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Staggering Stories Podcast #265: Wonder Cough
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sat, 17 Jun 2017 16:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the 2017 Doctor Who episodes ‘The Lie of the Land’ and ‘Empress of Mars’, discuss the 2017 film ‘Wonder Woman’, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #193: Doctor Who – Smile
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:54

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, emojied, in front of the 2017 Doctor Who S10 episode, ‘Smile’, and spout our usual nonsense! The Doctor is interfering with a new species, Bill has a decision to make and the Vardy just want everybody to be happy. But enough of their problems, […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #264: Stimulated Reality
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sat, 03 Jun 2017 16:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Fake Keith, the Real Keith Dunn and Steve Brittain review the 2017 Doctor Who episodes ‘Extemis’ and ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’, discuss the Big Finish boxset ‘Charlotte Pollard, Series Two’, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #192: Babylon 5 – Between the Darkness and the Light
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 28 May 2017 08:33

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, sprung, in front of the Season 4 Babylon 5 episode Between the Darkness and the Light, and spout our usual nonsense! Sheridan is sporting a fetching head band, Garibaldi is looking for mercy and Ivanova is feeling crushed. But enough of their problems, please […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #263: Musical Helmets
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sat, 20 May 2017 14:03

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the 2017 Doctor Who episodes ‘Knock Knock’ and ‘Oxygen’, tell of their recent visit to the Doctor Who studios in Cardiff and the Capitol 2 Doctor Who convention, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #191: Doctor Who – The Pilot
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 14 May 2017 09:46

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, puddled, in front of the 2017 Doctor Who S10 premiere episode, ‘The Pilot’, and spout our usual nonsense! This Doctor is a lecturing security guard, Bill is fattening up the locals and Heather has a very moist fixation. But enough of their problems, please […]

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter One

Written by Karen Dunn


"Damn!"

After three hours of tossing and turning that would have given the worst insomniac nightmares, Jadzia Dax threw back her bed covers and slipped across to the wardrobe to get dressed.

It had been a quiet day on Deep Space Nine giving her no outlet to vent the pent up energy of seven hosts and one very bored symbiant. She had turned down Kira's offer of a game of Springball and was now regretting it. Sleep was not going to visit her tonight and she would pay for that tomorrow.

Perhaps a stroll along the Promenade would lull her mind and relax her body. If not, a bottle of Spring Wine would have much the same effect and Julian had many a remedy for hangovers.

Throwing on a loose tunic and tying it round with a belt, she took a deep breath and left her quarters, trying to summon the air of serenity that was so much considered to be part and parcel of a Trill..

The lights on the Promenade were dimmed to represent night time. As she stood at a window and watched the wormhole open to welcome a Vulcan research vessel, the spirals of tumbling space reaching out like the caressing arms of a lover, Dax could feel herself calming. It was difficult not to be affected by the beauty of the scene and many a stressed out soul had spent hours meditating in its light..

She felt a heaviness in her eyes and reached up to rub the sleep out of them. Perhaps sleep would not be such a stranger after all.

Stifling a yawn, she turned, all set to return to her bed, and walked straight into a young man she recognized as Ensign Baskell. He was very obviously off duty, his mop of blond hair flopping over his hazel eyes as he staggered away from her.

He was also very obviously drunk.

He executed a ragged bow and smiled sheepishly, the alcohol bringing his broad English accent out even more than usual, "Pardon me, Ma'am. I did not see you there until I had bumped into you and by then it was too late to avoid you…I think."

Dax looked closely at the young man as he swayed before her. Everyone knew that Martin Baskell's wife had just left him. She had decided she was not suited to station life and had returned to Earth some two weeks ago. Baskell had spent most of that time in Quarks, drowning his sorrows in synth ale.

This time, though, it looked like the Ferengi barkeep had served him something a little stronger. He giggled and Dax sighed, raising her eyes to the heavens, "Don't worry about it, Mr. Baskell."

She tried to skirt round him but he stepped in front of her again, "Please, Ma'am, allow me to make it up to you…" he took her arm and spun her round, "…in Quark's. I shall buy the most beautiful woman on the station a drink."

