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Genesis - Part III 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 10

Amanda Drake sat down behind her desk and sipped at her steaming mug of coffee that her aide, Ambril Delori, had left for her. She picked up the topmost padd from the stack Ambril had arranged for and began reading field reports and situation analyses. She'd barely managed to finish the first end of mission report when Ambril buzzed her.

"Admiral," Ambril's tone was all business, "you have an incoming message marked as 'urgent'."

"Transfer it to my screen." Drake ordered. Her desktop viewer's image shifted from the UFP symbol to that of an inordinately smug Orion.

"Attention Admiral Drake of the Special Investigations Division." the Orion rumbled, "I have two of your agents. I think you may want them back. Before you decide, let me show who we are discussing."

The Orion stepped aside to reveal Macen and T'Kir bound and strapped to metal body moulds. Drake could only image what those were used for in a culture as decadent as the Orions'. Drake stabbed a finger to a button on her desk.

"Ambril, have this transmission traced to its source."

"Yes, ma'am." came Ambril's reply.

"As you can see," the Orion resumed as he stepped in front of the imager, "I have your best. I suggest you meet my demands or they will surely die. Who knows?" The Orion grinned evilly, "They may die anyway."

The transmission terminated and her screen instantly reverted to the UFP symbol.

Drake stabbed at her intercom, "Tell me we got that."

"The comm centre reports the transmission came out of Rigel X." Ambril informed her.

"Prep a team and dispatch them to Rigel X." Drake ordered, "I'll prepare their orders and transmit them en route."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And Ambril?"


"Find me Tom Riker."

"Yes, ma'am!"

Seven hours later, the SID's Chief Intelligence Analyst and the Chief of Operations sat before Drake.

"Report gentlemen." Drake commanded.

The CIA spoke first, "Our action team tracked down the source of the transmission. It was a communications relay array orbiting Rigel X. The message was a 'canned' message, pre-recorded and transmitted to the relay for delivery to its final destination."

"I know what a canned message is, Captain." Drake said irritably, "What I want to know is can we trace the message any further?"

The CIA shook his head sadly, "Judging by the subspace bandwidths and harmonics of the transceiver, it was a ship mounted model of Benzite manufacture. They could have been anywhere when they transmitted the message."

"Could they have been headed for the Orion Confederacy?" Drake inquired.

"They very well could have been." The CIA agreed, "It would make sense since it would throw up jurisdictional barriers to our retrieving the hostages. Have we received a set of demands yet?"

"No." Drake answered sourly, "And I don't expect any. I suspect that bit was for our benefit, to rattle our chain."

"But why?" the CO asked.

"Outbound Ventures, Inc levelled Adrya Jeklan's organisation." The CIA answered, "One ship's crew in particular. Brin Macen's ship and crew. This could be a reprisal for that action."

"Do you really think so Harj?" Drake asked sarcastically, "This is an execution, pure and simple and we are its intended audience."

Drake turned to the CO, "Mirk, what response options do we have?"

"We have a covert ops team that's used to operating within the Confederacy's borders." the CO replied, "I must point out two potential problems. First, there are 38 habitable worlds in the Orion Confederacy and the prisoners could be on any one of them. That's if they're there at all and if they are they'll be heavily guarded. The second difficulty is that any persistent inquiries into the situation will expose our agents and get them killed."

"Frankly," the CO concluded, "I don't consider the loss of time and manpower worth it over two individuals that are no longer part off this organisation."

"They are still Federation citizens." Drake proclaimed coldly, "Does this mean you want to forsake the oath you swore to protect them?"

Chastised, the CO relented, "No. Of course not."

"Good." Drake said and stood. The CIA and CO jumped to their feet, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be putting option B into play."

"Yes, ma'am." the two executive officers said and exited Drake's office. After they'd gone, Drake commed Ambril.

"Have you got Riker's location yet?"

"Yes, ma'am. He's in Valdez, Alaska. In Kyle Riker's house."

"Intriguing. Patch me through."

"Right away." Ambril happily replied.

The Riker family, and soon to be family, had just sat down to dinner when the comm unit in Kyle's office began chiming. Kyle excused himself and went to answer whomever was calling. Decades with the Federation Diplomatic Corps had taught him never to ignore your secure comm.

When Kyle returned he placed a strong hand on Tom's shoulder, "Its for you."

Tom looked befuddled but rose and proceeded to the office. He sat down behind the desk and looked into the view screen. A grave looking Amanda Drake looked back.

"Hello, Tom." Drake said pleasantly.

"Whatever you may think, Admiral," Tom growled, "we are not on a first name basis."

"Very well, Lieutenant," Drake replied coolly, "and before you object, you signed on to the Starfleet Reserves at your former ranks when you originally signed on with Outbound Ventures. That still holds. As of right now, I'm reactivating your commission. The same holds true for your crew."

"What about Radil and Parva?" Riker asked.

"Both hold brevet ranks as chief petty officers." Drake answered, "Those are reactivated as well."

"So," Riker's eyes narrowed, "what act of God is so desperate for you to call us out of retirement?"

"I'm about to relay to you a transmission my office received eight hours ago." Drake said and disappeared only to be replaced by a smug looking Orion. After the Orion's statement was concluded, the screen reverted to Drake and Riker was fuming.

"God damned bastard!" Riker snarled, "Who does he think he is?"

"His name is Daveed B'nner." Drake supplied, "He's the godfather of the Syndicate's operations in the Alpha Quadrant. Adrya Jeklan was a favoured lieutenant and this his response to your neutralising him and his operation."

"So now you want us to take out this sick sonovabitch?"

"I'm giving you a shot it." Drake nodded, "You and your entire operation. The SID will hire you to conduct a search and rescue mission."

"I thought that was taboo."

"As I told Macen, times change." Drake replied, "And you won't be in there alone. I have teams going in as well. We need to apply a full court press and root these frinxers out into the daylight."

"And when we do?" Riker avoided the "if".

"Then we eliminate as many of them as we can." Drake's voice went cold.

"All right, we're in. I'll alert the other ship captains. I'm sure they'll jump at a contract as lucrative as ours used to be." Riker responded flatly, "I'll need some time to gather up my crew."

"Already taken care of." Drake gave him a thin smile, "Courier ships are already en route to Pacifica and Trill. There's one standing by at Spacedock for you."

Riker shook his head, wearing a wry smile, "I've been manipulated from the start."

"You were given a choice." Drake said dryly, "You chose the option you were predicted to."

"You were lucky." Riker informed her, "If it weren't Macen and T'Kir, I would have turned you down out of sheer spite."

"I expected as much." Drake acknowledged and ended the transmission. Riker stared at the screen for several moments and then sighed. Time to break the news to Jamie. he thought bitterly.

The time spent on Pacifica had altered the social landscape of the Solstice crew. Parva had warmed to Dracas in light of his counsel to both her and Daggit. Radil had noticeably cooled towards Daggit but maintained civility. Grace was Radil's comforter and Daggit's supporter simultaneously. This turn of events had softened Radil's opinion of Grace.

Dracas was breakfasting with a fortysomething Trill. They'd met slightly after Dracas' arrival on Pacifica. The unjoined Trill, named Kiv Rever, was a flight engineer for a commercial pleasure liner. He was halfway through a month long stay on Pacifica when he and Dracas had joined one another's company. So far, their union had been satisfying for both of them.

Two Starfleet officers approached their table, one Command and one Security.

The Command officer, an ensign, spoke, "Master Chief, you've been recalled. We have transportation standing by."

Dracas chuckled, "I think you've got the wrong person, Sonny."

The ensign thrust a padd towards Dracas, "Your reserve commission has been reactivated. Your orders are all here and in order."

Dracas took the padd and began reviewing the scrolling text. Finally he set the padd on the table and scratched his head, "I'll be damned."

"I can't comment on that, Chief." the ensign replied smartly, "All I know is we have a ship waiting for you and your crewmates."

"My crewmates?"

The ensign nodded, "They're being contacted as we speak."

Dracas looked to Kiv, "I'm sorry. It looks like duty calls."

"I'll be long as you call."

Dracas smiled warmly, "That's a promise."

Lisea Danan had been surprised to find two Starfleet officers chiming the door of her family's home. Danan listened to the young ensign's explanation and read her orders. She then nodded, packed her things and said her goodbyes to her family. She then followed the two Starfleet officers to the middle of the yard. The ensign tapped her comm badge and they were whisked away by the transporter to the USS Corazon, a Pathfinder-class courier.

The last time Danan had been aboard a similar courier vessel, Macen had destroyed it and its crew. That decision had never sat well with Danan. Macen's highhanded ruthlessness was disturbing at the very least. Truth be told, she often wondered why Starfleet hadn't had him jailed or committed.

All that being said, she was still deeply attracted to him. She knew they were bad for each other. That had been thoroughly proven. Yet when it was all said in done, she'd never stopped being attracted to him.

Three years ago, in a moment weakness, Danan had considered re-igniting her relationship with Macen. Fortunately, T'Kir had warned her, rather forcefully at that. That warning had sobered Danan and since then she'd kept her lust under control and sought more stable relationships.

Danan found her current circumstance exhilarating. She'd only left Starfleet out of loyalty to the team. The chance to be a part of it again thrilled her beyond measure. She was part of something, something grander than herself, again.

The mission profile also appealed to her. A search and rescue in the Orion Confederacy of all places. It was little wonder they were taking the Solstice in. A starship would be far too visible.

She wondered how Macen would react to be reactivated. He was still rather angry with Starfleet for letting them go in the first place. That made her wonder how long their return to Starfleet would last. She hoped it was permanent.

Macen opened his eyes and clenched them shut again as his migraine lanced a blinding pain through his brain. Tentatively, he opened his eyes again. The pain was horrible, but he could endure it. He tried to move his arms from their upright position but found them restrained. He looked down and saw his waist strapped down as well. His feet were also bound and judging by the positions of his legs and arms, he was on an X shaped frame.

Macen looked to his left and saw T'Kir strapped to an identical framework. She was beginning to stir. His brain suddenly felt ripped apart and he realised that T'Kir's torment was infinitely greater than his.

"Frinx." she rasped, "We're in deep shuk."

Macen felt the same way, but tried to remain reassuring, "At least we're alive."

"Doesn't mean we'll stay that way." T'Kir said through gritted teeth as she clenched her eyes shut.

Macen couldn't deny their situation was grim. He didn't know what mysterious weapon had been used against T'Kir, but it had nearly torn her apart. It hadn't done him any good either. Between his telepathic rapport with T'Kir and his own empathic abilities, he'd felt like his mind had been dropped into a plasma manifold.

