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Redemption - Part II by Travis Anderson

The Spy, the Rebel, the Daredevil, the Fighter, the Lightbulb, the Muscle, the Fixer, the
Rock, the Brain, and one ship shared by all. The tale continues...

Chapter Seven

Morag sat in his command seat and contemplated his foe. The Outbound Ventures crew had surprised him. He'd severely underestimated their mettle. His ground team was decimated, killed down to the last man and the starship had eluded him. The insult of being outwitted and outrun by a surveyor burned holes in Morag's gut.

Bertram Sindis had warned him to expect the unexpected from Macen. Now Morag took those words to heart. Macen and his crew would learn, to their everlasting sorrow, that Morag's ship had also been upgraded. They were currently pacing the Federation craft and as soon as it slowed, they would pounce.

Riker ordered the Obsidian to slow four hours after accelerating. She went from warp 9.71 to warp 6. Parva called the bridge to thank her captain for relieving the stress load from her babies. Riker chuckled at this. Apparently she'd stayed past her shift even as he had to monitor the situation.

Referring to the engines as her babies was a very real euphemism. Orion and Angosian DNA was incompatible which meant that she and Daggit could never bear natural children. Whether or not to adopt children was a matter of an ongoing discussion between them and Riker wished them all the happiness they could have from whatever course they chose to pursue.

He and Lisea faced the same dilemma. The difference being Riker's responsibilities for the ship and crew. Could he manage a family and a crew simultaneously? Would it be fair to rear a child while its parents faced mortal danger on a daily basis? He knew Starfleet crews had faced such decisions until the Dominion War. The fleet now required at least one parent to accept a planet or station side assignment nowadays. Should that be the norm for Outbound Ventures?

Riker knew Macen and T'Kir had lost an unborn child due to their involvement in field ops. Surprisingly, Macen and Claudia Tyrol still hadn't made official policy. Riker thought a little proactive intervention was required. It would settle things for many people.

"Captain! Bird of Prey decloaking off our aft quarter!" the rating at Tactical called out.

"Shields!" Riker barked. It was too little too late.

The Klingon ship opened fire on the unprotected surveyor. The ablative armor staved off some of the lethal effects of the disruptor bursts but Engineering was hit hard and the warp core scrammed. Equipment across Engineering exploded. Three engineers were injured and Tessa and her staff were summoned. Fortunately the EMH hadn't been caught in a compromising position.

"Parva, damage report!" Riker said over the intercom.

"The warp core's down. We still have auxiliary power but the shield emitters are badly damaged. We should only have spotty coverage over the ship which means our impulse reactor is vulnerable. I don't care how you do it but protect that reactor or we'll be down to the batteries." Parva replied.

"Aye, aye captain." Riker signed off. He turned to Forger, who was monitoring the Tactical rating; "Shannon, how bad is it?"

"Shields are out over the ventral rear quarter. The rest of our shields are at 40%. We can't afford to take a pounding." She reported.

"Captain, they're arming photons." The rating reported.

"Ceryx! Evasive maneuvers!" Riker ordered.

The Tyrokian chuckled, "I have been running an evasive pattern."

"They've launched!" Forger plopped back down into her seat beside Riker's.

The ship shuddered. The lights went out until OPS activated the emergency lights. The Tactical rating announced the collapse of the shields. Parva announced that they were on the batteries. Then the Klingons beamed aboard...

"What the hell? It feels like you're drivin'." T'Kir accused Macen as the ship shuddered again. The lights went out and then the emergency lighting from the floor and ceiling came on. Macen slapped his comm badge.

"Macen to Radil" he said.

"Radil here. And before you ask, thirty Klingons have beamed aboard. I've rousted my security force and they're mobilizing. Rab's with me and we're retaking Engineering. The next high concentration of boarders is on the bridge. You want them?" she announced.

"We'll beam in through the Ready Room and take the bridge." Macen conceded.

"Copy that. May you walk with the Prophets." Radil wished them luck.

"You too. Macen out." He terminated the connection.

Macen motioned towards the door of the Rec Room, "Ladies, shall we?"

Rockford issued instructions to those in the space to remain calm and to remain in the Rec Room. Grace and T'Kir led the way out of the room and Macen and Rockford brought up the rear. Between T'Kir's ears and telepathy she should be able to pick up on any opposing forces. Grace's Kelvan-born abilities could make the difference between life and death.

Radil, Daggit, and four security officers slowly rounded the corner that led to Engineering. The two Klingons that they'd encountered had been killed before they could even warn one another of the Obsidian crewmen. Daggit affixed a shaped charge to the doors while Radil covered him. Then they pressed up against the wall as the charge detonated and sent the doors hurtling into the engineering space.

Daggit was the first around the corner. The Klingon in charge of securing the engines was waving a dagger in front of Parva's face. She looked angry rather than frightened. Although her brain damage still made her rather docile compared to her life before her injuries, she was still a spitfire. Daggit delivered a headshot and the Klingon went down. Parva kicked the corpse in the ribs.

Radil took out two Klingons while her security squad picked off the remaining four. They rushed in and secured the area. The engineers went back to trying and repair the damage. Parva threw her arms around Daggit. Owing to his conditioning, he didn't respond. She shyly kissed him on the cheek. She then turned to Radil.

"I need an escort for a repair team to get the impulse reactor up and running." She insisted.

"I don't know if I can spare the manpower. My whole detail is comprised of twelve men and women and they're scattered across four decks." Radil replied.

"Let's put it this way, without that reactor we can't raise the shields and without raising the shields they can keep beaming Klingons over here 'till we drop." Parva's fists were planted on her hips and she was leaning into Radil's space.

Fortunately, Radil was happy to see the Chief Engineer being so spunky, "Okay, Rab and I'll personally get your team to the reactor room."

"Oh goody!" Parva practically squealed. She bustled about recruiting her team. She then led the team herself.

Two Klingons fell before T'Kir and Grace. They arrived at the transporter room and found Telrik huddled in the corner. He was relieved to see the SID team.

"Commander! Where do you need to go?" he enthusiastically inquired.

"We need a site to site transport to the Captain's Ready Room." Macen explained.

"Not a problem." Telrik ebulliently replied, "Sensors show the bridge t'be full of Klingons though."

"That's the point of the exercise." Macen dryly informed him.

"Gotcha." Telrik grasped the point.

He ran his fingers over the touchpad and the room faded...

...and transformed itself into the Ready Room. T'Kir rushed to the desk and activated the comm/comp. Tying it into the internal sensors and the internal monitors she pulled up an image of the bridge.

"There are seven of them. One at each station and three for the command section. Ceryx looks calm but Shannon is real fidgety, she may try somethin'." T'Kir announced.

"Celeste?" Macen ushered her towards the door. She stepped up with a smile. He stood beside her. They both held their phasers in a two handed grip. Grace stood behind them.

"I'll try and shield you." She announced.

"Can you protect the bridge crew?" Macen asked.

"My abilities aren't that narrowly focused yet. Give me time." She requested.

"Riiiight." Macen said skeptically.

Grace frowned. Her resurrected, Attuner-less powers had been a point of contention since she revealed them just prior to Macen and T'Kir's arrest. She hadn't utilized them under Riker's leadership. He was even more skittish of them than Macen. Macen saw them as a natural extension of Grace herself and was therefore willing to condone their use as long as it was tailored towards certain applications. Riker just had a knee jerk negative reaction.

Macen and Rockford stepped forward and the door slid aside. Rockford shot the closest Klingon, the one at Science. Macen dealt with the Klingon posturing in front of Riker and then swung right and killed the Klingon at Engineering. Rockford put down the merc at OPS. The next one standing behind the command station followed.

Forger lunged at the third Klingon at Command. Rockford swore and dealt with the one at Tactical. The last free Klingon shot Ceryx but the Tyrokian merely chuckled and bashed the Klingon over the head.

"Hannah!" Rockford called out.

The last standing Klingon threw Forger back and aimed his disruptor. Only he found her bathed in a green energy field and his disruptor beam didn't affect her. He swung towards Riker. Rockford put him down with a single shot to the head.

"Well, that could've gone smoother." Rockford muttered as she kicked the disruptor away from the closest corpse.

Macen smirked in her direction. T'Kir emerged from the Ready Room and grinned.

"Sure, leave me behind t'do the hard work." She jokingly complained.

"And what, pray tell, have you been doing?" Macen asked.

"Routing Security t'all of the Klingons. Jenrya and Rab had already cleared Engineering so it was just a matter of sweepin' up the trash. Tessa had a gay ol' time wipin' out the two on Deck 2." T'Kir announced.

"So I guess congratulations are in order?" Macen asked.

"Damn straight." T'Kir huffed.

"I'll take a memo and get back to you." Macen teased.

"If I didn't sleep with ya, I'd knee cap ya." T'Kir retorted.

"Sticks and stones, m'love." Macen replied.

"Can we focus?" Riker interrupted T'Kir's probable reply.

"Do we have any prisoners?" Macen asked.

"Tessa's two are alive." T'Kir reported.

"My opponent is also alive, Commander." Ceryx informed Macen.

"T'Kir?" Macen queried her.

"I need 'im awake." T'Kir reminded him.

"Computer, activate EMH." Macen ordered.

Tessa appeared replete in her surgical smocks. She immediately grew irritated, "What the hell? I've got wounded in Sickbay."

"I need this Klingon woken up." Macen said.

"So? Throw water in his face. I'm busy." With that she winked away.

"I'll get the water." Forger volunteered. She went to the replicator and got a bowl of ice cold water. She brought it to the Klingon. Macen and Rockford took up position with their phasers ready. T'Kir stood in between them. Macen nodded and Forger threw the water and backpedaled.

The Klingon sputtered as he came awake, "What in the seven hells?"

"I suggest you take a look around." Macen said.

The Klingon sagged in resignation, "So now comes the torture?"

"No. Now comes the mind probe." Macen corrected him.

T'Kir grinned, "His commander is named Morag. They're a mercenary company hired by Sindis to make sure we never get to the tournament. Seems they were woefully misinformed as to the nature of their target. They thought we were simply a private investigation and security firm."

"How?" the Klingon started to bolt but Rockford shot him.

"Celeste?" Macen asked in a pained voice.

"No worries, Boss. I stunned him." Rockford assured him.

"Parva to Riker." Came over the speakers.

"Riker here." He acknowledged.

"Auxiliary power's restored. You can raise shields. Should keep those nasty Klingons from beaming any more over." She informed him.

"Parva, I love you." He blurted.

"I am pretty awesome." She said, "Out."

Forger raised the shields, "We also have phaser power and torpedoes."

OPS reported that they had propulsion.

"Gear up people." Riker ordered, "We're taking the fight back to them."

"Commander! The Federation craft is underway and has raised shields." The Weapons Officer reported.

