by Travis Anderson
“No! I forbid it!” Tulley was reacting to the news Ro had brought him. “You’ll be on the bridge of theIndomitable where you belong. Let Macen chase down Aellai across god knows where.”
“I think I can decide for myself where I belong,” Ro said coldly.
“Ro, I’m not you. I can’t command an attack,” Tulley pleaded.
“You do it on the ground all the time,” Ro adamantly quashed his argument. “My decision stands. The Maquis are pretty loose-knit, but when the cell commander issues an order, she still expects it to be obeyed. The only difference between an extra-atmospheric attack and a ground attack is the one in space is waged in three dimensions.”
“Even if the order is stupid?” Tulley lashed out.
“That’s what command prerogative in the field is for,” Ro asserted. “Once you’re on scene, you’ll know what to do.”
“And if I don’t?” Tulley groused.
“Retreat is always an option,” Ro consoled him, “but it’s a costly one in the long run.”
Tulley gathered around the cell’s leadership. Ro briefed them on what was going to occur and she listed off the personnel she’d be taking with her. Giving the time, coordinates, and payload of their target, Ro was pleased when everyone enthusiastically agreed to go on the mission despite Tulley’s qualms. Alea, the cell’s intelligence officer, wanted to verify all of the data with the Odyssey crew.
As the woman hustled off to find a comm unit, Ro reflected once again on the mystery that Alea represented. Alea had nasal bone ridges even more pronounced than a Bajoran’s and yet had naturally purple hair—which definitely wasn’t a Bajoran trait. No one knew what planet Alea hailed from and she wasn’t talking. Yet she was far too good at her job to press her into an ultimatum of revealing her secrets or leaving the Maquis.
Emjin Thool approached Ro after the meeting had adjourned and the room had cleared. The Bolian licked his lips. “Are you sure about this? Aric is untested.”
Ro knew Thool’s worry was more for the Indomitable than her crew. Engineers, even Maquis ones, were slavishly devoted to their vessels. And Thool had a definite love affair going on with the Ju’day-class raider.
“Just prep the ship, Thool,” Ro insisted. “Aric will do fine. I have faith in him and so should you.”
Tulley herded Ro’s team into the meeting hall. They were a fairly assorted lot. Humans dominated the group. There exceptions though and Hev Tebler was one of them. The Cappellan was a better fighter than an engineer but both of his skill sets might be needed.
Lee Ziyi was Thool’s deputy. She was of Chinese descent and was quite proud of her heritage. She was also a walking burst of color since she dip-dyed her raven hair blue.
Larn Vorhoven was another engineer. He was more skilled than Tebler, but he just knew basic maintenance, unlike Lee and Thool. But he was also a fair hand in a fight.
Nadima D’ofo was one of the two medics the cell boasted. She was of African descent and also engaged in hair color playfulness. Her hair was currently blonde.
Juliana Gutierrez was one of the cell’s squad assault leaders. Lance Mayweather was a general hand and transporter chief. The other members of this group were going with the Indie.
Shanra Neet was among them. The Gideonite settler was the other medic. Athena Halep was an ops officer aboard the raider. The young Romani was yet another hair colorist, her current choice being platinum blonde. Audra North was a pilot and also half human and half Galenite, her alien heritage reflected by her bright green hair. Sam Richards rounded out the group. Richards was Tulley’s deputy, and as much as Ro would like to have his steely nerves aboard the Odyssey, she judged that Tulley needed him more.
Ro briefed the group. As usual, Tebler and Gutierrez were ready for a fight. Lee and Vorhoven were eager to get inside a starship even if it was a decommissioned one. D’ofo was slightly anxious about the new setting until she learned the Odyssey had a fully stocked Sickbay. She was much happier after learning that.
Ro got her team to the rendezvous point and wondered when someone would meet them. Seconds later, an annular confinement beam locked onto them and then they were transported up to the Odyssey in its position in orbit. They looked around and realized they’d rematerialized in a cargo bay. Macen and his Engineer’s Mate, Heidi Darcy, stood at the transporter controls.
“Thanks, Heidi. We can manage from here,” Macen informed her.
