Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Faith: Part III, Peace

By Gabrielle Lawson

Disclaimer: Paramount and Viacom own all things Trek, including DS9, the main characters thereof, the Defiant, etc. I only borrow their characters and settings. The stories are mine. Do not copy without including this disclaimer and my name. Do not post without permission.

Author's Note: This story does reference other stories of mine. The Faith Trilogy can stand alone but it might leave you with questions. However, if you haven't read Faith, Part I and Part II, it will leave you completely baffled. These stories can be found on my own web site, as well as here.

Also note: This story begins at Chapter 11. Chapters 1-5 belong to the first story, Hope. Chapters 6-10 belong to the previous story, Forgiveness.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to my beta readers. I've added a few more over the more than a year that it took to write this. It's been a quiet couple of years in beta reader land, but the story got finished and help came when I needed it. Thanks to all the members of the Writer's Circle and Darrel Beach, Peter, Sue, and Rachel, too. Egwene was invaluable, as well, as she helped me greatly with all the medical stuff in that story. Thank you all.

Chapter Eleven

Julian Bashir turned back toward the door when he heard Ezri's shout. Part of him wanted to stay-the part that still held on to friendship and feared what would happen now that he didn't have Starfleet to protect him. The other part, though, reminded him that Starfleet hadn't been able to protect him thus far and that friendship could be betrayed. The door rolled shut before him, and he watched Ezri's concerned face as the shuttle moved away.

The shuttle went slowly-one-quarter impulse-until it cleared the station. He watched the station come into full view and then begin to diminish. He thought for a moment to burn it into his memory. Then he abruptly turned away. It was already there. He'd memorized every deck and viewport in the cave.

It was an early shuttle and therefore not full. Bashir went to his cabin and found the other two bunks there empty. So much the better. He didn't want company. He wanted to disappear.

He set his small bag down on the foot of the lowest bunk and lay down. He closed his eyes and tried to push his fears aside. They would come for him. He knew that. He didn't care anymore. Or he didn't want to. It wasn't that he'd let them win, let them turn him into someone like them. It was just that he was tired of fighting, tired of hiding, tired of breathing altogether. So he would let them come, then he would refuse to do what they wanted. Then he would disappear. This time for good.

"How could you let him go, Benjamin?" Dax accused as soon as she'd left the airlock, and Sisko was grateful now for the few seconds reprieve he'd had while she stood staring at the departing shuttle. He wasn't sure what had just happened with Bashir, but he knew he wasn't ready for this.

The others, Kira and O'Brien, had seemed just as shocked and confused, but now that Dax had broken the silence, they came to life again. "What just happened?" Kira asked, stepping closer to him.

O'Brien finally stepped into the room, though he still looked dazed. "He didn't," O'Brien stammered, as the door closed behind him. "He wouldn't."

Sisko rather hoped that was an answer to Dax and not just a comment on Bashir. He stayed silent for a few seconds, wondering if the Chief would say more. When he didn't, Sisko turned back to Dax. He rubbed his eyes as he spoke. "I couldn't stop him, Counselor. He resigned."

"You didn't have to accept it," Kira argued, but she wasn't angry yet. When she was angry, a fire blazed in her eyes. Maybe it was too early in the morning for that. Maybe she was still trying to understand what she'd just seen and heard. "We don't have a replacement CMO. You could have made him stay that long at least."

Sisko face began to heat up. He hadn't thought of that. He had tried to convince Bashir to stay. He hadn't thought of coercion. "I still haven't accepted it. I barely had a chance to read it. He didn't give me any time. He was going to leave without saying anything. I couldn't force him to stay."

"Yes, you could," Dax said, and now she seemed so much taller and stronger than Ezri's lithe form. She stood on his left, while Kira was on his right. The Chief was closing in on them from the front. "By my recommendation," she continued. "I relieved him of duty. He wasn't competent to make a decision like that."

"Wasn't he?" Sisko threw back. He didn't like her tone. This had become an interrogation, and he didn't like how it felt. He was still captain, still their commanding officer. "You let him practice medicine until yesterday. Counselor Troi found him competent."

"It's more complicated than that," she replied, glaring at him. Apparently, she was not overly interested in rank this morning. "He was hiding something, something about you, and I think you're hiding it, too. If I hadn't heard you try to talk him into staying, I would have suspected you wanted him to leave."

