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Mass Destruction by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter One

Ro Laren stared out at the city streets stretched out before her. Bodies littered the area. Vehicles sat still, occupied by corpses. The strange thing was that none of them looked like they'd suffered or undergone the usual death throes.

"What the hell happened?" Ro voiced the thought on everyone's mind.

Being a Bajoran, she was used to Cardassian atrocities but this went above and beyond the usual. They only wiped out whole civilizations with careful calculation. They preferred to enslave native populations and use them as a labor force to rape the planet they were occupying. That approach typified the Bajoran Occupation.

Ro had escaped the Occupation as a teenager. She'd made it to the Federation and applied to Starfleet Academy. Passing the stricter requirements for foreign aliens, she successfully completed her courses and graduated as an officer.

A legacy of her background arose in her difficulty in accepting authority. She saw subservience as a sign of weakness and therefore recklessly pursued her own judgment whenever a situation requiring a modicum of restraint transpired. Her refusal to obey orders resulted in the deaths of eight other officers when she served aboard the Wellington.

Ro had offered no defense at her court-martial. She'd grimly accepted her transfer to the custody of the stockade on Jaros II without a word. She'd wiled away her time until Admiral Kennelly offered her a way out.

That mission had ended disastrously but Ro had impressed the captain of Starfleet's flagship. Jean-Luc Picard made Ro's temporary transfer permanent and she exceeded his every expectation. She'd eventually earned his endorsement to attend the elite Advanced Tactical Training course.

Ro successfully completed the program and returned to the Enterprise-D. Once there she was tapped by the Ice Queen of Starfleet herself. Admiral Alynna Nechayev wanted Ro to infiltrate the Maquis and arrange for their capture.

Once ensconced within the umbrella of the Maquis cell on Ronara Prime she'd come under the paternal graces of its leader. Macius treated Ro as the daughter that he'd lost. His unconditional love and shared hatred of the Cardassians began to shift Ro's loyalties. Despite a threat from Picard of an imminent court-martial if she betrayed her mission, Macius's death at the hands of Cardassian paramilitary agents galvanized her loyalties.

She chose the Maquis and had been a fugitive from Federation justice ever since. Leadership of the cell fell upon Macius's lieutenant, Santos. His death left the cell bereft of a successor. Finally, a vote was put out and Ro was unanimously elected leader of the Ronaran cell.

Ro had always assumed that command would come naturally to her. The reality of it opened up heretofore unknown doubts. They nagged at her and threatened to overwhelm her on occasion. Time had proven her abilities to herself. Help from her friends had also made a difference. One of them answered her query.

"We can only hope to find out." Brin Macen quietly replied. Her El-Aurian Intelligence Chief looked even more shaken then the rest of her Maquis. Having escaped the Borg assimilation of his world and having served with Starfleet during the Border Wars, he was no stranger to massacres. She just didn't want to know what was going on in his head.

Ro took a moment to study Macen. She herself was a thoroughly striking woman. She wasn't beautiful in the classic sense but she did turn heads. She possessed shoulder-length raven hair, voluminous brown eyes, and fair, almost pale skin. Her nose was slightly broad due to the distinct bone ridge on the bridge of her nose and her lips were thin. Her 5'10" height combined with her assertive manner threatened most men.

Macen wasn't one of them. Of course, she'd never considered him as anything other than a comrade at arms. He stood at 6'1" and had red hair, moustache, and goatee. He'd had a musketeer beard when they'd first met but she'd asked him to shave in order to avoid memories of Will Riker. His skin was usually fair. Right now it was ashen. His eyes were blue-green and were haunted by far too much knowledge.

"I'll need to transport a body up to the Odyssey in order to try and determine what killed them." Lisea Danan said. She was a stellar cartographer by profession but she was also rated as a General Sciences officer by Starfleet. Of course as a Joined Trill she also possessed resources beyond her résumé.

Danan had arrived with Macen. They'd been lovers up until recently. She still served as a member of Macen's intelligence unit but their ardor had passed.

A large part of that reason was represented by the third member of their unit. T'Kir was a Vulcan…at least by birth. Her parents had been holders to the tenets of Sybok. They found emotional expression to be the highest form of self-fulfillment. If that were the case, T'Kir was extremely self-fulfilled.

T'Kir's mood swings were severe and sometimes violent. Her telepathic abilities were nearly uncharted and they were out of control. She was in everyone's head all of the time. She didn't want it to happen but she simply couldn't shut the voices out of her head.

Physically, T'Kir was a stunner. Permanently disheveled, wind tossed raven hair was merely the beginning. An olive complexion a Mediterranean native would die for and sapphire blue eyes only accentuated her beauty. The one so-called flaw was her lips. They were large and full, slightly too large for her face according to the fashionistas.

T'Kir was a hacker beyond compare, which is what kept her out of an asylum, but she'd proved so erratic that Ro had foisted her off on Macen. Macen's psychic shields were strong enough that he could block her telepathic intrusions. Seeing him as a lifeline, she developed an incomparable attraction for him. Of course, that didn't stop her from bedding every other male in the cell.

Macen served as her watchdog and protector. He reined in her wilder impulses and she in turn respected his instructions. They made a very odd couple.

Ro focused on Danan. The Odyssey was a Blackbird-class scout. She'd been a Starfleet vessel at the turn of the century but she'd been decommissioned some months before Macen acquired her.

Ro herself was the captain and helmsman of a Ju'day-class raider. The Maquis had acquired over a dozen of these ships and distributed them amongst the various cells. Chakotay had possessed one when he disappeared and the loss of ship, commander, and crew was sorely felt. Ro's was named the Indomitable. It was a fierce name for a ship that had repetitively proven itself in battle.

However, the Odyssey possessed something the Indomitable could only dream of: a science lab. Designed for a crew of 22, the scoutship was typically manned by a crew of seven. The Indie on the other hand could hold 36 and typically required at least 24 to function.

Ro's reverie was broken by her second-in-command, Aric Tulley. He spoke though a clenched jaw, "Skipper, we're ten light years inside of Cardie space. They're not gonna take our snooping around lightly."

"Right." Ro shook herself, "Lees, beam anything you want back to the Odyssey. Just find out what happened here."

"You got it." Danan flipped open a surplus communicator and requested transport. She disappeared in a shimmer of light.

Ro looked to T'Kir. The Vulcan was vacantly staring into a building's window. Ro came up beside her and saw what she looking at. Row upon row of office workers were dead in their cubicles. They'd just laid their heads down on their desks and died or lain down on the floor to do the same.

Ro flipped open her own communicator and called Danan. Describing the scene to her, she negatively replied to Danan's request to get a sample from inside the building; "No. We're bugging out. Ro out."

She turned to Tulley. Her lieutenant was a taciturn man. He'd been a farmer on Arcadia until the Cardies killed his wife and children. Now that patience and endurance that had made him a successful farmer made him a methodical guerrilla fighter.

Ro abhorred the terrorist tactics increasingly utilized by her fellow cell commanders. She believed in fighting a war not an endless series of civilian bombings. Many members of her cell had transferred out after her ascension and her declaration of this policy. They had been replaced with others leaving other cells who disagreed with a terrorist campaign.

However, Tulley looked on the verge of losing control. She couldn't blame him. She was on the verge of apoplectic rage herself. Only her sense of duty to her Maquis kept her from seeking out a Cardassian colony and blowing it straight to hell.

"Aric," she said as gently as she could manage, "gather our crew and have them board the Indie. We're leaving before a patrol comes along."

"Right." He said stiffly. He turned to the others and began barking orders. Ro's heart softened a bit. Tulley was a good man and an excellent second. She was grateful to have him on her side.

T'Kir was still lost in thought so Ro separated from her and approached Macen. What she saw in his eyes chilled her. His eyes bespoke of death. He was obviously barely coping as well.

"Brin, we're leaving." She asserted, "Get T'Kir aboard the Odyssey and prepare to get underway."

Reminded of his duties as CO of the scoutship, he nodded; "All right. Hey Snickerdoodle! Get ready to go back to the ship!"

T'Kir waved him closer. When he came up beside her, she whispered; "It's so quiet."

He knew she was talking about the psychic pressure she normally endured. On a planet of dead people, the voices would be limited to those of her fellow Maquis. That was a drop in the bucket compared to normal. That was why she functioned so well aboard the Odyssey. She only had six minds to contend with.