Darcy was stopped by Lee as she was exiting. Darcy’s own brunette hair was dip dyed blonde and Lee was delighted. “I love your hair!”
“Thanks.” The younger woman smiled and then reported back to Engineering.
“Excuse me, but who was that?” Lee asked Macen.
Macen explained who Darcy was and what her position aboard ship was as well. Lee lit up. “I knew anyone that fabulous had to be an engineer.”
“Does that include me?” Vorhoven teased.
“There are exceptions to every rule, Larry,” Lee quipped, “and you’re obviously one of them.”
Vorhoven clutched his heart. “Cut to the quick…again.”
Even the stoic Tebler smiled at that. Ro had had enough. “Can we get serious here?”
“Follow me and I’ll show you all to your quarters,” Macen decided. “This ship was designed with a crew of twenty-two in mind. There are six officer’s quarters with five permanent crewmen, so that leaves most of you in the enlisted barracks, since I have a feeling Ro will take the last single cabin. How you divvy up the rest of the rooms is up to you.”
What the Maquis discovered was that there were four rooms remaining that could house four crewmen in each. Ro did take the last officer’s cabin. Tebler got a barracks to himself. Vorhoven and Mayweather took a second room. Gutierrez would sleep alone and that left Lee and D’ofo sharing the last room.
Macen let everyone sort themselves out and then took them to the nearby galley. He left and Ro conducted an informal meeting. Lee was the first to speak.
“We’re already underway. I can feel that the warp core’s vibrational harmonics have shifted,” she shared.
Mayweather asked the obvious question on everyone’s mind. “So where are we headed anyway?”
“And just why the hell did we come along?” Gutierrez gruffly demanded to know. “This ship should be able to swat one lone transport.”
“We don’t want to lose the ship. It’s a transport that itself is a former Starfleet starship. We could use it in many different ways,” Ro explained, “and as far as Captain Aellai and her crew, that depends on how they react to our presence and if we have to board them or not.”
“What are we expecting to find?” D’ofo noticed all the stares her question drew. “Hey, we have to be after them for a reason.”
“I don’t know what we’ll find or where the Artemis will travel to,” Ro admitted. “This is a fishing expedition with firepower. What I do know is Eddington came to the Maquis with several dozen liters of biomimetic gel. Enough to build several weapons.”
“I can’t believe Aellai would go along with biogenic weapons,” D’ofo argued. “After all, her ancestors lost their planet to one.”
“Perhaps that is her motivation and perhaps these weapons would provide the tipping point to insure our eventual victory,” Tebler reasoned.
Ro glared at the Cappellan. “We may be labeled as ‘terrorists,’ but even we have rules of conduct.”
“Maybe that’s why we haven’t won already,” Tebler argued.
Ro suddenly saw that many in the Maquis would be swayed by a similar argument. After all, her own cell was being swayed even now. “This isn’t right. Once the bottle on biogenic weapons gets uncorked, the Cardassians are going to reply in kind and both sides will escalate until no one is left alive inside of the DMZ.”
Everyone but Tebler was with her again. “And no one will intervene unless Starfleet decides to step in. Do you really want to rely upon Starfleet?”
Tebler was still resistant. Ro wondered if he would prove to be a problem later on, so she decided to outline the hastily agreed upon plan. “The Odyssey is going to tail the Artemis at a discreet distance. We’ll be seeing where they go and who they meet with. If Aellai meets with someone capable of building a biogenic weapon, or several, Odyssey will pursue and engage when the Artemis is alone again,” Ro shared. “Our team will stand by if boarding action is required. We’ll aim for taking prisoners and then we’ll decide what to do with them after we’ve secured the Artemis and pilot her back to the DMZ. Then Eddington will be forced to justify his intentions.”
“So what are we going to do on this little voyage until we need to shoot something?” Mayweather inquired.
“Good question,” Ro admitted. “Let me ask the ship’s captain.”
Macen reported to the galley, leaving his executive officer, Lisea Danan in charge. Ro was uncertain as to the exact nature of the relationship between the El-Aurian intelligence agent and the Trill stellar cartographer. What Ro had gathered was that Danan and Macen had known each other for quite some time, and possibly through several lifetimes since Danan was Lisea’s symbiot. She’d also learned through Cal Hudson that Danan had abruptly resigned Starfleet and left a premier posting in order to join Macen on his freelance enterprise.