"What?" O'Brien asked, clenching something in his fist. But he wasn't asking Dax. "Why would you want him to leave?"

"You're right, Old Man," Sisko barked, ignoring the Chief and letting his disappointment and frustration take over his temper. "It is more complicated than that." He turned and started for the door, brushing past Kira and trying hard not to see that fire in her eyes.

"Then talk to me!" Dax demanded, catching up to him. "He wouldn't, and I couldn't help him because of that." She calmed a bit, placing a hand on his arm, and there was a hint of fear in her voice. "We can't let him go. It's not safe for him out there, Benjamin."

"It wasn't safe for him here," Sisko argued, though he wasn't sure why he did. He agreed with her, after all. His voice was softer now. He stopped at the door and faced her. "We couldn't keep him safe."

O'Brien stepped up, eyed the captain with grim determination. "We could do a lot better than a transport shuttle. But he knew that. He wants them to take him. And if you've got something to do with that, captain or no captain, I want to know why."

Sisko found he didn't much care for rank this morning either. Some things just managed to override protocol on occasion, such as concern for a friend. But now Sisko felt his disappointment in Bashir melting into fear. Bashir had turned? He was willfully giving himself to Section 31? That was just wrong, more wrong than the fact of Section 31's existence in the Federation. "Why?" he heard himself ask. "Why would he join them?"

"He doesn't want to join them, " O'Brien replied, still angry. But he unclenched his fist and showed Sisko the comm badge-Bashir's, it would seem-he held. His face was pale, not red as Sisko would have thought. "He wants to defy them. He wants to die."

Sisko's breath froze in his chest. He'd had no idea Bashir had sunk so far, but now he didn't need O'Brien to explain further to realize that it was true. Bashir's actions, and his words, made more sense now.

Kira apparently didn't agree, though. She stepped around the Chief and took the badge from his hand. "What?" she asked him. "Why would you think that?"

"Later, Colonel," Sisko ordered, feeling his rank again. He was sure they were already running out of time. "Right now we need to get that shuttle back."

Commander Riker rubbed his chin as he yawned and then sat down to check the logs.

"Goodnight, sir," Simmons offered before heading to the back.

"Get some rest," Riker ordered with a light smile. "We'll be entering the Faeros system in three hours."

Simmons grinned. "I'll be sure to keep my boots on."

With that he was gone, leaving only Riker and Dayton at ops and helm. The logs, Riker noted, were precisely in order. He'd have to remember that. Simmons had an evaluation coming up next month.

The runabout suddenly lurched to starboard. The inertial dampers compensated, but not before Riker heard four distinct thumps from the back. Riker looked at the woman beside him. She didn't bother looking back, but kept her eyes on the console in front of her.

"I hope you have a good reason for changing course, Lieutenant," Riker barked as he put away the logs.

"I do, sir," she replied, still not looking up.

Riker waited a moment for her to share the reason. He didn't know her well. Admiral Necheyev had insisted she be a part of this mission. He checked sensors but could not detect any other ships, enemy or otherwise, in range. And then, he wondered why none of the four in the back had come forward to complain about being dumped from their bunks.

Riker stood and leaned over Dayton's console to see just where she was taking them. His eyes widened when he saw the heading, and he spun Dayton around in her chair. She finally looked up at him.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"Furthering our mission," she replied, and Riker realized she hadn't bothered to say "sir."

Riker's hand fell to the phaser at his side. "What mission would that be?"

Dayton didn't appear intimidated in any way. "The mission to find the illustrious Dr. Pfenner, of course," she said. "And, really, Commander, the weapon is pointless. If you'll have a seat, I'll be happy to explain."

Riker's felt the heat rise in his face. But he sat. She might have been a changeling, but she could have attacked him at any time, especially after such an obvious course change. She couldn't expect to stay hidden. But there was another possible reason for her sudden insubordination. "What have you done to the others?" he asked.

"Sleeping," she answered with a smile, "just as they should be. The effect should wear off by the time you reach your destination."

"I thought this was our mission."

"You got me there," she admitted, and her smile widened a bit, crinkling the skin around her eyes. Then it was gone and she was all business. "We do have the same goal, that being Dr. Pfenner, but we'll be achieving that goal in different ways."

