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Staggering Stories Podcast #258: That Osgood and Kate Sound
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler and the Real Keith Dunn discuss possibilities for the next Doctor on Doctor Who, review the first three Big Finish UNIT New Series boxsets, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:20 — Welcome! 01:42 – News: 02:04 — […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #257: Holistic Double Banking
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller discuss BBC America/Netflix’s ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ and Douglas Adams’ time on Doctor Who, play some games, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:20 — Welcome! 02:14 – No news […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #256: The Double Whammy
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller discuss Peter Capaldi’s departure from Doctor Who and the legend that was John Hurt, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:25 — Welcome! 02:09 – News: 02:20 […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #255: The Six Idiots
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the Big Finish Doctor Who boxset ‘Classic Doctors, New Monsters: Vol. 1’ and Sherlock Series 4, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:35 — Welcome! 02:49 […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #254: Bad Awakenings
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and the Keith Dunn review the 1966 Doctor Who story ‘The Power of the Daleks’ and the 2016 film ‘Passengers’, say what we’ve been up to recently, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:14 — Welcome! 02:18 – […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #189: Doctor Who – The Return of Doctor Mysterio
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, supered, in front of the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’, and spout our usual nonsense! This Doctor is desperate to get Amy back, the Ghost has a baby to monitor and Lucy is channelling Lois Lane. But enough of […]

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Ten

Written by Karen Dunn


A tangible hush had shrouded Ops at Baskell's announcement and every eye turned to the viewer as the face of their visitor snapped into focus.

Sisko wasn't sure what he was expecting to see. The Federation was a melting pot of different races, different faces, all as normal to him as his own. He had been privy to first contact on a very few occasions and each time had prepared himself not to react disrespectfully to the people he met.

When a very human looking male appeared on the screen he was almost disappointed.

The man had fair skin, light hair and narrow brown eyes. He seemed to be dressed in some kind of white tunic, trimmed with gold. What they could see of the ship behind him was sparse to say the least. He studied them for a long moment before speaking in clipped tones, "My name is Hern and I come with greetings from the Merchant Empire."

Sisko stepped forward, his hands at his side, "I am Captain Benjamin Sisko. Welcome to Deep Space Nine."

Hern nodded, "Thank you, Captain. We have come regarding a scoutship which found its way to your part of space…"

He had expected as much and was grateful at least that these people were not jumping to any unfortunate conclusions which could not be resolved in a friendly manner. He braced his shoulders, "Yes. I'm afraid the ship exploded shortly after it arrived."

Hern paused and Ops held its collective breath before the Merchant inclined his head and said, "I see."

Knowing more of an explanation was expected, Sisko seized the moment, "If you would care to dock at the station we can talk further."

The viewer flickered into static as Hern cut the connection and they waited in silence. Seconds later the picture returned and the man's ice chip eyes bored down on them, "Acceptable. Our ship will remain here. Prepare to receive a shuttle."

"Understood. Sisko out."

And the people in Ops heaved a sigh of relief. There would be no misunderstandings today. At least not yet.

It was Dax who spoke first, a slender eyebrow raised in amusement, "Abrupt, aren't they?"

"Arrogant is the word I'd use," muttered Baskell from his station, not realising how much his voice would carry in the virtual quiet and blushing as Sisko turned to him with a frown, "That's as maybe, Mr Baskell, but they are to be treated as guests."

"Yes sir." He lowered embarrassed eyes to his console.

As life in Ops returned to normal, Sisko headed for the turbolift, "Dax, Andrews, let's go and greet our new arrivals. Baskell, explain the situation to Admiral James and the First Minister. Tell them I'll be in touch."

"Sir."

And the 'lift took them away.

***

The red wheel door of airlock 5 trundled back to reveal Hern and another man. They stepped across the threshold without a pause, glancing around them with an air of subdued disdain.

Sisko stepped forward, "Welcome to DS9, Mr Hern. May I present Commander Jadzia Dax and Ensign Jill Andrews."

