The raiders dragged Quark and O'Brien to the local lockup and threw them into a cell. After making sure that the forcefields were all too functional, O'Brien began to pace. Quark preferred to complain.
"I told you this would happen! I told you we should have made for the runabout as soon as we had the chance, but did you listen to me?"
"Stanton" entered the room, accompanied by several of his men, and gave O'Brien a suave smile.
"You've got a lot of nerve raiding a Federation colony. Star Fleet won't rest until you're tracked down!" O'Brien threatened.
The raider was unimpressed. "They've had little luck thus far. But enough chit chat. I'm rather disappointed that my masquerade didn't work. I thought my commander act was quite good."
"It didn't fool me," Quark boasted.
"Stanton" turned a look of marked distaste in his direction. "You little trolls do have an animal-like cunning. Ah well. It really makes no difference, Chief. I still expect you to fix the grid."
O'Brien's chin tilted defiantly. "Good luck. If you're smart, you'll take the runabout and flee while you've got the chance. Commander Sisko's probably got half the fleet on its way here by now."
"Not at all," the raider corrected. "Just a few hours ago we had a lovely chat. He's pleased that you're proving so helpful, though he did find it necessary to chide me for trying to entice you away."
O'Brien swallowed back his disappointment. "He was just acting. Trying to allay your suspicions."
"Stanton" chuckled. "I'm sure. And even if I did suspect something, Chief, I'd hardly abscond in a Star Fleet vessel. I'd be tracked down in a nanosecond. Why, that's something a Ferengi would do. Besides, I'm not about to abandon my ship. Its cargo holds are filled with the pickings of three settlements -- enough to last me and my crew for a very, very long time. Or less, if we spend it foolishly enough."
"You'd better take your chances with the runabout, because there's no way I'm going to fix the grid for you, and without that power, your ship isn't going anywhere." O'Brien folded his arms across his chest and hoped his voice didn't betray his uneasiness.
"Oh, I think I can change your mind. My crew can be very persuasive," the raider countered lightly.
O'Brien glared at him scornfully, but his heart turned over in his chest. "How do you expect me to repair microcircuitry if I'm beaten to a jelly?"
"Stanton's" eyes widened. "Good heavens, Chief. I would never hurt you. As you point out, I need you in good shape."
"Who then? Quark?" He guffawed incredulously. "If you think you can coerce me by threatening him --"
"Hey!" the Ferengi protested in alarm.
The raider captain looked insulted. "Give me a little credit, would you?" He signalled to his men, and a thug entered, bringing in a little girl about Molly's age. "Have you met WenShawn Deann? She has her mother's eyes, don't you think?"
O'Brien went white. "You wouldn't-- "
"Do you need a demonstration?" "Stanton" offered.
"No! Don't hurt her!" O'Brien exclaimed, surging towards the forcefield.
The raider smiled in gratification and triumph. "I'm glad you see it my way. However, much as I need your assistance, I don't think I can trust you around that intriguing little tool kit of yours. We found it back at the power station, and I don't even know what half those things do. So we'll do it this way: from your cell, you are going to instruct Mayva in the grid's repair. Needless to say, if there are any problems or delays, little WenShawn will suffer for your intransigence. Any questions?"
"No," O'Brien surrendered.
"Lovely." He turned to his guard. "Take her out. You, go get Deann and bring her here. It's such a pleasure to work with you, Chief." He nodded cheerfully and departed.
Quark turned to O'Brien with a howl of contempt. "If you fix that grid, we're as good as dead!"
O'Brien spun away in a fury of impotence and frustration. "You heard him! If I don't that child will be -- " He couldn't bring himself to continue, and he sat heavily on the bunk.
Quark gazed at the chief scornfully. "You humans are so sentimental. And letting them get hold of your tool kit? That was bright of you."
"It's lucky that one of us has a functioning neural net." Quark's tone left no doubt as to which of the two he was referring. He moved to the forcefield and took something out of the base of his shoe.
