Time: 10…9…8…7…6 …
Place: Bajoran Outpost Station Deep Space Nine, in the year 2375 eight months post Federation-Cardassian War
Star date: Unknown
"Nervous?" Odo mentioned to Dax as she and Worf and their accompanying army of security personnel posed just inside the entrance to Quark's awaiting their parade of respective diplomats.
"No," Dax shook her head even though the distinctive yellow jumpsuit of the combined Federation-Bajoran security force was the uniform for the evening affair, Benjamin having set aside his concerns of 300 Red Coats standing in a line.
At least when it came to his people, Captain Benjamin Sisko, Federation Commander of the Bajoran outpost Deep Space Nine, had struggled to set aside his concerns of targets. Identifiable, not deterrents. His trio of senior staff appointed and acting Heads of Security for the sensitive Bajoran-Federation-Cardassian conference: Commanders Dax, Worf, and Chief Constable Odo, it was still no easy task.
Impossible, if Sisko admitted the truth to himself. As it was, the Captain remained adamant no committee member, or indirect assistant to the conference, would be required to blend into the blinding ranks of yellow statues to insure no mistake in their identity. It was absurd, the whole of the UFP's and Bajor’s First Minister Shakaar's reasoning. Beginning and not ending with their steadfast refusal to sequester the entire committee staff. Whatever image of unity Shakaar and the UFP hoped to promote between them and Emperor Damar's Cardassian Union to assist in furthering the peace talks by agreeing to discuss Damar's proposal of a Cardassian Consulate to be installed on Bajor Prime, whatever public opinion poll they were hoping to win, eight months was hardly enough time to soothe the stinging reminders of the recent Federation-Dominion war in which Damar's Cardassia had played a distinct and highly unfavorable role.
Make that Dukat's Cardassia. At 2045, Sisko left behind Odo's detailing of the logged complaints and threats against the conference to begin his short walk to Quark's. He did not leave behind his belief in his Chief Constable. Odo's prediction of twenty-four hours being sufficient time for the initially confused residents and visitors of the station to do their research and sort out who was whom among Damar's small staff of three, Sisko knew would be proven true. There would come a time when Gul Anon Dukat, Dukat's eldest son, would no longer find himself safely hidden behind the mask of his younger brother Pfrann; a face so flagrantly carved in a mirror image of the father's surgical enhancement crossed Sisko's mind. He wouldn't put it past Dukat, as he wouldn't put anything past Cardassia's former Emperor, even though realistically cast alongside his brother Anon, Sentinel Pfrann was no one. Neither was Damar, not in this public's opinion. Two hours had passed since Odo had first notified Sisko that Anon Dukat continued to lag far behind all others in the accumulated death threats thus far. To the contrary, Sisko reigned highest on the list of hated and despised. Shakaar, a close second. Damar, a distant third. Sisko continued to reign highest two hours later, the order of ranking principally unchanged. It would change. Anon Dukat would catapult to the top. But it was much more than the order of things, it was the sheer staggering number of logged threats that had Sisko seriously debating the idea of ignoring the UFP and Shakaar and ordering the committee staff members sequestered for the remainder of the week before the inevitable happened.
"Well, yes," Dax acknowledged a moment later to Odo. "Maybe I am just a little nervous."
"Yes, well, then that should make you feel a little better," Odo grunted.
Bashir? Odo's remark surprised her. He couldn't mean Bashir. But it was Julian Bashir arriving on a quick stride down the Promenade for Quark's, handsome and dashing in the finest of the Federation's formal attire. Dax smiled for the station's Chief Medical Officer decked out in his medical blue, his stride and smile aiming straight for her.
"You look nice," Dax mentioned half in amusement and half in truth.
"Quite, so do you," Bashir’s arm encircled her waist, his grin brushing her cheek before he turned to look innocently around the bar. "Where to?"
"I will escort you, if you are concerned," Worf assured from behind them, his eyes rolling in his general and usual annoyance.
"Probably no to both," Bashir ignored Worf to look Dax up and down. "What?"
