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[Age of Mouldwarp]    
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Silent Running (Part 2)
Joining You Today

Another freighter ship departed from ES1. Wynton Keynes, a longtime friend and handyman for Robin Matheson, captained the Clazio. It was rumored that they'd once been on track to be married, and that the Dominion War derailed those plans, but the fact remained that Keynes remained in good standing with Matheson, and vice versa. With a cargo of medical supplies destined for Cardassia Prime, a planet still recovering from its own shake-up during the war, Keynes planned to make a detour to Trill on Matheson's request. Something about a lucrative opportunity awaiting him there. She always was coy with him, until he managed to figure out the game she was playing. He didn't mind. In fact, it was a highlight of his days as a freighter captain, with a crew under him of 47, though only half aboard the Clazio. He suspected the game this time involved the Gnomon, the ideological heirs of the defunct Maquis movement, but then, with Trill as the destination all bets were off.

Without getting into the mathematics of it, the Dac Langton would reach Trill roughly two days before the Clazio. Had he known, or been aware of what was going on, Keynes might have cared. He would certainly have been intrigued, especially considering the connection both journeys shared.

Keynes' hobby was tracking the eyewitness accounts that frequently occurred concerning the infamous Cardassian Gul Pentek, who had disappeared soon after his people joined the Dominion. Pentek had gained a reputation as notorious as that of Gul Dukat from his activities during the Bajoran Occupation, yet he had always claimed it was one he did not deserve. No one believed him, and he developed a cult-like following, whose activities were relegated to radical demonstrations against the Maquis movement. Pentek himself never sanctioned the activities, and grew gradually reclusive, until he vanished altogether, some say out of disgust for his reputation and the shameful politics of his people.

Keynes didn't buy that story. His theory had always been that Pentek was Dukat's secret lieutenant. Dukat had always seemed to act alone; except for his heir-apparent Damar he never collaborated on any of his projects, yet he met with the most spectacular of successes time and time again. Pentek, who had been a great military figure even before the Occupation began, sometimes suggested that he had ties to the shadowy Obsidian Order to his close friends, but nothing was ever able to be confirmed, and the problem with that was that Dukat was a confirmed opponent of the Order. No, Pentek must have been more than he seemed, and Dukat needed a background partner, and so Keynes spent his spare time investigating every rumor, every whisper, of the receded Pentek. With Dukat gone, Pentek could easily resurface and destabilize the delicate progress Cardassia was making in its rebuilding.

So what was Keynes doing going to Trill? The Gnomon were based there, far away from the Maquis' Badlands home base, and the last place Pentek was said to have been seen at. Robin Matheson had heard about it, and had passed it along. Keynes was confident that this would be his big break.

And what was Keynes' history with the Gnomon? Not much. The Gnomon themselves hadn't done a whole lot aside from releasing a mission statement-of-sorts. They claimed a desire to enforce a level playing field for the Alpha Quadrant in the wake of the Dominion War, so that the powers left with more strength than others would not try to assert undue control over their less fortunate neighbors. The Federation was a particular target. It was suspected that this was more out of frustration with the Maquis conflict and the inability to further press the Cardassian issue than it was to pick on the Federation itself, who were always seem as the good guys no matter the stories that had emerged from the war.

Stories amounted to the biggest result of the war. Everyone had a story, and everyone who was forced to listen suspected that they would be listening to those stories for some time to come. Starfleet suddenly had more "name" captains than it knew what to do with. The Klingon Empire experienced a golden age in the songs sung of warriors. The Ferengi exploited every opportunity in publishing it came across. Even the Pakleds boasted tales of astonishment, but most suspected that they were mostly cobbled-together fragments of other races' adventures. The Betazoids...For telepaths, they didn't seem to understand the telltale signs of overkill, though they were granted liberties given the devastation their homeworld experienced during the war. The Andorians, though, didn't win any new admirers when they tried to sell themselves as the ultimate victims of the conflict, but Keynes didn't care for any of that. His was the trade of the underdogs, the races you never heard about, races the legendary Jonathan Archer encountered centuries before yet were never heard from again. Keynes would know of them. Oh yes. His ancestor served under Captain Archer.

Keynes was a boomer true and through. He was a descendent of Travis Mayweather. Keynes was the champion of underdogs, but at the moment, he was also a relief worker, and the decidedly overdog Cardassians were his chief focus, which he would soon get back to after a brief interlude on Trill, which the Clazio was fast approaching.

"This is the Trill Authority: state you business," came the greeting over subspace.

"Parts and cargo run," Keynes replied, calling up his authorization code to his command console, since of course that would be next.

