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Uprising - Part III by Travis Anderson

The Spy, The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The Tinkerer,
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...

Chapter 15

T’Kir monitored her instruments as the scout slipped out of warp. The pirates had surrendered to T’Kir’s demands and had agreed to take her and Kort to their base of operations. Part of their urgency in attempting to capture her stemmed from the fact that they lay thirty minutes from entering the system housing the base. Intelligence had no records of any Andergani outposts this close to Federation territory. Those surveys had not been updated in over four years, which meant the base could have been built at any time in that period without being noticed.

The pirates’ only demand was that they beam over a member of their crew to act as a "liaison". She’d accepted the watchdog for co-operation’s sake. She’d been dismayed to learn that the spy was a former Maquis.

Intellectually, she’d accepted the fact that former Maquis were in league with these, and other, pirates. Emotionally, it was another hammer blow in a succession of such blows over the last several days. She longed for Macen’s presence. His overall reaction to this development would be far more restrained than hers.

Actually, it’d just be nice to have him period. She admitted ruefully, But nooo, he had to run off with that Bajoran tart.

She regretted the thoughts even as they flickered through her mind. Mental pressures were beginning to bear down on her and her thoughts were increasingly erratic. Macen had demonstrated a lot of faith by placing her in charge of this mission, and she refused fail him. That singular determination was what was holding her together as things began to get "slippery" again.

She was relived when the renegade excused himself to go inspect the engines. She felt as though a veritable mental loudspeaker had been removed from the tight confines of the bridge. She released a long sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose. Irritatingly enough, she could now feel waves of concern broadcasting from Kort.

"I’m fine." She growled.

She could hear his surprised thoughts, and the curses that followed, "No, I’m not eavesdropping on your mind... such as it is. You’re just predictable."

Kort muttered an intelligible oath and left. She was just as glad she hadn’t heard what he’d said. What he’d thought brought a slight emerald flush to her cheeks as it was. She took a deep breath and forced herself to concentrate on her instruments and what little she’d discovered so far.

At least one Maquis, one Joren Ruthers to be precise, had thrown in with the pirates. That wasn’t a surprise, but what Ruthers had revealed upon beaming over had been. She’d known that Macen and his crew, herself included, had developed a reputation within the Maquis but she’d never known how great of one until now. The fact that they had been hated and feared by the Cardassian’s Obsidian Order had granted them near mythical stature in the minds of the freedom fighters.

She’d been fully prepared to loathe Ruthers for his association with the butchers that had destroyed her ship. She hadn’t been prepared for the adulation he projected whenever being around him. The most annoying part is that they’d never physically met before, not even during the war. She was flattered by it, but it also made it damnably hard to hate him, it was too much like hitting a young, eager sehlat with a padd.

She let out another forlorn sigh. Few non-telepaths ever understood her plight. When her mental barriers were weakened, she lost herself amongst the teeming voices. She was alone and outnumbered within her own mind. The abnormal behaviours that resulted were desperate attempts to stand above the miasma of activity that threatened to drown her.

She’d "overheard" theories regarding the Borg during her stay at the Andes Institute. The therapists there guessed that once assimilated, the new drones were bombarded with the whole of the collective mind, until they snapped under the pressure. At that point a single voice rose above the rest, presumably the Queen, and ended the clamour. The broken psyche would capitulate and be remoulded into whatever guise the Borg saw fit to sculpt.

She could make out her reflection on an inactive display on the console next to her. Her brilliant blue eyes, a rarity amongst Vulcans, burned with her burning desire to prevent this fate from occurring. Her full lips turned up in a grim smile as she reached a decision. She locked her board on to computer control and stepped into the head. When she returned to her post, she’d cut the back of her hair off with a protoplaser.

The uneven lengths were a tangible link to the familiar. Her bangs fell freely into her eyes. This too was a handhold to cling too. She ruffled her hands through her hair, putting it in total disarray.

She re-examined her lean features and drew a satisfied smile from herself. Her behaviour would be more easily dismissed if she presented a wilder image from the start. It would also of further towards ingratiating herself with the outcasts that comprised the ranks of the pirates. She began humming a tune to herself, satisfied with her efforts and intentionally ignoring the fact that the transformation had been far easier than putting on that damned Starfleet uniform.

Dracas smiled fiercely as he punched in the final code sequence into the computers at Auxiliary Control. Witt had made it with them, if just barely. She leaned limply against a bulkhead while Edgars stood guard, watching the doorway. Dracas shook his head at that. He’d placed magnetic locks on the door and forcefields up and down the corridors leading to it.

"That should do it." He announced.

Edgars gave him a puzzled glance, so he explained, "The sensors indicate that we’re over a planet. If what the guard told us is true, then its these bastards’ main base of operation. It also a slave labour camp."

He pointed at the console, "I’ve rigged a shuttle to try an automated launch in ten minutes. I’ve also ordered the transporter to commence several beam outs at the same time."

"Won’t they detect them?" Edgars asked.

Dracas gave her a feral smile, "We’re going to beam down in three minutes. The transporter logs for that transport will be transposed over the multiple jumps and this one will be deleted. I’ve blinded the sensors for the next five minutes, so they shouldn’t notice we’re gone until its too late."

Edgars shook her head, "I have to hand it to you, Chief. I would never thought of anything like this."

He blushed, "You were trained as a scientist. My cultural background leans towards revolution and sabotage."

She nodded, "I’ve heard about the Troglyte tunnels."

"They’re better now than a hundred years ago, but the situation could still be improved upon." Dracas admitted.

"So what happens when we get to the surface?"

"If there are slaves down there," he answered, "then I’m betting they’re ready to revolt."

She shook her head, but smirked, "Prisoner to leader of an uprising and all in one day? You do think big."

He ignored her teasing tones, "Let’s grab Commander Witt and get ready for the transport."

Radil led Daggit to a room that looked like it had been converted into a simple infirmary. It didn’t have much in the way of surgical equipment, but was adequately stocked for triage duties. Daggit didn’t suppose that the Syndicate expected many major injuries in their own HQ. Especially if all the matches are to the death, he mused grimly.

He flinched as Radil began applying a cellular regenerator to the bruises and abrasions on his face. "Stop that!" she chided, "Don’t be a baby. If you keep squirming you’ll end up scarred."

"So?" he retorted, "At least it wouldn’t be as irritating as the damn itching that things causing."

"You have a nice face." She said, with an unexpected tenderness in her voice, "It’d be a shame to ruin it."

He stared at her, gaping. "You don’t get many compliments, do you?" she laughed.

"Not like that." He admitted ruefully, "Most people usually comment on my reflexes, memory, or how well I can fight."

A heavy sigh escaped her, "You’ll hear that here too. It’s just nice to remember from time to time that we’re organic, not some blasted killing machines."

"So why are you here?" he asked.

It was her turn to stare, "You haven’t been around mercs or criminals for any length of time have you?"

"Nope." He confessed, "I just left Starfleet. After the war ended, they were just going to lock me away at some stupid Security post somewhere and forget about me. This seemed like a way to try and keep my sanity."

"Figures." She snorted, "That’s pretty much all anybody wants to do with former soldiers." She stepped back, hands on her hips, "Okay, the rules are simple. You never ask anyone where they’re from or why they’re here."

"Gotcha." He replied, then with a mischievous smirk, "So, why are you here?"

She laughed even as she shook her head, "I knew you were trouble."

"At least I’m trouble with a nice face." He promptly reminded her.

Her smile was as bright as it was rewarding, "That you are. I guess that’ll make up for some of your crap."

"So how ‘bout it?"

She sat on the bench next to him with a resigned air, "Alright, but it’s a long story."

"D’you think I’d ask if I wasn’t interested?"

Her eyes bore into his, "No. Somehow I don’t think you would."

The Javelin dropped out of warp and began its final approach to Starbase 412. Macen let the computers fly the ship while he reviewed the data he’d been given by Garak. It lacked helpful details, but did contain a set of co-ordinates that the charts indicated were on the border between Andergani and Cardassian space. They were also well within easy warp travel from Betazed. Macen’s instincts led him to believe that this was Spencer’s base of operations.

He’d stretched his empathic senses as far as they could reach. He didn’t have a strong connection to T’Kir, but he was vaguely certain that she was in that area as well. He’d sensed several distortions in the time-space continuum as well as a sense of mourning from his brethren. Somewhere in the universe, an El-Aurian had died, creating a ripple felt by all.

All El-Aurians could sense the underlying weave of the universe. Patterns and movement interwove into larger mosaics. The ability varied amongst his people, but all had this perception built into the very being. Those exposed to the Nexus more so than the rest. He supposed that was why his people seemed so ethereal to other species, they literally dwelt in two worlds.

Ages past, many of his ancestors had done far more than sense the ebb and flow of the universe, they had used that talent to manipulate events around them. This had created devastating wars between competing ideologies of the "correct" goals. In the end, they died at each other’s hand and the El-Aurians vowed never to interfere in the patterns of the universe again. They would watch, listen and study the universe and its varied inhabitants, but they would never again interfere in its unfolding tapestry of events

That philosophy had brought about the destruction of his world and her colonies. Although they had sensed the approaching Borg, they did nothing to interfere. That decision had soured Macen to the cornerstone tenet of his people. Macen’s rejection of the code of non-interference brought about his own rejection from his people.

While not skilled enough to perceive the flows of probability, Macen could and did use his perceptions to place himself in areas where he could influence outcomes. On occasion, he had tried to influence the potentialities he saw around him through sheer force of will. Whether or not he enjoyed any success was debatable, but he had physically intervened as well, assuring an altered outcome. These actions, and the mentality behind them, branded him as great a threat to many El-Aurians as his distant kin, Tolian Soran.

Once again, Macen could sense a nexus of probability surrounding this situation. He could also sense his races’ pleas not to interfere. He ignored these with a brusque mental shove and continued his meditations. He could see how potentialities twisted around the world he sought and knew he would go there and choose one path for this place. He sensed an anguished groan as his decision was felt by his people and they retreated back to observation alone, lest they violate the codes and impose unwarranted change on the situation.

Macen found the whole affair fairly hypocritical in light of Guinan’s involvement with Captain Picard. She may have rarely taken a physical role in events, but her counsel and relaying of information changed events to a greater degree than her personal actions ever could have. Even the echo of herself left in the Nexus led Picard to the realisation that he could alter the very events that led both him there and recruit James T. Kirk at the same time. He’d been repetitively told that such actions were different by an important shade, they provided others without awareness to make more informed judgements.

It’s still changing things, Macen’s mind growled; alleviating ignorance induces the greatest changes of all.

He sighed as the runabout came to a halt and the docking clamps took hold. Moments later, the bay had been re-pressurised and it was safe to open the ship’s hatch. He was mildly surprised to find no one waiting for him. He knew Grace was the only team member left at the Starbase, but he was hoping she’d have come down to give him an update on her investigation while they walked back to the office space she’d been allocated. He also wanted to know if Daggit or T’Kir had checked in yet.

He began to feel a sense of foreboding as he neared the office. The corridors were too deserted and his presence too unnoticed for this to a natural occurrence. He tried to think of whom would want him in a position of being alone and unaided, and it was far too long to be of any value. I’ve got entire stellar nations that want me dead. He mused wryly.

He drew his pistol out of its holster and angled himself up alongside the entrance to the office area. He waved his hand in front of the door, tripping its motion sensors. It opened with the detestable swoosh that seemed to plague Federation designs. As it opened, Macen dove swiftly into the room.

He continued the movement into a roll that landed him behind a desk. He received no response even though the lights were on. Either the room was deserted, or his ambushers had incredible control over their reflexes. Either possibility wasn’t a promising one.

He slowly rose, pistol at the ready. The room was deserted. The only source of activity was a flashing message on the data terminal he had sought shelter behind. His blood chilled as he read it.

It was message addressed to him. It informed him, without hesitation or preamble, that the writer had Ensign Grace in their custody. Explicit instructions followed, informing him of where to go in order to facilitate her safe return. It made no mention of keeping Security uninvolved, and didn’t need to.

Both the tone and efficiency with which Grace’s abduction had been accomplished alluded to the identities of her kidnappers. Section 31 was one of the few forces that could circumvent every Starfleet Security precaution. They had two long-standing grudges against Macen, and apparently saw now as their opportunity to exact a fee for his prior interference in their operations. For all he knew, Spencer’s piracy was condoned by the shadowy watchgroup.

Exhaling a deep sigh, he left the room and proceeded down the corridor in obedience to the proscribed course. The only logical reason for the convoluted path he’d been instructed to take was that the kidnappers could tap the security monitors and watch his approach. That would make it harder for him to prepare any surprises for their meeting with him. Macen hated giving away any opportunity for an advantage, but he didn’t have time to ponder alternatives.

His path led him to a deserted module added to the base’s superstructure during the war. It was a cargo hold large enough to contain modular replacements for starships. It was also vast enough to hide a small force. Containers remained stacked throughout the bay, creating a labyrinth.

Macen cautiously proceeded through the maze. He could feel the presence of other beings nearby, but couldn’t determine how many. His opponents had brought along a subspace distortion generator that clouded his perceptions. Whoever these people were, they were well informed.

He cleared the last turn and an open area surrounded by walls of cargo containers lay before him. Grace sat bound in a chair in the centre of the area. Two humans, male and female, stood to either side of her. Both were armed, but their sidearms remained on their belts. Macen had no doubts as to their proficiency with such weapons.

They both dressed entirely in black. The male was the shorter of the two, and wore a gregarious smile. The woman, almost Macen’s height, wore an imperious masque of superiority. Any doubts Macen had as to whether or not they belonged to Section 31 ended upon seeing her expression.

Macen returned his pistol to its holster. This brought a smile to the man’s face. The woman’s smug expression remained the same. Grace’s eyes looked at him pleadingly and her jaw worked soundlessly as a result of a neural inhibitor freezing the nerves around her vocal chords, muffling her voice.

"Come in Captain." The man said, "You are undoubtedly here to retrieve young Ensign Grace here."

Macen nodded, "And you’re undoubtedly here to settle a few issues."

The man chuckled, "Undoubtedly, but not with you. At least, not at this time."

Macen’s expression remained carefully neutral, "Then with whom?"

"Why with our dear Ensign, of course." The man answered with a broad sweep of his arms, "Surely you’ve realised that she’s been one of our agents all along."

Macen glanced towards Grace. The pained expression in her eyes was answered whether the statement was true or not. After their experiences with Ensign D’art and their Romulan infiltrator, Macen had screened the rest of his crew. Grace had slipped past his detection.

