Kira tried not to notice the raucous noise emanating from Quark’s as she passed it on her way to the turbolift. But it was hard not to notice the bar; every other shop on the promenade was shuttered and deserted. It annoyed her no end that Quark was busy making latinum providing entertainment for Dukat’s troops, and that the spoonheads seemed to be having so much fun.
In Quark’s, kanar flowed liberally and the dabo wheel never stopped. The Ferengi had found plenty of dabo girls to replace the Bajorans who, like Leeta, had left in the evacuation. The worst part was that Kira knew some of the replacements were Bajoran, too. She gritted her teeth and wished the Prophets were vengeful gods, like the god of the Klingons or the ancient humans, so that Kira could pray to send those traitors where they deserved.
Traitors? Technically, Bajor and Cardassia are not at war, Kira reminded herself. But it sure seems that way.
Every hundred meters or so, she passed a Jem’Hadar sentry, silent and motionless as stone. Kira watched them warily out of the corner of her eye. Even after a month, she hadn’t gotten used to their presence. They give me the creeps, the way they never move or say anything. I think I actually prefer the Cardassians…
She stepped into the turbolift, directed it towards to Cargo Bay 4, and slapped her communicator. "I’m on my way, Odo. Has the shipment…"
"It’s here. Jake’s helping me check the manifest, but it will take us some time."
"Can you tell if the shipment is complete? I don’t trust Orion Free Traders!"
"Major, we really don’t have much choice. Even the Ferengi balk at trading in a war zone. The Orions may be unscrupulous, but at least they can provide the goods that Bajor desperately needs. Speaking of Ferengi, is…"
"Quark just laughed when I suggested that we could use some help. A warp core breech couldn’t remove him from the bar, he’s making so much latinum!"
Odo sighed. "And Rom’s on Bajor, arranging for the cargo transfer to the planet. I suppose there’s no point in asking Dukat for assistance."
"Hah! He acted like he should be given a medal for allowing the replicator and transporter parts on board ‘his’ station in the first place. ‘Federation contraband,’ he called it. As though it’s our fault that Bajor’s infrastructure is based on Federation technology. The Cardassians stole all Bajor’s technology when they withdrew!"
"Then we’ll just have to check all the containers ourselves."
"How many are there, Odo?"
"Five thousand, give or take…"
"Let’s do this as quickly as possible. Forty-seven of Bajor’s industrial replicators have already broken down. Food shortages are a real possibility. I’ll be there in a minute."
The turbolift rumbled on towards the cargo bay. Kira ran her fingers through her hair and reflected on how strange her life had become since Dukat and his Dominion allies had captured DS9.
At first, she had expected the worst. She understood why the Federation had to abandon DS9, of course. She understood that Sisko couldn’t protect Bajor – for now. And she knew that the non-aggression treaty with the Dominion was the best course of action, under the circumstances. But she never expected the Dominion to actually honor the treaty. She had assumed – and many Bajorans had feared – that Dukat would simply ignore the treaty and re-occupy the planet.
But a month had passed, and not a single Cardassian or Jem’Hadar had walked on Bajor’s green hills. Even First Minister Shakaar was astonished, as he had privately told Kira the one time he’d been on the station to meet with Weyoun. For all his strutting and preening, Dukat was powerless to defy the will of the Dominion. Incredibly, that odd little troll Weyoun was able to stymie Dukat at every turn.
Granted, the station was a weird place nowadays, filled with arrogant Cardassians and silent, ominous Jem’Hadar. But Kira could deal with them, and thanked the Prophets that Bajor, for now, was being spared.
The turbolift stopped and Kira walked into the cargo bay, filled with barrel-shaped containers stacked from floor to ceiling.
"Odo! Jake! Are you here?"
Jake looked out from behind a stack of containers. "Over here, Major."
Kira took a padd from Jake and started opening containers at random. "So, how many crates of stem-bolts did those Orion palukoos substitute for the replicator parts they were supposed to send?"
Odo walked over, also holding a padd. "None, so far. We’ll only be able to spot-check a small percentage of the containers, but we haven’t found anything amiss."
Kira shook her head in amazement. "Never thought I’d see a day that an Orion trader would deal honestly."
Odo continued checking containers against the manifest on his padd. "Hmmph. Who knows? Maybe they’re trying to impress the Dominion. They wouldn’t be the only Alpha Quadrant power currying their favor, now that they’ve had a few decisive victories against the Federation."
"Odo! I hope you’re not starting to believe Weyoun’s propaganda!"
"No, Major. I managed to pick up some Federation News Service transmissions. They were frighteningly honest about the situation. Sometimes I wish Starfleet were more adept at lying."
"I talked to Captain Ellorne from the Orion freighter," Jake said. "He told me that after this, he’s going to Xepolita to pick up some durallian. It’s a raw material for polaron crystals!"
"So that means the Syndicate is shipping raw materials to the Dominion," Kira said grimly.
"Maybe there’s a way to sabotage the transport?" Jake said hopefully.
Odo looked dubious. "Hmmph. Wouldn’t it be nice to replace that durallian with stem-bolts? But I don’t think there’s any way for the three of us to interrupt Orion convoys. Not without raising quite a lot of suspicion."
The mood in the cargo bay turned grim, and the trio did their work in silence. After five hours, Odo and Jake left, while Kira stayed behind. She wasn’t entirely exhausted, and she had this hunch that if she kept checking, she might be able to find at least one barrel of useless stem-bolts. But mainly, she couldn’t stand the thought of returning to the promenade and hearing the annoying laughter of Cardassians coming from Quark’s.
