by Travis Anderson
The S.S. Indomitable soared through DMZ space and ventured beyond Gryma into the Cardassian border with the Zone. Tulley knew that Cardassian Outpost 47 monitored the space around Gryma and would alert the High Command of the Indie’s attack on the Orion convoy. The Cardassians felt far less constricted about deploying military units in the DMZ than Starfleet did, but Starbase 129 and the Argus Array watched over this region of space as well, and would dispatch starships in response to an incursion by the Cardassian Guard.
Macen’s information regarding the number of Orion vessels had been incorrect. The actual number of freighters was six, that and their two Wanderer-class escorts. Tulley’s gut clenched as he saw the freighters and fully realized just how many ground based disruptor banks were being brought to Gryma and Quatal Prime.
Tulley also fully realized he had to knock out the blockade runners before he engaged the lightly shielded freighters. Sam Richards scanned the escorts. “They’re armed with disruptors but they’re lacking torpedo tubes.”
Tulley nodded his acknowledgement. Richards was occupying his usual post at Tactical. Ro usually commanded as she also piloted the ship. Tulley hadn’t wanted any distractions, so he was seated at the oft neglected Auxiliary Station.
“From what I read on Jane’s Starships about these things, they’ll easily outmaneuver us, so we have to come in hard and fast,” Tulley thought aloud.
“I recommend an approach along their z-axis,” Alea spoke up. “Their sensors are pretty muddled along that line by their shields.”
“Got that, Audra?” Tulley asked.
“Laying in a course now,” North announced.
“Sam?” Tulley looked across at Richards.
“Photons are loaded and phasers are charged,” Richards reported. “Guidance and tracking are up and running.”
Tulley turned towards Halep. “Athena, you’re monitoring Engineering. Sing out if Thool starts to lose power. I don’t want to experience a sudden catastrophic power failure.”
“You should have used a different ship,” Halep snorted.
Tulley ignored the comment. “Do they have us on sensors?”
“Yes,” Alea informed him. “They’ve been actively scanning us for some time.”
“The escorts have interposed themselves between us and the freighters,” Richards shared.
“Good, that’s just what we wanted them to do,” Tulley commented.
“Hopefully they know that,” Richards remarked.
“Audra, now!” Tulley ordered.
The Indomitable suddenly vectored towards the Orions along their dorsal plane. The blockade runners maneuvered to intercept. Outpost 47 began broadcasting warnings toward the Indie.
Richards opened fire. He fired one photon at each interceptor. When their shields wavered, he opened up with a phaser barrage. The Orions responded with their disruptors.
The Maquis and the Orions strafed each other as they passed by. The Indomitable then concentrated firepower on the hapless freighters. Richards expended the torpedo magazines in destroying the freighters. North then cut and ran.
The Indie flew along the curved belt that comprised the DMZ with the Orion blockade runners in pursuit. The Orion craft were already damaged, so their best speed merely matched that of the Maquis raider. The Cardassian Guard pulled two Galor-class cruisers off of patrol to mirror the Maquis and Orion movements within the DMZ. Starfleet dispatched the Centaur-class U.S.S. Hydra and alerted two Saber-class Starfleet Border Patrol ships.
The Indomitable broke free of the DMZ and headed straight into the Bajoran Sector. The U.S.S. Centaur, the U.S.S. Vigilance, and the U.S.S. Steadfast joined the pursuit. The Orions opened fire upon the Starfleet ships to warn them off.
The Vigilance broke off and dealt with the Orion ships. The Hydra and the Steadfast slowed as theIndomitable slipped into the Badlands. The Cardassian cruisers traversed nonaligned space and dove into the plasma storm field.
The lead Galor-class ship, the Tergal, fired several photon torpedoes at the fleeing Maquis raider. They struck a plasma funnel and created a plasma storm eruption. The Indomitable maneuvered underneath the blast wave but the Tergal, and her sister the Tipitz, were beaten by the plasma wave.
The Hydra and the Steadfast moved in to assist. They found the Tergal was a gutted ruin while the Tipitzwas merely disabled. Towed out of the Badlands, the crew of the Tipitz decided they’d be able to restore minimal power and limp back into Cardassian space.
Meanwhile, Starfleet temporarily impounded the Orion blockade runners to find out why the Maquis targeted them. Tulley fired off a subspace radio message to the starships and laid out their reasoning. Captain Victoria Oshera read the missive and then proceeded to file her report laying out specific charges to lay against the crew of the Indomitable and urging Starfleet Intelligence to focus their efforts on finding which cell the ship and crew belonged to.
Eddington fumed as word spread of “Ro’s” strike against the Orions. He angrily wondered who she’d received her intelligence from. He then wondered why she hadn’t informed him of her plans. The part of Eddington that thought like a Starfleet officer railed against Ro’s unilateral action.
