'It's no raktajino, but...'
She took a larger gulp. She was getting used to the stuff. When the Cardassians had retaken Deep Space Nine, they'd removed raktajino from all the station replicator menus. Far be it for them with their precious Cardassian pride to drink a beverage of a current enemy, no matter how tasty it was.
But that was okay. Nerys could get used to anything. Lakarian thistle tea, Cardassian protocols, even...
Her eyes drifted up the steps to the commander's office. She still thought of it as Sisko's room, although Sisko was probably halfway across the Alpha Quadrant at the moment. The man sitting behind the desk in there right now was Gul Dukat.
Maybe there were some things she couldn't get used to. Or even if she could, she wouldn't want to.
Bevit'ivox stood stiffly near the wall in Quark's, listening with half an ear to his Vorta, Weyoun, conferring with the Cardassian, Damar, at a table. The bulk of his attention was on the other activity in the bar, on all the Cardassians at their games and drinks, on the Ferengi staff in their colorful clothes bustling among the tables. He looked upon them all with disdain.
The Cardassians fancied themselves allies of the Dominion, and for now it pleased the Founders to allow them to think so. But Bevit'ivox knew in his bones it would not last. The Cardassians were inferior, destined to be no more than another subject race of the Dominion, and their behavior rankled him.
'They are weak! Soft! Nowhere else is this more evident than this establishment! They think themselves soldiers, but in their leisure they rush to the gaming tables and fill their faces with food! How dare they consider themselves the equals of the Jem'hadar!'
He would rather be out on the front lines fighting against the Klingons and the Federation, than here on what the Cardassians called Terok Nor. This kind of guard duty was soft duty, not the kind of a thing true soldiers desired. Still, as annoyed as he was at this duty, Bevit'ivox was a Jem'hadar, and he would obey his Vorta no matter his personal feelings. That was the way of things.
Weyoun and Damar finished their meeting, and Damar left. But Weyoun tarried at his seat, his head cocked slightly to one side, toward another table occupied by three Cardassians. Was Weyoun listening in on their conversation? Bevit'ivox focused on their words, which had been previously no more than part of the background chatter.
"I can't believe Gul Dukat allowed the Bajorans to have their own independant security force," one of the Cardassians complained, contempating his bright blue beverage. "You'd think a man like him would understand the need to keep those... people on a tight leash."
"At least they don't have their own officers," a second Cardassian said. "They're commanded by the shapeshifter. I served on Terok Nor during the Occupation, and I found Odo to be quite competant. I have no objections as long as he's in charge."
"But he's so full of himself now," the third Cardassian objected. "At least during the Occupation he knew who put the yamok sauce on his tojal. The other day I asked him to do the Cardassian neck trick. And he refused! Can you believe it?"
"Bah! He'd be nothing but a curio in some freakshow if Gul Dukat hadn't given him that security assignment!" the second Cardassian fumed. "He should know his place!"
'They're talking about the Founder! How dare they speak of a god so disrespectfully!' Bevit'ivox was enraged.
Weyoun rose abruptly. Bevit'ivox and his other Jem'hadar guard immediately took their positions flanking their Vorta. Weyoun stepped over to the Cardassian table. "Gentlemen! I couldn't help but overhear your conversation..." he touched one of his ears. "And rudeness toward the Founders is not tolerated among members of the Dominion."
The Cardassians stared blankly at Weyoun. Bevit'ivox gave them his best glare. One of the Cardassians shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "We meant no disrespect to Odo. We were merely discussing his talents."
Weyoun waited a moment before smiling and nodding. "I'm glad that's settled then. Now..." He leaned forward. "What's this about a 'Cardassian neck trick?'"
The Cardassians looked at each other. "Nothing important," the one who'd spoken before said. "Just something that happened at a party once."
"Are you talking about the Cardassian neck trick?" The bar's Ferengi proprietor came by, holding an empty tray. Without waiting for a response, he continued, gesturing with the tray for emphasis. "You should have SEEN it! It was mag-nificent! Oh, truly the most impressive thing I've seen Odo do--and I've seen him do alot of amazing things, believe me!"
"What IS it?" Weyoun sounded interested.
The Ferengi opened his mouth, then closed it. "Words can't begin to do it justice. You'd have to see it for yourself."
"Ohhhhhh..." Weyoun said. He nodded at the Cardassians. "Good day."
The Jem'hadar started to follow Weyoun as he started toward the door, but the Vorta held up his hand. "No, you two stay here. There's a matter I have to attend to."
Bevit'ivox and the other member of his unit returned to their position by the wall as Weyoun left. The trio of Cardassians returned to their conversation. Time passed as he continued to be annoyed by the frivolity of the other races in the bar.
Suddenly, something bumped into his leg. Bevit'ivox looked down to find a Ferengi boy, staring back at him with wide eyes. The annoyance bubbling in him spilled over. His own brief childhood was five long years behind him, and he had no use for children. He cuffed the youngster on the side of the head and sent him sprawling.
"Get on your way!" He snarled.
The boy got back to his feet and fled. The patrons near Bevit'ivox were staring at him in shock, but he didn't care. He was a Jem'hadar, after all.
The round airlock door was closed, no ship docked at the particular berth, but even so, a pair of Jem'hadar was on guard, standing stiff and straight against the wall, plasma rifles held at the ready. They both jumped in shock as a humanoid figure sudden stepped through the closed airlock door as if it wasn't there. It was dressed in a form-hiding brown robe, hood thrown low and covering its face.
"Don't move!" One of the Jem'hadar snarled as they both levelled their weapons at the hooded figure. "What is this? How did you get onboard?"
"I got here on a ship," the figure replied, throwing back its hood to reveal another Jem'hadar face. "Just like yourself!"
The two Jem'hadar guards blinked. "First?" One of them said in confusion. The other stepped back half a step. "The fault is mine, First! I did not recognize you!"
The robed Jem'hadar placed a companionable hand on the shoulder of the apologizing Jem'hadar. "You are at no fault, Ritatu'klan! You were commanded to be vigilant, and you obeyed! Obedience brings victory!"
"Victory is life!" The Jem'hadar guards returned.
The robed Jem'hadar threw his hood back over his face and went down the hall. The Jem'hadar guards watched him go quietly for a few moments, before shaking themselves and returning to their duty.
The figure muttered in disgust to itself as rounded the corner. "Such wretched creatures, with no desires for themselves. Ugh."
At the entrance to the promenade, the figure was stopped by a Cardassian security officer. "Take off the hood and let us see your face," the Cardassian ordered.
The hooded figure complied, and the security officer snapped to attention. "Gul Dukat! Sorry, sir!"
Dukat smiled and patted the man on the shoulder. "You're just doing your job, Kurod. I understand."
"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" The security officer said.
Gul Dukat put his hood back on and made his way to Quark's. A Ferengi server greeted him at the door and asked him his pleasure, but the figure ignored the Ferengi and moved into the back. He entered a door marked 'employees only,' walked down a hallway, and passed through another door into a crate-filled storage room.
The room's sole occupant, a small Ferengi boy with a bruise darkening one side of his face, looked up in shock as the hooded figure entered. He scrambled to his feet, dropping the toy he'd been playing with. "Who are you?" he asked fearfully.
"You know me," the figure said in a reassuring tone, pulling back his hood. Beneath it, he was an elderly Ferengi with great drooping ears.
"Uncle Relm!" The boy exclaimed delightedly. He ran up to give the elderly Ferengi a hug.
"It's good to see you too, my boy!" Relm laughed. He took the boy's bruised face in his hand. "But who did this to you?"
"It was the Jem'hadar, Uncle!" The boy whimpered. "They hit me for no reason! They're mean!"
"And what's that you have there, boy?" Relm pointed at the toy on the floor.
"It's Marauder Mo." The boy picked up the toy and showed it to his uncle. It was a cast polymer figurine of a Ferengi man, his muscles and lobes cartoonishly exaggerated. In one hand he clutched a brick of latinum and in the other he held a blue energy whip.
"I see," Relm said. "These Jem'hadar... they sound like bad men."
"They are!" The boy exclaimed. "Very bad men!"
"Someone should do something about them."
"If... if..." The boy held up his action figure. "If only Marauder Mo and his 'sociates were here! They'd punish all the bad men!"
"But Marauder Mo's not real," Relm said sadly. "Oh, how I wish he were real!"
"I wish he was real too," the boy agreed.
A satisfied smile wrinkled the elderly Ferengi's face. "Your wish... is granted."