"Damnation. That means the boarding party has been neutralized." Half his crew had been killed by this ship's crew already. How many were to perish?

"Sir! We have another contact decloaking. It's another Federation craft." The Weapons Officer reported.

"Only one Federation ship has a cloak. It's the thrice damned Defiant! Shields up! Take evasive action." Morag demanded.

The Defiant swooped in with pulse phasers blazing. The ill equipped Klingons were destroyed outright. Afterwards, Commander Ro Laren, CO of the Defiant and DS9, hailed the Obsidian.

Ro's image appeared on the bridge's viewer and Riker addressed her, "Our thanks, Captain."

"We were ferrying Quark to the tongo tournament on Ferenginar. As a fully credentialed ambassador he's extended the courtesy. Of course, having the station's CO as a personal friend helped his cause." Ro explained, "I understand you have business at the tournament as well?"

"We're providing security for the event." Riker primly informed her.

"And bagging Sindis has nothing to do with it?" Ro asked with a snarky edge.

Riker's shoulders sagged, "I take it Brin shared our orders."

"So did Admiral Forger. We've been patrolling the area in case Sindis arranged for a nasty surprise. When we got wind of your distress call we hoofed it over here as fast as we could." Ro revealed, "Of course the delay has been driving our esteemed ambassador up the wall."

Ro laughed at the last before adding, "How about I assign our engineering staff to assisting you. I'll also take any prisoners that you have. You can file a formal complaint and we'll extradite them to the Empire."

"Sounds good." Riker agreed.

"I'll be coming over with Nog's team. Make sure Brin is ready to talk by then." Ro advised.

Riker glanced over to Macen. Macen nodded and Riker grinned, "He's so advised."

"Good. I have news for him that he needs to hear and subspace isn't secure enough." Ro warned.

"Understood. We look forward to your visit and your assistance." Riker admitted.

"See you in ten." Ro terminated the transmission.

Riker turned to Macen, "I wonder what that was about."

"I have a feeling we won't like it." Macen sighed.

Macen, T'Kir, Rockford and Grace took the turbolift to Deck 4. When the lift returned, it revealed a worried Lisea Danan. She threw herself into her husband's arms.

"Thank the Pools you're safe!" she exclaimed.

Riker knew he had worried her by not contacting her sooner and he resolved to get ahold of her sooner from now on. In the meantime, it was nice to bask in her loving concern.


Chapter Eight

Ro gathered with the SID team in their dedicated briefing room. Tessa was the only one missing. She was still stabilizing burn victims. And then there were the cases where shrapnel had to be extracted. All in all the hologram was hip deep in work.

Parva was coordinating with Nog and the two engineering teams were tackling the warp drive. McMasters reported to Parva. She stared down at him.

"Can I help you?" she demanded.

"No, but I can help you. I'm an expert with retrofitted equipment and if that injector array is any indication this baby has been highly modified and souped up." McMasters smiled.

His eagerness broke down Parva's reservations, "All right, report to Deputy Chief Gilan and get your marching orders." She relented.

"Okay. Who's Gilan?" McMasters had to ask.

Parva managed a laugh and personally took him to Gilan. It was then that Nog cautiously approached the Orion. He was holding a data slate with the ship's schematics.

"Pardon me Chief, but where did you get the refits for this warp core? They're like nothing I've seen before." The young Ferengi was puzzled.

"You can thank the SPYards for the creative wizardry." Parva admitted, "And then there are my own special modifications."

"The SPYards?" Nog repeated.

"Starfleet Intelligence's Special Projects Yards. They decked out our ship." Parva explained.

"I've never heard of them." Nog admitted.

"That's because they don't exist." Parva smiled.

"Huh?" Nog was completely baffled now.

"What's bothering you, Commander?" Parva redirected the conversation.

Nog held up the slate high enough for the statuesque engineer to read it too, "Well, The plasma manifold is completely melted down. From what I can tell it was a specialized piece of equipment. Is there any way of replicating a new one?"

Parva laughed, "All you have to do is ask."

"Can I have one replicated?" Nog requested.

"Of course." Parva's laughter tinkled over the engine room as she walked Nog to the industrial replicator.

"So is anyone else besides your Engineering Specialist leaving the briefing?" Ro petulantly asked.

"You've always been pouty when you thought no one was listening to your briefs, Laren. I see command hasn't changed that." Macen shot back.

"This is vital information." Ro retorted.

"It's always vital information. You don't traffic in any other kind." Macen couldn't help but comment.

Ro glared at him and Macen chuckled, "You can drop the look. You should know by now that it doesn't faze me."

"Back on topic..." Ro bit out, "Sindis took 100 million bars of gold pressed latinum from the Orion Syndicate's coffers and invested them in a public venture company ran by a Ferengi named Glom. Glom was a weapons dealer who had extensive dealings with the Cardassians, Tzenkethi, Andergani, Gorn, and dozens of other hostile governments. Unfortunately for Glom, he embezzled the finds. He was found dead and all traces of the latinum seem to have died with him."

"Sindis embarked on a search for the funds but he turned up empty. Now the Orion dons are asking about their money and Sindis has turned up empty. He has one week to replace the latinum or he gets deposed and ejected from the Syndicate." Ro was grim, "The most likely scenario that would erupt from that is an all out war between the Syndicate and the Meirkus Conglomeration."

"Wouldn't that solve a lot of problems?" Daggit asked, "They can hammer each other out of existence."

"The problem with this scenario is that both the Syndicate and the Conglomeration have their footprints in virtually every known star system in three quadrants. The potential collateral damage could stress already taxed response mechanisms." Ro explained, "In other words, not even Starfleet can put out the brush fires. We have no idea how anyone else could either."

"Sindis has to win the tongo tournament or his life could be forfeit." seeing puzzled looks, she elaborated; "Each player submits a 1 million bar stake. There's 100 players ergo Sindis can recoup his loss by winning the whole deal."

"Which explains Starfleet's preferential treatment towards Quark." Macen added.

"He's one of the favorites to win. Backing Quark is only one of the gambits Starfleet has in play." Ro elucidated, "Your team is one countermeasure. Another SID team is in play as well."

Ro could tell that ruffled some feathers, "The second team is tasked with guarding the prize. If Sindis loses he's still likely to go after the stake. Elias Vaughn is charge of that team so I think you'll find it easy to coordinate with them."

Ro smirked at Macen's gleeful reaction to that news, "Yes, this does mean that you'll have support on the ground as well as in orbit."

"So you're part of the operation as well." Macen surmised.

"Our 'unofficial' role is to prevent Sindis's cruisers from blowing you apart after you deal with the big man." Ro confirmed.

"Always nice." Riker opined dryly.

Ro wore a wry expression, "The very nature of your assignments typically take you far from Starfleet support. When the fleet can support you it always has."

Riker held his hands up in mock surrender, "I give. I'm just grateful for the help. Especially right now."

"Speaking of which Captain, this briefing is concluded. Brin, if I could have a word with private?" Ro announced.

The others filtered out until Macen and Ro were left alone. Macen grinned, "So what's on your mind."

"Do you have a padd handy?" Ro asked.

"We have a whole drawer full of them." Macen walked to the aforementioned drawer and pulled one out.

Ro released a heavy sigh and then committed herself, "Your orders have been amended."

Macen's humorous mood died, "What?"

"Wait a sec." Ro urged. She accessed Starfleet records and downloaded the new contract to the awaiting padd. Macen read the terms of the contract and slapped the padd down on the table.

"An amnesty?" he growled.

"That's the preferred option. An amnesty and freedom from prosecution in exchange for dismantling the Orion Syndicate. He'd also have to step down as head of the Meirkus Conglomeration." Ro explained, "The previous terms of the contract are still intact and viable. Admiral Jellico just wants to try and suborn Sindis."

"Figures. This has Jellico's stench all over it." Macen complained.

"Actually the plan originated with Mackenzie Calhoun." Ro revealed.

"Mac? That makes sense. He's been trying to get me back for the Valdes Crisis for the past 20 years." Macen said bitterly.

Ro crossed her arms over her chest and canted her head slightly to the left, "And what makes you say that? 20 years ago he was an intelligence operative and so were you."

"Alynna liked to play us off of one another. It became a game of hers." Macen informed her.

Ro could see Nechayev doing that. She really wished she couldn't but there you had it. Macen and Calhoun had been rivals since the early 2360's with no sign of the informal contest ending any time soon.

Calhoun had been given command of the USS Excalibur and then the subsequent Excalibur-A. That ship, along with the USS Trident patrolled the Thallonian sector. Calhoun's wife, Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, was the sector commander. He'd served as a fleet commander on several occasions and had just returned to his normal duties and a much anticipated reunion with the admiral.

Captain Calhoun had remained with the fleet despite his differences with it whereas Macen had sundered those ties. At first that rupture had been entirely on Starfleet's side but now, over time, Macen reciprocated the feeling. He knew that's why the first two options were still open. Otherwise he would refuse the contract and Starfleet would have no assets in play.

"Brin?" Macen hadn't spoken for some time and Ro was concerned. The Starfleet Command saw this mission as a priority. The fact that Jellico, as Alpha Quadrant Theater Commander, couldn't neutralize the harsher aspects of the orders bespoke of a general consensus that Sindis was better off dead for the sake of the Federation's security.

"Brin?!" Ro was more insistent this time around.

"I'm all right, Laren." Macen assured her, "Tell Starfleet Command I have been apprised of the changes to my charter."

"You're not going to contact Admiral Forger?" Ro asked.

"She has enough on her plate on Andor." Macen replied.

"For Prophet's sake, at least check in with Nechayev." Ro urged.

"She'd want to know about my operational planning. The less said about that the better off we all are, don't you agree?" Macen retorted.

"No, I don't." Ro countered.

"Just keep the Obsidian safe. That's all you have to worry about." Macen stated and then he motioned towards the exit, "Coming?"

"After you." She said tersely.

"You should come with me to the Team Room. Tom has Chef cooking up a storm to keep the engineering department going strong." Macen explained as he left the briefing room.

"What are you doing with the Klingon bodies?" Ro asked.

"We're releasing them into space." Macen explained.

"What?" Ro exclaimed.

"Laren, those rejects are bereft of name and House. Judging by their fighting skills it's no wonder the IDF didn't want them." Macen calmly declared, "No one is going to miss their corpses."

"That's not the point!" she hissed between clenched teeth, "It's about respect for the dead."

"I expect that if we were dead and the Klingons were alive, they'd extend the same courtesies to us." Macen said flatly.

Ro couldn't argue no matter how hard she wanted to, "What are you doing with the three prisoners?"

"As soon as someone on your ship coordinates with us we'll be transferring them to the Defiant." Macen answered.

"I'll alert Bowers. He'll handle it." Ro decided.

"Better hurry." Macen smirked.

