The bar portion of Quark's reopened to limited and restricted public seating at 1700. Bashir wandered in with Garak shortly after for a relaxing apéritif before the more formal dinner slated to be held in the semi-private confines of the main conference room rather than at Quark's. Yet to officially revoke his order of mandatory "togetherness", Sisko did cast aside a decent portion of the rule book forbidding fraternization with opposing sides of the political triangle, broadening the roles of Dax and Worf to acting Deputy Commanders of Security to Odo's Constable irrespective of whose side. This not only allowed his senior staff a limited, though valuable opportunity to compare notes with each other and their subordinates currently absorbing most of the monumental task of the continuing investigation into the terrorist attack, it insured his staff maintained their status as Commanders over the Special Forces and the station's security force. At the moment Kira and Worf were apparently off elsewhere while Dax sat in Quark's with the Chief comparing notes with a respectable selection of Shakaar's finest lingering in the near background.
"That's three," Quark beat Bashir to the table, plunking a cold glass of ale down in front of O'Brien. "Not that I'm keeping tabs."
"Just a record of the tab," Bashir chuckled. "Three? Already? Really. Rather a worthless day all 'round, I take it."
"No, it wasn't worthless," O'Brien drained close to half his glass before setting it back down. "It was hot. And I'm tired enough without having to peer through the gloom to read when I can't see but two feet in front of my face to begin with."
"Hot, thirsty, tired and cranky," Bashir grinned at Quark. "I'd like a menu please."
"A menu," Quark apprised Dax. "He wants a menu."
"Yes," Dax smiled.
Quark didn't. "If you want a menu, go to the Replimat."
"Where the replicators are working," Dax offered, "which it isn't here."
"Oh?" Bashir said. "What happened to the replicator?"
"What happened to the replicator," Quark nodded to Dax. "He wants to know what happened to the replicator -- what does he think happened to the replicator?"
"Haven't the faintest," Bashir grinned at Garak. "Apparently you're suggesting though someone's aim wasn't quite as good as it should have been."
"It was good," Quark assured.
"So it was," Bashir agreed. "Don't remind me -- all right. Nothing alcoholic for me. Something cool, however. Extraordinarily large and attractive to behold -- pink, comes to mind for some reason? Pink and frothy -- strawberry, perhaps? Sherbet? With generous dots of Thalian chocolate?"
"Oh, yes, that sounds potentially delightful," Garak's salivary glands could almost taste the concoction now. "Not too sweet for me, however. Pleasantly tart, if you could manage."
"Uh, huh," Quark handed him a napkin. "It's a bar, not an ice cream parlor."
"And actually," Dax joked, "if you gave them a frozen daiquiri and a spoon, I doubt if either of them would know the difference."
"Oh, no, we would know, Julian, wouldn't we?" Garak believed.
"Daresay I certainly would. But, no, quite all right. A daiquiri is fine. Reasonably hot, tired and thirsty myself," he smiled at the Chief's empty glass. "Time for another refill? It's on me."
"Uh, huh," O'Brien said. "And then what? Two, three, four more? With a little luck by dinner I'll not have a leg under me?"
"No, I wasn't thinking that at all," Bashir denied. "Merely respecting if it's been a long day for me, I'm certain it's been a longer day for you…and you," he included Dax. "How did it go? Any more earthshaking announcements by Dukat? Or has he spared us today? His mood was certainly vile enough this morning, never mind anyone else's."
"My mood isn't vile," O'Brien insisted.
"No more than you slept through better than half of the proceedings," Bashir nodded. "Daydreamed is probably much more like it -- not that I can't say I'm not rather interested myself in what Janice is planning to wear this evening. I am interested. Profoundly interested," he flashed that grin of his again at Garak. "Nightgown, really? Dare I ask what the gown looks like? Or do you insist upon keeping the Chief and I in suspense?"
"It's not a gown," Garak smiled in return.
"Even better," Bashir accepted his daiquiri from Quark. "With legs like hers, veritable sin to cover them up -- true or false?"
