The Drums of War

"This is not justice," he tried to say. "This is not even order. You want to take advantage of something terrible that's happened to expand the reach of your conquest!"

"You understand so little, even after so long in the Link," one who spoke for war said. "The galactic quadrant beyond the wormhole has fallen into chaos. We must oppose chaos, we must bring order. It is what we are."

Others spoke, agents who had been out in the other quadrant, gathering intelligence by impersonating individuals. A practice Odo had spoken against at the time, but the sudden disappearance of humanity from Deep Space Nine and Bajor had made it seem necessary to learn what was going on over there, and so his objections had only been perfunctory. Now the agents had returned to the Link to report.

"The Cardassians seek to regain their lost face, to regain territory lost and end the suffering we brought on them for their betrayal by taking other worlds. Including your beloved Bajor."

"I come from the Klingon Empire. Without humanity and their ties of honor and obligation to the species, they dream once more of ruling the worlds of the Federation as their prizes of war."

"I have been on Andor. They are less xenophobic by nature than the Vulcans, and they are moving to take the positions left open by the loss of the Humans. Centuries of enforced peace have depleted their population; they are a warrior race, and it's war that fires them to mate. They see the opportunity to excite their people once more and regain what they've lost, if they take over the Federation from within and lead it to war against the Cardassians or Romulans or Klingons, their kind will benefit."

"The Romulans fear these developments, but they also see potential to exploit. When the inevitable war consumes the other quadrant, the Romulans plan to step in and crush the weakened winners, and take it all for themselves."

"Bajor seeks revenge on Cardassia. They begin to welcome war. They may even start it, relying on the strength of their Federation allies to protect them."

"The Vulcans don't admit that they fear. But they do. Factions in their government are arguing amongst themselves; some seek to retreat from the galaxy, some wish to move into the power vacuum left by the Humans before someone else does, some believe in pre-emptive strike. Some of the old conflicts with the Andorians are re-awakening as well."

"Do you see?" that which when separate was called Saar said. "They will descend into chaos. They need us. We can extend the Dominion through the wormhole, conquer them all as they seek to conquer one another and enforce peace. It will save far, far more solid lives than it will take."

"But it isn't just. It isn't right," Odo argued. "They've been weakened by the loss of the Humans, yes. But that doesn't mean we should exploit their weakness by trying to dominate them. Why don't we offer our hand in friendship? Why don't we work with the Federation to try to maintain the peace over there?"

"Did you forget that they tried to kill us all?" a Changeling who never forgot anything argued. "Why should we offer friendship to the solids?"

"It was the Humans who tried to kill us. And it was the Humans who saved our lives. They are not a monolith; they were never as united as we are. And it doesn't matter in either case because they're gone! We had dealings with all the species of the Federation, but more with Humans than any other. And now that the species who handled almost all of the Federation's military coordination, diplomacy and intelligence is gone, the others are lost and confused and would welcome a hand of friendship. We could assist them in restoring order and rebuilding their own administration, win their gratitude and ensure they would be our allies forever. The Federation has never willingly turned on an ally, and the Vulcans and Andorians are as much the authors of that policy as the Humans were."

"They would never accept it from us! They are solids! Have solids ever offered friendship to Changelings?"

"They offered friendship to me," Odo said stubbornly.

"You were alone and no threat. We've made war on them. They will never accept us as friends or allies. All we can be to them is benign conquerors who rule them to maintain order and keep their quadrant from falling into bloody war."

"No. I don't accept that," Odo snapped. "The Federation would accept our assistance, if we offered, and our friendship, if we offered that. You simply cannot bear a vision of the universe where you are not in total control. We are powerful, but we are fallible, and we don't always do for a species what it truly needs; sometimes we give it what we think it deserves, or what we can, or what we think it needs. It is not fair, or right, or just that we should rule over other species, particularly new species who don't already see us as gods, who we would have to crush in a terrible conflict. Because there will be war in the Alpha Quadrant, if we don't intervene, and there will be war in the Alpha Quadrant, if we bring it there through conquest. And war is always chaos. If we want order, there is only one way to bring it about."

