His eyes opened, and he looked out into the dark.
Where am I?
As his pupils became accustomed to the gloom, objects began to take shape. But his memory adjusted faster than his eyes, and he remembered where he was.
Groan. Still aboard the Defiant.
Julian Bashir sat up and swung his feet to the floor. How long had it been since he had last seen DS9? Six weeks, maybe eight? It was all just a dim memory. His spacious quarters – five times the size of this cramped box he was expected to live in. His well-appointed infirmary, which he preferred immeasurably to the Defiant’s spare sickbay. And everything else. The holosuites, Quark’s bar. Even the comforting knowledge that a whole planet, Bajor, was only a few hours away. Instead, he was shoehorned into a small spaceship that could be virtually anywhere in the quadrant.
If Bashir ever had any doubts that DS9 was his home, he knew it now. He was homesick.
Bashir checked the time. It was far too early to wake up, but he couldn’t get back to sleep. He lay back on his bunk and thought about the dream.
He knew enough about psychology to understand that his feelings of dislocation were the source of his recurring dreams about DS9. The dreams were probably healthy, but it made them no less disturbing.
It usually began in Quark’s. He sat at the bar, surrounded by people he didn’t recognize, but who nevertheless seemed to be his friends. Then he strolled out onto the promenade. He walked past the jumja stick merchant and the vedek ringing the bell for services. The dream-walk always ended at the same place: his infirmary.
In tonight’s dream, as always, a patient had been waiting on the bio-bed. The patient’s identity varied. Many times, it was a person Bashir did not recognize, but for some reason he felt he “knew.” More than once, the patient had been Jadzia.
This time, the figure on the bio-bed was unfamiliar: a small, pale boy, of unknown species. Bashir felt that he should know the boy’s name, but for some reason couldn’t remember it.
The boy’s lanky black hair partially obscured his face, but Bashir could see his large, unblinking eyes. Calm, almost bovine, fatalistic. You cannot save me, the eyes said.
Bashir looked down at his hands. He was holding a vial of dark-colored blood. He had the unnerving feeling that he had forgotten to finish some important task.
Abruptly, Sisko was standing next to Bashir, observing the strange boy. Bashir knew that there was something crucial he had to tell Sisko. If only he could remember what is was…
“We could cure this boy now, today,” Bashir said. “If we gave a damn.”
“It's not that we don't give a damn, we've just given up,” Sisko replied. “The war is too enormous for us to deal with.”
“That only makes things worse,” Bashir said. “Causing people to suffer because you hate them is terrible, but causing people to suffer because you've forgotten how to care... that's really hard to understand.”
“We haven’t forgotten how to care,” Sisko said. “But we can’t afford to. Not now. Eventually, people of this century will be able to care again. Right now, they’re too frightened. Desperate.”
“It makes you wonder, doesn't it?” Bashir asked. “If push comes to shove, how would we react? Would we stay true to our ideals?”
“I don't know,” Sisko responded. “But as a Starfleet officer, it's my job to make sure we never have to find out.”
At this point, Bashir had awakened. This dream had been more disturbing than usual, and it stayed in his mind. It seemed to him that he and Sisko had had that conversation before, and not in a dream.
After an eternity, it was 06:00 hours. Eager for any distraction, Bashir changed his usual routine and went to the mess hall for breakfast.
Sisko was there. His routine was always to have breakfast in the mess hall. Bashir knew he’d find him there.
“Captain,” Bashir begin hesitantly. “This may seem strange, but…I had a dream. Well, I’ve been having these dreams, about DS9. Homesickness, probably. But this one was different.”
Sisko appeared genuinely interested. “Go on. What was different about it?”
“Well, you were there, for starters,” Bashir said. “And our conversation seemed oddly familiar. Let’s see, how did it go? We were in the infirmary, discussing a sick boy. I said we could cure him ‘if we gave a damn.’ You said people were too frightened to care. I said…something about staying true to our ideals. Then you said it was ‘your job as a Starfleet officer’ to make sure we never find out…something…I can’t recall it clearly. I’m sorry, this isn’t making a lot of sense.”
Sisko shook his head, “No, wait. You’re right, that conversation does sound familiar.”
After thinking for a moment, Sisko snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it! San Francisco, early 21st Century! The Bell riots.”
Bashir smiled. “I remember it now. I knew it sounded familiar! Hmm, it’s odd that particular conversation would be in that dream.”
“Why is it odd?” Sisko said.
“Well, it seemed like in my dream, it was us – I mean, the Federation – that didn’t give a damn about curing the sick boy. I suppose I could always ask Ezri to tell me what it says about my mental state.”
“If you like,” Sisko said. “But fair warning. Lately, she’s started to develop Curzon’s sense of humor. So take her ‘interpretations’ with a grain of salt.”
Later, when Dax came into the mess hall, Bashir had decided not to bother her with what was probably a meaningless dream. He continued to have the recurring DS9 dreams, but the conversation with Sisko never occurred again.
Days passed. A feeling of foreboding descended on the Defiant crew. The Dominion attacks had been unremitting and ferocious, but lately there had been a lull. People were “walking on antimatter pods,” as Dax colorfully put it. When would the next assault occur?
Knowing that his people’s nerves were stretched, Sisko arranged for a brief stay-over at Starbase 495. His motives were not entirely altruistic. He wanted a chance to contact as many of the top brass at Starfleet as possible, to find out if anyone knew why the Dominion attacks had seemingly slowed down.
Sisko’s inquiries were fruitless. Some sectors reported that Dominion attacks were unchanged, or even that they had been stepped up. Other sectors appeared to have been abandoned by the enemy. Starfleet’s strategists had been working ceaselessly, but so far, no pattern had emerged to explain the apparent change in Dominion tactics.
Two hours before the Defiant was scheduled to depart, Sisko got a message from Bashir. The doctor had important news. Could Sisko meet him in his ready room?
Sisko left the starbase for the docked Defiant. Bashir was waiting for him, not sitting, but pacing around.
“I thought it would be better to talk here,” Bashir said. “Where we know we won’t be overheard.”
Sisko deliberately took his time in seating himself. The doctor was a bit too excitable.
“All right,” Sisko said. “What’s so…”
Bashir leaned over the desk. “Section 31!” he half-whispered. “They’ve contacted me again!”
Sisko cocked his head. “How do you know it was Section 31. Was it Sloan?”
“No,” Bashir replied. “One of his flunkies. But is was unmistakably Section 31. The flunky used Sloan’s name and said it was ‘time I decided whether or not I cared enough about the Federation to save it.’”
Sisko grinned. “He said that? Well, that sounds like Section 31, all right. They’re nothing if not grandiose. So, Doctor. Are you up for ‘saving the Federation’?”
Bashir straightened up and mock-saluted. “Doctor Bashir, savior of the Federation, reporting for duty, Sir.”
“All joking aside, these people are serious,” Sisko said. “You should think about whether you really want to infiltrate Section 31 and expose their activities. You need to be sure that you believe in what you’re doing. A lot of other Starfleet officers apparently think Section 31 has the right idea. From what little on it I’ve been able to glean, its influence is growing.”
“Then they have to be stopped,” Bashir replied soberly.