"I believe Julian's asking you," Garak advised Quark.
"No, actually I was asking the Chief," Bashir moistened his smile with the cool, tasty treat. "Certain you've noticed."
"And what if I did?"
"Well then you have to agree. That ghastly beige sackcloth she insists upon wearing has one divine aspect; it's above the knee."
"Well…" chances are Dax had heard enough.
"No, I'm only teasing," Bashir patted her hand soothingly. "So's the Chief."
"I haven't said a word."
"Merely thinking it. Quite all right. To paraphrase something Garak's said, some of us think, others of us do…" he twinkled at Dax. "Do you think it's plausible for the Captain, what with this new found liberalism of his, to agree to extend the rules of acceptable fraternization and allow Janice and I to sit next to each other at dinner time?"
"I've already asked her," O'Brien assured.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I've asked her," O'Brien shrugged, borrowing his spoon and a taste of his daiquiri while he was at it. "And she agrees."
"She agrees to what?"
"That she's got enough on her mind not to have to worry herself about your hormonal rushes," he assured.
"The devil you did."
O'Brien snorted. "The hell I didn't. Ask her…better yet," he handed Bashir back his spoon. "Wait and see. She'll be the one sitting at the table -- next to me. Like you said. Some of us do, others of us dream."
"That's easily rectified, isn't it?" Bashir nodded firmly to Dax. "Tell him. While my interest in Janice is personal, it's also quite innocent -- "
"Oh, please," O'Brien jeered.
"Well within the limits of acceptable contact," Bashir maintained. "Where yours on the other hand is quite clearly fraternization. If I didn't know better myself, I would accuse you of attempting to coerce the Bajoran representative -- "
"Sex," O'Brien assured, fairly loudly. Garak's teeth clamped together so hard it was a sheer wonder he didn't bite his spoon in half. "The only thing I'm trying to coerce is the same as you, and that is sex."
"Sex…" Bashir stammered like he never heard the word before in his life, his startled eyes wide.
"Sex," O'Brien reiterated even louder. "S.E.X. And she was appreciative."
"Appreciative," Bashir repeated to Garak busy moping his brow.
"Appreciative," he alerted Quark.
"Hey," Quark waved, "you're talking to a guy who's been married to a Klingon and has the scars to prove it -- give me that," he snagged the napkin away from Garak, promptly proceeding to fan himself. "Is it hot in here, or is it me?"
"It's hot in here," O'Brien directed. "Get me another beer."
"You and me both," Quark headed for the bar.
"Yes, well, appreciative," Bashir nodded to Dax, "what woman could resist such an invitation, the Chief's quite right."
"Not exactly," Dax said.
"What?" O'Brien sneered. "Oh, excuse me. He's not looking for sex. He's looking for a forty-eight hour relationship."
"That's not the point."
"Hardly," Bashir agreed. "You're not only being crass, you're talking extremely loud."
"I'm being crass. I'm talking loudly -- "
"Yes," Dax said in support of her pal Julian, a real shocker there.
"Uh, huh. Like anyone cares…Like anyone…" O'Brien pushed himself away from the table ready to stand up and announce it to world.
"Chief!" Dax had him by the arm yanking him back down in his seat.
"Really cares," O'Brien took his beer from Quark with a toast of Bashir. "You started it."
"No, I didn't start anything…"
"Actually…" In the not too distant background Hawk sauntered up to his squad posting guard over the Federation representative O'Brien and his guests. "He did start it. But the Chief's right. Who cares? Do you care?"
No, his agents didn't care. Only about the conference. The one yet to be canceled despite all their noteworthy efforts. "Gentleman," Hawk acknowledged, "I admit, I was close to running out of ideas. Was close." He sent an agent scurrying to find a piece of paper, anything on which to scrawl a note. The agent returned with one of the Ferengi's data padds; it would do.
"What about the pictures?" He was asked as he cleared the padd's log, neatly typing in a note from Lange.
