Chapter 11

"...this was a tragedy. May those who lost their lives find peace among the Prophets. An even greater tragedy is the deluded souls behind this act, who believe that Bajor can move forward into the future isolated and alone. Had they succeeded in their plot, then you would not be seeing me and hearing my voice, you would not be enjoying a warm home. There would not be warm food in your bellies. The rebuilding of Bajor would be proceeding as slowly as a letsoay.

This 'Circle' as much as it pains my heart to say it, is men and women who have let greed and power dominate their paghs. They use the very hard fought lessons we learned through shed blood and determination during the Occupation against our own people. They have become what cardassians always called us; 'terrorists.' Anyone found helping The Circle will be dealt with justly yet swiftly. We cannot afford division in the face of the galaxy. Our home has become a crossroads, and while it is in everybody's interests to ensure fair and free passage, there are those who would wish to dominate it for their own selfish gain.

The Prophets' Temple allows us and the people of this Quadrant access to a whole new frontier of the galaxy. The possibilities are as infinite as the stars, for good and unfortunately, for ill. We hope to only find friendship among those new stars and so far we have, but galactic history has taught us that we can't expect that to continue to be the case. Therefore, after consultation with First Minister Kalem, the Chamber of Ministers, and former Resistance Cell leaders, we have agreed to the official formation of the Bajoran Defense Force."

"I now hand over to General Hazar who will go over specifics."

"Thank you, Kai Opaka. People of Bajor, this is an auspicious moment. Before we had only disparate cells of brave men and women who fought tooth and nail for our people, loosely falling under the command the Vedek Assembly. Now we will have an organized force under the political command of the First Minister. The first major announcement I want to make as overall Commander of the BDF is the institution of a mandatory two year draft of military service for anyone reaching the age of majority. After which, those who find themselves called to the defence of their people and having shown the most aptitude, will be given the option of continuing it as a career."

"Let this not be misconstrued as a general call to arms. We are at peace, but we must prepare for the eventuality of conflict. The BDF shall be a small standing military force, but with large reserves ready to answer in need. We aim to defend on a strategic level, with no territorial ambitions. We desire to avoid war by political means and a credible deterrent posture."

Thank you... I will now answer questions."

"General!..."

"...that was General Hazar and Kai Opaka speaking from the capital. While the general feeling is that of relief that we are also looking to ourselves and not just the Federation for protection, many Vedeks feel that any military spending at this point is a waste of resources. What is your opinion, Lem?"

"The Odyssey is due to leave in two months. Once that deterrence is gone, there must be something to replace it that will protect our new infrastructure. Hazar said it, we're not going to fund a huge military. Doing so would be at the expense of the general welfare of our own society, but what use is having happy, productive citizens when there is nothing to protect them from our enemies and the unknown on our doorstep."

"Thank you, Lem. Send us your views and opinions here at Bajor News Service. Thank you for watching and good day to you."

The holographic screen projected into the air above the bar vanished. I nursed my drink and just looked forward to a good day's rest, but the past few weeks had been extremely hectic on Bajor. It was amazing what a few ideas and words in the right ears could do, and it made me feel both incredibly awed at the fact that I had such power, and I would constantly hit myself with a metaphorical bat afterwards so it would not go to my head.

The entire broadcast had also been a pre-emptive strike against the Circle. Hopefully it would serve to majorly cut their future numbers and limit them. The problem with that was it whittled them down to the true hardcore fanatics and the power hungry. There would be no moderates like General Krim – who had joined them in the original timeline out of a sense of patriotism. Now, Krim was a rather satisfied man and newly minted General of the BDF's tiny Space Force – which so far only consisted of two squadrons of armed Interceptors with the equivalent tonnage of a Runabout - and he was consulting with Scotty on improving aerospace defence assets and tactics within the limited means available.

I finished my coffee as the digital clock ever present in my AR told me it was time for school. All the students in the class were already there and in place as Keiko had just concluded her own biology lesson.

