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Staggering Stories Podcast #278: Festive Fools
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 17 Dec 2017 09:38

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Crumbly, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the Big Finish Doctor Who boxset ‘The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Vol. 2’ and the recent partly animated Doctor Who: Shada, play some festive games, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #206: Babylon 5 – Movements of Fire and Shadow
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 10 Dec 2017 10:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, detecting, in front of the Season 5 Babylon 5 episode ‘Movements of Fire and Shadow’, and spout our usual nonsense! Lyta and Dr. Franklin have their investigating feet on, Mollari is keeping himself locked up and Delenn prangs her Whitestar. But enough of their […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #277: Make the Sanest Listener Go Mad
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the likes of Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Dark Eyes, Star Trek Discovery and Red Dwarf XII, play a game, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:30 […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #205: Doctor Who – The Lie of the Land
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 26 Nov 2017 10:17

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, broadcasting, in front of the 2017 Doctor Who S10 episode, ‘The Lie of the Land’, and spout our usual nonsense! The Doctor has become a TV presenter, Bill is still fixated on a dead woman and the Monks have given up on VR entirely. […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #276: Whittaker Calling Orson
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 19 Nov 2017 09:15

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith and the Real Keith Dunn discuss Doctor Who subjects such as the Thirteenth Doctor’s costume, the 60s and 70s composer Dudley Simpson and director Paddy Russell, review the second season of Stranger Things, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #204: Babylon 5 – And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, inquiring, in front of the Season 5 Babylon 5 episode ‘And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder’, and spout our usual nonsense! Mollari is feeling left out, Lennier has some hot footage and G’Kar wants to guard Londo’s body. But enough of their problems, please […]

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Six

Written by Karen Dunn


Marius was screaming at them again and O'Brien had to concentrate to take in what he was saying. After Kira had been dragged away from him at the Arena, things had happened quickly. He had expected to be pulled from the cell and made to take his turn in battle, knowing full well he could no more perform for their self appointed masters than she could. Instead, the door had remained firmly closed and he and Jhemor had listened in hushed anticipation as a melee of raised voices bayed for blood. He thought he heard Kira call to him but could not be sure. Then the door was thrown open and they were forced outside to stand with the other prisoners in the middle of the Arena.

The amphitheatre was emptying rapidly, the well dressed spectators dispersing in huddles of twos and threes, grumbling amongst themselves and casting angry glances at the gathered inmates. As he took his place in line, O'Brien felt Jhemor nudging up to him in a vain attempt to hide, to feel safe. He placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and held him steady, "Keep it together, son."

Soon the last of the merchants had left and a nervous hush fell over the prisoners. From somewhere in the distance they could hear shouting, two, maybe three voices arguing back and forth. And then Marius was in front of them, his face blazing in anger, the dagger still clenched in his whitening knuckles.

He paced up and down like a caged tiger, every sinew in his body standing out as he fought with his fury, before kicking a huge scuff of sand into the air and screaming, "This has never happened before. Never!"

His flaming eyes sought out O'Brien and he stalked forward and thrust the dagger under his nose, "You planned it between you, didn't you?"

O'Brien held his gaze, his voice steady, "We planned nothing."

The dagger disappeared and Marius was in his face, "Liar!"

"I'm not a liar."

Heavy fists gripped the front of his tunic and dragged him closer to the seething overseer, "Don't contradict me!"

O'Brien braced himself for a battering that never came as a cruel scowl spread across Marius' face and he pushed the Chief away, "Not that it matters anymore. You were all told the penalty for breaking the rules; and she broke them in a big way."

"What have you done with her?"

"Nothing she didn't deserve."

O'Brien felt his temper fraying at the edges as his fists clenched in fury, "What have you done to her?!"

Marius stepped close again, his voice almost calm, "Don't raise your voice to me, prisoner."

As a boy, Miles' mother had often warned him that his temper would get him into trouble one day. The usual laid back joviality that everyone on DS9 would recognise was peppered at the time with the bouts of door slamming and picked fights that encroach on a many a youth during adolescence. As the years passed, they became more and more controlled until losing his temper - really losing his temper - was a once in a blue moon occurrence.

