Weyoun replayed the scene over and over again. He never tired of looking at the holo-recording from the Ferengi spy.
“Yes, it’s certain,” Weyoun said admiringly. “It’s the same child. Look how she’s shapeshifting to protect those humans – putting herself into danger. Only a god would be so generous and thoughtful.”
Weyoun shut off the holoimager and addressed one of the Jem’Hadar, silently standing by. “Are you sure the Founder is comfortable? Does she need anything?”
“We asked,” the Jem’Hadar replied. “But the Founder does not wish to speak to us.”
“Oh, let me do it,” Weyoun said impatiently. “You Jem’Hadar don’t know how to behave properly in the presence of a god.”
Weyoun left the bridge of the Dominion flagship and entered a room that had been furnished as comfortably as possible, given the spartan nature of Dominion vessels.
“It is an honor to be in your presence, Founder,” he said, genuflecting. “Is there anything you require?”
At the far end of the room, Molly O’Brien sat in a corner, her arms around her knees. She was too frightened to say anything at first. Then she remembered all the strange-looking aliens she had seen on DS9. Mommy and Daddy had always said most of them were nice, despite their appearances. Besides, she had something important to ask.
“The monsters,” she said. “They’re not coming back, are they?”
“Monsters?” Weyoun asked, confused. “You mean the Jem’Hadar? Not if you don’t want them to.”
“I don’t like them!” Molly said, emphatically. “They’re ugly.”
Weyoun had no idea what “ugly” meant, other than it being an insult. He smiled and nodded. “They are very ugly, revered Founder.”
“Don’t let them come in here any more!” Molly said.
Weyoun was startled. “Did they offend you, Founder? I will have them dealt with immediately!”
Molly was instantly ashamed of herself. She didn’t want to get the monsters in trouble, simply for being ugly.
“No, no,” she said. “They tried to be nice. They’re just scary-looking. You’re all right, I guess.”
Weyoun didn’t know what to say. This was the closest any Founder had ever come to paying him a complement.
“You honor me deeply, Founder,” he said.
Molly started feeling less scared. She remembered her manners. Getting up from the floor, she walked over to Weyoun and extended her hand. Her intention was to introduce herself, but for the time being, it seemed best to play along with these strange people and pretend to be the “Founder.”
“My name is…Kirdo,” she said. “What’s yours?”
Weyoun looked at Molly’s outstretched hand, trying to fathom what it signified.
“Weyoun,” he said. “I’m a Vorta. I imagine you don’t know…”
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Weyoun,” Molly said, with grave politeness.
Then her curiosity took over. Dominion vessels had no portals, but she knew they were moving through space.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“To Cardassia Prime - if that is all right with you! We direct the war from there, so that is where you are needed. We will be guided by your wisdom.”
Molly didn’t quite grasp all of this. The mention of Cardassia worried her.
“Are Cardassians nice?” she asked timidly.
Weyoun smiled. “Not the ones I know. But don’t worry, Founder. I can guarantee that they will be extremely nice to you.”
Molly cheered up. “That’s all right, I guess.”
“You must be very tired from your ordeal,” Weyoun said. “I won’t trouble you any more. If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Rest assured Captain,” Garak said. “My compatriots will live up to the confidence you’ve shown in us.”
“Garak, you don’t even know what the mission is yet!” Sisko said.
Sisko had returned to the Organia base far sooner than he would have expected. Somebody had to retrieve Molly, Miles and the rest of the away team from the Dominion, and there was only one person who had the vaguest chance of doing that – the Cardassian who was now seated across from Sisko, in the Defiant’s small ready room.
To be honest, Sisko didn’t know for sure where his people were. All he could say was that both Molly O’Brien and the away team had vanished on Epsilon Canaris II. It was reasonable to assume that they were prisoners.
Incredibly, it seemed the Dominion had mistaken Molly for a Founder. Or so Kirdo had told them. The poor kid had wandered out of the woods an hour after the Dominion had left. He had been discovered by a search party from the Defiant.
Kirdo told them how he and Molly had escaped, but the details were sketchy, as he was stuck in a bag the whole time. Molly had tossed him into a tree; he had heard an unfamiliar voice make the perplexing statement, “The Founder is unharmed”; and then there was silence. When Kirdo had shifted back into a child to see what had happened, Molly was gone.
It wasn’t difficult to put the pieces together. Only one set of footprints had led into the woods, and Weyoun had no reason to believe that any child was involved besides Kirdo.
Keiko had been near hysterics after learning both her daughter and husband had vanished. She, along with Yoshi and Kirdo, had quickly been put on a heavily guarded transport headed back to Earth. For Molly’s safety, no one could know the true Founder was still in Federation custody. For Kirdo’s safety, he was going to a highly secure and secret location, in case the Dominion learned the truth.
Never one to leave his people in danger, Sisko had asked Ross for permission to send a rescue party to Cardassia. Of course, Ross had refused to let him go on such a futile suicide mission. But the admiral had also hinted that he wouldn’t object to a test of the Organian dissidents’ abilities.
Sisko finished his story. “I wish I had more concrete details to give you, Garak,” Sisko said. “We really only have supposition. Molly is probably being taken to Cardassia Prime. The away team may end up there, as well. Other than that…”
“Don’t be concerned,” Garak said. “I operate best in ambiguous situations.”
“I’d like to give you and your people more time to prepare,” Sisko said. “But the window of opportunity is likely to close soon. This bizarre expedition of Weyoun’s left huge gaps in the Dominion defenses. The Cardassians have been scrambling to fill the gaps. But will be a few days before the Dominion fleet can be re-deployed to cover their territory effectively.”
“What about the Romulans?” Garak asked.
“They’re holding to their original positions,” Sisko replied.
“Doing nothing to help their allies, you mean,” Garak said with a sly smile. “Well, right now I imagine they’re regretting their change of alliance.”
Garak rose to leave. Before he could do so, his path was blocked by Kira, who barged into the ready room without remembering to get permission. She seemed intent on some mission of her own.
Kira looked at Garak uncomfortably. Then, ignoring the Cardassian, she went straight to Sisko.
“Captain, I want to volunteer for the rescue mission,” she said. “The O’Brien’s are my close friends, and Molly’s in danger because they agreed to look after my son. So I owe it to them. And I’ve been on Cardassia Prime before…”
Sisko put up his hand. “Yes, Major. I understand your reasons for wanting to go. You’re a natural choice. But, still, Garak is also a natural choice, and he knows the lay of the land far better than you do.”
“Then we’ll both go,” Kira said. Before Sisko could make the obvious objection, she added, “Yes, I know. The last mission Garak and I were on together didn’t turn out so well!”
Garak couldn’t resist. “Really? I rather enjoyed it.”
Kira continued to ignore Garak. “But this time, you have my word that I will not allow my personal feelings to in any way interfere with our objective. No matter what. Getting Molly and the away team back is far too important.”
“I’m sorry Major, but Garak already has a team assembled,” Sisko said. “And a group of Cardassians is far less likely to raise suspicion than a Bajoran.”
As Kira left, Garak indulged himself in one last jibe. “What a disappointment. I was looking forward to the major trying to ‘accidentally’ kill me again with one of my own tailoring tools.”
After arriving at Cardassia Prime, Weyoun had personally seen to it that the Founder was safely housed in the main complex of Central Command. It had been a poignant duty – the Founder would, of course, live in the apartments once occupied by the others of her kind, who would now never return.
Weyoun bowed as he left the Founder’s living quarters, and bumped into Damar.
“Is the new Founder in there?” Damar said, peering into the room.
