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Inside Job 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

Gathered in Paris was a cabal of those connected to the Federation Council. Not a single member was a Councilor elected or appointed to the Federation Council, the ruling civilian body over the United Federation of Planets. These were the Chiefs of Staff to the leading Councilors, and influence maker and breakers. Nearly sixty of the most influential people in the Federation. And each was a sleeper agent for a sleeper agency, Cell 51, within the defunct Section 31.

Cell 51 had also been castrated on its Starfleet side of things. But the Political Action Section had been reactivated by a remote signal to the computer network buried deep within the dwarf planet Ceres. So the Presider over the Political Action Section called an immediate gathering to push forward Cell 51's ultimate agenda without resorting to military force. They would enact authoritarian rule by nominating an autocrat and insuring they won the special election they would force into being. All to preserve "democracy" which was threatened by liberal forces in their conservative minds. Democracy would be saved by ending its practice. They referred to it as their "kinging" moment.

Now that the Committee was activated, they would resort to a bloodless coup if possible. But the plan was to fool the people into surrendering their civil rights. Aliens made up a vocal minority but the base of the movement was humanity. Humans were trusted throughout most of the Federation and her remaining colonies. So their ideal candidate would be human and female. Preferably of non-European descent.

They already had the perfect Councilors inside the Federation Council. Now they just needed to create the crisis that would remove the sitting President and call for a special election to replace the President, the Vice-President, and the Speaker for the Federation Council. As usual, it was the Gray Cardinal that devised the necessary leverage to be employed. The Presider came from a species recently admitted into the Federation itself. Hers was a monarchial and matriarchal society.

The Gray Cardinal was very human and too young to even vote since humans had be eighteen to legally cast a vote throughout the Federation. The Gray Cardinal, one Ana Johanssen, was a child prodigy and a 3D chess grandmaster by age five and recruited by Section 31 by age seven. Now she played chess with real lives.

Seemingly incongruous amongst the assembled, seemingly and painfully "average" political operatives were two Hysperians. Despite being away from their ship, they remained completely in cultural character. Their Queen had attached a diplomatic mission the Federation Council in order for her to try and better ingratiate herself to her son had have him finally lose his long held virginity and automatically inherit the throne. The actual Ambassador was an enfeebled old man who had begun to actually believe he was a wizened sorcerer. His staff, a man and a woman, still realized that there technological advancement wasn't actual magic but an elaborate societal construct they preferred to the more mundane reality. However, the staff of two was very ambitious and was subsequently approached by Jack Fowler before his demise. Their seeming whimsy hid very real ambitions to extend their society's influence and to seize upon real power within the Federation.

Of course, the pair would serve their people's "best" interests by taking roles in the newly established "democratically protected" Federation after the Council was disbanded. The first four actions the newly empowered President would undertake was dismantle the judiciary, end elective choice, disband the Federation Council, and declare martial law. Once internal control of the Federation was firmly established, then the march on external "enemies" would begin in earnest.

"My people have a rarely used but arcane knowledge base of poisons," Archidex Holz proclaimed. His eyes had been surgically altered to appear "dragon-like". A recent fad amongst Hysperians. The other, one Meritrea Gabbint, was more traditional in her armor and cloaks than Holz's exposed rippling muscles.

"They're untraceable in the dividing of the humours," Gabbint paused before explaining, "That's down to the molecular level in the blood."

"We require a more existential crisis," the Gray Cardinal amended, "A foe to gather around. And one far more tangible than a 'mysterious threat that may or may not have infected the synthetics' and reprogrammed them."

"The Mars Massacre will play brilliantly into our claws though," Sssrrrez, a Saurian evolved from a similar species to Earth's crocodile, hissed and growled his approval.

"A jolly good war is precisely what we need," Carmelike, the aide evolved from camel-like creatures, heartily concurred, "My people were too far removed from the Dominion conflict to join in."

"Meaning your people were recruited to the Federation in the wake of said war," Ogilivia, the red skinned humanoid Kybern, sitting next to him stated, "Just like mine."

Both cultures had achieved warp capacity during the opening year of the conflict. They'd been made Protectorates and fast tracked to Federation membership in the year following the war's end. A dozen unproven allies and Bajor had all been officially included in the ranks in a single, massive celebration on their worlds and in Paris. Also represented was a Vulcanoid Rigellian named Sarafina, and an Elvin named Perky Lyrics. The English translations of Elvish names were always whimsical. As were the people themselves on most occasions.

The Vulcans that colonized the second habitable world in the Rigel system used sexual release to tame their mounting emotional states. Their touch telepathy enhancing the experience to a degree that was rare outside of alien encounters with Deltans. Such Rigellians endured a similar Oath of Celibacy while serving with Starfleet. But the Oath only applied to fellow officers and enlisted. Civilians were still considered fair game.

"So we have a proposed approach," the Presider deemed, "Now, who should be the enemy who will subsequently assassinate the President? And who should be their accomplices in this heinous act so that the threat is ongoing?"

Races were bandied about like insults.

"The Cardassians should be our primary threat," the Gray Cardinal interrupted the debate, "The Iotians will serve as their seconds in this 'duel of honor'."

"Why the Cardassians?" Gatimu Odhianbo asked. Odhianbo's personal name meant spear and the colony he represented had dealt with Breen privateers for a century, "Why not the Breen?"

"Except for siding with Dominion and attacking Earth and Starfleet, the Breen aren't known for large scale conflicts, Gatimu," Cybil Dehtmer argued, "The Cardassians engaged us in our longest actively shooting 'cold' war since the Klingons."

Dehtmer was from a Federation colony near Cestus III that had also been targeted on occasion by the Gorn, "We have no shortage of rivals. A better question would be, why the Iotians? They're laughable."

The Presider nodded to the Grey Cardinal and Johanssen uploaded files to their padds, "As you can, the Iotians have made considerable in-roads in paring down the discrepancy between our levels of military advancement."

"My God," Carolan Strucker breathed, "How'd this happen in just under a decade?"

Strucker's home colony was within easy striking distance of the Iotian Federation's newly expanded, and tacitly accepted, borders. Most of those seated in the room were either human or near-human aliens. The bulk of those from a former colony world embraced into the Federation during the last war or shortly thereafter. They took the Federation's ongoing security and perceived weaknesses seriously.

The most striking non-human chiefs of staff were three humanoid women with green tinted skin. One was from a former Orion colony accepted into the Federation. Its representative here was named Myril Ty'bo. The second was from a cousin race departed from the Orion home world and mixed with an indigenous species called the Fuci. The hardier and dominant genes of the Orions consumed the natives. Few indigenous pure-bloods remained on the planet. They were protected by Federation law but seen similarly to the Ansata on Rutia IV. The mixed blood majority wanted a free hand in dealing with the remaining natives. That required a sympathetic federal government. The chief's name was Tieva Zorjo.

That left their slightly reptilian counterpart, Anoj, from a world bordering the former Romulan Neutral Zone. An unstable environment dominated by Romulan warlords and better protected by the Fenris Rangers than by Starfleet. Anoj was there to change that. Others included the humanoid but non-humans that included the Iridian from a border world absorbed by the Federation five years prior. Her colony still lived in fear of the racist and strong-arming militant Enforcers that dominated her native culture. Gelena Sindic simply strove to create a stronger militant culture to repel the one her fellow settlers had left the Enforcer Territories near the Galactic Center to escape.

The deeply cyan skinned Vveda Xerxes also came from a threatened culture that wished to strengthen the Federation's posture in interstellar affairs. The amphibian from near Tholian space was named Niro Patmoss. The strikingly non-human member was one Jarool Jaequ. They all brought activism for a stronger, safer Federation to the table. And every planet a newer member that garnered sympathy for their proximity to hostile governments.

The faintly bio-luminescent member was named Ada Galjik. The final alien amongst the humans could've passed for human if not for her bone white skin and hair matched with piercing blue eyes. Her name was Jareel.

The humans were as ethnically mixed and blended as any culture on Earth itself. Only a few came from racially separated colonies so their smaller populations meant more racial pairing and interspecies mixing. But the most important players had outsized influence to go with their rising ambitions. Ashley Donner and Gizem Karimi were polar opposites in the genetic spectrum. Donner was Eurasian while Karimi was from the colony that served as the Kurdish homeland.

The Presider made her announcement, "Once the sitting president is removed we will present three humans for consideration. All will be loyal to our goals but since all three candidates will eventually serve together in their private council, their titles will be interchangeable as the Director deems necessary. Akifa Chol, Assfaaq, and Dajen, advise and prepare your Councilors to stand for the highest office. Amelia Harris, Frederick Dysart, and Elizabetha Dillon, you will run the campaigns. Now it should be obvious who the prospective President, Vice-President, Secretary for Starfleet and Speaker will be."

That left only three potential candidates. The first would be Nhlakanipho Cindi. A popular choice from Earth and an experienced diplomat. The second would be Chavy Sok. The leading candidate from the bulk of the outer Alpha Quadrant colonies and various Federation worlds. The third candidate would be Juliette Perez. She was the youngest of the three and catalyzed the youthful voters from across the inner and outer Beta Quadrants.

The Gray Cardinal had expertly placed allies to all the candidates' paths to power through their own staff members. But special thanks had to go to Martina Dobek, Andrea Brock, Sofia Lopez, Arsenie Sauciuc, and Emily Grant for positioning their Councilors in voting blocs that would carefully adhere to any and all proclamations the new President would issue. So in one simple meeting, the fate of the Federation had been decided upon.

After the various staffers returned to their own offices and policy making, the Presider and the Gray Cardinal reported in with the Acting Director. Dylan Sorbo had inherited the role after Jack Fowler's demise. He'd carefully brought the Section 31 stragglers still imbedded in their undercover posts and brought them into the Cell 51 fold. Sorbo was the man responsible for suggesting to Jack Fowler that the need for such a movement within Section 31 was a predetermined outcome. The Political Action Arm had been Sorbo's brainchild. He'd spent twenty years putting it together

The combined traumas of the Dominion War and the Mars Massacre catalyzing his followers into following the Gray Cardinal's playbook. The activation code from Fowler had been given seemingly from the grave. Sorbo had Cell 51 loyalists combing the nearby planets Fowler could've reached in the Gamma Quadrant in a life pod. So far there had been no success in finding him. But the Founders had planted breadcrumbs suggesting Fowler was still alive and with a supportive third party. Sorbo's dogma was "trust but verify" when it came to unexpected coded signals no matter how authenticated they were.

"So are we set?" Sorbo got straight to the point.

"We have our candidates selected and our patsies to take the blame for unfortunate circumstances," the Presider reported.

"We need an instigating incident to leverage the Cardassians into 'executing' the President," Sorbo reminded them.

"Admiral Ross at Starbase 375 will provide all of the motivation that the Cardassians will need to spur them on," the Presider happily informed him, "Best of all, Ross doesn't yet know his sealed orders came from us."

Bill Ross had loyally worked with Luther Sloan on several S31 projects over the years. Edward Fowler had named Ross as a collaborator but there was no hard evidence to pursue. So Vice Admiral Ross was merely frozen in grade and assignment despite his impressive war record. The man directly tasked with overseeing the Cardassian border was in fact an agitator for crippling the Cardassian Guard. Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy was tempted but didn't want the distraction from finding the ultimate source behind the Synthetic Uprising. Unaware that Commodore Oh, her trusted Director of Starfleet Security and collaborator in shipping off innocent dupes to Cardassian black sites, was in fact a Romulan agent posing as a Vulcan stretching back decades of undercover work.

It was those black sites whose existence and Starfleet prisoners had been confirmed to Ross that had enflamed his passions. Commander Sam Lavelle, newly promoted to Commanding Officer of Deep Space 9, would lead Ross' raid into Cardassian territory. For such a raid, Lavelle needed his most experienced officer and the USS Defiant's typical CO at his side. But Commander Elias Vaughn had been assigned a rear guard action defending the station from potential reprisals from nearby Cardassian Guard ships.

Vaughn was under orders to leave matters completely out of the hands of the Bajoran Militia. General Kira Nerys and Colonel Ro Laren were to be left uninformed of the action before or after its completion. Both former station commanders Vaughn had served with and under. Vaughn had entered Starfleet Academy 91 years ago in 2293. The same year his friend Brin Macen had been "rescued" from the Nexus and Captain James T. Kirk had been lost to the same. But it was the same year that John Harriman found his enduring strength.

The USS Enterprise-B had widened the Federation's reach into the Alpha Quadrant, shored up the formation of the Klingon alliance, and led a brief conflict against the Tzenkethi. The Tzenkethi had been quiet since the Federation's first 18-months long war with them in which the original (refit) USS Enterprise had played an outsized role in. After Harriman led the fight and brokered a cease-fire, the Tzenkethi hadn't actively invaded Federation claimed space afterwards. But neutral territories were still the site of frequent clashes well into the 2360s. At which time the Tzenkethi Coalition was more aggrieved by the Cardassian Union's expansionist aims on one border and the Breen Confederacy's on the other. The Federation had been reduced to the least of the Tzenkethis' problems by default.

After graduating a boot ensign in Starfleet Security in 2297, Vaughn went aboard his first Starbase before being transferred to starship duty four years and two promotions later. His record on the ship's Security detachment earned him his entrance exam into Starfleet Special Operations Command where he stayed until 2375 after the Dominion War ended. Transferring out of SOC. He accepted the posting as Colonel Kira's XO aboard DS9. Where he was still posted, at his request, ten years later.

Vaughn's record commanding the Defiant only intensified the decade's long pressure to accept a promotion to captain and his own starship command. He obviously had the talent for it. But as station XO, Vaughn escaped the command lists that the Romulans and others covetously studied. Vaughn hated that the things were public record. As XO Vaughn still effectively commanded the Defiant anyway.

Lavelle had received a battlefield promotion to Commander and command of the Norway-class USS Heron when both the Captain and XO died in conflict against the Breen. Starfleet rescinded his command but made his promotion permanent. Lavelle had long been propelled by doubts regarding his first promotion aboard the Enterprise-D. He assumed he'd only earned it at the cost of Sito Jaxa's life. That doubt self-sabotaged him into being far from mediocre but far from exceptional. But as the Heron's CO, Lavelle displayed every iota of the promise that had marked his earliest career.

It was a measure of trust and an expectant rise in performance that Ross lobbied for Lavelle to assume DS9's vacant command office. Unexpectedly, Lavelle hadn't seen assignment to one of the Federation's most strategic posts as a reward but rather as penal duty. Vaughn's quiet, but increasingly insistent cries of alarm were getting noticed by the Admiralty. Half of them owed favors to Vaughn over the course of his 78 year career in SOC and even a few more as station XO. Ross was giving Lavelle the handling of this spear over superior officers and more experienced commanders in an effort to finally rehabilitate his career options. Perhaps even Ross' own.

The Gray Cardinal had set these wheels into motion. The Presider had the contacts within the rarified heights of Starfleet Security to understand just how illegal Clancy and Oh's operation was. Starfleet officers and security contractors were being illegally detained, first by their own service and now by the Cardassian Guard, at Oh's order with Clancy's complicit oversight. Sorbo had signed off on the proposed action plan as the Director but he hadn't been given a precise timetable. A timetable that launched the need for this last meeting.

"You're certain all three candidates will accept the nominations from the Federation Council?" Sorbo knew the answer but wanted to hear their rationale.

"The Federation Council accepts bids for candidacy from multiple sources and planetary primaries. They then compile a list of the top eight vote getters and vote upon them. The remaining four leaders go on to the general election," the Presider wondered why she was recounting this 4th grade civics lesson.

"Ah, four candidates. You're fielding three," Sorbo landed on that point.

"We were able to shore up support for three projected finalists but if a fourth remains popular enough to garner the Council's consideration they'll be included in the general election. But compared to our own projected winners, this candidate has an outlier chance of securing the final election tally," the Presider counseled him.

"I don't want an outlier to win," Sorbo decided.

"Then they'll meet an untimely demise," the Gray Cardinal promised, "We have a contingency in place. A contingency that will occur on the day before the swearing in ceremony. The Hysterians have offered us a poison that will elicit heart failure and be undetectable down to the atomic level. It will appear as a sudden, previously undetected natural condition."

"I knew there was a reason we tolerated them," Sorbo smiled broadly. The transmission ended.

"Our cadre of advising staffers seems prepared for what lies ahead," the Presider noted.

"Dobek is senior amongst them. She'll drive the coalition of interests forward to meet our expected and desired results," the Gray Cardinal predicted.

"How can you be so utterly certain?" the Presider wondered.

"I've never lost. At anything," the Gray Cardinal reminded her, "I don't leave random chances unaccounted for. We have responses to every matter how remote it may be."

The Presider wondered just how tested that assertion would become.

In a secured conference room, a group of the select committee met to discuss their options of bending their Councilors into further aligning with one another and the program at hand. Dobek chaired the conference. She was the eldest and the most experienced having weathered almost two decades with her sponsor, "We have to push our patrons into agitating for a war footing in preparation for whatever plan the Gray Cardinal is enacting."

"That is easy for you to say," Holz complained, "Your lord isn't a doddering old fool."

"That should make it easier not harder," Karimi thought.

"It would be of our beloved lord could keep a stray thought in his head," Gabbint lamented, "He cannot even remember his own name."

"So steer him around and speak for him," Odhianbo suggested, "You do anyway."

"But unofficially, of course," Jaequ said slyly. Politics were her life's blood.

"We need to counsel our sponsors as swiftly as possible after leaving this place and plant the seeds of war in their heads," Sarafina counseled them instead, "All of our patrons detest and mistrust the Cardassians. We simply build upon that awaiting the Gray Cardinal's plans to come to fruition and we seize the opportunities that arrive, relentlessly."

Ogilvaria spoke softly. Her people reminded several species of tales of demons and devils. So they tread lightly within the Federation, "We begin with stage whispers and then end with a crescendo of shouting to push them towards mobilizing public opinion into lashing out at the Cardassians. They're still vulnerable after the war. So we must strike first in response to a make believe threat in order to finally crush them underfoot permanently as a potential threat."

"It's the Cardassians' perceived weaknesses that sway our constituents into pitying them," Dehtmer complained, "And the Bajorans seem more than willing to forgive them for the Occupation. This alliance that they've struck over investigating war crimes committed by those Interfaith Council fanatics sets a dangerous precedent."

"So we isolate the Bajorans and force them to capitulate to popular demands or face Starfleet's wrath as insurgent traitors," Sssrrrez growled, "They have offended most of the Council. Finding allies to turn their backs on them will be easy prey."

Cajik's internal glow rose a few notches as her mood brightened as well as her body, "Yes. We portray the Bajorans as rebellious and out of touch with the necessity of defensive realities."

Her people were an offshoot of Tzenkethi that had left their home world when the Coalition and genetic branding began. The Tzenkethis' self-inflicted genetic tampering had vastly altered them from their offshoot peoples. But the "castaways" were a more honest reflection of the race's origins.

"So we agitate against the Cardassians and their newfound allies, the Bajorans," Grant summarized, "We force the Bajorans into submitting to the New Order or be militarily occupied as a threat to our collective security."

"I can definitely sell that to the Andorian legation," Ty'bo offered.

"I have inroads with the Tellarites," Lopez admitted.

"If we can secure the votes of the founding races, we can sway the rest more easily. They still have outsized influence amongst the others. Earth is ours. Tellar and Andoria seem to be safe bets. Rigel and its collective races are already convinced by the Mars Massacre that we need to bolster internal security," Brock assessed, "That leaves Vulcan."

"Our cousins won't listen to us," Sarafina confessed.

"Nor us," Ty'bo conceded, "They still view my people as criminals."

"But they sympathize with my people," Jaequ shared.

"No, this has to be a collaborative campaign," Sindic said sternly, "Any show of weakness or sentimentality or emotional outrage will only turn the Vulcans away. We need cunning where our logic falters. But we must develop a logical argument for them to consider veering off of the path of 'peace' that they think they've purchased with the Cardassians. The Bajorans are a highly passionate people. That will play to their detriment with the Vulcans."

"They'll also listen to my people as a fellow elder race," Lyrics stated, "So it seems our coalition is forming naturally."

"And handing Earth to our path will cement the deal in the Vulcans' minds," Strucker decided, "They see humans as erratic but most often steadfast allies and visionaries when logic fails to innovate."

"So we're set to begin tonight?" Sauciuc asked.

"There's no better time," Dobek declared.

And so the timing was determined, despite being unaware of the Starfleet operation that would commence within 48 hours thus provoking a response from the Cardassians. A response that would end the sitting President's life.

Things had been quiet around Serenity Station following the fallout from the Interfaith Council's actions. Corporate CEO, Kathy Tyrol, no longer contracted out single starships to patrol single sectors. Now pairs or trios of ships performed peacekeeping and anti-piracy patrols for client planetary nations. The SID contracting ships were still kept busy on various secretive assignments. But the Obsidian crew and SID team and been standing down for three weeks following their two week vacations.

In an oddly serendipitous event, Colonel Ro had been inspecting their investigative and arrest records of the Militia Constabulary working alongside the Cardassian Information Bureau to single out and bring in those responsible for the planetary bombardments that had devastated 27 worlds. Since the efforts took place outside of the Bajor Sector, Ro's Colonial Defense Forces were tasked with immediate support of the ongoing efforts.

Generally only two starships were assigned to assisting the efforts but Ro had been personally tasked by General Kira to undertake a fact finding mission. That being completed, a layover at the nearby Serenity seemed ideal for Ro and her crew. For Ro, it meant catching up with Brin Macen and Celeste Rockford.

They were interrupted by unexpected visitors. Angelique Kerber and Bailey Smith rarely wandered into the Outbound Ventures office district. There Macen maintained his private office regarding incoming SID contracts from Starfleet and Rockford maintained a separate office with her handpicked detective squad at the sector's Rockford Detective Agency offices. But the husband and wife frequently spent time together during working hours to collaborate and brain storm problems facing the corporate entities they owned together. So the appearance of the two disguised Ardanans came as a completely unexpected, if welcome, surprise.

"Commander, Captain Riker's Ops team intercepted a coded message with your name attached. It was sent broad spectrum so that comm buoys across the sector and beyond would retransmit the code apparently in hopes of reaching you wherever you could be found without establishing a direct link," Kerber explained.

"And it was encrypted?" Macen asked, dread filling his inner being.

"The cipher was impressively hard to crack," Smith congratulated whoever sent it.

"Do have a copy of the message?" Rockford wondered.

"It self-deleted when we attempted to transfer it to a padd to hand deliver," Kerber also sounded suitably impressed, "I couldn't recover the data."

"But I assume you know the gist of what it said," Macen had to come to realize.

"It was a single phrase," Smith had puzzled over this, "'The watershed is breaking.' That was it."

"Damn," Macen sighed, "Somebody high up in Starfleet Command has lost their collective minds."

"So this obviously means something to you," Ro drolly pointed out.

"It's a code Elias and I developed for when I was on the line, or frequently behind it, and Starfleet was about to launch offensives against the Cardassians. It was a warning to be aware that heavy fighting was about to occur in my neighborhood," Macen explained.

"So someone is going to attack the station?" Rockford puzzled over that, "I thought that was done with."

"The phrase is specific to Cardassia. Starfleet is about to launch an offensive against a Cardassian position," Macen elaborated.

"Why in the hell would they do that?" Ro wanted to know.

"It's just a panic button. It was never intended to relay specific information," Macen complained.

"So Elias must have been ordered to stay silent regarding an attack stemming out from Deep Space 9," Rockford surmised.

'Which is why the Joint Chiefs haven't been informed because the government and the Militia would oppose the plan," Ro grew angrier the more she thought about it.

"How long ago did you receive the transmission?" Macen inquired.

"Ops received it six hours ago but it wasn't flagged to our section until thirty minutes ago," Smith explained.

"You cracked that cipher in thirty minutes?" Macen was astounded, "That was the most complex cipher Starfleet could generate."

"I said it was a challenge," Smith downplayed her achievement.

"So we're six hours behind the clock," Ro realized.

Macen's aide, Bryce Fanning reported in, "Ziva Delain, Colonel Anara, and Neela are all here to speak with you."

"Oh, why not? People can simply stand around," Macen was already frustrated. Delain, Anara, and especially Neela were equally flustered.

"Colonel Ro, General Kira asked me to personally inform you she requires an immediate remote conference with you. My section has been put on alert," Anara explained. She was Militia Special Forces attached to Serenity.

"I have been duly informed Starfleet attacked a prison center deep with Cardassian space," Delain was festering with outrage, "The attack was led by the Defiant."

"Vaughn did this?" Macen was startled.

"The commanding officer identified himself as a 'Commander Lavelle'. I believe he is the starbase commander in the Bajor Sector," Delain simmered.

"Not very discreet to go around announcing his identity during a covert attack," Macen mused.

"My government and the Militia certainly had no warning," Anara was just as riled up, "Colonel Cenn and General Kira both were intentionally misled as the nature of Starfleet forces amassing at DS9."

Anara herself had briefly served as an Operations officer aboard the station during the first post-Occupation year. She'd transferred to the Special Forces based on Bajor shortly after the "Pup" incident. The Militia needed engineers with combat experience within the Special Forces. Anara had been amongst the first to transfer.

Neela, her lifelong friend and fellow Resistance cell member, had been her replacement on DS9. No one yet realizing that Neela had been radicalized by the ever-manipulative Vedek Winn Adami in her bid to become Kai of Bajor. A suspected murder, a schoolhouse bombing and an attempted assassination later, Neela was in custody and sentenced to prison. A sentence commuted by First Minister Shakaar Edon to respond to the True Way's attempted, and actual, murders of Bajoran officials. Kai Winn having convinced Shakaar that reuniting Anara and Neela was the Militia's best hope at deterring further True Way aggressions. In Neela's case, the argument was simple: who better to deal with extremists than an extremist?

However, Anara had found her friend literally touched by the Prophets. She'd become one of the rarified Hands of the Prophets. A chosen one even rarer in Bajoran religious history than an Emissary. Of course, many claimed the title. Neela didn't. But history and the evidence were on her side.

The Prophets favored her and spoke directly to her. But unlike an Emissary, Neela wasn't a leader or a visionary. She was a disgraced ex-convict that no one would ever suspect of being a direct tool of the Prophets themselves. It had taken some doing for Anara to convince herself, especially in the face of Neela's own denials, that this was the truth.

Macen had recognized it upon meeting Neela. But then again, he'd had personal experience with the Q, the Nexus Ribbon, and the Prophets themselves. His experiences even included meeting a rarified Organian or Metron or two.

"Fire and Rain," Neela murmured, breaking her stoic silence.

"Excuse me?" an irate Delain asked.

"A season of Fire and Rain," Neela told them, "The Prophets rarely spoke of days past Bajor's unification and joining the Federation. Even these prophecies had to be extrapolated and understood as events unfurled. The Emissary came back to explain them. The Dominion was gone and all the Prophets' Children would be reunited. That's come to pass. Now we enter the mysterious Season of Fire and Rain."

"You still include the Ascendency in this list of Children?" Delain snorted.

"And Cardassia," Neela said firmly, "Your own historical researchers have uncovered the ancient religion practiced by the other dominant race modern Cardassians wiped from your planet and catastrophically altered the planetary environment in doing so. It's a faith based upon the Prophets. They are of Bajor but they aren't exclusively Bajoran, it seems."

Delain looked stunned. Those research discoveries had been classified by the Cardassian Information Bureau at the highest levels. Delain's own access to them was limited owing to her being part of the pilot exchange program with the Bajoran Militia. Dalin Zivan Slaine was the first Cardassian Officer to exchange places with Major Jilo Tran. Slaine served aboard DS9 as a Militia Officer while Jilo worked as a Tactical Officer for Legate Malyn Ocett's Cardassian Sector Command. Ocett was charged with defending Cardassia Prime's home sector and system. Both officers' ranks were equitable to a Starfleet Lt. Commander

Commander Lavelle had protested to the highest Militia and Starfleet Command levels over Slaine's assignment to a Cardassian built space station owned by the Militia and administrated by Starfleet. Colonel Cenn Deska served as the Militia liaison officer. He also ran point alongside Commander Vaughn in mitigating Lavelle's ludicrous demands for a homogenous, Starfleet-only, work environment. A position which General Kira had countered with threatening to remove all Starfleet personnel from Deep Space 9 and having it run exclusively by the Militia. Even the overly antagonistic Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy backed down after that.

But Lavelle, goaded by Ross, simply wouldn't end his administrative manipulations to attempt to drive the Bajorans off of their own space station. Despite every change eventually being overruled by Starfleet Command. Lavelle also resented the joint command structure where the Militia and Constabulary officers reported to Cenn rather than himself. Lavelle's admonishments had to be sent through Cenn rather than directly. And the Militia officers' fitness reports were entirely Cenn's purview. So he simply ignored Lavelle accusations and innuendos.

Cenn had been aboard DS9 nearly as long as Vaughn so he understood the politics even better than Lavelle. Simply put, the CO was expending a lot of effort into futile gestures Starfleet Command wouldn't support. His plum assignment would end his career because of his twisted interpretation of reward versus punishment. Even Ross would soon tire of him. Which was why he'd selected Lavelle to lead the illegal raid. It would be a career making or breaking moment. A true watershed moment it would seem to all who observed it.

The Cardassians would undoubtedly rise up in arms against Starfleet afterwards. But the Federation Councilors behind the endeavor promised that the Cardassian Union was still too weak to respond militarily. Lavelle was also in command of DS9 and the Cardassians were gauged to be unwilling to strike back against the Bajorans. Starfleet would therefore hide behind Bajor's metaphorical skirts. Betting everything that the Cardassian Guard would not cross the border. Not only to engage the Federation but Bajor itself.

"Why would Lavelle risk this? And who gave the authorization to a mere Commander, sector commander or not, to undertake this mission?" Rockford's analytic mind was already working the mystery.

"Starfleet is officially touting that Starfleet and Federation prisoners were liberated from a Cardassian black site prison," Delain revealed, "Which begs the question how did he know about the prison to begin with?"

"Secrets are the most fleeting treasures of all," Macen reminded his fellow professional, "The larger question is whether or not Lavelle actually liberated Federation prisoners."

"I cannot confirm or deny matters I have no knowledge of," Delain fell back on the official line.

"In other words, your superiors won't tell you," Macen surmised. Delain's gray cheeks darkened.

"It's all right, Ziva. Obviously Starfleet hasn't told their own Special Investigative Division or Admiral Forger would've warned us beforehand," Rockford hoped.

Fanning returned, "Colonel Ro requests a site to site transport to your office from the Fist of the Prophets."

"Clear it through Security," Macen requested.

Ro beamed in moments later, "Clear your docket. Kira has a job for Outbound Ventures. Specifically your group. The Militia needs to know who ordered the strike and who they're willing to sacrifice in order to achieve whatever it is they're after."

"I offer my services as well," Delain immediately put forth.

"Neela and I won't sit this out either," Anara volunteered.

"Does Kira have the budget to hire a peacekeeping force to augment the System Defense Force?" Macen inquired.

"I'm pretty sure the First Minister would agree to I given the political shitstorm that was just unleashed," Ro snorted.

"Kathy Tyrol was just wondering where to deploy over twenty of our ships. Now we know," Macen grinned.

"I want Captain Wei and the Waylaid in on this. They had my back against the Interfaith Council's fleet," Ro informed him, "Since I'm assuming all the SID cleared ships and crews are already busy and backlogged."

"Right and right," Macen confirmed it, "But I'm certain Kath can clear up Wei and her crew's schedule."

"That'd be appreciated," Ro confessed, "Since my forces will be deployed defending the colonies from unexpected attacks, I want somebody reliable guiding your crews backing Kira. Which also means I'm back on duty and aboard the Fist directing placing Colonial Defense forces."

"Good luck," Macen wished for her, "I'll contact Kira directly and ascertain exactly what she wants from us."

"I think we'll all need the luck," Ro gave Neela a sharp look before departing.

"Well, that was blatant," Rockford observed.

"Colonel Ro doesn't appreciate me being chosen by the Prophets or for the people to refer to me as the Hand of the Prophet," Neela shrugged, "I can't blame her. I don't deserve the title."

They all knew this wasn't false modesty. Neela honestly felt unworthy and perhaps a little imposed upon by the vedeks and prylars that began the custom. The Kai hadn't discouraged it either despite Neela's protests over the developing situation.

"I think I'll sit in for this little conference," Rockford stated.

"I was hoping you would," Macen activated a main viewer in the wall, "Everyone, please take a seat. You're all invited stay for this."

Chairs were turned towards the viewer by Anara and Neela. Delain joined Rockford on the couch. Macen routed the comm request and awaited Kira's response to his query. It only took a few moments given the Barrinor's systems vicinity relative to the Bajor Sector and the Federation comm buoys lacing solar systems in between them. When General Kira appeared on the screen, she looked as unhappy as the rest of the group already felt. And then the bad news was delivered.


Chapter Two

"What in the name of the Prophets were you thinking?" the Bajoran Councilor to the Federation, Beric Aja, demanded to know. Her anger equaled that of the visiting Cardassian ambassador, Elim Garak.

"I only just learned of the raid myself," President Kilbrek informed her.

"Security dictated that the Office of the President be shielded with plausible deniability should our intelligence prove to be wrong," Starfleet Commander Clancy informed the Federation Council, "It wasn't. The Cardassian Guard was holding nearly two hundred Federation citizens in black site prisons."

"Just where did Starfleet obtain this bountiful boon of intelligence, I wonder?" Garak seemed calm but his eyes burned with hatred.

"You know I can't divulge that data," Clancy snorted.

"Could it be that Commodore Oh of Starfleet Security supplied the necessary information rather than Admiral Nechayev of Starfleet Intelligence?" Garak mused.

"You know I can neither confirm nor deny," Clancy grated.

"Thank you Admiral. You already have," Garak informed her, "Just as Commander Samuel Lavelle confirmed that he led the so-called raid that 'liberated' the so-called prisoners."

"So you don't deny there were prisoners," Clancy leapt at that opening.

"Why should I?" Garak smiled all the more "That is the function of a prison, after all. No, my contention is that Starfleet itself consigned those prisoners into our keeping and used them as a pretext for a first strike invasive maneuver."

Clancy's blood ran cold. That was exactly what had occurred. But the Cardassians were sworn to secrecy regarding Starfleet Security's deal for the Cardassian Guard to house illegally held prisoners in exchange for assistance in quelling uprisings on their Subject Worlds. But Starfleet had broken the deal. Why should she expect any less from the Cardassians?

"Ambassador Garak, is that the Cardassian Union's official position?" President Kilbrek inquired.

"Indeed, it is," Garak almost gloated as he depressed a button on his padd, "Uplinked to everyone is the official documentation of the arrangements made between Starfleet Security and my government to intern prisoners provided by Starfleet Security."

"Anyone can alter an isolinear rod," Clancy snorted.

"Not a Cardassian rod," Garak reminded her, "The data is completely reliable and verifiable."

"It's a complete fabrication!" Clancy raged.

"Ambassador Garak," President Kilbrek took control again, "What is your government's response to these events and allegations?"

"The Cardassian Guard is now on a war footing," Garak advised the Federation Council members, "In short, we have detained the Starfleet Security officers and enlisted crewmen sent into Cardassian space to assist us with quelling the disputes on the Cardassian Subject Worlds, Furthermore, we are willing to exchange them all for Commander Lavelle to be released into our custody to stand trial."

"A damn show trial," Clancy was irate.

Lavelle's admission of acknowledgement to the Cardassian prison advising them of Starfleet's impending action and request for them to surrender was played on the central monitor banks, "I think there is little doubt as to Commander Lavelle's culpability in this matter."

Clancy despised Lavelle's arrogant ineptitude and almost agreed to hand him over, "Commander Lavelle followed proper Starfleet protocol."

"Even on in a clandestine and blatantly illegal mission?" Garak tutted her, "I should think that Commander Lavelle is now a blemish to the service. Give him to us and avoid a spiraling skirmish that will end in war."

"You'll lose it," Clancy advised Garak.

"Even so, can you afford the attacks that will follow as the jackals pick at your wounded carcass?" Garak had to wonder.

"And where does Bajor stand with this issue since I have been informed Commander Lavelle is the Commanding Officer of Deep Space 9?" Kilbrek inquired.

"Bajor stands with Cardassia in this issue," Beric warned everyone, "Our Militia stands by to arrest Commander Lavelle on our station and hand over to Cardassian authorities."

Cries of "Treason!" rose from the assorted hawkish ranks throughout the chambers.

"You have no authority to do so," Clancy warned Beric.

"I believe you'll find Deep Space 9 is sovereign Bajoran territory and answerable to Bajoran law," Beric duly reminded her, "As such, the Militia and the Constabulary have every right to apprehend Lavelle and extradite him."

"Starfleet's Judge Advocate General will review that claim. In the interim, Commander Lavelle is not to be apprehended by your forces," Clancy countered.

"Neither is he to leave the station then," Beric counter offered.

"And when JAG rules in Starfleet's favor?" Clancy inquired.

"Then Starfleet will be dismissed from our space station and Bajor will take over administrative duties there," Beric informed her.

"You wouldn't dare," Clancy warned her, "You'd declare war on the Federation?"

"No, we would simply enforce two edicts. The first for Starfleet to surrender control of a Bajoran space station. The second would be the release of Mr. Lavelle to our custody," Beric explained, "We would still remain in the Federation and Starfleet would still have access to the station, the sector, and what you term the Wormhole."

Cries of "Treason!" made a second round.

"We Bajorans are not traitors," Beric silenced her would-be foes, "We believe in justice! The Cardassian people have been wronged by Starfleet. If they're willing to settle for the arrest and detention of a single man, then so be it. But for Starfleet to so egregiously violate sovereign space, batter a prison from orbit, transport down Security officers to fight guards, and then liberate prisoners Starfleet consigned there in the first place is not just. That reeks of entrapment. A tactic once favored by the Cardassian Guard itself until recent internal reforms. Starfleet is supposed to stand for a higher ideal. It once did. Does it continue to do so now?"

"Admiral?" Kilbrek prompted the agog Clancy.

"Starfleet will not hand over Commander Lavelle without an internal investigation regarding his guilt or innocence. We will dispense justice if it proves necessary," Clancy made her final bid.

"My government will not accept those terms," Garak warned.

"Too bad," Clancy sniffed.

"Too bad indeed, Admiral," Beric sadly uplinked a document to the Federation and Starfleet, "Starfleet has fifty-two standard hours to evacuate Deep Space 9. Afterwards, we will eject any remaining Starfleet personnel, Deep Space 9 will be formally re-named and the Militia will assume full control over its operations."

"You can't be serious!" Clancy retorted.

"Very serious, Admiral," Beric advised her, "We expect voluntary compliance or we will force you off the station."

"How?" Clancy scoffed.

"Two-thirds of the Personnel currently aboard the station are Militia or Militia Constabulary thanks to Starfleet's recent drawdown to reassign officers to the Home Sectors," Beric reminded her.

Clancy inwardly cursed. The senior staff was all that remained of the officer corps. The remaining personnel were all enlisted or non-commissioned officers or the officers and crew assigned jointly to the Defiant.

"Of course, Federation private citizens are free to say as they please. Only Starfleet personnel will be deported off of the station. But it will remain open as a port of call," Beric laid out the Bajoran government's terms.

"You've prepared this in advance," Clancy accused.

"We believe in being prepared for any contingency," Beric shrugged.

"I believe she's referring to supposed friends betraying the Bajorans and proving themselves to be foes after all," Garak primly reminded them all of Cardassia's own past with Bajor, "A mistake to be sure."

"This is civil war," Clancy warned.

"This is due process, Admiral. Perhaps you should look the term up before proceeding," Beric offered in reply.

"Your outdated ships don't stand a chance against Starfleet," Clancy growled.

"But we're willing to move the station back to Bajor's orbit to prove a point. Are you?" Beric so warned Clancy.

"This is far from over!" Clancy thrust a finger at Beric.

"Of that, we're both agreed," Beric sadly conceded.

"Ambassador Garak, was that the Cardassian Union's final position?" Kilbrek sounded weary already.

"It is, Mister President," Garak confirmed it.

"Then we'll begin debates on the issue immediately when we reconvene. Until then, we're in recess for the next four hours," the President announced, "Admiral Clancy, I strongly suggest you begin your internal reviews and begin the necessary preparations for a withdrawal should you be unwilling or unable to meet the Bajoran terms and deadlines."

"I hardly think..." Clancy began to sputter.

"That may prove problematic, Admiral," Kilbrek chided her, "These people were willing to go to war with the Romulan Star Empire over weapons emplacements on one of their moons. How far do you believe they will strive to defend their claims to a space station?"

Clancy just stared daggers at Beric and Garak.

"We're dismissed," Kilbrek announced. Everyone broke into their political factions and Federation Security escorted Fleet Admiral Clancy and Ambassador Garak to the entry doors.

"Your people can't really be serious," Clancy was mystified at the Cardassians' ire over the matter.

"No more serious than invading our space, attacking our installation and personnel to laud and liberating prisoners you entered into a secret compact for us to hold indefinitely on your behalf," Garak gave her his most predatory smile and departed. That's when Clancy realized Garan really would blow the rest of the whistle. She needed to speak with her co-conspirator, Commodore Oh. Now!

Clancy stepped through the transporter booth and stormed into Starfleet Headquarters. Her destination was Starfleet Security's offices. There she was stymied. Commodore Oh had taken it upon herself to inspect the Starfleet Neutral Zone watch posts. Many suspected that the watch posts were the only thing holding the Neutral Zone warlords in check from expanding into Federation space.

The Star Empire might have been selling them old Birds of Prey and Birds of Vengeance but they were stripping the cloaking devices out of them first. It seemed the Romulan military didn't want even old cloaking devices to be let loose upon the black market. Unlike the Klingons who would sell off outdated cloaking device technology to the highest bidder. The proliferation of old Klingon cloaking devices was getting out of hand.

But Romulan cloaks were the pinnacle that everyone aspired to capture. In the wake of the Remans developing a perfect cloaking device, the Star Empire had seized upon the designs following Shinzon's abortive coup and subsequent death. So far, no countermeasure had been developed to pierce the cloaking field the Reman designs allowed for.

Commodore Oh's high ranking visit the outposts was a cover for her annual report as General Oh to the Tal Shiar. Starfleet's sensors would be blinded to the covert transmission she'd make to the cloaked Valdore-class Warbird just within the Neutral Zone itself. With the Federation's traffic restricted to official capacities regarding the Artifact, the Romulans carefully cultivated the Warlords that made up the buffer zone between the Federation and the recuperating Star Empire.

Praetor Tal'Aura, Chair of the Tal Shiar Sela, and Proconsul Donatra were all set in this policy of active disengagement with the Federation since the Hobus incident destroyed Romulus and Remus. The resultant shockwave, though blunted by Ambassador Spock's delivery of the Red Matter, still laid waste to over one hundred nearby colonies. Starfleet's promises to assist in the relocation of the colonists rescinded, the Star Empire was back to a cold war footing with the Federation. General Oh being the first Romulan to acquire a key position within the Starfleet Admiralty.

Enabling her to cultivate other assets within Starfleet Command. Assets that created the Synthetic Uprising that currently crippled the Federation Council's mentality. Consequently destroying Starfleet's prized Utopia Planetia Shipyards and had left Mars a burning planet with every colonist lost. A precision strike within Sector 001, the very heart and soul of the Federation. All accomplished right under Starfleet's complacent nose.

Then-Captain Oh had guided Vice Admiral Edward Noyce and Fleet Admiral Clancy's recommendations to the President and the Federation Council of how to set a response and future policies to insure another Mars Massacre couldn't occur. Now Commodore Oh occupied Noyce's position which was one of the most sensitive in Starfleet. Oh had Clancy's complete trust and utter reliance upon her. Granting her unlimited access to Starfleet's most intimate secrets that she zealously "guarded" against all outsiders and foreign agents. All while covertly funneling them all to the Tal Shiar.

Sela's long orchestrated revenge against Starfleet was in the midst of completion. Admiral Picard nicely removed himself from Sela and Oh's way. Captain La Forge still bore unseen mental scars from Sela's psychosurgery upon him. La Forge couldn't ever bring her harm and given the correct trigger would even enable her escape should the need arise. Deanna Troi had done and admirably annoyingly effective deconstruction of Geordi's Romulan programming but the fail safes were irremovable. Thwarting even the vaunted Commander/Counselor Troi's best efforts. Not that she even suspected her failure. Neither did La Forge.

Sela had observed with amusement that Doctor Leah Brahms had moved her Quantum Slipstream Lab to the Enterprise-E to be with La Forge as they settled into a life pairing situation. Now that Brahms had conquered slipstream with the Vesta-class her next test bed had been retrofitting the USS Voyager with a quantum slipstream drive. With Scotty's ever helpful suggestion and recommendations along with pertinent advice from La Forge, Brahms had done it. Her next project was building a drive and retrofitting an active duty starship while it was underway.

La Forge had already been offered a promotion to Captain of Engineering, the same rarified rank Montgomery Scott held and transferred to command of the ASDB's test bed vessel, the USS Challenger. A Galaxy-class starship he and Brahms would oversee together as the Starfleet Corps of Engineers developed the next century's technology and drive systems today. La Forge and Brahms had already agreed to it. Once the Enterprise-E's field refit was accomplished, the change of command would occur.

La Forge had already recommended the long suffering Worf to take command of the Enterprise-E when he departed. But the promotion still had to be approved through the chain of command. Benjamin Sisko's assessment that Worf was unfit for command of a starship or starbase still blackened Worf's record despite the good he'd done as the Big-E's XO. Sisko had felt that Worf was ultimately incapable of making the hard choice to abandon a spouse or honored friend to their deaths in order to accomplish the mission. Sisko was admittedly grateful Worf had managed to save Jadzia Dax's life. But he had, by most estimates, prolonged the war effort against the Cardassians and traded one life for untold thousands. Not actively including the over seven billion dead on Cardassia Prime when the Dominion began reprisals for Damar's rebellion and the Cardassian people endorsing it.

Eventually the Cardassian Guard itself betrayed the Dominion and fought beside the Allies to overcome the Founder and her armies and fleets. No one could ever truly know if Worf could have averted all of those sequential consequences but neither could they discount the fact that possibly it could've all been avoided had Worf's mission succeeded. Picard's recommendation's to overlook Sisko's assessment were now poisoned considering the turmoil he'd caused in resigning in protest over Federation and Starfleet policies after the Mars Massacre. La Forge's own recommendations to the same were deemed to be clouded by decades of friendship and inexperience in the command chain. Sisko had been a seasoned command officer in contrast to La Forge's rather recent assumption of command over a starship. A promotion and assignment that was political in nature.

Clancy had wanted all of Picard's loyalists confined to one ship and sent as far away as possible from Starfleet's dealings. The Challenger assignment had also been customized for La Forge and Brahms. To equally keep La Forge busy and distracted while showcasing his true abilities as an engineer. The Starfleet Commander herself sat in on the board that approved and assigned the Enterprise's next captain. Fate had gotten Riker and Troi out of Clancy's way. Scotty had sidelined himself with Enterprise-M project for Starfleet Academy. That merely left Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway, Worf and Captain Saavik as the next annoyances to be severely dealt with.

Clancy would force Sisko's assessment to the forefront of an argument. Saavik had been ignoring recall orders for nearly a decade now. She and her Ambassador-class USS Endeavor faced advised retirement and decommissioning. Saavik had been the Endeavor's sole commanding office since she launched. It was a good run. But Saavik suffered from the 23rd Century's bravado of independence. Even Oh couldn't simply clap binders as Captain Saavik and drag her back from the Gamma Quadrant. The Vulcan was a national hero. And the first known half-Romulan officer to join Starfleet. She'd served under Admiral James T. Kirk during the Khan incident. She'd been on the infamous Genesis Planet when it immolated itself. She was also the mother of Spock's only child. The woman was literally history itself. Any move Clancy made against her would be a PR disaster.

Having Oh classify her personnel jacket was proving disastrous enough. It hadn't deterred the Internal Affairs officer attached to the Special Investigation Division from pursuing an inquiry into Clancy. Nor was JAG impeding her progress as requested. Oh and Starfleet Security had tried removing Commander Michelle Prentiss' security clearances but the Judge Advocate General herself intervened saying they hadn't provided sufficient evidence of any such actions, or any actions, being warranted or necessary...other than to illegally and directly block IA's probe into Clancy's role into the attacks against Outbound Ventures. A move that would indisputably establish that Clancy was in fact guilty.

Prentiss subpoenaed the very comm taps Clancy had illegally authorized that corroborated Prentiss' evidentiary trail that Clancy had directly provoked the attacks taken by rival security contractors with the promise of securing the SID contract. It also revealed a case for an "Officer Unbecoming" Board of Inquiry into Clancy's decades' long affair with Vice Admiral Kelley Ketrick's husband. A sexual relationship that began mere hours before Ketrick's wedding. A wedding that Clancy stood in as Maid of Honor. And the groom was the founder and majority partner in the primary culprit in the attacks: Solarian Security Solutions.

A separate investigation into influence peddling was now underway. That made for three criminal investigations into the Fleet Admiral of Starfleet. Even one was unprecedented. The JAG agreed to keep the investigations out of the press barring their outcomes and whether or not any progressed into further inquiries being begun or actual court martials being convened. Investigations into Rear Admiral Amanda Forger of the SID and Admiral Alynna Nechayev of Starfleet Intelligence were also underway regarding those same comm taps. Whether authorized or not, they still constituted illegal taps on "presumed innocent" civilians outside of a criminal investigation. Considering that any each authorization had to stem from JAG rather than the Fleet Admiral in accordance with Starfleet regulations and Federation laws.

