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Staggering Stories Podcast #261: Of Companions and Pilots
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sat, 22 Apr 2017 17:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Jean Riddler, Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the 2017 Doctor Who episode ‘The Pilot’ and discuss what makes a Doctor Who companion, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 02:29 — Welcome! 02:21 – News: 02:36 — Star Trek: Discovery narrowly avoids Worf. 04:41 […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #260: Masterfully Unbound
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 09 Apr 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the 2016 Big Finish Doctor Who boxset ‘The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, Vol. 3 – The Unbound Universe’ and discuss Doctor Who’s The Master in general, play a game, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #259: British Robots Invasion of Earth 2150AD
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the 1966 film Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. and the 2017 film The Lego Batman Movie, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:15 — Welcome! 02:01 – News: 02:20 […]


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

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


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

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


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

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

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Nine

Written by Karen Dunn


Katalia was the first to fall.

As soon as the gates opened before her she knew she was dead and knew that those who had followed her would perish in her wake. They had dealt with Marius and his cronies *so well*, and freedom seemed to be only a step away.

And now this.

The sight of a legion of men, armed with weapons the likes of which they had never seen, brought the escapees to a halt some ten yards from the gates. Katalia looked from face to frightened face as the remains of her hotchpotch army turned to her for guidance.

The courtyard was littered with the bodies of the fallen and she knew that, whatever happened next, the prisoners would all be held responsible. Everyone from her to O'Brien to the half wit Jhemor and it was all her fault. She let her eyes travel from person to person, taking in faces that she had never really looked at but which had long ago been etched in her memory. They had lived through hell together within the walls of Caspii, punished as one for speaking their minds or asking questions that no-one wanted to answer, and now they would die together.

She smiled encouragement at the woman next to her, raised her arm and screamed defiance to the Creator as she ran forward once more. Something *hot* slammed into her and she felt herself falling, felt the rough ground dig into her face and then felt nothing.

*****

The helpless, unarmed prisoners began to fall in a writhing screaming mass of panic and O'Brien took a step forward as if to help them. Odo's hand on his arm held him back, "There's nothing we can do, Chief."

The Irishman's brow furrowed, "We can't just leave them, they'll be slaughtered."

"And us along with them. Look."

O'Brien glanced back towards the battlefield and saw two of the armed men ploughing across the courtyard towards them. The guns they were carrying looked like a standard issue disruptor, freely available on the open market, with just a few design tweaks to make them original to this world. But, to the people they had cut down so ruthlessly, they were nothing short of fantastic, a miracle of a technology they could not even begin to grasp.

And yet they were here, and he would love to know why and how.

Such questions could wait for later, he decided as the closer of the men raised his weapon. Taking Jhemor by the hand he made to run, to lead his friends to a safety he wasn't sure he could find. Jhemor, though, tugged impatiently at his hand, "This way, Mr 'Brien, it's this way, yes it is!" And he led them back into the heart of the prison with a surprising turn of speed.

The building was deserted, all the guards long since joined in the battle in the courtyard, and they made their way quickly and quietly through room after room. O'Brien did his best to keep the fleeing Jhemor in his sights whilst turning back to where Odo was half leading, half carrying the exhausted Kira in their wake. The Changeling waved away his offer of help, "Keep up with the boy, Chief, we'll find you."

Then the wall next to his head exploded in a spray of stone chips and he ducked to the floor, pulling Kira with him. There were heavy footsteps and he found himself nose to toes with a pair of manufactured black leather boots, and looked up into the face of one of their pursuers. He could not see what O'Brien was doing, but he assumed that the Irishman had made to help because the soldier raised his disruptor and snapped, "Stay where you are!" And all at once they were caught.

He looked down at Kira and she returned his gaze with a pointed frown, moving one hand very slowly to touch the back of his head then glancing urgently up at their poised attacker. Without a word, Odo allowed a thin tendril of Changeling substance to snake its silent way past the soldier's boot and up, cobra-like, towards the base of his skull. It took the smallest effort of concentration to form the tip of the tendril into a sizeable club and he gave the man a hefty blow to the back of the head.

