Bashir was in the Infirmary reviewing evening rounds with Michelle when Kira's garbled call, followed by Odo's, came over his com badge. It was becoming redundant to say it wasn't a typical hail, or one that he expected; but it wasn't. The clear urgency in Kira's voice, and also Odo's, was obvious. It was something much more than simply startling moments later when a frantic Kira transported; the computer neatly setting down the nude and nearly unrecognizable body of Janice Lange on an examining table.
"Good Lord…" escaped Bashir's lips in the microsecond before he reacted, grabbing for a neural stimulator as Michelle grabbed for a trac set. "I'll need a full thoracic and neural team…" he directed whoever it was joining them.
"Hangman's fracture is complete at C-6," Michelle reported. "Reflexes are negative…aspirated and inducing respiration now."
"I tried…" Kira gasped at her side.
"You did fine…" Michelle's attention was on the diagnostic screens tracking Bashir's desperate attempt to revive Lange's deadened brain.
"Anything?" Bashir insisted.
"No," Michelle shook her head.
Kira heard her wrong. She stared at the blank and silent display, reaching dumbly for Bashir. "What does she mean no…"
"Damn it all," Bashir was kicking the bed release free and aiming Lange for the operating room. Kira stood there, listening to his only promise, "I'll let you know."
She took a step toward the closing doors. "What? You'll let me know what -- Bashir!" A savage, primal cry wrenched loose from her soul, her fists striking something.
"Major!" it was Sisko; he held her by the wrists.
"She's dead," Kira could feel her head moving. "Lange's dead."
"Dead…" The Captain's confused stare moved from her to the doors to the missing examining bed to Bashir's Michelle Faraday disconnecting the neural displays.
"He's trying now," Faraday agreed.
Sisko almost said "Thank you" by instinct.
"He choked her!" Kira screamed. "The son-of-a-bitch choked her! Why?"
"Choked…" Sisko's head snapped up with the computer announcing a second emergency transport; it was Dax with the Chief.
"Excuse me," Faraday's nod was for the medical staff hurrying to join her; one of them was a doctor; Sisko didn't know his name. Kira's hands he felt hit his chest with the power to take his breath away; she was free of his grasp and it was a moment's wrestle with Dax to catch her and hold her back from O'Brien.
"Major!" Sisko insisted, understanding her anger as well as he could understand his own rising long before he knew the details, if any of them at all, other than something about Lange, and now the Chief. "It's O'Brien!"
"Yes," Odo was taking possession of Kira from the two of them, "we know. You might want to cancel dinner." He wasn't being droll, he was being truthful.
So was Dax. "Yes, we do know. It's worse than it looks."
"Superficial lacerations aside," Odo held Kira's bruised and swollen hand gently.
"He choked her, Odo." She was largely incoherent under the tears and hate.
"Yes," Dax attempted to maintain her objectivity, extending O'Brien that required benefit of the doubt. "So it would seem."
"At first glance," Odo directed Sisko's confusion away from him back to the Chief lying on the examining bed wearing the imprint of Kira's knuckles and not too much of anything else.
"Choked, Constable?" there was a clear attempt on the Captain's part to distance himself from what everyone seemed to be implying; he failed. There was a catch in his harsh reply; insistent and demanding.
"As in strangled," Odo complied. "He wrung her neck."
"He did more than that," Nurse Faraday was coolly professional in her answer and assisting examination; Odo eyed the physician he likewise didn't know really from Sisko's Adam.
"Yes, Constable," Sisko assured, "Doctor Lange is apparently dead."
Odo grunted. "Yes, well, the only thing that changes is the nature of the charge -- from attempted murder, to murder. For many of the whys, you'll need Bashir." He stopped the attentive doctor from continuing. When he stopped him, the others stopped; Faraday included. "For the rest of them, you'll need you and me."
"He'll keep," Faraday supported leaving O'Brien to the capable hands of Bashir once they were available. So make that coldly professional in her answer as well as her treatment; the hand holding the Chief's bruised chin lacked the loving care of the one that held her tricorder.
"Insofar as analyses or treatment?" Odo verified. "He's intoxicated, isn't he? How intoxicated? Are we talking about amnesia or potential of seizure?"