"Good morning, students." I wiped the main holoboard clean with a flat gesture of my hand.

"Morning Mr Swan," they chorused as one.

"Now, our lesson today is going to be somewhat of a mixed bag. True knowledge is not just something we put in boxes with labels such as biology, history, science or religion. Everything is connected and interdependent on each other. The challenge is recognizing those relationships. In any event," with a few gestures, my own AR interfaced with the classroom and I spread my hands like I was opening a physical scroll. In between my hands and on every student's desk appeared a cross-section of the wormhole.

"Tell me, what is this?"

Jake raised his hand. I gestured at him to answer. "The Wormhole."

I gestured to one of the bajoran children, "The Celestial Temple," came the answer.

"Correct answers," I nodded. There was a distinct confusion that I sensed among the students at this point. "Yes, two synonyms for the same thing. What makes the Celestial Temple or Wormhole so unusual?"

"It's stable," Jake answered again.

"Yes. In nature, they appear with low frequency, are unstable and usually very dangerous to traverse. However..."

The doors to the classroom opened and who should be there but the guest I had been expecting. My computer implant monitored DS9 customs, after all. Dressed in female Vedek robes and pointed cowl, was a middle aged bajoran. I inwardly twitched and suppressed the urge to punch her face in with my synthetic right arm. Vedek Winn Adami just had one of those faces.

"Class, it seems we have a visitor. Please greet Vedek Winn."

The children rose from their chairs and greeted her properly without hesitation.

"Thank you, children. Please continue," she said. My goodness, her voice was so unctuous. She talked out of her teeth.

I nodded and ignored Winn completely in favour of my students. "The stability of the Wormhole or Celestial Temple, allows us to travel to the gamma quadrant secure in the knowledge that either end won't shift locations and leave explorers stranded. The Prophets for reasons of their own and after Commander Sisko the Emissary, negotiated with them, has allowed us free, unrestricted passage."

Nog raised his hand hesitantly. "Uh, Mr Swan, you speak as if...uh..."

"Speak your mind, Nog. It'd be a dry day on Feringenar before I bite one of my student's head off for doing that. As long as it's done politely, of course."

"You speak as if you believe in the Prophets, sir."

I blinked in mock astonishment. "Of course I do. They exist, after all." I laughed at the expressions on the children's faces, and also on the consternation in Winn's eyes. "This handily brings me to the topic I wanted to cover with you, its part science, part history and even part philosophy. Religion and Science, due to the actions of short-sighted, scared people throughout history has traditionally been viewed as enemies. They see the light of scientific truth as a threat. When in fact, it is merely two sides of the same coin. Two languages seeking to explain the same thing."

"I can tell you scientifically, that the Prophets manipulate verteron particles somehow until they are self-sustaining and that this forms the building blocks of the wormhole. Think of the Celestial Temple as an island or beachhead that they maintain on our temporal plane of existence. The fact that we can use it to cross the sixty thousand light year gap to the gamma quadrant is an almost trivial coincidence. The Prophets can see the future, present and past as easily I can look out a viewport and see the stars. So by literal definition – they are Prophets." I put my hands on either side of the holographic wormhole and squeezed it until it vanished. I waved my hand at the holoboard and an old drawn picture appeared of a man. "Here's a bit of human history that's almost been repeated in every civilization you can care to name. Say hello to Galileo Galilei, an astronomer of some note about seven centuries ago. He made the heretical claim that the Earth orbited around the Sun, and not the other way around. So the Catholic Church, the dominant religious institution of the time, tried Galileo as a heretic, found him guilty, and put him under permanent house arrest. His work and books were burned and suppressed."

"There are many famous people, some of whom weren't even scientists, who were treated similarly for promoting truth. But because it would threaten those in power in some perceived way, the person in question would be marginalized and persecuted. Surak of Vulcan faced such challenges, and a little closer to home, the Bajorans of the Third Republic who ventured into the stars were all derided and almost socially exiled for thinking they could leave the solar system in their light ships."