“Oh?” Sisko said, testing Bashir. “Why? Aren’t their methods effective? Aren’t they the best chance the Federation has of winning this war?”
“We could win, using their methods, but we would still lose,” Bashir said. “We’d lose our ideals, everything the Federation stands for. It doesn’t matter if they’re effective. They’re still a menace.”
Sisko nodded, satisfied. “Good. Keep thinking that way. When you’re on the inside, it might be easy to forget that.”
The arrangements were made. As a cover story, Bashir “officially” resigned his commission and left the Defiant. He met the Section 31 contact at Starbase 495, as previously arranged. He brought his medical kit with him, just as the contact had requested.
Bashir made the journey in an unconscious state. As before, the contact insisted he be knocked out with a hypospray, so he couldn’t reveal the location of Section 31’s base. What the contact couldn’t know was that one of Bashir’s medical tricorders was, in reality, a subspace communicator. Once Bashir knew where Section 31 was located, and what their objective was, he would contact Sisko.
When Bashir awoke, the small starship was just docking. Groggily, he grabbed his medical kit and followed the flunky into a nondescript starbase that could have been anywhere.
Just as Bashir expected, he was immediately taken to see Sloan. When the other Section 31 agent left, Sloan rose from the desk where he was sitting. Without speaking, he took the medical kit out of Bashir’s hands and put it on the desk. He searched around in the kit for a moment, found the disguised communicator, and tossed it casually to the astonished Bashir.
“Give my regards to Captain Sisko the next time you report in,” Sloan said, with a big grin.
Bashir slammed the communicator down on the desk. “How did you know I was a plant?”
“This sudden conversion of yours is pretty suspicious, you must admit,” Sloan said, vastly amused. “As a spy, you make a good doctor.”
“If that’s what you think, then what am I doing here?” Bashir replied.
“Because, right now, a good doctor is what we need,” Sloan said. “And when you hear what I have to say, you will work for us – willingly.”
Sloan walked back around the desk to his chair. The pause was mainly, Bashir suspected, for dramatic effect.
“We’ve found a way to win the war,” Sloan said. “Or, what I mean is, we’ve found a way that you, Doctor, can win the war for us.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, Sloan,” Bashir said, sardonically.
Sloan paused again, and picked up a padd. “I read your research into ketracel-white, Doctor. Very interesting. You’re probably the Federation’s premier expert on the subject.”
“I’ve had more opportunity than most to study the Jem’Hadar,” Bashir acknowledged.
“And you were very close, I believe, to finding a cure for their addiction,” Sloan continued. “Now that would have been something! To remove the only thing keeping the Jem’Hadar loyal to the Dominion. That would give the Federation quite an advantage, don’t you agree?”
“Well, Starfleet didn’t agree,” Bashir said. “And I can see their point. We really don’t know what would happen if the Jem’Hadar were no longer dependent on the white. They are genetically engineered to be loyal to the Founders. Removing their addiction could simply make the situation worse.”
“But that’s not what you put in your report,” Sloan said, reading off the padd. “‘It is my judgement that a cure for the Jem’Hadar’s ketracel-white addiction would not only be a humanitarian gesture, but would also prove of immense strategic value to the Federation war effort.’ Do you still believe that?”
“Yes, I do,” Bashir said. He hadn’t thought about his abandoned research in years, and the memory made him angry.
“The Jem’Hadar might still be loyal to the Founders without the white, but at least we’d have a chance to reason with them,” Bashir continued. “To sever their dependence on the Vorta, at least. The Jem’Hadar aren’t evil, you know. You once described them as ‘killing machines,’ but that isn’t their nature. The white not only ensures their loyalty, it changes their behavior! They become much more aggressive, and they’re impossible to communicate with. But when they’re off the white, they’ll listen. Well, to some degree. But even the slight chance of being able to reason with them is preferable to kill or be killed!”
“How do you know how the Jem’Hadar behave off the white?” Sloan asked.
Bashir gestured to the padd in Sloan’s hands. “It’s in the report. I encountered a Jem’Hadar named Goran’Agar, who didn’t need the white. If you could have met him, you would have understood. I really think I was getting through to him! But he’s dead now….”
Sloan put down the padd. “Well, you’ve convinced me, Doctor. What was Starfleet’s reaction?”
“Stop playing games, Sloan,” Bashir snapped. “If you read the report, you know their reaction! They told me to stop meddling in military affairs and stick to medicine.”
Sloan raised his eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. “Really? They said that?”
“Well, not in so many words,” Bashir said. “They were very…polite. You know, the way Starfleet is when they’re brushing you off. They pointed out that the Dominion had few ketracel-white processing facilities in the Alpha Quadrant, which limited their ability to deploy Jem’Hadar troops. A cure for the white would help the Dominion, not hurt it.”
Sloan was appalled, or at least pretended to be. “But that was three years ago! The Dominion has been busy. There’s no shortage of the white now. A cure couldn’t help the Dominion. Have you pointed this out to Starfleet?”
Bashir sighed. “Yes. Repeatedly. They said they’d get back to me.”
“And have they?”
“Well, I imagine the war has kept everyone pretty busy.”
Sloan began pacing around the room. “Busy pushing papers! Doctor, this is exactly the reason why Section 31 exists! If we left the war up to the bureaucrats, we’d be overrun by the Dominion in no time. The fact is, your idea scares Starfleet. They know it could work – it could be the single determining factor in ending the war – but they don’t know that for sure. No one is willing to stick his neck out and take a chance! Meanwhile, countless lives are being lost while the bureaucrats dither! We can’t let an opportunity like this slip through our grasp.”
Bashir couldn’t argue with this. “Assuming you’re right, what can we do about it?”
“You said Goran’Agar was dead,” Sloan replied. “What if I told you he was still alive?”
“Then I could continue my work,” Bashir said. “His blood has some kind of substance in it that keeps him from needing the ketracel-white. I could use that to synthesize a cure.”
“Well, he is alive,” Sloan said. “And he’s on this starbase.”
Bashir was astonished. “What? How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”
“Ask him yourself,” Sloan said. “I’ll take you down there.”
Eager to check out Sloan’s story, Julian turned to leave.
“I think you’ll need this,” Sloan said, handing back the medical kit.
Bashir looked in the kit.
“Yes, the communicator is in there,” Sloan said. “All I ask is that you speak with Goran’Agar before you shut down our operations here. Even if you don’t think much of me, or of Section 31, I think he deserves that much consideration.”
Bashir doubted that Sloan honestly gave a damn about the welfare of a Jem’Hadar. And when they reached their destination, it was obvious Sloan and his colleagues didn’t trust this enemy in their midst, either. Goran’Agar was in a holding cell, with two Section 31 guards nearby.***
Bashir walked up to the perimeter of the cell’s force field. Jem’Hadar tended to look alike, but Bashir was certain it was Goran’Agar. And when the Jem’Hadar looked up, he seemed to recognize Bashir.
“I thought you were dead,” Bashir said.
“I was stronger than my men,” Goran’Agar replied. “So I survived.”
“You mean, you killed them on Bopak III,” Bashir said.
Goran’Agar did not respond, so Bashir tried a different question. “How did you end up here?”
