Nemo Blank


For Your Reading Pleasure

Firing Solution

An alternate universe Startrek Fan Fiction

Tom Paris
B'Elanna Torres
Will Riker
Ro Lauren
Worf, son of Mogh
Jean Luc Picard
Montgomery Scot
And Myriad others

Star Trek and all related titles, logos and characters are trademarks of Paramount Pictures inc. All other titles, logos, and characters are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective copyright holders. This story is a work of fan fiction and is not to be sold or used to make a profit. Story copyright July 2000 by Nemo Blank.


   Tom Paris stood outside the military courthouse annex and came to grips with the end of his Starfleet career. It was surprisingly easy. He felt, lighter. Free. Looking down at the huge Starfleet emblem inset in the paving, he spat on it.

   Resolutely, Tom strode away from the courthouse and transported to a public pad near his father's house.

   When he came up the front walk and the door didn't open, he knew what was coming. Choking down his contempt, he pressed the annunciator.

   Owen Paris came to the door. "Well. You had the nerve to come back."

   Tom looked at the Admiral's face, stiff and red with outraged betrayal. "You're throwing me out. What a tremendous surprise. I want my things, Admiral Paris."

   Owen jerked as if slapped. "I had the house drone pack up everything that was in your rooms. It's all around back."

   "Right." Tom walked away, through the gate to the back yard. He saw three large trunks sitting there. He placed them on follow mode and they obediently rose and began to trail after him.

   Owen called after him. "Wait! You have no explanation for me? No excuse for your actions?"

   Tom froze, then turned around. "There is no excuse. I was guilty. Open and shut. I disobeyed orders because I like flying in plasma storms. I didn't give a crap about obeying orders. I never have. Mea Culpa." He turned away again.

   "How could you do this to me? How could you just throw away your career?" Owen was distraught. Tom was the youngest graduate and had the second highest overall score in Academy history. He would have been a Commander in seven years if he'd just followed the career plans Owen had laid out for him. He could have been an Admiral by thirty. All he had to do was say that he didn't remember the accident and it could all have been salvaged.

   Tom laughed. "I was a menace to the service, Admiral, and it cost three people their lives. I never really wanted to be in Starfleet. I just never realized that I didn't have to. In case you never noticed, it's supposed to be a voluntary thing. You drafted me on the day that I was born. It never took. I have better things to do with my life than sit at the helm of a space going bughouse and study gaseous anomalies. I can't obey the orders of people that I don't respect for a cause that isn't mine."

   Owen sneered. "What are you going to be then, Mr. Cashiered Ensign Paris? A space rigger? Maybe you'll just live out your days on the dole, in minimum habitat."

   Tam laughed with genuine humor. "What I'll be is free, Admiral. Free of you, free of Starfleet and free of all the dogmatic bullshit that goes with it. It's a big universe. I'll go where the action is."

   "You'll fail! You failed at your career and you'll fail at everything else!" Owen couldn't believe that he'd raised such a viper.

   "You didn't even attend my mother's funeral. We both know why she killed herself, Admiral. I'd hate you for it, but I just don't care about you enough. You're the failure. You know how I can tell? Because this is me, walking away. Have yourself a nice life, old man." Tom turned his back and walked away from the white faced Admiral.


   The music was loud, the smoke was thick and Tom Paris had just won himself another ten thousand credits shooting pool. He pried loose the slutty Bajoran redhead that he'd acquired with his last victory and went to the bar to get drinks. He tried to pay and the bartender shook his head.

   "Your Feringi friend took care of it."

   "I don't have any friends." Paris looked around.

   "Humon." The Feringi that had been lurking around the edges of his crowd half the night, stepped forward.

   "Feringi." Paris saw little point in being nice to most aliens. Every time he tried, it took him for a sap.

   "It is said that you are a pilot." The Feringi at least knew not to bob and hop around, like most of them did.

   Paris laughed. "It is said that I'm a gentleman too, but here we both are."

   The Feringi grinned and seemed to relax. "I have a ship. I need a pilot of skill and daring to fly it."

   Tom nodded. "Smuggler?"

   The being tensed, then nodded. "I have recently had a run of very bad luck, humon. I've lost three ships. I have one left, an old, but very fast Gorn transport."

   "Well, let's go somewhere private and talk about it." Paris was getting tired of being a drifting nine-ball hustler. One commercial outpost was much like another and he needed to make enough money to get a ship of his own. His nine-ball reputation was beginning to precede him and his flying skills were getting rusty. It was time for a career change.


   Paris eased Lollypop into the tendrils of a handy ion storm. He found a nice little pocket to hide in and idled the warp engine. Drifting along with the plasma, he went to silent running and used passive sensors to watch the frontier.

   The Feringi quietly approached. "Paris. Why do we wait?"

   "Because there's no warp trail here, Neek. There should be. Why cancel the regular patrol? It smells like a trap."

   The Feringi nodded. He'd learned to trust Paris over the previous five years. Narrow escape after narrow escape had elevated Paris to godlike stature in Neek's eyes. He didn't understand that Paris's seemingly precognitive ability to avoid ambushes was actually just an instinctive grasp of strategy. Neek would have been horrified to know that many of the closest scrapes were initiated by Paris himself. Paris loved to sneak up and pull the tigers tail. Space combat was second nature. He'd been training for it since he was four years old. At twenty-three, he was a master.

   An indicator flickered on the screen and the Klingon tactical program identified a target.

   "Ah. A Galaxy class Starship. The Enterprise if I'm not mistaken." Paris grinned. "Oh, look, Neek. They're leaving! I guess it's all just a great big coincidence, right?"

   Neek hissed. "They wait for us!"

   "You better believe it, pal." Paris used the natural plasma emissions to passively scan the area. "We have a traitor."

   "Sut. My cousin, Sut. That evil little... informer. Ever since he became my employee our ventures have gone poorly. He wants to ruin me! If it wasn't for you, I would be cash poor!" Neek hissed in rage.

   "Why would he do that? Why not a transporter accident, or a hull breach, or just tip you out an airlock somewhere?" Paris was genuinely curious. "He inherits, right?"

   "The FCA would investigate. They are very thorough when a Feringi's benefactor unexpectedly dies." Neek grinned. "They keep the inheritance if they can prove murder, or even prove that murder was possible. How does one of these transporter accidents happen?"

   Tom shrugged. "One old trick is to fire a phaser on stun into the annular confinement beam. It'll read as a warp coil overload and shut down the system in mid transport. The only trace is the transport log."

   Neek chuckled, nastily. "You have a strangely checkered past, Humon. Such logs are easily erased. Sadly for poor cousin Sut, the FCA lacks motivation to investigate when a Feringi's impoverished underling dies."


   Paris sat at the bar, drinking boilermakers, feeling bad about what was going to happen. Sut was a rat, but then, so were they all, really. He was suddenly tapped on the shoulder.

   A bearded Starfleet commander stood there with an odd, plasticene looking guy.

   "Tom Paris?"

   Paris shrugged. "Who's asking?" He slurred his words slightly, scanning the sparsely inhabited barroom for possible aid.

   "I'm Commander Riker and this is Lieutenant Commander Data."

   Paris turned his back on them. "Well, whadaya know, the fleet's in. How much for the robot? Does it do tricks?"

   "I am an android and I am not for sale. I have been classified as a sentient being by the Federation High Council. Additionally, I hold the rank-"

   "Talkative little unit, isn't it." Paris drained his beer. "What are you doing here, Mr. Robot? This station doesn't get many feddies, just visiting."

   "The Droothan's were quite cooperative." Riker quickly ordered two coffee's, warning Data with his eyes to shut up. "Mr. Paris, I understand that you know these border regions quite well. I'm in the market for a navigator."

   "I notice that you aren't going heeled either." Their belt clips were empty. "Great believers in law and order, the Droothan's." Paris smirked. "What do you need me for? You've got Pinocchio there. Just show him some charts."

   "I was unable to catch or even close with you, Mr. Paris. I had a Galaxy class starship and you had a stripped down K'tanga. You are the better pilot. And the better strategist." Data paused. "Our informant-"

   "Is dead, Mr. Data. A transporter accident, I understand. Quick and painless." The lights dimmed and Paris raised his mug. "To Sut. A dirty little bastard that sold out everyone he ever met. May his stay in hell be a lengthy one."

   Riker looked at him. He just knew that the dim lights were a transporter accident, in progress. "Your doing?"

   Paris gave him a disgusted glare. "Blast out of here, Starfleet. I do all of my killing face to face. If you sons-of-bitches wanted my help with something you should have just come to me and asked. Instead, you try to destroy my business and take over my life so that you can tell me what I have to do to get some of it back. Worst of all, you get someone killed with your crap. Get lost, or else you're going to sickbay and your robot is going to robot heaven."

   Riker glared at him. "Ensign Paris, you're coming with us." He grabbed Paris's arm.

   "You can call me Captain Paris." Paris knocked Riker's hand free and jumped over the bar, coming up with the barman's stunner. He fired and the two Starfleet officers slumped into unconsciousness. Paris laughed and climbed back over.

   "Hey!" The barman came running. "What are you doing, Paris?"

   "Sorry for the fuss Chog." Paris slid bar of latinum onto the bar. "They were trying to take me somewhere and didn't know how to take no for an answer. That's for your trouble."

   "No problem, Tom." The Feringi barkeep, a regular investor in Tom's cross border runs, pocketed the latinum, picked up the stunner and went into the back to recharge it.

   Tom leaned over the bar, picked up a heavy bottle, looked thoughtfully at the label, then suddenly whirled and threw it at the Klingon that was sneaking up on him.

   The bottle hit Worf a glancing blow to the head, followed by Paris's foot. Worf went down in a partial collapse.

   Paris immediately tried for a chokehold, but Worf's ceremonial neckguard prevented it.

   Worf lunged to his feet, roaring, and threw Paris off. The two circled. Paris feinted and threw the Klingon.

   Worf was up in an instant, smiling with feral pleasure. "You fight very well, Paris."

   "So now we're old friends, huh?" Paris staggered, drunkenly, trying to make Worf overconfident. "Why do you Klingon's have to wear armor? I always get all bruised up when I'm kicking your arrogant asses."

   They exchanged a flurry of blows.

   "I'd almost believe that you've fought a Klingon before." Worf was heartily enjoying himself, in a way that his carefully cultivated Starfleet decorum rarely allowed him to experience. He felt himself slipping into battle fury. Paris was a fine opponent.

   "You guys always gotta get mad about something." Paris belched. "Whoo. I gotta stop mixing Bolian Killdevil with Blue Ruin. Maybe I'll puke on you."

   Worf wrinkled his nose. Paris's mind-games were effective. "Yes. It would be advisable to stop drinking. So, the K'tanga is yours?" No pilot such as this could help but be distracted by his ship.

   Paris grinned with real pleasure. "Lollypop's mine, free and clear. She's a beaut. Fast, maneuverable, flies like a bird. A great ship. You Klingons do know how to build them right."

   Worf kicked him in the belly, but didn't connect solidly. He received a tremendous blow under the ribs in return. Gasping, they each backed off.

   "I cannot believe that you have named a K'tanga, Lollypop." Worf was scandalized. The ship had originally been called Bloodreaver, in spite of its singularly undistinguished career.

   Paris staggered to the bar and noisily wretched into a passed out Bolian spacer's ceremonial helmet. He straightened, then picked up the Bolian's drink, rinsed his mouth and spat it back into the glass. He faced Worf again. "Why not? She's named after her conqueror."

   Worf wheezed and nodded. He surely had broken ribs. "The Lollypop. I trust that she is a good ship?"

   Paris laughed. "Good enough so that you couldn't catch her in that floating palace. Why the hell are you Starfleet's after me, anyway? I could see it if you got me fairly, coming across the Neutral Zone with a hold full of contraband, but here? You have no cause to arrest me. It's not... sporting."

   Worf grinned. "I find it so. I wish to stay and see what happens when that Bolian awakens, but sadly, I cannot. Duty calls, Mr. Paris. All Enterprise personnel are recalled."

   "I kinda want to see that myself. Don't let me keep you." Paris backed off, leaving a clear path out.

   Worf grinned, fiercely. "You have been recalled to duty, Ensign Paris."

   "Bullshit! I was thrown out of Starfleet years ago, so hard that I bounced three times. I told eight senior Admirals to kiss my skinny ass." Paris eyed door. He had to get out. "Some were Andorians."

   Worf's eyes widened. Andorians were considered vengeful and hot tempered, even by the Klingons. "A notable achievement. Obviously, they thought so, too. The negligence charges were dropped. Your records now show that were given an administrative discharge for the convenience of the service. Your criminal conviction was quashed."

   Paris snorted. "You hypocritical Starfleet sons of bitches can still kiss my ass. I was guilty. I told them I was guilty and why. I'm out. I'll be dammed if I'll take their little pardon." He launched a furious attack on Worf.

   Worf roared with exhilaration and traded blows until Paris went down.

   "Are you ready to return to duty?" Worf grinned, hiding the dreadful pain under his ribs.

   "I can't be compelled." Paris rolled, climbed unsteadily to his feet and advanced on Worf with a curious, shuffling sort of walk. "No more games, Mr. Klingon Starfleet guy. I forgot how to take orders from Starfleet."

   "I am Worf, son of Mogh. I shall tutor you, Ensign Paris." Worf's gleaming eyes widened in alarm. "No!" he shouted.

   Paris collapsed as Data hypoed him.

   "That was not an honorable move, Mr. Data. Now it will be much harder to win his obedience." Worf was utterly disappointed. He'd recognized the opening moves as a form of Tklat, a Romulan martial art. It was almost unknown, this side of the Neutral Zone, yet reputed to be an effective form. Worf couldn't remember when he'd last had so much sheer fun.

   "The Captain waits, Mr. Worf." Data examined the unconscious human. "He appears to be damaged."

   "He is a fine opponent." Worf walked over and picked up Paris in a fireman's hold. "Shall we get a transport out?"

   Data shook his head and hoisted Riker in his arms like a small child. "The transporters here are unreliable. We'll have the shuttlecraft dock and pick us up. Keep Ensign Paris sedated, Mr. Worf."

   "Aye, Sir."


   Paris slowly swam back to consciousness. He opened his bleary eyes, and they gradually focused on a pair of stunningly beautiful black eyes, hovering just inches over his. He gasped, then smiled, winningly. "Well, hello! Was it as good for you as it was for me, sweets?"

   Deanna Troi, Enterprise's ship's Counselor, pealed with laughter. "Why, Mr. Paris! I take it that this isn't the first occasion that you've woken up in close proximity to a strange woman with absolutely no idea of who she is or where she came from?"

   Paris shrugged. "There have been some really strange ones, but never one so beautiful. You all seem to have that same laugh, though." He looked around. He was restrained in a biobed. "So, is this some weird sex thing, or am I just being sold for my organs?"

   Deanna smiled. "Neither, Mr. Paris. You are aboard the USS. Enterprise. I'm Deanna Troi, ships counselor."

   "Enterprise? Ah, shit, Starfleet! I remember, we got past... The bar!" Paris frowned. "What was that Klingon ape talking about? I was beating the crap out of him... How did I get here?"

   Deanna shrugged, fetchingly. "I understand that Mr. Data rebooted and finished the scuffle with a hypo of sedative. You're on a biobed in sickbay because we had to replace your liver, Mr. Paris." She frowned. "We also cured that incipient alcoholism of yours. Drunkenness and the consumption of alcoholic spirits will not be tolerated aboard Enterprise."

   Paris frowned. "Fine with me. I'll just be going, then."

   Deanna smiled. "Not until you've been certified fit."

   Paris tried to remember why they'd grabbed him. It eluded him. "So, just an idle question then. Why have I been abducted?"

   "Abducted?" Deanna paled. "Mr. Paris, your commission has been reactivated."

   "Reactivated. That some sort of new Fleet slang? Something that means being beaten senseless by a Klingon and dragged out of a bar?" Paris tugged at the force field. "And operated on, without my consent?"

   "Oh dear." She stood. "I'll go get the Captain."

   "Why don't you turn me loose, Deanna?" Tom gave her his most winning smile, unaware of the wicked cast that the bruises lent his face."

   "Oh, I think that's up to the Captain." She left, giggling.

   Beverly Crusher heard a stream of horrible oaths emanating from the sickbay. She strode in. "Ah, Ensign Paris. I see that we're wide awake now and ready to peel the paint off of he walls."

   "Ensign Paris. I remember him well. Alas, he is no more. You can call me Paris, or Tom, but I'm no Starfleet officer." Paris smiled up at the pretty woman.

   Beverly shrugged. "Alright, Tom. Call me Beverly. Let me run an intra muscular regenerator over those bruises."

   He shrugged. "Do as you like."

   Beverly smiled at the rogue. "You gave me quite a start when they brought you in. I haven't seen a liver like that in a long time."

   Tom laughed. "We go back a long way. We shared many a drink, my liver and I. I called him George."

   Beverly laughed. "Well, George gave his all, but your new liver is still a bit small." She turned serious. "You were suffering from vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition, Tom. If you want to see a century, you'd better start eating right."

   He smiled. "Sorry. I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Alien replicators don't automatically include vitamins. I forget the supplements, sometimes."

   Beverly smiled back at him. He was in for a rude shock when he went to eat. The replicators had his dietary requirements programmed in. Tom Paris was going to get reacquainted with vegetables.

   Paris's eyes found Picard, who was observing.

   Picard walked over and deactivated the restraint field. "Doctor, will you excuse us?"

   Picard watched her until she was out of sight. He looked at Tom. "Mr. Paris, I apologize for the reprehensible actions of my officers. They had no right to assault you. They have been officially reprimanded and you may file charges if you wish. Commander Riker was presumptuous in his treatment of you."

   Paris shrugged. "What's the deal, then?"

   Picard frowned. "We need you. We have a ship out of time, stranded on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone. Its capture could disrupt the flow of causality and seriously alter the balance of power in the Romulans favor. We have to go in and get it out. If we fail, an entire fleet goes in. There'll be a major intergalactic war, a war that the Federation could lose. Trillions will die."

   Tom nodded, expressionlessly. "So, why me?"

   Picard gave him a penetrating stare. "Starfleet intelligence came up with your name as the best choice to get the Enterprise through the neutral zone and back." He hesitated. "It's important, Mr. Paris."

   Paris was already planning. "There's no way that this tub will do it, Captain." He stood, frowning. They wouldn't have asked him, if it wasn't important enough to make the Federation President eat a bug. Starfleet had its pride, "I'll take my K'tanga in, if the price is right. I have a cloak."

   Picard shook his head. "There's a potentially catastrophic cross dimensional time paradox involved, Mr. Paris. Your K'tanga is too small to power the chronoton emitters necessary to punch these people out of their loop and back into their own timeline. We received a message from this ship, modulated with a tachyon beam. They know the political situation, so they are being circumspect. We'll take the battle section in, cloaked."

   Paris whistled. "Good for you! The Federation is finally getting smart. You must need me for the plasma storms, then. I'm the only one that I ever heard of who can navigate them. The ship is stuck in the Romulan Sorlesis sector?"

   Picard nodded. "There is a treaty provision covering the use of cloaked ships to resolve a time paradox." He fixed Paris with a steady gaze. "What is your price, mercenary?"

   Paris looked at him, thinking. "First, a blanket pardon. Second, there's a Barnes class deep space scout, the former SP 8765. It's surplus, mothballed at Utopia Planita. I bid on it and won, then was refused delivery because of my profession. I want it refitted and released to me, free of charge. Third, I want five thousand standard bars of gold pressed latinum, to cover my losses." He hesitated, then continued, "Fourth, you cut me loose right after the mission, no matter what. I'll want my resignation accepted. No legal hassles. Fifth, I need to get a message to my partner, Neek. I need to be able to find him and my ship when this is all over."

   Picard nodded, decisively. The Federation had gotten off very cheaply. Paris could have demanded Luna and gotten it. "That is acceptable. I'll expect you to be an exemplary Starfleet officer until our mission is concluded, Mr. Paris. Do we have a deal?"

   Paris nodded, seriously. "Yes, Sir."

   Picard straightened. "Very well. I am giving you a field promotion to Lieutenant, Mr. Paris. Please have the doctor fix your face and get into a proper uniform. Ensign Zerink will show you to quarters and take you on a familiarization tour. You can send your message when you see communications." He paused and fixed Paris with a severe look. "No details, Lieutenant, just give instructions. Then you may report to the Battle Bridge for simulator training on the next shift."

   "Aye, aye, Sir. Sir, a question."

   Picard raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

   "My conviction. How did my father get eight Admirals senior to himself to throw it out?" Paris was curious.

   Picard nodded. "A fair question. I was curious myself. Your father wasn't a part of the panel. He protested the decision, when he found out, I'm told. Admiral T'Rul's opinion carried the day."

   "Admiral T'Rul?" Paris tried to place her. He'd mostly concentrated on driving the more excitable Admirals into a frenzy of hate. He vaguely remembered a prim Vulcan lady, for whom he'd lacked either the guts or the incentive to insult.

   "Yes. She found your assertion that Starfleet itself was to blame for placing you in command to be logical. Admiral T'Rul went over your record and found your charges to be accurate." Picard looked at him, with some compassion. "It's very difficult for those of us lucky enough to grow up with a sense of freedom to understand what it is to be forced into a Starfleet career, Mr. Paris. We all want it so badly that we find it hard to imagine that someone else might not. You were far too young to make such a decision. You were just fifteen, when you entered the Academy. That will never happen again, no matter what the results of the entry exam are."

   "Starfleet to blame?" Paris tried to remember. "Oh, yeah. I used that one to bait Admiral Rickover. He turned damned near as purple as the Andorans."

   Picard laughed, uneasily noting Paris's lack of formality. "I wish I had access to the visual record of that session. 'Lash' Rickover was my first captain. Truly a gruesomely terrifying presence, to a young officer."

   Paris nodded. "It was like having the sun beating down on me, on a hot, hot day. So, Admiral T'Rul bought that hogwash."

   Picard nodded. "You can't insult a Vulcan, Mr. Paris. Extensive records checking showed quite the pattern. For example, you were never properly evaluated by the Academy entrance board. You were never properly counseled. You were never properly punished for your later lapses in discipline, because of your skills and connections. That's all changed, Mr. Paris. There'll be no more Starfleet legacies, pushed through the system."

   Paris stared, then nodded. "It's for the best, sir. I'd have gotten into even worse trouble, later on. Starfleet just isn't the place for teenaged rebellion. Thank you, Captain."

   Picard looked pleased. "Carry on, Lieutenant Paris."


   Worf grinned wolfishly when the pirate, Paris, reported to the bridge. He wasn't surprised by Paris's ready answering grin. Unlike Riker, Worf had never entertained the notion that Paris would press charges. Paris followed the proper forms and took the helm, exactly like any other officer. This disappointed Worf, but then on reflection he decided that it was only to be expected.

   Picard had clearly taken Paris's measure and extracted his promise of loyalty. Worf had expected an entertaining battle of wills, but Paris did everything in the Starfleet approved manner and his flying was exemplary. Worf wondered if Picard knew about the gun fighting, knife fighting, fist fighting and ship to ship actions with the Romulan, Klingon, Cardassian, Gorn and quite possibly Federation fleets that Paris had likely indulged in over the years. Looking at Picard, Worf decided that he did.

   Picard stood. "Steady on, Mr. Paris."

   "Steady on, aye," replied Paris. "Course steadying on 292.61 mark 11. Navigation is go."

   "You have the bridge, Number One." Picard glanced at Paris and left.

   Worf carefully kept his expression neutral. Picard was a great one for tests.

   Riker began almost immediately. "So Mister Paris," he brayed, "Tell us, why did you betray Starfleet?"

   Paris smirked. "Why, for the money, sir."

   "Really?" Riker, taken aback, tried another tack. "Your father says that you're worthless."

   "Yes, sir. He ought to know." Paris was cheerfully irritating.

   "Admiral Paris despises you, Paris. Why?" Riker wondered what got under Paris's skin.

   "It's because I'm so very despicable, sir. I fly around in Lollypop, holds crammed with latinum, making monkeys out of certain people... Don't let it get under your fur, sir. It's nothing very personal." Paris's cobalt eyes gleamed with interest as he glanced at Riker. He was clearly getting to the second officer.

   Worf let his mouth drop open in amusement. This was better than Klingon opera.

   "You don't like the Federation! Why?" Riker was dangerously red.

   "It's all the rules, Sir. I can't wear my blasters-" A wormhole formed in front of them. Paris neatly avoided it.

   "I can't just vape annoying people who ask silly questions-" He compensated for a catastrophic nacelle failure while avoiding a compressed shock wave. "I can't seem to avoid jail on Saturday nights-" He flipped the ship end over end, avoiding a collision with an active minefield. "Shiploads of tax collectors continually plague me-"

   He chopped all power to the front deflectors, reconfigured the dorsal and keel systems and used the Enterprise to catch a plasma wave. He balanced in the curl and then took the warp engines off line, as the wave was capable of moving the ship at speeds in excess of warp fifteen. "You can hardly find a real drink and I keep trying to tell people that I can tell the course and speed of the ships I fly by the feel of the deckplates, but no bugger believes me... sir."

   The simulation on the viewscreen began to tile, showing its false nature. No one had ever simulated Starship surfing before. No one had ever even considered it as remote theoretical possibility, before.

   Paris reported. "Indicated course 292.61 mark 11, indicated relative speed, warp 17.634, propulsion off line, in the pipe." He winked at the wide-eyed ensign at the auxiliary environmental controls. She was a curvy, sweet-faced redhead. "Actual course, I'd say 242.61 mark 7, actual speed, warp 6.65...3."

   Disbelief written all over his face, Riker ran the numbers and decided that plasma surfing was just possible, if you were insane enough to try it. Wiping out really meant wiping out. As to Paris's knowledge of the Enterprises true course and speed... it was a trick. "Have you got a bootleg port on that board?" He came to the helm station and checked the displays. All were normal.

   Worf's eyes gleamed with satisfaction.

   "No, sir, I wouldn't break the rules. Rules are there to be obeyed, sir. It's all in the hand's, sir." He winked, leering at the curvaceous ensign Singer. "My hands are very, very experienced and skilled beyond belief, sir. I know all of her most sensitive places, sir. They can make her do things and take her to heights that her builders could never even imagine, sir."

   "At ease, Lieutenant." Riker glanced over at the red-faced, but obviously interested ensign. Paris clearly didn't like sleeping alone. "How did you ever learn to surf with a starship?"

   "Well, dude... I mean, Commander, I'm a surfer dude from Big Sur. I got the idea from watching wreckage. Only Klingons have the balls to follow me into a level-ten plasma storm. They aren't the best pilots in the galaxy, and they always get caught in magnetic eddies. Some of them accidentally surfed a bit before the storm got them." He smirked. "I saw how it might be done and gave it a try. It worked, so I got into doing it regularly, because I gotta surf. I got pretty good. Sometimes, if they didn't shoot at me, I'd follow the Klingons into the rip and beam them out, alive."

   Worf laughed. "So, that is why you are so regularly pardoned within the Empire."

   Paris shrugged. "I didn't know that, but I'm not surprised. Klingons pay their debts." He looked thoughtful. "I guess that means that I'm still a free man almost everywhere but where we're going."


   Counselor Troi looked up at Paris when he walked in to her office. "Ah, Lieutenant Paris. Please sit down." She walked over to the couch and sat, patting the cushion next to her.

   Paris eased himself onto the couch, his wariness increasing. She was a telepath. To shield and confuse her, he started mentally reciting The Principles Of Warp Combat, by James T. Kirk. His father had once made him recite it, backward. "What's the occasion?"

   Troi frowned at him, bewildered, then smiled, winningly. "I have to update your psyche profile. It's all just routine." She felt him relax, slightly, under the gruesome text that he was projecting at her.

   "Sure. I'll be happy to fill out your forms." Tom leaned confidently forward. Nothing said that he had to fill them out accurately.

    Troi smiled, apologetically, sensing the deception. "We don't use forms anymore, Tom. You seem to have been evaluated by the same officer on each of your previous sessions." She'd been scandalized when she'd read what passed for a profile in Paris's records. Dr. Abakini had obviously been fifty years out of date, six years ago.

    Warily, he leaned back and crossed his arms. "Okay, what's the deal, then?"

   Troi tricked him and had him in a mechanically induced trance within minutes. The device, a variant of the mindprobe, was a safe, effective way to get to deep buried traumas. "Okay, Tom, tell me about your childhood..."


    Tommy played the simulation until bedtime. He was angry that he had to stop, because his fleet was poised to crush the Klingons. His father had been teaching him the game ever since he could remember, but this was the first time that he'd ever been close to defeating all of the Federations enemies, combined. Maybe the Admiral would reward him with more time on the academy's big warp combat simulator. Ship to ship was more fun than strategic planning. He had started as a pilot, then a Captain. Now he was a holographic Admiral. Being a simple fighter pilot had been the most fun.

   He lay in bed, imagining different strategies, hoping that the Admiral wouldn't find out about the fight he'd had in the park. A real Klingon wasn't that common a sight in Big Sur. One so near his age was an opportunity that just could not be wasted. He had to know if they really thought the way that his combat simulators suggested.

   He and the Klingon had fought, until a patrol-bot had reported them and beamed them to the precinct house.

    Seeing the brute-faced man in the police uniform, Tommy had come to attention, as he'd been taught. The young Klingon had snarled at him, then adopted a similar posture.

   The desk sergeant eyed them. Ordinarily, he'd have knocked their heads together and set them to scrubbing an empty cell with just one tiny brush, as a punishment and exercise in cooperation, but the human was quite a bit younger than his bearing suggested. It didn't matter though. The Klingon boy was the son of a diplomat. This scuffle had the earmarks of a paperwork generating interplanetary incident.

   The Klingon boy's father arrived in the station transporter and strode to the desk. "I am Morg, son of Maugh. Why is my son being held here?"

   Sergeant Peterson stood, respectfully. "Sergeant Peterson, sir. These boys were picked up for fighting in a public park. Town law 123.523.211 prohibits brawling in public parks. As a diplomat's son, the boy has immunity, so he is merely being held in protective custody, until you arrive. He is free to leave."

   "Perhaps I do not want him. So, have you have defied me, Marag?" Morg glared into his son's face.

   "Yes father. You told me not to fight with human children. I did." The boy shot a poisonous glare at Tommy.

   "You shall be punished." Morg looked at Tommy, wondering if there would be any political fallout. He was impressed by the human boy's stoic mien. He appeared quite young, younger than Marag.

   Tommy was alarmed. He hadn't meant to get anyone punished. To Tommy, punishment was a long session with the agoniser. "Fleetlord, I started the fight. He was entirely innocent." He spoke in clear Klingonese.

   Surprised, Morg looked first at the Human boy, then at Marag. "Is this true?"

   Marag, staring at Tommy in surprise, said, "Yes and no, Father. I was examining a holographic tiger in the zoo, when he walked up and asked me if Klingons were really cowards, as he'd heard. Then he punched me on the shoulder, to release me from the onus of being the attacker. I hadn't suffered a real attack, but I took the blow in the spirit in which it was intended. We conferred, then went into a natural declivity where we would be somewhat hidden and fell to fighting. The Human fought skillfully and tenaciously, but I was close to victory when the 'bot discovered us."

   Morg was smiling broadly. "So, young Human. Is this true?"

   "No, Fleetlord. I was in no danger of being beaten." Tommy narrowed his eyes at Marag, to show his defiance.

   Morg laughed. "Who has been telling you that Klingons are cowards? If you can speak our language and read a rank tabard, then you should know better."

   "Sir, no one. I know the opposite to be true. It was a tactical deception, Fleetlord. When I saw him in the park, my immediate objective was to provoke a fight." Tommy wondered if an adult Klingon was an enemy too. He had been trained to tell adults the truth... Looking at Morg, Tommy decided that he wasn't an enemy.

   "But, why?" Morg was intrigued by this puzzle.

   Tommy came clean. "Sir, My studies of the Klingons indicate that... your people, Fleetlord, harbor the exploitable weakness of excessive pride. I needed to confirm this for myself. I wished to see if I could sting that pride, provoke the ene... Marag, into a series of moves, take control of the situation and with only local resources, use his own momentum to defeat him."

   Morg's face froze and Marag looked stricken. Sgt. Peterson, able to follow via his universal translator, was impassive, but secretly impressed.

   "And did your test succeed, young warrior?" Morg's face was still.

   Tommy hesitated. "No, Sir."

   "Why not?" Morg was intent, secretly rejoicing in the wonderful, priceless lesson that his son was learning. Perhaps this human wouldn't have to teach it to him on a battlefield, now.

   Tommy didn't know what to say, so he went with the truth. "The test was interrupted too soon, Sir."

   "My son is older, larger, stronger and able to fight longer than you. How would you have won?" Morg knew from the hard blue eyes that the boy would have probably won.

