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Hidden Corners by Travis Anderson

A new era for the team develops as a universe finds its need
for a Starfleet Special Investigation Division. The same team in a different reality.

Chapter One

"Thank you for returning my colonel safely," General Kira Nerys smirked at Brin Macen and Celeste Rockford, "But not for giving us a new headache."

"Where you able to schedule an emergency session with the Ministers?" Ro asked.

"No," Kira sighed, "But the First Minister and Finance Minister are ready and waiting down the hall."

First Minister Astris Beru was a former Starfleet officer so the Federation ejecting the Bajoran Republic, declaring war, and mounting several subsequent invasion attempts had shattered Astris' faith in Starfleet and the Federation Council as a whole. Her wife, Kara Gena, would be the one approving Rockford's scheme to privately investigate Federation President Ardra or veto it altogether.

"You're in luck though, the Ministers trust the pair implicitly in this matter," Kira vouchsafed for the Cabinet of Ministers, "Just like a majority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff trust my judgment."

No one had to mention the sole holdout was a political appointee excused from mandatory retirement, unwilling to retire or resign until he'd displaced Kira, and was Colonel Ro Laren's immediate superior. Though he left the Colonial Defense Forces entirely in her hands since he was too preoccupied with scheming to inflict political revenge against Kira for being appointed to his "rightful place". Kira had lost command of Deep Space 9 just a few years ago as a result of Starfleet flexing their administrative muscles and dictating that only a Starfleet officer could command the station. They ended up with then-Commander Ro.

Kira was immediately promoted to General and Astris appointed her Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs as General Krim retired. Ro had ranked up to Captain before being blacklisted and forced to resign her commission. Kira stepped in and reactivated Ro's Dominion War-era Militia commission and retroactively promoted her through the ranks to Colonel. Placing her in effective charge of the Colonial Defense Forces that had been sadly mismanaged since their creation. Kira wanted a miracle and she got one.

The Militia Colonial Defense Force was now better staffed, equipped, and outperformed the System Defense Force. Of course, with Bajor's expansion into the Gamma Quadrant and colonial population wave, Ro now oversaw over a dozen colonies, two space stations, three shipyards, and two dozen Iotian built starships. The System Defense Force was entirely comprised of Bajor's impulse-only fleet and six Constitution-class starships/. Ro oversaw Karemma license built troop transports, another six Connies- as well half a dozen Asia-, Mercury-, and Kremlin-class starships. Bajor had blunted Starfleet's attempt to seize the station and the system with the help of Macen's Outbound Ventures security contractors, and a host of Starfleet officers and their crews that opted to defy their illegal orders and defend Bajor.

The Iotians had also "miraculously" timed a massive ordnance replenishment program during the brief conflict. The Iotian Federation and Iotian Starfleet considered the Bajoran Militia and Outbound Ventures to be their best customers so they made certain to insure that both would survive and win the conflict. The Iotians had even recently dispatched hordes of engineers to refit the older styled Constitution- and Asia-class cruisers. Domestically engineered augmentations for the older Mercury- and Kremlin-class frigates and scouts were also planned.

To accommodate sidelining vessels, the Iotians provided five Detroit-class cruisers at cost. Their sales figures had been less than spectacular so the Iotians had halted any further builds and sold the remaining hulls to Bajor. The Militia, flush with latinum from the Federation's imposed reparation payments, appreciated the Iotians providing the starships with a minimal markup. Despite the claims of the sales being "at cost".\

Quark had gladly explained to the First and Finance Ministers that the Iotian Starfleet would still make profit on the deal. Quark knew he owed his freedom to Ro's refusal to betray knowledge of his illegal taps into Sector comm buoys. It cost her a Starfleet career, again, but this time she wasn't sentenced to the stockade on Jaros II. She was just forcibly retired.

Commander Elias Vaughn still didn't want command of the station. So Starfleet selected their own handpicked candidate for the job: Commander Sam Lavelle. It was a reward for his meritorious services during the Dominion War and he saw it as a penal duty. Vice Admiral William Ross had staked his reputation on Lavelle's being able to perform and excel at DS9. Instead, Lavelle had a breakdown after completing a covert strike in Cardassian Union space.

His senior staff removed him from duty and the Cardassians demanded his head on a platter for the deaths he'd caused. Bajor backed Cardassia and was ingloriously tossed out of the Federation and invaded for it. The Federation sated the Cardassian sense of justice by handing over those responsible for ordering the strike and the war that followed. Against Bajor's political and military requests, Lavelle was reinstated after Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy overrode Vice Admiral Katherine Pulaski's recommendations to the contrary. Pulaski had returned him to duty but advised he be sent elsewhere.

Lavelle had kissed and supposedly made up with his Senior Staff and the Militia members of the crew. Bajorans made up the bulk of the crew following the Dominion War drawn down of forces. Vaughn was tasked with mentoring Lavelle into his role. Colonel Cenn Deska was tasked with making certain the Bajoran crew didn't lock Lavelle in his quarters and seal him in. With the internment of all Bajoran citizens in the Federation during the war and detaining all Bajoran Starfleet officers and enlisted, a massive wave of relocations from Federation worlds and resignations from Starfleet were flooding Bajor's colonies and Militia ranks.

Fortunately, the former Starfleet crewmen hardly needed to be trained in their new duties. The arriving colonists were appreciated by the labor starved colonies. Emergency relocation and colonial funds were drawn from the proposed defense budget utilizing the reparation latinum. But the Militia was still able to fund the refit program for its starships as it rotated ships through a six month redesign program divided between all four of Bajor's shipyards.

The shipyards also built domestic and licensed defensive ships as well as civilian models for public sale. Prior to the war, Bajor's native freighters had been discovered by freight haulers of every income level and description. That accounted for the rapid building of additional shipyards. The military aspects were secondary in the planning process but just as needed. The refits had begun on the six Systems Defense Force Constitution-class starships, putting the onus on the Colonial Defense Forces to blunt whatever spear was aimed at Bajor.

Starfleet, and specifically Lavelle, had quoted pithy reassurances that Starfleet would hold the station and defend the Wormhole. Nothing was said of Bajor itself. So the five new Detroit-class cruisers beside native assault cruisers, license built Karemma designed troop transports and modified freighter Q-ships held the line in the lack of Starfleet's commitment.

Kira knew Vaughn and the USS Defiant crew would defend Bajor as would the Militia crew aboard DS9 despite any pretenses Lavelle had of abandoning the Republic to hostile forces. Which would serve as a pretext for an invading Starfleet army of "liberation". Something Starfleet had been wise enough to avoid when they assigned then-Commander Benjamin Sisko to take command of Terok Nor and make her Deep Space 9. The Bajorans would would've hardly welcomed any ground forces just weeks after the Cardassian withdrawal after an over sixty-year Occupation. Members of Bajoran society barely tolerated the Federation's presence in their sector.

Even humanitarian aid missions were seen with suspicion. But Sisko had navigated every storm and upheaval and eventually Bajor became a member of the Federation. Only to become the only member ever cast out to serve a political end. Previously no member world had ever been ejected for any reason. Sanctions and censures had been enough to pressure the cessation of any warranted or unwarranted hostilities between member worlds. When the Bajorans exercised their sovereign right to reclaim DS9 as their own administrative zone, Starfleet sent in ships to seize it. Further compounding the errors, Starfleet fired without provocation in the first shot of a costly war.

A war the Federation had paid dearly for having also simultaneously launched similar aggressions against the Cardassian Union. The Cardassians displayed a rare wisdom and patience in allowing the Federation to hammer away at defensive positions that were continually fortified. The Cardassian Guard never instigated hostilities or pursued Starfleet vessels across the borders. Castellan Rekena Garan had simply asked for the Federation hand over Commander Lavelle in recompense for the unprovoked attack. They ended up with former President Chavy Sok, former Vice-President Nhlakamipho Cindi, and former President Juliette Perez when she overturned Sok and Cindi's successive administrations over the course of three week long cessation of the Federation's constitution and the war's went disastrously bad for Starfleet.

The Federation hadn't endured losses such as those since the opening six months of the Dominion War. But since neither Bajor nor Cardassia pursued territorial ambitions, the Federation Ministry of Propaganda had difficulty perpetuating the lie that the both "enemies" were existential threats to the Federation citizens' way of life. Instead their own successive presidents were proven to be. Despite the goodwill Perez fostered ending the wars and reinstating the Constitution and citizen's rights, her earlier complicity as Secretary for Starfleet tainted her too much for her political ambitions to survive. The three found their heads handed to the Cardassians by now-President Ardra in a deal made through Ambassador Elim Garak. The price: they surrender their ambitions to also prosecute Lavelle.

Bajor had defended Cardassia's right to do so until the very end when the same condition was made upon peace terms with the Federation. The intent was to drive a wedge between the newly minted allies. But a now-independent Bajoran Republic found itself more politically and militarily aligned with the Cardassian Union than the Federation. The Bajoran Republic rebuffed the Federation renewed interest in restoring Bajor's membership in the club. For First Minister Astris and the people no longer trusted the Federation.

The Alliance for Global Unity, better known as the Circle, had showed the Provisional Government's weaknesses that were shored up when the Republic was founded. The Federation's slide into autocracy demonstrated equal vulnerabilities. It also demonstrated a thinly veiled racism when "security concerns" were evoked and Bajoran Federation citizens and Starfleet personnel were interned. These were people that had sided with the Federation over Bajor. It was little wonder they weren't wanted at either.

The colonies were continually shorthanded so there were plenty of opportunities to forge new homes and lives. The Militia wasn't unwise enough to spurn enlistment offers from former Starfleet officers and enlisted. One officer, Captain Cera Neva of the USS Sentinel, stayed with her command but was under intense Starfleet Security scrutiny and unofficially suspected of having dual loyalties. She'd barely been allowed to resume her command. Captain Cera chafed under the added weight of official displeasure as she began to feel like a disappearing voice of reason.

The meeting with Astris and Kara went apace as the Starfleet Special Investigations Division contractors presented the data they'd pulled from the unsuspecting Iotian Fleet Boss, Kracko. Other Iotian Starfleet database draws had yielded similar and corroborating evidence.

"I had a sense President Ardra was unscrupulous but I had no idea she was an outright criminal," Astris admitted.

"I can set aside a black budget for this endeavor," Kara promised, "Ardra's not the only one that can creatively move funds around."

"Here's my agency's usual fee schedule and an itemized listing of all expenses incurred so far," Rockford handed over a padd, "I can update that daily, weekly, or at the end of the investigation."

"Any results yet?" Astris asked.

Rockford handed out two sets of padds, "Ardra s so confident she's barely bothering to cover her tracks. Which means investigating her will be easier. Unfortunately Federation Security and Starfleet Security look for these kinds of investigations. That's the pricey bit. My people have to be sheltered from officialdom. Admiral Nechayev of Starfleet Intelligence is running interference as is Rear Admiral Forger of the SID. They, along with the Federation Council's darling, Rear Admiral Johnson; are prepared to go forward with the findings as soon as they're conclusive."

The admirals in question were the four pip Alynna Nechayev and the two pipped Amanda Forger and Robert Tavar Johnson.

"The admirals in question have also drummed up unofficial support from Admiral Akaar and Vice Admiral Jellico," Macen added. Leonard James Akaar was the Alpha and Beta Quadrant Theater Commander and Edward Jellico was the Chief of Starfleet Operations. And fellow members of the unofficial resistance to Ardra's immediate predecessors. They'd taken refuge on Outbound Venture's Nor-class space station ahead of Starfleet Security arrest warrant squads.

Vice Admiral Bill Ross hadn't been so fortunate. Ross had been arrested on dereliction of duty charges after his first two attempts to seize DS9 and the Bajor system were repulsed. Dozens of members of Starfleet Command had been arrested on the orders of President Sok and Secretary for Starfleet Perez's orders. Starship captains had also suffered their wrath for failing to achieve politically dictated objectives.

The Cardassian Guard and Bajoran Militia were supposed to be "soft" targets. So the unflagging resistance they put up had been completely unexpected. As President Perez had reversed those political decisions and reinstated the Federation Constitution, she'd also ended the conflicts. But her complicity in the crimes against the Federation had already been revealed.

Ardra's bartering her away to the Cardassian Union had spared the politicians a lifetime of imprisonment on a penal colony. The Cardassian Ministry of Justice had decided their death sentences before they were taken into custody. But rumors persisted that Rekena Garan had used her office of Castellan of the Detepa Council to override the death sentences and dole out much harsher lifetime confinements in labor camps across Cardassian space. Such a fate was as harsh as any Klingon sentence to Rura Pente. Separating Sok, Cindi, and Perez was necessary to confound a second Lavelle-styled rescue operation.

Garan may have signed the peace accords on favorable terms but she no longer trusted in the Federation's benevolence or unwillingness to betray its own principles. A lesson the Bajorans had learned as well. One that couldn't be unlearned. Astris had negotiated favorable terms as well and the Federation's guilt currency and technical parts flowed in. But lives had been lost and trust betrayed. The Bajoran Republic might never rejoin the Federation now that the conflict had begun and ended. Kira and Ro had personally led the defense of Bajor and her colonies. They'd not be so lenient on Starfleet a second time.

"The investigation is approved and funded," Astris decided after Kara nodded to her wife, "General Kira has the pertinent admirals contact information. She'll personally deliver the evidence when, not if, you find and confirm it."

"I'm afraid that's all the time we can spare," Kara led them to the door, "The Kai is coming to present a matter of the 'utmost' importance."

Her tone made it sound as though she believed otherwise. Recently the Militia's scouts had discovered Kai Opaka was still alive and trapped on a moon. Something had kept hidden all these years. Bajoran scientists had been working on a way to free her from the nanotech that kept her bound to the prison moon. The Kai herself was monitoring their progress and wanted to present a potential breakthrough. A chance at new lives for those condemned to die if they chose to leave and the formerly condemned to die and resurrect if they stayed.

But Opaka had quelled the violence. The former warring factions worked together now to enhance their burdened lives and ease some of the suffering the prisoners had endured for centuries. The scouts had been overjoyed to find Opaka alive and yet their joy was diminished by her captivity. The current Kai had visited the former spiritual leader herself. Opaka had no wish to claim the leadership of Bajor's Vedek Assembly again. She wished to end her days, if her days could still end on Bajor, as a simple vedek.

The word of the Dominion War, the defeat of the pah-wraiths, the treachery of Winn Adami, Bereil Antos' death, and the recent conflict with the Federation weighed heavily on the Kai Emeritus as the Emissary phrased when he himself came to visit. Her joy at learning that the Prophets themselves had engineered the Sisko's birth and his spending time with the in the Celestial Temple confirmed all of her hopes. The history and arrival of the one the people called the Hand of the Prophets barely dented Opaka's calm.

Instead of surprise she'd merely sighed and said, "At long last."

The Ascendant and Iliana Ghemor as their chosen Emissary also hardly fazed the former kai. Her belief that the Prophets alone could bring her people and the Cardassians together in a unified stance seemed justified now. The fact that they'd chosen a Cardassian as an Emissary, even to a forgotten people, only justified Opaka's enduring faith. The Kai had sent word to Sinhera and the Ascendant there.

Ghemor had traveled to meet the legendary Opaka. She'd come away satisfied by the meeting. The Kai had also invited Neela. Who'd declined. Opaka hadn't been offended. Instead she assured the Kai and the Emissaries that Neela's work couldn't be interrupted just yet. When the Prophets dictated it, Neela would present herself to Opaka. Then Opaka would reveal to the Hand of the Prophets that she knew how Neela had escaped certain death in the vacuum of space ten years ago and hadn't aged a day in the interim.

With the contracts authorized, Rockford unleashed her agency's resources to conduct a deep search into Ardra's past and current dealings. Forger doubled down and authorized Macen's SID team to "consult" on the investigation. So it seemed Rockford would be personally involved in the search for answers. So began a search across three quadrants.

The Obsidian arrived at Serenity Station, one of DS9's sister Nor-class stations, some days later. By then Rockford had her team assigned. Rockford had assigned seven humans and two non-humans to the case. The aliens included a methane breathing Ikorian and a diminutive felinoid whose name roughly translated as Feral. Out of the seven humans, two were case managers for the rest. Adai Kushin was a Sikh who still observed his ancestral religious practices. Edward Wong was a transfemale that kept her given birth name and went by the gender neutral "Eddie". Bonnie Huntsmith, Kelli Harrington, Jessa Bertinelli, Wolfgang Deiter, and Adriana Schafer were all accomplished private investigators as were Agnew and Feral.

They had access to venues and informants Federation Security couldn't dare approach. Those same venues would close themselves rather than allow agents sully their doors and the informants would simply vanish into the shadows. Rockford and Macen had another trail to follow.

Someone had, and was, covering up Arda's criminal past. Someone who stood to gain by having Ardra safely in office. Narrowing that down would take greater effort than tracking down informants and witnesses who would go on record against Ardra. Ardra had powerful protectors even beyond Cell 51. Cell 51 had inherited Ardra's presidential campaign and exploited it. But someone had planned and enabled it. That someone buried the criminal records and closed off foreign and domestic investigations into Ardra's sanitized past.

Four major Federation entities had that type of clout and reach. Federation Security could and was devoted to protecting the sitting president. As was demonstrated by their eager participation in the Sok and Perez administrations. The current Secretary for Starfleet, Akila Chol, couldn't be excused either. Ardra had refused to hold an election for a Vice-President nor would she appoint one. Leaving Chol to inherit as Perez had done before her.

Starfleet also had divisions capable of covering up for Ardra. Security, Intelligence, and the SID had the authority to access, amass, and hide Ardra's criminal records. But why should they? Nechayev and Forger were excused by intimate trust and their cooperation in bringing Ardra down. Commodore Oh lacked those qualifications but also seemingly lacked motive. Still, all three women had to be examined just to be thorough.