“I was stranded on Bopak III for months,” he said. “Finally, the Dominion discovered me. I was transferred to the Alpha Quadrant. Later, I was captured by the Federation.”
Bashir was suspicious. “I didn’t think Jem’Hadar allowed themselves to be captured.”
“I could not permit myself to die,” Goran’Agar said. “My blood is the key to my people’s freedom. When I was captured, I told my guards about your research. I thought it could be helpful to the Federation. They did not seem interested.”
“Not until one of our agents heard about Goran’Agar, that is,” Sloan said. “We identified him by matching his genetic scan to the information in your report.”
“I suppose you didn’t even bother to tell Starfleet…” Bashir begin.
“Doctor, I think we should continue this conversation elsewhere,” Sloan interrupted, glancing at Goran’Agar.
Bashir and Sloan left the holding cell area and walked back into the corridor.
“I don’t know why I’m even asking,” Bashir said. “But couldn’t you have simply told Starfleet about Goran’Agar, and let them decide what to do?”
Sloan laughed. “Doctor, Starfleet didn’t even know what they had. He had been in custody a week, and no one had bothered to check his DNA. It took Section 31 to recognize what a godsend he was!”
“And why, exactly, would Starfleet have thought to check his DNA?” Bashir asked. “Don’t answer, I can guess. You’ve had Section 31 agents checking the DNA of every captured Jem’Hadar for years, haven’t you?”
“Someone had to!” Sloan retorted. “Admittedly, it was a shot in the dark. Your report implied that Goran’Agar didn’t survive. And it’s rare that Jem’Hadar are captured at all. We’re just lucky he has such a strong sense of obligation towards his people. It’s strange, Doctor. I’ve never seen one of his kind up close. And you’re right. They do have a…I don’t know, I guess I’d call it nobility. Much different than what I expected.”
“An addicted Jem’Hadar wouldn’t have made such a good impression,” Bashir said, dryly.
“And that’s precisely why we need you to continue your research!” Sloan said. “We have a lab here, with vials of Goran’Agar’s blood already in storage. I don’t see how you can stand by while an intelligent species is turned into mindless beasts by drugs…”
“Oh, spare me your speeches about the ‘poor Jem’Hadar,’ Sloan!” Bashir shouted. “It doesn’t wash, coming from you. If my research led to a virus that would kill every Jem’Hadar in the quadrant, you’d be just as happy with that as you would be with a cure.”
“You’re right, as usual,” Sloan said, switching tacks without missing a beat. “I just want the Jem’Hadar neutralized. I don’t care how. But you should care. You have a lab, and a patient – hundreds of thousands of patients – who need your help. So what are you going to do?”
“You’re telling me that I have a choice?”
“Certainly. Of course, you’ll have to stay here until you make the right choice. However long that takes. But I realize there’s no way to force you to do this work. I’m counting on your sense of medical ethics. Isn’t the first rule of medicine to ‘alleviate suffering wherever possible’?”
Bashir shook his head. “No, as a matter of fact, the first rule is to ‘do no harm.’ Meaning, don’t make a bad situation worse. Before I do anything, I need to see for myself that curing the Jem’Hadar’s addiction will help the Federation, not hurt it. I need to be convinced that the Jem’Hadar would no longer be loyal to the Dominion without the white.”
“Goran’Agar’s your proof of how a cured Jem’Hadar behaves,” Sloan said. “Talk with him and decide for yourself.”
Bashir returned to the holding cells alone. He asked the guards to leave. Behind the security field, Goran’Agar was certainly no threat. And for some reason, Bashir felt uneasy about questioning the Jem’Hadar in the presence of Section 31 agents.
Goran’Agar looked at Bashir with mild curiosity. “Why are you here? You have adequate samples of my blood in the lab. Is there something you still need before you can begin your work?”
“Yes…in a way, there is. Goran’Agar, you said the Dominion retrieved you from Bopak III.”
“That is true.”
“It didn’t occur to you not to go back to the Dominion?”
“No. It did not.”
“Were you still eager to serve the Founders?”
“Of course! There is no other reason for my existence.”
Bashir had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew he was just looking for an excuse to continue his research. No doctor could do any less. But Goran’Agar’s blind obedience seemed to confirm Bashir’s fear that removing the addiction wouldn’t change anything. The Jem’Hadar’s loyalty to the Founders couldn’t be erased by an injection.
“So you never question the Founders, ever?” Bashir asked.
Goran’Agar paused in thought. “Perhaps there is one thing. I cannot understand what purpose the Vorta serve.”
Bashir grinned. “You and me, both. I imagine the ship you were assigned to had a Vorta field supervisor?”
For the first time, Goran’Agar displayed a trace of emotion. Anger.
“Yes. His decisions were ludicrous. He led us into a Federation trap. Most of our attack wing was destroyed.”
“No one questioned the Vorta, correct?”
“No one saw that he was incompetent.”
“Except for you!” Bashir said excitedly. “Do you think it’s because you don’t need the white?”
Goran’Agar said nothing.
“You’re not obedient like the other Jem’Hadar, are you?” Bashir said. “You think for yourself, you question things. Maybe not the Founders, but certainly the Vorta. Right?”
Goran’Agar jumped to his feet quickly. Startled, Bashir stepped back.
“That Vorta cost many men their lives!” Goran’Agar said, angrier than before. “I should have broken his neck!”
“Why didn’t you?”
“How could I? The Vorta controlled the white.”
“Ah, right. The rest of the men on that ship would have died.”
Goran’Agar forced himself to calm down. “I am glad I was captured. I cannot follow the orders of a Vorta, ever again.”
“Thank you, Goran’Agar,” Bashir said. “I think I’ve learned all I need to know.”
Bashir didn’t bother to tell Sloan his decision. He simply went to the lab and began running tests on the samples of Goran’Agar’s blood, where Sloan found him.
“Well, Doctor,” Sloan said. “I see you’ve made the right choice.”
“I’ve made the only choice I could,” Bashir said. He wished he could just get on with his work. It rankled him that Sloan thought he had “won.” The doctor ignored Sloan and kept at his task.
Sloan didn’t – or didn’t want to – take the hint. “You aren’t worried about what will happen if the Jem’Hadar are cured, then?”
“Not after talking with Goran’Agar, no,” Bashir replied. “No matter what, they’ll always be loyal to the Founders. But they’ll have no reason to be loyal to the Vorta. So, unless the Founders want to start running things themselves, the Dominion chain of command will be broken. At the very least, it will cause chaos.”
“Is chaos a good thing?” Sloan said, still playing his favorite role of devil’s advocate. “What if the Jem’Hadar go berserk? With no one to control them, they could still be a danger.”
“I don’t think so, and neither do you,” Bashir said, weary of the game. “When they’re cured, the Jem’Hadar will no longer be blindly aggressive. Goran’Agar wanted to kill the Vorta on his ship, but restrained himself for the good of his fellows.”
“Good,” Sloan said. “Just wanted to make sure you really believed in what you were doing here.”
By using that phrase, Sloan unwittingly reminded Bashir of his earlier conversation with Sisko. How am I going to explain this? he thought guiltily.
“Sloan, before you go…,” Bashir said.
“I have to tell Captain Sisko what I’m doing,” Bashir said. “It’s not fair to leave him in the dark.”
