One Year Later
"I was ordered to report to the holo-suites?" asked Dax as she stepped next to Commander Kira.
"Yes, Dax. It seems Quark is having a bit of a problem with holo-suite three," Kira explained.
"How does that involve me?" Ezri asked confused.
"How?" interrupted Quark. "I'll show you how! Computer! Open the door to holo-suite three."
The computer's mechanical yet feminine voice answered, "Unable to comply. Voice recognition authorization required."
"And whose voice do you need?" Quark said, his voice dripping with nasty sarcasm.
"Counselor Ezri Dax voice recognition required," the computer replied.
The Ferengi looked impatiently at her.
"What do you expect me to do about it? I didn't lock the stupid door!" she snapped defensively.
"No," called Chief O'Brien, head and shoulders inside an access panel at Ezri's feet, "but I believe you can open it. It'll take me years just to figure out the encryption algorithm used. It would be much easier if you can command the computer to open the doors."
"I'll give it a try. Computer! Open the door to holo-suite three."
The doors immediately hissed open.
"Damn!" exclaimed O'Brien.
"What's wrong chief?" asked Kira.
"All the memory space allocated to the lock-out is being overwritten with random bits. It will be totally unrecoverable before I can do anything to stop it."
"So the code trace is gone?" Kira asked in irritation.
"That's right, Commander. If we are to find out who did this, it will have to be from some other clue. This one is totally destroyed."
"That's just great!" she snapped before turning to enter the holoprogram.
Ezri followed her in and, once Quark and O'Brien had entered, the doors hissed shut again as the room shimmered. With a feeling of unsettling déjà vu, Ezri was suddenly standing on a grassy hillock overlooking a rocky beach. She recognized the surroundings as her home world of Trill, but all the cities and technology was gone.
Before her an ancient long boat was beached on the shore. A youth clad in fur and leather garments sprang from its high, carved bow and trotted toward them. Her heart elated at the sight of the boy at the same moment sank knowing she was going to catch hell for his stunt.
"Zokalaroo!" she cried in exasperation as he joined them.
"Not quite, Sis!" he laughed.
Ezri had the sudden recollection of Zoka telling her that Goth's first host was a water cruising barbarian from her peoples very distant past. She realized this was his way of authenticating what was going on as being legitimately created by Zoka's hand.
"He's a hologram," confirmed O'Brian who had activated his tricorder as soon as the program started to run.
"A hologram!" Kira barked. "Dax. This is the second time your little brother has disrupted protocol on this station. The first was, I won't say a lark because of the covert operations implications, but whatever it was, I was willing to let it slide because it was relatively insignificant. But this had better be pretty damned important!"
Dax was sorely tempted to snark, "Or else…what?" but decided it best not to. Instead she addressed the holo image of Zoka asking, "What's this all about?"
"It all has to do with a symbiont named Mordan. You can look him up in history starting with Mordan Partha."
Ezri made an audible gasp at the name.
"That name mean something to you?" asked Kira.
"Yes," she rasped. Turning back to the boy she said, "Zoka, I am going to have to tell them everything."
There was a long pause before Zoka answered. When he did it was simply to inform Ezri that the program was very simplistic and that from this point on she had to do what she felt was right.
"But first, you must know. I found him and when I left it was to hunt him down. It has been over a year and since I haven't made it back to DS9 to disable this program I can only assume the hunt has gone badly.
"This will go against everything positive for your career, I am certain of that! But it seems I am in need of rescue. If you decide the sacrifice is too great, I'll understand. On the other hand, if you choose to help, start with the Frengi, Quark. He put me in touch with my first contact and can get you started too. I'll have left clues where I could. At least that's the plan here at the onset."
Ezri wheeled on Quark and grabbed him by his lapels, yelling, "What have you done?"
"Nothing! He paid me to give him a name so I did. He never told me why he wanted that name or what his plans were!"
With a ferociousness she didn't know she possessed she hurled Quark to the ground before O'Brien and Kira could stop her.
"Jadzia is urging me to let her snap your foul neck!" she growled. "But I need you. You will give me that name and everything else you know about where Zokalaroo has gone!"
