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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 Seven

Written by Karen Dunn


As the door to her quarters hissed shut behind her, Jadzia Dax picked up an ancient Bajoran statuette and hurled it against the wall, not caring that it shattered into a thousand irreparable pieces.

"Feel better?"

"No!"

"Kira gave you that…"

"I know!"

"How long is this going to go on?"

"How long is what going to go on?"

"Sit down, Jadzia."

"I don't want…"

It wasn't often that a symbiant took forceful control of a host. Their way of life was that of a true partnership. Each knew the other so well that conflict was rare and, on the few occasions that a disagreement did arise, it was considered the height of bad manners for one to deliberately override the other.

It was for that reason that Jadzia allowed herself to sit in shocked silence on the sofa in the middle of her living quarters, having been completely unable to stop her treacherous legs from leading her there.

She felt herself take several deep calming breaths and leant back into the sofa. Dax's voice was soft, "That's better."

She sat bolt upright again, "He had no right to relieve me of duty!"

Dax sighed, "He hadevery right. And if you had had more than three hours sleep in the past few days you would be thinking logically enough to realise that."

"I'm not that tired."

"You've never lied to me before, Jadzia. Don't start now."

She got up of her own free will and walked to the replicator, brow furrowed in thought as she ordered a slice of blood pie and a raktajino, "It's just that I know there's something there, if only I can cut through the interference…"

"I've spent years giving young Benjamin advice. Advice about work, advice about women, advice about life. Some he took, some he didn't, but he knew when I was right.You know that I'm right, too, Jadzia, and you know how much your actions have hurt Benjamin."

Jadzia returned to the sofa, placing her untouched meal on the coffee table before her, "I never meant…" 

"Friendships are shattered because of what people never meant to do…"

For the first time in years, the first time in fact since Curzon Dax had made it his goal in life to break her spirit, Jadzia cried herself to sleep.

**********

Negotiations went on all morning and by the time the lunch time trade rolled in Quark was light by two and a half bottles of Earth champagne. And it was worth every drop. He wasn't sure whether it was the sight of the gemstones and the prospect of acquiring them that was making his lobes tingle, or the beautiful mercenary who was licking her full red lips just inches away from him in a manner she knew would drive him crazy. Either way, a tingle was a tingle and his lobes were never wrong.

This deal would bring him nothing but good fortune.

Bidding had started at twelve bars of gold pressed latinum and he already had her down to eight. If he was any kind of businessman, he would wave her from his bar with the gemstones in one hand and a receipt for three bars in the other, before selling them on at a very tidy profit. He reached out and poured her another glass of champagne, "So, what exactly arethey?"

The woman shrugged over the rim of her glass, licking a stray droplet from her lips as she turned one of the stones over and over in her hand, "Is it important?"

Quark smiled and replenished his own drink, "I won't treat you like an idiot, my dear. Do me the courtesy of returning the favour."

She studied him closely for a moment before glancing round the bar, making sure they were not being watched, "They're Vulcan Blood Stones."

The Ferengi frowned and put the bottle down carefully on the bar, "VulcanBlood Stones?"

"Yes."

He raised his hands nervously, "I'm sorry, lady, but VulcanBlood Stones? Rumour has it they're sacred."

She shrugged again, leaning in close, "To some. Since when has some-one else's religion stood in the way of your profits?" She reached out and stroked his ear tenderly, "I thought you were a Ferengi."

He gently took the stone from her hand, "Oh, I am, my dear, I am. And I make it a rule never to part with latinum until I've thoroughly checked the merchandise." He opened a drawer behind the bar and pulled out a Ferengi tricorder, running the sensor over the stone and frowning at the results, "This is…well, this is…" he looked up at her in bewilderment, "What isthis?"

She smiled, "You tell me."

"The tricorder doesn't recognise it." He smacked his hand against the instrument with an impatient growl, "it can't even make a close comparison with any known mineral."

"Really?"

He dropped the tricorder back into the drawer and held up the stone to examine it closer, "These are not Vulcan Blood Stones."

She picked up another of the gems and rolled it between finger and thumb, "Probably not."

He took the gem from her and returned it to the bag with the others, pulling the drawstring tight and sliding it across the bar towards her, "Then why would I pay eight bars of latinum to acquire them?"

She pushed the bag back to him with a sigh, "Because you want to know what they are. Because you enjoy the thrill of the unknown…"

He shook his head and pushed it right back, "Not that much, I don't."

She took his hand and devoured him with her eyes, closing his unresisting fingers around the pouch of gems and breathing huskily into his now quivering ear, "And because Iwill be grateful."

He swallowed, "How grateful?"

She flicked a fingernail lightly against the inside of his lobe, bringing a delighted shudder from the hapless Ferengi, "Very…grateful…"

"…ah…"

And so it was, with a final glass of champagne and five bars of latinum more than he was originally willing to pay, Quark's libido talked him into becoming the proud owner of twelve green stones.

Twelve beautifulgreen stones.

Twelve beautifulgreen stones that could not be found anywhereon Bajor.

Twelve beautiful…green…worthless, completely unsellable…chunks of …rock.

