Crewman Doran and his Yridian partner were in the process of loading the ultritium explosives onto Cargo Bay Twelve’s transporter pad. The process was an arduous one since neither one of them had great physical strength to carry the heavy containers onto the pad. Ordinarily, Doran would use an anti-gravity harness, but the cargo bay had been sealed off by order of security. Finding an alternative route inside with forcefields closing off additional access points and his authorization codes having been rescinded was hard enough. Doran didn’t dare attract attention by using any electro-magnetic devices.
The Yridian, meanwhile, grumbled in annoyance as he was sliding a cargo container up the ramp to the transporter pad. “I don’t understand why you need my help with this
,” he huffed. “I was just paid to bring the explosives aboard.”
“All ships are being detained while security is looking for me,” Doran replied. “You could at least make yourself useful.”
The Yridian scoffed while slowly walking back towards the cargo containers they were having transported to the reactor core. He was planning on being on his next freight run rather than moving containers in a cargo bay declared off-limits.
“He just told me he needed someone to circumvent the security sensors,”
Quark recalled his dealings with the Yridian trader as part of his deal with station security in order to avoid criminal charges. “It was because of the increased difficulty of his smuggling operations with Bajor under Federation jurisdiction.”
“And that’s all he said to you?’ Ro asked skeptically from behind the desk. “Smugglers usually need to cover their tracks by falsifying their cargo manifests.”
“Then I guess security isn’t thoroughly doing its
job,” the Ferengi quipped.
“Quark,” Ro snapped. He was clearly being less than truthful about something despite his plea agreement, since Quark was not usually this insolent with his interrogators. He had to have been smuggling in weapons or explosives as well.”
“He didn’t tell me,” Quark insisted. “You know how these deals go. We try to ask as few questions as possible.”
Ro sighed, not wanting to be reminded of her time in the Maquis. True, she believed in their cause, but the part of the job she was not always proud of was the theft and smuggling. And now she was here in Deep Space Nine’s security office grilling a Ferengi bartender about a smuggling operation. “You’re sure about that?” she asked. “I need you to be completely truthful if this deal is going to work. What were you getting in return?”
Before Quark could answer, the comm chimed. “Kira to Commander Vaughn and Lieutenant Ro. Report to my office right away.”
Ro tapped her combadge in acknowledgment. “On my way,” she replied. She ascended from her chair and motioned the Andorian officer also present to take her seat. “Ensign th’Helek will finish taking your statement,” she told Quark before exiting the office.
Lieutenant Ro entered Ops through the starboard entryway by the pit and saw Commander Vaughn stepping off the nearby turbolift. She had hoped maybe the first officer knew something about this urgent summons. Maybe it was related to the transmission Kira received from the Defiant
. Hopefully, it wasn’t anything too serious. “Any idea what this is about?” she asked.
“No idea,” Vaughn replied with a shake of his head.
Once they were inside the office, Kira got straight to the point before the doors finished closing. “We have a problem,” the captain stated. “Captain Sisko’s undercover mission revealed a plan to attack this station.”
“I’ll have security teams begin evacuations,” Ro plainly answered.
“There in lies the problem,” Kira said raising a hand. “If we do evacuate, then the Neo-Purists will likely realize someone on the inside tipped us off.”
Ro winced in confusion, then shot Vaughn a glance to see he did not appear as surprised. “You’re not actually suggesting doing nothing and allowing the attack to go forward?” she asked.
“In these kinds of undercover missions,” Vaughn replied, “Agents are faced with these kinds of decisions. They’re never easy…”
“Thank you, Commander,” Kira cut in. Once again addressing Ro, Kira continued. “At the very least get the chancellor, the ambassador, and the bulk of the civilian population out of harm’s way. But try not to make it look like an actual evacuation.”
“That’ll be difficult but doable,” Ro answered somberly. “How long before the attack happens?”
“From what Dax tells me,” Kira replied, “Sisko’s group is on a freighter much slower than the Defiant
’s maximum cruising speed. I’d say eight or nine hours.”
“Commander,” Kira continued, addressing Vaughn. “Surely, Starfleet special ops use some sort of automated transponders to send out false life readings.”
“I might be able to pull some strings with a few former colleagues,” Vaughn answered. “Of course, I’m not exactly on the best of footing with some of those guys after I left.”
“Do whatever you can,” Kira retorted. She noticed Ro in the corner of her eye, suggesting the lieutenant wanted a word with her in private. “You’re dismissed, Commander,” she said plainly, eager to hear what her friend had to say.
“Permission to speak freely, sir,” Ro said, after Vaughn exited and doors closed behind him.
“How can you even have any doubts about how to deal with this pending crisis?” Ro snapped, leaning forward to look Kira in the face.
Normally this was no way for an officer to address her captain. Kira tolerated it, knowing this level of assertiveness was a common trait among Bajorans. Ro’s willingness to speak her mind was something her Starfleet colleagues both admired and disparaged. Kira made a point of not responding to Ro’s confrontational approach knowing that she herself had gotten off on the wrong foot with Sisko nine years ago.
“Sit down, Lieutenant,” Kira said calmly.
Ro obliged, knowing Kira was about to recall a story about the Bajoran Resistance.
“Late in the Occupation,” Kira continued, “my resistance cell intercepted coded transmissions regarding plans to wipe out a heavily populated city in order to weed out suspected underground operatives.
“If we had warned the population about the attack, the Cardassians would have known we had broken their code.”