Clancy occasionally felt like the universe had conspired against her since she'd become Starfleet Commander. Her first act, swapping out the service uniform, had been contentious and every department balked. But private polling indicated that the Class-A uniform worn by frontline officers reminded people of the Dominion War whereas the second contact and support services Class-B uniform heralded back to days before the war and engendered a warmer remembrance of Starfleet and happier times. So the Service Division colors became prominent once again. Just in time for the Synthetic Uprising.

Clancy's hackles had risen when she learned that Outbound Ventures had adapted the Class-B jumpsuits Starfleet had issued from 2368-2373 with different divisional shoulder panel colors and adapted them to a service uniform. Seeing the corporate uniforms with forest green, earthen brown, and sandy beige shoulders made Clancy want to fire a brace of torpedoes at Serenity Station.

The Bajoran Militia adopting new uniforms modeled after Starfleet service colors with Starfleet deltas on the sleeves made her see red but as a planetary defense force associated with Starfleet, they were legally entitled to the uniform style and insignia. Even the Andorian Imperial Guard wore similar uniforms to the Militia's. An obviously coordinated attempt. Clancy hated them all. Colonel Ro Laren and General Kira Nerys the most.

Why couldn't they just accept they were obsolete? And why the hell did Oh choose today to leave Starfleet Headquarters?

Commodore Oh had caught a ride on the Saber-class USS Yukon on her way to relieve the USS T'plana hath on Neutral Zone Border Patrol. With Sela's summons had come difficulties. Clancy needed monitoring while the situation with the Federation Council spun out of control as the Bajorans and Cardassians deviated from the script. The crew of the Steamrunner-class T'plana hath would be happy to ferry Oh back to Spacedock. They'd been on extended patrol for eight months. Reporting on the increasing activities of the Fenris Rangers inside of the Neutral Zone. Additionally reporting that Seven of Nine had been spotted with them.

It seemed that after Seven's brief Starfleet career flamed out she'd joined the Rangers. Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway would be glad of the news. The ex-Borg drone was a personal project of hers. Janeway had inspired and headed up the Full Circle Project that had sent a small squadron of starships to Deep Space 5 and across the Delta Quadrant delineator. Captain Chakotay led the effort from the USS Voyager, herself refitted with a quantum slipstream drive. Chakotay had also left Starfleet service before Janeway personally recruited him for the mission.

The discovery of the Artifact and an emboldened Borg Collective motivated him to return to the Delta Quadrant to reunite with potential allies. But with a slipstream drive, Voyager could return to the Alpha Quadrant within hours or days rather than weeks or months. The small Full Circle Fleet maintained communications with Starfleet via the Pathfinder Array developed by Reg Barclay. Barclay himself signing aboard Voyager's crew. His obsession with the crew and the famed voyage making him feel more home aboard Voyager than he ever had aboard either Enterprise he'd served on.

Chakotay regretted the loss of Tom Paris and B'Ellana Torres but he was more than happy that Harry Kim had stepped up to be First Officer for the return voyage. Voyager sometimes felt like a house with all its children gone but there were new intrepid souls aboard all eager to experience the great unknowns that the starship and her original crew had bypassed on their great journey home. Two surprise returnees had been Chiefs Mariah Henley and Marla Gilmore. Henley had willingly enlisted and volunteered and Gilmore and re-enlisted after losing her commission over the USS Equinox's xenocidal use of alien life forms as a fuel source. Gilmore's honest remorse and volunteering to return to the Delta Quadrant had both Chakotay and Kim approving her transfer request. Henley was a Command chief on the bridge and Gilmore returned to Engineering. Commodore/General Oh took special pains to observe Starfleet's premier officers.

Command Master Chief Miles O'Brien, Commander Julian Bashir, Lt. Commander Sarina Douglas, and Lt. Commander Nog remained aboard DS9 along with Commander Elias Vaughn. Tensions on the station between the Bajorans and the Starfleet crew had risen to the point of the outbreak of occasional violence. Dalin Zivan Slaine, a Cardassian Guard exchange officer with the Militia, had been excluded from the raid and was now confined to quarters by Commander Lavelle's direct orders. Vaughn and Lt. Commander Jefferson Blackmer, Ro's replacement at Security when she ranked up, were both vociferously protesting the raid, the detentions, and Lavelle's cavalier attitude escalating tensions even higher. He'd recalled the Akira-class USS Honshu from nearby exploration and patrol duties as well as the Nebula-class USS Robinson from more of the same.

These vessels were now docked at DS9 along with the station's outrigger, the USS Defiant. Lavelle seemed certain no harm could befall him despite the Bajoran government's demand that he be surrendered to their custody. Lavelle honestly believed the Militia would back down. Proving again just how far he underestimated Kira.

In the Free Haven system, the Militia had built an older styled J-class starbase to service the Colonial Defense Forces out of sight of DS9. Colonel Ro Laren, commanding the Iotian built Constitution-class analogue, Fist of the Prophets, was on approach to the station, Free Haven's Port, where another Militia starship, the Spear of the Prophets, was currently docked and awaiting deployment orders. Free Haven was the furthest Bajoran colony from Bajor in the Alpha Quadrant.

Breen privateers and Tzenkethi raiders frequently probed the outskirts of the system. Before the colonial defenses had been bolstered during the closing days of the war, Free Haven had endured disruptions in shipping interruptions in communications. Now with the starbase completed, Free Haven's port always had one of Bajor's Iotian built starships in the system. Counting the two starships already in Free Haven's solar system, the Colonial Defense Forces had an additional six Constitution-class heavy cruisers, four Asia-class light cruisers, six Kremlin-class scoutships, and six Mercury-class frigates. System Defense around Bajor itself boasted four Constitution-class cruisers, a number of Antares-class variant assault ships, and converted Karemma licensed and duly modified troop transports. The Ark of the Prophets being amongst the earliest constructions of a troop ship built prior to the Dominion War. After the First and Second Battles for Deep Space 9, the Militia had deployed the Ark on a number of covert missions to support the war effort. Then-Major Anara and Citizen Neela officially being branded renegades in support of Ro and Macen's work behind the lines in the Newton-class Asimov and the Blackbird-class Odyssey in a militia and Starfleet supported continuation of their mission as Maquis.

Macen had successfully reassembled nearly everyone from his Maquis and commando days within Outbound Ventures. Ro had doubted her old friend but as Macen and Guinan had taught her oh-so-well, never underestimate a determined El-Aurian. Something that Doctor Tolian Soren should have been a glaring example of. Starfleet had never understood the Militia's interests in starbase designs dating back a century and a half.

The Militia had built a K-class Deep Space station in the Gamma Quadrant. Lavelle was completely unaware of the constructions that had begun under Captain Ro's watch. Now Colonel Ro was reaping the benefits of those building projects. Zivan Slaine wasn't the only Cardassian Guard exchange officer with the Bajoran Militia. Squads of engineers had been recruited to supervise the station building processes.

Fellow Cardassian Tactical Officers also served aboard the stations. Militia officers were equally distributed amongst Cardassian outposts. Including the Cardassian station rebuilt within Valo VI overseeing the rebuilt colonies on Valo II and Valo III. The Valo system ceded to the Cardassian Union as part of dismantling the Demilitarized Zone. Cardassia repatriated the Valo system back to Bajor as a thanks for their spearheading and regulating the Federations reconstruction projects on Cardassia Prime. Valo VI was a joint Militia-Guard command.

Which was another sticking point with the Federation Council in recent days. Ro recognized that Starfleet's raid had been politically motivated. No one benefited from such an egregious act other than hawkish Federation Councilors goading the public and the Cardassians themselves. President Kilbrek was now forced to confront Castellan Rekena Garan on the presence of Federation nationals in Cardassian black site prisons. Prisoners taken after the close of hostilities ten years ago. All Starfleet and private security contractor personnel that Starfleet had "lost" in transit to official detention centers.

The suspected Starfleet Security officers in relation to the disappearances had been given privileged status as guards over their fellow Starfleet officers and Federation citizens. Kira and Ro's contacts within Starfleet and Federation Security indicated those same prisoners had been packed into troop transports at DS9 and ferried away through the Kalendra Sector into neutral space and had "vanished" once again. Even the Ferengi Alliance, whose territories the "wagon train to the stars" would've had to skirt hadn't detected them. The First Federation was understandably subdued in responding to official request for information following the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance led raid on their borders.

Intendants Ro and Kira returned to their native universe after the Alliance crumbled in the face of each partners' own ambitions and resurgent Terran Empire. It seemed Regent Duras and Supreme Legate Dukat had finally had had enough of one another. The surviving remnants of the Terran Empire absorbing and adapting to the actually multicultural Terran Rebellion. Non-Terrans were still second-class citizens but they were no longer slaves. That designation was reserved for Klingons, Cardassians, and their minions. The Terran Starfleet now being the one non-discriminatory service opportunity within the Terran Empire. Cell 51 had aptly studied the resurrection of the Terran Empire with some gleeful interest.

Ro's primary concern now was Starfleet. Kira's forces would still underwhelm the Starfleet augmented Nor-class DS9 and the three starships currently berthed there, at least without Outbound Ventures support. Ro understood from Kathy Tyrol and Lieutenant Christine Pike that the SID had failed to register any pending assignments. Which liberated nearly all of Outbound Ventures starships to respond to Bajor's anticipated plight.

Federation Councilor Beric Aja and Ambassador Garak would strive to ensure that the Federation Council and Starfleet saw reason on this and would lawfully surrender Sam Lavelle. But Beric began reporting on a staff-level up swell of aggressive rhetoric that was guiding shaping their Councilors' policy decisions and proposals. Federation Councilors were the public face of their government but their staffers made the actual policy making decisions and drafts. Following the attack on Mars and its proximity to Earth, and the Federation Council itself, such rhetoric had gained a great deal of traction. The Federation's newest members being the strongest supporters of authoritarian actions. Their voices had caught an undue amount of attention within the Founding Five. As well as other, older members of the United Federation of Planets that seemed less united every day

Bajor's strong links to Cardassia were now seen as a suspicious deficits rather than a strength to promote a peaceful resolution. Ro had met Lavelle and knew his lack of confidence had led him to identify himself to the prison authorities as leading the raid. He sought applause as an affirmation of his earning his post. A nagging doubt that had riddled his career since assuming the Gamma Shift OPS position after Sito Jaxa's disappearance and his presumption she was the chosen candidate for the role. Ro had been part of the prison break that liberated Sito to work with Tom Riker until Macen recruited them both.

In this present, Sito had been saved when the original Ju'day-class Eclipse was destroyed. Only Bruis B'nner had been lost. Since the SID hadn't existed yet, there had been no mission to 492 IV. So Livia hadn't been aboard. But Nick Locarno and Sito stayed with Outbound Ventures and eventually became station personnel aboard Serenity. Sito was a Security Watch Commander and mother to both of Locarno's children. Locarno was the Flight Operations Officer tasked with overseeing the assignments of the station's runabouts and shuttles.

Locarno, who was a near dead-ringer for Tom Paris, had overcome his disgrace at Starfleet Academy and made a life for himself first with the Maquis and later Outbound Ventures. Sito and Locarno's shared history drew them together as they forged a new life united in purpose and had the means to achieve it. Their family was their focus and Outbound Ventures the mechanism to provide their children with a safer tomorrow.

Ro was actually jealous. Her doomed relationship with Quark had naturally ended in disaster. But she'd finally reached out to Alfonso Reyes. Captain Reyes commanded DS3. The great-grandson of Commodore Diego Reyes had requested a transfer to starship duty. Specifically a starship assigned to exploring the Gamma Quadrant. His request had been approved pending an opening aboard a starship and his paramour had come true to her threat to end things if he transferred back to a starship command. She wouldn't become a "Starfleet wife".

Reyes and Ro had been Academy classmates and a semi-formal couple. Reyes was the closest thing Ro had to a "one, true love". Now they would be serving in the same sectors as Starfleet mapped out the space between the Wormhole Gamma Quadrant Terminus and the Alpha Quadrant. An exploration effort currently under Saavik's command. Reyes was intended to replace her. Despite her having seniority in rank. It was rumored the Bureau of Personnel was pushing through Reyes' elevation to Commodore to address that particular thorn.

Ro's Colonial Defense Forces supported Bajoran colonies in the Gamma Quadrant as well as coordinate scouting efforts through the newly completed Prophets' Rest space station. A space station that was becoming a port of call for traders seeing opportunities in the Gamma Quadrant as well as the Starfleet exploration ships.

The Fist of the Prophets docked with Free Haven's Port and the Spear of the Prophets received her orders and deployed. Ro was reinforcing Kira with several Mercury-class and Asia-class starships. Ro herself oversaw the defense of Golana, Free Haven, Dreon VI, and Prophets' Landing. Each defended by one Constitution-class vessel while Ro stood by to assist Kira in her Hand of the Prophets and her small but growing flotilla.

Pike had determined that every Outbound Ventures starship would be under Kira's command. So that negated any single starship commander from attempting to pull seniority. Kira, as the client, determined assignments and command structures. Every Outbound Ventures squadron would be "under" a Bajoran commander. Local sector expertise winning out over broader experience.

Ro advised Macen to follow the latinum. The currency spent to "disappear" the Federation "political" prisoners liberated by Lavelle. Liberated and subsequently vanished people before they could make statements to either Starfleet or Militia investigators. Lt. Commander Blackmer and Colonel Cenn were beside themselves. As Vaughn reported the development to Ro she'd thought she spotted a blood vein in his temple that was ready to burst. Lavelle's attitude clued Vaughn into his CO's prior knowledge that this would occur and he was completely sanguine regarding how it foiled any exhaustive determination of how the prisoners had become prisoners and why and for how long.

The Federation Council was drafting a response to Cardassia based upon fanciful speculation. Fantasies that Ross and Lavelle seemed determined to promote as fact. Both sought vindication. But were they willing to ignite a fresh conflict with Cardassia to receive it?


Chapter Three

The Outbound Ventures fleet arrived within hours of Ro's arrival at Free Haven Port. Kira's plan was to place them as a strategic reserve under Ro's command. Kira essentially assigning Ro as commander over the fleet. Rather than reassign starships to join the assembled starships, all more advanced than her own, Ro placed experienced senior officers aboard those starships and crews she intended to use as squadron commanders. Then she assigned them into wings.

The Fist of the Prophets would be the oldest design yet the flagship of the would-be fleet. Ro would be the fleet general, or admiral, depending on your military tradition. Ro was firmly planted in both as a Militia Colonel and a former Starfleet Captain. The rank didn't matter. Getting the job done right was the only measure of success.

Within DS9 itself, a clandestine meeting was taking place in the fusion cores' control hub within the station. Commander Vaughn had invited fellow officers with extreme concerns over the brewing confrontation between the Federation and one if its own members. They included Doctor Bashir, Lt. Commander Douglas, Command Master Chief O'Brien, Lt. Commander Nog, and Colonel Cenn. Equally concerned but posted as a sentry was Lt. Commander Prynn Tenmei. She was tied in through a discreet manipulation of the comm badge routing by Nog. He'd evaded Station Security under Odo. Blackmer wasn't up the challenge.

Starfleet's Operations enlisted personnel quietly exited while the Bajoran engineers stood aside knowing O'Brien and Nog had the core firmly under control in their absence. O'Brien had returned with his children nearly fully grown and Keiko taking up a post overseeing the botanical efforts on the Gamma Quadrant colonies as well as ongoing restoration efforts on Cardassia Prime. Molly and Kirayoshi both wanted to reconnect with the Bajorans given their histories with the people and the planet. Both had undertaken internships to enhance their applications to further schooling. Molly wanted to be civil engineer and Yoshi a Starfleet one. He was the first O'Brien to apply to Starfleet Academy. He wanted to be an engineering officer.

"Why does this smell like a potential mutiny?" Bashir wondered.

"Is it though?" Douglas had to wonder as well.

In addition to being the station's Intelligence Officer, Douglas also served as a Starfleet Intelligence Single 0 Agent, code-named 0212. Double 00 agent James Smart had already been in contact with both Douglas and Nechayev should 0086's services be required. Starfleet had maintained the Single and Double 0 Sections after inheriting them from the United Earth Starfleet. Nechayev herself ran the Section Chief, who operated under the code-name M, whose purview included both Sections and oversaw Single 0 Agents 02-0215

Double 0 Agents ran the numbers 002-0099. Single 0 agents operated under their own identities for the most part whereas there had been a James Smart legend handed down since the days of MI6. There were ninety-eight Double 0 legends that passed down through the agency's registry making it seem single agents were both immortal and invulnerable. Under the United Earth Starfleet Intelligence, the ranks had swelled from legends 002-009 to the fifties. Starfleet had doubled the ranks following the Klingon War and the Battle of Axanar. Earth Starfleet had twenty-five Single 0 agents and Starfleet had swelled the ranks after the Earth-Romulan War.

Douglas, striving for a steadily intimate life with Bashir, had permanently blocked her own ascension to Double 0 status. Unlike Section 31, Starfleet Intelligence wouldn't eliminate Bashir to convince an agent to accept promotion. Despite any informal musings Nechayev might have in those regards. Douglas' wishes would be respected.

"This a bit overt, though," Douglas opined.

"My people can be trusted," O'Brien vouched for them.

"As can mine," Cenn unnecessarily added.

"Blackmer still hasn't found the lockouts Odo and then Ro put into the computers," Nog gave a toothy grin.

"You wondered if this was a mutiny, Commander," Vaughn refocused everyone, "I'm hoping it won't be."

"Which is why I'm here," Bashir acknowledged.

"My Constabulary says Blackmer is prepared to move against every Bajoran on the station despite our superior numbers," Cenn informed them.

"Lavelle is crazy!" Nog blurted

"I don't know if he's qualified for a technical diagnosis of insanity," Bashir qualified, "But he has been displaying paranoid tendencies since his arrival. But I don't know if that makes him unfit for command."

"The brakes are off, Doctor," Vaughn scowled at him.

"Julian's point is that Starfleet continues to back Lavelle's decisions. So he's following orders, however unjust they seem," Douglas translated.

"But are they legal orders?" Vaughn sought a consensus.

"Of course not," Cenn snorted.

"It depends on Federation policy. After that, it's arguing legal semantics," Bashir scowled.

"But this isn't right!" Nog protested.

"No, it isn't," Douglas agreed, "But Starfleet seems to be approving of the raid after the results it yielded."

"Which the whole thing is pretty damn irregular," O'Brien commented, "How did Starfleet even know about those prisoners? And where the hell did they go?"

"It still begs the question of why were the Cardassians holding them?" Bashir added.

"Something classified above the Militia's access," Cenn heaved a heavy sigh, "But our contacts through the Cardassian Information Bureau indicate that the Starfleet Command themselves inquired if Castellan Garan could quietly house Starfleet Security prisoners in exchange for a joint program to suppress insurrections on the Cardassian Subject Worlds."

"Do you believe that?" Bashir was astonished.

"Julian, it ties in with what Admiral Nechayev has had Agent 0086 look into within Starfleet Command," Douglas quietly revealed.

Everyone knew Agents 0212 and 0086 had recently worked together on a mission to Sigma Iotia II where they had saved each other's lives on multiple occasions. James Smart even sacrificed himself for the mission to insure Douglas was extracted to make their report on the Intendants and the Alliance's deal with the Iotian Federation. Smart now had biosynthetic genitalia thanks to Intendant Kira's "personal touches" during her interrogation of him.

"Heads up, I think we have a visitor," Tenmei warned everyone.

"I wonder who would be down here at this time of night?" Vaughn had to wonder.

"Don't worry, Elias. My visit will be extremely short and to the point," Kira announced as she entered the reactor control hub.

"Nerys!" Bashir gave her a warm greeting.

"General," O'Brien was pleased as well.

"How...?" Nog had to wonder.

"Nog, I've infiltrated and exfiltrated from this station for longer than you've been alive," Kira gave him a warm smile.

"It's good to see you, General. Despite the circumstances," Vaughn confessed. Cenn concurred.

"Poor Prynn thought she'd seen a ghost," Kira smirked.

"Not true," Tenmei defended herself over the comm link, "I was just...surprised."

"That's the point of the exercise," Kira couldn't help but laugh.

"Can we help you with something specific?" Douglas inquired.

"I need Zivan Slaine released," Kira told them, "I need to put a face on this for the First Minister so she can harden her position."

"Blackmer has Starfleet exclusively guarding her under house arrest," Cenn told her.

"I know," Kira's tone reminded him that she read his reports, "Someone needs to get her released and I can get her off of the station unnoticed."

"How did you manage to get here at all?" Vaughn had to wonder where the security shortfall was.

"I used a sub-impulse raider to approach and attach to a maintenance airlock," Kira explained, "Local traffic will spot me soon enough. It doesn't use impulse engines or a fusion battery to power itself and it definitely isn't warp capable. We used coanda-cycle chemical engines. It's how we used them to evade detection during the Occupation."

"I recall Jadzia's flight with you in one gave her nightmares for a few weeks after the Circle threat emerged," Bashir warmly chuckled.

"I doubt you'd have enough fuel to exit Bajor's gravity and return safely," O'Brien commented.

"Which is why I parked the Hand of the Prophets halfway between here and Bajor and launched from her shuttlebay," Kira smiled, "But thanks for the concern, Chief."

"Are you ever disappointed you left and accepted promotion?" Vaughn had to ask.

"There are days and weeks like these that make me doubt leaving the station. But Starfleet forced the issue three years ago and Astris Beru caved. So now I run an interplanetary defense force rather than just Deep Space 9," Kira admitted, "Makes running the station look easy now. I was happy to hear they promoted Ro into the role and infuriated that they rammed her forced resignation down her throat. I was even more infuriated she wouldn't just give Quark up to Starfleet Security."

"They would've imprisoned Uncle Quark this time," Nog worried.

"Good," Kira still found Quark one-part repellent and the rest annoying at the best of times. When Odo first departed, Quark did his best to behave, at least by his standards. But Ro was assigned by the Militia as Chief of Security and that all changed. Even when she was eventually promoted station CO, he jeopardized her position through his intimate contact with her. Which cost Ro her command and her third Starfleet commission.

Kira, like General Krim before her, wasn't about to let that much talent go to waste. Kira would've preferred promoting Ro to General of the Colonial Defense Forces but the Colonel slot was all she had available. And it had just opened due to the previous holder retiring rather than face another day dealing with the actual general. Kira found it hard to believe the elderly general hadn't been a collaborator given his penchant for tearing down the Militia but Colonial Defense had been a laughing matter amongst the Joint Chiefs when the Provisional Government first formed up and the Militia was brought back into being. Her foe had been a purely political appointee.

But following the Occupation, Bajor reconnected with her various colonies. And as colonial expansion began anew in the Gamma Quadrant following the armistice between the Allies and the Dominion, the Colonial Defense Forces found new prominence. So much so, the old windbag in command of them refused to retire when he reached the newly established mandatory age to do so. First Minister Astris grandfathered him out of the rule.

As Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Kira had quickly modified the few decisions requiring unanimous support to being a three-quarters plurality since he'd stand opposed to every resolution. Simply put, the man envied her. His jealousy over not receiving the Chairmanship tainted his every decision and utterance. He'd been censured by his fellow Joint Chiefs more than any officer in the known history of the Militia, just since Kira had assumed the Chair. It truly did make her miss DS9. But Bajor had called for her services and she couldn't refuse the call of duty to her people.

"I just need Slaine out of her room, I can get her the rest of the way," Kira promised, "But someone needs to fall on their sword. Because Lavelle will prosecute whoever gets Slaine out."

"I'd gladly do it but Starfleet Security refuses to acknowledge my authority under the edicts of Joint Command or the Unified Code of Justice," Cenn complained.

"I also need you here organizing in case this does get uglier," Kira consoled him.

"It has to be me," Vaughn sated blandly.

"It should be me," Douglas protested, "Lavelle needs his XO."

"Whom he refuses to listen to," Vaughn said simply, "He's already threatened to relieve me of duty over our disagreement regarding this buildup."

"Commander..." Tenmei feebly protested her father's decision.

"The rest of you are vital to station operations. And Security will think twice about obeying my orders but only after the fact," Vaughn said sternly.

"They could retire you," Kira warned.

"We'll see. I still have a lot of debts owed to me by Starfleet Command," Vaughn said with gallows humor, "Besides, it's the right thing to do."

"Chief, I need you and Nog to clear the access tunnels between the Promenade and one deck up," Kira requested, "Otherwise I might have to knock someone out. Without a phaser."

"Ah...Chief, I think it's very good idea to assist Kira in this," Bashir winced at the thought of the poor pummeled crewman, or crewmen.

"I'll spare my Operations crew the beatings," O'Brien chuckled, "Nog will secure your destination airlock."

"Uncle Quark used the same one for smuggling," Nog nodded.

"He got the idea from us," Kira glared at him.

"I suppose," Nog looked away, embarrassed by his relative once again.

"We need to move," Vaughn decided, "I'll meet you at the juncture with Slaine in twenty minutes."

The officers slowly exited to spread out across the station in a nonchalant fashion. The Bajoran constable on duty at the Security Office cleared the alarm warning that Kira's access had set off. Blackmer had discovered Quark's remaining smuggling route and alarmed the airlock hatch. He couldn't permanently delete it from the station's logs, but he could bury it.

"Evening, Deputy," Blackmer checked in for the Beta and Gamma Watches and random intervals. He took his place behind the Security Desk and began reviewing the logs up until that point. The constable went on patrol to quietly locate Cenn and pray to the Prophets the breach wouldn't be detected too quickly.

"I'm escorting Dalin Slaine to the Security Office. I have a scheduled interrogation with her," Vaughn told the two Security enlisted guarding Slaine's door.

"We can escort you, sir," one helpfully volunteered.

"The day I can't handle a single Cardassian is the day I put my retirement papers," Vaughn chuckled. They went on their way and Vaughn used his command access code to open the sealed door, "Slaine! We're leaving."

Fortunately, as a career soldier, Slaine was in full duty uniform ready to be called back into service at a moment's notice.

"Where are we going, Commander?" she asked as he whisked out or her quarters.

"You're getting off the station to advise General Kira. I'm likely headed to a detention cell," Vaughn explained.

"I see," Slaine scowled, "So the hostilities...?"

"Are still rampant and escalating out of control," Vaughn explained, "Which is why you're needed elsewhere."

"Thank you, Commander. In advance," Slaine said solemnly.

"It's not like being detained by your people," Vaughn let her know, "I've had that privilege."

"My people see their duty to the state as a sacred trust. So we get enthusiastic in pursuing its enemies," Slaine said feebly, "That isn't likely to change any time soon."

"So I'll stick with Federation jails," Vaughn chuckled.

"I'm sorry it's come to this," Slaine confessed.

"So am I. But I know from experience the Security Office can't hold me if I don't want to held any longer. But it's my duty, like yours, to put a face on this idiocy," Vaughn explained his motive, "Starfleet Command will listen to me if I can get a broader audience then just Admiral Ross and Starfleet Commander Clancy."

"Which a court martial offense will garner you," Slaine understood now, "I can only hope this works for you, Commander. You've been an excellent commanding officer."

"And you're one of the best I've known. Funny isn't it that we were on opposing sides of a war ten years ago?" Vaughn wondered.

"It's rumored Gul Dukat once expressed regret that our people had grown to hate the Federation and that future generations would be locked in that cycle as well," Slaine told him, "But it is hearsay."

"I seem to recall Captain Sisko reminiscing about that day when Dukat was in Starfleet custody," Vaughn had taken part in interrogating Dukat, or attempting to, before they transferred him off of the station. Dukat escaped during transit thanks to ill timed Jem'Hadar attack and Vaughn returned to training and leading insurgent forces on occupied Federation worlds. He particularly recalled the challenges he faced on Betazed.

They arrived largely unnoticed on the Promenade. Vaughn got her to the access hatch and released his loose for-show grip on her arm, "This is as far as I go. Head down and Kira will intercept you."

"The General herself?" Slaine was impressed.

"Like I said, this is important for all our peoples," Vaughn keyed the hatch to shut, "Good luck."

Slaine found Kira waiting one deck below, "General Kira, I'm honored."

"We have a lot decks to climb down so I hope you're fit," Kira warned her, "And it's only a matter of time before Starfleet realizes I'm here and you're gone."

"The maintenance airlock hatch near reactor control, yes?" Slaine asked, "That's always been a key vulnerability your people showed us the error of designing into this model of station."

"I didn't tell the others but there was a new alarm on the hatch. I was able to connect with a constable on duty at the Security Office to hide the fact I came through but Commander Blackmer is good enough at his job he'll figure it out eventually. But later is better than sooner," Kira informed her.

"Then we'd best hurry," Slaine understood. Luckily, the delay seemed long enough for them to reach the hatch zealously guarded by Nog.

"Dalin," Nog nodded professionally to Slaine.

"Commander," she offered him the slightest smile.

"Squeeze in as best you can," Kira told Slaine.

She looked dismally at the cockpit, "Obviously this wasn't designed for armor."

"Do the best you can in a hurry," Kira climbed in and took the controls.

"How is this even space worthy?" Slaine had to wonder as she managed to squeeze in behind Kira.

"Sometimes the old ways outlast new innovations," Kira smiled.

"If you say so," Kira smiled even broader at Slaine's retort remembering Dax's own hesitation. All the hatches sealed and Nog withdrew the umbilical. Then he found someplace else to be.

Thirty minutes later...

"What the hell?" Blackmer roared. He'd found the buried alarm signature. Then his two crewmen assigned to Slaine's quarters arrived after an extended stop at the Replimat. He sent a Starfleet team to the airlock and another team to assist him in picking up Vaughn. He found the XO calmly having a drink with Tenmei in Quark's.

"Commander Vaughn," he said as Blackmer approached. "You're under arrest. I have every exit covered. Including the ones Quark thinks Odo never found and Ro left in the logs."

"What exits?" Quark played dumb. Inside he knew Blackmer had been observing his activities to build up a larger case against him. So he'd simply cool operations down until Blackmer got bored.

"Why did you release Dalin Slaine and into whose custody?" Blackmer inquired sharply.

"To the people she needed to see," Vaughn was still indifferent, "Because it was the right thing to do."

"Some people might construe this as treasonous," Blackmer warned.

"Those are the very people I want to have a conversation with," Vaughn smiled.

"You will, Commander. I promise you that," Blackmer applied the binders and led the complacent Vaughn off. Vaughn had had time to warn Tenmei they'd be observing her comm logs now as well simply because she was his daughter. She hoped they got an earful as she contacted JAG on Earth.

"He did what?" Lavelle roared at Blackmer.

"He's in a holding cell that he could easily escape from. I think he wanted to be arrested," Blackmer stated.

"He damn well got his wish," Lavelle raged.

"Sir, he sees this as opportunity to make a statement to Starfleet Command through his counsel and his official statement," Blackmer had deduced.

"No, belay all of that. He doesn't speak to anyone," Lavelle decided.

"Sir, he's legally entitled to a defense and to answer our questions after he's charged," Blackmer was getting uncomfortable.

"That's what he wants! To undermine everything we've done here! It isn't going to happen. Even if he rots in that cell after dying of old age," Lavelle decided, "We'll deny him being officially charged and then an official burial."

Blackmer was beginning to get extremely uncomfortable with this conversation. He could intellectually understand detaining Slaine after the Cardassians had been caught red handed illegally detaining Starfleet personnel and civilians. But as Vaughn had observed with Blackmer, all of those same former prisoners had been transferred from the station to destinations unknown before anyone could be debriefed.

Now rumors were circulating that motions were being filed to kick Bajor out of the Federation? No Federation member had ever been cast out before. Diplomatic censures and trade sanctions had been applied but military force and blatantly exiling a member world? Relations with Bajor had soured to the point they'd formally demanded Starfleet abdicate administrative jurisdiction of Deep Space 9 in lieu of local forces assuming that role. They'd even extended their original deadline to accommodate Starfleet's internal investigation into Lavelle's actions.

Colonel Cenn had already been announced to be the transition CO as a newly promoted General would be arriving within the week. Lavelle had been issued the withdrawal order five days hours ago. That left thirteen hours until the re-announced deadline. Lavelle had purposefully held the fort and called upon every Starfleet crewman to maintain their posts until further notice.

He'd even recalled the Honshu and the Robinson from exploring near the Cardassian Farside border between Breen and Cardassian space. Colonel Ro had obviously recalled some of her fleet to augment Kira's small force. Lavelle found the thought of facing an over a century old starship designs laughable. Blackmer knew a starship was only good as its commander. Both the starship COs had assumed command within the last five years. But one was a veteran commander of a previous ship. One that would even possess the necessary knowledge of his opponets' design weaknesses.

Vaughn was the Defiant's commanding officer so Lavelle would have to choose between defending his command post or hopping out in the station's outrigger. Lavelle had seen action, like most senior officers, in the Dominion War. But Lt. Commander Lavelle's wartime record had portions that were redacted and sealed above Blackmer's grade and clearance.

"Sir, should we begin a transfer process in case the Bajorans don't back down?" Blackmer asked again.

"No! They won't dare try and take this station from us," Lavelle boasted.

"Sir, it's their station and they outnumber us three-to-one aboard her," Blackmer hadn't approved of Starfleet's draw down but the Militia's swelling ranks had easily filled the voids. Another sign that this friction couldn't continue.

"Ready your men," Lavelle ordered, "I want every Bajoran officer and enlisted detained in thirteen hours' time when the deadline passes. Cenn will never sit in this office."

"Sir?" Blackmer refused to understand.

"Do you need to get your hearing checked?" Lavelle sniped, "You understood my order, Commander. If you won't comply, I'll promote one of your chiefs and they will."

"Understood, sir," Blackmer said crisply, "Permission to exit?"

"You're dismissed already," Lavelle returned to staring out of his office window and pacing.

Blackmer sought out Doctor Bashir and Lt. Commander Douglas. Neither were Command staff but both were enhanced human beings. Surely they'd noticed Lavelle's increasingly erratic behavior? Bashir was the one man aboard that could relieve Lavelle from command.

His comm badge chirped, "Blackmer here."

"Arrest Bashir and Douglas as accessories," Lavelle ordered.

"We have no evidence," Blackmer protested.

"I don't need evidence. I know beyond a doubt that they assisted Vaughn. Carry your orders, Lt. Commander Blackmer. Out," Lavelle signed off. Blackmer decided to have an in-depth conversation with couple once they were in holding cells. Only, he couldn't find them.

The various Cell 51 conspirators had potential allies meeting with their Councilors. Karimi, Donner, Brock, Lopez, Dobek, Sauciuc, Grant, Holz, Gabbint, Sssrrrez, Carmelike, Ogilvaria, Sarafina, Lyrics, Odhianbo, Dehtmer, Strucker, Ty'bo, Zorjo, Dinij, Sindic, Xerxes, Patmoss, Jaequ, Galjik, and Jareel had managed their Councilors while Aafaaq, Chol, and Dajen all vied to make their officials Presidential caliber candidates.

Nhlakanipho Cindi, Chavy Sok, and Juliette Perez said little in regards to differing policies but each held fast to a mastery of nuances. They needed six more members to block a procedural delay in bringing their motion to eject Bajor to the floor. They also needed all six Councilors aboard with sponsoring the bill or it would go to committee and never see the light day. Bringing it to the floor opened it up to debate. And once it was in contention, Cindi, Sok, and Perez could begin their unofficial campaigns to replace President Kilbrek. But it would a hard sell.

In order to seem less extremist, they were pitching the motion to expel Bajor from the Federation with six moderate conservatives.

"I believe we all know why we're here," Lopez brought the pertinent legal motion to everyone's padds.

"We also all recognize the necessity of our proposed action," Dinij stated, "Or at least open the door to honest debate over the issue." {Dinij.jpg]

"A debate we need to have and not ignore," Jareel added.

"Can we actually hear from an elected official here?" Councilor Frex asked. Frex was from a canine species and a very small example at that. It made him more aggressive and tenacious than the most argumentative Tellarite.

"Don't be so mouthy," Councilor Carrotmonger name translated poorly into Federation Standard. Especially since he appeared to most to be an oversized talking rabbit, "I think caution should be our byword here."

"That's because you're an oversized rodent," Councilor Mrrez was the most diminutive of the six moderates but she came from a feline species. She was also currently enjoying a saucer of milk.


Sitting beside her was Councilor Verbrog. Verbrog was a methane breather that had to wear an environmental helmet when outside of his native atmosphere's presence. His synthesized voice had a chilling effect for most races. It seemed too similar to the Breen's own vocoders for most people's comfort, "Must we argue a point before we even read the motion as allowed to determine if we want carry it to debate?"

Verbrog's race had been extremely violent in their past, having incinerated the atmosphere of their native planet. The surviving colonists elsewhere had learned from their cousins' mistakes and moderated their political differences through lively debate rather than resort to physical harm. Verbrog's vote was an essential grab.

Sssrrrez and his Councilor were pleased to have invited Councilor Therin to the discussion. A fellow reptilian race, Therin's people were considered cold blooded, literally and metaphorically. But while Therin was implacable once his mind had made up, he was a fair judge of most issues beforehand. Getting Therin's vote meant gaining an ally that would arduously belabor the back channel connections until he felt he could gain a majority share in the vote.

The last moderate was the only humanoid guest but the least human. Councilor Yia was rarely seen occupying the same rooms as Iridian representatives but Sindic had finally persuaded Yia's Chief of Staff to sway her Councilor to attend. The sheer animosity between Yia's people and the Iridians, free or not, was legendary. Yia's vote was a sign of consensus to a degree the others couldn't offer a display of.

"Councilor Carrotmonger, you're call for caution is warranted. We're in uncharted space regarding this motion. No Federation member planet has ever been accepted into and later ejected from the Federation," Yia clarified the point everyone seemed to be dodging.

"Rightly said," Therin agreed. Sok, Cindi, and Perez were the appointed spokeswomen for the motion's presenting sponsors.

"We know this is a grave concern for everyone. But word has reached us from Starfleet Command that a Cardassian officer detained on Deep Space 9 in connection to the crimes listed has been released and offered sanctuary by Bajoran agents," Sok presented the recent events, "While we as a Council seek to address the Cardassians' unlawful detention of our citizens, the Bajorans are actively working in defiance of our goals."

"So we drop them like an unwanted anchor?" Frex wondered.

"Their actions are ill advised at best and treasonous at worst," Perez stated, "Before we could simply assign blame to individuals or specific movements. This time it's the Bajoran government itself that conspires against us."

Cindi wasn't to be outdone, "This emergency measure will cut the rot out of Bajor and force them to comply with Federation policy or simply be ejected from this august body."

"But they're ready to go to war over this," Carrotmonger brought up the obvious impediment

"A war they can't win," Sok reminded them, "Even their most advanced indigenous warships aren't even warp capable. They're going to wage war against our advanced technologies with antiquated ships and weapons."

"In other words, it's a bluff because they know they can't win," Perez gloated.

"We've never addressed the growing threat the Cardassian Union poses until now," Cindi advanced the ulterior motive.

"Once the Cardassians lose Bajor as an ally, they can be swiftly and peacefully be dealt with. But Bajor is the root of their belligerence. Simply put, they think it's their right as long as they have a single Federation planet backing them in all things," Sok finished off the thought.

"So we take Bajor out of that equation," Perez reaffirmed.

"But we give them all due opportunity to recant their position and rejoin our majority. Or at least willingly comply with it," Verbrog insisted.

"We'll give them every legal means to stand down and submit to the majority's decision. Whatever outcome this motion carries, the Bajorans will freely choose their own fate," Sok promised.

"Good enough for me," Mrrez decided.

"It's equitable," Verbrog consented.

"I'm in," Frex happily announced.

"As a measure of last resort," Yia warned, "This sets a dangerous precedent that could be employed against any member world."

"But no member world as ever pushed the Council and the Federation as a whole so far," Therin conceded.

All eyes were on the nervously twitching Carrotmonger.

"Let's redraft the motion with the legal caveats to inspire Bajor to reverse their position and endorse the Federation's overreaching policy decision regarding this crisis," Carrotmonger suddenly proved why he was a statesman.

Thirteen hours later...

The motion passed by a 51% majority. It was then presented to Councilor Beric of Bajor along with the Federation's official response to Ambassador Garak.

"Councilor Beric, the Federation Council has approved by the barest majority the motion to exclude Bajor from membership within the United Federation of Planets if you do not withdraw your demands and comply with the Federation's nearly unanimous rejection of Cardassia's demands to extradite Commander Lavelle. No extradition treaty exists and we will not surrender another citizen to Cardassia on a threat of force," President Kilbrek announced.

"Then we have a problem, Mister President," Garak said sanguinely.

"Furthermore you will withdraw your mounting assets from the border or be met with overwhelming force should you cross it," the President issued the dire warning he'd been forced into giving, "In accordance to the Federation's denial of the Cardassian position, Bajor will stand down its forces in compliance with Federation policy or face expulsion."

"I believe our deadline to you is up," Beric announced, "Yet Starfleet is still occupying our territory. Surrender Deep Space 9 or we will eject Starfleet personnel from it. If Commander Lavelle defies this order, then he will be detained and private negotiations for his extradition will be undertaken by the Bajoran government with representatives of the Cardassian Union. Am I understood?"

"Admiral Clancy?" the President turned to her, "Is Starfleet prepared to relinquish control of Deep Space 9?"

"Hell, no;" Clancy grated, "We will never be ejected from our own starbase."

"Precedent has been set by Starfleet withdrawing from other contested starbases in the past," Kilbrek reminded her.

"None of those were as vital to Federation security as Deep Space 9. In the interests of interstellar peace, we cannot abandon our posts," Clancy stated for the record.

"You have a strange definition of peace, Admiral," Beric snorted, "You just declared war on Bajor."

"Not officially. That's a function of this Council," Clancy tread lightly for the recording devices and posterity.

"Yet your defiance in the face of my government's request is aggressive enough. To further embolden your position in this way is a de facto declaration of hostilities," Beric clarified.

"Ambassador Beric," Kilbrek changed his manner of addressing her, "Will Bajor comply with the wishes of this Council?"

"As the Admiral so colorfully stated, 'hell, no'." Beric replied.

"The Bajor is now officially ejected from the Federation," Kilbrek sadly announced, "And the Cardassian Union's demand for Commander Lavelle's surrender is unanimously rejected."

"So be it, Mister President," Garak ushered himself out.

Beric followed him, "You asked for this. Just remember that, Admiral."

"It's already forgotten," Clancy sneered.

"I'm afraid the worst has come to pass, General Kira. Bajor stands behind its decisions to continue embrace the Cardassians as friends and allies. Our non-aggression pact predating the Dominion's conflict is still binding. The Federation is pledging act militarily against Cardassia within its own borders...and potentially Cardassia's own borders. We cannot support those actions. Should the Federation enter into a state of war with the Cardassian Union, Bajor must not stand aside. Furthermore, we cannot allow Starfleet the use of our sector to gain access to Cardassian territories if they wish to engage in hostilities," First Minister Astris Beru informed Kira. Astris herself was a former Starfleet officer who'd returned to Bajor to serve her own people after the liberation from Cardassian tyranny. Despite the wishes of agitators desiring to retake Bajor for the Cardassian Union, the majority of Cardassians viewed Bajor as an invaluable ally and a trusted interstellar partner. Bajor could have inflicted harsh penalties upon the Cardassian people following the war but they chose to assist their former oppressors. It was a magnanimous act the Cardassians wouldn't soon forget. Which had forced Bajor's hand in recent developments.

Kira had personally reviewed the documents exchanged between Castellan Garan and Fleet Admiral Clancy granting Starfleet Security the right to house prisoners in Cardassian space and the deployment of elite Starfleet Security units to put down resistance movements on Cardassian Subject Worlds. The treatment of which was still a thorny issue between Cardassia Prime and Bajor. But the Federation had chosen the unprecedented move of ejecting Bajor from its ranks in order to contest the Bajorans' assertions. Now the die was cast and the third Battle for Deep Space 9 was about to begin.

"Understood, First Minister. May the Prophets be with us all," Kira said gravelly.

"Prayerfully they will be," Astris agreed and signed off.

Kira wished she'd had time to discuss the matters with the Emissary. Ben Sisko still dwelt on Bajor with Kassidy Yates raising their child together after his return from the Prophets. He'd spoken and toured Bajor with the Word of the Prophets as they'd given understanding to him. Now it seemed he'd known this day was coming judging by his warnings which weren't taken to heart. It had seemed implausible that Bajor's staunchest ally would become a foe and their worst enemy their staunchest ally.

Yet the Prophets had revealed as much to Sisko. The First Minister and her Cabinet had been deeply affected by his warnings and they'd shaped Bajor's interstellar and domestic policies around them. Kira had slim hopes that conflict could be avoided at this point. But she still had assets in play that hadn't reported in yet. And whose final report could alter everything.


Chapter Four

It seemed inevitable that the Obsidian would return to Argelius II. Anything and everything could be had in its markets. It was here that Harri Mudd and Shade had brought Lee Kang and Tony Burrows back to for a well earned vacation following several tough assignments, including one that had partially taken place on Argelius. That particular case had permanently altered Burrows and Mudd's relationship. It was something far more personal than professional now. Something completely out of the picture until that assignment had paired them together on Argelius seeking vital information.

Argelius itself was now a member of the Iotian Federation. But Starfleet and citizens of the United Federation of Planets were still openly welcomed. Argelius had become the semi-neutral ground where the Federations could meet and hash out differences. The Iotians' recent saber rattling achingly familiar to those keeping abreast of the Federation's own handling of the Cardassian affair. Kira had alerted Macen to the departure of the liberated "prisoners" as soon as they began boarding transports. Lavelle had blatantly ignored the fact that the Vladivostok-class transports, though an older Starfleet model vessel, hadn't been Starfleet registered haulers. At least not the UFP Starfleet.

The Iotians had proper documentation for the transfers but they lacked a Federation destination. Or at least they had intended destinations in a separate mockery Federation. The Iotians had blended the gangster era of Earth's 1920s and 30s as found in the "Book" with the Federation and Starfleet. Their Federation was an ever expanding protection racket. They shook down planets for resources and conscripts in exchange for patrols to ward off other threats to them other than the Iotians themselves.

With the Alliance's knowledge of more advanced warp technologies the Iotians had advanced from their mid- to late-23rd Century copied stolen Starfleet designs and weaponry to mid-24th Century levels. But they still produced mid-22nd Century Earth Starfleet designs all the way to mid-23rd Century starships for retail purposes. The Iotians had frequently contacted pre-warp cultures and offered them the stars. So now anyone with the economic or population resources could acquire pre-built starships far in advance of what the natives could build themselves. Unleashing a wave of piracy and interstellar aggression that the Iotians were happy to point at the Federation.

The Iotian Federation itself stretched as far as it could within the Beta Quadrant and was now seeking in-roads with Alpha Quadrant systems. The Iotians still used a currency system. So the monetary transactions regarding the prisoner transfer left a trail. Macen wasn't concerned about where they'd ultimately been sent. He wanted to know who'd paid for their trip.

As expected it hadn't taken Mudd long to pay off an informer and the Obsidian set course for Sigma Iotia II itself. There, Rockford and a select band of team members spread out while Macen took Mudd and Ebert to meet with the current Oxmyx and Kracko. The two women being the first women in their respective families to reign over the Familias. Oxmyx was the "Big Boss" over all the other bosses. Kracko ran the Iotian Starfleet.

Their gender and youth had inspired a holy terror of assassination attempts and power grabs to unseat them both. But both were the sole living heirs of their family dynasties. They'd literally been in intimates since childhood. Another dismaying factor to the other lower bosses. An Oxmyx had never been romantically involved with a Kracko before. And certainly never ones of the same sex.

The couple literally held the Iotians' fate in their hands. They were determined to eke out every enjoyment in life, and from each other, that they could aspire to. In the process, they would elevate their Federation from a third-rate power to a true rival for the United Federation of Planets. That had been the Intendants' pitch that got Oxmyx and Kracko's attention. That, and Intendant Kira seduced them both while Intendant Ro managed the shipyards and recruiting of the Nova Romans of 492 IV as foot soldiers for the Iotians' designs.

The Intendants, on the Alliance's behalf, had approached the Iotians' ten years ago, while the power couple were still teenagers and had just barely assumed control over Iotian society. Kira and Ro made certain they retained it. The Intendants and the Alliance forces had now returned to the Terran Universe but the building blocks were all in place and the Iotians were pushing to leverage every advantage that they possessed while the Federation was withdrawing from the greater galaxy.

The Iotian Starfleet had built a modernized fleet and sold the unused upgraded fleet they'd previously built for themselves off to Macen. Additionally, they still produced pre-2271 and older styled vessels for interstellar customers. Most of whom were criminal cartels or belligerent planets in an arms race with nearby opposing planets. Rockford's own warnings of what Angosia II would have been willing to do to defeat Tarsus still echoed in Macen's mind.

Rockford had been born Annika Ryst and made into an Augmented soldier. She'd been an elite Infiltrator, able to parse her mind into separate individual personalities with individual character traits. The submersion into these alternate lives was complete. It was all intended for one purpose: to approach and assassinate high level targets. Ryst and the other personalities had sacrificed themselves to become a merged whole with Celeste Rockford as the remaining bearer of the horrors of their combined memories.

No other traits of the original Annika Ryst or any other personality existed within Rockford. But she still had the nightmare of memory to contend with. The diaspora within Ryst had deemed Rockford the healthiest and most successful at adapting to a life after war so they all wanted to be a part of her rather than maintain their own separate lives.

Macen understood Rockford's position far better than anyone else realized. He'd endured the assimilation of his race by the Borg, twenty years on the front lines and behind them during the Border Wars, three years with the Maquis, and another three behind enemy lines during the Dominion conflict, followed by his forming the first SID team. Now he had to contend with a history where he'd left Starfleet after the war to engage in criminal or nearly criminal activities for ten years before the Special Investigations Division came into being.

