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Genesis - Part II by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 5

The Barrinoran authorities were bending over backwards to accommodate the information requests flying out of Outbound Ventures. All of the assembled captains and crew had volunteered to assist in the recovery. The word had spread to those units still engaged in contractual assignments. They volunteered as well. Macen declined their requests.

"Its more important to fulfil our upcoming contracts." Macen told them, "Select your crewmen best able to complete your assorted tasks and have them man our Mosquito-class heavy runabouts. The runabouts can stand in for your primary vessels, which will be on stand-by awaiting notification of when and where to strike."

This was met with some grumbling but Jamie Kirk and the other captains quickly quelled the dissenting voices. Backed by a united front, Macen turned to the Barrinoran authorities. System Traffic Control co-ordinated with Transit Control to narrow the field of suspects to one vessel. They'd filed a flight plan whose next destination was listed as Bajor. No one expected the ship to actually arrive there but an alert was issued anyhow.

The Barrinoran spirit of independence worked in Macen's favour. The Barrinoran Rangers, the planet's chief law enforcement agency, supported Macen's drive to personally pursue his bride's abductors. The Rangers had, in fact, volunteered en masse to accompany Macen's crew. Once again, Macen declined, citing his Federation letter of marque as his authority to enter UFP space and deal with Adrya.

Despite Nechayev and Drake's poor showing of support, they had not forbidden him from this rescue attempt. Tacit approval was better than outright opposition. Macen realised that both admirals would like nothing better than to actively support his operation but felt hamstrung by their perceived legal obligations. They wouldn't help but they were once again using Macen for their purposes.

Starfleet Intelligence had been trying to pin something on Adrya for over a decade with little success. Although every law enforcement official in the quadrant knew who and what the Bajoran was, on a padd he looked perfectly legitimate. Adrya's space station provided a perfect front. Between its ore processing operations for the local belt miners and repair and refit yards, the station was a boon in and of itself.

If Macen's raid on the facility bore fruit, Starfleet Intelligence and the SID would pounce upon the data and hand it over to the local UFP prosecutor. If Macen came up empty, it could be blamed on a renegade and Outbound Ventures would receive a slap on the wrist. It was a classic realpolitik gambit and Macen's crew were the potential sacrificial lambs.

It was a position that both Macen and his crew were used to. This level of plausible deniability was exactly the reason that the SID had originally helped found and equip Outbound Ventures then hired them to conduct missions on their behalf. It had been an arrangement that, despite the bureaucratic entanglements, Macen had enjoyed.

The changing political climate at Starfleet had forced Macen and his crew out. They had recruited other abruptly unemployed privateers to the Outbound Ventures fold. The company had proven a highly successful venture both in the market economy of Barrinor and within the cashless borders of the Federation.

Macen's contacts inside of Starfleet had passed on rumours of sweeping reforms in the wake of Edward Jellico's rotation out of the position of Chief of Operations. Although promoted to the position of a theatre commander, he no longer had his seat on the shadowy security powerhouse of Starfleet, the Council of Five. In the wake of Jellico's departure, the SID was retooling the entire organisation in order to regain the prestige and proven success rate it had enjoyed before the dismissal of the independent contracted personnel. Macen had half expected Nechayev and Drake to ask him to return to the SID during their appearance at the wedding. Unfortunately, their response to the crisis had been far removed from Macen's hopes.

If I were to be truly honest with myself, Macen silently admitted, I want to go back to the SID. I miss it, despite my misgivings over operational restrictions and bureaucratic entanglements. The Fates know I miss it with all of my heart. We've done good work out here but it lacks the drive and sense of purpose that Starfleet provides.

With one last forlorn look at T'Kir's things adorning their cabin, Macen exited the space and entered the corridor outside, heading for the turbolift. Macen had been unable to contact T'Kir through their telepathic rapport since moments after her capture. He occasionally felt an unsettling stupor wash over him but there was never anything definite to even indicate whether or not she was still alive. The thought of her death filled the void left by her absence with an all-consuming cold rage that threatened to overwhelm him. It was a dispassionate, logical anger that would enable him to kill and keep on killing until every member of Adrya's organisation was dead.

It was this capacity for cold-blooded decisions that frightened Starfleet's counsellors. Macen had failed all of his psychological evaluations since the mid-2360s. This hadn't prevented him from being slated to assume command of a Nova-class surveyor when it rolled out of the Verge Cluster shipyards. His assignment to infiltrate the Maquis had sidetracked him.

Macen's tenure as the absolute master of the Solstice and her predecessors had been marred by his doubts in his own command abilities. These doubts had necessitated, in his mind, Macen's recruitment of Riker into the Outbound Venture's fold. Although Macen lacked a formal education in starship operations, he had a fundamental, instinctive grasp of the realities of command born from his decades as a Starfleet Intelligence analyst.

On the ground, Macen was a natural leader. His years as a field operative and Maquis operative served him well. His natural charisma and confidence inspired others. This mission was no exception. The crew was about to fly off to face an entire space station filled with hostiles yet they were absolutely convinced in their ability to win.

Now as he stepped onto the bridge, he was once again struck by the sheer professionalism of his crew. They may have been loose with protocol but they were still among the best he'd ever worked with. Starfleet had been lucky to work with them. Their expulsion from the SID was Starfleet's loss, as the SID's plummeting success rate had proven.

"Pre-flight check complete, Commander." Grace reported.

"Y'know, this'd be easier if you simply used your Attuner to whisk us there." Riker remarked.

Grace stiffened. Riker had made it no secret that he still hadn't fully forgiven Hannah for altering his memories. Stinging comments such as this one had been made before. Macen understood the crew's general feelings towards Grace's admission three years ago to being a Kelvan rather than a human. Being revealed as a member of a potential invading species and of spying on the Federation and her primary protector was a hard fact to swallow.

Dracas, while he'd been part of the crew, had possessed the strongest feelings of betrayal. Riker probably harboured the most resentment of any current crewmember. Kort and Radil each kept a wary eye on Grace. Daggit and Danan were cautious but had opted to give her another chance...within reason. T'Kir was the only member of the crew fully embrace Grace and Macen suspected that T'Kir's affections were the young helmswoman's only reason for staying.

Macen himself was divided on the issue. Grace's mental and emotional control was so tightly focused as to block T'Kir's telepathy and Macen's own empathic abilities. Only the strongest of emotions leaked through her natural defences, such as now. Grace was angry and hurt.

Part of Macen felt sorry for her but her past indiscretions had hardened him somewhat towards her. He still felt she deserved one last chance at redemption; however, he was convinced she still had one more surprise in store for the crew. He suspected it had to do with her true identity rather than her previous association with Section 31. S31 had written her off far too easily for such a relatively junior asset to merit much attention from her controllers.

Macen hadn't shared his suspicions with anyone, least of all T'Kir. If Grace were truly on the path of redemption, such as the last three years indicated, then he didn't want to prejudice the crew against her. His own qualms were based on empathic flashes gleaned from high stress moments. Even under emotional duress, Grace maintained rigid emotional walls when discussing her people. That indicated to Macen that she hadn't revealed all of the Kelvans' ambitions or plans.

When it concerned flight ops, though, the woman was all business. She stuffed down her emotions between their usual barriers and focused on her controls and waited for the launch order. Danan sat beside her at Ops and leaned over to offer a few words of encouragement. The effect was immediate. Grace's shoulders relaxed and she sat more easily in her chair.

Macen approached Riker, who was seated in the command chair, "Can I have a word with you XO?"

Riker's eyebrows rose at the use of the diminutive of his actual title, "Do you want to take her out?"

"I'd like a private word with you." Macen said so low only Riker could hear it.

The taller man stood up and followed Macen past Daggit's post and into the briefing room. Once the doors closed behind them, Macen turned, leaned against the table and folded his arms across his chest.

"What the hell just happened out there, Tom?"

"What do you mean?" a puzzled Riker asked.

"Your remarks to Hannah." Macen enlightened him, "They were uncalled for."

"She didn't play with your mind, Brin." Riker growled, "She frinxed with mine and I'm not going to let her forget it."

"No one's saying anything about forgetting." Macen assured Riker, "What I'm talking about is forgiveness and second chances. The crew voted on this and agreed to let her stay on."

"No." Riker shook his head and pointed a finger at Macen, "You decided to let her stay on, despite the fact that she's misled you twice, and the rest of the crew just went along with it. I wasn't even around to object."

Riker could sense Macen's mood. Despite the Captain's relaxed posture, he was coiled and ready for action. Riker didn't quite understand why he was pushing Macen so hard, but he also knew he wasn't through yet.

"Exactly why do you keep her around, or most of the crew for that matter?" Riker demanded, "We're an assortment of misfits. We're all non-functional in your average, mundane settings."

"Is that why you keep us around, because we can't live without you? Does your ego depend upon the worship of your subjects?" Riker accused, "I've seen your psych profile. Admiral Drake showed it to me when I first signed on. She wanted me to know whom I'd be working with. You're such a jumbled mass of psychoses that its no wonder Starfleet kicked you out...twice!"

"You want to really know why you married T'Kir?" Riker taunted, "She's the only one crazy enough to say 'yes'. You two are both so mental that you deserve...urk!"

Macen moved so fast Riker never saw it coming. In one fluid chopping motion, Macen drove his knuckles into his XO's throat. Riker went down on his knees, clutching at his throat and gasping for air."

"You have a problem with me, that's fine." Macen said without emotion, "But leave my wife out of it, or I'll hurt you. This is merely a lesson. Next time, I won't hold back."

Macen exited the briefing room, leaving Riker doubled over and wheezing as his swelling throat partially constricted his airway. On his way to the command chair, Macen stopped by Daggit's Tactical console.

"Thanks for all those unarmed combat lessons. We still on for sparring tonight?"

"If you think you're up for it." Daggit grunted.

Macen nodded, "It'll take my mind off things."

Daggit gave him a thin smile, "Then I'll be ready at the usual time."

"Oh," Macen said as an afterthought, "If Commander Riker emerges anytime soon, send him to Sickbay."

"I'll do that." Daggit said with a nasty smile. There had been little love lost between the two men since Riker had tried to usurp Daggit's ground command during the very rescue operation that had liberated Riker. Riker was a starship operations officer and had no place attempting to assume command. By implication, by insisting he was the ship's captain, he'd tried to usurp Macen's command as well. These events had created a slightly antagonistic relationship between the two ship's officers.

"Go easy on him Rab." Macen advised, "He needs to save a little face."

Daggit grumbled a bit but nodded his compliance.

The departure and transit to Starfarer Station was accomplished in just under a day and a half. Riker had recovered and acted as though the confrontation between he and Macen had ever occurred. His manners towards Grace, however, had improved. Macen could detect his emotions and knew it was merely a façade but at least it was a pleasant façade.

