Note: Thank you to my friend, my arse-kicker, my beta, JA Ingram, who spent untold hours going over the plot of this and forcing me to think it out. She challenged me on the plot and the details, and much of what you read here is due to her influence and good sense. She also helped me immensely with many scenes, including writing the bulk of Stephen's Blue Christmas challenge. You may notice characters, locations, and concepts similar to those found in her Garak/Bashir stories The Cheap Date and Sinless and in our joint story The Never-Ending Sacrifice. This is not a coincidence, and I thank her for allowing me to draw from them.
What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
-- Crowfoot, 1890
Julian cracked open an eye at the first wail. The chrono read 0535, or exactly two hours since the last time he'd been so rudely awoken.
He crawled out from beneath the blankets and pushed himself to his feet, shaking the cobwebs from his mind as the screams of a very unhappy infant filled the air. He paused for a moment to scowl at the snoring hulk who hadn't even had the common courtesy to wake up this time. The bastard...
Fiona was wet, of course, but a sodden diaper didn't normally elicit this kind of indignation from her. "Let's see, sweetie," he murmured to her as she howled, her face purple and her fists balled up as if she were planning to punch him in the nose, "you're not hot, you haven't gone number two again..." He suddenly noticed an acrid smell coming from the corner of the room. "Did you throw up?" he asked, cradling the infant as he peered into the crib; sure enough, a puddle of vomit had already soaked through the bedding and was probably seeping into the mattress at that very moment. A quick check with the medical tricorder he kept in the room confirmed that she'd picked up the rotavirus going around the station, which also explained the diarrhea she'd had earlier that night.
As he ordered a hypo of bicyclidine and a bottle of electrolyte solution and sat down in the big rocking chair with her, he took a second to glance up at the portrait of Keiko and Molly - the original Molly - that hung on the wall above the nursery replicator. It was amazingly true to life, he thought, especially considering that the artist who painted the portraits from Julian's identikit sketches had never met them in person, since in this timeline they'd never been born.
"How did you do it?" he asked Keiko's portrait. "How did you handle it all?" But the painting didn't answer him, and even as he said the words he realized that it had likely been as much a struggle for her as it was for him.
He injected Fiona with the antiviral; after a few minutes of rocking and patting her, she eventually calmed down enough to take the bottle. As he looked into her sweet face he wondered for the thousandth time how he could reconcile his love for his girls with his wish that Keiko were alive. It was ironic, he supposed, that the only reason he was a father was because she'd never been born, and the only reason she'd never been born was because he and Miles had done something she'd probably have approved of, had she known.
The moral implications of what he'd done sometimes gave him a headache. They had been intending to return to the Defiant while on Deep Space K-7 a hundred years in the past when they'd ducked into a corridor and interrupted a violent rape. That ostensibly good deed had prevented Keiko's grandfather from being conceived, and the resulting change had created a timeline identical to their original one except for the fact that Keiko and her children had never existed. Then his last-ditch attempt to bring her back by artificially impregnating the young woman (a morally suspect act if he'd ever heard of one) had catapulted him and Miles into a new and completely different timeline in which Garak had succeeded in his attempt to destroy the Founder homeworld, which in turn had prevented the Dominion from sending the Bajoran sun into supernova.
It really was ironic, he thought: his 'good deed' had caused at least three innocent people to wink out of existence, while his less morally defensible act had saved the lives of three billion Bajorans and countless millions in the Gamma Quadrant. It had also given him this precious little girl and her older sister. He remembered an old saying his mother had once taught him: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. He wondered if the opposite was true as well.
Fiona let go of the bottle, her eyes dropping shut as she relaxed in his arms. He placed her gently on a quilt on the floor and cleaned up her crib, then changed her and put her back to bed before dragging himself back to the bedroom and dropping like a lead weight.
Only to wake up three minutes later when his alarm went off.
"Good morning," Miles said in a chipper tone as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "She sleep through the night?"
Julian made a note to kill him when he had a free moment. "She woke up three times," he muttered. "I just got back to bed."
"Mm." Miles was already in the hallway. "Mind if I grab the shower?"
He glared at the man. "Could you please wake up Molly and get her ready for breakfast?" he asked, his voice a bit more plaintive than he'd meant it to be.
"But I thought you-" Miles suddenly noticed the look on Julian's face and sucked in his lips. "I'll, uh, go get the girl. You shower first."
Good choice, he thought as he pushed himself back to his feet and headed toward the bathroom. He had a long day ahead of him and the last thing he needed was to spend the morning stinking of baby puke and righteous indignation.
They had just dropped the girls off at daycare after breakfast when Miles started humming a song, the most absurd grin on his face.
"What is up with you?" Julian asked.
"Nothin'." Miles suddenly began to sing. "I'll have a bluuuuue Christmas without you..."
"Shut up!" Julian said with a snort. "Why are you singing that? Christmas isn't for three months yet."
"Well, I was thinkin'."
He rolled his eyes; here it comes, he told himself. "What is it?"
"Well, y'know, this is actually gonna be our first real Christmas with the girls-"
"Yes, yes it is."
"-and I was just thinkin' about Christmas back when I was a young lad, and how Sean and Padraig and I would light candles in the window and go to Midnight Mass at St. Vincent's and wait for Father Christmas - and I suppose it made me think about how nice it would be if we had more."
He shot a glance at Miles out of the corner of his eye. "More Christmases."
"More kids," he clarified to Julian's silent horror, his tone of voice inexplicably reasonable despite the magnitude of the bomb he'd just dropped. "I've always wanted a big Irish family, and like Sisko said yesterday, it's a lot of fun growing up with a bunch of brothers and sisters. We have two girls, why not a boy? Maybe even twins?"
No, Julian thought, correcting his earlier note: he wouldn't kill Miles. He'd torture him to within an inch of his life and *then* kill him. And cancel Christmas at the same time.
He looked back at Miles, who was apparently expecting some kind of reply from him. What the hell did he think...and then a wicked idea entered his mind. "All right," he said, firmly suppressing an arch grin, "when do you want to start?"
"Well, any time, I guess," Miles mused as they passed the Klingon restaurant on the way to the Infirmary. "When d'you think you can schedule it?"
He pretended to consider the point for a moment. "We're rather busy right now with the meningitis epidemic on Bajor and all, but I can probably get you in with Dr. Girani by the end of the week."
Miles gave him a puzzled look. "Why do I need to see her? I thought it was just a cheek scraping."
"You need to see Girani so she can clear you for the surgery," he said innocently. "She'll perform the procedure herself, of course; I wouldn't dream of-"
"Surgery?" Miles said, interrupting him.
"For the artificial uterus." He gave Miles a broad smile. "After carrying Fiona I could never forgive myself if I denied you the joy of carrying one of our children yourself. Or even two, if you think you're up to twins."
Miles's eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped to the floor as he stopped stock still, staring at Julian in the middle of the Promenade, a look of pure panic in his eyes. "But - but I - are you out of your - I can't..."
"You'll love it," he said, gazing dreamily off into the distance. "There's nothing quite like it. It's so," and he waved a hand in the air, "spiritual. It grounds you, makes you feel at one with the universe - well, you'll see." He beamed at Miles. "Now that you've volunteered, I can't wait. I'll tell Mirat you'll comm her. Have a good day, dear."
As he gave his still sputtering husband a peck on the cheek and headed toward the Infirmary, he couldn't help but chuckle to himself at the look of sheer horror on the man's face. Serves the bastard right, he thought.
He didn't think he'd ever understand how the instrument of so much death and suffering could be so utterly beautiful.
Julian had always found it ironic that something as elegantly geometrical and ethereally delicate as the average virion could bring so much misery to so many. Yet the virus he'd just isolated, the one displayed on the slide in front of him, was without a doubt one of the most brutal killers he'd ever encountered, with over 530 victims in Lonar Province over the last eight days.
He adjusted the microscope to view the entire virus particle under medium power. Most Bajoran retroviruses were asymmetrical, but this species was almost unnatural in its crystalline blue perfection.
Or was that the answer? He selected a strand of RNA and magnified one section, then re-adjusted the microscope to focus on one anomalous nucleic acid pair. Strange: uracil was normally found paired with adenine, not xanthine, and to make matters worse the molecule he'd found wasn't even typical Bajoran xanthine.
Something was rotten in the province of Lonar, he suspected.
He looked up at Jabara, who was leaning against the doorjamb. "Any news from Starfleet?"
"Nothing yet," she replied. "Any luck?"
"I've isolated the virus," he said. Who would have the information he needed... "I'll send what I have to Starbase 375, but I'd like you to put in a call to Dakhur for me right away. Have them send us any information they have on genetically engineered viruses discovered on Bajor in the past ten years."
She grimaced. "Are you thinking it's a holdover from the Occupation?"
"It's possible," he said, one eyebrow quirking up almost involuntarily in surprise. "Listen, when you talk to the Ministry, also have them send up any information they have on epidemics in Lonar over the past 50 years or so. If there was an earlier outbreak during the Occupation, the Bajorans probably didn't have the technology at the time to identify the virus as engineered."
"I'll call them right away," she said as she stepped back into the main room.
As the door closed behind her, Julian examined his reflection in his office window. Her words had indeed surprised him; Cardassia had brought many horrors to Bajor in his original timeline, but biowarfare using genetically engineered pathogens hadn't been one of them. Then again, perhaps his change had also affected how the Cardassian Empire waged war.
It was possible. In this timeline, Cardassia and the Federation had exchanged ambassadors long before the Bajoran pullout. If the Cardassian ambassador had learned about Colonel Green's use of a modified smallpox virus to decimate Korea before the invasion by his ecoterrorists...
But there was no sense obsessing over what couldn't be changed, he told himself. He sent the data he had to Admiral Quinn's team on Starbase 375, then tapped his combadge. "Dr. O'Brien to Captain Sisko," he called.
"Doctor!" the captain said through the link. "Any success?"
"Yes, sir. I've isolated the virus, and I suspect that it may have been engineered."
Sisko paused, as if thinking for a moment. "I can't say I'm surprised; the First Minister suggested the possibility this morning. Have you uncovered any evidence that could support your theory?"
"Just the unnatural symmetry of the virus structure and the fact that the RNA contains a molecule that isn't normally found in Bajoran retroviruses."
"Do you have time to prepare a short presentation for this afternoon's staff meeting?"
"Yes, sir; I'll prepare a report. I've already sent the data I have on the virus to Starbase 375 so they can begin work on a treatment protocol."
"Good work, Doctor. Let me know if they come up with something. Sisko out."
He began to collate his report, then paused for a moment to let the daycare know they might be late that afternoon. As he typed out the message, he thought about the changes he'd made and how despite all the petty annoyances and difficulties of his life he was still happier than he had ever been in his previous life.
Sometimes it bothered him that the changes he'd made had actually improved his life. Improved, he snorted; they'd given him something he'd never thought possible. In his old life he'd flitted from lover to lover, never letting himself think for a moment about a family. And why would he? He'd believed the Adigeon Prime geneticists who had told his parents he could never father a normal child. Then he found himself suddenly the father of a perfectly normal little girl with another one on the way, and somehow-
He sighed. If he'd known earlier that he could father a normal child, he probably would have married Palis and remained on Earth, which would have meant that none of this would have happened - and the Bajoran solar system would be gone. Perhaps Miles was right, he thought; maybe these things do happen for a reason.