Most of the team's and Obsidian officers histories remained fairly intact but his and Rockford's drastically altered course. Only Admirals Amanda Forger and Robert Tavar Johnson's fates had diverged quite as much. Of course, Forger had remained within IA until Nechayev pushed forward the idea of the SID. Johnson and the Intrepid crew had found themselves aboard a different class of starship until the SCE and ASDB claimed the original Intrepid-class USS Intrepid for design prototyping and Johnson and Captain James McKinley were given special dispensation to rename a purpose built Akira-class as the USS Intrepid, thereby restoring a semblance of their past lives. But twists of fate abounded as Ian Delaney found that his wife, Hannah Grace, was still alive.

In this new reality, she'd never been found out as a Kelvan infiltrator nor had she ever been a member of Section 31 so she'd remained in Starfleet. There had been no need for S31 to recruit her to infilitrate a nonexistent SID. Here, the Omicron had never been re-awoken, the Kelvans had never revealed themselves, and an elder race had never been provoked before moving on beyond the terrestrial. All norms because the Omicron had never summoned their creators.

Likewise, a Typhon Pact had never aligned together and the Khitomer Accords hadn't been expanded to include the First Federation, the Ferengi Alliance, the Talarian Republic, and the Cardassian Union. Without the tremendous losses experienced after the Dominion War's end, the Iridian Enforcers' encroachment was easily dealt with and some Enforcer held worlds released from captivity.

The renegade Iridian, Bertram Sindis, had still united the largest crime syndicate in galactic history. Sindis had also killed T'Kir in a raid intended to kill Sindis and replace him with the new leader of the Orion Syndicate, Gomer. In the team's shared recollection, a Medusan had replaced Sindis and Gomer had killed her to become the first openly female leader of the Syndicate. The SID had been once intended to be an alternative option to Section 31. In the here and now, it was intended as an accountable replacement for S31.

But Macen and the team weren't undertaking this mission for the SID. They were privately contracted to the Bajoran Militia and expected to come into conflict with Starfleet over the next several days, weeks, or months. Which wouldn't be a first time in either history. Even when the SID had been founded in the months following the Dominion War Macen and his team had fallen out with Starfleet for three years and operated solely as independent contractors.

Admiral Forger learned from that experience. First of all, that she absolutely needed Macen and his team in the SID. But also that they functioned best as autonomous agents. Something that was still needed in their new reality. Which opened the door for Macen to work for both the Bajorans and the Cardassians in this matter contrary to Starfleet policies. Forger had intentionally tacitly approved of Outbound Ventures' imminent actions by clearing their SID dockets.

Rear Admirals Forger and Johnson were already preparing the SID's contractor program's defense. Admiral Alynna Nechayev had recruited the unlikeliest of allies in Vice Admiral Edward Jellico. Admiral Leonard James Akaar was another ally within Starfleet Command desperately trying to brake the train before the wreck hit Bajor. The public faces of their opposition were Fleet Admiral Clancy herself, Vice Admiral Ross, and Commodore Oh despite the "Vulcan's" current security tour. They easily persuaded a slim majority of Starfleet Command's Admiralty that Bajor and the Militia were as culpable as Cardassia itself as the scapegoats for Clancy's own policies enacted by Oh. Vice Admiral Janeway had recently disappeared as soon as the dispute over Bajor began.

Garan had waited too long to fully reveal to Astris Starfleet's duplicity behind the Cardassian Guard detaining Federation citizens. Beric and Garak presented the full data to the Federation Council but Sok, Cindi, and Perez led them in decrying the bio-signed contract as a forgery. Clancy herself committed contempt of Council by perjuring herself in denying the factuality of the document. Oh supplied falsified deployment orders for the elite units detained in Cardassian space, placing them in farthest Beta Quadrant. Clancy's credibility itself could be brought into question but JAG acquiesced and classified IA's investigation into Clancy's recent actions above the security clearance of most of the Federation Councilors.

Kilbrek knew and could've relayed the existence of the investigation if not the particulars but chose discretion. He judged that the necessity of believing in the Fleet Admiral's capacity to defend the Federation and oversee Starfleet was paramount over any internal investigations.

"Ambassadors Beric and Garak, have your governments reconsidered their positions in this matter?" Kilbrek asked of them.

"Has yours?" Beric sharply inquired, "You've been given yet another six additional hours to withdraw from the Bajor Sector and to release Mister Lavelle to our custody. Yet, you've done neither. My government and its agents will not wait any longer."

"Is that a threat, Ambassador?" Kilbrek was dismayed.

"We're simply serving a warrant of arrest and reclaiming our own sovereign territory," Beric replied, "How you respond is upon your own head."

"Ambassador Garak?" Kilbrek intuitively knew what was about to be announced.

"The sovereign Bajoran government has acquiesced to my government's request to extradite Commander Lavelle. So the Cardassian Guard has been deployed to support our Bajoran friends in their effort to retake their own property and apprehend the fugitive," Garak smiled serenely.

"This will start a war," Kilbrek lamented.

"Only if you already wanted one," Beric counseled him.

"I motion that we conduct an emergency session to draft a response to this escalation," Cindi proposed.

"I second that," Perez voiced.

"I stand to forward it as well," Sok let it be known.

"We'd agreed to grant you the six additional hours," Beric confided to them, "Now, we retake what is ours. The Cardassians will be freed to take what is theirs as well."

"With a minimum use of force, of course," Garak still smiled serenely.

"Please clear the Council chambers," Kilbrek requested of Federation Security.

"You've damned yourselves," Clancy chuckled on her way out.

"We've secured our borders," Garak pleasantly informed her, "Please do not attempt to cross them."

"Like you're invading the Bajor system?" Clancy snorted.

"We're invited and the Federation itself has declared Bajor to be no longer a member. The Bajoran government has revoked Starfleet's authority there. So, why are your forces digging in rather than withdrawing?" Garak wondered aloud, "What possible legal pretext could you invoke? Something equally unprecedented as occupying Bajoran space in the name of Federation security? How rather Cardassian of you."

Clancy stormed off to ante chamber to await the President's request to further brief the Council in their deliberations. The ambassadors stood by as well. It would be a short wait.

The Iotians had completed the J-class starbase in the Sigma Iotia system and were now constructing a Douglas-class station as well. The J-class would support Iotian starships and later be towed by warp capable tugs to another system when the new station came online. The Iotians would then have either a J-, G-, of K-class station in every system but the home system throughout every sector the Iotian Federation claimed as a member. As Rockford's team of professional. "tourists" would learn in the streets of Sigma Iotia II's capital city.

Macen and his delegates were aboard the current starbase meeting with Oxmyx and Kracko within Kracko suite of offices. Their relative youth contrasting with the aliens. Mudd was the youngest at twenty-two whereas Ebert was nearer her age at twenty-eight. Of course all of them were children compared to Macen's over four hundred years. A burst of theta radiation had reversed the anti-aging serum the El-Aurian Survey Corps had injected him with 350 years ago. Now he aged normally for his race. Which would enable him to grow old with his comparably long-lived Angosian wife. Barring any lethal injury.

"Commander Macen, so good to see you once again," Oxmyx oozed confidence, "Our business dealings have always been so mutually beneficial."

"Does this entry into our space include a business opportunity?" Kracko wondered, "Or perhaps a simple expansion of our current trade agreements?"

"Outbound Ventures has already placed additional official ordnance requests," Macen replied, "I'm here to ask questions for my clients directly to your august presences."

"And how can the Iotian Federation better serve the Bajoran and Cardassian governments?" Oxmyx asked.

"We've managed to ascertain you came to an arrangement to house and incorporate the Starfleet prisoners into your own faces," Macen explained, "My clients have no qualms or disagreements with your taking them on. We simply wish to know who brokered the deal and where the latinum comes from."

"We can't breach confidentiality," Kracko warned them.

"It was Gomer," Mudd simply stated. The Iotians' reactions confirmed it.

"She was a third party acting on her clients' behalf," Oxmyx allowed.

"Please inform Gomer I'm interested in the names and whereabouts of her clients," Macen requested

"And who your targets are," Mudd added. The Iotians blanched again.

"But you should already know," Kracko said uncertainly.

"Why is that?" Macen asked.

"Because Gomer listed you as the client acting on behalf of Starfleet and Cardassian interests," Oxmyx revealed.

"That was obviously a lie," Macen shared.

"But we hired out our two best hitters," Kracko shared.

"Hitters?" Ebert wasn't familiar with the term while Mudd groaned.

"Assassins," Macen translated, "Who are the targets and when will they strike? Who was the Cardassian client?"

"Legate Macet," Oxmyx thought it should be obvious.

"That part is probably true," Macen conceded.

"But who is the target?" Mudd was insistent now.

"The target packages were delivered independently once the hitters were in place on Earth," Kracko explained, "We have no knowledge for deniability's sake."

"Time to contact Gomer and press her for further information," Macen decided.

"But...she's here. On Iotia," Oxmyx informed him.

"I need to get to the surface! Now!" Macen demanded.

"She could be anywhere," Kracko protested.

"I know exactly where she'll be and who her personal target is," Macen told them.

"The best we can do is relay you to your ship and authorize a direct orbital to surface transport," Oxmyx offered.

"I'll take it," Macen conceded.

"There's a lot of chatter about the upheaval coming out of Bajor," Lee reported in the bar everyone rendezvoused in.

"No kidding," Arianna Forte agreed, "Even the Iotian news feeds are following Bajor getting kicked out of the Federation."

"Starfleet's on a war footing," Shade added, "They won't release DS9 back to Bajoran control."

"Lavelle is making his last stand there banking in the Federation being willing to go to war over him," Rockford said grimly, "Anyone hear from Rab and Tony yet?"

Rab Daggit was a fellow Angosian Augment and Burrows was former Starfleet Special Operations Command. No one expected them to run into serious trouble. Rockford tapped her comm badge, "Rockford to Obsidian. Telrik, come in."

The ship's transporter chief didn't reply. Rockford scowled, "Rockford to Daggit."

"We're being jammed," Lee predicted, "There are probably transport inhibitors in place anyway."

A distant explosion resounded throughout the night.

"That was definitely a photon grenade," Forte noted. The crowded bar shifted its attention to the entrance as Gomer regally glided in.

"Greeeaaat," Rockford groaned. In their original history, Macen sought comfort after T'Kir's death in Lyoti Mariska's arms. That lesson proved to him two major revelations that he could physically move on from T'Kir's death without guilt and that his heart already belonged to another. In this history, Gomer had filled Mariska's role. The Orion crime lord hardly let Macen go willingly. She was used to getting the playthings she wanted.

The fact that Macen was immune to her pheromone loads only added to his intrigue. But getting jilted hadn't set well with Gomer and then Macen died. The entire team and the Obsidian's crew had died by the Iridians' doing. It was after that the team and senior officers had been brought to this universe. They'd restored the ship's power and disposed of their counterparts' corpses.

Macen and Rockford, officially business partners only, were found to be married when they reappeared months later after being presumed dead. Revelations that only irritated Gomer further. It was one thing to simply be rejected. But being replaced was a slap in her face.

Gomer was a criminal genius but emotionally stunted. Rockford's coincidental arrival on Sigma Iotia II gave Gomer the chance to address her slighted feelings. Rockford, of course, had to die. In front of Macen if Gomer got her way. Then he too could die. That, to Gomer, was real emotional closure.

"Frinx," Rockford groaned.

"Annika Ryst, I have this place surrounded," Gomer announced,. "I only want you. Don't make me kill everyone to get to you."

Another explosion was heard closer now.

"And them?" Rockford asked.

Gomer shrugged, "Collateral damage. They refused to stand aside. You understand."

"I used to. Not so much these days," Rockford warned her.

"You have changed," Gomer assessed her hated rival, "Not for the better. You've grown soft."

"Dismiss the goons and you'll see just how soft firsthand," Rockford offered.

"I think I'll keep the goons. Thank you, very much. You so much as twitch and these three die slowly and painfully," Gomer offered, "So if we'll all just step outside?"

The windows on one side of the building blew inward as another photon grenade detonation erupted nearby.

"Or we stay inside," Gomer changed her mind, "Everyone, return to what you were doing. Drinks on me!"

That quieted the nerves of the locals and the freighter crews malingering while cargoes were exchanged and deals for delivery were struck by higher ups. The building shook and the sound of the detonation was deafening. Dust fell from the ceiling's support struts.

"Can someone just kill them already?" Gomer demanded. The interior guards stepped out to relay the demand given their own comm badges were inoperable within the tavern's space. Volleys of particle beam fire were exchanged afterwards. To the team, the distinctive noise of Bajoran-made phasers began to dominate the plethora of disruptor models being used by the Orion Syndicate. Annular confinement beams grabbed Gomer and the four Detective Squad teammates. Gomer materialized to find herself bereft of her guards and a small squad of ship's Security aiming Bajoran rifles at her.

"Nice and easy," Jelena Kovic advised Gomer.

"My ship will destroy this surveyor," Gomer practically spat out the label properly applied to the Obsidian.

"Your ship is crippled," Captain Shannon Forger announced.

"The Iotians won't stand for this!" Gomer raged.

"Apparently we're better customers," Forger warned her, "And the customer is always right."

"Ahem," the Tellarite transporter chief cleared his throat.

"Step off of the transporter pads," Kovic ordered.

"Or what?" Gomer sneered. Rockford's left hook dropped Gomer off of the pads. She'd never seen it coming. She'd even been specifically watching the Angosian.

When the pads were cleared, Telrik re-energized the transporter. Macen, Burrows, Daggit, Ebert, and Mudd all materialized. Each was heavily armed.

"I wouldn't bother going back there," Macen advised Gomer.

"Fool," Gomer began exuding pheromones as hard as fast as she could. Lee, Daggit, and Burrows all staggered. Daggit recovered thanks to his physical and behavioral conditioning. Forte, Shade, Kovic, Forger, and the all-female Security detail all felt overwhelming migraines coming on.

The Angosians were both faring better and Rockford looked amused, "So that's what it looks like."

"Do you really want to spend the rest of the day in the brig?" Macen inquired.

"You want something. Or you would've killed me by now," Gomer realized.

"Hello, she can be taught," Rockford quipped.

"Anyone human or feeling ill, get out now," Macen directed. That left Gomer flanked by Rockford and Daggit studying Gomer up close.

"Let's make a trade," Macen offered.

"Who is it you want me to betray?" Gomer wondered, "Could it be the partners that had me hire a hit team?"

"You already dropped Macet's name. I want the other," Macen told her, "Or I have you transported out into space."

"Do you really realize what you're starting here?" Gomer wondered.

"I've made bigger mistakes," he said pointedly. Gomer's emerald cheeks flushed. Rockford knew Macen had never actually bedded Gomer but he sold it.

"All I have is a comm relay signature," Gomer offered in the end.

"I'll take it," Macen agreed, "Now, if you'll just step onto the pad, I'll have you sent back to the undamaged portion of your ship."

"I'll roast you on a spit," Gomer vowed.

"Properly spiced I hope," Macen retorted. Her last words were garbled by the transporter effect.

"She certainly made a show of fishing that isolinear rod out of her brassiere," Rockford complained.

"Didn't she though," Macen wasn't amused either, "We need the Situation Center up and running. I'm putting Bailey and Angelique on tracking down this signal source. Your squad can run down the leads they offer."

The duo in the Data Womb were probably bored anyway. Macen let Forger know they'd have a destination soon enough. Kerber and Smith never failed to deliver.

Meantime, he had to express his thanks to the Iotians' ruling couple and report into Kira.

Ops was sealed off from the rest of the station. The Militia troops aboard under Colonel Cenn had pre-empted Lavelle's attempt to lock them up. Blackmer was detained in "his" former holding cells. Vaughn had been released.

Bashir had officially removed Lavelle from command. Lavelle had branded Bashir, Douglas, Nog, and O'Brien traitors alongside Vaughn. Fortunately for Lavelle and unfortunately for O'Brien and Nog, Rom had installed a direct line manual override for the fusion core routed from Ops. It would take them hours to reroute control and cease powering defensive systems that were now active in defiance of the Militia's warnings.

Tenmei was MIA and Lavelle branded her a conspirator as well. The Honshu and Robinson deployed as sensors detected Kira's ships encircling the station and the Cardassian Guard's three Galor- class cruisers crossing the border. Kira's four Constitution-class analogues were running a tight formation as the starships deployed to intercept them.

The Robinson led the Honshu away from the station and then they split up. The Robinson went to greet Kira while the Honshu diverted to address the Cardassian problem. Lavelle began quietly transporting personnel from Ops to the Defiant. A single petty officer volunteered to remain behind the run the docking procedures so the warship could deploy. Vaughn diverted O'Brien and Nog to bypassing the lookout on the runabout docking pads. Tenmei awaited them where the Rio Grande awaited use.

"The Cardassians won't fire on the station," Cenn reported to them, "But I can't guarantee they can't be provoked into firing on Starfleet."

"I need to come along to officially relieve Commander Lavelle from his duties. For his men's sake," Bashir cornered Vaughn.

"I'll come with as well," Agent 0212 volunteered, "You could use my extracurricular skill set once we're aboard the Defiant."

"If we can get aboard," Tenmei warned them, "Once the shooting starts it'll be open season out there."

"Nog, I'm placing you as Acting Starfleet Site Commander under Colonel Cenn," Vaughn informed him, "Chief, I need you in the engine space once we grab the Defiant."

"First we have to get aboard this damn runabout," O'Brien grated, "Nog, mind on the mission."

"Aye, aye, Chief," Nog gave him a toothy cocksure grin.

Kilbrek retired back into his office at the Federation capitol. He was surprised when he leaned back in his chair and opened his eyes to discover a young, human in appearance woman aiming a seemingly outdated pistol at him.

"How did you...?" he never asking as hypervelocity rounds punctured through him. Hs blood splattered up her arm. The noise canceling device underneath the barrel negated the sonic booms from the rounds. She left the message former-Legate Macet had prepared on a Cardassian optolythic data rod and departed the very way she'd arrived. Never seen or logged in by Federation Security.

So too did a young female Iotian arrive in Beric's offices. Knives were her weapon of choice and she wore a face covering because she knew that Bajoran Militia officers would review the recorders. Beric spun her chair around and took aim with her phaser and stunned the startled assassin. The constables on duty apprehended her and located her own optolythic rod meant to incriminate the Cardassians as betraying the Bajorans.

Kira's warning had come just in time it seemed. The announcement that the President was dead and that the planet Earth was under lockdown was dismaying. Kilbrek was a moderate trying to de-escalate the situation. Obviously someone wanted tensions ramped up.

Macet was still imprisoned in a labor camp on Cardassia IV. So obviously he had inside help within the Cardassian Union to get his message this far. The Vice-President was also found dead with the same type of wounds as the President. Which placed the Speaker of the Council in temporary control while special elections were called.

Beric was less than surprised when Sok, Cindi, and Perez all threw their hats in the ring. The surprise came from an announcement from a civilian that announced she was running. The mystery woman's name was Ardra. The other three candidates were already filing protests to eliminate Ardra from the ballot. But the surprise contender had enough signatures on petitions from across worlds to qualify her campaign run.

Equally surprising was the accelerated timetable that the candidates had in which to run. Due to the mounting border crises and the necessary responses to them, the election would occur in forty-eight standard hours. Dysart was already churning out campaign slogans and promises on Cindi's behalf. Dillon did the same for Sok. Harris had Perez's ball rolling as well. But Ardra had a well oiled political machine already matching or exceeding the other three candidates for campaign stops.

Cindi, Sok, and Perez's duties as Federation Councilors at a time of crisis limited their campaign appearances and constrained them to only being on Earth. Ardra was free to roam and meet and greet anyone showing up to her rallies. The Councilors ran on their records. Ardra ran on lavish anti-establishment promises.

"USS Robinson moving to intercept," Slaine reported from the Hand of the Prophets' Navigation console. The station dually served as the weapons console.

"Fleet, deploy," Kira ordered. The other three Constitution-class vessels broke formation leaving Kira's starship on course for the Robinson. With her were two of Ro's ships. The Asia-class Prophet's Hammer and the Mercury-class Prophet's Hope flanked the Robinson while the Hand of the Prophets confronted her dead-on.

"They're arming phasers," Slaine warned.

"We just need to buy the other ships time to reach DS9," Kira advised. The ship shook as energy bleed from the shields washed over her.

"They've initiated hostilities," Slaine announced.

"Really? You think?" Kira asked, "Fire phasers."

The ship shuddered again and conduits overloaded.

"Shields down to 53%," Slaine warned.

"Fire photon torpedoes," Kira grimly ordered.

"The Prophet's Hope and Prophet's Hammer have also opened fire," Slaine informed her, "With phasers and torpedoes both."

"I wonder just who gave the order to open fire," Kira admitted.

"At this point it doesn't matter," Slaine dourly remarked, "They may have just started a war."

"I ordered what?" Admiral Ross asked his Chief of Staff at Starbase 375.

"You ordered the Honshu, the Robinson and Deep Space 9 to open fire on the Bajorans and the Cardassians," the Chief withered.

"I gave no such order," Ross was outraged, "Let me see it."

He snatched the padd away from his staffer, "Oh my God, this has my bio-signature and command codes attached."

"Precisely, sir," the Chief was relieved.

"But I didn't give the order," Ross lamented, "Get me those commands. Now! We have to salvage this fiasco."

The Honshu was blocked by two Cardassian Galor-class cruisers while the third approached DS9. The Robinson began opening fire at that point. The Cardassian gul in overall command saw his allies taking fire and responded in kind. One Galor- engaged the Honshu then backed off while the other swung behind her. Firing from behind the Akira-class starship, the Cardassian cruiser swung completely around her to join her sister ship in a frontal assault.

The Defiant decoupled from DS9 and swung through the pylons over the Cargo Ring as SOP. She then powered out on her impulse engines to intercept and engaged the approaching Cardassian cruiser with her pulse phasers. Approaching Bajoran vessels, though completely outclassed, engaged the Starfleet vessel to draw fire off from their Cardassian ally. One fired at the still captive station. The station's shields repelled the attack and the sole Starfleet non-com remaining in command of Ops returned fire from the weapons sails.

Aboard the station, O'Brien had left Nog dealing the lockout, since picking locks was more his forte, and the Chief went about disconnecting power from the defense systems from the central core. Several "detained" Operations engineers joined their Militia comrades in circumventing Rom's override.

"Finally!" O'Brien declared, "Rom, you sneaky bastard."

O'Brien hit his comm badge, "Colonel Cenn, you're free to take Ops now."

"Acknowledged, Chief. Can you beam some men in through the transporter?" Cenn replied.

"Have them give me comm badge pings and I'll send 'em through," O'Brien promised as he released the lift to descend to the Promenade, "The turbolift from the Promenade is cleared to go."

This way, the defenses didn't have to be compromised. Which was a safety margin in case either side got a tad trigger happy. Next, Nog got the runabout pad opened.

"General, Colonel Cenn has secured Terok Nor," the Hand's Comm Sergeant informed Kira.

"Signal Colonel Ro it's time," Kira instructed.

"Yessir," the sergeant complied and returned to his duties.

"And Sergeant, Terok Nor is the Cardassian name for the station. We aren't giving it back. I don't know if it'll stay a Deep Space station but it will never be Terok Nor again," Kira stressed to him, "Too many people died on that station under Gul Dukat's command to ever call it that again."

"Yessir," he sounded properly chastised. Notably, Slaine didn't disagree.


Chapter Five

"We have a surprise for you, Commander," Oxmyx smiled like a triumphant cat, "In thanks for your handing Gomer to us; we'd like to assign you some help."

"I'm not a certain having an Iotian Starfleet ship involved is good optics for the Bajorans," Macen replied as Rockford was frantically waving her arms about to ward off the evil idea from out of the viewer's sight.

"Consider it a gift to the Bajoran and Cardassian peoples after our...indiscretion in harboring the Ascendant," Oxmyx went on ignoring Macen's protest.

"Our assistance would come in two parts, one official Starfleet vessel and one allied vessel from Turkana IV," Kracko explained, "My own flagship and small force would be on standby should you require greater assistance."

Macen knew Kracko had inherited Intendant Kira's Galaxy-class starship after she'd returned to the Terran Universe to consolidate was what left of her power base after the Cardassians and Klingons turned on each other. Dukat and Duras each seeing the other as a weak link in the Alliance. The resurgent Terran Empire aligning with the Terran Rebellion and splitting the Alliance in half as Earth aligned with alien powers rather than attempt to conquer them. Vulcan, Andoria, Tellar, and the Rigel system holding with the Terran Empire as they fought to hold their own territories against the backbreaking Alliance. Better the devil you know, they'd conceded

Kracko's Starfleet's secondary flagship was a Nebula-class Intendant Ro had commanded. They'd led Duras and Dukat's 9th Order across that Prime Universe in a terror campaign meant to incite the Federation's enemies against and inspire the Klingons to abandon them. Only Martok had stood by the alliance and it cost him the Chancellorship. It nearly cost him his House and exile from the Klingon Empire.

He and his band of rogues continued to serve the Empire's greater interests where the new Chancellor ignored them. Chancellor Kervis saw no honor in upholding the alliance. Not when the Federation's deeper Beta Quadrant colonies were vulnerable to conquest. After the Klingon flag was planted throughout the greater Beta Quadrant, then Kervis would return to the negotiating tables to barter the price of "peace" from a position of greater strength.

Qo'nos would become a feared hub of intergalactic power once again. Kervis had even secretly dispatched envoys to the hated Romulans to discuss a strategic partnership. A partnership the Klingons would later disavow to conquer the hated "green bloods". That copper based blood would run through the streets of the remaining Romulan worlds. Kervis had dreams of being exalted beside Kahless himself.

Future generations would swear oaths by Kervis' name not some cloned ancient folklore hero. General Klaa had been announced as the Supreme Commander of the Klingon Defense Force only under Kervis himself. Kervis had no idea Klaa was one of Martok's loyalists who valued the Federation's loyalties to the Klingon Empire despite the earlier treacherous war inflicted upon them by Gowron.

Starfleet and Klingons had waged song worthy warfare against the Dominion. Captain Sisko had even convinced the treacherous Romulans to stand fast and fight by their sides. Klaa would betray the Federation again. He'd once hunted Captain James T' Kirk and the famed USS Enterprise-A under his command to the sealed off Barrier shielding the universe from the One. It was Captain Kirk and Captain Spock that paved the ground work for the First Khitomer Accords. Klaa would not dishonor their memories.

Especially since both had given their lives in the defense of others, meeting glorious deaths worthy of St-Vo-Kor. Two legendary warriors dying faced against forces of such magnitude that they destroyed all that came before them. The Hobus shockwave had been blunted by Ambassador Spock's Red Matter, saving hundreds of Romulan colonies and Kirk had faced the wrath of the Nexus Ribbon, saving the Enterprise-B and a band of ill-fated refugees. Kirk's legacy of heroic action stemmed throughout his long career in Starfleet. Which was why Klaa had deemed him a worthy opponent.

Together and separately, Kirk and Spock had outwitted death on countless occasions. Yet Kervis spat on their names. Heaping dishonor upon himself. Klaa would be loyal to the Empire, not a power hungry Chancellor who sought to defile even Kahless' glorious name.

"Commander, we're being hailed by two approaching Iotian ships," Edwin Zimbalist reported from the Bridge OPS station

"Yours?" Macen asked the power couple.

"You'll thank us in the end. Just as we thank you for putting us in such delicious negotiating position with the Orion Syndicate," Oxmyx beamed and then signed off.

"Macen to bridge, can you give me an update on the hailing vessels?" he requested.

"We have a Splendor-class ID'd as the ISS Kelly and a Himalaya-class IDing as the ISS Capo," Forger informed him, "Captain Mirita of the Starfleet vessel Kelly wishes to speak first. Apparently the Capo is an independent command within their Starfleet. I'm confused."

"I'll speak with Mirita first, put him or her through," Macen acknowledged.

"Her, actually," Forger said with a note of pride. Forger was the biggest advocate of equal opportunities that Macen had ever met.

Mirita appeared in the standard Federation Starfleet uniform of 2266-2269. This encounter would teach Macen that the Iotian uniforms heralding from Starfleet's uniform code of 2283-2340 was reserved for station officers and dress uniforms. The standard working uniform for starship officers remained unchanged. Just as Mirita wore the Command Gold common to Starfleet prior to the 2350s conversion to Command Red. She was also apparently comfortable wearing the mini-dress variant standardized in 2266. That staple had hadn't lasted long. Accused, on an epic scale, of sexism; Starfleet's uniforms before and afterwards had not included a specific male-female differentiation. That particular uniform's coming into code being lost in obscurity.

"Commander Macen, I've heard interesting things about you," Mirita offered with a cunning smile.

"That could be both good and bad," Macen replied.

"Precisely," Mirita began looking predatory, "But overall, the Familias regard you as a valuable client and fair-weather friend."

"I have no ill will towards the Iotian Federation," Macen confided, "However your goals do conflict with some of my clients' best interests on occasion."

"So, your work for the rival Federation is professionally based only?" Mirita seemed surprised.

"My personal history with Federation and its Starfleet is...complicated," Macen allowed, "I'm here on behalf of the Bajorans, and incidentally the Cardassians, in response to the Federation's unjust actions."

"Your relationship with the Cardassians could be deemed...complicated as well," Mirita said lazily.

"I was their sworn enemy. Now I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt given their institutional and societal reforms. But I've always been a friend to Bajor and its people," Macen shared.

"And the Cardassians standing by the Bajorans and likewise," Mirita nodded, "I understand. Do we have a destination yet?"

"Not quite, but soon," Macen informed her.

"I'll leave you to getting acquainted with Captain Yar," Mirita said with sinister glint in her eye.

"Ishara Yar?" Macen was surprised.

"Minister Yar is the leader of her people that we extracted from Turkana IV. Ishtashra Yar is her daughter and her representative to the Iotian Starfleet. She's a semi-autonomous operative. Something like yourself," Mirita verbally pounced, "She's taken quite an interest in this case. So Kracko has assigned her to it."

Meaning Yar could have her client interests' dictating her agenda.

"Understood. I suppose I should greet Captain Yar now," Macen acknowledged the warning.

"Good luck," Mirita's lazy smile had returned.

"Well, this certainly bodes ill," Rockford had caught the layered meaning as well. Captain Yar, it seemed disdained Iotian uniforms. She went with a simple black spaghetti strapped tank top and presumably matching pans and boots. It also put the tattoo on her left arm in full display. Body art and piercings had become a sign of defiance on the border worlds constantly attacked by the Cardassian Guard. It amplified a sense of community as well as an "us versus them" mentality.

Bryce Fanning, Macen's administrative aide back on Serenity, was one of the few human, non-Cardassian border colonists, or ex-Maquis that Macen had seen sporting multiple piercings and tattoos. It seemed the younger generations on other outer colonies had revived the practices as a form of self-expression rather than an indentifying brand. Unnatural hair coloring had also come back into vogue on colonial worlds. Fanning represented all three trends.

Not that the SID team or Obsidian crew lacked representatives within their ranks either. Smith, Forger, Zimbalist, and Joelle Jones' blonde tresses weren't genetic endowments. Mudd's own platinum white blonde locks were hardly a feat of nature. Forte's pink hair and Shade's dyed white streaks were also distinctive alterations.

Forte wanting to display herself after a savage upbringing on the Earth-duplicate planet of Miri. Shade also simply wanted to stand out after being exiled from the Fabrini colony ship, Yolanda. Kerber, Rockford and Macen each bore ink. Rockford's right shoulder blade was illustrated with her favorite flower from her native Angosia IV. Kerber's left shoulder and arm bore the traditional markings from her Troglyte clan from Ardana IV. Droxina, Smith's grandmother, being the High Magistrate to allow the Troglytes to reinstitute clan councils and marking their skin with those affiliations. Kerber herself, then still called Anara, and been inked as young child before being taken to Stratos to be the handmaiden of the same aged Maarta, the woman now called Bailey Smith.

Yar seemed neutral enough. She was barely into her twenties and already commanded a starship, though dated by the Obsidian's standards, easily outgunned and outperformed the surveyor in every way. Macen had reviewed the Mafia Families of Earth's past to get a better grasp of the Iotians. A capo was a trusted subordinate and a lieutenant in a position of trust. It was little wonder Yar's ship bore the name. It also indicated that Oxmyx and Kracko implicitly trusted Yar despite her outside dealings.

"I was wondering who'd managed to beat Gomer at her games," Yar gave him a pleasant enough smile.

"Your family is legendary," Macen allowed, "Although I've only had dealings with your cousin."

Yar grimaced, "Don't let Sela taint your image of my family. My mother managed to get everyone off of Turkana IV before it was completely uninhabitable after the gang wars concluded. She united the Alliance and the Coalition, bought our entry into the Iotian Federation, and earned us a new colony world to settle in. I earned my right to command an independent starship after the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance abandoned us."

"I imagine that is a reward for services rendered," Macen conceded, "And don't worry; I don't care what they were."

"That's what I heard about you," Yar chuckled, "I imagine Captain Mirita warned you that we might have a conflict of interests. I promise you that isn't so. I just see this as a way of expanding future ventures with Gomer out of the way."

"I'll keep that in my mind for future reference," Macen stated, "My team should have tracked down the coordinates of the contractor that hired Gomer and the Orion Syndicate as middlemen and influenced the handling of the hitters sent to Earth."

"You don't want to know their identities or their targets?" Yar was surprised.

"I understood that things had progressed too far for that. I want to know who hired them weeks ago and planned for this strife between the Federation and my Bajoran and Cardassian clients. I want those people. I warned the Bajorans of a potential hit and have already been informed the ambassador on Earth successfully subdued her attacker. That ends my direct involvement with that end of things."

"Yet the Federation president is dead and an emergency special election is being held in forty-six hours. You're not concerned by that?" Yar was surprised

"I don't have a stake in the political process outside of how and who orchestrated this from behind the scenes and set it into motion nearly a month ago," Macen told her, "I want to have an in-depth discussion with that individual or individuals."

"It seems we have a future ahead of us after all," Yar agreed, "Contact me when you have a destination."

Yar cut the transmission at that point.

"You believe she doesn't have a conflict of interests in this?" Rockford wondered.

"Actually I do," Macen told her, "At least not where our target lies."

"But there could be other conflicts," Rockford caught the implication.

"She singled out Gomer as an obstacle within the Orion Syndicate. Not any of her rivals or underlings or the Syndicate as a whole," Macen explained, "She intentionally left that unspoken."

"So why target a Syndicate target?" Rockford couldn't quite get that one.

"Gomer's client," Macen clarified, "And her broken trust. Should the client get free from us then Gomer has a target pinned to her back. The client has reach. Enough reach to kill a president or a chieftain of the Orion Syndicate."

"In case Gomer gets free of Oxmyx and Kracko," Rockford understood now. The door to Macen's office slid open. He had an "open door" policy so the computer admitted any petitioner unless a security lockdown was underway. Smith and Kerber arrived bearing a padd.

Kerber handed to Macen, "Got them."

"We routed the coordinates to Captain Forger," Smith quietly added.

"Commander, I've signaled our supposed escorts. We're ready to get underway at a cruising speed of Warp 5," Forger reported, "Our ETA to the Alpha Centauri AB system is four days."

"Good work, Shannon. Keep us apprised," Macen switched off, "And good work to you two as well."

"Whoever it is, they're overconfident that they won't be traced," Kerber shrugged.

"But whoever they are, they have a closed transceiver system. It's shut down when they aren't actively transmitting and receiving. They probably monitor the data nets through separate transceivers," Smith explained the existing problem, "Until we're in proximity to trace those receivers, Angelique can't hack their systems. They may even have to be activated at the source when we arrive."

"That was my line," Kerber groaned, "You're getting awfully bold these days, Princess."

"I keep telling you, don't call me that," Smith growled. Rockford hid a smirk.

"Keep trolling the data nets. Maybe we can pick them up when their on comms. Otherwise, we're going in blind," Macen told them.

"Our 'help' doesn't know anything?" Kerber was disdainful.

"Or maybe they're just sharing," Smith was suspicious.

"Probably both," Rockford confirmed it, "But, if we are going in cold, a little backup will be appreciated."

"And no offense to the ship or crew, these Iotian starships could blow us up while hardly trying. These are mid-century Starfleet designs. They each outgun us three to one. There's also two of them," Macen cautioned them.

"Captain! Pull up the Federation News Service!" Tracy Ebert said urgently as she ran into the office space. The feed went into the wall viewer.

Pictured was a grave looking Fiona Shaw reporting from Paris, "Atop a day when the UFP President has been assassinated by killers hired by Legate Macet of the Cardassian Guard, the Federation is rocked by the news coming out of the Bajor Sector and Deep Space 9 where Cardassian and Bajoran forces have engaged Starfleet. Bajor having just been ejected from the Federation mere hours before. Candidates for president are already hardening their stance on Bajor and Cardassia. Except the surprise candidate, Ardra."

"What?" Macen shouted at the screen

"Ardra remains the sole candidate not clamoring for a declaration of war," Shaw continued reporting, "Instead she calls for a summit meeting between the Cardassian Union, the Bajorans, the United Federation of Planets, the Klingon Empire, and a moderator from the Romulan Star Empire. The other candidates are reeling at this suggestion and are openly attacking Ardra and her lack of any political experience. In fact, next to nothing is known of Ardra before her publically declaring her candidacy. With the election now foty-five hours away, it seems to a competitive race between the four candidates. Fiona Shaw reporting live from Paris."

"Get Harri in here," Macen told Ebert, "And I'm not the Captain anymore."

"You'll always be my captain," Ebert said defiantly before exiting. Ebert had first served as a pilot aboard Macen's decommissioned Starfleet Blackbird-class scoutship, the SS Odyssey, during his time in the Maquis and during the Dominion War. He'd still been captain of the Obsidian when she came aboard years later after their parting following the end of the war. Macen found Admiral Picard's report on Ardra from he'd been captain of the Enterprise-D was sealed by Starfleet Security. It classified at a level even the UFP President couldn't view it, only the Starfleet Commander.

"What in the seven hells is Clancy playing at?" Macen had to wonder. Unknown to him and every other member of Starfleet, Commodore Oh had sealed the report. She'd also been the one to recruit Ardra to run for president as a disruptive influence. She would also serve as a negotiable pressure point for the Tal Shiar should she actually manage to get elected. In either scenario, the Romulan Star Empire won.

"Sorry, Boss. I've got nuthin' on Ardra that'll stick. Maybe Pops does?" Mudd offered when she arrived.

"Angelique and Bailey, your job is to find me Harry Mudd III," Macen instructed, "Go!"

"I wonder what rock Ardra crawled out from under to pull this scam?" Rockford decided to find out, "I'll let you know what my team finds."

She left to task her detectives. Kerber and Smith were already back in their Data Womb.

"Harri, I need to know more about Ardra. Give me everything you know or think you know," Macen requested.

"Hit me with the hard stuff and I'll tell you everything," Mudd requested as she took a seat. Macen released the lockout on the replicator and it synthesized alcohol rather than synthahol.

"Not the best but not rot gut to be sure," Mudd savored her first swallow, "Here's what I know..."

The Honshu broke away from the Cardassians to be fired on by the station. Its captain received secondary orders from Admiral Ross to rejoin with the Robinson and escort the Defiant out of the sector into the Kalandra Sector and join with Ross' task force assigned to Starbase 375. Starfleet had violated regs and fired first. But the provocation would only be considered an act of war if the Bajorans and their Cardassian helpers crossed into Federation space now that Bajor was a pariah. The Cardassians had thrown every unit that they could at patrolling their borders next to their Federation neighbor. So far, no shooting or border crossings had occurred

Ross still hadn't tracked down who had usurped his command authority to order the Robinson to open fire. Ross' actual orders now were to extricate the Robinson along with Lavelle and the Defiant and get the hell out of Dodge. Captain Saavik and her exploration ships were being recalled to the Wormhole. There, the reaction of Colonel Ro's Colonial Defense Forces would be telling.

Ross had to wonder how far the Bajorans wanted to pursue this. Were they actually willing to risk a war with the Federation with only the depleted Cardassians on their side? Ross knew Kira wasn't one to bluff. But was she actually suicidal?

The Honshu began to maneuver towards Bajor VIII. Her commander knew that a Bajoran colony was on the surface. But no one aboard expected a Constellation-class starship to suddenly block their egress.

Or to find an Excelsior (refit)-class starship approached their aft quarter. Their ID transponders listed them as the Starcrest and the Hammerfall respectively. Sensors detected a Sirius-class ID'd as the Dog Star nearby with other late 23rd Century model starships. A Constitution-class was approaching the Robinson at full impulse. Her ID was the Fist of the Prophets, Colonel Ro's flagship.

Near space was filled by similar starships as well as the more advanced Lancelot-class Guinevere, a Sparta-class labeled the Spearhead, and a Newton-class near Bajor itself IDing as the Copernicus. Then the captain of the Honshu recognized that an Asia (refit)-class starship had lead a squadron of Miranda-class, Constitution (refit)-class, and five additional Asia(refit)-class starships. Every 23rd Century starship came in sets of five save the sixth refitted Asia-class ID'd as the Waylaid. A Miranda-class named the Waveriser was finishing off the pincher move around the Honshu. The three Starfleet vessels were completely boxed in by numerically superior forces and the technological gaps were narrowing.

The Defiant paused its pounding away at the Cardassian vessels for Lavelle to reassess his options. That's when the Rio Grande moved in.

The Rio Grande had deployed from Deep Space 9 as Ro and the Outbound Ventures ships arrived in the outer system. Tenmei pitched and yawed in coordination with the failing starship to near her shields. Vaughn discovered that Blackmer hadn't locked him out from his command codes yet and he was recognized by the Defiant's main computer as the commanding officer of the vessel. Lavelle was just a substitute with command rank. Blackmer's action showed he found Lavelle's detaining Vaughn without charges to be legally shaky. He'd probably been awaiting word from JAG on how to proceed. But it worked out that Vaughn ordered the starship to drop her shields and locked the crewman at the CONN out.

O'Brien took over helm control and brought the escort to a dead stop while Vaughn communicated with the gul in command of the Cardassian forces. Tenmei locked the runabout to the Defiant's main hatch mounted below its deflector array in the ship's "nose". It was easy to access the ship from there. Though armed, Vaughn's stood down when confronted by the Defiant's defenders, instead demanding to be brought to the bridge.

Once suitably disarmed, Security brought Vaughn, O'Brien, Bashir, and Douglas to Lavelle. Tenmei sealed the hatches and cast off again to return to the defense of DS9.

"Mutineers? Is that what you've become?" Lavelle sneered.

"Commander Lavelle, as Chief Medical Officer for Deep Space 9, I hereby declared you unfit for command and relieved you of your duties before your attempt to arrest me," Bashir announced. The crewmen populating the bridge began to squirm.

"Just what a mutineer would attempt to say," Lavelle's attitude remained unchanged, "We're at war here and you want to relieve me of command?"

"If we're at war, it's on your head," Vaughn said coldly.

"I always knew you wanted my command!" Lavelle raged.

"Son, I refused the command so they assigned it to you," Vaughn said sternly, "Don't make Starfleet regret that choice."

Lavelle wavered in his convictions for a half a second.

"Who ordered the raid into Cardassian space?" Douglas inquired.

"That's classified above your grade," Lavelle sneered again.

"Is that why you weren't allowed to bring your senior officers in on it?" Vaughn asked coldly, "You'll find my security clearance rates above most admirals yet you couldn't tell me? Why? Because I might object to that course of action because this is where it would lead to?"

"How can you possibly be here much less be relieving me of command?" Lavelle suddenly looked hunted, "Did Blackmer betray me?"

"The Militia anticipated your decision to arrest every serving Militia officer aboard the station," Vaughn informed him, "It is now back under Bajoran control and Commander Blackmer is a guest in his own holding cell."

"So this is a mutiny!" Lavelle came out of his seat to grab Vaughn by his uniform jacket.

"I advise you I could cripple you in two dozen ways right now," Vaughn said coolly, "Most would be rather painful."

"Allow me," Douglas applied a Vulcan nerve pinch and Lavelle crumpled to the deck.

"Excellent form," Vaughn observed.

"I was taught by the best," Douglas said modestly.

"Have the duty officer note that I'm assuming command," Vaughn told the crew, "Anyone objecting should leave the bridge now."

No one budged.

"His neurotransmitters are spiked," Bashir was examining Lavelle with a medical tricorder, "This poor man has been suffering a mental breakdown for some time now. I need a hand getting him to Sickbay."

Security complied.

"I'll secure Engineering," O'Brien offered.

"Helm, bring us about and follow the nearest Cardassian cruiser back to DS9," Vaughn ordered.

There was a hesitation that Douglas squelched, "You heard the order."

The crewmen hopped to it.

"Attention Robinson command, stand down and prepare to be escorted back to Deep Space 9," Kira stated, "You have five minutes to comply or we will resume fire."

"Continue sending until they reply," Kira instructed the Primary Comm Sergeant, Yenta Sarai, who had returned to duty for the battle.

"Colonel Ro would like a word," Yenta told her.

"On screen please, Sergeant," Kira asked.

Ro looked as grim as Kira felt, "The satiation is as bad as we thought. My Gamma Quadrant units are reporting the Endeavor and her explorers are returning to the wormhole."

"Contact Captain Wei and have her squadron take up positions at the Wormhole terminus," Kira said sternly, "If Captain Saavik wants to reinforce these idiots then she can fight her way to the station."

"I know Saavik," Ro reminded Kira, "I doubt she'll find this fiasco 'logical'."

"We can only pray," Kira stated.

"You pray, I'll trust my gut," the infamously agnostic Ro retorted. The same Cardassian Occupation of Bajor that had cemented Kira's faith in the Prophets had destroyed Ro's. Just an example of how people under similar circumstances turned out very differently. Ro acknowledged that the aliens inhabiting the stable wormhole were advanced life forms. But Ro refused to acknowledge them as actual gods or the Wormhole as the Celestial Temple. She simply felt the translinear Prophets (that label seemed apropos enough) had interfered with Bajoran history since before language had been invented.

Kira and the faithful saw it as a blessing. Ro viewed it as a curse. Fortunately for her, she kept her views largely to herself. Her subordinates were largely as adherent to the faith as Kira herself.

Comm Sergeant Yenta reported to Kira, "Captain Bates of the Robinson is standing down under revised orders from Admiral Ross. And under protest."

"Whatever works," Kira allowed herself a small relieved sigh, "Alert Colonel Ro to resume dealing with the Honshu and order the Majors in command of the Prophet's Hope and Prophet's Hammer to assist us in escorting the Robinson to DS9. Then request that Captain Gardner and Guinevere and her squadron support us as well."

"Everyone signaled their acknowledgement. Captain Gardner and her force are standing by," Yenta told her.

Kira knew Ro had placed Militia service officers aboard every Outbound Ventures ship as a legal pretext for their involvement. But in reality, captains like Jennifer Gardner were truly leading the security agent captains and their starships.

The Fist of the Prophets was underway at full impulse to Bajor VIII. The colony there was under dual protective authority from both System Defense and her own Colonial Defense Force. Captain Anyar Forgoen commanded the Dog Star which was overseeing the Honshu's relative stasis. The Hammerfall and the Starcrest held position as Ro's ship approached. Several other Excelsior- and Constellation-class starships were within support range.

The Akira-class Honshu may have been a newer design hull but the odds that even she could break through without receiving major damage were slim to none. Forgoen hailed Ro, "Colonel Ro, a pleasure to assist you again. The Starfleet captain is exceptionally eager to speak with you."

Ro chuckled mirthlessly, "I'll oblige him then."

Ro was startled to see an older, sadder Morgan Bateson commanding the Honshu, "Captain, I'm sure you don't remember me."

"You were an ensign in Starfleet aboard the Enterprise back then when we rejoined the timeline," Bateson acknowledged Ro, "You were at the CONN."

"Good memory, Captain," Ro gave him a sincere smile, "I'm glad you're being reasonable."

"Colonel, is it? We've been trying to de-escalate the situation since it started. Admiral Ross just ordered us to cease hostilities. Surprising since it was the Admiral that ordered us to open fire." Bateson revealed.

"Will you return to the station and file a report to that effect and be debriefed over those particular orders?" Ro asked

"Certainly. It's my duty as a Starfleet officer," Bateson remarked.

"Your type of Starfleet officer is vanishing from the fleet," Ro warned him, "There'll be repercussions for cooperating."

"What can they do to me? Consign me to a temporal loop for seventy odd years?" Bateson chuckled.

"Point taken, Captain," Ro smiled earnestly this time, "My helm officer will direct you on course and speed. We'll provide escort, of course."

"Acknowledged. We await your orders," Bateson was cheered as he signed off.

"Now that was the Starfleet I joined," Ro told her bridge crew.

"I joined the Militia after the Dominion left Bajor and the Emissary returned," Captain Wyn Meru confessed, "The senior officers seemed like him but the junior offers were...different."

"The price of war. Their ideal universe had been shattered by the Klingons and then the Dominion War," Ro told her, "The Mars Massacre just increased the nihilism lying under the average Federation citizen's paradigm since the war."

"Then maybe it's good that Bajor isn't part of the Federation anymore," Wyn shrugged.

"Maybe," Ro's Maquis sensibilities had been re-awoken by Bajor's expulsion and this running fiasco, "We'll find out when the Federation and Starfleet react to this shooting match."

"Somehow I think we'll need more help," Wyn confessed.

"Keep that to yourself from now on," Ro counseled but privately agreed.

"Captain Pryce, Captain Haggit online for you," Paul Gerrit, Jonathan Pryce's Chief OPS Officer aboard the Sparta-class Spearhead, reported.

"On screen," Pryce instructed.

