The Time of Hagalaz, Presumed Guilty Part Two

Chapter Twenty

"Hungry?" The touch of Veronica Sorge's hand was a mother's pushing back the straggling stands of Janice's hair out from in front of her eyes as she lay there feeling the stiff pressure of her neck supporting her head and the smooth, foreign material of the sheet covering her, so unlike the bed linens in Anon's quarters.

"Thirsty," Janice answered, the sound of her voice comforting. "What happened to me?"

"We're not quite sure yet," Veronica smiled, back in Janice's line of vision with a cool dish of sherbet.

"Me either." Janice's laugh was light, refreshing, and relieving for Veronica to hear. "Is it safe for me to sit up?"

"Oh, yes, I'm sure…" Veronica set the dish aside to help her. "It's not your back…"

"No, it's my neck…" Janice supported her neck as she worked to push herself up to a seated position. "I'm not sure why, it just feels so heavy…"

Veronica's hopes rose for a moment of a possible memory coming forward; apparently not. "Sherbet?" she extended Janice the dish.

"Sounds good," Janice accepted. "What do I look like?"

"Well…" Veronica debated over the complexion that certainly wasn't healthy. Much of the gross discoloration caused by the hemorrhaging of capillaries and blood vessels of her face and throat cleaned, the child's eyes were glazed and hollow looking with their darkened rings. "Bashir's pretty good, actually. You look a little tired perhaps?"

"That took a while," Janice smiled.

"At least you're alert. There's much to say for that."

"I'm not sure how alert," Janice admitted. "The last time I was here Anon was the one in bed, not me."

"Anon?" Veronica sat back down in the bedside chair.

"Perhaps he's been here," Janice agreed. "There's quite a lot that's a blur, apparently…is there?" her head turned to ask Veronica directly.

"Today's Thursday," Veronica offered.

"What happened to Wednesday?"

"Well," Veronica said, "perhaps you and I can try to figure that out together. Do you remember anything of Wednesday at all? Getting up, for example? Washing your face, or cleaning your teeth?"

"No," Janice frowned.

"Nothing at all?" Veronica encouraged. Janice studied her; she smiled. "Doctor Veronica Sorge. We met at breakfast on Tuesday."

"Yes," Janice said. "After I saw Anon…is…" she hesitated out of fear of hearing what she may not want to hear, "is Anon all right? I can't remember anything after we were talking…I remember talking…"

"Anon…" Veronica searched her data padd.

"The Cardassian delegate," Janice stopped her. "Gul Anon Dukat."

"Oh, yes," Veronica recalled where she had heard the name before. "The young man who was injured in the terrorist attack at the Ferengi restaurant -- that was Monday," her hands settled in her lap. "And, yes, I'm sure by today he's fine."

"Monday?" Janice frowned.

"It's all right," Veronica assured. "It's better to remember everything you possibly can even if things seems a little confused at first."

"No, they're not confused, I am. How could I be here without Anon…where's Anon? Are you sure he's all right?" she verified. "Not Monday, Tuesday…yes, I'm sure it was Tuesday…"

"Go on," Veronica said when Janice paused, her expression frightened.

"I'm not sure…" Janice replied.

"Of what?" Veronica smiled. "What are you're trying to say? Or what do you want to say? You can say anything you want to and it will go no farther than these four walls. That's why I'm here. As a counselor, and certainly also as a friend. You've been injured. You realize this; correct? What you don't remember or understand, we'll work together to understand."

"Protocol," Janice admitted finally.

"Protocol?" Veronica said.

"Yes," Janice smiled with an awkward sweep of her hair out of her eyes. "I keep forgetting about protocol. It's a direct violation of protocol for the Cardassian and Bajoran representatives to associate with each other outside the conference. I must still be the representative. It isn't very likely Anon's forgotten about me; I'm his wife."

Veronica couldn't help thinking about something Tracy always said about nothing being new under the suns, the moons, or the stars. And nothing was new. Not the child-like innocence in the face asking its question, or the interest and concern expressed for the well-being and whereabouts of an absent lover. "Rules of Protocol could explain why Anon isn't here, couldn't it?" she straightened up with her smile intact. "Would you like to talk about Anon?"

