Kira Nerys raises her Bajoran issue phaser pistol, pulling the trigger and striking Benjamin Sisko hard in the chest with a crimson beam of energy.
"Major", he gasps as he staggers back a few steps and falls hard to the floor, "How could you do this to me? This betrayal..."
Kira stands over him with a wicked smile on her face as she points the phaser at him once more. "I think you've had it coming for a long time. Seems only right I'd be the one to do it to you."
There is a tense moment of silence as Sisko gazes up at Kira, their eyes locked in hatred.
Suddenly, Sisko bursts into laughter, rolling on his side and grabbing his stomach as he tries to catch his breath. Kira starts laughing as well, finding Sisko's wheezing spasms of giggling contagious. She throws the phaser to the floor as she leans against the wall, covering her face as she chokes with laughter.
"All right, that's enough of that", a voice yells from nearby, "We're going to be at this all day if you two keep horsing around!"
Kira and Sisko turn to see Keiko O'Brien giving them both scolding looks, several strands of ebony hair falling over her hazel eyes as her foot taps a drumbeat on the metal floor. When Miles O'Brien had told Sisko and Kira of Keiko's new hobby, playwriting and directing, both had agreed to help her with her newest project. That was three days ago. Now, the enthusiasm of both has hit rock bottom, and they have begun to resort to anything to lighten the somber tone Keiko has shed over the Holosuite, which is being used as a set for her "epic" play "Requiem for a Starfleet Commander".
Sisko looks up at Kira and rolls his eyes as he jumps to his feet. Kira picks up the phaser prop, which is actually a medical scanner refitted with a trigger and an infra-red beam generator, and hands it to Keiko.
"I wouldn't hand a weapon to her the way she looks", Sisko laughs, "She might decide her actors are expendable."
Keiko takes the prop from Kira, sliding her thumb along the top of it anxiously as she watches Sisko walk away.
"Where are you going, Commander? You two haven't gotten this scene down yet."
"I know Keiko, but I still have a station to run, and we have an important visitor arriving shortly. And since Starfleet is staying tight lipped about the visit, I don't even know who in the hell it is I'm supposed to be welcoming. So if you'll excuse me?"
He exits the Holosuite, nearly knocking over Rom, who was hovering over the door. Rom goes into his obligatory cringe and steps out of Sisko's way, then mutters something as he walks away and the doors close on Keiko and Kira.
"He didn't look too happy", Keiko says, still eyeing the area Sisko had been standing in, "I guess I'm getting on everyone's nerves with this play."
"Well, you could relax a little, Keiko", Kira says, "I thought I was supposed to be the tense one on this station. You know, you're really cramping my style here."
Keiko manages a smile at Kira's remark, tossing the prop to the floor half-heartedly.
"I know I've been pretty driven the last few days, but you have to realize that this play is important to me. You don't know what it's like being a botanist on a space station. I mean, what good is knowing the lifespan of a Darmagian wisp tree here? Or knowing the budding cycle of a Betazed flame rose?"
"Well, what about the school? You've helped a lot of Bajoran children since you started teaching. Isn't that important to you?"
"Yes, Major! Of course it is! I wouldn't trade anything in the world for those kids!"
"Especially Nog! He would have never gotten an education if it had been left up to Rom and Quark."
"Personally, I avoid Ferengi like the plague. Although I did create this Holosuite program where Quark is tied to the wall. I stand back about twenty paces and throw knives at his lobes. God, you should hear him scream!"
"Major", Keiko declares with surprise, "Surely you don't spend your spare time doing that!"
"You're right. I throw rocks at his lobes, not knives. Rocks hurt a lot more."
A look of satisfaction crosses Kira's face as Keiko backs away from her a pace with a wary expression.
"I guess we both have interesting hobbies", she says.
"I have a hobby, Keiko. You have an obsession. The Chief's even told me he's concerned about you. He says not seeing you as much is making him grumpy."
"Can you tell the difference?"
"Not really. But I can tell he cares deeply about you."
Keiko ponders Kira's words as Sisko's voice suddenly booms around them.
"Sisko to Kira. Major, our guest has arrived. Meet me in Docking Bay Six immediately."
"Yes sir", Kira says as she nods a goodbye to Keiko and heads for the Holosuite exit.
"Major", Keiko says, causing Kira to stop and turn around, "I want to thank you. I must confess, I'm surprised that you're so..."
"Warm? So I slipped. Besides, if I can get the Chief to stop cursing in Ops, I'll do it. Some of those Bajoran cadets have sensitive ears, you know."
Keiko watches her go, and ruminates for a moment before picking up the phaser prop and leaving the Holosuite.
For a moment, the room is quiet. Then suddenly a tiny insect begins to expand, turning into a mass of gelatin which stretches from the Holosuite floor and ripples like an image in a carnival mirror before it resolidifies into the form of Security Chief Odo.
He strokes his chin as he thinks of the case he had concluded three days ago. The murder of a Bajoran that had gone unsolved for several years until Odo discovered the murderer had been Kira Nerys, who had shot the Bajoran because he had sided with the Cardassians during their occupation of Bajor.