He returned to his report.
"Doctor, I'm sorry we don't have time for your presentation this afternoon," Sisko said as Julian took his seat beside Miles at the conference room table. "We've just received word that Bajor's main relay station in the Gamma Quadrant has gone dark. First Minister Shakaar has asked Starfleet to investigate."
"The Lemna V relay?" Kira asked as she sat across from them. "There's a Bajoran colony on Lemna V."
"The last signal from the colony was received three hours ago," Sisko continued. "Since then, nothing. Given the reports we've had over the past few months of attacks by Jem'Hadar and Vorta on strategic facilities in the Gamma Quadrant, it's imperative that we find out what if anything has happened, and from what Captain Nkama tells me the Gryphon isn't going anywhere right now. Is that your understanding, Chief?"
"Commander Park says she'll be in dry dock for the next two weeks at least," Miles answered. "The phase inducers are completely fried."
"Which means," Sisko said with a scowl at the padd in his hand, "that we're going to have to go out there ourselves with the Defiant. Colonel, I'll be leaving command of the station in your capable hands. Doctor," he continued, turning to Julian, "Admiral Quinn has asked that you remain on station until the meningitis crisis has been resolved, so I'll ask you to choose a member of your staff to accompany us."
"If the colony's been attacked," Julian replied, "you'll need more than just a physician. I'd suggest the Defiant be staffed with a full trauma team, including the EMH."
Sisko nodded. "Very well. Assign a team."
Dax sat back in her chair. "There's not much we can do with one ship," she said, "especially if the Jem'Hadar has mounted an offensive. Is Command sending us backup?"
"The Venture is on its way, but it won't arrive for at least 24 hours. The problem might very well be a solar flare or even a failure of the colony's electrical system. If Lemna didn't have the strategic importance it has we could wait, but the Bajoran government has asked that we investigate the outage immediately." He tapped his padd again. "There is one other urgent matter. We've just received word that Gul Dukat escaped from Starbase 681 yesterday."
The senior staff reacted with shock and anger as Julian thought back to the last time he'd seen the man. Dukat had led a group of rogue Cardassians and Jem'Hadar on a futile attack of the station some months earlier. After seeing his first officer, Gul Damar, killed, he'd suffered an episode of primary psychosis and had been taken to Starbase 681 for treatment; from what Julian had heard on the grapevine it might not have been his first. Psychotic or not, though, Dukat was always dangerous. And if he had heard about Ziyal...
"I'm not happy leaving the station with him at large," Sisko continued, "but we have no evidence that he's on his way here. For all we know he could have disappeared into Orion space or allied himself with the Breen."
"Could he be behind the outage?" Kira asked. "Lemna's a critical facility. If he's thinking of leading the Vorta and the Jem'Hadar against Bajor or the Federation, the first thing he'd do would be to take the Lemna relay out. And being the second Bajoran colony in the Gamma Quadrant..."
"If he is responsible," Worf interjected, "it is imperative that we reach the colony as quickly as possible. Gul Dukat has no love for the Bajoran people."
Sisko held up a hand. "People, Dukat is only one man, and not a well one if the psychiatrists at Starbase 681 are to be believed. Let's not overestimate his ability to wreak havoc. Constable," he said, turning to Odo, "I'll ask you to also remain behind. Although I doubt Dukat will come calling, if he does I'll need you here to co-ordinate station security. You know better than anyone what he's capable of."
"I'll have my deputies keep an eye out for him," Odo replied.
The captain let his gaze pass over them. "We'll be departing at 1900. Colonel, don't hesitate to call on the crew of the Gryphon should you require any assistance. Until 1900, then?"
Julian met Miles's gaze as they rose to leave. "I'll be along in a moment," he whispered, squeezing his hand surreptitiously. Miles nodded grimly as he left.
Once the room had cleared, Julian stopped by the door. "Sir, if you have a minute?"
"Have you heard from Starbase 375?" he asked.
"It's not about that, sir. It's about Dukat." He thought for a moment. How to convey what he had to without breaking the law... "Captain," he started, "there's another reason why Dukat could be headed to Deep Space Nine."
"Doctor, if you know something - does this have to do with Ziyal?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
"I strongly suggest that you speak with her before the Defiant departs. She's on the station today; she has an appointment with Dr. Girani at 2000." He hoped that would be enough of a hint, given Mirat's specialty.
But Sisko didn't take it. "You can't tell me?" he asked, the frown lines between his eyes deepening.
"She would be better suited to provide you with the relevant information than I would," he replied, "and Bajoran physician-patient confidentiality laws prohibit me from releasing personal information about a civilian without a direct order." Also, he added privately and with some embarrassment, he really didn't want to be the one to spring this on him.
"Ah, yes," Sisko groaned, rubbing his temple, "Bajoran medical regulations. I think we've heard quite enough already from Kai Winn on that subject." He suddenly grinned. "It's strange, isn't it? You wouldn't think Ziyal would be such a sweet young woman. Just goes to show you that nature only goes so far." He waved a hand. "I'll speak with her before we leave. Dismissed."
"How'd he take it?" Miles asked when Julian caught up with him at the turbolift.
He shook his head. "I didn't tell him everything. He's going to talk to her."
"It's like a bad holovid of Romeo and Juliet, is what it is," Miles said as the doors closed behind them. "Level Two. You know, Sisko's going to blow a gasket."
Julian leaned into Miles, his earlier annoyance with him pushed to the back of his mind. "I wouldn't want to be in their shoes right now," he said, "but what can he do other than yell? They're both adults. Listen, I have to stop off at the Infirmary and assign a trauma team before we go home. I'll also have to upload the EMH to-"
As they stepped out of the turbolift they were immediately greeted by an ear-splitting scream coming from the direction of the daycare. Not again, he thought as he pressed his palm to the security panel and the door opened. If he found out whose whiny spoiled brat was causing the ruckus this time, he'd report them to-
"-NOOOOOO! DON'T WANNA GO!!"
Julian knelt down, placing his hand gently on the stomach of the screaming, wailing girl floundering around the daycare floor. "Molly, it's Papa. It's time to go home, sweetheart."
She gave him a filthy look, her face redder than her hair and her voice rising into a near-screech. "NO! DON'T WANNA GO WANNA STAY NOW!! "
"I HATE YOU!" she screamed, slipping out from under his hand as she leapt to her feet and began to run around the main room, throwing toys and books around in an incoherent rage as she ducked Julian's arms. "I HATE YOU!"
He finally grabbed her around the waist and held on as she flailed, her face darkening by the moment. "Come on," he said more firmly than he meant to. "Now stop it!" But she kept fighting him even as Miles returned to the main area with a bundle in his arms. "What has got into - STOP THAT!" he yelled as Molly sank her teeth into his arm.
"LET ME GO!"
"She's been like that for the last hour," an obviously exhausted Agnetha Karlsson said as she leaned against the doorway. "I was going to call you, but your nurse said you were in a senior staff meeting."
"NO! I DON'T-"
"We were, but it wasn't - IT WASN'T AN EMERGENCY," Miles got out between Molly's shrieks, rocking Fiona while Julian used his free hand to replace the toys Molly had scattered. "If it happens again-"
"LEGGO OF ME! LEGGOOOOO!"
"-just COMM US directly!"
"Molly-" Julian began.
"I HATE YOU! I HATE - NOOOOO! "
As they left the daycare somewhat shamefaced, Molly redoubled her squirming in Julian's arms as her screams turned into incoherent howls. Two prylars whispered furiously to each other as they passed them in the corridor, giving the four of them filthy looks as Molly began to kick him and Fiona began to wail.
"You," Julian muttered to Miles, "and your 'big Irish-"
Molly suddenly vomited all over him.
He wiped the stinging liquid out of his eyes and batted at the trickles of putrid bile-stained vomit that were dribbling from his completely soaked uniform jacket down his trousers and into his shoes. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Miles suddenly turn his face away and stifle a laugh. The arse, Julian thought savagely: the complete and utter arse.
He opened his mouth to give him a tongue-lashing when Molly began to cry. "Papa, I'm-" she got out before she began to sob.
"It's okay, bunny," he murmured to her, cradling her in his arms. "Let's go find out what's wrong with your tummy, okay?"
She nodded, burrowing her head into his wet shoulder.
He should have noticed she was sick, he thought as he followed Miles down the Promenade. She was normally such a good girl that he should have noticed there was something out of the ordinary. At that moment he didn't know which one of them deserved to be kicked around the Promenade more: Miles for making fun of him or himself for not doing his job.
Just as they reached the Infirmary Miles suddenly stopped in his tracks and spun around, his eyes wide. "You don't think it's..."
"It's not the meningitis," he replied as he brushed by Miles and carried Molly into the main diagnostic room. "Humans are completely immune. It's probably the bug Fiona came down with this morning. I think I've seen half the kids on the station in the Infirmary since the D'Abruzzo boys brought it back from Earth."
Miles's shoulders visibly relaxed. "Thank God."
Julian placed Molly gently on a biobed and began a standard viral scan as the evening nurse stepped up to the bed. "Okuna," he said after he read the results on the diagnostic screen, "could you get me 0.2 ccs of bicyclidine and 125 millilitres of human pediatric electrolyte solution? Also ask Dr. Perreira to see me as soon as she has a moment, if you don't mind."
She wrinkled her nose at his uniform. "The rotavirus?" she asked, handing him a hypospray and a stack of clean towels.
"That and being overtired, I think." He injected Molly with the antiviral then peeled off his uniform jacket, plucking off his combadge before throwing the filthy rag into the refresher bin in the corner. One good thing about the new quilted uniforms, he thought: they absorbed more.
The air suddenly filled with the unmistakeable stench of a full diaper. Julian put down the towel he was about to clean Molly's face with and sighed loudly. If one more thing -
"I'll take Fi home, get her cleaned up," Miles said from behind him. "You'll have to feed her though; the Defiant leaves at 1900 and I have to get ready-"
"Yes, I know," he interrupted, glaring over his shoulder. "I'll be home as soon I talk to Eva Perreira."
Miles chuckled and patted him twice on his clean shoulder, leaving before Julian could stare any more daggers into his back.
"Is Daddy goin' on the Defiant?" Molly asked. "Is he goin' away?"
"Yes, he is, bunny, but don't you worry. He'll be back for dinner tomorrow." He tossed the towel towards the recycling bin and took the glass of electrolyte solution from Okuna, whose face was a portrait of schooled neutrality; he silently thanked her for having the common decency not to laugh at him, at least not to his face. "Now drink this," he told Molly. "It'll make your mouth and your tummy feel better."
As Molly reluctantly sipped at the sweet liquid, Julian grabbed a fresh towel and tried to make himself respectable - a losing battle, he suspected.
"Good bunny! Now let's see Dr. Eva and then we'll go home and get you all comfortable, hmm?"
