Payment

ByBlacknblue(akaBluenblack)

Disclaimer: I don't own Star Trek. I wrote this for fun. Anyone is free to download and/or redistribute this story as long as you keep it complete and intact, and as long as you don't make any money from it.

Note: Vulcan terms used in this story were taken from the online Vulcan Language Dictionary, the Vulcan Language Institute, or I made them up myself.

A/N: There is not a lot of action in this chapter. Some, but not a lot. Mostly it's full of explanations and tying up loose ends. Situations get resolved, mysteries get explained, and plans get clarified. Only a few hundred people get killed, at most.

Also, I'm reminded to give another thanks to Asso, the evil physician, for helping me plan Reed's murder so long ago. Last, but certainly not least, one final acknowledgment to Rigil Kent, who originally inspired this story and got the ball rolling.

[Folks have been sending me PMs, asking for the title of my original book. I feel bad about this, and I'm honestly not trying to be a... whatever. But if you're gonna hire somebody for advice, you might as well follow it.

I'll give you a little more information. The one (1) word title is the name of the object that is shown on the cover. The object is a tool with a blade, and it's associated with witches. That should do it. Google can be your friend. Try searching witch+tool+blade. Then plug the result into Amazon's epic fantasy list.

If I say any more I'll get smacked, and not in a fun way.]

ENGINEER REVOLT 0.5 HOURS

The bond was humming with energy, but nothing seemed to be wrong. He kept getting an impression of T'Pol and the bio-cylinder, alone in the auxiliary control room. Her eagerness to join him was conflicting with her primal need to guard her baby. He tried to send back soothing thoughts, most likely a useless effort.

Reports were coming in, thick and fast.

Starfleet HQ was caught completely by surprise. The engineering staff had practically been handed the place on a silver platter. All they had to do was activate the automatic defense mechanism and seal off the exits. Then they told the central computer that headquarters was under attack by poison gas and radioactive weapons. The system obligingly sealed off all outside ventilation.

Technicians in the basement had strolled along a pipe tunnel, manually shutting off half a dozen air flow valves. Then the staff in central maintenance activated the intruder defense gas. Thirty minutes later, everyone except the engineering staff was unconscious. Forty-two minutes after that, the last senior officer at HQ was dead.

The highest ranking engineers on Terra moved into HQ and started going through files, trying to get a handle on the High Command's overall battle strategy. From the reports Tucker received, it seemed like the existing strategy was 'swing wild and pray'. He shook his head in disgust.

Three admirals, nine commodores, five generals, and a handful of colonels had been out and about on inspection tours. Or simply basking on various beaches. With Tucker's team in control of all communication equipment, it wasn't difficult to lure them into specially prepared vehicles. The transports were then targeted by sensor lock. The officers, and their bodyguards, were simply beamed out. They rematerialized at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

The ships of the task force fell under engineering control almost instantly following Tucker's 'guillotine' command. His order spread through the rest of the fleet in the fashion of falling dominoes, and one-by-one confirmation returned that each retro-fitted ship had been successfully commandeered.

The ships that he had not been able to retro-fit were listed, and the commandeered NX vessels immediately set about finding and capturing them. With upgraded weapons and Tucker's supplemental equipment, no one anticipated significant difficulty carrying out his instructions. Once the new ships were secure, they would be sent trickling back to Jupiter station as the needs of combat allowed.

A tiny handful of remaining High Command members, the most junior members, were known to be aboard ships of the line in active combat. They, along with the captains and senior officers aboard (unless actually engaged with the enemy) were unceremoniously transported into space for a brief introduction into the subject of explosive hydrodynamics. Remaining officers aboard the battle cruisers were presented with a simple choice. Accept the new status quo or join their former superiors.

Tucker stayed glued to the comm, giving specific instructions to the crews of each ship. In general, he permitted the engineers already aboard to select which crew members would be eliminated. Only a small handful of the captains had previously received Tucker's personal blessing to survive. Even so, the number had to be adjusted slightly. Some of them panicked when the hammer hit the steel and had to be put down, and one of them tried to get clever. He ordered that particular captain handed over to the Gamma shift staff on latrine duty.

ENGINEER REVOLT 0.5 HOURS

"Your reluctance is logical, Krasen," Admiral Shon said. "Your first loyalty is to Vulcan. After that, to your comrades in the rebellion. I want you to consider the possibility that Vulcan's fate is inextricably tied to the empire."

"I reject that contention," Krasen said. "It is possible that Vulcan's circumstance will improve in a modified Terran empire. It is also possible that the rebellion is a lost cause, and aiding you in your effort is the best option available to me. But Vulcans do not require Human interference to prosper."