Hern nodded down his nose at the two women and waved a vague hand at the man behind him, "My assistant. We will discuss our scoutship."

The Starfleet officers looked at one another in bewilderment, then the Captain remembered his manners and nodded, "We can speak in my office."

***

Now Hern sat at one side of the desk whilst Sisko sat at the other as Dax introduced the newcomers to the delights of raktajino.

Hern barely glimpsed at his mug whilst his assistant drank deeply and almost choked, excusing himself politely and declaring that it wasn't really to his taste.

Sisko instructed the computer to ready the files of the runabout explosion and turned to his guests, "When your ship came through the wormhole we tried to communicate, but we received no reply to our hails."

Hern shook his head with a small smile, "No. The ship was fully automated - used for exploration only."

"I'm relieved to hear it. We lost one of our own ships in a rescue attempt."

The dismay which played across the Merchant's face seemed to be genuine, though Dax mentally noted that the man's body language did not change, "I'm sorry. We had no idea the scout would encounter intelligent life. This is most unfortunate."

She stepped forward, "Actually, we have evidence which suggests our ship may have been dragged back to your space."

Surprise replaced concern before settling on neutral inquiry, "You do?"

She called to the computer to play back her findings at a speed slow enough to discern, and they all watched events play themselves out once more on the screen on Sisko's desk.

As the explosion died, Hern leant forward in his chair, his voice a whisper, "So that's the cause. What is that?"

"It's a stable wormhole." She flicked the screen closed, drawing their attention back to her face, "We thought at first that the scout was a visitor from the Gamma Quadrant. Then we discovered your 'tunnel'"

He smiled at her, a tolerant smile much like a teacher would turn on a slow but promising pupil, "It is called a breach. A very economical way to travel from place to place. Unfortunately without designated co-ordinates, the opening is completely random. That is why scout ships are unmanned. It guards against loss of life in accidents such as this."

Sisko was watching the man closely, still unsure what to make of him, "Then you had no intention of arriving inside the wormhole?"

"None at all. The scout sent back the co-ordinates and data it had retrieved on its journey. The readings told us that it had been damaged and we followed to see what had happened."

"Why wasn't your ship damaged?" asked Dax and Hern shrugged, "Oh, scouts have very weak hulls and little shielding. Our ship is much stronger."

She looked to Sisko for a moment and he read the question in her eyes and nodded, "What about the runabout?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Our ship." She said a little too eagerly, "Could it have made it to the other side?"

Hern let his shoulders slump, shaking his head, "I very much doubt it. I'm sorry, but nothing came through. It couldn't have survived."

Dax opened her mouth but no sound would come as she gazed at the stranger before her. To have the rug pulled from beneath her feet again was too much to bare and she knew she had to get out of sight before her feelings let her down. Benjamin would have another reason to be angry with her, but she would face him later.

She pushed herself away from the desk as Curzon tried to calm her, "Take it slow, girl, the door's not going anywhere." Then muttering a quick, "Excuse me" she left Sisko's office before he could stop her.

For a moment all was silence as they watched the doors close behind the departing woman, then Hern cleared his throat, "Captain Sisko, I apologise for your loss. Our only intention is to make friends."

He nodded, dragging his mind away from Dax and the difficult times he guessed were ahead, "As is ours, Hern. Won't you both stay and enjoy a little of our hospitality?"

"That is much appreciated."

He led the two men out into Ops and approached the central table where Kladzi was busy working, "My first officer, Colonel Kladzi, will see to your needs."

Hern nodded, "Thank you, Captain." then peered down his nose at the big Bajoran, "Take us to your nearest inn. We are thirsty."

For a second, Kladzi glowered at Sisko, resenting to his core that he had been assigned baby sitting duties. Then he stood with a slight bow to his two charges, said, "This way, gentlemen." and led them to the turbolift.