Odo had been floored by the revelation. He had always known Kira Nerys was a fighter and killer, but her targets had always been ruthless Cardassian military leaders or concentration camp taskmasters.
But this murder had been different. When Kira Nerys had killed this Bajoran businessman, she had crossed over from that comfortable world where everyone is either good or evil, murderers or saviours, and into a world that was grey.
It is a world Odo cannot accept. As a result, he has avoided the Major since discovering her guilt, unable to face her. Never had anyone effected him as much as this Bajoran lady. Am I afraid she might turn my concept of justice upside-down, he wonders, am I that scared of what she has to say?
He feels a pang of shame at watching Kira and Keiko's private chat. But it is something he has to do, secretly observe the Major and let her show him she is a different person from that woman he knew long ago. The woman with strawberry hair and fire in her eyes. He was amazed at the tenderness Kira showed with Keiko. He had never seen that side of the Major, who rarely cracks a smile in public and who always seems to walk and talk with deadly seriousness. It was almost enough to convince him to face her again.
Taking one last look around, he sighs and exits the Holosuite, hoping Quark is swindling the customers again so he can harass the Ferengi and get his mind off Kira Nerys.
"I'm telling you, Commander, we must act immediately or we'll all be dead within two days!"
Sisko and Kira watch as the rugged man before them slams his fist on Sisko's desk to reinforce his declaration. He is Thrawn Darbin, a Commander in Starfleet's Covert Operations Unit. Similar to the Green Berets on old Earth, the Covert Operations Unit specializes in gathering information on such races as the Cardassians and Romulans. On some occasions, small teams from the Unit will be sent out to neutralize possible threats to Federation planets.
"You're telling me that the Cardassians have some kind of doomsday bomb they have perfected", Sisko says with a hint of skepticism, "And have established a base on a planet in our own backyard?"
"Just a few light years away. Two of our operatives sent the information to us just before they were captured and executed by a Cardassian patrol."
Sisko studies Darbin, who wears a heavy five o'clock shadow and a weariness in his eyes, like a man who has been pushed to the limit so much it has become a way of life. He stands a head shorter than Sisko, but has massive arms and a barrel chest which give him an intimidating physical presence. The short grey layer of hair on his head is a perfect match for his pale skin.
"Well, I think it's pretty safe to assume the Cardassians aren't building this bomb for anything constructive", Sisko says grimly.
"That bomb's meant for Bajor", Kira says with horror, "I know it is! Those bastard Cardassians' only goal is to see the destruction of every Bajoran in the galaxy! They can't stand the fact that we defeated them. That a bunch of farmers beat their 'finest warriors' at their own game."
"I have to agree with you, Major", Sisko says as he lays a hand on her arm to calm her, "They've been quiet for so long, I knew they had to be up to something."
"Well, we weren't exactly twiddling our thumbs, either", Darbin says with a smile of satisfaction as draws a computer pad from his jacket and hands it to Sisko.
Sisko studies the tiny screen for a moment, it's green light shimmering eerily on his face. Kira studies the screen as well, and her face lights up as she reads the display.
"You've found a way to deactivate the bomb", she says.
"Yes, it's a handheld device that is tuned to the detonation frequency of the bomb. One person punches in the activation sequence for the bomb while the other uses the device to counteract the frequency it emits, turning the signal back on the bomb's relay switch and frying it from the inside."
"You have to activate the bomb to destroy it", Sisko asks with amazement, "Seems pretty damn risky."
"But it's worth the danger involved", Kira states firmly, "We can't let the Cardassians get a working model of that weapon off world. Especially since it seems powerful enough to take out Bajor and this station in one fell swoop."
"Don't worry Major", Darbin says with a confident smile, "I'm not going to let that happen. All I need is three of your officers, Commander. I have a Cardassian cargo ship that is big enough to hold four people and get us into the base. While two of us are deactivating the bomb, the other two can destroy all traces of the weapon from the Cardassians' computer banks. Three of your officers, Commander, and myself. We could be in and out in under thirty minutes."
"Now wait a minute", Sisko says as he shoots up the palm of his hand, "I can't just turn three of my crew over to you, Darbin. This is a very dangerous mission."
"Well I'm a dangerous man, Commander. And I'm damned good at leading missions like this. In my fifteen years taking teams into hot spots, I've never lost a single person. And besides..."
He pulls another computer pad from his jacket, handing it to Sisko like a man who is putting his chess opponent into checkmate.
"Starfleet is behind me one hundred percent. Cross me, and you cross them."
Sisko gazes over the pad and sighs when he realizes he has been backed into a corner.
"Kira, assist Commander Darbin in assembling his team", he says as he stands and locks eyes with Darbin, "And I assure you, Commander Darbin, if you get any of my people killed, I'll have your butt in a sling."
Kira motions to Darbin to follow her, and he does so only after throwing one last cold glare at Sisko. The two enter the turbolift and leave Ops as Kira looks on at Darbin anxiously. She likes the man's no-nonsense attitude. Despite his obvious skill in combat, having somebody along that knows the nuances of Cardassian defensive systems would help tremendously.
