by Travis Anderson
The Federation starship NCC-26632, USS Gandhi, was cruising along the Demilitarized Zone separating the bulk of the border with the Cardassians from Federation space. The venerable Ambassador-class ship was a match for older Cardassian Galor-class types, but she’d be hard-pressed if met by a Galor Type IV. But the whole point of the DMZ was to prevent adversarial contact between the two stellar powers.
Lt. Tom Riker, the ship’s ops officer, had just reached his quarters when he heard a husky voice behind him say, “Hey Lieutenant, want to exchange some fluids?”
Riker grinned as he turned to face the newly-minted Lt. J.G. Annalise Vallis. “I hear congratulations are in order, Lieutenant.”
Vallis suddenly looked a little downcast. “I’m sure your own promotion is in the works, Tom.”
“I doubt it,” Riker said matter-of-factly. “My last performance evaluation was like playing target at a live fire exercise.”
“Commander Halifax just has it in for you,” Vallis accused.
Frankly, Riker agreed that Megan Halifax was gunning for him but he had to pretend otherwise. “I think she honestly thinks she’s defending Starfleet’s best interests.”
“It’s because you’re different,” Vallis grumped. “That makes her hate you.”
Riker thought that was a delicate way of saying he was a result of a transporter accident that duplicated a then-Lieutenant William Riker. Will Riker had been recovered and was now XO aboard the USSEnterprise. Tom Riker had been stranded for eight years and now served as a junior officer aboard theGandhi.
Part of Halifax’s objections were that Riker wasn’t a team player and he frequently stepped out of the chain of command. Riker had been isolated and alone during his confinement on Nervalla IV. He’d relied upon his wits and his own skill to stay alive in a hostile environment. He wasn’t used to waiting for someone to tell him what to do. If he saw a solution to a problem, he acted upon it.
“You’re a clone,” Riker reminded Vallis. “That makes you ‘unique’ as well. Yet you just got promoted. Trust me, Halifax’s problem with my style are the entire issue here.”
“She just hates that you’re usually right,” Vallis complained, “which just goes to show she’s useless.”
“Careful,” Riker warned. “Corridors have ears.”
“But she’s simply prejudiced,” Vallis opined. “Can’t she be charged with something?”
“Maybe,” Riker said hesitantly, “but Captain Moneii will back Halifax and the burden of proof is on me.”
Vallis knew a lost cause when she heard one. Captain Aryn Moneii was grooming Halifax for a command of her own. There was no way she would entertain accusations against her prized pupil.
“Ah, the hell with it,” Vallis decided. “Buck for a transfer instead.”
Vallis looked wistful. “But I’d certainly miss you.”
“And I’d miss you as well, Annalise,” Riker assured her.
“Look, how about dinner?” Vallis offered. “My treat.”
Riker was loath to decline, but he did. “Sorry, I have computer core issues to debug tonight.”
Vallis looked incredulous. “You’re kidding, right? You’ve actually got a hot date that you’re standing me up for.”
Riker grimaced. “I wish. Halifax accused me of not caring enough about my work to continue my duties into my off hours.”
“No wonder she doesn’t have a life.” Vallis was nearly livid. “I’ll file the damn complaint.”
“Drop out of warp and take the evening off,” Riker urged. “I’ll catch up with you when I get done.”
“If you get done,” Vallis groaned.
“Annalise, the longer I stand out here the longer it’ll take me to get done,” Riker cajoled her.
“Okay, I can take a hint.” Vallis began to walk off. “But you’d better check in later.”
“I promise,” he called after her.
Entering his quarters, he headed straight to the replicator and ordered a light dinner and plenty of coffee. Line code required copious amounts of caffeine, and it was going to be a long night of scrubbing away the unnecessary patches the crew had been attaching to the core programs.
An hour later, the door chimed. This provided Riker with a merciful distraction. He ordered the door to open as he approached it. Revealed to be standing out in the corridor, Lt. Shwren ann’Weri waited for Riker to invite her in. The chief tactical officer looked a little impish if the twitching of her antenna was any indication.
“Come in, Wren,” Riker offered and the Andorian accepted.
“I notice you’re still in uniform,” Wren dryly noted.
“Well, these Class B uniforms are a lot easier to wear then the Class A’s,” Riker commented. And it was true. Riker did prefer the yellow shoulder paneled, black-bodied uniform variant. The mock turtleneck that went underneath the jumpsuit was far more comfortable than the stiff collars of the traditional Class A uniform.
“I agree,” Wren grinned. “Which must be why I’m wearing mine as well.”
Riker knew Wren had to be here for an ulterior reason rather than just banter — though she generally took great delight in that as well. “Not to be rude, but why are you calling?”
Wren wore a rueful expression as she began to explain herself. “We’ve been intercepted by a Federation scoutship.”