Currently, the Solstice approached the Kuiper belt surrounding the binary primaries that the Starfarer Station orbited. They maintained their cloak as they approached the massive Ort cloud that surrounded the system, or systems. The G1I primary held five gas giants in thrall. The subsidiary G3V star "wobbled" the orbits of these worlds as they passed within its sphere of gravitic influence.

The Oort cloud encompassed the outer gravitic influence of the twin stars. Starfarer Station was at a mid-point between the outer and inner gravity wells of the stars. The station stayed out of the giant star's massive sway but instead rode in a microgravity orbit around both stars.

The Solstice was traversing the Ort cloud on a ballistic course. This was to defeat any potential remote senor platforms hidden amongst the cometary fragments. The ship's impulse engines would spew superheated plasma into an ice field. Not a recipe for a stealthy entrance.

"Captain," Danan's voice sounded over the intercom from Astrometrics, "we've just been lit up by active sensors. The source is nearby, from within the comet field."

"Has our cloak been penetrated?" Macen calmly inquired, pulling up Danan's readings on his InfoSys board.

There was a pause then a relieved sounding voice, "It doesn't appear so. Active sensors are cropping up across the field in a random sequence."

The Solstice herself was operating only on passive sensors. This meant that, effectively, she could only "listen" to other electromagnetic and subspace transmissions. The ship was essentially blinded in comparison to her usual capabilities. Fortunately, the visual feed of the main viewer was unaffected.

Several tense hours passed by before Danan announced, "We're clear of the sensor net and the Oort cloud."

"Engage impulse engines," Riker ordered, "but maintain silent running."

The Solstice surged forward. Freed from the cumbersome restraint of ballistic flight, the ship truly came to life.

"Estimate 5.6 hours to target present speed." Grace reported.

"Captain?" Riker deferred.

"Go to maximum impulse and recalculate." Macen said emotionlessly.

"Adjusting speed and recalculating." Grace obeyed, "Estimate now 4.3 hours to target."

Macen rose from his station, "Maintain course and speed. I'll be in my office. Alert me if anything changes."

"Aye aye, sir." Riker acknowledged with a nod.

Blearily, T'Kir's eyes fluttered open. They were half lidded and she felt drunk. I've been drugged, she realised, Whoever did this to me is going to pay!

Her addled brain began registering sensations. Her armpits hurt and she slowly realised she was propped up by a pair of restraints. She tried to move her hands but they were shackled to the same cylindrical pipe she was propped up against. She knew it was cylindrical because she could feel the curve of it in her back.

She tried her feet next but they were also confined. She then tried to arch her back in order to scissor her body and throw her considerable strength into breaking the restraints but her waist was tethered to the pipe. As her vision cleared, her sapphire eyes came to rest on a Bajoran male standing before her. Psychotic glee lit up the man's face.

"A bit addled are we, dear?" the Bajoran asked, "That's to be expected. You were stunned the moment you materialised aboard the Treasure Hunter and then you were kept sedated for the rest of your journey here."

"And where exactly is here?" T'Kir croaked.

"Starfarer Station." he replied, "My own personal headquarters."

Great, T'Kir thought miserably, not only am I not on my honeymoon, but I'm in the clutches of a sadist like Adrya Jeklan.

"And why am I here?" T'Kir asked though her throat was still raw.

"You are the bait." Adrya said casually, as if discussing the weather, "You and your crewmates terminated an operation of mine. A highly lucrative operation at that. I have a certain reputation. Now, a reputation can be little more than gossip but I think I've established mine with both word and deed."

"You and your companions threaten my reputation. How would it look if someone was to interfere in my business and I did not respond? People would begin to doubt my resolve and I can't allow that. So that brings us to your current predicament."

Adrya graced her with a particularly nasty smile, "It is said that Captain Macen is intensely loyal to his crew. How much more devoted is he towards his blushing bride? We're about to find out. Unfortunately, you won't survive much beyond his arrival but at least you'll die knowing he cares."

The gangster leaned in towards her, "In the meantime, you'll share all the intimate details of the capabilities of Macen's ship and crew."

"Go frinx yourself, Jerk Off." T'Kir snarled, "I won't betray my crew."

Adrya sighed then shrugged, "Then we'll just have to resort to torture." His psychotic leer returned, "I do so love the torturing."

"I don't think so shukhied." T'Kir said resolutely and narrowed her eyes. A moment later they widened in shock.

"Surprised?" Adrya asked gleefully, "Harvis, Grell, show yourselves."

From around either side of the cylinder, two men appeared. On T'Kir's right was a huge, bulging Nausicaan. That was saying something for a race that was already predisposed towards those traits. The second, on her left appeared human, but was very nervous and agitated. Something in his underlying behaviour marked him as a non-human.

"On your right is Grell." Adrya happily made the introduction. Grell stuck a knife between his mandibles and licked the blade; "Grell is my chief assistant when...persuasive methods are required."

"Since he was already here, "T'Kir said dryly, "I'll assume torturing me has been your plan all along."

Adrya grinned like a child pilfering cookies, "I've been caught. But it's time for you to meet my real ace-in-the-hole. Harvis is a Betazoid. You're rumoured to have first-rate psychic abilities. Harvis is here to prevent you from frinxing with our minds."

It was T'Kir's turn to break into a nasty smirk, "That worm won't save you. You belong t'me. I'll see you dead before this over."

Adrya met her eyes and accepted the challenge in them, "We'll see about that. Grell hit the switch."

Electricity arced through T'Kir's body and her nervous system overloaded, nearly knocking her unconscious. Adrya shook his head.

"Take it down a notch, Grell. We don't want her passing out on us."

T'Kir's eyes began to clear and nodded, "Good. You're back. Now we'll try this again. Grell, hit it."

Searing pain lanced itself throughout T'Kir's body. Harvis winced. Adrya walked over to him as the electrical surge ended.

"Buck up man." Adrya urged, "We've hours of this ahead."

Harvis gave him a wan smile.

"Have you gotten anything yet?" Adrya sobered.

Harvis shook his head, "Her mental shields are still too strong. I am getting psionic feedback though. I feel a portion of what she does. I'd have broken by now."

"Which is why she's a soldier and you're what she called you: a worm." Adrya sneered.

Adrya returned to his position before T'Kir, "Ready to talk now?"

"Go to hell." she managed to rasp.

Adrya clapped his hands together, "I hoped you prove to be a challenge. Grell..."

The Solstice was currently within the station's inner ring of defence, floating just beyond its docking pylons. When she unleashed her firepower it would be devastating. Inside the ship, on her bridge, however, things were not so settled.

"This is not open to discussion!" Macen said emphatically, "T'Kir is alive and they are currently torturing her. Radil and I are the assault team. Everyone else remains aboard and provides the distraction and then, hopefully, the extraction."

"How can you know she is being tortured?" Kort inquired. So far, the good doctor had remained completely sober. The test of his resolve remained to be seen in the duration of this latest attempt at sobriety.

"T'Kir and I share a telepathic rapport." Macen answered, "We have for just under six years now. They've been electrocuting her but it seems as though they're about to switch methods."

"If your minds are linked, how are you able to function?" Riker wondered.

"T'Kir's shielding me and repelling a psychic probe by a Betazoid." Macen's eyes darkened, "She has a hole card to play and she's going to have to play it soon or break. We have to be in position by the time she makes her move."

"I still don't understand why I can't accompany you." Daggit complained.

"I need your precision with fire control here on the bridge." Macen repeated to Daggit, "When you're shooting, you have to leave certain sections intact so we can make our withdrawal. Parva, when we drop the cloak, you'll be able to scan the interior of the station. Beam as close to the central core as you can."

The public records on Starfarer Station that Macen had pulled up excluded information on the central core. It was the consensus of the crew that this is where Adraya's criminal empire resided. It was into this scorpion's nest that Macen and Radil were headed.

"Radil, you and I will gear up. Parva, ready the transporter. The rest of you, good luck and happy hunting." Macen said stepped away from the Tactical console and headed for the turbolift where Parva and Radil waited.

"Give 'em hell, sir" Grace called out.

"That's from all of us." Riker added, giving Grace a sidelong reprimanding glance.

"Thanks Hannah." Macen gave her a grim smile, "I plan on it."

"In case you haven't noticed, you have electrodes attached to your lovely dress. These electrodes are repeated in your shackles. They can transmit electricity at any voltage, even down to the neurochemical level. Grell, give our guest a mild demonstration. T'Kir suddenly had the worst Charlie horse she'd ever experienced in her thigh. It subsided and she whimpered slightly.

Adrya looked to Harvis, who shook his head, "Are you ready to talk?"

T'Kir wearily lifted her head and began to laugh. Her voice was hoarse and ravaged by screaming. There was a fierce confidence in her eyes that Adrya found disconcerting.

"You're a corpse." T'Kir warned, "You just don't know it yet."

Adrya stepped back and his eyes shifted nervously, "Grell! Give this bitch a taste of what it means to burn in hell."

Grell tapped a control and T'Kir's body spasmed. An endless scream was ripped from her lips.

The Solstice decloaked and fired two torpedoes into the hull of the station. Grace then fired the manoeuvring thrusters and repositioned the ship even as Daggit unleashed a volley of phaser fire designed to eliminate Starfarer's defensive capabilities. During this havoc, Macen and Radil materialised outside a hatchway leading to the central core.

Macen staggered. Radil gripped his shoulder, "You okay?"

Macen nodded and straightened up, "We don't have much time."

Radil checked the power cell on her rifle, "Then let's do it."

"Ladies first." Macen bowed.

"Time to kick some ass." Radil growled and shot the hatches lock. The door slid aside, "Oh look, it came open. I guess they want us to enter."

Despite the situation, Macen chuckled, "I guess so."

"I know you've done this before but we have to do this right." Radil advised, "Shoot anything that moves and shoot to kill. No Starfleet squeamishness."

"No worries." Macen said flatly, "These frinxers signed their death warrants the minute they kidnapped my wife."

"I still can't believe you two got married."

"Don't start."

"Okay, but its just weird."

Macen sighed.


Chapter 6

The deckplates shook and Grell deactivated the muscular defibrillator. The room's comm panel began chiming and Adrya stormed over to it, "What the hell was that?"

"A ship suddenly appeared on our sensors and opened fire on us." the nameless minion answered.

"So destroy it." Adrya replied angrily.

"We can't!" the gangster wailed, "She's inside our defence perimeter and has already destroyed the bulk of our arsenal."

"Deploy the light attack craft and the runabouts." Adrya ordered, "Have them deal with the problem."

Adrya stalked back to T'Kir and delivered a vicious left cross. T'Kir's head rolled, then a copper taste filled her mouth and she spat blood from her split lip.

"How?" Adrya demanded, "How did they do it and what else can they do?"

T'Kir coolly assessed Adrya, "I told you all that I will. You're a dead man. I suggest you make peace with your gods, but hurry, you don't have much time left."

"Grell, throw the switch and let her die in contorted agony." Adrya commanded.