Odo had been annoyed at first when the door to his office opened and Weyoun came in, already genuflecting toward his desk. But the Vorta was there to talk about work--how to better coordinate the station's three distinct security forces--although his tone and mannerisms remained as unctuous as ever.
SEEMED to be there to talk about work, at least. There was an incongruous article of Weyoun's behavior: he'd entered with a small holographic projecter, which he'd not-quite-casually set on the corner of Odo's desk. There it sat now, projecting the head and bare back of a Cardassian model. Her glossy black hair was twisted into an elaborate bun and her long, sinuous neck was arched at a graceful angle that set off her delicate neck scales.
Weyoun kept glancing toward the hologram as he spoke, and Odo wondered what game the Vorta was up to now... although he had a pretty good idea. During a lull in the conversation, he nodded at the hologram. "I was under the impression that the Vorta didn't share the common humanoid obsession with mating..."
Delight shone from Weyoun's face. "Oh, no! We Vorta are as uninterested in that sort of thing as the Jem'hadar! The Founders were indeed wise to spare us those particular temptations. I was merely appreciating the aesthetics of the image. The... line of her neck, you see."
"Hmph. I happen to know the Vorta weren't engineered with a sense of aesthetics. No..." Odo crossed his arms. "This is something else. Considering that hologram, a roundabout attempt to get me to do the Cardassian neck trick. Who put you up to this? ...It was Quark, wasn't it? He must have talked it up to you so you'd come here to annoy me."
"Perceptive as always, Odo!" Weyoun cried. "As expected of a god!" He genuflected again. "Since you know the true purpose of my visit, may I ask you to show your humble servant this trick?"
"I think not!" Odo said smugly. He was usually annoyed whenever people asked about the neck trick, but now he was taking a perverse satisfaction in denying Weyoun. "I don't do the Cardassian neck trick anymore. But even if I did, I certainly wouldn't show it to you!"
Weyoun looked stricken. "Have I done something to displease you?"
Odo opened his mouth to start reciting the ways in which Weyoun had done just that, but a sudden explosion from outside the security office made him leap to his feet. He and Weyoun shared a shocked glance.
'That came from Quark's!'
Odo slapped his combadge. "Security to the Promenade!"
Bevit'ivox upended a small table and threw himself behind it as a flurry of disruptor shots burned the floor where he'd been standing a moment ago. He peeked around the side of the table, trying to get a grasp on the number of targets and their location.
Chaos was reigning in the bar. Most of the patrons were fleeing, although a few of the braver ones were busy snatching handfuls of latinum strips from the dabo tables. Dabo girls were shrieking and panicking. The confused Cardassian troops were struggling to rally, their reflexes slowed by kanar and full bellies.
There were at least four targets Bevit'ivox could see, firing an assortment of weapons. He struggled with a disorienting sense of surprise as he got a good look at the attackers. It wasn't the attack itself that surprised him; Jem'hadar soldiers were ready to fight at any moment. No, it was the species of the attackers that gave him pause.
They were Ferengi.
All the briefings Bevit'ivox had been on stated that Ferengi were a notoriously unwarlike race. Their small military was more akin to privateers, their capability was limited, and they preferred negotiation over open acts of hostility. As prepared as he was for battle, he had not been expecting an attack by the Ferengi.
Were the Ferengi staff of the bar attacking them? A quick glance around the room showed Bevit'ivox that wasn't the case. The diminutive aliens were all huddled in terror, many of them clutching their bulbous heads in their hands. Such cowardly creatures. Although that in itself didn't mean anything: they could still have been in on the attack or supported it in some way.
Bevit'ivox spotted an opening. One of the Ferengi was wielding a pair of primitive weapons, some kind of wristed-mounted devices that used taut strings to fire small darts. Poisoned darts, by the look of it, as a nearby Cardassian who'd been shot in the leg pitched over, twitching and frothing at the mouth. The Ferengi started to reload, slapping new darts into his weapon, and Bevit'ivox edged up over the top of the table, taking aim at the Ferengi's head.
His finger tightened on the trigger, but before he could fire, a flash of blue lashed toward him from the side. His hand went numb and his plasma rifle dropped from nerveless fingers. Another Ferengi advanced toward him, a long blue ribbon of energy lazily flicking in one hand. He raised the other hand toward Bevit'ivox in a taunting gesture.
Bevit'ivox pulled his kar’takir free of its sheath and charged the Ferengi. He swung his blade at his opponent's shoulder, intending to split him open and end the fight quickly, but the Ferengi sidestepped the blow. His other hand came up in an arc toward Bevit'ivox's head, and the Jem'hadar had a split second to see the object in the Ferengi's hand before it made contact with his skull.
It was a brick of gold-pressed latinum.
Bevit'ivox crashed to the ground. One side of his vision had gone dark, and he tried to roll away, but his arms and legs wouldn't obey him. The side of his head felt strangely huge, with a horrible sense of fullness. He looked up helplessly at the Ferengi, who sneered down at him with tiny sharp teeth before smashing the latinum brick into Bevit'ivox's face.
Nerys and a team of Cardassian soldiers ran onto the Promenade. For a moment, it struck her how odd it was for her of all people to be leading a Cardassian fire team. Then the thought was quickly buried as she saw Quark's. Jem'hadar soldiers and Bajoran deputies were busy forming a perimeter around the bar's entrances. Odo and Weyoun seemed to be holding joint command, and she quickly joined them.
"Nerys," Odo said as she drew near.
Nerys waved her Cardassians toward the wounded and they went to help. She nodded at Odo. "Dukat sent me. What's the situation?"
"We have boarders inside Quark's," Odo responded. "Anywhere from three to seven hostiles. Reports are confused... people are claiming the Ferengi are attacking."
"What?" Nerys wasn't sure she heard that right.
She heard another explosion, and two Jem'hadar soldiers retreated out of the bar's lower entrance, firing back desperately at something inside. A yellow disruptor bolt caught one of them on the shoulder and spun him around like a top. The other made it to the ranks of gathering troops.
"It would appear the Jem'hadar inside can't handle it..." Weyoun remarked dryly to a Jem'hadar near him. He tapped his wrist communicator. "This is Weyoun. I want a containment field around Quark's, both levels."
There was a flash of yellow light as the force field went up. "Now... that should keep them secure until we can gather enough troops to retake the bar." Weyoun sounded satisfied.
"Why bother retaking the bar by force?" Dukat's voice sounded from their combadges. "Why not just pump that containment field full of neurocene gas?"
"Dukat!" Nerys was shocked. "There's still civilians in there! And your own people too!"
"I know that, Major," Dukat said, his tone mildly rebuking. "But think of the importance of this station to the war effort! We cannot allow our operations here to be disrupted, and we need to resolve this situation quickly! The men would understand!"
"I'm afraid that course of action is not available to us, Dukat," Odo said. "There are Bajorans in that bar, and I doubt the Bajoran government would look kindly on you summarily executing their citizens without first trying other options."
"Yes, I must agree with Odo," Weyoun said. "I think we should give the Jem'hadar a chance to retake the bar first."
"Hmph. Very well," Dukat conceded. "You may send the Jem'hadar."
Quark was huddled behind the bar with the other Ferengi staff, staring wide-eyed at the men that were going around the room coldly executing injured Jem'hadar.
'It can't be... It's not possible. They're just guys in costumes. Some kind of psy-op to screw with peoples' minds...'
But that didn't make much sense. If they were planning a psy-op on Jem'hadar, why pick those costumes? Well-informed about the militaries of the Alpha Quadrant as they were, The Jem'hadar weren't likely to know such minutiae of Ferengi culture. And the attackers hadn't shown the least bit of hostility toward the bar's employees. So it couldn't be a psy-op against the Ferengi.
Yet there they stood. Mo's Associates. The one missing a hand and looking out of the window was Rocketeer Ro. And by the dabo tables was Marauder Mo, carefully wiping blood from a brick of latinum with a dishrag. Large as life. Larger. He was the largest Ferengi Quark had ever seen, taller than most Klingons and more heavily muscled. His lobes were massive as well, an old man's lobes, but firm and unwrinkled, and so broad they were almost obscene. Just looking at them made Quark feel an urge to cover his own ears in shame.
Mo was wearing a silvery-blue body armor, the pieces expertly fitted to his musculature and polished to such a high gleam Quark could see his own reflection in it. On his belt was clipped a blue energy whip. Mo gave his latinum a final rub, then slid it into a holder on one thigh. Quark couldn't stop staring.
