The Prophets by Travis Anderson
|The tales from the Maquis|
"Shakaar, I need to speak with Citizen Neela," Kai Winn Adami demanded of the First Minister.
"I'm unaware of Neela's current whereabouts. She and Major Anara have gone under deep cover. I rather doubt she'll break radio silence for nearly anything or anyone," Shakaar wore a pleasant smile, "Apparently that includes you."
"Don't test me, Shakaar," Winn warned him.
"Or you'll illegally and immorally use a spiritual edict to overturn my election...again?" Shakaar wondered, "That didn't work for you very well before."
"You are an apostate of the worst kind and I will see you banished from all temples and consigned to the Fire Caves for all eternity," Kai Winn threatened.
"You were lucky to survive the Circle debacle. Collaborating the Cardassians that were pulling you strings. How do think the news that you're actively conspiring with the Dominion will sound? What's the Vorta's name again? Kilana?" Shakaar's pleasantness had evaporate d into a predatory intensity.
"I'm warning you..." Winn's face reddened.
"No, Eminence. I'm warning you. Stay with 'representing' the Prophets and Bajoran spiritual matters and I'll govern the planet and its colonies. Just as the people elected me to do so. Fair enough?" Shakaar didn't ask.
"I'll see you dead and buried on that worthless farm of yours," Winn threatened.
"You do realize every conversation in this office is recorded?" Shakaar wondered, "Something about 'personal responsibility and accountability'."
"You wouldn't dare!" Winn huffed and puffed.
"Evening news. That's all I'll say," Shakaar smiled like a razorcat toying with its vermin prey.
"You. Wouldn't. Dare!" Winn went apoplectic and suddenly clutched at her chest. As she collapsed as medics rushed in.
"Well, the doctor's diagnosis about her heart was accurate," Shakaar mused.
"It'll be a simple surgery," a medic announced, "In the meantime, we need to alert the Temple that she'll under for a few days."
"Make it a few weeks and I'll triple your fee," Shakaar offered.
"My staff will hate you but I think compensation will make it worth it," the newly arrived doctor decided.
"We're a little short on gold pressed latinum thanks to another ongoing operation," Shakaar discreetly neglected to announce the operation's objective.
"I take Bajoran leks," the doctor smiled victoriously.
General Krim entered in as the medical staff hoverbedded Winn away, "You wish to see me?"
"Inform Major Anara and Neela that we need additional funding," Shakaar requested.
"Does it ever warrant consideration of the irony that we were so short on weaponry during the Resistance and now we're conducting arms sales?" Krim wondered.
"No, I've made certain it has not," Shakaar replied.
"Do you trust this Iotian Federation?" Krim asked directly.
"No, I do not," Shakaar freely admitted, "But they serve a purpose and although their starships are outdated by Allied or Dominion standards, they are well advanced over our own domestic products. And we have superior small arms tech."
"Even the vaunted Federation could learn a few things from our polaron phasers," Krim chuckled.
"Well, Starfleet believes their technology can save them from anything. Even malfunctions from over-engineering something," Shakaar smiled.
"Simplistic purity is less likely to fail in the field," Krim agreed.
"We won the war but can we live in the peace?" Shakaar finally voiced a long running concern.
"This is hardly peace time," Krim retorted.
"Think about it for a moment. Are truly intended on joining the Federation? Or can we manage well enough on our own?" Shakaar asked.
"Even with our newly commissioned starships, we cannot endure another invasion without allied support," Krim hated to admit.
"But which allies?" Shakaar finally inquired, "If not for Kira's innate stubbornness we'd be living under the constant threat of annihilation from one our own moons"
"No one ever said 'trust a Romulan'," Krim replied.
"Yet Admiral Ross was ready to sell our planet wholesale," Shakaar grimaced.
"There is that," Krim agreed.
"And the Federation and Starfleet merely shrug and say 'it could have gone better'," Shakaar was livid.
"Col. Kira reports that the Architect operation on DS9 picked up some fascinating chatter," Krimn shared, "Our covert action teams have actually crippled the Dominion supply lines to the point that it's interfering with forward operations. Including the Breen. Also, the Tzenkethi have increased their border patrols and have engaged Dominion encroachments. It seems their drive systems are immune to the Breen damping fields."
"I've heard the Talarians have come in as well," Shakaar was relieved by that, "Even the reclusive First Federation has entered warships into the field now."
"The Gorn and the Tholians have also sealed their borders," Krim informed him, "The Kinshayans are also holing up."
"And what of the Thallonians?" Shakaar was honestly curious.
"Starbase Beta stands watch but the Thallonians themselves are reticent over fighting a new conflict so soon after losing their empire," Krim explained.
"Surely that would liberate Captains. Calhoun and Mueller?" Shakaar was hopeful.
"Quite the contrary. The Thallonians respect the pair and they're seen as neutral third-parties in the brewing conflicts between ambitious former imperial holdings," Krim said dourly, "However, Commander Elias Vaughn is returning to the sector and wishes to meet with you and my fellow Joint Chiefs."
"That could be good or bad," Shakaar realized.
"He's bringing a contingent of specialists from Special Operations Command," Krim announced.
"Very good indeed," Shakaar wondered why Krim wasn't pleased as well.
"First Minister, Edon, SOC coming here could prove out Ross' long term desire to wrest control over our special detail and hand it to Starfleet. He'll pull our operatives and disband the Architect program and likely try to arrest everyone involved," Krim warned.
"It's time to temporarily relocate our team then. Have them retire to Sigma Iotia II for a few weeks for R&R," Shakaar ordered.
"Where?" Krim smirked.
"Precisely," Shakaar confirmed his order. Krim looked much happier now as he departed. Although the ninety-nine year old Vaughn had seniority in Starfleet, Bill Ross had superior rank and many allies back at Starfleet Command. But most of the Admiralty owed Vaughn for lifetimes' worth of favors. So why were Vaughn and SOC coming now after all these months
Was Ross so petty that he resented the Bajoran Militia's success? Commander Brin Macen and the Angosian commandos were Starfleet officers. All of the humans involved were ex-Maquis, including a singular Bolian. Lieutenant Ro Laren was protected by her Militia enlistment and the very legal amnesty Shakaar had provided her and the Maquis. Krim had even suggested inducting her at one rank below her Starfleet equivalent would soften the blow for Ross and Sisko.
Sisko had taken a sabbatical after the death of Jadzia Dax. The Wormhole had been sealed as the Pah-wraiths mounted an attack on the Prophets and the Celestial Temple. It wasn't until Sisko learned of his real origins and found the lost Orb of the Prophet that the tide was turned and the Temple reopened.
But rumors surrounded the event and swirled around accusations regarding Dukat and the Pah-wraiths. None of which could be very decidedly benign happenings. Dukat still had delusion of prefecture over Bajor and the Pah-wraiths were the ancient enemies of the Prophets. Being in fact, former Prophets exiled to the mortal realm. The Fire Caves their natural prison and certain artifacts as well as Dukat had discovered. He'd even had one inhabiting his body. To the dismay of Starfleet as they lost Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax. But they Dax symbiont lived on so Jadzia survived in a real way.
As Sisko's true origins were revealed, to a degree even further than Starfleet Intelligence or Section 31 had ever delved into, or would even been ready to believe. But it would finally explain why "the" Sisko was also the Emissary of the Prophets. But that was all a quantum variable at this point. Dark matter strings interconnected a weave all around events but chaos had been needed to activate them.
So Neela had warned Shakaar and the mostly disbelieving Joint Chiefs. But now Shakaar could say he believed she was right and that she genuinely was touched by the Prophets she so adherently served. The war against the Dominion was reaching a tipping point and Bajor would be the one to undermine the eroding base.
No matter what Vaughn officially stated for the Militia's sake, he would know Ro and Macen would never turn aside at this point and the Angosians were little more than volunteers that had little to no Starfleet induction training other than a ninety day course in Starfleet Operations. Both Sveta Korepanova and Christina Liu of the Architect Program were Starfleet officers gone rogue as Maquis.
Macen was a serving line officer. Ro was a serving Militia and former Starfleet officer. Both Maquis along with their non-Angosian crewmen. Shakaar appreciated the irony that the Federation and its vaunted allies now required the aid of former "terrorists" Maquis and Resistance alike. So the Militia's entire covert operation's personnel would be reunited in the Iotian Federation's border.
Anara and Neela were flying skeleton crews to retrieve the bartered for recently constructed starships. Starfleet had recommissioned hundreds of formerly serving ships of the line. including Excelsior- and Miranda-class vessels. But none of the Constitution- and Constellation-class ships that Bajor had purchased for itself along with other turn of the century analogues that the Iotian Starfleet could spare. The command interfaces and computer displays being in Bajoran ideograms and language from the beginning rather than having to patch over Starfleet Federation standard English.
Frightened nonaligned star systems were also buying up hulls from the Iotians and stealing their idea to peruse the Federation Database to acquire vessel schematics and plans to begin constructing their own 23rd Century era analogues to Federation Starfleet ships. Starfleet Security had moved to excise those entries but they'd already been copied en masse by the Iotians who happily sold them as licensed build packages. Even the Bajorans were beginning their yard constructions alongside the Karemma licensed troop/gunships. And now, Ross had been taught by Colonel Kira Nerys that Bajor would not be sold out or brushed aside easily. Her planet and her people could overwhelm the mightiest aggressors through sheer tenacity and grit and not just a little moxy.
The Iotian Federation's border with the United Federation of Planets. The Ark of the Prophets came a relative halt while Anara hailed the Asimov and the Odyssey emerging from Iotian Federation space.
"You all look...drained," Anara allowed. In truth everyone visible within the visual pickup looked utterly exhausted despite their week long reprieve. Kilana hadn't taken long to decide that Ro and Macen were frinxing her. Oh, the intelligence on Allied movements was accurate enough but delivered mere hours before the actions began. Almost too little and too late to alter the Dominion's plans. Which usually ended in suicidal disaster. The Jem'Hadar were happy to die for their gods. The Vorta less so. The Breen were steadily growing more irritated and the Cardassians wanted out.
Supreme Legate Damar remained just sober enough to realize his people had become cannon fodder. Even the Breen began to realize through all their enigmatic posturing that the Founder was willing to kill every sentient creature in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants to avenge the poisoning of the Great Link. And no one knew the toll of the Founder's great rage in the Gamma Quadrant as Jem'Hadar were denied ketracil white and ravaged a galactic quadrant. All in the name of a scorched universe stratagem. The Founders had even dared provoke the Borg.
