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Staggering Stories Commentary #202: Babylon 5 – Phoenix Rising
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 15 Oct 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, roasted, in front of the Season 5 Babylon 5 episode ‘Phoenix Rising’, and spout our usual nonsense! Byron is losing control of more than his flowing locks, Garibaldi has a word with Bester and the rogue telepaths are burning bright. But enough of their […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #273: Captain Ace and a Bout of ST:D
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:50

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Earth Aid audio play, discuss the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 02:01 — Welcome! 02:53 – […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #201: Doctor Who – Extremis
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 01 Oct 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, simulated, in front of the 2017 Doctor Who S10 episode, ‘Extremis’, and spout our usual nonsense! The Doctor is doing his Daredevil impersonation, Bill has an unreal feeling and the Monks are definitely meddling. But enough of their problems, please sit down with us […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #272: Doctor Who and those Effing Nanites
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 24 Sep 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller compare TV’s Doctor Who: Dalek and Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Jubilee, play a game, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:10 — Welcome! 02:38 – News: 02:48 […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #200: Babylon 5 – In the Kingdom of the Blind
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 17 Sep 2017 12:24

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, blackmailed, in front of the Season 5 Babylon 5 episode ‘In the Kingdom of the Blind’, and spout our usual nonsense! Byron and his flowing locks are attempting some dirty blackmail, the Centauri Regent has taken to drink and Londo Mollari needs to watch […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #271: That Derby Aroma
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 10 Sep 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Fake Keith, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller recount their time at the recent Whooverville 9 Doctor Who convention, talk about media we’ve been consuming, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:30 — Welcome! 03:26 – News: 03:34 — […]

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Four

Written by Karen Dunn


The old Cardassian mining station sat at the edge of the wormhole like a huge abstract spider waiting for its web to flower open and pass the next meal into its hooked arms. All around, ships buzzed like so many insects, darting to and fro across the space lanes, occasionally straying into the path of the Celestial Temple and vanishing into its undulating depths.

The subspace communication channels were alive with the chatter between the ships and the station as the crew in Ops pleaded, requested, commanded and threatened them to leave the area or else respect the recognized rules and await clearance to dock.

The Captains of the ships, mostly pirates, smugglers and glory seekers, just as loudly quoted the rules of salvage and declared they would leave the area when and only when they were sure there was nothing left of the vessel that had exploded at the mouth of the wormhole.

With the oldest and most obscure of rules being waved in their face, Ops contacted Bajor and spoke directly to the First Minister; and Shakaar, his anger at the loss of a life-long friend still burning, sent fighters to reinforce the station's message. There was no salvage to be had and any unauthorized vessels still in the area within the hour would be seized.

Minutes later the space lanes were clear, the stragglers and more stubborn amongst them docking for a suddenly much needed stint of shore leave.

Most of them found their way to Quark's, the heart of all things legal and not quite so legal on Deep Space Nine. It was there that Benjamin Sisko found them when he stopped by before the start of his shift that morning. He ordered a Black Hole and walked to a secluded table to take in the scene.

The usual lull before a shift change had long since drowned in a sea of too much latinum and not enough soap; the diversity of aromas which made Quark's the perfect place to study the varieties of life, smothered by sweat and engine grease. Despite the smell, he couldn't deny that they were a colourful bunch. Ferengi and Humans rubbing shoulders with Packleds and even an Andorian, whilst Quark bustled back and forth between them dispensing drinks and taking orders, his eyes lighting up with every spin of the dabo wheel.

Julian Bashir wandered over, holding a glass of synth ale above his head and muttering polite 'excuse me's' as he pushed his way past a group of Packleds dithering in the aisle. He almost tripped up the step as his eyes followed the movements of a leggy goddess as she crossed his path on her way to the bar. Steadying himself, he glanced across at Sisko with a sheepish smile and went to join him, "Fascinating bone structure, " he said, nodding after the woman, his expression impassive, "Never seen anything like it in some-one of her species…"

Sisko raised an eyebrow, "You mean human?"

Bashir frowned, opened his mouth to speak then closed it again with a shrug, "Yes … um…human…"

Sisko laughed as he and Bashir settled themselves at the table. The Doctor took in Sisko's potent drink with a worried glance, but said nothing. Running this station was not a job he would have cared to take on, and if the Captain needed a little pick-me-up once in a while, who was he to criticize - so long as it didn't become a habit.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, each fascinated by the myriad races milling through the bar. Bashir took a sip of his drink, "If Odo were here, he would have a fit."