"Excuse me," someone said from Quark's side.
Quark turned and looked up to see another one of the Associates, hands together and fingers curled in greeting. He returned the gesture quickly, then smiled ingratiatingly, intimidated by the other Ferengi's size. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"May I use your terminal?" The Associate asked. This one was somewhat smaller than the others, though that wasn't saying much, and dressed quite finely in a richly threaded vest that was held closed by a latinum alloy clasp shaped like a PADD. The man's name suddenly came to Quark through a childhood memory.
"Probemaster Po!" He blurted.
"At your service," Po replied. "So..." he inclined his head toward the terminal.
"Uh..." Quark dithered a moment. If he remembered correctly from those ads, Po was not someone they wanted messing around in the station's computer banks. But Po was large, and had even larger friends who were well-armed. While Quark was somewhat smaller and quite empty-handed. What would Quark's resistance accomplish? And he did so hate being beaten up. Better to go along with it and wait for an opportunity.
"Right this way," he said, but as Po turned toward the terminal, Quark tapped his shoulder. "That'll be two slips of latinum."
'If I could just drag Po into a negotiation, it might buy some time for station security...'
Po scoffed. "One slip."
"Alright, one slip," Quark said. "For the terminal... and an additional slip for the use of my isolinear rods. That terminal doesn't have security clearance, so you'll need a custom chipset... for whatever it is you're trying to do. They're in the back room, I can get them for you in a jiffy."
Po handed Quark a slip of latinum. "Those won't be necessary." He pulled open his vest to reveal dozens of isolinear chips and rods of various configurations. "I've got my own."
"Ah... ahhh..." Quark stammered. "Those might not be..."
But Po ignored him, turning to the terminal and inserting one of his rods.
"Set up there and there!" The Jem'hadar First pointed at two spots on the Promenade floor. Groups of Jem'hadar hastened to obey, setting up portable force field generators. As much as she disliked the Jem'hadar, Nerys had to admire their efficiency at establishing a perimeter.
Dukat spoke over their combadges again. "There's an intruder in the computer network! They're trying to deactivate the containment field!"
Nery's eyes snapped to the bar. There was a flash of yellow light as the force field shut down, and immediately something soared out of the bar's window, trailing a tail of smoke. A rocket. It crashed into a cluster of Jem'hadar near the force field generators and exploded, sending bodies flying through the air.
"Prophets protect us!" Someone screamed as a group of Ferengi poured out of the ground floor entrance to Quark's. At first Nerys thought they were civilians, but then they began firing into the Jem'hadar positions, their eclectic mix of gear suggesting they were mercenaries. Nerys pulled out her Cardassian-issue disruptor and returned fire.
A solitary Ferengi broke free of their line, hurling a metallic orb toward them. It exploded in mid-air in a dazzle of light, to a chorus of Cardassian screams. Nerys cursed and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. She wasn't completely blinded, but the Cardassians, more sensitive to bright light than Bajorans, seemed to be completely incapacitated.
She squinted and tried to see through the spangles dancing in her vision. A single Ferengi figure was running across the Promenade as his allies covered him with suppressing fire. Nerys took a potshot at him but missed. The Ferengi's left arm was severed beneath the elbow, and she thought at first he was wounded. But he reached the position where the explosive had gone off at the Jem'hadar explosion, grabbed a chunk of metal, and fitted it to his arm stump.
'Wait, what?' Nerys blinked, sure she'd seen it wrongly. But no, the Ferengi turned, pointed his left arm, and the rocket he'd just attached to the prosthetic device on his elbow streaked across the Promenade and exploded, taking out another group of Jem'hadar.
Nerys struggled to make sense of it. So the Ferengi had a cybernetic arm converted to a rocket launcher. He'd fired a rocket at the Jem'hadar. The rocket exploded... and then he ran to where the rocket had exploded, picked the rocket back up... and reused it. And then it exploded again.
'Self-replicating rocket? Even that doesn't make any sense!'
Another Ferengi charged forward, a big fellow in blue-gray armor. In one hand he had an energy whip, and on the other was a colorful circular object that he held in front of him like a shield. Several Jem'hadar and Bajorans fired at him, but a cup-like protrusion on the front of the shield caught the plasma and disruptor bolts and actually deflected them. Most of the deflected shots hit the ceiling and floor harmlessly, but one flattened an unlucky Cardassian who was still grabbing at his eyes.
With a shock, Nerys realized she knew that shield. She'd once seen Jadzia and Quark using it to play a Ferengi betting game in the back of the bar.
'That's a tongo wheel. He's deflecting bolts of superheated charged particles with a TONGO WHEEL?'
That made no sense either, but Nerys stuffed her confusion away. It didn't matter how the Ferengi's shield worked. What was important was knowing he had it. As the Ferengi lifted the tongo wheel to block a shot from the upper level, she fired at him and hit him in a leg, bringing him to his knees. Another shot to the head finished him off.
The other Ferengi were going down as well as the blinded Cardassians finally came back into the fight, she saw. There were far less of the attackers than she'd thought initially, and while they had inflicted quite a few casualties on the station's forces, the Ferengi boarders simply couldn't withstand the massed fire from the defenders.
Quark's head peered out timidly from the bar's doorway. "Is it over?"
"Yeah, Quark, it's over!" Nerys called.
"Go on, go!" Quark waved toward the interior of the bar, and a group of civilians emerged, anxiously crossing the Promenade toward the defenders' positions. Some were wounded. Among them were Ferengi, Cardassians, and Bajorans, even a lone Vorta--but no Jem'hadar.
'Guess they all fought to the death.'
Odo snagged Quark as he neared. "You have some explaining to do, Quark!"
"ME?" Quark squawked. "I had nothing to do with this, I swear!"
"Perhaps not," Weyoun came up to them. "Then again, all the attackers were Ferengi, and they started their attack in your bar. It's an interesting coincidence." He nodded to a nearby Jem'hadar. "Secure the bar."
"Where are the bodies?" One of the Jem'hadar suddenly asked.
Nerys blinked. The spot where the shield Ferengi she'd help kill was empty. Even the tongo wheel was gone.
Everyone raised their weapons again and looked around wildly. The only dead on the ground were Jem'hadar, Cardassians, and Bajorans. Not a single Ferengi body to be seen. Almost as if on cue, shots poured out of the bar's entrance again, striking the ranks of the confused Jem'hadar.
Nerys stared in shock as the very same five men they'd just slain charged out of Quark's yet again, with not even a single scratch on them. "You've gotta be kidding me."
The Ferengi came at them again. The one now in the lead was dressed in a black bodysuit. The last time, Odo had seen the same Ferengi in the back, and he'd been cut down by the defenders' fire as quickly as any of the others. This time, however, was different.
A green personal force field flickered around the Ferengi's body, shrugging off the defenders' disruptor fire. Head, torso, limbs, it made no matter: every inch of the man's body was shielded. He returned fire with a green phaser-like beam that appeared to be built into his hand. As he drew closer, Odo noticed that his skin was not the bronze color of healthy Ferengi, but waxy and pale, with a grayish pallor, shot through with visible black veins. Tubules and bits of dark metal with blinking lights stuck out of his ears like warped Bajoran earrings.
He had seen something like that before, in holographic footage from in Starfleet intelligence reports he'd reviewed years ago, soon after Sisko became commander of the station.
"That's a Borg!" Odo shouted. The word meant nothing to the Jem'hadar, who continued to shoot, probing for weak points, but many Bajorans and Cardassians visibly flinched. "Don't let him touch you!"
"He's not a Borg!" A tiny voice declared near Odo.
Odo looked down. There stood a small Ferengi boy with a bruised face, who was glaring up at him defiantly. He'd seen this child before, the son of one of the Ferengi waiters who'd been brought to the station recently. Odo always had trouble gauging the age of Ferengi children, mostly because they tended to be much smaller than their Bajoran agemates. He estimated the child's age to be no more than 6 or 7. "Not now," he said.
"He's not a Borg!" The Ferengi child repeated. "He's Bionic Bo!"
Odo stared at the boy. "You know that man?"
"I do!" The boy replied. "He acquired Borg parts on the Hew-mon black market after they invaded, and he 'planted them into his lobes! Now he can sense opportunities with ta... ta-ch-yon pulses on... uh... alter..." The boy screwed up his face. "Don't remember the box..."
"Ah-bup-bup-bup," Quark put his hand over the boy's mouth. "That's enough now, we should get to safety!"