"Four beers?" Dax buried herself in remembering Quark's while Faraday studied the initial screenings. "Maybe five?"
"More than that," Faraday announced a blood alcohol level roughly five times that with Bajoran ale being the least of the two culprits; the potential for amnesia was there.
"It was a couple of hours ago," Dax explained to Sisko. "The Chief may have had something else to drink -- apparently he did."
Odo nodded to Kira. "As did you probably hit him harder than you realized."
"As I believe you mean seizure, Constable," the resident physician removed Odo's hand from his wrist to secure his hypospray. "I'll not risk this man's life, regardless of what he may have done."
"No, of course not, doctor," Sisko agreed quietly. "Stabilize him. But other than that -- "
"The call is Bashir's," Odo instructed.
"Other than necessary analyses to preserve -- " Sisko was more perturbed by the condition of Kira's hand than Odo's interruption.
"Evidence," Odo nodded.
"Indeed," Sisko stiffened. "Evidence of what exactly, Constable? Are you telling me you truly believe the Chief -- "
"He was found in her quarters," Odo identified.
"Lange's quarters," Dax clarified. "Worf's there now."
As no doubt Sisko would be interested in hearing the results of all analyses, notwithstanding the explanation behind Dax's mention of four or five beers. "Interested in that myself," Odo informed her.
"Yes," Dax understood. "You'll want to talk to Julian; Garak and Quark also."
But first there was that dinner waiting to be canceled not merely delayed.
"Damn Damar, Constable!" Sisko was already exiting the Infirmary to tell the Legate precisely that, together with where he could put his conference, along with Shakaar, the UFP and anyone else.
"Is Lange dead?" Odo wondered beside him in the turbolift. Kira about as interested in joining them as she was inclined to leave the Infirmary and Lange; which she refused to do. Insubordination or not. Federation, Bajoran, and anyone's commission aside. She ripped her insignia of rank and status (which, yes, happened to be Bajoran in its commission this year) from the collar of her uniform, and flung it across the room in response to Sisko's order of accompaniment. That was all right. Good chances were Commander Dax would, after a few respectable minutes, locate Kira's insignia and return it to her along with encouraging words of relaxation and the offer of an opportunity to try and make some sense out of all of this; no doubt a discussion that would be to Dax's benefit as well.
As no doubt Sisko would forgive and forget about Kira's outburst; as he had forgiven and forgotten a few times before. Continuing not only to respect, but to like her, as he respected and liked every one of his senior staff, the Chief hardly an exception.
"To the contrary, Constable," Sisko seethed in answer to Odo's question, "I have little idea as to the actual condition of Doctor Lange; less apparently than any of you."
"Strangulation," Odo reiterated what had been obvious to him.
"As apparently I'm sure Bashir is trying everything he can to revive her."
"I'm certain he is!"
"So at best we may have another Vedek Bareil on our hands," Odo remembered Kira's bedside vigilance of a few years ago beside the gravely and mortally injured Bajoran monk being kept alive by every conceivable mechanical means until Bareil finally did just die; out of sheer exhaustion, no doubt. "Not including the irreparable brain damage and sexual assault; rape," he clarified to Sisko's confounded expression. "What did you think Faraday meant?"
"Again, little idea, apparently, Constable," Sisko insisted.
"It's what she meant," Odo assured. "Little question as to the actual nature of the attack, as well as Lange's unwilling participation."
"As does it happen, Constable," Sisko charged. "Perhaps in your culture." He actually meant in anyone's culture other than his; Human. He stopped where he was; outside the cabin door of Damar. Incredulous to say the least at hearing what he was having to hear; the demands of the towering Sentinel Tan not even registering. "Surely there's another explanation, Constable -- there has to be."
"If he were Klingon," Odo grunted with an eye over Tan; it not entirely propaganda to suggest the Cardassians were as involved and concerned with the well-being of their stomachs as they were a few other things.
"Klingon?" Sisko demanded.
"He isn't," Odo agreed. No more than the Chief was Cardassian; more specifically Dukat. "Our Dukat," he assured Tan justifiable or unjustifiably wondering just what was going on. "Not yours…or should I say," he drawled, "not his sons?"
"What about the Emperor?" Tan insisted. "His days are not over any more than his reign; more than Gowron will see."