Shocked, but not really hurt, the soldier turned with a cry, expecting to face further assailants behind him, but finding only an empty corridor. Then O'Brien took him down with an impressive body tackle and the last thing he saw was the Chief's fist as it connected heavily with his face, hammering him into unconsciousness.

Shouldering the soldier's weapon, O'Brien helped Odo and Kira to their feet with a grin, "Nice improvisation, Constable."

The Changeling grunted, "I'm glad you're impressed. Now hadn't you better find your young friend?"

O'Brien glanced back along the gloomy passageway, but Jhemor was long gone. He shifted the disruptor into a more comfortable position and looked back at his two friends, "Will you be okay?"

Kira smiled, "There's one more of them around here somewhere, Chief, and I don't intend to hang around. We'll be right behind you."

He nodded and jogged off down the corridor.

Jhemor was pushing open the large outer doors by the time he caught up with him and O'Brien found himself looking out onto the Arena. A wave of impatience swept over him and he had to stop himself from shaking the child, "Why have you brought us here, Jhemor?"

The boy looked up at him with frightened eyes as the harshness of his tone sank in, "It's the way out, Mr 'Brien, really it is."

"Show me."

He followed as Jhemor scampered across the Arena and began to climb the giant steps of the amphitheatre, racing sure footed around the perimetre, a sheer drop beckoning below him. When O'Brien caught up with him, he was peering over the edge to a steep grassy incline, his eyes alight, "We can go down there, yes we can, we can 'scape down there. I've done it *lots* of times. *Lots* and *lots* of times…"

The engineer was incredulous, "Are you mad?"

"I think so. Marius says I am all the time."

Kira and Odo joined them, gazing unenthusiastically at their would be escape route and O'Brien gritted his teeth, "That's not what I meant. How the hell do we get down there?"

Jhemor frowned at him and spoke slowly as if having decided that O'Brien was perhaps not as smart as he had thought, "We *jump*, Mr 'Brien. We jump and we roll and roll and roll. And then we hurt ourselves a little bit, but we don't die or anything."

Kira gave a wheeze of laughter as she leant heavily into Odo's supporting arms, "That's comforting."

The shapeshifter snorted, "I'm glad you find it amusing, Major."

She smiled up at him, "Believe me, Constable, there has been very little to laugh about so far."

Jhemor tugged at O'Brien's sleeve, "We have to go now, Mr 'Brien, we have to go!" And he jumped over the edge and rolled down the incline in a tangle of flailing arms and legs.

They didn't have time to see whether he survived the fall intact, as the distant doors slammed open and a posse of heavily armed soldiers burst through and opened fire.

O'Brien gripped tight on his stolen disruptor and ducked as a blast singed his ear, "Christ!"

No more needed to be said and they turned as one and leapt forward into the abyss together.

*******

Consciousness returned with an agonising stab of pain and Marius groaned and clamped his hands to the fire below his ribs. The blood was still leaking through his fingers and he knew that if he was to survive he would need help. And fast.

The sounds of battle had stopped and he knew that the rebellion had been suppressed. That the Merchants had taken matters into their own hands. That he - if he lived - was in deep, deep trouble.

He tried to push himself into a sitting position but the pain was too intense, forcing him back down into the sand beneath the gallows.

*Damn* that deviant!

He had given his *life* to upholding the law, to protecting the Merchants from their slanderous enemies, to keeping the decent people on the outside free from danger of body and mind. And then *she* had shown up and ruined it al. He should have had her executed the first time she had shown him disrespect. He could have convinced the Merchants that her death was necessary - but did he? No. He had offered her a second chance. None of this would have happened if he hadn't insisted on being such a *nice guy*.

Well, no more. The next time he saw her he would kill her.

He clenched his fists in anger and rammed them harder against his injured side, relishing the pain, using it to stay alive.