To his right, a door slid open and an Orion squeezed through. The hulking brute was the largest sentient Macen had ever seen. Like the Syndicate hit men on Midgard, the Orion wore a helmet. Seeing Macen studying it, The Orion smirked and tapped the side of the helmet's "temple".

"This keeps her from getting in here." the Orion rumbled.

"Why are we here?" Macen managed to say, "What do you want with us?"

"Let me begin at the beginning." The Orion said with far more respectability and civility than your average Orion, "My name is Daveed B'nner."

Macen thought he'd heard that name before then it dawned on him, "Bruis." he said, remembering the albino giant that had sacrificed himself trying to save the ill-fated Eclipse.

"Ah," B'nner smiled, "I see you remember my younger brother."

"Is that why we're here? Because your brother died?"

B'nner chuckled, "No. I ought to be thanking you. You saved me the trouble of killing him myself."

B'nner could see Macen was confused and proceeded to explain, "You're here because Adrya Jeklan was my lieutenant, my very right hand, and a valuable asset at that. Losing him was devastating enough but the loss of the hub of his operation has disrupted a very large portion of my position within the Orion Triad."

The Orion Triad were the three gangsters that ruled the Syndicate's operations in the Alpha, Gamma, and Beta Quadrants. The Alpha Quadrant was the largest fiefdom and also had the most to lose. B'nner's recent losses would pit the other bosses against him. The resultant power struggle could tear the Syndicate apart. Only a vote of confidence from the Syndicate's Don could stave off disaster. In order to do that, B'nner would have to prove he could still effectively deal with his enemies.

"We're here so you can prove to the Don you can still run your operation." Macen ventured and B'nner nodded, "So what now? D'you expect us to beg?"

"No, Captain Macen." B'nner laughed, "I expect you to die."

Macen wondered where he'd heard those words before as B'nner left.

"People!" Riker shouted over the tumult filling the Solstice's briefing room, "I'll be breaking down the situation succinctly in just a moment. Let me begin by informing you that this recall into Starfleet service was not unique to us. Every ship under the Outbound Ventures flag that used to operate under the auspices of the SID had been similarly impressed into active duty. Jamie is here to assist us as a temporary member of the crew"

"What about the crew of the George Kelly?" Daggit asked pensively.

Riker broke into a wry, lopsided grin, "They aren't included because they haven't been vetted by Starfleet Security and Starfleet Intelligence."

"I can tell you how I'm reacting to that." Kirk fumed.

Daggit chuckled appreciatively. Kirk was a fighter. She'd hate being left out of the action as badly as he would. Still there was another matter...

"I hear congratulations are in order." Daggit offered.

Riker's smile warmed and Kirk blushed, "Thanks. I hear the same about you."

Daggit looked over to Parva and smiled. She offered a coy smile in return. Riker noticed Radil's discomfort but refrained from comment. It wasn't his concern, unless if and when it interfered with the crew's proficiency.

"Okay," Grace spoke up, "We were drug here. Kort's here. Where are the Captain and T'Kir?"

Riker's expression grew grave, "Watch the main viewer and you'll get you answer."

The view screen went blank and Riker assessed the varied mood of the room. The expressed emotion ranged from outrage to apoplectic rage. Daggit looked as though he could wipe out the Orion Syndicate single-handedly. Parva and Radil felt much the same way.

"What an intergalactic...prick!" Grace said harshly, "Get me close enough to this bastard and I'll turn him into a jellyfish."

Riker looked pained at the reminder of the awesome power at Grace's disposal but remained subdued, "It may come to that, Hannah."

Grace looked even more shocked by that statement then she had at the news Macen and T'Kir had been taken prisoner.

"What's the plan?" Daggit growled through clenched teeth.

"Admiral Drake's plan is that we slip into the Orion Confederacy posing as smugglers and mercenaries and canvas the Confederacy looking for Macen and T'Kir."

"And once we find them?" Radil asked.

"Officially, we extract them." Riker said, and then added, "Unofficially, we kill every frinxing one of them that stands in our way."

"Good." Radil said flatly. Daggit and Parva agreed with forceful nods.

"Now our Orion's name is..." Riker began.

"Daveed B'nner." Parva finished in a cold tone, "He's the Syndicate Triad Don in charge of the Alpha Quadrant. Eliminate him and the Syndicate's operations in the quadrant will be thrown into chaos as a power struggle erupts."

"B'nner himself is cold, calculating, utterly devoid of humour or mercy. The only 'emotion' he feels is lust." Parva spat, "He is not to be underestimated and if encountered, not to be left alive."

"You sound is if you personally know him." Riker observed.

Parva gave him a cold smile; "He was my last 'master' before I escaped the Confederacy. He put a bounty of ten thousand bars of latinum on my head. That's what originally drove me to be a consultant for the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. Having every bounty hunter across two quadrants gunning for my head made me a little paranoid."

"I know the feeling." Radil murmured.

"Which is why we should be friends, or at least allies, rather than enemies." Parva observed dryly.

Radil looked taken aback, then her expression softened, "I'll have to think about that."

"Take your time." Parva smiled.

"How are we inserting?" Daggit asked, getting back to operational details.

"By using our alternate ID transponder. We'll fly under the name Eclipse in memory of the ship of the same name."

"Can't we just assume the identity of that ship?" Grace asked, "After all she was our ship when she got destroyed."

"The odds are too great that the Syndicate knows about the destruction of the original Eclipse as well as her being a Ju'day-class raider rather than a Blackbird-class scout." Riker explained, "Jamie, you'll have to play big chief to my little Indian. It's a good bet that the Syndicate has my brother's face on file and my name being tied in to Outbound Ventures."

"Gotcha." Kirk replied sombrely.

"Before that, we're going to pick up the Corsair." Riker announced.

"Why?" Dracas broke his silence.

"The assault phase will be two pronged." Riker answered, "Starfleet Intelligence has information indicating B'nner's base is protected by transport inhibitors. That requires a surface landing and our shuttle pods are too small to carry the rescue team."

"Which will be?" Daggit quietly asked.

"Grace will fly the Corsair while I helm the Solstice." Riker explained, "Rab, you Radil, Kort and Parva, since she presumably knows the layout of the place..." Parva nodded and spoke.

According to Parva, B'nner was most likely at his fortress styled mansion on Gryphynx, "It's an ancient castle with modern weaponry. Two centuries ago, the Orions conquered the native Gryphynxers. They were a relatively barbaric people, which is saying a lot when compared to Orions. The Gryphynxers hadn't progressed beyond swords and bows and arrows. The Orions had crude disruptors and basic warp capable craft. The natives never stood a chance. The indigs are slaves now."

"You'll all comprise the rescue crew team." Riker said then sobered.

"This is going to take subtlety and cracker-jack timing." Riker informed them, "But I know you, and the other captains I've conferred with, are up to the task so let's man our stations and prepare to get underway."

The crew instantly responded, snapping into action. Riker was pleased. Between the crew of the Solstice and the crews of the other Outbound Ventures ships, Macen and T'Kir were being sought by some of the finest covert operatives in the quadrant. He was confident they'd reach them before they were executed.


Chapter 11

"This just sucks." T'Kir said sourly, "First I'm tortured on my wedding day and now I'm kidnapped and condemned to death on my honeymoon. What gods did I piss off to deserve this?"

"I don't know." Macen admitted, "There were no temporal distortions around either of us."

The pair had been moved to a cell in some archaic dungeon. It had been designed to hold Orions, which meant that it could withstand even T'Kir's considerable strength.

"Which means what?" T'Kir asked as plopped down next to Macen on the cell's threadbare mattress.

Macen shrugged, "I guess it means this is what the Fates intended."

"Well, to hell with them and to hell with this! I wanna live!" T'Kir said venomously.

"I know the feeling." Macen concurred, "Don't give up hope yet. We might still escape. Barring that, the authorities on Midgard should have realised that there was a battle at our cabin, our runabout is still in orbit and that we're missing. They in turn should have alerted both Starfleet and Outbound Ventures. Both will send a response team."

"What makes you so certain Starfleet will care?" T'Kir asked cynically.

"It's official policy and it makes them look bad if they refuse to respond to the kidnapping of Federation citizens, even ones living abroad." Macen took a deep breath and plunged ahead, "That and they offered me a contract to bring back everyone working for Outbound Ventures."

"A what?" T'Kir was incredulous.

"They made an offer to bring in everyone in from the cold." Macen sighed, "We wouldn't be disavowed anymore. We'd be fully reinstated agents of the SID." Macen shrugged, "We'd also still get to pursue private contracts between assignments."

"And when exactly were you going to tell me this?" T'Kir asked coldly.

"After we returned from our honeymoon." Macen answered.

"Why the delay?" T'Kir asked with mounting anger, "I'm your bloody wife now as well as a partner in Outbound Ventures."

"You're a junior partner in Outbound Ventures. You get a vote but I get the final word." Macen stressed.

"So what have you decided oh, your high and mighty lordship." T'Kir asked sarcastically.

"The same thing that I decided before the honeymoon." Macen replied, "When we return..."

"You mean if we return." T'Kir groused.

"I mean when we return." Macen countered, "You'll peruse the offer and if you approve then it'll be passed on to the individual Outbound Ventures' captains for their scrutiny and final judgement."

That abated T'Kir's anger somewhat, "What d'you think of the offer?"

"I think it's surprisingly flexible and fair." Macen revealed, "They know they burned some bridges and they're honestly trying to make amends."

"Coming from you, that says a lot." T'Kir admitted, "But why didn't you mention this before we left?"

"Because then we'd be dwelling on it over our honeymoon." Macen smiled warmly, "And quite frankly, I thought we had better things to dwell on."

T'Kir finally broke into a begrudging smile, "Okay, I'll grant you that." She put her hands on her knees, "Well, we've had our first lover's spat."

"C'mon," Macen protested, "we've fought since we've become a couple."

"But not since we married." T'Kir insisted, "I think we should...make up."

Macen wore a rueful grin and shook his head, "You're incorrigible, d'you know that? You do realise that they probably have this room under surveillance?"

"Yah." T'Kir replied with an impish twinkle, "Let's give 'em something to watch. We might be dead in a few hours or even a few minutes from now. I wanna have some fun before I go."

"Oookay." Macen demurred as he pulled off his shirt and began unlacing his boots, "I don't know how I let you talk me into these things."

"It's easy." T'Kir chimed up, "You think with your gonads."

Macen grimaced, "Gee, thanks."

"No problem." T'Kir waved his words aside, "Now hurry up and make up with me. It may be the last time we have sex. I want to remember it before we're killed."

"No pressure that." Macen muttered.

"Oh, you're up for the challenge, Big Boy." T'Kir smiled encouragingly, "I have faith in you Grasshopper."

Macen sighed, "I never should have let you watch that old style 'movie'."

"But it was so educational." T'Kir objected.