Grell remained immobile, frozen in position, "Grell, what the hell is the matter with you?"

Harvis suddenly let out a bloodcurdling scream and clutched the sides of his head. Adrya wheeled and faced T'Kir, "You!!!"

T'Kir graced him with the coldest smile he'd ever seen, "I warned you. I advised you to quickly make peace with your gods but nooo, you had to be a typical male and not listen. Now listen to this: you are going to die."

Adrya went for his disruptor but found that his left hand couldn't complete the cross-draw. He felt a trickle of blood dribble from his nose across his lips. His vision darkened and colours began to swirl around him. In his last moments of life, searing pain wracked his brain and an ear splitting cry was torn from his lips. Afterwards, his body collapsed into a convulsing heap, as if broken.

T'Kir turned towards the burly Nausicaan. He robotically shuffled towards her. Upon arriving before her, he began unlatching her restraints. When he'd completed his task, T'Kir removed his disruptor from its holster and placed its barrel against Grell's forehead. She fired and the henchman fell over backwards with a burn mark in his forehead.

T'Kir removed her kimono, a move she was loathe to do but it would only get in her way. She removed Adrya's Klingon disruptor from its holster and tucked into the rear waistband of her black silks. She then dealt with Harvis.

She knelt beside the Betazed and shook her head, "Tsk, tsk. You want to know what its like to be a first level mind reader? Well, let's show you."

T'Kir placed her left hand to Harvis' katra points and intently stared at the man's face as he whimpered and shivered. Adding her psionic strength to his, Harvis was soon able to read the minds of everyone on the station. The surrounding spacecraft followed. Soon his sensitivity expanded and he was embracing the minds in the neighbouring solar system. His mind reached out until it touched the entire sector.

It was an experience few could grasp. To touch a piece of infinity was beyond the ken of most mortals. The majority would be broken by such an experience. Harvis certainly was.

Harvis stared vacantly into space and drooled. T'Kir doubted he'd ever recover. She wasn't certain she ever had or ever would. She'd learned to get by. Her meds kept the universe at bay and that was enough. Her anchor kept her feet on the ground and he had arrived and was coming for her. It was time to meet him.

She retrieved Grell's disruptor from where she'd laid it on the floor and glided to the door. She sensed the minds of three bodyguards outside. T'Kir took a deep breath and readied herself. Her muscles burned and she was still shaky from the shock treatments. Most would say that she was in no shape to fight but she'd learned otherwise in the Maquis.

T'Kir activated the door and it slid open. All three bodyguards turned expectantly. They all hesitated for a split second at the shock of seeing her instead of Adrya exiting the torture chamber. T'Kir delivered a powerful kick to the guard in front of her. She swung her left elbow into the face of the Andorian female standing to that side. She swung her hand into position and shot the Mafioso on her right.

Strong, blue arms wrapped themselves around her. T'Kir thrust her left elbow into the Andorian's diaphragm and then pitched herself forward, bring her leg up to kick the guard from over her back. She swung around to face the third bodyguard.

The Trill had risen from a prone position, his jaw shattered, "Gemf yrrr hanfsh oop." He gestured upwards with his phaser.

T'Kir bent over and dropped Grell's disruptor on the deck plating. She then dove to the deck herself, scooping up the fallen disruptor and shooting the Trill in the chest.

T'Kir rose and studied the fallen man's corpse.

"That was certainly easy." she remarked, "I just imagined you were Lisea Danan."

For three years now, the Trill scientist had quietly urged Macen to abandon his relationship with T'Kir and resume their previous romance. It had only been subtly overt during the first year. Since then Danan had taken on a series of lovers and only broached the matter in a joking manner. As a reader, though, T'Kir could taste the sincerity behind the humour.

T'Kir had warned off Danan on two previous occasions. The second demonstrating her ability to separate Lisea's mind from the Danan symbiont. It had shaken the Trill so badly that she'd barely spoken three words to Macen outside of an official capacity for months. Now, although Danan didn't honestly expect favourable results, the game had become a challenge. A challenge that was quickly losing its appeal, especially now that Macen had formally pledged himself to T'Kir through an act of marriage. Disrupting a marriage was taboo even amongst the otherwise liberated Trill.

T'Kir consulted a nearby station diagram and decided on a course based upon where Macen currently was. They'd intercept one another barring heavy resistance or death. The odds of either eventuality were still inordinately high for T'Kir's tastes. If I could get to a computer terminal with mainframe access, she thought, I'd show these buggers better than t'mess with me and mine.

She checked the power cell on her disruptor and switched with the larger, Klingon model. The power cell of the first weapon was barely drained. She wouldn't have bothered swapping the two guns except that the Klingon pistol was far more cumbersome and was poking her in the back. Having accomplished that and determined her next course of action, T'Kir set out to join Macen.

"So," Radil asked, looking at the four-way intersection stretching out before them, "which way?"

"I don't know." Macen admitted, "I'm making this up as I go. What I do know is that T'Kir is free and she's that way."

Macen pointed at the point between the forward and right passageway. Radil pursed her lips, "Well that certainly helps."

"Ah hell," Macen shrugged, "let's go right."

"Why right?"

"T'Kir informed me she at least knows how to rendezvous with us if we head right."

"Good reason."

"Commander," Daggit reported coolly, "we have a host of light attack craft and runabouts headed our way."

"What's the status of the station's defensive grid?" Riker inquired, stroking his beard.

"Destroyed except for one photon torpedo launcher and two disruptor banks."

The next set of orders were meant for both Daggit and Grace, "Break off from the assault on the station. Engage the enemy craft."

"Aye, aye." Grace sang out. Daggit silently began retargeting his weapons. Riker was, as always, pleased with the crew's efficiency. Despite their lax mannerisms, they were among the best in the business.

"I still say we should have shot those two sentries." Radil complained.

"Our knives killed them just as efficiently so why complain?" Macen wondered.

"Because we got into a physical confrontation." Radil shot back, "They could have incapacitated one, or both, of us and raised the alarm."

"Discharging energy weapons could have alerted their security forces as well." Macen replied, "I'd rather take the chance of the enemy finding two stabbed corpses then being pinpointed by the station's internal sensors."


Macen briefly wondered if T'Kir's speech patterns were going to affect the entire crew. Grace was bad enough but if Radil was going to start spouting T'Kirisms, he didn't know if he could take it. He found the trait adorable in his wife. Mimics tended to annoy him.

Okay, he amended, not so much with Hannah. She needs to loosen up a bit.

A corner loomed ahead. Radil took up position at the edge of the corner and raised her rifle to her shoulder. She then stepped out from behind the corner. No one appeared to be in the large room that lay before them.

Macen followed her into the room. It appeared to be the coolant pump room for an old-fashioned fusion reactor. The design was at least two centuries old. A door was across the way, behind a maze of pipes.

Macen took point and Radil covered him. Macen took four steps forward and an armed pirate tech suddenly appeared to his left. Macen quickly drew his pistol and shot the main dead centre in the chest. Alarms began to sound and warning lights flashed.

"What happened to not discharging our phasers?" Radil asked dryly.

"I'm fine." Macen retorted, "Thanks for asking."

The door across the way opened and five gangsters rushed in.

"Take cover!" Macen yelled and dove behind some pipes.

"Thanks for the advice." Radil remarked from her position behind an equipment control bank. She took aim with her rifle and opened fire on the onrushing criminals. Macen joined in and they swiftly dispatched the first five security sentients. To their dismay, a second waved appeared in the doorway and were much better prepared. They laid down suppressive fire as their sentries advanced. Macen and Radil returned fire as best they could but the patrol was dangerously close.

The lone sentry slumped to the floor thanks to a surreptitious nerve pinch. T'Kir lifted the man's phaser rifle from him. She disposed of the Klingon disruptor at the nearest refuse chute. The energy converters reduced the pistol's molecules to an energy state and funnelled it back into the station's replicator network.

Where are you? she telepathically queried Macen.

In the reactor pump house with half of the station's security forces on the other side of the room. he thoughtcast in reply.

How'd that happen? she asked disapprovingly

Trying to rescue you. he answered in an exasperated tone.

Well, hold on, she counselled, I'm on my way.

Hurry. he suggested and T'Kir picked up her pace.

The Solstice dove and weaved between the attack craft and the station's spires. The station was essentially two onion domes connected by a central core. The external docking pylons branched off this core. The rest of the pylons were internal, accessible through large space doors that led to a cavernous space within the station's hull.

Grace wove the ship in a concentric spiral around the station's ore processor. The attack craft pumped phaser blasts and disruptor bolts into the station's extension. Explosions erupted from the ore processor's bowels and it separated from the primary station.

The attack craft pilots seemed stunned by this turn of events. Lifepods and shuttles began pouring forth from the crippled ore processor. Grace forced herself not to wonder how many innocents had just died. I didn't fire. she reminded herself, And can anyone in this system truly be considered innocent? She had no answers but at least the questions wouldn't haunt her.

Taking advantage of the opposing pilots' distraction, Grace looped the Solstice over and buzzed the station. She skirted the hull as the station's sole remaining torpedo launcher and two surviving disruptor banks attempted to bracket them. In addition, the light attack pilots had recovered and were in pursuit. Wearing a predatory smile, Grace aimed for the shipyards. Let's see if they'll repeat past mistakes.

Well before she could see the man and woman laying down suppressive fire for their comrades, T'Kir's acute hearing detected the discharges of the energy weapons several corridors away. She nestled her rifle into her shoulder and took aim at the closest sentry, which in this case happened to be the male partner of the duo. He immediately went down. Them woman saw this out of the corner of her eye and instantly swung her heavy rifle around and brought it to bear on T'Kir.

It was a valiant effort but it was too late. T'Kir merely had to shift her aim slightly to her right and the Ktarian woman was in her sights. T'Kir fired without hesitation, Like her colleague before her; the woman was already dead when she hit the deck. T'Kir then took up position where the Ktarian had been and began firing into the assembled crowd of gangsters from the rear.

Macen ejected the spent power pack from his phaser pistol and rammed home a fresh one. He then took aim and shot an encroaching pirate in the head. Radil felt the all too familiar tingling in her palm indicating that her phaser rifle too was drained. While Macen held the opposition at bay, she too swapped out powerpacks. She resumed firing only to discover that someone was firing at the attacking corsairs from behind!

Macen turned to her, grinning like a maniac, "That's my girl!" he declared proudly.

They really are that stupid. Grace observed in surprise. The shipyard gantries and framework was intact. The ships that had been undergoing servicing though were a different matter. Most were wrecks, hulled and gutted. Grace just couldn't believe any pilot, no matter how inept, could inflict so much damage upon their own infrastructure. Now, though, she was in line for the station's defences as well as the pursuing fighters.
Riker stroked his beard and leaned forward in the command chair, "Hannah, Rab, we're through running from these bastards. Take them out. Take them all out."

