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Second Chances 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

Admiral Tavar Johnson was uncharateristicly infuriated with his superiors. Specifically Starfleet Commander Kirsten Clancy. Compared to Clancy, Alynna Nechayev was cuddly. Johnson was repeatedly being assigned to stamp out diplomatic brush fires. Which was nothing new. But instead of handling delicate negotiations with newly discovered races, he was stamping out internal squabbles within the Federation and he increasingly being called upon to explain to Federation protectorates that their protection was being withdrawn.

Add the festering animosity the Romulan Star Empire felt at being abandoned after Starfleet had committed to relocating millions of Romulan colonists from the range of the Hobus supernova's blast radius. As a result of Clancy's unilateral decision to abandon the Romulans, those millions had died and Starfleet Command applauded her decision. It was enough to drive Johnson into joining Admiral Jean-Luc Picard in resigning in protest.

Picard had been right: Starfleet was no longer the Starfleet he'd risen through the ranks of. Of course, that was literally the case since Johnson and select others had been brought into this Prime Reality from an alternate quantum universe by the Bajoran Prophets for reasons yet unknown but strongly indicated by other dimensional incursions made by the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance from the Terran Universe. But this Starfleet and Federation had avoided the many wars that occurred after the Dominion War's close in his home universe as well the political entanglements of the Khitomer Accords nations cold war with the Romulan-led Typhon Pact comprised of Federation rivals.

But here, synthetic life forms had rebelled and laid Mars waste and the Utopia Planetia Shipyards above it. Mars still burned months after the surprise, and inexplicably unexplained, attack. Androids and developed, independent AI's were shut down or quarantined as a synthetic ban outlawed such creations and research. The Federation contracted, expecting more attacks from within. Thereby abandoning less advanced cultures that weren't signed on as Federation member worlds but rather as Protectorates. In a seeming repeat of the Demilitarized Zone disaster with the Cardassians, even outlying Federation colonies were left undefended from potential aggressors. The colonists, like the Maquis fifteen years ago, armed themselves as best they could.

Fortunately for the colonists, Starfleet did make decommissioned starships available to them. But they were former ships of the line and barely manned. And many were technologically antiquated, still relying on 23rd century duotronics rather than more modern isolinear based tech. Yet Starfleet retained their right to refuse the Excelsior- and Miranda-class starships that were currently being decommissioned in an effort not to provoke those same aggressors.

Johnson stormed through Starfleet Command's campus to reach a transporter arch, set the coordinates, and find himself on a Starfleet campus outside London. Taking public transporters, he relocated to downtown London and headed to the Starfleet Data Archives building, which served as the secretive headquarters for the newly established Starfleet Special Investigations Division, the head of which was another refugee from Johnson's universe.

Admiral Amanda Drake, formerly of Starfleet Internal Affairs, had found herself still bearing her married name in this reality. But Forger couldn't bear the name "Drake" anymore thanks to the multiple betrayals of her philandering husband and his breaking her spine and paralyzing her legs in her home universe. Her spinal shunt that allowed her to walk again had to be explained away upon her last fitness eval.

"Angelique Kerber" and "Bailey Smith" from Brin Macen's SID team had located the file of a neurosurgeon to implicate in repair Forger's spine after a "skiing" accident. Anara/Kerber and Maarta/Smith were hiding within Macen's team from the authorities on Ardana IV. Kerber was a Troglyte separatist and Smith was Stratosian royalty and was the legitmate heir to the throne occupied by her uncle. Anara and Maarta had been framed for an atrocity they didn't commit and both sides of the internal conflict on Ardana IV wanted Kerber and Smith dead. The Federation took no official notice as long as the zenite ore shipments kept flowing.

But Admirals Alynna Nechayev and Forger kept Kerber and Smith's true identities a secret from the Federation authorities. Nechayev being the third member of the Admiralty triad that the Prophets had displaced. Macen's entire Investigative team along with the Nova-class surveyor, Obsidian's, command officers had been moved through time and space. Thomas Riker and Lisea Danan also transited from one Cardassian Nor-class Serenity Station built as the corporate headquarters fo Macen and Celeste Rockford's Outbound Ventures security consulting and the Rockford Detective Agencies. Nechayev and Forger's collaboration recreated the Special Investigations Division and the effort was a combined venture between Starfleet Intelligence, Starfleet Security and Starfleet Internal Affairs. Intended as an accountable replacement for the finally defunct Section 31, the SID utilized both regular Starfleet personnel and qualified security contractors to operate. Hence, the SID contracting Outbound Ventures and the detective agencies.

The SID had been founded in 2376 in their home universe and not until 2385 in this one. They'd also discovered there was no such thing as a "Prime Universe". Rather there were no less than four Prime Universes. Each branched off alternate universes that eventually branched off more and more unstable elements deriving from themselves. This was the backbone of the El-Aurian concept fo the Currents. Their original universe had wildly separated from the Prime branch they were now attached to, mild deviations beginning in 2373, and most notably in 2376. Other "refugees" had unwittingly come along as well.

Ro Laren found herself commanding the original Deep Space Nine once again with the "retired" Commander Elias Vaughn once again at her side as her former CO and now XO. Neela had been a surprise as well. Kai Winn Adami's former agent had been declared dead in both universes in 2375, just months before the Grand Alliance's victory over the Dominion. But their Neela had been moved through time and space to 2385 in the Prime branch just as everyone, including Jim McKinley and the senior staff of the USS Intrepid found themselves pushed back to 2385 from 2388. An even greater surprise for that crew was that their Akira-class carrier had been "replaced" by the original Intrepid-class prototype and now newly refitted carrier variant.

Johnson entered the SID HQ to discover a detachment from the Pipe & Drum Brigade on each level. One particular pair situated outside of Forger's office. While they dutifully played away, Forger's attache, the Bajoran-born Lt. Commander Ambril Delori, happily hummed along.

"Sorry Admiral, I didn't hear your approach" she apologized.

"How could you?" he wondered. She checked in with Forger while wearing a conspiratorial smile.

Johnson barely entered Forger's office as she yelled, "Close the damn door!"

She sat massaging her temples as the bagpipe and drum music was muffled, "Damn them all."

"Amanda, what's happening here?" Johnson was beginning to find the situation rife with humor.

"The Mayor of the British Canton of the European District of the United Earth paid me a visit and quote, 'found the place distressingly gloomy' end quote. So she rustled up a Pipe & Drum Corps and got Starfleet Command's permission to place them throughout my headquarters," Forger was in a vile mood, "Someone in San Francisco hates me."

"Everyone in Starfleet Command currently hates you because your ideas about contracting non-Starfleet security providers is paying off in spades. That upset most of the Admiralty's predictions of your imminent failure and the SID's expected and immediate implosion."

"I aim to disappoint," Forger muttered darkly.

"Although Starfleet Commander Clancy's agreement that Section 31 needed a replacement, she doesn't share your vision for it. And the fact that she made it an open proposal amongst the Admiralty gained your support that she herself lacked. So she approved of the creation of the SID over her own personal recommendation that it shouldn't happen. So her own pride is involved regarding your failure. The longer you and the SID succeed, the more she looks closed minded," Johnson shared, "And trust me, that woman's mind is harder to open than a Ferengi vault."

"Things are that bad on your end?" Forger realized this wasn't just a social call.

"The Romulans secured an inactive Borg cube in their space. They want our help in explaining it and pilfering its tech without waking the Borg drones," Johnson explained, "I'm to negotiate a joint venture led by Hugh"

"The ex-drone Picard's crew liberated," Forger nodded.

"And he's helped pioneer the liberation and 'resurrection' of Borg drones since," Johnson explained further, "Perhaps a greater contribution than either Captain Crusher or the Doctor ever compiled."

"That's saying a lot given the Voyager's EMH Doctor liberated several drone children in addition to Seven of Nine," Forger had to concede.

"Which is why both the Federation and the Romulans want Hugh spearheading the recovery effort. Hugh will do it for the drones and the Federation will sponsor it to gain access to some of the technology the Romulans will harvest from it using Starfleet's research and expertise regarding the Borg."

"How does this involve the SID?" Forger had to wonder.

"Macen opened a trade dialogue with Sela. As long as she's the Tal Shiar Director, she can open doors to let this go through," Johnson stated.

"Thereby making your mission possible at the least and productive at best," Forger understood.

"Or at least getting the Intrepid past the border," Johnson shrugged.

"Sela bumped the dialogue up to my personal level. I'll see what I can arrange," Forger promised.

"So what's Brin up to these days?" Johnson eventually asked.

"Clancy wants the SID off of the Alliance incursion," Forger sighed, "So I'm using the Obsidian team to help track down and apprehend S31 fugitives," Forger told him. Johnson knew employing Macen's team and ship was very personal for Forger. Not only had Macen been the first SID agent but Forger's younger sister commanded the Obsidian herself although she wasn't officially part of the SID Investigative Team aboard. Shannon had cleared hundreds, if not thousands, of barriers to earn her command.

The least of which, in this reality at least, had been the younger Forger's being railroaded out of Starfleet by a superior officer that begrudged Shannon's being born a genetic male and transitioning into womanhood. Captain Forger had taken a decade in deciding to finalize her sexual rebirth through SRS surgery. Her former Starfleet CO had found certain crewmen and officers' preoccupation with Shannon's third gender to be a distraction at best and an obsession with some. Including the Captain himself.

Rather than simply transfer her, the CO had fabricated charges corroborated by rejected suitors, and ended Lt. Commander Shannon Forger's Starfleet career in disgrace. Nechayev had reached to "Macen" to arrange for Outbound Ventures to hire "Forger". An equally trepidatious move in this reality because Outbound Ventures was as equally mercenary and criminal as it was legitimate and selective. This Macen had resigned from Starfleet at the conclusion of the Dominion War in protest to the continued incarcertaion of former Maquis and DMZ colonists that had the temerity and luck to survive the Jem'Hadars' purge of the Dorvan Sector and it's adjacent Demilitarized Zone prior to the Dominion invading the Federation itself.

That version of Macen had taken his legend of being an "information broker" and made it reality. As an intelligence agent for hire, Macen had worked for all forms of clients on both sides of the Federation's laws and moral ethos. But he and the Obsidian's crew had died in the Federation's service acquiring information on the increasingly hostile Iridian Enforcers. It was that Obsidian that Macen, Rockford the entire Investigative team and command staff had found themselves aboard when the Prophets transferred them from one reality to another utilizing the Nexus with unusually cryptic messages for each.

Which was saying a lot given that these were the Bajoran Prophets who only seemingly spoke in riddles. After their heralded "return" after months of being MIA, Macen had the Obsidian upgraded to the standards everyone aboard was accustomed to in the advent of Outbound Ventures being legally and financially retained by the newly constituted SID.

The entire organization had been thrown into a fever pitch of assignments given the Federation's orders to pull out of Protectorate sectors. The Fenris Rangers, among others, had arisen to take up some of the slack but lawlessness was now the norm rather than the exception. Although official policy handed down by the Federation Council reserved Starfleet for acting only in the Federation member world's defense, the SID's irregulars could act in support of colonies and less advanced worlds left vulnerable to militant expansionism. Expansionist goals exhibited by long-time Federation rivals as well as upstarts like the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance aided Iotian Federation. It seemed opportunists in the Terran Universe finally wanted to exploit the Federation's seeming vulnerability. Despite two centuries' worth of knowledge of the "Prime" universe's existence and general avoidance of interference.

But the Terran Rebellion's utilization of stolen technical data from Starfleet had earned the Federation the Alliance's wrath. So the Bajoran Indendents Ro and Kira spearheaded Alliance operations in this Prime reality. While their involvement had first been suspected by Macen's SID team, a coordinated effort between the Obsidian and Intrepid crews had proven the reality of the situation aided by Sela herself. Afterwards, Starfleet Command and the Federation Council seemed to be in a deep rooted denial of the particulars of the brewing situation. So the captains and crews from Outbound Ventures minimized brush fires where they could and Macen's team was the smoking gun Admiral Forger pitted against proven threats to Federation security where Starfleet couldn't, or wouldn't, act. Including Macen personally "hiring on" as a "double agent" of the Cardassian Information Bureau, the legal successor to the Obsidian Order.

The CIB itself had an active interest in hunting down former S31 agents. So Macen's contact within the CIB, Ziva Delain, kept them informed of intelligence regarding the matter. Macen's current target was a personal one. S31 Agent John Browder had killed Macen's handler, the retired Admiral Elijah Waters, during the Maquis conflict prior to the outbreak of Dominion hostilities. It seemed Browder had evaded the Maquis attempts to avenge Waters.

He'd also taken over Senior Agent Luther Sloan's role within the organization. Now, he and former Senior Agent L'Haan were running rogue operatives within and without Federation space. Their goal seemed to be more of dispensing vigilante "justice" on those detractors of Section 31 that had assisted in its dismantling. Jack Fowler was in nominal control of what remained of S31 but his location was a closely guarded secret.

What had been discovered by the capture of Section 31's data archive that now served as the SID headquarters was that the Fowlers, James and Jack, father and son, had been given cybernetic data storage implants that held the seemingly bottomless secrets of Section 31 before and after the destruction fo the AI known as CONTROL. CONTROL had itself had gone rogue and plotted the extermination of all organic life. Senior Agents had mnemonic memories that cataloged many of S31's secrets, as had been found in Sloan's decaying mind.

But Jack Fowler had absolutely everything since the very creation of Section 31 in the Starfleet Security section the Charter that founded the Federation Starfleet. It had also had the records of S31's precursor within the United Earth Starfleet. What Starfleet Intelligence required was the recovery of Fowler and his implant so they could glean the otherwise wiped knowledge pertaining to the Terran Universe, its Cardassian-Klingon Alliance, the Terran Rebellion, and the re-ascendant Terran Empire.

The tapeworm that erased the bulk of S31's data banks had only been halted after it destroyed everything before the 24th century and even most of those operations. Hence the ability for Fowler, Browder, and L'Haan to seemingly vanish. But the Cardassians had a very slim lead and wanted Macen to follow up on it, which was fortunate for Starfleet, because the SID wanted the very same.

And as Johnson listened in on Forger's communique with Sela, it seemed the Tal Shiar had a great interest in Fowler's capture as well.

"Director Koval's complicity with these provocateurs is needed by my government to end the debate of Koval's legacy and of any other traitors he's laid in our midst," Sela informed Forger with a cold smile. Forger knew Koval had sheltered SI agents as well. giving Sela what she wanted would force Nechayev to pull her operatives and double agents from the Star Empire. Sela knew this and was counting on it.

"We can be of great assistance in yoru coming struggle with the Iotians and their ethereal allies," Sela dangled the baited hook, "If we close our birders to Iotian trade and exert influence upon others to do the same, the economic impact will force the Iotians into preemptive action. An action you can be fully prepared for because their allies will not be ready to fully commit, unlike a time of their choosing"

And there was Johnson's very suggestions from earlier discussions laid out fully. Discussions that he'd shared with Admiral Edward Noyce, the Director of Starfleet Security, and his chosen successor, Captain Oh.

Forger knew she'd never hear the end of it from said parties if she refused the offer at face value, "That's very...considerate of you. I can only state for myself and my superiors that we look forward to discussing these matters in depth with the Praetor's chosen representatives when Admiral Johnson arrives to discuss this Borg situation."

"As do I," Sela wore a cocky smile Forger wanted to punch off of her face, "General Donatra will be present to escort the Intrepid through our space. Please advise Captain McKinley to consider Donatra's instructions as holy writ."

"He'll stand so advised," Forger guaranteed it since Johnson would deliver the news personally.

"And Admiral Johnson, I look forward to actually meeting you face to face," Sela signed off after that bombshell.

"How the futz?" Forger stared at her terminal displaying the UFP flag in flagrant disbelief.

Johnson wasn't much better off, "They have people inside."

Forger hit her intercom with Ambril, "Commander Ambril, I went this entire facility locked down. Then we initiate Alpha-One-Six. Understood?"

Ambril was shaken but she began implementing the procedures and Security teams secured every room, entrance, and exit. Internal comm scatterers went active. No signal could be broadcast in or out of the facility. Even ODN lines to external bases were shut down.

"Seems like your departure just got delayed," Forger informed Johnson. They both knew the only people they could completely trust at this moment were those fellow refugees from another universe who were also fellow conspirators in keeping that fact a secret. A secret worth defending with maximum effort and lethality if need be.

"It seems Section 31 was in bed with the Tal Shiar to a greater degree than we suspected," Johnson realized.

"Or ever wanted to know," Forger said grimly.

Izar had been founded as a Federation colony late in the 22nd century. New Seattle was its capital. The colony had achieved independence and full Federation membership three years after Captain Garth fought the Battle of Axanar. And a few short years later, was committed to a dedicated maximum security mental facility.

Izar was a temperate world lacking an axial shift. So its seasons were constant and dependent upon global positioning. New Seattle, like the original, sat beside an inlet body of water rivaling Earth's Puget Sound. The combination of northern acclimation and seaside weather made New Seattle as rainy as the original had been famed for before global weather control became passe on Earth. Izar had decided early on to forgo such mechanized means of weather manipulation and prided themselves on their endurance in the face of relentless rains.

Here, once upon a time, Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training Program had commended and washed out hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers who had been recommended ot the Federation's toughest challenges. The training yielded most of the all-volunteer corps of the Special Operations Command. Commander Elias Vaughn, another displaced person, had graduated from the ATTP in 2323 and joiuned SOC as a full lieutenant. Vaughn had achieved the rank of Commander by 2358 and froze his promotion history at that point. Starfleet internally published a Captain's List naming every Command level officer. A list Starfleet's rivals frequently researched.

But Commander Vaughn had gone on to become a living legend before he left SOC at the age of one hundred years old. At that point, after an encounter with a lost Tear of the Prophets, Vaughn transferred to DS9 to assume the Executive Officer role Colonel Kira had vacated when she assumed command. He became Acting CO with Lt. Commander Ro Laren as his XO. Then she ranked up to match his and they exchanged roles.

Ro eventually was promoted to full Captain while serving as the station's CO. A different history then the one shared by the CO and XO of the Deep Space Station. They too had been transported by the Prophets for reasons yet unknown to them. The final members of this cadre were the married couple of Thomas Riker and the Joined Trill, Lisea Danan. They served as the CO and XO of the similarly constructed Nor-class station purpose built for Outbound Ventures by Cardassian engineers. The engineers and therefore Cardassian stellar charts, listed the station as Ampok Nor. Riker had christened her Serenity Station when he assumed command and the name stuck. The station orbited Odin, the Class-P fifth planet in the solar system named after its Class-M third world, Barrinor.

Barrinor was a banking hub for the Alpha and Beta Quadrants and the former Federation colony had armed itself to protect others' assets. The additional support lent to it by Outbound Ventures' presence only amplified the level of force they could project against raiders and militant forces seeking to loot the massive underground vaults littered across Barrinor's continents.

Since Ro and Vaughn had both flourished and graduated from the Advanced Tactical Training Program, they were able to divulge the base camp's location. With this information came confirmation of the data from the CIB that an adjacent facility trained secretive operatives independently from the Starfleet facilities. No knew that Lt. Commander Mira Romaine herself had trained there after the V'ger encounter.

Romaine had been selected to lead a team of Starfleet archivists to detail what was known about the invasive entity to the Romulans. The first Federation information exchange ever visited upon Romulus. Romaine's Starfleet team became the first humans, Tellarites, and Vulcans to freely visit and depart from Romulus before diplomatic relations were ever normalized. That occurred shortly thereafter and the symbolic but doomed tri-governmental effort to colonize Nimbus III began settling "the Planet of Intergalactic Peace"

Everyone that the Federation, the Klingons, and Romulans wanted to dump on a primarily desert world and forget about landed there. This was the final step when penal colonies and prisons had failed. The ambassadorial and "honor guard" detachment postings were punishments. Izar was as far from Nimbus III and the Beta Quadrant as the Federation stretched towards the galactic core.

There existed two phenomena. The first being the super-massive quantum singularity the Milky Way Galaxy orbited around. The second was the barrier which separated the lone planet that orbited the accretion disk of the singularity. The world occupied by the eternally trapped One. A world and a being the renegade Vulcan, Sybok, had forced the captain and crew of the Enterprise-A to visit. It was considered quarantined by Federation law despite its being light years from Federation territory.

It seemed General Kordd and Captain Klaa's reports dissuaded the Klingons from trying to tame and weaponize the One as well. Or so the official histories went. Unofficially, the House of Duras had wasted far too many lives on such a project to be easily reconciled with the Klingon Defense Force's official manpower records. Efforts that had only been halted by the combined efforts fo the legendary Kor, Koloth, and Kang together forcing the Duras clan into seeing reason and forgetting the mad plot that wouldn't rivaled again until Lursa and B'Etor tried to fashion weapons from stolen trilithium to destroy entire stars with. To say nothing of the equally disavowed Klingon Commander who'd tried to steal the secrets of the Genesis Device from the doomed Genesis Planet survey team.

His name had been stricken from Imperial records and his entire family line executed for humiliating the Empire with the disgrace and dishonor of embarrassing the High Council through his failure. Johnson knew High Chancellor Martok adhered to a strict code of honor but such arbitrary decisions were beneath him. As he'd proven when Worf left Qo'nos to rejoin the Enterprise-E crew without being forced out of the House of Martok.

Worf ascended after Picard's departure as CO and Geordi LaForge's promotion to the center seat. Ranked up to full Commander and the XO position, Worf's stain on his record from saving Jadzia Dax's life rather than complete a vital wartime mission lingered. Someone at the Bureau of Personnel, guided by members of Starfleet Command, denied Worf his own command as Benjamin Sisko had predicted at the time of the aforementioned incident. LaForge had repeatedly signed off on peak performance evals as Picard had done since Worf rejoined active duty and yet it seemed Worf would relagted as a permenent XO. Even Will Riker had escaped that fate despite his turning down his own commands twice before finally excepting promotion after fifteen years of squandering opportunities. His command stint was cut short by the terminal illness that afflicted his and Deanna Troi's son, putting them on the active reserve list while they created an on-planet home life for Thaddeus Riker before he died. Giving Tom Riker and Lisea Danan the chance to actually meet Thad and his younger sister, Kestra, for the very first time, in both realities. In their home universe, Riker had been promoted to admiral and retained the USS Titan as his flagship and he Deanna had a lone daughter named Natasha.

Macen and Rockford were well aware of Riker and Danan's well deserved absence from Serenity. Largely because Riker had been undertaking short-term SID missions in Serenity's outrigger, the Emden-class escort the Indomitable, and the couple's corporate role as the station's administrators. The ship class was a forerunner of what eventually became the Defiant-class and her name had been carried by Ro Laren's Maquis Ju'day-class flagship. Riker and Danan's cover needed to be proven to able to withstand Troi's personal scrutiny. As well as the much needed reunion between the Riker "twins".

Celeste Rockford was more than just Macen's third wife. She was an accomplished private investigator with a quadrant-wide favorable reputation. Entire quadrants had feared her in her previous life as the Angosian Augment Infiltrator, Annika Ryst. Ryst hadn't assumed Rockford's name, her mind personality had literally altered themselves to become Rockford. Which had been a good thing for Macen and Rockford to grow together after T'Kir's untimely death.

Ryst had tried killing Macen on several occasions. Rockford ended up falling in love with him. But Ryst's personality, as well as a host of others within the shared psyche, were purged to leave only Rockford with the combined total of their shared memories within her single mind. An event that had not occurred in the life of the woman she'd replaced.

