Benjamin Sisko sat on the bench in a detention cell in the main cellblock behind the security office. Having been the commander of Deep Space Nine for seven years, he did not think he would end up here. He had been held in a jail cell like this one before, as part of a virtual reality simulation the Dominion ran to gauge the Federation’s determination to keep the Gamma Quadrant empire on its side of the Wormhole.
During the long quiet hours in this cell, he couldn’t help feeling he belonged in such a jail cell for his off-the-books action taken during the Dominion War. Surely, he would be let off the hook for assaulting the pilot of a Bajoran cargo vessel and for breaking a terrorist out of jail given the circumstances under which he was coerced. The deliberations were just a formality now, but that did not take away the disgrace of being confined in a prison cell and possibly being separated from his wife and daughter yet again.
Jonas Escobar stepped into the cellblock, quickly sauntering over to Sisko’s cell. Sisko remained seated with his arms folded in front of his chest, trying not to get his hopes up that the acting chief of security had good news. The lieutenant then tapped a set of commands that shut off the forcefield. “You’re free to go, sir,” he said.
“It’s about damn time,” Sisko replied with a triumphant grin. “Have Kasidy, Jake, and Rebecca arrived on the station yet?”
“Their transport should be docking in just under an hour. You really think they’ll safer here than on the station?”
“For now, they’re better protected from reprisals by the Orion Syndicate on the station than on Bajor.”
“Of course, sir,” Escobar said with a nod. “Also, Captain Kira wants to see you in the ward room. She’s on conference call with the President. So you might want to get into uniform, assuming you haven’t completely retired from Starfleet.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant, I’ll keep that in mind,” Sisko retorted, marching out of the cell.
Doctor Bashir was among four medical personnel gathered around Vaughn’s bedside in the Infirmary’s primary intensive care unit, all dressed in red surgical scrubs. Most of Vaughn’s other injuries he had suffered on the runabout—from bone fractures to internal bleeding-- were easily treated in the Defiant
’s sickbay. The major challenge was treating and monitoring the severe subdural hematoma, especially with the starship’s limited medical resources, which was even more of an obstacle on a ship designated a warship. Julian thanked his lucky stars that a delta wave inducer kept Vaughn alive and stable during the trip back to Deep Space Nine. Otherwise, he would have given Starfleet Medical Headquarters quite an earful about the severe shortage of medical sources on Defiant
-class starships. He was on the receiving end of such complaints from his nurses on the Defiant
when he began performing an archaic procedure known as a craniotomy in order to access the injured portions of the brain.
“Increased intracranial pressure,” Tarses called.
“I see it,” Bashir said, noting an indicator on a brain scan readout. “Increase oxygenation in that area, but slowly. Four CC’s thiazine.”
Nurse Bandee handed Bashir a hypospray with the prescribed treatment. Bashir then injected the drug into the top of Vaughn’s head.
“Pressure’s still increasing,” Tarses noted.
“We need to clamp off that artery fast,” Bashir snapped at a Bajoran female nurse.
She handed Bashir a laser device in order to counter the increased blood pressure before it became a hemorrhage, which he inserted through the top of Vaughn’s skull. “Let’s start with point six CC’s nitrophorozine,” he added.
Bandee handed Bashir a hypospray, which he injected into Vaughn’s carotid artery.
Bashir then took a long look at the readouts. He nodded once he was satisfied that the more immediate crises were resolved. “Keep adjusting the thrombic modulator as it’s needed,” he instructed Tarses. He looked over at his nurses saying, “Let’s stay vigilant, everyone.”
Prynn Tenmei stood in one corner of the room, observing closely while making sure to stay out of the way. Julian approached her with a grim look on his face while still trying to remain optimistic about the patient’s recovery chances. “He’ll be okay, right?” Prynn asked, fighting back tears.
“I wish I could give you a guarantee, Prynn,” Bashir said ruefully. “Traumatic brain injuries remain unpredictable even with all recent medical advances. Even if he recovers, we have no way of knowing what condition he’ll be in.”
“Make sure he lives, Julian,” Prynn insisted, letting a single tear fall down her right cheek.
Bashir silently stared off into the corridor watching Prynn walk away. Losing her mother the way she did, he knew from a Gamma Quadrant mission two years earlier, was difficult enough. Now he might have to tell Prynn that her father might die, an even more difficult given the often rocky relationship between father and daughter. He was not yet in the position of having to pronounce Elias dead or dying, he was reminded of when he told Kira that her lover, Vedek Bareil Antos, had died and when he informed friends and colleagues that Jadzia was inevitably near death.
As Escobar had suggested, Sisko had donned the Starfleet uniform he wore when he was commander of Deep Space Nine for the conference call with the President of the Federation Council. He still felt out of place seeing Kira dressed in a Starfleet uniform with a command red collar and four gold pips signifying the rank of captain. This station was Kira’s command now ever since his final confrontation with Dukat in the Fire Caves and that remained so after Sisko had announced his intent to take an extended leave of absence. Still, walking through these corridors brought about all kinds of nostalgic feelings.
“Why did the President wish to speak to me?” Sisko wondered after seeing off a security guard and an engineering technician making a few last arrangements before the conference could begin given the sensitive nature of what would discussed.
“The chief of staff wouldn’t say,” Kira replied. She entered commands on a padd on the table in front of her while Sisko took a seat on the viewport side of the room on her right. Pixels came together on the viewing monitor on the opposite side of the table to form the seal of the UFP. The image of President Min Zife in the main office of the Palais de la Concorde
then gradually appeared on the screen.