"What lesson can we learn from this? Simply put, keep an open mind. If someone comes to you one day and say they have an FTL propulsion method that will make Warp Drive seem like we're standing still – don't dismiss them out of hand just because you happen to have a stake in warp drive manufacture or because you'll be forced to refit your own ship or you have to pay extra for passage on ships using the new FTL method. Instead embrace change. Anything that doesn't change to match changes in its environment stagnates and dies. This doesn't just apply to nature and animals, it applies to us just as much."

-

"You knew I was coming."

If there was one thing that I had no intention of doing, then it was underestimating my enemies, nor their intelligence.

"I have friends in low places," I stared at her with a neutral mask on my face, across the row of empty classroom desks. Winn's presence here was initially a puzzle to me. In OTL she had come to sow seeds which would lure Vedek Barreil to DS9, where the poor fanatically devoted bajoran engineer Leena would assassinate him. This was to prevent him from becoming Kai, as he had been front runner.

But now, Kai Opaka was still there. The seat wasn't open. Winn would have to go through Opaka and Barreil, and her orthodox sect was far from enjoying majority support this time. So why come? The answer was simple by asking the question, what could she do here to improve her powerbase at home? Discredit me by seeking to point out how I wasn't teaching bajoran children bajoran values. So I had blunted that attack rather neatly with my lesson, giving her nothing to latch on to. Her next target would undoubtedly be Sisko as well.

Then there was her deniable dagger in the shadows, Leena.

Hypothesis, assassinate Sisko and myself. Given the blessings both Kai and the Prophets had given - but that was only looking at the religious angle. Politically, we were clear enemies of the Circle, killing both of us would be clearly a big victory condition to their thinking.

"But," I sighed, waving my hand shutting all the holoprojectors down. "Despite my obviously tailored lesson, I meant every word of it."

She nodded, "I'm curious, Administrator. And I'm asking as a spiritual leader. Just who do you pray to?"

"Do you ask such questions of the other Ministers?"

"I do," she readily confirmed.

"You're concerned for the bajoran children under my tutelage," I said, somewhat playing along. She nodded again. "I respect that." Too bad she was so deficient in other areas. "The teaching of children is important, after all, since you're influencing the future. As a teacher, I know that very well. They look to me as a role model, naturally. Well, I do pray and are a Theist. Do you understand what that means?"

"I do," she nodded. "I must admit, I'm surprised – I had thought you were as godless as the rest of the Federation."

I shook my head, waving an admonishing finger at her. "Really, Vedek Winn. There are still many races in the Federation that worship a supreme deity or deities of some sort."

She smiled that awful smile again, "Perhaps I should've said, your species."

"There are valid reasons why, I'll admit. Religious motivations have been behind a lot of the bloodshed and numerous wars throughout the centuries. Then, once we began to explore space, we kept on encountering evidence of aliens that had masqueraded on Earth as gods of antiquity and pretty much wrote organized religion off as a bad idea. I personally think it has its place, tempered with reason, as few sacraments as possible, and kept well away from affairs of state – in the end it is after all between me and the Supreme Being."

"Now, I really must be going, Vedek Winn. It was a pleasure."

She left after a brief bow, when the doors to the school closed... Isis appeared on one of the school desks.

"And?"

"I managed to deposit the bug. You can access the feed on encrypted channel epsilon theta four three."

I smiled with satisfaction. It was amazing what one could do with a hologram once you got rid of the 'photons' leaving you with only the force fields bit. I had used an invisible insect to deliver an actual microscopic listening device. "Well done, Isis. And thank you."

"You're welcome, Keiran." She even managed a rather genuine smile with her avatar.

"I'm going to keep open this data path for you. Keep an eye on the school, will you?"

"I will allocate the appropriate number of processing cycles for it."

-

The following afternoon a briefing was called by Commander Sisko. It seemed that Winn and her fanatical patsy had struck already before she had even arrived on the station, and it really vexed me that I didn't have eidetic memory of my past memories, because in this case that inability had cost a man his life.