That didn’t explain why the two Section 31 agents were here then. If she’d successfully infiltrated his team, then she shouldn’t be punished like this. The only alternatives were that this was a ruse to shatter his trust in his team or that she was a Section 31 operative and she’d defected. It could be an elaborate hoax to convince him of either of those possibilities, but the sense of remorse he felt rippling off of Grace in boundless waves contradicted that possibility.

"There’s more to it than that." Macen replied, "Otherwise you’d have already taken off with her. There’s more."

"There’s always more." The man replied, "The question is whether or not you’re willing co-operate."


Chapter 16

Macen gave the Section 31 agent a pained look, "What is it you want?"

"You have an agent placed within the Orion Syndicate." It wasn’t a question, although it was the first time the female agent had contributed anything significant besides a sneer.

"If I do, what of it?" Macen baited.

"He must abort his investigation." She snapped.

Her partner intervened, "Really Captain, his investigation could jeopardise a sting operation we began some months ago. You provide authenticated orders he’ll acknowledge and we’ll extract him and return him here."

"What happens if he doesn’t comply?"

The man’s smile never wavered, "Then he’ll be neutralised and Starfleet will lose a valuable man."

Macen nodded towards Grace, "What about her?"

"Her fate is yours to decide." The man replied with a shrug, "From our perspective, she’s compromised. We cannot afford to trust her. Whether or not you can is your decision."

Macen nodded in a distracted manner, "Where do you want the orders sent?"

"Place them in Starfleet’s database." The unnamed agent informed him, "We’ll make certain they reach their intended party."

"Give me an hour." Macen said in resignation.

"Very well." The man said chipperly, "Good luck with apprehending Lt. Commander Spencer."

The two agents dissolved in a luminescent fire. Macen sighed and moved over to where Grace sat bound in the chair. He removed the neurocortical inhibitor immobilising her jaw first. He shushed her as she started to try and explain. She fell into a sullen silence as he released the shackles on her wrists and ankles.

He helped her to her feet, "Nothing damaged?"

She shook her head in the negative, "All right, why don’t you explain?"

She lifted her head, but didn’t quite meet his eyes, "I was recruited to observe you in case Ensign D’art failed. They would send me instructions if I was forced to go active. However, after we returned to Earth, I never reported in. I guess they came looking for me."

She met his gaze, "I’m sorry, sir. I never meant to betray your trust. If you want me off the team, I understand completely."

Macen smirked, "Want you off the team? Hell no. You had both T’Kir and I fooled. Anyone that can befriend a telepath and hide something like this from them, I want on my side."

She gave him a relieved sigh as an exhausted giggle escaped her, "Really?"

"Of course. You didn’t think I was going to do all those record checks myself did you?"

"Of course not." She said happily, "Let’s get to it."

The Idiot’s Delight slid into orbit over a planet that wasn’t even on her nav charts. Three Federation starships and a half dozen other craft were already there. T’Kir shivered in silent rage upon recognising the ships that had destroyed the Odyssey. She fought an almost unresistable urge to fly her ship down their throats.

"They’ll be sending landing co-ordinates." Ruthers spoke up, granting T’Kir a distraction from her destructive impulses, "Let me put in he encryption cipher."

She flashed him a smirk over her shoulder, "You won’t need to."

"These are military grade ciphers." Ruthers protested, "You won’t be able to..."

His voice drifted off as the comm crackled to life and a bored voice gave landing instructions. Ruthers shook his head and whistled softly.

"I’m beginning to believe some of those stories about Macen and his crew."

"Should have believed them before." T’Kir snorted.

One advantage the courier had over the Odyssey was the ability to navigate in atmospheric conditions. The typically Starfleet saucer and nacelle configuration of the scoutship had prevented it from being able to successfully engage in atmospheric ops. The Delight’s stubby wings granted her much greater stability than even a runabout or shuttle would have. It’d been a while since she’d last flown such craft in these conditions, but her reflexes returned without hesitation.

Or maybe just a little hesitation, she thought wryly as the ship bucked from unexpected turbulence.

The planet beneath them was decidedly unremarkable. It was largely comprised of ocean, with large islands smattered throughout. Only one of them was large enough to be considered a continent. Most of the islands were volcanically active.

The waters were brown and muddy. She had little doubt the volcanism spewed various materials into the oceans on a regular basis. It was little wonder the Andergani had been willing to trade this world away. She wondered what was on it that made it appealing to Spencer.

The co-ordinates centred on what appeared to be the only city on the continent. The continent itself was marked by high mountain ranges with deep, lush valleys below. She supposed that made sense. The soils were probably laced nutrients galore.

The city was built on a ridge overlooking one such valley. It was a wide, flat design. Multi-story building wouldn’t be favoured on a tectonically active world. It looked shoddy and unfinished. It had a strip-mining quality about it, a totally disposable operation designed to be discarded when the source of wealth was depleted.

A landing area with dozens of shuttle and in-system impulse craft lay next to the urban sprawl. She received another message, telling her reach beacon frequency to lock onto for final guidance. After locating the beacon’s signal, she began her final descent. Minutes later, the courier was on the ground.

Ruthers leaned forward as if to clap her on the back. An upraised eyebrow that brought her Vulcan origins home stopped him. She was the strangest Vulcan he’d ever met, but she was still a Vulcan. That included greater than human strength that could easily break his bones.

The comm came to life again. They were instructed to keep the vessel sealed for another ten standard minutes before opening the hatches. T’Kir and Kort exchanged a sour look, then both glared at Ruthers impatiently. He shrugged in helpless ignorance.

T’Kir shut down the ship’s main systems and rose from her chair, "At least it’ll give me a chance to change clothes. Sensors indicated an average temperature of 79 centigrade and high humidity. You should love it here Kort."

The Klingon flashed an intimidating smile to their guest as T’Kir exited the cockpit. Klingons were jungle creatures. The lush forests in the valley looked inviting to him. He would love nothing more than to test his unarmed hunting skills against whatever predators this world could provide.

He and Ruthers exited the cockpit as well and made their way to the common lounge. They sat in silence waiting for both the deadline to expire and the ship’s captain to return. T’Kir entered seconds before the deadline’s conclusion. Ruthers’ shock amused Kort.

T’Kir had doffed the jacket and suede pants for glossy black leather pants and a loose hooded grey cloak. The pants had buckles on other side of her hips. A Cardassian -style phaser hung loosely from her belt. As much as T’Kir loathed Cardassians, she had to admit they built rugged and dependable weapons.

Her boots matched her pants. They rose to just below her knees and had clasps running down their length. Her grey cloak was V-necked, with leather cords to draw the opening tighter. It was made of a light woven fabric of unknown origin. Ruthers wondered briefly what she wore under the cloak until he received a sharp reproofing glance from her.

She hit the release for the main hatch and it lowered itself to the ground. Pungent odours wafted in from outside. The air was thick with scents from the rainforests below. T’Kir’s hand hovered over her phaser as she stepped outside.

"Here goes everything." Kort her mutter as she descended down the ramp.

He and Ruthers waited a moment then her voice called back, "Well?"

Kort roughly shoved the pirate through the hatchway. Ruthers stumbled down the ramp, trying not to fall. Kort strode down it behind him. He walked with a warrior’s arrogance.

Kort took a deep breath, savouring the smell of the place. His hunter’s instincts sampling the richness of the air, the quality of the game. This world was the fulfilment of his darkest fantasies. He also knew better than to unleash the careful bonds he placed around himself. He’d already been virtually banished from the Empire for indulging his desires in Gowron’s private estates.

T’Kir’s nose wrinkled. It was a response brought on by the thoughts permeating this place than any physical stimuli. She sensed restless hatred, longing, despair, and pain. Most of the inhabitants here were slaves, and they loathed their so-called masters. It was a psychic tidal wave she couldn’t allow herself to be drowned in.

She could feel Kort’s primal urges warring with his carefully sculpted restraints and wanted to scream. She knew it would be a futile gesture but it would help unleash some of her own building volatility. The last time she had confronted this psychic barrage, it had built in intensity over the years as her abilities grew. Now her senses were at their peak and the onslaught began as soon as the herbs faded.

But at least I have better mental defences now. She solaced herself, I hope!

Several armed troops arrived. They brandished Federation phaser rifles although their clothing and species originated from across the Alpha Quadrant. It was an irony too delicious for T’Kir to ignore. The Federation, paragon of virtue and laws, and arms dealer to the entire stinking Quadrant.

"Follow us." A Yrissian said without preamble.

T’Kir shrugged and motioned for Kort to follow along as well.

The Yrissian led them through the warrens of the "city". It would have been better described as an encampment. T’Kir tried to shut out the mental imagery she received as they strode through the twisting alleyways and paths. Several of the pirate group’s ships had just arrived and the crews were seeking "entertainment" from their slaves. What her telepathy missed, her sharp hearing delivered.

By the time she was brought before several humans standing in a circle, she was ready to kill every pirate in sight. The humans split up and Herbert Spencer turned and appraised her with a bemused smile. She could see the underlying tension in his face and hoped that whatever was causing it would redouble its efforts.

"So you are the Vulcan I’ve heard so much about over the last few hours?" he said.

It took every ounce of her remaining control not to smash his face as her mind reeled over memories of his face appearing on the Odyssey’s main viewscreen shortly before the noble ship’s destruction.

"Maybe." She countered, "Then again, you’re people could be discussing Ambassador Spock f’r all I know."

He chuckled softly and she could feel apprehension building within him, "I know that a handful of Vulcans joined the Maquis. You are reported to be among their number. Is this true?"

"I joined them." She said warily, "But they’re dead. What’s it matter now?"

"Well said." Spencer replied, "But I need to know why you’re here?"

"I was released from imprisonment on Earth." She said truthfully, "I needed work and heard that the Andergani were always looking for people with my... talents."

"I heard about some of those." Spencer said appreciatively, "My people are still trying to figure out what you did to their systems."

"Good luck." She snorted.

"You are a rare treasure m’dear." Spencer purred. T’Kir kept herself from retching as he spoke, "You may indeed may find a place amongst us, but I need proof of your resolve."

Spencer snapped his fingers and two men dragged a third into the courtyard where the impromptu interview was occurring. The prisoner was bleeding and had obviously undergone torture. T’Kir briefly wondered if she were going to asked to perform a mindmeld. She wasn’t certain what her answer would be to such a request.

"This man failed in his duties and has created a problem for me." Spencer informed her, "It is being solved, but he must still be punished."

"And?" she asked in a bored manner.

He held out a phaser, "I want you to kill him for me."

Without hesitation she snatched the phaser from his hand and shot the prisoner in the chest before the other two could release him. She tossed the phaser back to Spencer, "Anything else?"

He laughed, "No. Ruthers will see to it that you get groundside quarters and a meal."

"Thanks." She said simply as she turned to follow Ruthers and deal with Kort’s outraged sensibilities. She could feel rage emanating out of him but didn’t want to deal with it until they had the freedom of speaking privately and without fear of eavesdropping. He could just stew in his juices until then. She hoped she’d be able to deal with it without ripping his dense skull off.

Dracas’ eyes stared at the ground. Several drunken pirates staggered by without noticing him. The engineer wore a Vulcan traveller’s robe with its hood drawn up over his head. He’d discovered that Vulcan’s were one of the few races allowed to travel freely about the slave camp in exchange for a promise of not attempting to escape.

He knocked gently at the door of the improvised Healer’s temple. Two if the prisoners, Serik and T’Lis, were healers captured en route to a conference on the neutral world of Bexdrij near the Andergani border.

They’d been allowed to establish a primitive facility to meet some of the "colonist’s" health needs. Dracas, Edgars, and Witt had been brought to the healers shortly after they materialised on the planet’s surface. Dracas had counted on the prisoner’s animosity towards their captors to provide a shield for them. Thus far, he’d been proven correct.

"I brought the herbs you requested." He informed T’Lis.

She nodded. She was a young woman by Vulcan standards. Less than a century old if Dracas was any judge. She epitomised the Vulcan ideal of restrained passion and the pursuit of purest logic.

"Excellent." Serik replied as he entered. He sat down across from Edgars. She watched him nervously. He had just finished his examination of Witte and she could barely contain her anxiety as she awaited his verdict of her condition.

"Your comrade has suffered extreme physical and emotional distress." He said in a voice that transmitted concern while sounding dispassionate. It was a remarkable ability.

"The physical wounds were easy enough to treat. They shall mend on their own given time." Serik continued, gauging Edgars’ impatience, "The emotional wounds are another matter. Although we have little experience in dealing with such matters," That was true enough, from a certain perspective, "I have touched her mind on order to assist her in organising her thoughts and re-establishing a sense of peace."

"Is she conscience?" Edgars asked, unable to contained herself any more.

Serik nodded, "She once again recognises her physical senses. There is more that I must tell you."

Edgars blinked as the Vulcan continued, "Your comrade has conceived. She carries at least one other life within her. She is aware of this fact, but I am uncertain as to how this will affect her future emotional stability."

Hilde Edgars stared at the elderly Vulcan in abused disbelief. Her jaw hung slack and her breath came in ragged gasps. How could this happen? How could they escape just to discover that Alicia carried one of those bastard’s children?

She wanted to explode. She wanted to demand that the Vulcan abort the child. She knew what his reply would be. Vulcan healers were sworn never to take a life, even an unborn child’s. She’d always respected that conviction, in contrast to humanity’s cheaper regard for life, until now.

She forced her outrage to subside. She had to be strong for a while longer. She couldn’t allow this to overwhelm her. If she let this news destroy her, how could she help Alicia through it? She straightened her shoulders and vowed to find the monster that had done this to her XO.

"We must now find a way to remove you from the city." T’Lis said, "They have begun searches and will swiftly find you if we do not find you proper shelter."

"Where can we go?" Dracas asked.

T’Lis eyes were hooded for a moment while she calculated the risks of answering, "There is a place."

Serik stood and straightened his robes, "I shall depart now. It is better that these old ears now hear what is about to be said." He stepped out of the dwelling and out into the night air.

"There is a group of those which wish to stop the pirates and liberate the prisoners here." T’Lis informed the Starfleet officers.

"And they have a base outside the city?" Dracas asked.

"Precisely." T’Lis with a spark that resembled eagerness in her eyes. "I will lead you there tonight now that your comrade is fit to travel."

"Sounds like a plan." Dracas agreed, "Who knows? We may even be able to help out with this liberation."

T’Lis’ eyes shone with hope even as Edgars’ smouldered with hate.

Alone on board the Idiot’s Delight, Kort stared at T’Kir apprehensively as she sipped at a mug of coffee. Kort shared the typical Vulcan’s revulsion at the habit. He supposed she’d acquired it after her years of contact with the humans of the Maquis. He supposed that Macen had been corrupted in similar fashion.