"C'mon," he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, "let's go."

Ro watched them disappear and then trudged back to her own ship and made preparations to leave. She debated on whether or not to report this to Starfleet but thought better of it. This Federation colony was placed well within the Cardassian borders redrawn by the treaty that ended the Border Wars. It would be considered an "internal" matter by the Federation Council.

That same treaty had created the hated Demilitarized Zone between the Federation and Cardassian Union's common border. That thinking had also prevented the Federation from intervening on Bajor's behalf despite the pleas of her people. She hated the Federation Council for that. She still had a grudging respect for Starfleet though.

Starfleet had produced some of the most successful Maquis commanders. Calvin Hudson, Chakotay, Svetlana Korepanova, Michael Eddington, and Tom Riker had all been Starfleet officers and they served the Maquis well. Of course, Hudson was dead, Chakotay was presumed dead, and Riker was a Cardassian prisoner. Sveta was still free as was the new Maquis Commander, Eddington.

Ro herself had been Starfleet as had Macen and Danan. Dozens of former officers and enlisted men and women served the Maquis in a multitude of roles. They added a professional edge to an ad hoc organization. It was an edge they desperately needed.

The ships escorted one another across Cardassian space back into the DMZ. The Odyssey assumed orbit over Ronara while the Indomitable set down at a shuttlepad in the city of Moska. Urban cells littered the planet so even the discovery of one wouldn't prove disastrous.

Ro beamed aboard the Odyssey to find T'Kir to be her normal self.

"Hiya!" T'Kir said, "Wanna see the stiff?"

"I was hoping to get Lisea's report on the body." Ro grated. She found T'Kir to be annoying on a good day. Ro thought of some vile curses to reply with but she held her tongue.

Holding one's tongue was useless with the Vulcan though. She wagged her finger at Ro, "Bad Skipper bad! You oughta watch y'r thoughts."

"Stay out of my head, mind witch." Ro growled.

"Wish I could, but I can't, so I won't." T'Kir flippantly remarked, "Follow me if ya still wanna talk to boring ol' Lees."

"Please." Ro sighed.

T'Kir took her to Sickbay. All they found there was the corpse they'd brought along. Ro's heart went out to whoever it was but she knew well wishes were too late.

T'Kir then marched her two doors down to the main lab. She bounded into the room and went straight to Macen, "Miss me?"

"Terribly." Macen quipped, "Now behave."

T'Kir pouted, "I always behave. I behave badly but I behave."

Ro rolled her eyes as she witnessed the repartee. She went to Danan as the other labored over her instruments. The Trill was peering into scanner display screen and looked reflective.

"Found anything yet?" Ro wondered.

Danan wore a weary expression, "I've found everything."

Ro frowned, "What do you mean?"

"The body had a micron thick layer of recent scar tissue in the ears." Danan described, "It's the result of a hypersonic sound attuned to a specific frequency. This particular frequency must've caused muscular relaxation. The sound agitates the nerves which in turn flush the body with the message to immediately relax and the victim…"

"The victim falls asleep and dies." Ro caught on.

"Got it in one." Danan remarked, "This sound was keyed for humans but it can be tailored to virtually any lifeform in the quadrant. If it weren't for the damage to the cochlear nerve, I never would've guessed the cause of death."

Ro suddenly felt like panicking. The Cardassians had developed a doomsday weapon and there was no way to stop them from deploying it. Or was there?

"Brin," Ro turned to Macen, "I want to know where this is made. I need the location, the size of the facility, and what its defenses are."

"I might be able to get all of that." Macen cautiously replied, "But Laren, this goes way above and beyond and beyond any target we've attacked before."

"Don't you think I know that?" Ro snapped. After a second she composed herself, "Sorry. It's just a logistical nightmare already. I'm going to try and get help on this one. Just get the intel and get back to me."

"All right." Macen agreed, "But I'm going to need time."

"That's just what you don't have." Ro chuckled humorlessly, "It's time for one of your trademark lucky breaks."

Macen grimaced as Ro exited the lab. She wandered down the corridor headed for the transporter room. The enormity of her task threatened to crush her.

Her specialized training marked her as one of the Maquis' premier strategists. It also meant that she was an operational pariah amongst her peers. Gathering support for a raid might prove impossible. Then again, it was to avoid the mass extermination of every Maquis world within the Cardassian Union.

The Maquis relied upon small organized cell groups to avoid capture. The loss of one cell wouldn't compromise most of the others. The system had served the Bajoran Resistance well enough. It also contained the flaw the Resistance had: the inability to cohesively strike a major target.

Ro herself had arranged for the last united strike and that had been a Starfleet trap. She'd sprung the trap early and defected to the Maquis as a result but some of the cell leaders still harbored resentment. Despite all that she'd done for the cause over the last two and half years, they still viewed her as a liability.

She sighed over that. Her differences in methodology only served to acerbate the problem. She was seen as a self-righteous prig. In other words, she couldn't win.

"Sure can't." T'Kir opined from behind her.

Ro stopped and closed her eyes. She counted to ten before asking, "How long have you been following me?"

T'Kir perked up, "Since y'left the lab. D'you want me t'go back and chase y'down once y'realize that y'need me t'operate the transporter?"

"No." Ro said flatly, "Come on."

T'Kir brightened, "Y'should have realized that I'm basically harmless by now, Skipper."

Sure you are, Ro thought to herself. T'Kir frowned but refrained from commenting.


Chapter Two

Ro beamed down to the surface and sought out Tulley. He was compiling operations reports from their urban operatives and she left him unmolested during that procedure. Afterwards she swooped in on him.

She relayed Danan's findings and her instructions to Macen. She also announced her intentions to gather up a combined Maquis strike force. Tulley shook his head.

"They're not going to go for it." He opined, "They don't like you because you won't participate in their campaigns."

"My fight isn't with civilians and children." Ro snorted, thinking of a school bus bombing the Siberran cell had recently pulled off. The bus stopped in front of the Governor's mansion every day, and the governor collaborated with the Cardassians, so he was considered a "legitimate" target when he met his child at the bus stop. Forty-one children had been maimed or killed. It was little wonder why the Maquis were outlaws wanted by every side.

The Federation condemned the Maquis' actions and actively hunted them within the DMZ and on their side of the border. Starfleet purged sympathizers from their ranks. The Cardassians had a "capture or kill" order on every Maquis. They preferred "kill" but captured Maquis made good slave laborers.

All of these factors weighed heavily on Ro's thinking. She addressed a waiting Tulley, "I'm going to need an hour alone…in private."

"You'll have it." Tulley vowed.

Ro went to her quarters while Tulley assigned Maquis to stand watch over her and turn aside petitioners.

"Why Laren, this is a surprise." Eddington's smiling face said from her screen, "I was beginning to think you didn't like me."

"I don't." Ro admitted, "But I've discovered something that affects us all."

"Do tell." Eddington was intrigued.

Ro related the entire story and then addressed her idea of combining forces to deal with the factory producing the sonic weaponry. Eddington shook his head, "I'm sorry. I'd like to help. I really would but you've made a few enemies. This may all be a trap to force us into the open. The Cardassians are losing to the Klingons and they need a final solution to deal with us. Fortunately, we have our own deterrent."

"We don't need a deterrent." Ro protested, "We can stop it before it begins."

"You're being hopelessly naive." Eddington chuckled, "Do you even know where these sound projectors are being manufactured or how they're deployed?"

"No, but I…" Ro began.

Eddington interrupted, "Contact me when you have something concrete. Out."

The screen went dark and Ro fumed, "Arrogant sonuva…"

Ro pushed away from her comp/comm and paced back and forth in her quarters. She went into the restroom and turned on the sink. Splashing cold water on her face, she had a moment to cool down and see things a tad more reasonably.

Her cell could still make a preliminary strike against the manufacturing factories. Her cell had a total of four spacecraft. Two or more of those ships could be distracting Cardassians patrols while she pursued the origins of this weapon. She was already formulating a plan.

Tulley would take the Indie and lead a strike against the garrison on Falto IV. The Indie and her escorts could lead a fighting retreat into the Badlands. That would clear near space for the Odyssey to sail past.

She smiled to herself via her reflection and thought, I like it!

Now, Ro mused, if Brin can just hurry up and get the data I need so I can really plan this out.