"Damn you." Ro retorted and she slapped her comm badge and made arrangements.

Ro relaxed somewhat after arriving at the Team Room and grabbing a meal and a raktajino, "This is nice. It's too bad we can't fit something similar into the Defiant."

Macen grinned, "Wait until you see the Rec Room. You'll practically beg to join up."

"I've been a civilian. Every time I'm a civilian I'm a terrorist, even as a kid." Ro sighed, "What about you? Shouldn't you be out getting seen and reassuring the crew's nerves?"

"That's Tom's job. I'd just be a distraction getting the attention that should be reserved for the Captain." Macen described.

"But..." Ro started to protest.

Macen interrupted her, "I never wanted command. Okay, maybe I did for a while. Commanding the first Odyssey was easy. She was an intel gatherer not a combatant. I've already lost four ships and a runabout during my tenure with the SID."

"And you plowed this one into a fortification." Ro sagely reminded him.

He responded with a rueful expression, "That's my point. Luckily the Obsidian is a tough little ship otherwise she'd be part of that tally too."

"I suppose." Ro's voice still held an edge, "Still..."

Macen groaned, "Let it go. Please, for both our sakes."

"Okay." She relented.

Macen looked at her wryly, "Do you realize that T'Kir is still convinced you and I slept together during the war?"

"I slept with you and a dozen Angosian commandos. It's what life behind enemy lines is like." Ro retorted.

Macen was bemused, "Not that kind of sleeping together."

"Is she nuts?!" Ro yelped and then she waved the question off, "Scratch that. I already know the answer."

Ro stabbed her pork cutlet with her fork, "Why hasn't the psiwitch just read my thoughts to see if it's true or not? When we were in the Maquis she used to dance around in my skull all the time."

"She wasn't scared of the answer back then." Macen pointed out.

Ro wore a victorious smile, "So she's afraid of what she'll find. Heh, I can use that."

"Laren." Macen warned her off.

"What?" she adopted her best innocent face.

Macen buried his face in his hand, "This is going to end badly."

"For whom?" Ro's smile was decidedly cat-like.

Macen had an impending sense of doom.

The combined engineering staff brought the warp core back online in record time. However, the Obsidian's mains couldn't support more than a max speed of warp 8 and a nominal cruising speed of warp 5. Rather than leave the surveyor behind the Defiant cruised alongside her cousin and kept her out of trouble.


Chapter Nine

Macen and the Investigative Team beamed down to the Hall of Games on Ferenginar. To be more precise, they beamed in at the courtyard leading to the Hall. The Hall itself was protected by transport inhibitors. Ro, Nog, and Quark beamed down alongside them.

Macen's team wore the Field Duty Uniforms made famous by James T. Kirk and his crew during the incursion into Paradise City on Nimbus III. Macen wore the green Captain's variant while the others wore the black and gray urban combat version. The white mock turtlenecks were replaced by black tees and the team's utility belts substituted for the old fashioned waist belt.

The sweater-like FDUs were perfect for the inclement weather on Ferenginar. The forecast was for torrential rain, in other words, a typical day on the planet. They were also readily available throughout the Starfleet Surplus shops littered throughout the Federation.

Ro and Nog wore their duty uniforms and Quark one of his finest suits. He'd had this one commissioned by Garak since the tailor's return to the station. Garak had taken great pains to incorporate the finest Ferengi fashion traditions in it, much to his own chagrin.

Grand Nagus Rom and his Bajoran wife, Leeta, greeted the party. With them was Nog's 11 year old half-sister, Bena. Brunt, the Ferengi Commissioner of Gaming, was also present. Rom had needed to do something with the officious and capricious Brunt and then the Gaming position had opened up and history had been made.

Profits and rigged games were up and the Nagus's inspectors were swimming in bribes to silence them so all were happy. Rom's reforms had quickly launched and just as quickly sputtered. Too many Ferengi were used to the "old" ways and they found ways of still doing things that way. Rom's hope lay in the next generation of the youth.

Rom warmly greeted his son and brother. Quark held his tongue. A Nagus commanded respect, even if he was your idiot brother. Brunt approached the SID team.

"You are Captain Macen?" he asked.

"Commander, actually," Macen grinned.

Surveying the scene, Brunt took in the sheer offensive firepower that the squad represented. Daggit wore his double shoulder holster. His grenade launcher was strapped to his leg. The ever present combat knife was affixed to the opposite leg. He cradled a Bajoran phaser rifle and glowered at Brunt. The Ferengi took a step back.

Radil couldn't suppress her disdainful smirk. She wore a double holster rig on her hips and also brandished a rifle. McMasters simply wore a sidearm and carried an equipment case. Celeste also wore a single phaser low on her leg as did Macen and T'Kir. Grace wore hers high on her hip like the average peace officer in the Federation.

Brunt appraised Grace. For once she wished she wasn't so damned cute. The brown eyed blonde literally pushed Brunt back as he made his advances.

"Down boy," she ordered.

"I suppose you'd like to see the facility now," Brunt was rebuffed but he wasn't about to give up.

"That would be good. The tournament starts in two hours. We need to time to set up." Macen replied.

Brunt seemed disgruntled by this answer. His teams had spent weeks preparing for this event. Who were these upstart Hoo-mons to interfere now?

"After you," Macen prompted.

The interior of the Hall was expansive. The opening scene was a grand staircase made of gold and marble. A red velvet carpet draped the floors and stairwells. Cleaning 'bots handled the mud dragged in by the gamers' shoes. Those that frolicked here did so in their finest. An evident side effect of Rom's reforms was the sight of Ferengi females in evening gowns intermingling with the alien guests and their native minders.

A clothed female would have been scandalous 20 years ago. Those same women would have been restricted to home and hearth and restricted from business and commerce. It was plain to see that many of these liberated woman were the dominate force in their relationships.

"The upper floor is for the common gambling events. The heart of our endeavor is the restricted wing beneath us. The high stakes games occur there. It is there that you will be stationed," Brunt informed them.

"Rab, stake out the entrance and figure out where to establish a clean line of fire," Macen ordered.

Daggit trotted off and Brunt objected, "House security will handle the entrance."

"They won't mind the help," Macen cheerily replied.

Brunt still didn't think so but he would wait until later to try and undermine Macen's position. They walked behind the Grand Staircase to find an even more opulent stairwell discreetly recessed under the obvious structure. The group descended and found a reception hall with a bar, tables, chairs, and restrooms. This area was for the minders of the various players.

Macen placed Grace and Radil at the entrance to the elite gaming parlor. Brunt voiced his concerns over such an ostentatious display of security and Macen said it would be necessary. The Ferengi then objected on the basis of the women's gender. Macen smiled and assured him of their ability to kill every sentient that crossed their paths.

Radil's military skills and mercenary sensibilities would alert her to trouble and Grace's Kelvan born talents would make them practically invincible but the El-Aurian purposefully neglected to tell Brunt that. Next came the gaming parlor itself.

Brunt proudly showcased the area. It had one wall dedicated as a bar space with three bartenders and eight waiters. Ferengi delicacies were stored in stasis vaults. Offerings from the homeworlds of the various contestants were also on hand.

If a player wished to excuse himself for any reason, he could do so during his turn. His cards would be turned over to an officer of the Gaming Commission and held until he returned. All communicators were to be surrendered at the door and security personnel were left behind. Guests and attendants were restricted to the bar with no unauthorized movement allowed within the space.

The SID team proceeded to the bar and gathered up at the end of it. McMasters opened his case at the curved part of the bar table. Macen and the others leaned up against the bar with their backs to the rows of inebriants.

"Now?" McMasters asked.

Macen nodded and the human opened his case. Fiddling with some controls he smiled, "Oh yeah, this room is full of spy eyes."

"Neutralize them," Macen ordered.

McMasters toggled a few controls and sparks erupted from the floors, walls, ceilings, and even a few tables and chairs. Brunt was apoplectic.

Macen met his rage head on, "This area is supposed to be devoid of spying devices as per the gaming Commission's rules. You wouldn't want it to get out you're selling information to the highest bidder, would you?"

Brunt sputtered, "I would never...!"

"Did I specifically mention you?" Macen wondered, "I was speaking in the abstract, in terms of the umbrella organization that is the Gaming Commission. Do we have an understanding?

Brunt slowly nodded, "Of course. Will you be repeating this...exercise in the future?"

"Every morning before game play." Macen revealed, "Since it's only a two day tournament, that won't last long."

Brunt was barely mollified, as his chance for personal profits was being dashed, but he played along with the game as though he truly were an upstanding official. For he knew that if a single word leaked to Rom, he'd be cast out of his lucrative position and adrift without a paddle on the Great River.

The players began to arrive an hour later. The first to arrive was a Ferengi named Bov. He had a squad of Acamarians for his security detail. Radil informed the detail leader that he and his companions would be staying in the waiting area and he balked.

"My men go where they please. They take what they please and have what they please. Be a good girl and I may have you. I...urk!" the Acamarian's face colored as Grace applied a vise-like grip to his testicles.

"These are your mishveks in a vise," Grace hissed and then she squeezed even harder and twisted them, "That's a preview of what will happen if you don't sit down and shut up."

The squads behind them took note and their patrons were processed far more smoothly. A seemingly endless parade of Ferengi and aliens wandered through until finally, Sindis appeared.

The gray skinned alien only brought four members of his security entourage. He did have a female companion. She was dressed similarly to a dabo girl, if the dabo girl were nearly nude. Her outfit barely covered her naughty bits and nothing else. The fact that there was no affection felt between Sindis and his eye candy was plain to see. She was a distraction, pure and simple. She might also be a spy. That was McMasters' area of expertise.

Sindis was led to his seat at the table where he would begin the tournament. Some of his opponents were there already. He made his greetings and excused himself. He headed for bar. Approaching Macen, he adopted an oily smile.

"I see that Starfleet has released you and your lovely wife, Captain," He said in his best ingratiating tones, "I almost didn't expect to see you here."

"Your Klingons weren't all they were cracked up to be," Macen replied.

This amused Sindis, "What Klingons?"

"The survivors squealed. But not to worry, the charges are just being added to the list of others. You see, that's why Starfleet released me. They had a job that needed doing and it involves you," Macen informed him.

"Oh really? And what pray tell is that?" Sindis couldn't hide his amusement now.

"Stopping you by any means proven necessary," Macen confided.

"Really," Sindis scolded him, "You should realize by now I am just a harmless world leader."

"So am I." Macen scoffed.

Sindis redirected his attention to Rockford, "My dear Annika, or is it Celeste nowadays? It's so hard to keep track of."

"I'm Celeste Rockford now. Get used to it," she said.

"But of course you are," he mused.

A chime sounded and he clapped his hands, "And now I'm being summoned back to my seat. Wish me luck, Captain and I'll do the same for you."