   "I'm... a better fighter than him, Fleetlord. I was going to trap him in the park's holographic tiger cage. I reprogrammed it so that it hid a small pond, with a holographic projection. I was falling back towards a pre-selected point, which was actually a narrow peninsula. It is said that Klingons do not swim. I was drawing him into my trap." Tommy looked over at Marag. "He was cautious, though. He might have smelled the water. It might not have worked."

    "It would have worked, Father. He'd deliberately bloodied my nose. Now I know why. I could smell nothing." Marag was miserably cursing himself for a fool. Everyone at the embassy thought the Humans weak, save his father. He had fallen into the trap of arrogance, twice. His father was right. Because of their deceptive nature, the Humans were the most dangerous enemy in the galaxy.


    Tom smiled in his trance. Mother had been horrified, but the Klingons had seemed quite pleased, especially when they learned his name. He had been invited to Marag's name day, every year that he was on Earth after that. Marag had been his first real friend. But he'd paid.

    The door flew open. It was the Admiral. "Elisabeth, I'll take care of disciplining the boy. The girls are yours to raise, however you like, but Tommy is mine. Now leave us."

   Owen Paris turned on the light with the hand switch, hurting the boy's eyes. He carefully examined the small face for signs of fear, but the cold blue eyes were stoic and calm. He gave a short nod, acknowledging his success. The boy had conquered his fear. It was time to work on sharpening his aggression.

   Watching closely for a flinch, Owen turned on the room's sound suppressors and slowly raised the agonizer.


   Troi hissed, angrily, then went to another trauma.


   Paris was playing Kergma, a Bolian board game that was popular in this sector when the Klingon came in to the saloon.

   "Excuse please. Must go now." The Hixali drone in the seat opposite him threw in its cards and hurriedly stood.

   "Well, Hix, thanks and drop in, anytime." The Insectoid was a good player. It was rare for a Hixali to leave the homeworld, except for official duties. Tom had never heard of one that enjoyed hanging around in bars, getting drunk and talking with aliens before. Hix was a good fellow. Most Hixali were totally xenophobic.

   Tom was operating the game, making a good living from the percentages while he waited for ship parts to arrive from Sokar. He was flying a cloaked Sokaran predator, running guns to the Bajorans.

   The Klingon saw the movement. "Hixali! Hold!"

   The insectoid made a keening noise, he turned to run and the Klingon's disrupter flashed.

   "Ahh! The pain!" The being had an ugly hole in it's thorax. "I but wished to see the universe." The insect stiffened, the light fading from it's multifaceted eyes.

   Tom stood and the sober patrons hurriedly cleared the area. "Coward. He was unarmed." The room muttered its agreement. The insectoid had been well liked.

   "I have a writ from the insect's homeworld. This being was under a deathmark anyway." The Klingon looked around and wished that he hadn't holstered the disrupter.

   "He was my friend. I'm going to burn you down now, coward." Tom stared into the dull eyes and realized with some astonishment that the Klingon really was a coward. Tom smiled, scornfully. He'd never deliberately killed in anger before, but this brutal piece of shit had to die.

   The Klingon went for his disrupter.

   Tom put three precise blaster bolts through the Klingon before the being's disrupter cleared the holster. Tom's reflexes were well above human norm, and his speed was nothing short of incredible.


   Seventeen harrowing hours later, Troi fixed her tearstained makeup, pulled on a new, unwrinkled, uniform and wiped Tom's face clean with a damp towel. "When I clap, Tom, you'll wake up, remembering only what you want to remember." She hoped that he could face his inner demons. She'd made firebreaks for him and given him the tools to come to terms with his past, but only he could remake himself. The systematic childhood abuse, the deaths that he caused at Caldek Prime and his mother's suicide had made him what he was.

   Tom Paris simply and honestly didn't much care whether he lived or died. He would have fought Worf to the death in that bar for no other reason than to see if he could win. He had provoked notorious killers into attacking him, so that he could solve the problem of how to best take them. It made him feel more alive. He had trouble, feeling. His father had worked hard to eradicate unwanted emotions. Only success brought joy. Life had been a series of tests, war games and exercises, for him.

   Fortunately, Paris had a strong imperative to protect the weak. He had been methodically taught leadership techniques and then ordered to go out become a leader, so he had.

   He'd sought out children who were in trouble and helped them. Many were alien refugees living on the minimum public ration. Most were Bajorans, half-breeds of various types and other sullen, lost and unwanted aliens. They had become Paris's private army, his gang, his surrogate family, to be cared for and led to success.

   That was how he'd made his first connections with the seamy criminal underworld headquartered in Marseilles. The Orion Syndicate had carried him on its books as a prospect, to be brought into the local family if possible. At fourteen, he was a feared presence in some organized crime circles.

   Paris had a classic warrior profile, but without the restraint of any sort of feelings of self-worth. Comfort was all. Safety mattered little. Thankfully, he did value other life, or he would be a monster of a type rarely seen in history.

   He'd found smuggling to be an exiting enough game to hold his interest. While alone in his ship, crossing some border, his whims had led him to perfect feats of navigation that were so ridiculously dangerous that Troi still couldn't grasp it.

   She would have had him taken off of the helm immediately, except for his deep loyalty to those he perceived as his friends. She knew that he would unhesitatingly lay down his life for... her. It was an ethically precarious situation for a Starfleet Counselor to be in. Paris was a danger to himself and others. He clearly belonged in a secure ward, under intense therapy, but the current situation demanded that his unique skills be used.


   Paris woke up. "Counselor?"

   Deanna smiled at him, cheerfully. "Good morning, Tom! You fell asleep. You looked tired, so I just let you."

   He stood, looking at his wristcomp. He wouldn't wear the combadge, with its Starfleet symbol. Picard hadn't pressed him. "Holy crap! I've got to get some chow. I'm on duty in forty minutes." He left, his mind busily hiding the session from him.


   Troi, Picard, Worf and Riker sat in Picard's private dining room, eating dinner.

   "Is Paris trustworthy, Counselor?" Picard asked.

   Troi sipped her tea and looked calculatingly at Picard. "May I ask you all for your opinions, before I answer, Captain?"

   "You may. Mr. Worf?"

   Worf straightened when addressed by his Captain. "Lieutenant Paris is a fine warrior. I have detected no hint of personal dishonor in his previous dealings as set forth in his security file. His dealing with the Feringi, while troubling, are within the code."

   "Your personal evaluation, Mr. Worf?"

   "Gain that one's true allegiance and he will never betray you. If he gave you his word, he will keep it, no matter what. I find myself reacting to him as I would a Klingon."

   Troi nodded. "Very perceptive."

   Picard showed no reaction. "Number one?"

   "He's a barfly and a space bum. He'll push at his superiors and make trouble, every day of his life." Riker hesitated. "But I'd trust my back to him, without hesitation. I'd trust Enterprise to him." He frowned "But no other ship and no other officers. Mr. Paris is not an institutionally loyal officer. He chafes under the strictures of the subordinate role. If he senses weakness in a superior, he'll campaign to secure the loyalty of his subordinates and to... drive that superior out. No Starfleet crew could function like that." Riker leaned back. "He reminds me a lot of my second, aboard R'kul."

   Worf smiled his agreement, eyes gleaming. He hadn't been surprised when Riker had overthrown the Klingon Captain. The officers exchange had been a learning experience for the Empire.

   Picard nodded. "Deanna?"

   She sighed. "Mr. Paris belongs in an asylum. His profile is closer to Klingon than Human, but he doesn't have the Klingon sense of place."

   Worf frowned. "But how is his honor supported?"

   Deanna looked close to tears. "It's all a form of self mockery, Mr. Worf. He mocks his fathers creation."

   "Honor, based on-" For an instant Worf's face showed dismay. "How does he live?"

   "On the extreme edge. Mr. Paris places no value whatsoever on his own life." She sighed. "I must formally request that this man be relieved of duty and confined to a medical holding cell for his own safety."

   Picard shook his head. "Denied. The mission and the safety of the ship are paramount, Counselor. Will this man hold together for the next two months?"

   "Yes. He'll last for a few more years. He'll die in a useless brawl somewhere-" She got a hold of herself. "Yes, Captain. We should try to make friends with him. Don't do anything for him. Let him help you."

   Riker shook his head. "He's the perfect mercenary. I just don't understand. How did the only son of a Starfleet Admiral get so screwed up?"

   Troi looked thunderously angry. "Admiral Paris and his pet brain butcher, Dr. Abakini, were trying to create another Kirk. They went about it with such a ham fisted ignorance that it's a miracle that Tom is still alive."

   "Was Kirk's childhood especially onerous?" Worf tried to remember, but he couldn't.

   "He was an orphan, passed around from place to place. He ended up on Tarsus IV, during the regime of Governor Kodos. He led a gang of children in a breakout from the death camp." She paused. "Kirk was thirteen, then. His early childhood is a total mystery."

   Picard, interested in this information about a superior officer who was a political enemy turned ally, leaned forward. "If you can, without violating your confidentiality, tell us, why are you so upset with Admiral Paris?"

   Deanna nodded. "Admiral Paris's program was one of intense training interspersed with intense punishment for failure. He used a Benzite agonizer to extinguish inappropriate behaviors."


   Paris got his tray and sat. He looked glumly at the meal. He'd ordered a baked potato, rokeg blood pie with jalapeno salsa and Japanese lager. He'd gotten spinach casserole, banana pudding, a fruit cup and tea.

   Seeing Worf's interested smirk, he swallowed, contained his tantrum and outwardly brightened, acting like he ate such lousy slop all the time. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction.

   Across from him, a thin, nervous looking Lieutenant ate delicious smelling chili while reading from a pad.

   The man absently looked up, saw him and nodded a greeting, while reading. Presently, a hulking young ensign came up and sat down next to him. "L- Lieutenant B-Broccoli?"

   A smirking little whippet of an ensign sat down next to Paris.

   "M-My name is Barclay. What do you... and Hoad want, Iverson?" Reg looked at them with a sinking feeling. Iverson and Hoad were going to torment him again. He felt a wash of despair. He was the best engineer on the ship, and he loved it. But he hated the people on it so much that he could taste it.

   "S-Sorry Mr. B-Barclay. We were wondering about the Blue Boron chamber in the Bulumatig array.

   Paris went back to the replicator and ordered a huge mug of boiling hot coffee. The replicator chirped it's non- compliance and he glared.

   "Having trouble with the replicators Mr. Paris? Let me." Worf ordered pipus claw, horseradish dip and the coffee.

   "Thanks," Paris said, sourly, mouth watering. He returned to the table, setting the big thermal mug to his right, in front of the moose-like Ensign.

   Barclay was patently explaining the system, his stutters growing worse as his enthusiasm grew, much to the Ensigns amusement. Despite the situation, Paris got interested in the lecture.

   "S-So the s-s -sodium d-dampers form a thermal shock absorber as the s-slush deuterium tanks are-"

   "The what?" Ensign Iverson wanted to get Broccoli to say 'slush deuterium' again."

   Paris reached out and tipped his coffee into Iverson's lap.

   "Aaah! You clumsy bastard!" Iverson shucked his boiling hot pants.

   "What did you say to me, ensign?" Paris stood, radiating danger.

   "Uh- Sorry, Sir." Iverson stood at attention, pants around his ankles and flushed beet red as the whole room tittered at him.

   "Come to my quarters at 0800, Ensign Moose, and we'll discuss your future in Starfleet. Pull up your pants, you goddamned pervert! Now get out of my sight." Paris swung cold eyes to Hoad, who was trying to be inconspicuous. "Clean up the coffee, Mr. Toad."

   "Hoad, Sir. My name is Hoad. The drones will-"

   Paris's cobalt eyes took on a dangerous hue. "I don't recall asking you for a fuckin' debate. I said swab up that coffee. Now, Toad."

   Hoad swallowed. He glanced at Worf, but the Klingon didn't seem to see anything. "Yes, sir. Hoad looked around. "I need to go get-"

   "Are you stupid? Don't you have any sense of initiative? No? I'll help you then. Use your shirt, Toad." Paris gave him a stare that sent chills down his back.

   There was another titter as the newly christened Toad left with his coffee sodden shirt. Worf followed, well pleased. Being out of uniform was an offense. Iverson and Hoad were each due a hack.

   Reg gazed after them. "I should start having a big mug of coffee with every meal."

   "'Let the land and all of its features be your weapons,'" Paris quoted. "Sun Tzu said it first and so did Kayless." Paris stuck out a hand. "Tom Paris."

   "R-Reg Barclay" Barclay shook hands and felt a wash of gratitude to this man who had shown him how to deal with the pestilential ensigns.

   "Not the Reginald Barclay that invented the shield resonator!" Paris was mightily impressed. He admired engineers above all others. It was a talent that he coveted.

   The two fell into an easy conversation, unaware of Troi's surreptitious monitoring.

   "Neutral Zone ahead."

   Picard took a breath. "Cloak the ship, Mr. Worf."

   "Aye, Sir."

   Enterprise shimmered out of sight.

   "Cross at your discretion, Mr. Paris."

   "Aye, aye, Sir. Commencing crossing maneuvers at my discretion, now."

   Paris changed course twice, then made for the border. Behind them a cloaked Romulan buoy sent a signal and a stealthy mine made for their former course.

   Paris kept to the less traveled routs, but occasionally he drafted along behind a Romulan freighter, through the dustier areas of Romulan space. The low speed made the trip long, but Paris was incredibly skilled, leaving almost no warp trail. Picard had his helmsmen stay with Paris at all times, asking questions and learning the tricks of Paris's furtive trade. Paris was on duty for long stretches, but his easy charm soon gained him friends in every department, all over the ship. The pilots practically worshipped him.


   Worf carefully noted the shifting loyalties. He idly wondered how far Paris would go if he ever joined the service of the Klingon Empire. It was not so far fetched. After all, a son of Mogh served the Federation. Anything could happen. Paris smelled Klingon to Worf. They spoke Klingonese while they sparred and Worf had the sneaking suspicion that Paris had the better accent. A man like Paris would rise like an old fashioned rocket in the Imperial Service. Gowron would not like him, but would definitely value him as a capable commander who would not be able to successfully challenge his authority. Maybe. There was the Emperor to consider now, after all. Worf had a sudden vision of Paris sitting on the dais in the chancery, dominating the High Council as the Emperor's catspaw. He shuddered.


   When a month had passed, they approached the edge of the Sorlisis plasma field and Paris stopped the ship. "Captain, I need to watch this, for a while."

   "Certainly, Mr. Paris. We are in your hands. Take your time. Stellar cartography is no longer with us, but we can reconfigure our sensors for passive scans." Picard frowned at the plasma field ahead. It looked like a level eight storm, at least.

   Enterprise sat for two days, until Paris saw a rift between plasma tendrils. He immediately moved into it, dropping the cloak once they were past the edge of the storm.

   With warp engines idling, providing power to the shields, Enterprise sailed on the currents and eddies of the storm, using shaped shields to catch plasma, much like an ancient windjammer's sails caught the wind. Paris was a master at accommodating the ship to the roaring currents of furious energy that, if directly opposed, would have crushed her in an instant.

   "Extraordinary." Picard gazed in horrified wonder as the ship rode its torrent of plasma through a bewildering array of transient plasma structures.

   "Mr. Paris how-"

   "Absolute silence, Mr. Data." Picard didn't want the helmsman distracted. He'd made sure that Ensign Singer, Lieutenant Paris's favorite pillow, wasn't on duty.

   "We're into the interstice, Captain. Our relative velocity is warp eight. We are approaching the target area." Worf tried to make sense out of the sensor readings, but the incredible level of energy outside made it impossible.

   "Wreckage to starboard, Captain. It looks like a nacelle from a Romulan Trilor class Warbird." Data watched as a raging plasma stream wrapped it up and obliterated it. "No survivors."

   "Approaching target area." Paris reconfigured the shields, lessening the sail area. The ship slowed, rising to leave the stream. "Stand by to tack."

   Picard wondered if that command had ever been given on the bridge of a Federation starship before.

   The Enterprise halted in a bubble of clear space, using its shields to tack back and forth as they scanned. Suddenly, a rift opened and a sleek Federation Starship of an unfamiliar type emerged.

   "Right on schedule. Hail them!" Picard was up in an instant. "Mr. LaForge, make the array ready."

   The screen cleared and Tom Paris found himself looking into his own eyes.

   "Well, well. It's little Tommy Paris, hell's own wheelman. What a surprise." The other Tom Paris was older, much stronger looking and had a tall, powerfully built, stunningly beautiful Klingon woman standing beside his Captain's chair, with her hand resting possessively on his shoulder. "Fancy meeting you here."

   Paris gaped at the woman, who smiled at him. "Woah! What the hell is going on here!"

   "A temporal paradox, Tommy boy, with a cross dimensional rift thrown in for fun." The other Paris looked at Picard. "Do you have the chronotron projector?"

   Picard straightened. "Yes, Captain Paris. We can fire it at any time."

   "W- Wait! Who are you?" Paris's eyes were glued to the woman.

   A grinning Korean man in the ops position of Voyager rolled his eyes.

   "Your mate, Mr. Paris." She looked at him. "I hope you meet me in your Universe, someday, but it is unlikely."

   "I will! I'll hunt you down! Please, what's your name?"

   "Good plan, Tommy." Paris grinned at his younger alternate.

   "I am B'Elanna Torres-Paris." The woman stood clear of the chair so that Paris could see her.

   Worf, Picard, Riker and Paris all inhaled, sharply. She was a goddess.

   "I was once half human, but when the Vidians separated me from my human h-"

   Picard cut the screen off. "There will be no further tampering with our time stream, Mrs. Paris."

   The other Paris's voice came over an audio channel. "Very well. Prepare to fire on my mark. Happy hunting, Tommy."

   "Half?" Data said, puzzled.

   "But it was the best half." Captain Paris grinned. "Fire!"

   The blue beam shot out and the alternate Voyager shimmered and vanished.

   Angrily, Picard glared at Paris. The time stream had been affected, but perhaps it wouldn't matter so much. Paris was clearly destined for an early grave in this universe. He'd have the helmsman's short-term memory erased, but he needed him to get out of the plasma.

   Worf gave the helmsman a calculating look. It was clear that the man should have been a Klingon. The woman hadn't looked like a half-breed at all. She was extraordinarily fine.

   Paris took his time getting out of Romulan Space. His intensive sessions with Counselor Troi continued. The Enterprise helm officers began to approach an acceptable level of covert flying, so he got more time off. He saw to it that Anne Singer lived up to her name, he spent time with Barclay, trading holoprogramming, nineball and engineering tips, and sparred daily with Worf. His biggest break came when he found a Klingon diplomatic vessel openly traveling toward the Neutral Zone, away from Romulus. He tucked the Enterprise into its wake and drafted into Klingon Space at high warp, leaving no trail.

The Enterprise was waiting at QuonoS for her saucer section to rejoin, showing the flag, when Neek arrived on a Klingon passenger ship. He'd lost no time in tracking down his erstwhile partner.

   Paris walked out of the shop, enjoying the feel of his new pants and boots. As the locals on QuonoS all seemed to be wearing armor and armed with at least a knife, Paris, remembering the many fights he'd had with armored Klingons, had turtled up and gotten himself a bowie of his own.

   He was looking in the public database when he found B'Elanna Torres. Her location was given as Starfleet academy, Earth. He was having real second thoughts about the whole thing, anyway. Her bio picture hadn't looked a thing like the older alternate Tom Paris's Klingon goddess.

   His eye's widened to see a familiar Feringi walking down the street.

   "Humon! You live." Neek eyed Paris with trepidation.

   "Good to see you still kicking, Neek." Paris looked around at the staring Klingons. Feringis were not welcome on QuonoS. "You have got to be nuts to come here, though."

   Neek shrugged. "What does it matter? I'm cash poor. Better to die quick than to have to take a... a job." He shuddered.

   Paris nodded in agreement and led Neek into a small tavern. After a delay long enough to tell them that they were not welcome, they were served.

   "What happened?" Paris grimaced at his drink. Budweiser was the same everywhere, but he suspected that the Klingon hadn't washed the curdled bloodwine out of the glass. He poured the beer out onto the floor. "Bring me more! In a can this time, since you can't wash a glass!"

   Neek sighed. "We lost the K'tanga."

   "What!" Paris glared. He loved that ship. "You took Lollypop out and lost her?"

   "After you were taken by the Federation, I cloaked and followed the Enterprise. I couldn't really keep up without losing the cloak and I could never penetrate their deflectors to get a transporter lock on you. So I eventually gave up and went back to Drootha N'gor. Sut and I ran a few low-risk cargoes, but the profit motive eventually got the best of us."

   Paris leaned back and thought better of Neek. "So you didn't kill the little rat after all."

   Neek sighed. "He's my only relative. I just couldn't do it."

   "Who has the K'tanga?"

   Neek sighed. "The Ondarians. I was running guns through their territory."

   "Guns?" Paris frowned. "Who wants guns? Neek, tell me you weren't running guns to a pre contact civili-"

   "No, no, primitives can't pay anyway. It's the Rebels. The ones that are against this new peace treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians. They just want to be ready, in case of trouble." Neek opened his mouth and hissed, in a typical Feringi display of sarcasm.

   Paris looked thoughtful. "I haven't been paying attention to that. I thought there was going to be some sort of demilitarized zone between the Federation and the Snakes." He dismissed it as unimportant. "Where are the Ondarians keeping Lollypop?"

   The bartender approached with two bottles of Bud, and overheard his customers plotting a cutting out raid on the Ondarians. Deciding that they must be honorable, he dropped his plan to provoke a fight with the Human.


   "You wish to be discharged here, in the Empire, Mr. Paris?" Picard frowned, massively.

   "Yes, Captain. I've got a business emergency to deal with. I need my pay and my discharge, as soon as possible." Paris hoped that things would go smoothly. He needed to get out of the Starfleet straightjacket before he suffocated.

   "There was some talk of decorations, Mr. Paris. Starfleet Intelligence also wanted to have a word with you about a job." Picard didn't mention Owen Paris's hand behind the offer. Time had softened the old man, like rust on an anvil.

   "Sir, you can tell them from me that the answer is not only no, but hell no." Paris shook his head. "I don't spy. Ever. If they want to pacify these rebels, all they have to do is get themselves out of ostrich mode and back out of that chickenshit treaty with the snakes. I'm a money fighter, Captain, but not even I would sink that low. Besides, that's gonna heat up. You have to be alive to spend the latinum."

   "Yes." Picard didn't want to get into a discussion about the border problems. His faction had been shouted down on the rearmament plan after Wolf 359, loosing out to the arrogance and influence of science and exploration faction, a faction that he'd once been an influential leader of. He wanted to build a large offensive fleet of pure warships to fight the Borg with. The war party had failed to make its opinion heard and now the Federation was going to pay the price of weakness in innocent blood. Sometimes, Picard thought of early retirement.

   Paris gazed at him, calculating his mood. That simple affirmative had conveyed volumes.

   "I had expected you to stay with the ship, until we reach Utopia Plantia, at the very least. I'd have thought that you would be most eager to get your hands on the scout." Picard stood and went to a small drawer. He removed something and brought it back. "I was going to make this offer when we reached Earth, but now will have to do." He handed Paris a commission, with two Lieutenant Commander's pips attached to the side of the heavy bond paper.

   "Should you accept, you'll be nearly as high in rank as you would have been had Caldek Prime not occurred." Picard studied Paris's face, knowing that the commission would be rejected.

   "Thank you, Captain, but I'll have to decline the honor. I'm just not Starfleet material. Besides, if I took this I'd just get assigned to intelligence and end up in jail again, somewhere. No, I have commitments elsewhere." Paris placed the commission on the table.

   "Very well, Lieutenant. I'll have your orders cut. You can go in the morning. What about the scout?" Picard was following orders, but he still felt the Judas.

   Paris nodded. "Intelligence will try to use it as bait. I'll be pressured, probably clapped in irons and sent for mandatory counseling unless I agree to work for them. I'm half in love with Deanna, but it's not too hard to see which way the land lies there. She'll fight to have me locked up where she can take her time, fixing me. Intelligence will use that. If I'm a civilian, it'll be much harder. If I'm not there at all, it'll be impossible."

   Picard nodded, a gleam of pleased admiration visible. "I take it that you have a plan to extract your ship from the long arm of Starfleet Intelligence?"

   "I know a Feringi that will come up with one, if you don't mind transporting him. He's very good at sniffing around behind closed doors. Blackmail, Captain, is an ugly word and Feringi's are ugly people. When you have a Feringi that wants something from you, you'd better not have dirty skirts." Paris smirked. "None of those intelligence thugs have clean slates."


   Worf knew that Paris was leaving, but he was disappointed when he didn't get a chance to bid him farewell. He'd looked forward to a farewell fight.

   Anne Singer was sad, but she'd known that it wouldn't last. The romance had quickly faded from the relationship. She liked Paris, but she knew that she could never love him. He kept himself masked, lacking a certain vulnerability that she needed in her man. At least her burgeoning friendship with the difficult, yet fascinating Reg Barclay, forged over many games of nineball, seemed to be leading somewhere good. Paris had taught both of them to play the game on the holodeck. She'd regarded Reg as a spastic creep when she first came aboard, but once she got to know him his unstable brilliance, sensitive nature and basic kindness had warmed her.

   Reg was deeply saddened to see his first friend made on the Enterprise go. He had few friends and valued the ones he had like gold pressed latinum. Paris had taught him a lot about dealing with people. Reg's subordinates respected him enough for his life to be bearable, now. Junior officers and crewmen knew that he would find a nasty punishment for them if they provoked him. Most of all, Paris had seen his carefully hidden, totally hopeless love for Anne Singer. The space mercenary had not only stepped aside and given his blessing but had actually succeeded in fixing them up.

   Troi was furious, raging at Picard. She filed a full formal protest with Starfleet command. Paris, with Picard's connivance, had maneuvered things so that he had his abbreviated mandatory exit interview with her newly arrived subordinate, Counselor Tehmak.

   Tehmak, a newly-commissioned ensign, was easily manipulated by the wily Paris. Tehmak had signed off on him and Paris had received his discharge, immediately.

   Troi vainly argued that the discharge was fraudulently obtained through deception, but Picard was immovable. A deal was a deal, he said.

   She had possessed high hopes for Paris, knowing that she was very close to a breakthrough. Now Paris would quickly slide back into his old mercenary lifestyle, drinking, flying, fighting, engaging in meaningless sex and pursuing a profit into the gates of hell, all for his own idle amusement.

   Many Enterprises missed Paris, but none were really surprised by the enigmatic pilot's quiet departure.


   Paris, clad in an EVA suit stolen from Enterprise, rode inside the hopper of a hijacked Ondarian work robot. He had it stop by the outer door of a torpedo tube, covering him from any exterior scanners trained on Lollypop, then sent it on its way with new programming and no record of its activities. Clouds of similar robots were cleaning the warp scoring off of the hull, delivering supplies and applying Ondarian military markings.

   Paris boarded Lollypop through the torpedo tube. The access pad on the hatch was not what it seemed. When the right code was tapped in, it would admit a man without informing the main computer. He was surprised to see that the magazine was filled with ancient Federation issue photon torpedoes. The old weapons were omni-directional and had a disturbing tendency to destroy the vessel that had fired it along with the target.

   Paris plugged his small terminal into an innocuous looking jack on the side of the loader and in a roundabout way, queried the computer. Ten minutes of hacking got him control of the computer and told him all that he wanted to know.

   A set of Ondarian overlays, all at Neek's clearance level, had been placed over his core programming. He still had the highest level of clearance, but the Ondarians could control the ship, so long as he didn't interfere. When he'd first gotten the ship, a team of renegade Binars that he was friendly with had reprogrammed it from scratch to remove all of the Klingon security overrides. It appeared that the Ondarians were not as careful.

   Checking the ship's orders, He found out that Sibuth, as the Ondarians had rechristened her, was due for a space trial later in the week. Interestingly, the Ondarians had installed powerful, modern disrupters in the old ports. They'd engaged a Klingon firm to modernize the ship's weapons, refit the blown EPS conduits and retune the cloak modulator. He'd already had the finest shields that the quadrant could offer. It seemed that he'd arrived, just in time.

   Making his way to a small nook that had once contained a part of the old primary plasma coolant filtration tank, he made himself comfortable.

   Tak Dan, Flagleader of the Ondarian central force, settled himself into the captain's seat and gave the order. Sibuth smoothly accelerated out of the dock area on impulse. He was thrilled with the prize ship. When he'd hailed it, he'd never imagined that the occupants would pay the least bit of attention. Ondarian strength was pitiful. The little Feringi's inside had panicked, engaged the cloak with the shields on maximum and blown a main EPS conduit, stopping them dead in space. Ondar had taken a much-needed prize. The look the techs had gotten at the alien technology had been a blessing. Soon the fleet would be somewhat modernized.

   When they reached the colony of Norcik, however, Tak Dan suddenly found himself and his crew transported naked to a pressurized hangar on moon's surface. Sibuth cloaked and disappeared from the planetary approach monitors, never to be seen again. It was laid down to Klingon treachery.


    Tom restored the computer to it's former state, from backups and then deployed his numerous small cleaning bots, ordering them to remove all trace of the Ondarians. He readjusted the environment for human optimum and set course for a badlands planetoid that he often used as a cache.

   He ordered the two dozen Ondaran robots that he'd stolen to remove the fresh Ondarian markings. His transponders hadn't been altered, but he found an additional IFF system that had been added. He was glad that he was heading for peaceful space. He needed to do an in depth survey before he risked another Romulan incursion.

   He went down into what was usually his forward hold and eyed the newly emplaced disrupter arrays. Those had to be removed and stored too. Even with the robots it was going to take him awhile to do it right.

   Fortunately, he had time. He was seven weeks from the Romulan frontier and two weeks from the cyclical wormhole leading to the badlands. He'd learned of the wormhole from an ancient computer that he'd befriended.

   Paris capped off the EPS conduits leading to the disrupter cannon, keeping the plasma from precipitating by connecting them together and flushing the whole system with successively lighter plasmas. He finally left them in place, capped and pressurized with constantly recirculating argon gas. The cannon were another story. He had to flush them out by firing repeatedly, and then connecting a small generator to each inlet port to maintain the field pressure on the amplifier matrix. Phased energy weapons were hard to maintain under the best circumstances. He figured that these would last in storage for ten years or so without degradation. Fortunately, the Ondarians had included complete manuals in the computer.

   One man couldn't even begin to maintain or operate Lollypop as a warship. He made do as a smuggler by relying on a small engineering firm on Drootha N'gor to keep his agile, stripped down K'tanga in tip-top shape. He was good at field repairs, and knew his way around the engine room, but maintenance was a type of drudgery that he was always glad to pay someone else to do. Thankfully, the Ondarians had put their best people on it. The ship gleamed.

    He transited the wormhole and arrived at Base, precisely three weeks after his repossession of Lollypop. Base was all he called it, because it had no name. Its builders had perished so long ago that the radioactive material once stored in bunkers around the site were just inert lumps now. Gods or extinct, Paris neither knew nor cared. All he knew was that the place was handy. Not even Neek knew where it was.

   Paris had found base through a fluke. While hiding in a dust cloud from a Cardassian patrol, he'd come across the wandering planetoid by almost hitting it.

   Idly inspecting the surface through his targeting reticule, he'd seen a vehicle. Curious, he'd stopped the Gorn transport that he'd been running back then and beamed down.

   The wreck was a primitive tracked combat vehicle, with a gaping hole in the side. Inspecting its totally depleted fission engine, he'd known that it was impossibly ancient. Following the direction that the depressed muzzles of the corroded rail-guns were pointed, he'd discovered an immense set of blast doors set into the plain, below the jagged mountain. The doors were beautifully camouflaged, coated with silicate, the same silicate that made up the plain around them. The doors were still as good as the day that they'd been made.

   He'd scanned inside and beamed through, to treasure hunt. A breathtakingly immense cylindrical cavern was all he'd found. There was some evidence of a hurried departure. A primitive nuclear powered rocketship was berthed in a steel docking cradle, dwarfed by the immense space, its battle damage obvious.

   Paris had explored, locating the installation's power plants, radars, missile emplacements and living quarters. He found no bodies or writing. The base had been thoroughly stripped, the ancient electronic circuitry of its primitive computers too badly degraded by multiple EMP strikes and age to yield any information.

   The former proprietors had held their war so long ago that the course of the rocky planetoid's travels couldn't be computed with any accuracy. The radiation level was standard background, but the damage to the ancient circuitry suggested that intense radiation was the cause of the installation's abandonment. Its great age was brought home to him by the cold, transmuted state of Base's small nuclear arsenal. The ancient hydrogen bombs were too depleted to be radioactive. Even the primitive fission power plants were completely safe. That took at least twenty million years.

   Paris had often stopped by after that, further concealing the base. The vehicle and surface emplacements had been tractored into space and dumped elsewhere. He'd replaced the defunct electric motors that opened the door with musclewebs and retrofitted new door seals and controls. An emergency force field, salvaged life support and gravity modules and a small General Dynamics fusion generator had turned Base into a useful hidey-hole for a busy smuggler.


