8 SID Second Coming

Over the rest of the week, talk inevitably turned to work. Vaughn and Munroe elaborated on a few cases they were working on. Everything nowadays seemed to revolve around the Typhon Pact. Of course, the resurgence of the Andorian Empire also presented some new and unique challenges.

Tenmei shared that the Defiant was staying in Bajoran space to patrol the Wormhole's entrance. Ro would be assuming command of the new Prophet-class Deep Space 9 station when it finished construction. Until then, she was to maintain regular patrols and not only secure the wormhole but also the construction zone. Surviving elements of the 7th Fleet would bolster these efforts. The Cardassians were also stepping up patrols near the border in order to be able to immediately respond to a crisis.

Then Macen was badgered into sharing Outbound Ventures latest contract offerings. He warned them that they wouldn't like it. Leera, the dominatrix of the Orion Syndicate, had offered a substantial contract in exchange for Macen's assistance in crippling the Meirkus Conglomeration.

Vaughn almost dropped his whiskey tumbler and Munroe looked aghast. Rockford gave Macen a wry look, "I told you."

Macen held up a hand to ward off any objections, "The rewards are fairly large. The Syndicate would stop acting as the Typhon Pact's proxy in Federation space."

"But they're criminals," Tenmei blurted.

"And both your father and Alyssa know that sometimes you have to deal with the criminal element. Hell, I have been the criminal element and so has Ro," Macen reminded her.

Tenmei feel silent after the not so subtle chastening. Vaughn spoke before Munroe could, "Still, that warning I gave you about being a known asset applies here as well. Leera and the rest of the Syndicate would see your participation as being Starfleet's tacit consent for their operation."

"Who says Starfleet shouldn't consent?" Macen wondered.

That stirred the metaphorical hornet's nest. Vaughn struggled to control his frustrated anger, "Brin, Starfleet's been opposed to the Orion Syndicate for two centuries. We can't just change our mind and become friends now."

"Why not?" Macen asked.

"Because they break every law we have!" Vaughn snapped.

"But this is outside Federation space. Our laws don't apply," Macen smirked.

"It still boils down to interfering in a foreign culture, which is against the law," Vaughn said between gritted teeth.

"The Meirkus Conglomeration is classified as a criminal organization and is not recognized by the Federation as a legitimate government," Macen pointed out.

Vaughn looked to Munroe, "You straighten him out."

"I can't," she softly admitted.

"Why not?" an exasperated Vaughn demanded.

"Because he's right," she said with an air of resignation, "The Meirkus Conglomeration has no legal standing in the eyes of the Federation. This means they have no legal protections either."

"But the Orions…?" Vaughn trailed off as he began to see the implications.

"The Orion Confederacy is a recognized legal entity. It's an established nation state. The Conglomeration was just a collection of corporate interests operating outside Federation space and regulations. When they devolved into anarchy, the criminal elements took over and reshaped the Conglomeration into its present form," Munroe ran through a brief history of the territory to make her point stick, "At no time did the Federation ever recognize the legitimacy of the Conglomeration or establish diplomatic relations with it. In short, there are no legal constraints to Brin accepting this contract."

Vaughn hung his head, "I can't believe you just said that."

Munroe grinned, "Believe it, Lover, because it's the truth. We may not like the idea and officialdom will certainly balk but there is no legal standing to prevent Brin from accepting this contract."

"You've made your point," Vaughn groaned.

"Actually, I didn't bring up the possibility to browbeat your perceptions of right and wrong," Macen shared, "I was actually looking for advice."

"Say 'no' as soon as you can," Vaughn quipped.

Macen smirked, "Actually, let's assume I've said 'yes' and work from there."

"You haven't, have you?" Vaughn tried not to groan again.

"Not yet. I want to run it by Tom. He has to captain the Obsidian while the team gallivants around so I need his input," Macen admitted.

"Run away. That's all I have to say," Vaughn counseled.

"Thank you," Macen dryly replied, "I'll take that under consideration after I get there."

"I actually have a few ideas," Munroe offered.

"Then please share," Macen requested.

So she did.

At the end of the week, Tenmei joined Macen and Rockford for the boat ride back to town. She happily accepted an offer to hop a ride aboard the Solstice. She "paid" for her passage by piloting the scoutship. She was delighted by its performance and admitted that she could now see why Ro was such a fan of the diminutive starships.

Their layover in the Bajor sector was a brief one. Ro came aboard for a few hours and she and Macen discussed the Corvat affair. Vaughn had alerted her to Macen's outlook and she was understandably worried. She'd been an eyewitness to Macen's transformation from an upstanding Starfleet officer to a sometimes radical privateer.

