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Jem'Hadar by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

General Krim met with other Joint Chiefs as well as Starfleet leadership over forces deployed to the Bajor Sector and the nearby 7th and 9th Fleets. The Bajoran First Minister had decided to employ covert operatives on Bajor's behalf after the Emissary reclaimed Terok Nor and had convinced the Prophets to halt any and all Dominion invasion forces attempting to travel through the Celestial Temple. And it was meant to show that Bajor didn't require or want the Dominion's facilitators or a return of its Cardassian oppressors.

The Militia Joint Chiefs had gathered to discuss opening a new front against the Dominion and their Cardassian allies. A front that included the captured Valo system. The Dominion and the Cardassians were incensed that Bajor welcomed Starfleet and the Klingons with open arms after their former treaty members were rudely informed that the non-aggression pact Bajor and the Dominion was now null and void.

Starfleet and Klingon Defense Force assets and troops wouldn't base off of Bajor but they were hubbed around the former Terok Nor restored to being Deep Space Nine again. The Founder wanted Bajor militarily occupied when, if, they retook the system and colony worlds were feasible stepping stones. Valo II, III, and IV being the first worlds to fall before the new aggression policy. Embers of resistance remained throughout the former DMZ but without strategic and logistical support even the Maquis had been virtually crushed. Or so it seemed.

Former Maquis and Kohn Ma resistance cells, although the merest shadows of what they'd been once, had begun reporting on troop movements throughout the DMZ. And Bajor was invested in supporting their lost brethren and their Maquis confederates. The loss of the Valo system had forced the Militia to confess regarding their tacit or indirect support of the Federation labeled "terrorists".

But besides the intelligence flowing from the former DMZ, Bajoran officials wanted to start a campaign to retake the occupied systems. Only handfuls of active resistance fighters were spread thin in pockets across light years. So General Krim, the commandant of the Special Forces had a proposal to pass on. A plan the First Minister approved of.

Shakaar was well aware how victories were scant and few at first before a steady enough hole was punched the enemy's morale well before severe material losses wore an enemy down. With continued Dominion losses, several fleets lost to the Prophets and the Cardassian leadership changing hands, now the enemy's seeming invincibility had proven to be a myth after all.

General Luva of the Corps of Engineers, General Bullik commanding the Home System Defenses, General Deva who oversaw Planetary Security, General Vupo of the Constabulary, and General Lipa of Colonial Defenses were all united as one faction and there no opponents. The Generals agreed on two things: irregular troops with firsthand strategic and tactical knowledge of the affected regions were optimable and that Starfleet would resist the proposal.

"Admiral Ross, you, Captain Sisko, Commander Vaughn, and Commander Macen have been asked here to review an actionable proposal. Lieutenant Daggit represents your recent Angosian recruits. Gentlemen, you've all examined options of how best to use your new resources without getting them slaughtered. We recommend employing our new friends behind enemy lines while supported by Bajor and the First Minister," Krim announced.

"Could Bajor even mount such an operation?" Ross asked, "No offense of course."

"The greatest offenses are always couched in such banal statements," Deva retorted sharply. The woman charged with maintaining Bajor's Planetary Defense systems and personnel looked vaguely disappointed in Ross.

"The colonies must be protected all at the same time," Lipa strongly felt the loss of the Valo system and she refused to abandon them to the Dominion's clutches.

"We've strategically placed the Ferengi's self-replicating minds throughout the system," such was Bulik's bailiwick.

"Yes, the Ferengi's technical genius was to be admired," Luva of the Corps of Engineers indirectly complimented Rom. None of the Joint Chiefs approved of Rom's marriage to a native Bajoran named Leeta but they appreciated his work on behalf of the Bajoran Corps of Engineers.

"So what are you suggesting?" it would Vaughn's 98th birthday in a few days. Elias Vaughn had served Starfleet SOC for seven decades of exemplary service continued throughout those years. Vaughn was revered by Starfleet's Special Operations Command but his intersecting career path had also led him into meeting some Starfleet's legendary personnel. His friend and former student, Brin Macen, had stood by Vaughn throughout those seventy years.

As the only El-Aurian to join Starfleet, Macen had a mystique about him as well. Many in Starfleet thought Macen had gone "native" after infiltrating the Maquis. Only Alynna Nechayev's constant support and patronage kept Macen from the stockade. But Macen was considered to be the only premier agent that had studied, worked beside, and bled with the Maquis, especially the Ronara Prime's cell. Macen had befriended Cal Hudson, Sveta Korepanova, Ro Laren, Thomas Riker, and had stood in opposition against Michael Eddington's mad plan to use biogenic weapons of mass destruction on Cardassian colony worlds which only inspired Benjamin Sisko into poisoning Maquis colony worlds, rendering them incapable of supporting mammalian based life.

Starfleet had barely slapped his wrist over that incident and even the Cardassian Central Command ignored the fact that Starfleet had deployed a warship into the DMZ. Legate Dukat sat by and continued his burgeoning negotiations to bring the Dominion's forces into the Alpha Quadrant with the Cardassian military being the first join the Dominion's advance forces.

Sisko mined the entrance to the Prophets' wormhole leading to the Gamma Quadrant. Thereby denying them reinforcements. So the Dominion struck back and managed to push Starfleet off of DS9 and Dukat happily rechristened its original name. Only this time, Bajor wouldn't be exploited for its dwindled resources. This time Bajor could freely join the Dominion by choice or remain a neutral planet. But the Cardassians claimed Terok Nor as their very own and Bajoran personnel left aboard served beside their former oppressors and the Dominion's presence.

Until a demonstrator, a vedek to be precise, killed herself in protest and reignited the spark of Resistance. A spark fanned and led by Major Kira Nerys, the station's former XO and Bajoran liaison with Starfleet operational command staff. But even with the Dominion and the Cardassians outed from Bajoran territory, the Founder plotted and schemed.

"So what precisely are you suggesting here?" Ross tried to usurp control over the meeting again.

"Lieutenant Daggit and his cohorts are best used behind the former Demilitarized Zone, gathering intelligence, freeing prisoners, and sabotaging the Dominion's infrastructure," Krim spoke as though it would be obvious even to a blind man or woman.

A hint of amusement flickered in Vaughn's eyes. He and Macen were prepping the former commandos for the mission. But building and resupplying an active resistance within occupied worlds was the logical step.

"Yes, we've been told," Ross disgruntled that either a member of his staff had leaked that information, or that the so-called "junior" partners had come to the same conclusions. Conclusions that they now wished to wrest control over. But Starfleet's most trusted advisors couldn't see or manage a way to infiltrate the DMZ without pushing for more front lines to open. And the Bajorans were willing to utilize their limited number of warp capable warships to the effort.

"We could create a joint command," Sisko spoke without Ross' leave

"Yes, our specialists have recommended the same. The mission would be under the Militia's direct command," Krim advised them, "You would provide the Angosians and an intelligence chieftain. Our field commander already refused to undertake the mission unless Commander Macen joins her team."

Vaughn was bemused by Macen's faux shock. Starfleet's "rehabilitation" program for Macen was to keep him away from the front lines, or any lines.

"Is your field commander prepared to present herself?" Ross interjected

"Of course," Krim wore a nasty smile, "Lieutenant Ro Laren is a Special Forces soldier on my staff and a resident expert on the DMZ worlds themselves."

Ro Laren entered as summoned wearing Special Forces gray uniform.

Ross was immediately on his feet, "Generals, arrest that woman."

"Why?" Vupo, the Chief Constable over the entire Militia Constabulary, asked.

"She's wanted for desertion and acts of terrorism," Ross grated. Ro looked at him like an invasive species of insect that needed eradicating.

"Lieutenant Ro has been given Bajor's grant of amnesty in exchange for assisting us in this endeavor," Lipa explained, "And as such, is considered our best bet to reclaiming the Valo system as the war is prosecuted."

"And she picked Macen as her intelligence guru," Vaughn smirking now. Macen had spent twenty years on the Cardassian border as the skirmishes that were now labeled the Border Wars and then convinced Nechayev to keep him in place as a joint agent between Starfleet Intelligence and SOC. Macen was one of two reliable troubleshooters Nechayev actually trusted their judgment and discretion...the latter only to a degree.

Mackenzie Calhoun being the other. She secretly delighted in the fact he'd broken Admiral Edward Jellico's jaw...twice now and neither time did anyone actually witness the blow since Calhoun threw the punches faster that the human eye could track. But her interventions had kept Calhoun in Starfleet intelligence's service and with Jean-Luc Picard's support, steered Calhoun back into the Command Division and now he was CO of the USS Excalibur-A. The second starship under his command bearing that proud name.

His wife commanded the USS Trident and Elizabeth Paula Shelby was being fast tracked to take over control of the Douglas-class Deep Space Beta. Which would promote her to Admiral. Then it would also make her the CO of Sector 221-G. Nechayev also had eyes on creating a new division.

The Starfleet Special Investigation Division would operate in the gray areas that beleaguered traditional starship captains. With the intention of granting certain irregulars a place on the teams as well as certain command functions. But that wouldn't be accomplished until after the war concluded. Assuming the Federation and its allies survived.

Krim signaled for his specialists to enter the conference space. Ross and Sisko were immediately on their feet mouthing protests.

"Ro Laren is wanted by Starfleet on charges of desertion, acts of terrorism, and espionage," Ross continued to tremble with outrage.

"And Neela is a murderer and attempted assassin," Sisko's own umbrage outshone even Ross'.

"Lieutenant Ro was offered an amnesty by the First Minister. Neela is the Kai's own agent. I'm curious to see if either of you find Major Anara's presence unappealing," Krim stated in return.

"Nice to see you again, Commander Macen," Ro looked at him like a lifeline in a boiling sea.

"I'm guessing your admission price was having a seat at the table," Macen deduced.

"Still too clever for your own good," Ro managed a wan smile as their little theater act plate dour.

"I refuse to take part in any mission where this terrorist is involved," Ross fomented. He had hard enough time dealing with Macen. But Macen had remained on point against Nechayev's targets.

"And I refuse to work with Neela," Sisko vowed.

"Yet you will," Neela predicted, "Her Eminence sends her deepest regards."

"There is room for us. If everyone can quite posturing for a moment,"

Anara spoke up.

"Please be seated," Krim requested.

"It's too bad you won't work with former Maquis," Ro smirked, "Because two others still work for me. Strictly freelance in Bajoran eyes."

"Aric?" Macen inquired about Ro's former deputy commander of the Ronaran cell, Aric Tulley.

"Arrested and imprisoned by Starfleet. Which might do him some good. The Jem'Hadar broke him emotionally and mentally," Ro confided.

"So who's left?" Macen wondered.

"Elfi and Thool are still with me," Elfi Hendryks had been the cell's OPS specialist and Emjin Thool was the Bolian engineer that held the Ju'day-class scoutship running at peak performance. Macen's own Starfleet derived and decommissioned Blackbird-class scout had been confiscated when he returned some of his crew across front lines. Macen had spent decades studying the Cardassians and twenty years in the field spying on them.

"This conference is over," Ross decided.

"Nechayev has just assumed jurisdiction over the conference," Vaughn, who was still a fit soldier after joining Starfleet back in 2293, informed Ross and Sisko. His eighty-two year career had largely been spent in SOC. Macen, being El-Aurian, was extremely long lived. He was over four hundred years old and it metabolically he aged ten years for every century.

"Look, we can unwind the twisted legalities here but the simple truth comes down to can we afford not to work with Maquis and others we dislike?" Vaughn finally asked.

"Ben?" Ross eyed him carefully.

"Did you serve out your sentence?" Sisko asked Neela.

"I was granted an early release to serve the Kai," Neela modestly informed him, "But I'm a servant to the Prophets and not to you or ultimately the Kai."

"You speak for the Prophets then?" Sisko tested her "lie".

"I don't speak them if you're worried about me seeking to oust you as the Emissary. Just as the Kai feels no threat of my pursuing her role in what is," Neela replied, "I deal with the Prophets as they deem to work through me."

"And Neela is partnered with me on most of her outings," Anara added.

"Fortunately she doesn't try proselytize her faith to those that don't want hear it," Ro commented.

"I'm still leaving," Ross snorted, "And so will every Starfleet officer present and accounted for."

"Negative. I'm the SOC commander for this front. And my superiors anticipated your attitude and have overridden your objections," Vaughn advised the admiral, "And to prove my jurisdiction, I had Lt. Commander Svetlana Korepanova released to my custody yesterday."

While Ross sputtered in protest, Vaughn turned his attention to Sisko, "I'll need space set up on operations center separate from all other Starfleet prerogatives."

"We still have Korepanova's work center still intact but inoperative," Sisko explained rather begrudgingly.

"Hook it up. I need it running before Korepanova reaches this station," Vaughn informed his nominal superiors.

"And, to play this right, no more uniforms," Vaughn insisted.

"My cover as an information broker hasn't been discovered to be fake just yet," Macen spoke at last.

"Once everyone and everything is in place, Macen will contact merchants and retailers in and around Cardassia Prime," Vaughn informed them, "I'll be headed to Betazed to help liberate the planet from the Dominion. So if you have any additional information requests to make, now is the time for it."

"It seems you're only skirting the realities here," Sisko advised Vaughn.

"Captain, the details have already been sorted out. But Starfleet Command and the First Minister want this done and on Bajor's books, not ours," Vaughn finalized the announced deal.

"Have your Chief of Operations reactivate Korepanova's intelligence gathering capabilities," Ross decided to roll over.

"Admiral?" Sisko was unusually hesitant.

"This will either succeed or marvelously implode upon itself. Either way, you and I are done here," Ross informed him.

"I think I should stay to iron out the boundaries," Sisko replied, "The Maquis, and Korepanova, ran and operated on this station until Eddington revealed Sveta Korepanova's role as the Architect."

Sisko reminded Ross, "All because he was spiteful and jealous that the Maquis regarded her so highly while he was trying to consolidate his hold over them."

"Starfleet Command is willing to try this out. So the prisoner transfer needed to be done ASAP," Vaughn informed them.

"Starfleet needs a representative in this endeavor," Sisko insisted.

"Commander Macen will be the intelligence agent in place. But Major Anara will provide the Militia with eyes on the group. Lieutenant Ro has the misfortune to command the field operations behind enemy lines," Vaughn reminded the trio.

"And Neela's presence?" Sisko looked sour.

"Is here at the First Minister and the Kai's insistence," General Krim explained.

"Ben?" Ross noted Sisko's hesitation.

"You go ahead," Sisko urged him, "I'll make certain the station doesn't come under threat."

Ross immediately understood that meant threats from out and inner circles.

"Now what do I call our resident convict?" Sisko inquired sharply as he begrudgingly sat down again.

"Citizen Neela is here of her own volition. She volunteered," Krim informed the Emissary.

"You should know better than anyone that the Prophets will speak when and if they wish to," Neela responded.

