"There are always games, Doctor." Elim Garak, Cardassians.


A/N: The following story corresponds roughly with the sixth season story In the Pale Moonlight, and directly follows the AU events of Helix.

I do not own Star Trek. Deep Space Nine belongs to the Bajorans, and all original characters in here belong to themselves. I got some action figures, a communicator that can't talk to people in space and a plastic phaser that can't shoot anybody (pity) but I'm just playing in this world. No harm intended.


TOXIC:

Toxikos (Greek) - A type of poisoned bow and arrow.

Toxicum (Latin) - Poison.

"Containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation. [] Extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful."

(Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.)


Personal log. Stardate 51725.3.

What comes before will seek us out, and always find us in the end.

I wonder why that is, exactly. I have some idea – a very general idea. But I wonder what, exactly, made me think about those words. It's an old saying from Cardassia, I think. From the earliest days of imperial expansion. And I find myself trying to picture what sort of Cardassian might have been the first to say it.

How fitting.

I need somebody with me now, like Jadzia or Miles. Somebody to tell me that I'm being a fool. It's what they would say, I think. They would say that it's arrogant of me to believe this is my fault – that everything would have happened precisely this way, in spite of anything I said or did. I need them to remind me that I'm not so important. They're very good at that, much better at it than I have ever been. Of course, I could convince myself that no choice of mine made any difference to how it all turned out.

Still, I need to know.


It started with rain.

Not the pounding, tumultuous rain that occasionally came down from the surrounding mountains. Not the drifting, misty rain that floated like specks of dust until it finally settled on the outer surface of people's clothes. Rain was rare on Exeter Five, and rarely lasted more than an hour. But this time, it quickly coated every house, every field, and every pavement with water.

This was unexpected. Somehow, the more observant of Exeter's people noticed, it had lacked the slick, wet feeling of an all-day downpour. The first to feel it on their skin had assumed that it would never increase beyond a trickle. The air would be dry again before too long.

It did not depart as quickly as they had hoped. Trees were turned to props for channeling the flow of moisture. Exposed patches of ground soon changed to sodden troughs of mud.

"Brilliant," exclaimed Tomasz Van Wijk, glancing irritably through the window. "Looks like the weather grid's on the blink again."

He looked around at either side, as though a wider view would prove him wrong. "Guess that means they'll expect me to fix it."

"Serves you right for being so good at your job," his wife teased. Turning around, he hit her playfully with the flat side of his padd.

"Bully," she accused.

But the Van Wijk children's father had grown oddly pensive again. "It's strange, mind you," he muttered. "We finished a diagnostic only two days ago."

"Can I come?" asked Hazel. But she managed no more than a croaking whisper – followed by a sharp, dry cough.

"No," insisted Mama. "You stay here, and get better."

Hazel's older sister glanced up at the scene with only the briefest interest, and then back down at the book on her knees.

"Just a quick trip this time," Papa called, donning his coat as he stepped towards the front door of their house. "I'll be back before you know it. And Gerte. Don't forget you've got homework to do."

The older sister muttered something incomprehensible and curled up more tightly with her book raised even closer to her face. Shoulders hunched, she turned slightly away from her father.


He returned three hours later, to the woeful protests of his firstborn child. "But I'm trying as hard as I can!"

Gerte dropped her head melodramatically onto her arms. Smiling quietly to himself, her father removed his coat from over his shoulders, and rubbed the moisture from his dripping hair.

"It isn't fair." Gerte was persistent in her suffering. "Hazel doesn't have to study algebra."

"Hazel's time will come," Mama reminded her. "And she's sick. You're not."

At this, the teenager released a wail of impotent frustration. "Papa – tell her!"

With some effort, Papa held back an urge to chuckle softly. But he could not stop himself from smiling. "I have faith in you, Miss Gerte. You'll get there eventually."

Gerte cast a forlorn glance at her abandoned novel, and returned to her homework with a cry of frustration. Mrs Van Wijk smiled at her husband. "All done?" she asked.

"Just about," said Papa as he rubbed away some drops of rain that had soaked into his hair. But Gerte scowled at both of them, and muttered soft fragmented curses against parents who never listened to teenage girls.

Hazel had continued to watch the rain, dwarfed by the thick blue blanket still tight as a web around her shoulders. Shards of cool, white daylight reflected in a blade from every falling drop. It was sparser now, more a trickle than it was a downpour, but it continued to tumble from the awnings above.