As he picked her up and went off to find Eva Perreira, he wondered if he'd ever get the hang of being a parent.
Julian arrived at the Infirmary the next morning only slightly worse for wear. Molly's stomach had calmed down enough that she'd been able to sleep comfortably and Fiona had only awoken once during the night, but it had been a while since he'd slept alone. According to the calendar he and Miles had just celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary last week (which is what probably got Miles thinking about having another child), but in reality it had only been sixteen months since they'd landed in this timeline and a short six months since they'd actually become lovers.
It wasn't surprising, he supposed, that he had become accustomed to his new life so quickly, but then again he hadn't lost as much as Miles had. The worst of it for him had been the loss of Keiko and her children (and of Garak, he had to admit), but of course his losses were nothing as compared to Miles's. Still, finding out that day that he, or the previous Julian, had been working on an in vitro fertilization procedure for the two of them had come as a shock.
But then he'd met Molly, his Molly, the next morning. Julian and Miles had returned to the station to find a young Bajoran nanny waiting for them at the airlock, a tiny redheaded girl nestled in her arms. Molly had hopped out of the nanny's grasp and run up to them, almost toppling over as she stretched her arms wide to give them both a hug. Miles had understandably been beyond even noticing her existence; his 'real' family had just disappeared into thin air, and (as he later told Julian) he had at that moment been torn between ripping apart the universe to get them back and throwing himself out the nearest airlock. But Julian had knelt down and swept Molly up, giving her an enormous kiss and fussing over her. She couldn't have known that he and Miles weren't the same Papa and Dada who had left her two days earlier; all she knew was that they were her parents and she loved them. And in that first moment he'd held her in her arms, Julian had fallen in love right back.
He didn't know how many times he'd been told that having children was the perfect expression of love. Usually it was some ancient, creaking relative of his encouraging him to settle down and raise a family 'before it was too late', but even his mother had said it from time to time. He'd always smiled and outwardly agreed with whomever was spouting the platitude, but he'd never really believed it. How could he? As a physician and a counselor, he'd dealt with too many children who had been conceived to prop up a failing marriage between two warring, incompatible adults, or who had been abused - physically, mentally, and even sexually - by those who professed to love them. But since he'd been in this timeline he'd learned that having a child in one's life could bring greater joy than he'd thought imaginable.
He'd fallen in love with Molly and Fi, those two amazing little beings, almost instantly, and he suspected that his love for them had somehow triggered his love for Miles. The scientist in him bandied about words like 'hormones' and 'pheromones' and the cynic in him shouted 'guilt' and 'transference', but none of that seemed to matter. He had fallen in love with his best friend, the macho and irritable Miles O'Brien, a man who on his best day thought a grand romantic gesture meant warning him before he farted under the sheets. Miles had eventually learned to love him in return, but even now Julian wondered sometimes if he was nothing more than a barely adequate substitute for the real love of Miles's life.
He sat at his desk and brought up the day's messages. The Health Ministry had sent them data on the virus samples isolated on Bajor during the Occupation; Julian was surprised by the sheer number of pathogens that had been identified. As he transferred the information to the Infirmary database and uploaded the first samples to his terminal, he wondered why anyone would use such an indiscriminate, uncontrollable tool that could backfire so easily to do their dirty work. Cardassians were histologically similar enough to Bajorans that they were susceptible to most Bajoran pathogens. Why, then, would they unleash a potentially fatal-
The Infirmary's emergency alert suddenly went off. He rose to his feet, but before he could return to the main area Kira's voice came over the comm system. "Ops to Infirmary. There's been a medical emergency at the Temple. I'm beaming two directly to you."
"Acknowledged," he replied, saving his work as the familiar whine of the transporter filled the room. He rushed to the beam-in biobed, grabbing a tricorder on the way.
It was Ziyal.
"What happened?" he asked a near-frantic Jake Sisko, who had also been beamed in.
"I don't know!" he cried, wrapping his arms around himself as Julian scanned Ziyal. "When I got there she was lying on the floor. She was - she was..." and he began to cry. "Doc, please..."
"She's been subjected to some kind of energy discharge," Julian said to Jabara. "3 ccs of cordrazine." He injected the drug and scanned her again. "Damn."
"What is it?" Jake cried, trying to get back to her side as one of the technicians tried to hold him back.
"We'll need the neuroscanner," Julian said. "We'll start with a deep level scan, with special attention to the medulla oblongata." He turned to Jake. "Listen, why don't you go out into the waiting room-"
"I'm not leaving her."
"All right; then take a seat there," he said, gesturing at the neighbouring biobed. "And don't interrupt us. The scan we're about to run is delicate, and we'll need to pay full attention to it."
As they positioned the bulky piece of equipment over Ziyal's head and began the scan, Julian snuck another look at Jake. It had been only four days since Miles had opened the door at 0400 to find them standing in the corridor, Ziyal in tears, Jake fiddling with the earring the station's resident vedek, Halan Parnas, had just fitted him with. Miles had been right: it was just like Romeo and Juliet - if Juliet had fallen pregnant.
He returned his attention to the scan. "I'm picking up activity in the dorsal horn," he said as his eyes met Jabara's. "Let's give her 2 ccs of morphonolog and 5 ccs of pectrinal chloride." Ziyal was in severe pain if the scans were to be believed, but that wasn't a normal side effect of an incapacitating blast from an energy weapon.
But neither was the shutdown of large sections of her cerebral cortex. He looked up at Jake again. "Are you sure you didn't see anything or anyone unusual? No burns on the floor, or-"
"I..." Jake was almost vibrating as he apparently willed himself not to break down completely. "I think the cabinet they keep the Orb in was open. Is she going to be okay? Is the baby..."
"Jake," he said after a moment, walking over to lay a hand on the younger man's shoulder, "this is very serious, and you should prepare yourself. It's not good. Sections of her brain are shutting down and I don't know if I can stop it."
"But you'll try, right?" he asked, his eyes black with fear and grief.
"Absolutely." He turned back to Jabara. "Prep her for surgery. I'm going to try to isolate the brainstem and apply cortical grafts to reroute around the damaged tissue." He tapped his combadge. "Infirmary to Ops."
"We're in the middle of a crisis right now," Kira replied. "In fact, I'd like to see you up here as soon as you can make it."
He frowned. Ziyal's condition was deteriorating but if conditions were really that bad, informing Kira about it could wait. "I'll send someone down. Infirmary out." He tapped his badge again. "Infirmary to Dr. Girani."
Her drowsy voice came through the comm system ten seconds later. "What is it, Julian?"
"We have a medical emergency. I need your help immediately. Bring Okuna if she's there."
"Well, of course Dani's here," she grumbled. "Where the hell else is she going to be: running the dabo tables at Quark's? We'll be there in ten minutes."
"Fine," he said, but not before the connection was cut off. He frowned; Girani Mirat might be one of the best GPs and ob/gyns he'd ever met, but at times she could be more caustic than bleach. Sometimes he wondered why Danielle Okuna put up with her.
"Doc," Jake began, "is she-"
He interrupted him. "I have to ask you to wait out in the front area. Do you have anyone who can stay with you? Is Kasidy on the station?"
"I-" He drew his hands over his face. "I don't remember, I can call-"
"Jake," he said, grasping his shoulder again, "I'll do the best I can, all right? Just hold on for her sake. If anything happens, I promise you'll be the first to know."
He nodded wordlessly, the tears falling freely as he reluctantly allowed a technician to lead him towards the waiting area, his gaze never leaving the face of the young woman on the biobed.
Julian's eyes met Jabara's again as the door closed. "What do you think her chances are?" she asked under her breath.
"Not good," he replied in a low voice. "And she's already lost the baby."
She grimaced, shaking her head as she returned to the task of preparing Ziyal and transferring her into the surgical bay.
As he changed into scrubs and sanitized, he almost contacted Ops again to find out if they could reach the Defiant. If there was anyone Jake needed at the moment it was his father, but without the Lemna relay they probably couldn't contact the ship.
He let out a sigh and pushed through the doors to the surgical bay, clearing his mind of everything but the procedure he was about to perform.
He was applying the first cortical graft when Girani and Okuna arrived. "Sorry to wake you," he said to them, not looking up from the surgical field. "Girani, I'll need you to cover out front. Okuna, go to Ops and tell Colonel Kira that - that Ziyal has been critically injured by an unknown energy discharge. Jake Sisko found her in the Bajoran Temple. We'll probably be in surgery with her for at least the next four hours."
"Jake and Kasidy are out in the waiting room," Girani replied. "Should I comm the captain?"
"He's on the Defiant right now. I don't know if they're in comm range given that there's a problem with one of the relays in the Gamma Quadrant. You can ask Kira if they can get in touch with him." A sudden noise from the direction of the Promenade made him frown. "What's going on out there?"
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Okuna step aside to allow Girani out of the bay. "I don't know," she said. "People are running around crying."
"Before you go to Ops, then," he said as he manipulated the graft into place, "comm the Gryphon. Given that Perreira's on the Defiant, we might need help from Dr. Sanchez's team if it turns into a riot." As she left, he took a deep breath, then returned to the task at hand. Station crisis or not, this patient needed his undivided attention.
It was almost 1200 before he and Jabara had finished implanting the grafts, but he wasn't sure if it had made any difference. "I'm going to speak with Jake and Colonel Kira," he told Jabara over his shoulder as he crossed to the sanitizer and cleaned up. "While I'm gone, run a second deep scan. I'm not convinced we stopped the cascade, but if we were able to isolate the brainstem she might make it. Comm me if she regains consciousness or gets worse while I'm gone, but make sure to let the two of them in first." It might be the only kindness he could give them, he thought, and given the events of the past week Jake had a right to be there.
"The Colonel's still in Ops," Okuna said from the doorway. "She said something serious had happened and she wanted to see you as soon as possible." She and Girani traded worried glances.
He nodded, ignoring the cold lump of fear that suddenly settled in his belly. "I'll talk with Jake first," he said to Girani. "Keep an eye on her and if the scans turn up anything unusual, comm me."
As he went out to update Jake, he looked back at the surgical bay for a moment, hoping against hope that Ziyal would make it.
He arrived in Ops ten minutes later only to be waved into Sisko's office by Colonel Kira, whose expression was troubled as she stood at one of the viewports. "Sit down," she said as the door closed behind him, gesturing towards a chair before taking her own seat behind Sisko's desk.
"I don't have much-" he started, but he looked again at her face. Her eyes were hard, her face was lined, and she looked as if she had aged ten years overnight. This was more than Ziyal, he realized.
She paused before speaking, looking down at her hands before returning her gaze to his face. "The wormhole's disappeared."
"Disa - WHAT?!?" His mouth dropped open. "What do you mean it's disappeared? The Defiant-"
"I know," she said, holding a hand up. "We picked up a garbled transmission from them just before the wormhole vanished. We can't find any trace of it. I've sent out...."