The rest of the team had their stories as well. Rab Daggit was a fellow Angosian augmented soldier but not an Infiltrator. Ryst had been the very last of those. Daggit had married the Orion engineer named Parva. Parva had self-educated herself after an Orion elite businesswoman named Treir had sold Parva into Daveen B'nner's sexual slavery and before she escaped Orion and the Syndicate. She'd been recruited by Starfleet's Special Projects Yards upon completion of her triple doctorates in ship design and engineering, warp physics, and temporal mechanics. Hal Dracas, Macen's first dedicated engineer, had recruited Parva from the SPYards to serve as his replacement. A heart injury suffered in action had caused brain damage within Parva and reduced her to an innocent child-like state .

Illegal genetic engineering had restored Parva's vaunted intellect as well create a few unexpected and unwanted behavioral instabilities that Parva, Daggit, Macen, and Rockford were trying to hide from Federation authorities. Failure to do so would result in Parva's involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility. Which would prompt Daggit to break her out and they would spend their days outside of the Federation as fugitives from Federation Security.

Tessa was a sentient EMH program who relied on shipboard systems and a prototype backpack sized "mobile" emitter for her off-ship existence. Arianna Forte was originally one of the slow aging children from the disease ravaged world known in Starfleet records as "Miri". Shade was a Fabrini criminal recruited by Rockford to utilize Shade's nefarious past for her own ends. Lee Kang was a former chief inspector from Chung Kuo who'd been dismissed from the force. Harriet "Harri" Fedora Mudd was a member of the legacy criminal family and the latest "official" member of the team despite Mudd's years' long association. Tracy Ebert was Macen's former pilot during his Maquis days. And finally, Angelique Kerber and Bailey Smith were making rare appearances outside fo the Obsidian's hull.

Although Ro was a more recent graduate from ATT, she found it frequently next to impossible to extricate herself from DS9's station Ops. So Vaughn came in her stead along with the entire crew fo the USS Defiant that Vaughn unofficially the CO of. While members his crew enjoyed a rotating liberty, Vaughn gave the SID Investigative Team a guided tour while Captain Shannon Forger also rotated the crew of the Obsidian to and from Izar's surface. Vaughn had the privilege and sometimes headache of his only daughter, Lt. Commander Prynn Tenmei, being the Defiant's CONN/OPS Officer as well as her XO. For nearly two decades Tenmei had blamed Vaughn for her mother's death and his infrequent visits while she was raised by relatives. Tenmei was named after T'Prynn, her parent's one-time superior field officer and a once esteemed then disgraced and finally redeemed in Starfleet's eyes Starfleet Intelligence and then SOC operative.

Macen himself had never attended Advanced Tactical Training but he'd been hand trained by Vaughn and T'Pryn n to double as a field officer while he'd still been an analyst on the Cardassian desk of Starfleet Intelligence. Afterwards, Macen had been sent to border conflict in 2352 and remained there until the Demilitarized Zone was established in 2369. Whereupon he was returned to the DMZ region in 2370 upon the formation of the Maquis. Nechayev's plan had been for Macen to pose as a freelance "information broker" and shape the intelligence fed to the Maquis. A secondary objective was to promote Ro as the Maquis Commander should the former Commander Calvin Hudson of Starfleet die in action. So began Macen's close ties to Ro's Maquis cell based off of Ronara Prime. But when Hudson was killed in action, Ro had no further intention fo replacing him.

So too began the ambitions of Michael Eddington to carve his name into history. Macen then aided Ro in tempering or even thwarting Eddington's escalations of the conflict. Elijah Waters spearheaded Macen's mission through an agency he'd founded to consign cargo and deliveries to DMZ worlds. His and select members of his staff's secondary role was to legitimize Maquis vessels' presence in target systems and worlds by having them provide courier services to said systems and worlds. That also provided the Maquis with operating capital. Something most of the cells struggled with raising.

The Macen of both realities had made tidy sums selling illegal information and contraband to Cardassian, and later Dominion, parties while ultimately serving the Maquis, the Bajoran Militia, and Starfleet's expanded interests. But from there, the two men's paths had greatly diverged. It was the other Macen's criminal contacts that corroborated the Cardassians' data inferring secretive activities had been conducted on Izar right under the ATTC's nose.

Particularly since they occurred at a training camp not twenty kilometers distant from the Starfleet training course. An area that had always been listed as a planetary park reserve in serious disrepair. A state of dilapidation that seemed to last two centuries. Yet it was also here that Mira Romaine had been brought to learn trade craft before heading to Romulus. A happenstance that set Romaine on a path to uncover Section 31 and cofnirm its existence. A legacy she passed down to Vaughn and Macen.

Macen's doppelganger had abandoned the mission after resigning from Starfleet at the conclusion of the Dominion War and the announced disposition of Maquis prisoners and the Angosian Augments. In disgust, Macen founded Outbound Ventures but openly cavorted with criminal interests. But, given a common threat, that Macen had accepted Starfleet Intelligence's contract to survey the Iridian territories...and died as a result.

So everyone the Prophets moved through the quantum and temporal variance of the Nexus they also moved three years into the past with the exception of the former Militia officer, Neela, who they moved from their common 2375 to this 2385. The Bajoran Prophets, dwelling in the stable wormhole they'd created and the Bajorans referred to as the Celestial Temple, brought everyone to this place and time for reasons yet unknown but with a beginning suspicion given the recent Hobus supernova disaster in Romulan space, the Mars Massacre, and Admiral Jean-Luc Picard's resignation coinciding with Captain Riker and Commander Troi standing down.

The Federation, following the Mars incident, was in a state of collective panic. It was worse than ever conceived of even during the cataclysmic conflict against the Dominion and its allies, a state of agitation not felt since the even greater disaster of the Federation-Klingon War that followed the Battle of the Binary Stars. An event unheralded since the Earth-Romulan War that barely pre-dated the Federation itself. This attack, unlike any other, came from within and not without.

In their home reality, Macen's people had survived the ambitions of a Federation President allied with splinter of S31 known as Cell 51 that had nearly divided the Federation against itself. This reality, never having faced such an internal crisis or an allied rival such as the Typhon Pact, reacted as many threatened civilizations did by withdrawing back to their borders and insulating themselves from the galaxy at large. Thereby abandoning less advanced cultures to their own fate. Leaving them vulnerable to such entities as the Iotian Federation.

The Iotians were more than happy to sell advanced technology and "protection" to emerging starfaring races and even those that were barely industrialized in exchange for "tribute" and conscription into the Iotian's version of Starfleet. The Iotian Federation being a criminalized parody of the United Federation of Planets. Seemingly working with the other-dimensional Cardassian-Klingon Alliance from the Terran Universe. "The" Starfleet was just an extended protection racket run by the hereditary Oxmyx Godfather, who currently happened to a woman, and the Hereditary Starfleet Commander Kracko, who also just happened to a woman.

The Iotians having reverse engineered Dr. Leonard McCoy's forgotten communicator to access and exploit Federation public education databases. This UFP cordoned off the Iotians when they developed their warp capable ships a mere fifty years after the visit of the Enterprise crew to the 1920's mobsters-inspired Sigma Iotia II. By the mid-24th century the Iotians had advanced from early industrialization to a mid-23rd century tech base compared to the UFP. Starfleet set a border watch across the common frontier and placed subspace jamming buoys to block database signals from reaching the grasping Iotians. Starfleet Command and the Federation Council hardly debated the issues when the Iotians began press ganging nearby worlds, also charted by the Enterprise's second five-year mission, this one under James T. Kirk's command.

The thrust of most arguments was the affirmation of the necessity of General Order One, commonly referred to as Starfleet's Prime Directive. Captain Erika Benteen had been busted back to Commander for her role in implementing General Order Twenty-Four and reducing three planets to radioactive slag during the height of the Dominion conflict. She now commanded Deep Space Four and avoided recruitment into Section 31 in this reality. DS4 was the edge of the territories ceded to Iotian ambitions as well as the former Romulan Neutral Zone. DS5 was deeper into the Beta Quadrant and sat as the gateway into the Delta Quadrant and a watchtower over the Romulan Star Empire's expansion further into the Beta Quadrant's reaches.

"I know this supposed to look abandoned but frankly, the state of disrepair here is ridiculous," Vaughn commented as the SID team spread out across the implicated S31 base.

"Don't let the looks deceive, Elias," Rockford counseled him, "If Section 31 had maintained a presence here, our team will find the evidence towards that conclusion."

Vaughn and Rockford had shared a brief, intimate relationship before her eventual marriage to Macen. They'd settled into a comfortable rhythm since just as Macen and Danan had as well following their own post-romantic ventures. Macen and Vaughn's lives had intersected within Starfleet since being assigned a case together in 2343. After which Vaughn had recommended Macen's cross training in Operations to augment his posting in Analysis under Admiral Water's command. The Deputy Director of Analysis had agreed and Deputy Director of Operations for Starfleet Intelligence was a newly promoted Commodore Alynna Nechayev.

That began Nechayev's professional and personal working relationship with both Macen and Vaughn, and through Vaughn, Special Operations Command and Commander T'Prynn. Nechayev herself was a former field operative who'd had boots on the ground when the Cardassians invaded Bajor. Later, although Admiral Nechayev served an "unspecified" role, every foreign counter-intelligence agency knew it was a euphemism for her being Director of Starfleet Intelligence.

It had seemed a professional oddity that Nechayev had begun to groom then-Commander Amanda Drake nee Forger to assume a role combining her talents at Starfleet Security's Internal Affairs Division and Nechayev's own command at Starfleet Intelligence. A professional relationship that continued until the recently founded Starfleet Special Investigations Division had assigned Admiral Forger as its Director. Boggling to most was the SID's embracing Macen, Rockford, Outbound Ventures, and the Rockford Detective Agencies.

SI and IA frequently used irregulars to serve their ends but none of them had notoriously turned a criminal bent. Criminally inclined informants were part of the trade but active agents? It had been unheard of. And since the Council of Five had never existed, Nechayev had to first persuade Starfleet Security Director Edward Noyce to sign on for the venture before presenting it to Starfleet Commander Clancy. This is where Johnson and Forger's influence paid off.

Johnson was a long time friend to Noyce and Forger had risen through Security's ranks to the Admiralty. So their combined vote inspired confidence, along with Nechayev's constant pressure, swayed Noyce to present the proposal to Clancy, who reluctantly agreed after her board of strategic advisors persuaded her to authorize the agency's creation, just to shut Nechayev up if for no other reason. Clancy's worst fears were realized when Macen's team and crew identified the growing inter-dimensional threat posed by the Alliance's collaborating with the Iotians.

To counter the seemingly inevitable invasion of Federation space by a rapidly augmenting Iotian Starfleet, the Federation's Starfleet would have to more strenuously secure the common border and those former protectorates and colonies deemed expendable would weather the coming invasions. Creating a potentially disastrous PR fiasco. With the Federation Council and Starfleet Command alerted to the pressing danger, Clancy couldn't spin the calamities to befall Federation colonists and former protectorates alike as an unexpected surprise and an act of unstemmed aggression by an insignificant power. Although Clancy had classified the entire matter and the Federation Council's inner circles refused to discuss the matter further, anyone involved in the former investigation, and particularly its civilian elements, could prove paradoxically unstable and leak Starfleet's foreknowledge and subsequent refusal to act to the Federation's press. Further eroding public trust in Starfleet following the cataclysm that befell Mars.

Lee, Shade, and Forte were running a building by building search. Parva was scanning the area for power signatures while Daggit single-mindedly tracked every member of the team and surveyed for any potential threats. Rockford joined her detectives in the search while Macen and Vaughn stood by for any developments while Ebert, Mudd, Smith, and Kerber seemed to aimlessly wander about. Tessa seemed endlessly fascinated by the local flora and fauna.

"I could beam down a detachment of Security officers to assist," Vaughn offered.

"What strikes you as odd about this place?" Macen seemed preoccupied.

"Everything," Vaugnn was suddenly alert to the sight lines, "I see what you mean. The buildings are arrayed to provide maximum cover for that clearing off centered from the rest of the facility that we've mapped so far."

"And our wandering quartet of sightseers is headed right for it," Macen stated.

"Whoa!" Parva exclaimed.

"Everybody freeze where they are!" Daggit bellowed and pumped a photon round into his grenade launcher. The detectives all emerged from the buildings with their tricorders going insane as active sensors penetrated their scan fields and threatened to burn out their receptors.

"Targeting sensors are locking on," Parva informed Daggit. Eight drones emerged from the wooded areas past Tessa. The base of each had three arms with rounded antigrav platforms extended from the squatty cylindrical power core that served as a base unit. the central cylinder seemed to possess the computing section and internal sensor grids of the units. Atop the cylinders sat a roundelle with four phaser emitters. This portion could freely rotate even as the main body itself rotated independently from the weapons array.

The drones began encroaching on the seemingly hapless quartet. Kerber and Smith furiously punched coding into their tricorders as fast as they could analyze the readings coming to them regarding the subspace transceivers within and without the drones. By nearly silent agreement, Smith tackled the base network directing the drones while Kerber sought to neutralize them directly. Mudd and Ebert were getting very skittish. Rockford palmed a small earpiece transceiver that worked on old fashioned electromagnetics, essentially called radio waves, and Macen mirrored her.

"Tracy and Harri are going to ape shit any second now," Rockford warned Macen's ear.

"Parva's looking for weaknesses for Rab to exploit," Macen radioed back his reply, "We have to trust in Bailey and Angelique to provide the honest solution and get those two to stand down."

"My people found several sealed hatches within these buildings," Rockford reported, "We were attempting to breach a hatch and find out what's beneath this compound when the active sensors lit the place up."

"Has anyone else noticed everything is ignoring Tessa?" Macen wondered.

"I'll be damned," Rockford noted it as well.

"Elias, do my world a favor and get Harri and Tracy settled down," Macen asked and Vaughn slowly approached the quartet while Mudd and Ebert grew increasingly fidgety under the drones' continuing surveillance.

"Celeste, keep working on those hatches," he instructed, "Rab, you and Parva meet up with Celeste and her team and find out what's so important beneath this compound."

"You've got it," Parva quietly replied and the couple began to progress towards Rockford's position.

Macen slowly ambled on up to Tessa, "What'cha doin'?"

"Before this all happened I found a stealthed duck blind," Tessa explained.

"Let's check it out," Macen grinned, "Copy that, Celeste?"

"Loud and clear," she reported back, "Rab and Parva are with us and she already has ideas on how to bypass the hatch's security."

"Keep at it," Macen urged, "And stay safe"

"Always," she promosed. Vaughn herded Ebert and Mudd Macen and Tessa's way

"Tessa found a duck blind in the woods," Macen explained her preoccupation

"Holographically disguised, no doubt," Vaughn mused.

"I think it's actually unmanned right now but a response will probably be coming to it soon enough," Macen theorized, "So we should be inside to greet whoever shows up."

"Can I finally shoot something?" Mudd was petulant.

"Can you at least wait for five minutes to allow Bailey and Angelique time to do some computer kung fu?" Ebert angrily demanded to know. Vaughn was startled. Ebert wasn't as publicly reticent as Smith but she rarely broadcast outbursts on a regular basis. He had no way of knowing about the tension that had developed between them since a drunken sexual encounter occurred on Sigma Iotia II that Ebert wouldn't discuss and Mudd wanted to repeat. Mudd was pressing Ebert to re-engage and the pilot was entirely shut down on the entire "friends with benefits" motif the former smuggler and confidence artist was proposing. Neither was Ebert willing to give any thought to a more committed relationship. For her, the entire episode had been a mistake. For Mudd it had been five increasingly mind blowing orgasms worth of thrill a minute and Mudd demanded more and Ebert wouldn't give. So their personal was spilling over into their professional.

Macen rarely brought Ebert to the ground to serve a role outside of the Danube-class runabout they frequently employed and Ebert expertly piloted. The Corsair was her baby. Mudd on the other hand was a vital resource who was spontaneously aggressive, insightful, and creative. Kerber and Smith rarely left the confines of the Obsidian during missions. Part of it was their expertise was augmented by the Data Womb they'd constructed aboard the Nova-class surveyor and for their relative safety since their "deaths" had given them a reprieve from the death sentence imposed upon them both by the Stratosian ruler and Troglyte clans of Ardana IV alike.

But Rockford had agreed with Macen's assessment that if there were an S31 base on Izar, it would be shielded from the subspace transmissions Kerber and Smith would employ to attempt extract data from the facility's data systems. Each came armed with a portable computers housed in luggage-like cases. The drones fell to the ground and the hologram disguising the duck blind vanished to reveal a metal capsule with broad windows and a load of surveillance gear inside. Kerber and Smith hurriedly joined Macen's entourage.

"Elias, get back to the Defiant and standby for any orbital response against the ships," Macen requested. Vaughn tapped bhsi comm badge and vanished in an energy halo moments after making the request to his transporter chief.

"We're in," Rockford reported, "Switching to comm badges."

"Copy that," Macen acknowledged.

"Let's get inside and plan our meet 'n greet," Macen advised his company.

"Looks clear. But there's some interference from sensor shrouding minerals lacing the underground corridors," Forte reported.

"I'll go first," Daggit jumped down the rabbit hole. Tucking and rolling to release kinetic energy from the impact of landing, he came up on one knee and had his grenade launch aimed down the length of the expanse, "Clear!"

Lee was next with his Bajoran Militia issued phaser pistol at the ready. Rockford likewise followed her fellow Angosian's example but like Lee relied solely on the pistol they all carried. Shade was the next to descend the ladder.

"I have your back," Parva promised the nervous looking Forte. Of all of them, Forte had the most survival experience but only with crude and salvaged weapons. Her dyed pink hair, leopard prints and leathers all contributed to her "rebellious teen" look despite her being alive since the 20th century. Parva braced the sides of her feet against the ladder railing and used her hands and her clamped boots to control her slide down the rails.

"Split up?" Daggit asked since the corridor spanned two directions.

"You and Parva work together," Rockford agreed, "I'll take the others."

Parva tapped her comm badge. It didn't connect to anything. Even in these close ranges.

"Looks like we're confined to radio traffic," she grunted.

"For as long as that lasts," Shade grumbled. The white streaks framing her face and down the length of her hair starkly contrasting her otherwise raven locks. She too, like Forte and Mudd,, had a penchant for black leather.

Daggit and Parva headed down one direction and the detective squad went the opposite. Daggit primed for combat and hyper-aware of his surroundings while Parva attempted to scan the area with the tricorder set to "silent" mode.

Rockford and Lee also protected their charges while Forte conducted the scans and Shade sharply examined their surroundings.

Inside the duck blind, Tessa corralled Macen, "Commander, I think I'm insulted."

Macen was the Mission Commander to Shannon Forger's being the Obsidian's Captain, "Why's that?"

"Because, everything's sensors could easily detect me and my emitter and they deemed me a non-threat. Should I feel insulted or not?" Tessa implored him to weigh in.

"It worked to our advantage so I'm actually grateful for that fact," Macen admitted, "So please don't take it personally."

"All right," Tessa scowled, "But it's hard not to."

"Help me get this panel off," Kerber asked of Smith. Together they delved into the innards of the surveillance equipment lacing the duck blind's interior.

"Tessa, you may want to step back," Macen advised as a red light shifted to green on the floor and a previously hidden hatch became evident. Mudd and Ebert each drew their sidearms.

"Keep them busy," Kerber requested as she pulled ODN lines and Smith disabled plasma conduits to plug into thekir otherwise battery powered portable computers. Various screens and control consoles went dark.

"Now, to watch the watchers," Kerber wore a sinister smile. She and Smith patched their computers into the exposed ODNs and the still active consoles while robbing the blind of much of its power to enhance the millicochrane processors within the computing systems they'd brought with them.

"And we're in," Kerber boasted. The active screens shifted to views of the tunnels lacing the compound. And of security forces responding the Rockford's team penetrating their warren of tunnels. Additionally, two detachments were swiftly approaching the duck blind. One from the open ground level and one from underneath.

"Harri and Tracy, hold off the surface team. I'll force the moles back underground," Macen instructed.

"Targeting sensors are locking on to our position," the Cardassian defector and former Dalin, Zivan Slaine, reported to Vaughn from the Defiant's Primary Tactical Station.

"Shields up, charge weapons," Vaughn calmly ordered, "Tenmei, break orbit. Slaine, contact the Obsidian in case they haven't been made aware fo the surface threat yet."

"Sensors show the Obsidian has raised shields and also broken orbit," Slaine responded.

The ship shuddered around them and Tenmei explained, "Direct Type VIII phaser strike. Someone is using the planetary defense grid against us."

"Take evasive. Slaine contact the defense forces and get them to call of the strikes," Vaughn tapped a comm circuit that fed directly to Engineering, "Commander Nog, we're going to experience some rough weather. Have your teams stand by in case of damage."

"Aye, Captain," Nog replied. As the first Ferengi to enter Starfleet, Nog had proven to be as great an engineering marvel as his father, Grand Negus Rom.

The deck plates shuddered and sparks flew as the Bridge and other systems suffered overloads.

"Engineering," Forger directed her comm channel, "Status, Gilan?"

"Some overloads and rerouting to secondary systems on non-essentials. We'll be fine as long as we don't sit still to take a pounding," the Gideonite languidly replied.

Forger appreciated the Deputy Chief Engineer's candor, "Will do."

"Aglaia, you heard the man. Run evasive patterns and make us harder to strike," Forger ordered her Chief Flight Control and CONN Officer. The Platonian's hands danced across her LCARS controls and the surveyor began to wind around lancing phaser beams.

"Shields back to full strength. Secondary emitters haven't needed to engage yet," Jaycee Miller, the Chief Tactical Officer, reported in.

"Jaycee, find those emitter banks and prepare to target them if diplomacy fails," Forger ordered, "Edwin, start talking to officials on the ground. Get them to leash their defense grid or we'll do it for them."

From OPS, Zimbalist raised the channel. From Sciences, Galen 3, the Eminarian dating the ship's EMH currently on the ground, kept track of Tessa's mobile emitter, "Landing Party is getting surrounded, Captain."

"Alert Commander Macen and get those coordinates to Telrik," Forger instructed and hailed the Security desk, "Jelena, get a squad together for a potential surface action."

"Aye, Captain," Kovic acknowledged. With Galen 3 tracking his girlfriend's every move, Telrik, the Tellarite Transporter Chief, could beam Kovic's Security detail right on top of Macen's surface antagonists. Now they just had to manage not getting shot down.

"Given the direction we were facing before coming down, I'd say we're still headed north," Parva studied her instruments, "But it's hard to even get a bearing on the magnetic poles down here."

"Any life signs ahead?" Daggit quietly asked. The couple were whispering just in case of living ears detecting them. Mechanical surveillance would hone in on their words anyway.

"Waitasec!" Five heat signatures are coming our way straight ahead," Parva hissed.

"We need to back off," Daggit advised her, "Those support arches five meters back are the only cover nearby."

Parva scrambled to get behind and arch while drawing her phaser from its holster.

"Definite humanoids, species unknown. Too much signal interference," she continued to report.

Daggit took aim down the corridor, "Any sign of force fields or defenses lighting up?"

"That's the weirdest part, other than these columns being hardened against particle beams, everything seems to be designed for a siege mentality," her engineer's mind worked in overdrive. Of course, they knew her genetic enhancements only served to not only revive but amplify her already staggering intellect. But the genetic engineering came with a price. Subtle emotional disturbances and imbalances were present now that she'd undergone the process. But her heart had fully repaired itself so she was no longer in danger of cardiac arrests.

"I hear them," she announced.

"So do I," Daggit said grimly. As the first of the enemy appeared, he fired a Type III phaser rifle in their direction. Eventually five men appeared, all heavily armed, and carrying portable force field riot gear projectors. Daggit squeezed off the first photon grenade.