A gloved hand prised his arm away and he peered up at one of the soldiers as the man studied his wound with a critical eye, "Well, Marius, you'll live."

Breathing was becoming difficult and Marius gripped the newcomer's hand with his bloody one, "You have to send more men after them."

"Calm down, it's all under control."

He shook his head, "No, you don't understand. The second deviant. Did you see what it *did*?"

The man pulled his hand away and beckoned to two other men, "I saw. It's all under control, Marius. You need to concentrate on getting well. You'll have some questions to answer in time."

The two men jogged over and began to help Marius to his feet. The overseer cried out in pain, "You *have* to send more *men* after them!"

The soldier stood up, pulled off his gloves and patted him on the shoulder, "And waste valuable weapons power?" He shook his head with a smile, "I have a *much* better idea." And he turned and walked back towards the prison gates, shedding his uniform tunic as he went, looking for all the world like just another prisoner.

With a groan, Marius allowed himself to be carried across the courtyard.

He blacked out before they reached the gates.

*****

Miles O'Brien had had some impressive headaches in his time, most of which promised equally impressive hangovers to boot, but the drum solo rolling around in his skull at the moment was in a different class.

The last thing he remembered was leaping off the Arena amphitheatre and the ground coming up to meet him far quicker than he usually liked. Then he was tumbling and bouncing and his head was connecting with something *hard*. And now Odo was shaking him none to gently and calling his name over and over, "Chief? Can you hear me, Chief?"

The engineer allowed his eyes to open just a little and peered out groggily through the slits, "I hear you fine, Odo, just stop rattling me, okay"

"Then would you kindly get up. We have to go."

O'Brien accepted his offered hand and rose unsteadily to his feet before taking a closer look at his fellow escapees. Odo, naturally enough, looked fine, whilst Kira had a few more bruises to add to her already ample collection. A somewhat ruffled Jhemor was hopping from foot to agitated foot a short distance away, "Come *on*, Mr 'Brien. We have to go to the forest, yes we do."

Odo handed him the disruptor and helped him take the first few steps, "We'd better keep up with him, Chief. He's the only one who knows where we are."

And they stumbled off after the boy as he led them through rapidly thickening undergrowth to the forest, calling out as he ran, "There's a *big* tree what's falled down and you can get right inside it to sleep and hardly any insecks get on you and the big animals can't bite you." He smiled as Kira made a rueful face, "Don't worry, Major lady, there's hardly *any* big animals and Mr 'Brien can make a fire to keep them away if they try and eat you."

She tried to smile back, "We have to get there first, Jhemor. How far is it?"

He shrugged, "Quite far, I think. I always stay there for the first night after I've 'scaped. No-one knows about it 'cept prisoners."

"Are you sure?"

"Of *course* I'm sure, Major lady. They'd go there first if they knew about it. I'm not *stupid*. Well, not about *everything*." He came to an abrupt halt and looked around him with a frown, "Oh, dear…"

O'Brien stood next to him, his weapon trained on the surrounding forest, "What's the matter?"

"We've come the wrong way a bit."

"What do you mean 'a bit'?"

The boy turned and began to traipse back along the track, "I wasn't paying attention when I was talking."

O'Brien caught him up and pulled him back, "Where do you think you're going?"

"We missed the turn, Mr 'Brien, we have to go back."

"Jhemor, we're going to have an army tracking us. We can't go back."

He grinned up at the Irishman, "They won't follow us *that* way. Only a nidiot would jump off the Arena wall." He carried on walking, "You could get killed doing that, you know, yes you could."

O'Brien watched him incredulously, "The blind leading the bloody blind, " he muttered and followed Jhemor; Odo and Kira close behind.

Minutes later they were, the boy insisted, on the right path. He had been running a few metres ahead almost desperate for every fallen tree they passed to be his precious hidey-hole.

O'Brien, though, knew they were still within shouting distance of Caspii and was trying his best to coax the lad into taking things a little slower. They were known to have escaped and pursuit was a certainty. They didn't need to advertise their position with Jhemor crashing through the undergrowth. He increased his stride and pulled the boy back, "Take it easy, son, we'll find it soon enough."