"Go to hell," Macen coldly commanded.

"As you wish," Sindis bowed his head and departed.

The games got underway and hours passed. The first round was done and the winners from each table gathered at ten tables to begin the second round. It was then that McMasters' equipment began picking up a signal.

"Brin, you've got to check this out," He said.

Macen watched the wavelength pattern, "Can you disrupt it like the others?"

"I can overload them and they'll probably blow up. It should be pretty dramatic," McMasters said.

"Do it." Macen urged.

McMasters hit his switch and Sindis's right front pocket erupted into flames. His female companion's jaw also burned as a mastoid implant shorted out. She cried out in pain and crumpled to the floor. Ferengi waiters tried to assist her as medical teams were called in. Macen confronted Sindis.

"Give me the communicator," He ordered.

"It is a piece of wreckage now. Why would you want it?" Sindis asked.

"To prove a point," Macen stated.

"And if I refuse?" Sindis cockily asked.

"Then I kill you," Macen said flatly.

"Your pathetic phaser won't harm me and you know it," Sindis taunted.

"I'm willing to bet a photon grenade would do the trick," Macen held out his hand and in it was an armed grenade.

"You're mad. You'd kill yourself and everyone at this table," Sindis warned.

"Call it a fair exchange for Joachim Dracas and Gantz's lives." Macen said evenly.

"You'd do it," Sindis finally realized.

"In a heartbeat," Macen confirmed it.

Sindis handed him the smoking ruin, "Have it."

Macen disarmed the grenade, "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Sindis said nothing as Macen strode away.


Chapter Ten

As the second round of tongo progressed, Macen approached Rom, who was cheering on Quark after his first round win. Nog was regaling Bena with tales from Starfleet action reports, not to mention his own stories from DS9. The revitalized Cardassian Union dominated the conversation. Ro was discussing something with Leeta. Leeta was laughing and very talkative. Ro, on the other hand, looked a tad squeamish.

"Grand Nagus, if it isn't too much trouble, could you have someone escort me to the secondary team guarding the winning stakes?" Macen asked.

"Uhhh...Brunt could do it," Rom offered.

"Anyone other than Brunt," Macen specified.

"I'll do it," Leeta suddenly chimed in, "Ro wanted to check on Commander Vaughn anyway. You're more than welcome to join us."

"I could..." Nog interjected before being interrupted by Rom.

"Uhm...sorry but Bena needs someone to watch after her and explain tongo to her. I can never remember the rules but you used to play Quark."

"Ah, I see," Nog suddenly understood, "You want to see if she has the lobes for it. All right, I volunteer."

Leeta bestowed a loving smile upon her daughter, "You listen to your brother, Honey."

Leeta guided Macen and Ro out of the exit. At the checkpoint, Ro retrieved her comm badge and Macen inquired as to his teammates' status. Grace was bored but still vigilant. Every so often a security detail would approach them and make their lives interesting. Radil had served in such companies and knew that being forcibly separated from your principal went against the grain.

Sindis's detachment was easy to spot. It was comprised of three Orions and a Nalori. The Nalori's anthracite black skin contrasted his green hued fellows. He was slim compared to the burly Orions but Macen knew from experience that his wiry frame would be composed of pure muscle.

The look of sheer malice that the squad gave to Macen alerted him to the fact that they were all well acquainted with him. He knew there was an outstanding bounty on his head and the various Orion dons would be more than happy to liberate the million bars of latinum from the reserves to pay out on a successful kill.

Leeta led them out of the Hall of Games to a structure across the courtyard. It was the representative branch of the 1st Bank of Ferenginar. Macen knew that for all its formidable features, the Bank was just about the most vulnerable site on the planet as far as Sindis was concerned. There was little doubt that the Iridian had precisely gauged the effects of an orbital bombardment upon the site or even better, secreted an isolinear tag within his own pallet so the entire lot could be beamed up once the shields were collapsed.

Macen mentioned as much to Ro, who concurred. Leeta's eyes went wide with horror. Macen thought that it must be nice to live in the lap of luxury and not have to worry about such details.

As they entered, they were approached by Elias Vaughn. He wore a broad grin as he approached. Macen took stock of the friend he hadn't seen for two years. The grey was gone out of Vaughn's beard and hair only to be replaced with snowy white strands. To be fair, his human friend was 110 years old but he still possessed a vitality lacking in most men half his age.

"Brin!" Vaughn caught him up in a bear hug. Macen discovered that his friend's physical strength was on par with his vitality, if somewhat adjusted for his age.

Macen gripped his arms when he was able to extricate himself, "It's good to see you too, Elias."

"What's this?" Vaughn tapped his own chin to make his point, "A little white? Aren't you a little young for that, after all, you can't be over 450."

"It's not the years," Macen began the familiar mantra.

"It's the mileage," Vaughn chuckled, "I understand all too well."

"Isn't this cozy?" the Nalori said as he and Sindis's Orion security detail entered.

The Orions all brandished disruptors and the pearly white teeth of the ebon skinned Nalori came into view, "Drop your weapons."

The trio ushered Leeta behind them and the Nalori raised his voice, "Now!"

Macen took a two fingered hold on his Bajoran phaser's grip and tossed it aside. Vaughn likewise gingerly removed his Starfleet issue Type II phaser from its holster and tossed it in the opposite direction.

"And you?" the Nalori stared right at Ro.

"I'm unarmed." She angrily replied.

"I rather doubt that," The Nalori commented. He rounded Ro and approached her from behind. He patted down her legs, moving upwards over her hips. He fondled her breasts, which only served to irritate her, and finally went down the length of her arms. As an afterthought he probed the small of her back. There, tucked into her waistband, was a Type I "cricket" phaser.

"Now see there? I was right about you," the Nalori grinned, "If you beg long enough I might spare you in exchange for certain...favors."

"Do I even have to tell you to go to hell?" Ro remarked.

"Too bad. I prefer you alive but I can satisfy myself with your corpse just as well," The Nalori leered.

"I don't suppose anyone's told you you're a sick bastard in the last hour or so," Ro dryly commented.

"My head swims from the compliment," The Nalori retorted, "As for you two, it'll be two to one odds so you should expire within a fairly short amount of time."

"Four to three, shukhead," Ro declared.

The Nalori's leer returned, "So much the better."

"Where'd Macen go?" Rockford asked T'Kir as she finished making her rounds around the tables.

"He went t'check on Vaughn." T'Kir informed her.

"And how long was that supposed to take?" Rockford asked.

"I...Elements! They're under attack!" T'Kir discovered by tapping into Macen's thoughts, "They're at the 1st Bank of Ferenginar"

"Stay here. I'll deal with it." Rockford pledged.

She cleared the reception area and took the stairs two at a time. She quickly spotted Daggit but doubted that a non-Angosian would've. She sprinted to his position.

"Macen's in trouble." She informed him.

"Where?" Daggit asked.

"The bank." Rockford replied.

"Let's move." Daggit urged.

"Thanks. Two of the most important men in my life are part of this and if either of them gets killed, I'll tear Sindis's head off with my bare hands," Rockford promised.

Macen ducked under the Orion's wild swing. His opponent was a bar room brawler, as simple and as limited as that. Macen had learned under Vaughn's tutelage and then had those same lessons reinforced and expanded upon by Daggit. The only thing he was worried about was that he was out of practice. Two years on a penal colony where practicing the martial arts as a meditative practice was allowed but sparring against an actual partner was forbidden had left his reflexes sorely out of shape.

The Orion recovered from being overbalanced and threw a left jab this time. Macen spun on his heel and pirouetted out of the way. Seeing it was time to start fighting back, he threw a punch into the Orion's eye. The jade giant roared his displeasure. Macen responded with a left to the nose.

The Orion staggered backwards, eyes watering, and he protected his face. Macen thought this was equitable since he was going after his opponent's knees. Kicking sideways, he dislocated the Orion's kneecap.

The Orion staggered and dropped his hands. Macen rocked him with a right cross to the eye. The Orion raised his hands so Macen delivered two body blows. The Orion got smart and put one hand before his face and the other in front of his torso.

Macen drove in with a knee to the solar plexus, which fortunately Orion anatomy emulated, and then a right cross. As the Orion stumbled forward, Macen took hold of his head and drove his knee into it. His foe went down and stayed there.

Turning he saw that Vaughn was making short work of his foe as well. In all actuality, his enemy was far more damaged than Macen's. Vaughn wasn't taking prisoners. And Macen pulled him off.

The Orion slumped into the ground. And Vaughn's eyes were ice cold and very precise. Macen had seen that look countless times during the worst of the Border Wars and the Dominion War. It didn't bode well for the Nalori.

Ro was having a harder time of it. Her unarmed combat training was more extensive than Macen's but she rode a desk nowadays. Her frame was still lithe and trim, it's just she hadn't fought anyone hand to hand to the death within passing memory. Vaughn crippled the Orion's knee and Macen threw a phoenix punch into his throat.

"Thanks. I need to spend more time with the combat simulations," Ro breathed.

"Very nice but ultimately futile." The Nalori taunted as he brandished his disruptor around.

"I'll rush him. You two take him down." Vaughn volunteered to sacrifice himself.

Macen restrained him, "No need."

"But...?" Vaughn protested.

"Wait for it." Macen suggested.

A phaser whine sounded and the Nalori fell lifeless to the ground. Daggit had his rifle poised and ready. He trained it at one Orion and then the other. Rockford jogged to Macen's position.

"Hello Elias," she smiled before turning to Macen, "Don't do that!"

Macen was just as startled as everyone else and Rockford wore a sheepish grin, "We just got you back. Don't get dead."

"I'm not planning to," Macen grinned, "Rab, is the Nalori...?"

"Deader than a doorpost," Daggit reported.

"Aw, too bad," Macen jested.

"Speak for yourself. I owed him for a good groping," Ro said as she retrieved her phaser and Macen's. She handed his back to him.

"Elias, can you handle the remnant?" Macen inquired.

"A couple members from my vault team will be happy to escort the Orions back to their master." Vaughn happily reported.

"That should be a show." Macen chuckled

The SID team members and Ro returned to their positions. The second round ended and both Sindis and Quark were among the finalists. Ro escorted Quark out of the Hall and transported back to the Defiant. Nog was given two days leave to be with his family.

Sindis was nonplussed to discover his security detail was missing. Vaughn personally delivered the Orions and Sindis was decidedly irked. Macen and the SID team drew up around him as he spoke.

"You have done me a favor dispatching that fool of a Nalori. As for these, they will be dealt with," Sindis's tone was arctic.

The Orions accompanied him praying for a merciful death. One that was unlikely to come. It would be a different story had they succeeded but they had failed miserably and embarrassed their master. Such things could not be forgiven.

"It seems you've performed your duties admirably," Brunt offered solicitously, knowing his Nagus was standing nearby.