The magnetic coils within the rifle launched the grenade but its onboard drive hurled it even further to minimum safe distance before cutting out. Daggit had aimed the grenade squarely at the center of the fifth man's shield. The antimatter warhead detonated, blowing the shield apart and its wielder with it.

"Gods above and below, you love to do that!" Parva exclaimed with glee. Daggit knew the Parva of old had been potentially but rarely violent. The interim Parva had been docile. The new, "improved" Parva took relish in a fight. Parva had been one of the rare Orion women who excreted male controlling pheromones. But an ambitious Orion woman named Treir had sold her to B'nner and her glands were removed to make her a common whore in his coterie of slaves. Daggit and Parva had killed Daveed B'nner together.

Parva returned fire at the otherwise dazed security agents. They were covered in the gore that had been their squad leader. The resultant concussive blast wave edge had nearly knocked them insensate. All of their personal shields had been disrupted or outright broken by the blast. But they retained their ablative body armor and Parva's phaser bursts began burning off those plates.

Daggit pump actioned another round into his launcher. Designed to look and act like a 20mm version of an antique and outmoded human shotgun, the launcher could hold seven rounds before depleting its internal stores. Parva had developed a twenty round magazine to replace the necessity of periodically reloading the weapon but Daggit found seven grenades was generally sufficient to overwhelm most foes.

The surviving agents wildly returned Parva's fire. Particle beams crisscrossed up and down the corridor's reaches. Daggit sighted in a second target and fired a grenade straight down the pathway.

"What the?" Parva yelped. An explosion resounded as the grenade struck another drone identical to those faced on the surface. Its personal force field overloaded but its phaser emitters began to spin around and fire. The elegance of the design was that the beam emitters had time to cool as a second emitter was swung about to fire at whatever targets had been selected for it. Daggit, as an Angosian Augment, had been physically and behaviorally conditioned to fight until he, or his enemy, was dead. The bulk of his mental conditioning had been removed but he kept key combat operations aspects intact rather than release them.

His own ablative armor took two strikes as he racked another photon round and fired at the drone's center mass. Its destruction killed a second agent and wounded a third. The security detail began to withdraw, shielding their wounded comrade with their bodies and covering fire. Parva tagged another in the leg as the men moved in a one-by-one cover formation. This allowed the wounded man to move short distances before settling into a firing position. But it soon became apparent the third man punctured by shrapnel wasn't going to make it.

So he was left behind to harry Daggit and Parva and slow their advance. A fourth grenade aimed at the tunnel wall blasted the only unharmed man apart. While the dying man laid down a barrage from his rapidly depleting energy power pack feeding his phaser rifle, the last man limped his way to the upcoming intersection and headed to turn right when Daggit's fifth grenade launch blasted him against the intersection wall. His corpse smeared the turn way with blood.

Daggit took a moment to replenish his spent rounds, "I take it we're supposed to go right?"

"Unless that was a last minute trick," Parva snarked.

"I love your optimism, Babe," Daggit chuckled.

"Someone has to keep you grounded," Parva mock accused knowing Daggit's mental conditioning made him the most physically aware member of the team excluding Rockford. Who had also shared in Angosia's Augment program to defend her world from the "evils" of Tarsus. Victory had come but at the price of the Angosian people's soul.

Lee had wondered why his counterpart had entered into a working relationship with the Rockford Detective Agencies when it was positioned alongside Outbound Ventures and both took on criminal clients. He'd been disparaged to learn his doppelganger had actually been guilty of the corruption charges the Chung Kuo Constabulary had leveled at then-Chief Inspector Lee. For him, it had been a frame job orchestrated by the Orion Syndicate and the Planetary Triads as he tried to reveal the corruption within the law enforcement agency. Here in the now, Lee had been guilty of those very charges and the Constabulary had been busy trying to gather evidence to arrest multiple officers on charges of corruption.

Lee's doppelganger hadn't been arrested or charged to face trial but the circumstantial evidence was enough to crucify the Chief Inspector within the Constabulary's ranks. He was a pariah and under constant surveillance. He'd been essentially forced to take early retirement. "Rockford's" offer, like for Lee himself, had a been a lifeline. For "Lee" it was an opportunity to advance his own personal ambitions whereas for Lee it was a chance to exonerate himself in the eyes of his family. He'd erased the stain of his dishonor from their name but had still been unwelcome on Chung Kou afterwards despite revealing his innocence. The Planetary Triads deals with the Orions went too far and too deep to allow a crusader like Lee back on their world. So Lee remained with Rockford and incidentally, with Macen's SID team in both universes now.

It struck Lee odd that he'd worked with more actual criminals upon leaving his home world than he'd ever done so before. Shade was an unrepentant thief. Rockford's offer had erased a mountain of charges brought against Shade by the Federation Security Agency. But the meticulous eye to detail that made Shade such an exceptional thief made her an invaluable investigator for the team. Forte's seeming innocence hid the fact that she was a near savage back on her world. She and tribes of children waited for their peers to slowly be infected by the viral agent that transformed them into mutated monsters after puberty took hold of them. Infecting them before they could achieve sexual maturity and repopulate the stricken world. So they waited out death sentences while killing any infected adult that attacked them including those that had been former peers.

Only Dr. McCoy's cure had liberated the children from this ceaseless cycle of violence and infection. But the children, who had also been altered by the virus to physically age a year within centuries, were also freed from their world. So Forte and the others, including Miri herself, resettled across the Federation's many colonial worlds. Forte herself was an avid puzzle solver. She'd become famous for unlocking challenges that had stumped others for years, decades, or even centuries before Rockford offered her a chance to unlock life or death puzzles and Forte happily agreed since the Federation's official law enforcement agencies denied her the opportunity, saying she was "too young" to enlist. Such idiocy made the four hundred-plus year old teenager not want to join. So Forte was Rockford's puzzle solver.

Rockford herself was a seeming enigma to most. Unaware that "Celeste Rockford" had been a carefully constructed personality amongst a host of others within Annika Ryst's mind, most wondered how she'd achieved such fame as a private investigator so young. Yet Rockford herself also came from a humanoid race that aged more slowly than humans. She was in her nineties and expected to live another two hundred years. Rockford's detective agency had been built with Ryst's funds she earned as a feared mercenary soldier. A soldier that hired on with the B'nners and Bertram Sindis each in turn. Ryst had only had one pair of thorns in her side she couldn't overcome.

Macen and T'Kir represented an unsurmountable odd she couldn't manage to kill. But Sindis killed T'Kir after the Vulcan/Romulan had taken her in as a sister. If Macen hadn't killed Sindis, Rockford would've. As such, Macen and Rockford were still business partners and she looked after things while he went on a year-long sabbatical. When he returned, the spark that had lain between them was fanned and eventually the duo married. Unlike their doppelgangers.

So one of their first orders of business, legally and personally, had been rectifying that oversight in the eyes of their peers within the agencies and the Federation. Their "resurrection" and legitimization in the eyes of the Federation and Starfleet had surprised many and dismayed more. Starfleet Commander Clancy hadn't appreciated Nechayev's strong arm tactics in bringing Noyce, Johnson, Forger/Drake, and even such old obstacles as Edward Jellico and Bill Ross unto her side regarding the creation of the SID and retaining Outbound Ventures and the Rockford Detective Agencies as agents.

Nechayev had hidden her "replacing" her counterpart from friend, foe, and rival alike until after the success of the Iotian mission. A success that seemingly rewarded and redeemed Nechayev's faith in the project and its agents much to Clancy's increased ire. This iteration of the SID was meant to be a legally sanctioned and accountable replacement for the "defunct" Section 31. Yet Clancy had argued that the use of irregular forces only harkened back to S31's shadowy usage of anyone it thought it could manipulate and manage. Hence including Emperor Philippa Georgiou from the Terran Universe itself in its operations.

But Nechayev had been swift to point that Georgiou herself had been changed by her contacts with residents of the "Prime" Universe. But even so, that Georgiou was hardly the beacon of light that this universe's Captain Georgiou had been before her demise at the Battle of the Binary Stars. The battle that began the First Federation-Klingon War. a total war scenario that wouldn't be repeated until 2372 when the Founders tricked Gowron into pitting the Empire against the Federation. Fortunately for everyone involved, the wars ended before complete and total annihilation of any and all sides could occur.

The first war allied the Klingon Houses into one High Council overseen by a Chancellor to sit in place of the First Emperor, Kahless the Unforgettable. Georgiou had given L'Rel the means to self-destruct Qo'nos and each succeeding Chancellor had held that trigger device until it was conformed nearly fifty years later that the explosives had melted within Qo'nos' molten core. Gorkon had taken the drastic step of dismantling the trigger and sending geologists into the caverns beneath Qo'nos' surface to ascertain whether the threat still existed. Much to General Chang's regret, they had melted away. The near destruction of Praxis unveiled Gorkon's ambitions for peace between the Klingon Empire and its chief rival as well Chang's ambitions for the fires of conquest and seeming glories abandoned since 2256, briefly sparked again at Axanar and Organia. proving Starfleet Captains such Garth, Kirk, Hikaru Sulu and Atish Khatami were proof enough that Starfleet could hold its own against Klingon forces. All earning the grudging respect of such Captains and Generals as Korrd, Klaa, Kor, Kang, and Koloth.

The Battle of the Binary Stars and the subsequent war had not occurred in Rockford's history. And the Earth Starfleet's Captain Jonathan Archer and the NX-01 Enterprise had played much greater roles than Federation history generally let on about its third president. Rockford, like everyone else, had compared her actual personal history compared to this reality's distortion of it. She'd decided to forgo shoveling the mental shuk and just dive into still existing when Neela and Macen had quietly informed everyone their reality no longer existed, a victim of an interdimensional cataclysm. Most of the dimensional refugees replaced dead or dying people. Ro, Vaughn, Riker, Danan, Johnson, the Intrepid senior staff, Admirals Forger and Nechayev were exceptions.

No one knew where the Prophets had deposited their forerunners but Neela had been given assurances that they prospered in their new realities...plural. Neela had been "miraculously" resurrected after her doppelganger's death ten years ago. The same incident that everyone believed Neela had died in in her home universe as well. Her reunion with her lifelong friend, Colonel Anara of the Bajoran Militia Special Forces, had been tender and bittersweet. Anara grieved for her lost friend but was grateful to have a Neela back in her life especially by the hand of the Prophets.

Even the Head of the Militia Joint Chiefs, General Kira Nerys, had been interested in Neela's sudden reappearance and why she hadn't aged a day. Neela, for her part, deflected Kira's questions and simply praised the Prophets for her return. Kira, who'd had several dealings with the Indendent Kira of the Terran Universe, feared the worst. Especially in light of Starfleet learning of Indendent Kira and Indendent Ro's complicity in the Iotion Starfleet's aggressive buildup and increasingly provocative actions.

Until the SID mission to Iotian Federation space revealed their construction yards at the quarantined planet 492 IV, Starfleet Command had dismissed the Iotians' ability to prosecute a war against the more advanced UFP but in the 492 Yards, where the Iotians knew Starfleet wouldn't come looking, they were building modern analogues to Starfleet vessels. As well as modernized Cardassian and Klingon hulls and ship types that hadn't been seen before, such as the Cardassian Damar-class.

Sigma Iotia II had allied itself with interested parties from Eminiar VII and VIII, Beta III, Scalos, Gideon, Acamarians, Bajoran pirates, Orions, and even the straggling human population fo Turkana IV among other places. The destruction of the Ekosian and Zeonite star had produced another debris field rich with metal deposits for the Iotians to exploit in building their starships. the Enterprise-B under John Harriman';s command had led the evacuation efforts of those two worlds. Fortunately for nearby star systems, the shock wave hadn'r been predicted to overly affect their solar systems so the relief effort was far less involved than the Hobus evacuations proposed by Picard.

Rockford and Macen spent hours a week considering the permutations of their incursion into this reality versus the incursion brought upon it by the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance. It was documented fact that the Prophets ignored the Terran Universe for the most part except for when contact had first been reestablished in 2371 by an inadvertent discharge from a runabout carrying Kira and Julian Bashir through the wormhole that ran through the Celestial Temple carried them into the Terran Universe. The Prophets had been gracious enough to reopen the wormhole to ferry the Prime Universe residents back to their Prime Reality. A history shared by Rockford's reality since the divergence between the two didn't occur until 2375, when the Dominion War concluded

Why Macen's resignation from Starfleet and the SID never arising in this reality made such a cornerstone difference was unfathomable to Rockford. She knew her husband inside and out and couldn't imagine him, or any member of the team, being of cosmic importance. But, the failure of the SID to come about was and could be. As already seen in its initial missions in this quantum continuum.

Outbound Ventures and the Rockford Agencies were vital but barely a cornerstone in the weight fo the agents and starships the SID could now bring to bear drawing personnel and resources from Starfleet Intelligence, Security, and Internal Affairs. Unfortunately for Starfleet Security, its Deputy Director was a Romulan agent planted inside the Federation decades before. Captain Oh had been directly responsible for the Mars Massacre and her agents, also having infiltrated key positions within Starfleet and Federation Security, were prepared to act further to cripple synthetics and the research into them.

Macen's temporal senses had detected their shift after the Prophets' oblique messages to the team and crew, waking up to their new environments. The Prophets could've pulled any version of Macen's team from any time from any reality but they, and their closest allies and friends, had all been pulled from one single, and apparently doomed, reality. Which made everything in Rockford's mind down to even her teeth, ache upon pondering it at any length

So far they had more questions than answers and the investigator in Rockford refused to let it go. Despite the many stone walls they were running into regarding the circumstances and meanings behind the changes.

"Celeste!" Forte yelled out a warning. Rockford's eyes barely registered the strangers down the corridors . The lights dimmed to enshroud them in shadows and they were located behind some of the periodic support arches that seemed to litter this corridor. She'd noticed them lining Daggit and Parva's chosen direction as well.

A particle beam struck Rockford in the chest but she staggered but didn't go down, "Scatter! Find cover!"

Fortunately she could retreat and get behind the closest arch. Forte mirrored her movement on the other side. Lee, and surprisingly, Shade charged forward, volleying shots, as they proceeded to the next set of arches. Lee had taken fire before as a constable. But Shade, before their recent transition, wouldn't have charged an opponent like that. Rockford hoped her Fabrini employee wasn't experiencing some untoward sense of invulnerability having outlived her entire universe.

"Watch it, Shade. I don't want you getting your head split opened by stray phaser fire," Rockford growled into her earpiece transceiver.

"Nothing doing, Boss Lady. I'm right as rain," Shade radioed back. Rockford released a discontented sigh.

"Pick your targets and set for stun," she instructed her teammates.

"We seem to be facing six living obstacles," Lee reported in, "All bearing portable shield emitters and wearing ablative riot gear."

"So they're well financed and equipped," Shade noted. Rockford didn't like the feral gleam in Forte's eyes. It was akin to the adrenaline driven pushes into action that wild animals had when cornered.

"Adrianna, calm down," Rockford urged.

"I'm trying," Forte confessed, "But I won't let them take me anywhere."

"It won't come to that," Rockford promised. Like Daggit, she carried two photon hand grenades.

"Cover!" she yelled as threw the first one. Their antagonists tried to shield themselves from the blast but it overwhelmed their portable emitters and the concussive wave of the antimatter annihilation blew the first rank against the corridor walls. Their fellow agents replied with a spray of particle beams that pinned everyone back while the furthest rank rigged charges. They in turn laid down cover fire while the surviving, now, first rank, retreated to a defensible position and obliged their fellows. Then they blew the charges and the roof collapsed as meters of dirt and rock, formerly held up by the arches collapsed after the blast, sealing off the tunnel. As the dust settled, the blocked quartet checked in with each other.

"Now what?" Lee asked, "Do we climb out?"

The sky was evident where the tunnel had been collapsed.

"Rab? Parva? Can you read me?" Rockford triggered her transceiver's "send" function. No reply was forthcoming.

"We backtrack and find out what's happened to Rab and Parva," Rockford decided.

"What about Macen's team?" Shade asked.

"You'll find they're more than equipped to handle themselves," Rockford promised them before they set out at a jog.

"I have eyes on!" Kerber announced.

"So do I," Mudd replied a she opened fire on encroaching base security personnel. Ebert began to assist her. The hatch in the floor opened and even before Macen could open fire, Kerber threw a knife into the lead agent's temple without even glancing towards her target. The hatch sealed again.

"Well, that was anti-climatic," Macen muttered. A whoomp and a sinking of the ground behind the duck blind announced the agents' sealing fo the tunnel.

"Find me another entrance!" Macen ordered.

"We've been flanked," Kerber warned. As the first agent came through the door, it was Smith that gunned him down with a particle beam to his unshielded forehead without looking in his direction.

Ebert was partially terrified, "Good God!"

"He told you would take care of ourselves," Kerber growled.

"Is it just me, or did anyone else pee their pants?" Mudd asked in between exchanging fire.

"Definitely not just you," Ebert promised. it was kindest exchange they'd had since their visit to Sigma Iotia II. Macen slipped out the door.

"What the futz?" Mudd exclaimed.

"I wondered how long that would take." Smith murmured to herself. Mudd and Ebert maintained fending off the encroaching security agents when Macen flanked them as began an intersecting field of fire with Mudd and Ebert's efforts after phase stunning the attackers on the flank. The agents, caught in their own intended net, broke and vanished. Macen went to inspect the bodies of the fallen.

"Harri! I said 'stun'!" Macen yelled at the duck blind.

"Which flip of the switch is 'stun' again?" Mudd pretended to be innocent.

Macen returned, "Where are they slinking back to?"

Kerber threw up a tactical map of the above- and under-ground.

"Here's their entrance and exit. But they have reinforcements guarding it," she explained, "These tunnels to the west have Daggit and Parva headed east towards central control node and at an attempt at an ambush. Celeste and her group are approaching from their rear since their original access to the eastern approach from the southern end of their access tunnel was blockaded by an explosives like the ones they used here."

"Where's the western access to that tunnel?" Macen asked.

"The direct route was this one. But there seems ot be an escape hatch in the woods half a klick south of here. It backtracks north to the tunnel everyone is getting herded into," Kerber answered his question.

"So, Tessa is with me and you hold this fort. Angelique or Bailey can one of you release the subspace comms so we can use our comm badges again?" Macen inqiuired.

"Easy enough," Smith softly replied and tapped a virtual holographic control. Phaser fire erupted from the surface in the near distance and stretched up into the skies above.

"That can't be good," Mudd muttered.

"They've overridden the planetary defense grid and have been firing on the Obsidian and the Defiant which both broken orbit and are trying to evade the weapons fire," Kerber analyzed the displays

"Can you break their override?" Ebert asked.

"Tracy, they're hacking my hacks to get into the system. Every override I make they counter so Bailey and I are just ahead of them right now. I can give you comms and tracking or I can override the planetary defenses. You choose," Kerber was testy.

"Easy," Macen advised, "Shannon and Elias can hold their own. We need comms and tracking more than we need assist them."

"Cold futzer aren't you?" Mudd griped.

"Don't test me, Harri," Macen warned and tapped his badge, "Celeste? Can you hear me?"

"Comms are up?" she sounded relieved.

"For now at least. It's a contest of wills," Macen advised her.

"Our team will win," Rockford knew with certainty, "Did you get ambushed?"

"Everyone got ambushed and we got cut off. Rab and Parva are walking into a crossfire and you're coming up on them. Relay a warning while I move to join you," Macen requested.

"Copy," Rockford off to immediately contact Daggit.

"I found an access behind their attackers," Kerber happily announced, "It's guarded but will let you ambush the ambushers."

"That's why I'm bringing Tessa," Macen told them all, "Not only can she treat any wounded but she has nearly one hundred martial arts programmed into her matrix."

Tessa looked embarrassed.

"Really?" Ebert happily squeaked, "You never said."

"It was a matter of contention until Tessa grew beyond her original programming," Macen shielded the others from the truth of Tessa massacring a group of boarders on the Obsidian once upon a time.

"Whatever happened to 'do no harm'?" Mudd joked. Macen's glare made her drop it.

"We're setting out," Macen loaded the map into his tricorder.

"And we've lost comms, again," Kerber sounded as frustrated as everyone else.

"Tenmei, excellent work," Vaughn told his CONN/OPS Officer/XO. The Defiant had evaded most of the incoming fire while she backed the starship away from the planet. The escort vessel was now out of range.

"Sir, the Obsidian has not withdrawn," Slaine informed Vaughn.

"Dammit! Get me their command! Now!" he barked the order.

"Jaycee! Do you have those targets plotted yet?" Forger inquired sharply.

"Yes, and comms are still scrambled. I can't reach anyone on the surface," Miller unhappily reported.

"Edwin, are those sites manned?" Forger asked.

"Only the central command hub. The phaser banks themselves are remotely controlled and shielded," Zimbalist answered.

"Aglaia, hold on for another few," Fofrger asserted, "Jaycee, start taking those weapons down!"

"I have faint signal coming in from the Defiant. Voice only. No visual to speak of," Zimbalist reported.

"Ignore them," Forger decided, "Jaycee, light them up"

"Lock down is terminated," Admiral Forger told Security. Several taps had been discovered. All Federation tech of a type no one could yet identify.

"Helluva thing," Johnson admitted.

"Admiral!" Ambril burst in to her office, "Commander Vaughn is online. He says your sister is opening fire on Izar!"

"What?" Forger refused to believe until Vaughn himself explained it.

"Stop her before she blows the entire defense grid apart. Use whatever means are necessary, Commander," Forger hated herself for giving the order.

"Amanda, it had to done," Johnson consoled her when Vaughn signed off to comply with his new orders.

"Dammit, Shannon! Why go off the rails today?" Forger fumed.

Daggit and Parva, duly warned about what awaited them at the end of the tunnel, waited for the detectives to catch up. Rockford saw the couple up ahead and halted her own team behind protective arches.

She alone approached, "What's ahead?"

"A chamber of some sorts. The minerals in there make it impossible to accurately scan or map. Yet our reception party seems to be hidden by them as well," Parva reported

"Which means they're dug in," Rockford sighed and tapped comm badge, "Macen? Brin, are you there?"

There was no reply. Not even static.

"They're jamming us again," Rockford grimaced, "Rab, you and I will light it up and keep these frinxers busy until Brin gets through. Hopefully with a fresh idea."

"It beats sitting here," Daggit shrugged.

"Parva, keep my people out of trouble," Rockford requested.

"Of course," the Orion engineer moved off.

"Lock and load," Rockford ordered. She and Daggit took the fight to the opposition. Their inhuman accuracy with small arms and Daggit's grenades made the opposition pay for holding tight. But they were still outmanned and outgunned.

"Macen and Tessa are in the system," Kerber saw, "They made excellent time."

"Macen's wife is down there," Ebert reminded them.

"She and Daggit are making a good show of it but they're taking heavy fire in return. They're being forced to retreat" Smith quietly observed, "And we have intruders approaching from the south again."

"Naturally," Mudd groaned, "If I still still had my ship I I never woulda come on this thrilla minute joyride."

"That's what why everyone loves you, Harri. You're loyal to the last second," Ebert snapped off as she readied herself for a second battle.

"Oops," Kerber snickered. Smith gave Mudd a reproving glance before returning her attention to the computers and screens.

"Ah, hell," Mudd sighed.

Tessa was invulnerable to weapons fire but her emitter wasn't. Still, the waiting team at the last hatch hadn't expected to be attacked by a holographic life form now that synthetics were banned in the Federation. Only Tessa's Barrinoran citizenship saved her from the ban. Even Voyager's famed Doctor had to flee the Federation to spare his own life. Tessa felt the weight of the phaser she'd taken from a foe.