"So you're pious?" Sisko was offended by the surety of Neela's faith in Bajor's dominant religion. A religion wrapped around the aliens that had created the galaxy's first stable wormhole and dared live within its pocket universe. But Neela had killed innocent people in the name of the Prophets before.

"What kind of missions are you planning?" Sisko gruffly asked.

"A scouting operation at first," Krim answered, "Beginning with determining the fate of the Bajorans in the Valo system. Afterwards scouting out the Dominion's logistical chains and breaking them."

"A system filled with Bajoran colonies," General Lipa the woman responsible for defending Bajor's colonial holdings, spoke up, "And a system that the Federation placed inside the DMZ without consulting Bajoran leaders in exile. We need to determine what humanitarian needs they have as well as their sympathies regarding mounting an active resistance."

"The Federation ceded a non-aligned system to better serve the treaty stipulations between the Federation and the Cardassian Union," Sisko snorted.

"This being said by the only Starfleet officer to ever use biogenic weapons on a colony of Federation citizens," Neela seemed amused.

"They wee criminals who wouldn't recognize anything reasonable as a solution too their own previous usages of biogenic weaponry," Sisko grated.

"So instead you targeted those who weren't Maquis down to every last man, woman, and child," Neela recounted the incident, "And their capital crime? Being born, perhaps?"

Ro didn't know much about Neela's particulars but she was enjoying her stirring Sisko up.

"Nothing to fear here folks," Vaughn interrupted, "Starfleet didn't prosecute and thus became intertwined as accomplices to the intended genocide."

Sisko's dark skin darkened even further, "I expect a full report and long term and short term goals on my desk twenty minutes after this meeting concludes," Sisko ordered Vaughn.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," Krim advised Captain Sisko, "We have classified this meeting and any all missions the selected group plans and undertakes. We'll share relevant information as it comes in and as we deem fit. Doesn't Starfleet do the same?"

Sisko was sorely tempted to flaunt his status as the Prophets' Emissary but he stifled that reaction, "I'll inform Admiral Ross."

"Please do, Captain," Krim said breezily.

"It's dangerous to antagonize Sisko right now," Vaughn warned, "He's veteran of the Tzenkethi conflicts. And he just overturned every Cardassian and Founder's ambition of securing exclusive rights to the wormhole."

"Better acknowledged as the Celestial Temple of the Prophets," Neela corrected him.

"You'll understand if I choose disagree?" Vaughn asked.

"They forgive your impudent self-imposed apostasy," Neela promised, "They have a future for you because they have faith in your even if you don't reciprocate that yet."

Ro noted that Macen was very still observing every player. Lieutenant Daggit was restless. From what Ro had learned aboard the Enterprise the enhancements made to the Angosian Augments went further than psychological and physical conditioning. They were hyper aware of their surrounding and running threat assessments in the mind at all times. Even a direct phaser stun blast would fail to bring one down.

And she was tasked with leading a sixteen man and woman unit on a subversive tour of what had been the DMZ. The rest of the enlisted platoon were waiting for a briefing from her, Macen, and Daggit.

Valo loomed over the impending discussion but Ro had an idea, one that would be ignored, but she had convinced herself that she mustn't be taken lightly. Ro wanted to create a distraction on another lost colony while she piloted the Indomitable, her Ju'day-class flagship of the Ronara Prime Maquis cell's small craft assortment. But even that craft was downtrodden next to its illustrious cousin.

Macen owned and operated his "information broker" cover in command of a decommissioned Starfleet Blackbird-class scout. But Starfleet had commandeered his ship when he escaped the DMZ and his crew were pardoned for any and all acts of terrorism they were responsible for, directly or indirectly.

Lisea Danan had left to go back to her research rather than playing mole aboard Macen's ship. T'Kir had been institutionalized after her final mental meltdown that ended up almost costing Macen his life. Tracy Ebert was still a teen and released as such. Christine Lacey was also released and given access to resume her transition from male to female with the surgical sexual organ reassignment procedure. Heidi Darcy and Tom Eckles were each engineering adepts under their collective civilian belts that astounded and amazed most. They too were released on their own recognizance.

Macen lost the use of his own ship in order from Admiral Alynna Nechayev to force his cooperation in her plans to utilize Ro and Macen to effectively open a new front on the enemy's neglected rear within the former DMZ as the Dominion pressed ever further into Federation space and the logistical support suffered for it. As Nechayev had promised Macen, Eckles and Darcy had reference letters from Starfleet Command so that they could resume life in non-combative roles. Eckles was hired in to train beside a chief of engineering in one of the large tour lines. Darcy returned to conventional shipping as a chief. Lacey avoid the war but when it ended, she would become one of the civilian border patrol tactical operators. Tracy Ebert was left to fall between the cracks and she would become a smuggler of "exotic" wares to nonaligned and even combative patrons as Macen's official cover within the Maquis had been as well.

T'Kir was half-Vulcan and half-Romulan and unable to master her telepathic abilities hence her incarceration in the Federation's tightest security treatment hospitals atop the Andes Mountains' cliffs.

Ro's own lieutenant, the ever stoic Aric Tulley, blamed her for the destruction of the Maquis for working to redirect and re imagining the Maquis colonies united as a political force instead of becoming terrorists in fact as well as accusations. When Cal Hudson had been killed and the Maquis were cast adrift by his temporary successor. But Michael Eddington's bravado had swayed them and so they began stealing medical usage biomemetic gels to create biogenic weapons. Each weapon was purposefully designed to only kill Cardassians and half-Cardassians.

It was then that the recently devastated Ronaran cell split into two separate factions. Ro and her band decried the use of WMDs. Tulley had the majority assisting Eddington however they could. Ro took her loyalists and fled from Ronara Prime just days before the Jem'Hadar were ordered to exterminate the Maquis and enslave the noncombatants.

Ro and hers fought a running battle after the Jem'Hadar ships swept away resistance in the DMZ colonies. Ro fought back and Macen pitted his ship and crew into a combat role rather than an intelligence gathering ruse. He was recalled from the DMZ but he refused it abandon his friends. Tulley blamed Macen and Ro for his life sentence to a penal colony.

But he'd detonated a proximity fused weapon aboard a school bus whose route took Cardassian children from the Interstellar Academy. A blend of Federation derived colonial children died in the bombing when the bus ran close to the Security Center that the Cardassians used as a front for intimidation tactics employed to try and rid themselves of the Federation colonists.

Tulley was so far gone he approved of the thirty odd non-Cardassian lives that had been snuffed out in an instant and the center's security forcefield was disabled by the explosion but only cosmetic damage had been inflicted. The Maquis, always so dependent upon the colonists' good will and generosity, lost the hearts and minds campaign with one stupendously ill conceived moment made worse by Eddington's announcement that the Maquis had dealt a blow against Cardassian and collaborators in one press of a button. Even given time, the decision would have ended popular support of the mainstream Maquis who'd become actual terrorists. Even including dissenters like Ro and others who had vehemently opposed Eddington's mad schemes.

An escalation that Sisko had used in his justification for afflicting doom upon a colonial world if they refused to leave the planet and trade one of the populations from Cardassian colonies for. Eddington was captured and Tulley assumed command of the various cells besotted with Eddington's vision of a galaxy purged of its Cardassian populations. So Tulley ordered every Maquis small attack craft to destroy the Cardassians that had departed their poisoned biospheres to relocate to a world that human victims were exiting. The Maquis burned every bridge they had at that moment in time and space. Even Nechayev finally washed her hands of them and ordered Macen out of the DMZ.

Sveta Korepanova's intelligence and planning group operating on Deep Space Nine's Promenade were arrested and deported days before the Cardassians retook Terok Nor. Which saved their lives. Ro and Macen ran hit and run tactics. But Nechayev's opposition cut deep into Macen's operating budget since photon torpedoes were no longer free to have.

With Admiral (Retired) Sam Waters dead, Christina Liu still ran the DMZ Freight and Delivery Service that operated with Starfleet's sufferance. Its role of positioning "cargo bearing" Maquis ships to coordinate actions and operations across the winding Demilitarized Zone was now completed. In fact, that planet now "boasted" having a Jem'Hadar and Vorta garrison. The planet and surrounding solar systems being directly ruled over by the Dominion and not their "allies" the Cardassians. Which broke the deals made to bring the Dominion troops and ships into the Alpha Quadrant.

But Cardassia was meant to be the Dominion's resource to rule over the captured territories and that process had died as soon as the digital "ink dried". Dukat was broken and still blinded by grief. Damar had taken his place as the ruling legate. The Founder cited broken trust with the failures of the Cardassian troops and blamed them for bringing troops onto Cardassian held planets to "prevent" hostile reprisals made by the Starfleet and Klingon Defense Forces. When in fact the Dominion was poised to inflict those reprisals themselves.

Macen, Vaughn, and Ro had determined the Valo system was their principal first mission. It lacked an overt Dominion presence and the Cardassian military observation post on Valo VI had never been shut down despite two separate treaties condemning rather than condoning that post especially with Valo being drawn inside the disputed DMZ worlds. Three Bajoran colonies existed between Valo II, Valo III, and Valo IV and contact with them had ceased after the Cardassian led retreat from DS9. Ro's plan revolved around using civilian transports to conduct business across the imaginary lines that had been the DMZ borders.

"Everyone is being worked as slave labor building Cardassian garrisons," Ro reiterated her earlier reports, "They just don't have the means to express their dissatisfaction with their living conditions."

"Means we can supply," Krim stated openly, "But they need to have the will to abandon the lives they knew in order to ignite a spirit of rebellion and then the determination to fight as a resistance."

"My people can train them well enough not to point the beam emitters at themselves and each other," Daggit promised, "But we won't have time on our side. They'll have to learn as they go."

"Another shared experienced with the Resistance here on Bajor," Anara reminded the group, "It took us sixty years to prove our resolve not only to the Cardassians but to Starfleet as well."

"This time Starfleet is already on board," Vaughn promised, "Macen will keep the fires burning in Starfleet Intelligence."

"Pardon me, Commander. But you are an El-Aurian? The only one of your kind in Starfleet?" General Jira inquired.

"I am. I lost one home planet I'm not about to let the Cardassians and Jem'Hadar take another one from me," Macen answered.

"The Commander has been on front lines against the Cardassians since the Border Wars began. SOC trained him to be more than an analyst. He's a fully certified field operative as well. Hand selected for the role by Admiral Nechayev herself. His tutor was none other than Commander Vaughn himself," Ro specified, "Admiral Elijah Waters created the shipping network contractors that funded individual Maquis cells but legitimized our forces being in the star systems that also housed our targets."

"And though Macen wouldn't say it, he never generated a profit as an information broker. All of his receipts went to the Ronara Prime cell group led by Ro herself," Vaughn offered that news freely.

"And Lieutenant Ro's actions as a Maquis earned her a place within the Militia despite any protests Starfleet might have," Krim stated, "She's the ideal Militia candidate for this role."

"Despite her noticeable lesser rank than Major Anara, who has come rapidly through the ranks after transfer from Engineering to Special Forces," Krim stated on Anara's behalf.

"Lieutenant Ro's own loyalties to the colonists also clouds her judgment and that is where Anara comes in as our personal spokeswoman," Jira explained.

"And Citizen Neela?" Vaughn inquired.

"Citizen Neela is here, as previously stated, at the Kai's insistence. But Neela has proven herself loyal to a fault to both Bajor and Kai Winn," Jira reported, "Neela and Anara have worked together since their days in Resistance. That comradeship and expertise is better paired than separated and marginalized."

"Which begs the imagination into asking where Bajor's spiritual leader requires a troubleshooter. Especially a non-sectarian troubleshooter," Vaughn wanted to know.

"General Jira understated my role. I serve the Prophets and they alone. As a spokeswoman of the Prophets, Kai Winn has earned my service but she isn't my first and foremost loyalty. The Prophets and then my people are my highest decreed allegiance," Neela corrected everyone.

"And she's nearly precognizant," Anara warned everyone, 'Enough so I truly believe Neela is touched by the Prophets."

"Touched or not, Kai Winn has made it clear she'd sooner alert the Dominion of our activities rather than see us ship out without Neela being with us," Ro warned everyone.

"Who the hell does she think she is?" Vaughn was deeply troubled.

"First Minister Shakaar and Kai Winn rarely agree anything but Neela's inclusion to this mission has them united at long last,"Krim advised Vaughn.

"I'm duly notified," Vaughn shook off but regretted having to do so.

"Commander Macen and I have fallen back into old habits," Vaughn told the assemblage, "We have an action plan supported and weighed by the latest intel coming from the captured planets within the former DMZ. It's a solid beginning and centers around returning communications to and from the Valo system, as required by Ro herself."

"The Renoran Maquis cell already dealt a crippling blow to the Cardassian listening post on Valo VI," Macen pointed out "Yet Starfleet forbade us from recovering your own colonies,"

"The Federation treats as unruly children," General Deva complained, "Yet our own civilization predates theirs by fifty millennia. And until now they were never occupied on a planetary level until the Dominion allied themselves with the Cardassians."

"Our own shipyards are building warp capable vessels for inner defense and further out," General Bullik reminded everyone, "Major Anara has one of those license built Militia troop transports."

"The Ark of the Prophets is officially stolen and I'm officially a renegade and Neela is my frequent mission partner," Anara explained.

"Which explains to Starfleet why they're not officially included in the mission personnel," Ro finished Anara's thought.

"If we're agreement now, can we begin the brief?" General Vupo inquired impatiently. Running the Constabulary took most of the General's days and evenings.

"We, as the Joint Chiefs or our departments have already agreed to Commander Vaughn's proposed action plan. Now we have to oversee upgrading all of our defensive strategies," Krim dismissed the Joint Chiefs.

"Now Commander, let's talk offense versus defense," Ro smirked.

Thool had painted the Maquis emblem across registry portions of the hull displaying that the Indomitable was a renegade. But the Indie carried half of Daggit's platoon. Vaughn had departed to plan the guerrilla war on Betazed. Ro manned the helm while Elfi Hendryks sat at her usual post at OPS. The Bolian Emjin Thool manned the engineering deck with some assistance of cross trained Angosians. Command Master Chief Varglas ran the half of the platoon aboard while Daggit oversaw the personnel assigned to the Ark. Ro had rerouted weapons to her command board. Macen adapted the Master Systems Display station to a mission brief data womb. The womb included all of the Indie's sensors as well constant feeds from Starfleet Intelligence and the Militia's colonies beyond the DMZ.

Anara and Neela felt a little put out to have Daggit and his commandos aboard. They were used to total autonomy and the behaviorally and physically altered Angosian Augments were easily overwhelmed by their lethal instincts without a dominating chain of command. Something the Bajorans couldn't give them because they lived without one most of the time. Daggit kept his composure and ran rail rod over his teammates. They came at the Valo system from different routes. The Ark intended to land upon Valo II. The Indomitable was headed to Valo III.