Sisko nodded and wrinkled his nose, "And he would find some way of blaming Quark for the sanitary habits of his customers."

"How long do you think they'll stay?"

Sisko sighed and picked up his glass, "Not long. There really is very little left to salvage. The Bajorans have still got fighters patrolling the area and not many of these folk are willing to call Shakaar's bluff." He frowned down at his drink and returned it to the table, "They'll be gone in a day or two."

Anything Bashir may have said was drowned out by the clanging of metal on metal as Quark stood atop his bar and clattered a large spoon against a serving tray, "Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please." A gradual hush fell as everyone turned to look at him. Quark didn't so much as flinch, merely let his gaze scan the crowd before raising a glass, "For most of you this is your first visit to DS9 and I thank you for your custom. Those of you who have been here before will no doubt be aware that security is somewhat lax at the moment. As a fellow businessman, I would like to warn you not to take advantage of this opportunity for too long. The Starfleet Ensign may not be as efficient as Odo but I hear she's learning fast." There were a few rumbles of impatience and Quark hurried on, his glass held high, " As owner and manager here at Quark's I call on you all to join me in raising your glasses to the only Shapeshifter you could trust, and wish him a profitable time in whatever passes for an afterlife amongst his people."

He jumped down off of the bar and began dispensing drinks to all and sundry. Sisko watched in surprise as most of the clientele drank to the memory of a complete stranger.

Bashir smiled fondly, "He's been doing this on and off for the last two days. All drinks on the house for a toast to the Constable."

Sisko arched an eyebrow, "On the house?"

The Doctor nodded, "I was as surprised as you. With Morn on the station he could have been bankrupt within a day. But apparently no-one is taking more than one drink and no-one is coming back for every toast."

"It seems that respect for Odo has spread to include preserving the profits of the person who will miss him the most."

Bashir smiled again, "Oh, I don't know. With no Odo around, Quark's life will be a lot easier."

Sisko nodded and picked up his drink, "But not as much fun."

A clinking of glasses from the direction of the bar heralded the end of the toast and Bashir sighed, placing his half finished synth ale on the table, "I should be going. Ensign Baskell is due in for the first of his counseling sessions. I'm not sure which of us is the most nervous."

"You'll be fine, Doctor."

The young man grinned, "If I mess up, can we arrange to have one of those pleasant Betazoids stationed here?"

Sisko half returned the smile, "Don't mess up."

Bashir gave a mock salute and headed for the Infirmary.

Sisko leant back in his seat and watched Quark tidy away the now empty glasses. The little Ferengi had finally surprised him for the better and he would remember.

He lifted his own glass in a silent salute to absent friends and knocked back the Black Hole in one slug, shuddering as it burned its way down. He was due on duty at any minute and, for the first time in his career, felt he couldn't face it without a little boost to his system.

It was three days since they had lost Kira, O'Brien and Odo and somehow the station was still up and running. O'Brien's second had accepted a promotion a little too quickly for everyone's liking and was systematically checking every inch of the station for faults. If he removed one more panel in Ops and tutted and shook his head with that plastered on expression of disbelief Sisko would flatten him. That, of course, would give him a chance to speak to Ensign Andrews.

Of the three replacement officers he had had to brief over the last few days, Andrews was the one who gave him the least worry. Sisko had been watching her from a distance and had decided that the Constable was right - she was an outstanding security officer. All right, so she was a little young, a little wet behind the ears for a promotion of this kind, but it was only until the Bajoran government decided who to send to replace Odo.

He wished they had put as much thought into assigning his new first officer.

As he walked to the airlock to greet the man, Sisko had promised himself that he would give him a fair hearing before passing judgement on his character. He would try not to compare him with Kira. He would try not to notice every little thing he did which differed from the way she had worked.

The past was the past and there was still a lot to be done.

The airlock had trundled open and a six foot bear of a man stepped out. His hair was black as pitch and cut close to his neck, his eyes were green. He carried himself with confidence, his uniform pristine, his earring an elaborate contrast against his golden skin. He glanced briefly up and down the corridor before stepping forward and holding out his hand, "My name is Kladzi Tiron. Colonel Kladzi Tiron. Permission to come aboard."

Sisko shook his hand trying not to wince at the iron grip, "Permission granted, Colonel. Welcome to Deep Space Nine."

Kladzi sniffed, "Thank you Captain. If you will show me to my quarters I would like to get settled in."

"Certainly" he held out an arm inviting the Bajoran to follow, "Do you have any luggage."