There were fresh screams. Odo looked over to see the Borg-enhanced Ferengi had reached a group of Jem'hadar and was engaged in hand-to-hand with them. He was tossing the Dominion soldiers over his shoulders as if they were mere children. Weyoun stepped to his side. "Founder, perhaps we should retreat for the time being, until we figure out what's going on..."
"Prudent," Odo concurred. Against opponents that apparently couldn't be killed... He waved to his Bajoran deputies. "We're retreating!" He tapped his combadge. "This is Security Chief Odo, I want another containment field on the Promenade, between sectors 411 and 412." Even if the containment field didn't stop the Ferengi, it would slow them down.
The golden shimmer of a force field appeared between them and the Ferengi. Some of the Jem'hadar were caught on the far side, but there was no helping that. They continued to fight on, but could not overcome the Ferengi.
'Bionic Bo' stepped forward again. He went to a wall panel and put his head near it. A pair of thin black metal tubes extended from his ear hole and penetrated the panel. With a faint fizzing sound, the containment field disappeared.
"Back to the habitat ring! Go!" Nerys shouted.
Their scramble back to the habitat ring was undignified, and Quark found himself looking back more than once. The Associates didn't chase them, choosing instead to finish killing the Jem'hadar on the Promenade.
'How vicious.' He shuddered. He was sure now. Whatever those beings were, they couldn't be Ferengi. Real Ferengi wouldn't slaughter people so pointlessly.
"They're not chasing us!" A Bajoran exclaimed. They all stopped and looked around a little sheepishly.
Kira nodded to one of the Cardassians. "Get these civilians out of here. The rest of us are going back to ops."
The Cardassians quickly formed a detail to escort the civilians away. Quark made to join them, but Odo grabbed his shoulder. "Not you, Quark." He also grabbed Hav, the small boy looking confused. "You too."
Hav's father was off to one side making googly eyes at Quark, begging for him to intercede. "The boy?" Quark asked. "Come on, Odo, what's he done?"
Odo looked at Hav's father. "Sir, if you'll please go with the others. I'll make sure your son gets back to you safely."
A Cardassian placed a hand on Hav's father's shoulder, and the waiter could do nothing but leave with the other civilians. Quark shrugged after him. Odo dropped down to a crouch in front of Hav. "You knew that man back on the promenade," he said gently. "Can you tell me more about him and the others?"
Quark got between them. "I'll tell you about them. Any Ferengi could." As Odo stood back up and looked at him expectantly, he sighed, hoping what he said wouldn't sound as stupid out loud as it had been in his head. "They're toys."
By the way everyone gave him stupefied looks, he knew it really had sounded that dumb.
Weyoun's purple eyes bored into Quark's. "You mean to say," the Vorta said carefully. "That those Ferengi are so famous that all Ferengi know about them, and toys were made in their image?"
"No, they-they're not real people." Quark tried to explain. "They're a line of action figures. 'Marauder Mo and Associates.' Have you...?" Everyone stared at him blankly and he sighed again. "No, of course you haven't... look, whatever those things are, they're not real Ferengi. They're too bloodthirsty, like a bunch of Klingons."
"There's certainly something odd going on with them reappearing after they were killed," Odo said thoughtfully.
There was a crackle of white noise from the ceiling, and a Ferengi voice spoke. "Inhabitants of Terok Nor, I am Marauder Mo. My Associates and I are taking over this space station. You are now all our hostages. Surrender immediately, and most of you will live. If all goes well, we will exchange you and the installation with your governments for ransom."
"That's a station-wide transmission," Kira observed. "They must have broken into the comm system."
"Hmph, ransoming hostages IS standard Ferengi privateer behavior..." Odo murmured.
"This is Gul Dukat, commander of Terok Nor." Dukat said over the general comm system. "The Cardassian government does not negotiate with terrorists."
"This is not a negotiation," Mo threw back. "If you do not surrender, we will be forced to punish you. And that would be... unnecessary. The terms of our contract were only to punish the Jem'hadar."
"Punish?" Dukat asked.
"Eliminate," Mo clarified.
"You mean to tell me that someone hired you to attack this station... and kill all the Jem'hadar?" Dukat asked incredulously.
"Yes. Holding the station for ransom is just a side benefit. Never ignore an opportunity!"
"That's unacceptable," Weyoun hissed. He pressed his wrist comm unit. "Dukat, this is Weyoun. Put me through to the boarders."
"Done," Dukat said, sounding amused.
"Now listen here," Weyoun said angrily. "I don't know who hired you, but rest assured, the Dominion does not take such acts of hostility lightly. You and your employers will be found and held responsible for this."
"The Jem'hadar WILL die," Mo insisted. "Along with anyone who tries to protect them!"
"Stop it!" Hav suddenly yelled. "That's not what I wished for!"
Nery stared at the Ferengi boy. "Not what you wished for?" She repeated.
"Yeah," he gulped. "One of the Jem'hadar hit me, and then Uncle Relm came to see me, and, and I wished that, that... Mo and the 'Sociates would punish the Jem'hadar."
"So you wished your toys would come to life... and they did?" Weyoun asked incredulously.
The boy nodded.
"Oh, no..." Nerys grumbled. "Not the imagination aliens again..."
"Major, I don't think it's the imagination aliens," Odo said. "Last time, EVERYONE'S imagination was manifesting. And they were mostly benign. This is something different."
"Will someone tell me what's going on!" Weyoun demanded.
"We'll fill you in when we get to Ops," Odo said. "We've dallied here long enough."
"Of course," Weyoun agreed, his eyes lighting up like they did whenever Odo addressed him directly.
Something thumped loudly in the ceiling.
Nerys' head snapped up. "What was that?"
The sound came again. It was a heavy, muffled sort of sound, almost fleshy.
'I don't think I want to meet whatever's making that sound...'
"Something's in the service ducts!" A Cardassian said.
A section of the ceiling plate down the hall buckled and fell. And on top of it came a tumble of elongated fleshy tan objects, each the size of Nerys' leg. They squirmed bonelessly atop each other for a moment, then separated and began to slowly creep toward the people. Nerys cringed, her skin crawling. They were some sort of giant maggots.
"Well, I'll be..." Quark took a step toward the maggots. "Those are the biggest gree worms I've ever seen!" He gave Nerys a ghastly grin that was probably meant to be reassuring. "Don't worry, Major. They're quite harmless."
As if in answer to Quark's words, the front of the lead worm peeled back, revealing three wickedly sharp serrated bony blades, each slightly longer than Nerys' hand, set around a round wet hole of a mouth.
Quark backed away. "Oh. Really big RAZOR-TOOTHED gree worms. That's different."
One of their remaining Jem'hadar scoffed, stepping forward and shooting the worms with his plasma rifle. The wriggling things exploded in splatters of brown goo, their skins bursting like overcooked sausages. A nauseating smell like burnt oil mixed with old jumja sap wafted to Nerys' nostrils and she gagged, turning away.
Quark sniffed appreciatively. "Hey, that's not bad."
"There, you see? Not a--" Weyoun started to say, but a thin metal dart suddenly appeared in the neck of the Jem'hadar next to him. "--Oh, my."
A moment later, another dart appeared in the neck of a Cardassian next to him. The Cardassian immediately fell over. The Jem'hadar started to turn, completed about a fourth of his rotation, and then collapsed.
"Poison!" Odo barked.
'Those worms were just a distraction!'
Nerys spun around, raising her weapon. On the opposite end of the hall from the gree worm carcasses, at a T-junction, stood the strangest Ferengi she'd ever laid eyes on. He'd been there on the Promenade, but she'd only seen him in fleeting glances, her attention absorbed by the others. Now that he was by himself...
He was entirely naked but for a loincloth, his lean body bulging with muscles. His bronze skin was covered with abstract yellow and red tattoos and gleamed with oil. There were solid latinum-alloy piercings embedded into his jaw, jutting down either side of his chin like a pair of spikey fangs. And on his wrists were a pair of small dart-launching crossbows.
As quickly as Nerys was absorbing these details, she was firing her disruptor at him. But the strange Ferengi stepped back around his corner, and her shots sizzled against the opposite wall.
Their two remaining Jem'hadar immediately shrouded, vanishing from Nery's sight. She caught sight of faint blurs charging down the hall, clearly intending on taking advantage of their near-invisibility to ambush the Ferengi around his corner. But it was not to be.
As the shrouded Jem'hadar neared the junction, they tripped a wire laid across the bottom of the corridor.
'When did he get a chance to set up all these traps and ambushes?'
