by Travis Anderson
Captain Aellai guided Eddington through her Andor-class transport. The Artemis had been built nearly at the beginning of Starfleet’s hull construction run beginning in 2322. The ships had endured in service until the late 2360s and had recently all been decommissioned en masse. The SS Artemis had begun life as theUSS Artemis and had proudly served Starfleet’s needs throughout its forty plus year tenure.
Over the last two years, the ship had changed hands and owners three times. Each prior owner-operator had secured the necessary clearance to purchase a decommissioned starship, but they had all been woefully ignorant of what kind of life an itinerant trader led. Aellai had led that life since the Setlik III massacre, so when the owner of the vessel let Aellai know his ship was up for sale, she leapt at the opportunity.
Cal Hudson had devised Aellai’s role in the Maquis but she chafed under its restrictions. She wanted to inflict a great deal of harm back upon the Cardassians for what they’d done to the settlers on Setlik III and her own people. She’d begun by replacing the removed phaser banks with Klingon disruptors and unblocked the torpedo tubes that now carried four photons.
Fortunately for Aellai’s line of work, and her secret life as well, the Artemis’ sensor suite was intact, as were her shield array. Her engines were also unaltered so she could easily outpace the fastest conventional freighter. No other Maquis ship could catch her or escape her.
“How did the Quatal assignment go?” Eddington inquired as they neared the transporter room where the tour had begun.
Aellai fished an isolinear rod out of her bra and handed it to Eddington. “That encompasses all of our orbital sensor readings as well as those taken on the ground with tricorders. The atmospheric studies will be of particular interest to you.”
Eddington stopped in his tracks. “Why would you say that?”
“Let’s just say if someone wanted to deploy an aerosol agent into Quatal’s atmosphere, these wind current projections would be valuable,” Aellai fenced with him.
“Too bad I’m not doing that then,” Eddington parried.
“Just keep saying that,” Aellai said smugly. “After our next little ‘job’ is completed, what do you have in mind for us?”
“I need a similar study of Gryma,” Eddington answered.
“Gryma is more of a challenge,” Aellai mused. “It was the funnel point for the Cardassian Guard’s assistance to the colonial paramilitaries. Despite that support having dried up to a trickle because of the Klingons, the Cardassians will still suspect anyone moving across their world of being spies.”
“Then it’s a good thing you will be,” Eddington chuckled. “I’d hate to disappoint them. And I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for the Klingons in this. Now that they’ve broken faith with the Khitomer Accords treaty, I’ve been in contact with representatives from the High Council. We may have a new door for material support opening up for us.”
“They’re interested in throwing weaponry our way but not of fighting beside us,” Aellai immediately grasped.
“They see putting out the ultimate effort as a virtue in warfare,” Eddington smirked.
“Like a cloaking device is honorable,” Aellai snorted.
“Like Commander Worf recently said, ‘There’s nothing as honorable as winning’ and the Klingons do intend to win,” Eddington summed up.
They reached the transporter room and the impromptu tour concluded. Aellai eyed Eddington skeptically. “Well, what do you think of my ship?”
“With only five decks, this ship is comparable in size to the Defiant,” Eddington commented. “Of course, the Artemis has much greater cargo capacity.”
“And I’ll be filling its holds with various trinkets to buy my way onto Gryma’s surface as well as taking care of your other little errand. That process is going to take several weeks,” Aellai warned him.
“Really?” Eddington was disappointed. “That long?”
“Starfleet has become aware of Captain Yates’ involvement with the Maquis,” Aellai forced him to recall. “In doing so, they’ve tightened security and are sending out exploratory patrols into nonaligned space with greater frequency and intensity. I can’t tip my hand just yet.”
“And getting your little weapons assembled will also take time,” Aellai warned. “My people had experience with biogenic weapons. They’ll be worth the wait. They completely poisoned Platonius so that no one can inhabit it.”
“We’re not destroying any planets,” Eddington countered. “We need the planets intact for settlement. Of course, they’re also going to require one helluva burial detail.”
