The Time of Hagalaz, Presumed Guilty Part One

Chapter Twenty-One

"Party's getting a little rough." Odo presented Sisko with his official summary of the first minor altercation of the day that saw the tussle between Anon and Leeta quickly put down by Major Kira. Further investigation, if the Captain felt it warranted, would likely reveal Anon was ruffled though unharmed. As it would also likely reveal some equally minor role played by Doctor Lange, Rom, a towel, a glass of water, and a reasonably sized white bowl of yamok sauce.

"Hair," Odo nodded to his attending deputy Morn securing the necessary strand of evidence from the aforementioned bowl. Brown flecked with gold and a meter or so in length, Odo didn't need to order a forensic scan analysis to determine its owner.

Beyond that the confrontation had the usual up on their feet and as quickly urged to sit back down by those who were supposed to take control, taking control of the situation already under control before the last of security present set aside their boredom to pick up their rifles and point them wherever, at whomever, they needed to point them. In general, which would be at no one and nowhere. Unless one wanted to count Damar, arguably the loudest complainer. O'Brien, arguably the second. Major Kira briefly given to stamping her feet probably had her reasons.

"So it would seem, Constable. Time to get back to work." Sisko agreed with the assessment, closing his eyes to Damar's thunderous shout from the Cardassian corner of the conference room. Unfortunately the Captain was stymied from making a clean getaway.

"Party's getting a little rough, isn't it, Sisko?" Damar crossed the room in great strides, the knuckles of both his hands slamming down on the table. "Time to get back to doing a little work."

"Yes, well, that's probably also a first," Odo grunted for Sisko's information. It wasn't every day the Federation and Cardassian government forces found themselves in such mutual agreement, harmony and accord in any matter. Let alone matters of security and battle.

"So it is," Sisko also agreed with that. Damar he just looked at rather tiredly.

"And then what?" Damar demanded. "Dinner at Quark's for another round of good times, good cheer --”

"Good nights," Odo agreed. "2300 sounds about right. Early to bed, early to rise. That sort of thing."

"Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." Sisko was familiar with the adage; he ought to be, it was Human. "I'll be well satisfied with healthy, Constable, thank you."

"Don't mention it."

Damar chose to ignore the advice. "I have a better idea. We prefer to take our meals in our quarters from now on."

"Out of the question." Sisko was firm in his decision to keep the group a group, not only the altercations, minor or otherwise where he could see them. "Push me, Legate, and we'll all be bunking together."

"Told you not to mention it," Odo gave Damar a nod.

"On the contrary, Constable," Damar countered, "I was just about to take you up on your invitation."

He had a change of heart apparently as he walked away leaving Odo to explain to Sisko's searching look just what constituted an invitation.

"Damar's suggested he has information that would require an immediate halt to the proceedings," Odo complied.

"They're his proceedings, Constable," Sisko said. "He may end them any time he so chooses. He hardly needs our approval or blessing."

"I tried that approach," Odo agreed. "It didn't work. So your guess is as good as mine. Bluff or no bluff. If no bluff, I wouldn't necessarily discount it as no threat." It was his turn to give Sisko a searching look.

The Captain wasn't by nature a man of rash decisions even it meant taking a few necessary moments to reconsider his own. "Barring the obvious risks, Constable," Sisko slowly shook his head, "I would prefer not to find Dukat's body in a Jefferies tube, if that is going to be at all possible. Their quarters are two doors away from each other. We can move them to two corridors; we can play musical chairs. The question is a matter of opportunity, and I would prefer to keep chance for such opportunity to the barest minimum."

"Not that it can't happen between the hours of 2300 and zero-seven," Odo said. "And not that the body can't be Damar's. With a line of suspects stretching from the security office to the gates of the worm hole. Through the ranks of Cardassians, Klingons, Bajorans, Federation and civilians alike. Understood. Don't push you or we will find ourselves bunking down together."

"So we will," Sisko promised, truthfully of a mind to issue the order now as he had been last evening. Little did he know what little difference it would have made if he had other than throwing a monkey wrench into the evening plans of Gul Dukat and Doctor Lange.

Elsewhere and concurrently Bashir was taking up his position as first to wave the white flag of surrender, a breath or two ahead of O'Brien's complaints.