She's just the person for the job.
"Commander Darbin, I would like to volunteer..."
"You're in", he says without blinking, "I know about your time with the Bajoran Liberation Front. Your dedication to your planet and your hatred for the Cardassians. I'm going to need someone skilled in bypassing the Cardassian defenses, and from what I've heard, you're damned good at that sort of thing."
"My thought exactly", Kira says with a knowing smile.
"You have a shapeshifter on board. I want him on the team as well. He could prove invaluable. What's his name again?"
"Odo", Kira says with an expression of sadness. For three days, she hasn't seen the Constable, knowing that he has been avoiding her every attempt to talk to him. She has wanted him to face her so desperately, so she could tell him how much his trust means to her and how much she respects and cares about him.
He's going to have to face me now, she thinks as the turbolift lurches to a stop.
Three hours later, the Cardassian cargo ship Travall soars through space at warp one, its sleek shape giving it the appearance of a massive undersea creature casually stalking its prey.
Piloting the ship is Darbin, with O'Brien co-piloting. Behind them sit Kira and Odo. The Constable looks away from her, studying the stars. Kira is glad that Keiko didn't recruit Odo for her play. His sudden interest in studying space is totally unconvincing, merely another ploy he is using to avoid her. He hated the idea of going on this mission, but relented when Darbin explained the full impact of the situation to him. O'Brien simply had bad luck. He and Dax chose numbers from one to ten and the computer generated a number light years away from O'Brien's guess. The Irishman got his revenge, however, when the station had a power outage that shut down several of the main computer systems. Dax was left to fix them by herself. Kira smiles at O'Brien, wondering if he would stoop that low to get back at Dax.
"We'll be arriving at our destination in six minutes", O'Brien reports with a note of apprehension.
"Any sign of Cardassian patrol ships, Lieutenant", Darbin asks brusquely.
"None at all, Commander. It seems we picked a good time to pay a visit."
"We're not inside the base yet, Mister O'Brien. A lot of things can happen in the next few minutes."
"You know, I've heard rumors about this area of space, Commander. Some say they have seen visions while flying through this sector of space, visions of beings so powerful they can move worlds with a thought. The Cardassians call these beings Loxi."
Kira cannot hold back a shiver at O'Brien's words. Odo simply rolls his eyes and gazes back out the window.
"Fairy tales told by drunken smugglers", Darbin replies with a cocky smile and wave of his hand, "We've got more practical things to worry about right now."
He turns to Kira and Odo.
"Assuming we do make it inside the base, we're only going to have thirty minutes to get the job done. I programmed the transporter to beam us down and pick us up at an exact location. Whoever isn't there at pickup time will be left behind."
"Understood", Kira says flatly, causing Odo to give her a look that shows he isn't quite as confident as the Major.
"This is ridiculous", he blurts out, "I'm a security chief, not a weapons expert. Granted, I have had experience with several types of weapons since I've served on DS9. I've even known some people who have used them to kill and gotten away with it..."
He shoots Kira a knowing look. Kira returns his look with one of hurt. Damn you Odo, she thinks, you can't hold my past against me forever.
"You don't have to know anything about the bomb, Constable", Darbin says, "All you have to do is punch in the activation code. Just remember the number sequence and you'll do fine."
"Don't call me Constable", Odo says gruffly, "I'm a security chief, not a policeman from Earth's ancient history!"
Darbin is taken aback by Odo's violent tone. He leans forward until he is only inches away from Odo's face.
"You've got a serious attitude problem, my friend", he says coldly.
"And you have bad breath", Odo replies.
O'Brien coughs, barely covering a laugh as Darbin gives him a hostile look. Seeing the seriousness in Darbin's eyes, O'Brien clears his throat innocently and studies his console.
I can't believe it, O'Brien thinks as a flashing light comes up on his scanners, I finally met someone who has a worse sense of humor than Odo. I didn't think it possible.
"This is it", he calls out anxiously as their destination looms before them, "That's our planet. I'm not picking up any lifeforms."
"Forget the sensors", Darbin says, "They're going to have jamming devices running at all times to keep from being found."
Kira tenses, leaning forward to gaze out the cockpit window.
"Surely they would have some defensive systems online, though", she muses, "In case they were discovered."
As if on cue, a thunderous vibrating sound fills the cockpit, causing everyone but Odo to grab their ears in agony and drop to the floor. Odo wraps his arms around himself as his body starts to ripple and churn like syrupy water whirling in a blender.
"O'Brien", Darbin shouts, "The shields!"
O'Brien inches toward his console, the vibrations making every movement unbearable. Finding the switch to activate the shields, he reaches for it with a gnarled hand, but collapses before he can touch it.
Darbin winces and collapses as Kira watches with grim determination. Her teeth clenched, feeling like every bone in her body is being ground to dust, she slides forward, groaning as she pulls herself into the co-pilot chair.