A panel fell away above the two Jem'hadar, showering them with small blue palm-sized arthropods. The Dominion soldiers spun around in panic, their shrouds failing as they slapped at the arthropods clinging to them. A few seconds later they began to scream. The arthropods were tearing into their flesh far faster than Nerys would have thought possible for creatures of that size. She pointed her disruptor helplessly toward the screaming pair.
'If only I had a Federation phaser! That wide-beam setting sure would be useful right now...'
"Get back!" Odo rushed past Nerys, dissolving into an amber-colored wave as he went. He smashed into the two Jem'hadar, coating them head to toe. A moment later Odo oozed down from the Jem'hadar's bodies, arthropods caught wriggling within his gelatinous structure. The two Jem'hadar fell to the ground, groaning, their uniforms wet with blood. Odo move away a meter, transformed into a pillar of stone, then turned back into a liquid and flowed away, leaving the shells of hundreds of crushed arthropods on the floor.
"Wow," Weyoun breathed as Odo returned to his humanoid shape. The two injured Jem'hadar stared up at Odo with adoring eyes.
"Come on!" Odo said, rushing around the corner. Nerys and the others followed, only to find Odo standing in an empty corridor. "He's gone..."
"What were those little things?" Nerys asked no one in particular.
"Ferenginar tree crabs," Quark replied, hurrying up. "A good-sized swarm can strip the meat from a carcass in minutes! But they normally only eat carrion..."
"SOMETHING made them attack those Jem'hadar," Odo mused. "If they're related to whatever brought that Ferengi here..."
"That would be Jungle Jo," Quark said.
"What can you tell us about him?" Odo asked.
"He's a collector's item. They stopped making him after a few months, so he's fairly valuable, especially in the original packaging..."
"Quark!" Nerys cut him off. "Something useful!"
"Uh... he's... like a tribal... jungle guy... he lives in the wilderness with the creatures of the land and he tames them..."
"Creatures of the land, meaning... bugs?" Nerys asked.
"On Ferenginar, yes," Quark continued. "His darts are coated with the poison of the grand widow shrub, very deadly."
"If that's all he's got, then he can't hurt me," Odo said.
"He can hurt the rest of us just fine," Quark said sourly. "Oh... as I recall, production discontinued because parents complained to the toy company, something about him being too feminine to be a good role model for little boys..."
"Too feminine?" Nerys scoffed. "That's the most manly Ferengi I've ever seen!"
Quark gave her a confused look. "How could someone wearing so little clothing be considered manly?"
With just the faintest whisper of sound, Jungle Jo dropped out of the overhead service duct behind them. As he dropped into a crouch, he fired darts at Weyoun and a Bajoran, striking them both in the chest. Nerys turned just in time to see him scoop up one of the Jem'hadar's plasma rifles. He levelled it at Odo and fired a burst, hitting him in the side just before Odo ducked around the corner. At the same time, Weyoun sank slowly to his knees. The Vorta flopped ponderously onto his back, his mouth open and his purple eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. The Bajoran ran two steps before also succumbing to the poison.
Nerys took shelter around the corner. "Odo!"
Part of Odo's side was rippling and gelatinous, but within a moment it smoothed back out into the tan material of his uniform. "I'm fine, Major," he said. "It would appear that Dominion weapons are rather... ineffective against Changelings."
'Probably designed so the Dominion troops couldn't hurt the Founders even if they wanted to.'
Odo leapt around the corner, no longer worried about their enemy's stolen energy weapon. Nerys followed closely behind. One of the wounded Jem'hadar was prostrate on the floor, his neck bent at an impossible angle. The other was wrestling feebly with Jungle Jo, the Ferengi's hands locked around his neck. Odo tackled the Ferengi, and they stumbled away from the Jem'hadar. Nerys expected Odo to swiftly win the exchange, as he usually did against humanoids, but Jo slammed Odo so hard into the bulkhead that the back half of the shapeshifter's body smashed apart, sending gobbets of viscous amber fluid splattering down the hall. The Ferengi released Odo, and the Changeling sagged to his knees, dazed.
Nerys rushed the Ferengi. He was much stronger than her, but there were ways around that. She went for a fetmor grip, intending to use her opponent's weight against him--but her fingers slipped over Jo's oiled flesh without catching hold. He grabbed her by the waist and hurled her down the corridor, hard enough that she sailed through the air several feet past Weyoun's body. She hit the ground hard. Stunned, she looked up to see Jungle Jo snap the second Jem'hadar's neck, then pull an enormous knife from the dead Dominion soldier's belt and advance toward her with it in hand.
Just as Jo stepped around Weyoun's corpse, however, the Vorta's hand suddenly shot up, gripping the Ferengi's ankle tightly. Jo looked down in shock. "I think this belongs to you," Weyoun spat, ripping out the crossbow dart embedded in his chest with his free hand and stabbing it into Jo's calf. "You can have it BACK!"
Jo's eyes bugged out. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched shriek--and then toppled over, stiff as a board, dead.
"I... I did it?" Weyoun said in amazement, slowly getting to his feet. "I've never killed someone before..."
"You're not dead?" Odo was reforming, droplets of his mass flowing across the floor and merging back into his body. He blinked as he took in the situation fully. "You saved the Major... thank you."
Nerys stared at the floor. The Ferengi corpse was gone. And so were the bodies of all the bugs.
"Vorta are immune to most poisons," Weyoun explained, touching his chest. A bloodstain was slowly spreading across the fabric of his tunic. "I knew I couldn't fight him and win, but deception... oh." He touched one of his ears absent-mindedly. "I hear more of them coming! Three, maybe four. They'll be here in half a minute."
Thoughts whirled quickly through Odo's mind. Just one Ferengi was enough to inflict multiple casualties on their party. And from what Weyoun said, there were three or four more headed toward them now.
'And if what happened earlier is any indication, this Jungle Jo character won't stay dead for long.'
He had been shocked by how strong Jo was. Ever since he had first assumed humanoid form he had been confident in his hand-to-hand abilities compared to other humanoids, but that confidence was now shaken. He'd thought the unusual strength of the cybernetic Ferengi on the Promenade was due to his Borg enhancements, but Jo showed that they were ALL apparently that strong. And Odo's strength wasn't enough to take them in a straight fight. On top of that, he was injured. He'd understated the damage he'd taken from the plasma rifle to Nerys. The wound didn't pose a mortal danger, he could feel that much, but it had weakened him.
'Fortunately I can do more than just brawl. Those Ferengi have been unnecessarily brutal, going out of their way to execute those Jem'hadar. If they're telling the truth about their goal, we can use that to our advantage.'
A plan formed. He went to Quark. The bar owner was hiding behind one of the wall struts, holding onto the Ferengi boy. "Quark, give me all your money."
"What?" Quark gave him an outraged look.
"Your latinum!" Odo said. "Everything you have on you."
"Your money or your life, Quark!"
"Fine, take it!" Quark threw a handful of latinum strips at him. Odo absorbed the bits of metal into his body. "I'll want those back," Quark grumbled sourly. "And just so you know, I usually charge an interest rate of 1.6% per week..."
Odo ignored him, swiftly taking on the form of a Jem'hadar. The face wasn't quite right, he knew, but the colors, the silhouette, the textures, those were good enough for what he had in mind. "Listen up!" He told everyone. "When I say go, you all head for Ops. No matter what you see or hear, don't stop until you get there, got it?"
"Odo, what are you doing?" Weyoun asked, a cautionary note in his voice. Seemed like he had an inkling of Odo's plan.
"They say they want to punish the Jem'hadar. Well, I'm going to give them a Jem'hadar."
Weyoun looked horrified. "But you don't have to risk yourself... we could send one of the Je..." He glanced around at the dead Jem'hadar around them. "Ah."
Even Odo could hear the approaching bootfalls now. They were coming down one of the sides of the T-junction. He nodded briefly at the others, made brief eye contact with Nerys. "Go!" He said, darting into the T-junction.
"There!" A Ferengi voice snarled from behind him, and the chase was on.
Odo ran as quickly as his Jem'hadar legs would carry him. Phaser beams and disruptor bolts seared the air around him. He didn't turn his head to look back even once. Unlike a normal Jem'hadar, he wasn't limited to just the pair of eyes on the front of his head; in effect, Changelings could 'see' with the entire surface of his body, and he was pleased to see that there were three Ferengi in total, all chasing him and ignoring the others.
'Good. Now I just need to not get shot!'