"Well…" she said tactfully, meaning his arm.
"Yes, well, at least the damn thing fits you," he countered, talking about her jumpsuit. "First one I've seen that does…and fairly flattering at that, I insist."
She looked him.
"What?" he smiled again.
"It's all in the belt," she assured.
"Might have something to do with it," he supposed. "Think actually, it's more to do with you embracing Garak's and Leeta's recommendation of why bother struggling to fit anything underneath that you don't need; which you don't. Certainly not a spare change of clothing."
Dax gave up trying to be tactful. "That way," she pointed, urging Bashir to take her up on the suggestion; he did. Leaving her free to needlessly straighten her jumpsuit with a smile for Worf and a question for Odo. "What?"
Odo grunted. Reiterating what would make her feel better, and that was not Bashir, but the approach of Captain Sisko with his personal entourage of Bajoran Special Forces. "Not so sure about him."
"Benjamin does look a little uncomfortable, doesn't he?" Dax agreed.
"Just a little."
"Captain Sisko appears as if he is traveling the gauntlet," Worf puffed in her ear. "As Chief of Federation Security Operations, it is I who should be accompanying Captain Sisko."
"Well, everyone does have their own pace," Dax replied, watching Benjamin's awkward march. "If that's what you mean."
"I mean," Worf insisted, "it is I who should be accompanying Captain Sisko. He is the principle target of threat."
"Not anymore," Odo disclosed.
"He isn't?" Dax startled. "Who is?"
"Anon Dukat." Odo stepped out onto the Promenade to meet the Captain who did, yes, look as if he would prefer to be traveling a gauntlet. His own individual pace, as Commander Dax had observed, by the expression on Sisko's face, was being unduly hindered by the officers walking two abreast on either side of him. Two abreast in front. Two abreast in the rear. Eventually Sisko just stopped. When he stopped, they stopped.
"We are within the optimum range recommended," the Bajoran Security Captain politely, though firmly, apprised Sisko.
"Back it up," Sisko responded, his teeth clenched in a wide-mouth grin.
The Bajoran Captain thought about it. Eventually he gave his crew a nod in compliance with Sisko's wishes. In precision, they took their one step forward, one step back and one step to either side.
"Thank you," Sisko said. "It's called marching in time with the drummer, gentlemen. Marching in time with the drummer."
Rather than on his toes, Odo supposed, not that the Bajoran got it at all. That was all right. At less than ten meters from Quark's front door, Odo couldn't see the harm in him taking it from there. "I'll take it from here," he greeted Sisko, dismissing the Bajorans to mingle with their brethren.
"Make that thank you," Sisko accepted his reprieve with appreciation.
"Not at all," Odo walked him to and through the entrance way. "Like the dinner jacket. Gives it an air of formality rather than officialism."
"Doctor Bashir's idea." Sisko extended the credit where the credit was actually due with a nod for Dax, Worf, and various patrons pausing to take a curious look. "I agree. Perhaps it's just what we need. An air of formality. Dignity."
"Pomp and grandeur," Odo nodded. "He's here."
"Also in formal dress uniform," Odo promised. "A bit flashier than yours."
Sisko smiled. "Yes. I was with him in his quarters. Not my style, Constable. Though on Bashir it does look good."
"Yes, well, I was with him in the shower," Odo grunted. "Not my style really either."
Sisko looked at him. Odo just nodded. "Private joke between Commander Dax and myself."
"If you insist," Sisko wasn't entirely certain he wanted to know the details.
Odo grunted again. "The Chief's also here. Five or so minutes. Formal dress as well. In a style more your own."
"Then I must be on time." Sisko's smile acknowledged a few more curious patrons entering to make their way through the yellow maze.
"Right on time. Must have something to do with that famed Federation timing."
"Which speaking of timing..?" Sisko encouraged.
"On his way," Odo assured. "Have a minute?"
"Of course," Sisko kept his smile for the masses as they stepped aside. "What's wrong?"
