Benjamin and Kasidy Sisko stepped out of an airlock that led out to the Promenade. Kasidy took a few seconds to take in her surroundings, having once been certain she would not ever this part of the station. Ever since the house her husband had planned to build had been completed, Kasidy saw no need to make very many extended visits at Deep Space Nine. Most of her time on the station in the last two years had been in the cargo holds taking inventories of cargo being offloaded to her freighter.
As they descended down the two steps from the airlock’s entryway, Ben took the duffel bag hanging from his wife’s right shoulder, allowing her to use both arms get a grip on their fidgeting daughter. “We’ve prepared guest quarters for your stay,” he informed her. “Unfortunately, family quarters aren’t available, so you and Rebecca will have to make do with one of the guest cabins.”
“Not a problem,” Kasidy replied with a slight scoff. She had dealt with more cramped quarters on the Xhosa
. “I never thought I’d be living on the station again.”
“Neither did I, but for now, you’re safer here than on Bajor.”
Kasidy rolled her eyes momentarily at hearing that one of most strategically significant outposts in the Federation, especially during the Dominion War, was safer than her home on Bajor. “Now, that’s a statement I thought I’d never hear,” she grumbled. Even after mobsters broke into her home and tried to use her, Jake, and Rebecca as hostages, the notion that Deep Space Nine was a safer venue still didn’t sound right.
“Mommy, I wanna go home,” Rebecca whined.
“I know, sweetie,” her mother sympathetically replied, “but it’ll be a little while.”
Ben clasped his daughter’s hand saying, “Think of this as a little vacation. We’ll be home soon.”
Jake and Nog were lagging behind Benjamin, Kasidy, and Rebecca. They both slowly stepped onto the Promenade, sharing memories of the fun times they had when they were adolescents. Those good old days still seemed fairly recent even if they had done a lot of growing up in the interceding nine years. Jake was now a freelance reporter for the Federation News Service, and Nog the chief of operations of Deep Space Nine. They had very little room for hanging on the second level of the Promenade doing nothing.
“That was our spot,” Jake recalled of the second level walkway up ahead.
“Of course, these days,” Nog retorted, “it wouldn’t reflect well on my record for us to be flicking sand peas at passing aliens.”
“We have holosuites for that. Speaking of which, I got a new program: Games Six and Seven of the 2011 World Series.”
Nog scoffed. “It’s a game humans stopped playing two hundred years ago,” he said dismissively.
“I’ll remind Kas and her brother you said that,” Jake quipped.
Worf trudged down a staircase from the second level of the Promenade.
He quickly paced towards the Infirmary’s main entrance, oblivious to the possibility that Doctor Bashir could not spare a few seconds or that Ezri was right behind him trying to catch up. After Rodek was beginning to regain some of his memories as Kurn, the younger son of Mogh, Worf simply wanted answers--an explanation as to how this was possible after Bashir’s claim that the memory wipe was almost irreversible. Almost irreversible
, not completely irreversible. Worf knew that Kurn was likely to regain memories in bits and pieces. Yet, Kurn was starting to remember even more of his former life during the trip back to Deep Space Nine.
“Worf,” Ezri insisted, “I don’t think he can spare a few minutes right now.”
Worf continued to ignore her as he stepped through the Infirmary’s main doorway. Bashir was standing in the foyer just outside his office, conferring with Doctor Tarses and two middle-aged Bajoran women. “Doctor Bashir,” Worf barked with very little regard for human social graces. “I need to speak to you.”
“Now’s not a good time, Ambassador,” Bashir reluctantly replied without dismissing any of his colleagues. “But the chancellor’s condition has improved if…”
“That is good news,” Worf interrupted, “but I wish to speak to you about Kurn.”
That name quickly caught Bashir by surprise. He quietly dismissed Tarses and the two Bajoran women and took two slow paces closer to Worf. “Kurn?” he repeated with a quiet and professional tone. “What about him?”
“He remembers many significant details of his life before the memory purge. You said the process was irreversible.”
“I said it would be next to impossible to regain all
of his memories,” Bashir clarified. “There’s a lot about humanoid brains we still don’t understand. It’s a miracle we can manipulate memories at all without telepathy…”
“Doctor…!” Worf snapped, knowing of Bashir’s tendencies to ramble. “What are the chances now that he could regain more of his memories from his previous life?”
