by Travis Anderson
The scoutship slipped into the DMZ. Registered as a civilian scout and transport, the NDS-741564 SS Odyssey was innocuous enough to slip past Starfleet’s sensor net with barely a ripple. Of course, theBlackbird-class ship had started life as Starfleet’s NCC-14274 USS Tiberius. Her hull was laid in 2318 and she’d been decommissioned from active service in 2369 at the close of the Cardassian War.
The Blackbirds had seen heavy action along the Cardassian and Tzenkethi borders. They’d become unpopularly known as the “Death Birds” amongst Cardassian military officers. The Tzenkethi probably had a name for them as well but no one was asking them what it was.
The Blackbird-class was essentially a diminutive hybrid between the then-existing Excelsior-class and the forthcoming Ambassador-class. In simpler terms, it was a crossbreed between the Enterprise-B and –C. The ships’ dimensions were a length of 104 meters, a width of 80 meters, and a height of 20 meters.
The Odyssey, like all ships of her class, possessed five decks. Deck one was comprised of the bridge and the briefing room built behind the bridge. Deck two was made up of living quarters and the deuterium tanks. Deck three boasted the forward torpedo launchers and their magazines, science labs, the shuttlepod hangar, sickbay, and two storage compartments. Deck four was entirely made up of the engineering compartment, and the aft torpedo launcher. Deck five was devoted to the antideuterium pods.
The ship had a course plotted for Ronara Prime. Her crew intended to join the Maquis, albeit in their own unique way. Despite the ship’s design specifications for a crew comprised of twenty-two officers and crewmen, the Odyssey made do with a crew of seven.
Brin Macen owned and commanded the ship. Lisea Danan served as his executive officer and manned the science station. Tracy Ebert sat at the CONN while T’Kir manipulated the OPS panels. Christine Lacey stood at the tactical station, what sat behind the captain’s chair on an elevated platform. This rounded out the bridge crew. Below decks in engineering, Tom Eckles served as the chief engineer and Heidi Darcy was his sole engineer’s mate.
The crew was mostly comprised of humans. T’Kir was obviously Vulcan and Danan was unmistakably a Trill. But Macen was also a non-human despite all appearances to the contrary. The crew didn’t know that he had been born in the Delta Quadrant and travelled to the Federation in the doomed Lakul. That freighter had been destroyed by the energy ribbon known as the Nexus, which had swallowed up hundreds of fellow El-Aurians and deposited them into their own personal paradises. Macen and a mere seventy-six refugees had been “rescued” by the crew of the Enterprise-B. Most still regretted it.
Macen had studied his new home for seven years before entering Starfleet Academy. He was given an accelerated course since he was already qualified as an archeology and anthropology officer and had conducted deep space missions for his people’s expeditionary forces. Graduating in two years versus the usual four, Macen served a tour aboard a starship as the A&A officer. After that, he was tapped by Starfleet Intelligence. They’d been impressed with his initial studies of the newfound Cardassian people and inquired as to whether he wanted a seat at their newly-established Cardassian desk.
Macen agreed and became an analyst. He sat at that desk for nearly forty years before being called out to the field as the Border Wars began between the Federation and the Cardassian Union. He’d served on the front lines amongst the colonists during the entirety of that conflict. When tension erupted into an official war between the two powers, Macen was still in the trenches. The treaty ending the war was welcomed, but handing over colonies to the Cardassians was a betrayal of everything that Starfleet had fought for. The creation of the DMZ was a black eye in the honor of the soldiers and colonists that had fought and died.
Macen had officially resigned his commission as a Commander in Starfleet. Unofficially, his status was shifted into that of a reservist. He was now a civilian operative of Starfleet Intelligence, and as such, he was completely off the books. Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev had personally seen to it that Macen received a ship. He’d had his choice from a collection of freshly decommissioned ships. He’d admired the Blackbird-class ships during their service along the Cardassian border, and selected the Tiberius because of its connection to James T. Kirk.
Kirk was Macen’s personal hero. Kirk had sacrificed his life in order to save the El-Aurians and theEnterprise-B. Despite his misgivings regarding being plucked from the Nexus, Macen couldn’t fault Kirk’s courage and lifetime of service. However, Macen strongly suspected that Kirk was now enjoying the fruits of the Nexus, so he didn’t feel all that bad for the adventurous human.