T'Kir be-bopped down the street humming a tune that was only in her head. Behind her walked Ro and Macen. Ro was chomping at the bit to meet up with their contact but she was worried about T'Kir as well.

"Should we be bringing her?" Ro asked, "We'll be in public."

Macen shrugged, "You said you wanted a distraction. Well, there's your distraction."

T'Kir stopped in front of a cantina and she pointed at its door, "Here?"

"Here." Macen confirmed for her.

She led the way in and then stopped ten feet in. The space had a dance hall attached to the public house. T'Kir only had one thing to say in reverent, hushed tones, "Wow!"

"Go to it and remember…" Macen began.

"Behave. Yah yah. I got it." She said and traipsed off without a single glance behind.

Within seconds she was the primary focus for most of the men and a small group of the women. The crowd shifted into the dance hall and each vied to be the next dance partner. Macen was insufferably proud of himself.

"You've got a distraction." He proclaimed.

Despite resisting the urge to punch him, Ro had to admit that he was right. Then again, Macen had explained the El-Aurian ability to sift through probabilities and be guided towards the desired result. It also meant that they could sense disturbances in the space-time continuum. Guinan had never bothered to elucidate her with such knowledge. It was something she took quite personally.

Ro selected a table and Macen joined her. It was in the back of the pub and they sat with their backs against the wall so that they could have a clear view of the entire tavern. The place was half full. Most of the patrons were here for a meal. A few were dedicated drinkers. One freight crew had gathered for drinks before heading home. They were a jovial lot.

Ro envied them their merriment. Life with the Maquis wasn't always grim to the bone, life and death; it just seemed that way at times. Their victories, few as they may be, were celebrated with a zest for life that would have shut down a Bolian pleasure palace. Laughter, tall tales, song and dance filled the hours when life went their way.

The sad truth of it though was that the days were usually a life and death struggle whether any of them wanted to admit it or not. The Maquis lived on the knife's edge. It was a perilous balancing act that could end in plummeting to one side or the other, missing a step and slicing yourself in half, or rarity of rarities, you could even have a good day and thrive. The only problem was that the cycle started all over again at square one on every new day.

Ro knew how badly the odds were stacked against her. Over half of her cell had been captured or killed so far. New recruits kept coming in but not at the same rate as their attrition. She herself was at wit's end on most days. They expected her to be clever and clever only went so far.

Take this little meeting. They were here to meet with Harry Mudd. Actually, he was Harcourt Fenton Mudd III. Like his father before him, he'd been raised, suckled, and weaned on legends of his grandsire. He'd become a smuggler, con artist, and general scoundrel as the carrier of an infamously proud legacy.

Harry himself had a boy, Harcourt Fenton Mudd IV, and the boy was already a tramp freighter pilot showing a flair for the smuggling business. When it came time for Harry III to retire, Harry IV was already in the wings anxiously pawing at the ground.

"You're sure Harry's going to meet with us?" Ro asked, "Here?"

"He named the time, the place, and requirement of bringing you." Macen informed her…again.

"I know he's been reliable so far." Ro said, "But he's usually works with you or Tulley."

"You don't trust him." Macen surmised.

"Of course I don't trust him. He's a scam for hire." Ro reiterated.

"Good. It isn't safe to trust him." Macen said and then he nodded towards the entrance, "Head's up. He's here."

Mudd was a colorful personality. His manner of dress screamed that fact out for anyone who could see him. He was a caricature of a pirate from a holonovel.

He wore a loose, flowing shirt, tight breeches, buccaneer boots, and a dew rag for his head. Atop the dew rag sat a wide brimmed hat with one corner rakishly folded upwards. The hat also wielded a feather. All of the cranial adornment was to hide his thinning hair.

A thick walrus-like moustache distracted one from his bulbous nose. His brown eyes twinkled in delight when he recognized Ro and Macen. His round face lit up with a smile.

Despite Ro's earlier protestations, she had met Mudd on several occasions. He'd helped their cell liberate human shields as well as successfully "imported" various weapons for them. The working relationship between her cell and Mudd was without blemish but her instincts cried, "Foul" on this one. Macen's misgivings only cemented her opinion.

Harry came to their table, pulled out a wooden chair, and sat down. He jovially greeted Ro, "Lovely to see you, m'dear. You should get out more."

"You should sample some of the shuk you're shoveling." Ro suggested, "You'll gag on it."

"Tsk tsk, and here I thought we'd come together for an honest bit of trade." Mudd pouted.

"Get to the point, Harry." Ro countered, "Do you have the information we want?"

"The question is: do you have the latinum that I want?" Mudd retorted.

Macen handed Mudd a coin purse. Mudd opened the bag and peered in. He smiled with delight, "All slips and strips like I asked. Excellent. We can do business."

"Spill." Ro commanded.

"I did several supply runs for the Cardies." Mudd said, "I brought acoustic equipment and power cells to them." Mudd paused and then elaborated, "There was equipment from the Federation, the Romulans, and the Klingons."

"Where did you take them?" Ro was ready to climb over the table and throttle the information out of him.

"To a facility on Cevrus II." Mudd revealed. He fished a padd out of his pocket and handed it over, "I hacked their mainframe. This is a map of the facility and a list of personnel. The daily and weekly cargo runs and patrol layovers are accounted for. Irregular patrols and stops aren't. Maybe you can convince Starfleet to do something about it."

"Harry," Ro warily began, "what have you done?"

All of Mudd's joviality vanished. Instead they were confronted with a sniveling, despondent Harry, "Starfleet caught me smuggling weapons in to Eddington. They made a deal. If I turned in a Maquis cell commander, I could go free. I knew Eddington would kill me so…"

"So you rolled on me." Ro began to rise, "You disappoint me, Harry. I should kill you but instead I'll kill your reputation. No one in the Zone will hire you once I'm done. Enjoy your thirty pieces of coin. I hope it lasts for you."

"Wait!" Mudd desperately implored, "Starfleet knows you're here. They don't know about Macen and T'Kir."

"I'll get T'Kir!" Macen hustled off to the dance hall.

"How long have I got?" Ro asked Mudd.

"Ten seconds." Mudd miserably answered.

Mudd was spared another sharp remark by the appearance of four Starfleet Security officers walking through the pub's door. They immediately recognized Ro from her service record. They drew their phasers and yelled at Ro to surrender.

Ro laced her fingers behind her head. Two of the officers approached her while the other two stood at a distance. They'd obviously read her file and knew what she was capable of. That threw the advantage their way.

She was frisked and her assault phaser was found in her holster beneath her jacket. One of the officers pulled her hands forward and locked a pair of restraints onto her wrists. The closest two then led her from the back of the room into the middle.

Ro sized up the opposition. There were three males and one female…all human. The woman was well trained. She moved with fluid grace and knew how to control her body. She was either a dancer or a martial artist…probably both.

One of the men was a scrapper by the look of it. He was more of a brawler than a hand to hand combatant but he also knew how to comport himself. The other two were obviously green and probably hadn't had much more than their basic Academy courses.

Macen and T'Kir strolled out of the dance hall and nonchalantly started to pass by the newbies. T'Kir applied a nerve pinch to one and Macen stunned the other with his own phaser. The female Security officer went into overdrive. She aimed at Macen and prepared to fire.

Suddenly she clutched at her head and screamed. Collapsing onto the deck she stopped screaming as she passed out. T'Kir's head canted to one side as she stared at the body.

"Nobody hurts my boyfriend." She warned.

The brawler was using Ro as a human shield and trying to get a shot off at either Macen or T'Kir before they could shoot him. Or do whatever they'd done to Simmons.

Ro stomped on his insole, drove her elbow into his solar plexus and then smashed him in the face with the restraints. He dropped his phaser and clutched at his broken nose. Not letting up for a second, Ro smashed his nose again with her elbow and then again. He doubled over and she drove her knee into his face, and subsequently, his nose again.

The brawler passed out and joined the rest of his squad on the floor. Ro held out her hands and Macen released her wrists. She looked around and said, "Grab their phasers and let's get out of here!"

Back at HQ, Ro was sifting through Harry's data. Danan had done a work-up on Cevrus II so they had all the details of the planet and the surrounding systems. Macen, T'Kir, and Tulley were helping her sort through the information on Mudd's padd.

T'Kir had organized and collated all of the data. Tulley was reviewing traffic throughout the system and nearby space. Macen was running background checks on the personnel and Ro was concentrating on the interior layout and the security to be found there.