Damn…

He watched the mercenary sway out of the bar and knew that he would never see her again. Ah, well, it didn't hurt to let lust get in the way of business once in a while and he could probably pick up at least fifteen bars for the stones on the open market if only…

"Hello Quark."

If only a certain Ensign Andrews could be kept preoccupied with other business.

He turned to face her with an oily smile, one hand discreetly opening the drawer below the bar whilst the other knocked the pouch of stones off of the bar and into its depths, "Chief Andrews! Always a pleasure!"

She was staring at him in a disturbingly Odo-like manner, her head slightly to one side as she twisted the corner of her mouth into a scowl, "Hand them over."

Damn the woman! Ever since the runabout accident she had ruined deal after deal for him by quoting Bajor's excessive salvage laws at the top of her voice and scaring off opportunity after opportunity. If he didn't know better he would think she was on some kind of personal vendetta.

He spread his hands in innocence, "Hand them over? Hand what…oh, you want a drink? Shame on you - drinking on duty…"he tutted softly and reached for a glass.

Andrews' hand clamped around his wrist, "Salvage laws are verystrict and I have no time for people who break them."

He let go of the glass and looked up at her in shock, "And quite rightly so! Why only the other day I was saying…"

"Enough, Quark. The woman you did business with is a mercenary - a salvage hunter. Anything she may have sold you is credited under salvage law and illegal." She held out her hand, "Give me the stones."

"But I paid…"

"You know the rules."

He matched her scowl with one of his own, reached into the drawer and unceremoniously slapped five of the stones into her waiting hand. She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. With a sigh, he surrendered two more. Her gaze never faltered and he let out a growl of frustration, "Fine! Take it!" And he all but threw one final stone at her.

Andrews examined them briefly before turning her best Odo-glare on him, "If I find you conducting illegal business on this station again, you will be out of the door so fast your feet won't touch the ground. Understand?"

He snarled at her, showing two rows of sharp little teeth, "Perfectly."

He watched her as she disappeared into the crowded Promenade on her way back to Security. Then he reached back into the drawer and lined up the four remaining stones on the bar before him with a smile, "You may be good, Ensign Andrews, but you're not that good." He paused for a thoughtful moment, recalling all the times Odo had double bluffed him, fooled him into thinking he had pulled off some scam or other before yanking the rug out from beneath his feet at the last moment. And Andrews had studied Odo closely. He returned the stones to the drawer and tapped the intercom, "Quark to Colonel Kladzi."

"Go ahead Quark."

"I'm sorry to bother you, Colonel, I know you must be busy, but I'm afraid I have to lodge a complaint against our new Security Chief. I don't like to use the words police harassment, but…"

After all, it was better to be safe than sorry.

*****

Odo, it seemed, had been right.

If ever the day was running slow, a quick visit to Quark's would liven it up no end. And if you managed to catch him in the middle of some business deal or other, all the better. She didn't doubt for a second that he had kept some of the gemstones for himself, but she only meant to keep him on his toes, not ruin him. Besides, as Odo had often said, knowing the type of clientele who frequented the Ferengi's bar you never could tell what one of these little visits would turn up.

As the door to the newly repaired Security Office closed behind her, Jill Andrews laid the confiscated stones carefully on her desk and examined them closely, one at a time.

They were beautiful. She didn't pretend to be a geologist of any kind, but knew that she had never seen anything like them before. The way they caught the light as she turned them in her hand was almost hypnotic, the smoky swirls inside them undulating lazily before her eyes.

A stray thought itched at the back of her mind and she turned to her computer and called up the records on the mercenary from the bar.

They were sketchy at best - smugglers and traders of her line did not freely offer information to the authorities - and Andrews was about to close the file when a footnote caught her eye. It had been recently added by her opposite number on Bajor and stated that the mercenary had been given an official warning after refusing to leave the scene of the explosion involving the runabout Amazon and the alien ship. Although it was suspected that she had taken salvage on board, none had been found by the arresting patrol ship and she had been set free.

And now she was here, on Deep Space Nine, doing business with Quark over a set of gemstones…

There was an itch at the back of her mind that refused to go away. A hunch, Baskell had called it; a sign of a good Security Officer Odo would say. Just at the moment Andrews wished they would both keep quiet and leave her alone. This whole business with the exploding ship was getting out of hand. She had to leave it alone - allow the station to heal, to return to normal.

Pointedly pushing the stones aside, she accessed the computer and called up the latest file on wanted criminals. Three Ferengi, a human and a renegade Vulcan of all people. Hadn't she seen a Vulcan at one of the back tables in Quark's…the itch dug deep into her skull and she closed the file with a growl.

She would never get any work done until…she hit her communicator, "Andrews to Dax."

There was no reply.

"Computer. Locate Commander Dax."

"Commander Dax is in her quarters."

As Chief of Security, Andrews was well aware of Dax's suspension from duty and had personally locked out all her command codes on Captain Sisko's orders. If positions had been reversed and it was she who had been banished from Ops she would have resorted to one of two options. As she hadn't seen Dax drinking herself into unconsciousness in Quarks she reasoned that the Trill had chosen the second option.

Sulking.

Slipping the stones into a security pouch which she attached to her belt she left her office and made for the habitat ring.