"What about them? They're Winn's. She paid for them. The only thing we can do is insure Chancellor Gowron receives his own autographed copy -- other than that?" he returned the data padd to his agent. "I would say a couple of hours from now, our job will truly be done."
"Excuse me, you started it," O'Brien insisted.
"I beg to differ," Bashir was equally emphatic, "I didn't start anything -- "
"Julian!" Dax's spots were dark, her tone as intolerant of him as it was for the Chief. Garak just continued to sit there.
"I didn't start it," Bashir repeated.
"Yes, you did -- but that!" her waving hand silenced him. "Is not the point."
"No, hardly," Garak carefully sipped from his spoon. "The point is -- "
"Sex," Bashir nodded.
"I'm married," O'Brien sneered.
"I've got to get a better life," Quark informed the Bajoran Special Forces officer looking to join the party and stop a fight. "It's okay. They're friends. Ask her."
"Yes, it's fine," Dax reassured the officer who had apparently not wandered his way over from the assigned squad of sentries, but had wandered his way in from the Promenade with a message for the Chief.
"Yes, well," Bashir grinned as O'Brien took the data padd, "it's probably unrealistic to claim the Captain heard you all the way on Ops, but it's possible -- "
"Ah, ha!" O'Brien bounded to his feet with a gloating shout, shy of dancing a jig and practically knocking the Bajoran officer to the ground. "What did I tell you? What did I tell you?"
"Well, I don't know," Bashir agreed as the Chief's hands slammed down on the table, a grin on his face stretching from ear to ear, "what did you tell me?"
"Read it and weep," O'Brien flipped him the padd. "Go on, read it. She wants me, okay? What did I tell you? She wants me."
"Janice, he means," Bashir nodded as he read. "It's from Janice. By wanting him he means she wants to see him. Now. Before dinner. She's already bribed -- pardon me, alerted her security detail he's en route to discuss some of the finer points of the autopsies performed on the Bajoran cadavers… Nothing more specific than that. Certainly ambiguous, at that. Gruesome even. Until one pencils in the panting and outlines the aching, heated body begging to be held."
"You know I knew it?" O'Brien took a breath with a point of his finger at Dax. "I knew it. I knew it the moment we met. Something in her eyes…I don't know, something in the air. I just knew it."
"And now we all know it, too," Bashir handed the padd to Dax with a smile. "Bravo. Touché. A fair round of applause -- mind if I finish my dinner now? Or dessert, as it actually is?"
"What?" O'Brien scoffed. "You think it's a joke?"
"Think it's a joke?" Bashir spooned up a liberal helping of his melting daiquiri with a shake of his head. "No, I don't think it's a joke. I know it's a joke -- quite all right," he waved the Bajoran officer away to resume doing what he had been doing; an officer who had paused, Garak noticed, only long enough to look mildly confused, but then he did go about his own way. "No doubt the joke is also on you -- one of the fellows in engineering? Is that who you got to write the letter -- or love note, I actually should say?"
"No, that's not who I got to write the note."
"Well, you're certainly not suggesting Janice wrote the note, are you?" Bashir borrowed the padd from Dax to share its contents with Garak. "The spelling's atrocious, in the first place -- "
"The spelling's fine," Dax answered quietly.
Bashir grinned. "Now she's really mad. You know, you can always tell when Jadzia is truly angry," he set about seeing what he could do about whipping his daiquiri back into some sort of shape, "as opposed to merely annoyed. Those spots of hers -- yours," his eyes glittered over Dax, "quite literately flame charcoal black. Like they are now. Precisely. Exactly as they are now."
"Excuse me," O'Brien retrieved his padd from Garak. "But I'm late for a date."
He left. No one even attempted to stop him. Why should they? It was only a joke. A fairly childish one, if Bashir said so himself.
He did say so. To Dax. "It's a joke," he promised her. "If you don't think it's a joke, isn't it your responsibility to stop him? Captain Sisko's decision to bend the rules are one thing. He is the Captain, after all. Well within his authority to twist them into knots if he feels so inclined. The Chief, on the other hand, doesn't have any such authority, as he is clearly breaking the rules, not merely bending them --- that is, if it wasn't a joke," he assured Quark. "It is a joke," he nodded to Garak.