Dax pulled her arm free easily and stared a warning at him, "You, Ensign, will return to your quarters immediately. Tomorrow you will report to Dr. Bashir for counseling."

He scowled like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar and determined to deny that he had done anything wrong, "I don't need counseling from that poncy Doctor."

Dax could feel her good mood disappearing as fast as her need for sleep. She knew the boy had troubles and did not want to add to his problems by putting him on report. She took him by the shoulders and turned him towards the turbolift, "That is an order, Mr. Baskell."

Baskell took a stumbling step towards home before grinding to a halt. Dax saw his head drop as he turned to face her once more. It was as if all his energy had been sucked out. His eyes glistened as he looked up at her, "I'm sorry, Commander…I miss her…"

As his tears fell, Jadzia felt her heart flip over. She had always been sensitive to other people's emotions, even before joining and she could not stand by and watch the man's heart breaking without at least offering comfort.

She walked up to him and put her arm round his shoulders, guiding him once more towards the turbolift and away from the curious eyes that were beginning to watch from around Quark's.

***

As the door to Ensign Baskell's quarters slid open, Dax noted with some amusement that it had taken just two weeks to transform them from the ordered calm of married quarters to the galactic chaos of a confirmed bachelor pad.

She led the man to the sofa and told him to sit down. He did so - a picture of utter desolation with his blood shot eyes and tear stained face as he watched her go to the replicator and order an extra strong raktajino. She brought it over to him with a quiet smile, "Drink this."

Baskell sniffed and took the mug, sipping slowly as tears threatened to erupt once more. He was aware that Dax was watching him and felt compelled to speak, "I'm so sorry for the way I behaved. It was unforgivable."

Dax sat down opposite him, sinking deep into the chair , "Believe me, ensign, after three hundred years of being propositioned and insulted in one way or another, I am more than capable of coping with a little tipsy groping."

He shook his head and took a deeper drag of the bitter drink, "I had no right to speak to you that way."

Dax sighed, "Apology accepted - stop beating yourself up about it. Drink affects us all that way once in a while."

"But…"

"No buts, Martin. Your wife has just left you. I'd be more concerned if you didn't go off the rails a little."

Baskell made a sound of frustration and annoyance as she spoke, a sound that told her she was missing the point completely. He slammed his half empty mug onto the table, sloshing the coffee over the rim, "You make it sound so casual."

Dax stared at him and he chastised himself inwardly. He hadn't meant to shout - he had no reason to be angry with her and he found himself apologizing again, "I'm sorry, Commander, really I am…but you make it sound like an adolescent break up. She was my wife. We were married for six years - did you know that? Of course you didn't…how could you…" his voice choked as, to his dismay, the tears began to flood his eyes again, "…I think you should go now…"

Dax watched as Baskell tried to regain control over his galloping emotions, hurting with him as the last of his dignity drowned in grief. She slipped out of her chair and knelt in front of him, taking his hand in both of hers, "I didn't mean to belittle what you've been through, Martin. I've been through it myself - from both sides - believe me, I know how you feel. But sometimes relationships just come to an end. It's nobody's fault…"

He sniffed and raised his teary eyes to hers, "That's just it, Commander, this was my fault. I knew she was unhappy - she told me often enough. I could have resigned my commission and gone with her, taken her home, but I chose to stay. I put myself and my own needs before her and the promises I made to her."

Dax nodded, "That's true enough. But what about the promises she made to you? She knew your career choices when she married you. She knew you were likely to be posted away from Earth." She squeezed his hand, "If she was unprepared for the sacrifices of a life in Starfleet, she should never have made those promises."

"But if I had tried a little harder to make her happy…"

"…She might have stayed? Is that what you think?"

He stared down at his feet and swallowed, "There was nothing here for her and I couldn't give up my career - I just couldn't. I thought she was my life and that that would be enough." Another tear fell and splashed on Dax's hand, "It wasn't." Baskell's voice was almost a whisper as he hung onto her hand like a life line, "We loved each other so much…"

"That you didn't think anything could come between you. I know. Love is short sighted about so many things. If you don't keep your eyes open you end up getting hurt." Dax slid onto the sofa next to him and placed an arm around his shoulders, "You made a choice, Martin. You can either live with that choice and make the best of it or spend the rest of your time here in Quarks until Sisko has you discharged." She reached out and placed a hand under Baskell's chin, tilting it upward until he was looking her in the eyes, "Go and see Dr. Bashir in the morning. Talk it through with some-one and stop taking blame that is not yours to take."