"Expect a repeat performance tomorrow," Macen promised, "In the meantime, my team and I need to prepare for the following day."

The team left the Hall and was transported back to the Obsidian. Stepping off the transporter pads before anyone else could, he turned to face them, "Get changed into civilian attire and meet back here in half an hour."

"Armed or unarmed?" Radil asked.

"Utility belts and holsters only," Macen grinned, "We may even get some fine dining in."

Rockford smirked, "We're scouting out Sindis's rooms."

"And letting him know that we're watching," Macen eagerly said.

"This could be fun," Daggit observed, "Can I bring Parva?"

"She can join us at the hotel's restaurant. Our other errand should only take ten minutes or so," Macen guessed.

"It'll probably take that long to get a table anyway," Daggit realized.

"Time's wasting, people," Macen shooed them out of the room. Before he exited the transporter room, he used the intercom to reach Riker and Danan and invite them to the surface as well. They could hold down the table fort with Parva while the others were engaged in skullduggery.


Chapter Eleven

The team beamed down in their casual finery and materialized on the restaurant's transporter pads. The section was large enough to accompany twice as many as had arrived. They quickly requested a table. Riker, Danan, and Parva remained to secure it when it became available. The wait was expected to last 45 minutes. The bulk of the team began wandering the hallways of the adjacent hotel.

Although they were exuding an innocent air of harmless wandering their purpose was precise. They entered the private wing where Sindis's rooms were located and ran headlong into the four Orions minding the corridor.

"You can't be here," the detail leader warned.

"We'll just be on our way then." Macen replied jovially.

That was when the Orion noted T'Kir's active tricorder, "Hand that over."

"Moi?" T'Kir flippantly asked.

The squad leader moved forward and his fellows braced to support him.

Daggit intercepted him. The Angosian's physique easily matched the Orion's and he was a good four inches taller, "You have a problem, little man?"

The Orion bared his teeth in a snarl and went for one of the knives stored in his bandolier. Macen pulled his phaser free, "Ah, ah. Let's keep it fair."

The Orion recognized the fact that he was caught in a crossfire between the intruders and his own men. If a firefight broke out, he was a dead man. Not wanting to die, he backed down. The SID backed away until they were out of sight and then they returned to the restaurant.

"The rooms are shielded," Danan grumped as she examined the tricorder's readings, "I can't tell what's inside of them."

"So there may be four guards, less if they're supplementing the disgraced team that presumably got executed, or there may be even more," Macen summarized what they didn't know.

"The good news is that the odds are that the rooms are soundproofed," Rockford offered as a consolation prize, "We should be able to neutralize the exterior guards without interference from reinforcements."

"Provided we jam their comms," Macen pointed out.

"Don't worry. They won't be talking to anyone," McMasters grinned.

"We have to watch Sindis carefully. If he loses, he's liable to return to his rooms in order to have an alibi while his ship tries to steal the latinum," Macen warned.

"Did Vaughn check for isolinear tags?" Danan asked, since that had been her idea.

"When Laren checked back into the Hall of Games she told me that Elias had already found one in Sindis's stake. They were physically checking the rest of the pallets for any others," Macen reported.

Danan grinned, "I told you he'd try that."

"We're all bowing before your infinite wisdom," Macen dryly commented.

"As well you should, after all, resistance is futile," Danan quipped before she saw the irritated glare from Macen. She immediately recanted, "Caves and Pools, Brin. I didn't mean..."

Macen calmed, "It's okay, Lees. Just think before you ever use that combination of words."

The conversation drifted away from the mission and the group was soon laughing and sharing. This continued as they were seated and the waiters began flitting about. Sindis was seated alone in the farthest corner of the room, surrounded by his minders. A waiter was summoned to his table and then the young Ferengi went to the bar and gathered reinforcements to carry the champagne flutes.

The Ferengi with the magnum presented it to Macen, "The gentleman in the corner wishes you to have this. It is non-vintage Krug champagne from Earth. He says the flavor of the grape mix is better in the non-vintage and that you deserve the best."

Macen was about to decline when he saw the expectant look on his associates' faces, "Fine, but I won't be having any."

"Very well what can I get you instead?" the waiter eagerly asked.

"Do you have fresh mirak juice?" Macen inquired.

"The freshest," The waiter assured him.

"I'll take a bottle of that," Macen informed him.

"I'll be having some as well," T'Kir piped up.

"The lady won't be having the champagne then?" the waiter asked.

"No, the lady won't," T'Kir smiled.

The champagne was poured and the fruit juice was brought and served. Macen noted Radil's conversation with Riker and Danan.

"...and then she grabbed him by the mishveks and gave 'em a good squeeze. Prophets, did I teach her well or what?" Radil happily wondered.

"You didn't teach me that. My mother did." Grace primly corrected her.

"Your mother?" Riker was dumbfounded.

"That's how she got my father's attention when she wanted to mate." Grace explained.

Riker, Danan, Radil, and McMasters just stared at her. Her cheeks colored, "Well it worked didn't it?"

"I guess you're living proof of that." Riker conceded.

The ubiquitous waiters returned to take their orders and then they shuffled off. The eager young waiter reappeared and spoke quietly with Macen. Macen smiled and excused himself. He went to Sindis's table and the Iridian offered him a seat. The guards stepped away, still within eyesight but out of earshot.

"What am I to do with you, captain? You simply won't die," Sindis chuckled.

"I'm officially obligated to inform you that Starfleet is offering you an amnesty in exchange for helping them dismantle the Orion Syndicate," Macen dutifully relayed.

"Did you tell them that I would refuse?" Sindis asked.

"I mentioned something to that effect," Macen stated.

"Then we have an understanding," Sindis smiled, "Now, as to this business tomorrow, I'm going to have that latinum one way or another."

"I'm not here over the latinum." Macen confirmed for him.

"No, you're here because of me," Sindis's smile turned indulgent, "Give up your fool's errand. It will only get people killed."

"I agree that one of us will die," Macen allowed.

"You still can't admit it, can you? You can't beat me. I'm stronger, faster, infinitely smarter, and far more ruthless. I respect you as an opponent. Do not throw away your life recklessly," Sindis had a manic gleam to his eye.

"I'm not the one that needs that caveat. You should take the deal. It's the only way you'll leaver Ferenginar alive." Macen advised.

"It seems destiny will be had for one of us tomorrow," Sindis said wearily.

"Before I go, you really should pay your spies better. Maybe they'll give you better updates. I'm not the captain of the Obsidian anymore. Your gambit with the clone did see to that," Macen revealed.

"But you are still master of your precious SID team and therefore ultimately master of the ship. Therefore I will refer to you as 'captain' until you rightfully reclaim the post that is yours." Sindis countered.

"You won't live that long." Macen warned and then rose and returned to his own table.

Sindis stormed out of the restaurant after that.

"What do you mean you can't read his mind?" Riker couldn't believe his ears.

"Sindis's brain is like Hannah's. It's so tightly structured and compartmentalized I can't read it," T'Kir huffed.

"Then you shouldn't be able to read mine," Rockford said.

"Totally different story. Right now, the Celeste Rockford personality is dominant so I c'n read it. Everybody else is background noise," T'Kir informed her.

Rockford scowled as Macen retook his seat, "What'd I miss?"

"Nuthin'," T'Kir practically bounced in her seat.

Macen had caught a totally different vibe but he let it go. Parva changed the topic by putting in a request for dry-dock time. Riker gave Macen a pointed stare and Macen wore a rueful grin.

"You'll get all the yard time you need after we get back to Serenity," He promised

Dinner became a light hearted fare and everyone tried to forget about what would happen tomorrow.

The next morning found the SID team in uniform once more. They were spread out in the same configuration as the day before. McMasters once again blew all of the repaired and replaced spy eyes and sensors. Brunt looked dismayed. His reputation, carefully built around being able to fix a game, was in tatters.

The last ten players gathered around the tongo table. Play lasted for hours. Rather than take a break, which would force them to temporarily relinquish their cards, they played on. The betting forced seven players to go all in. Finally, Quark and Sindis, who were the two powerhouses, went all in. Sindis chose to confront and Quark revealed a full consortium. Sindis, who had a monopoly, gaped. He then stormed out of the players' area.

Rom congratulated Quark. Nog and Ro formed a cordon to ward of avaricious well wishers. Leeta just beamed with pride and repeatedly told Bena, "That's your uncle."

The SID team left the Hall. Returning to the ship, they gathered the rest of their equipment. Radil shrugged on her portable phaser cannon. McMasters grabbed a prefab jammer. Rockford, McMasters, T'Kir and Macen each strapped a sword to their back. They were replicated from the swords Macen had collected from Arinae when she died. He hadn't used the originals since he'd slain his first wife.

Macen had the two originals strapped to this back. He and T'Kir had fought over that. Macen intended to give Sindis one of the blades. His code of honor demanded that Sindis have a shot at surviving. A slim chance since three other swordsmen would be waiting for him if he got past Macen.

Macen had shown T'Kir the basics and both she and Rockford could match Sindis's reflexes, speed, and strength. McMasters was simply there to prod Sindis back into the combat circle if he tried to slip past the more capable fighters. Outside, in the hallway, Daggit and Radil would be waiting. Odds were that even Sindis couldn't survive a direct blast from Radil's cannon. If that failed, Daggit could feed him a grenade and see what happens.

They transported down to the entrance of the hotel. As they arrived, particle beams lanced out of the sky and struck the 1st Bank of Ferenginar. The automatic shields went into effect and held for several minutes but they finally collapsed under the orbital bombardment.

Inside of the bank, a pallet surrounded by several others was beamed away. Vaughn's troops kept up their vigil but no one came through the doors. They maintained their positions while they awaited confirmation from their friends in orbit.

Riker was on the bridge. Macen had commed him to tell him everything was beginning. He witnessed the Orion ship has it barraged the surface with its disruptors. Suddenly, explosions ripped through the aft quarter of the ship.

"There goes their cargo bay," Jaycee reported from Tactical.

"Hail them. Let's see if they want assistance," Riker smirked.

"Yeah, right," Forger said from beside him.

"It could happen," Riker said innocently.

"Jammer's active," McMasters reported.

"Jenrya, you and Rab have the lead," Macen ordered.

When the four Orion guards spotted the SID force they went for their weapons and their comm badges. Radil blew them apart with her cannon even as they discovered their comms were dead. Daggit stood in front of a door while Rockford spoofed the lock. The door slid open and he rushed in with his rifle to his shoulder. He killed the unsuspecting Orion guards while they were trying to sleep. T'Kir opened the door to the other room and Radil blasted away until nothing moved.