Quark sprang to his feet just as angry. "I'll tell you everything I know but why don't you start, because the first thing I know is that this whole brother lie is just some game you and that boy cooked up. I was there, remember!
And before you go trying to intimidate me think hard about just who or what that brat is! Sure, you may threaten to kill me and maybe you can do it. Then again, maybe you can't! You might know a few of Jadzia's Klingon moves but you're not Jadzia! Not even close!
"That pretend brother of yours, on the other hand? He's a true killer. I never doubted it since I first laid eyes on him. He could kill me and make my body simply disappear," Quark snapped his fingers sharply, "never to be found. So yes, maybe you will kill me. But he definitely would have if I didn't do what he asked and kept silent about it."
"What in the hell is going on here!" demanded Kira. "I want the whole story and damn-it, I want it now!"
A tense two hours of explanations later, in the commander's office Ezri and Dr. Bashir were both locked at attention while being chewed thoroughly out by Kira as a nervous Quark cast panicked glances at all present.
"And the real pearl in all this is now I have to figure out just what to do? Obviously I can't just overlook the incident because there is a kid out there needing rescue. So I have got to take action, of course that means the total unprofessional behavior on you part will come to light and I, as commander will be expected to deal with it.
"You are Starfleet officers, so I could simply turn you over to them. Tell me, Doctor, where would that leave your brilliant career?"
"Ruined, I should think, Commander," answered Bashir dryly. "And Dax's, as well," he added just to be thorough. Ezri swallowed hard.
"Exactly!" exclaimed Kira. "So that leaves me Bajoran military justice but as soon as it gets out this level of insubordination and dereliction of duty, this…mutiny, which is exactly what this is, happened under my command, I'll be the one drummed out. This post is as much a political one as strategic. I've already got enemies trying to oust me so their party can get the prestige of this command. You two have all but served my head up to them on a golden plate! And the fledgling Bajoran Government along with it!"
Kira threw herself into the commanders chair behind the desk and began massaging her
"Get your butts out of my office until I decide what to do. You are all confined to quarters until further notice."
"Commander! I protest!" cried Quark. "I'm a civilian! You can't confine me to quarters as if I were one of your troops!"
"Security!" yelled Kira.
Two brawny Bajorans entered her office.
"Quark is confined to quarters. If he doesn't cooperate, drag him there by his heels. Once there, if he attempts to leave…shoot him!"
Turning her gaze on Dax and Bashir she asked, "I assume I can trust the two of you not to make those orders necessary on your part?"
"No, commander," said Dax meekly.
"Then get out of my sight," Kira growled.
For the next two weeks the trio languished in their quarters. Each day, at separate hours, they were beamed to the holosuites for exercise. Otherwise they went no where and saw no one. The agony they suffered was unique to each of them. Bashir felt as if he were being driven mad with the lack of mental stimulation. Quark paced his room until the carpet was threadbare, worrying about his bar. Ezri simply stared out her window at the myriad of stars wondering on which point of light Zoka was trapped, and if he were even still alive. Every day she felt to be a deeply lost opportunity to mount that rescue he seemed so certain he needed.
Finally they found themselves beamed directly into Kira's office. She looked grave and obviously the intervening days were just as tough on her.
"Back in Bajor's feudal era," she began slowly, "there was a military tradition called Fane Tuke that would test the loyalty of officers suspected of treason. It translates almost literally as 'Trial By Fire'. It hasn't been invoked in over a thousand years but, as I recently discovered, it is still on the books. I doubt my using it now will be looked kindly upon but there is no way to stop me. Holding the rank of Commander, it is in my right!"
She said that last bit more as if trying to convince herself rather than the others. It left the trio feeling ill at ease.
"What, exactly," drawled Dr. Bashir, "does this trial consist of?"
"You and Dax will confess to being traitors to both the Bajoran people and Starfleet. Quark, you will confess to be a traitor to Bajor and Ferenginar."
"I'll do no such thing!" exclaimed Quark.
"Then you will have your bar confiscated and you go to prison. Odo left me more than enough evidence to have you locked away for the rest of you slimy life," Kira fired back in a voice so cold no one doubted her.