Then there was still the Cell 51 connection. Acting Agency Director Dylan Sorbo had activated a Political Action Arm that seemed to be comprised of not only chiefs of staff but actual Federation Councilors as well. The newly renamed, from Ministry of Propaganda to Ministry of Information, agency also seemed a likely nest of Cell 51 operatives. The Section 31 base in the Genesis Cave had revealed the code-names of other top operatives.

The Presider, the Gray Cardinal, and the Trinity were all high level upper managers. Cell 51 had also inherited scores of S31's apparatus and agents. The SID itself occupied Section 31's former headquarters on Earth, disguised as the London Starfleet Data Archive. Yet the Director, Edward Fowler, hadn't known anything about Cell 51, or he might revealed information before his suicide just to spite the rogue splinter faction.

Cell 51 had been the brainchild of his son, Jack. Whose positronic replacement brain seemed to have devised methods for running an ultra top secret splinter within an ultra top secret police. Sorbo was convinced the younger Fowler and John Browder had miraculously survived the self-destruction of their starship in the Gamma Quadrant. Elias Vaughn and the entire crew of the USS Defiantfelt otherwise.

Macen wouldn't typically doubt Vaughn's accuracy. But the Genesis Cave had yielded data suggesting Cell 51's political action arm had been activated remotely by Fowler himself. A S31 transceiver array having been discovered within the dwarf planet Ceres between Mars and Jupiter. An abandoned shipyard had also been located opposite Jupiter Station's orbit of the gas giant. But the signs were that it had been operating until some days before Starfleet Security located it. Life support had been left on and some unfinished keels still laid but the computer cores had all been pulled from the yards.

The covert location and nature of the yards were being repurposed into Starfleet Intelligence's home branch of the Special Projects Yards. The original SPYards head been destroyed along with the Utopia Planetia Fleet Yards. A secondary unit was operating out of the Antares Fleet Yards but Nechayev wanted the main operations returned to Sector 001. The heart of the Section 31 Yards had been constructed in 2242. Three years before the launch of the original Constitution-class USS Enterprise.

S31 had gone underground ten years later yet the yard had been expanded upon and officially "unnoticed" since. CONTROL had been destroyed and Section 31 seemingly deactivated but the lie regarding that disbanding became apparent in 2373. When Luther Sloan tested and then tried to recruit Julian Bashir after his return from a Dominion prison and being replaced by a Founder.

The newly commissioned SPYards already had begun laying keels. The ASDB had been designing new covert action starships and auxiliary craft as well as tailor fitted modifications to maximize specialized performance from intended individual starships. The SPYards built single prototype vessels that Starfleet Operations would never accept as capital ships or support vessels. The auxiliary craft would also never receive widespread acceptance or production. But certain modifications could be widely distributed after being proven in the field.

Sector 001 was the most defended sub-sector in the Federation. Whereas Sector 045 wasn't. Sector 04 also housed the Terra Nova Ship Depot. A proven colander that leaked starships into illegal hands. Hands that had included the Maquis and assorted criminal cartels. But it also placed starships in legally licensed hands. But the leaks drew more official attention than the proper distributions. Even those starships properly distributed had a portion of them used illegally.

The very heart of the case Commander Michelle Prentiss of Starfleet Internal Affairs, seconded to the SID, was pursuing. That the DeVos Corporation and Solarian Security Systems and employed their starships in unprovoked and lethal attacks against Outbound Ventures in the hopes of gain from Starfleet Commander Clancy. Gains she'd alluded to while privately discussing matters with Solarian's founder. Solarian had simply offered subcontracts to DeVos and an even smaller security contractors. The goal was to provoke Outbound Ventures crew into unleashing unwarranted attacks, thereby breaking the law, and losing their present and future SID contracts.

But a DeVos starship opened fire first on a less capable vessel. The triad had swung into violent action as a whole. Once the crime was committed, their only hope was to destroy Outbound Ventures as an entity and eliminate any witnesses. But the contractors took the brunt of it. Solarian alone survived as a company and even then a hallowed out shell of what it had once been. The captured crews vanishing in Starfleet custody, reappearing in a Cardassian prison and having been rescued by Lavelle's task force, relocated to the Iotian Federation before they could be debriefed by Starfleet investigators.

But the prisoners had been "lost" by seeming Starfleet Security deserters. Officers that served as trustees in the Cardassian prison. Some had accepted "resettlement" in Iotian territory along with the security agents. But in actuality, all returned to Starfleet, their records adjusted to indicate they'd been on special detached service with the Klingons. Prentiss had uncovered a cult of personality within Starfleet Security to rival that built by Admiral Leyton before his coup attempt. But Prentiss, with Admiral Forger's support and authority, was pursuing those leads.

The SID team needed to find out who'd buried the past. In order to do so they needed a lead from one of the agency detectives to unearth some of that history before discovering who buried and why.

On the planet Melba II, Agnew was partnered with Adriana Schafer. The megalopolis called Yoric was the trade and political center of Melba II. Agnew wore a tuxedo, as was his fashion when traveling in upper crust circles. Schafer dressed the part of a member of the planet's Thieves Guild. Agnew was posing as an Ikorian trade delegate while Schafer explored the criminal underworld. Melba II was a Deeper Beta Quadrant world once approached by Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D crew. Melba's traditional trade arts were repellent to the Federation. But the Ferengi easily navigated Melba II's guild structures and economic caste system.

Agnew was starting at the top. He found himself at a buyer's auction. The wealthy and influential from a hundred star systems found themselves gathered, talking shop between auction lots. Agnew was delighted to find that the House catered to methane breathers like Agnew and provided refreshment tubules that could be attached to his helmet's feeding tube. Having enjoyed a liquid hydrogen slushy, he moved on to a protein fluid ampule. Finally, the first curious onlookers approached him.

"I don't believe we've ever met," a Bolian jovially stated, "What business are in you in?"

"Air speeder wholesale markets. Particularly from insular markets. People pay extra for rarities with amenities," Agnew's family was actually in the trade. He'd used his family credentials to get in the door.

So he knew that Melba II's proximity to the deeper Romulan Star Empire availed itself of otherwise restricted Romulan goods. Romulans themselves only purchased domestic products. Such was the price of officialdom's Orthodoxy standards but the greater galaxy beyond treasured high end Romulan products as well as their alcohols. Surprisingly, even the Breen and Tholians traded here. A smattering of Gorn implements could also be found.

"So you're focused on Lot 2031?" a Talarian inquired.

"With smatterings from Lots 385 and 421," Agnew stated.

"They just called for bidding to begin on Lot 354, so you have time to indulge yourself out here for a minute," the Bolian chuckled.

"I have to get the name of the caterer," Agnew said enthusiastically, "Such a diversified spread at one of my own sales exhibitions could ease tensions between customers quite a bit."

"And loosen their latinum accounts," a Ferengi added as she joined the party. Agnew still wasn't used to seeing female Ferengi entrepreneurs but Grand Nagus Rom's reforms had strengthened the economy and that held the Alliance together despite the culture wars raging within it.

"I've noted the distinct lack of hew-mons amongst the clientele," the Ferengi chuckled, "Yet they still buy the goods from us."

"I've noticed an increased demand amongst Vulcans for Romulan goods," Agnew advised them. Which was strictly true according to his family's ledgers.

"You may have just increased competition for those Romulan air speeders up for auction," the Ferengi caressed her comparatively smaller lobes. That had been Agnew's intent. He had no desire to actually win an auction but he had a part to play.

"May the best sentient win," he offered. Even the Bolian and Talarian looked calculating now.

"Have you heard of any fraudulent investment schemes lately?" he inquired.

"Heh heh heh," the Ferengi chuckled, "Someone recently ran what the hew-mons call a 'Pon-zee' scheme. The locals ran her out of town."

Agnew played dumb regarding Ponzi schemes and the disgruntled Talarian and Bolian investors in said scheme explain the nuances and mechanics of it. In the end he discovered the market con had been run by Ardra and she'd barely escaped ahead of the local law enforcers. They were still interested in prosecuting despite local law enforcement being warned not to by a mysterious third party. Someone official in Starfleet but no one knew who the officer had been. But it was enough to confirm Rockford's working theory.

Schafer found herself visiting a cabin in the woods outside of Yoric. The Melbanites built vast, towering megalopolises rather than encourage urban sprawl. Thus they preserved a greater part of their natural world. They'd begun moving the surplus population to orbital habitats and colony worlds to preserve their ecology.

She'd already learned that Ardra was a legend amongst the Thieves Guild for her investment scam and her impressive flight from justice. She'd also learned that Ardra had left behind a disgruntled local partner. Schafer paid her way through the guild to reach that partner. Who was sheltered by the guild in order to keep her out of custody.

Like all Melbanites, Ilian had a faint resemblance to a Jem'Hadar. Her flaming red hair atop her upswept skull ridges definitely differentiated her from a Jem'Hadar.

"Who are you?" Ilian immediately asked Schafer as the human drew back her hood to reveal her race. Her target sight tattoo on her left arm having been her introduction.

"My name is Adriana Schafer and we have a common interest," the private investigator told her.

"And what is that?" Ilian asked scornfully.

"Seeing Ardra pay," Schafer told her.

"You police?" Ilian was apprehensive.

"Not even close. But I am making a case to give to the Federation to end Ardra's scam as being President. She hung you out as the face of her crimes here. Give me a sworn recorded statement indicting Ardra and I can give it to those interested parties in ending Ardra's career," Schafer explained.

"Get me off of Melba and I'll make any statements you want," Ilian haggled.

"Done," Schafer agreed.

"I want relocation to the Federation. Melba doesn't have an extradition treaty with the Federation. The Federation considers us too lawless," Ilian laughed, "I also want to help be the one to break Ardra. In court if need be. But I prefer a more permanent solution that avoids needing a penal colony bed."

"I'm certain my employer and clients would be just as interested in a similar outcome," Schafer admitted.

"Then we have a bargain," Ilian agreed to the terms.

"Then let's get you off world," Schafer offered.

"Just how did you earn a Thieves Guild crest?" Ilian wondered.

"I stole it," Schafer shrugged.

"You sound qualified to me," Ilian laughed in delight, "One more round and then we go. You're buying."

"I'll put it on my expense account," Schafer offered.

"Then we get a bottle of the good stuff to go," Ilian was still mirthful. She was leaving a planet whose investing population would see her dead. Included was a fresh start in a civilization worth fleecing and she would also get a free ride and good hooch. But finally, when all was said and done, she would destroy Ardra. Which she would've done for free.

Edward Wong and Adai Kushin reported in with Rockford herself.

"Adriana Schafer's success at acquiring a witness will prove vital to this case," Wong stated.

"Congratulate her for me, Eddie," Rockford requested, "Tell her there's a bonus in it for her. How did Agnew fare?"

"He was able to get Ferengi, Bolian, and Talarian traders to sign off an affidavits on Ardra's investment scam. They were all taken by it, though it took the Ferengi the longest to admit it. She didn't want to seem like a bad investor in light of the turmoil over Grand Nagus Rom's reforms regarding female attire and business opportunities," Kushin reported, "But they signed off with legal counsel present. Melba II's own criminal courts have filed charges against Ardra. The Federation won't extradite her but the charges will bear weight in the Federation Council's impeachment deliberations."

"Any word from any of the others yet?" Rockford inquired.

"They're just starting to report in," Wong told her, "We need to get busy."

"Compile their reports and send the work on up to me," Rockford requested.

"Any luck on your end yet?" Kushin inquired.

"Starfleet Internal Affairs has an officer attached with the Special Investigations Division and the Judge Advocate General's offices as an officer that's been invaluable getting us warrants and records requests filled," Rockford explained without mentioning Commander Michelle Prentiss or Lt. Commander Senecka by name.

Despite Outbound Ventures and the Rockford Agencies having the best encryption Angelique Kerber and Bailey Smith could devise, Starfleet Security had nearly unlimited code cracking resources available to them. Even if they had to go around Starfleet Intelligence, their usual partner in such things. Officially, the Cipher Division of Starfleet Communications was a joint operation between Communications, Intelligence, and Security just as the SID was officially chartered by Intelligence, Internal Affairs, and Security. But the reality was the SID cooperated better with Intelligence than Commodore's Oh's obstructionist Security.

Internal Affairs in turn was in reality a joint venture by Security and JAG. Just as the Starfleet Investigative Service was hybrid venture between JAG, Security, IA, and Federation Security. The SIS agents being civilians under both Starfleet and Federation Security oversight.

The investigation into Ardra's past had been underway for a week now. Long enough for all of her investigators to get in position and into play. For her own staff aboard the Obsidian, Lee Kang, Shade, and Arianna Forte were hard at it. Smith and Kerber were cracking Starfleet Security databases as quickly as they could. The Data Team providing the Detective Squad with the raw data they needed to legally request specifics through Prentiss at IS and Senecka at JAG.

Despite Macen never having needed Senecka's legal services in the here and now she'd still been a huge, if underground, fan of T'Kir's. But Senecka was more emotive than Macen recalled. Obviously, Ambassador Spock's passing and the growing Reunification movement on both Vulcan and the Romulan Star Empire easing emotional constraints even amongst native Vulcans.

Senecka had a been a colonist on Vulcan's nearby Class-P habitable planet. Delta Vega was a seeming arctic wasteland but it was rife with hostile life forms and animals. Starfleet maintained a singular installation on the planet and there were half a dozen hardy Vulcan colonies. For a people bred for a desert climate, Delta Vega took a great deal of sacrifice to adapt to. Senecka had been born and raised there so she found Vulcan, its climate and its strict emotional restrictions, unpalatable. So she'd joined Starfleet and earned a place in the JAG Corps.

Having been singled out to assist the SID's covert investigation by Macen through Rear Admiral Forger, Senecka had been all too aware of Macen's infamous Starfleet career and marriage to T'Kir. As Prentiss laid out the history of how the DeVos and Solarian detainees disappeared in Starfleet custody, under the care of elite Starfleet Security officers, only to be "liberated" from a Cardassian prison later on disturbed the sitting JAG and Lt. Commander Senecka as she helped present Prentiss' side investigation. Prentiss was more interested in Fleet Admiral Clancy's inside dealings with Solarian Security Solutions and how those dealing actively led to deaths.

Federation Security had launched their own investigation into Solarian's criminal dealings and clientele based on what Prentiss had unearthed just so far. The trail of the Solarian and DeVos agents didn't end at Deep Space 9 where they, and their Starfleet Security minders, were taken afterwards prior to the abortive wars. Macen and his team had verbal confirmations that the agents were now housed on the colony within Iotian Federation territory settled by survivors from Turkana IV. Most had accepted commissions in the Iotian Starfleet.

The Starfleet officers had filtered back into Starfleet through civilian transports that returned them from Temporary Detached Duties that were labeled "Eyes Only" for Commodore Oh and Fleet Admiral Clancy. Clancy was resisting a JAG order to release the files pertaining to the duties the officers had been assigned to and how they ended up as trustees in a Cardassian prison. A prison the Cardassian Castellan herself had provided digital paperwork backtracking the detentions to Clancy's authorization with Oh as operating as a cutout. But nearly a year had transpired since the prisoners vanished and the Cardassians claimed to have been given custody of them by Starfleet.

The Cardassian Guard listed the Starfleet officers as having assisted the Cardassian military with suppressing terrorist activities on several of the occupied Subject Worlds. They'd been recalled by Oh to the prison site in time for Commander Lavelle to swoop in with a squadron of starships to liberate the prisoners even at the cost of Cardassian lives. The entire affair used a pretext to start a war against the Cardassian Union and ultimately the Bajoran Republic despite Bajor having been a member of the Federation until hours before the invasions took place.

Admiral Nechayev, Rear Admirals Forger, and Johnson shared their own participation and leadership in quiet investigations into all of these matters. Admiral Akaar and Vice Admiral Jellico supporting their every move. Even Vice Admiral Ross participated now after being unlawfully detained. He covered for Commander Vaughn and the Senior Staff's efforts out of DS9 as well Commodore Saavik's supportive measures from the Gamma Quadrant exploration squadron. It wasn't that there wasn't enough evidence to investigate, it was the sheer volume of it that was daunting.

Prentiss focused on the Solarian connection as did Federation Security. A select team from the SID was involved in looking into Starfleet Security and Internal Affairs. Lt. Commander Senecka would run point on the legal prosecution matters and procedural means. That left Macen's SID team tasked with tracking down the security contractors in Iotian space and getting them to identify their Starfleet captors and how they arrived in a Cardassian prison.

Outbound Ventures and the Bajoran Militia were two of the Iotian Starfleet's largest customers of starships, parts, and ordnance. The Militia had even employed the Iotians in building two space stations for them. With the Rockford Detective Agencies employed by the Bajoran Militia coupled with Macen owning Outbound Ventures, they weren't expecting much resistance on that front. The potential push-back wasn't expected to be from Oxmyx, Kracko, or the Iotian Starfleet but rather Ishara Yar and specifically her daughter Ishtashra.

However, Oxmyx and Fleet Boss Kracko had wanted a personal debriefing with Macen and Rockford concerning why they wanted an audience with the Yars. The young couple knew more than they were willing to say but they arranged a meeting with Ishara Yar as well as Kracko diverting personnel to be available for questioning.

