Barnes looked up from his panel. "Commodore, I'm detecting transporter activity and phaser fire at the brig."
"Weapons are offline,"Shelby reported.
"Same with weapons,"Kira added. "With shields down, we didn't have a hope of lasting long."
"They're hailing us,"Ezri interceded.
Michael nodded wearily. "On screen."
The image of a young Bajoran woman appeared. "Hello, Michael. It's been a long time."
Michael got to his feet, his face a mixture of relief and disappointment. "Ro Laren. I never expected to see you again."
"There were times when I felt the same. We've been hiding out in the Badlands for the past few years, waiting for things to cool down."
"What do you want, Ro?"
"I came to get Tom…and I've done that. The Maquis take care of their own, Commodore. Never forget that. Hopefully, we'll never meet again." The screen went blank.
"The Maquis ship is leaving, Commodore,"Bashir reported.
"Track them as best you can,"Michael ordered. "Nog, get down to Engineering and see if you can get this ship running again. Senior staff meeting in fifteen minutes."
When Nog entered the mess hall, Kira, Shelby, Bashir, Reese, Barnes and Ezri were already sitting in front of Michael, who had set up the viewscreen. All eyes turned to him. "We should have the engines back online within the hour. If you're planning to take the ship into battle, though, it'll be difficult to guarantee success."
"Engines are the priority,"Michael noted. "The rest we can do on the run. Mr. Reese, will you please give a report of what happened in the brig?"
Reese tried his best to hide his embarrassment. "Three of them transported aboard – they must have beamed over from that Maquis ship. They stunned myself and Ensign Nation before we realised what was happening. When we recovered, they were gone and so was Riker."
"That woman in charge of the Maquis ship,"Shelby mused. "You knew her didn't you, Michael? How?"
Michael adjusted a control on the viewer. A picture of Ro appeared alongside her service record. "Lieutenant Ro Laren. Bajoran national. Joined Starfleet in 2357. Graduated from Academy Stardate 38585, assigned to USS Wellington. Stardate 41286: Following an incident on Garon 2 in which eight crewmembers were killed, Ensign Ro was court-martialled for failing to obey orders, found to be responsible for the deaths and sentenced to imprisonment in a Federation penal settlement. Stardate 45076: Ro released under orders of Admiral Kennelly, her commission of ensign restored, and assigned to USS Enterprise…first officer, Captain Michael J. Billinghurst." He looked at the group's faces, noticing the understanding registering. "She served there as an exemplary, if occasionally insubordinate, crewmember. Stardate 47941: Promoted to lieutenant. Shortly after, Ro is assigned to infiltrate a Maquis cell in order to observe their activities and ultimately lead them into a trap. During her time there, however, she became sympathetic to the Maquis and defected. There has been no confirmed report of her whereabouts since."
"You thought she was dead, didn't you?"asked Barnes.
"I thought they were all dead. To the best of our knowledge, the Maquis were wiped out during a Dominion assault on the Badlands."
"But they weren't,"Kira observed, rather redundantly. "They're out there. And they're still active. Why do you think they'd want to rescue Lieutenant Riker?"
"If they were able to hide from the Dominion and from Starfleet search parties,"Bashir considered,"they can't be in any great force. They might need all the help they can get."
"A person like Ro wouldn't wander around aimlessly,"Michael observed. "She'd have a plan, a purpose."
"The Maquis were originally formed to defend Federation colonies in the Demilitarised Zone from the Cardassians,"Ezri observed. "But they quickly progressed beyond that. They wanted the Cardassians driven out of the Demilitarised Zone altogether. And they harboured a great deal of resentment towards the Federation for, in their eyes, abandoning them."
Michael paused, considering whether to pass on the next piece of information. "The Cardassians killed Ro's father. Undoubtedly, she hates them. And if she can get Riker and the Maquis to support her in getting rid of them, she will."
Ro glanced round from her command chair as Riker entered the bridge. "How are you, Tom?"
"Fine, Laren. It's good to see you again."
"You're looking well. I was frightened the Cardassians might have…"
Riker shrugged. "It wasn't exactly pleasant but they made sure I stayed alive. Thank you for coming for me."
"We would have come earlier but we didn't have the resources to storm a Cardassian prison." Ro paused. "Tom, we need your help."
"Yes, I expected as much. What do you want me to do?"
"Capture the Defiant."
Kira was back at the Defiant's helm, adjusting the controls. "I've plotted as accurate a course after the Maquis ship as I can, Commodore. Best I can do for you."
Michael nodded and glanced at Shelby, seated at Engineering. "Keep trying to trace the ship's warp trail."
"Aye, aye, Commodore."
Michael tapped his comlink. "Engineering. We ready for warp speed, Lieutenant?"