The younger of the Van Wijk daughters had seen very little of rain. She had been only a baby - less than a year old - when the family had moved to Exeter Five, and remembered nothing of life outside of the remote and arid colony. On a normal day, only detailed surveying by earlier colonists and a network of artificial weather control facilities could lend enough moisture to the air to make their small coastal settlements inhabitable. A day of bad weather was a rare, almost anomalous, occurrence.

"There was a power flow irregularity in our first and second level humidity regulators," Papa announced. "We're hoping the computer might diagnose and repair all of that by this time tomorrow - and once it does, we ought to be able to run a thorough diagnostic on all the other systems - but like I said to Jo and the others, now it's a matter of letting the computers do their job."

He positioned himself next to Hazel on the sofa, chuckling softly. "I know, I know. You're not interested in technical details. I have to go back there early tomorrow morning - but the point is, this should all peter out before too long."

"Well that's good to know," said Mama.

Papa smiled in response. "In the meantime-" he added, turning to Hazel. "How's my little invalid?"

"Okay." The youngest daughter sniffed, rubbed her swollen nose, and wrapped herself a little tighter in her blanket. But then her attention moved down to where her father had begun to scratch unconsciously at the back of his own right hand.

"Is that giving you trouble?" Mama had seated herself on Hazel's other side. One hand stroked the girl's smooth hair. But her intensely anxious eyes were fixed upon her husband. Even Gerte had abandoned her homework in order to watch the scene.

"Not really." Papa chuckled - but frowned briefly as he flexed his hand. "I'll clear up soon enough. And if it doesn't, well… It's only rain."

"That's not what I meant, Tomasz Van Wijk." Mama stood and skirted around the sofa. Reaching down, she lifted Papa's hand. "Let me see."

The skin around his knuckles was blotchy and inflamed, with weeping blisters rising across its surface. "Oh," he said, glancing down at the irregular reddened marks. "That. It's just a bit itchy, that's all. I'll get it checked out tomorrow, before I head off to work."

"Good." Mama's voice was firm, and the girls knew from experience that she considered the matter decided. She would hold him to that promise. She paused for one last glance at the rash on Papa's hand. "I'll see if we have some ointment somewhere. But stop scratching it, Tom. You'll only make it worse."


It was dark outside when Hazel woke, but with a clear sky and a silver-blue moon sending a sharp but subdued glow through one transparent window. Hazel pictured spirits in the light beam, or tiny benevolent entities that would keep watch over her family as they slept. Just as Mama and Papa used to watch her when she was much smaller. The spirits landed on the soft toy bunny lying next to her upon the bed – accentuating every fold of his rumpled neck. And Hazel brought him close to her as he curled up tightly and whimpered into the corner of her blanket.

Her nose felt stuffy. Her head throbbed, and an uncomfortable pressure was building just behind her ears. She was hot and cold all at once, with a pain in her throat that would not leave. She sniffed once, and moaned. Mama can make it better, she thought. Mama would fix her something hot and sweet, and the bad feelings would retreat to a memory. Not forever, but long enough for her to sleep again.

She slid quietly onto her feet, and kept both arms wrapped tightly around the torso of Bunny Ben. The toy flopped obligingly as he yielded to her skinny-armed strangled hold. Hazel clung to him, even while she donned a robe and pressed the button to open her bedroom door. She and Bunny Ben shuffled into the hallway, past the door to Gerte's room, and finally stopped at a place halfway along – with only one door separating them both from Hazel and Gerte's parents.

Holding her soft toy rabbit a little more tightly around his belly, Hazel reache dup and pressed the chime on her parents' door.

"Mama?" she whispered. There had been no answer to the soft mechanical summons, and none to her plaintive call.

She stepped back again and stared at the door. They wouldn't be angry at her for waking them, would they? Papa had grumbled a lot before both daughters had been sent off to bed. But all that Hazel wanted was a warm drink and a cuddle. She would be back beneath the covers and sound asleep as soon as she had gotten what she was after. Mama would send away all of the aches and the stuffiness in her nose. That shouldn't be enough to make them angry.

Then why would no-one answer?

Sniffling quietly, Hazel considered using her parents' special code to open the door from outside. The one that their children were not supposed to know. But Gerte had secretly discovered it by spying on her parents with her father's holocam, and she had revealed it to her sister only after an hour of persistent nagging. Even now, Hazel's fingers were slightly reluctant to key in the simple progression of numbers. There were only three of them, but each made a tiny sound that was many times too loud to her ears.

"Mama?" she called in the same tiny voice, as she pushed aside the unlocked door. She maneouvred it the other way, but not quite closed, and tiptoed across the floor.

