoes," Ro told her.

"We're defenseless?" Mysra helped from the helm.

"We won't need defenses other than our shields," Ro explained, "We're infiltrating Starfleet not a Cardassian prison. The Architect provided all the pass codes we'll need."

"And how did he or she acquire those?" Dragonuv questioned.

"Their contacts in the Bajoran Militia handed them over," Ro smiled, "Quite happily, in fact."

"So can I ask what happens next?" Dragonuv wondered.

"You lead the party to the surface and present your transfer orders to escort the prisoner to another facility. I'll be aboard to beam you up when that has been accomplished," Ro told her, "I can't present myself to a Starfleet Security area without being captured. And I'd like Thool, Elfi, and Prtiyanka to remain aboard as well."

"What?" McConnell interrupted, "I'm going down?"

"You'll be the visible head of the detail while Vera, Leah, Cynthia act as your guard detail."

McConnell knew the silver and dark haired twentysomething Hendryks was the most likely to be in Starfleet's records due to some youthful infractions. Harrelson's hair was almost restored to its natural dark color and should be invisible to Starfleet. Silver haired Chaste would also avoid even being a blip in Starfleet records. So the choices were logical.

A little too logical for McConnell's liking.

"Why avoid sending Priyanka?" McConnell finally asked.

"Priy has a criminal record on New Hindi," Ro revealed, "An outstanding conviction and an escape from custody. The computer will remember her. So she'd be a liability to your mission."

"Skipper, we've entered the system," Mysra announced as he dropped out of warp and happy he was staying aboard as well.

"Elfi, answer all the challenges as prompted by the Architect's data," Ro instructed, "Vera, you need to gather your team and Kevin will join you shortly."

She studied McConnell as the turbolift doors closed, "Say what's on your mind."

"You seem to be increasingly putting my neck on th line," McConnell complained.

"Welcome to the cause," Ro told him.

"My cause is Ronara Prime. Not Durand IV," McConnell advised her.

"And yet I would suppose you'd want someone to liberate you if you got captured," Ro gave him a quizzical look, mocking him.

"Touche," McConnell conceded.

"You'll do fine," Ro promised him.

McConnell's Forest Rangers has held law enforcement jurisdiction over most of Ronara Prime. The colony still only had three major urban centers and dozens of villages largely relegated to agriculture or natural resource extraction. Each populated center had a policing constabulary but most of the planet was still frontier territory. And the Rangers held sway over it.

So McConnell was familiar with prisoner transfer exchanges and protocols. But he wasn't well versed in Starfleet's definition of protocol. The Rangers generally handed prisoners over to Ronaran City for transfer into Starfleet custody. And since McConnell wore the uniform and insignia of a full Starfleet commander, he was supposed to know the rules by rote.

But rules at a penal colony were lax because transfers were rare and moving a prisoner from one colony to another was the general reason for transfer requests. Intakes and releases were entirely different matters. So Locarno was rapidly brought forth and handed over to McConnell's custody. For his part, Locarno played it close to the vest and never let on that he knew Dragonuv or Chaste.

The team beamed back aboard the Hathaway and Ro ordered a course change for their impending rendezvous with the Erstwhile. Ro had never intended to keep the Hathaway as a fighting vessel. Replacing phaser banks was an expensive proposition. And Marx VI photon torpedoes were just becoming available from the Iotian Federation but they were still cost prohibitive given the difficulty of smuggling them into the DMZ.

So the Maquis would abandon the starship in an unoccupied solar system and be smuggled back into the DMZ by Okona. Harrelson and Chaste were delighted to be aboard the handsome, roguish, and very amorous Okona's ship when the transfer occurred. Khan and Hendryks weren't immune to his charms either. Dragonuv was easily disinterested and after her ordeals in the labor camp, she'd probably swear of real life sexual encounters for some time.

But Locarno broke his silence after boarding the Erstwhile, "As much as I need to thank you all, I have to confess I was prepared to fulfill my prison term. I played hero and Emily got killed because of it. I can't do that again."

"Why you ungrateful little worm!" Dragonuv snapped but Ro pulled her back before she could strike Locarno.

"Vera, give us the room," Ro said tersely, "Everyone else, make a space."

Ro waited until everyone was out of sight but she knew they were still eavesdropping, "Nick, Okona will probably let you work for passage to any destination you want. He'd probably even hand you over to Starfleet."

She could see that didn't appeal to him anymore, "I'll leave this one caveat. If you compromise us in any way, I will find you, I will break you, and then I will end and you'll be happy I'm doing so. Understood?"

"Perfectly," Locarno didn't hesitate which Ro took as a good sign. And Locarno hadn't cracked under interrogation the cell was probably still as safe as could be under the circumstances. But Ro was covering every angle.

"Emily Rossum died for a cause she believed in," Ro glared at Locarno, "So don't belittle her contribution with self pitying. Live life as if you're worthy of her dying to save you."

Ro left Locarno standing there speechless.

The shuttle approached Guvan XI. Everyone aboard the Derringer was tired of cramped quarters and wanted to walk on the ground again. Until they saw the planetoid.

"What an ice cube," Tulley grumbled.

"Definitely a Class-P dwarf planet," Liam Hemmingway remarked.

"Reminds me of a shrunken Andoria," Fren shared.

"Snow-cones remind you of Andoria," Erika Sosa snorted.

"You kids play nice," Tulley chuckled

"Why am I even here?" Sosa asked...again, "Liam, Nat, and Tom are doing all the heavy lifting."

"Tom has actually worn a Starfleet uniform," Natalie Donner referred back to Tom Hennessy.

"And Liam and Nat each served as a forest ranger or constable respectively," Tulley reminded Sosa.

"I'm not stupid, Aric. I know why they're going in. But what I don't know is why the hell the rest of us are here," Sosa angrily said."We're to keep the shuttle running out to make an escape of it if we have to," Tulley got short tempered, "And if anyone comes to the bay to ask questions, you and Fren get to answer them."

"Let them ask," Fren handled her machete.

"Why do you even bring that along? You never get to use it," Sosa goaded her.

"Maybe today," Fren tipped the blade towards Sosa.

"In your dreams," Sosa snapped back.

"Natalie is as much a liability as an asset," Hennessy warned Tulley...for the second time.

"Thanks, Tom," Donner snorted.

"A Starfleet crewman with her head half shaved isn't a violation of regs but it is conspicuous," Hennessy replied.

"Maybe I'll start a trend," Donner shrugged, "And keeping my hair in regulation style clips is asinine."

"She has a point," Hemmingway joined, "You said her hair just as to be free from her face in case of an emergency."

"I give up," Hennessy groaned.

"Thank God," Donner unclipped her hair and it fell free.

"Hennessy, they're challenging us," Tulley almost panicked.

Hennessy dropped the Derringer out of warp, "I'll deal with them. You deal with the troops."

Hennessy slaved the shuttle to Traffic Control's computers and they piloted the vessel into a docking bay. The force fields reactivated and the bay was pressurized. An all clear came via computer.

"Now it's real," Hennessy warned Donner and Hemmingway.

"I've handed off prisoners to Starfleet. I know the drill," Donner told him.

"And I've handed prisoners over to the Ronaran City Constabulary," Hemmingway asserted.

Donner gave him a pained eye roll, "So not the same thing."

Korepanova's doctored transfer orders easily released Noble and Solo to their custody. Solo showed some surprise but the security officers just attributed to nerves. Noble gave Solo a cue to blank her expression and just ride with it.

With Starfleet complacent, Hennessy led the "prisoners" flanked by Donner and Hemmingway. The Maquis were every bit as professional as the former law enforcement agents they'd once been. They boarded and sealed the shuttle and awaited clearance to depart.

The clearance was automatically granted and the shuttle flew free towards the outer system. But inside the station security system operations command, the transfer orders began being reviewed more carefully. The fact that no one knew about the transfer until it was meant to occur struck the Chief of Security very odd. And watching Solo on screen she indicated that she hadn't known about the transfer either. Then Noble was copacetic about the entire arrangement. It was increasingly odd to the highest level.

Councilor Kobb was surprised to find Starfleet visitors waiting in her offices at the Colonial Council building. Officers that included Lt. Commander Roberts, Lt. Commander Rodrigo, and Lt. Harris.

Roberts spoke without preamble or pleasantries, "Councilor, we need to talk."

"Whatever about, Commander?" Kobb asked, feigning nonchalance.

"Cal Hudson," Roberts stated, "You were and still are his friend. Rumor has it he and the mysterious Architect have planned an incursion into Cardassian space. Warn him off."

"I've heard the rumors. I've also heard certain allies are supporting this effort," Kobb smiled sickly sweetly.

"Meaning the Klingons," Roberts was disgusted.

"One rarely chooses their allies," Kobb told them, "Expediency, or Organians, usually dictate the end result."

"People can choose. And they can choose badly," Roberts stated, "And Starfleet will support the Cardassian Union on this."

"Even when the Cardassians are holding Federation prisoners. Female Federation prisoners in Maret's private harem?" Kobb slid the knife in.

"Can you prove it?" Roberts was skeptical.

"Not without entering the Dorvan Sector Command post," Kobb wore her sweet smile again.

"Starfleet cannot stage an intervention based on a rumor," Roberts told her.

"Then I wish your supporting staff the best of luck," Kobb's smile was venomous now, "They'll need it."

Roberts and her entourage departed. Kobb waited until hours after sundown to contact Hudson. Starfleet was a new hiccup that needed to be addressed.

Okona was more than happy to allow Locarno to pilot the Erstwhile while he bedded various Maquis women singly and once in a group. Ro and Dragonuv were severely pained by the witnessing. McConnell and Thool were just too stunned to comment. And Locarno and Mysra were vaguely jealous.

The Derringer rendezvoused with the Falcon. Harry Graff was inconsolably convinced he and Ronnie were going to end up on the very same penal colony. Until Harry learned Hennessy had arranged for a warp core breach to destroy the shuttle and the computer core containing the flight logs. Afterwards, Harry was extremely accommodating. Hennessy didn't mention it was Thool's idea and he had likewise destroyed the Hathaway with an "accidental warp core breach".

The party back on Ronara Prime was epic. But three cell members stayed distant. Tulley was uncomfortable in crowds and gatherings, even one as intimate as this. Ro was getting updates from Hudson, Korepanova, and Macen. And Dragonuv's reason was as simplistic as it was sad. She simply didn't have the heart to celebrate.

Noble tracked Ro down, "You're missing a fantastic party."

"You don't me to celebrate, Christine. It's your and Kris' day." Ro deferred.

"This is going to have consequences you know," Noble pointed out, "Strategic ones. I'm surprised Hudson let you run with it."

"I persuaded him," Ro said simply.

"Burning bridges again?" Noble chuckled, "I've got a case of cognac waiting for me at the Old Biddy. I'll send it to Volon III with my thanks."

"Better send two," Ro suggested.

"That bad, huh?" Noble laughed.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I'm just sorry we never found Kalita or the others from Tom Riker's mission and that Locarno left us."

"His right, I suppose," Noble was saddened by that fact as well, "Are you ever going to tell us why you utterly avoided Tom Riker when he was with us?"

"Long story," Ro deflected the question.

"Humor me. It's my day," Noble pressed.

"Tom is a duplicate of Will Riker," Ro reminded her.

"So he told us. How exact of a duplicate is he?" Noble asked.

"Down to the quantum level and they share memories that are identical until twelve years ago," Ro explained.

"And?" Noble expected more.

"I slept with Will Riker," Ro told her, "Long story."

"Damn, I totally missed the betting pool," Noble complained.

"Everyone did but me," Ro grinned.

"That's cheating," Noble protested.

"That's why it's called gambling," Ro taunted her, "And if anyone hasd guessed I wouldn't have thrown in," Ro told her.

"Bullshit!" Noble accused.

It's not my fault no one knows my past with Riker. Not even Tom knew that detail," Ro shared.

"It's still cheating," Noble complained.

"I'll give everyone back their latinum," Ro promised, "Announce the results and distribute the money while I'm in Ronaran City."

"You're leaving?" Noble was disappointed.

"And I'm taking Elfi, Vera, and Aric with me," Ro began to explain, "Annabeth Frink is frantic to set up a meet with an informant."

"You're taking Vera to get her out of here. Tulley because of Annabeth's attraction to him. And Elfi because she'll goad the other two into enjoying themselves," Noble guessed.

"You know me too well," Ro offered as she left her makeshift office to find the others.

"You're also running away from the consequences of cheating," Noble asserted as she followed Ro.

"That too," Ro agreed.

On the outskirts of Ronaran City sat a freighter and shuttle port. Edging that was a seemingly seedy dive bar called the Old Biddy. But appearances were deceiving. After Ro's recruitment had proven another tavern's value to the Maquis, they'd switched their focus to the Old Biddy.

Tulley stopped at the entrance and Ro pushed past him to enter. Then he sourly followed. Hendryks was slightly less cautious. Dragonuv took a hard look down both side of the street and in the alleys before following them in.

Ro approached Frink, who was tending bar that night. The manager, Gloria Leaks, was trying to balance costs and expenses when most of the liquor came through the black market now. At least most of the food was locally grown and produced.

Frink steered Ro towards a booth in the back. It was already occupied but his back was turned to Ro. Which was awfully trusting.

Dragonuv and Hendryks sat down at a corner booth near the entrance. It gave them a clean lane of fire in almost every direction. The two women ordered snacks and drinks. Tulley ordered a drink as well but he stayed at the bar. An unexpected development that encouraged the love struck Frink.

Ro was surprised to find Harcourt Fenton Mudd the Third waiting for her arrival. Especially since he'd tried to hand her over to Starfleet the last time they'd met. Which in Mudd terms was fair. He'd smuggled for the Maquis on occasion and sold Ro out on others. So he and Ro enjoyed a love-hate relationship at best.

Ro had blacklisted Mudd's service with the other Maquis cells. But his ongoing presence in the DMZ showed he'd found profit elsewhere. And since the Federation sat back while the Cardassians incorporated the DMZ into their monetary economy it meant people were separated from their hard earned leks at phenomenal rates and usually for subpar products.

"You have a pair, I'll give you that much, Harry," Ro was chagrined as she sat down across from him.

"You can thank the good Councilor Kobb for this tete-a-tete," Mudd explained, ":She has information she simply believes you must hear and felt I was the best to deliver it."

"So you were available and feeling especially mercenary," Ro retorted, "What's the information?"

"First things first," Mudd warned, "I turned down the modest fee offered for this chore in expectation of a concession on your part."

"You. Have. To. Be. Joking," Ro deadpanned.

"Most of the other cells still discreetly work with me. Even Hudson. Call off the witch hunt so they don't have to look over the shoulders back towards you," Mudd requested, "These poor people have enough to worry about without fearing reprisals from one of their own."

"Tell the info and I'll let you know," Ro countered.

"That's not how negotiations works," Mudd protested.

"I could simply drag you behind the building and beat it out of you," Ro explained, "It would certainly be cathartic."

Several tense minutes passed before Mudd sighed deeply and sagged, "Starfleet knows about the raid on the Dorvan Sector base. They're sending ships to assist the Cardassians while Maret is off fighting Klingons. They're intervening but Roberts didn't give Kobb details on which or how many ships to expect."

"Okay Harry, you've earned the reprieve," Ro allowed.

"As grateful as I am , these sound like dire circumstances. How can I assist?" Mudd was curious.

Ro laughed until she saw his earnest expression hadn't changed, "You're serious."

"Never more so," Mudd admitted, "Steady clients are hard to come by and I won't have a clientele if everyone is in jail."

"Now that sounds like the Harry Mudd I know," Ro conceded, "Contact Elijah Waters and inform him of the same."

"Ah yes, because if you need an evacuation, Starfleet will be loath to fire upon civilian vessels," Mudd grasped it.

"I'm not certain of how effective your runabout will be in this," Ro admitted.