There was a rustle of movement to his side and he spun round just in time to glimpse one of the soldiers stepping out of hiding, his disruptor raised like a club at close quarters. Then there was an explosion of pain in his head and he was falling.

Without sparing his victim another look, the soldier spun his weapon round to face the other three fugitives, "Don't move!"

Jhemor and Kira froze, but Odo took a cautious step forward, putting himself between his friends and the disruptor. The soldier glared at him and raised his gun a little higher, "I said don't move!"

Odo nodded, his voice quiet, "I heard you."

"Then stay still!"

"I'm afraid I can't allow you to harm my friends."

He looked closely at the young soldier. He was not much more than a boy - a boy responsible for a weapon far too large for him - and the Changeling began to wonder what his chances were of talking his way out of this situation. He took another step forward, his hands raised in supplication and the soldier snapped his disruptor down to point at O'Brien's head, "I'm warning you!" He shifted his grip and there was a gentle whine as the weapon charged itself, preparing for the kill.

Odo stopped moving, "You've made your point. What happens now?"

With his prisoners under control, the boy relaxed ever so slightly, "Well…"

Before he could finish, he was borne to the ground by another figure which threw itself from the undergrowth in a blur of fists and feet. By the time Odo reached them, the would-be executioner was unconscious on the ground, his attacker climbing to his feet with a broad smile on his face, "Odo!"

Odo matched the smile, "Lars!"

Under the astonished gaze of Kira and Jhemor, the two friends shared a hearty handshake. The Bajoran limped over to the groaning form of Miles O'Brien and helped him to his somewhat unsteady feet, "You okay, Chief?"

He rubbed his head, "Never better." He gazed across at Odo and Lars, "Who's the hero?"

Odo led the other man over to them, "This is Lars. He gave me shelter. Lars, these are my friends."

The farmer shook hands with Kira and she smiled, "Kira Nerys."

O'Brien nodded to the newcomer, his head pounding, "Miles O'Brien. Pleased to meet you. Now, if it's not too much trouble, can we get out of here before soldier boy's friends come looking for him?"

*****

With the help of Lars' knowledge of the area they made good time and were soon resting in a small natural clearing close by Jhemor's beloved tree. Caspii was an hours march behind them and they began to feel safe for the first time in a long while.

The farmer and the boy had disappeared into the forest and returned with the wild fowl that was now roasting over a small campfire. O'Brien was perched on the fallen tree, resting, whilst Kira lay curled in the warmth of the fire, her eyes half closed as sleep crept up on her. Odo was pacing back and forth at the forest's edge, ever the security officer, ever alert.

The fire guttered and the Chief slid down off the tree and prodded the flames with a stick. Kira looked up at him and he smiled, "Sorry, Major. Didn't mean to wake you."

She shook her head, "I wasn't sleeping. Couldn't get comfortable."

She propped herself up onto one elbow and pinched the bridge of her nose as if warding off a headache, "That's the nice thing about proper beds - they don't irritate cuts and bruises."

O'Brien stared into the flames with an uncomfortable sigh, unsure of what to say, "Major…Nerys…I'm sorry…about what happened."

She shrugged, "Wasn't your fault."

"I should have been there. I should have been able to protect you."

"And got yourself killed in the process? You're not here to be a martyr, Mr O'Brien, you're here to follow orders."

He raised an eyebrow, "Is that so?"

"That's so."

She had laid her head back down on her arms again gazing, unblinking, into the fire. He doubted that she would be able to rest properly, "Look…if you ever want to talk…"

She closed her eyes, willing him to drop the subject until she felt ready to face it again, "Right now, all I want to do is sleep."

He shot her a look of pure exasperation, "You Bajorans are too stubborn for your own bloody good."

"What was that?"

"Just commenting on the weather, Major. Go to sleep." And he prodded at the fire once more, turning the well cooked fowl to allow the other side to feel the flames.