Kladzi stepped past him and studied his surroundings critically, "I've arranged to have it unloaded shortly."

Two small Bajoran children ran past, chatting excitedly and almost colliding with Sisko in their haste. He smiled and stepped aside, ruffling their hair as they went by, then calling for the turbolift as they reached the door, "You'll be staying in section 4B in the habitat ring until your new quarters are ready…" He frowned as Kladzi glared after the disappearing children, "Is something wrong, Colonel?"

"You allow children to play near the airlocks?"

Sisko looked at him, "It's a public area. The inner 'locks need a pass-code to gain access and the outer 'locks won't open if there is no ship docked. They're perfectly safe."

Kladzi scowled, "That is hardly the point."

"Most of the children on this station are permanent residents. Do you suggest I confine them to quarters until they come of age?"

"Sarcasm is not called for, Captain."

The 'lift doors opened and Sisko placed a hand across the sensor to stop them closing, "I'm sorry, Colonel, but you have to understand that the smooth running of this station is based largely on trust. For years the Cardassians ruled under martial law. I will not do the same."

"And Major Kira had no problem with this?"

Sisko could feel his hackles rising, "A lot of what you will see on this station came about thanks to Major Kira's efforts."

Kladzi snorted, "I can see I have my work cut out for me."

"I beg your pardon?"

He shrugged, "This is a military station, not a social club. I suppose that's what you get for putting an honorary officer in charge." And he stepped into the turbolift.

Sisko gritted his teeth and tried to smile as he stood beside him, wondering whether the Emissary could be charged with murder under Bajoran law.

Things had not gone much better after that.

Kladzi had gone out of his way to find fault with everything and everyone he met and, on his introductory tour of the station, had made it clear in no uncertain terms that he objected to having a Starfleet Ensgin as Chief of Security, no matter how temporary the position. His only redeeming factor seemed to be that he had a deep respect for Odo and the way he had kept order. Sisko could not decide whether it was as a result of some rooted fear of the Founders or if the man genuinely knew class when he saw it. So far he was opting for the first choice.

Watching the unflappable Andrews glare daggers at the preaching Colonel, whilst biting her lip to keep from swearing her way to the Brig, cut him to the core and he had hauled his first officer back into line and led him on to the next part of the tour. As the doors to Security closed behind them he had heard Andrews let forth with a string of Klingon curses of which Worf would have been proud.

Once Kladzi was firmly ensconced in his new quarters, unpacking the first of his many suitcases, Sisko had returned to Ops.

With the memorial service behind them and new officers in positions of power, the attitude and conduct of the crew had began to return to something close to normal. O'Brien's replacement was sprawled beneath the Operations console making some obscure repair or other, the floor around his legs littered with tools. There was a flash of sparks and Sisko found himself waiting for a bawdy Irish curse that never came. Somehow it didn't seem right.

Baskell was at the engineering station, monitoring the repairs, confirming readings as the new Chief called for them. The other stations were manned by the usual assortment of Starfleet and Bajoran personnel and he prided himself that he knew them all by name.

And then there was Dax.

Ever since she had come to him with the news that there might be a chance that the runabout could have survived the explosion she had been the embodiment of relief - a condemned soul given a last minute reprieve - and he had had to physically restrain her from breaking the news to the rest of the station. The evidence they had was not absolute and there were too many 'maybes' and 'could haves' for his liking. He couldn't deny that his heart had leapt when she, Baskell and Andrews had laid out the information for him to see, but he knew when people were clutching at straws and these three were all but rolling around in the hay loft. He would not dish out false hopes only to snatch them away. How would he face Keiko? How would he look her in the eye as she relived her grief if he told her the Chief was coming home and then couldn't even produce a body for her to weep over?

He couldn't do it

He wouldn't do it - and, after a moment's thought, Dax had agreed with him.

There were things that could not be kept secret, though, and the Ops crew had to know why Dax was dominating a large chunk of computer memory for so long. There were smiles and prayers to the Prophets, but he trusted his people. No-one would breath a word.

He stepped down from the turbolift and crossed to the Bajoran man at communications, "Any word from Commander Worf?"

The man nodded, ""Yessir. He's expected back within a week."

Worf had been temporarily recalled to Earth as an advisor in the latest ship to ship tactical training scheme. Sisko remembered with a smile how the big Klingon had stood in front of his desk almost bursting with pride as the Captain told him he was to take the Defiant and show the next generation of Cadets how, with the right person in charge, a ship could be used to its most effective ends.

"Has he been informed of events?"