He’d had remained silent as the traversed the "streets" of the unnamed city the pirates ruled. He’d sullenly clung to his thoughts as they’d eaten at an inn Ruthers led them to. He’d even hidden his scorn at discovering a Ferengi ran the eatery. It was typical that a Ferengi would discover a way to profit on a world populated by slaves.

T’Kir had spent most of the afternoon ordering supplies and arranging briefings with the pirate’s convoluted chains of command, all revolving around Spencer. Kort’s simmering anger had added to his disguise. No one had dared ask him a question all afternoon long. T’Kir had begged off a banquet being held in Spencer’s honour and had returned to the ship.

She’d quickly scanned the ship for eavesdropping devices before making her cup of that cursed beverage and giving him a level gaze and saying, "Say it."

"How could you!" he almost explode, "That man was an unarmed prisoner! You should have at least given him the opportunity to defend himself. For all we know, he may have been one of the slaves we are here to liberate."

"He wasn’t." she said flatly, taking another sip of her coffee, "And before you work yourself up any more, you might as well know that he isn’t even dead."

"What? How can you say that?

"The phaser was set for stun." She said with a heavy sigh, setting her mug down on the table she sat behind.

"How would you know?" Kort demanded, "You never even checked the settings."

"I didn’t have to!" she snapped, "It was a test. Spencer wanted to see if I’d hesitate. As far as the prisoner goes, he was one of Spencer’s men that let Dracas and two female Starfleet prisoners escape because he was too busy watching his fellows rape one of the women to watch the cells. His death would have been no great loss trust me."

Kort was surprised at the savage vehemence in her voice, "How can you know...?"

Her face twisted up with impatient scorn, "I’m a telepath remember?"

Kort realised his suspicions from before were being confirmed, "When is the last time you took your herbal treatment?" The same treatment Macen had discovered to lessen her abilities to the point she could endure them.

"Since before the Odyssey got blown up." She answered with a defensive edge.

"I suppose I could synthesise something similar." Kort muttered.

"Don’t you get it?" her fist slammed down so hard it knocked her mug over, "My abilities just saved our asses! If I’d hesitated at all, you’d be finding out of you’ve got enough honour to get into Sto-Vo-Kor right now. We won’t be able to find out what we’re here to discover without my telepathy at its full strength."

"Maybe, but..."

"I can handle it." She said with flat finality. She rose and brushed past him.

I hope so little one. Kort thought glumly, I doubt our commander would ever forgive me if I allowed you to die here.

"I heard that!" she warned from across the ship.

Oh Kahless! Kort thought miserably, Here we go again.


Chapter 17

Daggit watched Radil carefully. They’d been dispatched to collect "insurance" fees from some local farmers. Daggit found the whole affair disgusting. Radil must have had similar compunctions judging by her careful, precise manner.

He’d heard about other Syndicate enforcers that conducted these shakedowns with nearly unrestrained violence. Daggit knew they were the minority. Such practices prejudiced locals against continued co-operation with the Syndicate. He also had to admit the Syndicate did actually provide protective services for the insured merchandise, even if the Syndicate provided half the subsequent threat of theft itself. At least they drove their competitors off as well.

Radil never threatened, never cajoled. She stated the terms of the arrangement plainly and professionally. She never wavered and never displayed the slightest sign of dishonesty. She appeared what she truly was, a soldier committed to her duties.

The fact she loathed her current duties became evident as they sat in the relatively private confines of their groundcar, "Dammit it all to the Pah-wraiths!"

Daggit couldn’t help being concerned, "What’s wrong?"

"This!" she muttered bitterly, "When I agreed to work for the Orion’s, it was supposed to be as a courier. I wasn’t supposed to fight anyone. The arrangement was for two years if service in exchange for biogenic nerve toxins designed to kill Cardassians."

"I take it this isn’t the case?"

Her eyes met his. The bitterness there made him want to reach out to her, "Within six months, every Bajoran was assembled and dispatched on a mercenary mission to help the Andergani suppress a revolt on one of their satrapies."

"You’ve been inside the Oligarchy?" he nearly sputtered.

"Yes." She said sullenly.

I can’t believe my luck! Daggit thought excitedly, A live source of intel data! Maybe I won’t have to leave her here.

"I’d almost forgotten who I was, and then you came along." She sighed.

"Is that a bad thing?" he asked nervously.

"No!" she shook her head fervently, "It’s just that you still know what it’s like to fight for something. I’ve forgotten how."

He leaned closer, "I don’t think you’ve completely forgotten, I just think you need a reminder on how."

Her eyes met his and he saw longing there. Her lips met his an instant later. It was a fierce kiss born of years of isolation and loneliness. He returned it just as fervently.

It was at that moment he felt the transporter field take effect. Oh, hell! Why did this have to happen now?

Macen met Admiral Drake in the transporter room as she materialised. She nodded her thanks to the tech on duty and they departed straightaway for the conference room she’d been given for her "surprise inspection" of the Starbase’s counter-intelligence section. The cover was, as the best were, only part fiction.

"What the hell is going on?" Drake asked as soon as the doors slid shut behind them, "I read the summary of your report on my way here. You have a member of Section 31 on the damn team?"

Macen shook his head, "Former member."

"I don’t care if she’s a former Miss Federation." Drake retorted bitterly, "We formed this unit to conduct intelligence ops without Section 31’s involvement."

Macen snorted, "Like they haven’t riddled their way throughout Command."

"I’d like to see them try." Drake replied hotly.

Macen gave her a dry look, "Their organisation has been in existence for as long as Starfleet’s existed. You don’t honestly believe they haven’t got moles impeded throughout the bureaucratic tapestry that comprises the Federation?"

She sank into a chair, bringing a hand up to rub her temple, "I suppose not."

He sat in the chair across the table from hers, "Good. Now, I need to know what assets we have in place to respond Spencer’s forces."

She gave him a sharp glance, "I thought you didn’t know where he was?"

"Trust me." He said with a grim smile, "My people have tracked him down."

"What makes you so certain?"

"Call it a hunch." He replied enigmatically.

Drake had read the reports from Macen’s superiors over the last eighty years. He’d always had a knack for predicting events across the Quadrant. Later intelligence reports would confirm his analyses. His enigmatic reply to how he did it remained the same: a hunch.

Federation scientists had debated on whether or not the El-Aurians possessed sensory perceptions well beyond human ranges. The debate was increased by the simple fact no El-Aurians would give a definitive answer and their medical examinations showed them to be nearly genetically identical to humans. Their inexplicable tendency to understand and predict space-time phenomena kept the debate alive.

Drake had neither the energy nor the time to revisit the old debates, "We have a task force standing by. It’s comprised of several Akira, Intrepid, and Defiant-class ships. We’ll have the ability to come in fast, strike hard, and get out."

Macen nodded, "Sounds good. We also need to discuss another problem."

Drake looked perplexed, "What other problem?"

"My team’s cover." He replied, "Its faulty. I think I know a way of solving that issue."

Why do I have a feeling I won’t like the "solution", she thought, aloud she said, "What is the supposed problem and your solution to it?"

"A decent computer systems operator could dig through the records and discover my team’s true loyalties." He explained, "The best solution is ‘officially’ discharge the core team members from Starfleet."

Drake resumed rubbing her temples, "How did I see this coming?"

"Think about." Macen cajoled, "The Romulans stole the Prometheus while she was conducting trials. That was one of Starfleet’s most classified projects. You and I both know Starfleet’s counter-intelligence capabilities are a joke. Eventually, someone’s going to sift through the records to find our names, and they’ll find them. I don’t feel like getting killed because my name’s still on the Fleet rolls."

She held up her hands in surrender, "I see your point. I’m just wondering how I’ll get it past Nechayev."

"Just reminder her of how she retained Calhoun." Macen suggested, "That should open a few doors. And if that isn’t enough, I may provide you with the perfect excuse."

Drake raised an inquisitive eyebrow but did not inquire further.

Daggit and Radil solidified still locked in an embrace, and in a seated position. They separated and went into a tuck and roll with exceptionally fluid grace. They both came up in fighting crouches. The transporter held their weapons in its buffer. They prepared for unarmed combat while orienting themselves to their new location.

They were in a Federation built transporter room. Two other humans were in the room as well. Both wore identical black tunics and pants. It was obviously meant as a uniform of some kind. Its unfamiliarity automatically bred suspicion in Daggit’s mind and his list of suspects was woefully short.

"Okay, you have us here." Daggit conceded without dropping his stance, "But what interest would Section 31 have in the Orion Syndicate?"

The short, sandy-haired man standing next to the transporter console smiled amiably, "You’re a quick one, but then you’d have to be to be working with Brin Macen."

Daggit’s eyes narrowed, "Who?"

The 31 man chuckled, "You can drop the pretences Lieutenant. I’m here to deliver a message from your illustrious commander."

Radil stared at Daggit with a mixed look of horror and surprise, "You’re Starfleet?"

Daggit nodded slowly, "I was sent to discover if the Syndicate had any connections with the Andergani."

Radil whirled suddenly, her fist catching his jaw. His head snapped around, followed by the rest of him. He kept his reflexes in check and did not reply in kind. The anger smouldering in her eyes was suddenly more painful than the blow she had just delivered.

She turned to face the 31 agent, "What’s your part of this?"

He was unfazed by her angry tone, "I serve Federation interests. For now, it suits those interests to ‘overlook’ the Syndicate’s presence here."

"And when it serves the Federation to notice?"

He shrugged casually, "Who can say?"

"Figures." She muttered darkly.

"You said you had a message." Daggit put in curtly, "What is it?"

"The authentication code is IL 876." The man said without a flickering of its true meaning, "The message is simple. You are to return to Starbase 412 post haste by any means available. It just so happens that we are headed in that direction. Would you like a ride?"

"Do I have a choice?" Daggit inquired cynically.

"I could always return you to the surface. But judging by the lady’s present mood, I wouldn’t recommend it."

"I agree." Daggit admitted reluctantly, "When do we get underway?"

"Five minutes ago." The agent replied with a smirk, "My aide here will show you to your accommodations. For security reasons, they will be locked and you will not leave them until we arrive. At that point you will be transported to the Starbase. Any attempts to leave your quarters will be met with deadly force. Any questions?"

"When do the interrogators arrive?" Daggit asked sourly.

"They are unnecessary. We already know everything there is to know about you and your mission."

Dracas, Edgars, and Witt moved quietly along as T’Lis led them through a path in the jungle. At least, that’s what T’Lis claimed it was. The three Starfleet officers could see no markers or signs of a path but T’Lis plunged boldly onward through the dark vegetation. Because the world orbited a binary combination of a yellow giant and a brown dwarf, even though the yellow primary had set, a gloomy light was still present.

"When does true darkness fall?" Dracas asked T’Lis thirty minutes into their march.

"In three hours." T’Lis replied with unwavering calm despite the exertion of the hike, "It will remain so for approximately seven more hours. The planet maintains a 27.3 standard hour day. Four hours of partial light followed by seven hours under no direct radiance."

She stopped suddenly, "Stay here. I will inform the others of your imminent arrival. You are safe from orbital detection due to the abundant life signs surrounding you."

Dracas conceded to himself that this was true enough as she vanished into the fronds surrounding them. He spared a glance at his two companions. Witt had taken the news of her pregnancy in stunned silence. She had not uttered a word about it since leaving the Healers’ hut.

Not that she’s really had an opportunity to. He acknowledged.

Edgars seemed the most unsteady of the pair. The news had shaken her to the core. She obviously held herself responsible for the fate of her officer and the deaths of her crew. The only thing even allowing her to maintain a semblance of normalcy was her determination to "set a proper example to bolster her subordinate".

Dracas found this bitterly ironic sine Witt was accepting the news much more stoically. Her eyes held the same resignation and determination he’d seen often enough in the recordings of his ancestors. She refused to allow her former captor’s any more power over her by allowing her condition to hinder her resolve. She would survive, and in doing so, thwart the harm they’d tried to inflict.

She’d still require years of extensive counselling and evaluations. Starfleet would spare nothing to assist her in healing herself. The service prided itself on taking care of its own. As long as you can get back into their bosom.

T’Lis reappeared as suddenly as she’d vanished, "All is in readiness. Please follow me."

T’Kir’s eyes snapped open as a strangled cry escaped her lips. She’d sat alone on the floor of her cabin aboard the Delight and had stretched out her telepathy as far as she could, trying to catch a whiff of Dracas’ mental scent. The task would not be easy. She’d only spent a few hours in his presence and even then her abilities had been medicinally reduced to Vulcan norms.

She knew the general miasma of misery surrounding the place would make it even more difficult. She just couldn’t sit and do nothing. Unfortunately, a gang rape occurring nearby had erupted as she’d begun her "scan". She’d found herself sucked into the woman’s horror and pain.

She’d barely found the resources to break the link. Part of her loathed leaving the poor wretch alone with her tormentors. She’d already been reduced to nearly animalistic mannerisms and instincts due to the abuse she’d already suffered. As her mind had shut down, it had nearly taken T’Kir’s with it.

She forced herself to her feet and made it to the san. She splashed cold water on her face and took a look at herself in the mirror. Her face was drawn and haggard. More and more of her resources were being committed to shunting out the intruding thoughts constantly bellowing around her.

With the Maquis, she’d shared others nervousness, despair, hope, and rage. Even at their worst, she’d never encountered minds as twisted and depraved as these. She realised how foolish it had been for her to stop her medicines. This was too much.

She knew Macen would never have sent her on this mission if he’d known she wouldn’t take her herbs. She closed her eyes and stretched out with her mind. She cast her thoughts towards him and pleaded with him with all of her remaining resources. Brin, I’ve found them. Find me!

Macen sat at the edge of his bunk rubbing his forehead. He’d been up for nearly forty-eight hours now. He didn’t want to sleep now, but knew his stamina was waning. He’d faced too many perils and injuries over the last few days to push himself this hard.

His mind drifted absently when he heard a desperate voice call his name, Brin, I’ve found them. Find me! Macen bolted upright. It had been T’Kir’s voice, as plain as though she were in the room.

He cleared his frantic thoughts as best as he could and focused on her mental voice. He followed the threads of the universe, guided by her cry. It led to a planet orbiting a yellow giant and a brown dwarf. His eyes snapped open. He knew where the bastards were.

He activated the computer terminal and began an astrometrics search. Only one known system in Andergani territory matched that profile. He downloaded the data to a padd. Now he just needed Daggit to return and a ship.

He clenched his eyes shut and projected his thoughts as strongly as he could that T’Kir could hear them. Just hold on! I know where you’re at and I’m coming. Just hold on as long as you can until I get there!


Chapter 18

I’m coming! Macen’s voice tickled at the edge of T’Kir’s consciousness. She almost collapsed in desperate fatigue and relief. The mere knowledge that help was on its way bolstered her resolve. She’d tried to fight this world’s thoughts alone and discovered that she was not the proverbial island of strength. She’d met her limitations and for the first time in very long while, had sought aid. To her overwhelming joy, that aid would be provided.