****

The door chimed three times before breaking through Jadzia's sleeping mind. With a low groan, she pushed herself up off the sofa and ran a hand across her bleary face, "Come in."

The door swished open and Ensign Andrews stepped in, her face a picture of somewhat annoyed resignation, "Commander…" She stopped with a frown as she took in Dax's somewhat crumpled tear stained form, "Are you all right?"

Jadzia yawned and stretched with a smile, "What time is it?"

"Just gone 14:00 hours."

She raised an eyebrow in surprise, "I guess I'm fine." She eyed the now stodgy cold blood pie and raktajino on the table unenthusiastically and crossed to the replicator to order a fresh helping, "Home truths and few hours sleep…" she frowned, "I have to speak to Benjamin."

Andrews coughed, "Um, Commander…"

The smile that was turned on her was genuine, and Dax waved the steaming pie under the Ensign's nose, "Can I get you anything?"

She shook her head hastily as the less than appealing odour assaulted her senses, "Um, no. No thanks…I just…" she pulled the security pouch from her belt.

Her back turned, Dax took a large bite of the pie and washed it down with a mouthful of the bitter coffee, "I should change. I've been in this uniform for ever." And she disappeared into the bedroom, taking her impromptu meal with her.

Andrews looked down at the pouch in her hand and shook her head. She didn't claim to know Commander Dax that well, but rumours and stories had reached far across the station - most, she suspected, started by Dax herself - about her wicked sense of humour, her honesty and bravery and her loyalty to friends and colleagues. Since the loss of the runabout Andrews had watched as the spark of fun faded from her eyes and both friends and colleagues had been brushed aside in pursuit of answers she could not find. She had taken obsession to new heights at risk of her health and career.

Andrews had felt as though she was betraying the Commander when she locked out her access codes on Sisko's orders. If she had any kind of scientific mind she would have taken over her never ending vigil at the computer, looking for clues amongst the garble of machine talk. Clues, if she was completely honest with herself, she was having trouble believing were there.

She wanted the runabout and her crew to have survived as much as anyone else on the station, but she had a warp nacelle sitting in Cargo Bay 3 screaming at her to be realistic.

On the other hand, she had her annoying hunch itching in her brain, begging her not to give up yet - to finish what she had started and to bring her colleagues home. It had been she and Baskell who had dragged Dax out of mourning and thrown hope at her; she who had dragged that hope away by locking her out of the station's computer system.

Captain Sisko had been right to give the order, right to stand at her shoulder as she carried it out. Dax and obsession were becoming dangerous bedfellows and he, like the true friend he was, had pulled her toward a safer path. Experience had taught him when to leave well alone and when to interfere. It was part of the reason they made him Captain.

And now Andrews feared she was about to knock her back onto that path of obsession with one blow.

She crossed to Dax's sofa and perched on the edge, tipping the gemstones into the palm of her hand with a resigned sigh. Perhaps if she left now, Dax wouldn't notice…

"What have you got there?"

She jumped as the Commander came back into the room, her grubby uniform discarded in favour of casual slacks and a form fitting blouse. One of the stones slipped from her grasp and landed on the carpet with a soft thud. Dax knelt and scooped it up, holding it up to the light much as Quark had done and whistling softly as its heart swam before her, "Pretty. What are they?"

"I don't know."

The final door of escape closed as Dax's eyes burned with scientific curiosity. She shot Andrews a sideways look that told her not to try and fool with someone who had been round the block more times than anyone else on the station, "You must have some idea, or you wouldn't have brought them to me."

Jill sighed and tried to take the stone from Dax's hand, "Look, Commander…"

Jadzia closed her fist around the gem and raised an eyebrow, "Ensign..?"

The battle was lost and Andrews braced herself and jumped in with both feet. If disaster followed she would pick up the pieces later, "They're from the alien vessel that came through the wormhole - I'd stake my life on it."

Jadzia's eyes locked with hers, pain rising to the surface once more. She bit back the grief and anger that had become far too familiar of late and set her features into an impassive mask, "Where did you get them?"

"Quark bought them from one of the vultures in the bar." She handed the entire pouch to the Trill, "I kind of put two and two together. Probably came up with five, but, well, you never know…"

Dax was studying one stone at a time, mentally comparing them, noting the lack of flaws, the almost fluid-like centre. Her analytical mind began listing facts and offering up possible explanations for a gem that seven lifetimes worth of hosts had never seen before, "How can you be sure they're from the ship?"

Andrews hesitated, unsure how the other woman would react to the news that the Chief of Security was working largely on a hunch. She would need facts not theory if this were to lead anywhere, "The trader he bought them from was the only one to get near it before Bajor cordoned off the area. I thought that if we examined them…"

She waved a hand vaguely and Dax looked at her carefully, gauging what she was saying, "Benjamin relieved me of duty."

Andrews wouldn't meet her eyes, "Yes, I know. But he's kind of touchy about the whole subject and I thought…"

"Jadzia…"

She stepped closer, ignoring Curzon's warning and placed the pouch of gems back in Jill's hands, "I'll need my access codes reinstated."

She looked up, "Um, I can't do that. Only the Captain has the authority."