"It will be fine," Macen assured her as they returned to the transporter.

"Are you sure?" Ro asked, gazing deeply into his eyes. She saw a blazing fire there that disturbed her.

"As certain as I can be," he reiterated.

"Don't prove everyone right about you," she cajoled as she stepped up onto the pad.

"When have I ever done that?" he teased, "I'll see you sooner rather than later. By the way, you owe me a tour of your new station when it's finally built."

Ro smiled, "Deal. Do I even have to say, 'take care'?"

"Not really. It's a given," Macen chuckled.

"I'll say it anyway," Ro conceded.

"Same to you," he replied with heartfelt meaning.

He activated the transporter and it returned her to the Defiant. Radil grumbled about having to pilot the Solstice again but she readily broke orbit and plotted a course back to Barrinor. They made the trip in a few hours. Barrinor was located in the neighboring sector after all. They descended into Barrinor's atmosphere and landed at Outbound Ventures' private spaceport. Storing the ship underground again, they switched over to the corporate shuttle they'd left behind and returned to Serenity.

Everyone was returning from their vacations and had scads of stories to tell. Grace was the last to return. She was a tad starry eyed from her honeymoon and already missed her absent husband terribly. Delaney and the Intrepid were shipping out to deal with another brush fire so their time together would have been interrupted anyway.

"Have you thought about reactivating your commission and requesting an assignment aboard the Intrepid?" Rockford wondered, "McKinley and Liefers would be drooling over your transfer request."

Grace wore a sad smile, "I can't leave my family. At least not yet."

Rockford nodded with understanding, "As much as I appreciate the sentiment, you're in for some hard, cold, lonely nights."

"Tell me about it," Grace grumped.

"I'll tell you what, Roberta's working today. Why don't we grab some lattes and surprise Brin and Tom?" Rockford suggested.

Grace broke into a genuine smile, "Sounds good. What are they discussing anyway? Did we get a contract offer?"

Rockford grinned, "Let me tell you about it."

In the end, Riker agreed to the accepting the contract, "The thought of getting the Syndicate out of the Typhon pact's pocket is too good to pass up."

"That's what I keep telling everyone but Amanda and Alynna are screaming in my ear," Macen grumped.

"Speaking of a Forger, have you noticed the newfound spring in Shannon and Eric's steps?" Riker grinned.

"They didn't?" Macen was honestly surprised. He hadn't seen that one coming.

"They went sailing around the Mediterranean together. Of course Emily Johnson was there to play chaperone but I hear she did a lousy job," Riker chuckled.

"I knew Eric was interested in Shannon. I just didn't think he'd make a move because of Lees," Macen admitted.

Riker groaned, "I know. I have to admit that I'm really excited by this new relationship because it keeps the delusional twit away from my wife."

"It can't be easy having a stalker aboard the ship," Macen agreed.

"And I can't space him because you'll object," Riker complained.

"Possibly. It depends on what he's done," Macen conceded.

"Ops to Commander Macen," Ephrim Zyrain's voice rang over the comm circuit.

Macen and Riker were both surprised. The station's administrator rarely involved himself with Outbound Ventures personnel.

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Macen here. Go ahead, Ephrim."

"Commander, we've received a hail from a ship that's apparently cloaked. It's requesting to dock and the pilot wishes to speak with you," Zyrain explained.

"And the pilot is a female Romulan named P'ris," Macen surmised.

Zyrain was surprised, "Why, yes. How did you know?"

"She's been expected," Macen gave him as much as he needed to know, "Open a runabout landing pad and when she signals you, bring her shuttle into the station. I'll meet her at the airlock in the docking ring. As soon as she signals you, raise shields and go to red alert. Understood?"

"But why?" Zyrain was alarmed.

"Because if she's here the hunters can't be far away," Macen said.

"First the Lantillians and now this," Zyrain huffed, "You said this posting was going to be peaceful. What kind of trouble are you bringing aboard my station?"

"Administrator Zyrain, may I remind you of who owns this station?" Macen crossly asked.

"You do," Zyrain cowed a bit.

"Then I expect you to carry out my instructions or to start preparing your résumé," Macen angrily declared.

"Very well," Zyrain relented, "I'll keep you apprised of our developing situation."

"I expect you shall," Macen acerbically replied.

"You want a detail to go with you?" Riker asked.