Over the years, T’Kir had hardened herself to a cynical paradigm based upon her experiences in both the temporal and telepathic realms. She’d seen the lies that often softened people’s true motives. "Justice" often became a euphemism for revenge, "love" for lust, it went on and on. She’d distanced herself from others in an effort to shield her mind from theirs and their falsehoods.

It seemed fitting somehow that Macen should once again be at the centre of a paradigm shift without an inertial damper for her. He seemed to have a knack for it. She wondered briefly whether or not his view of life had ever been challenged. Remembering how his people had been scattered to the solar winds by their assimilation by the Borg, she chided herself for the peevish thought.

Macen, alone of all the people she knew, could understand her sentiments. As she’d rejected her people’s martial belief in pacifism and logic, so he’d rejected his people’s belief in observance and inaction. She’d garnered her information through discreet eavesdropping over the years of their acquaintance. He was as much a pariah among his own as she was.

For the first time, she realised that this was the great bond between them. For all of the headaches she subjected him to, he’d never abandoned her for they were kindred spirits. The bond between them had survived war, separations, and even other commitments. She sucked in a startled breath as she realised for the first time that she was in love with him.

She knew that he would never abandon her. Nor would he ever intentionally cause her harm. She’d known it for years, but had never dared acknowledge it for it would have forced her to confront her feelings. She admitted that many of her past antics had been contrived merely to keep his focus upon her. It shamed her to admit this, knowing full well that he would never have forsaken her.

Her libidinous behaviour towards him had been both a mask and a forlorn hope. She’d used it to disguise her own desires from herself even as she tried to push him to reveal his own feelings on the matter. He’d behaved honourably throughout even though she knew she’d trodden dangerously close to the line on several occasions. Her shame strengthened her resolve to see this mission through.

It was a chance for redemption and also a chance to amend the past. With the loss of the Odyssey and of Lisea Danan, a new chapter was beginning in the lives of both Macen and T’Kir. Many of the ties to their old life were gone. She hoped beyond hope that their new life would bring them closer.

She knew that her chances of ever winning his affections were slim. How could she, after playing her role too well? She pledged to herself that she would stand by him as he’d stood by her, asking nothing but respect and comradeship. For the first time in her life, she wished she believed in a deity to beseech on her behalf.

She met her reflected gaze with far more confidence than she’d felt in some time. She would overcome her own limitations and not allow the psychic pressures to overwhelm her. People’s lives were in the balance. For the first time in a long while, she recognised a common good that embraced more than her adopted kin in the Maquis.

Unlike Macen, T’Kir had never been one for absolutes. Her philosophical experience being one of pragmatic relativism. Now, she understood the fact that certain principles had to be upheld no matter the personal cost. She understood and embraced it wholeheartedly.

I will make my stand here and stop these killers, she vowed, not for revenge sake, but because it is right!

Drake led Macen to an observation port outside her temporary office, "There’s your ship for the duration of this operation."

Floating in space, a Defiant-class escort gleamed. The first dedicated warship ever built by Starfleet, it was a marvel of engineering. Essentially a saucer section of a conventional starship equipped with a warp drive and some of the most formidable weaponry ever mounted on a starship. The first of her series had become a legend during the Dominion War.

"She’s the USS Ironclad." Drake explained, "Officially, she’s still under the command of Captain Xerix Togra. In actuality, the entire crew is enjoying a well-deserved shore leave on Risa. The complement is now comprised of Intel operatives."

Noticing his wry expression, she smiled, "I can assure you that every crewmember is a seasoned starship veteran. Every man and woman aboard is an Operations agent that jumped at the chance to apprehend these pirates."

"And if they can’t be apprehended?" Macen asked with an uncharacteristic edge to his voice.

She fixed him with a cold, hard stare, "There is no room for vendettas in Starfleet, Captain. We aren’t the Maquis. These criminals will be brought in to stand trial for their crimes."

"And if they choose to die rather than surrender?" he asked acidly.

"It is your duty to make certain that does not happen." She replied angrily, "I want them brought in alive. No exceptions and no excuses. Is that understood?"

His eyes met hers, and she could see the barely restrained anger there, "Understood, ma’am."

"Good." She replied, fearing that her words had been wasted.

Daggit and Radil blinked as their eyes adjusted to the change in ambient light as they materialised in a cargo bay. Macen stood waiting for them. Daggit frowned as he saw Macen break into a grin. He’d seen this look before.

"Couldn’t resist picking up a souvenir, eh?" Macen asked teasingly.

Daggit tried to fix him with his sternest glare while praying his cheeks weren’t colouring. Daggit had explained his mission to Radil during the voyage here. After her earlier wrath, he had been surprised at how easily she’d accepted his explanation. She’d merely shrugged and stated she was more concerned with avoiding prosecution than harbouring bruised feelings.

"Ms. Radil has been of immeasurable assistance to me during the course of my investigation." Daggit began but was cut off by a wave of Macen’s hand.

"I don’t need to know." He replied and fixed his gaze squarely on Radil, "Want a job?"

Her head jerked back in surprise, "What?"

"I asked if you want a job." Macen answered, "You’ve obviously impressed Rab. That isn’t easy. I’m always looking for good hands and we’ve openings on our team. Interested?"

"But you’re Starfleet, and I’m..." her voice drifted off, drowned by painful memories.

"I work with Starfleet but I’m not exactly Starfleet." Macen replied, ignoring Daggit’s startled expression, "I don’t think you’ll get a better offer from Starfleet itself, so what do you say?"

"I’m in, I guess." She answered hesitantly.

"Good." Macen smiled, "Now I’ll show you to the ship we’ve ‘borrowed’ and we can finally get underway."

As they proceeded down the corridors towards the transporter room, Daggit leaned in close to Macen, "Captain, I don’t mean to pry but you said we work with Starfleet but we’re not part of it?"

"I’ll fill you in later." Macen said evasively, "You’ll have some decisions to make but they can wait until we’ve finished this mission."

Daggit nodded in silence and continues on. He’d known, as all the team had, of Macen’s unhappiness with Starfleet. Their leader had demonstrated far too much disregard for protocol and procedure to be happy in the modern Starfleet. He’d wondered how much longer Macen would tolerate working under Fleet auspices and it now appeared he had his answer.

Dracas, Edgars, and Witt stared at the assembled crowd with undisguised surprise. They’d never imagined the rebel group could possibly be so large. Numbering nearly four dozen people, it was small compared to Spencer’s crew alone. It was still sufficient to undertake the kind of guerrilla operations Dracas had in mind.

"Who’s in charge here?" Dracas whispered to T’Lis.

"If you are asking who has been placed in superlative authority over the others," she replied, "that would be me."

Dracas managed to swallow his shocked retort, "Then I may have a few ideas to discuss with you."

Dracas could have sworn the Vulcan almost smiled as she gestured towards a nearby table situated in the centre of the cave that comprised the rebel base, "Then let us trade strategies."

Daggit noticed that neither Macen nor Grace had resumed wearing their Starfleet uniforms. They still wore their Outbound Ventures attire, even though they were on the command deck of the Ironclad. Daggit had followed suit, as had Radil after replicating a set. Macen took the command chair as Grace slid into the helm and the two Angosians each took a place at a Tactical station.

Owing to its dedicated purpose as an escort and attack ship, the class was the only one in Starfleet with dual Tactical stations active at the same time. Due to its small size, it was also one of the few without an auxiliary bridge. Helm and Ops functions were also combined. The Science post was relatively small compared to other fleet vessels. Science’s role aboard ship was minuscule, mainly providing comprehensive sensor coverage beyond the narrow confines of the targeting and navigational systems. The station did little, however, to provide comprehensive equipment to study any phenomena that might be encountered.

The Ironclad set out from the starbase, setting course for the co-ordinates derived from Macen’s contact with T’Kir. She led a squadron of Akira-class cruisers, a half dozen Sabre-class scouts, and another half dozen Defiant-class escorts. The baker’s dozen was composed of the fastest and most heavily armed vessels available. The pirate’s stolen starships and modified privateers were about to be severely outgunned.

The change in T’Kir startled Kort. Three days ago, she’d been a borderline neurotic. The next morning she’d been filled with the same steely determination she’d displayed while dispatching Lt. D’art. He didn’t know the reason behind the transformation, but he thanked Kahless for it.

They’d spent the last two days convassing the pirate camp. They were now familiar with the operations structure and most of the leading pirates. Kort was beginning to grow weary of seemingly endless observations and had asked T’Kir when she thought they should strike a blow against the pirates. She’d given him an enigmatic smile and merely said the time would present itself.

This almost infuriated the Klingon as much as her earlier dementia had. It also reminded him of Macen. He suddenly wondered how close the two had become over the years. The tension between T’Kir and Lisea Danan had certainly been thick enough to suggest many things. T’Kir’s reaction to Macen’s friendliness towards Wen only added to the picture.

They had explored the width and breadth of the city. Today was the first day they’d neared the headquarters of the supposed city watch. What passed for a police force were thugs grounded from shipboard duties for various reasons. Their patrols were effective since violators of the city’s few ordinances rarely survived their infractions.

As they neared the weathered stone building, T’Kir paused and began to watch several workers milling about near the entrance to the building. Kort wondered why she was so interested in what appeared to be typical workers. One of the slaves noticed the scrutiny but did nothing. After a moment, T’Kir moved on and proceeded to the entrance.

Under the floppy sun hat, Dracas kept a watchful eye out for crewmembers from Spencer’s ship. He had two of T’Lis’ men with him. While Edgars led another group in creating a diversion, Dracas and his two would penetrate the security building and wreak as much havoc with their systems as possible. He’d stopped when he saw two pirates approaching the building.

When he recognised the two, his heart nearly stopped in his chest. Of all the people to find on this forsaken hellhole, T’Kir and Kort were the last ones he’d have expected. Brin Macen had struck him as a fiercely determined commander and his reputation was certainly formidable. Dracas had to admit he didn’t know Macen well enough to predict what he’d do.

He wondered how he could get their attention when T’Kir stopped and began studying him and his men. He prayed she’d move on before her scrutiny attracted the attention of the four guards posted at the building’s entrance. His heart leapt into his throat when she winked at him. How in the name of the seven chasms had she recognised him? What would she do now?

T’Kir almost giggled in anticipation. For the last two days, she’d picked up agitated thoughts from Spencer’s people regarding two escaped Starfleet officers and an unnamed engineer from a civilian vessel. They’d also worried about a rumoured slave uprising. T’Kir suspected that Dracas had somehow fallen in with these rebels and would be unable to resist an opportunity to harass the pirates.

She’d begun hearing fleeting mental voices pondering diversions and an upcoming action against the security watch. That had inspired her little visit to the building this morning. Upon arriving, she’d easily picked out his mental "signature". The hours she’d spent with him isolating the sensor problems allowed her to recognise him no matter what disguise he wore.

It didn’t allow her to communicate directly with his mind. She hoped his confusion was a result of recognising her. Her wink had been intended as a reassurance that she understood his plans and would assist him. She belatedly realised he didn’t know the strength of her telepathic abilities and wouldn’t realise that her next efforts were on his behalf.

She was already in motion and didn’t have time to worry about that right now. If Dracas didn’t make the connection within the next few moments, then the man was an undisputed idiot. That particular possibility would lead to her failure and eventual capture. She had to guarantee he understood and that meant taking risks that would be unacceptable under other conditions.

Four humanoids guarded the entrance to the watch’s headquarters. The two on the right were both human. The two on the right were a human and an Andorian. T’Kir shifted to the right. Kort wouldn’t care that one of his opponents was a female and she didn’t trust a physician’s reflexes against an Andorian in his prime.

The Andorian was leaned against the wall while his human companion took the forward position at the top of the stairs. T’Kir flew up the stairs lightly with a smile on her face. She appreciated the fact Kort was still with her. She was still smiling when her fist smashed into the man’s face, breaking the cartilage if his nose.

Her knee drove into his stomach and she took hold of his shoulders as he doubled over. She twisted as she used his weight and momentum to hurl him down the steps. Kort had expertly disabled his opponent with an upward blow to the head. He followed this up with a quick twist of the man’s neck. He lunged forward at the woman as his previous opponent crumpled to the ground.

As T’Kir had feared, the time spent with her first opponent had given the Andorian time to clear his phaser form its holster. He was already bringing it up for a shot. It was all a matter of training and reflexes. She just hoped hers were better than an alien’s trained for battle since birth.

It was obvious he’d been classically trained at the Andorian Battle College. He’d adopted a wide stance with his knees slightly bent. It anticipated her adopting the classic Vulcan martial arts response to meeting an armed opponent. She was suddenly glad she’d never learned Vulcan martial arts.

She turned her body sideways to minimise the target she offered her foe while she increased her rate of approach. Millimetres now meant the difference between life and death. She swept her left hand out to sweep his gun hand aside. She clasped his wrist as she did so and exerted as much pressure as she could manage as she did so.

Her right hand flashed out with her knuckles extended. The blow was intended for the Andorian’s throat. He twisted, causing her blow to glance the side of his neck. He tried to sweep her waist with his wiry arm as h lunged forward. Unaware that their contact brought his every thought to T’Kir with utter clarity, he was surprised when she turned with his movement and thrust out a leg simultaneously. Her grip on his wrist as well as his arm catching enough of her waist toppled her over.

He landed sideways on the steps while she landed on her stomach with one hand underneath her to cushion part of the impact. He continued to roll while she remained immobile. His movement stopped when she jerked hard on his wrist. His arm snapped tight, stopping his fall, as well as pulling his shoulder out of joint with an audible popping noise.

The Andorian hissed in pain as he felt her release his wrist. He glanced up and saw she’d snatched the phaser from his weakened grasp. She rotated the phaser into firing position and depressed the activation stud. The phaser’s previous owner had always kept it on a high enough setting to kill most humanoid lifeforms. He paid for that decision now.

Kort’s last opponent let out a gasp as he broke her arm. Her phaser clattered to the ground. He never bothered to look at it as he chopped downward on the woman’s neck, knocking her unconscious. He turned to see T’Kir gathering the phaser as stood.

He also saw three men running towards them. His hand flashed for his own disrupter even as her hand rose to forestall his taking action. One of the approaching slaves looked familiar. As the leader of the three shabbily dressed men ripped a floppy straw hat from his head, Kort started with recognition.

"That was incredible!" Dracas breathed in admiration.

"It was foolish." Kort growled, "If any of Spencer’s men had been here, they would have raised an alarm."

"There weren’t any within earshot." T’Kir replied as calmly as she could while gathering her breath, "We had to do it this way to insure that Dracas here continued his mission."