"You are young. You don't take the long view. Yes, war brings chaos, but when war is done and we are in control, it's much easier for us to maintain order than if we didn't take steps to establish control in the first place. You seek to be a policeman, Odo, to enforce the order that they have established for themselves, but they are disorderly creatures ruled by violent passions and the rules they establish for themselves are rarely orderly or just."

"We listened to you when the Federation was powerful enough that we didn't want to risk opposing it any longer, when we were dying and you brought us the cure your Human friend had given you. But the Humans are gone. The Federation is weak. The situation is unstable, and now is not the time to try new, untested strategies. The other quadrant needs a firm hand of guidance, not yet more uncertainty."

"At least, if we cannot offer them assistance in maintaining stability, let us stay out of it!" Odo pleaded. "Perhaps they can avert war on their own. If they can, let them. We shouldn't go over there and try to stir up conflict to weaken them so we can take over; doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of taking them over to prevent conflict?"

"They can't avert war. We know better. We have seen this pattern before."

"Oh, when have you ever seen an entire species whisked away at once by some self-important Beings of Power?"

"He has a point," one said. "We have seen species die out and leave a power vacuum, but it was never before this sudden, this pervasive, in a species so dominant in interplanetary affairs. The Humans disappeared in a moment. This is a new situation."

"But that only makes it worse. The suddenness of their loss has contributed, and will contribute, to the chaos. The newness of this situation means we should approach cautiously, with time-tested strategies."

"Starting a war is not a cautious approach!" Odo shouted. "If you cannot even allow them time to try to resolve their conflicts on their own before we come in and take over, you're proving that it isn't order you want, it's power!"

"Odo! We have always sought power because we know how to use it more wisely than the solids. That is all! We are not like them, to seek to dominate only for its own sake!"

"Then prove it! Give them time! If the quadrant slides into war and chaos, we can intervene then, and some will welcome our intervention by that time. If Bajor is threatened by the growth of Cardassia's imperial ambitions again, we will be in a much better position to invade. We can offer our resources to the Bajorans, for their protection, and we'll be able to prove how much greater our ability to protect them is than the Federation's. Then the wormhole prophets won't interfere with us, since we would be protecting the world under their charge. But if we move now, the wormhole beings may stand in our way, now that Sisko has become one of them. He turned them against you before. He could do it again."

"That, unlike your other arguments, is a good point," Saar said.

"We don't need to fear the wormhole beings. They don't even understand time."

"Whether we need to fear them or not, the strategy Odo proposes is a more cautious one than either the plan of invading now, the plan of setting them against one another to accelerate the war, or the plan of offering the Federation assistance. We can wait, and see how things proceed over there."

"But we know they will descend into chaos!"

"Then we can be confident that we will have our opportunity to move. And that when we do, there will be no question, here within the Link, as to what our motives truly are. We will all know that we are acting to save the solids from themselves and save ourselves from the possible consequences of their war, not out of a base desire for power."

Saar's proposal sent ripples through the Link. Unlike Odo, Saar was well-known and had been well-respected here for centuries. Odo's opinions could be, and apparently were being, dismissed for his closeness to the solids, but Saar's opinion carried weight.

"We are agreed, then," the voices of the Link chorused. "We will wait."

And if war came, it would be Bajor, and Kira Nerys, that the Dominion would conquer first. Odo tried to convince himself that better the Dominion than Cardassia again, that his plan was sound because if they offered Bajor military support against Cardassia they could bring them into the Dominion without shedding Bajoran blood… but there were no guarantees. Nerys might see this as a betrayal.

He couldn't afford to worry about that. At least the Changelings would not seek to destabilize the already chaotic situation in the Alpha Quadrant. That was the only victory he thought it possible to win. He wished he had more confidence that the Federation would in fact hold off war… but without the Humans the Federation would be reeling, crippled by a massive loss of administrative and military manpower. And there was no real guarantee that the ideals of the Federation would survive the transition to another species' control, especially not if the Andorians were spoiling for war anyway and the Vulcans were seriously considering seceding.

But it was the best he could do. It would have to be enough.

Next: And now, the news.