Commander Vaughn stood at his station in Ops, looking through the latest incoming and outgoing starship log. It was late - 0100, and Ops was nearly vacant. Two science officers stood in the far left corner of Ops, working on a new star chart of the Gamma Quadrant. He relished in the quiet. Since the end of the war, he couldn't get enough quiet moments on the station. He loved working the midnight shift - it gave him a sense of peace that he never could find aboard any starship or sitting behind a desk.

The turbolift behind him slid to a stop as he heard the doors open. He turned in time to see Captain Kira walk out of the lift and, without a word, directly into her office. He watched her walk to the replicator, only to turn away empty handed. She sat at her desk for a few moments, only to get up and start pacing the room. She stopped in front of the window, leaning her arm against the window. She rested her forehead on her arm to gaze out of the window.

Vaughn turned his head back to the console, but couldn't help looking in the Captain's office doors again. Something's wrong, he thought. Something personal maybe? He wasn't one to pry, but he'd never seen the Captain so upset. He suddenly found himself at the door of the office, pressing the chime.

"Come in!" he heard from the other side. He stepped through the sliding doors, not saying anything. Kira turned to face him.

"Commander, what can I do for you?" Kira said, sitting in her chair, seeming more composed. Vaughn sat down in the chair opposite of the desk.

"I noticed that there seemed to be something on your mind, Captain. It's quiet out there tonight, so I thought we could have a chat. If you want, that is." Vaughn said, sitting back in his chair and crossing his ankle over his knee.

The lump in Kira's throat doubled. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment.

"It's Commander Rzepka." she said slowly and quietly. Vaughn leaned forward in his sead, furrowing his eyebrows.

"What about her?" he pressed. His curiosity was peaking. What had Rzepka done that upset the Captain so much? he wondered. They were close friends... perhaps they had a fight?

"She's..." Kira started, feeling the lump getting bigger and tears stinging her eyes. She got up from her chair and turned back to the window.

"Captain... what is it?" Vaughn's curiosity turned to worry. Something serious had just happened.

"She's in the ICU in the infirmary. Her nervous system is shutting down." Kira squeaked out. Don't cry in front of him, she told herself. Don't do it.

Vaughn's stomach tightened. He remembered that Kym was looking a little pale at breakfast that morning, but seemed otherwise healthy. "How bad?" he asked.

Kira turned back from the window, having successfully suppressed the tears and putting her command hat back on. "She nearly died in front of me a half hour ago."

Vaughn leaned back in his chair again, hardly believing what he was hearing. His first thought was that it must not be that bad, because Kira was not in the infirmary with Rzepka. His second thought was it was so bad, that Kira physically couldn't be there.

"Any idea why?" he quietly asked. Kira shook her head, turning back to the window.

"Julian will let me know if anything changes." she said. "I just needed to be somewhere else."

Vaughn and Kira bathed in silence for several more moments. Vaughn knew that Kira needed to do something to pass the time. He frantically thought of something they could do together.

"You know," he started. "There are several power couplers that need to be realigned down there in the comm station." he said. "I could use some help on it." Kira turned, smiling.

"I'd be happy to help." she said.

Julian stood from his desk and turned toward the ICU. He had gotten himself together enough to continue working on the Commander's condition. He entered the suite where Commander Rzepka lay unconscious, monitored by every screen in sight. Her heart rate, brain waves, and respirations had stabilized with the sympathetic nerve block. He knew he would have to continue the spinal infusions for at least another 12 hours while he figured out what was going on.

His first thought was the stem cell transplant that Kym had received over nine months ago. He had devised a procedure that would allow new neurons to grow in the location of where her spinal cord was severed. In addition to the transplant, he engineered a portion of her cerebrum to recognize the foreign nerve cells as her own. Like clockwork, the neurons began forming and firing just as he had planned. She was walking without the aid of a neural transducer in three weeks following the procedure. Two months following the procedure, she was able to pass the physical fitness test to be admitted to the Starfleet Intelligence training program. She was promoted to her newest position within Starfleet Intelligence, aboard DS9, two and a half months ago. Everything seemed to be working perfectly. Until tonight.

Nurse Bandee was still in the suite, filling out reports. "Doctor," Nurse Bandee suddenly spoke, startling Dr. Bashir. "I'm getting an abnormal EEG, sir." She handed him the padd where she took her notes. Dr. Bashir peered at the notes and then back to the live EEG monitor.