"What mission?" Kort demanded in exasperation.

"How do you know of our mission?" Dracas demanded, matching the Klingon’s bluster.

T’Kir gave him a Cheshire cat smile that chilled him to the bone, "I’m a mind reader. So’s your Vulcan lady friend. You might want to watch those kind of thoughts around her."

Dracas’ cheeks coloured, "I don’t know what you mean."

"Sure you don’t." she chuckled as she tossed him the two phasers she’d acquired, "If your men could help drag the bodies inside?"

Dracas handed off one of the phasers and knelt down to grab the man Kort had killed. The other two with him each took one of T’Kir’s former opponents. Kort drape the woman over his shoulder. T’Kir drew her phaser as she palmed the lockplate to the door.

It opened effortlessly. She stepped in quietly, her senses straining to detect potential threats. Not finding any, she motioned for the others to follow her. Dracas and the slaves placed the corpses in a room adjoining the hallway the entrance emptied into. Kort placed the woman in a closet and shut it.

T’Kir made a V with her fingers, pointing at her eyes. She then motioned for Kort and one of the slaves to proceed upstairs. She pointed at the other slave and made a stopping motion with her hand. He nodded his understanding.

She waved for Dracas to follow her as she proceeded further down the hallway. She went silent as her sensitive ears detected the sound of a clinking glass. She stood silently by the door as a Bajoran woman exited the room through the door. T’Kir’s hand flashed out and deftly pinched the nerve bundle at the woman’s shoulder.

The woman’s head jerked towards the offended nerves and then she went limp. T’Kir caught her and lowered her gently to the floor, dragging her away from the entrance. Dracas spun into the doorway with his phaser at the ready. He shook his head as he glanced towards T’Kir to let her know the room was vacant. She could smell the remains of a burnt plant from the room and the woman. She’d inhaled a depressant narcotic of some kind and its interference with her normal mental processes has shielded her from T’Kir’s telepathy. That knowledge burned itself into T’Kir’s mind.

She motioned towards a stairwell at the end of the hall. They proceeded quietly. As they neared, she could feel the subtle psychic pressure of several minds. She couldn’t tell how many but knew there were at least four, probably closer to six.

She holstered her phaser and held up six fingers before pointing down at the floor. She heard the whine of a phaser above her. She glanced towards the ceiling. Dracas gave her a puzzled look and she shook her head. Her hearing could detect the blast, but not anyone modelled on the standard human genome.

She pulled her phaser from her belt and the holdout Type I palm sized model she’d secreted in the small of her back. She took a deep breath to ready herself for the upcoming conflict. Dracas wore a bemused expression. She scowled at him and nodded for him to proceed down the stairwell first. His amusement disappeared instantly.

He kept his phaser behind his back as he walked down the stairs. As he passed the flooring and he could see the room opening up before him. He noted four humanoids monitoring several consoles. Two other Watch officers sat with their feet propped up. One was a Nausicaan and the other an Angosian. Dracas resisted an urge to sigh at the sight of the fierce mercenary warrior and the ex-commando.

The four monitoring began swearing as their consoles sounded. Dracas knew this was a result of his diversionary teams. He tried to figure out how to capitalise on the Watch’s momentary confusion. T’Kir solved that riddle by launching into action immediately upon clearing the stairs.

She fired two phaser bursts, one for the Nausicaan and the other at the Angosian. Both weapons were on disintegration settings. Dracas snapped up his phaser and shot one of the techs with his back turned towards Dracas. T’Kir spun towards the techs, her Type I cutting a swathe as she did so, forcing two of them to duck. The third panicked and jumped up into the beam as it passed her.

T’Kir brought her other phaser to bear as Dracas flanked the panicked enemy. He shot the first one as he crawled towards him. The other dropped her weapon. Dracas shrugged and then stunned her.

T’Kir smirked as she dropped into a chair occupied only a moment before, "Still warm."

Dracas glared at her, "Couldn’t you have used a lighter setting?"

She arched an eyebrow, "When both Nausicaans and Angosians can shrug of settings that would stun a Terran elephant? Let me think."

Dracas’ face twisted up at her sarcastic chastisement. He heard footsteps descending down the stair well. He readied his phaser. T’Kir stayed at the console and continued typing in commands.

"At ease, Secret Agent Man, they’re on our side." She remarked.

As the two descended, it proved to be Kort and his accomplice, "The upstairs is secured. There were five, all sleeping."

"So’s number six." T’Kir informed him.

"I saw." Kort admitted, "I added to her slumber with a stun blast."

"Good for you." T’Kir muttered as her eyes narrowed. She’d found what she was looking for. In a flurry of movement, she tapped the panel until the screen displayed an entirely different configuration. She rose with a triumphant smirk.

"Time to leave boys." She said and pulled out her two phasers. The others began shuffling up the stairs as she adjusted the setting of her weapons. She didn’t want to vaporise the consoles, just disable their control interfaces. Two sweeping bursts later, she was satisfied and headed up the stairs.

She started up the stairs, then paused. She looked upwards and then her face brightened in a beatific smile. The others were gathered in front of the main entrance to the building. Kort noticed her expression and asked her what had happened.

She ignored him and addressed Dracas, "I suppose you have a rendezvous with your rebel cohorts?"

He nodded warily, "Of course. Why?"

"I have some news they might want to hear." She said with genuine pleasure, "Macen’s here, and he’s not alone."


Chapter 19

Herbert Spencer was not a happy man. Over the course of the last month every piece of his carefully constructed empire had begun to crumble. It had started when he attacked the USS Horta. That had been an unnecessary indulgence. He simply should have set course for the Andergani side of the border and waited until the Federation tired of endless negotiations with the Oligarchy.

His attempts to break the officers seemed to be proceeding as he’d hoped. His medics had reversed Witt’s anti-conception injection. They’d also confirmed that she’d been impregnated. This gave him a psychological weapon to employ against her captain’s stubbornness.

He never savoured that moment thanks to that damned engineer they’d pulled off that survey ship they’d destroyed. The ship had fought too effectively and the engineer had been too clever at manipulating their systems for either of them to be anything but Starfleet. Spencer at least had the satisfaction that the ship and most of her crew were dead. The engineer, on the other hand, was loose amongst his subjects.

He was certain that the escaped Starfleet personnel were behind the fires set at the storage depot and the grain depositories. The idiots were igniting their own food. Spencer and his men had access to their ships’ replicators. The only motive was to harass his men.

He’d sent several crewmen to investigate why the Watch had not replied to the alarms yet. They’d just reported in. They’d found the surviving members of the Watch unconscious and the security network scrambled by some invasive program. None of the defensive, surveillance, or containment systems the Watch normally controlled were operable.

Spencer unloosed several vile epithets directed towards the missing engineer. He’d undoubtedly rallied the pathetic resistance movement the slaves thought they’d managed to keep hidden from Spencer and the Watch. Spencer had neither the time nor the patience to cajole his plunder hungry allies into aiding his men in helping suppress the nascent revolution.

His comm badge chirped and he swatted it testily, "What?"

"Sir!" The Royalty’s standing Tactical officer exclaimed, "Eighteen starships have just dropped out of warp and are on an approach for this planet."

Spencer swore even more vehemently. Starfleet had found them at long last and had decided that risking a potential intergalactic incident was worth capturing him. He wondered whom he’d pissed off to rate so highly? He supposed he’d find out soon enough.

The true number of starships approaching was twenty-five. Seven of these had employed cloaking devices only just recently allowed by an amendment to the treaty of Algeron. The Romulans, acknowledging that the Defiant’s cloaking device had proven decisive during the recent war, consented to allow twelve of the newly built vessels of the same class to carry identical Romulan built devices. The Star Empire would of course be richly compensated with trade concessions and technological transfers.

Macen led these forces. By his orders, Captain Roonik of the Akira-class USS Landru, was the "official" task force commander and would handle all communications with the pirates. Macen’s presence would remain discreet. There had been some resistance at his engagement plans, since they put the Defiant-class ships at higher risk then the rest, but the commanders of those same vessels had loudly protested that they’d accept the risks on their own authority.

Macen’s group had dropped out of warp beyond the pirate’s estimated sensor range and proceeded swiftly onward under impulse. The rest of the force dropped out of warp thirty minutes later, but two light minutes closer. As the relative physics worked out, that only gave Macen’s group a five-minute lead on the rest of the ships. Fortunately, his plan was simple. The cloaked ships would flank the pirates as they moved to engage the starships. At Macen’s signal, they would drop their cloaking shields and engage the pirates even as the rest opened up on them. The only change to the plan would be if Spencer surrendered upon being challenged. Since no one thought this likely, the plan proceeded apace.

T’Kir unsuccessfully tried to hide a smirk upon seeing T’Lis’ ragged band. They’d run themselves ragged trying to elude a Watch reprisal that never came. The distraction had been intended to empty the Watch house so Dracas’ team could penetrate. They’d never reckoned on T’Kir and Kort’s intervention. Try as she like, she couldn’t imagine her former Maquis companions ever looking so wretched.

Then again, Ro and Macen’s teams were the exception to every rule. T’Kir observed wryly. She’d been fortunate enough to serve with both commanders. Both leaders had racked up an inordinate number of victories against the Cardassians. In the end though, neither commander’s luck had been able to stave the Dominion’s slaughter of the Maquis.

T’Kir hoped to prevent a similar tragedy here, "I take it you’re the local leader?" she asked T’Lis.

T’Lis nodded. She studied T’Kir intently, obviously trying to determine who she was and the meaning behind her decidedly un-Vulcanlike behaviour. T’Kir found it annoying. She was sick of people trying to figure out why she didn’t meet their predisposed ideas of whom she should be.

"Then get your people under cover and wait until we come back." T’Kir ordered, "Reinforcements have just arrived. That means the pirates will be too busy dealing with Starfleet to bother you here. You can detain the Watch members before they have a chance to recuperate."

"And yourself?" T’Lis asked in that uniquely Vulcan blend of intrigue and detachment.

"My commander’s up there." She replied with unexpected fervour, "I’m not going to sit this out when I can try and help him."

T’Lis may or may not have been surprised by the passion in T’Kir’s voice. It certainly rallied the other Starfleet personnel. Edgars and Witt practically begged to come with her. Dracas merely assumed he would be joining T’Kir and Kort aboard the Idiot’s Delight as she lifted.

Kort remained silent as T’Kir led them towards the spaceport at a jog. En route, she received summons from Spencer’s XO to join them in facing the enemy. T’Kir readily agreed. He suppressed a grin as he reflected upon the simple fact that she left out who she regarded as the enemy.

Spencer felt bile rising in his throat as he gazed at the tactical display on the main viewer. Not only had Starfleet sent eighteen vessels, they’d sent eighteen of their fastest and most heavily armed ships. Both classes had begun their service life just prior to the outbreak of the war. The Sabre-class had replaced the Blackbird-class scout he’d destroyed days ago. The Akira-class cruisers were general purpose gunslingers.

At least hey don’t have any of those damned Defiant-class escorts. He consoled himself with. Aloud, he ordered to be connected to all of his ships, "Hear me. The opposing force is coming in swiftly. They’re Starfleet and that means you know their weaknesses and how to exploit them. They’ll offer terms of surrender."

"While we pretend to ponder these terms, it will give us time to co-ordinate an assault that will provide the distraction we need to get away. Since they will be unable to stay in the vicinity for any length of time, or risk revealing their own operational double standards, we’ll be able to regroup here in a few weeks. Stay strong, operate as a unit, and we’ll all profit from this."

With that said, Spencer was certain his waffling allies would understand that he’d hunt down any ship and crew that broke ranks. The outnumbered the incoming starships. The Starfleet force may outgun them, but they held a slight numerical advantage. Since they would be far more interested in capturing their opponents, the Starfleet ships wouldn’t respond with the same desperate aggressiveness the pirates would strike with. This would prove their downfall, as it had for the ill-fated Horta and Odyssey.

Captain Roonik rubbed his mandibles with his left grasping limb while his other upper limb tapped out requests on his master plot display. There were advantages to having multi-faceted eyes, he mused. As a Bulgra, Roonik’s closest Terran analogue was a dragonfly. He wore a vocoder around his neck that bore his rank insignia, department colours and communicator as well as translated the carapacial vibrations that served as his species speech into Federation standard.

His command chair was essentially a low slung couch his four legs lowered him upon. His XO had the seat next to his and it was designed for the humanoid majority serving aboard. There was a fair amount of good-natured humour regarding the fact that the Captain alone ever sat in the command chair of the USS Landru.

Roonik appreciated the jokes. As his races’ sole representative in Starfleet, he knew they’d made considerable adaptations to allow him to serve the command he’d earned. He also knew he’d made considerable adaptations by forsaking his homeworld for so long. These humanoids almost looked normal to him now.

"Open an open channel to the pirates." His chest thrummed, to be repeated a second later by the vocoder in a neuter mechanical voice. Roonik himself had decided on an asexual voice. He’d discovered early in his Starfleet career that his appearance startled most unprepared humanoids. His genderless "voice" only added to their visceral discomfort.

Ye gods, but that’s an ugly beast. Spencer commented to himself. He’d heard of the Bulgra. Their admission to Starfleet two dozen years prior had been a moment of much acclaim. They were the first insectoid species to join the Federation. He’d never known that one of them had risen to command, much less joined Starfleet.

"You are ordered to surrender. All vessels will heave to and prepare to be bordered for inspection of your holds and logs." The creature spoke in mechanical tones, undoubtedly a translator of some kind, "This action has been authorised by the Federation Council Special Committee on Extraterritorial Crime, the office of the President, and Starfleet Command’s Special Investigation’s Division."

Whatt’ya know, Spencer thought arrogantly, Starfleet created a whole division just to deal with me. I’m touched.

The Idiot’s Delight was just clearing the planet’s atmosphere as the order was broadcast.

"Think they’ll surrender?" Witte asked aloud from the Sensor station. Next to her at Tactical, Edgars bristled.

"Are you kidding?" T’Kir snorted disdainfully. She knew a man with a mind like Spencer’s would never surrender. He’d sooner lead his followers to a bloody, futile death than face responsibility for the crimes committed to bolster his fragile ego.

"He’s going down." She predicted. She could feel the feral joy emanating from Edgars. As much as she despised psychiatrists after her stint in the Andes Institute, she hoped Starfleet would have the presence of mind to ship the good captain off for some sorely needed "shore leave" before assigning her to a new command.

"We’ve got a Skylark-class courier rising from the planet’s surface." Daggit reported.

Although Macen could sense T’Kir aboard that ship, he had to verify it through conventional means before ordering the task force form firing on the ship when the battle was joined. At least of I want to avoid a lot of unwanted questions.

"Swipe her ID." He ordered.