"I'll show you 'educational'." Macen declared.

T'Kir smiled gleefully, "Sounds fun. Can't wait, so get over here already."

The Solstice had stopped by Midgard to recover the Corsair. Grace and Radil had boarded the Corsair and were flying her to Confederate space beside the Solstice. The assault team would beam aboard just before they deployed. As it was, they'd been underway for two days and were speeding on, a day away from the Confederacy's border. The slower speed of the runabout hampered the Solstice's progress but the runabout was too vital to the mission to be left behind.

Aboard the "Eclipse", Jamie Kirk sat erect in the centre seat, the scoutship's mistress in fact as well as name. Riker found it amusing to be taking orders from his fiancÚ. Fortunately, there was no sense of rivalry. In order for Kirk to effectively assume to role of ship's captain, she had to be the commanding officer. She'd proven she had the skills and she functioned well with the crew, so the charade was a plus. Anyone that had previously studied the tactics employed by the Solstice would be surprised and the crew could use any advantage they could get.

"Mr. Riker, what's our ETA?" Kirk inquired with a smile.

"Thirteen hours, forty-seven minutes present speed." Riker replied then added, "Ma'am."

Kirk's smile broadened at Riker's teasing. She steepled her fingers and then rested her chin upon them.

"Lees, perform a comprehensive long range sensor sweep." Kirk ordered Danan, "I want to know what's ahead of us who's flying in our baffles."

Danan utilised the Ops board to access the Astrometrics array and began her scan, "You do realise this will alert every passive sensor within 100,000 kilometres of our presence?"

Kirk nodded, "We're not trying to sneak in. We're trying to announce our presence well in advance. The sooner we alert the Syndicate as to our arrival, the sooner we can establish our bona fides."

"Do you think our cover story will hold?" Danan asked.

"Rab?" Kirk deferred.

"The police reports are genuine as are the Starfleet dispatches and warrants for our detainment and arrest." Daggit, "Right now, the Federation's police forces and Starfleet are greater threats to us than the Orion Syndicate."

The intercom chimed, interrupting any further discussion.

"Rab," Parva's voice rang over the bridge, "can you report to Engineering?"

Daggit looked to Kirk, who gave him a lop-sided grin, "Go. I'll cover your post."

Daggit nodded gratefully and made his way to the turbolift.

When Daggit arrived in Engineering, he found Parva standing by a workstation near the warp core. She had her arms behind her back and was wearing an impish smile. Dracas was busy monitoring the engines and making minor tweaks. Frankly, Daggit was surprised to see Parva here at this hour; her shift didn't start for another six hours.

"What's going on?" Daggit asked, all professionalism.

"Oh, lighten up." Parva scolded, "No one but Hal's around and he's not telling and secrets." Daggit's features softened and he embraced Parva and gave her a warm kiss.

"That's better." Parva purred.

"So why am I here?" Daggit asked again.

Parva removed a cover from the workspace revealing Daggit's grenade launcher and a cylindrical rod of some sort. Daggit shook his head.

"Okay, I'll bite." he scratched his temple, "What is it?"

"It's a magazine for your grenade launcher." Parva explained, "First you load your seven rounds in the launcher's internal magazine then you insert this into the feeding mechanism like so..." Parva deftly rammed the magazine home with a click, "You use the pump to chamber the rounds just like you do the internal magazine. When you expend the clip's fifteen rounds, you revert back to the internal rounds. Simple, yah?"

Daggit was astounded, "You're a genius!"

Parva waved the compliment aside, "Puh-lease! It was nothin' any other creative, innovative, inventive and utterly brilliant fem wouldn't have done in my place."

"Don't forget modest while you're at it." Daggit remarked dryly.

"Hey!" Parva protested, "Are you taking a shot at me?"

"Heavens forbid." Daggit put his hands up to ward off her hostility.

"Better not, Soldier Boy." Parva twinkled, "I know where you sleep."

"Now that sounds promising." Daggit teased.

"Ahem," Dracas cleared his throat, "I hate to break up a 'moment' but unless either of you intend to give me a hand around here, clear out of my engine room."

"Possessive isn't he?" Daggit remarked.

"Bloody tyrant is more like it." Parva commented.

"That's it!" Dracas said with mock indignation, "Get out!"

"Okay, okay." Parva held up her hands, "We're outta here."

On their way out, Parva looked up to Daggit, "As long as we're leaving, d'you think we'd have time to...?"

"No." Daggit replied with a tinge of disappointment, "I have to get back to the bridge. With Radil and Grace aboard the Corsair and the Captain and T'Kir missing, we're awfully shorthanded everywhere but Engineering."

"Oh." it was Parva's turn to sound disappointed, "Okay. Later then?"

"Probably not until this mission concludes." Daggit advised.

Parva shrugged, "It's a date then. After the mission, we spend a few hours together."

"Dinner and...?" Daggit asked.

"I'll leave that to your imagination." Parva's smile was suggestive as she sashayed away.

Sweet Grism, Daggit thought as he watched Parva depart, she's good!

"So," Grace ventured, "what's the plan for our insertion?"

Radil shrugged, "Daggit hasn't told me yet." Grace noted Radil's use of Daggit's surname rather than the more familiar given name.

"I'm assuming the first part of the plan involves you getting us down without getting blown out of the sky by their defences." Radil remarked.

"No problem." Grace countered, "I've got it covered."

"You don't even know what the defences are yet." Radil pointed out.

Grace shrugged, "Doesn't matter. I've already figured out how to beat them."

"You'd better be right." Radil growled, "I don't want your frinxing overconfidence getting us all killed."

"Trust me." Grace smiled.

The massive door of the cell creaked open and the even more massive Daveed B'nner strolled in.

"Good news!" he rumbled, "I've decided to execute you tomorrow. Make peace with your gods." After that, he stepped back out into the outer passageway and the door was closed.

T'Kir pointedly looked at Macen, "Okay, can I panic now?"

Macen returned her gaze; his head slightly canted to one side and his lips pursed, "We're not finished yet."

"When will we be?" T'Kir asked sarcastically, "When they drop us in a vat of acid or behead us or whatever they actually do?"

"The Orions haven't beheaded anyone for almost fifty years now." Macen replied.

"Oh, that's a comfort." T'Kir grumped, "How can you be so calm?"

"An El-Aurian philosopher once wrote that you couldn't determine your end, you could only meet it and embrace it. How we die is as important as how we lived. It's a test of character."

"It's a test I'd rather cheat on." T'Kir groused, "Or better yet, skip altogether."

"I don't blame you." Macen agreed, "Frankly, I'd rather be anywhere else but this is where the Fates placed me. I'll meet my end, if that's what it is, as I've lived."

"And how's that?" T'Kir asked flippantly.

"With conviction." Macen said calmly.

T'Kir sighed, "You're right. The only that sucks about this is there's no one to pass my katra on to. I guess my essence won't be stored atop the repository on Mt. Seleya."

"I wouldn't worry about it." Macen confided, "If what I suspect is true, you'll be in for a surprise if we die."

"What kind of surprise?"

Macen shrugged, "I'm not entirely sure but it'll be an adventure."

"You're nuts." T'Kir said despairingly.

Macen moved closer and wrapped his arms around her, "Whatever happens, we'll face it together."

"That's a comfort at least." T'Kir breathed heavily, "Now just hold me and let's remember happier times."

"Remember when I first met you?" Macen chuckled, "You'd driven Ro to the edge of madness and she foisted you off on me to rid herself of her biggest nuisance."

"And Lisea instantly hated me." T'Kir laughed.

The conversation lasted late into the night and the pair fell asleep in each other's arms.

The disguised Solstice and the Corsair had been stopped at the Confederate border and were being vetted by the Syndicate. The captain of the frigate parked in front of the "Eclipse" was busy chatting up Jamie.

"So, 'Captain Kirk' is it?" the Ktarian asked, "Strange name for a smuggler."

"And what kind of name is Booljam for a Syndicate enforcement ship?" Kirk replied archly.

Booljam appeared ready to respond when a subordinate distracted him and whispered into his ear. Booljam smiled at Kirk.

"Your story checks out. Proceed to Gryphynx and petition for work there. Do you require co-ordinates?"

"That would be greatly appreciated." Kirk lied, knowing the co-ordinates were already in the nav computer, "It's our first trip to the Confederacy after all."

After a brief comm exchange, Booljam signed off and the frigate went on its way. The Solstice and the Corsair got underway. Gryphynx was two hours away at their best speed. The crew had been awake for eighteen hours now but they were all taut and poised and ready for action.

The heavy door to the cell creaked as it swung open on its ancient hinges. Two Orions entered the cell. T'Kir delivered a wheel kick to the lead Orion. His head rocked from the blow, and then he backhanded T'Kir.

She flew several feet backwards. Macen ran forward and ducked under the Orion's bulging arms. He fired off a punch from his shoulder and landed it squarely in the Orion's crotch. The Orion sank to his knees and moaned loudly as he toppled over backwards.

Macen then dove and rolled under the second Orion. He kicked upwards and struck the second Orions testicles with all the force he could muster. Macen scrambled to his feet as the Orion curled up into a ball and fell forward.

T'Kir had risen to her feet and joined Macen at the door. They exited only to find the passageway filled with disruptor wielding Syndicate enforcers. They placed binders on Macen and T'Kir's wrists and led them down the passageway.

The Solstice cloaked upon entering the Gryphynx system. The assault team beamed aboard the Corsair and they sped off for Gryphynx. They made orbit in thirty minutes and began planning the rescue operation.

Kirk, manning Tactical in Daggit's absence, noticed a telltale blinking. She examined the source of the alert and discovered it to be a transmission in the clear being broadcast from the planet below. She put it on the main viewer.

"Hello, Admiral Drake and assorted sentients." B'nner said for the benefit of the holocameras, "Welcome to our festivities. Up for your viewing pleasure is the execution of Brin Macen and T'Kir. These two star-crossed lovers recently disrupted a major Syndicate operation. It is time they make amends, and they shall...with their lives."

"And now for the main event." B'nner said gleefully and stepped out of the camera's view.

A half dozen armed beings led Macen and T'Kir, wrists bound, into the room with the two X-frames. They were each forced in front of once of the body moulds. T'Kir and Macen each ripped away from their antagonists. They met in the middle and kissed each other fiercely. Rough hands ripped them apart.

"I've always loved you!" T'Kir declared.

"I know." Macen replied, "I've loved you with all of my heart."

Their binders were removed and they were strapped into the body moulds. B'nner strolled up alongside them. He gazed at their confinement with satisfaction.

"Any last words?"

"Nothing you'd want to hear." T'Kir snarled.

"Ah, defiant to the end." B'nner said with a chuckle, "That's good. I like your spirit. And what about you?"