"No, go to Ops and hold Zyrain's hand. P'ris probably has a few things to share and she can't do it in front of anybody else," Macen warned.

"And if Romulan Warbirds start decloaking nearby?" Riker wondered.

"Yell for help," Macen instructed as he headed out the door.

The circular airlock door looked like a giant gear as it rolled aside. P'ris emerged from the runabout pad. She was rather disheveled but Macen knew that a few days on the run could do that to a person.

"Nice to see you again," Macen quipped.

P'ris ran a hand through her tangled locks, "I know I must look dreadful but do you have to be so amused by my appearance?"

"Somehow I didn't picture our reunion to be your defection," Macen dryly commented.

P'ris wore a wry expression, "Nor would I have chosen it to be. However, these things are as they are. May I come aboard your station?"

"I may own the station but one Ephrim Zyrain is its administrator," Macen mused.

"A horrible little man," P'ris vented, "How did he assume command?"

"This isn't a military outpost," Macen reminded her, "Typically the hardest thing about his job is getting 48 freighters docked at 36 ports."

She pursed her lips, "Not the sort of individual I would have in authority when my pursuers arrive."

"Well, Tom Riker is bracing Zyrain's backbone right now. How many are after you?" Macen inquired.

"At least 3 and possibly more," P'ris shared.

"Riker to Macen," came the comm call everyone was expecting.

"I take it our Romulan friends have arrived," Macen ruefully commented.

"Yep. 3 Warbirds have decloaked. I'd bet there are more of them out there though," Riker ventured.

"That's our guest's best guess as well," Macen replied.

"Mind stepping up to Ops?" Riker wondered, "They only want to talk to you."

"Why's everyone want to talk to me?" Macen griped.

"I don't know. Just don't let it go to your head. Pride goeth before a fall and all that," Riker warned.

"Yeah, yeah. We're on our way," Macen informed him.

Macen and P'ris ran into Rockford and Grace as they headed to the turbolift for Ops. Rockford wore a bemused expression, "You must be the infamous Commander P'ris."

"I was. Now I am simply a civilian patriot," P'ris stated, "Although we have never met, your reputation does precede you Detective Rockford."

Rockford smirked, "Call me Celeste. I have feeling we're going to be seeing a lot of each other."

P'ris was uncertain how to respond, "I suppose you could be right."

"I am, trust me. My instincts are rarely wrong," Rockford assured her.

P'ris sensed a veiled warning hidden amongst the banter, "I see. I shall endeavor to spare you any offense then."

"I really doubt that," Rockford admitted.

"We really need to get going," Macen reminded them.

"Nice meeting you," Rockford called after them.

P'ris was totally unnerved by the time they reached Ops. "Unnerved" was a good descriptor for ht general feeling in the Operations center. They'd drilled with their weapons facing theoretical threats. Now shields were up, phasers were charged, and the photon launchers were armed. All because of 3 very real Warbirds really threatening to destroy the station.

"Give me a sitrep," Macen barked as he rounded the Operations control panels.

"Commander, they insisted on speaking with you as soon as you'd arrived," Zyrain spoke first.

Macen gave him a scathing glare, "I'll touch bases with the enemy as soon as I know our status and the likelihood of relief forces arriving."

"All defensive systems are running 'hot'," Riker informed him, "The USS Burnett was on patrol nearby and her ETA is 15 minutes. Starfleet dispatched the Defiant and she'll be here in 2 hours."

"What about the 9th Fleet? Isn't the Burnett attached to it?" Macen sought clarification.

"The Burnett is TDY with the 9th. She's a Cheyenne-class operating as Barrinor's ready response patrol while the 9th patrols the Breen border. The Breen have deployed a fleet along the border and are running exercises. Or at least they're claiming they're exercises," Riker reported.

"Or they're a mighty convenient distraction to keep the closest fleet busy. And with the 7th comprised of so many fragments, that leaves us woefully unprotected," Macen realized.

"That pretty much sums it up," Riker said grimly.

"Okay, let's actually talk to the buggers," Macen decided.

He assumed position before the viewer pick up and had the comm activated. A very put out looking female Romulan Commander appeared. She wore the traditional box-like haircut favored by Orthodox Romulans. P'ris had always been an exception of that rule. She'd been tolerated because of her penchant for results.

"I am Commander Donetella. You have a traitor to the Romulan Star Empire aboard your station. We demand that you surrender her to us," she haughtily declared.

"And if I refuse?" Macen knew the answer but the question had to be asked.

"Then we destroy you," Donetella said with a predatory smile.

To be continued...