Grace grinned with relish. This was the moment she'd been waiting for. She banked the Solstice sharply down the station's axial line. A torpedo intended for the scoutship destroyed a runabout. Disruptor bursts meant for the Blackbird-class vessel also crippled several of the pursuing light attack craft.

Daggit directed several phaser blasts and a brace of torpedoes at the station's remaining defences, destroying them. Grace then flipped the ship over and headed directly into the face of her pursuers. Daggit readied the weapons array and began firing as soon as the scoutship was reoriented. Their first past crippled or destroyed half of the dilapidated pursuit craft. Grace looped the ship over once again and dove right into the midst of the retreating fighters.

Once again, Daggit was ruthlessly efficient. A dozen or so light attack crews were pleading for help but Riker ordered the Solstice back to the station.

"Let's assist the Captain before we worry about scum like this."

Grace felt the same way. It was a shame that Riker had such strong negative feelings towards her. In many ways they were quite compatible. She'd never expect a romance to blossom but at least they should be friends, like she and Daggit were. If only she hadn't been forced into altering his memory.

"Bring us alongside the station at our original insertion point and await the Captain's signal." Riker ordered.

"Aye, sir." Grace replied crisply.

Caught in a crossfire, the criminal thugs didn't last very long. Once they were dispatched. T'Kir stepped out from her position in the doorway and cast her nearly drained rifle aside. Macen and Radil emerged from the labyrinth of pipes they'd secreted themselves in. Macen picked up his step and rushed to meet T'Kir in the middle of the corpse littered empty space between the opposing doorway and the coolant pipes. Taking refuge amongst the pipes had proven to be a saving grace since the pirates had been afraid to rupture a pipe, and rightly so. These old fashioned reactors were touchy at the best of times.

Macen swept T'Kir up in his arms and fiercely kissed her, "I was so afraid I'd lost you."

"So was I." T'Kir admitted, "You nearly did."

"Where's Adrya?" Macen asked, cold rage swelling inside of him.

"Taken care of, Love." T'Kir assured him. She thoughtcast images of Adrya's death throes into Macen's mind and he settled down.

"Good." he said flatly, "Couldn't have done a better job m'self."

"Now," T'Kir said hopefully, "can we get outta here?"

"Radil?" Macen inquired.

Radil shrugged off the backpack she'd lugged up till this time. She extracted a small, rectangular device and keyed in an activation sequence. Several lights came on and Radil grinned.

"Beacon activated." Radil reported.

"What's that?" T'Kir inquired.

"A communications relay beacon." Macen answered, "Our comm badges alone won't penetrate the shielding around the central core but augmented by this beacon, the signal should get through."

"Should?" T'Kir sounded.

"Have a little faith." Macen urged with a mischievous smile, "In the meantime, let's wreak some havoc."

"I'm game." T'Kir replied, "What d'you have in mind?"

"Let's rupture these pipes." Macen explained.

"Are you nuts?" Radil demanded.

"They're filled with water." Macen informed them, "Water won't kill us."

"Isn't it superheated water?" T'Kir pointed out.

"Yeah, well," Macen hedged, "we'll have to do it from the cover of a doorway."

"This is crazy." Radil declared.

"I'll give it a whirl." T'Kir shrugged.

"What the hell did you just say?" Radil asked

T'Kir cocked her head to one side and grinned, "Its better to try then always wonder."

"You're both stupid." Radil snapped.

"You have no idea." T'Kir's grin blossomed into a manic smile.

They moved the beacon to the corridor the criminal sentries had come from. Radil shouldered her rifle while Macen took careful aim from across the way. T'Kir stood by in reserve in case of a miscalculation resulting in an accident.

"Fire!" Macen ordered and he and Radil cut loose. They scythed their weapons' energy discharges across the length and breadth of the pipe array. Superheated water and steam erupted from the damaged conduits. Due to the intense pressure, the water sprayed across the room and Macen and Radil both had to abandon their positions.

Macen slapped the hexagonal comm badge on his belt, "Tom, now would be a good time for an extraction."

"Message received." Riker acknowledged then addressed Grace, "You're up, Hannah." he said gruffly.

Reluctantly, Grace pulled her Attuner out of her pocket. This particular piece of Kelvan technology was essential to her society. It could convert thought into reality. It was also something she'd used sparingly since the crew's joint mission with the Tal Shiar.

The near infinite capabilities of the Attuner frightened her crewmates. As per her agreement with the Captain, she now used it only under his direction. He'd only ordered her to employ it once before. That was a surprising amount of restraint for someone that had access to unlimited power. In fact, her use of it now was merely a contingency plan in case the rescue team couldn't be beamed back aboard.

"Lees," Grace said to Danan, sitting beside her at Ops, "Give me a map of the station with their relative position plotted out."

"You've got it." Danan replied and transferred the information to the forward sensor display of Grace's Helm.

Grace studied the plot for a moment then pressed the activation stud on her Attuner and concentrated. A heartbeat later, Macen, T'Kir, and Radil appeared on the bridge. Grace ran to T'Kir and hugged her. T'Kir laughed.

I'm all right, Hannah." then T'Kir sobered, "Or at least I will be."

Grace returned to her seat with one last look over her shoulder towards her friend. Macen took T'Kir aside and whispered in her ear. She frowned and her lips puckered.

"But I'm fine." she protested in a whisper.

"Let Kort decide that." he whispered back, "Don't make it an order."

She went for the turbolift with one last defiant glare. Macen suddenly realised that marriage or not, T'Kir's rebellious nature would continue to taint her performance as a member of the crew. Macen shrugged. The fact that she was a handful was part of the attraction.

"Tom," Macen turned to Riker, "I suggest we get out of here."


"Captain," Danan sounded off, "I'm reading a massive power surge throughout the station's power grid."

"That's why." Macen said matter-of-factly.

"It appears to be an unregulated fusion reaction." Danan explained.

"Bingo." Macen retorted, "A week's leave for the pretty lady."

"Grace, get us the hell out of here." Riker ordered.

"Yes sir!"

"Put the station on the main viewer." Macen ordered. He stood by the command chair as the station erupted from the inside. The viewer's automatic filters toned down the brightness of the tiny, artificial star that was born and swiftly died.

"Well," Riker said philosophically, "there goes Adrya Jeklan's operation. Do you suppose the Orion Syndicate will miss him?"

"Probably." Macen replied, "We'll deal with that contingency if and when it arises."

Riker grinned, "I suppose so. So, two weeks off for everyone when we make port?"

"That's the plan."

"Want the centre seat for awhile?"

Macen shook his head, "I'm going to check on my wife. She just survived being tortured. No matter how strong a person is, that leaves scars."

"You sound as though you're speaking from personal experience."

"You're not the only one to have ever enjoyed Cardassian hospitality." Macen said sadly.

"You'll have to tell me about that someday."

"No." Macen said, "I won't." That said, he proceeded to the turbolift and Sickbay.


Chapter 7

Upon returning to the Outbound Ventures' headquarters, Christine Pike, the corporate business manager informed Macen that he had two visitors. Pike was unusually reticent about discussing who his company was. His empathic senses stretched forth. All he sensed were feelings of apprehension and anticipation from either party.

He rounded a corner and entered the anteroom leading to his office. Seated there was a man whose knees were nervously bouncing. He practically jumped to his feet when he saw Macen. Macen sensed an impression of familiarity despite his having no recollection of ever having met this man.

The fellow was in his mid- to late-thirties with brown hair and eyes. He was slim and compact but his shoulders were square. It took Macen a moment, but he finally saw a hairline scar around the man's face and scalp.

"Dracas, you old dog!" Macen embraced his Chief Engineer then took a seat on one of the couches. Dracas chose a chair opposite him.

"Not so old any more." Dracas laughed.

"No." Macen shook his head, "I guess your time with the Baku did you well."

Dracas nodded, "More than physically. I've learned to accept myself, and to share that knowledge with others."

"No matter how you expect them to react?"

"Especially with how I expect them to react." Dracas said solemnly.

"Do you want your old job back?" Macen asked, "The crew's really missed you."

"What about Parva?" Dracas asked, "How she working out?"

"Parva's fine. Better than fine." Macen exuded, "She'd love to have you back too. She's always complaining how she's understaffed. Personally I think she thrives off it but it would be nice to have engineering covered 24 hours a day."

"All right." I'm in." Dracas said.

Macen rose and shook Dracas' hand, "You came back at just the right time. Everyone's aboard the Solstice packing for two weeks leave."

"Two weeks?" Dracas asked, "What's the occasion?"

"My honeymoon."

"You're married?"

Macen nodded, grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

"To T'Kir?"

Macen's grin became a smile.

"Well frinx me." Dracas said in disbelief, "I never thought it would happen. I knew you were serious enough but I never would have guessed T'Kir was that serious."

"Everyone has hidden depths Chief." Macen counselled philosophically, "Why don't you rejoin your crewmates and find out what their depths are."

"I think I might." Dracas grinned, "Thanks."

"Just remember you have two allies in T'Kir and I no matter what happens next."

"I will." Dracas said gratefully, "Thank you for everything you've already done for me."

Macen watched Dracas leave and silently wished him well. He didn't know an easy way to explain to Dracas that he was currently a nexus of probabilities. Macen couldn't determine why or see where the myriad paths would lead. He just hoped Dracas would listen to the Fates' guidance.

The identity of the guest waiting in his office surprised him. Amanda Drake sat upon his desk, casually trying to access his personal computer terminal.

"You won't have any luck." Macen informed her, "T'Kir personally devised the security and encryption protocols."

"Good to know." Drake smiled and removed herself from the desk, "Can't blame a gal for trying though."

"Why are you here, Amanda?" Macen asked, irritation in his voice, "Does Alynna know you're off the reservation?"

"Actually," Drake smiled, "I'm here at her behest." She handed Macen a padd, "Here's my authorisation and our offer for a contract with Outbound Ventures."

"A contract for what?" Macen asked warily.

"To once again be independent contracted privateers in the employ of Starfleet, specifically the Special Investigations Division of Starfleet Intelligence." Drake answered brightly.

"This has to some kind of frinxing joke." Macen replied angrily, "Three years ago, every captain and crew working for this company was dismissed from your employ for political reasons. Who's to say it won't happen again?"

"As Alynna and I tried to explain at your wedding, the political roadmap of Starfleet Command and the Council of Five has radically changed. The same voices that urged your dismissal have either rotated onto different posts or have been convinced of the necessity of utilising independent assets due to the SID's diminishing rate of closure on our various cases. The whole Division has been crippled. Our undercover operations are laughable at best. We need you, Brin. We need every captain under your corporate umbrella."

"We wouldn't demand or expect an exclusive contract. One or two ships always at our disposal, perhaps on a rotating basis?" she could tell Macen was at least weighing her offer, "There is one caveat to that last request. We insist that your crew always be one of the stand-by crews. You could take on low priority contracts between missions, ones easy to walk away from if necessary. We're willing to back up our offer with a new ship."