The Dominion had received digital paperwork on both ships. Macen's cover as an information broker was still valid in Cardassian space. And the truth that the Odyssey had been impounded backed up his tale of woe requiring him to find other like-minded profiteers. Both ships had recently been docked at the retaken and renamed again back to Deep Space Nine. The Architect was also back in business. Even Ro Laren had avoided capture by the Dominion, the Cardassians, and Starfleet.

Captains Ro and Macen united rather than divided when most of Ro's crew had been captured. Macen lost his ship and crew to Starfleet so on padds they seemed to begrudge the Federation and Starfleet for their losses. Under the new partnership, Macen acquired the intelligence and brokered a deal through the Architect and Ro's specialty was getting the data to the paying customer. It had to be physical transfers because anything else could be intercepted by various interested parties scanning every frequency snaring said information and that meant getting data to clients before the information was expired by actions by any other party.

Ro and Anara's entrance to the Valo system took the Cardassians rushing to their posts while Vorta commanders advised the Founder and Legate Damar of the sudden appearance of potentially hostile vessels. Damar was ready unleash hell upon the two ships but the Founder wanted them kept alive. She'd already brokered for the data Macen brought as well as the secondary files held within the Ark of the Prophets.

Nechayev had allowed Macen to take troop deployment stats. Statistics and personnel rolls that revealed an opening in the Klingon's flanks was actually being opened to lure a surprise attack against the Dominion forces. All of which was true when you looked at the data from a strategic allowance to steer the Dominion from the Klingons into sailing into a different vector and getting the drop on them. But this too was a trap.

Vulcan had repelled the Cardassian advances but was unwittingly on the scorched planet approach the Breen would be taking on Earth in a few short months. That data was hidden from Macen and Ro. But the Valo system would act as a jumping point to retake the Wormhole once its defense's were built. All of the former DMZ colonies were being fortified as logistical jumping points to quickly replenish losses at the Forward Area of Battle. Damar wanted vengeance for the Cardassians Ro had killed as a Maquis. He also wanted the literal pound of flesh for those deaths she'd orchestrated as a prominent cell leader. Macen's connections to Starfleet Intelligence were obscured by efforts to sell information to the highest bidders. While he'd served beside Ro on multiple occasions, Starfleet had disavowed him. Only Vaughn, Ross, and Sisko knew otherwise besides Nechayev.

Sveta Korepanova had been released and once again operated with Ro and Macen as the Architect. Even the former operatives of the Obsidian Order were hard pressed to explain away why Korepanova had been released early and allowed to bring staff back to DS9, as the Bajorans so treacherously renamed Terok Nor again. What was known was that Ross and Sisko were angered beyond reasonable measure by the efforts to bring in counsel that was even more highly ranked than Ross to make it happen.

Sources stated that the Commander-in-Chief was under direct political pressure to make it happen. The Bajoran Joint Chiefs were chafing under pressure to defend their own world again should the Alliance fail and Bajor was under occupation again. With Bajor's colonies all vulnerable to outside action the Joint Chiefs and the First Minister were out of their collective minds with worry. Bajor had granted Ro amnesty in exchange for services rendered. Macen had never arrived at the stockade and in fact had never been formally charged with any crime of any sort.

Sources on Earth made mention that Nechayev, Vaughn, and Macen had developed strong bonds and she dropped any action that Starfleet JAG could hope to pin on the analyst turned field agent. But it was widely admitted that Macen had headed out to the Border Wars' front lines and gone native after his arrival in the mid-2350s.

Admiral Elijah Waters had come out of retirement to assist the Maquis. an arrangement that was discovered after Section 31 had Waters killed. Kristina Liu kept the fictional transport and courier service alive after Waters' death. But even she felt the impact of the Dominion's war against the Federation and Klingons. The Kalendra Sector had been continuously fought for since DS9 originally fell. She currently led a party of partisan insurgents gutting away at the ever increasing military occupation forces.

The Founder and Autocrat ruling the Tzenkethi told each other pretty lies regarding neutrality and sovereign space while each knew the other was lying. The Founder's envoys to the neighboring Breen were evidence of that. But soon Sisko and Garak would arrange for the happy "accident" that killed a Romulan Senator and invoked a response from the militant Romulans. An alliance of the three largest stellar governments in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. And the Founder and her forces were sixty thousand light years from the war and the mysterious so-called "Prophets" that inhabited the Celestial Temple/Stable Wormhole and had blocked the other side of the wormhole. An exit in the Gamma Quadrant and erased everyone who'd been inside the Prophets' own territory. The Founder believed her people's overarching lie that subjugated and terrorized the amalgamated forces she'd put together across the Gamma Quadrant and seriously repelled easy alliances.

The Founder was a god in flesh according to the strictures of the cloning processes that the Vorta and Jem'Hadar were derived from. Citizens within the Dominion wanted free of the egotistically self-proclaimed gods that interfered in their daily lives. At least the god-like Prophets knew when to leave Bajor alone and the incomprehensible attitude that they were of Bajor yet would remain loftily silent before the Cardassians for sixty-two years. They didn't reveal themselves again until their Emissary finally arrived.

"I'd say with a little more planning and waiting for every asset to be put in place, you're a go," Vaughn said as he rose from the conference table, "I'm off for Betazed."

"Luck," Macen offered.

"Always," Vaughn thanked him.

"Plans?" Sisko stiffened again.

"Kalendra fell to the Dominion three months ago," Macen told him, "Unfortunately one of our needed assets is still on Kalendra organizing partisan activities and we we need her logistical expertise,"

"Would this asset have a name?" Sisko already knew where this was headed. Lt. Commander Kristina Liu hadn't obeyed her recall orders after Elijah Waters was murdered. Nechayev was empathetic about that situation but unswerving when Liu adamantly refused to officially return to Starfleet. Liu was written as being AWOL.

But Macen intervened on her behalf to stay the dogs of espionage. Liu was still doing her assigned job. She getting the Maquis mobilized and funded. The Cardassians had allegedly pulled any and all military support out of the DMZ even towards their own paramilitary forces to redirect efforts to secure Cardassia Prime from the Klingons. Nechayev's anger at Ro not competing for the role of Maquis Commander and just giving in to Eddington's ambitions enraged Nechayev but she began, with Macen and Vaughn's assistance, to see the value of Ro and the Ronara Prime cell operating independently.

When all broke loose regarding biogenic weapons, Eddington and Sisko each took one on the nose. And Ro seemed virtuous as she and Macen's crew ferried and escorted less able craft out of the DMZ intro repeatedly disappearing Federation borders or neutral space near the Tzenkethi and the Breen.

The Founder was so ill and near death, the one foe she should've feared most was now an arbitrary bogeyman to her. It seemed that the Borg would stand still in the Delta Quadrant for now. The greatest military alliance the Alpha and Beta Quadrants had ever seen was firming up between the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and The Romulan Star Empire. The Founder desperately contrived to sign a non-aggression pact with the Romulans despite her oath to destroy and murder every Romulan in the galaxy.

The ratification of Bajor as a member of the United Federation of Planets would easily come within a year of the Dominion War ending. Especially with Militia stepping up their game. Then the shuffleboard would begin. First, Sisko would have to leave DS9. Kira would be promoted but would she accede to a second promotion to Starfleet Admiral to oversee the Bajor Sector and the 7th Fleet?

A stand-in would be a placeholder until Ro could be adequately promoted to Starfleet Commander to oversee station ops and Wormhole traffic. Assuming of course Ro would transfer back to Starfleet as the Militia became a simple police force within their own home solar system and colonies. Col. Kira had to realize that Odo would only return to his people. No other option existed for him. The Great Link needed to reform its ways or let it be permanently divided. Which included Odo himself if they grew uncontrollable.

Ro's team would be picking up Liu from Kalendra. Anara and Neela would jump out to Prophet's Landing, the closest Bajoran settlement to the still fluid Cardassian border. From there they meant to get a feel for the Dominion defenses around the Valo system. Ro would drop Liu off at Fair Haven, the closest Bajoran colony to the Kalendra Sector and then while she traveled to DS9, the Indomitable would rendezvous with the Ark of the Prophets and finalize their plans.

Ro expertly piloted the Ju'day-class scoutship to Kalendra. Once again, the Allied forces had liberated it yet again. But Dominion ground forces fought all that much harder as the Jem'Hadar went mad from ketracil white withdrawals. Starfleet and the Klingon "liberators" had barely set up Green Zones for the populace to flee to as the streets were awash with blood lust. Liu was leading a band of partisans with greater reach than that of Starfleet and the Klingon Defense Forces.

They were running an "Underground Railroad" from the afflicted lands and territories to the safety zones that were developing. Unsurprisingly, Liu kept her mobile HQ flitting about in a circumference centered on the old Demilitarized Zone Cargo and Transport Referral Agency. The agency still had the most powerful computing system in the sector and was also tied into every global network.

Macen had pinged the office comm relays. It utilized its unique cipher to identify both Macen and Ro in order to hasten Liu's response. Dominion reinforcements were scheduled to invade the system again in scant hours. They needed to be gone and on their way to Fair Haven. Liu was actually already at the agency when Ro and Macen skirted the transport inhibitors that discreetly enveloped the building and its lower levels.

Liu happily embraced each of them, "I did not expect you two to ever return here. Nechayev reportedly lost all of her last resort assets."

"Happy to disappoint," Ro smirked.

"She upheld my bargain with her. All of the Odyssey's crew received safe conduct and jobs if they wanted them and a stake if they wanted to venture out of the war zones," Macen explained, "That just left Sveta and you unaccounted for."

"Well they situation here is changing. I'm not invaluable anymore," Liu shrugged.

"The Architect is going back online," Ro said crisply, "Korepanova could use your help."

"Is everyone from the Architect coming back?" Liu asked.

"The penal transport taking most of the team back to Terra Nova was struck by Dominion raiders. So its just you and Sveta," Macen said ruefully.

"But there's only two ships?" Liu had received a brief appraisal of what they were asking for.

"A Militia ship, supposedly rogue, and us," Ro confirmed it.

"Any chance of getting the Odyssey back in action?" Liu was hopeful.

"Sorry, Starfleet impounded her," Macen held a grudge.

"I suppose they gave a you a lame ass reason," Liu chuckled. Ro's communicator chirped and she stepped away as she flipped it open.

"Damn, I've missed those communicators," Liu was surprised by her feelings.

"We need to go," Ro said tersely, "The assault squadron just rolled into the solar system. But the few reinforcements Starfleet could cobble together are coming coreward. We have a window to get out right now."

Liu hefted a duffel, "Here's what's left of my world."

Hendryks transported them back and Ro relieved Thool at the helm, "We need to kick this pig."

Which meant they'd be running at 110%.

"Who are all the hard, muscular bad asses?" Liu whispered to Macen.

"Angosians recruited by Starfleet. Membership in exchange for cooperation," Macen explained, "Varglas. get Commander Liu stowed away for hard travels."

"Yessir," Varglas easily lifted the bag Liu struggled with only using one arm to tow it on his shoulder. Liu bit her knuckle in delight while wagging her eyebrows at Macen.

He chuckled all the way to the bridge, "Kris is deep in lust."

"Given all the living statues around here, I know how she feels," Hendryks admitted.

"Lots of eye candy," Ro agreed as she set course and rang Thool warning him they'd be going to maximum warp inside the inner solar system rather than in the outer. Which meant diverting some of the excess power to the deflector array but they couldn't maintain dilithium coherence burning it beyond rated maximums. Fortunately, they'd received the forecasts for Dominion intervention while they'd be in the Kalendra Sector and the Militia had requisitioned extra dilithium from Starfleet.

They'd spared a meager amount but Quark came through as always. He'd even charged a lower mark up out of respect for Ro. A move which almost insulted Jadzia Dax. They'd had dealings in the past and she'd earned very grudging bit of his delight in dealing with her. Including a few barroom brawls that had begun in his establishment.

She'd seen through the unnecessary expenditures he attempted to charge her with over "damages" and always sent couriers with the exact price that met reality and he wasn't entirely certain how she outplayed him every time. But he was looking into it.

Of course seeing the Maquis cell commander in Militia livery had flabbergasted him. But he enjoyed how worked up Odo and Sisko were getting over it. Talks were already underway for Bajor's admission into the Federation and the merger of the Militia's extra-solar system patrol officers and other qualifying personnel to be merged into Starfleet. An old human phrase had already labeled the future course instructions churning out "90 Day Wonder" officers.

If Ro rejoined Starfleet, she would come full circle and he couldn't wait.

After Liu bid temporary goodbyes, she transferred over to a Militia courier flying from Fair Haven back to DS9. Thool took the cross trained engineering Angosians to help overhaul the engines very quickly and replace the cracked and burnt dilithium crystals out of services.

"Message on coded channel," Hendryks warned Ro as she and Macen returned to the bridge.

"It seems our esteemed allies have a lead on the Valo defenses. We'll need your credentials to get in," Ro warned Macen after he read the same coded transmission.

"It's amazing how short Cardassian memories are when they want something from you," Hendryks whistled.

"Exactly. The Central Command is still bristling about the Chrysalis Child incident. But the bellicose nature of Sisko's treatment of us was epic and swiftly became worse with each testimony of the legend. We have data on ship and troop movements coming in from the Beta Quadrant so they'll kindly take it, verify it, and decide to embark on a dazzling new relationship with us," Macen recited from his own remembrance of all things Cardassian.

"And your friend Mariska?" Ro wondered.

"Has the royal family convinced to move into the Beta Quadrant colonies and member worlds," Macen promised.

The sensors chimed a warning and Hendryks verified their claim, "We're coming in range of our rendezvous. They're slowing to allow us to rendezvous within this solar system. I guess the Militia calls that Karemma licensed build a troop transport for a reason."

"The Cardassians destroyed most of Bajor's warp capable ships when the evacuations were underway during the invasion," Ro recounted the history of the events, "And even most of them were too badly damaged to get beyond our own colonies."

"And yet you left aboard a Ferengi shuttle," the human pointed out.

"Well, the crew had died of a parasite common to Bajor. The Ferengi were infested by the Cardassians when the smugglers were caught delivering weapons and explosives to Resistance cells," Ro amended Hendryks' own understanding based on loose gossip, "I was seventeen and was sick of the Resistance after being with them for four years."

"Those supplies were for your cell and you only survived hanging out on that shuttle for several days and taking off when the orbital mechanics got you a straight shot at the Valo system with Cardie patrols opening up to allow unseen transit," Macen recalled.

"I'm still under the impression that Gul Ocett let me go just to get rid of the evidence of the Ferengi being murdered," Ro shrugged.

"Lieutenant Ro, can I assist in some way?" Command Master Chief Varglas of the Angosian Special Detachment implored.

"Take the weapons console, Master Chief," Ro requested.

"Thank you, Ma'am," Varglas was indeed grateful, "All the tight quarters and inactivity, it's beginning to feel like prison again."

"Your people put you in prison?" Hendryks was miffed on his behalf.

"We won the war but lost the peace. Augments were locked away on the lunar prison so the authorities and our own families could deny we ever existed as Angosia sought candidacy for Federation membership."