"Get ready," Macen and Tessa plainly heard weapons fire up ahead. So they decided to intervene.

"Slaine, lock phasers on target. And patch me in again," Vaughn instructed.

"If they ignore you again?" Julian Bashir had made his way from Sickbay were he'd treated some minors concussive injuries from areas where the internal dampers and artificial gravity had fluctuated under the stresses Tenmei had put the ship through.

"Then, Doctor, I have some of the most wretched orders I've ever been given to carry out," Vaughn told him solemnly.

"Imagine Admiral Forger's grief at giving them," Bashir offered cold comfort.

"Jesus! The Defiant just went weapons hot and she's targeting us!" Miller exclaimed.

"Aglaia, back us the hell away from the planet's targeting range and let's find out what the hell Vaughn is thinking," Forger issued orders.

"Actually, he wants to ask you that," Zimbalist told her as they cleared the jamming field disrupting subspace transmissions between the two starships.

"On screen," she fumed.

Nechayev hated getting sandbagged. Especially by Kirsten Clancy. But Izar's president had pushed their way through the chain of command to reach Clancy. The non-binary gendered president had demanded to know what was going with their planetary defenses and why a privately owned starship had locked weapons on the same defenses. Angry even though the Izarian weapons had fired first in an unprovoked attack.

Clancy had stormed into Nechayev's offices unannounced and dressed down the four pip admiral. Both knowing that Clancy was the only member of Starfleet that outranked the Director of Starfleet Intelligence. Nechayev in turn contacted Amanda Forger to share some of the venom and bile.

"Alynna, I ordered the Defiant to open fire on the Obsidian if she wouldn't stand down," Forger let that hang in the air. Nechayev was all too aware that Shannon commanded the Obsidian and that the surveyor would take heavy damage just from the Defiant's opening salvo with her vaunted pulse phasers without resorting to quantum torpedoes. In short, the admiral had ordered the potential death of her decade younger sister.

"God help her if she won't reason this out," Nechayev signed off.

"Thanks for staying, Bob," Forger eased back in her chair.

"The Romulan Senate and the Tal Shiar are aware of my delay. They can wait an extra day or two since it's their fault anyway," Johnson forced a chuckle.

"What in damnation is going on at Izar?" Forger had to wonder.

Macen and Tessa's surprise attack pinned the security team between Daggit, Rockford and themselves. They stunned them down to the last man and woman.

"'Bout time you got here," Rockford cajoled him.

"I live to serve and all I get is grief," Macen sighed.

"How are the others holding up?" Rockford turned serious.

"They could use some help," Macen admitted.

"Team, on me," Rockford blurted out, "We have friends in need."

"Take Tessa with you in case her actual services are needed," Macen wryly grinned at the EMH.

"You said to hit them," Tessa argued.

"And you did a wonderful job," Macen allowed, "But that won't treat phaser burns, will it?"

"What do you take me for? An accounting app?" she chided him.

"Go," he waved them on to the awaiting ladder and surface hatch.

"Just the three of us?" Daggit wondered.

"Hey! We've seen worse," Parva decided to grieve him.

"Bailey and Angelique have been running this search grid since they accessed the network. It shows all the warm bodies gathering to retake our little duck blind that we found," Macen projected the tricorder's display, "But there's a big black circle just fifty meters ahead. I want to know what's in there."

Daggit reloaded his grenade launcher, "Then I suppose we should knock nicely."

"That's the spirit," Parva applauded him.

"Goddamn!" Mudd yelped as nearby metal was slagged, "They're serious this time!"

Kerber shot an intruder without looking.

"What happened to stun?" Smith asked her as she volleyed a shot over Ebert's head to strike down an encroacher.

"You're one to criticize," Kerber accused.

"Must be your bad influence," Smith snickered.

"That's what your parents always thought," Kerber snorted. Rather, Maarta had engineered the trouble that Anara always shared the blame for. Smith's vintage human hat flew off of her head and was singed at the top of it.

"My hat!" Smith's face contorted in rage.

"Oh God, now the Princess is mad. Everybody down!" Kerber shouted. With a flurry of mayhem and violence, Smith shot every exposed security agent and those emerged after she ejected a spent power cell got knives between their eyes. Ebert and Mudd just gaped.

"She's quiet but deadly," Kerber mused.

"That was my favorite hat," Smith grated.

"What the hell happened here?" Rockford demanded to know as she and her detective squad jogged up. Mudd and Ebert silently stared at Smith who slapped a fresh power cell into her Bajoran made phaser and went back to her screens.

"It was the hat, wasn't it?" Rockford asked, seeing it still smoking on the floor. The pair just dumbly nodded in agreement.

"Helluva thing," Rockford chuckled.

"Do not take that tone with me, Commander. I am not one of your boot recruits," Forger snapped at Vaughn's image.

"But you are here on a Starfleet contract and thereby under my advisory control. Your own sister ordered me to cripple your ship if you refused to stand down. I will carry that order should you initiate hostilities with the planetary defenses," Vaughn said coldly.

"They fired first," Forger replied.

'Grow up!" Vaughn snapped, "That's a six-year old's justification."

"If we came under fire, then the landing party is under fire as well. And we can't support them," Forger ground between her teeth, "Macen is more than my boss. He took me on when he didn't have to and he saw me through difficulties before I accepted his offer to command this ship. I refuse to leave him in the lurch so Starfleet can save face."

"You're talking about my oldest living friend, Captain. So I know the feeling. But you can't attack a civilian target in reprisal," Vaughn warned her.

"We don't think the civilians are in control anymore," Forger said dismally.

Inside the "big, black circle" Section 31 Senior Agents John Browder and L'Haan were watching the situation spiral out of their control. Their nominal superior, Jack Fowler was battling Kerber and Smith for control of the planet's networks and data processing centers.

"They can't have made it this far," Browder stared at his displays in disbelief.

"Logic would plainly suggest that they defied the odds," L'Haan retorted, "Just as it suggests that we evacuate all remaining personnel."

"That's the three of us now," Browder scoffed, "Macen will hunt us and Vaughn and Forger are nearby and will destroy any vessel we commandeer."

"It appears we have resources you are as of yet unaware of," L'Haan tapped a black signet comm badge in the Starfleet Delta tradition, "L'Haan to Conquistador, three to transport in range of this signal."

"Acknowledged," came the reply and annular confinement beams took hold of them and prevented Fowler from voicing his protests. The door to the center blew apart and Daggit and Macen came through the smoldering wreckage to find an abandoned center.

"What the hell?" Miller yelped, "Vessel decloaking within transporter range of Izar."

"Show me!" Forger snapped. A black arrowhead with four warp nacelles appeared on the viewer.

"Lock phasers!" Forger yelled out as she came out of her seat.

"They've engaged warp drive!" Zimbalist was horrified.

"Magnetic poles of Izar are shifting in response," Galen 3 warned, "Severe electromagnetic storms will result."

"With the atmosphere ionized we'll send down the Corsair to retrieve our people," Forger summarized for him.

"Defiant is hailing," Zimbalist told her.

"Screw Vaughn. Begin recovery operations. Have Jelena lead the team," Forger instructed, "Aglaia, assume standard orbit again. I doubt anyone will be shooting at us anymore. The party just left the system"


Chapter Two

"Now this is awesome," Kerber was wowed by the hardware and software found in Section 31's redoubt.

"Where's your hat?" Macen asked Smith and received a dark scowl in response.

"Piss off," she growled.

"That hat cost twelve people their lives," Rockford whispered to him.

"Never rile the Princess," he advised her.

"I am not a princess!" Smith thundered from across the chamber.

"I stand corrected," Macen grinned at his wife. Next came the obligatory comm relays to the Obsidian and the Defiant. Forger gave a cursory summary of what had occurred before Kerber and Smith shut down the jamming fields and released control of the planetary defense grid.

Vaughn wasn't as charitable, "Brin, Shannon went off the rails and I had orders to potentially destroy the ship."

Kovic's team was met outside by Daggit and led around to apprehend the fallen that had survived their encounters with the SID squads. Parva led the detectives in examining the data stores Kerber and Smith were unlocking. Rockford supervised the efforts while Macen conferred with Vaughn and was informed Izar's official were stepping in now.

"I've been ordered to withdraw and hand over our part ot the USS Hood," Vaughn informed him.

"Merry Limerick is in command?" Macen asked with pleasant memories of past exploits together.

"It's nice that Captain Limerick's reputation proceeds him," Vaughn's code-speak for, You have never met him in the here and now.

Limerick's name was a translation of his actual name in his own language that humans struggled to pronounce correctly. The man appeared to be a 1.2 meter tall Leprechaun. His race had visited Earth several times in its Neolithic and Bronze Age past. Other members of his widely differentiated species inspired the myths of elves and fairies amongst humans. They'd seemed to focus their attention on the Celtic and Germanic tribes of Northern Europe and the Isles. It had eventually become revealed they'd been engaged in clandestine war against the races that inspired the myths regarding trolls, goblins, and other horrors.

"Copy that," Macen acknowledged Vaughn's discreet warning, "When will the Hood be on station?"

"Six hours. Until then, my people at your disposal," Vaughn promised.

"I'm certain you have more important feathers to smooth down," Macen chuckled, "Assure the planetary president that Shannon won't bombard them without adequate cause."

"Have her make the same promise live in person," Vaughn replied, "And it might sell."

"Got it," Macen signed off before contacting Forger again, "Shannon, we need to talk. In person. Now."

Macen met with Forger on the surface, which doubled as a Section 31 agent training facility it panned out. Forger and Kovic's Security detachment hadn't been able to use transporters in Izar's still-ionized atmosphere but both Corsair and the Waverider-class shuttle, Nautilus, had been available. Kovic arrived aboard the runabout while Forger and a pilot utilized the hull attached outrider to make their way across the camp and New Seattle for Forger's scheduled meeting with the planetary officials. The control node beneath the surface was a sector-wide and frontier border monitoring station.

"Take whoever you need to corroborate that S31 fired first and this'll show the trace of when and where Thirty-One seized control of their grid. And don't start off by telling them you won't fire on them yet," Macen ordered and advised as he handed of an isolinear rod.

"Between Vaughn and my sister I feel like a proctologist climbed up my ass and took up residence," Forger complained.

"I've been there. Believe me," Macen had been court-martialed twice and fired from the SID for a three-year period back in their original reality. The future was brighter here, except for his counterpart's disturbingly criminal tendencies. In Macen's memories he'd been permanently busted back from Captain to Commander and then forcibly "retired". even as a civilian he'd been forced out of the SID for a time that proved to Starfleet Command the necessity fo irregular forces. At least, that had been his past.

Now in these strange, new worlds he and every other dimensional refugee were playing catch up just to avoid mistakes that would reveal their replacing their doppelgangers. Any quantum variance scan would prove they were not originally of this universe. Of any of them right now, Riker and Danan were walking the tightest line with Will Riker, Deanna Troi, Thad and Kestra Riker. Fortunately for Tom and Lees, they hadn't enjoyed a close relationship with them until Will and Deanna's recent standing down from active service enabled them to relocate to a colony world and stay stationary. A benefit afforded Tom and Lisea by the fact that they administrated Serenity Station. So the Riker family was finally mending its broken fences. In the wake of Will Riker's standing down as CO and Troi's departure as Chief Contact Officer and Counselor aboard the Luna-class USS Titan had left a brief but discernible loss aboard the multi-role exploration vessel.

Tom, for his part, after his brief "command" of the USS Defiant and liberation from a Cardassian labor camp world, had been Macen's XO, relieving both Danan, Daggit, and Forger of the role and numerous occasions, commanded the Eclipse, the Solstice, the George Kelly and the Obsidian before accepting command duties aboard Serenity and command of its Emden-class outrider, the SS Indomitable. Will Riker had finally been offered command of the Enterprise-E but his decision to retire into the active reserves rolls stood firm. He had a family to think about which included a terminally ill son. The only recourse for Thad's condition was a positronic transplant, made illegal by the Federation's banning synthetic technology related to positronic circuitry. Even the deactivated B4 was officially off limits.

AI and synthetics were strictly theoretical in nature now. AI had been essentially banned since the disaster with the M-5 and CONTROL in the mid-23rd century. Duotronics had dveeloped faster than light millicochrane processors that isolinear technology heightened the capacities of. A Starfleet ship of the line would possess a crystalline computer core that stood across three decks in the heart of the ship protected from all but catastrophic physical harm.

Even smaller vessels such as the Nova-class and Defiant-class carried two deck spanning cores. Large scale Federation space stations such as the Douglas- and Spacedock-classes had much larger processing cores as did strictly scientific and research facilities like Jupiter Station. Smaller stations generally matched the starship rule. Even Cardassian and Klingon rules of thumb followed this design philosophy.

Macen used Section 31's own systems to check up on Merry Limerick and the crew of the Hood. They'd been tasked as a permanent SID responder along with the USS Merrimack and the USS Monitor. It seemed quantum parallels were once again at the forefront of events. The Hood itself was still a Galaxy-class refitted to be a carrier model with two squadrons of Peregrine-class attack fighters with Lt. Commander Verity Jones as their CAG. So universal constants were still in play there.

But fortune wreaked havoc with the Monitor and Merrimack. Instead of both being Defiant-class vessels, the Monitor was a Steamrunner-class starship and its cousin, the Merrimack, was a Saber-class. But the captains and crews were still a constant. Captain Hev Callas of the Monitor still had an entirely all-Bajoran, ex-Militia, senior staff despite regulations stating otherwise. Hev pulled considerable weight and favors within the Bureau of Personnel to assemble his preferred crew.

Alec Prine, on the other hand, had a conventional crew and command staff aboard the Merrimack. Prine's major eccentricity was painting a Confederate States of America naval flag on his Ready Room door. He also couldn't be shaken from his overly romanticized ideas regarding the American Antebellum South.

Tom Riker had served with the Hood's Chief Tactical Officer, the Andorian named Ahwwren ann'Wheri. Wren had escorted him on his mission that introduced him to the Maquis in general and Chakotay in particular. Wren had expressed both romantic interest in Riker and deep regret that he wouldn't return with her back to the USS Gandhi.

That was a connection Macen could use should this version of Captain Limerick prove intractable. Vaughn's withdrawal orders were effective immediately despite his earlier offer to stay on station until officially relieved so the Defiant pulled out to return to DS9 as soon as Forger placated the locals. The Hood's imminent arrival also played a large part of the officials' relaxation. The Monitor and the Merrimack were pulled off of other assignments to attempt to track down the Section 31 stealth ship that had abruptly appeared and disappeared from Izar's near magnosphere.

Even selected Outbound Ventures ships were rerouted to broaden the search grid. Captain Jennifer Gardner and her Lancelot-class Guinevere along with Captain Marla Haggit and the Newton-class Copernicus were being called into the effort. The Obsidian had the most advanced sensors in the Outbound Ventures "fleet" and sadly possessed the most advanced defensive systems as well. Both of the other ships still had Type VII phaser banks but their shield emitters had been upgraded as well their warp cores, fusion reactors, and impulse drives. Still, the Copernicus had been a state of the art science vessel in her day barely outlasting the older and venerable Oberth-class vessels.

The modern Nova-class surveyors had replaced both vessel types. But if anyone in the SID could crack Section 31's secured data banks, it was his Data Squad and Rockford's Detective Squad. Kovic prepared to hand off the prisoners to the Hood's Security detachment while Daggit secured the central node. Parva analyzed the design specs on S31 starship classes that Kerber and Smith were unlocking the files to. Additionally, as files were unlocked, Lee, Shade, Forte, Rockford, and Macen studied them and categorized them in triage-style method.

The bulk of the files would be handed directly over to Limerick's command while Macen's SID specifically looked for clues to the locations and whereabouts of remaining hidden S31 agents and bases. Especially concentrating on unearthing clues as to where Fowler and his pet duo would be headed to next.

"Commander, Detective Rockford, you might want to have a look at this," a much calmer Smith urged them. Leading them to the holographic main tank where Browder and L'Haan had previously been working, an image of Jack Fowler's internal dossier was displayed.

"Get ready for some nasty surprises ahead," Kerber stepped back and let the couple take the seats.

"My God," Rockford whispered upon reading the first entry. James Fowler, upon learning about his son's genetic mental deficits had taken the boy to Thirty-One medical specialists after his birth. The mental retardation was severe and Fowler needed a guinea pig for a new scheme he'd formulated. When his son reached his eighteenth year, his brain was excised and a positronic replacement made for it. Fowler had Jack literally programmed to be an extension of his mentality and paradigm.

His memory engrams filled with the events and history of both James Fowler and Section 31's own twisted history reaching back to the formation of the Earth Starfleet. Fowler ingrained his warped philosophies of necessity and the ends always justifying any means. He'd attempted to create a golem for his consciousness to reside but failed. Still, Jack Fowler had escaped the synthetic ban imposed upon the Federation because no one realized the awkward thirty-ish man had a computer matrix for a brain. Not even most of S31's Senior Agents knew. Thirty-One had recreated CONTROL and it wore a human body.

"Compile this and send it directly to Admiral Forger," Macen instructed, "Who else have you uncovered?"

"The files of the two senior-most agents that were tending to Fowler here before they made their escape," Kerber revealed.

"Send the dossiers to aux stations we're using," Macen told the duo, "And keep feeding the rank and file to Shade and Lee. Keep Forte on Fowler's potential trail."

"Of course," Kerber seemed as shaken by the revelation as anyone ought. Smith, however, had eyes that burned with a fierce determination to right the wrong that she hadn't possessed since leaving Ardana IV. It both pleased and frightened Macen, knowing what she was capable of when motivated. The charges of terrorism leveled against Kerber and Smith weren't unfounded, merely exaggerated.

But the truth behind the charges would've warranted life sentences in any Federation penal colony if they weren't sentenced to a maximum security detention center on an inhospitable world to prevent escape. A sentence which Michael Eddington had been guaranteed to receive from any rational court of law. Since Section 31 considered themselves an autonomous branch of Starfleet, they still considered themselves Starfleet. A convenient legal fiction at best until now.

So Starfleet JAG was convening court martials on that criteria. Each new, unlocked piece of evidence being submitted to the Boards of Inquiry and the legal teams. hundreds of prosecutions had been occurring in relative secrecy across Starfleet's installations spanning the Federation. Even such far flung outposts as DS4, DS5, DS9 and DS11 were places where Starfleet had begun prosecutions. Every starbase on the cartographical map convened investigations as well.

JAG had enlisted IA and SI into the matters while the SID was at the forefront of finding and apprehending S31 agents at large. If Starfleet Commander Clancy's dictates were meant to serve as a distraction over the developing Iotian Federation situation, it was working beyond her wildest dreams. Section 31 had proven both smaller and larger than the extreme predictions.

But the records of active collaborations between Starfleet line and flag officers and S31 were damning at worst and career grinding halts at best. Admirals Bill Ross and Nechayev had freely admitted their collusion during the Dominion War. Yet, S31 had moved to assassinate Nechayev's handler in charge of aiding and directing the Maquis. the retired DDA of Starfleet Intelligence, Admiral Ellijah Waters, had volunteered for the assignment and relocated to the Bajor Sector's neighboring Kalendra Sector from the coincidently named Kalandra Sector to found the DMZ Cargo Consignment and Delivery Agency. Thereby routing cargoes to Maquis ships and adapted courier vessels to legitimize their presence in target systems as well as raise revenue for the participating cells.

Commander Calvin Hudson had welcomed Waters' efforts as well Macen bringing in his Odyssey crew to serve as "information brokers" able to cross into Cardassian space on "legitimate" business. Sveta Korepanova had established her Architect Program aboard DS9 as a logistics and strategic counseling service for the Bajoran Militia. Secretly, they planned the Maquis' strategic operations until their fateful arrests by Constable Odo and Major Kira Nerys.

The Bajoran Intelligence officers assigned as liaisons between the Militia and Korepanova's group escaped with barely a slap on the wrist. Just as Militia Lieutenant Nerrit Wen had been found to be supporting the Kohn Ma based off of Valo II before her death in this universe and her having joined Macen's unit in theirs. All with the Militia Joint Chiefs' blessings. When Colonel Kira returned to Bajor to head up Colonial Security and was eventually promoted to General and elevated to Head of the Joint Chiefs, she began dismantling the Militia's foreign adventurism. Bajoran Intelligence still forayed into the galaxy beyond but military operations beyond Bajoran borders and colonial territories ceased.

Colonel Anara, now Commandant of the Special Forces, had mysteriously "misplaced" the Karemma designed troop transport, the Ark of the Prophets. The enigmatically returned Neela had vanished with it. Neela's return heralded a new age of the Bajoran Prophets speaking through their Emissary, who had returned to Bajor and retired from Starfleet, before the birth of his daughter by his second wife, Kassidy Yates. Many had predicted Captain Benjamin Sisko would tire of life on Bajor seeing as how he was famed war hero and an iconic religious figure to the natives.

But while Captain Yates retained command and ownership of the freighter Xhosa, Sisko happily settled down to raise his daughter in the once again idyllic Kendra Valley. Kira and Sisko were closer than ever but he rarely visited his former commands aboard Deep Space Nine or the Defiant. It seemed Sisko had really put his past behind him as he ventured into an engineering firm upon skills he hadn't fully employed since reconstructing a Bajoran solar sail ship. Now he constructed such vessels as pleasure craft for adventuring Bajorans and other members races from the Federation.

The goodwill fostered between Bajor and Cardassia Prime enabled sailors to transit between worlds riding tachyon streams that seemed to inexorably connect the two worlds beyond their violent history. That developing closeness gave hope to the Federation Council that the reconstruction efforts channeled through Bajor would one day normalize diplomatic and trade relations between the United Federation of Planets and the Cardassian Union. Even aspiring to grant "favored nation" status upon Cardassia and develop an alliance between the two stellar nations.

But the Cardassians were still embittered by the harsh reparations demands of the Romulan Star Empire and the Klingon Empire at the close of the war despite Cardassia's turning against their former Dominion allies, turned oppressors, enabling a shortened and swifter final victory. The Dominion had orbitally bombarded Cardassian cities to "inspire" the citizenry to hand over the renegade officer and former Supreme Legate, Damar. Dukat's former protege died fighting the Dominion and inspired new generations of counter-culture leaders such as Rekena Garan, Tekeny Ghemor, and Natima Lang. Garan had risen to be the Castellan of the civilian, elected Detepa Council. Ghemor was appointed the Director of the Cardassian Information Bureau. Lang became the Director of the Ministry of Information and legalized the free press and developing rights of free speech and peaceful protests.

Katreen Dervin and her father were allowed to return to Cardassia Prime so long as the Chrysalis Child of myth and fact didn't attempt to reconstitute the Dervins' monarchial claims to a Cardassian throne. Lyoti Mariska, young Dervin's protector since birth, returned with her. Dervin became a powerful symbol of social reforms, justice, and an embodiment of the necessity of expanding diplomatic relations. A living symbol which greatly aided Elim Garak in his post as Ambassador to the Federation. Dervin publicly championed democratic reforms across the Cardassian Union and the restructuring of the Cardassian Guard to make it less aggressive and to seek diplomatic expansion of the Cardassian Union rather than achieve that means through conquest alone.

The Cardassians were on the defensive and ambitiously sought to placate the agitated subject races through ambitious and "enlightened" revisions and reforms of previously oppressive and exploitative policies. All of which heartened Macen considering the obvious lag in democratization in Cardassian space compared to where the team had come from but hopes still rode high that Cardassia could be reclassified from "foe" to "friend" before the turn of the 25th century.