“Well, our losses forced us to interbreed with humans just to survive,” Aellai lamented.
“As I have heard it, you’re half human yourself,” Eddington pointed out.
“Through no fault of my own,” Aellai retorted.
“Oh, we’re not so bad. If you have to interbreed with someone it might as well be us,” Eddington jovially remarked.
His good humor was lost on her. “I’ll call someone in to handle the transporter. Good day.”
As Eddington watched Aellai depart, he realized he’d just found a major vulnerability in her emotional shields. It was good to know these things. He patiently waited for Don Granger to return to the transporter room.
Granger served as the Artemis’ cargo master as well as the transporter chief. Since the entire crew was made up of four people, everyone undertook multiple specialties. Aellai was not only the captain, but she also handled the conn and ops. Donal Riley was her first officer and also controlled weapons, sensors, and communications. Siobhan Hennessy was the chief engineer and also the munitions handler. All in all, they were a highly efficient operation.
“Just step on the pad, Commander Eddington, and I’ll have you on the surface in a heartbeat,” Granger said jovially.
“I’m no longer in Starfleet, so you don’t have to refer to me by my former rank,” Eddington deadpanned.
“But you’re the next Maquis commander,” Granger quipped, “so I’m still right.”
Eddington smiled. “I’ll give you that.”
He stepped onto a pad and looked around at the unit. “Is this still a Mark V transporter?”
“It works,” Granger shot back. “With all the care Siobhan and I give this baby, she’ll outperform any Mark VII.”
“I believe you,” Eddington assured him.
Granger grinned. “Good, ‘cause otherwise Siobhan would hand you your ass.”
Eddington recalled the feisty engineer. “I believe you’re right again.”
“Energizing,” Granger smirked.
Aellai ran a tight ship with so few crewmen because greater numbers increased the security risks around what they really did and the cargoes they handled. Everyone aboard hated the Cardassians as much if not more than Aellai. So their little conspiracy ran unabated until someone outside the circle grew the wiser.
Ro contacted Elijah Waters. Macen had told her about Waters, but she’d never seen him before. His advanced years startled her. Waters was at least eighty years old. Humans were now living past the century mark, but Waters was still far older than Ro expected.
Her only estimate of his age before this was based on the comment Macen had made that he’d worked with Waters for sixty years. Given that Macen was an El-Aurian, that made his own age very deceptive and rounded out appropriately for Waters’ own appearance.
“Hello Ro, I’m afraid your reputation does go before you,” Waters smiled.
Ro appreciated Waters’ snowy white beard and hair. The twinkle in his eyes also swayed her towards immediately liking him. “So does yours. I think I’m safe in assuming the reports are from the same source.”
“Not quite. Admiral Nechayev had some choice things to say about you behind closed doors,” Waters chuckled. “Just as Brin does.”
“I have a few things to say regarding Nechayev myself,” Ro confessed. “What were hers?”
“Her metaphors were mixed and very colorful,” Waters admitted. “The sort of language you’d hear from a Klingon whorehouse.”
Ro liked that thought. “And Macen?”
“Only the best,” Waters assured her.
“Okay, setting all that aside, I need…” Ro began.
“To hire the Odyssey and her captain,” Waters surmised before Ro could finish. “You’re in luck. They just finished an investigation into the Boslics for a certain Ferengi.”
“I hope Quark paid well,” Ro said dryly.
“Far more than he expected to, I assure you,” Waters said slyly. “The Odyssey will be returning to Starbase 412 from Bajor in two days time.”
“Why Bajor and not Deep Space Nine?” Ro was instantly curious.
“Macen is confirming a rumor,” Waters said simply.
Ro waited for the man to elaborate but it quickly dawned her he wasn’t going to. “Tell Brin to meet me in the usual place on Ronara Prime.”
“I will indeed, and if I were forty years younger, I’d be a very jealous man.” Waters’ eyes twinkled with delight as he signed off.