   Paris unloaded the magazines, cached his torpedoes and stored the disrupter arrays. He also unshipped his cloaking device. He was heading for the Federation's core, and some nosey bureaucrat would, at SI's urging, certainly demand to inspect his ship. They frowned on such things, back there.

   He put the Ondarian robots to work, removing the ancient junk in the hangars that pockmarked the cylinder's inner walls and generally cleaning up. They were good little machines, for such a primitive technology.

   Turning the ship, he entered high warp for Drootha N'gor. He wanted to get a thorough check done on his systems and pick up some crew and perhaps some worthwhile female passengers for his long trip back to Sector 1. He called ahead by subspace relay, announcing his destination.

   Drootha N'gor was unusually crowded when Paris arrived. Lollypop's leased docking slip had been given to a small Romulan passenger liner.

   When he called station operations to complain, he was told that the liner was on an emergency medical delivery and would be leaving in a day. He was directed to a temporary alternate berth and compensated for his trouble.

   Calling Frellis Engineering, He made an appointment for Lollypop. Droknor, his usual engineer, a Droothan specialist in Klingon warp drives, called back immediately and scolded him about missing his regular maintenance schedule. He cut the well meaning being short and sent a summary of all the work that had been done on Lollypop during the preceding five months. Droknor, somewhat mollified, was quite pleased when Paris asked him to do a complete level one diagnostic and double check all of the work. Promising to attend to it that very day, Droknor, disconnected.

   The comm screen chirped again. Paris answered, "Paris."

   "Hail and welcome back, Captain Paris." It was the station's Enforcer of Correct Deportment, Mlorkta.

   "To you also, I extend greetings, esteemed Enforcer Chief." Paris often played chess and talked politics with the copper hued humanoid.

   Drootha, being non-aligned, somewhat backward and in a backwater was comfortably isolated from the galactic scene. Mlorkta often gathered galactopolitical intelligence from the alien residents of the massive station. Paris was considered a great resource.

   "We, the Drootha, are in a quandary, Captain Paris. One comes to us, seeking succor, requiring emergency transport to Vulcan. Yet our fastest vessel is incapable of making the trip in the required time." Mlorkta looked extremely uncomfortable. "We would inquire if it is beyond the bounds of propriety to inquire in a roundabout way if one had ever considered openly transiting Federation space?"

   Tom inclined his head, trying not to laugh. The Droothans were formal to a fault. "One would hazard it for the Drootha, esteemed Mlorkta. One is not especially desirous to be once again subjected to the insults of precipitous Starfleet, but that which does not terminate one's existence surely makes one into a more complex being."

   Mlorkta nodded, gravely. "The Drootha will be pleased. Our protests to that aforementioned organization over your unauthorized forcible removal from this, your longtime home, were met by naught but mocking derision and cold despite. We grieved and raised Federation docking rates by some six hundred percent, in vehement protest. Additionally, as a move to ensure some protection should you face the ultimate penalty, the Drootha voted to list you on the roll of the Droothan World Family. Welcome, citizen Paris, of clan Paris."

   "I am honored beyond my ability to communicate. I stand ready to serve my new Worldfamily in any way required." Paris was moved. He'd met some of the beings comprising the Drootha. They were typical pragmatic politicians. He'd have never expected them to go to bat for him.

   "The Vulcan, a woman of a great house of Vulcan, was in Romulan space, traveling as an unofficial cultural ambassador to spread the pernicious, antisocial doctrine of Surak among the people of the Romulan Empire. We are told now that she must make it to Vulcan within a sixteen weeks or face great illness. She is quite young and appears healthy, but all we know is what we are told. Our ethicspeakers have determined that our Worldfamily will be at fault should she come to harm." Mlorkta looked gravely at Paris. "May one inquire as to the reason for the calamitous abduction of yourself?"

   Paris grinned. "I was conscripted, Mlorkta. I extracted myself from servitude, but there are those among the Federation's intelligence services that see no ethical boundaries in forcing me to serve them as a Starfleet officer, in spite of my antipathy."

   Mlorkta looked confused. "This happens often in the Federation, esteemed cousin-by-adoption?"

   Paris shook his head. "Not so. My family served Starfleet for seven generations. I myself did so for a brief period in my early youth. They feel a certain... ownership of those who bear my name. I made it clear that I have no interest in a life of servitude, but they reply, 'you are Paris' and try to push me down my father's path."

   "Aaah, I readily comprehend. It is somewhat similar with my family. Four generations of Enforcers of Correct Deportment and my son wishes to be a jizz wailer. I do not judge, I only grieve his intense stupidity." Mlorkta cast his eyes down, ceremonially.

   "One must be one's own being Mlorkta. If I'm to reach Vulcan in sixteen weeks it will mean prolonged travel at warp nine. I must make ready. Can you notify the woman of my acceptance of her plea, on behalf of the Worldfamily?" Paris wondered if he had time to pick up any cargo, crew or paying passengers.

   "I shall. We shall expedite matters and compensate you well for the journey, Tom Paris." Mlorkta bowed, then cut the connection.

   Paris went to his rooms aboard the station to check his possessions. He dressed in his favorite black T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans and then retrieved his blasters. Turning on his holoprojector, Paris spent hours blasting targets, practicing with them on low power. Then he went to the commercial sector and purchased some new exercise bracelets. He'd been working out lately, trying to match the bulk of his powerfully built alternate, but still hadn't managed to put on as much extra muscle weight.

   With a pang of sharp disappointment, he remembered the woman, B'Elanna. Her analog was much smaller and did not have the same magnetic attraction. Of course, he'd only seen an old picture, taken when she was sixteen. Maybe he'd look her up sometime, when he got to Earth.

   He searched, but no good engineers wanted to go anywhere near sector 1. Paris couldn't really blame them. In the Federation, advancing in your career was very hard. The moneyless planned economy lent itself to excessive control. You had to have all sorts of phony, make-believe professional qualifications to do anything. Paris himself would be unable to get a job on a civil space-going craft without years of 'documented' experience as a seat warmer on some milk run, somewhere.

   Few of the beings in this sector would be able to practice their profession within the rigidly controlled Federation, so they tended to stay out. A being could get beached and end up as a farmer or a laborer on some project. No one was poor in the Federation, but no one was really free, either.

   Paris resigned himself to sleeping in the dayroom on Lollypop's bridge. The ship was heavily automated anyway. All he really did was to take the helm when the going got too rough for the computer. The Ondaran's hadn't touched his sensors, which were the best. The Enterprise had better, but he'd been delighted to see how well Lollypop stacked up.

   Paris walked around the newly capped off EPS conduits, secretly amused. Frellis Engineering did not approve of his makeshift work at all. Droknor, seemingly outraged, had immediately vented the argon and filled the unused conduits with a foam preservative that Paris hadn't realized was available.

   Between scoldings, Droknore and several engineers under his direction had carefully inspected every inch of Lollypop. A transporter relay was replaced and a warp coil was recalibrated. The Klingon firm that did the work for the Ondarans had put a squealer on the ship, misalinging a warp field slightly to distinguish it from their own K'tangas. Only a superior engineer would have caught it. Droknore's grudging approval had only come after a full warp diagnostic, a comparative power test and a leakage check, conducted with sensitive instruments from a fast shuttle.

   Several Ondaran parts that had gone into systems that Paris didn't normally use were summarily ripped out and replaced from Frellis Engineering's Klingon OEM stash. Since the Droothan Worldfamily was paying, Frellis was going all out. Paris had long suspected that Droknore secretly regarded Lollypop as his own personal hotrod.

   It took five days to properly prepare the ship. A cabin was furnished and the ship's medbot was programmed for Romulan physiology, no Vulcan data being available. The replicators were already programmed for Vulcan cuisine.


   Paris packed his bags and made his way to the docking port where Lollypop was connected. It was 05:00 when he got to the docking ring. The Vulcan woman was already there, with several dozen trunks and suitcases, waiting impatiently by the lock.

   "Good morning. I'm Tom Paris, the master of Lollypop." Tom bowed slightly, swallowing. He was intimidated by her 'esthetic appeal,' as the Vulcans put it. She was tall, nearly the same height as him. Her eyes were large and violet. Her clear, alabaster skin contrasted with her hair, which was black with a purple sheen. Her features, even with the cold look that she was giving him, almost stopped his heart.

   "I am T'Lar. Will we be departing soon?" She impatiently clamped down on her telepathic projecting. This was not a Vulcan male.

   "Yes ma'am. Whenever you're ready." Paris shook his head, bewildered. He'd almost thought that he heard a voice, raging at him.

   "I would prefer to depart at once. My time grows very short." She looked pointedly at the lock.

   "Then welcome aboard Lollypop, T'Lar." He opened the lock and showed her to her cabin. Paris discreetly scanned her excess luggage and then stowed it in a disused disrupter control space that was close by her cabin. While she was settling in, he identified her to the computer and then went to the bridge.

   He'd just cleared the Droothan traffic control zone when she came to the entrance hatch of the bridge. "May I come on the bridge?"

   "Yes, T'Lar, you have the freedom of the ship, save for the engineering spaces." Tom gestured her to a seat. "Please don't worry about touching the controls. They're locked." He took the ship into warp, building his factors up slowly, to minimize engine and EPS manifold stress.

   "I have noted that there appears to be no one else aboard, Captain Paris." She was eyeing the engineering monitor with familiarity.

   "We left in such a hurry that I didn't have the time to recruit crewmembers. Few want to take the chance of entering Federation Space. Don't worry, T'Lar. Lollypop is fully automated. I rarely carry passengers, or crew."

   "I was made aware of that fact, Captain. When you approached the Droothan station, the Romulan liner crew grew quite... excited. You are something of a legend, in certain circles." She looked at him, disapprovingly.

   "I always like to leave 'em wanting more." He patted the armrest. "I can outrun almost anything in this beauty."

   "I note the extensive engine modifications. I do not understand the purpose of the stepped warp envelope." T'Lar frowned, thoughtfully. "Or the extra plasma filtration loops."

   Paris smiled. "That's because you never operated a cloaked ship, before."

   "I see. I must remind you, Captain, that cloaking devices are illegal in the Federation." She met his eyes and suddenly flushed.

   Paris gave her a crooked grin. "Don't worry, I'll keep us both out of the hoosegow."

   She regained her composure. "Vulcans do not worry. I am a qualified watch officer, Captain. Since you are so short handed, I volunteer to take a watch."

   He gazed at her, evaluating. "What were you doing with the Romulans?"

   She seemed to go blank, losing all emotion. "I am a missionary of sorts, Captain. The Rihansu occasionally seem to relent and allow contact with Vulcan. I was attempting to spread the analects of Surak to the lost ones."

   Paris nodded, thoughtfully. "Why you?"

   "I speak the language, Captain. I have long trained for this task, with the priests of Gon. The Kholinaru wants the Rihansu Kat-" She fixed him with a strange look. "You are an excellent interrogator, Captain.

   He smiled. "The Tal Shar made me a training device for their female agents, but it worked both ways."

   Her eyebrow was at full cock, the usual sign of amazement among Vulcans. He'd spoken to her in fluent, unaccented Romulan. "I assure you, Captain. I am not of the Rihansu." She answered him in her Romulan, which she was sure had a rustic accent.

   "Good! We can work on our language skills, together. It has been too long since I had a Tal Shar paramour to speak to." He smiled, and went on in Rihansu, "How did you gain your ship skills?"

   T'Lar swallowed as she was suddenly almost overcome by the urge to smile. It would be a long trip. "I took a course as part of my mission training."

   Three and a half weeks later, Paris had sharpened T'Lar's ship skills to an acceptable degree and she was taking a watch, regularly. It gave him more time for maintenance inspections. The bridge went unmanned at times, but never unmonitored. T'Lar rarely went unmonitored, either.

   Paris was in the recreation room, the gravity turned up, working out. His gravbells were set at high, to give him more muscle building and tone. He was on a projected holographic weight bench, doing bench presses when he felt eyes on him. Turning toward the door he was embarrassed by his sudden intense arousal when he saw T'Lar, in a black body suit that accentuated her fine curves. "Good morning, T'Lar. I'll get out of your way, here."

   "Good morning, Captain Paris. Please, there is no need. I am the one who has changed the established routine. I was just going to exercise before meditation. The facility is adequate for multiple use."

   He smiled, relieved that he wouldn't have to stand up. She seemed to keep him as horny as a teenager. It was a crime against nature that she was a Vulcan. One of his first big disappointments in life had been finding out that Vulcan women just didn't do it. He didn't know how he was going to make it through twelve more weeks of perpetual hardon brought on by her increasingly maddening presence. "Okay then, if I annoy you, don't hesitate to tell me. You're the passenger, after all."

   "You do not annoy me, Captain Paris." She turned quickly away and began to dance, as she did each morning. It was a little like Tai Chi, but about ten thousand times more erotic.

   He flushed, suddenly dry mouthed and stared at her until she finished the routine and sat facing him, to meditate.

   To cover his agitation, he began furiously pumping iron, explosively working himself into exhaustion. Trembling, wreathed in sweat, he tottered up on rubber legs to hit the shower.

   "You should rest." T'Lar stood and eyed him with concern. "You need to give your body time to recover before exerting it again, Captain. Do you meditate?"

   He shrugged. "I used to know how to put myself into a sort of a trance. A Bajoran girl taught it to me. It improved my warp combat scores by three percent." He paused. "Does it do you any good?"

   She smiled. "Some. Still, it is a useful skill. It will help your body recover and a centered mind is a ready mind."

   He laughed. "You sound like my old Sensei. He was a great one for meditation."

   "Would you like to learn?" She gestured to the mat. "Sit, and I will teach you."

   He sat, happy to hide his growing erection. Her scent was incredibly alluring. "Okay, T'Lar, I'm ready for anything, here." Mentally, he berated himself. Vulcans didn't flirt. He cleared his mind and went through the exercise that Ro had taught him. The opening, she'd called it. When he opened his eyes, he almost jumped.

   She was crouched directly across from him, only centimeters away, staring directly into his eyes.

   T'Lar stared intently into the strange blue eyes. She felt his mind, wide open to her strike. She fought down the dark urge one last time. He was desirable and her logic was fading. Pon Farr burned at her, compelling her to mate. She was resisting, but nature wouldn't be denied. He was open, prepared for her to take. Few other species realized that Vulcan males were under the thumb of a telepathically dominant matriarchy. Males had once been considered little more than property, branded at birth with their clan sigils and traded like shelats. Surak's iron logic had ended the practice, but the male was still largely submissive in most Vulcan houses.

   "Do you want me, Thomas?" T'Lar said it softly, surrendering to the animal inside.

   Paris gasped. "More that anything or anyone that I've ever wanted before, T'Lar. It's like a drug. I can't even think, for wanting you."

   She reached out and stroked his cheek. "You may have me, Thomas. Do as I do." She splayed her right hand over his cheek and her left over his forehead.

   Feeling what the proper response was, he took her head in the same hold.

   "Open your mind, Thomas. Let me touch you. Our minds are together. You are mine. We are one, indivisible, whole, I feel your thoughts. Do not fear... Yes, the opening. I am open too. We are open." T'Lar penetrated his mind deeply, rolling him onto his back. With Vulcan-powerful arms, she tore the clothing from him and then herself. Mounting him, she rolled him over on top of her.

   Paris performed mindlessly, like a puppet. T'Lar filled him, completely. She was strong beyond belief and demanding, stamping out all resistance. She had his mind in a ruthless telepathic grip. In the manner of the Vulcan animal, she sought to ensure her mates fidelity by enslaving him with a mind meld so profound that he would never be free of her. She bucked under him, screaming with passion as she drove him back to the very edge of his mind, imprinting her engrams into his personality, creating an adjunct of her mind that would serve to control him.

   Somewhere, deep in his psyche, a hard, clipped, military voice dispassionately ordered him to counterattack. He felt her intense need for the sex, the act of her physical penetration counterbalancing his mental penetration. The disciplined, drilled, conditioned part of his mind that saw all things as battle seized on it. He began to concentrate on the sex, becoming more inventive, using every technique at his command to distract her. He threw memories of his best previous encounters at her. Her passion exploded out of her control and she screamed with rage to see rivals in his mind.

   Pushing, he took control of her mental thrust, timing his moves with his physical thrusts. Soon she was falling back, stubbornly holding, but ultimately unable to control herself enough to maintain her dominance. His lovemaking had slowed as he tried to bring her to new heights. She held him in an iron grip, but her mind was open before him. Taking a breath, he pushed in.

   Red, throbbing passion surrounded him. Under it all, a proper Vulcan disciple of Surak hid, but the wanton woman he held cared nothing for Surak. Her violet pupils were huge and wild, her face, slack with pleasure. Kissing her deeply, he pushed hard, uncovering her thoughts. She was open, unable to maintain her dominance, surrendering herself to his mental push. With each thrust, he pushed himself in, deeper and deeper. He saw the far boundary of her mind and tenaciously advanced through geometrically increasing resistance.

   As his triumph grew, she kindled and effortlessly washed him away on waves of stupefying passion. The pleasure was so intense that he lost his capacity for coherent thought.

   Raging thirst. Paris opened one eye, aware of his terrible thirst. He felt the very feminine form resting against him, and remembered with sudden astonishment. He'd been taken in Pon Farr, by T'Lar, a Vulcan. His Vulcan. His thirsty Vulcan. He'd lost the battle, completely.

   Gently disentangling himself, he went to the replicator and got a huge container of ice water. Downing it, he got one for T'Lar. Setting it beside her, his eyes passed over the navigational display.

   Shock tore through him. He had been in the weight room with T'Lar for five straight days, rutting like a ram. He hobbled to the bridge, cursing.

   Fortunately, the ship was all right. All systems were still go. No problems logged. Deflectors holding normally. The course was correct, he was maintaining warp factor 9.9874 and he had crossed the Federation border three days ago.

   He looked at the tactical display and groaned. An Ambassador class Starship was in hot pursuit, losing ground, but hanging in there. It was a tossup, because an Essex class was on his long range sensors, poised to cut him off. Shrugging, he dropped to warp six. He was legal enough. Warp six would give them time to get ready to meet Starfleet. Wordlessly, he communicated the situation to T'Lar.

   Paris sat in his chair, apathetically. T'Lar had drunk nearly a gallon of water and retired to her cabin, leaving him alone to face the wrath of Starfleet. He could feel her, moving to bind him tighter, deep in his mind. He suddenly realized that it was probably permanent. Her smug triumph answered him. Angrily, in the face of her wordless taunting, he opened a channel.

   "Klingon Warship! Heave to. You are in Federation space!

   Klingon Warship! Heave to. You are in Federation space!

   Klingon Warship! Heave to. You are in Federation space!

   Klingon Warship! Heave to. You are in Federation space!

   Klingon Warship! Heave to. You are in Federation space!"

   Paris cut the warp drive and the monotonous voice stopped.

   "Identify yourself, Klingon Warship."

   "This is the free trader Lollypop, out of Drootha, on the business of the Droothan Worldfamily. We are en-rout to Vulcan with a medical emergency. Transmitting registration now." Paris suddenly sneezed.

   "Gesuntite." There was a silence. "Lollypop? A K'tanga named Lollypop? Are you serious?"

   "Serious? No. But that's what I painted on the hull. Yes, she's a good ship." Paris established a visual.

   A blonde man eyed him, skeptically. "Captain, you have the look of a man who has been dragged through the proverbial knothole, backwards."

   "That would have been less wearing, Captain." He yawned, prodigiously, then jerked his eyes open. "I'm Tom Paris."

   Behind the Captain, a Betazoid man jumped as if goosed.

   "Captain Clark, USS Brazos City." He gestured at the ravaged looking Paris. Can you tell me the nature of your medical emergency?

   "I'd rather not," Paris mumbled.

   "Captain? What did you say?" Clark stared at the man in disbelief. A long snore emanated from the figure slumped in the chair.

   "Good god! He's asleep!" Clark called sickbay. "Doctor T'Nel, we have an unknown medical emergency onboard the K'tanga. The captain passed out while speaking to me. He is apparently human. Please prepare to join an away team."

   When the six columns of light coalesced into an away team on Lollypop's bridge, Dr. T'Nel immediately took a reading on Paris, then froze. Her nostrils flared as they detected the thick pheromones that Lollypop's environmental systems were struggling with. Her mind rebelled, rejecting the evidence of her senses.

   Impatiently, Captain Clark watched the screen. He wanted answers. A security petty officer raised his phaser as someone new entered the bridge.

   A woman, Vulcan, or perhaps even Romulan, locked eyes with Dr. T'Nel. "Greetings, Mother." She said, impassively.

   Everyone except Paris, the two Vulcans and the cowering Bajoran jerked in shock.

   "T'Lar! What have you done!" Dr. T'Nel looked furious.

   T'Lar smiled, shocking everyone again. "Why, I have finally taken a mate, Mother. Is he not handsome? He has slain many. If he became angered, he could slay all of the inferior males in this room, then elude those starships. Were he still in possession of his shipboard weapons, he could destroy them all. His blood is hot, his mind is cold and his anger is to be feared. He nearly overwhelmed me, before I finally bound him." She sighed, happily.

   T'Lar was still in Pon Farr. Her lust was rising, since she'd rested and drunk. It would go on, for as long as Paris resisted her control. She looked at the men in the compartment, gloating. Tom would soon wake and slay them, for her amusement.

   "Captain, these men must leave the ship, at once." Dr. T'Nel spoke urgently.

   "Why, Doctor?" Clark vainly tried to remember the specifics of Vulcan mating practices.

   "This matter is classified under medical exemption 334, as set forth under general order 21. Leave us, Captain. I'll be staying aboard this vessel." T'Nel saw Paris stir. "Please Captain, hesitation now will cost lives!"

   "Very well, but I want a full report." Clark was a bit outraged when T'Nel deliberately muted the communications link.

   T'Lar saw Paris move, too. She approached the largest security crewman. "Am I not beautiful?" She rubbed his chest, seductively.

   "Um, yes, ma'am!" He smiled at the stunning Vulcan beauty, then nervously eyed Dr. T'Nel and his captain, on the screen.

   T'Lar grabbed his hair, pulled his head down and kissed him on the mouth.

   The ensign looked up from her and his happy smile died. The Captain was awake now and looking right at him. The eyes were cobalt blue, radiating a fury that hit him like a laser beam. His arm dropped for his phaser.

   T'Lar thrust him away, laughing wildly. She had Paris locked under the mating compulsion.

   "Back away quickly, ensign." T'Nel hit her comm badge. "Captain! Hurry!"

   Paris's knife slashed through the ensign's throat, but the transporter had already pulled him into subspace.

   The bridge crew was petrified with shock. Paris had moved with impossible speed.

   T'Nel looked on impassively as Paris eyed her, confusion warring with lust on his features. He finally turned, and grabbed T'Lar, carrying her back to the weight room mat, away from this strange, irrelevant person.

   T'Lar laughed. She was consolidating her control, feeding his rage and lust, swamping his sentience. He only knew to obey what seemed like his own impulses.

   T'Nel turned back to the screen, opened the aural channel and spoke. "Captain, have you reviewed the orders?"

   Clark nodded. "I have. I don't see how we can swing this, though."

   T'Nel looked at him, flatly. "Swing? Oh, yes, a Humanism. There is nothing to be done. I shall stay with them until they are recovered and then we shall go to Vulcan to attempt to have this undone." She hesitated. "How is Ensign Brown?"

   "In hack, Doctor. He'll be fine. Will you require a female prize crew?" Clark had a patrol schedule to keep.

   "No, Captain. We will simply sit dead in space until we can continue." She desperately hoped that her daughter had the sense not to drive him mad. The ship was unlocked, but who knew what kind of nasty security system a Klingon ship might have?

   "Very well. We'll check up on you, periodically. Brazos City, out. Clark had Dr T'Nel's personal effects and a complete set of portable medical equipment beamed over. Most Klingon sickbays were barbaric.

   Paris fought the rearguard action. The battle was hard, but he managed to hide himself from her. She stretched him unmercifully, searching out his core, provoking him by raiding his most deeply buried memories and examining them, looking for a flicker of resistance.

   Through his eyes, she looked at a twenty million year old mural, on the wall of the crew quarters at Base. Families at play, looking distinctly Vulcanoid, except for the blue skin and the brow ridge. The children ran in the sun-dappled streets of what could be a typical looking suburb on Earth, several centuries back. She felt a ripple of awe.

   A mercenary bar on Davros II, Paris in the center, laughing, fighting all that approached, feeling a great sense of freedom and brotherhood, even as he knocked them down.

   An ancient sentient computer, the long forgotten manager of a lonely mining outpost of the long vanished Miocene Empire. A survivor of a civilization that had spanned the entire galaxy, long before man had invented the stone spearhead. It was pathetically grateful for his visits and his information downloads, even though it could only give its current political and military analysis in return. Its databases were of course sealed to a savage from outside the Empire.

   The ruthless creature that lived at his core watched the invader and waited, fighting a guerilla action, throwing scenes of violence and cruelty at her, trapping her in his most arresting and horrific memories.

   An Andoran card cheat, hanging over a wood fire from a girder poking out of a long abandoned construction site, attached by his knotted together antenna, shrieking as he was slowly roasted alive by a drunken, laughing, crowd of Human, Klingon, Romulan and mixed dregs on the 'Planet of Peace.'

   Ragged, desperate, feral Bajoran children, diving for nearly worthless coins thrown into deep, cold water by visiting Cardassians, quartermasters scavenging equipment left on the abandoned Cardassian prison colony. The snakes made a game of luring the children to their deaths. He couldn't do anything, because the reptiles had taken hostages. Paris had sent a tiny, stealthy work robot to place small shaped charges on the warp coils and comm arrays of the Cardassian ship. He wanted them to suffer, out in the void, before their patience ran out. They might still be out there, living their pointless lives. Anywhere was a lifetime away, at impulse.

   Moga Rhe, A notorious Barolian bounty hunter, working for the Romulans, caught stowed away in Lollypop's forward hold with a Romulan cloaking suit, screaming for mercy after Paris shoved him, stunned, into Lollypop's airlock. Paris's cold callousness as he cycled the lock and expelled the Barolian, deep in interstellar space, with only a cheap durastic emergency suit, hastily donned inside the lock, to sustain him.

   The Admiral, slowly circling him, as he ran the combat simulation. Six years old, Tommy was playing against ten fourth year cadets, who thought that they were playing against the Admiral. Tommy easily defeated them, cocky and bored, when suddenly the agonizer burned into him.

   "From now on, Tommy, you get a jolt at random intervals. If you lose, you'll spend the night like this." The Admiral eyed the child, the weapon that he was lovelessly honing for the Federation, searching for weakness, ready to meet it with savage punishment.

   T'Lar pulled back, shocked by the memory of the pain, losing ground.

   Paris struck hard, pushing into her mind, He saw her, with a group of Romulan females. He saw her failed bonding, and why that made her the logical choice to become a priestess of Gon. Her bonding had been carried through at seven, as was usual, but it had inexplicably failed. Her bondmate, Sroan, had proven to be the first of her failures. He'd died in Pon Farr, when she had not ripened in concert with him at twenty-one.

   Sroan had run screaming into the desert, searching for any female that was ripe, while she gazed at him dispassionately, trying not to feel relief. When his heart burst, she had merely noted it, so weak was the bond.

   But her bond was strong now. Unusually strong. To strong to be denied. She would strengthen it. The battle raged on.


   T'Nel found an empty cabin and made due with her Starfleet issue rations for several days. The replicators wouldn't acknowledge her, because she wasn't an authorized user. She had managed to redirect the bridge feed to all cabin vids, so she could see the Brazos City depart. She fought her feelings, centering herself, letting logic be her guide.

   Dispassionately, she checked every day on the health of T'Lar and her victim. They were always taken unaware, so intense was the battle. She knocked them out with a medical stunner, hydrated them, injected them with supplements and healed what abrasions she could find. Her great worry was the mental abrasions, but when she got an unexpected mental peek, she saw that the Captain was capable of taking care of himself. He had her backed into a second loci, taunting her with his victories.

   Thoughtfully, she collected certain samples. It was illogical to let opportunity go to waste. Stasis cylinders could hold the genetic material.

   T'Nel withdrew, to consider. At peace, after a nights sleep and an extended period of meditation, T'Nel saw the vid change. This ridiculously named Klingon ship was moving again.

   Rising, she went to the bridge. Paris, cleaned up and a little better off from the supplements she'd hypoed into him, was concentrating on his ship.

   "Greetings, Mother." Paris grimaced. He'd said it in Vulcan. "Dammit! That's not me. My mother's dead. Hello, T'Nel."

   "Greetings, bonded of my daughter." T'Nel pointed a medical tricorder at him. "You need more supplements."

   Paris tried to grin, but couldn't manage it. "She really..." He remembered who he was talking to. "Sure."

   T'Nel injected him. "Has the frenzy abated?"

   Paris shrugged. "I'll never touch a woman again."

   "You will, in six years, eleven months and twenty seven days." She looked at him, directly. "Unless the bond can be severed."

   "I sure hope so." He cleared his throat. "How come I never heard of this before?"

   T'Nel eyed him. "We hide our weakness. We would be feared and loathed if the true nature of our females were widely understood."

   Paris tried to laugh, but couldn't. "Well, you can bet your boots that from now on, Vulcan passengers are gonna pay double. So, how often does some poor Vulcan guy get turned into a zombie?" Paris shuddered, remembering the aching need to dominate that T'Lar had felt.

   T'Nel clamped down on her nascent feelings of nausea. Paris had to be told the truth. "It is a natural thing that you felt. Vulcan is a harsh land, Captain. No child can survive it without a defender. No hunting-gathering woman can wrest a living from it and protect the child, alone. She needs a man. Every seven years, during the rainy season, when the living is easy, comes the mating cycle."

   Paris grinned, stiffly. It just didn't feel right. "The famous Vulcan seven year itch?"

   T'Nel settled herself, comfortably. "It's a matter of the orbital mechanics of the homeworld, Captain. The rainy season occurs on Vulcan every 7.141 Federation Standard years. In ancient times, primitive men were drawn by the woman's irresistible scent and driven to frenzy by her telepathic compulsion. They fought like animals and the strongest took her. The weaker men, the ones who would have otherwise survived to compete for resources with the woman and her family, died in the plak toe."

   She reflected on the terrible carnage. "Evolution is mercilessly logical. All resources were thus spared for the woman. The culled men were disposable. As she swelled, so would her telepathic abilities, holding the bonded man close, keeping him ready to aid her and to spring to her defense. Even unbound men, or men who are bound to another became prey to her compulsion at that point. As the child grew, and the mother needed less help, the man became free, able to roam farther and farther afield. At approximately five standard years old, the boys were driven away, to live or die in the desert. They would feel a mindless terror and run as they began to sense the madness building. The mother's prodding would compel them to wander far away. Thus the woman had little emotional attachment, save to her daughter, when the Plak Toe came again. Her old mate could be easily discarded if he lost the battle."

   Paris felt T'Lar wake up. "Pretty rough on the old fella. I guess Earth is a much easier place to evolve."

   T'Nel frowned. "That is incorrect. Earth is a far, far harsher environment. Humans evolved faster, over a wide variety of constantly changing conditions. Rapid adaptation is the trait that humans selected for. The Vulcan mating cycle would not have worked for an intelligent species on Earth. That is why there are so many of you Humans spreading into the galaxy and pushing older races aside. Vulcan, like most life bearing worlds, never had an asteroid bombardment or an ice age."

   Paris nodded. "I suppose that makes sense. But still, Vulcan women have feelings. They must have missed old deadmeat, after he lost the big punch up."

   "There is compelling evidence that in those cave dwelling days Vulcan men were not yet truly sentient." T'Nel shifted, uncomfortably and began digging in her medkit. "It is generally acknowledged that the matriarchs achieved sentience first, then through selective breeding, improved the stock enough for male intelligence to become a force. This has been confirmed by contemporary sources. The females of the ancient clans of the late age of wandering traded their sons, buying and selling them for their desirable traits. Males were simply animals, compelled to perform for the superior female. To this day, all Vulcans must live with this biological nightmare."

   Paris felt hollow in the pit of his stomach. "All Vulcans and Tom Paris. So, you pair-bond at seven, getting the son out of the house for a while. You make sure that there's only one male around, when the big event happens. The logic keeps in check the evolutionary imperative for your clan leaders to crush each other and seize the males and the territory. Then what happened? Why did T'Lar jump on me so hard? I know all about the dead bondmate, so what happened?"

T'Nel shook her head. "I do not know. It should not be her time, Captain. As to why she ripened now, I cannot say. But her... assault on you was a direct result of the Vulcan evolutionary imperative. No personal insult was intended."

   "I understand a lot about your people now, T'Nel. You really do need the Federation." Paris gazed at her, thoughtfully. "I wonder if the idea for a Federation came from a Vulcan matriarch?"

    "Yes." T'Nel felt the stirrings of distress. "The 1,084th High Eldest Mother of Vulcan, T'Ling, saw humans as the perfect shield for Vulcan. We breed slowly, and uncertainly. We are an uncommonly fragile species, Captain Paris. The widening of the system was a human idea. Without the Federation, we would soon be extinct."