Nog's voice filtered back. "It should be OK, sir. I'll keep the repair work going."
"Naturally, Mr. Nog. Commander Kira, warp six. Engage."
"Why the Defiant?"Riker asked.
Tando provided the answer. "It's still the only Federation ship with a cloaking device. The Romulans were so nervy about renewed Dominion activity they gave them a new one."
"You're planning an attack on something?"
"The Cardassian Union,"Ro replied. "The people that have murdered so many of us."
"Which part of the union?"
"All of it. We shall attack everything in our path, destroying until we are destroyed. We won't give ground and we won't surrender. The last action of the Maquis. Are you prepared for it, Lieutenant Riker?"
"Yes, Lieutenant Ro."
Michael had retired to his ready room. The doorbell warbled. "Enter."
Kira came in. "We've detected a Maquis vessel approaching our position. They should intercept us in forty minutes."
"The vessel we fought before?"
"No. A smaller one. Can't have a crew of more than ten."
"It can't be a coincidence. Either Ro's onboard or she sent it. Tell the crew to prepare for battle stations."
"Aye, aye, Commodore." Kira paused.
Michael glanced up at her. "Do you wish to debate the morality of what we're doing as well, Commander? I know you've always had certain sympathies towards the Maquis – and towards Lieutenant Riker."
"That's not fair, Michael. I merely said that I understood their position. We fought to drive the Cardassians from our world as well."
"Yes. You fought for your freedom and the Maquis claimed they were doing the same. But what about now? You're a lot like Ro, Nerys. You had your world torn apart by them, your family murdered by them. Your mother was violated, your father killed defending his land, your brother killed fighting them, your other broker executed to teach you a lesson. I can well see you hating them."
"I hate the men who did that, yes. But I don't hate all Cardassians."
"You don't want to kill every last one of them?" Michael stood up. He moved in close to her. "You don't want to wipe the Cardassian civilisation off the face of the galaxy?"
"Yes! Of course I do!" Kira looked Michael in the eye. She knew he had been provoking her but she couldn't stop herself. "I hate them for what they did to us and I want to kill them. But I wouldn't. Because they're people. I see Cardassians like Garak and Mandred and Damar and I see that they're as flawed as the rest of us."
Michael nodded. "Ro doesn't have that. She just has rage. The same rage you have. Do you still think I shouldn't stop her?"
Kira didn't answer. Instead, she glanced at the clock. "Intercept in 36 minutes."
"All right. Let's go."
Michael sat in his command chair on the bridge as the Defiant approached the co-ordinates with Kira at the helm, Barnes on tactical, Ezri on communications, Shelby on weapons, Bashir on science and Reese on engineering. "They're within visual range now, Commodore,"Barnes reported.
"On screen." Michael stood up and adjusted his tunic. "This is Commodore Michael J. Billinghurst of the USS Defiant. Please identify yourself."
Ezri checked her panel. "No response."
Bashir swung round. "Commodore, they're charging weapons!"
"Red alert! Shields up!"Michael ordered.
"No response from shields!"Reese shouted.
"Bridge to Engineering!"Michael snapped. "Nog, what can you give me?"
"Minimal weapons power only!"Nog shouted back. "20% shields in certain areas!"
"Do it,"Michael ordred. "All decks, battle stations."
On the Maquis ship, Riker turned to Tando. "What can you give me?"
"Quite a bit, actually. There are massive holes in their shields. Not in the right places for us to hit something vital but…"
"More than enough for our needs." Riker turned to two men nearby. "You and you, with me."
"Open hailing frequencies again,"Michael ordered. He sat calmly in his chair. "This is the USS Defiant. Please identify yourselves." There was no response. "Your vessel is of a type used by the defunct terrorist organisation known as the Maquis. If you do not respond, we will be forced to send over a boarding party."
The Maquis ship turned towards them and fired its phasers. "That's an answer,"Kira observed.
Michael turned to Shelby. "Commander, target the engines and return fire."
Elsewhere on the ship, in a deserted corridor, Riker and his two associates faded into existence. Silently, they donned respirator masks and got to work.
"Shields down to 5%!"Barnes shouted.
"What about theirs?"Michael asked.
"Restricting fire to the engines has resulted in damage to the aft thrusters!"Shelby noted.
"Shame their weapons are still working!"Reese retorted.
"Kira, move us 5km on bearing 68 mark 48!"Michael instructed. "With any luck, if we get out of weapon range they won't be able to keep up with us."
Suddenly, clouds of gas began pouring from the ventilators. "Nestrogene!"Bashir shouted. "Quick, everyone…"
But before he could finish his warning, everyone on the bridge was unconscious.