Eerie silence spread to every corner of the bridge, as the voices of Captain Sisko's officers were muted enough for soundless air to settle in even the narrowest of empty spaces. But nothing more challenged them from the forward screen, save for the welcome black distance of interstellar space. Sisko suspected that what little reddish glow remained was only an illusion - an afterimage.
No. A memory.
Repeatedly clenching some of the tension away through his hands, he propelled himself from the central chair. "Dax. Any signs of pursuit?"
But then- He paused just long enough to ask. What sign would there be?
"No, Captain." The Trill woman's voice came suddenly, as though she'd had to remind herself that the humanoid Jadzia was capable of speech. And yet, hers were the words that finally completely dissolved the silence.
"In that case," Sisko added. "Set a course for Deep Space Nine."
It was not until the command had been given and confirmed that he realised how much he'd been longing to say those words. He felt the knots in his shoulders relax and dissolve almost to nothing, still a little anxious - but of the Defiant's crew, only Kira paused to glance once more to the back of the room.
Confident that the others would carry out his orders with little continued prompting, Captain Sisko turned sharply to look behind him, mouth open and ready to demand an explanation.
Instead, he stopped. Both wayward officers were as silent as they had ever been, hunched over and watching with apprehensive, gleaming eyes. Both looked tired enough to collapse.
Inwardly, the captain sighed. Whatever retributions he would have to make, there would be plenty of time to evaluate their actions once the Defiant and all its people were safely back at DS9.
"You two," he snapped. "Back to your quarters. Now."
"Thankyou, Sir," O'Brien responded at half-volume. Bashir moved his lips in a silent echo of the same two words. All activity on the bridge was halted for only a moment, as the still tacit guard followed them like an extra shadow through the exit.
Disappointment seeped gradually into the watcher's consciousness, spreading to its edges as molten honey might saturate the fibres of a sponge. Anger and frustration had been quick to rise, but every bit as quick to fade. Not so its steady regret once the Alpha Quadrant vessel had passed beyond easy reach, wraith like, and barely substantial. Whatever strange magic had allowed it to vanish so completely, the humans were gone. And the watcher had lost all power to access their thoughts. They, and their varied companions, were far beyond the watcher's reach.
The spectre of disillusion, of opportunities wasted, was a lingering shadow in its memory. But, no - there was no real need to feel its sting. Even as the aliens made their escape, every one of their choices had been fascinating to watch, its ingenuity astonishing. A fair consolation, in some strange measure. And consolations, at least, were better than nothing.
In a corner of the galaxy, far from the established routes, an angry cloud was settling. Flares of supercharged energy faded to a steady glow of yellow and Autumn red. All that could be seen, should any traveller find reason to pass it by, was a silent, stationary nebula - and the ever drifting planet with no name.
"Oh…" Rom's voice ended in a long, tapering moan. "I don't know, Brother…" Tool kit in hand, he cast a reluctant glance to the charcoal-dark staircase that marked the way to the station's only working holosuites.
Quark bared his fangs. "You get up there right now," he threatened. "Or I'm taking the lost profits from your salary."
Which I may just do regardless, he thought with an inward scowl to surpass even the dark expression on his face. He'd have dragged his younger brother up there by the teeth already, if only he could make himself believe that there was time.
Rom's panicky, open-mouthed stare was still firmly stuck in the direction of the stairs. Hissing in frustration, Quark swatted him away as he would a Vayan horn-fly and glowered at his idiot brother's shuffling ascent.
There were problems enough already without Rom adding still more fuel to his headache. Bad enough that all those Federation types had resumed their random anti-changeling drills - scaring even more of his customers away. And now, when he glanced across the floor of his Establishment, there were two more of his customers, sitting and moping in the farthest dark corner.
Doctor Bashir and Chief O'Brien were drinking - that was true. Or, at the very least, half forgotten drinks remained upon their table. But they were not gambling. Not using Quark's holosuites. Not even playing with that useless Darts-board which the Chief once insisted should hang on a wall near the end of the bar.
Neither man was doing anything much at all, in fact. They were just… moping. And dragging the mood of the whole place down.
Darts. Baseball. Bacon and Eggs… The thought alone was enough to turn Quark's stomach.
"Hew-mons," he grumbled in disgust, and stormed away to take his frustrations out on Morn.
"Honest," said Miles. "It's a good programme. I'm positive you'll enjoy it this time."
Julian looked down with a heavy smile, to where he still toyed distractedly with the edge of his half empty glass. Too much time had passed them by, and much of his attention remained engaged in a contemplation of its clear reflective surface. A leaden mood was quick to descend upon them both, weighing them down and holding them captive as surely as the watcher's telepathy had done. Even now, he could scarcely believe a lot of those things which Dax had already told him.
He did not lift his gaze from the slender threads of reflected colour passing smoothly over the curvature of his glass. The ambient conversations were distant and unreal - and neither he nor the Chief could imagine what words would be enough to interrupt their thoughts. It had been a long time since his friend somehow found the will to speak. But Julian remained silent, and still with that same deep, heavy feeling at his core. He was unable to force his attention away from the glass, and from the thinning residue of liquid inside.
And Bashir stared wanly at the drink in his hand, although not particularly noticing the way in which the light shifted over its surface. "I don't know, Chief," he said, frowning slightly. "You're probably right. But it's just… today…"
"I know what you mean," the Chief conceded, echoing his companion's whispered sigh. Slowly, almost wistfully, he slipped the rod back into its snug-fitting case. "Guess it's just not the right mood."
Bashir nodded. It would have been far better, he reflected silently, if he had not been so sure of what O'Brien had meant.
"There's always next week." He looked up, suddenly hopeful.
Miles responded with the faintest of smiles, and paused to throw back the remainder of his drink. Standing quietly, he patted his younger friend on the back and stepped around him to where he could see a clearer path away from Quark's.