Ro was far too independent an operator to include him in her master plans. Ro had obviously wanted to derail the Cardassians’ attempt to install disruptor networks on their chief colonies within the DMZ. Eddington had wanted them in place so that the Maquis would have them after the Cardassians died en masse.
Eddington felt that Ro was far too shortsighted in these matters. Ro had worked best with Hudson, Chakotay, and Korepanova. Chakotay and Hudson were dead and Korepanova was proving to be a thorn in Eddington’s side. And now Ro was too.
Eddington’s vanity didn’t allow him to see that he held a large degree of jealousy towards Ro. Ro had completed Starfleet’s Advanced Tactical Training program. Eddington had taken the course himself earlier in his career. He’d been one of the sixty percent statistic that washed out every year.
Ro’s accomplishments, both in Starfleet and the Maquis, made others look up to her. And Ro had thrown in behind Korepanova in the battle for succession. Unfortunately, only one victor would stand as Maquis Commander when the psychological war was concluded and Eddington would be that man—no matter what it took.
It took the Odyssey eighteen hours to cross the Bajoran Sector and reach Kalandra. Ro and the Maquis were in command of the ship. Ro followed Danan’s plan and inserted the starship into an orbital track between Kalandra VIII and Kalandra IX. D’ofo reported that she had a clear sensor sweep of Kalandra IV.
“The Artemis is breaking orbit,” D’ofo informed Ro, “and she’s plotting a course towards Federation space.”
“Mayweather, set course to follow her,” Ro ordered. “Keep us within sensor range, but don’t close the distance.”
“Easy enough,” Mayweather boasted.
Ro wondered where the transport was headed to next.
The Odyssey’s crew relieved the Maquis. After each station officer reported the ongoing situation to their relief, the Maquis left the bridge except for Ro. She and Macen exchanged quiet words. Macen signaled a very curious Danan to join them.
“We’ve been following the Artemis for four hours,” Ro informed the pair. “She hasn’t deviated from her course once, but I have no idea where she’s going.”
“T’Kir, are we still in the Artemis’ subspace wake?” Macen asked the young Vulcan.
“You betcha,” she flippantly replied. “I would’ve told you if we lost them in the last two minutes.”
Ro was really getting curious as to T’Kir’s mental state. She was totally unlike any Vulcan she’d ever met. Of course, the fact that her parents had been disciples of Sybok rather that Surak said a lot. Macen had clued Ro into the fact that T’Kir had experienced a total emotional breakdown when her parents were killed by a Cardassian raid.
“We’ve skirted the Breen Confederacy,” Danan announced as she studied her charts. “Now we’re closing in on the Tzenkethi Coalition’s territory. We’ve actually followed a circuitous path back towards the Bajoran Sector again. We’re nearing Starbase 621, but I’d bet that’s not their destination. I’d guess that we’ll end up at Temechlia.”
“What’s our ETA for the system?” Macen inquired.
“Half an hour at our current speed,” Ebert stated.
“Care to wait up?” Macen asked Ro.
“I’d just be in the way,” Ro deferred.
“The platform behind me has three stations and only two are occupied,” Macen informed her. “Slave the Auxiliary Station to Lees’ sensors. You’re not going to relax until you know what’s going on anyway.”
“Bastard,” Ro chuckled knowing Macen had figured her out too well.
Danan proved to be correct because the Artemis plunged into the Temechlia system and achieved standard aboard over the planet…parallel to a Tzenkethi cruiser. The cruiser followed Tzenkethi aesthetics and appeared to be a silvery tear drop.
“What the hell are they doing?” Ro wondered aloud.
“That’s a very important question,” Macen mused. “Lees, I know the Tzenkethi have more sensitive sensors than our friends’, but keep an eye on everything they do. Tracy, keep us out here in the system’s hinter land. If the Tzenkethi are going to prove to be hostile, I want time to react.”
“No problem,” Ebert readily agreed.
Three Tzenkethi beamed aboard the Artemis. The sight of them awed Granger. Aellai was also taken in by their appearance. Many humanoids considered the Tzenkethi to be the most beautiful species in the quadrant, and now Aellai and Granger knew that firsthand.
Tzenkethi bodies were essentially a transparent carapace filled with a gel-like internal fluid. The gel was tensile enough to act as a muscle fiber and yet, without bones, flexible enough to allow Tzenkethi to contort their bodies in ways unimaginable to most humanoids. The gel was also luminescent and gave the Tzenkethi a soft glow.
Their society was composed of genetic castes. Each individual was born into the role they would play within Tzenkethi society. There no advancements in that society only downgrades. Repeated or catastrophic failure would reduce a once proud caste member to the menial classes. The lowest of the low were mind wiped to purest simplicity and they lived only to perform basic functions.