Like Ishtashra, the former security contractors had been given their own fairly recent generation starships and given semi-autonomous commands. Yar commanded the Himalaya-class ISS Capo. The serving former Federation citizens crewed two starships. The Apollo-class ISS Dillinger and the Renaissance-class ISS Barrows. Both were considered to be light cruisers unlike Yar's heavy cruiser type. Former Solarian agents crewed the Dillinger while a mixed DeVos and Solarian crew manned the Barrows. Where Yar had recently been disciplined and fined for working for her aunt, Sela, the Director of the Tal Shiar itself. Her work to undermine the United Federation of Planets' interstellar security deemed an unnecessary risk to the Iotian Federation's ongoing expansion efforts.

With Yar found out by Starfleet, greater scrutiny was emerging from Captain Alfonso Reyes from his command at Deep Space 3. The extreme range of the Iotians' ventures brought them to Deep Space 4's periphery and Captain Erika Benteen was also keeping a more watchful eye on Iotian activities in the region. In other words, they were making business more difficult. Oxmyx laid the blame entirely on Yar. It taken all of Kracko's persuasive skills to convince her lover not to indulge her wrath at Yar.

Instead, they'd discovered, once again through Macen, that their newly acquired semi-independent operatives could be a larger risk factor. Macen didn't want the crews or to interfere in the Iotian Starfleet's business model. He simply wanted them to finger the Starfleet Security officers that had spirited them away to presumably a black site holding arena before transferring them to Cardassian hands and eventually into the Iotians' embrace.

Prentiss had objected on that point. She wanted access to the crews to help determine their belief structure going into their attacks on Outbound Ventures and Rockford Detective Agencies starships and planetary assets. Access Macen left up to Prentiss and her superiors to bargain for. Given the Iotians' penchant for criminal behaviors, they'd easily sell access to the highest bidder. So the information was to be had if they could outbid whoever it was that had arranged for the prisoner transfers to begin with.

Mudd Kenra wandered from her crashed shuttle. She'd stolen it from an Militia Constabulary impound yard and flown it through the Wormhole to reach Raas II. Looking up, she could see an Ascendant dreadnought floating overhead. It allowed her to pass unmolested or even challenged. When she reach Varic's mercantile where the King of Thieves held court, she saw Iliana Ghemor was already there before him.

"Mudd Kenra, come. Join us," Ghemor offered freely.

"You seem to have replaced the nobility, Varic," Mudd observed.

"You and your limited partners left me enough gem stones to buy the planet," Varic chuckled, "So I did. The Emissary came to give me her blessing."

"To buy you, you mean," Mudd accused.

"I have no interest in ruling this planet. My only concern is access for my vedeks and prylars to reach the people and train them in the way of the Prophets. In exchange, I will give Varic access to other planetary markets," Ghemor explained, "And you can guide him."

"You're saying you knew I would be in this exact spot before I arrived?" Mudd scoffed.

"I didn't. But the Prophets did and they deemed me worthy of sharing with," Ghemor's smile remained.

"Think of it, Mudd. Untapped treasures and resources just waiting to be taken from gullible people," Varic offered his vision, "You know these worlds she speaks of. You know how they think, what they want, and what they'll buy."

"I want sixty percent." Mudd countered.

"Forty and we'll call it even," Varic replied.

"An even fifty and I'll do it," Mudd made one last concession.

"And the bargain is struck," Varic wore a toothy grin, "But you buy the wares from me at a steeply discounted price."

"I have no ship anymore. How are we supposed to present wares to other planets without means to transport them?" Mudd inquired sharply of Ghemor.

"I have a ship and crew standing by. As my spiritual guides roam from world to world, you can travel with them and make whatever bargains you deem fit," Ghemor told her.

"I can deem to bargain a lot," Mudd warned her.

"Choose the items you believe you can sell to others and my ship will take on whatever cargo you deem necessary," Ghemor finished explaining.

"You're coming with?" Mudd was skeptical now.

"No. I'm needed elsewhere," Ghemor told her, "That is why the ship now in orbit will carry you to wherever you wish. I'll be taking my dreadnought and moving on," Ghemor tapped her communicator band around her wrist, "I've left Varic communicators. Contact the ship's vedek and he'll make arrangement to bring you aboard."

The transporter took hold Ghemor and she dissolved.

"Show me your storehouses and I'll be off to make us the richest pair in the Quadrant," Mudd offered.

"Just don't betray me, little Bajoran. Or the reverence of the People will not save you even then," Varic warned her, "Now come with me. I'll stake on this first outing for an increased initial percentage."

Mudd followed to see just what Varic had accumulated while she was incarcerated on Bajor.

"Well, as I live and breathe, John Browder," Lauren Ryder said with exaggerated enthusiasm.

"I understand you've become Sorbo's right hand," Browder said.

"I understand you're supposed be dead," Ryder replied, "Starfleet logged both you and Fowler as KIA."

"We met friends in low places," Browder chuckled over his return to Sentinel Station.

"Is Jack ever dropping by for a visit?" Ryder inquired.

"Is Elena Kita ever deploying her plant people?" Browder drawled.

"Her first deployment is underway," Ryder told him, "It's a test case."

"Then here's to success," Browder mock saluted her and strolled away. Ryder sensed that something was off about Browder. He was a little too arrogant. And he looked younger. Ryder decided to call upon the Gray Cardinal.

"Ryder," the teenage Ana Johanssen offered as Ryder stepped into the Gray Cardinal's domain. It was a stellar cartography room filled with stars, planets, and markers designating operatives and operations underway.

"Hard at it I see," Ryder mused.

"How exactly can I help you?" the Gray Cardinal asked.

"Browder," Ryder shared, "Have you reconstructed his voyage home from the information he's provided?"

"No," Ryder could see it troubled the teen, "It's a variance I can't account for. Starfleet has no record of any ships being in the area at the time Browder, T'Lis, and Fowler apparently died. If Browder and Fowler lived, where's our Vulcan operative?"

"She died in combat?" Ryder supposed.

"Except that the auto destruct was engaged rather than conducting any sustained combat," Johanssen scowled, "The Defiant logs show no sign of any escape pods being ejected and certainly no plasma trails to indicate impulse engines or warp trails. The sole exception being a torpedo that our agents seemed to have fired off towards the Dominion border."

"They fired into Dominion held space?" Ryder was astonished.

"The Defiant also failed to register a detonation," Johanssen's scowl deepened.

"Which meant the torpedo could have been a probe or had its warhead removed," Ryder offered.

"Tell me something I don't know. But either one is too small to carry a body," Johanssen had obviously made a deduction she didn't want to face, "But it would carry a brain."

"You're suggesting they fired Fowler's positronic brain into Dominion-held space?" Ryder refused to believe it, "After all we did to end the Founders?"

"Call it the ultimate act of revenge upon the Federation for failing to live up to Fowler's ideals," the Gray Cardinal had definitely thought it out. Ryder had to agree it was beginning to sound plausible. Why else would Fowler still be hiding in the Gamma Quadrant, sending Browder who refused to answer any detailed questions? What answers Browder had provided the Gray Cardinal systematically punched holes through over the course of the next five minutes.

"I think it's time to start implementing random blood screenings and phaser sweeps," Johanssen concluded.

"I will try to get it through Sorbo," Ryder sighed.

"Send him to me," the Gray Cardinal offered.

"I'll see that I do," Ryder chuckled appreciatively. The teen was fearless.

"He's overseeing new reports coming in from Kita's test run," Ryder warned her, "So it may take a while."

"We may not have it," Johanssen warned her. "Browder" agreed from where he'd become a layer on the wall.

Kelli Harrington visited the neutral world of Rentari. Its major port was the city of Vladic Center. The largest and more robust trading center in the sector.

Rentari faced pressures from both the Romulan Border Zone warlords and the encroaching Iotian Federation. Who touted their non-aggression pact with the Star Empire as Rentari's salvation from the warlords. Rentari rested just inside the former Neutral Zone so it had been long ignored by the United Federation of Planets. And it continued to be so.

A former haven for smugglers and thieves alike, it had become a refuge for activities otherwise banned in either the Federation or Star Empire. It was here that Harrington sought out a confidence artist known as Soreya. Whether it was her given name or one of many aliases Harrington didn't care. Soreya was on Rentari because of a deal gone wrong while partnered with Ardra concerning Borg implants. Specifically providing Borg implants to the leading purveyor of said implants located at Stardust City.

More to the point, Ardra and Soreya had never had a line on any implants and had simply taken the buyer's latinum and run. But it seemed interstellar bounties had a long reach if one didn't have a personal security attendant or the Federation Presidency protecting oneself. Harrington was skilled enough to locate Soreya and surprise her with an offer the crook couldn't refuse. In exchange for a deposition taken at DS4, Harrington would provide free passage to the Barrinor system.

Barrinor itself had a rigid meritocracy revolving around the banking cartels and their operations and security. But the colony of Odin was open to qualified applicants and reasonably priced. Especially if one already had a sizable amount of latinum. The Rockford Agency would pay Soreya's way onto the planet, guaranteeing her immigration, but once there she would be under Barrinoran jurisdiction and completely on her own.

Soreya leapt at the chance to get off of Rentari. But she wanted to return to her domicile and retrieve her "go" bag of belongings. Harrington had to admire the view and said so.

"I had to leave anyway. The owner is returning tomorrow," Soreya informed her.

"You're squatting," Harrington sighed.

"House sitting. Just the owner doesn't quite know that and probably wouldn't appreciate it," Soreya grinned.

Harrington handed her a tool, "Go scrub your DNA from the other rooms. I'll handle the living space and the kitchen."

"You're all right," Soreya decided.

"Only because I've been hired to be," Harrington muttered to herself as she got to work sterilizing Soreya's DNA traces and her own from every surface.

Bonnie Huntsmith found herself in Plygeria on Krysia. She was seeking yet another disgruntled ex-partner named Franij. Her species' appearance was slightly chilling to most humans who would associate it with Latin American celebrations of the dead. Their purple skin tone and fair hair generally belied that impression. Franij also had pierced her exterior bone ridge at the bridge of her nose. Her flaming red hair and distinctive appearance amongst near-humans made her stand out.

Huntsmith observed Franij hustling the local street hustlers. She also wasn't surprised when Franij slipped her tail and ended up with a knife pressed against Huntsmith's liver. Civilian particle weapons were outlawed on Krysia but Huntsmith knew Franij was packing just as she was.

"Let's not make a scene. I'm here to cut you a deal," Huntsmith calmly explained.

"Five steps forward, arms out, palms up,. And turn around slowly," Franij ordered.

Huntsmith complied, "I'm not after your head despite the price on it. I'm here because of the reason there's a price on it."

"You law enforcement?" Franij asked.

"Hardly," Huntsmith chuckled, "I should clarify that I'm here because of the 'who' is responsible for the price on your head. I want Ardra's head, not yours."

"Good luck with that," Franij snorted but Huntsmith could see she had Franij's undivided attention.

"You file a legal deposition and I get you back into mainstream civilization," Huntsmith revealed her offer, "That simple."

"Don't con me," Franij warned.

"I'm not trying to," Huntsmith assured her, "I can get you Barrinoran citizenship through their colony on Odin. You'd be able to freely travel again because Barrinor does not extradite citizens. Ever. For any reason. But you would be subject to local laws and customs. The penalties for breaking them are steep."

"Anything would be better than this armpit," Franij decided, "You have transport?"

"You need to pack?" Huntsmith asked.

"No," Franij easily replied.

"Then we reach the shuttleport and make way to Deep Space 4. Afterwards, my employer will buy your citizenship and I'll provide transport direct to Odin."

"I'm liking this," Franij admitted, "But who are you anyway?"

"Name's Bonnie Huntsmith. I'm an investigator with Rockford Detective Agencies. We're building the case to Ardra impeached and then tried for treason," she explained.

"I am so in," Franij grinned.

The Sigmus system had three primaries. Sigmus A was green star with one M-class planet in it orbit. Sigmus B was a G-type yellow star with two habitable worlds. Sigmus C was a white dwarf and only contained asteroid belts and a few dwarf planets. One of which was marginally habitable.

Smugglers of every description utilized the dwarf planet, named Brimbor, to get wares in and out of the Federation in the Deeper Beta Quadrant bordering the Klingon Empire's nearest claimed territories. Right now the Patriots, like the Maquis before them, were making the Federation's life difficult as twenty planets announced their intentions to secede from the Federation. Starfleet had been sent in only to meet an armed civilian resistance.

Three men in particular were in charge of keeping them armed. Thadiun Okona and Harcourt "Harry" Fenton Mudd III had practical experience in arming revolutionaries having supplied the Maquis in the Demilitarized Zone despite numerous Cardassian and Federation checkpoints. Harry Mudd IV was learning on the job. His father still felt his son was an idiot but neither of his capable daughters would assist him in this venture.

The half-Bajoran Mudd Kenra had recently escaped Bajoran custody and then escaped into the Gamma Quadrant. Harriet "Harri" Fedora Mudd, his prize pupil, had gone straight. Mostly anyway. Mudd III had felt the draw of the Cause back in the Maquis days but successfully resisted it. Harri seemed to have been caught up in Brin Macen's machinations.

Macen was a true believer. In what, the elder Mudd wasn't quite certain, but it got a lot of people killed and had obviously persuaded his daughter to enlist in Macen's corporation. She worked directly for the bosses themselves, both Macen and Rockford. Mudd had pitted Harry, Harri, and Kenra off of each other as children. Well, technically they hadn't known of Kenra's existence but Kenra had known of theirs. A useful motivational tool to get them to compete for the old man's affections.

Mudd inexplicably found himself loving both his daughters. Which made their refusals to join this endeavor like a knife in the back. At least Harry was dumb enough to follow along. To top it off, both Harri and Kenra were mad at him for finally meeting each other. They'd each disowned him in their own ways.

But Harry was as loyal as a Labrador retriever. Just not as smart. Which, combined with the fact that Harry was as gay as the day was long on most planets, denied Mudd his legacy. The idea of passing the family name through Kenra or Harri never occurred to him. Which was considerably shortsighted since Kenra was an exception to the Bajoran custom of passing the family name down the matriarchal line. Husbands and children took their wives and mothers' names. Harri no compunction not to pass down the family name either under the Federation's customs. To compound the error, neither Harri nor Kenra would speak to him. So there was no way they would listen to him beg for grandchildren.

Brimbor served as a transit point for illegal goods. It was here that Okona and the Mudds transferred their wares to the Patriots and received payment transfers, hard currency, and shopping lists. Unbeknownst to all but a privileged few, Section 31 had established a listening post here some decades ago to monitor the Deeper Beta Quadrant expansion of the Star Empire. An expansion temporarily halted despite its increased necessity. Cell 51 had taken up S31's role in the post.

As the scruffiest of the Rockford detectives assigned to the case, Feral and Wolfgang Deiter made the journey to Brimbor to speak with Okona and the Mudds.

"Hel-looo nurse!" Harry said as he spotted Deiter.

"Feral?" Okona asked, "It's been a while."

"I see you lost an eye," Feral replied.

"I see you still wear goggles to see decently," Okona snorted.

"You know these two?" Mudd's paranoia was in high gear,

"I don't about Mr. Scruffy your son's drooling over but Feral here used to be a skip tracer," Okona answered, "Except, none of us have any outstanding bail bonds we've cleared out on. Do we?"

"No," Mudd wasn't quite as certain as he sounded.

"My associate and I represent the Rockford Detective Agencies," Feral told them.

"Private investigator? A bold move," Okona was still curious as to why the pair were even here.

"We want dirt on Ardra," Deiter answered the unasked query.

"Oh, I'll be happy to cooperate however I can," Okona promised.

"I don't have much to say," Mudd admitted.

"Never met her," Harry was still giving Deiter the twice over.

"I take it she owes you something," Feral guessed.

Okona pointed at his eye patch, "She owes me an eye for an eye."

Rockford took Kushin and Wong's update in her office aboard the Obsidian. They'd finally been cleared to make orbit over Turkanis. The seemingly abandoned planet was being colonized by the Turkana IV survivors. As well as assorted DeVos and Solarian agents.

"Good news," Kushin wore a broad smile, "Huntsmith, Harrington, Feral, and Deiter all came through."

"They're all bringing live witnesses willing to testify in exchange for immunity from past criminal charges in Okona's case and the others want resettlement on Odin," Wong explained, "Everyone's converging on Deep Space 4 to take legal depositions."

"I'll warn Captain Benteen," Rockford pledged, "And I'll update General Kira. Tell everyone they did a great job and you all bonuses on top of your rate pay. Once the witnesses are walked through the depositions, Macen will arrange transport for them to Earth to speak before the Federation Council."

"So we're done?" Kushin inquired.

"Everyone just needs to write up their reports for the Militia and file billing hours and expenses," Rockford told them, "And next time, someone else gets to be case managers and you get field work."

Wong smiled broadly, "Excellent!"

"Send me a copy of the billing hours and the reports and I'll sign off on every team members' bonuses. That includes you two as well" Rockford informed them, "I'm short on time but I'll get back to you ASAP."

"Sounds good to me," Kushin admitted.

"Looking forward to it. Because of transit times and scheduling it may take a week to finish up and file the paperwork," Wong advised Rockford.

"Just when you can," Rockford encouraged them both and signed off.


Chapter Two

Starfleet had surveyed the world to become known as Turkanis after the Earth-Romulan War. They'd been unable to determine where the planetary population of the Class-M world had vanished to. But they left cities, infrastructure, and working technology behind. The United Federation of Planets, sculpted out of the Coalition of Worlds, opted to quarantine the world until such time as a solid determination could be completed.

The USS Enterprise had visited during its first five-year mission under Captain James T. Kirk's command. But even the vaunted Spock and Doctor Leonard McCoy working together couldn't determine a biological event rendering the population either dead or fleeing. Historical recordings had been wiped. Physical libraries had been torched. Whoever the natives had been they didn't want to found or followed.