“I don’t think that’s very wise,” Sloan said. “He’ll try to talk you out of it.”
“No, he won’t,” Bashir replied. “Because I’m not going to give him the chance. I want you to relay a recorded message from me to the Defiant. I can give you the exact coordinates, where I was supposed to check in with them. But you can’t send the message from here. Part of the plan was that this base’s location would be pinpointed using my transmission. Send it from somewhere else, far away from here.”
Sloan slaps him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Doctor. You’re doing the right thing. You’ll probably get the Pike Medal for this.”
“I doubt it,” Bashir said. “When I’ve found the cure, I’ll go back and face the consequences of my actions.”
On the bridge of the Defiant, they could hear Sisko yelling in his ready room, even through the closed door.
“Damn it!” Sisko bellowed. “This time he’s gone too far. He’s throwing away his whole career!”
No one knew for sure who Sisko was talking about. But they could guess. Now was about the time the message was supposed to come in from Doctor Bashir.
When Sisko emerged, he was the picture of calm.
“Ensign Nog, trace the originating location of the message I just took in my ready room,” Sisko said.
Nog said a prayer to the Gods of Commerce that the doctor would forgive him, and traced the signal.
“The transmission came from within this sector, about 200 million kilometers from here,” Nog said.
“Could the Section 31 base be there?” Sisko said.
“I’m not reading any structures at those coordinates, Sir,” Nog replied. “No planets, moons, space stations…not even so much as an asteroid belt. I think the transmission must have come from a spacecraft. Wait…I have it! I’m tracking a spacecraft.”
“Worf, can you read their transponder codes?” Sisko said. “Is it a Federation vessel?”
“Impossible to tell,” Worf replied.
“Can we intercept?”
“The vessel is most likely capable of matching our speeds,” Worf replied. “But it is only travelling at warp six now.”
“Activate the cloak, and change course to intercept,” Sisko said.
Minutes later, the sole occupant of the spacecraft – Sloan – was in the Defiant’s brig, and the small spacecraft was being towed by tractor beam. Sisko headed for the turbolift to “greet” their guest, when he was stopped by a frantic outburst from Nog.
“Wait, Sir!” Nog squeaked. “I’m picking up Dominion vessels on long-range sensors, dead ahead. Dozens of them!”
Sisko returned to the captain’s chair. “Battle stations. Worf, tell me what they’re doing. Are they headed this way?”
“No…this is strange,” Worf said, puzzled. Then he turned to face Sisko. “Sir, they appear to be adrift!”
Cloaked and cautious, the Defiant moved amidst the junkyard of silver Dominion vessels. They hung in space at crazy angles. Inertia had taken control of some of the crafts, which tumbled side-to-side or end-over-end in a state of perpetual motion. Most were immobile, silent, dead.***
Spooked by the eerie sight, the Defiant crew spoke little.
“I never thought I’d see so many, this close up,” Nog said, in awe.
“What happened here?” Sisko demanded. “A battle?”
Worf checked the sensors. “There are no residual signs of weapons fire. No recent damage to any of the Dominion vessels.”
Sisko sat back and rubbed his chin. “Life signs, Ensign?”
“None,” Nog said, in a quavering voice. “There are a lot of…corpses on the ships. Captain, I’m picking up one life sign. A Vorta.”
“Just one, among all these vessels?” Sisko said. “Well, beam him over. Worf, lead a security detachment to the transporter on deck two.”
With a familiar whine and swirl of lights, the transporter did its job. On the pad, a small, huddled figure appeared.***
Sisko flinched. A female Vorta. He hated having to deal with female Vortas. It was a struggle to constantly remind himself that, despite appearances, they were no more trustworthy than the male variety. Icy white complexion, short dark hair, nondescript brown uniform. Like all Vorta, everything about her was calculated not to call attention to her presence, to give the appearance of being innocuous.
But this Vorta seemed genuinely harmless. Not moving from the transporter pad, she crouched. Her strange blue eyes stared blankly ahead, and she clutched a box in her arms. Sisko recognized it as a case that held ketracel-white.
Worf motioned for the security guards to take custody of the prisoner.
“No, wait,” Sisko said. “I think it would be better for Dax to handle this.”
Worf’s response proved that he was not troubled with misplaced feelings of chivalry in regard to the servants of the Dominion.
“A security team would be more use than a counselor, Captain,” Worf said, glaring at the Vorta. “We must not let down our guard.”
Sisko looked at the pale figure, still unmoving. “I don’t think we have anything to fear, Worf.”
Even with a three-year hiatus, Bashir was confident he could remember how to reconstruct the cure he had developed on Bopak III. But he had already run all of Goran’Agar’s blood samples through the stasis centrifuge, and needed more.
Guessing that Goran’Agar could be safely freed from his cell, Bashir convinced the guards to let him join him in the lab. The Jem’Hadar patiently allowed more blood samples to be drawn.
“Usually, after giving blood, it’s a good idea to eat something,” Bashir said. “But I’m not sure…Goran’Agar, what do you eat? You do eat, right?”
“I can survive on the white,” Goran’Agar said. “But I can also consume a variety of foods. On Bopak III, I ate fruit from the trees and dug up roots.”
“Describe what you want to the replicator,” Bashir said. “It has plenty of fruits and vegetables from various planets on file.”
Goran’Agar settled on something that to Bashir looked like the gnarled roots of a tree. With his powerful jaws, the Jem’Hadar had no trouble chewing the roots.
Bashir found this fascinating. Leaving the blood samples to spin in the stasis centrifuge, the doctor questioned Goran’Agar about the roots.
“Is that all you eat?” Bashir asked. “I mean, just plant-based food? Can you eat meat?”
“Meat is unappetizing,” Goran’Agar said. “I am not sure why.”
“I think I know why,” Bashir said. “Your ancestors must have been vegetarians. Do you know anything about them? I mean, do you know anything about who the Jem’Hadar were before they were genetically altered by the Dominion?”
Goran’Agar kept munching on the roots while he thought.
“Very little is known,” he said. “I have heard stories. Our people were chosen for the honor of serving the Founders because we are honest and loyal.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Bashir said. “I heard a famous Federation geneticist lecture once. She had some interesting theories about the origins of your people. For instance, that you were originally very aggressive…”
“The scientist is mistaken,” Goran’Agar said. “Among my people, our stories say that, long ago, the Jem’Hadar were peaceful. Aggression is easy to create in a species. Loyalty and honesty are not. We are proud that we were chosen to serve the Founders because of these traits.”
“And you should be,” Bashir agreed. He decided it would not be diplomatic to say what was on his mind – that changing a peaceful race into mindless killers was one of the most appalling things he’d ever heard of.
“The Federation geneticist should find a theory to explain why the Vorta were chosen to serve the Founders,” Goran’Agar continued.
Bashir smiled. “If she managed that, she’d probably win the Daystrom Science Prize.”
The doctor noticed that the stasis centrifuge had finished its cycle. He transferred some of the vials to a microcellular scanner, for the next stage of analysis.
“Sloan should have returned by now,” Goran’Agar said, after a few minutes.
“Hmm,” Bashir said, reading the scanner. “I wouldn’t be too concerned.”
