by Travis Anderson
As the Rio Grande flew across celestial boundaries, Dax took a moment to describe to anyone listening the differences between Umoth and its closest inhabited neighbor. “Ronara isn’t like Umoth. Where Umoth is arid and dusty; Ronara Prime is lush and forested.”
She paused to let that comparison sink in before continuing, “Ronara is covered by sixty-four percent surface water. It has one ‘super continent’ which has vast mountain ranges which produce rich, verdant valleys between them. A few of those valleys make up the settled areas of the colony. The capital, Enara, rests in the largest valley and houses more than seventy percent of the population.”
“What’s the local industry?” O’Brien asked.
Dax smiled. “Nice of you to ask, Chief. Ronara has two major industries. One is agriculture. Most of the planet’s valleys are cultivated. Caretakers oversee them, but the bulk of the labor force commutes from the cities to fields.”
“They must not rely upon ground transports then,” O’Brien opined.
Dax’s smile grew. “You’re right. The planet boasts the highest concentration of air travel of any Zone colony. They need the infrastructure to navigate the rough terrain.
“They must be quite industrialized then,” Bashir suddenly spoke. “I mean, air transports require a lot of manufacturing and maintenance.”
“He’s right, Lieutenant,” O’Brien supported. “We’re not talking a simple cottage industry here.”
Dax was positively delighted. “Which makes part of Ronara’s manufacturing capacity. They not only specialize in the construction of antigrav vehicles, but the bulk of their output is in retrofitting spacecraft.”
“And I just bet the Maquis are all over the retrofitting shops,” O’Brien commented.
“That’s the theory, Chief,” Sisko confirmed. “Starfleet Security and Starfleet Intelligence are working on that angle.”
“Can I ask what the name of any the shops are?” O’Brien wondered.
Sisko reviewed a padd. “I believe the most suspect shop is McMasters Retrofit. Owned by…”
“Eric McMasters!” O’Brien suddenly blurted.
Sisko was momentarily startled and then smiled. “You know him?”
O’Brien shook his head. “Only by reputation. McMasters designs and builds custom racing shuttles and refits runabouts and other small craft into sporting models.”
“No wonder the Maquis have an active interest in him,” Sisko realized.
“Starfleet’s right to be worried. McMasters could easily refit and weaponize Peregrine-class couriers and other similar ships like what we saw when we last faced Hudson,” O’Brien ventured.
“But why would he?” Sisko wondered.
“Sir, McMasters was born and raised in these parts and now he works here. I’d say he has just as much as a right to be disgruntled as anyone else,” O’Brien shared.
“Chief, the Demilitarized Zone was established to end the violence and help these people,” Sisko stated.
“Yeah, but that’s an outsider’s perspective. I think the Major was right. She should be here. She could tell you how these people fought for almost two decades only to have their hopes and dreams tossed back in their faces. I guess if it were me I’d be disgruntled too,” O’Brien admitted.
“What are you telling me, Chief?” Sisko’s voice got very low and O’Brien knew he was treading a fine line here.
“Sir, you can’t have served in the Border Wars, particularly the front lines, and not empathize with the colonists,” O’Brien confessed.
“Empathize but not sympathize?” Sisko saw the distinction the Irishman was making.
O’Brien shook his head. “No sir. The Federation did what they could. They couldn’t satisfy everyone, so they made the best compromise that they could. But that compromise hasn’t sat well with some. Still, it’s no excuse killing and terrorism. People from Ireland know that better than anyone.”
A light flashed in Sisko’s brain. “Lt. Hathaway mentioned something about an ‘Irish Republican Army’ movement that was like the Maquis. Care to elaborate?”
O’Brien grew sad as he explained Ireland’s divided twentieth century history. When he finished describing the history of the IRA, he expanded into general history. “Of course, Ireland was united under the flag of the Republic nearly a hundred years later, after the Third World War. By then, people wanted to reach out to one another because they were sick of the fighting.”