"I have nothing to say to you." Macen declared.

"Too good to speak with me?" B'nner laughed.

"Not at all." Macen clarified, "I just don't talk to dead men."

"I'm not dead yet."

"But you will be very soon." Macen explained, "Probabilities are in flux around you. I suspect you won't make it through the day."

"You're the only one dying today!" B'nner sneered.

Macen grinned, "No, I'm not."

"Fool!" B'nner growled and stalked off to the side. B'nner raised his hand and the gunmen assembled in front of the prisoners.

"Take aim!" B'nner shouted. The Syndicate assassins raised their rifles to their shoulders. Macen and T'Kir looked over towards one another. T'Kir mouthed, "I love you" one final time. Macen returned a beatific smile.

"Fire!" B'nner boomed and the six gunmen unleashed a volley of disruptor fire. Macen and T'Kir convulsed as the particle beams struck them. Afterwards, they slumped into the restraints of the framework they were bound to. A medic ran over and examined them.

"They're dead." the medic declared.

B'nner returned to his place before the camera, "And that, as they say, is that. Take this as a warning as to what happens to those that interfere in the Orion Syndicate's business." With that, the transmission terminated.


Chapter 12

Amanda Drake switched off her comm and sat back in her office chair and stared at the blank screen in utter, stunned disbelief. She felt as though she were slipping into shock. Macen and T'Kir had always been so vital and alive. They'd seemed immortal.

Slowly, Drake intercommed Ambril, "Delori, did we get a trace?"

"The bug we planted on the Rigellian relay worked." Ambril reported, "The signal derived from the planet Gryphynx in the Orion Confederacy."

"Inform the crew of the Bounty...and inform them that its now a recovery mission." Drake said in a flat tone.

"Ma'am?" The Bajoran Lieutenant asked.

"Macen and T'Kir are dead." Drake said without emotion. She couldn't allow herself to feel emotion. These people had long ago moved beyond subordinates, they'd become friends. That's why the rift between them had been so painful. Now they'd never make amends.

There'd be no more verbal sparring with Macen. No more unpredictable antics out of T'Kir. No more complete and total devotion between them. It was all so incomprehensible. They were supposed to outlive her, not the other way around.

Drake tipped her chair back and fought back tears. Some Iron Maiden I'm portraying now. she thought miserably, This is totally ruining my self-image. Even then, she knew it would only get worse before it got better. The crew of the Solstice was still out there and they'd want vengeance.

The viewer reverted to the orbital shot of Gryphynx and her near space environment. Riker looked gut punched. Danan was on the verge of tears. Dracas was a vision of infinite sadness. Kirk herself was composed and sprang into action.

"Eclipse to commander Corsair," She said into the comm pick-up, "Come in."

Aboard the Corsair, reactions ran the full emotional gamut. Radil was the picture of gaunt stoicism. Parva was indignant. Kort was contained rage. Tears rolled down Grace's cheeks.

Daggit was silent. His eyes fixed on the mini comm screen that they'd just watched Macen and T'Kir's death on. His eyes had grown as hard as obsidian and as lethally cold as the vacuum of space. His features had transformed to the visage of death itself.

"Rab?" Parva asked, radiating concern.

Daggit glanced over at her and her stomach froze. She'd never seen him like this, at least not when he wasn't triggered by his combat conditioning. She suddenly feared what he was capable of when starting from this point. Whatever that is, she thought, I chose to stand by him and I will.

The comm chimed and Grace sniffled, wiped her eyes and activated the screen. Kirk appeared in it.

"What are our options?' she said, "Shall we try for a recovery?"

"Damn straight we will." Daggit snarled as he bent over to be seen by the comm's visual pick-up, "I'm not leaving them down there to be defiled by God knows what."

"There's another factor to consider as well." Kort spoke up; "El-Aurians and Vulcans tend to retain brainwave activity for extended periods after 'death'. It's possible, if we reach them in time, that I could revive them."

Kirk nodded, "Your mission's green lighted Rab. Good luck."

"Thanks." Daggit replied grimly. He stepped back and gestured towards Parva, "Parva has highlighted different sections and entrances of the converted castle B'nner uses as his headquarters. This information is stored in the central computer. Grace, you'll find your landing site highlighted. Kort, how long do we have?"

"Twenty, thirty minutes." Kort supplied.

"All right." Daggit said in a dead, flat tone, "We're on the clock. Let's go."

"First things first." Grace said and stuck her hand in her pocket, "Okay, we're ready to go."

"What the hell?" Kirk scratched her head.

"What?" Riker asked over his shoulder.

"The Corsair," Kirk replied, "it just fell off my sensors. She's nowhere to be found."

Riker smiled thinly, "Grace."

T'Kir stared in wonder at the scene stretching before her. Laid out before, seemingly stretching out forever, was a wall. The wall had a gate that she and Macen stood in front of. T'Kir looked at Macen.

"Brin, where are we?"

"This is the next step." Macen answered, then seeing her confusion, he continued, "As I've told you, El-Aurians live partially phased out of the reality we knew. This is the literal gateway to the next reality."

"But why am I here?" T'Kir asked, "I'm not an El-Aurian."

"But your mind is tied to mine." Macen explained, "As my consciousness make the transition over, so can yours."

"What's through there?" T'Kir asked apprehensively.

"I don't know." Macen admitted, "I've stood here a dozen times and helped people across but I've never been able to ventures through the gate myself."

"What happens if I refuse?"

"Then you become a shadow, a formless wraith that haunts our old existence." Macen divulged, "You have to make up your mind soon, or that's what'll happen to you."

"Oookay," T'Kir put a hand to her temple, "this is a lot to absorb. If I go through that gate, you don't know what happens. But if I stay behind, I become a ghost."

"At best." Macen agreed, "Look at it this way, at least we'll discover what's out there together."

"You're intent on stepping through that thing aren't you?" T'Kir asked.

"Yup." Macen nodded, "Aren't you?"

T'Kir sighed, "I go where you go, so lead on."

Macen took T'Kir's hand strolled up to the gate. He reached out and pushed it open. A bright, glaring light prevented them from seeing what lay ahead but they forged ahead and entered anyway. The gate swung shut behind them.

The Corsair came to rest on an outer buttress. It was one of the few outcroppings of the castle that was studded with weaponry. Parva informed them that it was one of three buttresses utilised as landing pads.

"Now," Daggit said tersely, "if we only had a distraction."

"Ask and you shall receive." Grace replied and moved to the runabout's Tactical board, "Show me again what section of the castle the Captain and T'Kir's bodies are."

"This half, right in front of us." Parva indicated on the crude schematic she'd patched together.

Grace pulled out her Attuner, "Hold on to something."

Daggit appreciated the feral gleam in her eye as she depressed the activation stud of her Attuner. Mere seconds later, the castle they sat upon began to shudder and shake. There was a tumultuous thundering noise as half the castle collapsed to the ground. A dust cloud settled on everything for kilometres around.

"I think that'll distract them." Grace said with an evil smile.

"Girl," Radil put her hand on Grace's shoulder, "you are dangerous."

"You have no idea." Grace murmured.

T'Kir felt wrapped in pure joy, "Brin, where are we now?"

Macen looked stunned, "We're in the Nexus! I never thought I'd end up back here."

"Where were you, I mean we, supposed to go?" T'Kir inquired.

"I have no idea." Macen admitted, "There's been lots of speculation but no one suspected this."

Macen paused then looked pensive, "Then again, every El-Aurian that was extracted from the Nexus left behind a portion of their essence, an echo of themselves. Perhaps this is my opportunity to reunite with 'myself' and return to being a whole being."

"So now what?" T'Kir asked, basking in the quintessence of the Nexus.

"Well, as you can see, we're standing on Midgard." Macen said, "That's the beauty of the Nexus. It's a temporal anomaly. We can go anywhere and anyplace in time and the universe."

"I could go to Shial and see my parents?" the scenery shifted even as T'Kir spoke. A Romulan and a Vulcan stood before her, "Papa? Mama?"

"We're here, dear one." T'Kir's mother spoke, "We'll never leave you."

T'Kir embraced and was embraced by her stepfather and her mother while tears of joy flowed from her. Macen put his hands on her shoulders and led her aside.

"D'you see it now? This place can show you anything you want to see."

"Is it real?" T'Kir whispered.

"It's as real as your perception of it." Macen divulged, "You really do travel to those times you envision but circumstances adapt themselves to your desires."

"Can we leave?" T'Kir asked suddenly.

"According to classified records, Captain Jean-Luc Picard successfully left the Nexus and stopped my great uncle Tolian Soran from destroying Veridian III."

"How'd he do it?"

"He simply envisioned going back to the point in time before Soran launched his trilithuim missile into Veridian's star." Macen revealed.

"Could we do that?" T'Kir fervently asked.

Macen stared at her as though she'd lost her mind.

"Squad, move forward." Daggit said as he moved further down the passageway. Radil trailed him, packing her portable phaser cannon. Parva came next, poised and ready with her phaser rifle. Kort took the rear, wielding his bat'leth in one hand and his phaser pistol in the other.

A door opened as Kort passed by. Kort holstered his pistol with one hand as he swung the bat'leth with the other. On the first stroke, he caught the Syndicate man's wrist, causing him to drop his Ferengi manufactured phaser. His second stroke was an impaling sideways thrust. Kort then lifted the man with the bat'leth, splitting his abdomen and forcing the blade into the man's heart. Kort then dropped the man and removed his weapon's blade from the corpse.

Parva whistled as she surveyed the carnage, "Remind me never to piss you off."

Kort merely replied with a menacing smile. The display had been carefully observed by Radil. Since Kort's introduction to the psychohypnotic treatments of the rehab, he'd been more confident and in control of his impulses. Radil found him increasingly attractive again. Only time would see if she should do something about it.

Voices resounded through the corridor ahead as a corner loomed ahead. Daggit called a halt to the team's advance. Daggit racked the pump slide of his grenade launcher and waited. Radil took up position beside him.

The assorted Syndicate henchmen turned the corner and Daggit fired a grenade into the wall behind them. The resultant explosion shredded those closest and shrapnel wounded a dozen more. Radil "neutralised" those that were merely staggered.

Daggit signalled the squad forward. They stepped lightly through the butchery of torn and mangled bodies. None quailed before the face of the killing. Daggit pressed forward as fast as they could safely manage. The clock was ticking and they were dangerously close to losing Macen and T'Kir forever.

That's not going to happen, Daggit vowed, Even if I have to kill everyone left in this castle.

"There's a lot of comm traffic." Kirk reported to the rest of the bridge crew, "Apparently half of B'nner's castle headquarters collapsed under mysterious circumstances."

Riker shook his head, "Grace."