"But Captain Picard said he strong-armed the government into helping you or forgo membership forever," Ro was astonished. Usually Picard was a tremendous asset to have at the negotiations.

"They did. They locked us away again but always whispered, 'We have your cure'," Varglas stated, "But the cure was us dying off of old age one by one."

"Seems Starfleet felt that way about us too," Hendryks huffed.

"Not everyone," Ro mildly admonished her, "We just grew to be...inconvenient for those in authority."

"Still, I'm glad Lieutenant Daggit chose to take personnel aboard the Ark. I much prefer staying here," Varglas confessed.

"Major Anara seems competent enough," Ro shrugged.

"Not her, Ma'am. The other one," Varglas shuddered.

"You're terrified of Neela?" Hendryks was startled by that news.

"She's got true faith, y'know? The kind that makes her drive to whatever she imagines her 'Prophets' to be ordering her about. The Prophets say 'kill them all and we'll sort it out' and she'll do it and you'll never see it coming," Varglas warned them, "We're Augment Infantry. There were Augment Infiltrators as well. They become different people and they blend in so well that you're dead before you realize you betrayed by someone that was never actually on your side."

"How many of these 'infiltrators' are there?" Ro asked.

"We never knew. But they did execute most of them because they couldn't deprogram all the personalities they'd evolved into having on their missions. The worst one escaped and she's all that left of them," Varglas sighed in relief.

"This demon have a name?" Hendryks asked.

"Her birth name is Annika Ryst. But that was a thousand names and personalities ago. Who knows who or what she is today," Varglas warned.

"I'll take it under consideration," Ro meant it.

"Thanks, Lieutenant," Varglas was relieved.

"Captain Ro is just our beloved 'Skipper'," Hendryks warned him.

"Aye, Skipper," Varglas smiled.

"Not me, you twit. Her," Hendryks sighed.

"All right, Skipper, fresh orders?" Varglas inquired.

"Don't shoot any Dominion forces without my express order," Ro warned him.

"Shouldn't be too hard," Varglas shrugged.

"Say that again once we're in the Valo system," Ro advised.

"One point we've wondered about, you're the Mission Commander and the junior officer to Commander Macen, the Mission Specialist, and Major Anara. Why is that?" Varglas confessed yet again.

"'Cause I'm just that damn good," Ro chuckled.

A swarm of Jem'Hadar fighters intercepted the Militia crews. But they held their fire. A pompous looking Vorta hailed them, "State your name, affiliation, and funerary arrangements."

"My name is Brin Macen. I'm here with Captain Ro Laren. I've brokered an exchange of information in return for validating claims that the Bajoran settlers on Valo II, Valo III, and Valo IV are accurate," he stated.

"And if they're not?" the Vorta sneered.

"Have you ever heard of Corbomite Devices?" Macen asked.

"Should I?" the Vorta wondered.

"Each device reflects the output of energetic weaponry striking the engulfing field they put around objects. So let's say, just for argument's sake, that you fire everything you have at us. We'll die but this entire solar system will be obliterated by the returning energy pulses. Consider it a Level 3 shock wave or so depending on how many devices I have and how much firepower you put into it"

"I see," and the Vorta, had been capable, would've been sweating even more than he had been, "And let's just clarify, how many of these devices to you have currently aboard your ship?"

"One thousand. Who knows, bring in the battleship into it and a few Galor-class cruisers and we may even destroy the neighboring solar systems. Now, would you like to test my veracity or inform your superiors that Macen arrived with the Beta Quadrant ship movements and scheduled redeployments?"

"I'm...I'll be in touch," the Vorta signed off.

"Seriously? Corbomite?" Ro groaned.

"It seemed to work," Macen shrugged.

"What's a Corbomite Device?" Varglas asked.

"A bluff used by Captain James T. Kirk, Macen's hero, to engage in peaceful dialogue with the First Federation," Hendryks explained.

"So they don't exist?" Varglas felt relieved.

"Not yet. But someday someone will make something similar to wage the Temporal Cold War," Macen assured him.

"A myth of the first order," Ro groaned.

"Try telling that to the Xindi," Macen replied.

"Another myth," Ro groaned again.

"Would you like something for your intestinal distress?" Macen quipped.

"Yeah, whip one of these fairy tales into existence and make it plausible," Ro retorted.

"If only I could," Macen sighed.

"We're being hailed again," Hendryks mentioned.

"Probably because they accessed the Federation Education Database and learned that Corbomite devices are both real and stealth protected," Macen smirked.

"Nechayev," Ro looked pained.

"They're insistently hailing us now," Hendryks laughed.

"Patch them through," Macen allowed graciously.

"It seems your story has been verified, Captain Macen," the Vorta was still slightly obnoxious.

"Former Captain. Now I'm just a fellow trader in bulk lots of raw and analyzed intelligence. Of course, the analyses cost more," Macen played his cover to perfection.

"And Captain Ro?" the Vorta paused.

"Has a well known volatile history with the Federation, Starfleet, and Bajor itself," Macen dismissed the tacit accusation.

"I...see," the Vorta paused again.

"Captain Ro is even prepared to make amends with Cardassians as a show of good faith," Macen explained, "She uncovered Dukat's location, scheduled transfer to a max security facility in Klingon space," Macen told him, "And you have just enough time to intercept the starship headed to Klingon space. Captain Sisko will be attending the transfer procedure. That should make Damar very happy."

"Perhaps," the Vorta allowed, "Shall we escort you in?"

"Only two escorts per ship," Macen stipulated. Which gave the Dominion numerical superiority. A maneuver gauged to dissuade further doubts as to their intentions. They could fight and die or deliver the promised data package. The Vorta now understood how these Maquis had survived the onslaught.

"I shall happy to direct your escort," the Vorta bowed his head slightly.

"Thank you," Macen smiled brightly.

Ro guided the Indie in with one Jem'Hadar fighter leading and the other trailing. Both still had their weapons charged. As they descended, sensors detected the primary Bajoran settlement. There they would speak with Keeve Falor. He'd been the political leader of the Valo colonies since he managed to persuade the Bajoran First Minister to allow him to relocate as many Bajorans as he could during the Cardassian invasion. The Cardassians were so confident of victory, they didn't even challenge ships leaving the planet.

They'd believed their listening post buried inside Valo VI was still a secret but the Bajorans had detected it long before the invasion and the isolation that followed. But Valo was a neutral in nonaligned space and even the vaunted Federation ignored it. Some Bajorans assimilated into the Federation and went as far as abandoning the custom of placing the family name before the personal name.

Just as Keeve began to have hope for Bajor, the Federation betrayed the Valo colonists and ceded the world to admission into a Demilitarized Zone in exchange for Bajor's freedom. And Bajor had bled the Cardassians dry so they would've left in a few short years anyway. Keeve often wondered if Captain Jean-Luc Picard had been a negotiator at the table deciding Bajoran destinies. He hadn't seemed the type to toss away thousands of lives to broker an imaginary line between the stars.

But a Captain Edward Jellico had visited Valo III and he seemed the type to sell his mother into whoredom to broker a peacekeeping arrangement. He played the tough man but he had nothing to offer the Cardassians that they wouldn't gladly have ignored or have given away despite his supposed stringent strength of character. The Jellico stereotype had been to negotiate as though he held power but the best he could come up with was a DMZ.

Keeve had been gladdened to learn about the Maquis from Kohn Ma who still operated out of the Valo system and it was the Maquis who finally destroyed the "secret" listening post. Which ended decades of Cardassian reporting on Federation sectors and the Bajoran Sector as well. Starfleet should have awarded the Maquis with the highest honors but instead hunted them for the Cardassians and even handed a few captives over to the Cardassian "justice system" to demonstrate how badly they wanted to keep the peace. The sentences had been arranged well before the show trials. The prosecution spoke for fifteen minutes and rested their case.

The defense admitted their clients' guilt and the executions took place in the court room thirty minutes after the trial started. A new spin on an old theme. Enigma tales were written about Maquis terrorists pleading to be executed for their crimes as the Cardassian Central Command captured them. But officialdom's paranoia became apparent even to the Cardassian public as the Central Command began detaining every alien living within the Cardassian Union. Traders were stopped and searched. Everyone legally living on Cardassian soil became suspect if they weren't born Cardassian. Cardassian warships openly entered the DMZ to search out and destroy Maquis strongholds. It took the Klingon invasion to re-purpose war vessels back into open conflict.

Even Starfleet began violating the DMZ as well while the Cardassians were busy elsewhere. And for the first time in its proud history, Starfleet utilized a weapon of mass destruction just to prove they could. A decision that split the Federation Council's already obvious leanings regarding support or condemnation of the Maquis.

The vote to condemn or commend Captain Sisko was decided by two votes towards commendation but no award or medal was ever conveyed to help ease the tensions between the political factions. The first step Sisko took towards assassinating a Romulan Senator and framing the Dominion for it had occurred at that moment of anger leading Sisko's actions against Michael Eddington's personal betrayal of his former CO. Sisko had barely managed to convince the Maquis to leave their colony world and trade with Cardassian world they themselves had poisoned.

Sisko's own ever-loyal crew waited to see if he would order them to fire down on transports evacuating the Maquis colony which everyone breathed a sigh relief when he stood down to just observe and make certain the Maquis and Cardassian colonists didn't start their own shooting war. But when Eddington boarded the Defiant, Sisko left and Tulley ordered the Maquis to murder the Cardassians.

And still the UFP President worried that the Council would eventually splinter onto factions and eventually an agreement would be made regarding the DMZ colonies. A radical agreement that would finally condone and support the Maquis' actions. The Border Wars were intermittent conflicts lasting over twenty years. The longest shooting war the Federation had ever had been in was a six year struggle against the Tzenkethi when their territories were discovered. But Cardassia had flung fleets at the Federation for twenty years. It stymied any and all ambitions of finding a way to squeeze past the Cardassian Union and the Tzenkethi Oligarchy to further explore the Alpha Quadrant. Most of the new planets coming into the Federation now were from the Beta Quadrant.

The Federation had gone around the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire and established holdings beyond them and further into the Beta Quadrant. Thereby blocking any expansion of either party. The Klingons were bored with peace so the Dominion tricked the Klingons into conflict against the Federation. Then came the Cardassians and finally direct conflict with the Dominion.

The Klingons were happier than any time in their history after the death of Kahless the Unforgettable. The Maquis came out of hiding while the Klingons warred with the Cardassians. They'd even materially supported the Maquis. Before the Jem'Hadar cleared the DMZ, the Cardassians had lost the ability to even access the area. The Maquis thought they had won. Just to find themselves decimated days after the Dominion finished pouring through the wormhole.

Ro and Macen were conceivably committing treason against the Federation. Yet it was a carefully laid out operation that had Nechayev soothing the President's fraying nerves as Macen handed over completely reliable and accurate troop movements transferring starships and fleets from the Beta Quadrant and heading them to the conflict zones. The Border Patrol would remain on high alert in the Beta Quadrant but even they would be stretched thin. Kathryn Janeway still commanded the Voyager deep in the Delta Quadrant with ragtag additions to her decimated crew coming from Chakotay's Maquis crew.

Of course, Starfleet was yet unawares of their survival at all next to the fact they had no idea where or why the starship vanished while it pursued Chakotay. He'd been an instructor at Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training when he resigned and went back to Dorvan V.

The situation there propelled him to angrily volunteer to enlist in the Maquis as a cell commander at Sveta Korepanova's request. But even Chakotay couldn't have planned on the Caretaker's array to snatch him into the Delta Quadrant. Or the simple fact that he had not one but infiltrators aboard his ship. Both in trusted positions. Tuvok posed as his deputy and Seska posed as his sometime lover but always competent accomplice. Not bad for a Vulcan and a Cardassian surgically altered to appear Bajoran.

But even the Temporal Cold War left their happenstances alone. Through Janeway, the Borg would receive their greatest defeat until their parent race embraced them back into the fold. Countless cubes and drones were left behind as the restored Borg Queen happily embraced her new reality and released the minds of her billions of Borg drones. The mantra went from "assimilate" to "fraternize and be free" But that was still over a decade in the making.

On Valo III's surface, the Vorta named Kilana escorted Keeve to meet with Ro while she and Macen discussed business.

"You have the data?" she idly wondered.

He handed her an isolinear chip, "Right here. Feel free to make some inquiries into its veracity. My accounts are listed as well. I prefer Cardassian-era Bajoran leks. The exchange rate amongst collectors is phenomenal. With Cardassia destroying or looting their own banking institutions when they pulled out of Bajor, the demand has risen to unexpected heights."

"Not Federation stockpiles of latinum?" Kilana was surprised by him, "We have several planetary reserves on hand for making gift credits."

"Even the Ferengi won't touch those in this climate. Third party exchange rates are abysmal," Macen lectured her.

"You really are a mercenary," Kilana whistled, "How nice."

"So you'll tell your shrouded platoon of Jem'Hadar to reveal themselves and scarper off?" Macen wondered.

"Do it," she ordered them. Two dozen Jem'Hadar appeared to the visible spectrum again.

"For me?" he was decidedly unimpressed.

"And Captain Ro," she shrugged, "But let's talk Angosians. We've heard of them and also learned that you two liberated sixteen of them under false premises. Are you retiring from espionage and going into contract killing?"

"I'm turning down that as a prospective job offer," Macen warned her, "But having a few Augmented soldiers on hand in the types of data collection that we tend towards often times some muscle is needed to distract whatever authorities we're flouting."

"Our intelligence, or at least what's left of the Obsidian Order's states that after spending twenty years in the field across the border during those pesky Border Wars, you were voluntarily demoted from an appointment as Captain of a science vessel ten minutes into the ceremony bestowing all of these rewards. You then resigned your commission as a commander in Starfleet and went into your vocation as a privately hired captain of a civilian crew," Kilana watched his reactions. There weren't any, "They say that have angered the great intelligence guru herself. Nechayev is known as a colloquial 'Ice Queen' and she bears you a great grudge for undermining her ambitions for the Maquis as tools to exploit Cardassian weaknesses."

"I cannot confirm or deny if Nechayev is actually human," Macen stated mirthfully.

"Hmm...just so," Kilana was pleased by the outcome of their discussion, "I shall verify this information and perhaps place an order for specifics next time."

"That would actually prove easier to accomplish," Macen assured her.

"Why do you hate Starfleet and the Federation?" Kilana thought to surprise him.

"I don't hate them. I simply have lost all faith in them. I lost my world and most of my people to the Borg. I made a new home in the colonies that occupy a DMZ no one actually wanted. And the settlers were betrayed when ordered to move or lose all Federation support. The Cardassians have always been opportunistic leches so they're reaction to the process and developments were only inbred since birth. But the Federation bought a token peace and then condemned the very people it was supposed to protect from the violence that the Cardassian paramilitary tactics that just bred the Maquis out of anger for being pushed that corner to begin with," Macen explained.

"And you're a true believer in that cause still today," Kilana observed and assessed.