Despite the Dominion "ceding" the territory adjoining the wormhole junction and the space beyond it stretching forth to the Alpha Quadrant, diplomatic relations were still somewhat strained between the Federation and Founders. They were becoming more reclusive and tending to let the bureacracies formed by their Vorta administrative ranks run their empire. But such trading cultures as the Karemma and others were allowed a form of laissez faire trading practices with the Federation, the Ferengi, and others so long as the Dominion levied taxes were met and paid in full.

The Jem'Hadar still vigilantly guarded the gates into the empire but they no longer actively targeted foreign traders. Word brought back from the Dominion traded in rumors concerning the Borg having reached the Dominion's borders. Federation officials and Starfleet Command clucked their tongues and wondered who to wish the worst in the brewing conflict.

El-Auria's assimilation by the Borg colored Macen's own cultural perspective and he rooted for the Dominion just this once. Forty-six other El-Aurian refugees had been ripped from the Nexus as the Lakul was destroyed by the temporal energy ribbon. They included Guinan and his own great-uncle, Tolian Soran. But in this universe, as in others, other refugees had scattered across the Delta, Beta, and Gamma Quadrants in the mad flight to escape the Borg invasion. It seemed in this place, Macen's first wife, Arinea, hadn't survived potential assimilation after all.

If she had, she'd never been located by either Starfleet, the Federation's bureaucracy, or Section 31. Unlike his own past where Arinea had gone quite mad and joined S31's efforts to clone loyal Jem'Hadar shock troops to employ against threats such as the Borg. A history where Macen had been forced to kill his first true love to save T'Kir and to save Arinea from her own insanity. Sindis murdering T'Kir left him with a hole in his soul that would never be refilled. The newer members fo the SID team had barely known T'Kir if at all.

Ebert was the only teammate that had served beside T'Kir aboard the Blackbird-class Odyssey. Of the others, only Rockford herself, Daggit, and Parva had truly known the irregular Vulcan. Macen's love for Rockford was as deep as his had been for T'Kir and even Arinea but it was as different as this universe was from the one they'd stemmed from and in symmetry with that thought, it was just as good and beautiful in its own way. Rockford understood that and readily accepted it. She'd loved as passionately but differently in her own past. They'd found a stability together that was greater as a whole than apart.

Whereas Macen and Arinea had been forged from isolation and lack of options. T'Kir and Macen had both been broken and helped each other heal from that. But Macen and Rockford met each other as solid equals. They could function just as well separately as united. Which proved invaluable with the team's new dynamic. Before, when the team had deployed into separate detachments at times there'd been a lack of proper leadership to fully maximize the potential of such a move.

Now, with Rockford leading the detective squad she'd brought aboard the Obsidian, Macen could operate independently without great cause for alarm. Unlike the previous situation where T'Kir would destabilize without his calming presence. Although they'd functioned as a dynamic duo par excellence the team dynamic itself had suffered. But no longer.

Daggit and Parva's ease within its framework now showed their greater acceptance and comfortable standing with the situation. It was also a mold elements such as Ebert, Tessa, Kerber, and Smith, normally left aboard the Obsidian or the Corsair, easily slipped into. Even Mudd, as green as she was to working in a team framework, seemed to be sliding into place. At least, once she and Ebert came to terms.

Nechayev and Forger had qualms about Macen reuniting his former Maquis associates. but returning Christine Lacey, Tom Eckles, and Heidi Darcy to a Blackbird-class scoutship, this time the Solstice, had paid off handsomely before. With the addition of Aric Tulley, Elfi Hendryks, and the former Bajoran Militia engineer, Neela, they'd almost formed a crew again. Macen had added Christina Noble, Kristine Liu, and Svetlana Korepanova to the Outbound Ventures ranks. Korepanova and Liu were former Starfleet officers gone rogue with the Maquis. Korepanova had led the Architect Program before and during the Dominion War.

Liu had been Waters' chief assistant before his death and carried on afterwards until being recruited to the second Architect Program to serve beside Korepanova by the Bajoran Militia. Christina Noble would be the CO to Tulley's XO. While the crew set forth in the Solstice, Korepanova would remain behind on Serenity as both its Chief Strategic Affairs Officer and 2nd Officer. With both Riker and Danan currently absent, administration fell to Korepanova and Liu as her lieutenant and Chief Logistics Officer.

Macen had reached out to Joelle Jones, the Captain of the renegade Maquis armed freighter, Waylaid. Later, under one of Eddington's early schemes, she and her all-female crew had stolen an NV-class Earth Starfleet vessel from the 22nd century. It turned out the crew had gone their separate ways, settling down with wives or husbands and children of their own. Jones had sold the Waylaid to a barely space faring culture the Federation hadn't made first contact with yet. But the ship's registry had been purchased from her by a concern out of the colony world of New Malaysia. Despite its name, the colony included representatives from every Asian nation including those found in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean and even into Eurasian Russia.

Like the Waylaid of old, the new owners filled the new ship with an all-female crew. It seemed they wanted the reputation of the old ship and crew to bank upon as they went privateering across space. The ship's ownership was family concern. Like Jones and her original crew they went to the Starfleet Depot Yards in Sector 004 to acquire a starship from its Iotian caretakers. Starfleet had reactivated the recommissioned starships dating back 2330 so the remaining ships constructed before 2371 were available for purchase. There, the future owners became fixated on the sole remaining Asia-class refit starship that the Iotian caretakers hadn't "relocated" to their home government. Acquiring the former USS Yukon, she became registered as the new Waylaid. Fortunately, the freshly established corporate coffers had contained enough latinum to sate even the Iotians' scaled down greed and refurbish the starship's defensive systems, update her sensors into something with enough capability to hunt and track pirates, as well purchase a small complement of warp capable shuttles for her hangar bay. So equipped, the company applied and received a security consultant's license and a Letter of Marque from the Federationand the women set out bounty hunting and skip tracing.

Eventually catching Kathy Tyrol's eye and she passed on her interest to Macen upon the Obsidian's "return from the dead". The ship name was enough to garner Macen's further interest and he'd used Starfleet Seurity and Intelligence files and operating reports to flesh out what had become of Joelle Jones. Starfleet's standard for crew capacity was 262 crewmen and officers. The Waylaid managed to keep half of that complement aboard at all times. Impressive for an out of the way colony. Especially while maintaining its gender imbalance.

Jones' crew had marked their being accepted as a member by bleaching and dying their hair platinum white regardless of natural hair color or ethnicity. The new Waylaid generation forsook such practices. The only prerequisites were the necessary skill sets and/or willingness to apprentice alongside the necessary genetic or fully transitioned gender bits. The cultural bias towards Asians was prevalent though and few other ethnic examples were crew members.

Other examples of former Maquis to be Outbound Ventures agents based off of Serenity Station were the Vulcan Sekona and the former Dorvan V colonist, Hakatay. Tyrol had recruited several others with Riker and Danan's mutual support before they were "replaced" during Macen and Rockford's "absence". This reality's Macen and Rockford busy being dead. Fortunately, said agents agreed with the high caliber starships crews and readily became SID contractors. Each having the ability to turn down offered assignments. Just Macen infrequently did knowing that Forger handed some of the most assignments to his team.

Captains Limerick, Hev, and Prine of the Hood, Monitor, and Merrimack were the only others to receive such perilous missions. Macen and the team aboard the Obsidian had access to places, people, and planets Starfleet would never be able to reach. Particularly since their counterparts had curried such favor amongst the criminal elite. As well as with Ziva Delain and the Cardassian Information Bureau and now it seemed, Director Sela of the Tal Shiar.

Capturing the remnants of Section 31 was like blotting out a stain on the Federation's soul. It could also possibly loosen Admiral Clancy's grip on Starfleet's recent ideas of duty and obligation. Which seemed to now imply, only to our own. Something needed to change and quickly of the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance led Iotian Federation were to become overtly aggressive in their views of what constituted a "hostile takeover". Explorer type starships were being left unfinished while battlecruiser hulls were laid and prioritized for completion. The Federation was gearing for war but no longer seemed to care about its neighbors it had pledged protection to.

Had the Federation become a "members only" privilege club or would the Iotians kick Starfleet out of its Martian malaise? Macen had escaped to the Federation because of its idealism and its quest to unite peoples, ignoring their racial differences and celebrating their cultural differences. It was the strength behind the grand alliance that comprised the United Federation of Planets and it was a vision most Starfleet officers and enlisted still shared. So Starfleet needed to be let off its imposed leash and conquer fear through friendship. "To boldly go" once again. without that impetus, the Federation would wither like a diseased tree. Slowly at first and then it would rapidly decay as the disease conquered all.

The name of this disease was fear. A basic mistrust had taken root. Distrust of the next door neighbor, of the planet nearby, of the other. The very appothesis of what the Federation had historically tried to achieve and historically had succeeded more than it had failed. The lack of an obvious culprit besides the androids that had been dismantled en masse made everyone a suspect. Section 31 just spoon fed that paranoia to the Federation Council and strategically placed Starfleet admirals. Aided and abetted by the Deputy Director of Starfleet Security, Captain Oh. Admiral Noyce, nearly desperate to retire in these troubled days, listened without reservation to his hand picked successor. No one was to blame so everyone got the blame equally.

Fairness and unfairness, right or wrong had nothing do with this cognitive calculus. Everyone demanded answers on how a planet full of synthetics could turn on their organic fellows and Starfleet had no ready answers other than to shut down every android within Federation space and quash the building momentum of the Holographic Rights debate. The politicians' knees jerked and every form of synthetic that echoed artificial intelligence was deactivated or destroyed and development of replacement systems was banned indefinitely, presumably forever.

Macen had come to the Federation because of its hope for the future. He wanted to share in that hope and share that enthusiasm with others. Even if it might be shining light into the Federation's darkest corners. So he'd struggled and toiled away relentlessly since his joining Starfleet in 2303 after his return to the Alpha Quadrant in 2293. First as an A & A Officer (Archaeology & Anthropology) before being shifted to the newly begun Cardassian Desk of Starfleet Intelligence's Analysis Branch and finally become a cross-trained Field Agent/Analyst. After twenty years behind the desk, he was deployed to the border during the First Border War with the Cardassians in 2351. He stayed on that border or its periphery until 2375 in both realities with Starfleet, the Maquis, and TDY with the Bajoran Militia. Along the way he met the upstart Alynna Nechayev and the already vastly competent Elias Vaughn as well as Ro Laren before and after she attended Advanced Tactical Training. Each and every one of them becoming lifelong friends and each traveling with him into this new experience given to them by the mysterious Prophets.

You are less, yet you must become more, the Prophets had warned him. But why? Too many questions and not enough answers plagued the refugees. But at least they could make their second contribution to this frightened Federation. They'd stamp out Section 31, finally and forever or so the hope went.

Bob Johnson had said his farewells to Amanda Forger now that the crisis concerning her sister, Shannon, was over. Vaughn and the Defiant were already underway back to Deep Space Nine. Limerick and the Hood were in-bound to Izar and Johnson needed ot return to Spacedock and report to the Intrepid for their revised departure time. Johnson was surprised when one of Lt. Commander Ian Delaney's Security people didn't greet him at the airlock. Instead, a mountingly frustrated Lieutenant Emily Johnson was standing their with a padd and look that was first expectant and then disappointed.

"A little off yoru reservation, Lieutenant?" Johnson chuckled.

"Sorry, sir. It's not that I'm unhappy to see you but we were consigned a special delivery of isolinear data rods that I'm supposed to personally sign for and hand carry back to Engineering," Johnson told Johnson.

"And they're even later than I am?" Johnson was surprised to hear it. Usually the Starfleet Corps of Engineers was ahead of the literal and proverbial clock.

"Yessir," Emily Johnson's clipped reply came out. Her brusque manner was a total departure from the usually effusive engineer Johnson had first met some years ago tending to his then-Akira-class USS Intrepid. But of course, young Emily wouldn't remember that vessel at all anymore. Or at least had never been aboard her. Her entire service aboard the Intrepid had been aboard this model, the very first Intrepid-class put into service and modified later to be a carrier variant.

Back "home" he'd received special dispensation to rename his ship the Intrepid in honor of the Galaxy-class Intrepid that he'd commanded and had lost to a sentient energy being that infected his ship and destroyed her from within. The original Intrepid-class prototype had been renamed the Bonaventure. Captain James McKinley and the Senior Staff that also remembered their "lost" ship had easily made the transition. Johnson assumed it was his not having an active role within the starship that made him wax nostalgic for the other "lost" vessels.

One excellent thing about the "new" here and now was that Delaney was reunited with his "dead" wife, Hannah Grace. Grace looked completely human but was was an expression of a perfect example of humanity at their current state of evolution. She was a Kelvan born to the original scouting party that arrived from the Andromeda Galaxy back in 2268. The Kelvans had crashed after breaching the Galactic Barrier and found they couldn't survive on an M-class world. But a straggling far-flung human colony existed and the towering Kelvans used their Attuners which focused their vaunted psychokinetic powers and made themselves human as well in order survive being on a humanoid life sustaining planet.

Over the next century even more Kelvan expeditions arrived, having been expelled from the home galaxy-spanning empire by a rebellion that employed biogenic weapons specifically tailored to eradicate Kelvans. But the Kelvans, a coldly detached species inherited human emotions and sensory stimulation as well. Things they'd abandoned in the natural forms. As discovered by Spock and exploited by Captain Kirk. Finding themselves growing more human and less Kelvan, the refugees settled on that original M-class planet they'd crashed upon and led their fellow Kelvans to it.

The original human settlers on the world were given a choice to stay or leave to venture to another world to settle down on. They largely chose to stay and in an act of typical Federation generosity, served as mentors as the Kelvans navigated the murky world of human experience for the first time. Grace, whose Kelvan name was Hannoi, was a child of two Kelvan scouts and sent to Earth as Hannah Grace to explore how the wider Federation would treat them.

Hannoi replaced the original Hannah Grace, killed in action against the Jem'Hadar while piloting an attack fighter. Hannoi let herself be captured by the Dominion and consigned to a Cardassian POW labor camp. Liberated after the war ended, "Grace" assumed Ensign Grace's life. She later resigned from Starfleet to become a freelance pilot to explore the wider worlds of the Federation. She eventually began serving with "Macen and T'Kir" before reactivating her Starfleet commission upon meeting Ian Delaney and worked her way into having herself assigned ot the Intrepid's squadron by its young CAG, Elizabeth "Liz" Liefers, who had never seen a pilot as proficient and skilled as herself until she met Grace. Delaney and Grace married but the relationship had quickly soured as Grace's lies became revealed as well as her original identity.

But the Delaney now presented to her had always known of her Kelvan origins and married her because of them rather than despite them since they were an integral part of the woman he loved. Or had loved since his Grace had been further revealed to still be an S31 mole and KIA by Macen's SID team. So Grace immediately recognized that Delaney was an "imposter" just as she herself had been. She knew it about the Admiral and the entire Command Staff before Delaney confessed to her. She was delighted to keep their secret as long as she had the Delaney she'd fallen in love back returned to her. Her "husband" felt the same way.

So the Intrepid crew was off to a potentially rocky start that they'd successfully navigated their way through. Robert Caplan, the Chief Engineer, had finally revealed his long standing attraction to Liefers. She herself had entertained thoughts of Caplan in her life so they began a tentative relationship. The increasing challenges were that Jonathan Striker, the ship's XO, was skirting around the borders of asking the Deputy Chief Engineer, young Johnson, out on dates. Muddling things further was that the CO, Jim McKinley, found the doors to a potentially meaningful relationship with the ships SI Officer, Lt. Commander Jennifer Marie Massoli, open again. But neither young Johnson nor Massoli were in on the "secret".

Bob Johnson and the CMO, Andreja Sikorksy, wanted to keep it that way. Of course, Sikorsky was a former romantic partner to McKinley and had long disapproved of his attraction to the more freestyle Massoli. Oddly enough for a supposedly discreet Starfleet Intelligence Officer, Massoli had modeled for Ferengi porn holos before attending Starfleet Academy. Upon graduation and applying to Starfleet Intelligence, her past had come to haunt her. But it was written off as a "youthful indiscretion" and would even "enable a Starfleet operative to enter criminal warrens unsuspected of being a primrose Starfleet undercover agent".

Massoli served as a SI Operations officer, ranking up until she reached her current grade and transferred to starship duty, becoming the Intrepid's Staff Intelligence Officer. Sikorsky warned that both Emily Johnson and Massoli were far too intelligent to mistake the unintentional cues that the two men exuded alerting the two women that they both were from an alternate quantum reality. Bob Johnson himself, hated the warning, but he felt the same way on many levels. Romance was the boutique of happiness for the soul. It should be treasured above all other things and nurtured and built on trust, not lies and secrets.

Johnson himself was beginning pine over the fact that he'd reached flag rank without ever experiencing an enduring love. At least Jim Kirk had a whirlwind romance and a son with Carol Marcus and had experienced a life time's worth of true love with Antonia. Both Rikers had settled down and married. Will Riker had his Imzadi by his side in all things despite his early stupidity in leaving her. Tom Riker had Lisea and Danan. He would be immortalized by the symbiot, Danan, long after Lisea died.

Johnson found himself wanting these things at long last. And, he had a glimmer of hope that such things would come to him. If he was patient and cultivated the affair. Macen had shown him that best friends could make the sweetest lovers. So Johnson would savor every moment as his hoped for wish slowly became a reality.

Johnson's long suffering Vulcan aide had retired before the "switch" so he found himself with two midshipmen on their fourth year Midshipman's Training Cruise as yeomen. wondering why Cadets, Lyn Hadek and Reeva DeBoer, had chosen to become his assistants, he'd been surprised to learn that they had volunteered in the hopes of being Diplomatic Contact Specialists themselves upon graduation. Normally, such ambitions would be better served aboard a Second Contact support vessel such as a California-class.

But Johnson, as the highest ranked and experienced Diplomatic Specialist in Starfleet was sent into the most extreme fires to stamp out. DeBoer and Hadek wanted a taste of that and to accompany the Admiral as his aides during his mission assignments. So they got the drudge work while he received the official accolades that wouldn't come without their best efforts at prepping him. But Johnson was humble enough to realize that fact and showered them with the official words and continually marked up their commendations for their Starfleet Academy instructors desiring updates on their students' progress. So far no mistakes beyond the norm had been made and both cadets had gone above and beyond several times. Johnson was pleased to have "inherited" both yeomen from his "predecessor".

McKinley had shared similar stories from his Department Heads. Delaney's Tactical and Security section had a young ensign named Brad Turner that was an up-and-comer. Sikorsky praised her young ensign, Gina Caffee, with attention to detail regarding Caffee's exceptional efforts. And as hard as it was for McKinley to believe, the head of the Science Department was a Lieutenant JG named Kirsten Featherstone. Since the Intrepid's mission rarely revolved around the hard sciences, Featherstone's entire departnment, including herself, consisted of three people. One for each watch but each were multi-role specialists. But Sciences ran a tight department and McKinley had taken notice.

McKinley had been Johsnon's XO before they were both promoted. He was a superb flag captain. When the Admiral needed be evacuated, he was and whatever action the Intrepid needed to then embrak upon, it did with a spotless record. Before then, the Intrepid crew supported the Admiral's mission to the best of their vaunted capability. The Intrepid had earned it s place amongst Starfleet lore alongside the Enterprise, the Voyager, the Excelsior, the Endeavor, the Discovery, the Titan and the Defiant. Each starship heralded into legend by its captains and crews and each become a legacy.

Other starships were famed because of specific captains and crews and their missions. The Excalibur and Trident being first and foremost examples. Captains Mackenzie Calhoun and Katerina Mueller being those COs whose crews had excelled at a singular task. Calhoun's crew chiefs had ranked up and left the Thallonian Sector leaving him with Robin Lefler as his well deserving XO. Now included as an honorary crewman. Wesley Crusher had taken up part-time residence aboard the Excalibur and Commander Lefler's quarters in particular.

Mueller had also loss lost many crewmen to advancing career options. Leaving Arex and M'ress as her only original but highly promoted Department Chiefs. But the Trident still served as the Excalibur's rough and ready cohort in advancing Starfleet's peacekeeping mission in the Thallonian Sector. But Calhoun and Mueller were considered mavericks in an age where Starfleet disapproved of such methods. Yet the Thallonians adored them both so they stayed on mission.

Calhoun's wife, Elizabeth Paula Shelby had relinquished command of the Trident to serve as the CO of the Douglass-class Starbase Beta. The station was so-named to indicate that it was beyond even DS5 into the Beta Quadrant. But where Deep Space Five sat on the dilineator between the Delta and Beta Quadrants, Starbase Beta was in the far reaches of the rimward expanses between two galactic spiral arms. The Thallonians controlling the easiest access into one. Beyond the Galactic Barrier sat the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds. Two dwarf galaxies within themselves.

The Metron Confederacy controlled the other entire spiral arm. The Metrons' message to the Federation and Gorn Hegemony still stood, Do not enter!

Johnson wasn't surprised to find his two cadet yeomen studying events that had occurred since the Federation's abortive attempt to evacuate colonists from the Hobus supernova's blast radius. The Mars Massacre, as the press referred to it, had halted the Federation's official participation. Several dozen cruise liners had participated independently not unlike when they assisted Ekos and Zeon in evacuating their home system. Billions of Romulans and millions of Remans died when the star went critical. millions more Romulans died because evacuation efforts were halved by Starfleet withdrawing its support.

A change of heart the Romulans wouldn't soon forget despite their invitation for access to the Borg cube found drifting in their space. The drones, inactive, cut off from the Borg Queen and her hive mind. The Romulans needed the ex-drone Hugh and the Federation's superior experience with the Borg to harvest its technologies. Hugh simply wanted to reclaim the drones' lives. Hugh would direct the reclamation efforts in exchange for his deciphering and accessing Borg tech for the Romulans to pilfer.

It was Johnson's role to hammer out the details of how much and what kind of technologies the Romulans would deem fit to share with the Federation in exchange for their cooperation. Starfleet had a wish list. The Romulans had a veto. It was Johnson's job to get the minimum set of criteria and shoot for the entire list knowing it would be winnowed down.

Massoli already had the latest intelligence briefings regarding the Romulans and their cube on his desk. DeBoar had the espresso freshly brewed and not replicated. Hadek was compiling Starfleet briefing annotation regarding the Borg's technologies. DeBoer had reached out to Admiral Picard on Johnson's behalf only to receive a stern rebuff by his two former Tal Shiar caretakers, Laris and Zhoban.

It seemed the retired admiral wouldn't discuss the Borg with anyone any more. His reports and statements were a matter of Starfleet record. His personal insights were his to keep to himself or so DeBoer's stinging ears were told. Officially DeBoer wasn't on duty yet until Beta Watch. But she wanted to get prepared since Johnson had been delayed getting back to the ship and his offices. Hadek had already agreed to stay late after her Alpha Watch shift ended to do the same. Johnson admired the girls' tenacity and willingness to put the work in.

Those traits were the hallmarks of great diplomats. That and the ability to roll with the circumstances as they arose. A good thick skin and emotional control were invaluable as well. So far Hadek and DeBoer had displayed plenty of the merits on the list. But the Romulans would sorely test their limits as was their wont. So Johnson was just grateful for their dedication to the cause.

Macen's comm badge chirped twice. He tapped it at its location on his gun belt, "Yes?"

"You wanted a page when the Hood arrived," Forger reminded him, "She's here and opening hailing frequencies."

"Captain Limerick won't bite. Brief him on the situation and send him our latest updates as you forward them to your sister," Macen instructed. Forger commanded the Obsidian but Macen was still the overall Mission Commander.

