A Bajoran civilian engineer sat at a cargo shuttle’s pilot controls. He looked at the results of the final diagnostics of essential systems before departure to Deep Space Nine. While glancing at the readouts, he handed a manifest padd off to his co-pilot, who then headed to the aft cargo hold. Unbeknownst to the pilot, Sisko was skulking towards the cockpit along the side of the craft.
The pilot continued to look down at the diagnostic results as Sisko swooped in on him, injecting a sedative into his carotid artery. Sisko then slid the Bajoran man’s unconscious body out of the cockpit. “Come on,” Benjamin whispered. Runold tiptoed behind him and stepped through the shuttle entrance. Sisko handed the burly Trill his hypospray. “You take care of the co-pilot,” he instructed. “I’ll go over pre-launch.”
His partner in crime walked into the aft cargo hold to incapacitate the other pilot. Sisko looked nervously over both his shoulders. The undercover assignment was hard enough. Any criminal acts on his part were to achieve the goal of learning this Trill terrorist organization’s connection to a group of rogue Klingons while on a mission sanctioned by Starfleet Intelligence. Now he was off the clock helping the man seeking retribution simply for the safety of his family. Regardless of the legal consequences, Benjamin wouldn’t have it any other way.
He prepared a brief message for station security, and then quickly encrypted it as he was hearing footsteps. Runold slid the unconscious body of the co-pilot through the cargo entrance, out of the cockpit, and into the landing bay.
“Next stop," Sisko said, once Runold re-entered the cockpit. “Deep Space Nine.”
The runabout Delphi
streaked into warp once it cleared the station. Elias Vaughn manned the primary piloting controls while Ro conducted quick system checks at various stations throughout the cockpit. When she arrived at the starboard station behind the secondary pilot seat, she tried to avoid the taunting glare of Zeyner. He grinned at her from the corner of his eye. He grinned at her from the corner of her eye. She gritted her teeth while breathing heavily. He recognized that disarming stare all too well, that let him know she would not be fooled by him again. His grin became a smirk as if to say, “We shall see.”
“We’ll reach the Denebian corridor in four hours,” Vaughn said as Ro took the seat next to his. “That’ll get us to Nimbus in three days.”
Ro was hoping not to hear that part: three days in a runabout with an ex-lover with whom she was not on good terms. “I still don’t see why we couldn’t take the Defiant
,” she said curtly. “The trip would be faster, and we could incinerate any Ku-Vok-leth
encampments in a matter of minutes.”
“It wouldn’t be that much faster,” Vaughn retorted, even knowing the Defiant
’s maximum warp speed would make the trip just two days shorter. "And of course Bajorans were on the receiving end of the Cardassians wielding such a blunt instrument."
“Besides,” Zeyner interjected, wanting to cross his arms in front of himself before remembering his wrists were once again in restraints, "the Klingons or the Romulans would say the most advanced ship in Starfleet violated neutral space."
Ro scoffed, both at hearing Vaughn’s appeal to pity and at Zeyner having the gall to mouth Starfleet platitudes. Zeyner ascended from his seat and skulked over to Ro’s seat. “You, of all people, should know when not
to go in guns blazing,” he added.
“Stay out of this, Zeyner,” Ro sneered. “I just want to get this thing over with and exchange as few words as possible.”
“All right,” Zeyner half-heartedly relented, raising his cuffed hands in front of himself. “But just so you know, I’m going in alone to meet this contact.”
“The Fire Caves will freeze over that
“Then we may as well turn back. He doesn’t trust those uniforms of yours.”
“That’s why you’ll be doing all the talking,” Vaughn chimed in. “We’re still keeping a close eye on you.”
“I’d expect nothing less,” Zeyner replied, heading back to his seat.
“And at the first sign of treachery,” Ro began to say.
“Lieutenant,” Vaughn interrupted. He looked away from her wondering if letting Ro accompany this mission was a bad idea. Of course, time was of the essence if his hunch about Omega was true. And there was no turning back now.
Zeyner, meanwhile, sat back in his seat, and stared up the starboard side viewport. He gave a conspiratorial smile, wondering how long Ro would follow up on her promise to ignore him as much as possible.
In the absence of Commander Vaughn and with the Defiant
idle, Ezri Dax was the station’s acting second-in-command She was at the main Ops console monitoring communications traffic and consulting with a male Bajoran officer when Captain Kira entered from her office. Dax handed off a padd to the subordinate officer, who then sauntered away.