"Captains, the Wormhole is preparing to open," Haggit informed him, "I'm simulcasting this to all ships,"

Marta Haggit broadcast from the Newton-class science vessel, Copernicus, from Bajor's near space. The Wormhole opened seconds later and two vessels emerged from it, the venerable Ambassador-class USS Endeavor and the Obena-class USS Franir. Captain Saavik apparently had left the Parliament-class USS Legislature behind in the Gamma Quadrant to uphold Starfleet's presence there.

"Captain Saavik is hailing," Gerrit reported.

Wei and Pryce had agreed he was the senior commander on the scene so he answered the hail, "Captain Saavik, I'm Captain Jonathan Pryce of the Spearhead. How can I assist you?"

Saavik remained as stoic as ever, "Captain, I believe it I that can assist Bajor in these perilous times."

"Let's clear you a path to Deep Space 9 and you can discuss these matters with General Kira," Pryce offered

"That is agreeable," Saavik allowed. As pro forma, the Waylaid escorted the Endeavor and Franir to DS9. Upon arrival they found the Robinson and the Defiant had docked. The Cardassians were assuming patrol positions with Kira's System Defense Forces. One of the Militia's impulse cruisers had docked and deposited a fresh compliment of Militia officers. The others returned to Bajor's orbit.

Kira's flagship, the Hand of the Prophets, was leading the patrol under Colonel Rev Beni's command, the starship's actual CO. Slaine had rejoined the Senior Staff on DS9 as Kira assumed temporary command.

Captain Saavik was brought to Ops, "General Kira, I presume. Your reputation precedes you."

"As does yours," Kira nodded her acknowledgement to the living legend.

"Starfleet is at an impasse on how to proceed regarding this provocation," Saavik began.

"The Robinson fired on my ship. It was an unprovoked move," Kira addressed that issue.

"And her captain, as Captain Batesman has already reported to you, had express orders from Admiral Ross to do so. However, the Admiral denies issuing such orders," Saavik said primly.

"Of course he does," Kira snorted.

"General, Starfleet has taken issue with your taking Captain Bates and Commander Lavelle into custody," Saavik stated.

"Lavelle had a breakdown," Vaughn related the incident to Saavik.

"Curious, and Doctor? You were reporting his increasing instability to Starfleet Medical?" Saavik inquired of Bashir.

"I've weeks of personal logs and personal witness to Commander Lavelle's stress related increasingly paranoid behaviors," Bashir informed her.

"Commander Vaughn's own reports attest to this," Saavik studied the puzzle, "Yet Admiral Ross was quite pleased with his choice of Lavelle to lead the raid on the Cardassian prison. Yet, he was indifferent to the prisoners' condition Starfleet's inability to debrief them before they transferred to transports and ferried away without a destination filed on record. Logically, someone wanted those prisoners to disappear before they could be questioned."

"I have sources that inform those transports were actually Iotian Federation transport vessels and Sigma Iotia II was their ultimate destination. Their escorts awaited them in the Kalendra Sector beyond our borders and those same prisoners have been embraced by the Iotians," Kira revealed, "Those same sources reported the hiring of Iotian hit men to assassinate both the Federation President and our ambassador on Earth. Both attacks had planted evidence stating that the Cardassians were behind both attacks."

"Further agitating Starfleet and the voting publics' opinion on the edge of a special, unprecedented election," Saavik continued her study, "Has your source identified the source of the funding the assassinations?"

"They report that the money came through the Orion Syndicate but the Orions were merely functionaries for a financial backer within the Federation," Kira explained.

"Thereby forcing both an election and a public furor demanding justice from a people that weren't actually involved," Saavik mused, "Quite clever."

"Don't count Macet out of this," Kira advised her, "He may have been friendly towards the Federation during the early days of the treaty but the war completely changed him."

"Starfleet Intelligence has former Legates Macet and Maret organizing the prisoners into a cult of personalities. There are still many in the Cardassian Guard that support their agenda," Douglas included.

"This is all factual," Slaine conceded.

"If Captain Bateson's' statements are going to be considered accurate and valid, as well as Admiral Ross' assertions, then someone or entity has not only engineered a build up to war, but Bajor's expulsion from the Federation and a presidential election," Saavik concluded.

"Which is who my operatives are seeking," Kira promised.

"Starfleet has established that I am to conduct an internal examination of the pertinent facts and hand over a recommendation as to Commander Lavelle and Captain Bates' dispositions in light of the demands of Bajoran legal codes. Commander Lavelle explicitly admitted culpability in the events preceding this current crisis. Captain Bates, however, may have been misdirected," Saavik explained her role.

"My government has no desire to expel or deny the Federation access to our sector or the Wormhole. The change here at Deep Space 9 is just one of basic administration. The Militia will be responsible for operating the station from now on," Kira laid it out.

"I shall pass that along as well," Saavik, assured her, "Commander Vaughn, you are in command of Starfleet's support personnel until such time as the matter is settled and transfers to other commands are either demanded or the matter is settled to a more acceptable outcome."

"Of course," Vaughn was amenable to that proposition.

"Now, I must conduct interviews with both Commander Lavelle and Captain Bates. I presume I have unlimited access to all data and logs?" Saavik asked.

"They are Starfleet logs," Kira allowed, "I'll alert Colonel Cenn and Commander Blackmer that you require unlimited access to the prisoners as well."

"Keep in mind that Commander Lavelle is still my patient and that he is partially sedated to calm him," Bashir advised Saavik.

"Also be aware that Lavelle has invoked his right to legal counsel under the Uniform Code of Justice," Vaughn warned her.

"I presume the closest JAG office is on Starbase 375," Saavik stated.

"Correct," Douglas told her.

"But the local JAG superintendent is delaying sending counsel and has advised Lavelle to avoid answering questions," Vaughn said grimly.

"Intriguing," Saavik noted, "I shall endeavor to acquire information without violating Commander Lavelle's right to avoid self-incrimination then."

"So that's a living legend," Nog said, awestruck as the lift lowered Saavik to the level she could access the Promenade from.

"Slaine, I need you to contact the local gul in charge of those three cruisers. Starfleet might still attempt to move Lavelle and Bates without announcing any plans to," Kira warned the Dalin, "I don't want them opening fire without real provocation."

"Starfleet committed an act of war," Slaine replied, "How much provocation do they need?"

"I'm working on it," Kira promised.

"You need to work faster," Slaine warned her, "The Federation is electing a new president in less than twenty-six hours and three of the four candidates are calling for war. A war I don't believe any side can win."

"I agree with that," Kira nodded.


Chapter Six

Ardra's campaign had arrived on Earth. Her species' ability to go days without sleep made her seem limitless to her growing band of supporters. Sok, Cindi, and Perez's campaign managers and Chiefs of Staff were sitting down with Ardra. But first they had to get through the very dapperly dressed stone wall of her Chief of Security, Bortix.

"Your scans read clean. However, let's check you for chemicals and blades as well," he almost smiled. The private security agents adjusted the tricorders and several beeped all at once.

"Hand the shivs over," Bortix demanded very sternly.

"These are letter openers," Dysart, Cindi's campaign manager protested.

"They're fiberglass impalers. I have experience with these," Bortix's demeanor went cold.

"I think you'll find they're simple office tools," Dysart smirked.

"You ditch them or I ditch your body in the Seine," Bortix offered an option.

"Let's be reasonable, Frederick," Chol, Cindi's chief of staff recommended.

"Akita's right," Dillon, Sok's manager stated, "We don't need the optics of threatening or attempting to intimidate Ms. Ardra."

"Elizabetha is also right. This meeting needs to be completely above board," Aafaaq, Sok's staffer, concurred.

"After all, this is just a friendly chat to settle some differences in the campaign rhetoric," Amelia Harris, Perez's campaign manager, reminded everyone.

Dajen, Perez's staffer smiled disarmingly, "I'm certain there's no bad blood to be had here."

Bortix looked unconvinced. The polls that favored Ardra's competition put Sok as the frontrunner. Enough so, that Cindi and Perez were coat tailing themselves to Sok's campaign. Bortix smelled blood in the water because of Ardra's sudden appearance into politics and her antithetical message to the other candidates' rallying cries for declarations of war against Cardassian and even Bajor now.

The united front wanted to make a backdoor deal to silence Ardra or get her to withdraw completely. It seemed Commodore Oh had completely buried Ardra's criminal records if they weren't coming armed with leverage. Instead they seemed intent on brokering a trade. Just as Oh had predicted they would. Bortix hadn't trusted the "Vulcan" Director of Starfleet Security but Ardra claimed to know a fellow con artist when she saw one.

Bortix finally led them into an audience chamber. Ardra had used unknown connections to utilize the former Orion embassy as her campaign headquarters and temporary dwelling place. Gomer had shut even the pretense of an embassy down but it remained sovereign Orion territory. If her political rivals thought that was a pretext for discrediting her, Ardra had proven them wrong thus far. Thanks to Oh's manipulations, she was phaser proof. The managers and chiefs of staff were seated at a long table.

Ardra made an imperious entrance, "My fellow constituents."

"Spare us the bullshit," Dysart snorted, "You've come from nowhere and that isn't technically possible."

"Oh, but it is," Ardra smiled her best snake oil salesman smile.

"We're having difficulties verifying your birth and citizenship records," Aafaaq accused.

"Then you simply aren't trying hard enough," Ardra's confidence never wavered. She was in it for long con.

"Let me tell you a tale of three candidates whose first goal in office, after declaring war, is to initiate martial law and suspend the constitution and erecting a President-for-Life. Correct me if I'm wrong." Ardra taunted them.

"What is it you want?" Dillon asked coldly.

"We all, or at least I do, want that Sok will become President. Cindi will be the Veep and Perez the Secretary of Starfleet. The three most powerful Cabinet posts in the Executive Branch. Despite suspending the constitution, you'll need the farce of a neutered Federation Council. I want to be appointed Speaker for the Council," Ardra explained, "I'll keep the Councilors in line and fat and happy while running interference for the President and her Cabinet ministers. Simple, no?"

"Why?" Chol inquired.

"Think of all latinum to be made by selling influence and access. The Federation Council will be purely ceremonial then but people need their symbols and their belief that they have a voice. But we'll know otherwise," Ardra winkled.

"We'll have to discuss it with our principals. That's a lot for little," Harris argued.

"But I'll win the election at this rate. I'm willing to concede the contest before the final tally is in," Ardra sweetened the deal, "Can you afford not to buy me?"

"We'll advise our candidates and get back to you," Dajen suggested.

"You have less than eighteen hours until the polls open, I suggest you contact your Gray Cardinal, the Presider, and Director Sorbo as well to get a real decision made," Ardra rose from her regal seating and exited.

"You're dismissed," Bortix told them, "You can reclaim your property at the door."

As the campaigners were leaving Bortix, whose hearing was near Vulcan-like, heard Aafaaq whisper to the others, "How the hell does she know so much?"

"I don't know," Dysart grated, "We don't have time to sort it all out. But if we take the deal, we'll buy the time as she profits off of the Federation Council's bloated corpse."

Bortix reported directly to Ardra whose spy sensors were everywhere, "They seem ready to comply."

"So far they're following the script I devised with Commodore Oh all those months ago, in case this scenario should play out. Sometimes I think she's prophetic," Ardra complained, "Still I have to wonder how she arranged for the current Speaker to decline the Presidency."

"Nothing you wouldn't have done," Bortix chuckled darkly.

"The only disappointment is that Picard stepped down. I'd love to rub his impotent face in it right now," Ardra fumed.

"You know Picard went into seclusion at his family vineyard," Bortix reminded her, "You could simply pay him a social call."

"Too easy on him," Ardra countered, "I want him to suffer knowing he can't derail my plans."

"And the Commodore's other offer?" Bortix inquired sharply.

"Wouldn't that be a turn of events?" Ardra smirked triumphantly.

In a private chateau in the Swiss Alps, the Presider and Ana Johanssen met with Sok, Cindi, and Perez. The envoys sent to arbitrate with Ardra were standing by.

"Your coalition does face an improbable loss to this Ardra," the Gray Cardinal analyzed, "It is better to lay off her and buy her off than actually risk a defeat."

"How did she know about us? And you?" Sok angrily asked.

"Ten years of groveling for votes and hiding our true goals only for some trollop to uncover everything?" Cindi raged.

"She must not have hard evidence or she'd use it to seal her campaign win," Perez predicted.

"Even so, the Speaker will be a purely ceremonial functionary after Councilor Sok takes office and you're both appointed," the Presider soothed everyone's nerves, "Give her what she asks for now and crush her later when she's outlived her usefulness."

"Several Councilors are beginning to moderate in the face of the action at Bajor," Sok warned, "We need to stoke their outrage once again."

"That has been arranged," the Gray Cardinal boasted.

"Director Sorbo is looking into this Ardra and her knowledge base and where it stems from," the Presider assured them, "Cell 51 demands answers and we will get them."

Ro was prowling the Fist of the Prophets' bridge when Comm Sergeant Triss Glivi alerted to incoming traffic from the Waylaid. The starship and the Waveriser were nearest to the Federation border near the Valo system.

Captain Wei Ziya appeared on the main viewer, "Colonel Ro."

"Captain Wei, I take it there's a problem," Ro didn't ask.

"Four Starfleet starships are seeking to cross the border and make way to DS9," Wei reported.

"Your assessment?" Ro inquired.

"They're a little too insistent," Wei conveyed, "They're trouble."

"Maintain patrol. I'll send the Hammerfall, the Starcrest, the Prophet's Hammer, and the Prophet's Hope to secure your location. You're the direct route from Starbase 375. When they came, they'll come through you," Ro ordered and predicted.

"Copy that. Waylaid out," Wei terminated the transmission and got back on mission.

"Update Kira," Ro ordered Triss, "And get me Captains Garner, Pryce, and Forgoen."

"I have four starships entering my screens," Slaine reported to Kira, "I mark the Steamrunner-class USS Sentinel, the Saber-class USS Specter, the Norway-class USS Eclipse, and the Akira-class USS Dauntless."

"Vaughn I need information on the captains," Kira requested.

"The Dauntless is a carrier variant. Her captain, Sarah Divine rose through ranks from 2nd Officer to CO during the war. Divine is sharp and very aggressive. Captain Cera Neva of the Sentinel is Bajoran. But she's pro-Federation rather than pro-Bajor. Captain Mandy Morris is another relative youngster rapidly promoted through the ranks to command the Specter. Martin Agman is the wildest card of them all aboard the Eclipse. He has seniority in rank and the others will follow his lead. He's supposed to be apolitical but he's taken a hard, conservative turn lately," Douglas supplied the requested info from her screen with Vaughn reading from beside her.

"They're enforcers, General," Vaughn assessed, "They're here to make certain Starfleet Command's decision regarding Lavelle and Bates will be followed through."

"It's also a sign we won't like it," Kira grated.

"I could request more ships from Legate Ocett," Slaine offered.

"We have ships in quantity," Kira frowned, "Raise shields and arm defensive systems."

"General?" Vaughn was hesitant.

"Commander, they're here to enforce a decision that's already been made," Kira replied, "I just happen to disagree with it. Send word to every vessel to go to red alert and standby."

"Should we interdict Starfleet?" Slaine inquired.

"No, let them through unmolested," Kira told her, "Vaughn, have a word or two with Captain Saavik to see where she stands on this."

"And if she supports Starfleet Command's decision?" Vaughn asked.

"Then she can kindly disembark from my station and take the Robinson with her," Kira informed him, "And have Ro personally tend to watching the Franir."

"Aye, General," Vaughn said grimly as he headed for the lift.

Which was rising to deliver Saavik, "Colonel, I must speak with you. With you all."

"Those ships are here to collect Bates and Lavelle, aren't they?" Kira inquired.

"Indeed. Without my concluding my investigation regarding culpability. I delivered my initial findings of the Captain Bates and Commander Lavelle both receiving illegal orders and following them without question. Which still leaves the onus of blame upon them for doing so," Saavik explained, "These starships are willing to conduct hostile action to 'secure and liberate' those you've 'wrongfully' detained."

"Where do you stand?" Kira asked.

"I stand with investigating the truth. This is an impediment to such discovery. However, I will not fire upon a fellow Starfleet vessel except in self defense," Saavik explained.

"Cut the Robinson loose," Kira ordered, "Captain, you're free to follow your conscience."

"Indeed?" Saavik seemed intrigued by the possibility.

"Colonel Ro is reinforcing the border and converging ships on the station," Kira explained, "So you might want to just depart."

"If it is all the same to you, General, I and my crew would prefer to remain docked at Deep Space 9. Perhaps my fellow officers will reconsider firing upon her if we do so," Saavik informed Kira.

"Just stand by to cast off," Kira requested, "You too, Elias."

"The Franir is taking up firing position," Slaine reported.

"It may be too late for that now, Captain," Kira called after Saavik before the lift descended.

"The Franir has taken up a clean firing position," Wyn reported to Ro.

"Helm, put us between them," Ro ordered.

The helmsman, Crispus Alva, blanched.

"Do you need me to do it, Lieutenant Crispus?" Ro asked archly.

"No, sir!" Crispus began manipulating his board and the Fist of the Prophets danced in response.

"Captains Gardner, Pryce and Forgoen have taken up defensive positions around the station as well as their squadrons," Triss reported from Communications.

"Weapons release on your order, Colonel," Sergeant Bol Ferin reported from Navigation which doubled as the Tactical Station.

"Copernicus reports Starfleet's ETA in less than five minutes," Triss added.

"They must be cruising at maximum warp," Ro deduced.

"Systems Defense reports Bajoran near space secured," Wyn reported to Ro.

Besides the four Bajoran Constitution-class starships and impulse driven defenders, five Asia (refit)-class starships along with two Miranda-Class guarded Bajor. Ro had supported the Waylaid with two more Mercury-class frigates to join the Prophet's Hammer and Prophet's Hope. She had the bulk of her forces spread across the Bajor Sector in case Starfleet attempted to circumvent the Badlands and the Rolor Nebula to approach from the neutral Kalendra Sector.

Free Haven Port had two starships defending her. The J-class starbase also had her own defensive capabilities. Starfleet generally disdained the Kalendra Sector but strategic aims could make one's prim self-righteousness bend.

"The Robinson is also taking up a firing position beyond our defensive perimeter," Crispus noted.

"What about the Endeavor and the Defiant?" Ro inquired

"Standing by to disembark," Triss explained, "Awaiting further word from General Kira."

"Colonel?" Triss was surprised, "Captain Wei reports the transit of a Constitution-class starship. An Enterprise-M."

"What the hell?" Ro asked Wyn. The young junior officer shrugged.

"Captain Agman signaling," Slaine reported.

"Their status?" Kira wondered.

"All Starfleet vessels have assumed a wartime footing," Slaine scowled.

"Put the man on the screen," Kira instructed.

"General Kira, this doesn't have to escalate any further," Agman offered.

"Lower your shields and power down your weapons and we'll do the same," Kira countered.

"General, Starfleet Command has determined the disposition of the two officers you are illegally detaining," Agman announced, "Captain Bates is to be returned to the Robinson and Commander Lavelle will be surrendered to my vessel."

"Or?" Kira had to ask.

"We have orders to force your compliance should you prove resistant," Agman said sternly.

"So once again, in defiance of policy and tradition, Starfleet is willing to fire first?" Kira asked.

Agman shifted uncomfortably, "My orders are for us to defend ourselves if necessary."

"Then get ready for a siege," Kira shrugged, "Out."

Kira turned, "Signal the Defiant and Endeavor they're cleared to cast off."

"Commander Vaughn and Captain Saavik signal their compliance," Slaine pulled a tactical display up on the main viewer. The Endeavor and Defiant joined the defensive lines.

"Captain Saavik lives up to her reputation," Kira smiled.

"Colonel Ro signals a new Starfleet vessel is in-bound. An Enterprise-M?" Slaine was confused, "I thought they hadn't progressed past an Enterprise-E."

"She's a Starfleet Academy retrograde technology training ship," Douglas pulled from the computer core, "She's commanded by one Captain Montgomery Scott."

"Why would Scotty steer a buncha kids into a potential war zone?" Chief O'Brien inquired.

He'd volunteered, beside Bashir and Douglas, to maintain a Starfleet presence besides Lt. Commander Blackmer.

"Captain Scott is a legendary engineer with Starfleet as well as a former associate of Captain Saavik," Douglas read, "She could've tipped him off to what's happening here."

"If Starfleet cadets are anything like Militia recruits, they're rebellious to begin with," Kira said sagely, "They might be here to help."

Twenty minutes later, the Enterprise-M dropped out of warp and did position herself between Starfleet and the space station.

"We'll see if the Admiralty is committed enough to endanger cadets," Kira said with satisfaction.

The polls opened and citizens from across the Federation logged in and voted. Computers kept the tallies and updated the data nets. Ardra made a surprise move when she conceded on live broadcasts despite being marginally ahead in the vote. With all of Chavy Sok's opponents endorsing her and on her nominations list or conceding the farce, she was declared the Federation's president by default.

In keeping with the record, momentous pacing of the election cycle, Sok was sworn into office two hours after being declared the winner. An hour after that, Sok nominated her Cabinet to the Federation Council for confirmation. Carrotmonger was the first recommend to the Council they forgo debates and simply confirm the candidates en masse. Frex, Mrrez, Therin, and Verbrog were the needed moderate votes from outside Sok's voting coalition to forward the motion.

Yia and her small bloc of Councilors were too few in number to block it. So Cindi was immediately made the Vice-President and Perez the Secretary for Starfleet as well the appointments of several loyalists.

With FNS and Galaxy Broadcasting carrying the session live, Sok knew she had the Federation's already, "Speaker, Federation Councilors, I approach you with existential crisis that is the Cardassian Union and our own former member Bajor over the last five days, we have witnessed unmitigated aggression from the Cardassians that resulted in the death of our President and Vice-President. That assassin is still at large. The Cardassian government even turned on their would-be defenders and attempted to eliminate Bajoran Ambassador Beric Aja. Of course, the Bajoran apologists for Cardassians have kept this fact out of the news cycles. Instead, escalating tensions at Deep Space 9 by firing upon two of Starfleet's starships, claiming that Captain Bates of the USS Robinson did in fact fore first and that the Bajoran Militia then acted in self-defense. In consultation with Fleet Admiral Clancy, starships were dispatched the Bajor Sector to liberate the wrongfully detained Captain Bates and Commander Samuel Lavelle before the election. The Bajoran government still refusing to release their prisoners despite an internal Starfleet investigation determining that Bates acted within his authority."

"I brand the Bajorans as traitors to the Federation and culpable in the detention of our citizens in Cardassian secret prisons. Furthermore, the Cardassian Guard has been rebuilding its forces for a decade with one obvious intent in mind. Investigators are seeking to establish a link between the Cardassian Information Bureau and the Synthetic Uprising. The Cardassians are refusing even a margin of cooperation. Therefore it is our duty as the sworn protectors of Federation law and the guardians of its citizens to acquire those records through any means necessary. I hereby call on this noble Council to declare a state of war between the United Federation of Planets and the Cardassian Union. I furthermore invoke this Council to release Starfleet to use any and all means necessary to recover our people and secure safe and unhindered passage through the Wormhole to our colonies in the Gamma Quadrant. History will be decided by your votes here today," Sok ended her speech.

This time she lost Carrotmaker's bloc along with Mrrez to side with Yia's moderates. But Therin, Frex, and Verbrog remained true and with the Cell 51 influenced bloc of Councilors, passed both resolutions.

"Thank you for your inspired leadership. We will begin making things right from here on in," Sok vowed.

Captain Saavik admittedly found it amusing that Captain Agman wore the freshly instated Starfleet uniform while she and her crew had been out of touch long enough to still wear the newly replaced uniforms. Changes in replicator patterns for uniforms were traditionally uploaded at starbases. The Endeavor hadn't seen port in over three years. Ever since Clancy had become Starfleet Commander she'd pressed for Saavik's retirement and the Endeavor's decommissioning.

"Captain Saavik, we have entered into a de facto state of war with Bajor yet you continue to deny us access to Deep Space 9 despite it being a Starfleet installation," Agman grated.

"Captain Agman, may I remind you that the Bajoran people own the station and that Starfleet was granted administrative control and basing rights. The Militia revoked the administrative clause but is inclined to continue to allow Starfleet basing rights and free transit privileges," Saavik replied. They'd had the same conversation for hours now.

"We don't need to be granted anything. It is simply ours to take," Agman suddenly insisted.

"I find that declaration to be illogical, illegal and morally repellent. Starfleet does not conquer their presumed opponents," Saavik rebutted his claim.

"Then perhaps it's time for a change of ideology," Agman declared. Agman switched off.

Saavik turned to her Tactical Officer, "Please flag that comm log in our system."

"Captain, we're receiving a new transmission. It's on all Starfleet bands as well as civilian sources," the officer reported back to her.

"On viewer," Saavik requested

Sok appeared, graven and shaken, "It is with a heavy heart that I report violence has broken along the Cardassian border and at Deep Space 9. This officially plunges us into a state of war with Bajor. Given the number of Bajorans within Federation society and within Starfleet itself, I'm declaring a state of martial law until we can determine the loyalties of these potential insurgents. Remember, their government was founded by terrorists and they have not fallen far from that original baseline. Bajoran Starfleet officers are to be taken off duty and relieved of their commands. I have asked for and received the resignation of the Speaker for the Council. I have appointed my former political rival, the woman known as Ardra, as Speaker. I trust every loyal Federation citizen will report the activities of their Bajoran neighbors and alert Federation Security and Starfleet of any suspicious behaviors. Thank you."

"Damn," Saavik simply replied, "They preemptively declared war based upon actions that have not yet occurred."

"Captain! The Eclipse and all other Starfleet vessels are locking weapons preparing to fire," the Tactical Officer replied.

"Prepare to fire if fired upon," Saavik ordered, "Any officers that feel unable to do so, please relieve yourselves. This is my responsibility."

No one left the bridge but the ship shuddered from the first phaser strikes.

"And we're officially under attack," the XO reported.

Kira stormed out off her office in Ops, "What the hell is he playing at?"

"Starfleet vessels have opened fire," Slaine informed Kira.

"Clear everyone to return fire;" Kira said grimly, "This won't end well."

"Reports are coming in from across the Federation-Cardassian border," Douglas stated from Strategic Operations, "Starfleet crossed the border to engage the Cardassian Guard."

"Gul Erek announced his attentions to engage the Starfleet vessels as well," Slaine warned everyone.

"Report coming in from Captain Wei and the Waylaid, they've been engaged by Starfleet forces," Douglas informed Kira

"Have Wei's force and the Militia ships drop back to this system," Kira ordered, "They need our support."

"I find it hard to believe Agman intends to occupy Bajor," Douglas had intercepted his transmissions with Saavik.

"Bajor has already repelled one Occupation. We'll do it again if we have to," Kira vowed. Slaine knew Starfleet was underestimating the Bajoran will to resist. Her people certainly had to their own cost.

Had the Maquis enjoyed the Federation's neutrality in the matter, they could've eventually secured their own borders and perhaps declared the DMZ a coalition or confederacy of worlds. But the Maquis had faced two stellar powers rather than one. Bringing in the Dominion had merely hastened the inevitable.


Chapter Seven

The Obsidian led the Capo and the Kelly to the Alpha Centauri trinary star system. They proceeded to the AB star solar system. Centauri A was Class-L and B was a Class-K star. The AB solar system contained many gas giants and Class-D planetoids that a reclusive station could orbit or a fortification be built upon. Macen had instructed Captains Mirita and Yar to stay close but allow the Obsidian's superior sensor package the opportunity to detect what was intended to stay hidden. As they proceeded into the system at one quarter impulse, Zimbalist and Jaycee Miller's efforts at OPS and Tactical were reinforced by Galen 3 at Sciences.

"I have something," Galen 3 announced, "It's a sensor echo but I think that's the intention."

"It would throw off further investigation," Zimbalist agreed with the Eminiarian.

"Run it down," Forger ordered.

Galen 3 sent the coordinates to the CONN where the Platonian pilot, Aglaia, turned the ship towards the mystery reading.

"Jaycee, shields up and weapons charged. Edwin, let our helper elves know what we're doing. And keep an eye on them as well."

"Good call," Joelle Jones, the ship's XO, concurred, "In my experience the Iotians are simply opportunistic bastards. They're reliably unreliable."

"The Bajoran Militia and Outbound Ventures represent their largest clients for starships, vessel components, ordnance, and phaser coils. Today, we represent both. They'll stick with us regardless of any ulterior motives they otherwise had going in," Forger promised Jones.

"You've been listening to Macen," Jones said with just a touch of rancor.

"I know there was bad blood between you two in the Maquis but he backed my choice of taking you on as XO and fast tracking you to your own command," Forger told her.

"Waitaminute! Fast tracked?" Jones was startled.

"Macen's idea," Forger shrugged, "He had Kathy Tyrol negotiating with Starfleet for early to mid-24th Century decommissioned starships. You'd assume command of one of them once I approved the transfer."

"Would you?" Jones wondered.

"As soon as a ship became available I'd start culling through applications for a new XO. As soon as I had one selected, you'd get your command," Forger promised.

"How likely is this deal?" Jones wondered.

"Considering Fleet Admiral Clancy has final approval, it's an uphill battle," Forger confessed.

"What about the Iotians?" Jones nodded at their shared command console's display of the escorting vessels.

"Aren't selling anything comparing to their new fleet. Macen already bought every late 23rd Century analogue they had. I doubt you want anything pre-refit design," Forger mentioned.

"I commanded an Earth Starfleet vessel for nearly ten years. I'm open to anything more advanced than that," Jones admitted.

"I'll pass that along when we finish here," Forger promised anew.

"You can take your time though," Jones admitted, "I'm just settling in here and I'm starting to like it."

"And we're happy to have you with us," Forger confessed.

"I have visual," Aglaia announced

A dust cloud hovered near a Class-L planet with several small moons orbiting near it. Just within the cloud orbited an unknown variety of space station.

"Clearly Federation technology incorporated into its design," Zimbalist studied the sensor readings, "Passives aren't detecting any sensor sweeps or communications being emitted."

Alarms went off and Miller amended that statement, "They have shields going up and weapons are targeting us."

"Red alert," Forger ordered, "Can you target their weapon's emplacements?"

"I can barely read their hull. They have some kind of refractory coating that the sensors don't register very well," Miller explained, "I back traced their sensors to the individual pallets but I doubt they're placed near they're beam emitters or torp launchers."

"They're sending out an SOS," Zimbalist called out.

"Lock onto that signal and alert the Data Womb team. Then somebody raise the Capo and the Kelly," Forger instructed.

"They're on audio," Miller offered, "Still locking onto their sensors."

"Captains, break formation and make your own approach to the station. We'll keep them occupied," Forger announced.

"We will?" Jones asked.

"We will," Forger affirmed it.

"Copy that," Yar chuckled.

"Understood," Mirita seemed amused by the exchange as well.

"Torpedoes inbound!" Miller called it out.

"Take evasive!" Forger ordered after Aglaia had already begun her maneuvers.

"Do you ever feel redundant?" Jones idly wondered.

"All the frinxing time," Forger grumbled.

"Scan near space," Jones became alert, "They're transmitting a distress call and someone is expected to answer."

"I have two ships on my screen coming around the planet's orbit. One is a system's defense cutter and the other seems to be some of courier boat. We're no match to the cutter," Miller explained.

"Send a request to the Kelly to run down the courier," Forger decided. And ask the Capo if she can proceed to the station as originally asked."

"Get us out before we're in a crossfire. We want to the station to observe us and stay distracted," Jones ordered. The screen showed a barrel roll and wide impulse turn as the Obsidian reversed the way she'd approached to engage the heavily armed cutter.

"The Kelly has gone to warp chasing the courier boat," Zimbalist reported, "The Capo made a run as though she were escaping."

"Let's hope it was just play acting," Jones muttered. Forger had to agree.

"Phasers are slowly having an effect on their shields," Lieutenant Crispus announced from the helm.

"Photon torpedoes having greater impact but they're still wearing us down faster than we can erode their defenses," Sergeant Bol stated from Navigation.

"Helm, relinquish phaser control to Navigation and focus solely on evasive maneuvers. That will also open the line of fire for DS9 to support us," Ro ordered.

"Friendly phaser fire and torpedoes imminent!" Bol called it, "Good call, Colonel!"

Several Outbound Ventures Constellation-class ships were led by the Starcrest into supporting the Fist of the Prophets against the Obena-class Franir. Captain Gardner and the crew of the Guinevere led the fight against the Dauntless. Captain Pryce and the Spearhead battled the Specter. Captain Forgoen led the Dog Star in its conflict with the Sentinel. Captain Cera had been removed from command of the Sentinel since she was Bajoran and therefore suspect under the Federation's new regime. Captain Agman of the Eclipse had opened fire on the Endeavor and Saavik was defending herself and her crew. The Defiant and Enterprise-M still hadn't been fired upon and were relegated to interposing themselves between combatants to attempt to quell hostilities.

"Keep up support for the friendlies," Kira urged.

"Dauntless is rolling fighters now," Slaine warned her.

"Launch runabouts," Kira instructed.

"Fighters are engaging Defiant and Enterprise," Slaine pitied them; "Tenmei and the Rio Grande are leading the Volga and the Rubicon into the conflict."

"I wish I could be out there," Kira's frustration showed.

"Gul Erek and his cruisers have engaged the fighters, the Dauntless and the Sentinel," Douglas reported, "I'm getting live updates from Wei. They're five minutes out of the system with three starships in pursuit."

"Do you have IDs on the ships yet?" Kira asked.

"Coming through from the Waylaid now," Douglas posted it on the tactical screen which showed the Outbound Ventures vessels covering the slower Militia starships' ordered retreat.

"The three ships are identified as the New Orleans-class USS Mardi gras, the Springfield-class USS Ohio, and the Cheyenne-class Bowhunter. I'll have command details in just a second," Douglas promised.

"A quantum slipstream tunnel has opened!" Slaine warned everyone, "A starship is emerging."

"A single starship...identified as the USS Voyager," Douglas reported, "Captain Chakotay commanding."

"They are hailing everyone," Slaine informed Kira, "They're seems to be cessation of hostilities for the moment."

"Put the man on screen," Kira recommended, "Let's hear what he has to say."

Kira noted that the uniform Chakotay wore was a new variant on the now standardized Starfleet uniform. The crew had special dispensation from Admiral Clancy to deviate from dress code to better identify themselves as the legendary crew while exploring the Delta Quadrant in earnest now

"Attention everyone, cease fire immediately!" Chakotay demanded, "I have a Starfleet officer aboard that can shed new light on these proceedings."

A very recognizable figure replaced Chakotay on the viewer wearing the same recently outmoded uniform that Saavik favored. Even Kira recognized him.

"Attention everyone, my name is Captain James T. Kirk. Many of you have heard about my untimely death and are unaware of my re-emergence in this century. Captain Chakotay has explained the situation to me and if I'm allowed to address the captains of each vessel collectively, I believe I can shed new light on your current situation. Our Cardassian friends are invited as well. Please signal if we can convene this meeting on the space station before or behind us. Kirk out," the famous visage winked out.

"Agree to it," Kira instructed Slaine.

"Every commander has agreed to it," Douglas told her, "Which means we'll have to drop our defensive posture."

"But so will they," Kira replied, "Inform the Militia commanders their attendance isn't required. That should give us a larger safety margin. Inform Outbound Ventures of the same."

"Captain Chakotay is requesting a docking berth. Every Starfleet vessel is," Slaine informed Kira.

"I'll handle that, just have Cenn double security on the station and especially around the Security Office," Kira told Slaine.

"General, Voyager has opened a private channel with the Enterprise-M," Douglas told her.

"Enterprise-M and Voyager are requesting adjoining docking pylon berths," Slaine stated.

"Helluva conversation," Kira muttered.

Scotty personally took over the transporter room as Captain Kirk beamed aboard.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain," Kirk smiled at Scotty.

"Oh, aye. Is it really you?" Scotty gladly returned the smile.

"It is," Kirk promised him, "Now we don't have much time I need one of your patented miracles."

"Just say the word an' I'll get it done," Scotty vowed.

"This ship is amazing, Scotty!" Kirk exclaimed as they traversed the corridors, "Is she really the Enterprise?"

"Down t' the rivets," Scotty chuckled, "I made certain of it."

"And might have saved the Federation in doing so," Kirk told him, "Now about that special project..."

The Obsidian's shields sloughed off most of the energy from the particle beam strikes but the surges caused by the photon torpedoes were causing overloads across the whole ship.

"Captain!" Parva's angry admonition came over the comm circuits.

"We're working on it!" Forger white knuckled her arm rests.

"Work faster!" Parva snarled and cit the transmission to focus on the latest crisis.

"Shields at 33% and falling," Miller unhappily announced.

"Can you even make a dent?" Jones wondered.

"It's basically a mobile weapons platform," Miller told her.

"Thrust capacity?" Jones inquired.

"Half impulse, best guess," Miller offered.

"You want to outrun them?" Forger was curious as go where her XO was going with this.

"I want them to chase us, straight into that station," Jones explained.

"Oooh, I like it," Forger looked devious, "Aglaia, I assume you were listening in?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Aglaia happily confirmed it.

"Then get it done," Forger instructed.

"Photon torpedoes away," Mirita's Tactical Officer reported, "Target destroyed,"

'Bring us about and return to the system," the captain of the Kelly ordered.

"Should we?" her XO wondered.

"It'd be bad form to abandon a rep of our two biggest clients. We'd end up as indentured servants on a garbage scow."

"Bring us about. We're heading back," the XO ordered the CONN Officer. Mirita chuckled to herself.

The Capo was slowly navigating the dust cloud to stealthily approach the station.

"I've got her sighted!" her keen eyed OPS chief pointed out the position for the CONN.

"Adjust course setting, thrusters only," Yar cautioned her people, "Arm weapons and standby on release. We're going to manually target them rather use the sensors."

"But they're fully shielded," Tactical complained.

"Not for long, I'm guessing," Yar confided in her crew, "I've done some checking on the Obsidian and crew. They're practically legendary at overcoming the odds. If there is some wild, completely out of their mind way of changing the odds, then they'll find it and exploit it," Yar counseled her people, "We're new to the starship game but these people are professionals."

"But professional what's?" the XO asked.

"Whatever they need to be," Yar replied confidently.

"The station is locking on," Miller warned as the rear deflectors took a pounding as the systems cutter pursued them.

"They'll be afraid of hitting their own people," Forger predicted.

The ship violently bucked under a dual barrage.

"Wanna bet?" Jones drawled.

"We're so close they don't need to aim to hit us," Miller yelled back at them, "And by the way, shields are down!"

"Aglaia," Forger stressed her name.

"I'm on it," Aglaia replied though a clenched jaw.

"Always waits to the lost frinxing second to blink," Forger complained to Jones.

"I know Macen has a death wish," Jones grumbled, "Does she?"

"Not yet anyway," Forger said as the station loomed. Aglaia adjusted their vector at precisely the last available second to do so and avoid a collision and went to maximum impulse. The cutter wasn't as responsive or lucky.

"They've thrown everything into their forward shields," Tactical gasped.

"Well, fire already!" Yar shouted at him. The Capo opened up with every weapon at her disposal. The unshielded aft quarter of the station was pulverized and sliced open by torpedo detonations and phaser fire. The shrapnel washed over the Capo.

"Shields holding," Tactical offered.

"Let's see what we did to the bastards," Yar gloated.

The Kelly dropped out of warp to witness the cutter's collision with the station. The station's shields winked out but there was only mild buckling of the affected hull. The plating was still glowing red from the cutter's impulse thrusters firing in reverse when the two bodies met.

"Are anyone's shields still up?" Mirita asked.

"The cutter's shields are severely weakened but still holding. The station seems have suffered catastrophic damage to its aft sections as well. Its shields are completely down," her Tactical Officer reported.

"Use phasers only and cripple that cutter. Then send salvage teams aboard," Mirita ordered.

"And her crew?" her XO inquired.

"Offer them a chance to be salvaged as well. Otherwise, execute them," Mirita coldly answered, "Business is business. Our Starfleet always needs new conscripts."

The term "conscripted" being a euphemism for the archaic British naval term of "impressed into service". The very practice that incited the War of 1812. Among other geopolitical factors.

"They serve or die," Mirita chuckled.

"Bringing us about," Aglaia announced.

"Does she even wait for orders?" Jones mirthfully asked.

"Not usually," Forger admitted. Explosions filled the screen as the Capo lashed out at the mysterious station.

"I guess resistance really is futile," Jones was greatly amused.

"Commander, are you seeing this?" Forger inquired of Macen in the Situation Center.

"Affirmative. I've gotten the Capo to stand down. I'll be leading a team aboard the station," Macen replied, "Good work on surviving."

"Just another day. Just another huge bonus," Forger suggested hopefully.

"I'll pass that on to the client," Macen chuckled.

"Damn. He's never gonna," Forger complained

"You had hopes?" Jones had to chuckle as well, "You'd just pray he talks Parva down before she gets here to break your neck."

The lights dimmed before brightening again.

"We lost main power. Engineering automatically switched us to auxiliary," Zimbalist reported.

"Uh...Commander?" Forger commed Macen again.

"They've taken heavy damage and are venting atmosphere," Galen 3 reported from Astrometrics, "They have emergency power routed to some essential systems and complete losses at other select locations."

Macen touched a screen, "Route this location to Telrik. That'll be our beam in point."

"It's voided to space," Rockford pointed at the glaringly obvious.

"So they won't expect it," Macen grinned.

"My people aren't rated for environmental suits," Rockford reminded him.

"They're not coming anyway," he told her. Lee, Shade, and Forte all looked relieved.

"Harri and Tracy are much better suited to salvage operations," Macen told her, "Rab and Tony will provide the muscle. Angelique and Bailey will provide the technical knowhow."

"They know environment suits?" Rockford asked.

"Please, they're from Ardana IV," Macen smirked.

Environment suits were far less cumbersome than space suits. But they still had to wear magnetic boots since the artificial gravity fluctuated in and out of most of the compartments.

"This why you wanted us to come along?" Mudd complained as she used an antigrav lifter to compensate for when there was gravity available to tote a portable generator.

"Like you haven't done this before," Ebert scoffed as she carried a second generator.

"Why're we bringing two?" Mudd continued unabated.

"One for life support and gravity and the second to power the computing systems and core," Smith sounded unperturbed.

"And to listen to you bitch about it," Kerber snickered.

"What the frinx did I just step in?" Mudd squawked.

"Ever hear of 'first you say and then you do it'?" Kerber openly laughed.

"Way to warn someone, Tony!" Mudd yelled at the man at point.

"You've got eyes. I've seen them," Burrows called back.

Macen was second. Daggit was a one-man fire team behind him. The Ardanans crept up behind the Angosian. Ebert and Mudd lumbered along towards the rear and Rockford brought it up. They felt the station quake under their boots.

"What kinda frinxed up shuk was that?" Mudd demanded to know as the remaining lights and power indicators went dead.

"Shannon just fired a warning shot into their fusion core," Rockford explained.

"Did I miss that memo?" Mudd exclaimed.

"Pretty extreme warning," Ebert admitted.

"Means they weren't communicating," Rockford bothered to explain, "Also now we just have to cycle the manual releases to the hatches and doors rather than fight the force fields sealing off the vented sections"

"So what happens when we reach a sealed hatch and breach it?" Mudd asked.

"Explosive decompression," Smith sounded like she was speaking to an addled child.

"That's pretty damn cold. I've committed acts of piracy but never this," Mudd protested.

"We're at war, Harri;" Macen said grimly, "The Federation has declared war on Cardassia and a de facto state of war with Bajor. We're acting as agents of Bajor just as these people probably believe they're the second coming of the Federation. In case you've ignored the updates Lt. Commander Douglas has been sending us on Kira and Ro's behalf, Starfleet has entered a 'shoot first, never ask for surrender' mode in this chain of events. We have to assume that these are the same people inspiring that change."

"Harri, Starfleet has preemptively attacked Cardassia once and the Bajoran Militia twice already. They were preparing the second attack on DS9 when we received our last update," Rockford explained.

"Those are our ships under attack as well," Macen reminded her.

"Ah hell," Mudd groaned, "You hadda to bring that up."

"We have friends in Starfleet too," Burrows reminded everybody, "I wonder what the hell they're doing about this."

In a Belfast pub called the Dark Man, Rear Admiral Amanda Forger entered to find Commander Michelle Prentiss waiting for her inside. With her was a stranger.

"We make a friend?" Forger cautiously asked Prentiss.

"Commander Robin Lefler, meet Admiral Forger," Prentiss offered.

"I tried going blonde. It didn't stick," Lefler noted being the sole member retaining her natural hair color.

"May I ask why you're here?" Forger stiffly asked.

"Lefler's Law Number Fifty-Three, skip the small talk when the galaxy's in danger," Lefler agreed.

"Maybe it should be a provisional number one," Forger grated.

"I'm on extended leave from the USS Excalibur. Captain Calhoun was contacted by Admiral Nechayev regarding any assistance he could provide. He called me in. I called your offices," Lefler explained at last.

"Ambril set her up with me," Prentiss finished. Lt. Commander Ambril Delori had been taken into custody earlier that day for being a Bajoran. Commodore Oh had provided an "assistant" from Starfleet Security's ranks over Forger's protests. Clancy had come down hard.

When she received a back channel invitation from Prentiss when she'd gone off duty, she'd immediately transported from London to Northern Ireland. Despite the six northern counties uniting with the Irish Republic prior to WWIII, Northern Ireland remained an administrative district on the United Earth. Ireland's other twenty counties had been grouped in fives to form four other districts. The shared cultural history wrapped the northern six together in the district planning. Ireland itself being a vote within the Euro Zone. Each continental zone receiving a vote in the United Earth Parliament. The Prime Minister being the administrative head of Earth.

The former Russian Federation enjoyed the distinction of being the only obsolete nation-state to receive votes in both the Euro and Asia Zones. The undersea nations of Transpacifica, Macronasia and Transatlantic also received Parliamentary votes. The Prime Minister and Parliament had no idea of how their Federation Councilor was betraying the democratic ideal in a vote being undertaken at that moment. But three women sitting in the pub were all too aware.

"Oh's tails are getting sloppier," Forger confessed, "I lost them in under a dozen transporter jumps."

"Mine took fourteen," Prentiss admitted.

"They never saw me coming," Lefler chuckled.

"Any news from the Admiralty?" Prentiss dared hope.

"Voyager was recalled but was missing in action anyway," Forger reported. "Janeway still pushed through Chakotay's assignment to commanding the new USS Protostar. Before she herself was detained."

"Janeway was counting on Voyager's support," Prentiss scowled.

"Nechayev has Commodore Shelby's, Captain Calhoun's, and Captain Mueller's." Lefler promised.

"The Thallonian Sector is still a long ways away," Prentiss had to admit.

'Bill Ross feels used and abused and is looking to push back," Forger shared.

"That's news," Prentiss conceded.

"Not that having Elizabeth Shelby, Mackenzie Calhoun, or Katerina Mueller isn't a significant advantage that we were lacking before," Forger promised Lefler...

"Should I now mention the Excalibur and Trident are on their way to Bajor?" Lefler faux wondered.

"Alynna arranged for the Hood and the Merrimack to go there as well," Forger revealed, "The Monitor's crew is still rogue."

"They're all Bajoran anyway," Prentiss shrugged, "So they'd get arrested on sight."

"Bob Johnson is stalling the Federation Council remotely as best he can but Jim McKinley already has the USS Intrepid racing home," Forger mentioned fellow Rear Admiral Robert Tavar Johnson, whom she was secretly, or not so secretly, falling for.

"I hear Captain La Forge already transferred to the USS Challenger and is openly advocating for the Bajorans," Lefler put forth, "As are Commander Benteen at DS4 and Captain Reyes at DS3."

"Damn! Erika Benteen was under review to get her captaincy restored after a decade's worth of bullshit," Prentiss grimaced.

"Reyes is an old flame of Ro's," Forger explained. Everyone stared at her.

"So I've heard," she said in a slow, unconvincing cadence.

"You and your hobbies," Prentiss rolled her eyes. Forger could hardly explain that she, Nechayev, Johnson, Tom Riker, Lisea Danan, Ro, and Vaughn came from the same alternate universe as Macen's team, the Obsidian officers, and the Intrepid's Senior Staff. It was public knowledge on Bajor that Neela had traversed space-time to be in the here and now.

"Commander Lefler alerted me to some interesting details that we've been missing," Prentiss alerted Forger.

"Such as?" Forger wondered. Anything could help.

"Admiral, a cadre of the chiefs of staff to Federation Councilors meets in London every week and after they dismiss, signals are sent through a relay from Earth to Alpha Centauri AB to the Delta Quadrant," Lefler explained.

"Not criminal in and of itself," Forger frowned. Was that the best Lefler had?

"Admiral, they meet inside the London Data Archive," Lefler explained it all.

"But that's my divisional headquarters," Forger gaped, "I didn't know of any Federation staffers meeting there. Weekly?"

"Section 31 based there first," Prentiss reminded her, "S31 may be shut down but are we absolutely certain we closed down every part of Cell 51?"

"You've confirmed this information?" Forger had to ask despite already knowing, and hating, the answer.

"It's confirmed," Prentiss nodded slowly. The viewers near the bar increased the various monitors' volume as patrons became interested in the reports coming in.

"Repeat, this Fiona Shaw reporting for FNS. Martial Law has been declared. Freedoms of the press and assembly are abolished," the reporter looked harried and out of breath, "Federation Security is already pursuing us. Drastic anti-dissent laws have been enacted by the narrowest of margins for the duration of the newly declared war with Cardassia. A campaign against Bajor has also been announced. All exploratory missions have been recalled to reinforce the front lines. The President, the Speaker, and the Federation Council cited no pretext for these measures, merely enacting them into law. Laws which had obviously been expected to be enacted with the ease, swiftness, and ferocity of their immediate enforcement. Wait! They're coming!"