He would have to be pushed too hard and too far: and right now Marius was pushing.

Before he knew what he was doing, O'Brien had the man by the front of the shirt, his moon face reddening, "Where is my friend, Dammit!"

He was pulled off almost immediately by rough handed guards who threw him to the ground and stamped on him, before Marius waved them away and crouched next to him, hissing in his ear, "Your friend is perfectly safe, prisoner. You'll see her again."

O'Brien spat out a mouthful of dust and glared up at him, "When?"

"Soon enough." He reached out and pulled him to his feet, not letting go of his tunic as the anger re-ignited in his eyes, "And if you ever touch me again, you'll get a taste of what she has coming." And he slammed his fist into the Irishman's stomach, sneering as he collapsed to his knees once more.

One of the guards walked haltingly up to Marius and tapped him on the shoulder, "Sir?"

He spun on him with a look of death, "What?!"

The man quaked, "Sorry, sir, it's just…"

The most arrogant voice O'Brien had ever heard cut through the air, "It's just that we are waiting to speak with you."

For just a second a look of fear played across the overseer's face as he turned towards the newcomers. There were two of them, both men, both clad in finery the gathered prisoners could only dream of owning. The speaker was tall and slender, his hair receding in a graceful widow's peak, his steel gray eyes ice cold. His companion was shorter but no less well groomed, his muscle tone more defined than his skinny companion. He was taking dainty bites at a piece of fruit as he walked, seemingly more intent on his snack than on the people before him. O'Brien recalled seeing them briefly as he first entered the Arena, perched atop fine chairs overlooking the stadium, like some kind of ancient Roman Emperors.

They carried themselves with dignity - too much dignity - as they approached. Small steps gave them a casual air, whilst they peered down their noses at all around them as if offended by some bad smell. They held their cloaks across one arm, keeping them clear of the dust, and stopped just short of the overseer.

Marius bowed low, "Sirs, I assure you…"

The taller of the two waved a hand, silencing him, "I had wagered a large amount of money on the outcome of that bout, Marius."

"Yes, sir…"

"My Grandfather recalls often the tales of the last deviant we had at Caspii, but I never really believed them to be true."

"There haven't been many, Lord."

The man gave him the hardest of stares, "No. Which is why this bout attracted so much attention."

Marius swallowed and shifted his feet, "Sir, if you would allow me to…"

The smaller man finished the last of the fruit and threw the core in the dust, wiping his hands on his cloak, "No excuses, Marius. Your deviant displayed abject cowardice and a blatant disregard for the honour of the games. As overseer you are to be held accountable."

"But…"

A scowl of contempt marred the lofty features, "Accept your responsibilities, man! Cowardice and incompetence will not be tolerated."

Marius' voice was steady, though the anger was plain to see as it simmered beneath the surface, "In ten years, my competence has never been brought into question."

The taller man stamped his foot like a child having a tantrum, "Well, we question it now!"

Marius bowed again, "Lord…"

The man smiled, his temper in check when he realised he was not going to be argued with. His expression was smug, like a schoolboy who had successfully bullied his way to the head of the lunch queue without attracting the attention of the teachers, "We expect an immediate improvement in your performance, Marius. Your fee for this…this farce has been withheld to cover our losses."

"I understand."

He yawned, bored, "You will, of course, arrange the relevant entertainment for tomorrow morning."

For the first time, Marius smiled, "I am seeing to it personally, Lord."

"I'm sure you are."

Without another word they turned and left the Arena.

O'Brien watched warily as Marius fought to keep his anger in check, knowing that now, with his pride wounded, he was at his most dangerous. But when the overseer finally spoke it was in almost level tones to one of the guards, "Get them back inside and feed them. I have business to attend to."

And he stalked off after the merchants.

Small hands helped O'Brien to his feet and he looked into Jhemor's frightened face, "They're going to hang her, Mr 'Brien."

"What?"

Jhemor bit his lip to hold back the tears, "That's what they do."