O'Brien sat up. "What are you doing?"
lock-picks." Quark held them up. "I never go anywhere
Within seconds, he succeeded in lowering the forcefield. With the incredulous O'Brien close behind, Quark exited the cell and cautiously peered out of the room. They could see down a short corridor and into another room in which several raiders sat.
O'Brien glanced back at the cell. "Psst, Quark. Any chance you can use those things to retool the security fields and trap them in there?" At the Ferengi's dubious look, he added persuasively, "It would give us more time to make it to the runabout."
Quark brightened. "I'm glad you finally see reason! Yes, I think I can."
He bent to the task, and within a few moments, a forcefield sprang to life on the far door. The inhabitants immediately jumped up and started shouting, but there was nothing they could do but bluster threateningly.
Untroubled by impotent posturing, Quark spared a moment to gloat. "And you call yourself raiders? Ha! You can't even handle a single Ferengi -- not that we aren't the most clever race in the galaxy. Don't you know there's nothing in the galaxy more treacherous than a cornered Ferengi? We're more dangerous than an entire flotilla of Starfleet ships!"
He turned to see how O'Brien had reacted to the last insult, but to his horror he discovered that O'Brien was nowhere to be seen while "Stanton" and several of his men were heading Quark's way. The Ferengi squeaked in terror and tried to dart away, but the imprisoned raiders shouted to their comrades. His attention caught, "Stanton" spotted Quark.
"They've gotten away! Catch him!"
With half a dozen raiders in pursuit, Quark was speedily recaptured and dragged back to the raiders' leader.
"Where's the chief?" "Stanton" demanded, grabbing Quark painfully by the ear.
"Aaaaaaah!" Quark writhed in agony, but the grip only tightened, and he quickly realized theatrics would backfire. "I don't know!" he whimpered, raising his hands in supplication. "He abandoned me! I swear it!"
The captain shoved him away with a grimace of disgust. "You, keep him in my office until I get back. The rest of you, find the chief! Without him, we're stuck on this rock!"
"Stanton" didn't return to his office for several hours; during that period Quark tried, without success, to ingratiate himself to his guard.
"Heh, heh. You know, I didn't really mean any of those things I said back there. It was all the Chief's idea. He made me say those awful, untrue things. Why, I would never argue with a raider, especially one as successful as you and your friends so obviously are. In fact, I'd be happy to help you. Yes! I bet you aren't getting the best deals you can on some of the merchandise you -- er -- liberate from these colonies. I can put you in touch with people who are, well, stupid is really the only word for them. They overpay outrageously. Not Ferengi, of course, but I've had very profitable dealings with them for years. I personally guarantee every contract! Look, just give me the chance to prove myself. I've got connections you haven't dreamed of! I can give you references, and -- "
"Stanton" entered, and Quark finally fell silent.
"Your friend is proving rather elusive, but at least he hasn't gotten into the runabout or the armory. I have the communicators locked away, so it's only a matter of time before we catch him," he informed Quark, seating himself behind the commander's desk.
"He's no friend of mine. Yich! Bleah! Don't you see how he deserted me? Believe me, if I knew where he was, I'd tell you!"
"Oh, I believe you." Stanton picked lint off his sleeve.
"I advised him to help you, I really did. I said, 'Back a winner. These people clearly know what they're doing.' I told him that --"
"Of course," Quark agreed quickly. "Whatever you say. I only wanted to explain that --"
"Stanton" idly examined his nails. "I once had the misfortune of doing business with a Ferengi. He tried to cheat me. It gave me great pleasure to sever our relations. And his head."
Quark gulped. "Oh."
The raider turned his gaze upon the Ferengi for the first time. "Now, what shall I do with you?" he inquired conversationally.
"I can be very useful to you. I can make you rich!" Quark promised desperately.
"Oh, that's exactly my plan."
"It is?" Quark asked in surprise.
"Yes. The only question is how many pieces I can get out of you. You're not very large, even for a Ferengi."
"Pieces?" Quark echoed in a tiny voice.
"Yes. It's been quite a while since we tried the old "phony Ferengi" dodge -- selling pieces of anonymous Ferengis as mementos of a famous Nagus. We have difficulty with one of my crew, you see. He likes Ferengi too much."
"He objects to killing us?" Quark guessed hopefully.
"No, just to selling you. He prefers to keep you for himself. Last time we tried this, he ate half the cargo."
"Let me see now... Whom shall you be? Zek?"
Quark shook his head dazedly. "No, don't do Zek. There's something of a glut of him on the market just now."
"How kind of you to tell me. Then I think --"
One of the raiders interrupted, dragging in O'Brien. "Found him making for the runabout."
"Stanton" rose to his feet. "Excellent. Chief, I have quite lost patience with you. Come with me." To his men, he snapped, "Bring the Ferengi and the others."
Moments later, they arrived at the power station -- O'Brien, "Stanton", Quark, Deann, and WenShawn. Two raiders covered the group with their phasers, rendering any attempts at resistance futile.
"Stanton" yanked WenShawn to him. "Chief, if you don't have this grid running within the next few minutes, I'm going to start having fun with this child."
Deann wrung her hands, but with the phasers levelled, there was nothing she could do. "Miles..."
"All right, all right. Don't hurt her," O'Brien pleaded. He moved over to the grid and started working.
"Don't do it! He'll kill us the second you're through!" Quark argued.
At the captain's signal, one of the guards grabbed him by the throat. "I'll kill you here and now if you don't shut up," "Stanton" vowed.
Quark lapsed into silence, and all too quickly O'Brien closed the panel.
The raider didn't move. "Very nice. Would you power up the grid for me? Just to demonstrate that there are no nasty booby traps? I'd hate to have to bother Commander Sisko for a second engineer."
With a look of resignation, O'Brien hit the switch and the entire grid hummed to life with glowing lines. Deann let out a cry of defeat, while Quark cursed. "Nice work, Chief," he snarled.
"Stanton" beamed in delight. "Very nice indeed!"
O'Brien smiled at "Stanton". "And now I'd advise you to surrender."
The raider laughed. "You do have spirit and a sense of humor. I'm going to miss you, Chief."
smiling, O'Brien started walking towards "Stanton". "I
mean it. This is your last chance."
"Stanton" stared at him incredulously, then aimed his weapon at O'Brien. O'Brien kept coming. "Stanton" pulled the trigger.
O'Brien reached the dumbfounded man's side and gently pushed WenShawn aside. "When I got free, I came straight here and reconfigured the system to put out an EM damping duonic field. Nothing works, including your weapons."
And he decked "Stanton" before the raider could recover.
The other two goons belatedly lurched into action, but Deann recovered first and dispatched the one close to her by driving her elbow into his midriff, then kneeing him in the head when he doubled over. The other thug grabbed for WenShawn, but Quark intervened, snatching her aside with a hiss. By then, O'Brien had finished off "Stanton", and he and Deann made short work of the second one.
After that, it was all over but the mopping up -- and, of course, the thanks. When O'Brien and Quark were ready to leave, the entire colony gathered at the runabout to see them off.
"I don't know how to thank you, Chief," the real Commander Stanton said, shaking O'Brien's hand. "Those raiders took us completely by surprise. Their leader is a consummate actor, and his crew is well-trained and brutal. I doubt we'll ever learn the true extent of their depradations. If it hadn't been for your brilliant idea..."
"I'm just glad that you acted so quickly once the forcefields went down, Commander. I planned things so that a few of the raiders, including their leader, would be with me when the duonic field came on, but there was no way to get all of them in one place. If you'd given the others time to get to the children, even without their weapons they could have been dangerous. I'm glad your staff caught on so fast."
"Are you joking?" Stanton laughed. "We'd been watching and praying for that damn forcefield to fall for five days! It was like a gift from above."
Quark cleared his throat meaningfully, and O'Brien sighed, but he was forced to give the Ferengi his due. "Of course, if Quark hadn't kept the raiders occupied while I was working at the power station, I'd never have been able to get the grid reconfigured," O'Brien said dutifully.
Quark coughed again, and O'Brien reluctantly added: "And it was Quark who first warned me that something was amiss."