“So the attack went forward even knowing what you knew,” Ro stated, anticipating the upshot of this story.
“It’s not something I was particularly proud of. I tried to tell myself we had a tremendous tactical advantage over the Cardassians in the long term.”
“Those in the Resistance knew they would have to lay down their lives for the cause of freedom. Starfleet officers are prepared for the same thing. But we have hundreds of civilians on this station, Captain.”
“You’re point is well taken. But I am not going to ask so many people to voluntarily put their lives in danger, so that Captain Sisko can maintain his cover in order to learn of a connection between two terrorist groups that’s tenuous at best. I promised myself that when the Occupation ended that I was finished making those kinds of decisions.”
“I won’t tell any Starfleet admirals if you don’t,” Ro innocently remarked.
Kira returned that statement with a wink.
Ro was already on her way out of the office the comm chimed. “Security to Lieutenant Ro,”
th’Helek called. “There’s another sensor blackout in Cargo Bay Twelve.”
“Meet me there,” Ro replied.
Kira leaned forward to listen in on the call. Once Ro headed out, Kira followed.
Th’Helek and Yndar joined Ro and Kira at the cargo bay entrance. The four them entered the hold, phasers in hand, to find the whole place completely empty. The two security deputies panned out in opposite directions to check for anyone hiding in any access hatches. Kira and Ro slowly walked towards the transporter platform.
Ro entered a command on the control console to access the transport logs. Sure enough, the logs had been erased. Ro was actually sort of pleased that the log had been erased. Otherwise, Doran and any possible co-conspirators had been sloppy. That or it was another misdirection tactic as when the Nausicaan ambushed th’Helek.
“Nothing here,” Ro commented aloud.
“And they were smart to beam away the entire contents of the hold,” Kira added. “They leave behind less potential evidence of having been here.”
“Looks all clear,” th’Helek called to Ro.
“We have to piece together something
,” Kira said with a sigh of frustration, as she tapped her combadge. “Kira to Lieutenants Nog and Tenmei. Report to Cargo Bay Twelve.”
Within five minutes, Nog and Tenmei arrived as ordered. Tenmei and security deputies scanned every square millimeter of the bay for evidence of people having previously been there. Nog was tasked with trying to reassemble the deleted log. It was a long shot, but old Cardassian files were often retrievable, which often led to deadly consequences. And the Cardassians had a reputation for being thorough; especially to assure that absolutely no residual evidence remained of deleted computer records.
“Whoever erased the log did a thorough job,” said Nog. “They programmed a cascade algorithm to erase anything that could help reassemble the file.”
Tenmei then walked over to deliver her report. “From her straight face, Kira wasn’t sure Prynn had good news. From our scans,” the lieutenant reported, “we found traces of dolamide, polyferranide, tri-nitrogen chloride, tetracyanate 622, ultritium…“
“Ultritium,” Ro repeated. “That’s an explosive.”
“And I have a good idea where it might be going,” Kira added. She gave Ro a glance, indicating both of them had a good idea where the Neo-Purists planned to strike.
With the Kobheerian freighter two hours away from the station, Verad presented a schematic of Deep Space 9 to the rest of the group. The screen on the large padd focused on the fusion reactors in the station’s central core. Sisko, the other Trill, and the Orion stood at attention as Verad began to explain the plan. The Orion eyed Sisko suspiciously during the entire journey, and was continuing to do so during this briefing.
“We’re going to plant the explosives at these points,” Verad stated, indicating three red circles on the screen.
“That won’t inflict any considerable damage to the station,” Sisko replied with a hint of uneasiness in his voice. The idea of any of his former colleagues being injured or killed was certainly a disturbing idea. But he had to go along with this plan in order to make his interest in the Neo-Purists appear genuine.
Verad, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have the stomach for his sort of operation,
Sisko contemplated to himself. The Klingon mercenaries by his side when he hijacked the station comprised most of the muscle. And not even being briefly joined to three different symbionts gave him the mental toughness of a terrorist leader. Sure, Verad created a virus deadly to Trill symbionts. Yet he still lacked the courage to kill other humanoids.
“If you were closer to the main reactor,” Sisko started to say.
The Orion grunted in displeasure, sensing a lack of sincerity in Sisko’s words.
“We just plan to knock out key circuits,” Verad interrupted, “in order to impede normal station operation.”
Sisko tried to stifle a sigh of relief, but the two others could hear him slowly inhale through his nose. His slow and measured inhaling did not suggest anger or disappointment, but shortness of breath, meaning he was nervous about something.
“This used to be your
station after all,” Verad added with a hint of sarcasm. “Now, Lek, you and I will…”
“Pair me with the human,” the Orion insisted. “I cannot trust someone who was once the Starfleet commander of our target.”
“You seemed unusually quick to take him into your confidence,” the second Trill added. “How do you know he is not a Starfleet spy?”
“I can’t say for sure that he isn’t, Abbit,” Verad answered. “But Benjamin has shown a willingness to help, first by impeding a Starfleet investigation.”
“Even so,” Lek began, “I want to make sure this human doesn’t try anything.”
“Abbit, you and I will take section 23,” said Verad. “Lek, you and Benjamin will take 28. And our insider has 39. Let’s go.”
The two Trill’s headed for the cargo hold’s exit, but Lek grabbed Sisko by the arm. “At the first sign of treachery,” the burly Orion growled, “you die.”
Lek gave a conspiratorial smile while pointing a phaser pistol at Sisko’s chest, almost suggesting he would kill him either way.