"How could she do that?" Kirk asked.

"Because she can do anything she damn well pleases." Riker remarked, "Macen was the only force keeping her in check before. Who knows how'll she'll behave in the advent of his death?"

"Kort may still be successful." Danan ventured.

"You're a scientist, Lees." Riker said wryly, "What are the odds of that?"

Danan sighed, "Not very good."

"Try piss poor." Riker commented.

"Whatever the case may be," Kirk interrupted, "We have people on the ground and reinforcements are on the way to extract B'nner's people."

"Do we have a plan?" Riker enquired.

"We stop them." Kirk declared, "I'll give you specifics later."

Riker rolled his eyes. It was like sitting under Macen. Although, Macen's fly by the seat of your pants approach had worked more often than not. Riker hated to admit that he'd miss it.

Daggit racked his launcher for a second salvo. Radil continued blasting away. Parva and Kort joined in the action and took low to the others' high. Three-dozen Syndicate sentries had been assembled in front of the doorway that lay ahead of the recovery squad. Daggit pressed the attack because undoubtedly B'nner was on the other side and Daggit wanted a "word" with him.

Daggit launched his grenade and another half a dozen enforcers fell. Only a mere dozen were left. Parva flipped a switch on her rifle and it began firing in pulse mode.

"What did you do?" Radil called out even as she nailed another Syndicate crony.

"I converted the rifle to fire in pulse mode when you throw this switch." Parva described.

"Can I have one?"

"As soon as we get back to the Solstice." Parva promised.

Radil smiled in satisfaction and felled another gunman. It required another few minutes to clear the hallway for Syndicate troops. Daggit enquired as to how much time they had left.

"Minutes." Kort informed him.

"Stand back." Daggit said tersely and took aim with his grenade launcher. He began rapidly firing at the duranium door before them. As Daggit expended his final round, the door toppled over. Pulling out his pistol, he rushed the smoke filled doorway.

Inside they found Daveed B'nner and Macen and T'Kir's corpses still strapped to the body moulds. B'nner smiled.

"I suppose you have something to do with the destruction of half of my castle." B'nner rumbled, "Impressive trick by the way."

"We're full of surprises." Daggit said, aiming his phaser at B'nner. Talking to Kort and Radil, he ordered, "Cut them down."

"Ah, Radil Jenrya...and Parva." B'nner leered, "Thank you for returning my property to me. When I finish killing you I'll take my pleasure from them."

"No, you won't." Daggit vowed, "Kort?"

Kort removed the comm beacon from Radil's back and activated it. B'nner shook his head sadly.

"This facility is laden with transport inhibitors. Your companions aren't going anywhere."

"Just keep watching." Daggit smiled coldly. In a blink of an eye, Kort, Radil and Macen and T'Kir's bodies disappeared.

"Impressive." B'nner allowed, "But you're still here with me."

Daggit handed his phaser and grenade launcher and the bandolier of grenades to Parva. Next he stripped off his shirt and undershirt. Lastly, he pulled on a pair of leather gloves.

"Are you challenging me?" B'nner asked incredulously.

Daggit nodded and assumed a fighting stance. B'nner's smile grew until it nearly consumed his face. Meanwhile, Parva removed the launcher's external magazine and began reloading the internal magazine.

"Prepare to die, worm." B'nner growled.

Daggit said nothing but advanced on B'nner. The Orion swung his massive fist and Daggit sidestepped it. B'nner roared his displeasure and lunged for Daggit with his arms spread to deliver a crushing embrace. Daggit ducked and thrust his leg out, tripping the Orion crimelord.

Even as B'nner crashed to the timbers below their feet, Daggit spun up into a fighting crouch. B'nner got his knees beneath him and rose to his feet. When he turned to face Daggit, his eyes were filled with murderous fury. Daggit responded with a taunting smile and by a gesture egging B'nner on.

B'nner rushed forward. Daggit caught the Orion's arm and pivoted, throwing B'nner over his shoulder utilising the green skinned behemoth's own momentum. The timbers groaned as B'nner slammed into them. Daggit spun out of B'nner's reach and waited for his opponent to rise.

Kort and Radil carried Macen and T'Kir to the runabout's infirmary. The internal modules of the runabout consisted of two interconnected medical units. Another was a brig. The last was an armoury.

As Kort busily readied his equipment and activated his scanners, Radil shrugged off her cannon in the armoury. Grace hovered outside the infirmary. She stopped Radil as the Bajoran was re-entering the medical suite.

"How are they?" Grace stammered, "I mean, can we...?"

Radil placed a reassuring hand on Grace's shoulder, "It's too early to tell. Kort has to start working." Radil paused then asked, "Is there anything you could do?"

Grace shook her head, "I don't know their anatomy. I'd do more harm than good."

"But you turned the Shadow's crew into little cubes." Radil reminded her.

"I was turning a known form into a known form." Grace explained, "I wasn't mucking about with someone's insides when I don't know what goes where."

"I think I see your point. That's why you needed the comm beacons to extract us those two times." Radil realised.

"Right." Grace nodded, "I couldn't 'move' you until I knew where you were so I could place you on the ship."

"Radil!" Kort called out.

"I've got to go." Radil said, "You can best serve by waiting for Daggit's extraction request and then flying us out of here."

"Okay." Grace reluctantly agreed and walked back to the cockpit.

Radil entered the medbay, "What do you need?"

"Monitor these readings while I attempt pulmonary resuscitation." Kort instructed.

Radil took up position before the screen recording brainwave activity, heartbeat and pulse. Kort aligned the cardiac defibrillators over the patients' chests and triggered the first shock. There was a spike on the sensor read-out and then it dropped to nothing again. Kort shook his head and prepared to try again.

"What's the brainwave status?"

"Minimal and fading fast." Radil reported.

Kort swore a particularly nasty Klingon epitaph and proceeded to try again. The second attempt yielded the same results. The race against the clock was swiftly working against them as the last embers of brainwave activity were dying out.

Kort tried again, again with no response. Kort feverishly reset the equipment when Radil gently touched his shoulder, "'s no use. They're gone."

Kort whirled about and stared at the read-outs. The brainwave activity had ceased. Kort leaned back and released a howl of frustration and mourning. He bellowed away, shouting his friends into Sto-vo-kor.

"What d'you mean 'can we go back'?" Macen demanded.

"Look at this place, Brin." T'Kir argued, "It isn't real. I want a life with you, a real life with heartaches and triumphs. I want children, our children."

"We could have children here." Macen countered.

"Phantoms." T'Kir rebutted, "I want tangible children that won't disappear when I focus on something else. I know this place is special to you. Believe me, I can see why. Part of me is happier than I've ever been...but I need more."

Macen sighed, "So do I. I need you." A sudden jolt shot through them both. it was followed by another, then another, "What the...?"

"Someone must be trying to revive us!" T'Kir exclaimed happily, "This is it! All we have to do is focus on going to the time after they tried to revive us."

Macen nodded, "If Picard was right, it should work."

"Time and date of death were..." Kort was reporting for his medical log.

Suddenly, Macen and T'Kir gasped and rose to a seated position.

"By Kahless!" Kort yelled.

"Prophets help us!" Radil said and stepped back.

Macen and T'Kir swung their legs down to the deck. Macen looked over to T'Kir.

"Happy to be back?"

"I feel like shuk." she complained.

"Welcome to the wonderful world of having three disruptor rifles blast you." Macen remarked dryly.

"At least it's real." T'Kir said as she rubbed her temple, "Look, I know what the Nexus meant to you. At least you know where you'll be headed after you die next time."

Macen shook his head, "I'm whole. My echo no longer resides in the Nexus. The mystery remains. Who knows where we'll go."

"What d'you mean 'we' buster?" T'Kir replied indignantly, "Next time you get killed on your own."

"Yah, yah." Macen waved the thought aside and moved in front of Kort. Kort just stared at him in silence. Macen waved his hand in front of Kort's face with no response, "What's wrong with him?"

"Same thing as Radil." T'Kir answered, "They're in shock."

Macen sighed, "They'll have to pull themselves together later. C'mon let's check out the cockpit and find out what's going on."

After they departed, Kort and Radil stared at each other in mute astonishment. Next they heard Grace's delighted shrieks.

"It isn't possible." Kort finally said.

"Did you here them?" Radil asked, "They spoke about being somewhere else. They truly came back from the dead."

"I need to research this 'Nexus'." Kort declared, "Perhaps it will yield untold medical applications."

"Good luck." Radil replied, "In the meantime, how do you write this up?"

"I have no idea." Kort admitted, "No idea at all."

Grace gushed as she embraced T'Kir, "I can't believe you're alive!"

"Actually, neither can we." Macen retorted.

T'Kir elbowed him in the ribs, "Once we found a way back, we had to take it."

"Back from where?" Grace asked.

"The Nexus." T'Kir replied nonchalantly.

"Oh my God." Grace gasped, "The Nexus?"

"Yup." Macen concurred.

"Unbelievable." Grace murmured.

"Let's see," Macen said, "You're here. Kort and Radil are here. I assume this was a recovery mission."

"Yes." Grace nodded.

"Where's Rab?" T'Kir asked.

"He's still in B'nner's citadel. Parva's with him." Grace reported.

"Parva?" T'Kir said with an arched eyebrow.

"A lot has changed since you guys went on your honeymoon. Let me update you..." Grace smiled.


Chapter 13

It's time. Daggit thought, having fully analysed B'nner's fighting techniques. He then snapped off a wheel kick that landed across the Orion's jaw. This was followed by a left jab to B'nner's iron hard gut. A smashing right to the crimeboss' nose ended the initial assault as Daggit spun out of reach.

Daggit took a moment to observe the results of his attack. B'nner's nose bled emerald blood and his eyes blazed with fury. Daggit leapt in for a quick follow up. He led with a left jab that was followed by a right cross.

Rather then parry, Daggit remained close in. He delivered a sidekick to B'nner's face. A stunning backhand followed this. A right cross was next, and then another backhand then another right cross.

Suddenly B'nner exploded into action with a side splitting right jab delivered to Daggit's ribs. A devastating left cross drove Daggit to his knees as his vision blacked out. Daggit looked up, blood pouring from his split lip. B'nner loomed over him, an evil smile spreading across his features.

Three raiders and two armed freighters dropped out of warp dangerously close to Gryphynx. They moved into orbit and proceeded to scan the surface below. The Solstice silently observed them as they floated above the world below. Then the Syndicate ships separated, preparing for action.

The Solstice decloaked and leapt into battle. She fired off multiple torpedoes as she raised her shields. She wove in between the other ships, darting above and below them. She passed by them all, phasers firing then looped over and made a second pass.