“Do you know what a ‘doll’ is?” Weyoun asked, distractedly.
Damar was taken aback. Then he reminded himself that this was far from being the strangest thing Weyoun had ever said.
“It’s a child’s toy,” Damar answered. “Why?”
“Get me some dolls!” Weyoun said. “The Founder wants dolls!”
Damar rolled his eyes, and trudged back down the corridor. “Fine, dolls…”
A few hours later, Weyoun returned Founder’s quarters. Molly was sitting on the floor, arranging her new Cardassian dolls around her. They didn’t look exactly like the dolls she was used to playing with on DS9, but they would have to do.***
“Do you require anything else, revered Founder?” Weyoun asked.
Molly looked up and smiled. “No. Thank you for the dolls, Mr. Weyoun.”
Weyoun was rooted to the spot. He had never seen a Founder smile before. He was so stunned that he didn’t even notice that the same Founder had actually thanked him.
Young Founders must be very different from their elders, he thought. He observed the Founder closely, to divine more clues about her.
“Pardon my presumption, but could you explain what you are doing?” he asked.
“You mean the dolls?” Molly said. She eagerly launched into a detailed explanation.
“This one is a Cardassian,” she said, holding up a doll that did, indeed, look like a Cardassian.
“And here is a Klingon,” she continued, displaying another doll. “It looks like a Cardassian, so you have to use your imagination.”
Since this was a direct order, Weyoun did his best to accomplish what was impossible for any Vorta – to imagine something other than what was literally in front of his face.
“He’ll look more like a Klingon with a bat’leth,” Molly said, picking up a small stick and putting it on the “Klingon’s” hand.
“Why does the Klingon have a…what did you call it?” Weyoun asked.
“It’s a bat’leth,” Molly repeated. “It’s like a sword. The Klingons are having a big fight with the Cardassians.” She swept her hand through the “ranks,” knocking several dolls over.
Weyoun kneeled on the floor to get a better look. Now he understood. The Founder was telling him how she wanted the war to be conducted.
“Now what’s happening?” Weyoun said, extremely concerned.
“The Klingons are winning,” Molly said. She picked up the “Klingon” doll.
“This doll says, ‘Today is a good day to die,’ and hits the Cardassian with the bat’leth, see?” Molly gave the Cardassian doll a ferocious whack.
Weyoun was hanging on every word. “Yes, I see!” he said, as insight hit him. “You mean, that even with their primitive ways, the Klingons are a danger. And we should not let our technological superiority make us overconfident. Founder, this is true genius!”
Molly looked up with a quizzical expression. “Thank you…I guess.”
“I will put your instructions into effect immediately,” Weyoun said, and left.
Damar stormed into Central Command. I might as well just live here, he thought. I constantly have to come back to argue with this lunatic Vorta…***
“Weyoun!” Damar bellowed.
Few of the other Cardassians in Central Command looked up. They had become accustomed to these arguments, which followed the same pattern every time. The Vorta did something insane; Damar objected; the Vorta won the argument, because Damar was entirely dependent on the Dominion fleet, and everyone knew it.
“Did you order three attack wings to the Klingon frontier?” Damar asked, incredulously.
“Yes,” was Weyoun’s succinct reply.
Damar struggled to keep his temper in check. Everything about Dukat’s plan had worked out splendidly. Except for the part about controlling Weyoun. Damar didn’t have the slightest idea how to do that. But he had a bad feeling that, without the Founders to keep him in check, Weyoun could lead them all into disaster if someone didn’t stop him.
“I’ve already sent orders to deploy our fleets to the systems where we’ve had the greatest losses,” Damar said. “We can’t afford to send that many ships to the Klingon border!”
“I am acting on the direct orders of the Founder,” Weyoun said, calmly.
“She told you to do this?” Damar said. “The female changeling never interfered with military strategy!”
“Well, this Founder is different,” Weyoun replied. “She clearly wants to take a more hands-on approach to the war, and I, for one, think she’s right. We’ve let you Cardassians run things for too long…”
“I only wish we Cardassians were running things!” Damar yelled. “You constantly countermand my orders, and your behavior is verging on insanity!”
Weyoun’s face was set in a stubborn line. “I will not have the will of the Founder questioned! Those ships are going to the frontier. I will not discuss this further.”
Damar gave up, having learned from past experience that when Weyoun invoked the “will of the Founders,” there was no reasoning with him.
Before Damar could leave, Weyoun had a different topic to address. “What’s happened to the Federation prisoners we captured on Epsilon Canaris II?”
Damar stopped fuming long enough to respond. “They’re in the holding cells on lower level 23, awaiting interrogation. Why?”
“I think the Founder might be interested in being present at their interrogation,” Weyoun said. “They were almost certainly sent to murder her, as they did the others. I hope you understand the proper punishment for such a crime.”
Damar was far from squeamish, but sometimes Weyoun was too bloodthirsty, even for him.
“Fine, she can observe,” Damar said. “I’ll arrange it.”
After arduous and lengthy negotiations, Molly had made peace between the Klingons and Cardassians. She was busy putting the dolls in their proper places for the diplomatic reception when she noticed that Mr. Weyoun had returned.***
“Revered Founder, please excuse the interruption,” he said. “I was wondering whether you would like to observe the interrogation of some Federation prisoners.”
Molly frowned and kept arranging her dolls. Mr. Weyoun could be a nuisance sometimes.
“Maybe later,” she said.
“I’m afraid, given Cardassian interrogation techniques, there won’t be a ‘later’ for these prisoners,” Weyoun said.
Molly looked up, startled. These people weren’t nice, after all!
“Don’t hurt them!” she said, anxiously.
“But what should we do with them?” Weyoun asked.
Molly thought desperately. If they were from the Federation, maybe some of them would be people she knew from DS9. They could help her get home.
“Bring them to me!” Molly said.
“All of them?” Weyoun asked.
“Well, no,” Molly said. “Just their leader. But don’t hurt any of them!”
The cargo hold of the freighter was not the most elegant environment Garak had ever been in. The walls, poorly constructed, were corroding from the thick gasses that composed the ideal atmosphere for his species. The hold was filled with cylindrical cases, whose curved contours made uncomfortable seats.
But Garak had no thought of complaining. At long last, he was in his element again.
On the other side of the cargo hold was his handpicked team. Ferrin, with her waist-length black hair tied in a braid behind her, and her brother Anatos, with his honest face that could never conceal a lie. So young their neck scales had not yet hardened, they could have passed for Garak’s children. He debated whether that might make an appropriate cover story on Cardassia. The idea was strangely appealing.
The choice of his team had been easy. Garak had never had full faith in the other dissidents. He didn’t trust their cushy, privileged childhoods. In his experience, successful agents had chaotic, troubled pasts. This is what made them long for order.
From what he had been able to glean, Anatos and Ferrin’s childhood had not exactly been a bowl of uttaberries. Their material needs had been met at the Bajoran orphanage, but they had not been loved. They had depended on each other to keep their hopes alive. By the time they had been old enough to leave the orphanage, the war had begun, and the Cardassian border had been sealed. But they still had managed to find others of their kind. This showed determination and courage.
Garak’s musings were interrupted when the cargo door slid open.
It was Captain Elono, an ancient Cardassian whose neck scales had long since petrified into stone, not unlike his personality.
“We’re nearly there,” Elono said curtly. “Best you get yourselves ready.”
Elono left. Cardassians were commonly viewed as both loquacious and devious, but the captain refuted the notion on both points. He may not be the most entertaining host, Garak thought, but without him this mission would not have been possible.