“Memory is a very tricky thing,” Bashir explained, trying to avoid giving a concrete answer to the ambassador’s queries. “All kinds of stimuli can trigger long forgotten memories.”
“Yes, we fought against assassins side-by-side on Nimbus Three. He does know we are brothers. Other than that, he remembers various events either as part of his own life or as someone else’s memories.”
“Almost like a Trill host who hadn’t planned on being joined?” Ezri chimed in.
Worf had forgotten that Ezri had been following him, attempting to dissuade him from distracting Bashir from attending to two comatose patients. Now aware of her presence once again, Worf remembered that Jadzia was by his side when he approved the memory purge as an alternative to the ritual killing of a family member. The House of Mogh had been disgraced in response to Worf’s condemnation of the late Chancellor Gowron’s unprovoked invasion of Cardassia. Unfortunately, Worf couldn’t have known then that he, himself, would be welcomed into the House of Martok a year later.
“Perhaps,” Worf answered in response to Ezri’s inquiry.
“I can conduct a full neural workup if I can spare a few hours,” Bashir offered. “Or I can refer Kurn to any number of medical specialists with greater expertise.”
“That would be appreciated,” Worf gruffly replied. He then stepped out of the Infirmary without another word to leave the doctor to his more pressing work. It was the least he could do to make up for his earlier lack of decorum.
Doctor Bashir stepped into his quarters and walked straight to the replicator. He ordered a glass of cranberry juice mixed with vodka and Bolian tonic water. It was the kind of beverage he’d normally order in Quark’s in the company of some of his closest friends. This evening, though, after working furiously to keep Vaughn alive, he preferred to spend a few hours alone in his cabin. After taking a few sips of his beverage, he could suddenly sense another presence in the room. He turned around slowly to see a familiar heavyset blond-haired man in standard Section 31 attire seated on the sofa.
“Cole,” Bashir said with a feigned smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure after so long?”
“Good evening, Doctor,” Cole replied plainly. “Despite the two year hiatus, I have an assignment for you.”
"I thought I made it clear to you after the Sindorin mission that I don't work for your group anymore."
Cole smirked at how adamant Bashir sounded. Of course, Section 31 knew him better than he knew himself, as his holosuite spy adventures would attest to. "You can resign if you choose," he replied, "but no one really retires from Section 31."
"Is that so? Are we going argue semantics? Or are you going to tell me what this 'assignment' of mine is?"
"All in good time, Doctor," Cole said, taking a seat on the sofa. "Contrary to all outward appearances, the Ku'Vok'leth
were not the masterminds behind what nearly took place in the Tezwan system."
"Another one of your bureau's secrets I take it. And furthermore, you wish someone like me to clean up your mess."
"The incidents involving Darcen and Loecken were most unfortunate,” Cole said in reference to two human augments who had broken away from Section 31 to carry out more dangerous ambitions. “And it's not so much about cleaning up our mess as it is about keeping other secrets buried. You needn't concern yourself with what that secret is, but it is imperative that we prevent a Tal Shiar operative from delivering that secret to the Klingon Empire. Neither side is in much of a position to wage war, but that won't stop the traditionalists within the Empire."
"When you put it that way..."
Cole was about to speak when he suddenly fell to the floor convulsing.
Bashir quickly ran to a drawer in the corner of the living area. "Bashir to Infirmary," he called out, tapping his combadge. "Medical emergency in my quarters." He removed a medical tricorder and a hypospray and began scanning Cole while injecting him with a painkiller.
Sloan had tried to take his own life in the same manner three years before. A similar painkiller prolonged Sloan's life by roughly an hour. Bashir had no such luck with Cole as the tricorder indicated all his vital functions had failed. What was the most confusing was why Cole was triggering his suicide implant while attempting to reveal a huge secret of the agency.
A Bajoran female nurse turned off the cortical monitor on the main biobed, while Bashir observed Cole's vital functions on a display screen. At the same time, Bashir was placing various scanning devices throughout the corpse’s head in the hope locating the device that rendered Cole brain dead and any type memory storage device. Nog scanned the body with a medical tricorder, while Girani Semna, a Bajoran woman of advanced middle age, assisted Bashir in setting up the neural interfaces.