The young officer squared his shoulders and attempted a weak smile, "Thank you, Commander. You've been more than kind…you've been…" his bottom lip trembled and Dax reached out to cradle his head as he sobbed the last of his despair into the shoulder of her tunic.

Minutes later she chuckled quietly to herself as Baskell drifted off to sleep. She wondered what kind of odds Quark would have laid against her spending the night in the arms of a somewhat tear stained junior ensign.

She was still smiling as long awaited sleep finally took her.

***

Baskell was gone when Dax woke the next morning and she blearily wondered why, "Computer. Time."

The computer chirruped into life, "09:41 hours."

Dax stood up too quickly, "Computer." this had to be a joke, " Real time." She couldn't have overslept. She never overslept. Curzon spent his life apologizing for his tardiness - people could set their chronometers by Jadzia's timetable…the computer, though, betrayed her, "09:41 hours."

"Damn!!"

She left Baskell's quarters at a sprint.

***

It was business as usual as Jadzia Dax leapt off of the turbolift and ran to her station, glaring at Martin Baskell as she passed his console. O'Brien's legs were sticking out from beneath Tactical, sparks and Irish curses flying periodically. Kira and Sisko were in his office, locked deep in conversation over something or other, the Bajoran gesturing wildly as her famous temper threatened to break loose.

Jadzia slid into her seat and ran a quick systems check, forcing herself to calm down, the symbiant within her gently teasing her about falling from a great height when assigning oneself lofty goals.

Why was it that whenever Dax chastised or teased her it always did it with Curzon's voice and Curzon's attitude, "Yeah", she muttered, "like you were never late!"

Curzon chuckled, "Yes, child, but I never worked myself up into such a state over it. You have to learn to be late with style.- especially if you're going to make sleeping with junior officers a regular thing!"

Gritting her teeth, Jadzia shut out the taunting voice as it chuckled to itself and turned her attention to her work.

She sighed in mild annoyance as a second voice disturbed her - but this one belonged to a somewhat nervous looking Martin Baskell as he hovered behind her like a naughty boy outside the headmaster's office, "Commander?"

Jadzia felt her mouth twitch at the wide eyed tension she saw before her, "Thanks for waking me, Ensign."

Baskell reddened, "I meant to But after I had breakfast I sort of forgot you were there. I'm not used to…"

"Yes, thank you, Ensign, apology accepted." She smiled her first genuine smile of the morning, "Are you feeling better?"

Baskell relaxed, "A lot. You've given me some things to think about. I've made an appointment with Dr. Bashir." He smiled and laid a hand on her shoulder, "It'll work out one way or the other. Thanks."

The doors to Benjamin's office trundled open and Jadzia could just see him watching her, with that look in his eye. She patted Baskell's hand, "Report to your station, Ensign."

Baskell looked up and saw his commanding officer glaring at him from the lofty heights of his office door and fled.

Jadzia drew back her shoulders and turned her attention pointedly to her console. She knew that Benjamin had a wicked sense of humour. She knew that he enjoyed teasing close friends once in a while. She also knew that he and Dax were closer than most friends get - two lifetimes close. She could sense him as he came to stand behind her, "Good morning, Benjamin."

"Is it?" There was no anger in his voice, just a hint of confusion and she groaned out loud as he called over to Kira, "Major!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Is it a good morning?"

Kira's hands flew over her console and she frowned deeply, "According to the computer it's very nearly afternoon, sir."

Sisko nodded, "Thank you, Major. What time did this shift begin?"

"06:00, sir." Kira was all efficiency as she steadfastly avoided looking at Dax.

Sisko wasn't finished, "Chief?"

Jadzia let her head fall and gently banged it against her console, as O'Brien shot out from beneath Tactical, "Yes, sir?"

"Run a level two diagnostic on the computer, please. If the ever punctual Commander Dax believes it to be 06:00 then 06:00 it must be."