"It's been a hard ride. I needed the break," Ro replied from the helm of her ship. Macen operated OPS aboard his scoutship while Ebert ran the CONN. Ro had Elfi Hendryks doing OPS with Lieutenant Rab Daggit, the CO of the Angosian platoon, manning Tactical. Christine Lacey did the honors for Macen. Ro's Bolian engineer, Emjin Thool, had put as many able bodied Angosians to work as he could and he conducted regular "work outs" with several of the men. Tom Eckles and Heidi Darcy were the exact opposite. Darcy enjoyed flirting with the female Angosians but never got serious. Lacey revealed her status as a transwoman to the Angosians and hooked up with an Angosian transmale. Seventeen-year old Ebert not only lost her vaginal virginity but she did so again thereafter to break her "ass pussy" virginity.
Macen did his best not to go full on "father figure" but did have a chat with every Angosian from the rank of Command Master Chief down to Shipman Recruit to "discourage" them from using Ebert and tossing her young and soon to be broken heart aside like trash. And that included the women Ebert was sexually experimenting with. Macen suddenly like his four hundred plus years deep in his bones. This was the kind of moment that had always kept him from having children. He was happy for her of course, but still, it was a Deity spawned nightmare.
He wondered how Ro was, or if, curtailing Thool's exuberance and he wondered about Daggit and Hendryks. Elfi kept her private life and desires extremely private. Daggit seemed a man haunted by ghosts. Their unit hadn't endured any permanent losses but still, Macen knew what Starfleet Medical had promised the Angosian platoon and he knew, as well Annika Ryst had, that it was a lie. A lie that began with their own people and the euthanasia process they'd begun as a form of cure for the behavioral and physical Augmentation that had performed on the commandos.
It smacked of Earth's "Final Solution" regarding genocidal campaigns. The commandos, like Ryst herself, had barely escaped alive. Except that Daggit and his team wouldn't acknowledge that their political masters and actual families had decided it was better for them to die than rot in a lunar prison. Ryst had escaped with virtually a hundred alternate identities. So those that wished her dead would multiply but would probably fail at every turn.
But Daggit believed in the system and had exhorted his fellow teammates into following him into a new war. With a stasis locker being his ultimate reward. Macen and Vaughn had objected to anyone that would listen. And for the first time, Nechayev had closed the book on the Angosians over their objections. Since the proposals had originated with one Captain, now Admiral Edward Jellico, Macen found a person to direct his hatred at. That had been reserved solely at the Borg and the Cardassians until now.
Jellico had been warned by both Nechayev and Vaughn and he'd laughed at the very idea. He enough ha d problems with Mackenzie Calhoun to worry Brin Macen. The only El-Aurian to ever join Starfleet and who literally had hundreds of years to plot how he would avenge Daggit and his crew. Picard had convinced Starfleet that Macen's maternal uncle, Tolian Soran, was the only villain in the family. But Vaughn and Nechayev and Calhoun knew what they'd created. The same kind of monster that Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training program had awoken in Ro Laren. Martial discipline held them in check for now. But if their leashes were ever slipped, civilizations would fall. They'd become Michael Eddingtons without the delusions of grandeur and destiny. With all of that tectonic rage aimed at Jellico and anyone who stood beside him.
Section 31 had finally proven its existence to Ro, Macen, and Vaughn. Agent Sloan knew the dangers but had embraced them in a calculated risk to dispose of Browder. At the cost of Elijah Waters' life. Nechayev still believed she continued to deceive the fateful trio regarding her deep alliances with S31. But even Calhoun's stubborn loyalties faded as the evidence mounted against her and Calhoun decidedly had his own issues with Jellico.
"Care to explain why you're all the way out here?" Ro was curious to both the answer and its underlying motive.
"You'll see in a minute," Neela smirked. The Bajoran purchased starships went by at Warp 5.
Ro gaped, "Those...those...those...?"
"Are the latest additions to the Militia's Colonial Defense Forces," Anara proudly stated.
"Don't ask it," Macen warned.
"How did we pay for those?" Ro yelped.
"She asked it," Hendryks shrugged.
"Was there any doubt?" Lacey wondered.
"Yeah, think about it," Ebert scolded Macen. He considered sending her to her room without any supper and knew he really needed a break from the whole ersatz parental thing.
"You do realize I have photon torpedoes with your names on them?" Ro growled.
"Not me. I'm sitting right beside you. You'd get caught in the blast," Hendryks smugly told her.
Ro's phaser was out of its holster and decidedly aimed at her.
"Or not," Hendryks was either very stoic at that moment or just feeling blasť.
"Argh," Ro holstered her sidearm.
"See?" Hendryks was smug again.
"We've been sent to invite you to Deep Space 4," Anara told them.
"That's sitting next to the Romulan Neutral Zone," Ebert groaned.
"But it has infamous recreational facilities," Lacey was intrigued.
"Infamous? I don't think so," Hendryks decided.
"And the Romulan ale just flows like tap water," Lacey continued her reverie.
"Skipper, we've gotta go. I mean you've got to come. I mean... ah, frinx it. Skipper you gotta get laid in the most serious way possible" Hendryks dove in head first without the proverbial transport beacon.
But Ro knew as well Macen that DS4 held within it one of Starfleet's premier Starfleet Intelligence departments. One of the greatest in Starfleet history. Which bordering the Romulans made sense. Coreward and deeper into the Beta Quadrant, DS5 stood as the vigilant gateway to the Delta Quadrant. DS9 held that place marker into the deeper Alpha Quadrant but it was slipping as construction on DS10 and DS11 would resume soon bordering the Cardassian Union's Farside and DS12 would resume construction near Tholian space out towards the Galactic Rim. But DS9 would still be the guardian of the Wormhole into the Gamma Quadrant. But such concerns could be momentarily deflected until the galaxy-wide threat of the Dominion was curbed. So a "request" to visit DS4 while involved in a covert op was practically holy writ from Starfleet Intelligence.
"Thank you for the message. Macen will inform Starfleet of our impending arrival," Ro stiffly replied.
"We're coming with," Anara informed her, "It seems other members of the Admiralty feel differently about your mission other than Bill Ross."
"Frinxin' Starfleet Command," Hendryks flinched at seeing Ro's glare, "What? We're all thinking it."
Macen and Ro certainly were.
"They're hailing again," Hendryks looked amused by the fact.
"Lieutenant Ro, this is wartime. They'll fire on us if you continually refuse to reply or heed their challenge," Daggit reported from the Newton-classs science vessel, the SS Asimov's Tactical station.
"They're trying to figure out why two decommissioned Starfleet vessels are encroaching without communication and transponding with civilian registries," Ro clarified, "Not that I blame them very much."
"We have three light cruisers moving in. They'd appear to be DS4's security cordon. And we have two Warbirds crossing the Neutral Zone," Daggit reported.
"Accept the hail and tell them we were invited," Ro instructed. One of Daggit's fellow Angosians manned the communication station.
"Why is it no one thought to challenge Anara and Neela?" Hendryks grumped.
"They did. But they responded right away. Actually, the good Major passed on some classified intel that I wanted hand delivered. The rest of this is for show," Ro finally explained.
"Show?" Daggit was irked.
"We don't know if the Dominion has friends in the area and our good Vorta friend, Kilana, is still probing us for mixed loyalties. Or any loyalties for that matter," Ro deemed it fit to explain far later than rather sooner.
"I so hate you," Hendryks decided.
"I'm with her on this one," Daggit agreed.
"We've been assigned a docking berth," Shipman Apprentice Jorgan reported.
"Thank you for laying that berth assignment in the helm," Ro rewarded her, "You people should take note of a superb officer in the making."
"Suck up," Hendryks retorted.
"My universal translator must've fritzed 'cause that sound s wrong even though it seems polite?" Daggit fathomed his way through the remark.
"I'll teach you what it means," Hendryks volunteered with batted eyelashes.
"And you two just volunteered to man the first watch while everyone else gets shore leave," Ro decided. Hendryks mouthed the words, Thank you, to her. Elfi had been on a tireless crusade to get Daggit's nonprofessional attention span. Ro also decided to disable the interior flight recorders while she was gone. And encrypt their reactivation to prevent porno sex tapes from being recorded.
"Skipper, we need to confab," Thool warned her over the interior comms.
"The station has control so I'll check in," Ro advised him.
"Jorgan, you're dismissed as well," Daggit seemed to have worked it out. over the past year Elfi hadn't quite been twitterpated but she was horny as hell and Daggit seemed a nice enough problem solver.
"The Iotians supplied the necessary parts I couldn't fabricate aboard the ship itself. But I'm going to need station assistance to repair some of the damage we've sustained."
"Can we keep them off the ship?" Ro asked.
"If you won't to explode at an undetermined date, sure," the Bolian chief engineer shrugged, "I'm not as skilled as B'Elanna Torres but I'm pretty handy. And I'm telling you, it's a miracle we haven't endured a warp core breach already."
"Then why did you purchase parts when Starfleet would supply them for free?" Ro asked.
"Do you want to blow our cover?" Thool was incredulous.
"Never mind," Ro muttered, "How long will the repairs take?"
"With station assistance, a few days maybe. By myself, how long can you expect to live aboard this ship?" Thool shrugged.
Ro grimaced, "Call the station and work it out. And make certain we're paying Bajoran rates since that's our registry. And for the luvva everything that is or isn't holy don't tell them anything."
"What do you take me for?" Thool asked.
"You were the one brainwashed into killing me, remember?" Ro handedly reminded him, "You're that guy forever etched into my memory."
"Fine," Thool huffed as she exited the drive space.
"Where's Elfi and Daggit?" Brin Macen asked Ro aboard the main Concourse within DS4.
"First Contact scenario," she smirked.
"Whoa!" Ebert suddenly blurted, "The data library around here is bloated. I can access any non-Starfleet file."
Ebert was one of those rare humans that couldn't undergo treatment options for her vision deficiencies. So she wore a form of spectacles that also tied into data nets and provided a HUD view of everything she tapped into. Including the Odyssey's CONN and navigational sensors. The early 24th Century ship designs Ro and Macen commanded still had the CONN station on the left and OPS on the right. Which was still a step above requiring two stations for Helm control and Navigation. Communications and weapons were still separate stations rather than being consolidated under a Tactical control.
"Omigod! There's so much and so many choices," Ebert happily exclaimed.