O’Brien struggled to explain what was on his mind. “The Irish know what it’s like to be twisted up by hate and we know it’s not worth it. The Maquis are in that boat now. Hopefully it won’t take them as long to figure out it isn’t worth it.”
“Nice sentiments, Chief,” Bashir piped up.
Dax smirked as she shook her head. Leave it to Julian.
“Yes, they are,” Sisko said drolly. He turned back to the OPS station and smiled. “It seems we’re almost there.”
“We’ll be in the system in less than five minutes,” Dax said happily. “But who knows how long it’ll take traffic control to let us set down.”
“It shouldn’t take that long,” Sisko offered. “After all, it’s just one out of the way colony.”
Dax gave him a longsuffering glance.
In the end, their transit of the solar system to Ronara Prime took an hour. Ronara was the fourth planet in the system — not quite out of the habitable zone but drifting towards it edge. Starfleet’s data on the world said it was cooler than most Class-M worlds. Even Bajor was warmer and Sisko found that world cooler than Earth.
There was an unexpected amount of traffic throughout the system and in orbit above the planet. Dax commented on this and Sisko noted it as well.
“It makes it easier for the Maquis to slip in and out this way,” he deduced.
They landed at Enara’s main spaceport. There were three, actually. Each of the auxiliary fields served the refit shops and engineers moved ships from the fields to their individual shops and back out again when the work was finished.
Downloading a map from the planet’s InfoNet database, the Starfleet crew set out. The Old Biddy wasn’t far from the spaceport, but it was near to the other side of it. Dax quipped that they’d see who would pass their Starfleet yearly medical exam tonight. Bashir thought so highly of the idea he went back inside theRio Grande to get his medical kit.
The local night was very cool. Sisko was actually pleased with the literal hike across the port. Dax was thrilled by the weather since her native Trillius Prime was even slightly cooler than Ronara. O’Brien mentioned that it was a lot like home. Bashir, though, was quite unhappy. Born in raised in Sudan on Earth, he’d learned to tolerate other climes, but it didn’t mean he favored them.
Bashir was quick to point out the old carved wooden sign above the door of the Old Biddy. They entered in to find a quaint public house. O’Brien was the first to mention the décor.
“It’s like the pubs back home,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
Everyone in the establishment suddenly went silent. Sisko observed that it seemed more to do with their uniforms than anything else.
“Perhaps we should get a drink,” he suggested.
“Thank God,” O’Brien sighed.
They approached the bar and the owner simply stared at them. After sixty seconds of silent scrutiny Sisko finally asked, “Could we get some drinks?”
“What’ll you be having?” the bartender asked.
O’Brien spoke first. “A Bushmills. Make it a double.”
O’Brien noted the baleful look Sisko was giving him and rationalized, “It’s been a helluva day.”
Sisko had to agree but wished O’Brien had ordered synthale so he could shrug aside the inebriating effects of the alcohol if need be. Judging from the hostility in the room, they might actually have to fight their way out.
“And what’ll you lot be having?” the bartender asked warily.
“What do have in the way of synthale?” Sisko inquired.
The host shrugged. “Just about everything.”
“Try a Frenner’s,” a new voice said. They all looked to the left and saw a man dressed in civilian clothes standing at the counter. He grinned, “It’s a local brew. Helping the local economy will buy a little goodwill. Not much, but it’ll be a start.”
The barkeep served up their drinks and asked for payment in Cardassian currency. Sisko was stunned. “I thought this was a Federation colony?”
“It was,” the barkeep growled, “Now it ain’t. No freebies for Starfleet types that ain’t smart enough to carry some coin either. Pay up or take off.”
The stranger handed the barkeep some coins and told the Starfleet officers, “Don’t worry. This one is on me.”
“It seems we’re in your debt again, Mr…?” Sisko asked.
The man smiled, “Macen. Brin Macen. But you must have suspected that by now. I heard you were looking for me.”