The screen turned to static. The FNS logo replaced it and the Galaxy Broadcasting corporate logo on the main screen. The same stern faced Starfleet officer replaced the different logos. He recited the terms of the new laws and the penalties for breaking them. Besides the mass arrests of Bajorans it seemed even dissenting Federation Councilors were being detained and any critics of the articles of war. Peaceful demonstrators had been fired upon with stunning force.

"For everyone's safety we're now imposing household lockdowns. All essential services members will be met and escorted to their prospective jobs. The lockdown will commence in six hours. Anyone found outside their homes after the deadline passes without an escort will be detained indefinitely or until the current crisis passes. Thank you for your cooperation," the lt. commander delivered in a flat monotone. The patrons were equally divided between two camps. Those fleeing home and those ordering a last round.

"They've really done it," Forger breathed.

"They're going to empty the hotels," Prentiss predicted.

"I don't live on Earth," Lefler grimaced, "And I'm not active duty with Starfleet."

"You can stay with me," Prentiss offered.

"You can both stay with me," Forger counter offered, "I have security and access you'll both be denied otherwise."

"This never happened before," Lefler was stunned, "Not even against the Dominion or the Klingons."

President Sok's image filled every screen as she called for order within a New Order.

"Someone wants to be the hero of the narrative," Forger assessed.

"No matter the cost to everyone else," Prentiss dismally predicted. The suspension of voting rights, to be re-established on an individual basis, came within hours.

"Hang on folks, it only gets worse," Forger grimly realized, "They're just beginning. The entire Federation Constitution will be suspended by this time tomorrow."

To none of their surprise, it was.


Chapter Eight

Before that could happen...

Kirk gathered the apprehensive Starfleet officers with their supposed Bajoran and Cardassian "enemies".

"Why are we here? Where are Captain Bates and Commander Lavelle? And what is that museum piece doing here?" Captain Agman demanded all at once, "And just who the hell are you really?"

"We were equally surprised to discover the famed 'Captain Quirk' on the Delta Quadrant frontier was actually Captain Kirk," Chakotay explained.

"You can thank Borg technology for my being here," Kirk alluded to the incident that brought his corpse back to life, "The rest has to do with mysteries of the Nexus Ribbon."

"We all know Picard was lying to cover for his incompetent ass losing of a second command!" Divine spat back.

"Yet a Starfleet Board of Inquiry examined all the available evidence and backed his story," Saavik posed.

"Picard was always Starfleet's favorite," Morris equivocated.

"Not anymore," Divine said with malicious glee, "That relic is behind us. As Bajor should be by now. Why are we even here?"

"T' listen t' somethin' other than ye're own mouth," Scotty bristled.

"Another fossil heard from," Morris snorted.

"Good one," Divine congratulated her.

"I weep for this generation," Kirk said blandly, "If you're the best Starfleet has to offer."

"We're wasting time. My crew has strict instructions that if I'm taken prisoner that they're to board this station and apprehend every Bajoran and traitor aboard it," Agman glared at Vaughn, Scotty, Saavik, Chakotay, and Kirk one by one.

"They're welcome to try," Kira gloated.

"You've been duped," Kirk blurted, "That waste your time?"

"What do you mean?" Cera's XO, Commander Emil Hunter, asked.

"Someone has been directing political action out of the Delta Quadrant for weeks now. Including directives to forward a covert strike against Cardassian prisons where Starfleet prisoners had been relocated in order to provide a pretext for war," Kirk explained, "I came across one of their abandoned listening posts on the border and found the computer still active and archiving the transmissions. They're on these."

He held out several flat squares.

"What are those?" Divine blurted.

"Duatronic memory tapes," Saavik answered, "And I must weep alongside the Captain."

"Why something so primitive?" Agman was suspicious.

"Two reasons come to mind," Saavik offered, "One, the base was constructed when such technology was in vogue. Two, the very anachronistic nature of the media would render them unlistenable to anyone unaware of their true nature and capable of constructing a retrograde reader and integrating it into an isolinear system."

"Which I have," Scotty boasted.

"I not going to listen this shuk any longer!" Divine was up on her feet.

"Sit down, Captain," Agman ordered.

"Excuse you?" Divine sputtered.

'Do you still recognize the chain of command?" Agman simply asked.

"Of course," she meant herself of course.

"I'm senior in rank, Captain. You'll obey my directive," Agman grated. Divine was uncertain as she sat back down.

"Please continue," he offered.

Scotty relayed tapes in and out as Sorbo's conversations with the Presider and Gray Cardinal built up to the raid, the necessity of a war, and the decision that Sok, Perez, and Cindi should run for the Presidency. The outcome of which would be meaningless since all the candidates adhered to the same credo and owed the same loyalty to Cell 51.

"It could all be fabricated," Agman weakly protested through a dry mouth.

Douglas entered the conference chamber, "The Federation President just declared war on Bajor, martial law, the suspension of the freedoms of the press and assembly, and put every Federation citizen under house arrest until the wars conclude or whatever supposed crisis that remains unnamed subsides."

"My kind of President!" Divine crowed.

"You're all welcome to return to your ships and exit the system. Just don't return," Kira offered.

'Or you'll what, exactly?" Divine snorted.

"Stick around to attack us again and found out," Kira was unruffled then got dangerously intent, "In fact, I beg you to."

That completely unnerved Divine.

"I suppose you made copies of those on isolinear rids?" Agman inquired.

Kirk handed one over, "For anyone interested in verifying the truth."

"Thanks, I already know it," Divine headed out. Bajoran constables escorted her to her docking berth.

"We will depart and we will stand down until we exit the sector. But we'll probably be returning with further reinforcements," Agman dourly predicted.

"You'd better hope not," Kira advised him, "My people beat back the Cardassians over generations. We'll do the same to you if your occupy our worlds. Moss of us still remember how."

"I'll advise Starfleet Command," Agman almost managed a smile.

The Dauntless was the only departing starship to raise shields and arm weapons. But being target locked by over twenty Outbound Ventures starships dissuaded Divine from breaking orders and opening fire.

Vaughn and the senior staffers volunteered to remain aboard as a "peacekeeping initiative" in order to maintain Starfleet's openly invited presence on Deep Space 9. For however long the Bajorans chose to keep the station's name unchanged if Starfleet prosecuted an actual war. In the interim, the system's defenders conducted a strategy session.

"I've received recall orders to force me into a position of being AWOL," Chakotay informed the gathered group.

Harry Kim joined in as well, "The crew is nearly unanimous about staying though."

"Captain Kirk, I'd be honored of ye'd take command of th' Enterprise," Scotty requested.

"Scotty, those kids need to return home," Kirk argued.

"With all due respect, sir; the entire crew are graduates of Starfleet Academy. We volunteered to take an advanced post-graduate starship operations course with Captain Scott," Lieutenant JG Sky Conway explained, "After seeing action against the Interfaith Council, Starfleet recognized the need for junior officers to become more acquainted with retrograde Starfleet technology thanks to the Iotians selling starships to anyone that can afford to make a deal with them. Captain Scott offered us a chance to back out and we chose to go forward with this course of action. Sir!"

"She reminds me of you, Saavik," Kirk chuckled.

"Indeed," Saavik was intrigued.

"Captain, a crew is only as good as their captain. I'm a Captain of Engineering. I officially request ye take command," Scotty insisted.

"All right, Scotty," Kirk smiled his disarming smile, "I won't argue with a 'living legend'."

"I dinna come up with tha' title, Captain," Scotty demurred.

"It's accurate though," Kirk promised him.

"I have a friend that would go out of his mind to be here right now," Ro chuckled. Colonel Rev was leading the System Defense Force from the Hand of the Prophets. Ro had transferred the bulk of her forces back into the Alpha Quadrant while the USS Legislature, left behind as Starfleet's remaining presence in the Gamma Quadrant, entered a period of détente with Ro's remaining starships and the K-class station the Bajorans had built. Her captain following Saavik's lead as a conscientious objector to the presumed war effort.

"The Guard has repulsed the initial Starfleet invasion. But our defenders suffered losses we can ill afford," Gul Erek reported.

"Starfleet is pulling its Beta Quadrant reserves in to throw at the front," Douglas continued to monitor Starfleet traffic reports.

"As we have pulled capital ships from the Farside Border," Erek nodded.

"Starfleet is urgently recalling several key ships. None of them have responded," Douglas added, "They include the Challenger, the Excalibur, the Trident, the Intrepid, the Hood, and the Merrimack. That's four Galaxy-class starships, and an Akira-class carrier, and a Defiant-class escort. All of whom Starfleet Intelligence is refusing to report on their possible motives. But the Valo system border and the Kalandra system border patrols are being increased in case they attempt to join us here."

"Starfleet Intelligence has gone dark?" Kira asked.

"Admiral Nechayev vanished and the Deputy Director is now in charge. Other notable members of the Admiralty also went off grid," Douglas explained, "Admirals Jellico, Akaar, and Sirek have all disappeared along with Admiral Forger and Commander Prentiss."

"Sirek?" Ro hadn't heard the name before, "A Vulcan?"

"The newly appointed Director for Internal Affairs," Vaughn added, "Commodore Oh is pushing through a lot of warrant requests through JAG. So far they're bogged down over procedural issues. But the new Secretary for Starfleet, Juliette Perez, is pushing Clancy for charges of treason and desertion be filed. Oh seems happy to comply."

Slaine arrived, "The joint listening post at Valo VI reports our departing Starfleet invaders have reported in at Starbase 375. External communications report that Agman delivered the materials to Vice Admiral Ross."

"I suppose Captain Divine did the reporting," Vaughn assessed.

"Precisely," Slaine confirmed it, "Directly to Commodore Oh's offices. The Acting Director of Internal Affairs announced her intention of launching investigations into Agman and Ross. "

"The Double and Single 0 divisions of Starfleet Intelligence were deployed with sealed orders in case of this eventuality. Apparently Nechayev saw this coming as soon as the President was assassinated and the candidates were announced," Douglas added then amended for Chakotay, Kim, Scotty, Saavik, Batesman, and Kirk; "Those are elite operatives that answer directly to the Director of Starfleet Intelligence."

She avoided admitting she was Agent 0212. She'd already advised Kira and Ro as to the nature of the divisions, their numbers, and her affiliation to them. Morgan Batesman had been very quiet until now, "We're committing mutiny by even being here."

Batesman had reported to Starbase 375 and returned under orders from Ross. His official orders were to safeguard Lavelle and Bates.

"But the Honshu and her crew are committed to defending Bajor from Starfleet and the Federation's unwarranted aggression," Batesman promised them all.

Captain Cera Neva had been left behind on DS9 like unwanted d trash. Every Bajoran officer and enlisted serving aboard the newly arrived starships had been as well.

"Some of us are just yesterday's trash," Cera bitterly remarked.

A young Militia corporal in Ops reported in, "Colonel Kira, a USS Monitor is on approach. Captain Hev Callas states he's ready to fight for Bajor again."

"I knew Hev back in the Resistance. He joined Starfleet?" Kira wondered aloud

"And reportedly went renegade with a Bajoran crew aboard a Defiant-class starship," Douglas recalled.

"There's no way that was by accident if the entire fleet hasn't been looking for him," Vaughn clearly stated.

"Inform Captain Hev he has a Militia commission waiting for him," Kira replied to the corporal, "I'd best be getting to Ops."

"We'd best be deploying our commands," Ro suggested, "I need to get on patrol to bolster my force's morale."

"Allocate Outbound Ventures into squadrons again to support our colonies," Kira instructed, "If everyone here is committing to defending Bajor and the station?"

"I believe that's a 'yes' all around," Kirk smiled again. Kira was beginning to believe the other legends about Kirk and his charm.

"We have the USS Aventine on fast approach!" Sveta Korepanova warned Captain Tom Riker of Serenity Station, "Commander Bowers is hailing."

"On screen," Riker ordered.

Sam Bowers appeared on the screen flanked by his XO, Ezri Dax, "Captain Riker, I have a shipload of high ranking officers that want to set up on your station. Admiral Forger guaranteed their safe conduct."

"You're assigned to upper pylon three," Riker replied, "A security detail will meet your passengers."

"I think you'll want to be there in person,' Dax informed him

Riker and Danan were present alongside Gerrit Gren's detail when Admiral Forger herself led the "missing" Starfleet admirals along with Prentiss and Lefler aboard, "We formally request asylum."

"I have no official power to grant it but you're all welcome aboard," Riker replied

"You have more power than you realize, Captain;" Nechayev advised him, "With your permission we'll be setting up a base of operations here to investigate the legitimacy of the President and her Cabinet."

"I'll have to consult the Barrinoran authorities. We do operate within their system," Riker warned them

"Barrinor's government has been consulted," Forger told him, "We won't operate starships from here but we will coordinate efforts and logistics as well intelligence gathering from this location."

Rikers comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Riker here."

"The Aventine is disembarking," Korepanova advised him

"Keep me informed," Riker scowled, "It seems your ride is sailing off leaving me no choice but to grant your request."

"You could simply say, 'no'," Nechayev smiled, "The Aventine is simply moving to another assignment. We'll have another starship at the border in less than six hours. If you decide against our request, we'll simply board her and find an alternative."

"Lees?" Riker asked Lisea Danan.

"They should stay," she said unequivocally, "They are clients after all."

"That old excuse?" Riker chuckled as her humor worked its magic upon him, "I guess you can all stay."

"We'll need quarters, equipment and places to work," Forger got straight to business.

"Lees can handle the details," he flashed his wife a wicked grin. Lisea and all of the Danan symbiont's previous hosts agreed that Riker would have to repay the favor. Danan summoned Riker's yeoman, the Deltan named Kalista, to assist her. Danan had resumed her Maquis-era habit of dying her hair blonde and wearing it in such a fashion as to hide her distinctive Trill spotting. The Cardassians had been eager to get their hands on a Trill symbiont so she'd protectively disguised herself as a Maquis.

Riker was unaware of her current motives but suspected that finding her first streaks of gray hairs had at least contributed to the change of color. But he wasn't certain why she was taking pains to hide her Trill identity again twelve years after the Maquis had been crushed as a movement. She'd been stationed far from the front lines during the Dominion conflict utilizing stellar cartography arrays to peer deep into Cardassian space as well as relying on her own in-depth experience with the Dorvan Sector.

Unknown to her at the time, Danan had been instrumental in selecting targets for the behind the lines operations of Macen aboard the Odyssey and Ro aboard the Asimov along with Ebert and Daggit. As the previous XO of the SS Odyssey, Danan had enjoyed access to Cardassian space under Macen's legend of being a freelance "information broker". A pretense he maintained during the war. Danan had been well aware that her efforts and expertise as a stellar cartographer were being utilized for military purposes. She just never been informed of just how personal the stakes were.

Danan had still been posted to the same observatory when Macen recruited for what turned unto being the premier mission of what turned into the Special Investigations Division of Starfleet. Of course, in the history of this Prime Universe, the SID had just created just under a year ago following the dismantling of Section 31, the Hobus disaster, the Synthetic Uprising and the Mars Massacre, Picard's resignation, and the transfer of everyone from an alternate universe to replace those that had been lost that the translinear, interdimensional Prophets of Bajor had deemed necessary to the continuation of this, the Fourth Prime Universe.

The outlier being the Neela from the past of yet another alternate reality. She'd been dubbed the Hand of the Prophets by the Kai of Bajor and the Vedek Assembly. The Emissary himself had blessed her departing Bajor to assist the Prophets' agents in the SID. The Kai, the vedeks, and the people trusted in Ben Sisko's endorsement so they believed Neela was on a mission from the Prophets. Unaware that she'd also departed to have a measure of peace from the kai and vedeks' demands and needs. She'd served one false kai. She'd serve no others.

She served the Prophets themselves, all others were secondary. Macen at least understood that and gave her the latitude to operate as she deemed fit. To fill her time, she served in the Operations Department on Serenity. But the Prophets called, they'd supplied her her closest friend, Colonel Anara of Militia Special Forces to help carry their wishes out. General Kira had given them their old ship, the Ark of the Prophets, in order for Anara and Neela to assist Outbound Ventures in their efforts to secure Bajoran security and fulfill the independent missions the Prophets had for the pair.

Danan and Kalista situated the Starfleet admirals and officers before allocating them unused office space. Outbound Ventures had compartments reserved that the corporation hadn't expanded into yet. Tyrol happily gave them the areas and Chris Pike continued feeding Starfleet banal reports of inactivity around the station and the corporation's starships while she took up the admirals' cause. Sirek, Forger, and Prentiss ran the investigation with Lefler's aid. Pike assisted Nechayev and Jellico in coordinating the Double and Single 0 agents' activities in support of the investigative efforts. Akaar communicated with the starships converging on the Bajor Sector from various corners of the Federation's borders. It was he, along with Kira, that mapped out an operations strategy. One the defenders badly needed.

In the President's office, Sok met with Cindi and Perez. The chiefs of staff were currently with Admiral Clancy and Commodore Oh laying down the new law and was expected of them

"The Cardassians and the Bajoran both put up stiffer resistance than we expected," Perez complained, "We were repulsed out of the Bajor and the Dorvan Sectors alike."

"The Bajorans having the foresight to hire Outbound Ventures was unexpected," Cindi agreed.

"Something Clancy leapt upon to shutter the SID and cancel Starfleet's contracts with the security contractors," Sok had read the report filed by a boastful Clancy herself, "But that means their space station is literally defenseless."

"We can't risk invading Barrinoran held space," Perez counseled Sok, "The other stellar powers staying neutral in the conflict would band together against us claiming we were after Barrinoran-held foreign assets."

"Which wouldn't be far from the truth," Cindi chuckled, "An assault on Outbound Ventures would-be a good excuse to use to conduct a bank robbery."

"One that would make us a pariah amongst civilized stellar nations," Perez attempted to dispel the idea once again before it could root.

"That idiot of a Grand Nagus levied sanctions against the Federation a few hours ago. Rom is offering financial assistance to Bajor," Sok was outraged.

"His wife is Bajoran and his son serves on Deep Space 9," Perez reminded them both, "Both of which we just attacked."

"What are doing about Starfleet's defectors?" Cindi decided to lay the blame on Perez.

"Clancy has declared any starship and crew assisting the Bajorans as renegades fully prosecutable as a Federation capital crime and deserters to Starfleet," Perez told them.

"I'm reinstituting the death penalty for treason," Sok announced, "That should curb some enthusiasm towards the 'noble cause'."

"Councilor Carrotmonger made an unusually bold move and filed articles of impeachment," Cindi informed her, "Yia seconded the motion to bring it to the floor. Ardra deftly used a procedural trick to quash it from seeing the floor."

"It won't matter after we suspend the constitution tomorrow," Sok shrugged her indifference, "Is the new constitution ready for adoption?"

"The coalition's staffers have a draft ready for debate. I suggest you look it over to tweak any changes that would look properly Presidential. Have to keep the public enamored," Cindi smirked.

"Dysart, Dillon, and Harris are filling in nicely at their new roles at the Ministry of Propaganda attached to Starfleet," Perez happily told them, "Everything is going by the numbers."

"I'm surprised Clancy is so compliant," Sok admitted.

"This is her wet dream since the Mars Massacre," Perez laughed, "The chance to look decisive and in command regardless of circumstances."

"Commodore Oh has been vital to enactment of our new directives," Cindi admitted.

"She's a Vulcan," Sok was dismissive again; "She'll do anything her own logic dictates to her to do. She's Director of Starfleet Security for God's sake. This is probably her own wet dream if Vulcans even manage them."

Sok was correct for entirely hidden reasons.

"What do we do with all the Bajorans we've rounded up?" Perez asked.

"The penal colonies are bursting at the seams with them," Cindi admitted.

"We build internment camps for the civilians and begin prosecuting the Starfleet officers as traitors. A few convictions and subsequent executions will keep them in line. Besides, we may need them as living shields if the Bajorans try anything desperate like a direct assault on Earth," Sok explained her plan, "The Breen got through after all."

"Good thinking," Cindi concurred.

"I'll get the Ministry of Propaganda onto spinning up reports of Bajoran sedition," Perez pledged, "That'll make the policy change more palatable. Maybe stage a few show trials like Cardassians do."

"We'll need to install new judges now that we've dismissed the existing judiciary system. Request a list of candidates from the Grey Cardinal," Sok instructed, "Every suspect is guilty. Make certain the prosecutors and judges know that in advance. Defense attorneys are a thing of the past. Every voice of dissent is a voice of a traitor and treason only has one outcome."

"We'll need to purge the ranks of law enforcement as well and bring on new, complaint officers in our own mold," Cindi shared, "The cream will rise in this new climate."

"Have the Ministry prepare a campaign to encourage citizens to inform on potential traitors. They'll be ample rewards if they do," Sok decided, "I want everyone informing on everyone else. I want every citizen and foreigner to know every imaginable threat is out there and only our regime can save them."

"Clancy reported that someone claiming to be Captain Kirk reborn has evidence of our dealings with Director Sorbo and the Presider. Admiral Ross is reviewing the evidence the Bajorans have now that this 'Kirk' imposter gave then the original duotronic recordings from an abandoned S31 listening post near the Delta Quadrant."

"Inform the Presider. She can alert the Gray Cardinal and the Director. Tell Ross to disregard the evidence and throw every available ship at the Bajorans and Cardassians as they become available. In a war of attrition, we'll win," Sol declared, "In the end even if we merely cripple their militaries and demand crippling war reparations, we'll get real boots on their ground and permanently maintain presence there to insure they can't rebuild their military forces."

"Historically we know the Bajorans will resist. We simply use shock and awe tactics to suppress that reflex and they'll comply," Cindi predicted.

"I'm sure that's what Gul Dukat said at one time too," Perez countered.

"You have a point to make?" Sok asked.

"The Bajorans have nothing to offer but bloodshed. So we strip them of space borne capability and place a permanent blockade in their system so that we control all transit and access to the Wormhole," Perez offered, "It's a win-win. They'll come groveling to us. We never engage them on their own ground."

"Sounds preferable," Sok agreed, "Have your chief of staff brief Clancy on the new plan as soon as he returns from her office. If we strike her quickly enough, she'll reflexively agree to the change of strategy."

"And Admiral Clancy refuses to walk back from anything," Cindi laughed at the simplicity of the trap.

"So we know our roles," Sok stated, "So let's get back to them."


Chapter Nine

In Clancy's office, the Fleet Admiral was facing the combined frontal assault of Chol, Aafaaq, and Dajen. Clancy growing increasingly conflicted. She understood the absolute need for security but Sok and her administration were rolling back two centuries' worth of fundamental rights. Still, her election had been secured when Ardra, who turned to win the popular vote, conceded.

The evidence of a backdoor deal was obvious to anyone since the previous Speaker of the Council was sitting in a Federation Security cell and Ardra now filled his role. It was plain to anyone remotely paying attention that Ardra's role in the government was to stonewall any united legislative efforts in the Federation Council. Gridlock would create dissatisfaction and increasingly play into the hands of the President who was rapidly consolidating all the real political power into her office and administration.

This was why Clancy had chosen Starfleet as her life's ambition. She hated politicians. It seemed the former Councilors making up the most powerful trio in the new administration did too. The Federation Council had been purged of its greatest dissenters to Sok's ambitions. It was up to the Federation Council to find the spine to curb Sok's excesses. Clancy's role was to defend the Federation. The Cardassians and the Bajorans and merely stupid enough to cross the line. Now it was Clancy's destiny to make them regret that.

"So as I was saying, Admiral. The President demands that you devote Starfleet Security assets to assisting Federation Security in uprooting terrorists mobilizing to undermine the new administration," Chol said bluntly

"I was unaware that terrorists were mobilizing," Clancy said coolly.

"There's active resistance to the President's new policies under martial law," Aafaaq was equally blunt, "People need to know that we're securing their future now. A little hardship during the war will insure victory. Freedoms come at a price. Those willing pay it will be rewarded with greater freedoms than those that refuse to comply."

"It seems to me you're simply going to hold dissenters without charges or trials since you dismissed the civilian judiciary," Clancy retorted.

"And how do you think those prisoners that were conveniently rescued by Commander Lavelle and his raiding party came from, Admiral?" Dajen asked, "You detained them without cause and transferred them into Cardassian custody. Or was there simply a reason you wished them to remain hidden?"

"Are you threatening me, you little shit?" Clancy grew cold, "I'm the frinxing Starfleet Commander-in-Chief. You can't win this war without me."

"Or the President could simply demand your resignation and promote another more compliant officer in your place," Aafaaq suggested.

"Which would be a request I could refuse," Clancy stared them down, "The President can only recommend my replacement. The chain of command determines who ultimately replaces me."

"Just as we're certain select subordinates would be more than happy to go along with our long range goals," Chol was equally steely, "Why damage your future prospects by denying the President her lawful priorities?

"Because her lawful ambitions violate just about every fundamental creed in the Federation's Constitution," Clancy bit back.

"Trust me, Admiral. After tomorrow that won't matter anymore," Aafaaq chuckled.

The pit in Clancy's stomach began to swallow her whole.

After examining the station's Ops center, the SID team had found every crewman dead. The computer systems, ODN lines, and EPS conduits were all completely fried by the backlash of the warp core exploding under the Capo's assault. After a tedious and time consuming amount of labor, the computer core was extracted and set up in a cargo bay aboard the Obsidian. Captains Yar and Mirita had boarded as well to discuss their options going forward. The conversation wasn't going well.

"We fulfilled our bargain," Yar's bald faced statement was uttered, "My crew and I are done with charity work."

"My crew and I will stay on, Commander," Mirita offered, "We've managed to gain some value form the voyage thus far and see a profit potential going forward. Plus, Oxmyx and Kracko both dictated that we should stand by you a bit further. But Captain Yar and her crew are released from any and all obligations."

"Then I'll be leaving now," Yar excused herself from the cargo bay where Parva, Kerber, and Smith were setting up ODN line connectors to the core and routing them into separate portable computers rather than potentially expose the main computer to a crippling security protocol. Abby Collins, the Deputy Chief of Security escorted Yar to Telrik's Transporter Room.

"Dare I hope we have a strategy?" Mirita inquired.

'We run the data on the computer core and find out who these people were communicating with," Rockford answered.

"General Kira supplied new information that this operation began with, and is directed by, an individual in the Delta Quadrant's border. The goal now is to locate and apprehend him, shut down his network, and acquire the evidence required to support conspiracy and murder charges against the individuals involved in the plot to replace the President and his administration," Macen made it sound simple, "So basically, we're being asked to do the impossible on a deadline."

"The usual," Rockford shrugged.

"And you've already identified the culprit?" Mirita inquired.

"We have recordings of someone labeled as Director Dylan Sorbo, a human teen they refer to as the 'Gray Cardinal' and a woman simply known as the Presider. They're the contacts for the Director to the political operatives under his command," Macen explained, "What we don't have is locations for any of them."

"Hence tapping the computer core," Rockford nodded towards the collective effort.

Collins returned, "Captain Yar is away but she's pissed about something."

"I don't think her disabling the station was a miscalculation," Macen told her, "Yar admitted to being connected to Orions that would profit from our failing. She said she had no conflict of interests with our goals. Obviously that wasn't true."

"Yar is always a calculated risk," Mirita advised them, "But there's no one better to have your back in a fight she's committed to."

"Did you plant the tracker on her?" Macen asked Collins.

"Yup," she grinned, "She thought I was making a pass at her."

"Were you?" Mirita inquired.

"I was tempted to for half a second but I trust the Commander's judgment that she's bad news," Collins confessed, "'Sides, I got a boyfriend right now. We'll see where that goes."

"You gave up the long game seduction play with Jelena?" Rockford wondered.

Kovic was the Security Chief and Collins' immediate superior. A romantic weakness that had plagued her brief Starfleet career. Apparently she was willing to seek new horizons.

"Maybe. I dunno. But I'm somewhere nice for now. We'll see what happens day by day," Collins shared.

"That's...surprisingly healthy, Abby," Macen offered. Collins brought a lot of drama with her but she was damnably the best security officer aboard other than Kovic herself.

"And I thought my crew was a rat's nest of romantic intrigues," Mirita was greatly amused.

"Every crew has their own," Macen pointed out. Tessa winked into existence and Mirita jumped despite herself.

"Commander, I ran the cellular exams you wanted for the mission team. Everyone got bombarded with some radiation even through the suits but nothing genetically compromising," Tessa reported.

"Thanks, Tessa," Macen said and she vanished.

"Is she...?" Mirita tried to ask.

"Our Emergency Medical Hologram," Rockford confirmed it.

"She seemed very...real," Mirita admitted.

"She's dating a member of the crew," Collins offered.

"I thought this was illegal in the Federation," Mirita seemed confused.

"This may be a Federation built starship but we're not a Federation crew," Macen explained, "Most of my team comes from non-Federation worlds or Federation colonies."

"Most of the crew left Federation worlds to join up," Collins happily added, "We're flagged with a Barrinoran registry with special passage rights in the Federation and apparently Bajor and Cardassia."

"Abby..." Rockford chided her.

"What? I'm the Deputy Chief of Security. I'm supposed to know the legalese," Collins retorted.

"But you don't need to share it with everyone," Rockford reminded her.

"Are you on our side?" Collins directly asked Mirita.

"It seems so," Mirita chuckled, "The Familias and Starfleet are very interested in maintaining business relations with Outbound Ventures. Especially in light of Gomer's impending downfall."

"Allowing Oxmyx and Kracko the opportunity to cut a deal with the new Orion Syndicate head," Macen stated.

"Exactly! And it couldn't have happened without your help," Mirita congratulated them.

"Glad my life being threatened was helpful," Rockford said ruefully.

"You were never in any danger," Mirita argued, "Your reputation is as storied as any other member of your team's."

"But my detectives were under a real threat," Rockford grew angry, "Had they died, your people and I would have a real problem now. Gomer only acted as she did because she felt she had impunity with your Familias. It was Brin that led the rescue charge not your Starfleet."

"But the Starfleet cleared his path rather than hinder it," Mirita argued.

"Only because he cut a deal Oxmyx and Kracko couldn't refuse," Rockford countered, "And now you're here as a result."

"All true," Mirita conceded, "But Starfleet would've found another way to assist even without the deal. Simply put, Outbound Ventures and the Bajoran Militia are our largest client accounts and we'd like to add the Rockford Detective Agencies to those accounts. Starfleet Security was on hand to assist you should you need it."

"And I'd be so grateful that I'd sign any contract handed to me," Rockford deduced.

"It was a flawed plan, I admit," Mirita conceded, "One I only learned of in my mission brief."

"Should I throw her in the brig?" Collins eagerly asked.

"It wasn't her plan," Macen toned down Collins' ambitions, "And Oxmyx and Kracko's intentions were fairly obvious."

Intentions he and Rockford had discussed at length.

"Right now our primary concern is recovering the data we need in order to get to this 'Director Sorbo' and finally shut down the rest of Cell 51," Macen concluded.

"We're ready for a trial run," Parva announced as the portable generators came alive to power the processing array she'd constructed for the computer core. Once the ODN connections came to life they began processing the crystalline core's matrixes.

"This is closer tech to a Cardassian otholyptic rod than an isolinear chip," Kerber realized.

"Aaand it's encrypted. Shouldn't take long to crack the cipher though. There's only a million or so permutations," Smith looked eager to get into it, "And here comes the security protocols attacking the systems with viral agents."

"I'll handle those. You focus on the cipher," Kerber stated as she began using the LCARS interface to unravel the computer viruses, "The bad news for whoever adapted this tech is that otholyptic rods can't be erased so they can't tapeworm away the data. They can simply try to fry our systems. Which is why we're using portable and very isolated computers to access the core."

"They sound like they know what they're doing," Mirita observed.

"The most unstoppable hacking team in the known galaxy," Rockford boasted.

Macen knew it was true. It was also true that while T'Kir had been the single most effective and intuitive hacker he'd ever known, Kerber and Smith united were a shade better. But individually, they failed to compare.

In a lifetime already spanning over four centuries, Macen had the privilege to marry three extraordinary women over time. Macen had mercifully killed Arinea to put her out of her madness and misery. The malevolent criminal genius, Bertram Sindis, had killed T'Kir. Now Macen and the joy to be married to Rockford. Over those same centuries, Macen had lost his people, his world, two wives, and buried countless friends. He gave the Fates fair warning that if he should lose Rockford, he wouldn't be held accountable for what followed. One person could only endure so many life shattering losses.

"This will take some time," Smith warned them.

"Care to check out our galley?" Rockford suggested, "We have a quadrant-class chef aboard."

"I'm always up to trying foreign cuisine," Mirita confided.

"Then we'll have to see what's on the dinner menu," Rockford led the way giving Macen a moment with Collins.

"Make certain a sentry is posted here while the captain is aboard," Macen instructed.

"I'll make certain they eat too," Collins nodded towards the intent looking trio.

"Thanks, Abby," Macen departed to catch up with Rockford and Mirita. Collins summoned a guard from Security and the watch's yeoman to grab meals for Parva, Kerber, and Smith. Afterwards, Collins reported in at the Security Office t see if Kovic had left her any projects.

The Starfleet Data Archive in London had originally been Section 31's secret base of operations. The SID inherited it from them. Cell 51 had retained access to the building through entries not officially logged into the records. Commodore Oh had posted Security officers on every level including the black site prison underneath the complex. Between those levels were the "missing" senior agent/operative-only levels. It was here that the Presider and the Gray Cardinal gathered selected Federation Councilors chiefs of staff.

Donner looked bored as she nursed her glass of wine, "Carrotmonger's articles of impeachment aren't just going away. Enough Councilors are scared enough to push them through to an open debate. Ardra's procedural tricks are use d up"

"Then we simply curry enough votes to shelve them," Lopez offered dismissively.

"We've lost the initiative on that front," Grant warned her, "Enough Councilors have realized their freedom is at stake here as well as their positions."

"So we simply denounce the Council to Federation Security and start over with a new Council," Odhianbo remarked.

"Too messy," Strucker complained, "Even the official news we allow to carry would have a hard time explaining why a slim majority of the Federation Council was being detained as traitors. The public only has enough of an attention span to follow the war and the news security protocols being announced."

"And to complain that their rights are being taken from them," Dehtmer chuckled.

"They should voted for a different candidate then," Odhianbo retorted, "They're getting exactly what they wanted rather than what they though they needed."

"You'll have to work your principals harder now," the Presider announced as she and Johanssen swept into the room, "The President just gave her speech repealing the Constitution."

"Now we can expect the protests to begin earnest," the Gray Cardinal advised them, "Tell your Councilors to begin making public statements in support of the measure. Have them warn the public that 'public safety' cannot be compromised during wartime. Federation Security has been authorized to utilize deadly force to quell riots or suspected rioters."

"Ardra announced an early end to the Federation Council's current session. We control the narrative. We need to employ every means of persuasion that we have to insure that the new session, being called for in two weeks, will be a loyal Federation Council willing to legislate only those measures pre-approved by the President's administration," the Presider cautioned them.

"You each control a Councilor elected by the largest human populations. Most of our non-human Councilors endorse the new measures. But humans are particularly fickle and inordinately influential," the Gray Cardinal explained their presence, "Warn your Councilors that dissent will no longer be tolerated. The President's agenda will receive unanimous support from this time forward or their worlds will suffer Bajor's fate."

"How many do you expect to lose?" Dehtmer inquired.

"Twenty-eight out of one hundred and sixty-two member worlds," the Gray Cardinal wasn't theorizing.

In her mind it was as good as done, "Measures are already being taken to isolate those worlds and cow them into submission."

"Are you certain you're not Vulcan?" Strucker commented over the Gray Cardinal's icy resolve.

"Vulcan will be the first to capitulate after we revoke its membership," the Gray Cardinal stated flatly.

"I'm good with that," Grant decided.

"Vulcans are so insufferable anyway," Lopez opined, "It'll be good to see them humbled."

"Our discussion is tabled. Prepare your travel plans as you return to your worlds and make certain that the new Federation Council is a win for the President," the Presider instructed. She and the Gray Cardinal exited to an ante chamber where Sindic awaited them.

"My people have obtained the official aid requests you desired. Breen and Romulan privateers have weakened the Enforcers' hold on dozens of worlds but those same peoples fear the Breen and Romulans as much as they detest the Enforcers," the Iridian reported, "But why seek such obligations now?"

"Because the war with Cardassians will be a grueling ordeal the people quickly grow to loath. But we need a constant cry of alarm and warfare to justify our ongoing security measures," the Gray Cardinal explained, "The people may sour on a war of vengeance or 'justice' as it's sold to them, but just wars of liberation? Those can easily be sold to an appreciative audience."

"It continues to weaken the Enforcer presence near your colonies and it serves as a deterrent against Breen and Romulan expansionist efforts," the Presider made it sound obvious to anyone concerned.

"Then you should know that the Iotian Federation has stepped in and made the same promises," Sindic warned them.

The Presider's eyes narrowed, "You knew this would happen?"

"Within an 85% certainty. The Iotians are closer to both the Enforcer and Romulan borders. They have to be aware of the Enforcers' predicament. On the outside, there a 15% chance they would offer such services to the Enforcers themselves," The Gray Cardinal wore a razor thin smile.

"Dethroning the Enforcers would put the Iotians passed DS4 and DS5 and into the Delta Quadrant. Those territories are meant to be claimed by the Federation," the Presider seethed,

"And they will be," the Grey Cardinal promised, "We already have footholds there. Once the Enforcers are dismantled, our next conflict to be waged with will with the Iotian Federation. After a period of rebuilding, we then move on the Breen and Tzenkethi before rallying against the Gorn before taking the fight to the Romulans."

"What about the Ferengi, the Tholians, and the Orion Syndicate?" Sindic asked.

"We buy the Ferengi and the Orions. Thanks to the Iotians, we can install a new leader over the Syndicate. One that will be amenable to our way of doing business. A secured society will need their vices as an outlet rather than resort to political upheaval. We simply isolate the Tholians. The xenophobes want to be left alone anyway," the Presider mirthlessly chuckled.

"And the Klingons?" Sindic asked the all important question.

"To be our shock troops against the Romulans. Afterwards, after the Klingons have realized we've surrounded them on every side and every border, they'll wage an all out breakout war against us and we simply exterminate the brutes," the Gray Cardinal shrugged.

"A ready relief, I must say," Sindic, like all Iridians, feared the Klingons after the Enforcers' brief expansionist effort into neutral and Federation space where the Klingon reprisal had been swift and decisive. The Klingons had routed the invaders trying to retake their own colony but the liberators had been worse than their foes. A transgression no Iridian colony would soon forget.

"Let them all die," Sindic happily agreed.

"Klingon Bird of Prey decloaking in near space," Slaine warned Kira.

"Now what?" the general asked irritably, "What's her ID?"

"The IKS Rotarran," Slaine quickly answered, "Should I active the defensive systems?"

"No, her commander is an old friend," Kira smiled warmly, "Hail General Martok and give her a docking berth."

Martok warmly greeted Kira as she met him at the airlock, "General!"

"I could say the same," Kira's smile only broadened.

"Only to my men," Martok said bitterly, "The Empire isn't worthy of them."

"I understand tha the Empire is afraid to brand you as renegades," Kira noted.

"The worthless peta'Q fear the warriors of the Defense Force, and rightly so," Martok growled, "Our current Chancellor has no honor."

"But at least he's keeping the Klingons out of the war effort," Kira admitted relief.

"Starfleet hasn't asked for assistance so the brave Chancellor can defile our sacred bonds without recrimination," Martok was personally escorted by Kira to Ops and a meeting with Slaine and Douglas, "I understand Commander Vaughn had to stand down as your Executive Officer and a Cardassian stands in his place. It is a strange world we live in."

"Dalin Slaine is Acting XO until we can sort matters out with Starfleet and Vaughn can return to his post," Kira offered.

"Do you think that likely?" Martok had to ask.

"We can hope," Kira shared, "But at this point, I really don't know."

"The Federation seems run by Romulans these past days," Martok admitted, "I never thought I'd see such times."

"Neither had we. Whoever thought Bajor's closest ally would be Cardassia and we'd both be against Starfleet together?" Kira pointed out the historic irony.

The lift delivered them to Ops where Slaine had more to report, "We have in-bound starships all hailing and proclaiming allegiance to Bajor's cause."

"IDs?" Kira asked Douglas, "And the veracity of their claims?"

"As Ro and Chakotay told us to expect, we have the Challenger, Excalibur, Trident, Hood, and Merrimack all on approach," Douglas reported, "Ezri Dax sent word from the Aventine. Commander Bowers and the crew are siding with us."

"And the Intrepid?" Kira wondered

"Still unaccounted for," Douglas stated, "She's gone dark and isn't reporting in. Starfleet is also jamming our subspace relays into the Federation to limit our contact with other vessels still inside its borders."

"That is to be expected," Martok applauded them, "They've done something right."

"Gul Erek is signaling," Slaine advise d Kira, "He and his cruisers will be joining Ro's forces in the Valo system now that we're reinforced."

"Thank him and wish him well," Kira instructed.

"Signal coming in from Colonel Ro! Starship Prophet's Hope has engaged a Romulan ship!" Slaine announced urgently.

"Get me Ro and continue to send Gul Erek my regards," Kira ordered, "And someone find out for me what the hell the Romulans are doing in Bajoran space."

The Fist of the Prophets dropped out of war near Dreon VII. The Prophet's Hope had reported sighting an anomaly against the Rolor Nebula. It turned out that anomaly was a Bird of Vengeance. The ship class was as outdated as Ro's own Colonial Defense starships by Romulan standards. It still relied upon a traditional warp core rather than a contained artificial singularity for main power.

Birds of Vengeance had been a favorite amongst Romulan privateers and scouts for over a century now. They'd never been fleet assets. But now a Romulan willing to part with precious latinum could buy a Bird of Prey at a discount as well. Rumor had it the Romulan privateers were moving abroad as the border controls had been relaxed since the Hobus Disaster.

Reports had filtered out Iridian space that Romulan and Breen private concerns had been waging a clandestine war over colonies close to neutral space on the Enforcers' borders. Colonies adjacent to those that had been liberated from the Enforcers' iron grip generations ago and some had even joined the Federation itself following the expansion drive after the Dominion War ended. But that hardly explained why a Romulan ship was in Bajoran space near a colony under Ro's protection. The pilot of the Bird of Vengeance knew his or her ship. It was running evasive patterns and weaving in between phaser bursts coming from the Prophet's Hope.

"Sergeant Bol, target that Romulan and fire a spread of torpedoes. Sergeant Triss, warn the Prophet's Hope off," Ro began issuing orders, "Lieutenant Crispus, stay on that ship and brace it with phasers."

"The Hope acknowledges and will drop back," Triss called across the bridge.

"Execute barrage," Ro ordered. Given a free moment from the Prophet's Hope's pursuit, the Romulan commander had attempted to engage their cloaking device. The power requirements of doing in the older ship forced her to lower her shields in attempt to transfer all available power to the cloaking device. She wouldn't even be able to engage her warp drive while cloaked. The torpedo and phaser strikes caused her to lose power and begin to drift.

"Alert the Hope to assume a covering position while we approach the Romulan vessel," Ro switched tactics.

"Intermittent life signs," Wyn used the senor hood to take readings, "Life support is failing. Wait! I'm reading a massive build up of power in their warp drive. They've either lost containment or have rigged to self destruct."

"All power to forward deflectors," Ro ordered, "Warn the Hope."

The ship destroyed itself in an uncontrolled intermix of matter and antimatter.

"Have all section report damage," Ro instructed, "Stand down from red alert but maintain yellow standing. There might be other ones out there. Contact the Prophet's Hope and have them forward a report on how they detected that ship in the first place and where."

"Wyn, scan the debris and see if we can recover a flight recorder or some such," Ro requested.

"General Kira wants an update," Triss broke in.

"Tell her the obvious threat has been neutralize d but we'll stay on station to assist the Prophet's Hope in securing the Dreon System from any unwanted visitors," Ro dictated, "And tell her we're still trying to piece together why the Romulan ship was here in the first place."

Free Haven had a Breen privateer enter the system. The Spear of the Prophets and the Prophet's Hammer moved to intercept while Free Haven Port raised its shields and armed its weapons array. The Breen paused to study the response and then backed away, reversed course, and departed from the system. The quizzical report was just as puzzling as the encounter at Dreon VII. It became obvious Bajor's defenses were being probed but to what end?

The Breen Confederacy was at least near Free Haven but the Romulan Star Empire was in an entirely different quadrant. With Starfleet poised to pour ships into the sector, incursions hardly seemed profitable. But neither the Breen nor the Romulans were the most predictable of races. Ro knew the matter would probably remain a mystery until either or both sides made an active, concentrated effort to enter Bajoran space. She really didn't need the headache right now.

Starbase 375 received a modicum of reinforcements for the push into the Bajor Sector. Other starbases along the Cardassian border were receiving piecemeal replacements for damaged and lost ships. Starfleet Command was pressuring the base commanders to launch a second offensive while the Cardassians were slowly rebuilding their forces too. But the Cardassians had the advantage in response lag because the bulk of their fleets were closer to the Dorvan and Cardassian sectors than Starfleet's wider array of patrols.

In order to maintain a rearguard defense, Starfleet could only send portions of it s forces up against the Cardassian and Bajoran fronts. But more ships were coming from the farther Beta Quadrant and would begin arriving as the weeks bore on. The Cardassian Guard was throwing every Galor- and Keldon-class cruiser it had at the front. The new Damar-class battlecruisers were restricted to the Cardassian Sector.

Legate Ocett oversaw the defense of the Cardassian Sector and the Cardassian system itself. Macet and Maret's loyalists put aside their differences with Ocett and Garan to take up arms against a common foe. The Subject Worlds were still patrolled and defended by Lakat-class frigates and Hidalki-class fighters. The Cardassian Guard had learned much in the Dominion war. They'd been humbled by the Allies and learned to set aside their pride in order to draw Starfleet forces into carefully orchestrated traps.

This time Starfleet was the invader and the Guard would make them pay for every kilometer of space. Every star system was laced with gun pods so the Guard held the advantage in defending their territories while Starfleet had to fight through defensive layers constructed for exactly that type of combat. The Sok administration didn't care about those particulars. President Sok, through Secretary for Starfleet Perez, simply hounded Fleet Admiral Clancy for continuous progress despite the odds. It seemed the civilian government was willing to trade lives for shallow victories. So far the Cardassians' strategy was paying dividends.

Starfleet hadn't even gained a foothold in Cardassian space. Not even to reclaim the colony worlds they'd ceded to Cardassia from the former DMZ and border treaty established in 2369. The President had promised the public a short, decisive war. Yet both the Cardassians and now, even more unexpectedly, the Bajorans had put up stiffer resistance than expected. The Bajorans were even garnering Starfleet assistance as more starships defected to assist in the defense of DS9 and Bajor.

The situation had existed before during the Maquis struggle. Starfleet officers and enlisted had resigned to enlist with the Maquis. Captains had been advised to quell any expression from the crew that were sympathetic to the Maquis cause. It had never been proven but Bajor had been accused of aiding and abetting Maquis operatives and operations behind closed doors. Something that the government and the Militia had certainly never confirmed nor denied. Such matters were set aside for the expediency of having Bajor as an ally during the Dominion War once Deep Space 9 was liberated from Cardassian control once again. But Sok felt it prudent to air old grievances.

She had no idea that Bajor had already gained another valuable ally. Admiral Ross studied the list of ships made available to him to prosecute the conflict against the Bajorans. Only two more starships had been added to the force that already been repulsed once before. But President Sok had guaranteed that neither Lavelle nor Bates would ever set foot in a Bajoran or Cardassian court. So the official pressure was ratcheted up.

Ross dismally reviewed the list of starships that had recently passed through the Kalandra Sector. It was a veritable who's who of starships and their commanders. To make matters worse, Ben Sisko lived on Bajor now. Ross knew Sisko would sit this conflict out and the Bajorans literally worshipped at his feet. The propaganda against Bajor had intensified but so too had the hidden reserves of sympathy from those officials that felt Bajor had been railroaded when they were cast out of the Federation. Ross' spirits sank as the orders to blockade and land troops on Bajor came through. The Bajorans would make Starfleet bleed for every second they were on the ground and in orbit.

Frankly the orders were suicidal. But official policy was to retake Bajor and make it a proper outpost for the Federation. Which meant garrisoning a battalion of Starfleet Security personnel on the ground and keeping a vigil over its skies. Ross was tempted to transmit an ugly reply to Starfleet Command regarding the orders when a Starfleet Security commander and several armed Security officers burst into his office.

"What's the meaning of this?" Ross thundered.

"Vice Admiral William Ross, you are hereby remanded into custody," the commander announced.

"On what charge?" Ross was flabbergasted.

"Dereliction of duty," the commander replied evenly. Ross knew he was serious.

"And how have I failed to perform my duties?" Ross had to ask.

"Bajor and Deep Space 9 are still under Bajoran control. You have failed in your duty to secure them, Admiral," the commander delivered as if by rote. Ross could then tell that the commander in question was one of Commodore Oh's lackeys. Despite only having a short tenure as Director of Starfleet Security thus far, Oh had already developed a deep cult of personality within Security's ranks.

"You know I can easily fight these charges," Ross allowed himself to be placed in binders.

"No, you can't." the commander chuckled, "You're to be denied counsel and a court martial. We're simply sending you to Jaros II."

"That's against regulations," Ross scowled.

"Regulations change," the commander motioned to the security detail to parade Ross through the corridors. Ross noted the charges against him were placed on every monitor. He was an object lesson. Failure to achieve the President's aims would not be tolerated. No matter how unreasonable they were. Ross began to wonder of a piano wire noose awaited him.