The Federation Council was deadlocked between two vying positions. One was to leave the planet extant as a memorial. The second was to seize it for immediate colonization. When the impasse reached its second decade, the agenda item had simply been removed and the world forgotten.

Then the Iotians found it. They had just copied Warp 5 capable NX-class starships and were broadening their horizons. They placed an occupation force on the planet and remotely monitored them. When no catastrophes or enemies emerged, the Iotians simply claimed the world. Making it exceptionally simple to relocate the humans from Turkana IV there.

The Obsidian shared the planet's orbit with a small number of Emden-class escort starships. The Iotian Starfleet had built a garrison on the planet and felt comfortable in being able to hold it until reinforcements could be dispatched. The Iotians had never bothered naming the planet so it easily became Turkanis. The principle megalopolis was dubbed Turkanis Center.

The bulk of the colonists lived within its boundaries. They were used to the tight confines of their underground shelters and the wild spaces surrounding the dozen or so super cities unnerved them. But Turkanis House, the capital building, rose with a living arboretum built all along its lines and curves so that the inhabitants could still enjoy grass and plants without leaving the city.

There were several examples of this architectural style represented in each city. Parks had overgrown as had the verdant forests, plains, and jungles surrounding the various cities. The Turkanans occupied each city in smaller numbers. But they had lost agricultural knowledge generations before. When they discovered repairable protein synthesizers and replicators, the settlers knew they could survive whatever came their way.

Ishara Yar was their de facto leader. Her betrayal of the Enterprise-D crew had led to her faction's victory and the doom of the Turkanan colony all in the same broad stroke. Yar met with Macen and Rockford at Turkanis House.

"My daughter has some interesting things to say about you Commander and Detective," Yar stated.

"I take it she's no longer a fan," Rockford quipped.

"Are you always this understated?" Yar wondered.

"I have no desire to create any trouble for you. The negotiated terms were that select members of my team could conduct interviews with volunteers from your recent additions that were willing to share their stories," Macen reminded Yar.

"I put the word out as asked. You have a dozen takers out of one hundred seventeen," Yar smirked, "So your interviews will be short."

"Starfleet listed more survivors than that," Rockford checked her padd.

"Most of them either serve on the Dillinger or the Barrows," Yar shrugged, "And they're not here to answer any questions you have."

"We'll take what we can get," Macen conceded, "Where do we meet the interested parties?"

"I have their coordinates so you can transport down directly," Yar handed off an otherwise blank data slate, "But I suggest you do so quickly. Some of their fellow colonists disagree with their decision to speak out."

"Meaning they'll be leaving with us," Macen understood now.

"I'd hurry before the barricades break down," Yar said simply.

Telrik beamed Macen and Rockford aboard and then used the coordinate lock to transport the dozen informers in two stages.

"Shannon! We have the informants aboard. Break orbit and make for DS4," Macen commed Captain Forger.

"Got it," Forger replied.

"If you'll all follow us, we can arrange for accommodations," Rockford suggested as Macen alerted Jelena Kovic that a security detail would be required. Kovic roused the relief shift and Abby Collins prepped a riot squad just in case. Kovic took charge of allocating crews quarters to their visitors. Fortunately for their guests, the normal crew complement for a Nova-class surveyor was eighty crewmen. The Obsidian held half that many. So the Lower Decks and enlisted bunks were all available.

"You have to get us out of Iotian space before the others learn our location," one desperate former Solarian agent begged Macen.

"We'll be in Federation space soon enough," Macen promised.

"Who you think locked us away to begin with?" the agent was adamant.

Oxmyx met with Boss Ricko of one of the Five Families at her mansion on Sigma Iotia II in the capital city of Centropolis. A single henchman accompanied Ricko. Oxmyx had her own security on hand. Her name was Jaza and Oxmyx trusted her implicitly. Ricko had been agitating to have Oxmyx removed from her hereditary position and made an Underboss. Ricko and his cohorts also wanted to see Kracko removed as Fleet Boss. Another event Oxmyx couldn't permit or tolerate.

"Your goon actually thinks he can kill me with his bare hands?" Oxmyx was amused, "Jaza here has other ideas."

"Your broad can't match my man, muscle for muscle," Ricko predicted.

"Let's see," Oxmyx's smile was a calculating one.

"Hey, her death is on you," Ricko predicted. The fight lasted one punch whereby Jaza phoenix punched the henchman's throat with her fingers and collapsed his trachea. He died choking on his blood, desperately gagging to get oxygen.

"Your turn?" Oxmyx asked Ricko.

"You ain't gonna last forever," Ricko made another false prophecy.

"People like Jaza follow me because they see the future in my hands. A future you'd deny them," Oxmyx offered some free advice, "Learn to compete or die. Right now, you're obsolete."

"We'll see who rubs who out," Ricko stood and straightened his bow tie. He was vaporized seconds later by a phaser wielding Jaza.

"Be a dear and get rid of the body while you're at it," Oxmyx laughed. Jaza disintegrated the corpse as well.

"I'll leave the blood as an object lesson," Oxmyx transmitted the record of the meeting to the rest of the Familias Bosses.

"Commodore Juli from Fleet Base 3 on the channel for you. She's declared a Code Blue," Oxmyx's attache commed in.

"Did she alert Fleet Boss Kracko first?" Oxmyx wondered.

"As ordered," the attache reported.

"She'll deal with it then," Oxmyx decided, "Jaza, get ready for a few hit attempts."

"I'll gather my gun molls," Jaza perkily replied and went to get ready for further death and mayhem.

"It's time for the Familias to finally kiss my ring," Oxmyx said aloud for her own benefit. She was committed now that Ricko was dead and the entire planet knew it. An Oxmyx hadn't hit an Underboss since her grandfather's day. When Kracko's grandfather had first been made Fleet Boss.

Jaza reported in, "The girls are ready."

"You and I are beaming aboard the Godfather," Oxmyx informed the Galaxy-class starship in orbit to expect their arrival. From there, Oxmyx could permanently deal with whatever the Familias threw at her forces. Even if she had to wipe out every Underboss and their families.

Commodore Juli apprised Fleet Boss Kracko from Fleet Base 3 of the sudden departures of the ISS Capo, ISS Dillinger, and ISS Barrows and their course heading for Deep Space 4.

"We intercepted Ishara Yar's message to her daughter. Commander Macen has the informants and is headed to DS4 to take their statements," Juli reported.

"Tell Admiral Brisen that the Code Blue is in effect and have him take all available forces and follow them," Kracko ordered from the ISS Capone, "I'm en route to join his squadron. Captain Yar won't go rogue again."

"Captain Benteen, we have several starships coming in hot from Iotian space," Commander Kell Perim informed her CO, Captain Erika Benteen at Deep Space 4.

"Those Rockford agents just arrived over the last week as well," Benteen didn't like the apparent coincidence.

"One of the ships is the Outbound Ventures registered Obsidian. Rear Admiral Forger left a standing order to assist her if she came tearing out of Iotian space," Perim confided in her captain, "Commander Prentiss of Internal Affairs and Lt. Commander Senecka of JAG have also expressed an interest in the Obsidian's safety."

"Anyone else?" Benteen was curious.

"Commodore Oh has expressly ordered that any Federation vessel departing for Turkanis be detained," Perim scowled.

"Like last time?" Benteen joined her XO's expression.

"The Obsidian isn't flagged as a Federation vessel," Perim said brightly.

"So much for Oh's considerations," Benteen shrugged, "What classifications are the pursued and pursuers?"

"The Obsidian is a stock Nova-class," Perim read off of her padd, "Pursuers are a Himalaya-class, one Apollo-class, and a Renaissance-class."

"That's some serious overkill," Benteen opined.

"They'll also intercept in Federation space. This sub-sector," Perim warned Benteen.

"Is the Lakota prepped?" Benteen asked.

"And fully crewed inside of ten minutes. Intercept will take place in twenty. The Lakota can safely be in position in twenty-two minutes," Perim read off the Strategic Operations Officer's appraisal.

"I'll take her out myself," Benteen advised Perim, "You have the station. Have the crew waiting for me when I get aboard."

"Captain...I won't argue the point that I should go in your place. But I do have one request," Perim stated.

"Are we negotiating?" Benteen was amused.

"Let me fly her," Perim requested.

Benteen recalled that the Unjoined Trill had begun her Enterprise-E career as a CONN and OPS officer, interchanging the roles as deemed fit.

"You're with me," Benteen decided on the fly, "Commander Grwen, you have the station."

The two officers headed for the turbolift while the lieutenant commander who served as the Strategic Operations Officer gloated to herself over the rise of her star.

"I have hard contact on three Iotian starships on an intercept course," Jaycee Miller reported from the Obsidian's Tactical station.

"IDs?" Shannon Forger inquired.

"Transponder codes identify them as the ISS Capo, the ISS Dillinger, and the ISS Barrows," Edwin Zimbalist told the command staff from OPS.

"All the friends Macen warned us might want to play," the ship's XO, Joelle Jones, reminded Captain Forger.

"Time and place of intercept?" Forger asked.

"Five minutes inside Deep Space 4's defense zone," Aglaia reported from CONN.

"Man, do they have a hard on for us," Jones whistled.

"I also show the USS Lakota deploying from DS4," Miller told them, "Captain Benteen is hailing."

"On screen," Forger decided. Having recently met Doctor Leah Brahms, Forger was struck by the physical similarity between the two women.

"Captain Benteen? Captain Shannon Forger, Obsidian, here. I see you've noticed our Iotian problem." she stated.

"Mind telling me what you took from the Iotians?" Benteen asked, "They're refusing our hails."

"We have witnesses implicating members of Starfleet in the illegal incarceration of Federation citizens in a Cardassian maximum security holding site," Forger told her.

"Why should the Iotians care?" Benteen wondered.

"Those ships are commanded and crewed by ex-Federation citizens that were part of the conspiracy," Forger explained, "They're semi-autonomous agents of the Iotian Starfleet and may be under contract to make certain these witness don't live long enough to testify."

"Understood," Benteen nodded, "We'll stand by you. Push as close to the station as you can. We'll try to draw them into the station's defensive perimeter and add its firepower to our own."

"Copy that. Forger out," she signed off, "Days like this I wish Macen were still captain."

"No, you really don't," Jones said darkly.

Jones had memories of Macen dating back their Maquis days. They'd been supporters of opposing strategic ideologies back then. Jones supported Eddington's terror and total warfare campaigns whereas Macen and Ro had endorsed a limited warfare concept that Cal Hudson had approved off. Everything hinged around one's definition of a "legitimate" target. Macen and Ro saw civilians as accidental collateral damage, not intentional. Eddington disagreed.

When the Maquis Council voted to support Eddington's vision, Ro's Maquis cell on Ronara Prime was cut off from the other cells. The Klingon Empire's war with the Cardassian Union distracted Cardassian Guard commanders from the DMZ situation. So temporarily it seemed Eddington's strategies appeared to be working. Until it was revealed Gul Dukat had used the Maquis as one more excuse to justify Cardassia's pending alliance with the Dominion.

The Jem'Hadar wave that met the Maquis wiped them out nearly overnight. Jones had only survived because Eddington had her and her crew out of the DMZ to smuggle isolytic weapons provided by the Son'a back to the Maquis. Jones and her crew later resold the weapons to the Orion Syndicate which opened the door to many unsavory business deals that followed.

Macen and Ro fought their way out of the DMZ to rejoin Starfleet's efforts at fighting the Dominion behind enemy lines bulwarked with a volunteer platoon of Angosian augmented soldiers. Macen, Rab Daggit, and Tracy Ebert had all participated in the campaign. Days they rarely spoke of.

Other surviving associates were Colonel Anara, Neela, Ro herself, Elfi Hendryks, Emjin Thool, Tom Eckles, Heidi Darcy, Christine Lacey, and their strategic support team made up of Svetlana Korepanova and Kristiana Liu. Daggit never spoke of his platoon's fate but he was angered by it. Neela had been presumed dead at the end of the war. Anara was promoted from major to colonel.

Ro stayed with the Bajoran Militia, being promoted from lieutenant to captain until such time as Bajor joined the Federation and Ro returned to Starfleet and rose to the rank of captain and CO of DS9. When she was forced to resign, General Kira recruited Ro as a colonel in the militia. All decisions no one regretted now. Save for Jones.

"Red Alert, shields up, charge all weapons and begin making targeting locks. I want phaser and torpedoes ready to fly on my command," Forger, a former Starfleet Tactical officer herself, began issuing preparatory orders.

The phasers and shields on the Obsidian had been strengthened by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and they'd refitted Engineering with an NX-class warp core designed for Defiant-class escorts. The Defiant-, Nova-, and Pathfinder-class courier boats all shared a common ancestry. Though their design outcomes and purposes couldn't have been more divergent. But the new Nova X-class of starships realigned the purpose back towards being a tactical responder. While Nova-class ships were surveyors and therefore not classified as capital ships, the Nova X-class vessels were ships of the line.

The Defiant-class had proven itself capable of short tern missions with superior speed and firepower. The Nova X- was designed as a tactical responder somewhere between a Defiant- and Intrepid-class. A first step towards the new Inquiry-class.

"Think they'll notice our upgrades?" Jones asked.

"The fact that our drive system is stock confuses people. But when we open fire, I hope they get an eyeful," Forger opined.

"Amen to that," Jones decided.

"Captain Yar, we're almost on them," Bradley Beuford, the ISS Capo's XO reported excitedly.

Ishtashra Yar, the CO of the Capo, gloated; "They'll never know what hit them."

Sean Patrick Mason. The human assigned as the Iotian Familias Liaison aboard the Capo, scowled, "You haven't cleared any of these actions with Starfleet Command or Fleet Boss Kracko."

"Just enjoy your drink, Mason. You know what we're being paid to keep a lid on what really happened to those Solarian and DeVos contractors that didn't sign on with either the Dillinger or the Barrows."

Clive Bowens, the Capo's Tactical 1st gave his report, "We're almost in weapons range."

"I want target locks as soon as we can establish them and prepare a full spread of torpedoes and phaser fire," Yar instructed, "Signal all commands to do the same and await my orders."

Non Phuong, the Capo's OPS 1st replied, "All commands signaling acknowledgment."

Yar contacted her Chief Engineer, Padima Narayanka, "I want all available power for the next ten minutes."

To Suri Ahmadat at CONN, she ordered, "Stand by for any evasive maneuvers they might employ."

Wen Chiya, the 2nd Officer, reported that all reliefs were standing by.

Wes Cooper, the Capo's Intelligence Officer, sounded an alarm, "I'm reading massive power distribution throughout the target. Far more than is standard for her class."

"So they overdrived it," Yar smirked, "They'll juts blow up faster."

"Captain! The station launched its outrigger. Contact in thirty seconds," Bowens warned Yar.

"Time on target?" Yar asked.

"Ten seconds," Bowens told her.

"Prepare to fire at will," Yar instructed.

"You're risking involving the Federation," Mason warned her.

"Better an interstellar incident that whitewashes the truth than the actual secrets getting out," Yar replied.

"We're in range," Bowens happily told her.

"Then fire," Yar fatefully ordered.

The Lakota was straining to get in range in time to affect a rescue.

"They've opened fire on the Obsidian," Lieutenant Givers reported from Tactical.

"Prepare to reply in kind," Benteen ordered, "Perim, standby to distract the opposition."

"With what exactly?" Perim asked.

'Us," Benteen wore a cold smile.

The former Solarian agent serving as captain aboard the ISS Dillinger took note as the Lakota dropped out of warp between the firing Iotian ships and the surveyor they were hunting. M'rezt, the CO of the Dillinger; was Caitian and enjoyed a good hunt. Dantiss, his Imorikt XO, wore sight enhancing eye pieces to strengthen her vision. The Imorikt relied more on echo location than sight on their native world. But those going off planet utilized the visual enhancers to see as others saw. Which aided in standard humanoid designed starship operations.

"Do we engage?" Dantiss asked.

"The fool placed herself between us and our target," M'rezt chuckled, "Destroy her. Then we'll target their starbase."

Willoughby, the Fandoran Tactical 1st looked forward to that challenge. Her skills had been wasted since they were captured by Outbound Ventures after the failed attempt to destroy first the corporation's legal standing and then the entity and its personnel itself. Fandoran wasn't her people's names for themselves but humans had called them that after First Contact owing to the extremely large eyelashes the race possessed compared to other humanoids. Otherwise, other than their vestigial spotting on their cheeks, they passed for human. "Willoughby" was just as much an approximation of her given name humans couldn't pronounce. Or at least offended her while trying to do so.

"Destroying everyone, aye!" Willoughby gleefully called out.

"They're coming about to continue to shield us," Zimbalist called out.

"Inform the Lakota of our enhanced shield and phaser capabilities," Forger ordered.

"The Iotian cruisers are redeploying in a triangular formation," Miller warned, "They're boxing us in and limiting their chances of hitting each other in a crossfire."

"And we have no chase armament," Jones growled.

"Uh, Captain?" Zimbalist actually turned in his seat, "Tracy Ebert and Harri Mudd are standing by in the shuttlebay with a really crazy idea."

"Lay it on me," Forger urged.

So he did and she grinned, "Inform the bay chief to open the outer doors. Aglaia, you coordinate with them and line up their shots. They'll be line of sight only."

"Got it," Aglaia was already loving the plan.

"Jaycee, get on the horn with the Lakota and tell Benteen not to have an ulcer," Jones advised Miller.

"They're going to what?" Benteen couldn't help asking.

"They have a single runabout crammed into their shuttlebay. Rather than launch it, they opening the shuttlebay doors and firing from that position," Givers sounded as doubtful as Benteen felt.