"She’s registered as... the Idiot’s Delight out of Bolar." Daggit replied with a trace of confusion over the name.

Macen chuckled, "It’s a private joke. T’Kir and I used to bug other Maquis crews that only an idiot flew around in a Skylark. One Bolian commander retorted that he took delight in being able to serve the cause with his ship, so we privately nicknamed his ship the Idiot’s Delight."

"So that’s T’Kir and Kort?" Grace asked.

"Yep." Macen replied before Daggit could confirm it.

"Is that the same ship?" Radil asked, "As the one you nicknamed before?"

Macen’s face filled with sorrow for a moment, "I can’t think of any other reason she’d name it that. There are a lot of other names she could’ve chosen as a code to tip me off."

"Should we hail her?" Daggit asked.

"Use a whisker laser." Macen answered, happy to change the subject, "Tell her to hold position and standby to provide ECM."

"We’re being hit with a whisker laser." Witte reported, "It’s transmitting in pulses. The source is seven hundred metres off the port bow, but sensors don’t show anything."

"It’s a cloaked ship." T’Kir replied, "Its Macen. That pulse contains a message."

Witte was dubious for a moment owing to T’Kir’s faraway expression, but ran the pulse patterns through the computer.

"I’ll be damned." She muttered before saying in a louder voice, "We’re ordered to hold position and provide ECM."

T’Kir broke into an expectant grin, "That means its almost showtime."

"The pirates have not responded to our message, sir." Roonik’s Tactical chief informed him.

"Now we wait for Macen’s signal." Roonik thrummed in reply.

"We’re in position." Grace announced, "Awaiting orders."

"Send to all ships." Macen ordered, "Decloak and unleash hell."

"What are the IDs on those three starships in the middle of the pirate formation?" Roonik inquired.

"Their IFF transponders label them as the Andergani Oligarchic Forces vessels Royalty, Starburner, and Reaper. However, Starfleet records show no record of any asset transfers to the Oligarchy."

"So they are stolen?"

"Their drive emissions match those of three missing Starfleet vessels, the USS Manticore, the USS Horatio Nelson, and the USS Buzz Aldrin."

"So we have found our deserters." Roonik said with satisfaction.

"Sir! The Defiants are decloaking!"

Spencer hands kneaded the armrests of his command chair. He’d just ordered all fore shields brought to double strength. He’d countered Roonik’s demands with a feeble explanation that he’d time to discuss the matter with his unruly allies. Spencer knew Starfleet, there’d be no attack until every diplomatic posture had failed. That gave his ships time to prepare for a break out charge.

"Sir!" his Tactical officer cried out desperately, "Seven starships are decloaking behind us."

Defiant-class, Spencer thought miserably, The bastards ambushed us!

Seven oblong saucers appeared behind the pirate "fleet" and streaked forward towards them. As they did so, their shields came to life and their targeting sensors hungrily sought enemies upon which to expand their wrath. Phasers fired in staccato bursts rather than in solid beams like their cousins approaching the pirates. The phasers were tied directly to the warp core and delivered twice the firepower of the larger vessels.

Sparkling white quantum torpedoes rocketed away from Macen’s squad between phaser bursts. The agile escorts deftly dodged the few photon torpedoes launched by enemy ships with aft launchers. Their torpedoes struck with devastating effect against the weakened shields of the pirates they struck. The hammer blows of the phasers made short work of the ships’ crippled defences.

Roonik’s forces manoeuvred to cut off any escape routed the desperate pirates might seek to exploit. They began surrendering in droves. Within moments of the conflicts beginning, every vessel save the three renegade starships had capitulated. Roonik sought to re-establish communications when he noticed an escort bearing down on the Manticore/Royalty.

"Warn Macen off!" he vibrated so loudly his crew could hear the movement before the vocoder translated the shout, "Break off dammit!"

Daggit manned the phasers and shields while Radil expertly guided the torpedoes. Their torpedoes were being guided ever metre rather than relying on internal guidance or ballistic shots. Her enhanced reflexes made her a natural at the art. Daggit, even from the other side of the bridge, practically radiated pride in her ability.

"Bear down on the Manticore and prepare to concentrate firepower." Macen ordered.

Grace sideslipped the smaller craft that Spencer had positioned to act as screening units. The starship began firing its own phasers to ward off the relentless foe. The two smaller starships each broke off and tried to find a hole in Roonik’s screen. The Ironclad trembled as her shields shrugged off phaser blasts that Grace couldn’t manage to avoid but she remained on course and closed in for the kill.

T’Kir’s fingers flashed across the Ops board faster than Witt or Edgars could follow them. She’d triumphantly announced that she was "in" earlier. Neither knew what that meant but could tell by her feral expression as she focused on her screen that it did not bode well for the pirates. They each silently wished her luck.

"Take that you bastards!" she snarled as she tapped the last command in harshly. She sat back in her seat and stared out the cockpit’s viewers. Witte and Edgars wondered what she hoped to see with her naked eye at these distances and returned to their sensor displays. T’Kir wore a contented smile as she focused on telepathically relaying her victory to Macen.

Spencer heard a sharp gasp behind him and he whirled on his hapless Tactical officer, "What now?"

She looked at him with a stricken expression, "Our defensive systems just deactivated."

Spencer visibly started, "What? Reactivate them!"

"We’ve been locked out." She replied, "Someone’s encrypted the entire system and locked us out."

He turned towards the helm, "Jump to warp speed now!"

"Their shields have collapsed." Daggit reported with a confused tone.

Macen nodded as though this is what he’d expected all along, "Fire everything we have. Take us on a strafing run."

Phaser bursts and torpedoes poured forth from the escort as she passed over the afflicted starship. Grace brought the ship up and over in a hard loop and bore straight down upon them. The weapons pounded the saucer section of the defenceless ship. She veered off at the last instant whipped the ship around for an identical pass towards her drive section. The Ironclad broke off after this third pass.

"Sensors show a warp core breach." Daggit reported, "Estimated destruction in fifteen seconds."

"Make that ten." Radil corrected. Daggit shot her a look over his shoulder.

Macen smirked, "Helm, give us a countdown."

When Grace hit seven, the Manticore exploded in an uncontrolled intermix of matter and anti-matter. Given the three seconds it took for the countdown to begin, Radil’s prediction proved the correct one. Daggit swivelled his chair around and gave her a bow of his head. She accepted with aplomb.

"Find T’Kir’s ship and bring us alongside." Macen told Grace.

"Captain Roonik is hailing us." Daggit informed his commander, "He insists upon speaking with you immediately."

"Tell Captain Roonik to begin boarding and securing the captured vessels." Macen replied, "We’ll also need to detach several ships to investigate the planet but that can wait until after I fond the rest of our team and we can debrief them regarding conditions there."

"Aye, sir." Daggit said with satisfaction and relayed the same to Roonik.


Chapter 20

Grace brought the Ironclad alongside the Delight. She could practically feel Macen’s impatience hitting her back in waves. She couldn’t quite recall ever seeing him this disconcerted. She also had to admit her experience was fairly limited.

"Send to command of Delight, inform them we’re coming aboard." Macen rose out of his chair, "Radil and Grace, you’re with me. Daggit, you have the bridge."

They materialised in the cargo bay that also served as the transporter room. Kort stood before them with a worried expression and his disrupter drawn. He broke into a relieved smile as he recognised his "boarders". He bellowed for Dracas to join them.

"Captain," Dracas breathed in relief, "you can’t imagine how happy I am to see you."

"Is everyone all right?" Macen asked.

Kort shook his head, "We have two former prisoners with us. They have been badly mistreated. Do we have access to proper medical facilities?"

Macen nodded, "You can beam them aboard the Ironclad and treat them there." He gave Dracas a concerned look, "How bad was it?"

He could see the conflicting emotions on Dracas’ face. He wanted to answer the question, but couldn’t quite revisit the events. Macen waved the question away. He put his hand on the other man’s shoulder.

"You’re going with them." His stern glance killed Dracas’ protests as they rose in his throat, "We can handle it. Your parts done. You’ve earned the rest."

Macen began to lead Radil and Grace out when Kort spoke again, "Captain, about T’Kir..."

The flare in Macen’s eyes momentarily unnerved Kort and he had to recompose his thoughts, "She’s not quite herself. She’s been off her medication. I didn’t know what to do."

Macen nodded, "Understood. You probably did the best you could."

Kort swallowed as Macen disappeared. Despite the kind words, he’d heard the disappointment in Macen’s voice. Kort wondered if his commander knew how protective he was of his Ops specialist. More to the point, he mused, would he ever admit it?

They entered the cockpit of the courier to find two unknown women desperately grasping for phasers. Radil’s hand snapped upward in an instant. The two women froze as they realised that the Bajoran could kill them without trying. Macen lowered her arm.

"We’re on your side." He informed them, "If you’ll go to the transporter, you’ll be beamed over to the starship alongside this ship."

They both nodded mutely. They seemed unable, or unwilling, to indulge any hopes of their traumatic experience being over. Over at the helm, T’Kir slumped forward cradling her head in her hands. Having opened her mind in order to project her success to Macen, she was now unable to turn the raging cacophony of mental "noise" off.

"Grace, help me get her out of that chair." Macen said grimly.

Grace gingerly helped Macen get T’Kir to her feet. The Vulcan’s face was haggard and her eyes stared at images only she could see. Her lips twitched in replies to conversations she alone could hear. Grace’s heart wrenched to see her friends afflicted like this. Macen saw her grief and gave her a reassuring smile.

"She’ll be fine, Hannah." He said encouragingly, "I just need a few moments alone with her and she’ll be fine."

Grace nodded, but he could see she didn’t believe him yet, "The best thing you can do is man the helm and think reassuring thoughts." He turned to Radil, "Can you man the weapons systems?"

"Better than anything else on this ship." She muttered.

He smirked as he led T’Kir shuffling form away, "Just give whomever a chance to surrender before you blast them."

Radil waited until Macen was out of earshot before asking under her breath, "Like you did?"

T’Kir shuffled along unresistant to Macen’s gentle guidance. He steered her into what he intuitively knew had been her cabin. He sat her on the bed and took a seat next to hers. He wondered if he’d been added to the computer’s datafiles and had his question answered when it complied with his request for the cabin’s privacy lock to be engaged.

He took a deep breath and studied her for a moment. He didn’t need his other senses to tell him that probabilities were twisting around her. He wished that he could see a way to choose the probability that would end in the results he desired, but knew that it would mostly be a matter of faith and luck. He’d never previously tried to do what he was about to attempt and knew that the tides of fortune could very well be against him in this.

He took a deep breath, clasped her hands and broadcast his thoughts as loudly as he could in order to garner her attention. He could distantly hear the torrent of minds that wailed for her attention. He knew had two advantages here over the rest. Vulcans are primarily touch-telepaths so their contact would strengthen their communication, and he was used to dealing with intangible realms.

She heard his mind like a beacon amidst a stormy sea, <Focus on my mind. Block the others out.>

He distantly felt her fingers tracing up his arms, seeking the nerve centres in his face, (I’m trying. There’s just so many of them.)

<You can do it. Ignore the rest, focus on me alone.>

Her fingers found the pressure points in his face and he suddenly found himself yanked out of his own awareness into a swirling quagmire where their two individual minds coalesced into one. They found themselves undergoing ponn farr for the first time. The unrelenting fires that burned and the indescribably release of passions long suppressed. They saw his/her partner killed by Cardassians and experienced an equally passionate release of another kind as they killed them in their grief and rage.

They walked on another planet for the first time. Stretching out with senses long denied. Watching the twisting strands of probability as they wound about planets and individuals. They watched as they wound about their fellow sociologist, Arinae Ascern.

They heard the intruding mental voices increase in volume as they had during childhood. They made the decision to abandon logic and pursue the fulfilment of the dark rage that consumed them. The Maquis came, and they found a new home, and a means to seek that purpose the rage drove them to. But, the voices cried out ever louder and ever more urgently.

They saw the vast cubeships approaching their homeworld. The saw the flashing chords of probability severed as the Borg snapped them and recreated reality in their image. They saw again the narrow course the survivors carved through the Borg fleet and they followed it. They survived, as did those that followed.

They found it harder and harder to resist the dark impulses that leapt form others’ minds. The thoughts were spawned by rages that matched their own. They knew the distrust the others felt when faced with their logical mask and the fear felt when the face beneath was revealed. They relived the pain and sorrow of being judged and condemned by her own people for abandoning their teachings.

They feel the rage of loss and the desire to defend their lives and freedom no matter the cost. The sundering from the rapture of the Nexus is devastating but they survive yet again. They felt the knife’s twist as they’re branded madman and warmonger. They are cast out from the scattered band of castaways.

They follow Ro Laren on a series of missions. Each one more dangerous than the last. The danger brings the voices to them louder and more strongly, but Ro is a pillar of strength. Her strength gives them the strength to endure the voices and wear the mask.

They accept a commission with Starfleet. It is a new life, but pains from the old one persist. The loss of exploring the depths of space with Arinae is still strongly felt. Eventually, another catches the eye, another lost old soul. Lisea Danan enters their life and fills part of the void of loneliness but there is still so much missing. She cannot accept the scars of the past and the determination they breed. She cannot except their loathing of the Prime Directive.

They relive the fateful meeting with...themselves? Here, fate twists and binds. Bonds are forged and loyalties made. There is more, ever so much more, but those truths are guarded behind sturdy walls and barriers. But now the barriers are cracking and the light of truth can be seen shimmering forth.

Suddenly it is ended. Both Macen and T’Kir blink, recovering themselves. They have just seen more of themselves and each other than they have ever shared before in five years. It is a moment of awkward silence. They each stare at the other, eyes searching for things unseen and unsaid.

"Are you all right?" Macen asks, his voice hoarse.

T’Kir nods slowly, "I think so. My mental shields have been reinforced enough I can block everyone out." For the first time in his memory her smile turns shy, "There’s still a vestigial link with you, but its merely anchoring me."

He nods himself also feeling out of place, "Glad I could help."

"What was that I saw?" she blurts, then her cheeks turn green as she blushes, "The currents, I mean? It was like a river flowing throughout the universe."

Macen’s eyes went wide, "You saw it?" He shook his head, "Of course you saw it. You were using my senses. That’s why I could hear all of those thoughts in the background."

"What was it?" she asks impatiently.

"There’s no name for it that would make sense." He sighs, "They are the flow of probability. The best way of saying it is that they are the currents of life, luck, and misfortune."

She shook her head, "Does something or someone direct it?"

He shrugged, "Not that anyone has boasted of in millennia. Ancestors of mine claimed to have, but they were killed. The pursuit of directing the flows has been outlawed ever since."

"Sorta like expressing emotions on Vulcan." She commented.