In the officer's wardroom aboard Deep Space 9, Calhoun, Merry Limerick, Alec Prine, Mueller, La Forge, Doctor Brahms, and Hev were meeting Kirk for the first time.

Calhoun smirked, "The Borg, huh?"

"I thought meeting Scotty was miraculous enough, but this is really incredible," La Forge gushed.

"The implications of what Borg nanoprobes could achieve is staggering," Leah Brahms was fascinated as well, "Doctor Aric Soong has to be notified. If he can be located."

"Doctor Brahms here was essential in gettin' the Enterprise-M constructed and launched," Scotty gushed as well, "She's a brilliant lassie. Makes me look like an old doddering fool."

"High praise indeed," Kirk gave Brahms a disarming smile. Brahms found herself blushing.

"Leah essentially single handedly designed the drive portions of the Galaxy- and Sovereign-class starships," La Forge boasted on her behalf.

"Brilliant and beautiful. A deadly combination," Kirk gave her a mega-watt dose of charm. Brahms was completely befuddled.

La Forge flew to her rescue, "Leah is also an invaluable member of the engineering consulting crew aboard the Challenger."

"Scotty sings your praises as well, Captain La Forge. He's briefed me on the Challenger's mission," Kirk turned his focus to La Forge, "I have to admit your ship and crew might give us our largest advantage. Scotty has a few ideas to share with you both."

Calhoun shifted his attention to where Kat Mueller was focused on Prine and Limerick's reunion with Hev Callas.

"I knew you'd be loyal to Bajor," Limerick was saying, "It'll be a pleasure to work beside you again."

"Here, here," Prine toasted Hev with his coffee cup.

Hev couldn't tell the Elvin and human officers that he was actually deeply undercover with the Orion Syndicate on Nechayev's behalf, "I'm just happy you both saw reason on this issue."

"So has Admiral Nechayev several other members of the Admiralty," Limerick shared. He'd already briefed Kira on the investigative efforts being coordinated out of Serenity Station. Kirk's information had led them to the election results that Ardra had won the general election by a slim margin after her conceding the race. It was clear Sok had purchased Ardra's concession and made her Speaker of the Council as part of her negotiated reward.

But Oh's seal on Ardra's records were placed by "Clancy" herself. Not even President Sok herself could view them without Clancy's authorization. Limerick was amazed as anyone else to see Kirk alive. Having Calhoun and Mueller with them as well was a morale boosting development. With Bateson and the Honshu that gave the defense four Galaxy-class starships and three Defiant-class ships and an Akira-class to augment Saavik's Ambassador-class USS Endeavor. Unfortunately, Kira had dispatched Martok to persuade the Klingon High Council not to intervene on the Federation's behalf. An easy sell, apparently.

Limerick was ashamed that his people had voted Bajor out of the Federation in what seemed to be a shameless grab for political power. Outbound Ventures' thirty recent era starships augmented the Bajorans' pre-refit fleet. A small six frigate squadron of Lakat-class ships had been dispatched by the Cardassians to bolster the defense along with two wing s of Hidalki-class attack fighters to further bolster the Honshu and the Hood's squadrons of Peregrine-class fighters. Potentially added to the mix were the station's three Danube-class runabouts.

General Kira had further reinforced Deep Space 9 with a few hundred more Militia troops. Bajor's System Defense Force was posed over Bajor itself. Ro and her Colonial Defense Force manned the borders and vouchsafed the colonies. Ro had forwarded an update to the mystery of the Breen and Romulan scouting missions. The Iotians had dispatched a convoy of Java-class freighters bearing photon torpedoes, phaser coils and other essential spare components for the Bajoran fleet.

She diverted the convoy into three parts and destinations. One would stockpile munitions at Free Haven Port. The other would resupply the newly completed station in the Gamma Quadrant. The Legislature still maintained a vigil over the Federation colonies in the Gamma Quadrant while Ro's forces secured the Bajoran colonies from the Legislature. The third part of the convoy arrived at Bajor to distribute its cargo.

The Iotians had also dispatched three Tanganyika-class starships to defend the convoy. It seemed the Breen and Romulan were simply opportunistic raiders. The Iotians also brought a message to Kira that they would support Bajor in its conflict against the Federation should their assistance be needed. The captain didn't mention a fee or price for this but it was the Iotians, a debt would be involved. The captain did mention that should all else fail, Sigma Iotia II would be honored to embrace Bajor as a full partner in its Federation.

Kira referred the negotiating partner sent along with the starship to the First Minister and her Council of Ministers. Kira knew that Astris might actually the matter under real consideration given the United Federation of Planets faithlessness regarding Bajor. Despite the mounting evidence that the expulsion and subsequent conflict had been engineered by a power hungry fascist coalition within and without the Federation Council. With the Synthetic Uprising dealt with, the Federation had needed a new enemy to focus people's fears on and that faction had fabricated one manipulating both the Cardassian Union and Bajor.

The nagging question now was whether Macen and the team of Starfleet admirals could generate the proof needed to take to the Federation's public to ouster President Sok and her Cabinet. Ardra would then become President by nature of her being the Speaker and further legitimized by having won the popular vote for President. Despite having endorsed Sok, a minority of voters had still voted for the still-existent tickets of Perez and Cindi. That split the conservative vote giving Ardra moderate campaign the winning tally. Perez and Cindi had already argued through the newly established Ministry of Propaganda that their earned vote should technically have been Sok's since neither Perez nor Cindi actively campaigned in the final hours before the polls opened, having endorsed Sok's candidacy. Legally, under the Federation Constitution, those split hairs didn't count. Ardra had earned 37% of the popular vote versus Sok's 33% of the total vote. Cindi and Perez evenly split the remaining 30%

Calhoun had pondered over all these calculating factors. Kirk's data was a neat explanation. However things were never quite that neat. In the end, Cindi and Perez were correct. The three cooperative candidates had campaigned on similar platforms where only the nuances of policy proposals differed. In the end, they could be counted as a single candidate and that candidate had garnered 63% of the popular vote. The Federation had received exactly the regime they'd thought they'd wanted. They just expected to have to a pay price for their voting decision.

Calhoun had been the teenage warlord of his home planet, Xenex, before leaving to join Starfleet Academy aboard the USS Stargazer under a much younger Captain Picard's command. Calhoun had been the first, and still only, cadet to fairly beat the Cardassian themed Kobyashi Maru scenario. T'Kir had beaten the Dominion themed scenario but she'd tested as a Starfleet consultant to the emerging SID and had not been enrolled as a cadet. Nechayev had Macen tested in 2369 when he went undercover a freelance information broker and would command a Blackbird-class starship scout. The results were classified and Macen wasn't sharing. He'd had a holographic crew so there were no living witnesses other than Nechayev herself.

Calhoun, Macen's rival as a Starfleet Intelligence agent, was the only soul Nechayev had shared the results with considering he'd passed the test. Calhoun had found Macen's solution logic enough, which had saved the stranded freighter and its passengers from the Cardassians, but made Calhoun shudder for anyone that rode under Macen's command. Calhoun had found that the bulk of the rarified El-Aurian survivors suffered from one degree or other of survivor's guilt. Macen's was nearly a psychosis.

Calhoun lived with having caused the deaths of thousands of soldiers. Hundreds of them by his own hand while liberating Xenex. He lived with it, justifying the ends certainly made up for the means since Xenex was a free planet to this day. Macen's tally was classified and like Calhoun's still enlarging, yet the psych profiles showed Macen didn't live with the guilt. He simply and remorselessly didn't feel it.

That had gotten him drummed out the service and forced Admiral Forger to begin hiring private contractors to supplement her regular forces. In the end it had been a brilliant success for the SID. It also condoned Macen's brand of retribution. He knew Nechayev and Forger saw Macen as indispensible but there would come a day when they'd have to choose whether or not he was a liability.

Outbound Ventures would survive losing the Starfleet retainer. They had more potential clients then they could take on. The spillover to the Rockford Detective Agencies had also been overwhelming. Macen was courting the Iotians and the Orion Syndicate. Both of whom were courting confrontations with Starfleet. As the current scenario proved out that Outbound Ventures had chosen Bajor and Cardassia over the Federation even before the President's assassination. Starfleet still answered to civilian masters. Those masters would eventually tire of Macen's uprisings and force Starfleet into breaking its contract or outright criminalizing Macen's deeds. Calhoun could see Nechayev had already been forced into such a choice with Hev.

"Shame we'll have give you head start out of the sector when this is all settled," Mueller only half-jested.

"Now Kat, play nice," Calhoun softly suggested. The quiet tone was to garner attention to his words. His intention was iron clad as always. Mueller had served as Calhoun's 2nd Officer before transferring to the Trident when Elizabeth Shelby, by then Calhoun's former XO and first wife, assumed command of her starbase. Calhoun refused promotion so Shelby became the Commodore in command of the new starbase built at the edge of Sector 492-G, also known to the locals as Thallonian space. Mueller had been Shelby's recommendation for the Trident's center seat.

Calhoun and Mueller had been off and on lovers over the decades but that ended when Calhoun pledged himself to Shelby. Which had disappointed Mueller since she had no plans of ever marrying or settling for a single man. Though Calhoun had once tempted her into choosing to. But Calhoun's heart had been reserved for Shelby even while he hadn't realized it yet. So Mueller chose the job as her heart's passion and she never regretted it, having a load of fun along the way.

"Captain Hev, we'll give you all the opportunity in the world to get to nonaligned space without fear of pursuit," Calhoun pledged. No one doubted that he would fight to honor his word. And not a single officer there stood a chance against his tactical genius except for Kirk.

Battle klaxons sounded and Slaine's voice echoed throughout DS9, "Attention all crew, Starfleet has cross the border. All starship commander please report to your commands"

"We'll pick this up later," Calhoun promised Hev.

"We have it," Kerber announced as she and Smith entered Macen's office to deliver a padd.

Macen reviewed the spatial coordinates and groaned, "Great. Tisla, as it's known by the natives, is an interstellar version of Earth's wild west."

"What's the situation?" Rockford asked from the couch.

"Tisla is a Vulcan-like world. Most of its natives actually live in orbital habitats. This allows them to lease vast tracts of planetary land to various concerns on various sides of neighboring planets' laws," Macen described it.

"We should fit right in," Smith observed.

"This time it's good we have our Iotian allies with us. They're reputation will get us in faster than our own," Macen conceded, "And at less of an expense. The Bajorans are on budget."

"Mirita will probably thank is for the invitation," Rockford predicted.

"Tisla borders Enforcer held space so a lot of fugitives and refugees end up on the surface," Macen recalled, "Thanks to that they don't have a lot of respect for outside law enforcement. They barely tolerate the locally appointed lawmen and women."

"We're a week away even employing maximum warp when we can, Parva predicted," Kerber offered.

"Hopefully Bajor and the Federation's citizenry can hold out that long," Macen hoped against hope.


Chapter Ten

The Fourth Battle for Deep Space 9 was a lopsided affair. Captain Agman called a retreat after each starship had suffered heavy damages. The Sentinel and Robinson each had to be towed. Agman had to wonder why the Bajorans and the "renegades" didn't pursue them but let them retreat. Even the Militia ships and Cardassians in the Valo system didn't come out to engage them as they limped back to the Kalandra Sector and the security of Starbase 375. Agman found himself in a holding cell beside Ross' after their return, held under the same charges.

Although the least senior, Divine was appointed field commander of the next expedition into the Bajor Sector. Divine was deemed by the Secretary for Starfleet has "having the right attitude for the mission". Starfleet was equally repulsed along the Cardassian border with the Federation taking four times the damage as the Cardassian defenders. Several Legates began demanding permission to cross the border to attack the now poorly defended starbases across the frontlines.

Castellan Garan repeatedly denied the requests. Politically it was wiser for Cardassia to play the victim card to burn out Starfleet's support at home over a disastrous invasion effort. How could the Cardassian Guard be hauled out as the villains of the peace when they never initiated hostilities? The Legates still grumbled but Ocett shamed them into realizing that supporting and maintaining such a forward thrust would stretch the Guard's logistical capabilities which were just managing to keep up with supplying the defense.

In the Bajoran system, DS9 resupplied the Federation starships with the expended ordnance from its own stockpiles. The Iotians had had the foresight to replenish stockpiles of the torpedoes and phaser coils utilized by Outbound Ventures. The only news coming out of the Federation was that supplied by the Ministry of Propaganda which distorted every defeat as a great victory. Recruitment numbers to Starfleet had remained constant rather than risen.

The government already announced a conscription just a week into their fabricated war. People began to wonder, even as they recoiled for forced enlistment demands, why a victorious Starfleet inflicting devastating losses upon a fleeing enemy would require a massive service call up. The Data Nets were shut down as questions arose and the polling figures for President Sok and her administration plunged to record lows as questions rose regarding the fate of loved onese. Federation Security staffed a new home recruiting effort to go to door across every member world and eligible aged men and women were forcibly conscripted as crewmen. The active and inactive reservists were the first called up.

Deanna Troi was given emergency leave to tend to Thad but Will Riker was recalled to return to captain the Titan. Her assignment: to track down and disable the USS Aventine which hadn't reported in for over seventy-two hours and was last seen in the periphery of the Federation's border with the Barrinor system. Riker knew Tom commanded Serenity Station within the Barrinor system. Sailing a Starfleet vessel into the system without permission was an act of interstellar war. Nearly every civilized system had signed the accords maintaining the banking world's neutrality. And their peace of mind was mutually defended by every signatory. Riker had to wonder if the serving President had any scope of that reality.

The passing week was one of mounting frustration for all involved. Starfleet was repairing its ships and reinforcing its positions anticipating attacks that weren't coming. Dissent began fomenting amongst officers and enlisted crews. A growing majority were beginning to believe that the war was unjust. Even with such strident supporters as Divine and Morris, their crews questioned why the Bajorans hadn't pressed their advantage while they had it. Those along the Cardassian front experienced the same rising tide of questions.

Rumors began circulating that the prisoners the Cardassians had been holding had been secret Starfleet prisoners held without charges by Starfleet Security. The rumors spread to the Federation worlds from the crews seeing the truth behind the official veil. No one mentioned mutiny or refusing to perform their duties but they were unspoken possibilities. Tensions mounted even as Starfleet's numbers increased. Despite a near certainty of detention, protests had begun among the conscription age young men and women.

Rather than address the issue, Sok squeezed the populations even harder. The conscription age was raised to forty and became nearly universal. Federation Security began losing control of entire cities as protests mounted and uprisings began to swell up. Amidst all these pressures, several chiefs of staff met in secret without notifying the Presider or the Gray Cardinal of their intentions to do so or their agenda.

Holz and Gabbint represented the human minority in the group. Ogilvaria had called for the meeting. Sssrrrez and Carmelike had recruited Perky Lyrics and Sarafina in gathering Tieva Zorjo, Myril Ty'bo, Dinij, Niro Patmoss, Jarool Jaequ, and Ada Galjik. Jareel called the meeting to order, "We all know why we're here. Sok and the others have lost control. It's time for damage control. We can still spin this into an advantage for our patrons."

Gizem Karimi, Amelia Harris, and Andrea Brock suddenly crashed the "secret" meeting.

"We need in on this," Brock insisted.

"Our Councilors are fed up with the situation already," Karimi admitted.

"And the Ministry of Propaganda is swiftly losing the trust of the people," Harris had to concede.

"Then we must move swiftly to decide to either reinforce Sok's increasingly shaky foundation or recommend a vote on Councilor Carrotmonger's Articles of Impeachment," Zorjo stated flatly.

"Only one Federation President was ever fully impeached and that was Nanietta Bacco. No wartime president has ever been removed," Ty'bo reminded everyone.

"Because no one has ever garnered enough votes before," Martina Dobek said boldly as she and Arsenie Sauciuc entered

"That's no longer an issue," Sauciuc shared, "Our Councilors will vote beside the moderates and democratic liberals to impeach Sok."

"It isss a good plan," Sssrrrez agreed.

"My people feel so as well," Carmelike admitted.

"How supposedly 'secret' is this conference?" Brock asked.

"Not secret enough," Emily Grant told them as Federation Security rushed in around her to surround the staffers.

"What's the meaning of this?" Jaequ demanded.

"Sedition, I would think," Grant smirked. The staffers were all arrested and taken away.

"DCI Crawley, I believe investigations into their patrons would now be warranted," Grant advised Deputy Chief Inspector Felicity Crawley.

"I know how to conduct my job," Crawley grated.

"Then get to it," Grant smugly strolled away. It was at that precise moment that DCI Crawley decided to actively support the rebellious groups she'd been assigned to observing. The first being by informing them they were under surveillance and then instructing them how to evade it. And so, the Federation's first Resistance movements were about to be born.

In the farther Beta Quadrant, the surviving Maquis colonists won their arguments and the colonies they'd resettled upon decided to organize and throw off the Federation's newly developed shackles. They'd lived under the Cardassian yoke, survived Dominion slavery, and would no longer tolerate oppression. No matter how familiar the source was. Over the years since resettling, the former Maquis had smuggled in raiders left behind in the Kalendra and other neutral sectors.

Now those paramilitary vessels were backed by newer raiders developed and acquired by the colonies they now dwelt upon. The Federation now found itself being pushed out of "friendly" systems and Beta Quadrant sectors. With Starfleet's reduced presence barely able to suppress pirates and other threats, the sudden surge of revolutionaries pushed Starfleet back to predesigned rally points. Newly constructed starbases served as spheres of coordination and protection as the local area commanders wondered just how in the hell the colonists had gotten armed and dangerous.

They also feared Starfleet Command's reaction to the developing situation. It was time for dialogue, not military force. These people just wanted to be listened to and their grievances addressed. A police action would only drive them further away. As the history of the Maquis and the Demilitarized Zone had proven out.

In Paris, rioters gathered in the streets and Federation Security formed up around the Federation Council's meeting place and the President's offices nearby. Mass arrests followed on every Federation member world and colony. Starfleet Security suppressed and detained those involved in uprisings at Starfleet recruitment centers and training facilities filled with conscripted personnel. The detention centers, penal colonies, and stockades were overflowing with detainees.

The streets and businesses were being emptied. Starfleet Academy cadets of every class year were commissioned into active service. Third and fourth midshipmen were made ensigns and first and second year cadets were made noncommissioned officers. A practice first employed by Red Squad aboard the Defiant-class USS Valiant after their instructors, serving line officers, had been killed during the Dominion's invasion of Federation territories. Red Squad had successfully operated behind enemy lines until they grow overambitious and attacked a Dominion battlecruiser and lost all hands save "Chief" Dorian Collins and the Valiant's unexpected passengers, Ensign Nog and Jake Sisko.

Starfleet itself had graduated the fourth year Academy class early during the war to supplement its junior officer corps as juniors received battle field promotions. Starfleet employed the same subspace relay blocking devices to restrict the Federation Data Nets from broadcasting into Iotian space that they had to the Bajor Sector. Barrinor had not yet been blocked from access yet. But Starfleet had transmitted a cipher key to the Barrinoran banking cartel that controlled the planet.

Tyrol simply requested the key from the cartel and it was promptly supplied. So Outbound Ventures still had civilian access to the net despite their Starfleet clearances having been revoked. Commodore Oh's teams were shutting backdoor access points to Starfleet's central computers as fast as Lefler, Forger, and Prentiss could find them. Sirek compiled the data the investigators unearthed and began prepping prosecution cases to eventually be handed to the civil authorities. As more Starfleet commanders and crews quietly disregarded their orders in quiet defiance of their growing illegality under Starfleet regulations, Akaar and Jellico contacted them and began organizing their passive resistance and began transforming it into active resistance.

Nechayev's Double and Single 0 agents were running down leads regarding the identities of the Cell 51 Political Action Arm as well as who Dylan Sorbo, Ana Johanssen, and the Presider really were and their locations. Forger still had concerns over Macen's alliance with Oxmyx and Kracko regarding Captain Mirita's ultimate loyalties in the scenario. Macen felt Mirita's contacts with the Tislans would prove profitable enough to retain her faithfulness but Forger wanted guarantees. So she arranged one, actually, two.

The Obsidian and the Kelly arrived at Tisla at the anticipated time. Macen and Mirita placed a joint call into the orbital habitat that the Tislans occupied. Their hail was met by a Facilitator named Nirvaani.

"Greetings, fellow sentients. How may I assist you today?" Nirvaani cheerfully inquired.

"We're looking for an individual or individuals. We were hoping to learn of their location," Macen led the business discussion, "We also wish to negotiate further business opportunities with Tisla and its people."

"The purpose for this search?" Nirvaani asked.

"Inquiry only," Macen hedged, hoping it wasn't an outright lie.

"Transporting to the surface by non-residents is illegal," Nirvaani warned them, "As is transporting anyone from the surface. But you may employ auxiliary craft if you have them and meet me at a rendezvous location where I can further assist you. I'm transmitting the coordinates. In the interim while you conduct your search, representatives from my people will negotiate fees and settlements as well as open dialogues for future trade."

Mirita gave a nod and Macen thanked the facilitator, "We'll see at the coordinates and arrange to have your people brought aboard."

Mirita dominated Macen's screen after Nirvaani signed off, "I'll see at the coordinates, Commander."

Macen summoned the team to the Situation Center, "Tessa, I need you to stay aboard in case we need emergency treatment sent down. Harri, you're the lead negotiator. Don't sell of our companies. Everyone else, climb aboard the Corsair. We have a date on the surface."

The Danube-class runabout, Corsair, launched from the Obsidian. Ebert flew the craft while Daggit manned Tactical and Parva sat at Engineering. Macen noted the Type 6 shuttlecraft that deployed from the Kelly.

"Rab, scan the Iotians' shuttle. Are they armed?" Macen inquired from OPS.

"Two Type-4 phaser banks. Good call," Daggit grunted.

"That type of draw means they can't pull enough from the fusion core to simultaneously power phasers and warp drive," Parva noted.

"Not that you can use phasers at warp anyway," Daggit pointed out.

"Hiz-bah-lah root, Hiz-bay-lah root," Parva retorted.

"And you call yourself an engineer," Daggit teased his wife.

"So, how did Angelique and Bailey talk their way outta the mission?" Ebert asked Macen.

"They proved to me they'd be of better use aboard ship," Macen shrugged.

"I still can't believe you left Harri behind to cut a deal," Parva remarked.

"Harri has both Shannon and Joelle watch dogging her," Macen chuckled, "Shannon is the sensible one and Joelle is mercenary enough to know when Harri's trying to cross a line."

"She certainly crossed enough of them," Ebert said darkly.

"We're past all that, Tracy," Macen gently rebuffed her.

"Is she though?" Ebert asked smartly. Ebert was the only other former member of the Maquis besides Macen and Jones. Ebert had avidly backed Ro and Macen's commitment to limiting Michael Eddington's ambitions to escalating the conflict by using illegal and near-universally banned "immoral" biogenic weapons. Jones had unequivocally backed Eddington's decision.

The argument had splintered the Maquis' fragile unity with every cell expelling the minority that disagreed with the decision and shunning those united in protest from Ronara Prime. Macen and his crew hadn't been considered wholly members of Ro's single cell until then. His universal influence lost, the Odyssey crew that had always favored Ro's cell committed to serving its need s alone. Jones and the original crew of the first and second Waylaid had been sent out of the DMZ to secure materials from the Son'a for building isolytic weapons. They'd been in Son'a territory when the Jem'Hadar purged the DMZ, killing most of the colonists and enslaving the rest to be interned in Cardassian labor camps.

When the Allies won the war, the Federation ceded the depopulated colony worlds because the Cardassian civilians living upon them were deemed to have primacy. The Maquis survivors were offered resettlement ion the further Beta Quadrant near the edge of the Federation's frontier and beyond. It was little wonder those people had little love left for the Federation. Some Maquis, like Aric Tulley, had been temporarily imprisoned by the Bajorans to appease the Dominion until the Federation and Klingons liberated the Bajor Sector.

Those Maquis were then sentenced in Federation courts to be sent to scattered penal colonies. Upon release, they were freed to live anywhere in the Federation. Tulley was one of the few that remained in the Alpha Quadrant, resettling on a remote patch of land on Izar. He'd only maintained infrequent contact with a fellow Maquis settler, Elfi Hendryks. Hendryks and Emjin Thool being the only two members of Ro's cell to earn pardons by serving the Bajoran Militia during the Dominion War aboard the repurposed decommissioned Starfleet science vessel, Newton-class USS Asimov.

"Someone aboard the shuttle leaned on the loud pedal," Ebert meant they'd applied extra thrust with their impulse engines, "They're coming abreast of us to fly formation."

"Let them be happy," Macen urged, "We'll need their help down below."

The flight was conventional and boring. The desertscape was broken only by rocks, buttes, mountains, hard scrabble, hardy vegetation, the very occasional river or stream, even fewer lakes, and the even more scattered settlement. As promised, Nirvaani awaited them at a shelter built at the appointed rendezvous. Several wheeled vehicles were present as well. She greeted them outside the shelter with the desert as her backdrop. A suborbital habitat could be viewed in the distance.

"The individuals you are seeking have violated our refugee policies," Nirvaani stated plainly, "However, we are bound to protect their identities. But these vehicles have been made available to you as well the coordinates of three outposts where they may be found. At one of these outposts, an excavation is underway to recover an artifact of some concern to my people. This excavation was not authorized but my people have an express noninterference policy. Our price for allowing you access to the three outposts is you will shut down this excavation for us. Do you what will with the members of it."

"Good hunting," Nirvaani tapped a comm beacon and transporter halo swept her away. The teams entered the way station to review the information left behind on data slates. Surprisingly, the information was left in Federation Standard English.

"I'll deal with the rogue archeologist," Macen decided, "Tracy and Parva can come with me."

"My pilot and a security officer will stay here to secure my shuttle and your runabout, "Mirita decided, "I'm coming with you. That will leave three of my people available to you."

"I'll take one as your escort," Macen suggested, "The other two can ride with Rab and Tony to another destination."

"That leaves Detective Rockford and her team unassisted," Mirita frowned.

"We operate at our best that way," Rockford assured her, "We'll take this outpost."

She indicated the holo dot on the map display on the table.

"That leaves us the third," Daggit assumed command of the detail.

"They left us four vehicles," Macen noted, "The detail left behind can act as a ready reserve should another team require assistance."

"And if every team requires some?" Mirita asked.

"I'm certain that my people and the Iotian Starfleet can handle a little local trouble," Macen promised, "I also suggest we grab rations and water from our emergency stores aboard our small craft to take with us."

"Very astute thinking," Mirita agreed.

"Grab what you need and read the briefs along your route," Macen instructed.

"You wan to me to secure the Corsair while we're gone, don't you?" Ebert asked while everyone gathered supplies and extra small arms, power packs, and explosives from the on board armory.

"Full lockdown," Macen concurred with her. Once the hatch sealed, only Macen, Rockford, and Ebert had the command authority to open it back up. Transport inhibitors also activated under the security seal. Unauthorized access would result in a self district sequence with a five second warning. That particular flair had been Mudd's brainchild. As a private operator/smuggler she'd frequently run the risk of running afoul of pirates and dockside thieves. The anti intrusion measures she'd incorporated into her United Earth Starfleet model Intrepid-class Freehold, courtesy of the Iotian Shipyards econo line, daunted even such fearless souls as Daggit, Burrows, and Parva.

"Ready?" Mirita smirked as the teams mingled together.

"Stay alive, mister," Rockford kissed him before boarding a very Cardassian-like six-wheeled rover. Shade would be driving while Rockford rode shotgun and read off the brief to her while Lee and Forte studied from behind. The third row seats held their gear.

The Iotians split the seats up. One drove while Daggit sat beside him in the front. Burrows and the other security woman stowed their gear and intently studied the data provided as the vehicle sped off.

"We're accustomed to driving ground vehicles," Mirita pointed out.

"My pilot is experienced with this class of vehicle as well," Macen promised her.

"Not to put to put too fine a point on it, Commander, but I'm driving," Mirita demanded.

"Captain's prerogative," Macen conceded. Parva and Ebert took up the center seating while the second Iotian shared with the assorted tack the groups had brought with them. Mirita retracted the vehicle's roof and they drove off into the distance. Macen wondered why Mirita had insisted on coming with his team when leading another seemed to be more opportune for trying to derive a profit. Then again, there was that mysterious relic the archeologist had the Tislans worried about. That would probably entice the most staid of Iotians.

The Fist of the Prophets was patrolling the Bajor Sector and nearing the Valo system. The Colonial Defense patrols had all been shifted around so that the Prophet's Hope and Prophet's Hammer were patrolling the system along with Gul Erek's three cruisers. Erek immediately hailed Ro, "Colonel, our joint listening post is picking Starfleet chatter. They're deploying from Starbase 375 again. This system is to be their arrival."

"The mines and gun pods are in place. The colonies on Valo II and Valo III have been reinforced and transport inhibitors are in place. If Starfleet wants to land ground troops, they'll be paying for it," Ro promised him.

"The post is ready to assume system defense," Erek informed her, "I've been ordered to return to the Bajor Sector."

"As have my force. That doesn't mean I have to like it," Ro confessed.

"Their seeing us in retreat will embolden them and spring our trap," Erek consoled her.

"Who knew Cardassians would day be learning Bajoran methods?" Ro wondered.

"Indeed," Erek agreed, "But your plan make the best sense under the circumstances."

"The Guard's willingness to share the gun pod design after we revealed the secret behind self replicating mines was a further sign of how our people actually need one another," Ro hated to admit.

"It's difficult for me at times as well," Erek understood her reluctance, "I fought the Maquis as a glinn aboard the cruiser Gromalt. We may have even faced another in combat and never realized it. But I prefer you as an ally, Colonel Ro. For I hate you as an enemy."

"Flattery won't get you anywhere," Ro smiled, "But I agree."

"Let's hope Starfleet realizes the same that I have," Erek wished.

"Oh, they will," the former Starfleet captain predicted. The Fist of the Prophets waited until Starfleet vessels were dropping out of warp at the edge of the system before withdrawing, taking the Prophet's Hope, Prophet's Hammer, and Erek's three Galor-class Type IV cruiser with her. Lieutenant Mandy Park, the Flight Operations Commander aboard the Dauntless, launched her fighter craft upon the carrier starship emerging from subspace.

The Peregrine-class fighters led the Dauntless, the Sentinel, the Specter, the Eclipse, the Robinson, the Springfield-class USS Tolstoy, the Freedom-class USS Guarantor, the New Orleans-class USS Mardi Gras, and the Intrepid-class USS Mariner towards the inner six planets of the Valo system.

Without warning minds began unshrouding and detonating. Each detonation caused a neighboring mine to replicate a replacement for lost one.

"Goddammit!" Divine swore, "Self replicating mines! Those Bajoran scum!"

"How did they evade detection?" her XO, Jack Reeves, called to Tactical.

"They seem to have reverse engineered Dominion shrouding technology," Kara Wyler reported from that station.

"Goddamn Cardassian scum!" Divine swore again.

"Captain! Mines unshrouding all around us," Wyler hastily reported.

"Flight wings obliterated," Park called.

"These scum will pay," Divine more than bordered on repeating herself, "Target every mine in range and then began swathing out fields of fire before their neighbor can replicate replacements."

The other Starfleet vessels learned from the Dauntless' example rather than Divine issue instructions. That weakened her credibility with more seasoned commanders. Commander Emil Hunter, the Acting Captain of the Sentinel on the basis of Captain Cera Neva's arrest on racial grounds, had been denied a permanent promotion and was in fact potentially facing criminal charges being brought against him by Secretary Perez for the heavy damages inflicted against the ship during the Fourth Battle for DS9. A Board of Inquiry would held at the cessation of the war effort.

Before the Federation eventually declared war on the Iotians. The Robinson's XO had been removed as Acting Captain. A career logistics officer with no prior command experience had been given the berth and Commander Tfilwy was returned to XO duties. Given that the new CO was human and the recent purging of the corps of Bajorans, many felt the decision was racially motivated, having come directly at the Secretary's behest.

Commander T'Lora, Ross' XO had been relieved of duties as well and placed in the brig alongside Ross and Agman. Agman's own XO, Commander Katherine Blevins, had expressed her own discomfort with the Secretary's assumption of directly dictating the course of the war efforts and punitive measures against field commanders when she herself had never served in Starfleet.

President Sok, Vice President Cindi, and Secretary for Starfleet Perez were already ranked as the least popular political figures in Federation history. Blevins wondered how long they could continue in office. Yet there seemed to be no legal recourse left to removing them. The Federation Constitution had been suspended and the proffered replacement to hit the remaining Data Net channels didn't allow for removing a sitting President. Or any elections for one until a sitting President died in office or mercifully resigned. Federation Council position terms were reduced from six years to two. And the Federation Council was largely reduced to advising on policies rather than legislating them.

The Council could propose laws and vote upon them but it was merely an advisory vote for the President's consideration. The President was scheduled to sign the constitution by dictate into law in another week rather than undertake a planetary ratification process. Only three forces seemed capable of halting Sok's administration: Starfleet, Federation Security, and a mass revolt by every member planet's population.

Uprisings were already underway on most worlds but the threat of force was keeping them from overthrowing complicit governments. Starfleet was too engaged in winning what to be developing into protracted wars despite official promises of victories within hours or days. Even planetary occupations would be costly affairs costing thousands of Starfleet lives. Tens of thousands of lives should the occupations drag on over decades.

Perez had advised invoking General Order 24 on selected colony worlds to cow Cardassia Prime and Bajor into submission. Valo II was to be one such world. Hunter, Blevins, and Captain Morris had been in the conflict against the Bajorans the longest had to have false hopes that would quell rather than inflame the Bajorans' passion to resist by violent means. Divine herself had recommended to Starfleet Command that Bajor itself be reduced to glass. But Starfleet Command so far had declined to confirm the order. An order Divine was prepared to take upon herself. The gun pods came into play as the already damaged starships sailed into a hail of photon torpedoes disruptor fire.

"Sentinel command is hailing," Wyler reported

"On my screen," Divine ordered

Hunter's image appeared. Flames were visible behind him, "We have to withdraw."

"No! We're making an example of these bastards!" Divine snarled.

"The Guarantor and Specter are crippled. My engineers and those aboard the Tolstoy and Mardi gras can have warp power restored if we can just get out of range of these damn gun pods!" Hunter snarled, "The Mariner, Robinson, Sentinel, and my own Eclipse are about to lose shields."

"Run away coward!" Divine screamed at him, "I'll obliterate these colonies in my own."

"Doctor, have you heard enough?" Reeves asked the CMO who was standing by.

"I have," Lt. Commander Bliss Ferris acknowledged, "Captain, you're relieved of your command."

"Traitors!" she leapt to her feet to pull the phaser from her belt.

Reeves stunned her, "Confine her to quarters. Signal the fleet, we're pulling out."

"The gun pods ceased fire," Wyler said in amazement.

"Oh no," Reeves had a sick feeling.

"Sir! Three Galor-class cruisers, an original Constitution-class, an original Asia-class, and a Mercury-class are dropping out of warp in-system," Wyler exclaimed, "Colonel Ro is demanding our surrender."

"Give it to them," Reeves said despondently, "Signal everyone to surrender."

Starfleet crews were amazed to receive provisions, field replicators, and medical treatment before being beamed into the abandoned Resistance base within the primary moon of Valo I. Oorta's cell had based their operations from there before being eventually repatriated to Bajor. Additional Bajoran Militia ships arrived to repair the captured Starfleet vessels and place prize crews aboard them to move them to DS9 where they could properly repaired.

The Prophet's Hope and Prophet's Hammer stayed ion station with Erek's cruisers while Ro's Fist of the Prophets went further back to Prophet's Landing before transiting to Dreon VII, then skirting the Rolor Nebula for 18 hours to inspect Free Haven Port and then the defense of Golana. Her Gamma Quadrant crews maintained a détente with the USS Legislature. She wondered how much longer that could last.

"General, a surprising number of Starfleet crewmen 'defected' when Ro and Erek captured those starships. Just a handful of junior officers joined in with them but we can skeleton crew them at least once Chief O'Brien and Nog's teams get them repaired," Vaughn reported to Kira.

"Militia Special Forces can supply officers and noncoms to command them," Kira stated, "They're better trained on modern Starfleet systems than the regular fleet officers."

"Any word from Macen?" Vaughn wondered.

"Yes, and I sent a particular response," Kira smirked.

"I noticed you relieved the Guinevere, Spearhead, Waylaid, Copernicus, and Dog Star to return to Serenity," Vaughn had noted.

"We have enough ships and the Iotians are sending another supply convoy," Kira told him, "They've also been assisting Macen since he cleared the decks for them to renegotiate terms with the Orion Syndicate."

"Sounds dicey enough to be his style," Vaughn admitted.

"Oddly I find that comforting," Kira confessed.

"And how to do you find the company of an old friend?" Sisko asked as he stepped off of the lift.

"Captain," Vaughn nodded his greeting.

"Benjamin!" Kira was far more enthusiastic, "No one told me you were aboard."

"I asked them not to make a fuss. The crew is awed enough that I'm back aboard," Sisko said wryly.

"How's Kassidy holding up?" Kira inquired.

"She's worried and oddly comforted to be on Bajor right now," Sisko inferred regarding his own faith in the Prophets and their child's relative safety since the Bajorans would lay down their lives to defend the Emissary's family.

"Any word from Jake or your father?" Kira asked.

"Not since the subspace relays went down," he grimly answered, "They arrested Jake's wife because she's Bajoran. I imagine he's been detained too. Dad's health is failing and I was scheduling a family trip to be with him when this idiocy broke out. The surprise was to be the fact Jake-O is making us grandparents."

"Benjamin, I'm so happy for you. How safe do you think your daughter will be, knowing that she's your family?" Kira wondered. Bajoran custom made her an adopted daughter.

"I'm expecting a blackmail demand any minute now," Sisko told her, "I have been since her arrest."

"I wouldn't put it passed this new Federation president to be too stupid to realize the bargaining chips that she has in both her and Jake," Vaughn confessed.

"I wonder," Sisko mused.

Captain Gardner led the Outbound Ventures squadron safely through neutral territories to return to the Barrinor system. Tom Riker for one was relieved. He'd been exchanging semi-official dispatches with Will since the other Captain Riker's arrival at the Federation border. Will Riker was under tremendous pressures from the Secretary for Starfleet Perez to violate Barrinor's neutrality and protected status to retrieve Admirals Nechayev, Akaar, Jellico, Forger, and Commander Prentiss and Lefler.

Serenity was considered a "soft" target compared to DS9 since she lacked the Federation armaments and shielding upgrades the starbase had received over time. And until the squadron had returned, Serenity only defended by two outriggers, the Emden-class Indomitable and the Blackbird-class Solstice, as well as six Danube-class runabouts, and the Karemma license built Ark of the Prophet. Mudd's Freehold was off limits. Equally daunting for Will Riker's four-ship command, four Lakat-class frigates accompanied the Outbound Ventures ships to defend their interests in the company.

The disturbing factor wasn't the Cardassians ships themselves but that Barrinor had authorized their presence, unmistakably with permission from other rival powers. Riker contacted Riker again.

"Tom, this has to end. I'm resuming patrol. But be warned, the government is getting desperate enough to attempt a sneak attack or an infiltration by Special Operations Command forces. Be on your guard for anything," Riker told his twin.

"Be careful, Will. You have Deanna, Thad, and Kestra to worry about," Riker warned him

"I couldn't face them if I was the one to start an interstellar war over this stupidity," Riker told him, "I'm sending my squadron on. Afterwards, the Titan crew and I have decided to report to DS9. Perez was especially stupid to have me reunited with my old crew. You'll have all the support two quadrants can provide if Starfleet crosses the border. Hopefully you won't need it. I'll see you later."

"You'd better or Deanna will kill me for letting you go," Riker warned him

"Nope. She likes Lisea too much to widow her," Riker grinned, "Out."

Riker grinned as Will's image was replaced by the Outbound Ventures corporate logo. He then pulled up the current tactical map and relayed calls to all the returning ships. They weren't making port just yet.

President Sok was meeting with the Ministers of Propaganda. So far, the session hadn't gone well for Dysart, Dillon, and Harris.

"I was elected with a mandate that you have squandered," Sok stabbed a finger at each one them in turn, "We had to shut down the Data Net and all non-Starfleet subspace comms because you can't do your jobs. When communications are restored, your Ministry will be the only voices on the Data Nets. Don't waste that opportunity to define me. Restore faith in the government or your heads will be the first to literally roll in centuries. Now get out!"

Sok contacted her chief of staff to get a hold of Cindi. Aafaaq was informed by Chol, his opposite number in the vice-president's office, that the Veep was unavailable.

"Then where the hell is she?" Sok demanded to know, "Contact Perez."

Aafaaq then learned that the Secretary for Starfleet's chief of staff was busy pressuring Starfleet Command and Perez herself was out of the Cabinet offices that day.

"Alert Federation Security," Sok told him next, "I wish to speak directly with the Director."

Cell 51 had spent ten years acculturating Federation Security for current events. It was time for the investments to pay off even more. Sok also suspected where they could be found.

"You've come to request permission to arrange for President Sok's political demise," the Gray Cardinal smirked triumphantly.

"Yes," Cindi was unflinching.

"What makes you think you reclaim the people's trust?" the Presider asked.

"I'll tell them new lies to banish Sok's indignities from their conscious minds. Give them a thin veneer of freedom and victories they can rally behind," Cindi predicted.

"Secretary Perez? Your take on these matters?" the Presider inquired.

"Just a few notes," Perez smiled cruelly.

She faced Cindi and the phaser blast was set at maximum stun, "Sok is being arrested for treason as we speak. The Director of Federation Security was veeery interested in my current post. Cindi was right about half of the agenda. But people want peace as badly as they want freedom. The Cardassians will remain a steadfast enemy to be exploited and the Bajorans will be courted but not readmitted into the Federation."

"It seems I owe you for our wager," the Presider smiled at Johanssen.

"You'll owe me more when this is over," the Gray Cardinal grinned.

"The Gray Cardinal foresaw your eventual victory and your offering of terms to the enemies of the state. You are the state now. Guard yourself closely," the Presider advised her.

When Perez entered the President's Office and claimed it as her own, her chief of staff and his minions had already been installed. She summoned Dajen, "What news of Sok and Cindi's loyalists?"

"The staffers, except for Aafaaq, all turned on her. Chol has been detained as you arranged. I predict she's ready to hear your offer," Dajen told her.

"Bring her to me. And appoint an Acting Director for Federation Security. I don't care whom," President Perez instructed, "Then summon the Ministers of Propaganda. We have a new campaign to wage. One of hearts and minds."

Two hours later, Chol stood before Perez's desk.

"You have an offer I presume?" Chol cut through it.

"I don't wish to waste your obvious talents and I need an insider on the new Secretary for Starfleet's office. You'll be his chief of staff. No questions or complaints will be raised over this. It's already arranged for," Perez told her.

"What makes you think I'll be loyal?" Chol inquired.

"You have ambitions. Dajen is a capable staffer but I need a successor groomed in case we need a supposed regime 'change' in a few years just as you'll groom a successor when your time comes," Perez explained.

"So why not appoint me Vice-President?" Chol asked.

"You can't abide a ceremonial role and the Secretary is a thug when it comes to policy making. They'll retire in a few years when they've served their purpose. In the interim, they'll be the face and you'll be in actual control. Good practice for this job," Perez predicted.

"Like you've been setting up Starfleet to hate Sok," Chol surmised, "But they hate you too."

Perez laughed, "I was but a poor, downtrodden functionary. My new, enlightened policies will alleviate all of Starfleet's concerns and give them a new Secretary to despise."

"Enlightened?" Chol wondered.

"This will be an era of love and peace not war," Perez chuckled, "of course, until we need to recreate a new existential threat to shore up our measures of control. A Mars Massacre level event every few years or so."

Chol smiled cruelly, "I can get aboard."

"Good. You're new 'master' awaits your arrival down the hall," Perez used the term snidely. Chol was inside the joke so she found it funny.

"The Federation is offering what?" Kira thought the signal from Bajor must be scrambled.

"They're surrendering and offering reparations. President Perez has denounced the Sok administration and her role in it," First Minister Astris explained, "All Starfleet officers are absolved of their role in the affair."

"And the Cardassians?" Kira wondered.

"Have been offered a cease fire. Which Castellan Garan would be a fool to ignore," Astris submitted, "We were lucky we never dissolved our latinum reserves or took the Bajoran lek off of the currency markets even after joining the Federation. Our economy will absorb the shock of this war but our treasury can't afford a protracted war. Perez has released all of the Bajorans arrested by Sok. She's also offering treatment and compensation to everyone affected by the war and Sok's policies. Part of that is making things right with us."

"But not the Cardassians," Kira said dourly.

"They were still holding Federation prisoners;" Astris said sadly, "That fact is irrefutable."

"Garan has never refuted it," Kira reminded Astris, "But Starfleet has refuted consigning prisoners over to the Cardassians. They just launched two wars over the dispositions of Lavelle and Bates."

"We get try Bates in our courts and he'll disciplined by Starfleet after they review the log entries. Admiral Ross is looking equally culpable," Astris informed her.

"And Lavelle?" Kira was wary of the answer.

"Doctor Bashir relieved him of command on medical grounds, not a legal argument. Starfleet will run with that. They'll 'treat' his 'condition' and return him to duty if they find he's capable of doing so," Astris explained.

"And where can they possibly send him?" Kira snorted.

"Deep Space 9. He'll resume his command there when he's ready," Astris said sadly.

"But it's a Bajoran command!" Kira raged.

"Which is returning to Starfleet administration," Astris looked piqued, "It's a lousy deal but it ended a war."

"So we're being occupied?" Kira tersely asked.

"The Ministers have all agreed to it. Yours is the lone voice of dissent," Astris warned her, "And yours, sadly, is an advisory role."

"What was your personal vote?" Kira asked.

"I didn't vote but I'm inclined to oppose the issue since this could all rear its head again," Astris revealed, "But the Council of Ministers made excellent points on how half of the Militia transferred to Starfleet, your existing forces were Starfleet auxiliaries, and we have no idea if Bajor will offered readmission to the Federation."

"Are we really stupid enough to go down that road again?" Kira wondered.

"I'm personally opposed to seeking readmission," Astris divulged, "But my years in office are limited now that term limits for First Minister have been passed."

"And whose idea was that?" Kira knew Shakaar had voluntarily stepped down after three terms, having been the longest serving post-Occupation First Minister until Astris was elected.

"My wife, Kara Gena," Astris mirthfully told her. In this Prime Universe, Kara Gena still served in the Council because her genetic status had never been revealed and because Kara had betrayed her people for her love for Astris. Therefore Kara had never kidnapped Astris. It was still unknown to her wife that she was genetically enhanced. Or to the Federation that would've submitted her to screenings to determine her mental stability and barred her from further serving in public office.

"And you agreed to it?" Kira was still dubious. The people should be able to reelect a reliable official for as long as they were willing to serve in her opinion.

"It prevents a dynasty from being born," Astris seemed ready enough to comply with the limitations imposed, "Presumably it would also prevent an autocracy like the Federation devolved into here recently. But I have hopes for Perez's administration. She at least seems to know what to say and when to say it."

"This is why I distrust politicians. The only two I've respected are you and Shakaar. He was Resistance and you were Starfleet. You both understand the nature of duty and sacrifice when you asked it of the people," Kira explained her position.

"But we need to avoid another Minister Jarro," Astris insisted.

"At least I can agree with that," Jarro had had Kira tortured.

"The peace accord will go through. It still needs to be hammered out but Perez and I agree on most of the outline and some of the details," Astris told her, "And I need to protect those that volunteered to help us. A side effect is that it helps Commander Lavelle."

"The Cardassians won't take it well," Kira predicted, "We certainly wouldn't."

"I'll deal with Garan," Astris promised.

"If you don't it'll provide fodder for the likes of Maret and Macet," Kira warned her, "And we can't go back to that. Especially not after the Cardassians came through for us."

"I fully intend to protect everyone that I can. But there are limits, General. We both know the reality of the situation. Castellan Garan is the head of a sovereign state and on her own and to defend it as such," Astris sadly explained, "Gul Erek and his squadron will receive my full support and I can lend Garan everything I can bring to the table but I have to negotiate Bajor's best interests first and the Cardassians' second. Rekena Garan will do the same for her people. In the meantime, I'm ordering you off of the station, General. You're needed on or at least near Bajor in the coming days should negotiations fail. Colonel Cenn is more than capable of defending the station."

"Understood, Kira out," was her terse reply before she ended communications. Her next stop was the very conference room. Captain Riker and the USS Titan had arrived a little late for the party it seemed. Riker was busy getting acquainted with Kirk and trading Captain Picard stories as he learned the full truth of what had transpired in the Nexus.

"I can't see anyone ever willingly leaving," Riker thought of Thad's worsening health.

"It's amazing but you only live out whatever comes to mind. It's the ultimate role playing game. Even better than these 'holo suites' Scotty introduced me to at Quark's," Kirk smiled, "I enjoy recreation but I'll take reality and a sense of purpose over fantasy any day."

"You're a rare man, Captain," Riker admitted.

"I understand the same about you," Kirk confided in him, "The others deeply respect you as an officer and captain but also as a father."

Riker chuckled, "I keep forgetting how small Starfleet can seem at times."

"Captain Riker," La Forge stepped in.

"Geordi, we're the same rank now. Just call me Will," Riker insisted.

"The meeting's beginning," La Forge advised them. The small ward room DS9 officers employed as their conference room was filled to capacity, forcing many captains to stand. Each Outbound Ventures CO was present as well. Only Militia captains were still at their duty stations.