"Please transmit your authorization code," it came, and so he did. It was an older code, but it would check out just fine. He'd inherited it along with the Clazio, from an abandoned Maquis shipyard. Fair and square: Starfleet claimed it and he won it in an auction, or the pale version of an auction the credit-carrying Federation used. You first had to prove that you had used of the item before you could even bid, and then you couldn't enter the bid against persons with greatly differing credit lines. The auction itself was merely an excuse to see how badly you waned the item, and Keynes was lucky enough to have wanted the Clazio more than his fiercest competitor, a Tandaran.

The voice giving him the orders was a familiar one. Douro Jus, the fourteenth joined of his line as he liked to point out, was the senior traffic controller, and he liked to spend as much time on the job as he could, which is why Keynes would recognize his voice and why he would be on duty at this precise moment.

"You are free to dock at platform two," Jus stated. "Wynton Keynes, if I'm not mistaken, and his old Maquis raider."

"Indeed," Keynes replied, always gratified to be acknowledged. "How's it been lately?"

"Relatively slow," Jus' voice said. "The last freighter to come this way was a few days ago. I only remember because they had a few problems with their authorization code."

"Do you suspect foul play?"

"That's always a possibility, but I've made sure that they're monitored."

"We'll be touching down momentarily," Keynes said. "I'll talk to you later."

"Always a pleasure," Jus said in closing.

As was usual, there was no party waiting for the Clazio, and Keynes had long ago quit expecting one to arrive. His mind now lingered on the party Jus had mentioned. Of course it sounded suspicious. Of course he immediately thought of the Gnomon, but they were still laying low and he very much doubted that they would start anything any time soon. His next thought was that Gul Pentek might be on the move, but that passed quickly. It was on to business, or the excuse for business that would provide him with the opportunity to follow-up on his suspicions, so it was a win-win situation all the way around. He liked that kind.

Matheson's hooks usually landed him at the Interplanetary Bar and Grill, so Keynes decided to cut to the chase and go there first. He was seated at a table adjacent to one housing a party of a human, a Bolian, and a Trill, and a noisy party at that. The Trill, for a change, was not the most rambunctious, which seemed odd, even these days, when the Bar and Grill was serving less interplanetary dishes than it had in the past, yet another unfortunate side effect of the war, though it had been years since it ended. Things don't immediately shape up after such a catastrophic occurrence, and here on Trill it was no different.

"I'm hoping for a good Kohlanese stew," he told the waiter, who arrived promptly.

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" she remarked, tellingly. "May I recommend Bolian spice chowder? The party next to you, whom you've no doubt noticed by now, seems to be enjoying it."

"Anything but the local grub," Keynes joked in accepting. "And a glass of Marakaltian seev-ale, if that's possible."

"Certainly," came the much-welcomed reply before the young Trill walked away with the order properly logged. Joined or unjoined, she'd make a fine connection, Keynes thought to himself.

"The Ferengi say a wise man can hear profit in the wind," he overheard the Bolian say. "Right now, I'm smelling something rich indeed," the voice continued. Keynes was mildly intrigued. Profit wasn't often mentioned on Trill, since its people used the Federation credit, which meant that they were not very much interested in monetary gain. What were they up to?

No matter, his food soon arrived, and the chowder indeed was delicious and the ale numbing. The next thing Keynes knew, his fellow patrons were gone from the Bar and Grill. It was time for him to move on as well.

He didn't want to leave just yet, but Keynes couldn't come up with a good reason to stay. Staying in his seat after finishing his meal might come off as loitering. Keynes wasn't that type of guy. He was kicking himself for letting that party elude him, though. Kicking himself hard. An inclination about them was forming about them that he took as a lead to the business with which he had no idea where to begin.

"Grow old with wisdom," a voice said behind him. Turning around he found the waitress who had served him earlier.

"I try to," he grinned back.

"You're still interested in those men, aren't you?" she surmised.

"You must have a very old symbiont," Keynes returned, guessing.

"I don't like to talk about my age," the blonde blushed.

"That's a curse of the joined, isn't it?" Keynes mused.

"How'd you guess? I could have been referring to the exact opposite," she said.

"Joined Trill have a certain flush about them," Keynes noted. "My name's Wynton Keynes."

"Etan Widz," the young Trill returned.

"A pleasure," Keynes said.

"Likewise," Etan said. "I think I can help you with what's occupying your thoughts."

"The caves of Mak'ala, hm? I wonder what their business is there," Keynes remarked after Etan divulged what she'd overheard.

"Well, they did have a guardian with them," Etan said.

"That was a guardian? I'd heard that they never leaves the breeding pools," Wynton stated, beginning to rekindle his suspicions.

"Normally yes, but a lot has changed here on Trill," Etan noted. "In recent years a lot of the old customs have been abandoned, or revamped. The programs for host initiates have been updated to service the greater awareness that has been building ever since the Dax scandal."

"I heard about that, but I had no idea that it'd been made public," Wynton said.