"Oh, yes," Garak upheld the viability of that theory. "Though is it possible, Julian?" he wondered quite innocently. "That the joke is also on Chief O'Brien? I mean to say," he explained, "did you notice how the Bajoran officer hesitated momentarily before he obeyed your order and went about his way?"
"Well, he hesitated," Bashir felt, "because he hadn't the faintest idea what any of this was all about. I seriously doubt if he realized he was party to a joke -- I believe I mentioned that. No, I'm quite confident he quite seriously believed he was delivering a valid message to the Chief."
"Oh, I believe that also," Garak assured, "Julian, I do. I'm merely saying -- "
"I know what you're saying. You're saying as much as the Chief's been sounding off to us, he's likely been sounding off to half the engineering staff."
"Yes," Garak nodded.
"And it's possible one of the fellows, or two of the fellows, or half of the damn crew got it into their heads to tease the Chief of their own volition."
"Exactly," Garak smiled.
"And won't Miles' face be red?" Bashir finished the last of his daiquiri with a lick of his spoon. "When he shows up at Janice's door and she hasn't the faintest why he's standing there?"
"Yes," Garak nodded. "And under those guidelines, Julian, wouldn't it be prudent of us to at least notify Major Kira -- "
"Kira has an appointment with Lange," Dax handed Quark Julian's glass.
"Does she?" Garak beamed. "No doubt to discuss some finer points of today's conference."
"Yes," Dax stood up.
"Oh, well, see now, Julian?" Garak chided him. "Under those guidelines it's entirely possible it isn't a joke at all. It very well may be that Major Kira instructed Doctor Lange to invite Chief O'Brien -- not to discuss the conference, but to use that opportunity to validate the medical findings concur with the engineering analyses. With Major Kira in attendance, there can clearly be no impropriety."
"I'm sure that's it," Dax nodded.
"Of course," Garak's tongue eased its way to stroking his lips, "Chief O'Brien quite clearly is of another impression entirely. I'm forced to agree with you. Won't his face be red?"
"Before or after Janice slaps it?" Bashir laughed.
"Either way," Garak tipped his head. "Either way."
The security of the Bajoran corridor had already been compromised. Its staff of six long dead and replaced by Hawk and his agents before O'Brien exited the Promenade, stepping into a turbolift to exit on Lange's floor. The Chief pushed his hair back with a nervous nod for the approaching Task Leader, half of his senses screaming at him what the hell did he think he was doing. That wasn't what came out of his mouth though. What came out of his mouth was that he had a scheduled appointment with Doctor Lange. The data padd he held ready in his hand in case the officer requested to see it.
He didn't. "Yes, we've been notified," Hawk nodded easily, directing O'Brien down toward the middle of the corridor; fourth cabin on his left.
He was kind of a small guy compared to the others with him and the others the Chief had seen around. Not short, slender. O'Brien made a mental note somewhere in the back of his brain, one not to be remembered. Out loud he said, "Thanks. Shouldn't be long."
"Take your time," Hawk estimated by his calculations it would be ninety minutes or more before Kira Nerys showed for her appointment; if she showed at all.
"What?" Janice groaned in mock frustration with Anon appearing on her monitor screen for the third time in less than twenty minutes. "I told you, Kira promised we'd meet before dinner."
"What can you say in ten minutes?" Anon anticipated Kira would be late.
"Well, not too much, if you're right," Janice shrugged. "So, I guess in that case it will have to be after dinner -- either way," she blew him a kiss before he could yell, "I'll see you at dinner -- 2200?"
"Yes, 2200 -- You know it's 2200. And that's not good enough, Janice," he insisted. "I want this settled. I couldn't even think today -- except about you."
"That makes two of us," Janice rested on her console, smiling back at him.
"So am I," she blew him another kiss, swaying gently in time to some imaginary tune.