“They’re friendly?” Riker doubted they were hostile. Wren would be manning, or overseeing, the tactical station if they were currently in a fight.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘friendly’,” Wren hedged. “Let’s just say, the scoutship is a decommissionedBlackbird-class starship. She began life as the USS Tiberius but she’s currently registered as the SSOdyssey.”
Riker was baffled as to why Wren was drawing this to his attention. “If the ship isn’t a hostile, why are you here?”
Wren looked doubtful, but lunged on anyway. “The scout’s commander wants to talk to you. This has irked Captain Moneii and Commander Halifax enough that I’m to bring you directly to the captain’s ready room so she can decide on whether or not you can talk to the other captain.”
“Isn’t that censorship?” Riker wondered.
“There’s conjecture the ship maybe involved in illegal activity,” Wren revealed, “so the captain feels a little caution is warranted.”
“Anything else I should know?” Riker thought it couldn’t get worse. He was wrong.
“Yeah, Commander Halifax is chewing deuterium over this. She’s already considering court martialing you for ‘associating with potential criminals,’” Wren warned.
“Wouldn’t they have to be ‘known’ criminals for it to deserve a court martial?” Riker wondered.
“If she can make it stick, she will,” Wren warned.
“Of course she will,” Riker murmured.
Riker endured instant glares from the CO and XO of the ship when he entered Moneii’s ready room. Moneii gruffly instructed Riker to remain standing. Halifax began to prowl around the room, circling Riker. If her intention was to anger him, she was succeeding.
“Who do you know, Lieutenant Riker?” Moneii suddenly demanded to know.
“I’m not certain I understand the question,” Riker replied.
“Who do you know off of this ship, Lieutenant?” Halifax snapped.
“Not many people,” Riker admitted.
“Name them,” Halifax commanded.
He gave her an incredulous look and then Moneii intervened. “Settle down, Commander. Lt. Riker, if you would indulge us.”
Riker recited a very short list. Moneii seemed somewhat amused. “I see you neglected your father and your doppelganger.”
“I don’t want to know them,” Riker tersely replied. “Permission to speak candidly?”
Moneii weighed her options before deciding, “Very well.”
“What the hell is this about?” Riker wanted to know.
“Keep a civil tongue, Lt. Riker,” Halifax warned. “That bordered on insubordination.”
Again, Riker graced her with an incredulous look. Moneii balanced her priorities again. “What has Lt. Wren told you of our current situation?”
“Not much,” Riker admitted.
“Please elaborate,” Moneii ordered.
Riker did as he was bade. For some reason, Moneii frowned. “And does any of this strike you as odd?”
“This whole damn scenario is odd. Especially this bit,” Riker stated.
“Riker, I’m warning you…” Halifax growled.
“Take a deep breath, Commander,” Moneii suggested. “Lt. Riker is within his rights to wonder why we’re treating him this way.”
“Not in my book he doesn’t,” Halifax declared.
Moneii sighed. “Try decaf next time, Megan. Lt. Wren, please brief Lt. Riker on the Odyssey and her captain.”
“The Odyssey, as previously mentioned, is a decommissioned Starfleet vessel. She has Federation registration out of Bajor,” Wren described.
“How can Bajor issue Federation registrations?” Riker wondered. “They’re an independent planet.”
“They are a protectorate and we’re courting them for Federation membership,” Moneii explained. “As such, we’re ramping up trade ties with Bajor. In order to facilitate free access to Federation ports, Bajoran freighters enjoy dual registration — from Bajor and the Federation.”
“Convenient,” Riker mused. “How does this affect our current situation?”
“Lt. Wren?” Moneii deflected the question.
“The Odyssey’s captain is a former commander in Starfleet. A career officer in Starfleet Intelligence,” Wren divulged.
“What could he want from us?” Riker asked.
“He wants to talk to you and only you,” Moneii shared. “He says he has information vital to the Federation’s security and the security of Bajor. But he’ll only show the data to you. And inside the DMZ.”
“Why?” Riker was baffled.
“That’s what we’re asking you, dammit!” Halifax grated.
“I have no idea who this could be,” Riker confessed.
“His name is Brin Macen,” Wren supplied.
“Never heard of him,” Riker admitted.
“Commander Macen spent the bulk of his career on the Cardassian desk. He rose to chief analyst, and then in the height of the Border Wars, Macen went out into the field. He spent ten years on the front lines.” Wren elaborated on Macen’s history, “He saw the creation of the Demilitarized Zone as a betrayal of the Federation colonists along the border and subsequently resigned after the Maquis formed up.”
“Did he say why?” Riker inquired.
“He’s on record as stating that the sacrifices made by the border colonies were effectively betrayed by the treaty and spat on the memory of those who have fought and died for the Federation,” Wren recited from memory.
“Sanctimonious sonuvabitch,” Halifax spat.