"See him, actually," Janice admitted wistfully. "But that's all right. I also have to learn to trust him…as he says, yes, Anon, and leave it at that."

Wednesday another sleepless night similar to Monday with its tireless investigation, and no less tragic that the victims of this second terrorizing assault on the conference delegation numbered only one. Doctor Janice Lange. The believed perpetrators, not suspected Bajoran Special Forces, but determined to be Chief Engineer Miles O'Brien. It was already noon of the following day, Thursday, when Klingon legal Advocate Ch'Pok strode his way into Odo's temporary office; the interrogation room of security's isolation wing where Bajoran and Federation security officials talked to their suspects, not tortured, as had been the Cardassian way.

The Klingon way with dealing with suspects hinted at being disloyal to the Empire, betraying, or derelict in any way was even simpler: death. Immediate, as often violent, and certainly final. Chancellor's Gowron efforts to promote a growing civility to his world of warriors incorporated employing the fine art of rhetoric to soothe its Federation critics, no more evident than in his expansion of a Klingon legal consul. An institution, who by this date, bore marked similarities to gifted, silver-tongued Sophists, a highly distorted version of what should be lawyer, who reigned some 3,000 years ago in Earth's past. Hated, and the subject of much heated debate and ridicule back then, they were equally hated now; ridicule was not on Sisko's mind. He remembered Advocate Ch'Pok as clearly as he remembered a star date two years past and the Federation and Klingon charges pending against Commander Worf in his role as Commander of the Defiant.

It was the time of the Pentath III tragedy, Rudellian plague, and Worf's accused massacre of 414 Klingon civilians while escorting Cardassian transports desperate to deliver supplies to its colonies along the Klingon border. Ultimately the proposed massacre was revealed to be a ruse, an ambitious effort by the Klingon High Counsel to discourage Federation escort of Cardassian supply transports. The charges pending against Worf, running a gamut from dereliction in duty, to the outrageous Klingon claim of murder in his heart, dropped, ending the Klingon attempt to extradite Worf to his home world. It was Ch'Pok who returned to Qo'noS instead, failed in his attempt of prosecution.

The charges here, now, pending against Chief O'Brien were solely Federation in their origin. Ch'Pok advancing an interest in defending the Chief rather than prosecuting; the Advocate, along with his Chancellor Gowron, had to have something far bigger in mind than the salvation of Miles Edward O'Brien. What could it be? Sisko studied the muscular, barrel frame of Ch'Pok moving easily across the floor. A mark and air of dignity in the Klingon's walk, and on his middle-aged face with its tightly braided hair; he wasn't Martok, lacking the General's dramatic flair. He wasn't Gowron with the Chancellor's penchant for entrancing and frightening his audience with that sudden, bulging maniacal stare just when the viewer thought the Klingon leader could be a man of wisdom and reason beneath the prevailing stigma of his race.

Who Ch'Pok also wasn't, was Dukat. Though the Advocate's presentation of suave sophistication hinted of a Cardassian influence, rather than Federation, Ch'Pok's wit was sharply intelligent. The light in his dark Klingon eyes, keen and discerning. His skills two years older than when Sisko first met him, and two years more perfected and polished. A new and different breed of Klingon, equally as disconcerting as his fathers gone before him. Gowron must have gone to the ends of his Empire to find him initially, as well as to the ends of his Empire today to find Ch'Pok now. The charges posed against Chief O'Brien weren't twelve hours cold; definitely there was something far greater at stake and on Gowron's mind than determining who actually was responsible for the senseless and vicious assault of the Human Neutral Doctor Lange. What, remained to be seen; not if Sisko had any say in the matter.

As according to Ch'Pok, the Captain did have a say. In at least how he wished for them to proceed in organizing the defense of Chief Engineer…"O'Brein." Ch'Pok continued to transpose the E and the I of the Chief's name while reiterating the point and purpose of his visit as he walked in to stand among their tight little group waiting.