"Potential for wrong. How's that? The immediate area between the bar proper and the gambling area has been cleared. Seating at the bar is limited as instructed."
"Yes. A bit of a round-about way, Constable, I admit…"
Odo wasn't complaining. "But it's the clearest path from the door to the stairs and on, rather than weaving your way. Understood. Martok's here. At the bar. He claimed his front row seat early. Currently he is sober, as currently he is lamenting the temporary loss of his bat'telh. Not to be presumptuous, I did request he check it at the door. A few friends of his are scattered in the dining area. Mostly towards the back."
"I'll speak to General Martok." Sisko nodded.
"Appreciated. For obvious reasons we will be having the Cardassian delegates enter through the second level. Weaving their way, but, well…"
"That's thoroughly acceptable, Constable," Sisko stopped him, more than satisfied with the reasons behind the change in plans.
"Thank you," Odo said. "Other than that you should know Dukat has skyrocketed to first place over the last hour. Don't let it go to your head, you're still close on his heels. Shakaar's dropped to fifth place behind Pfrann and Damar. Analysis is, while it's feasible word has yet gotten around about that heartfelt speech of Dukat's embracing the Bajoran-Cardassian war orphans --"
"You're being facetious, Constable," Sisko verified.
"I am," Odo assured. "As it's reasonable to presume the general extremist public is now clear on who exactly is whom, and you're responsible for allowing Dukat to grace our doorstep. The question is, how do you want to respond?"
Sisko smiled that time directly at him. "Sequester us, Constable. A decision I plan to discuss with you and Legate Damar immediately after dinner."
"You've made my night," Odo applauded whether or not that decision constituted mutiny against the Federation's Supreme Assembly. "And well…" he ogled Sisko's formal uniform jacket, "At least you'll go out in style."
"So we will," Sisko pointed his finger with a wink, turning from Odo to make his way through the masses for the bar and Martok.
"That way," Odo directed him toward the so determined official passageway.
"I know the way, Constable."
"I'm sure you do," Odo grunted. "Here's to hoping you know Martok as well."
"Come in!" Janice answered security pressing her door buzzer, settling for outlining her eyes with a healthy smudge of the dark green eye cream Garak had included in his inventory of her basic essentials. The long silk ties of her pale pink gown she just left dangling off her shoulders like floor-length epaulets. She wasn't quite sure what to do with them and they gave her something to do with her hands. The dress wasn't quite as modest as it had first appeared to be, though it maintained its simple air of elegance; hardly daring really at all. Merely extraordinarily clinging when she slipped it over her head. Pulling the thin straps up over her shoulders, the soft fluid A-line drape promptly molded itself to her shape, cloaking the outline of her chest, waist, hips, before falling into a sweeping gentle wave on down to her toes.
Janice studied herself uncertainly one last time in her mirror. The dress was certainly very comfortable, almost as if she wasn't wearing anything at all. The soft pink color contributed to that illusion, blending the gown almost indistinguishable from her skin. "What do you think?" she turned around from the mirror with a grimace for her security escort of two; a Vulcan Captain and his Bajoran deputy.
The Bajoran was a religious man. Deeply. He was also extraordinarily conscious of his position in rank. He deferred answering Janice's reasonable question to his commander.
"Too much," Janice nodded, interpreting their silence and meaning her shadowed eyes. "Oh, well," she tossed the little case of eye cream onto the bed with a shrug, "it'll have to do."
"On the contrary," the Vulcan Captain found her self-criticism to be illogical, "your choice of colors is logical."
"Oh," Janice said. "Well, you should know that better than I do."
"Yes," the Vulcan agreed. "Are you ready to leave is our question of you."
"Am I late?" Janice blinked.
"No," he assured.
"Then I guess we better go before I am," she nodded. "Kira made me promise I'd be on time."
"That is also logical."
"Unless you're me." Janice headed for the door where her security escort of two turned into four more. Two in front, one on either side of her, the Vulcan Captain and his Bajoran deputy in the rear as they walked down the corridor for the turbolift.