"But the Federation crushed those same people. The Jem'Hadar slaughter was a symptom and not the disease," Macen clarified.

"Oh, I do like you. I hope this works out so we can fully embrace this new union properly," Kilana was almost giddy. El-Aurians were low level empaths but they were first-rate Listeners. So Macen knew when she was starting to flirt with him.

"How are the colonists?" Macen shifted topics.

"Well enough. We're trying to mandate work details and projects for them to feel more productive and actually improve their living standards. Plus, inactivity is burdensome and erodes their self-esteem. If they can stop seeing us as monsters, maybe they'll realize that the Founders aren't competing with Prophets to be their gods. They simply want to create a peaceful life with at least the most humane environment and government available," Kilana said proudly.

"Is that working?" he wondered.

"The Cardassians seem the most resistant of all," Kilana sighed, "Those ingrained hatreds and malices you skirted around earlier. The Cardassians are in the midst of learning they aren't the center of the galaxy. And that most of the galaxy that's heard of them find them odious to say the least."

"Yet the Founders sided with them," Macen reminded her.

"They were desperate to matter again," Kilana shrugged, "What's that human expression? It's above my pay credit?"

"Pay grade," Macen smirked.

"Of course," Kilana's laughter tinkled.

"I wonder what they have to talk about?" Kilana was getting impatient to find out how Ro would react to the Dominion trying to expand the basic necessities and some creature comforts to the settlers on Valo II and Valo IV as well as the colony they were standing on now.

Keeve went with Ro to discuss matters with Kilana, "You have them working construction?"

"But some of the structures are for them," Kilana protested.

"They don't know what they're doing and the Jem'Hadar are too impatient to assist them or instruct them. They've even been violent," Ro snarled.

"Two incidents. We're trying to shift engineering aides and assistants but the Cardassians are stubborn. They want the Bajoran colonists to fail and rile the Jem'Hadar," Kilana admitted.

"Okay, you see the problem but what will you do about it?" Ro asked.

"I'm afraid we're all at an impasse," Kilana sadly shrugged.

"We faced an impasse in getting into Starfleet Command and stealing the troop movement data from Starfleet Operations dressed as Starfleet officers of our former ranks. That was an impasse and we surmounted it. Do the same here," Macen instructed.

"I can see now why you were both a top flight analyst and a feared field operative," Kilana admitted, "The Jem'Hadar aren't bred for logistical work. The Cardassians provoke the settlers at every turn so we have to manage keeping them separated. I don't have any other support personnel other than other Vortas trying to keep the Jem'Hadar focused and passive."

"So hire outsiders," Ro told her, "Even in a combat zone you can hire specialists and pay them from all the looted treasuries you're overrunning."

"I don't have that authority," Kilana struggled to reveal.

"Here's a list of available workers," Macen handed her a padd.

"You already knew," Kilana smirked.

"You do have material support providers that fly in parts and construction implements," Macen shared, "We know most of them that fly the former DMZ."

"Then you were in Kalendra when the action started," Kilana was impressed despite herself, "Lt. Commander Liu I presume?"

"Meaning you know the Architect is back on," Ro prodded the Vorta's memory.

"How?" Kilana wondered how much they'd reveal.

"Bajor insisted. We have higher placed sympathizers than just Major Anara and Citizen Neela," Macen was happy to share, "Not everyone on Bajor supports the Federation, who view Bajor as a minor client state incapable of self government. If you recall, the Kai was very supportive of having Vorta facilitators assess the needs of the people and provide concrete solution rather than make more empty promises," Ro had rehearsed her dialogue waiting for this juncture.

"Shakaar is respected by most Starfleet and Federation officials but even he is deemed a pet project to be propped up so Bajor will rubber stamp any action the Allies take or any price they demand," Macen corroborated her story, "The Kai is still amenable to Dominion cooperation and she is the soul of the Bajoran religion."

"And Bajorans are only united by our religion," Ro said acidly.

"And their hatred for all things Cardassian, which is ironic since it took the Cardassian Occupation to finally quell our theological and political differences to become one people," Keeve added for effect.

Ro's communicator began beeping, "Excuse me. Ro here."

"Anara and Neela have finished assessing Valo II and are moving on to Valo IV. Any additional instructions?" Hendryks asked.

"Negative. They know what to do," Ro slapped the antenna grill down across the communicator again before she re-affixed it back to her belt.

"Where are we now?" Ro wondered.

"Vet the contractors. They did work for both the Maquis and the Cardassians during the Border Wars and in the DMZ," Macen assured her.

"It seems I shall be requesting a bonus for services today above and beyond the simplistic nature of our original brokerage deal," Kilana promised.

"These people deserve better. Who cares who builds what as long as lives are improved," Ro punch-lined it.

"It seems you aren't as cynical s I was told," Kilana appraised Ro in a different light.

"I just want my people to be safe and happy," Ro promised, "I'll work with any non-Cardassian to make that happen."

"And what was your particular defining trauma?" Kilana asked.

"A sentry bribed me to come watch my father be tortured and killed. My brothers were scattered across different labor camps while I was exiled to a refugee camp. By thirteen I was running black ops raids on Cardassian weapons depots. Seems they disregard children even more than the elderly and decrepit," Ro explained, "I stole a Ferengi shuttle and came here for several months before setting out to enlist in Starfleet. That was a complete waste of time. But I can truthfully tell you all the best comfort zones in the stockade on Jaros II"

"And yet you wee released for an admiral's machinations. You joined the crew of Starfleet's flagship. You graduated from the toughest training program Starfleet offers. You infiltrated and then enlisted in the Maquis and became a primary leader for that group of malcontents," Kilana tested Ro with the barb.

"Most of them were just angry thugs with sloppy impulse control. But there were a few prime fighters who really believed in the cause not just hurting people because they were hurt first," Ro shrugged the barb aside.

"Meaning Aric Tulley among others," Kilana said with a bright smile.

"If you already think you know me then you also know I'm rarely what people expect," Ro grated.

"True, but even chaos can seem orderly," Kilana was still beaming.

"Go to hell," Ro growled.

"Or perhaps the Fire Caves?" Kilana was delighted that she'd triggered something out of the ordinary facade Ro was trying to project. The comment irked Ro but it didn't rattle her. She was known for her skepticism regarding the Prophets whom she was more than happy to label as "Wormhole Aliens".

That's why she wore the traditional Bajoran caste earring on her left ear to block zealous vedeks or prylars from squeezing her so-called pagh out of her. But it was also the ear that the deviant pah-wraith cult who worshiped the banished Prophets who sought to rule over Bajor rather than spout elusive prophecies throughout the race's history through their various emissaries. The most recent of whom was "the" Sisko. Which begged the question, hard fact combined with theology, who if anyone would be the pah-wraiths' Emissary?

"So, have a challenge or two that need surmounted?" Macen asked Kilana.

"Confident. I like that," she was flirtatious again.

Ro looked ready to gag, "Any chance we can get you motivated to speed up helping the settlers rather than just bullying them?"

"You're a little prejudiced, aren't you?" Kilana tsked her.

"Cardassians bribed me with candy into to watching them torture and eventually kill my father," Ro grated, "So, yes. I have a few lingering anger issues regarding the Cardassians."

"And they feel the same about Bajorans," Kilana replied, "Which amazing since we've determined that the Bajorans discovered Cardassia Prime almost two thousand years ago employing solar sail ships at first and eventually employing warp drive. It's actually credible that Cardassians received warp technology from your very own people," Kilana explained.

"I could give vole's ass," Ro snapped, "They occupied my planet for sixty plus years. They don't get a second chance at happiness," Ro got intro the Vorta's face. Only to be pulled back by her Jem'Hadar guardians.

"I need her alive," Kilana decided, "He won't work for us if she dies. Correct?"

"Never more so," Macen confirmed.

"Don't threaten me when you want my focus to be on something other than genocide. Or perhaps just terminating you to make example to motivate your people," Kilana wondered, "I know they've slowing things down to test us and our resolve."

"To a degree that is true," Keeve admitted.

"Then trust this. I don't want anyone to die. But my orders are very clear that if you won't cooperate and the Cardassians will cooperate then we have an ethical dilemma. And the Cardassians are our allies. Whereas Bajor is suckling our enemies. Do you see where this path will lead us all?" Kilana elaborated.

"If the Dominion returns to Bajoran space, the Kai will embrace you and Shakaar's government will collapse. Just as well," Ro told her.

"I see now why Starfleet underestimated you. The flags don't matter. The welfare of these people you've adopted are your motivation," Kilana suddenly realized, "The Bajorans quietly assisted the Maquis and you joined them because the flag of the Federation betrayed them in your mind and racial history. This explains so much," Kilana delved deep into revelation, "Yet the Federation, at least Picard, believed you to be a loyalist at heart but you betrayed him as well. Leaving you nowhere to go but into our embrace."

"Is there a problem?" Ro asked.

"How will you embrace us if you know the casualties that were inflicted in our taking these territories?" Kilana wondered.

"That's partially why I'm here. The Maquis survivors would be placed in Cardassian labor camps scattered across their territories. If I'm to remain loyal, I need those prisoners brought to this solar system and working with the Bajorans in building this greatly enlightened society you're claiming to be constructing," Macen explained.

"And therein lies the rub," Kilana smirked. This part of the infiltration hadn't been discussed beforehand. Ro was studying Macen as quietly and attentively as Kilana herself and she realized his goal was to bolster the Valo system's Resistance with experienced fighters. He was as determined and passionate about this as she was about the safety of the colonists scattered across the Valo system.

It was a very dangerous proposition. Macen had barely escaped permanent exile or imprisonment for his actions with the Maquis. Nechayev had known his loyalties were compromised but she kept him in the field and sheltered him afterwards as well as a few scrapes at DS9. She herself had been a beneficiary. But this was a total war rather than a limited insurgency. Nechayev would consider Macen's proposals as treasonous.

"The closest Starbase is number 375. We need two items from a Starfleet facility besides Deep Space 9 because you're too noticeable there. But you can infiltrate the starbase and get a summary of the troop and ship movements over the last forty-eight hours and the redeployments and active deployments along every unoccupied sector. That will buy my trust and make you wealthy. If you like, I can apply that currency into buying the support personnel you're recommending. So, have we a bargain?" Kilana made her position perfectly clear.

"Complete transparency," Macen assured her.

"Actions speak loudly," Kilana warned.

"Then we'll act," Macen grinned. Ro knew there was trouble to be had on this course he'd committed them to. She was the damned field commander and he'd just committed them to more crimes than Starfleet could ever forgive. And he knew there would be hell to pay as soon they beamed back to the Indomitable.

"What the hell was that?" Ro was demanding even as she and Macen were materializing upon the scoutship's combined cargo hold/transporter.

"I bought us time," Macen snapped back at her, "You thought she'd just hire one of our contracting smuggler friends and life would be peachy as Keeve and his others went to the Celestial Temple in a blaze of glory? Have you been reading Klingon romance poetry again?"

Hendryks managed to snicker. Ro's glare caught her up short. Sorry, she mouthed. Even the Angosians that were gathering to watch the spectacle gave Ro space.

"This is why we don't have a specific mandate. Because any boundaries that would be set would have to be broken," Macen snarled in reply.

"You're seriously considering giving than actually useful intelligence?" Ro refused to believe it.

"We will be giving intel they already know," Macen explained, "It's a test. They'll trust the data we supply because they can already corroborate it."

Ro looked like she'd just been slapped, "What the hell?"

"It's the oldest playbook in intelligence gathering," Macen sighed, "When you're recruiting a double agent, you have them deliver data you already have verified to see that they're capable and willing to give what you want and it forces the recruit to comprise their ideals and former loyalties. Compromising them in case they ever try to return to the original fold."

"Hot damn," Hendryks whispered.

"Uh...can I ask what's going on?" Thool requested as he climbed up the ladders to reach the cargo area.

"No," Ro and Macen said in stereo.

"Just asking," Thool's feelings were bruised.

"How do you propose we get that intel?" Ro relented somewhat.

"We trade ships and wear our Starfleet and Militia finest and go to Starbase 375. They obviously have an informant already there," Macen shrugged.

"What ship?" Thool asked.

"A Danube-class runabout would be nice or a decommissioned Excelsior-class," Macen mused.

"They recommissioned all the Excelsior-, Miranda-, and Ambassador-classes. In fact they're pulling starships from the last century to go into action," Hendryks informed him. So where would you find a modern runabout?"

"From the same yard I pulled the Odyssey out of," Macen told her, "Back when she was still the USS Tiberius."

"We're so going to die," Ro facepalmed.

"I'm all is forgiven," Macen smirked.

"What had to be forgiven?" Thool asked.

"Never ask that again," Ro counseled.

"Nechayev arranged for me to secure a scoutship from a clandestine naval yard operated by an equally clandestine agency Elias Vaughn and I had be chasing around to verify their existence for fifty years now," Macen explained.

Ro shook her head, "Congratulations, you're a walking dead man now."

"I thought we were already the walking dead," Hendryks confessed.

"Are we discussing Section 31?" Command Master Chief Varglas asked.

"Yes!" Macen happily pointed at him.

"Oh shit," Ro facepalmed again.

"They recruited us," Varglas mentioned as every Angosian present nodded, "They made the transaction between our government and the Federation Council happen."

"Is that a bad thing?" Thool asked.

"Yes!" Ro said sternly.

"Depends," Macen equivocated.

"This is one of those morally gray areas we're supposed to avoid," Hendryks stated, "Isn't it?"

"Yes!" Ro was completely flummoxed on how to escape this conversation.

"Depends," Macen said more brightly. The comm panel began to register an incoming signal.

"I'll take that," Ro demanded.

It turned out to be Anara, "Neela says you should either be in the middle or end of the discussion revolving around illegal actions and secret agencies."

"The hell?" Ro was even more confused now, "Does she have a listening device planted on my ship?"

"She has the Prophets. I barely believe it but you wouldn't believe the things I've seen and lived through with her," Anara counseled Ro.

"Tell them to stay off my ship and scoot back to their cruddy wormhole," Ro grated.

"Would you believe she has a message for you that if you walk with Macen, it'll turn out for the best?" Anara asked.

"So she's an emissary now?" Ro was irritated by thought.

"Just a servant she says," Anara corrected Ro, "But you need all the Angosian platoon with you to make it work."

"I so hate everyone right now," Ro confessed.

Ro turned on Macen, "You these scumbags killed Elias, right? You remember that? 'Cause you completely went of the rails to track them down and kill them. Do you recall?"

"Of course. But I don't have to worry about Agent Browder anymore," Macen promised, "And I'm certain we're already expected at our next destination."

"Which is?" Ro sniped.

"Terra Nova," Macen grinned.

"This is basically Eddington's big plan that failed," Ro complained.

"Except that we won't fail this time around," Macen corrected her.

"I'm so happy to hear that," Ro snarked.

"Oh cheer up. You'll even get to wear your Militia Special Forces grays," Macen chuckled.