"All right! All right!" Bashir was not about to argue the virtues of sitting, standing, or cowering with anyone. "I'm a doctor!" And aside from the Bajoran was three times the size of him, "I know exactly," he gingerly moved the phaser rifle out of sight of his left nostril, "just how much damage that can do."

"Oh, yes," Garak exhaled deeply, "so do I. I can assure you, so do I."

As did the Chief. "Excuse me," O'Brien challenged his particular jolly Bajoran giant with the trigger-happy finger, "but I was out fighting wars when you were at home sucking your thumb. Okay? I was out fighting wars. So unless you're planning to use that thing -- which I don't suggest you even try -- get it out of my face on the count of one."

"Explains why we have a tendency to win," Bashir cleared his throat in offered explanation to anyone who might be remotely interested.

"Oh, yes," Garak was equally not willing to gamble Cardassia's National Treasury the Chief wouldn't up and throw a right-cross into the discussion. "Yes, that it certainly could."

"Or at least go down fighting," Bashir grinned down the line of stony faces to the mildly amusing spectacle of another Bajoran security officer, this one trying Worf's patience. He was a slender man. Not too thin and not extraordinarily tall, though not short. Simply noticeably hardly the size of the defensive line behind him or of Worf with whom he appeared to take great umbrage. Otherwise he was generally unremarkable. Sandy-blond hair roughly around Bashir's age of thirty or so with a narrow face and strong, determined chin interestingly squared to the point it almost appeared to have been sheared off. "I'm sure it's been said before. It can be somewhat difficult to tell an Irishman from a Klingon and vice versa."

"Maybe for you," the Bajoran sneered, personally having no particular difficulty picking Klingons, Cardassians, or for that matter Human Neutrals out of the crowd. She was lucky Shakaar's, Janice Lange. She had no idea how lucky she was. In a universe where every moment and every point counted, now was not the time, the conference room not the place to address the issue waiting to be addressed emphatically loud and unmistakably clear.

"Quite." Bashir cleared his throat again at the officer's expression of ill-temper with a nod to Worf. "You were saying?"

Worf huffed. "I am saying," he reiterated to the officer, "I am Worf, your Security Chief. As I have explained to Captain Sisko this morning, there is a reason why I am not in uniform. A point as to why you may not recognize me."

"Actually, I'm your Security Chief," Dax returned to the table with a pat of Worf's arm and a promise for all of the Bajorans. "It's all right. Worf initially confuses most people even when he is in uniform."

"Oh, right," O'Brien scoffed, his temper and face still burning red and hot, "like no one notices a Klingon, I don't care if he's wearing a dress. Who the hell do they think he is?"

"Chief," Dax suggested.

"Stick to your own side of the line and I'll stick to mine," O'Brien reminded. "Which, just for the record," he apprised the crowd, the one clustered around the table, the rest of them inside the conference room and out in the corridor, "the name's O'Brien. Miles Edward O'Brien, Chief Engineer. I've been sitting here eating lunch for the last hour along with the rest of them, and that includes you." he zeroed in on Mister Big Mouth. The one Worf could have snapped in half between his thumb and forefinger if he felt in the mood. "Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to see if the woman's all right --what I was planning to do. And if any of you don't like it, try and stop me."

They didn't try and stop him. Neither acting Heads of Security Commanders Dax nor Worf for reasons other than abiding by the nod of the Head of Security Odo. There was no reason to stop O'Brien. What had happened was over, and it was a matter of opinion if anything really happened at all.

Reason number two, likely more significant than number one, was that nod of approval sent Odo's way to grant the Chief his way. One Odo merely passed on and whose origins could be traced to Captain Sisko the undisputed Head of the whole nine yards not too involved with reminding Legate Damar of that fact not to notice what his senior staff might be doing. Especially since it was plainly clear what Damar's senior staff were doing. Nothing. Who probably settled back the quickest into picking up his lunch where he left off was Gul Dukat. Easy for him to do, he was the one who started the ruckus. Pfrann followed a close second, rejoining his brother at their table.