Macen had helped shepherd Nechayev through her career in Starfleet Intelligence Operations. They’d remained friends as she passed him in grade and eventually achieved flag rank. Now that she oversaw Starfleet Intelligence and Starfleet Security, she was in a position to do something tangible regarding the Maquis situation.
Nechayev personally sympathized with the Maquis. She’d also sympathized with the Bajorans, her duties having taken her to Bajor on the eve of their “acquisition” by the Cardassians. But now, as then, her duties forbade her from supporting either cause.
Federation policy was crystal clear: The peace must be preserved at all costs. If that meant sacrificing the Maquis, then so be it. This policy had been dictated by a concordant of the UFP President, the Federation Council, and the C-in-C of Starfleet. However, Nechayev had dropped a discreet word in the C-in-C’s ear about shaping and utilizing the Maquis.
Her feelers indicated that the as-of-yet unrevealed security organ that defended Federation interests was taking a hand in arming the Maquis. Ostensibly, the goal was to keep the Cardassians distracted with the rebellion in the DMZ and their newly acquired colonies while Starfleet and other forces moved behind the scenes to undermine Central Command’s ability to strike at the Federation. Nechayev took this idea and ran with it. If the Maquis were a charged phaser, then that phaser had to be aimed.
Knowing that Macen was embittered by what he viewed as an inexcusable abandonment of the border colonists, Nechayev tapped him as her agent. Knowing full well he could be hunted as a Maquis collaborator, he still agreed to the scheme. Nechayev then set an elite group of agents into motion. They registered Macen’s starship and got him fairly unique credentials. They arranged contacts across the Federation, Bajor, and the Ferengi Alliance.
Nechayev wanted to place a crew aboard the Odyssey. Macen refused. He wanted the crew to be actual Maquis sympathizers so they couldn’t reveal his connection with Starfleet. Nechayev still wanted an undercover Starfleet First Officer. Macen relented.
He contacted Danan. They had a complicated history. He’d known a previous host of the Danan symbiont and they’d been friends. When Lisea and Macen met, they’d fallen into each other’s arms. She’d since been relocated to the Amagosa Observatory as Starfleet’s representative there.
Knowing Danan’s expertise was in stellar cartography and astrophysics, Macen thought she’d prove an asset behind the lines. He approached her with the idea of leaving Starfleet and joining him aboard theOdyssey. She wanted to know why.
Macen gave her a wry look. “I can’t discuss that over an open channel.”
“Is this another Saltok III?” Danan inquired archly, “because I still have nightmares about that little ‘adventure.’”
Macen looked pained. “We shouldn’t discuss that over an open channel either.”
“How about Quatal?” Her words dripped scorn. “Can we discuss that?”
“No,” Macen hung his head, “but I can tell you you’re in the right neighborhood.”
“The DMZ?” she yelped. “But the only thing going on there but… No! You wouldn’t!”
“I probably would and am going to,” Macen replied.
“Okay,” she relented a bit. “You want to run off and play hero. Why do you want me to join you?”
“Because there’s something else involved and I think you’d approve of it,” he said nebulously.
She shook her head. “Nyuh uh. There’s something else to it. You could recruit from dozens of people, yet you’ve come to me. Why?”
Macen hesitated and then plunged on in. “Because I trust you. I trust you with my life and that’s what you’d literally be holding in your hand. I don’t trust anyone else with that.”
Danan suddenly broke into a satisfied smile. “Finally! You can admit it.”
“You still need to hear the whole proposal,” Macen warned.
Her eyes danced. “Did you just use the word ‘proposal’ with me?”
“Lees!” He used her familiar name out of frustration.
She threw her hands up in surrender, and then replied, “Have no fears. I’m not expecting miracles yet. But you can explain everything to me when you pick me up.
“You’re in?” He couldn’t believe it. “But you haven’t heard the rest of it.”
“I don’t need to. You need me. That’s all I needed to hear,” she asserted.
“You might regret this,” Macen gave her one last chance to back out.
“I already do,” Danan sighed. “Now when can you be here?”