**********

Marius had not returned by the time the prisoners were herded into the dining hall and served a plate of something at which O'Brien suspected Worf would turn up his nose. He was sitting opposite Jhemor at the end of one of the three banquet length tables as they both wolfed down their first proper meal in days.

A shadow fell across the table and he looked up into the battered face of Katalia, the woman Kira had defeated in the Arena. She placed her plate opposite his and sat down, uninvited, "Can I speak with you, O'Brien?"

He barely acknowledged her, "I've nothing to say to you."

She reached out with one big hand and held his wrist, preventing him from eating, "What happened was not my fault."

He shook her off and scooped up another spoonful of the obnoxious food, "You seemed to enjoy it."

Katalia shuffled, uncomfortable and turned to Jhemor, "Go and get a pitcher of water, boy. And take your time over it."

Jhemor swallowed and looked to O'Brien, "Mr 'Brien..?"

He nodded briefly, "Go ahead, son." And Jhemor wandered away.

Katalia took a large spoonful of her own food, "I was fighting for my life."

"So was she."

She leant forward with a hiss of impatience, "I've no time for this, little man. Do you want the deviant to live or not?"

"What?"

She looked around cautiously, satisfying herself that no guards were within earshot, "We're getting out of here."

"We?"

"All of us."

O'Brien looked at her, "When?"

"Tomorrow. The execution will be perfect cover."

He dropped the spoon and glared at her in amazement, "Perfect cover?!"

She gripped his arm and squeezed, eyes blazing, "Keep your voice down!"

Aware that one of the guards had glanced their way, he picked up the spoon and carried on eating, his voice a harsh whisper, "I thought you asked me whether I wanted her to live!"

Katalia prodded unenthusiastically at her own plate, "She'll live. They'll be too busy trying to catch the rest of us to worry about her."

"All right. Suppose we do get out. Where would we go? A hundred or so people all running through the prison gates is going to look a little suspicious…"

"We have friends on the outside."

"Friends…okay." He paused then leant further forward, "Look, I'll level with you. Kira and I are here through no fault of our own, but what about the rest of you? I have a real problem with endangering innocent lives…"

Her face was a picture in incredulity, "You really are new to the area, aren't you? Caspii is a prison for the innocent. Hadn't you figured that out yet?"

"Innocent? But…"

She waved a hand at the huddled group eating at the next table, a mixture of fear and sorrow as they forced down food not fit for swine, "Look around you, O'Brien. Look at them. Do you see the faces of criminals? Does Jhemor look like a criminal to you?"

"No."

"We're all deviants here, O'Brien, in our own ways. But if your Kira is a deviant in body, we are deviants up here." She tapped her head, "In our minds."

He frowned, "I don't understand."

She was becoming impatient, "What is it with you? Everyone knows what happens if you cross the merchants. Everyone."

"Well I don't"

"Our civilisation has survived for close to two thousand years." She raised a sarcastic eyebrow, "You knew that, I take it?"

He feigned an equally sarcastic stance as he took in as much information as she was willing to give, "Of course."

She clenched her fists in frustration, willing him to see the point she was trying to make, "Well, there's the problem. We've survived. We haven't flourished, we haven't progressed. We've rolled along in our little rut with no sign of getting out."

He shrugged as he tried to fit together the minimal patchy knowledge he had of this world, "We seem to be doing okay."

"But we could be doing better." She hadn't meant to raise her voice and O'Brien saw a touch of panic cross her face as the guard walked towards them.

The man leant over her, "Is one beating a day not enough for you?"

She kept her eyes down, "I'm sorry."

"Keep your mouth shut, Katalia, or you'll be back in the Arena…" he grinned, "…facing me."

She lowered her head submissively and the guard swaggered away to bully someone else. Sure, once more, that they were unobserved, Katalia leant back towards O'Brien, "You must have heard the rumours."

"What rumours?"

"The wonders. I heard that the merchants light their palaces with the power of the sun."

He gave a short laugh, "Don't we all?"