Who was having a little difficulty resettling other than the Chief was Leeta. Who was clearly upset in a different way was Doctor Lange. Horrified, crossed Odo's mind. Following disbelief, followed by deep, almost profound sadness. The young woman's face expressed a gamut of emotions in just under a minute, ultimately breaking out into a smile around the time Kira stopped stamping her feet. Odo had no idea why. Suspecting it had something to do with being Human, Neutral, female, young. All of the above or just the idea she had yamok sauce in her hair. Something Chief O'Brien did not yet know and would be further outraged to learn by the look on his face as he approached. Odo stood a little taller in his official brown uniform. Not because he planned on meeting the Chief head on, simply because he loved his job.

"I think I might take umbrage to that." Quark crawled out from under a convenient nearby table to say.

"That's your problem," Odo assured.

"Not your latent tendencies for dictatorship. That." Quark scrutinized the gaily splattered rear wall, floor and buffet table. "What is it? Yamok sauce or someone's blood?"

"Yamok sauce," Odo agreed.

"Uh, huh," Quark said. "Okay, I'll bite. Is it over with or what? Did it start? What did I miss? Did I miss anything? Something? Nothing? Hello!" he insisted above Leeta's caterwaul for Rom. "Don't pay any attention to her, answer me. She just realized she broke a nail, I'm trying to find out if I'm alive or dead. The two cannot compare…What?" he snarled to Rom toddling over. "A broken fingernail does not qualify for hazardous duty pay or time off for cosmetic repairs. He's Cardassian. She's lucky that's all she broke. Trust me. If it were feasible to rip a Cardassian's head off and hand it to him, his old man would have been dead a long time ago. Where was I?" he returned to Odo. "What's the bottom line? Are we on for nine o'clock or not? Table for forty-six? Sixty-three? That should put enough empty seats between them."

"That's sound about right," Odo agreed.

"I was afraid you were going to say something like that," Quark sighed.

Back to who also didn't attempt to stop the Chief. That would be Commander Dax's little group of hotheaded Bajorans to whom she offered the following golden piece of advice: "Lighten up, fellows."

"It wasn't a question of not recognizing anyone, Commander," the Bajoran Captain made no excuses himself or his group, merely his point for the official record.

"No," Dax understood that. "It's a question of doing your job -- great job," she gave him a congratulatory pat on the arm. Intentionally. She wanted to see just how ill-tempered and far he was willing to take it. Just about that far, though he wasn't happy about it. So he was a controlled extremist. She made a note to herself to have Odo pull the officer's psychiatric profile to run it by Julian and Benjamin to see if Benjamin wanted to order a new one, or dismiss the officer on the grounds of just not willing to take any chances. She had an idea Benjamin would dismiss him and it would help to keep things tidy on the Bajoran front if he had Julian's analysis in hand when the transmission went out to the UFP and Shakaar.

"How's your psychiatry?" Dax twinkled at Bashir when the group of Bajorans went their merry way and before she went hers. "I may want you to take a look at a profile for Benjamin."

"Psychiatry?" Bashir startled. "The Chief's not acting that much out of the ordinary, is he? Not in my opinion. Certainly not to where a psychiatric evaluation is warranted."

Dax didn't know what to say. Half of her wanted to laugh. The other half? "Julian…" she hesitated.

Bashir winked. "There's more to good health than exercising and eating right. I believe I may have mentioned that last night. I'm sure the root of the Chief's troubles lie in that he's had another heart to heart talk with Keiko still refusing to return to the station and he's annoyed. Plain and simply annoyed."

"Actually," Dax smiled, "I think if Lange invokes anything in the Chief, she invokes his fatherly side."

"As opposed to Kira's motherly instincts?" Bashir grinned. "That's not what she invokes in me, but, yes, you're probably right."

"As far as the psychiatric evaluation…" Dax leaned over with a whisper for his ear alone rather than chance causing all out panic that they might be at the mercy of 300 heavily armed terrorists rather than under their protection, "I meant Worf's Bajoran friend."

"Oh," Bashir said. "Well, that's a given, certainly yes. I'm confident the man's profile in general would frighten most of us into a fetal state, as would the vast majority of them. We are talking Federation and Bajoran Special Forces. I'm not quite sure just how 'normal' normal can be…at the very least," he tossed an explanatory aside Garak's way, "they certainly a friendly little group, wouldn't you say?"