"What does Section 31 want with Pfenner?" Riker asked, taking the risk that he had guessed wrong.

"It's what we do," she answered, confirming his suspicions. She cocked her head and a bit of her hair fell across her forehead. She pushed it back. "We protect the Federation from its enemies, including those who happen to be its citizens."

Riker nodded, understanding what she meant by that. "What proof do you have that Pfenner is a traitor?"

"We don't," she replied, turning again to the console behind her. "But that is why we're helping you to find him." With her head bowed like that, the back of her neck was fully exposed beneath her short-cropped hair. Ordinarily, Riker found that part of a woman's anatomy alluring. Now he just wanted to throttle her.

He ignored that impulse. "Helping?" He was getting tired of asking questions, but she left him with far too many to be ignored. "How is commandeering my runabout, drugging my crew, and putting us on a direct course to the D'Nexi Lines considered helping?"

"Because you won't find Pfenner in the Faeros system, despite the information Starfleet Intelligence provided." She ran her hands over the console once more. "Well, my part here is nearly done. Don't bother trying to change course. You won't find Pfenner in any other direction. You could disable the runabout, but that would leave you drifting in hostile territory. Not a wise option. Calling for help would likewise delay your mission, and I think you know how vital it is that we find the good doctor. We cannot allow the Dominion to perfect K-Layer Subspace Concealment."

At least on that point, Riker could agree. Once DS Nine had determined the nature of the Dominion's experiments, Riker had campaigned hard to get a mission to find Pfenner or destroy his work. He had volunteered for this one almost before Necheyev had had a chance to finish her first sentence in ordering it. He just didn't like being used this way. He found himself thinking about Bashir and wondering if this was the sort of situation Section 31 had tried to put him in.

"What's your part?" he asked her as she stood and straightened her uniform. She'd said she was nearly done and it was clear she was planning to leave. "You obviously have superior resources. Why do you need us to get Pfenner?"

The corners of her mouth tipped up slightly as she looked down at him. "You? We only need you because he would never go with us."

"Who? Pfenner?"

Her smile increased again, reaching all the way to her eyes. She touched her right arm with her left and disappeared in a shimmer. Riker hadn't seen any device on her sleeve and was still trying to figure out how she'd transported with full shields from a runabout at warp when he heard the soft whir of the transporter again. Then he knew she hadn't meant Pfenner at all.

"Good morning, Admiral."

Ross spun around, nearly dropping his breakfast. Then he saw the owner of the voice. "Sloan."

Sloan was sitting on the couch, leaning back with one leg crossed over the other. "Sleeping in?"

Ross sat down at the table, deciding he did not want to give Sloan the satisfaction of disturbing his meal. "A rare luxury in this war."

Sloan seemed to accept that. "I have to congratulate your people on cracking the case," he said, offering a bright smile. "I would have congratulated Captain Sisko personally, but I don't think he'd be happy to see me."

"And you think I am?" Ross retorted, taking a bite of his eggs. "Bashir was right. You are slipping."

Sloan raised his hand to his chest in mock sincerity. "You wound me." His hand lowered back onto his leg, and he dropped the faux-sincere tone. "We have business to discuss."

Ross took a long sip of his coffee in an attempt to settle himself. "I finished my business with you on Romulus," he finally said.

Sloan put both feet on the floor and leaned forward. "Do you really think so, Admiral? You might want to ask Doctor Bashir." He stood. "Oh, wait, you can't. He isn't here."

Not again, Ross thought. He set down his fork and turned to face Sloan. "What do you mean he isn't here? What have you done with him?"

Sloan raised his hand again, and this time his tone spoke of hurt. "Me? Oh, you mean us?" He stepped closer to the table. "Actually, Admiral, he resigned. Took the early shuttle and left the station this morning." He pulled out a chair and sat down, relaxing into the chair. "But, if you want to get technical, he's no longer on that shuttle. And that would be why we have business to discuss. Please, finish your breakfast."

Ross set down his fork. He didn't feel much like eating anymore.

"I don't understand it myself," the shuttle captain said. "You're sure he boarded?"

"We saw him board the shuttle," Sisko replied, trying to hide his frustration, "just before you took off."

"That doesn't make sense. We haven't stopped and we've not seen any other ships yet. We've searched every inch of this vessel. He's not here."