"Ah yes, but I traded in the Fame & Fortune for a Sydney-class troop transport. She's slow but a leggy bitch nonetheless," Mudd shared, "Sorry, I forgot who my company was."

Ro handed him a latinum slip, "That should cover expenses...and another drink."

"Not to balk but why aren't you contacting him?" Mudd inquired.

"Because I'lkl be too busy," Ro said as she exited the booth to rejoin her comrades.

Mudd knew whatever Cardassians and Starfleet personnel stood in Ro's way were in trouble.

"I understand the whole sullen silence and not wanting to talk about it thing," Hendryks shared with Dragonuv while Ro dealt with Mudd.

"Do you really?" Dragonuv was snide about it.

"I was gang raped by Cardassian invaders when I was thirteen. Again when I was seventeen but that time I made several of them pay for it and they beat me within an inch of my life," Hendryks shared, "Starfleet nursed me back to health both times and oozed sympathy but otherwise they were useless," Hendryks related to her.

"But you've never shared this with anyone?" Dragonuv asked.

"Macius, Santos, and Kalita knew the details. What they didn't know was how I'd responded to events," Hendryks clarified, "So that was the last time I openly discussed it with anyone until now."

"But you hardly seem victimized," Dragonuv stated.

"Being or not being a victim is a choice. I chose to be a survivor," Hendryks shared further, "Survivors can see past their own pain and accept the memories and the rage as motivators and not hindrances. Doing something useful about my circumstances brought me to the Maquis."

"I never would have guessed," Dragonuv admitted.

"And I take that as a compliment. But I still have scars, literal and figurative, and nightmares and get the cold sweats but I push through them to kill more Cardassians," Hendryks shared, "Being a victim is easy. Pushing back, that's hard. Each person has to make a choice."

"But not right now, I hope," Dragonuv sounded worried.

"The longer you wait to choose the more the choice is made for you," Hendryks cautioned her, "And it might not be a choice you can live with. And there's no right or wrong answer."

"I think I see," Dragonuv said. And she really did begin to.

"I've got news for you, Aric," Frink told Tulley between filling drink orders, "But don't get too excited."

"Why would I?" He tensed while he asked.

"Two Cardies came in here yesterday," Frink said in a rush.

"And the significance is?" Tulley was rather nonchalant. There were Cardassians over the whole damn planet.

"Spoonheads don't come in here. This is a Federation bar," Frink reminded him, "And they weren't quite military but they had the swagger."

"Paramilitaries," now Tulley began to growl protectively. Frink was heartened on many levels.

"They nosed around for information regarding your cell," Frink reported, "And they tried to demand Gloria and I sleep with them."

"Spoonheads think with their gonads," Tulley still didn't see it yet.

"What color hairdo Gloria and I have?" Frink asked.

"Blonde," he answered and then his eyes went wide.

"It actually excited them. Especially Gloria because she's of African descent," Frink was naturally a dark ash blonde but she lightened in several shades. Enough to arouse Cardassian perverts it seemed, "We have women across the colonies bleaching their hair various tints of blonde because it was supposed to repulse the Cardies not make them hornier."

"They're still repelled by body hair," Tulley promised her, "Especially pubic hair."

Frink snickered as a very shocked Ro stepped in, "Do I even want to know?"

Frink described the encounter. Tulley interjected, "Seems the pro-body hair movement started on Solosuss III was precognitive. Those women were practically furry."

"Sexist," Frink punched his arm.

"But it did work. At least before the Cardassians used biogenic weapons to kill everyone on Solosuss II and III for being homosexuals and lesbians," Ro still felt a large measure of hate towards the wanton act of depravity. Xenocide in any form was unfathomable to her.

"Go gather up Vera and Elfi," Ro instructed Tulley, "It seems you two are finally meeting your minds."

"A few pelvises wouldn't hurt," Frink sighed.

"I'll gather up some volunteers to watch the bar and escort you and Gloria to and from work," Ro offered and handed her a spare clamshell communicator, "And use this if there's even a hint of trouble."

"Does this mean I'm joining your cell?" Frink asked teasingly.

Ro was serious, "You've always been a member of my cell."

Hendryks and Dragonuv barely had time to wolf down the last of their bacon sandwiches and coffee. Frink was a surprisingly good barista as well as a talented bartender. They'd travelled to Ronaran City in a captured Cardassian six-wheeled scout car. Ro explained Frink's revelation en route. Hendryks was pensive but Dragonuv was subdued.

But Hendryks grew more sanguine as time and kilometers wore on, "They always adapt. No matter what species, they adapt to physical differences and go straight for the sex."

"Which all the half-breeds on Bajor attest to," Ro grumbled.

"We don't know if human-Cardassian hybrids are possible. Women taken prisoner by Cardassians during the Border Wars were usually 'mysteriously' killed in captivity," Hendryks reminded everyone, "We simply have no idea of what happened to most of the women taken prisoners during the conflict, Starfleet and colonist alike."

"I'd say it's up to the Maquis to rectify things," Ro said tersely, "As usual."

The Maquis prepped their attack vessels. These included the Ju'day-class raider, Indomitable. And the Ma'jel-class light attack craft, Rebellion and Stronghold. Rounded out by the Peregrine-class courier/fighter, Confederacy. Which left the two Bajoran sub-impulse raiders behind. It was dangerous deploying every ship but a necessity it seemed.

Ro gathered the cell, "Volon II has the job of rescuing these Federation 'comfort women'. This is what the Volon II cell was designed to do. But they're unaware that Starfleet is siding with the Cardies on this against their own citizens they spout caring so much about."

"No news there," Tulley broke his usual silence to be snarky.

"The Architect chose them and devised the plan to liberate the prisoners. I won't debate that wisdom," Ro didn't use gender or numerical pronouns to describe the Architect to protect Korepanova's secret, "We're going in to make certain the mission is a success."

"If Hudson doesn't want us violating Federation penal colonies, why would he endorse firing on Federation starships?" Dragonuv asked.

"You're right," Ro conceded, "He hasn't authorized either one. But after telling him to go to hell when he asked that we stay on Ronara, he saw my way enough not to dispatch other cells to prevent us from assisting Volon II."

"What kind of intervention is Starfleet mounting?" Chaste asked.

"We can presume at least one starship rather than just runabouts," Ro theorized, "At least based on the Architect's best estimates."

"So are we holding to our policy of night firing on Starfleet?" Khan wanted to know.

"We'll fire if fired upon," Ro told her.

"We'll exacerbate Starfleet and heighten the Cardassians' patented need for revenge if we do this," McConnell reminded everyone.

"The Spoonheads took Bajoran women as sex slaves. Some appreciated their supposedly privileged position. Others fled if they had the chance. Most left Bajor when they were liberated," Ro was irritated by all of that, "I won't stop a Federation citizen from staying with Maret but I won't leave any willing to come with us either."

"So that's us," Hemmingway spoke up, "But what about the Volon cell?"

"Those are the Architect's standing orders," Ro clarified.

"They won't want to stay," Donner predicted.

"Don't be so certain. The survival instinct in these situations is very strong," Dragonuv illuminated the topic, "The captives begin to see the captor as their best choice for survival and are rewarded for compliance. And this is reinforced over time. And some of these women have been captives for over a decade. I don't know any of them or their particulars but we have to be prepared for surprising and even decisions that are shocking by our standards."

"But to send everything we have?" Sosa fretted, "We could lose everything but the sub-impulse raiders."

"We risk a ship and crew every time we go out," Ro stated, "This is no different."

"What about Macen's ship and crew? They have an actual starship," Fren demanded to know.

"Doing what they do best. They're getting us actionable intelligence," Ro told the cell though her.

"They don't fight," Harrelson grated, "The most powerful ship in Maquis hands and it never fights."

"They'd lose their value if they assisted more overtly than they already do," Hennessy told his working partner, They have infinitely greater value through the access they have acquired within Cardassian space."

"We'll take all four of our warp capable vessels with crews and action squads," Ro stipulated, "Support volunteers will keep up maintenance here and our protective vigil around Frink and Leakes. We cannot afford ot lose them or the Old Biddy."

"We need to address the change in Cardie tastes over hair color," Tulley was quick to point out.

"I'll be informing Kobb while everyone loads ordnance into our ships," Ro promised, "Take every torpedo and mine. Will make it up somehow if we have to."

"So much for avoiding a fight," Hendryks quipped.

Ro put McConnell in charge of the volunteers during her absence, "You're job is to unnoticed. Normal local intelligence gathering continues and everyone stays quiet until the main cell gets back. Unless Leakes and Frink are accosted. Then every resource is to be spent getting them to safety."

"Does this go for your group as well?" McConnell asked without a trace of irony.

"To the best of our ability," Ro promised her occasional lover.

"You and your council recommended hair color changes to the women of the DMZ colonies citing racial prejudices. It seems lust trumps racism as a motivator," Ro told Kobb via subspace radio.

Ro recounted Frink's tale as well as others emerging that had reached Ro during a brief inquiry into the matter across Ronara Prime. She could only assume the same held true across every Maquis colony. Of course, Starfleet's presence as "advisor" to the Colonial Council insured that diplomatic sabers were rattled in support of the colonists' grievances. But also that Starfleet would support the Central Command and the Detapa Council in everything outside of actual combat operations against the Klingons.

Not that Starfleet wasn't facing their own woes against the Klingons. But matters of rape and pillage seemed slight in the cosmic balance when warfare was an issue. Despite they're always having been important matters before. But since the "Federation" colonists were outside the actual Federation and their lives had secured a tentative peace accord, they were collateral damage waiting to happen.

Thinking of Klingons reminded Ro of Worf. He had to have been fighting mixed loyalties have been a Klingon raised in Federation space. Worf was a Klingon amongst Klingons. Better and more adept at their cultural nuances than natives from Qo'noS itself. Worf had fully embraced his cultures whereas Ro had forsaken Bajoran customs for so long. She wished him well wherever he was posted.

"The council is well aware of the rising problem. It's especially bad on Setlik III. The Cardassians only spared the populace because they're mainly female. The surviving males are mainly enlisted Starfleet personnel after the massacre. And it was there that we first learned of the cultural bias against blondes," Kobb broke Ro's infinitesimal reverie.

"Well, they've run out of women to rape so it's down to just the blondes, natural or not," Ro remarked.

"Solosuss II and III serve as examples as well," Kobb sadly reminded Ro, "They exterminated the populations simply because they were composed of homosexual males and lesbian females above legal age that had decided to settle on the planetary colony."

"It insults and threatens the Cardassian masculinity," Ro informed her, "There isn't much of a homosexual population on Bajor. The scriptures don't address them so it's widely interpreted they're out of favor with the Prophets. But when the Cardassians came, they had to literally go underground into a series of catacombs. Lesbians are spared for the chance to prove Cardassian 'virility" and 'cure' the women of their 'abhorrent' gender bias. If they remain sexually attracted to the same sex afterwards, they're killed. And they're always killed."

Starfleet has been able to confirm the Central Command employs the same methods towards native Cardassians," Kobb told her, "The Obsidian Order has an entire division dedicated to the extermination of the Cardassian homosexual population."

"I'm not certain I care if Cardassians harm Cardassians," Ro confessed, "But I will hunt down and kill Cardassians harming colonial men and women. And I'll slowly cook them to death for harming children. Understood?"

Ro signed off before Kobb could reply.

"I guess we'll test out the new bridge design," Tulley half complained.

"I like it," Hendryks stated.

"You would, you're facing the main viewer," Tulley knew the adapted bridge was closer to a Starfleet design than the original two rows of stations. But CONN and OPS now sat beside each other at the fore. To the sides, weapons and engineering rounded the half moon bridge. Ro's command seat took center stage against the rear bulkhead.

Ro had a data slate/control to either side of her like the Defiant-class bridge design. She could monitor or commandeer any station from her seat. In fact, Thool had based his design on stolen schematics purloined from Starfleet. But of course the Indomitable was still merely a scoutship and not a starship. But that distinction didn't mean the Maquis had to live with the original design's limitations.

"How are the plasma relays looking?" Thool asked.

"The same as they did when you asked five minutes ago," Sosa smarted off.

"Just confirm if the EPS conduits are holding or not," Thool was bringing the plasma power grid online as the warp core neared full power.

"Suh, yas suh!" Sosa flippantly saluted, "I thought I'd joined the Maquis, not Starfleet."

"Maquis can still get blown up by stupidity. And sometimes Starfleet gets some things right," Thool lectured, "Preflight checklists while powering up a ship is one those."

"The antimatter and matter injectors are fine tuned and the intermix regulator is set at a balanced ratio," Fren reported from her station.

"Let me see the numbers," Thool came beside her.

"Really? You're second guessing the suck up?" Sosa was irked.

"Erika, I'm the Chief Engineer. I make a mistake and we die," Thool replied tersely, "I avoid mistakes by being proactive. So shut up."

"That's proactive," Fren snickered.

Sosa employed an archaic gesture involving a single finger. The significance of which went over the Andorian and Bolian targets' heads.

"We'll load three photons in each forward magazine and the aft launcher gets the final torp," Dragonuv informed Hemmingway and Donner. As Tulley's understudy she had supervision over the temperamental launchers.

"Are we ever going to carry a max load in our magazines?" Hemmingway lamented, "Each one can handle seven torpedoes and we have seven total."

"And we don't even know yet if these surplus launchers and magazines can even handle a max load," Donner reminded him, "We do know every one of them can handle up to three. Let's not press our luck just to prove a point. I'd hate to have a live warhead in a jammed launcher."

"Which why I have you two able bodies down here," Dragonuv wore the slightest of smiles, "So stray alert in case we get a crabby launcher."

"Thanks for the reminder," Donner's lopsided smirk broke the tension.

"I know we don't know each other well," Harrelson Told Hennessy, "But I think it's safe to say we have each other's backs."

"As long as you can do your job, we'll live through this," Hennessy finished loading the three microtorpedoes in the underbelly launcher mounted beneath the Ma'jel-class light attack craft dubbed the Rebellion, "I hear you're a decent pilot so no worries, eh?"

"I flew commercial shuttles if that's what you mean," Harrelson deflected the intended compliment.

"That's more hours than I've ever flown," Hennessy told her.

"But you were Starfleet," Harrelson seemed shocked by that news.

"I was a maintenance rating assigned to shuttles and auxiliary craft," Hennessy shared, "And I was a front lines combatant in the Border Wars."

"And that's more action than I've seen so far," Harrelson demurred.

"There's a basic rule to combat," Hennessy shared, "Do what you know how to do and trust yourself to make the right decisions."

"So if we get disabled, you'll patch the ship up right?" Harrelson inquired.

"I expect that if get knocked out of action the Cardies will finish us off before I can make repairs," Hennessy shrugged.

"Er...yeah," Harrelson was relieved yet more terrified than before.

"I take it Federation penal colonies are pleasant compared to Cardassian labor camps," Chaste remarked to Noble while they prepped the Ma'jel-class Stronghold.

"Probably," Noble was a little baffled by the comparison, "Why?"

"Because you and Kris didn't come back all bitchy like Dragonuv did," Chaste assessed the situation.

"Undoubtedly Vera went through was horrific to the point of eclipsing all our personal 'tragedies'," Noble told her, "The survival rate in a labor camps is less than ten percent. And that percentage drops for every five years spent in the camp. So we're just lucky she made it out alive. I suggest you give the same time and consideration you'd expect under identical circumstances."

"Maybe, maybe not," Chaste countered.

"Look, just don't throw down in the ring with her," Noble requested.

"Hah! She'd never know what frinxed her up," Chaste boasted.

Frankly, Noble felt it would be the other way around. And Noble saw Chaste in a new light. Dragonuv represented what could happen to any man or woman in the cell. And that terrified Chaste. To the point she wanted to thrown Dragonuv under a landing freight pod.