"You three will then go on a secret mission, tradition demands it be one you are not supposed to survive. If you return, your record is cleared and all accusations dropped. If, however, it is ever discovered you are on a Fane Tuke, if you fail, or if you die, your records remain unaltered and you will be forever remembered as traitors."
"Your other alternative is to be turned over to Starfleet, have your careers end in disgrace and possibly serve some length of prison sentences. What is more, there will be no rescue attempt made for Zokalaroo. Quark, you still go to prison."
"And the mission?" asked Dax looking at her fingernails she was nervously preening.
Kira swallowed hard. "You are to rescue Zokalaroo Goth."
An uncharacteristic tear rolled over Kira's cheek. "From what I have been able to find out about the Mordan symbiote from Trill history, he is a monster. Couple that cruelty and lust for power with the resources of the Orion syndicate and, well, I don't think I'll ever be seeing any of you again."
She briskly slapped away the tear and continued, "So there it is. You have your choices to make. Let me know by 19:30 hours. After that, I turn you over to the authorities I just mentioned. Return to your quarters."
One Week Later
"By the Negas' lobes! This is what passes for a bar in this part of the universe?" exclaimed Quark as he, Dax, and Bashir entered the small hovel. Where Quark's was lively, brisk, and loud this dive was dim, subdued, and quiet. Patrons sat huddled together mumbling amongst themselves while casting furtive glances around the room to see if they were being overheard.
Julian placed a hand under his nose to fend off the stench of second-rate booze, third-rate lives, and first-rate evil. Quark, despite the low esteem he held the place still had a longing in his eyes for on all sides of him, profit was being made. Ill begotten profit to be sure, but profit all the greater for it and a part of him wanted in!
The only one who seemed at ease was Dax. She had grown up on a mining planet and rough wild-cat bars were nothing new to her. A mischievous grin flashed across her face thinking about how shocked her mother would be if she knew how often she, as a young teen, snuck out and met in bars much like this one with friends she had made in the miner community.
"Over there. In the corner. That's Zoto," said Quark softly. He took a step in Zoto's direction when Julian interrupted him.
"Is that Zoto Something or Something Zoto? And I don't even recognize his species!"
Dax and Quark rolled their eyes. "Julian," said Ezri, "Perhaps it would be best if you keep quiet while we are in here. Let Quark do most of the talking. You aren't exactly at home in this element and the consequences of screwing up here are far more dangerous than if you make a social blunder at an embassy ball."
"Right," he said trying not to feel insulted though the words stung none the less.
"Zoto! Remember me?" greeted Quark unable to hide his nervousness.
"Quark, off Deep Space Nine," growled Zoto whose voice sounded like gravel in a cement mixer.
"You two I don't know," he grumbled at Ezri and Julian, "and you," turning back to Quark, "I don't trust. Now leave me alone."
"The last time you were on DS-9, a boy came to see you. Remember?" asked Ezri ignoring the warning.
"No," grunted Zoto.
"I think you do," persisted Dax as she slid a large coin worth three strips of latinum across the table.
"I remember being on DS-9 about a year ago."
Dax slid another coin over the table.
"I remember sitting at a back table in Quarks."
Dax pulled an indignant face but still slipped another coin over the table toward Zoto.
"Seems to me there was a boy there."
"That's enough!" exclaimed Julian unable to keep his patience any longer.
Zoto was suddenly on his feet. Just how he had managed it was unclear but he had gone from being of average height and slight build to towering over them and being massive in proportion.
"A Hugarian! I've never met one before. When stressed they double and sometimes triple in size and strength. Amazing!" said an awed Bashir oblivious to the fact that they were all about to be pummeled to death.
Dax gently reached out and took Zoto's enormous fist into her hand, "We are no threat to you. My friend is just concerned because we don't have a lot of money to throw around. Now I could invent all kinds of lies as to why we are looking for this boy but the truth is he is my brother and I think he has gotten himself into more than he can handle."
Zoto, who was suddenly back to his original size, confirmed, "He has. He came to me asking how to find a trainer for the Orion Syndicate's fighting games. A trainer named Mordan Lot.
"I'd seen the kid earlier getting cozy with a Bajoran girl and figured he had some…local trouble he wanted to leave behind. He didn't deny it when I asked. I told him Lot's stable typically fought on Chrystalis 9. That's it."