"Which is why you don’t often talk about your people. They’ve scorned you the way mine have me." She said bluntly.

Macen was growing increasingly uncomfortable, "They’d probably see it the other way around."

"Is that the way you see it?"

He knew he’d never pull of the lie, not now, "No. I think the knowledge should be explored and understood."

She stared at him for a moment longer then sighed, "I should probably rest now."

He nodded, "Probably."

"When are we pulling out?"

"While you sleep." He answered, grateful for the impersonal topic, "We need to get the Ironclad back in time for her real crew to get back aboard."

"I’m not giving up my ship." She said defiantly.

"No one’s asking you to." He assured her, "We’ll be flying it back."

"Good." She said and slid under the covers.

He leaned over her and made sure she was all right, "Call me if you need anything."

She cast him a furtive glance, "You’ve already done more than I could ask."

He gave her a grin and left. After he was gone, she reflected on what else she’d seen in his mind. Behind the barrier had radiated a love unlike any she’d experienced since the death of her parents. It was accepting, and it was meant for her. The thought both thrilled and terrified her.

Macen returned to the cockpit and sat down at the Sensor station. His head whirled. Too many of his secret hopes and dreams had been touched upon and hinted at today. Most of these were matters that he rarely admitted his own concern over.

He shook his head smiled ruefully at himself. He’d seen the patters he’d never dared look at before. He and T’Kir were bound together. He just wondered what kind of connection it was meant to be.

Don’t go there, he warned himself, every time you do, it means trouble.

The Ironclad and the Delight detached themselves from the Starfleet task force less than an hour later. Captain Roonik was fuming and demanding an investigation into Macen’s decision to destroy the Manticore. After being rebuffed by Macen, he promised to pursue the matter with Starfleet Command. Macen sent no reply and ordered the two vessels under his care to proceed directly to Starbase 412.

Hours into the trip, a bleary eyed T’Kir arrived in the cockpit, "What did I miss?"

Macen grinned, "Not a whole lot. We’re headed back to Starbase 412. All the pirates are under arrest. The captives are being treated and transported to guest quarters aboard the task force ships. T’Lis sends thanks from all of them to you."

T’Kir shook her head, "Dracas and the other two did more than I did."

"I doubt that." Macen discounted her deferment, "How’s the head?"

She gave him weary smile, but one filled with warmth, "Better. For the first time in awhile, I seem to be in control of what filters through."

Macen was heartened by her report but still had concerns, "Why don’t you get some more rest? It’ll be a couple of hours before Grace and Radil need to be relieved."

T’Kir hesitated, "I don’t know..."

Macen sighed, "T’Kir, in a few hours you’ll be manning the helm. You need to be as rested as you can."

She reluctantly nodded agreement, "Call me when I’m needed."

"It’ll be a pleasure." He remarked.

T’Kir was surprised to learn her co-pilot for her spell at the controls was Macen himself. He was quietly working at the Sensor station. She could occasionally feel him watching her. The attention embarrassed her and warmed her all at once.

She wished she knew his true feelings rather than the brief glimpse she’d basked in. She felt too awkward to simply ask. He certainly wasn’t giving any obvious hints. She resigned herself to simply wrestling with her own fears and desires and letting things proceed on their own.

Tow days later, she was grateful she’d opted for such a philosophical course. Macen hadn’t given the slightest sign of his feelings over that period. He was kind and concerned. Those were things he’d been in the past.

As they mated with a docking collar, T’Kir was about ready to turn and demand answers from him. She also knew that would be a mistake. Macen had busied himself throughout their return trip with reports and preparations of some kind. Something was afoot and he was keeping it to himself.

Her first hint of what it could be came when several Starfleet Security officers met the team as they disembarked from the Delight. They promptly arrested Macen and told the others they were confined to the base for questioning. Radil and T’Kir had been on the verge of killing every member of the arresting party when Macen had reassured them everything was fine. He’d then dropped a ubiquitous statement concerning T’Kir’s quarters.

She swiftly found the padd he’d left for her. After reading what it said, she knew why he’d remained silent up until this point. She would have killed him had he told her any earlier. As it was, she was plotting ways of exacting revenge when this was over.


Chapter 21

The Judge Advocate’s investigation lasted a week. When it concluded, Macen was turned over to Admirals Nechayev and Drake for administrative punishment. Macen briefly wondered what strings Nechayev had pulled to keep him from a general court martial but decided he’d rather not know. As it was, he had enough worries wondering what would happen to the rest of his team after it was disbanded.

"Have a seat, Commander." Nechayev ordered with a grating edge as Macen entered the office set aside for her at the Starbase.

His demotion had been the first, immediate consequence of his actions. It didn’t bother him all that much. He’d stayed at his current rank for over two decades and his promotion had been too recent for it him to have adjusted to it yet. As an opening gambit to display displeasure and set him at unease, it was a wasted effort.

Macen was uneasy enough. He’d still not been given any information regarding the fare of his team and he was beginning to smoulder. Drake appeared almost as irritated as Macen, a quiet rage underlying her every gesture. Nechayev appeared as cool and in control as ever, the master manipulator rotating pieces on play.

"As you know, the SID is founded on the idea of allowing their commanders unilateral action in the field." Her voice was stern as she launched into her topic without preamble, "But that doesn’t mean they should violate the normal SOP in front of dozens of witnesses."

"So it’s not Spencer’s death that bothers you, it’s that we got seen accomplishing it." Macen observed dryly, "We both know public trial would have done nothing but embarrass the service and do nothing to redress what he’d done."

"The man was a stain upon Starfleet’s honour." Nechayev replied, "And a trial would have been avoided to prevent unneeded sensationalism among the press."

Her eyes flashed, "But it would have been interesting to know how he eluded the normal checks and balances for so long and if he had any accomplices within the ranks."

"Ask your friends in Section 31." Macen retorted, "I’m sure they know."

Nechayev sighed even as every muscle in Drake’s body clenched, "Brin, Section 31 is far more concerned with external threats than internal ones. But since we’re on the topic, you are aware of the fact this Division is in fact Starfleet’s response to the secrecy of Section 31?"

Macen spoke slowly as Drake shifted uneasily in her seat, "We were told we’re meant to replace Section 31."

Macen watched lines form around Drake’s face from her muscles straining as Nechayev answered, "Supplement, yes. Replace, no."

"What the hell?" the exasperated question escaped Macen’s lips before he had time to think about it.

A ghost of a smile tugged at the corners of Nechayev’s lips, "Section 31 was created by the Starfleet Charter. It won’t simply fade because of recent notoriety. Revelations during the war indicated to Command that certain elements of Section 31 were operating outside their intended parameters. This is why the Special Investigations Division was created. Section 31 is being restricted to their original mission and you and your fellow agents will be Starfleet’s special response to unusual situations."

"We’re Section 31 with a pretty face for the press releases." Macen observed tartly.

Nechayev shrugged, "That’s not how I would have phrased it, but the gist is the same."

It was Macen’s turn to sigh in resignation, "So what happens now?"

"Now," Nechayev replied sharply, "I’ll be accepting your request for retirement."

Macen looked stunned, "What?"

"You don’t honestly expect to escape this one unscathed, do you Brin?"

"No." he admitted.

Nechayev allowed herself a thin smile; "It’s not as bad as you seem to think. I still want you as an agent for SI and the SID in particular."

"Then why...?"

"The resignation?" she completed for him, "It’s simple really, to grant you the freedom of action you’ll take upon yourself anyway. You’ve remained a constant as Starfleet has changed around you. By removing Starfleet’s regulations from your considerations, you remove your responsibility to adhere to them, which you won’t anyway. It’s not as though this can come as a surprise after the remarks you made to Admiral Drake here."

"In the end, this becomes the most equitable solution for all involved." She said with obvious satisfaction.

"And how, exactly, will this work?" he inquired somewhat sceptically.

Drake took over the explanations; "You’ll retire at your current rank with full benefits and pensions. Starfleet Intelligence will establish a small freetrader company in your name. We’ll provide you a ship and letters of marquis granting you license as a privateer, private security agent, and surveyor. Any members of your team that wish to accompany you are free to do so. For active Starfleet officers, that will involve a transfer to the inactive reserves but their commissions will be kept active in the promotion rosters. For your non-Starfleet associates, they will be corporate employees."

"Will I be free to refuse assignments?"

"Of course." Nechayev interjected, "But since we’ll be providing a stipend and your ship, you probably won’t want to do that very often."

"I see." He replied softly, analysing the implicit threat; "A counterproposal then, the ship is mine."

"Of course." Nechayev replied blithely.

"No, Admiral." Macen corrected, "The ship is mine in fact as well as name. I won’t have the freedom of mobility and the options of choice you’re promising unless I have the ship."

He paused an offered a wry smile, "Consider it an investment in case I opt to retire into mere surveying and scouting again."

Nechayev glanced towards Drake who gave her the barest nod in return, "Very well. Admiral Drake will see to the paperwork."

"So, when do I see this ship?"

Nechayev’s brow rose at his cynical tone, "The ship is awaiting you in the Intelligence berth of the Utopia Planetia Yards."

"Had this planned for a while, did you?"

"The ship is a scoutship outwardly identical to that captained by your friend stranded in the Delta Quadrant with the starship Voyager."

"Chakotay." Macen murmured in remembrance of the Maquis captain and his crew.

"We acquired and adapted the vessel in preparation for an operation against the Maquis." Nechayev explained without inflection, mindful of Macen’s sympathies, "The Dominion struck before the operation went into effect."

"Since that time," Drake resumed the explanative duties again; "the ship has awaited a mission and a crew."

"Sounds like you’ve found both." Macen conceded after a moment’s deliberation, "Do you have her specs?"

Drake leaned forward to hand him a padd, "I don’t think you’ll have any complaints."

Macen’s eyes widened as he began perusing the data, "I don’t think I will."

After Macen departed, Drake gave Nechayev a weary look, "Did you really think Macen wouldn’t figure it out Alynna?"

Nechayev sighed, "No, I knew he would. Just as he knew I’d figure out the meaning behind his cryptic comments to you. Dammit! He needs to learn when not to stick his nose into something."

"I think all the help Section 31 provided on this one was a major clue." Drake replied sarcastically.

"That wasn’t my call." Nechayev grumped, "I asked them to keep an eye out in case the team needed help. I never knew they’d take action on their own."

"When haven’t they? They’re out of control."

"They’re the most trusted operatives in Starfleet." Nechayev protested, "They’re the guardians we’ve selected to act when we can’t?"

"Have you ever heard the expression, ‘who watches the watchmen’?" Drake asked softly, "I think it’s a point you might want to ponder right about now."

With that said, Drake slid out of her chair and left the room. Nechayev didn’t move for another fifteen minutes. When she did finally move, it was to swear violently. She then rose and departed with an expression carved in stone.

During this time, T’Kir also found a moment to place a discreet call to Lisea Danan. The Trill’s features lit up in a self-satisfied smile when she recognised T’Kir.

"So, you finally figured it out?" Lisea’s tone was pleasant and teasing.

T’Kir’s apprehension drowned in confusion at the other woman’s reply, "Figured what out?"

"You’re feelings for Brin and his subsequent feelings for you." Lisea replied matter-of-factly.

T’Kir blinked in shock despite herself, "You’ve known?"

Lisea laughed lightly, "For years. I was probably the first one to figure it all out."

"How?" T’Kir blurted. "When? I mean... I’m so confused." She admitted ruefully.

"It wasn’t hard." Lisea informed her, "Why d’you think he put up with your antics so long? Part of it was the challenge, sure, but there was also the fact he enjoyed the mental contest between you two."

"But what about you?" T’Kir asked, head whirling.

"We found each other at a time when both of us needed someone. We helped each other through some difficult days." T’Kir knew that description was an understatement, "Part of it was general loneliness and another part was dealing with shadows of the past. For me, that meant dealing with a new symbiot whose previous host had fantasised for years about a fling with Brin Macen."

T’Kir almost giggled, "Really?"

Lisea grinned wryly, "Between my own fascination with the man and those impulses, I didn’t stand a chance."

"So, why’d you..?" T’Kir’s question died unasked.

"Why’d I leave?" Lisea finished, "There were a lot of reasons. We’d drifted apart over the time spent apart during the war. Although I’d disagreed with Starfleet over the DMZ policies and their treatment of the Maquis, it was mostly the passions of youth."

"You’re not that old." T’Kir observed dryly.

"No." Lisea admitted with a laugh, "But I’m a scientist. I never wanted to be a soldier. Neither did Brin, but he’s willing to fight battles I’d rather avoid."

"The short and skinny of it is that we were no longer good for each other." Lisea admitted with a sigh, "Every discussion became a battle. Rather than meeting each day together, we faced it separately and then argued over whose way of dealing with it was correct."

"But, where...?" T’Kir faltered.

"Where does that leave you?" Lisea seemed to be reading her mind, "It leaves you in love with Brin, and he with you."

"But how do you know that?" T’Kir asked plaintively.

Lisea laughed again, "He’d sooner die then admit, even to himself. He’s stubborn that way."

"Then how d’you know its true?"

"Because I know him." Lisea’s answer rang with utter conviction, "You keep him from forming rigid patterns. He’s used to being the unpredictable one, but you keep him sharp. You think in ways he couldn’t conceive of. Most of all, you have the ability to cross some bridge that he won’t talk about, but I know I couldn’t."

The currents! T’Kir realised with a start, That and the mental bonds like he had with Arinae. Lisea couldn’t provide those, but I can.

Lisea’s eyes narrowed as she studied T’Kir’s reaction, "I see you know what I’m talking about."

T’Kir opened her mouth, whether to explain or protest she never knew for Lisea cut her off, "Whatever it is, I’m glad to see that someone can finally meet those needs."

She sighed before continuing, "Now, you’re going to have to be patient, which isn’t your strong suite. He’ll admit this all to himself eventually, but it could take awhile. All you can do is encourage him to realise it a little sooner. That and accept the fact that subtlety won’t work here."

"When d’you think I should confront him?"

"Give it awhile yet." Lisea urged, "Whatever it is you’ve discovered, he’s probably just discovered it too. Let him dwell on it for awhile. It’ll start to haunt him soon enough and then he’ll be ripe for the picking."

A coy smile tugged at T’Kir’s lips, "You’re a sly one."

"And don’t ever forget it." Lisea warned, "Good luck to you, both of you."

T’Kir reached a hand towards the screen, "That means a lot."

Epilogue Unsurprisingly, or perhaps more surprisingly, the entire team opted to stay together. They were all crammed together in a runabout on its way to Utopia Planitia. The shuttle was returning to the massive shipyard complex orbiting Mars for an upgrade package. The SID team had been allowed to pilot it in lieu of waiting for the daily shuttle.