Putting himself at considerable risk, Elono had deviated from his course to the border and picked up his three unscheduled passengers. His motivation was simple. In his own succinct words, “I hate the Dominion enough to deal with the damned Federation.”
Ferrin and Anatos looked at Garak expectantly.
“Well, children, this is it,” Garak said. “I don’t need to tell you that our success here is crucial. Captain Sisko has generously given us the chance to prove our worth to the Federation, and we don’t want to disappoint him.”
“And to prove our ability to lead a revolt on Cardassia,” Anatos added eagerly. “So we can take over when the Dominion withdraws.”
“Do you think they’re still planning to leave?” Ferrin asked. “The intelligence reports I’ve seen….”
“The reports suggest that the Dominion has changed its plans,” Garak finished. “If I know them, it’s only a temporary reprieve. We had better make the most of it.”
As the freighter approached Cardassia Prime, the captain announced to the authorities that his shuttles were damaged – a plausible lie, given the decrepit state of the vessel.
One of Elono’s crewmembers joined Garak, Ferrin and Anatos on the transporter pad. He didn’t need to beam down to the surface. He was simply there to divert suspicion. After all, someone had to end up at the “proper” coordinates. It wouldn’t do to have the authorities knowing the true destination of the other three.
Moments later, the trio re-materialized in the familiar gloom of a Cardassian facility. Garak permitted himself only a short moment of satisfaction. To be home after so many years, and to come home as a possible liberator, was a vindication he had not dreamed of. He looked at his companions. For them, this was even more momentous. Born on Bajor, neither had ever been to their homeworld before.
Garak took in his surroundings. They had beamed into yet another cargo hold. The room was oppressively hot, even to a Cardassian. We must be in the lower levels of Central Command, Garak thought. Near the power generators. Well, every liberation movement has to start somewhere.
The only other person in the room was a young Cardassian glinn. Garak scoped him out in a glance. An unimaginative, dull thug. Used to taking orders. Unused to thinking for himself. Ordinarily, his type would be very unlikely to help overthrow the established order. It was more evidence that the Dominion had done a truly amazing job of antagonizing the Cardassian population.
Garak stepped off the transporter pad and extended his hand. With a sour expression, the glinn took it.
“I am Glinn Kelor of the Third Order,” he said. “Follow me. I will take you to a secure area…”
“Isn’t this area secure?” Ferrin said, agitatedly.
Garak squelched the incipient debate. “My dear, no place is ever really secure,” Garak said. “There are merely degrees of insecurity.”
True to habit, Ferrin accepted Garak’s word unquestioningly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have understood that.”
Garak said nothing, but inwardly he was pleased. Ferrin and Anatos might be young, but at least they learned quickly.
The group walked down the corridor. No one else was in sight, and they soon arrived at their destination. Another nondescript room in the warren of corridors. Inside was a bank of instrument panels.
“This is the control room for the lower-security sections of Central Command,” Kelor said.
“But not for the high-security areas, correct?” Garak said.
Kelor bristled. “You’re lucky to have access to this room!”
“Of course, we are,” Garak replied. “I wasn’t trying to be critical. I’m sure I can find a way to adapt our plan.”
“You’d better,” Kelor retorted. “And whatever you’re going to do, do it quickly. I can’t guarantee we can stay here for long.”
“Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” Anatos fumed. “Garak was with the Obsidian Order. He knows what he’s doing. And it’s a good thing someone around here does!”
Kelor sneered. “Imagine me, Tabmo Kelor, adjutant to Gul Bortak, helping a pack of huah dogs from the Obsidian Order! Only the Dominion could drive me so low.”
“My brother and I were never in the Order,” Ferrin replied. “We’re with the dissident movement.”
Kelor was genuinely surprised. “I thought all you weaklings had been executed with the traitors on the Detapa Council!”
“How can you call the council traitors?” Anatos shouted.
“The council practically handed Cardassia over to the Klingons on a platter!” Kelor yelled back.
“And is that better than the military handing Cardassia to the Dominion on a platter?” Ferrin retorted.
Kelor was pale with rage. “You can’t blame the military for that! We had no choice, after the council backed us into an impossible position…”
Garak had had quite enough. “Will everyone stop arguing? Once the Dominion has been driven out of Cardassian space, then we can all kill each other. But not before! We have far too much work to do, and I suggest we get to it.”
Miles O’Brien was certain that he didn’t have long to live. He’d had more than his share of lucky breaks in the 30 years he had served in Starfleet. A long time to be constantly putting oneself in danger. It was bound to end sooner or later. But for the sake of his wife and kids, he just wished it wouldn’t end now.
He and his away team – four security officers much younger than he – were uninjured and healthy. But that would change now that they had reached Cardassia Prime. He knew “Cardies” too well to think any different.
He had been mildly surprised when Weyoun had appeared at the holding cells with a Jem’Hadar guard and informed O’Brien that the Founder wished to speak with him. He couldn’t imagine what the shapeshifter wanted to know, but he swore inwardly that no one would get any useful information out of him.
In the front of the group, Weyoun paused at a door. It opened, and the Vorta bowed deeply.
“We have brought the human as you requested, revered Founder,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Weyoun,” a voice said from inside the room. “You can leave now.”
An electric shock went through O’Brien as he recognized the voice.
Weyoun didn’t move. “Are you sure, revered Founder? This human is dangerous. I think I should…”
“I said you could leave,” the voice reiterated, peevishly.
O’Brien recognized that tone, flashing back to bedtime tantrums and dinnertime arguments about some little lady who needs to clean her plate before she’s getting any larish pie for dessert.
Get a grip, O’Brien told himself. It’s not Molly. It’s some damned shapeshifter trick.
Not daring to argue with the “Founder,” Weyoun retreated. O’Brien stepped through the door and felt his stomach go “thud.”
If those sick bastards think this will fool me…, he thought angrily, as he came face to face with Molly’s “changeling double.”
As soon as the door shut, Molly ran up to him and grabbed his hand. O’Brien flinched and jerked his hand away.
“Daddy!” Molly wailed. “I want to go home! I don’t like it here.”
“Get away from me!” O’Brien said, disturbed. “I know you’re a shapeshifter.”
Molly started to cry in frustration. “But I’m not, Daddy. Honest! They think I’m Kirdo. We ran away. I didn’t want the monsters to get Kirdo.”
Molly wiped her tear-streaked face. “The big men. The Jem something.”
“Jem’Hadar,” O’Brien said. If this is a Founder, it’s doing a damned good impression of Molly, he thought. And why would Weyoun tell me she was a Founder, if they wanted to trick me into believing she’s Molly? This doesn’t add up…
“You have to believe me, Daddy!” Molly said. “I don’t know what to do. I’m trying to act like a changeling, and do what Kirdo does. But it’s hard. I haven’t had anything to eat for hours, and I’m hungry.”
Despite himself, O’Brien’s protective nature came out. “What? Don’t they feed you?”
“I can’t ask for food, Daddy,” Molly said. “Founders don’t eat. Kirdo doesn’t, anyway. All I have is this candy I brought with me from home.”
Molly reached into her pocket and showed her father the remaining pieces of icoberry candy.
Good lord, O’Brien thought. Keiko’s favorite candy. How could the Dominion know so much about my family?
Then an idea struck O’Brien.
“Molly,” he said, “I mean, whoever you are. If you are Molly, do you remember the time back on DS9 when Kirdo ate the strawberry shortcake?”
The girl squirmed. “I’m sorry about that, Daddy. I didn’t know it would make Kirdo sick.”