Unlike the light attack craft receiving three microtorpedoes, the Peregrine-class Confederacy mounted twin launchers capable of holding four torpedoes. And during this time, Khan took the opportunity to get to know Solo better. Everyone still talked about Britney Darque's collusion with the Cardassians.

"Is it true you were a cage match fighter in the Orion Confederacy?" Khan asked Solo.

"Fourteen wins and two losses. I had a title shot coming up when the DMZ was established and I came home to see what would happen. Turned out I happened to join the Maquis," Solo replied.

"Have you ever thought about tracking Agent Darque down and repaying her in kind?" Khan asked.

"No, not really. She did her misguided job and I was doing mine. It was just a natural collision. She actually visited Chris while we were incarcerated and I'd be willing to wager she visited Nick to apologize over what happened to Emily and Jai," Solo shared.

"I think we should find her," Khan stated.

"To do what?" Solo asked, "Make her believe she's even more right than she considered herself before? Besides she's within the Federation. There are over two hundred Federation member worlds not counting colonies and protectorates. That makes for an awfully big haystack to dig through to find a infinitesimally small sewing needle."

"How do you know she's not already back in the DMZ?" Khan asked.

Solo had no ready reply.

"Ro, what's left of the satellite network shows there are no Spoonhead vessels of any kind in the solar system," McConnell reported, "Traffic Control discreetly confirmed it."

"Signal the launch countdown," Ro instructed, "And stay loose and remain undetected."

The Indomitable used its antigravs to lift up off the hangar deck. The landing gear retracted and the impulse engines flared to full powered life. The hangar's tractor held the ship in place while the impulse drives were applied. The tractor beam disengaged and the Indie roared out of the mountainside and arced upward for a rapid assent.

The Rebellion and the Stronghold, being a smaller version of the same ship, copied the raider's progress and launch. The courier was the only with impulse thrusters to levitate and propel it forward while the Confederacy's impulse engines came to full power. And then it too roared off to accompany its sister ships.

And all the while the sole hope was that Maret and Starfleet had not reached an accord and the Federation would not deploy starships to defend Maret's sector command post. And everyone counted on Maret's arrogance to commence the attack. After all, the Sector Commander could hardly believe the Maquis would be so bold as to attack his headquarters.

The brief creation of the Federation-Cardassian Joint Taskforce on Counterterrorism had evoked a nearly unprecedented response for the Maquis. Most of the cells supplied ex-Starfleet crewmen or former planetary militia soldiers to a new unit that came to be based on Volon II. It was the logical response to the alliance achieved, however briefly, between the Cardassian Union and the Federation of Planets. The following colonies had not contributed to the new unit, Camor, Umoth, the cell on Deep Space Nine, and the Ronaran cell. DS9 and Ronara Prime were excluded because their cells were deemed strategic assets.

The Architect's cell on DS9 effectively ran every major effort and campaign regardless of planetary unit. Ro's cell tended to take on tasks and missions deemed too dangerous for the other cells. And the Volon II crisis response cell had still been untested. Dubbed the "Unity" team, the crisis responders were getting their taste of action as a squad.

The Unity team was ideally suited for raiding paramilitary bases and eliminating rival Cardassian terrorists competing with Maquis cells for a colony. They were not intended for a potentially protracted engagement against a hardened military target. But Hudson had pushed the agenda forward rather than wait for the Ronaran cell to complete their private mission.

The two Maquis ships met with a Lakut-class Cardassian frigate. Two volunteers beamed aboard the Cardassian warship to serve as "prisoners" to inside Maret's base with. The Cardassian Underground had promised delivery but not active participation in the operation. The idea being the two so-called "prisoners" would seize control of the security office and use its access to disable the base's sensors and shields.

Once the Maquis had opened the base up, their Cardassian allies would engage in "routine system patrol" and cover the Maquis withdrawal by first engaging in a "pursuit" guaranteed to place them in position to foul any shot at the Maquis by responding cruisers and potential Starfleet starships. Theoretically it was a sound plan. But theory and reality didn't always meet as equals.

Everything hinged around the Klingons' proposed assault on the Cardassian Sector. Maret's Dorvan Sector adjoined the hub sector of the Cardassian Union. So he would be amongst the first called up to bolster Cardassia Prime's defenses. And the Maquis were considered to be a minor threat in comparison to the Klingons. And those Cardassian vessels patrolling the DMA border would be busy putting brush firs as local Maquis cells attacked various targets.

Combat operations would force the Cardassians to capitulate or fight to the last sentient. The Maquis were just a cog in Gowron's war machine. But it was a mutually beneficial arrangement for now. The Klingons had their push on Cardassia Prime planned for weeks. But using the Maquis to siphon off defending forces made strategic sense at little cost outside of preplanned invasion plans.

"Kaitlyn we have traffic entering the system," Lynd said from the Libre's OPS station.

"Charlotte take us deeper into this planet's ring system," Marz instructed.

"Kaitlyn, their active sensors just painted us from five different directions. The system might be uninhabited but decided to put sensor buoys around every planet," Meisha Tatum reported from the weapons station.

"How do you suppose Maries and McCool are taking in the sight of a frigate?" Marz asked.

"Need you ask?" Lynd dryly asked.

"That good, huh?" Marz's sense of gallow's humor sparked.

"Do you want me to tell Evie and Mikaela to wave an olive branch?" Lynd asked.

"No, you settle them down while I soothe our Cardassian 'friends'" nerves," Marz instructed, "But I want a private channel."

The Cardassian dal aboard the frigate, Erina Kosket, studied her would be allies, "These Maquis don't trust us yet."

"Would you?" her subordinate dalin asked. Lev Sumar was nothing if not practical.

"We're taking the real risks," Kosket complained, "Maret is very creative when he gets vindictive."

"At least you offloaded the last of our Loyalist crewmen. Everyone officer aboard is disaffected with the Central Command and the Obsidian Order to one degree or another. If the crew has a dissenting opinion they know enough to keep it to themselves," Sumar remarked.

"But is that from tacit consent or simply a duck and cover maneuver?" Kosket wondered, "And the Obsidian Order is getting better at infiltrating the Underground all the time. Advise Dkerets and Surror to keep a sharp eye on the crew."

"One informer and the entire crew will executed," Sumar told her.

"If we're lucky that's all it'll be," Kosket opined.

Kosket hailed the Maquis. Marz sent the coded reply signal. Kosket accepted the challenge and returned a second coded message to the Maquis. And with everything and everyone verified to be who they all expecting, Marz signaled back.

Kosket hadn't downplayed the risks involved. The Obsidian Order had begun putting Political Officers aboard ships to insure the captain and crews' loyalties. The Malkrets had dealt with their political by drugging her into unconsciousness. The best estimate gave them a two hour window before the commissar awoke and returned to her daily duties. Fortunately the ship's surgeon was well aware of the officer corps' true allegiances. In addition to knocking the overseer out the medical staff had infected the political officer with live viruses intended to formulate cures from.

The political officer would wish she could die but the viruses weren't lethal just debilitating. The captain of a vessel and their political officer were the only crewmen aboard that kept official log books. So the "battle that never occurred" would be underway after the commissar was unconscious. And the ship's sensor logs would verify the cover of destroying a Maquis raider and securing two prisoners for further interrogation.

Marz could only imagine the collective unease of working beside Cardassian military troops. Marz herself had idly pictured herself commanding the total annihilation of the Malkrets. Explosive decompression into the vacuum of space seemed too good a fate.

Kosket patched into the Maquis monitor system and displayed her image before Marz, "I hope you're prepared to take action. And this will not occur if you haven't provided me with the sensor information of an identical ship class destroying a Maquis raider. We've already reported the supposed capture of two of your own and sector command desperately wants them in custody."

"We're ready," Marz assured her counterpart, "We have a Cardassian data rod detailing the complete annihilation of one of our sister ships."

"I presume I wouldn't want to know how obtained that rod," Kosket ruefully remarked.

"It's probably best if you don't dwell on it," Marz told her.

"Fleet channel is reporting the Klingons incursions into the Cardassia Sector. It won't take my people long to decipher the ID trace on that rod and determine it's a fake despite it containing actual operations logs," Kosket advised Marz.

"Well, our people should already have secured the station's data core." Marz assured her, "Tie into our transporter signal and prepare to receive our volunteer 'prisoners', our assault team, and the data rod you need.

The Dorvan Sector Command Post was located above Bryma. Bryma itself was a Cardassian colony left in Cardassian space when the borders were redrawn by condition of the treaty arrangement establishing a cessation of hostilities between the Cardassian Union and the Federation. Secondly the orbital headquarters was armed and ready to repel intruders into colonial space. Typically there would be four Galor class Type III ships in the sector. But Maret had led the charge to Cardassia, thereby leaving his command vulnerable to a well coordinated attack.

Maret had replaced Gul Evek when he vanished in the Badlands. With Maret gone, Dal Amar Pokdat was in command. Cardassian data rods could only be burned once and the data within couldn't be altered. The Maquis supplied rod had been a copy of an actual captured data rod. One that had data from the original ship's computer core but the data had been altered before it burned and time stamped to indicate the Malkrets had engaged the raider and destroyed it

So the Cardassian Central Command would have the data rod and would eventually discover that the rod was genuine but that some of the data on it had been forged. And Kosket's logs would cleanly show it had been Commisar Pokdat's idea to being the prisoners to sector command. Which in a few hours would seem to be a horrible mistake.

Dkerets and Surror were assigned transfer duties by Kosket. Albert Schwartz and Natalya Neidlehart were the volunteers headed into grip of the station's security apparatus. Schwarze had retired from the enlisted Starfleet ranks and left at the thirty year benchmark. Jean-Claude van Doppler had the same at the twenty mark beside a handful of other seasoned veterans. Doppler would be leading the transported Maquis across the station.

Schwarze and Neidlhart wore binders but they weren't locked down. When they arrived in the security offices, they went rogue and "stole" Dkerets and Surror's rifles and began wreaking havoc while their two Cardassian escorts pretended to be the worst shot ever by missing the Maquis by mere inches only to hit a remote disruptor gun pod.

While Kosket's crew wouldn't harm fellow Cardassians the Maquis felt differently. Fortunately, one of Dkerets' "stray" shots had disabled the alarm panel so no reinforcements had been summoned. After subduing or killing every security officer, Schwarze and Neidlhart deactivated or disabled communications, interior and exterior sensors. Then they erected force fields across the station and used other remote disruptor pods ro kill or disable the rest of the station's security staff patrolling the corridors. Schwarze used his surplus clamshell communicator to signal Doppler it was time to go to work.

Using the security system, Schwarze and Neidlhart guided the Maquis boarding party to their appropriate destinations. Outside, the Malkrets signaled the Maquis Libre and Svboda and they entered the solar system while the Malkrets retrieved her two officers and Kosket set course for the outer edges of the system.

Schwarze deployed the surging Maquis infiltrating the base. In a layered defense in case Cardassian personnel found a way to bypass or deactivate the shields. Then the Maquis would be outnumbered and outgunned.

But the base was losing interior disruptor mounts as Neidlhart directed them against Cardassian patrols. Schwarze kept the Maquis search and rescue team to fining the imprisoned "comfort women". Doppler led party while Schwarze guided. And there only two guards outside of Maret's palatial dwelling space. And the slave pens were attached to his quarters.

The women were more frightened of the Maquis than should have been reasonable. Sandra B was the veteran having been held for twelve years. She was also a Starfleet officer and felt that Starfleet had known her fate as well as that of Maret's other women and simply ceded their lives over to insure a signature on a treaty. Which the Federation received and Maret stopped adding victims to his collection.

Zuzana Z came from Solossus III as well. Evek had mentioned to Sisko that many of the planet's population had been removed for "safety concerns". Also known as a planet full of lesbians and trasnbians intolerable to Cardassian sensitivities.

And again, Starfleet did nothing but file complaints with the Detapa Council.

Two of the released prisoners were obviously couple. Dahlia Blue and Siobhan Fey were childhood friends and lovers before Maret's forces captured them. The women's relatives had finally been informed of Dahlia and Siobhan's deaths that never really happened. Maret wouldn't allow a sex slave to die whether it be by natural or unnatural causes.

Ana Fox was the only African from the planet Umoth. Arana Snow, Jenny Haze, Codie Carmichael, and Daria Glazer were from multiple colonies and all served the same common fate. T'Rel was the sole non-human in the prisoner list. She'd lost a great deal of her calm over the five years she'd been a captive.

"We're getting you out of here and out of the Demilitarized Zone," Doppler promised.

Marz advised the Maquis group of their arrival as she had before arriving in Gryma's solar system. They'd secured all of the weapons in the security office armory. Most had still been in their shipping crates. And the prisoners grouped with the Maquis team destined to transport over to the Libre.

As the raiders began to withdraw, two Federation starships made intercept approach. The New Orleans-class USS Big Easy and the Freedom-class USS Frederick Douglas. They made a rapid approach. So much so they'd over shoot the two Maquis targets and have to double back.

Only one Starfleet shipyard still replicated the components that when put together made starships of those classes. And unknown the Maquis Commander, Liesel Swann commanded the Big Easy and lt. Commander Sara Douglas was ij command of the Frederick Douglas. Both of whom had strong ties to Maquis cell members and were outspoken in opposition to transferring Maquis prisoners over to the Cardassians' tender mercies. Their assignment serving as a test of loyalty.

Swann and Douglas had conspired in order to facilitate capture Maquis and holding them to be remanded to trial within the Federation. But the lone Galor-class heavy cruiser assigned as their liaison complicated that effort going forth. So they pursued the fleeing raiders without overtaking them. And a very heated diplomatic argument began over the fate of the Maquis and who had actual jurisdiction.

Douglas posed the thought that since the Maquis were considered to be under joint jurisdiction they should be held in joint custody. The Cardassia gul in command literally spat his retaliation at the suggestion.

Marz found it odd the starships seemed to herding both of her cell's vessels and staving off the Cardassian pursuit cruiser. As they crossed the invisible border to the DMZ two torpedoes per ship hit the Starfleet and Cardassian pursuit. Then sensors registered before the naked eye that the Indomitable had joined the fray and on the offensive.

Ro directed her lighter attack craft to swarm the Cardassian warship. The Indie looped around and fired one last torpedo at the Galor-class ship before fleeing back into the DMZ.

Swann tractored the Cardassians who were frothing at the mouth,. She explained to them that if they recalled, the DMZ prohibited either side from taking anything larger than a support vessel into the zone. The gul swore revenge on everybody and limped his cruiser home to affect repairs during the transit.

The two captains of the Starfleet response had to admit being impressed by the Indomitable's usage of tachyon bursts ahead of the torpedo launches to force the Federation starships to remodulate their shields and they were briefly exposed. And the warp nacelles of each Starfleet vessel were Ro's intended targets. While Starfleet undertook repairs to regain their capacity for faster than light travel, the various Maquis ships utilized warp drive to travel through the DMZ only arrive at different planets. When the starships could make a limited effect toward subspace travel, the Maquis had all gone to ground. So Swann and Douglas set course for Deep Space Nine at a limping Warp 2.

The Volon II Unity team delivered the comfort women to the Colonial Council where Commander Roberts sat in on the meeting. Roberts quickly contacted Starfleet while the former slaves recited how they'd been captured during Cardassian raids on border colonies and made into Maret's sex toys. Maret's proxy at the Council meetings demanded the women be returned to Maret's custody. Kobb heeded Roberts' advice and contacted Starfleet with all of the particulars known at that point and asked for an advisory assessment.

Three days later the debate ended in the Federation Council before a decision was rendered. And Roberts knew as soon as she'd been informed of what the decision consisted of, she hated having to be the bearer of incredibly bad news. And the comfort women took that result with as much aplomb as they could. Which meant the attacked Roberts when she ordered her Security adjuncts to arrest the former captives.