The Tzenkethi saw the Federation, with its myriad species and autonomous actions as anarchy personified. The fact that the Federation espoused self determination and democratic choices offended Tzenkethi to their core. They were utterly dependent upon their Autarch. And there was only one Autarch allowed to live to rule the Tzenkethi in a generation.
But the Tzenkethi had come to realize they were vastly outnumbered by the Federation’s scope and its member worlds and colonies, so their plan of neutralizing the Federation’s expansion was to destabilize it and to plunge it into conflicts with other races.
Chaos would expand into greater chaos and rend the Federation apart. And then the other stellar nations would tear the offal apart. For their part, the Tzenkethi would absorb the closest Federation worlds and impose order and genetic controls upon them. After all, the menial classes always needed to be bolstered by fresh blood.
Eddington had made Aellai aware of the Tzenkethi’s motives for assisting the Maquis plan and Aellai didn’t care. The end result would exterminate all Cardassian life on Gryma and Quatal Prime. There was enough biomimetic gel to create a dozen biogenic devices so there would even be leftovers to threaten worlds within the Cardassian Union itself. Frankly, Aellai hoped the Cardassians would provoke Eddington into using them.
Aellai escorted the three Tzenkethi to the main cargo bay where Granger had laid out their “special wares.” After arriving, the Tzenkethi made brief introductions. The medical expert glowed a pale shade of blue. The warrior escorting them glowed shades of silver. The facilitator was a light green.
The facilitator’s name was Arikene. Just Arikene. Aellai had been briefed that Tzenkethi had an alphanumeric designator attached to their name to publically demonstrate their caste rank. Without knowing the caste rank, Aellai had no means of knowing whether or not she was dealing with anyone of influence.
“What are your targets?” Arikene inquired.
Aellai listed them all and Arikene made a decision. “All are acceptable except for Chin’Toka.”
“But it’s a strategic position that will block Starfleet’s advance into Cardassian space,” Aellai argued.
“We are aware of that; nevertheless, the prohibition stands,” Arikene insisted, “precisely for that reason.”
“But the military base on Chin’Toka will launch a reprisal at Maquis worlds,” Aellai protested.
“That will not occur until the Cardassians unleash their own biogenic weapons,” Arikene lectured Aellai. “That will prompt an intervention by Starfleet. That intervention will primarily come through the Chin’Toka system and they shall meet considerable resistance.”
“You mean to start a war between Cardassia and the Federation,” Aellai grasped it all of a sudden.
“That would suit my Autarch,” Arikene admitted, “and it shall allow the Maquis the time and opportunity to fortify their positions within the Demilitarized Zone.”
“If you don’t want us to hit Chin’Toka, then where would you like us to use the last device?” Aellai inquired.
“We shall prepare a portable delivery system,” Arikene explained. “This device will be placed within the life support network of Starbase 621. There, it will release an aerosol agent that will eliminate all humanoid life within the station.”
Aellai struggled with that and said as much. Eventually, Aellai convinced herself it was a reasonable trade off.”Fine, we’ll deliver it.”
Arikene was pleased. “Then we may now proceed with creating your weapons.”
Tensions were rising aboard the Odyssey. Ro’s impatience was growing by the minute. “Why don’t we go there and find out what they’re doing?”
“Well, like the last twenty times you’ve asked that particular question over the last six hours, we don’t have definitive proof yet,” Macen retorted.
“Then what do you think they’re doing?” Ro tried again.
“Best guess?” Macen asked.
“Anything,” Ro huffed.
“Tzenkethi society revolves around genetic engineering, so I’d say if you were going to have someone build you a biogenic device, you’d want them to be Tzenkethi,” Macen stated. “The problem is that help will come with a steep price.”
“What kind of price?” Ro wondered.
“Let’s just say that all the latinum in the galaxy wouldn’t motivate them,” Macen replied.
“Brin, the Artemis is breaking orbit,” Danan reported.
“Where are the Tzenkethi headed off to?” Macen wanted to know.
“Coalition space,” Danan informed him, “but the curious thing is that the Artemis isn’t headed back towards the Bajor Sector or the DMZ.”
“Then where is she going?” Ro asked irritably.
“On a straight line for Starbase 621,” Danan told her.
“Why?” Ro didn’t quite get it.
“That’s the price,” Macen said heavily.
“They’re going to detonate a biogenic device in a Federation starbase?” Ro didn’t want to believe it.
“It would line up with Eddington’s ‘you’re either with us or against us’ philosophy,” Macen remarked. “Aellai is his first convert.”
“Tebler would be his second,” Ro said sourly.