    "And you also knew that if worse came to worse, we were bondable. Can you bond a Klingon?" Paris was making rapid calculations.

    "No," She acknowledged. "Humans are genetically very similar to Vulcanoids. We are nearly compatible, even without engineering. Vulcan had an infusion of Earth hominid genes, sometime in the prehistoric past. It is widely speculated that the extinct Earth hominid Neanderthal was a carrier of Vucanoid genes. Homo Sapiens managed to evolve naturally, out-competing the part Vulcanoid Neanderthal creations of the Preservers. The Preservers were active on Earth and Vulcan, well into prehistoric times."

    "I feel like time-warping back and biffing one in the eye." Paris sighed. "This is a Romulan plot, T'Nel. I recognized several of T'Lar's Romulan companions, in her memory. They were all Tal Shar operatives, most of whom I have had working... relationships with. Somehow, they made this happen."

    T'Nel's head came up. Romulans being able to induce the Pon Farr in a Vulcan, at will, was a disturbing development. "You have worked for the Tal Shar?"

    Paris smiled. It came almost naturally. "No, I was worked on by the Tal Shar. They're sure that I'm Starfleet Intelligence. I had a new Romulan girlfriend every month, it seemed. They were studying me. I think that I'm suppose to go raging off to Vulcan to get this undone, then start spreading paranoid theories in high places about the pernicious Vulcan influence." He smiled, slightly and essayed a joke. "It could be personal. There's nothing worse than a woman scorned, especially a Romulan Tal Shar operative scorned."

    T'Nel inclined her head. "The Rihansu males fear Vulcan women like they fear no other living thing. They are fascinated, almost obsessed by Humans, well aware of the close genetic link that we all share. They are unable to comprehend any sort of alliance between equals with the dreadful 'animalistic' Vulcans. They do not understand the power of the logic that we have embraced."

    Paris was interested. "They still act like Vulcans, sometimes. They have the same sort of names. How did they change into Romulans?"

    T'Nel hypoed him with a cocktail of vitamins and replacement minerals. "The territory wars were still raging, then. Technology was advancing rapidly. Biological and nuclear terrorism was commonplace. There were over three hundred clans, a tapestry of ever shifting alliances, all searching for the smallest weakness in their neighbors."

   She closed her eyes, fighting down emotion. "The Vulcan clan Rihansu, then among the greatest of clans, was attacked with an engineered plague that rendered their clan mothers docile. The Rihansu males, then among the most highly developed on the planet, concealed the effects from the unknown instigators and engineered a crude makeshift cure that muted the telepathy of the women. The new male leadership, finally free of the crushing telepathic domination of the matriarchs, compelled their healers to genetically engineer the breeding cycle out of existence. They eliminated telepathy entirely, in their line."

   She opened her eyes and fixed him with her gaze. "The alterations that they made were brilliant. They are now much like Humans in their mating patterns. They are no longer naturally susceptible to the Pon Far."

   Paris nodded. He knew that Romulan women didn't wait around for seven years. Some, especially the one who'd set T'Lar on him, usually didn't like to wait around for seven minutes. They were more like humans, but not as fecund. "Why didn't it spread? Why leave?"

   T'Nel was more comfortable with this aspect of history. "The wars that brought Surak into prominence also drove the Rihansu away, first into local planetary space, where they managed to build a modest industrial base, then into near space with their primitive nuclear powered ion rockets. Just before Vulcan's last nuclear war, they discovered an unstable wormhole in the ort cloud of the star Erdanti, that led to within five light-years of the twin habitable planets of Rom and Rem. With their meager holdings on the planet being bombed and their hard won space installations being destroyed, they left. The Rihansu survivors boarded their primitive space vehicles, placed themselves into coldsleep and passed through the wormhole, which according to their folk legend was collapsed behind them by the detonation of a pursuing nuclear missile."

   "And I thought that our wars were bad." Paris shuddered.

   T'Nel nodded her agreement. Human wars were indeed tame affairs. They had rules. "When it ended, the Rihansu were gone, most clans were extinct and the planet Vulcan was nearly ruined. Seventy three point six two five percent of the planet's flora and fauna were extinct. Starvation was common and our people were on the verge of giving up. Surak, a very learned priest of Gon, began his travels then, proposing Logic to control the cycle. The Elder mothers, chastened, agreed and modern Vulcan society was born."

   T'Lar came onto the bridge. "I greet you, Mother," she said, bowing ceremonially. She turned to Paris. "Good morning, my Thomas."

   Paris eyed her, a little apprehensively. He felt no interest in sex, a lifetime first for him. "Hello, T'Lar." He noticed again, in a purely asexual way, that she was very, very beautiful.

   "Leave us, Thomas. I must speak with mother." She eyed him coolly, head tilted up and one eyebrow cocked, commandingly.

   Paris rose, then his face went blank as he fought an internal battle. He blinked, then sat, exhaling. "Both of you, off of my bridge." He glared at her. "Try that compulsion on me again and I'll turn you over my knee." It was an empty threat and they both knew it. He only had as much freedom as she was willing to grant.

   T'Nel rose smoothly. "Of course, Captain Paris. Come, my daughter, we must speak of many things."

   Paris prowled, checking the ship over minutely, finding that his single remaining Ondaran robot had been mindlessly following his order to 'clean up', polishing the empty aft holds and tiny shuttlebays over and over until they gleamed. Amused by the parallel with himself, he walked into the forward hold, also gleaming from previous Ondaran efforts. The palates of Droothan supplies, bound for their embassies, were all in good order.

   He wished again that Klor, the previous Shiplord of the K'tanga class cruiser Bloodreiver hadn't been such a boob as to lose the two shuttles. The Barnes class scout would just fit in the shuttlebays if they were joined, but he'd have rather had the Klingon combat landers. They were better for planetary descents.

   The young Klingon, a nephew of Gowron, had lost his followers because he was an incompetent, pleasure-loving drunk. He'd fallen hard for a courtesan and refused to leave the pleasure planet without her. Gowron had written him off with a grunt, telling him to recruit a new crew if he'd lost the one that came with the fine ship that he'd been given. Klor had sat in port for a year and gambled away the ship's fittings, piece by piece, pressing his suit for the stunning Bajoron-Andorian hybrid, who called herself Lolly Pop. He'd won her, but lost everything else.

   Finally, a drunken Klor had pushed his way into a high stakes poker game at Rix Zavaleta's place. When the evening had ended, he'd lost the K'tanga, trying to bluff on a pair of sixes.

   Paris was sitting in, trying to retain the huge buy-in fee already paid by a friend who'd lately developed a bad case of incarceration. He played conservatively, knowing himself to be way out of his league. Rix, amused at his cautious play, but interested in him as a potentially profitable contact, had taken it easy on him.

   Paris had barely managed to break even. He was leaving, when the suave Zavaleta had offered to cut cards for ships.

   Rix Zavaleta wanted Paris working for him. Smugglers, besides being profitable, were also prime information sources. Paris knew things about the Romulans and the Gorn that not even Starfleet had an inkling of. He had contacts that a cosmopolitan being like Rix could use. The Syndicate had been trying to expand into the Romulan Empire with limited success. Paris represented another avenue of expansion, bridging the gap between mobs.

   He bet the sleek, modern K'tanga against Paris's much hated old Feringi Marauder, with it's lowest-bidder technology and lower ceilings.

   Paris had drawn a three. The Reculian dealer, in its traditional green eyeshade had smirked, its forked tongue protruding. Then Zavaleta had drawn a deuce.

   Rix was a being of his word. Klor had wakened in a pool of bloodwine and after some persuasion by Rix's less than sympathetic headbreakers, signed the transfer papers, transferred the command codes and then at Rix's suggestion, had taken the next transport out.

   The courtesan, Lolly Pop, had broken her lucrative employment contract and gone with the pathetically happy Klingon, shocking everyone. She loved Klor, but didn't want to live on a Klingon warship. Now they were a sought after singing act.

   Paris had sold Rix the Marauder and used the money to refit the K'tanga, which he'd impulsively renamed Lollypop, in honor of the courtesan.

   Paris shook his head. She was absently rifling through his memories again, almost unaware of it. He wondered what had provoked her curiosity about Lollypop, then realized that she had access to all of his secrets. He wondered how he could keep her out, knowing that he couldn't. He was a man who guarded his secrets.

   Paris was in his cabin practicing with his blasters, when T'Lar entered.

   She raised an eyebrow. "Why do you practice that, Thomas?"

   He continued, working hard, smoothly drawing and firing on the holographic targets with an ionic blank. 'To defend you,' flashed through his mind. "It's good for my health," he said.

   "I see. Why use such archaic weapons?" The basic design of the Terran raw-energy weapons dated to the middle of the twenty-first century of the old Earth calendar.

   Paris did a border shift, and replied, "These are mostly modern technology. A Borg personal shield won't stop a blaster bolt, because it's not tuned energy. There's no subspace component. No known man-portable power source can hold a force-field that can deflect a blaster bolt. Only composite body armor can do it, and not twice. A blaster might not disintegrate the thing, but it'll eventually kill it. Starfleet only uses phasers, because they are longer range, work at faster than light speed and because they can be set on stun." Paris spun his weapons and holstered them. "Blasters always work."

   "What are we to do?" She sat on his bed. "Mother told me about the Romulans. I'm... sorry, Thomas."

   He nodded. "I know that you had no choice, T'Lar. That bitch T'Kree picked you out to get to me. It's my own fault for trying to ride the tiger. I'm sorry."

   "I do not regret bonding you, Thomas, only that you were unwilling." She was steady, her logic gaining ground by the hour.

   He grunted, thoughtfully. "What could we do?"

   "There are only three options. We could remain together for life as bondmates. We could go to the Kolinaru and have the masters attempt to sever the bond. Or we could keep the bond and live as separated bond-mates, making the journey to the grounds once every seven years." She was logical and dry on the outside, but all on the ship could feel her distress. Losing her original bondmate had been a terrible blow. Only rigid logic, as taught by the priesthood of Gon, had saved her from unbearable shame. Now she had taken a mate, a human at that, in the frenzy, exposing all of Vulcan to even more shame. It would take a great command of logic to live it down.

   Paris sat beside her. "T'Lar, we know each other, but we really don't. I'm a smuggler. I often work for the Orion Syndicate. My life has always been out there, on the edge. I drink, I gamble and I smoke cigars. I curse, fight and fornicate regularly. I only care about the law insofar as it exists as an opponent. I won't ever be happy as a priest of Gon. There's a bounty of five thousand bars of gold pressed latinum on my head and it's my fond dream to make it five million. The instant I showed up in Romulan territory to spread the good news about Surak, I'd be clapped in irons."

   Paris sighed, and unconsciously took her hands. "I can't live in the Federation. I hate the Federation. I hate the clammy, constricting civilization of it all. The civilization is hundreds of years old, made up of components that are thousands of years old. It shows in the way they think. The people are mostly content, happy to spend their lives following an orderly plan that comes to fruition in a millennia." He shook his head. "I just can't live like that."

   T'Lar inclined her head, with grave amusement. The physical contact had amplified the bond so that she could see his memories as he spoke of them. She couldn't imagine Thomas as a priest of Gon, chanting the Analects of Pure Logic as the house-master randomly applied the lash of rigorous testing. She fought down a smile at his probable reaction. The house-master beaten to within an inch of his life with his own lash.

   Suddenly a different memory flashed into her mind. Thomas, at the holographic control panel of a warp combat simulator, smoothly, brilliantly, emotionlessly maneuvering his weak, poorly armed ship through a furball of a battle into strike range of the weak spot of a Vor'Cha battlecruiser. He completely ignored the savagely random agonizer jolts that sought to distract him from the battle.

   She frowned, logic faltering. "You flee slavery. Your father sought to make you into a weapon, against the enemies of the Federation. He is a ruthless fanatic. You reject his way and his Federation with every fiber of your being."

   He laughed, bitterly. "I just gotta be me, baby."

   "It is logical, Thomas." She hesitated. "You have seen wonders and horrors beyond most beings. Your life is... exciting."

   He smiled. "It sure has been, lately."

   She stood. "You disrupt my logic. I shall meditate on it." Uncomfortably, she became aware of the first stirrings of his renewed lust. Effortlessly, she suppressed it in him. She knew now that the decision would have to be hers alone.

   By the time they got to Vulcan, T'Lar was almost back to normal. Her impersonal, logical, exterior hid a very personal mindtouch, though. She couldn't help it. A bonded Vulcan woman controlled the male, to some extent. Her sub conscious wishes turned into his, unless he stayed on his guard. Logic dictated that the bond be light, but it was still a bond of compulsion.

   Paris found himself continually fetching and carrying for her, unaware of his motivation for the action until he'd completed it. When he noticed, he'd resist, but most of the time it seemed like his own idea. He began to see why the Romulans would be so terrified of the Vulcan matriarch.

   They were eating breakfast in the wardroom when Paris was struck by a nasty suspicion. "T'Nel, what would happen if the Romulans induced this Pon Farr into the whole Vulcan civilization when you weren't ready for it?"

   T'Lar looked briefly startled, then slid her Vulcan mask of imperturbability back into place.

   T'Nel looked at him, expressionlessly. "It would be a disaster. The carnage would be incredible." She paused, delicately. "I do not believe that this is a communicable biological weapon. I took the liberty of making a detailed examination of you both, while you ...slept." She flicked a glance at T'Lar. "I collected blood, tissue and biological samples from you, Thomas. May I have your permission to utilize this material in any way that I see fit? It would be a useful resource, for my research."

   Paris grinned. She meant while they were passed out from exhaustion, between mind shattering bouts of the best sex he'd ever had. "Sure! So we're clean?"

   "I found traces of an enzyme that could trigger receptor 345-98-889-77 of the Vulcan lymphatic system." She looked at her daughter. "This would account for your early time."

   T'Lar nodded, gravely eyeing Paris. He'd been easily deceived into giving his permission. It was unlikely that she would ever find another voluntary bondmate after this second disaster. She would have to make due with a Kholinar master. Vulcans were very discerning about their genetics. The 'material' that her mother had removed from them would be put to excellent use. It might not be ethical from a Human point of view, but he'd parted with it easily enough.

   Her mother was the eldest, the leader of the family. If some male disagreed with her edict, then he could seek adjudication by the Kholinaru, if he wished to engage in pointless activity. Besides, it was generally acknowledged that Vulcan-Human Hybrids were mentally and physically superior to their rootstock. Her mixed offspring, especially female offspring, would be sought after, if she remained uncontaminated by Human cultural imprinting. She leaned back. Thomas would be unlikely to last much longer anyway. His propensity for danger would kill him. She was still very young, for a Vulcan. She could wait. Besides, T'Nel had spoken.

   "So, If it's not a plot against Vulcan, Then what is it?" Paris sat back, ruminating, over his empty bowl.

   T'Nel stood and collected the debris from the table. "As I said, Thomas, the Rihansu are fascinated by the Human-Vulcan dynamic. It is, after all, the heart of the Federation. I hypothesize that they wished to see how readily a Human could be... enslaved by a Vulcan woman. As you said, they have been studying you. I suspect that there was more to their plot, but it failed. They would need long term observation to signify their results." She took a reading from both of them with a medical scanner.

   T'Lar looked briefly surprised. "T'Zet was coming to Vulcan with me, mother. She wished to participate in the cultural exchange. The enforcers picked her up on Drootha N'gor, at the last minute."

   "She would have broken my encryption while we were busy and had us in a cell on Romulus before we knew it." Paris laughed. "She made a single mistake. The Droothans have a way of detecting the Tal Shar. It wouldn't surprise me to find that they had a way of probing all of the aliens who come onto their territory. They stay out of squabbles not their own, but they don't allow plots against them to get very far."

   T'Lar nodded slowly, remembering the way that the customs agent had questioned them. She had been passed without incident, but T'Zet had been questioned in detail. If the Droothans had an infallible lie detector, then the whole incident was explained. T'Zet had been lying about her purpose. "Why would the Droothans intervene? They do not approve of Vulcans."

   Paris shrugged. "I'm a naturalized Droothan, by decree of the Worldfamly."


   They raised Vulcan in three weeks, reflexively evading the civil patrol cruisers that would have stopped them for commercial inspection if they had been detected.

   Tom was in a hurry. He had business to take care of. He needed to get the bond, which had grown increasingly irksome, broken and get to Mars. He wanted to pick up Neek and get going. He had a plan.


   The Kholinar master came rapidly, once the situation was explained. It was true that the people of the Federation had a working knowledge of each other's physiology, but none were quite so secretive or as ashamed of theirs as the Vulcans.

   "I am Master Silth. I have been told that you wish this bond to be broken. Why?" He had come to the home, part of the old demesnes of Telemag, when dispatched by the Eldest mother.

   T'Lar bowed glancing at Paris, who started. "Attend, my wife- What the hell?" Paris shot an incredulous glance at T'Lar.

   Silth eyed Paris, gravely. "In Vulcan society, it is considered impolite for a member of a bonded couple to speak with the opposite sex, without the mate first making a ritual show of their bonded condition. T'Lar reacted instinctively, and you found yourself performing the ritual. There is no reason to be... embarrassed."

   Paris glanced at T'Lar and gave her a strained smile. "I'm not embarrassed."

   "How did this bond come about?" Silth was certain that it wasn't voluntary.

   "I took him in the ancient manner, without mediation." T'Lar stated it baldly, but Paris could feel her struggle with the emotion of embarrassment.

   "The Romulans somehow induced Pon Farr in her and arranged for her to travel with me." He frowned. "It was a little get-even present to me, from the girls of the Tal Shar. I'll bet they laughed a lot."

   Silth looked at him, emotionlessly. "You make impressive enemies, Human. That is unsettling news. To induce Pon Far... such a thing could destroy Vulcan, if widely applied." He looked at T'Lar sharply. "Does the healers guild know of this?"

   "My mother, T'Nel, a Starfleet doctor, has isolated the causative agent and analyzed it's action. It is not a widespread threat. It is easily detectable and reversible at an early stage." T'Lar cast her eyes down in a show of submission to judgement. "I was unable to control myself. The bond was not instituted fairly and it is logical that it be dissolved. I pray your mediation in this matter."

   Silth touched her face, testing her veracity. Then he turned to Paris. "What of you, Human? Do you also seek this?"

   Paris shrugged. "I can't say that it hasn't been fun, but our lifestyles and temperaments are incompatible." Tears began to stream down his face. "No! T'Lar! C'mon, baby, let's get out of here."

   "T'Lar. Control." Silth saw that the human was deeply under her control. This was unfortunate. His opinion was irrelevant.

   Silth touched Paris's face with his other hand. "You gained more than you bargained for, Human. You had a telepathic latency, which I sense has been unlocked. We shall begin."

   The Bond was broken, with great difficulty, but the memories remained. Paris, shattered, immediately left Vulcan at high warp, ignoring an urgent messages from Starfleet personnel and the healers guild. It had been the most harrowing experience of his life and he wanted to forget.


   "Noooo body knows, the troubles I've seen..." Paris, flying drunk, puffed on his Upmann Supremo, trying to ignore T'Lar's disapproving echo. Going back to a single presence in his head wasn't easy. She'd left an imprint that somewhat skewed his point of view.

   He neatly evaded a civil patrol craft, his superior sensors and speed giving him the edge. The Federation had instituted a warp six speed limit in its space. The warp trails were believed to be degrading the shipping lanes, but the Miocene computer had assured him that the physics behind that assertion were faulty. It had witnessed the healing of warp trails. Warp drive was harmless.

   At warp nine, it took him forty hours to reach the Sol system. "Hello, Sol control."

   The viewscreen popped up a small view of a strange blue humanoid in a civil service duty uniform. "This is Sol outer control, Lollypop. State your business and destination."

   Tom eyed the alien. The Federation was growing. "I'll be stopping by Utopia Plantia, then Earth, to deliver supplies to the embassy of the Droothan Worldfamily."

   "Embassy? Are you a diplomatic ship?" The being's eyes widened as his terminal popped up a hold order on Lollypop. "There appears to be some sort of hold order..."

   Tom wasn't surprised. Starfleet officialdom was still under the delusion that he could be coerced into rejoining the ranks like a good little Paris. "Affirmative, Sol outer control. This vessel is a Droothan diplomatic shuttle."

   The being sent a query back to the source of the hold order. In a few minutes, the order was cancelled. "The Office of Logistical Analysis. I never heard of it before."

   "I'll bet that few have." Paris received his clearance.


    Paris crossed the solar system at impulse, eschewing the robot tugs and coasting neatly to a halt in his assigned orbit around Mars. Earth just couldn't be approached by non Federation ships. It was a no parking zone. Scanning the surface he noted large grassy savannas with scattered trees. The two small seas were larger that they had been the last time he had been there. The terraforming was way ahead of schedule. The new moon, Barsoom, was sculpted into a close replica of Luna. It had been added when Mars was being expanded to the size of Earth. Barsoom was hollow, containing a vast starship factory.

    He contacted Neek, and found the Feringi not yet ready to go. The scout was ready, but required Paris's authorization to release it. Neek was in Marseilles, feverishly acquiring business contacts for Paris interstellar freight lines.

    Paris arrived to inspect the scout, but was delayed. While waiting, he took a tour of the plant, and complemented the director on the immense efficiency of the facility. It had replaced the material losses of Wolf 359 in just a few months. It was impressive, but Paris thought to himself that the Federation had been stuck at warp ten for three centuries. The facility was just another well planned, long term project. Initiative and innovation were absent.


   Montgomery Scott sat in the bar and drank, his achingly dry eyes glaring off into space. New Hiberia, the colony that his family, his descendents, had lived on, had been raided by the snakes. Half of them were dead. He blinked, his outrage rising.

   He'd been informed by Starfleet a full week after they'd found out. He'd exploded in rage at the cowardly conduct of his service. He was aware that he was being watched.

   He called the bartender over for a shot glass. The dammed place had no real drink, but the atmosphere was almost right. "Here's to a purpose in life, lad." It was good to be able to drink scotch again. Scotty had gotten out of his cellular rejuvenation treatments just in time for the war, as far as he was concerned. The snakes had made a bad enemy.

   He picked up his pad, pressed a button that would enable any nearby sniffers to pick up engineering specs, and went back to his reading. Back in the 23rd century, he'd had occasion to install a backdoor code in the Starfleet Database that he'd been amazed to discover, had never been removed. He'd copied the whole archive into his new isolinear PC and now he was perusing Starfleet personnel records. Scotty was putting together a crew.

    After a long day of irksome formalities, Paris was tired. He wanted to inspect the ship, test it and go. Instead he'd had to take a pre certification and licensing exam to run the scout. This had turned into a nightmare of legalistic requirements. Luckily, his Droothan ticket was good enough for the menacing bulk of the K'tanga.

   Exhausted, short tempered and still hurting from the broken bond, Paris entered the bar of the facility, looking for some bourbon. A shot of bourbon always relaxed him.

   "What!" Paris glared at the barman. "Why the hell call it a bar if a man can't get a goddamned drink?"

   The barman, actually a counselor for the engineers and riggers of the factory, winced. This was the second time that he'd gone through this, tonight. "Sir, we have a tremendous selection of synthohol for-"

   "Fuck Synthohol!" Paris bellowed, glaring around at the sparsely inhabited bar. "Fuck the whole Fed-" He reined himself in. Getting picked up for adjustment after a barfight wouldn't help.

   "Is fifty year old scotch good enough for ya, lad?"

   Paris looked over. A thin, scarred man in an engineers working uniform sat at a booth, a bottle in front of him. "Yes sir, a shot of that would do nicely."

   "Well, sit yerself down, then laddie." Scotty looked over at the bartender. "You! Fetch a glass and be quick about it."

   Paris slid into the other side of the booth, as the barman brought a glass.

   "Now Captain Scott, you know that at your age, you shoul-"

   "Off wi ye! I canna take any more a yer crap today!" Scott shot the barman a poisonous glare. "Take your bloody counselor prattle somewhere else, ye Sassanach."

   Paris grinned, as Scott pushed the bottle toward him. "Tom Paris, sir. It sounds like you've had a day like mine."

   "Montgomery Scott. Call me Scotty. Aye, lad. I just spent the entire day filling out forms. I want to make a wee modification in the shield interlinks of the new Voyager class, on the ways. A simple, obvious thing and it just canna be done." He drank. "Canna be done. Maybe the next ship, the wee bureaucrat said." He wiped his mouth with the back of his arm with a rasp of thick beard. "Some alien beasty will beam right through those shields. Mark my words lad. Mark my words."

   Tom shook his head. "The Federation. That's why I try and keep out of it as much as possible." He knocked back his drink. "A man just can't breath, here."


   The two men got drunk, swapping stories. Counselor Womak, noting the way that Scot seemed to be cheering up, turned a damping screen on and eavesdropped on the conversation, to make sure that no classified information was spilled. What he heard, blew his mind.

   Paris was talking about the way the Enterprise was divided into two sections.

   "Oh Aye, I've been aboard Enterprise. Several of them." Scott smiled, modestly. "I was chief Engineer aboard Kirk's Enterprise."

   Paris was stunned. "Not that Montgomery Scott!"

   Scotty laughed. "Aye, lad. Hero and all tha crap. When were you aboard Picard's Enterprise?"

   Paris described his encounter, at the border and how it led to his stint aboard Enterprise, in the plasma storms of the Romulan Sorlisis sector. Scotty, in turn, told the story of a ship to ship action between Kirk's Enterprise and the then Romulan flagship that had taken place in and around a dust cloud in the neutral zone. The two men drank late into the evening, swapping stories.


   Paris cracked an eyelid open and groaned. He was curled up on the deck, on his bridge. Climbing stiffly to his feet, he looked at the bridge diagnostic screens. The warpdrive was idling and the field coils were offline.

   Making his way to the engine room, he was surprised to see Scotty, looking chipper and rested, up to his elbows in the guts of a plasma intercooler.

   "Mornin' Lad!" Scotty smiled at his haggard state. "A wee nip is wha ya need."

   Paris swallowed. "Nah. My new liver isn't as experienced as the old one." He nodded at the intercooler. "Problem?"

   "Aye." Scotty stood, wiping his spotless hands on a spotless rag. "The ship is in dire need of regular maintenance." He nodded at the phase extractor. "The bloody thing's cracked."

   "Ah hell!" Paris stared at the unit. "I do my best, but I'm only one man. They're probably all bad, then."

   "The Klingons do that, lad. They concentrate on the big things, like tha very fine tandem warp core and then forget to support it properly wi' proper plasma intercoolers." Scotty smiled. "The good news is that I know just where an enterprising lad might lay his hands on some replacements. New models, taken frae the Borg style, tha can really stand up to a bit o' sustained high warp travel."

   Tom's eyes widened. "You have my attention. What's the catch?"

   "Na catch, lad. I just need a lift out to the badlands." Scotty's eyes narrowed. "I've got a cargo to run. Maintenance spares, my shuttle and general supplies."

   Tom nodded, slowly. "I'll do it. The rebels?"

   Scotty shook his head. "I call 'em settlers. The Federation decided to cut them loose, to the mercy of the snakes. They have a right to defend themselves."

   Tom nodded. "You'll get no argument from me. I hate those goddamned Snakes. We should have blown them all away the last time we slapped them down. A Cardie is at your feet or at your throat."

    Scott shrugged. "I'll never ken the thinking of Federation nabobs. We win the war, but give up territory. It's mad."

    "What do you have in mind?" Tom thought he knew.

    Scott gazed at him, then decided to trust. "I want to start a little repair base, somewhere in the badlands, where it will na' be found. Some lads I know are going to act, should it be required, but they will na get far wi' out proper support."

    Tom smiled. It was serendipity. This could work out for everyone. An engineer like Scotty would be a fantastic resource. "I have a base in the Badlands. It's a hollowed out asteroid. It's got a pressurized core that's as big as the Barsoom facility."

    Scotty stared. "You don't say."

    "I have some plans and holo's, if you want to take a look." Tom stood. "Of course, to get us there in a reasonable time, I'd need those new intercoolers."

    The deal was made and they shook on it. Scotty would acquire the parts, 'tweak' Lollypop until she purred and modify the shuttlebay cradle for the scout. Paris would turn over Base and run supplies to it until the inevitable war broke out.


    Tom hesitated, then walked up to his sister Linda's front door. He hadn't seen or heard from any of his family in six years. Linda was still on earth. Betty had emigrated off-world to Oz, with her husband.

    The annunciator chirped.

   He steeled himself. "Tom Paris, to see Linda."

    "Linda is not home. Do you want to leave a message, Tom Paris?"

    Tom wondered what you said to an estranged family member via a door annunciator. Thank god, now I don't have to talk to you, came immediately to mind. His sisters had always sided with his father. "No."

    He went to the local teleport and transported to Marseilles. It was a mistake. Sandrine's and the maintenance complex that used to be behind it were now a Rockin' 1950's theme burger joint, complete with roller-skating waitresses and replica 20th century automobiles to sit in. The old wine warehouse district that he used to roam had been torn down in favor of a sealed luxury housing complex for hydrogen breathing aliens. His favorite pool hall was now a small 'palace' belonging to the Denebian Regent.

   "I guess you really can't go home again." Tom didn't want to go back to Lollypop. He called old girlfriends, one after another and found them all married or engaged. He just didn't have many male friends left. Shrugging, he decided to visit his childhood haunts. Checking his father's house computer, he learned that the Admiral was currently assigned to Starbase Montgomery. Tom wanted to visit the old beach and shoot some curls.

    Laying on his towel drying out, with his board plunged nose first into the beach in front of his fathers house, Tom stared out over the wide Pacific and let the memories flow. On this beach his mother had taught him to fish, swim, surf, sail and to dive. He'd spent the only happy times of his childhood on this pristine beach. The gulls occasionally checked him out, but other that that, he saw no one.

   As the sun sank into the sea, he took the board back up and stored it in the outbuilding where he'd last left it. He never went near the main house. That night he took a room in a small hotel and in spite of his loneliness, got a fair nights sleep.

   In the morning, he transported to SanFrancisco, to find Neek and to get the scout out of hock. As he'd thought, Starfleet Intelligence was still trying to reel him in.

   Entering the Admiralty building, he was dressed for effect. In Federation society, uniforms were important. With so many races, the visual cue of a uniform was necessary so that authority could be recognizable to all.

   The registered Paris Shipping uniform featured light gray pants with a yellow stripe up the outside of the legs, black cavalry style boots and a somewhat gaudy gray half-jacket, worked with gold embroidery, something like a bullfighters costume. He usually wore the boots and pants, but the jacket hadn't been put on since he'd registered the design from a master tailor at Cloud City, on Minyos. He had an old brown maintenance vest and a khaki work shirt that he preferred. His uniform would get him killed, out on the rim. Here, it got him lavicious looks from women.

   "Captain Paris, to see undersecretary North." He was shown to an office.

   "Ah, Captain." Samson had been assigned by his intelligence section as Paris's new case officer. "Your application for a has been received and it will be processed as soon as possible. Rest assured that-"

   "Who are you?" Paris had looked up North's bio before he had come to the office. This guy wasn't North.

   Samson swallowed. "Why, I'm Don Thomas. I'm sitting in for Undersecretary North."

   "You're Starfleet. I won't work for Starfleet. Not at all." Paris eyed the fool, calmly. He had an excellent opportunity to embarrass the Federation if they didn't live up to their end of the bargain.

   Samson leaned forward, all pretence gone. "Mr. Paris, We need you."

   Paris nodded. "The Federation needs an enema. It's so full of shit that it can't move any more. Instead, you'll try to use me up to do your job for you." His face grew hard. "Don't screw with me. I know your kind too well. All you'll get is trouble."

   Samson's face stilled. "Is that a threat?"

   "Yes." Paris stood. "Expedite the paperwork, or I'll just leave the scout. By the way, I have a Vulcan Great-House that owes me, big time. He stood and addressed the unseen eavesdroppers. "I'm sure that you can work out the implications, gentlemen. Vulcans always pay their debts."

   Samson jumped in. "But what about-"

   Paris walked to the door, and said, "I'm sure that Starfleet Intelligence can live without me. All I need in my life is for the Tal Shar to take an even greater interest." He scowled. "Don't tread on me, gentlemen. My name in no way implies ownership on your part."

   Samson pursed his lips. "You know that we can ruin you, smuggler."

   Paris nodded. "Go ahead. I've been ruined before." He eyed the bureaucrat, coldly. "Have you, bozo?"

   The door closed behind him and Samson smiled, widely. "Indeed I have, Mr. Paris." He called Scotty with the good news.


   Admiral Pines eyed him. "Ms. Torres left the academy, almost eight months ago."

   Paris shrugged. "Where was she assigned?"

   "Ms. Torres dropped out, Mr. Paris." He looked at his data pad. "She left no forwarding address."

   Tom picked up the small leather case that sat on the commandants desk. "Well then, I guess that'll do."

   "Mr. Paris, we had intended to make the award this evening, at the parade." He frowned. "The golden comet isn't something to take lightly."

   Paris shrugged. "I already have a medal, Admiral. I prefer to maintain a low profile." He smiled. "They won't be impressed with it, where I live."

