When Sisko stepped onto the deck of Ops that morning, he knew a bad day was in store. Dax addressed him even before he'd had his customary cup of coffee -- a certain sign that something was amiss.

"Commander, during a routine maintenance check of the sensors, I found something I think you should see."

Stifling a groan, he turned away from the replicator and retraced his steps to Dax's console. "What is it?"

Her elegant face was creased with concern. "To verify that the sensors were functioning properly, I realigned them so that they scanned the station. I picked up a deposit of irridial."

Sisko stopped casting longing glances at the replicator. "Irridial!" he exclaimed. "That's impossible! What would one of the most powerful explosives in the galaxy be doing here?"

Dax looked apologetic. "That's what I thought -- a sensor glitch. So I switched to internal scans and verified the reading."

"How much?"

"A few kilos. Enough to destroy the station, if it were placed in the right spot. Enough to cripple us if placed anywhere else." She confirmed his worst fears.

"It looks like someone wants to get rid of us," O'Brien commented, coming up alongside Sisko and placing a cup at the commander's elbow. A familiar aroma wafted up to him, and he gave the chief a grateful look. His smile was short-lived though, as he returned to the matter at hand.

"How long could it have been here? Why didn't our security scans pick it up?"

Dax shrugged slightly. "I assume it was transported here in a shielded hold. Irridial isn't something the internal security net routinely scans for so once the ship carrying it was through our preliminary scans, it would be easy to smuggle the explosive off the ship."

Sisko's brows drew together. "Why isn't irridial routinely scanned for? It's one of the substances listed in Star Fleet's standard protocol, and if it can destroy the station -- "

"I'm sorry, sir," O'Brien said quickly. "It was my fault. You see, the Cardassian computer that runs the security net isn't anywhere near Star Fleet specs, so it simply isn't capable of checking everything that a Star Fleet computer would. When we first got here, I made the decision as to what scans to keep and which to discard. Irridial was one I omitted," he added, his broad face puckered in regret and apology.

Sisko's irritation had evaporated within a few sips of his coffee. Now that his brain had begun to function, he recalled what Miles O'Brien had been too polite to say. "I remember you checked the list with me, Chief. I'm sorry I forgot."

"I concurred with the decision too," Dax put in. "It never occurred to any of us that irridial would appear here. It's a terrorist's weapon, and what could be gained from destroying the station?"

"Who says it was necessarily meant for the station?" Major Kira asked, coming off the lift. "That much irridial could have created a lot of problems on Bajor. This might have only been a temporary stop for it."

"I see you've been briefed, Major. The next question would seem to be what do we do with it?"

"Benjamin," Dax put in, "I took the liberty of telling Major Kira about the scan when I first detected it. You were due here within a few minutes, so I didn't bother disturbing you in your quarters."

Kira took up the story. "I felt -- and I assumed you would too -- that irridial was too dangerous to leave lying around, so as soon as Dax and O'Brien determined its exact location, I went down and retrieved it with a few of Odo's staff. I sent them to Bajor with it in the Orinoco. I wanted to get it off the station, and it's too unstable for the transporter."

Sisko nodded assent. "I'm glad we're rid of it. But," he continued, another frown appearing between his eyes, "I want to know who put it there and what, or who, was the intended target?"

"It would be easy to make up a dummy box, that looks just like it," O'Brien offered. "If we put the decoy where we'd found the real thing and set up a security field around it, then if whoever left it there comes back for it, we'll nab them!"

"Do it," Sisko nodded.

"And we've already reconfigured the security net to check for irridial," Dax forestalled his next order with a twinkle in her eye.

"I think we should also try to figure out where the explosive came from," Kira stated flatly. "I bet the Cardassians had a hand in it."

"Do you have any evidence for that claim, Major?" Sisko inquired quietly.

Kira looked at him impatiently. "Who else stands to gain from the station's destruction? Or unrest on Bajor? Who has been behind most of the problems we've had to date? I'm sure Dukat knows a thing or two about the irridial!"

"I agree that the Cardassians are the likeliest suspect, Major, but I can hardly confront Gul Dukat with nothing more than accusations."

Kira subsided rebelliously, but after a glance at her, O'Brien added, "We really have no idea how long the irridial was on the station, but we could increase the power of the external sensors and sweep the ships that are presently docked here. It'd be a long shot, but..."

Kira and Sisko exchanged a glance. "It's worth a try," Sisko decided, to Kira's obvious pleasure.

"I'll give you a hand, Chief," she said, hurrying to her console to lend concrete endorsement to his idea.

"Where is Odo?" Sisko finally noticed the glaring absence at their meeting. "Has he been apprised of the situation?"

"Yes," the Constable's sour tones came from the lift and he stepped off it, continuing down to where Sisko stood. "My staff assisted Kira because I was busy. I have heard all the details, however."

"Anything wrong?" Sisko asked without much hope that the answer would be negative.

"The Promenade is in the midst of a crime wave." Odo's normal testiness was especially pronounced today, and Sisko clutched his mug even tighter.

"Would you care to elaborate?"

Odo made a gesture of irritation which Sisko assumed was not directed at him. "Over the past three days, six stores have been broken into and I've had two dozen reports of Promenade pilfering, pickpocketing, and petty theft!"

"No pandering?" O'Brien put in with an ill-timed burst of humor. The look he received made him retire to his console in a hurry.

"That's incredible!" Sisko didn't have to feign his surprise. It was rare for a criminal to carry off even one successful crime in Odo's territory. No wonder the chief of security was in such a bad mood.

"No one has reported any suspicious looking strangers, but I've doubled patrols on the Promenade. All of the ships that are presently docked seem perfectly legitimate, and I haven't caught any of their passengers or crew sneaking back aboard with stolen goods."

Sisko took another sip of coffee, thinking hard. "I can't imagine that the two events are linked," he finally said. "How could irridial and a shoplifting spree be related?"

"I never said they were," Odo reminded him acerbically. "I'm proceeding on the assumption that the thief -- or thieves -- are uninvolved with the irridial. If your staff can tend to the latter, I'll focus my attention on the former." He strode to the elevator without waiting for Sisko's assent, then paused, clearly struck by an afterthought. "Of course, if you require my assistance for any reason..."

"Thank you, Constable," Sisko said gracefully. "And we'll naturally keep you posted."

"Naturally!" Odo and the lift dropped out of sight.

Sisko stared sadly at his now-cold coffee. What a way to start the day!

#

The merchant at the souvenir shop was hopeful. The Klingon couple were clearly interested in the Bajoran fire-crystal, despite its ludicrously high asking price. Their screamed insults had grown frenzied, and he knew from long experience that that meant a sale was likely. "Half-price?" he demanded, clutching his chest in feigned distress. "Do you want my children to starve? Am I speaking with Ferengi?"

As he'd expected, the comment heightened their fury, and they began slamming the counter and fingering their weapons. He was unimpressed. Klingons hated to pay full price for anything, but the fire-crystal was a spectacular piece, and both sides knew it.

Caught up in their bargaining, neither the shopkeeper nor the Klingons noticed the stealthy hand creeping toward the neatly stacked pile of gold-pressed latanum on the far end of the counter. It crept closer, closer, then folded around the bars and lifted them without a whisper of sound.

The latanum was halfway to a hidden pocket when it started to change, and the owner of the hand released it with a start of surprise. To his great consternation, the latanum grabbed him.

The shock wrung a stifled yelp out of the thief, but the money's transformation continued apace until the Constable stood there, looking down in grim triumph at the thief whose wrist he securely held.

"Got you!" he declared in tight satisfaction. "I knew you wouldn't be able to resist so easy a prize."

His captive stared up at him in a mixture of shock and dismay. He was Bajoran, small, underfed, and no more than fourteen years old. "Leggo!" he finally found his voice.

Odo ignored him completely. "Thank you for your cooperation, Jaqril," he said to the shopkeeper. The Klingon couple and the merchant had abandoned their dickering when Odo had begun to shapeshift, and they had watched the events with open mouths.

"Any time," Jaqril said dazedly. "Next time you might even ask first."

Odo sniffed. "I assumed you would be willing to help catch the thief who's been plaguing the Promenade, considering that your shop was one of the first ones hit."

"That's him?" The shopkeeper recovered his wits quickly. "Where's my money, you little wretch? He took nearly a week's earnings, Odo!"

"I've read your complaint. As soon as we recover the stolen goods, they will be returned to the proper owners. I assume you can provide receipts for all those sales from which you say he took the profits?"

Jaqril suddenly looked thoughtful. "You know, as it happens, those numbers may need revision. I was very upset when I filed the report, you know. I may have misremembered a few things."

"Imagine that," Odo commented drily. "I'll expect your updated complaint, with supporting documents, in my office later today."

Throughout this exchange, the young thief had been trying his best to bite, wriggle, twist, and fight free of Odo's grip. The Constable paid no attention, and the steely grasp never wavered.

"About this cracked piece of stickth..." The male Klingon poked Jaqril impatiently. Klingons were not the sort to wait politely.

Present business drove all other thoughts from Jaqril's mind and he returned to the discussion with a scream of outrage. "Cracked? How dare you-- !"

Odo transferred his hold to the scruff of the boy's neck and set off for Ops. The Bajoran had to trot to keep up with Odo's long strides. "Look," he panted, seeing that he had no hope of shaking off Odo's hand, "can't we make a deal? What good will arresting me do? There's plenty of wealth around for both of us."

Odo's only response was to tighten his fingers and the bribe cut off with a squeak.

#

"Commander, there's a call for you from Minister Tearas from Bajor."

"I'll take it in my office, Chief."

Tearas' normally genial face was creased with worry and stress. "Have you any idea what you sent us?"

Sisko's eyebrows rose. "Several kilos of irridial. I didn't think you wanted us to hold it on the station."

Tearas shook her head impatiently. "No, no, of course not. But do you know the purity of this shipment? It's nearly 87! That's unheard of! It indicates a primary source of irridial, and that means there's no telling how much more of this might be coming! The government isn't stable enough to withstand concerted terrorist activity, especially if their armament is of this quality!"

"We don't know that the irridial was meant for Bajor," Sisko said soothingly. "Our investigation is still in the early stages."

"Where else could it go?" Tearas demanded. "Even if the station were the intended target, that would still be a strike at Bajor! If the station were destroyed, the Cardassians would move in to take over control of the wormhole, and Bajor too!"

"My people are at work on the matter," he assured her. "I'm confident we'll learn something soon."

"Is Major Kira checking all present station personnel against our lists of known and suspected criminals?" Tearas fretted. "The council has already declared a special session to discuss this! Has she used our databanks to verify -- "

An unworthy idea struck Sisko, and after a moment of guilty deliberation, he gave in to it. "Would you like to speak with Kira directly?" he asked sweetly. "I'm sure she'd be able to answer your questions -- and those of the Council -- more easily than I."

Tearas nodded vigorously. "An excellent idea! I think it would be wise for us to keep in close contact over this matter."

"I'll ask her to contact you immediately," Sisko promised smoothly. "DS9 out."

Kira would be less than pleased when he gave her the message, but after all, she was the liason officer between the station and Bajor. If anyone was going to be forced to listen to the alarmed yammerings of a group of panicked politicians, it would be her. Sisko sneaked a glance out at the Ops deck. O'Brien and Dax were underneath the consoles, struggling to modify the scanners appropriately, and Kira was working at the computer. There would be no better time to give her the news.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped out of his office. "Major," he began crisply, hoping the tone would forestall an explosion of protests, "Minister Tearas and I -- "

"LEMME GO! I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING! LEMME GO!" The howls from the turbolift startled everyone, and the entire room turned to watch Odo and his prisoner come onto the deck.

"Odo!" Sisko yelled above the boy's shouts. "What is going on?"

Kira flanked him, looking at the Bajoran boy with concern and puzzlement. "Who is that?"

"This," Odo replied, releasing the child's collar with a fastidious sniff, "is the thief of the Promenade."

The instant he was turned loose, the boy's cries ceased. "No, I'm not," he turned two large, limpid brown eyes onto Sisko. "Honestly, I'm not."

"Odo, he's only a child," Sisko protested. "Are you certain?"

That earned him a frosty glare from his chief of security.

"What's your name?" Kira asked encouragingly. "Are you here with anyone?"

"You're so pretty!" he exclaimed winningly. "Do you run the station?"

Kira blushed, but Odo snorted contemptuously. "Oh, really! To answer your questions, he is not listed on any ship's manifest, so we must assume that he stowed away aboard a ship, then smuggled himself onto the station. There is no evidence that the thefts were committed by anything but a single person, and several of the merchants recall a boy hanging about their shop shortly before the robberies occurred."

"Why were you stealing?" Kira asked gently. "Did someone make you do that? Were you hungry?"

"The stack of gold-pressed latanum he thought he was stealing would have fed him for quite a while," Odo observed sardonically, and the boy shot him a dirty look.

"What's your name?" Kira repeated. "Who are your parents? Where did you come from?"
"The Prophets teach that we all come from the Void," he replied innocently.

"No, no, I mean -- "

"He knows exactly what you mean. He's not an idiot!" Odo exclaimed, running out of patience. Turning to the boy, he demanded, "Your name!"

The boy folded his arms across his chest and glared at him mutinously.

"This is getting us nowhere," Sisko broke in. "Constable, I assume you believe he should be turned over to the Bajoran child welfare authorities?"

Odo glared back at the young man. "What I believe is irrelevant, Commander," he retorted, making it clear that he held very different beliefs indeed. "Bajoran law is adamant on this point; children are to be treated differently from adult offenders."

"I'm not from Bajor," the boy put in suddenly.

"What?" Sisko looked down at him in surprise. The nose, the earring, everything pointed to a Bajoran origin for the boy.

Kira came to the rescue. "He means he isn't from the planet. During the Cardassian occupation, Bajorans were scattered all over this sector. There are still large settlements on several worlds in the Diaspora, and it's certainly possible that he comes from one of them. If that's true," she added, "sending him to Bajor won't help us find his family."

"If we were to take a genetic sample," Dax suggested, "we could send it to all of the Bajoran colonies as well as Bajor itself. If they can locate a match, chances are it would be one of his relatives."

"Excellent. While they're checking, he can remain here, at least for the time being."

Odo glanced from one face to the other, but everyone seemed pleased with the decision. Mentally shrugging his shoulders, he said, "If that is your wish, then I'll be on my way. I still have other duties to attend to."

"Dax, would you take our young visitor to Dr. Bashir? I need to have a word with Kira," Sisko added uneasily, remembering what still lay ahead.

"I can do it, Commander," O'Brien volunteered. "I need to head down that way to adjust one of the sensor arrays."

"Thank you."

"Hullo there," O'Brien said, giving the youngster a friendly smile. "I'm Miles O'Brien; most people call me Chief."

The boy gave him a measuring glance, then silently fell into step alongside him. Sensing that the conversation would be one-sided at best, O'Brien nevertheless did his best to engage the boy. "The Cardies left the station in a bit of a mess when they pulled out, but we've got her running pretty well now. The docking ring accommodates half a dozen ships a week these days, and that number will probably rise as more people head out to the Gamma Quadrant. We -- " The patter fell on deaf ears, but O'Brien persevered.

They were on the upper floor of the Promenade, strolling by the observation windows, when suddenly the boy cried out. "What's that?" he shouted, pointing over O'Brien's left shoulder.

O'Brien spun about, alarmed at the boy's tone. He expected to see a riot or incipient hull breach, but everything looked normal. "Where? I don't -- "

The shove took him completely by surprise and propelled him headlong down the adjacent stairwell. If it hadn't been for the safety rail, which he somehow managed to grab, he'd have tumbled all they way to the lower deck.

"Bloody hell!" He struggled to his feet just in time to see the boy hightail it in the opposite direction. With a muted roar, O'Brien rushed up the stairs and sprinted after him.

"Chief!" Doctor Bashir stared at his colleague in astonishment. O'Brien's usually sunny features were set in a thunderous scowl, and a bruise was purpling on his forehead. The doctor's gaze, however, focussed on the small boy whose ear was presently in the chief's ungentle grip. "Ow! Ow! Ow!" he complained shrilly. "Ow!"

O'Brien flung him into a chair well away from the door and glowered at him for a moment before turning to Bashir. "This is the thief who's been raiding the stores of the Promenade. He won't tell us his name or where he's from, and the commander wants a copy of his genetic pattern so that they can try to trace his relatives. Poor sods," he added under his breath.

"What happened to you?" Bashir was already reaching for his equipment, then gently scanning the injury.

O'Brien submitted, but it was clear that the chief was in high dudgeon and not willing to sit still for long. "Bloody kid." He turned to glare at the boy and was met with a horrible grimace. O'Brien, though possessed of a genuinely peacable nature, surged towards him, but Bashir pressed him back.

"Easy," he cautioned, holding a cellular regenerator to O'Brien's forehead. "There, that should take care of it."

"Thanks," O'Brien said gruffly. "If you'll do the kid, I'll wait for him."

"Wait? Nonsense," Bashir objected. "I'm not in the least busy just now. When I finish, I'll be happy to take the boy around."

"Doctor, I wouldn't -- "

"It's all right," Bashir interrupted, steering O'Brien towards the door. He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "I'm very good with children. I'm sure I'll be able to win his confidence."

O'Brien halted in the doorway. "I really don't think that -- "

"It's all right, Chief," Bashir insisted. "I insist."

Looking into the doctor's positive face, O'Brien shrugged. He was outranked and, to be honest, more than a little intrigued to see what that little hellion would do to Bashir.

"Well, now," once the door had closed on O'Brien, Bashir turned to the boy with a big smile, "I'm sure the two of us will get along splendidly!"

The youngster gave him the same calculating look that he'd turned on O'Brien, then broke into an angelic smile. "Oh, yes sir. I'm sure everything will be just wonderful."

#

"Tearas and the other ministers are going crazy!" Kira exclaimed to Sisko. "They're so panicked at the thought of a repeat of what we went through with the Circle that they can't do anything!"

"Is there any evidence that the Circle is behind the irridial?"

Kira sighed. "No. Our intelligence indicates that the Circle is keeping a very low profile these days. It's not completely defunct, but after the fiasco with the Cardassians, they're being very careful to keep all of their dealings aboveboard. That still leaves plenty of other groups though, from Vedek Winn's sect to some truly unbalanced people."

"What can we do to help?" he asked simply

She smiled at him gratefully. "If Dax and O'Brien can find out what ship the irridial came on, that will be the first real lead we've got."

"Commander!" O'Brien's voice was urgent, but there was a strange undercurrent of laughter in his tone.

Sisko and Kira hurried out of the office. "What -- "

Odo marched up to the foot of the stairs, one hand clamped on the Bajoran boy's neck, the other supporting a dazed Bashir. "I believe these two belong to you?" he snapped.

"Doctor, what happened?" Sisko asked, ignoring O'Brien's muffled snickers in the background.

"I -- I'm not quite sure," Bashir replied stumblingly. "We were having quite a nice chat, and then -- "

"The boy knocked him senseless and fled," Odo supplied.

"Senseless?" Kira echoed incredulously. "He's only a child!"

"From the evidence, it appears he clouted the doctor with his own scanner. I caught him when he came tearing out of Medical and thought I'd better have a look inside."

"Are you all right, Doctor?" Sisko asked, shooting a reproving look in O'Brien's direction. If the chief didn't stop laughing like that, pretty soon all of Ops (including Sisko) would join in.

"Yes," Bashir said unsteadily. "I'm fine, thank you."

"I'd better escort him back to Medical," Odo said dourly.

"Thank you, Constable."

"What are we going to do with him?" Kira asked, pointing at the boy who now stood studying them.

"Commander!" O'Brien's shout held none of his earlier levity. "I think we've got something on the scanners!"

Kira bolted to her console, and Sisko shouted after Odo, "Constable, could you take the boy to my cabin? Jake should be home from class by now, and the two of them are about the same age."
"Very well," Odo agreed. "Come along then," he urged the boy.

The Bajoran paused a moment, as thought deciding whether to obey, but he finally decided that it wasn't an opportune time to attempt an escape. He took Bashir's other arm and helped Odo steer him to the lift.