Macen and Rockford held their phaser pistols in two handed grips and T'Kir opened the door. These guards were awake and aware but unsuspecting due to the soundproofing of the room. Macen caught two unprepared but Rockford mowed down the rest. Her speed and accuracy were frightening to behold. Having faced her in mortal combat, he was glad once again that she was now on his side.

Sindis, who wasn't shielded by a sound proof environment, emerged from the master suite. The expansive living area was filled with corpses. He smiled.

"It seems our day has come, Captain," Sindis happily declared.

Everyone holstered their sidearms and drew their swords. Sindis frowned, "All at once? That's rather unsporting of you."

Macen drew his second blade and tossed it at Sindis. The Iridian caught it by the hilt and waved it about, "Excellent balance. Why this choice of weapons?"

"Particle beams merely stun you and you've always been leery of blades," Macen summarized, "They can inflict permanent harm and I'm willing to bet you have next to nothing in the way of experience with them."

Sindis bowed his head, "I defer to your deductive abilities."

"Shall we begin?" Macen inquired.

"All at once?" Sindis asked again.

"They're here in case you get by me. That won't happen," Macen promised.

Sindis began to circle the room with the sword in a two handed ready stance. Macen echoed him and moved in synch with his foe. Rockford guarded the main exit. T'Kir blocked the way back into the bedroom. McMasters hung out near the kitchenette and hoped like hell he would be called upon to actually do anything.

Sindis came at Macen with a blow swung from the shoulder. Macen blocked it and while Sindis tried to adjust his weight and momentum, Macen swung below the Iridian's sword and went for the other man's torso. Sindis jumped backwards but he still received a cut. Cerulean blood oozed through his tailored shirt.

Next came one swing after another. A cut high, then recoiling off of that, a swing low. Macen parried every one of the attempts. Sindis wielded the katana like a broadsword. It restricted the fluidity of his movements so his vaunted speed was cut in half.

Still, he improved as he went. Macen received a slice across his left shoulder and a scratch on his right thigh. He then decided he was done taking Sindis's measure and committed to the attack. Macen swung his sword into Sindis inner ring of defense. The Iridian blocked the stroke. Seizing the opportunity, Sindis lashed out and hit Macen in the face with the pommel of his sword. The El-Aurian was thrown backwards and he staggered as he tried to reclaim his balance. Sindis pressed forward.

T'Kir intercepted him and tried a slashing attack. Sindis parried her attacks and then an evil smile crossed his features. He shoved her blade aside and stabbed her through the torso. On a human, it would be her liver that was impaled. As a Vulcan however, that was the location of her heart.

A heart wrenching cry came from Macen as Sindis pulled his sword free and stepped back. Macen ran to her and dropped to his knees next to her. Cradling her, he lifted her chest and head so that her eyes met his.

"T'Kir..." Macen choked.

Her hand sought his face. Placing her hands above the katra points found there, she struggled to say, "Re...remember."

With one last convulsive shudder, she breathed her last. Macen cradled her slack body for a moment as emotions washed over him. Sindis began his approach.

"Brin!" Rockford cried.

Macen pulled away from T'Kir's body and snatched up his sword all in one motion. As he rose he inverted his blade and spun at the hip. He successfully stabbed Sindis in the chest. Turning to face Sindis, Macen shoved the blade further into the Iridian's chest. Twisting it, he took great satisfaction as blood began to trickle from the gangster's lips and he gurgled.

Macen abruptly pulled the blade free and Sindis's evil smile returned, "You may have killed me but I tore what was most important to you from your grasp. Every time that you miss her you will think of me."

Macen's next stroke slit open Sindis's throat. Cerulean blood spilled and Sindis's knees buckled and he went down onto his back. His mouth opened and closed as he desperately tried to find a way to live. Finally his body went slack and his chest quite heaving. At long last he was dead.

Macen collapsed next to T'Kir and he cradled her as racking sobs erupted out of him. Rockford was the first to react.

"Tag Sindis. We want his body," She ordered Radil and Daggit. Slapping the comm badge on her belt, she said; "Rockford to transporter room."

"Telrik here." Came the Tellarite's reply.

"Beam up every comm badge and isolinear tag in the area." Rockford ordered.

"You got it!" Telrik jovially replied. His happiness died as the team materialized on the Obsidian's transporter pads. He activated the intercom, "Transporter Room to Sickbay. We have a medical emergency."

"I'm afraid it's too late for that," Rockford softly informed him. Kneeling behind Macen, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and whispered into his ear, "That's right. Let it go."

She could tell it was having the desired effect. As Tessa and her med team arrived, Macen was still distraught but the worst was over. She held him as they gathered T'Kir and Sindis's bodies and then rose to her feet. Pulling him up, she steered him towards the door.

"C'mon let's get you to your quarters," She quietly urged him on.

As they exited Daggit looked to Radil, "Do you know something that I don't?"

"No, but I have a strong suspicion," Radil said.


Chapter Twelve

An hour later, Rockford pressed the door chime to Macen's quarters. They truly were just his now that T'Kir had passed. She remembered that type of heartache and hoped that he would open the door. The door slid open but he was nowhere to be found.

"Hello?" she could out.

"In here," Came the subdued reply.

Rockford followed the sound to the bedroom. Macen was freshly showered and changed, as she was, but he was staring blankly into the closet. T'Kir's things took up the bulk of the space.

"You know, the closet terrified me after Tannin died," Rockford admitted.

"Tannin was your betrothed?" Macen turned to face her. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy and he looked haggard but he still had a sense of being vitality. Rockford was afraid that T'Kir's death would quench that inner fire. She was relieved beyond words that her fears were groundless.

"Yes," Rockford said sadly, "He was standing right next to me when he was killed. The front lines surged forward so I had to leave his body behind. It was gone when I returned to that position. I don't even know which side collected it. I wasn't even able to attend the memorial. I was thrown back into the line that same afternoon."

Macen nodded, "I thought your emotional spectrum felt a little familiar to what I was experiencing."

She gave him a wan smile, "Been there myself."

"Thank you," He said.

"For what?" she was suddenly confused.

"For managing the team while I was distracted and taking care of me while I couldn't care for myself," He explained.

"Any time," She said sincerely.

"Now, I just have to figure out what to do with these damn clothes," Macen frowned.

"Are you sure you're that ready to move on?" Rockford asked.

"I take it you didn't quite grasp the significance of T'Kir's last act?" Macen asked.

"No, I didn't," Rockford admitted.

"She emplaced her katra in my mind," Macen explained.

"Her what?" Rockford wondered.

"Her katra. A Vulcan's living essence. Typically these are transferred to arks in the temple on Mount Seleya but T'Kir wanted me to carry hers until I died," Macen stated.

"Figures," Rockford muttered.

Macen smiled, "Celeste, I can't 'hear' T'Kir or have a conversation with her. It's more like knowing someone is a room with you. You don't speak to them, or even acknowledge their presence but you know they're there. It's what having a telepathic rapport is like. After years of sharing a rapport with T'Kir I'd probably be a mental cripple without her katra."

He very pointedly declined to mention that the gamble was that T'Kir could cross over to the next plane of existence with him. Since it was an unproven theory he didn't think it was worth mentioning. Rockford's obstacle to Macen's affections was out of her way and he didn't want to disabuse her of her hopes.

"The reason I'm here, beyond the obvious, is tell you Hannah is in Sickbay," She revealed.

"Hannah? She's never been sick a day in her life." Macen found this curious.

"She went berserk when Radil and Daggit told her about T'Kir's death. They had to sedate her. Tessa is monitoring her condition but she seems traumatized. Tessa was hoping you'd be able to talk to her," Rockford explained.

Macen wore a rueful expression, "Sorry, Celeste. You're getting all the bum assignments surrounding me."

"I don't mind. I'm happy to help," She decided.

Macen sensed her emotions. She truly was happy to help him however she could. There was more to it he realized. She'd said she loved him a little bit. That little bit was rapidly ballooning into something real. He idly wondered if that would be nurtured or if it would be crushed in the months to come.

The door chimed and Macen called out, "Come."

Riker and Danan entered the living room and seeing no one there went to the bedroom where Rockford and Macen could be found. Danan seemed bemused by Rockford's presence. Macen wondered what she knew.

"God, I'm sorry, Brin," Riker said, "How are you doing?"

"I fell apart but Celeste got me through the worst of it," Macen admitted.

That mischievous twinkle in Danan's eye just wouldn't go away, "Have you heard about Hannah?"

"Celeste just told me. I'm on my way to Sickbay," Macen told her.

"I took the liberty of filing a report with Admiral Forger," Riker confessed, "She wanted an immediate update and I didn't think you'd be in any shape to talk to her."

"I wasn't," Macen gripped Riker's shoulder, "Good call."

"Can we join you?" Danan asked, "Maybe we can prove as useful as Celeste already has."

Rockford's emotions took on a defensive edge and Macen countered with, "Celeste has experienced what I've felt today. She's proving to be a good guide towards recovery. I'm going to be relying on her for the months to come."

The So there! was unspoken.

Danan wisely backed off. They reached Sickbay and found Radil and Daggit outside. Macen could sense their turmoil.

"I take it she reacts badly at the sight of you two," Macen mused.

"We delivered the bad news. She breaks down every time she sees us," Radil explained.

"Why don't you two go relax for a couple of hours and then come back again? Hopefully we can calm her down by then," Macen suggested.

Macen entered Sickbay, went to her bed, and held Grace as she sobbed. Rockford stood by and started forward as he began to break down again but she held back. After their release was spent, Macen wiped his eyes and looked over Grace.

"She loved you, Hannah. I know one of her regrets would be missing your presumptive wedding," He told her.

Grace started to break down again and Macen faltered. Rockford wrapped her arm around his and he drew strength from her presence. Tessa sedated Grace and she swiftly drifted off to sleep. Next she turned to Macen.

"Let me know if there's anything I can do," She implored.

Macen noted the edge to her voice but he ignored it, "Thanks Tessa. I can't think of anything right now."

"Maybe later?" she asked hopefully.

"Maybe," He allowed. Macen and Rockford left Sickbay and returned to his quarters.

Later, Macen was alone in his rooms and Tessa suddenly appeared. Macen was slightly startled and said as much.

"I'm sorry," Tessa gushed, "But I have to know, do you want to have sex with me?"

"What?" Macen exclaimed

"T'Kir told me to have sex with you if anything ever happened to her," Tessa explained, "I'm willing. In fact, I'm more than willing. I've wanted to sleep with you for years now."

"I'm sorry, Tessa. aren't required. I'm fine. I don't even want to sleep with anyone. T'Kir just died and it's going to be awhile before I have that particular urge again," Macen tried to let her down easy.

Her clothes vanished and she was revealed in all her glory, "You're sure you don't want to have sex with me now?"

"Pretty sure," Macen assured her.

"Damn it," She snapped and then vanished.