   "I must say, your cavalier attitude... I suppose that you have a right. You aren't in the fleet any more, after all." The Admiral stood and took the case from him. "This won't hurt a bit, Mr. Paris. Please follow me."

   "Attention on deck!" All of the activity in the administration block halted.

   Paris stared sourly, As Admiral Pines read out his citation and awarded the medal. The glowing young faces in the hall made him bilious.

   "The Federation thanks you, Lieutenant Paris." Pines stepped back.

   "There's no need for thanks, Admiral. Latinum will suffice, next time. Toodle-oo." Paris stalked out, angry as he'd ever been. Starfleet had publicly branded him now. He'd have to avoid his old haunts for a while.


   "Well, Mr. Paris! Still causing a commotion, I see." Boothby stood there, a basket of Klingon bloodflames in his hand.

   Paris eyed him. "Boothby. Still alive, hmmn? Someday, someone who cares is going to figure out that you've been the gardener here since the place was opened."

   Boothby grinned at him, eyes twinkling. "They have, Mr. Paris. Believe me, they have."

   Paris shrugged. "We all have our secrets."

   They walked together, towards the transport station.

   "What have you been doing?" Boothby looked carefully at Paris.

   "Living." Paris smiled, taking the medal from around his neck and putting it back in the display case. "Really living."

   Boothby laughed. He'd advised Paris to drop out and live a little, several times. The boy had been cold and hard, focused on success. The Academy had just been another test for him. "Your father should have done the same."

   Paris closed up. "He made his bed. Let him lie." Clearing his throat, he asked, "Do you know B'Elanna Torres?"

   Boothby nodded. "She used to help me in the garden. A fine spirited girl. I hope that she's really living, too. Just drifting along and living is an art. Usually you learn it as a child, but some people aren't that lucky."

   Paris nodded. "I guess being an apparently immortal gardener gives you the perspective to classify people, right off."

   Boothby nodded. "Now here's an interesting type. Starfleet explorer, through and through. She despises the early captains, but just watch. If she ever gets out past the edge of the Federation, she'll throw away the regulations without a second thought."

   "Boothby!" A petite red-head of about forty two approached.

   "Kathryn!" Boothby accepted her kiss on the cheek, glowing with pleasure. "Do you know Captain Paris?"

   She looked less than thrilled. "We've met. Hello, Mr. Paris."

   "Ms. Janeway." Paris smiled, to take the sting out of his response. If she didn't want to call him captain, then fine.

   "What are you doing here?" Janeway was surprised that he had come.

   "I picked something up, and was looking up someone." Paris nodded at Boothby. "Well, you take care, old man. You too, Captain." He walked away.

   "Arrogant puppy." Janeway stared daggers after the rogue Paris. She had served under his father, a man that she respected above all others.

   Paris threw something into the waste bin as he walked past it.

   Boothby walked slowly with Janeway, trailing after him. "He has his reasons. Good reasons, Kathryn."

   "How could he betray his father like that?" Kathryn shook her head.

   "What did you call your father, growing up, Kathryn?" Boothby stopped to look closely at her.

   She flushed. "Poppy."

   "You had Poppy. Thomas had the Admiral." He hesitated. "I never had much use for Owen. A brilliant officer, but an inhuman martinet of a man. He lacked the courage to defy his own father."

   Kathryn was outraged. "Lacked courage? Boothby, the Paris tradition-"

   "Three children who won't speak to him and a wife who committed suicide. That's the true Paris tradition, Kathryn." He reached into the refuse bin and pulled out the case containing the Federation's third highest decoration. "You can give him this, the next time you see him. Mr. Paris received it today for saving the Federation from a major war. Watch Owen's reaction, if you want to understand Thomas."

   Kathryn opened the ornate leather case and stared at the golden comet, shocked beyond words.


   Paris maneuvered the scout around the solar system, sarcastically deferential to the check pilot. The embarrassed woman cut the ride short and signed Paris's license application before beaming off. He then deployed the nacelles and warped the scout out into deep space.

   There were too many patrols and picket buoys around so he spent a day at warp six to clear the inner Solarian defense control zone. When he was in clear space, he took the scout up to warp 9.98 to shake out the kinks. The little ship was just big enough for three crewmen. Living quarters were three bunks, a replicator, fresher and a tiny convertible wardroom. Designed as a part of Starfleet's short-lived Carrier program, the scout was three times the size of a standard shuttle. The scout's extra space was for a hybrid warp-singularity engine. It seemed to be reliable, but had to be maintenanced regularly.

   It was a compact, extremely fast little ship and could be very well armed. It was designed to carry ten tricolbalt mines and ten quantum torpedoes. Exterior racks could be added to bring the combat load to twenty torpedoes. Most ship to ship duels only required three torpedo hits to decide. It's phaser wasn't the most powerful, but it's shields were quite dense.

   The Fleet Carrier had been designed with cloaked fighters in mind, but when the treaty of Algernon had held in spite of Romulan provocations, the type had been scrapped. The brass loved the pristine, capital ships of the fleet. The concept of carrier style combat was repugnant to them. A few of the misnamed 'scouts' were still in service, but most had been scrapped. Paris's had been seconded to Starfleet intelligence, then demilled and sold to defray operating expenses.


   "Lollypop to scout." Scotty's voice crackled in the cockpit.

   "Ready Scotty?" Paris was hanging in space, aft of his K'tanga.

   "Aye. Bring her in." Scotty sounded tired.

   Paris eased the scout forward, stopping perpendicular to the shuttlebay door. The bay had been altered and now contained a cradle to support the scout during high G maneuvers.

   "Ease her forward, Laddie." Scotty adjusted the docking tractor to accommodate the scout.

   Paris retracted the warp nacelles and let the docking system bring her in. It touched down with almost no impact. "It looks good, Scotty." Paris exited the scout and noted the extensive re-enforcement of the hull with duranium struts.

   "Aye. The two bays are a single structure now and it's quite a bit stronger than it was." Scotty looked around the bay, nodded, then closed the doors.

   "How are the intercoolers?" Paris was examining a join in the frame.

   "Replaced. I ripped out the whole system, EPS conduits and all." Scotty shook his head. "You were playing with fire, Lad."

   Paris nodded. "I know. You've done miracles here."

   Scott straightened, proudly. "Well, I had some guid lad's in to help." He grew serious. "Tha Base of yours. It's put another wheel on the wagon. My backers are wantin' to expand this whole repair base into a full fledged shipyard. We'll be retrofittin' the whole place, before the war starts."

   Tom nodded. "A K'tanga can't handle that kind of a delivery schedule."

   "We have plans. An Orion B bulk freighter will be meetin' us out there, Tom." Scotty sighed. "I'm havin' ae bad feelin' about the security of the base. Too many people know about the plan. Starfleet intelligence and the FSB are sniffing around, lookin' into the colonists plans."

   Tom smirked. "I have a plan, Mr. Scott. Let's adjourn to the wardroom and talk it over."

   Scott nodded. "Perhaps some of the fine uskibaugh of my native land can help us in our deliberations, Captain Paris."

   Paris told the delighted Scott about the wormhole. "With that back door, you can make all of your deliveries out to sector 215, out in the border areas." He rotated the holographic chart until a planet came up. "Donat V looks like the closest non aligned world. SI will be easily lost, there." He punched Donat V up on his charts. His Federation charts didn't list it, but his Klingon database gave full particulars. "Oh, hell, it's perfect."

   Scott read the scrolling data and his smile grew. "This was meant to be, Lad. The good God is lookin' out for us."

   Paris nodded. "And that's not all. I know where trillions of tons of refined matter are, available for the taking. It's even close to Base." With the air of a master magician, he told Scott about the ancient Miocene mining outpost and its huge store of refined material.


   The Feringi looked sourly out at the 2000 acres of muck that Paris had parted with good latinum for. Around him, the bellow and stink of saurian draft animals punctuated his dislike. Neek saw no point in paying the degenerated rustics of Donat V for ground that they had no legal title to and no way to defend, but Paris had insisted.

   The happy natives were busy harvesting the crops and planing the ground smooth. They were all employees now, and happy to be so. Farming was a hard life. Paris was going to build a security fence, complete with sensors and automated defense towers around this facility. The hotel would front the street, inside it's own security zone. The warehouse would be behind it, fronting a private landing zone and the repair facility. In the back, living quarters and employee recreation facilities would be up against the road surrounding the compound, for ease of access.

   He looked up as a spacecraft shrieked overhead at supersonic speeds. The rumbling sonic boom made him wince and cover his sensitive ears. Trade City, the only real city currently existing on Donat V, had no traffic control. It had no government at all. Trade city was a loose grouping of smugglers warehouses, bars and merchants, grouped together on a haphazard grid of dirt road, fused solid in spots to keep the dust down. People came and went so fast that there wasn't even a viable merchants association.

   Most shippers landed their transports in the spaceport area, since the locals tended to announce their displeasure with a careless pilot by salvoing missiles or energy beams at him. The people living in the interior were mostly farmers, eking out a precarious living, supported by a network of small market villages. Most of the population was descended from the inhabitants of earlier Trade City's and were anarchist to the core. There was no dominant race on the planet, so it was inhabited by the galaxy's least wanted. A great many fugitives, refugees and other down on their luck types of all races ended up there. The planet held about half a billion souls.

   The place made Neek's stomach turn. There were fully clothed female Feringi, walking around openly, some actually making a profit, most mating with aliens! He wanted to call the FCA, but the other merchants didn't tolerate outside authorities of any sort.

   Neek swallowed his bile and contemplated the potential profit. Paris was a genius. The opportunities here were enormous. This stinking, marginally habitable ball of mud was in the best position imaginable for a free port. Donat V was in a pocket, encompassed by the Klingons, Romulans, the Federation, Cardassians, Barolians, Gorn and the first Federation. None claimed Donat V, because the others would not countenance it. Whenever a Trade City had grown too large, and a Galactic power had attempted to move in, one or more of the other powers would bomb the city out of existence. The Klingons had destroyed the previous Trade City half a century before, when the First Federation brought in it's honor regulators. It was just too volatile a spot.

   Paris had brought Neek and his other people from Drootha to build and operate a warehouse facility, a hotel and a maintenance facility. He'd hired Droknore away from Frellis engineering, promising to bankroll a full service starship repair facility that would enable the Droothan to return home and buy his way in to Frellis some day. Droknore's wife, Milla, would work as his dispatcher.

   Paris wanted a modest hotel and bar, which the treacherous Sut would get to run, on a percentage. They were to be clean, well run and safe for the customers. The building was prefab, purchased used in the Federation with funds advanced by some mysterious new associates. Neek had his suspicions, but knew better than to ask who was behind them.

   The warehouse facility would be immense. The prefab building had modern inventory controls, robotic cargo handling systems and a fusion generator that would power the whole complex and provide a comfortable surplus to sell. All would be built on the compound on the edge of Trade City As soon as it arrived, Neek and Drocknor would hire a labor gang and put it up.

    For now, Neek glumly contemplated his tent in the mud.


   B'Elanna Torres looked at herself in the mirroscreen and blinked, uncertainly. Happy Halloween, she thought.

   In the Klingon armor, with her skin tinted, she really looked like a typical, if slightly runty, Klingon warrior woman. Only her finer hair and smoother brow ridges marked her as a half-breed. Experimentally, she bared her new teeth. The Bolian dentist had bonded points on in the front. The sight both repulsed and depressed her, even though it was temporary.

    Ro Lauren came up behind her and smirked at her friend. "God, B'Elanna, you really look scary in that getup."

    B'Elanna sighed. "I'm never going to hear the end of this." She took a small, dull ceremonial dagger from her belt and worked the blade up behind her breastplate. "This padding itches like hell. What is it with the Klingons, wearing twenty pounds of body armor? It won't stop a phaser beam or a disrupter bolt, so it's useless. How primitive can you get?"

    Ro shrugged. "I can remember a few times when I wished for something between me and a knife."

    "Well, I sure hope that we don't run in to any real Klingons. I have no idea what these honor badges mean. For all I know, I'm claiming to be a Duras, or some other bunch of losers. The Klingoons love their blood feuds." B'Elanna eyed her disrupter and then fingered her hideout phaser. The first Klingon to pull some honor game on her was in for the last shock of his life.

    "Don't worry, B'Elanna, I checked it out in the public database back on Brody's World." Ro looked at her halfbreed friend, uncertainly. "Those are your grandfather's house badges. You have a right to wear them. The honors are the ones you should have received, anyway."

    B'Elanna snorted. "Oh, thanks." She looked at her badges. "What's that one?"

"The boarding party on the Gal'or last month. That badge says that you took a ship of worth, in battle. The green color means it was a warship." Ro smirked. "I didn't put them all on the armor. You have more honors than Gowron, if it comes down to it. I wanted you to look typical, though, so we cut out about half of them."

    B'Elanna sniffed. "Stupid custom. It tells people too much about you." She strapped on her disrupter. "This Feringi, Sut. How did he come by a Klingon Bird of Prey?"

    Ro smiled. "The Romulans had it. He says that his partner boosted it from a dockyard in a Romulan spaceport. They're smugglers, running tobacco to the more commercially minded Roms in exchange for ale. His partner got caught and liberated it, while escaping."

    B'Elanna whistled. "They must have been captured on the wrong side of neutral zone. It surprises me that the Roms were able to get the ship, though. Usually, a Klingon will self destruct and try to take you with him."

    Ro shrugged. "I just hope that the little troll doesn't figure out that you're Marquis. If he does, he'll sell us out to the snakes, right away." She frowned. "If we pull this off, it could be the end of the war. A Klingon Bird of Prey attacking their ships might just provoke the Cardies into taking reprisals against the Klingons."

    B'Elanna smiled, evilly. "They won't react well. I'd love to see Cardassia under the tender rule of the Klingon Empire. Maybe they would finally learn their lesson after a few dozen generations of abject slavery."

    Ro smirked. "They could just burn it off and all the snakes with it as far as I'm concerned." She frowned. "Maybe we should kill the Feringi, after the deal."

    B'Elanna nodded. "Probably wouldn't hurt. The little troll is bound to deserve it. I never met an innocent Feringi yet."

    "Him and his partner." Regretfully, Ro removed a neutron grenade from the arms locker. It could be set to kill everything at a minimal radius, without damaging property. "Well, let's go."

   They exited the shuttle and made their way out of the muddy, haphazard spaceport. At the road they flagged down an animal drawn jitney to the nearby town.

   Ro and B'Elanna warily made their way through the town. Roughly laid out dirt streets fronted prefab buildings from a hundred races and eras. Most seemed to be bars, stores or warehouses, with security guards standing in front. Many boasted sandbagged emplacements for crew served weapons on the roof.

   B'Elanna was approached several times by merchants wishing to hire her as a bodyguard. Klingons, because of their personal code of honor, were prized employees here, it seemed. B'Elanna wasn't surprised. This part of Donat V had no law, no order and no majority race or customs. Everyone on the street was armed and most were very dangerous.

   The city, the only one on the planet, was a renowned smugglers port. It was wide open, protected by its proximity to four major borders. None of the great powers would countenance the others to hold it. Whenever one tried, the bombs would fall, the city would be destroyed and the farmers and stockmen of Donat V would be abandoned to their own devices again.

   "Tom's Place?" Ro looked puzzled.

   "Strange thing for a Feringi to name his bar." B'Elanna frowned at the garishly illuminated dive. "Are you sure that these are the coordinates?"

   "Yes. He said to meet him inside." Ro frowned. "You go in first, I'll watch for the... Oh my! By the Prophets! Look at him!"

   B'Elanna was already locked on. "What a peacock!" She licked her lips, unaware of her avid expression, echoed on Ro's face.

   A human male was swaggering up the middle of the street. He wore high, polished black boots, tight gray uniform pants, with yellow striping up the legs, a white long sleeved shirt, A black pilot's vest worked with gold embroidery and two low slung, tied down, Terran ionic hand blasters in a fast draw rig. He projected a careless air of deadliness that was obvious, five blocks away.

   B'Elanna noted how everyone greeted him, respectfully stepping aside.

   As he passed a small warehouse, a tall, powerfully built Klingon woman shot out of the door and nearly tackled him. He caught her, swung her around and kissed her, soundly. The two continued up the street, his arm draped casually around her hips.

   "As I live and breath, that's Tom Paris." Ro looked almost frightened.

   "You know him?" B'Elanna was completely unaware of the snarl that she was directing at the Klingon woman.

   "At the academy. We were very... close." Ro smiled. "He was my first real lover."

   "Oh." B'Elanna blinked, wondering why she felt so upset. "Who's that roka with him? Did he dress like that there?"

   Ro shrugged. "No, he was... perfect. I was the first Bajoran there, and I had an attitude, from the camps. He showed me the ropes, as he called it." She laughed. "He was worse than me. He knew just how far to push, without getting into hack. They called us the attitude twins."

   B'Elanna's face had gone hard. "So he's Starfleet."

   Ro looked sad. "Born and bred. He had the second highest tactical simulation score that the academy ever awarded. Only Kirk himself ever scored higher."

   "James T. Kirk?" B'Elanna had gone to QuonoS to meet her grandfather when she was ten. She'd been surprised to see a spirit-temple with a statue of a human male in front of it on the street of heroes. She had ditched her mother and gone in to find that it was dedicated to the spirit of a human hero who had earned the title Godslayer.

   Kirk had both fought and saved the Klingon Empire, saved the entire universe, slain or conquered numerous gods and occasionally seemed to rise from the dead. His roll of heroic deeds was long and from all reports, not over yet. Spock, his second officer, had stated on several occasions that Kirk lived, somewhere.

   The Klingons couldn't get enough of him. He had dwelled on QuonoS for a time after politely returning a Bird of Prey that he'd pirated. He'd apparently cut quite a swathe. To this day, a Klingon with unclear antecedents was laughingly referred to as being of the 'House of Kirk.'

   Kirk's legend meant a lot to her. His exploits had been viscerally convincing evidence that her humanity wasn't something to be ashamed of. She had felt pride in her human side after that. When her grandfather had spoken disparagingly of her father's people she'd thrown Kirk into his face until much to her mothers shock, the old man had actually apologized.

   "He was cashiered, after crashing a shuttlecraft at Caldek Prime." Ro sighed. "He came in through a bad storm, got hit by a plasma bolt and ate it. His fiancée, her brother and his best friend died in the wreck. He'd disobeyed direct orders to avoid the storm. I lost track of him after that."

   B'Elanna smiled. She didn't have to kill Paris after all. "His fiancée? I thought you and him were knocking knees."

   Ro shrugged. "I was more like a sister, B'Elanna. It was a mistake to get into bed with him, but it turned out well. I had a bad time in the camps and needed a male friend like Tom. He taught me that men are just people and got me over the fear."

   B'Elanna gave her friend a sympathetic look. Ro had been born in a Cardassian slave camp. The only thing the snakes liked better than torture was rape, preferably of an adolescent. Ro had endured and now the snakes were paying.

   "Tom is really a very kind and gentle person." Ro looked at the swaggering peacock and smiled. He'd always been one to play his role to the hilt. Tom was a man of many faces. "His fiancée was a gold-digging bitch. She was marrying him because of his name. He's better off without her."

   The person in question turned into 'Tom's Place.'

   B'Elanna stepped out of the alley they'd been lurking in. "Let's go see him. He's got to be the one with the Bird." She could just see him in her mind's eye, shooting his way out of the Romulan Empire.


   Tom Paris pushed through the batwing doors and eyed the crowd inside the cantina. The buzz of conversation started up again as he settled Reveca at a table and made his way to the poker game.

   "Neek! Did you take care of that thing?" Paris didn't want to be very specific. The Cantina was full of beings who'd sell out their own mothers for a few slips.

   Neek looked up at the tall Human, irritated. He'd finally mastered the Human game of poker and was poised to gain back some of his losses. "The portmaster has the transponder number programmed in."

   The portmaster was a being hired by the local merchants association to man some long range sensors that Tom and some associates had installed around the system. Everyone wanted to know of the approach of ships. To get the information, you had to pay his fee.

   Paris smiled. "Well, good work, Neek." He strode to his table and sat with his back to the wall, surveying this part of his little kingdom. Two years of fat profits had grown his legitimate Trade City holdings considerably.

   "Are you here to play or to talk?" The Bolian was a serious gambler.

   "Talk, I guess." The Feringi threw in his hand and rose to follow his partner.

    Reveca sipped her ale and watched Tom watching the crowd. She was winding up a passionate affair with him, begun in the prison. She hoped that K'Narg wouldn't find out. She loved her mate, even though he was less than faithful. She hoped that things would change when they both left active duty. If K'Narg confronted Tom, it would be the Klingon who would die. Tom was one of the most deadly hand to hand fighters that she'd ever seen and his fast draw was blindingly fast. She looked away. If she wasn't already mated, she'd have bitten him on the spot.

    She hissed in surprise. A Klingon woman had come in and was glaring at her, challengingly. Reveca read her house sigils and relaxed, fractionally. There was no feud between their houses. Beside her, Tom gasped.

    "Ro!" He stood, grabbing the Bajoran and swinging her around. "God, it's so good to see you!"

    Ro laughed and hugged him back, tightly. "Oh Tom, I knew that you'd land on your feet." She stepped back and looked at his face. Almost without conscious violation, her hand went to his ear. His paugh still felt the same. He wasn't a cold blooded murderer, but the metallic feel of many a desperate battle came through, strongly.

    "So, do I pass?" He glanced at her companion and froze for an instant as his eyes locked with B'Elanna's.

    Ro, still in the process of feeling his paugh, gasped at the psychic jolt. She disguised it as a cough and glanced at B'Elanna. "You're still one of the prophets favorites, Tommy."

    Paris signaled his bartender. "Who's your friend?" Tom realized that he was staring, then slipped a personable mask into place.

    B'Elanna responded with rising anger. Who was he to stare at her? Was she too ugly for him? He obviously didn't think ridges were ugly. He already had a Klingon... roka. God! She was mated. What a pig! Her face mottled with a flush. "I am B'Elanna Torres. I came here to buy a spaceship. I'm told that you have one for sale." The best way to handle such a pig was to be all business.


    Paris pulled chairs out for them. "Sit down, B'Elanna, Ro. We'll talk about it." He wanted to keep her in the bar for as long as possible.

    The bartender arrived. "Yeah, Boss?" He was an leathery old Human man with a limp, wanted in the Federation for burglary. He'd escaped readjustment and gotten out of the Federation.

   "Set us up, Benny."

   "Sure thing, Boss. Benny smiled at them professionally and took their orders. When he left, Paris introduced his companion.

   Paris turned on an audio damping field. "Ro, B'Elanna, this is Reveca." He smiled. "We met on vacation."

   Reveca laughed. "I must use that line with my husband."

    B'Elanna shot her a censorious look.

    Reveca's smile widened. The woman, clearly the only woman at the table who was never a lover of Tom's, reeked of jealousy. It was just too amusing for words. "We met in a Romulan prison. Tom took it over and imprisoned our guards."

    Ro smirked. "He hasn't changed a bit."

    B'Elanna looked a trifle less malignant. "The Romulans aren't usually stupid. How did you get away?"

    Tom shrugged. "They were using stolen Federation holoprojection technology to make the prison. They... forgot to take my wristcomp. When they left me near an ODN junction, I was able to break in and take over the program."

    "How long were you a prisoner, Tom?" Ro put her hand on his shoulder.

    He sighed. "Almost a week. It was incredibly boring." He brightened. "But I stole a fortune when I escaped!"

    Ro laughed, along with the rest of the table.

    "Did I hear fortune?" Neek came up to the table, wearing his most ingratiating smile.

    Paris laughed. "Not by your standards, partner."

   Neek shrugged. "Good evening then, ladies."

   Ro laughed. "Feringi priorities, defined. I hear that you have a ship for sale."

   Neek grinned. "All of my ships are for sale, if the price is right. Which one did you have in mind?"

   "Just don't sell any of mine, Neek." Paris made eye contact with B'Elanna and flushed.

   B'Elanna straightened. "Something is wrong. We are here to meet a Feringi named Sut. He has offered a Klingon K'vort class bird of Prey, for sale."

   Neek hissed with surprise. "Sut! My treacherous nephew. I fired him months ago, for stealing from the firm. I had thought him gone from Donat V."

   Reveca looked surprised. "Are you sure it was not a K'tanga? Tom was recently in the prison and he has a very fine K'tanga parked in orbit here. Perhaps this Sut planned to steal it."

   B'Elanna didn't have much use for her. "It was a K'Vort."

   Paris and Reveca exchanged guarded looks.

   Reveca frowned, worriedly. "I've dallied here long enough, Tom. To take the ship, they plan for all of us to be dead. I will take my leave, now."

   Paris looked around, suspiciously. "He couldn't act alone. The Tal Shar? Starfleet Intelligence? Maybe even the snakes. But why?"

   Neek swallowed. "We sure have a lot of enemies, Tom. I think that he must be planning to abduct us to get the codes, then-" He swallowed again. "When and where were you suppose to meet him?"

   "Here, tomorrow night." Ro heaved a sigh of relief. "We were early."

   Reveca stood and hauled Tom to his feet. Kissing him deeply, she turned to B'Elanna. "Just so there are no misunderstandings between us."

   Tom's eyes widened. B'Elanna was ready to draw. "Uh, oh."

   Reveca slapped him, lightly, barely breaking the skin. "Get out of my life, you beautiful man! Consider this a divorce!" She licked the blood off of her hand and leered at him.

   A large, slow witted Klingon named Troc, the bouncer at Tom's place, walked over. "Boss?"

   Paris wiggled his jaw, then smiled at Reveca. "Yeah, Troc?"

   Troc straightened, unconsciously. "That little guy, Sut, is out in the street, with a bunch of other little guys just like him." Troc took out his blaster and checked the charge. He wore a blaster because Tom did. Tom had saved him from a shameful execution on Drootha. Tom had employed him and made him feel like a real warrior. He was fanatically loyal.

   "The FCA!" Neek was scared.

   B'Elanna frowned. "The FCA? What's that?

   Ro frowned. "The Feringi Commerce Authority?"

   "Benny! Condition Red! Hit the alarm! Take care of yourself, Troc. Don't let yourself or any of our guys get killed over this dump. I mean it, now." Tom saw the bouncer and the barman acknowledge his instructions and then touched his wrist comp. Everyone dematerialized.

   B'Elanna was surprised to find herself on a Klingon transporter pad. She followed along to the bridge, realizing along the way that this must be the K'tanga that they had spoken of. It was certainly the most outrageously luxurious K'tanga that she'd ever imagined.

   Paris took the command seat. Reveca powered up the sensors and began probing near space for cloaked vessels. B'Elanna powered up an engineering station and Ro took the weapons console.

   "Is this thing armed?" Ro chose a Federation overlay and saw disrupter and torpedo status bars, indicating a fully armed ship.

   Tom nodded. "I have a lot to protect, now."

   Reveca growled. "I have a Feringi Marauder, cloaked to starboard. They're trying to scan through our shields."

   Tom looked over at Neek. "How should we handle this?"

   Neek thought. "From a position of strength. The FCA despises weakness."

   "Good. Me too." Tom nodded at Ro. "Take out their shields."

   Ro targeted the shield generator and fired. A thick disrupter beam lashed out, knocking out the Feringi cloak and destroying its shield bubble. The revealed Marauder tumbled in space, out of control. "God! This thing is fully armed!"

   Neek opened a channel. "Polly? How are things at the compound? Are you alright?"

   "Yes, husband. The codes were changed and the shield held. The Feringi males and their mercenaries were cut to pieces. They're all dead. Mondar's warehouse opened up on them right after we did and then every one else on the street started firing. The guard forces are all out patrolling the streets." She giggled. 'Our street sweeping service will have a nasty chore ahead of them, tomorrow." Polly calculated the tip that her employees should get.

   She'd met a nearly bankrupt farmer with a sarox and a wagon and started the garbage hauling service soon after arriving. Once a desperate stowaway onboard her hated husband's spacecraft, escaping naked and penniless to this lawless alien world had been the best thing that had ever happened to Polly. She'd found clothes, a new name and a new life outside of the abject slavery of the Feringi homeworld. Neek had been a bonus that she had never expected. Now the FCA was here to ruin it all.

   "Don't worry, Polly. We'll beat them." Neek turned trusting eyes to Paris.

   Paris nodded. "I promise you, Polly, that the FCA won't get you." He looked at Reveca. "Is everything alright aboard UrchBat?"

   Reveca, just finishing a terse conversation of her own, nodded. "I have to go, Tom."

   Tom nodded. "The transporter's unlocked. I need to stay on the bridge."

   "This is goodbye then." She smiled at him. "Take care, Pirate."

   He smiled back, regretfully. "You too, warrior lady. If you ever need my help, just call."


   In the silence, B'Elanna said, sourly, "If anyone cares, the Feringi is powering up his phasers."

   "Take him out if he fires, Ro." Paris maneuvered the ship so that the drifting Feringi couldn't bring his weapons to bear on him.

   The screen divided, showing a Feringi in a smoke filled control room. "This is an outrage! How dare you interfere with the Feringi Commercial Authority!"

   "You have attacked my people and my property. Now you shall pay the price." Paris was as hard and cold as ice.

   The Feringi, long accustomed to being regarded with abject terror, swallowed. "I am Daimon Sthil. I will meet any reasonable price you set. For the outlaws and the perverts who defile Feringi womanhood, I am prepared offer a handsome sum indeed."

   Paris nodded. "I'm glad that you feel that way." He gestured at Ro and she used an ion pulse to knock out the marauder's phaser array.

   "Wha- What is the meaning of this, Humon!" The being was sweating.

   Tom smirked. "Well, Feringi, you offered to pay and so you shall." The Feringi disappeared, beamed down to the planet.

   Neek was trembling. "What are you going to do with those... "

   Tom laughed. "Do you remember those control collars that we took from the Rom prison?"

   Neek nodded, swallowing.

   "Well, the Daimon and his friends are going to be a present for Polly. If she doesn't want them for her garbage service, she can distribute them to her fellow escapees. They need help, and the Daimon's life is forfeit anyway. Let's let them get a good feel for how the other half lives. They can be the ones who don't wear the pants, for a while." Paris beamed back at B'Elanna, who wore a wide smile of approval.

   "I like it." Neek grinned. The Daimon would never be able tell anyone, no matter what happened. He began to laugh.

   Ro laughed, then pointed at the Marauder. "What about that?"

   He grinned. "You bagged it, Ro. You two lovely ladies can keep it, after we fix it." He snuck a glance at B'Elanna.

   B'Elanna locked hot eyes with him. It could take weeks to fix the ship. The ragtag Marquise sect that she fought with could really use the Marauder. She'd just have to send Ro back while she stayed around here to see that it got fixed.

   Paris swallowed, dryly. Even T'Lar had never affected him like this.


    Reveca stood in the hall of the chancery and waited, with Moktar. Soon, a man motioned her into the war room.

   Gowron was sitting at a large polished table, numerous pads arranged in front of him. He was dictating orders to his secretary while writing with his right hand. Reveca felt a stirring of pride. The Chancellor of the Empire was a man to be reckoned with.

   Gowron looked her up and down. "So you lived." He snarled. "What insult did the Romulsagan filth offer? Rest easy, I shall take all dishonor onto myself."

   Reveca respectfully bared her fangs at him. "The Greenies were quite... respectful, my lord. They took us as we thought they would. The old-style cloaking device was very effective. UrchBat's emission stream was only tracked after I increased the leak by twenty percent. I was forced to closely approach their homeworld before they picked me up. They transported gas bombs aboard to render us unconscious. When I awoke, they had the ship."

   Gowron nodded. "Did they download the data?" His deception of the Cardassians was based on the information that the Romulans would pass on to them. He wanted the Federation to go to a war footing. Their passiveness in the face of this new enemy in the gamma quadrant was dismaying. The Federation was ignoring the Cardassian problem. If the reptiles allied with the Dominion... Gowron growled.

   Reveca smiled. "They broke the encryption with a very clever trick. They made a holographic trap, letting us escape and get back to the ship. I, of course, had to use a command code to unlock the computer. That's when the Romulans turned off the holograms. We were in a simulation. They had quite the laugh, downloading the contents of our data core. Sadly, they didn't get the codes to unlock the navigation and engineering systems."

   Gowron nodded. "So, do you think that they truly believe that the information in the core was genuine?"

   "Oh, yes." She bobbed her head, finally allowing the laugh to escape. "Our escape confirmed it in their eyes."

   "Tell me of it." Gowron knew the story from her report, but he wanted to hear it from her own lips.

   She smiled. "We were in a prison that used holographic guards and cells. The Romulans are experimenting with the technology, which I believe was stolen from the Federation. They had a number of prisoners, mostly Romulans, some real and some fake, designed to demoralize the rest."

   Gowron grunted with interest. Prisons were a waste of manpower, but sometimes it was impractical to simply execute an enemy.

   Reveca smiled at the memory. "A Human was brought in the second week that I was there. He was wounded and I saw him being treated in the infirmary while I was there. I-"

   "How were you injured?" Gowron leaned forward, anxious lest an honorable deed go un-remarked. She was one of the best he had.