The Captain tapped his Security Chief on the shoulder and gestured towards the Merchants, "Go with them, Andrews, keep an eye on things. Quark's is the perfect place to ruin diplomatic relationships. Especially new ones."

"Yes sir."

Then he returned to his office to think things through.

***

No-one in Quark's looked up as the little group entered, Kladzi ushering Hern through the throng of alien drinkers to a secluded table in the corner behind the Dabo wheels. Visitors to the station were nothing new and, as long as they paid their way and kept out of trouble, they would be left alone.

At the bar, Quark was deep in conversation with a Bolian, the man's split blue face creased in concentration as the little Ferengi displayed the remaining smoky green crystals and filled his already oft drained glass.

"Where did you get them?"

Quark chuckled, "That's not important, friend. What is important is that they are the only two Blood Crystals to be found outside of Vulcan and you can have them for a mere eight bars of latinum a piece."

The Bolian frowned, "Eight bars? I don't know, Quark, that's a bit steep."

The Ferengi picked up one of the stones and placed it in his potential customer's hand, trying his best to coax a decision out of him, "But think of the profit you'll make when you sell them back to the Vulcans!"

The man toyed with his drink a little unsteadily as the real alcohol began to seep through his stout metabolism, "But they'll want to know where I got them."

"They'll be so pleased to have them back that they won't even think to ask."

The Bolian turned the crystal over in his hand, transfixed by the way the gaudy lights of the bar reflected through its many faceted surface and Quark could feel a grin building as the man reached for his credit pouch.

Then an all too familiar voice called to him from across the room, "Quark!" and he looked up to see Andrews pushing through the crowd towards him. And she did not look happy.

With a squeak of terror he snatched the crystal from the still frowning Bolian and slammed it, its double and his fingers in the drawer beneath the bar, "Security Chief Andrews" he cried as the Bolian looked at first him, then the approaching officer and beat a hasty retreat, "What can I do for you this time."

She looked curiously at him as he sucked his throbbing fingers, "Colonel Kladzi has a delegation of visitors over there who would like some drinks."

A confused mixture of annoyance and relief took his mind from the pain in his hand. She was not out to get him and had still managed to scupper a lucrative business deal, "And he sent you to fetch them? Something of a comedown, don't you think?"

She glowered, "Just bring your order padd and get over there."

He followed her back across the room towards the furthest table, "So who are they?"

"What?"

He tapped at the padd, "These delegates. Who are they?"

She eased past a gaggle of giggling Betazoid students, "They call themselves Merchants. They're the owners of the ship that blew up outside the wormhole."

Quark glanced back towards the bar, wondering how safe his precious crystals were now that their owners had arrived, then turned to his new customers with his most toothy smile, "Gentlemen! Always a pleasure to welcome new customers. I am Quark, your host, here to see to your drinking and gambling needs. What'll it be?"

Hern looked up at him in mild disinterest, "You run this tavern?"

"I own this tavern." The Merchant reached into his tunic and tossed a gold coin to the grinning Ferengi. Quark caught it automatically and tested it with his teeth before slipping it into his pocket, "And anything you need will be yours."

"We would try a carafe of your finest ale."

He tapped a few keys on the order padd, "Coming right up."

The next hour passed with interminable slowness for Jill Andrews. Kladzi and Hern downed jug after frothing jug of ale and talked about everything from women to ship design, whilst she, at Kladzi's order, stood to ridged attention behind the table and waited.

From what she could gather from the increasingly slurred conversation taking place before her, the Merchants had had some kind of space travel for many centuries, though lack of resources had made their progress slow. Kladzi, his tongue a little too loose with the effect of alcohol had promised that Bajor and the Federation would be more than willing to open up trade negotiations which would be beneficial to both parties. It was at that point that she had stopped listening, allowing her attention to stray.

A hand on her arm made her jump and she found herself face to face with Hern's assistant. He frowned, "I apologise. I did not mean to startle you."

She looked him up and down. He seemed very young to be carrying the burden of first contact. But then, he was probably thinking the same thing about her, "That's okay. I should have been paying attention."

