The Time of Hagalaz, Presumed Guilty Part Two

Chapter Twenty-Two

Sisko stood there in the security conference room, Bashir and his reports to the right of him, Odo and his reports to his left; Dax and Worf silent and somewhere behind him. "Do your best, Odo," he said. "Because, damn it all, I intend to do mine." No offense to Doctor Lange and her trauma because clearly, yes, something had happened to the young woman. As clearly someone was responsible. He just simply could not believe it was the Chief unless he witnessed the man himself! The padd in Sisko's hand cracked under the pressure of his grip.

"Don't know your own strength," Bashir mentioned jokingly to ease the frosty air, not meaning to imply anything; it was a poor choice of words nevertheless.

"Your best no doubt includes soliciting the cooperation of Damar," Odo retrieved his padd from Sisko.

"As yours includes the solicitation of me," Bashir interjected, alive and fighting, and brandishing his Hippocratic oath. "Out of the question. Are you out of your mind?" he cited Ch'Pok. "Doctor Lange is in no more condition to be interviewed at this time, than she is in any way capable of being forced to stand in witness."

"Appearance," Odo corrected. "Can see no reason for Lange being obligated to be called as witness for any reason -- is she?" he demanded of Ch'Pok. "She's not the one on trial, O'Brien is."

"Hearing, Constable," Ch'Pok smiled. "And no. I can foresee no reason to require Doctor Lange to take the stand -- A sworn deposition would be sufficient for our needs, Doctor," he promised Bashir. "Any request for Doctor Lange's appearance, as Magistrate T’Lara has emphasized, is solely to insure she is extended her full rights under the law -- she may have an interest in seeing justice carried out. Has she even been asked?"

"No," Bashir's voice was tight. "Doctor Lange is unaware of any proceedings. As she is currently unaware of the reasons why any proceedings would be in the offing."

"Details as to why perhaps, Doctor," Ch'Pok amended the claim. "Not reasons. Surely Doctor Lange is aware she has been injured by a member or members of some Threat Force?"

"Which, speaking of," Odo nodded.

"Indeed," Sisko confronted Ch'Pok. "Be advised, Advocate, that if I find your platform to include the identification of a Threat Force allowed in the interim to continue unchallenged, potentially jeopardizing all or any resident of this station, it will not be contempt of court you find hanging over your head. Is that clear?"

"Most assuredly, Captain," he swore. "I no more know who they are, than you do, as I am certain you are doing everything within your power, as always, to identify and neutralize any threat to this station. To that end, however, a Threat Force in its most general sense, is likely our best argument for securing Legate Damar's assistance, however minor, in helping to identify the correct responsible party, or parties, obviously still at large."

"Which they had better not even hint of Klingon orchestration!" Sisko was in the Advocate's face.

"No more Klingon, than Chief O'Brien is responsible, Captain," Ch'Pok purred. "Unfortunately, I am not as confident we won't find the fault of Doctor Lange's assault not to be connected in some way to this conference issue; obviously it must be one or the other. Either personal or politically motivated; a rare instance indeed would find it both."

"Otherwise known as Maquis," Odo muttered to Dax.

"Or some other equally deluded radical left, Constable," Ch'Pok smiled. "Who, yes, have a tendency to embrace their politics rather personally."

"Right," Odo corrected. "Extremist conservative right, in their opinion. The base of your platform could stand from a little homework. Maquis doctrine has always accused the Federation treatise with Cardassia of flying in the face of convention; a convention they intended to uphold."

"If you insist," Ch'Pok shrugged. "The Empire holds to a different view."

"Yes, well, the Empire falls into the category of extreme right," Odo nodded to Sisko. "Not that Damar doesn't. Good luck. You'll need it." About as much as he would need the same amount of luck in persuading Bashir. "Well?"

"Well, what?" Bashir huffed.