Even Roberts' choked on the lie that it was for the women's own safety. Sandra B would stand at a court martial proceeding and either be incarcerated for desertion or be extradited to Cardassian care. And right back into Maret's clutches. All of them would be held in Starfleet's compound on Volon III while the Cardassians arranged transport to return their Sector Commander's property. The argument being made was that the Prime Directive stood in abeyance of judging Maret's proprietary claims over the women.

Undercover Federation Security agents monitored the Unity team's encampment to insure they wouldn't try and liberate Sandra B and her fellow prisoners from Starfleet custody. But Korepanova knew of Starfleet and the Federation assets on Volon II so Unity was in one the secret and deployed to lure Federation agents away from Volon II and Volon III.

The Indomitable arrived to strafe the Starfleet compound. Ro, Tulley, Dragonuv, Sosa, Fren, Donner and Hemmingway were the rescue party. Ro personally broke Sandra B out of the stockade. The mission was an in and out job and every former comfort woman accompanied the Maquis as they departed. Roberts was actually grateful for the rescue but not very appreciative of the destruction Starfleet ground to orbit defenses. And it was accomplished with zero casualties.

The Indie rendezvoused with the Odyssey over Dreon VII. There Macen helped Sandra B and her fellow liberated captives contact several smaller stellar nations to seek political asylum. Most refused outright but one was eager to accommodate the emancipated slaves. So the Odyssey plotted course for Sigma Iotia II. Where Sandra B had been granted a commission in the Iotian Starfleet and retroactive promotions to the rank of Commander.

The Klingons adapted Sandra B and the other former comfort women's testimonies before the Colonial Council and they were being used as propaganda fodder in the Klingon Empire and Romulan Star Empire. The Klingons showed the Federation Council's weakness and the Romulans emphasized the perceived treachery that the Federation had for its own citizens much less their cordial foes.

Six Cardassian paramilitaries burst into the Old Biddy and dragged Frink and Leakes out the back door to conduct a rape rally in a back alleyway. McConnell had been personally supervising the watch when the Cardassians entered into the bar. And fortunately, after every Cardassian was killed by the Maquis, as the former Chief Ranger for Ronara Prime, McConnell knew exactly where to bury the bodies.

When Ro returned from a skirmish incident on Ronara Prime third and supposedly uninhabited continent, McConnell briefed her with details of how he got the bar staff employees off of Ronara. Nikki Miller was setting out on tour again after her time home. Stephanie Gerin and Vicki Azerenka were delighted to have the company of some other than roadies.

Frink immediately recognized the look in Azerenka's eyes every time she gazed upon Gerin. And no one could help but notice how Azerenka blossomed into a ray of light around her former boss. Gerin had promised Cal Hudson their road trips could serve as courier lines moving vital information from one Maquis cell to the next. The musical trio had successfully completed a half dozen similar tasks before. But this was their first venture into delivering live cargo.

The next day found Governor White demanding answers regarding the six missing Cardassian "colonists" and wanting retribution for an "unprovoked" terrorist incident involving Cardassian pioneers who lived in an ascetic ideal on the other side of the plant.

Which greatly amused Ro while the Constabulary kicked down doors. A Cardassian appointed human governor was rattling the saber over missing Cardassian terrorists and using the Cardassian appointed Constabulary to act as storm troopers across the globe.

The crackdown was especially severe in the capital city of Ronaran City. Even effecting Krystal Gerin. Gerin was unlike her older sister except for the drive of politics. Gerin exchanged favors, beginning with sexual and moving to monetary. But several of her staffers vanished in the roundups. And amazingly enough the Cardassian "law enforcement" killed male suspects and the females were moved to a hidden holding center for "interrogation". Bodies of severely injured women would be found periodically dumped in front of the medical center. All of whom were sexually traumatized to the point of unavoidable internal scarring and infertility. And having disposed of three to a dozen women all at once, the constables would go in search of potential Maquis sympathizers only to slaughter the men and cuckold the women

Newly acquired prisoners always transferred to a second party where they were and repeatedly raped by a dozen or so men over a two to three week period before being dumped off in front of a medical clinic. The Colonial Council was united in its outrage. But the planetary governor promised the Federation representatives that all such claims were overstated and the security crackdown was quite benign. There the very strands binding Cardassian interest to the Federation were tested beyond the straining point. And the council was united in praying for a Maquis response. A diligent fervor which also gripped Roberts.

And the Federation was little better in this. Realizing the stories coming out of the DMZ popularized the Maquis. White and other colonial governments that owed their rise to power to the Cardassians silenced reporters from signaling their respective news outlets. An act that outraged the Federation's free press but truth was another casualty of peace in the Federation Council's mindset.

Individual reporters had built cases around Federation suppressing the truth coming out of the DMZ and the net effects of have a Demilitarized Zone in the first place. The very term defined the hostilities with the Cardassian Union to be postponed rather then cured. An opinion most Federation Councilors feared because it being a mid-term election cycle and most of the Council having voted the treaty into existence.

To a greater degree, select Maquis leaders deputies had been captured but then no trials took place, simply incarceration. And without the guaranteed due process of law a Federation citizen would expect but rather it would be under a Cardassian Union or a Romulan Star Empire or any other totalitarian races. But the Maquis deemed invaluable to the Cause were interned without trial or appellate jurisdiction. The Federation just wanted the Maquis to disappear.

Because open or closed trials would reveal secrets and determinations, made behind closed doors, public. And the electoral process insured that Councilors with lies and secrecy in their public officialdom pasts weren't reelected.. Or at least that's how the system should have functioned.

Even Starfleet was unaware of the Maquis disappearances. But Starfleet Command was all too aware of the Federation security organs administering "loyalty" test to planetary officials on hundreds of colony worlds.

Widespread surveillance had spread across the Federation under new legislative package legislated as the PATRIOTIC Act. The law enabled monitoring people in the private, public, and Starfleet circles on the gist of suspicion that an individual might harbor sympathies towards the Maquis or a hostile stellar nation.. Careers had been sidelined due to the merest suspicion of collaboration or empathy.

Starfleet Internal Affairs was like every Federation security organ, It was bogged down by the sheer volume of officers and enlisted with connections to the DMZ and those colonies ceded to the Cardassian Union. And no one outside of a closed session passing the PATRIOTIC Act had ever seen the law in its entirety. And as an "open" society the limitations of the act were near limitless as long as they avoided public scrutiny.

Federation laws had never been treated as a state secret before. Political observers had protested that fact, insofar as a law binding all citizens wasn't explained to the affected citizenry. And the louder the protests the swifter the leader of the protest mysteriously "disappeared".

The United Federation of planets had endured every form of protest imaginable over the course of two hundred years. These forms included civil action, litigation, protests, and even violence and attempted coups. But now the merest whispers regarding the PATRIOTIC Act brought fear and intimidation to bear from the government. UFP Councilors urged planetary leaders to forgo dealing with the protesters directly but rather to forward all the pertinent data to the Federation Security Service.

And suppression of the truth was merely the beginning stage of a concerted plan to stifle protestation. The Federation had rarely faced armed resistance from its own citizenry. And even then only when those lives and livelihoods felt threatened.

But the calm veneer of united acceptance of the DMZ treaty and then the PATRIOTIC Act where the results of the Federation vast and varied populace being fed a steady diet of supposed threats and impending disaster that now included the Dominion. As such, wholesale acceptance of the bill was a myth perpetrated as a state of being having already achieved and dissent being labeled high treason. The longer things went on and the worse it looked in the Klingon conflict, the more necessary the government appeared and its protection needed whatever the personal cost.

Unbeknownst even to the Federation Council, Section 31 had already developed a Gulag for political prisoners in neutral space designated a protectorate of the Romulan Star Empire A prison that wouldn't be discovered until the inaugural mission of what would become the Starfleet Special Investigation Division.

But in a stop gap measure, the Federation Council ordered the undercover Federation Security Service vessel, SS Official Secrets, to secure a Cardassian black site prison found in a remote portion of that Ronaran Prime. The mission simply was to insure the Maquis did not liberate the "political prisoners" who just happened to be entirely female. And interrogations were performed a quartet of Cardassian militants drawn by lots. Pregnancies resulting from these interrogations were aborted by kicking the woman repeatedly until the fetus was dead. And these paramilitaries were to be protected by Federation law enforcement officers in the name of peace.

Special Agent Conor Brosnan acted as the Official Secrets' captain and helmsman as well as being the senior agent aboard. Yvainne Beart was the navigator and communications tech as well as the interrogations specialist. Michael Byrne was the third agent aboard and he acted as engineer and armorer. All three were veteran law officers as well as distinguished undercover agents.

Joining them on Ronara Prime was Special Agent Britney Darque. Darque's primary missions was to apprehend Ro and her deputies while identifying members of the planetary Maquis cell. Something she had refused to do on her previous assignment to Ronara Prime. Of course, a year before, the Counterterrorism Task Force blew her cover so she was known by Ro's cell. And of course, Darque had been on Ronara Prime long enough to know the disappearances were caused by the Cardassian paramilitaries and that Governor Donald White was covering their tracks and suppressing any action that could be taken by the families and loved ones of the women who all eventually were found nearly dead or dead in front of a medical office. She would be sickened to learn the Constabulary took the women and provided them to the paramilitary base.

White had declared his Cardassian paramilitary masters to be part of the Colonial Constabulary Reserve, effectively deputizing them. And White had partitioned the Federation's assistance in guarding "suspected terrorists". And anyone could be deemed a terrorist for any implausible reason and all rights to a trial or protection from forcible interrogative methods, ie. rape, or even torture were not prohibited under a new package of Cardassian written laws White had rubber stamped. Laws that had even Krystal Gerin looking for a way off of Ronara Prime.

Ronaran settlements ranged from three major urban centers to ten minor urban environs and finally reducing to nearly one hundred remote villages. The villagers comprised the bulk of Maquis support. The smallest urban centers were divided between support and condemnation. And the major centers dutifully condemned the Maquis' activities since the bulk of the planetary conflict occurred within their boundaries and on their streets and even in their homes.

But the more Cardassians pressured the colonists to turn against the Maquis and potentially use force to round them into Cardassian custody, the more heroic they appeared in the supporters' eyes. In order to present a friendlier face to the Federation Security Service's role on Ronara Prime, Darque had been enlisted. Darque had been reprimanded for her role in the capture of Maquis one year prior. She'd falsified reports regarding Veronica Jane Graff's participation in illegal smuggling. She was deemed to be "too close to the suspects". And the Maquis had every reason to label her collaborator. If Darque refused to fully seek and destroy the Maquis, she'd be up on charges and face imprisonment herself.

Ro received confirmation of the disappearances from a "token" Bajoran constable and her equally "token" human partner. The details included the arrival of the Official Secrets despite their ignorance regarding the ship or its personnel. So the battle to be waged was one revolving around information. The Maquis were sadly lacking satellite imaging capabilities after the Cardassians "accidentally" discharged their disruptors in orbit and resulted in the destruction of the orbital security network.

But Ro didn't lack for volunteers to monitor Cardassian movements within a city or village limits. So she sent her deputies to every settlement on Ronara Prime equipped with subspace radios. Her people calibrated the radios before returning to base.

The Ronaran cell was exposed to a greater degree than ever before. If the Cardies were illegally monitoring subspace bands they'd intercept the communiqué. Afterwards it would require one home to home search to locate all of the transmitters. Triangulating the Maquis' mountainside cave network would be simplicity itself afterwards.

Any and every alert could prove to be a trap but the Maquis decided the risk was worth it after another load of broken women were dumped off in front of another medical clinic. And the hospitals and clinics were already filled to capacity with the former "suspects" the Cardassians had severely satiated their sexual urges with. Most of the women had been so harshly abused by groups of Cardassians concentrating on gang raping a human or other similar humanoid that many of the victims' internal wounds were beyond repair with the medical equipment available. The doctors and medical staffers estimated ninety percent of the women were no longer able to conceive. And many of the remaining ten percent were pregnant with Cardassian spawned children.

And so Gul Maret's colonial policy came to light. Cardassian Underground members shared that Maret had gathered his top officers and paramilitary leaders and made a simply proclamation, "The problem with the colonies is they're full of aliens. If we can't force them out, breed them out and conquer the bastard mongrels left behind. And was revealed that the paramilitaries worshipped at Maret's feet as they had Evek's.

"Skipper we just a call in," Tulley was nearly breathless, "Noble and Chaste have pinpointed where they leave the main road."

"Send Donner and Hemmingway to follow the trail," Ro instructed, "They should be able to track down the destination point."

"Shouldn't we man our subimpulse raiders and intercept those vehicles and stop those troop transports?" Solo asked before Dragonuv could.

"We need their base but extra eyes on couldn't hurt," Ro conceded, "Mysra and Hennessy, you're each piloting a raider. Take Fren and Sosa as your engineers."

"Erika is going to love that," Mysra sarcastically complained.

"Send her to me if she's willing to face me," Ro said sternly.

"Nat and Liam have discovered something," Hendryks announced as she entered the crowded ops center.

"Nice touch," Ro smirked.

"I do my best dramatic entrances under pressure," Hendryks confessed.

Hendryks gathered everyone in a briefing theater. Large wall sized monitors displayed schematics and pictures of an unfamiliar starship design. Hendryks had programmed the display and controlled it through a padd.

"One and a half hours ago, Donner and Hemmingway had to leave the rustic trail the troop carrier always hauls away its victims with. Their electric motorcycles were quite enough the Spoonheads didn't hear their approaches as the stopped," Hendryks explained, "But the road became a hazard because it was lined with anti-intrusion devices. So they pulled their bikes into the woods and covered them up with local flora."

Hendryks elaborated further, "While rounding the encampment they eventually ran into something. Quite literally. How many people remember the Starfleet NV-class?"

"Starfleet never built a non-name designated class of ship," Thool protested.

"Quite true. The Federation Starfleet never has. But the United Earth Starfleet frequently did beginning with the Warp 1 capable interdictor NA-class," Hendryks clarified, "As a Warp 4 capable starship, the NV-class was the precursor before the galactic travelling Warp 5 NX-class debuted with the NX-01 Enterprise."

"Starfleet built twenty six NV hulls. Three survived the Romulan War," Hendryks had memorized the ship classes' history, "Two were decommissioned and mothballed near Terra Nova. One ship disappeared doing a scouting mission further into the Alpha Quadrant."

"Why do I think Nat and Liam found it?" Noble grinned.

"Because you're psychic," Hendryks congratulated her, "While half of Starfleet exploring in the Beta Quadrant only engaged in skirmishes, the other half went deeper into the Alpha Quadrant."

"Captain Kirk commanding the original NCC-1701 Enterprise found Bajor's furthest colony after finding the remains of another devastated colony. All we know is aliens arrived on Bajor to discuss theology of all things. They deemed us heretical and mounted an attack."

Ro had everyone's attention, "We repelled the invaders from the Bajoran system but others attacked colonies and we were too hard pressed to relieve them. That's when Kirk came along and repelled the remainder of the outer attack forces. Eventually he was guided to Bajor itself and heralded as a swift right arm of the Prophets. Starfleet senf other ships as well and all eight of our remaining colonies were met with as well. Yet the Council of Ministers blindly allowed the Cardassians to dupe us into a decades long invasion that transformed itself into an occupation."

Hendryks resumed her briefing at that point, "Our 22nd century starship was registered in the pre-Federation rolls as the USS Robert Heinlein. One her final log entry to Starfleet Command, she'd engaged an unknown assailant attacking a pathetically armed freighter. Now we know from reviewing flight recorders the attacking party were Andergani and the freighter belonged to a Cardassian crew."

"The ship still has power?" Thool refused to believe it.

"There four survivors of the crash. All human females. Not that the number could have viably procreated had there been an equal number of men. But that's beside the point. The log entries clearly demonstrate that the surviving engineer fashioned solar panels and a water reclamation system. Once the antimatter reserves were depleted they left the batteries alone as they also modified phase pistol power backs to energize a distress beacon. But no one ever respond to it," Hendryks explained.