“A Federation prison ship will be here in three days,” Dax told Kira. “It’ll be escorting Kalon to Starbase 621 for a hearing.”
“I’m sure you’ll be glad to have him off the station,” Nerys replied with a grin.
Ezri was almost frowning when she said, “No kidding. Thinking of him creates more disturbing images than memories of Joran that still resurface.”
“The crazy host who killed a Symbiosis Commission doctor?” Kira asked, squinting curiously. She leaned backwards on the control panel next to Ezri’s as she crossed her arms.
Kira’s body language reminded Ezri of the heart-to-heart discussions Jadzia had with her. Ezri’s relationship with Nerys did take a similar path, despite feelings of awkwardness once in a while from both of them. In Ezri, Nerys saw both Jadzia and an insecure and neurotic young adult. And Nerys to Ezri was both a dear friend and a less familiar “family friend.”
“Every so often,” Ezri said of a mentally unstable individual who had been a host to the Dax symbiont for six months even though the Symbiosis Commission went to great lengths to conceal that fact, “I still get flashes of memories that were Joran’s. As much as I hate to admit, he had more in common with me than any other previous hosts. We both hadn’t exactly planned on being joined.
“Verad, on the other hand, he’s almost a megalomaniac. I still feel his almost suicidal sense of inadequacy and how he overcompensates with a misguided desire to make the world a better place.”
“Is this the therapist you were before the joining talking?” Kira teased.
Dax gave a glib smile, not sure whether to be amused by that remark. “Benjamin said the same thing before he went back to Bajor, when we were talking about how the people we once were always being a part of who we are now.”
“He may have a point,” Kira offered, slipping into the stool, so that her gaze met Dax’s. “You’ve started to become more than the sum of your parts, but some of these major life changes are an effort to prove you’re just as worthy as Jadzia and all the other hosts.”
Dax did not know what to make of being psychoanalyzed, and in much the same way Sisko was scrutinizing her. And now Kira was coming close echoing Worf’s appraisal of her. She gave Kira a perturbed glance as if saying I know what you’ll say next
. “Worf went as far as to say I’m married to the job now,” she said, rolling her eyes as if to dismiss what people had been telling her recently.
“Are you?” Kira asked, knowing the answer and expecting its opposite.
“Of course not,” Ezri scoffed.
“Julian might not agree. The problems in your relationship coincided with your self-exploration.”
“Julian? Seriously? We both wanted different things out of the relationship. And maybe it was a product of his leftover feelings for Jadzia…”
Nerys raised a hand to stop her friend in mid-sentence. “Now that’s just an excuse,” she insisted. “It’s commendable that you might make captain before you’re thirty. But you should know there’s more to life than career. Julian was the first one you pushed away. And I know you and Benjamin hardly keep in touch.
“We know you’re not Jadzia. We all know you
. You are still Ezri Tigan even with the Dax symbiont. That person is every bit as important as your efforts to live up to the Dax legacy.”
Dax was about to answer, but Kira’s words soon rang true. She thought back to all the awkward silences with Sisko in the runabout. Maybe it wasn’t just Benjamin. Maybe she was starting to see her closest friends--Jadzia’s friends--as small fractions of the three hundred sixty year lifespan of the Dax symbiont. “I suppose maybe you’re right,” she relented.
Jonas Escobar sat behind the desk in the security office. He was reviewing transporter protocols for moving prisoners from a holding cell to a prison ship when Dax stepped into the room from the Promenade. He gave her a wide smile that reminded her of when he was getting on her nerves on the Defiant
. Ezri just gave a half-hearted grin to hide feelings of awkwardness while present in an official capacity.
“The prison ship will be here in sixty hours,” she said in a calm and professional tone. “How are the security arrangements coming along?”
“I’ve tied the cell’s forcefield in with the transporter,” Escobar replied. “Once the forcefield goes down, Mister Nog will be able to initiate a near-simultaneous transport.
“Good,” Ezri deadpanned, trying to avoid any awkward silences. “Speaking of Nog, he finished the diagnostic on the targeting scanners ahead of schedule. You’ll be glad to know everything checks out.”
Jonas nodded nervously, somewhat at a loss for words. The tension that filled the room was reminiscent to Ezri of when neither she nor Julian could work up the courage to discuss a possible romantic partnership. Furthermore, Escobar’s easy-going nature reminded Ezri of Julian’s annoying ebullience when he was fresh out of medical school. But that was Jadzia Dax he had an eye for. Though having Jadzia’s memories, Ezri couldn’t say she would respond to the doctor’s advances the same way Jadzia did in those days.