He took his pursuers on a route as far from the others' route to Ops as he could. If these were normal Ferengi, he would have outrun them easily by now, but with his injury and their abnormal strength and speed, it was all he could do to keep his lead. No, that wasn't quite true. They were gaining on him, meter by painful meter. Soon they'd be close enough to accurately fire their weapons. But before they reached that point...
Odo extruded Quark's latinum strips from his body as he neared a turn, hearing them clink and tinkle on the floor behind. A greedy shout rose up from the Ferengi, and he rounded the corner. He heard the Ferengi stop to collect the money, giving him enough time to pull his next trick. He dropped the Jem'hadar form and transformed into a pile of latinum bricks, strewn haphazardly on the floor.
The Ferengi rounded the corner and stopped cold at the sight of all that latinum. "Woaaahhh..." One of them, clad in silver-blue armor, breathed. That had been the voice over the comm. So this was Marauder Mo.
"There's so much!" A Ferengi with a missing forearm said. He stepped forward, but the third Ferengi flung out a hand, stopping him.
"Wait!" This third Ferengi said. He was the one with the Borg enhancements, Bionic Bo. "It could be a trap!" He turned his head slightly, angling one of his ears toward Odo. A bright green scanning beam emitted from one of the devices implanted there, sweeping the hall. Bo nodded slightly. "My probe shows no traps, and that's real latinum! But... where did that Jem'hadar go?"
"Who cares?" Mo laughed. "The Jem'hadar aren't leaving this station!" He tried to pick up one of the pieces of latinum. "Hey... these bricks are all fused together!"
That was the drawback of a Changeling's mimicry, Odo thought. He could transform into nearly anything, animate or not, but whatever he transformed into had to be one continuous whole. If any part of his mass left contact with his main body, it immediately reverted to its gelatinous state.
"Maybe a shaped micro-charge will do it." The one-armed Ferengi held up a small conical object.
Mo shoved the one-armed Ferengi away. "Ro, you idiot! Always thinking with your explosives! You want to blow up the latinum?" He gripped two adjoining bricks. "No, just a little bit of elbow grease..."
The Ferengi tugged on the bricks with enough force to overcome Odo's ability to hold together. One of the bricks came away in Mo's hand, where it immediately dissolved into amber-colored goo that ran down his arm and dropped to the floor. "What the?!"
The game was up. Odo stopped being latinum and returned to his humanoid form, speaking even before his body was fully formed. "I surrender!"
The Ferengis' weapons were trained on him, but they held their fire. "How did you do that?" Mo demanded as Odo finished transforming.
"My species are shapeshifters," Odo said. The Ferengi didn't seem overtly hostile to him, and the more time he could get them to spend talking...
"That Jem'hadar back there, that was you?" Mo asked.
"We should kill him!" Ro had the stump of his missing arm pointed at Odo. Somehow, without Odo seeing how it happened, a rocket was attached now to the severed limb. The Ferengi clearly hadn't been carrying it a moment ago.
'It just appeared from nowhere!' The ability of the Ferengi to manifest objects reminded him of something familiar, but he couldn't quite place it...
"Cool your jets, Ro." Mo lifted the tip of the rocket so it was no longer aimed at Odo. "I smell opportunity." He addressed Odo again. "What can you turn into?"
"Pretty much anything I can think of," Odo replied nonchalantly.
"Objects of value? Not just latinum, but... precious gems? Finished products? Works of art?"
"Yes to all."
"Even... Tallonian crystals?"
"At 100% purity," Odo allowed a hint of smugness to enter his voice.
"You can fool a purity probe?" Bo asked.
"My latinum fooled your scan just now," Odo noted.
"Mmm." The cybernetic Ferengi grunted. Mo drew him aside into a discussion while Ro kept a watchful eye on Odo.
'Good! Take your time... The others must have reached Ops by now.' Odo hoped they were doing something useful. He kept his eyes on Ro, but he also saw the cover of an air vent just two meters down the corridor, where the life support system kept freshly oxygenated air cycling through the station.
After a few moments of deliberation, Mo turned back to Odo. "You know, I see a great opportunity for a man of your talents among my Associates."
"You don't say?" Odo said dryly.
"I do! Think of the scams we could pull! We could make alot of profit together, my friend!"
'Now he almost sounds like Quark.'
"What's your name?" Mo went on.
Mo gave Odo a spiky Ferengi grin. "Then we'll call you... 'Operator Oh-do.' How 'bout it?"
"Very tempting... but I have to refuse," Odo said.
Mo uncoiled his energy whip and Bo pointed his hand at Odo. "Then we'll have to kill you for tricking us," Ro said.
Without responding, Odo flew into action. He surged toward the air vent in liquid form, passing through the small openings in the metal grill. Mo's energy whip lashed out and caught his tail end, but it wasn't a solid hit and didn't do much damage. As Odo flowed into the innards of the ductwork, he heard the Ferengi hissing in frustration.
Nerys watched as Dukat paced around the consoles in Ops. "There's only five boarders, but they must have killed nearly 70% of the Jem'hadar garrison already," he said in frustration. "What the HELL is going on out there?"
"We already told you," Nerys said. "They're a Ferengi's kid's action figures brought to life, and they can't be killed. Or... they CAN be killed, but when you do they just reappear somewhere on the station."
Dukat gave her a look like he thought she was insane. "Look, Major," he said in a condescending tone. "You are trusting in the testimony of a CHILD. I don't know about you Bajorans, but we Cardassians require--"
"Found it!" Weyoun said, handing Nerys a PADD.
Nerys took a look. It was a Ferengi catalog of childrens' toys, showing a particular item. "That's him," she said, showing the PADD to Dukat. "There, see? It's the same man!"
Dukat glanced at the PADD, then shoved it away in disgust. "So a mercenary dresses up like a toy to confuse people!"
"I saw it with my own eyes, Dukat," Weyoun insisted. "They reappeared after being killed!"
"Have you considered the possibility that they were transported away a split second before hit by weapons fire? So it only APPEARED they were disintegrated?" Dukat pointed out. "It's been known to happen."
"Their bodies were dead on the ground," Weyoun said. "I put one of them there myself!"
"You must have been mistaken he was dead then." Dukat shrugged. He turned to Mavek, the Cardassian chief technician. "Speaking of transporters, have you gotten them working yet?"
"No, sir," Mavek replied. "We can't get a lock on any of the intruders for transport. We're picking up multiple Ferengi lifesigns on Terok Nor, but they're all confirmed to be 'ours.' It's like these people don't even exist, as far as the sensors are concerned."
"How do you explain that one, Dukat?" Nerys needled. He was so obtuse sometimes.
"That's not even how transport scramblers work!"
"Transport signal scramblers, then!" Dukat said dismissively. "Look, Major, I'm trying to do my work, and what I need are plausible theories! I have no time for--"
There was a thump from inside the wall, and Nerys snapped around, aiming her disruptor at the sound, those tree crabs fresh in her mind. But instead of small blue arthropods, what came through the air duct was a flow of amber liquid that quickly solidified into a humanoid figure.
"Odo!" She exclaimed.
"Oh, Odo! I'm so glad you're safe!" Weyoun did his Vorta gesture of respect, slightly bowing his head and holding his hands at his sides. "I'm afraid we have a small problem here..."
"Just the person I wanted to see!" Dukat said happily. "For the last few minutes I've had to endure the most ridiculous tales... please, Odo, you're rational! Tell them that these aren't children's toys wished to life."
"I'm afraid they are, Dukat." Odo hurried over to a security console, the Jem'hadar on duty there making way for him with alacrity. "I just saw a man pull a rocket out of thin air."
Dukat sighed in annoyance. But before he could speak again, a Vorta who'd been sitting at the edge of the room suddenly popped to her feet excitedly. "That's it! A child WISHED it!"
Nerys blinked. She only knew the Vorta's face vaguely, and her name not at all. The woman was a new arrival on the station, if Nerys remembered correctly. Some kind of assistant to Weyoun for talks with the Bajoran government? She'd been in Ops speaking with Dukat when the Ferengi attacked, and had been keeping out of the way, her skillset not well suited for the current situation.
"What are you saying, Neparti?" Weyoun asked.
"This thing that's happening now, I've heard about something similar before!" Neparti said. "When I was serving as integration minister for the Bokke colony on Morsomk's eighth moon. The Bokke are a fascinating people, by the way. They have the most complex clan and kinship ties--" here she caught sight of Weyoun's frown. "--but on the current... they told me this legend, about something called the Darkling. It's a sort of malevolent trickster spirit that travels from settlement to settlement, granting wishes to children. But the wishes are granted sideways. They have an unintended side effect, or are interpreted differently from what the wisher wants."