Three hours into their examination, Ro called a break. Ro remained behind while the others sought a meal and refreshments. Lost in thought, she was startled when Macen and T'Kir brought her a tray. Not realizing how hungry she'd become until then she wolfed the sandwiches and coffee down.

"So how's your progress so far?" Ro asked Macen.

"I hacked him into the Science Ministry's mainframe." T'Kir boasted, "I also pulled up the Cardassian Militia's Bureau of Personnel. We've pulled up all sorts of interesting tidbits."

Ro looked to Macen with an unspoken, Well, you deal with her. Now!

"T'Kir, could you get Laren and I refills?" Macen asked.

"Why?" T'Kir pouted.

"Because we're thirsty and we need the caffeine." He answered.

"Oh, okay." She huffed and stormed off with their mugs.

They watched her go and then Ro cautiously asked, "In the tavern she called you her boyfriend. Are you and she…?"

Macen grinned, "Of course not. She's a very sick girl. Now, if she were well…who knows?"

Ro saw trouble coming but she kept her advice to herself, "What have you found?"

"The Cardassians have assigned their best technological researchers and weapons developers to the factory. Wipe it out and you wipe out three generation's worth of talent." Macen explained.

"And the military side?" Ro wondered.

"The military garrison guarding the base is led by one Dalin Argus Merik." Macen said.

"Merik?" Ro was surprised.

"You know him?" Macen asked.

"Every Bajoran knows the name Merik." She explained, "He was Dukat's chief enforcer. He enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks until he hit dalin. He was the youngest officer to receive the rank. His star fell with the withdrawal from Bajor. Dukat shifted the blame from himself to Merik. I guess that's why he's never been able to advance one more rank and become a gul."

"My sources agree with you." Macen commended her with a smile, "Merik's grown bitter and has been shuffled off to wayside postings for the last couple of years. He made the mistake of complaining about his assignments and the High Command's been trying to unofficially bury him ever since."

"It couldn't happen to a nicer Cardassian." Ro sarcastically remarked, "What about troops are under his command?"

"Pretty boring. Most have been recruited from penal units." Macen answered, "His lieutenant, one Gil Saskya Oret, is one of those rare female officers. She's eager to prove herself and is informing on Merik's activities to Command and the Obsidian Order."

Ro smirked, "She is ambitious. I like her already."

Macen knew without question that Ro's facetious use of the word "like" indicated that she thought Oret was beneath the usual sort of Cardie scum that she dealt with every day. Informers were the bane of both the Maquis and the Cardassian paramilitaries they fought. The discovery of one usually meant that a quick death was meted out.

That was the heart of the threat that Ro had promised Harry Mudd. Once the other Maquis cells learned of Mudd's treachery they would actively hunt him within the DMZ and beyond. The Maquis, Ro included, had hunted down informers in the past in Federation, Bajoran, and Klingon space. While betrayal could serve as a sop for one's conscience or provide a profit, it was unlikely to serve up absolution or wealth.

"Is there any chance at all that any of the other cells will join us?" Macen changed the subject.

Ro sighed, "I really don't think so. Eddington has already told me that we'd be on our own and I don't think any of the other cell commanders are going to go against him."

"So once again we're a moral majority of one." Macen ruefully remarked.

"I think you've got a firm grasp of the situation." Ro opined.

Ro's communicator chose that moment to sound off. She removed it from her belt and flipped it open, "Ro here."

"Skipper, this is Tulley." He announced.

"Go ahead, Aric." Ro urged.

"I was called to the Old Biddy because a Starfleet captain landed in a shuttle and is asking for you. He says he can help us." Tulley reported, referencing a pub that was frequented by freighter crews and the Maquis, "Want me to bag him?"

Ro grinned, "Why not?"

"Aye, aye, Skipper." Tulley acknowledged with some relish.

"This could be trouble." Macen warned.

"Talkin' `bout me again?" T'Kir said as she re-entered the room with a tray of beverages.

"Of course…if you're a Starfleet captain." Macen replied.

"Huh?" T'Kir replied. She sought out Ro's mind and found what she was after. Grinning, she said; "I get it now. Thanks f'r the info, Skipper."

Ro cast an annoyed glare in T'Kir's direction and Macen laughed. Ro turned her ire on him, "Why are you suddenly on her side?"

"I'm not. Really." Macen chortled, "But she wouldn't pick on you if she didn't get a rise out of you. Ignore her and she'll lose interest."

T'Kir cuffed him upside the head, "G'on, spoil my fun."

"Has to be done." Macen chastised her, "We need dear Laren's mind clear so she can get us in and out of trouble."

"Good." T'Kir declared, "Cuz I don't wanna g't killed."

"If you two are done," Ro dryly interjected, "let's tidy up for our guest."


Chapter Three

The trio met the hooded Starfleet captain in the planning room. Tulley pulled off the hood to reveal a gray haired man of Semitic origins. He grinned at Tulley.

"An original Type II phaser. That's an antique." The captain remarked.

"It still vaporizes what I aim at." Tulley growled.

"Aric!" Ro snapped, "The Captain is our guest not our enemy."

"Your sentiments do you credit Lt. Ro." The captain spoke, "I am Selim ebin Hasid al Ghul. I am Captain of the USS Scimitar. Fitting, no?"

Ro was perplexed, "I have no idea if that's appropriate. Earth history and culture were never my strong suit. I understand that you have a message for me?"

"Yes." Al Ghul seemed crestfallen that his little jest had fizzled but he carried on, "Admiral Nechayev has learned of your little problem through Commanders Macen and Danan. She in turn presented it to the CinC. They agree that the Cardassians have developed a first strike weapon that could change the balance of power in the region. Despite the treaty, the Cardassians will not be afraid to use it to further their territorial ambitions…or so the leading analysts agree."

"So what does Starfleet intend to do about it?" Ro asked.

"Nothing." Al Ghul replied.

"Then why are you here wasting my time?" Ro asked testily.

"Members of my crew have decided to retire from Starfleet and settle in the DMZ." Al Ghul grinned, "It just so happens that they are a group of Security and Tactical specialists cross trained in combat medicine and engineering. What they do with themselves after they resign is none of my affair. I do have a strong suspicion that they will have a change of heart and petition to rejoin my crew once the current situation is resolved. Don't ask me why I suspect this."

"I suppose that Admiral Nechayev shares this suspicion." Ro slowly grinned.

"You could be right." Al Ghul chuckled, "My people have already landed. They have a privately registered Type 6 shuttle at the port and are lodged in the Holiday Inn in Ronaran City, rooms 46, 52, 103, and 215. Give them a day off before meeting with them. Of course, I officially have to warn you away from trying to recruit them. But a friendly get together between ex-Starfleet officers wouldn't be amiss."

"You're a sly man, Captain." Ro commented.

"As are you and your officers from all reports." Al Ghul grinned, "Now if I were to suggest to them to gather in the hotel lounge, at say, nine ‘o clock local time; would it fit your schedule?"

"Nine would be perfect." Ro agreed.

"Good." Al Ghul rose from his seated position, "Commander Elias Vaughn is the informal leader of the ‘settlers'. I will advise him that you are coming."

Ro held out her hand and gratefully said, "Thank you."

Al Ghul clasped her offered hand, "Sadly I fear that you don't have many opportunities to utter such sentiments. I wish you luck. May Allah smile upon your efforts."

The Starfleet captain turned to Tulley, "You may put that ridiculous hood upon me again."

"Never mind that, Aric." Ro ordered, "I have a gut feeling that Captain al Ghul won't betray us."

"And they say wisdom is lost among the youth." Al Ghul grinned, "Farewell Ro Laren. May we meet again on a happier day."

Macen grinned as al Ghul was escorted out. Ro noted this, "Why are you so happy?"

"I know Vaughn." Macen replied, "He's even more reliable than Aric."

"Let's hope." Ro opined.

They arrived at the Holiday Inn the next morning five minutes before nine. Ro brought Tulley, Macen, and T'Kir with her. The last was brought along against Ro's better judgment but Macen had insisted…as had T'Kir herself. Ro merely looked skyward and invoked whatever deity was listening's well wishes.

The Starfleet contingent consisted of two men and four women. One of them, an older man that appeared to be in his sixties, approached. He headed straight for Macen.

"Brin!" he said with a delighted smile as he embraced Macen.