"Her choice of colors is logical?" the Bajoran had his limits. His Minister's Neutral representative to the conference was a strikingly attractive and shapely young Human, smoldering in sensuality with her shadowed emerald green eyes and long, tousled mane of golden brown hair. His commander was Vulcan, not blind. His commander was lying to cover his own licentious thoughts.
His commander looked at him, disdainful and aloft as most Vulcans preferred to appear. The cool, stoic expression a close cousin to that of the Cardassian ice less the sarcasm, it inspired the Bajoran's will to challenge it. "What about the strings? Are those logical?"
The Vulcan studied the long cords trailing off the slender, bare shoulders of Doctor Janice Lange. "Their point appears to be one of decoration."
"They're untied," the Bajoran assured. "They're supposed to be tied."
"I can see the logic in fastening them, yes," the Vulcan agreed when they stepped into the lift and Doctor Lange promptly tripped attempting to maneuver in close quarters without stepping on the ties or the hem of her long gown.
"I forgot them?" Janice explained clutching her toe she had painfully whacked against someone's hard, unforgiving boot. "My shoes?"
"On the contrary," the Vulcan replied, "it is not your shoes I am questioning." Though, yes, now that she made reference to them, her flat, cloth slippers did seem somewhat out of place.
"Wrong," Janice shook her head. "They're comfortable…and see?" she straightened up to drop her gown down, covering up her feet. "You can't even see them so who cares what I have on my feet. Can you get any more logical then that?"
"It is doubtful," the Vulcan acknowledged. "Perhaps if you were to carry your cords."
"Or learn how to walk in a long dress?"
"Either is acceptable," the Vulcan was satisfied.
"Ah, Sisko!" Klingon General Martok rose from his stool to admire the Captain's choice of attire. "Nice. Very nice. Starfleet Command I have noticed has a distinct interest in not only ensuring their officers are men and women of caliber, but have flare. We Klingons, on the other hand, what do we care what we look like?" His one black eye glittered beneath his family's brow and heavy mane of blacker hair. The other eye lost in honorable battle with the Dominion's Jem'Hadar. In its place a mere flat covering of skin. He was a striking man, Martok, in his towering figure and his power, and he knew it.
"I wouldn't go as far as saying that, General," Sisko shook his head at the General's armor plated breast. "To the contrary, the Klingon uniform has as much distinct flare to its design as any I have ever seen."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"It is meant as one."
"And draw your attention to this glass of ale in my hand," Martok nodded. "Do you see it?"
"I do," Sisko agreed.
"Good," Martok approved. "It is my missing bat'telh. As much a part of my uniform as its sleeves or its boots. Your Constable has 'appropriated it' as he puts it, from me. Something to do with the allowable size of accoutrements. Does this seems accurate to you?"
"Under the circumstances, General," Sisko said, "it does indeed."
"Hm," Martok said. "I'll remember that when I hear your screams. I envision a bomb. Here. There. It doesn't matter where. That is how these scoundrels operate, you know that as well as I. Dishonorable. Sly. Sending threats of death instead of killing you as a warrior should -- he has been in contact with his ship. Damar. Dukat. Who cares which. One or all of them. In turn, they have been sending transmissions to Cardassia. Two, we have detected. Are you aware of this?"
"Aware, General," Sisko assured. "Expected. And allowed." he smiled. "I would no more think of prohibiting Legate Damar's contact with his bridge, or his home world than I would consider prohibiting you."
"I am your friend," Martok reminded. "These are men of deceit we are dealing with. Everything I do, I do for you. Kira. Worf. Dax…This lovely creature here," he smiled for Quark's sensual Bajoran hostess Leeta in attendance at the bar. "Who would dream of harming a hair of this child's head? I cannot fathom it."
"I'm glad you mentioned that, General," Sisko agreed.
"Someone has?" Martok's dramatic intake of breath was sharp. His eye piercing, his hand clutching the kut'luch strapped to his waist. "Who? Tell me now."