Her voice trailed away in his mind as the implications of what she had said began to reverberate. If the wormhole had vanished, if it were gone forever - no, no, he wouldn't think of that. It had to be temporary; it just had to be. He couldn't accept the alternative. He wouldn't accept the alternative. Miles was on the Defiant, the Defiant was in the Gamma Quadrant, the Gamma Quadrant was cut off -
The air felt suddenly thick, as if it were holding him in its grasp. He could hear Kira saying something, but it was nothing but noise. Was this what Miles had felt when Keiko had disappeared - oh God, how was he ever going to tell the girls? How was he going to live without - please, he begged, please let this be temporary, please-
And his eyes snapped open as a sharp pain lanced itself into his right cheek.
Kira had slapped him.
He looked up into her determined face. "I - I can't believe that," he said. "That can't be. He's not gone. They're not gone."
"Julian," she said, "I know this is a hell of a shock but you need to pull it together. You and Odo are the only members of the senior staff I still have. I'm going to need your help."
He found himself rising to his feet. "We need to go out there and run a close-up scan of the area," he all but shouted. "Maybe the signature of the wormhole has just changed, or-"
But she was shaking her head. "We've already done that. A science team from the Gryphon went out an hour ago. There isn't even a sign that there ever was a wormhole. The good news is that we didn't find any debris, and there's no sign that the wormhole's been destroyed."
If they were gone - no, he simply wouldn't accept that. Miles wasn't gone. There was no debris. It was temporary. "Could this have something to do with what happened to Ziyal?" he asked.
Her eyes suddenly widened. "Oh Prophets, Ziyal. How is she?"
He took a second to centre his thoughts. Keep your mind on your job, he admonished himself. "I'm not certain yet exactly what happened," he said, "but it's very serious. I don't think she's going to make it."
She looked away. "I...Jake...this is just..." But she stood up straight again (taking her own advice, Julian thought) and looked him in the eye. "As to your question," she said in a rough voice, "I don't know. The wormhole disappeared just before Jake commed us for beamout."
"Infirmary to Colonel Kira."
They frowned at each other as Kira tapped her combadge. "Kira here."
"Colonel, Ziyal is awake and she's asking for you," Girani said. "She says she has something important to tell you."
"Has she stabilized?" Julian asked.
"I'm afraid not. You'd better come down right away."
They shared a look before leaving Sisko's office for the Infirmary. In the turbolift, Kira looked up at him. "You okay?"
He shrugged and gave her a quick but grim nod. 'Okay' was about the last word he'd use to describe himself, but Kira had been right: he had a job to do. He had to remain calm and to carry out his duties. In any event, it was far too early to panic.
"Nerys..." Ziyal breathed as she reached out from the biobed they'd moved her to in his absence. She was pale, almost ethereally so, and her voice was barely a whisper. To her side, Jake was standing, holding her other hand, his face deceptively calm as he softly caressed her shoulder. Kira took Ziyal's hand and stood over her.
Ziyal blinked, her eyes suddenly vacant. "It was Father."
"Father?" Kira asked. "You mean Dukat?"
"He...his eyes were...red..." The words came slowly. "He tried to...get past me to the...I think he threw me...I don't..."
The colonel hit her combadge with her free hand as Ziyal's eyes fluttered shut. "Kira to Ops. Go to red alert. Gul Dukat has been spotted on the station. I want full security details on all pylons and pads and increased security on the Promenade. No ships are to leave the station until further notice." She turned back to Ziyal, waiting until she opened her eyes again. "Do you remember anything else?"
Her eyes closed again; Julian grabbed a tricorder and scanned her discreetly while she spoke. "...no...he was red...the baby...is she..."
Julian's eyes met Jake's; he gave the young man a brief shake of his head before stepping in between her and Kira. "Everything's fine," he said, not wanting her last thoughts to be ones of grief or pain. "Just try to rest. Colonel," he said, turning to Kira, "could I join you in the front room in a moment? I need to speak with Jake privately."
Kira made a sound of protest but Julian shook his head again. "All right," she said, her voice hollow. "Ziyal, honey, I'll see you soon. Take care." She squeezed the girl's hand before giving her a kiss on the forehead and retreating to the front waiting area.
He drew the young man aside. "Jake," he said in a low voice, "you have to make a decision for Ziyal. Her respiratory centre is failing. She doesn't have a personal directive in the system and she isn't in sound mind at the moment, so we don't know whether she'd want to be put on a respirator under these circumstances or - or whether she'd prefer nature to take its course. Under Bajoran and Federation law you're her next of kin now."
Jake stared at him in horror. "But I - I'm only - I can't..."
"You have to," he said, putting a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "It's your decision. You probably didn't consider this possibility last Sunday-"
He slumped against the wall. "Oh, God," he groaned. "I - how can I tell you to..." He swallowed, his gaze riveted to Ziyal's face. "If we put her on a respirator, do you think she'll get better?"
"I wouldn't say never, but I think the chances are in the neighbourhood of one in a million, if that. Parts of her brain are already gone."
Jake dropped his head into his hands, letting the tears fall freely. "I...I don't want her to live like that," he said as he rubbed at his eyes. "I don't want her to die, and I don't want her to suffer, and..."
"I know, Jake; I know."
He suddenly glared at Julian. "Goddammit!" he cried out through his tears. "What the hell am I supposed to do?"
He said nothing. What could he say?
Jake's gaze eventually wandered back to Ziyal's still, ashen face. "Just - just make sure she isn't hurting, okay?," he finally said, his voice almost a whisper. "That's - don't do anything else. I can't put her through..."
"All right," Julian replied, silently signalling one of the nurses. "We'll leave you alone with her. She isn't in any pain. Call if you need me - I'll be out in the waiting area."
He nodded wordlessly; Julian gave his shoulder another squeeze before heading toward the front room.
"How is she?" Kasidy asked him as she and Kira rose to their feet.
"I'm sorry," he said to them. "I don't give her more than a few minutes. Jake's with her now."
"Sweet Prophets," Kira murmured as tears began to stream down Kasidy's face. "And Captain Sisko is on the Defiant. I...I have to get back to Ops. If Dukat's on the station, we're in even more trouble than I realized."
"That was four and a half hours ago," Julian pointed out. "He could be on Cardassia or anywhere in the sector by now."
"We still have to prepare for the worst, and-"
Jake's voice suddenly rang out from the main room. "Doc!"
He had never been a religious man, he thought as he and Kasidy rushed to Ziyal's bedside, but at that moment he prayed to any god, prophet, or even devil listening for the ability to start this day over again.
Ziyal's skin was tinged with blue, her eyes closed, her breathing irregular and laboured as Jake sat beside her, his cheek pressed into hers, his tears spilling over onto her cheek. Less than a minute later Ziyal let out a final ragged breath, her eyes flickered, then - nothing.
She was gone.
If for nothing else, Julian thought as Jake dissolved into heaving sobs in Kasidy's arms, Dukat would surely roast in Hell for this.
He'd wanted to complete Ziyal's autopsy that afternoon but had desisted after Girani marched him into his office and ordered him to take the rest of the day off to be with his children. She'd been right, of course; the researchers at Starbase 375 had the meningitis problem well in hand, Girani and the Gryphon's CMO were perfectly capable of handling anything that came up on the station, and his girls needed him more than Starfleet did at that moment. So there he stood at 1320 outside the daycare, three hours earlier than normal, wondering how he was going to tell Molly about Miles.
In the last sixteen months he'd watched Molly grow from a little toddling two-year-old, barely able to run or form even a short sentence, to a talkative, athletic little girl. During that time, however, she'd never lost her fear that Miles would one day simply disappear. One reason was the paranoia of her little friend Tekeny Garak, whose father had given his life to destroy the Founders. Tekeny was certain that any adult who began to act unusually (as Elim Garak had apparently done shortly before his death) was about to disappear, and his constant assertions that Miles was "going away" had taken their toll on his daughter. Unfortunately, Tekeny had only seen what would have been obvious had anyone else been watching Miles closely. The man hadn't been able to dissimulate his distaste for and disbelief in the new timeline and everything in it, including Molly.
Julian couldn't fault Miles for not being able to act like a father to her, at least not at first; after all, this Molly wasn't 'his' Molly, not the one he had with Keiko. As the months passed and as Miles recovered from his devastating grief, though, he had still refused to see Molly as real. He had treated her and the child Julian had been carrying at the time as little more than characters in a holonovel, only beginning to accept and love them after Fiona had been born. Molly had recovered some of her confidence since then, but now Julian had to go in there and tell her that her Daddy really had "gone away" just like she had been predicting for the past year.
He suddenly cursed himself under his breath and told himself to get a grip. Stranger things had happened in this sector; the wormhole could pop back into existence at any moment. There was absolutely no need to scare her. The crew of the Defiant might have even closed the wormhole themselves if there was an invasion force on the other side, or if Dukat's men had destroyed...
No. He wouldn't think of that.
He pressed his palm to the security panel and entered the daycare centre.
The front room was unnaturally quiet. Julian could hear murmuring in the back room and a few whimpered tears, but the happy laughter he normally associated with the place was completely absent. He snuck a look in the side room only to find two dozen Bajoran children sitting quietly, their hands clasped in front of them, one of the younger boys crying in Hantha Rekhim's arms.
Agnetha Karlsson held a finger to her lips as she gently closed the door behind her. "They're praying," she whispered as she led him to one of the smaller media rooms.
He turned to look back at the children through the window in the door, wondering why - but then he almost smacked himself on the head. Of course they're praying, he chided himself: their gods had just vanished into the vacuum of space. He'd been so fixated on what had happened to Miles and the rest of the Defiant crew that the full implications of the wormhole's disappearance hadn't even entered his mind.
Molly was sitting in the far corner of the media room, playing silently with a holo-construction set while the three Garak children napped on a sofa shoved up against the far wall. "Hey, bunny!" he said softly as he knelt down by the door.
She jumped to her feet and ran toward him, kissing him on the cheek as he held her in his arms. "Papa!"
He grinned at her. "So how's your day been?"
"Everybody's sad," she said. "Miss Hantha said the wormhole closed up."
It suddenly felt like an icy band had wrapped itself around his heart, and he wondered how much of it she understood, or (for that matter) could understand. "Yes, it did," he said as he stood and walked with her out to the main area. "We're going to go home early today. Do you want to wait here while I get Fiona?"
Mrs. Karlsson, who had been following them, held up a hand. "The two of you stay here. I'll have one of the nursery aides bring her out."
Molly watched her leave, then tugged on Julian's sleeve. "Is Daddy gone to fix the wormhole?" she asked.
"Then where did he go?"
He took a deep breath. How could he ever explain this? "Listen," he said, kneeling down again, "why don't we go home and talk about it."
"Is Daddy coming home for dinner? You said he was," she said with a pout.
"I know I did, but..." He hugged her again. "Daddy's going to be late, so we'll have early dinner, okay?" he said quietly.
"'kay." Just then one of the infant caregivers emerged from the back with Fiona. He took the baby and carried her away, Molly clutching to the waistband of his jacket.
In the end it hadn't been as difficult as he had expected. Molly was simply too young to understand what "the other side of the wormhole" meant, and had decided that Miles was actually off fixing it. He didn't bother to correct her; the wormhole could return at any time, and if it didn't-
He forcibly turned his mind away from that. There was no if, he told himself: the wormhole would return. It was only a matter of when.