She is about to hit the switch when a blinding rainbow of colors surround her and the others.
She looks over to see O'Brien disappear in a blink of light, followed by Darbin and Odo. Closing her eyes, she feels a slight tugging sensation in the pit of her stomach.
Then there is only a numbing cold darkness.
She awakens to see the poisonous 6 inch fangs of a Mugato inches from her face, a soft growl emanating from it's throat as it studies her. It's hot damp breath hits her face and sends a chill down her spine.
Kira gasps and backs away from the creature, searching for a weapon, but relaxes as she sees the Mugato change to Odo's regular humanoid form.
Kira gazes at their surroundings, a typically filthy Cardassian holding cell which has a whirlpool-like field of energy in the door. The field has a color of blue, but changes to red whenever Odo gets closer than a foot away from it.
"I'm sorry, Major", Odo says flatly, "I recognized this energy field when I woke up. It was used quite often by Gul Dukat on the space station when he wanted to pleasure himself by tormenting a prisoner."
"A gene grid", Kira says with an understanding nod, "It attunes itself to the genetic code of whoever it's trying to keep in. Anyone else can come and go, but the prisoner will receive a powerful shock if they try to leave."
"Unfortunately", Odo says with a look of frustration, "This field can change to match any form I take. I've tried fifty different forms while you were unconscious. Nothing worked."
"Where are O'Brien and Darbin?"
"They were taken to a holding cell elsewhere in the facility. It seems the Cardassians wanted to separate us. They may have special plans for the two of us."
Kira gazes into Odo's eyes, seeing the meaning of his words in his hard features. A feeling of guilt washes over her. She had loved the chance to strike back at the Cardassians, and was prepared for anything that would happen to her if she was caught. She had lived a full life, gaining many friends along the way, celebrating life at the worst of times. Odo, however, had always been alone. Having no memory of his past, he had always sought an answer to his identity and his place in the scheme of things. Now, he may never get the chance to get the answers he so desperately wants.
There was something that could be resolved here, though. Kira had always valued Odo's friendship and trust. Now, with the Constable trapped here with her, he could no longer hide from her attempts at reconciling this tension between them.
"You've been avoiding me for quite a while, Odo", she says softly.
Odo turns from her, walking over to the force field as it glows bright red.
"Let us concentrate on finding a way out of here, Major", he replies coldly.
"Neither of us can get through the field, Odo, so don't change the subject. I know you're afraid to talk about this incident I was involved in..."
"Incident", Odo yells with mock laughter as he spins to face her, "Is that what you call it? An incident? I call it murder!"
Kira recoils from Odo's words, feeling a shiver run down her spine. Never has he spoke this way to her. The rift between them must be wider than she thought.
"As for being afraid", he continues, "That is ludicrous. I'm not afraid to talk to you. I just have nothing left to say to you."
A mixture of anger and desolation fills Kira as stinging teardrops well in her eyes.
"Damn it Odo, you can't brush me away like this! I told you, killing that man was an accident! He startled me! I spun and fired out of surprise! It all just happened so fast."
She drops her head in her hands, as if to shield herself from the universe.
"If you only knew the guilt I felt at killing that man. The weeks of nightmares. That man was a Bajoran, Odo! Do you think I'd kill one of my own people?"
"Indeed I do, especially if that person were a Cardassian sympathizer."
"That doesn't have a damn thing to do with it! That man was a Bajoran! And I don't kill Bajorans!"
Odo studies Kira, watching the tears stream down her cheeks.
Her usual rough features are now soft, her cheeks having taken on a rose color and her hair looking a couple inches longer in the dim light of the cell.
Once again, he thinks of when he first saw her. Her long mane of red hair, which sparkled in the dim lights of the Promenade. Her soiled hands and face, from toiling under Cardassian masters in the steamy Bajoran fields. The mixture of youthful exuberance and battle-weary veteran in her eyes, like a little girl who awakens every day with a beautiful dress within her reach, but who is forced to put on greasy fatigues instead.
That beautiful dress has eluded Kira all her life, Odo thinks with a touch of remorse, She has seen so many horrors, living through hell and coming back for more, that all of us on the station forget that little girl is still inside her, crying out for comfort and understanding.
"You've... helped me with many things since I've known you, Major", Odo speaks with his head bowed, as if he is ashamed to look at her, "I've always been uncomfortable dealing with people. My assignment as a security person was merely a fluke, a prank played on myself and the Bajorans by Gul Dukat for the sake of a few laughs. But you gave me the freedom and support to make the position my own, Major. As much as I may try to deny it, I realize you have made me the man I am today."
"Then why are you willing to cast me off so easily", Kira asks with a slam of her fist on the floor, "Why?"
"Because you did something even worse than committing murder, Major. You covered it up. You lied to me and everyone else on the station when you should have told me as soon as it happened."
"You were working for the Cardassians then, Odo!"
"I was working for justice, Major! Justice! You remember what that is, don't you?"
Kira wipes away her tears and jumps to her feet as she hears footsteps coming toward them.
"Your concept of justice is too inflexible, Odo. It's based on the concept that any situation can be rectified in a moral way given the person has enough time to reason things out."
Two bull-like Cardassian guards stop before their cell, delighted smiles on their faces as they watch Kira browbeat Odo.
"Unfortunately, Odo, I don't reason things out. I act!"
Suddenly, Kira dives through the field, slamming into the two officers. One of the officers hits the opposite wall with a hard crack as his head contacts with the unyielding stone. His eyes roll back in his head and he slides down to the floor unconscious, leaving a trail of slimy blood running down the wall behind him.
The other officer recovers quickly, drawing his phaser and firing on Kira as she tries to stand. She tumbles backward as the beam of energy misses her head by inches, sending a shower of sparks into the air as it strikes the wall.
"Major", Odo calls anxiously, "Deactivate this field right now!"
"Damn it, Odo, can't you see I'm busy", Kira replies as she pulls the weapon from the unconscious Cardassian's belt, spins to face her opponent, and pulls the trigger.
"These weapons can only be used by Cardassians, wench", her combatant says with relish as he raises his pistol at her.
With lightning speed, Kira lunges at the Cardassian, hitting his arm as he pulls the trigger. The beam nicks her arm, sending sheets of raw fire coursing through the nerves.
She grunts as she grabs the Cardassian's locked arm and comes up with a hard knee into his elbow. His arm cracks and twists into an impossible position as the pistol flies out of his hand.
She pushes the howling Cardassian away from her and throws a spinning tornado kick to his head, sending him sprawling to the floor with a solid thud. The Cardassian groans weakly and falls unconscious.
"Kira, watch out", Odo yells.
Two beams of energy strike the wall and floor inches from Kira. She dives forward, grabbing the Cardassian she just took out and pulling him up in front of her.
Two massive Cardassians stride up confidently as they watch her pull the Cardassian in front of her.
"That won't do you any good, woman", one of them says in a growling voice, "If we have to, we'll just blow a hole right through him to get you. He was worthless anyway. He couldn't even stop a weak Bajoran wench."
"A shield", Kira asks with mock innocence, "You misunderstand, I wasn't using him as a shield."
She pulls the unconscious Cardassian's hand up, his lifeless fingers wrapped around his pistol, and pulls his trigger finger back twice, nailing both of the swaggering Cardassians between the eyes and dropping them to the floor.
"I was using him as a weapon. A damned good one too."
She lets go of the sleeping Cardassian and stands, wiping her hands on her outfit with distaste before she hits the switch to deactivate the field holding Odo. She rips a strip of cloth from her outfit and wraps it tightly around her wounded arm as Odo steps out of the cell casually.
"I see you're reflexes haven't changed, Major", he says with a snort, "Could you tell me how you got through that field without being killed?"
"Trade secret", Kira says with a mischievous smile, "Actually, it was a device I had in my tunic that I used during the Cardassian occupation. It sheathes the body and offers protection from the field's effects for ten seconds."
"Kind of you to let me know about it."
"Sorry. Tell me something though, Odo, was I imagining things, or did you call me Kira a few seconds ago? You've never been so... familiar before."
"It was your imagination. You have lost a lot of blood."
"The wound has stopped bleeding Odo. Stop making excuses. You're just so stubborn, you're afraid to admit that despite everything that's happened between us, you still care about me."
"Don't be absurd. I never knew you had such a flair for melodrama, Major."
"Well, Odo, I never knew you were so full of sh..."
A tremendous explosion rocks the floor and causes Kira and Odo to stumble as sirens begin to wail in the corridors. The lights lining the ceiling turn a blinking red.
"Something's happened", Odo says as he squints in the darkness.
"It's Darbin and the Chief", Kira says with an elated smile, "They've managed to escape somehow and done some damage in the process."
"You know this?"
"I know Darbin and the Chief. Neither is willing to sit around waiting to be terminated."
She gazes at one of the unconscious Cardassians, and looks back at Odo.
"We still have to take out that doomsday bomb. Do you think you can shape change into a Cardassian, Odo?"
"I've done it before."
"Good. We've got to hurry before more guards come through here."
Kira reaches down and yanks the outfit from one of the Cardassians, shaking her head as she realizes that the outfit is way too big for her. She hopes the dim light will aid in her disguise.
"Darbin to Nerys."
Kira hears the words coming from her transponder despite the din of the sirens.
"O'Brien and I managed to erase all the specifications for the doomsday bomb from the Cardassian computers, Major. Unfortunately, the Travall's been destroyed. I'm going to have to find another way to get us out of here."
"Odo and I are heading for the cloaking device now. We're on Level Nine and proceeding down the east corridor. I'll let you know when we've destroyed the bomb."
"Just hurry, Major! I'm sure there are guards swarming around that bomb by now."
Kira turns to Odo and gasps at his Cardassian form.
"Nice job", she says with a wry smile, "You even scared me!"
The two take off down the corridor, weaving through the frantic running about of Cardassian personnel. Kira walks over to one of the computer panels and calls up a diagram of the station as Odo stands next to her like a silent monument.
"The bomb is two levels down", she murmurs to Odo, "And Darbin's right. It looks like they've got a dozen guards around it."
"Lovely", Odo says wearily.
Kira continues pulling up diagrams on the monitor, slamming her fist on the console in frustration.
"Damn", she spits, "I can't find any other way into that chamber. We're going to have to go in there directly."
"And get shot on sight by a bunch of trigger-happy Cardassians? Surely there's a better way."
"I think we can do it, Odo. You'll just have to do something you haven't done in a while. You'll have to trust me."
Odo gives her a doubtful nod, and the two are about to set off to destroy the doomsday bomb when the unconscious body of Chief O'Brien slams to the floor near their feet.
"You two aren't going anywhere", a harsh gravelly voice intones from behind them.
Odo drops down to check O'Brien as Kira turns to see Thrawn Darbin holding a Cardassian thruster rifle at her, rubbing a sweaty finger on the trigger with relish.
Next to him stands Gul Davron, a lanky Cardassian standing nearly seven feet tall. Behind Davron are nearly fifty Cardassian foot soldiers, looking almost as eager as Darbin to fire their weapons.
Kira remembers Gul Davron like a person remembers one of the greatest tragedies of their life.
The Cardassian occupation had just started when Kira, an adolescent struggling to establish a balance between her spiritual and intellectual selves, was taking a walk in the fields of her village during harvest time. Her dearest friends, Baronn and Sedora, ran up to her to tell her of their trip into space, from which the two had just returned.
There, nestled in the emerald grass underneath a sparkling cloudless sky, Kira listened to them tell of the wonders of the galaxy. It was enough to convince Kira to want to take off right there, and take in the images her mind could not fathom.
It was at that moment that the Bajoran sky turned blood red with the lights of Cardassian fighter craft. Kira and her friends started running back for the village. Kira's heart threatened to burst from her body as her pulse quickened. Baronn and Sedora, who had never been as athletic as Kira, were mowed down by a fighter, their bodies bursting into a fountain of blood and flame.
Kira was not as lucky.
A Cardassian squadron led by Gul Davron caught Kira after a chase through the countryside. Davron tortured the young Bajoran for days, his appetite to see suffering seemingly insatiable as he burned and poked Kira's frail body until she could scream no more. Davron would only smile, shake his head and walk away, letting Kira rest for two hours before returning and starting the ritual again.
Finally, having tired of her, he stripped her naked and released her. She ran back to her now occupied village, and fell into her parents laps, holding herself and crying for days. Why had the man hurt her so? What had she done? Why had he enjoyed her begging so?
Whatever the reason, she made an oath that day that she would never beg to anyone, Cardassian or otherwise, ever again.
"Gul Davron", she says, speaking the words as if they were a curse.
"Do I know you, wench", Davron asks, his serpent-like tongue darting at the edges of his cracked lips.
Kira burns Davron with her stare, then glances at Darbin.
"You set us up, Darbin", she spits with barely controlled rage, "You had no intentions of destroying that doomsday bomb, did you?"
"I've worked hard all my life, Major", Darbin says coldly, "Risking my life time after time for Starfleet. And what did I get for it? Medals. The Cardassians offered me something more practical."
"Lots of them. Enough for me to buy a small planet, actually. Their generosity has no limits."
"Yes, they're real sweethearts", Odo sneers as he helps the now conscious O'Brien to his feet.
"What the hell's going on", O'Brien sputters as he wipes a dried spot of blood from the corner of his mouth and gazes in shock at Darbin, "I was almost finished destroying the diagrams of the bomb when Darbin struck me!"
"It's not what's going on, O'Brien", Darbin says with a frosty smile, "It's what's going off. Namely, this gun."
He raises the humming thruster rifle at Odo.
"I'm doing the shapeshifter first", he says, "He gets under my skin."
"I'd like to get under your skin Darbin", Odo replies, "So I could rip you apart from the inside out."
Darbin growls with rage as he pulls the trigger of the rifle.
"Odo, watch out", Kira yells as she dives in front of the shapeshifter. The beam hits her square in the chest and she goes down in a shower of blood and flame.
"No", Odo yells, his form rippling until his body changes into that of a sizzling blue sphere of energy hovering three feet off the floor.
Before Darbin can fire off another shot, Odo slams into him, causing the rifle in Darbin's hands to explode as Darbin himself lights up with thousands of volts of electricity.
Darbin falls to the ground dead, his face and hands charred and his body still sparking from the electrical discharge.
"He's changed into a Vorathian Starsphere", Davron yells with a quaver in his voice, "Get him!"
Odo barrels into the Cardassian soldiers like a demon flying from the depths of Hell, dodging fire from the shaking hands of the Cardassian soldiers while electrocuting one soldier after another and sending them flying in all directions like feathers caught in a tornado.
Davron, horrified by the carnage, rushes by O'Brien, pushing him out of the way as he races down the corridor.
"Oh no you don't", O'Brien says as he shakes his head to clear the wooziness from his period of unconsciousness. He chases after Davron, and the two disappear in the distance.
Odo sends a final shrieking Cardassian to his god, then slowly glides over to the mangled body of Kira. Slowly, he changes back to his regular body.
There is a terrible silence for a moment, as Odo studies the fallen Major. Feelings he was never prepared for wash over him as he drops to his knees and gently takes Kira's hand. He winces as he sees the blood flowing from the smoking hole in her chest.
You sacrificed yourself for me, Kira Nerys, he thinks as two lines of liquid stroll down his misshapen cheeks, after all I've said and done to you the past week. Such honor and dignity you possess, all of us pale in comparison.
He looks back on the scarred corpses of the Cardassian soldiers, and thinks back on Kira's words.
I don't reason things out. I act.
And wasn't that what Odo did just now? Acted out of rage and despair, killing soldiers who were merely following orders? He didn't have to kill them, but he did. He looks down at his hands, wet with Kira's crimson blood.
You have taught me a lesson today, Major, he thinks as he drops his head over her, But at such a terrible cost.
Odo is startled by the thundering words, and looks up to see a tiny pinpoint of light. The light expands until it reaches five feet in diameter, glowing so brightly Odo has to look away in pain.
"What are you", he asks bitterly, "Another creation of the Cardassians? Go ahead, kill me if you wish, but I won't plead or whine for mercy. You'll have to get your enjoyment some place else!"
Our name has been whispered from the beginning to the end of the galaxy. We were present at the birth of this area of space, and will witness it's death eons from now. These beings you have killed called us the Loxi.
"Loxi", Odo whispers in awe, "So you do exist."
For too long we have stayed invisible to your multitude of races. But we could no longer stand your invasion in this territory of space. You humanoids are all dirty, soiling world after world with your weapons and hatred. It must end now.
There is a shrill pulse of sound, like a combination of a scream and a heartbeat, as the whole corridor goes completely dark. Odo can't help but shiver as he feels waves of tangible power waft around him.
After thirty seconds standing paralyzed in confusion, the lights return.
And before him, Kira, Darbin and the Cardassian soldiers stand, looking like marionettes whose strings have become tangled as they stand, dead but controlled by some spark of energy from the Loxi. Odo has to look away from Kira, disgusted that these beings would treat the dead with so little dignity.
Another flash of light appears, and O'Brien and Davron materialize, with O'Brien holding Davron's tunic and drawing his fist back to punch the Gul.
No more fighting!
The floating, shapeless Loxi discharges an emerald bolt of energy, which slams into O'Brien and knocks him away from Davron.
The energy forms a bubble around Davron, rendering him completely immobile.
"You can't stop me from finishing him, damn it", O'Brien snarls as he glances sadly at Kira's standing corpse, "You can't."
This is our star system. You are the invaders. It is only right that we dispense justice here.
"And what justice do you have planned", Odo calls out to the entity, "Are you going to just obliterate us all on the spot? Kill us like insects that have become too annoying to ignore?"
We sense a great aura around you, changeling. You have a strong belief in the concept of justice.
"I did at one time. Now I'm beginning to think my beliefs were terribly naive. Everything in this universe is not either good or evil, right or wrong. There are ideas and concepts that cannot be pigeonholed so easily."
You believe you have learned something about youself today?
There is a tense silence as the Loxi begins to pulsate, shifting colors like a pinwheel as it confers with the others of it's race.
We have made a decision, changeling. You are to pass judgement on these Cardassians. I have read Davron's mind, and know that within two days he was going to destroy Bajor with his doomsday weapon. His soldiers thought him a military genius, and vowed to follow him to Bajor and watch it's destruction with guiltless hearts. So what will it be, changeling? Should they live or die for their crimes?
Odo studies Gul Davron, who darts his eyes like a trapped animal, desperately looking for a way out of his situation. His hands tremble in terror of the Loxi, making him look much smaller than the arrogant Commander that stood before him just minutes ago. He had seen the mixture of hatred and terror in Kira's expression as she looked at the Cardassian commander. Whatever Davron did to her, it was something she could not bear to think about.
Thrawn Darbin's lifeless body stares at the walls through eyes sitting in a charred face, like two sapphire nuggets resting in a stone wall. His body, as well as those of the Cardassian soldiers, still exudes smoke from Odo's assault, and the smell of burnt flesh fills the air.
"You've got to kill them for what they did, Odo", O'Brien says weakly, "For what they did to the Major."
"Do you really think that would solve everything, O'Brien", Odo asks with a surprising calmness.
O'Brien slumps back against the wall as he looks into the tranquil ocean of Odo's eyes. He feels the rage inside him being replaced with one of equally strong frustration.
"I guess not", he mutters with surrender.
You are wasting time, changeling. What is your judgement?
"A clean slate", Odo says with a tone of satisfaction, "Yes, I want a clean slate. Take us all back two days in time. Eliminate the doomsday bomb and erase all traces of it from the Cardassians' minds. Especially Gul Davron's."