"That DOES sound similar," Weyoun said thoughtfully.
Dukat threw up his hands. "The Vorta too? I'm disappointed, Weyoun. I thought yours was a reasonable people. Well, I'm sorry, but we Cardassians don't believe in fairytale magic. Bah! Wishes!" He turned to Mavek. "I want a full-spectrum scan of the station! If there's anything out of the ordinary, even a malfunctioning plasma relay, I want to know about it!"
"I didn't mean that this is magic, literally," Neparti said. "But folklore is often inspired by true events. For instance, to many species of the Gamma Quadrant, Changelings are a myth. Yet here in this very room with us stands a Founder!" Her eyes brimmed with fanatical awe as she gazed at Odo.
"I'm not a Founder," Odo objected.
"Quite right," Neparti deferred happily. "In the dim reaches of history, the Bokke might have had a run-in with whatever's active on Terok Nor right now. Over time that could have become stories of the Darkling."
"Scan is complete!" Reported Mavek. "Everything appears to be normal, apart from the battle damage... wait a minute, I'm reading high levels of vertaron particles. That's odd..."
Dukat and several others nodded, but Nerys had no idea what was going on. She elbowed Mavek and whispered, "what's a vertaron?"
"Vertaron particles are an artificial particle, generated by certain types of force fields interacting with subspace," Mavek whispered back. "Most ships' deflectors can emit vertaron particles if needed, but they're not generated as part of the station's normal functions."
"I'm willing to bet those vertaron particles have something to do with those boarders," Dukat said. "Can you get a fix on where they're coming from?"
"Attempting to isolate..." Mavek tapped at his terminal.
"I've seen something like these wave patterns before," Odo spoke up, gazing down at the security terminal. "It was when the senior staff was trapped in Dr. Bashir's holosuite program..."
Mavek nodded. "They do look similar to holographic wave patterns." He considered. "Our holographic technology is photonic in nature, but it may be possible to also create them using vertarons... or at least, something analogous to what we understand as a hologram."
"How does a hologram kill with poison?" Nerys objected. "Or be killed by poison, for that matter?"
"Easy enough to replicate poison," Odo mused. "As for Jungle Jo 'dying' to his own poison, that could just be a matter of programming for realism... I don't understand WHY anyone would create an attack hologram and program it in that fashion, but it's possible."
"There, you see?" Dukat gloated. "I KNEW there had to be a rational explanation for all this. Holograms... holograms must be emitted from somewhere. If we can find and shut down their emitter..."
"I have a partial fix on the vertaron signals," Mavek reported. "It looks like there are... five separate signals, distributed around the station."
"Our five Ferengi friends..." Weyoun muttered. "It occurs to me that maybe we don't have to find this emitter." He addressed Mavek. "Is there some way to disperse vertaron particles?"
The technician thought for a moment. "...If we use the station's deflector array to generate a charged nadion field at the precise frequency of that wave pattern, it should disrupt the integrity of the holograms. Enough to collapse them, I think."
"Do it," Dukat ordered.
"The signals are moving!" Odo said suddenly from his terminal. "All five of them. They're coming toward Ops."
"I think our secret's out," Nerys said.
"How long until the nadion field is active?" Dukat demanded.
"Roughly six minutes!" Mavek reported.
"They'll be here in two," Odo warned.
"Then we'll have to hold them off for four," Nerys said, checking her weapon.
Weyoun sidled up to Odo. "Odo, if I may make a request..."
"What is it?" Odo halfway expected a request to remove himself from the fighting. As if he was going to do that when Nerys was going to put her life on the line!
"Would you... do the Cardassian neck trick?"
"What?" Odo gestured toward the Cardassians and Jem'hadar getting into ready positions. A Jem'hadar offered him a rifle and he shook his head. "Now?"
Weyoun shooed the Jem'hadar away. "What better time? We're about to be attacked by super-strong holographic soldiers that can't be killed. A moment of levity would no doubt bolster the spirits of the troops--"
"No!" Odo growled. "I want you to get one thing through your head, Weyoun. I'm not going to do the neck trick. Not today, not tomorrow, not anytime! And even if I were to completely lose my wits and perform it again, I certainly wouldn't do it for you. Is that clear?"
"As crystal," Weyoun said, crestfallen. He genuflected briefly and then moved away.
"How's our progress?" Dukat asked.
"Deflector will be ready in five minutes."
"The last line of Jem'hadar defenses are being overrun," Odo reported from his tactical display.
"Wait a minute..." Mavek said suddenly. "I'm picking up a sixth vertaron signal. Fainter than the others, but it's there." He looked up, his face grim. "It's coming from inside Ops."
"What? Where?" Dukat cried.
"There." Mavek pointed to a corner of the room.
They all looked. The humanoids gave puzzled half-shakes of their heads. Odo didn't see anything particularly out of order. There was a wall display next to a console, perfectly normal, like... there... always...
'Why is the console in the middle of the walkway? And more importantly, why didn't I notice it until now?'
"That console isn't supposed to be there!" Odo said.
"He's right!" Nerys said. "Something's weird about that terminal!"
There were mutters of agreement from around the room. Odo was looking at the console when, abruptly, it was gone. And in its place was...
Odo found himself staring into what appeared to be a hole in space. A void that was simply hanging in Ops, about a meter and a half in diameter. Within it he could see celestial bodies, nebulae, galaxies... the edges of the effect capered and frolicked madly, intersecting with the floor and bulkhead, but not seeming to affect them. He had a series of distinct impressions as he looked into it: waves of lambent fluid lapping gently against a stony shore. The cold feel of harsh curving shaped polymer walls. Hot, caustic vapors curling up from a metallic vent. Wide black eyes and the sound of a woman's laughter. The almost-sizzle of thousands of tiny bubbles popping in quick succession. The deck tilted below him to the crash of distant thunder. He tore his gaze away, feeling like he was losing his mind.
On the edge of his hearing, there was a faint dissonant high-pitched piping that reminded him of Bajoran wind flutes. The more he focused on it, the less he seemed to hear it. But when he paid attention to the shocked gasps of the others, the warbling returned.
"Father?" Dukat's greyish skin had gone visibly pale as he stared at the void. "Why are you here?"
Kira blinked in confusion. "Shakaar? When did you get on the station?"
Mavek looked between Dukat and the void. "Two Dukats?"
Weyoun smiled. "Tamrya! I haven't seen you since I was activated!"
"Get a grip, everyone!" Odo warned. "You're all seeing different things!"
Dukat's eyes hardened. "Odo's right." He pointed his disruptor at the void, still pale. "You can't be my father. For one thing, he's dead."
Everyone's weapons were trained on the void now. The high-pitching piping became more regular, more mathematical, if not quite musical. It seemed to Odo that the between the notes, he could almost make out words...
"And this is why I don't show myself to crowds," the brief silences seemed to say. "Always such confusion."
"What are you?" Nerys demanded.
"I am me." The silence returned. "You could not begin to understand."
Odo had an impression of a reclining figure, lazily pointing toward him. "That one sees me truly. I affect its people to a lesser degree."
Dukat gave Odo a questioning look. "Well, what is it?"
"It's full of stars," Odo muttered.
"That's not much use," Dukat grumbled.
"You must be the Darkling," Weyoun broke in smoothly. "I have to insist you cease your attack on the station."
Weyoun inclined his head toward a Jem'hadar, and the Dominion soldier took a shot at the void. The plasma bolt sailed through the apparition harmlessly, bursting against the bulkhead on the far side and leaving a blackened mark.
"Are you done?" Odo thought the piping took on an amused cadence.
"Why are you doing this?" Nerys asked.
"Because he wished it!"
The sound of weapons fire came from the corridor outside.
Odo whirled to see a pair of Jem'hadar retreating toward Ops, trading fire with something down the hall. A green phaser beam hit one and brought him down, and the other passed through the force field into the room, the barrier briefly flashing as it was nullified by the Jem'hadar's armor.
"Here they come," Dukat said.
The cybernetic Ferengi strode through the force field. A hail of plasma bolts and disruptor fire struck him, but once again his personal energy shields absorbed the energy discharges. He raised his hand, green phaser fire lancing from it and striking a terminal.
'They're trying to stop us from activating the nadion field!'
"Rotate your weapon frequencies!" Odo shouted.