Lars tore a generous chunk from the bird and went to Odo, "Hungry?"

Odo shook his head, "I don't eat."

The farmer took a bite of the tender meat and chewed thoughtfully, "Not bad. Could use a little seasoning."

The Changeling gave a noncommittal grunt and continued to scrutinise the undergrowth, as if expecting Marius to lead an army out to attack them. Lars swallowed the last of his food and peered up at him, "What's the matter, Odo?"

"Why did you come back? I told you to go home."

The farmer laughed, "That's it? Odo, you saved my boy's life - that's worth more than a ride into town. I couldn't let you launch a one man raid on Caspii and not offer my help."

Odo looked at him, "And if you had been killed? What would have happened to Rissa and Lisha? What would have happened to Darriel?"

"I'm not without friends, Odo. They would have been taken care of."

"You'll have to excuse Odo, Lars. Thank you's are not really his thing."

They turned to face Kira as she made her way slowly over to join them. Although unable to sleep, the rest had done her good and she was walking a little easier, though Odo still wished he had access to a medkit. He hated to see her in pain. He gave a gentle growl and frowned at her, "I have no trouble saying thank you, Major. I just fail to see the logic in risking so much for someone you barely know."

Lars put a hand on his arm, "My family mean everything to me, be in no doubts as to that. But I was in your debt and I always pay my dues." His eyes locked with Odo's, "Now the debt is paid. What I do from now on is mine to decide."

If the Constable was about to argue, he never got the chance. A twig snapped just out of sight and then O'Brien was at his side, the disruptor aimed steadily into the undergrowth, "Come out!"

A woman, battered and bleeding, one arm hanging useless at her side, staggered through the trees and stood before them, swaying with the effort of staying on her feet. Katalia tried to smile, but could only manage a grimace, "I thought it was you, O'Brien."

Miles lowered his weapon and helped the woman across to their makeshift campsite, sitting her down close to the fire, "How the hell did you get away?"

She shrugged, waving away the offer of food, "They didn't move the bodies, you see. When I woke up I was still close to the gates so I ran." She lowered her eyes, "I'm sorry, O'Brien, I didn't wait to see if any of the others had made it. I just ran." She wiped her good hand across her eyes with a frustrated snarl, "So much for a clean getaway."

Odo crouched down next to her, examining the disruptor burns to her mangled arm and knowing there was nothing he could do to help, "Did anyone see you escape?"

"I don't think so."

Kira scowled, "But you can't be sure. I think we should move away from here. If she was followed, we're sitting ducks."

Katalia glowered, "I wasn't followed."

The Bajoran matched her scowl for scowl, the nagging ache of bruises still too fresh in her memory for complete forgiveness and allied trust, "We should move. We've been here too long as it is."

Katalia pushed herself to her feet, "There's something I have to show you first."

*****

The further they travelled, the more nervous O'Brien was becoming.

Katalia was leading the way with too much confidence for some-one who was heading back *towards* the prison from which she had just escaped. He noticed that the further they went, the slower Jhemor was walking, until he was lagging a fair way behind them; whilst Kira was on full alert, her suspicious eyes scanning the forest around them for any sign of danger. Finally, as the distant walls of Caspii peeked over the horizon through the thinning trees, she came to sudden halt, causing Odo and Lars to all but walk into her, "All right, Katalia, where the hell are you taking us?"

The big woman shot her a look of irritation, "Keep moving. It's not much further."

Kira scowled, "Why can't you just *tell* us what it is you want to show us?"

"Because I don't have the words." And she continued walking, striding ahead with the same determination as before.

Kira looked at O'Brien and Odo, "I don't like this."

The Chief hefted the disruptor and charged it, the power pack whining gently, "At the first sign of trouble, run like hell."

She snorted, "I intend to."

Then Katalia's excited voice called back to them, "Here! I've found them!"

They caught up to her at a jog and skidded to a halt as the second anachronisms of the day stood in front of them.