"Then how do you expect me to work?"

"I …um…well, I thought…" she flushed with embarrassment at the realisation that she had stumbled at the first hurdle. She had tipped someone's world into a sea of turmoil again and had no idea where the lifeboats were.

Dax took pity and smiled at her, "We could call on a little help. If we're going to go looking for trouble, we may as well drag the whole gang along."

**********

Scattering his clothes in an untidy trail across his living quarters' floor, Martin Baskell hit the shower with a low curse. Tidying up after Jill's little bout of frustration had taken longer than he imagined and he was due in Ops in ten minutes. He turned in a slow circle as the sonic waves caressed his skin, and gave in to a little inward panic. Tenminutes…Sisko would have his hide.

Slapping at the controls, he curtailed the shower, ran naked to the bedroom and fished a fresh uniform out of the wardrobe.

His personal comm channel was beeping by the time he finished dressing and he slid into his chair and hit the desk top receiver, running his fingers through his mussed hair as the screen flickered on.

The woman who appeared before him was roughly his age, with long blonde hair and the bluest of blue eyes. Her expression was perhaps a little nervous, her eyebrows knitted in a momentary frown, but to him she was beautiful. The most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He swallowed hastily and lowered his hands, hoping his mop-like hair had tidied itself beneath his fingers; and smiled at his wife, "Kate!"

He knew that his smile was infectious, she had often said that that was what she had first fallen in love with. But this time she offered none in return, "Hello, Martin."

He had promised himself that he would be strong, that he would not beg her to return. He had so many things he wanted to say, "Oh, Kate, it's so good to see you…"

She seemed to be having trouble meeting his eye, "We have to talk."

"I'm almost on duty."

He had said it before he had time to think. Years of Academy programming sitting deep within himself, reminding him that duty was everything. His wife was on the screen. He hadn't been able to trace her since she left. None of her friends would tell him anything - and he knew they were hiding her from him - they had been so damned apologetic. Now she was there, in front of him for the first time in two weeks, asking to speak to him and he had automatically given the answer that had made her leave in the first place. Her impatient scowl told him that he had said the wrong thing and he slumped back in the chair, "To hell with them. You look great."

The scowl vanished with a sigh and he knew, with a stab of pain, that she would rather not be talking to him. Slow it down, he told himself, let her speak in her own time. He gazed at her and waited as she gathered her thoughts, "Martin, I'm pregnant."

And everything he had been going to say was knocked sideways from his brain and he found himself gaping at her like an idiot, "…pregnant…?"

"Yes. I found out two days ago."

Shock side-stepped and allowed excitement to squeeze in as a smile creased the corners of his mouth, "Pregnant?"

She studied him carefully, her usually expressive eyes hard as flint, "There's something I need you to do."

A baby..! He was going to have a baby! They had spoken often about having a family and had agreed to start trying immediately, both wanting to enjoy their children whilst still young themselves. Kate had often joked about becoming the quadrant's youngest grandmother.

The pain of the last two weeks began to evapourate and his eyes filled with tears of joy. It no longer mattered that she wasn't at his side, wasn't even in the same system. She had made him the happiest man in the world and everything was going to be all right, "Sure," he choked, " Anything…I'll do anything."

"I need you to sign the adoption forms."

And the world caved in.

"Adoption forms?" He had misheard. He must have misheard. She wouldn't call all this way just to rip out his heart once more.

If she saw his devastation she gave no hint, just carried on speaking in that clinical, all too distant manner, "John wants to sort things out now rather than later. It saves all sorts of complications with the birth certificate."

"John? Who's John?"

She almost smiled. Dammit, she almost smiled as she mentally pictured the unknown man he now hated with a passion, "We're living together. We want to get married as soon as the divorce comes through."

"Divorce? But I thought…"

She looked directly at him for the first time, her expression one of puzzled impatience, "What?"

And he broke every one of his own rules and pleaded with her. Leant forward in his seat with his face just inches from the screen and begged her - a drowning man clutching at straws he knew would break, "We can work it out, Kate. It's not too late."

"Martin…"

She had spoken to him in that tone. That mother to son tone. That condescending whine that spoke of eternal disappointment. Why couldn't he shout at her, scream at her? Why couldn't he get angry? "But it's my baby."

"Please, Martin. Don't make this any harder than it has to be."

"Any harder?" Anger finally sparked in his eyes and he fanned the embryonic flame to life, "You want me to sign away my baby to some…to some jerk I've never even met!"

He was shouting at her, fists clenched on the desk where she had a perfect view as he insulted a man he could not even begin to picture. A man he would cheerfully tear limb from limb should they ever meet. Her anger, carefully hidden, burst forth to match his own, "John is a decent, loving man who isn't going to uproot us every few years and drag us to some godforsaken hole at the edge of the galaxy!"

"We've been over this…"

"And it obviously hasn't sunk in!"

They glared at each other for a second, going over events in their minds, catching their breath as the last threads of their marriage unravelled before them. Kate spoke first, her voice barely more than a whisper, "We're through, Martin. Give me back my life!"