Bashir caught a glimpse of Kira and Sisko stepping into the exam room as he activated a monitor situated to the left of the biobed. “This gentleman paid me a visit earlier this evening,” he explained. He then gestured for Girani to watch the monitor while spoke with both captains. “What I don’t understand,” he continued with a sigh of frustration, “is why he would be triggering his suicide implant when he was about to reveal important details regarding the Ku-Vok-leth
and protecting secrets on Tezwan.”
“We may found what you are looking for,” Girani informed Bashir, which directed Julian’s attention back to his patient. “Something like a memory shunt implanted along the parietal lobe.”
“Can you remove it?” Bashir asked with reserved optimism.
“I don’t see how,” Nog answered as he was scanning Cole’s head with the tricorder hand sensor. “Not without damaging the memory core.”
“No surprise there,” Bashir retorted with a shake of his head. “But use the multitronic engramatic interpreter to decode whatever you can.”
Bashir then noticed Kira’s eyes widen. She hadn’t been on the station at the time Bashir linked his mind to Sloan’s in order to find a cure for the disease that afflicted the Founders. Bashir had informed her after the Dominion War was over of his little adventure, and she was both pleasantly surprised and eternally grateful for the lengths Julian had gone to in order to save Odo’s life.
“You want to fill me in, Julian?” Kira asked with a disapproving stare.
“Sloan said all of Section 31’s operations were filed away in the minds of a select group of people,” Bashir explained, “possibly by way of a bio-mechanical implant. Which means someone will come along to extract the information, similar to how the Borg remove key memory circuits from injured drones.”
“And you’re hoping to beat them to it,” Sisko surmised.
Bashir remembered seeing the same look on Sisko’s face when he told the captain of his plans to find a cure for the morphogenic virus. “Easier said than done, I know,” Bashir said with a repentant nod. “They’re not going to allow anyone access to everything hidden in there. Don’t worry. I don’t plan to go poking around in Cole’s mind the same way I did with Sloan.”
That assurance still didn’t assuage Kira’s or Sisko’s worries. The silence was interrupted when Ro entered the exam room and immediately handed Kira a padd. “The surveillance sensors detected an unusual transmission originating from inside the central core,” she reported, “roughly the same time Mister Cole here dropped dead.”
“Whoever triggered his suicide implant?” Bashir offered. “That could be our Tal Shiar operative.”
Kira remained skeptical. “Kind of sloppy of them to leave an obvious trail to find.”
“Unless they want
to found,” Bashir added. “And they must know everything Cole was about to reveal. We have to find him or her, and soon.”
“Let security do its job, Julian,” Kira authoritatively insisted.
“If this person has had dealings with 31,” Bashir persisted, “he’s very good at evading conventional security sweeps.”
“Julian, you’re getting that itch again,” Sisko ominously warned, “but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Bashir knew that tone all too well. “We have to stop this operative one way or another.”
“I understand, but you’re not going in alone,” Sisko replied. “Section 31 has become your obsession ever since you learned of its existence, so you may not be entirely objective in carrying out this endeavor. You’ll need a chaperone.”
“Anyone in mind?”
“You can’t be serious, Ben.”
Kasidy was in the process of unpacking her duffel bag in the living area of her temporary quarters when Benjamin broke the news of his plans to participate in Bashir’s sting operation. “Filling in for Elias is one thing,” she said firmly but quietly, making sure not to wake Rebecca, who had just been put down for a nap a few minutes earlier. “But this is more dangerous.”
“More dangerous than what I’ve been through these past two weeks?” Ben replied with confusion.
“It was supposed to be just one temporary assignment,” Kasidy reminded her husband. She walked away from the sofa where she placed extra stacks of clothes recently removed from the duffel bag and walked closer to him. “What brought this on?”
“I never realized that this is still where I belong until I was back on assignment for Starfleet,” he explained. “Besides, just a few weeks ago, you were urging me to consider this new assignment.”