O'Brien was on his feet running a tricorder over the panel before him, "But sir, the computer and I are on good terms now. It would tell me if it had forgotten the time. This is my work being called into question, sir."

Sisko was adamant, "I'm sorry, Mr. O'Brien, but I cannot have this station running at …"

Enough was enough, "All right, I get the point!" Jadzia was standing between the two now chuckling men, "How often am I late?"

Sisko grinned, "Major."

"Yes, sir?"

"How often has Commander Dax been late?"

Jadzia was at Kira's console before the Bajoran could lift a finger, "Nerys, If you touch that panel I shall tell everyone in this room about you, the Bolian ambassador and the anti grav harness."

Kira paused, then smiled at Sisko "I cannot think of a single occasion on which Commander Dax was unjustifiably late." She turned to Dax with as much dignity as she could muster, "And it was the Catian Ambassador, not the Bolian."

The laughter that rippled through Ops was interrupted all too soon by one of the many irritating alarms designed to keep them on their toes, 'Neutrino levels rising,' called Baskell and Sisko and Kira turned together, all joviality forgotten, ready to watch the wormhole flower open.

Instead of enthralling them with the undulating petals and familiar cosmic ballet , the wormhole was heaving and spluttering as if trying to cough up its passenger. The effort was obvious and in seconds the station rocked gently as small shock waves lapped over it. As the shields automatically snapped on and Ops hit red alert, there was a brilliant flash of light from the wormhole as if the prophets themselves had taken a hand and expelled the troublemaker from the Celestial Temple.

The ship that finally came through was a complete mystery to them all. Smooth, flawlessly curved gunmetal gray surfaces with no visible markings reflected Bajor's sun, whilst a number of 'tendrils' stretched back towards the wormhole like grass reeds reaching for a distant sky. It came to a halt almost as soon as the wormhole closed and sat facing the station like a mouse daring a cat to pounce.

Sisko glanced across at Dax, "Hail them."

The Trill frowned at her console, "I've been trying. They're not answering."

"Are you sure they're receiving us?"

"Positive. They just don't seem very chatty."

Sisko peered up at the view screen, "Do you recognize the design?"

Dax gave the screen a cursory glance and shrugged, "It's similar in shape and basic design to the energy being encountered by the Enterprise D at Farpoint Station, but that's as far as it goes. The creature at Farpoint was a biological organism. This has obviously been constructed by someone."

Sisko took a step closer to the view screen as if trying to search out the occupants of the ship, "Any signs of weaponry?"

Dax shook her head, "I'm picking up no power signs whatsoever. Weapons, shields - nothing."

Kira stepped up to join her commanding officer, "They could be in trouble," she offered quietly.

"I agree," said Dax, "I am picking up heavy traces of radiation."

"What kind?"

"It looks like Hudson's radiation. There are a few variants but it's as close as it gets to the real thing."

Sisko walked over to her console and peered at the readouts, "Would it be a danger to our people?"

"Prolonged exposure has been known to induce skin cancers, but a brief exposure is easily counteracted. Julian will have the necessary treatment."

As Sisko pondered this, a gruff voice came over the comm. link, "Odo to Ops."

Kira looked up, "Go ahead, Constable."

The shapeshifter's tone was more impatient than usual, "The ship off our bow is causing notable concern on the Promenade. Am I to start manning the lifeboats or will our guest be joining us?"

Kira smiled in spite of herself as Sisko answered, "I don't think lifeboats will be necessary, Odo, but if the new arrivals are bothering you that much you can join Major Kira on the Amazon to offer our assistance. Be at runabout pad C in two minutes."

There was a growl in response, "Understood. Odo out."

Sisko looked down at his first officer as she mentally went through the task that lay ahead of her, "Take it steady with them, Major. They're in a strange place, they're probably afraid. Lets not give this situation reason to escalate."

She squared her shoulders as he spoke, wishing, not for the first time, that he would not insist on telling her her job. Biting her tongue, she gave a brief nod, "Understood."

"And take Mr. O'Brien." Sisko turned away from his First Officer to face the Chief of Operations, "See how much you can find out about the workings of the ship, Chief. We may be able to get it going for them," he smiled, "and we may learn a thing or two from them."