“These sentiments, and Macen’s own security clearances, are why Starfleet Intelligence marked him for observation,” Wren continued.
“How does Macen and his crew make a living?” Riker asked.
“They’re listed as freelance information brokers,” Moneii spoke again. “They have a thriving business supplying Federation and Bajoran luxury items to select Cardassian clientele. Their routes are specifically chosen to spirit them through active sectors affecting the border regions and the DMZ. Starfleet’s Admiral Nechayev is one of Macen’s chief clients of intelligence on this side of the border. She also mandated that he retain his security clearances when he resigned, which leads us to question if he really did resign or this is some covert operation.”
“Covert my ass,” Halifax retorted. “He sells the same data to Admiral Nechayev and the Maquis.”
“Which has yet to be proven,” Wren interjected.
“So what do we do about this situation, Lt. Riker?” Moneii asked.
“I beam aboard Macen’s ship and Wren comes with me,” Riker suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Moneii mused. “He won’t like it though.”
“If Captain Macen wants me bad enough, he’ll negotiate,” Riker asserted.
“What do you think, Commander?” Moneii asked Halifax.
“I say we board them and arrest the whole lot for conspiring with terrorists,” Halifax urged.
Moneii started to roll her eyes, but she caught herself in time. “You know there won’t be any evidence whatsoever. This man is a professional spy.”
“It’ll shake him up,” Halifax insisted. “Maybe something will drop loose.”
Wren spoke up. “If I may?” Moneii nodded so the Andorian plunged ahead. “We have no legal merit to board Macen’s ship. However, living assets aboard his ship may observe something illegal in progress.”
Moneii weighed the heaviest options and reached a decision. “Very well, Lieutenants. Pack lightly because I want you back ASAP. And please dispose of the uniforms; I suspect they won’t be received well.”
Riker and Wren exchanged grins and exited the ready room. Halifax groaned, “I trust Wren not to screw this up. But Riker?”
“Have a little faith. Lt. Riker is far more capable than you perceive him to be. Think you have a blind spot where he’s concerned,” Moneii cautioned her XO.
“Well, here’s hoping he even comes back,” Halifax commented.
Moneii wondered what elicited that statement.
The Odyssey’s transporter room was half the size of the Gandhi’s. One of the ship’s engineers was there operating the controls. Later, the Starfleet officers would learn that she was one of the two engineers aboard.
Riker was momentarily taken aback by the woman’s appearance. She was terribly young and a natural brunette, but she had chunky blonde lines streaking through her hair in the “minked” style. It had been a fad off and on since the 21st Century but it hadn’t been popular since Riker was a youth. Apparently fashions moved slower on the frontier.
“Hi,” the crewman said. “I’m Heidi Darcy, engineer’s mate at your service. I’m supposed to take you to the bridge, but our chief is awfully cranky today and I don’t think I should leave him alone with the warp core, if you know what I mean.”
“So how do we get to the bridge?” Riker wondered aloud.
“Follow me.” Darcy led them out into the corridor and pointed down its length. “The turbolift is that way. You can’t miss it because there’s only one. You’re on deck three right now, and like all good little Starfleet designs, the bridge is on deck one. There are only five decks, so you really can’t get lost.”
Riker and Wren wondered how Darcy was going to get to engineering. Darcy grinned, “It takes up deck four. So I’m just going to drop in through the emergency stairwell. It’ll surprise the hell out of Tom. On a small tub like this, you take your thrills where you can get them. See ya!”
Wren was delighted by the irrepressibly cheerful Darcy and said as much. Riker was a little more cautious. “Here’s hoping she’s a reflection of the rest of the crew.”
The turbolift opened on deck one, revealing the bridge. Every eye turned their way. They were obviously expected.
Riker was astonished by the bridge layout. The battle bridge of the Galaxy-class starships owed a lot to these scouts. What was surprising was they went into production in 2318, nearly fifteen years before theGandhi was constructed, and another twenty beyond that build before the Galaxy-class went into full construction.
The bridge, it seemed, was populated entirely by women. Macen was nowhere to be seen. At ops, an eccentric looking Vulcan manned the station. Beside her at conn was another impossibly young crewman. And, in an anachronistic fashion, she wore eyeglasses. But as she turned to face the Starfleet officers, the lenses had a faint luminescent glow to them. They were probably displays of some kind and linked to the navigation array.
Wren studied the woman at tactical. The woman obviously dyed her hair red, and then highlighted her bangs in a shade of blonde, and sported tattoos up and down her arms, and who knew where else. But Wren could see that she didn’t want to challenge the redhead inside her own domain.
A Trill manned the science station. Wren recognized Lt. Commander Lisea Danan from Starfleet Intelligence’s records pertaining to the Odyssey. Danan was a respected astrophysicist, astronomer, and stellar cartographer. She was also the current host to the Danan symbiont. What was known was that Danan resigned her commission to join Macen, but no one knew why.