He smiled, "It is just that I have a question."

"Go on."

"I am curious. What kind of ship is that?"

Andrews followed his gaze and saw a goliath of a ship coming in on thrusters to dock at one of the upper pylons, its glowing engines clearly visible through the windows of the upper Promenade, "That's the USS Hercules, a Steamrunner class starship."

He raised an eyebrow, "It looks powerful."

She smiled, remembering the awe she had felt when the specs for the ship were first made available for viewing, "She certainly is. She can sustain a steady warp 9.5 over distance, has quantum pulse torpedoes and dual rotating metaphasic shields."

There was a scraping of chair legs as Hern looked up and pushed himself to his feet for a better view, struggling with the words, unable to get his somewhat tipsy tongue round them, "Dual rotating..?"

"Metaphasic shields. You could land on the surface of a star and they would hold out."

He took one last look at the ship as its tail end disappeared from view, "Impressive. It's a shame your Amazon wasn't equipped with them, not to mention our scoutship." And he sat down again, a little too quickly.

Scowling openly at Andrews until she returned to attention, Kladzi picked up the jug of ale and refilled the Merchant's glass, determined to bring the conversation back in line, "Indeed. But we're not here to ponder over what might have been."

And the day plodded on.

Andrews let her gaze bore into the back of Kladzi's head, allowing a string of unpleasant fates for the Colonel to play themselves out in her mind. She could think of a thousand and one things she would rather be doing instead of standing here. Hell, she could think of a thousand and one things she would usually run a mile from but would make an exception for rather than be standing here. She had crime reports to file, security rotations to monitor and she should really drop in to Dax's quarters and make sure the scanner was returned to geology before some-one reported it missing.

She let her mind wander back over the events of the last few days. She had been catapulted from deputy to acting Chief of Security in the blink of an eye and had wished aloud every evening that Bajor would send her replacement the next day. If she thought about it, the abruptness of events was the only thing stopping her from surrendering to total panic and she was quietly proud of the progress she had made.

If she could just survive guard duty for the station's tipsy first officer she would seek out Martin Baskell and drag him off to Quark's for a self confident drink or two. And while they were there, they could drink to absent friends and finally, reluctantly bury the ghosts from the Amazon which had been haunting the station for far too long.

The Amazon…?

She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts, then let her gaze settle on Hern as he drank to yet another toast.

Something was not right…

She stepped forward and tapped Kladzi on the shoulder, "Colonel, can I speak to you?"

He looked up at her with ill concealed impatience, "Not now, Ensign."

"Colonel, it's important."

With an apologetic smile to his guests, Kladzi pushed back his chair and stood up, taking her arm and steering her none too gently out of earshot, "Make it quick."

She pulled herself free and considered the man scowling before her, wondering how she was to broach the topic that was niggling at her mind. That he did not like her was obvious to everyone, but she had no real reason to doubt that he knew where his duties lay. She jumped in with both feet, "How did he know the name of the runabout?"

He almost laughed, "What?"

He was halfway drunk, so she let his incredulity slide and spoke as slowly as she dared without sounding sarcastic, "He said it's a shame our Amazon didn't have better shields. How did he know that the runabout was called the Amazon?"

"Some-one must have mentioned it."

She had thought of that - had gone over the conversations of the day in her head more than once, "No. No, they haven't. I've been with him all the time and no-one has called it by name."

With a renewed pang of excitement she knew she was right. There had been no mention of the runabout's call sign. Not here and not in Ops. The Merchants must have seen the little ship on the other side of their breach. Which meant that it had survived the explosion. Which meant that Odo and the others were alive. Which meant…"Ensign, we don't have time for this nonsense."

She gaped at him, unable to believe that he was dismissing what she had told him. He made to return to the table, but she snatched him back by the arm, almost causing him to over balance, and matched his hostile glare with one of her own, "Nonsense! Colonel, they may have been lying to us from the outset. We have to find out what they know about our people."