Ro wondered just what the hell Macen had shared about her.
Two days later, Ro cautiously entered the Old Biddy. The tavern had become such a draw for the planet’s Maquis cell that she was surprised that Starfleet and the Cardassians hadn’t targeted it yet. Then again, Starfleet might have done so and no one realized it yet. The Cardassians, however, would have stood out even in the bar’s usual crowd.
The “usual” crowd was an eclectic mix of freighter crews and locals. Various fringe elements also found the Old Biddy to be a haven of sorts, which is probably why the Maquis felt at home there.
Ro had been recruited to the Maquis in an establishment similar to this, at least in the eclectic mix of patrons’ arena. That watering hole had been light years far and away in class. The Old Biddy was simply a place where one drank their cares away — or conducted clandestine meetings such as Ro was about to have.
Ro’s right hand was in her jacket pocket. Inside was a Type I “cricket” phaser. Starfleet had stopped issuing the diminutive weapons so they’d found their way into surplus dealers’ hands and the black market. As Ro worked her way through the tavern, she ordered a drink and then spotted Macen at their usual table in the back of the establishment.
Ro made her approach and as she drew closer to the table, she realized there was a male Galenite lying unconscious on the floor next to the table. His ancestry was obvious because of his green hair. His people were native to Galen III, a pre-warp culture whose planet was near the Federation colony on Galen IV. Ro knew from personal acquaintances that the colonists had violated the Prime Directive on more than one occasion.
“Did you really have to stun him?” Ro dryly asked.
Macen shrugged. “He wouldn’t vacate your seat.”
“We could have used a different table,” Ro wryly suggested.
“And break tradition?” Macen queried her with mock horror.
“It’s no wonder you’re no longer in Starfleet,” Ro snorted.
“You’re a fine one to talk,” Macen quipped.
“Too true,” she said with some satisfaction as she sat down opposite Macen, “but I’m not sure we have time for the usual repartee.”
“Elijah said you seemed to be in a hurry to hire me,” Macen began. “I suppose you’ll want my special pro bono rate.”
“What are you now?” Ro retorted. “A latinum grubbing Ferengi?”
“I know quite a few Bajorans that grub a lot too,” Macen threw back at her.
“We’re not here to discuss them,” Ro growled a warning.
“No, we’re here to discuss Michael Eddington’s intentions for the Maquis,” Macen surmised.
“How did you know?” Ro wondered. “I didn’t tell Waters anything.”
“I know you don’t like Eddington,” Macen admitted, “and if I know it, he knows it as well. That could prove to be dangerous when you’re dealing with a megalomaniac.”
“Bully for him,” Ro retorted.
“A very free word of advice: While standing up for principle is a vital part of life, it doesn’t pay to needlessly antagonize the boss,” Macen warned her.
“So you think Eddington is a shoo in for Maquis commander?” Ro wondered.
“He already is in everything but name only,” Macen stated.
Ro sighed. “Eddington has Aellai surveying Quatal Prime. I can only guess that Gryma is next. I need to know why.”
“So do the governors of Quatal and Gryma,” Macen divulged, “and they’re willing to cover my expenses for the job.”
“So you’ll still make a profit while helping out us poor, struggling Maquis,” Ro said snidely. “Poor baby.”
“Laren, I’ve been quite generous with the Maquis in general and your cell in particular. I’d do the assignment for you gratis,” Macen shared, “but if I can get the Cardassians to finance a Maquis operation, then I’m all for it.”
“Good point,” Ro murmured.
“The Cardassians are afraid that Aellai is working for the Maquis — a fact we know to be true,” Macen remarked. “They’re of the opinion that the Maquis will learn something to enable them to deploy a weapon of some sort. I think you share this opinion.”
“Yes, but Eddington still needs Aellai’s cover intact,” Ro opined, “but the vindictive little guttersnipe wants her revenge, so I think if she enables Eddington to acquire some kind of super weapon, she’ll be likely to use it herself.”