"Ensign Aquino, level two engineer, he had a very promising career ahead of him," Sisko handed out PADDs with the results of Odo's investigation into the death thus far. It had all started early in the morning when Chief O'Brien had discovered an interlock tool missing from his kit, and later when Aquino had registered by the computer as not being on the station, yet he clearly hadn't left.

Scanning for the tool with the internal sensors (as it used quite a few unique alloys and tritanium in its construction) had revealed its location within one of the plasma conduits on level twelve. The molten remains of the tool had been found and mixed in with it had been organic residue. DNA analysis had shown it was all that remained of Ensign Aquino. It would've been ruled an accident, until the computer red flagged the plasma disruption in his cellular membranes, indicating that he was exposed to a directed energy phaser discharge set to kill before he was placed in the conduit.

I put my PADD down with a sigh, "You know this right here neatly justifies my case for medical monitoring implants in all station personnel. The instant Aquino's vitals flatlined we could've had night shift security and medical response teams there with a site to site transport. Screw privacy. It'd also speed up emergency medical response on Bajor...hmmmm..."

"It'd certainly discourage any murders for a while at least," Odo mused then harrumphed in grim amusement, "though with the humanoid tendency to find new and ingenious ways of killing each other, it won't be long until some sort of jamming device for those implants is invented."

"I'll consider it," Sisko held his hands in a stalling gesture. "Any ideas about a motive for this murder?"

Oh, how I wish I could just blurt it all out sometimes, but I had no reasonable way to cast suspicions on Leena or Winn at all.

Sisko saw everyone was somewhat stumped on that, "All right, then let's start from the beginning. Ensign Aquino goes to repair to a power conduit..."

Odo interrupted, "One moment, Commander. I'm not convinced of that."

"But the logs..." Kira pointed out.

"Could have been altered by our killer to cover his tracks. I've checked the turbolift records the night of the murder. Aquino did take a turbolift to level three, but not to the power conduit where he was found."

"Where did he go?" Jadzia raised her eyebrows.

Odo's answer was succinct, "Runabout pad C."

"A runabout?" O'Brien asked in astonishment, "What was he doing at a runabout at four in the morning?"

"Apparently, he was getting murdered," Odo replied dryly.

"So we have a missing Interlock tool, a murdered engineer and a runabout," I murmured. "Well the picture that paints is rather obvious."

Odo glanced at me, "Yes... someone desperately wanted to steal transportation and was willing to kill for it."

"Chief, I want you to go over every square centimetre of that ship," Sisko ordered.

"Might I suggest that the Chief do that with Odo keeping a covert eye on him, and that he not involve anyone else, the suspect pool would after all be someone with access to Engineering and the Chief's locker," I pointed out.

Sisko thought for a moment, "Agreed. See to it, Constable."

-

Listening to the life of Vedek Winn as she went about doing her spiritual duties and the rest of her visit to the station was rather boring. Sure, I learned a lot about how her orthodox sect saw things and how she interacted with the bajorans on the station. I was rather gratified to note that few actually gave her any serious discourse or indicated they supported her order. It said something of the type of bajoran who was in the majority on the station and what exposure to a broad variety of aliens coming and going and the Federation had caused, not to mention the great unknown beyond the wormhole. Strangely enough, what was never revealed in the show, was the fact that various bajoran scientists, engineers and crew were seconded onto the various Federation exploration craft that went through the wormhole.

It was late in the evening, station time, and I was walking along the Promenade, to the outside world seemingly just thinking, but actually listening to the recording logs of the bug when I heard it.

"My dear, you should not be here."

"Vedek, they found out about the runabout."

I stopped dead in my tracks and the positional reading on the bug indicated that the conversation had taken place in the Bajoran Temple shrine on the Promenade, and it had occurred about an hour ago. Stupid, why hadn't I enabled a red flag word alert? I sighed and rested my face in my hand – and answered my own question. I hadn't put the bug there for real-time updates on what Winn was doing, but to gather evidence for later use as weapons.