He took a step closer, "You will drop the subject, Ensign Andrews and that is an order. You will not disrupt a diplomatic occasion just because you feel bitter at being put on report. Is that clear?"

"You've got to be kidding…"

He curled his lip and straightened up, his voice loud enough for everyone to hear, "Is that clear?"

And she knew in an instant that this man had no concept of duty, did not care what happened outside of his control and would not lift one finger to help her. She let her head drop lest he see the inferno of anger spreading across her face and whispered, "Yes, sir."

A discrete cough from behind them revealed Hern and his assistant as they watched the exchange cautiously. The Merchant gave an embarrassed smile, "I'm sorry to interrupt, Colonel, but we really should be returning to our ship. Your hospitality has been impeccable, but we are expected home."

Kladzi nodded, "Of course, Hern, of course. I apologise for this…"

He waved a benevolent hand, "Think nothing of it. A leader of men has many unfortunate responsibilities. We should pay our respects to your Captain."

And he turned and walked from the bar, his assistant in tow.

Kladzi stepped in front of Andrews as she made to follow, "We will discuss your conduct later."

She didn't grace him with a reply, but caught up with the Merchants and called a turbolift to take them all to Ops.

***

A further hour spent at attention passed and Andrews vowed silently that from now on she would delegate when it came to escort duty. She had a crick in her back that would take forever to ease and her feet, in those damned uncomfortable military issue boots, were aching.

They had made the short trip to Ops in uncomfortable silence and Kladzi had led them straight into Sisko's office. If the Captain noticed the air of tension between his first officer and security chief he made no comment, just shook hands with the two Merchants and began yet another bout of small talk.

Jill stood in front of the doors and pondered her situation. Sisko had long passed the end of his tether when it came to the runabout situation and she was already on report for her part in the past few days' play. For just a moment he had been ready to believe that there was hope and then had those hopes dashed with Hern's declaration that the little ship had not survived. She had watched his face fall at the news and knew that broaching the subject now was liable to get her into more trouble than she cared to think about.

But she knew Hern was not telling the whole truth and, though Kladzi had proven to be as shallow as she feared, Sisko was a man of honour who cared deeply for those in his charge. He would surely listen.

Hern reached across the desk and shook hands with the Captain once more, then rose as if to leave, "Once again may I say we are deeply distressed that our people had to meet under such tragic circumstances. We hope our friendship will be a long and prosperous one."

Sisko smiled, "On behalf of the Federation and Bajor, we return the sentiment and invite you to share in our hospitality whenever you wish."

They were leaving. She didn't know whether they had heard what she said to Kladzi in Quark's, but she got the distinct feeling that if she let them go now, they would never return. Taking her career in her hands she stepped forward and addressed Sisko, "Excuse me, sir."

He raised an eyebrow, "Andrews?"

She could see Kladzi glaring at her from the corner of her eye and swallowed, hoping to God that she was doing the right thing, "I have a question for Mr Hern."

The Colonel let out a low growl, "Ensign, I'm warning you…"

"I was talking to the Captain…"

Sisko frowned and turned to his first officer, "Kladzi, what's going on?"

He sniffed dismissively, "It seems our new Security Chief can't stomach being disciplined herself."

How dare he..? "That's not true! I just have to ask…"

Kladzi waved her away, "You are dismissed, Ensign."

This wasn't going right and she gave up any pretence at protocol in an open plea, "Captain, please. I need to ask…"

Hern coughed and raised his hands in an embarrassed gesture of concern, "This seems to be an internal matter, Captain Sisko. We should leave." And the Captain actual glared at her, silently ordering her to shut the hell up.

With a final desperate effort she stepped up to the Merchant and shouted in his face as Kladzi moved to pull her away, "HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT OUR LOST RUNABOUT WAS CALLED THE AMAZON!!"

And there was silence.

Sisko gazed long and hard at her and sat back down in his seat. The two Merchants looked at one another before Hern said, "I beg your pardon?"