"I did not say, nor did I imply, that Vulcan required Humans in order to prosper," Shon reproved. "You conditioned enmity toward Humans is distorting your perception. However, the two worlds are never going to escape each other. Not while both of them retain viable populations. They can fight to the death, until one of them is destroyed. Or they can forge a system for coexistence. The only other option is shared slavery."

Krasen looked down, grinding his teeth. "Stipulated."

"Our purpose here," the Andorian, Larin, said, "is to adjust the structure of the empire to a configuration that makes life tolerable for all members of society. You may not be aware that most of the Humans in the empire do not live under appreciably better conditions than do the subject races. Only the ruling warrior class of Humans enjoy the fruits of victory. Tucker is in the process of changing that."

"What difference will that make to me? Or to any Vulcan?" Krasen growled. "He still has no reason to care about the non-Humans."

"Actually, he does," Larin said. "Tucker's own child is half-Vulcan. And many of his most loyal assistants are of mixed blood."

ENGINEER REVOLT 0.75 HOURS

Finally Tucker asked for contact with Defiant. "Anna, status report?"

"They're not happy, Charles. The admiral is calm and collected, Sato is tearing out her hair, and everyone else is as nervous as a first year cadet in the senior shower."

"I suppose I better talk to them. You mind patching me through?" He rubbed his aching forehead.

"Not a problem. Give me just a minute."

"Helen," he turned his head. "Can you get me a cup of- thanks." He took the steaming mug of coffee with pathetic gratitude. "Arrange for the the general's bodyguard detail to take a vacuum nap, and then transport him to, let me see." Tucker glanced around. "Over there, that corner. Dump him there and have a force field set up to hold him until I get around to him."

He hit the comm button again. "Auxiliary."

"T'Pol here."

"Looks clear. Go back home. I'll be sending you some company in a few minutes." The surge of ecstasy that screamed through the bond at him nearly knocked him off the chair.

The sound of a transporter announced the sparkling arrival of General Kuchera at the corner he had specified. A few seconds later, a force field shimmered into place. "Drew," Tucker said tiredly, "Take a few guys and stand over there by the general's corner. No reason not to be dignified about this. Gotta think about morale, ya know."

Kuchera looked slowly back and forth around the room. He stepped forward, only to bounce back from the force field and slide to his butt to the floor. "I wouldn't try it, general," Drew slurred. "Those things sting."

"Anna here. I'm ready to connect you to Defiant's bridge."

Tucker turned to face the viewscreen. "Do it."

ENGINEER REVOLT 0.75 HOURS

Travis moved slowly and thoughtfully around the bridge, examining every detail. Not that he expected to find anything that would help, but a lifetime of habit conditioned him to always be alert to every part of his environment. People stiffened as he passed, keeping their eyes forward. He flickered over them and went on without comment. His men were doing well, although he would never say it aloud. He was not displeased. The discipline of the MACOs was absolute, up to the point of agonizing death.

That was the real reason he had given Cole to Tucker. The woman had snapped. Unacceptable, for a MACO. Loss of a hand on duty was a minor impediment, easily correctable. And it had been corrected, with a prosthetic that was better than the original. Instead of accepting it and continuing with the discipline he expected of his people, she had let it feed her anger until it drove her to Reed's bed. Naturally, he had finished the process of destroying her in short order. No, she was not worthy to wear the uniform.

The rest of the bridge crew were not doing as badly as he expected. They were obviously terrified, but they did a moderate job of hiding it. With nothing constructive to do, they still sat ready for orders and tried to look alert. If they all survived this, which he was not prepared to wager on, he would see that they received commendations. Unless it became necessary to eliminate them as witnesses of course.

Hoshi had raged for a while, until he had quietly moved in and whispered to her that if she didn't settle down, he would settle her. She was in the command chair now, with folded hands, trying to look like she was thinking of a plan. A bit late for her to start thinking, in his opinion. She had served with Tucker for years before he, Mayweather, had ever set foot on Enterprise. She had even screwed the man. How she could be so blind to his methods was beyond him.

A sudden series of lights backlit the far wall. He turned to face the main screen and stepped down to stand beside Hoshi. It cleared to show Tucker's face, wearing a look of tired resignation. He stood up and offered a salute. "Your majesty, admiral. I deeply regret the necessity for this."

"Save the posturing, Tucker," Hoshi snarled. "Kill us and be done with it." Travis laid a hand on her arm and squeezed. Not hard enough to bruise, but she would feel it later.

"Your majesty," Tucker rubbed his eyes. "It may not be possible. But I still, sincerely, hope that there is a way we can strike an agreement that will allow the two of you to retain the throne."

"Hess told us," Travis kept his tone conversational, "that she offered to make you emperor, and you refused it."

Tucker grimaced. "My people get overly enthusiastic sometimes. But I told them I didn't want it, and I don't. Honestly, the two of you are better at the job than I would be."