“If something has gone wrong, and Sloan does not return, can you complete the task yourself?”
Bashir had to admire Goran’Agar’s conscientious nature. “Yes,” the doctor replied. “Sloan gave me the coordinates for the drop-off. But first I need to concentrate on my research, so we have something to give our contact, when the time comes.”
Dax was in one of the science labs adjacent to sickbay. In Dr. Bashir’s absence, she was the closest thing to a medical professional on the Defiant.
“She’s still pretty rattled,” Dax said. “But at least I managed to pry this away from her. She was holding onto it like it would kill her to let go.”
“What is it?” Sisko asked.
“Just what it looks like,” Dax said. “It’s a case of ketracel-white. Temis opened it for me, and I ran…”
“Temis?” Sisko said.
“That’s her name,” Dax replied. “I compared the white in this case with what we have from the intelligence reports, to check out her story.”
“What story?” Sisko said.
“I’m sorry,” Dax said. “I’m not doing this report right, am I? Okay, let’s start over. When I finally got Temis to start talking instead of just staring at me – and you cannot know how creepy is to have a Vorta stare at you for half an hour, with those eyes – she told me this crazy story. The whole attack wing had stopped at a supply depot to replenish their supply of the ketracel-white. They were too far away to get help when they realized the white didn’t work.”
“Didn’t work?” Sisko said.
“To the Jem’Hadar, the white is food,” Dax said. “They consumed the white, but it didn’t work. It was like you or I having nothing but, I don’t know, eggshells and tea leaves to eat. It wouldn’t nourish us.”
“And the Jem’Hadar rebelled?” Sisko said.
“Not as far as I could tell,” Dax said. “It must have hit them quickly. Not like starvation, more like quick poison.”
“What about the other Vortas?” Sisko said.
“She wouldn’t say,” Dax said. “Anyway, I ran the tests, and there is something different about this ketracel-white. I don’t know, it could be poisonous to the Jem’Hadar.”
“Do you think she’s telling the truth, then?” Sisko asked.
“Well, I’m no Betazoid,” Dax said. “But what reason would she have to lie?”
“I’d like to talk with her myself,” Sisko said.
Dax accompanied Sisko into sickbay. Temis sat cross-legged on a bio-bed. Her face was expressionless.
“Lieutenant Dax told me your story,” Sisko said. “Was it the truth?”
“Yes,” Temis said, in precisely the same tone she would have used to lie.
“What happened to the other Vortas?” Sisko asked.
“They activated their termination implants,” she replied. “It was decided that I would remain alive, to warn the rest of the Dominion.”
“Hmm,” Sisko said. “Why did the others kill themselves?”
For the first time, Temis looked right at Sisko. “You obviously know nothing about the Dominion,” she said, doing a poor job of disguising her contempt. “They had failed the Founders. What choice did they have? I wish I had not been so unfortunate as to be chosen to deliver the news.”
“And why are you telling us all this?” Sisko asked.
“What difference does it make if you know the truth?” Temis said. “The results are obvious. Besides, we’re in Federation space, and I need a way to get back to the Dominion. I knew all along that it was unlikely I’d be found by our own vessels.”
Sisko smiled at Temis’ nonchalant audacity. “You expect the Defiant to give you a ride back to the Dominion?”
“You will, eventually,” she said. “The Dominion will certainly negotiate a prisoner exchange for me. Now I’ve told you all that I’m going to, so leave me alone.”
“Very well,” Sisko said. “Dax, escort our guest to the brig. Have her repeat her story for a holo-recording. The top brass is going to want to see that.”
Sisko wasted no time contacting Starfleet with the stunning news about the Jem’Hadar.
“Other patrols are finding the same thing all over the front lines,” Ross said. “Ben, this is amazing! I don’t know how this happened, but this could mean the end of the war. Without the white, the Jem’Hadar are doomed. Stay in your sector, and report in the minute you find anything else out of the ordinary.”
Ross signed off. Sisko sat in his ready room with the worst stomachache of his life.
Out of the ordinary, he thought to himself, appreciating the irony. Would one of our own people working on a way to save the Jem’Hadar’s lives, just as they’re all dying off, qualify as ‘out of the ordinary’?
There was simply no way the timing could be a coincidence. Section 31 was controlled by the Dominion. It had to be. As soon as the Dominion had realized the Jem’Hadar were dying, they had recruited Bashir through Sloan to work on the cure.
I can’t tell Ross, Sisko thought. I can’t tell anyone. This is my fault, for going off half-cocked, trying to ‘unmask’ Section 31. Bashir’s doing what any doctor in his position would do. I got him into this, and I have to get him out of it.
Sisko made up his mind. One way or the other, Sloan was going to tell Sisko where the base was, in time for Bashir to be stopped.
“It’s all very professional-looking,” Sloan said. “But of course, it’s a fabrication. A bunch of Jem’Hadar corpses and a babbling Vorta don’t mean anything to me.”***
Sisko unconsciously tapped the isolinear rod in his hand on the desk. He should have expected this reaction. The rod contained the testimony of the captured Vorta field supervisor, as well as images sent back by the away team that boarded the drifting Dominion vessels.
“Do you think we got those Jem’Hadar to ‘play dead’ just for our holo-recording?” Sisko said, carefully controlling his temper.
“Who knows what killed them?” Sloan said. “And as for the reliability of a Vorta…”
Sloan chuckled and stretched in his chair. The security officers next to him tensed, but Sisko signaled for them to relax with a gesture.
“We could show you the toxicology reports,” Sisko said. “They confirm that the Jem’Hadar died from a tainted supply of ketracel-white. I can also show you reports coming in from all different sectors. Other Federation vessels are finding the same thing.”
“You expect me to believe these reports?” Sloan said.
“I assure you, they were accurately prepared by our acting science officer. Since our doctor seems to be missing…”
“So the Jem’Hadar are dying,” Sloan said. “So what?”
“You know what!” Sisko said. “Doctor Bashir is working on a cure for the white addiction at just the same time this is happening? It’s too much to be a coincidence! You have to tell us where that base is, so we can stop him in time.”
Sloan said nothing and looked lazily around the room.
“If you won’t cooperate, then what I suspect must be true,” Sisko continued. “Section 31 is controlled by the Dominion.”
Sloan broke into a grin. “I’ve heard that your son – Jake, I think is his name? – has a promising career as a fiction writer. Well, I see where he gets his talent. This is by far the most imaginative story I’ve ever heard, Captain.”
“You don’t believe me.”
Sloan leaned over and folded his hands on the desk. “No, Captain, I don’t. I think that all this is a ridiculously transparent ruse to get me to betray my people. Don’t feel bad. It’s a good ruse. Something I might have thought up myself, in fact. But not good enough to fool me.”
The implication that Sisko was doing just as Sloan always did – twisting the truth to his ends – rankled the captain.
“And why should I believe that you’re telling the truth about Section 31 being ‘loyal’ to the Federation?” Sisko shot back. “From my perspective, it looks like you’re all Dominion double-agents.”
For the first time, Sloan looked genuinely hurt. “If you knew us, Captain – if you knew the kind of people who work for Section 31 – you’d never have such doubts. ‘Breathes there the man with soul so dead.’”