They were both still lying in bed, and neither responded to their daughter's entrance. Still with an arm hooked around Bunny Ben, Hazel shuffled on three limbs along the narrow space between her mother's body and the edge of the bed. Their backs were turned to her. She did not see any sign that she had woken them, but she reached forward and gently shook her mother by the shoulder.

"Mama? I can't sleep…"

Mama's head turned slowly towards her, and a labored sound passed through her throat, like wind passing through a narrow tunnel. Her eyes opened slightly, only barely seeming to find her daughter's face. A slft clicking sound heralded each breath, which sounded more like the wheeze of a faulty pipe. Her face was as pale as desert sand, spotted as though with flecks of ink. Fluid glinted darkly beneath her eyes and around her half-open, gasping mouth – transformed by moonlight from crimson to dark velvet. Strands of limp golden hair had fallen from her head to land in a heap on her pillow.

Her mouth opened a little more, lips drawing back, and revealed where lines of blood had also gathered between her teeth.

Hazel screamed.


Victoria Roslyn's standard-issue laboratory shoes made barely a sound as she advanced with purposeful, lengthy strides along the polished corridor. She enjoyed the moment of pleasant isolation. Her shift had officially ended several hours ago. Most of her research teams had left soon afterwards, and the few transparent windows revealed no more than darkness outside. Not even a moon had risen into the sky.

The number of people was kept to a minimum throughout the night shift – just three or four junior staff to continue with basic security and maintenance. But the interior of the central facility gleamed with equal brilliance whatever the time of day.

Approaching a tightly closed door with the simple designation of Theta 2, Victoria stood directly in front of a sloping access panel and placed one hand upon it. She blinked repeatedly from the flash of a laser peering deep into her eyes, and noted the single high-pitched chime as the computer granted her entry.

The same door closed again behind her, immediately followed by the soft, airy hiss of sterilising chemicals filling the enclosed compartment. End to end, it was barely larger than she was. The unmarred white of its walls was tingled slightly pink by a single scarlet light in front of her, which after a two second delay, changed efficiently from red to green. The last barrier slid open and a flood of cool white met her eyes from the much wider laboratory at the other side.

The man within did not look up. But the director doubted that he would fail to notice her unannounced arrival. She stood at the edge of the room to watch in momentary silence. And finally, she smiled. "Are you going to be there all night?"

Her colleague offered no visible response, but answered in a tired, distracted semi-whisper. "I haven't decided yet."

He was almost half a decade younger than Professor Roslyn, but older than many of the others on her staff. They were all young at the research centre; even Tirok was quite youthful, for a Vulcan. Aside from Tirok, and possibly Darnell, not one of them had seen their fortieth birthday. But as Victoria's older sister had reminded her often enough, that day would come soon enough. Her own was only slightly over fifteen months away.

But unlike the professor, this man had lines of experience clearly etched upon his face. He focused with intense, deliberate concentration on the screen of his terminal, eyes shifting regularly from the moving display of data to the detailed magnification of soil samples at his right.

The data cycled once, and stopped – accompanied by an unobtrusive alert from the computer. Swinging around in his chair, the man opened a small container at his side. He lifted a hard white tube and placed it in the molecular scanner on his desktop. "Computer, designate Sample Twenty Seven," he said tiredly, kneading the back of one hand. "Begin sequence analysis."

"How's it going?" asked Roslyn.

"Oh. Uh… Fine, so far," the man replied, before pausing to collect his thoughts. "It will take some time to yield us enough data for a viable analysis, but once that happens, the algorithm for predicting this parasite's probable incubation period should be relatively easy to create."

Taking her time, Victoria Roslyn made her way silently to an empty chair at another side of the research table. She said nothing, until the moment when she had settled herself upon it – and folded both hands in front of her. "Was there a reason why this couldn't wait till morning?"

"There's still a lot of work to do before this is complete," the tall young man insisted. "I'm charting the life cycle of over a dozen related species and in just as many different environmental conditions, cross referenced according to species and location. There's a paper in this – I know there is. But I thought the results would be more viable if…"

"They're in stasis, Julian."

Julian Bashir looked at her directly for the first time that night. "Even so," he persisted. "Despite what a lot of people think, stasis chambers aren't always a hundred percent foolproof as a method of preservation."

"And what effect do you suppose a lack of sleep is likely to have on your experiment?" Roslyn challenged him – her tone simultaneously playful but serious.

"I wanted to test a theory," said Bashir.

Roslyn's eyebrows rose. "Do I get to find out what that is?" she asked.