Sisko studied Macen. Most Starfleet Intelligence officers that he’d encountered, even former ones, exuded an air of caution. Macen didn’t. He seemed surprisingly open and relaxed. Just like Martus Mazur had. Sisko immediately decided he didn’t like Macen.
Macen suddenly smirked, “No fair comparing me Martus. He’s a very misguided individual.”
Sisko suddenly wondered if Macen had telepathic abilities. No reports regarding El-Aurians indicated the species possessed such abilities. But then again, they were a highly enigmatic race.
“What makes you say that?” Sisko guardedly inquired.
Macen looked amused. “Everything about you is screaming it, Commander.”
O’Brien tugged at Sisko’s sleeve and pulled him aside. In hashed tones the Chief conferred with his commanding officer, “Sir, the lead bartender in Ten Forward aboard the Enterprise was an El-Aurian.”
“Guinan?” Sisko asked. Seeing O’Brien’s momentary confusion, Sisko shared with him, “I travelled to DS9aboard the Enterprise, remember? I spent some time in Ten Forward.”
O’Brien nodded. “Guinan did things like that as well.”
“Like what, exactly?” Sisko pinned him down.
“Huge intuitive leaps,” O’Brien answered. “She’d figure everything there was to know about you upon first meeting you. Sometimes it was stuff you didn’t know about yourself.”
“I see.” Sisko and O’Brien rejoined the others.
“The Chief reminding you about Guinan?” Macen inquired.
“I take it you know her?” Sisko bristled. The situation was spiraling out of his control and he had no idea where this conversation was headed.
“Of course I know her,” Macen revealed. “It was Guinan’s idea for our group to head to Earth. She said we could blend in there.”
Sisko looked to O’Brien, who nodded. “We found out that Guinan had visited Earth in the 1890s. It could’ve been her idea for the El-Aurians to come here. She seems to like humans.”
“This is all well and good, but it doesn’t answer the question you really have,” Macen ventured.
Sisko felt the metaphorical rug slipping again as he asked, “How did you know I wanted to find you?”
“Open secrets, remember?” Macen smirked again.
Sisko remembered Captain Haewoo using that same expression. He’d certainly file a report questioning Haewoo’s loyalties. Macen shook his head in disappointment.
“You really should leave the good captain alone. He did you a favor,” Macen suggested.
“How so?” Sisko wanted to know.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sit down for this?” Macen asked. “My associate has saved a few tables in the corner. You could all join us.”
Sisko looked to Dax. She nodded. O’Brien agreed, as did Bashir. Sisko considered their input.
Macen looked exasperated for the first time. “Look, we’re the only friendly faces in here. It’s us or the cold outside.”
Sisko relented and Macen guided Sisko’s crew to the tables he and Danan had saved.
Dax saw Danan and cried, “Lees!”
They each ran to the other and embraced. They seemed to exchange hundreds of words in a few seconds time. Sisko and the other were totally surprised. Macen was decidedly amused.
“Well, that’s unexpected,” he quipped.
Dax and Danan were chatting away when Sisko cleared his throat.
“Dax?” Sisko sought to remind her they were here on business.
“Lees, we need to talk with these nice people.” Macen was a little more insistent with Danan.
“What?” the Trills said in stereo. They looked back at each other and laughed.
“We have business to finish, Lieutenant,” Sisko insisted.
“Later,” Dax said happily to Danan. They each took a seat at the table. Sisko was somewhat irked to discover they sat beside each other. Macen merely smiled, shrugged and then took a seat at Danan’s other side. Sisko filled out the complement at that table. Bashir and O’Brien took the nearby table. They could overhear but they were relegated to the sidelines.
O’Brien began sampling his whiskey as Bashir stirred. “Leave them be, Julian. They have some talking to do.”
“But who is that strange Trill woman?” Bashir fretted.
“Dax will share if she feels we need to know,” O’Brien reassured him.