"I'm happy with the Solstice." Macen informed her.

"This is a Nova-class surveyor. She's practically custom built for investigative work. Far better than a jury rigged, outdated scoutship." Drake argued, "She's the USS Obsidian and she'd be transferred into your ownership. We'd provide the bulk of the crewmen but they'd be your employees. You'd have access to the latest upgrades at the SPYards. With the Nova-X concept modules being tested out and fitted, it would behove you to accept my offer. The Solstice would of course remain your property as well."

Macen set the padd down on his desk, "I'll peruse this and get back to you."

"Do have an ETA on your answer?"

"When I reply."

"Okay." Drake exhaled heavily, "I'll get out of your way then."

"D'you know the way out?"

"Yes," Drake answered, "I think so."

"Good." Macen replied, "You can see yourself out then."

Drake excused herself and Macen picked up the padd and began reading.

Dracas' return heralded a surprising range of emotions. Parva was apprehensive. Grace was pleased. Daggit was relieved that his friend was safe and had returned. Riker was jovial. Danan was warm and quietly encouraging. Kort was stone-faced. Radil was her usual curt self. T'Kir embraced him and whispered her well wishes in his ear before she left to pack for her trip.

"So," Grace asked excitedly, "what was it like?"

"Enlightening." Dracas said in exultation, "The Baku have mastered the art of living within a single moment. It's rather transcendental."

"What else did you learn?" Grace prodded.

"A lot about myself." Dracas looked about the expectant faces filling the bridge, "I learned to master some of my basic fears."

"Fears of what?" Daggit inquired.

"Of growing old and useless." Dracas gave his friend a lop-sided grin, "But mostly of revealing to you all that I'm a homosexual."

Kort and Parva visibly stiffened. Radil frowned. Grace looked slightly stunned. Danan beamed, proud of her friend's newfound courage. Riker looked about the room and grinned. Daggit's expression was blank, devoid of any emotion.

"I know this may prove a problem for some of you," Dracas pressed onward, "but I'm the same person you've always known."

"I think it's wonderful that you finally feel confident enough in yourself and the group to share something as your sexual identity." Danan announced.

"I think it's great you told us, Dracas." Riker said, extending his hand, "It explains a few mysteries."

Dracas shook Riker's hand, "Thanks. For being so understanding and accepting."

"Ah, frinx it." Grace dropped her arms from their crossed position and slapped her thighs; "I just can't believe T'Kir kept this from me." She stepped forward and hugged Dracas, "I wish you the best, Chief."

Radil stepped forward, "You surprised me Chief, and that's hard to do. I have no hard feelings or resentments." She held out her hand as well. Dracas gladly accepted it.

Next he turned to Daggit, "Rab, I have to be honest. At first I became your friend because I was attracted to you. However, as our friendship developed, I realised we'd never have the relationship I'd originally sought and I no longer cared. Please don't be angry with me."

"How could I be angry with you?" Daggit replied and wrapped his arms around Dracas for a bone-popping hug. "You're one of my closest friends. I could never stay mad at you."

Dracas was close to tears as Daggit released him. "Thank you." he whispered hoarsely.

Dracas now turned to Kort and Parva, who were standing beside one another. Both looked at Dracas with distaste. Homosexuality was taboo in both the Klingon and Orion cultures, not unlike his native Troglyte society on Ardanna IV. Both looked at Dracas with open revulsion. Despite Parva's distaste for her native society, she had taken on some of its core mores. Kort, trying to exemplify the warrior code laid down by Kahless could not accept Dracas' revelation.

This saddened Dracas but some measure of rejection had been expected, even in a supposedly "enlightened" culture. El-Aurians, Humans and Trill had been the guaranteed positive votes seeing as how their cultures had long ago accepted the homosexual portions of their societies. Bajorans were fairly open and accepting but certain hardliners reviled "deviant" sexual identities. Angosians and Kelvans had been a complete mystery to him and could have swung either way.

As a rule, Vulcans disapproved of homosexuality but a small and increasingly vocal portion of the overall population had come "out of the closet", sometimes literally. T'Kir, in her ongoing quest to thumb her nose at typical Vulcan attitudes and in a search for personal development, instantly accepted Dracas' then-secret and assisted him in maintaining his façade.

Kort had been an assured reactionary. Klingons openly despised and reviled homosexuals as the Klingon equivalent of "girly men". Kort had always respected Dracas' talents but there'd been no love lost between them. He had no personal reasons to accept Dracas despite his revelation.

Parva had been the wildcard, and still was. Her years as a sex slave gave an empathy for those whose true sexual tastes are suppressed. She'd also worked with Dracas for a number of years before his transfer to the SPYards. Dracas sensed that her final opinion had not yet been formed. He still had time to sway her decision.

"So," Dracas broke the uncomfortable silence, "what's this about two week's shore leave?"

Riker and Jamie Kirk travelled together to Alaska. Riker intended to reconcile with his father, Kyle Riker, as his erstwhile "brother" already had. Grace, Radil, Daggit, Dracas and Parva had opted to take their leave time together on the ocean world of Pacifica. Danan had returned to Trill to visit family. Kort returned to rehab.

The aircar settled in the snow in front of Kyle Riker's home outside of Valdez, Alaska on Earth. Heart in his throat, Riker pressed the old-fashioned door buzzer. Kirk squeezed his hand and he felt reassured. Even if this reunion was a disaster, at least Jamie was here with him.

"Who is it?" Kyle Riker called out as he approached the door.

"Your son." Tom called back without specifying which son had arrived. Although Riker had memories of his father dated back to sixteen years ago, he'd made no attempt to contact him before now. In a very real sense, he'd never met them before now.

Kyle opened the door and saw Tom and broke into a huge grin, "Will! Come on in. It's freezing out there."

Tom stepped over the threshold, Jamie followed and Tom took a looked around the foyer as Kyle swung the door shut. Its ancient hinges squeaked as the door closed.

"I remember that." Tom said then sniffed the air, "And I remember that."

"You know Betty." Kyle laughed, referring to his maid. Betty Gandy had virtually served as Riker’s mother after his real mother’s death. "Always baking. Betty get out here, its Will."

"Sir, I'm not who you think..." Tom tried to interject.

"And who's this?" Kyle said, appraising Jamie, "You married Deanna, what are doing with another woman? Are you having marital troubles already? I always told you you were a confirmed bachelor."

Betty had entered the room now, "Will, give me a hug."

Tom sighed and held his ground, "Look, I'm not who think I am."

"What do you mean?" Kyle asked warily.

"Did Will ever discuss with you the transporter accident that created two William T. Rikers?"

"Of course." Kyle replied then his eyes widened, "Oh my God! You're the other one. You're Thomas Riker!"

"I'm Tom to my friends." Riker informed them.

"You left Starfleet and joined the Maquis." Kyle recounted, "You revealed the existence of the Obsidian Order's secret shipyards. Sadly, you were handed over to the Cardassian penal system as a reward for your efforts."

Kyle squared his shoulders, "I tried for two years to get you released, then the war started. When it ended, you were gone."

"Actually, I was gone before then." Tom revealed, "The Romulans liberated me. They then expected me to betray Starfleet but I refused. Will actually helped rescue me and I disappeared."

"Some could argue that you betrayed Starfleet when you joined the Maquis." Tom's eyes flashed and Kyle held a hand up, "Your refusal to assist the Romulans convinces me otherwise. However, that doesn't explain where you've been."

"I spent the war years as a charter shuttle pilot." Tom explained, "About a year after the war, a man named Brin Macen recruited me to serve as the first officer for his ship."

"And what kind of ship does he run?" Betty asked.

"He runs a security consultation firm, as well as privateer services for the Federation." Tom described Outbound Ventures, "We're based on Barrinor."

"If memory serves, that's outside the UFP." Kyle pointed out.

Tom nodded, "It expands our customer base. For the first three years after the crew was assembled their primary contract was with Starfleet Intelligence's Special Investigations Division."

"That's a heady position to be in." Kyle remarked.

"Not anymore." Tom sighed, "Approximately three years ago, the SID dismissed all their independently contracted crews. We've been completely independent ever since."

"Not entirely." a bemused Kirk said and poked Tom in the ribs.

"Excuse my manners, Miss." Kyle took her hand, "I'm Kyle Riker, and you are?"

"Jamie Kirk. I'm captain of the SS George Kelly." Jamie disclosed, "My ship and crew are part of the Outbound Ventures family."

"Interesting choice of names for your ship." Kyle said with a combination of amusement and curiosity.

"Jamie's Iotian." Tom divulged."

"Really?" Then we'll have lots to talk about." Kyle remarked with a gleam in his eye.

"Don't interrogate her, Dad." Tom said then caught himself, "Sorry. I didn't mean to impose."

Kyle took Tom by the shoulders and then wrapped his arms around him, "As far as I'm concerned you're as much my son as Will. I hope you will consider me your parent."

Tom fought back tears, "You don't know what that means."

"Let's find out together." Kyle promised him.

Betty was fighting back tears herself. Jamie took her by the elbow, "C'mon Ms. Gandy, tell me all the wicked stories of Tom's childhood."

Betty patted Jamie's arm, "Call me Betty."

Jamie locked eyes with Kyle as Betty led her to the kitchen, "And I look forward to our conversation. I'll tell you all I know.

When the two women had departed, Kyle looked into his son's face, "That one's a keeper, Will...I mean Tom."

Tom grinned, "Don't worry. There are days I still find myself thinking of myself as Will Riker."

"Do you think it will ever change?"

Tom shrugged, "It's easier now but there'll always be days. There's too many memories as Will Riker. But I've also made sixteen years of memories as Tom Riker. Eventually, There'll be more memories as Thomas Riker and it'll be easy to distinguish my identity."

"Here's to that day." Kyle gripped Tom's arm, "Now how about a Saurian brandy?"

Riker smiled broadly, "That sounds perfect."


Chapter 8

Pacifica was a rare gem. It was the only world in the explored galaxy to consist entirely of oceans. Land dwellers could only survive by virtue of the massive floating cities that led to underwater facilities generally built near Pacifican cities. The tourist trade was brisk and accounted for 75% of the Gross National Product.

"Hey Rab!" Grace called out, "Watch this!" Grace nosed her Seadoo vertically into the water and submerged. Several moments later, she erupted from the water several yards from her insertion point. Dracas shook his head.

"Too fancy for me."

Parva gunned her watercraft and shot forward. She aimed for a ramp sticking out of the water. She flew into the air, shifting her weight so that the miniboat began to spin. She landed with a tremendous splash and spun around until she lost momentum and ramped up the throttle. She then sped away from her landing pointing, leaving a concentric wake.

"Woo hoo!" Grace pumped her fist in the air and gunned forward. Parva came about and aimed for a course beside Grace. They passed and slapped their hands together. Parva then turned around and came up beside Daggit.