"Sounds like her love life," Ro snickered. Macen had been sharing with her the various relational exchanges aboard the scoutship. Ebert's excitement was well deserved though. She'd essentially grown up on her family's various freighters. Her parents, the captains of the flagship tramp freighter. one of the few shipping firms that would supply Federation border colonies contested by the Cardassians during the twenty year Border Wars. Ebert had served as a helm officer almost as soon as she could reach all of the controls and lightly been cross trained for other shipboard duties. When the Cardassian warship that seized the freighter Ebert and her immediate family had been aboard, the normal exchanges went along the route of the Gul in command seizing approximately twenty percent of the goods in the hull.
That last fateful encounter had the Cardies allowing Tracy to flee in an escape pod while everyone else died as the Spoonheads killed everyone aboard and stole all the cargo. But they left the freighter behind to be seized at a later hour by the nearby Andergani. However Ebert maneuvered her pod back to the freighter and flew it to its home base in the Kalendra Sector. Only to find her uncles and aunts had tipped off the Central Command to the fact that for the first time, the ship had been hauling munitions and small arms to the budding militias on contested colony worlds. They forced the fifteen-year old out of the business.
She'd made due piloting smuggler craft until Macen personally recruited the angry teen to his crew he was building for the Odyssey. Once her spectacles were linked to the scout's main computer and she tied in the nav sensors, she flew as she'd never done before. She was also a good counterweight to the mercurially mentally ill Vulcan at OPS. T'Kir was renowned as a cybernetic and artificial intelligence guru. She'd designed and built Ebert's current eye wear. The teen already missed her erstwhile missing partner in crime at the head of the bridge and the crew had suffered two losses of personnel.
Lisea Danan had been the XO. But her involvement in combat situations came at a price. The Danan symbiont remembered every illegal action that the Trill host, Lisea, undertook. And Lisea was a stellar cartographer rather than combat personnel. When the Trill Symbiosis Commission learned of Danan's participation with the Maquis, they'd sent various enforcers over time to collect the Danan symbiont at the expense of Lees' life. Danan's surrender agreement included her exile to the Beta Quadrant to oversee mapping expeditions and efforts beyond the Klingon Empire and into the nearest reaches of the Delta Quadrant. Nechayev having smoothed things over with Symbiosis Commission by revealing Danan's involvement had been Starfleet Intelligence's purview. So Danan was able to remain joined with Lisea. Which had been revealed ot be Danan's express desire. The symbiont found its current host to be the funnest one yet.
T'Kir, after the xenocide of her entire colony's mixed Vulcan-Romulan population while she was away broke her in so many ways. She was secured within the Andes Institute atop several mountain peaks on Earth. It was a maximum security mental institute and T'Kir was expected to spend the rest of her natural lifespan there. It seemed the emotional tragedy had broken the cap at which her uncharted telepathic abilities had limited themselves to.
T'Kir wasn't in the minds of a few in a room, or even aboard a ship, or a building. She intrude3d into the minds of more than continent or a planet but an entire sector comprised of many solar systems. It was little wonder she'd gone mad. Macen was her anchor. Not just because he cared but also because he was the only one she knew that blocked her telepathy most times. So she'd become infatuated with him despite his rather public relationship with Danan. Her admittance into the Andes Institute had been result of her trying to murder him when he consigned her to Starfleet's care at the end of the Maquis by the phasers of the Jem'Hadar.
"Here's the checkpoint," Macen murmured to Ro. at his insistence, the Angosians and Bajorans wore whatever official uniforms they were enlisted/conscripted into wearing. But that still left Neela, Ebert, Lacey, Eckles, and Darcy without official standing. A Starfleet ensign led a small perfunctory guard detail of four enlisted men in checking their IDs. The ensign looked impossibly young for a Benzite.
"How old are you?" Ro couldn't help but ask.
"Oh, they graduated every second year to fourth year cadet. Upperclassmen were made J.G.s" the Benzite seemed used to the question.
"Carry on then," Ro allowed.
"Uh...Lieutenant..Ro? You and the Major are armed," the Benzite informed them.
"How very observant," Ro ragged him.
"And the Commander and the other Starfleet personnel are also armed. But not with standard issue weapons," the Ensign continued.
"These are better than regulation issue," Macen patted his Bajoran Militia issued sidearm.
"I tend to agree," Command Master Chief Varglas concurred, "Much more reliable than Starfleet's over-engineered toys"
The heavily scarred Angosians frightened the Benzite to the point he lost bodily emission control.
"Waitaminute! You fart helium?" Ebert squeaked.
"Only station security can carry weapons," the ensign bravely forged on despite sounding like a cartoon character.
"Too bad," Neela said in a soft squeak as she pulled the officer's phaser from his clip-holster. She shot several Nausicaans approaching from three different directions without ever turning her head.
"Other visitors seemed armed," Neela politely handed his phaser back. The Maquis and the commandos had their weapons drawn. Not one member of the Starfleet Security team did, discounting Neela's borrowing the junior officer's. Now they belatedly reacted as more Nausicaans arrived on public people movers. But the mercs were stunned before a single Security officer fired a shot to to do the very same to them.
"Um..." the Benzite seemed stunned despite his still standing and blinking unawares.
"This is Crewman Cortez...we need Security at Concourse Alpha Two," an enlisted man managed to call it in.
"You might consider placing force fields around here and there and everywhere," Ro chided the junior officer.
"Uh...yes, Ma'am!" he snapped to.
"Hide your holdout phasers before they realize you got them past the sensors," Neela whispered to the Odyssey Maquis. The Type I "Crickets" vanished as easily as they'd been drawn from kelbonite laced pockets. But nearly as swiftly as Neela had drawn the Ensign's Type II "Cobra" phaser and simply gunned down seven opponents attacking from a triangular approach.
Next, six targets had availed themselves of the opportunity to rush into what now seemed to be certain doom. Thus proving their collective hostility failed to impress their now-former employer. Kilana was well pleased by the performance and the fact it would jeopardize any remaining ties that the ex-Maquis and Bajorans still had with officialdom.
"Commander Macen, you and your personnel are to follow me," an arriving Lieutenant Commander informed them.
"You know me?" he inquired.
"You're legendary," she replied.
"Thank you," he smirked at Ro.
"It wasn't compliment," she said sourly. Ro smirked at him.
When they reached the main Promenade, the Starfleet Intelligence officer dismissed the Angosians and the Odyssey crew, "Only Commander Macen, Lieutenant Ro, Major Anara, and Citizen Neela from this point forward."
"Captain?" Eckles inquired.
"It's all right, Tom" Macen promised.
"Why them and not us?" Ebert sharply demanded.
"There are niceties involved when dealing with Allied Forces. You don't remotely qualify," the Lieutenant Commander sniffed derisively.
"Sniff again," Lacey warned her.
"Leave while you still can, rebel scum," the commander sneered.
Macen had her by the throat and she couldn't dislodge him, "Play nice or not at all."
"Brin," Ro growled a warning to no effect, "Macen! Stand down!"
Macen let go.
"The Maquis' loyal lap dog," the Starfleet officer chuckled humorlessly. Ro knocked her out with a right cross, "We'll find our own way."
"I've decided that I like you," Neela beamed at her.
"Such a comfort," Ro muttered, "Do we actually know the way further?"
"I've been here before," Macen promised.
"Now that actually is a comfort," Ro glared at Neela.
Anara knelt down and examined a loose item on the floor, "She lost a tooth"
"Too bad they'll replant it," Ebert kicked the woman while she was down.
"Tracy, like you mean it," Lacey made certain another tooth was dislodged.
"Are we done?" Macen was not amused, "At least before she could fight back."
"I like her this way," the normally reticent Darcy decided.
"I think it's universal," Eckles opined. Even the Angosians under Varglas consented their approval.
"Take the night off," Ro instructed, "We may be a while."
"We will be," Macen mumured.
After enduring intense scrutiny upon arriving in DS4's intelligence section unescorted, the quartet were shown into a VIP office personally occupied by Vice-Admiral Alynna Nechayev.
"Ah, the Great Disappointment. We meet at last," Nechayev attempted to stare down Ro.
But Ro didn't flinch, "The honor is all yours."
A cold smile spread across Nechayev's lips, "No wonder Macen likes you."
"Well, I used to like him," Ro said warily.
"And Picard won't shut up about you," Nechayev shuddered, "He's always asking where you've gone and what has happened to you. Boring, boring, boring. If I have to endure another round of his incessant questions I'll have you shot."
"There's a comfort," Ro grumbled.
"Macen won't do it so I'll have Calhoun do it. He owes me a favor," Nechayev elucidated.
Ro started to speak but Macen quelled her fury with a gentle hand on her shoulder, "Mac wouldn't do it regardless of what you think he might owe you."
Nechayev wore a slight smile, "I just wanted to see if anything could quiet this spitfire. General Krim thinks rather highly of you. As I did once. Try nogt to disappoint him as well."
"Have you ever actually done your own dirty work?" Ro wasn't satisfied yet.
"I was on Bajor when the Cardassians invaded. I killed a troop transport crew and made my own exit when Starfleet abandoned me. So I understand your anger. But it took you a while to learn own way to channel that wrath into something productive. Macen was there as a guide of sorts. Besides, I couldn't get him to leave the front lines. Did I use both of you? You'd best be damn certain that I did. The way the Kai used Citizen Neela here, though she's too stubborn to breathe a word of it. Major Anara is still a loyalist even to a spiritual leader that would have her competition for office murdered. By the Major's best friend nonetheless," Nechayev spouted.
"Why are we here?" Ro asked.
"Krim wants an in-depth debrief and Kilana wants a show of good faith. And I have just the thing for her," the Starfleet admiral informed them. Silence descended.
"Aren't you going to ask what it is?" the looming indifference irked the admiral.
"Nope," Ro shrugged.
"I'm good," Macen decided.
"We have a debrief," Anara said icily.
"The Founder will never dispatch another diplomatic mission to Sector 221-G," Neela said primly, "Rather, we should report the idea that the Celestial Temple can be reopened if the Dominion opens the table to the Prophets. With her overriding concern regarding the Great Link, it will prove to be an irresistible lure."
"Is it?" Nechayev asked, "Is this you, doing what you do?"
"The Prophets wish to speak with an envoy to determine their future actions regarding the Dominion's repeated attempts to breach the Gamma Quadrant access through the Celestial Temple. Attempts which are beginning to cause the Prophets pain and alarm. They've heard the Emissary's opinion. Now they want to counterbalance his claims."
"And reopen the Wormhole?" Nechayev was livid.
"Perhaps," Neela shrugged, "Given the right guarantees."
"Hell, no!" Nechayev raged.