Her mind drifted back to her recent conversation with Shakaar. He had seemed hopeful that the Dominion was sincere in its desire to treat Bajor fairly. Of course, he didn’t trust Dukat any further than he could have thrown him ("preferably out an airlock" – that comment brought a smile to Kira’s face), but he didn’t think Bajor was in any immediate danger.
"For now, Nerys, we have to play the Dominion’s game, regardless of our personal feelings. But if it comes to it, I want you to know that I plan to re-form the Shakaar cell."
That had been like fresh water to a thirsty Kira. "That’s the old Shakaar! I was worried that politics had gotten to you, dulled your edge. You know you can count on me when the time comes!"
Part of her wanted the situation to deteriorate to that point – let her fight her enemies in a straightforward way, instead of skulking around in a Prophet-forsaken cargo bay. Most of all, she wanted and excuse to get away from DS9. She was sick and tired of having to evade Dukat every single day.
Kira heard someone clear his throat and she recalled something O’Brien had once said: "Speak of the devil and he appears." Apparently even thinking of the devil will do the trick.
"Hello, Dukat," Kira said wearily, without even bothering to turn around.
"Good afternoon, Major. I hate to interrupt your reveries, but you’re overdue for your shift in Ops."
"Since when is it the job of the ‘prefect of Terok Nor’ to run around the station, corralling flunkies who fail to report for work on time?"
"I’d hardly call you a ‘flunky!’ You’re quite essential to the smooth running of this station."
"Am I, really?"
"If you’re frustrated by your lack of authority, you have only yourself to blame. If you had accepted my offer, you’d be in a much more exalted position now."
"Offer? What offer?"
"You’ve forgotten already? When I asked you to join the Groumall’s crew and fight the Klingons! I was very disappointed when you didn’t accept. Damar is a fine second in command, but I do believe you would have been even better."
Kira couldn’t keep from laughing at the thought. "I’ll bet that would have been interesting, all right. You should have stuck to your career as a space pirate, Dukat. I think we all would have been much happier with that."
"Really? So you prefer to think of me as a dashing figure on the bridge of a Klingon bird of prey?"
"Dukat, I prefer to think of you not at all. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m finished here." Kira pointedly brushed past the Cardassian and out the door. She dodged into a turbolift and was relieved to see that Dukat still possessed enough tact not to follow.
Kira had three days’ respite before her next encounter with Dukat. She was walking back from the station’s cargo transport pads, where she had overseen the final loading of the spare parts containers onto shuttles soon to depart for Bajor. Her route took her past the gaudy lights the raucous noise of Quark’s again. She glanced towards the bar and noticed that some of the Bajoran shuttle pilots were actually sitting at one of the tables.
Kira fumed, but she knew she had no right to interfere. Bajor is not at war with anyone. They have a right to rub elbows with the spoonheads. As long as their stomachs are strong enough, it’s no concern of mine.
"That’s a good sign," someone said behind her. "I was hoping civilians would return to the station. Perhaps the shops will open soon."
Kira whirled. "Dukat, have you been following me?"
Dukat smiled his infuriating smile. "Why, no, Major. How did you ever get an idea like that? I just like to inspect the promenade from time to time. My fondest wish is that life on Terok Nor will quickly return to normal."
"Things will never be back to normal. Not until…"
Kira shook her head and began to walk away. Dukat shouted after her. "Face facts! It was never Bajor’s fate to rule itself."
"What is that supposed to mean, Dukat?" Kira stalked back to the Cardassian indignantly. "Your Dominion allies have guaranteed Bajor’s independence. And I’ve observed that Weyoun seems to get his way more often than you do."
Dukat flinched but maintained his composure. "The Vorta may think what he likes. But I respect you, Major. Really, I do. So I’m affording you the honor of being the first to know the what inevitably must happen in the future."
"Or maybe you’re just subjecting me to more of your delusions."
"Time will tell. I just want you to know, that whatever happens, you have nothing to worry about. I will personally see to it. Regardless what Weyoun thinks, Bajor’s destiny is not to be a Dominion vassal state, any more than it is Cardassia’s fate to be so. Things will turn out quite differently, and it’s not too late for you to take your rightful place in the new order of things."
Dukat spun on his heels and walked away, while Kira stood, hands on hips, and watched him in total amazement.
"That spoonhead is crazier than ever."
"I wouldn’t worry about it, Major," Odo said, sitting back in the chair in his security office. "Dukat is simply frustrated because he has no control over the situation."
"But he was so confident about what he was saying!" Kira paced back and forth. "As though he knows how to get out from under Weyoun’s thumb. He’s not going to be content to occupy this station. He’ll go after Bajor next."
"Weyoun won’t allow that. It would damage the credibility of the Dominion. He can’t afford to have the other major powers in the quadrant – the Tholians, the Romulans, the Minosians, the Tzenkethi – questioning the worth of the Dominion’s treaties. Believe me, Bajor is perfectly safe."
Kira shook her head. "Dukat will find a way. He’s up to something, I know it!"
"Since when has Dukat ever not been ‘up to something?’ He’s boasting. That’s all it is."
"How can you be so sure?"
Odo shrugged. "Odd as it may seem, of all the people on DS9, I probably know Dukat the best. After all, I was his chief of security for four years."
Kira stopped pacing. "You’re right, Odo. You would know Dukat better than anyone. So what do you think is going on in his mind?"
"He’s always been obsessed about this station, and about Bajor. I’m not sure I really understand why, but…I’ll tell you something that happened about a year after I started working with Dukat. You remember First Minister Zerogin?"
"That collaborator scum! Who could forget him? Thousands of Bajorans died because of him. I’m only disappointed that he took his own life when the occupation ended, and escaped punishment."