"No!" Hoshi stood up, purple in the face. "I won't do it. I won't be your puppet, Tucker. Kill us and have done with it!"

Tucker sighed. "I have no interest in making puppets, your majesty." He looked at Travis. There are some things that I do want. A limited number of specific demands. If you are willing to agree to them, I am willing to return control of Starfleet to you, and support you unconditionally."

"I see." Travis stepped in front of the chair and turned to face Hoshi. He looked directly into her eyes for a moment. He breathing slowed and her face returned to its normal color. She sat down with glittering eyes. Travis turned back to the screen. "What, specifically, do you want?"

Tucker looked at him. Even through the screen, his eyes showed the depths behind them. Travis wondered again how anyone could fail to be aware of them. "I told you that I never betray anyone who doesn't betray me first. When the empress ordered me to murder my own people, simply because she happened to be in a bad mood, she was ordering me to betray them. To betray their trust in me. I would die before I did that. And there is no one in the galaxy that I would not kill, rather than do that."

Travis felt the corners of his lips turn up faintly. "I'm aware of how you operate, Tucker. Most of the officers who know you can't wrap their minds around it. It's alien to the way they think. But I understand."

"Yes, sir," Tucker said. "You understand, because you operate the same way." He picked up a coffee mug and took a sip. Then he made a face and shuddered.

"The same way?" Travis lifted an eyebrow. "Hardly."

Tucker glanced over his shoulder. "Helen, did you put sugar in this?"

A woman's voice came from our of view range. "You skipped two meals. Your blood sugar levels are on the floor. You should drink it." He sighed and muttered something.

Travis chuckled. "When you take care of your people, they take care of you. That's what you're talking about."

"Partly." Tucker held the mug in both hands and looked serious. "Your MACOs talk about you, when they think they're alone. They say you're the only commander that they ever had who never passes out punishments unless someone screws up. It confuses them, but they like it. They say that they don't have to guess with you, that you have a clear set of rules for them to follow. What they find most amazing, is that you follow your own rules. They're not just afraid of you, they respect you."

Travis held very still for a moment. "Flattery isn't going to accomplish anything, Tucker."

He smiled. "You know me admiral. I also know you. Am I an idiot? Only an idiot would try flattery on you. I just want to point out that you understand the basic principles that I operate under. So does her majesty. She has her unbreakable rule, about always rewarding good service, and always punishing mistakes. She isn't as clear cut about it, but the principle is the same."

Tucker paused to turn his eyes past Travis to Hoshi. "If she had kept following that rule, we wouldn't be in this position, now. I did nothing to earn the punishment she chose to inflict. And even if I had, my people certainly hadn't."

Hoshi flinched almost imperceptibly but said nothing. Tucker looked back at Travis and went on. "It all has to do with some words that nobody uses anymore. Duty. Honor. Justice. There is no justice in the empire now. Not for Humans, and not for the subject races. No justice for anyone, and no honor among the High families at all. All we ever hear about is duty, and then only the duty of obedience. It used to be said, 'duty is a sword with two edges'. Now, one of those edges has been blunted."

"What do you expect us to do, Tucker?" Hoshi broke in, unable to keep her mouth shut any longer. "The High families hold the power, they always have. To challenge them is suicide. I suppose you are just going to pat the High families on the head and tell them to be good and put up with it?" she sneered.

"So you were willing to break your own rule, and sacrifice eight loyal people to placate them?" Tucker said. "It doesn't matter, now. Most of them are dead," She blinked.

"I have already killed every flag officer in the high command," he paused, "with the except of General Kuchera. Most of the officers above captain are dead, and all but a few captains have been given to their crews to play with. Every ship I retrofitted is now under the command of the engineers. The rest of the fleet soon will be. I haven't killed the civilian government appointees yet, it depends on how things go."

Travis, nodded, unsurprised. But Hoshi uncoiled from the command chair and shrieked, "You fool! You've destroyed the empire! Without experienced commanders, the rebellion will tear us to pieces."

"Not likely," Tucker sat down and took another sip of coffee, shuddering as it went down. He glanced back again. "Helen, I can't stand this. I'm sorry, but I can't take sugar in my coffee. Bring me another cup please, and if nothing else will satisfy you bring me a cookie or something. But I can't drink this swill." He looked back at the screen.

"If the commanders we had up to this point were competent," Tucker said, "we would have won the war six months ago. Most of the captains today, and all of the upper level officers, were promoted based on who their relatives are. Their skills as officers never entered into it. The junior officers are usually the ones who keep the ships operating. Remember Forrest? How often did he use you, and T'Pol, and Archer, and me, to do the actual running of the ship while he sat in his ready room reading porn?"