O’Brien recalled the incident very clearly. Kirdo and Molly had been playing together that afternoon. Molly got some shortcake from the replicator, and Kirdo wanted to try some, too. When O’Brien had checked on the children, Kirdo was rolling around on the floor in pain. After a panicked call to Odo, problem had been easily solved. Odo told the boy to shift into his liquid form. The remnants of the shortcake were left on the floor, as Kirdo slid away from it.
Later, Odo had explained. “It was nothing to worry about,” he said. “Changelings can ingest food, but not digest it. A little is fine, but too much will disrupt our cellular matrix. But it won’t cause permanent harm.”
No changeling could eat very much food without experiencing intense pain. If Molly could eat, it would prove her story.
O’Brien knelt down to face his daughter. “Molly, if you asked Weyoun to bring me food, would he do it?”
Molly nodded. “I think so. He does everything I ask. He brought me those dolls,” she added, pointing to the Cardassian dolls scattered all over the floor.
O’Brien cracked a smile. “You had Weyoun bring you dolls?”
Molly smiled impishly.
“Tell Weyoun that the food is for me,” O’Brien said. “And we’ll share it.”
“The human prisoner is hungry,” Molly said, and started counting off her list on her fingers. “We need a dozen Delvin puff pastries. But not the mint kind, it tastes terrible! Umm, and eight or nine candied moba fruits. And two uttaberry tortes. And a big pitcher of Trixian bubble juice!”***
Weyoun conscientiously noted the strange-sounding items on a padd, and bowed. “I will obtain these immediately, revered Founder.”
Before the Vorta could leave, Molly thought of something else. “And a larish pie, with butternut ice cream!”
This was too much for O’Brien. “The human prisoner also like vegetables,” he said, looking sternly at Molly. “Like Brussels sprouts and broccoli.”
“Don’t interrupt the Founder, human!” Weyoun snapped.
“That’s right, human,” Molly said, waggling her finger disapprovingly. “You may not like this food, but it’s good for you.”
Weyoun left to do Molly’s bidding.
“Molly,” O’Brien said sternly. “You know you’re not allowed to eat that kind of food at home.”
But he couldn’t help smiling at her audacity, and feeling proud that his nine-year-old daughter had outsmarted the Dominion all by herself.
When the food arrived, Molly dug in, allaying any doubts her father had about her identity. O’Brien realized she had no concept of the precariousness of their position.
“Listen, honey, it may seem like a lot of fun to get all the dolls and junk food you want,” O’Brien said. “But these are dangerous people, and we need to be careful. Every 16 hours, you should tell Weyoun that you don’t want to be disturbed. Real Founders do that, because they are regenerating. Act, I don’t know, unconcerned by everything around you. You know, aloof.”
Molly nodded gravely. “All right, Daddy.” She reached for a moba fruit.
“And no moba fruit until you finish your – whatever this Cardassian concoction is,” O’Brien said.
Molly made a face. “I think it’s fish casserole. Do I really have to eat it, Dad?”
“Yes, you do!” O’Brien said. “If you had told Weyoun to bring us some normal food, we wouldn’t have to eat this Cardie slop. Molly, you and I have to be a team, all right? And I can’t have my away team incapacitated because of a tummy ache.”
“Do I get to be in Starfleet now?” Molly asked.
“Well, if you’re going to be my away team, I guess you’ll have to be,” O’Brien said. “I’m giving you a battlefield promotion to ensign.”
“Goodie!” Molly said. “That means I outrank you.”
“Hmm,” O’Brien said. “I’m also giving myself a battlefield promotion to lieutenant commander, so don’t get any bright ideas. I think I know a way to get us out of here.”
As Weyoun left the room, Damar intercepted him.***
“Why are you bringing her food?” Damar demanded.
Weyoun sighed. Damar was a fine one to accuse anyone of insanity. His paranoia was growing worse every day.
“If you must know, she requested it for the human prisoner,” Weyoun replied. “It’s quite typical of Founders. They are always far too merciful. Not, of course, that it’s my place to question their wisdom.”
Damar was not placated. “Are you sure she’s a Founder? She doesn’t act much like one!”
Weyoun was annoyed. Paranoia was one thing, but this was verging on blasphemy.
“She’s an infant Founder,” Weyoun said. “Have you ever met an infant Founder?”
Damar scowled and looked uncomfortable. “No.”
“Neither have I,” Weyoun said, feeling the vexing stirrings of uncertainty. “I don’t know what she’s supposed to act like. But she’s the only Founder we have, so we’ll just have to adjust to her,” the Vorta concluded, muffling doubt in a comforting cushion of dogma.
“Fine!” Damar said snidely. “While she plays with her dolls and her pet human, I’m going to conduct the war, if you don’t mind. Your little excursion into Epsilon Canaris cost us plenty of territory. The war effort has been set back months! I hope this Founder of yours was worth it.”
“I can’t believe it!” Ferrin said, in horror. “Anatos, Garak – look at this!”
The trio huddled around Ferrin’s console, and read the news.
“Executed,” Anatos said, in shock. “Both of them.”
“What will we do without Rekelen and Hogue?” Ferrin added, mournfully. “They have always been our leaders…”
“We will have to be our own leaders now,” Garak said, without a trace of pity in his voice. “And if I have anything to say in the matter, they will be the last of our number to be slaughtered like meek gettles. I know it’s impolite to speak ill of the dead, but you children have made incredible mistakes. And you’ve paid the price. Rekelen, for instance, made the mistake of trusting Dukat.”
“What?” Anatos said.
“Rekelen was a spy,” Garak replied. “She was working for Dukat. Oh, she meant well – she probably felt it was the only way to save Hogue’s life.”
“Then she did the right thing,” Anatos said, firmly.
“No!” Garak yelled. Gathering his patience, he added, “You children will have to trust me. These incidents cannot continue if we hope to be successful here! In the first place, no organization of our sort can afford to have a husband and wife working in it. Or any two people who cannot sacrifice their loyalty to each other at a moment’s notice. The ideal agent is loyal to no one.”
“Garak is right,” Ferrin said. “Regardless of what she meant to do, Rekelen didn’t save Hogue’s life, did she? We have to forget what we learned on Bajor, and among the dissidents. Garak knows what we need to do. Let’s trust him.”
Anatos looked unconvinced, but yielded. “I guess we really don’t have much of a choice.”
Garak noticed Anatos’ doubt. He couldn’t allow any such thing among his protégés.
“Anatos, I chose you and your sister for this mission because you two have shown the most promise as effective agents,” Garak said. “It’s because you’re orphans. Outcasts. You have no loyalties to anyone.”
“Well, except to each other,” Anatos said. “I’ll always be loyal to Ferrin, just as she will be to me.”
“We’re also loyal to you, Garak,” Ferrin added.
Garak felt like he was talking in circles. He tried to explain it again. “No doubt, growing up on Bajor has left you with many foolish notions,” Garak said patiently. “But as you progress in your studies you will learn that in this line of work, to be loyal to anyone can be fatal. Even to your sibling. Even to your teacher. Am I getting through to you at all?”
Anatos and Ferrin looked sad and confused. Clearly, they wished they could say, “yes.”
The conversation was interrupted by Kelor’s return.
“It’s time,” Kelor said. “You know what you need to do, right?”
Everyone nodded silently. Before Kelor could leave, Anatos stopped him.
“Why are you doing this?” Anatos asked. “Aren’t you betraying the legate?”
Kelor turned, furious. “I’m not betraying the legate! For obvious reasons, Damar can’t act himself. He doesn’t know I’m doing this, and he shouldn’t. If he knew, he would be at risk. But no one questions my loyalty to the legate and to Cardassia.”
After Kelor departed, Garak nodded knowingly.