O'Brien smiled and pulled his tool kit from beneath the console, "Aye, sir." He crossed to the turbolift and waited for Kira. Sisko stopped her as she headed after him, "Once you're within transporter range of the ship keep the communications channel open. This may well be first contact, Major. You know the procedure."

"Yes, sir."

She stepped into the 'lift with O'Brien and was gone.

***

Odo was waiting for them at the airlock, radiating impatience from every changeling pore, "Have they responded to our hails?"

Kira shook her head as she keyed in her password and stepped aside to allow O'Brien entry to the runabout, "They're just sitting there. Either they can't talk to us or they don't want to talk to us."

Odo harumphed deep in his throat, "So we're going out in a barely armed runabout to see whether or not they shoot at us."

Kira smiled at him, "That's about the size of it, Constable. If you're not in the mood for fisticuffs you could always wait for us here."

Odo scowled down at her, "I never indulge in 'fisticuffs', Major."

"Glad to hear it Constable," she held out a hand, inviting him into the vessel. He harumphed once more for good measure and stepped inside.

***

O'Brien was running through a systems check with Dax via the comm. screen by the time Odo and Kira arrived in the cockpit. As they took their seats, Kira looked up at the science officer, her expression deadly serious, a stark contrast to the gentle banter of only a few minutes ago, "You're sure there's no danger from this Hudson's radiation, Dax? We're not going to bring back some alien bug and give everyone on the station a bad case of sick leave?"

Dax shook her head, "It's not Hudson's exactly, but the similarities are so close, it has to be from the same family. A quick anti-bacterial shot and you'll all be fine. But don't take any silly risks, Major. I have never seen Hudson's in this quantity before and it's better to be safe…"

Kira gave a curt nod and, at O'Brien's thumbs up, took the runabout up and away from the station.

This was her favourite part of any journey, be it in a runabout or onboard the Defiant. Passing the graceful arc of DS9's pylons as they glinted in the starlight, reaching like arms to pull her back into their safe embrace always gave her a feeling of home. At first she had rejected it, refusing to believe that this Cardassian monstrosity could ever make her feel welcome. Some deeply buried part of her saw it as a betrayal of all the Bajorans who had died in the cells on that station, who had suffered at the hands of Bajor's overlords. Now, though, she knew that those lost souls had found their way into the arms of the Prophets and were smiling down on them as they wrested their home from Cardassia's crushing grip and made it their own once more.

There was no betrayal, no shame to be harboured. So she enjoyed the gifts of the Prophets one more time as a free Bajoran, before duty called on her to be a soldier once more.

They cleared the station, O'Brien watching the readouts like a hawk, Kira intending to halt the runabout just on the edge of transporter range and Odo staring at the unknown ship as it grew larger in front of them, wondering whether this could be another trap on the part of his people to harm all he held dear.

The comm. channel remained open in accordance with Sisko's orders and Dax and O'Brien were exchanging information as the runabout flew closer to its target. Kira stole a quick glance at the engineer and saw him frowning, "Problem, Chief?"

O'Brien scratched his head, "I dunno. According to the information we have on Hudson's radiation there should be no discernible increase in heat output, but the temperature on that ship's hull has been rising by point eight of a degree every three minutes."

Kira looked up at the screen, "Dax?"

The serene confidence that was all part of Jadzia Dax didn't waver as she checked and re-checked her console, "You have at least 80 minutes before we need to worry. That should give you plenty of time to find any survivors."

Sisko stepped in front of her, his expression stern, "Let's get this finished as quickly as possible, Major. The field of play has already changed too much for my liking."

"Yes, sir…" The comm. screen flickered then dissolved in a haze of static and her head snapped round to O'Brien, "What happened?"

"I don't know. It could be a system's malfunction - the Amazon is due for an overhaul - but…"

Kira cut him off and hit the runabout's reverse thrusters, "I know. There's too much about this I don't like. I'm pulling us back 10,000 kilometres."

Expecting the stalled ship to start receding as they reversed, Odo was surprised when it continued to increase in size as the runabout flew steadfastly onwards. He turned to Kira and found her jabbing at the controls, "Major?"