The rest of the crew had been signed at worlds in and around the DMZ. T’Kir was one of the last survivors of Shial. The Vulcan colony had been ceded to the Cardassians and the Cardies had slaughtered the population. T’Kir had been spared because she had been away at school.
She was unusual for a Vulcan. All of her fellow colonists had been. They’d been dissidents who followed the tenets of Sybok rather than Surak. They believed that emotional expression was the key to self-fulfillment as they sought out Sha-Ka-Ree. Whether the fabled paradise was literal or metaphorical was open to debate, but everyone on Shial had believed in it and they’d died defending their homes.
T’Kir wasn’t just an emotionally expressive Vulcan; she was a broken emotional Vulcan. Tales survived of the Vulcans’ legendary mood swings. In the short time that they’d known T’Kir, the crew had been confronted with just that. It went beyond that though; she seemed out of touch with the commonly shared reality. She seemed to always be listening to things no one else could hear.
Oddly enough, Macen was her biggest defender. As such, he was the only one that she would easily listen to. In fact, he was the only one she completely paid attention to. With everyone else, it seemed as though she were listening to someone else in the background at the same time. But she focused on Macen. It was generally hoped that T’Kir wouldn’t go completely crazy and pose a threat to her crewmates.
The fact that everyone on the crew wore a sidearm didn’t help allay those fears. Eckles and Darcy usually sat theirs aside while they tended to the engine space. Everyone on the bridge was discreetly armed though. The weapons were there even if they weren’t readily seen.
Ebert had been recruited on Starbase 129. She was originally from Haldos II, which had also been handed over to the Cardassians. She’d been the owner/pilot of a small transport during the troubles with the Cardassians. She’d ferried colonists off of Haldos as the Cardassians pushed in and left the original settlers nowhere to run. Ebert’s transport had been fired upon as it crossed into the DMZ. She’d managed to set down on Ronara Prime, but her faithful little ship was a pile of wreckage now. Wreckage that some of the refugees hadn’t walked away from.
Ebert had been on Starbase 129 looking for work. Freighters and other transports were always looking for additional crew as other crewmen departed. Macen had spotted several Maquis recruiters trolling the Starfleet installation and they were sizing Ebert up. He’d simply moved in on her first. When he told her his cover story, she readily bought it.
Lacey had been recruited on Topias. The only survivor of a Maquis cell that Cardassian paramilitaries had clashed with, she’d literally run into Macen. He’d calmed her down and explained why he was there looking for recruits for his ship’s mission. She gratefully signed up.
Darcy and Eckles came as a prepackaged team. They’d left the employ of a Boslic freighter captain named Rionoj at Starbase 310. Ebert knew them as freelance engineers that hopped freighters in order to travel. Their families in the DMZ had been deeply affected by the treaty’s repercussions. Both of their families had suffered at the hands of Cardassian paramilitary strikes. The Cardassians’ official line was that the Maquis were the only terrorists in the Zone while Starfleet claimed they had no jurisdiction.
Macen promised them that they could make a difference and help prevent further attacks if they’d join him. They leapt at the chance and Macen now had a crew of seven, including himself. He set course for Ronara Prime with the intention of meeting with Ro Laren. After all, they had a lot to talk about.
Ro Laren stared into the mirror and realized she looked as stunned as she felt. The first time she’d looked like this was when the Cardassians made her watch as they tortured her father to death. The last time had been upon Macius’ death. Now she wore that look again, not because someone had died but because her cell had just made her its leader.
Actually, someone did die, Ro reminded herself. Santos’ death had opened the door for choosing a new leader. Ro had expected the reins of power to fall at Kalinda’s feet. She’d been Santos’ second in command after all. Instead a unanimous vote thrust that responsibility Ro’s way.
She thought it was just the aftereffect of her getting the cell out of the scrape Santos had led them into. Five Maquis, all good people and better soldiers, had died in that ambush. Ro had pointedly advised Santos not to follow up on the intel they had received but he pushed ahead before verifying it through eyewitnesses. The entire cell had paid for that mistake.
Ro marshaled the beleaguered Maquis survivors and they fought their way out of the neighborhood where hostile fire was raining down upon them from every rooftop. They managed an orderly withdrawal while only losing minimal casualties considering the savagery of the assault.