   Reveca waved, dismissive. "I was testing a holographic Klingon prisoner. He was trying to infiltrate and demoralize my crew. I fought him, but was unable to defeat him. His blows were shamefully light. I thus exposed him for a fraud."

   "Wisely done. Continue." Gowron leaned back, noting down the idea of a holographic prison. It was a good one.

   "The Human initiated a... conversation with me, calling himself the king of Donat V and openly challenging me to a race to escape. He was quite... confident." She smiled at the memory of the outraged Romulan medic. "The Romulans caught him in their space with a load of contraband weapons. It took their entire sector fleet to corner him. He's a smuggler."

   Gowron nodded, intrigued. He knew how resourceful smugglers were. They got through even the tightest frontier.

   "He was taken away. That night we were suddenly beamed aboard UrchBat again and the Human was there, urging me to unlock the command level. He had no scent, so I recognized him as a fake. The Romulans beamed us back to our cells." She smiled. "Some time few days later, the prison disappeared, and the Human came to let us out of the imaging chamber. He showed us the guards, in another chamber, unaware that they were trapped within a simulation. He told us that they'd foolishly left him restrained near an ODN junction and he'd hijacked the system for his own ends." She laughed.

   "Ah! Deception within a deception. What gall. He turned their own prison against them!" Gowron laughed heartily and deleted the holographic prison idea. Let someone else perfect it. Such an escape would be a crippling blow to the prestige of the Empire.

   "We made a bargain. His damaged Bonadventure to be towed back to Donat V, for UrchBat and freedom." She smirked. "He had total control of the Romulan base. For all I know, they are still ignorant of our escape, trapped within the simulation. Tom Paris looted their base down to the bedrock. He downloaded their cores to his computer, stole one of their newest cloaking devices, a ton of gold pressed latinum, all of their manuals, codes and passwords, patrol schedules... It was masterful. He even had the commandant obtain proper departure clearance for us. The fool thought that we were a prize crew, sent from Romulus."

   Gowron guffawed. The Romulans would be so humiliated that their evil green hearts would shrivel. "The Humans have a saying. Turnabout is only fair play. Continue."

   Reveca shrugged. "There's not much else to say. We left Sonal, the border system that we were confined in, openly, with clearance. We made it to the Neutral Zone in thirty one days, at warp eight. Paris had his Bonadventure marginally operational by then, but we towed him to Donat V anyway. He let us have a copy of the Romulan cloaking device manual in exchange for our help installing it in his vessel."

   Gowron was grinning, fiercely. "Good! Long life to the pirate and many fierce battles. So, we showed the Romulans one of our old devices and gained a good inspection and a manual for their newest." He laughed out loud. "I like a bold fellow. What kind of man is this Paris?"

   She grinned back. "He calls himself the King of Donat V and wears twin ionic blasters in quick draw holsters. He is his own law. That place is the vilest smugglers den in the galaxy, yet they celebrated his return. He started a pay as you go sort of government there, run by his Feringi servants as a convenience to the smugglers. It seems to be catching on."

   Gowron leaned back, rubbing his beard. "A king. There haven't been any human kings for a long time. Sit, Reveca. Tell me of his followers." Gowron, glad to be diverted from the crushing task of planning the defense of the Alpha Quadrant, leaned back and called for bloodwine.


   Scotty looked at his engineers, all five thousand of them, drawn up in their uniformed ranks on the vast polished floor before him. "Lads, lassies, what we've accomplished here is in the way of bein' a true miracle." His voice, fed through each of their communicators, shook with overwhelming pride.

   "Two years of hard work, two years of sacrifice, isolation and risk hae finally paid off." He smiled, fiercely. "This facility is fully operational. We begin production... now." He gestured at a waiting production technician and in the vast hollow core behind him, the massive assembly line started, with a shriek.

   "By the end of the week, we'll have nearly five hundred cloaked fighters and two command carriers. In a month, we'll have thousands." Scott's triumph faded somewhat. "We can provide the tools, but it's up to the soldiers, politicians and the lad's at the recruiting depots, now."

   He cleared his throat, his voice going hard. "Now is the time of our greatest risk. If we hae a spy about, he'll be able to be about his tattilin' soon. We must concentrate on building an impenetrable point defense for this facility."

   Scotty didn't think there was a spy, but you never knew. A Betazoid telepath had thoroughly probed each of the applicants and the many spies had all been smoothly funneled into various Marquis sects. The intelligence arm was excellent, composed as it was of dissidents from Starfleet intelligence. They had recruited him and were responsible for the efficient formation of the secret armies of the resistance. They were helping the political movement, too. Their aim was noble, even if their methods were decidedly not.


   The citizens of the small city of Paradise, on the world called Albion, watched smiling as the strangely uniformed men marched through the street, one beating a bass drum. A line of young men and a few young women followed them, all red faced and self-conscious. Most would change their minds, but not before they were tested for aptitude, in the man's ship.

   The town watchman just watched, approvingly. A Cardassian ship had come through the region and randomly vaporized over a hundred isolated homesteads this spring. The Federation had done nothing, enraging the settlers. These marquis recruiters came through periodically, but they seemed to be stepping up the pace lately. The committee of correspondence was keeping a tight lip, but everyone knew that something big was up. He rubbed his forehead and wished that his wife hadn't chosen this time to become pregnant again, although he wanted another son. Checking the bank, he continued his rounds, walking in the direction that the recruiters took.

   He had been a warrior for the Duras, before he fled the Klingon Empire. He thirsted for Cardassian blood but knew that he would never go with the recruiter. Glory was transient and worthless. Here, defending this small place, he had found something that transcended mere glory. He had found bliss.

   She came up beside him, lacing her arm behind his back. He kissed her, a human custom that he had come to enjoy. "My wife, why are you not at the school?"

   She laughed, her clear, musical voice thrilling him as it had the first time he had heard it. "I just wanted to make sure that you didn't forget me, Tarn."

   "Never." He cleared his throat. "I will never forget you, Olivia." He looked at her, heavily pregnant, windblown and in disarray and marveled at her beauty. Her café au lait skin was glowing with health and she was his. He wondered what his brother would think if he knew that his nephews were half human. Then he dismissed it. He simply didn't care. The Empire and its twisted politics could burn. This was his home, the house of Tarn and Olivia, in Paradise on Albion.


   Paris was sitting in his office, reading a pad. The door annunciator chirped. "Come!"

   A fresh faced boy of seventeen, in a uniform of featureless gray tunic, yellow striped pants, black boots and a high peaked short brimmed cap marched in. He snapped to attention and saluted. "Sir! Cadet Martin reporting, Sir!"

   Paris leaned back and casually returned the salute. Admirals Decker, Jellico and A'boutu, the renegade Starfleet triumvirate who formed the high command of the Badlands regular forces were busily trying to turn a huge mob of civilian volunteers into a disciplined military force. The enlightened interspecies-tolerant methods of Starfleet had been abandoned in favor of the tried and true methods of the ancient militaries of old Earth. The volunteers, upon enlistment had all been processed through three months of old fashioned boot camp, to teach them to obey orders. All of the round pegs were being driven into the round holes. The square pegs either learned to fit in, or broke. After boot camp came further skills training. Flight school was five months of intense training.

   "At ease."

   Martin relaxed marginally, into the 'parade rest' position"

   Paris nodded in approval. The troops were raw and unproven, but they had great fighting spirit. They gained rapidly in skill. "Cadet, I've just been evaluating your simulator scores."

   Paris smiled, unaware of how cold and sinister he appeared in the high collared gray uniform, with its peaked short brimmed cap. The cadets all speculated endlessly on the source of the scarring on his cheek. "I am promoting you to cadet lieutenant. You'll take over training squadron 216, tomorrow morning. "

   "Sir, Aye-aye, Sir!" Martin fixed his eyes on a point two inches above Paris's forehead and waited.

   Paris slid open a drawer and took out a set of gold lieutenant's bars. He stood and pinned them to the cadet's collar. "They aren't as far along as class 130 was. Your old squadron is exceptional, so we are trying to spread the experience around. Try and communicate that excellence. You'll really have to work them, if you want to keep the squad. Our goal is a minimum of a thousand hours in the simulator and the snubs before we put you in a real Banshee, but things are moving pretty fast."

   "When can we expect to get our starfighters, Sir?" Martin felt greatly daring for having asked. He had never flown a real Banshee. He had about a hundred live hours in the little T-7 snubfighter trainers, but most of the training was in simulators. He wondered if the Admiral remembered shooting him down on a holographic training exercise, a month previously.

   Paris smiled. "Soon, Cadet-Lieutenant. Within the week." He walked over to the vid screen and turned it on.

   A large debating hall, hidden in space, was filled with beings, mostly human, but sprinkled with representatives of almost every Federation race, and a few non Federation races. A red faced man was at a lectern, ranting about gold pressed latinum being the only acceptable currency.

   Paris smiled. "They are going to announce, very soon. We'll have to be ready."

   "Is that the committee?" The cadet was awed. He'd never realized that there were so many planets in the badlands.

   "They call themselves a Congress now." Paris nodded at the cadet. "Isn't your father a congressman?"

   Martin nodded. "I suppose so. He was the head of our committee, back home on Jewel." He saw his dad, on the screen. "There he is, sir!"

   Paris smiled. "Good! We won't be pirates for much longer, lieutenant. Will you be ready to defend Jewel?"

   The cadet, in a choked, emotion-filled voice, said, "My squadron will be ready. They'll just have to give up sleep for a while, sir."

   "I have every confidence in you. That's all, Lieutenant." Paris returned the boy's salute. "Dismissed."

   Paris sighed when the cadet-lieutenant left. He'd had the nightmare again, the one where the snakes picked off his helpless squadrons of children and then started destroying planets. He fingered the star on his collar. Being a commodore in this ill-trained proto-fleet had not been something he approached lightly, but Scotty made good sense. He couldn't stand by and play meaningless games of Russian roulette with the Romulans, while helpless people were being killed by the snakes. He just hoped that the Marquise could buy him more time.

   He strode into his dayroom. The vast bulk of the flagship, an immense Command Carrier, belied its great speed and heavy armament. Victory could cruise in excess of warp nine point eight, for long periods.

   'General Quarters' sounded, and Paris went to his command bridge to monitor. Captain's Hunt, Becker and Truxton were running drills almost constantly, training their ship's complement while they sat in the yards. The engineers were still training the engineering officers and putting on finishing touches. He would take the three ships of his small fleet out for more trials after reveille tomorrow, if they were ready.


   Gul Dukat looked at his targeting reticule. The alien settlement, amusingly called Paradise, was squarely in his sights. These Federation citizens had failed to take the hint a year ago, so now it was time to nudge them again. "Fire!"

   The city disappeared in an actinic flash and then the surrounding suburbs were pounded into dust.

   "Cease fire. Always leave a few to spread the panic." Dukat smiled. Attacking at night, without warning, insured that there would be few survivors in the city. He always followed a policy of killing every member of the immediate family, whenever possible. It cut down on the number of fanatics.

   Tarn pushed the trapdoor open, scanning for residual radiation. The weapon had been clean, at least. He guided Olivia and his sons into the morning light and looked at the blackened ruin around him. Sneezing in the ash dust, he went to clear a path to the shelter of his neighbors, George and Elsa. He felt a stirring of pride through his anger. The warning had come in plenty of time, thanks to the civil defense measures. He was the director of the city's civil defense. Every single home had a deep, shielded shelter and he doubted if the casualties were heavy. Looking around at the blackened plain, he wondered how many would take their families and flee back to the Empire, or the Federation. He would not. Albion was his home and he would die there.


   Chakotay howled his frustration, beating on the weapons panel with his fists. The harder he fought, the worse it got. He'd stung the Cardassians hard, but somehow he always seemed to run into unexpected trouble. He collapsed into his chair, nearly sobbing with helpless rage.

   His retaliatory raid on the Cardassian base had been a disaster. The lizards were waiting, as they always seemed to be waiting. In the desperate battle that followed he'd lost three ships to their two, three ships that the resistance couldn't afford to lose.

   Seska kissed his neck and massaged his shoulders, soothing him. She marveled at his ability. He'd almost won, in spite of the trap. "What are we going to do?" She licked his earlobe.

   Chakotay relaxed a little and leaned gratefully back into her, sighing. "I don't know. Contact the other sects and see what can be arranged, I guess."

   "Perhaps we should all combine and attack a large Cardassian target. A little revenge might pull their fangs." Seska kissed him on the mouth and nodded at the gullible Klingon girl. B'Elanna was ready to chew through the hull to get her hands around a Cardassian throat.

   Chakotay grunted. "If they found out..." He sighed, moral gone. "What the hell. I'll put out the word. Something's got to give."

   Seska smiled with real pleasure. When the ship was taken, she would be truly blown, unable to move onto a next assignment. She soothed Chakotay, massaging his shoulders and running her fingers through his fine black hair. The Obsidian Order would have to promote her out of fieldwork. Perhaps, after she regained her Cardassian features, she could have Chakotay adjusted and keep him as a personal servant. He was a fine lover and very handsome, in the slightly repulsive human fashion. Maybe she'd have him physically altered, too. A few ridges couldn't hurt and that neck... After all, the Order owed her at least that much for all the good work that she'd done for Cardassia. She shivered. It would be very hard to adjust, to face a life without Chakotay.


   The Federation council sat, debating the news from the badlands. The consensus was that the Federation citizens out there needed to be forcibly removed. The complete abandonment of the colonies would avoid further provocation of the Cardassians. It was hoped that this demonstration of Federation resolve for a peaceful solution would stop the Cardassian belligerence. Although extensively settled, the territory just wasn't worth another war. The colonist movement onto the fallow planets of the badlands had never been planned or authorized by the colonial office. The region was indefensible by Starfleet, without radical fleet expansion. Official Federation expansion had been placed on hold, for a hundred years of retrenchment.

   President Johnson sat in his chair and tuned out the ornate speeches of the council. The news of the Paradise raid had sent shocks of discontent through the population of the Federation. Even as they spoke, a tide of money and support was flowing to the Marquis outlaws. Starfleet, at least it's human component, was rife with desertion. He even had his doubts about the intelligence services.

   The sergeant-at-arms approached the speaker's chair and passed him a note.

   The speaker pro tem looked up, swallowed, then gaveled the body into silence. "A representative of the... a group calling itself the Badlands Congress requests leave to address this house."

   Johnson saw the tri-v cameras and nodded in annoyed anticipation. Something was up. The other politicians saw the cameras and the motion to hear the representative was carried.

   The representative entered, a very old male Vulcan,

   flanked by two gray uniformed human aids. One aid carried a holoprojector. Johnson winced as he recognized the man. It was Sorkan, the former Vulcan counselor. He'd served on the council when the president was still a boy. He'd resigned in protest of the Treaty of Algernon.

    The two oddly uniformed aids hurriedly set up the projector. Various before and after scenes of destruction began to appear.

   Johnson recognized a scene from a raid on Albion and sighed. It was to be another colonial plea for interstellar war.

    Sorkan stood, unlocked a case and removed a document. Without preamble, he began reading in a firm, clear voice. "In the course of galactic events, it sometimes becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bonds that unite them with another..."

    Johnson sat open mouthed, shock giving way to rage as the old man read a declaration of independence from Federation. The badlands colonies had the gall to try and secede from the United Federation of Planets.

    Paris dragged himself into his bed and lay there, too lonely and exhausted to instantly drop off. He'd spent the day putting his fleet through its paces. The conventional warships of the fleet, his Lollypop among them, had maneuvered and attacked the carriers all day with practice weapons. The twenty immense carriers and their escort frigates had defended themselves brilliantly. None had been hit. His captains were getting good. The Starfighters, formations of tiny Banshee assault ships and the larger Goblin patrol ships had practiced attack runs all day. He smiled. He had no doubts about his men or his equipment. The carriers were a devastating force. The Snakes would soon learn a terrible lesson.

    His annunciator went off. "Commodore to the bridge."

    Paris rolled out of bed and dressed, his excitement rising. This had to be it.

   Over Victory's intership, the clear voice rang out, carried over a patchwork of subspace relay networks to the badlands. The entire Alpha Quadrant listened with varying degrees of surprise, as the Badlands Confederation was officially born.

   Paris smiled. Now he had a government and a flag to fight for, at long last. Soon the men would be paraded and officially mustered in. All temporary ranks, including his own, would become permanent.


    Janeway stared at the viewscreen in shock as the badlands representative spewed his treasonous cant and was led away, under guard. She was cruising the badlands right now, searching for Tuvok, who'd infiltrated Chakotay's band. Janeway's mouth compressed into a thin line. This stunt wouldn't affect her resolve. Soon, armed resistance would end and liners would be able to come in and evacuate the entire region. The traitors would spend some time in jail and then be repatriated to public housing on more settled, more easily defensible colonies. It just didn't make sense to fight for this miserable sector.


   Chakotay grew more and more nervous. This was a trap. The orders from the new congress had been clear, though. All Marquise ships were to report to these coordinates to be integrated into the regular Naval Service. Only there was no sign of any 'regular Naval Service.'

   "I don't like this."

   B'Elanna swallowed. "There's another one. Jesus, that tub is worse than the last one."

   Chakotay grimaced. "The Spitfire. All that heap of shit can spit is plasma coolant, from the looks of her. She'll have left a trail a mile wide."

   Seska rejoiced. There were about two hundred of the clapped-out Marquise ships gathered in one spot. The bulk of the Cardassian fleet awaited her signal to warp in and annihilate them, ending the problem for good.

   "Maybe we ought to get out of here." Lemek, the Bajoran helmsman, had a bad feeling.

   "We can't! You heard the orders. Either we're part of this Confederacy or we're pirates. We have to obey the president's orders." Sesca's resolve held them, but other ships were showing signs of restiveness. She pushed a button on her belt buckle, transmitting the attack signal.

   Two gray uniformed men materialized on the bridge. One stunned Seska, the other Tuvok.

   "What! Who..." Chakotay gasped and the bridge crew fell silent as an enormous spear shaped ship, almost sixteen kilometers long, decloaked right in front of them. The brutal slate-gray wedge immediately launched a cloud of smaller ships.

   "Marquis ships. Attention to orders." A man appeared on screen, on the Talk Between Ships low power link. He was dressed in the same gray uniform as the invaders, but three gold stars adorned his collars. Behind him, neatly uniformed figures manned stations at a huge bridge. "I am Fleet Admiral Paris of the Confederate Navy, aboard the flagship, CSS Victory. You Marquise are currently being relieved of your spies. Don't try to get even now. We can still use them. This, as you've no doubt surmised, is a trap, but not for you." He smiled. "Most of the Cardassian fleet is on the way. They'll arrive in about four hours. You ladies and gentlemen are the bait. You'll be organized into groups of five ships, each with a leader and a script to follow. We want the Snakes well into the bag before we snuff them out."

   "That's Tom! Tommy, Tom, Tom!" B'Elanna started dancing around. "I knew it!"

   Chakotay was staring at Seska, gray faced. "A traitor?"

   The young intelligence officer nodded, sympathetically. "Yes, sir. She's a surgically altered Cardie. You can't tell without a full medical workup, sir, so don't kick yourself too hard." He cut her clothes off and bagged them before he began searching her, carefully scanning before donning rubber gloves and going through more invasive procedures.

   "Oh, God!" Chakotay ran to the fresher and began retching.

   "How about him?" B'Elanna callously kicked the Vulcan onto his back, to distract everyone from Chakotay's meltdown.

   The other lieutenant shrugged. "He's Federation. All we know is that he has an active tracking device."

   Paris continued. "All ships are being equipped with an encrypted communicator. Be warned. The Cardies have broken all of your old codes. You will fight only if you have to. Stay off of the air and await further instructions." The giant warship shimmered and faded.

   "How many of them are there?" B'Elanna was entranced.

   "Twenty." The Lieutenant shackled the spies and they disappeared in a transporter beam.

   "And they all have cloaks?" She activated the sensors, scanning space, looking for a sign of the ship, but found nothing.

   He laughed "We aren't the Federation. We don't cripple ourselves for the sake of some retarded treaty." He went to the fresher door. "Mr. Chakotay?"

   Chakotay came out, pale and shaking, relieved that Seska was gone. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

   "Sir, I have orders for you." He handed over a pad.

   Chakotay read. "Good plan, if we have the ships to carry it out. So, we're to act as bait." Shattered, he concentrated on the plan. It would work, if the Cardie sensors bought the decoy modules as real starships... He swallowed, feeling nauseous. She was a Cardie! Shock rippled through him again. He'd planned to propose, that very evening.

   "Yes sir. You are designated a Commodore, sir. You will command all of the Marquise groups." The Lieutenant hesitated. "Under the orders of Admiral Paris, sir."

   Chakotay smiled, wanly. "Of course. Where are the decoy modules?"


   Gul Dukat was cautious. "Scanners?"

   "Nothing, Gul. All that scanners pick up is the enemy fleet." The technician adjusted the ventral scanner, looking for tachyon pulses and ion trails. She saw nothing.

   Dukat nodded. "All ships, attack pattern nine. Keep scanning." He eyed the enemy fleet. There were a couple of hundred of the usual pathetic Marquise scrap ships, but the rest of the force appeared to be much more formidable. Not so formidable as to daunt him, though.

   Three Excelsior's, a Constitution and five Soyuz class ex-Federation Starships. Nine ships of real force, obviously the core of the Confederate fleet. Just the sort of rag bag that he'd come expecting to find. Dukat smiled. This would inflate his reputation nicely. Central command needed new blood at the highest level.


   Janeway halted at extreme sensor range and launched a probe. The Marquise fleet was gathered and she was surprised to see so many apparently spaceworthy museum pieces. Pursing her lips, she noted a number of elderly Federation Starships, all presumably stolen from the boneyard. The fleet was rife with treason.

   "Cardassian ships approaching Marquise fleet. They are... numerous." Cavet swallowed. He hated traitors, but he also hated snakes.

   Janeway gasped. The bulk of the Cardassian fleet was there, over four hundred Ga'lor class cruisers alone. Nine old starships, even brilliantly handled, couldn't hope to win. "Open a channel to the Marquise."

   Cavet hesitated. "Captain, with all due respect, I want to get home. If we make a sound, the snakes will be all over us." He nodded at the screen. "It's too late for them anyway. They're attacking."

   The Cardassians, in a typical pincer formation moved to englobe the somnolent Marquise.

   "What are they do-" Janeway gaped as Cardassian ships began to explode, apparently without cause. Their formation rapidly lost coherence.

   Kim pushed a button. "I have their TBS on audio."

   "-cloaked!" The bridge speakers pumped out the sounds of a disaster.

   "Core breach! Mindur's shields are at three per-"

   "A minefield?" Janeway shook her head. "Bring us in closer, Mr. Olivetti. Warp one. Halt at 100,000 AU's from the battle."

   "Aye' Ma'am." Olivetti, with profound misgivings, eased the ship forward.

   "Torpedoes from nowhere!"

   Janeway noticed what appeared to be ion bolts, coming from empty space, raking a dying Cardassian cruiser. "Star fighters! They're using cloaked starfighters!"

   "Let's hope that they don't use them on us." Cavet was a botanist, originally. He'd joined Starfleet to explore, not to explode.


   "Report!" Gul Dukat hung onto his seat, to keep from floating away. He felt his ship shudder under another nearby torpedo detonation. He was as blind as his ship, his face a mass of blood and burns from an exploding EPS manifold.

   The engineering corporal, the most senior officer left after Dukat, saluted the blind man, reflexively. "Gul, our shields are down, but the enemy does not fire. Propulsion, off line. Weapons, off line. Main computer, off line. Communications, off line. Environment and life support, minimal. Eight decks are in vacuum. Heavy casualties all over the ship. We have established minimal sensors."

   The Gull stood, and floated to the ceiling, having forgotten that the artificial gravity was off. "The fleet?"

   The corporal curled into a ball, and sobbed. "Slaughtered," she keened.

   Dukat pushed himself down from the ceiling, wondering how such an incredible intelligence blunder could have come to pass. He resolved to exterminate the Obsidian Order, should he survive. Ever since he'd found them out, foiling their plot to build a secret fleet with the Romulans of all the untrustworthy vermin races, they had been out to get him.

   Irritated, he groped his way toward the crying and pulled the corporal to him. He held her until his body heat finally relaxed her. "My dear, stop crying. We'll try to signal a surviving ship for pickup. This hulk must be mined, it's files wiped and the interior rendered- What are you doing?"

   She was plucking his rank badges off. "Trying to save you."

   A transporter beam suddenly took them both.


   Janeway gasped and grabbed for a respirator as a hissing canister appeared on the bridge. She went down in seconds, along with the rest of the bridge crew.

   A space armored combat team beamed onto the bridge and a second later a man in a respirator materialized and punched a long string of codes into the computer. The synthesized computer voice said, "Master command override initiated. Command transferred to Lieutenant Thomas Paris."

   Paris checked his sensors and saw that the gas had been cleared. He took off his respirator and passed it to a corporal. "Beam the prisoners back to Victory. Leave the captain."

   "Aye-aye, Sir." The Marine lieutenant wasn't happy. Fleet Admirals belonged on safe bridges, not on ship to ship raids.

   Paris dropped Voyager's flawed shields and Victory decloaked, its transporters rapidly emptying Voyager of all Starfleet personnel.

   Janeway woke, then noticed the boots. High, shiny, black, non-issue boots, ending at gray, yellow striped pants, neatly tucked into their tops.

   "Well, well. It's Kathryn Janeway."

   Janeway rolled over. "Tom Paris! What are you doing on my ship? Where's..." She fell silent, seeing the unfamiliar crew manning the bridge and the three gold stars on the stiff collar points of his uniform shirt. She swallowed. "Computer, initiate self destruct! Authorization omicron magma ultra blue."

   The computer ignored her.

   "Sorry, Kathryn." Paris smiled sympathetically and pulled her to her feet. "I hate to do this to you but I have command, for now. I can't let you take back the data that you scanned during the battle."

   Janeway jerked away, suddenly aware of how tall and strong he was. Paris was thickly muscled and conveyed a vivid impression of tightly leashed power.

   "How could you betray us like this?" She was devastated with the loss of Voyager. "I know that you and your father don't get along, but to betray the Federation... You are as mad as that Betazoid said."

   He laughed. "Deanna Troi. I haven't thought about her in years. His face stilled. "Captain Janeway, I am Admiral Paris of the Navy of the Badlands Confederacy. You have trespassed into our space, with hostile intent. I therefore inform you that your ship and your crew are detained. His eyes narrowed. "Your crew is being given a choice. They can sit in a prison camp until we deal with the UFP, or they can work at their specialties, on parole, in the civil economy."

   Janeway stiffened. "I hope you realize the risk that you're running. When the Federation finds out..." She swallowed, remembering the smashed Cardassian fleet.

   "Exactly." Paris laughed. "If they won't fight for us, they won't fight for you. You'll be coming with me then, Captain Janeway. I'm going to need someone who can go back and explain the new facts of life to the Federation."

   "What happens to Voyager?" Janeway frowned.

   "It's going to a special facility for analysis. Any improvements that we don't already know about will be incorporated into our ships." He smiled. "I doubt if we'll learn much, as the head of our research was one of Voyagers chief designers. That's how we knew about the flaw in the shields. Eventually, in a gesture of good neighborliness, we'll turn you all loose with it." He smirked. "It really depends on the Federation. I only need you kept under wraps for a few months."

   Janeway stiffened. "I am your prisoner, Mr. Paris. I'll give no parole."

   He nodded, un-surprised. "Very well. You may choose two aids from your crew."

   Janeway thought. To escape, she needed someone who would obey without question and who had unbreakable ties back in the Federation. This was also her chance to retrieve Tuvok. "Lieutenant Commander Tuvok and Ensign Harry Kim."

   Paris smiled. She was worried about the Vulcan, like they were some kind of ogres. Tuvok was unharmed, locked up with the rest of her crew. "See to it, Marly."

   The flag lieutenant saluted and hurried off.


   Chakotay and his command crew climbed out of the transport and looked around the massive flight bay in awe. The Starfighters were out practicing and patrolling, so the vast space was empty. They saw a mob of other Marquise, and walked over.

   "Thompson!" Chakotay recognized a man he'd known back in Starfleet.

   "Chak!" Thompson grinned. "I hear that you're the new pirate king!"

   Chakotay laughed. "Commodore of the irregular forces, please." He shrugged. "They don't want a bunch of smelly, ill disciplined Marquis lousing up these monsters."

   Thompson laughed. "Good! I forgot how to salute. Did you see the size of the pulse batteries that this godawful thing has? I could almost fly Turtle up an emission bell!"

   Chakotay smiled. "Did you notice that in the battle, they never fired a single shot? Those starfighters are lethal. That's even more impressive, to me."

   The murmurs dropped off as a group of gray uniformed officers marched toward them.

   "Torres, Rogers, Lemek, don't embarrass me. Remember, discipline and military courtesy apply here." Chakotay wasn't worried. All of his officers had formal military training.

   The august personage of the Admiral and his aids arrived, intimidating most of the Marquise and angering the rest.

   "Attention!" Chakotay braced, expecting that about half of the Marquise would ignore him, on general principle.

   "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" The Marquise officers stared in slack jawed amazement as B'Elanna ran past them and launched herself at the Admiral. She jumped, wrapping her legs around his waste, her lips meeting his. He spun her around and around, alternately laughing and kissing her.

   "I um, see that you've met." Chakotay felt faint. Seska's face flashed in his mind and he blinked, sorrowfully.

   Marly and Pruitt, Paris's two flag Lieutenants, stared in disbelief. Admiral Paris was known for his total indifference to the opposite sex, or any sex.

   Marly gasped. He was rich! He'd won the pool. The Admirals facial scar was a Klingon love bite.

   "Ladies and gentlemen, this is my wife, B'Elanna." He kissed her again, then sat her on her feet. "I haven't seen her in quite a while. She's been with you, a desperate Marquise, holding the snakes back, buying us the time we needed."

   B'Elanna laid her head on his shoulder and slid her arm around his back. "Desperate being the operative word."

   Everyone laughed.

   Paris stood, looking at them. "You are all Heroes of the Confederacy, and I salute you." He did. "Without you, millions of our people would be dead and our dream would be ashes. I hope that you can forgive us for the deception that we perpetrated on you." He stroked B'Elanna's hair. "We put you out as a hard target, to distract our enemies. Many of you have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many lost those who were precious to them. He squeezed B'Elanna and grew cold. "But now, a new phase in the war begins. Soon, the Cardies will be annihilated. Marquise blood watered the seeds of victory! Watch the dragons teeth sprout!"

   The Marquise gave a great cheer. Many had been angry at the previous lack of support, wondering where all the neatly uniformed troops had been during the hard times. The speech made them realize that there was a damned good reason, even if they didn't understand it. Because of their acts, ultimate victory was now within their grasp. The fact that the Admiral's wife had been with them meant a lot.


   B'Elanna walked through the Federation prize ship, marveling at the luxury. The engine room was shining perfection, as were the ship's other spaces. Tom had taken her here for privacy, but their love marathon was continually interrupted by the call of duty. He had left to deal with a problem and B'Elanna was exploring to assuage her boredom.

   She reached sickbay and entered. There were two sophisticated looking biobeds. She considered stealing them, for Liberty.

   "Hello. Do you require medical assistance?"

   B'Elanna jumped, drawing her blaster. "Who are you?" A man in a Federation uniform was standing in the office door. "How did they miss you?"

   He looked bewildered. "Miss me?" He shrugged. "I am the Emergency Medical Hologram. Corporal Hollings activated me to have a splinter removed and neglected to turn me off."

   B'Elanna lowered her blaster. "How big is your program?"


   Gowron sat, stunned. The Cardassian Third Fleet was no more, according to the best intelligence that he had received. The cause was said to be a Marquise ambush with cloaked mines, but Gowron didn't believe it. The Marquise were too poorly organized and mines were ineffective in open space. He suspected cloaked ships of some sort. That was worrisome, if it was the Federation. It meant trouble with the Romulans. His biggest nightmare was that this Badlands Confederacy had allied with the Dominion.


   The Cardassian outpost scanned local space, nervously. The rumors were that the third fleet had been badly mauled and that Central Command had cut off support to the outer regions. Communications were unreliable. It was true that the guard ship had been withdrawn. All that they had left to defend themselves with were their personal weapons.

   The Cardassian Commandant tiredly examined the washed out Bajoran women, decked out in what faded finery that could be scrounged. Some were actually dirty, with streaks on their disgustingly sweaty faces. He'd had used them all before and it was a singularly uninspiring selection. In the old days, when the outpost had run properly, things had been better. The women had been fiery and defiant. He'd loved breaking them, so that they really tried to please and then passing them down the chain of command. After all, with a projected working lifespan in the mines of a year, they had every incentive. Now they were sullenly defiant. There just weren't enough new prisoners, so they couldn't be killed for fun any more.