Sisko sighed. He'd been afraid of that. Section 31 hadn't wasted any time. Bashir was gone and it wasn't likely they would find him. It had taken six months last time and the only reason he'd been found was because he'd wanted to be found and had worked hard to make it possible. This time, if O'Brien was right, Bashir didn't want to be rescued. He wanted to die.

"Thank you for looking, Captain," Sisko said. "He had a bag with him when he left."

"We did find a bag that no one else claimed."

"Could you please send it back to us?"

"Of course," the captain agreed. "I don't know how he left this ship, but I hope you find him, Captain. Good luck."

"Thank you. Safe journey."

The line closed and Sisko felt the darkness the Prophet had warned him about pounding in his head. He could guess at what this latest move was going to cost Bashir, but he wondered still how it would affect himself. The Prophet had said he was lost in darkness, and Sisko could concede that part. He realized that the only reason he could concede was because of his confrontation with Bashir. There was a proverb somewhere to fit that: There can be no darkness without light, no good without evil. It takes one to show the existence of the other. Bashir, darkened even as he was, had already been light to show where Sisko was dark. What now, now that he was gone?

The bunks were all taken by the original members of Riker's team. There were four bunks. Two people were supposed to be on duty at all times. But now there were five who were asleep-or, rather, unconscious. He'd found the other four on the floor in the rear compartment, obviously having fallen out of their bunks. It was hard enough getting two of them back in the lower bunks, but he'd also had to lift the other two to the upper ones. Which left no place for Bashir.

And right now, as he watched the stars fly by outside the cockpit viewscreen, Bashir was the one he most wanted to wake up. The doctor was transported in unconscious, and Riker had been forced to leave him lying there on the deck. He was wearing civilian clothes, but a folded uniform had materialized at his side with a paper note pinned on top. "He'll need this," it said and nothing more.

Riker had a lot of questions, especially since Bashir had shown up. He discarded the note, since it didn't answer any of them, and placed the uniform under the doctor's head as a makeshift pillow. Already this trip was longer than he'd planned. Dayton had left more than two hours before, and according to their new heading they'd be nearing the D'Nexi Lines in five more.

Hell, he thought. If I wanted to go to the D'Nexi Lines, I would have stayed on Enterprise. The Klingons had been holding the Lines and the Enterprise had just received orders to join up with Admiral Dlouhy's group to help push the Dominion back there. Necheyev's orders had superceded though, and so Riker and the runabout had diverted toward Faeros after a possible sighting Starfleet Intelligence had reported. But it was apparent now that Section 31 had different plans and better resources. And he didn't have any other choices just now. So Riker waited, alone in a defenseless runabout, heading towards this sector's most recent active front.

Kira felt sick. She, O'Brien, and Dax had talked in a tight huddle in Ops while trying to get the shuttle to turn back. O'Brien had shared some of his conversation with Bashir the night before. Dax still wanted to honor her patient-counselor confidentiality, but Kira could read in her face the confirmation of O'Brien's words. Bashir was committing suicide. It was a rather elloborate, drawn out way to go about it, but it was still suicide. He was setting himself up to be killed by Section 31. But the details didn't matter to her so much as just the fact that he had given up. That Julian Bashir should give up on life was a thought she had never expected, nor wanted, to think. The only times he had done that before were in Auschwitz and under such circumstances as to make a death-wish understandable. In one, he'd been faced with beating another prisoner to death. He chose death for himself, but wasn't given the option. In the second, he was faced with a relatively slow death in a gas chamber full of screaming, dying, crushing people. He took a breath, allowing the gas to enter his lungs and kill him quicker. The choice was taken from him as he was saved at the last minute.

This was different. He was healthy; he was whole. He'd been freed from a solitary existence in a dark cave and returned to his post and friends. He was still faced with hard choices and difficult circumstances, but not enough, in her mind, to warrant a desire to die. And if that were enough, it would be so for other people, not for Doctor Julian Bashir. He was a bright spot on this gray station. Too bright he'd seemed at first, and she had resented his presence. Time, though, wore her resistance to him down, softened his edges, and allowed her to see the good in him. His brightness became something she valued. The war had darkened it but had not managed to put it out. She had missed his light when the station was occupied, and even more when he was marooned. She had so hoped to see that brightness again when he returned, but now that she knew, she realized it hadn't returned with him. O'Brien was right. And it made her stomach turn to wonder what could have killed his spirit. Even more, it unsettled her to think the captain, the Emissary, knew and had known all this time.