"Risky." Daggit commented on their last manoeuvre.

Parva shrugged then grinned, "Nothin' any other bold, courageous, daredevil of a fem wouldn't have done."

"Yeah, right." Daggit said with a lopsided grin.

"You should do that more often." Parva suddenly said.

"Do what?"

"Smile." she explained, "You're actually quite a handsome man when you're not Mr. Death and Destruction."

"And when I am?"

"You're kinda scary, but nothing I haven't faced before." a cloud passed over her features and Daggit winced.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to bring up any unpleasant memories."

"Are you gonna ignore most of life?"

"I suppose not."

"Good." Parva lifted her chin defiantly, "I've faced my demons, just as you have. I've survived, so will you."

"What demons?" Daggit inquired, "Mine, I mean. We can discuss yours but you seem reluctant."

"Its not time yet." Parva admitted, "As far as you go, you've shovelled shuk across two life or death conflicts. You've buried friends and countless opponents. You spent ten years in prison because your home planet didn't know what t'do with you. You've lost multiple relationships and your fondest wish is to find a woman that understands your inner turmoil."

"You've been talking to Hannah." he accused, "I'm going to have to talk with that girl."

"She only told me what she thought was good for you." Parva grew intent, "I want to help you, Rab."

"Hey partner!" Radil called out as shed pulled alongside, "C'mon, daylight's burning."

Radil shot off and Daggit grinned at Parva, "Well, I guess we've been summoned.

As Daggit followed Radil, Parva bobbed in place. Dracas pulled up alongside her. Although civil to her nominal superior, Parva had remained distant from her former mentor. Silently, Parva wondered why the man couldn't take a hint.

"So, how long have you been pining away for him?" Dracas asked.

"What?!" Parva recoiled.

"Rab." Dracas offered as way of explanation, "You've got it bad and it's starting to show."

Panicked, Parva forgot her distaste for Dracas, "D'you think he's noticed?"

"No." Dracas grinned, "Rab's rather thick when it comes to matters of the heart."

"How do you know?" she inquired suspiciously.

"You look at him like I used to." Dracas admitted.

The sudden reminder of Dracas' sexual "deviancy" was a slap in Parva's face, "Hal...I know I've been a regular bitch, but what you told us. It's a little hard for me to accept. It won't affect our working relationship but it'll take me some time to get used to. Who knows? I might even come to accept it."

Dracas nodded, "Fair enough. Now that we've played true confessions, what d'you say we catch up with those bums that ditched us?"

Parva graced him with a full smile, "You're on."

Riker and Kirk had been on Earth for three days now. During the day, they explored Terra's wonders. At night they returned to Alaska and Riker's father. That was until tonight. Today they were in the French Quarter of New Orleans, dining at Sisko's. Afterwards they were headed for Paris.

They held hands over the table while they waited for the food. Riker was excited...yet nervous as well. Jamie wondered what could be bothering him. The time with his father was going better than hoped.

A waiter appeared at the edge of the table and laid two plates on it. Jamie closed her eyes and took in the succulent, spicy aroma and smiled. She opened her eyes and gazed deeply into Riker's eyes.

"The food on your planet is so rich." she marvelled, "I'm going to get fat."

"No worries there." Riker assured her, "Even if you did, I'd still love you."

Jamie felt herself blush. She was embarrassed. It was rather unseemly for a starship captain to flush over a compliment. She was used to dealing with life or death decisions on a daily basis for the love of the Sacred Pages.

Later, they travelled to Paris and went walking along a walking path alongside the Seine. Various restaurants and cafes were open but their sumptuous meal clung to their ribs. Riker stopped and drew Jamie to the rail.

"Close your eyes." he whispered into her ear.

"Is this going to get...oh, what's the word...kinky?"

Possibly." she could hear Riker's grin even with her eyes closed.

"Stay here." Riker instructed and moved away from Kirk.

"Okay, you can open your eyes."

Jamie looked around and found him on the other side of a bench. Riker's eyes were bright and expectant. He smiled warmly at her. Their eyes locked and held each other.

Riker's gaze averted from her's and shifted to a spot on the bench between them. Sitting between them was a small, velvet box. Riker urged her on with a hand gesture. Flabbergasted, Jamie picked up the diminutive parcel. She opened it and beheld the most beautiful fire gem solitaire she'd ever seen. For magnificence it rivalled T'Kir's 1-karat emerald.

Riker knelt down beside her, "That ring symbolises my unending love for you. Will you marry me?"

"By the Book!" Kirk exclaimed, "I don't know what to say."

"Whatever you feel." Riker assured her, "I'll understand either way."

"Then yes!" Jamie wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him down for a kiss, "My answer's yes!"

"Wait 'till we tell Mom and Dad." Riker grinned.

"Will they approve?" Jamie frowned with worry.

"Are you kidding?" Riker laughed, "They've been trying to convince me to do this very thing ever since they met you."

Kirk was visibly relieved, "Good. I like your family. I've already lost one family. I don't think I could bear losing another one."

"Don't worry." Riker promised her, "You're already family. This'll just make it official."

She held him tightly and didn't let go for a very long time. Riker wrapped his arms around her and enjoyed her embrace. It was a perfect moment with the perfect woman. When they separated, they walked hand in hand to the closest public transporter station. Their destination was Valdez, where they could pick up their aircar and return to the Riker house.

"Rab," Radil asked as she caught Daggit exiting his room, "do you have a moment?"

"Certainly." he replied. The Outbound Ventures group had been on Pacifica for a week now. Dracas and Daggit had discovered the virtues of volleyball on the resort's artificial beach. Today, Daggit and Dracas' latest victims were to be Grace and Parva.

"Can we talk on the way to the volleyball courts?" Daggit inquired, "The others are expecting me."

"I'd prefer to do this in private." Radil said, "I promise it'll only take a moment or two."

Daggit re-entered his suite and ushered Radil in. Radil sat down on the couch provided for him and patted on the cushion for Radil to join him. Radil sat down and faced him, nervous anticipation across her features. Daggit could not recall ever seeing her this skittish.

"Jenrya, what's wrong?" Daggit asked, concerned.

"Nothing." Radil sighed, "Everything." She rose from the couch and began to pace, "Three years ago, I had to make a choice between committing to Kort or pursuing you. I chose the safe bet. I've since discovered that I made a mistake. I'd like a chance to rectify that mistake."

Daggit rose from the couch, his features carved from stone, "Not a chance in hell."

"What?!" a dumbfounded Radil blurted.

"Three years ago, you made a choice," Daggit responded flatly, "and so did I. I'm done with waiting on you. I won't be a party to your flighty, tornado-like approach to relationships. "I've made my peace with the decisions that were made. I suggest you do the same and move on."

Radil looked shocked. If Daggit were a vindictive man, he'd have enjoyed her expression. As it was, he was deeply satisfied to have the matter out in the open.

"What are you going to do?" Radil snarled venomously, "Run into Grace's arms, or have you done that already?"

Radil could see the rage mounting in his features, clouding his eyes, "Get out." he said with cold precision, just as he did when he was in his "killing" mode.

Radil half ran towards the door and scooted down the outer hallway as fast as decorum would allow. Daggit stared at the closed door for a moment and then left. He needed to get away, to take time to think. The confrontation he'd long dreaded had finally occurred and he needed to reassure himself he'd done the right thing.

Several hours later, at a bar across town, Parva strolled in and saw Daggit at the counter.

"Hey, Sailor," she said with a warm smile, "new in town?"

Blearily, Daggit turned to her, "I want to be alone."

"That much is obvious, chum." Parva replied, "It's taken me the better part of the day to find you."

"Good." Daggit said with satisfaction.

"Listen," Parva began slowly, "Radil told us what happened, and your reaction to her 'suggestion'."

"Frinxing bitch should've kept it private." Daggit slurred, "Between us, y'know?"

Parva nodded solemnly, "I understand. I also understand that you could use some sobering up and then some cheering up. Let's get you back to our hotel and get you some tri-ox."

"How'll that make me sober?" Daggit shook his head.

"It won't." Parva admitted, "But it will eliminate the hangover."

"Sounds good." Daggit replied and pointed towards the door, "Lead on!"

Parva draped his arm over her shoulder and lifted. Her high gravity bred muscles easily supported his weight. She carried him back to the hotel and stopped in his room, she administered a tri-ox hypo and sat back. She was tempted to leave but even more tempted to stay. He needs someone to watch over him, she told herself; I'll stay until he wakes up and see if he's ready to talk then.

Jamie stretched out in the bed beside Tom. They'd been with his father for a week now. Every day was spent learning about his native planet. The evenings were spent discussing interstellar politics with Kyle Riker or wedding plans with Betty. Will and Deanna had largely planned their own ceremony. The participation being accorded them was important to the "family".

Jamie was grateful for Betty's insights and Kyle's attention to detail. She could lay out a complicated fleet manoeuvre but selecting a flattering wedding gown was beyond her capabilities. Kirk had worn a uniform of some kind since she was a teenager. Civilian attire, especially from an alien culture as diverse as the Federation, was a complete enigma to her.

"Don't worry." Tom said, eyes closed, "Everything will be taken care of. Just relax and enjoy it."

"Easy for you to say." Kirk protested, "I'm used to being the one in charge. On this, even you are taking more of an active role then me."

Riker rolled onto his side, "Is that a problem?"

"No." she admitted, "Its just strange. I'm a starship commander for Godfather's sake. You'd think I could select my own invitations."

"The choices are ultimately yours. Remember that and follow your instincts." Riker advised, "Everybody else is just offering suggestions. Well, except for Dad. He's preparing the invitations and the venue. Once we decide where that is, of course."

Kirk frowned, "How are we going to manage a marriage between two ships?"

Riker smiled, "Its been done before. Besides, Outbound Ventures ships are generally in the same vicinity far more often then Starfleet or any military service."

"You've thought this out haven't you?" Jamie smiled.

"Of course I have." Riker grinned.

"Have you given any thought as to how to spend this morning?" she asked coyly.

"As a matter of fact, I have." I was hoping to prove my endurance to you in a ritualistic test of sexual prowess."

"Yum!" Jamie happily replied, "I like it. You have my permission to proceed. One thought though, have you considered locking the door?"

Already done. I did it while we were going to bed."

"Then get over here and ravish me."

"As you command Milady."

Outside the room, Kyle Riker had his ear pressed to the door.

"Kyle, you old pervert!" Betty scolded, "Give the children some privacy."


"No buts." Betty said forcefully, "I have breakfast ready and you're going to eat some of it. Afterwards you're going to town to run some errands for me."

Defeated, Kyle's shoulders slumped, "Yes, ma'am."

Daggit awoke and realised he was back in his room. The next thing he realised was that an arm was wrapped around his torso. He warily looked down and saw an emerald limb holding onto him. Cautiously, he crept out of the bed.