"What are you doing?" Anon frowned.
"Music," she laughed. "Can't you hear it?"
"No, I can't -- I can hear that, though," he assured as her door sounded. "Who is it? Kira? Finally?"
"Yes, of course it's Kira," Janice signed off with another laugh and one last kiss.
It wasn't Kira. Janice didn't remember anything after that, or even before. Not the conversation with Anon, or the conference. The last thing she remembered, if she remembered anything of the day at all, was lying in Anon's arms listening to him fuss about her returning with him to Cardassia Prime.
The Chief remembered the conference. The conversation in the bar with Garak and Bashir; Dax and Quark got lost in the shuffle somewhere. He remembered as far as standing in the doorway saying something like, "Yeah, hi," with an indicating shake of the padd in his hand. "Got your note." After that?? A shove maybe? Against his back? Hard maybe? Maybe not. Could have just taken him by surprise. A mild burning sensation along the side of this throat? Kind of like a bee sting, but then kind of not? After that it was a total blank. Totally.
It was almost 2200. "What?" Kira's head dropped down on Odo's desk amid the pile of witness and security interrogations with Dax's appearance in the security office. "Don't tell me. I'm sure it's not anything I want to hear."
"Nothing earth shattering," Dax smiled. "Just saying I thought you had an appointment with Lange?"
"I'm running late," Kira admitted. "It's not my fault. It's Odo's."
"Two hours," Dax nodded. "It's all right. I'm sure the Chief and Lange are as bogged down with their engineering and forensic comparisons."
Kira's eyes searched Odo for a moment before she sat up to search Dax.
"You're late," Dax reminded. "Two hours."
"Back up," Kira waved. "Back up."
"How far? To the conference? Quark's? Or Lange's note to the Chief inviting him to compare analyses?"
"That far," Kira pointed and was out, across the Promenade, heading for a turbolift.
"Yes, well, I don't think there's a reason to panic," Dax smiled at Odo. "It is just a joke."
"What is?" Odo grunted.
"The Chief has a crush on Lange?"
Dax looked at him. He shrugged. "Explains why she's the one inviting him to see her forensic analyses."
"She isn't inviting him," Dax began to say. She stopped.
"Who is?" Odo remained interested.
"I don't know," Dax stared out across the Promenade to Kira vanishing with the turbolift. "Either the Chief is inviting himself, or the engineering staff is teasing him -- if it is a joke. Actually it only made sense to me if Kira had instructed Lange to include the Chief in their meeting." Which, no, clearly Kira had not. "Maybe there is…perhaps not a reason to panic…"
"But perhaps one way to find out," Odo was already rounding his desk.
"Come on," Kira urged the turbolift crawling its way through the maze of sections and levels in search of its destination. "I'll kill him. That's what I'll do, I'll just kill him." And then everything would be fine. The door finally swished open. Six Special Forces officers, every last one of them Federation, and not ten minutes into their turn of duty, snapped to immediate attention. "Major Kira Nerys," Kira barked her ID on a fast stalk past the Task Leader for Lange's cabin. "How long has he been here?"
There was either something wrong with the Task Leader, or there was something wrong with her. It wasn't her. "The Chief," she leaned heavily on Lange's buzzer, repeatedly pressing it. "O'Brien. He's here, isn't he?"
There was either still something wrong with the Task Leader, or there was something wrong with her. There wasn't anything wrong with either of them. The Chief wasn't there. "Okay, so he isn't here," Kira accepted that. O'Brien wasn't there and Lange had just stepped into the shower running late as usual and she…
"I…" Kira took a needed, calming breath. "I'll just kill Dax instead -- a joke," she reassured the security Captain snapping immediately back to life. "It's just a joke. It's a stupid joke, but it's just a joke -- come on!" she aimed a frustrated punch straight into Lange's door. "Janice? It's Kira, can you hear me?" Of course she couldn't hear her. If she couldn't hear the buzzer, she couldn't hear her. She was in the shower.