“Is he going to be a problem?” Macen wanted to know.
“Probably not,” Ro guessed.
“So what do we do now?” Macen asked her.
“What do you mean?” Ro wanted to know.
“Laren, you’re my employer. My ship and crew do what you tell us to do within the confines of our contract,” Macen explained.
“Of course we prevent then from doing whatever they intend to do.” Ro was a little outraged by Macen’s mercenary attitude.
“You and your Maquis will probably be arrested if you step foot on Starbase 621, and my crew isn’t combat trained,” Macen informed her.
“You’re the captain of a licensed starship bearing a letter of marque,” Ro reminded him. “You’re also the owner-operator of a business concern that has dealings with Starfleet. Just contact the commanding officer and tell them what’s coming their way.”
“I’m a freelancer now, not a Starfleet Intelligence agent, so they’re going to view me with suspicion,” Macen warned her. “And we have no proof whatsoever that the Artemis has hostile intentions. Just a guess.”
“I thought you used to be an analyst, not an agent,” Ro pointedly thrust back at him.
“Agent, analyst, all the same thing,” Macen said dismissively.
“Here’s the deal: My people will be ‘working’ for you when we board the station. If the CO hasn’t believed you by then, you’ll come aboard to argue the point with him while we get busy,” Ro suggested.
“It’s just stupid enough to work,” Macen mused.
Ro’s ire was raised by the appellation of ‘stupid’ being applied to her plan. “Just trust me.”
“Tracy, set course for Starbase 621,” Macen suddenly ordered. “Make it an elliptical approach so we won’t pass the Artemis by. We have a speed advantage, so we can use that to get there first.”
“I can get us there before them, but I can’t estimate how much ‘before’ them,” Ebert warned.
“Do what you can,” Macen urged. “Lees, you have the bridge.”
“Sure, run away just when it’s getting interesting,” Danan mock complained.
“Laren, if you’ll join me in the briefing room, I’ll call Starbase 621 and see what happens,” Macen requested.
“All right.” Ro was feeling more amiable now that she was getting what she wanted.
Macen was true to his word and contacted Starbase 621. After navigating through a sea of bureaucracy, he reached Captain M’rarr. M’rarr was a Caitian and his ears were flattened against his head. Not a promising sight.
“Why are you interfering in our work day, Commander?” M’rarr demanded to know.
“Technically, it’s ‘Captain’ now,” Macen asserted.
“I don’t care about your civilian position, Commander,” M’rarr shot back. “You invoked several Starfleet security protocols to get my attention. If you’re now saying you aren’t Starfleet, then stop wasting my time.”
“I’ve retired, Captain,” Macen explained, “but I have reasons to believe that Maquis collaborators will be attacking your station within the hour.”
“If you’re a civilian now, I need your business license, transport credentials and registration, cargo manifest, and personnel list before I can discuss your so-called ‘terrorists,’” M’rarr insisted.
Macen transmitted the data. M’rarr cut the transmission and Macen and Ro waited in silence for several minutes—several more minutes than it took to verify Macen’s credentials. After ten minutes had passed, M’rarr’s visage returned to the screen.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” he sneered, “I don’t listen to what ‘freelance investigators’ have to say.”
The screen went dark again. Macen gave Ro a wry look. “Now we do it your way.”
“Come with me; we need to brief my people,” Ro requested.
Everyone but D’ofo and Vorhoven were awakened for the meeting. Lee asked one of the obvious questions. “How do you know we’ll reach Starbase 621 before the Artemis?”
“This ship is capable of a twelve hour burst at warp 8.3. The Artemis maxes out at warp 6.3. In her day, theOdyssey was one of the fastest ships in the fleet. Transports? Not so much,” Macen replied.
Lee and Vorhoven grinned as she said, “Good to know.”
“To do this, you’ll each be drawing a Bajoran Militia issue phaser from the ship’s armory,” Macen informed them. “You’ll also be issued a Starfleet Type I ‘cricket’ phaser. While security is busy relieving you of the Bajoran gear, you’ll still have your Federation phaser to fall back on.”
Ro looked at all her teammates. “Starfleet Security will hold onto Macen’s pistols for the duration of our stay. He’ll be reporting to the CO’s office to press our case. Seeing as how Captain M’rarr doesn’t like Macen already, it should prove to be quite distracting to the station’s senior staff.”
Macen pulled up Starbase 621’s layout and downloaded it into prepared PADDs. Ro advised them to quickly study. “We have less than twenty minutes until we arrive, so I need opinions on where Aellai could deploy a biogenic weapon and have it effectively kill everyone before we get there.”
“Sure, no pressure,” Gutierrez complained.
U.S.S. Andor and U.S.S. Blackbird designed by Bernrd Schneider.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.