“Now you know the dangers of ‘loyalty,’” he said. “That is one emotion
I hope you two learn to stay clear of.”
The operation to free the Federation prisoners went smoothly. Too smoothly, for Garak’s hyper-cautious nature.
On some pretext, Kelor transferred the prisoners out of the high-security holding cells. When they were in a lower-security area, Garak lowered the anti-beam-out field, and transported them to a nearby safe house. Dissident sympathizers would smuggle them out of Cardassian space.
Garak contacted Kelor to confirm the identities of the five Federation officers.
“Not five,” Kelor said. “Four.”
A hitch. Garak had expected it. “There were five prisoners!”
On the viewscreen, Kelor looked down, probably at a padd, and scowled. “One of the humans was not with the others. The one called O’Brien.”
Garak gritted his teeth. “We need all five! Where is O’Brien?”
“It will be impossible to rescue him,” Kelor said. “He was taken to the main area of Central Command. He’s with the Founder, and Founders are always well-guarded.”
“We’ll have to try,” Garak said.
“This is idiotic!” Kelor fumed. “It’s not worth risking our lives just to rescue another human. And I can’t take the chance of being associated with two suspicious break-outs! I have a plausible explanation for the first escape, but I can’t use the same excuse twice!”
“Kelor, you don’t understand. We need the Federation’s backing in order to protect Cardassian interests when the Dominion collapses.”
Kelor was not swayed. “The Federation should be well-disposed towards us for just freeing the others. Establishing good relations with the Federation is one thing, but if we cooperate too much, we’ll start to look weak. Certainly a former Order agent would agree that we don’t want to start out on that footing with our new ‘allies.’”
Garak drew in his breath. This argument was getting nowhere. “The fact that O’Brien is with the Founder is not really a problem. We need to take the Founder into custody, anyway. We can retrieve O’Brien at the same time.”
Kelor was so angry he almost cut off the transmission. “Oh, so you just want to kidnap a Founder, do you?” he said, sarcastically. “Do you have any idea how difficult that will be? Why don’t we just beam the entire Central Command structure off the planet? It would probably be the easiest way! What does the Federation want with a Founder, anyway?”
Garak saw no point in telling Kelor the truth. He certainly wouldn’t cooperate if he knew the “Founder” was merely another human.
“Kelor, think about it!” Garak said. “As far as Weyoun knows, she’s the only Founder in the quadrant! She’s the reason the Dominion hasn’t collapsed by now.”
“Then the solution is simple. Let’s just kill her.”
Garak hadn’t expected this reaction. “No, absolutely not! It’s imperative that she be captured and turned over to the Federation. This is very important, Kelor, she must not be harmed. She’s just a young Founder, and the Federation thinks she can be reasoned with. If we kill her, Weyoun would be implacable in seeking revenge, even if it means the destruction of Cardassia.”
Kelor frowned, but he knew Garak was right. “All right, I agree. But the Federation better give us a couple of sectors if we manage to abduct a Founder for them, right out of Central Command.”
“I’m sure they’ll be suitably impressed,” Garak replied.
While Molly was taking a nap, O’Brien studied some star charts on a padd that Weyoun, helpful as ever, had delivered to the “Founder.” He was certain his plan could work. If only the Hesperian was still where they left it, all those years ago.
O’Brien’s thoughts were interrupted by a beep from the comlink. Expecting that it was Weyoun, once again checking on the Founder, O’Brien answered the call.
To his surprise, an unfamiliar Cardassian face appeared on the viewscreen.
“Who are you?” O’Brien said impatiently. He couldn’t resist the thrill of being rude to the damned Cardies with impunity, right smack in the middle of Central Command.
“I am Glinn Kelor,” the Cardassian said, with an arrogant tone. “I can’t talk for long over this comlink. Meet me in the connecting tube between the Central Command complex and the docking bays.”
“And just why should I do that?” O’Brien sneered.
“Garak sent me,” Kelor hissed. “He told me to use his name. I can’t talk any longer.”
The link was terminated. O’Brien sat in front of the terminal, scratching his chin. The mention of Garak’s name proved nothing, but it was enough to rouse his curiosity.
“Who was that, Daddy?” Molly said, rubbing her eyes.
“Nothing very important,” O’Brien replied. “Go back to sleep, honey. Remember, you’re regenerating.”
“Being a Founder is boring,” Molly said, as she groggily laid her head on the pillow.
O’Brien smiled and left the room. With two Jem’Hadar guards at the door, Molly would be fine for the few minutes it would take to see what Kelor wanted.
Unfortunately, to get to the meeting place, O’Brien had to go through the heart of Central Command. With the “Founder” giving him free run of the place, he knew it wouldn’t pose a problem. Still, it was unnerving with all those Cardies around…
Weyoun and Damar were engaged in yet another furious argument. O’Brien had nearly made it through the room unobserved when Damar noticed him.
“What’s that human doing here?” Damar said.
O’Brien bluffed. “The Founder sent me on an errand.”
“Damar…,” Weyoun said, warningly.
“Do you object to my taking precautions?” Damar retorted.
“Precautions!” Weyoun said, livid. “Where were your ‘precautions’ when the other Federation prisoners vanished?”
“I told you, we’ll track them down…”
“I doubt it,” Weyoun replied. “First my predecessor is killed in a shuttle explosion, and now this! Your security procedures are a joke. I don’t think the Founder is safe here.”
With the attention shifted from him, O’Brien dashed into the corridor and proceeded towards the rendezvous point. He was elated to hear that his away team had escaped. It also simplified his plan wonderfully, now that he had only himself and Molly to worry about.
O’Brien made his way through the corridors, straining to remember the map of Central Command he’d seen on the computer. To make matters worse, the corridors were poorly lit. Plenty bright enough for Cardie eyes, but annoying for a human who had to stumble through half-darkness.
He finally found the connecting tube. The whole area was blocked off for maintenance. Two Cardassians had opened a large panel next to the tube, and had dangerous-looking conduits draped all over the place. After seven years of working on Cardie technology at DS9, O’Brien could tell right away that the “maintenance” was phony. There wasn’t even any power running to the conduits.
Unlike the corridors O’Brien had just passed through, the connecting tube was curved. He had never seen this type of construction in DS9, but it was probably a new design. After all, DS9’s architecture was antiquated.
Near the midpoint of the tube was a tall Cardassian, who made a point of not looking at O’Brien. At the far end of the tube was an airlock in the familiar gear-like shape, leading to a docked spaceship.
“Kelor,” O’Brien said, simply.
The Cardassian turned. “Listen carefully. I know how to get you and the Founder out of here safely and back to the Federation.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“I told you, I’m working with a resistance agent. Garak. He said you’d recognize his name. This plan was all his idea.”
O’Brien narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “I see. And Garak told you to rescue me and…the Founder.”
“Yes! Now pay attention…”
“Garak told you the child was a Founder, is that right?” O’Brien persisted.
“Of course she’s a Founder. Stop asking idiotic questions.”
“Did, uh, ‘Garak’ tell you why the Federation wants her?”
Even with the two lookouts in the corridor, Kelor was worried about being seen. And he was losing his patience. “Because the Dominion will fall apart without her, of course! You’re exceptionally stupid, even for a human.”
“I suppose I am,” O’Brien said, with sarcasm that was utterly lost on Kelor. “Of course, the ‘Federation’ would want to capture the ‘Founder.’ You can count on my total cooperation.”