"O'Brien," Sisko ignored the reference to 'they', the two of 'them' Ch'Pok and he as a team, correcting the pronunciation of the Chief's name again, as he remained standing, as did Odo and Dax. Major Kira continued to maintain her post elsewhere. Outside, for the moment, the heavily guarded quarters of Doctor Lange on the Infirmary's isolation wing, allowing Doctor Veronica Sorge the necessary privacy of her examination and consultation with Doctor Lange.

Mister Worf currently continued the painstaking task of yet another series of comparisons of all the data accumulated. The Chief remained alone in his security isolation cell, far out of earshot and sight of the security conference room; his senses dulled by the grim reality of the situation, no longer by the depressive qualities of alcohol.

As did Quark and Garak maintain an uncomfortable residence in their respective security isolation cells. The details of why continuing to be avoided for now. Their senses intermittently vacillating between boredom and annoyance, fear and intrigue. Odo, concerned they might know something more, Sisko hoping to be convinced what they knew, he already knew, and that was little, if anything of true value to the investigation.

Who struggled to know more alongside the rest of Sisko and his senior staff, as well as the only one who sat in the security conference room, was Doctor Bashir. Begrudgingly called away by Sisko from his conference with Doctor Tracy Sorge, Bashir was visibly eager to understand the why behind Ch'Pok's visit and offer of assistance.

"You're not supposed to care why," Odo muttered an offer of words to the wise following Sisko's dark, shooting look over his jittery and excited Chief Medical Officer all wide-eyed and interested upon hearing of Ch'Pok's arrival.

"But I do care why," Bashir protested. "Shouldn't you? Somewhat prejudicial to presume the man can't possibly have anything to offer without allowing him the opportunity to speak…Even though I admit," he acknowledged not a moment later with a stiff, silent, clearly prejudicial nod to Dax upon Ch'Pok's arrival in the conference room, "what Ch'Pok could have to add without clearly implicating the Klingon Empire in some sort of conspiring effort to halt the conference proceedings is beyond me…

"Yes, it's quite beyond me," Bashir fell back in his seat in a pensive study of the Klingon Advocate, listening to the abused pronunciation of the Chief's name as well as Sisko's clipped correction. "Should be able to at least pronounce the name of the man's he's prepared to defend -- if the intent is defense. Rather than some Klingon conspiracy, which, yes, clearly it has to be. Of no true surprise to anyone, I might add. After all, if there isn't a Klingon conspiracy afoot, there's certainly a Cardassian, Romulan, or Dominion one somewhere readying itself to rear its ugly head. The Borg are truthfully the most honest of aggressors. Simply announcing resistance is futile, you will surrender and be assimilated; that fairly settles the question of their intent, doesn't it?"

What else Sisko chose to ignore beyond Ch'Pok's smiling distinction of they two as allies, were the incoherent mumblings of Bashir sitting in a combined and contradictory posture of a fixed, casual sprawl in Odo's chair behind him. What Sisko couldn't ignore was Ch'Pok himself.

"He's innocent, of course, Captain," Ch'Pok boasted a belief in a man he didn't know, which Sisko did, and that to Ch'Pok, determined such a belief not to be misplaced or erroneous, but common sense. "Simply a matter of proving it to your Federation's liking," he preempted Sisko's reminder of the questionable value of common sense placed alongside such staggering physical and circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

"And I would, Advocate," Sisko spoke anyway, "most assuredly, be interested in listening to what you have to present of tangible value."