Winn's voice turn flat and cold, "I see."

"I have no way to escape." Voice pattern matching confirmed what my ears were telling me, it was Engineer Leena.

"Then we must accept that as the will of the Prophets."

I sighed, having grown up in the era of the Al-Qaeda and the 'War on Terror', I had heard that old line in movies and real life on Al Jazeera too many times.

"But if I go through with it now, I'll be caught and executed." Leena's voice was filled with fear.

"Sometimes the sacrifices the prophets call on us to make are great, my child. But the rewards they give will last through eternity."

The common pattern. Kill yourself, turn yourself into my weapon, and you will attain paradise! Too bad none of those frakking religious leaders were willing to take the proverbial bullet for their so-called cause. If they truly believed – then they'd be the ones to turn themselves into a weapon.

A distinctive tone in my inner ear sounded, "Keiran."

"Yes, Isis?"

"Engineer Leena has gained access to the school."

"Now?"

"As we speak, she is opening sidewall panel 3A behind your desk and is placing a device of some sort, wait a moment, I'm utilizing the internal sensors... it's a rather crude device which I believe is created to..."

"Explode?"

"Yes."

My mind raced...what to do? Killing her was easy, capturing was harder, but what was the point, she'd never talk and point a finger at Winn... but still, no one was firebombing my school, damn it!

"Isis, access the holographic and gravity field system of the school..."

-

I hurried through the doors to see Leena hovering spread eagled over my desk. The makeshift bomb, about the size of a Coke can was similarly hovering in mid-air well out of reach, with loose wires trailing out of it. Amazing what an AI can do with gravity plating and a holo-emitter.

"Now what do we have here?" I sing-songed.

"Mr Swan? What is this?"

"A little improvised security measure, to stop you from bombing the shit out of my school. Yes, I know you're Winn's patsy. Don't bother denying it..."

Her face transformed from panic and astonishment to anger and hate in a heartbeat. "The prophets spoke to me! I answered their call to drive you all away from holy Bajor!"

"The Prophets wouldn't need the likes of you to plant a bomb to kill me, if they truly wanted me dead," I shook my head. "You're just a deluded tool for The Circle, one that has been used and discarded."

Leena smirked at me, "You think you've foiled me?" She threw her head back and laughed. "You might have stopped me from burning your blasphemous little school into ash but...

That was when I felt the floor shudder under me and the emergency lights came on, flickering red. My eyes widened and it felt as if someone was using my spine as a xylophone as I comprehended what my AR was telling me via the station's internal sensors.

My hands clenched into fists and had to resist the temptation to crush the fanatic before me into paste with a high-G field.

My AR Omnitool manifest around my left arm and with a few taps I communicated to Isis. The results were that gravity around Leena returned abruptly to standard, and the force field restraints lowered her onto my desk. I pulled out a small, matt black, roughly gun shaped device and pulled the trigger. A small low powered laser blinked into existence hitting Leena with no harm, and abruptly an electrical charge seamed to leap through the intervening space and hit her. Her body shuddered and twitched before falling into unconsciousness. The bomb was kept in the air with high grade force field around it.

I looked at my small Arc pistol with satisfaction, switched it off and safetied it. The restraints released and it allowed me to tie her arms and legs behind her back with a couple of good ole fashioned cable ties – and unlike the 21st Century versions, these were made with what could be called 'super-polymers' – no biological hand could exert enough force with a pair of pliers or cutting implements to cut this, which was lucky for me. The only other way you could only cut these off was with a surgical precision laser and a surgeon's deft touch.

I turned my attention back to the bomb and only risked an active scan when I was sure the force field was strong enough. Whew. It was a very simple one with simple isolinear circuitry, transmitter/receiver and a power source that had been scavenged from a phaser, the explosives used were a mixture of cabrodine and infernite – twenty fourth century equivalents of TNT and thermite - that were used in demolitions. There were no fancy sensors that would prevent me from simply beaming it into space, so with a few taps of my Omnitool it vanished with swirls of hazy orange light and reappeared twenty thousand kilometres away from DS9. Its orbit would be easily predictable, just in case it needed to be retrieved.