Macen emerged from the briefing room accessed from the rear of the bridge. The ship predated the age of ready rooms, so Macen employed his staff briefing room as a dual purpose office and conference room.
“Hello,” Macen began, “Lt. Riker, Lt. Wren, I’m glad you came aboard.”
Macen began to nod towards his crewmen. “T’Kir is at ops. Tracy Ebert mans the conn. Christine Lacey is our tactical specialist, and the ever estimable Lisea Danan is our sensor specialist. But you can call her Lees. You already met Heidi. Tom Eckles is our chief engineer. I’m Brin Macen.”
“So you’re the captain,” Riker posed it as a statement rather than a question. “I see you have yourself quite a harem.”
A cold bristle passed through the bridge. Wren suddenly wished she had a phaser. Macen merely gave Riker a wry look.
“That appellation is usually applied to our chief engineer. It’s equally false in this case,” Macen said dryly.
Before either Starfleet officer could comment further, Macen turned to Ebert. “Tracy, break away from theGandhi and set course for Ronara Prime.”
“That’s well within the DMZ,” Wren noted.
“So it is,” Macen quipped. “It’s also where I was hired to take you.”
“So who hired you and what do they want from me?” Riker wanted to know.
“I don’t know the why,” Macen countered, “just the who.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Wren commented.
Macen gave her a wry look. “For my own protection, details have been withheld from me.”
Seeing skepticism on his guests faces, he added, “Follow me into the briefing room and I’ll tell you what I can.”
Wren looked to Riker for a lead. He nodded and they both moved forward to follow Macen. He in turn stopped at the science station next to the door leading to the briefing room.
“The bridge is yours, Lees,” Macen grinned. “Don’t call me unless we’re under attack.”
Danan just gave him an amused look as he disappeared.
As befitted a standard Starfleet briefing room, the space was dominated by a centrally located oblong table. Eight chairs were placed around it facing the comp/comm units built into the table. Additionally, a desk with a comp/comm was situated against the bulkhead near the apparent head of the table. This was Macen’s private work space.
Macen sat down at the chair located between the table and desk. He scooted up against the table. “Please have a seat.”
As they sat down, Macen wore a grateful smile. “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that you both had the foresight to step out of uniform. I don’t think my clients want to draw attention to the fact that they have official witnesses to their upcoming excursion.”
“I thought you didn’t know what the mission was,” Wren said snarkily.
“I don’t know the mission per se,” Macen rebutted, “but I do know that your presence is requested in an unofficial/official capacity.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Riker argued.
Macen gave him a wry look. “You’re officially witnessing an event in your professional capacity. You just aren’t officially there.”
“That sounds illegal,” Riker protested.
“Starfleet Intelligence engages in clandestine operations all the time,” Macen reminded them. “Consider yourself volunteers.”
“So you’re still with Starfleet Intelligence,” Wren surmised.
“I take it you’ve read my file.” Macen didn’t bother to present it as a question.
Wren nodded, so Macen continued, “Then you know I’m a civilian. And it’s in a civilian capacity that I’m delivering you to my clients.”
“Who are these people and what do they want with me?” Riker inquired sharply.
“It isn’t so much a ‘they.’ It’s more like a single person,” Macen replied.
“Who?” Riker grated.
“A man named Chakotay,” Macen supplied at long last.
“And who is that?” Riker was getting exasperated now.
“He’s another former Starfleet officer that operates a ship in the DMZ,” Macen revealed.
“He’s a Maquis,” Wren accused.
“Well, there is that rumor,” Macen admitted.
“Why would this ‘Chakotay’ want to talk to me?” Riker wondered.
“Well, as I gather, it was Kalita’s idea, actually,” Macen divulged.
Riker vaguely thought the name sounded familiar. “Who?”
“You met her on Hadon II,” Macen reminded him. “She suggested a career change.”
Now Riker recalled. “She did say she’d be in touch.”
“Consider yourself touched,” Macen quipped.
“So basically, this Chakotay and Kalita are recruiting Tom to aid in some terrorist act,” Wren theorized.
“I don’t know.” Macen repeated again, “They aren’t sharing and I’m not asking.”
“I’m certain you vet your clientele very thoroughly,” Wren said tightly.
“I do,” Macen confirmed, “but sometimes certain rumors and innuendo have to be overlooked. I deal in facts.”
“Hardly,” Wren argued. “You were the chief analyst of the Cardassian desk. Sometimes all you had to go on were rumors.”
“And when that happened, a very real cost was paid in lives,” Macen said with the first tinge of anger lacing his voice. “I’m trying not to do that these days.”
“So when will we be meeting these ‘so-called’ Maquis?” Riker asked.
“Very, very soon,” Macen warned them.
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.