"Thanks," said Dax as they turned to leave.
"Here," ground out Zoto as he slid one of the three coins back toward Ezri. "You know, I've got a sister. It would be nice if she gave a damn about me."
"Uh-oh!" interrupted Quark."
"What is it!" asked Julian whipping around. He spotted four Ferengi, all wearing black head bands, pooled at the door just as Quark said, "Bounty hunters."
"Go out the back. Tell the guard Zoto said not to kill you," Zoto said, once again in his oversized form.
"Will you be OK?" asked Ezri.
"Four Ferengi against a Hugarian? I'll be fine," Zoto chuckled. "Actually, it should be fun."
Zoto stood and called to the crowd, "Ladies and gents! Seems we have us a crew of little bounty hunters amongst us! Who'd be willing to pay two bars of gold pressed latinum to have me show them just how unwelcome they are here?"
The bar erupted in cheers as Dax, Quark, and Bashir dashed out the back. The guard they were told to expect to encounter was asleep. Behind them the barroom suddenly erupted in crashing and shattering chaos. The three ran to the nearest cross-world tram. They rode in silence, sitting in separate compartments so as to not draw attention to the fact they were traveling as a group. An hour later they were in a pub not much improved over the one they left behind and it was their heads now huddled together scheming.
"How are we going to get to the Chrystalis system?" asked Julian taking a sip of brandy to settle his nerves.
"I don't know," said Ezri simply staring at her mead. "It was hell just getting here, what with the Federation, Bajorans, and the Ferengi all looking for us. Why did all three have to put prices on our heads? Overkill, anyone?"
Quark silently swirled the contents of his stein when suddenly his face lit up and he smacked it down on the table.
"Of course! What a fool I've been!"
"What are you on about now," snapped Bashir.
"The Second Rule of Acquisition: Profit comes to anyone who can twist disadvantage into advantage."
"And that helps us how?" asked Ezri unenthusiastically.
"Our disadvantage isn't that you two are no longer Starfleet officers and I am no longer a respectable businessman. Nor is it that we are now wanted criminals. No! Our disadvantage is that we are still acting as if we were still living our former lives!"
Ezri looked at him still baffled.
"Don't you see," pleaded the frustrated Ferengi, "if we'd just stop acting like what we were and start acting like what we are, all our troubles would," he snapped his fingers, "disappear! Moreover, we get pushed further down the road toward our goal: gaining the Orion Syndicate's trust, rescuing that brat boy, and getting our lives back!"
"Because," drawled Dr. Bashire cottoning on, "while we can't maneuver openly because we are now all wanted criminals, we can use that very fact as the perfect excuse to maneuver in the shadows of the syndicate.
"What's more," he continued brighter now that the possibilities were presenting themselves to his genetically enhanced imagination, "we don't need to set up any elaborate cover stories because Starfleet, Bajor, and Ferenginar all have legitimized our covers for us. Quark! It is perfect!"
"I hate to be the one to dowse the enthusiasm," began Dax cautiously weighing every word, "but if we pin our colors to the mast of criminal identities we will have to start to act like criminals. That means we will reach a point where we will be expected to actually commit crimes. If that comes to light, we can all kiss our former lives goodbye just as surely as if we fail on this mission.
"Now maybe the steps between what he was and what he is asking us to become are scant few for Quark but I for one refuse to abandon my moral compass just because it is expedient. Julian? I can't believe you would either."
"No!" said Julian reflexively then with more conviction, "No. Of course not. You are absolutely right."
"Bah!" cried Quark. "What a burden your twisted human sense of morality is. Thank the Negis we Ferengi have the simple Rules of Acquisition to guide us! You two are looking light years ahead of where we are now. We can deal with the right and wrong of what we have to do to survive this mission when we come to it. Future problems, that may never present themselves, should never stand in the way of present day profit!"
"He does make a good argument, Ezri," Julian offered hopefully.
She growled in frustration. Taking a huge gulp of her wine she agreed. "But I won't cross the line into criminal behavior."
"We aren't asking you to cross the line, Dax," cooed Quark glowing with excitement, "just to toe up to it!"