"Would you prefer that the Federation not have an envoy present?" Neela asked simply, "The Prophets will do this with or without Allied cooperation. It's better to have your voice heard."
"It'll take time to free up Captain Sisko," Nechayev countered.
"The Prophets have chosen envoys," Neela explained, "Ro will represent Bajor. Macen will represent t he Allied cause."
"Me?" they asked in stereo.
"Stop doing that!" Ro snapped at him.
"Ro presents a modern Bajor with all of the associated traumas of the Cardassian Occupation. Macen is an El-Aurian. They had past dealings with the Prophets and the relationship is primed to be restarted," Neela explained away, "A very limited number of survivors occupy this galaxy as a whole. The Prophets would grant them, him, sanctuary from all threats as a 'thank you'."
"And those are the only chosen envoys?" Nechayev grated.
"Kilana will represent the Dominion. Skrain Dukat will be present as the Emissary fo the Pah-wraiths. Just to keep all options open," Neela stated on their behalf.
"And how, pray tell, do we simply allow a Vorta and a Cardassian through our security patrols?" Nechayev groaned.
"Ro will retrieve Dukat in the Asimov and fly him into the Celestial Temple. Macen will do the same for Kilana. The Allied forces need never know they're aboard," Neela revealed, "And before you balk, the Prophets will not allow any more harmful transit through their territory. If they allow the Dominion access, they will do so in such a way that doesn't threaten life in any Quadrant. And that access will be reciprocated into the Gamma Quadrant under the same terms"
"How can they arrange all of that?" Nechayev asked.
Neela wore a knowing smile, "Admiral, they're the Prophets"
"They know Dukat's location?" Nechayev inquired sharply.
"Yes," Neela nodded.
"And they've shared it with you," it wasn't a question.
"Of course. I'd be useless otherwise," Neela stated.
"Give it to me or face imprisonment," Nechayev warned her, "He's a wanted war criminal."
"Admiral, I grew in prison. I was chosen in prison. Prison holds no fear for me. But time is not your friend," Neela advised her, "The Prophets will speak with Ro, Dukat, Macen, and Kilana with or without your support or assistance at such a time as their choosing. But if you don't clear the way, then Macen will only be allowed to speak on behalf of his own kind."
"So we're all being blackmailed," Nechayev growled.
"Essentially true," Neela smiled brightly.
"Dammit! And it's working too," Nechayev flopped into her seat, "Go then. I can't stop you. Supposedly. But you'd better prepare some airtight cases."
As the quartet exited, Anara snickered, "We're all doomed"
"I neglected to mention we'll have roles to play as well," Neela smiled at her lifelong friend.
"I'm so doomed," Anara was crestfallen.
The two crews were briefed on Ro's ship. Hendryks and Daggit both looked flushed and incredibly more relaxed. It seemed Elfi was happy to be reminded battery powered sex toys only went so far in long term satisfaction. Daggit finally looked less edgy as well. Fortunately for all, who could easily surmise what had happened, they weren't mooning over each other. It seemed a "one and done". Even Ebert's awoken lust had finally quelled itself. Which meant Macen could avoid one nervous breakdown.
"No offense, Captains, but you two? We are so screwed," Varglas voiced the commonly held opinion.
"Nonsense," Neela objected on their behalf, "The Prophets themselves chose them."
"Lady, you are blind. And you just finished telling us your 'Prophets' are pissed at Captain Sisko for forcing them into this position in the first place," Daggit rebutted her.
Neela sought aid from Anara. The older Bajoran shrugged, "He's got you there."
"Fine," Neela sullenly crossed her arms across her chest and hugged herself.
"Why us?" Ro wanted to know, "Why not Sisko and the Kai? Or better, Sisko and Shakaar?"
"Because you're in the fight," Neela told them all, "You're both aliens and outcasts to the societies you protect yet you defend them with your lives anyway. In almost every way, your refugees defending a society that barely accepts you much less understands you. Yet you'll die for them. The Prophets don't understand why and they want to. Kilana is a true believer in her cause and Dukat is the rival Emissary of the Prophets' hated foes. Why not hear all sides?"
"But don't they already know the future?" Lacey asked.
"They know the potential futures. They want to know which to choose to dwell in," Neela explained a nuance of the Prophets no one present had known beforehand.
"Well, frinx," Darcy huffed.
"Damn straight," Thool encouraged her sudden outspokeness.
"Heidi just made a helluva point," Eckles also encouraged his protege.
"So this is all about alternate timelines. The Prophets dwell outside of time yet interact with specific timelines they choose to interface with. Right?" Hendryks guessed.
"So far," Neela confirmed it.
"So their absence during protracted periods, like say a Cardassian Occupation, was actually them interfacing with an alternate Bajor for a time," Hendryks ventured onward, "So basically they want a case made on why to stick this one?"
"See?" Neela lit up the room, "That wasn't so hard."
"Neela, you have fifty thousand years of Bajoran history that still hasn't figured that out yet," Macen interjected.
"It's kind of their big secret," Neela faux whispered, "They want us to reach that enlightenment on our own."
"So you just disqualified us all," Ro was irked and relieved at the same time.
"Well, they actually authorized me telling you if it came down to it. And it did," Neela stated for her.
"Are we like, their favorite timeline, or something?" Anara asked a pertinent question.
"Yes!" Neela was giddy now, "You're all so close now!"
"You're the Temporal Anomaly Guy," Ro accused Macen.
"You can exist anywhere inside the Nexus but it's all of you're own making. Picard took his reality and made it one we all share," Macen divulged.
"Waitasec? You're telling me we're living in Picard's fantasy world?" Ro was appalled.
"I wouldn't call it a fantasy," Macen shrugged, "It's a legitimate timeline outside of the Nexus Ribbon."
"Ye-es! You have arrived!" Neela practically screamed.
"So we're in an alternate timeline from the one we thought we were in?" Hendryks gasped.
"Yet we call it the Prime timeline 'cause we're just that damn arrogant!" Neela shrieked in joy.
"Holy futz!" Anara gasped.
"So basically we're asking the Prophets to keep tuning in for the duration?" Ro was aghast.
"Essentially," Neela smiled brightly, "And who better than the biggest skeptic in the room?"
"We really are frinxed," Ro rolled her eyes.
"And if the Prophets side with either or both Kilana and Dukat, what happens to us?" Macen inquired.
"They'll probably open both ends of the Celestial Temple access," Neela predicted.
"We are futzed up the ass until we bleed," Eckles complained.
"Seriously? Not one vote of confidence?" Macen complained.
"Me!" Neela proclaimed.
"Someone who isn't a fanatic?" Ro requested.
"I believe in you, Skipper," Hendryks ventured first, "You've gotten us into too many scrapes to think it was accidental."
"Despite your getting us into them was a litany of mistakes," Thool added.
"Thanks," Ro dryly replied.
"I believe in you, Captain," Darcy spoke up, "You believed in me when no one else would or could."
"Same for me," Ebert was embarrassed that she hadn't spoken up earlier, "No one would give me the slightest chance to avenge my family. You believed in a teenager and let me fly you through the stars when I wasn't even allowed to man a work bee anywhere else."
"Hell, Captain. You went out of the way for all us," Eckles chuckled, "We can be here for you for a change."
"You also pulled our collective asses out of more fires than any of us can or wants to remember," Lacey added, "So, backing you is our thanks."
"It's very appreciated," Macen felt contrite and humbled.
"I don't know wormhole aliens from whatevers..." Daggit began.
"Prophets," Neela happily supplied the name.
"But our government sold us to the highest bidder in an effort to us all killed and have Starfleet take over treating what our own people did to us when they'd prefer we die so they can forget us. So, yeah. We've fought beside you for months now and you're both exceptional. If you were willing to take us in, how can we not back you now?"
"You're strangely silent, Major," Ro pointed out.
"You know I don't believe the Prophets are gods," Anara reminded everyone, "I know you feel the same way. But if you can keep these beings from betraying us again, then I back whatever play you'll have."
"That's not a huge setup for failure at all," Ro sardonically retorted.
"It is what it is," Anara shrugged.
As was the style on the Odyssey, the Asimov had a briefing at the rear of the bridge module rather than a Ready Room. It was here that the chosen delegates gathered with their loyal crews
"This is a group think," Ro announced, "We can't do this on our own and Starfleet will just add too many pressuring demands and promises they might not be able to keep. So, it's up to us in this room to come up with a negotiating strategy. Fortunately, we have our Fangirl to help guide us."
"What we do know is that the Prophets are confused by linear time. So words and concepts have to carefully defined before a real discussion can begin," Macen added.
"But they do want to understand," Neela promised, "They came from a Bajor, not necessarily our Bajor, especially with the Nexus event splitting us off of the original timeline we were traveling down."
"But they seem to like us," Ebert voiced.
"Our Sisko is the only one of literally tens of trillions of versions of him to step up as their Emissary. A role he was literally conceived to play," Neela tried to explain.
"You want to explain a bit more?" Lacey was leaning against a bulkhead nursing her coffee while Eckles and Darcy shared her opinion from nearby.
"No," Neela simply replied in the negative.
"Figures," Thool muttered.
"Look, I spent years piecing together all of this accumulated knowledge we have regarding the Prophets and they still had to course correct my thinking," Neela desperately sought understanding, "They don't understand why we don't get it."
"At least Travelers have a grounding in our reality," Macen frowned, "The Prophets flit about through time and realities without regard to causality and consequences. We don't share the simplest basic conceptualization necessary to sustain a meaningful dialogue. It could take years to teach them the fundamentals of our understanding of our own reality."
"But you have eternity to teach them," Neela glowed.
"Say what?" Darcy perked up.
"The Celestial Temple is within their reality beyod realities. It's timeless very akin to the Nexus Ribbon," Neela explained once again.
"So Sisko had the opportunity to lay the groundwork even more so than he accomplished and just didn't realize that time had stopped around him. Which meant the Prophets could've reasserted him back into the very moment he entered their space," Ro finally understood.
"Which actually happened but towing the Cardassians free of the Gateway took all of his concern away from enlightenment."
"That and he was shell shocked," Hendryks remarked, "He met a life form unlike any we'd encountered before and the entrance to their collective realm of existence defies all humanoid logic and add to that the entrance is a stable wormhole leading 70,000 kilometers away into the Gamma Quadrant which seemed unexplorable until then because of the hostile powers blocking our access."
"You really get into this," Thool was awestruck and a little terrified.
"But Kilana and Dukat will be subverting everything we teach the Prophets," Rio had finally given in to the traditional name for the aliens.