"Well, I met him. He came here to talk with Dukat. We sat right up there in Ops and listened to Dukat rant for three hours about his ‘racial theories’ regarding Bajorans and their place in the Cardassian order."
Kira put up her hand. "I’m not sure I really want to hear this."
"If you prefer. But if you want to understand Dukat’s mind…"
"I’m going to have to face something worse than a cave full of palukoos. You’re right Odo, go on."
"I’ll try to make this brief, then. Dukat had the notion of developing an ‘elite Bajoran security force’ – his exact words – to maintain order on the planet. He wasn’t very specific about what he had in mind, but he had this theory that, if properly trained, a small percentage of the Bajoran population could become ‘nearly the equal of Cardassians’ – his words, again."
"If they’re brainwashed to serve their Cardassian masters, of course."
"Of course. But my point is that Dukat’s views were unorthodox – Central Command would never have permitted a Bajoran security force of any kind – yet he was absolutely determined that I and Zerogin should work on creating it."
"Odo! What did you do?"
"Fortunately, Central Command came to my rescue. They told Dukat to forget it. And that wasn’t the only crackpot notion he had regarding Bajorans. Sometimes I think he went to such incredible lengths to become leader of Cardassia just so that he would have the chance to once again control Bajor."
Kira stared at Odo in horror. "You’re kidding."
"I wish I were. Well, there it is. I have no doubt what Dukat’s true goal is, but I also have faith in the ruthless efficiency of Weyoun and the Dominion to keep him from getting it."
Kira leaned on the desk and exhaled. "What a situation. I just might violate my own ban on Quark’s. I need a drink. Want to join me?"
Odo stood up. "Lead the way, Major."
They strolled across the promenade towards the bright lights, but noticed Weyoun hurrying towards them. Odo sighed and whispered to Kira. "Now you know why I hide all day in the security office. I’ve told Weyoun he’s banned from there."
Weyoun genuflected. "Founder, I wondered if you had a moment to speak. I am in need of your divine guidance."
Kira restrained herself from snickering while Odo rolled his eyes. "You seem to require my divine guidance every five minutes, Weyoun." The Vorta bowed and extended his arms, preparing to speak. Out of the corner of her eye, Kira noticed an armed Cardassian – it was Damar – emerging from the bar. He was looking their way, and she instinctively tensed.
But the phaser blast came from another direction. Before Kira knew what was happening, Weyoun had fallen to the floor, clutching his arm. She glanced in the direction in which the shot had come; a Bajoran was running for his life. He disintegrated before her eyes. She looked back at the bar entrance. Damar, acting quickly, had killed the would-be assassin. He holstered his disrupter and ran up to the group.
"Let’s get Weyoun to the infirmary," Odo said, picking the injured Vorta halfway off the ground and hitting his combadge. "Odo to Dr. Ghem. Two for emergency medical beam-out."
"You shouldn’t lower yourself to bother…" was all Weyoun managed to say before passing out.
"Vortas," Damar sneered as Odo and Weyoun disappeared. "Weaklings."
Kira stood up from where she was kneeling. "I’d like to see you take a shot like that. You wouldn’t be so cocky."
"Since when are you in love with Vortas?" Damar retorted.
"I’m not." Kira said, nodding in the direction of the disintegrated Bajoran. "You’re the one who killed the assassin, Damar. And how did you do that so quickly? It was almost as if you knew what would happen in advance."
Damar’s eyes darted around nervously. "Reflexes. Not everyone is as slow and dull-witted as a Bajoran."
Kira nodded skeptically. "Reflexes. Fine, I’ll be in the infirmary if anyone needs me."
"So, who in the name of the Prophets would try to assassinate a Vorta?" Kira said in disbelief.
Odo shook his head as he watched the doctor fix Weyoun’s injured arm. The Vorta had regained consciousness, but was still groggy, lying on the biobed. "I can think of plenty of people who would like to see every Vorta in the quadrant dead."
"No, Odo, what I mean is, who would bother? You can’t kill a Vorta. They’ll just send the next clone…"
"I see what you mean. It doesn’t make any sense."
"Why should a Bajoran, of all people, want Weyoun dead? And did you see how fast…"
"How fast Damar reacted? Assassinate the assassin before he can talk. A classic ploy."
"So Dukat is behind it? He tried to have Weyoun murdered."
"It looks that way, doesn’t it? But something doesn’t make sense here. Like you say, assassinating Weyoun would be futile. Dukat may be many things, but he isn’t stupid. There’s more to this than appearances suggest."
"The genetic markers are here, here, and here." Odo pointed to several multi-colored bands displayed on the security office monitor.
Kira shook her head. "I’ll take your word for it, Odo. I’m no DNA expert."
Odo leaned back in his chair with an almost-smile on his face. "When I formed the theory that Dukat was behind the assassination attempt, the next step was obvious. He must have blackmailed the assassin into helping him. And how could he do that, unless the assassin was a collaborator himself, or…"
"Not possible. The Bajoran collaborators who didn’t kill themselves were apprehended after the occupation ended and are in prison."
"I was about to say, or were related to one of the collaborators from the occupation."
"You cross-checked the assassin’s DNA with those of all known collaborators," Kira concluded.
"Precisely. It wasn’t easy. Our friend Damar didn’t leave much DNA to find. Fortunately, even high-intensity Cardassian disrupters are incapable of obliterating DNA entirely. The assassin was a close relative – a cousin or nephew, perhaps – of First Minister Zerogin. His name was Panka Bol."
"Panka. Not Zerogin. But how…?"
"The name is false, Major. I imagine Zerogin’s whole family hid their true identities after the occupation ended."
Kira shook her head sadly. "Poor man. He was just trying to protect his family. Zerogin’s relatives aren’t to blame for his crimes, but just try convincing Bajorans of that. Since the occupation ended, even distant relatives of collaborators have been ostracized."