"I bet they died of boredom," Mysra added to the conversation.

"Why did they crash to begin with?" Tulley asked to stifle Mysra's comment.

"That is an excellent question," Hendryks pointed out, "The Heinlein had already survived a previous encounter with the Andergani. One in which victory was costly and the resultant damage allowed the Starfleet crew to liberate the Cardassian freighter but they themselves were crippled by the very Andergani they destroyed. With the impulse engines they made it to Ronara Prime but even their RCS thrusters failed as the ship plummeted into the mountain side where Donner and Hemmingway found it."

"So the crew died of heatstroke," Sosa realized.

"Correct, they had no heat shields and even their defensive hull plating was destroyed," Hendryks told them all, "The four survivors were natives to desert climates on Earth. And before you ask, Earth didn't engage in a water saturation program through weather manipulation until the early 23rd century so there were true deserts left on their home planet."

Ro noted that Hendryks didn't denote any of the survivors as having been from Earth. A personal choice most Ro's human cell members equally decried their human heritage. Even Thool and Fren denounced their planets of origin because of their supporting the Federation in destroying lives and families in the name of "peace".

"Now, Donner has suggested a rather desperate plan. The transporter on that ship appears functional. It's two hundred years old and was never cleared for living beings. But by bouncing our matter stream off of a communications satellite we could relay ourselves and and munitions we need to the Heinlein," Hendryks concluded with.

McConnell brought up a holo map and pointed at flashing red location, "Which is here and we're here."

The blue dot was easily hundreds of kilometers away. Donner and Hemmingway had been checking on reports of Cardassian movements when they got the call the Cardassians were in the very hamlet they were in. Ro knew it was at least a day away and given the description of the deterrents, they couldn't get in quickly if they were quiet or quietly if they're were quick. Donner's plan was the most viable solution. With modifications of course.

Mysra and Chaste launched the Rebellion and it served as a courier once again. Of course its primary role was to serve as a transporter relay thanks to the special equipment it was hauling. Waters and Liu had arranged for a data transfer contract to cover for them. The terms of the contract were to transfer Governor White's personal files to a location outside of the DMZ and the Federation.

Their destination was a moon in the Orion Confederacy. A moon one could luxuriate on if one was wealthy enough. And the Maquis had no doubts White had pilfered the colony's funds as well as taken every bribe the Cardassians were willing to dole out. White's people estimated a four hour window to gather everything and transfer it to the auxiliary data core aboard the Rebellion. And despite the Peregrine-class' fabled speed, Mysra and Chaste would be gone for nearly one hundred and forty hours at cruising speed of Warp 5 and two sustained bursts of maximum emergency sped at Warp 8. So they were effectively out of the fight. But during the voyage Chaste would crack open White's encrypted files and copy them. So even their side trip was a victory.

Hennessy, Fren, and Sosa were the first to join Donner and Hemmingway at the Heinlein site. Two hundred years of regrowth had effectively hidden the ship from prying eyes. But Hemmingway was a former Ranger so he had recognized the unusual growth patterns around the wreck and he and Donner had chosen to investigate.

The forward hull was smashed beyond repair and the nacelles had sheared off during reentry. Not that the Heinlein had ever entered an atmosphere before, being a creature of outer space. After First Contact, humanity had spared no effort or expanse to put bases on Luna and Mars. And the Utopia Planitia shipyards had already been in their infancy when they created the NV-class starships. The first two NX-classes were built in orbit around Earth but the remaining hulls were under construction before the NX-02 Columbia was launched.

The bridge was largely intact and most of the ship's solar power was diverted there and the med bay. The four women had kept chronicling their misadventures on Ronara Prime for posterity's sake. They knew that Earth would reach the future colony world but it would probably wouldn't be in their lifetimes because the subspace radio had been damaged to the point of being unrepairable. So the Starfleet officer and crewwomen stoically accepted their fate. And long after their distress beacon had worn itself out, their starship had been rediscovered..

Donner gathered all of the personal log data slates and stored them in a duffel to be transported back to Ro the same way the munitions bags had been a test run for the transfer process. Munitions that couldn't be easily replaced if they were damaged in the transporter sequence.

Waters had suspended all other efforts to focus Liu and Hana on assisting Ro's people. The Federation News Service wasn't widely accepted by either side of the DMZ conflict but the reporters assigned to Ronara Prime had managed to smuggle out the news of the increasingly frequent attacks on women orchestrated by Cardassian paramilitaries. Of course, The Federation Diplomatic Service had condemned the Maquis for the incidents preferring to spin it as though the Cardassians were acting out of desperation without the knowledge of Gul Maret or any other Cardassian official.

Ro arranged for a discreet drop of Maret's policies in writing on a Cardassian data rod. One unable to be altered by anyone. Its very existence crying out that even the Cardassians were vulnerable to their troops and proxies being likely to alter the official record if they could. But the official rod, purloined by the Volon II cell while they were commanding Maret's sector headquarters security office, and copied to spare optolytic data rods including the source identifiers to verify the accuracy of the contents. The FNS had three reports on Ronara Prime, one of of which reached a major city.

One was a Cardassian apologist, one a Federation apologist, and the third was open minded and swayed only by facts. Ro sent the rods by volunteer couriers while she oversaw the preparation for cracking open the Cardassian base on the colony world. Ro only expected one rod to make a difference but they two potentially served as a wakeup call to the realities of the struggle the reporters covered.

But the mere chance that the kidnappings and deaths had been officially put into the public arena gave Ro the slimmest of hopes. It had actualized Waters' support for the Maquis in this effort. He was the one that cracked the evidence that the colonies had developed a black site prison to house Cardassians they didn't want Starfleet to interrogate and shuffle away in prisoner exchanges.

Governor White had hidden all evidence surrounding the prison just as he'd encrypted that data on the militia headquarter's computers when the Cardassians locked down the base. That was before an official in White's government shared the existence of the site and unlock codes to Ro's Maquis cell. The Maquis had run a cursory search through the records and merely received answers pertaining to the militia's efforts to combat Cardassian raiders.

But layered beneath all of those records lay the files pertaining to the black site and what it had been used for. Ro knew torture was ineffective tool. She'd witnessed her own father divulging information to Cardassian interrogators, most of the information being gibberish he made up to end his torment. And he'd died groveling before the Cardassians sickened by his pathetic begging and pleading for it to end. And it had with his death. Ro still hadn't forgiven her father for his weakness despite intellectually knowing even she could be driven into such a state.

One advantage of Mysra and Chaste's journey was that White was paying an exorbitant amount of Cardassian leks to have his data archive moved out of Cardassian and Federation hands. And a quick delivery bonus coupled with a cash incentive to insure discretion. He would get two out of three anyways.

But even officials in White's own staff and the mayoral staff of Ronaran City had been threatened by the paramilitaries roving eyes. And even if they were kidnapped, White was under strict orders to turn the constabulary away from officially investigating the fate they themselves had condemned White's staffers to. Effectively, the Cardassia paramilitary presence on Ronara Prime was beyond the law. A pathetic testament of how far White would allow his constituents suffer and die at Cardassian hands all without a single protest.

The death toll of males seeking to drive away the Cardassian interlopers was increasingly amounting to a death sentence rather than an option. Only White's intercession on behalf of his press secretary and chief of staff had spared them while every other woman in the Governor's offices had been dragged, screaming away. Krystal Gerin parlayed her use as Maret's playing to do the same for her personal staff in the mayor's office. But those two events finally convinced them of the validity of Stephanie Gerin's position when she resigned as lt. governor. But fear drove them to ally themselves to Maret regardless of the cost in Federation colonists lives. And FNS carried the story regarding the planetary officials' impotence as well.

Ro was the first to transport over with Dragonuv. Noble and Solo came next. Tulley beamed in together with Harrelson. McConnell arrived for this mission. To find Ro briefing the cell in the bridge using the tactical board/table to hold her portable computer. After reviewing the layout of the prison, Ro designated three penetration teams. Sosa and Fren would remain with the Heinlein. Thool and Hendryks would man the Maquis base's transporter room. And Mysra and Chaste were out of time and had received their packet from White so they were underway.

Hendryks began exploring Donner's original suggestion and hacked an orbital communications relay. the hardware would withstand several matter-energy stream transmissions but no one could tell if the thirty year old satellite was capable of transferring all of the Maquis cell and the captives back to base or wherever else Ro dictated they should go.

Sosa was disgruntled to be left behind. Fren felt the same way but was above griping about it. But the sullen Sosa felt the need to waylay anyone who would listen to her lament.

Donner and Hemmingway had been maintaining an observation post and they'd just learned something worth reporting. Hemmingway remained on station while Donner returned to inform Ro of the latest development. Ro had already told them McDonnell would lead their team so they felt confident in his ability to impart the knowledge of the operations plan when he arrived at their location.

"They have to be Federation Security agents" Donner's revulsion was plain to see and hear.

"Why that summation?" Dragonuv asked.

"Britney Darque is with them," Donner revealed.

"I doubt she's there willingly," Noble told her strident teammate, "Darque wanted to release Kris, Nick and I but knew if she did she'd be handing us to the Cardassians."

"Like she did Amaktay, Emily and I," Dragonuv coldly reminded Noble.

"I didn't spout off that her actions weren't painful but the arrival of a freighter crew that were undercover agents for the FSS was the only thing that kept all of us going into Cardassian hands," Noble recalled.

"She even came to visit Christine and I in prison," Solo added, "She said she'd already visited Nick. Britney has been demoted and placed on probationary status for her arguing our case for us in court. Her own disciplinary review forbade her from returning to the DMZ."

"Which of course begs the question, why is she here at all," Noble stated.

Donner stopped arguing but she was angrier now then when she began. It wasn't a hot and fiery rage that destroyed everything in its path. It was cold, chilling anger that focused Donner and forged her into a weapon bent on killing one person above all others. Thereby enabling her to function normally despite being twisted into a murderous paradigm where she could justify murder in its own right.

The ongoing discussion of whether or not Starfleet knew of the black site detention facility was crucial in how the Cardassians learned of it. The sealed records showed twenty border colonies assisted in its construction and Ronara Prime had been selected to host owing to their central location. Even now the colony sat at the heart of the curving partition that made up the DMZ.

The planetary militias had known of the site and utilized it for special rendition interrogations. Each planetary militia would assign as escort to deliver the prisoner and also to facilitate the torture. The knowledge colonial governors had was a moot point since the data didn't address that question. But it was obvious White inherited the secret with hs office. It was also obvious he'd betrayed the trust put into him.

"Where did you get this information?" Donner asked apprehensively.

"You knew about it," Ro realized.

"I was one of three constables entrusted with the info when the militia dispersed and most joined the Maquis. The militia officers either fled into the frontier, died at Cardassian hunter-killer squad hands, or went to Federation space My fellow constables died in a crossfire between Cardies and Maquis. It's hard to miss with a isomagnetic cannon," Donner said sadly.

"Were you ever going to tell us?" Tulley sounded resentful.

"General H'rang's expressed wish was to alert Starfleet to its presence. I actually tried to do so but they attempted to arrest me instead," Donner told everyone, "So I joined the Maquis instead."

"But you never told us," Dragonuv was seething.

"She had an obligation to keep the secret for anyone outside of Starfleet," Hennessy understood all too well.

"Because it would be used to torture people for no other reason than they lived to be taken prisoner," McConnell predicted.

"It would change you to do so," Hennessy stated, "And you would have hard time living with the person you became instead. No Maquis cell should have a facility like this now or ever because of what it its designed to do and the backlash that would result. We don't take prisoners precisely because we have no business doing so. Our role is selective. We kill Spoonheads before they kill us."

There was grumbling over this, particularly from Dragonuv and Harrelson. Tulley glanced sideways as Ro ended the debate, "These have all been good points and yet every one of them missed rebutting the question at hand. Because there is no rebuttal. If any of you were even tempted to reopen this site after we shut it down and I will personally toss your ass out of this cell. We don't fight the Cardassians by becoming them. We fight them by being better, sneakier, and more lethal. Even the Bajoran Resistance kept to certain standards. And so will this cell. I don't give a damn what the other cells do."

"Then it's settled then," Noble spoke up. McConnell looked pleased. The rest of the cell was quiet.

"Now, we're splitting into four teams. One for each entrance and one to remain here to safeguard this transporter," Ro decided to unite everyone behind a common purpose rather than let them brood on bruised egos.

Ro led the first to approach the main gate into the discreetly placed prison. Three Cardassians stayed close to the gate, hardly expecting anyone to challenge them. So Noble, Solo, and Dragonuv easily flanked the bored sentries.

The Cardassians wore civilian garb but were outfitted with the latest in Cardassian personal sidearms and light weaponry. Each wore a holster filled with a Cardassian hand disruptor pistol. One guard had a disruptor rifle.

In contrast, the Maquis had Starfleet surplus Type II phasers from the late 23rd century that were issued between 2275-2287. They also each had a clamshell communicator. And they carried photon grenades from the same period as the phasers and communicators.

Getting close to the sentries wasn't difficult. The difficulty lay in their necessity to use the stun setting in order to avoid setting off the alarms tied to the sensor that detected particle beam weapons set to kill. So they couldn't even allow a Cardassian to get a shot off because disruptors were only set to kill.

Tricorder jamming signals had baffled the perimeter sensors. And there were no physical fences or guard towers. The black site relied on stealth and its remote location to insure privacy. .

Ro crept close enough to deliver a stun blast to a Cardassian's temple, thereby killing him without triggering any alarms. Her followers managed to subdue the remaining Cardassian guards before they could get a shot off. But the question remained of what to do with the insensate bodies.

Dragonuv settled the issue by delivering point blank stun blasts to each fallen Cardassian. Noble and Solo were each startled by the display of raw hatred. But Ro had known going into the rescue that Dragonuv would never leave a Cardassian alive after her ordeal. Which was why Ro had been relieved to learn from sources near the Cardassian settlement on Ronara Prime that the wives and children of the Cardassians belonging to the paramilitary militia were safely ensconced in their homes. Ro doubted Dragonuv's self restraint even when it came to spouses and offspring down to the merest infant.

Which led Ro to doubt how effectively Dragonuv could still function in Ro's cell. The Ronaran cell was one of the few Maquis units that didn't strike "soft targets" such as non-military or civilian subjects. Women and children were never targeted and only "hard" targets like constabulary precincts, collaborators, paramilitary terrorists, and vessels delivering hardware and munitions to Cardassians were struck out at. It was something of an exclusionary policy but it was one Ro could live and most of the cell agreed with it until now.

Tulley and Hennessy stunned the three guards at the service gate. But they were at odds as to what to do with the still breathing targets. Harrelson settled the matter by drawing out the machete she'd borrowed from Fren and hacking away at a fallen Cardassian. Hennessy pulled her off.

"What the hell?" Harrelson raged.

"You can't do that," Hennessy refused to release her from his grip.

"They did this to my kids and made me watch before they took turns raping me. Then they threw me aside like trash," Harrelson snarled, "Today the trash gets even."

Tulley used point blank stun shots to kill the remaining two guards, "Knock yourself out."

"Go frinx yourself, Aric," Harrelson broke free of Hennessy's loosened grip.

"You want a go?" Tulley asked her.

"You don't have a right to judge me," Harrelson asserted, "You went through the same thing and you reacted by killing a squad of Cardassians and you've been killing them ever since."

"Killing them, yes. Hacking their bodies to pieces is just too much," Tulley told her.

"Like you don't enjoy it," Harrelson taunted him and Tulley looked unstable.

"We are not doing this," Hennessy warned the pair, "We're on a time table and we need to get back on it or our friends will suffer for it," Hennessy forcibly declared, "After this is done, you can kill each other at your leisure."

"This isn't over," Harrelson advised Tulley.

"I'm banking on it," Tulley promised her.