"That's just it. We have to let them speak. If the Prophets can't make an honest decision based on all available facts, then we'll automatically fail," Macen warned.
"Sucks to be you," Ebert murmured.
"They have all the data from infinite universes at their disposal but they don't have a grounded context in which to interpret it through," Neela clarified, "If you deny Kilana and Dukat the chance to voice their own positions, you'll poison your chances. And the framework for dialogue will be in your minds and they'll read that already before they allow to speak. So half of the exercise has to be done here."
"So at least you and the Captain are in agreement," Lacey noted.
"So am I," Ro conceded, "This is like talking to children. They're completely existential. So we have to take them to key points in our histories, both personal and collective. Sisko said they could insert him into environments from his past and they presumably could show his future as well."
"But Sisko was denied that glimpse because he was so rooted in the moment of his wife's death he himself wasn't obeying linear timeline emotional progression. He was simply stuck. Dax wasn't the curiosity to them despite being a joined being. But Sisko's inability to resolve his internal strife was."
"That's how they see this war," Ebert offered, "We're all stuck in ideological camps and we can't move forward."
"Until one side or the other capitulates or dies," Hendryks completed the thought.
"And our reality was originated in the moment Picard couldn't accept the natural consequences of Soran's destroying the Veridian star," Macen took his uncle's actions very personally.
"So...we're another curiosity," Thool managed to comment.
"It's like Q fixating on Picard and the future of humanity," Ro realized.
"The two are inextricably linked," Macen reminded her.
"We're a frinxing side show," Lacey angrily grated.
"No, they've chosen us to be their link to understanding," Neela promised, "Picard caught their interest because he altered the past, present, and future. It was a conscious decision to change everyone's circumstance. It echoes their concession to halt the Dominion advance. Why did Picard choose his path? That knowledge will help settle their understanding of their own decision and why it's necessary."
"So summon Picard," Thool miserably interjected.
"But Picard is deemed a potentiality. They want to understand without anyone trying to change the fabric of their existence," Neela tried to explain, "And his time in the Briar Patch with the Ba'Ku will change him forever and his relationship with Starfleet."
"But knowledge always changes everything," Eckles pointed out, "Once they understand, their paradigms will shift and they'll be forced into making another decision with grave consequences for all of us."
"Which is why they want an open forum to help them choose. And to understand the nature of their choice and its implications not only for us but for them!" Ebert almost jumped up out of her seat she was so emphatic, "They don't want to become the Q or the Organians. They're looking for a middle ground that doesn't turn them into either the Metrons or the One in the center of the galaxy!"
Neela did a happy dance in her seat. Anara looked at her like she'd lost her mind.
"You don't know how hard it's been to keep all of this a secret!" she shrieked with joy.
"You should've told somebody at least," Anara scowled at being excluded.
"Who?" Neela pleaded with her, "You saw how the Emissary responded to me and I can't tell Winn. Her tenure as Kai began with death and will end with death."
"Another secret?" Anara was bitter.
"That one isn't mine to share. None of these were until now," Neela was still unrepentant.
"Sisko would deny everything because of his bias and Winn would use it to mount a hostile takeover of Bajor," Ro warned.
"I thought you worshiped Winn," Anara struggled to understand.
"I did. But the Prophets showed me her faults and that her path was simply a tool to get to the conclusion of a battle that has waged since before our people walked erect," Neela confided, "One that would've been settled already if Winn hadn't interfered."
"The Pah-wraiths," Anara recalled from her prylar led schooling as a child.
"A sect that understands causality all too well. And they want to interfere in our reality and every reality until they rule everything and everyone until the heat death of the universe" Neela explained what she could.
"Setting up a direct conflict with the Q Continuum," Macen was the one to state the obvious.
"And which nothing, no species of any kind, would survive," Neela announced.
"Well, that's just cheerful news," Darcy complained.
Alone in his quarters, Macen placed a subspace relay call to an observatory in the farthest explored Beta Quadrant Federation space. Lisea Danan deemed it fit to respond, "Brin."
The response was about as cool as he'd expected, "Hello, Lees. I see you're still a blonde."
"I see you've gone natural and forgotten the whole redhead thing," Danan snarked, "Let's get to it. Why do you need my help?"
Macen explained and Danan's eyes went wide with a certain degree of shock, "I'd need my help too."
"I know symbiosis works within linear time but waking for the first time joined with Danan, how did you learn to cope?" Macen asked, "What steps did you take to ground yourself?"
Danan smiled ruefully, "It was the little details of my life. And a few big ones. But you're idea of defining everything to create a common language is brilliant."
"It wasn't entirely my idea. It was more guesswork on my part," Macen admitted.
"Are you learning humility?" Danan teased, "Who are and what did you do with Brin?"
"I deserve that," Macen confessed.
"How's T'Kir?" Danan asked crossly.
"Locked up. Other than that salient detail, I have no idea," Macen replied.
"Pity," Danan mused, "Maybe they'll finally discover if your theory about her condition has always been right."
"She's Vulcan and needs treatment tailored for a Vulcan. She won't get that on Earth," Macen complained.
"The Vulcans won't touch her. And the Andes Institute is a max security holding facility as well as a premier psych ward. Oh, don't look so surprised. I care about her in my own way too," Danan revealed.
"I suppose she isn't a Saavik that they could reclaim from her Romulan experiences and upbringing. She's too old and resistant for that," Macen admitted.
"And she's no Valeris either. But it's a closer fit," Danan offered.
"The Pride of Vulcan," Macen groaned.
"Anyway, getting back to your Prophets problem, graze past Kirk and take notations from Picard. If he could get Darmok to form a common understanding then that's where you need to glean from," Danan urged, "And for frinx sake, don't mention Veridian and the Nexus."
"I actually think that's what led us here," Macen shrugged.
"You would," Danan sighed.
"You know how my people perceive time and space better than most," Macen countered, "And I'm telling you, that was a watershed event. Everything since is just slightly adjusted to a different paradigm. In our original past, the Veridian star exploded and took out the whole system, boosting Picard and Soran into the Nexus proper while the Enterprise crew perished along with the inhabitants of Veridian IV."
"You have no proof," Danan argued.
"Do I need it?" Macen asked, "You yourself told me it didn't make astrophysical sense."
"Don't you twist my words," Danan warned him.
"Picard would've occupied two separate places in the same timeline on the same planet and emerged with his double. That didn't happen ergo alternate reality," Macen boasted.
"You're impossible!" Danan seethed.
"And you're just being as stubborn as you accuse me of being on the issue," Macen retorted.
Danan started to laugh, "Now that we have the prerequisite fight out of the way, go with your gut. And keep Laren from tearing the Celestial Temple apart with sheer willpower."
"I hope I can do that," Macen sighed.
"Most Bajorans cling to their faith yet resent the hell out of being abandoned by the gods during Cardassia's occupation of their world. Laren's an apostate precisely because of that. Which doesn't place her in the majority but a very vocal minority that's growing," Danan summarized, "She can't get into semantic arguments with the Prophets. Kilana and Dukat will seize on it. Kilana will be flirtatious to weaken your resolve and distract you while Dukat's an infamous opportunist."
"You know about Kilana?" Macen inquired.
"Everyone knows about Dax's report on how Kilana used her feminine wiles against Sisko," Danan rolled her eyes, "Some super spy you are."
"At the time she was out of my purview," Macen reminded her, "We, together, were fighting a shooting war against the Cardassians."
"This is personal for you," Danan finally realized.
"I met her. Or a version of her that's probably dead by now," Macen revealed.
"She got in your head," Danan whistled.
"We basically killed her," Macen shrugged again.
"She is classified as the enemy," Danan spoke again, "Wars have casualties, intended or not."
"Interestingly, neither she nor any of the Weyoun series have displayed Eris' telekinetic potential," Macen mused.
"You're obsessed with psionic factors because of T'Kir," Danan accused.
"I'm not talking to T'Kir. I'm talking to you," Macen purported.
"They won't let you talk to her," Danan said snidely.
"I could get the clearance. But I'm talking to you. T'Kir would simply say 'kill them and get it over with'. I don't need that answer. I need a rationale geared to approach a child in desperate need of language building skills through experiential teaching. I need to immerse the Prophets in our reality so they'll give a damn," Macen snapped back.
"You do your best thinking when you're mad," Danan applauded him, "And I'm touched that you came to me first."
"You're my reasoning sounding board. Elias is the strategist," Macen confided, "But he's in the middle of a covert operation and it's comms dark."
"Buzz kill," Danan complained, "But since Chakotay, who you claim is still alive, isn't around by any means, that leaves you returning to your partner in this. You and Laren have got to work together. That's your advantage. Kilana and Dukat will twist the situation to their own benefits if they can. I believe they're seeking mutually independent objectives."
Macen was synthesizing her perspective with his own. He'd learned to trust her judgment implicitly during their time with the Maquis. Ro would stubbornly reject help from most quarters. But she needed to be working not only with him but those representatives of her people's divisive views of the Prophets. Because she could change all of that while she explained herself and her life to Bajor's gods.
"No more secrets," Macen stated.
"No more secrets," Danan concurred.
Ro and the Asimov set course for Empok Nor. Which only made sense when one thought about it. Sisko was the Prophets' Emissary and commanded the former Terok Nor that Dukat had presided over Bajor's Occupation as Prefect. Only now, he sat in judgment of the universe from an abandoned sister station. Unlike Ampok Nor and Certok Nor which were still operational in other nearby systems and in years to come, Macen would have a Nor-class station built in the Barrinor system to serve as a trading post and the corporate headquarters for his security contractors and detective agency. The builders would refer to it as Antok Nor but Tom Riker would rename it Serenity Station when he assumed command. It was a port in a swelling storm.
Ro wasn't surprised, but very disappointed, when Bajoran voices challenged her as she approached. The universal translator didn't have to supply her with anything. It was coming in on her native language. Hendryks and Daggit received translations though.
"Just to confirm: this is a phenomenally stupid idea," Hendryks offered up.
"Copy that," Daggit agreed.
Ro sighed rather heavily, "It isn't up to me. Otherwise I'd just torpedo and phaser this place out of existence"
The Bajorans abandoned their efforts and a disruptor discharge streamed past their bow.
"And they're friendly," Hendryks grumbled.
"Inform Emissary Dukat that the Prophets wish to speak with him on the Pah-wraiths' behalf," Ro replied.
There was a significant pause before a chillingly familiar responded, "They do indeed? And how would you know this?"