The door chime sounded and Macen knew it couldn't possibly get any worse. He told the door to open and Rockford was revealed to be the petitioner. She saw his expression.

"What?" she asked.

"Tessa just came a-calling," Macen answered ruefully.

"What did she want?" Rockford was mildly amused.

"She wanted to have sex with me," Macen deadpanned.

"You're kidding?" Rockford couldn't quite...actually, yes she could believe it.

"She certainly wasn't," Macen complained, "And neither are you."

Rockford cast a wry glance his way, "I'm just here to see you through the worst of this. I don't mean to imply that there's any pressure. If there's even going to be a chance for an 'us' then it's going to happen further down the road. Until then, I just want to be here for you."

Macen smiled, "And that's why an 'us' stands a chance. I have to thank you for everything you're doing."

"It's a pleasure." She said sincerely, "Now c'mon. In one of her saner moments Tessa declared that you can't be missing meals. Chef's working out her grief in the kitchen and the crew wants to share with you."

"Okay," Macen sighed, "I'll come."

"That's good because I was going to drag you kicking and screaming otherwise," It was Rockford's turn to smile.

The crew gathered in a cargo bay of Serenity Station. It was a week after the death of T'Kir and Sindis. It was time to deal with the bodies. The crew had gathered for T'Kir's funeral. Also attending were Ro Laren, Amanda Forger, Alynna Nechayev, and Elias Vaughn. Ro and the admirals had arrived aboard the Defiant. Alfonso Reyes, the CO of DS3 was also in attendance to comfort Ro.

As the attendees found their seats, Grace and Rockford protectively flanked Macen. Vaughn had made the arrangements on Macen's behalf and he'd traveled to Serenity to console his old friend the way Macen had consoled him when his wife was assimilated by the Borg. Vaughn's daughter, Prynn Tenmei, had flown the shuttle that had brought her father here.

Vaughn called the gathering to order and made a few general remarks regarding the how and why of death. It was like reading a fitness report in its sanitization. Macen was slightly irked by this but didn't hold it against his friend. Vaughn was obeying the security protocols surrounding the death.

Next Ro was called to speak. Her calm poise gave strength to Macen just as it had during their time in the Maquis. Ro began, "When I first met T'Kir, it was on the ashes of her homeworld. She'd come looking to join the Maquis and our feelers directed her to me. All I saw was a volatile young woman with an axe to grind. It wasn't until she demonstrated her ability to easily slice into our encrypted files, files I had helped secure, with nothing but a portable computer that I opted to bring her into our cell. What I didn't know until it was proven later was that her nascent telepathic ability had been unleashed by the trauma she'd endured."

"Unable to control her abilities, she grew increasingly erratic. So erratic in fact that I foisted her off on my poor unsuspecting Intelligence Chief. For T'Kir, it was lust at first sight as she tried to scan Brin Macen's mind and found she couldn't. She hounded him and hounded him, always pining away," Ro described the scene, "What we didn't know, but we all theorized and placed wagers upon, was that Brin felt the same way towards her. But she was ill so he never took advantage of her feelings."

"Later, after the war he was called to form a special investigations team, the team that would become the first unit in the SID. T'Kir had spent the war in the Andes Psychiatric Facility. Brin needed a computer expert so he broke her out and history was made. They were two pieces of a singular puzzle. Where you found one you found the other. In fact it was this inseparability that cost her her life. When Brin was wounded and vulnerable, T'Kir rushed in to save him. Sindis used the opportunity to kill her. Fortunately for us, Brin dealt with him and we won't have to worry about Sindis taking any more lives," Ro continued, "What I can say about T'Kir is this, she was loyal. She was a steadfast, if somewhat annoying Maquis. She stood by the SID despite being harassed by the admiralty to conform to their standards. Most of all, she was loyal to her husband...after she stopped sleeping with every man that crossed her path. She devoted her life to him and she wouldn't see her sacrifice as a vain one. It is a price she would willingly pay in order to secure his well being. We should all be so valiant."

Ro took her seat and Reyes rubbed her back. Macen stood behind the podium. Deceptively calm, he fought the surge of grief that welled up in his soul, "There are innumerable things that I could say about T'Kir but you don't have the time and I don't have the heart. She can best be personified by a single word: love. She loved from her very essence. She loved me with a fire and a passion that stretched beyond imagination. She felt the same towards her best friend. Her teammates were family, even those that had once been enemies."

"T'Kir gave of herself all the time. She had a selfish fašade that masked an underlying generosity. She wanted those around her to be happy and she would do anything to achieve that state. It was this that I saw in her when she struggled with keeping her mind intact. Few wanted to give her a chance but I had to. There was too much there to abandon," Macen stated, "And I can say this with all certainty: she will be missed. We'll miss the little things, the smiles, the laughs, the playful teasing, and the subtle demonstrations of love. And that brings us full circle. We'll miss T'Kir because we loved her and she loved us. Thank you."

Macen sat down and Rockford squeezed his shoulder. He flashed her a gentle smile and she brightened, knowing he was okay. Grace dabbed a tear from her eye and waited as the tractor beams grabbed the photon casing that served as a coffin and propelled it outside. From there it burned up in Odin's atmosphere, symbolically Viking enough to suit the frigid world.

Afterwards, a wake was being held in Quark's. Quark himself attended. Although his dealings with Macen and T'Kir had often been at the working end of a phaser, Macen had helped with his franchise enterprise. Serenity boasted the first franchisee but now stations and planets across the quadrant boasted a Quark's and no small measure of that was because of T'Kir's advertising campaign.

"Well Commander, I'd say the gathering is a rousing success. Everyone's talking about T'Kir and they're laughing and smiling," Quark shared.

Macen smiled, "Thanks Quark. I know how hard it must've been to drag you away from the original."

"What are business partners for?" Quark said and then he grew conspiratorial, "Speaking of which, I'm in a position to buy out your minority share and contract with you for the advertising."

"Contact Claudia Tyrol. Tell her you have my blessing and she'll handle the negotiation," Macen informed him.

Quark whipped out a padd, "Claudia Tyrol. Got it. Enjoy the rest of your day."

"I can't believe you went into business with Quark," Rockford said.

"He's not that bad once you know his leverage points," Macen said.

"Still...he's Ferengi," Rockford made a face.

"Have we discovered a prejudicial bone in your body?" Macen smirked.

"Damn right you have. If I get propositioned by one more Ferengi I'm going to start clubbing them on sight," Rockford declared.

"It's the price of being beautiful," Macen observed.

Rockford declined to comment and settled for sipping her drink. Vaughn and Ro approached.

"I see you're hanging in there," Vaughn said as he took a seat at their table, "And that you're monopolizing Celeste's time."

"Why? Would you care to monopolize my time?" Rockford cheekily asked.

"I'm afraid our ship sailed," Vaughn sighed, "But at least I have good memories of our time together."

"So do I," Rockford admitted.

"Brin, Forger and Nechayev are going to be over here in a minute. You're not going to like what they have to say," Ro warned.

"They are collecting Sindis's body, correct?" Macen grew apprehensive.

"Yes, they are. They want to discuss the SID," Ro shared.

"Belay that, Commander. We'll take it from her," Nechayev stated.

"But I..." Ro began.

"You're dismissed, Commander. Go mingle with Captain Reyes." Nechayev ordered.

Nechayev and Forger sat down, crowing the small table. The admirals pointedly looked at Rockford and Vaughn to dismiss them. Rockford made to move but Mace stopped her with a hand atop of hers. Vaughn was just as intransigent.

"We need to talk," Nechayev told Macen.

"This involves your sealed records. Are you sure you want to discuss this in front of company?" Forger asked.

"Amanda, these two people know me better than you do. There's nothing there that hasn't been discovered by them," Macen replied.

"Let's cut the BS and get to the skinny," Nechayev said, "You're suspended from SID contracts."

"Why?" Macen asked in a soft, angry voice.

"You know your instabilities. Without T'Kir to restrain you, who knows what will happen?" Forger explained the reasoning.

"This is bullshit," Macen responded, "You're making a preemptive strike against something that might happen. Have you seen evidence of instability while you've been here?"

"No, and that's what scares me. You're a time bomb," Nechayev admitted.

"I thought that was the way that you liked me, Alynna," Macen retorted.

"Of course not," Nechayev snorted, "I'd much rather have you as sane as the next man."

"I've met the next man and he's a bundle of psychoses," Macen quipped.

"Let's focus," Forger said, "You'll still be able to take private contracts as always. If you can go a year without melting down we'll revisit your status."

"And if I opt out of SID assignments at that point?" Macen asked.

"That would be unfortunate for us as well as you. After all, your long term goals are best served within the framework of the SID," Nechayev said.

Macen hated to admit that they were right, "We'll see you in a year."

Sensing a dismissal, the admirals stepped away. Rockford was incensed, "How dare they accuse you of being incapacitated by T'Kir's death. Sure you're grieving but you're not planning mass murders or anything to exact some kind of revenge."

"I can see their point," Vaughn said. This earned him dirty looks from Macen and Rockford. Vaughn held up his hands in surrender, "Your psyche is a loaded weapon. They're just afraid this will pull the pin out of that particular grenade."

"The same could be said of me," Rockford said. In another life she had been Annika Ryst, Angosian Augment Infiltrator and mercenary at large. Ryst was no stranger to spilled blood. However, her Celeste Rockford persona was far gentler.

"Are they planning on throwing me into lockdown too?" she irritably demanded.

"No one is throwing either one of you into lockdown," Vaughn managed not to sigh, "They're just waiting and observing. When their confidence is restored, they'll remove the suspension."

"The team survived a suspension once before. We'll be fine now," Macen declared.

Rockford drew her confidence from Macen.

Rockford stood in the corridor outside of Macen's quarters, "Well, that went well regardless."

Macen wore a wry grin, "I know you have your doubts but the team will thrive. The civilian contracts I get offered are almost as challenging as the SID offerings."

"Who's worried?" Rockford replied.

"Liar," He hesitated, "Thank you for today."

"Anytime," She smiled.

"Good night," He said as his door shooshed open.

"Rest well," She said as she began to stroll away.

Macen watched her go and then entered their space. His rather than theirs. It brought on a wave of grief. He fought the feeling of helplessness. After all, T'Kir was still with him in a very real sense. He had a feeling she'd approve of his measures at coping.

The comp/comm message light was flashing. He sat down and watched messages from various members of the Intrepid crew. Bob Johnson had insisted that Macen call him as soon as he got the message. He thought about it but what he really wanted to do was turn in for the evening. He could call Bob tomorrow. He'd talk to Jim McKinley as well. For now, it was time to try and sleep through the entire night.

T'Kir's katra might provide the sense of presence that his former telepathic rapport provided but it didn't mean she wasn't physically missing from the bed. That was one difficult transition amongst a thousand little ones.