"What I have to present?" that spawned a chuckle or two. "What I have to present is little by comparison to you -- it's all right here," he indicated the neatly arranged row of data padds on Chief Constable Odo's desk. "Quite clearly, all right here -- simply waiting to be extracted." He moved the data padds aside to set his briefcase down on the desk, releasing its latches and retrieving one Cardassian data cylinder for Odo to install in his console, and one Federation padd for Sisko to access with a respectful nod for each of them; in particular, Odo. "I've compiled a preliminary list of witnesses I plan to call in Chief -- O'Brien's, is it? defense." His smile crinkled the corner of his lips. "Yours to incorporate in your records, Constable. As well as yours to review, Captain, and mine to adjust if necessary -- I doubt if it will be -- upon my examination of your reports against those submitted to the Federation -- I doubt if there's any difference, unintentional or otherwise, and so it's all just a matter of formality. One that likewise mandates, Constable," he promised Odo, "you receive my finalized listing of witnesses; which you shall. Prior to commencement of trial -- which in this case is a hearing; there shall be no cause for trial. As confident am I of that outcome, as you are currently confident, Constable in your prosecution -- unwarranted prosecution, Constable. Potentially unlawful. I further plan to discuss with my client after this matter is finalized, his alternatives in citing the UFP for wrongful imprisonment and false arrest; the final decision, of course, will be Chief O'Brien's. I can only make recommendations; I cannot force a man to embrace his civil rights."

"Yes, well, Major Kira…" Odo had already installed and was reading the so called 'witness' list that Sisko was no doubt reading. As was Commander Dax reading over his shoulder from her station at the Captain's side…as was Bashir reading, his chin and nose down around in the general vicinity of Odo's hand scrolling through the one page of data.

"Major Kira," Ch'Pok reminded, "was the first officer on the scene."

"After the fact," Odo reminded. "Not during or before."

"To where Major Kira either witnessed my client's attempt to ascertain the success of his efforts, or his attempt to assist Doctor Lange to the best of his abilities, despite his own weakened state," Ch'Pok's proposed shrewdness was laughable; the keen, discerning light in his eyes, bright. "It's all right there in your reports, Constable, as I said. Merely waiting to be extracted."

"Yes, well," Odo countered, "I'll refrain from asking -- for the sake of your 'client', is that the best you can do? To ask instead about this fascination you have with citing me as some form or another of prosecutor."

"That would be my question, Advocate," Sisko handed Ch'Pok back his padd. "Constable Odo is bound by his duty, the same as everyone else."

"Unpleasant duty," Odo added. "There's no disputing what happened to Doctor Lange, as clearly someone is accountable. The evidence, not me, points to O'Brien."

"May I comment?" Ch'Pok's smile focused on Sisko.

"Comment, Advocate," Sisko granted. "Imply malicious intent of any of my staff, out of the question."

"That would be formal appointment as Prosecutor of record for the purpose of my client's hearing…" Ch'Pok withdrew a second Cardassian data cylinder for Odo to install and review. "Suggested by me in the interest of expediency. Recommended by the UFP Assembly under this same premise to the Bajoran Council of Ministers, and agreed to by unanimous decision. The Cardassian Civilian Council, as well as Chancellor Gowron, likewise have expressed no immediate concerns or complaints to your appointment. The matter of the UFP accepting the petition for a hearing," he shrugged away a minor detail, "of course, rests with Magistrate T'Lar…Though I foresee as little difficulty," his focus and smile returned to Sisko, "in convincing her to see things our way. When may I consult with O'Brien; now, I feel is best."

"Yes, well, as far as Quark and Garak are concerned…" Odo returned to reading the list of defense witnesses while Bashir busied himself with standing up and gaping off down the corridor after Sisko and Ch'Pok, and Dax took her time meandering over to join Odo at his desk.

"Actually, I was thinking how the final decision does rest with the Chief as far as accepting Ch'Pok's offer," Dax handed Odo Benjamin's padd with its copy of the witness list he had forgotten in the excitement.

"Actually, I was thinking it probably should be someone other than Ch'Pok to inform Major Kira of his plan to call her as witness for the defense," Odo accepted the padd to toss it aside, unintentionally or otherwise, a little roughly. It skidded to the corner of his desk where it teetered for moment before dropping with a clatter on the floor. He watched it teeter, as he watched it drop, leaving it there. "Not that I mean to suggest there is any malicious intent on anyone's part; including my own."

"No," Dax agreed. "Merely no interest by anyone in being made to choose sides."

"Formally made to choose sides," Odo finally consented to stooping to retrieve the padd and toss it into the pile of others on his desk.