"There's no response. Chief, the helm is down."

O'Brien was out of his seat and at her side in a second, running every systems check he knew, but finding nothing wrong. He shook his head in frustration, "We should be reversing at full power. There is nothing wrong with these instruments."

"Then why are we locked out?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

"…ko to Amazon, are you reading me?" The screen crackled back to life and they found Sisko staring down at them, relief awash over his features, "We thought we'd lost you there, Major. Status."

Kira held up her hands in exasperation, "We have negative helm control. We are still heading towards the alien craft and its exterior temperature is continuing to increase. A little help would be much appreciated…"

***

"…much appreciated…"

A burst of static cut off Kira's words and Sisko glanced in irritation at Dax as if his annoyance could clear the channel. The look of pure horror on the Trill's face cut off any rebuke he may have made. She was on her feet in a second,

'Benjamin, you have to get them out of there! Now!'

***

The ship loomed large before the tiny runabout as Dax's panicked cry crackled across the comm. line. Alarms blared and they all felt a marked increase in temperature as the stalled vessel began to emit a physical glow.

Kira scanned the controls before her for the tenth time, still unable to find a problem, then snapped her head round to O'Brien, "Chief?"

The engineer's unruly mop of hair was plastered to his face as he entered command after command into his console, "There's been a massive output of power, but I can't tell where it's coming from. I don't even recognize the wave patterns."

"Is that what's affecting the controls?"

His eyes were wild as his gaze met hers, "Must be."

Odo was frantic. He hated feeling so inadequate, yet knew that his limited knowledge would be of little use. He looked up at the fluctuating screen, at Sisko's face, it's eyes radiating concern held in check even through the interference, "What about a tractor beam?"

Even as he said it, Odo knew the answer and almost flinched as O'Brien snapped, "At this range?!"

The Changeling lowered his head and studied the readouts before him. He didn't know what was coming, but knew that he had a greater chance of surviving it than his fragile companions. He didn't want to think about their deaths - didn't want to survive knowing that he was completely unable to save them. A stray thought wandered through his muddled mind, "Could we eject the warp nacelles?"

O'Brien stared at him and Odo almost apologized, "Would it give us any momentum - take us out of range…"

The Chief beamed at him, "Of course it bloody would - we're not seeing the wood for the trees…" his hands flew over his console, "look for the obvious…" The runabout lurched and O'Brien's smiled vanished, "It's not working! The controls…"

Kira glared at him, "Then we need to do it manually."

O'Brien snorted, "With all due respect, Major, have you any idea what that involves?"

Her eyes flashed as the strain began to show, "No…"

"You'd need four men for each engine, in space suits with more tools than we have and more time than we have…"

Kira let out a breath she didn't know she was holding, her voice a whisper, "Point taken, Chief, sorry…"

An alarm blared on O'Brien's console and the runabout juddered in sympathy, almost throwing them all from their seats. Gripping onto the console for support, Kira was aware of Sisko's urgent voice calling to her, but pushed it to the back of her mind. If he had a solution she would learn of it soon enough. The little ship was bucking and rearing like a tethered Harracat and she focused all her concentration on keeping it steady and not colliding with the strange vessel which loomed like a Colossus before them. She didn't know whether the runabout was even responding to her efforts but, unconsciously echoing Odo's thoughts, she had to do something.

O'Brien swore loudly and she turned to face him, the vibrations of the deck beneath her making her mildly nauseous, "O'Brien?"

He was shaking his head, "Ah, dammit." The Irishman looked up at the Bajoran and she was shocked to see tears in his eyes, "the power…there's too much power…" she could see the readout from where she was and knew what it meant. The comm. screen crackled and she could see Sisko again, Dax, wide eyed and pale in the background. The stalled ship began to roll and Kira heard O'Brien behind her, "…chance to say goodbye…"

As the power readings left the scale and the ship started to breakup before the helpless runabout, Kira looked straight at Sisko, needing his strength for the journey ahead, needing to see The Emissary one last time. She whispered a prayer, hoping it didn't sound too much like a plea, "Oh, Prophets…"

There was an explosion and everything went black.