He fed and changed Fiona, put both of the girls down for their naps, and sat down at the terminal, checking the time in Dublin before arranging for a subspace channel to Earth.
Aoife O'Brien beamed at him once the connection went through. "Julian! It's so nice to see you! Michael!" she cried, twisting in her seat to shout up the stairway behind her. "Michael, Julian's on the comm! Come downstairs!" She turned back to him. "So how is everything? How are the girls?"
He tried to tell her, but all that came out was, "I...I don't know how I'm supposed to..."
She looked into his eyes for just a moment, then her face went absolutely white. "I'll fetch Michael; you - you just wait there," she said in a thin voice before quickly heading up the stairs.
Julian had only spoken to Miles's father and stepmother once before in this timeline, when he'd called them the day after Fiona was born. Even though their conversation had been short, they had been thrilled about the baby and they seemed to like him very much. He wondered if Miles really understood how fortunate he was to have such supportive and loving parents.
Michael O'Brien flew down the stairs. "Julian," he said, his eyes dark with fear as he sat in front of the panel, "what's going on?"
"Miles is, um, on the Defiant," he started, trying to control his emotions. "The ship was on a mission in the Gamma Quadrant, and the wormhole just...it vanished, and we can't contact them..."
Michael's mouth dropped open. "The wormhole - vanished?"
"It..." Julian swallowed. "There's no trace it ever existed. We've sent people out, but..."
"Oh no," Aoife moaned from behind her husband. "No...no...please, no."
"When - when did this happen?" Michael finally said.
"A few hours ago," Julian replied. "I was in surgery...they only told me just now. I, um, I got the girls home and I thought I'd better comm you."
"Do you know if he's all right?" Aoife asked. "Can you get a message through to him?"
He shook his head. "We can't reach them. We don't know where they are or...or anything and I..."
"Bloody," Michael muttered. "And you with the young ones." He turned to his wife. "Aoife! Power up the other terminal and comm Starfleet Family Services. Tell 'em to get us seats on the next shuttle out. And don't forget to say it's a hardship case and we need priority. Julian," he said, turning back to the screen, "we'll be there as soon as we can."
"No buts, son," he said, interrupting him. "Something tells me that right hoor of a father of yours isn't exactly bustin' the quadrant down to help you, is he?"
"Right." He twisted in his seat and listened for a moment. "There is? Three hours? Y'sure?" He listened for another moment, then turned back to Julian, shaking his head. "Aoife says they messaged us already; there's a special shuttle going out to Bajor, but we'll have to be fairly lively if we want to catch it. Listen, I don't know exactly when we'll get there, but - just hold on. We'll be there before you know it, and with any luck Miles'll meet us at the airlock to tell us we missed Harold's giant birthday bash for nothing." He gave Julian a nod. "We love you, son. We'll be there by the beginning of next week."
"Thank you," he finally got out past the lump that was beginning to form in his throat. "I'll - I'll see you soon."
The screen went dark. He dismissed the idea of messaging his own parents; that bridge had been burnt the moment he'd received his father's vitriolic message after Fiona's birth. But there was one more thing he had to do.
He got up to make sure that Molly was still sleeping, then returned to the terminal. "Computer," he said in a low voice, "search Miles O'Brien's logs for personal directives."
Two files found.
Typical of Miles, he thought: one for him and one for his father. "Play file 'Julian'. Volume low."
Miles's face suddenly appeared on the screen. "Hey, you," he said. "If you're, um...Christ on a crutch, I hate this bullshit..."
He smiled at Miles's blasphemous tirade in spite of himself.
"...but if you're watching this I'm probably dead. Well, maybe I've been taken prisoner by the Cardies or God knows who in this sector, or I've gone missing or something, I don't..." He stopped to take a deep breath. "Right. First off, if I'm dead I want you to know that I love you. Now you take care of yourself and remember, I want you to name the baby Molly..."
Julian reached up and silently paused playback as a wave of cognitive dissonance passed through him. This wasn't his Miles; this was the Miles who had existed before they changed the timeline. But in another way, he thought as he examined the features on the screen, this was more "his" Miles than the one he knew. This Miles had loved him, and not as a substitute either. This Miles had chosen to marry him and had chosen to create their two daughters. He had the same mannerisms and way of speaking as the Miles he knew, of course, but the Miles on the screen had in a very real sense belonged to Julian in a way the one he knew never would.
He tapped the screen again to resume playback.
"...after my ma. And, um, don't spend the rest of your life pinin' away for me, okay? Find yourself a nice guy or a nice girl, I don't care, and just - be happy. Sisko has a copy of my will but if he's gone off and got himself killed at the same time, I left another copy with Commander Data on the Enterprise." He reached toward the screen. "Seriously, Julian. I mean it. Don't spend your life mourning me. For one thing, if you do that I'll come back from Tir na nag and haunt you."
That won't happen, Julian thought.
"Now if I've gone missing or something, I don't want you to risk your fat gut on some batshit scheme to free me, all right? You get someone else to do the dirty work. You might be carryin' her but she's my girl too." His eyes suddenly became soft. "And anyway, wouldn't make sense for both of us to get thrown into some backwater Cardie stockade, especially with you like that. I, um..." and with that Miles gave the monitor a stern look. "If you can't get me back, I want you to promise you'll go on with your life. Don't sit around for thirty years waitin' for me. Okay?"
"No," he said out loud.
Miles narrowed his eyes; Julian got the distinct impression that the man on the screen knew him all too well. "Love, I'm telling you," he said, "don't try to take on the bloody universe. You might be the most stubborn bastard in the sector and probably the whole quadrant but if I don't come back you have to go on with your life." He huffed. "Listen. Save this and re-open it in a year and watch it again; maybe it'll make more sense then." He looked away for a second, then leaned in towards the screen. "I hope to hell you never have to play this, love, but if you are, just - be a good father to Molly, all right? Put a holo of me by her crib, let her know that I loved her and wanted her more than anything..."
"Computer," he said in a rough voice, "end playback."
He sat in front of the monitor for a few minutes, thinking about what he'd do if Miles-
Stop brooding on it, he told himself.
He had just risen to his feet when the door chimed. "Come in."
Kira stuck her head through the door. "Is this a good time?" she asked in a low voice, peering around him towards Molly's door.
"She's down for her nap; come in." He waved Kira into the living area. "Has anything happened? Any news?"
"I sent out another runabout, but they didn't discover anything new," she said as they took seats across from each other. "I just talked to Dr. Girani; she said she sent you home. How's Molly taking it?"
"She doesn't understand, but then again I'm not exactly sure how to tell her. I'm not certain she-" and he suddenly stared at her. "Oh God - Jake. Is he-"
"I was just at their quarters," she told him. "Jake's doing about as well as you'd expect, I guess. Kasidy and Nog are there with him now." She shook her head in apparent disbelief. "I still don't know why they hid their relationship from Captain Sisko. I mean, you knew about it, I knew about it, the Cardassians probably knew about it. Why run around behind the captain's back?"
"Ziyal said that Sisko ordered Jake not to see her, but that was back when he was seventeen. If I'd been in Jake's place I'd have told him to sit on it and rotate, but I suppose it's different when your father's the station commander. Did Ziyal tell you about..."
She gave a brief nod. "The three of us had dinner last night. Captain Sisko seemed to take the news pretty well, she said. He was shocked, of course, but compared to what they'd been expecting it was nothing. By the way, Kasidy said she tried to get in touch with the captain's father at his restaurant, but he's already halfway here."
"I know," he said. "Jake commed him from our quarters on Sunday. Mr. Sisko said he wanted to come out here and make certain everything was legal, or at least that's what he said - I have a feeling he really wanted to make sure Ziyal was good enough for Jake. Now..."
"Now he'll be here to support him," she finished. "I commed the Venture's captain, by the way; she'll have her CMO keep an eye on him, but I wanted to give you a heads-up in case he needs to see a doctor when he gets here. Kasidy doesn't want to give him the bad news over subspace. I also let Captain Figueiredo know about Miles. She asked about you and the girls."
He sighed, trying to ignore the sympathetic look in Kira's eyes. Miles had once mentioned to him that he'd served with Gabriela Figueiredo on the Rutledge when she was just a green ensign fresh out of the Academy. He'd described her as 'a hell of a soldier' and hadn't been surprised when she rose quickly through the ranks. Julian knew that she and Miles exchanged messages in this timeline on a weekly basis, but he didn't know if he'd ever met her himself.
"I should get back," Kira said as she stood and headed toward the door. "I have about twenty more notifications to make. It's one of those things nobody ever teaches you how to do, but you have to do it anyway." She reached the doorway, then turned back. "If I hear anything I'll comm you."
"Thanks. I might take a runabout out myself, for what good it'll do. If there are any free, that is," he added.
"Captain Nkama's offered us the use of the Gryphon's shuttles. They have more sensitive scanners than the runabouts. I'll let him know you might want to borrow one."
It was probably futile, he told himself as he watched the door close behind her. They'd sent out at least three runabouts that he knew of and had been searching the area with the station's sensors for the better part of six hours. He didn't know what he thought he'd find but he felt he had to go out there, if only for his own peace of mind.
He turned to find Molly standing by her door, her red curls in disarray as she rubbed at her eyes. "Did you have a good nap, sweetie?" he asked her.
She nodded. "Is Daddy home from fixing the wormhole?"
"Um, he's - he's not, um..." he babbled, before taking a deep breath and starting again. "He's not home yet," he replied, "but you know what? Papa's going to go out there tonight and work on it too."
"But *Daddy* fixes things, not you," she said with an air of authority.
He grasped for an explanation. "Well," he started, "tonight I'm going to start. So after dinner we're all going to go back to the daycare and you and Fiona can spend the evening there with Mr. Kalen."
She pouted at him. "I want Ziyal instead."
Oh God. "I, um...I have to talk to you about Ziyal," he said, a lump of cold dread forming in his stomach. "Let's go sit on the sofa."
Once they were seated, he put his arm around her. "This is really sad news, bunny. Ziyal was in the Infirmary today."
"Did she sneeze?"
He raised an eyebrow. "No-"
"She sneezed last week. That's cause Jake put a baby in her tummy, right?"
"Ye-es, that's - that's true," he stammered, a bit shocked by her grasp of the situation, "but that's not why she was in the Infirmary today. Today, a bad man did something terrible to her and hurt her very badly. Miss Jabara and I worked very hard to try to - to try to fix what he'd done, but the bad man had hurt her too badly and we couldn't help her."
"Did she go away?"
He gave her a sad smile. "No, bunny, she didn't go away. She and the baby died and they had to go to heaven."
Her little brow knit as she looked up into his face. "When are they coming back?"
"Oh, honey," he said, holding her tight. "They can't come back, sweetie. When people go to heaven they can never come back. I'm so sorry."
Julian held Molly as she cried against his shoulder. Even though she seemed heartbroken, he still worried whether she really understood what he'd meant, especially considering this was the first time she'd had to deal with death in person. She'd known, of course, that her friend Tekeny's father had died when she was a baby, and he and Miles had once told her about Miles's 'really good friend' Keiko and her daughter who had died, but this was someone Molly had actually known, even loved.
He only hoped this was the last time he'd have to do this for a very long time.
The Infirmary was as still as a cathedral the next morning. Girani, who had just gone off duty, had left Julian a message mentioning (among other things) that most of the Bajoran civilians who normally made up the bulk of the station's residents had left for the planet surface the previous evening. Some of them had been scared off by Kai Winn's sudden pronouncement that the disappearance of the wormhole was a sign of the Prophets' displeasure at the continuing occupation of Deep Space Nine by Starfleet, but the majority were concerned that Dukat was preparing to wreak further havoc. Julian couldn't blame them, not after what the bastard had done to his own daughter.
And that was the first order of business for the morning: Ziyal's autopsy. It turned out to be completely routine, almost overly so. He didn't discover anything during the gross examination that would explain the underlying cause of death, but he collected the necessary samples and set them aside for further study. As he closed up, he looked down on her face one last time. Sisko had been right; she had been a sweet young woman. She would have made a fine mother too.
Jabara sealed the remains in a steri-bag and arranged for the bag to be beamed directly to the station temple; as Julian watched Ziyal's body shimmer out of existence, his mind went back to the first time he'd met the shy girl. Kira had brought her to the Infirmary after rescuing her from Dozaria. He'd treated her minor infections, cuts, scrapes, and badly healed broken bones, but he'd also detected subtle signs that the girl had been sexually abused. Unfortunately, she'd refused to see a counselor, preferring instead to spend her days with Garak, who naturally had been flattered to have such a beautiful young woman fall in love with him even if he didn't love her in return.
No, he reminded himself: that was in his original timeline. In this timeline Garak had been married to the imperious and commanding Iliana Ghemor, a woman who would not have tolerated any threat to her husband's undivided attention. Ziyal had instead sought counselling from the station vedek and had eventually entered into a wholly appropriate relationship with a young man her own age who reciprocated her feelings. Well, appropriate in the eyes of everyone but Captain Sisko, that is, and his reservations were understandable; after all, Jake was the son of the Emissary of the Prophets and Ziyal was the daughter of Bajor's Public Enemy Number One. Still, it hadn't really been any of Sisko's business, especially since Jake and Ziyal had both been legal adults for almost two years at the time of their elopement.
He returned to his office and, pushing aside his worries for the moment, slid behind his desk and checked his mail for any word from Starbase 375 about the virus. He had a suspicion he'd seen that atypical molecule before but he simply couldn't pinpoint where, and without knowing where the virus came from it would be almost impossible to develop a vaccine or a cure. Maybe if he-
He turned in his seat to find a tall dark-skinned woman standing beside the nearest biobed, a manicured hand resting on the shoulder of an older man who was perched on the bed. She grinned at him as he went out to greet them.
"How are you? How are the girls?" she asked in a light accent Julian couldn't quite place.
He opened his mouth to answer her, then noticed the four gold pips on her uniform collar. "Captain," he stammered, "I-I'm-"
"Oh, please," she said before turning to the older man with a conspiratorial smirk. "See, I told you. Every time he sees me he gets all formal, especially if there's someone else around. I tell him every time, 'just call me Fig', and every time it's 'aye sir, Captain Figueiredo sir'. Sometimes I think the only person he actually listens to is Miles." She turned back to him with a wide smile. "You've met Joe before, haven't you?"
The older man broke in before Julian could answer her. "Actually, I don't think we've met," he said. "I'm Joseph Sisko. Ben's father. You must be Julian O'Brien, right?"
"Yes, sir," he said, taking the man's hand. "I understand you came out to talk to Jake." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jabara step into the ICU and tap her combadge, closing the door behind her.
"I did," he said. "Well, him and his new - who would think that such a thing could happen in this day and age? Anyway, Gabriela here," and he nodded towards the captain with a twinkle in his eye, "she was kind enough to give me passage to the station and escort me to the Infirmary. Her doctor spent most of the trip fussing on me, going on and on about my heart. I don't see what all the bother is about; they put in a new one last month and said it'd give me another 50 years." He grinned up again at Captain Figueiredo; it was obvious the elegant woman had caught his eye. "I could probably outrun all of you young folks without even trying."
She chuckled. "I don't doubt that, but I think your grandson would feel better if Julian gave you a quick once-over."
"And the standard blood check," Julian added as he took two vials from Jabara, who caught his eye and gave him a quick nod before powering up the blood analyzer.
Joseph frowned as he held out his arm. "What I don't understand is why they're still doing this nonsense. I had to have a test when I boarded the Venture too. Didn't that Garak destroy the shapeshifters?"
"The Founders are tricky," Figueiredo replied. "Starfleet suspects that there were a few Founders off-planet at the time, and the ones that were spared were probably members of whatever passed for the Dominion government. And since they don't have anything to lose, they're potentially more dangerous than they were even before."
"Everything checks out," Julian said to them, one eye on the door to the Promenade, "with the blood and with your heart, sir. I'm sure Jake will be relieved."
"That boy worries too much. He's worse than Ben." He suddenly frowned. "Where is Jake anyway? He said he and Ziyal were going to meet me at the airlock. Has he-"
Just then Kasidy entered the Infirmary. "Joseph," she said as she approached the biobed, "is everything okay?"
"Just fine, dear," he replied with a smile. "They're just fussing on me as usual. Did Jake forget I was coming?"
She and Julian shared a look. "Actually, Joseph," she began, but Captain Figueiredo interrupted her.
"I should make sure that Ferengi bartender I saw isn't cheating my new ensigns out of a year's worth of pay. We've been in deep space for almost two years, out past the Klingon Empire," she explained to Kasidy. "We just returned to Earth three weeks ago to pick up crew replacements and have those new warp engine improvements fitted. I swear to God, the ensigns get younger every year." She turned to Julian and grinned at him. "I can't wait to meet the baby, and I can't imagine how big Molly must be by now. I'll catch up with you later. I'll see you later too, Joe."
"You too." Joseph Sisko watched Captain Figueiredo leave, then turned to Kasidy, one eyebrow raised. "What's up?"
She gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm afraid I have some bad news."
As Kasidy told Joseph about the wormhole and Ziyal, Julian quietly moved to the foot of the biobed, letting the scanner monitor Joseph's cardiac status as he watched him carefully. He wasn't too concerned about the elder Sisko's heart - the new prosthetics didn't usually give much trouble, and he was otherwise healthy for his age - but it didn't hurt to be careful any time a man on the far side of eighty received disturbing news, especially if he'd just undergone major surgery.
"So nobody knows whether the ship's been damaged or destroyed or just trapped." Joseph said after Kasidy had finished. "We really have no idea what's going on."
"We don't," she replied, "but the station did receive a garbled transmission from the Defiant right before the wormhole closed. Colonel Kira, Ben's second-in-command, says it was simply a routine position report."
"So we know they were probably fine at that point."
She gave him a confident smile. "Exactly. Kira's sent out at least four teams of scientists I know of to scan the area, but they haven't discovered any evidence to even explain what happened. Julian went out himself last night as well - didn't you?" Kasidy asked, turning to him.
"I did, but it was pretty much a useless effort," he said with a shrug. "I was planning to spend the afternoon going over the sensor results with a fine-toothed comb, but I'm beginning to wonder now if I'm just duplicating the efforts of officers who have much more experience with these things than I do."
"Julian's husband is on the Defiant," Kasidy added. "They have two little girls. I'd go out there myself but the Xhosa doesn't have the kind of sensors a Starfleet shuttlecraft has."
Joseph shook his head. "You must be out of your mind," he said to Julian before turning back to Kasidy. "How's Jake taking it all?"
"He's devastated. I've been so worried about him that I've made sure he hasn't been left alone. It probably sounds morbid-"
"No," Joseph reassured her, "that's simple common sense."
She nodded. "Right now his friend Nog is watching him, but he has duties aboard the Gryphon so we should get back." She patted Joseph's arm. "Seeing you might give him something to hold on to."
"I hope so," he sighed as he ran a hand over his face. "You know, some day I'm going to give Benjamin a piece of my mind over this. There's no quicker way to throw two young people together than to forbid them to see each other." He turned to Julian. "How long had they been together, do you know?"
"I think you should speak with Jake about that," he replied. "As his physician-"
"-you can't break a confidence," Joseph finished for him. "That's fair enough. I'd be damned annoyed if my doctor started blathering on about my sex life to my family." He eased himself off the biobed. "Listen, would you let me know if they discover anything about the wormhole? I know you'll probably be on it like a wolf on steak yourself-"
"-but I'd like to be kept in the loop if at all possible."
He took Joseph's proffered hand again. "I will. And don't forget to comm the Infirmary if you require medical assistance. We're here 26 hours a day."
"I'll do that."
Julian's smile fell into a troubled frown as he watched them make their way out of the Infirmary and down the Promenade, Joseph leaning on Kasidy's arm. He was glad Joseph was here - Jake could use his support - but on the other hand his presence was another thing the young man would feel responsible for.
His gaze wandered back to the terminal in his office, and he debated whether it would be a waste of his time to go over the sensor records from the Anticosti. If he didn't, though, he'd probably spend the rest of the day and night worrying about whether he'd missed something. "Jabara," he called to her, "I'll be in my office. Call me if you need me."
She looked up from the biobed she'd been sanitizing. "Yes, doctor."
As he slid behind his desk he took a moment to check his mail again. He frowned; for some reason, he'd received an inordinate number of messages in the last 24 hours from people he barely knew. He opened one from an old classmate of his, wondering why he was writing, only to find - a sympathy card. "Goddammit," he muttered under his breath, stabbing at the keyboard to delete the message, but - but...
Five minutes later, after he'd dried his eyes and blown his nose, he noticed a cup of steaming hot Tarkalean tea sitting on his desk that he knew hadn't been there when he sat down. He peered out his office window, but Jabara had gone back to the main room and wasn't looking in his direction.
He had good people working for him, he thought: damned good people.
He opened the sensor log file and got to work.
She was barely through the doorway when Molly spotted her. "Auntie Fig!"
"Molly! How's my little goddaughter?" Gabriela Figueiredo cried, dropping to one knee as the little girl barrelled towards her. "My heavens, you're so big! And so tall! And so huge!" She looked up at Julian. "And you look just like your Papa!"
He grinned at the two of them. "Miles says she looks like a cross between me and his mother." He was faintly surprised Molly recognized her, but then again Miles did share some of his correspondence with her.
"She does, but she's ENORMOUS!" Fig gave Molly a big smooch right on the tip of her nose and scooped her up. "The last time I saw you, you couldn't even walk. And goodness," she said, looking down at the baby in Julian's arms, "is that Fiona? She looks just like a little transporter copy of Miles!"
"My baby," Molly said with a wide smile.
Fig burst out laughing as she carried Molly into the main room. "So she's your baby, is she? Do you feed her?"
She shook her head. "Papa does that," she said, wriggling out of Fig's grasp and hopping up on the sofa.
"Do you change her then?"