“So, you want to know where Cal Hudson is?” Macen mused.
“First I want to know more about you,” Sisko demanded.
Macen wasn’t offended. “Tell me what you already know.”
“You’re a former Commander in Starfleet Intelligence. You served for seventy years and then resigned to become an information broker.” Sisko’s disdain at the last was clearly evident.
“And you look much better with a mustache and goatee rather than a full beard,” Dax opined. She gave Sisko a What? look as he shot her an annoyed glance.
“Doesn’t he though?” Danan threw out there. “It took a few hundred years off.”
That only served to remind Sisko that Macen was over four hundred years old, despite looking like he was in his thirties. Turning to Danan, he continued, “And you’re formerly Lt. Commander Lisea Danan. Your last assignment was as the Starfleet liaison to the Amagosa Observatory. You suddenly resigned your commission without warning and departed the Observatory with Commander Macen.”
“Please, it’s Captain now,” Macen quipped.
Sisko wasn’t amused. “Neither of you gave any indications of leaving Starfleet before your sudden resignations. On your way out of Starfleet, you managed to obtain the recently decommissioned Starfleet scout, the USS Tiberius, and next you have a crew and are operating in the DMZ.”
“It’s the SS Odyssey now and I detect an accusation,” Macen mused.
Sisko came out and asked the question lingering in his mind. “Are you working for the Maquis?”
Macen looked taken aback. “Commander, I work for everyone.”
“Even the Cardassians?” Sisko baldly demanded to know.
“If they can meet my price,” Macen replied smoothly.
“That’s odd considering what the Cardassians did to you,” Sisko opined.
Both Dax and Danan were suddenly very alert. Macen shrugged. “It was war.”
“But how did you manage to escape your interrogators?” Sisko wondered.
Macen smirked. “I do believe that is classified information. It’s ‘need to know.’”
“I am a deep space commander and I have a need to know,” Sisko asserted.
“No, you don’t,” Macen dryly retorted. “I’ll tell you what though, I’ll warn you off of trying rescue Hudson. He’d beyond your reach.”
“How do you know that?” Sisko inquired.
Macen grinned. “Because I know what Starfleet knows.”
“I was told they didn’t know anything,” Sisko admitted.
“You just haven’t asked the right person,” Macen suggested. He rose to leave and Danan said her goodbyes to Dax. As they stepped away from the tables, Sisko asked them one last question.
“How will I find you if I need to talk to you again?” he wondered.
“Try coming back here. I’ll hear about it. After all, the entire planet is watching you right now. Civilians, the Maquis, the Cardassians, and even Starfleet,” Macen explained and then left.
Sisko motioned for Bashir and O’Brien to join him and Dax. He asked for opinions. Dax was quick with a comment.
“It seems that wheels have been set inside of wheels. Curzon dealt with a lot of machinations like this, enough so that I know we aren’t being told the full story by anyone,” she said.
“I agree with you,” Sisko confessed. “I think we need to get back to the Rio Grande and there I can crawl my way through Starfleet Command and find out just what the hell is going on.”
They finished their drinks and headed for the spaceport. Unbeknownst to them, they were followed by several different groups. They returned to the confines of their runabout and most of the groups set up various camps to observe the Starfleet team. One pair moved away.
Macen and Danan were stopped by Aric Tulley and three Maquis as they began to depart. Tulley wore a thin smile. “Going somewhere?”
“Apparently wherever you’re taking us,” Macen retorted.
The Maquis separated Macen from Danan. He was taken to an air car and had a hood thrown over his head. He tried to count off how many minutes they’d been in the air before they landed. He was then escorted, hood on, through the Maquis base. Finally, he was deposited in a chair and the hood was yanked off. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light. He was only marginally surprised to discover sitting opposite him, behind a desk, was Ro Laren.
Many thanks to Bernd Schneider of Ex-Astris-Scientia.org for designing the Blackbird-class scout vessel mentioned in this story.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.