***

The line cleared for a second and the Major's face loomed down at them as she fought redundantly with the runabout controls. O'Brien said something in the background, but Sisko could not make it out. Kira looked up at the screen for just a second and he thought he saw fear in her eyes as she looked straight at him, 'Oh, Prophets…'

Her remaining words were never heard as the strange ship exploded in an inferno of light brighter than Bajor's sun.

The comm. line went dead and when Sisko's eyes had recovered from the glare, he saw that nothing was left.

The ship and the runabout were gone.

He drew himself up to his full height as a deathly silence crept through Ops, "DS9 to Amazon… DS9 to Amazon, respond please, Major."

Ensign Baskell gazed at him from his station, "There's no-one there, sir. They've gone."

Dax made a small sound in her throat and stared at the screen like a rabbit caught in headlights. Sisko felt his hands clench into fists, "Sisko to Security."

"Go ahead, Sir."

"Ready the Severn for a search and rescue at both ends of the wormhole."

"Aye, sir."

"Inform me as soon as you find anything. Understood?"

"Understood, sir. Security out."

Fighting the urge to slam his fist into the nearest console, Sisko looked up and found every pair of eyes in Ops fixed on him. He took a deep breath and looked at them all in turn, "I want full reports from everyone. I want to know what that ship was and why it exploded. If the worst has happened, Starfleet and Bajor are going to want an explanation and fast."

He watched as they set to work. There was none of the usual cheerful chatter, none of the brisk, easygoing efficiency - they just worked quietly and didn't say a word.

He crossed to Dax and placed a hand on her shoulder. She jumped and he saw that the colour had drained from her face. Releasing her, he nodded towards his office, "Commander…"

Once the doors had closed on the unnatural quiet of Ops, Sisko allowed his breath to escape in a long sigh as he slumped in his chair and looked at Dax. She was standing to attention in front of his desk, fighting an inner battle between grief and duty.

"What happened, Dax?"

Duty won out and she swallowed and looked him straight in the eye, "I'll need to study the logs closely. There was no sign that that ship was going to explode. It had no discernible damage."

He leant back in his chair, "Then why?"

She shook her head, "If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it self destructed. There was a massive power build up before the end…" She trailed off and looked at her feet, "…I'm sorry."

Sisko shook his head, "There was nothing you could have done, Old Man."

Dax did not lift her head and he thought for a moment that she would give in to tears. They had both lost colleagues before, but this all seemed so needless, "Study the logs, Dax. Take as long as you need, but find me some answers."

She nodded briskly, still refusing to meet his eye. He had never seen her like this and it bothered him. She turned to leave just as the comm. link chirped for attention, "Runabout Severn to Sisko."

He beckoned to Dax, inviting her to wait, "Go ahead."

The voice on the other end was cautious, almost reluctant and Sisko knew that the news would not be good, "Just initial impressions, sir. We've already found a fair amount of debris from the unknown ship. It's being taken to Cargo Bay 3."

"And the Amazon?"

"We've detected what seems to be part of the warp engine. It's pretty badly wrecked, sir…"

"Understood. Anything else?"

"No, sir. We've still got to search in the gamma quadrant, but…well, "

"I know. Keep me informed. Sisko out."

Neither spoke for a full minute as they drank in the finality of the Severn's report. Finally, Sisko reached forward and plucked his baseball off of its stand, rolling it over in his hands before turning his attention back to Dax, his eyes reflecting her sorrow, his voice low, almost a whisper, "Contact Bajor. Tell them we will be needing a replacement liaison officer. I'll inform Starfleet."

Dax nodded and turned to leave, but Sisko stopped her again, "This wasn't your fault, Jadzia. There was nothing you could have done."

She barely acknowledged that he had spoken and he sighed deeply as the doors slid shut behind her.

For a moment he was at a loss for what to do next. Three of his colleagues - three of his friends - were dead and he was afraid to let it sink in, afraid to face the reality of the situation in case it interfered with his duty.

"Dammit!" With a growl of rage he threw the baseball at the wall as hard as he could, only vaguely aware that every head in Ops had turned to face his office door.

Breathing deeply, he unclenched his fists and reached out to his console and opened a line to Starfleet.

*****

Chapter Two