Daggit shook his head to clear it. I've seriously underestimated this guy. he realised, He's been playing possum...whatever a possum is. B'nner stepped forward to finish Daggit off. Daggit threw a punch from the shoulder into B'nner's crotch. As the massive Orion fell to his knees, Daggit rose and twisted at the waist. Meeting B'nner's eyes, Daggit viciously chopped the Orion brute's throat, smashing his airway. B'nner began to gasp for air.

"Go ahead." B'nner rasped, "Kill me."

"I would." Daggit replied with an artic calm and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, "But she has first right."

Daggit stepped out of the way to reveal Parva standing, wielding the grenade launcher. Her smile was as cold and merciless as Daggit's. She racked the launcher's slide, chambering a round.

"Say goodbye you bastard." Parva said savagely and fired.

B'nner gurgled his defiance until the grenade struck him. He then exploded, throwing viscera and gore across the room. Both Daggit and Parva were covered in it.

"Gods that felt good!" Parva exclaimed.

"Messy though." Daggit observed, wiping gore off his chest.

"Poor baby, I'll give you a bath later." Parva cooed, "C'mon, let's get outta here."

"There's their signal!" Grace announced and depressed the activation stud on her Attuner.

"Holy shuk!" T'Kir cried from the runabout's Ops station, "What did you do, detonate the guy?"

"That's right." Parva beamed as she looked at a piece of entrails clinging to her shoulder.

"Get back to the crew compartment and take a sonic shower and recycle those clothes." Macen ordered from the Sciences station.

"Right away." Daggit nodded then added, "Congratulations on being alive, sir."

"Thanks, now scoot." Macen shushed them out with his hand.

"Prophets!" Radil gasped from the Tactical station after Daggit and Parva had departed, "I knew he was angry, but I never thought he'd resort to that."

"It wasn't Rab alone." Macen said softly, "Parva played a part as well. I think we've finally seen both of them unleashed."

"I could..." T'Kir suggested.

"No." Macen replied, "Let's respect their privacy. They have to sort out the consequences of their actions on their own. They'll ask if they want help."

"Brin," T'Kir mildly scolded, "they just blew up the bad guy and are wearing him. That requires more than "sorting out the consequences of their actions'."

"What does collapsing half a castle, crushing its inhabitants require?" Macen asked.

Grace blushed as T'Kir rebutted, "That's different. Hannah was providing a distraction and paring down the opposition's forces."

"She still committed mass murder." Macen countered, "We refer to it as 'neutralising enemy targets' but it still boils down to mass murder."

"Then you've committed mass murder as well." Radil pointed out.

"I'm not denying that." Macen admitted, the destruction of the Pathfinder and Starfarer Station both constitute murder on a large scale. They were tactical and strategic necessities but they were still a cold blooded slaughter."

"Well, I'm gonna finish my slaughtering." Grace declared as she lifted the Corsair of the buttress landing pad. She activated her Attuner and the remaining half of the castle collapsed. Grace looked over at T'Kir with a feral grin on her face.

"How's that for a strategic necessity?"

T'Kir hesitated then said, "Seems just about right."

"That's what I thought too." Grace nodded in satisfaction as she piloted the runabout upwards into orbit.

In the rearmost compartment of the runabout, Daggit and Parva had recycled their clothes and weapons in the manufacturing replicator. Next they took a sonic shower together. Afterwards they replicated new clothes and got dressed.

"How do you think the others will react to what we've done?" Parva asked.

Daggit shrugged, "Does it matter?"

"I'd still like to have a few friends among the crew." Parva informed him.

"If they are your friends, they'll stand by you." Daggit replied.

"You seem awfully certain of that." Parva frowned.

"These people have seen me do some bloody awful things and they haven't cast me out. Give them a chance and they'll give you one." Daggit stressed.

Parva took a deep breath and released it, "Okay, I'll play it your way. But this had better work out."

"Trust me." Daggit gave her a confident lopsided grin, "Now let's go forward and see if we can help."

"All right." Parva nodded resolutely.

"All craft are disabled or destroyed." Danan reported.

"Excellent." Kirk commented, "My sensors corroborate your analysis. I've also just received a comm signal from the Corsair. Apparently Captain Macen and T'Kir are alive. They've departed, and destroyed, B'nner's base in the process of the recovery."

"So Kort's theory was correct." Danan inquired.

Kirk shook her head, "Not exactly. Kort had pronounced them dead and was recording his death certificate when they suddenly returned to life. This all involves some kind of temporal anomaly. I didn't ask because they can explain more later."

"At least they're alive." Riker said, obviously relieved.

"Appears that way." Kirk nodded.

An alarm sounded on Danan's board and she reviewed her sensors, "We have a vessel approaching at high warp. It appears to be a frigate of some kind."

"Captain Booljam?" Riker theorised.

"Probably a good guess." Kirk conceded, "All right, let's get ready for another fight. I'll order the Corsair to remain under cover of whatever cloaking effect Grace blanketed the ship with."

Aboard the Corsair, Macen shook his head, "Hannah, can we use our weapons under the cover of your 'cloak'?"

"Yeah." Grace supplied, "We can do anything, except be detected by sensors."

"What about their viewer cameras?"

Grace shook her head, "Nope."

Macen looked over to Daggit at Tactical and Parva seated at Engineering, "I hope you two are up for another fight."

"Ready and willing." Daggit replied.

"No problem." Parva responded.

"Then let's be our side's ace-in-the-hole." Macen bared his teeth in an expression that was far too predatory to ever be mistaken for a smile.

"Attention Eclipse, heave to and prepare to be boarded. Failure to comply will result in your destruction. Captain Booljam, Orion Syndicate Enforcer ship Bolero, awaiting your reply." the toneless voice spoke over the comm.

"Sounds like they're spoiling for a fight." Kirk smiled thinly, "Let's not disappoint them. Tom, set 036.5, 182 degrees down bubble. Engage and then loop us about and attack the enemy along their ventral plane."

"Yes, ma'am!" Riker replied excitedly.

"It appears our erstwhile comrades are attacking the frigate's ventral plane." Macen observed dryly, "I guess that means we should concentrate on the dorsal axis. Hannah, take us in 'low' and fast. Rab, fire at will as targets of opportunity present themselves."

"Hannah, make us visible to the Solstice's sensors. I don't want them accidentally shooting us." Macen instructed.

Grace fiddled with her Attuner even as she guided the Corsair on its attack run, "Y'know, I could just eliminate our problem here."

"Let us mere mortals fight our own battles, Hannah." Macen said gently, "Participate as an equal player and you may learn something."

"We are using my invisibility screen." Grace pointed out.

Macen grinned, "So you'll learn a little less today."

"Captain," Velora Abrim, Booljam's Ekosian second in command, reported, "We're receiving secondary phaser fire from an unknown source."

"What do you mean?" Booljam snapped. The battle thus far had been decidedly in the Eclipse's favour. The Bolero was a century and half old Tzenkethi frigate. She still possessed missiles and point defence lasers. She was ideal for threatening merchantmen but was evenly matched by even a modern equipped scoutship. The Solstice could outrun and outmanoeuvre her, which offset the advantage the Bolero possessed in sheer volume of offensive fire. The Bolero was a cylinder with outcropped warp nacelles. The frigate was essentially a much larger, heavily armed, version of Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix.

"While the Eclipse attacked us from below, another cloaked ship fired on us from above. They broke off when the Eclipse cleared the dorsal plane and looped over for a second attack run. The mysterious attacker then moved to our aft quarter and is currently firing on our impulse manifold."

"Impossible." Booljam muttered, "No ship under cloak can fire its weapons."

"Apparently this one can." Abrim observed dryly, "Your orders?"

Booljam shook himself, "Ready the point defence lasers. Have them fire a spread across the aft quarter. If they're shielded, the lasers will refract of their shields and give us a targeting solution."

"Yes sir!" Abrim said happily and moved on to pass on the orders.

Good girl. Booljam thought with satisfaction.

The Solstice banked and followed the Bolero's dorsal plane along its x-axis. She took fire even as she let her fury be known. Overloaded circuits across the bridge and Engineering sparked and exploded. Kirk gritted her teeth and pressed on.

"Tom, bring us about across their bow and then down their lateral plane. I want a shot at those warp nacelles."

"You got it." Riker called out.

The Corsair launched all six of her microtorpedoes at the Bolero's impulse engines. The frigate's shields blocked most of the torpedoes but two got through. They savaged the unprotected manifold but it wasn't enough to knock the engine off line. In the meantime, the Bolero revealed an unexpected response.

"What the?" T'Kir muttered.

"What?" Macen said from his station.

"They're lasing us." T'Kir replied.

"Lasers?" Macen wondered, then his eyes widened, "Evasive action!"

"What?" Grace asked even as she flew into action. It was already too late. Three disruptor cannons had locked on to them and fired. The diminutive runabout "rocked" in space as particle beams buffeted her.

Shields overloaded and collapsed. Circuits across the ship exploded. When the barrage ended, the Corsair lay adrift, venting plasma to open space. Her darkened bridge was silent as a tomb.

The Solstice passed by the Bolero's broadside. Disruptor cannons fired, scoring a hit now and then against the scoutship. As the scout reached the middle of the frigate, she trained her weapons on the upcoming warp nacelles.

Missile hatches along the broadside opened and multiple launches roared forth, followed by a second volley, then a third. In all, seventy-eight missiles were launched in the span of two minutes. They accelerated toward the Solstice driven by fusion powered impulse engines. At maximum thrust, their relative velocity was just below lightspeed, .91 c to be precise. The Solstice's max acceleration of .85 c meant that she would be overtaken sooner or later.

"Evasive!" Kirk shouted, "Hard to starboard!"

Riker threw the ship to it's left even as Kirk rerouted auxiliary power to the shields. Kirk violently swore as the missiles bore down on them, their acceleration increasing by every second. They were going to get hit and hit hard. Those missiles boasted antimatter warheads. However you looked at it, the situation was grim.

"Is everyone all right?" Kort shouted as he and Radil emerged from the Corsair's medbay. Emergency lighting had come on and Kort could see the others sprawled across the cockpit. At the Tactical station, Daggit was trying to regain his feet. Kort moved to assist.

"I'm all right." Daggit croaked even as he examined his shattered console, "See to the others."

Kort and Radil moved amongst the others, performing basic triage. Only Parva was truly unconscious. Grace fluttered in and out of consciousness, a sign of concussion. Kort immediately moved her to the med unit as Radil checked on Parva's vitals. T'Kir and Macen both stirred.

"Oh, my achin' head." T'Kir complained as she held her hand to her right temple. She'd cracked her head against the side console during the barrage. Macen blearily surveyed the runabout's condition. His board fought him every step of the way, and what results it yielded weren't good.

"Of all the times for Hannah to be incapacitated." he muttered.