She may as well have slapped him - the effect was the same. He sat and stared at her, his anger draining as she let her gaze drop one more and when he finally spoke, his voice was unsteadily soft, "I've given you your life, Kate. I didn't know I had taken it, but it's yours. Just don't give my child to a stranger….please."

She shook her head and he thought he saw tears, "I'm sorry, Martin."

"Kate…"

She reached out towards him and the screen went blank as she cut him out of her life for good.

He hit the recall button again and again, "Kate! Ah, dammit!"

He let his head fall into his hands and bit his lip, hard, relishing in the pain as the iron taste of blood hit his tongue. His baby. She was stealing his baby and his confused mind couldn't think of a thing to do to stop her.

He was due in Ops…

Damn Ops! Damn Sisko and Dax and Andrews and the whole bloody lot of them… His comm badge beeped, "Andrews to Baskell."

"Go to hell!!" He ripped the badge from his chest and threw it across the room.

"Andrews to Baskell."

He glared at the offending article as it lay beneath his replicator, and drew in a steadying breath. Screaming at his one true friend would get him nowhere.

"Andrews to Baskell. Come on Martin, I know you're there, computers never lie."

She was beginning to sound worried and he felt a pang of guilt and pushed himself away from the desk. Crossing the room, he sat cross-legged on the floor, picked up the communicator and tapped it, "Go ahead."

"Martin, are you all right?"

No…"I'm fine."

She paused and he knew that she had picked up on the quaver in his voice. She would no doubt just happento be passing that evening and listen to him rant until the small hours, before making things better with some hideously simple piece of advice. Like the good friend that she was, "I have a favour to ask."

He sighed, "This isn't a good time, Jill."

"Well, I kind of guessed that, but this is important."

He clipped the badge back on to the front of his shirt and got to his feet, "I have to get to work, I'm late."

Wiping a hand across his face and smoothing down his hair, he left his quarters as Andrews spoke, "That's okay, we need you to be in Ops if you're going to help us."

"We?"

"Commander Dax needs access to her work files."

He nodded to a young Ensign as they passed in the corridor, lowering his voice to an almost-whisper, "Rumour has it that Commander Dax has been relieved of duty."

"That's where you come in."

As he walked through the habitat ring towards the turbolift, Baskell listened with growing incredulity as Andrews outlined her request. He was more than capable of doing what she asked - it was a simple matter of accessing and re-directing the relevant files - but if he was caught he would find himself on the blunt end of Captain Sisko's temper as he kicked his backside all the way home to the Academy for retraining, "Sure, Jill, why don't I just hand in my resignation while I'm at it - it would save them actually firing me."

"Martin, you're the only one we can ask. We just need access for a few hours. You can download it all to Dax's private terminal under my access code. If nothing comes from it no-one need ever know. If we find something…"

"Jill, you're asking me to go against Sisko's orders."

Her tone was deadly serious, "I'm asking you to help."

If he didn'thelp…if there was even a chance…he and Jill had started this, the least he could do was help her finish. And if they kicked him out of the service for his troubles he could take out his frustrations on "decent, loving" wife stealing John.

The 'lift began to slow as it approached Ops, "Give me five minutes."

He could almost hear her grin, "Thanks, Martin."

"Just tell the Commander we're even now."

The 'lift juddered to a halt and he stepped out into the command centre and headed for his station to log on and play dice with his career.

**********

With a self-satisfied beep, the computer in Dax's quarters began to list file after file of her work pertaining to the alien vessel. It meant nothing to Andrews, but the Trill Science Officer studied page after page with a refreshed and practiced eye before turning to the young woman with a knowing smile, "Ensign, you are aware that this isn't strictly within the regulations?"

Andrews faltered then shrugged, "I'm Chief of Security. I'll arrest myself later."

**********

Andrews had gone by the time Jadzia looked up again. She vaguely recalled the Ensign mentioning that duty called as she carried the science lab's mineral scanner into the room and deposited it on the desk next to the computer. She hoped she had thanked the young woman before burying herself in a full analysis of Quark's gemstones, but she couldn't be sure. She would have to catch up with her later.

The scanner beeped and she peered into the viewer with a frown. The analysis of the stones was not going well. The computer seemed to be having trouble recognising any kind of pattern in its structure. Which had given her the first - the only - clue she had. The chances were that it had come from the alien vessel. But how had it survived an explosion of such intensity? And what was it for?

With a sigh of frustration she realised that, once more, she could do nothing until the computer had finished its analysis. But, for the first time in days, she had made progress and that progress allowed her to turn away without the need of Curzon and Audrid and their mother hen coaxing and nagging.

She checked the chronometre on the screen. Benjamin should be about ready to take a break by now. They needed to talk, "Dax to Sisko."

The reply was half way cautious, "Go ahead."

She smiled fondly as she pictured her old friend, his brow furrowed as he rolled that baseball from hand to hand and attempted to judge her mood, "I was wondering whether you had time to join me for a drink?"

"I've always got time for you, Old Man. I'll meet you in the replimat."

She allowed herself the luxury of teasing him, "Five minutes, Benjamin. My social schedule is a little crowded. Dax out."

With a final check of the scanner she left her quarters and headed for the Promenade.