"Barring my ignorance of the appropriate etiquette of psychological counseling and Humans, it wouldn't hurt to add Lange's account to the record. Doesn't have to be me she speaks to, it can be Major Kira under supervision of yourself and Veronica Sorge. As, and if the Captain has no objections, I can see no harm in Major Kira being in attendance with you and Sorge throughout his interview."

"None at all, Constable," Sisko assured. "No more than I can see a reason to exhaust Doctor Lange when one interview should suffice. The only interest I have is in ascertaining if Doctor Lange has anything of value to add to the record, either by some degree of recollection of her assault, or of some other event prior."

"I doubt it," Bashir insisted. "Highly. But I will discuss with Veronica the feasibility of Janice submitting to an interview some time tomorrow."

"It would be appreciated, Doctor." Sisko's nod was for Dax and Worf. "Until then, if you would see to the Chief's return -- "

"To his cell," O'Brien stood up. "Right. To his cell. I'm still here, remember? And may I say thanks for the moving show of support -- especially yours," he singled out Odo, who you couldn't convince him, wasn't enjoying his assigned role, regardless of what he claimed to the contrary.

Odo was, in all honesty enjoying his assignment quite a lot. Just not for the reason of condemning the Chief to a life as roommate to Cardassia's former Emperor Dukat in that Federation prison for the criminally insane. "It's called order; justice. The preservation thereof. With which I'm sure your Federation will agree, mandates no one is above the law; as in no one. Any other questions?"

No. The Chief left under escort of Worf and Dax.

"Yes, well," Bashir felt obliged to advise Odo, "I wouldn't take the Chief's hostility to heart."

"I don't," Odo assured for reasons other than he didn't have a heart; not as an organ, anyway.

"Quite," Bashir smiled. "As chances are the Chief will be far angrier with me when he finds out I've notified Keiko; she's en route from Earth with the children. It will be a week or more naturally before she arrives, as it may not be here, but rather the UFP, if the Chief does end up being extradited for trial."

"That was presumptuous of you, Doctor," Sisko found his voice to comment.

"Was it?" Bashir said. "In my opinion it's rather presumptuous of the Chief to think he can somehow avoid telling his wife. Keiko is his wife, after all. Firm in her belief Miles can't be anything but innocent. That ought to make someone happy," his smile flashed before he left. "I know it does me."

"Have I missed something, gentlemen?" Ch'Pok inquired of the look passing between Sisko and Odo.

"No," Odo drawled. "Not according to you. We'll see though, won't we?"

If O'Brien had laughed upon Ch'Pok's appearance in his isolation cell, Damar laughed even harder upon the Advocate's appearance in his quarters; Sisko and the Changeling Odo at the Klingon's side. Damar laughed, and laughed. Offering a reasonable and fair amount of arguments and accusations, insults and threats, in tune with Sentinel Tan's somewhat more boisterous accompaniment. When it was all over, about twenty minutes, the only thing Damar would concede to considering was corresponding with his government for their opinion of this latest joint Federation-Bajoran conspiracy to whitewash the whole affair. There was something to be said however for that ancient Earth expression of 'he who laughs last' especially if the mirthless howl breaks into a shrewd smile once safely again behind closed doors; out of sight and hearing of the Federation and the Klingon Ch'Pok.

"A Cardassian fleet?" Damar gloated to the flustered and frustrated Tan. "En route? Should I be flattered or agog? I wouldn't say it's his father's arrogance Dukat embraces, but his insanity. The more he attempts to create a reason for staying, the greater the risk he takes at revealing what he hopes to conceal. Don't say I didn't warn him -- or you. Your mutiny will no more go unchallenged by Central Command than Dukat's pandering."

Tan shoved Damar out of his way with a snarl, leaving the Emperor in the competent attendance of two sentries while he informed the Gul of this latest twist in events.

"His words are noted and accurate," Anar was not of a mind to dismiss Damar's threats of Anon's inevitable exposure and expulsion so lightly. Unfortunately neither was he really of the mind to attempt to encourage Anon to heed them. The secured reports of Janice's condition were horrifying as they were enraging. The Federation's continued persecution of O'Brien suggesting to Anar only that Hawk had covered his tracks well. "Some choice," he acknowledged to Anon.