A small light blinked on her console. It was time. They had scheduled a meeting in the Ward Room to discuss Bashir. She locked her console and called over her standby before joining Dax and O'Brien on the turbolift platform. "Any luck?" she asked, hoping one of them would have an affirmative answer.

O'Brien shook his head sadly. "They took him," he said, dejected. "I'm sure of it." The turbolift began to lower.

"So soon?" Dax asked, sounding as young and naive as she looked. "They were going to search the shuttle."

"But the captain didn't come out to tell us he'd been found," O'Brien argued. "They were done with their search. If they had found him, he would have told us."

Kira's stomach felt even less secure on the moving lift. "Let's just wait to hear what he says," she offered, wanting to hold out hope, but too practical to really think O'Brien was wrong.

They were the first to arrive in the Ward Room. Odo came in and took a seat. Sisko and Worf arrived together not long after. Dax barely waited for the door to close behind the captain. "What did they say? Did they find him?"

Sisko shook his head slowly and sat down. "They couldn't find a trace. Except his bag. They're going to send that back to us."

Kira sat down next to Odo and felt his hand reaching for hers. She took it and he squeezed just a bit, letting her know that he understood. It helped. "So what do we do now?"

"We start talking," Dax said. "We each have a piece of this puzzle, but none of us knows the full picture. How did he come to this?"

Sisko waited while they each discussed what they knew of Julian since his return. Dax told how he wasn't sleeping. Kira reported his work in the lower levels. O'Brien recounted a bit of his conversation with the doctor the night before. Odo and Worf didn't have anything to add, so they just listened. That left him. He took a deep breath, trying to prepare himself for what he had to do next. It was the only thing he could think of, and it could cost him the trust of his staff. But if he didn't do it, he'd lose it for sure. He was the last piece of the puzzle, and they all suspected him already.

O'Brien and Dax were watching the captain sharply, and Sisko wondered which of the two would be the first to bring the subject up.

But it was Kira who broke the uneasy silence that had settled over the group. "So what did you have to do with it, Captain?" she asked, her voice still offering some measure of respect. "There is something between you two."

He could just stall them with the easy stuff: the order to go with Section 31, his disappearance after Jadzia's death. He could, and they might be satisfied that Julian's recent isolation and exhaustion had amplified everything to the point where he was suicidal. But it wasn't enough to discount his loss of faith in everything and everyone. One uncaring commander couldn't do that. Even Section 31 couldn't do that. No, a commanding officer that stepped over the ethical line-with Starfleet's approval-, that might be enough to push Bashir over the edge. Bashir had tried to hide his turmoil during his time on the station and Sisko had helped him to do it. But in doing so, he hadn't helped Julian at all. Julian was falling apart and Sisko just stood and watched him crumble. It was past time for the truth.

It was just that the truth was a hard thing sometimes. This time especially. He looked each of his officers in the eye, trying to determine what they'd feel for him when this was over. Worf wouldn't be much of a problem. He'd never been overly fond of Bashir anyway, but he was honorable to a fault, and what Sisko had done was not honorable. That said, he had sacrificed a key intelligence mission for the sake of his wife. He might understand that the stakes outweighed the question of honor. O'Brien had made hard decisions, too, in the past. He had fought the Cardassians before. He would probably come around eventually. Dax was there when the idea had taken shape, if not the specifics. But Ezri? He hadn't known Ezri then, and he didn't know her all that well now. Kira had been a resistance fighter-a terrorist, the Cardassians would have called her. She had said several times that she wasn't proud of everything she did back then. Maybe she would understand. Odo. . . . Odo. Sisko remembered Kira's aloofness toward the Security Chief immediately after they had retaken the station. He had linked with a Founder after promising Kira he would not. He had jeopardized their fledgling resistance movement and the lives of Rom and herself. The allure of the link had been too strong.

"Constable," he said. "Secure this room."

Odo got up and walked to the door. Worf pulled out a tricorder and both concurred that what was said in the room would remain private.

Sisko took another breath, and faced Odo, who was still waiting by the door. "We need to have a talk, and what we say-what I say-here, cannot leave this room. Which is why you'll have to."