They broke apart but the man grasped Macen's shoulders as they separated. Macen grinned, "Hello Elias. It's been a while."

"It's going to be like old times." Vaughn promised.

Macen wore a wry expression, "As I recall, we were both lucky to survive some of those ‘old times'."

"But surviving them has made for happy memories." Vaughn laughed.

"I think you've gone senile." Macen joked.

"Nonsense. I'm only ninety-eight years old. I have plenty of years left in me." Vaughn chuckled. He turned to Ro, "You must be Ro Laren. I've been watching you for some time now. If you ever tire of the Maquis, look up the Bajoran Militia. I think they just might have a place for you within their ranks."

"Thank you...I think." Ro warily said.

"Now," Macen interjected, "we can get to business."

Vaughn's humor died but his enthusiasm could still be seen in his eyes. From what Macen had said earlier to Ro, he and Vaughn had served on many of the worst hit border planets. Massacres and invasions had been the course of the average day. In turn, Macen would gather the intelligence for Vaughn to strike key Cardassian outpost and installations. Vaughn would act upon the information, typically bringing Macen along.

Ro had come to respect, and rely upon, Macen's fighting skills. She'd long ago realized that he wasn't the simple analyst he claimed to be and had been engaged in field ops for some time. Her only cause of concern was his increasingly extreme responses to crises.

When he'd first come to her cell, he seemed like a moderate when it came to crisis management. He still revered life but he was more and more willing to kill in the course of combat. He didn't torture his targets, he simply dispatched them. He repaid extreme violence with finality.

One of Danan's previous hosts had been a counselor. When queried, Danan bespoke of Macen's history with the Borg and the Cardassians during the decades long war. It had been the longest engagement in Federation history thus far and Macen had been in the heart of it for fifteen years. Now the Maquis Rebellion has arrived and he was at the forefront of the action once again. Such experiences scarred a psyche.

Ro considered Vaughn. Macen had said that they had entered Starfleet at roughly the same time. However, Macen's relative youth had made her forget that a human would be considerably older.

Vaughn was Starfleet Special Operations Command. SOC only accepted those that had graduated from the Advanced Tactical Training course that she'd successfully completed. From there they were taught even more rigorous forms of combat, infiltration, and sabotage.

For Vaughn to have escaped permanent harm all of this time said that he was good at what he did. Very good. That only left one question.

"Just how did you come to be aboard the Scimitar, Commander?" Ro asked.

Vaughn wore a wry expression, "Let's just say that Admiral Nechayev was looking for a few good men and women. And she happened to stage them where she wanted them."

"You're whole unit is SOC?" Ro yelped.

"Not so loud." Vaughn advised, "The walls have years. Anyhow, we're settlers, not soldiers."

"I forgot." Ro admitted.

"She does that sometimes." Macen joked.

Ro elbowed him in the gut and smiled sweetly, "Shall we be going?"

"You have adequate transport?" Vaughn asked.

"We have a Grevit-class transport waiting outside." Ro grinned, "We sort of ‘borrowed' it from the local Constabulary."

"You stole a troop transport?" Vaughn was both surprised and impressed.

"It makes moving around town a lot easier." Ro confided.

Vaughn's smile was appreciative, "I bet."

"Anyway, it's outside. If you could gather your group, we can offer you a place to live." Ro said.

"Thank you." Vaughn replied, "We appreciate it."

"So do we." Ro confessed.

The group gathered their belongings, which included long Starfleet surplus duffels. They type that are perfect for carrying Type II phasers and Type III phaser rifles with room to spare for explosives. The Maquis knew this from experience.

After the group had left the hotel, the innkeeper commed the local Constabulary and informed them that he'd had suspected Maquis in his establishment. The Cardies dispatched a unit to investigate and left it at that. Anything more would require the attention of the DMZ's Special Joint Directorate, comprised of Cardassian and Federation representatives, including those from Starfleet and the Cardassian Militia. Of course, in order to bypass this formality, the constables had orders to kill all the suspects in "self defense".

T'Kir joyfully greeted Macen's return. Her enthusiasm, and his, caused Vaughn to pause.

"Problem?" Ro asked.

"I thought Brin and Lisea...?" Vaughn trailed off.

"They were. Now they're not." Ro informed him, "As for those two, as Brin likes to say, ‘It's complicated.'"

"I bet." Vaughn mused as he watched the emotionally volatile Vulcan in action.

"So which one is your friend?" T'Kir asked.

"The one standing next to Ro." Macen answered.

"The geezer?" T'Kir exclaimed.

"It's true he's older than you but that doesn't make him a ‘geezer'." Macen pointed out knowing that Elias had thirty-five years on her, "I'm hundreds of years older than you. Does that make me a ‘geezer'?"

"Yah." T'Kir teased, "But in a cute way."

"Thanks...I think." Macen remarked.

"Don't mention it." T'Kir happily declared.

"Oh, trust me; I won't breathe a word of it to another living soul." Macen retorted, "It's liable to get you shot."

"Oh foo." T'Kir waved the concern aside, "Lees won't touch me."

"Actually, I was thinking of Laren." Macen revealed.

T'Kir's eyes grew large and her mouth formed a little "O", "Oh! Never thought of that."

"I know." Macen confided, "As a great man once said, ‘Now you have something new to think about. Carry on.'"

"Are y'quotin' Captain Kirk again?" she asked.

"Nope. He was an admiral at the time." Macen sagely replied.

"I'm gonna have t'hurt ya now." T'Kir warned.

"I think I'll survive." Macen quipped.

"Y'wish." T'Kir retorted.

"Children," Ro clapped her hands, "if we could take our stations?"

The SOC agents had already climbed into the transport. Macen jumped in back with them. Tulley climbed into the gun turret. It mounted a Class III disruptor cannon. T'Kir took the OPS station next to the pilot's station, which Ro occupied.

Ro fired up the antigravs and the transport lifted off. She then fired the impulse engine and flew off towards Moska. The constables saw a transport lift off and assumed another precinct had been called in as well and had responded first. They turned around and went back to the station.


Chapter Four

The city of Moska was divided up into four quarters. Each quarter functioned as a veritable city-state. Most of the divisions were along racial lines but everyone came together by travelling throughout other quarters and the central hub that comprised the central government of Moska itself.

The government's hub served to provide services and police protection. Medical offices were liberally spread throughout the city but were centrally controlled from the hub. Sadly, most of the doctors' offices had been cut off from their regular allotments of medical supplies.

The hub was controlled by the Cardassians' administrators. Before the advent of the Cardassian arrival the city's official had been elected. Now they were appointed by the Cardassian Colonial Committee. This isn't to say that they didn't appoint Federation collaborators.

"Well intentioned" Federation citizens frequently accepted posts handed down from the Cardassian authorities. This practice was fading though. Too many lynch mobs had formed...and been successful. The Cardies wasted no manpower defending their proxies. Security was up to the individual in question. Needless to say, the system had faults.

Most of these faults were exploited by the planet's Maquis cell. They'd found shelter in the human/Bajoran quarter and every campaign drew them closer to the residents' bosom. That quarter was suspected of Maquis activity but the Cardassians didn't know how valuable it was to the rebels.

The two sides sat down and began pouring over all of the information that the Maquis had compiled. Vaughn was impressed. Starfleet had no additional information to offer. Of course, most of the intelligence originated with Starfleet in the first place. The rest had been ferreted out by Macen's various contacts, including Harry Mudd.

Despite all this, Vaughn reached a decision Ro objected to, "What do you mean I should stay with the diversionary force?"

"Your forces need to be led by an experienced commander not to mention the fact that your flagship will be missing its helmsman." Vaughn replied.

"Mysra Tem can probably fly the ship better than I can and Tulley has a good head on his shoulders. They'll be fine." She countered.

"You don't understand the gravity of the situation…" Vaughn trailed off as Ro raised her hand and waved his objections away.

"You don't seem to understand, Commander. The decision has already been made. I'm coming along." Ro asserted.

Vaughn looked to Macen. Macen grinned, "She's coming with."

"Some help you are." Vaughn muttered.

"What can I say?" Macen laughed, "She's my commander and she's far more likely to get the Odyssey in and out of Cardie territory. That is, unless you like suicide missions?"

Vaughn was disgruntled but he let it slide, "Well Captain Ro, I suppose you've planned on how to get us in and out?"

Ro's eyes twinkled, "Of course I have."