"Because they wish to speak to me as well, Dukat," Ro revealed.
"And you are?" he asked silkily.
"Lieutenant Ro Laren, Bajoran Militia. I'm supposed to speak on Bajor's behalf" she shared.
"Interesting. Is anyone speaking on Cardassia's behalf?" Dukat wondered.
"The Vorta named Kilana is speaking on behalf of the Dominion. Commander Brin Macen of Starfleet represents the Allies," Ro explained, "But first, I'm taking you into the Wormhole so they can hold a discussion regarding our motives and beliefs. Or lack thereof."
There was an extended pause before, "I will need assurances. And two of my followers to serve as bodyguards."
"Easily done," Ro readily agreed.
"Excellent. I and my escort will transport over in thirty Federation minutes," Dukat announced.
"Agreed. I'll meet you in the transporter room aboard my ship," Ro agreed.
"I can't tell you how much that pleases me," Dukat signed off.
"Smarmy bastard," Ro could comment now that the connection was terminated, "Daggit, I want a four man escort."
"Good," Daggit agreed and began issuing orders to the Angosian Augments aboard the starship.
"And now it really begins," Ro said ominously as she headed for the turbolift.
Dukat and his escorts would likely be armed. Fortunately for her, her entire crew and Augment commandos were always armed. She snorted at the thought of Hendryks and Thool being her entire "crew". But she and Kalinda had accomplished a number of missions under Santos' command of the Ronaran Maquis cell and Tom Riker had fewer than a dozen Maquis aboard the Defiant when he stole it to penetrate deep into Cardassian space. Kalinda had been one of the Maquis remanded into Federation custody. But Riker had been sentenced by the Cardassians to a labor camp on a remote penal colony. Strangely enough, Sela of the Romulan Tal Shiar had orchestrated a rescue of one of her mentors and it included Riker's liberation in the deal.
Ro had checked Starfleet Security files on Tom Riker only to find that his current location was classified. By Macen no less. Vaughn had sealed the record as well. Tt would take both of them or a flag officer to release the files. Which meant there was a long game regarding Lieutenant Riker. One Macen had probably shared the details with Riker. Which meant Nechayev had struck another deal with him. Probably. It wasn't for Ro to know yet. which meant Vaughn couldn't discuss it yet either.
She hadn't seen Picard since handing over the El-Aurian "planet killer". He amazingly was exactly the same despite her feeling like her entire life had been transformed. Despite the enormous tragedies, her life with the Maquis had been the one impossible challenge she'd always sought. She'd poured her life into the struggle and still lost. Proving some odds were insurmountable.
Now Ro had needed to find a new purpose and Shakaar and Krim handed her one. Including paving a means for her to join the DS9 staff when the war concluded. Starfleet had already indicated that they were considering reassigning major Starfleet personnel currently imbedded in the station's staffing. Starfleet Command had great plans for Captain Sisko after Sisko had returned to the war effort. Less so for Jadzia Dax's bereaved husband, Lt. Commander Worf.
Bashir and O'Brien would receive promotions and their choice of postings. Kira was already having been promoted to Colonel and next in line for official command of the station. Constable Odo could prove problematic despite his loyal service the station under Cardassian and Federation administrations. Quark had even branded himself and was putting out feelers to potential franchise investors about opening their own "Quark's Palaces of Pleasure" with adults and families both being catered to. After all, it wasn't just a bar that survived two Cardassian Occupations and two Starfleet administrations even if the Bajorans owned it after the Cardassians fled...twice. Freshly promoted and Joined, Ezri Dax had a career crisis impending but Elias Vaughn would be stepping in to help anchor her.
All the Deep Space stations had civilian entrepreneurs and vendors aboard. going as far back as the K-class stations made famous by Deep Space K-7. even at a war footing DS9 was entrenched in commerce and civilian traffic. Something Empok Nor couldn't boast but the operational Nor-class stations were open for business even while the Cardassians prosecuted a war.
Ro arrived in the transporter room with a four-man Angosian escort. She nodded at Thool, who unhappily energized the transporter connection locked into the board with once derelict station. Dukat wore his must insufferable smile as well civvies and...and earring on his left ear?. It made Ro want to strip hers off.
"Lieutenant Ro, congratulations on surviving the Jem'Hadar and for convincing the Militia to take you on. True talent doesn't deserve to be locked away," Dukat offered.
"Right," she said tersely. What disturbed her the worst wasn't Dukat's oily delivery but his two companions, both Bajoran. The male looked Occupation tested but the woman was far too wide-eyed for Ro's taste. And Dukat had a notorious reputation where Bajoran women were concerned.
"Welcome aboard," Ro said, "You can remain armed but if you draw that phaser without justification, you'll be dead before it clears the holster."
The male scowled. But it seemed he was devoted to Dukat. And they all wore the same orange earrings in the same fashion. A clear sign of their belonging to the Pah-wraith cult. Ro wanted to signal Thool into beaming them into outer space, the Prophets' wishes be damned.
"You're guests here. Act like it," Ro said stiffly.
"I do believe introductions are in order," Dukat greased over her rudeness, "This happy couple volunteered to act as my guards for the time being. They also serve as scribes for the revelations the Pah-wraiths bestow upon me."
"Save the sermons for the true believers," Ro advised.
"Nevertheless, this is Benyan and Mika. They recently asked for an exemption to our mutual vow of abstinence," Dukat ignored Ro's derisive snort, "We shall be requiring rooms to pray for the blessing of their efforts to have a child. A first for our sect. With many more blessings certain to follow."
"You're in luck. This ship was designed to host a crew of sixty-one people. We currently have eleven aboard. Quarters are something we have in abundance. But all the officers' quarters are occupied so you can have a junior chief's quarters and the happy couple can have an identical room. Unless you prefer enlisted racks?" Ro enjoyed explaining that factor.
"We'll take whatever is available," Mika promised.
"We'll take our due," Dukat said imperiously, "But its seems in this case, our due has been offered. We do humbly accept."
"The other choice was walking in a vacuum back to your station," Ro shrugged, "Follow me."
The tour included the galley and the living quarters.
"You'll have two sentries on duty at all times. The fitness room and galley are always available twenty-six hours a day. We keep Bajoran time aboard here. The crew adjusted quickly."
"As do we," Dukat promised, "I understand Angosian Augments are unkillable."
"Test them and find out," Ro helpfully suggested.
"Maybe some other time," Dukat demurred.
"I see, unarmed Trills and Tears of the Prophets are more your style," Ro needled him.
"Not at all. But certain sacrifices have to be regrettably made. It is unfortunate that Jadzia Dax was in the temple when I arrived. It was an unforeseen tragedy. The space was supposed to be unattended at that time of day."
"Okay, I've heard enough vole shit," Ro turned and waved as she departed, "I'll be on the bridge. Don't need anything."
"A complicated woman," Dukat observed. The Angosians knew he didn't realize the half of it yet or that his Mirror Universe counterpart, Supreme Legate Dukat, was attended to by his chief advisor, Intendant Ro Laren. She saw to his every need.
It had taken the Asimov six days to depart from DS4 and reach Empok Nor. The Odyssey reached the former DMZ in about the same time. The scoutship had a higher flank speed than the science vessel but so one wanted to alarm Starfleet and Jem'Hadar attack forces in transit. Kilana awaited them aboard a Dominion battleship far larger and more powerful than any Allied vessel alone. Macen had conducted his negotiations for Kilana to be brought before the Prophets to argue the Founders' case. Since the Founder and the Great Link expressed the sole will of the Dominion.
Kilana was beyond intrigued and the Founder had been desperate. But Kilana wouldn't share that fact. The disease afflicting Kilana's gods wasn't public yet but the fact Odo had been Starfleet's delivery system was plain enough given the timing. Odo himself wasn't displaying obvious symptoms yet but the Founder knew they were there already waiting from the progression within her own gooey matrix. If Kilana could not sway the Prophets to reopen the Gamma Quadrant entrance to the Wormhole, then Kilana's secondary mission was to find a way to destroy them.
Dukat had promised the cooperation of his "beloved" Pah-wraiths he now worshiped, the only things besides himself he did worship, and they could reopen the Wormhole. And would be happy to aid the Dominion is eradicating every form of sentient life in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants as repayment for the Founders' own approaching demise. So much for the Federation's platitudes. In the end, they were as responsible for the genocide as the Dominion would be. After the Great Link was exterminated and the Founders were no more, the Vorta would maintain the empire for as long as they could but eventually the Jem'Hadar would run amok and that glorious holy crusade to avenge their lost gods would a spectacle even the Borg would be threatened by then.
Kilana had persuaded the Founder not to simply destroy Macen's ship on arrival. How else would she get past Starfleet's security perimeter around the Bajoran Sector? The latest Kilana felt shame at having been duped by Macen. But that was her immediate predecessor not her. She was a new Kilana for a new day.
The Dominion's intelligence circles believed Macen wasn't acting for Starfleet. Their moles within Starfleet Command confirmed this. But the Prophets chose him to speak on behalf of the Federation despite Macen's growing disillusionment with it. A factor Kilana could play up to.
Macen was a proven idealist and his ideals were rooted back to El-Auria before the Borg assimilated most of his species. That assimilation had given the Borg the technology to travel back in time to try and prevent Earth's First Contact. El-Aurian refugees had arrived in the Gamma Quadrant as well as a thin smear across the Delta Quadrant and smatterings across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants and an inordinate share had remained within the Nexus Ribbon. Guinan and Macen being the sole survivors from the fabled Survey Corps in the Alpha Quadrant.
Soran had stabilized Romulan trilithium for his own tragic ends. Fortunately, in this alternate timeline, he'd failed to destroy the Veridian star and instead he himself was killed along with a time lost James T. Kirk. Kirk once again saved a civilization and Picard's crew as he died. But history eventually had other plans for Kirk.
Picard, in bringing Kirk back to Veridian III and stopping the star's destruction had created the alternate branch of time that arrogantly thought of itself as the "Prime" Universe. But all timelines and universes thought of themselves as the "Prime" branch. Picard and Sisko's crews had both dealt with alternate universes often enough. As well as time variances that brought the Department of Temporal Investigations crashing down on them. The 23rd and 24th Centuries being blissfully unaware of the Temporal Cold War waging in the 29th Century and reaching back, noticeably, into the 22nd Century and Earth's reaching out to the stars. Earth's many first contacts eventually led to the Federation's founding. And Earth's Starfleet was expanded and bloated into the the Federation's Starfleet.