Nerys complied, quickly snapping off a panel on the back of her Cardassian-issue disruptor and fiddling with components there. The Jem'hadar, however, glanced at their weapons helplessly for a moment.
'Do the Dominion plasma rifles even have that kind of firing option?'
Evidently they didn't, as the lead Jem'hadar simply dropped his rifle and pulled out his cutlass. He pointed it at the Ferengi. "Stop him!" He snarled. "Buy time for the others!"
Six Jem'hadar charged the Ferengi, burying him under a pile of black-clad bodies. Nerys tried to work faster. Oh, if only she had one of those new Federation phasers that had a preset option to rotate frequencies...
She looked back up, modifications complete. Her disruptor had been reworked to fire on an incrementally increasing frequency. Not random, but she hoped it would be good enough. Three of the Jem'hadar were down on the ground, one dead or unconscious and two struggling to rise again with broken limbs. The cybernetic Ferengi threw another Jem'hadar away from him, and Nerys suddenly found herself with a clear shot at his back. She took it.
The pale Ferengi's personal shields flared, and for an ugly moment Nerys thought the shot had been blocked. But no, as the light cleared she could see a burned patch on his back, right between the shoulder blades. At least some of the energy had gotten through. The Ferengi kept moving, so Nerys shot him again, and again, more of each shot's energy blocked as the shields adapted to her predictable frequency shifts. But the Ferengi's motions slowed, feeble and floundering. One Jem'hadar wrestled him down, and the other stabbed him through the neck with his cutlass. The Ferengi jerked and stopped moving, metallic black blood pooling around his body.
The panting Jem'hadar met her eyes, and Nerys felt a quick burst of the comradery that came with fighting alongside someone. She quickly squelched the emotion. As if she was feeling such a thing for a Jem'hadar, of all people!
"He'll be back," Odo warned as the corpse disappeared.
"Mavek, where's that pulse!" Dukat bellowed.
"I'm working on it, fast as I can." Mavek grunted.
Another Cardassian technician spoke up. "Dammit! There's an intruder in the system, trying to override the Ops force fields!"
"Get rid of them!" Dukat barked. The two wounded Jem'hadar had propped themselves up against the base of two terminals, weapons in hand, clearly determined to fight to the end. As if in mockery of Dukat's words, the force field at the door shimmered and died. A gang of Ferengi rushed them, weapons blazing.
A console near Nerys exploded in sparks and she returned fire. The Ferengi were forced to enter Ops one by one through the narrow doorway, and were cut down as quickly as they came. She glanced around as soon as the weapons fire stopped. "Anyone hurt?" She asked.
"No one that wasn't already," a Jem'hadar responded. "But they took out another console."
"They wouldn't be focused on stopping our plan unless they knew it would work," Dukat said. "I want those force fields back up!"
"Can't!" The second Cardassian tech sounded frazzled. "They scrambled the access codes!"
"The vertaron signals have reactivated!" Mavek called. "Converging on Ops again!"
As a general rule, Weyoun avoided fights. That's what Jem'hadar were for, after all.
But sometimes there was just no helping it. Like the present situation, being trapped in a commander center while enemies swarmed their position.
Everyone else was focused on the immediacy of defense. Not just the Jem'hadar; Major Kira, Gul Dukat, even Odo himself. They were all soldiers. But Weyoun had a different role to play as a Vorta. He was a diplomat. An ambassador. That was what the Founders created him to do: to treat with enemy leaders. And everyone seemed to have forgotten the enemy leader was in the room with them.
Weyoun stepped to the creature which looked like Clonemistress Tamrya, clad in a rough cloak. "Whatever it is you want, I'm sure we could come to some understanding..."
The Darkling gave him a glib smile with Tamrya's mouth. "Maybe we could."
"If there's anything that the Dominion could do for you..."
"You shouldn't be so quick to discount us!" Weyoun insisted. "The Dominion has many resources, maybe more than you're aware of. Just tell me what you want!"
"All I want is to help people attain their desires. Their wishes."
"I have a wish!" Dukat interjected. "For these damn Ferengi to get off my station!"
"You're too old!" The Darkling said dismissively.
They were interrupted by weapons fire as the holographic Ferengi returned. Cursing, Dukat turned away to shout orders at his troops. Weyoun tried not to cringe as he heard the high-pitched whine of a phaser beam passing somewhere close behind him. "How old, uh, does someone have to be for you to grant their wish?"
"Deflector will be ready in two minutes!" Mavek reported.
"We can't hold out for that long!" Odo yelled.
"I try to go no older than seven years," the Darkling responded.
"Oh!" Weyoun was delighted. "I'm only six months old!"
"Hmm. You are, aren't you? Do you have a wish?"
"I do!" Weyoun said quickly. "I wish for the Dominion to secure control of this station, and the rest of Alpha Quadrant!"
The Darkling gave him an appraising look. "That's not YOUR wish."
"What? Of course it is!" Weyoun shrieked, offended by the implication that he wasn't fully loyal to the Dominion. He looked around Ops. The Ferengi had gained access to the room by using the cybernetic Ferengi as cover. Even the Cardassian disruptors and their cycling frequencies were no longer penetrating the cyborg's shields, and the defenders were desperately engaged. All of the remaining Jem'hadar were down, and a knot of defenders was gathered around Mavek as he tapped frantically on his console. Odo was right. There was no way they'd hold out until the deflector was ready.
The Darkling observed the proceedings dispassionately. "No, it's not. That's the wish of your Founders. You only repeat it because that's how you were programmed. Vorta are such wretched creatures." Those purple eyes narrowed a little. "But you're not quite like the others, are you, Weyoun? There is something you want. Something selfish, a desire just for yourself. What is it?"
"I..." Weyoun tried to think. He watched as one of the Ferengi went for a wall terminal, a data rod in hand. But just before he could plug it in, a psuedopod extended from Odo, wrapped itself around the Ferengi's leg and yanked. The Ferengi went down hard, hitting his face on the wall, the data rod flying from his fingers. The nearly naked oiled Ferengi took aim at Mavek with a crossbow, but Dukat grabbed his arm and shoved it to the side enough for the dart to bounce off the metal of Mavek's console. Then the Ferengi smashed Dukat across the face, knocking the Cardassian leader to the floor. If only they had more time for Mavek to finish his work...
And then he knew. He turned back to the Darkling, who smiled back knowingly.
"I wish for Odo to do the Cardassian Neck Trick! And for it to be the most amazing thing anyone's ever seen!"
"Your wish is granted."
Weyoun looked at Odo. The Founder's neck rippled, swayed, expanded. He'd seen Founders changing shape several times now, but this was something far more special. Far grander. Divine. Weyoun's eyes moistened, his heart swollen with bliss as he gazed upon his god. The firing in the room stopped, even the Ferengi pausing their attack to gawk, their needle-toothed mouths agape.
With an effort, Weyoun tore his eyes away from the ongoing spectacle. His gaze found Mavek, similarly slack-jawed, engrossed, his hands hovering uselessly in front of the touchscreen. "MAVEK!" He roared.
The Cardassian technician jerked to awareness. He glanced quickly at the stunned Ferengi, then back to his station, his hands flying in a blur over the display as he input the final commands to the deflector.
"It's a trick!" The armor-clad Ferengi snarled. Their weapons came up as one, aiming for Mavek. But the Cardassian's arm flashed out, snake-like, hitting a button.
The Ferengi froze, their arms and weapons still pointed but never firing. Purple-tinged static appeared, outlining their bodies, and Weyoun could suddenly see through them to the bulkheads beyond. And then with a faint pop, they were gone. Odo put a hand to his neck, which had returned to normal. "Don't attach holograms to my body," he muttered.
Weyoun sighed, turning his gaze back to the Darkling and somewhat surprised to find the creature still there. The same static played over Tamrya's body as had the Ferengi, but she was still moving. She gave them a fake apologetic smile. "Fortunately, this appearance isn't fully vertaron-based," she said, her voice filled with a low buzzing tone. Looking at her wavering image, Weyoun had the vague impression of something vast and chaotic, in every way the polar opposite of the order the Dominion stood for. He felt a chill.
Dukat clambered up using a broken terminal. His hair was disheveled and half his face was bruised. "Get off my station," he growled.
The Darkling shrugged. "I suppose I will." She looked around at the bodies and broken equipment littering Ops. "This was fun. We should do it again sometime."
And with that the thing that looked like Tamrya strode through a wall and was gone. Nerys shrugged and went to stand near Odo. "You know," she said conversationally. "I sorta miss when this kind of thing used to happen every week."