He discovered he was naked, and from what he could see of Parva, so was she. Daggit silently swore and tried to recall how he'd ended up in this situation. He remembered being in the bar and Parva coming to retrieve him. Slowly, ever so slowly, he began to recollect what had transpired.

Oh my gods! Daggit thought, horrified, The things we did!

"Trying to get a handle on the moment?" Parva asked, the sheet falling to her waist.

"You seduced me!" Daggit accused.

"You didn't think so last night." Parva replied matter-of-factly, "In fact, you made the first move. Pretty aggressively as I recall."

Oh shuk! Daggit remembered the events of the previous night.

"Look," Parva said, "I'm not looking for anything. I'd love for something to happen between us but I can live without that. In the interim, how about being friends that have sex?"

"Don't humans refer to that as 'hooking up'?"

Parva shrugged, "I'm not all that familiar with human slang. I know abbreviations and contractions. That's it. Now, what d'you ya say to my proposal?"

"Can I think about it?"

"Sure. And as far as your concerns on how I'd react to your 'programming', I've seen you at your worst and you're still more humane than some of my former masters." Parva rose and the sheet fell from her. Daggit could see every supple curve of her muscular body. "Just don't take forever. I could crazy with desire." Parva dressed while Daggit watched speechlessly.

She glanced over her shoulder as she got to the door, "I have to tell you though, you were the best I ever had."

Daggit found his voice, "I'm flattered, about everything. I have to admit, you were magnificent yourself."

"Just remember that while you're making your decision." With a wink, she was gone. Daggit sat down on the bed and took a deep breath.

"What am I going to do?" he asked himself.

Daggit met Dracas at the volleyball court for their regular time. They were next in line to play. Dracas smiled at Daggit.

"Parva looks content." he said suggestively, "And I noticed she was wearing the same clothes as yesterday as she headed for her room. Her hair was also tousled. Care to explain any of this?"

Daggit felt himself colour but tried to bluff, "What makes you think I know anything about it?"

"C'mon Rab." Dracas argued, "I know how she feels about you."

"For how long?"

"Since I got back."

"Is my personal life being broadcast on the Federation News Service now?" an exasperated Daggit inquired.

"Relax." Dracas assured his friend, "She was mum until I confronted her about it. So, what did she say on the morning after?"

"That she wants to keep things loose for awhile. She'd like a serious relationship someday but will understand if I can't commit." Daggit said incredulously, "She's given me some time to think about it and to get back to her."

"Sounds like your dream relationship."

"That's just it." Daggit shook his head, "Its too perfect."

"Are you completely mental?" Dracas demanded, "She's abstained for you. Do you have any idea how rare that is among Orion women? She loves you, with all her heart. She knows your darker side and will embrace it. You won't ever find a woman this perfect again. You'd be a fool to pass this chance up."

"So," Daggit replied wryly, "tell me what you really think."

"Its your fault I get this worked up." Dracas accused.

"I know." Daggit admitted then gestured towards the volleyball court, "We're up."

"About time." Dracas grumped and stalked onto the sand.

Later that evening, Parva waited at a table at the city's finest restaurant. Daggit had commed her room and left a message requesting that she meet him here. She'd arrived early and was now sitting at his reserved table, heart in her throat. Her heart skipped a beat when Daggit entered the room.

She'd worn a sparkling chiffon gown and he'd worn his Starfleet dress uniform. As a reserve officer, he still had the privilege of donning Starfleet's finest. He sat down across the table from her and placed his hands on the table.

"Have you ordered?" he asked.

Parva shook her head, not trusting her voice.

A waiter approached the table and Daggit ordered wine and an appetizer. When the waiter left, Daggit intently focused on Parva.

"Give me your hands." he instructed and she complied.

"I've thought about what you said," Daggit flashed her a lop-sided grin, "and have been kicked in the posterior by some friends." Grace had echoed Dracas' advice when queried.

"And the short version is: I think it would be a wonderful idea." Parva broke into a beautiful smile and released the breath she'd been holding, "I admire you Parva. I always have. I also respect you, both as a professional and as a person. I'd be honoured and lucky to enter into a relationship with you."

If it was possible, Parva's smile widened and grew brighter. Daggit continued, "We'd have to start out pretty casual at first, at least until we know each other better. We wouldn't start off at the place that the Captain and T'Kir are, or Commander Riker and Captain Kirk. But in time, I think we can get there."

Tears appeared at the corners of Parva's eyes. The waiter returned and hesitated.

"Is this a bad time?"

"No." Daggit replied, "We have to eat sometime."

"All right." he laid the plates down, "Have you had time to decide?"

Daggit turned to Parva, "Are you ready?"

She dabbed her eyes and shook her head. Daggit smiled apologetically, "Can you give us another moment?"
"Certainly." he said as he left.

"Are you all right?" Daggit asked Parva.

"I've never been so happy!" she bawled, "Its overwhelming!"

Daggit took her hands, "We'll embrace it together."

That brought on a new round of tears.


Chapter 9

Macen and T'Kir had enjoyed a week and a half of their vacation on Midgard. It was a temperate class-M world with a full range of seasons. It possessed four interconnected continents of varying size. Roughly 67.9% of the planet was covered by water, all of that by only one ocean. The vast majority of the water was to be found in small to massive freshwater lakes. The largest of which was nearly the size of Earth's Caribbean.

The northern oceanic coastline was rugged, largely consisting of fjords. The south was dominated by kilometres of pristine beaches. The interior of most of the continents was dominated by lush vegetation. One northern continent consisted of coniferous and deciduous forests. The other northern continent was closer to the artic circle and was primarily tundra. One southern continent was rain forest while the other was jungle. High desert separated the northern and southern continents.

Macen and T'Kir had reserved a cabin near one of the major forests on the wooded northern continent. They'd spent their time so far sailing, hiking, and exploring the banks of the lake and the course of the tributary feeding the lake. It had been a special time, relaxing in every way. It was a tonic that helped begin the healing process of the scars left by Adrya's acts of vengeance.

Tonight, it was dusk and T'Kir had no idea where Macen was. Brin, she thoughtcast, where are you? There was no response. Damn the man and his ability to block my telepathy. she fumed

Originally, this trait had been the primary draw for her. Filled with the thoughts of those around her, it had been nice to meet someone who was "safe". However, it was a gift that had its drawbacks. Like now, T'Kir thought to herself.

Her sensitive hearing picked up footsteps coming up the trail that led to a nearby glen. As Macen stepped into the light of the porch, he looked inordinately pleased with himself.

"Where have you been?" T'Kir demanded, "I've been worried sick!"

"I've been setting up a surprise." Macen explained, "A cosy dinner for two."

"Really?" T'Kir's stern mien melted away.

"Certainly." Macen extended his hand, "If you'd accompany me Milady."

Blushing, T'Kir took his hand and wondered just what the hell she was getting into.

Just after Macen and T'Kir left sight of the cabin, T'Kir noticed that candles to either side of it illuminated the walkway. She looked to Macen but he ushered forward with his arm wrapped around her waist. They walked several more metres before coming upon a small glen in the forest. Candles were carefully placed all over, on the ground, in the boughs of trees and on rocks. In the centre of the candlelit glow was a basket atop a stack of blankets and some cushions.

"Elements Brin," T'Kir was nearly speechless, "this is beautiful!"

"Here's the best part," Macen grinned and pointed to the sky, "look up."

T'Kir complied and was treated to a rare sight. Nearly every corner of the night sky seemed filled by twinkling lights. Midgard's minimal development allowed it to remain a preserve for natural beauty. T'Kir kneeled down next to the basket and lifted the lid. Rich aromas wafted our from it."

"Where did you get this?"

"I had a caterer from Valhalla deliver it while you were taking a bath." Macen explained.

"Brin! That must have cost a fortune!"

"It was a relay transport to the Corsair's transporter." Macen shrugged, "Besides, I'm independently wealthy now. I might as well use it wisely."

"This is wisely?"

"I think so." he laid down beside her and propped his head up on his hand, "Indulging one's wife is an occasional necessity."

"Only occasionally?" T'Kir challenged.

"Sure." Macen grinned, "I wouldn't want you to think I was a softy."

T'Kir lunged atop Macen and began tickling him, "I'll show you what I think of you."

"No fair." Macen chortled, "You're three times stronger than me."

"Sounds fair t'me." T'Kir declared and pressed on.

After their meal, Macen and T'Kir wrapped themselves in one of the blankets and watched the stars. T'Kir was nestled into his body as he leaned against a rock next to their picnic spot. He had his head atop hers and his arms wrapped around her.

"They look different from here, don't they?" T'Kir sighed.

"Yeah," Macen agreed, "we get so wrapped up in our 'busy' lives that we forget to take a moment to just sit back and take in the wonder of the universe we live in."

"You do realise that most of that universe is actively trying to kill us?" T'Kir leaned her head further back to emphasise her point, "The environment of space itself is lethal."

"Doesn't mean we can't enjoy its beauty." Macen countered.

"You, Brin Macen, are a hopeless romantic." T'Kir proclaimed.

"And you're just figuring this out?" Macen chuckled, "Where've you been for the last twelve years?"

She hit his leg, "Of course I've known it, stupid. That was one of the main reasons I fell in love with you."

"And here I thought it was because of my incredible charm and charisma." Macen teased.

"Charm?" T'Kir laughed mischievously, "I don't think so. I might give you charisma...on occasion."

"Thanks." Macen said and squeezed her.

As Macen released her, T'Kir sighed, "I wish this could last forever."

"It can at least last through the night." Macen suggested.


"You've never gone camping?"

T'Kir shook her head and Macen shook his head, "That settles it. We're staying out here tonight."

"But what about the cold?" T'Kir protested, "I come from a desert dwelling people after all."

"Shial wasn't a desert. More like a tropical rain forest." he countered.

"It was still warm."

"We have the blankets. They're rated for minus 75 Celsius. I think that should keep us warm."

"What about bugs?" T'Kir asked, playing her ace in the hole, "And spiders. Don't forget about spiders."

"Already taken care of." Macen grinned, "I activated the ultrasonic bug repellor before dinner. No insect will enter its field, from above, on the ground, in the air, or below the ground. Have we been bother by a single insect while we've been here?"

"No." T'Kir reluctantly admitted, "But I didn't bring any night clothes."

Knowing her night clothes consisted of little more than linen pyjamas, Macen shook his head, that's what underwear is for."

"You're lucky I'm wearing some."

"I would have been just as happy the other way."

T'Kir punched his leg again, "Ow!"

"Mind your manners." T'Kir replied haughtily, "I'm a virtuous, upstanding woman now that I'm married."

"As if." Macen said dismissively, "You're still a kinky trollop at heart...and I love you for it."

T'Kir nestled in closer, "Now that's why I married you. You always know what to say t'me."

The next morning, they slowly rose. Macen had set up a small heater the night before. Despite the device's best efforts, T'Kir still complained of the cool morning air after Macen ripped the blankets off of her.