"Not at first it wasn't, but the rumors and suspicions started to pile up until it was impossible to keep the lid on the Joran incident. I owe my own symbiont to it," Etan confessed. "Widz was destined to be retired to the caves since the initiate pool was dwindling, but as soon as the reforms began I...Widz...was given another opportunity to gain a host, and more than willing, whereas before I would have been considered...too weak. At least that's what I was always told."

"Sounds harsh," Wynton smiled.

"It was always hard on my family, but I think we should be moving on to the guardian, and why he was involving himself in that particular crowd," Etan decided.

"Agreed. I'll be on my way," Wynton said. "I'll see you again. Grow old in wisdom."

"You too."

From the Bar and Grill to the caves was about a half hour's walk, and on the way Wynton's mind was racing. The guardian's face was haunting him, taunting him, flaunting its spots, and generally jaunting about. A vague memory was nagging at the same time, something he'd read in the Galactic Times several years ago. The name of the journalist who'd written the piece came to him right away for some reason: Parkes, Derek Parkes. He was sure of that. His mind was playing games with him. Why does the mind always play games like that? Litter about clues but leave the answers just out of reach? He wanted to--

A guardian named Grintal, and just that was odd enough, guardian having a name, a guardian named Grintal had caused some sort of turmoil, surfacing within normal Trill society before it was common for such an event, and challenged the traditional beliefs before it was common to. It was after the Joran revelation began to leak, but before the war had begun, it seemed right before in hindsight. Rumor, Wynton loved rumors, rumor had it afterwards that Grintal wasn't a guardian at all, nor even a Trill, but his name was taken up in the flurry of the changes that lay ahead. He was never heard from again, as usually happens to such figures, like Gul Pentek for instance, but gradually he was forgotten. That last part was Wynton's estimation, if he was able to appear in the Bar and Grill and not be fussed over. That was him wasn't it?

As the urban transformed to the rural, and the rocky became visible, Wynton's mind raced ever harder. He had indeed stumbled on something big. But was it what Matheson had suggested he'd find here? One of these days he was going to ask her what these little excursions were really all about. He had another nagging thought telling him that he was some sort of pawn.

His step stopped in mid-stride. He froze. Over by the bushes to his right... Oh god.

"The guardian..." he whispered.

The body by the bushes stirred at the words. Wynton now knew he wasn't imagining things. He wasn't sure he was quite ready for that prospect.

"Help me," the body managed.

Startled, Wynton made his way to the guardian. Caution.

"I am at your service," he stated with an outreaching hand.

"No, I am at yours," the guardian managed, reaching upward with his own hand. Then the pulling. The guardian was soon on his feet, holding his side. "You may be wondering what happened to me?"

"You could say that," Wynton managed at a start.

"I have been abused," the guardian managed. "I have been used."

Wynton no longer attempted rebuttals.

"And I am not what I seem," the guardian managed. "I am not a guardian."

"That much I assumed," Wynton managed.

"We should be making our way to the caves," the guardian who was not a guardian managed, limping a foot forward. Wynton caught him before he fell.

"I need to know a little more," he managed to say.

"I will tell you more," the guardian who was not a guardian said. "But first we must be on our way."

"That I can do," Wynton half-sighed as he propelled them both forward.

"I am not a guardian," the guardian who was not a guardian stated. "I am a human who was once mistaken for one."

"The stories are true," Wynton said in amazement.

"You have heard? Of course you have," coughed the human who was once mistaken for a guardian. "Starfleet has been very good at tight-lipping this one. To think that they once spied on their own allies..."

Wynton thought he couldn't ask for much more. He was wrong.

"You should know that what I thought was going on and what you're thinking right now are probably the same," the human who was not a guardian noted. "They're both quite wrong. In fact, we should not being headed for the caves any longer."

He might have said this earlier, since they were in fact at the caves now. Wynton sighed and let go of the human who was not a guardian. "The Bolian is in charge, isn't he?"

"You're catching on," the human who was not a guardian remarked. "This was all an elaborate scheme by this Bolian to bring his former partner back into a life he'd left long behind."

"The Gnomon," Wynton snapped. "I should have known all along."

"I see you know more than you thought. First the matter of Grintal then of the last remnants of the Maquis. My name is Doug Velar and I am tired of rascals," the human who had just revealed his name said.

"Nice to meet you, Doug," Wynton said. "Where are we headed now?"

"Oh, we can leave Trill now," Doug stated. "I was the unfortunate victim of a surprise Starfleet intervention. I was astonished that they'd leave me behind like this, but they've taken both the Bolian and his accidental accomplice into custody."

After that, the Clazio departed Trill and headed for Cardassia Prime as scheduled, with an extra passenger aboard and a rather giddy captain. It wasn't often Wynton's excursions for Matheson were so successful. He was also very much in a hurry to see what came about from the Bolian's botched plans.

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characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount