While Sisko sat in his office, talking to Star Fleet, Kira and Dax chatted in Ops. O'Brien listened with half an ear while he repaired one of the consoles.

"Well, of course he complains, but did you see him with that last delegation?" Kira asked the others.

Dax looked thoughtful. "Curzon was always convinced that Benjamin had a future in the diplomatic service. Maybe he's finally getting the opportunity he needs."

"If he isn't careful he's going to be making pilgrimages and helping old people."

"Is that the local version of baby kissing, Major?" O'Brien asked, grinning.

"It seems to be the common behavior of any Bajoran who's pursuing public office," Kira confirmed.

"He has been talking to Star Fleet Command a great deal. Not many commanders are on a first name basis with -- "

As if on cue, Sisko entered, looking annoyed. "I don't believe it! Do you know what Grace is insisting we do now?"

Dax exchanged an amused look with the others and asked innocently, "Would that be Admiral Mbeke?"

Their commander was oblivious to the grins. "Yes. Her latest idea is that I greet all passengers bound for the Gamma Quadrant. What does she think I am? A desk-bound politician? I don't have time for that kind of foolishness!"

"Not between trips to the shrines," Kira murmured under her breath, her eyes firmly fastened on her instruments.

Dax distracted Sisko before he could ask Kira to repeat herself. "You know, Benjamin, maybe you should begin to focus more of your attention on these diplomatic functions. After all, you've shown a great talent for them."

Sisko's eyes widened in horror. "Dax! You know perfectly well that I do these things only because I'm forced to!"

"My point is that perhaps you should change your attitude so that you're doing them because you want to. The rank of Ambassador is an honorable accomplishment."

Kira couldn't resist teasing him a little. "And we'll keep the station running, Commander. You can concentrate on your receptions and meetings -- we wouldn't want daily operations to interfere with your political career."

"I don't have a political career," Sisko retorted, nettled.

"And you won't until you stop letting little things like the station distract you," she concurred promptly.

"Curzon always thought you'd make an excellent --" Dax began.

"Curzon always enjoyed directing other people's lives for them! I have no interest in a diplomatic position."

Kira ostensibly addressed herself to Dax, but she knew perfectly well Sisko was listening. "Isn't it common in Starfleet for people to assume diplomatic duties as they get older and field work becomes more difficult for them?

Now fully roused, Sisko exclaimed, "I am not ready for retirement or a second career, Major! I am just as capable of performing field work as I ever was."

"Oh, of course, Commander. I wasn't suggesting -- " Kira agreed, too quickly.

That was it. Now there was a point to be proven. "Isn't there a survey patrol scheduled for the next few days?" Sisko demanded.

"Yes..." Dax confirmed cautiously. Where was he going with this?

"Fine. I'll take it."

Major Kira was no longer amused. "But, Commander, we've got that group of Bajoran astronomers coming aboard tomorrow. You're scheduled to speak to them about --"

"And quarterly reports to Starfleet are due," Dax reminded him. "Who else can --"

Sisko smiled wickedly at them. "Well, Major, you did say that you could attend to daily operations."

Kira stared at him incredulously. "You want me to meet with those incoherent star-gazers?"

"Why, thank you, Major. It's very kind of you to volunteer."

Dax interrupted Kira's heated reply. "Incoming transmission from Star Fleet. It's Admiral Mbeke again."

Sisko hastily made for the turbolift. "Tell her I've been called away for a few days, and that you've been assigned to serve as my liaison while I'm gone."

"But --"

"Handle it, Lieutenant. I'm sure Curzon can give you some tips."

O'Brien cleared his throat hesitantly. Sisko was clearly on a roll, and he was unlikely to appreciate the chief's interference. "Commander, I'd actually planned to take this survey mission. The Orinoco's power signature keeps fluctuating, and although I can't find anything wrong, I'm a little concerned that a circuit fusion may be building up. I figured that if anything went wrong, I'd be there to fix it."

Sisko awarded the chief an "Et tu, Brute?" look and retorted huffily, "I'm not completely unfamiliar with starship engines, Chief. I imagine I can manage to repair a fused circuit as well as the next person."

O'Brien could only shrug helplessly. "Yes, sir."

With a last look of triumph, Sisko was gone.

At the landing pad, Sisko and Odo ran through a last check of the Orinoco's external systems only a few moments before their scheduled launch.