But the interactions between the two suggested that there was something greater than a simple platonic friendship. And Ro knew that no one was allowed to needle Macen as effectively as Danan, with the possible exception of Ro herself. Ro considered herself in rarified circles.
“I’d prefer if you restricted your movements to the cargo bays, Sickbay, and the galley when you’re not in your quarters,” Macen announced. He called up a deck layout on the galley’s main information screen. “As you can see, there are five decks total. Deck One is the bridge and I’d rather doubt you’d have a need to be there. You’re on Deck Two. Sickbay and the cargo bays make up the accessible portions of Deck Three. Deck Four is Engineering and Deck Five is monopolized by antimatter storage.”
“This would all go a lot smoother if you let us help out around here,” Lee interjected. “Have your engineers shadow Tebler, Vorhoven, and I. Ro can command while your crew sleeps. Mayweather also knows how to pilot ships. Gutierrez can man virtually any tactical board. D’ofo is a fair hand with Ops and sensors when she isn’t needed in Sickbay.”
Macen cast a quizzical glance Ro’s way. She nodded her approval. “I trust them with my life, so I suggest you loosen up and do the same.”
“All right,” Macen decided. “If you’d all follow me, I’ll show you to your future stations.”
The group moved to Deck Three where D’ofo was introduced to the Sickbay. She was left behind to examine the equipment and stores to be found there. Everyone else descended into Deck Four.
There the Maquis were introduced to Tom Eckles. Eckles and Darcy were a long-standing technical team. Eckles had first taken Darcy under his wing when she’d come aboard a tramp freighter he worked on. They’d been inseparable ever since. But they’d never moved past their age difference—greater than twenty years—to change their working relationship into a romantic one.
Eckles and Darcy both loved the prospect of working with additional crewmen. Eckles decided on the spot that he would supervise the Alpha watch while Darcy would oversee the Gamma. There was no Beta watch and the crew stood for twelve hour rotations. Fortunately, the Odyssey didn’t embark on long term missions. The crew’s longest voyage thus far had lasted for two and a half weeks.
Darcy would have Lee assisting her in overseeing Tebler while Vorhoven would work with the more experienced Eckles. Darcy quickly dismissed her group to get some food and rest before their watch commenced in five hours. Lee was more than delighted to have Darcy nearly to herself.
The Maquis were led back to Deck Three to pick D’ofo up and take her to the bridge. Upon arrival, the Maquis discovered that the ship was queued up to pass through the closest Federation checkpoint near Ronara Prime. Their wait had been estimated at two hours—plenty of time for the crew to show the Maquis their future duties.
Christine Lacey showed Gutierrez the tactical board and ran a few simulated scenarios to get Gutierrez comfortable and competent with the systems. Gutierrez mentioned that she’d seen Lacey on Ronara Prime on a couple of occasions. She’d been curious as to how Lacey got her hair to be its particular shade of red. Off the cuff, Gutierrez also revealed she missed Lacey’s blonde bangs.
T’Kir ran D’ofo through the Ops systems. D’ofo had been a nurse on Umoth before the Cardassians shut the clinic down. It was easy for her to deduce that T’Kir had been a mental patient and was probably an escapee from the Ardra Psychotherapy Institute on Ronara before it was cut off from Federation support and had shut down, thereby releasing its patients upon the general populace.
Tracy Ebert was surprised to learn Mayweather would pilot the ship in her off hours. Mayweather shrugged. “I come from a long line of freighter owner-operators. My family has been in the shipping business since the 22nd Century. I had a relative aboard the NX-01 USS Enterprise.”
Mayweather tried not to stare at Ebert’s spectacles. “I’m just as surprised that you have to wear those things.”
Ebert shrugged. “I’m allergic to Retnax.”
Mayweather accepted that simple explanation. As Ebert got him comfortable with the CONN station, he began to note that Ebert’s glasses also functioned with a heads up display feeding her navigational sensor data. For the first time in his life, he wished he were wearing spectacles.