Odo cocked his head to the side. "Excuse me?" His voice was just a bit more gruff than usual.

Kira stood up from her seat. "What have you got to say that our Security Chief-our Bajoran Security Chief-can't hear?"

"Some very serious things, Colonel," Sisko replied, staring her down. "Some of the things that drove Doctor Bashir into that shuttle. And it's not that I don't trust Odo, but he isn't a Bajoran. He's a changeling."

That wasn't at all how Sisko wanted to get Odo out of the room. He wasn't even sure why he'd ended up starting the way he had. Odo crossed his arms and grunted. Sisko knew just what he was thinking.

"But I'm not a Founder," Odo held. "Haven't we established that?"

Well, it wasn't exactly what Sisko thought he was thinking. And the captain was even surprised to hear a bit more hurt in Odo's voice when he'd expected anger and sarcasm.

"I'm sorry, Constable," Sisko said. He looked back at Kira again and waited until she sat down again before turning back to Odo. "But you are a changeling and you've had problems with that distinction in the past. Can you guarantee you'll never turn your back on us again, as you did during the occupation?"

Odo's eyes dropped to the floor.

"Can you promise," Sisko went on, "to never link with a Founder again? Ever? Because that's what I'm talking about. Not just for the duration of the war. Not just for our lifetimes, but forever. Or until the Federation ceases to exist. Can you promise that?"

Odo didn't speak. And now Kira's head dipped forward. Odo turned toward the door, but Sisko held up a hand to stop him for a moment.

"I'm not leaving you with nothing, Constable. We still need to find him. There's no one I trust more to do that than you. And when we do find him, we've got to find a way to keep him safe."

Odo nodded once and stepped outside the door.

Sisko looked at the others. "Can any of you make that promise? You know that there was something between Julian and me that pushed him toward that shuttle. But you need to know what you're getting into. You need to know that what I am about to tell you will make you accessories. Julian knows. That guilt is part of why he left. If you don't want that, if you aren't willing to live with it-for the rest of your lives-step outside with Odo."

No one moved. O'Brien was openly suspicous now, glaring from his end of the table. Dax's brows were pulled down over her eyes as she watched him. Worf was all business. He did not so much as twitch to give his emotions away. Kira had raised her head, but not her eyes.

Sisko's mouth went dry. He'd been thinking of how to start this ever since they left the shuttle bay. But he'd also thought of how to tell Odo he had to leave and that hadn't gone so well. I made a deal with the devil, he thought. It's not supposed to be easy. And he thought maybe he should have invited Garak, but he dismissed that quickly. Garak had done what he did, but he had also played a big part in the fight against the Dominion and their Cardassian allies, at serious risk to himself. He didn't deserve any more punishment from this crew than he already got. Besides, it was Sisko's decision. He could have stopped anywhere along the way.

He finally just started talking, letting the words leave him as they came to his mind. "It's worth repeating: What I say here can't leave this room. Not in words; not in actions. Not in long looks or damning glares. None of you were ever supposed to know this; no one was. Julian found out and he couldn't cover it up. It led you to question. And now you're going to know. And it can't lead to more questions. If the Romulans ever found out, they might end their alliance with us. If the Dominion ever found out, they might make sure the Romulans did, too. If we win the war and the Romulans find out then, we might be at war again. Now or a hundred years from now. That is the danger. No one can ever know."

"The Romulans?" Dax asked. Her eyes widened and Sisko knew she'd guessed. "How?"

"I'm coming to that, Old Man," he told her, "but everyone needs to understand the risks." He waited until there were nods all around the table. Sisko turned to Worf. "Commander, tell us how the Romulans came to join the war."

Riker saw the ships on long-range sensors just before Bashir awoke. The doctor's eyes simply opened and his eyebrows scrunched in confusion as he looked around. Then his gaze fell on Riker and the commander could sense the anger newly mixed in Bashir's expression. "Where am I?" he asked, his voice harsh and a bit course.

Since the instruments in front of him did little good, Riker turned his whole attention to the doctor. He looked quite different from the last time he'd seen him. No uniform, for one thing. That was still folded on the floor as Bashir stood. He didn't bother to pick it up. But there was more than that. His eyes looked hollow and his face was thinner and maybe even paler, though Bashir was still dark-complected. Riker guessed that things had not gone well on the station, and he felt sorry for the doctor.