The Cardassians only had enough personnel to man their rooftop positions. When they remobilized to take advantage of the chaos on the ground, Ro had decisively set the Maquis into motion. They pulled back while employing a two by two cover formation. One withdrew while the other laid down suppressive fire. Their tactic, added to by the ambient cover provided by an urban landscape, worked to get most of the cell to safety.
The Cardassians had pursued to the end of the block when they ran into the cell’s reinforcements. They weren’t much by military standards but neither were the Cardies. Running headlong into phaser cannons mounted atop ground vehicles had been a surprise for the pursuing paramilitaries. The cannons sweeping arcs of overlapping fire sent the Cardassians fleeing back to their bolt holes.
The Maquis had retreated to their base of operations. They’d long since moved out of the housing quad they’d once occupied. It had attracted too many attacks and resulted in too many losses. Now they occupied a former defense post. The Cardassians had insisted that Ronara Prime shut down all of its defense posts when the planet was consigned to the DMZ. Starfleet and the Central Command had each sent representatives to oversee the shutdown.
Unbeknownst to them an official, one that predated the “shared” Federation/Cardassian government, had handed over the pass codes to the Maquis. The cell now inhabited a command bunker carved into the living rock of a mountain side. The base was fifty kilometers from the nearest city but they had ground vehicles and a couple of air cars so they made do. The best part was that the base possessed a shielded hangar they could hide their “fleet” in.
The Maquis of the Ronaran cell had the drive back to base in which to consider their fortunes. When they arrived, they immediately held a council. Ro’s name was offered as a candidate for brigade commander. She was excluded from voting but she received unanimous support. They all remembered her words of caution before the ill-fated mission, and even more, they recalled her tactical skill and unwavering leadership during their retreat. She’d shone immense personal courage. So much so that even Kalinda, Santos’ heir apparent, bowed down before Ro’s natural propensity for the role.
The problem now was that Ro didn’t feel worthy. She’d retreated to her quarters to ostensibly review who in the cell should be included in the leadership roles. Several positions had opened up as key members died. Ro skimmed over the scanty files she had on them all. Mainly it came from memory.
Kalinda was the obvious choice for second in command, assuming she’d still want the role. Alea should be her intelligence chief. For the most part she’d proven herself reliable when it came to local traffic and enemy movements. She just didn’t have a keen grasp on things beyond the DMZ. That might eventually work against her, and by that virtue, the entire cell.
Emjin Thool should also remain the engineering chief of the cell’s technical squad. The Bolian wasn’t a Geordi LaForge or a Miles O’Brien, but he was gifted in his own way. The other addition to her staff that she was making was placing Aric Tulley as her security chief. Tulley was a steadfast fellow. He’d been a farmer on Haldos II before the Cardassians routed everyone. They’d killed Tulley’s wife and three children in order to “persuade” him to abandon his land. Instead he’d killed the garresh and the three gorrs that had committed the murders.
Tulley had barely made it off of Haldos before a manhunt commenced. The transport he’d been aboard had been fired upon and came to its final resting place on Ronara. Tulley had quickly fallen in with the local Maquis cell and had proven himself utterly reliable ever since. So much so that Ro considered making him her second if Kalinda declined.
Frowning, Ro decided it was time to share her decisions with her cell. Her cell. Those words had just taken on a brand new meaning. Ro hadn’t really belonged in the Bajoran Resistance. She’d always been an outsider and had only been accepted by one man who treated her roughly but fairly. In the end, he regarded her as the daughter he’d lost during the purge of his village by the Cardassians.
After his death, Ro had left Bajor for Valo II. The settlers on Valo weren’t actively fighting the Cardassians and therefore were largely ignored by them. A bitter irony was that the Valo system was now incorporated into the DMZ. The fight had come to Valo despite Keev Falor’s long term ambitions.
Ro left Valo and headed into the Federation. Once there, she took remedial courses to make up for her spotty education. Funny, it had been hard to find teachers to follow her around while she moved all across Bajor. Imagine.