"You realize I'm serious about how much I'm hating you right now?" Ro inquired.

"You always get over it," Macen grinned even more.

"Bastard," Ro chucked her communicator at him. It was all she'd been allowed to carry to meet Keeve.

Macen snapped it out of the air, "Temper."

"Just get it set up. I'll give the coordinates to Anara. Just don't come to my bridge for at least an hour. Maybe two," Ro climbed to the third and uppermost deck.

"She'll cool off?" Varglas asked.

"In a day or two," Macen shrugged.

"You're hoping," Hendryks warned him.

"Yeah, I really am," Macen conceded and decided to catch Varglas up to what Ro had found while Anara and Neela toured the other colonies. The Angosians sat in as well Thool and Hendryks.

"Elfi!" Ro managed to scream down half the ship and one deck.

"Shit! I miss the good stuff. You'd best disappear too Blue Man Group," Hendryks advised Thool.

"Dammit!" he groused as he descended into the engine bay.

"There's good news and bad news. I'll give the good news first because it'll cover two items whereas we have a dozen or more bad things working against us," Macen laid it out as they headed for the ward room.

The Angosians at least knew how to cook rations to actually be edible. And it seemed like every civilization but the Klingons bought their rations from the same Ferengi suppliers.

"Terra Nova! Again!" Ro smashed a fist down to the side of the helm console.

"I was just happy we survived Eddington's scheme," Hendryks admitted, "But they do have some pretty classic Starfleet starships decommissioned there."

"23rd Century cast offs," Ro griped.

"And some 22nd Century Earth Starfleet beauties," Hendryks sighed like a woman in love.

"We need to get you a playmate that doesn't recharge," Ro decided.

"Please?" Hendryks honestly begged.

"That Vorta we met certainly wanted to jump Brin's bones," Ro was disgusted.

"Who wouldn't?" Hendryks asked. She saw Ro's contortion.

"Really? I made that mistake with someone else while my memory was wiped," Ro admitted.

"Will or Tom Riker?" Hendryks asked.

"Will," Ro groaned, "He's why I didn't meet with Tom."

"Different memories, right?" Hendryks asked.

"Yeah?" Ro was uncertain where this was going.

"So in the end you bang them both and make up your mind which you one want," Hendryks was eating from a tray an Angosian had brought up, "Poor Anara and Neela are missing out, I'm telling you. It'll probably still be good cold."

"I'll probably find out," Ro admitted.

"Prophets help me! That was actually palatable," Anara gasped.

"I did plenty of KP in prison," Neela shrugged.

"You also learned how to fight decently," Anara had never pushed this boundary until today. Although, asking how Neela got the noodles boiled and seasoned to perfection was a close marching second in her mind.

"There were sexual predators in prison. I was fresh meat," Neela's face clouded.

"Did they…?" Anara hated to verbalize what was obviously a painful memory.

"No. Though not for lack of trying. Of course, the guards let it play out after the first few times I cut of an attacker's penis," Neela mentally shrugged.

"Ooo-kay then," Anara was no longer worried.

"But there was an elderly prylar from the C'rellelian order. She, like her sister prylars, studied martial arts as a meditation technique," Neela answered, "She began to teach me."

"Why was a monk in prison?" Anara had to wonder.

"She meditated a few people to death," Neela said with a straight face. Anara suddenly wanted to ask if that had been Neela's justification for killing Starfleet personnel, bombing a school of all things, and attempting to kill Vedek Bareil. Neela had been devoted to then-Vedek Winn back when Bareil was Winn's only plausible contestant to becoming the Kai of the Bajoran faith. Yet, Bareil purposefully withdrew from the running, assuring Winn's victory while Neela was in prison without ever saying what her motive had been.

There were those, like Major Kira, that believed that Winn had guided Neela's actions. And becoming released from prison early and becoming Winn's personal troubleshooter hadn't lessened those theories and suspicions. Even Anara believed the accusations. But Neela was faithful and still didn't incriminate the faithless Kai. In fact, Neela was so very faithful that blinded her in some ways. She couldn't objectify anything without being through her lens of faith.

Anara and Neela had both grown up as combat engineers for the same Resistance cell. They moved through a few cells as ones collapsed due to overwhelming losses. But Neela and Anara always stuck together. Including the fateful weeks before the Cardassians announced their withdrawal when Neela affected a rescue of many religious figures including Vedek Winn Adami.

The Militia separated them. Anara was sent to DS9 to assist Chief Miles O'Brien. After three months her transfer orders to the Special Forces came through. Neela replaced Anara at the station. Even then Anara could see her friend was devoted to an inner cause she wouldn't share even with her closest friend throughout her life. Anara returned to Bajor and so did Neela. Only Neela was in shackles and tried for multiple murders and attempted murders. Yet she was only given a seven year sentence that no magistrate or arbiter could explain.

Neela stayed in prison during the Circle's machinations. Her days when not doing KP or meditational combat, was spent in the library which was filled exclusively with religious texts and they shaped the modern Neela.

When officialdom pressed the warden to release Neela, she complied because she no longer viewed Neela as a threat. The contrite and slavishly devout Neela was her last to be her image of a predator.

Yet Neela was a greater threat than anyone cared to realize. Anara had seen it time and again. Her faith broadened to embrace all life….unless the Prophets willed it to end. Neela's criteria for ending said lives depended entirely on her understanding of the Prophets' will in a concrete and not abstract way.

Sometimes Anara feared for her own safety. She knew with great certitude that Winn Adami was the only living being or creature, Neela would hesitate putting down if the Prophet's "declared' her life was at an end. Neela's directions came from an inner vision not rational cold hard facts determined by examination. The "Prophets" spoke and Neela acted. It was simple calculus and trigonometry to her. Each outing into the broader galaxy brought Neela's faith ever closer to the Prophets.

Most of what Neela seemed to perceive in others was either the finest examinations and rationale that absorbed within seconds of meeting people of various species which would serve her equally well as a confidence artist or the Prophets really did speak to her in an unfathomable way. Neela had always been brilliant and observant but was her gifts honed to razor sharp levels of ability or did the Prophets, wormhole aliens or not, really gift her with the knowledge to accomplish her tasks set before her. Would her faith in that "speaking" ever waver for any reason?

"You're doing it again," Neela wore a slight smile.

"Doing what?" Anara hated that she was found out.

"Brooding about me," Neela said quietly, "For all your doubts and misgivings, you could request a change of billet."

"Neela I honestly believe that we're sisters of the soul if not biology. But you do worry me because I don't understand so many things about you and you won't concede to ever relieve me of the doubts that arise," Anara put it out there.

"So, your crisis of faith is that I'm a flimflam or even worse, a zealot with no conscience waiting to go crazy. Does that sum it up?" Neela wondered.

"Um...yeah. I think," Anara was feeling uncertain now.

"Yet you stay with me because we're sisters. You envision yourself as the elder and taking care of me in an unsteady world where I might go 'kill crazy' again. That won't happen. I mourn those deaths that I caused. I mourn them for their families and because they were totally unnecessary. The action in the school wasn't a viable option to begin with," Neela sighed.

"Yet you blow up the school," Anara reminded her.

"While it was vacant if you recall. But still, it was unnecessary trauma to inflict on children of any species, creed, or belief because we had just come out of the Occupation and we all needed to feel a warm embrace rather than a concussive wave of fear and terror," Neela examined it again as though she had many times before.

"But you did it anyway," Anara said softly.

"Yes. I have to live with that and atone. It was an action I thought I believed in when afterwards I actually looked at it and realized that the Prophets would never ask for that ever," Neela explained.

"But I've seen you kill in the name of the Prophets dozens of times since then," Anara shared, "Can you see the problematic nature of killing by faith alone?"

"Or can I recognize the problem with killing by political creed or code alone? By whim or indecision? When I take life, it's a life that the Prophets have determined is already over. They're trans-linear, existing in past, present, and future simultaneously. How can they not know that such an action is required and that the faithful prove their devotion through obedience of that dictate?" Neela wondered.

"My dearest friend, you are scary," Anara returned to slurping spicy noodles.

"Someday you'll actually see scary. And we'll revisit this conversation," Neela predicted in that way of hers that always seemed to come true.

The reserve fleet had been depleted by reactivation and the recommissioning of hundreds of older starships. The administration and employees of the Fleet Depot of the Terra Nova Sector had, not unreasonably, been changed out. The former had been Eddington's corrupted accomplices. Selling even decommissioned starships was a violation of more Federation laws than could reasonably be listed. Yet the former Dock Master had sold the Maquis several heavy cruisers. Cruisers from the 22nd and 23rd Centuries but still far more capable than their usual brand of Ju'day-, Ma'jel-, and Peregrine- class raiders.

The Iotian Federation mass produced the weaponry for each. But Starfleet seemed woefully ignorant of the fact that the Iotians they'd contracted to mind the store were as criminally bent as they'd been a century before with a civilized veneer of a copycat Federation to mask it. So the Maquis were extinct but Macen still had latinum to burn from his cover as an information broker. Iotians did love gold pressed latinum. Especially in a secluded site like the Starfleet Depot so they could haggle with passing traders including the Ferengi and the Orion Syndicate. The Maquis had once raided a Section 31 depot within the main depot.

That was when a cell composed entirely of Andorians had stolen a Constitution-class ship. Such ships were too noticeable to go anywhere without raising suspicions. And the Andorians had grown too aggressive and too reckless and had been destroyed along with their purloined starship.

But the depot did possess a dozen modern Danube-class runabouts. Three of whom could "missing" for a time while Ro, Macen, Anara, Neela and sixteen Angosian Augments could arrive at Starbase 375 relatively unnoticed. The Indomitable and the Ark of the Prophets would be collateral insuring the return of the runabouts when the errand was completed and wholly finished. Which seemed to be planned to go longer than just get data retrieval.

Before Macen ever haggled with the Iotian contractors, he and Ro had it out in the spartan quarters aboard her ship. It seemed the Mission Commander and the Mission Specialists were planning two separate missions and synchronizing them was taking a bit more negotiating than ever before. Ro wanted the smugglers acting as construction crews and planners to gain safe passage and acceptance from the Dominion to covertly arm the Bajoran settlers throughout the Valo system.

Macen wanted to secure an even higher level of trust with the Dominion so that they could acquire free passage throughout the former DMZ even after the subterfuge with the smugglers was blown wide open. But still, Kilana's trust would broken and the unit would have to abandon their usual modes of transportation in order to gain something less provocative and more capable.

The Bajoran ship was a small starship in the same vein as a runabout. But it was still largely a prototype. When the Karemma licensed Bajor to build starships to their specs, they included Dominion polaron phasers and a unique Gamma Quadrant variant on photon torpedoes. The Dominion also used ships of the same line to ferry around their own support personnel.

Ro had already decided on stealing another Bajoran troop transport of that design. She'd also avoided informing General Krim of the stratagem. The more authentic the Bajoran outrage range through the better it was for the mission and Dominion IFF transponders would be easy to secure after they blended in already.

Anara groaned when she heard the plan. Neela had an almost sadistic glow about her upon hearing the news. Rab Daggit was getting increasingly indignant at being left out of the executive planning. But the first time he'd been asked for input, he absolved himself of the entire situation. Much to the amusement of Varglas and the other Angosians. The runabouts were split up across the team. Anara and Neela received one with two commandos and Daggit. Ro kept Thool with her as Varglas and a squad flew with her. Hendryks manned the helm of the third ship with Macen as its acting CO.

The Bajorans all wore Militia uniforms. Two legitimately and one former, now highly disgraced, third. Macen wore his new Class-A uniform replete with his actual rank insignia. The odd part for most was that he wore Sciences blue rather than yellow for Starfleet Intelligence. It was a long standing arrangement marking Macen as an analyst with multiple doctorates rather than a field agent. The better to underestimate him.

The Angosians all wore Battlefield Dress Uniform. Who secured the hangar the runabouts had landed in. Commodore Arnold Whynott was CO of the base in Admiral Ross' absence. His elevated rank was a brevet commission to place him in authority over the multitude of starship commanders that came and went. Some that still remembered him when he was still Aretha Whynott. Macen was one of them.

"Commodore," he shook the transmale's hand.

"Commander, I see they've forgiven you," Whynott smirked.

"Not so much forgiven as willing to conditionally forget," Macen corrected his assumption.

"I know Starfleet doesn't verbalize it but there's a strong tradition of not getting overly attached to any planet but Earth and any people besides humans," Whynott stated.

"I won't argue that," Ro quipped.

"You still have arrest warrants out on you," Whynott chuckled.

"They can form a line," Ro shrugged.

"Fortunately, Bajoran Militia sources tell me you're legit. They don't say much these two though," Whynott shifted his gaze to watch Anara and Neela taking in sight lines and observing security protocols.

"They look like they're expecting trouble," Whynott made his own observation, "And your pet super-soldiers have positioned themselves beautifully for an armed takeover."

"You'll just trust me that I hope it doesn't come to that," Macen advised him.

"Frinx! What have you brought down on my house?" Whynoot grew angry.

"Just stay angry and trust me," Macen cautioned him, "The anger will play to the audience and clear you from any repercussions."

"I already regret this," Whynott pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I didn't choose the site. If that helps any," Macen hated to have to inform an old friend.

"This would go faster and easier in your office," Ro cautioned everyone.

Whynott sighed, "Sure. Rape me while you're at it."

The lights went red as alarms sounded as the picket sensors detected incoming warships.

"This have anything to do with you?" the Commodore angrily inquired.

"I sure as frinx hope not," Ro cast an accusatory glare Macen's way.

"They shouldn't know yet that we're even aboard," Macen was honestly perplexed.

"You gonna get my way?" Whynott asked.

"Of course not," Macen obliged.

Whynott activated the CNC as Starfleet rolled into action against a Cardassian squadron.

"Use my office and get out while you can," Whynott hated to say.

"It'll work out," Macen and Ro headed in and began accessing multiple files and began routing recent reports into the separate terminals so they could encode more data faster across separate isolinear rods to be coalesced into single rods at their leisure.

"This is too damn coincidental," Ro complained.

"I agree," Macen relieved her by saying.

"What the hell is she up to?" Ro watched as Neela began directing fire control by advising the station's tactical officers of when and where to shoot next. The Cardassians quickly broke off after key Kelvan-class troop carriers that were modified from the basic Galor-class cruisers to ferry around an additional five hundred troops. The object seemed to be taking the station and as many starships as possible.

"I don't know who the hell you are, but thank you," Whynott obliged Neela. A thin defensive line remained in the solar system while a pursing dog pack of starships chased the Cardassians.

"Should I ask?" Whynott wondered.

"Probably best not to," Macen advised him.

"We've captured three additional units," a Tactical officer reported to the Commodore, "We're seizing the troop ships remotely and gassing them as their shields come down."

"Thank you, Major," Whynott nodded her way.

"Spoonheads use the same three prefix codes for every ship," she informed them. Whynott glared at Macen.