"Captain Forrest was a great man!"

"If he was so great, why was Archer able to knock him out of the big chair so easy?" Tucker took a new mug from a slim female arm that entered the screen. "Thanks, Helen. Look, your majesty. We're in no danger of losing the war. First, because the competent officers are still in place, and now they are free to actually get something done. Second, because I just got word back from Rigil. The rebellion's main supply base there is destroyed. Third, because I expect to hear word at any time from Andoria that the main shipyards are destroyed."

He took a long drink and let out his breath. "Much better."

Hoshi stared and sat down. Travis pulled on his lower lip. "Interesting," he said. "Mind explaining how you managed that?"

Tucker nodded. "Certainly, admiral." He put down the mug. "I cracked open Defiant's classified files. Don't bother trying, I erased them from the memory core once I copied them. Anyway, the Romulans of that universe had a working cloak. It's technically deficient in several ways. It sucks power like you wouldn't believe, It slows the ship down, you can't run shields or fire a weapon while you're cloaked, and it still doesn't do a perfect job of hiding a ship. But it works, sort of. The Humans on that side figured to hell with it, and concentrated on maximizing firepower and shield strength. But the intel for the cloaking device was in Defiant's Most Secret classified section."

"So you built one," Travis nodded understanding, with his mind calculating possibilities at lightspeed.

"Actually, I had my people build two," Tucker said. "We arranged for the Kodiak and the Hannibal to be 'lost' in combat. It didn't take long with the replicators to produce what they needed. Then Kodiak headed for Rigel, and Hannibal headed for Andoria. When Kodiak got to Rigil, they dropped two shuttlepods on remote control, both of them loaded with three photon warheads apiece. Between then, the pods took out the main reactor and caused a chain of containment failures in nearly every ship that was docked at the supply station. It's all gravel now."

For once, Travis looked and saw Hoshi speechless.

Tucker said, "I figure Hannibal should be back in subspace range sometime tonight, or early tomorrow. That blasted cloak cuts down on communication range too. But there's no reason that they should have had any trouble."

"You expect us to rule as figureheads, then." Hoshi said grimly. "After a pair of victories like that, no one will doubt who's really in charge."

"No one will doubt, your majesty, that you and Admiral Mayweather are in charge," Tucker said. "Not after we make it known that the whole business of fleet preparation was actually a smokescreen for the stealth attack that you and the admiral had been planning all along."

She sat still. "Why? Why would you do that?"

"He just told us why," Travis murmured softly. "Permit me, my dear." He patted her arm. "I'll handle this for now." She looked at him in confusion and settled back.

"I honestly don't want to rule, your majesty," Tucker said.

"Then what DO you want?" Hoshi pounded her fist on the arm of the chair. "Say it straight out."

"I want what you promised me. Plus a few other things that should have already been in place." Tucker rubbed his eyes. "We really need to go full speed ahead on improving our ships, before the Romulans invade. We all know they're coming."

"A valid point," Travis nodded. "Now is not the time to be weakening the empire. The Romulans are already working with the rebels, giving them supplies and guns. If we don't settle this rebellion soon, they will decide that both of us are weak enough to strike."

"Yes, sir," Tucker agreed. "By the way. Anna, are you monitoring?"

"Yes, commodore."

"Turn the lights on over there, will you? I like to see people's expressions when I'm talking to them. And crank up the air circulation while you're at it. Activate the head, too."

Yes, commodore."

The bridge lights flashed back on, blinding everyone temporarily. Air fans activated, moving and cooling the stagnant air. "Thank you, Tucker," Travis said with a poker face. "That was thoughtful of you."

"Sorry I didn't think of it before now," he said. "Short on sleep."

"What are the rest of your demands?" Travis asked.

Tucker stood up. "I'm going to send over a list for you to review. I expect you'll have objections, and questions. Please look it over. I'll call you back in an hour."

A moment later, a transporter effect faded to reveal a PADD on the console in front of them.

ENGINEER REVOLT PLUS 1.0 HOURS

Tucker rubbed his chin thoughtfully and walked over to stand in front of Kuchera. The old man drew himself up and met Tucker's look with defiance.

"Since I'm not dead," Kuchera said, "I presume you plan to make an example of me. Perhaps something public, as a symbolic purging of the old guard?"

Tucker considered him. "You were there at the beginning. You lived in the days when duty used to cut in both directions. You watched honor die, and you did nothing. You watched the rot set in, and you did nothing. You saw the corruption spread, you watched nepotism become a way of life, and you did nothing. You were the greatest hero in the empire. Everyone would have listened to you. You could at least have tried. But you did nothing."

The old man looked past him and made no reply.