The Earth Starfleet's opening blunders creating the Prime Directive of the Federation to avoid such planetary evolution warping collisions again. While early starship captains had sometimes regarded it as the "Prime Suggestion" for the most part Starfleet managed to avoid egregious errors with every first and second contacts that developed into alliances or enmity over the next two centuries. It was amazing how few planets chose neutrality. It was also a curiosity on why so many of them had delusions of grandeur.
Despite Surak touting Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations his disciples, the entire population for the most part, still thought of themselves as superior to most other species. After all, it was "logical" to think that way. They also completely disavowed the Romulans when they themselves had plotted the eradication of the Andorians. Not that most races would've mourned the losses of the Andorians and/or the Tellarites. Yet all three planets were Federation Founders.
Kilana materialized on the scoutship's transporter. She was without an escort. As was Macen.
"I should be quite cross with you, Captain. Kilana 5 believed you would be working exclusively for the winning side," Kilana faux pouted.
"Winning sides or losing ones are yet to be decided. In the meantime, war is profitable for a freelancer with information to sell," Macen shrugged, "Yet you were convinced my guarantee of safe passage was legitimate. You didn't even bring your escort despite my terms granting you one."
"I put trust in people I believe in, Captain Macen. I still believe you have a role to play in the Dominion's larger plans for the Alpha and Beta Quadrants" Kilana promised him.
"The Breen are stymied on the First Federation front. We can acknowledge the Cardassians are losing territory. The Allies are supporting the Talarians. The Ferengi are war profiteering. The Gorn Hegemony and the Tholian Assembly have both rejected your overtures. Your envoys never returned from Organia or Metron space. The Kishyanians are unreliable at the best of times. And finally, the One located at the center of the galaxy is uncontrollable. That leaves the Delta Quadrant to seek allies from. But how, oh how, to get them here in time? All unless you can convince the Borg to side with you."
"But you know the Delta Quadrant and its non-Borg races. You also know the Beta Quadrant and what lies beyond explored space," Kilana pointed out his extensive travels with the El-Aurian Survey Corps over the centuries.
"So I'm your water witch," Macen mused.
"I think the universal translator just utterly failed," Kilana scowled.
"It's an ancient human custom," Macen told her but didn't explain further than adding, "I'd be a divining wand."
"I at least comprehend that term," Kilana wanly smiled, "How can I convince you?"
"Engage in more than token diplomacy. Negotiate a viable cease-fire. Come to terms before it's too late for the Dominion forces and for the Founders." Macen made his position clear.
"So you know?" Kilana was shocked, "Only Weyoun and I know amongst all the Vorta."
"That isn't entirely true and some Vorta without Jem'Hadar escorts get rather chatty," Macen shrugged again, "But the Allies aren't aware of their condition as of yet. But that will change."
"Will you sell that information?" Kilana was desperate.
"No," Macen conceded, "It isn't my place. Especially since the Federation used Odo as a weapon. It's the only thing that makes sense of the situation. That isn't the Federation I escaped to all those years ago."
"Then you know who did it?" Kilana hoped beyond hope.
"I have a suspicion but I can't find these people. And I've looked for fifty years. I encountered just one of them in all that time but he owed me a life for a life," Macen explained.
"Vengeance is a harsh mistress," Kilana understood.
"But I want to see drug starved Jem'Hadar unleashed on the universe," Macen allowed.
"Then we should persuade these Wormhole Aliens to allow at least construction teams to rebuild the ketracel white production facilities. The Allied forces have become exceptionally precise in finding and destroying them. As it is we face severe shortages," Kilana divulged.
"Another reason to earnestly engage in the talks between opposing sides," Macen urged again.
"I will pass that recommendation along. As for now, let us discuss how we can present our perspectives to these 'Prophets'," Kilana requested.
"The first negotiation to actually be honestly conducted," Macen nodded.
"A first but perhaps not a last," Kilana warmly smiled.
Aboard the Asimov as it approached the Bajoran Sector boundary, Ro was in the midst of "persuading" Dukat into entering a shielded cargo pod.
"Sit your ass in there or I'll knock you flat into it," Ro ordered.
"Is that a Klingon cloaking device?" Dukat seemed smugger than usual, "My people always suspected the Klingons outfitted you Maquis with some but we never proved it. Until now that is."
"Look, Starfleet is about to start scanning as we reach the checkpoint. I can't have them knowing I have a shielded cargo pod much less a Cardassian aboard," Ro urgently explained, "The kelbonite lacing the pod prevents any scans from penetrating in case the cloak should fail but in the meantime, until it does, the pod won't even be detected. Now, there's a cot, a privy, and a food replicator. Have at it and knock yourself out if you have to. Just get in."
"You're very persuasive. In a very demanding way," Dukat observed.
"Yeah well, I can guess at what happened or has been happening in your private 'prayer' sessions with Mika. Benyan and Mika don't deserve your usual libido," Ro advised him.
"I assure you, we've been completely chaste," Dukat insisted.
"That'd be a first," Ro shoved Dukat into the cargo pod and sealed it while he was still sputtering.
"Now if I could release you into space," Ro muttered as she headed for the bridge.
A Cheyenne-class vessel approached them, "Hailing command of the Asimov. There's an irregularity with your filed paperwork."
"Captain Ro speaking, who am I addressing?" came her reply.
"Commander Tauritz, commanding USS Hiawatha. You register one Bajoran national, one human, one Bolian, and eight Angosians? We detected three Bajorans," he explained.
"We picked up passengers wanting to return to Bajor on DS4," Ro happily lied, "I'm hoping there's no legal ramification for wanting to go home. Is there?"
"Next time file your passengers as well. Hiawatha out," the starship moved off.
"And we're through," Ro sagged at her CONN station.
"Should we release Dukat yet?" Daggit inquired.
Ro smirked, "Not just yet"
The Federation's sensor buoys surrounding the border around the DMZ line had been blown to holy hell by the Jem'Hadar. But checkpoints had been reestablished by Starfleet lining the front lines between Cardassian space and the Bajoran Sector. So the Odyssey was challenged by a similar inquiry conducted by the lt. commander captaining a Springfield-class starship. It's underslung auxiliary mission pod was bristling with torpedo launchers.
"Hailing the Odyssey commander. I'm Lt. Commander Hennessy commanding the USS Ohio. State your business and intent." came the terse instruction.
"This is Captain Macen. My vessel registry is Bajoran and we're returning to Bajor for both a rest and some trade. We deal in premium luxury items exchanging between Bajor and Cardassia Prime," he reported.
"It states on your license that you're an 'information broker'?" Hennessy was understandably wary.
"I do pass on the odd rumors and observations I make en route to the Militia," Macen explained.
"Our sensor scans indicate your ship is clean of potential hazards. Would you consent to a search for contraband?" Hennessy probed further.
"I would have no objections whatsoever," Macen knew Kilana was also safely stashed away in a cloaked cargo pod. Of the Maquis survivors, only Macen and Ro had known where the cloaking devices, fourteen in all, had been hidden away for eventual usage. The Iotian Federation had paid handsomely for twelve of them. They weren't restricted by treaty from installing them in their own retro starships or selling them to the highest bidders. Despite the veneer of civility, the Iotians remained criminals at heart.
Their Federation was composed of less advanced cultures subjugated through a protection racket. The Iotians had no fears of contaminating cultural evolution. Rather, their Prime Directive was "Get the money and run". The communicator left behind by Dr. McCoy had led the Iotians to the Federation's Public Database. Outmoded by a century or more, certain starship designs were available for engineering students...and the Iotians it seemed.
Despite ship designs post-2285 and beyond still locked away by Starfleet, the Iotians were undertaking the advancements on their own. But rather than refit their older ships, they were simply trading away the oldest models to fund new construction of the famous "post-refit" starship Constitution-, Asia-, Miranda-, and Oberth-classes. With their sights firmly fixed on new construction of Excelsior- and Constellation- class analogs as well. The starship picket line cleared them and Ebert reentered the ship back into subspace.
Soon they passed by Prophet's Landing and Ebert dropped them back out of warp speed.
"Any sign of the others?" Macen asked.
"I have them. Trawling along at one quarter impulse. I've sent the coordinates to the helm," Lacey reported.
"Pass by at half impulse and let them come alongside," Macen ordered. They were relieved as the Asimov picked up speed to escort them into the Bajoran System. DS9 repeated the challenge and Ro and Macen conveyed their wishes to ravel directly to Bajor but they neared the Denorios Belt doing so.
"Please be advised, you're heading near restricted space," the DS9 Ops Duty Officer warned them.
"Please be advised, we don't care," Ro challenged them as their ships neared the Wormhole trigger junction. Captain Sisko was away with a fleet action so the Defiant wasn't available to pursue. The perimeter patrols were too far distant to reach the ships before they could enter the wormhole aperture.
The Bajoran agents were still within tractor range. Colonel Kira Nerys was the acting CO and ordered such. But Anara vectored the Ark into the beam, so they station latched onto the Militia craft and enabled the starships to open the Celestial Temple and enter into it. The vertiron cascade swirled around and closed behind their affected entrance
"Hail that damn Militia ship and bring them in to a free docking pylon," Kira angrily ordered.
Aboard the of the Prophets, Neela smirked, "They're demanding communications."
Anara sighed, "Prep for a lecture."
"Happily," Neela opened a channel.
"What the hell are you both playing at?" Kira's image demanded to know.
"The will of the Prophets," Neela giddily explained.
Kira scowled, "You'd best explain that. Properly."
"We can explain, Colonel, but we need to dock and see you and Constable Odo alone and in private," Anar informed her.
"You're assigned to lower pylon two. And Major, this had better be a helluva explanation," Kira warned.
"It will be. I assure you. In the interim, schedule a Priority Blue consultation with General Krim. He'll make time for this," Anara promised her.
Kira's scowl deepened, "You'd better be right about this. Word will get out from the Promenade. The vedek here on the station with report to Kai Winn and even First Minister Shakaar will be drawn into this mess."
"That's precisely why we have to brief you and Odo first," Anara offered scant information. But the confidence the two Bajorans in the ship displayed unnerved Kira. Neela practically glowed with delight. Which disturbed Kira the most.
While the starships were in the timelessness of the Celestial Temple, Anara and Neela had given Kira and Odo the explanation regarding the Prophets' own demands regarding the council and made Kira promise not to reveal Dukat or Kilana's participation. Wresting safe passage guarantees out of her.
Odo was beyond skeptical, "Where did they even find Dukat."
"I'm not at liberty to say," Anara replied, "Except that it's an unclaimed system."