As Ro's plan was originally conceived, Tully commanded the Indomitable and led the Wanderer and the Morning Glory in a raid against the garrison on Falto IV. The Galor-class cruiser, Irket, was the closest ship in the sector. She responded with a vengeance.

The Indie fought a running retreat while headed for the Badlands. Sadly, both of her sister ships were lost in that flight, the Morning Glory at the outset and the Wanderer within sensor range of the promised refuge. The remaining Maquis raider sought shelter in the plasma storms. The Cardassian commander, flush from his victories over the smaller craft, ordered a pursuit. Like Gul Evak before him, he perished in the attempt.

Tully ordered that they make course for Ha-jor, one of several M-Class worlds located within the bosom of the storms. The Maquis had learned of these worlds through smugglers, prospectors, and pirates who used them as hideaways. Of course, they'd chased the pirates away and "time shared" with the other two classes of recluse. The jungle world was replete with exotic life.

Ro's team was to rendezvous with them within a week's time. First they would drop Vaughn and his team off on Ronara Prime and then they would travel to Ha-jor to see what kind of casualties the cell had suffered. Ro'd had few illusions about what she'd asked of her followers. She knew she'd sent her people out to die but they were all volunteers so it wasn't like she wouldn't accept their sacrifice. The memory of their nobility would eat at her very soul but she didn't turn them aside from their destiny. She'd had no other option but to send them.


Chapter Five

The Odyssey slipped into Cardassian space without incident. Of course, the ship flew under forged documents. The Cardassian High Command had cleared the ship and crew for the occasional smuggling job. Macen brought them fairly innocuous items, mostly luxury items from the Federation and Bajor. The Cardassian military had grown used to the spoils of war and conquest as had their families back home and they clamored for a fresh supply.

Macen delivered these items with a smile on his face while his ship's sensors were recording everything along the route, and his route could be rather circuitous at times, taking him past all sorts of points of interest. The data gathered on these trips had saved his cell from grief on many occasions. It was why the Odyssey was reserved strictly for intelligence gathering and not for combat. Although arguably the most powerful ship in the Maquis' ragtag "fleet", she served a vital purpose in her assigned role.

The Odyssey was literally a small starship. Looking like an Excelsior-class merged with an Ambassador-class but coming in below the size of an Oberth-class science ship, the scout had survived the Border Wars before being decommissioned. The Cardassians were initially hesitant to clear her but then they realized that Starfleet would also be looking the other way if someone came sailing past them in one of their own ships.

Ro decided she could get used to this little powerhouse as her eyes swept the forward bridge. The Blackbird-scouts also pioneered the bridge design that became standardized as the Galaxy-class Battle Bridge. Ro had done her time in the Enterprise's Battle Bridge so she was familiar with the layout.

The two fore stations, CONN and OPS were the same. The center seat was located in the appropriate site. The differences were at the rear of the bridge. Besides the Tactical Station there was a Sciences Station and an auxiliary station that currently served as a Mission Specialist board. When, not if, the ship was challenged; Macen needed a worksite from which to maintain his role as captain of the ship.

Ro was commanding the mission and therefore the strategic and tactical aspects of the ship but Macen oversaw its usual functions. Ro had never served as a flag officer before and she found it quite heady especially with the Starfleet personnel aboard. Vaughn had instructed them to follow her orders without question as long as they didn't violate Starfleet regs or Federation law. Of course, the very premise of this whole mission was against those same standards so she wondered what kind of slippery slope they were traversing.

When Vaughn's back was turned Ro had approached one of the strapping young bucks of the SOC team and ordered him to report to her cabin in twenty minutes for "extracurricular" activities. When he arrived, Ro burst out laughing and then explained to the confused lieutenant what she'd meant. He went away scandalized and Vaughn had arrived within minutes. Ro apologized and swore she wouldn't use the Starfleeters' conditioning against them anymore. She still blew the young man a kiss every time she saw him though. He'd taken refuge in the engine room and hadn't ventured forth since.

Ro was a fairly young woman herself but the circumstances of her life made her feel old. The Bajoran Occupation, being a runner for the resistance at age 13, fleeing Bajor and joining Starfleet, her time in the stockade, her brief time in the sun aboard the Enterprise, and now life with the Maquis; she felt she was back where she'd started from: a Cardassian occupation with a struggle against it. No matter how far you wandered you always arrived right back at home.

If only Vedek Colm could see me now, she ruefully thought. The priest would undoubtedly laugh and laugh at his rebellious pupil. She'd given the man nine times worth of hell and he'd left her with the prophecy that she would face trouble `til the end of her days. It seemed she was certainly proving him right on that score.

That thought made her smile. He'd always referred to her as "his little rebel." So what? She'd thought then and now. It wasn't her fault that she was usually right about things. Even Will Riker had been forced to concede that on more than one occasion. Ro knew what she wanted and how she wanted to get it. Rules be damned if they got in the way.

Macen vouched for Vaughn and so far he seemed less likely to have a phaser shoved up his ass but one never knew until the crisis hit. Commander Vaughn was far less than pleased with Ro's ongoing joke. Ah, screw him, Ro thought to herself.

Eckles, the Maquis engineer, paged Macen; "Get `em outta my engine room!"

"Get who out?" Macen asked but he already knew the answer.

"These prissy Starfleet types." Eckles ground out, "They're trying to recalibrate everything in sight and I just got everything running shipshape."

"I'll handle this." Vaughn volunteered from where he'd been standing off to the side of the bridge.

"No, I'll handle it." Ro said as she stood, "Brin, you've got the bridge."

Vaughn followed her into the turbolift, "These are my people. Let me…"

"This is my boat. Without me and it you'd have a long walk home." Ro snapped, "I'm bringing you along. That means on my ship you obey my rules and one of my rules is that your people keep their damn hands off of my equipment!" Ro asserted.

Vaughn was momentarily startled. He quickly recovered his composure though, "I thought this was Brin's ship."

"It is when I'm not aboard. This is a potential combat mission. You've taught him some dirty tricks but he's not up to fighting a war behind enemy lines." Ro declared.

Vaughn smiled, "He has before."

Ro studied him. Unfortunately, it was impossible to tell if he was bluffing or not; "I'll keep it in mind."

"You do that." Vaughn's smile grew.

The bastard's trying to get me to turn on Brin. The hell with that! She angrily fumed.

The turbolift doors opened and Vaughn seemed to sense something was amiss. Wisely, he avoided the topic of "what" and instead waited for Ro to lead the way to Engineering. She stormed down the passageway and flew into the space.

"Hey Starfleet! Yeah, you three. Get over here." She curtly proclaimed.

"I don't care where you're from or what kind of training you've had. This is my engineer's compartment. Leave the settings where you found them. As for the ones you changed, listen to the ship's engineer and return them to where you found them. Got it?" Ro ordered.

They looked to Vaughn. He nodded his agreement. Nonplussed, they reported in to Eckles and received their marching orders.

Returning to the turbolift, Ro halted in front of Vaughn; "Thank you for that."

He was confused and it showed, "For what?"

"You could have fought me back there and you didn't. You were smart enough to throw away the book and let it ride." Ro said.

"The engineering specs on these old workhorses tend to be a little cautious. I'm confident that your engineer has everything in hand. Brin would've sent him walking by now if he didn't." Vaughn jauntily declared.

"You put a lot of stock in Brin don't you?" Ro observed.

"He's saved my life at least a dozen times." Vaughn readily admitted.

"And you've probably repaid the favor just as many times." Ro surmised.

"Something like that." Vaughn confirmed it.

"You do realize that his time with the Maquis has changed him. Changed all of us?" Ro asked.

"You seem pretty much as the reports have written you, Captain." Vaughn retorted.

"I'm not." Ro bristled, "None of us are. We're all scarred because we've discovered what we're capable of doing in order to win."

"And that is?" Vaughn began to take her seriously.

"Anything." Ro emphatically replied.

Suddenly, Vaughn decided he believed her.

Three hours later, Ro was sitting in the center seat bored to tears. Vaughn noted this and had to comment, "Been away from Starfleet to long, eh? You've forgotten the doldrums typically associated with commuting established traffic lanes."

"I'm just surprised we're in established traffic lanes." Ro admitted, "Hardly seems the place to put a secret base."