They dressed, packed the gear and the candles into a duffel Macen had secreted behind their stargazing rock and set off for the cabin. They stopped every metre or so to collect a candle. They'd picked up the last pair of candles when the cabin loomed in sight. T'Kir suddenly pulled Macen into the brush.

"Shhh!" she held her finger to her lips and closed her eyes.

What's up? Macen broadcast telepathically.

Someone's in the cabin, her eyes narrowed, and more are prowling about around it.

How many? T'Kir could feel Macen's mind preparing plans and contingencies.

She frowned and shook her head in frustration, I can't tell. They've found some way to block my telepathy.

That doesn't bode well. Macen thought sourly, Ferengi?

No. T'Kir replied, I can overhear a language I don't understand.

Let me hear it. Macen requested. T'Kir linked her senses to his and he could hear through her ears. What he heard caused him to swear.

Damn it all! he fumed, I was afraid of this after how our wedding went.

What? a baffled T'Kir wondered.

It's an Orion trade language. The Orion Syndicate has arrived, and in force. Macen explained, his anger transmitting across their link.

Oh, frinx it all. T'Kir complained, Why can't these bastards leave us alone?"

They don't know how. Macen thought flatly.

So now what? she asked.

Macen removed the strap of the duffel off his shoulder, Reach into the bag and look for a closed medium sized pocket.

Found it. T'Kir declared as she extracted two phaser pistols.

There's four powerpacks as well. Macen informed her.

T'Kir removed them and shook her head while wearing a wry smile, Expecting this were you?

Macen shrugged, After the disaster at the wedding and our subsequent action against Adrya, I thought the Syndicate might come looking for us.

Good thinking, T'Kir thought proudly, so now what?

How about we introduce ourselves?

You're nuts. T'Kir observed, I like it. Let's do it!

You've gotta admit, Macen concurred, it has the virtue of not being expected.

How are we gonna do it?

We walk right up the front door and kick it open. Macen answered, Once the shooting starts it'll just be like old times.

Macen and T'Kir strolled down clearing that led to the cabin. Their hands, carrying their phasers, were behind their backs. T'Kir mentally nudged Macen.

We've been spotted, she informed him, there's a lot of comm chatter.

Good. Macen replied with a feral growl, Just remember, we only need one alive.

For disturbing my honeymoon? T'Kir growled in return, You'll be lucky to get one.

T'Kir could feel Macen's laugh as they stepped onto the front porch. Macen brought his hands forward and gripped his phaser with two hands, the left supporting the wrist of the right hand. T'Kir was a mirror image of her husband. Macen kicked the door in and raised his phaser. The door swung open on its hinges and stayed that way.

A surly looking Klingon was in the living room. He was grabbing for his disruptor when Macen pivoted and shot him. From behind and to Macen's right, T'Kir fired and gunned down the Miradorn in the kitchen. A great wailing cry echoed throughout the cabin. The Miradorn's twin came rushing out of the bedroom and down the hallway. Macen and T'Kir simultaneously dispatched him.

"Sucks to be a twin." T'Kir remarked.

T'Kir's head snapped around and she dove atop Macen, "Down!"

The wall beside where they'd been standing exploded. A Cardassian leapt through the hole and was shot by T'Kir as she rolled off of Macen. Macen pushed himself up onto his knees and then rolled forward. As he rolled, he snapped off a shot at the Tellarite at the open door. He missed but it gave T'Kir the opportunity to finish scrambling up on one knee and take aim at the porcine mob enforcer.

Macen got to his feet, sweeping the area with his phaser, "How many?"

"At least six more." T'Kir informed him, "They're repositioning."

"What I'd give for those ears of yours."

"You've got me." T'Kir's smile was brilliant, "That's even better."

Macen grinned and nodded, "It certainly is."

T'Kir moved behind the couch and crouched there. Macen stood in front of the fireplace. Two more gangsters attempted to rush them via the open hole and the door. They were quickly put down. T'Kir flashed a mental warning to Macen and covered her ears as she buried her head in the couch cushions. Macen crouched down beside the fireplace and tried to use the mantle for protection.

Another explosion rocked the house as the wall across the room exploded. A Troglyte burst only to be put down by Macen.

"You okay?" he called out to T'Kir.

"Yah," she replied with a shake of her head, "but there goes our friggin' security deposit."

Macen almost burst into laughter. Only T'Kir would come up with something so...random in a gunfight to the death. Macen focused himself. If T'Kir's estimate had been correct, there were still three of them out there. At least three, he mentally corrected himself, and they can attack us from three directions at once.

"T'Kir," he yelled out, "Watch our new hole and blast any unwanted 'guests'."

"You've got it!" she replied fiercely.

Macen turned his attention to the two openings on the other side of the living room and foyer. A heartbeat later, T'Kir fired. Two shapes appeared in Macen's area of coverage. He fired at the being coming through the door. Even as he/she fell, Macen pivoted and fired on the human rushing him.

As soon as the one at the door another person rushed into the room. As they ran across the space separating them from Macen, Macen swung his phaser around. The woman, for Macen had identified the blur as a woman by now, leapt up over the couch and kicked his phaser out of his hand. Even as she landed, she spun and threw a punch at Macen. He managed to both dodge her blow and twist her arm into a restraint. With a grunt the woman ran halfway up the fireplace wall and kicked off into a somersault, releasing the pressure on her elbow and wrist.

Macen was amazed but hated to admit it. As the woman assumed a loose fighting stance Macen could see the telltale scar on her right temple. It was an Angosian temporal implant scar. He was fighting a damned super soldier. He hoped his years of sparring with Rab Daggit could help him now.

Only I've never beaten Rab. Macen thought miserably. The other oddity that Macen finally noticed was that all of the criminals, fallen and living alike, were wearing some kind of helmet. It resembled the helmets worn by the enlisted ranks of the Magna Roman armies. He wondered if the helmet was somehow blocking T'Kir's telepathy.

T'Kir turned to see what was happening to Macen. Brin! she thoughtcast. While she was distracted, a Romulan entered through the opening she was supposed to be covering. T'Kir turned to see the Romulan charging down on her. He batted her phaser away even as she tried to bring it to bear. T'Kir responded with an elbow jab, which the Romulan blocked and then extended his raised hand and smacked her in the face.

Ooookay, T'Kir took a step back and reassessed her opponent, so our boy knows how to fight.

The Romulan raised one leg up and bent the standing leg at the knee. His hands were curved out from over his head. Oh crap! T'Kir thought miserably, I only know the basic forms of Romulan martial arts, basic street fighting skills. This dude's a master of one of the arcane forms. I'm toast.

Thus far, Macen had held his own against the mysterious Angosian...barely.

She fired off quick jabs seconds apart. Macen had successfully blocked every punch till now. He'd finally deduced a pattern in her attack and was ready for the next strike.

The woman fired off a punch from her shoulder. Macen turned sideways to it and wrapped his arm around hers. Hyper-extending her elbow, Macen landed several blows to her ribs and face.

She responded by setting feet forward and back. She heaved back and then threw from the hip. Macen was tossed off her arm and into the mantle. Her next punch came sailing in. Macen ducked to the side and she hit the rock face of the chimney.

Ignoring the pain in her hand, she snapped off a backhanded swipe. Macen ducked and came up and punched her in the face. She spun and threw another punch. Macen stepped back and then surged forward as her force was spent and delivered a right cross.

Macen knew this was a losing battle. He would tire far more swiftly then his augmented opponent. Her adrenalin would propel her until he was defeated...or dead. He needed to get to his phaser and hit her with a blast set on maximum power. Nothing else would stop her.

Macen's realisation cost him a half a second's response time. Her fist smashed into his face and his knees buckled. Macen landed on his butt and looked up at his opponent. She was in a ready fighting stance and as emotionless as when they'd begun. It's like fighting a damned robot. he thought sourly then noticed his phaser was within arm's reach.

The Angosian noticed this even as Macen had. Macen rolled and snatched at the phaser. The female enforcer dove for the weapon as well. For once, she was too late. Macen pressed the barrel of the phaser to her chest and fired. The woman spasmed then went limp. Macen checked her pulse. She was dead. He slowly rose to his feet and saw how T'Kir was faring.

Despite her fears, T'Kir's street fighting style was actually keeping her foe at bay. He was far more used to elegant attacks and counter-moves. Her simple, brutal approach took him aback.

At first, T'Kir had held the advantage. Now she was realising, to her dismay, that the Romulan had been holding back, testing her skills. He began his serious assault with a reverse wheel kick followed by a punch. An elbow strike immediately followed the punch and was followed up by a jump kick.

T'Kir was driven back until she her legs hit the couch. Oh shuk, she thought bitterly, This is gonna hurt.

Duck! she heard in her mind and she instantly obey. As she dove for the floor a phaser blast lanced across the room and struck the Romulan assassin in the chest. He fell to the floor, lifeless. While she down on the floor, she retrieved her phaser. Macen strode over and helped her up.

She saw the bruise forming on his jaw, "How bad is it?"

"I won't want to move for a week," he admitted, "but I'll survive."

T'Kir cocked her head to one side and sighed, "Oh hell! There's more of them."

"Back to back?" Macen asked.

"Sounds good." T'Kir agreed, "Same set-up?"

"Let's do it." Macen nodded.

No sooner had they finished discussing their defensive strategy then three hit men appeared in the three openings to the cabin. An explosion rocked the cabin and two more hit men appeared from the hallway. Macen and T'Kir raised their phasers.

"I strongly suggest you leave." Macen urged them.

"Or what?" a scarred human asked.

"You'll all die." Macen said coldly, "Just as your comrades already have."

"Go ahead." the man sneered, "Kill me."

Macen's finger began to depress the trigger when T'Kir screamed and went to her knees, clutching her head. Psychic feedback from their telepathic link seared Macen's brain. They both writhed on the floor before passing out from the agony they'd endured.

The surrounding hit men smiled with satisfaction even as a massive figure ducked to enter the room. He had to turn sideways pass his broad shoulders through the doorway. A stunted Ferengi followed him.

"See?" the Ferengi said gleefully, "I told you my psionic disruptor would work. No telepath is safe from it or immune to its effects."

"Yes, Doctor." a rumbling bass replied, "You have done excellent work."

The hulking figure turned to the Angosian woman who was rising from the carpet, "Are you all right, Annika?"

"Embarrassed but otherwise alive." Annika answered.

"Good." he rumbled, "Kill Doctor Lat for me."

"No!" the Ferengi squealed and ran towards the door. Annika removed a small disruptor from the small of her back and shot Lat in the back. The massive Orion clapped his hands together.

"Excellent! Secure our prisoners and let's leave this mud ball of a world. Annika, you're with me."

Annika Ryst suppressed a shudder and dutifully followed her employer out the door.


Proceed to Part III


Last modified: 02 Jan 2014