"Oh, yes," Garak just nodded. "Oh, yes. Quite congenial, as you say."

"Yes, well, what I say and what I mean are two different things -- rather like Dukat." Bashir pulled up his chair to sit back down and finish his lunch now that the excitement was over. "To be quite frank, I'm not even quite sure what the excitement was. From my perspective -- make that vantage point," he winked at Garak with a flutter of his hand towards the yamok sauce. "Are you through with that?"

"This?" Garak picked up the cruet mildly perplexed.

"Acute desperation coupled with general curiosity," Bashir admitted. "I've been eating lunch with you practically every day for the past six years, and I still don't know exactly what it is -- what is it? Some Cardassian version of ketchup? One hundred different uses, by far the vast majority of them to disguise something you don't like, or rather not know what it is?"

"Oh, well, I'm not quite sure I'm quite sure of that," Garak passed on his world's traditional compliment to one's evening, noon and morning meal for Julian to decide for himself.

"It's as vile as ketchup," Bashir pronounced, tasting the bitter-sweet concoction that looked like watery jam, was sticky like glue and smelled about as appetizing as rubber cement.

"Is that good or bad?" Garak wondered.

"Either way it'll have to do," Bashir liberally spooned the sauce over his salad. "Daresay one's liable to inspire a riot by asking someone else so much as to pass the salt, please."

"Oh, yes," Garak agreed. "Yes, that is entirely possible. You're right…As were you," he encouraged, mildly intrigued himself to know what the fuss was actually all about, "saying something about your vantage point? Or from your vantage point?"

"Quite," Bashir carefully taste-tested his salad to ensure he wouldn't prefer to be eating his socks after all. "Not half bad. Takes a little bit of getting used to. Somewhat of an acquired taste -- an adult taste. Surely you wouldn't consider serving this to a child under the age of five without risk of sending their immature and developing digestive system into some sort of paralytic or fatal spasm?"

"Oh, yes," Garak promised. "And no, of course, to the latter…As is it interesting," he pressed, "always, how one person sees what another person doesn't necessarily…"

"Leeta," Bashir took a bit of his fork-full of greens, washing it down with a half a glass of root beer.

"Leeta," Garak paused.

"I'm quite sure Dukat said something moderately offensive and off-color to her, aren't you? Certainly to be expected. She is a remarkably attractive woman…and, well, to be quite frank…" he treated Garak with a confident and knowing masculine smile, the sleeve of his jumpsuit rested dangerously close to the rim of his plate. "The official uniform of Quark's Dabo hostesses isn't exactly designed to send a man screaming from the room. To the contrary, it is specifically designed to capture one's attention, and capture our attention it does."

"How…brazen of you, Julian," Garak could only say. "Yes, how bold your theory."

Bashir straightened up with a shrug. "It's true. Seduction conceived, planned and executed. A matter of routine. Both the response and the reaction to the response…Am I breaking out?" he patted his forehead, feeling these little beads of sweat beginning to form along his brow. Rising to a near and immediate panic when an examination of his napkin revealed faint stains of purple, red and yellow. He dismissed the yellow; clearly the Chief's mustard. "Good heavens, I'm not starting to bleed, am I? Some sort of superficial hemorrhage of the subscapular blood vessels…"

"Julian!" Garak's cool, clammy fingers clamped over his wrist.

"No," Bashir breathed deeply. "No, course I'm not. It's only yamok sauce. The same is that is only mustard…I knew what the yellow was."

"Yes," Garak nodded understandingly. "And it will be our secret."

"Secret?" Bashir repeated. "What secret's that?"

Garak smiled. "You don’t have to finish eating your salad, Julian, if you really don't want to."

"Not eat it?" Bashir stared at his plate. "What do you mean? Of course I want to eat it. Takes a little bit of getting used to that's all. As I said. But that's nothing to do with not wanting to eat it. Don't be absurd."

"As you wish," Garak nodded. "Back to this theory of yours…not to be callous or unkind."

"Bold and brazen," Bashir reminded. "I insist I'm neither. I hardly mean any offense to Leeta. She is a thoroughly charming and delightful woman. Interesting conversationalist -- and far more intelligent than one might think. Clever, certainly. Calculating in her own way. Half the charm of being a woman. With a woman. Around a woman," he grinned. "At least a portion of the time."