She hissed in frustration, "But they store the light and use it at night. And I heard they have carriages that don't need beasts to pull them. "

Alarm bells began to ring in O'Brien's head. How could people from a basically mediaeval civilisation even visualise concepts like solar energy and powered vehicles? He mimicked a look of disbelief, "They're just stories." And he raised the spoon to his mouth once more.

She reached out again and stopped him, her grip like iron that bruised his wrist, "If they're just stories, why was I thrown in here for telling them? Why is everyone who has a bad word to say about them arrested? What are they trying to hide?"

She was getting a little too loud again and he knew the guards were short on patience. He held up his free hand to calm her down, "Even if you're right. How are you going to prove it?"

She smiled, seeing in him an ally for the first time, and released him, "We have to get out first. The rest will happen."

He snorted, "I admire your confidence."

She let it ride, "Will you join us, O'Brien?"

He glanced over towards the other side of the room where a small figure was watching them in wide eyed anticipation, a large pitcher of water clutched to his chest, "What about Jhemor?"

She shrugged, "He's a half wit."

O'Brien's voice was steady, "He's my friend."

"Bring him, then." She got to her feet, picking up her plate, "But he is your responsibility."

"You're all heart. What do we do?"

She studied him for a moment, "You do nothing until the execution. Then you get your deviant friend and you run like hell."

**********

Kira hit the cell floor hard and lay still, catching her breath. Every muscle in her body ached and the bridge of her nose was tender. She sniffed and ran a tentative hand across her face, moaning softly when it came away bloody.

Her guard knelt next to her and tipped her chin upwards with a short laugh, "You think that hurts, deviant? Well you wait until the morning."

She swallowed, "The morning?"

He nodded with cruel enthusiasm, "They hang you in the morning. The merchants don't like to be crossed. Didn't you know that?"

The door slammed shut as he left, plunging her into a barely half light and for the first time in a long while Kira Nerys was afraid. Not of dying or anything as basic as that, not even of the things her imagination told her they would do to her before they killed her. She was a member of the Shakaar, scourge of every Cardassian in the Alpha Quadrant and she was used to death and all her charming ways.

It was the fact that she had failed that scared her the most.

She had failed in her command of the simplest of missions and now the last surviving member of her crew was doomed to live out the rest of his life as a slave to the most primitive of regimes. His children would never see him again, never know what had befallen him and his wife would cry herself to sleep at night in mourning for a lost love.

All because of her.

Her common sense told her that she was not to blame, that there was nothing she could have done; but in her head she could hear Sisko's voice as he stiffly informed her that a commanding officer is responsible for everything that happens on his or her watch, his or her ship, his or her mission.

He was the Emissary and his voice was a lot louder than hers. Somewhere deep down she believed that he could solve anything, make anything right. When he was around she knew that the good guys would win. As soon as they worked out who the good guys were.

Kira was a strong woman who could take care of herself, but now she wished more than anything that Sisko would show up. That he would break down the door and take her home where she could worry about Cardassians and Jem'Hadar and Klingons and all the normal things people worry about. Where she would be in control.

She pulled herself to her feet and shuffled back against the wall, wiping her still bleeding nose on the sleeve of her tunic as she took a long look at the cell around her.

Cell, she decided, was too grand a word for the pit she had been thrown into. The walls were made of block after block of crudely carved stone, damp with mildew and musty with age; and the ceiling was so high she could barely make it out. There were no windows and one door with the smallest of grilled off holes offering her only view of the outside world. There was no bed, no chair, nothing.

A memory rose unbidden of times gone by. Of being fourteen years old and huddling up against Lupaza for almost four days in a room very like this one. Of asking in a small voice whether the Cardassians had forgotten about them, had left them to starve. Of being almost eagerly grateful when the door opened on the fifth day and Gul Perell himself had stepped inside.

By the sixth day, she was wishing for solitude once more and had lost all fear of death. If you were dead, they couldn't hurt you. And then Furel had shown up like the knights in shining armour from Earth legend that Dax insisted on recreating in the holosuites And he had taken them home.

And there was the difference. There was the reason she was so afraid. On Bajor, no matter how bleak things seemed, no matter how much the Cardassians tightened their grip, there was always the chance that her friends would come for her. There was always hope.