“Good,” Escobar stuttered. “I’d hate to have to bridge our transporter with the prison ship’s. We can never get the Starfleet and Cardassians systems to work well together.”
“Quite a challenge,” Ezri nervously blurted out. As is trying to let Escobar down easily
, she thought to herself taking small steps backwards towards the door.
Seeing that Dax was about to leave, Escobar decided to come out and say it. He stood up and circled the desk took a quick and deep breath. “Are you available for dinner?” he asked. “Tonight or tomorrow night. Or maybe drinks in Quark’s.”
“I’m not sure,” Dax replied with an embarrassed blush. He projected an air of confidence, but not after he downgraded his offer. His approach was identical to Julian’s when he first asked out Jadzia. Maybe Julian was fascinated and intimidated by Jadzia all those years ago. The same was true of people who showed romantic interest in Ezri since her split with Julian. Those thoughts were mildly amusing to Ezri, but she kept it to herself not wanting to hurt Escobar’s feelings even more.
“Yes or no,” Jonas persisted.
“To what? Dinner or drinks?”
“One’s a date, the other isn’t,” Dax teased. “You’re free to join Julian, Nog, and me next time we all get together.”
Escobar drooped his shoulders and sauntered back behind the desk. The one name that stuck out from that invitation in his mind was Julian Bashir’s. “That’s what it’s about,” he said in a surrendering tone. “You’re worried about hurting Doctor Bashir’s feelings.”
“No,” Dax insisted. “That’s not it at all. I’m still trying to make sense of who I am as a joined Trill. That’s especially difficult for me when I never expected to be joined. I don’t want to place that kind of burden on anyone like I did with Julian. It’s nothing against you, Escobar.”
They both exchanged awkward smirks. Jonas still felt unburdened knowing he had at least tried. Ezri also felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders as well, not that she wouldn’t have to think of a way to turn Jonas down in a manner that saved face for both parties.
Sisko and Runold sat at the piloting controls of the cargo shuttle, quietly staring out of the front viewport as it crept closer to Deep Space Nine. Benjamin contemplated how many of his former colleagues he would have to incapacitate in order to break Verad out of confinement. Luckily he hadn’t needed to do so during the undercover mission. But how long would that luck hold? This operation would mean impeding a criminal investigation into a terrorist threat within the Federation. He had done his part already by learning Verad’s connection to a group of Klingon renegades. All he cared about now was that his family was safe.
Sisko took another glance at the readout screen, indicating the maximum limit of the station’s short-range sensor capabilities. A blip on the left side of the screen indicated the shuttle was nearing that threshold. “Once we’re in their sensor range, “ he explained to his Trill copilot, “I’ll alter course into one of the sensory blind spots. It will be tricky maneuvering.”
“Can’t we just dock where this thing’s supposed to go?” Runold inquired.
“Someone will immediately become suspicious when the pilots fail appear. They’re probably not expecting this shuttle for another couple hours. This should buy us some time. You’re not very good at being a terrorist are you?”
Runold wanted to deck Sisko for that jab, but thought better of it. “Hey, I do what I can to help out,” the Trill retorted. “A guy’s gotta make a living. Verad’s going to pay for costing me big time.”
“And I just want to make sure my family is safe. I was as involved the operation’s failure as much as Verad was.”
“Fine. How will we get aboard if this thing doesn’t have its own transporter?”
”I’m working on tying in the ship-to-ship communications with the station’s own transporter. We’ll end up in a docking ring cargo bay where no ship is docked.”
“Those Nausicaans are listening in on us. If we end up anywhere other than that cargo bay, your son gets it.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
Sisko and Runold materialized in a dimly lit cargo bay. A number of different shaped cargo containers were arranged throughout the bay. Runold quickly recognized a standard Cardassian transporter platform with a few of Starfleet’s aesthetic modifications. It still used a Cardassian materialization effect, which caused him some minor vertigo. A quick visual survey of the room, he was indeed in one of Deep Space Nine’s cargo bays.
“Let’s roll,” he instructed Sisko, stepping off the pad.
Note: The Denebian corridor is a "warp speed highway" where traveling at high velocities is safe (a notion introduced by some fan site). This particular corridor's name is derived from a statement in Picard's inaugural log entry--"Our destination is planet Deneb Four, beyond which lies the great unexplored of the galaxy"--Deep Space Nine being advertised as taking place at the "edge the final frontier".