Then she slammed her fist on Odo’s desk. "Damn Dukat! He set Panka up! He knew that Damar would kill him all along. He took advantage of a good man’s concern for his family’s honor. How can we let this continue, Odo? This proves that even Weyoun can’t keep Dukat in line."
"I agree, Major, but we can’t afford to act hastily. Believe me, Dukat is a crafty adversary. I have a few theories about what he’s really trying to accomplish, but I’ll need to run the security tapes through a few simulations before I’m sure."
"What kind of simulations, Odo?"
"I’ve analyzed the trajectory of Panka’s phaser blast. It has proven enlightening." Odo held up his hand before Kira had a chance to ask. "Saying anything more would be premature and irresponsible at this point. Believe me, Major, when I know more, you’ll be the first person I’ll tell."
"That’s good enough for me. You know where to find me." Kira smiled and left the security office, but she didn’t feel as confident as she looked. Why does Odo want to look at the phaser trajectory? Does he think that Weyoun wasn’t the assassin’s target, after all? If not him, then…who?
An hour later, Kira’s combadge beeped. It was Odo.
His voice was calm, but Kira noted a very satisfied undertone, the kind Odo used when he had solved a difficult puzzle. "I’ve determined what’s going on. And this isn’t the first time Cardassians have tried something like this. Remember the Circle incident, Major?"
"Central Command supplied weapons to Bajoran rebels, trying to upset our relations with the Federation! You mean this is similar?"
"Exactly! Dukat’s real motive is to undermine the non-aggression pact between the Dominion and Bajor."
"Of course. If a Bajoran kills Weyoun…"
"No, no! Weyoun’s death wouldn’t be nearly enough…Just a moment, Major. Someone is outside the security office. Probably some petty crime, I’ll get rid of him."
Kira heard Odo walk a few paces; then a loud burst of static came over the communicator, and it went dead. "Odo! Odo, what is going on?"
Kira lost no time getting to the security office. But by the time she arrived, Odo was gone, with no indication that anything had happened at all.
She found the holovid that Odo had looking at and replayed it. It ran through the assassination attempt from various camera angles; superimposed onto each angle was the trajectory of the assassin’s blast. In all cases, it was obvious: Weyoun had been shot only because he had accidentally gotten in the way. Panka had been aiming at Odo all along.
Kira rang the door chime. Kira pounded on the door. Kira kicked the door, uttered a few choice Bajoran phrases that her Federation colleagues had never heard her use, and then sat down in the corridor, opposite the door, to wait. She knew that Weyoun was in his quarters, and she was determined to speak with him as soon as possible.
After a few minutes, three Jem’Hadar trudged down the hall. Kira stood up. The Jem’Hadar rung the door chime and were admitted.
Kira peered into the room. Weyoun was in there, all right. He was transfixed in front of a comstation. Kira couldn’t tell what was being said. The comstation went black. Weyoun stared at the black screen for a moment, then turned and walked out of the room, gesturing for the Jem’Hadar to follow. He didn’t seem to notice Kira, who was trying to get his attention.
The procession ended at Ops. Weyoun and the guards entered, and Kira slipped in behind them. She had a horrible premonition of what Weyoun had learned on the comstation that had upset him so badly.
Behind the glass doors, at the head of the familiar stairs, Kira could see Dukat sitting behind Sisko’s chair, gazing in apparent nonchalance at the stars outside the window. He knows exactly what Weyoun is about to tell him, she fumed. He isn’t going to get away with it!
Weyoun stormed into the office; Kira tried to follow, but the Jem’Hadar blocked her path. Inside, Dukat noticed and gestured that she should be allowed to enter. As Kira walked through the sliding doors, she saw the satisfied grin on Dukat’s face. You haven’t won, Dukat. Not yet.
Walking to the comstation, Weyoun activated it. "You’ve heard what has happened, Dukat?" was all the Vorta said.
Dukat nodded. "A terrible crime."
The comstation snapped on, and a Bajoran face appeared. Kira didn’t recognize the woman, but she hadn’t expected to. Another of Dukat’s blackmail victims.
"We are the Alliance for a Free Bajor," the woman said. "We have captured a Founder. We demand that all Dominion and Cardassian forces be withdrawn from Bajoran space immediately, or the Founder will be killed. You have 52 hours to comply."
The comstation went black. Dukat sat back in his chair and steeped his fingers in contemplation, while Weyoun exploded.
"This is how these duplicitous Bajorans repay the Dominion for our forbearance! To threaten the life of a Founder! I have never heard of such a thing!"
"I tried to tell you, Weyoun," Dukat said smugly. "The treaty was a foolish idea. "
"The treaty means nothing, now! If Odo is harmed, Bajor will be incinerated!"
Kira stepped forward. "Wait! The Bajorans who’ve captured Odo don’t represent the planet! The legitimate government has nothing to do with this!"
"Then, the Chamber of Ministers should have better control over its people! The whole planet will be held responsible for the actions of these extremists. Ordinarily, the Dominion would exercise restraint, but this crime is too horrific for restraint! Threatening to kill a Founder! It’s beyond belief!"
Dukat leaned over his desk with folded hands. "This is proof that the Bajorans can’t be trusted to honor their agreements. The Dominion will have no choice but to make strong reprisals."
"You’re right, Dukat!" Weyoun replied. "I’ll send fifteen divisions of Jem’Hadar to Bajor. If Odo isn’t returned unharmed within the hour, they’ll began leveling cities! And then…"
Dukat held up his hands and continued in his calm manner. "That’s not the wisest course of action, Weyoun. The Cardassian military would be much more effective. My troops are familiar with the planet, and they understand the Bajoran way of thinking. They’d have a much greater chance of returning Odo to us unharmed than the Jem’Hadar, who – no offense intended – have no experience in dealing with the natives."