Now Furel and Lupaza were dead, Odo was gone and the Emissary was nowhere to be seen. There would be no last minute rescue. No arrows shot from golden bows to snap the rope around her neck. Dax's knights in shining armour were the stuff of fairy tales her parents had never told her.

Tears welled up in her eyes and with a cry of rage and frustration, she slapped her hand against the wall, blinking them away. She would not lay back and takes this. She was a Shakaar, for Prophet's sake. She would find a way out of this or go down fighting; and she would not make it easy for them. If they wanted to play the waiting game, she would beat them. Patience was an old friend and it was easy to get reacquainted.

*****

As it turned out, she didn't have to wait long.

She had been standing stock still, glaring at the door, stoking the fire within herself for perhaps fifteen minutes when Marius slammed into the cell. His face was flushed as he stalked up to her, "They called me a coward, deviant. They called me incompetent!" He backhanded her across the face, scowling when she didn't fall, "They took my dignity and my money because of you. And you stand there…" His anger boiled over as he ran out of words and he lurched towards her, fists clenched.

Kira stood her ground and pulled herself up to her full height, looking him in the eye, her tone one of casual mockery, "Your masters won't be too pleased if I fail to show up for my own execution. Are you going to risk another dressing down just for the pleasure of watching me bleed?" She let her gaze travel to his toes and back again as if she were eyeing up a piece of meat, "Are you that much of a sadist?"

He glared at her back as she turned away from him, "After what you've done, no-one is going to care what condition you're in." With one more stride he was behind her, rough hands spinning her to face him then reaching for her throat with a sharp squeeze, "As long as you've got a neck to stretch, they'll be happy."

She pulled away from him with a look of pure contempt, her head spinning as her body screamed at her to rest, "I've met men like you before, Marius, sad little strutting bullies who think a bit of power gives them the right to hurt people. I'll give you some advice - forget it. You don't scare me."

He was watching her closely. Everything from the blood on her tunic to the pain filled hitch in her steps as she turned her back on him for the second time told him that she was lying. She was terrified. It was as clear as day and he would enjoy making her admit it, "Is that a challenge, deviant?"

To his fury she laughed, actually turned and laughed in his face. The first genuine, unrehearsed emotion he had seen her express since he had dragged her out of the Arena, and it was thrown at him in mockery, "They're going to kill me in a few hours. What the hell else do I have to be scared of?" He expected further anger from her, could have coped with anger, could have knocked it out of her with a vengeance. Instead she backed up against the wall with a sigh, eyes raised and gazing to the heavens as if searching for an answer that wasn't there. It was as if the fight had drained out of her, "There's nothing more you can do to me. Just go away and leave me alone."

He could almost feel sorry for her as she let the wall take her weight, fighting not to show weakness in front of him. He rarely got to see such strength from the most promising of male prisoners, let alone a scrap of a female deviant. For a fraction of a second he considered letting her go, relishing the challenge of training her for further bouts in the Arena, further coins lining his pockets. Then he remembered the sneering contempt on the faces of the merchants as they accused him of cowardice and incompetence and all pity was dashed from his mind. She was a deviant, nothing more, and she would break to his will. He crossed the cell towards her, his mind made up, "Yes there is."

And then he smiled.

Realising his intent, she fought him with the last reserves of her strength, but bravado and self delusion were not enough to protect her. Her injuries had weakened her just as his humiliation and anger fueled him, and when he left the cell, his obnoxious face twisted in a smirk, they both knew that he had won.

**********

For two hours she felt nothing. Refused to feel anything. Refused to think about the pain she was in, knowing that if she did, she would have to acknowledge what he had done.

And she wasn't ready to do that. Not just yet.

She was curled up in a corner on the hard stone floor, exactly where he had left her, but in her head she was back on Bajor. Back in the Cardassian interrogation Centre with Shakaar and Lupaza. She tried to remember the tricks she had been taught to keep her sanity in check. Tried to call on all the old training, all the old ways which would keep her alive to fight another day.