"Papa does that too."
"So what do you do?" she asked, holding her arms out to Julian. "Here, let me have the baby," she told him. "You sit down and put your feet up."
Julian handed Fiona over (with some trepidation, he admitted to himself) before taking a seat on the love seat across from them. "Molly helps bathe her," he told Fig.
"Oh, she does? She's going to have red hair, isn't she? She has the eyebrows." She suddenly looked back up at Julian. "How in the name of all things holy did you end up with two redheaded children?"
"Don't ask me," he replied. "Some great-grandfather of mine, I suppose. You should have seen her after she was born; she had a big shock of hair just above her forehead. It fell out about a month later."
She nodded. "Miles sent me a holo of her. Eduardo's hair did the same thing." She turned to Molly. "Do you remember Eddy?"
She shook her head. "Is he your baby?"
"He is, and he lives on Earth." Her voice was suddenly muted. "You haven't seen him since you and your Daddy and Papa visited us when you were just a little tiny baby yourself. He's a lot bigger than you, though; he's almost nine years old."
Molly peered up at her. "Does he live with you?"
But Fig gave Julian a brief shake of her head. "It's all right. No," she said to Molly, "Eddy lives with his daddy and step-mommy in a place called Luanda, near where his daddy and I grew up."
"Do they have animals there?" Molly asked through an enormous yawn.
Fig made to answer her but Julian interrupted. "I think somebody needs a nap before dinner," he said, trying not to sound too severe.
Molly gave him a disgusted look. "But Auntie Fig's here!"
"And she's going to be here for at least another week, maybe even longer," he told her. "Now go on. She'll be here later on."
She pouted at him even as she held back what looked to be another huge yawn, but she obeyed, hopping off the sofa. "Are you going to have dinner with Daddy and Papa and me?" she asked Fig.
"You bet I'll be here for dinner," she answered, giving Molly a sad look and ruffling her hair again. "Now you go have that nap."
They watched her run off to her bedroom. "How's Eddy handling it all?" Julian asked her after Molly's door closed, hoping she wouldn't notice the vagueness of his words.
But she took the question in stride as she patted the burbling Fiona on the back. "Not as badly as I would've expected, I suppose. We tried to keep the divorce civil for his sake. I wish I could've had him on the Venture, but it's just not possible." She let out a sad sigh. "The kind of help he needs simply isn't available on a starship, especially one stationed in deep space."
He gave her a sympathetic smile, wondering privately what type of help the child needed, when Fiona suddenly began to cry. "I'll take her; she probably needs to be changed," he said as he lifted Fiona out of the captain's arms and carried her off to the nursery. "Was he happy to see you at least?" he asked over his shoulder through the open door.
"I'm not even sure if he recognized me," she said from the hallway. "I'm starting to understand why your parents took you to Adigeon Prime."
Breathe, he told himself: just change Fiona's diaper and don't forget to breathe.
"Not that I would ever condone your parents' decision," she hurried to add, "but Eddy could spend the rest of his life dependent on others. I'm terrified of what might happen to him when Alvaro and I pass on."
"Let's hope," he got out past the lump of panic that had formed in his throat, "that won't be for another eighty years or so. And they do have excellent programs on Earth for disabled adults." He tossed the dirty diaper into the recycler, then picked the now-sleeping Fiona up and carried her to her crib. "I'm just going to put her down; she's conked right out."
Fig chuckled. "You know what my mother always said: there's them that eats and them that sleeps, and you got two that sleeps."
"Not usually," he said as he gently rested Fiona in her crib, placing her stuffed bear beside her before covering her with a blanket and palming the light off. "Fi's still recovering from the stomach bug that's been going around the station. So is Molly, for that matter, which is probably why she fell asleep on us."
He took a moment to wash and sanitize his hands, then returned to the main room where Fig had retaken her seat. "Can I get you something?" he asked. "I know you're probably tired of raktajino."
She rolled her eyes. "That and blood wine and gagh and gladst and - you know what I'd really like? A plain cup of Earth coffee. No sugar, no milk, no spices, no live worms..."
He chuckled. "One cup coming up." He ordered the coffee and a tea for himself from the replicator, handing one cup to her before retaking his seat.
"Mmmm...now this is good," she said after taking a sip. "You don't have any more of that real stuff stashed around, do you?"
"I think Miles used up the last of-" He suddenly dropped his gaze to the cup in his hands. He hadn't thought of Miles in five minutes: what kind of monster was he?
Her voice was light but full of concern. "I didn't ask in the Infirmary - well, I didn't want to unnecessarily worry Mr. Sisko - but how are you doing?" she asked.
"I've, um..." He snorted as he put down his cup, pushing his self- flagellating thoughts aside. "I've had one spectacular crying jag and I've spent most of the last 24 hours going over sensor data until my eyes feel like they're crossed. I just - I know the wormhole could pop back into existence at any moment, but what if it doesn't? And I know I shouldn't be defeatist, but - I don't even know how to tell Molly." He sighed. "It was hard enough telling her about Ziyal."
"If it helps," she said gently, "I can tell you that there's no right way to do it. And at this point there's really nothing to tell her. For all she knows he's on a mission."
She was right, he knew, but he still felt like an abject failure. "Have you had a chance to speak to Jake yet?" he asked, changing the subject.
"I wish I could talk to Jake," she said. "I wish somebody could. He's gone completely mute." Her gaze was distant as she put her cup down. "I remember when he was a little boy. He was such a bright, talkative child, so verbal. Jennifer used to say he'd either end up in politics or advertising, and she hoped he chose advertising because it was more honest."
"But now...there's nothing in his eyes but rage. Of course I can't blame him for that; after all, four days..." She looked back at him. "Was it really her father who did it?"
"That's what she said, and the evidence supports it. Before she died, she was able to tell us that his eyes had turned red."
"Like yours were when you were possessed by that pah-wraith, right?"
He digested that snippet of information with another jolt of surprise; in his timeline Keiko had been the one possessed, and from what he recalled she hadn't changed appearance. "Yes, exactly like that," he finally said. "In fact, that's the assumption Constable Odo's operating under."
Just then her combadge chirped. "Petrov to Figueiredo."
She sat up, immediately assuming the aura of a cool, competent Starfleet captain. "Figueiredo here."
"Captain, Constable Odo of DS9 has just advised that Ensigns Knoblauch and Rosenberg are in the station brig."
She ran a hand over her forehead and groaned. "What did they do this time?"
"The constable broke up a fight between them and two Klingon officers from the IKS Rotarran," Petrov said. "Dr. King's looking after their injuries-"
Figueiredo rolled her eyes.
"-but they don't seem too badly hurt. Just a few broken bones." The voice paused. "The Klingons don't have a scratch on them, so I don't think there'll be an incident."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," she said, shaking her head. "Figueiredo out."
She turned to Julian as they both rose to their feet. "It shouldn't take me too long to read those two the Riot Act and find some appropriate Jefferies tubes for them to clean out. If Molly wakes up before I return, tell her I'll be back soon."
"Will do," he said with a grin. "Enjoy yourself."
She laughed. "Oh, I'm sure I will, the day they discover a cure for Ensign Aggression Disorder. See you in a few."
Julian's smile faded as he gathered up the used cups and saucers and deposited them back in the replicator. He'd checked his permanent record as soon as he'd landed in this timeline; there was no sign that anyone in Starfleet knew about his enhancements. He'd told Miles about them after they'd arrived in this timeline; if anyone had the right to know, it was the person he was married to. But Figueiredo?
He realized he had some research to do. Who else knew? Was she trying to blackmail him? Had he told her? He couldn't imagine doing that.
He sat down at his terminal with a sigh and began to go through his personal logs once again. There had to be a clue...
It was likely the smallest senior staff meeting the station had ever hosted. Julian sat at the conference room table with Kira and Odo that morning, glowering at the padd in his hands as he read the words on the screen.
"It's obscene," Odo grunted. "They've barely been gone two days, and Admiral Ross already has a list of replacements prepared."
"The Defiant's been off station for longer than this in the past even with all of us aboard," Julian said, "and the station hasn't spontaneously disintegrated. Starfleet even has a Galaxy-class starship in dock. Why is he acting so quickly?"
Kira shrugged. "Between the three of us, I blame Kai Winn. That 'proclamation' of hers probably scared the hell out of Starfleet. They've gotten so used to treating this place like just another deep space installation that they forgot this is a Bajoran station. Suddenly they're afraid that if they don't get a permanent team here right away, we'll take the place over and kick them out."
"Nice to know they place so much trust in me," Julian muttered. Almost six years in Starfleet, eight years before that in the Academy and Medical Academy - did they think he'd hand over the station-
"The Saint of the Orphanages?" Kira said incredulously, breaking into his thoughts. "The recipient of the Dailenium Eye? The man who came *this* close to throwing his pips in Ross's face because he didn't want to risk harming the Prophets? Julian, of course they don't trust you: they think you're on our side!"
His mind raced as he grasped for a reply. "Well, I suppose I see your point..."
"I still don't know why the two of you didn't take up Shakaar's offer," she continued, shaking her head in apparent disbelief. "It's not like either of you have any future-"
"Colonel," Odo interrupted, "I think we have to make the wormhole our first priority at this point."
She looked at Odo, then sighed. "You're right," she said, clicking a button on her padd. "About the wormhole, Starfleet's advised that they're sending Dr. Lenara Kahn and her team here from Earth. They're scheduled to arrive at 1300 today aboard the Asoka along with Admiral Ross. Dr. Kahn's been working on a way to temporarily close the wormhole; she's hoping she can use the same methods to re-open it. Constable, I'm sending you to escort her team out to the Denorios Belt. Commander Park from the Gryphon will be going with them but I'd like a Bajoran representative out there as well. I'll greet Admiral Ross. He's also planning to attend Ziyal's funeral." She turned to Julian. "Are you going?"
"For part of it," he replied. He wanted to take Molly, but he had no illusions that a three-year-old girl could sit through an hour-long funeral, let alone the full Bajoran death chant.
"Shakaar's ordered a full honour guard, by the way," Kira continued. "He and I are going to be there until at least 1800 hours. The vedek of the Capital Temple and her ranjen are also coming up from Bajor to pay their respects, so security will have to be tight. We don't need a repeat of what happened to Vedek Parso last year."
"We'll be ready," Odo replied. "I've assigned a full detail to our guests."
Julian gave Kira a puzzled look. "Why all the dignitaries?"
"Blame Vedek Halan," Kira said. "After Jake and Ziyal went to see her she messaged the Kai to let her know about the marriage, but she also 'accidentally' blind-copied every member of the Vedek Assembly." She raised an eyebrow. "By now the entire planet knows about it. Shakaar thought he should attend the funeral as a show of respect to the Emissary, and I'm guessing Ross feels the same way. Starfleet's walking on palukoo shells right now and Ross doesn't want to be seen visibly disrespecting Bajor. Not that it matters in his case: he's lucky if Halan lets him in the temple door."
He nodded silently. If relations between Bajor and the Federation were that tenuous they would likely want to make a show of it; on the other hand, he agreed with Kira that Ross was the wrong man for the job under the circumstances, especially considering what he'd ordered Julian to do in this timeline.