For the first time, Weyoun seemed to come out of his agitated trance. "You have troops ready who were assigned to Bajor during the occupation?"
Dukat nodded silently.
"Then you’re probably right. Cardassians will be more useful now. But I warn you, Dukat – nothing is more important than Odo’s welfare!"
"I completely agree." Dukat smiled, this time at Kira.
"I give you free reign on Bajor," Weyoun concluded. "But you had better find Odo unharmed and rescue him!"
"I’ll begin issuing the orders immediately." He looked at Kira. "Is there something you wanted to ask me, Major?"
Yes, you smug spoonhead bastard! What have you done with Odo? I swear, if he’s harmed, you won’t just have Weyoun to contend with! But Kira held her tongue. Weyoun’s the person I need to talk with now.
Kira turned and dashed after the Vorta, who was now descending the stairs from Dukat’s office. Behind her, she heard Dukat’s smooth voice. "Ah well. Perhaps later we can have a little talk."
When they were safely out of Ops, Kira caught up with Weyoun, ignoring the threatening glances of the Jem’Hadar. "Wait!" she said desperately. "There’s something about this situation you don’t understand. Dukat arranged for Odo to be kidnapped. That ‘Bajoran resistance group’ is a fraud, controlled by Cardassians!"
Weyoun stared at her as though she were insane. "Major, do you really expect me to believe that? Why would Dukat do such a thing?"
"Weyoun, think! You just agreed to let Dukat send Cardassian troops to the planet. It’s just what he’s wanted all along! Once they’re on Bajor, I can guarantee you’ll have a hard time re-asserting control over the situation."
Weyoun narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Why are you trying to help me?"
"Among other things, I’m concerned for Odo’s safety! He’s my close friend. If you leave this up to Dukat, neither of us will ever see him alive again!"
"I assure you, Major, you couldn’t be more concerned for Odo’s safety than I am."
Kira rolled her eyes. "Fine, Weyoun. You’re more concerned than I am. But will you just come to the security office with me? I can prove what I’m saying is true."
Weyoun insisted on viewing the tape three times before he would accept the evidence of his eyes. Even then, he appeared unconvinced. "So you claim that this proves the assassin was after Odo all along?"
"Not only that, but look at Damar," Kira said as she pointed at the monitor. "Here, I’ll run the holovid again. Look how he grabs his disrupter before the assassin does anything suspicious. He must have known what was going to happen, and was preparing to kill the assassin before the attempt even took place!"
"Is that what it shows? I’ve spent a good deal of time working with Damar. He certainly isn’t the brightest person in the quadrant, but he is conscientious about security. I wouldn’t be surprised if he always has one hand on his disrupter when on the promenade. I don’t think this holovid proves Dukat was involved at all."
"But why would any Bajorans be foolish enough to kidnap Odo? What would Bajor have to gain? We have a treaty with the Dominion that keeps us safe! Dukat’s the only one with a motive to upset the situation."
Weyoun said nothing, but stared intently at the holovid as it repeated the assassination attempt in an endless loop. "You have a good point there, Major. But, you see, I am in a quandary. My only concern is for Odo’s safety. Dukat says the Bajorans are responsible for this crime, and you say Dukat is responsible. One of you is lying, and I don’t know which."
"Well, it’s not me! Why would I lie? Odo is…"
"Your friend? Why? Because you and he traded security reports each day?" Weyoun fixed Kira with an unblinking blue glare.
"No! It’s more than that. I…" Kira looked at the Vorta’s uncomprehending eyes. "Weyoun, you really couldn’t understand. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to trust me."
"Where a god is concerned, I cannot trust anyone. You could very well be in league with this Bajoran resistance group, trying to distract me with false suspicions. So far, Dukat has been a good ally. He knows the value of maintaining amiable relations with the Dominion. Why would he take the risk of incurring the Dominion’s wrath, just to gain control over an insignificant planet like Bajor?"
Kira shook her head. "You just don’t know Dukat. He’s not the type to be anyone’s ‘good ally,’ and he’s capable of taking insane risks to get what he wants."
Impatiently, Weyoun got to his feet. "This is getting us nowhere! It’s obvious to me that either you or Dukat are behind this kidnapping. So, Major, this is what we’re going to do. We are all going to Bajor, and whoever is responsible is going to find Odo and rescue him. If Odo isn’t found within one day, I will order reprisals."
"Reprisals? Against who?"
"Against the Cardassians on this station and Bajorans on the planet. That way, both you and Dukat will have a good reason to locate Odo unharmed."
This expedition is completely absurd, Kira thought furiously. Weyoun claims that a ‘distress signal’ came from this part of the planet, but it was most likely another one of Dukat’s tricks.
Kira looked down the bright green curve of the hill towards the rocky, tree-choked gully below. A troop of Jem’Hadar was already inspecting the gully, jumping from one side of a narrow stream to the other. Weyoun stood nearby in the shade of a spreading tree. Just ahead of Kira on the trail was Dukat, who appeared to be in no hurry to join the others.
"What a beautiful day, Major. I always appreciated Bajor’s blue skies. My own world is very lovely in its own way, but unfortunately it’s also rather cloudy most of the time."
"I can’t believe you! You created this situation – putting both Bajorans and your own troops on the station in mortal danger – and you want to discuss the weather?"
Dukat grinned. "If you wish to end the threat to Bajorans, you need only tell Weyoun where you’ve hidden Odo."
"I had nothing to do with it, and you know it! This game has gone far enough! We’ll never find Odo at this rate, and if we don’t find him, Weyoun will start killing people!"