"How everything you do, you do for me," Sisko nodded. "Will you be having dinner?"
"Yes," Martok dismissed. "An hour or so. I have some friends I am waiting for -- why?" his eye searched Sisko. "Are you inviting me to join you and Dukat?"
He said Dukat and he meant Dukat. The power of Damar continuing to be less than nothing to the Klingon Empire. Sisko refrained from correcting the General, turning to Leeta. "Do you think it's possible General Martok's table can be made ready now? I believe his friends have arrived and are waiting -- in the back." he stressed for Leeta's complete understanding.
"Oh, I'm sure it can be, Captain, if that's what you want," she smiled, a clever crafting of words and child-like innocence to her voice and on her face. If Sisko never thought twice about this woman in the six years of his command, he thought about her now and appreciated her.
"It is. Thank you."
"My pleasure," Leeta scooted around the bar to take Martok's ale for him and tuck her hand under his arm.
"You can be a difficult man, Sisko," Martok turned away with Leeta. "Stubborn."
"I can be, General," Sisko acknowledged. "Yes, I can be."
Legate Damar lacked the showmanship of his predecessor Dukat. A scowl on his broad Cardassian face as he stalked in tune with his small staff and their security escort for the turbolift. Little did he know how that scowl was destined to be permanently erased long before the first tantalizing bite of his waiting dinner. There was an inner calm to the Bajoran Maquis terrorist Hawk under guise of Damar's security Captain as he walked alongside the Emperor. There was always an inner calm to Hawk. His path and conscience clear. Not so could he say the same for the conscience of his elder brother Anar who turned his back on their fight in his middle years, reaching and embracing the Neutral Janice Lange calling her daughter, as he reached and embraced the sons of Dukat calling them friends.
Not so could Hawk say the same for the conscience of his brother's namesake and nephew First Minister Shakaar Adon of Bajor. Shakaar as guilty as Anar; one a politician, the other a fool.
"What's this?" Damar halted Hawk immediately when his escort divided into two groups. Three who entered the turbolift along with Damar and his assistant Paq, Dukat and his brother Pfrann, four who remained behind in the corridor. "A change of guard, now?"
"Relax, Legate," Hawk replied. "There are a lot more of us waiting for you on the Promenade -- level two." he instructed the computer; the door to the turbolift closing.
"Level two?" Damar's scowl narrowed into a glare.
"The delegations are being divided between two entranceways, Legate," some supernumerary began.
Damar silenced him. "Oh, really? Halt program…I said halt it!" his weight pressed Hawk back against the wall of the lift. "Before I give you a reason to use that thing."
"Halt program," Hawk rolled his eyes, activating his com badge as the lift halted. "Security to Constable Odo…"
The roll of eyes was matched by Odo's when the call over his com badge identified itself as belonging to the Cardassian Security squad.
"Sorry, Constable," the Security Captain's calm voice apologized, "Legate Damar is expressing some concern over the change in his entrance."
"Is he," Odo grunted.
"He is!" Damar's snarl overlapped the Captain's answer. "You have already changed my guard rotation without bothering to inform me."
"Yes, well," Odo drawled, "barring getting into duty rotations, I will say whatever your concern, apparently you don't mind locking yourself up in a turbolift with my task force -- armed task force," he added. "Heavily. I'm sure you've noticed." He heard a snicker at that point. Muffled, it sounded young. Probably belonging to one of the Dukats.
“Is that some sort of threat, Constable?" the edge in Damar's voice was increasing.
Needlessly. Odo took notice of Leeta positioning herself to escort Martok away from his station at the bar and so his Legate was in luck.
"Reassurance," Odo grunted. "If you insist you may enter Quark's on the main level. Understood, Captain?"
"It is understood, Constable," the Captain assured.
"Very good," Odo nodded. "See you when you get here." In just about a minute. Kira, just about twenty seconds behind Damar. Garak, just about twenty seconds behind her. Lange, just about twenty seconds behind him. From there everything promptly and quickly proceeded to go downhill at an incredible increasing rate of speed.