That done I hurried out of the school and into a chaotic mess. There were people scrambling everywhere in a barely ordered chaos maintained by bajoran deputies as they evacuated people to the station shelters.

At last after what felt like an age, I managed to make it to Odo's office – where the Constable had sprouted an extra set of arms to type and manage the orders he was delivering to his deputies via computer.

"Mr Swan! I suggest you get to your designated shelter, we're under terrorist attack, five separate simultaneous explosions..."

"I know full well the situation, Constable," I tapped my head meaningfully. "Tell me he is still alive?"

"Commander Sisko only sustained minor injuries, his son is another matter entirely, he was beamed directly into the infirmary for emergency surgery. The rest of the command crew is similarly fine – Ops wasn't targeted. Five confirmed fatalities so far."

I felt my heart want to shoot up into my throat. If Jake Sisko died... he was my student, darn it. Never mind the consequences for the future if Ben Sisko's choices changed because of the death of his son. Hot anger coursed through me and right now I wanted Jarro and Winn's respective throats in the grip of my right hand.

"You'll find the bomber tied up in my school, it was bajoran engineer Leena Tyr. I have her confession recorded." I tapped my Omnitool and copied the recording from my tricorder implants' memory. "In addition to the co-ordinates and orbit of an unarmed bomb she tried to plant in my school."

"Caught her red handed, did you?"

I nodded, "I have independent security subroutines on the school that alerts me the instant anyone comes and goes."

"Well, that bomb will certainly allow us to determine if there are any more waiting to go off. Thank you, Administrator. You just saved us days of possible bomb disposal work."

-

I paused at a rather non-descript door in the Infirmary, took a deep breath and tapped the chime button.

"Come in."

I walked in to the observation booth that looked over one of the primary operating theatres. Ben Sisko stood rigidly with his hands grasped behind his back and I could see them flexing with strain. The man was strung with tension and anger that I could feel from across the room. It was so strong that I began to regret even coming here. I took a deep breath, steeled myself and walked forward to stand next to the man. I briefly looked down and saw Doctor Bashir and a team of nurses busy working on Jake Sisko.

"Commander. How is he?"

"He'll survive," Sisko's voice was low and harsh, grating on my ears. "He'll be needing a new left leg and thirty percent of his skin, but... he'll survive."

"That's good news, and I come bearing more, there were no more bombs."

Sisko nodded, his shoulders slightly relaxing.

"Odo's completed his interrogation of Leena. He couldn't get her to name the person who instigated this but she did confirm that this was the work of The Circle. Both you and I were targeted, in addition to random spots on the station to sow terror. We're both going to need new quarters after this."

Sisko turned his head to meet my eyes and I struggled to meet his gaze, but the meaning and intent I saw there was clear. I brought up my Omnitool and with a few text commands to Isis, she had isolated and secured the room as thoroughly as possible.

"Benjamin, I speak to you now, off the record. Do you want me to continue?"

Sisko narrowed his eyes as he searched in my eyes for something... then nodded.

"I know who ordered this all the way to the top, but this is not something that we can just pursue officially or openly. These bombings are just the opening shots in a shadow war that is going to be fought between two factions of Bajor, the progressives and isolationists. You and I are key figureheads in the former camp obviously, who want to see a strong Bajor, going with open eyes into the future as part of the Federation. The latter are a group of power hungry fanatical, xenophobic politicians who are using religion as a tool to create people like Leena."

"Should I bother asking how you know?"

"It doesn't matter; I've got proof of who the middleman is, Leena's control. But it's the man at the top that is proving illusive... I know who, but it's a deduction and I can't give you tangible proof and I don't hold out hope of ever getting that proof, but there is what you know and what you can prove."

Sisko's reply was immediate, "Tell me."

And I did.