"Open it," Kira instructed the Task Leader. "Will you just open it!" she hammered him into the door. "I told you it's a practical joke -- not me, Dax!"
He obeyed. Following a discreet, confirming nod from his Deputy Major Kira Nerys was on the roster of scheduled visitors. Two hours ago and also ten minutes from now to act as additional escort for Doctor Lange. Ten minutes early the Task Leader could live with. What happened to delay the Bajoran Major Kira two hours ago he really didn't care. The door swished open on command and the two of them stood there. Somewhere in the shambles of the living area Lange lay naked and strangled by her twisted beige hose still wrapped tightly around her neck. Her face so contorted and dark blue it was almost black. At some point she had vomited. Urinated and bled at some other. The Chief was also naked, just getting to his knees and groping his way toward her.
"Get out of the way!" Kira shoved the Task Leader aside; twice her height and twice her size. She didn't even feel her hand connect with O'Brien; her knuckles shattering with the force of her strike that sent him backwards and back to sleep. She was down on her knees, ripping at the torn beige stocking encircling Lange's neck, screaming over her com badge for Dax, Worf, Odo, anyone who would listen.
"Oh, my God," the stocking came apart in her hands. Lange's throat was crushed, flattened like some sick-looking rag doll. Her hands, arms and chest seemed icy cold; they were so white. "Find something!" Kira shouted over her shoulder to the security squad pounding into the cabin upon their Leader's shout. "Anything! She's not breathing…no, she's not, she's not…" she searched desperately for any sign of a pulse, anywhere. The slightest breath; there was none. She pried open Lange's twisted mouth, attempting to gasp air into her lungs.
"Kira…" Dax was on her knees at her side. Odo was there a breath later, moving Dax aside.
"Cut it, we have to cut it," Kira grabbed Odo's hand, his pointing finger metomorphsizing into a sharp, narrow knife. "Her windpipe. She needs air…"
"Here?" Odo touched Lange's neck.
"Yes, there," Kira nodded. "There…anywhere. Cut it, Odo -- just, cut it!" she pressed the point of the blade down into the small of Lange's throat, puncturing the flesh through to her shattered windpipe. There was a gurgling sound, two or three tiny streams of blood trickling down from the tiny wound.
"Now open," Kira nodded. "We have to keep it open…" she pinched the incision as open as she dared, whistling her breath sharply down into Lange's throat in an attempt to clear the obstructed airway. Her free hand groped for her com badge hearing Dax say something like "I think it's working, Kira, keep breathing into her throat."
Kira took a deep breath, managing, "Kira to Doctor Bashir…" before she exhaled into Lange, leaving Odo to complete the call for Bashir and emergency medical beam out.
Odo completed it. "Infirmary. On the double, Bashir. No one cares if you're in your underwear. Throw a coat over it."
Kira was gone with Lange. Dax settled back on her heels, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth as she stared at the Chief lying unconscious on the floor.
"Probably should have a look at him also," Odo grunted.
"Yes," Dax got to her feet.
"Yes, well, don't do that," Odo stopped the Task Leader from finding O'Brien's trousers amid the rest of the trash. "You've heard of false modesty, and you've heard of evidence -- that's evidence. Don't touch it."
"Evidence?" Dax looked up from finding the Chief's pulse without having to look for it twice.
"Unless you have a better explanation for what happened in here," Odo nodded sharply.
"No," Dax said. "No, I don't have an explanation."
"Neither do I," Odo assured. But he would. He hailed Sisko over his com badge. "Need you. In the Infirmary. Need you now. I'm on my way. When Worf gets here," he instructed Dax when he signed off, "he's to seal the corridor and himself in this cabin; no one in until I or Captain Sisko say otherwise. You follow with the Chief. As far as you…" he advised the Federation Task Leader and his elite squad of five. "We'll save the politics for the politicians. You're all under arrest. An appropriate prelude to a complete investigation into just what did go on in here. If I were you, I wouldn't try anything cute. Not only am I a Changeling, you'll find I'm not in the mood."