*****

He was waiting for her when she arrived, as she had known he would be; two glasses of synthale on the table before him, one, she guessed, with just a touch of mint. Exactly the way she liked it. He spotted her instantly and smiled, "Hi!"

She slipped into the seat opposite, "Hello, Benjamin." The synthale was perfect and she drank deeply before leaning back with a satisfied sigh, "I needed that."

He was watching her cautiously, hope and concern fighting for dominance on his face, and she felt a stab of pain as she remembered what she had said to him. She may have had the benefit of Dax's counsel to shock her to her senses, but she knew that he had spent the day going over and over their exchange in a bid to find out what he had done wrong. Without knowing that he had done nothing to deserve the accusations she had thrown at him. She reached out and covered his large brown hand with hers, "Benjamin, I am so sorry."

He smiled fondly at her and squeezed her hand in return, "No-one can ever accuse you of not speaking you mind, Old Man, and I'm sorry that you felt I didn't care."

She winced as she remembered the fury with which she had laid into him; the look of eternal hurt in his fathomless black eyes, "Please. Forgive me. You are one of the most caring men I know and what I said hurt you." She lowered her gaze, "I had no right."

"It's forgotten."

They looked at each other for an awkward moment, each reliving a lifetimes - or two - worth of memories, each at a complete loss for what to say next. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Sisko dropped her hand and leant back in his chair with a sigh of what he hoped came out as relief. His mind searched for common ground that would not raise too many painful memories.. Something neutral, something…"Young Andrews seems to be filling some rather large boots quite nicely."

Dax nodded, "I'd say she's coping."

"More than coping. She's just waltzed in here with a security detail, accused a two hundred year old Vulcan of black-marketeering and hauled him off to Security." He grinned at her as she gaped in astonishment, "I know a certain Constable who would have been extremely proud."

She chuckled and shook her head, "Not that he'd ever admit it."

"Heaven forbid!" The smile this time was one hundred percent genuine as the tension evapourated like so much smoke, "It's good to hear you laugh again. I've missed that."

The smile faded and she took a small sip of her drink, eyes glistening, "I guess I haven't been much fun lately, have I?"

Sisko reached out and took her hand again, unresisting, comfortable, "We've all been worried, Jadzia. But we're your friends, we're here for you."

She looked up at him and blinked away the tears, knowing - hoping - that everything was going to be all right. That she wasn't going to step over the line and drive his friendship so far away that no amount of reminiscing would coax it back, "I'll be fine, now, Benjamin. But, thank you."

As if on cue, her comm badge beeped and the computer's sterile voice announced, "Task complete."

Sisko paused, his glass half way to his lips, and gave her a quizzical look, "What was that about?"

She looked at him and turned away, "Life going on. I'll see you later."

Sisko watched her go and wondered whether things were really settled.

*********

The Vulcan had surrendered without a fight, his eyebrows arched in almost human amusement as Andrews listed the charges against him and led him from Quark's to the holding cells. She wished all criminals would accept their fate as calmly. She also wished that there wasn't so much damned paperwork involved. If these people were going to turn to crime, why couldn't they do it on their home planets?

She was deep in concentration over a padd of Vulcan law and didn't look up when the doors hissed open, "I'll be with you in a minute."

"I would appreciate your attention now,Ensign Andrews."

She looked up at Colonel Kladzi as he walked up to her desk, his newly acquired red uniform looking wrong on a man of his build, face bedecked in its usual haughty sneer. For the new first officer, she thought, he seems reluctant to spend any time in Ops. She didn't bother with a smile that she knew would be neither acknowledged nor returned, and turned her attention back to the data padd, "How can I help you, Colonel?"

He placed both hands on the desk and leant forward, glaring at her over the top of the padd, "You can concentrate on your job and stop harassing the station's personnel."

It had been, perhaps, the last thing she expected him to say and she looked up at him in confusion, "What are you talking about?"

"I have received a complaint concerning your conduct."

"From who?"

He straightened, satisfied that he now had her full attention, the know-it-all sneer returning, "You don't need to know that. All you need to know is that the complaint has been made and if I receive any more I will bring the Captain in on this. And he, no doubt, will reconsider the wisdom in letting a junior officer fill a position that is obviously too large for her."

Andrews leapt to her feet, the padd slamming now on the desk, her eyes sparking in fury, "How dare you!" For months she had fought to overcome her mind's insistence that there was always some-one better suited to do her job than she. For months Odo had encouraged her, nurtured her raw talent, taught her to have confidence in herself. He had put it on record that it was shewho should be considered as his replacement should he be lost, and now this…this…man had the gall to tell her she was out of her depth? She felt her fists clench as she pushed her face closer to his in an open challenge, "You arrogant, jumped up son of a…"

"As you were, Ensign!" The smirk was still there as he watched her battle for self control and she guessed that a part of him was itching for her to step over the line into open insubordination. She did not give him the pleasure and he glared at her, "The situation has been explained to you and I expect you to stay within your bounds in future."

And he walked out of her office as if he owned the entire station.