"Hmm. That does seem to be one of his hobbies. Something to do with the way Vortas are engineered, I believe."
"Weyoun told me that when he orders Cardassians to be executed, he plans to start with Damar. Are you just going to stand by and let your friend be murdered?"
Dukat shrugged. "Damar is an able lieutenant, but hardly indispensable."
"By the Prophets, you’re cold-blooded even for a spoonhead. You’d be happy to see every Cardassian you brought here killed if it would serve your purposes!"
"Every Cardassian I brought here, Major, would gladly die for the good of the Union."
"And how does this charade serve the Cardassian Union, Dukat? I know what you have planned! You’ll let Weyoun wander around in circles until the deadline passes and Odo is…killed…by supposed Bajoran terrorists. The non-aggression treaty will be destroyed, but Weyoun will still be in charge here. He called Bajor an ‘insignificant world,’ and he was right. You’re just feeding your own ego. This gambit won’t do Cardassia any good!"
"Oh, I wouldn’t call Bajor ‘insignificant.’ I don’t think even Weyoun appreciates its strategic importance, or realizes just how hard the Federation will fight to get it back. That’s the trouble with Vortas, you know. They just don’t understand Alpha Quadrant politics at all. But I’m surprised at you, Major. I would have thought by now you’d see where your own self-interest lies."
"I hate to ask what you mean by my ‘self-interest,’ but I know you’ll tell me anyway."
"Simple. If you’re correct, and I am the one behind Odo’s kidnapping, then only I can find him and save his life. If he dies, then Bajor will shortly be in ruins. I don’t want that to happen any more than you do. What good would it do me to rule a ruined world? Besides, I’ve always liked Odo."
Kira stopped walking down the hill. "State you terms clearly, Dukat."
"These are my terms. I know where Odo is. I will tell you, and you will lead us to the Bajoran hide-out. In return for your ‘last-minute’ decision to cooperate and ‘betray’ your allies, I will guarantee a pardon for both you and Bajor as a whole. Odo’s life will be saved and Bajor will be spared. The Bajorans who kidnapped him will be killed, but that can hardly be helped at this point. This whole situation will end happily, Major. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about."
"And from now on, Weyoun will mistrust Bajorans, and think that you saved Odo!"
"Oh, and one other thing. I’d like you to have dinner with me. I make a very good hasparat. You’d be surprised."
"You’re sick! I’m not going to agree…"
Dukat resumed trudging down the hill. "Then I’m afraid we’re going to have to walk around in circles until the deadline has passed," he said over his shoulder. "Is that really what you want?"
"Damn you, Dukat! Tell me where Odo is!"
Without bothering to turn around, Dukat inclined his head towards their right. "If we follow this gully downstream for three hundred meters, we’ll come to a waterfall concealing the entrance to a series of caves."
"So Odo is in there, somewhere. These hills are riddled with caves. How am I going to be able to pretend to know where I’m going?"
"When we find the cave, just start walking. Where the tunnels split up, I’ll stand next to the branch leading in the right direction. That way it will look like you’re leading the way."
"And you’ll be guaranteed my cooperation until we actually find Odo. Very clever, Dukat."
Kira’s tone had been far from complementary, but Dukat seemed to take it as praise anyway. Walking faster, he soon joined Weyoun in the gully with Kira just behind.
"The Major has agreed to help us, Weyoun!" Dukat said jovially. "She remembers a resistance hide-out near here, where she thinks Odo is being help captive."
"If you say so, Dukat," Kira muttered.
Weyoun looked back and forth between Kira and Dukat, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Well, I see I was right that one of you knows where Odo is. I have no idea what you were talking about just now, or what kind of game you’re playing. If this is some kind of arcane Alpha Quadrant mating ritual, I really don’t want to know about it…"
Dukat laughed. Furious, Kira started to yell. "That is not what…"
"I said, I don’t want to know about it! Just take me to Odo, now!"
Beet-red with rage, Kira tromped down the gully. The procession ended, just as Dukat had predicted, at a steep cliff where the stream turned into a waterfall. Kira found a small pathway leading under the waterfall to the entrance of a cave. Taking out her palm beacon, she started cautiously into the cave, with the rest following behind.
After a few minutes of trudging through the muddy, dank tunnels, she stopped. The tunnel diverged into two. Dukat brushed by Kira and shone his palm beacon into the darkness to the left.
"Which way, Major?" he asked with a grin.
Kira sighed and took the left fork. Over the next hour, this process was repeated dozens of time. Kira knew that there was nothing surprising about the lengthy trip. Resistance cell hideouts like this one had to be extraordinarily well-hidden. But she was beginning to worry that Dukat might get them lost when she remembered that Cardassians had incredible memories. Even if he was only here once, he’d recall the route perfectly.
Finally, at yet another fork, Dukat stopped, held up his hand and whispered. "If I don’t miss my guess, Major, we’re very close to the rebels’ hide-out now."
"I suppose we are."
"Weyoun, send the Jem’Hadar ahead. Tell them to shoot anything that moves."
The Vorta shot Dukat a sharp look. "Are you insane? Odo is…"
"Odo has been secured in a back room. Don’t worry, he’s perfectly safe."
"And just how do you know that, Dukat?"
"Weyoun, you really have to get over this irrational suspicion of me! It’s starting to severely interfere with our working relationship. I know where Odo is because I spent years dealing with Bajoran terrorists. I’m very familiar with their habits. Besides, Odo could easily transform himself into a form that could not be harmed by disrupter blasts. But we need to maintain the element of surprise, or the terrorists might kill him when we attack."