"As is Doctor Lange an extremely attractive woman," Garak nodded, "encompassing all of the above. Yes, I believe we may have also mentioned this."

"Well, the Chief certainly has, and I know I certainly have. But, no, I don't believe I was aware you also looked at Janice with…well, under a feminine light, shall we say? What do you make of the Chief? His actions. Reactions, is probably a better description. Is he acting somewhat out of character, or is it just me?"

"Out of character," Garak savored that thought, though not in regards to the Chief. "I must confess from my perspective Leeta appeared to be rising to the defense of Doctor Lange, rather than to her own."

"Janice?" Bashir said. "Well, no, I don't believe I noticed that."

"As far as the Chief…" Garak considered, because, yes, he admitted Julian's question had its intriguing qualities, as well as its own potential for trouble. "Boredom, perhaps. Frustration. Annoyance. As you suggest."

"I suggest," Bashir chuckled. A masculine chuckle again. Very masculine. "The Chief could very well find himself in hot water if he doesn't take a few steps back."

"Couldn't we all," Garak nodded. "Couldn't we all. Upon occasion, haven't we?"

"Perhaps you have," Bashir laughed. "If I ever have, I wasn't aware of it. If I ever do, I'm sure I'll come out of it just fine."

"I believe you. I do." Garak studied him, eating his lunch, intermittently patting his perspiring brow. "Julian?" he smiled.

"What?" Bashir said.

"Have you considered not wearing your uniform under your jumpsuit? The thermostat controls of the immediate area have been set higher than what you might normally be accustomed to…No doubt to ensure the comfort of our Cardassian guests," Garak tipped his head in commendation of Captain Sisko's gesture of good will. No doubt with the idea in mind of it being one less complaint he would have to listen to. As were the lights of the conference room, corridor and auditorium, softened to a gentler amber hue. Though Garak likewise wasn't willing to bet Cardassia's shaky financial security that the moderately dimmed light could be found to be a contributing factor to everyone's inability to see the forest for the trees except when it came to the ironic matter of Chief O'Brien.

"No, I hadn't thought of that," Bashir shook his head. "I have considered turning out in formal dress this evening. Chances are quite good I will -- 2100 I believe? Quark's?"

"Quark's?" Dukat stared at his daughter standing there complacently.

Ziyal shrugged. "What are the lives of a few hundred in a universe immune to the cries of millions?"

"I don't care about millions," Dukat insisted. "I'm care about my son -- sons!" He shoved Ziyal into the path of Kira. "Talk to her. She can't refuse to listen, not to you!"

"I can't, father," she apologized. "I wish I could, but it doesn't seem to work that way."

"Then how does it work?" he demanded. "When I can see you perfectly, hear you as well?"

She was there in front of Anar's tricorder and gone a moment later, not even a residual trace of energy registering, and yet he knew he saw her; the striking outline of a young Cardassian woman in civilian dress, her proud beauty startling, a perfume of sweet wine surrounding her.

"What's wrong?" his son sensed what he perceived as his father's foreboding.

"I'm not sure anything is wrong," Anar confessed, less shaken by the vision than he was perplexed.

"You can feel their souls," Sian nodded down the long, darkened narrow corridor of ore rooms. Their walls the same grey color as the Cardassian skin. Their heat now cold, their noise, silent.

"Their souls are with the Prophets," Anar replied. "Other than the condemned. The child was Cardassian, not Bajoran."

"What child?"

Anar didn't know, only that her body was dead and he was beset by a sudden and inexplicable thirst for a cooling glass of Bajoran Spring wine. "Not in celebration of your death, child; it is the heat of the ore bays only, " he meditated to ease her soul. "You have less to fear from me today then you may once have had. If my son and I disturb your grave, we apologize. Our quest is one of peace, not slaughter -- "

"To preserve the future of our two worlds and others, not avenge the past." The Prophets answered in their androgynous chorus, dried seeds of grapes raining down like tiny pellets at his feet. The young woman was back in front of his tricorder, her flesh seared with phaser burns, her bones drying brittle and white.

"All is forgiven?" Anar guessed perhaps she waited to hear? She smiled slightly and was gone, leaving him as perplexed as before.
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