Tucker shook his head and ordered, "Turn off the force field." The low humming stopped. "Drew." The big man stepped up. "Take him to my quarters." Tucker looked at his bodyguard. "Leave him there," he said significantly. "Without supervision."

Jaws and temples tightened all over the room, but no one said a word. Drew nodded and grabbed Kuchera's arm. As the pair left Tucker said, quietly, "The universe is constantly at work to strike a balance. It hates imbalance. Pressure always flow to equalize itself. Heat always flows to equalize temperature. Fluid always levels itself. Nature itself is always working to strike a balance between predator and prey."

Kuchera stopped and looked back. "Part of your personal philosophy I suppose?" He didn't sound interested.

"Not really," Tucker said. "Just an observation of fact. It's interesting though, that the symbol for justice is a pair of balance scales. Something you might consider in the near future, general." He nodded to Drew and the pair left.

Tucker turned to Helen. "Any of the bourbon left?"

ENGINEER REVOLT 1.25 HOURS

The door opened in front of Kuchera. "Go on in." He looked at the gigantic young man beside him.

"Why?" He looked at the lad. "What did Tucker offer you, to persuade you to betray your duty?"

The technician turned bodyguard flared his nostrils. "You're too far gone, old man. You wouldn't understand if I tried to tell you. Get in there."

The general straightened his shoulders and stepped through. The portal whooshed shut behind him, leaving a brief moment of silence. He turned slowly, examining the area. He stopped, rigid, at the sight of the slim figure standing in the shadowed alcove near the bed.

{Butcher}

The voice spoke in formal ancient Vulcan. It had been many years, but he still remembered. He would remember every day of that time until his last breath. A slim woman, that he recognized from holograms as Tucker's Vulcan concubine, sauntered leisurely into the light.

{Long have the cries of thy victims rung in the ears of every Vulcan. Tonight thou shalt begin to taste recompense.}

She wore no weapon. Small help to him. An average Vulcan woman was as strong as a Human man, and at his age she would have no difficulty overpowering him. At his age, a Vulcan child would have no difficulty overpowering him.

{He promised me that thou wouldst be mine. My mate is an honorable man. The only honorable Human I have ever known. Tonight, I will show thee what honor, and justice, means to a Vulcan.}

Kuchera started backing away, searching the room for something, anything, that he might use as a weapon. There was nothing. The woman stopped two paces in front of him and raised one hand. Her fingers were spread in what he recognized as the placement for a mind meld. His blood froze.

She smiled.

ENGINEER REVOLT 1.25 HOURS

"This is insane." Hoshi raised her arm as if to fling the PADD and Travis moved like a snake, intercepting her hand. She jerked loose, leaving the PADD in his posession. "He can't expect us to agree to this."

Travis scanned the list quickly, then went back to read it again.

"He wants to be in overall charge of all Starfleet engineers, both aboard ship and ground based. He also wants freedom to set engineering standards for the entire fleet, and authority to see that they are complied with." He looked up. "I have no problem at all with that. It's an excellent idea."

"That's not what I meant!" Hoshi was snarling like a scalded dog. "Read the rest of it."

"Hm," Travis said. "One, all existing laws and regulations to be enforced without fear or favor, including those against nepotism, regardless of the social or economic class of the offender.

"Two, criminal punishment to be applied equally to anyone convicted, again regardless of family connections or wealth. Anyone caught administering laws or regulations, Starfleet or civilian, other than in an equitable manner to be sentenced to a lifetime at hard labor.

"Three, bribery to be made a capital crime, with the penalty to be public execution by slow torture."

He scrolled the PADD. "Four, basic citizen's rights, as defined in the Code of the Imperium, to be upheld; including the right to be secure against search, seizure, and involuntary servitude except under lawfully issued authority in compliance with prescribed judicial procedure. Public officials convicted of willfully violating a citizen's basic rights to be sentenced to a lifetime at hard labor."

He chewed his tongue thoughtfully. "If most of the High families are already dead, and the others are in Tucker's gun sights, I think this might be achievable. One thing that the High families did manage to do was to condition their followers into accepting the authority of anyone who had the power to hurt them. And Tucker has the power to hurt anyone he chooses."

"Including us," she simmered. "He expects us to tolerate this kind of arrogance?"

Travis chuckled with honest humor. "You don't seem to grasp the situation, dearest. It isn't a choice between accepting these demands or refusing to comply. We have a choice between accepting them or death."

"I would rather die!" she raged.

"I would not," Travis said flatly. Hoshi clapped her mouth shut, but her nostrils flared. "Not if we can reach anything like a reasonable accommodation with the man. Weren't you the one who kept preaching at me that the position of ruler requires the constant balancing of various interest groups and power blocs?"

"He has a blade to our throats!"