"Yes. He's sent a personal message for Mrs. O'Brien."

Sisko nodded, "I'll deliver it myself this evening."

"Aye, sir."

He turned away from the Bajoran, allowing him to return to his work. It would be good to have Worf back on the station. It would be good to stand and watch as the Klingon sized up the noxious Colonel Kladzi. Give it a couple of days and Quark would be running a book on whether the Commander would put the first officer through a bulkhead. He doubted there would be many witnesses if it happened.

He was about to climb the steps to his office when Dax had called to him, her voice a mixture of excitement and shaky control. He stood behind her and looked over her shoulder, "What is it?"

Dax had beamed up at him with a smile that made her eyes dance, "There's something there, Benjamin. It will take the computer a few hours to cut through the interference and give us a better picture, but there is definitely something there."

Sisko had looked at the mess on the screen with a sigh. It was good to see her smile again, good to see her caught up in her work once more; but there was something not right about this - something a little too desperate in her smile, "Take it easy, Dax. The computer could just be picking up some unknown quantity in the explosion. I see nothing here to suggest anything more."

The smile had faltered, "But, Benjamin…"

He took his hand off the back of her chair and straightened, "I want to believe they are alive as much as you do, Old Man, but I will not chase shadows on some guilt trip for the rest of my life and I won't allow you to do so, either." His voice had softened as he gazed down at her, her lips clamped shut, a slight frown of concentration furrowing her brow as she stared at the computer screen, "Walk away from it, Dax. That's an order. Let the computer do its work and then we can get our hopes up - or bury our demons - whichever is necessary."

She had barely spoken to him for the rest of the shift and his stomach had twisted in remorse at being the one to have dampened her mood. When it became obvious that the computer was having trouble analyzing the data, he had watched as the high spirits had deserted her and the smile left her eyes and his heart hit the floor. In some desperate, almost childlike, attempt to mend things between them he had invited her to supper when Alpha shift arrived to relieve them; but she had muttered something about wanting to finish what she was doing and turned back to her console.

He had eaten supper alone.

And now, here he was using alcohol as a substitute for a good breakfast. His father would have a fit.

The bar had emptied quickly after the toast and the last few stragglers were leaving as the night officially ended. He watched as Quark's minions began scrubbing tables, sweeping floors and programming the replicator in preparation for the coming day's business.

A small figure tapped on the bar for service and Sisko smiled as Quark took the order, pulled a face and handed Martin Baskell a glass of orange juice, muttering that he was trying to run a public house not a cafeteria. Baskell shrugged, not really listening, and took his drink as far away from the Ferengi as possible, almost knocking into Sisko's table in his distracted haste. He steadied himself, "Sorry, sir."

Sisko nodded, "No harm done, Ensign." He watched the young man's face with a quizzical frown, "Are you all right, Mr. Baskell?"

Baskell looked up quickly as if only just registering his presence, "Oh, yessir, I'm just…" he shrugged, "…thinking." He took a hurried sip of his juice.

"I hear you're seeing Doctor Bashir this morning."

Martin's grip tightened on his glass and for a moment Sisko thought it would shatter, "Yessir, In fifteen minutes."

"When did this happen?"

Baskell laughed nervously, "After Commander Dax talked some sense into me."

Sisko nodded in sympathy, "She's good at that."

"Yes…" He hesitated and frowned down at his drink, unsure whether he was about to exceed the bounds of protocol.

Sisko peered up at him with a small smile of encouragement, "What is it?"

"I just wish she would take a little of her own advice."

"What do you mean?"

"The way she's pushing herself, sir. I've just been to Ops to confirm my relief has everything he needs and she's glued to her computer screen."

The smile faltered, "Dax is in Ops?"

"Yes, sir."

Sisko chuckled, "I wouldn't worry, Ensign. I've known Dax for a long time, and she's beaten me to the punch-in clock on more than one occasion."

Baskell shrugged, "I suppose so, but you need to punch out before you punch in again."

The humour vanished from the Captain's face, "I beg your pardon."

"Permission to speak freely?"

"Go ahead."

Baskell took a steadying breath, wondering whether he was about to put his commission on the line, "Well, if I were in Command, sir, I would make her take it slowly. Double shifts are hard at the best of times…"

"Double shifts..?"

"I would have ordered her to…" At the look of rising fury on Sisko's usually poker face, Baskell stopped abruptly, "Oh…you didn't…oh…"

Sisko glared up at him, his anger growing, "Out with it, Ensign."