“Never mind. Someone I knew once used to say that.”
After a couple of wasted hours, Sisko sent Sloan back to the holding cells. He called his senior staff into the mess hall for a meeting.
“No matter what evidence we present, Sloan will never believe it,” Sisko said. “He’s got too much invested in the ‘patriotism’ of Section 31 to accept that he’s been unwittingly working for the Dominion all along.”
“How do you know that Sloan isn’t a Dominion agent now?” O’Brien asked. “It might not have been ‘unwitting.’”
“Just gut instinct,” Sisko said. “I know his type – dogmatic and stubborn. He’s so convinced he’s right that we’ll have to come up with some pretty solid proof to convince him otherwise.”
“How do we find that proof?” Dax asked.
“Well, let’s start with the basics,” Sisko replied. “What do we know about Section 31?”
“Not much is known,” Worf said. “There is no proof that it even exists, other than what Sloan has told us.”
“I remember hearing rumors about it, both times I was at the Academy,” Dax added, frowning as she tried to recall. “I mean, when Jadzia and Ezri were there. And also when Curzon was an instructor at the Academy. But I never believed it could be true. I thought it was a fairy tale told by cadets with over-active imaginations. It just sounded so outlandish to me.”
“I’ve always assumed the same,” Sisko said. “Every cadet has heard stories about some secret rogue organization, which recruits members who are disgruntled over Starfleet restrictions. I always wrote it off as a ‘wish fulfillment’ fantasy. I’ll tell you, I was pretty astonished that Section 31 turned out to be real.”
“Well, I didn’t go to the Academy, so it’s all new to me,” O’Brien added. “But it doesn’t make sense that Section 31 could keep itself secret for ‘centuries.’ I mean, that’s just not how people operate. Eventually, someone always blabs.”
“So what are you saying?” Dax asked. “That Section 31 couldn’t have existed for that long?”
“Or with so many people,” O’Brien replied. “Sloan implied they had operatives ‘all over the place.’”
“He may be lying,” Worf said. “If we assume that Section 31 is controlled by the Dominion, it is possible it was started by the Dominion. It would have been in operation for just a few years, and with far fewer agents than Sloan implied. That would make it more plausible that it could remain secret.”
Dax shook her head. “The Dominion couldn’t have founded Section 31. Curzon heard about it over 25 years ago!”
“All that proves is that the rumors have circulated for decades,” Sisko said. “It’s possible that Section 31 existed once, and died out – or that it never existed at all. What if the Dominion learned about the rumors of an organization that didn’t exist, but that apparently had captured the imagination of many people in Starfleet? They could create an organization that would appeal to people attracted to the idea of Section 31.”
“I see what you’re saying!” O’Brien said. “It would have been easy to get recruits. The fact that the rumors persisted for decades proves that people want Section 31 to exist.”
“I think we have a good working hypothesis here,” Sisko said. “The hard part will be proving it.”
“We have to start somewhere,” Dax replied. “Let’s look into Sloan’s past and concentrate on the time when he would have been recruited into Section 31. Assuming Dominion involvement, the earliest possible date he could have been recruited would have been in about three years ago – in 2372, around the time of the Homefront crisis.”
The meeting broke up. As Dax was leaving, Sisko caught up with her.
“If you find a likely suspect, cross-reference their bio with anything to do with Sir Walter Scott,” Sisko said.
Dax looked confused. “Sir Walter who?”
“An author from Earth history,” Sisko said. “Sloan quoted a line from Scott: ‘Breathes there the man with soul so dead/Who never to himself hath said/This is my own, my native land!’ I have a feeling whoever recruited him into Section 31 was a fan of Scott.”
Bashir held the tube up to the light. Looking at didn’t tell him anything that the scans couldn’t have. Still, it was a momentous event, and he wanted to savor it. Most likely, this tube contained The Cure.
Goran’Agar observed, placidly. Holding up the tube of blue-ish liquid, Bashir explained how the cure would work.
“Your people need ketracel-white because it provides an enzyme essential for life,” Bashir said. “So the key is getting the cells in the Jem’Hadar’s bodies to synthesize the enzyme themselves. Fortunately, it looks like your people originally created this enzyme naturally. When the Jem’Hadar’s were genetically engineered, the enzyme-creating cells were simply turned off. But the cells still exist in a dormant state. They just need to be turned on again.”
“Will this substance do that?” Goran’Agar asked.
“If I’m right, yes,” Bashir replied. “This serum contains a benign virus that can be delivered by hypo-spray. It will spread throughout the body, activating the dormant cells, by a process we call ‘gene therapy.’ Voila, no more need for ketracel-white.”
Bashir didn’t expect the stoic Jem’Hadar to exactly jump for joy. But Goran’Agar looked positively uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry, it will work!” Bashir said.
“The cure must be found,” Goran’Agar said. “Yet I feel uneasy about more genetic manipulation of my species.’
“Oh, that’s what’s bothering you,” Bashir replied. “Your people suffered a terrible injustice. The Dominion had no right to change the genetic structure of the Jem’Hadar. I can’t put your people back the way they were ‘supposed to be,’ because I have no idea how they were supposed to be. But I can improve the quality of their lives immeasurably, with this serum.”
“I don’t wish to seem ungrateful,” Goran’Agar said. “But my responsibility is great, for I must make this choice for all of my people. How can I know this choice is the right one?”
In his headlong rush to find the cure, Bashir had not even considered the difficult position Goran’Agar would be placed in. “I can’t make any guarantees,” Bashir said softly. “But if it will make you feel any better about it…we have something in common. I’m genetically enhanced as well. It’s not always – a bad thing.”
“That is surprising,” Goran’Agar said. “I had heard that Alpha Quadrant species have some means of reproduction other than cloning.”
Bashir was confused, and then laughed when he understood what Goran’Agar meant. “Yes, that’s absolutely true. But I wasn’t cloned. My genetic makeup was altered when I was six years old. My parents wanted me to be smarter, taller, better coordinated. They even changed my nose! I’ve never told anyone that particular detail. It’s a bit embarrassing.”
“Was your nose not functional before?”
“No, it was perfectly ‘functional,’” Bashir said. “It was just too much like my father’s – and he never liked his own nose. Really, the whole thing was more about what he wanted for himself, rather than what was best for me. You see, that’s the reason humans don’t allow genetic engineering. It takes away what a person really is, and makes him someone else’s idea of perfection.”
Goran’Agar said nothing. Bashir realized he was arguing against what he wanted the Jem’Hadar to do. Talking too much again, Julian, he said to himself.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is – it’s your choice,” Bashir concluded.
“There is only one choice to make,” Goran’Agar said. “My people need this cure. Their lives depend on it.”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it so dramatically,” Bashir said, puzzled. “But it will make their lives better, certainly. They’ll be able to choose how they live, rather than just being phaser fodder for the Dominion.”
“Of course,” Goran’Agar said. “That is what I meant.”
“I got it!” Dax shouted. In an instant, everyone was grouped around her monitor.
“What do you have?” Sisko asked.
Dax pointed to the personnel records on the screen. “Right here. In 2372, Sloan was posted to Starfleet Intelligence headquarters in San Francisco. I checked the bios of all of his colleagues, and found one who had been a professor of literature at the Academy. Ingrid Mathias. Did her Ph.D. dissertation on Sir Walter Scott.”