"She's experiencing pain. See the Beta waves here? When they dip below the line of measure, that's a pain stimulus. Her EEG is full of them. Neuroleptic shock is very painful. With the block, I'm betting on a headache. Get me 50 milligrams of hydrocortilene and let's see how she does with that." Dr. Bashir explained. The nurse quickly retrieved the medication, programmed the hypospray, and handed it to the doctor for confirmation. He nodded and handed the hypo back to her, which she pressed against Kym's neck. Within fifteen seconds, her EEG started to normalize.

"Nice catch, Miss Bandee. Thank you." Dr. Bashir said. The nurse smiled. "Can you get a gown and a set of sheets? We'll need to get the Commander changed. She'll be spending the night with us evening." The nurse nodded and headed off to fetch the gown and sheets.

Julian drew a vial of blood from the commander and began to run a toxin screen. If the stem cells were malfunctioning, they would be producing high levels of several toxins, which he intended to find. As the tox screen was running, he began scanning her again with his tricorder to see if anything was missed on the initial scan. Upon scanning the leg he noticed her having pain earlier that day, he read an abnormally high level of tryscopotherol, a chemical only found within certain mines on Teras 3. It is a powerful neurotoxin and was used several years ago in a biogenic weapon aimed at the Romulans.

Bashir's breath caught in his throat. His heart started pounding and he felt a bead of sweat break over his brow. No wonder she was having pain. She was poisoned. He reached for the hypospray and programmed it to 40 cc's of dylovene and injected the commander with it. He turned to face the monitor and collected his thoughts.

"Infirmary to Lieutenant Ro." Bashir said into the quiet air.

"Ro here." The lieutenant replied.

"Lieutenant, you might want to get down here and see this." Bashir said.

"I'm on my way."

A few hours later, the lights of the infirmary ceiling suddenly appeared as Kym opened her eyes, nearly blinding her they were so bright. She squinted her eyes shut and reopened them.

Her arm was very heavy as she frantically reached up to her face, clawing at the oxygen mask on her face. Her fear was intense as she struggled to understand what was going on.

Julian heard her moving and turned quickly from the monitor on the other side of the room. He rushed to the side of the bed, slowly but firmly taking a hold of her wrist to prevent her from removing the mask.

"Kym, it's okay. You're safe." Julian gently said. Her eyes were wide with terror as she looked around the room. Kym recognized Julian's thoughts before she recognized his voice or face. She knew that if Julian was with her, then she was indeed safe.

"Ah... crnt... bree," her muffled voice squeaked out from behind the mask. Julian carefully lifted the mask away from her nose and mouth to allow her to speak.

"What was that?" he said.

"I... can't... breathe... " she said, breathless and trembling. "Where am I?"

Dr. Tarses heard the conversation and ambled into the ICU in case Julian needed help. Julian looked up from his crouched position.

"I need a full molecular scan. Can you initiate?" Julian said to Tarses, who nodded. Julian looked back at Kym who was still struggling to breathe.

"You're in the infirmary. We're going to help you breathe a bit better, okay?" he said. He placed the mask back over her mouth and nose. "Leave this right here?"

She slowly nodded. Every breath was an effort. The weight on her chest was crushing. Her body ached intensely. She was scared.

As Tarses was conducting the molecular scan, Julian held Kym's hand to comfort her.

"Just a few more minutes," he said to her. "Then we'll know more about what's happening to you." He glanced up at the monitors. Her oxygen exchange level was down to 80 percent and falling on 90 percent oxygen concentration through the mask. "Diaphragmatic Paralysis?" Julian said in a hushed tone, looking up at Tarses.

"Possibly. Cell oxygenation rate is down by half," Tarses said from the console to the far left of the room. His fingers flew over the control panel like wild fie, pulling up a detailed image of Kym's Body.

"Check her phrenic nerve function." Julian quickly said, still gripping Kym's hand. He looked her again in her wide, panicked eyes.

"It's going to be okay." he said quietly. He was desperate to keep her calm in order to keep her oxygen levels from dipping any lower. He didn't need a test or a computer to tell him that he would be intubating his friend within the next few minutes.

"Phrenic nerve is unresponsive. Diaphragm function is failing." Tarses said, looking up at Julian with panic in his eyes. "Bilateral Paralysis."

"Prepare to intubate." Julian said quickly, touching the comm button beside the bed. "Assistance needed in ICU 1." He said into the speaker. He looked down at Kym, who was frantically looking around, confused. Julian lifted the mask away from her face and from around the back of her head while Tarses gathered the intubation instruments.

"Kym, we're going to put a tube in your throat to help you breathe. You're going to be okay. I'm not going to leave you." Julian said, feeling his adrenaline rise again. It had been several years since he had to intubate a patient. He looked deep into her eyes again, gripping her hand one more time. "I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you."