Grace handled the helm while T’Kir sat beside her at Ops. Macen manned the Science console and Dracas occasionally tapped a control on the Engineering console he sat in front of. Daggit, Kort and Radil lounged in the tiny crew compartment at the rear of the craft. An occasional crash and din reminded the cabin crew of their compatriots in the back.

"Does anyone want to check on them?" Grace asked after the fourth raucous outburst.

Macen swivelled away from the screen he was reading and gave her a dry look, "Do you really want to know what they’re up to?"

"Well, ah, I…" Grace hemmed.

"I really don’t want to know." T’Kir said, shooting her friend a warning glare; "I don’t think my universal paradigm can afford to be warp shifted without a deflector array right now."

Grace returned her attention to her helm controls but occasionally muttered under her breath. T’Kir and Macen exchanged knowing smirks before she flicked her eyes towards Dracas. The engineer had not spoken once since boarding the craft. Macen shrugged and received a strident clearing of her throat in reply.

Macen swivelled his seat to face Dracas but the engineer broke his long silence without ever turning from his instruments, "I appreciate the concern but I really don’t want to talk about it. If and or when I do, I’ll let you know."

Macen faced T’Kir and shrugged, Grace intervened by announcing; "We’re here."

Utopia Planetia’s traffic control system hailed to challenge them as to their purpose and destination. Once the controller accepted their identity, docking proceeded swiftly. Less than thirty minutes later, they disembarked from the runabout and were being led to a shuttlepod that would transfer them to the Special Projects yards. No one commented on their civilian attire, yielding a great deal of information of how often they saw covert operatives pass through.

A fresh-faced ensign met them at the pod’s docking collar, "Are you the Outbound Venture’s crew?"

Macen managed not to smirk at the ensign’s relief as Macen nodded assent, "Thank goodness. I’ve been running behind schedule and was afraid I’d missed you. The Commodore would bust me back to ferrying parts to Io and back if you’d filed a complaint."

"Made that many enemies already?" Macen inquired with amusement.

The ensign grinned, "Only one but when he’s also your CO, it doesn’t help matters any."

"What did you do?" Grace asked with undisguised glee, "Pull a barrel roll inside drydock or what?"

The ensign’s cheeks coloured slightly as he cleared his throat, "Nothing like that, miss. I just happened to… well, they found me… and…"

"I take it you were found in a… potentially compromising position." Macen offered.

"Yessir." The ensign affirmed gratefully.

"And you weren’t alone?"

"Nossir." The ensign breathed guiltily.

"And this someone is rather close to the Commodore?" Macen asked as lights dawned in Grace’s eyes.

"Daughter, sir." The ensign said with as much dignity as he could muster.

"Well, carry on and be more discreet in the future." Macen offered, "We won’t file a complaint if you get us there in one piece. I can’t make that promise if we arrive piecemeal, so I’d be sure to get us there intact.

The ensign blinked and then a dopey grin spread across his face as he comprehended the remark, "If you’d like to get underway?"

The ensign’s piloting skills were obviously far superior to his proficiency at clandestine romantic liaisons. The Special Projects Yard was located within the Service Vessel Decommissioning Centre. Starfleet maintained three centres tasked with stripping classified materials and weaponry from retiring starships, surveyors, runabouts, and shuttles. The ships would then be transferred to private interests, such as colonies and research organisations, or transferred to one of two "graveyard" sectors for storage until being purchased or scrapped.

The Decommissioning Centre also accepted the occasional contract to upgrade civilian vessels or refit them for Federation contracts. Working under the pretence of upgrading vessels, the appropriately named SPY projects effectively hid in plain sight. The pod transited the bulk of the Centre at a leisurely pace. Shortly after entering the SPYards, the ensign pointed out their intended vessel.

Demonstrating a fine sense of the dramatic, he brought the pod towards the Yards docking collar in an arc that rounded about their new ship. Outwardly, she was a Peregrine-class scout dating from the earlier part of the century. The Maquis had relied heavily upon these ships and their smaller courier class cousins. Starfleet still used the fighter variants. The couriers still frequented colonial regions, seeing as they remained the most inexpensive means to swiftly deliver goods and data.

Although the scoutship models had been popular amongst private surveying firms and prospectors, Starfleet never adopted them. This accounted for their shorter production life since supply soon outstripped demand. Private firms also found them difficult to maintain over long periods owing to advances in other designs that allowed them to reduce on-board personnel requirements. In the end, the Maquis and other colonist groups acquired most of the remaining hulls and converted them to privateers.

The raptor-like design retained both the sleek and menacing features of its biological inspirers. Forward swept wings encapsulated the warp nacelles recessed within the hull. Each wing mounted a phaser cannon in addition to the strip arrays housed within the hull. Torpedo launchers protruded just forward of the leading edge of the warp nacelles and aft microtorpedo launchers were housed to either side of the impulse exhaust.

The arrowhead shaped forward section, housing the bridge, was held in the docking clamps securing it to the port facility. A gantry extended forth to establish an access umbilical between the station and the ship. Everyone crowded together towards the front of the pod, eliciting a laugh from the pilot. Chagrined, the team gave him room so he could align the pod for docking.

The ensign gave them a cheery farewell as they disembarked and headed for their ship’s docking port. Another officer awaited them. She wore Lieutenant’s insignia and Engineering departmental colours. As a Benzite, she also wore a methane emitter to enable her to comfortably withstand an oxygenated atmosphere. Unfortunately, as T’Kir whispered in Grace’s ear, her gold uniform blouse did nothing for her azure complexion.

"Captain Mackin?" she asked.

T’Kir stifled a giggle as Macen’s eyebrow rose in annoyance, "That’s Macen, like stonemason."

The Benzite nodded in acknowledgement but still seemed utterly stumped as to what he was referring to, "Sorry, sir. I have here the papers transferring ownership of this vessel to you. As requested, she has been licensed and registered in the Federation rolls to Outbound Ventures, Inc. She is the NDR-35117 SS Eclipse. All that is required at this point is for you to acknowledge and verify receipt of the vessel."

She thrust a padd towards Macen and he accepted it with a wary eye, "You don’t mind if I review this do you?"

"I would expect you to."

Macen began his review of the data with a shake of his head. He could’ve sworn he heard T’Kir stifling a snicker. He quickly ran a search for loopholes or stipulations inserted by either Drake or Nechayev that would allow them to seize the vessel later. Finding none, he applied his thumb to the sensor and authorised the necessary paperwork submissions.

He handed the padd back to the lieutenant, "Here you go."

The engineer then inspected the padd, as though trying to see of Macen had altered the text any. Macen rolled his eyes as her head bobbed up and down as she scrolled through the text. T’Kir looked as though she were undergoing a seizure in her rather unsuccessful attempt to contain her mirth. The rest of the team, with the exception of Radil, was just getting anxious to inspect their new ship.

"Everything appears to be in order." The Benzite agreed.

"Finally." Dracas muttered.

"If you would gather your belongings and follow me." The lieutenant commanded politely.

Since no one had anything larger than a duffel, it was an easy chore. Macen wondered if the officer had been part of a marching band or drill team during her stint at the Academy. She seemed rather enthusiastic about maintaining a precise stride. He heard Daggit murmur something about "frog marching" under his breath.

No sooner had they entered the ship than the lieutenant whirled unexpectedly and began loudly describing their surroundings as she pointed in the indicated direction, "Now that we’re aboard, it’s best to begin by explaining that this ship contains three decks. The ship itself has a length of 80 metres, thus making it 10 metres shorter than the typical Raven-class vessel that has largely supplanted this ship class. We are now standing on Deck One, just aft of the Bridge module. Deck One also contains the Captain’s Office, a Science Lab, the Sickbay, a Conference Room and the personnel transporter. There is a lift access at each end of the ship, the aft lift accessing the Engineering Room."

"Deck One also possesses two lavatories which include sonic showers. Each deck possesses identical facilities in addition to those found in Sickbay." She announced.

"What about the quarters?" Grace asked in a slightly alarmed voice.

"I shall explain that subsequently as I describe Deck Two." The Benzite replied coldly, "Deck Two contains the maintenance and control access points for the for the forward and aft torpedo magazines and launchers. The navigational deflector array is also most easily serviced on this deck. Crews’ quarters are found on this deck as well as the galley, recreation lounge and upper level of Engineering. Engineering takes up one third of the area of both Decks Two and Three. Both Decks provide access directly to the Engine Room as well as the lifts to other decks."

"There are sixteen crew berthing compartments. The Captain and First Officer’s quarters are twice size of the rest of the quarters. They are also the only ones equipped with private lavatory facilities." She ignored the stunned stares of the team as she continued her description, "Six of the remaining berths are configured single occupancy. The remaining eight berths are fitted with bunk beds in order to accommodate two occupants."

"Deck Three contains the Brig, Armoury, Cargo Bays and Stores in addition to the rest of the Engine Room compartment." The lieutenant hurled headlong to the conclusion of her presentation, "All quarters are equipped with beverage replicators. Meals must be obtained from the galley replicators. The Bridge, Sickbay, Lab, Engineering, Office and Brig are also fitted with refreshment replicators in addition to any other replicating units they may possess."

"Any questions?" the cheeriness of her query belied the dull monotone with which she had delivered her verbal tour.

"Did the provisions and equipment I requested arrive?" Macen asked, breaking the stunned silence.

"Yes." Came the clipped answer, "All requested materials have already been transferred aboard and placed in their appropriate storage areas."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Macen replied, refusing to acknowledge the huffy tone in the Starfleet officer’s voice, "I’m sure you have other duties to attend to."

"I certainly do." She replied with an attitude that her time had been wasted on insufferable fools. She pushed past the SID team milling about in the corridor and headed through the docking umbilical.

"That was certainly an experience." Daggit mused after a moment’s silent pause.

The nervous tension broke and Dracas demanded, "Can we see the ship now?"

After sharing a laugh at the childlike urgency in their engineer’s the team moved in unison to the bridge. The door slid open to reveal something never seen aboard this class of ship before. It was as though Starfleet had taken the bridge of a Defiant-class starship and dropped it into the scout. Grace rushed forward and plopped herself behind the flight controls.

"Amazing" Dracas muttered as he headed for the Engineering station mounted in the bulkhead to the left of the centrally located Conn. He activated the display and began scrolling through the data he’d requested. At the station beside his, Daggit and Radil were inspecting the Tactical station. Kort excused himself to familiarise himself with the Sickbay.

T’Kir moved to the station to the right of the Conn. Typically, a Defiant style bridge boasted a Science station here. On this craft, the station was an Operations Management console. The normal auxiliary Tactical station to her right was instead a Mission Specialist and Library computer post. Macen ran his fingers across its surface.

"Hey," T’Kir’s voice jutted him from his reverie, "that’s not yours. That is."

She nodded towards the chair located in the centre of the area. The Command chair retained the two control panels to either side of it that had become so popular with the Defiant-class designers. Macen studied it for a moment and then shook his head. He smiled as he saw her puzzled reaction.

"This is my area of expertise." He confided in a low voice, "I’m more comfortable here."

She pondered his words for a moment then shrugged, "Maybe, but for now, we need you in the other chair."

Macen sighed, "I know."

"Ah ha!" Dracas’ outburst caught everyone by surprise, "Because of the comparable dimensions, several aspects of the Defiant-class escort type have been incorporated into the ship. These aspects include, but are not limited to: The Bridge, the Engine room, the pulse phaser cannons, the Sickbay, personnel quarters, the mess, the Security office/Armoury and the Brig."

Dracas looked up from his reading, "My God! I have to get to the engine room!"

The sheer manic delight on his face as he rushed out was enough to alleviate Macen’s concerns for his engineer for now. Dracas missed Daggit’s, "Pulse phasers? All right!"

"I wonder of this thing still manoeuvres like a bat out of hell?" Grace could be heard wondering aloud.

Macen glanced towards T’Kir, "Want to go stake a claim on some quarters before the rush is on?"

She nodded vigorously, "Out! Before they figure out we’re missing."

T’Kir took the quarters alongside Macen’s. She was slightly miffed his were twice the size of hers and had its own restroom. She shrugged it off, knowing that brooding about it wouldn’t change anything. Then again, it might get the bulkhead between our quarters removed, she mused. She warned herself not to dwell on that topic for any length of time.

Not having much to unpack, she’d finished already. Bored, she headed for Macen’s quarters. She toggled the door chime and waited a moment before being granted access.

"Hey." Macen grunted in greeting. T’Kir stared in undisguised disbelief. Somehow he’d managed to get a cube reader in his room. She wondered how he’d fit it in his luggage.

"Where’d you get the reader?" she demanded.

"Ship’s stores." He replied, then seeing her uncomprehending expression elaborated with, "Remember that equipment I asked our not so friendly tour guide about?"

"It’s entertainment cubes?"

He shrugged, "Some of it. There are enough readers for every cabin, the Sickbay, the CO’s office and the Science lab. Most of its surplus uniforms and Bajoran small arms."

"Uniforms?" she asked sceptically.

He nodded, "Starfleet’s been stockpiling the things like mad for over a century as they’ve kept fiddling with the uniform. I put in word with Drake that if certain items were available that they would probably be useful to us."

"And Bajoran small arms?" her voice retained its dubious tone.

"Hand phasers and rifles." He answered cheerfully, "All our tricorders and communicators should be of Bajoran design as well."


"We’re familiar with them after our time with the Maquis, they’re more recent models than the Starfleet surplus out there and I’d rather deal with Bajorans than the Ferengi any day."

"True." She conceded at last with a smile, "So what about this ship’s name? Was that your idea?"

Macen nodded, "I thought it would be appropriate."

"And the fact the Nova-class ship who’s command you turned down to join the Maquis bore the same name has no bearing in this decision?" she teased.

"Of course not." He grinned.

"You need to learn how to lie better." She laughed.

"Maybe you can teach me." He suggested.


He rose and approached her, "Don’t go off your meds again."

"I won’t." she sighed.

He tapped the end of her nose with his finger, "You’d better not be lying to me."

"Thus beginneth the first lesson?" she inquired hopefully.

"No." he replied sternly, "I need you here. I don’t think I can do this without you."


"Yes, really."

She suddenly hugged him fiercely. He returned the hug affectionately. After a moment, they parted and T’Kir wore a pensive expression. When it remained after several heartbeats, Macen inquired as to her thoughts.

"So what is our mission again?"

"Merely to save the universe from itself." He answered with a laugh.

"Oh. You’re right. You need me."

He embraced her again and she smiled in contentment. A year ago, her life had been bereft of purpose and she’d been isolated from those she cared for. Now she amongst those that meant the most to her and she was making a difference again. No matter what life threw at her, she was ready to face it.


- The End -


Last modified: 02 Jan 2014