"We're in a runabout," Riker answered, making sure to use the first person plural to show that they were in this together. "Have a seat."

Bashir didn't move, except to examine all the walls, the ceiling and the deck. "Is this another hologram?"

Riker didn't get the reference. "What hologram? This is a runabout."

"You said that already," Bashir pointed out, and he gazed at Riker with obvious suspicion. "How do I know you're not just programmed to say that. They've used holograms before and I won't be fooled again."

Riker nodded, understanding now. Section 31. "Ask me something," he offered. "Something only I would know. From Carello Naru, the cave. No one else was there."

Bashir's eyes narrowed as he considered this. Finally, he offered his question. "Who held the door?"

Riker pulled in a breath. Good question. That was not something that Section 31 was likely to know, or at least he hoped they didn't. It hadn't ended up in his report because he still wasn't sure he could believe it himself. Still, he knew the answer Bashir was looking for. "Vláďa," he replied. "The kid from the camp."

If he'd thought to gain Bashir's trust by that answer, he'd apparently thought wrong. Bashir grew more suspicious and crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you one of them?"

Riker sighed. "If you mean Section 31, no, I'm not one of them. If you mean one of the innocent people manipulated into doing things their way, then yes, I'm one of them. Just like you. Have a seat, Doctor. I think we both could use some explaining."

Bashir didn't make any move to sit. "I don't want any explaining. I want to be put back on my shuttle. I want to be left alone."

Riker looked at the uniform on the floor again. He didn't need Bashir to explain everything. He could guess. "Do you really think they're ever going to leave you alone?" he asked, and he sincerely wanted an answer to that. Now that he'd been pulled into Section 31's machinations, he rather worried a bit that they'd never leave him alone again.

Bashir didn't answer, but his face flushed.

Riker took another guess. "You knew they'd come after you." Bashir didn't answer, but he did finally take the seat. Riker wished Troi was here. There was something very important going on with Bashir, he could tell, and he was beginning to fear what it might be. "You wanted them to come? Why? You hate them."

Bashir sighed and turned his chair to face the helm. "Because I'm tired." Then his face paled further as he took in the details of their heading. "D'Nexi? Why D'Nexi?"

Riker now wished Bashir had remained unconscious. If Bashir had given up his fight against Section 31 and if he would never join them, then it meant only one thing. He was waiting for them to kill him. A suicidal crew member only made this mission more dangerous than it had already become. Pfenner or no Pfenner, they had to turn this runabout around.

"Because that's where Section 31 wants us to go," Riker told him, trying to choose his words carefully. "I don't particularly want to go there, but they think that's where Pfenner is. They locked the helm. We can't change course and we can't call for help. We're going to D'Nexi. Unless we can find a way past their lockout. Do you think you could break their code?"

He didn't move and Riker held his breath. He needed Bashir. Bashir was genetically enhanced, probably with an intellect closer to Data than the rest of the crew combined. If anyone could break the code, it would be him. But he had to want to do it. Bashir's silence likely meant he was thinking it over, and Riker chose to hope that was a good sign.

Finally, Bashir spoke. "In thirty minutes?" There was absolutely no inflection in his voice. No sign of sarcasm or incredulity. If anything, it sounded like disinterest.

Riker blew out his breath and decided on a different track. "What about a transmission? We could call for help. They took out communications but they didn't touch our replicator."

Now, at least, there was emotion to his voice again as he repeated his earlier question. "In thirty minutes?!" He turned away from the helm to look Riker square in the eye. "Do you think I'm that much of a freak? It took weeks the one other time I'd done it."

Riker shook his head. He'd gone wrong with that one. He'd let his desparation push Bashir too far. "No, I don't think you're a freak at all. I got carried away. Look, if we can't stop this runabout, turn it around, or get help from someone else, we're going to reach the D'Nexi Lines and there's going to be a lot of fighting going on that we're not equipped to participate in."

"So we'll be shot down," Bashir said, and Riker did not like how he said it. There were more people on this runabout than just one suicidal man.

"You, me, and the four crewmen in the back."

Bashir's head turned quickly toward the back. With perfect timing, Simmons suddenly emerged from the rear compartment. He held the wall for support and dropped groggily into the chair at the tactical station. He did a double-take when he saw Bashir, but addressed Riker. "What's going on, sir?"