Odo nodded. "Just as I thought. It's all right. While we can blame Dukat for a lot of things, we can't blame him for this. No more than we can likely blame his sons -- or Mister Damar." The next nod was for Sisko; who he meant by 'he' was O'Brien. "Who he isn't also is Bajoran. Your guess is as good as mine at the moment what actually went on."
"But I will know, Constable," Sisko swore. "Irrespective of how it looks at the moment -- "
"Irrespective," Odo agreed, "of how it looks at the moment turning out to be how it is; or was."
Sisko stared at him. That was all right. Damar stared at the two of them. When they entered his quarters unannounced, and harder seconds later when Sisko informed him, Emperor or bench-warmer, he would have make do with what the replicator had to offer as far as dinner that evening, breakfast tomorrow morning before he left; if he left; he would leave. Quickly and of his own accord. Following answering a few questions satisfactorily. The first and most natural one being where was he? Where had he been between the hours of 1700 and now; 2210?
"Where have I been?" There was ring of truth in Damar's retort coupled with a strong, though strained suggestion of interest in wanting to know why. Why the question. Why, and what lay as the reason or reasons behind it?
Those were questions Sisko wanted to answer about as much as he might want to know the answers himself.
"A matter of record," Odo relieved the Captain for the time being of having to answer with a grunt for the Sentinel Tan accompanying them into the Emperor's chambers. "That's all. Answer it -- both of you, and we'll move on to the Dukats; physically, if necessary."
"I wouldn't think it will be necessary, Constable," Sisko replied quietly. "I doubt if Legate Damar has any trouble with answering for himself or his staff."
Damar laughed suddenly. "Here, of course. Entertain me, Sisko. Where do you think I have been? May have been? Should or shouldn't have?" His glassy eyes danced over the giant Tan scowling down on the stiff and uncooperative Federation Commander of Terok Nor teasing them with hints of some new catastrophe happening, happened, or waiting to. "Answer them, Tan. Tell him where I, you -- Dukat and his brother have been keeping ourselves? Eh? What have we been doing?"
"A matter of record?" Tan ignored Damar, whatever he was talking about, or thought he was talking about; apparently the Emperor thought he was talking about something. What Damar thought he was talking about was probably nothing more than knowing Sisko and the Constable Odo had to be talking about something themselves. "What matter? Should we even care? If not, why not? What are your accusations? Do you have any? They're lies, all of them, if they have anything to do with us."
"Well, now that that's settled," Odo grunted to Sisko.
"A matter of security, obviously, Legate," Sisko indulged Damar that far and a little further. "Doctor Lange is in the Infirmary."
There was a slight hesitation to Damar's response, followed quickly by a smirk. "Visiting someone? Or as a victim herself this time of some extremist's ill temper? Surely you don't suspect any of us, Captain? You can't be serious as Tan suggests, if you do."
"Who says we can't?" Odo countered, reading the lacking reaction of Tan's, he thought accurately. "You're right. You don't care. Not personally. The incident has the appearance of being isolated. Not likely to be repeated against any member of the Cardassian delegation… Politically? Well, that may be another story," he admitted to Sisko. "Is another story."
Sisko quite clearly didn't care either way. "So it is. As a victim, Legate. The conference is canceled as well -- "
"Canceled?" Damar interjected a challenge; useless.
"Unless you plan on sitting there talking among yourselves," Sisko agreed. "Chief O'Brien is also in the Infirmary -- "
"I though you said it was isolated?" Expected or otherwise, the abrupt interjection that time came by way of Tan's demanding hand twisting Odo's tunic tightly in his fist as he twisted the Changeling back to him.
"I did," Odo assured. "As I warned the Federation squad in charge of Lange's security not to try anything stupid -- do I have to warn you?"
Tan glanced over the tunic, no more 'real' than the humanoid flesh it covered; he sneered. "You are as weak as the Emperor always claimed."
"Or as strong as he feared," Odo agreed; either way Tan let him go. "As far as O'Brien you can call him a material witness until we call him otherwise."
He left Damar and his quarters shortly thereafter with Sisko, following the Captain's apprising the Legate he should be able to vacate the premises by morning once the UFP assembly, Shakaar, and of course the Cardassian Civilian Counsel, were informed of the latest unscheduled change in plans. That included the conference being canceled, not merely delayed this time.