Weyoun thought for a moment, but apparently could find no alternative. "Fine. Teluk’talan, you and your men shroud yourselves and proceed down the corridor. When you find the rebels make absolutely certain that the Founder is not among them before you shoot anyone!"
"We will obey," the First replied. "But how can we know the Founder has not assumed the form of a Bajoran?"
Weyoun was stumped, but Kira – horrified at the prospect of Odo being accidentally killed by the Jem’Hadar – provided the solution. "Odo has never been able to create an accurate humanoid face. In fact, the one he has is really just his attempt to look Bajoran."
"Wonderful!" Weyoun said. "That should make it simple to distinguish the Founder from the rebels."
Without another word, the Jem’Hadar shrouded. Kira felt sick in the pit of her stomach – by telling Weyoun how to distinguish Odo from the Bajorans, she had just aided in the murder of people who were most likely innocent of any crime, other than being easy targets for Dukat’s coercion. She braced herself for the disrupter shots and screams, the sounds of death.
But those sounds never came.
After a few minutes, the Jem’Hadar returned and de-shrouded. "No one is there, Vorta, except for one injured Bajoran."
"No Odo?" Weyoun gasped.
Kira glanced at Dukat, wondering if this were all part of the scheme, but he was just as shocked as Weyoun. Prophets, he wasn’t expecting this! Something has gone wrong with his plan, and that means that Odo is in real danger now!
Without waiting for the others, Dukat ran down the hall. They came to a series of rooms with rough-cut stone walls. Kira shone her beacon over a scattered assemblage of tables, cartons, comstations. Chairs were overturned, and she even found a few phaser rifles stacked in a corner. The signs were all there of a hasty evacuation.
From another room, she heard Weyoun’s angry voice. "Where have they taken the Founder?" She rushed to the back room, where Dukat, Weyoun and the Jem’Hadar stood on one side of a security field. On the other side, a Bajoran in tattered clothes cringed on the ground.
Kira winced at the man’s injuries. One arm was broken in several places and his face was badly beaten. He looked like he had been hideously tortured. Kira couldn’t believe that Bajorans could be so brutal, and started to feel real fear for Odo’s safety. Dukat found the controls for the security field and deactivated it. It was obvious that the man posed no danger to anyone.
The man haltingly told his story, whistling his words through broken teeth. "My name is Ugard Bauth. I helped kidnap the shapeshifter, but when I realized how much danger we had put Bajor in, I double-crossed the others, and sent the distress signal that you received. The others discovered my betrayal and nearly killed me. They would have finished me off, but one of the rebels spotted you on the hill outside. They took the shapeshifter and escaped through a back tunnel, leaving me behind to die."
Weyoun grabbed the man and shook him "What tunnel? Where?"
"It won’t do you any good. They collapsed the tunnel behind them." With his good arm, he pointed to a pile of rubble in the corner of the room.
"Where does the tunnel lead?" Dukat asked.
The Bajoran shook his head miserably. "We should get him back to the station," Kira said. "He needs medical help!"
"Rebels don’t deserve help," Weyoun replied. "The only reason I haven’t ordered his immediate execution is because he’s our only link to Odo."
For the next hour, half the Jem’Hadar drained their disrupters blasting through the rock of the collapsed tunnel while the others scoured the hills for any sign of the rebels. Finally, Weyoun gave up and everyone returned to DS9. But the Vorta still refused to allow Ugard to be treated in the infirmary. Instead, he was placed under heavy guard in a security cell.
"You’ll get medical attention when we find Odo," Weyoun told the injured man. "You can start by telling me the name of the conspirators."
Kira was grateful she had been allowed to be present. Apparently, Ugard had insisted on her presence. I don’t know how much I can protect him, but I’ll do my best.
"I didn’t know anyone’s name," the man wheezed. "But I overheard one say that she used to be a member of the Ellorne resistance cell."
Ellorne? Kira puzzled. I’ve never heard of that one. That isn’t even a Bajoran name! He’s desperate, making up lies. Poor man.
"That doesn’t tell us much," Weyoun persisted. "What part of Bajor was she from?"
"I don’t know that, either. But she mentioned she used to work for a business exporting spare parts to the Xepolites. There couldn’t have been many firms handling something so specific."
Or any firms, Kira thought. There’s never been much trade between Bajor and Xepolita…wait! Her heart leapt. "Mr. Ugard, I may know the business you’re talking about. Does it export stem-bolts?"
Despite his injuries, Ugard tried to smile. "Yes, it does."
Kira turned to Weyoun. "That’s something to go on, anyway. It shouldn’t be difficult to piece together the rest, based on what he’s told us."
Weyoun looked slightly pleased. "Good. Then I’ll reward this Bajoran by allowing Dr. Ghem to treat his injuries."
"No!" Kira said. Weyoun raised his eyebrow. "What I mean is…let’s not reward him until I’m certain he’s given us useful information."
An hour later, Kira returned to the security office and disabled all the security monitors.
"Well, Mr. Ugard," she said. "The monitoring equipment is off, and the stem-bolts are in the cargo bay."
"Hmmph. I hope there’s a guard around them or Quark will abscond with every last bolt." Ugard melted and reformed himself into a familiar shape.
Kira grinned. "Odo! Thank the Prophets it really is you! You had me worried for a while. After I saw those injuries, I had to wonder what kind of Bajorans we were dealing with."
"Hmmph. Frightened, disorganized Bajorans. Dukat hardly has the cream of the crop working for him. When the real Ugard – yes, there’s a real Ugard Bauth – sent that distress call and my kidnappers spotted the Jem’Hadar on the hill outside, they fled in a panic, leaving me behind."
"So you convinced Ugard to send the distress message. But when we found you, why didn’t you simply reveal who you were to Weyoun?"