But none of them were working. Despite all the promises she had made to herself, all the fight she had built up within, all she could do was lay still and wish it away.

It didn't matter, though, because any minute now, Furel would break down the door and cut her bonds and carry her to safety with his one good arm; the bloody stump of the other dangling useless at his side as he gritted his teeth and cursed the Prophets in language she was far too young to hear.

Any minute now…

The door opened, a shaft of light cutting into her half open eyes as she pushed herself further into the corner in an instinctive attempt to hide from danger.

She couldn't make out any details of the figure that stepped into her cell, but she knew it was Furel and promised herself she would not cry in front of him like she had before.

The figure paused as its eyes adjusted to the gloom, then walked slowly towards her and knelt down, placing a plate of bread and a pitcher of water on the ground. Behind it, the silhouetted bulk of the guard loitered in the doorway, his sword glinting in the half light.

She peered up at the person crouched before her. It was not Furel, and she squeezed her eyes tight shut against the treacherous tears that threatened to spill as her last hope of rescue evapourated like the stuff of dreams it had always been.

"Listen to me…"

She barely heard the urgent whisper through the clouds of despair.

"Deviant. Listen to me."

She opened her eyes and scowled despite herself, "I'm not a deviant…"

The figure leant closer and Kira could make out sky blue eyes set deep in a pretty face. The woman was perhaps a little younger than she, though her dark hair was flecked with gray, "To them you are."

"Leave me alone."

The woman touched her arm, "Stay awake tonight."

Kira peered up at her through swollen eyes, "What?"

"If you want to live you'll stay awake tonight."

"Why?"

The guard stepped into the room and beckoned impatiently, his gravel voice echoing in the empty cell, "She can feed herself, woman. Out!"

The woman began to rise, making a show of handing Kira a slab of bread, "You'll know when it happens. Don't give up."

Then she turned and hurried away.

The guard closed the door behind her and Kira was alone once more. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, leaning hard against the wall as she fought off a wave of dizziness. Things outside were obviously about to take a turn.

Perhaps there was hope after all.

*****

The sun had virtually gone down as Odo and Lars approached the town, their horses' breath clouding in short puffs as the temperature dropped. The journey had taken almost three hours, the first two having seen Odo gripping on to his mount with hands and knees, hanging on desperately as the creature trotted onwards; and the sight of the gentle flames of the town lights was an immense relief to him. By the time the horses clip-clopped over the cobbles and came to a halt outside a tavern, he was in danger of Linking with the creature, his grip was that tight; and he all but fell from the saddle as Lars tethered the reins to a post. The farmer grinned at him, "So, you're no rider, either? How ever have you managed in the past?"

Odo grimaced and allowed his pseudo-legs to ripple gently in the almost dark as the tension finally began to dissipate, "I walked. A lot."

A roar of laughter came through the closed tavern door as some-one inside managed to amuse the drunken patrons and Lars studied his new friend's all too deviant-like face with a thoughtful frown. He reached into his saddle bag and pulling out a soft bundle. He shook it out and Odo saw that it was a knee length cloak made of a rough hessian with a large cowl hanging down the back. Lars handed it to him, "Put this on."

Odo shook his head, "There's no need. I can form clothing as and when required." He held out his hands and, with a shimmer of amber substance, was wearing gloves.

The farmer paled and took an involuntary step back, "Forgive me, Odo, but I don't think I'm quite ready to see that."

The Changeling snorted and allowed the gloves to melt away, before taking the cloak and fastening it around his throat. The hood was capacious and flopped down over his face, obscuring it from view whilst still allowing him to see.

Lars nodded in satisfaction and lead the way to the tavern. As they reached the door he touched Odo's arm, "Stay close to me and keep quiet."

"Understood."

He pushed open the heavy wooden door and went in, the Constable pulling the itching cloak close around his head as he followed.

The bar was alive; a tortured crescendo of smells writhing on a bed of smoke and alcohol. Bawdy men and painted women swayed in and out of tables swimming in cheap beer. It was a sight familiar to every planet in the galaxy, Odo mused. No matter how advanced or how primitive a culture, a back street bar was a back street bar.