"They have a hell of a pilot though," Perim mentioned as the Obsidian began to dance through space all around them.

Captain Yalera of the ISS Barrows was Sinderin. Sinder was permanently occluded from it s primary star by its tidally locked moon. The red dwarf star of the binary pair gave off less heat and light but enough to evolve an M-class environment on the planet. Off Sinder, Sinderans had to wear eye protection to shield them from the greater amount of light common to most other habitable worlds.

The few Remans allowed to travel experienced the same dilemma. Their ears suggested a common ancestral evolution with Elvins but it was cosmetic fluke since the DNA didn't match up at all. The races couldn't even cross breed. Yalera's Barrows was the first hit by the Corsair's twin phasers.

Srrsss, the Barrows' XO, hissed, "Is that even possible?"

She was a Xhosss, which made her essentially a humanoid reptile. She had humanoid facial features rather than saurian but was completely reptilian. Her species was outside the Federation but had been a trading partner for decades. She'd served her conscription period on Xhosss' military and hired on with DeVos. She found a security contractors life of well paid warfare to her liking. Still, such an unexpected gambit threatened to freeze Srrsss in place and wait for the danger to pass. An old evolutionary trait that still lingered in her DNA.

Jerena, the Barrows' Tactical 1st was Tyrakhean. Her chalk white skin and hair contrasted sharply by the black lines that pigmented her skin gave her a fierce hunter's visage. Tyrakheans had little discourse with the Federation so to have one aboard was a rarity. DeVos had benefited greatly from Jerena's exile from home for crimes she wouldn't reveal. And her DeVos minders ha d never probed.

Jerena hadn't forgiven DeVos' management for her incarceration in Federation and Cardassian black sites but the company no longer existed. So revenge was out of the question and Starfleet wouldn't abandon their efforts to contain her and her fellow contractors. So the Iotian Starfleet's offer had seemed generous.

"Track them!" Yalera shouted.

"If I do, I'll hit either the Capo or the Dillinger when they line up shots on them because I can't control their movements," Jerena explained.

"And that's no ordinary Excelsior-class starship," Srrsss stressed, "Her firepower and shielding are far out of her class norms."

"Wait! What's our proximity to the space station?" Yalera suddenly worried. The first phaser and torpedo strikes from the Sword Door-class station answered the question.

"We've been inside their effective range for over ten thousand kilometers," Jerena said with frustration lacing every word. The Capo and the Dillinger and Barrows were either supposedly more advanced than the Lakota or better armed than the Obsidian but DS4 more than equaled any odds.

"Get me Yar," Yalera ordered.

"She's not responding to hails," Jerena scowled making her look even fiercer.

"Swing us around the station and bring our weapons to bear in this fight," Forger ordered as Deep Space 4's onslaught slowed the Iotian cruisers' advance.

"The Lakota is following us," Aglaia acknowledged.

"Jaycee, give them hell," Forger growled.

"We need to fall back while we can retain some measure of dignity," Mason instructed.

"I may be saddled with you reporting on my every move but I don't have to answer to you," Yar snapped her fingers, "Get him off my bridge."

Security seized Mason and marched him into a turbolift.

"Narayanka, I want auxiliary power routed to shields and weapons at once," Yar ordered over comms.

"They already are," the engineering chief reported back.

"We're losing shields in a hurry," Bowens warned her.

"Full evasive!" Yar ordered Ahmadat.

"I'm trying. The Dillinger and Barrows have hemmed us in," the CONN Officer ground out between a clenched jaw. Beuford and Cooper were the victims of an overloading panel while Beuford was reviewing Cooper's latest find to report to Yar.

"Doctor Jurgens, we need a trauma on the bridge," Yar ordered.

"We need ones everywhere,"Estelle Jurgens lectured her captain.

"Wen, you're Exec now," Yar warned her 2nd Officer.

Wen collaborated with Bowens to maximize target locks while undergoing heavy fire and sharp jigs and jukes as allowed by the tight formation the former Federation commanders had allowed their starships to fall into as DS4 expertly boxed them in. Now the Obsidian and the Lakota were returning to battle with every primary weapon available to them now.

"Oh shuk," Yar groaned.

The Ambassador-class ISS Hitman, the Splendor-class ISS Kelly, the Cheyenne-class ISS Capote and the Buenos Aires-class ISS Gun Mollall dropped out of warp conspicuously beyond Deep Space 4's range but well within striking distance of their own slowing ships. Admiral Brisen on the Hitman commed Yar and ordered her and her fellow conspirators to stand down. Captain Mirita of the Kelly, who had the best working relationship with Macen, his team, and the Obsidian crew, negotiated a cease fire.

Captains Jaylana of the Gun Moll and Veritis of the Capote stood by for orders to fire on their own. This was the second incident with them facing Yar down in as many weeks. Mason was Fleet Boss Kracko's compromise to help insure Yar';s ongoing loyalties. But his reports ended as soon as he alerted Commodore Juli that Yar, Yalera, and M'rezt were going after the Obsidian. Something that required Kracko's own permission. Yar wouldn't wait for it one way or the other.

Ishara Yar had negotiated a fine retainer from Commodore Oh to keep the unhappy rabble contained to Turkanis. Even then, most feared Starfleet retribution for them breaking quarantine in the Iotian Federation, as Starfleet Commander Clancy had negotiated with Oxmyx and Kracko. President Ardra had sweetened the deal by offering several inhabited star systems marginally under Federation control at reduced pricing. Latinum transfers that went into her personal coffers even as the star charts were amended to incorporate those systems as being under Iotian control now.

Ardra's patience was in the long term deal. Clancy and Oh would take Macen's efforts personally and cut funding to Turkanis. Which meant Yar would cut Ishtashra, Yalera, and M'rezt's shares of the retainer.

"This is a private contract enforcement authorized by Oxmyx and Kracko's handing off the humans and Federation aliens to us," Yar argued with Brisen.

"Which you involved the other Federation and other Starfleet into,"Brisen lectured her like unruly child, "Rather than foster plausible deniability for your clients, you've made them seem more culpable. And you've jeopardized all the work that was made while we brought your last effort at striking out at their Federation to heel. What is the animosity driving this obsession?"

"Do you know anything about the history between Turkana IV and the Federation?" Yar asked.

"I don't need to. You're being childish and children make poor business partners," Brisen advised her.

"You wouldn't say that if Fleet Boss Kracko were here," Yar predicted.

"I don't have to. She's been listening in and the Capone just arrived," Brisen said with grim satisfaction, "Did you know we created this Code Blue scenario just because of you?"

Yar was uncustomarily speechless.

Kracko turned to her Flag Captain, Killi, "Have the Starfleeters stood down yet?"

"Not yet," Killi answered at a shake of the head from her XO.

"Has Yar and her band of rabble rousers?" Kracko primly inquired.

"They're lowering shields and standing down weapons. But they haven't cut their drive systems. They're still moving forward at one-quarter impulse," Killi explained.

"The better to rabbit with if need be," Kracko approved, "Get me Captain Benteen."

"She's been hailing you from the USS Lakota," Killi smirked.

"I'll take it my office," Kracko shared the smirk.

In the end, the Capo, Dillinger, and Barrows went into high impulse to make a warp jump as they edged out of the station's tractor and weapons range. Benteen was livid that the Iotian Starfleet ships had scattered to impede any chase efforts the Lakota may have attempted. The Obsidian certainly wasn't capable of bringing three cruisers down. But Kracko wished to meet with Benteen and any of her officers she deemed to include in a meeting with Commander Macen, Detective Rockford, Captain Forger, and Exec Jones. Each Iotian command would also bring aboard her CO and XO. Meanwhile, the Solarian agents in Macen's custody remained so.

But Rockford's witnesses had begun making formal depositions and several even volunteered to testify before the Federation Council. Kathy Tyrol, the Outbound Ventures CEO, was handling immigration measures to Odin. It seemed Ilian, Soreya, and Franij were serious about the offer even if Okona wasn't and wouldn't testify in person.

Commander Robin Lefler, still on detached light duty on Earth from the USS Excalibur, deemed it necessary to assist Prentiss and Senecka's efforts. They'd also discovered the reason Lefler was on Earth revolved around a human male. A man named Wesley Crusher who'd agreed to meet her for a joined vacation on Earth. He had his own business trips to attend to during the day while Lefler worked with Prentiss and Senecka. What the investigators had uncovered was that Crusher had been a Starfleet Academy cadet who successfully graduated and resigned his commission on his first tour of official duty aboard the Enterprise-D. The reasons and circumstances behind this being classified above their clearance levels. But it had been an amicable split between Crusher and Starfleet.

What had been kept quieter was Lefler and Crusher's ongoing relationship throughout the years since. Prentiss had managed to unearth a marriage certificate issued by Starfleet and officiated by Captain Jean-Luc Picard between commands of the Enterprise-D and the Big E. It was the only evidence of Crusher's ongoing existence in the whole of the Federation. Crusher seemed to have the ability and permission to randomly appear and disappear aboard the Excalibur. Mackenzie Calhoun's seemingly slap hazard command style in full display there.

Lefler had arrangements with Crusher to spend longer hours with Prentiss and Senecka during their debriefing the witnesses and prepping a potential prosecution case. But aboard Deep Space 4, Benteen and Perim were hosting the Fleet Boss and her flag captain as well as Admiral Brisen and his XO, Commander Litza.

Mirita broke protocol and brought both Commander Breck and her CMO, Lieutenant Dreesa. The doctor being the junior-most officer present. Jaylana was accompanied by Commander Winniw. Veritis brought along Commander Volya. In addition to the Outbound Ventures Officers, they completely filled the Briefing Theater aboard DS4.

"I suppose now you'll explain why you let your three renegade starships elude capture?" Benteen went straight into it.

"I wasn't aware anyone could elude capture from your Starfleet," Kracko retorted, "They certainly don't from ours."

"But they got passed you too," Forger grimaced.

"We were here to stop them, not hand them over to your so-called justice," Brisen explained.

"Is there any particular reason why you like exactly like him," Jones pointed at both Brisen and Commander Breck.

"The Commander is my twin brother," Brisen admitted with some pride.

"Big difference in rank, just saying," Jones offered.

"Admiral Brisen seized some opportunities that weren't offered to me. Just luck of the draw. I'll make admiral yet," Breck promised her.

"Is he flirting with you?" Forger whispered to Jones.

"Maybe," Jones shrugged, "Iotians. Who knows?"

"There's still the matter of Captain Yar and her cadre firing on us and this station," Perim intervened.

"Something we stopped. A little gratitude might be due," Kracko replied.

"But you let them run rogue in the first place," Forger accused.

"And you're entire Starfleet didn't recently?" Veritis wanted to know.

"It seems ejecting a Federation member world and then attacking it and the Cardassians was completely normal for you?" Jaylana inquired sharply.

"No more than allowing Klingon-Cardassian Alliance forces from another universe to attack sovereign stellar nations in an effort to promote your system and discredit your rivals," Benteen replied.

"Other universes," Kracko chuckled, "Sheer nonsense."

"Perhaps we could find a middle ground," Mirita suggested.

"I'd be interested in hearing what you execs have to say," Jones admitted, "Do they just follow orders or do they have minds of their own?"

"One could ask you the same, Joelle Jones," Commander Williw replied, "You did after all leave the Maquis behind to become a pirate. Yet now you suppose to lecture us on virtue?"

"Do your employers know your full history?" Commander Volya asked, "Especially parts where you were beholden to the Orion Syndicate?"

"My crew and I left that life behind us," Jones argued.

"Yet here you are," Commander Litza stated, "I'm sure Captain Benteen and Commander Perim would be more than happy to learn about some of those unsolved exploits you were a part of."

"After all, what is the statute of limitations on murder within your Federation?" Killi asked.

"Joelle's history has nothing to do with Yar," Forger said hotly.

"Doesn't it?" Doctor Dreesa asked, "Ishtashra Yar is a semi-autonomous actor and so are her fellow captains. Miss Jones was independent of your ship's company and you don't hold her responsible for what she did before joining it. Captain Yar doesn't answer directly to our Starfleet yet you'd hold us accountable."

"You should be a diplomat and not a doctor," Perim advised her, "But it's a false premise. You gave them the ships. That makes you responsible."

"Your fellow officers fought and died against the Bajorans and Cardassians. Would you be held responsible for the deaths they caused?" Kracko sharply asked.

"My station was a haven for affected Bajorans who fled illegal arrests," Benteen said coldly, "And for disaffected Starfleet personnel and starships that refused to engage people who weren't our enemies."

"So you don't want to be held responsible," Breck pointed out.

"And neither do we," Litza said flatly.

"Yar and her comrades answer to he Familias. Godfather Oxmyx will deal with them as she deems fit. If she employs the Starfleet to do it, then we'll answer that call," Kracko explained, "But until then, we can intervene but not punish."

"Wow, great dodge," Forger sneered.

"Captain, why is it you're always so antagonistic?" Brisen asked her.

"I didn't realize I was being so," Forger smiled sweetly.

"The Federation expects everyone to act as they do or at least demands that they do, despite lip service that says otherwise," Macen broke his silence, "The Iotians clearly derive elements of their government and military from Earth history. But it's a unique social evolution and we can't pretend that they are the Federation you swore oaths to uphold and defend. Let it go and leave it to the diplomats to resolve."

"Commander?" Benteen was stunned.

Perim was nearly apoplectic, "How dare you!"

"Trill had been a Federation world for nearly one hundred years before the secret of the symbionts was revealed. That cultural aspect of your society was deemed too precious and too unfathomable to non-Trills to share with outsiders," Rockford joined in as well, "Take a look at the Iotian Federation with that same lens. You can embrace the Ferengi Alliance but disavow the Iotians because they use the term 'Federation' in the government label. You're offended because they're different despite being inspired by your Federation."

"You refer to it as 'yours'." Benteen noted.

"I'm Angosian. The Federation blocked my world's admission until they dealt with soldiers like me. Then they changed that rule when Angosia volunteered Augments to fight in the Dominion War. We bought Federation membership. What makes the Iotian system so different?" Rockford asked, "The Federation invaded Bajor to secure the Wormhole. It was all about strategic leveraging. The Iotian system is all about leverage. How are you so different in the end?"

Benteen and Perim fell silent. Forger glowered. Jones looked justified and the Iotians were obviously grateful.

"You make an interesting point," Benteen eventually allowed, "But your argument is flawed because you're a Federation citizen as well."

"Dual citizen," Rockford stated, "I also share Barrinoran citizenship and live in Barrinoran space. It gives me added perspective."

"That we lack," Perim said snidely.

"You said it," Rockford shrugged.

'You can't condemn a civilization for the acts of corrupt politicians and co-opted Starfleet officers," Forger argued.

"Now if you'd only look outward and take your own advice," Brisen lamented.

"While we were gathering, Starfleet Security ordered the apprehension of your witnesses. All of them," Benteen advised Macen and Rockford, "I'm delaying acknowledgment. of these 'too swift to be coincidental' orders until after you've left for Earth."

"Captain?" Perim was only partially surprised.

"These witnesses vanished from Starfleet's custody before along with scores of officers detailed with transporting them only for them to reappear in Cardassian space and provide a convenient pretext for war," Benteen stated, "Whether you believe the Cardassian claims Starfleet contracted with the Cardassian Guard to hold them in exchange for from Starfleet Security wetworks on their behalf is up to you. All I know is that I hadn't filed my incident report yet and Commodore Oh was already demanding we detain the witnesses that can identify the Starfleet Security officers that originally held them. Captain Christine Vale, a Security officer that vanished with the transported prisoners before magically reappearing during the war effort and earning command of the starship Titan when Captain Riker stood down a second time, is tasked with transporting the prisoners to Earth. My guess is that they'll never arrive there."

"They'll arrive. I promise you," Kracko stated, "With our help."

"Have the attorneys forward the depositions to your clients and move the witnesses to the Obsidian," Macen instructed Rockford and Forger, "I'll need the Erstwhile released back to Captain Okona and his release."

"He's been cleared of all charges so I have nothing to hold him on," Perim agreed.

"Fleet Boss, we need to talk. Aboard your flagship." Macen concluded.

"Then I guess we're dismissed," Benteen said wryly.

"We'll meet you at the rendezvous and transfer the prisoners there," Riker promised Macen as the new Charleston-class Indomitable launched from Serenity.

Accompanying her were the Outbound Ventures vessels that included the Asia (refit)-class Waylaid and the Miranda-class Waveriser were also departing. The Excelsior (refit)-class Hammerfall would also join them as well.

"The SID cleared captain and crews are all assigned but Captain Wei of the Waylaid and another Outbound Ventures ships had just made port and were looking for work, A third just completed her assignment and will meet us at the rendezvous" Riker continued.

"Did Kira brief Anara and Neela on their role in this?"Macen asked.

"The Ark of the Prophetsalready launched," Riker promised him.

"I know you have a new ship but it'll take a week to get everyone to Rigel X. we're only as fast as our slowest ship," Macen advised him.

"This is still happening way too fast," Riker warned him.

"Liu and Korepanova built a solid plan. I trust them. You should too,"Macen pledged.

"I do," Riker pledged.

Inside Serenity's Ops, Lisea Danan had her own doubts, "Tom and I were supposed to be visiting Will and Deanna right now."

"Problems?" Christina "Chris" Noble asked from the monitor as Danan's second-in-command.

Noble was currently on Barrinor's surface handling an Outbound Venture's issue with former Maquis cell member, Aric Tulley.

"Kestra's fallen into a funk and won't talk to her parent s about it. Deanna is hoping she'll open up to me or Tom," Danan explained, "We are her 'cool' aunt and uncle."