“Quite a piece of detective work, Dax,” Sisko said.
“You haven’t heard the good part, Captain,” Dax said. The image on the screen switched to a security file. “Mathias worked for Starfleet Intelligence. Three years ago, she was part of an away team investigating Romulan encroachment in the Minosian system. Shortly afterwards, she was re-assigned at her request to headquarters.”
“Strange request for an ambitious officer,” Sisko said. “To trade a field assignment for a desk job.”
“This is even stranger,” Dax continued. “Seven months ago, a body was discovered on a planet in the Minosian system. Forensics confirmed it was the body of Ingrid Mathias.”
“So she returned?” Sisko asked.
“She only had been there once,” Dax replied. “The medical report says that she died about three years ago.”
Sisko straightened up. “And the away team returned to their vessel with ‘Ingrid Mathias’ on board.”
Dax nodded. “The real Dr. Mathias was killed in the Minosian system. Sloan was recruited by a changeling agent.”
“And from there, Sloan recruited others,” O’Brien added.
Sisko rubbed his chin. “Very neat. Once the initial contacts had been made, our people did most of the Dominion’s work for them. They just sat back, watched ‘Section 31’ grow, and waited for an opportunity to use the organization to their advantage.”
Sisko was boiling mad. Of course, Sloan doesn’t believe the forensics report. It’s just part of this whole “transparent ruse.”***
“So, what you’re telling me is that all of Starfleet – all the admirals, the forensics division, and the crewmembers of every ship on the front lines, including this one – everyone is manufacturing evidence just to get you to reveal the location of one starbase,” Sisko said sarcastically.
“If you say so, Captain,” Sloan said, sitting comfortably in the holding cell.
“But think about this, Sloan. What if it is true? Are you willing to bet the future of the Federation that you’re right? Admit it – the Dominion fooled you by giving you what you wanted – for Section 31 to be real. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. They’ve fooled a lot of good people. They excel at finding a person’s weakness and using it against him. But don’t compound your mistake any further. Tell me where Dr. Bashir is, before it’s too late!”
“Listen to yourself,” Sloan said. “Nobody would believe this story. How could the Dominion be running Section 31? It’s existed for centuries!”
“No. The rumor has existed for centuries.”
Sloan waved away the objection. “That doesn’t matter. Section 31 cannot be controlled by the Dominion. We’ve been extraordinarily careful to recruit only trustworthy people. Our decision-making structure is deliberately decentralized. Even if there were a few infiltrators, they couldn’t take control of the organization. And the decision to have Dr. Bashir work on the ketracel-white cure was mine. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that I am a changeling infiltrator.”
Sisko shook his head sadly. “I don’t think the Dominion is ‘running’ Section 31. That’s not their style. They set up the organization, and let people like yourselves run it, knowing full well what people like you are likely to do. They can predict your behavior well enough that they can manipulate you without you even knowing it.”
For the first time, Sloan looked a little unsure. Sisko realized he had finally found the chink in the armor he was looking for.
“Think about what they did to Cardassia,” Sisko said. “They used Cardassian traits – ambition and patriotism – to secure a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. No doubt, they noticed certain human traits – impatience with rules and regulations, a love for secret organizations, to be part of a group that knows what we ‘really’ should be doing. They created an organization to satisfy our wishes, one that lacked the oversight of Starfleet and therefore was much easier for the Dominion to subvert! Starfleet may seem like a bunch of bureaucrats, but that’s what protects us against any outside group taking control. You’ve played right into their hands, Sloan. Can’t you even admit that to yourself?”
“This isn’t possible,” Sloan said stubbornly. “They couldn’t have figured me out so completely.”
“They have everyone figured out, Sloan,” Sisko replied. “They know the weak points of all the Alpha Quadrant races. Our ‘weak point’ is one of our best traits – our dogged devotion to doing what is right. Leave it to the Dominion to find a way to use that to divide us. But that’s the way they work. Divide and conquer. Look at us! We should be on the same side, but instead we’re at each other’s throats. This is how they win, Sloan. Is your need to be right so great that you’d let them win rather than admit you may be wrong?”
“I’m picking up the starbase on long-range sensors, Captain,” Nog said.
A smile spread over Sisko’s face. Sloan had told the truth about the starbase’s location. This time, the captain had impressed even himself with his powers of persuasion.
I just pray that we’re in time, Sisko thought, as he left the bridge to join Worf in transporting to the base.
The Prophets, for once, answered Sisko’s prayers. The cure had not yet been handed over to the Dominion. In short order, Goran’Agar was in the brig, and Bashir’s pads and serum samples were in sickbay, along with the doctor himself.***
Sisko had returned to the bridge to give the order to return to Starbase 495. Then he took the turbolift down to sickbay to have a little chat with the doctor.
“So you see, Doctor, no one is blaming you,” Sisko concluded. “The Dominion must have staged Goran’Agar’s capture deliberately, knowing that Section 31 would interpret it as a ‘golden opportunity’ to undermine the Dominion. When, in fact, it was just the opposite.”***
Bashir leaned against the bio-bed. Convincing him of the truth was a good deal less difficult than it had been with Sloan. But the doctor seemed to be having difficulty processing the whole story. He appeared to be in shock.
“It’s just as much my fault as anyone’s,” Sisko continued. “There won’t be any repercussions, believe me. You can stop worrying now.”
Bashir looked at him, dazed. “It’s…I’m not worried for myself, Captain. You say that Jem’Hadar are dying? The entire race?”
“Yes. It’s just the break we need…” Sisko begin, and stopped when he saw Bashir’s shocked expression. “Doctor, do you have a problem with this?”
“I’m not sure…can we allow an entire species to die, knowing that we have the cure?” Bashir walked over to the serum samples, and held the tube up. “This could save hundreds thousands of lives.”
“That could kill millions of people!” Sisko retorted. “It’s a death sentence for the Federation, not a cure! I suggest you flush it out the nearest airlock.”
Bashir blinked. For the first time in weeks, he remembered the dream. “When push comes to shove, would we abandon our ethics to win?” he mumbled.
Sisko recognized the quote, and became livid. “We didn’t sabotage the ketracel-white supply and we aren’t ethically bound to save the Jem’Hadar! If our positions were reversed, they wouldn’t try to save us! Have you forgotten all the deaths? Their plans for enslaving the quadrant with the Tantalus element, drugs, genetic engineering? They’re utterly ruthless. Keeping the cure from them is a much smaller sin, compared with what they had planned for us.”
Bashir nodded sadly. “Yes, a smaller sin. A sin of omission, not of commission.”
“They would have won if the war had dragged on long enough, and you know it. We’re damned lucky we got this break, and we’re not going to pass it up. And you’re damned lucky I won’t have you brought up on charges for flagrant disobedience.”
“It was my error of judgement,” Sisko said, wearily. “I shouldn’t have sent you into this situation and expected you to act like a spy rather than like a doctor.”
Bashir placed the tube back in its slot. “That’s right, I’m a doctor. I should stick to medicine and not meddle in military affairs. And I’m grateful I’m not the one who has to make this decision.”