“I had honestly hoped it was a very brief assignment,” Kasidy ruefully confessed.
Ben gave a humble smirk, momentarily unsure how to respond to that. Upon his return from the Celestial Temple, he opted for an extended leave of absence to make up for lost time with his wife and to be the proper parent to his newborn daughter. They had never discussed in much detail when or if he would return to Starfleet and in what capacity. Now the time for such discussion had come, and he was unprepared.
“So did I,” he said. “I never truly realized how much I missed making a difference in galactic affairs until I was actually carrying out that undercover assignment.”
Kasidy sighed. Ben knew from that look that she felt he had made up his mind and that dissuading him was futile. “Is there no way I can talk you out of this?” she asked, still knowing what the answer was.
“Not really,” Ben replied with a teasing smile.
“Just promise me we’ll discuss where we go from here after this mission is finished.”
Kasidy planted her lips on Ben’s. She then paced back over to the sofa to continue, leaving Ben to wonder if he would actually come back from this mission alive. Surely he would be captured if this Tal Shiar operative he and Bashir sought wanted to be found.
“You know this isn’t a game, Julian.”
Ezri stopped by Bashir’s quarters after he had planned on locating the Tal Shiar operative hiding on the station. He could understand Ezri having these kinds of reservations when they were a couple. They still cared for one another deeply with their friendship extending back to when the Dax symbiont was in Jadzia, and he knew that would never change. Now that they were no longer together, Ezri’s attempts at dissuasion seemed rather intrusive and presumptuous. Julian felt a niggling temptation to try to use that to his advantage. He loved to manipulate Jadzia that way when he was a young man, but now his mind was focused on the task ahead.
“Of course I know it’s not a game,” Julian plainly replied. “If what Cole said is true, the future of our alliance with the Klingon Empire is at stake. And whatever secrets they’re protecting on Tezwa could be the key.”
“The ‘if what Cole said is true’ part is what worries me the most,” Ezri shot back. “You basically did their dirty work for them in one of these operations.”
Julian flashed an embarrassed grin, remembering how Section 31 had tricked him into pushing forward a plan to place one of their operatives at the highest levels of the Romulan government to assure more cordial relations with them after the Dominion War. He brushed those thoughts aside and turned his attention back to his former lover.
“I appreciate that you still care about my well-being,” he insisted. “This is still my decision.”
“I’m not disputing that,” Ezri replied. “It’s just that these guys know how to pull your strings. Something about them appeals to you. And don’t tell me you hope to accumulate enough evidence to expose them. Time and again, they’ve shown they are three steps ahead of you at every turn.”
“Still psychoanalyzing people even after your change of profession,” Julian observed.
Ezri let out a light scoffing chuckle. “I had this discussion with Benjamin a while back,” she recalled. “Who we’ve been earlier in life is still a part of us. Being joined has reminded me of that. You may be older and wiser, yet you still have your adventurous spirit.”
“You’re right,” Julian agreed. “I took this assignment for the wealth of opportunities that were ahead even before the discovery of the wormhole. I’ve accomplished so much since then. Lately, it feels a bit mundane.”
“There’s always Starfleet Intelligence,” Ezri offered. “Or one of the upcoming expeditions to the Gamma Quadrant. You can talk to Elias about…”
Ezri paused mid-sentence, although Julian still knew she had stopped herself from disclosing something she wasn’t supposed to.
“Wait, what are you talking about?” Julian asked. He knew that Vaughn was starting feel like his assignment to DS9 was becoming mundane, but hadn’t considered that the first officer was seeking a transfer. Not that it mattered since Vaughn was now lying unconscious in the Infirmary.
“Never mind,” Ezri said with a shake of her head. “Sure I can’t change your mind?”
“No,” Julian said firmly. “Like I said, a lot is at stake.”
“So Section 31 says,” Ezri retorted. “At least Benjamin will by your side to make sure you don’t get in over your head. I still have to remind you to be careful.”
“I completely understand,” Julian said with a plaintive stare.
Ezri then stepped out of his cabin, leaving Julian to wonder if she was hoping to rekindle their romance. That would have to wait, though, until he returned from this sting operation safe and sound. It was still something to look forward to and a reason to survive his upcoming mission.