"Yes, well, I certainly can't be required to choose sides," Bashir woke up from his trance to contribute his concerns of conflict of interest. "What am I expected to do? Utterly deny what the medical evidence is quite clear in showing? No condemnation of the Chief, as much as I don't want him to be guilty, I can't begin to prove he's innocent -- or even suggest he's innocent -- may be innocent -- " he was facing the broad, barrel chest of Ch'Pok. Where the Klingon Advocate came from, he had no idea. Back along the corridor, obviously.

"I will also want to interview Doctor Lange, Doctor," Ch'Pok's finger extended like a long, threatening stick. "Following my consultation with Chief O'Brien."

Bashir flushed angrily and protectively. "Out of the question. Doctor Lange has suffered a most brutal and vicious attack. The injuries sustained find her extraordinarily critical -- she's only emerged from a coma, for God's sake. I can't tell you from one hour to the next if she won't relapse and die despite all our efforts…" Of course the fact that he found her sitting somewhat tilted up in bed, thoughtfully spooning raspberry sherbet into her mouth when he popped in to notify Veronica he had been called into conference with Sisko and would return post-haste, was beside the point.

Which it was beside the point. The hand holding the spoon was unsteady as it was weak. In another week it would be weaker as the muscles of her extremities steadily atrophied in spite of the neuro transducers implanted to stimulate her motor and sensory reflexes until rigorous physical therapy could safely begin. The flexible alloy implant supporting her head in lieu of her damaged cervical vertebrae -- quite literally connecting her head to her shoulders at this point in time, would be there her lifetime. As would the synthetic reconstruction of her larynx, and the dismal prognosis of 15% brain damage -- if she were lucky. Luck was not in her cards, quite obviously. Hers or anyone's. Not since the damn conference began, or even before it began.

"As all of that hardly begins to address the psychological state of the woman's mind once she's been helped to understand the full and complete story behind her attack -- if she can even begin to understand it," Bashir argued against the retreating, unconcerned back of Ch'Pok. "And not that there's a Klingon alive who can begin to understand or respect what I'm talking about!"

"What I mean to say," he continued to sputter after Ch'Pok vanished around the corner of the corridor one more time. "The woman's been through enough. The last thing she needs -- "

"Is some foul-mouthed Klingon leaning over her?" Dax actually did say foul-mouthed, not foul-smelling. As she said leaning, not leering. Bashir heard foul-smelling and leering; Klingon, about the only part of the sentence he got right.

"Yes," Bashir stared angrily back at her, into her dark, brown eyes. Uncertain if she was ridiculing him, or accusing him of ridiculing Klingons and hence Worf. "Damn Worf, that's precisely what I mean…Of course, the fact that the man is a foul-smelling, foul-mouthed Klingon," he stalked off, "is beside the point. Other than that is clearly what he is. A foul-smelling, foul-mouthed, leering Klingon, and God knows it's the last thing I'd want leaning over me, whether I was at death's door, or in the peak of health…" His sputtering ended only with his departure to return to the Infirmary and his patient.

"Divide and conquer," Dax offered to Odo an explanation for Ch'Pok's methods and Bashir's madness.

"Yes, well, it wouldn't seem to be in the Advocate's best interest to divide his witnesses," Odo countered.

"That would depend on his actual agenda," Dax picked up Benjamin's padd with its list of intended.

"You're on there," Odo assured.

"Yes." Along with Odo, Kira, Quark, Garak, Leeta, Rom and Morn. Benjamin, Worf, Bashir, Lange and Damar and his crew; the Dukat brothers. And interestingly enough the deceased Cardassian assistant Mister Paq. An indication that what Ch'Pok might know concerning the assault of Lange, he was a little sketchy in the details surrounding Monday's terrorist attack. "Actually what Ch'Pok did was simply list everyone affiliated with the conference," Dax returned Benjamin's padd with a smile. "It's called leaving no stone unturned."

Odo grunted. "He'll have to turn a few to dig up Paq."

"Figuratively," Dax agreed. The physical remains of Paq were currently interned in one of the cargo holds of Damar's Galor-class battle cruiser the Tir, awaiting proper burial on Cardassia Prime. "I'm more fascinated by how Ch'Pok intends to intrigue Damar into staying."