"Human children frequently find it difficult to express their complex emotions. Especially in light of such a loss," Sakonna offered. She and Hakatay were in Ops getting their next field assignment from Korepanova. Just like back in their Maquis days when Korepanova created and ran the Maquis Architect Program.

"I suppose Vulcan children are too disciplined to feel such a loss," Liu criticized the Vulcan.

"No, they just hide it better," Hakatay, a survivor from Dorvan V, stated.

"She has a healing environment to enjoy," Noble was obviously enjoying being outdoors once again, "Lend an ear and she'll come around."

"I'm headed out as soon as you and Tulley get back. Tom will join me when he can," Danan advised Noble.

"I'll hurry things along as best I can," Noble vowed.

"I know you will, Chris. Out," Danan cut the transmission so as not to delay Noble any further.

"Your transport leaves in three hours whether Chris is back or not," Korepanova warned Danan, "I can handle the station in the interim."

"I know you can, Sveta. I also know you're just as worried about Edwin's involvement as I am Tom's," Danan admitted. Korepanova and Zimbalist as been a "thing" for months now.

"It's Edwin's job. Fortunately they don't deploy every day," Korepanova confessed.

"But when they do, they do it for real," Danan recalled her own days on the SID team. She and Riker both settled down into Serenity's routines to escape the raw terror of Macen's typical mission profile. With Shannon Forger in command, Macen had finally let go of it the way he never had when Riker was his XO. Which meant the crew wasn't playing out Macen's survivor's guilt every time they went abroad. But other, darker instabilities, still swayed what happened in the field.

Celeste Rockford was a good balance for him because she wouldn't take the crap off him the way the others would. She'd also pull the reins in when Macen went out of control. Something T'Kir would've encouraged rather than tried to help tame. T'Kir had been the answer to one of Macen's life questions. Only the question had changed after her death.

The cloned version had been the antithesis of what had made T'Kir herself. Rockford's killing her had spared the mockery from further sullying T'Kir's legacy. T'Kir's Fal-tor-pan had been successful but her mind had been retrained on Vulcan. She'd found a logical life's goal: to join Section 31 and kill everyone that reminded her of her illogical and emotional past.

Her rebirth had been an open wound for the SID team members. Rockford's choice healed that wound at the sacrifice of her own conscience. Annika Ryst and most of Rockford's original psyches carried huge amount s of guilt that she'd inherited. As well as all the memories of the hundreds of assassinations that Ryst and the others had completed during and after the Tarsus Wars.

But since they had been other people within her own body, Rockford viewed the memories differently than a sequentially based mind experience would. She could account for every moment of her life but she didn't bear the crushing guilt that the Annika Ryst template had. Ryst and other personalities had ended themselves so that Celeste Rockford could live a complete life. So that's what she would do. And she wouldn't let a T'Kir who was a parody of her former self get in the way of that.

Taryn Argus was the real threat to Rockford's shared happiness with Macen. Argus was the one person besides herself, T'Kir, and Ro that Rockford knew Macen couldn't kill. He'd even killed his first wife, Arinea. So intimacy wasn't the crippling factor. There was something about Argus herself that gave her a free pass from Macen's homicidal side. Rockford wanted to know what that was. Macen would explain if he could, she knew. But he was at a loss as well. So she needed to get it out of Argus before she died. Macen's reluctance or not.

Danan was Rockford's only confidante in the matter. Danan herself had never met Doctor Argus but both of her peripheral dealings with her had ended badly. Argus was free to assist Cell 51 and any other high end buyer for priceless artifacts and relics the rogue archaeologist dug up or discovered. Argus was singularly unconcerned with the consequences of her sales. So long as they benefited her.

Rockford had seen the results of the world killer Argus was selling to the Cardassians. Fortunately for all, it destroyed itself after a few shots. Proving El-Aurians could be just as destructive as other races. Macen and Guinan both hinted that their people had fought the Q to a standstill eons ago. With weapons capable of destroying planets with a single shot, Rockford wasn't surprised/. But the Argyn had been.

Which halted the conflict long enough for Rockford to resolve it amicably by taking and surviving their "test". Which benefited her by not only bringing peace back to the galaxy but within herself. Rockford had been given the Federation's highest civilian honor as a direct result. By a Federation President that turned out to be selling her stellar nation to the enemy through appeasement processes.

That tainted the medal in Rockford's opinion. It was just as well that she didn't have it anymore. It had been destroyed along with all of her belongings. She'd inherited a stranger's that had worn the same face and scars. Without ever finding the balance that Rockford had.

Danan didn't envy her. At least her life was essentially the same as the one she'd been forced to leave. And Will and Deanna were left with a single child, a daughter, once again through personal tragedy. Danan refused to miss her flight. Her sister-in-law and brother-in-law needed her as much as Kestra did.

It taken over a decade for Will and Tom to completely reconcile. Danan wouldn't throw that effort away for anything. With Troi and Riker in Starfleet's active reserves rather than active duty, they were easy to find. With Danan and Riker stationed at Serenity, they were too. So life was finally what could have been had the Rikers not engaged in some infantile competition. But Troi and Danan had seen them both through it, as always.

"No, Commodore. I don't know where they were headed. The Obsidian did not set a course for Earth," Benteen grated.

"But it is logical to assume they changed course after departing from your command, Captain," Commodore Oh lectured Benteen.

"If I may speak freely?" Benteen requested.

Oh considered it first before replying, "Granted."

'Your people lost these witnesses once before, without a valid explanation. It seems likelier they'll reach Earth in Outbound Ventures' custody than in Starfleet's," Benteen stated.

"I did not expect you to speak so freely, Captain," Oh chided her, "These people are Starfleet's responsibility, not that of independent security contractors. They may be retained by Starfleet but this is not a Special Investigations Division operation. Starfleet Security has not yet determined who the Rockford Detective Agencies and Outbound Ventures are working for but we shall."

"Coincidentally, it seemed they knew right where to go to locate the witnesses. Something else that has eluded Starfleet Security. Perhaps it's time to let someone else control the narrative," Benteen offered free advice.

"Duly noted and ignored, Captain. Maintain your command and leave official policy to those better suited to make it," Oh signed off on that note.

Perim had lingered in Benteen's office to witness the communication, "That went as well as expected."

"Who has them isn't bothering Oh as much as the fact that they're likely to reach Earth," Benteen had observed, "Maybe Commander Prentiss is right and Fleet Admiral Clancy and Oh are hiding something."

"We're about to find out one way or the other," Perim said ruefully, "I understand Outbound Ventures being leery of Starfleet's assistance in this matter considering what happened the last time these witnesses were handed over as prisoners. But seriously? Relying on the Iotians?"

"I'm afraid the Iotian Starfleet has been a better friend to them and the Bajorans of late that the Federation and Starfleet in general," Benteen sighed, "This is Admiral Leyton all over again."

"Meaning?" Perim asked.

"Oh has built a branded cult of personality within Starfleet Security the way Leyton did within the Command Division. We all saw how that ended," Benteen grimaced.

Newly promoted Captain Benteen had been busted back to Commander for a decade before regaining the promotion she'd lost despite choosing the right side in the end. But Starfleet Command needed a scapegoat and Benteen had failed to recognize Leyton's warning signs so they'd sacrificed her career for public consumption.

"However and whenever this ends, it won't be pretty," Benteen promised.


Chapter Three

Several days before those events, the Fist of the Prophets had departed from Deep Space 9 with a special passenger. Starfleet Captain Alfonso Reyes had been Ro's special guest on the Fist's bridge when they approached the K-class space station, Waypoint.

"Incredible. I never thought to see an active one of these again now that they decommissioned Deep Space K-7," Reyes confessed.

"You haven't traveled much in Iotian space, have you?" Ro smirked.

"Who has?" Reyes wondered.

"Macen," was all Ro would say.

The Fist made port in orbit around Waypoint and Ro coordinated the Militia Colonial Defense Force's presence in the Gamma Quadrant while making further inroads with Ghemor. But her off duty hours, and nights, were spent with Reyes.

She burst into their shared quarters, "Pack up! I have a mission. I'm dropping you off on DS9 en route."

"I was due back on DS9 tomorrow anyway," Reyes sighed, "I'll catch an earlier connection back to DS3."

Reyes commanded the Deep Space station.

"I'm sorry," Ro genuinely was.

"Something was bound to happen after the way your leave turned out on my station," Reyes chuckled.

"Y'know, our departure time isn't for another two hours," Ro said suggestively.

"I haven't turned down the bed yet," Reyes caught on.

"Then we should use all our time wisely," Ro said as she began to strip. Reyes hurried to catch up with her momentum.

"General Kira personally sent a request for you to drop off a diplomatic exchange on Earth. It seems she wants it in Starfleet hands and will only entrust it to you," Commander Sam Lavelle told Commander Elias Vaughn.

Despite Vaughn's decades' worth of seniority in grade, Lavelle commanded Deep Space 9. Only because Vaughn had turned it down for the third time. But now they were dangling a starship command in front of him. He'd been out of Starfleet Special Operations Command for ten years, perhaps it finally time to make the lists and accept a promotion. The Defiant had given a taste of starship command operations and he enjoyed them.

Vaughn had joined Starfleet back in 2293 to explore the galaxy. Starfleet had made him a career soldier instead. Perhaps it was finally time to realize his first ambition?

"It'd be an honor to serve," Vaughn said crisply.

"Don't play dumb, Commander. Colonel Cenn has been receiving updates from Militia Command all day," Lavelle pointed out.

"He is our Militia Liaison," Vaughn stated.

"You put the Defiant crew on alert two hours ago without consulting me first," Lavelle sighed, "I know there's bad blood between us, Commander. But I honestly want to change that. My breakdown enabled to see this post as what it really is: a career making opportunity. I won't screw that up again. So, whatever secret mission you and Kira have cooked up, go with my blessing."

"It's appreciated," Vaughn nodded crisply.

After Vaughn exited Lavelle's office, the CO quickly contacted Oh, "The Bajorans are mobilizing. Kira manipulated official channels to get Vaughn and the Defiant to Earth. Cenn just transmitted orders to Ro in the Gamma Quadrant and Commodore Saavik has been placed on alert by the Militia as well."

"You are a true patriot, Commander Lavelle," Oh congratulated him, "Keep Starfleet Command apprised as the situation develops."

"Aye, Ma'am," Lavelle said smartly.

A week later, Outbound Ventures starships rendezvoused at the edge of the Rigel system. Fleet Boss Kracko's handpicked starship commanders accompanied her escorting them. As Riker had promised as the Indie, the Waveriser, and the Waylaid joined them. The Hammerfall had been awaiting them. All of the witnesses, from the differing cases were offloaded into the Ark of the Prophets.

Its troop transportation modules finally being put to their official use. The Ark set out a full 24 hours ahead of the main group. Afterwards, the united front cruised at a leisurely Warp 3 towards Sector 001. Innumerable Starfleet detection grids pinpointing their position along the way. Thereby allowing Clancy and Oh to move forces into position to intercept them.

A day before the main body arrived in the Sol system, the Ark of the Prophets set down on a commercial pad at a shuttleport that once been the location of Heathrow Airport. Rear Admiral Forger, Commander Prentiss, Commander Lefler, and Lt. Commander Senecka led an elite squad of SID operatives to transport the witnesses to the relative safety of SID headquarters in downtown London. The citizens of Earth still believed it to be a Starfleet Data Archive. Blissfully unaware of how it had first served as Section 31's Earth-bound headquarters and now as Special Investigations Division Command.

Forger's aide, Lt. Commander Ambril Delori, was one of the few Bajorans remaining in Starfleet service. The security arrangements for the witnesses and the two Bajorans who'd brought them the last leg to Earth were her responsibility. Prentiss and her team immediately set to work debriefing the Solarian witnesses and taking official depositions as well attempting to identify the Starfleet Security officers involved in the conspiracy to illegally detain them without trial. Going so far as to ship them off to a Cardassian prison.

Neela and Colonel Anara gave Forger all of the depositions regarding Ardra's character and past misdeeds. During their time with Rockford Investigations, Ilian, Soreya, Franij, and Okona had even led the detectives down the trails leading to Ardra's planet and sector sell offs. The entire Patriot movement lay squarely on Ardra's head, who'd begun her selling territory off while she was still Speaker for the Council. She'd literally sold three Federation colonies into slavery.

The "buyers" were more than happy to verify the transactions in order to press their claims in court. Forger reviewed the material and briefly questioned Ilian, Soreya, and Franij, who had come to Earth to testify. Okona, as promised, lit out back to the Deeper Beta Quadrant, fulfilling his client's wish list as he traveled.

"Colonel, Neela, I'm not done with you yet," Forger warned as she contacted Admiral Nechayev and Rear Admiral Johnson to schedule an emergency session with the Starfleet Oversight Committee.

"Admiral Johnson has suggested that the Bajorans should be represented as the source of hiring a Federation licensed private investigation firm to look into this. Until Kira's representative arrives, you get to fill that role," Forger warned them.

"But I'm Militia," Anara warned her, "Recently I was considered the enemy despite the fact I was left out of the fighting."

"And I'm no one," Neela protested.

"A military representative and a common citizen sharing the same information, that's the ideal picture required of you both," Forger advised them, "This can't happen without you. And we could use any help the Prophets have for us."

Neela conceded at that point.

"I know you've spent your careers being invisible but the Oversight Committee's chambers are sealed," Forger reassured Anara and then explained the process, "We present what we have to them, they present it to the Judiciary Committee, and then an impeachment proceeding will either then commence or be buried in committee. You only need to sell it the Councilors in the first Committee. The witnesses and the evidence will do the rest and by that time, Kira's rep should be here to handle any public queries."

"I'm trusting you on this, Admiral," Anara warned her.

"Colonel, Neela shared our greatest collective secret and you've remained true. I won't betray your trust and I'm not asking this lightly," Forger pledged.

The Committee reluctantly agreed to go into emergency session based upon the word and personal weight of Nechayev, Forger, and Johnson's request. The fact that Akaar, Jellico, the Judge Advocate General Admiral T'Lara and even Ross added their influence into seeing the matter only gave impetus to the Committee's decision. Even the Secretary for Starfleet cleared her docket.

Several of the Councilors were ashamed to have been unwitting participants in Chavy Sok's imperialistic ambitions for the Federation. But they'd also led the fight for her impeachment. One outsider to that group was Councilor Andie Grant from Luna. The other was Keirona, the newly appointed Hynerian Councilor.

If the other Councilors on the Committee were assigned on the basis of their weight they carried with the rest of the Federation Council, Grant and Keirona were the fresh faced idealists who breathed new life into recently grim faced session with Fleet Admiral Clancy, Commodore Oh, and other members of Starfleet Command selected to report to the Committee.

The small, dog-like Frex went on an immediate offensive upon reading the prepared summaries, "Don't waste our time. This is a matter for the Judiciary Committee."

"And Judiciary will kick it back to you based upon the fact that the bulk of this data was collected by a foreign power and given to Starfleet Intelligence. Data you have to vet and confirm while keeping the Bajorans as a classified source," Johnson began his oral argument.

"But why would the Bajoran Militia hire a Federation based private investigation firm to look into the President's past and present dealings?" the hare-like Carrotmonger inquired.

"Respectfully, the Militia became aware of the President's dealings while we engaged in our peacekeeping and resettlement mission with those worlds affected by the Interfaith Council. Several parties arrived to lay claim to the devastated worlds with bills of sale from the President's offices," Anara explained, "Other information came to light through valued and trusted sources and it was decided at the highest levels that while we would look like a compromised and biased informant, you couldn't deny the evidence collected by a firm registered to operate by the Federation Security's bureaucracy."

"She makes a fair point," the methane breathing Verbrog decided.

"You state you have witnesses?" the felinoid Mrrez asked.

"Witnesses that also led to greater discoveries of Ardra's present dealings in light of her past criminal deeds," Johnson confirmed it.

"Where were these witnesses during the election?" Keirona inquired.

"Silenced by pending criminal charges that included Ardra's active participation. She is in fact the partner that got away in each case," Johnson clarified.

"So your testimony relies on proven criminals?" the saurian Therin asked.

"Witnesses that haven't been officially charged with a crime nor convicted of any. Merely wanted in connection for deeds taken with Ardra's leadership," Johnson answered, "We are a society that values the maxim 'innocent until proven guilty', are we not?"

"What is it you wish of us?" Yia finally asked.

"Review the evidence and see if it's strong enough to hand over to the appropriate committee," Johnson asked, "While keeping the Bajoran connection a secret. Rockford Detective Agencies is willing to invoke client confidentiality to keep the secret while also providing the investigators that worked the case themselves if called upon."

"Thank you, Admiral Johnson. I for one can shelve my other pending reviews in order to expedite what would seem to be a paramount concern," Grant offered.

Frex gave a little yip in her direction.

"It would seem prudent," Carrotmonger agreed.

The Committee voted on whether to proceed with all relevant haste and only Frex voted the decision down.

"Let's begin with witness testimonies," Grant offered.

The Outbound Ventures and Iotian squadron dropped out of warp in the outer Sol system. There they found the entire system on high alert with more starships being recalled to defend the sector. Waves of Federation fighters from Earth and Luna joined starships in presenting a defensive wall. The Odyssey-class USS Iliad under Admiral Duncan McNeil's command led the "defense" of Sector 001 supported by the Galaxy-class USS Hood under Captain Merry Limerick's command. Limerick had just taken command of the newly commissioned Hood some two years before and already been permanently assigned to Starfleet Intelligence. The Hood was one of the first of a new generation of Galaxy-class carrier variants.