Jill sat for a while in stunned contemplation of what had just happened. She had no doubt that Kladzi objected to her both personally and professionally, but the man would not have been made first officer of a station of DS9's importance if he didn't know his job. He had better things to do than spend his life picking on her. Especially when they were both meant to be on the same side. Who could have gone to him and given him reason to seek her out? It had been a quiet day as days went. That was why she had indulged herself in a little Quark baiting…

Quark…

She closed down the files she was working on and left the office, a picture in calm serenity as she focused on the gaudy lights and sounds of the Ferengi bar.

A hand caught her arm and she spun round to find herself face to face with an earnest looking Dax, "Ensign. I need you to authorise your codes for the scanner results."

Andrews shook her head, "Can it wait, Commander, I have to kill Quark."

Dax tugged on her arm and led her to the turbolift, "You can do that later - I'll lend you a phaser."

Unaware that his life had just been temporarily snatched back from the abyss, Quark watched the two women go with his usual lecherous leer and returned to polishing the last of his green gems. The first of the buyers should be arriving soon and his lobes were feeling extremely tingly of late.

**********

The scanner was bleeping gently to itself by the time Dax and Andrews arrived, the latter still fuming over Quark and Kladzi's apparent victimisation. She keyed in her access code somewhat abruptly, allowing Dax to run a quick check of the results, comparing and contrasting them with her own theories. A wave of disappointment began to break over the Trill as she failed to turn up anything significant and she had began to turn away with a sigh, when one reading caught her eye.

Andrews stood at her shoulder, "Well?"

Dax had her face pressed firmly against the eye piece as she studied the gemstone closely, "It's an unknown mineral substance."

Jill snorted, "We needed to go behind Sisko's back to find out that?"

Dax crossed to her computer and began to key in a long sequence of numbers, a smile threatening to burst from her lips, "No. But we did need to do so to find out this."

The screen flickered to life and Andrews could make out the all too fuzzy images of the last moments of the runabout and the alien vessel. Dax allowed it to run through to its painful conclusion, the screen a fuzz of unprocessed data and looked up at the Ensign. Jill scowled, "It still looks like a junkyard. What does that tell us?"

Dax keyed in another number sequence, "Nothing. That was the raw transmission. The computer has made very little headway. It's still trying to read data for which it has no basis of comparison. But I recognised this.." she hit the send button and the screen flickered and jolted and gave up what looked like the blue print for a molecule - a many linked, highly complex molecule of which Andrews didn't even want to beginto guess the name.

She gaped at the Trill, "You recognised this?"

"Well, sort of. A partial segment of one of the chains was one of the unknown variants the computer has been having trouble with. " She caught Andrews' unbelieving expression and smiled, "It was very distinctive."

"If you say so, Commander. So what do we do now?"

She shrugged as if it was obvious, "We give the computer the information and see what happens." Her fingers darted across the panel and the screen cleared for a fraction of a second before the images began to run again, "Here goes."

They watched in almost respectful silence as the runabout spiralled towards the alien ship, the temperature readings rising far too fast. The explosion ripped across the screen with frightening intensity and cleared just as quickly. In those few seconds of hell, the runabout vanished.

And Dax was on her feet, eyes wide, "Look at the readings!"

Startled by the usually serene Commander's sudden outburst, Andrews took a hurried step back, before leaning forward with a frown, "Um…temperature was very high but returned to normal, that new molecule of yours was everywhere…the neutrino levels went of the scale for a second…the…" she grinned as she realised what she had said, "The neutrino levels? The wormhole opened?"

Dax nodded eagerly, "For point nine eight five of a second."

"Then why didn't we see it?"

"Too quick. Too much interference. The computer was confused by the data, poor thing." Fingers flew across the panel once more and the image back-tracked before starting up again one frame at a time.

Andrews watched the screen carefully as Dax worked frantically to eliminated the unwanted variables leading up to explosion. The alien vessel began to tear itself to pieces in extreme slow motion and Jill's hand flew to her mouth, "Oh, my God!"

Dax looked up at her and then at the screen.

The wormhole was opening, petals undulating like an orchid in a breeze. And deep inside it, almost out of sight, was a second opening - a reflection, a virtually exact copy of the Celestial Temple. As they watched, wide eyed, the alien ship gave an almost animal-like lurch towards the new wormhole, tugging the runabout along in its wake, the smaller vessel spinning wildly in an erratic orbit of its captor.

The explosion blotted out the rest of the image and there was nothing Dax could do to clear it.

The sequence ended and the computer deactivated with a quiet beep. The silence that followed was broken by Andrews' harsh whisper, "I think we should talk to the Captain."

**********

Martin Baskell was tapping idly at his console when the turbolift deposited an excited Commander Dax and a wide eyed Jill Andrews into Ops. He watched with a frown as the Trill took the steps to Sisko's office two at a time, clutching a data padd, and let herself in without so much as a by-you-leave. Andrews made to follow, but he grasped her arm as she went past, "Jill, what's happened?"

She grinned at him, "I think we found them."

He raised his eyebrows, "You're kidding?"

"I'm not!"

A furious shout from the Captain's office snapped all heads back to their consoles, "You did what?!" and Jill swallowed nervously as Sisko marched to the top of the stairs and glared down at them, "Andrews! Baskell! My office. Now!"