Martin shuffled his feet awkwardly, looking as though he wanted the Promenade to open up and swallow him, "I didn't mean..I mean, I thought you knew…I don't want to get her into trouble."

Sisko's smile was humourless and showed his perfect white teeth and the Ensign took an involuntary step back, "It's her or you, Mr. Baskell."

Martin swallowed nervously as the ground remained firm beneath his feet, not so much as a hint of escape available, "According to Lieutenant Purcell, Commander Dax didn't clock off shift last night, sir."

The Captain placed his glass very carefully on the table, stood up and straightened his uniform, "Thank you, Ensign. I will see you in Ops this afternoon." And he stalked out of Quarks without looking back.

Baskell considered calling Dax to warn her, but the look of death in Sisko's eyes was not one he had ever seen in hers and he knew in an instant of whom he was more afraid.

He gulped back his juice and fled to the Infirmary.

A morning of being psychoanalyzed by Bashir was beginning to look like heaven.

*****************

The computer screen blurred again and Jadzia rubbed a hand across her weary eyes. Alpha shift had just taken over, throwing her a few concerned and curious glances, wondering why she was still here; and the chronometer told her she had been working for twenty six straight hours.

Audrid had been chiding her for gods knew how long, a soft, insistent voice niggling at the back of her mind, easily ignored when she concentrated. Now, though, her concentration had slipped as exhaustion threatened to consume her, "Don't you think you should rest now?"

"Soon."

"You've pulled a double shift, child, you know how Benjamin frowns on that."

"Soon. I promise."

"He told you to walk away. The computer is more than capable of dealing with this. You need to sleep."

"I'm not tired."

"Working yourself into the Infirmary isn't going to help, you know."

"It wasn't too long ago you were telling me to pull myself together and get back to work."

"You are a woman of extremes, Jadzia. It's not good for you."

"I have to finish this. Please leave me alone."

"Curzon was never this unreasonable."

"No. I was much worse."

The turbolift whined to a halt and Benjamin Sisko stepped off, fresh and alert from a night's sleep which she had denied herself. He walked straight to her console and glared at her, taking in her disheveled uniform, the bags shadowing her eyes, the exhausted slump in her posture, "My office, Old Man. Now."

And he turned away, taking the steps up to the command room two at a time. The doors hissed open and he stood back and waited for her.

Jadzia sighed and hit the save button. It was going to be a long day.

He waited until the doors were closed and she was at attention in front of his desk before he laid into her, "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?!"

She stared straight ahead, recognizing the unshakable fury in his voice and knowing from two lifetimes of experience that aloof detachment was liable to get her into more trouble. They were Captain and Commander now and she had just jumped well over the line of acceptable behaviour, "I'm sorry, Captain, I got caught up in my work."

He was at her side now, glaring Sergeant Major-like at her profile, daring her to meet his eye, "I don't buy that, Dax. An hour or two I could accept, but you've been in Ops for twenty six hours. What are you playing at?"

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye and let her head drop ever so slightly. She could no more lie to this man than she could tell the stars to stop shining, "I wanted to re-check the computer data on the accident. I thought I could speed the process up a little."

Sisko stepped in front of her, forcing her to look at him, "I gave you a direct order!"

She closed her eyes, her voice small, "I know and I'm sorry."

The sight of this usually self-confident woman standing before him in lost silence like a frightened schoolgirl took some of the fight out of him and he walked to his chair and sat down, "You know, I just put the fear of the devil into young Baskell thanks to you."

She wouldn't look at him, "Martin's a good officer. He'll live."

He leant back, "Yes, he will. But you're putting him through hell at the moment."

This got her attention and her head snapped up, "I've done nothing."

"Haven't you? He and Andrews gave up the chance of a bag of glory to put you on the right track. They thought it would snap you out of this self destruct sequence you're in, but all it's done is push you the other way." He sat up straight, appealing to her, "You're working yourself too hard, Dax. Can't you see that?"

She was glaring at him now, eyes like flint, "That's because I seem to be the only person on this station who wants my friends back!"

She regretted it as soon as she said it, but this was not grade school, she couldn't take it back and the hurt look in Benjamin's eyes would stay with her forever. He looked at her for a long, long moment and when he spoke his voice was hard, "We all want them back, Commander, but we have to be patient. You more than most people should know that the computer cannot process data in the blink of an eye that it doesn't understand. We have to wait."

She had her hands on the desk now, eyes blazing, "We could recreate the accident?"

He was incredulous, "How? How could we recreate the accident, Dax? We're dealing with unknown quantities."