“Captain Kira. Captain Sisko,” Zife said with a wide smile. “I bring you greetings from the Federation CounciI. I wanted to compliment personally on the success of your mission.”
“Thank you, sir,” Kira replied with a light nod.
“Captain Sisko,” Zife added. “I requested you at this meeting once I had heard you were back aboard the station. You know what needs to be done now that Klingon separatists have been caught red-handed delivering a potentially devastating weapon to Tezwa. A fleet will be dispatched to Tezwa to occupy the planet pending the Starfleet C-in-C’s sign off on the order.”
Sisko and Kira exchanged befuddled glances upon hearing that the President of the Federation planned on taking prematurely drastic action. “Mister President," Sisko began, "do you really believe such drastic action is necessary? From what I understand from the after-action reports from the crew on the Defiant,
sir only one
Omega weapon was delivered to Tezwa. And the Ku-Vok-leth
may have intended to use it there to cut off the Federation from a major supply line heavily relied on since the end of the war.”
“But you don’t know Prime Minister Kinchawn as I do. I helped to negotiate the initial trade negotiations five years ago. He was very persistent in his demands the Federation could not possibly have met at the time. While he was open to limited technological and economic aid, he did not seem like the kind of leader willing to let his world’s technological evolution proceed at its own pace.”
“Granted, sir,” said Kira. “But that’s a long way from proving that the Tezwan government is colluding with terrorists to obtain illegal energy sources.”
“Under different circumstances,” Zife insisted, “we would wait on more concrete evidence. We don’t have that luxury with Omega. Do you suggest we wait for the first Omega detonation in our space?”
“What I suggest,
sir,” Sisko replied, “is a sane and rational investigation of the facts at hand. This is one incident hardly constitutes evidence of Omega bombs being shipped to Tezwa. With all due respect, sir, what you are suggesting is occupying a sovereign planet not currently at war with the Federation. Ambassador Worf has uncovered evidence an autonomous agency working on Starfleet’s behalf was behind this delivery.”
“You mean this so-called ‘Section 31’?” Zife asked, much to the surprise of both Sisko and Kira. Sisko had spoken to a number of senior admirals at Starfleet Headquarters and even Zife himself about the organization that called itself Section 31 after Bashir’s encounters with Sloan. Their responses were the standard non-answers and the usual platitudes that such an organization was in opposition to Federation principles. None of them would give a straight answer to his inquiries.
“I know you have been unable to shed light on it in the past,” Sisko added, not wanting to point out how unusually quick Zife was to mention Section 31.
“For all we know, this Klingon may have been trying to throw the ambassador off guard,” Zife snapped. “I appreciate your directness, Captain. Your advice was greatly valued before and during the Dominion War. Many in the Joint Chiefs revere you today even though you are now, for all intents and purposes, retired from the service. But I will not have you making unfounded accusations about rogue organizations looking to advance the Federation’s interests. The decision has been made and will be implemented in the next twenty-four Earth hours. Palais de la Concorde
Sisko breathed deeply once the transmission ended and the UFP seal appeared on the screen. This would have been the kind of unilateral decision Admiral James Layton would have made had he been able to overthrow Zife’s predecessor. Fortunately, Sisko was able to stop his former CO from carrying out his treacherous plans in the name of protecting the Federation from the Dominion. “Why the hell did he bother contacting us on the matter?” he grumbled.
Kira felt a speech coming similar to the one he gave after his consultation with a senior admiral regarding the Maquis and the threat they posed to Federation security. “So that he could at least say he consulted with the ranking officer at the scene,” Kira retorted, “and one of Starfleet’s top Dominion War strategists who was willing to make the tough choices.”
“A number of political commentators believe Zife did not act fast enough when the Dominion was fortifying its foothold in the Alpha Quadrant and that the decision to mine the Wormhole could have come a few weeks too late.”
“You don’t actually believe their brand of rhetoric, do you?” Kira asked, knowing of the relentless approach critics of the last three First Ministers of Bajor had taken in the last decade. She may not agreed with every decision Asarem, Shakaar, or Kalem had made, but she was often baffled that critics would be on their case about taking so much as a days’ vacation or prognosticating about the annual springball tournament while they were in office.
“No,” Sisko said bluntly. “But the war was a major culture shock. It has made many of the brass more paranoid.”
“Not the Federation I know,” Kira quipped.
“You’re absolutely right,” Sisko said with a smirk. “How long before Worf gets back to the station?”
“His last reported ETA is just over four hours, why?”
“We need to find something, any shred of proof that Section 31 was the mastermind behind the events of the last few days, and the President, himself, is somehow involved.”
“Easier said than done. If Julian’s right, Section 31 does a very good job of covering its tracks to the point of not even leaving a paper trail.”
“Maybe so. But right now, it’s our only chance of preventing an illegal invasion.”
“I’ll see what I can do when Worf gets here,” Kira said with a smile. “Good to have you back, sir. Even if it’s only for a while.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Sisko said returning the smile. “I understand you’ll probably need someone to fill in as first officer while Elias is down. That is until this crisis is resolved.”
“Know anyone qualified for that job?” Kira asked, knowing what her former CO was getting at. “That’s if you don’t mind being outranked by a former subordinate.”
Sisko arched his head backwards to consider that possibility. He seemed adamant that he was finished with Starfleet the last two years. But then he found he missed it after being brought back into the game, as it were. On the other hand, he would never dream of asking Kira to relinquish command of the station to him after three years. “It’s not unprecedented for a captain and first officer to trade jobs,” he said with a smirk.
“I’ll get the paperwork,” Kira teased while rising from her seat.