   Maybe it was time to put aside his revulsion and try a Human, or even a Klingon. He took a breath to order the Bajorans to the mines, when a chime sounded.

   "Yes, Pekath?" Donak looked at his second, bored.

   "Sir! The Imperial Morning has entered the system. Gul Dukat himself is demanding your presence!"

   Donak sat bolt upright. "Get out!" he screamed at his whores. Pulling on his dress uniform, he turned to the screen. Smoothing his hair, he said, "Put the Gul through."

   His breath caught. "Gul Dukat, what an unexpected honor. May I-"

   Gul Dukat stared at him, contemptuously. "Donak, form your troops on the parade ground. I want every adult Cardassian out there, including the sick and our staff civilians."

   "Yes sir. What about the prisoners?" Donak felt hope. Maybe he was finally getting off of this useless dirtball.

   "Lock them in their sleeping areas, unguarded. Don't hurt them. We'll come for them, later." Dukat stared. "Got it?"

   "Yes, sir!" Donak wondered why he was doing this, but knew better than to question a Gul.

   "Dukat out." Chakotay cut the connection and grinned at B'Elanna. "Holoprogramming for idiots."

   B'Elanna smiled. "A snake is either kissing ass or kicking ass. All you have to do is press the right buttons."

   Chakotay watched the monitor, as the Bajoran and a few Human and Klingon life signs disappeared underground. "Bingo."

   B'Elanna locked the Cardassian disrupters onto the parade ground. "Say when."

   The screen popped up a communication window. Donak smiled foolishly at them from the window. "We're all formed up. The sick are in stretchers and all the camp administration staff are here with us, as ordered, Gul."

   Chakotay looked at the doomed creature. "Are you a religious man, Commandant?"

   Donak frowned. "I say my devotions, like everyone else, Gul."

   "Say them now, fool." Chakotay dropped the masking hologram, revealing his true face.

   "No! Ancestors-"

   B'Elanna fired, turning two thousand Cardassian camp guards and officials into ash, without unduly disturbing the ground.

   "Why didn't you let him say his prayers?" Chakotay didn't really care about the snake's religious problems, but he was curious about her motives.

   B'Elanna snarled at the screen displaying the smoking parade ground. "Why should I let a snake go to snake heaven when I can send it straight to snake hell?"

   There was a brief silence, followed by a long, rasping, wheeze.

   Bemused, Chakotay looked at the Bajoran helmsman. "Lemek?"

   Lemek slid out of his seat, with another long, racking wheeze. Chakotay was about to call for medical help, when the wheezing resolved itself into helpless laughter.

   "Lemek?" Chakotay looked at B'Elanna and suddenly got the joke. He collapsed into laughter along with the rest of the bridge.

   B'Elanna glared at them, then sat, resentfully ignoring them by concentrating on the sensors. It wouldn't be so funny if they got jumped in the middle of their little laughing jag.

   Lemek finally recovered. "Prophets, but I love Klingons, B'Elanna. If you weren't married..." He broke down again.

   B'Elanna looked at them, levelly. "That came from my human side."

   That set them all off.


   There were too many prisoners on the planet. No one expected the works to be so extensive. Just over twenty thousand, mostly Bajoran but a with a sprinkling of others, were released from the mines and factories. Most were in bad shape. The Marquise medics did what they could on the planet, but real help had to be found.

   A recently captured Cardassian bulk ore freighter was all that could be located. B'Elanna and her crew worked like dogs to get the ship ready to take the pathetic ex slaves. They weren't dying as quickly now, but it was a race. The massive holds were cleaned, pressurized, equipped with beds and what other gear could be salvaged from the camp and the makeshift passenger ship was renamed Mercy. Sadly, Mercy had no sickbay.

   The Liberty, and the four other Marquise wrecks cruising in company with the captured Cardassian Imperial Morning were pressed into use as makeshift hospital ships. Their awful sickbays, augmented as they had been by stolen Federation and captured Cardassian equipment just weren't adequate. The Confederate hospitals on the small former colonies were already full of people from Chakotay's previous rescue operations.

   Chakotay closed his eyes. "Bajor is the only alternative. We have to escort them all the way, people."

   Lemek nodded. "You're right, Captain. If they died now, after all that... We have to see them safe home."

   B'Elanna took a breath. "What about the Federation? We could all still end up in New Zealand."

   Chakotay shrugged. "I guess Admiral Paris would probably just have to crush Starfleet and invade Earth to get you out, B'Elanna. As for me, I don't see much more that we can really do for the war effort. That was the last of the easy targets." He smiled. "We can get some good press for the cause, this way."

   Lemek frowned. "We don't even have a real doctor. Only that Federation hologram thing that B'Elanna stole. And only on Liberty."

   B'Elanna looked into space, thinking. "Maybe I can rig holoemitters in each sickbay. I could hack his program so that he could be transferred from ship to ship, via subspace link."

   Chakotay looked around. "Take whoever you need and get on it, B'Elanna."


   The Emergency Medical Hologram was bewildered. He had no log of being active here before. He seemed to be appearing in a new sickbay every few minutes, and everything was wrong. The sickbay that he now found himself in was the worst, a horrible ramshackle temporary looking affair with a lot of obsolete, non-standard, alien equipment. The only good thing there was the Federation biobed. "Please state the nature of the emergency."

   "How do you feel?" The woman, a frayed looking Klingon-Human hybrid, looked at her instrument and made an adjustment to a holoemitter.

   "I believe that's supposed to be my line." He ran a status check. "I am operating within normal parameters. I don't recognize this place and I don't seem to be able to access the ships systems, though." It bewildered him.

   "You're not on the ship, Doc." She made another adjustment. "Walk around and try to pick things up."

   "Not on the ship?" He did as he was told, finding that he couldn't reach part of the room. "Who are you? How is this possible?"

   B'Elanna frowned and made an adjustment to his link. "Do you recognize me now?"

   "B'Elanna!" He looked terribly distressed. "Oh, help! I'm malfunctioning!"

   B'Elanna made another adjustment. "Don't worry Doc. I've got you working now. You're needed in other sickbays, so I changed your program to enable you to appear in other ships, cruising in company. Now do something medical, let's see if you're working right." She grimaced. "Maybe you can tell me why I've been feeling so sick, lately."

   He stood, locked in a loop, then broke free. Picking up a scanner, he calibrated it then trained it on her. "Oh dear." He went to the medical replicator and ordered a mix of vitamins, supplements and boosters. "I'm going to have to insist on regular checkups, B'Elanna. You are shockingly malnourished, obviously overworked and three weeks pregnant."

   "Whaaaat!" She swallowed. "It must have been... I sure hope that Tom is ready for this."

   After some rather compelling threats on the topic of medical privacy, she left, once again forgetting to turn him off. He stood for days waiting, arranging equipment and replicating necessities. At last, some odd, emaciated Bajoran people shuffled in, carrying a body. "Please state the nature of the emergency, he recited, reflexively."

   A Bajoran collapsed.

   "Well, that was rather succinct." The EMH program looked around, then dragged the sickest being up onto the biobed and started emergency procedures. He spent weeks being transmitted from ship to ship, keeping the emaciated beings alive. He was inordinately proud that he didn't loose a single one.


   The Marquise ships caused a sensation when they approached Bajor. Coming in from behind the star, on the side directly opposite from the Federation occupied DS9, they halted and hailed the Bajoran defense forces.

   The aggressive cloud of small ships that composed the force launched and suspiciously surrounded the Ga'lor. When the Bajorans boarded the unshielded ships, suspicion turned to wild joy. The group formed up as an escort, while the good news was sent ahead to Bajor. More lost ones, all declared dead by the lying Cardassian reptiles, were being returned by the popular new Confederation.

   When the Defiant left DS9 and approached the small Confederate convoy, a Bajoran defense force ship interposed itself, reminding the Defiant that this was Bajoran space and ordering the powerful Federation warship to back off.

   Commander Sisco glared at the insolent Marquise ships. He was aware of the political problems at home and he felt in his bones that this display of magnanimity by the terrorists would mean more trouble for the Federation. He had little idea of how things stood in the Badlands. Few official announcements were coming from the illicit Confederate Government and the Cardassian subspace communications relays seemed to be down. There were wild rumors of a big Cardassian defeat, but no solid facts. Reluctantly, he returned to DS9. He needed to gather intelligence and call Starfleet with this latest development.

   Borath, proprietor of the popular Klingon restaurant aboard DS9, called his 'cousin' on a Klingon colony world and made arrangements for a shipment of fresh ingredients to DS9. Within hours, Gowron knew of the presence of the Confederates on Bajor. He was burning out a Tholian nest that had swarmed into Klingon space, but as soon as the nest was destroyed he took a Vor'Cha and five K'Vort's to Bajor, to have a word with them.


   B'Elanna sat at a table alone, drinking some sort of non-alcoholic Bajoran wine, thinking. She was being treated like a hero, wherever she went, but officially they were all being detained by the provisional government of Bajor.

   She couldn't really blame them. Bajor was a weak shell under great pressure from a major galactic power. She hadn't noticed any guards, and she was free to go wherever she liked, but she was worried. Being pregnant was bad enough. Being pregnant in a jail, no matter how nice it turned out to be, was infinitely worse. And if Tom heard that she was pregnant in jail... Well, Chakotay thought he was joking before. That huge fleet was his creation. It would obey him without question if he decided to raid Bajor and blow up DS9 to get her out. Maybe it wouldn't be necessary. Chakotay was doing a great job, preaching the Confederate gospel to the Bajorans. Maybe they would throw the Federation out and join up.

   She sighed, wishing that Lemek would put a sock in it. He was at the bar, with an eagerly attentive crowd of Bajoran Defense Force officers. She cocked an ear, then winced.

   "-and then she says, Why should I let a snake go to snake heaven when I can send it straight to snake hell?"

   The drunken Bajorans exploded into laughter and started looking for her. Not in the mood to be carried around the room again, she slipped out of the inn, through the back door.

   A boot scraped behind her and she spun, blaster out.

   "Hold!" A cloak hood was thrown back, revealing a Klingon man.

   B'Elanna's blaster didn't waver a micron. "Who are you and what do you want?"

   "I am Kron, son of Koal. My lord Gowron would speak with you, B'Elanna Torres." He bowed slightly, eyes on the blaster.

   "Gowron? Do you mean chancellor Gowron?" B'Elanna decided that it was all a Cardassian trap. Her finger tightened on the trigger and the man seemed to disappear before her as the bolt tore through the steel trash bin behind him. The next thing she knew, she was flying through the air, tangled in the cloak, disarmed. As she hit the ground she flipped a throwing knife at him, then drew her hide-out phaser. As the phaser fired, Kron, impossibly, ducked and a transporter beam took her.

   Kron, chief bodyguard to Gowron, stood in the alley, panting. That had been too close. She was as fast and agile as a Terran cat. He turned and picked up the blaster, regarding it with interest. It was a beautiful, efficient weapon, slim and well balanced. The initials' TP were inset into the grips, with a skull and crossbones motif. She was amazingly quick with it. Leaving the knife imbedded in his neck, he beamed up to the ship for medical attention.


   Gowron sat at the table and looked at B'Elanna with hooded eyes. Kron had been extravagant in his praise. He must look past the soft hybrid beauty of her features. She was a warrior of great skill and renown. She must be treated as such. "So, now you see that I am real." He gestured around. "No snakes."

   B'Elanna bristled. "So you are. What do you want?"

   He nodded, coming to the point. "I want to find out about this new Confederacy. I want to know how they have beaten the Cardassian fleets." He leaned forward. "I want to know if it is a threat to the Alpha Quadrant."

   B'Elanna's eyes blazed. "Yes! We are a threat to all of our enemies!"

   He stood, walked over to a small cabinet and opened it, then passed her the blaster, phaser and her freshly honed knife. "B'Elanna Torres, the Klingon Empire has no desire to make an enemy of the Badlands Confederacy." He stood in front of her, demonstrating his helplessness. If she wanted to kill him, she could. "We seek strong allies. I believe that the whole Alpha Quadrant is in danger from the Founders."

   She nodded her understanding and put her weapons away.

   "Who commands the Confederate Navy?" Gowron pulled out a chair for her and poured wine with his own hand.

   Unable to refuse such an honor, B'Elanna sat and essayed a polite smile. "Admiral Paris commands."

   Surprised etched Gowron's face. "Owen Paris?"

   "No, Tom Paris." She made a show of sipping the wine and tried to remember the Klingon manners that her mother had taught her.

   "Is the wine to your liking?" Gowron hadn't missed her lack of consumption.

   "I cannot drink alcohol." B'Elanna shrugged, touching her belly in explanation.

   "Ah! You should have said." He called for fruit juice and the Veen servants quickly brought it. Again, he poured with his own hand.

   "I didn't want to offend." She smiled at him, and drank deeply, demonstrating trust.

   "Honor cannot offend. Do you know Tom Paris well?" Gowron sat down across from her, pouring a cup of wine for himself.

   "I know him very well. He is my husband. I carry his son." B'Elanna smiled for real, to see Gowron cough as he inhaled his drink.


   Paris sent in six captured enemy ships, all unmanned, on various collision courses with Cardassia. He hoped to provoke the Cardassian defenses into revealing their positions by firing. Victory and ten other major units of the fleet were sitting just outside of the maximum range of the Cardassian weapons.

   The ship shuddered as its massive broadside pasted the Cardassian asteroid again. The rock split in half as the shield failed. The Cardassian battery in it flared and exploded.

   "At this rate, we'll be here for years." Paris noted the target shift. The next asteroid that showed activity was blasted, it's shield bubble showing clearly as it tried to bleed off the stupendous energy hammering at it.

   Janeway looked at the screen. "Why can't you use cloaked starfighters?"

   Paris flicked his eyes toward the small group of Federation prisoners, each with an attending MP. "We are using them, for reconnaissance, but there are too many weapons massed there to risk a starfighter attack. The first time the Banshees fired, they'd get bracketed. We're just going to have to do it the hard way."

   Harry Kim finally broke his silence. "What's the hard way, Sir?"

   "Well, Ensign Kim, The hard way is when we close to point blank range and slug it out with the Cardassian planetary defenses, gun to gun." Paris frowned. He could also stand off and bombard the system into dust, but that would kill the entire population. He didn't like snakes, but they deserved a chance to mend their ways.

   Kim blanched.

   "That's why people build point defenses, Mr. Kim." Paris nodded at Cardassia. "As beloved as they are, the snakes would all be dead by now if they were easy meat."

   "Have you tried talking with them, Admiral?" Janeway was well aware of the alternative. Genocide was a distinct possibility, here.

   Paris shrugged. "I'm not a diplomat, Captain. President Jackson ordered me to 'break' the Cardassians. Vice- Admirals Hunt and Truxton are currently mopping up the Cardassian colonial fleets. I'll keep hammering them until they stop fighting back." He looked at her. "I'm open to suggestions."

   Tuvok spoke. "It is always wise to have a plan before embarking on it."

   Paris narrowed his eyes. "The plan, Mr. Tuvok, is simple. To draw the Cardassian teeth and render them permanently harmless to their neighbors. The trick is to accomplish that without rendering them all dead. Sadly, that takes diplomacy. We have weapons, ships, spacers, marines and soldiers, but diplomats are something that the Confederation is in desperately short supply of."


   B'Elanna stared at her mother in shock. "Oh, hell."

   "A fine greeting. So, my wayward daughter at last returns." Miral took B'Elanna firmly by the arm and walked her down the Vor'Cha's corridor.

   "Where did you come from?" B'Elanna was aghast. Out of all the possibilities that she'd imagined, meeting her mother was nearly the worst.

   "The High Chancellor called my father and the Lord of clan Torg, demanding an explanation. It seems that my daughter is pregnant, yet still battles. She has failed to inform her husband, or her mother, her clan or even her captain, but she tells the High Chancellor of the Empire." Miral smiled at her daughter.

   "I wrote Tom a letter. What clan?" B'Elanna shrugged. She had to get out of here.

   Miral looked guilty. "I have done you a great wrong." She looked away. "I was very young, when I became a mother. Much younger than you, B'Elanna."

   B'Elanna shook her head. "I understand. As I recall, our last conversation went something like, 'To hell with you and to hell with the Klingons.' Throwing me out of the clan wasn't that unreasonable a thing, especially as I wasn't really wanted there in the first place. I never liked any of them, so it's not like I cared." The family had treated both her and her mother like dirt.

   Klingon men saw her soft features and assumed that she was some sort of sex kitten. When she was fifteen, she'd nearly killed two of her cousins with a gravatic mass driver that she'd made, effortlessly pounding them into dazed, blood soaked submission with solid gaviton pulses when they'd caught her alone and tried to rape her. She'd been furious, taunting them and then burning her initials into their tender young backsides as they lay helpless. Her mother had been aghast. They'd immediately left QuonoS.

   Miral looked furious. "Moros and Phelgar confessed their crime after we left. Both were sent to the fleet without recommendation after they recovered from the beating that you gave them. To attempt to rape a cousin! To lie! They are still shamed over it, although both have attained rank. My mother failed to tell me, until very recently. She feared what I would do to my sister."

   They went into the suit of luxury cabins that had been assigned to them.

   B'Elanna shrugged and put a comforting arm around her mother. "To hell with them."

   Miral was grateful for the support. "B'Elanna, I have news. Your father is dead."

   She choked. "No..."

   "He was killed almost immediately after he left." Miral's voice went husky. "Gowron told me that Pete left us only to go on a mission for the Federation Star Fleet. He was ordered not to tell me where he was going or why. I... misunderstood, like the child that I was. It wasn't suppose to be a hazardous mission, but something went wrong and he tried to rescue his comrades. He died bravely and well, fighting the Cardassians." She shivered, like an aspen in the wind. "Your honorable father is dead and welcome in Stovikor. He did not just abandon us. He was under orders. He left us his things because he meant to return."

   "Those... pricks! " B'Elanna was outraged. "Why didn't they tell us!"

   Miral shrugged. "They didn't want the Empire to know that the Cardassians prepared for war against the Federation. They thought of me as a security problem. It made sense, at the time."

   "Well, Goddamn the Federation! All these years..." B'Elanna thought of her father, the way that he'd held her before he left. His last words to her had been, 'See you, Busy Bee.' She started crying.


   Voyager halted and took up station between Victory and Agamemnon.

   Tuvok and Kim were playing chess in the sitting room of the VIP cabins allocated for them. The two small staterooms were joined in the middle by a sitting room and a small kitchenette-dining area.

   Kim had been nervous about sharing a room with Tuvok, but the Vulcan had proven to be an amiable room mate, and had taken the opportunity to instruct him in Vulcan meditation.

   Janeway was updating her report on the Confederate onslaught against the Cardassians. It had been a bloody, merciless, slaughter so far.

   As an observer-prisoner, Admiral Paris had allowed her to be present on the bridge during most of the battles Victory had been in over the last seven months.

   Her awe showing through clearly, Janeway described the surgical strikes against hard Cardassian targets. She stressed the sheer tactical brilliance and ruthlessness, which had led to the demise of the much larger Cardassian fleets.

   Paris had manipulated the Cardassians, expertly drawing their fleets out of their safe strongholds and butchering them, piecemeal, with his locally superior forces.

   At first she had wondered why such a young man had been chosen to command the Confederate fleet, but no more. That young man had a terrifying talent for war, and this Badlands Confederacy had an amazing ability to conjure fleets of well designed warships out of seemingly empty space.

   Tuvok noticed it on the sitting room's viewscreen first. "Captain. There's Voyager," he called.

   Janeway came out of her cabin and they all stared, acutely aware of the visible contrast in philosophies. All of the ships in the fleet were products of Federation technology. The brilliant white Voyager was in the foreground, showing up brightly against the massive gray bulk of Agamemnon.

   At that moment, Agamemnon heeled back as it fired it's broadside, the intense subspace shockwave from the livid purple tachyon bolts rocking Voyager, causing it's deflectors to snap on and it's station-keeping thrusters to flicker to life. Voyager looked its role, a fast, lightly armed explorer. Against the massive armored spearhead behind it, it looked impossibly frail.

   Janeway stared at the viewscreen like a lost soul and then called Flag Lieutenant Pruitt for an appointment with Admiral Paris. Maybe she could get them back to the ship.


   "That's almost it. I'm glad the Bajorans let me take this stuff." B'Elanna made an adjustment to the holoemitter, smiling at her mother.

   Miral watched her daughter, proudly. The Bajorans considered her a national hero for her efforts to save their lost ones. They would have probably given her an Orb, if she asked for it. "You inherited that mechanical ability from your grandfather. He was a great starship engineer."

   B'Elanna frowned. "Grandfather Torg?"

   Miral laughed. "My father is a matchless warrior, but he has no mechanical ability at all. Neither do I. I speak of your grandfather Torres." She smiled wider. "But even he never made a doctor."

   B'Elanna smirked. "I stole this doctor from the Federation. Tommy gave me a pretty little Federation starship to play with and he was all by himself in the sickbay, complaining."

   "That sounds more like something that my father would do. So, how did your husband take a Federation Starship?" Miral had been avoiding the subject, but B'Elanna had finally brought it up.

    "They were spying on us, so he beamed through their shields with some of his men." She smiled at the happy memory. "That was the day that that we crushed the Cardassian home fleet and captured Gul Dukat. Tommy shot him, for murder."

    Miral smiled. "Excellent. Pete is avenged. Dukat was the one who killed him."

    "I didn't know." She frowned. "I beat him to within an inch of his life before Tommy walked up and blew his brains out. Now I don't feel bad about it any more." B'Elanna closed the holoemitter, set the Vor'Cha's terminal to wideband and booted the program.

    The EMH crackled, came into focus, then looked around. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Oh, Hello, B'Elanna." He looked around. "What now? I don't appear to be in a sickbay at all, this time."

    "Hi, Doc." B'Elanna made another adjustment and brought him into focus. "How do you feel?"

    "Quite chipper. I must be running on a better computer." He looked around, curiously. "Strange, I seem to be speaking Klingonese now."

    B'Elanna smiled. "You're operating aboard the Klingon flagship, Doctor. It seems appropriate."

   He nodded. "Oh, well. This is all pretty irregular, but... kind of exciting, too. I estimate that my interaction database has expanded by 57%, since I first saw you. If you have a medical scanner of some sort, I'll start your checkup."

    B'Elanna nodded. "I made the one you wanted, the last time we spoke."

   The EMH had bitterly complained about the bad equipment on the Marquis ships. B'Elanna had snapped at him to specify what he needed for work away from a Federation sickbay. He'd done so, linking to an engineering database and designing an extremely advanced portable scanner, using all the skill and knowledge available to him. Bored with internment, she'd built the scanner on Bajor.


   "Ah! Very nice." The doctor scanned her. "I see that our boy is in fine condition. You're doing well too, although you should increase your intake of copper and folic acid, B'Elanna."

    Miral laughed and clapped her hands. "I like it!"

    The EMH looked embarrassed. "Thank you, Madame."

    "This is my mother, Miral."

    The EMH stared at her. "She does not appear to be of an appropriate age to be your mother. I must adjust my files."

    Miral growled, sexily. "Oh ho! What a polite, smooth talking fellow!" She rotated her arm. "My aches and pains tell me otherwise, Handsome."

   The EMH looked briefly bewildered, then added the tag 'Handsome' as a self-identifier. He raised the scanner and scanned her, concentrating on the shoulder. As he had immediately surmised, the problem wasn't joint wear. "Miral, are you aware that you have a parasite living under your shoulder blade?"

    Miral looked shocked. "I once had an infection of nakloon bugs. From the campaign on Mogta V, during the civil war. I had thought them all long dead. I have been scanned many times, since."

    The EMH took a step toward her and his arm disappeared. "My, that's disconcerting." He looked up. "If you wish to step this way, I can remove it now. It's quite urgent, because the insect is gravid."

    Miral looked faint and stepped over to him. "Please." Nakloon larvae rapidly consumed an animal, when they hatched.

    The EMH simply reached into her body with his hand, fed the coordinates to the medical transporter in his scanner and transported the bug out.

    B'Elanna almost threw up at the sight of the obscenely ugly bug.

   Miral growled. "I am going to skin Dr. Kalat."

   The EMH looked unbearably superior. "This new scanner is tied in to my program. With it, I can scan in over 50,000 modes, simultaneously. Rapid switching between modes reveals much that a single scan will miss. No merely Klingon doctor could ever hope to match my centuries of combined experience and computing capacity."

    The door swished open and a Klingon security team barged in and trained their disrupters on the apparent Federation officer.

   "Who are you!" Kron stepped forward, scanning the room. "It's all over. We detected your transport, Human."

   The hologram managed to look mortally offended. "I'm a doctor, not a Human." He held out the horrible, wriggling insect for Kron's inspection. "You detected me removing this gravid nakloon bug from under Miral's shoulder blade, with a medical transporter."

   They all took a step back and stared at the awful insect, desperately trying to burrow into the apparently Human palm. Nakloon bugs and Terran arachnids both unmanned the average Klingon.

   "He's mine!" B'Elanna rested her hand on his arm, proprietarily. "He's my doctor, a self aware hologram."

   Kron nodded slowly. "I cannot scan you. You are not really there." He looked at the holographic being. "What is your name?"

   The EMH looked puzzled. "Name? Do I need one? Why wasn't I programmed with this information? It's never come up, before. I am the Emergency Medical Hologram. Most people just call me 'Doc,' or 'Doctor.' He looked at Miral. Sometimes, 'Handsome'"

    Kron grinned, relaxing. "What are you going to do with the bug, Doctor?"

    The hologram squeezed, then sat the dead insect on the bare deck. "Do you have a biohazard disposal unit?"

    Miral phasered the insect. "I keep one with me."

    Kron laughed. "Madam, you are very like your daughter." He smiled. "You should be proud. Why, she actually managed to get a knife into me!"

    Miral eyed him. "What is your name, warrior?"

    He straightened. "I am Kron, son of Krem."

    The EMH looked at his scanner, puzzled. "Who are you?" He was addressing the Klingon standing next to Kron.

    "I am Torbaugh, Hologram. This thing is a spy, Kron. It is obviously running on our computer. It should be deleted, immediately." The Klingon looked straight ahead.

    The EMH replied, sarcastically, "Perhaps the question should be, 'what are you?' You are able to modify and reflect my scans at the cellular level, but not fast enough. You seem to be a corporate isocellular structure, perhaps even a shapeshift-"

    Kron fired his disrupter, but the thing melted to the floor and disappeared.

    "Where is it!" Kron and the spooked Klingons desperately searched.

    "The unclassified being designated Torbaugh is currently hiding in the environmental control ducting running parallel to the deck. It appears to be trapped on one side by a force field." The EMH tried to be as helpful as possible.

    Kron called Gowron, who sent in reinforcements. They soon had the creature in containment. The alert horns were bellowing and the ship's company ran to their stations.

    Gowron walked in. "Excellent work, Kron."

    The EMH scanned. "How interesting. He's also a shape shifter."


    Kron, B'Elanna, Miral and the rest of the security team shot him, Miral's old-style heavy Federation hand phaser hitting first and instantly disintegrating the creature.

    Kron hailed Gowron. "My Lord! We killed another, disguised as you."

    Gowron grunted. "I'm coming. Maintain your groups."

    B'Elanna and Miral were backed into a corner, weapons trained on the door.

    "Doc, scan everyone. Just point and yell 'shifter' when one walks in." B'Elanna shuddered, swallowing. The bug was bad, but the liquid globs left behind by the wounded shifter were foul beyond belief.

    "What groups did the Chancellor refer to?" Miral was happy to see action, totally focused on protecting her grandchild.

    "We are all organized into groups of five. No one is allowed out of the sight of the group." He gazed at the EMH. "We had no way to detect them, before."


    The EMH vetted every Klingon on the ship, catching nineteen more shifters and two dormant nakloon bugs, among other assorted medical problems. B'Elanna and the ship's engineers frantically worked on a hand held scanner that duplicated the EMH's multi mode scanning technique.


    Janeway, Tuvok and Kim sat at their former stations on Voyager's bridge and watched the invasion. They were waiting an escort that would accompany them to Albion for talks with the Confederation's leadership. The imprisoned Marquis and the Badlands citizens that had been forcibly removed had to be recovered. A Federation Starship was excellent leverage. A Confederate prize crew was aboard, resentfully maintaining the small Federation ship. They wanted to be in the battle. The whole Cardassian system was enveloped in an enormous firefight.

   Ten of the fleet's heavy units were in the system, dealing with the masked phaser and disrupter batteries. They had finally destroyed enough of the Cardassian sensors so that the Banshees and Goblins could be used.

   A huge flare came from the Washington, debris flying as the hard-struck ship rolled to hide the terrible damage from the newly discovered Cardassian moon battery. Her dorsal batteries returned fire and her cloud of accompanying Goblins made bombing runs on the hidden emplacement. As they watched, another shot shook Washington, destroying a turret.

   "Oh, God!" Kim was a loyal officer, but his sympathies were firmly with the Confederates. The Washington was blown wide open, venting fire and bodies into space. Two escort frigates came, careful to keep the Washington's bulk between them and the battery and began beaming people off.

   The battery fired again, blowing everything astern of Washington's dorsal turret off. The massive ship wasn't finished though. As they watched, dry mouthed, it ponderously turned and closed with the well-shielded battery.

    The battery fired, destroying the bow of the once proud ship, but it was a wasted shot. The great ship majestically yawed, then corrected, maintaining its course and firing until it hit the Cardassian moon. The titanic explosion rang the moon like a bell. A few seconds later, deep in the moon, the main reactors that ran the Cardassian batteries let go, splitting the moon into three large chunks. Smaller pieces began raining down on Cardassia, kicking up giant dust clouds. The planet was a mess.

   Paris stared at his bridge viewscreen and pondered. Cardassia lay helpless, under the guns of the fleet. Three Confederate capital ships were badly damaged, two were destroyed, along with hundreds of Goblins and Banshees and approximately 28,700 spacemen, but the war in space was over. Now the hard part was starting.


    Chakotay was drunk. Being drunk was good, because it kept him from thinking. Thinking brought crushing depression. Thinking brought Seska back, and that just wouldn't do. Luckily, the war was over. He could drink until it all went away, and no one would care. A party of revelers came and slapped him on the back, but as soon as they left, his face went blank again.

    Lemek and Ro sat at a corner booth and watched him.

    "Why is he doing this to himself?" Lemek shook his head, bewildered. All of Bajor was having a giant party, and Chakotay was sad.

    Ro had a thought. "Oh, Prophets!"

    "What?" Lemek turned to look at her.

    "It's Seska! He's in love with her!"


    Gowron sat at the head of the state banqueting table, picking at his food. To his right, sat General Chang, and his wife, Mella. To his left sat a very pregnant B'Elanna, Miral and her father, Maug. The banquet table was laid out in the traditional fashion, a big horseshoe, with entertainers in the middle.

   The EMH stood behind Gowron, to the left of Kron, scanning everything and everyone that entered the room. Every time anyone entered, all eyes would flick to him until he nodded. He had caught thirty-seven Founders and foiled five assassination attempts against Gowron in the last month, alone.

   Gowron ate sparingly, nibbling at the pipus claw, while he thought. He glanced over and noticed B'Elanna, dipping her pipus claw into some unfamiliar condiment.

   "What's that?" He admired the young half-breed like few other women. She was fiery enough, but far too young for him, even if she had been single. Miral, however... Unconsciously, he rubbed his jaw, where she had slapped him the night before. She was not an easy woman to woo.

   B'Elanna flushed. "Horseradish sauce. My husband likes it with pipus claw and I picked up the habit from him."

   Gowron raised his eyebrows. "Really?" he turned to a servant. "Bring me some of that."

   Miral dipped one in the sauce. "Oh, that's really good. So, my son in law likes Klingon food? That's unusual, for a Human."

   B'Elanna smiled. "Tom eats whatever is in front of him, like an ancient steamship stoking its boiler. He used to win card games with other Humans by eating food that distracted them from the game."

   The Veen servant quickly returned with the sauce.

   "It's very... strong." B'Elanna winced.

   "Heh! She's a strong girl." Maugh cackled and ate his Forbros salad.

   B'Elanna winced, praying that the story of his nephews branding wouldn't come up again. Maugh was a harsh old man and he'd always found the story endlessly amusing, reeling it off with the slightest encouragement.

   "Good!" Gowron dipped the claw, and nibbled, eyes widening appreciatively. "Strong indeed." He breathed in deeply, almost gasping. Turning to address the hologram, he said, "Will this Felkhir sauce affect the young Admiral?"

   The EMH scanned the sauce. "No, it's harmless in small amounts. A gallon or so might cause harm, but I doubt if any humanoid could willingly consume an entire gallon of horseradish sauce."

   Gowron laughed. "When I was a boy, I would have taken that as a challenge."

   The EMH replied, surprising B'Elanna. "I would very much like to see that."

   Gowron smiled, toothily. The EMH was not happy with the alterations to his program. Gowron had ordered his engineers to make a few changes. The Federation ethics overlay had been altered to allow the EMH the moral freedom to kill, if he had to. The photonic man's complaints had finally tapered off, but his new Klingon features and healers robe still clashed with his self image file, annoying him to no end. His attitude fit his new features perfectly, though. Gowron went nowhere without the Doctor.