'So did the High Command," Travis said coldly. "But you had no problem groveling in the dirt at their feet. Personally, I rather enjoy the thought of an empire without our anointed ones issuing their divine proclamations." She tightened her mouth.

He looked back at the PADD. "Oh, I see." He looked up with a gleam in his eyes. "This must be what set you off. He wants everyone who carries Terran blood, including mixed breeds, to be recognized as a citizen of the empire by right of birth."

"I would rather die than live in such an empire," she said ominously.

He stepped close and whispered in her ear, "That can easily be arranged, dearest one. I would prefer not to lose your delightfully distracting presence. But above all, I intend to live. Make up your mind quickly." When he pulled back she was pale and stiff, staring at the blank viewscreen and gripping the chair arms with white knuckles.

Travis read the next demand on the list and paused. He lowered the PADD and rubbed his chin, looking around the bridge. "Corrigan."

The MACO stepped forward stiffly. "Sir."

"Let me ask you something, Corporal Corrigan," Travis said. "What would you say if the old dueling standard was reinstated? If assassination was outlawed, and anyone who wanted to challenge a superior for their position had to do it openly and formally? If their qualifications had to be approved beforehand, to show that that were actually fit to hold the new position? And then, the fight had to be monitored by a neutral third party who wasn't in the chain of command?"

"Sir?" The MACO's face showed shock, quickly covered. "I don't know, sir."

"It's all right, corporal," Travis told him. "Give me your honest opinion. No punishment for an honest answer."

The man blinked. "I like the idea, sir."

"You would see nothing wrong with it, then?"

"No, sir," Corrigan said. "Permission to ask a question, sir?"

"Go ahead," Travis said.

"I didn't know it used to be done that way. Why did we stop?"

"A variety of reasons, corporal," Travis told him. "None of them good. Back to your post."

He turned to Hoshi. "I can live with that one, too. It will be inconvenient. But it will also improve the quality of the upper ranks. Especially if we get rid of the nepotism."

"Read the last one, then," she said. "If you think he's so reasonable."

Travis scanned it. "All terms of the original peace treaties and terms of surrender, with all subject worlds, to be strictly adhered to in every particular."

"Does he have any idea," she whispered viciously, "what that would do to our logistics? To our fleet disbursement?"

"To our wealth?" Travis scratched his nose. "Yes, I think he does. Exactly why he put that one on the list is something you are welcome to ask him about when he calls back." he leaned closer and whispered almost inaudibly. "But be aware, dear heart, that if you make him angry enough to shut us off and leave us here to smother, I will break your neck."

ENGINEER REVOLT 1.5 HOURS

"I still can't believe it's working. I watched it move into place, I watch it activate, and I still can't believe it."

"Why? Tucker has been confirmed to have a genius plus intelligence rating. From all we have been able to gather, he has been planning this for most of his life. Why do you find it surprising?"

"I suppose because I never really believed the theory about single individuals changing history. It never seemed... logical to me. I always thought of history in terms of broad changes and large movements. You know, the moment makes the man."

"It does not have to be one or the other. I agree that in most cases, the forces of historical circumstance are too large and powerful for one individual to change. But this is where the cusp theory comes in."

"*sigh* I suppose. Anyway, is there anything we need to do? Or should we just observe and keep our hands off?"

"For now, I recommend watching and maintaining guard. Now would be an extraordinarily inconvenient time for an assassin to strike."

ENGINEER REVOLT 2.0 HOURS

"You're hopelessly naive, Tucker." Hoshi snorted.

"Perhaps I am." He stood facing the screen. "But that's what I want."

"Tell me, Tucker," Travis leaned his elbow on th back of the command chair. "Why did you include that demand about the subject worlds? What do you care whether the terms of those treaties are honored? Was that something you worked out with your Vulcan?" Hoshi grimaced at the question.

"No, sir. Not really." He rubbed his face and looked tired. "The rebels have a justifiable grievance, admiral. We all know it, even though it would have been sedition under the old High Command to admit it. We call them subject worlds, but they call themselves, slaves. Their description is really the accurate one."

"You didn't answer his question, Tucker," Hoshi hissed. "You're good at that. Why do you even care?"

"Because, your majesty, if we leave things as they are another rebellion will break out sooner or later," he said. "The subject races are not stupid. Just because they're not as good at killing as we are, doesn't make them stupid. They will learn from this war, and they will do a better job of planning the next one. Even if they lose it, the next one will hurt us even worse than this one. We need to make an effort to show them that we are willing to give a little. To show them that they can gain at least some of what they want without tearing the empire down."

Hoshi looked like someone had smacked her, hard. She blinked and considered. "You seriously expect us to believe that's your actual reason?"