McConnell led the team comprised of Donner and Hemmingway. Hemmingway was formerly a Ranger under McConnell's authority. But Donner was ex-Constabulary. Of course, one of her assigned tasks was dealing with prisoners the Rangers arrested. Usually involving moonshine or poaching. But Hemmingway and Donner had worked together in an unusually effective manor before the DMZ and their joining the Maquis and formalizing their relationship.

So Donner silently signaled her intent to flank the Cardassian guards while Hemmingway primed his crossbow. When she silently emerged from the woods to approach the sentries, McConnell marveled at how effective she would have been as a Ranger.

Donner waved at Hemmingway and he put a crossbow bolt in the furthest Cardassian. Donner wheeled into action and stun killed the one closest to her. The remaining Cardassian was turning his fallen comrade over to see a quarrel jutting out of him. He was blithely unaware of Donner's presence as he took aim at the woods. Donner dropped him without hesitation.

"Remind me never to doubt you two," McConnell was very impressed and astonished at the effectiveness of the couple.

"I'll make a point of it," Donner's British accent was the only reminder of her childhood on Earth.

Hemmingway handed Donner the Cardassian disruptor rifle and pistol even as he took a pistol for himself, "We're shy on power packs for our phasers. It's better to expend these first before moving in on our own supplies."

"Not to mention we can collect more of the Cardie weapons as we move through the prison," Donner agreed.

"I'll alert Ro," McConnell flipped open his communicator.

The Maquis back at the former militia headquarters were trying to draw extra power without a detectable surge. Hendryks warned Thool, "Our reactor will be detected from orbit if we don't baffle the energy signature somehow."

"The coolant buffer can handle the load if it holds out," Thool advised her, "I warned Ro we needed to replace the cryo grid's seals before we reignited the fusion process. So if the buffer blows and we can't slow the reaction, there won't be a mountain atop of us anymore."

"Why didn't we change the seals?" Hendryks was just hearing about this.

"Reactor seals are watched items and we only have so much latinum and leks to spread around for contraband. So other items always take precedence," Thool told her.

"There has to be a way to jimmy seal repairs. God knows we do it with everything else around here," Hendryks insisted.

Aboard the Rebellion, Mysra set course out of the Ronaran system.

"We can't go," Chaste insisted, "Ro and the others just reached the prison."

"Leah, we had fifteen minutes left on station when Ro set out. We're fifteen minutes overdue as it is," Mysra reminded Chaste, "We're not just dealing with our cell here. Liu and Hana put themselves out there to give us this cover. They'll be the ones who take a hit if we fail to deliver on time. I know combat can occur for just seconds but I seriously doubt everyone will clear out that prison in the next five minutes."

"Damn," Chaste breathed.

"Precisely," Mysra commiserated with her.

Sosa and Fren were left impatiently waiting aboard the crippled derelict known as the Heinlein and Sosa wasn't taking it well, "Why do we always get left behind?"

"Hey, I'm Andorian. Being left behind during combat is a mortal insult," Fren reminded her, "My people have killed for less."

"You killed the soldiers that butchered your mates when Cardassia annexed your colony," Sosa recalled.

"So?" Fren s suspicious.

"You took out a squad by yourself with nothing but your machete and I've killed nearly that many in clumps of opposition," Sosa reasoned, "Who is to say we can't guard Ro's retreat. I seriously doubt they'll be able to kill every Cardassian before the group withdraws."

"You pulled that retreat argument out of thin air," Fren accused.

"Doesn't make it any less true," Sosa retorted.

"Okay, I'm bored too so I'm in as well," Fren agreed.

Ro edged her way to the nearest corner after clearing through the administrative wing of the prison. She and her team would be entering the cell blocks now. She held a mirror out and peered into the reflection, "I mark five Cardies. There's probably more out there."

"Let's test that theory," Noble suggested.

"I'll cover from here," Ro decided, "Vera, arm the countermeasure."

Ro leaned against the wall and fired her phaser from her covered position. Noble sprinted across to a structural support where she added her capture disruptor to the mix. Solo then slid across into a kneeling position underneath Noble's aim.

"Vera, we're looking at an even dozen," Ro grimly told Dragonuv.

"Not a problem," Dragonuv rolled the disc down the path before bringing her captured disruptor rifle to bear.

It rolled to the Cardassian barricades. The photon charge was a demolition model designed for mining excavations. The Maquis hugged their own blocking structures as the charge detonated and energy lashed out in every direction. The potency of the discharge was such that it destroyed a Cardassian barricade and damaged the structural support Noble and Solo sheltered behind. The twelve Cardassian terrorists died in the blast.

Too bad we only had one of those," Solo lamented, "we really need to get back to stealing supplies from mining outfits and colonies.

"But we have these," Dragonuv doled out old fashion explosive pipe bombs, "Fortunately, chemical cleaning products still make excellent explosives."

"I remember cooking my first patch of plastique on Bajor," Ro shared, "I actually learned to make bombs before I ever cooked an actual meal."

"No wonder you never volunteer for meal prep," Solo laughed.

"I love replicators," Ro admitted.

They heard the sound of clattering metal in the distance. Noble activated her tricorder, "We have half a dozen warm bodies coming our way."

"Scan behind us," Ro instructed.

Noble grimaced, "Four more en route to cut us off."

"Place the pipe bombs at either end of the corridor and stagger them so we increase their effective kill zone," Ro ordered, "Then we take up position in the barricades They won't expect to us to mill about with corpses."

"There's a reason," Solo protested.

"This kill box will draw every Cardassian to this position. We need to make it painful enough to shred their numbers down to size and hold here until our other teams converge on this position," Ro instructed them.

"I like it when you're devious," Noble confessed.

"So we're the sharp end of this break out," Ro defined their mission, "Our job simple. We just kill bad guys until we run out of targets."

"The photon charge destroyed the Cardie weapons as well as the center barricades," Solo wrinkled her nose.

"But the forward and aft barricades are still standing," Ro reminded her, "You and Christine will take one and guard our rear while Vera and I take the one nearest our oncoming six that are rushing towards us."

"And it's a good thing Kris and I stayed in shape in case it comes down to close quarters fighting," Noble took her position.

"Every day in a labor camp is a fight to survive," Dragonuv stated, "I'm ready for some payback."

The Cardassians began to arrive just seconds later. The sound of the photon detonation made them cautious until they spied that their opponents were feminine rather than masculine. Then it became a mere struggle of dominance and the desire to add these four women to their captive sex slave population.

So they advanced while volleying disruptor fire. When they'd nearly reached either barricade Ro slipped open her communicator and yelled, "Cover!"

Depressing the transmit button, the signal ignited the detonators on the pipe bombs and the four staggered explosives threw shrapnel out to shred unprotected Cardassian bodies. And the echoes of the detonation resounded throughout the complex.

Those self same explosions drew off most the guards at the checkpoint at the loading gate. Tulley was about to just round the corner and shoot at the protected Cardassians. Hennessy pulled him back rather forcibly.

"This won't help Ro. You're getting killed will just lose the cell another invaluable asset," Hennessy hissed at him.

"Let go of me!" Then wrenched his arm free but he still had enough sense to whisper.

"You're one of the finest fighters in the Maquis as long as you keep your emotions in check," Hennessy explained to him, "But when you react from your emotions, your recklessness will get you and everyone under your command killed."

"Listen to him," Harrelson urged, "He knows what he's talking about."

"You don't make Master Chief during a twenty year career with Starfleet by being haphazard. And you spend a lot of time keeping junior officers from getting everyone killed," Hennessy stated, "If you can beat this tendency of yours you could be the best fighter in the Maquis...of any cell."

"He's including himself in that list of inferiors," Harrelson added.

"But we need to eliminate these guards," Tulley insisted.

"Leave it to me," Harrelson pulled a pipe bomb from her pack.

"Looking the way you do you might frighten them to death," Hennessy quipped.

"You know how to make a girl feel pretty," Harrelson dead panned.

"He's right, covered in all that blood you like something out of pre-World War III slasher movies," Tulley remarked.

"I love those!" Harrelson revealed, "I'm just upset the stopped making them."

"Humanity had seen every kind of death imaginable during the war. Afterwards they wanted to forget and move onward," Hennessy shard, "First Contact gave us the focus to channel our energies into."

"Can I just go blow up Spoonheads now?" Harrelson sounded bored.

"Feel free," Tulley nodded agreement, "Remember we'll be right here if you need us. If things get hairy, drop and we'll cover you."

"Such a comfort," Harrelson said sourly. She crouched and went across the corridor to the opposing wall. Then she crept her way towards the sentry's post. One of the remaining guards cast a glance down towards the corner where Tulley and Hennessy anxiously stood by. Hennessy was surprisingly anxious.

Harrelson slid onto her knees and slid into the concrete divider that served as a barricade for the guards. It was designed for them to repel invaders or switch sides of the half wall and prevent escapes. The Cardassian on duty opened fire at Tulley and Hennessy, who probably had shown themselves to distract the two Cardassians from spotting Harrelson.

She saw the much taller Tulley was standing while, the same height as Harrelson, Hennessy was down on one knee to provide cover fire. Harrelson had never seen him look so anxious before. Perhaps Sosa and Fren had been right about Hennessy's hidden intention towards Harrelson. It would certainly pay off the favors she'd had to trade to get assigned to Hennessy's flight detail concerning covering the Volon II cell's exit from the Dorvan Sector base.

Harrelson quickly attached the detonator cap to her pipe bomb and set the charge for three seconds. Then she inched towards the end of the barricade wall and activated the detonator's timer and lobbed it around the barricade. The Cardassians barely had time to register the bomb's presence before it shredded them.

Cardassian blood painted the walls and Hennessy was already by her side, "Are you all right?"

"What?" despite being behind the barricade, Harrelson's ears were ringing, "I'm sorry I can't quite hear you."

Hennessy grinned as she shouted at him, "You made a big splash.

He helped to her feet so she could witness the carnage that she'd wrought. Harrelson punch his arm, "Skip the lame ass jokes, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am," Hennessy happily agreed as Harrelson rolled her eyes.

Tulley was just pleased everyone was back on speaking terms, "People are counting on us so let's move out."

"What did he say?" Harrelson asked Hennessy.

"Come on," he held her arm and guided her around the barricade.

"You could have just said so," Harrelson loudly complained.

Hennessy just smiled at her.

Donner announced her success at picking the interior lock of the prisoner transfer gate, "Hot damn! I've got it."

The building rattled from an explosion. Hemmingway commented, "Seems the party has started."

McConnell looked discomfited as Donner took point and ventured into the prison interior. A second explosion was quickly followed by a thirds. McConnell shook his head, "Those were from different points inside this beast."

"There's a prison layout," Donner pointed at a map on the wall.

"So there's three cell blocks with cells front and back," McConnell observed.

"Where would they stash the prisoners?" Hemmingway wondered.

"The central block makes the most sense. The paramilitaries bunk here while they're on duty. Taking the outer blocks doubles the insurance against escapes," Donner reasoned.

"You must have been one hell of a constable," McConnell said with admiration.

"I had my moments," Donner was uncharacteristically modest, "I should risk the tricorder."

"Do it," McConnell agreed.

"I'm only reading human life signs," Donner scowled.

"So they left the cells unguarded," Hemmingway enthused.

"Not quite," McConnell spoke before Donner could retort, "Federation Security is on site and they're all human."

"So we'll be cautious," Hemmingway offered.

"That's a given," Donner rolled her eyes.

Hendryks was scrambling to hack a geosynchronous communication satellite. Thool took a break from recalibrating the transporter to check on her work, "How's the hack coming?"

"It's a work in progress," Hendryks grated, "Someone put military-grade security on this thing to prevent Cardassians from doing what we're attempting."

"What we're attempting is the impossible," Thool warned her.

"No, transporters simply relay matter converted to energy and with a direct line of sight can rematerialize them matter at the destination point," Hendryks spoke as she worked, "Comm sats simply relay carrier wave energy. By rerouting all of the sat's transceivers and focused targeting, we'll lose communications but we can send the matter streams to and from the wreckage of the Heinlein."

"But if Sosa and Fren don't sync that primitive transporter with ours, we'll lose signal integrity and people will die," Thool was angrier than Hendryks had ever heard him be before.

"Erika and Fren are probably resting in some perch waiting to cover Ro's withdrawal," Hendryks shrugged.

"If this kills anyone, I'll personally strangle them to death," Thool promised.

And Hendryks believed him, "I'll save a portion of the sat's bandwidth to relay our comm signals back and forth. Good enough?"

"It's a start," Thool went back to the transporter room.

Hendryks worried about Thool's stability in this fight.

True to life, Sosa and Fren had the cell's only two Type III phaser rifles. And they had set up a sniper's perch overviewing the main gate into the prison. Ro exit strategy called for coming out that gate and doing a cover by cover defense to enable the prisoners to escape harm while the Maquis covered one another as well.

"Look, they wouldn't have left us the only rifles if they didn't want us using them," Sosa was still arguing with Fren.

"That's a piss poor excuse and you know it," Fren retorted.

"But Rio will personally thank us when this is over," Sosa already congratulated herself.

"You wish," Fren rolled her eyes.

"I don't know which Andorian sex you are, but grow a pair already," Sosa challenged her.

"How would you know if I already had a pair?" Fren smarted off.

Sosa lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.

Despite being behind barricades, the concussive force of the four pipe bombs ricocheted throughout the corridor and propelled the four Maquis into the wall. Jumbled in a heap atop the remains of Cardassian bodies, the women were bleeding out their noses, ears, and mouths. Ro snapped out of her stupor first. She spat blood and tried to focus her eyes while her ears refused to quit ringing.

Ro shook Dragonuv awake. Dragonuv mumbled her protest, "Mmm all right."

Ro couldn't really hear her but the fact Dragonuv was slowly coming out of it she took as a good sign.. Ro went down the corridor to the other barricade and found Noble and Solo unconscious. She looked back to see Dragonuv using the half wall to steady herself.

Ro got more aggressive with Noble and she jostled her awake. Ro thought she heard Noble say, "Let's not do that again."

"Oh God!" Solo practically shrieked as she discovered she was piled atop of Cardassian remains.

Ro ignored her and began gathering the least damaged weaponry. Noble leaned against the barricade and worked her jaw to try and clear up her hearing. Solo was horrified by the sight of the mangled and torn Cardassian bodies. The smell of blood and death permeated the air.

"Shouldn't we get moving elsewhere?" Solo asked, "Like, practically anywhere else?"

"How do you think the prisoners will react to this?" Dragonuv had managed to shuffle her way to them.

"A few will vomit until there's nothing left in their stomachs," Ro predicted, "But those with fire in their bellies will enjoy it."

"So we hold?" Noble asked.

"We should move forward to intercept the Cardies coming after us," Dragonuv could speak in complete sentences again.

"Vera, we can barely stand much less walk. Our vision is blurry because we're probably concussed. The rest of our teams will be meeting limited resistance because of what we're doing here," Ro promised, "We don't have the enemies' numbers but this corridor was designed to repel escape attempts and hold off a hostile break in. So we can do more for our friends here than anywhere else."

"Good call," Noble voiced.

"Makes perfect sense when you put it all together," Solo agreed.

"I'll bite," Dragonuv conceded.

"Just a caveat, I can't hear worth a damn," Noble was still working her jaw.

"Me too," Solo agreed.

"None of us can," Ro admitted, "But Maquis and prisoners alike are counting on us. So we suck it up and deal with it as it comes."

"Or die trying," Dragonuv vowed.

Which Ro took as a negative sign.

"They couldn't have abandoned this base," Tulley said out of frustration. Ever since their egress towards the first security checkpoint, there had been a profound lack of opposition.

"What?" Harrelson was still struggling to hear.

Tulley rounded a corner and disrupter fire flew at him, passing so close he could feel the heat blistering the skin. Hennessy jerked him back to safety.