"Well done, Sisko," Damar congratulated him and his Federation, and while he was at it First Minister Shakaar of Bajor. "If you think either of you surprise me, think again. I am no more surprised by any attack on Lange, O'Brien, than I was by the attack of Paq or Gul Dukat…" His smile taunted Tan after the Federation left with the malleable Constable Odo. "Dukat may have a different reaction. If I were you, I'd advise him to keep his mouth shut. After all, he wouldn't want to further jeopardize Lange, any more than he would want to further jeopardize himself -- if you understand what I mean."
Tan took a step closer to Damar; a little too close for the Emperor's liking. "I understand the risks. Do you understand the ones you take?"
If it was fear the giant hoped to inspire he would be disappointed. "You wouldn't dare."
No more than Tan wouldn't dare to sever the head of Gowron and present it as a gift to the Emperor Dukat. His insulting laugh was brief before he too was gone from Damar's quarters to apprise Anon of what he knew of the situation with the Gul's wife -- and stop him, yes, from amplifying the risks to himself and also her.
"Situation…" Anon expected Sisko, an armed body of Federation security ready to arrest him, Pfrann, all of them, under the ludicrous charge of consorting with known Maquis. The unexplained delay in dinner confirmed his suspicions, heightening his anxiety that Janice was already under arrest; Kira Nerys not exactly a reasonable and understandable woman as he had attempted to explain to her. It wasn't Sisko however barreling his way into his quarters, it was Tan with some insane notification about Janice. "What do you mean situation? What are you talking about Infirmary -- "
"She is with Kira," Pfrann's angry and panicked voice added its support of his brother's halting argument.
Anon's words were halting because he was in shock. Enraged and exploding a moment later. "Answer me, Tan!"
Tan couldn't answer him; not with details he didn't know. What he did have was the physical strength to stop Anon from finding out for himself; strength that Pfrann lacked.
"I can't just stand here!" Anon desperately clutched at the massive arms holding him back, damning Tan and charging his brother less of a temperament to sit back and do nothing than he was. "Are you? Can you?" he insisted to Pfrann torn between wanting to act and not knowing exactly what to do.
"He is the commander!" Pfrann released Anon to wildly claw at Tan, his fingers digging into armored hands holding his brother.
Noticed, the pleas of the child went unheeded, as did Anon's. "I have sworn my loyalty to be sworn -- " Tan reminded Anon.
"To me and my father before me," Anon screamed. "My father is a fool and a coward. I am not. His sons are not! Janice is my wife, my brothers' sister, and the Legate's daughter!"
"Now what do you say?" Pfrann insisted to Tan.
"The exchange of insults is not his interest," Anar answered from the background, his phaser rifle in hand, his son Sian beside him. "What is, is your willing risk of exposure …and, yes," he admonished the penetrating stare of Anon's red eyes, feeling the incredibly comforting weight of the rifle in his hand, "I could say other things myself…. Things about Sisko currently issuing an urgent, priority signal to the UFP….As about…" He gazed out the porthole over Anon's shoulder to the blackness of space where he had watched a Bajoran shuttle from Anon's bridge begin her lazy cruise home less than thirty minutes ago. "What has happened? Tell me now. Is it Janice?"
"She lies in the Infirmary," Tan replied. "By Sisko's manner and face, it is an attack. I know little else -- "
"Exposure?" Anon's delayed curse interrupted him. "There isn't anything about Janice or I that can be exposed that they don't know already. Nothing they can claim that they can't prove. They were there -- yes, they were there, last night in the holosuites," he waved Pfrann and his disbelieving whine to silence. "No, I didn't tell you -- why should I tell you?" he charged Anar. "What? They did this to her because they would, because they did. I told you yesterday they wanted Janice, not me. I told you the only protection I could give her was to leave -- then, not waiting until now and all of this to happen. I told you -- " he was going to break down. His hand reaching toward Anar wanted the phaser rifle. Sian's hand reaching to stop him ended up supporting the shaking arm until he was roughly pushed away.