Limerick himself appeared female. All Elvins appeared feminine until one looked at their personal genitalia. The Hood's Carrier Attack Group CO was one Commander Verity Jones. Who'd had experience working with Limerick in the past. For now, Jones' wing hadn't launched as Limerick wondered why his orders came directly from Clancy's office rather than from Starfleet Intelligence, whom he was assigned to.

Captain Martin Agman was still CO of the Norway-Class USS Eclipse with Commander Katherine Blevins as his XO. Captain Benjamin Poole still commanded the Nova X-class USS Thuringia while the Bajoran Captain Cera Neva still retained command of the Steamrunner-class USS Sentinel with Commander Emil Hunter at her side. Awkwardly, Hunter been ordered to remove Cera from command during the war with Bajor.

The Saber-class USS Specter was still commanded by Captain Mandy Morris with Commander Kristi Madison at her side. The newly promoted and advanced Captain Christine Vale had the coveted command of the Luna-class USS Titan. The Springfield-class USS Sulu was commanded by one Captain T'Reiquia. These, combined with four Peregrine-class attack wings, stood in the way of the squadron's advance on Earth.

"USS Iliad to all foreign commands, stand down or be fired upon," Admiral McNeil ordered via subspace, "You will lower all shields and prepare to be boarded. You will surrender all Federation citizens being unlawfully detained on board your vessels in strict compliance with the boarding parties. You will comply with my orders within two minutes. I have been authorized to order your complete and total destruction otherwise."

"Admiral, every ship's shields just went up," the Iliad's Tactical Officer reported.

"Idiots!" McNeil snarled, "Shields up and arm weapons systems. They want to fight? Well, by God will give them one."

"Sir? Three Starfleet vessels have entered the system and taken up position with our adversaries," Tactical reported again.

"Give me the names of those ships!" McNeil barked.

"The Intrepid, the Defiant, and the Merrimack," Tactical reported.

"Hail them!" McNeil ordered.

"They've been attempting to hail us, sir," Tactical explained.

"Well...ignore them then," McNeil was flustered. Clancy hadn't just awarded him his fourth pop for pandering to traitors.

"They're ignoring us," Captain Alec Prine of the USS Merrimack complained.

"That's their prerogative, I guess," Commander Kat Denning shrugged, "Makes for an ominous beginning though."

"You have a major talent for understatement, Commander Denning," Prine complained.

"Thank you," she glowed.

"Prine is annoyed," Vaughn reported to Captain James McKinley of the USS Intrepid.

"He has good reason to be," McKinley had been pulled from vacation on Earth with Lt. Commander Jennifer Marie Massoli. The crazy woman had chosen style over comfort as they hiked a series of trails in the Pacific Northwest. McKinley had prepared for inclement weather. Massoli had opted for something more provocative. They'd reached a walking bridge across a river ravine where his last image of her before beaming back to the ship had been her turned away from him, hiding her exposed tattoo on her right arm. It had been such a "come hither" pose that McKinley was tempted to call for an immediate transport back to their hotel room. Johnson's calling them back to duty had ended the scenario.

Massoli brought McKinley the report she'd been working on, "Here's everything official and otherwise on Admiral McNeil."

"We'll be getting back to our vacation," he quietly promised.

"I know we will," she said huskily. Then she exited the bridge.

"Ah, love is in the air," Commander Jonathan Striker joked from beside McKinley in the XO's chair. Like McKinley, Striker hadn't had time to change back into uniform.

"Ship's status?" McKinley inquired.

"We have a skeleton crew comprised of those personnel that stayed on Earth for our 'two weeks' of leave'," Striker snarked.

McKinley recognized when the Head's Up Display on Striker's spectacles pulled up a warning flash.

"They've gone weapons hot," Striker advised him before Ensign Brad Turner could from Tactical. With Lt. Commanders Liz Liefers and Hannah Grace off ship and no fighter pilots, the Akira-class Intrepid's two fighter wings were effectively grounded.

The ship's Chief Engineer, Commander Robert Caplan was vacationing with Liefers on Pacifica. The Tactical Officer, Lt. Commander Ian Delaney was with his wife, Grace, on her home colony meeting her Kelvan parents. A long delayed event since her disapproved of marriage to him. Hanoi's decision to remain Hannah Grace and live her life amongst humans rather than continue to spy for the Kelvan colonists arriving from the distant Andromeda Galaxy had alienated her amongst her people. Drea had barely allowed her youngest daughter to return and even then only to meet Delaney.

Drea, having been one of the original Kelvan scouts to adapt to a human body, was dying of advanced old age, the last of the original scouts to still live. She wanted to die reconciled with Hanoi, or Hannah, before she died. And make one last pitch for Grace to return to her culturally mandated mission.

Turner was one of Delaney's hand trained relief officers. The only other senior staffer aboard was Doctor Andreja Sikorsky. Her only staffers were the Nurse Practitioner Ensign Gina McAfee and bio-chemist Ensign Kirsten Featherstone. Engineering was being run by Caplan's deputy, Lieutenant Emily Johnson, no relation to the admiral.

"If the Iotians fire on Starfleet it could start a war," Vaughn warned McKinley.

"And if Macen fires, he could lose the SID contract," McKinley replied.

"The Hammerfall and the Waveriser are grayer areas. They're corporate but not under Starfleet retainer," Vaughn had assessed.

"Bob told me we have more help on the way," McKinley grinned.

"Admiral McNeil, we have quantum slipstream tunnels opening in the outer system," Captain Morris reported to the Iliad from the Specter.

"Good," McNeil gloated.

"Sir, the ships ID as the Endeavor, theAventine, and the Voyager," Captain Cera reported in from the Sentinel, "They're moving in to support the opposition."

"Commodore Saavik, Captain Dax, and Captain Kirk all reporting in and declaring their support for the intruders," Captain Agman reported from the Eclipse.

McNeil cursed, "Frinx! Saavik and Kirk are legends. The optics of this could be bad. Very bad. Captain Dax is new to the chair so she's no great loss."

Lt. Commander Ezri Dax had been promoted from 2nd Officer to XO aboard the Aventine over the recent wars. But Captain Sarin had been killed in a skirmish with the Breen. Making Lt. Commander Dax the Acting Captain while Commander Sam Bowers was reinstated as XO. Starfleet pushed through a promotion to captain and made Dax's command her current assignment. Battlefield conditions allowing for alterations in Starfleet regulatory norms. Clancy's influence over BuPers being felt as she felt Bowers was a potential rogue element given his almost forgiven mutiny against Captain Sarin. Dax was seen as more malleable. It just showed Clancy's ignorance regarding Daxes.

"Raise Captain Dax," McNeil ordered.

Dax's image filled the screen, "Admiral."

"You know your position is unsustainable. Convince everyone to come to a halt and to lower their shields and to surrender their detainees. You're new to the chair, Captain, you can still save your career," McNeil offered, "I won't repeat this request."

"No need to, Admiral," Dax signed off.

"Damn Trill," McNeil grumbled.

"Sir, three more Iotian ships coming in from the inner system. They apparently traversed the orbit around the solar system to come behind us," Cera warned McNeil.

"The new arrivals are hailing," Tactical reported.

"On screen, why the hell not?" McNeil grunted.

Yar's image filled the monitor now, "Admiral, we're your new best friends. We can engage the Obsidian and Outbound Ventures without fear of political or military retribution."

"Why should I trust you?" McNeil asked.

"Contact Starfleet Command. You'll find we're contracted with Starfleet Security to 'deliver' those prisoners to Commodore Oh," Yar smirked.

"This isn't totally unexpected," Kracko advised Macen, "Yar is quite tenacious."

"She'll engage my ships but not yours," Macen predicted, "What I need is permission to defend myself."

"You have it," Kracko readily agreed, "But I fear you're badly outmatched."

"Oh, the 'us' I'm referring to is more than capable of defending our approach," Macen grinned.

Vice Admiral Elizabeth 'Betts' Rager replied to McNeil's inquiry, "It does seem Commodore Oh contracted these Iotian ships to retrieve our missing prisoners."

"How the hell did Starfleet Security lose hundreds of prisoners to the Cardassians and then to the Iotians?" McNeil asked after being briefed.

"Two of those supporting ships are crewed by those 'prisoners',"Rager warned him, "Oh is only concerned about the dozen or so aboard the Obsidian. They are not to reach Earth. You do realize you've been authorized to employ deadly force?"

"How can a dozen people be such a threat?" McNeil was beginning to have serious doubts.

"Ours is not the reason why," Rager replied, "Is there a conflict of interest here, Admiral? Captain Poole can assume tactical command if you're unable to continue."

Poole, aboard the USS Thuringia, was next senior in grade.

"I have the situation, Rager. Out," McNeil signed off.

"Admiral!" Tactical shouted across the bridge, "Sentinel reports that the Titan and Thuringia are moving in to support a tactical run being made by the new Iotian arrivals."

"Damn it!" McNeil snarled as he lost control of the situation.

"Prine, Vaughn, clear a path for our allies!" McKinley ordered.

The Akira- and two Defiant-class starships opened fire on the Iotians, careful not engage the encroaching Titan and Thuringia. Fleet Boss Kracko took the initiative and the Capone, along with the Hitman, Gun Moll, Capote, and Kelly surrounded the Obsidian, Waveriser, Waylaid, and Hammerfall as the ships inexorably moved through the Sol system at half impulse.

"Tactical wings awaiting orders, Admiral," Tactical advised McNeil. The Endeavor-A, Aventine, and Voyager maneuvered to place themselves between the remaining Starfleet force and the moving squadron.

"Oh hell," McNeil complained.

"Captain Kirk and Commodore Saavik are hailing," Tactical alerted McNeil.

"On screen," McNeil ordered. What did he have to lose at this point? Saavik and Kirk's weathered images appeared in a split screen.

"Commodore, Captain, I wish I could say it's a pleasure," McNeil grunted.

"Admiral, your course of actions so far have been illogical," Saavik proclaimed.

"I seem to recall the value of the chain of command and following orders, Commodore," McNeil retorted, "Or are they 'illogical' too?"

"I've been in your boots," Kirk stated, "Torn between my so-called 'duty' to my uniform and what's right."

"Your choices are infamous, Kirk. It's amazing they let you even wear that uniform again," McNeil snorted.

"I think that's why they sent me out to the Delta Quadrant," Kirk chuckled.

"As I am in the Gamma Quadrant," Saavik interjected, "You may believe we are renegades or even outmoded relics. However, we recall what it was that Starfleet was founded upon."

"And that is?" McNeil was dubious.

"Faith, Admiral," Kirk answered, "Faith in our fellow races and hope in a better tomorrow achievable through peace rather than war. Why throw that away again just two months after Starfleet abandoned those principles only to supposedly find them again?"

"Captain, Admiral, the Titan has opened fire on her fellow Starfleet vessels," Saavik warned them, "You must end this."

Still, McNeil hesitated.

"Titan has opened fire but the Thuringia is still holding back," Lieutenant JG Willow Myers reported from Tactical 2.

"I can't believe they're firing on us," Lt,. Commander Prynn Tenmei stated from CONN/OPS at the Defiant's controls.

"Believe it," Zivan Slaine said from Tactical 1. Slaine was a dalin in the Cardassian Guard assigned to Deep Space 9 as a Bajoran Militia exchange officer. Vaughn had managed so far to keep her aboard the Defiant crew. Despite Starfleet's growing protests. Lavelle could override Vaughn's selections for the crew manifest but he'd stayed out of it since resuming command of the station. Just as he'd retained Dalin Slaine as the station's Tactical Officer.

"Captain Vale is one of Macen's suspects in the loss of the Starfleet prisoners," Lt, Commander Sarina Douglas reported to Vaughn. She was originally the station's Intelligence Officer but had recently transferred to being the Strategic Operations Officer. As such, she'd convinced Vaughn to bring her aboard. Doctor Julian Bashir also lingered in the bridge. The genetically engineered lovers staying on hand in case their enhanced minds were needed.

"Meaning she has vested interest in keeping those witnesses from ever reaching Earth," Vaughn immediately understood.

"The Thuringia is moving on the Obsidian and her escorts," Slaine advised her CO.

"Captain Poole is a veteran commander," Vaughn had worked with Poole in covert operations, "He'll maintain fire discipline."

"Thuringia has engaged the Obsidian, Waylaid, Hammerfall, and Waveriser," Slaine reported.

"Cheeky bastard, isn't he?" Bashir commented.

"He's in for a surprise," Vaughn chuckled.

"Damn! That ship packs some firepower," Exec Wenonah Kitness complained to Captain Leigh Trevor.

"Only for a minute more," Trevor promised the Hammerfall's XO.

Aboard the Waveriser, Captain Xenodan and Commander Lyra Dirk were having a similar conversation. Xenodan had to wear an environment suit to operate outside his specially configured cabin, "Maintain escort position. Fire at will."

"I wish could see the captain's face in a minute or two," Dirk said with vindictive relish.

Captain Wei focused on the sisters, Bian Nguyen and Binh Nguyen at the Waylaid's helm and weapons stations, "Just keep Starfleet busy a minute longer."

"Easier said than done," Binh complained as she struggled to achieve phaser locks. Bian also struggled to get maximum performance out of the venerable refit starship design that pre-dated the Constitution-class refits.

"Indomitable has arrived!" Binh cried out with joy.

The modern Charleston-class starship hadn't been adopted by Starfleet. She'd been handed off to the SPYards and Forger and Nechayev arranged for Outbound Ventures to receive the prototype which Riker rechristened the Indomitable after his previous Emden-class command and Ro's Maquis raider before that. She came up on the Obsidian.

"Mr. Osmont, hail the Thuringia and offer her terms of surrender," Riker ordered Joel Osmont at OPS.

"Keeley, stay on top of her," he instructed Jessica Keeley at CONN.

"Berent, prepare a full spread when Captain Poole tells us off," Riker ordered his Zakdorn Tactical Officer.

Riker's twin brother had once undertaken a war game under Berent's creche mate's supervision, "Aye, Captain"

"Mr. Garzz, what do you think of your new engineering space?" Riker asked Marz Garzz down in Engineering.

"Both the ship and the new hires are exceeding expectations," rare praise from the Chief Engineer.

"Carry on, Mr. Garzz," Riker commended him.

"Captain Poole's reply isn't worth repeating," Osmont informed his captain.

"Open fire," Riker ordered.

"You can end this," Saavik coolly implored McNeil.

"Your compatriots opened fire on the Titan," McNeil raged.

"They returned fire," Kirk told him, "An important distinction. One we'll make as well."

"Aventine, Endeavor, and Voyager have gone weapons hot," Tactical informed McNeil.

"Big mistake, Kirk," McNeil grated, "The last of many."

"Admiral, the Obsidian has been escorted through our line by the Iotians," Agnew reported in from the Eclipse.

"Damn! It's all a distraction," McNeil realized, "Order fighter wings to engage them."

"Have the Sentinel, Specter, Eclipse, and Sulu come about and engage the Iotians," McNeil ordered.

"Aventine just fired a shot across the Sentinel's bow. Endeavor doing so with the Eclipse and Voyager has fired a warning shot at the Specter," Tactical advised McNeil.

McNeil was a guest aboard the Iliad so he didn't even know the officer's name, "Order them to return fire if fired upon," McNeil ordered, "Target all three vessels."

"Are we really firing on our own?" Captain Freeman asked.

"That depends on them. But raise me Starfleet Command again. The altered situation needs new recommendations," McNeil instructed.

"Vice Admiral Rager already replied to our latest updates and ordered the destruction of the Defiant, Merrimack, Intrepid, Endeavor, Voyager, and Aventine," Freeman replied in disbelief.

"She can't be serious," McNeil gasped.

"May I remind the Admiral that you outrank her?" Freeman wondered.

"What's our status?" McNeil inquired.

"Sentinel, Specter, Sulu, and Eclipse are standing by awaiting orders. All fighter wings have delayed firing to receive clarification of their orders. The Titan and Thuringia have both been disabled with minimal casualties. No fatalities reported," Freeman listed off, "Considering the firepower we're facing, that's a pretty light tally."

"Surgical precision one might say," McNeil mused, "Order our forces to stand down. Inform opposing commands that it's time to parlay."

"The Obsidian will reach Earth," Freeman warned him.

"And why is that such a bad thing?" McNeil had to wonder, "Commodore Oh can simply arrest the detainees when they beam down."

"Thank God this is over then," Freeman sighed.

The Fist of the Prophets arrived at that moment and claimed diplomatic immunity. Colonel Ro had a date with the Federation Council.

"Our fighters escorted the Obsidian, her escorts, and the Iotians into lunar orbit," Rager reported in with Clancy and Oh, "The Obsidian lowered her shields and allowed boarding parties to search the ship. The detainees were transferred off of the ship one day ago."

"Where the frinx did they go?" Clancy raged.

"A Bajoran transport named the Ark of the Prophets. She landed in London yesterday," Rager reported, "Local Starfleet forces report that Rear Admiral Forger and a party personally transferred the crew and passengers to SID headquarters."

"Frinx it!" Clancy snarled.

"Thank you, Admiral Rager. Keep us advised of Admiral McNeil's further actions," Oh was as imperturbable as ever, "Admiral, this situation is not as inconvenient as it may outwardly seem. We simply sacrifice a few identifiable pawns to satisfy the JAG's over-developed sense of justice."

"Will your people take the falls?" Clancy asked.

"My people are loyal," Oh pledged, "They can be dealt with if they betray us after arriving at Jaros II."

"I leave it to you then," Clancy allowed.

The Starfleet Oversight Committee forwarded the reports and testimony to the Judiciary Committee within 24 hours of Starfleet's presentation to them. Grant, Yia, and Verbrog also shared committee duties with the Judiciary. They quickly persuaded the Committee to recommend and push for a trial under the Articles of Impeachment.