Joining Starfleet had been momentous. She’d wanted a chance to serve a greater good and to prevent tragedies like Bajor from happening. Despite her intentions, her reckless attitude put her at odds with her more cautious shipmates. Although the full details were unknown, Ro had disobeyed orders and eight of her fellow crewmen had died while serving aboard the Wellington.
Offering no defense, Ro was sent to the stockade on Jaros II. She sat there until she was tapped for a secret mission by Admiral Kennelly. In order to accomplish her mission, she had to board the flagship of the fleet, the illustrious USS Enterprise-D, commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Picard had been impressed with Ro. He offered her the opportunity to stay aboard the Enterprise. Over the course of the next eighteen months she convinced him that sending her to advanced tactical training was a suitable challenge for her talents. She’d been floored when he suggested it and even more amazed when Commander Will Riker, the ship’s XO, had signed off on the recommendation as well.
Her first assignment after returning to the Enterprise had been to travel to Ronara Prime and infiltrate the very Maquis cell she now led. Ordered to lead them into a trap, Ro sprang the trap early, alerting the Maquis to the Starfleet ships that awaited them beyond the zone’s borders. Ro returned with them, having found a family and a home.
She snorted derisively at that thought. “Home” was wherever she lay down. It constantly changed and was always a challenge to find after the last one had been abandoned.
Ro left her quarters and approached Kalinda. “Look, I know you have no reason to stay on as my second, but I would really appreciate it if you would.”
Kalinda bit back a laugh. “Ro Laren, asking for my help? What happened? We make you brigade commander and you suddenly learn humility?”
Ro gave her a rueful look. “I probably deserve that.”
“Damn straight you do,” Kalinda insisted, “and before you give me that wounded puppy look again, my answer is ‘yes.’”
Ro smirked. “In that case, I’m putting you to work.”
“Is it too late to change my mind?” Kalinda wondered.
“Yes,” Ro deadpanned, “Now get everyone gathered up. I have a few announcements.”
Kalinda did as she was told and Ro announced her decisions over who would make up the cell’s command staff. There was a general murmur of consent. A few were put out that they weren’t selected, but they seemed willing to go along with things for now.
That was the inherent problem with the Maquis. There was no sense of discipline. People came and went as they wanted. The movement was riddled with informers. But then again, the Cardassians had even bigger mouths — A trait the Maquis used to their advantage.
Alea approached Ro. Ro realized she wasn’t even certain of Alea’s species. She had violet hair like a Boslic, but was lacking the cranial ridges found on that species. Another disclaimer was the fact that the Boslics were neutral. They ran shipments for both sides. Ro decided that she needed to know more about her intelligence guru.
“How are you doing, Alea?” Ro asked conversationally.
Alea wore a wry expression. “Just now realizing you know next to nothing about me?”
Ro sighed. “Pretty much. That obvious, huh?”
“I can count the times we’ve spoken on one hand,” Alea grinned. “If you want those that have consisted of more than three words, it narrows it down to a couple of fingers.”
Ro grimaced. “That bad?”
Alea nodded. “Yeah, but don’t take it to heart. Santos didn’t know much about me either. Macius knew me though. He recruited me.”
“He did things like that,” Ro said with a pang of sorrow.
Alea noted this and apologized, “I didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories. Why I found you is because you have a message from the Maquis Council. A message from the Architect, to be precise.”
Ro knew this had to mean trouble. She was one of the few that knew that Sveta Koraponova was the famed Architect. Chakotay had introduced her when he and Ro had an impromptu reunion a few weeks ago.
Ro knew she and Chakotay were tacticians while Koraponova was a strategist. Ro thought three to five moves ahead but the Architect was twenty to thirty moves ahead in the game. Hudson was good, but he wasn’t on Koraponova’s level. For her to call meant that something was in motion and the Ronaran cell was about to take the brunt of it.
“Thanks,” Ro acknowledged Alea’s news. “Transfer the message to my quarters.”
Alea’s head bobbed, “On it.”
Ro watched as Alea disappeared into the crowd. Was I ever that young? she wondered. She knew she had been, and not that long ago. It just seemed like a veritable lifetime ago. The thought that she was brigade commander now didn’t help her mood any. Sighing to herself, she made her way to her quarters and got ready to receive whatever bad news was waiting for her.
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.