“Good,” Kelor said. “Make up some excuse to bring the Founder to this tube. We can lift the beam-out dampening field from this area, but you have to get her out of Central Command. Then we have a little drama to enact. I’ll be walking right in front of you. You grab my disruptor and threaten to kill the Founder. I’ll have another disruptor ready, and I’ll shoot you on a nonlethal setting.”
“I didn’t know Cardie weapons had nonlethal settings,” O’Brien said.
“Some do! They’re not ordinarily used in combat.”
“And you’ll be sure to have one of these…‘nonlethal’ disruptors with you.”
“We Cardassians are noted for our attention to detail. So don’t worry so much. Now, when I shoot you, Garak will lower the dampening field. You and the Founder will be beamed out at exactly that point. Garak will beam in something that looks like that goo Founders turn into. Everyone will think that you were vaporized and the Founder has reverted to her natural form to protect herself. By the time anyone realizes the Founder isn’t coming out of her ‘natural state,’ we will all be far away.”
O’Brien nodded. “Well, it sounds like you’ve covered all the angles.”
“Just make sure you and the Founder are in this spot in exactly one hour.”
In the time it took O’Brien to return to Molly, he had figured it all out.
For starters, it was obvious that Kelor was lying. The real Garak would know that Molly wasn’t a Founder.
So, what was Kelor’s real motivation? It was obvious. As the only “Founder” in existence, Molly was extremely valuable. The Cardassians had to be going mad with frustration at their powerless alliance with the Dominion. What better way to even the score than by kidnapping a “Founder” – the perfect trump card to hold over Weyoun?
If I’m right, Molly is in more danger than ever, O’Brien thought, as he looked at his sleeping daughter.
“Honey, wake up. It’s time to start our plan.”
Molly yawned. “But the two hours aren’t up yet, Daddy! I’m still regen…whatever that word is.”
“That doesn’t matter. We need to go, now. Here’s what you should tell Weyoun…”
“I have a new order for you,” Molly said imperiously. “We need to go to the…Aschelan system right now.”***
Weyoun bowed. O’Brien was proud of Molly for pronouncing the system’s name correctly after only practicing it a few times.
“What’s so important about the Aschelan system?” Damar barked.
Molly’s demeanor cracked, and she looked to her father in confusion.
“The Federation has plans to attack that system,” O’Brien said. “I’ll explain when we get there.”
“What plans?” Damar yelled. “Where in the system? We’ve been monitoring that area, and there hasn’t been a shred of evidence that…”
“I want to go to the Aschelan system!” Molly screamed. “I want to go, I want to go, and nobody better try to stop me!”
Practically in tears, Molly ran to her father. Weyoun was frozen in terror of the Founder’s “wrath,” unlike anything he’d ever seen before. O’Brien knew he’d better jump on the opportunity.
“If you know what’s good for you, Weyoun, you’ll get the Founder on a ship to the Aschelan System now,” O’Brien said.
Wordlessly, Weyoun led the way. O’Brien didn’t realize that in order to get to the flagship, they would have to go through the very same connecting tube where he had met with Kelor.
With the patience of an Argosian python, Garak monitored the comings and goings in Central Command. The scanning station was not the most sophisticated, but it was capable of distinguishing the high body temperatures of humans from Cardassians’ cooler readings. O’Brien and his daughter registered as larger “spikes” on the monitor screen, compared with the surrounding people.***
Garak had noted O’Brien’s previous conference with Kelor on the monitor. Afterwards, Kelor had called to confirm that everything was going smoothly.
‘Smoothly,’ Garak thought wryly. Now is the time for another hitch.
Despite his pessimism, Garak was surprised when the two human “spikes” quickly left Central Command and moved toward the connecting tube.
“What are they doing?” Garak said. “It’s too early!”
Garak contacted Kelor, who was waiting near the connecting tube. “For some reason, O’Brien and Mo…the Founder are headed for the tube now!” Garak said. “We’ll have to speed up our timetable.”
Kelor caught up with the group headed for the tube. He slipped in just in front of O’Brien, expecting him to follow through on the plan. Just as the group was going to enter the tube, Weyoun noticed the single Cardassian among the Jem’Hadar guards.***
“Wait,” Weyoun said. “You – what are you doing here?”
“Legate Damar assigned me to this duty,” Kelor bluffed. “You need a navigator to get through Cardassian space.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Weyoun replied. “We can find our way to the Aschelan system without your assistance.”
At the scanning station, Garak grimaced in frustration. He had just lowered the dampening field in the connecting tube, but the group had halted right at the entrance to the tube. Only a few meters, and he could and beam the O’Briens to safety. But where they stood, they were still covered by the high-security dampening field, and Garak couldn’t do anything about it.***
Kelor was in the group, so Garak couldn’t contact him. Whether they succeeded or failed was all up to Kelor now.
O’Brien watched Kelor and Weyoun argue for a few moments. Then he realized that foiling the Cardassian’s plan would be simple.***
“There’s something wrong here,” O’Brien said. “Check to make sure the tube to the docking bays is covered by an anti-beam-out field.”
Weyoun looked at Molly for confirmation. She nodded. The Vorta turned to a monitoring station on the wall at the corridor juncture, and checked it. To his astonishment, the field was down.
“More sabotage!” Weyoun said.
Kelor glared at O’Brien.
“Put the dampening field back in place,” O’Brien said. “The sooner the Founder is out of here, the safer she’ll be.”
From his console, Garak saw the dampening field go back up. The group proceeded into the tube and through the airlock doors, leaving just one Cardassian standing in the corridor.***
Pounding the console in frustration, Garak contacted Kelor. “What in the seven hells of the Hebitians is happening up there?”
“O’Brien wrecked the plan!” Kelor replied. “They’re boarding the Dominion flagship. They’re going to the Aschelan system.”
“The Aschelan system? Why are they going there?”
“Don’t ask me why. That O’Brien really is stupid, even for a human.”
Garak sighed and rubbed his forehead. “No, Kelor. I’m afraid, like many humans, he’s simply too smart for his own good. I might have to start telling the truth occasionally.”
“Never mind,” Garak said as he terminated the comlink.
Ferrin walked over and sat next to Garak. “What went wrong?”
“It’s obvious that the Chief doesn’t trust Kelor,” Garak explained. “I’m afraid he doesn’t much like our people, Ferrin. And he’s a bit stubborn, as well. I should have foreseen this. He’s obviously got his own plan. Right now, he’s trying to get as close to Federation space as possible. The Aschelan System is on the frontier. The only thing we can do now is contact Starfleet and tell them to be on the lookout in the border area for O’Brien trying to contact them.”
Taking over a small room on the Dominion flagship as their headquarters, O’Brien senior and junior discussed their plan.
“Before I met your mother, I served on a ship called the Rutledge,” O’Brien told his daughter. “We rescued colonists on a Federation planet called Setlik III. There had been a battle, you see, with the Cardies.”
“Were people hurt?”
O’Brien certainty didn’t want to scare his daughter with the truth. “Well, honey, the point is, after we left Setlik, we got a distress call from Cardassian space, in the Aschelan system. Right on the border. Some of the surviv…I mean the colonists had escaped in a small spaceship, but their navigational sensors were damaged. They had crashed on a planet. We found them, beamed them aboard and got out of there, fast.”
“But why are we going there now?”
“Because that spaceship is probably still there! I mean, I hope it is. It was, let’s see – 28 years ago! But the Cardies weren’t monitoring us, and nobody lived on that planet. I doubt anyone would have any reason to go there. If we can find that spaceship, we should be able to repair it and make it to Federation space.”
“Okay, Daddy. I’ll help you repair the spaceship, if you like.”
“Great, honey. You’re a brave kid.”