Dax was at rigid attention before the Captain's desk and she flashed them a look of abject apology as they entered and stood beside her, eyes focused straight ahead as the door hissed shut behind them.

Sisko stormed round to the front of his desk and glared fire at each of them in turn, before ignoring Dax and turning his ire on the junior officers, "I take it you were both fully aware that I had personally relieved Commander Dax of duty?"

They didn't look at each other, the response coming automatically, loud and clear, "Yes, sir."

He stepped back round the desk and stood virtually nose to nose with Baskell before moving on to Andrews, "And yet you went behind my back to undermine mywishes."

The reply this time was hesitant, a little guilty, "…yes, sir…"

"Knowing full well what this is going to do to your careers."

They looked at each other for a brief second and swallowed nervously. Things were not going to plan. Andrews cleared her throat, almost backing down as he turned that inferno stare on her, "Um…we felt that the cause justified our actions, sir. There were a lot of…well, questions that had to be answered."

He looked at her, "We do have more than one science officer on the station."

She frowned, "Yes, sir, but Commander Dax…"

"Don't you think I relieved Commander Dax of duty for a perfectly good reason?"

She looked at her feet, feeling like a first year cadet, an embarrassed flush colouring her cheeks. Not waiting for a reply, Sisko stepped back, raising his hands in frustration, "Does no-one on this station know how to obey orders any more?"

For the first time since they had entered the room, Dax spoke, one eyebrow raised, "Captain, they didn't exactly disobey your orders. You never told them not to help me."

He looked pointedly at her and she had the good grace to return to full attention, "You are splitting hairs, Commander." With a growl of impatience he turned his back on them and glared his remaining anger out of the window at the stars, "Consider yourselves on report. All of you."

Three sets of eyes snapped back into formation as three backs stood ramrod straight, "Yes, sir!"

Andrews watched in trepidation as Sisko stared out of the window, allowing his breathing to steady and his anger to fade. She had a suspicion that he was a little hurt at being left out of things. At last he turned back to them, his expression normal, "Now, show me what you found."

*****

Sisko reached out and turned off the computer screen with a low whistle, "A second wormhole? One within the other? Why have we never come across this before?"

Dax shrugged, "Because it's not stable." She handed him the data padd, "As far as I can make out from these readings, it's a door. One that can be opened and closed at will."

"If you have the key?"

She nodded, "Exactly."

He knocked his baseball from its stand, caught it as it rolled off the desk and began to nudge it from hand to hand as he considered the situation. Excitement was building up inside him as he allowed himself to believe - to truly believe - that he may get his officers - his friends - back after all, "Could our runabout have been blown through this door?"

"It's possible."

He watched her closely, "Could they have survived?"

She considered this for a moment and he could see her waging an inner war between science and need. It was with a drop of the head that she finally admitted, "I don't know."

It was the answer he had wanted to hear. Dax had hauled herself from the path of self delusion and was finally being truthful with him. He replaced the baseball on its stand, "Do we have the key?"

Andrews pulled the pouch of stones from her belt and handed them over, "Courtesy of Quark."

Sisko examined them closely, not really sure what he was looking at, before arching a quizzical eyebrow at Dax. She sighed, "It's possible. We just don't know where the keyhole is."

Before he could say another word, the lights in Ops blurred and settled as the shields snapped on and the station flipped over to red alert. He was out of the door in a second, Dax, Andrews and Baskell in tow, "Report!"

The lieutenant at con didn't look up, his face creased in a frown as he studied his console, "Neutrino levels rising, sir. Nothing's due 'til tomorrow."

"On screen."

The screen guttered and fuzzed as heavy interference spoiled the picture. The lieutenant looked up in flustered confusion, "Captain. I'm picking up some odd readings…"

Andrews and Baskell had their eyes glued to the viewer and were the first to see the wormhole finally open and eject its intruder. The ship that came through brought an awed hush to Ops. Baskell gasped, "Oh, my God! Look at the size of that thing."

It was huge. Half the size of the station itself, Sisko mused. And the station was big. It was sleek, gunmetal grey, curved to precision, its mile long tendrils reaching back towards the wormhole as it closed in on itself with a flash. It looks like our alien friend wasn't an only child, Sisko mused. Big Brother has arrived.

Dax had commandeered her station from a nervous young Bajoran and was studying the screen before her, telling them what they had already guessed, "It's the same design as the last ship. Same readings - everything."

They watched in anticipatory silence as the ship edged towards them and was still. Sisko was first to speak, his voice calm as he gave his orders, "We'll take it slow, people." He turned to Martin, "Mr. Baskell, get me a line to Starfleet and Bajor."

Martin jumped as he dragged his gaze from the screen, "Aye, sir."

"We can play the waiting game a little longer. They don't seem to be in a great hurry to leave."

Moments later, the communications board buzzed and Baskell called out, "Sir, Admiral James and First Minister Shakaar are on hold…"

"Put them on split screen, Ensign."

His hands were shaking and he gritted his teeth in an effort to control himself, "Yes, sir." He looked down at his console and almost jumped back in shock as a tiny red light blinked on and off insistently, "Sir! The alien ship - it's hailing us."

**********

Chapter Eight