"Choice?" Anon said coldly. "I am not leaving without Janice. Who cares what the Klingons know, don't know, think they do."

"All. Or part. Or nothing," Anar agreed. "As it continues to be unlikely Janice will be in any condition to leave without Bashir."

"Then we don't leave without Bashir either," he insisted. "The Federation is satisfied with O'Brien, I am satisfied."

"Settling for O'Brien perhaps," Anar replied calmly. "That doesn't change O'Brien's innocence to guilt. The Federation's method of justice is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by trial, not simply sentencing of the guilty with an explanation to the reasons why behind the crime."

Anon ignored what he couldn't understand about the Federation's legal system anyway. "What do you want me to do? Wait? Yes! Two days more for the fleet to arrive and that's it."

"Well, it's as grand an escort as any," Anar supposed though his colony was the long way home to Cardassia Prime, with Anon's flight plan likely to raise its own series of questions from all the wrong directions; the Klingons among them.

Anon's chin jutted forward. "I am assuming the responsibility of returning the Neutral representative to her colony. That's the only answer anyone has to be given. They don't like it, too bad."

"What the UFP will likely suspect," Anar corrected, "is a Cardassian attempt to act upon its apparent suspicion of a surviving Maquis faction along the ring of outer colonies separating our borders; a suspicion true or false, and every intent of finding out. They'll stop the fleet in any event, Anon. Sian and I will find our own way home; we found it here. The issue is more the untimely disappearance of Doctors Bashir and Lange, and what you plan to do with Bashir after the fact? When Janice is not returned to the colony, but with you to Cardassia Prime? Where Bashir will sit in attendance until Janice is well? Debrief him? The Cardassian way?"

"What do you suggest instead?" Anon waited, his temper burning.

Anar tested a glance Tan's direction first. "Leave Janice here on Terok Nor in Bashir's care."

"No." Anon's refusal was immediate.

"Until she is well enough to travel and in no further need of medical treatment -- Janice needs Bashir because she's Human, Anon," he reminded. "Whatever scientific data Central Command has accumulated over fifty years of Occupation; Janice is Human, not Bajoran. As marked a difference between us and her, as there is between you and I. As do I swear by the Prophets, I will see to Janice's safe return to the colony, giving time for all tempers to cool, and time as well for you to make arrangements to secure her…

"As would I," he sighed, knowing he was talking to a wall, one that would either decide to listen of his own volition or decide not to, "guard myself and my answers well if by chance you are called upon to give testimony come Saturday and the engineer's hearing."

"Hearing," Anon sneered. "Hearing, trial -- they have the evidence, I don't care how many times they want to talk about it. What makes you think O'Brien will live to see his extradition? Never mind anyone else live past the airlocks of Terok Nor?"

Anar looked into him, deeply. Down into the depths of the hatred as desperate as the Federation to blame the first available in an effort to purge itself of any responsibility. He could hear the Prophets words…feelings of guilt show conscience, as conscience becomes all

His own voice spoke out above theirs, "The same faith that has me believing you will see through the blindfold covering your eyes, never mind anyone else having to see through the one covering theirs."

It was moment before Anon answered, turning on his heel for the console. "Don't count on it."

Anar smiled. "I, my young friend, have had little choice but to count on it since the first hour we met."

More words incomprehensible to Anon. As incomprehensible as the ones talking about justice, associative brain functions, neuro transducers and stimulators keeping Janice moving and alive. He had this image of a Borg in his mind; the implants external. That was what he expected to see when he saw her; that was what they had done to his wife -- O'Brien had done to his wife. Who knew why. The answer sure to be found somewhere in the word Federation. He reset his transmission to the UFP. "The fleet crosses the border, that's it. No asking. No stopping. Not Klingons, or anyone," his grin lit up suddenly with the feeling of his brother's presence coming to rest at his side. "The Emperor must be protected. What do you think? O'Brien, not O'Brien. That's the Federation's problem, not ours. Ours is the safety of Damar. That's what Dukat would say, right? That's what he would howl. Well, that's what I'm going to do," he assured. "Learn how to do."