Finally, I can do something to help them, Sisko thought, as the Defiant went into warp.***
Garak’s message had been brief and to the point. The good news was that four Federation officers had been rescued. The bad news was that O’Brien and his daughter weren’t among them.
But his message had ended with more good news – at least O’Brien would be easier to rescue, in the Aschelan system. Better yet, the expected Dominion attack in Lyra, where the Defiant had been assigned, had never materialized. Inexplicably, the attack instead happened along the Klingon border, where the Dominion vessels had been thrashed. Admiral Ross had given Sisko the go-ahead to investigate the border area of the Aschelan system, for any sign of O’Brien.
No Federation attack force, Weyoun thought, unhappily. O’Brien lied about that. But still the Founder insisted on beaming down to an unfamiliar planet with the human, without Jem’Hadar guards.
Weyoun was disturbed. The Founder inexplicably preferred to take advice from an enemy, a human, rather than her loyal Vorta servant. It was supremely annoying. There had to be some explanation for it.
An adult Founder would never behave this way. Then Weyoun remembered something the female changeling had told him, to explain why Odo would not return to the Link. He was a young changeling – not as young as Kirdo, of course, but still much younger than the centuries-old Founders whom Weyoun was used to. Odo didn’t know what was best for him, but he would, given time. Even gods needed to grow up, it seemed.
It was simple. Kirdo was only a few months old. Despite her divine status, she needed advisors, and lacked the maturity to tell a good advisor from a bad one. When she came back from the planet, Weyoun would find some way to separate her from the human. Then the human would be tossed out the nearest airlock. End of problem.
The Founder might be angry, Weyoun thought. Well, it’s in her best interests.
Emboldened by his decision to “do what was best” for the Founder, Weyoun
had another idea. Her decision to beam down to the planet without guards
was dangerous. And no loyal Vorta could permit a god to be endangered…
As O’Brien surveyed the landscape, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. If his wife, Keiko, had been along, she would have been able to explain. As an exo-botanist, she was familiar with the phenomenon of variable climate worlds.
This planet had an elliptical orbit. Over the span of a century, it spent some of the time nearer the Aschelan star, and some of the time much further away. The result was a climate that varied between a cold and inhospitable expanse of rock, and a humid, dense rainforest.
When the Hesperian had crashed decades ago, the planet had been in a cold phase. Since that time, the climate had shifted. O’Brien and his daughter had beamed down to a planet with soaring trees, hundreds of meters high, and a thick, moist atmosphere that swirled in the sparse beams of light.
Stifling a curse, O’Brien held out his tricorder. It was a Dominion model, and he wasn’t sure if he was reading it right. But it was his only hope of detecting the tritanium and duranium alloys of the spacecraft’s hull.
The undergrowth made the going rough, especially for Molly. O’Brien was relieved when he picked up readings just a few meters away. At least I remembered the coordinates where the ship crashed correctly, O’Brien thought.
He hauled Molly over a downed tree trunk. Then his heart sank.
The Hesperian had been salvageable when it had originally crashed, but it wasn’t now. Thirty years of vegetation had grown up, around, and through the craft, which was now splayed in pieces on the forest floor.
O’Brien crawled around the hulk. The alloys of the hull, built for the rigors of space, were no match for the corrosive effects of water and oxygen, which they had never been designed to endure. Several trees had grown right through the weakened metals, piercing both the floor and ceiling.
“It looks pretty broken,” Molly said, skeptically. “Can we fix it?”
O’Brien shook his head. “We need another plan, honey.”
If the Hesperian couldn’t get off the planet, maybe there was something onboard that could help them get out of their predicament.
We need to send a distress call to the Federation, O’Brien thought. But Weyoun will know it if I send a message over subspace. I can disguise the message so he can’t read it, but he’ll know it was sent. What I need is a communications system, and a good excuse for using it.
The first part was easy. The Hesperian’s com system was relatively undamaged. With a little work, it could be rendered operable again. But he’d need access to tools and diagnostic systems…and those were only available on the Dominion vessel above.
The second part wouldn’t be so easy. O’Brien silently called on the sacred stone of his ancestors for help. He would need the golden tongue of the bards, and plenty of blarney, to pull this off.
Weyoun hovered impatiently as O’Brien finished his work. The Vorta’s suspicions had increased when the cloaked Jem’Hadar he’d sent to the planet reported what they’d seen and heard. A damaged spacecraft. An odd conversation between the Founder and the human, during which the human had mentioned “their plan.”
Attempts to separate the Founder from O’Brien had been unsuccessful. The human claimed he needed her help in hooking up – whatever this contraption was that they had brought back from the wreck.
O’Brien slid out from under the console where he had attached the new device.
“Explain it to me again,” Weyoun said. “What is this thing?”
“Oh, well,” O’Brien said, glancing at Molly as though she could help him come up with a plausible story. “It’s…experimental Federation technology. A temporal spaceshift drive!”
“You mean, you’ve never heard of a temporal spaceshift drive?” O’Brien said, feigning surprise. “It takes your spaceship back in time. Imagine what kind of advantage that would be, eh? Say that a bunch of cloaked Klingon birds of prey sneak up on you. Just kick in the old temporal spaceshift drive, and you can shift back a few minutes and sneak up on them! Pretty slick, eh? Bet you can’t wait to test it out!”
“If this is some sort of…propulsion device, why does it need to be hooked up to our communications system?” Weyoun said.
“Umm, well, that’s the only system on this ship that’s compatible with the spaceshift drive,” O’Brien said. “It wouldn’t work anywhere else.”
Weyoun was far from convinced. “If the vessel on that planet had this temporal shift…whatever…why did they crash?”
“Uh…they got careless!” O’Brien said. “They used the drive while in orbit, and forgot that the planet’s orbit would put the planet right in their path, when they went back in time! That’s how they ended up crashing.”
Weyoun thought about it. “That sounds like a reasonable explanation. Show me how it works.”
O’Brien turned and looked at his handiwork: one barely-functional Federation communication system which just might be able to send a coded subspace distress signal to any ship in the vicinity. Of course, O’Brien had no idea how he could convince Weyoun to lower the Dominion flagship’s shields, so that he and Molly could be beamed to the rescuing ship. But he had to take this one step at a time. First, he needed to demonstrate this amazing temporal spaceshift drive that he had just made up.
Fiddling with a few buttons, O’Brien sent a distress beacon. To distract attention, he flipped a switch with a theatrical flourish.
“Okay, that did it,” O’Brien said.
“What did what?” Weyoun replied suspiciously. “Nothing looks any different to me.”
“The drive activated,” O’Brien said. “It happens instantaneously. We’re a few minutes in the past, now.”
Weyoun checked the ships’ chronometer. “No, we’re not. Not according to the internal clocks.”
O’Brien waved his hands impatiently. “Well, of course the ship’s clocks are still the same! It doesn’t change time for us, you know. Just for everything outside the ship.”
“Then how can I tell if this temporal, whatever….”
“Temporal spaceshift drive,” O’Brien said, helpfully.
“How can I tell that it works?”
“No problem. I can arrange a demonstration. Let’s find an enemy ship to attack.” O’Brien prayed that some “enemy ship” would be close enough to investigate his subspace beacon.
“That should be easy,” Weyoun sniped. “We’ll just find that ‘Federation attack force’ of yours…”
“I’ve detected an unknown vessel 300,000 kilometers ahead in Federation space,” the Jem’Hadar at the conn announced.
“Close enough,” Weyoun said. “Change heading to intercept.”
Aboard the Defiant, Nog picked up the Dominion vessel on long-range sensors.***
“Well, Ensign?” Sisko said. “Is that where the distress call came from?”