As a matter of courtesy, La Forge. Bateson, Calhoun, Saavik, Mueller, Riker, Scotty, Vaughn, Kirk, Ro and Cenn got the seats at the table along with a special courtesy extended to Doctor Brahms as Ro offered her seat to Brahms. This gave the Outbound Ventures commanders an extra feeling of solidarity with Ro. To further differentiate themselves from Starfleet, despite their shoulder panels using a different color scheme, Tyrol had directed all Outbound Ventures crews to adopt their secondary jumpsuit options.

These were based on the United Earth Starfleet uniforms of the mid-22nd Century. Only the division color piping had been altered to the Outbound Ventures color scheme. The change had proven so popular Tyrol had made it permanent. Like the Starfleet of old, the rank insignia was worn on the right breast of the jumpsuits. Macen had directed that they use the brevet rank insignia the Val Jean crew of Maquis had worn aboard the starship Voyager during her traverse of the Delta Quadrant.

"You've all heard peace has broken out," Kira stated, "yet the Starbases across the Bajoran and Cardassian borders are still hosting dozens of starships. So I haven't been informed of where you all stand."

"We're still under contract with Bajor," Captain Vanderman informed Kira of Outbound Ventures' official statement.

"Chakotay and Voyager departed the system days ago," La Forge remarked.

"I sent him on a special errand," Kira confided, "They're being where they're needed most."

"Eppy is under pressure to get Kat and I recalled back to the Thallonian Sector," Calhoun referred to Commodore Shelby by his pet name for her, "But with communications just having been restored, I can unofficially declare them garbled for a few more days."

"As can I," Mueller wore wicked grin.

"Challenger hasn't been assigned new duties yet. And as a technology test bed, we won't typically serve as a conventional capital ship anyways," La Forge informed her, "So I'm ordering us to stay put until told otherwise."

"Aye, an' the Enterprise-M is an independent course study so she's free t' go where her captain decides," Scotty chuckled.

Officially Captain Scott was still her commanding officer despite his currently deferring to Kirk.

Captain Cera Neva had been invited but not offered a seat, "I've been reinstituted as the Sentinel's commanding officer. But most of my crew is still being held in the Valo system."

"As a gesture of good faith, the starships captured in the Valo system are being repaired and returned to pick up their captains and crews. You'll be in command of that effort," Kira informed her. Cera's enthusiasm towards Starfleet and Federation policy makers had cooled since she'd been escorted off of her own command by Starfleet Security just because she'd been born Bajoran. Starfleet had always been a protective barrier against such racism until then.

Now-President Perez could walk back from her actions but she'd been the one to implement President Sok's arrest and expulsion orders of Bajoran Starfleet officers. News had broken that the Emissary's son and daughter-in-law had been released from Federation Security detention. Sisko and Yates had taken their family and set out for Earth to verify their well being as well as the patriarch of the family's health.

Perez wanted to meet with Sisko to extend a personal apology. As well as make a joint statement about the error the Federation Council, and her as a Councilor at the time, had committed in expelling Bajor. The olive branch, while not extending an invitation to rejoin the Federation, was a necessity in restoring normal relations between Bajor and the Federation as a whole. Since Astris wouldn't travel to Earth quite yet, Sisko and Ambassador Beric's participation was symbolic enough to persuade both sides to lay down their swords and reestablish a margin of trust and cooperation.

"I have been recalled to Earth," Saavik reported, "The decommissioning order on the Endeavor has stood for nearly five years now. But Starfleet is offering me a new command. So perhaps it is time to retire the ship and allow my crew to decide whether to transfer to my new command or move on."

"Most of them will stay with you Saavik," Kirk promised. Only his and Picard's Enterprise crews had been so loyal to their captains as to roadblock their own careers to stay aboard. But both Sulu and Riker had been persuaded to finally accept promotion before their captains retired. Kirk had been dismayed that Picard had made two fatal errors.

First, in order to coordinate the Romulan evacuations, he'd been promoted to admiral and left the Enterprise. Then Starfleet Command had happily accepted his resignation that he'd offered as blackmail to force their hands to continue with the evacuation efforts after the Mars Massacre and the loss of the evacuation ships and the Utopia Planetia Yards. Kirk had warned about promotions and leaving the bridge of his starship. But Picard hadn't seen any other way to muster support for the evacuation according tu Riker and La Forge

Of course it had been Spock that had led the effort to avert the Hobus shockwave from Romulus and Remus only to be condemned by the very Red Matter than been the supposed means of salvation. Pursued to his destruction by the grief-maddened Romulan, Nero, and the mining vessel, Narada. The singularity that Spock had created was all that remained of where Romulus and Remus had been. Since Kirk's resurrection, he'd only revealed himself to Picard, selected admirals at Starfleet Command, and Spock and McCoy before they each died.

Picard had been the one of to supply Kirk with a Starfleet Mission Scout and steered him beyond DS5 to the Delta Quadrant delineator. Now that his existence was revealed, how would the rest of Starfleet react? Could he possibly receive a new command of his own? He could only hope.

"I've been ordered to simply hold position," Bateson shared, "There was some lip service to facilitating Commander Lavelle's transfer to an appropriate medical facility."

"I recommend a good airlock," Mueller contended.

"So I've heard," Kira said derisively.

"No one disagrees with that decision more than I do," Vaughn concurred, "But Starfleet will have to answer to the Cardassians for that. Not us."

"Bajor made a promise to Cardassia to hand Lavelle over. That started an invasion," Kira said flatly, "Now the price of peace seems to be the validity of our promises."

"Not necessarily," Ro interrupted, "Transfer him to my ship before Bateson's orders come through and I'll ferry Lavelle where he needs to go."

Ro didn't specify where that would be but her intentions were plain enough.

"I could be persuaded to look the other way," Cera suddenly blurted.

"I think we all could," Calhoun urged the others, staring most intently at Riker.

"I'll pretend ignorance," Riker conceded, "Colonel Ro has notoriously stretched the boundaries of orders before."

Ro's time aboard the Enterprise-D while Riker had been her XO and Ro her Flight Control Officer had led to some epic clashes. And even a memory loss inspired romantic entanglement. One Tom Riker had eventually learned was why, despite Ro's cell supporting his stealing the Defiant, she'd never personally met with him until she was fighting in the Dominion War. She'd been impressed by Riker, who'd survived a Cardassian and escaped with help from the Romulan Proconsul, Sela, when she'd broken a former patron out. Riker had helped defend two prisoners during his time in the prison.

The first had been the undisclosed Romulan prisoner the Cardassians still denied ever holding. The other had been the Starfleet officer, Ensign Sito Jaxa. When Riker led Macen and Ro's teams to the prison, he'd liberated Sito. So to when Riker joined Macen's SID team. He found room on the ship's crew for her.

In the revised history, she hadn't died as a member of the Ju'day-class raider SS Eclipse's crew. She'd gone on with Outbound Ventures to become Serenity's Gamma Watch Security Deputy Chief. Chief Gerrit Gren making both his deputies Bajoran as well. But Radil Jenrya and Sito credentials were linked to Macen so no one doubted their qualifications. Radil being a former Resistance fighter like Gerrit and Sito being a Starfleet Academy Security Officer graduate.

Joining Outbound Ventures had reunited Sito with Nick Locarno. Like Sito, Locarno had been one of the most celebrated Academy pilots. Like her, he was disgraced by their decision to falsify an accident report. Locarno took the collective blame and was expelled. Sito, like Wesley Crusher, had to repeat the year.

But Captain Picard had requested her for the Enterprise-D when she graduated. But her career aboard ended when she was sent undercover into Cardassian space and was captured. Locarno had left the Academy and listlessly wandered about the Federation before joining Ro's Maquis cell. Locarno joined Outbound Ventures after being released from a penal colony. He'd been recommended to Riker by Sito.

Unexpectedly, to them at least, the two fell in love and now were married and had two children. Locarno served as the Flight Operations Officer for Serenity and its senior pilot. VIP visitors that Locarno personally flew around for Outbound Ventures confused both him and his history with that of the famed Tom Paris. Whom Locarno had actually met once on Ronara Prime when Chakotay's Maquis crew worked beside Ro's cell. Paris had signed on as a hired pilot. But his infamy would transform into fame after he and the Voyager crew returned from deep within the Delta Quadrant in a record seven years. Locarno was glad his lookalike had received his chance at a happy ending as well.

"I can only dare to ask you all to stay on hand until the terms of the treaty are signed," Kira admitted, "Afterwards, you can go on your way with Bajor's, and my, eternal thanks."

"We couldn't have done otherwise and lived with ourselves," Bateson admitted.

"Bajor reminds too much of my native Xenex to let her be overrun a second time," Calhoun confessed his reason for being there.

"We're forgetting this 'Cell 51'," Kirk reminded them all.

Riker was still being brought to speed. Tom had mentioned them and transmitted a copy of Kirk's purloined recordings. But even his twin had been unaware of Macen's ongoing progress. A point Vaughn and Douglas had personally briefed him on. Riker and his crew had gone from feeling helpless to feeling useless. He knew the Titan crew would gladly set course for the Delta Quadrant but take them over two weeks to reach DS5 at a normal cruising speed.

By then everything but the mopping would be done at that location and no one currently knew if Tisla would be the end of it or of there would be subsequent locations involved in the investigation. Riker understood Macen and his people had pushing the Obsidian to and beyond her design limitations. Riker wanted further updates as they came in.

"I'll be leaving the station and returning to Bajor," Kira seemed to find the idea distasteful, "But Colonel Cenn will assume command until the administrative control of the station is decided in the terms of the new treaty. Until then, we're re-opening for business as usual and Starfleet traffic is welcome."

Kira gazed upon every individual, "Hopefully, this has already ended. You can return to your ships at any time or schedule shore leaves for your crews in rotation. Until everything is signed we're still mounting active and scaled down, war ready patrols. Dismissed."

Riker honed on her as the crowd dispersed. He wasn't surprised to find Vaughn, Ro, and Kirk remained behind as well, "General, I'd appreciate any and all updates you receive regarding Commander Macen's whereabouts. My crew and I would like to contribute something to this effort however belatedly."

"I understand you diffused the situation at Serenity Station, Captain. I'm sure your twin and its occupants appreciate it," Kira smiled.

"That shouldn't have been necessary. None of any of this was ever necessary," Riker voiced his discontent.

"But it was telling. Perhaps Bajor is better off this way. Hopefully allies to both the Federation and Cardassia. Maybe the middle road between them is our path directed by the Prophets," Kira suggested, "Maybe you should just go home."

"Deanna and the kids wouldn't want me to while there was a chance I could help," Riker insisted.

"You're so much like Tom," Kira laughed, "He was so desperate to make things right too."

"I wasn't aware you and Tom and a history," Riker admitted.

"Ask him about it someday," Kira suggested, "I'll keep you informed. Now, I have a transport to catch."

A Bajoran assault ship was casting off in thirty minutes and would serve to deliver Kira home.

"Colonel Cenn will release Commander Lavelle into your custody," Kira had pre-empted Ro, "He's at the Security Office awaiting your arrival."

"This is why you're the General," Ro smirked.

"General, please keep the Enterprise-M informed along with Captain Riker," Kirk requested, "And I respectfully request a Militia crew to serve aboard her."

Kira stopped, "You have a plan."

Kirk appreciated that wasn't a question, "The cadet class is riding back to Earth with Captain Saavik. I can brief on your way to the docking ring."

"Walk with me," Kira insisted.

"I smell trouble," Riker grinned.

"No more than usual," Ro shrugged and departed to collect Lavelle. Riker returned to Ops and transported from the station to the awaiting Titan. There he prepped his crew for immediate action. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed this sort of thing. Meanwhile he attempted to deduce just what James Kirk had in mind.

Tisla's daily rotation had its sun rise in the west and set in the east with no axial seasonal tilting. It was the second in the system and was only Class-H. All existing water sources were underground aquifers and the occasional oasis. The standard day was 38.2 Federation standard hours long.

Once the rovers were over the horizon, Mirita's security guard attempted to access the Corsair, to no avail. She returned to the Iotian shuttle and raised the ramp. Inside, the life support systems kept the ambient temperature moderate and cool.

The pilot was as bored as she was, "Locked tight, wasn't it?"

"And a closed system so I couldn't access it," the security woman flopped into a seat.

"Care for a game of Fizzbin?" the pilot asked. The Ferengi had codified it and made it an actual gambling stakes game.

"Deal me in," the guard felt lucky. She wouldn't for long.

Most of the members of the SID team refused to wear corporate uniforms. Thereby easily identifying them aboard the Obsidian. Their refusal enabled the rest to do so as well with impunity. But civilian garb did help them blend in on strange planets. Rockford's team had the shortest drive to reach a settlement. There, they found locals largely indifferent to their arrival. Other identical rovers were driving about, coming and going from the central settlement.

"Aim for the local cantina," Rockford instructed Shade.

"Good, I could use a stiff drink," Shade admitted. Rockford held the purse strings so Shade wouldn't drink herself silly even if so inclined.

"Everyone's armed," Forte observed.

"So are we, so we'll blend in," Lee assured her.

Sub-impulse ships lifted from nearby and flew back and forth from the orbital and suborbital habitats ringing the planet. Since shrubs were the tallest vegetation on the planet, the habitats also provided what shade there was other than the shadows created by rock formations or humanoid-built buildings. A number of non-humanoids also proliferated the local scene.

The flight and rover traffic along with the number of pedestrians seemed to indicate this was a transportation hub. Shelters like the ones they'd landed next were situated as crossroads between settlements. They provided beds, much needed shade and water, as well neutral meeting grounds. Inter-settlement feuds seemed common according to the data on the slates the Tislans had provided.

In settlement, grievances were generally settled by phaser or disruptor blasts rather than arbitration or courts. What lawmen there were hired by what vaguely passed as settlement administration and looked after the settlement's interests far more than individuals' lives and livelihoods. Unless one could afford influencing the local sheriffs whose primary function seemed to be tax collection harkening back to "shire reeves".

But the local law enforcers did mount posses to track and eliminate thieves and highwaymen. Most deaths it seemed to were atoned for by paying a fine. Mainly to pay for the necessary burial custom of the race involved in the death. People came to Tisla to escape whatever fates awaited them on their home worlds. They paid dearly for anonymity.

But the Tislans did impose certain inviolable rules. The first being not to attract off world attention. This was the cardinal sin Cell 51 had committed in the Tislans' eyes. Outbound Ventures and the Iotians weren't the first to come looking for the Cell 51 members after deals gone bad. So far the seekers had met untimely deaths. But the Tislans had grown weary of the threats to their thriving business concern.

Macen's group just happened to be the next seekers to arrive and the Tislans were willing to intervene enough to give the teams an advantage. The price seemed reasonable enough: deal with a rogue archeologist and their team. Obviously the archeologist's pursuit disturbed the Tislans enough to sick would-be mercenaries on them. The Tislans' level of technology seemed backward enough to necessitate the secretive measures rather than confront a more advanced military presence.

Shade pulled the rover up to a two story building. Men and women came and went through the dual swinging half-doors.

"A saloon!" Forte seemed familiar with concept.

"Aaand a brothel," Lee nodded towards the upper decks where men and women tried to entice potential customers. Several races were represented including some, like the pedestrians, were unknown to most in the Federation. Rockford wished had access to Macen's scientific journal from his journeys across the Delta, Beta, and Alpha Quadrants. Only the youthful looking Forte was older than the El-Aurian.

Forte despite biologically still being a teenager had been born in the mid-20th Century. But the inhabitants of Miri had exposed to a viral agent gone amuck that the result of research into an immortality treatment. Viruses able to encode rapid changes into cells and continue to replicate themselves. But the adults had been horribly mutated and the preadolescents descended into near savagery awaiting the biological awakening that would trigger the mutations start.

Leonard McCoy had modified the virus so that the pre-teens could survive their entering puberty. Forte had been one of them. Starfleet had taken the survivors off of her ravaged world and educated them after resettling them. Forte had just proven to be a special brand of untapped genius. A puzzle solver that Rockford had wanted in her personal investigative squad. Forte didn't look old enough to vote in the Federation much less imbibe. But different cultures had different rules. And the locale seemed to be lawless enough to afford Forte's entering a cantina.

Lee was a former Chief Inspector on the Federation colony world of Chun Kou. So he was used to such environs. Shade had been a professional thief when Rockford found her cast off by Fabrini society and exiled from the colony ship of Yolanda. But Shade's deductive skills rated as highly as Lee's and like him, she was an expert at navigating places like this. Forte had the disadvantage of inexperience that perpetually made her appear to be a tourist. Forte may have been over four hundred years old but she'd had that much remedial learning to do.

Book smarts she had in spades. But she sorely lacked practical experience at anything other than finely honed survival skills. Rockford made certain she had Forte's back on worlds like this. What came as surprise to everyone was the presence of fellow humans. Certainly Shade was Fabrini and Rockford was an Angosian but they appeared human. Forte was descended from humans taken from Earth by the race of Preservers ten thousand years ago. But it seemed human fugitives had made it this far out. The majority of them even looked disreputable.

They lingered and after time, several strangers had approached them to feel them out. Their evasive answers seemed to satisfy the queries in manners that were approved of and accepted. The idea of outrunning pursuit appealed to the crowd in general . Then a small group of Federation citizens entered in. They stood out because of their clean cut appearances and hyper awareness of their surroundings. They quickly noted the detectives' addition to the usual crowd. They warily, if somewhat discreetly, studied them.

Their Federation origins were betrayed by the ease that the Aenar, Andorian, Tellarite and two humans mingled together as a single unit. Their cohesion of purpose and mindset set them apart from the rogues and scoundrels malingering in the cantina looking to score some quick gold pressed latinum. But the five additions weren't mercenary at heart. They had purpose and were driven towards it. And the detectives' appearance in their usual watering hole disturbed them.

Asking about them would only alert the crowd and their targets of their true intentions. A tail would be ineffective because they would be expecting it. However, their response to a direct challenge would prove interesting.

"Back my play," Rockford quietly advised her team. Then she rose and they followed as she strode directly towards the newcomers' table.

"You aren't on the run," Rockford accused them; "You're frinxing law enforcement. I can smell it on you. Who are you after?"

"You need to sit down and finish your drinks," the Andorian said with some menace.

"Or what?" Rockford leaned on the belligerent pedal.

"We'll buy you a round if you sit down and mind your own business," a human offered. The Aenar alone seemed unperturbed. Rockford marked her as the leader of the band.

"Why don't you mind your business?" the female human asked. Rockford further marked the Tellarite as the best fighter despite an Andorian's culturally natural martial training and instincts.

"What do you hope to gain by provoking a fight?" the Aenar broke her silence. She was blind but she also the most dangerous of them all. Rockford was the result of the merging of over one hundred individual psyches. So her mental discipline far exceeded an Aenar's lightly telepathic ability.

"You want a fight, human?" the Tellarite was primed and ready to go.

"She's hardly human," the Aenar warned him, "Her scent is far more...Angosian."

That settled the group's tempers.

"You're an Augment," the Aenar deduced, "Why are you on Tisla?"

"Can't you hear the answer?" Rockford asked.

"You came for us," the Aenar correctly surmised.

"I came for your comm logs and any other data I can collect on Cell 51's operations. You're all expendable," Rockford advised them.

"You'd truly kill us all?" the Aenar inquired.

"It's how I made my living before the detective gig became profitable," Rockford shared, "Now, tell me where your lair is and walk away or this gets very messy very quickly."

She pulled her phaser and shot the Tellarite. His Klingon disruptor clattered to the floor as his face hit the table.

"He's dead," the Aenar was shocked.

"First lesson: I don't bluff. I don't equivocate. I simply do what I tell you I'm going to do," Rockford lectured them, "Anyone else want their organs scrambled?"

The humans jumped to their feet but Rockford fired in one direction and then the other, killing them both.

"Now, you can save my squad a lot of time by leading us to your computer setup," Rockford advised the remaining Andorian and the Aenar.

"Drop it before you lose an antenna," Rockford warned the Andorian. He flinched and her next shot seared off one antenna.

He howled in pain as the Aenar raised her hands in surrender, "I have no idea how you found us here. But it will do you no good."

The Andorian threw the table over at Rockford, who simply kicked back at him and she shot him dead as well. The transporter halo faded as did the Aenar

"Tell me you got her," Rockford spun to see Forte working her tricorder.

"Got it!" Forte said with excitement.

"Then let's track her down," Rockford ordered.

"Damn girl!" Shade enthused, "You're back in style."

The sheriff and his deputy arrived.

"Deal with them," Rockford told Lee, who then ran interference. Forte led Rockford and Shade on the trail to locate the transporter unit that had snagged away the Aenar.

The Iotians walked into a trap set by the Cell 51 operatives after receiving the distress beacon call from the other team. Daggit blew away two of the opposition with a well aimed photon grenade shot from his launcher. He pump actioned a second round. Burrows had three of them clustered and pinned down. Daggit's second shot eradicated them as well. The renaming pair chose the better part of valor.

"You have them?" Daggit inquired.

"Bio signs registered and locked in," Burrows chuckled, "They can't hide."

"Let's end this farce," Daggit said grimly as they set out to track the survivors. The local lawman let them be.

A few inquiries acquired the location of the dig. Mirita's obvious uniform drawing some stares. They parked outside the dig and climbed a small hilltop overlooking the site. Stretched before them was an ancestral home of the native Tislans.

"Seventeen bio signs," Parva read off of her tricorder display, "Mainly concentrated in that primary dig site."

"Then let's who is digging up what," Macen decided. Their rover rolled up to the site minutes later. Work stopped as the curious diggers and scientists halted their digging and examinations

One central figure turned and wore an enchanted smile, "Well, what have we here? If I live and breathe, someone just dropped Brin Macen in my lap."

"You know her?" Parva and Mirita parroted one another.

Ebert groaned at the memory of Macen's last encounter with the archeologist leader of the site.

"Everyone, this is Doctor Taryn Argus. Taryn, this is everyone," Macen sighed.

"So where's the Vulcan?" Argus sharply inquired, "And that Bajoran bitch that punched me?"

"T'Kir's dead and Ro is busy elsewhere. And you deserved it," Macen told her.

"Why are we wasting time with her?" Mirita asked sharply.

"They were a thing a long time ago," Ebert continued groaning.

"Three hundred years ago, give or take a decade or two," Argos beamed.

"How?" Mirita asked.

"She's another El-Aurian," Parva had scanned Argus.

"You're not human?" Mirita was surprised.

"Thankfully, no," Argus gushed.

"What kind of weapon are you digging up this time, Taryn?" Macen asked.

"You know me so well, Brin," Argus teased.

"Weapon?" Mirita was intrigued.

"Why Brin, you brought a buyer and I haven't even recovered the artifact yet? Too bad it's already paid for," Argus continued to gloat.

"The Tislans sent us here to stop you," Macen advised her.

"You really should kill me this time," Argus warned him.

"Please!" Ebert urged him on.

"Pack out your trash, Taryn. This dig is over," Macen warned her.

"It's over when I say it's over. My powerful friend supplied protection," Argus' eyes gleamed.

"Aaaand they're already dead," Macen revealed, "They intercepted on the way here. They didn't last long for professionals. I guess your 'powerful friend' couldn't afford decent mercs."

"You'd really kill everyone here?" Argus was fascinated.

"Do it," Macen instructed the others.

Mirita opened fire with abandon. Ebert was far more selective. Parva concentrated on destroying equipment and data storage.

"But you won't kill me," Argus predicted "Even though you're so much harder than ever before."

'There are so few of us left," Macen explained, "Go. Live your life and don't return here again. I doubt you'll receive a warm reception next time."

"Fine!" Argus stomped off.

Minutes later, a shuttle lifted off. Macen tapped his comm badge, "Corsair, emergency beam out sequence, all team members and proximity life sign at this site."

The Iotian pilot and the security officer were astounded when the Corsair lifted off. It took the runabout several minutes to clear everyone off of the transporter pads since the ship could only transport two at a time. Ebert and Parva went first and rushed to their stations. Macen pulled Mirita off the pads as they next team member was located and transported aboard.

"We'll beam you to your shuttle as soon as everyone is recovered," Macen promised her. She was disappointed to learn her security officers had blundered so badly.

"We'll track Argus' trail to her boss," Macen explained.

"This was always your plan?" she asked in amazement.

"It's just coincidental that I knew Taryn," Macen explained, "Any other data recovered would've been useful but not completely necessary."

"It took you long enough," Rockford grinned at him, "The plan worked?"

"As smoothly as predicted," Macen smiled back. Ebert coughed loudly.

"Okay, there is one minor complication," Macen shrugged.

"You know this archeologist?" Rockford guessed.

"Intimately," Ebert called back to her.

"Captain, your shuttle awaits," Macen sent Mirita back so she could recover her shuttle and her men.

"I take it by Tracy's tone that you have some explaining to do," Rockford smirked.

"You remember when I told you about Taryn Argus?" Macen wondered.

"Yeees," Rockford was skeptical now.

"That's who we're tracking," Macen informed her.

"So, an El-Aurian and an ex-lover," Rockford's smirk returned.

"Basically," he shrugged again.

"I can cope. Can you?" Rockford asked.

"I can't kill her," Macen admitted, "Not a fellow El-Aurian."

"But you killed Arinea," Rockford reminded him.

"That was a mercy kill. Taryn has a very long life ahead of her," Macen explained.

"Fine. I'll kill her for you," Rockford shrugged this time.

"No," Macen chided her.

"And if she gives me an excuse?" Rockford wondered.

"I choose you over her any day," Macen promised her.

"This bitch is toast," Rockford said gleefully.

"I suppose this genie won't be returning to the bottle," Macen surmised.

"Nope," Rockford happily admitted.

"Go sit somewhere," Ebert scolded them, "We're beginning docking procedures."

"Join me?" Macen asked gallantly.

"Always," Rockford said happily.

They joyfully traipsed back into the aft cabin.

"That's good to see," Ebert was pleased, "The Captain hasn't been this settled since Lisea dumped him."

"Wait! She dumped him?" Parva seized on that.

"They never told you?" Ebert was surprised.

"Neither Macen nor Danan will talk about it," Parva explained, "And T'Kir certainly never brought it up."

"Well, the little home wrecker wouldn't, would she?" Ebert was indignant.

"We need to talk," Parva insisted.

"Parva..." Daggit scolded her.

"What? This could prove to be vital info someday. 'Sides, a fem needs to know if her commander is a turd," Parva stressed the latter point.

"It all worked out," Ebert advised her, "Lees is happy with Captain Riker and the Captain is with Celeste now."

"You do realize that Macen isn't the captain anymore?" Burrows inquired.

"The Captain will always be the Captain," Ebert demanded. Silence fell over the cockpit.

"Good to know," Parva finally said as the Obsidian's Shuttlebay tractor beam caught them when they'd come about. The Orion engineer was about to get the scoop on everybody's dirt. She could hardly wait.

"You have her?" Macen asked Forger in her Ready Room.

"She has a Type-9 shuttle so she's bookin' it at Warp 4. How she managed to get a Starfleet-only shuttle escapes me but Doctor Argus won't," Forger pledged.

"She'll only maintain that speed for twelve hours before she has to drop back to Warp 2," Jones added, "The Kelly is matching our course and speed. Captain Mirita sent her compliments."

"We have her course. Any projected destinations?" Rockford wondered.

"Her course cuts back into the Beta Quadrant, skirting Iridian space and bypassing DS5 completely and edging DS4's sensor range. So she doesn't want to get spotted entering Federation space in a probably stolen shuttle," Forger projected the course on a wall monitor, "But she'll be passing through multiple neutral and claimed inhabited systems. I can't even guess where she'll make port."

"Project her course further," Macen played a hunch. The projected route shifted deeper into Federation space.

"Damn!" Macen was out of his seat and out of the Ready Room headed for the turbolift.

"What the frinx?" Jones yelped in his wake.

"I'll find out!" Rockford called as she pursued him. But the turbolift doors closed before she reached them, "Shit! Of all of the times for the lift to be on time."

"What the hell, Celeste?" Forger asked storming out of her Ready Room with Jones on her heels. The entire bridge crew was captivated by the unfolding drama.

"Thia ship sucks!" Rockford fumed, "How many starships have a single turbolift car?"

"The Defiant-class for one," Zimbalist offered, "Just for a recent design example."

Everyone's glares silenced him.

"Celeste, what the frinx just happened?" Forger asked, "I've never seen him like this before."

"Because you've never seen him scared," Rockford told her.

Rockford burst into Macen's office after he'd dispatched a set of coordinates to Kira.

"You know where she'd headed," it was wasn't a question.

"I know where she's probably headed," he clarified.

"Why is this a bad thing?" Rockford inquired.

"Because of what this Director Sorbo is trying to resurrect," Macen said, "Whatever Taryn was after has to be connected."

"So where are we going?" Rockford finally asked.

"Regula. We're going to Regula," Macen said sorrowfully.

"Okay, at the risk of repeating myself, why is this a bad thing?" Rockford inquired again.

"Let me explain the biggest mistakes the Federation ever funded. The first is called the Meta-Genome Project," Macen told her, "And then came its offshoot: Project Genesis."


Chapter Eleven

"You're sure about this?" Forger asked Macen who was in her Ready Room once again.

"Reasonably," Macen began explain to the ship's CO and XO what he's already explained to his wife and business partner, "Those of my people that were emerged in the Nexus have augmented temporal-spatial senses. My people could always sense temporal and spatial distortions but since going into the Nexus I sometimes can not only sense probability shifts but I get glimpses into my own future. I know we need to be at Regula because in some fashion we've already been there and I've already lived through it."

"You have got to be shitting me," Jones snorted, "That's how you outguess everyone all the time? You cheat."

"It's a little more complicated than that. I don't always have a sense of where I'm going. Most of what I do is deductive and inductive reasoning. The rest is enhanced intuition," Macen admitted.

"Good enough for me," Forger hit her comm badge, "Aglaia, set course for Regula and the Regula One station. Light us up to Warp 8. Inform the Kelly of our change of plans."

"Copy that," the Platonian pilot happily complied.

"You understand Ambassador, you're holding Commander Lavelle is making my getting concessions through the Federation Council towards your government is veeery difficult," President Perez told Garak.

"And we both know that despite your reaffirming the existing Federation Constitution and reconvening the Federation Council, they are both exploitable given your massive outpouring of support from the public given your masterfully crafted coup," Garak said in reply, "And it's simply Garak. Plain, simple Garak."

"So in speaking plain, simple truths I call bullshit on you as you did on me," Perez retorted, "Garan has given you full authority to negotiate a settlement to this disastrous campaign. What will it take to get Lavelle back?"

"Since we both know Starfleet can't and won't admit to their housing Federation prisoners in our prison you preemptively invaded to attack, reparations and a ten-year non-aggression pact will suffice...along with an official recognition that the Federation wrongfully engaged our forces,"

"I can guarantee the pact," the President offered.

"Madame President, we both realize Cardassian forces can willfully engage your barely defended starbases across the border and safely withdraw back behind our border that you haven't been able to penetrate," Garak smiled serenely, "And we can simply await your eventual, unsuccessful counter attack."

Perez's eyes narrowed, "You know Starfleet outnumbers the Cardassian Guard in capital ships?"

"Forces that will take weeks to gather on our borders while we simply re-arm and reinforce," Garak smiled even more benignly, "It truly is simple mathematics."

"Fine! I'll recommend to the Speaker than we concede to all of your measures," Perez gave up, "In exchange you'll give us Lavelle?"

"With a simple communiqué as a measure of good faith," Garak's smile broadened, "Contact the Bajoran ambassador and inform Beric that I authorize Colonel Ro's transferring Lavelle into Starfleet custody."

"You bastard! You never had him to begin with," Perez accused.

"Only because Starfleet will be less inclined to fire on a Bajoran starship. And...Colonel Ro's proximity to Deep Space 9 will allow for a painless custody transfer," Garak assured her.

"You outplayed me," Perez seethed.

"My dear, I've been at this for a very long time," Garak rose to leave, "I have our agreement logged and recorded as do you. Don't tamper further with your public records. I know people that can easily unearth anything you attempt to hide. Good day to you. We will be speaking further about the amount of and type of reparations the Cardassian Union will require from you."

Garak left and Perez had the painful chore of contacting Ardra and informing her of the deals that needed to be made. The Council Speaker merely smiled, knowing Perez would be further indebted to her after Ardra again refused the appointment to the Presidency that the restored Constitution required should the President and Vice-President's offices be vacated for any reason. The serving Secretary for Starfleet was a distant fourth in line.

With office of Vice-President left unfilled, that meant of Perez were to be compromised then Ardra would either finally assume the role or the idiot that Perez had just been appointed as her replacement Secretary for Starfleet would inherit. There was a definable reason why Chol had been selected to manage the new Secretary. He was a competent administrator and law enforcement advocate but he wasn't a true politician and would prove to be Sok's true policy successor. Keeping Sok and Cindi incarcerated was problematic in itself.

She shot Garak a proposal. In addition the Federation's formal apology, the Cardassian Union could also prosecute Sok and Cindi for sparking the very war she'd ended. Castellan Garan just needed to be reasonable with her terms. The cease fire would be labeled just that and not considered a formal surrender. With Sok and Cindi at her mercy, Garan could save as much face as Perez herself. The Federation's formal relief agencies would funnel whatever was deemed necessary to close the deal rather than official reparations being made.

To Perez's relief, Garak had seemed to predict this outcome and already had a positive reply and a list of materials as well as reasonable infusion of latinum reserves into the Cardassian economy. Perez amended her request to Ardra whose satisfied smile spoke volumes when she replied, "Now we're playing my kind of long game con."

Vaughn wore a smug smirk as Ro marched a despondent Lavelle back into Bateson's custody, "Seems like our dispute was settled."

"Seems like," Ro agreed.

"You certain you don't want to retake command of the station?" he asked.

"Cenn can handle it. Starfleet will probably appoint you as Acting Commander if they retake administrative control of the station," Ro observed.

"Meh," Vaughn was dismissive.

"Do you really think they'll reassign Lavelle as CO after all of this?" Ro inquired.

"They railroaded you," Vaughn told her, "They'll whitewash Lavelle's choices in this and dismiss his later actions as a 'breakdown' owing to the conflict of interests before reassessing his fitness and then approve him to return to command duties."

"You've seen this before," Ro understood now.

"On a few occasions. Ross is the patsy in all of this," Vaughn stated, "That part was carefully calculated beforehand."

"Di you think Brin will track these bastards down?" Ro wondered.

"You know him better than most," Vaughn chuckled, "What do you think?"

"I pity this 'Sorbo' character," Ro confessed.

It still took the Outbound Ventures and Iotian Starfleet vessels almost a week to reach Regula. The nebula was gone, replaced by the Genesis Planet, despite the planet's later breakup. The Class-D planetoid of Regula maintained the Genesis Cave. Despite protomatter being used in the Genesis Effect's matrix, Regula's magnetic field and internal gravity seemed to stabilize the cave itself.

Carol Marcus had made a life's work of studying the Genesis Cave. Successive scientists after her had established a field post within the planetoid. David Marcus' memorial also had been built within its confines. Regula One still functioned as a research center thanks to successive upgrades. Cell 51 had created a command center within the research facility shielding their presence behind the scientists' veneer of respectability and purpose. But a darker purpose had been laid down by Section31 and usurped by Cell 51. That was to harness and perfect the Genesis Effect to be used as both a saving grace and as a weapon of last resort.

The Presider and the Gray Cardinal oversaw the Political Action division from New Berlin on Luna but Director Sorbo oversaw every division from the Genesis Cave. S31 also had provided defensive measures for the project dating back to the Klingon Empire's desire to capture the technology for themselves. Section 31 had repurposed the USS Constellation and USS Valiant when the Constitution- and Miranda-class starships had been decommissioned by Starfleet. Registered as civilian craft, they now served as the protective detail as the SS Defender and the SS Obstruction. They each broke orbit and headed to intercept the Obsidian and Kelly as they dropped out of warp.

But to the privateers' dismay, the Aventine and Voyager emerged from quantum slipstream even as the Titan and Enterprise-M came out of warp in the system as well. Chakotay and Bowers sent teams aboard the station to secure her. Riker insured that the Cell 51 starships proved to be no further obstacles. The Kelly stood by as the Enterprise-M and the Obsidian prepared away teams to enter the Genesis Cave itself.

"Thank you for all your assistance, Captain. But we'll take it from here," Macen informed Mirita.

"Just know we're happy to business with you at any time," Mirita signed off and the Kelly set course back to Iotian space.

"Kelly is a nice name for a starship," Ebert observed.

"It stands for Machine Gun Kelly," Mudd told her.

"Oh," Ebert was less enthusiastic now.

"Parva is on maintenance after pushing the warp drive so hard," Macen informed his team, "Tessa, Harri and Tracy are staying behind."

"Yay us!" Mudd enthused now.

"Lee, you're leading the investigation on Regula One," Rockford told her squad.

"Everyone else is with us. Lock and load and saddle up," Macen told the others. Kerber and Smith looked intrigued to be included on a landing party again. Macen had told them there was a literal treasure trove of secrets waiting for them to unlock.

Captain Kirk would be beaming down with them as well. If Macen was nervous about meeting his long time idol, it didn't show.

After every one beamed to their destinations, Mudd asked Ebert; "Feeling like left out?"

"I feel like I grew up in the Maquis on Kirk stories," Ebert confessed, "So I feel like he'd be a letdown in person."

"Me too from Great-Grandpa's perspective," Mudd shared, "Care to swap tall tales?"

"You're on," Ebert grinned.

"I want to hear!" Tessa popped into existence.

"Come with," Mudd offered, "My cabin. I'll also show you the contraband I negotiated outta the Tislans."

"Harri!" Ebert scolded but Tessa's enthusiasm was contagious.

Kirk was surprised to find the team out of any uniform.

"I have to admit I'm surprised. I expected to see Starfleet specialists or Bajoran Militia the way General Kira, Colonel Ro, Commander Vaughn, Captain Riker and even Scotty all talked you up," Kirk confessed.

"We kind of feel the same way. My husband here idolizes you," Rockford nudged Macen in the ribs.

"Professional curiosity," Macen replied, "He 'saved' my life after all."

"I did?" Kirk was surprised, "I don't recall and you don't look old enough."

"I was one of the El-Aurians Captain Scott pulled from the Nexus," Macen stated, "But I was in Starfleet for over seventy years largely inspired to join because of you."

"I see," Kirk understood the undercurrent now. Macen's echo must have met his inside the Nexus. A perverse form of fate was underway here.

After leaving the Nexus himself to find a version of himself dead on Veridian III and Picard and the Enterprise-D crew recovered by a small task force led by the current USS Farragut, Kirk had presented himself to the salvage team later sent to remove all traces of the downed starship before the inhabitants of Veridian IV achieved space flight and explored their celestial neighbor. Covertly reunited with Picard, they and Starfleet concocted the Borg story to explain the unexplainable.

Kirk was given a commission but not a starship. Like Bateson and his crew, Kirk had to familiarize himself with current technology and a firm grasp on the missing history he'd leapt over. Discontented with mere study, Kirk persuaded Starfleet Command to assign him a Starfleet Mission Scout and aimed himself at the border between the Delta and Beta Quadrants, staging out of DS5. Kirk had completed his studies to Starfleet's satisfaction and made first contact with favorable results for the Federation with over a dozen races.

The Voyager crew unwittingly served as second contact specialists several times because of Kirk's relentless activity. Starfleet had wanted Kirk to return to Earth for a final assessment before returning him to starship command duties. Chakotay was in a state of stunned disbelief when he got the call to report to DS5 and ferry the legendary Captain Kirk back to Earth.

He received Ro's urgent message concerning the brewing situation between Starfleet and the Militia after Kirk came aboard. The famed captain was as eager to assist the Bajorans as Chakotay himself. Kirk had even helped Chakotay sell the effort to the more reluctant Starfleet officers serving aboard Voyager. Kirk had been just surprised to find Scotty and the Enterprise-M at the scene as Montgomery Scott had been seeing Kirk again. And now Kirk was in the one place he'd vowed to never return to.

David's death still haunted him and Carol's abiding anger at him over had stained David's memorial in Kirk's memory. Carol Marcus had prescribed Kirk's ban from the cave and seeing the treasury of David's life. The very life he'd only entered briefly before it was snatched away by an opportunistically obsessed Klingon commander. His deep regret and abiding anger towards Klingons afterwards had been exploited by Valeris and condemned Kirk to Rura Pente after Gorkon's assassination. Carol had been dead for decades now but the heat of her wrath still hung over the Genesis Cave for Kirk.

"Well Captain, should we get underway?" Kirk asked.

"Commander, actually," Macen corrected him, "And it's Brin Macen."

"Jim Kirk. But you already know that," Kirk gently teased him.

"You're the local expert," Macen stated, "Lead the way."

"I'm hardly qualified as an expert," Kirk warned him, "I've only see the entrance to the Genesis Cave."

"Which is more than the rest of us," Macen reminded him.

"If this is because of your son, we understand your hesitancy," Rockford offered.

"I wish Saavik were here," Kirk sighed, "It's this way."

They exited the tunnel that bordered the Genesis Cave.

"Where does the light come from?" Burrows was amazed at the lush greenery and water.

"Starfleet beamed into a gaseous pocket formed when Regula was cooling and solidifying," Kerber explained the research Macen had authorized her and Smith to conduct, "The tunnel was carved out over a process of three months. In the cave itself, a fusion powered solar lamp was constructed and is still maintained and refueled. They simulate 24 hour diurnal days within the cave."

"They've obviously installed a lift since I was here," Kirk noted. The cargo platform was open aired and wide enough to facilitate a number of personnel and associated maintenance supplies and varied equipment. Including the refueling deuterium tanks and needed parts to maintain the lamp

"I guess we go down," Kirk regretted.

The ride was down a steep cliff. A simple dirt walkway was beaten into the grasses and shrubbery and trees were cut back to facilitate foot traffic. Given the care seemingly taken to insure the natural state of the unnatural environment, it seemed odd that the scientific post wasn't built closer to the lift.

"There was a real threat of a Klingon incursion here before the Praxis disaster," Kirk reminded them when Burrows stated as much, "So the post would serve both as research facility and as a redoubt."

"Which appealed to Section 31, obviously," Rockford remarked.

"Section 31 had only gone underground while I was a lieutenant aboard the Farragut," Kirk also reminded everyone, "So they were still operating semi-publically."

Rockford's comm badge began chirping so she tapped it, "Rockford"

"We're aboard Regula One," Lee reported in, "Shade and Arianna have coaxed some data out of their records that seems to include a covert presence in the Genesis Cave. Captain Chakotay is readying a Security detail should you require support."

"Thank him and have him keep his squad on standby," Rockford instructed.

"Since they already know we're here we might as well press on," Macen urged.

Daggit took point in the trail followed by Burrows. Macen and Kirk went next. Rockford stayed back with Kerber and Smith despite the pair being the deadliest next two the Angosians. Even Burrows and Macen's specialized training wasn't quite as effective as their experiences as guerilla fighters in Ardana IV's mines and surfaces. As they traversed the trail they came upon a clearing in the thick foliage and ample water supplies to reach a square, domed permacrete structure.

Kirk looked stricken, "David."

"This is your son's memorial?" Macen inquired.

"Starfleet sent imagery. I've never seen it before," Kirk quietly confessed.

"It doesn't look tended to," Daggit observed, "But I wouldn't stay in the open any longer than we have to. I recommend we get off the trail at this point."

"I agree," Rockford admitted.

"It makes tactical sense," Burrows added to the argument.

"Captain, take a moment with your son," Macen urged, "We'll be going into the tree line at this point."

"Thank you," Kirk said solemnly.

"Captain! Fighters in bound. Type unknown," Lieutenant Lonnoc Kidaor reported from Tactical aboard the Aventine.

Acting Captain Sam Bowers responded, "Maintain shields and weapons. Status enemy vessels?"

"SS Defender and SS Obstruction raising shields and now powering weapons," Kidaor replied, "Titan, Enterprise-M, Voyager, and Obsidian doing the same."

"What are those markings?" Lt. Commander Ezri Dax, the Acting Exec, asked from Bower's side.

The strange fighter craft were painted in a blue and gold scheme.

"That's the markings of the elite Blue Angels demonstration squadron. They're Starfleet's best of the best," Bowers realized.

"Those fighters are reading as high impulse attack craft. They had to have deployed from the other side of Regula," Dax read off of her screen.

"They have Type 8 phasers and micro photon torpedo launchers supplemented by full shielding," Kidair finished reporting, "I'm running targeting tracks."

"Captain Riker is broadcasting a general hail to order the ships and fighters to stand down," Lieutenant Oliana Mirren announced from OPS.

"Everyone is firing!" Kidair yelled.

"Return fire!" Bowers ordered, "Protect the Enterprise. She's the weakest link."

"Fighters in bound!" Kidair announced.

"You already said that," Dax warned.

"These are Peregrine-class and they're engaging the Blue Angels," Kidair explained the Alpha and Beta Squadrons appeared on the view screen.

"What, where, when, and why?" Bowers was baffled.

"USS Intrepid entering the fray," Mirren explained.

"Hail Intrepid. I want to speak with Captain McKinley," Bowers insisted.

"Hailing frequencies open. Captain McKinley is responding with a general broadcast," Mirren was handling communication while Kidair focused on targeting.

"Attention all vessels, this is Captain James McKinley of the USS Intrepid. You are under orders from Starfleet Command to stand down," the captain announced, "Violation of this order will result in the direst of consequences. There's no need for further violence but force will be met with overwhelming force."

"No apparent response other than noncompliance," Kidair warned.

"So be it," McKinley's visage darkened.

The screen shifted back to a tactical view.

"Intrepid is adding her firepower to ours," Kidair informed her superiors.

"Voyager and Obsidian have moved to defend Regula One," Dax told Bowers.

"I doubt the station is in much danger," Bowers said grimly.

"Enemy starships' shields are buckling under the combined barrage," Kidair studied her read out, "Intrepid's Alpha and Beta Squadrons have the Blue Angels otherwise occupied. Wait! Enemy shields have collapsed. Selective targeting has crippled their weapons and drive systems. They've lost main and auxiliary power. They're surrendering. Captain Riker is directing all starships to refocus on the Blue Angel fighters. Easier said than done."

Bowers and Dax smiled at Kidair's frank and candid remark.

"Sir! Blue Angels Lead is signaling for all fighters to kamikaze!" Mirren warned.

"Intensify shields! Target all approaching fighters!" Bowers shouted.

Explosions rocked the ship as a single fighter made through Kidair's valiant defense. The Aventine drifted as the crew reeled. Titan and Voyager suffered less catastrophic damages and Intrepid only suffered systems overloads from the shields buckling before Lt. Commander Ian Delaney destroyed the encroaching fighter.

Lt. Commander Hannah Grace, Alpha Squadron Leader, breathed easier as her husband saved the ship. Enterprise-M and Obsidian were spared damages by Alpha and Beta Squadron fighters concentrating on assisting in their defense. To everyone's horror, the Blue Angels hadn't even spared their own starship support. The Constitution-class Defender and Miranda-class Obstruction were completely destroyed.

"My God!" Riker breathed as damage and tactical reports came flooding in, "Contact Aventine and see how much assistance they require."

"Captain Chakotay is standing by to assist the Away Team," his XO reported, "Enterprise and Obsidian are assisting the Intrepid in rendering aid to the Aventine. I suggest we concentrate on restoring our own systems in case further surprises develop. Captain McKinley is keeping all fighters deployed in the meantime for Combat Air Patrols."

"Contact McKinley and thank him," Riker requested.

CAPs were near system patrols to control local space despite their archaic, holdover name from early aviation warfare days.

"Now for the grim part," Riker called down to Sickbay for casualty reports. Which would be thankfully lighter than Aventine's it would be discovered. The advanced starship had garnered most of the enemy's attention.


Chapter Twelve

The USS Farragut had received permission from Barrinor's authorities to transit to Serenity Station to recall the Admiralty during the Obsidian and Kelly's voyage from Tisla to Regula. Forger ordered Prentiss and Lefler to stay on the station to further their investigations. Prentiss was reviewing Starfleet's potential complicity in recent events under both Admirals Forger and Sirek's authority. Lefler was exploring the Cell 51 connection, attempting to track down the whereabouts the Presider and Gray Cardinal since comm logs indicated they were within the Sol system. But both Starfleet officers were feeling frustrated within two days' time.

"Dammit! Clancy can't just have been following orders." Prentiss vented her spleen. She'd had Lefler re-review Clancy's comm logs that JAG had authorized viewing.

"Maybe if you expanded your records review?" Lefler suggested.

"JAG narrowed the search parameters," Prentiss scowled, "They won't broaden the review now. Not without conclusive proof of a broader implication then we were already able to provide. The burden of proof is always on IA."

"So charges of sedition aren't backable, what about your earlier investigations?" Lefler asked.

"Stonewalled while JAG reviews Oh's security concerns for classifying absolutely everything to do with Clancy's record and personal logs." Prentiss felt defeated, "Even the SID and SI's previous obtaining of civilian comm logs could be deemed inadmissible because Clancy's authorizing the taps would be an illegal order but even her illegal order could only merit an official reprimand in a security clearance vetting process gone awry. It could actually be turned against Nechayev and Forger for following through with the order."

"That sucks," Lefler noted.

"Big time," Prentiss agreed.

"I've unscrambled the comm trace back to Luna but haven't narrowed down a specific city yet," Lefler informed her colleague.

"I'll lend you a hand," Prentiss offered, "Maybe stepping back for awhile will unlock my mental log jam."

"Whatever the reason behind it, I'll appreciate the help," Lefler confessed.

"What do you have so far?" Prentiss asked as Lefler transferred copies of the data she'd recovered.

"Veery interesting," Prentiss admitted at first glance, "We can work with this."

Lefler quickly discovered that an officer with a law enforcement background got further and farther much more quickly. They narrowed the comm account down to New Berlin. Now they just had to further narrow it to the specific relay and address. What they discovered was surprising.