She looked to the Captain, not willing to go on alone, hoping he would take up the baton and continue the charge. But he nodded at her and left her centre stage, "Go ahead, Ensign."

She pulled herself up to her full height and looked Hern in the eye, "In Quark's just now you commented that it was a shame 'your Amazon' didn't have better shields. How did you know the name Amazon. No-one even mentioned it."

With a snort of laughter he turned away from her, appealing to Sisko like a close friend, "Captain, please, of what are we being accused?"

But Sisko was having none of it. He sat stock still and returned Hern's gaze impassively, "Would you answer the question."

The Merchant opened his mouth to speak, but found himself struggling for words. His assistant stepped in front of him in an attempt to cover his superior's shortcomings and focused on the only ally he had in the room, Kladzi, "I believe the Ensign has made an honest mistake. The name of your unfortunate craft was mentioned on many occasions." He gave a disarming smile, "Your Captain used it himself during our initial conversation."

Kladzi nodded and turned to Sisko, but the Captain silenced him with a wave of the hand, "Computer. Access security files pertaining to transmissions between Ops and the Merchant vessel at docking port 5 and all conversations in Ops since said vessel's arrival.."

The computer chirped, "Files accessed."

"Scan files for any mention of the word 'Amazon'."

The reply was instantaneous, "No mention of the word 'Amazon' was made."

And Kladzi stepped back and didn't say a word. Sisko stood slowly and walked up to Hern, towering above the smaller man, his tone low and measured, "I would like an explanation."

The arrogance that had been bubbling beneath the surface since his ship had arrived, burst forth and Hern scowled up at him, "Captain, I don't like your tone…"

Sisko didn't take his eyes off the man, glaring into him like the devil himself as he spoke to the nervous looking Andrews, "Ensign, place Mr Hern and his colleague under arrest and escort them to Security."

He believed her! Thank God, the Prophets and any other deities who happened to be watching - she had been right. She wanted to run down to the habitat ring and tell Dax that the last few days had all been worthwhile. They would have a chance to get their people back and this time everyone was on their side. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she pulled her phaser, and her voice shook, "Yes, sir." She stepped aside and waited for her two prisoners to precede her out the door, "This way, gentlemen."

***

Sisko watched as the doors to his office closed behind the young Security Chief and her two charges then hit his comm. badge, "Sisko to Baskell."

"Go ahead."

"Lock down the docking clamps on the Merchant vessel. They're not to leave without my express permission."

"Understood."

And he moved on to other matters. Kladzi was standing at attention in front of his desk, waiting to be dismissed. He took a moment to compose himself before looking up at his first officer. First officer…that was a joke. The man was a liability. Incompetent at best, Sisko harboured suspicions that he was wilfully malicious when it came to things he did not agree with. Things like green Ensigns standing in as Chief of Security.

When he finally looked up, he made no effort to hide the displeasure in his eyes, "Colonel Kladzi. A word, please."

"Sir, I apologise for the disruption to the meeting…"

He had given him his chance. He had tried to push all thoughts of Kira and the way they gelled professionally to the back of his mind. He had tried to accept that different people worked in different ways. The fact that he did not actually like the man had not made things easy. He held up a hand and stopped him in his tracks, a pent up fury boiling within him, "Can I take it, Colonel, that Andrews voiced her concerns to you regarding the Merchants before you entered this office?"

"Yes, sir, but…"

He slowed his breathing. Calm down, "And how did you act on her information?"

Kladzi had the good grace to squirm, "Captain, Andrews' approach to the matter was inappropriate…"

He sounded like a schoolboy caught in the middle of some act of adolescent rebellion and desperately trying to pass the blame when his courage failed, Sisko despised him for it, "Inappropriate?"