"You don't have to kill me," Anon promised Anar. "Not you, Klingons, or anyone. If Janice dies or is dead, I will kill me and that will take care of everything."
Anar believed him. A belief that should inspire a glimmer of hope the Prophets' will of protection might extend to Janice and find her still alive. "It's not your throat I want, Anon. You should have called me."
"To do what? The same as me! Nothing! You think I don't understand what they're saying to me? Tan, Pfrann, everyone -- you!" his accusation included Anar. "'It's not cowering, Anon.' 'It's not hiding.' 'If you race to be with your wife -- if you even attempt to find out what has happened to her, you increase the risk of danger to her, you change nothing!'"
The words were strong and true enough to find Sian immediately switching sides. "So, by the Prophets, what do we do instead?" he demanded of his father. "He's right. We cannot just stand here!"
Anar turned from the pulsating anger of his son to address Tan. "It's interesting they seem to think we stand so easily."
"We do not stand easily," Tan assured.
"No," Anar agreed, "we do not. Sisko must tell you something -- he has to."
Tan shook his head. "An isolated incident, not a political affair."
"That is ridiculous," Pfrann sneered.
"Not if the UFP has decided between itself to acknowledge the terrorist faction to be Maquis," Anar cautioned. "They would say anything to avoid such a confrontation with the Union -- "
"A confrontation that we can give them," Tan strode for the console to signal Cardassia Prime. "The faction is identified to be Maquis protected by Shakaar. The Federation will tell us nothing though their own representative lies injured now, as does the Bajoran Neutral -- what do you think?"
"As has the Bajoran Neutral been identified to be the wife of Gul Dukat…it is clearly a conspiracy against us," Anar thoughtfully considered Tan's proposal of forcing the Federation's hand.
"Has she been identified?" Tan insisted to Anon. "You are sure of this? Talk, Anon. You argue easily, talk now."
"Of course I'm sure!" Anon snapped. "They were there -- we were there. Together. Joined. What do you think they thought?"
A reasonably embarrassing situation for most, Anar would have to agree. Still, "That doesn't make Janice your mate, Anon. Shakaar and the UFP will condemn her as mistress perhaps, but no one will be talking about a wife."
Tan remained in agreement with Anar. "What the Civilian Counsel and Central Command know of Janice they will likewise deny by their silence."
"To avoid accusations of a Cardassian conspiracy," Anar understood. "Will they deny to themselves the abounding rumors of Martok's claims of Gowron en route?"
"They are not rumors," Tan maintained. "Perhaps only of Gowron en route. I do not see the Chancellor to be that foolish or that brave to openly defy the Federation just yet."
"So he leaves Martok to build the foundation of unity with Winn while he rebuilds the strength of the Empire." The long range plans and goals of the Klingon Chancellor made sense to Anar. As were their reasons and outcome the same as they always were regardless of the players’ names. Greed, conquest, control. Shakaar was seeing nothing except the outbreak of civil war everywhere he looked. Abandonment by the Federation. The occupation of Terok Nor by Klingons. Janice Lange as unimportant to him as she was important to Anar. He would abandon her as he had now been forced to abandon the conference.
"Where is your father when we need him?" Anar sighed to Pfrann. "He could scream, shout and carry on, demanding to know everything and no one would think twice as to the reason why. Anon they would question, as they would question you -- yes, go ahead and submit the transmission exactly as you said," he nodded to Tan. "Identified Maquis protected by Shakaar. While the Civilian Council's shouts of conspiracy may not move Adon to a confession they will at least get his attention…If only because they are true…As he knew…" he cast his phaser rifle aside before he used it; not on himself or Anon. "What is this about O'Brien? Sisko's insistence of random violence is absurd if his engineer lies injured as well. No one is yet safe, nor can they be. Even Damar has to realize that. He cannot just simply accept Sisko's explanation, any more than you can be expected to accept it."
"A material witness the Changeling claims," Tan snorted. "His choice of words is gibberish to me. I know of O'Brien from the old wars. No bigger or smaller a bastard than I. I am surprised he would fall into such a position, if that is what you mean."
"Not exactly," Anar admitted to Anon. "Thinking more of a Bajoran shuttle I watched leave not a half an hour ago. With the conference canceled Hawk may be gone -- he likely is. It's possible, I suppose, O'Brien just got in the way."