"You were saying?" Hennessy grinned.

"Can we just shoot somebody now?" Harrelson loudly asked.

"Cynthia, follow my lead," Hennessy said in a loud voice.

"Sure," Harrelson was eager to do just that.

Hennessy removed his pack and slipped on knee pads. Tulley was incredulous, "We're fighting Cardassians not laying flooring."

"Watch and learn," He edged Harrelson to the corner. Then he leaped sideways and slid as he skidded into the opposing wall. Then while the Cardassians were confused as to how to react, Hennessy shot two of the seven before being forced to leap towards the corner and roll away. Harrelson dispatched two Cardassians into whatever afterlife they pretended to believe in. Tulley simply strode out in the line of fire and finished off the group.

Hennessy was undoing hs knee pads, stowing them, and putting his pack back on, "Simplicity itself."

"What made you think they wouldn't just kill you?" Tulley asked.

"They aren't soldiers, Aric," Hennessy reminded him, "Not any more than we are. The unexpected confuses them."

"Did you say something?" Harrelson was growing frustrated.

Hennessy pulled her in and kissed her despite the gore clinging to her. Harrelson melted into his embrace. He winked at her after he let her go.

"Like I said, people usually don't know how to react to the unexpected." Hennessy was quiet pleased with himself.

"I need a shower," Harrelson realized.

I can help with that," Hennessy loudly offered.

Her eyes lit up and Harrelson broke into one of her rare smiles.

"I'll be in the security office," Tulley knew they weren't paying attention and frankly didn't care. The security office controlled the interior phase banks and the gas canisters. Hennessy held Harrelson's hand as he pulled her into the office, "Any luck?"

"The phaser banks are drained and the gas canisters have been emptied.," Tulley complained.

"That might explain the gas attack on Middling Settlement," Harrelson offered.

They both stared at her. She shrugged, "My hearing is finally coming back."

"We did wonder why they gassed the population rather than come in with disruptors blazing," Tulley allowed, "And where they got the gas."

"Because Cardassians use nerve agents not knockout gas," Hennessy added.

"So where are we going next?" Harrelson mostly spoke in a conversational volume.

Hennessy pointed at the schematic detailing the prison layout, "We're almost at an entrance to the cell blocks."

"There's three row of cells," Harrelson's hearing was definitely on the mend. She wasn't shouting anymore.

"My guess is the women are center stage," Hennessy commented.

"Why?" Tulley was curious.

"Do you see sleeping quarters anywhere around her besides the cells themselves?" Hennessy explained, "And I'm betting they rotate guards from the paramilitary base at Dagan Flats.

"Figures the only desert on this planet and the Cardies flock to it," Tulley grimaced.

"It also has a salt sea at its geographic center," Hennessy reminded him, "It reminds them of home."

"So give them the useless sea and scrubby desert and make 'em leave the rest of the colony alone," Harrelson grated.

"If only it worked that way," Hennessy sighed.

"There are two primary lockdown gates feeding into the cell block from the transfer gate," Tulley noticed.

"Not if Nat has her way. They won't stay locked for long," Harrelson snorted, "Our dear miss constable learned the tricks of a the criminal trade before becoming a peace officer."

"The Cardassians can't keep throwing bodies at Ro and expect to adequately guard the prisoners," Hennessy remarked.

"This is an entrance spilling out into the cell blocks. I see we use it in case McConnell and the others can't make it or are delayed," Tulley suggested.

"We'll follow you in a second," Hennessy offered.

The team leader stepped away and Harrelson was flustered, "I know we need to talk about that kiss. I understand if..."

Hennessy pulled her in for another smoldering kiss. When it ended Harrelson was short of breath, "Wow."

"I'm done talking," Hennessy told her, "But I listen really well."

"The hell with it," this time Harrelson instigated the kiss.

Hennessy looked stunned when she let him loose, "Okay then."

"We're take this goddamndest long shower in history," Harrelson promised.

"Aric is waiting," Hennessy reminded her.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's always something," Harrelson grumbled as she exited the security office.

"Damn," Hennessy commented still looking surprised.

Donner disabled the last lockout, "We're almost there."

"And you know this how?" Hemmingway inquired, "You've never been here before."

"But I can read signs," Donner pointed at the sign itself.

"I'm never going to live this down, am I?" Hemmingway groaned.

"Not if I can help it," Donner's trademarked lopsided smile blossomed.

"A little help?" Hemmingway pleaded with McConnell.

"I'm with her on this," McConnell warned him.

"This rgular door leads directly into the detention area," Donner read the offending sign, "So let's be ready."

Hemmingway and McConnell steadied their weapons while Donner triggered the release. The door slid aside with a loud screeching metal scraping metal sound. Donner backpedalled and joined the others. Only no one came to investigate.

"Cover me," Donner went to one side of the door and held her phaser in a two handed grip aimed where a conventional humanoid knee would be. Then she leveled the phaser out and went through the door. Hemmingway rushed to join. McConnell was slightly more nonchalant.

"That was loud enough to alert dead Cardassians on their home world," Hemmingway pointed out.

Donner chose to use her tricorder again, "I'm still only reading human life signs."

"Listen," McConnell shushed them both.

The sounds of stifled whimpering and crying could be heard. McConnell took charge, "Let's investigate."

The human female captives were stripped of their pants, dresses, skirts and underwear. Blood was caked on their inner thighs and and all over their genitals. Donner did not take the sight well.

"I'm so going to kill every Cardassian in this building," she vowed.

Hemmingway knew she as serious while he flipped the lever that unlocked and opened the cell doors. One of the captives was brave enough to approach McConnell, "Are you here to help us?"

"We're her to get you home and whatever medical attention you require," he promised.

"There are others in the cells in back of us," She told him.

"Where are the Cardassians?" McConnell inquired.

"They left after the explosions ended," she gripped his amr, "We're still being guarded."

"We only detected humans," McConnell told her.

"Precisely, that's the damnable part about it," she almost spat the words.

"We're right here, scum," a male voice said from one end of the cell block. Another male stood beside him. Behind them at the other end was two women. One of whom was Britney Darque.

"I've got the sat prepped and ready with the necessary frequency alteration. It's up to you, Sosa, and Fren now," Hendryks was pleased to report.

"You try raising Erika," Thool snarled, "I'm too damn busy."

"We really should check in at the Heinlein to make certain we aren't needed," Fren said, "Which would have been easier to deduce if you hadn't suggest leaving our communicators behind."

"So go," Sosa stubbornly refused to leave her perch.

"I'm going back regardless," Fren promised.

"Pussy," Sosa called out.

"You aren't even sure I have one," Fren remarked.

Which was accurate. Sosa sulked, "Damn."

"I think your communicator is beeping," Noble pointed out to Ro.

"Damn, I still can't hear," Ro complained, "This is probably an object lesson in futility."

She flipped it open all that could be heard was static. She boosted the gain, "Hello? Ro here."

"Thank God. Ro, are you receiving me? Are you free to act" Hendryks asked.

"For the moment," Ro was wondering why Hendryks was bothering her.

"I have lots of news and all of it bad," Hendryks warned the Maquis leader, "Mysra and Chaste broke orbit right after you set out for the prison. We're going with Donner's idea to use a comm sat as a relay. I've got the satellite prepped and ready. Thool has our transporter well underway. But we need to sync the transporter signal from here to there and Fren and Sosa are AWOL. And just in case your day didn't suck already, White has dispatched the planetary constabulary to the site to arrest everyone."

"Just so they execute us while we're backed against a wall," Ro opined.

"You have a firm grasp of the situation," Hendryks confirmed.

"I'll deal with Sosa, since she'll be the ringleader of this little mutiny, you alert me when the constabulary is one hundred kilometers from reaching us. Then fifty then breach point," Ro instructed.

"Understood. Out," Hendryks signed off.

"Kris and Christine, you deal with Erika. If you have to, treat her as a hostile," Ro wanted.

"So it's you and me against every Cardassian this prison has left to throw at us," Dragonuv didn't ask.

Noble pulled Solo after her, "Let's take a hike."

"It's a good thing I still keep in shape for pit fights and cage matches," Solo enthused.

"So why is Sosa pissing in the wind now of all times?" Dragonuv wondered.

"Erika gets left out of a lot of the action because of her engineering acumen," Ro reasoned it out, "And she has an overinflated sense of revenge to just sit by and let that continue."

"Sounds familiar," Dragonuv admitted.

"Stand down and place your weapons on the deck," Conor Brosnan instructed, "We will use lethal force as our first resort."

"Judging by Britney being here, you're Federation Security," McConnell deduced, "How can this happen?"

"They're terrorists being interrogated by Cardassian jailors under Cardassian laws. The Prime Directive forbids us from interfering. And they're criminals so why would we want to anyway?" Michael Byrne replied.

"This is as much bullshit as Britney turned out to be," Donner angrily resumed her two handed grip on her weapon.

"Constable Donner, you are wanted on multiple charges with terrorism being the least of them," Yvainne Beart warned her, "Rangers McConnell and Hemmingway are like you in that they have been confirmed as being Maquis."

"The rest of the Rangers and Constabulary were forcibly retired or forcibly executed for refusing to be retired," Hemmingway snapped at her, "You can't just sit back and let those things happen."

"Watch us," Byrne warned him.

"Well, we couldn't," Donner grated.

"Our mandate to help the Cardassian settlers was extended by the Director herself," Brosnan informed them.

"Britney, you lived here and saw most of what we're talking about. Talk some sense in to them," Donner demanded.

"Agent Darque is barely an agent anymore for her overt support for your comrades," Beart advised the Maquis, "She's here to support us. She has no command authority even if she were the last one standing."

"I could make that happen," Hemmingway offered.

"Wake up!" Byrne snapped at him, "You're outnumbered."

"We face greater odds every day," McConnell did his own advising.

"Against helpless Cardassian civilians. You must be very brave," Byrne sneered.

"You do realize all of the so-called 'prisoners' are in your line of fire?" Donner wondered.

"Collateral damage," Byrne retorted, "At least they won't escape to kill other Cardassians."

"Despite the fact these Cardassians have given them a helluva reason to?" McConnell asked.

"And some misguided Federation citizens and Starfleet personnel see you as the heroes," Contempt dripped from Byrne's every word."Because we are you worthless sack of shit,"

Donner was slipping into her frozen rage. Her mind raced with every possible outcome of this fight. And none of them were pretty.

"Our task here is to turn you over to Cardassian interrogators," Brosnan warned them.

"Thanks for giving u sa reason to die. Why would Cardassian civilians require the need for interrogators?" McConnell asked, "Or have frontline military armaments?"

"And whether we resist and die or be captured and die, death is the inevitable outcome. It's just a clean death if you kill us," Hemmingway stated.

"This is your final warning or we will fire upon you. All of you," Brosnan included the raped and tortured women, "Stand down and surrender or else we'll do it."

"Just keep thinking that," Donner cut through the tension, "You do what you need to do and so will we."

Tulley's team snuck in from a back entrance near a cell block being used by Cardassians as bunks. They listened into the developing standoff. Hennessy shook his head, "There's at least three agents."

"And they're implying Britney Darque is with them," Tulley realized.

"Who?" Harrelson asked, "Or did my hearing just crap out again?"

"Ro warned me Federation Security was assisting these morons but I didn't believe her," Tulley admitted.

"Why would you want to?" Hennessy asked.

"The Federation is hell bent on keeping their treaty with Cardassia alive no matter the cost in lives," Harrelson succinctly put it.

"Appeasement is always a losing engagement policy," Hennessy reminded them, "The Federation will either give themselves away and be conquered or be forced into a war where Cardassia holds the upper hand because of the concessions made."

"I say we just kill them," Harrelson suggested.

"Which would flood the DMZ with security forces looking for our heads," Tulley realized, "I have a better plan."

"Share it," Harrelson was getting impatient again.

So Tulley did and everyone agreed to it. He went down the abandoned cell block to the other end of the room and then made his way forward towards Beart and Darque. Hennessy and Harrelson conferred to develop a suitable strategy for taking down Brosnan and Byrne with a minimum of casualties.

They were still getting into position when Tulley roared a challenge for Beart and Darque to drop their weapons. Hennessy and Harrelson rolled tteir eyes and abandoned finesse. They simply neared the Federation agents and opened fire. Joined by McConnell and Hennessy. The security agents didn't stand a chance.

Darque turned on Beart and stunned her. Then she placed her phaser on the ground and held her hands up, "I surrender."

"Why are you here, Britney?" Donner had to wonder.

"Orders. It's a test if loyalty. I've been trying to convince Brosnan and the others to intervene on these poor souls' behalf. They simply laughed at me and had me serve as a waitress to the Cardassians and themselves. They never even allowed me to carry a phaser until every Cardassian rolled out of here after all those explosion rocked the building," Darque explained, "I suggest you steal everyone's weapons and lock them in cells. Me too."

"You could come with us," Tulley advocated, "Ronnie still believes in you."

"And I believe in Ronnie. And Harry too. But I can do more about spreading the truth from inside the system. So you'd better stun me as well and lock me away."

"You've been fact correcting case files," Donner realized.

"None of you, and especially Ronnie, will keep their heads out of a damn nooses. I just provide some breathing room," Darque shared.

"Pick a cell," Tulley requested.

Darque picked the nearest cell, "You'd better just drop me where I stand."

"Will do," Tulley shot her and she crumpled.

More women converged on their location from the backside of the cell lane. Hennessy and Harrelson had been busy with Hemmingway. Tulley turned to McConnell, "Lock her up."

The doors slid into place and locked. Tulley conferred with McConnell, "You take point. Donner and Hemmingway and move with our charges and my team will serve rearguard.

"I need at least one with me," McConnell insisted.

"Take Cynthia. She's freaking every one out," Tulley remarked over her bloodstained appearance.

"She's freaking me out as well," McConnell confessed.

"You would have to have been there. It was epic," Tulley admitted.

A general announcement got the women moving lined up two abreast as McConnell and Harrelson led the way. Staggered a third of the way down, Donner took position and the women separated apart to let her walks amidst them. Hemmingway did the same another third of the way. As promised Tulley and Hennessy brought up the rear.

Unbeknownst to them, Ro and Dragonuv had finished the last of the Cardassian captors through an exchange of small arms fire. Dragonuv almost blew McConnell's head off. He held his hands in the clear.

"Cease fire! We're on your side," he insisted.

"I'd hate to be on the opposite side when Cynthia's playing around," Ro smirked.

Her communicator began whistling and she flipped it open. This was the second alert she'd received since being informed of White's gamble, "Ro here."

"They're entering the prison," Hendryks advised her.

"Who is entering the prison?" McConnell asked.

"Planetary Constabulary," Ro grimaced, "So get going."

The constables were entering through the transfer gate now that Donner had cleared every obstacle. Ro and Dragonuv felt the same rage everyone had at seeing how brutally the women had been treated.

"Get everyone into the woods and have a team drop back and cover our withdrawal," Ro ordered Tulley.

"Skipper..." Tulley disapproved.

"We'll only cover you withdrawal and pull back as soon as we're certain you've made it to the woods. Then you cover us. Simple really," Ro appeased Tulley.

Tulley pulled Hennessy and Harrelson aside, "Cover them while they pull out. You can use a cover by cover stagger formation to make it to the tree line."

And disruptor fire echoes as it struck the barricade Ro and Dragonuv sheltered behind. Ro and Dragonuv beat them back behind shelter but when they attempted to withdraw, Dragonuv was hit and fell back behind the barricade. Ro started to triage her.

"It's no good," Dragonuv showed that the blood had turned black after the disruptor had punched a hole through her liver, "We don't have the equipment to treat this and going to a medical center would be suicide because they'd report me and the constables would just find me there.

Hennessy and Harrelson were laying down fire but Hennessy shout at Ro, "We need to pull out."