"But you haven't even tried."

His anger rose to match hers and he clenched his fists beneath the table, "And I'm not going to. Dammit, Dax, we don't even know if they're still alive! I won't risk anyone else because your guilty conscience is impatient."

She stepped back, returning to attention, eyes focused on the star-scape behind him, "I'll do it."

There was a lengthy pause and for a moment she thought he would let her go, but when he eventually spoke there was a finality to his voice that made her want to cry, "No you won't." He stood and approached her once more, "You've gone too far, Dax. You're not thinking straight, " he took a deep breath, "As of this moment you are relieved of duty for twenty six hours."

She stared at him, aghast, unable to believe he was really speaking to her, "But, Benjamin…"

"One more word, Commander, and I shall call Doctor Bashir up here and have him make it official. Now get out!"

She stared at him for a long moment then turned on her heel and left.

He watched her until the turbolift disappeared from sight.

*************

Quark leant an elbow on the edge of the bar and smiled his dagger-toothed smile.

He loved shift changes. All those Starfleet and Bajoran officers walking through his doors to wash away the memory of a hard night's work with a glass of synth ale or a bottle of spring wine. All those bars of gold pressed latinum being risked at his dabo wheels or spent on his holosuites. All that profit lining his pockets.

He straightened up and scratched the back of one of his lobes. He just loved shift changes.

A shadow fell across the bar and he looked up into a pair of the bluest eyes he had ever seen. He had been told that the seas on Earth were this blue and he could fully imagine letting himself be swept away to drown in their depths.

He stepped back and took in the complete view. The woman was beautiful and his smile broadened as his lobes began to tingle.

Sweeping red hair cascaded freely down her back dragging his gaze to her goddess of a figure atop legs which should have been declared illegal. She was clad in loose fitting trousers and the tightest of tight blouses, giving the entire bar a generous view of her ample cleavage.

He swallowed and picked up a glass, polishing it casually with the tail of his coat, "Can I help you?"

She perched herself on a bar stool and smiled at him, her eyes sparkling like gems in the half light, "I've been told that you're the one to see about arranging a sale."

He put the glass down and leant forward, allowing his eyes to travel up and down her body in an appreciative arc, "That really depends on what you have to sell."

She reached out and ran one long finger across the bridge of his nose and down the rim of his ear, smiling as he shuddered, "Beauty, Quark. I am offering you a thirty five per cent share in the sale of beauty."

The Ferengi shook his head as he gently pulled her hand away from his ear, kissing it softly, "I'm sorry, but you've been misinformed. I'm a businessman not a pimp."

She laughed, throwing her head back and allowing him a full view of the milky contours of her throat, "Do I look like a whore, Ferengi?"

Quark sighed and patted her hand, "Believe me, my dear, we would be rich within a week." He reached behind the bar and placed a bottle of Earth champagne and two glasses between them, popping the cork with practised ease, "So, how exactly can I earn a forty five per cent share in beauty?"

"Thirty five."

He smiled and poured her a glass of the bubbly liquid, "The day's still young." He handed her one fizzing drink and they toasted each other with the clink of glass on glass, "But you were saying…"

She took a deep swig and put the glass on the bar, reaching into her pocket and placing a fist sized bag before him, "Open it."

Quark eyes her cautiously, "It's not going to bite me, is it?"

"I doubt it."

He cracked his knuckles and slowly pulled the drawstring on the bag, pushing the fabric down to reveal the most beautiful gemstone he had ever seen. It was about as long as his thumb and twice as deep, its precisely cut contours reflecting the lights in the bar in ways he had previously only imagined. It was of the deepest green he had ever seen, the colour seeming to swim in gentle spirals like smoke caught in crystal as he watched. His eyes lit up and he licked his lips and automatically began to calculate its value.

The woman gave a gentle cough and he reigned in his enthusiasm to give her a nonchalant shrug, "It's very nice. I could probably have it moulded for pendants…"

"Pendants…"

He sighed apologetically, "Bajor is rich in pretty stones, my dear."

She leant forward again, letting her fingers renew their caressing of his ear, "But this is not from Bajor." With a flick of the wrist there was a knife in her hand, its blade pressed hard against his throat, "And I do not like being taken for a fool, Ferengi."

Quark gave a squeak of terror and raised his hands in defeat, "There's no need for unpleasantness. I misjudged you. I'm sorry." He clamped his wrists together in the Ferengi pose of subjugation, his voice raising an octave in panic, "I'm a businessman. You can't blame me for trying."