"Yes, Boss," Forger sassed him before ending the transmission.

"Kids these days," Macen muttered. Despite appearances, Macen was over four hundred years old. Rockford was over ninety and appeared in her thirties by human standards. For his legend in the field, Macen had colored his hair and beard red for many years. He'd stopped that when he and Rockford became involved. She'd lightened hers to a brunette. But they both reverted back to their naturally raven locks before marrying. She'd been surprised to learn he had a tattoo on his right shoulder blade even as she had one there herself. His was a series of concentric cords interwoven amidst themselves. It reminded her of Celtic knots on Earth. Hers was of her favorite native flower on Angosia. The only memento she had of her birth world.

Hers was a keepsake. His marked him as an El-Aurian Seeker of Truth. A group of philosopher-scientists that sought to create utopia. Most had internalized that quest. As the last member of the discipleship, Macen externalized it and as noted, chose the Federation as his model to expand upon. So to find the Federation contracted within itself hurt Macen's ideal for his adopted home. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do to expand the Federation's horizons again. Within certain moral boundaries. Boundaries Section 31 decidedly lacked.

The revisited Cell 51 was an idea whose existence had briefly plagued the Federation in the group's past but was alive and well it seemed with S31 itself in the here and now. No one, not even James Fowler, had known who created Cell 51 within S31. Here at least, it was now revealed that Jack Fowler was the architect behind it and the cancer was all that remained of Section 31's body. So locating those members and Fowler himself took precedence over all other concerns at the moment.

"Commander," Kerber interrupted Macen's trailing thoughts, "We found the specs from the stealth ship."

"Pull it up," he and Rockford relocated to her and Smith's location. Parva instantly received an update as well.

"The design is 23rd century with hardly any updates," Macen noted, "Fourteen man crew. Two officers, two medics, five engineers, and six ratings to run the bridge. Hot bunking two watches from the looks of things."

He studied the schematics further, "Even with their quad nacelle design, they won't be able to maintain the cloak and run at maximum warp for twenty-four hours."

"So the Monitor and Merrimakc stand a chance of catching them?" Smith asked.

"Not likely. If they can't run at high warp they'll change their warp signature and change directions every so often," Macen let her down easy.

"You can do that?" Kerber asked.

"B'Ellana Torres figured it out and passed it on to the of the Maquis engineers. Tom Eckles never had to do it for the Odyssey since we were openly traveling throughout Cardassian space but even Emjin Thool and others were taught the technique by Torres," Macen explained.

"Even Thool?" Rockford chided him, "You just rehired the man."

Macen repsected the Bolian but he had caveats as well, "Thool had a brief career as a maintenance crewman aboard a Starfleet starship. His enlistment was cut short by recommendations by his superiors for 'inability to adapt to Starfleet life'. When Thool's colonial home planet became ceded into the DMZ, he joined up with the Ronaran cell of the Maquis and Ro inherited him. He became her chief engineer by default."

"And even as gifted as Torres is, S31 has had three centuries to figure it out themselves," Rockford voiced.

"If they didn't know it already they would've easily learned the basic technique from a down on their luck ex-Maquis tool pusher," Macen shrugged.

"You told Amanda this," Rockford knew Macen well enough.

"The search continues regardless," Macen sighed, "Leaving us, once again, to provide the real answer to the riddle."

"With the energy drain that massive and the size of the ship limiting stores, it has to considered a short range mission profile ship," Rockford deduced on her own, "That means they'll be seeking safe haven nearby."

"Harri and Tracy, a word please," Macen called across the chamber. They came from their respective, and decidedly separated, stations.

"What do you make of this and their potential destinations?" Macen inquired. The pair quickly reviewed and deduced the same criteria that Macen and Rockford had gone over. But both had been smugglers once upon a time, so they knew the local criminal ports. Ebert had greater expertise on the local environs. Mudd was a general traveler but kept her ears to the ground.

"Once upon a time I would've suggested Safehold but we already that isn't here," Mudd avoided the term 'new reality' at all costs.

"Too far anyway," Ebert remarked, "They'd need replenishment for dilithium, warp plasma, deuterium and antimatter at that rate that cloak will burn through their energy stores. Even if they could recrystalize the dilithium, they'd still burn through their on-board matter and antimatter storage capacity. That gives them two potential destinations within a reasonable framework."

"And they are.?" Rockford drawled out.

"Kalendra and DS9," Ebert told them, "What? Don't look at me like that. Tom and Heidi's old station chop shop will refuel anyone for a price. Quark had his hands into forging clearances for refueling in the Bajoran Sector. Even if they avoided DS9 itself, the Bajorans have put up several refueling and maintenance stops around their colonial territories. Most are automated and require a valid user's code but Quark will still sell one to anyone."

"I think you should tell Laren that," Macen told her.

"She'll figure it soon enough. She may know already and let slide. Meanwhile, I owe Quark a debt or two so he's earned my silence."

"You told us," Mudd chided her.

"We won't arrest him," Ebert snarked back.

"Corners, ladies," Macen sighed.

"Work this out. Now!" Rockford demanded, "We can't afford the distraction anymore."

"I will alert Laren to be on the lookout for the S31 ship and have her pass it on to General Kira," Macen decided, "I'll keep Quark out of it. We owe him for ditching Treir anyway. Meanwhile, check into Tom and Heidi's new shop owners and I'll discuss things with them personally."

"No wonder we're branded as criminals," Rockford mused.

"We've always been criminals," Macen said before returning to his assumed station to open channels ot DS9 and the Solstice..

"Man's got a valid point," Kerber stated, "Even back 'home'."

Rockford absolutely had no comeback.

Due to ongoing ionization problem left by S31's departure wake, Limerick had to use a shuttle to reach the compound. Finding the Danube-class Corsair already lifting off, he met with Daggit and Kovic and arranged for further shuttle flights to transfer the captured Thirty-One agents. Wren took great offense at the death toll accumulated, Especially after the "Smith" incident. Since Maarta and Anara were fugitives from Ardanan "justice" and in the Federation by proxy, Kerber and Smith were exiting and attempting to patch a subspace relay through the subspace distortions caused by the electromagnetic storms in the atmosphere.

The Obsidian had deployed subspace relay buoys into orbit to boost the signals. Kovic's team on the ground used the Corsair's emergency stores to convert a distress beacon into a relay, further boosting the contact signals and potentially clearing the way for transporters to be used in emergency.

"Rough ride?" Macen asked Limerick as the Elven entered the underground control node.

"I've had rougher but it was still hair raising," Limerick chuckled and pointed at the raised hairs escaping from his braid of hair that draped over his shoulder. Macen had to fight the urge to act familarly with Limerick, reminding himself this incarnation of the man could be drastically different than the Starfleet captain he'd worked with in the past.

"Captain Merry Limerick of the USS Hood," he extended and Macen expertly went for a forearm grip as was customary amongst Elvens.

"You know my people?" Limerick was surprised.

"I've had past dealings," Macen demurred, "I'm Brin Macen and this is my wife, Celeste Rockford."

Rockford also exchanged the proper grip.

"No titles?" Limerick seemed surprised given Admiral Forger's description of Macen's paramilitary crew.

"I'm properly addressed as Mission Commander or just Commander," Macen explained.

"I'm just Detective Rockford," she put in as well, "Detectives Lee, Shade, and Forte are similarly addressed."

Ebert, Tessa, and Mudd had departed to pilot Kerber and Smith to relative safety so while Daggit and Kovic endured Wren's outraged tirade, Parva was left alone with the SID detachment in the node.

"I have more news on that stealth ship," Parva approached, "Captain."

Limerick returned her nod, "And you are?"

"Parva. I'm the Obsidian's Chief Engineer," she told him, "Anyway, forgetting all that, the cloak's energy drain is more severe than we initially thought. My estimates give it a solid four hours operation at Warp 2 and then they'll have to lose the cloak or go to impulse."

Macen called up the search grid the Monitor and the Merrimack were employing, "If we're right about Kalendra and the Bajor Sector, Captains Hev and Prine will never find them. Captain Limerick can you inform them we've suspicion to believe they'll go for either the Kalendra or Bajor Sector?"

"Certainly. But I hope this is more than a simple hunch," he admitted. Parva briefed him on the salient points.

"I'll contact Prine and Hev right away," Limerick stepped aside to relay orders to the Hood. When he returned, he wore a relieved smile, "My commendations to your crewmen for setting up the subspace relay network. I know most privateers aren't so equipped or are handidly experienced in such matters."

Parva snorted, "My husband would shoot Jelena's entire Security detachment if they couldn't manage simple field comms."

"I take it your married to the Angosian I met earlier?" Limerick half deduced.

"Damn straight," Parva proudly told him, "Commander, I'll keep on this."

"Thanks, Parva," Macen squeezed her upper arm.

"Your people seem very relaxed around you. Almost familial," Limerick observed.

He was as quick a study as any Limerick Macen had known, "We're all orphans here. We've made our own family and this is it."

"And these are my people," Rockford said proudly, "Meet Detectives Lee Kang, Shade, and Arianna Forte."

Shade and Forte startled Limerick a bit. Shade's obvious affectation with her white striped hair and leather s belied his knowledge of Fabrini and Forte's pink hair and leopard skirt also smacked of "rebellious teenager" but he knew her history. Admiral Forger had briefed him on every team member, excepting Kerber, Smith, and Mudd.

Wren reported in, "Captain, there are a ton of irregularities here. I strongly urge an investigation into events leading to this point."

"You know our orders, Commander. Take the prisoners and let it go," Limerick referred to Forger's forbidding any active investigations into prior dealings on the surface.

"Aye, sir," Wren's acknowledgment was hardly a happy one.

"That just confirmed my worst fear," Limerick sighed, "Your reputation does proceed you, Commander. Present appearances notwithstanding."

"Elven's have a 'knack' for sensing the truth about people. What does your sense say about us?" Macen inquired.

"That you're trustworthy despite previous claims made against you. But I know you're hiding many things and possibly people. It isn't hard to believe that runabout lifted off because of my arrival" Limerick replied, "But El-Aurians tend to warp my perspective."

"We've embraced in friendship," Macen recited the Code Elvens held to, "You pushed past my natural defenses. What was your first impression of me then?"

"That you're a man of honor. The man Starfleet believed you to be prior to your defection to the Maquis," Limerick admitted, "And I sensed great valor within you, Detective. But that doesn't mean the body count we found was absolutely necessary."

"We didn't kill those agents," Rockford vowed.

"I believe you both," Limerick stated, "I also believe the party or parties responsible were aboard that runabout. Call it my knack for delving into the truth."

"My agents were under fire and not under my direct supervision. I know they were fighting a defensive action and I have utter faith in their judgment. If they found lethal force necessary then it was necessary," Macen stressed every word.

"I believe you believe that," Limerick replied sternly, "But if this facility's surveillance indicates otherwise, I will have to remand the party or parties into custody barring a full investigation. Do I make myself clear?"

"Certainly. We haven't reviewed the external logs, only the interior logs of this node. Feel free to peruse whatever you wish to delve into," Macen stepped aside and guided Limerick to the master consoles. Limerick studied the LACRS interface and began searching the internal and exterior logs. Rockford gave Macen a curious glance. He simply shrugged.

Minutes passed and finally Limerick heaved a weary sigh, "There are no visual recorders active in this entire facility. Sensors indicate that the area in contention was indeed under heavy assault and that lethal force was employed. Interestingly enough, particle weapons weren't utilized in the final casualties. A fact that my Chief of Security left out. It seems someone or several someones in your employ are excellent at throwing knives."

"It's actually news to me," Macen told the truth. He'd known Kerber was highly proficient with a blade. Smith's expertise had come as a shock given she was a Stratosian and not a Troglyte.

"Your people seem exonerated for now since there appears to be no tampering with the system files. However my people will be reviewing them," Limerick advised them both.

"I look forward to hearing the results," Macen confessed.

"I'm certain you already know them," Limerick seemed displeased, "However, Commander Wren will be dispatching her leading investigative teams to both the apparent duck blind and to this location. Are we agreed?"

"Absolutely," Macen had already had Tessa scrub the duck blind for genetic samples.

"Then we're agreed?" Limerick asked.

"Perfectly except for a detail," Macen amended, "We'll be proceeding to Kalendra and then Bajor. You can catch us at Deep Space Nine."

"Interesting wording," Limerick grinned.

"I thought you'd appreciate it," Macen told him, "The ongoing investigation is now yours."

"I'm completely aware trhat Admiral Forger will issuing orders to that effect as soon as you request her to," Limerick conceded.

"Then we're off," Macen threw a mock salute.

"Damn it all," Browder viewed the stealth ship's main screen. They'd arrived at the lunar orbital drydock formerly owned by Eckles and Darcy to find a Nebula-class starship awaiting them. Records showed it was attached to the Bajor Sector patrol. Given that, Fowler had ordered them to press onward to the actual Bajor Sector itself. they'd approached near the Badlands to find the local Bajoran colony under guard from another Starfleet vessel attached DS9 as well as Militia cruisers. The next target of availability, on the other side of the Rotaran Nebula, was under a third Starfleet vessel's scrutiny beside Militia frigates.

"This is irregular," Fowler said emotionlessly.

"This is us being made," Browder contended, "Barring erasing the computer cores, Macen's team could easily recover our Cell 51 data from within Section 31's data framework. They know our ship class and our budding situation. Thereby guessing where we'd try to next make port."

"Head for Bajor itself," Fowler ordered the vessel's CO. The Captain nervously looked to Browder.

"I am in charge here, Captain. You will defer to my order or I will have you summarily executed as a traitor to the security of the Federation," Fowler warned him. The Captain wisely complied. Fowler retreated back to the Captain's cabin, one of two private bunks.

"He's growing increasingly unstable," L'Haan observed coolly.

"Without Director Fowler to monitor him and continually release his safe codes, Jack is operating at only half his processing capabilities. That will cause system errors in positronic matrixes, leading an eventual cascade failure."

"Or, he will grow lethally unstable, as the android Lore did before him," L'Haan predicted.

"Jack isn't Lore," Browder contended.

"He isn't human either. Not in any way that matters," L'Haan warned him, "Refusal to acknowledge this basic fact will impede your judgment moving forward."

"You attached your star to his vision for Cell 51 just as I did. So his fate is yours as well," Browder argued.

"Of that, I fear you may utterly correct," L'Haan confessed her rare loss of emotional control.

"The Defiant is operating with additional support from the Militia starships they acquired from the Iotians," Browder explained as Fowler entered eth cramped bridge. it was designed to facilitate five people not eight. but neither L'Haan or Browder would be led out as Fowler rejoined them hours away from Bajor. They'd dropped out of warp, crawling along at impulse from the last attempt to access a colonial refueling station, to proceed into the very Bajor system itself.

They were currently out beyond the system, having just departed from Prophet's Landing where Militia starships had been deployed along the border. Like the stealth ship, their design dated back to the Federation's 23rd century. Mid-23rd century to be more precise. But the stealth vessel had isolinear processor upgrades unlike the duotronic systems aboard the Bajoran vessels.

"They are conducting tachyon sweeps of the system utilizing the space station itself as their anchor point," L'Haan stated the obvious. She'd been smugly doing so for hours now as their situation deteriorated.

"Director Fowler, I can't advise using the cloak for more than another two hours even at impulse," the Captain so advised the positronic man.

"We will not to need to," Fowler predicted, "Take us into the system at half impulse. When the search turns again towards the inner system, follow them and then prepare to enter the Bajoran Wormhole at my command."

"You're taking us to the Gamma Quadrant?" Browder finally lost his patience, "We have no support there."

"But Starfleet and the Militia will not pursue us into Dominion held territory," Fowler said in his even monotone.

"Illogical. The Jem'Hadar will undoubtedly detect us," L'Haan protested.

"Exactly, we will explain to the patrol's Vorta commander that I am a scouting party in advance of an invasion force," Fowler explained his rationale, "The resultant conflict between the Dominion will force the Federation to acquiesce to my terms for their survival."

"You seem confident the Jem'Hadar won't simply destroy us," Browder observed.

"They will not. They will be curious as to the nature of this craft, my true allegiance, and why I flew into the Gamma Quadrant on my own" Fowler explained. And then they realized his intention as he began killing off the crewmen and the senior agents by hand. Afterwards, he jettisoned their bodies. He inspected the helm and saw that his last order had been carried out as a hyperbolic course into the wormhole was already laid in. So he simply awaited his opportunity to implement it.

"Status, Commander Vaughn?" Captain Ro Laren asked from Station Ops.

"Unchanged," Vaughn didn't know whether to feel relieved or bored.

"Captain!" Colonel Cenn Deska, the Bajoran Liaison aboard called out, the wormhole is opening."

"What ships were detected approaching from the Gamma side?" Ro inquired.

"None," Cenn replied, "Nor were any ships detected from our side."

"Oh hell! Vaughn get to through the wormhole. Now!" Ro ordered, "Colonel, signal Militia forces on the other side to begin preparing for a potential attack."

"Yes, sir," Cenn said crisply and began transmitting.

Fowler realized that the Defiant's superior impulse engine response would get her to the wormhole just as the stealth ship began its entry. The Defiant wouldn't destroy Fowler's ship while he was inside the wormhole but neither could he remain inside given the capricious nature of the aliens that resided within its confines. So he dropped the cloak and went to full impulse. As expected the Defiant slowed to match his speed.

He cloaked again before reaching the wormhole's Gamma Quadrant terminus and went to a full stop upon exiting in a probability gamble that the Defiant wouldn't simply barrel through the ship. As it was, the impulse wake threw the stealth ship into an uncorrected spin away from the terminus. The Defiant itself came to a sudden impulse driven halt and Fowler wondered if he'd been detected. Then the starship began tachyon sweeps.

The positronic mind within Jack Fowler's body would've railed had it the emotional capacity. It couldn't comprehend how a starship commander, even one with Vaughn's eighty years of experience could've anticipated his its gambit. He shut down life support and put all energy into the cloak. But even then the stealth ship was detected. Fowler disengaged the cloak and activated the defensive systems and raised shields despite it being a futile gesture. Activating the self-destruct, the positronic mind would not allow itself to be captured and Section 31 and Cell 51's last secrets divulged.

Instead it attempted to lure the Defiant into range to be damaged by the warp core breach it had initiated. But even then, Vaughn robbed the positronic mind of its hollow victory. The Defiant did not close the distance but instead charged its pulse phasers and barraged the ship. Withdrawing, the Defiant escaped the worst effects of the blast wave as the stealth ship's warp core detonated in an uncontrolled matter-antimatter annihilation.

"Dammit!" Vaughn swore.

"The warp core breached of its own accord," Slaine reported.

"Auto-destruct, maybe?" Tenmei asked from the helm.

"Have Nog scan the wreckage. Maybe we can salvage something usable," Vaughn sighed.

Hours later, after sensor sweeps had determined that nothing usable could be recovered the stealth ship's wreckage, Vaughn and the crew returned ot Deep Space Nine to find the Obsidian also engaging in docking maneuvers. Ro had forwarded the Militia's reports of finding bodies beyond Prophet's Landing. Identification was underway but Starfleet Security's warrants on John Browder and L'Haan had made them the first to identified. Ro had dispatched all three Starfleet runabouts assigned to the station to ferry Dr. Julian Bashir and a forensic medical team to the Constitution-class analogue Militia starship that had recovered the bodies.

Ro herself had piloted the Rio Grande but had subsequently returned to the station while Bashir's team stayed aboard the Prophet's Tear. Ro had news for Macen when the team disembarked and the crew began an off-duty watch by watch liberty.

"Commander Blackmer detected a man carrying a katana blade through security," she told Macen and Rockford, "Vaughn identified as Tony Burrows."

"Our Tony?" Rockford asked.

"Even with Bashir gone, I can't order a quantum variance scan to be done on the heels of the Indendents setting up shop in our universe," Ro scowled.

"Tony took personal time off before we transitioned," Macen recalled, "We assumed that's why he didn't appear with us despite his body being amongst the deceased."

"Well, that goes to show you he's probably one of us," Ro decided.

"Has Elias spoken with him?" Rockford wondered.

"Yes, and he's tight lipped. He was booking passage to Barrinor. So maybe seeing you two will settle his mind and he'll open up," Ro suggested, "He's in Elias' quarters right now. I'll take you to them."

"Thanks," Macen gratefully acknowledged Ro's grace in the situation.

Vaughn met with Macen and Rockford outside his quarters while Ro returned to her office in Ops to file ongoing after action reports concerning Vaughn and Bashir's separate but linked missions.

"He's being Tony," Vaughn grated, "I can't get him to open up. He's treating me like an enemy."

"We all felt that way waking up here," Macen encouraged his friend. Vaughn had been Burrows' immediate superior in Starfleet Special Operations Command. He'd also been a friend who'd recommended him to join Macen's SID team after Burrow's had to have a biosynthetic knee replacement. Biosynthetic replacements weren't disqualifying for most Starfleet duties but for SOC they were because of the potential reflex lag. Burrows didn't want to transfer to normal Security duties so he retired and joined the SID as Vaughn had suggested.

Burrows history in the Prime Universe was little more complicated. As Burrows himself had probably already encountered. Macen and Rockford entered the quarters alongside Vaughn.

"I'll be in Ops," Vaughn dismissed himself.

"Tony, it's us," Rockford pledged.

"We came across to this reality as well," Macen told him.

"Thank God!" Burrows heaved a sigh of relief, "I thought maybe I'd gone mental."

"No, the Prophets did really choose you to enter a new reality," Macen promised.

"I read my death certificate," Burrows said sadly, "And I learned about this alternate life I supposedly led."

"All of us have severe let down regarding our doppelganger's choices," Rockford told him.

"I woke up on Cestus III where I had some personal business. But my personal business no longer knew why I was there. They had me referred to medical staff for an evaaluation. I learned rather quickly to say the righst things and keep myself out sight. I made my way here and Blackmer didn't recognize me and detained me. I found out the SID had just started up instead of thirteen years ago. So I was booking passage to Serenity Station when I confirmed it and Outbound Ventures existed. Vaughn found me as I was headed to the local Rockford Detective Agency to find out what I could about everyone," Burrows finally revealed.

"We've missed you, Tony," Rockford admitted.

"Ready to get back to work?" Macen asked.

"Am I ever," Burrows fiercely nodded, "I take it you're on assignment?"

"The news, when it isn't reporting Martian conspiracies, has been filled with Section 31's downfall. We're tracking the Cell 51 splinter group that was never dealt with in this reality," Macen shared.

"I bet Elias is pissed," Burrows chuckled.

"Especially since our greatest lead just blew himself up on Elias' watch in the Gamma Quadrant," Rockford said sadly.

"Bob Johnson, Jim McKinley and the others also have a lot to say about it," Macen confided.

"Who all came with?" Burrows wondered plaintively.

"The whole team including you," Macen shared, "Shannon's Senior Staff for the Obsidian. Ro and Elias. Tom and Lees. And Admirals Nechayev and Forger, who found herself still being 'Amanda Drake' in this universe."

"Don't forget Neela," Rockford chided him.

"And the Intrepid crew?" Burrows had caught the reference.

"Just the senior officers. But Hannah had never betrayed everyone. Ever. But she'd been outed as a Kelvan recently, putting at odds with Ian. She's a fighter squadron leader aboard the Intrepid," Macen gave details.

"Bet our Ian's happy," Burrows chuckled again.

"He's practically writing poetry," Rockford snickered.

"So, we're criminals gone good?" Burrows asked.

"We're still part-time criminals on an SID retainer," Macen shrugged, "It's makes for a good cover. We have the Cardassians and the Tal Shiar on friendly terms with us because of it.".