He looked up from beneath his hood as a large bald headed man stepped in front of them with a scowl of welcome. And a barman was a barman. He braced himself to run as the laughter and conversation in the tavern ended as if switched off at the mains. Lars was standing his ground, his eyes locked with those of the giant before them and Odo wondered briefly whether the smaller man had lost his mind. The barman took a menacing step forward, clamped a shovel of a hand down on the farmer's shoulder.

And smiled, "Lars! She finally lifted the thumb, did she?!"

Odo let out a breath he didn't need to hold in the first place as Lars shook hands with the barman, "Detrius. It's been a while."

The big man pulled him into a bear hug which lifted him off the ground, "It's been a year old friend. How is Rissa?"

Lars wriggled free and dropped to the floor, laughing and gasping for breath, "She's well."

"And the young ones?"

"Flourishing."

Detrius turned to Odo and peered at his shadowed face, unable to make out any details, "And who's your friend?"

"This is Odo. He's been helping out with the harvest."

Detrius chuckled, "Darriel still not taller than that scythe?"

"Not yet."

He clapped Odo on the shoulder with a hearty laugh, "I wouldn't count on any work next year, Odo. The boy is trying to think himself taller."

With the newcomers accepted, the sounds of bar life started up again and Odo found a lethal looking jar of frothy ale thrust into his hand. He eyed it cautiously before taking an obligatory sip, drawing the liquid deep into himself for disposal later. He followed Lars and Detrius to a small table by the window and perched on the edge of his seat, cradling the jar to his chest.

Detrius took a deep drag at his ale, wiping off his beer head moustache, "I hear you had trouble with a deviant last night."

Lars looked up from his own jar, "Some. He slept in the barn."

"You let it stay?"

He shrugged, "You never know how these creatures are going to behave." Detrius frowned and Lars put his drink on the table and looked at him, "I had my family to think of."

The barman nodded, "I suppose so. Where is it now?"

"He left at sunrise. Hopefully that's the last we'll see of him."

Detrius leant back in his chair with a heavy sigh and a shake of the head, "Two in one week…it must be an omen."

Odo's head shot up as he began paying attention for the first time. Two in one week? Lars, though, was all peasant superstition, "An omen?"

Detrius shuffled forward drawing the two of them into a conspiratorial circle, "They say that the last deviant to be held at Caspii brought a plague that nearly wiped out the whole town."

Lars drained his glass in one, determined to move the conversation onto safer ground, "Well, he's gone now. And he's taken his plague with him."

"I'm talking about the woman.?"

Odo looked closely at him, itching for him to talk faster, "What woman?"

"Haven't you been listening, friend? They've got another deviant locked in the prison. She sabotaged the games and Marius has had to cover the merchants' losses out of his own pocket."

Lars laughed, "Ha! He must have taken that well!"

"Better than usual. He's having her executed at sunrise."

In one swift movement, Odo pushed himself away from the table and bolted for the door, Detrius gazing after him in astonishment.

Lars found him outside, absently stroking the nose of one of the horses, "It must be my friends. I have to get them out."

"Are you mad? Odo, they're in Caspii. No-one gets in or out unless the merchants say so."

The Changeling turned away from his friend, "Which way is it?"

"Odo…"

"Which way?"

Lars sighed, knowing he would never be able to change his mind, and pointed off into the distance, "About two miles down that road, but I'm telling you, you'll never get in."

"I have to try!"

He took Odo by the shoulders and looked at him with deep, earnest eyes, "You will be killed."

"Lars, you've been a good friend. Go home. Go back to your family, I have to do this alone." He pulled the cloak from around his shoulders and handed it to the farmer, but the man shook his head, "Keep it. You may have need of it. You may be able to become anything you wish, but can your friends?"

Odo nodded and draped it back around his shoulders, flipping the hood up to cover his face, "Goodbye, my friend."

Without another word, Odo set off on foot towards the distant lights of Caspii. He didn't look back. Lars watched him go until the night swallowed him from view, then gathered the horses' reins in one hand and turned for home.

**********

Chapter Seven