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  Rex Callan walked down the gangplank of the tramp freighter and onto the surface of Tavvis II. He turned and looked back at the ship as he walked. It more than lived up to that title. The vessel was battered with dents and marks all over its hull. Some of the repairs done to the ship used different coloured hull plates giving it a very patchy appearance. It was a vessel that had definitely seen better days. Though he supposed that it was exactly the type of ship that would make a run to his backwater planet.

  The Tavvis system was far from anywhere remotely vibrant. It was home to a single small settlement that meant it was not exactly a trading hotspot. This resulted in there being very limited travel options to reach the planet if you didn’t have your own vessel. Callan had to admit he was lucky to have arrived on the planet in a relatively timely manner.

  He spotted the ship’s captain who was in discussion with a man with short, brown, curly hair who Callan guessed would be the port master. Though to consider this a spaceport was a grand title for what was in reality a field next to miscellaneous buildings that appeared to be for storage. He caught the captain’s eye and gave him a salute to thank him for the transportation. The captain gave him a polite nod in reply. 

  Callan looked around the landing area. It was just a flat field not too far from the settlement. Apart from the freighter he came in on there were two other craft, both appeared to be small local shuttlecraft. Though only one looked functional as the other was in several parts and missing a significant amount of it outer hull. Despite his earlier thoughts on the freighter he had to admit it was looking to be vessel in the best shape, which was saying something. However, he had expected to see another vessel at the landing area. It appeared that his contact had yet to arrive.

  He walked up to a local who was leaning up against a bunch of crates and asked him where the local drinking establishment was. The man gestured over to the small settlement and gave him directions. Callan thanked him and set off to the settlement. 

  As he walked he took in the surrounds. The settlement, Shillings Crater, was a fairly standard Federation colony. It was built in a large impact crater, which helped give the colony its name, and was surrounded by a high ridge. The colony itself looked to be made up of several dozen buildings laid out in an orderly fashion. The buildings were largely uniform and very utilitarian in appearance. The best way he could describe it was starter colony-chic.

  The directions given by the local were spot on as Callan came up to the building that didn’t look really any different from the others around it apart from being a bit larger. However, the sign that said “BAR” over its entrance spelt its function out clearly. Callan entered the bar and found it met his low expectations. It was lowly lit with a few wooden tables and chairs spread around. There were only three other people in the bar apart from the man behind the bar.

  He walked up to the bar and spoke to the bartender, “Anyone looking for Rex Callan?” he asked.

  The stocky, wide man looked him up and down before he answered in a deep, gruff voice, “No.”

  Callan thought it was worth asking. He dropped his pack next to a tall barstool as he took a seat.

  “Well, I guess I might as well have a drink,” he stated. “Menu?”

  The barman smirked and pointed over his shoulder. Callan glanced around the man at a display shelf. There were range of different bottles, but none had any labelling. The only difference was that some liquids were clear, others were coloured. Callan suspected that the alcohol was homemade.

  “Whiskey,” he ordered in hope.

  The barman nodded and turned around. He picked up a bottle and a glass. He placed the glass before Callan and poured the liquid into it. Callan thanked the barman and picked up his drink. He gave it a quick sniff and deciding it didn’t smell too lethal, took a sip.

  He had expected it to be harsher than it was. It did warm him as it went down, but nothing too extreme. He nodded his appreciation for the product to the barman who returned a dispassionate nod. He went about slowly consuming his drink.

 Callan chatted with the barman as he drank. They talked about how the barman came to the colony and life at Shillings Crater. They even broached the topic of the Klingon Empire’s recent invasion of the Cardassian Union. The barman wasn’t a big talker, but it was better than just sitting in silence as he waited.

  As he finished his second drink and signalled the barman to refill his glass. The barman silently did so.

  “I think you should finish that and leave.”

  Callan glanced behind him to see three new men standing there. He also saw that the other patrons had disappeared. He didn’t need to be a fortune teller to predict what was coming.

  “And here I thought there was no hospitality left in the galaxy,” he stated as he made an effort to appear as unperturbed as possible.

  “We don’t like strangers around here,” commented the man in the middle, who he guessed was the leader as he was the only one to speak so far.

  Callan tried to assess the three men as surreptitiously as possible. They appeared to be Human, like him. From what little he knew of Shillings Crater they were very likely to be as it was considered to be a Human colony. However, that didn’t mean everyone had to be Human. He just hoped that there wouldn’t be an extra unpleasant surprise when things got to their inevitable destination.

  “I’ll keep that in mind if I see any,” he replied before turning his back on them to get back to his drink.

  “This bar is for Zoners only.”

  “This is the only bar here.”

  “And it’s for Zoners only,” repeated the leader.

  Callan let out a sigh. “What makes you think I’m not a Zoner?”

  The men looked at each and burst out laughing.

  “You serious? You’re a Feddy if I ever saw one. You act like you’re superior to everything here,” explained the leader with disdain.

  “Not hard given the company,” he turned back around to face the barman. “No offense, you seem like a nice guy.”

  He took another sip of his drink and made it clear he was going back to drinking. Realising that he was trying to dismiss them the largest of the men stepped up to the bar next to him. He towered over the seated Callan.