"Cevrus II is a good choice for the Cardies. It's deserted except for a mining colony. The miners are an irascible lot and stick to themselves. They've probably been told that it's a military facility and they leave it at that. The local shopkeepers are fond of the extra coin and the miners probably appreciate the free drinks the soldiers buy them…not to mention the games of chance." Vaughn reasoned.

"Captain!" Danan's voice broke the quiet moment, "We're being hit by a sensor sweep."

"Origin?" Ro was instantly alert.

"From a vessel just entering our sensor range." Danan reported, "She's a Lagut-class freighter registered as the Irkits out of Merin V."

"Brin?" Ro prompted him.

"I'm running it through the library right now." A second later there was a distinctive beep as the computer found its answer, "Yup, she's a Q-ship."

"The Cardassians still make Q-ships?" Vaughn was surprised.

Ro was astonished by this blind spot in Vaughn's knowledge base. The Cardassians had been arming freighters and sending them out as "hunters-victims" for decades now. It was true that the Cardies had pulled most of their Q-ships away from Federation borders but they still actively used them elsewhere to hunt pirates.

The basic premise behind a Q-ship was simple enough. As a seemingly defenseless freighter, the ship would draw in a pirate vessel. Once it was in optimum range, the freighter would open fire with its military grade phasers and its photon torpedoes. Generally, the pirates didn't stand a chance.

The presence of the DMZ had brought the Q-ships back to the periphery of Federation space. Since the Zone wasn't technically Cardassian or Federation territory, they could freely operate nearby without angering the Federation. This came in handy since they were now pitted against the Maquis. A Maquis raider looking for a soft target would easily be destroyed by a vigilant Q-ship crew.

"She has kelbonite hard points. They're probably retractable shrouds for the weapons emplacements." Danan continued to report.

"They're hailin' us." T'Kir reported from OPS.

"Transfer them to Brin's screen." Ro said as she eased herself out of her seat and went to the weapons station. There she conferred with young Lacey.

"Keep the torpedo tubes loaded but don't arm them. Triangulate a firing solution but don't lock the sensors into it. We'll only engage them if they go active." Ro whispered her orders as she gazed over the other woman's shoulder.

Next she moved to the CONN and spoke in low tones to Ebert. She was another female typically on the bridge. Eckles the engineer was paired with Darcy, another female crewmember. That brought the ship's complement total to five women and two men.

That ran counter to the command structure found on the Enterprise-D, she thought. Of course, coming from the civilization that produced Guinan would promote Macen's egalitarianism. Ro knew her Intelligence Chief was a fan of strong women. That's why he got along with her so well. That bias just filtered on over to his crew as well.

Of course there was loose talk of "Macen's Harem" and the orgies that went on aboard the Odyssey. T'Kir's proclivities with every male that caught her fancy didn't help the rumors. Truth be told, the Odyssey held to the highest standard of professionalism in the so-called Maquis "fleet'." Pairings were no one's concern except their own unless it interfered with ship's business. Then it became Macen's business and no one wanted that.

Macen terminated the transmission and made for the turbolift, "T'Kir, you're with me."

"What's going on?" Ro was baffled by the sudden activity.

"The captain of the Irkits wants a bribe and I've promised him four cases of yamuk sauce. I'm getting the goods right now and meeting the Cardassians in the transporter room." Macen explained.

"Oh. Carry on then." Ro replied, slightly stunned. She'd forgotten that Macen was the usual master of this ship and frequently answered to no one but himself. A little independent action was a good thing…as long as he kept her in the loop.

"Lees, keep an eye on things. Sing out if that ship shows the slightest hint of hostility." Ro requested.

"Yes, ma'am." Danan enthusiastically responded.

Ro smirked, Invite Starfleet aboard and she suddenly gets formal.

The exchange went without incident, the captain and crew of the Irkits were satisfied with the Odyssey's cover. The scoutship ventured onward and travelling at Warp 6 reached Cevrus II in two more hours. Saskya Oret challenged them in the name of the mining colony. Since the gil was a woman it was probably safe to assume a Cardassian ship wouldn't suppose she was in the military.

As the registered captain of the vessel in Cardassian records, Macen handled the communications; "I'm Captain Macen. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"

"Deputy Administrator Oret. You have cargo for sale?" she got straight to the point.

"I have certain items that are in high demand in the Union. Despite the scarcity of them within Cardassian territory, I offer them at a steep discount compared to my competitors."

Oret snorted, "What sort of discount?"

"Fifty percent less than my closest Ferengi competitor. That's wholesale with a sixty percent mark up to manage my fees for getting across the border. The Ferengi have to pay a middleman. I get mine from the source." Macen boasted. Ro was beginning to see why his ruse worked most of the time.

"Hold." Oret ordered. The screen shifted to an official seal as its display. When Oret reappeared, she was slightly subdued, "You will transport down to the coordinates I will provide and bring a manifest of your cargo."

Macen checked the coordinates, "This is a location outside of the main colony."

Oret was irked, "It is an ore processing site. Like you, we wish to remove the middleman."

"I'll be there shortly." Macen smiled as he cut the transmission. He swiveled his seat so he could face the anxious Ro, "We're in, Skipper."

"All right." Ro was eager to finally do something tangible, "Macen and T'Kir, you're with me. Vaughn, you and your people will beam down when we give the signal."

"Aye, aye." Vaughn's eyes twinkled.

Oret waited for Macen with a soldierly triad. Her ire was piqued when he arrived with Ro and T'Kir in tow. She made her displeasure known.

"You were expected to come alone." She growled.

Macen nodded towards Ro, "That's my business manager. I handle the ship and crew. She handles the cargo and the pricing."

"And the other?" Oret grated.

Macen wrapper his arms around T'Kir's waist from behind, "She's my good luck charm."

"Very well." Oret gave up, "The woman and your whore can come along."

T'Kir bristled but Macen whispered in her ear, "Wait."

T'Kir subsided and was docile during the march to the administrative center. Merik ruled the compound from an office attached to the manufacturing facility yet offset enough to be independent from it as well. A fusion reactor sat beside the plant, to the other side of the facility. Ro's plan might work in its entirety after all, the Maquis realized.

The assemblage reached the entrance to the administrative center and the group halted. Oret had individually scanned them with a tricorder for weapons but now she began her sweep again. Ro nodded to T'Kir. The Vulcan's brow furrowed and her eyes closed as she focused all of her effort on one event.

The three Cardassian troopers clutched their heads as they sank to the ground. Oret, who was bent over scanning Ro's legs, dropped the tricorder and went for her phaser. Ro drove a knee into her face. The Cardassian officer was ingloriously knocked onto her backside and her phaser was thrown clear.

Macen steadied T'Kir who woozily said, "Wow. I did it."

"You sure did." Macen kissed her forehead and then started gathering the unused weapons. T'Kir got a phaser. Macen received two and Ro gathered up Oret's discarded weapon. Oret just sat on her bottom and lanced scathing daggers at Ro through her eyes.

Ro flipped open her communicator, "Lees, Phase One is complete. Initiate Phase Two."

Phase Two consisted of the Odyssey jamming all signals coming in and out of the system and Vaughn's team beaming to the surface to deploy. From there the Starfleet gremlins would neutralize the sentries as needed on their way to the fusion reactor. Once at the reactor they would use charges to demolish the regulator tower and the cooling fins. This would result in an uncontrolled, and uncontrollable, reaction which would lead to detonation.

The mining colony was on the other side of the planet and would be unaffected. Any scientists, techs, and soldiers that could escape were free to do so but given the dearth of vehicles, that would be problematic at best. The only transporter was located in the administrative offices so that avenue of escape would be blocked.

"You're Starfleet!" Oret hissed as Ro closed the communicator.

"Not quite." Ro wore a rueful smirk as she answered.

"Then who…?" Oret's eyes widened, "Maquis?"

Ro was silent. Oret protested her own deduction, "No. It's not possible. The Maquis are scum, mere terrorists. They don't have the skill or resources to orchestrate something like this."

"You said it." Macen murmured.

"You are Starfleet!" Oret happily concluded.

"Whatever you say. I won't argue." Ro conceded.

Ro had initially been irked by Macen's sly way of deflecting blame from the Maquis. Then she realized that not taking credit for once may be a good thing. It would keep the Cardassians underestimating the Maquis' true capabilities. Then again…

Vaughn's wraiths moved quickly and quietly. Cardassian troopers fell before them. The bulk of the guards were loitering in the security office, which was neutralized in less than a minute. The perimeter was soft and the soldiers lazy. Owing to their lack of discipline Vaughn could well believe that these dregs had been dredged up from penal units. They entered the reactor control center and, one five second firefight later, they were in control.