The knife stayed where it was and her blue eyes held his, "Maybe not. But remember this - that was your one and only chance. Cross me again and I will sell your remains to the Founders to feed to the Jem'hadar."

He swallowed and tried to nod without slitting his own throat, "Okay. I understand. Let's do business."

With another deft flick of the wrist, the knife disappeared as fast as it had appeared and the woman picked up her glass and took a smiling sip at the contents.

Quark let out a sigh of relief. He really would have to start watching women's faces and ignoring their chests. It was going to get him killed one day.

**************

The session with Bashir - which the Doctor had insisted on calling "an informal chat" - had gone better than Baskell had hoped. He had poured out his heart to the man, telling him things he thought he could never discuss with anyone, and he felt great. The tightening in his chest whenever he thought of his wife told him that he still had a long way to go, but at least he hadn't cried. There had been enough tears.

He wasn't due back in Ops for a couple of hours. A celebration was definitely called for. He spotted Colonel Kladzi striding towards a turbolift and knew in an instant who would be in need of some friendly company. After a quick stop at the Replimat, he went in search of Andrews.

The doors to Security were locked and tinted for privacy when he approached, his hands warming rapidly against the two raktajinos he was carrying; and no-one was answering the chime.

He gave the doors a kick, "Come on, Jill, break time."

They remained obstinately closed and he kicked them again, the coffee sloshing over the rim of the mugs and burning his hands. He gritted his teeth and called, "Andrews, I'm trying to be a knight in shining armour here and these second degree burns are somewhat spoiling the picture."

The doors hissed open and he darted in, almost dropping the mugs onto the desk, "About time." He popped a scalded finger into his mouth and examined the burns that were barely there with an expression of wounded pride, "Sir Lancelot was never treated this way…"

He tailed off at the sight of the room. The floor was littered with data padds, both chairs were overturned and there was a splintered crack along the row of observation monitors which lined the back wall. He stepped behind the desk and saw Jill Andrews sitting cross legged under the table, her normally placid face black as thunder, her eyes staring straight ahead as she held her clenched fists before her - an explosion of fury kept in check.

He sat down next to her, "What happened?"

Her voice was quiet and far too calm, "I broke the security office."

He looked around at the debris once more, "You certainly did. Would you like to tell me why you broke the security office?"

She looked at him, "Are you going to report me?"

"Who to? You're Chief of Security now. Will you give yourself a strict talking to or does this warrant a stint in custody?"

Without warning she slammed her fists into the floor, shot out from beneath the table and started to pace furiously back and forth, her feet cracking on the fallen data padds. Martin followed at a more sedate pace and did his best to stay out of her way. After completing a few lengths of the room she turned to face him, eyes blazing, knuckles white as her nails dug into the palms of her hands, "It's that… that… imbecile Kladzi!"

He nodded, "I had a feeling it might be."

If she heard him, she didn't show it, "I've served a term and a half with Odo. I've learned everything he had to teach me and he says I'm good. Captain Sisko says I'm good. Hell, even you say I'm good. But that Colonel won't even give me a fair hearing." She dragged her hands through her hair, eyes wide, "And I can't help asking myself, what if he's right, Martin?"

"What do you mean?"

He saw a flicker of doubt creep into her eyes, "He goes on and on about what it was like in the resistance, about how you have to gain wisdom and earn respect on the battlefield. How can I do my job if the second in command has no respect for me? If he thinks that way, what do the others think?"

"What others?"

She waved her hands vaguely, "The others! The engineers, the cargo workers, the enlisted men," she was beginning to shout now, "The people who drink at Quark's, for God's sake! They must be having a field day with this." She glared up at him as he pushed away from the table and approached her, "What kind of deals are they making behind my back, Martin? How many people are laughing at me? What are they…"

His hand shot out and slapped her sharply across the face and she stared at him in open mouthed shock. He regarded her impassively, "Are you finished?"

She held a hand to her stinging cheek, "You hit me!"

"Oh, barely. Don't make such a fuss." He stepped away from her and turned over one of the chairs, taking her arm and making her sit down, "Drink your coffee and then we'll tidy this place up."

Jill took a tentative sip of the raktajino and looked across at Martin as he righted the other chair and sank into it with a sigh, "I'm sorry."

He reached out and took his mug from the desk, "For what?"

"I haven't even asked how your counseling session went."

Baskell cradled the mug between his hands and breathed in the heady aroma, "He's a good Doctor. We made a start and I'm to go back next week" The hurt was still there and the wounds still sore. He had no desire to go over this ground again today and deliberately changed the subject, "So, apart from the fact that he's arrogant, pig-headed and uncaring, why don't you and the new Colonel see eye to eye?"