As his father had learned at some point; likely moments after birth rather than waiting twenty-four years to perfect his whine. The soul of the child Ziyal had returned, standing with her brother at his console. It wasn't the presence of Pfrann Anon felt, nor who he believed he talked to without once looking up. The tale of the Cardassian transport Ravinok floated through Anar's mind with its largely fictionalized account of the Bajoran Tora Naprem and her daughter Ziyal by the dictator Dukat. Nothing but woe and misery beset the Cardassian Prefect who attempted to bow, however ungainly, to the constraints of propriety. Endeavoring to keep his unlawful lover protected and hidden, only to lose her first to an unkind fate, then his daughter, and finally his own sanity. Anar no more believed that particular version of the muddied truth than the bulk of the universe believe it, or Dukat's own, eldest son. Anon simply unwilling to take the same chances with Janice that his father claimed not to have any choice in taking with Naprem.

"He will reach a sensible decision," Tan's large head lowered itself to speak confidently in Anar's ear, interpreting Anon's one-sided conversation with himself to be an attempt at just that.

"Yes," Anar maintained his belief in Anon's integrity. "I would be prepared however," he prophesied, "for sensible to be a matter of opinion. I doubt if Anon will deny Janice, or leave her behind."

Tan answered after a reasonable time. "Then we will not deny her."

Anar looked at him. The giant shrugged in wisdom and resignation that all the arguments in the universe wouldn't, couldn't necessarily change everything; his explanation for that inexplicable phenomenon succinct. "Some things just are."

Like the Klingon raktajino in the commissary aboard the Tir. A favorite of the imperfect daughter Ziyal perhaps? Or Dukat no doubt at some point anticipating a confrontation with Chancellor Gowron? Hopes and a life that were not destined to come to pass. The former Prefect's reign over his own world one of the shortest in Cardassian history; the daughter, dead. Anar watched the troubled soul of the child Ziyal; her mottled and damned face saddened by her brother's pain. Tan was silent. Oblivious as everyone else to their vigilant visitor who lifted her eyes only once from her brother to catch Anar's; he looked away.

Sisko's attention was on the task at hand, not what he might see when he met with Major Kira in Lange's isolation chamber; Doctors Bashir and Sorge in as closely guarded attendance as Kira. A confused, apprehensive whisper of a young woman, perhaps; Lange? It was true Sisko scarcely recognized Janice sitting stiffly in a comfortable armchair. The image of frailty enhanced by the snarled mass of long brown hair and single neuro monitor with its steady green light fixed in place on her right temporal bone.

"What are you saying?" she threatened to unnerve him with her slow to sudden understanding of his carefully worded questions. "Chief O'Brien did this to me? Why would he do this to me?"

It was beyond him. If it was beyond him before, it was certainly beyond his comprehension now.

"Oh, but he didn't," her denial was frightened and lacking certainty; her eyes darting between him and Kira. "He couldn't."

Kira was cold and rigid under her smile, her hand helping Lange to push her hair out of her eyes shaking slightly in anger, not nervousness. "Captain Sisko is trying to find out why. We talked about that, remember?"

Which the young woman might, yes, if they didn't inadvertently aid in her confusion by cloistering her behind their flutter of protective hands and whispers all talking at once. Sisko's glance sought Counselor Sorge. Her field of expertise ineffective alongside Kira's power, control, absolute authority and command. Sisko stood up.

"She's exhausted," Bashir hastened to explain Lange's inability to focus long enough to cooperate.

"Noticeably distracted, yes," Sisko said, "by the four of us."