"New Berlin is still bouncing off signals from SID Headquarters in London," Prentiss gasped.

"How is that possible?" Lefler had to wonder.

"I don't know yet but I'm certain Admiral Forger would love to investigate that fact," Prentiss shared before she contacted the Nebula-class Farragut and relayed a message to Forger.

As anticipated, the admiral was more than anxious. She hired the Outbound Ventures' Lug Nut crew to ferry Prentiss and Lefler back to Earth to assist her in salving the riddle. The Andor-class transport could get to Earth mere days behind the Farragut. Like the other early 24th Century era decommissioned Starfleet vessels Outbound Ventures operated, the Lug Nut had begun her life in Starfleet service. Specifically as the USS Hudson Bay.

Just as the Blackbird-class SS Odyssey had once been the USS Tiberius, her current sister ship, the Solstice had once been the USS Charon. The Solstice would quietly cover the Lug Nut's approach to Earth and safeguard her passage since the transport only possessed a twin phaser array to defend herself with. Whereas the scoutships were infamous amongst Cardassian crews for their speed and fortitude. It also quietly got the crew off of Serenity and into the action. Including Neela and Anara who were unofficially crew members.

Macen had assembled his former Maquis crew and members of Ro's cell to man the Solstice under Christina Noble's command. Neela and Anara serving as the first and secondary CONN officers. Cardassian Information Bureau agent Ziva Delain was also aboard. The Bajorans and Cardassian had business with their embassies on Earth regarding Macen's recent findings. It was incumbent for the ambassadors to gain allies in the reconvened Federation Council. Especially amongst Perez's own ideological allies. Which once again underscored Councilors Carrotmonger, Frex, Mrrez, Therin, Verbrog, and Yia's importance as deciding voices.

En route, Prentiss and Lefler watched the surprising broadcast from Fiona Shaw for FNS, "Greetings, once again Federation citizens are stunned with surprise movements from their government. In an unprecedented decision, President Juliette Perez has extradited former President Chavy Sok and Vice-President Nhlakanipho Cindi to Cardassian custody. The disgraced political leaders were handed over to the Cardassian embassy in Paris on Earth at 0500 hours local time in an apparent attempt to delay revealing this action and its resultant public backlash. The broad consensus is that this relegates the recent cease-fire to a surrender in a formerly popular war before it began. Chavy Sok's political upheavals quickly overtook the public's attention. But the war quickly became one of grueling attrition and President Perez sued for peace. But this politically motivated decision hearkens back to the unpopular Demilitarized Zone Treaty that spawned the Maquis rebellion that many Federation citizens sympathized with. This has been viewed as a similar 'buy the peace' maneuver."

Shaw studied her padd for a moment, "In other breaking news, over a dozen colonies in the further Beta Quadrant announced their secession from the United Federation of Planets just moments before the handover was witnessed at the Cardassian embassy. The Federation's official response is still forthcoming."

"What? The? Hell?" Lefler slowly asked, punctuating each word.

"I have no idea. But she's right. This is another DMZ," Prentiss remarked, "And that went so well for us."

"It also removes Perez's political opponents from questioning legal authorities," Lefler deduced.

"What the hell?" Prentiss wondered why she'd missed that implication, "We need to talk to Agent Delain. Now!"

Back within the Genesis Cave, a distraught Kirk emerged from David Marcus' memorial. He spotted Macen in the nearby trees. The SID team was spread out so as not to present a line of targets.

"That didn't go well," Macen observed.

"In life and in death, Carol didn't acknowledge me as David's father," Kirk said sadly.

"But she's the one that revealed to him you were his father," Macen reminded Kirk, "Remember, she was angry when this was built. Some people can't walk back from those decisions made while they're angry. They just justify the choices to themselves until they die."

"Maybe. Her headstone is there next to his memorial stone. And I bypassed seventy-years and a universe," Kirk was still saddened.

"Which gave her no incentive to recant her position," Macen counseled him, "And you're not the only stranger in a Prime Universe."

"You?" Kirk's eyes widened.

"My entire team and the senior staff of my ship," Macen explained.

"But I thought you weren't the Captain. Just the Mission Commander," Kirk sought reconciliation.

"Shannon may be the Obsidian's master but I own the boat," Macen grinned.

Kirk matched his, "So, the Nexus?"

"In a roundabout way. It was the mechanism but not the originating source," Macen explained a bit, "Just recall everything you know about the Bajoran Prophets and add ten extra veils of enigma."

"Are you two coming?" Rockford had walked back to gather them, "Or are you spending the afternoon hero worshiping?"

"We're coming," Macen sighed, "After you, Captain."

"Call me Jim," Kirk insisted.

"Brin," Macen forthrightly insisted back.

"It's a pact," Kirk chuckled.

Through the trees, the team could see the research and ancillary base across a valley dive replete with waterfalls and a stream. They'd have to climb the rocky hillside to stay within the tree line.

"Tricorders are being jammed at this proximity," Daggit reported.

"So we can't detect if they've deployed a welcoming party either," Burrows explained the painful part of the equation.

"They have," Kerber warned, "And they're on approach."

No one questioned her accuracy

"Cover!" Smith uncharacteristically shouted.

Everyone got behind a tree just as particle beam weapons erupted from nearby within the trees. The Angosians and former Starfleet commando carried Bajoran Militia issue phaser rifles with which they returned fire. Macen and the Ardanans were just equipped with Militia issue phaser pistols. Kirk had replicated a Type 2 hand phaser that had been standard Starfleet issue between 2287-2330. It had been in service during Kirk's final years in the 23rd Century Starfleet and his disappearance into the Nexus in 2293. Their opponents wore a form of adaptive camouflage which made them harder to spot when they held their fire. They'd adopted a practice of firing and moving from that position.

"They're attempting to flank us," Daggit shouted a warning.

"Screw the biosphere!" Macen yelled back.

Daggit switched off to his grenade launcher and chambered the first round before taking aim at moving blurs. The resultant explosions silenced the enemies' weapons fire for several key seconds and many of their opponents were caught paused out from behind cover.

"Fire!" Macen yelled out.

The older issue independent adaptive gear created an enhanced motion blur as the fire team scrambled to get back under cover. Which also meant they were easier to spot and target. But a team that been investigating the cave portal came from behind as well in a pincer move.

"They're behind us as well!" Smith shouted out as she spun to phaser three soldiers. Daggit fired a grenade into their midst.

"We can't stay in a crossfire," Kirk cautioned Macen.

Rockford shot her way to Macen's position, "There's a defensible position at the base of hill."

"Let e guess, a cave within a cave?" Macen asked drolly between exchanging shots before and behind him.

Rockford took the time to swack his arm, "Think more like a natural boulder formation near to the hillside."

"Mount up! We're moving out!" Macen called. Kerber led them to the site as they fought their way through the ever shifting attempt to establish a crossfire.

"Jim, watch our backside at the hill," Macen instructed as they moved between the rocks, "Rab, prepare to do some real damage."

"Vaguely reminds me of where I met the Gorn," Macen overheard Kirk mutter.

"I wonder why someone marked a rock?" Burrows had to admit.

"Tony, Celeste, take those opposing rocks where the trees will cover your back and lay down suppressive fire so we can remain exposed on one side and concentrate on eliminating the threat from one direction at least," Macen instructed as they scrambled into position. Burrows and Rockford did an admirable job with the occasional assistance from Kerber and Smith. The force facing Macen's fire team was larger than the team at their backside that Rockford and Burrows were winnowing their numbers. They accomplished their deterrence mission before Macen's team forced the opposition's survivors into a retreat.

"I sent off an SOS," Macen indicated a beacon he'd activated, "If Chakotay is true to his word, and he always is, he'll be sending reinforcements."

"Do you plan to wait for them?" Kirk wondered.

"We've demoralized the enemy so we need to strike before they can prep adequate defense," Macen stated, "Which means we climb this hill in a hurry."

"Good," was all Daggit said and he chambered another grenade.

"And not lose the initiative," Kirk was pleased by this despite his misgivings regarding the hillside. He was getting too old for Landing Parties despite thinning down.

The Obsidian orbited Regula as Voyager received Macen's emergency beacon call. Harry Kim and Mariah Henley led the Away Team. Then Chakotay moved off from Regula One to react to anything the surveyor starship might find as she proceeded around Regula itself.

Parva and Robert Caplan from the Intrepid assisted Scotty and Aventine's Chief Engineer, Mikeala Leishman, in repairing the starship's extensive damage. They weren't concerned with restoring the slipstream drive but the ship needed warp capability to make it to a proper starbase and yard to put in for real repairs.

"Oh eye, Khan did the same t' the Enterprise once upon a time," Scotty agreed with Leishman's plan to affect the necessary repairs to make the ship space worthy again. Intrepid's industrial replicators were working overtime fabricating the necessities that the Aventine, on Auxiliary power, couldn't generate on her own. Even the Enterprise-M's emergency replicator systems had been fired up to assist the parts synthesizers in component fabrication.

Scotty had found the Militia skeleton crew provided by Kira and Ro to be more than adequate to the tasks laid before them. Their expertise with an original Constitution-class starship model was almost as great as his own. But he'd already taught them a few tricks to pass on along the way while Kirk had commanded the bridge. Scotty's usual brand of cadets would be whining right now about dealing with parts synthesizers rather than replicators and the necessity of keeping them fed with raw materials. But the Bajorans were used to it. They'd worked with less in the Resistance and that mentality still clung to the modern Militia.

"Worried about your crew finding your crew finding that launch base without you manning Engineering?" Caplan asked Parva. In their time, they'd had some epic collaborations.

"I have no hesitation handing off of to Gilan than you do to Emily Johnson," Parva boasted.

"Which means you hate every second of it," Caplan chuckled.

"Yeah," Parva ruefully admitted.

"Liz and Hannah will bring them all back safely," Caplan promised. Grace was a squadron leader but Liz Liefers was the Flight Operations Officer that directed over all fighter operations. Liefers was brilliant pilot and tactician. She was also dating Caplan.

Grace was a Kelvan descended from extragalactic aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy who converted themselves into humans to stay alive after arriving past the Great Barrier. Grace was the epitome of human development at this stage of human evolution. She also possessed a device called an Attuner to focus her extreme psychokinetic powers over atomic structure.

The only beings or objects she'd encountered that were immune to her ability were El-Aurians. But then again, she'd never encountered a Q, Metron, Organian, an Apollo, or the like. Alpha and Squadron was escorting the Obsidian around the Regula planetoid.

On an oppositional orbit to Regula they found an Eagle-class carrier variant starship. She was serving capital ship, Starfleet heavy cruiser. The USS Romanov no longer had fighter wings but could aptly defend herself.

"She IDs as an active duty starship TDY with the Klingons," Grace warned Captain Forger.

"She's certainly detached and not answering hails," Forger grumbled, "I'm alerting Riker."

"She's locking weapons!" Grace warned. The Romanov opened fore but the fighters ran interference as the Titan emerged from Regula's night side. Regula itself was tidally locked but the station orbited in a twenty-four rotation to accommodate the scientific staff's sleep requirements. Riker didn't waste time and unleashed quantum torpedoes to batter the Romanov's shields. Then she surgically used her phasers to disable the ship.

"We're alerting Starfleet Command of the Romanov's presence here," Riker informed everybody, "The Intrepid has begun fighter recovery operations now that her systems are restored. The Aventine's repairs are in hand. Voyager dispatched a team to the Genesis Cave. I'll have a little 'chat' with Romanov's commander."

"Thank you, Captain," Forger offered and the Obsidian moved off for Regula One

Rockford still had a team aboard the station only supported by six-person Security detail led by Jalena Kovic and Abby Collins. Forger wouldn't abandon Lee, Forte, and Shade. Though Kovic and Collins were looking forward to a little action. They rarely got to leave the ship. But it was boarded often enough to satisfy their tastes, everyone else's be damned.

Chakotay beamed aboard Regula One to find the scientists herded into a cargo bay and held at gunpoint by the security detail.

"Is there a problem?" Chakotay inquired as his own four-person Security detail took over.

"No," Kovic smiled beatifically.

"They threatened to shoot us!" a scientist shouted in a panic.

"Stun only," Collins smiled then shouted back over her shoulder, "We still could!"

Chakotay chuckled as the frayed nerve scientist lost bladder control, "That's cruel."

"But oh, so fun," Kovic wore a wicked grin now.

"I believe your people are in Ops. Please escort me there. All of you," Chakotay requested.

"Frinx!" Collins grumbled.

"Is there a problem?" Chakotay wondered.

"You'll recognize it when you see it," Kovic advised him. And it turned out he did.

The conversation with the Romanov's captain had been short and sweet. Riker ordered him unconditionally surrender under orders from Admirals Jellico, the Chief of Operations, and Akaar, the Strategic Theater Commander. Captain Valric denounced Riker's attempt as 'illogical' since he was operating under direct orders from Commodore Oh to secure Regula and that Riker and his fellow captains had violated orders and fired upon a fellow Starfleet officers. Valric subsequent conversation with Jellico didn't affirm that.

Since Jellico outranked Oh and Akaar outranked Jellico, there were precious few officers Valric could appeal to. Only Fleet Commander Clancy outranked Akaar in the chain of command. She was currently busy appeasing the Federation Council after Starfleet's lackluster performance against the Bajorans and Cardassians. Her simple supposition was referring them back to the opening six months of the Dominion Conflict and the eventual victory.

Inside the Federation Council chambers, Ambassador Garak had just concluded offering the Cardassian Union's peace terms. As Perez had rightfully predicted, utilizing aid agencies and an appeal for assistance alongside a ten-year, renewable non-aggression accord sold better than "We give, stop shooting" the news portrayed the proposed peace terms as after the turnover of Sok and Cindi. Garak had done a marvelous sales pitch. The terms were unanimously ratified as is with no debate. Perez could thank Councilors Yia and Carrotmonger for that. Next, Ambassador Beric brought Bajor's terms to the floor.

"Before we begin, the Federation owes the Bajoran people a debt of honor. I propose we vote to readmit Bajor into the Federation," Ardra gambled. The vote passed with only seventeen against and two abstentions.

"Thank you but Bajor declines," Beric informed them. That ruffled literal feathers with some.

"Bajor prefers to restore favorable independent relations with the Federation and Starfleet," Beric explained, "My people feel ill used as of late. So we'll re-examine our position over time and will re-apply for membership when we feel the Federation has re-proven its good faith."

Again, feather ruffling.

"Good riddance," Councilor Frex barked and Mrrez hissed her displeasure.

"Bajor was ill-used and abused," Therin interjected, "They have more than a right to hold us accountable to our supposed ideals."

"My government would be pleased if and when Bajor reapplies and will support that application with renewed vigor," Verbrog stated. Yia seconded it. Ardra's bet had paid off. Again, foreign aid agencies were employed to address the Bajoran government's grievances.

Bajor was offered a binding non-aggression and mutual assistance accord despite First Minister Astris having signed an identical pact with Castellan Garan earlier that day. Beric had an appointment with Clancy later that day and Kira would be in virtual attendance using once again in vogue again holo emitter tech. Perez felt she'd won. Clancy felt abused by the President allowing her to remain unsupported during her report of Starfleet's wartime performance and ongoing readiness to respond to conflict.

The Tholians, Breen, and Gorn could easily test the Federation again given their lackluster successes against supposedly weaker powers. No one knew what the Romulans were up to these days so they'd still be vigilantly watched and the former Neutral Zone serving as a no-man's land rather than an inviolable partitioning of space. Meanwhile, Ardra gloated over how she'd positioned herself for what would inevitably happen next.

"The data Lee sent over displayed the functions of these two facilities," Rockford said from the group huddle occurring within sight of the buildings within the tree line, "The more ornate, temple-seeming structure is the lab site. The blockhouse is the security detail's base of operations."

"Even our padds are detecting active subspace transceivers at this distance," Kerber noted, "Pretty powerful equipment to burn through this much jamming."

"They must relay through the entrance portal up to Regula One itself and then through the Federation's subspace comm buoy networks," Smith opined.

"They'll be guarding their secrets with more than phasers," Kirk warned.

"That's why we have portable computers strapped to our backs," Kerber smirked.

"Those cases alone?" Kirk inquired, "Against a mainframe?"

"Never question this pair's ability to access any computer system," Rockford advised him.

"Then why have I never been briefed on them?" Kirk, like Starfleet captains received regular security updates and briefs. Even as far away as in the Delta Quadrant but within transmission range of the Pathfinder Array and DS5. Kirk had come understand that the array had been the brainchild of the same slightly neurotic Reg Barclay who'd been aboard Voyager when she was ordered to retrieve Kirk.

"I see," Kirk diffused the unwitting insult of his doubting the pair with a smile. Smith softened slightly but Kerber was still miffed. He could see same bond he'd had with Spock between these two. Quite intimate without being sexual. McCoy had been his adopted kin but Spock had been closer than a brother to Kirk. That's what these two reminded him of: twin sisters.

"I'll leave it all in your capable hands," Kirk smiled again. Even Kerber's icy veneer melted slightly after that charm barrage.

"Any outer defenses?" Macen asked Burrows, who studying the building's exterior through macrobinoculars.

"Not that I can spot. It doesn't look they've upgraded anything than comm equipment on the roof since this place was built," Burrows stated.

"It was unnecessary after Khitomer," Kirk said simply, "Everybody but the Klingons saw the project as an abject failure and they only thought about weaponizing it."

"They built a new Starbase 47 after the Vanguard Project failed and the original station was destroyed by the Tholians. The new one was built along the disputed territory with the Cardassians," Macen informed Kirk. Kirk had been peripherally involved with Vanguard on three occasions, including the battle that ultimately destroyed the station.

"That's why Carol was transferred to Regula One," Kirk realized at long last. He'd learned of her involvement in the meta-genome research effort after she proposed Project Genesis. Between one Doctor Marcus attempting to recreate an artificially perfect genome and another integrating the most unstable substance this side of antimatter in the mix, it was little wonder Genesis was doomed to fail. Anywhere but inside the cave. He'd always wondered why Carol hadn't adapted the process to replicate these results in underground environs. Spock been intrigued but McCoy hated the idea entirely.

"People won't give up a sun, Jim," he'd drawled. Kirk supposed his homiletic wisdom would win out in the end. Carol had certainly seemed to come to a similar conclusion. But Section 31 not only guarded the secret but they had attempted to weaponize at as well. But Carol had fooled S31 and deleted all the data banks to deprive Khan of his prize and never restored the data. The matrix formula died with her. But for a century now, Section 31 and now their splinter faction, had been trying to reverse engineer the effect that created the Genesis Wave that transformed the cave.

"We've been down here for four hours now," Rockford reminded Macen.

"A defensible position costs the invader twice as many soldiers to take," Macen reminded her in exchange, "We don't have the bodies, but we have a surplus of time."

"But the remains of that other patrol are still out there," Burrows reminded everybody.

"You said help is coming," Kirk recalled.

"Precisely," Macen confirmed it, "We wait for whatever Security detail Chakotay has deployed and then make a concerted attack on two static positions."

"Two?" Smith was intrigued.

"The redoubt is too obvious a target. Cell 51 operatives, like Section 41 before them, play in the shadows. My guess is they're playing in the shadow of that seemingly abandoned science station," Macen explained, "When Starfleet arrives, they can cope with defensive position. When we move on the science center it'll flush their security out of the defended building in a panic to protect their secrets and their Director."

"That actually makes sense," Kerber agreed, "These guys are all about misdirection. Most of us here can relate. It isn't obviously strategically important."

"And you say you're not a captain?" Kirk was curious as to why.

"Since we have time, why don't you explain to him what happens to starships under your command?" Rockford primly suggested. Macen shot her a scathing look.

"I'd be curious to know," Kirk confessed.

"If he won't tell you, I will," Daggit offered with some satisfaction.

"Fine," Macen conceded, "I'll give him a summary."

"And I'll fact check you," Daggit was inordinately pleased with himself. A sign that he too, like Rockford, was shaking off his behavioral conditioning.

The Lug Nut and Solstice were intercepted by a Cheyenne-class starship with orders to bring Prentiss, Lefler, Neela, Anara, and Delain to Earth ASAP. With its quad warp nacelles, I could sustain maximum warp for nearly the entire voyage. The Lug Nut turned back but Noble and the Solstice crew pressed on. The Militia and CIB agents would need a ride back to Serenity where they all made their home now. So by the time the Obsidian reach Regula, the increasingly anxious Starfleet officers received orders to beam directly down to SID headquarters from orbit. Starfleet made arrangements for the Bajorans to reach their embassy and Delain hers.

Prentiss and Lefler were both in Class-A uniform when they reached SID headquarters via the transporter station within the Starfleet Data Archive that once served as Section 31's hub on Earth.

"We've made a breakthrough," Forger explained as she passed out phasers. A full SID Security detail accompanied the Director.

"Rockford's detectives are at Regula One and are probing the station's computer mainframe. So far details are scant but they tricked the system into revealing there are undiscovered sublevels beneath this complex we've never known about," Forger explained.

"More sublevels?" Prentiss was amazed, "This entire complex seems to be nothing but sublevels."

"Trust me, there are more," Forger assure d her, "Including residential suites."

"Then I guess we go exploring," Lefler grinned.

"Not without backup," Commodore Shelby burst into the building's lobby. Accompanying her were Calhoun and the Excalibur's Brekar Security Chief, Zak Kebron.

"I'm tired of sitting on my hands and doing nothing," Shelby warned Forger, "Nechayev told Mac what you're up to here she we're in this as well."

"The more the merrier," Forger allowed since she had little choice. She also noted that Starfleet's new uniforms hadn't reached the Thallonian Sector yet.

"That's a positronic-based android," Chakotay correctly surmised.

"Hardwired into the mainframe," Kovic grimaced. The android was in restraints capable of keeping captive a Data, Lore, or B4. Its ability to move its body disconnected from its "brain".

"No wonder they're nervous now that we're here," Chakotay realized, "They know they're all facing serious repercussions despite the obvious safeguards."

"But if the synthetic is 'infected' with whatever started the uprising then the station's whole computer mainframe is also infected," Collins established.

"It's seems safe enough. What's the difficulty?" Chakotay asked.

"Have you noticed the drop in temperature yet?" Kovic inquired, "The first thing the android did was cut life support. Now it's giving evasive answers and talking back at anyone asking questions. It seems to have a really bad attitude."

Chakotay could understand why. It was a prisoner and under threat of being permanently deactivated and disassembled.

"So far Arianna is having the best success at tricking into giving us solid answers and leads," Collins then pointed out.

"Arianna?" Chakotay wasn't familiar with Outbound Ventures crews or teams.

"Pink hair," Kovic supplied the easiest description, "Her name is Arianna Forte. She's from Miri."

Now Chakotay understood why a teenager was allowed such a dangerous profession. She'd been alive longer than there had been a Federation. She'd been born when Earth was first tentatively developing spaceflight and Miri stayed insular and whose forays into viral genetic manipulation techniques had unexpectedly horrific consequences.

"What have we learned so far?" Chakotay wondered.

"That an android can be blackmailed," Collins smirked.

Neela and Anara reported to Beric inside the Bajoran embassy.

"Colonel Anara, this is certainly a surprise," Beric admitted, "How can I assist the Militia?"

Anara handed her a padd, "These express orders from General Kira regarding the negotiations."

Beric studied them, "I see. And what qualifications does your friend bring to the table?"

"She's the Hand of the Prophets herself," Anara smirked. Neela squirmed at hearing the title.

"I...see," Beric squirmed now, "What role will she be playing?"

"I'll simply be there to insure the Prophets are represented in the negotiation. Think of it as their fact check on the proceedings," Neela explained.

"How is that going to work?" Beric asked pointedly. So Neela explained Perez's past and present motives and actions.

" do you know any of this?" Beric wondered.

"General Kira has agents verifying these facts and many are verifiable already," Anara handed Beric an isolinear chip, "That contains the general information but Neela can provide specifics that we can't quite legally prove yet but in a negotiation setting..."

"A bluff can work wonders if it's based in hidden fact," Beric understood.

"Which Perez herself will verify by her compliance with Bajor's adjusted requirements for future cooperation," Neela offered.

"Then we have some preparations to make after I get us on the President's calendar," Beric decided.

"Tell her aide it involves Cell 51 and their involvement in securing her position. We'll be seen immediately," Neela suggested. Beric then came back and explained they had an hour to prep before they would be before the UFP President.

"I don't know quite how you know any of this but it's already working. The aide sounded terrified," Beric shared.

"I simply listen to the Prophets' call," Neela said. Anara recalled that was Neela's defense at her trial as well.

She'd been misguided then. Could she be misguided again in the future?

Delain delivered her report to Garak

"I see why you were sent, Agent Delain. Starfleet Intelligence would be forced to report on this matter if they officially intercepted a secure transmission," Garak nodded, "If Admiral Nechayev is tacitly consenting to Cardassia's right to hold our two prisoners then she would not wish to report to Admiral Clancy what we've been asked to do."

"The admiral has proven herself willing to assist our people in the past," Delain replied.

"We'll see, won't we?" Garak smiled, "Carry to assist me as I interrogate our 'guests'?"

"It would be a pleasure," Delain confessed.

Garak met with Sok and Cindi who were reinforcing one another's supposed strength.

"You can torture us all you like, but we won't break," Sok proudly declared.

"Oh, I don't intend to harm you in any way. I won't even lay a finger on you. I simply will sit here and listen. Eventually you'll answer my questions about Cell 51, Director Dylan Sorbo, the Presider, and the Gray Cardinal and their plans for Cardassia," Garak pleasantly explained. Garak and Delain fell silent.

An hour later, Cindi broke the silence, "What are we still doing here? You're not even asking any questions."

"No, we're listening for answers. When you provide them, you can return to your cells," Delain answered.

Three days later, after the pair were exhausted from being kept awake, hungry, forcibly hydrated, and extremely soiled, they cracked.

"They should be here," Kim complained.

"Without tricorders we can't confirm if they've left this position or not," Henley reminded him, "But they were here."

"I take it you're Lt. Commander Harry Kim," Macen came from behind a nearby tree, "Mariah, it's good to see found a new cause."

"Who'd have thought, right?" Henley chuckled. "It's all right, Commander. This is Brin Macen."

"Captain Chakotay sent us to help," Kim offered. The SID came from all sides.

"Not that you needed it," Kim was slightly unnerved.

"What's the status on the patrol you ran into?" Macen inquired.

"Stunned," Henley told him while Kim now slightly gaped, "And in binders."

"And you found the ones we left behind?" Daggit wanted to make certain.

"We ran out of binders and had to improvise using rappelling line," Henley smirked, "Like old times."

"Commander Kim, I need you and your people to keep everyone in that blockhouse busy while we raid the science outpost," Macen got to it.

"Busy how?" Kim wondered.

"Ask Chief Henley. She's very...creative in that department," Macen grinned.

Henley unsuccessfully tried to look innocent.

Macen and the team, joined by Kirk, moved on towards their target. As the team approached the outpost, the sound of phaser fire and even a couple of explosions resounded throughout the cave. The approach to the center was unimpeded by any security measures save a sophisticated locking mechanism that Kerber quickly bypassed and gained entry into the station.

"Interesting," Smith stated as she and Kerber were the last to enter the operations nerve center. Daggit and Burrows were searching other rooms.

"Duotronics again," Kirk realized.

"But now we have the adapter your Mr. Scott designed and replicated for us," Smith and Kerber unstrapped their packs and pulled their equipment free. The plug ins worked perfectly. Kerber and Smith synced their computers through an ODN link and began probing the system's memory.

"We've halted a system-wide deletion program but everything's basically gone and the memory's core components literally melted," Kerber made the sad announcement, "But hundreds of back up memory tapes are missing. Only the system's OS and ROM are still functional."

"Transporter log indicates one human and several cases of components were beamed out even this close to the fusion lamps," Rockford revealed, "Which means they had a ship to ship lying in doggo waiting for an escape attempt."

"This is patched into the transceiver array we spotted on the other rooftop, correct?" Kirk asked, "We could use this equipment to not only reinforce Mr. Kim but alert the ships in orbit and the system to be aware a sleuthed exit could be underway."

"Angelique or Celeste, any mentions of a starship?" Macen inquired.

"Transporter log lists one Shadowblade as its recipient," Rockford read off, "Transport occurred eighty...hours before we beamed to the portal entrance."

"So this ended being a massive diversion," Macen groaned.

"A misdirection from masters of it," Kirk reassessed the move.

"But to protect who, exactly?" Macen had to wonder, "The Cell 51 Director knows he's been compromised but still resorts to these measures. He's been planning them for some time."

"Sorbo mentioned a 'political action wing' in his transmissions," Kirk had noted at the time of first viewing them, "Perhaps a reference to players in the new Federation administrations."

"Cell 51's goal has always been to install a strongman puppet President and compliant Federation Council," Rockford reminded Macen of his own mission logs from when Bob Johnson and the Intrepid crew first averted the Cell 51 crisis in their own originating universe.

"Contact Captain Chakotay and Captain Riker, they'll want in on those pieces of the puzzle. Meanwhile, get me Admiral Forger. Amanda and I need to talk. Also patch through a request to Shannon and the Obsidian team to run in-depth sensor readings of the solar system. Maybe this Shadowblade hasn't far yet, consumed by some perverse need to watch"

"Yes, O Lord and Master," Kerber grumbled.

"I know, right?" Rockford laughed.

Forger and her team hadn't reached the first hidden level beneath the London Starfleet Data Archive when Forger was relayed Macen's message.

Rejoining the group she asked, "Progress?"

"Mac found a hidden turbolift," Shelby said proudly.

There are five levels beneath the main complex's twenty," Prentiss read off as they boarded, "Operations, one levels devoted to manufacturing, another committed to training, one dormitory, and a detention center."

"Lefler, you're with me in Operations," Forger decided, "Commander, you take the manufacturing level."

"I'll take the dormitory, Captain Calhoun has the training level and prison," Shelby volunteered them both. Lefler discovered the main memory component of the computer core had been pulled since it designed as a separate, detachable entity. Calhoun and Shelby revealed that the three lowest levels had been recently occupied. Prentiss learned that the manufacturing level fabricated specialized gear and weapons for Cell 51 agents and associated stringers.

They rejoined one another in the Operations deck and found the comm systems still worked as the transporters, relayed through a system that patched them into the planetary grid. Lefler recovered the scrambled transporter coordinates and found the last destination had been a private shuttle pad outside of London. It was a bastion of the societal elites that prized discretion regarding their movements.

"We'll need JAG to request court authorization to access flight plan, owner's registrations, and a list of recent launches," Prentiss reminded Forger.

"Macen said this 'Director Sorbo' bugged out eighty hours ago. We'll stretch the net back eighty-six hours just to be safe," Forger decided.

"The Excalibur stands ready to track down the likeliest candidate," Shelby offered.

"She does?" Calhoun was amused.

"Kat's got the sector covered," Shelby said with unreserved enthusiasm. He'd never realized how much his ever-ambitious wife missed field command and operations.

Forger made some calls and got an alert from Delori, "Admiral, Admirals Nechayev and Johnson strongly urge you to tune into FNS"

Chaos had erupted in the Federation Council chambers. Federation President Perez no sooner announced she'd released the last of the political prisoners: dozens of Council staffers. Her poll numbers were soaring and she'd survived the Bajorans' mysterious knowledge of her route to the Presidency and her affiliation with Cell 51. They knew that the wars had been a political ploy just to get a Cell 51 affiliate elected. They also knew how Ardra's concession had been purchased.

But the Bajoran Ministry had decided to keep Perez's secret so long as she strengthened and solidified the treaty that had just been signed into law. So Perez was amazed when the Acting Director of Federation Security frog marched her Secretary for Starfleet, his former superior, into the Federation Council chambers along with a small cadre of agents. Starfleet Commander Clancy, Commodore Oh, and representatives from Starfleet's JAG also arrived with then with a detachment of Starfleet Security officers.

And they, on the FNS and Galaxy Broadcasting newsfeeds, arrested Perez for her involvement in a conspiracy to plunge the Federation into war to secure political office. Perez's contacts had proven the sincerity of the Bajoran Ministry's intentions so this was a new player that ratted her out. When she saw Ardra's smirking at Oh, Perez suddenly knew that the con artist and the Director of Starfleet Security had done some digging and were now collaborating. As Ardra stymied the outcries for a metaphorical blood sacrifice to be made from Perez, she smiled triumphantly as she "reluctantly" took the path of the Office of the Presidency.

The Federation Council unanimously demanded she assume the role. Legally required to and having previously earned the actual majority of the popular vote, Ardra feigned a protest but took the oath with relish and was sworn into office. Now Perez understood why Oh had scrubbed Ardra's criminal records and whitewashed her citizenship papers. Cell 51 had finally reconstructed Ardra's past offenses and alien registry within Federation borders. It seemed the commodore wanted her own influence over the Head of State.

And Perez was astonished when she saw the hint of a smirk on Oh's face. It seemed all was going well in the Commodore's world.

Hours later, after refusing to cooperate with the authorities but clearing Dajen of any all responsibility for her actions and accused affiliations, Perez was "woefully" consigned to Cardassian custody. Still unaware that the information leaked to Starfleet Security had come from Ambassador Garak's successful interrogation of Chavy Sok and Nhlakamipho Cindi. Delain guided Garak's line of questioning utilizing Neela's "inside" information granted her through visions supplied by the Prophets.

Delain had no idea why the Wormhole aliens were concerned with the Federation's internal concerns but ending the war and solidifying Bajor's position with the UFP seemed appropriate enough for beings considered by Bajor's deities. She also had no idea that the Prophets had guided a trillion Bajors through a trillion realities. Alternate realities that had been sheared down to a mere billion and the number kept shrinking.

Each Prime Reality and major trunks would inherently survive. Each Prime had a Kelvinverse and a Terran Universe attached to it. But some unknown force was slowly eliminating entire realities. Whether that force was sentient or not or what criteria doomed a universe were all unknowns. The Prophets knew but only spoke in riddles.

Even those touched by the Prophets, such as Sisko, Kira, and Neela, were dismally unaware of the multiversal catastrophe yet underway. But Neela had been shown that neither she nor the shared refugees from Macen's home universe had universes to return to. So they'd all accepted their new lives in this Prime Universe.

Neela had also been included in the message the Prophets had given Macen back during the Dominion War, You are less but you must become more. What that entailed was unknown to either of them. But Neela knew her mission was to asset Macen in doing so. Bajor itself required it.

So she'd suggested aligning Outbound Ventures' prospects with Bajor's.

Which had paid off handsomely for all involved during the recent crisis. Perez was placed in a cell with Sok and Cindi and prisoner violence broke out. As the Cardassian Lakat-class frigate broke orbit to transport the prisoners to Cardassia Prime, Garak bade farewell to Delain. She reunited with Anara and Neela and awaited the arrival of the Solstice to ferry them back to Serenity.

The Federation's political upheaval quelled by Ardra's force of personality and reaffirmation of the freshly signed pacts with both Bajor and Cardassia. Ardra insisted that Council measures that had been taken and signed into law under Perez's watch were still binding. Just as repealing the draconian measures undertaken under Sok's watch had or were to be done post haste.

The Federation Council had walked back most of the security measures. But kept a few on the books to be invoked "should a crisis arise". The Ministry of Propaganda was renamed the Ministry of Public Information and its purpose and leadership remained a constant. Now that framework Ardra could work with.

The Nimrod-class Shadowblade had been built in the mid-23rd Century as a Section 31 heavy cruiser. Continuous upgrades had kept her contemporary. Section 31 had enjoyed being part of Starfleet's "Black Budget" that even the Federation President and Council couldn't oversee successive ranking Fleet Admirals had winnowed away S31's overall operating budget. Making a series of refits more cost effective than constructing new hulls and shipyards to build them. Section 31 had overseen the ADSB's security so they were tapped directly into its design developments. S31 also carefully monitored Starfleet's Journal of Applied Technology (JOAT) to obtain the latest advancements.

The Shadowblade intercepted the Type-5 civilian shuttle beyond Jupiter Station's sensor range on the other side of the planet. She beamed the Presider and the Gray Cardinal aboard and then was to go to warp to exit Sector 001 before she was detected.

"Director! Return to the bridge immediately!" the Shadowblade's captain requested.

The Presider and Johanssen rode the turbolift up with Sorbo. There, stretched across the screen was a Galaxy-class starship. The Excalibur to be exact. Her photon torpedo tubes were charged and ready to fire. The phaser arrays had energy spilling across them. Lefler had led her captain right to the shuttle's destination.

"Lieutenant Kebron target that ship and its immediate area," Calhoun ordered.

"Romulan Bird of Vengeance decloaking," the massive Kebron rumbled, "Transporters engaged. Cloaking device activated. Firing phasers at lost known proximity."

"Kebron, the Cell 51 ship is breaking off," Lefler reported from OPS.

"Firing torpedoes at her engines," Kebron angrily grated, "Phasers not finding a target."

"I'm detecting a warp trail," Lefler was amazed, "Those old Bird of Vengeance's couldn't maintain a cloak and warp at the same time."

"They could if they dropped life support," Commander Burgyone 172, the Hermat XO and former Chief Engineer, stated.

"They are employing a warp field dissipation protocol I've never seen before," Lieutenant Xyon, Doctor Selar and Burgy's son, admitted.

"Burgy, you and Kebron lead a boarding party and make certain these bastards don't attempt to self destruct," Calhoun told his XO.

"On it!" the Hermat, a feline descended hermaphrodite, sprang her hir feet. Hermats were far more human in appearance than Caitians or other feline races known to the Federation.

"Oh, stop pouting;" Shelby lectured her husband, "You can't sneak off to every away mission."

"I don't pout," Calhoun said grimly.

"But you brood with the best of them," Shelby retorted. Lefler broke out laughing. Calhoun cleared his throat...once.

Lefler recovered, "Sorry, but it's so apropos."

"Would you like to resume your Leave of Absence now, Commander?" Calhoun wondered.

"Please!" Lefler enthused.

"Good," Calhoun stated.

Macen's team was back aboard the Obsidian. Kim had rounded up all the prisoners taken within the Genesis Cave. Riker was returning home but the Titan was staying on station to observe the USS Romanov's repair efforts as other starships were vectored in to investigate the carrier's role in Cell 51's activities. Intrepid stood by as well to coordinate the effort and convene a Board of Inquiry if it proved necessary.

Scotty and the Enterprise-M set course for Bajor. Scotty would drop off the Militia crew at DS9 and take on a Starfleet skeleton crew and deliver Kirk to Spacedock so he could report to Starfleet Headquarters. Scotty would assist the Starfleet Corps of Engineers if Starfleet Academy refused to take his cadets back on. Depending on the Starfleet Academy Commandant's decision which would be based on how much ire Starfleet Commander Clancy felt towards Scotty right now and his cadets that wholeheartedly defied Starfleet with him. The entire course program could be threatened. He wondered of Captain Kirk would need a Chief Engineer if things fell apart and if Kirk was offered a command of his own.

If not, he knew La Forge was looking for one. Being Chief Engineer on a starship filled with engineers appealed to Scotty as well. President Perez had offered a blanket amnesty for every Starfleet officer involved in the defense of Bajor in defiance of Starfleet operations. Otherwise firing on fellow officers without justification was a court-martial offense. The very charge Captains Bates and Divine now both faced should the Bajoran courts release him and Starfleet prosecute her.

Ardra continued the policy, placing Clancy in a bind of how to reprimand officers that had defied the Starfleet's Commander-in-Chief but been justified to do so in the end . Ardra certainly didn't want the defenders facing charges. So Voyager returned to Earth to transfer Chakotay to command of the USS Protostar and a CO would come aboard Voyager. Aboard the Aventine, Bowers was demoted for mutinying against his CO and Dax was made XO.

Captain Hev and the USS Monitor were given their head start. Captain Limerick, who'd only commanded the new Hood for a year, eventually gave chase while Captain Prime and the Merrimack scouted along the Romulan border looking into where a Bird of Vengeance could have disappeared to. Unbeknownst to all involved, Cell 51 had inherited an operational starbase built in the Taurus Reach situated in the site the Vanguard station had occupied. It was there that the reactivated Cell 51 was then infiltrated by a Founder. The splinter faction of a defunct agency having been reactivated by the Dominion.

First Minister Astris had summoned Kira to her office to report on the Militia's ongoing readiness.

"Yes, Deep Space 9 will continue to function under Colonel Cenn until such time as Starfleet offers up a permanent commanding officer since Commander Vaughn is still refusing to assume the role," Kira answered Astris' latest question, "Other than some dry-dock time required by some Colonial Defense Forces starships, we got off pretty lightly thanks to our contract with Outbound Ventures and Starfleet captains recognizing the immorality of Starfleet's aggression."

"And Colonel Ro's forces are ready to stand these vessels down without compromising patrols?" Astris was concerned.

"The Gamma Quadrant patrols went on unimpeded," Kira assured her, "There are only three vessels in need of more extensive repairs. Free Haven Port is supplying those. In the interim, Ro and the Fist of the Prophets are engaged in constant patrols along the Kalendra Sector border in case of a second penetration by Romulan or Breen privateers."

"What could they have possibly wanted in our sector?" Astris was confused on that point.

As was Kira herself, "You know how inscrutable the Breen are and how opportunistic Romulans are. They saw an in and they took it."

"We have to be prepared for more incursions, General. Neither the Breen nor the Romulans give up easily. And neither will tolerate weakness," Astris warned Kira with a reminder.

"Which is why I'm relieved that it's Colonel Ro leading the effort," Kira rightfully never mentioned the doddering General actually slated as the Colonial Defense Forces commander. The defiant and nearly senile, blunt toothed razorcat wasn't even aware of his force's deployment or what vessels they had at their disposal. He was a political appointee pushed through by Minister Jarro Essa and he'd outlived his uselessness. But the old coot still had political allies that would seize upon his forced retirement and push to have Astris impeached. So the old man wiled away his days with fanciful, if impractical, plots to dispose of Kira and become Chair of the Militia Joint Chiefs in her place.

Kira could cope with it. She just hated how it belittled Ro. But Ro was used to being underestimated and the Colonial Defense Force's crews and personnel were devoted to Ro and eager to perform their duties to Bajor and her colonies.

"My God! Starfleet Medical couldn't have cleared him for duty this fast," Doctor Bashir exclaimed at the morning briefing.

"I received BuPers notification of Commander Lavelle's imminent return and assuming command of the station again," Vaughn grimly informed everyone, "Against Admiral Pulaski's personal recommendations."

"Someone's pulling strings to override the Director of Starfleet Medical," Douglas had to opine.

"General Kira informed me as well after receiving Starfleet official communiqué," Cenn told them.

"Someone has it in for us," O'Brien said dismally.

"Admiral Clancy, that's who," Nog guessed.

"In better news, Commodore Saavik is receiving a new ship and leading an expanded exploration force into the Gamma Quadrant," Vaughn brought up, "They'll hub out of the Militia's station already there in support of Bajor's colonies and cooperate in further outreach to the Ascendant."

"It'll be good to officially all be on the same side again," Douglas was relieved, "But I wonder if this really did end Cell 51. Their entrenched political support didn't end with former presidents Sok and Perez or former vice-president Cindi. And Captain La Forge's explanation of Ardra's past hints at a deep cover up."

"You're suggesting she'll abuse her authority?" Bashir asked.

"That's a given," O'Brien snorted. He'd been aboard the Enterprise-D when the captain and crew encountered Ardra.

"Someone covered her tracks. The real question now is who," O'Brien stated.

"Starfleet Security," Nog voiced, "They're the only ones that could comprehensively wipe Admiral Picard and the ship's logs from mentioning Ardra as well as erase any further criminal history the Federation."

"Bloody hell," O'Brien complained, "She's not even from the Federation."

"Which also been hidden," Douglas primly pointed out.

Tenmei exited the lift into Ops, "Colonel Cenn, Commander Blackmer is ready to transfer Captain Bates into Bajoran custody."

"And he sent you?" Vaughn thought it a waste of talent.

"I was passing by," Tenmei shrugged, "I think he's pissed that he was disinvited from the morning brief."

"Blackmer stood by Lavelle the longest," Bashir reminded everyone.

"Business is supposedly back to normal. We have to bring him back into the circle," Vaughn sighed.

"I was actually on my way here to grab Nog. Some of the Defiant's systems are bit wonky after sustaining combat damage."

"Define 'wonky', Commander." Nog asked for clarification.

"They cut in and out," Tenmei grew cold at having her word questioned.

"Station's up to par," O'Brien voiced, "I'll lend a hand."

"Thank you, Chief," Cenn offered, "No offense, Commander Nog."

"None taken. I still have a lot to learn from Chief O'Brien," Nog enthused.

"I'd better check in as well now that I'm officially the Defiant's commander again," Vaughn followed them to the lift.

"I'll head back to the Infirmary," Basher waited for the next car.

Douglas joined the wait, "My office beckons as well."

Cenn got Ops, conspicuously short staffed by Starfleet and filled with Militia personnel, back to regular duty as commercial traffic was returning to the station in hordes. Not only was their latinum to be made in war but the clean up afterwards was a Reconstruction boon to sales as Bajor would be rife with the Federation's hard currency reserves and the Bajoran lek was rising in value on the markets. Everybody loved a winner. Bajor had also just rejoined the bond market so investors were scrambling to put their latinum for annuities with interest. So interstellar carpet baggers were flooding the station's Promenade as well as Bajor and her colonies.

The Bird of Vengeance arrived undetected at Omicron Ceti III. There, the Cell 51 leadership beamed down to the planet's surface in hazard suits. S31 scientist had weaponized the alien plan life and is temperament stabilizing spores. A test subject infected with the genetically modified spores had visible plant growth under her skin.

"That isn't inconspicuous," the Presider complained.

"But dammed effective," Sorbo countered as the subject raised a hand at them and discharged a cloud of spores.

"The subjects are all docile and easily persuaded to comply with our wishes," Sorbo's project director, Elena Kita, chuckled, "And they're all looking forward to visiting other worlds and their populations to 'spread the love' the spores provide."

"The perfect Trojan horses," the young Gray Cardinal smiled, "Now this. I can work with."

The Obsidian made port while the Solstice got underway from Earth after giving the crew a 48-hour leave. Neela, Anara, and especially Delain found race relations strained after the war despite the Federation admitting it had been "tricked" into unjust wars. So the trio manned the Solstice while the human, and one Bolian, crewmen headed for Earth's surface. Some for the first time.

But the Chief of Operations, the very Cardassian Merik Cardon, sorely missed Neela, Eckles, Darcy, and Thool's assistance with providing repairs to the multitude of Outbound Ventures starships after they were released from Bajoran service. Riker and Danan missed Noble manning Gamma watch.

All of the ships were providing shore leave because Kathy Tyrol and Chris Pike were already lining up new assignments for all of them. But longer term leaves were being assigned in a rotational basis throughout the small corporate fleet. With Sveta Korepanova and Kristine Liu providing watch relief, Riker and Danan were able to host a dinner for the SID team and the Obsidian's senior officers at Quark's. Pel and Annabeth Frinks were both delighted to provide the food and drink at a corporate rate.

They were privately taken care of in the VIP Lounge with Frinks as their private bartender and a live chef proving their non-replicated food. The rest of the bar and casino operated normally. Frinks was delighted to serve Macen and Ebert once again, remember that neither imbibed and both discovering Frinks had lost none of her skills as a barista.

"I'm telling you, Ardra is a galactically known scam artist with a criminal record longer than mine," Mudd was complaining, "Being President is just her ultimate con."

"She's listed as a real estate tycoon on her official biography," Parva reminded her.

"Yeah, she scammed some people outta their planets and built casinos on them," Mudd shot back.

"Her records have been scrubbed," Kerber shared, "I could erase the erasure protocols but it'll take time."

"Their underlying encryption is a Romulan based codex," Smith eagerly wanted to look into it, "It seems to have Borg encryption as well."

"Meaning whoever encrypted the records has at least peripheral access to the Artifact," Riker spelled out what it meant.

"Which spells even more layers of trouble," Danan groused, "Why didn't Cell 51 break away from Section 31 earlier in this universe? They're just as big of pain in the asses here."

"And you weren't even involved in that operation," Macen reminded her.

"But I was and she's right," Daggit asserted.

"These operatives remained imbedded wherever they were at until being reactivated. But only Jack Fowler had the codes to unleash them. So who has Fowler's codes of Sorbo doesn't?" Rockford asked.

"Fowler died in the Gamma Quadrant," Ebert recalled between bites, "Commander Vaughn watched his ship explode."

"A warp core breach covers a lot of sins," Parva added, "So they were never able to recover a body or Fowler's positronic brain."

"Which he could have arranged for his head to be in a projectile or probe launched before the Defiant was on scene or escaped notice in the explosion," Tessa shared. Galen 3 was waiting for her at the crew's tables but she'd popped over for a minute.

"If I were pissed off at the universe and wanted to avenge myself upon the Federation, who would I punch my artificial brain out to in the Gamma Quadrant?" Burrows wondered.

"The answer is as obvious as it is horrific," Forte shuddered.

"The Dominion," Shade looked ill.

"But why?" Lee was stumped.

"Revenge. Simplest answer in the world. The Dominion would be the only force on either side of the Wormhole that could punch the Federation's ticket." Mudd said coldly.

"So our conjecture is that the Founders have access to Section 31 and Cell 51's most intimate secrets and used them to start a war between the Federation, the Cardassians, and the Bajorans," Rockford summarized.

"Thereby dealing a blow to three of their five most hated enemies in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants," Riker picked up the thread, "With the Romulans and Klingons being the next to fall. Probably to each other."

"It makes a perverse kind of sense," Danan confessed.

"Which means this is far from over," Macen direly predicted.

The story continues...


Last modified: 25 Nov 2023