Sisko smiled a little; he appreciated Bashir’s understanding nature.
“This isn’t the way I would have chosen to win this war,” Sisko said. “But at this point, I’m just happy it will all soon be over.”
Bashir couldn’t avoid it. He had to see Goran’Agar, and break the news in person.
“It’s out of my hands,” Bashir said. “I’m sorry, but there’s no other way.”
On the other side of the holding cell’s force field, Goran’Agar sat impassively. “I understand. Will I be killed?”
Bashir was aghast. “No, of course not! You will be humanely treated. You have my word on that.”
Goran’Agar pondered this. “I am not sure that allowing me to live and become the last of my kind is ‘humane.’ If I preferred to die, would my request be granted?”
Bashir shook his head. “I’m sorry, it wouldn’t be. Our ethics would not permit it. But I suppose Federation ethics must seem incomprehensible to you.”
“No, they do not seem strange. If the Dominion had a way of obliterating our enemies, we would do it, without hesitation. Just as you are doing.”
Bashir didn’t recall walking back to his quarters, but he must have done so, because here he was, sitting on his bunk. He was still in a daze. When they reached Starbase 495, he would hand over the serum tubes and his padds containing his research notes to Starfleet. He didn’t know what would be done with them. The padds would probably be saved in a highly secure location. The serum would probably be destroyed.***
And once the Jem’Hadar are extinct, it will all be irrelevant, anyway, Bashir thought. He wondered if he would be able to get any sleep. He certainly needed it. For the past few days, he had been so intent on his research that he had gotten very little rest at all.
He was in Quark’s again.***
Slide off the stool, walk to the door. Past the jumja stick merchant, past the vedek ringing the bell. The infirmary is just to the right. Your patient is waiting for you there.
The boy was back. His large, dark eyes no longer stared at Bashir. His eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow. The readings on diagnostic monitor above the bio-bed fluctuated. Then the readings began to drop. Within moments, they were flat. The boy was dead.
Bashir looked down at the boy, but he and the bio-bed were gone. They had been replaced by a black capsule-shaped coffin, draped with the blue-and-white UFP flag.
“A sadly familiar sight,” a voice said.
Bashir looked up, but couldn’t tell who had spoken. Instead of the infirmary, he was in the wardroom on DS9. The station’s senior staff, as well as a handful of admirals, ringed the coffin for the ceremony.
Bashir felt confused. Was the strange boy in the coffin?
“Yet another casualty of the war,” O’Brien said.
“It couldn’t be helped,” Sisko replied. “He sacrificed his life to save the Federation.”
An admiral walked forward and put his hand on the coffin. “Your sacrifice will not be in vain.”
An airlock opened, and the coffin drifted out into space. The lack of gravity made it seem light, as though it contained no one at all.
“Who is in the coffin?” Bashir said.
Sisko looked at the doctor sternly. “No one will ever know. And, as Starfleet officers, it is our duty to see that no one ever finds out.”
Bashir awoke. With a flash of insight, he realized what he had to do.
The Defiant was still towing Sloan’s ship. Bashir’s security override was enough to disengage the tractor beam and to transport himself aboard the vessel. After a quick stop at sickbay, of course.
The Defiant pursued, but Sloan’s ship was capable of high warp speeds for short periods of time. Bashir wasn’t overly worried about burning the engines out. Apparently, neither was Sisko. In spite of Bashir having a slight head start, the Defiant was gradually closing on the smaller craft.
A warning shot blasted across Bashir’s bow. He knew the second one would not be a warning, but he had to make it. Or at least try.
The second shot never came. The Defiant reversed engines, then turned and went into warp, retreating as fast as it had advanced.
Three Jem’Hadar fighters screamed past Bashir in pursuit. Bashir prayed that the Defiant would escape. He wished he hadn’t been forced to lead them into trouble.
A tractor beam locked onto Bashir’s vessel with a solid jolt. He didn’t need to check the navigational sensors to know he had made it to the pre-arranged coordinates. He lowered the vessel’s shields. The transporter from the large Dominion cruiser in front of him locked on to him, and he was gone.
Bashir materialized in some kind of command center within the Dominion ship. He was not surprised to see Weyoun waiting for him. Or to see that the Jem’Hadar on the ship looked none too healthy.***
“Do you have the formula?” Weyoun said abruptly.
Digging into his medical kit, Bashir took out the padd and wordlessly handed it over. Weyoun took a quick glance at the padd and passed it to a waiting Jem’Hadar.
“Transmit this to the nearest science facility immediately,” the Vorta said. “Have them start manufacturing and testing it as quickly as possible.”
When the Jem’Hadar left, Weyoun’s manner relaxed. “Sorry to be so rude. That Jem’Hadar is among the healthiest still left. We’re understandably anxious to see whether your formula will work.”
“Don’t worry,” the doctor replied. “It will.”
Weyoun narrowed his eyes. “I must admit I didn’t expect to see either you or Sloan. Once we realized the Federation had discovered our plan, we assumed all was lost. Of course, if I’d known you were inclined to work for the Dominion, I wouldn’t have bothered with this Section 31 charade.”
“I didn’t do this for the Dominion!” Bashir said angrily. “I did it for the Federation!”
Weyoun frowned. “How could this possibly help the Federation?”
Bashir shook his head. “I’m not sure you’d understand.”
“Probably not, but tell me anyway. I’m curious.”
Bashir sighed. “If the Federation gives up its ethics, and becomes like the Dominion, willing to do anything to win, then the Federation may as well not exist. We’ll have lost…”
“But turning over this cure to us ensures that you will lose anyway! Hmm, I knew I wouldn’t understand.”
“Are you sure you’ll win? If the Jem’Hadar are no longer addicted to the white, how do you know they’ll be loyal?”
Weyoun’s manner became tense once again. “I really don’t know. I don’t think anyone can know. But the Federation has left me little choice in the matter, have you? This is what the Founders would want me to do.”
“You still follow the Founders? Didn’t they all abandon you?”
“Don’t try to use that ridiculous trick on me,” the Vorta snapped. “The Federation murdered the Founders! And I don’t doubt that you’re also behind this barbaric sabotage of the ketracel-white supply.”
Weyoun calmed down and he actually chuckled. “Really, you humans are a danger mainly to yourselves. I’ve met many races, but never one so easy to manipulate as humans. This silly obsession with cloak and dagger antics. I don’t claim to understand it, but it certainly has proven useful.”
A Jem’Hadar at one of the bridge stations interrupted. “More Federation ships have entered the sector. We should withdraw.”
“Set a heading for Cardassia Prime,” Weyoun replied.
“Beam me back to my vessel first,” Bashir said.
Weyoun was surprised. “You aren’t coming with us? I thought you had defected.”
“No. I’m going back to face the consequences of what I’ve done.”
Weyoun shrugged. “You Alpha Quadrant humanoids really are incomprehensible. But if that’s what you want, we’ll send you back. The Second will show you the way to the transport pad.”
Bashir started to follow the Jem’Hadar off the bridge. Then he paused, recalling something ironic, and turned back towards Weyoun.
“Aren’t you going to offer me scones?”
“Why?” Weyoun asked. “Are you hungry?”
Bashir shook his head. “It’s nothing – it’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?”