Odo snorted or grunted again. "Implication, or outright accusation of a Cardassian conspiracy behind the assault of Lange, how else?"

"Do you think he actually knows that?" Dax frowned.

"No," Odo assured, confident Ch'Pok's agenda was to plant a seed of doubt and suspicion deep enough to leave everyone wondering, paving the way for O'Brien to walk away a free man guilty, or innocent, or somewhere in between.

"The Chief is innocent," Dax's faith in O'Brien was as unshakable as everyone else's, and like everyone else simply at a loss as where or how to begin to prove it.

"Innocent until proven guilty," Odo was familiar with the Federation way.

"At what price?" Dax agreed, moving thoughtfully along the corridor on her way to resume helping Worf with the comparison analyses. "Should we even care?" About Ch'Pok's agenda? The potential of malicious intent to turn the accusing finger away from O'Brien and point it likely in some direction toward the Cardassian corner? Did it really matter? Guilty or not guilty of this conspiracy, Damar was likely guilty of some other; he was presumed guilty of some other. Suspect in a Cardassian effort to undermine Bajoran security by the installation of an Intelligence operation, otherwise known as a Consulate. The Dukats, his cohorts in deceit and crime.

"Therefore," Dax nodded to herself, "does it really matter?" Guilty or innocent, Damar was someone to blame, other than the Chief, for Lange's attack, even if they couldn't begin to prove or prosecute the Cardassian Emperor.

"I don't know though," she confessed the extent of her misgivings to Worf following briefing him of Ch'Pok's arrival and the presumptions surrounding him. "Convincing someone Damar may be responsible for ordering Lange to be killed is one thing. The nature of the assault, however -- "

"Is ludicrous," Worf assured. "As ludicrous as any attempt to implicate Damar. Doctor Lange's attack is the work of a maddened individual, personally motivated."

"Not necessarily politically," Dax nodded. "That leaves one of several thousand potential suspects other than the Chief."

"Bajorans not excluded," Worf had no proof to his theory but he could read between the lines of the damning physical evidence of furniture and belongings cast, not necessarily overturned or thrown aside in Lange's desperate struggle to stay her attacker equally determined to prevail. "A simple matter of restraining the full capabilities of his strength to create an impression of a Human male."

"A Human male in a conflicting heightened/weakened state. Incapable of restraining himself with Lange, but capable of restraining himself with the furniture?" Dax poked a hole in the psychology behind the theory. "Worf, that's not only terrifying, it suggests motivation apart from personal."

"If the intent were shaming before killing. Yes, I would then concur political motivation apart from personal would be possible."

"A simple matter of which species would be more inclined to view violative assault as a method of shaming," Dax nodded, planning her research as she did so.

"Klingons," Worf submitted.

Dax smiled. "Together with Cardassians and Humans. We're back to the Chief… I'm not sure where Bajorans stand," she frowned, dreading asking Kira for clarity. Something her research was not likely to afford her; sure to be confused in conflicting impressions as all early anthropological studies tended to be…ten years? The average span of time the majority of the scientific community had even been aware of a species called Bajoran? That certainly constituted early anthropological studies.

Worf snorted. Finding the moral fiber of Bajoran social interaction loosely woven; amass with glaring contradictions set aside the puritanical posture of its Vedeks and Kais. "They change mates as often as…"

"Civilians change their clothes," Dax proposed in example following his sudden, pensive pause. Because while it was accurate to say both Worf and she changed their clothes daily, if at all possible, it was commonly only to put on an exact replica of what they had worn the day before; their uniforms.

"Yes," Worf nodded nevertheless stubbornly, firm in his convictions the Bajoran state was little more than a frolicking world of nymphs and muses before the Cardassian occupation, during, and as well, after.

"One of these days we'll have to go back to Risa," Dax patted his cheek. "Without Leeta or Julian," or for that matter, Quark.

"I am in no hurry to return to Risa," Worf reminded as she turned to leave him with his staid schematics while she prepared to embark on a journey through the exciting, enticing, occasionally frightening world of anthropological study.