The Maquis left the bridge after the ship cleared the checkpoint. They only had three hours before they’d pull a twelve hour shift controlling the starship. To a greater degree, they were all comfortable with that, but there was still an edge of trepidation because this was a starship and not simply a scout ship converted into a raider.
As her Maquis reported to Deck Two, Ro followed Macen into the briefing room located behind the bridge. As Ro sat down at the table, she noted the displays mounted into it. Keyboard controls predating the LCARS interfaces dominated the terminals.
“Now it’s time to talk about the practical aspects of our mission,” Macen decided. “We’ll be intercepting theArtemis in the Kalandra system. We have the sensor range to observe her transit through the inner system from the Ort Cloud. When she nears the habitable zone, we’ll move into the outer system.”
Macen pulled up a star chart of the Kalandra system. “As you can see, the primary has sixteen planets held captive. Lisea calculated the orbital mechanics of the system while we’ll be there. For several days, Kalandra IX will be in alignment with Kalandra IV.”
“And Kalandra IV is home to the system’s natives,” Ro recalled.
“True, there are colonies on Kalandras III, V, and VI, but the race evolved on Kalandra IV.” Macen gave her even more information. “This will place us well out of sensor range of an Andor-class transport. Everything about the Artemis has remained at constructed norms except her offensive weapons were removed prior to decommissioning.”
“But Aellai replaced them with Klingon Class V disruptors. Rumor has it she unblocked the torpedo tubes and has a few photons aboard as well,” Ro remembered.
“While I’d prefer to void an armed conflict or a ship to ship battle. Even though the Odyssey retains all of her original armament and defensive capabilities,” Macen advised Ro. “Of course, that means we have fixed phaser banks rather than Type IX or X phaser strips. But we do have fully stocked photon torpedo magazines. We have thirty-six photons in the forward launchers and eighteen in the aft launcher.”
“Now, we can observe suspicious activity all we want. We can’t prove criminal activities without boarding the ship,” Macen warned. “If we’re wrong, Aellai cab press charges and we’ll be tried for piracy. Everyone aboard would end up on a penal colony except you, Lees, and I. We’ll end up on Jaros II.”
“Next, you have to decide ahead of time what you’ll do with the prisoners,” Macen told her. “I’d recommend handing them over to Starfleet.”
“Why not over to the Bajoran Militia?” Ro wondered.
“The Militia supports the Kohn Ma and the Maquis,” Macen forced her to acknowledge. “An arbiter would simply release Aellai and send her back to the DMZ where she would become a very vocal, and potentially belligerent, foe of yours.”
Macen softened a bit. “Also, it doesn’t pay to antagonize the Provisional Government. Shakaar has extended the amnesty for Bajoran Resistance fighters who return home to the Maquis as well. If things go badly for you, you may want to take that option.”
“And do what?” Ro scoffed. “Farm?”
“You could always join the Militia,” Macen suggested. “They need someone with your training and experience. And most of them are ex-Resistance.”
“Why the sudden free advice?” Ro was suddenly suspicious.
“The Cardassian government is teetering on collapse. The Klingons have broken the will of the Cardassian Guard. Only Dukat’s raids even sting the Klingons. In other words, the Cardassian Union is in shambles and people under those conditions usually seek desperate measures to make all their problems go away,” Macen advised. “The Maquis are viewed as a major problem and an even greater embarrassment to the Cardassian people. Don’t be surprised if the Cardassians strike out and escalate the conflict or acquire allies who will do it for them.”
“You’re serious,” Ro suddenly realized.
“The Cardassians are hardly the first people to go down this path,” Macen warned, “nor will they be the last. But desperation makes extreme options tantalizing whereas they weren’t palatable before.”
Ro was caught short. Finally she said, “I’ll take it under advisement.”
“I really don’t think you have much more time to consider it,” Macen opined. “If Eddington does heighten tensions in the DMZ in a very real and catastrophic way, he opens the door to his own destruction and he’ll take all of you with him. Because the Detapa Council and the High Command are teetering on an abyss and that kind of provocation will throw them over it.”
Ro suddenly had a chilling feeling Macen was right.
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.