The hiss of a hypospray was followed by a groan as Parva came awake. She groggily looked around and then nodded to herself.

"Right. Guess I'd better see how badly we're damaged."

"Sooner's better than later." Macen urged, "Concentrate on sensors first. Everything else will be secondary."

"Right." Parva shook her head, trying to clear it, "It'll just take a sec."

"Clean hits on both targets." Abrim reported.

"Damage assessment?" Booljam inquired.

"Both craft appear to be crippled." Abrim reported with a smile.

"Just out of curiosity, what sort of craft had that cloak?"

Abrim shook her head, "It appears to be a Federation runabout."

"A Federation runabout and a Federation scoutship." Booljam mused, "Some kind of belated rescue attempt?"

Abrim nodded, "Seems likely."

"Well, keep an eye on both craft." Booljam instructed, "They might have some other surprises in store for us. They've already produced one mythical weapon, I don't want them pulling Corbomite out of their hat next."

"Yessir." Abrim clicked her heels together and went back to the "trenches". Booljam knew that her planet had once been dominated by a fascist regime emplaced by a Federation historian. The vestiges of that regime on her planet's culture lingered still. The disciplinarian aspects of that government made her an excellent officer and subordinate but it also meant that she was far more fervent in her loyalty to the Syndicate than anyone else aboard.

"Ah," Booljam sighed, "she'll mellow with age."

Riker coughed as thick smoke filled his lungs. The shock of the multiple detonations had thrown him from his seat. He heard another cough and saw Danan propping herself up with one arm, trying to gather her senses. Riker then looked back towards Jamie...only Jamie was at Tactical.

Then Riker fully realised the situation. Tactical was destroyed. It had literally exploded. He began to scramble to his feet, all the while searching for Kirk.

Finally, he spotted her through the acrid smoke filling the bridge. She was crumpled in front of the briefing room door. She looked broken, as if some monstrous child had cast a doll aside. Riker shouted her name and sprinted to her, ignoring his own injuries.

Kirk lay twisted at the hips, back to the deckplates. Her arms and legs were limp and flailed. Her body was covered with burns and contusions. She was nonresponsive.

"Lisea!" Riker shouted, "Bring me a medkit!"

Danan detached the medkit attached to the Ops console and ran as fast as she could to Riker and Kirk.

"Hurry!" Riker urged as Danan knelt beside Kirk, "She's not breathing."

"Start CPR." Danan instructed as she pulled out the medical tricorder and activated it. Riker straightened out Kirk's hips and then began rescue breathing and chest compressions. Danan prepared a tri-ox injection and loaded it into the kit's hypo. She injected it with a hiss and took more readings.

"Oh shuk!" Danan said as she took her latest readings, "I'm not reading any brain activity."

"Do something!" Riker desperately begged between compressions.

Danan attached a cortical sensor to Kirk's temple and refined her scans. At first she pursed her lips then, solemnly, she slowly closed the tricorder's clamshell. She gently placed a hand on Riker's shoulder. Riker pulled away and defiantly shook his head.

"No!" he shouted, "She's not dead. She can't be. We were going to..." Riker choked off the last part of his statement. "Oh God!" he wailed and collapsed atop Kirk's still form. Danan sat there, comforting him as best she could.

"In short, we're screwed." Parva commented.

"Want to be a tad more technical?" Macen asked dryly.

"We have no propulsion, no weapons, no shields, life support's iffy at best and our sensors have been reduced to a pile of crap. I don't even want to think about what we're not 'seeing'."

"So, it's not good?" Macen gave her a wry grin.

"We're so frinxed it ain't funny." Parva replied sourly.

"So what d'we do about it?" Macen asked.

"What?" Parva exclaimed.

"Ready the missiles." Booljam ordered, "Let's finish this."

"Sir!" Abrim called out, "A Klingon Bird-of-prey just decloaked off our aft quarter. She's raised shields and powered up weapons."

Booljam sighed, "Hail them."

"They're hailing us."

"Put on my screen."

Booljam was surprised when disreputable looking human appeared on the screen, "Attention frigate, these individuals are wanted in the Andergani Oligarchy and we fully intend to collect the bounty on them."

"And if I refuse to let you have them?"

The human gave him an evil smile; "I've seen your ship in action. Trust me, we both know who'd win in that engagement."

Booljam wanted to protest, but the human was correct, "Very well. You may have the crewmen but the ships remain."

"I'll destroy them myself." the human promised.

The crews of the Solstice and Corsair were beamed aboard the HMS Bounty. Macen was delighted to see Captain Robert Petain, Starfleet SID.

"Good timing as ever, Rob."

Petain bowed, "At your humble service. What else could I do for a man that's risen from the dead?"

"Get us the hell out of here." Macen requested.

Petain nodded, then softly added, "I heard you lost one of your own."

Macen grimaced, "She was captain of one of my company's ships. She was also engaged to my first officer."

"Poor devil." Petain shook his head; "I suppose that's the one holding vigil over her body?"

"Got it in one." Macen replied, "Any ETA on our departure?"

"First we have to destroy both your vessels."

Macen saddened at that, "I know that's the price of our freedom but I wish there were another way."

"Unfortunately there isn't." Petain assured him, "I half expected this 'Booljam' to put up a fight."

"He's a better tactician than I would have expected from the Syndicate."

"He's a merc." Petain replied, "And some mercs are good. Your experience with Radil should have taught you that."

"Trust me, it has." Macen sighed, "All right, let me watch you blow up my ship and then I'll pay my respects in Sickbay."

"Viewer on." Petain ordered, "Weapons, lock torpedoes on target and fire on my command."


Chapter 14

A week later found the crew assembled in the chapel on the Riker estate. Gathered together were the crews of every Outbound Ventures ship. Jamie Kirk was to be cremated and interned in the Riker family mausoleum. In the short time they'd known one another, Kirk, Kyle Riker and Betty Gandy had become family in the truest sense of the word. They weren't about to see their daughter cast aside to some plot where no one she loved would remember her.

Tom stood before the gathered assembly and haltingly began to speak, "I'd like to thank all of you that have gathered here in Jamie's...memory. She'd have appreciated it as much as I do." Riker's eyes moistened as he continued, "I loved Jamie more than life itself. She was vital...alive in the truest sense of the word. There was no gloom she couldn't lift me from. I respected her from the very first moment we met." Riker faltered, "I'm sorry...I can't do this any more."

Macen rose and guided Riker back to his parents. He then stood behind the pulpit.

"A great starship commander once said, 'risk is our business'. Truer words have never been spoken. We have chosen, or found, lives that are inherent with risks and dangers. Jamie accepted these risks." Macen declared, "She wouldn't have wanted us to mourn her. She would have wanted us to celebrate her life. She died facing impossible odds and she did so without flinching. Embrace that courage and face the days ahead knowing that Jamie Kirk has led the way, just as she always has."

Macen straightened up and continued, "When I first met Jamie, she'd just helped my crew out of an impossible situation. She served with the Iotian Starfleet at that time and we had no reason to believe that she would continue bailing us out of the antimatter. When she showed up on Outbound Ventures' doorstep, alone, exiled and bereft of purpose, I took her in. She'd come seeking Tom Riker, but he was MIA, presumed dead, at the time. The news of Tom's 'death' came as a blow to her but she recovered and embraced her new life with the crew of the Solstice."

"The day we discovered Tom was alive and rescued him from his captors was the happiest in Jamie's life up to that point. It was quickly followed by the joy of receiving her own command. Seeing a starship commander returned to the bridge of her own ship is a sight to behold." informed the crowd, "She tackled crew selection with the same fierce determination and guile that she so effectively used to defeat her enemies."

"Jamie was a paragon. She epitomised so much of what we try to achieve. We should look at her whole life, not just her death, and use it as an example of how we can live. Jamie seized life. She grasped on to every moment of the day. She led us while she was alive. We should continue to follow her lead and her example of how to meet our own end." Macen concluded and stepped down with a slight bow of his head.

"Captain Macen?" Kyle Riker tentatively asked. The funeral party had shifted to the grounds and the main house. Macen and T'Kir were currently consoling Tom.

"Yes?" Macen asked with an arched eyebrow.

"I...have a message for you." Kyle informed him, "It's being routed to my office."

"And that's a bad thing?"

"Considering the fact that my comm line is protected by the latest diplomatic security ciphers, yes, I suppose it is." Riker scratched his head, "You'll see when we get there."

Macen excused himself and accompanied Kyle to his office. Kyle meant to excuse himself but Macen motioned for him to stay. Macen sat down behind the desk and took a look at the comm screen. Pictured was the oldest Orion Macen had ever seen.

"Ah, Captain Macen. Still alive I see. I see the rumours were true." The Orion's gravelly voice grated over the words.

"Robhurt B'nner, I presume?" Macen replied.

That produced a rock grinding chuckle, "I can see why my son underestimated you."

"Perhaps it was the overconfidence of having the Orion Godfather as your father that did it." Macen suggested.

B'nner's features saddened, "Perhaps. That is what I commed to talk about."


"Vendettas." B'nner corrected, "Specifically the foolish one my son launched against your company and crew. It's over. My son should have accepted his losses and fought you on an equal playing field, our mercenary forces competing for business with your privateers. We have the economic reserves to accept losses long enough to bury you."

"So is that round two?" Macen inquired.

B'nner shook his head, "I said its over and it is, on my personal authority. This foolish quest for vengeance has cost too much already. I'm certain you'd agree, having just buried one of your own."

Macen bristled, "You're awfully well informed."

"Son," B'nner broke into a wan smile, "we're the Orion Syndicate. We have eyes and ears everywhere."

B'nner moved to switch off the transmission but thought better of it, "You'd better inform Starfleet Command that if we encounter another ship named Eclipse or a Bird-of-prey named Bounty in our territory, we'll shoot first and ask questions never."

Macen nodded, "I'll pass that along."

"I suggest you do it later this afternoon at your meeting with Admiral Drake."

Macen stiffened, "I'll do that."

B'nner chuckled again, "I thought you might."

The transmission ended and Macen leaned back, "So, what d'you think?"

Kyle Riker shook his head, "It sounds as though they've thoroughly infiltrated Starfleet."

"That's how they want it to sound." Macen informed Riker, "They probably have a few choice titbits and are playing it up for all they're worth."

"I hope you're right." Kyle shuddered at the thought of the Syndicate having penetrated Starfleet's security.

"Well, there's nothing that can be done about it right at this moment." Macen said as he rose from behind the desk, "I suggest we return to the party and cheer Tom up."

Kyle nodded, "Sounds like a good plan."

"I'm so sorry about Jamie Kirk." Amanda Drake gushed, "I'm even more sorry I couldn't free up my schedule to attend her service."