They looked for all the world like troop transports. Old troop transports to be sure, but as close to a miracle as you could hope to find on a pre industrial world. About twenty feet long with caterpillar track wheels and seating inside for some thirty men, they were solid as a tank and just as out of place.

O'Brien walked slowly up to one of them and reached out to run his hand along its smooth metal surface as if to convince himself that it was real, "What the bloody hell..?"

Though obviously afraid of what she had found, Katalia was glaring at them with smug superiority, "You see! Everything I told you was true. Everything."

O'Brien nodded, his eyes never leaving the vehicle before him, "So it would seem."

He felt a tug at his sleeve and turned to find Jhemor, wide eyed and open mouthed, hiding behind him, "What *is* it, Mr 'Brien? How did it get here?"

The boy's second question was the easier to deal with at the moment and he ruffled Jhemor's hair in a way he knew would have driven him mad at that age, "I have no idea, son, and there doesn't seem to be anyone around to ask."

Jhemor bit his lip and lowered his voice to an almost whisper, "Do you think them *soldiers* put them here?"

O'Brien crouched down a little until he was face to face with the boy, matching his stage whisper with one of his own, "I think there's a very good likelihood that you're right. I'm just wondering where they got them in the first place."

After the smallest of pauses, the boy smiled brightly, forgetting to whisper, "We could go to the Palace!"

Kira turned away from her inspection of the vehicle, "The Palace?"

Jhemor nodded, "The Merchant's Palace. We could go there and ask them if *they* know, yes we could. The Merchants know *everything*. Marius told me."

Lars sighed, "A fine idea, except no-one knows where it is and if it even exists."

As one, they turned back to the troop transport, dismissing Jhemor's dreams of palaces as whims of fancy. The boy, though, was hopping from foot to foot with excitement, "Oh yes, yes, *I* do! But it's a really, really long way away. I'd been walking all night and all day and all night again when I saw it."

With a frown, the farmer stepped nearer to him, "You've *seen* the Merchant's Palace?"

"Yes."

"And?"

"And it's big."

Lars threw up his hands in frustration, "Jhemor!?"

Kira had been listening to the exchange with growing fascination. With the runabout useless she, O'Brien and Odo had no way of getting off this world - of even working out where exactly they were. If the Merchants had access to technology of this scale on a basically primitive planet, what else did they have hidden away?

She had little doubt that they would be unwelcome to say the least, but she had no intention of living out her life amongst people willing to kill her just because of the ridges on her nose. If they had to risk themselves confronting these Merchants, then so be it. She had no idea whether they were from a different social structure or from a different world all together - but it was time they met.

O'Brien and Odo had managed to open a panel in the side of the vehicle and were discussing what they had found in low voices. With any luck they would not have to walk any further. They would get nowhere, though, if their would-be guide went off in a huff. Easing the agitated Lars out of the way, Kira put her hand on Jhemor's shoulder and smiled, "Jhemor, which way is the Palace?"

He pointed, "*That* way" then glared sulkily at Lars, "And I'm not going to tell you any more things ever ever again if you keep on shouting at me, no I'm not."

Lars raised his hands and backed away, "I'm sorry."

"'S okay."

O'Brien stepped up behind Kira, his hands grubby with engine oil, "Major, I think I can get one of these started."

She followed him back over to the transport and peered into the workings, recognising nothing, "How long?"

He shrugged, "A few minutes."

"Do it, Chief."

The voice which interrupted was heavy with suspicion, "Do what?" and they turned to find Katalia watching them, her good hand clenched into a fist.

Odo stepped between Katalia and the vehicle, shielding the Chief from her superstitious gaze, "If he can start one of these vehicles, we can be at the Palace in hours rather than days."

"Hours?"

"Yes."

She turned away, deep in thought and O'Brien began to tug at the wiring of the transport, searching for some sort of ignition. Her shout stopped him and he spun round to find her at his shoulder, eyes wild as she watched him work, "Wait! How do you know what this is?"