Kira was eyeballing Neela, "This came about through you."
"I'm the Prophets' servant in all things," Neela promised, "But they wanted this to ascertain why the Emissary shamed them into intervening. They want to understand his motives and our collective desires."
"And if they don't?" Odo scoffed.
"They may reopen the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Celestial Temple," Neela answered.
"But why Dukat?" Odo sharply inquired, "The Cardassians are tied to the Dominion. They're no longer separate entities."
Neela had persuaded Anara not to reveal Dukat's ties to the Pah-wraiths or his destiny as their Emissary.
"All I know is that the Prophets wished to speak with him," Anara insisted.
Odo's incisive mind knew she was hiding a greater truth, "But Dukat isn't even technically a representative of Cardassia now."
"But he influences Damar," Kira knew that something larger was being hidden from her. A Prophet had once inhabited her to wage a battle against the Prophets' mortal nemeses. A long prophesied battle had been interrupted on the cusp of victory by Kai Winn. Kira and the Emissary had faith in the Prophet battling Jake Sisko's inhabited body. Winn had not.
That lack of faith and vision in Bajor's spiritual leader disturbed Kira even more than Winn's political machinations and her implied guilt of manipulating Neela into murdering her way to Bareil. Neela still remained silent regarding her motivations. Throughout her arrest, interrogations, trial and imprisonment, Neela had maintained a stony silence. An impenetrable wall of faith.
But Sisko had explained to Kira that Neela expressed great regret regarding her actions. And had pledged not to repeat them despite her role as the Kai's personal troubleshooter. Kira's immediate superior had explained to her that Neela frequently served as a Special Forces consultant and participated in foreign missions with Major Anara.
Officially they were rogue agents. Unofficially it seemed, they were exactly who the Joint Chiefs, First Minister, and the Kai called upon to "settle" foreign matters that threatened Bajoran interests. And despite the cacophony of the debrief afterwards with all of the heads of government, religion, and military interests, Kira knew that Ro and Macen had taken the path laid out by the Prophets just as Anara and Neela insisted they had.
Dukat and Kilana had been released from their shielded compartments upon entrance and stopping within the null space the Prophets lived within and they, along with Ro and Macen were mentally swept away to their audiences with the Prophets. Their bodies dormant only for an instant but the visions would seemingly take hours or even days to the participants and each interview was unique to the participant.
Ro found herself on Ronara Prime. But she was standing in a Refugee Camp like those found on Bajor. A figure presented itself to her and she reeled as she was confronted by her long dead father.
"Papa?" slowly Ro began to recall Sisko's first action report regarding the Prophets and how they appeared as many different guises from his past.
"You have no right to take that form!" she yelled at him.
"Aggressive," the Cardassian lured that had lured her witness her father's torturous death said.
"Confrontational," Picard stated as he too began to circle around her.
"Lost," Macius, the planet's first Maquis cell leader observed.
Her father vanished to be replaced by Santos, you had led the cell after Macius' death, "Belligerent."
"Angry," Aric Tulley entered the circle replacing the Cardassian.
"Treacherous," Picard opined.
"Disloyal," Aric Tulley agreed. The real Tulley had been Ro's deputy in all things. Until he became radicalized and ultra violent. Thanks to her, he was incarcerated by the Federation now.
"Destroyer," Macius condemned her as well.
"Alone," Santos was gone to have Will Riker take his place in the circle of regret.
"I know what you doing," Ro told them, "You're examining my memories to see why Bajor should or shouldn't be saved."
"We are of Bajor," Picard told her.
"We are of no time. No beginning. No end," Macius explained.
"My people don't understand. I don't understand," Ro admitted, "How can you be of Bajor yet have no beginning or end?"
"Temporal," Picard accused.
"Skeptical," Riker added.
"Disbelieving," Tulley weighted the round robin.
"Why should I believe in you?" Ro wanted to know. Demanded to know, "Macen and Neela say you were elsewhere in a multiverse. Why was an alternate reality more interesting than us when we were being slaughtered and starved?"
"No beginning," Riker repeated the mantra.
"No end," Picard continued.
"What does that even mean?" Ro lashed out.
"Invasive," Macius commented.
"Limited," Tulley concluded.
"Why do you care or not care? Is it a game? Is it a test? What are you about?" Ro wanted to know.
"Inquisitive,," Riker stated.
"Pensive," Picard observed.
"Doubtful," Macius continued.
"Disbelieving," Tulley told them again. And Ro found herself back on the Asimov's cargo bay without a clue as to what had just occurred.
Macen wondered what form the Prophets would take. To his great surprise, they appeared as themselves.
The Prophet that lived among humans to conceive Sisko approached him singly, "Welcome."
"I don't know you," Macen admitted, "Yet I do"
"Your people have a gift," the Prophet reminded him, "Yet you waste with the corporeal lifeforms."
"I'm corporeal," Macen reminded her.
"Yet you are not. You are more," the Prophet stated.
"And yet I'm less," Macen countered.
"So it understands that," the Prophet sounded pleased.
"Why am I here?" Macen asked.
"The Sisko asked us for intervention. We complied. Yet we didn't understand. We have seen much. Learned much. But we do not understand," the Prophet confessed.
"Think of the conflict between you and the Rejected. They wished to intervene and dominate. You wish to understand and contemplate. Yet you intervene all the same by action or inaction. You are of Bajor," Macen informed the Prophet.
"You are less," she repeated, "Yet, you must become something more."
And Macen found himself in the Odyssey's cargo bay with Kilana before him.
"You are repellent," Dukat's wife told him.
"You side with our Fallen," Kira Meru accused.
"You are Fallen," Tora Napreem observed.
"You are broken," Tora Ziyal stated.
"You will end," they said in unison and Dukat that was staring at a newly awoken Ro.
"Is that it?" he was angry, "No wonder the Prophets abandoned Bajor to my people! They are weak and spineless! They all deserve to burn!"
Ro knocked Dukat out with a single right cross.
"Damn! Now I have to drag him back into the cargo pod" she realized as she nursed her bruised and bleeding knuckles.
"Hello?" Kilana found herself on a strange frontier. It was desolate except for a dark pool that was fetid and rancid and she realized it was the remains of the Great Link.
"No!" she sobbed.
"Distraught," Weyoun circled her.
"Broken," Damar joined him.
"Lost," the ghastly form of the last Founder in the Alpha Quadrant other than Odo completed the circle.
"Are they all dead?" Kilana said between sobs.
"Not yet," the Founder assured her.
"This is the path," Weyoun stated.
"Then open the Wormhole and let my people through. We'll force a cure out of the Federation. They did this! Punish them, not us!" Kilana began to scream.
"Angry," Damar said without inflection.
"Vengeful," the Founder disapproved.
"Deceptive," Weyoun touted.
"Would you have us beg the Federation for a cure?" Kilana snarled, "Would you have us crawl and have them condemn us all to death?"
"This is the path," the Founder took up the mantra. The mass grave of the Great Link suddenly had wind blown through it and flakes of ash choked Kilana.
"This is the path," Weyoun repeated.
"This is the path," Damar vanished as Kilana realized she was staring at Macen in the Odyssey's cargo bay.
"No!" she screamed and lunged at Macen. She attempted to gouge his eyes out with her bare hands. But she'd forgotten he was armed and managed to fend her off long enough to draw his phaser and stun her.
"I take it that went well," he murmured as she carried her into the shielded pod and resealed it before reactivating the cloak.
Macen's communicator chirped and he flipped it open, "Macen here"
"Captain, the wormhole just reopened," Ebert stated.
"Which end?" he asked.
"Where we entered from," she replied, "We're being ejected from the Wormhole. Should we be worried?"
"How long have we been stationary?" Macen asked.
"About seven minutes. Just long enough for you to turbolift down and open the pod," Ebert explained.
"Set course for Empok Nor," Macen instructed.
"Won't Starfleet have an issue with that?" she wondered.
"Not if Anara and Neela played their parts," he reminded her, "I'm coming up. Signal Ro to standby for communications"
"Oo-kay," Ebert wa s bewildered, "Did we win?"
"Time will tell," he confessed.
Kira watched the Wormhole reopen and the starships get pushed out on the main viewer replay, "That was quick."
"That was twenty minutes ago," Odo observed it had been just as their "briefing" disaster began and ended with Kira being summoned back to Ops. what followed was an even more disastrous confrontation as Winn bellowed she wanted Neela released. Shakaar wanted Starfleet called off and Krim simply signed off. The Militia serving starships had left the Bajor system quietly and without further fuss.
"The Ark of the Prophets is signaling they're ready for departure," the duty officer informed her.
"Good riddance," Kira decided.
"Well, fleets of Jem'Hadar battleships and fighters aren't swarming through the system. I take it the Prophets are upholding Sisko's request," Odo observed dryly.
"But why go through this? What did they want to accomplish?" Kira had to wonder.
"Why do your Prophets do anything?" Odo added to her nagging worries.
"For that, you owe me a massage after my duty shift ends," Kira delivered her ultimatum.
"Gladly," Odo happily agreed.
Ro and Macen dropped their largely unwanted "guests" off at Empok Nor. Dukat was still raving about vengeance to be had as he was marched to the transporter room and seen off.
"What a piece of loud mouthed shuk," Daggit remarked afterwards.
"I owe you a drink as soon as we reach a cantina," Ro promised. Macen beamed aboard after they arrived. He reported Kilana's sullen bitterness and quiet vows of persecution and a personal vendetta.
"Wonder what she saw?" Ro wondered in the privacy of her briefing room after the two ships slipped into Kalendra's orbit. Most of the crew was rotating in shifts down the recently liberated, again, surface. Daggit had a slip of latinum Ro had given him to buy the Angosians a round of drinks.
"My people have a tradition, you never share an Orb experience. Does this count?" Ro asked.
"Probably," Macen told her, "I know I won't share."
"Probably for the best," Ro sighed, "At least the Jem'Hadar weren't following us out of the Wormhole."
"I don't think that was a real possibility. I think this was a chance to reflect on changes that are happening and yet to happen. Things that need to happen or to change," Macen admitted.
"Hmph," Ro snorted.
"You too can change," Macen promised her.
"Maybe," Ro was pensive.
The door opened and Hendryks stood before its open space, "Skipper, the Architect is on. We have a mission."
"Pipe it in here," Ro groaned.
"Welcome to the Maquis part two, where the war never ends," Macen sighed.
"Now who needs to change?" Ro chuckled darkly and the business of being at the sharp end the stick resumed as usual.
|Last modified: 31 Mar 2022