"Why wouldn't it be?" Tucker asked. He looked at Travis. "Admiral, my people and I never tried to overthrow the empire. We overthrew the High families. But we are just as Terran as you and your MACOs. This is our home, and we will defend it. What we want is to make it into a place more worthy of being defended."

"You have been planning this for a long time, haven't you?" Travis mused. "Perhaps, ever since your sister died?"

Tucker clenched his jaws and fists. He obviously fought for control. Then he closed his eyes, let out a deep sigh, and visibly relaxed. When he opened his eyes again, they were as cold as the Antarctic ice cap.

"Yes, admiral. You are correct." Tucker stopped talking to breathe heavily.

"So," Travis nodded. "She's the reason you decided to dedicate your entire life to destroying the High families and turning the empire upside down? Impressive."

"My sister and my father." Tucker rubbed his forehead. "After my mother died, it was just dad, my sister, and me. My other siblings didn't make it very far. Life was rough where I grew up. Lizzie-" He looked away.

"It seems that Magistrate Jeffries found her guilty of petty theft," Travis said easily. "She was sentenced to hard labor on Luna, but was shot trying to escape." For a flickering instant, he thought he had gone too far. But no, Tucker managed to drag his self-control back by his fingernails.

"That's the official story, admiral," Tucker said tonelessly. "Actually, she was 'informally conscripted' to be a 'house servant' for the magistrate. Jeffries had a reputation for using girls up, and then selling them to off-planet brothels when he finished with them. My father went crazy with grief and rage. By the time I realized that he had gone to confront the son of... the magistrate, it was too late. Dad actually fought his way past the door guard and into the front hallway before they crippled him. Then Jeffries dragged Elizabeth out and cut her throat in front of dad's eyes. I got there just as they were tossing both bodies into the street." He half turned away, working his hands open and closed.

"That explains why the magistrate was later found dead, in a drug den in the worst part of town, with enough Morellen juice in his veins to poison a buffalo," Travis nodded. "I'm guessing Captain Jeffries was collateral damage?"

"Not really," Tucker grated. He turned back. "Or not completely. Black wanted to take the captain's chair. He promised Archer a promotion if he helped. They needed someone, anyone, to take care of some things in engineering for them. I spotted what was going on and made the offer. It was like a gift from the universe, and I wasn't going to turn it down. The deal was that when Black took the chair, Archer and I would get promotions aboard another ship."

"I don't see anything on this list that we can't live with," Travis said, smiling. "Do you, dearest?"

Hoshi sounded beleaguered. "I won't let those monstrous half-breeds strut around like people and pretend to be citizens of the empire. I won't do it." She looked at Travis, then at the screen.

"I'm afraid that's a deal breaker, your majesty," Tucker sat down. "A lot of my people are part Betazoid. I never would have been able to get this far without them."

"Betazoid!" Hoshi looked ready to throw up.

"That would explain how you stayed so well informed," Travis pursed his lips. "Would you be willing to put them to work for the good of the empire?"

"We are Starfleet officers, admiral," Tucker said. "We always obey orders."

Hoshi choked. "Is that how you killed Reed?" she asked bitterly. "Did you use one of those mind leeches to rip his brain apart?"

"Actually, ma'am," Tucker said reproachfully, "Betazoids can't do that. It's a myth started by the High Command. Most of them can only detect emotions, and some of them can only detect strong emotions at close range."

"How did you kill Reed, anyway?" Travis walked across and sat down in the navigator's chair, which the young man had vacated as soon as the screen lit up.

"That was nothing." Tucker waved a hand. "Transported an air bubble into his heart. By the time the doc got to look at him, it was already absorbed into the tissues."

"Murder by transporter," Travis raised both eyebrows. "Unconventional weapons are always fascinating."

"Comes from growing up in the slums, admiral," Tucker said. "We didn't have guns. Even if we had been allowed, we were too poor. So we learned young that anything can be a weapon. Anything at all. The best weapons are the ones that nobody recognizes."

"I see." Travis looked at Hoshi. "We can adapt to having mixed breed citizens. We don't need to like it. Any other demands?"

"Not on my part," Tucker said. "But I let each ship's complement of engineers settle their personnel issues for themselves. Do you have any deal breakers, Anna?" Both Travis and Hoshi came to their feet.

"At the moment, only this. Engineering is off-limits to unauthorized personnel. Only the senior engineer on duty can authorize someone. Engineering guards have authority to shoot to kill any intruder without warning, regardless of rank."

"There is no one you want killed?" Travis asked idly, glancing down at Cole's body.

"No, sir. That's been taken care of, sir. Please remember, sir. The bridge crew is not guilty of any crime, and regulations specify that they may not be punished without cause."

"This is going to take some getting used to." Travis looked at Hoshi, who wore an expression of glum resignation. "But, we have an agreement."

Every panel and console came back to life.