"Assuming that it works." Bashir smiled wanly, and turned at the interrupting voice of the computer.

"Analysis complete."

He selected another container, swapped it for the previous sample, and gave the same instructions for Sample Twenty Seven as he had done for its predecessor. As soon as this was done, he returned his attention to the director, and sighed.

"I couldn't sleep," he told her pragmatically.

Finally, thought Roslyn. An honest response. But she opted not to comment. Turning to his left, Bashir tensed the muscles of his face into a tight squint and ruffled the back of his hair with one hand. He leaned back and gradually worked out the strain that had accumulated in his neck.

"It's that kind of night," he continued. "I suppose I just thought, if I got up and attempted something productive, I could make myself tired…"

His earnest expression now turned to one of mild subversion. "And you, Madam Director? What are you doing up so late?"

Roslyn chuckled quietly, but a softly chiming alert interrupted her response. "Professor Roslyn?" came a voice through the shiny metal pin on her laboratory coat.

"I'm here," she responded, still with the shade of a laugh behind her words.

"Professor," came the disembodied, friendly-but-anxious voice of the junior assistant on duty. "Uh… There's a message just come for you. It's, um… It's from Starfleet."

Starfleet? She glanced again at the man in front of her, seeing him look up suddenly to meet her own startled gaze. With the moment of contact, she acknowledged Julian's pensive attention. But the moment was a silent one, and passed without comment.

"I'll take it in my office thanks, Jane," she told the assistant, and retraced her steps towards the place where she had entered.

But before stepping through the door, she turned and pointed a finger at Bashir. "Take a break," she commanded. He answered with a mock salute, but with his attention already fixed upon the console display. Sighing, Victoria Roslyn departed from the room.


Bashir returned much later to his own small quarters at the farthest end of the research complex. "No – this will be fine," he'd told Professor Roslyn on his first day. It was smaller than most private quarters, a single cubicle with a bed, a desk, and two chairs arranged at right angles from each other, with a replicator embedded in the opposite wall to a small partitioned alcove. In that hidden space were all the necessities he needed for grooming – a sonic shower, tiny sink, and waste extraction unit in the corner.

He relaxed – but only a little – as the door closed behind him. Given the chance, he would rather have gone to a holosuite to unwind. But this facility had no holosuites, and Felix – who designed many of his favourite programmes – had not sent him anything in quite some time.

"Yeah I got something in the works," he had told Bashir last time they had spoken. "Just got a few kinks to work out, but trust me. This one's gonna be worth the wait."

Felix was keeping very quiet about what his new programme was going to be, but Julian could be just as deliberately patient. It would take him a while to be able to access any holosuites.

Three objects sat in a row along a narrow brown shelf, and Bashir soon realised that he'd been looking in exactly that direction. At the nearest end was a vase with spindly dry flowers inside. He had yet to replace them with fresh ones – but they had always been naturally small and sharp. Probably desert plants. In the centre was a bone carving that must have been Cardassian – almost certainly from before the war. Fascinated by its meticulously smooth and delicate edges, he had negotiated its purchase from a passing Ferengi merchant, and assured himself what he hoped was a reasonable deal.

Beside it was the final, most treasured item – a teddy bear with a rumpled face, its surface even more ragged than its owner occasionally felt inside.

He brushed his fingers across the soft toy's patched-together fur. "Hello, old friend."

Sitting down on the bed, he glanced briefly at the three padds he had brought from the lab – without activating any of them. Roslyn was right. The data stored within them could wait until morning.

There were days, when the ache beneath his muscles turned every movement to a difficult struggle. When his body rebelled against him as though from the after effects of a full day's hard toil. On those days, all he could do was to set his jaw with fierce determination, and struggle through every hour until the coming of evening – when he would crash, exhausted, back onto his small, hard bed.

But these black days, as he had come to think of them, no longer defined his waking existence. And perhaps… He looked down at his hands, now resting palm-down upon his thighs. They did not move, but neither did they feel entirely steady. Even so, he allowed himself a moment of hope, the very faintest of imagined smiles. Perhaps this would not be a lasting curse after all.

It was a gambler's hope – the desperate optimism that accompanied every minor streak of better fortune. He had seen the same in so many others. Nobody would believe them if he told them that his good health would return. He sighed quietly, reminding himself – as he always did – that all physical evidence was against him.

Reaching forward, he lifted a file of downloaded experimental results. Victoria had sent him to his quarters, he reasoned. She could not dictate what he must do once he was there. As he stared down at the padd's black and yellow monitor, he summoned the stream of data, but wondered what Starfleet could possibly have had to say.