"There are ways of doing things…"

This coming from a man who had done his level best to tip the usually ordered station routine on its head. The Captain leapt to his feet, eyes blazing, "Enough! You have been on her back since the moment you arrived. You have gone out of your way to make her life a misery and you have contributed very little to the running of this station during a difficult time." He rounded his desk and glowered down at the man, "You, Colonel, are a poor excuse for a first officer and, should our people be returned to us alive, I will take the greatest pleasure in personally kicking your ass all the way back to Bajor."

"How dare…"

He didn't pause, didn't acknowledge the red fury colouring the man's cheeks, "You have repeatedly questioned the competence of Major Kira, you have given free reign of the station to a Ferengi con artist and I consider it a personal insult that the Provisional Government deemed you suitable to fill this position. Get out!"

If it had been Kira standing in front of him she would have hesitated, would have glared at him one last time before turning on her heel and taking a dignified walk back to her station. Either that or, if she felt particularly hard done by, she would have squared up to him and matched his fury with some of her own, doing verbal battle until some-one in Ops called Security for fear that their commanding officers were about to kill one another.

It was the way it had always been and he would have expected nothing less.

Kladzi didn't even look at him, just turned tail and fled. As the office doors closed, Sisko just glimpsed him heading for the turbolift. Escaping.

He took a moment to compose himself, then left Ops and headed for Security.

*****

Down in Security, Andrews was at her desk, tapping intently at a data padd, but she leapt to her feet when Sisko walked in. He smiled and waved her away, still unused to her cadet level expressions of respect, "As you were Ensign."

She sat down and quickly finished her work, "Yes, sir. I take it you're here to see the Merchants."

He nodded, "How are they behaving?"

A shrug, "It's been a while since I've arrested anyone as arrogant as Hern, but otherwise no problem." She got up once more, "I'll take you to them." But he stopped her with a touch on the arm and she looked up at him with a questioning frown, "Sir?"

"I just wanted to say 'good work', Ensign. The last few days can't have been easy for you and you have conducted yourself admirably."

Jill beamed, feeling better than she had in a long while, "Thank you, sir."

He nodded, "I'd better have a talk with our guests."

Andrews had placed Hern and his assistant in the same holding cell. The head Merchant was draped across the only bunk, leaning back on one arm like an Emperor at a feast, whilst his assistant stood at his feet, awaiting orders. When Sisko entered he snapped to attention whilst Hern merely looked down his nose at the Captain and stifled a yawn, "Captain, I don't appreciate being locked up like this…"

"And I don't appreciate being lied to by people who claim to be our friends." Sisko sat down at the table in the middle of the room, "Now, I'll say this once and only once. Tell us how to open the breach and where to find our colleagues and I will let you go."

Hern raised an amused eyebrow, "And if I refuse?"

"Then I will turn you over to the Dominion and let you explain to them why you are holding one of their gods captive."

The Merchant paused then shrugged, "And who are the Dominion?"

"You'll find out soon enough."

He looked at his assistant with a puzzled frown and Sisko knew exactly what they were thinking. They had expected questions, interrogation, threats which were clearly understood by both sides. In one sentence he had done two things. He had presented an unknown quantity to Hern which spoke of dark times ahead for him and his kind. He had introduced a new team to the game. That Hern had not recognised the name Dominion told him that these people were probably from neither the Alpha Quadrant nor the Gamma Quadrant.

He kept his gaze impassive, fixed unflinching on the face of his prisoner and waited.

Hern bared his mental claws once more and drew on his consummate arrogance to hurl his remaining ammunition. The ice in his eyes and voice had crippled the arguments of lesser men, "Captain, I am not used to being threatened in this manner."

But Sisko was on home ground and never the lesser man, "Get used to it."

For the first time since the Captain had entered, Hern slid off of the bunk and walked to the forcefield separating them, hands held out in supplication, "Really, Captain, if we could just talk this over like civilised beings…"

"I'm listening."

"Perhaps a little food and wine would help. We've had a long trip…"

Sisko turned on his heel and barked, "Andrews!"

She would never admit to listening at the door, but was at his side in record time, "Yes, sir?"