“Yes, Sir,” Nog replied. “If O’Brien and Molly are on that ship…”
“Right,” Sisko said. “How do we get them out of there?”
“I recommend that we activate the cloak,” Worf interjected. “It is unlikely that the chief will be able to prevent the Dominion vessel from attacking us on sight.”
“And we don’t want to be forced to return fire,” Sisko replied. “Nog, prepare to activate the cloak on my signal. O’Brien wouldn’t have sent the distress call unless he had a plan. Let’s wait for him to make the next move.”
Nog looked down at his console. “I think he just has, Sir. I’m getting another coded signal. Decoding now…huh?”
“What is it?” Sisko snapped.
“Switching to audio, Sir,” Nog said. “I don’t know what to make of it, myself.”
“Aren’t you ready yet?” Weyoun badgered.***
O’Brien was back under the console. At least he had managed to send the second message without raising suspicions. Now, if only Sisko understood what he needed to do…
“I’m doing the best I can!” O’Brien yelled back. “Temporal mechanics are really tricky, you know.”
The chief got back on his feet. He couldn’t put off the “demonstration” any longer.
“How does this plan work again?” Weyoun asked.
O’Brien launched into the explanation, waving his hands around animatedly. “The trick is to engage the enemy in a kind of ‘dance’ – while you’re setting up the attack. You note their exact coordinates, then five minutes later, take your own vessel to that location. Close enough that when we make the temporal jump to five minutes ago, we’re actually inside their shields. Or, at least the forward part of the ship with the polaron cannons is inside the shields. Then we can obliterate them at close range!”
“Won’t that also obliterate us at close range?” Weyoun asked.
“No, that’s the beauty of it! Just as we fire, we make another jump to five minutes even further in the past!”
Weyoun closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to get this all straight. “So, we’ll end up 10 minutes in the past, correct?”
“Right! We won’t even have seen the enemy ship yet, and already it will have been destroyed!”
Despite himself, Weyoun was impressed. “I hadn’t realized the Federation possessed such sophisticated technology. Any vessel with spaceshift drive would be unstoppable!”
“That’s the idea,” O’Brien said.
“Hmm. I don’t quite understand why you’re so willing to turn this technology over to the Dominion.”
“Well, I wouldn’t except…the Founder has convinced me that it is the fate of the Alpha Quadrant to be ruled by the Dominion. I can’t believe I ever opposed the Founders. We would all be better off under their benevolent rule. Isn’t that true, err, revered Founder?”
Molly smiled and nodded. “You learn fast, for a human!”
O’Brien put his hand to his chest and bowed. “You honor me, Founder.”
Molly bit her lip to keep from giggling.
“The Federation ship is within weapons range,” the Jem’Hadar said. “Shall we engage them?”
“Yes, I think it’s time to test out this amazing new weapon,” Weyoun said.
O’Brien stood next to the Jem’Hadar at the conn. “Take us to the coordinates where Federation vessel was five minutes ago.”
The Jem’Hadar obeyed, and the Dominion vessel moved past the Defiant.
O’Brien returned to the “spaceshift drive,” and flipped the switch. A moment passed, but the Defiant appeared to be exactly where it was before.
“What happened?” Weyoun said angrily. “Why aren’t we inside their shields?”
O’Brien let his jaw drop in mock horror. “I don’t believe it! The Federation ship has its own spaceshift drive! They’re anticipated our actions and moved out of our range. There’s only one way to combat them. Lower our shields and redeploy them selectively, around the weapons and engines, at triple the normal strength.”
“Are you crazy?” Weyoun ranted. “We can’t leave the rest of the ship defenseless! The shields stay where they are!”
“We’re already defenseless, you stupid Vorta!” O’Brien retorted. “If the Federation ship has spaceshift drive, they can reappear inside our shields whenever – and I do mean, whenever – they like! They’ll attack the weapons and engines, but they won’t be expecting the shields to be tripled in strength. When their initial attack fails, we’ll hit them with everything we’ve got and blow them to kingdom come.”
Weyoun was confused, but couldn’t think of a better plan. “All right, we’ll redeploy the shields.”
O’Brien took over the tactical station. The Defiant vanished.
“They’ve activated their spaceshift drive,” O’Brien said. “Now we wait.”
A few minutes passed, and nothing happened.
“Shouldn’t they have reappeared by now?” Weyoun asked. “And if they’re travelling through time, why didn’t they reappear immediately?”
O’Brien put a concerned expression on his face. Then he smacked his forehead with his hand. “How could I be so stupid? Our spaceshift drive is an experimental model, almost 30 years old. They must have a far more advanced drive. Probably capable of moving hours or even days in time! They’re not going to attack us here – they’re going to intercept us three hours ago in the Aschelan system and destroy us before we even have a chance to retrieve the drive from the planet!”
Weyoun panicked. “We have to protect the Founder!”
O’Brien nodded. “That’s right, we do. Founder, shapeshift into a different form, so you can survive the blast if this vessel is destroyed. In the meantime, we still have a chance. If I can get the spaceshift drive to throw us four hours in the past, we can lie in wait for the Federation vessel…”
O’Brien hustled back to the “spaceshift drive.”
“This won’t be easy…,” he said, as he dodged under the console. Suddenly, the console erupted in a huge explosion.
When the smoke had cleared, O’Brien was gone – apparently obliterated by the blast. Weyoun looked behind him. To his relief, the Founder had followed the human’s advice, and shifted into block of solid tritanium. Regardless of what happened, at least she would be safe.
Weyoun nervously waited for destruction. He had no experience with the vagaries of temporal mechanics, but it was beginning to dawn on him that something was wrong with this scenario.
“Chief!” Dax said. “Your uniform’s on fire.”
O’Brien patted the sleeve of his uniform, where it was smoldering.
“Thanks,” O’Brien said. “I guess that temporal spaceshift drive made a bigger fireworks display than I intended.”
“Temporal…what?” Dax said.
Molly bounded off the transporter pad. “We can’t tell you. It’s top secret.”
“Well, maybe you could explain that message you sent,” Dax said. “It wasn’t easy to replicate a block of tritanium with just five minute’s notice! Why did you want that transported over to the Dominion vessel, anyway?”
“I’ll go talk with the captain,” O’Brien replied. “But first, we should leave the area before Weyoun catches onto the fact that we aren’t really going to blow up his ship three hours ago.”
Dax gave O’Brien a blank look. “I think I’d like to hear this explanation, too.”
“Sure,” O’Brien said. “But first, can you show us to our quarters? It’s past the Founder’s bedtime and she needs to regenerate.”
If anyone had earned vacation, it was O’Brien. After taking Molly back to Earth, he spent a few days with his family.
When she sat down to dinner, Molly was still wearing her combadge, which Captain Sisko had given her as a reward for the ‘first successful mission’ of her Starfleet career. It didn’t actually work – O’Brien had disabled it after Molly kept bothering everyone on the Defiant with calls – but she was proud of it nonetheless.
Molly picked at her food. “I don’t want to eat anything.”
“Honey, you have to finish your Brussels sprouts,” Keiko said. “Then it’s time to brush your teeth and go to bed.”
Molly got cross. “Mr. Weyoun didn't make me eat Brussels sprouts or go to bed when I didn't want to! Mr. Weyoun was a lot nicer than you! I wish I was still living with Mr. Weyoun!”
This outburst got Molly sent straight to bed.
“Great,” O’Brien said. “So now, every time Molly doesn't like something, guess what we get to hear about? Next time I see Weyoun, I’m going to strangle him!”
“Me first,” Keiko replied.