Riker sighed again. "We've had a change in plans. Not one I'm comfortable with and I'm still holding out hope-" he glanced hard at Bashir "-that we can get out of it altogether. Are the others awake?"

Simmons didn't need to answer because now the other three were coming forward. Garulos and Bormann were more alert than Simmons had been, but then they had been resting for hours before they'd been put under. Simmons had just gone aft. Formenos came last, and though she appeared alert as well, she held her left wrist tightly in her right hand. She'd fallen from one of the upper bunks and Riker guessed it was sprained. He hoped it wasn't broken.

"Where's Dayton?" Garulos asked. "And who's this?" Then he hastily added, "Sir."

"This is Doctor Julian Bashir of Deep Space Nine. Doctor, these are Lieutenants Simmons and Bormann, and Crewmen Garulos and Formenos," he said, indicating each as he introduced them. "Dayton is the reason for our change in plans. She wasn't one of us. She's changed course and locked the runabout down. We're heading for the D'Nexi Lines and unless someone has a great idea in the next thirty minutes, we'll reach them."

Simmons blew a low whistle at that news. "D'Nexi?"

"Was she a changeling?" Formenos asked.

"Not exactly," Riker answered. "It's complicated and right now we don't have time for an explanation. Let's just say she swapped places with Doctor Bashir here." He turned back to Bashir now. "Doctor, do you think you could help Crewman Formenos with that wrist?"

Bashir hadn't spoken throughout the entire exchange and now he only nodded. He rose slowly from his chair and retrieved a medkit from behind a wall panel. He stepped over the uniform to get to it and Bormann noticed. "Excuse me, sir," he said, addressing Bashir. "But why aren't you in uniform?"

Riker was surprised when Bashir answered. "Because I resigned this morning."

That pronouncement was followed by an awkward silence that Bashir seemed completely oblivious to. Garulos and Simmons swapped shrugs and Bormann picked up the uniform and carefully laid it on one of the unused consoles.

Deciding it was best to keep the attention off the doctor, Riker again brought up their predicament. "We need options, people. We've got twenty-five minutes before we reach those lines, but someone's probably going to notice us before that."

Bashir moved now to the back of the cabin, relinquishing, Riker realized, the helm to someone who was still in Starfleet, as Formenos thanked him and stretched her newly healed wrist.

"What about simple Morse Code?" Simmons suggested. "Can we at least get that out."

Riker shook his head. "I tried that while you were still sleeping."

Before anyone else could offer a suggestion, the tactical station lit up and the ship automatically shifted into alert status. Simmons spun back to the console and froze for just a second. He snapped back to attention and reported his findings. "Two Jem'Hadar attack vessels, sir. Closing fast. I think we just ran out of time."

"Red alert! Raise shields," Riker ordered and the runabout's crew rushed to their positions. Formenos took over helm station and tried to change course. Riker didn't stop her. There was no reason not to try. Riker turned next to Simmons. "Weapons status?"

Simmons shook his head. "None, sir."

"None?" Bashir asked from the back.

"We don't have any. No phasers, no torpedoes. Where'd they go, sir?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Riker replied, checking the short-range sensors. The Jem'Hadar were in range. But they weren't firing.

Bashir finally came forward. "Why aren't they firing?"

Just then the runabout's engines cut out completely, though Formenos lifted her hands and shook her head. Garulos answered for them all. "We've been set up."

Riker finally understood. For one brief moment, everything slowed down and allowed him to put the pieces together. The course that brought them to within sensor range of a Dominion fleet and then promptly shut down their engines to prevent their escape. The communications blackout to keep them from calling for help. The unconscious crew to eliminate any chance of a creative solution at the last minute. And now Jem'Hadar ships closing fast but not firing. They were going to be captured. They needed to be captured. Pfenner must have been captured, too. Section 31 had led Riker and the others to him, by leading the Dominion right to them.

Riker caught the uniform from the corner of his eye. No, he thought, they led Bashir. We were just the vessel to get him here. Bastards!

Then the moment was over and time returned to its previously frantic pace. The communications console lit up and Bormann reported the hail. "They're demanding we surrender, sir."

Riker stood and picked up the uniform. "Tell them we accept, Lieutenant."