"And here the Orion Syndicate sings our praises for eliminating the B'nners and Sindis for them," Rockford grimaced.

"God, help us," Burrows groaned.

"I think the Prophets' intervention proves we have Deity on our side," Macen commented.

"You worship the Prophets now?" Burrows was surprised.

"Brin believes a being or a race outlived the previous universe or universes and became what we refer to as 'God' but the El-Aurians simply named it or they 'Deity'," Rockford explained, "He's always believed that."

"Good to know," Burrows shrugged.

"You're free to disbelieve but just hear me out someday," Macen offered.

"Maybe I will," Burrows decided, "After this and other things we've been through and seen, who knows? Maybe God does exist."

"The El-Aurian logic behind his view is pretty compelling," Rockford admitted, "I didn't quite believe it before but like you said, after this it's hard to deny the idea of Fate or Destiny."

"Or maybe dumb luck?" Burrows offered.

"We weren't randomly selected," Macen and Rockford explained what they'd learned so far about the nature of the Prophets from Neela and their seeming intentions become clearer after the discovery fo the Alliance cooperating in this universe with the Iotian Federation.

"Damn, and I thought just hopping realities was complicated enough," Burrows' brow furrowed.

"Whatever the reasons, I firmly believe we're here to keep the embers of hope alive," Macen voiced aloud for the first time.

"Makes sense," Rockford agreed, "Given what Neela has explained before to you, Tracy, and Ro, along with the Odyssey crew and Elfi. Then there's the discussions she's had with our ragtag grouping. We know from Bajoran history that the Prophets intervene in unexpected intervals. They may see this as a threat to Bajor and we might be the response."

"And if this is a Prime Universe and the divergence culminated at the end of the Dominion War, it makes a bizarre sense that we've seen a brighter, if tumultuous, future so we know any obstacles can be surmounted with faith and tenacity," Macen added.

"You've become the Mad Prophet, Dearest," Rockford reined him in.

"No, I get that," Burrows agreed, "That's the only thing that's made sense of this so far."

Macen gave Rockford an I told you so stare.

"I give up," she threw her hands up in despair.

"So that makes the Terran Universe a Prime Universe?" Burrows asked, "If the El-Aurian Theory of Four really is true?"

"Seems like," Macen concurred, "The Hobus disaster warped time and space as well when Spock used the Red Matter to create a singularity. He may have failed in his mission thanks to bad timing and to the Narada's intervention but my temporal senses tell me that was something from that altered the past for some reason. Singularity event horizons warp time-space so their heart does Deity knows what."

"Creating another divergent reality," Rockford understood it.

"And to anyone's knowledge the Narada and Spock have never returned to our space-time," Macen concluded.

"If they did miraculously survive, they're some other universe's problem now," Rockford shrugged.

"But the Temporal Accords stipulate that Spock, if he could, was to revert that alteration to prevent an alternate reality branch from flowing," Macen had to add one last item.

"The what?" Burrows sputtered.

"Don't get him started on his Temporal Cold War conspiracy theories," Rockford begged.

"Forget I asked," Burrows amended.

"You believe in alternate quantum realities but not a Temporal Cold War?" Macen was disheartened.

"Now I live in an alternate quantum reality only to find it's the main reality and I lived in a divergence," Rockford planted her fists akimbo.

"I think I'll let it go," Macen conceded.

"You'll live longer," Rockford teased.

"Never marry a woman that can kill you with just an eyebrow," Macen jested.

"I at least need a thumb," Burrows added to the humor of the moment.

"Let's get the happy reunion going," Rockford encouraged everyone, "They'll probably be gathering at Quark's."

Burrows rose and hefted his duffel, "Lead the way."

The happy reunion lasted several hours, cost over a hundred strips of latinum, and eventually included Ro and Vaughn. Everyone quielty noted that Ro ate and drank for free.

A full twenty-six hours later, the Obsidian was back on the hunt. Limerick's people had unearthed several possible Cell 51 hold out locations. The Hood, the Monitor, and the Merrimack were all deploying to raid them. Kerber, Smith, and the detective squad had also shaken several clues loose from their copies of the data taken from Izar. Fowler's positronic brain wasn't the overt repository fo Cell 51 and S31 operational history and lists of ongoing operations. Given Limerick, Hev, and Prine's target lists, it seemed they hadn't cracked the encryption surrounding that key data.

But Smith had when she realized some of the similarities the code cipher had with Alliance records. So she dug into Section 31's Terran Empire records and found ciphers and encryption schemes implemented by Philippa Georgiou and Cell 51's most protected files opened. The Cell 51 Manifesto was one of them. That was something that had never been uncovered even in their past history.

Macen made certain to forward copies to Admiral Forger, Nechayev, Johnson and McKinley's senior officers, including Grace in the mix. Riker and Danan would receive theirs when they returned to duty and Neela hadn't been involved in the efforts to contain Cell 51. But then again, only Vaughn and Macen had been directly involved in their own past owing to T'Kir's death. Burrows, Daggit, Parva, and Ro had been peripheral players in that particular drama.

Outbound Ventures starships were diverted to the other target lists provided by the active duty Starfleet SID officers. But the Obsidian was headed for the heart of Cell 51. Their destination: the colony on Pluto. Cell 51 had dug themselves into the colony centuries before ostensibly on Section 31's behalf. From the dwarf planet they'd constructed a data archive on Charon that mirrored Memory Alpha's function for the Federation but only pertaining to Thirty-One and Cell 51's records and operations. The entire "moon" had been hollowed out and filled with memory storage.

The Pluto "colony" was simply a security detachment and archive branch that served Charon's needs. Active S31 agents had passed through for their indoctrination into the elite Cell 51. The problem now was getting Starfleet's currently heavy, active patrols of Sector 001 to stand down as the Obsidian took issue with Cell 51. Which meant Nechayev and Forger would have to approach Noyce, convince him, and have the united trio persuade Clancy if they could get past Captain Oh to reach Noyce. Which would alert Cell 51's moles within Starfleet Command.

A partial list of rogue officers had reached Internal Affairs and Commander Prentiss was leading the arrests. The Starfleet JAG herself having to intervene to get past Oh's initial objections to involving Starfleet Security in the matter. But after reviewing the evidence and the list of officers, Captain Oh relented.

Starfleet Headquarters personnel were still reeling from the dozen arrests made throughout the sprawling campus. Unlike S31 which had made inroads with certain flag officers, no Cell 51 conspirator had been above the rank of Commander. But several top aides and attaches were implicated and detained. JAG and IA were issuing arrest warrants for starbase and starship commands to detain and secure specific officers and some commanding officers of light cruisers and frigates as well as select starbases were named on that list. They were removed from command and remanded into custody to be held until IA agents or Starfleet Security could collect them.

Most had evaded detection when Section 31 fell because S31 had never realized Cell 51 existed and was conducting its own recruiting. But the manifesto made Cell 51's demands for a secure Federation. One nearly devoid of free will or freedom of speech and expression. Citizens and officials alike could be targeted and detained on the mere suspicion of disloyalty to the proposed sweeping changes. Those Federation member worlds that objected would lawfully blockaded until they submitted to Cell 51's demands. Fortunately, if barely, it resisted calls to implement General Order 24 on such resistant planets and colonies.

Preemptive strikes and open aggression would be the modus operandi to quelling rival antagonists pitting the Federation into an open state of near objectives of conquest, Cell 51 imagined a Federation free of rivals and liberated from the necessity of allies. The struggling Romulan Star Empire to be the first to be "quelled" through open invasion with support from key Houses from the Klingon Empire.

Which, unbeknownst to all others involved in the cleaning of Starfleet's house, was Oh's motivation to see Cell 51 crushed. Federation officials also came under scrutiny as the lists were shared with Federation Security and even up to members of the Federation Council were arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and outright treasonous activities. Martok, upon being informed, took swift and decisive action. He killed no fewer than three Heads of the named Houses in personal combat. Proving once again to the High Council of Martok's value and honor as the High Chancellor of the Klingon Empire. His only regret was that Worf wasn't present to celebrate his victories with him.

On Oh's orders, Starfleet blockaded Pluto. But the Obsidian was cleared to arrest the personnel awaiting an imminent threat. Even Clancy agreed that the Outbound Ventures SID personnel were far more expendable in her view and breaking the dwarf planet's defenses would considerable effort and firepower, which a surveyor lacked.


Chapter Three

"Charon is our key to victory," Macen announced to a combined SID team and Obsidian Senior Staff briefing.

"We'll come in from behind Charon while Angelique and Bailey began downloading and simultaneously begin transmitting Cell 51 records to Starfleet Command," Shannon Forger explained.

"That will draw out the defenders individually," Macen reasoned, "We can't defend ourselves from Pluto's ground based defenses and we don't have enough ordnance to crack their shields but we can decisively deal with their support craft and intended boarding parties."

"How 'intended' are we talking about?" Kovic fretted.

"Some will get through and get aboard," Rockford warned them all, "Jelena, Rab and Tony will assist your force in subduing and repelling boarding parties. The detective squad will secure the Situation Center just as Angelique and Bailey will secure the Data Womb's interior."

"Rab and Tony, securing the Data Womb's exterior will be your top priority," Macen told them, "Jelena will concentrate on securing Engineering. Celeste and I will hold the Bridge, keeping Shannon and crew secure so they can concentrate on keeping our position and the comm lines ot Charon open."

"What about me?" Ebert wondered.

"She means 'us'," Mudd corrected her.

"You get to see how daredevil you really are in the Corsair," Macen smirked.

"I can cope," Ebert decided.

"Oy vey," Mudd groaned, "I've survived her driving."

"You're clearly still alive," Ebert retorted. She and Mudd had reached a personal accommodation. Mudd would stop pursuing Ebert and Ebert would concede to keeping the option of a future "them" open. Until then, they were natural partners, professionally speaking.

"So, we're clear?" Macen inquired.

"Crystal," Forger answered for everyone.

Kovic set up portable shield generators within the bridge confines and at strategic points within the ship to supplement the already present shield emitters. But as Starfleet Commander Clancy had reasoned out, the Obsidian's warp core couldn't generate enough power to simultaneously fend off dedicated external and internal threats. The primary airlock and the shuttle bay were the most worrisome points of entrance. Stun grenades linked to remote triggers served as a mine field at the air lock. But the shuttle bay would be exposed after the Corsair launched. The door's could be remotely opened by expert hackers since Cell 51 seemed to have individuals at least as talented as Kerber and Smith.

But in an effort to keep Charon safe from revelation, Cell 51 had failed to install any external defenses. Only software and firmware architecture served as an internal defense. Its very encrypted programming and language serving as a supposed barrier. T'Kir had been the most naturally gifted computer engineer Macen had ever met. But Kerber gave her a run for the title and no one ever expected a linguist of Smith's natural inclination and talents to be assisting a programmer at that level. T'Kir had to remain the single most gifted hacker but Kerber and Smith, as a team, outstripped her abilities. The fact that they'd conspired together since they were children only gave them that extra advantage that no one seemed to be able to compete with. Everything, in the end, came down to how effectively they could break Charon's internal defenses and begin broadcasting the data buried within it.

The second greatest priority was keeping Starfleet linked to the archive's transmission once its security was broken. The starships surrounding the dwarf and its binary satellite would assist in that endeavor by insuring the relay was kept intact. Their third priority was also to insure that no one escaped custody.

The Intrepid had crossed the former Neutral Zone with little interference from the local warlords. The Tal Shiar having given word the starship was to pass unmolested. The Warbird Valdore met the Intrepid on the border near the Borg cube. General Donatra still commanded her it seemed. Johnson beamed over with Delaney and Ensign Brad Turner as his armed escort. The Romualns were solicitous of having a flag officer requiring an armed escort. It was their way as well.

"Admiral, I have heard a great many things about you and read even more reports concerning you," Donatra greeted Johnson and his party at the transporter room when they beamed across.

"I rather doubt they were all flattering," Johnson admitted.

"No, but they never are, are they?" Donatra wore a knowing smile, "Frankly, Director Sela can't say enough about you."

"I'm afraid. I'm very afraid," Johnson sighed.

"As well you should be," Donatra admitted, "Now, if you'll follow me, the Praetor herself awaits."

Delaney gave Johnson a worried look.

"Never fear, our Senators rarely bite," Donatra chuckled mirthlessly.

"Commander Striker, have a look at this," the Tactical Officer serving as Delaney's relief requested of the ship's XO. Striker obliged and read the IA warrant, "You've got to be kidding me."

Striker transferred the warrant to a padd after receiving initial confirmation and requested entrance into McKinley's Ready Room.

"What is it, Commander?" McKinley asked.

"Captain, we've just received word from IA to arrest one of our own," Striker handed off the padd.

"Cell 51?" McKinley read the ordes with disbelief, "That's still an issue here?"

"I've requested additional confirmation but the authentication codes truly are authentic," Striker reported.

"Handle this personally," McKinley instructed, "And quietly if possible."

"Aye, sir," Striker acknowledged and exited.

"I'll be damned," McKinley murmured as he contacted IA to speak with Commander Prentiss personally. The answers he received weren't to his liking.

Striker took a four-man Security detail to Engineering where Caplan intercepted them, "Is there a problem, Commander?"

Striker took Caplan aside and spoke in hushed tones as he handed Caplan another padd with the arrest warrant. He, Delaney, and Caplan were the closest of friends.

"I know the Master Chief. She's a good noncom," Caplan vouched.

"You knew a Chief by that name, not her," Striker reminded Caplan.

"Lieutenant Goodfeather, carry on," Striker ordered.

"Let me lead the way on this," Caplan requested.

"Behind Commander Caplan's lead," Striker reevised his order.

"Aye, sir," Goodfeather waited for the Chief Engineer to single Master Chief Gladstone out.

"Master Chief? A word please?" Caplan requested.

The Master Chief reported as requested, "Yessir?"

"Security has some questions for you," Caplan shared. The Master Chief bolted and knocked over two Security officers in her wake as she fled Engineering.

"I'll be damned," Caplan unknowingly echoed his captain's earlier expression.

Gladstone yelled as she ran, "Make a hole!"

Trained to comply, crewmen obeyed as Gladstone made her way towards the shuttle bay. Security was right behind her and she had no way on hell of knowing how to escape Romulan space. But she'd been ordered to evade capture at all costs so her flight from prosecution ran unabated. Until she hit the first force field erected in her path.

"Dammit all!" she snarled as got back up off the deck. Striker had outmaneuvered her. She ducked into the nearest room. There weren't many places to hide on the secondary hull. But there was an astrometrics linked observation port she could attempt to hide in while she desperately accessed the internal sensors after yanking a maintennace panel off. From there she accessed the Jefferies Tubes. Her destination remained the same.

She could override the shuttle bay's door protocols from the tube and steal a shuttle. She gambled that McKinley couldn't risk launching fighters in Romulan held territory for fear of provoking a reprisal while Johnson was aboard the Warbird. She was almost right. McKinley had approached Liefers and apprised her of the developing situation. while Security scrambled to react, Liefers alerted the squadron to the approach of the unwelcome visitor. Grace led the pilots in securing the bay.

Emily Johnson arrived with Caplan, Striker, and the four man Security detail that had begun this chase with internal sensors down in the observation post, Security had qucikly realized that the internal sensors for the room were fouled and determined that the Jeffries Tubes had been accessed. Gladstone's comm badge was directly inside the tube she'd accessed. She thought she was discreet when she exited the tube in the shuttle bay only to find twelve alert pilots, two disappointed engineers, an irritated Security detail, and one pissed off XO waiting for her.

"I give up," Gladstone raised her hands in surrender.

"Emelia?" Johnson looked heartbroken.

"Sorry, Em. I really am," Gladstone admitted.

"You're hereby under arrest," Striker told her.

"On what charges?" Gladstone wondered if she could bluff her way free.

"Conspiracy and treason," Striker read off of the padd, "You'll tell us everything you know about Cell 51 or you'll be walking home without an EVA suit."

Gladstone finally realized she and Cell 51 had been made. Fittingly, further resistance was futile.

Pluto's defense grid opened fire as soon as the Obsidian came within range. Starfleet stayed away out of range and maintained their cordon.

"Useless mothers," Forger muttered to herself. Aglaia deftly positioned Charon between them and the phaser banks.

"What is it this week? Everybody take a potshot at us day?" Zimbalist voiced Forger's foul thought process.

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Angelique, we're in position. OPS is securing your channel."

"Acknowledged," Kerber tersely replied, already absorbed in her work.

"Starfleet is signaling that the up-link is secured and the so-called 'colony' is launching support craft," Miller apprised everyone.

"So are we," Forger tapped her badge, "Bridge to Corsair, you're cleared for launch."

"On it," Ebert replied.

"Shuttle Bay reports the Corsair is away," Zimbalist announced.

"Jaycee, lay down as much cover fire as you can. We've been given torpedo release so just swat the incoming flies. Aglaia, keep us within comms range but you're free to navigate otherwise."

Miller switched the viewer to the tactical display, "We have four Peregrine-class attack fighters in-bound and four Danube-class runabouts. All fully armed and weapons hot. Four Type-6 shuttles are attempting to run the blockade."

"Here we go again," Forger said grimly.

Striker had conferred with McKinley before approaching the captive Emelia Gladstone. The Master Chief Petty Officer looked morose within the brig's solely occupied cell. As Striker dropped the force field to enter, Gladstone looked him in the eye, "Tell Em I'm sorry"

She reached and poked into her ear and a transporter halo dissolved her.

"Transporter room!" Striker slapped his comm badge, "What just happened?"

"Someone seized control of the system through a remote relay," the chief replied.

"I saw that," Striker growled, "Where is she?"

"Sir, the annular confinement blew as the rematerialization process began. It was deliberate sabotage," the Chief Petty 2nd Class reported.

"Can you trell me where Master Chief Gladstone ended up?" Striker was tired of the imprecise answers.

"Across a fifty meter spread one thousand kilometers off the port bow. I'm sorry, sir," the chief said quietly. Striker was disappointed of course. But the Master Chief and Lieutenant Johnson had been friends. The Master Chief's betrayal and suicide would hit the young Deputy Chief Engineer hard. He contacted Caplan since he thought the news would be better received from the Chief Engineer. They'd both known and befriended Gladstone. So they'd better understand the precise, conflicting emotions at play here. Now he had to report the incident to McKinley. Which he already understood the Captain's mounting frustration over this revelation. He knew with certainty McKinley was online with Starfleet Command to find out exactly what had been transpiring while they were in Romulan space.

Miller employed the dorsal and ventral phaser strips to discourage Cell 51's fighters. Ebert and Mudd engaged the runabouts.

"Damn, they're attempting to punch a hole in the Obsidian's shields," Mudd realzied why so much of the enemy fire seemed to be "missing" them.

"Those ships are the same class as ours," Ebert nodded as she maneuvered to get Mudd clean shots, "They can only transport two at a time."

"Unless they've swapped out modules for transporters," Mudd guessed.

"Hell," Ebert groaned as the Corsair shuddered from phaser fire.

The runabouts were bombarding the Obsidian's aft port side shields with microtorpedoes.

"I'm detecting mass transporters signals," Mudd glowered, "They're in."

"Then we still take them out one by one if necessary," Ebert shared the scowl.

"We have intruders in multiple locations throughout the secondary hull," Zimbalist called out, "Patching warnings to Security."

"Jelena will not be happy," Forger muttered.

"I know I'm not," Miller growled.

"They're in the turbolifts," Zimbalist reported.

Macen and Rockford lit up the force field barricades.

"Of all the places in all the worlds, we ended up here," Rockford sighed.

"You missed out on Cell 51's insurrection back home," Macen said grimly.

"Feeling a bit driven?" Rockford wondered, "This is literally a blast from the past for some of us."

"I just want to end this and get back to business," Macen admitted.

"Which is?" Rockford had watched Macen's moods fluctuate in this new environment.

"It's a pretty bleak Federation we're dealing with right now. Starfleet isn't Starfleet anymore. Picard got that right. The Federation's fear reflex is driving bad policy decisions. We need to find hope. And we need to spread it around," Macen confided in her.

"Feeling messianic, are we?" Rockford wondered.

"Just looking for a spark to ignite hope," Macen countered.

"Just checking," Rockford relented.

"I'm not crazy yet, but I'm determined," Macen warned her.

"If I thought you were off the rails we wouldn't be having this conversation now. It would've already taken place," Rockford confessed, "But I feel the same way about our surroundings. We can work together. We've always done it before. Just let me in."

"Sorry. I'm so, so sorry you felt shut out," Macen admitted, "It won't happen again."

"It better not or we're done," Rockford warned him.

The turbolift doors opened. Inside was a mounted charge.

"Stun charge!" Macen yelled before it discharged. The barricades shielded everyone and the lift doors closed again.

"Now they'll come for real," Rockford advised everyone.

Daggit and Burrows were fending of a team trying to reach the access to the computer core. The boarding party had used photon grenades to blast their way through the ship's internal force field barriers. They had one charge left but were having difficulty deploying it as Daggit had stunned the man slated to toss it and two more that attempted to recover the unused charge. Burrows picked off the remaining forces and they conscious ones began an orderly retreat.

"They'll attempt to breach the lower level of the core," Daggit warned Burrows.

"Then we stop them here and now," Burrows pledged.

Parva and Gilan had sealed Engineering. The ratings and engineers worked to maintain the power flow and engage secondary systems as the primaries overloaded. Many had gone through the Jeffries Tubes to reach burn outs and run replacements to the individual scenes. Outside, Kovic and a detachment of her Security force fended off would-be saboteurs.

"We have to hold!" Kovic demanded despite two of her people being seriously wounded by phaser fire and concussive charges. The secondary Security team, led by Abigail Collins, held off boarders attempting to reach the Auxiliary Control room in the secondary hull off from the Engineering's upper deck. Kovic knew the story of Abby Collins' bravery and dedication to the ship's crew from her former life. This Collins was proving just as valiant. Forger and the others were amazed by the quantum mechanics that brought this Collins to them when they needed her most.

The detective squad had sealed the entrance to their operating theater. Tessa had left Sickbay to treat wounded Security personnel. Macen and Rockford left the barricades erected and traveled down the access ladder beside the turbolift shaft. Forger used her command codes to seal the lift off from the Bridge.

"Another day, another plunging shaft with a small ladder to cling to," Macen complained.

"Oh, lighten up. This universe has you all gloom and doom," Rockford chided him, "And there's only eight decks."

"And this access should be crawling with invaders," Macen remarked, "So where did they go if they aren't after the bridge?"

"I think Rab and Tony will need some help," Rockford guessed.

"Really? 'Cause I was thinking that Cell 51 needs the help concerning those two," Macen snorted. A detonation blew the access panel off of the deck beneath them.

"And what will you buy me when you're proven wrong?" Rockford teased.

"Guess we''ll find out," Macen slid down to that open access and swung through, Tucking and rolling onto one knee with his phaser rifle poised. Rockford mirrored his effort and came up beside him. Through smoke and haze, they saw Daggit and Burrows standing alone in the midst of the blackened corridor. Daggit had his grenade launcher readied for another shot and Burrows wielded his bloodied sword.

"Ahem," Macen loudly cleared his throat.

"All right already. You were right," Rockford complained.

"You're late," Daggit accused as he slung his grenade launcher across his back and retrieved his phaser rifle. Burrows swiped the blood off and sheathed his sword and propped his rifle back up into a ready position.

"Ever miss Radil's portable phaser cannon?" Daggit wondered.

"On day's like today," Macen confessed.