She shrugged, "I can't do my job with him around." Baskell saw a flicker of fury enter her eyes, "The station is crawling with mercenaries and he has me holed up in my office, lecturing me on not letting children play near the airlocks!" She raised her arms in despair, almost losing the raktajino down the front of her uniform, "The man is supposed to be a Colonel. You'd think he would have learned to prioritize."

"Have you mentioned any of this to Sisko?"

She glared at him, "What is this? Every time I have a problem you tell me to go to Sisko. He's got enough problems without his Security Chief running to him whenever things get rough." She scowled and lifted the mug to her lips, "Besides, I don't think the Captain likes Kladzi any more than I do."

Baskell chuckled, "He's not exactly making a lot of friends."

Jill drained the mug and placed it on the desk, "None that matter, anyway. He seems to have a soft spot for Ferengi and anyone who calls him 'sir'." She reached out and keyed her console, spinning her chair to face the row of monitors along the back wall. Only one of them put up any kind of a picture, out of focus and fuzzy around the splintered glass. Through the haze of interference Martin could just make out Quark's bar before the monitor sparked noisily and the image vanished completely. Jill cursed softly, "I'll have to get that fixed first."

"Well, if it helps, last I heard the bar was full of salvage hunters."

She gave an unbecoming snort, "I know, I can smell them."

He watched as she keyed into her computer and re-arranged the security patrols to give extra attention to the Ferengi's bar. He was used to seeing Andrews engrossed in her work - it was one of her career attributes. He was not used to the furrow in her brow and the suppressed panic in her eyes. He prepared himself for an explosion as he broke the next piece of news, "And Quark has been telling everyone you're a force to be reckoned with and not to go getting any smart ideas."

Her head snapped up in disbelief, "He's what?!"

"He's only trying to help."

The panic was there again, fluttering just beneath the surface like a trapped bird, "Oh, sure he is! He's giving me a reputation I can never live up to."

Martin leant over and squeezed her hand, "Of course you can."

"I should go and arrest him."

He gave a choked laugh, "On what charge - being nice to the Chief of Security?"

"It was one of Odo's first rules - no matter what the provocation, never trust Quark."

"Oh, come on!"

She turned on him, eyes wide, "No, I mean it - he used to say that justice balanced itself out in the end and we were to lock him up at the first opportunity. It may have seemed harsh, but you could guarantee he had already gotten away with something much worse."

Martin leant back and shook his head, not sure whether to be amused or concerned, "No wonder he's always on his toes."

Andrews left her chair and knelt to pick up the fallen data padds, "Not for much longer."

He joined her, hoping that the information on the shattered equipment was retrievable, "What do you mean?"

"I told you - Kladzi likes him. He thinks he's an asset to the station."

Martin shrugged and handed her a bundle of undamaged padds, "It takes all sorts…"

"You think? With Kladzi on his side we may as well give him a level nine security clearance and free run of the station."

"Come on, Jill. You're in charge of security matters, not Kladzi."

She dropped the padds onto the desk, her voice rising in frustration, "It's not like I even wanted this job."

"Then why did you take it?"

"Because I couldn't stand the thought of some-one else doing it wrong."

Baskell let an armful of padds clatter to the deck, "My God, did I just hear Jill Andrews own up to having confidence in her own abilities?"

She smiled and stuck out her tongue, appreciating what he was trying to do, then shook her head, "Give me a week of being lectured by the mighty Colonel and I won't even be able to spell self confidence."

"You'll be fine."

"I wish I had your…" The comm. channel beeped and she slapped it in frustration, "What is it?"

The precise calm in the voice of her new second in command, Ensign Serrat, pulled her back from the edge of a fury she had no use for, "We require security at airlock five."

"What's the problem?"

There was a hint of distaste to the Vulcan's tone, "We have a brawl in progress amongst the Packleds."

Jill exchanged an incredulous look with Martin, "The Packleds?"

"Affirmative. Apparently only one of them has learnt how to open the airlock on their ship and they cannot recall which of them it is."

"On my way."

Martin laughed silently, delighting in the glare she shot at him as she holstered her phaser and ordered a team to the Packled ship, "Need any help, Chief?"

She scowled and tossed a data padd onto the desk, "You can finish clearing up in here if you like." At his mock salute, she sighed and headed for the door, "I wish Odo were here. At least he gave me a little respect."

****************

Chapter Five