"What? I don't engage Cardassians ships left and right," Macen defended himself form the unspoken accusation.

"And you call yourself an intelligence officer," Whynott grumbled.

"See ya," Macen said quickly.

"Sorry about all this," Ro offered as well.

"Please, just go," Whynott sighed heavily.

"That was totally staged," Anara warned everyone as they gathered in the hangar, "I lied about the index codes. I just picked numbers out of the air and they magically unlocked the Spoonheads' systems."

"And the troop carriers didn't show additional life signs," Neela reported as well, "Even the crew bio signs were below average"

"Meaning?" Ro asked.

"They were meant for dying," Neela told them.

"Don't the humans have a name for tat?" Daggit wondered.

"Kamikaze," Ro supplied.

"So, Kilana was either testing us, forcing our hand, depositing her own trap into the situation, or all of the above," Macen theorized.

"You and your women," Ro snorted.

"Excuse me?" Macen was taken aback.

"You love the crazies," Ro continued.

"Name one," Macen challenged her.

"T'Kir," Ro said with an air of finality.

Macen just stared back, "She isn't crazy. She's ill."

"She is sick in the head," Ro watched his temper flare, "And you just proved my original point."

"Can we take this elsewhere? Like Valo?" Daggit wondered.

"They do this quite a bit," Varglas warned him.

"First we're regaining our ships," Neela reminded them all.

"And returning to Bajor to steal you another Militia warp capable transport," Anara reminded them as well.

"Laren can accompany some of our Augements to Bajor in a runabout. And steal a ship before rejoining the rest of us at the depot," Macen concluded.

"Fine," Ro snapped at him.

"They remind me of my parents," Varglas took some measure of comfort in that.

"Don't they just?" Daggit seemed to agree.

"Have you ever piloted a Starfleet runabout? Or even a shuttle?" Ro demanded to know.

"Negative, Ma'am," the Angosian named Floras answered crisply.

"You're about to, Shipman Floras," Ro told him, "Sort of. Computer, set destination Starfleet Starship Depot – Terra Nova. Initiate single transport on my signal to imputed coordinates."

"Good luck, Ma'am," Floras' companion, Shipman Recruit Lasso stated.

"Energize," Ro stepped onto the transporter pad and vanished in a swirl of light. The runabout immediately broke orbit and headed of the system, surprising the Angosian crewmen, and engaging at Warp 5 as soon as it cleared the outer solar system and Deep Space 9's security patrols.

Ro appeared at a Special Forces compound in the Kendra Valley. Only the Special Forces had access and control over warp capable craft.

This particular base even had two Militia Interceptors equipped with warp drive. A gift from the Maquis to the Bajorans. It was one of these that Ro headed towards with the Militia guards, having seen her transporter halo, approached her.

"Lieutenant Ro, we've been expecting you," Sergeant Crispus revealed.

"I take it this isn't unexpected then?" Ro asked.

"No, Ma'am," the Sergeant answered, "But we'll be reporting your theft as soon you clear the system."

"Damn Macen and Vaughn," Ro whispered.

"General Krim's orders were quite specific. You'll find Interceptor Two has many features unavailable in our other transports. The Maquis service yard went all out," the Sergeant boasted, "Captain Krennac personally inputted your command access codes."

Ro had met Krennac Lysa. She was in command of this base. And she was one of the new generation commanders that had been too young to fight in the Resistance but now guarded Bajor's future.

"Then I'll be on my way," Ro headed for the interceptor with the glyph meaning "two".

"Oh, and Lieutenant Ro, give 'em hell," Crispus urged. He was old enough to have fought the Cardassians.

"I intend to, Sergeant," Ro promised.

The third runabout arrived twenty hours after the first two reached their destination.

Ro was still an hour away. Anara and Neela oversaw the inspection of the Ark of the Prophets before they reactivated the warp core. They knew Hendryks and Thool were overseeing the stripping down of the Indomitable's weapons systems and payloads.

Macen had negotiated selling the photon torpedoes and Type-8 phasers in exchange for a decommissioned Newton-class science vessel that had been a contemporary of Macen's own Blackbird-class scoutship. Unlike the Odyssey, the USS Asimov hadn't been upgraded in twenty years. But the Iotians knew people that could fit the billet.

Macen, in Ro's absence, assigned Hendryks and Thool to the task of getting the necessary updated equipment and weaponry reinstalled and he gave them access to Starfleet Intelligence hard currency reserves that been tucked away for just this eventuality.

"Laren is gonna be sooo pissed," Hendryks chuckled as she activated the automation systems of the small science vessel. Thool was agog at the ease of the warp core priming sequence and associated power systems coming to life compared to the outmoded, and very cranky, engineering systems aboard the somewhat contemporary Ju'day vessel Macen had just handed over to the obviously criminally minded caretakers. They were already gone by the time Ro arrived.

The Iotians happily supplied a room for the inevitable fight. It was a nearly soundproofed environment and Ro's shouts could be heard anyway. The Angosians were at a loss of how to proceed. Anara and Neela watched with anticipation. Things quieted down for some time and finally Ro emerged looking not quite as angry or sullen anymore.

"And now you know," Neela offered.

Ro almost broke the contrite woman's jaw with her punch. Anara went for her holstered phaser pistol.

Ro already had her covered with her own, "Krim is an ass. But Brin made his point on why I was left out of these final steps."

"You're still our field commander," Anara allowed despite her greater rank.

"And there's a reason for that too. Now that I'm not blinded by sentimentality, we can get underway," Ro offered.

"By the way, I'm not sorry," Ro trudged off back to beam aboard her Angosian crewmen and Macen to Interceptor Two. Which badly needed a personalized name.

"I'm still coming aboard," Daggit advised the Bajorans. The bulk of the Angosian force would man the transport. With Hendryks and Thool otherwise occupied, Ro needed a few able, cross trained soldiers to man the engine section and the weapons station. The teams would be splitting up for a time.

Ro and Macen had a meeting with Kilana and Keeve Falor to attend. Anara would lead the scouting of potential targets throughout the DMZ and its inherent vulnerabilities regarding the ever stretching Dominion logistical support tasks and lines. A task the Asimov would greatly enhance once some hull configurations were altered and the ship was rearmed. Krim knew Interceptor Two would be lost but it was just as well because its hybridized weapons system made a one use tool that would be completely expendable. Just like the Valo system's inhabitants.

Keeve's secret negotiations with Krim had reflected the colonists' desperation. They were a three planetary population that amounted to a several thousand martyrs. A position they wouldn't approach during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor.

But now the Dominion had shown the necessity of action in the face of an emboldened predator. The "contractors" would be smuggling in explosives and high energy weapons. Small arms and shaped charges making up the bulk of the weaponry brought in under the Jem'Hadar's nose. Which every version of Kilana that the clone represented would be executed for losing the system. But her replacement would still view Macen and Ro as necessary evils. Especially in light of the data retrieved from Starbase 375.

Starfleet knew their so-called "secret" agenda would be revealed and the starship mobilization would lead them into a trap. A trap Nechayev had devised for the Allies' to "stumble" into. A repeat performance of Picard's fleet action against the Maquis that Ro had set the trap and yet revealed Starfleet's position when she decided to abandon the Federation and completely sold out to the Maquis' objective.

The scrappy Bajoran had finally met her destiny and maximized her potential. A growth she'd just been forced into reliving and spawning a re-genesis of her priorities and capabilities. Keeve had started her down the path as the long exiled political leader from Bajor's past now stood at the threshold of leading a doomed revolution with one goal in mind: inflict as much permanent damage as possible against a vastly superior foe with no intention of surviving the action. Just to poison Bajor against the Dominion.

The contractors would have withdrawn mere hours before the conflict began in earnest. Ro and Macen would left Valo behind days beforehand to rejoin Anara and Neela's team and arrange for the eventual return of her Maquis crew with a new starship. Even a science vessel would be tactically and strategically superior to an adapted interceptor and once the Iotians finished with it, it wouldn't closely resemble a Starfleet vessel anymore. Masking their insertion as traders and information brokers piloting a civilian craft all the more believable.

"Krim, Starfleet is railing at me again. Make it stop," First Minister Shakaar demanded.

General Bullik, chief of the System Defenses, responded, "We have to keep the pressure off of our operation. Lieutenant Ro was finally informed of the full nature of our plan."

"Keeve Falor and the Valo colonists insisted on our supplying them with the weaponry to lash out at the Dominion," General Lipa, Chief of Colonial Defenses, stated, "Keeve and the others want to be martyred."

"Would you willingly stay on any Valo world?" General Lura, Chief of the Corps of Engineers asked.

"They did after the Occupation lifted. They saw us as compromising collaborators with the Federation," Chief of the Constabulary, General Vupo replied.

"But they embraced the Federation's charity," General Deva of the Planetary Defenses clarified.

"So, the Federation and Starfleet are accusing us of running a rogue operation thanks to Ross' 'enlightened' perspective," Shakaar lectured them, "We needed Ross and Sisko aboard."

"Sisko delivered the Romulans. I think he's fully embracing a 'total war' mentality," Krim opined, "My informants on DS9 stated that Garak aided Sisko's efforts through subterfuge to enlist the Romulans into the war effort. Instead a Senator was killed. Coincidence? I doubt it."

"But it was enough to enflame the Romulans," Vupo pointed out.

"Are we any different leaking those reports of Dominion intentions for the Valo system?" Luva asked, "Odo's last contact on Cardassia died getting us that information."

"Odo can simply ask the Founder and she'll happily boast regarding her agendas," Deva grumbled.

"Despite his origins, Odo had a special relationship with our people. They held our system and Terok Nor. He communed with the Founder in that strange 'link' of theirs and yet he didn't betray Kira to her," Krim reminded everyone, "True, Odo feels more responsible for the station than Bajor but still, he could've hindered Starfleet's return and instead aided Major Kira's nascent resistance efforts."

"It's difficult to refuse Kira when she's committed to a cause," Shakaar had been Kira's Resistance commander and then years later her lover for a brief period.

"Kira's long deserved promotion would finally go through," Deva reported, "Colonel Kira will be next in line to assume command of Deep Space 9. Assuming Sisko ever steps down, she will defend us from any other aggressors seeking to reunite with the Gamma Quadrant," Bullik promised.

"And defend the Celestial Temple as she did versus the Kohn Ma when first assigned to the station," Krim recalled.

"And assuming we find a greater role for my little zealot, Nerys can one day be expected to join the Joint Chiefs. I have Ro's path to assuming control of the station charted out," Shakaar informed them all.

"You see too much that one," Vupo warned.

"You don't see enough," Lipa argued.

"Enough," Shakaar sternly ended the brewing debate, "Kira and Ro are the type of officers we desperately needed in these troubled times."

"And Anara?" Krim wondered.

"Another greatly overlooked officer. But her deep association with Neela is troublesome," Shakaar decided.

"Why does the Kai need a personal troubleshooter?" Vupo voiced what they'd long inwardly debated, "She's a spiritual leader and this 'Neela' is a gun hand who assassinates people on the Kai's orders."

"Winn Adami had always been ambitious," Shakaar said levelly, "Don't forget she assumed political office and opposed my election with her refusal to step down from my post and enlisted as great an ecclesiastical effort as she could muster amongst the people to stay First Minister."

"And the people shot that effort down," Luva reminded everyone,

"There's a reason Kais and Emissaries have always been apolitical. At least on the surface."

"I think its time we reveal the true scope of our plans to Ross and Sisko," Krim asserted.

"You're certain?" Shakaar inquired.

"As much as I can be about anything," Krim shrugged, "Ross works with and around the Federation's secret police. He'll work with us if we entrust him with the full scope of our truth."

"You relied too heavily on this 'Browder'," Shakaar accused.

"Or perhaps I didn't," Krim replied, "And we could have avoided many pitfalls we're now in."

"Should we contact Sloan?" Vupo asked.

"He'll contact us when we achieve our first goal. Afterwards, we can cement a new partnership," Krim stated.

"We couldn't have funneled as much material support to the Maquis without Section 31's participation. All of those intelligence and caches of weapons that they 'stumbled' into came from Sloan rather than Browder," Lipa recalled.

"Browder's ambitions led him down dark paths even Section 31 couldn't delve into," Luva said miserably, "And he took some of our best and brightest with him."

"He certainly betrayed Elijah Waters," Shakaar said dimly.

"Odo and Kira have been warned off from interfering with the Architect program on the station," Vupo promised.

"I doubt Nerys is happy needless to say neither Odo," Shakaar knew from experience.

"The directive was attributed to you," Krim told him.

"That would explain her 'urgent' demands to be in contact with me," Shakaar sighed.

"Minister, she'll never understand or embrace our methods here," Bullik spoke knowingly. All of the Joint Chiefs as well as Shakaar had been Resistance cell leaders. Defending their world was just second nature to them. So was making sacrifices.

"Contact Ro. Tell her to implement Phase Two," Shakaar ordered.

"Agreed," Krim voiced the Joint Chiefs' understanding and endorsement of the order.

"Excellent work. Despite interference from two of you, the plan went accordingly," Kilana remarked, giving Neela and Anara scathing remarks.

"No one said anything about the Cardassians attacking the system while we were aboard Starbase 375," Macen reminded her.

"Just an object lesson in our awareness of your movements," Kilana smirked, "We could discuss other kinds of movements."

Ro cleared her throat while politely ignoring the rather pornographic nature of the request.

"You're invited, of course," Kilana clarified.

"That's a little fast for everyone," Macen informed her.

"Is it?" Kilana zeroed in on Ro but saw she wasn't truly swayed to join Kilana's sexual conquest list.

"The smugglers and mercenaries you insisted we hire have ramped up the colonists' enthusiasm and highly motivated everyone into completing their assigned tasks. I have to admit I thought they'd try arming the colonists but Keeve Falor has forbidden any attempts to do so," Kilana applauded them, "So it seems our working relationships can move forward."

"So our letters of transit will be approved?" Ro asked.

"Already done," Kilana handed the required padds to Ro and Macen.

"Letters of Marque as well," Ro noted.

"Yes, we have piracy issues to contend with," Kilana shared, "You will be well rewarded for each pirate killed," Kilana promised.

"We patrolled the DMZ as Maquis. We can do it again," Ro agreed.

"Especially when you get your science vessel all restored and hybridized," Kilana smiled beatifically, "Though, the Iotian Federation. What an interesting social evolution"

Macen had warned Ro that Dominion sources and informants were ringed around these early efforts trying to determine the "information brokers'" true allegiance. It seemed they'd passed the earliest trials.

"If we're done here?" Ro said, "We'll get to work."

"I suggest you begin in the Dorvan Sector. The Andergani are quite persistent," Kilana cheerfully suggested.

"Of course," Macen smiled. Ro felt gagging as Kilana lit up again.

"Lots of life signs," Macen studied Interceptor Two's sensor readings, "But very few humanoids."

"Where are they located?" Ro asked, "Chakotay said the villages were built within proximity of fresh water and foliage."