Ro handed Dragonuv every extra weapon she'd acquired, "Overload these when they begin to overrun and it'll buy you extra time."

"I don't think I'll need it," Dragonuv coughed up blood, "You need to leave now. I've got this. This is actually how I wanted it to end."

"I know," Ro squeezed her shoulder and fired as she rose and pulled Dragonuv to her feet. And then she sprinted for the corridor leading through the admin section. Once they cleared the building, they ran for the woods while phaser rifle fire killed two constables pursuing them from around the building and pinned down several more.

"Where's Vera?" Tulley asked as Ro and the other made it behind the trees.

"Buying time with her life," Ro said grimly, "She'S terminally injured and this is how she chose to spend her final moments. Don't belittle it, Aric."

McConnell and Hemmingway took the lead and proved why they were Rangers as they cut a path through the woods. Hennessy relieved Solo of her phaser rifle and began picking Cardassians off when they showed themselves. Noble and Solo joined the procession. Ro and Tulley set to cover Hennessy as he withdrew. And Harrelson and Donner did the same for the trio as they past and so they traded advancing for covering another's withdrawal.

The explosion that ended Dargonuv's life echoed outside of the prison. Ro was pensive for a moment before another surge of constables distracted her. Two of the oncoming "peace" officers wielded tricorders and were directing the paths of the others. Ro directed Hennessy and Tulley's efforts to try and knock those particular constables down.

Noble and Solo dropped back to provide cover fire to allow Ro's fire team the opportunity to retreat. Harrelson returned to assist them. She'd needed to find an adequate outlet for her outrage over how the prisoners had been repeatedly violated and the sheer viciousness in which it had been done.

McConnell and Hemmingway reached the Heinlein. The spokeswoman for the liberated prisoners lodged a complaint, "It's a wreck."

"But it has a functional transporter," McConnell assured and hoped like hell he wasn't lying.

They started to lead the women starboard but Donner raced ahead and stopped them, "Port side."

The men were embarrassed to realize they'd forgotten that only the port side airlock still functioned. The starboard airlock was a mangled twist of metal. Getting them in the fallen starship and maneuvering them towards the transporter room, they ran into a barrage of foul language the likes of which hadn't been heard since the Eugenics Wars of the 20th century. Most of the language had been purified out of the common linguistic usage in the mid-23rd century. But trends slowed down in the outer colonies.

The gist of things was that Sosa was enraged at the transporter itself. Fren worked with her to resolve whatever technical issue had originated to bedevil the pair. Thool's voice could be heard over Fren's open communicator. McConnell just hoped they could resolve the issue in order to extricate the women, some of whom were freshly bleeding from the trek they'd endured.

McConnell also knew that genetic scans had proven that humans, like Bajorans, could mate with Cardassians. So there was a terrifying possibility some of the women might have been impregnated over the course of savage sexual assaults that they'd endured. Rape was an ugly enough event but to further the consequences into bearing a child of the attacker was a ludicrous proposition in McConnell's eyes. But Federation law prohibited abortions under any context. And the Colonial Council hadn't seen fit to repeal that stipulation now that the DMZ worlds were on their own.

And it wasn't as if the Cardassians themselves would care for the bastard hybrids. Cardassians were particularly xenophobic when it came to familial obligations. Dozens of Bajoran-Cardassian children were lingering in Bajoran orphanages. The Cardassians found them as repellant as the Bajorans did. The Cardassians had even abandoned full blood children because their families had died on Bajor. And a child without parents was cast aside as trash by Cardassian sensibilities.

"We need to be outside securing the hatchway," Donner insisted.

"Go with her," McConnell instructed Hemmingway knowing that the younger man would've done so without permission anyway, "I'll set up a triage here."

"Nat and Cynthia are off the rails," Hemmingway observed, "Erika and Fren will be next and Chris and Kris will also freak when they arrive. God knows how Ro will respond."

"I can help talk Laren down," McConnell once again hoped beyond hope.

Another barrage of foul language erupted and McConnell chose to check on the tech team. Fren seemed greatly amused. Sosa was livid.

"What's the issue here?" McConnell could many of the freed prisoners were close to panicking.

"Mysra had to leave orbit a while ago," Fren described, "Nat's idea of using a comm sat as a relay theoretically works. But our transporter has to be perfectly synchronized with home base's and that seems to be taking longer than hoped for."

"How bad could it be?" McConnell wondered.

A transporter beam activated on the platform and a twisted hulk of a metal case materialized. Sosa glared at McConnell, "Bad enough for you?"

"White sent every available constable after us to secure the prison," McConnell shared, "Which means we're still fighting our way here. These ladies can't march through the woods until we miraculously find a new exit," McConnell said sternly, "Whatever you need to do to get this to work, do it. In a hurry."

Sosa blinked. McConnell was usually so soft spoken she tended to forget he'd been the Chief Ranger of the Forestry and Park Ranger Service. In his dual role he'd been as much a law enforcement official as Donner. And he'd overseen planetary operations.

"We're on it," Sosa had calmed herself.

"Good, I'll do what I can with our guests' wounds but I'm afraid they need full medical service's care," McConnell informed them.

"Tulley secure our left flank," Ro instructed, "Hennessy you have the right. Noble, Solo, and Harrelson, you're on me blazing a trail of resistance down the middle."

Everyone acknowledged and reset their position closer to the Heinlein wreck. Ro flipped open her communicator, "Ro to McConnell."

"McConnell here. Go," he replied.

"We've almost been pushed back to the ship. I need that port airlock secured," Ro advised him, "The opposition force will find it."

"Donner and Hemmingway are already there and expecting opposition," McConnell informed her.

Ro smiled. She also tended to forget he was a natural, if subdued, leader as well, "My apologies. Carry on as best you can. We'll be pushed back to the wreck any minute now. Have a welcome waiting for us," Ro told him.

"Copy that," McConnell signed off, already knowing Ro was finished speaking.

Ro tapped one of the three controls on her communicator, "Ro to Donner."

"Donner here," she replied.

"Go silent, Natalie. Tap twice if opposition is nearing you."

Ro's communicator beeped twice, "Steady then. We have bad guys driving us to you. We need that hatch secured to give us our exit."

Donner tapped twice again. Ro signed off. White had not only thrown every constable on the planet at them, they were threatening her family. The Maquis were her personal family in a way the Enterprise had never been. Macius had filled a void where Ro's father dying had left within her. Picard had initially filled that need within her but the Maquis cell leader had opened a door within Ro that resisting Cardassian oppression could only fill.

Ro's recent meeting with Picard on a weapon of planetary proportions had shown she hadn't totally alienated him. But his disapproval of her choice to blow her infiltration of the Maquis and actually side with them eked out of his pores. Yet she'd detected a grudging admiration from him over what she'd accomplished on that godforsaken planet and her choice to cede control of it to the Federation rather than utilize it to further the Maquis' goals.

But she noted that every Maquis under her command had discarded Cardassian weapons long ago. Hennessy had drained the phaser rifle and slung it over his back since it was too valuable to leave behind. Everyone else was already using their second power pack for their surplus phasers. She was on her third and it was rapidly being depleted. Which in minutes everyone would be on their last power pack. In addition, Ro carried a Type I "cricket" phaser. She hoped beyond hope that she wouldn't have to use it.

But there was noticeably less disruptor fire headed their way. Whether through losses, retreats, or skirting the edges of the resistance in an effort to ambush the Maquis remained to be seen. Tulley and Hennessy had each engaged constables moving past the Maquis flanks. Officers had settled in to harry Tulley and Hennessy to prevent them from pursuing the flankers.

Ro began to wonder how many Earth Starfleet phase pistol power backs still held a charge. If it came down to it, even the plasma pulse rifles and pistols would suffice in an emergency.

Donner and Hemmingway each heard the constables crashing through the wooded environs. Hemmingway had a perch in a tree and his crossbow was ready and his phaser still relied on its first power pack. Donner had created a blind and she retained a Cardassian disruptor pistol in addition to her holstered Type II phaser. Owing to the fact her team hadn't fought anyone inside the prison, they were freshly armed and ready for action.

The planetary constabulary and the ranger service had been established along with the colony in 2315. And they'd been armed with Type I and II phasers dating back to the 2260s. When the Border Wars began in the 2350s, the Ronaran law enforcement bodies had upgraded to phasers from the 2270s to 2287. Ro made it a policy to only buy surplus from 2287 and beyond.

The Ranger service was defunct by order of White and the Constabulary was now composed of strictly Cardassian "settlers" who'd "volunteered" for the duty. The Maquis had inherited all of the older Starfleet surplus once belonging to those services. Much of it having been given to poorer Maquis cells on other worlds.

Ro still wondered how Brin Macen had led the Maquis to a unregistered shipyard operating near the DMZ. It had contained starships decommissioned before the Border Wars with a few hulls still in active service but built before the Border Wars had begun. Unfortunately, the stockpile had vanished shortly after the Maquis had pilfered just a few ships from it.

But Michael Eddington was said to be courting Bajoran pirates who stole decommissioned Starfleet starships from the 22nd and 23rd Centuries stored in Sector 004 for sale to less developed planets and armed by the Iotian Federation. The Maquis hardly had the manpower to adequately staff such ships but that hardly dissuaded Eddington.

Donner drew the fire from a couple of flanking constables. Hemmingway did the same from those circumnavigating from the starboard side. Donner hit one of the three constables with his crossbow. He silently fell face forward in to the ground. By the time his nearest fellow noticed he too had a quarrel protruding out of his chest and he fell over backwards.

The remaining constable opened fire at the tree Hemmingway was perched in. Donner shot her, thus drawing fire from the two constables nearest her position. Hemmingway dropped out of the tree and fired. The bolt pierced a constable's leg but failed to deter him from shooting at Donner.

Hemmingway was out of crossbow quarrels so he finally drew his phaser. But Donner emerged from her duck blind and immediately killed the slowest constable with her purloined Cardassian disruptor. The wounded law officer found himself in a crossfire. He tried to limp out of sight but Donner discharged the last erg of energy from the disruptor and killed the fleeing Cardassian.

Tossing the spent disruptor aside, she drew her phaser. Hemmingway strapped the crossbow back onto his back and redrew his phaser as well. They took time to confer.

"Thanks for the assist," Donner said to him.

"Anytime," Hemmingway hesitated before speaking again, "I couldn't let him hurt you."

Donner smirked, "I know. You're smitten with me. In fact, you're knee deep in smit."

"Am I that obvious?" Hemmingway was relieved she knew how he felt.

"Only every day," Donner informed him, "The question is, what do I do about it?"

"Well, I was hoping..." Hemmingway never had the chance to finish the at statement because Donner grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him in for a very hungry kiss.

"Or we could just leave it at that," Hemmingway was lightheaded after Donner's overture.

"Or even better, we could pick up where we just left off after we get back to base," Donner smirked, "I wangt to see you naked on a long term basis."

"You've seen me naked on a short term basis?" Hemmingway was surprised.

"I had to inspect what I was buying," Donner grinned.

"There's that too," Hemmingway grinned, still slightly giddy.

They heard twigs and branches snapping as someone approached. Donner immediately raised her phaser in her usual two handed grip, "Go back to back."

Hemmingway echoed her posture and guarded her back, "Can you see them yet?"

"Four coming around the ship," Donner told him. You?"

"Nothing," Hemmingway told her.

"Get ready to swing right by my side," Donner instructed.

The Cardassians opened fire. Donner alerted Hemmingway, "Swing now!"

He swiveled to her side and they engaged the encroaching Cardassian law officers.

They downed the Cardassians and heard more brush being trodden on. They spun together and found Ro and the other Maquis fire team members approaching. Donner sagged.

"Are we glad to see you," she admitted.

"Are you two a 'we' now?" Ro wondered.

"Good God, does everyone know?" Hemmingway blurted.

"Except for you," Donner laughed.

"Come on, let's get the hell out of here," Ro insisted.

"Finally!" Sosa kicked the transporter pads as the storage case returned from Maquis headquarters undamaged.

"It's confirmed. We're safe to transport," Fren informed Thool.

"Where are we sending the first batch?" Thool asked.

"We need a site to site to a med center," Fren instructed.

"Got one targeted," Thool promised.

"Ladies, queue up and we'll begin beaming you to medical facilities," McConnell promised.

Three dozen liberated prisoners were sent to three different hospitals across Ronara Prime's principle cities. Afterwards the Maquis began their withdrawal.

"White is going to be screaming for Maret to intervene if he can persuade the Central Commands to commit troops," Rio warned everyone, "Which will bring a Starfleet response as well. Particularly considering Federation Security's presence here."

"Skipper, the comm sat is fried and Elfi is hacking a new one but our calibrations are set to echo Thool's transporter so we'll be locked on in a minute and resume transporting people," Sosa reported.

"And you didn't even have to kick anything this tie," McConnell said dryly.

"Bite me," Sosa retorted.

Fren set up the explosives, "They're rigged to blow on a timer we can activate on the last beam out."

"Do it," Ro ordered.

Ro was the last one to beam out and reappear at the militia base the Maquis currently occupied. Back at the Heinlein the timers triggered the photon charges to destroy the transporter memory center and erase the coordinates logged in as the last destination.

Three hours past and two hover bike gangs were spilling out of the Old Biddy to fight in the streets when two Cardassian built scout cars rolled up. Ro jumped out of one and Tulley joined her. The Maquis team surrounded the tavern. Ro and Tulley went into it to find an utter lack of Cardassian presence. Ro called off the hunt.

They drove back to base and Mysra and Chaste came in for a landing.

"We need to consider an evacuation," Ro warned everyone, "There are still people that recall the existence of this base and they can be forced to talk. After depriving the local Cardassian forces of their prison site, they'll want a new one. And White will appease them as always."

"We need to rest up before considering moving," McConnell counseled.

"That's our top priority," Ro agreed, "Afterwards we need to prep contingency plans for when we have to abandon this site."

"You really think we will?" Thool asked.

"The Cardassians toured this base when they first arrived," Ro reminded them, "Maret has the files on it that Evek left behind. He isn't stupid. He will come looking to occupy this base himself."

"Then in three days we'll start scouting alternate locations," McConnell offered.

"Good enough," Ro agreed.

Ro caught Tully taking the lone car, "Going somewhere?"

"Annabeth and Leakes are getting back today. I want to escort them home and see to their safety over the next couple of days just to be sure the threats over," Tulley explained.

"There hardly any paramilitaries left alive. As near as I can tell, we decimated the constabulary. But you have three days," Ro advised him, "Try to relax ."

She knew Frink would

"We need to stop meeting like this, Harry," Ro advised Mudd from their booth at the Old Biddy.

"Blame Eddington," Mudd retorted, "He has a scheme to acquire starships. He'll brief you on the details in person."

"He wishes," Ro snorted.

"Ro, I've looked over the data. It's explosive. It could be a game changer," Mudd advised her, "And someone needs to watch Eddington. He's ambitious and power hungry."

"And that's supposed to be news?" Ro wondered.

"Ro, he's going to make your life ugly," Mudd warned her.

"It's already ugly, Harry," Ro said dryly.

"Your cause looks poised for victory right now but word is the Klingons will be pulling out and the Cardassians are going to throw everything they have left at you," Mudd stated, "This is the part where everything falls apart. I've been around enough lost causes to know you're doomed."

"Are you getting sentimental?" Ro asked.

"What? No!" Mudd yelped, "Are you going to try and kiss me?"

"No," Ro deadpanned.

"Damn," Mudd sighed, "This is why I don't do lost causes. You people are always so fickle."

Ro authorized Mudd's payment and ordered Mudd a second drink, "Stay sharp, Harry."

"You too, Ro. Remember, watch your back first and then the other guy's," Mudd offered free advice.

"I'll keep it in mind," Ro promised as she collected her Maquis minders and left the Old Biddy.

"Doomed," Mudd grumped, "Every one of them."


Last modified: 15 Oct 2018