A Special Counsel was appointed to prosecute and Federation Security assigned to investigate Ardra. Ardra and her security chieftain, Bortix, never arrived at the Federation Council session to announce the articles were being invoked and an investigation launched. No sign of the Federation's president could be found on Earth and no departure logs had been filed.

With no Vice President appointed or elected, Secretary for Starfleet Akita Chol took temporary control of the reins of the Federation's Executive Branch. Chol immediately ordered Clancy to stand down the budding conflict in the Sol system even as Starfleet reinforcements began to pour in. Chol also ordered Clancy to commend the opposing Starfleet officers for standing by the truth and the delivery of the evidence against the departed President Ardra.

Forbidden by Acting President Chol to prosecute Vaughn, Prine, McKinley, Kirk, Saavik, Dax, and their crews, Clancy swallowed one more indignity and threat to her absolute authority over Starfleet. Oh moved to shelter Vale and Poole. Forger and Nechayev protected Macen and Outbound Ventures' personnel. Instead, they arranged for private commendations from the Acting President.

Fleet Boss Kracko and her Starfleet officers were personally thanked by a delegation from the Starfleet Oversight Committee for their part in delivering the evidence exposing Ardra's crimes. The Federation Council as a whole reopened diplomatic relations with the Iotian Federation and dropped the signal scramblers preventing the Iotians access to the Federation data nets. Yar and her force slunk back to Iotian territory having failed and lost Starfleet Security's lucrative contract.

The Federation Council held a special Council vote to reinstate former President Kilbrek to office. Having seen that the previous impeachment of the President had been an overt manipulation to install Sok and her immediate successors into power.

Ro led Fleet Boss Kracko and an interstellar collection of ambassadors including Elim Garak of Cardassia, Kitrenda from the Thallonian Empire, and Audria of the Fabrini in presenting the fact that the Bajoran Republic had hired the Rockford Detective Agencies in investigating Ardra The other ambassadors delivered evidence of Ardra's crimes while in office as well.

"Thank you, Colonel and Ambassadors. You're contributions have been noted and welcomed," Kilbrek announced as his first proclamation after being restored as President.

"Appreciation is nice and all, but just don't let it happen again," Ro advised the Federation Council as whole, "But none of this ever needed to happen. Bajor didn't have to be ejected. Wars with Cardassia and my people were completely avoidable. Promoting a wanted fugitive to President of your Federation was also completely inexcusable. You want the galaxy's trust, then do better."

"Then your governments will be returning the illegally procured territories?" Carrotmonger's nose nervously twitched as he asked.

"The Bajoran Republic didn't buy anything from Ardra and I won't speak for the others," Ro declared.

"The Thallonian Empire refuses to return territory without full reimbursement," Ambassador Kitrenda warned the Council.

"But that latinum never went into the public coffers," Frex yapped.

"Then no, the territories will remain in Thallonian hands," Kitrenda replied.

"The Fabrini people feel no need to return that which was promise d long ago anyway," Ambassador Audria explained the Fabrini position, "If an expenditure of latinum was required to receive our long ago promised new home planet, then so be it."

"The Cardassian Union was offered recently abandoned systems following the abortive war you inflicted upon my people," Ambassador Garak told the collective, "We turned the offers down as being too provocative. Remember our restraint when we enter into future negotiations and that we could have easily afforded those same systems with the reparations that you are duly paying my people."

"And the Iotian position?" Grant asked.

"A deal is a deal, whether you were aware of your President's actions or not," Kracko lectured them, "Choose better leaders and perhaps you won't be caught blindsided again. All you've proven today is that your system differs little from our own."

There was a collective bristle at Kracko's words.

"You claim moral superiority in all matters yet since the Dominion War, you people have made one colossal error after another. Dare I mention your alliance with the Son'a? Or how you mishandled the Romulans? Each mistake costing lives and chipping away at your aura of moral fortitude. Your most recent past with the withdrawing from your protectorates and outer colonies has cost you enough already. The mistakes of the past few months have permanently stained your honor and standing in the interstellar community. Even the Klingons doubt your veracity now. As Colonel Ro said, do better."

"Yet the Iotians promoted those very doubts," Therin pointed out.

"Doubts wouldn't take room of there wasn't already room for them," Kracko smiled, "Just a fair warning."

"We appreciate your candor. Now, if we could have the room? We have many things to discuss and Ardra's eventual prosecution to address," Kilbrek requested.

"By the way, for a full refund and due additional compensation, my government would be happy to return the affected systems we purchased the right to approach. We annexed them at the native populations' requests. So, good luck asking them to switch sides now. Just saying," Kracko departed with a victorious smile.

Prentiss, Lefler, and Senecka gathered a reliable team of IA, JAG, and OPS officers to run down and confirm the witness statements from the former Solarian contractors. Starfleet Security had scrubbed the records of those officers identified in the process. But Lefler contacted General Martok to confirm or deny the officers' involvement in Klingon operations during the periods listed.

Martok had resigned as Chancellor and was deemed a half renegade by the current Chancellor who vied to go to war with a weakened Federation, seeking to relive the supposed glories of the First Klingon-Federation War begun in 2252. The Battle of Axanar particularly being a stain on Klingon honor and ambitions. The House of Duras singlehandedly losing that conflict. Captain Garth's place in Federation and Starfleet lore permanently secured by his victory there. His name still a curse to Klingon ears.

Martok's contacts confirmed that no elite Starfleet Security officers had operated with the Klingon Defense Force during the period in question. In fact, since Martok had stepped down all joint ventures with Starfleet had ceased. So the records were falsified. So the investigation also shifted into who by and why they were began in earnest.

"This an unexpected pleasure!" Acting Agency Director Dylan Sorbo informed the triumphantly returned Jack Fowler as he boarded Sentinel station deep within the Taurus Reach. Fowler was as emotionless as ever. His positronic brain unable to convey such feelings. Fowler himself technically a living violation of the Synthetics Ban. If Fowler had truly been Fowler.

"May I present representatives of our newest allies in our quest to secure the Federation's future?" Fowler stepped aside from the airlock to allow two Vorta and contingent of Jem'Hadar aboard.

"I don't mean to question..." Sorbo began.

"Then don't," Fowler commanded.

Browder had already briefed the Strategic Analysis team known as the Trinity, so they'd made preparations to begin production of ketracil white.

"I'm Eris and this is Kilana. We look forward to achieving our collective goals," the Vorta stated.

"I don't understand. What collective goals?" Sorbo asked.

"The complete securing of the Federation from all threats and enemies, past, present, and potential," Kilana told him. She especially batted her lashes at him. Kilana found Sorbo especially attractive and even clones had needs.

Ryder and Johanssen contacted the Presider to warn her of the developments.

"I'll alert the Political Action Arm members," the Presider conceded, "It seems just as Cell 51 had to operate within and without Section 31 we must now do so within and without Cell 51."

"Just be certain to have our agents prep their Federation Councilors to be ready for any eventuality," Ryder told her.

"Of course," the Presider signed off.

"Kita is reporting in," the Gray cardinal warned Ryder, "Her test has begun on Cestus III."

"Make certain Fowler and Browder never learn of it or its results," Ryder instructed.

"Already accomplished," Johanssen boasted. Only, for the very first time, she was wrong.

Elena Kita sat in a cafe sipping coffee as her Omicron Ceti III colonists began to disperse themselves amongst Cestus III's crowds. Kita had turned her dark hair blonde to obscure her presence. Her subjects were obviously human and obviously infested with a plant growth. But as concerned citizens approached the colonists, they were sprayed with spore clouds that infected them as well. The immediate effect to reorder their emotional centers, calming them down and creating a blissful state.

The secondary affect would be to reorder their mental processes so that they would comply with any of Kita's wishes. Kita expected Starfleet and Federation Security to react violently. All of the test subjects would be lost but they were equipped with self destruct devices to eliminate all traces of their genetically modified spores that infected them. All that would register was unadapted spores from the alien plants that had infested Omicron Ceti III. Half the test was to gauge Starfleet and Federation Security's reaction time and effectiveness. Kita ordered a second coffee and sat back to observe.

"So this is Odin?" Franij was skeptical.

The lodge where they were boarding was in the cooler, snowier climes that dominated the glaciated Class-P planet outside of the equatorial range. It was the planet Serenity orbited within the Barrinor system, making the planet a trade hub for the sector. The capital of Valhalla resembled a snow capped medieval castle. Tomorrow, Franij, joined by Soreya and Ilian would be sworn as citizens of the colony and of Barrinoran jurisdiction inside the capital. From there they could either purchase their own homes or set up long term dwelling arrangements with the lodge.

Jessa Bertinelli was the Rockford detective that walked them through the final processes. Bertinelli, like many of Rockford's detectives, had walked both sides of the law before hiring on to the agency. Her private wager with Harrington and Huntsmith was that the three would arrange for long term dwellings in order to capitalize their ability to move freely in and out of the Barrinor system in order to further their criminal ambitions. But from this point on, the Rockford Agencies was cutting them loose.

Kathy Tyrol of Outbound Ventures had utilized her pull with the Barrinoran and Odinite authorities to arrange for the citizenships. She'd also duly warned those same authorities of just who these women were and what they were capable of. Despite her pressuring them into allowing the crooks access to their colony, she wrote them off from the corporations' official responsibilities. Ilian, Franij, and Soreya were well aware of Barrinor's death penalties concerning financial crimes. So they all knew not to undertake their usual fleecing scams within jurisdictional borders.

They also reveled in the fact that Barrinor never, ever extradited a citizen. The day might come when the three of them couldn't leave the sector but until then, they'd enjoy resuming their careers with refuge being just a warp jump away. And the banking cartels more than happy to protect their holdings from any and all foreign efforts to reclaim their monies.

Bertinelli just sat back to enjoy her snowboarding vacation and gloat over the latinum she'd be collecting from Huntsmith and Harrington. Schafer alone being wise enough not to wager on Ilian's choice. At least one of them recognized her limitations rather than be blinded by their hopes. An essential trait in any detective.

"Chris and Sveta seemed to be filling in nicely," Macen observed in his weekly meeting with Tyrol. Despite his having made her corporate CEO, he was still one-half of the corporate ownership. Specifically that of Outbound Ventures.

"Noble and Korepanova are good but Riker and Danan are still the best picks for the role of station commanders," Tyrol opined.

"Never let Lees hear you say that about her," Macen advised.

"Duly warned," Tyrol received a door ping, "Come."

Starfleet Lieutenant Christine Pike entered in for her part in the meeting, "I hate to break it to everyone but the SID has more peacekeeping missions in mind for all available personnel."

Though Chris Pike was related to famed Christopher Pike, Han DNA had been introduced into her ancestry generations ago and she more closely resembled her Chinese forebearers.

"More?" Tyrol groaned, "I'm already facing mutinous crews demanding time off."

"Put the Indomitable and the Solstice on away mission duties," Pike suggested.

"Riker's on personal leave and Noble is needed here at the station," Tyrol advised her.

"So?" Pike wondered, "Tulley is the Solstice's XO. Is he ready for a solo command?"

"No," Macen and Tyrol instantly agreed.

"What about Joelle Jones?" Pike asked, "Shannon Forger said she was being fast tracked for her own command. You have a spare Emden-class escort now that Riker transferred his flag to that Charleston-class prototype," Pike suggested.

"Joelle actually turned that command down," Macen was also surprised, "She's still learning to play near if not by Starfleet's rule book. She's content remaining Shannon's XO for now."

"Forger had the same problem under Riker's shadow and so did Riker under yours. Look at where all of you are now," Pike reminded them.

"The answer from Joelle herself was 'no'. Let it lie, Chris," Macen advised her, "Besides, Kathy has been reviewing applications for a crew for that ship. We were about to review the candidates when you arrived."

"I'd also like to fast track Captain Wei and her crew for SID clearance," Tyrol brought up.

"I'll inform Admiral Forger and get the vetting process rolling," Pike replied.

"Captains Leigh Trevor and Xenodan and their crews should also be seriously considered. We've put a lot on them both and they've come through," Tyrol recommended.

"I'll add the recommendations," Pike was furiously tapping notes out on her padd.

"All of the captains and crews hired on after I made the bulk purchase of ships from the Iotians have been coming through," Macen opined.

"Tell Celeste that if she wants me to take on her agencies as well, I'll need hiring authority. At least to recommend candidates to her," Tyrol warned Macen.

"She never expected to have so many agencies or detectives working for her. It was little wonder she sold the practice to me and I gave it back to her when I decided we should be partners instead of her agencies just being a subsidiary," Macen reminded Tyrol.

"Well, she's a phenomenal investigator and fighter but she hardly qualifies as an administrator. Her handing the reins over has created a whole new classification of headaches for me," Tyrol lamented.

"She has a couple case managers that may be promotable to the corporate offices you'll be opening," Macen informed her.

"I will?" Tyrol asked.

"You want to have to medicate the headaches every day?" Macen asked.

"No," Tyrol grumbled.

"Then you will," Macen sounded definite.

"So...Council Medal of Valor?" Pike asked.

"Another medal I can never display," Macen sighed, "I have a private section in Starfleet Intelligence's medal vault. Celeste has two now as well as a Presidential Medal of Valor."

"How many medals do you have?" Pike had never considered this.

"Six Intelligence Service Stars, two Christopher Pike Medals of Valor, a Presidential Medal of Valor and now a Council Medal of Valor. All secret awards in private ceremonies. SI had to open an SID wing to the medal vault to accommodate the off branching of agents," Macen sighed, "The vault also contains the medals and memorials to Single and Double 0 agents."

"They're mythical," Pike snorted.

"Are they?" Macen asked.

"You've met them?" Pike was amazed.

"Just a few," Macen allowed. That much wasn't a state secret. Pike was cleared to know they existed. Forger and Nechayev had cleared Tyrol for a security clearance higher than Pike's. Tyrol and Pike traded in state secrets every time they arranged for an SID mission. It only made sense to accommodate their needs.

"Stand by," Pike warned Macen, "Admiral Forger needs a word with you when you leave here."

"What catastrophe has struck now?" Macen rolled his eyes.

"Federation Security had to go riot control on Cestus III. The rioters self destructed rather than be captured. Forensics indicates they were infected with the Omicron Ceti III spores," Pike explained, "Federation Security has no chain of evidence linking the quarantined colony with Cestus III. So you get the job."

"Lucky me," Macen retorted.

"I was told to remind you that it's a Captain Kirk case," Pike added.

"Then maybe I should ask him about it," Macen suggested.

"Without telling him about the Cestus III connection," Pike warned him, "It's classified above Kirk's grade."

"Whatever," Macen dismissed himself.

"Celeste is waiting for you in your office," Bryce Fanning brightly told Macen as he reentered his office spaces.

"I suppose you're loitering to know how the meeting with Kathy went," Macen teased her as he entered.

"Damn skippy," Rockford skipped the usual bantering.

"You have the final say on new hires. Kath also needs at least two people promoted to be corporate managers," Macen told her, "She has to spin off some of the responsibilities. With the SID she has Chris Pike handling most of the details. Kath has a free hand with the rest of Outbound Ventures so to add the Rockford Detective Agencies to her personal responsibility..."

"Creates a burden," Rockford acknowledged the fact, "I'll contact Wong and Kushin. They deserve the promotions. Especially after managing the Ardra case," Rockford opined.

"Kathy will want them on the station rather than working by remote," Macen warned her.

"It'd cut down on my problems as well," Rockford admitted.

"Warn your people we're gearing up already," Macen asked of her.

"We just got back and we're already headed back into space?" Rockford complained.

"We have to get you over this phobia," Macen chuckled.

"Let me bring a big fat spider in here and see how comfortable you get with it," Rockford shot back defiantly.

"Ouch," Macen winced.

"Leave my phobia alone and I'll leave yours alone," Rockford wagged a finger at him, "Where are we headed to anyway?"

"Cestus III to start with," Macen told her.

Rockford shuddered, "Not the Gorn."

"Nope. Mind controlling space plant spores," Macen told her.

"You're joking," Rockford deadpanned.

"This isn't my joking face," Macen told her.

"Spores," she muttered as she left to ruin Lee, Shade, and Forte's developing plans for the day.

"Bryce, cancel everyone's plans. We're shipping out as soon as I get off comms with Admiral Forger's office," Macen asked of her.

"Good thing no one's been back long enough to unpack yet," Fanning sighed.

"I actually agree," Macen confided as he closed his office door.

Amanda Forger might be having a relaxing time with Bob Johnson but she'd positively ruined his team and the Obsidian crew's coming days. Parva would be the most irate. She had open ended tickets to a tour of the Klingon Imperial Opera Company. They'd had a six-week engagement on Barrinor. It ended in three days. Parva and Daggit had been kept busy throughout the whole run. Daggit would probably be grateful but Parva definitely needed recompense from Forger. So did he since he'd be the one hearing about it direct from the source.

Operating in Federation space when he needed Tessa's skills was always problematic post-Synthetics Ban. Her pack sized mobile emitter drew attention from scrutinizing eyes. Which meant Forger had to clear Federation Security out of the investigation. Holograms were still legal. Provided they were in a holodeck and non-sentient.

Tessa broke both rules. Any agent worth their salt would spot that. He'd just have to deal with the scenario as it developed. If they had, they could funnel all the necessary samples through Galen 3 to Tessa. He'd love it and it would console her from being confined to the ship. Their latest cases hadn't given Tessa much to do beyond her medical programming. But a biomedical mystery would lift her spirits up. So at least someone would enjoy the case.

And Forger's gambit relayed through Pike worked as well. It gave Macen an excuse to contact Jim Kirk again. Which was always a good thing.


Last modified: 20 Jun 2024