"That was before Cardassian rule and now the Dominion riding herd," Macen was bitter. The major continent had slid past them and now they came upon a second of four minor continents. Only this was one had been systematically destroyed.

"God damn," Ro whispered.

"Totally strip mined. Fracking, you name it," Macen's anger clouded his voice.

"They didn't even deal with Bajor this harshly," Ro felt it too.

"Hate to say but of this is recent. Within the last few months," Macen advised her.

"So after the Jem'Hadar herded everyone into labor-slash-death camps," Ro assumed.

"Ark to Interceptor Two. Come in," Anara's voice interrupted the pall of anger eking from every pore.

"Talk to me, Major," Ro insisted.

"Every continent other than the super continent you just passed over is environmentally damaged. All life lost. I'd assume any human colonists were killed in the process," Anara reported from the other side of the planet.

"I detected what could be human life signs on the major continent," Macen countered her.

"Neela is getting kind of a weird vibe off of the largest continent as well. But she doesn't sound happy about it," Anara told them, "She's babbling about how everything and everyone there has gone feral."

"Babble?" Macen asked.

"You're not listening to it. I've never seen her unnerved like this before," Anara stated.

"Let me process the atmosphere," Macen suggested. He beamed a portion of air into the transporter's bio filter, "Deity! Get us out of here! Now!"

"What?" Ro had never seen Macen this unnerved.

"Warp us out of the system. Now!" he demanded.

"Neela's gone that route too. Daggit's holding her down," Anara yelled into the comms. Neela's screams could be heard in the background.

"Okay. We're going but keep your comms up," Ro watched Macen get fidgety and the two Angosian crewmen began to take notice of him.

"Don't make me regret this," Ro advised Macen. After they made it to the outer solar system, Macen and Neela had calmed themselves down.

"They tested biogenic weapons after they finished with the resource extractions," Macen filled everyone in on the sensor report from the transporter bio filter.

"But there were survivors?" Ro asked remembering the humanoids they'd detected.

"A secondary infection came down on Cardassian bio types. They would be driven mad by the virus," Macen informed them, "They literally began killing each other off. It would've infected all non-human life."

Warning klaxons sounded.

"Lieutenant Ro! We have small transport craft dropping out of warp nearby. Ship hulls types are common amongst the Andergani," Anara began rapidly reporting, "Frinx! They've spotted us. Q-ship profiles. I repeat armed merchanter profiles!"

"Shields up, Weapons hot!" Ro ordered, "Augment forces stand by for boarding actions."

"Copy that! Boarding parties are assembling," Neela reported crisply. apparently the existential crisis had passed already. Macen still looked bothered but functional.

"We're going weapons hot," Ro informed the Angosian still in the cockpit. His contemporary was racing down the hull line to reach engineering. Medical skills, as subsequently discovered, every Angosian knew how to fire weapons regardless of type or system. But cross trained vessel engineers were rare and their skills generally dated back before the Tarsus Wars ignited. Which was fine since the Interceptor had mothballed since 2307 and despite a few Cardassian protests, the Bajoran currency markets were still tied to the lek.

Which recovered stamping presses could still put out. Gul Dukat's first innovation as Prefect of Bajor was to install domestic coin stamps. The Bajoran currency barely differed from the originating Cardassian currency. The Central Command had long deposited currency presses on conquered worlds to better tie them in financially and also to control domestic prosperity. Each conquered world had a quota of currency to be made.

That currency traded slightly under the parent at first but then domestic inflation was diverted to the "client" worlds and therefore, at their fixed value versus the parent, the inflation devalued the client money and greater demands were made upon the clients to up their productions of anything of value. For the Central Bank, it was a win-win-win scenario and for regional Prefects it also limited the ability of insurgents to accumulate enough wealth to resist any further.

But the Bajorans learned from rumors and innuendos of other client worlds and they learned that Cardassian troops, from the least to the greatest were paid in Cardassian Prime Central Bank leks. So the Bajorans became amongst the finest safe crackers and vault crews in the known galaxy.

Two major restrictions played against Dukat's decision to retire all primary currency transactions to Terok Nor. The first was, the Central Bank wouldn't allow him to devalue the Cardassian Prime cash which would happen if he restricted its use on the planet. Because his proposal to end Bajoran cash production would no longer allow the traders and bankers to overflow and divert inflation to the lesser currency and the other primary impediment in tracking down the thieves is they didn't redistribute the wealth amongts the poor ala Robin Hood.

The Resistance only traded with that currency with off world traders and merchants ie. smugglers. Who were being paid with the entire salary of an occupying army. Dukat desperately transferred the planetary currency reserves, in Bajoran cash, to the troops coffers and inflation crippled the economy. The Bajorans were actually happy to go hungry seeing their oppressors were too and, for once, the troops didn't blame the Bajorans for their "misfortunes". They blamed Dukat.

Replacing an entire occupation force was beyond a measure of cost the Central Command was willing to pay for Bajor. The Federation had finally gotten over their benighted hubris to play savior to the Bajorans. Let them play savior and let Bajor break the supposedly nonexistent banks of the Federation. It avoided war, it relieved Cardassia of its greatest thorn and they could insure that any and all foreign transactions had to be conducted with Bajoran issued leks thereby still tying them to the Cardassian Central Bank and influencing the exchange rates.

Bajor would crawl back to the Cardassians and beg to be afflicted with whatever punishment the Central Bank and Central Command deemed necessary and proper. Or so Dukat boasted. Only they never did.

"Why are we here again?" Ro angrily demanded from Macen.

"We're rendezvousing with the Asimov. Kilana already knew it so there was no point in changing destinations," Macen replied through gritted teeth.

"Ma'am? Who the hell built this ship?" the Angosian gunner worried.

"It's an antique!" she snarled back.

"It's something," he allowed.

"The Ark has crippled three out of four. Make that four," Macen shrugged.

"Stand down," Ro grated.

"We don't have a choice. This ship is done," the gunner reported.

"Amen," the engineer came from the smoke filled wreckage of the propulsion systems. The lights went out and he muttered, "Shit on a stick."

"Krim. He wanted me to take this wreckage the Militia could bury it," Ro sighed.

"And it looks better on why we need to replace a vessel and also seriously underscores the Militia's profound lack of warp capable vessels," Macen stated.

"You knew?" her irritation returned.

"I recommended," Macen told her, "I didn't know if they'd actually do it."

"Futzin' Joint Chiefs," Ro muttered.

"I'm with her on this one," the gunner agreed.

"Amen," the engineer-commando repeated himself.

"Anara and Neela are known to have stolen the best and brightest ship in the warp capable paradigm. We couldn't be that lucky because what would that say about Bajoran security?" Macen asked.

"Next time I'm torturing the next Sergeant Major I come across to get some damned truth out of them?" Ro shouted at Macen, "Is there anything more I need to know?"

"I actually I just happened to forget about telling you this part," Macen sheepishly confessed.

"I'll put on your tab," Ro grumbled.

"Ma'am, I'm eyeballing a new arrival," the gunner reportedly "Oh, hell. "

"Now what?" Ro squinted in the same general direction, "My God, that's beautiful"

Her communicator began chirping and she flipped it open, "About time!"

"I take it you missed us," Ro could hear Hendryks smirking.

"Three to transport," Ro ordered, "Macen is staying with the ship going down."

"Hey!" Macen protested.

"I hear you love birds are still quite cozy," Hendryks snickered.

"Hey!" Macen and Ro said in unison, "It's not like that!"

"Shut up!" Ro snarled at Macen, "You're making it more believable"

The transporter caught all four of them.

"Now this is more like it!" Ro was jubilantly looking around every corner of the Asimov's interior deck by deck. She finally traded upwards with her source of mobility.

"Holy frinx! It's the Odyssey!" Hendryks explained as proximity alerts sounded off.

"Um...Commander or Captain Macen, whatever you're about to go by, Tom Eckles and Heidi Darcy are signaling a greeting that I can't possibly repeat. It seems Tracy Ebert and Christine Lacey played 'Starfleet cadets' and stole your ship back from Starfleet and Ebert is going nuts screaming 'best bullshit ever'," Hendryks dutifully reported.

An annular confinement beam caught Macen and reappeared in the scout's transporter room.

He hugged Eckles mercilessly, "So, adapting to civilian life yet?"

"Hell, no. And damn proud of it," Eckles chuckled when Macen let him breathe again.

"T'Kir?" Macen asked.

"I wondered which of them you'd ask about first," Eckles was amused.

"Lees doesn't want to see me especially under these circumstances," Macen told him. Frankly, Eckles thought Lt. Commander Lisea Danan would be happy to see Macen under circumstance.

"Danan is on the other side of the Beta Quadrant so she hasn't even been tickled by rumors concerning us," Eckles promised, "I seeded the transit and merchant lines trying to pull information like you asked. Who knew this deep cover stuff was so encouragingly terrifying?"

"And you and Heidi took to it like ducks I take it?" Macen guessed.

"Hell yeah! Darcy is all about the espionage now. Like you guessed the Dominion had bought a lot of loyalty in the fringe systems and stellar nations. But now they have nothing but brute force to insure their will be done," Eckles explained.

"And you and Darcy planted the revelation that the Allies could pay as well with a much greater return on the investment after the war ends," Macen repeated their orders.

"Let's just say that Starfleet back behind their own lines can't process and verify the raw data flowing in fast enough. It's already made a difference in several fronts and the telepath cloning operations scheduled for Betazed collapsed with your friend Vaughn training up a domestic resistance led by Commander Troi herself" Eckles reported, "Even Tom Riker got involved."

"And you told Tom my terms for afterwards," Macen hoped.

"He'll be all in as soon as you give the word," Eckles promised.

"So the merchant fleets of some of the nonaligned worlds are now our covert operatives. Just like we hoped," Macen considered that.

"Well, a large enough group of them. A few balked but quickly realized all that had to be revealed was that they even pondered to start a Jem'Hadar crackdown on their domestic star systems. So, they'll be quiet. And the Thallonians are backing way the hell off after that little incursion you helped arrange and Captains Calhoun and Mueller repelled," Eckles promised.

Macen flipped open his own communicator, "Macen to Neela."

"Certainly, Captain. How can I assist you further?" Neela was cheerful again having left the ruins of Dorvan V behind.

"Cut the Kai's information feed off at the knees. She may not realize it yet but she needs your undivided loyalties with us," Macen offered.

Neela's laugh was one of sheer delight, "Captain, I thought you realized by now the Prophets are my only loyalty and they've sent me to you. I don't understand your special relationship with them but they're quite insistent that you and others of your kind escape the Dominion's DNA processors. So I'm entirely yours until this conflict is resolved," Neela explained again, "And before you ask, I know the conflict last one more year but I have no idea how or by whom. They seemed satisfied with the outcome so I don't press my luck."

"Their Number One Fangirl is afraid?" Eckles suddenly broke his enforced silence.

"Of my own misconceptions, Mr. Eckles. Good luck to you all," Neela replied. The transporter pads were topped off by energy coalescing as matter and Varglas and half his platoon suddenly appeared.

"What the hell?" Varglas mused.

"Anara and Neela have other responsibilities for now," Macen informed him, "Lieutenant Daggit is getting the same information aboard the Asimov," Macen told him, "Welcome to the 'Real plan all along', lecture."

"We have the briefing room cued up," Eckles suggested.

"Too many bodies. Cargo Bay Five should do it nicely. Considering if the Starfleet Corps of Engineers arranged the cargo holds the way we like it," Macen deferred on a decision yet.

"Pristine," Eckles was happy to say.

"Then assemble the troops. Literally," Macen instructed.

Vid screens were located all across the nearly empty cargo holds, one aboard each starship. Ro had the equal opportunity to observe her crew and Macen's simultaneously. How Macen and Vaughn had seen this far into the future was curious at best. But now she understood a glimmer of why Neela had been so important and this emerging "special relationship" between Prophets and El-Aurians stank but she'd go with it as long as it adapted itself to aiding the mission.

The mission was every bit as complex as Macen and Vaughn had alluded to when they concluded her into the planning phases. They'd layered the multi-tiered plans like bakery chefs. So that even their co-conspirators were largely clueless to what was going on. Admittedly, Macen had confided with his actual crew openly and honestly they deserved no less but Hendryks and Thool weren't consummate liars yet.

For all the passion and aggression of the Maquis, they were horrible actors. Even Ro's skills had been highly tested. The so-called antagonism she and Macen had portrayed had been partially real and 90% fiction played up to distract every one from the Fangirl. Neela was the hands down award winning actress of the group but she didn't need to actionable her skill set, once called upon, was simply to do the one thing no one would ever expect her to do: lie to Kai Winn. While she did present objective truths for Winn to feed to Kilana, the interpretations were just off enough to create complete misunderstandings over what was going to occur.

It hadn't taken much to convince the Planning Commission and the Joint Chiefs that Anara and Neela were Bajor's single greatest weapon or that Winn was still backdoor negotiating with the Dominion in case of a second territorial reversal and DS9 reverted to being Terok Nor for a third time. Which proved inconclusively that the Kai wasn't amongst the Faithful in the annals of Bajoran belief and Neela finally lost the clouds of reverence she'd always had for Winn to see the potential monster that she was. A monster in the ways of faith rather than the political arenas that she'd proven herself a completely debauched traitor. Power was her addiction and she considered no action too far removed to be employed in seizing power. Even betraying Bajor's future and eventually the Prophets themselves.

Through Neela he'd learned the biggest misconception that Bajorans had over their neighboring "deities". Bajorans believed, that the trans-linear alien life forms, who seemed miraculous, were indeed powerful but neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Yet Neela forgave them for her own twisted misconceptions and served them despite her knowing Clarke's First Law that a sufficiently advanced culture can seemed god-like to a more primitive culture. She recognized that context, playing out between the Celestial Temple and Bajor, her people and herself with the Prophets. Yet her faith never wavered.

And what was the human Christian Biblical definition of faith but the "hope for things yet unseen" as quoted in the Book of Hebrews? Humans may have lost God but not that simple faith. Now they worshiped science. Because "science can solve every problem" or so the mantra went, "eventually and finally". Yet it wasn't true. There would always be mysteries and miseries.

That would always gnaw at the soul until they discovered that the point was to rejoin Perfect Fellowship with the higher beings. A need so powerful that Prophets and pah-wraiths, and infamously the Great Bird of the Galaxy, exploited and a need for denial to prove that self-sufficiency included a profound lack of need. Despite that ache in the soul. An ache that Neela had filled with the Prophets, whether they be gods or charlatans. The need was fulfilled and Neela found inexpressible joy in that filling. So perhaps religion was the opiate for the masses but that didn't relegate its basest necessity.

After Macen and Ro concluded and took questions regarding the finer points of their newly established objectives and mission profile, Ro had one question for the crews, "Are you ready?"

"Yes!" came the resounding reply that echoed across cargo bays.

"Then let's kick some Dominion ass in secret," Ro growled.


Last modified: 04 Mar 2022