"That's not what you said when we left," Dax shook her head.

"I was coerced into agreeing," Worf returned to plodding his way through the maze of information, every turn a blind alley. "Enticed, cajoled -- " A thought crossed his mind; a face. Pfrann Dukat's. The bleeding heart of a Bajoran dangling from his makeshift spear. His rage as fierce and vicious as it was all encompassing and compelling. "That is nonsense, senseless," Worf shook the thought away. "He is still Cardassian."

Despite his slight, youthful frame.

"The motive for such action is unfounded and weak."

Revenge against a Federation who dared to incarcerate him however momentarily? As they strove to incarcerate his father for life on Elba II -- the fate O'Brien faced. Revenge against the Bajoran state that refused to bow its head fifty long years of Occupation?

"It's weak," Jadzia was back; reading his mind and kissing his cheek.

"It is a thought only," Worf defended his own innate mistrust and dislike of the Cardassian Union; the Chief was not alone in his hate. "If Chancellor Gowron is right about nothing else, he is right about one thing. It is a fool who trusts a Cardassian. The hand the Empire bites, is the hand the Union eats."

"I'll go along with that," Dax nodded. "And if Lange had been found with a sharp implement protruding from her throat, rather than her stocking wrapped around it, I might even go along with Pfrann Dukat being a questionable suspect -- " she stopped.

"What?" Worf said.

"Kira's hand phaser," Dax attacked his schematic displays of Lange's quarters. "Did you find it? Lange didn't put it in the replicator -- the system didn't shut down -- or perhaps it did shut down," she stopped as suddenly as she began with a sigh. "With the eruption of the systems due to the terrorists' shunts, who knows if the replicating system shut down for any reason other than the obvious? As it's always possible Lange knew enough to drop the hand phaser in a hazardous waste disposal."

"Pfrann Dukat had a Federation hand phaser," Worf agreed. "A question never asked as to how or why."

“I’m asking it now,” Dax assured. “Could it have been Lange’s?”

“Impossible to definitively know,” Worf apologized, “since the phaser was set to overload and destroyed. I, myself was witness. I, myself threw in an effort to rout the intruders.”

“And how would Pfrann Dukat have even managed to get it from her,” Dax sighed again.

“Also a question,” Worf agreed. “There were traces of phaser and transporter activity in Dukat's quarters, together with traces of Bajoran DNA on the console determined to be a control center for the terrorist faction."

"Together with a Bajoran powerful enough to overcome five Klingons -- surgical alteration?" Dax frowned. "Genetic alteration? Is it possible the Cardassians have mastered manipulating their DNA patterns to be indiscernible?"

"Genetic manipulation is a skill used in propagating the ranks of the Jem'Hadar," Worf reminded. "As is genetic distortion the practice behind which the Dominion Changelings attempt to hide."

"They didn't come away without learning something in other words," Dax was still frowning. "It's still weak, Worf. It's so weak it's almost frightening -- just how far bigotry and hate can mislead you," she clarified, "if it's allowed to. Regardless of how viable Pfrann Dukat's potential reasons for wanting Lange dead might be, their foundation is clearly subjective. As subjective as those assigned to be the Chief's; rejection. I don't believe it. What I do believe…or at least know," she hesitated, "is if anyone had a good, solid reason for wanting Lange dead, it's Shakaar. Someone who either grossly underestimated the strength of her commitment to her independent and Neutral status with her clear, unwavering support of Damar's proposal, or Shakaar didn't want her as representative in the first place, finding himself outvoted by the Council of Ministers…

"Flagrantly demonstrated, Worf," she insisted, "by his refusal to withdraw the Bajoran Special Forces when he knows as well as you and I, and Benjamin, the terrorist Threat Force either infiltrated, or number themselves among his troupe -- this is insane," she turned away from him with a troubled hand to her head. "What am I saying?"

"It is subjective," Worf replied. "As to accuse Shakaar of actions no less than that of a terrorist himself is unprecedented."

"No more unprecedented than it is to accuse the Chief," Dax left that time for good to attempt to clear her head and hopefully make some sense out of her anthropological studies.

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