"You'll have to tell me about that one," Rockford knew just how much history there was between the two men. Much like Vaughn and Burrows or Macen and Ro. They'd lived a lifetime's worth of adventures over the past fifteen objective years versus the thirteen subjective ones.

Macen's comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Macen."

"We've transmitted all the compressed data along with a cipher to decompress it and a translation matrix to decode it," Kerber reported.

"You could've just opened the door and told me," Macen said ruefully. The door to the Data Womb opened and Smith stepped and began waving away the smoke and smell of cooked flesh.

"Parva will kill you all for this mess," she predicted.

"Not if I have any sway," Daggit said tonelessly.

Macen's badge chirped again, "What?"

"'Scuse me for living," Forger snapped back, "Jelena and Abby gave all clears but Jaycee is still cleaning the mess up and Tracy is still up to her eyeballs."

"What's the damage so far?" Macen inquired.

"Two fighters have been destroyed. One is nearly crippled and the fourth seems ambivalent about continuing the fight. Three out of four runabouts are disabled. Tracy and Harri made good but the Corsair is heavily damaged and needs to be tractored in," Forger reported, "We need to get a damage control team aboard her ASAP"

"Have Tessa join the party in the Transporter Room as well," Macen advised.

"Oh, and Starfleet is finally intervening. My heroes," Forger grumped.

"Relay our thanks to Starfleet and arrange for a prisoner transfer," Macen isntructed.

"Sure, sure. Leave me the shit jobs," Forger sassed him.

"Just have Telrik beam Tracy and Harri out of the Corsair," Macen sighed.

"Now why didn't I think of that?" Forger snarked and cut the transmission.

"Kids these days," Macen said once again.

"Price of getting old," Rockford snickered.

"Hush you," Macen slapped her on her bum.

"You'd better be prepared ot go the distance, buddy," Rockford warned him.

"I'll try to keep up in my aged infirmity," Macen retorted.

"Fires out," Mudd flopped back into her seat smelling of burnt conduits. They'd had a plasma fire start up and a console exploded while Mudd was dealing with the flames, "Oh, and the fusion reactor scrammed. The warp core shut down when the magnetic seals got wobbly. So we have no life support."

"I vented the warp plasma and the impulse drive is down because we lost the reactor," Ebert sighed, "You okay?"

"My jacket took the brunt of it," Mudd shrugged, "Nice flying though.".

"And I never saw anyone deal with damage control as fast as you just did" Ebert admitted.

"Comes from years of flying solo on a freighter modified waaay past its rated safety margins. I never knew when the damn thing was going to blow up," Mudd shrugged off the compliment.

"So, we good?" Ebert asked.

"Yeah, I think we are," Mudd sighed.

"Mind giving me a hand fixing this bucket?" Ebert inquired.

"Why not?" Mudd said without consideration or hesitation.

"Hold on," Ebert felt the annular confinement beam take hold of her.

Ebert and Mudd rematerialized sitting in the Obsidian's sole transporter room. Telrik looked inordinately pleased with himself, "Ladies."

"Someone better be towing my damn runabout in," Ebert scrambled to her feet and bolted out of the room.

"I think she also meant to say, 'thank you'," Mudd shrugged as she lounged on the pads. The med team arrived and Mudd pooh-pahhed them, "'M'fine. Just a little toasty."

"We'll have Tessa check you out just to be certain," Nurse Xian Tran insisted, "Some of those plasma burns look bad."

"Don't tell anyone," Mudd whispered.

"Just follow us to Sickbay," Tran allowed.

There, Mudd found Tessa treating the wounded Security personnel and tried to escape.

"Sit down and wait your turn or I'll sedate you," Tran warned, "And get that jacket off."

Mudd's arms, back, and abdomen were littered with plasma burns and cuts from the consoles exploding in her vicinity.

"You have shrapnel under your skin," Tran accused as she further scanned Mudd's body.

"'M'fine!" Mudd insisted.

"Save it," Tran applied a hypospray to Mudd's neck.

She suddenly wore a giddy smile, "Now that feels good"

"Thought as much," Tran muttered.

Tran activated a privacy screen, "Strip down."

"Usually someone buy s me a drink first," Mudd teased.

"Just do it or the next hypo will put you out and the orderly and I will strip you naked and simply roll you around while I extract all this glass and metal from your body and the regenerate your burnt tissues. Is that easy enough to understand?" Tran was growing impatient.

"Yes sir," Mudd said flippantly and gingerly started stripping down.

The very female Vietnamese nurse glared at Mudd, "You want a drink first? How about after the crisis has passed? We'll both need one by then."

"Okay, sounds good. Your contraband or mine?" Mudd asked.

"Yours," Tran said bluntly, "You owe me for taking care of you when you won't care for yourself."

"Story of my life," Mudd waved the thought aside.

"Yeah, I'm getting that," Tran said disapprovingly. The Obsidian crew and the SID had gone out of their way to embrace Mudd ever since the new crewmen came aboard. Macen and Rockford always had despite her differences with certain SID team members in the past. Mudd could easily see herself making a home with these people. The thought terrified her as much as it thrilled her.

The Obsidian was at a Starfleet orbital drydock separated from Spacedock and undergoing repairs. Yard dogs from Spacedock were unexpectedly, by them anyway, called in to undertake the repairs of the surveyor's overloaded systems and internal damages and clean up. The engineers, in turn, called in Security forensics teams to clean up the viscera left by by Daggit and Burrows' defense of the Data Womb. The Womb itself didn't exist on specs and was personally sealed by Kerber and Smith. Parva and Gilan left wish lists for the yard crew to implement upgrades. Everyone wondering why a civilian operation so rated.

"Shannon and I have tickets to a West End show so I'll make this brief: Cell 51 has been eradicated or otherwise dealt with," Amanda Forger declared.

"You're certain this time?" Macen asked.

"Your Kerber and Smith know what they're doing. IA and JAG were able to quickly determine who was what and where. Starfleet Security worked with us to arrest the listed. IA will make the cases and JAG will prosecute. Civilian authorities have been notified when and where appropriate," Forger explained, "The civilian courts will run those trials."

"Tell us we have some time off for good behavior," Rockford smirked.

"You do," Forger promised, "There are no immediate crises requiring your personal touches. Even Outbound Ventures as whole has passed off remaining ongoing investigations to the Hood, the Merrimack, and the Monitor now that Cell 51 is dealt with. Clancy is pissed that everything here at the SID is working so well but she can't argue with the results thus far."

"So the book on Section 31 and its splinters has been closed," Macen breathed a sigh of relief.

"If James Fowler's foul mood is any indication, yes, it has been," Forger agreed.

"I'm supposing he didn't flinch when told about Jack's fate," Rockford guessed.

"He was more upset about the 'loss of irreplaceable data'. It seems, in captivity, Section 31 finally wants to brag about their so-called 'successes'. Jack Fowler's positronically stored records were the lynch pin of that," Forger said regretfully.

"And what about Bob Johnson's mission?" Macen seemed to ask from left field

"It's going as well as any Romulan overture ever does," Forger was rattled and rueful, "On a personal note, a Cell 51 mole was assigned to the Intrepid. McKinley, Striker, and Delaney are taking it personally."

Rockford studied Macen for a split second and decided that she'd worm whatever ploy he was engaging in was about from him later.

"You have plans?" Forger inquired.

Rockford grinned, "Despite my losing a certain wager, he's taking me out to dinner in Paris and then we've opening night box seat tickets to the first baseball game played on earth since it died out here but was revived in the colonial leagues. Seems these 'Toronto Blue Jays' go back to the original Major Leagues and are playing the first game of Opening Day tomorrow."

"Ben Sisko and Kassidy Yates are catching a Yankees game later that afternoon," Macen proudly stated.

"I didn't know you were an enthusiast," Forger confessed.

"The man has hidden depths," Rockford snickered.

"Most of what became the DMZ colonies used to have Colonial League teams. I'd catch games between actions during the Border Wars," Macen shrugged.

"I'll stick with Cricket and Rugby," Forger promised.

"I'm teaching him to appreciate Women's Lacrosse and Field Hockey," Rockford said with relish, "If the repairs take long enough, we're catching a Georgetown University Lacrosse match."

"Okay then," Forger relented, "Scoot. I have a date with my sister."

"You should try dating again now that you're divorcing the same man for the second time," Macen suggested.

"I suppose you have a candidate in mind?" Forger asked crossly.

"I do," Macen grinned, "And so do you."

Now Rockford knew she'd have to torture it out of him over dinner tonight.

Daggit led Parva, Kerber, Smith, Burrows, Ebert, and Mudd to a pub nooked away off the main streets, "Macen and Rockford frequent this place."

"Seems...cozy," Burrows allowed.

"Bring on the booze!" Parva declared.

Mudd eyed the gents and ladies at the dart board, "Wanna run the game and collect a few dozen wagers?"

"Sure," Ebert shrugged.

"They have food?" Kerber wondered.

"Something called 'pub grub' by the locals across this human district. You'll love it," Daggit promised.

"I'll buy you both dinner and your first round," Burrows offered to give Daggit and Parva some alone time.

"Tony's angling," Parbva smirked knowingly.

"Aren't Bailey and Angelique a couple?" Daggit was surprised.

"Angelique is a Troglyte and you saw how that went down for Hal," Parva reminded him, "And Bailey is about as straight as they come."

"I suppose an Orion would know the cues better than I would," Daggit shrugged.

"Hey, Mister! Was that some kind of racist comment?" Parva slapped his arm.

Daggit gave her a dead stare, "Why would I marry you if I was a racist?"

"Good point," she conceded after mulling it over.

"Why'd Harri pick Tracy to fleece the crowd, besides the obvious?" Daggit wondered.

"Have you seen Tracy's hand-eye coordination tests? She's practically a Hannah Grace," Parva rolled her eyes, "You can be so clueless."

"But Harri does want Tracy," Daggit countered.

"Pretty bad too," Parva confided, "She todl me she came five times with Tracy that night on Iotia. Five!"

"We do that easy," Daggit shrugged.

"I'm Orion and you're an Angosian. We have stamina that just won't quit," Parva sighed at his ignorance in these matters, "Humans rarely achieve such lofty heights."

"So it's just about the sex?" Daggit was disappointed.

"Hardly," Parva snorted in derision, "Harri opened up. That's why the sex was phenomenal for her."

"And Tracy? Besides being drunk?" Daggit asked.

"She's got a thing for bad boys, girls, and every third gender in-between," Parva stated, "Which means she also wants it but won't let herself have it. 'Cause those things end up breaking her heart."

"We live in a damn soap opera," Daggit complained.

"Welcome ot our lives," Parva snickered, "Now about the booze?"

"The Bosses were right," Lee decided at Guinan's bar that was back on Earth again in the very same location, "This place is fantastic."

"At least the bartender believed me about my age," Forte conceded.

"The bartender is El-Aurian. Watch out for her," Shade warned.

"You say that about everyone," Forte accused.

"And I'm always right," Shade retorted.

"Can we mutually declare 'peace' for one night?" Lee pleaded, "Who knows how long we'll stay on Earth? And I want to see the Forbidden City in Beijing."

"I want to see London's East End," Forte decided, "I understand they're having a Punk revival going on."

"Hey, I'm just along for the ride," Shade agreed, "Not my people, not my cultures."

"We love you anyway," Forte promised.

"'S'Kay, are you finally going to let me in on Forger's secret unrequited love interest?" Rockford questioned Macen during the baseball game's first inning.

"I thought you would have figured that out by now," Macen chuckled.

"Watch it, Chuckles. I will end you," Rockford warned him, "And no distracting me. We were up all night wandering around Paris."

"We haven't had sex in a stranger's doorway in a while," Macen recalled fondly.

"I'm surprised the neighbors didn't interrupt and shoo us away," Rockford confessed.

Macen shrugged, "It's Paris. They're used to it. It's a traditionally urbane society. Besides, you have all the clues."

Rockford's eyes narrowed, "She's typically thousands of light years away so I can't observe her social circle. But she'd want to keeep in house, so to speak. And."

He saw her recognize the situation, "...and she froze when you mentioned Bob. Just for half a heartbeat. That's why you brought his name up. You were doing your Listening thing again."

"And Amanda had my undivided attention," Macen admitted.

"Should I feel insulted? Because I do," Rockford shoulder punched him.

"Not in that way," Macen clarified despite not needing to, "There've been signs ever since we all 'arrived'."

"And Bob?" Rockford asked the obvious question.

"It's dawning on him as well. It's pretty ideal situation, actually. And they've more in common now than ever before," Macen shared.

"And Tony's private business?" Rockford wondered as well about that.

"She probably thinks he was dead or a criminal or even worse, a dead criminal. Our Tony is hardly the man everyone believes him to be here and now," Macen knew the feeling.

"That Tony took the fall hard when he was mustered out of Starfleet and had nowhere to land," Rockford had done her own homework as well.

"And Annika Ryst understood the choices that make one a mercenary," Macen reminded her.

"Ugh," Rockford groaned.

"Gaze at that broken mirror while the game gets underway," Macen advised.

"We were practically Terrans," Rockford complained.

"Seems like," Macen pointed out that the Blue Jays had been struck out and the fielders were taking up position in the field again.

"So, the whole point is to hit the ball and hope no one catches it, or at least drops it when it's caught?" Rockford replayed the rules he'd taught her.

"Yup," he happily confirmed it.

"And the man or woman throwing the ball has one job: making certain no one hits the ball?" Rockford continued her review, "And nothing happens until the ball gets hit?"

"Exactly. It's a game of variables and probabilities. Anything, at any time, can happen with a single pitch," Macen explained.

"I'm already bored," Rockford complained.

"Wait until the bases are loaded, you won't be so bored then," Macen promised. To her chagrin, things got very interesting mere moments later. And eventually, as he'd predicted, she was riveted. Still planning on dragging him to a Lacrosse game, but riveted nonetheless.

"So you're saying these 'Romans' are trained and as capable as predicted?" Indendent Kira gleefully asked.

"Precisely. The shipyards have been putting out twice our expected hulls as well. Recruits from Duras and Dukat are flowing in," Indendent Ro explained via comms, "Are your Iotians prepped and ready?"

"They've secretly been building more advanced ships here as well. Right under the real Federation's nose."

"So how is our time table looking?" Ro was growing impatient for action.

"Oxmyx and Kracko are fully prepared to begin expanding 'their' borders at a moment's notice," Kira shuddered with delight.

"Then give the word already," Ro demanded.

"Consider it given," Kira laughed in her self-indulgent way.

Ensign Varok had been rewarded to find his limited skills required for the Obsidian refit. Master Chief Sharon Hedley was overseeing the project and the ensign repeatedly sandbagged her with requests regarding the full scope of their mission. Hedley sighed without turning, "Ensign?"

"Master Chief, I have compiled the master list of repairs and upgrades both necessary and requested by our.for the lack of a more precise term...'clients'," Varok reported.

"Ambitious," Hedley grimaced, "And you've determined that between the new shield emitters, watp core replacement, and Phaser XI emplacements that we're upgrading a civilian ship near the specs of our newest NovaX- platforms."

"Yes, Master Chief," Varok confirmed it, "I took the liberty to compare the need for reinforcement plasma relays and conduits after the installation of the new, high efficiency warp core this proposed hybrid class. In doing so, I noted that the ODN cables lacing the ship had already been upgraded both with a greater number of bio-neural relay processors but the ODNs themselves were in fact, minutely superior to those that we operate aboard the NovaX-class."

"She's a civilian tub. She's not confined to civilian specs when after markets are readily and legally available," Hedley sounded tired.

"But Master Chief, four areas have been listed as 'Black Sites' beginning with the computer core's primary access room and moving down the corridor, seemingly replacing several other maintenance compartments and Briefing Room 2. My cursory examinations prove out that such rooms no longer exist as such and are instead being employed as other facility types. Does that not warrant investigation?" Varok sharply inquired.

"Son, I've been in Starfleet for thirty years. I've worked on civvy ships before at Starfleet's behest. It isn't often but does happen when Daystrom or whomever are operating a civilian rated version of one of our active starship types," Hedley slowly explained, as if to a wayward child, "You know what let's me get my job done and sleep at night?"

"No, I am not aware," Varok confessed.

"Doing the assigned tasks. These people are happy with their current computer core. Sure, it lags a bit after the cores we're currently installing in a NovaX-type but only by a few millicochranes. So they want to let it go and keep what they have," Hedley spelled it out, "Have you ever transferred data from one Master Computer Core to another and then recaliberated every ship's system to accept that new processing speed?"

"I have not, Master Chief," Varok readily admitted.

"Then you also yet unaware of the weeks of debugging said systems entails. If these fine folks are happy with their current processing speed rates, more power to them," Master Chief Hedley finished.

"But." Varok began the inevitable protest.

"There's that word again," Hedley rubbed her head, "What have I told you about employing that word, Ensign?"

"That is was strictly forbidden," it was beginning to take Varok all of his assumed Vulcan stoicism to not gut the woman where she stood.

Captain Oh had assigned him to this refit to learn just what was so special about the Obsidian that she required such extensive upgrades and Agent Varok had never failed the Tal Shiar in his brief service years. Starfleet may traditionally allow a proven Senior through Command Master Chief to order about officers of certain grades within the purview of their specialty but the Romulan forces made no such technical distinctions. Varok would've beee within his rights to summarily execute the Master Chief for her insubordination aboard a Romulan vessel but, as noted, he was aboard a "Starfleet" vessel under the command of a Starfleet noncommissioned officer. Varok seemed to be a mere boot ensign and therefore barely had the clout to superimpose his views on a routine maintenance upgrade. Rather, the Master Chief being horrifically solicitious regarding his constant barrage of inquiries into the assignment's nature. Yet a weakness displayed by inexplicably difficult to defeat, weak-willed Federation. At least a Klingon work party director would've assigned him penal duties by now.

"Tell you what, Ensign. You want to crawl around inside this ship? I have the perfect durty for you. As you know, we here at Starfleet employ a matter-energy conversion process to reclaim waste matter and water. But we still require bilge pumps and gray and black water reservoirs to store the excess matter that escapes the reclaimation-converstion process. Your sole duty for the remainder of this assignment is to purge those systems of physical waste and to recalibrate every single reclaimator to its highest rated efficiency parameters. Do I make myself understood?" Hedley had finally had enough.

"Sir, yes sir!" Varok snapped to attention, his faith in military discipline restored.

"And Ensign, if I should find you've been mucking about inside those black rooms, I'll you busted back to First Year Cadet. Am I plain?" Hedley wondered, "Lieutenant gav Hebin will oversee you to make certain you comply with these orders as they stand. Dismissed!"

Gav Hebin was the perfect Tellarite to assign to penalizing Varok. He'd enjoy it. He would also pull rank to insure Varomk did the task entirely on his own while barraged with gav Hebin's limitless "bounty" of "helpful" suggestions but would be unwilling hear out or accept Varok's own concerns regarding the black sites. Varok understood the first rule of intelligence work while undercover was to immerse yourself so deeply into yoru legend that you became this alternate persona. But surely, gav Hebin's death would serve the Romulan Star Empire's greater good. Or at least he could entertain the desire.

Nechayev summoned her prospective task designee, "Agent 0086, you've read the details of the brief?"

"Yes, Mum," he said.

"And you won't find it difficult to work alongside Agent Douglass?" Nechayev inquired.

"I am wondering why Agent 0212 is being assigned to my case. This is obviously 00 warranted," 0086 slightly protested.

"0212 has repeatedly turned down and rejected 00 status since her marriage to Dr. Bashir and assignment to Deep Space Nine. You'll find her a worthy partner in this," Nechayev promised, "And note that 0 agents retain their real identities. Agent Douglass' fine mind will know that 'James Smart' is your agency legend. I also realize that she's happily married, your favorite type of sexual conquest. Keep it in your pants, Smart. Or I'll revoke Double and Single 0 status from you and put you in Sanitation, mopping up Pluto colony...literally"

"Yes, Mum," Smart lost none of his crispness.

"Dismissed, Commander Smart," Nechayev returned her attention to yet another flagged report marked 'Eyes Only'.

"Mum? Should Agent 0212 make overtures to me, how will I reciprocate them?" Smart hesitated

"You won't," Nechayev said coldly, "And she won't."

"Yes, Mum," Smart seemed satisfied with that answer.

"If you want a so-called challenge, seduce Indendent Kira while she's there. You can both pretend to work the other one while you both fully realize the nature of the other one's role," Nechayev ordered.

"Yes. Mum," Smart had a gleam in his eye, "I'll pump her for all kinds of information."

"I'm certain you'll know just how much 'pumping' will be required going into it," Nechayev ignored him from that point on and Smart finally dismissed himself at last. Nechayev knew of Smart's sexual preoccupations. When Earth Starfleet absorbed British Intelligence, that agency retired the 007 sobriquet, reinventing it as the requirements for a 0086 'James Smart' legend. This incarnation of Smart was the fifth man she'd known to carry the legend. Each was physically and mentally unique yet an emotional void, exactly as predicated by MI6 all those centuries ago.

He was a loyal terrier that killed on command and slept with anything regardless of species or gender. Not one Smart under her command had lived to see retirement. Two were still captured, imprisoned, and disavowed by Starfleet. One died nearing the end of his allowed duty life expectancy. The second Smart and fourth Smart had their Licenses to Kill revoked after they resigned then went rogue and had been put down by Commander Vaughn and his SOC Teams.

Nechayev's Double 00 Program aide, code-named 'Pennyfarthing' was also a Legacy holder. Her immediate predecessor had transferred out just after the fourth Smart had been captured and the fifth had been brought in. It was she, in calculated way, noted the physical difference s between this "Commander Smart" and the others. Every one of the others had ben lean and dark haired. This current version was blonde and hard bodied. She'd wished her replacement a good time trying to verbally seduce whatever Smart was sent her way.

Nechayev's first Pennyfarthing had lasted through Smarts 1-3. The second had been sent to Jaros II as punishment for aiding and abetting the rogue Smart's efforts to kill high ranking members of the Orion Syndicate in an unsanctioned action. The third Pennyfarthing transferred out when "her" Smart was captured and disavowed. It seemed she'd, despite her overt resistance to his charms, had fallen hardest for her Smart out of any of them. The newest Pannyfarthing, like all of them, had been drawn from the pool of available Single 0 agents.

She had had the unique notoriety of having shot 0086 on Nechayev's direct command. He'd been assumed KIA afterwards but later resurfaced when Nechayev was looking for a particularly hard piece of ass to pit against a rogue SI officer. The DDO handled the Single 0 agents while the Double 00s were Nechayev's singular gun hands. It wasn't coincidence that Sarina Douglass had been tapped for this missions or that her intrepid husband, Julian Bashir, played Agent 0086 in his holo programs crafted by his friend, Felix.

Felix was a top training and war game developer for Starfleet Intelligence. He used Bashir to beta test his latest projects. A role that had first garnered Luther Sloan's interests in the good doctor. Even before his capture and replacement by the Dominion. But the Doctor was still alive and James Fowler had happily sacrificed Sloan and Sloan had dutifully gone to his death trying to kill Bashir and Chief O'Brien as a last gasp towards killing the infected Founders.

"We have locked on to the rogue signal," the Jem'Hadar First reported.

"Isolate it and transport it aboard," the Vorta named Eris ordered. A positronic "brain" was revealed on their deck plates.

"It is Federation type technology. It also possesses a bioneural interface," the First explained the findings given him by the Third.

"Remotely fired into our space after the being that had used this as their mind, programmed the stealth drone to activate remotely on a timed delay and gave it s organic life to insure that we received this hub of data," Eris mused, "This warrants further examination at the highest levels. Take us back, First. This device has an appointment with our most accomplished engineers."


Last modified: 20 Jan 2023