  He glared down menacingly at him and sniffed the air and said, “Not to mention you stink of Starfleet.”

  Callan sniffed at his shirt and then his hands. He made a face as if he had discovered something unpleasant. “You’re right, I do stink. But that’s from your sister.” He leaned across and put his hand to his mouth and pretended to whisper, “She’s a firecracker, not that I have to tell you.”

  Menace turned to rage on the large man’s face. “You little shit.”

  The man grabbed Callan by the front of his shirt, lifting him out of his seat and forcibly turning him so they were face to face. Callan threw the contents of his drink into the man’s eyes. The man screamed, letting Callan go as his hands went to his eyes to clear them of the stinging liquid. Bracing himself against the bar Callan kicked out with both feet. Already stumbling back, Callan’s double kick sent the huge man flying backwards, grazing off the leader and then over an empty table.

  The large man’s flight had distracted the leader, but the third individual was not hampered. He closed in on Callan, fists raised for action. Callan quickly fished out a small personal stunner from his pocket and discharged it. The charge sent the man into spasms before he collapsed onto the floor.

  He adjusted his aim for the leader, but found he had recovered. The leader knocked his arm away causing the discharge to fire harmlessly into the ceiling. Callan felt his grip on the device slip as it went flying behind him. He didn’t have much time to dwell on that as a fist thundered into his stomach. Callan doubled over as the drinks he had consumed threatened to revisit him. He grabbed the stool he had been sitting on for support.

  He didn’t have time to worry about the pain. He lifted the chair and swung it at the leader. The leader was ready and stepped back and managed to grab the other end of the stool. As they wrestled for it Callan noticed the larger man getting up. He was looking decidedly upset, though that might have just been the bloodshot eyes.

  Callan shoved the stool away from him, sending the leader off balance. Callan leapt over the bar, just avoiding getting grabbed by the large angry man. He found the barman cowering behind the bar. He didn’t look like he had any intention of joining the fight, so Callan ignored him and scrambled across the floor towards where his stunner had fallen. He grabbed it, stood up and fired at the large man. The man spasmed, but did not fall. Callan was worried for a moment as the large man took a step forward, but it was as far as he made it as he dropped to the floor. He pointed his stunner at the leader and fired. Nothing happened. He checked and saw that it was out of charge.

  The leader was getting to his feet and reaching for a phaser. Callan tossed his stunner towards the leader.

  “BOMB!” he yelled as he half ducked.

  The leader reacted just as Callan hoped. He jumped backwards towards one of the tables. He quickly tipped it over to use it as cover. Callan on the other hand did the opposite. He jumped over the bar and ran towards and past the stunner. He threw himself over the table and on top of the leader.

  The leader was so surprised by Callan’s sudden appearance he let out a whelp. Callan grabbed the hand that had the phaser and smashed it as hard as he could along the edge of the table. There was a horrible cracking sound that was either the table, the man’s hand or both. The man let out a cry of pain. The phaser fell from his hand and went scuttling across the floor. Callan scrambled after it. He grabbed it, turned around and pointed it at the leader. The leader was still on the ground holding his wrist in a way that Callan guessed meant at least some of the sound of breaking hadn’t just been the table.

  Callan got back to his feet and surveyed the room. All three men were down with only the leader moving. The barman peeked up over the bar.

  “Stay there,” he ordered. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

  “You broke my wrist you bastard,” complained the leader.

  “Whose fault is that? I was happy to just have a few drinks. You’re the ones who came in looking for a fight. Now I have a problem. I’m meant to meet someone here and now I’ve essentially taken over a bar and have hostages.”

  “You could always just let them go.”

  Callan turned to the voice and saw the curly haired Human port master with a small group. Most of whom he recognised as being down at the landing area, including the man who had given him directions to the bar. All were armed and their weapons were pointed at him. There was no chance of him fighting is way out of this situation.

  “I was thinking more along the lines of tying them up and locking them in a backroom and hoping no one came looking for them. But I guess I don’t have much of a choice now,” he said. Callan stepped back from the leader and slowly placed the weapon down on a nearby table. He raised his hands. “Look, these three started it. I just wanted to have a few quiet drinks while I waited.”

  “I know. I thought I’d see how you handled yourself.”

  Callan gave the man a confused look. Then it suddenly dawned on him who the ‘port master’ was.

  “Brendan Patol?”

  Patol raised his hands in a gesture of ‘you got me’ and a smile came to his thin lipped mouth. “Nice to meet you Mr Callan.”

  The group lowered their weapons. Several of them had a look of amusement on their faces, no doubt at Callan’s expense. Realising that he wasn’t in danger anymore Callan let out a deep breath. He still had adrenalin pumping through him and felt a bit jittery, plus his stomach hurt. Deciding he definitely need to, he pulled out a chair and sat down.

  “So this was a set up?” he asked.

  “It was,” confirmed Patol.

  “I could have killed these guys,” he said sweeping his hand out to take in his attackers. Strangely Patol’s group had not made any move to assist or check on those he had fought.