   A servant at the door made at announcement. "The Federation Ambassador, Robert Kimball."

   "It looks like it's time to be taken to task, B'Elanna." Gowron composed himself to hear the grievances that Kimball would undoubtedly have.

   The Ambassador entered.

   "Greetings, Chancellor Gowron." His eyes found B'Elanna and he smirked. "Well, well, the notorious Marquis B'Elanna Torres. Or is it Paris? How is Admiral Paris these days?"

   "Victorious." B'Elanna eyed him, coldly.

   "Our information indicates otherwise." Kimball frowned.

   B'Elanna laughed.

   Gowron smiled. "Sit, Mr. Ambassador. Have something. You're just in time for the entertainment."

   Two Veen servants rolled an apparently empty force cage into the room.

   "Have you ever seen one of these things?" Gowron called out to a Veen, "Wake it up."

   The Veen pushed a button and dull blue fire sizzled in the cage. The shapeshifter morphed into existence. It had been mimicking the floor of the cage.

   "Upon my soul! A shape shifter!" The Ambassador peered, fascinated. "I've met Mr. Odo, the security chief at DS9 of course, but I never saw one morph. How on earth did you catch it?"

   Gowron smiled. "It's the latest Confederate technology. They were considerate enough to share their scanner with the Empire. No shifter can beat it."

   Kimball swallowed. The Federation had to have it.


   A small flotilla of Confederate picket destroyers stood guard on Cardassia. Below, occupation authorities were sieving through the remaining files of Central Command and the Obsidian Order, reconstructing the personnel files of the Cardassian intelligence service. The Cardassian citizenry was surprisingly docile. After the military government surrendered, there had been no acts of resistance reported anywhere on the shattered planet.

    Seska struggled with her restraints, trying to work her hands free. She had been trained to break free of such restraints and this looked like an opportunity to escape. She had been told of the surrender, but didn't believe it.

   Seska had been interrogated, mind probed and then placed into a prison camp. For the last year she had sat in a cell, slowly going insane. The guards certainly hadn't been the best and brightest, but there had been no casual rape or torture. For that, she was grateful.

   The defectives and criminals that Cardassia sentenced to a life as camp guards would commit any crime, knowing that punishment was just more of the same. It was an insane policy, one that the Order had always opposed, but Central Command preferred to get some work out of its subclass rather than killing them.

    The door began to open and Seska relaxed, ready for more interrogation.

    Ro Lauren entered and looked at the altered Cardasi woman, chained to a ringbolt in the corner.

    "Well, Ro Lauren. Come to tell me that I'm bad?" Seska tried to anger the Bajoran. Bajorans were obsessed with right and wrong. Maybe she could get her to let something slip.

    "I'm here to take you back to Cardassia." She hesitated. "I need your help."

    Seska smiled, even as she quailed inside. It was true then. Cardassia really was occupied. What was her duty? "Really? Why should I help you?"

    Ro looked at her, expressionlessly. "Don't take that tone with me, snake. You know what I am. I'll kill you in an instant if you provoke me." She walked over and unlocked Seska's restraints. "I can keep you in this prison forever, Seska. Just turn on the replicator and seal the door." Ro was lying. Seska had been cleared of complicity in any murders. She was just a spy, following the orders of her government.

    Seska lowered her head, submissively. "What do you want?"

    Ro pursed her lips. "It's Chakotay. He's drinking himself to death."

    "No!" Seska cried out, involuntarily.

    "The poor bastard loves you, Seska. I need you to be my assistant." Ro smiled, coldly. "I'm the new military governor of Cardassia. Chakotay agreed to take over my civil affairs office. You will be a liaison, between us. Your real job will be to use those manipulative skills to put him back together."

   Paris had laughed when offered the job. No one in the Confederacy really cared in the least about Cardassia anymore. No Human wanted the job, so when Ro had impulsively asked Confederate President Jackson for the job, he'd given it to her with relief. She was also relieved. She had chosen a mostly Bajoran staff and they would break the snakes of their bad habits or kill them all.

    Seska sobbed, once. "I was going to take him with me."


    Seska looked up with troubled eyes. "I was going to partially mindwipe him and take him back to Cardassia with me, after the Marquise had been wiped out." She sighed. "The universe is so cruel. Now he'll kill me on sight."

    Ro shrugged, hiding the fact that she had been deeply touched by Seska's anguish. "If that's the way it's got to be." Ro firmed up. Seska had betrayed them all. Ro wasn't going to let the sort of indiscriminate torture and murder that the snakes indulged in happen, but as the ancient Human dictator had said, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. She was the law on Cardassia, now.


    President Israel Jackson, late of New Zion, scowled at his military staff. "I need to wind this up without getting into a war with the goddamned Federation."

    Admiral Jellico, the most senior Confederate officer, shrugged. "We're the military, Mr. President. We kill people and break things. We aren't ever going to be like Starfleet. We can hold the Federation off for a few years, but if they put their minds to it, they could take us. It's the same with the Klingons. We only took the Cardassians because Paris is a military genius and because they looked a lot tougher than they really were."

   Paris just shrugged. Admiral's Decker and A'boutu nodded their agreement, while Benton, an ex Federation diplomat, smiled thinly.


    "Well, do you have any suggestions?" Jackson felt the burden on his soul. He had been a merchant, dealing in farm machinery before joining the New Zion Committee of Correspondence. The simple life of a merchant was looking better and better to him, as the pressures of building a new government from scratch increased geometrically.

    "Get a diplomat to help you." Paris toasted Benton and drank his coffee.

    Jackson scowled. "If you weren't such a hero, I'd have you shoveling shit in a stockade somewhere for that, Paris. The bastards won't talk to us. They just mewl about how us 'rebels' have to come back into the fold. They don't even believe that we've actually whipped the snakes."

    Everyone laughed.

    Benton gave Paris a mock bow. "Admiral Paris overestimates my usefulness. I was always a trifle... blunt to be a diplomat."

    A'boutu smiled. "That's why we considered you to be the best of the whole sorry crop, back in Starfleet, Robert."

    "I'm serious." Paris leaned forward, intently. "Let me take Victory, Agamemnon and Constitution to QuonoS. My wife is there, with her mother, visiting with Gowron. I could bring Richard and we could get a little leverage on the Federation. Maybe even talk to them directly."

    Jackson nodded, thoughtfully. "They did give us those scanners. It was brown trousers time, when the changelings began to be unmasked."

    Paris snorted. "Give, hell. My wife invented those things. We gave them to the Klingons, before they gave them to us." Paris nodded at the blinking scanner at the center of the table. "The Betazoids worked pretty well, keeping those things away, but the Founders would have had us screwed in a damn short time if it wasn't for B'Elanna."

    "Amen." Benton looked thoughtful. "The Federation had a nasty shock too. Maybe we can remind them that it's good to have smart allies. Maybe we can combine this with another mission, by stopping off at Bajor and dropping off some more of the rescued." He frowned. "We can get some Bajoran monks here to get rid of those damnable orbs."

    A'boutu nodded. "That's a good idea. Those things are worrisome. Who knows what the wormhole aliens are up to." The small transport shuttle carrying them from Cardassia had landed on Albion a month previously with the orbs and now it couldn't take off. The orbs sent anyone who went near them into a trance, making them forget about getting them the hell gone.

   Jellico frowned. "We have those Cardassian troop transports. Those would hold the Bajorans who've signed up for repatriation. They can be ready in a week."

   Paris shrugged. "Most are planning on staying here. They've helped alleviate the chronic labor shortage. They have jobs, homes and families here, now. Most of them were just children when they were taken. They paired off during the years in the mines and very few have much on Bajor to go back to."

    The table was silent for a while, contemplating the enormity of the Cardassian aggression against the helpless Bajorans.

    Jackson looked at his senior leadership with satisfaction. Many wrongs had been righted. The new Capitol on Albion was half built, the endless details of building a new society half done, the powerful Confederate fleet shielding it all. Everything was being paid for with gold pressed latinum, collected from the ancient Miocene mining station. A sustainable economic system would be in place, long before it ran out.

    "What does intelligence say?" Jackson looked at Eggleston, the head of the shadowy Confederate Secret Service.

    "Nothing." Eggleston crossed his arms. "We've had too much to say already, about policy. We have an intelligence summary for you about what's going on in Gowron's court on QuonoS and on Earth, but we won't make any more recommendations." He cleared his throat. "I and my colleagues don't want to dominate this government. We will phase ourselves out and replace ourselves with a... less efficient and more subordinate service, as the situation moderates."

    Jackson nodded soberly. "I have nothing but the highest regard for you gentlemen. You are true patriots." He turned to Paris. "Admiral Paris, you are to take what forces you need and go to Bajor, then QuonoS. Do what you can."

    "Aye aye, sir." Paris took out a pad and began composing mission parameters.

   Jackson smiled at Benton. "Well, Robert, How's your Klingon?"

   Benton shrugged. "Atrocious. But I have several of our Klingon citizens working for me, who will tutor me, on the way."

   Jackson frowned. "Make sure that they aren't Gowron's political enemies."

   Benton opened his mouth, but Paris beat him to it.

   "There are a lot of ordinary Klingons who have abandoned the Empire. They don't all buy all that 'way of the warrior' nonsense. Millions of have left, because of the fanaticism, poverty and the civil wars. Everyone is supposed to follow someone, but most of the civilian occupations hate the whole concept." Paris shook his head. As a race, the Klingons just had bad luck.

   Eggleston nodded. "The Admiral has a good grasp of the Klingon Empire's biggest problem. Why should a groundcar technician tithe to some clanlord? It won't affect him at all if the guy wins, but he's liable to be proscribed if the guy loses. Much of the Klingon lower middle class lives in the Confederacy now, with continued heavy immigration. Tang'or V for instance is just one of the high population, majority Klingon worlds that elected to go with us. We have a lot of them, in the forces."

   Jackson winced. "I know. Congresswoman Tr'aux ceaselessly reminds me." He scowled. Militantly pacifist Klingon women were something that no man should have to contemplate during his breakfast. She begrudged every penny spent on war. Noya Tr'aux had the most cuttingly sarcastic tongue that he'd ever had the misfortune to be publicly flayed by.

   "How's the new Senate building coming?" Admiral Decker was thinking about retiring and running for the Confederate Senate from New Devon. The first elections would be held in just over a standard year, so that the planetary governments could prepare. Until then, the Confederacy would run with a unicameral legislature, like the Federation.


   B'Elanna lay on the couch, reading a letter from Tom. She blushed at the thought of Gowron and his intelligence goons reading it, as they almost certainly had. She was glad that he missed her. The unrestrained carnality evident in his letter worried her. She was to the point where lovemaking was out of the question and he said that he was coming to get her.

   Miral entered, in a tight green leather outfit.

   "Mom!" B'Elanna stood and goggled. "You aren't going outside in that, are you?"

   Miral laughed. "I am going hunting in the Belak preserve, with Gowron."

   "But- oof!" B'Elanna keeled over. "Quit kicking me, you nasty little devil!"

   Miral helped her back to the couch. "You shouldn't shout, daughter. It annoys the young tiger."

   B'Elanna muttered resentfully.

   "Hah! You did the same, to me." Miral sat by her daughter and unconsciously cradled her. "I loved those days."

   B'Elanna sighed. She had grown very close to her mother, over the last eight months. "You and daddy were so young... seventeen and eighteen, how did it happen?"

   Miral shrugged. "A look. I was attending a series of classes as an exchange student at USC. I was at a mixer with a friend and she met a young academy cadet there. She brought him over to introduce us, our eyes met and I was lost." She smiled. "We married a month later, on my birthday. My family and clan were against it. To keep them from interfering, we immediately went to Vulcan and conceived you."

   B'Elanna shrugged. "Big mistake."

   Miral kissed her on the forehead. "I regret nothing about you save our estrangement." She paused. "How did you meet Tomas Paris?"

   B'Elanna laughed. "I went to Donat V with my friend Ro, to buy a bird of prey that a Feringi offered for sale. I was going to kill him and steal his ship. Of course the Feringi lied. He had no bird. He was planning on stealing one from a Klingon roka who was dallying there with Tom."

   She sighed. "I saw him walking up the street, every being stepping aside and I just... wanted him. Ro knew him, from the academy. We went to find out about the ship and our eyes met." She sighed. "I felt... struck, then I became furious with jealousy." She told of the short battle in orbit and Tom's hilarious dispersal of the minions of the FCA. "We quickly became friends, then lovers. B'Elanna flushed. "The frenzy took me and seemed to take him, although that's not supposed to happen to humans. We took the oath and had an enormous wedding, with thousands of guests, five of whom I actually knew, exactly three weeks after we met."

   Miral laughed. "And you call me impulsive."

   B'Elanna shrugged. "I was in battle constantly. I didn't see my life lasting much longer." She flushed. "I didn't want to die a virgin. We were so badly outnumbered... I knew that Tom was in the Marquis, but I had no idea that he was so important."

   Miral looked at her, sadly. "You are a great warrior and will soon be a mother. That's two out of the three important stages of a woman's life. Soon you will make me a grandmother, completing my life."

   B'Elanna looked pointedly at her sexy leather outfit. "That's not exactly a grandmother's robe, mother."

   Miral smirked. "So I'm a young grandmother. Am I to spend the next hundred years learning to knit? Gowron is a handsome man and well connected. Perhaps my grandson will be offered his choice of Empires to rule, some day. He will have the size and strength of a Klingon and be compatible with both Human and Klingon women. He is his own species, stable and true. The Vulcans assured us of this."

   B'Elanna thought about it. Her knowledge of Klingon politics was hazy, but she recalled that a widow's children went with her into her husband's clan when she remarried. She put her hand on her belly and thought of the grandmother's traditional duty. To see the house safe in glory. She felt a pang of ambition.


   Gowron was surprised when she tried to stun him with the butt of her spear.

   He had been reciting poetry and killing vicious wild targs all day for her, ripping them apart with his bare hands, trying to impress her, but feeling as if he was getting nowhere.

   He was comparing portions of her anatomy to dewmelons when the ferocious buttstroke had come for his head with lightning speed. He ducked, taking her spear and breaking it. Then he stalked her, irresistibly attracted by her strange, luminous eyes and her low, continuos growling.

   They fought like animals tearing each other's clothes off, vying for dominance.

   Gowron was a cold, calculating man, not given to un-channeled emotion. He acted the part of a free-living Klingon warrior, but in reality he could give a Vulcan a run for his money when it came to emotional control. He was totally unprepared when the true blood fever hit him. He'd always thought it a romantic myth, there for the ladies to sigh over, but the mindless frenzy of it took them fully.

   He awoke like a man in a tale, with a broken clavicle, a shredded back and covered with bite marks, including one prominently on his cheek.

   They said the oath over a campfire, shouting it to the world. They cooked gobbets of targ on sticks, eating them half-raw. Then they pieced their clothing back together. For the first time in his forty-two years of nearly constant battle, Gowron knew in his heart what it was to be fully alive, fully Klingon.


   The K'tanga, IKV Reaper, was on patrol, cloaked, when ominously, it was hailed.

   Marag snarled at his engineer to check for emissions and his bridge officers to pinpoint the origin of the hail.

   A nearby section of space rippled and a sleek, powerful looking delta shape popped into existence. Another hail was sent.

   Marag dropped his cloak and moved to confront the alien.

   "Alien ship! This is IKV Reaper. You are in the territory of the Klingon Empire. State your business." Marag hoped that he didn't have to go through all the first contact rigmarole. He doubted it. The ship had sent a standard hail.

   The viewscreen opened on the alien transmission, and Marag was surprised to see a Klingon face in front of him.

   "I am Commander Tong, of the Confederate Space Navy, commanding CSS Relentless. I seek escort to carry a diplomatic message to QuonoS." Tong gazed at his fellow Klingon and began to wonder if the fellow was defective.

   Marag took in the oversized phaser arrays and the mix of races in the crewmen visible in the background. This Confederacy was like some dark reflection of the Federation. He felt a tickle of memory. "Tong... did you live on Br'kal street, in Morath city?"

   Tong was surprised. He'd instantly recognized the noble, but hadn't expected the fop to recall his family. "We left when I was but a child. The endless subscriptions forced us out. Now most of us from that street are citizens of the Confederacy."

   Marag felt the sting of shame. "I recall your family. I am Marag, son of Morg, grandson of Hordj. My father is the clanlord of that district."

   Tong shrugged. "My father is Nord, the tavern keeper, son of Djod, who was also a tavern keeper." He smiled, gently taunting the son of his former clan lord. "We live on Br'kal street in New Morath city, on Tang'or."

   Marag took a stunned breath. He was a liberal, mindful of his shrinking inheritance, but to confront a tavern-keepers spawn as an equal still galled him. He swallowed it. The fellow commanded a ship of force greater than his, as unnatural as that seemed. Many warriors of his generation had taken note of the creeping poverty of intellect engulfing the Empire. Tang'or meant freedom, in the old language of the south. "Well then, welcome back to the Klingon Empire, Commander Tong. Let us proceed."

   Tong nodded. "We shall take the second talon formation on you. Relentless out."

   Chilled by the contempt in his former vassal's eyes, Marag went to his maximum speed, warp 9.5. The Confederate destroyer kept up, effortlessly.


   Gowron was apprised of the presence of Relentless. He called B'Elanna. "It seems that your husband is responding to my invitation, at last."


   Gowron recoiled and muted the screen, until B'Elanna finally stopped her squealing.


   Bajor traffic control was surprised to receive a hail, without DS9 appraising them of it first. "Bajor control, this is CSS Victory, requesting permission to enter Bajoran space, for the purpose of escorting repatriated Bajoran prisoners home."

   "Victory, please stand by." The Bajoran controllers eyed each other, then called Kai Wynn.

   Kai Wynn was on the vid with DS9. Sisko was lecturing her on what being a Federation ally meant. She listened to his hectoring, then interrupted. "Captain Sisko, you have your duty and I have mine. Perhaps this alliance has outlived its usefulness. There are other, less intrusive powers to be allied with. In any case, I will allow the Confederacy to return our people. To do otherwise would be criminal. Also, I will let the Marquise ships go. The war is over, whatever you believe. The Confederacy has consistently acted as our friend. There is no justification for us to hold them. To continue to do so would be a useless provocation." She smiled her most stinging smile into the 'emissary's' face. "Good day, Captain."

   She broke the connection and contacted Victory.

   Victory, Agamemnon and Constitution, escorted by the destroyers Ward, Ajax, Implacable, Monongahela, Norge, Warspite, Franklin and Tang'or decloaked within one AU of DS9. The seventeen Cardassian transports followed them into the system, each closely escorted by two frigates.

   Aboard the Defiant, Sisko stared in horror at the behemoths, as the massive X turrets swung to target Defiant. He didn't make his rank by being stupid. "Mr. Worf, power down our phasers."

   Worf did not object.

   Sisko quickly returned to DS9 and screamed for reinforcements. If those transports contained troops, then Bajor was finished as an independent power.


   The Confederate ships swept majestically past DS-9 and took up orbit around Bajor, in a defensive formation. The Federation station held its collective breath.

   The former Cardassian troop transports rapidly emptied, setting off another wave of jubilation. Kai Wynn officially accepted the credentials of the Confederate ambassador and his party and then officially announced the annihilation of all Cardassian military power. She wound up by extending Bajor's full thanks and recognition to the Badlands Confederacy.

   Paris stayed for ten days, ignoring the hails of the USS Yamato when it entered the Bajoran system. The Federation force, far from it's own borders, was no match for the powerful Confederate fleet elements and stayed well away. Paris was lionized, making a speech in the Bajoran parliament and being declared a Bajoran citizen.

   Paris smiled and on the vid, in front of the entire planet, announced the recovery of all eight missing Bajoran orbs, setting off even wilder parties. He invited Bajoran clerics to take a transport back to Albion, to reclaim them.

   Amid much goodwill, the fleet left, the capital ships and escorts for QuonoS, the interned Marquise buckets, the frigates and the transports for Capitol City, on Albion.


   Chakotay sat moping, desultorily reading power availability reports in the ornate government office, once the residence of the director of personnel, the civil affairs arm of the defunct Central Command.

   The Cardasi veterans were being demobilized as quickly as possible. The economy had been in terrible shape before the war. Now there were thousands of families on the brink of starvation. The occupation authorities needed to get the former conscripts back into the economy, to stave off a complete social collapse. A rapid check of their service record to determine their legal status, weeding out the war criminals, was the only bar. The veterans were embarrassed and resentful of their defeat, but happy to get out of the army before their mandatory fifteen years were up. They tended to blame the former leadership for the defeat and bore no grudge.

   The war criminals that weren't executed went to a dank prison camp on Moon 34, to toil out their lives as radium miners. The Bajorans were happy to take their turn as guards.

   There was a hesitant knock at the door.

   "Come!" Chakotay swiveled his chair around and looked up, then gasped. "Seska!" For a shocked instant he wondered if she was another hallucination. Ro had dried him out by locking him up. It hadn't been at all pleasant.

   Seska stood, frozen in dread. "Oh, Chakotay."

   He sprang to his feet and stalked over to her, his powerful physique intruding on her awareness. She closed her eyes, trembling, not wanting to see it coming.

   He stood in front of her, lost in thought. Then tenderly, he encircled her, hugging her to him. "God but I missed you, Seska. I... I would have gone over with you, if you had just asked."

   She gasped and collapsed into him. "I was going to take you with me, somehow. I really do love you Chakotay. The order is gone, thank god. I'm free, for the first time in my life. From now on, you are my loyalty."

   He kissed her, inhaling her scent deeply. "I read your file, Seska. Don't ever apologize for anything that you did. You are a brave, resourceful Cardasi woman and I love you for it."

   She sighed, blissfully. "Ro sent me to be your new assistant."

   "You're far more than that. Will you be my wife?" He held her like a man holds a life preserver in deep water.

   "Oh, yes." She began to cry.

   Crying with her, he carried her into his sleeping quarters.


   The Klingon home fleet, the Federation flagship, a Romulan diplomatic cruiser and a miscellaneous lot of ships from the minor powers were gathered at QuonoS to greet the Confederate force, when it arrived.

   Salutes were fired, speeches were made and the Emperor, Kayless's clone, was trotted out to put his imprimatur on the proceedings. The media was flooded with stories from the Cardassian war and diplomats gathered for the settlement of the new balance of power in that sector of the Alpha Quadrant.


   B'Elanna stood and paced restlessly in her quarters, waiting for Tom. The Klingon way specified that a pregnant woman be kept under heavy guard in the home of her kin. To allow a vulnerable, pregnant woman to be exposed to danger was the act of a coward. Gowron's position made her flouting of the ancient tradition politically unthinkable. She had given her word to Miral not to leave the ancestral fortress.

   He was making a speech on the steps of the Chancery, charming his hosts. Tom was speaking in Klingon, with a better accent than hers. "I came, I saw... I decided that the Snakes had to go!"

   The Klingons cheered wildly. B'Elanna rolled her eyes. He was really hamming it up, paraphrasing Shakespeare. The Terrans smirked, the Romulans were impassive, but the Klingons loved it.

   Admiral Picard shifted uncomfortably, having grown unused to the confines of a uniform. He had retired, right after the second Borg incident. Starfleet had cajoled him into attending this summit, hoping that his insights would be helpful, but the truth was, he barely remembered Paris.

   Riker, the captain of the newest Enterprise, stood at Picard's elbow, watching Paris play the Klingons. "We should've just kept the bastard on the ship after we shanghaied him that time, Jean Luc."

   Two Klingon security operatives manning a listening post exchanged a shocked look.

   Picard winced. It had not been Enterprise's finest hour. "I don't know, Will. I don't think that having another independent human dominated civilization in this part of the galaxy is a bad thing. The Federation often makes the most grossly stupid mistakes. The existence of this new power will compensate for our weaknesses and provide a safety valve for our dissidents. The Vulcan influence is sometimes too strong in the council. Pacifism only works as a philosophy if you are very brave and very logical, qualities that we humans often lack."

   Riker grinned. "As a serving officer, I can't agree with you, Jean Luc, but what you say isn't without logic. Those Carriers are incredible. We'll be getting something like them within the year."

   Picard grimaced. "No doubt already planned with half of the ship's weapons removed and the spaces set aside for quarters, science labs and playgrounds for the ship's children."

   Riker shrugged. It was true. The Federation seemed politically incapable of building a pure warship. With enemies like the Borg and the Dominion, that's what was needed. "Maybe you'll change that. At least they got rid of the Cardassians. That's one less worry."

   "Those scanners should have been enough to redeem them in anyone's eyes." Picard had played a part in the disinfection of the Federation government, yet again. Contacted by Federation intelligence, he'd led an armed raid by retired Starfleet officers on Federation House, the seat of the Federation President. The President and most of the staff had proven to be changelings. The scanners, newly incorporated into the public transport system, had been switched on hours before. Hundreds of changeling spies had found themselves unexpectedly beamed into secure cells.

   Riker laughed. "We got them good, Mr. President." The changeling that had murdered the president had been executed and the Dominion had parted with all of their prisoners and technology in exchange for the rest of the spies.

   Picard grimaced. "I haven't been elected yet, Will. Besides, the Confederates got us good." The Marquis down on the planet Bajor had somehow tapped into DS9's computer when the transfer was made. They'd gotten a copy of everything. Federation Intelligence was a sieve.


   Sornak stood, politely listening to the Human's bombastic speech. "An effective speech, for these Klingon vermin."

   "He's still as full of himself as ever. I can see now how he escaped the Vulcan woman. He probably managed to annoy her with his boasting." T'Kree was still fuming, as full of animus as ever. Paris had scorned her, unforgivably.

   "Control your anger." Sornak glanced at the seething woman. It had been a mistake to bring her. She had been ceaselessly attempting to inflict misery on the Terran, for years. "He lied, but you lied to him first."

   "I obey, Praetor." T'Kree put on an emotionless mask. He was beyond her vengeance now.


   Paris wound up his speech, mentioning again how happy he was to visit his father in law, Gowron.

   Gowron stepped out and invited them all into his home, for a meal.

   Paris sat back in his seat. "The wormhole is virtually unguarded."

   The Romulan, Praetor Sornak, signaled his agreement. "The Cardassian station is inadequate to the task."

   Federation Ambassador Kimball glanced at Picard. "I'm not disagreeing, but it's what we have in place. What do you think, Admiral Picard?"

   Picard thought about it and gave his best military recommendation. "The area around the wormhole should be heavily mined. A full sized Starbase, maybe two, should be built in DS9's place, covering the wormhole exit. Perhaps Starbases Montgomery and Ticonderoga could be modernized and relocated. They serve little military purpose in their present locations. DS9 can be moved back into its original orbit around Bajor, and released for the Bajorans to run at a profit." He cleared his throat. "At least thirty major warships should be on station there, at all times."

   Kimball and Riker both shook their heads.

   Paris nodded. "I'd say fifty ships and an in depth point defense system for the planet. The Jem Hadar will eat us alive if they ever get a major force through."

   Kimball shrugged. "It's out of the question. We can't tie up that many ships, way out here. What if the Borg come back?"

   "Earth needs to fortify itself better. If you can hold out against the Borg then we can all mass and jump them. If those nightmares overwhelm any of us, they'll assimilate the resources and take us all down, one after another." Paris was looking at Picard, the man who was presumed to be a shoe in for election to the Federation Presidency, as he spoke. The old man was pale, remembering his ordeal.

   "The Romulan Star Empire regards the Borg and the Dominion to be the two greatest threats to the general peace. We will support any endeavor against those powers." Sornak narrowed his eyes. "Our perception of the true dangers facing our people is changing. The situation is grave. Ambassador Spock has at last convinced some of us that the Vulcans have truly changed. We no longer feel so threatened by the Federation."

   Picard looked up, inspired. "We are gratified to hear that. Speaking solely as a human and a retired officer, we have never harbored any aggressive intentions toward the Romulan Empire."

   Sornak flicked his eyes to Paris. The way that he'd handled T'lar had caused a reassessment of the relationship between the Humans and the Vulcans. "I am pleased to hear it, although I note that the Federation is no longer the sole human civilization in the Quadrant."

   Paris shrugged. "Even if the Confederacy had the political will to turn predatory, we aren't in any shape to try anything outside of our current borders. The objective reality of the situation dictates a defensive strategy based on qualitative military superiority and defensive alliances, at least for the next hundred years." He looked at Picard. "Assuming that we can avoid an all out war with the Federation."

   "That will not happen." Kimball, Federation ambassador to Gowron, spoke sharply. "The Federation is not preparing for war."

   "Well, you're not preparing for peace either, Kimball." Benton stared his former understudy in the eye. "We have prisoners to exchange, families to reunite and a Quadrant to stabilize. We need to talk before some hothead starts something tragic."

   Kimball shrugged. "The Federation Government is in a state of flux. The elections next month will settle things."

   Picard sat up. "I cannot comment on the subject, but rest assured, Starfleet is ready for any eventuality."

   Sornak nodded. "The Romulan Star Empire will tolerate no more disorder in the sector. We shall dispatch a full diplomatic mission to Albion."

   "The Klingon Empire recognizes the Badlands Confederacy. We will also dispatch ambassadors." Gowron didn't want the greenies getting a lead on the Empire."

   Picard nodded, unperturbed. "What if we had a combined force of two hundred ships at the wormhole, gentlemen? That way the burden of general defense is shared by the whole quadrant. Speaking as a simple ratepayer, I would rather see you lot doing your share."

   Sornak looked at Gowron. "The Changelings are a persistent enemy. We had a plan to ally with the Cardassians and attack their homeworld, killing most of them. The scanners that you gave us revealed it to be a Changeling plot. They would have destroyed the fleets, destabilizing the Quadrant."

   "Ever treacherous are the Changelings." Gowron stared at the Romulan. "As treacherous as a Romulan."

   Sornak smiled back, coldly. "The Romulan Star Empire is not a satrapy of the Klingon Empire. We reserve the right to go to war, when provoked. Khitomer was our territory, settled by Klingons in spite of our protests. We will never allow such an insult to pass."

   Gowron nodded. "Mogh was sent to defuse the situation and turned traitor. This was out of character for him. I would like to compare our records sometime, Sornak. I suspect that the Changelings have been in our Quadrant far longer than we ever suspected."

   Sornak shifted, uncomfortably. "You may be right. We have records of beings like the Changelings going back three centuries. It is likely that we have always had a few around, sowing discord, breaking up alliances, keeping the Quadrant unstable."

   "That alien probe, the one that almost destroyed the Earth eighty years ago." Picard leaned back. "We have no idea where it came from. Whales or not, it may be back someday. I submit to you gentlemen that the consequences of allowing conflict between our governments is eventual conquest or extermination for us all, from outside. We are all too weak to survive on our own. There are peoples, empires and entities out there that could snuff us all out with the greatest of ease."

   Paris laughed. "This space has contained Empires and states greater than all of ours, put together. Long term safety is an illusion. Better to expand and seek out trouble before it takes you unaware."

   Gowron rumbled a laugh. "You will soon have a hostage to fortune, Paris. A pirates life will no longer suffice."

   Paris looked at his wrist comp. "Perhaps we will just increase our number. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I need to see my wife. According to the doctor, B'Elanna will go anytime."

   The beings at the table made their farewells and Paris departed.

   "A singular fellow." Sornak turned to Benton. "Does he speak for the Confederacy?"

   Benton shook his head. "I'm the diplomat here. The Admiral is just visiting his wife."

   Paris stepped off of the public transporter pad and approached the PhurAl stronghold. A disrupter dug into his back.

   "Whoever that is, you'd better pray that B'Elanna never finds out your name." Tom felt a pang of sadness. He'd never meet his son.

   "Oh, I'm not going to kill you, Tom. I just wanted your attention." T'Kree holstered her disrupter.

   "T'Kree!" He glared. "Still crazy jealous, I see."

   She laughed, mockingly. "Oh, Tom. Such a boy, still. I just wanted to congratulate you on the birth of your child."

   Tom spoke gruffly. "The child hasn't been born yet."

   "I was speaking of your daughter." T'Kree walked away, smiling.

   "Wait!" He caught up. "What daughter?"

   She turned on him. "Your daughter by T'Rul." Her smile grew malignant. "Have a nice life, Admiral." She walked away, feeling curiously empty.


   Tom stared after her, then dismissed it as the work of a disturbed mind. Walking to the gate of the old stronghold, he took a mallet and hit the ancient door's strike plate the seven ceremonial blows appropriate to a visiting in-law.

   "Who is at the gate of house PhurAl?" Clansmen watched from every aperture.

   "Admiral Thomas Eugene Paris, Commander of the Naval Forces of the Badlands Confederacy, Conqueror of the Cardassian Empire. I come for my wife, B'Elanna."

   The doorman threw the gate open and an honor guard mustered. "Welcome home, kinsman."

   Tom saw B'Elanna, standing at the end of the entrance hall. "I am pleased to be home." He stepped over the threshold.


The End.

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