He dropped the wires as if they were hot, "I…" and she grabbed his wrist, "You were with them all along, weren't you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The Merchants!" She released his arm and stepped away, "You were with them all along."

"That's rubbish and you know it."

Katalia shook her head rapidly, "No it's not. Look at you. You know what this…this…*thing* is, don't you?"

A sigh, "I have a rough idea."

Fury sparked in her eyes, pushing aside the superstitious fear of the unknown, "Everything I told you back at the prison, everything I said. You acted as though I were crazy and all the time you *knew* I was telling the truth."

O'Brien turned away from the transport and looked at her in irritation, "What did you expect me to say? Would you have trusted me if I'd told you I knew what you were talking about?"

"I…"

"Or would you have jumped to the same conclusion you're jumping to now?"

"I suppose so, but…"

The fatigue from the last few days was eating into him, making him irritable and he took a step closer and glared at her, one hand shooting out to point at Kira, "Do you think I would have let that bastard Marius get his hands on *her* if I'd been one of them?"

Katalia looked at her companions closely. Half a lifetime of being accused of deviancy, of being thrown into prison at the slightest provocation had left her with little trust of strangers. O'Brien had seemed like just another prisoner when she approached him, with only his friendship for the deviant making him different.

She had thought he was safe.

She knew what Marius liked to do to those who crossed him and her contacts had told her that he had taken particular pleasure in brutalising Kira. How likely was it that some-one would submit to that treatment as part of some elaborate ruse?

Her instincts were screaming at her to trust these people; telling her that she had little to lose either way. She lowered her eyes and nodded, "But how do you *know*..?"

O'Brien patted her on the shoulder, "There are lots of things I know that I can't explain. Trust me." And he turned back to the machine and pulled a bundle of cables from its guts.

Katalia watched him work, watched him perform miracles she could only dream of. She was turning her back on everything with which she felt safe and he had to understand her limits. She raised her eyes again, her voice soft, "If you *are* one of them, I'll kill you."

He nodded, "I don't doubt it."

He did *something* to the handful of *things* he was tinkering with and the vehicle sprang to life with a chugging growl before settling down to a gentle purr. Katalia and Jhemor jumped back, eyes wide, expecting the beast to leap forward and devour them. O'Brien, though, was grinning as he pulled open a side door, "There we go. Everybody in."

Lars and Jhemor climbed in, perching on the edge of their seats, unsure what to expect next. O'Brien stepped aside to allow Katalia access, but the big woman didn't move, her face a mask of concentration, "Are you sure this is wise?"

The Chief sighed, "It's perfectly safe, Katalia, there's nothing to be afraid of."

She scowled, "I'm not afraid, O'Brien, just cautious. Am I the only one who thinks this isn't right?"

The engineer ran a hand through his hair, his face reddening as he controlled his mounting temper and Odo stepped forward, "What do you mean?"

Katalia gestured sharply at the machines before her, desperate to be able to put her thoughts into words, "I mean *these* being here."

Lars poked his head out of the transport, "We don't have time for this…"

"Yes we do!" A piece of an unknown puzzle dropped into place and she realised what it was that was bothering her. So many wonders in one day had dulled her senses to the obvious, she decided. She took the Chief by the arm again and look at him closely, "O'Brien, did you tell anyone what we had planned for Kira's execution?"

He frowned, "No, of course not."

She turned to Kira, "And you?"

The Bajoran paused in her efforts to climb up into the transport and gave an unbecoming snort as she recalled her experiences, "Who would I tell? The only friendly face I saw was the messenger who gave me the dagger."

*Why* couldn't they see the obvious? It had been in front of them all morning. It had been there to see as they escaped the prison, as they traipsed through the forest. She clenched her fist In frustration, "Then how…"

Odo was nodding, realisation dawning, "Then how did they know there was going to be an escape attempt?"

"Exactly!"

O'Brien closed the access panel to the engine, "Some-one must have tipped them off. Which means…"

Kira jumped down from the transport and joined them, "Which means that some-one inside Caspii betrayed us."

**********

Chapter Ten