He stripped and changed into his shorts. Lying down, he gave one last thought to T'Kir. He'd miss her for the rest of his life but with friends like Celeste, Hannah, Elias, Laren, and Lees he could get through this. He promised himself that and closed his eyes.


Chapter Thirteen

One year later...

"Well this is certainly intimate," Rockford observed with delight as she sat down at the dining room table at Macen's quarters. She'd enjoyed many meals here over the course of the last year but none of them had been candlelit dinners prepared by Macen himself. She gratefully accepted Macen's help as he scooted her chair in. He began to serve and she inquired as to what the occasion was.

He sat down and poured spring wine into her glass. He himself was having apple juice. The question made him blush. Rockford thought it was adorable.

"Well, there've been a lot of changes over the last year. With your help I learned to deal with T'Kir's death. Once again with your help the SID team managed to pull together despite the loss and our suspension from the SID. That suspension ended today. We're going back into the fire and I realized that I wouldn't want to unless you were by my side," Macen confessed.

Rockford held her breath. Slowly she let it out and asked, "You mean...?"

Macen's eyes held hers, captivating her; "You once expressed interest in me. I don't think that's ever changed. I feel the same way towards you. You've been my pillar of support for twelve months now and I want to let you know how grateful I am."

"Gratitude is nice but let's get back to 'us'. You're saying you want there to be an 'us'?" she sought clarification.

"Yes Celeste, I want there to be an 'us'," Macen smiled.

Her eyes sparkled as her smile blossomed, "All I can say is that it's about time."

Macen was delighted, "I've been hoping you'd feel that way."

Rockford rolled her eyes, "You're the empath. Aren't you Listeners all about gauging people's reactions?"

"I could've been wrong," Macen defended himself.

"If this filet mignon didn't look so good I'd throw it at you," Rockford huffed.

"You'd better eat up," Macen urged, "I have a whole evening planned."

The sparkle returned to her eyes, "I'm getting a few ideas myself."

"Then we'll just have to roll with it and see what happens." Macen's eyes twinkled.

Rockford looked leery, "I wasn't so sure about that. After that little fling with Mariska nine months ago..."

"Lyoti and I were working on satisfying a few basic cravings. There was nothing serious between us," Macen admitted.

"But you and a Cardassian...what would your old Maquis buddies say about that?" she inquired.

"It was...informative," Macen said, "I would trade that experience for anything else. Besides, it showed me what I really wanted."

"Y'know, we could've..." she faltered, "Are you saying you want me?"

Macen held her gaze, "It was a totally different scenario. I could never have anything permanent with Lyoti. I'm hoping I can with you. I just wasn't ready to commit yet. I'm sorry if I hurt you. You seemed fine with it at the time, vaguely disappointed but fine nonetheless."

"Yeah well, I'm a big girl. Big girls take care of themselves and don't get their hopes up to high," Rockford asserted. Even now it rang false.

Macen scooted his chair back, rose, and came around the table. Holding his hands out, his eyes twinkled. Rockford hesitated.

"C'mon Celeste. Dance with me." He offered.

A flicker of a smile lifted her lips. She'd once expressed the desire to dance the night away. She loved dancing but in intimate settings. Her training as an Augment lent her a certain kind of grace but not the pretty kind for dancing. Yet her heart yearned for the expression of its desires. It was a wish that had remained unfulfilled...except for maybe now.

She placed her hands in Macen's and he helped pull her to her feet. Calling for music, he selected a specially prepared track selection. As they began to move to the melody, Rockford looked at him with eyes aglow but there was still a wariness about them.

"Did you and T'Kir use dance to this?" she wondered.

"No." he smiled, "T'Kir's taste in music ran towards the eclectic. I asked Jenrya what your favorite music was. She listed some artists and I've spent the last three months cataloguing similar artists and adding their songs to this collection."

"This is my favorite song," Rockford admitted.

His smile grew even warmer, "I know. What's a better choice to set the mood?"

"Will we require much moodiness?" she asked.

"Oh yeah. We will." Macen assured her.

She laughed out of sheer delight, "You've been talking to Elias."

"Celeste, I've been talking to everyone. Especially you," Macen sagely pointed out.

"Yes, you have. I've never had anyone listen to me the way you do. And it goes way above and beyond that usual 'Listener' bull crap. You set out to know me and you never gave up. Lesser men gave up a long time ago," she acknowledged.

"It was worth every moment to see you smile," Macen promised.

"Mmm...I like you," Rockford confessed.

"I more than like you," Macen shared.

Rockford bit her lower lip and hesitated for a moment. Macen gently led her into the dances motions and she happily followed along. Surrendering to the moment, she promised herself that she would just enjoy the evening and see where it led.

They danced for six hours straight. The music was low and slow and they were pressed up against each other and swaying to the melody. Rockford leaned back and gazed into his eyes. Wanton desire filled her very being and Macen responded. He leaned down and kissed her. It was gentle at first but as it lingered it increased in ferocity. Soon they were locked in a passionate embrace. They stumbled through the living room and fell across the couch.

Rockford grinned victoriously, "Do you know how long I've waited for you to do that?"

"According to what you said it's been three years," He replied.

"A veritable lifetime," She complained.

"Isn't it though?" Macen smirked.

"Shut up and take me to bed," Rockford commanded.

"As you wish," Macen picked her up and carried her into the bedroom.

"I never thought you'd literally sweep me off my feet," Rockford admitted as they entered the desired area.

"But you wanted it," He said.

"Of course I wanted it. Who wouldn't?" She said as he sat her down on the bed.

"Well, get ready. If I'm right, you're in for an experience," He forewarned her.

"Overconfident are we?" she teased.

"We're going to form an empathic bond. Lees couldn't because of the symbiot but T'Kir felt it. Let's just say it heightens everything," Macen tried to describe what was going to happen.

"Brin, I'm an Augment. I know all about heightened states," Rockford reassured him.

"Okay," He knelt before her and she leaned into him and kissed him.

Their desire reached a crescendo and they ripped one another's clothes off and threw themselves atop one another on the bed. It was during this period that Rockford learned what "heightened" meant.

A few hours later, they were both spent. Macen held her from behind. She trembled as she tried to recover from the experience.

"What was that?" she asked.

"An empathic bond. You felt my emotions and I felt yours. You felt me feeling yours and vice versa until a cascade effect occurs and you're drowning in each other's experiences. It can be overwhelming to the inexperienced," Macen explained as best he could.

"Gods, no wonder T'Kir wanted to have sex all the time. What a rush," Rockford sighed.

"So you aren't scared off?" Macen was worried.

She rolled over to face him, "Hell no! That was the single most incredible experience of my life. I might become a sex addict knowing that's what waits for me."

"I think I've proven I can survive that," Macen smirked.

Rockford cuffed him upside the head, "Down boy."

"What time is it?" Macen wondered. Somehow the clock had been overturned in their mad excursions.

Rockford leaned off of the bed and grabbed the clock, "It's 0730."

"Damn. We've been up all night." Macen realized.

"Do you want to sleep?" Rockford was full of trepidations. She didn't want to go back to her own quarters now or ever.

"Only if you want to," Macen countered.

"What I want is breakfast," She declared.

"Quark's makes an excellent scramble," He suggested.

"Okay!" she eagerly agreed, "Showers first."

"Or 'shower' singular," He wore an impish grin.

"Oh, you just want to get naughty again," She started backing away towards the bathroom.

"Anything wrong with that?" he inquired as he pursued.

"Maybe. Maybe no,." She replied.

"Oh, I think this is definitely a maybe not," He declared.

He backed her all the way into the shower and then turned it on. Rockford swiftly discovered what the second most erotic experience of her life was.

They were dressed and headed for the crossover bridge to reach the Promenade. Rockford was practically giddy, "I am never showering solo again."

"Speaking of which, are you happy with your living situation?" Macen asked.

"What do you mean?" she was apprehensive.

"Basically I'm asking you if you want to keep your own quarters or if you want to move in with me." Macen clarified.

"Brin, we've only been dating for a few hours. Don't you think that's rushing things?" she asked.

"Celeste, we've been practically dating for nine months now. I spend every waking hour trying to figure out how to spend it with you. You haven't sent me packing so I'm pretty sure you feel the same way. We just shared an empathic bond that proved that you love me and that I'm in love with you. Or did you miss that part?" he reasoned.

"I wasn't sure. I've never felt anything like that before," She admitted.

"I'm madly, passionately in love with you. In case you're worried, no, this isn't what I felt towards T'Kir. This is entirely new and centered all around you. After last night I want to spend even more time with you. The easiest way to accomplish that is to move in together." He made his case.

Rockford's eyes were filled with tears, "I'd hoped and hoped but I never thought... Of course I want to move in with you. I was afraid you'd send me back to my quarters and decide this had all been a mistake."

Macen wiped the tears from her cheeks, and then cupping her face in his hands, he drew her in for a kiss. She sniffled as she smiled.

"C'mon, let's get to Quark's before we make a scene," Rockford urged.

"Too late for you," Macen teased. She elbowed him in the ribs.

At Quarks the couple drew several stares. It had been a long time since they had seen the couple this happy. Many wondered if Rockford was the cause of Macen's smile and vice versa. Grace was first to approach them. She stood by their table and studied them before speaking.

"You little scamps!" she declared, "You've had sex!"

Rockford almost blushed. Macen couldn't help it. Grace wouldn't relent, "Now I have to tell everyone so we can find out who won the pool."

Rockford pounced upon that, "There's a betting pool on when Brin and I will go to bed?"

"Hey, they did it to me and Ian. So all's fair in love and war," Grace decided.

She then grew a little more nervous and tentative, "So is this a permanent arrangement or a mutual letting off of lust?"

Macen didn't know how to respond so Rockford handled it, "I'm moving in with him. Is that permanent enough?"

"Yes! I nailed that one!" Grace exalted in her victory.

"Is there any other way I can help you?" Rockford's pride was piqued.

Grace focused on Macen, "T'Kir would be proud of you. She wouldn't want you to be alone and she'd confided in me that Celeste was the woman she'd pick for you."

Macen grinned, "Thanks, Hannah. That means a lot."

Macen's comm badge chirped so he tapped, "Macen here."

It was Chris Pike, "Brin, Admiral Forger wants you to contact her. There's a situation that has your name all over it."

"Thanks, Chris. Tell Amanda that I'll contact her in twenty minutes."

"Roger. Out." Pike signed off.

"Forger? We have a SID contract?" Grace squealed.

"Go forth and be my herald," Macen dismissed her.

Grace darted off and Macen and Rockford signaled the waiter so they could get "To Go" boxes. Macen felt a wave of emotion from Rockford and he turned to face her and he saw the love in her eyes. He thought of T'Kir and he thought, you made a good choice, Snickerdoodle.


Last modified: 02 Jan 2014