Stanton shook his head with a smile. "It's not every Star Fleet base that gets saved by a Ferengi. We're very grateful, Quark. I'll mention this to Star Fleet Command, and I wouldn't be surprised if a reward were forthcoming."
Zhou spoke up, shamefaced. "I'd like to apologize again, Chief. I -- I just was so --"
O'Brien gripped his shoulder. "Don't give it another thought. I know how you must have felt. If it had been my daughter - well, I don't know what I would have done had the tables been turned."
"We're all terribly sorry that we didn't tell you what was going on, but before you arrived, they had threatened the most horrific things if we spoke to you."
"Really, I understand," O'Brien assured him.
Zhou turned to the Ferengi, waiting expectantly at O'Brien's side. "Quark, I hope that our contract with you has made up -- at least in part -- for the dangers you faced. We at Star Base 312 owe you a great debt for the role you played in our rescue. By releasing Chief O'Brien from that cell, you made it possible for him to save us."
Quark patted the contract in his pocket with great satisfaction. "Well, let's consider this a start. As you say, it is a great debt, but I --"
O'Brien interrupted what was sure to be a long speech by grabbing Quark and hauling him onto the runabout. "He's overcome with emotion. Good bye!'
Quark's querulous voice could still be heard over the closing of the hatch. "What about my medal? Don't I get a medal? I want one made of latinum!"
The return trip to DS9 was speedy and uneventful, but O'Brien was taken aback to find Sisko and Odo waiting for him when the runabout landed. "Commander, is something wrong? Is it the major's console?"
Sisko laughed and shook his head. "Welcome home, Chief! I understand you had quite an adventure. I just finished speaking with the real Commander Stanton. He's quite a fan of yours."
Understanding dawned, and O'Brien blushed, embarrassed. "It was pure luck, Commander. I just remembered our experiences near Aurelius Minor and tried to rig the same kind of low-level duonic field. If it hadn't worked, I don't know what I would have done. Many's the time I wished you were there with me on 312!" Sisko handed him a paper. "What's this?"
"A copy of the commendation I just entered into your file. Commander Stanton is entering another."
O'Brien's jaw dropped. "But -- I didn't expect -- Well -- well, thank you!"
Sisko took a birthday hat out of his pocket and fastened it around O'Brien's chin, halting further expressions of gratitude. "And this is for Molly's party. You'd better hurry; it's about to begin."
O'Brien's smile was dazzling. "Thanks, Commander!"
He started to hurry off, but his attention was caught by the following exchange.
Quark grinned up at Odo. "What about me, Odo? Have you heard about my daring exploits in rescuing that colony?"
"Why don't you come along to my office and tell me about it? I have a very nice cell just waiting for you," Odo purred, taking him by the arm.
Quark's face twisted into an expression of suspicion. "What are you talking about? I'm a hero!"
"No, you're a stowaway," the Constable corrected.
"What? Odo! You can't do this to me! Stop!"
"Er, Odo..." O'Brien stepped forward diffidently.
The shapeshifter turned to him in surprise. "Yes, Chief?"
Sisko watched, equally startled by O'Brien's interference.
"I, uh, I invited Quark along."
"You did?" Odo and Sisko asked in unison. Their incredulous expressions made it clear that O'Brien's fib had fooled no one.
"Yes. I didn't think you'd mind, Commander." O'Brien persisted in the fiction, despite its obvious lack of success.
Sisko, although amazed by O'Brien's covering for Quark, was not about to accuse a just-decorated, valuable member of his staff of lying. "Well, no, Chief, I suppose it's all right..."
Odo reluctantly relinquished his hold on Quark. "If you say so..."
Quark haughtily brushed himself off and marched after O'Brien. Sisko and Odo stared after them as their voices floated back to the landing pad.
"You know it's not too late to decide that you want to rent a holosuite for the party, Chief. I can offer you a special discount," Quark offered hopefully.
"Shut up, Quark," O'Brien said wearily.
"No, listen: 10 off! You won't find better than that. I don't give that large a discount to my own brother!"
"You don't like your brother. I said no! Now forget it."
Their bickering slowly faded with distance.