Anon cared nothing about O'Brien. "Hawk told Janice that. Last night. The conference is to be canceled, Janice Lange, or I will kill you, if I kill no one else. I'm telling you he wasn't interested in me -- my flesh, yes! Cardassian! I could have been Damar; Paq! He said as much!"
"I heard you," Anar's hand touched his shoulder. "As you heard me tell you, you should have called me. Hawk doesn't threaten as much as he mocks; a sick pleasure for him."
Anon was silent for a moment. "They have pictures of us to embarrass and destroy her and still Janice didn't believe they would. She wanted to talk to Kira about being a liaison between you and Sisko -- I agreed," his frustration rose again quickly, "because I couldn't get her to agree with anything I said! I was there when Kira came to her quarters -- on the com system talking to Janice! This doesn't make any sense. It can't be Hawk, it has to be Sisko. They must be interrogating her. I expected arrest, not this. It isn't going to take Kira two hours to decide yes or no; it's too long ago!"
It was unless Kira also fell to Hawk's blade. That might assist in explaining Anar's continuing visions of the child Ziyal beyond her genetic link to her brothers; the child was half-Bajoran. The life of her former guardian no more or less at stake than anyone else. Was it Kira's soul Ziyal waited to take in hand rather than Anon's or Pfrann's? Anar glanced across the room to Tan. "The Changeling said nothing of Kira? Only O'Brien?"
Tan snorted a boastful confidence in a woman he claimed not to know. "Nerys? She wears her Prophets around her neck like a charm. The ghost of Bareil at her side. That I say. No one else has to."
Anar took that to be a no. "Did you see Kira?" he returned to the sour face of Anon. "Hear her? The Federation doesn't interrogate like you and I think of interrogation -- perhaps some of them do, but somehow I don't see Sisko prodding Janice with electrical shocks. Are you sure it was Kira, is what I'm asking you. Could it have been O'Brien? Material witness is a Federation legal term. Someone with substantial knowledge of a crime -- often because they were involved."
"I heard the door, yes. Janice said it was Nerys -- assumed, yes, probably," he acknowledged, "that it was Nerys. What are you saying?"
"I'm saying…" Anar could see the resemblance to the sister Ziyal in Anon's broad, strong face. It was little wonder he recognized her, realized who she was despite the hundreds of thousands of others just like her. "To whom did Hawk threaten to expose you and Janice? Sisko? Shakaar?"
"The galaxy," Anon's pause was slight before answering. "The Federation, Bajor, everyone. Half of who would care and the other half who wouldn't. You're thinking it is random violence; Sisko's claim. No, I don't believe that. Who would keep silent if they knew about Janice and me? Satisfying themselves by attacking only Janice instead?"
"Hawk for one," Anar assured. "Many, if not most of his agents; possibly even Shakaar. Certainly Damar. Who can't know yet about Janice and you is Sisko. He would come straight to you, not Damar. If I didn't know Hawk as well as I do, I might believe myself in Sisko's claim of a random attack against Janice."
Anon was not satisfied. "Why would O'Brien be there?'
"To post watch over Janice while Kira went to talk with Sisko," Sian proposed.
"No, Nerys would call the Trill Dax." Anon insisted, his own discipline speaking for others. "Their appointed security supervisor."
"You forget who does know of Janice is Garak," Pfrann answered quietly. "Quark; Leeta."
Anon didn't forget anything; least of all anything to do with Janice. He remained as terrified as he was angry. "I could wait two hours and know everything, or I could still be sitting here in silence. Listen to them and even if I send you with Tan to the Infirmary I jeopardize Janice. My wife may be harmed; I don't know how seriously. Turning my back is my only chance of helping her?"
"What are you asking me?" Pfrann regarded him hesitantly."For forgiveness of what he knows is true," Anar's arm spread itself across Anon's shoulders. "Help Tan with monitoring the communications; it is at least something. Janice's injuries may only be slight or not at all; an episode of fright. She may have revealed the incident of last night to Kira in their talk. Humans are fascinated with psychological therapy, it may be why she's in the Infirmary. What Sisko refuses to tell Damar he will have to divulge to the UFP and Shakaar; this way you will at least know."