"Tom would've appreciated the gesture." Macen demurred.

"I've already tasked the SPYards with refitting and constructing replacements for the Solstice and Corsair. Any requests for names?"

"Keep the original names." Macen answered, "They'll both have proud legacies to live up to."

"I see." Drake paused then plunged on, "I suppose you know why I requested this meeting."

"You want to know my decision regarding your contract proposal." Macen replied.

"And?" Drake replied with the barest hint of anxiety.

"I ran the proposed contract past T'Kir and the assorted captains under the corporate umbrella. They agreed with the spirit of the contract but want a few guarantees."

"Such as guaranteed replacements for lost vessels and recruiting assistance for lost personnel." Macen replied, "Most of all, they want a five year minimum guarantee of employment."

Drake shifted uncomfortably in her seat, "What do you want?"

Macen shrugged, "I'd be willing to accept the contract at face value. Unfortunately for you, you're contracting with Outbound Ventures as an entity, not me."

"We could make it an exclusive contract. It virtually will be in your case anyway." Drake suggested.

Macen shook his head, "That would breed resentments that I'm not certain the company could survive. It's all or nothing Amanda."

"Dammit Brin, you never make it easy do you?" Drake asked.

"I try." Macen broke into a lop-sided grin.

"Let me call Alynna and see what I can arrange." Drake shook her head.

Her intercom chimed and Drake activated her comm screen to find Ambril looking back, "Admiral, Admiral Nechayev is here to see you."

"Let her in." Drake said then shook herself, "How the hell does she do that?"

Macen smiled, "She's the Director of Starfleet Intelligence."

Nechayev walked in and placed a consoling hand on Macen's shoulder, "I'm sorry to hear about Jamie Kirk. She was an incredible woman."

"Contact Tom Riker and express your condolences. He'd appreciate them more." Macen suggested.

"Of course." Nechayev half nodded, "Now I believe you were discussing the contract proposal we submitted to Outbound Ventures."

"Yes." Drake replied warily.

"And I suspect that the employees of Outbound Ventures have made a counter-proposal you're somewhat uncomfortable with." Nechayev continued.

"Yes, they want..."

"Give them what they want." Nechayev cut Drake off, "After all, weren't you the one that said we had to get all of the Outbound Ventures' captains and crew working for us again, regardless of cost?"

"Yes." Drake answered in a defeated tone of voice.

Nechayev winked conspiratorially at Macen, "Then I suggest you dust off the plans to acquire the Obsidian and transfer her to Outbound Ventures' control. You have explained our proposed 'purchase' of the surveyor as a condition of our contract?"

"Yes." Drake sounded utterly defeated.

"Good." Nechayev said with satisfaction, "So, Brin, what do you say? Will you work for the SID again?"

Macen rose and shook Nechayev's hand, "It sounds too good to pass up, Alynna."

"Good." Nechayev clapped her hands together, "Then let's get to work. I'll activate the volunteers eager to enlist with Outbound Ventures. Amanda here will arrange for your officers and the crew to transfer to the ship."

Macen nodded, "Sounds good. I'll return to Alaska and gather the troops. We'll ship out tomorrow."

"The crew should be ready by then as well."

"You were fairly confident of my answer, weren't you?" Macen asked ruefully.

"You're a man of purpose, Brin." Nechayev confided with a smile, "You were wasting away out in the cold. I knew you'd latch on to an opportunity to come back. We just had to make it an equitable exchange."

"There is one matter." Drake spoke up, "Tom Riker. What are his plans? Will you give him command of the George Kelly?"

Macen shook his head, "Tom isn't ready for an independent command yet. He's too twisted with anger at the Syndicate. I'm afraid that if he had a ship, he'd launch a vendetta against the Syndicate. Collectively, we can't afford that right now."

"No, no you can't." Nechayev agreed, "Trust me, he'll get his chance eventually."

Macen sighed, "I know. Tom's still not going to take this very well."

And he didn't, "Dammit Brin! I've earned this command!"

"I'm not denying that nor am I saying the opportunity won't be there in the near future."

"What's the 'but' here?" Riker asked bitterly.

"The 'but' is the fact you're so filled with anger and hate right now that I'm afraid you'll go off on some self styled crusade to avenge Jamie. That's not what she would've wanted."

"How the hell would you know what she'd have wanted?" Riker snapped angrily.

"If you recall, I'm a low level empathy. I also share a telepathic rapport with a high level telepath. I probably knew her as well as you did. She was devoted to you, dedicated to her crew, and utterly professional regarding the mission. What she didn't have was a vindictive bone in her body. If you'd died and she'd lived, she'd have mourned, accepted the loss and moved on."

Riker threw a right cross at Macen. Macen sidestepped it and caught the arm by the wrist and twisted it behind Riker's back. He then turned Riker and put him into the closest wall.

"This is what I'm talking about." Macen said sternly, "You're not in control. If you need time off, take it."

"Let go of me and I'll show you 'out of control'." Riker snarled.

Macen applied pressure to Riker's wrist and the bigger man grimaced, "Fighting me won't solve a thing, Tom. I strongly suggest you take some time off and stay with your parents for awhile before I end up breaking your wrist to make my point."

"All right!" Riker gasped, "I'll do it!"

Macen released Riker's arm and stepped back, "Good decision. They'll be a slot aboard the Obsidian for you."

"The Obsidian?"

"My new Nova-class command." Macen explained.

"What about the Solstice?" Riker asked.

"The SPYards are constructing a replacement. The estimated completion date is a year and a half from now." Macen paused and his eyes bored into Riker's, "I mean for you to take command of her when she's completed. That all depends on you, of course."

Riker swallowed hard, "Thanks. It means a lot."

"Thank me later." Macen advised, "It hasn't happened yet."

"It will." Riker said with a hint of a smile, "Trust me, I'm not going to let this opportunity slip away."

Macen finally smiled, "I'm glad to hear it."

The next day at the transporter station, awaiting a beam out to Starfleet headquarters, the future officers of the SS Obsidian anxiously awaited their first glimpse of their new ship. There was still a lingering sadness but for the most part everyone had come to terms with Jamie Kirk's loss and was prepared to move forward. There was an overriding sense of hopeful anticipation.

They materialised on the public transport pads at the sprawling Starfleet compound. They were met by a lieutenant who escorted them to, and cleared them for, the primary Starfleet transporter station. Next, they beamed up to Spacedock. This time a lt. commander met them. The commander led them through the warrens of Spacedock until they reached a viewport with a clear view of a berthed Nova-class surveyor.

"There she is." Macen said proudly.

"Nice lines." T'Kir observed.

"Can't wait to see what she can do." Grace revealed.

"I can't wait to see what she's got under the hood." Parva remarked. Dracas chuckled as everyone else stared at the Orion engineer.

"I'm not sure what she just said but I echo the sentiment." Dracas confided.

"Finally," Danan said, "a full Sciences section."

"And a full sized Sickbay complete with a HoloDoc for back-up." Kort added.

"And shuttles." Grace spouted off gleefully.

"Okay people, we've seen her. Now, let's board her and make her ours." Macen urged.

"Shannon Forger, sir." a thirty something human woman introduced herself, "Ship's 2nd Officer and Assistant Tactical Officer."

"Hello, Commander." Macen acknowledged, "I have a surprise for you, for now at least, you're the acting 1st Officer."

Forger blinked in surprise, "I'm not sure what to say."

"How about 'thank you, sir. I hope to make you proud'." Macen suggested.

"Exactly!" Forger beamed.

"Well, since it looks like we're back to using a rank hierarchy, I suppose I'll be referring to you as 'Commander" for awhile."

"You could always call me Shannon." Forger suggested.

"Perfect." Macen smiled, "Now why don't you show my people around the bridge."

The bridge was circular with a single helm console right before the main viewer. Two chairs, for the CO and XO, sat right behind the helm. Tactical sat to the immediate left. Ops sat to the other side of the turbolift doors. The MSD display divided the rear stations. Sciences sat to the rear and right of the command chair. Next came the doors to the Captain's Ready Room. The Engineering station sat to the right of those doors.

Grace was sitting at the helm, caressing the controls. Daggit was inspecting the Obsidian's defensive capabilities. T'Kir was busy at Ops rewriting the central computer's programming. Danan was admiring the Sciences station and Parva was running diagnostics and conferring with Dracas down in Main Engineering from the Engineering station.

"It appears to me as though they've found everything on their own." Forger mirthfully informed Macen.

Macen eased himself into the command chair and rubbed the sides of the chair, "I guess I should make myself at home then."

Forger grinned from ear to ear, "Sounds like a plan, sir."

Macen leaned back and reflected on how long he'd dreamt of commanding a ship of this class. Far too long. Macen silently observed, But patience has finally paid off.

Macen was reclining in his office chair in his Ready Room when T'Kir buzzed to be let in. Macen ordered the computer to open the door. She took one look at him and shook her while wearing an impish grin.

"Making ourselves comfy?" she asked as she took a seat on the corner of the desk.

"Breaking everything in." Macen solemnly explained, "After all, this is a new hull. We're her first crew. We need to treat her right."

"So," T'Kir replied with a bemused smile, "you finally got the command of your dreams."

"That's right." Macen confirmed.

"And when we destroy this ship?" T'Kir asked with a straight face.

T'Kir could see the hurt in his eyes as Macen responded, "Then I get another one. Starfleet is finally releasing this class to civilians. That's the pretext to our having one."

"They're releasing them to research organisations like the Daystrom Institute." T'Kir countered, "How do we qualify under that pretext?"

"We do commercial scouting as well as our privateer work. Our letter of marque grants us the right to operate decommissioned starships or utilise starships released to civilian service. Our bona fides are established. There won't be any problems."

T'Kir snorted, "I can't wait to tell you 'I told you so' when you get proven wrong."

"So why are you really here?" Macen asked, "You're brimming with barely restrained curiosity."

"And you're blocking my telepathy you stinker." T'Kir scolded, "Daggit said you'd received a comm from Admiral Drake."

"Yup." Macen concurred.

"You're not going to tell me are you?" T'Kir said in exasperation.

"You haven't asked me for any information." Macen reminded her.

"Did we get our orders?" T'Kir practically shouted.

"Yup." Macen answered smugly.

T'Kir groaned, "You're going to make me wait until you announce it to the whole crew aren't you?"


"That's it, you're dead!" T'Kir lunged atop Macen, "Prepare for the tickle torture."

The Obsidian cleared the massive Spacedock doors and Macen smiled, "All right people, let's find out what she's got."

Anticipation rippled throughout the bridge as the ship leapt into subspace and vaulted to Warp 6. They had a ship and they had a mission. Life was complete.


The tale continues...


- The End -


Last modified: 02 Jan 2014