"No food, no wine and no visitors until further notice. Is that understood?"

She nodded, "Yes. Sir."

"I'll be in docking bay 5 should they become chatty."

She followed him out of the detention area as Hern finally dropped his supercilious cloak and revealed the panicked man underneath, bellowing after them like just another drunk, "Captain, this is outrageous. How dare you treat us like this. How *dare* you…"

The door hissed shut, cutting off his protests and Andrews grinned up at her commanding officer, "I think you've annoyed them, sir."

Sisko raised an eyebrow and grinned right back, "I hope so, Ensign, I really hope so."

*****

The door had chimed twice before he heard Dax's tired voice call, "Enter." And when it whooshed open to the half lit gloom of her quarters, Sisko sighed heavily.

Although she was still technically relieved of duty he had fully expected her to talk him into allowing her to hang around Ops.

She had been almost her old self when breaking the news of the discovery of the second wormhole and a possible way through, and he had been delighted to see the old spark dancing in her eyes.

Then Hern had declared that there was no way the runabout had survived, that no sign of it had been found on his side of the breach and she had abandoned Ops before he could stop her.

With a silent prayer to the Prophets that he wasn't going to lose her again, he stepped into the room and said, "Computer, lights."

She was sitting cross legged on her sofa with a sad smile on her face and a glass of something lethal-looking in her hand. She nodded to him, "Captain."

"Dax?"

She stretched forward and placed the glass on the coffee table, "Don't look so worried, Benjamin."

"Do I have reason to look worried?"

Jadzia smiled and shook her head, "No." She looked at the glass, "Just saying goodbye."

He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off, anticipating a pep talk of some fashion and not quite sure whether she could face one. She stretched her long legs and slid from the sofa, "So how are our new guests?"

He smiled, "Angry."

"Angry?"

"I've had them placed in a holding cell."

A frown, "Why?"

"I'll tell you on the way to docking bay 5. Get your shoes."

She reached behind the sofa and tugged on her boots, scowling up at him in mock annoyance, "Benjamin, you're being deliberately secretive."

***

He had insisted on walking all the way to the docking ring, breaking the news of Hern's deception to her on the way. By the time they arrived she was grinning from ear to ear like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

They stopped at the airlock and he gazed intently at her, "So there you have it. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you closer, Old Man."

She shook her head, "No you're not."

"I…"

The hand on his arm belonged to Jadzia, but the voice was all Dax. All maternal/paternal concern and wisdom as she looked into his soul with ageless eyes, "Benjamin, I was way out of line. I gave you little choice and if you had listened to me with the evidence I put before you, you would not be the Captain you are." She gave his arm a squeeze and smiled, "And you know that."

This was more like it. This was the Dax he had loved and relied on for more years than he cared to admit. He drew her into a tight hug, "I'm just sorry we had to disagree over something this important."

"Apology accepted." She pulled away, "Now what do you want me to do?"

He thought back to Hern and his expression of smug arrogance. As much as he would like to knock him from here to kingdom come until he gave them the answers they needed, he knew he couldn't do so. They needed an ace in the hole, something to tide them over, "The Merchants aren't being very forthcoming with information. I need you to go over that ship and work out how to activate this breach they mentioned."

She nodded, "I'd been thinking about that already. I'm still convinced that the crystals Andrews confiscated from Quark are the key. I'll conduct a scan of the ship and see if they have any on board." A shrug, "It'll give us a springboard to start from."

He patted her arm and turned away to let her work, "Keep me informed, Old Man."

She entered the ship and took a quick look around before calling, "Computer, scan the vessel at docking port 5 for traces of the compound stored in file Dax-alpha-1-8-7."

The computer chirruped in response and she waited patiently until it announced, "Compound is present on the vessel."

Jadzia let a delighted grin ignite across her face, "I told you."

"What did you tell me?"

"We're going to get them back."

Curzon chuckled softly.

*********

Chapter Eleven