Davron squirms in the energy field, but can only groan as he becomes even more paralyzed by the struggle.
What you ask is very difficult, changeling.
"You're race is omnipotent. Figure out a way to do it."
The Loxi glimmers a bright red as it confers once again with it's brethren.
Very well. We admire your decision, and will grant it accordingly. But we feel you have learned too much from this experience to forget it, so you will remember the events of these past two days. The others will see this time period as only mists swirling in their minds like fleeting dreams. All habitable planets in this system will be cloaked from your vessels. We do not want any creature to defile our worlds again. Is this understood?
"Perfectly", Odo says as a beam of purple energy ripples from the Loxi, encompassing him in a warm, syrupy layer of force.
And then, once again, there is utter darkness.
"Odo, you can get up any time you wish."
Odo glances up at the cheery face of Doctor Julian Bashir. For a moment, he feels a disorientation as he takes in his surroundings, but it soon passes and he pulls himself up to a sitting position.
"You're looking particularly happy today, Doctor", Odo says as he thinks back on the last two days and envies the Doctor's ignorance of what has just happened.
"It's not every day I get the Constable on my medical table."
"I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself, Doctor. It'll be a long time before I'm in here again."
"You really should relax a little, Odo. You're always so tense! If you were human, you'd have probably had a heart attack by now."
"Well fortunately I'm not human, Doctor. Now, if you'll excuse me."
Odo walks away as Bashir watches him go, shaking his head with a look of confusion.
"I'll never understand him", he says as he raises his arms in the air with frustration, "Never!"
Quark's Place is preparing to close for another night, as the lights of the bar begin to dim and the clinking of stacked glasses can be heard.
Odo enters the bar, taking a deep breath as he gazes around at the small crowd of customers enjoying one last drink before they retire to their cabins. Odo hardly recognizes the establishment. With the quiet music and comfortable conversation going on in the bar, the place looks almost respectable.
"Don't tell me what I want to drink, Quark", a husky female voice yells from a far corner of the bar, "I want a Bajoran Firestar, and I want it now!"
Odo looks in the direction of the outburst, and joy rushes through him as he sees Kira Nerys grab the squawking Quark by his collar with that fiery passion with which she pursues everything.
"Major, be reasonable, please", Quark screeches as he tries to pull the Major's hand from his jacket, "I was just trying to be of assistance!"
"Well, assist someone else!"
"Is there a problem here", Odo says as he approaches the two, barely able to hold back a smile.
Kira is so surprised to see Odo that she lets go of Quark's collar. The Ferengi gasps and straightens his vest with a look of insult.
"Odo, where have you been the last day", Kira says with a hint of sadness, "I've been looking for you everywhere."
"Odo, I want to press charges", Quark interrupts, shooting a finger at the Major, "She's gone too far this time! Why, I paid almost twenty credits for this suit, and now it's ruined!"
"I know you've been looking for me, Major", Odo says, ignoring Quark as he steps closer to Kira and looks into her dark eyes, "I want you to know I don't hold what you did against you. We're all forced into doing things sometimes that we regret later. None of us are perfect. Not even me, even though I thought I was for a long time. We've known each other for so long, Major. Learned so much about each other. I could never turn my back on you. Never."
Tears well in Kira's eyes as she listens to Odo's words. She smiles warmly, with a radiance and softness that touches him.
The little girl has finally gotten her dress, he thinks as he returns her smile with one of his own.
"Oh boy", Quark mumbles as he rolls his eyes at the two, "Listen, Odo, this is all fine and good, but the fact remains that my suit is ruined! Now I demand satisfaction!"
"Very well, Quark", Odo says as he cranes his neck in the direction of a Klingon woman and her sister. He nods and motions them over with his hand.
"What are you doing, Odo", Quark asks warily, "Don't call those Klingons over here! I just got them settled down a few minutes ago! They're nothing but trouble!"
"I heard that, little man", one of the women says, her stout arms grabbing Quark from behind. She squeezes him with a bear hug, and his eyes bulge as he gasps for air.
"Don't hurt him, Marta", the woman's sister growls in the equivalent of a Klingon mating call, "I think he's cute! We can have much fun with him!"
"What", Quark gasps with sudden horror as the two grab him by either arm and carry him off with his legs kicking in the air.
"Odo! Help me! They'll tear my lobes apart!"
"You said you wanted satisfaction, Quark. You're about to get more than you ever dreamed of."
"I'll get you for this, Odo! Your bucket will never be safe again!"
Quark and the Klingon women disappear in the turbolift as the Ferengi's last shrieks can he heard.
Kira laughs uncontrollably as she falls into her chair and looks up at Odo curiously.
"I didn't think you had that in you, Odo! Thank you for getting that troll off my back."
"Think nothing of it, Major", Odo says as he sits down across from her, "What are friends for?"
A quivering Rom carries a drink over to the two's table as the customers begin to file out of the bar.
It is hours later, after everyone else has gone, that Kira and Odo leave, ending their conversation reluctantly and heading their separate ways as a new day begins on the station.