Julian's Medical Assistant Ensign Krissten Richter came into the suite looking surprised. She had just come onto shift and had not read the day's report yet.

"Krissten," Julian said. "I need 20 ccs of meloazine and an intubation kit." Krissten nodded and quickly prepared the drug. Julian looked at Tarses, who wheeled the tray with several instruments on it. The negative pressure oxygenator was standing beside the tray, waiting to breathe relief into Kym's body.

"Do you want me to..." Tarses started,.

"No, no... I've got it." Julian said, moving into position at the head of the bed. Kym's panicked eyes followed him there. Julian took one last look into her eyes before Krissten administered the drug to Kym's neck, Within seconds, Kym's eyes were closed and she quickly fell into respiratory arrest.

Julian gripped the large intubation coupler as Krissten lifted Kym's head, straightening her trachea. Julian gripped the laryngoscope in his right hand and opened Kym's mouth with his other hand. Thirty seconds to airway, he thought to himself. The light on the instrument guided Julian's hand as he carefully navigated around her vocal cords and placed the tube into her trachea. An alarm started to sound, startling him out of his concentration.

"What's that?" Julian snapped, not looking up as he continued to push the tube deeper into Kym's trachea and praying that her heart hadn't stopped.

"Oxygenation down to 70 percent." Krissten said quickly. Tarses readied the equipment to be attached to the tube once Julian had placed it. "65 percent and falling." Krissten said again.

"Almost there..." Julian said as his face wrinkled in concentration. 6 seconds left until he needed to stop and switch to external ventilation. He suddenly felt the scope hesitate and he knew it was in. He pulled the scope from around the tube and out of Kym's mouth, leaving the thin tube behind.

"Pressurize! Oxygenate to one hundred percent!" He said frantically as Tarses quickly stepped in to connect Kym's new airway to the pressurizer. Within seconds, Kym's chest started to rise and fall again with full, deep breaths.

Julian picked up a tricorder with a trembling hand and examined his work. She was exchanging oxygen and both lungs were properly inflating and deflating. He closed the tricorder and took a deep breath, looking up at Krissten. He couldn't believe how nervous he had gotten in the previous ten minutes.

"It's going to be a long shift, Ensign." he said to his assistant, still feeling his hands trembling. He looked down at his unconscious friend as Dr. Tarses secured the ventilation tube clamp to Kym's face and the side of the bio bed. Julian had partially expected the phrenic nerve paralysis, but couldn't risk total respiratory failure by placing the nerve block at C4. He kicked himself for not thinking of a better solution under the circumstances. He even wondered to himself if there was a better solution. He felt like the entire situation was slipping right out of his hands and he felt angry that he couldn't do anything more except try to keep her alive while her body fought the toxin. He hated not having control.

A long shift indeed, he thought to himself, wondering how much longer he could function without sleeping.

Security investigations teams noisily crawled and clamored through the air vents in Commander Rzepka's quarters as Lieutenant Ro watched. Her arms were folded across her chest, her thoughts lost in the space beyond her body. Who would do this to one of the crewman? Who would try to kill the Commander? Her concern for her colleague – and friend – was growing with each passing minute. She was furious about all of the violence aboard the station in the past few months and this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

As the security chief pondered on her anger and watched the security team comb for evidence, she heard the doors hiss open behind her. Commander Elias Vaughn stood in the doorway, staring at her with a grim look on his face. His silver hair glistened in the ambient light of Commander Rzepka's quarters.

"Commander." Ro said as Vaughn took a few steps inside. "I'll have to ask you to stay there as to not contaminate the investigation, sir."

Vaughn stopped. Ro turned as Vaughn placed his arms behind his back and stared at the investigators.

"How is the investigation going, Lieutenant?" Vaughn said. "Have we found anything substantial?"

Ro shook her head and consulted the padd in her hand. "Nothing yet, sir. Her quarters seem perfectly undisturbed. The investigation in the replimat revealed the same. We're chasing a rabbit here, sir." Ro tried not to let the frustration spill out of her mouth when she spoke, but was not successful.

"Lieutenant, Starfleet Intelligence is considering this incident an act of terrorism. Leave no stone unturned. Teams around the clock working to find out what happened here, understand? I'm going to speak with the commander now. Anything you would like me to ask her?" Vaughn's hundred year old brow was furrowed in concern. Seemed like everyone else had the same look on their faces, too.

"Just see if you can get the time line again from her. Perhaps there is something she left out. Anything will help at this point." Ro turned back to her padd. "And try to find out from the doctor exactly what the toxin was. I have an idea I want to look into."

Vaughn nodded and turned on his heel. Before he exited through the doors, he turned his head.