“Aellai covered her ostensible reason for being at Quatal, which was supposedly a trade venture, by scouring nonaligned star systems to acquire exotic wares and goods that the Cardassians would want to buy,” Macen described. “Some of those planets are under protection from the Prime Directive, but apparently Aellai doesn’t feel constrained by that law anymore.”
“Should she?” Ro asked acerbically.
“Even if you don’t agree with many of the Federation’s policies, you have to admit that the Prime Directive is a valid one,” Macen conjectured.
“Unless your home planet is being occupied by a foreign aggressor when the Federation invokes its lofty principle of ‘noninterference’ and throws that in your face,” Ro snapped. “And for what? To avoid a war that they’d already been unofficially fighting for a couple of decades?”
“Then why did you swear an oath to uphold that same principle?” Macen inquired.
“Well, I didn’t fulfill that oath very well, did I?” Ro asked sardonically.
“You didn’t join the Maquis because you hated the Federation,” Macen stated the obvious fact. “You did it because you were disappointed again by the Federation’s failures to live up to its own ideals.”
For once in a rare occasion, Ro was rendered speechless. Macen brushed it all aside. “Anyway, Aellai will be stocking up her wares again so we can observe her in action and see if Eddington has any special stops arranged for her.”
“How will you find her?” Ro wondered.
“Easy. Captain Rionoj gave me Aellai’s usual route and a list of where she frequently stops,” Macen grinned.
“A little perk of working for Quark, I take it,” Ro deduced.
Macen shrugged. “Quark wanted to know where Rionoj had found her new supply of fire gems. He wanted to undercut her. She was willing to trade my silence for Aellai’s itinerary.”
“So you lied to your employer,” Ro said ruefully.
“Quark didn’t need to know the truth,” Macen decided, “and my willingness to withhold the true percentage of what he was taking off of the sale of Rionoj’s gemstones was bartered in exchange for his accepting my report at face value.”
Macen suddenly smirked. “With a twenty-five percent reduction of my standard fee, of course.”
After Ro’s mirth died down, she asked, “Will you help us?”
Macen nodded in the affirmative, “I’ve been worried about Aellai for a while now. She was clearly unhinged back in ‘57 when the massacre on Setlik III occurred.”
“And how would you know?” Ro queried him.
“I know what I saw at the time,” Macen gently replied.
That rattled Ro, so she hesitated before inquiring, “So what’s your plan?”
“That’s all up to you,” Macen informed her, “but I’d stick with the simple game plan of following theArtemis and seeing who she meets up with.”
“I agree with the idea,” Ro said after a moment’s consideration. “I’ll prep a team to come aboard your ship.”
“I’d also suggest you leave your usual staff officers behind so they can take the Indomitable out to create the illusion that you’ve never left Ronara except for this mission,” Macen urged.
“I suppose you have a mission already in mind,” Ro surmised.
“As it turns out, the Orion Syndicate is shipping Class IV ground based disruptor banks to Quatal and Gryma. The convoy will be comprised of four stock light freighters and two Wanderer-class blockade runners. The cargo manifests will show that they industrial replicators rather than weapons in order to get past any Starfleet patrols on their way to Cardassian space whereby they will transit to Gryma,” Macen shared.
“All right, I’ll inform Tulley he’s on this,” Ro agreed. “I’ll also assemble a team of reliable Maquis and meet you at Second Quad Settlement in Division Four of Primal City.”
“I have to know,” Macen interjected, “just how committed to this objective are you?”
“Normally I’d go after the Orions in my own raider,” Ro asserted, “but I’m letting Tulley do that and I’m riding with you.”
“You have to know Eddington will respond,” Macen warned her. “He has an overinflated sense of personal betrayal and he will take measures against you in response to this. You could easily be ostracized from the communal Brigade Council and the joint supply line. This would leave you utterly dependent on your own financing initiatives and logistics support.”
“I guess I really would be an independent operator afterwards,” Ro ventured.
Macen had to appreciate her courage and dedication.
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.