"Because that would have meant Dukat had won. It would simply have proven to Weyoun that I was, indeed, kidnapped by Bajorans."
"But you could tell him that Dukat was behind it all along!"
"Would Weyoun believe me, Major? He may regard me as a god, but he also knows that I am a friend to Bajor and the Federation, and that gives me a motive to lie."
"Weyoun wouldn’t question you so blatantly!"
"He wouldn’t say anything, no. He’d just bow and smile and then do what’s in the best interests of the Dominion. You see, Major, a few days after Weyoun and Dukat arrived, I tried, well, the obvious approach. I went to Weyoun and simply ordered him to leave DS9 and take the Cardassians with him."
"And he ignored you."
"He went into great and elaborate detail regarding his eagerness to obey all Founders, including me, and then even more detail explaining why it would be, in this specific case, impossible. When I finally untangled what he was saying, it became clear: the female changeling ordered him to ignore my commands when he suspects I’m acting for the Federation’s interests. I imagine he thinks I’ve been brainwashed."
Kira scowled. "Of course. If Weyoun followed your orders without question, this occupation would have been over before it had even begun."
"Hmmph. And my people are hardly stupid enough to allow that situation to occur. So, you see, I need to not only show Weyoun that I am alive and well, but also convince him that the kidnapping never even took place!"
"I’ll bet you have a plan."
"I do, indeed…"
Quark and his customers ceased their carousing when they heard a commotion outside the bar. They stared as an injured Bajoran civilian bolted from the security office and ran, hunched over, holding a broken arm.
Kira followed close behind. "The prisoner is escaping!" She screamed. Damar looked up from his seat at Quark’s, then bolted out to chase the prisoner. Kira raised her disrupter and fired. The man disappeared.
Damar whirled. "Are you insane? What did you do that for, you damn stupid Bajoran?"
"Sorry," Kira purred. "I guess you’re not the only person on this station who ‘accidentally’ vaporizes people on the promenade."
Kira walked to the spot where the Bajoran had been obliterated. "Doesn’t look like there’s much left. Too bad."
"When Dukat hears about this, you won’t be so smug, Major!"
"You know, Damar, I have an interesting surprise for your boss. Why don’t you tell him and Weyoun to meet me in a few minutes outside Odo’s quarters?"
Damar looked puzzled but tromped off towards Ops. No one noticed a clear puddle of water – a spilled drink from Quark’s? – inch imperceptibly towards Kira’s boot and transform itself into a shiny new buckle that had never been there before.
Kira walked towards the turbolift. Quark looked on in amazement as she passed. "Someone remind me to tear up the Major’s bar bill," he said tremulously.
Kira walked boldly into Odo’s quarters. "Odo, are you here? I know you don’t like being bothered with unannounced visitors." She skirted the huge, tube-like construction that took up almost all of the room and walked into an adjacent darkened area.
Dukat followed Kira, with an amused look on his face. Weyoun took a few tentative steps into the room, glancing around nervously.
Folding his arms, Dukat grinned. "Give it up, Major. We all know that Odo isn’t…"
"Odo isn’t here?" Kira re-emerged. "Then who’s this?"
Odo emerged from the dark and looked from Kira to Dukat and back again, with a puzzled expression. "What is the meaning of this intrusion?"
Dukat fought to mask his shock while Weyoun hurriedly genuflected. It didn’t do the Vorta any good.
"Weyoun!" Odo bellowed. "Who gave you permission to disturb me and interrupt my meditation? Do you have any idea how long it took me to comprehend the nuances of photosynthesis? Now that my concentration is broken, I’ll need several more days as a begonia to regain that state of mind."
"I…I…I am sorry, Founder…" Weyoun stammered.
"And don’t call me Founder! Leave, all of you!"
"Of course," Kira said. "Sorry to be a bother." She winked at Dukat as she passed. Weyoun had already scrambled out of the room.
The door closed behind Kira, but Dukat didn’t budge. Odo scowled and folded his arms. "Well, ‘Prefect’? I believe I invited you to depart."
Dukat looked straight at Odo with a riveting glare that usually caused his enemies’ knees to buckle. It, however, had no effect on the shapeshifter.
"Indeed, ‘Founder.’ I obey in all things." Dukat chuckled. "This is rather strange, isn’t it? When you first showed up on Terok Nor all those years ago, a confused and cringing mess, who would ever have thought you were actually a ‘god’?"
"Don’t be ridiculous, Dukat. Neither of us believes that."
"You’re certainly ruder than you used to be. I can recall when you were too intimidated to even speak in my presence."
Odo bristled slightly. "Your memory is better than mine, then. I don’t recollect anything of the sort."
"I didn’t mean to insult you, Odo. Really, I’m quite impressed. I have no idea how you pulled off this amazing trick, but I always thought that you were capable of an almost Cardassian level of cleverness."
"You’re not doing a very good job of ‘not insulting’ me."
"Ah, the fearless honesty. That’s the reason I made you security chief, even though Central Command was livid over the idea of a non-Cardassian in such an important post. Wanted to have me relieved of command for it. I recall that Gul Madred was to have taken over for me."
"Then you should contact Madred and tell him how very wrong he was," Odo said dryly.
"I certainly would if I could. Unfortunately, I had to have him executed a few months ago."
Dukat patted Odo on his shoulder. "You’re fortunate not to have to deal with such things. You should come over to visit some evening – I’ve taken Captain Sisko’s quarters, I’m sure you know where they are. We can reminisce about old times."
"Perhaps. But I have no desire to reminisce about anything. I have a feeling that the future is going to be more interesting than the past."
Dukat grinned. "You may be right, Odo. After all, who can know what the future will bring?"