"Be sure to leave the Commander's quarters better than you found it. I don't want her having to clean up a mess when she gets home."

Vaughn thought carefully about the situation as he made his way down to the infirmary. Since Commander Rzepka's promotion and acceptance to Starfleet Intelligence, he had been assigned to mentor her in her new role. Having been involved with Starfleet Intelligence for many years himself, he took Rzepka under his protective wing, striving to teach her all of the lessons that he learned the hard way.

He had recently been made aware of randomized attacks on Starfleet Intelligence officers, but had no other information. An officer on the Plantitia Utopia was killed by a sniper a few months ago. Another officer was mysteriously blown out of an airlock of the Gryphon a few weeks prior. Several special operations officers were poisoned on Farius Prime during a raid on an illegal shipbuilding yard.

He desperately hoped that Commander Rzepka was not the latest victim of localized violence. He knew in his gut he was wrong. He was determined to get to the bottom of this string of terrorists. As he walked through the corridors, he glanced at every face he passed and wondered if he was walking past someone with the terrorist group. He couldn't be sure. All he could be sure of was the terrorists have hit close to home, and his patience with internal investigations were growing paper thin.

The infirmary doors hissed open, alerting Julian to lift his head from the console he was studying. He saw Commander Vaughn enter the infirmary to his left.

"Good evening, Commander. What can I do for you?" Julian asked, his voice weary. He did not rise from his chair. From his postion, he had a perfect view of Kym through the door to the ICU.

"I came to speak with Commander Rzepka, if that's alright." Commander Vaughn said. Julian shook his head slowly.

"I'm afraid she's unable to see visitors right now." Julian said, trying to give Vaughn a hint in the nicest way possible.

"This is important, Doctor. I need to speak with her while her memory is still fresh." Vaughn said. He was always the argumentative type. Julian stood out of his chair.

"I'll call you when she can see you, then." Julian said calmly. Vaughn became very irritated.

"Please don't do this, Julian. I need to see her." Vaughn stood his ground. Julian shrugged his shoulders and motioned to the ICU, standing aside. Vaughn nodded and walked through the door, stopping in the doorway.

Kym's pale and fragile body was connecting to a whirring ventilator and seven different monitors. Julian had also started an intravenous line to give her some fluids. She was dressed in a gown and covered with a sheet. A large section of her long brown hair cascaded over the side of the bio bed.

Vaughn took few slow steps toward her and placed his hand over hers. Her small hand was cold under his. He glanced at her face and placed his other hand gently on her hairline, above the neurocortical monitor. He looked at the tube in her mouth, held in place by a silver clamp stretching down each cheek.

"I thought you said she was stable." he said quietly.

Julian walked slowly to the other side of Kym's bed. The ventilator whirred rhythmically, breaking up the quiet air.

"She was. When she regained consciousness, she had some respiratory distress." Julian said. He hadn't seen Vaughn this distraught in a long time.

"Will she be alright?" Vaughn asked, still not looking up from Kym's quiet, pale face.

Julian hesitated. He honestly didn't know if she would survive or not. He always found it difficult to entertain the idea of the unknown with a patients' friends and family. He decided to come right out with it.

"I can't be sure, Commander. I hope so." Julian admitted. "Please know that we're doing everything we can."

Vaughn stood quietly and still for another several minutes. Julian quietly stepped out of the room to allow him some privacy. Vaughn watched Kym's chest rise and fall rhythmically under the blue gown and white sheet. She seemed so delicate. He had no idea what to think. Twelve hours ago, she was perfectly fine. Now she was knocking on death's door. During all of his years, he never did get used to how fast... death... happened.

He shook the idea from his head. She's going to be fine, he told himself.

A few minutes more passed before Vaughn made his way out into the waiting area. Julian looked up from his padd with an expressionless face.

"Thank you, doctor. Please let me know if her condition changes?"

"I will." Julian said, nodding. Vaughn silently walked out of the infirmary.

As he walked down the dark corridors, his mind began to wander. He trusted that Julian was doing all he could, but he still felt angry. His anger built with every step. By the time he reached his quarters, he was downright furious. He stepped inside the doors, let them shut behind them, and stood in the dark.

He wasted no time picking up a flower vase and slinging it against the bulkhead, watching it's contents and exterior shatter into several hundred pieces. The crash was deafening.

Why her?! He kept thinking over and over in her head. What did she do so wrong?

Vaughn paced his quarters for several more minutes before pausing in front of the window to peer out at the stars.

I'm supposed to be protecting her. He thought to himself. So much for a job well done.

A single tear fell from his left eye and streamed slowly down his cheek as he continued to stare out the window.