  “No, you wouldn’t have.”

  “I could have had more than a personal stunner. Not to mention I could have easily smashed a bottle and used that as a very deadly weapon. Or just opened fire with the phaser as soon as I got my hands on it.”

  “Sorry, I wasn’t clear. You couldn’t have killed them. They aren’t real.”

  The three people disappeared. On the nearby table the phaser also vanished, quickly followed by the tables. Callan jumped to his feet just before the chairs, including the one he had been sitting on faded away, leaving the room empty.

  “Holograms,” Callan stated simple. “So this isn’t a bar?”

  “Oh, this is the bar,” stated Patol pointing behind Callan to the still present bar counter. “We moved out all the furniture and product beforehand so it wouldn’t be damaged. I wanted to check out your skills and your temperament in a safe way.”

  “For you.”

  Patol nodded. “Yes. Hard to integrate a new member if they’ve killed one of the existing members.”

  Callan silently agreed that Patol had a point. If they had been real members of the group and he had seriously injured or killed one of them the rest wouldn’t be too pleased to then have to work with him. On the other hand if Callan had been seriously injured it didn’t really matter as it could indicate that he might not have the skills necessary to join the group. 

  However, that still left Callan with a question, “So what if I did kill them?”

  “Depends on the circumstances. Might be good, might be bad. Could you have killed them?”

  He realised he should have expected that kind of answer and question. After all he wasn’t looking to join up with a Boy Scout troop. “I’ve killed people in the past.”

  “Your Starfleet records show that you’ve been in combat. But joining us isn’t going to be as clear cut as that. You’re not going to be just killing in self-defence or because you have no choice. To be a militant you have to be willing to make violence your banner and be ready to use it without hesitation. Do you think you can do that?”

  Callan locked his stare with Patol’s as he answered, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

  “I don’t suppose you would be,” conceded Patol. “However, to join this cell you have to be more than just willing to fight the good fight. To gain freedom it requires getting dirty. We crawl through the mud so others don’t have to.”

  “Why invite me here and put me through all that only to now try to dissuade me?” Callan asked with annoyance.

  “I’m just making it clear about what you’ll be faced with. Clearly your Starfleet training and experience means you can do it, you’ve shown that. However, whether I believe you can means nothing if you do not.”

  “So you’re giving me a chance to back out?”

  Patol nodded slowly. “Your last chance. You can jump back on that freighter and return to the Federation as if nothing happened. If that is what you want.”

  Callan mulled over the offer. He had come here with a set objective. Join Patol’s cell. Once he had started on that journey it never really occurred to him that there was any other result. He had been prepared to do what was necessary to join and it seemed he had done that. Now he was being asked whether this was what he wanted.

  “If you are concerned that we won’t let you leave, don’t be. We’re all known associates, so trying to protect our identities isn’t an issue,” stated Patol.

  Callan had to admit that never occurred to him.  He was more focused on the consequences of returning back to the Federation. He went over the possibilities and while there was the chance they could be major he viewed those results as more unlikely. In essence no one outside this room would know the truth of what had occurred. He could come up with any number of explanations to avoid the harsher outcomes. However, he had come here for a reason and that had not changed.

  “If I thought the Federation’s way, if Starfleet’s way, would do it I would still have their uniform on. I understand the actions that I might have to take and I’m ready to take them. I’m here because I want to join.”

  “Good,” Patol said. “First things first, help us put Sam’s bar back in order. Then we can have some real drinks.”

  It was only then that Callan realised that the drinks he had consumed hadn’t been real or at least hadn’t been alcohol. He felt none of the side effects of their consumption now or during the fight. So it had been a fair representation of his skills, one not sullied by intoxication.

  Callan followed the group to a back room and found stacked chairs and tables. He helped bring them out and reset the bar. Once they were done Sam appeared, looking exactly like his holographic doppelganger. He handed out glasses and poured out drinks for the small group.

  They gathered around Patol. Patol raised his glass and spoke, “I’d like to thank Sam for letting us use his place once again. You don’t have to take up weapons to support a just cause.” The group agreed with Patol’s sentiments with supportive cheers directed at Sam. “And to the newest member of our merry band. Rex Callan, welcome to the good fight. To the Maquis!”

  “To the Maquis!” they all repeated raising their glasses.

  As Callan followed suit and downed his drink. Unlike the fake drink this felt like it was trying to melt him from the inside out. He felt a heavy hand slap him on the back. He turned to see one of his new Maquis comrades smiling widely. He didn’t look at all affected by the harsh drink. In his hand was the bottle and he gestured for Callan to offer up his glass for a refill, which he reluctantly did.

  “Not a bad way to spend your first day,” the Maquis commented as he poured the drink.

  “I’ve been insulted, threatened and beaten up,” Callan stated dourly. “But at least the drinks are free.”

  “That’s the spirit!”

  The man raised his glass and Callan mirrored him as they both toasted to the Maquis again. The second drink went down no easier than the first.  In the blink of an eye Callan was being poured his third drink. It had been an eventful day so far and as the drinks flowed it suggested it would only get more so. Callan had no doubt there were going to be a lot more interesting days to come.