Oret stood before the entrance to the administrative offices and the door slid aside. Ro kicked her in the butt and forced her to stagger forward. T'Kir shot a Cardassian trooper who was looking bored and witless. Macen shot a high ranking enlisted man as he went for a gun stashed within a desk. Merik burst out of his inner office.

"What is…?" he started to say. Ro shot him in the leg and he went down.

Oret made a move but was stopped by Macen aiming a phaser at her temple and saying, "Don't."

She froze as Merik activated his wrist communicator, "Merik to Security! Come in Security!"

Ro merely smiled, "Our friends have taken care of your security detail. Next, we're going to take of you and then your entire facility."

"Who are you?" Merik wondered.

"Friends." Ro replied simply.

"They're Starfleet!" Oret spat.

"Maybe. Maybe not." Merik struggled to rise. If he was going to die, it was going to be on his feet like a true son of Cardassia!

Oret was herded next to him and she was placed in a seat. Since Cardassian phasers didn't have a stun setting, the other two officers weren't going anywhere in this lifetime.

T'Kir entered Merik's office. A second later her head popped out, "Hey Skipper, we can have it all."

Ro went to her position while Merik wrestled with the term, "Skipper." When she returned, Macen joined his erstwhile companion. Merik had a sudden epiphany.

"You're Ro Laren." He grated, "Renegade Starfleet officer and terrorist at large."

"Aren't well you informed for a disgraced officer that's been shunted out of the way?" Ro scoffed at his surprise, "Yeah, I know all about you too."

"You'll die for this." Merik promised.

Ro snorted, "I'll die for a lot of things but this isn't one of them."

"What do you…urk!" Merik gurgled as Ro shot him.

Oret cracked, "You can't! I don't deserve this! I'm…aaiiieee!"

Ro entered the office. T'Kir was loading a list of all of the smugglers and legitimate transport companies that had supplied components to the facility. They were focused on the Federation, Klingon, neutral, and even Bajoran freighters that had delivered goods to the facility. Harry Mudd wouldn't be the only one going down on this one.

Macen shook his head, "We use a lot of these guys."

"Doesn't matter." Ro said harshly, "They have to be dealt with."

Macen eyed her quizzically, "You took care of Merik?"

Ro nodded, distaste written on her face; "Like we agreed: no witnesses. After all, Merik figured it out before the end. He couldn't be left behind."

Macen softened, "Laren, T'Kir or I could have handled it."

Ro's smile was a sad one, "Didn't they teach you anything in Starfleet? It's the CO's responsibility for what happens. I might as well personally dirty my hands. It's not like they're clean anyway."

Macen knew Vaughn would object to her executing Merik. That's why Macen and Ro had planned that little detail before Starfleet joined up. Commander Vaughn was more than willing to sacrifice every member of this facility's staff through a runaway reactor but to personally execute an officer? That was taboo!

Macen knew that Ro had made a lot of hard choices since becoming a Maquis and especially since becoming the Ronaran cell leader. He admired her strength of conviction that kept her going. She was still one of the most moral people he knew as she discovered her limits in an often immoral struggle. Today was proof of that.

Ro had executed prisoners before but she found no satisfaction in it. She could have pawned off the duty to a subordinate but she did the hard deed herself. As she'd said, the responsibility would be hers regardless of who did the actual shooting. The only sop for her conscience was that it had to be done. That would have to be enough.

Ro looked to Macen. His eyes told her that he understood and she knew it to be true. El-Aurians were a race of "listeners". He'd revealed that an El-Aurian truly felt the speaker's emotions, sometimes reconciling them better than the afflicted. Ro had confided in Macen on occasion. Most often, a look like this one was enough.

A shudder rippled through the ground and an explosion could be heard nearby. Ro looked to T'Kir, "Vaughn's team has done it."

"Ree-lax. I'm on this." T'Kir retorted. The padd chimed, "See?"

"Come on Doodlebug." Macen took her hand and led her to her feet, "We're going now."

"Only if you kiss me." She pouted.

He swept her off of her feet in a bridal carry and hoisted her to the transporter pads in the corner of the office. Ro tied in to the Solstice's transporter room. They then vanished in a halo of energy and reincorporated aboard the scoutship.

Ro immediately went to the wall and activated the intercom, "Ro to bridge. Lay in the escape course and get us out of here at Warp 8!"

Warp 8 was the ship's maximum escape velocity and it could only be maintained for twelve hours. Barring no Cardassian complications, the ship would be within the DMZ well before those twelve hours were up.

They reduced speed to Warp 6 an hour later. The only traffic they encountered was the usual commercial traffic. The military was busy "securing" the border. Of course, a secure border was one that was tested by incursions into the other side.

Some light cruisers patrolled the periphery of the DMZ but the Galor-class heavy cruisers were kept away now since they were needed for the war with the Klingons and they made tempting targets for the Maquis. Ro was just happy that secondary units patrolled the area. It made slipping in and out of their sensor sweeps easier. The Odyssey routinely did business within the Union so her return to the DMZ was barely registered.

Vaughn and his cohorts were beamed to the shuttleport. There, he broached the topic of Merik's fate one last time, "You're certain you don't want to add anything to your statement regarding Dalin Merik's final moments?"

"Is this an interrogation, Commander?" she asked.

"It will be if Starfleet ever catches you." Vaughn promised.

"What? You don't believe I killed him in self defense?" Ro breezily inquired.

"In a word, no." Vaughn coldly replied, "It's just too pat that you had to kill everyone in the room."

"Just ask Macen, he'll tell you." Ro offered.

Vaughn turned to his friend, "And you, I thought you were above this sort of thing."

Macen shrugged, "War is hell."

"Only, you're not fighting a war." Vaughn countered.

"It's a war by any other name." Ro spoke again, "It's a revolutionary war. The Federation doesn't want the Zone colonies? Fine. We can live without the Federation. It's a war for independence from colonial powers. Earth is replete with examples of the same. Hell, the entire Federation is filled with similar examples."

"That may be so, but we…" Vaughn began only to be cut off.

"'…learned to put aside our differences and live peacefully with one and all.' I've heard the propaganda, Commander. This is the reality of that fairy tale. In order to buy your fabled peace, good citizens got sacrificed on the altar." Ro interjected, "But that's okay. They weren't really citizens. They were colonists. They're expendable."

"I can see this debate is going to go nowhere." Vaughn sighed.

"Smart boy. I knew there was a reason why I liked you." Ro quipped.

Vaughn was serious as he replied, "Believe it or not, Captain. I'm on your side."

"Then join us." Ro offered.

A wary smile formed on Vaughn's features, "I'm actually tempted. But I believe things can still be fixed within the system. Even though some of us have lost that hope."

That last comment was aimed at Macen. Macen's answering grin was a rueful one, "Ask Nechayev why I'm here and maybe you'll understand better."

"Maybe I will." Vaughn turned and boarded the shuttle where his team was already waiting.

They lifted off as Ro and Macen beamed back aboard the Odyssey.

Macen dropped Ro off with Tully and the crew of the Indomitable. He then headed back to Federation territory to begin tracking down the smugglers who'd collaborated with the Cardassians. Two names were particularly disturbing. When compared to a Kassidy Yates, the treachery of two freighter captains was loathsome. Ro was handing those ID's over to Eddington. Let the scurrilous nature of the evidence be weighed by the Maquis Commander himself.

"We lost some good people today, Skipper." Tully said tersely, "And two ships we can't afford not to have. Was it worth it?"

Ro met his eyes and made a decision, "Yes, it was. We just saved every Zone colonist and who knows how many lives in the Federation. That was us. We'll probably never get parades, medals, or even a word of thanks but we did it."

"Those Starfleet…" he began to say.

She overrode him, "They were in the way. Our people could have blown that reactor just as well as they did. All they managed to do was get huffy and hypocritical. Help like that we don't need."

"So it's back to us versus the galaxy?" Tully chuckled.

"Yes, and heaven help the galaxy." Ro laughed. She knew they had freighter captains to find and intimidate, if not eliminate. The fight was still on and they were back in it.


Last modified: 02 Jan 2014