"Well, yes," Bashir agreed. "That's what I've attempted to explain. It's not even been -- "

"Two days," Sisko said. "Reasonable, Doctor, her physical status. In the meantime the cuts and the bruises have been treated and cleaned; the child's body will mend. As will their injured emotions and yours, given a chance to."

"What?" Bashir said.

"Jake," Sisko tipped his head; the analogy in reference to his son. Once an infant, and now a young man nearing twenty years old. "There's nothing more elating than their first steps, nothing more terrifying than their first fall -- which, God forbid!" he swore with a father's emphasis, "it ever happen again. Which it won't, not if you have anything to say about it. Which you do have everything and nothing to say about it; I've been there, Doctor. And somewhere back there, I not only had to pick Jake up, I had to somehow find the courage to set him back down and allow him to try again, with risk of it happening all over again."

"Well, yes, I understand what you're saying, but, no, I hardly agree. Janice is not a child; certainly not my child. It isn't the same -- "

"It's the same," Sisko stopped him. "A choice you've had to face and make with the thousands of patients before Lange, a choice you will face and make again in the thousands who will come after. Few, I grant you, more obviously innocent. Obviously a victim -- "

"A tragedy, yes," Bashir insisted. "Utterly."

"And few," Sisko stressed his point, "ever given the opportunity of a second chance. Don't rob her of her miracle, Doctor, in other words."

"Oh," Bashir said.

"Yes," Sisko nodded.

"Oh, well, with that, yes, I certainly agree."

"Yes," Sisko had a feeling he would.

"And, yes, you're right, actually. You're absolutely right, as a matter of fact."

"I've been there, Doctor," Sisko nodded, "as I've said."

"Yes, you certainly have. And there's more truth to your analogy than you might suspect. Actually it isn't me really who's insisting upon treating Janice as if she were little more than a child; it's Kira," Bashir disclosed. First in the manner of an embarrassed confession of his own near impotence alongside Kira's fierce, at times brash, defined as rude, approach. Proceeding on with a tone of confidential discretion in an attempt to analyze for Sisko's understanding why Kira might be behaving the way she was behaving, never mind why, or how, anyone else might behaving -- it didn't matter. Sisko had a headache when he walked into Lange's hospital room, Bashir insuring he had a headache when he left with the addendum of Lange having wanted to have a conference with Kira the night of her assault.

"A conference?" Sisko halted in the corridor with a frown, recalling Dax had made mention of Kira's scheduled meeting with Lange.

"During the time of her assault," Bashir had followed him out. "I'm not sure what exactly it may mean, if it means anything. Other than Janice does remember -- with Kira's prompting -- of wanting to schedule the appointment with Kira for 1800, not 1900 which apparently ended up to be the agreed time. Unfortunately, however, Janice simply can't remember why, or what about. I know it's right around the time the Chief left the bar, if not precisely the very time the Chief left the bar. But, again, what that might mean, if it means anything at all?"

"A conference," Sisko continued to frown.

"Mysterious, isn't it?" Bashir agreed. "Surely it had to be about something… Daresay, I hope for the Chief's sake it wasn't anything to do with some sort of overture he may have made; who knows?"

"I would," Sisko assured. "While I may have been oblivious, Doctor, to however many private conversations the Chief may have had with you, Garak, Quark, or Commander Dax, concerning Doctor Lange, I would have noticed any 'overture' however subtle."

"Subtle," Bashir smiled, pondering that. "There's an interesting word. I'm not sure how many people have ever accused Miles Edward O'Brien of being subtle; I know I certainly haven't, probably never will."

"That would be in line with the pot calling the kettle black, yes,” Sisko agreed.

"What?" Bashir said.

Sisko nodded. "Which could probably be said about most of us, Doctor, in jest."

"Well, yes, it could certainly be said about Major Kira…" Bashir mumbled in agreement as Sisko turned away, and he turned to walk back inside. "I'm not so sure about in jest…or how many teeth one would have left even if it were said only in jest…Hello!" he beamed a bright and cheery greeting to Janice. "Well, that certainly was a bit of excitement, wasn't it?"

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