ENGINEER REVOLT 3.0 HOURS

Krasen stared through the viewport at the planet below. "I had never thought to see it again."

"Predicting the future is chancy business," Larin told him, looking amused. "Do you have any last questions? It is not likely that we will contact you again, unless trouble comes up."

Krasen turned. "No. Your information is clear enough. Whether I will follow your preferences remains to be seen."

"Naturally," she said. "You still have free will. But now you cannot claim ignorance of the potential harm that your choices might inflict. If you are ready," she pointed, "please step onto the pad."

The transporter she indicated was similar in general layout to the standard Starfleet equipment. But it was larger, with more transport units clustered together, and they pads themselves were constructed of an unfamiliar material. None of which was relevant, he told himself sternly. Krasen stepped up onto a pad and faced the console. "I am ready."

"Energize," the Andorian ordered. The Human technician behind the console moved his hand over the controls, and the room faded from view. He returned to reality in a stone corridor that he had seen before, though not for many years.

He headed down the hallway, following the mathematically exact curves and angles until he reached a heavily carved door. Now would be the first test of the information that they had given him. If she was behind that door, then it was possible that the rest of their information was also correct. He pressed the button to announce himself. It slid open and he stepped inside.

The older woman turned from her worktable and looked at him. Neither spoke for a time. Then Krasen stepped forward with his arms crossed and his head bowed. "Mother."

V'Lar crossed her arms and accepted the greeting with eyes that were perilously close to being damp. "My son. I have grieved for your absence, unable to cast out the fear of your death. I had not known that you accepted the amnesty."

"I have considered the matter carefully," he said. "I have concluded that the rebellion is a lost cause. Therefore, the logical course of action is to minimize the damage to our people and, if possible, try to gain advantages from the situation."

"You could not possibly have chosen words more calculated to bring me joy," V'Lar said. Even her voice was not completely steady. "Come with me, son. It is time for the council to meet. I wish to introduce you. Henceforth, you will act as my primary assistant. Together we will work to improve the lives of our people."

"I am here to serve, mother." He bowed, and followed her out the door.

TEMPORAL VORTEX, STARSHIP YELLOWJACKET, TIME FRAME INDETERMINATE

"Now, that was about the most interesting year I can recall since the siege of Alcon IV. It's good to see you looking normal again, hun. I missed those cute ears of yours."

"It is agreeable that you find my ears pleasing. Your physical attributes are also attractive."

"Why you silver-tongued devil. Keep it up and I'll break out the chocolate tonight. It looks like the admiral isn't taking any chances, since we're only jumping ahead twenty years this time."

"It is logical to proceed with caution. While in theory we might have the option of returning to a prior point in the time line, in practicality it would be challenging to the point of impossible."

"Do you think Larin is right? That all the time lines already exist, and when we go back to change something all we really do is select a different time line for ourselves? If that's the case, then the original time line where the empire fell is still there. And nothing we did will make any difference."

The multiverse theory states that anything that can happen, will happen or did happen. Therefore, every imaginable possibility does exist somewhere. But in pragmatic terms, does it matter? We are here, and by making the changes we did, we have forever removed the possibility for ourselves of returning to that time line."

"Not necessarily, hun. Think about it. We managed to find a way to cut sideways across time to visit the alternate universe where we snagged Defiant. Maybe we could cut sideways and visit our old home time line too... what was that sigh for?"

"I do not understand the way your mind works. I fear I never will."

"Don't worry about it, dear. You've got cute ears, you don't have to be a psychologist too."

"I am experiencing fervent relief."

"Don't be snide, or I'll pinch you. I just can't help thinking about the possibilities sometimes. A universe where none of the worlds developed life. Or a world where Terra was never hit by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Or maybe a world where world war 3 never happened. Can you imagine what that would be like? To live in a world that didn't have to deal with the aftermath of the eugenics war?

"Easily. Without the damage from the war, technical knowledge would have advanced much more quickly. Beyond question, Humans would have established permanent lunar colonies by the latter part of the 20th century, and would have launched their first interstellar craft by the beginning of the 21st century. There would have been nothing to stop them."

"Wouldn't that have been wonderful? Not to have been forced to spend so many wasted years bound to the dirt, when we could have been flying among the stars?"

"Speaking of which, please check the warp field harmonics. I am detecting a variance in the field strength."

"Drat. It's that port focus coil again. I'll have to tear it down and re-tune it. Again. Once we get through this."

"I have perfect faith in your ability to correct any engineering problem. As the descendant of Anna Hess, your inherited talents are formidable."

"Now you're just trying to butter me up again. Why do I always have to be the one to do the mechanic work? Tucker the genius was *your* forefather, not mine."

"But, t'hy'la, you are incomparably cute with grease on your nose."

THE END