"I appreciate your allowing me to come along, Commander. As you know, I welcome any chance to visit the Gamma Quadrant," Odo said.

"I'll enjoy the company," Sisko replied cheerfully, "and you never know; maybe one of these patrols will turn up some more information evidence about your people. The more we learn about the Founders, the better it will be for all of us."

"That is the general idea."

Just then Bashir came panting up, a carryall slung over one shoulder. "Commander!"

Sisko looked at the doctor in alarm, all too certain he knew what Bashir wanted. "Yes, Doctor?" he said hurriedly, trying to forestall him. "I was just leaving on patrol. I'm sure Major Kira can help you with any problem -- "

"Oh, no! I know you're leaving, Commander. That's why I'm here: I'd like to come along!"

"Oh."

Bashir happily burbled on. "I so rarely get the chance to leave the station that -- Not that I don't like the station, you understand. I'm very happy with my posting here -- but occasionally one does get the urge to, well, to try something new. To explore. I mean, here we are on the edge of a vast new frontier, and I can't recall the last time I had the opportunity to --"

Sisko cut him off. "Yes, yes. Well, Doctor, I'd like to agree, but we can't leave the station without medical coverage."

"Oh, that's all right," Bashir assured him blithely. "I arranged for one of my colleagues from Bajor to mind the store while I'm gone. Odo, are you coming along too? This will be such a lark!"

Sisko forced a smile, but he was getting desperate. "This is just a routine survey mission, Doctor. I'm afraid you'll find it very boring."

"Not at all!" Bashir vowed stoutly. "Odo and I can use the time to get better acquainted."

The Constable gave Sisko an extremely unenthusiastic look, but Sisko really had no grounds to refuse Bashir, especially after he'd already given permission for Odo to come.

"We'd better get on board."

Bashir bounded onto the runabout. "I can feel it in my bones: adventure awaits!"

Sisko and Odo exchanged another glance, then slowly followed Bashir .

Several hours later, the ship had gone through the wormhole and they had reached their assigned survey area. Sisko was busy at the controls, guiding the computer through the mapping procedure, while Bashir tried to engage Odo in conversation.

"Tell me, Constable --"

The look Odo turned upon him made even Bashir flinch. "Odo."

"Er, yes, sorry. Odo. Do you really think that you'll return to your homeworld? After all, living apart from them has caused such enormous differences between you! Do you think they can ever be bridged?"

"I'm very persistent." Odo didn't bother to turn from where he was looking out the window.

"Yes, I know, but aren't there times when you find the prospect just overwhelming?"

"No."

Genuinely striving to make a connection, Bashir pressed, "You know what I do when I'm faced with a really daunting task?"

Sisko massaged his forehead, waiting for Odo's withering reply. Other commanders had experienced chief medical officers -- men and women who contributed meaningfully to their ship or station. Why then was he saddled with this young idiot? He opened his mouth to intervene before Bashir's nitwitted prodding caused Odo to say something truly cruel, but before he could speak, a shrill alarm sounded and he bent over his console with concern.

"Warning," the computer's calm tones announced. "Power flow to the warp transducers has ceased. Engine failure will result if energy flux is not restored. ...Warning: Power flow to navigatonal controls has ceased. Power flow to life support is decreasing below safety limits. Pow--"

"I -- Excuse me, Commander, did you say something?" Bashir's attention had finally been caught.

With admirable restraint, Sisko replied, "No, Doctor, that was the computer. We're experiencing some engine trouble."

Odo leapt forward, as much to escape Bashir as to assist Sisko. Slipping into the co-pilot's seat, he asked, "What seems to be the problem?"

Sisko's hands were busy with the instruments as he replied. "The main stabilizer's gone off line, and it's causing a cascade failure that's sapping our power reserves."

The Constable glanced at the readouts. "It looks like the main coupling fused and that's what's draining the power."

All too aware that this was what O'Brien had tried to warn him about, Sisko fought down his rising unease. "It's nothing too serious, but I'll have to set us down somewhere to fix it."

"What an excellent adventure! Where shall we go?" To Sisko's irritation and Odo's disgust, Bashir was openly delighted by the turn of events.

"A Vulcan ship has reported an inhabited planet a few systems away, Argus Prime. I think we can make it."