When he'd gone over his permanent record the previous afternoon he'd noticed a stern reprimand from the admiral for refusing to detonate a bomb inside the wormhole that could have killed the Prophets. He wasn't surprised to learn that Bajor had viewed his refusal in a wholly positive light and had even granted him their highest civilian decoration, but he hadn't realized how angry Ross had been over the matter. As the senior Starfleet officer assigned to Deep Space Nine at the moment, though, he'd have to make a show of polite respect to the man whether it was otherwise advisable or not.
Kira clicked her padd again. "Vedek Merel is a different matter. I suspect her intentions are more political than respectful no matter what she says, and as one of the leaders of the progressive faction she has as much of a stake as anyone in publicly displaying her opposition to the Kai. And after that comment she made yesterday...did you hear?" she said to Julian. "Winn said 'we don't know if Ziyal told the truth about what happened, so it would be inappropriate for her to receive a Temple funeral'."
His jaw dropped. "She said-" and he bit back his next words. Winn might be a flaming bitch but she was also the Kai of Bajor, which meant he had to watch his words: he'd learned that lesson all too well in the past. "Perhaps someone should advise the Kai that the evidence proves otherwise," he finally said after he had managed to control his temper. "Dukat's fingerprints and his DNA were on Ziyal's throat where he grabbed her."
Odo snorted. "His fingerprints were also on the doors to the Orb's case, although we haven't been able to determine how he arrived on the station. Even without physical evidence, I'd prefer a credible witness's dying words to mere supposition, and Bajoran law agrees with me."
"I know," Kira said, "and Vedek Halan agrees with you, but..." She gave the two of them a grim look. "The next 26 hours aren't going to be a lot of fun for any of us, but let's remind our staffs to be professional and respectful to our guests - all our guests. Jake Sisko's gone through enough already; he doesn't need a diplomatic furor to break out between Bajor and the Federation."
"I'll make sure the Starfleet staff keep themselves in check," Julian said, suspecting that Kira's words had been as much for himself as for anyone else.
"And I'll speak to my constables and have them pass on the word to the Bajoran civilians - those who are still on the station," Odo added.
"That's all I can ask. Odo, I'll let you get to work. If I could speak with you, Julian?"
Odo rose from the table and stalked out the door. "What is it?" Julian asked.
She looked down at her hands, then spoke. "I think you should take some time off."
"Now?" he said. "With the Defiant gone?"
"I'm concerned about you," she said, giving him a searching look. "How long were you up last night looking through the sensor records?"
He squirmed in his chair. "Not that long - I mean, a few hours, but..."
"Julian," she said in a patient but firm tone, "I checked your terminal records. You were online from 2130 straight through to 0545, and during that time you accessed 243 different files from the sensor directories. The night before it was 183 files. I can't have you working yourself into the ground; it's not good for your patients and it's not good for the station."
He sighed. He didn't like being spied on, but he also didn't like the implication that his lack of sleep automatically made him ineffective as a physician. But she was the boss, and from her tone of voice it didn't sound like she was about to brook any dissent from him.
"I checked your personnel record as well," she continued. "You have over six months' worth of accumulated leave, at least if Captain Sisko's records are accurate. I want you to take a few days off. Miles's parents are arriving this afternoon on the Asoka, and I know they'd like to spend some time with you. Right now with the Gryphon and the Venture in dock we have enough backup so that if an emergency does occur, we can handle it."
"But the epidemic-" he began.
"I've spoken with Admiral Quinn and she agrees with me," she said, interrupting him. "She told me she was very impressed with how quickly you isolated the virus, but there are 39 researchers on Starbase 375 working around the clock to find a cure. In fact, she told me that if I didn't order you to take leave she would, and for longer than three days."
He held up his hands, conceding defeat. "I still have to meet with Admiral Ross tomorrow morning," he pointed out. "But if you insist I take the rest of the next three days off..."
"I do." She thumbed the padd. "You're off from 1200 this afternoon until 0800 on Wednesday. And I don't want to find that you've spent all of it studying the sensor records, either, okay?"
He sighed. "All right."
He left the conference room and returned to the Infirmary. Girani wasn't going to like her new schedule, he suspected, and neither was he.
"Michael, Aoife!" Julian called as they came down the ramp. "How was your-"
"Good heavens, she's such a big, big girl!" Aoife said, all but tearing Fiona from his arms. "Look, Michael, Fiona already has a tooth! Oh, don't you look good in red..."
"I'm lookin' at this little sweetheart over here, love," her husband said as he swung a giggling Molly around the cramped corridor. "Have you ever seen so much gorgeous red hair in all your life?"
"And such a cute little button nose, yes you do-"
"-yes, you're a sweet darlin'-"
Julian took a deep breath and waited for Michael and Aoife O'Brien to finish fussing over the girls and notice his existence. After a few minutes of Michael exclaiming how much Molly looked like a little angel and Aoife cooing over Fiona's big green eyes, though, he realized that the moment might not come, at least not in his lifetime.
"Um," he began again, "how was your-"
"Aren't you the sweetest babby-"
"You can count all the way to three? Well, I-"
"-the cutest little thing I've-"
"-you're ready to run for Miss Ireland, aren't you, love-"
An older woman in vedek's robes snuck a look at Julian's face and quickly turned to hide her face as she passed them, her shoulders shaking in suppressed laughter.
Wonderful, Julian thought; I'm reduced to entertaining the clergy. "Michael," he started again in a considerably louder voice, "how was your trip?"
"Hm? Oh, just fine," Miles's father said as he looked up distractedly. "We made a fair time out here, at least from what the captain said. Three days quicker than it used to take." He suddenly took in Molly's funeral dress and Julian's dress blues; the colour quickly drained from his face. "Why's the lass in black?" he suddenly asked Julian. "There hasn't been-"
"Julian-" Aoife began.
"No news," he hastened to say. "I'd have messaged you if I'd heard anything, you know that."
Aoife swallowed and took a heaving breath. "Of course you would have." She looked at Molly's dress again, then frowned at her husband. "Her dress is green - bottle green."
Julian reached over and tucked a stray lock of hair behind Molly's ear. "A young lady who lives on the station passed away last week," he told them. "Her funeral is this afternoon, and Molly and I are going. And yes, it's green; green is the colour of mourning on Bajor, at least for children."
"Thank Go-" Michael began, but interrupted himself. "I shouldn't say that; it's a sad thing no matter what. I just assumed-"
"Who was she?" Aoife asked as she not-so-subtly elbowed her husband.
"Her name was Ziyal. She babysat the girls in the evenings. In fact, she was just married a few days before she," and he lowered his voice with a significant look at Molly, "had to go to heaven."
The girl nodded. "Jake put a baby in her tummy," she said in a sudden loud voice that carried through the Promenade, "and they got the vedek to-"
"MOLLY!" he cried. "We'll tell Granny and Granda about it at home, all right?"
"'kay," she whimpered, wrapping her arms around Michael's neck and burying her head in his shoulder. Good job, Julian told himself, as he imagined kicking himself in the arse: make your daughter cry in front of your in-laws. That'll set their minds at ease.
He picked up their bags (and almost staggered; Aoife had apparently decided to bring along a shipment of bricks) and ushered them toward the turbolift for the Habitat Ring. As soon as they entered the lift, Molly wiggled out of her grandfather's arms. "Are you comin' to the funeral, Granda?" she asked him.
Michael shrugged. "Well, I-"
Julian crouched down. "Molly, they just got here. They're tired and they want to spend some time with your baby sister. This is the first time they've ever seen her. Now you and I are going to go to the funeral, just for a little while, then we'll come back and you can spend time with them, too. If that's okay with Granny and Granda," he added, looking up at them.
"That's not a problem," Michael quickly assured him. "That's what we're here for."
"But-" Aoife began, then closed her mouth and nodded. "Of course."
He rose to his feet, wondering faintly what Aoife had been about to say, when the turbolift door opened. "Just this way," he said, picking up their bags again.
"Oh! This is-" Aoife began as she walked through the door of their unit and looked around, "-this is very...interesting. Isn't it, Michael?"
The elder O'Brien cast his gaze around their front room, apparently confused as to what his wife found 'interesting' about the plain taupe walls and grey carpet. "I suppose," he said, shrugging.
"Molly, go wash your hands," Julian said. "We have to leave in a few minutes."
She sighed, but left for the bathroom.
"Can I offer you something? Tea, coffee, something else?" he asked his in-laws.
"That 'something else' would go down right smooth after that boneshaker of a trip, I'll tell you that," Michael groaned as he dropped onto the sofa like a lead weight, propping his feet up on the coffee table - just like Miles did most evenings.
He pushed the memory away.
Aoife glared at her husband. "Stop your bitchin', it wasn't that bad. He's always makin' a mountain out of a molehill," she said to Julian, who was by then rummaging through the top cabinet for the open bottle of Bushmill's. "In fact, we had a very nice trip here. They gave us a comfortable double cabin and Captain Levesque even had us at the captain's table for dinner last night. We also met this lovely young woman as well, Lenara Kahn. She told us she was coming here to reopen the wormhole, although her explanation as to how she was going to accomplish that feat was quite beyond me. I'm an interior designer, not a physicist. Isn't that right, sunshine," she crooned to Fiona, who was staring wide-eyed at her shiny earrings.
Julian brought over a glass and the bottle to the sofa, pouring Michael a healthy shot before handing it to him and placing the bottle on the coffee table. If their shuttle had really been that bad, he could probably use a refill or two. "And what can I get you, Aoife," he said. "A cup of-"
But she interrupted him. "Michael," she said, "it's not even 2 PM. Must you?"
"Come on, love, it's 5:00 somewhere," he grumbled as he took a sip.
Julian held back a grin; this was how he and Miles must appear to their friends sometimes. The irritable one and the - well, he wasn't much like Aoife, or at least he was beginning to hope he wasn't, but still.
And suddenly a wave of grief slammed into him.
He turned away for just a second, covering the kick he'd just got to his gut by walking down the hallway. "You finished, bunny?" he called to Molly through the bathroom door. "We have to leave-"
He sucked in his lips and walked back to the front room, where Aoife had just deposited Fiona on the floor and was urging her to crawl. "I'm afraid Fi's not quite there yet," he told his mother-in-law as he crouched down beside her. "She's got rolling down but not crawling."
Mother-in-law, it suddenly hit him. I have a mother-in-law.
"I'm only encouraging her," Aoife said. "You should have seen my Harold when he was a wee one. Crawling at six months, walking at ten - he was a regular Fergus O'Gheoghan, he was."
Michael peered down at her from over the arm of the sofa. "And when did Harold win the Carrington then, love?"
She glared at him. "Just because Harold hasn't won a major Federation award doesn't mean I can't be proud of him." She rose to her feet, wiping her hands on the front of her trousers as she peered down the hallway toward the bathroom door. "Julian," she said in a low voice, "about the, um, funeral..."
Julian, who was still confused by Michael's mention of the Carrington Award (had he won it in this timeline? He'd lost in his own), gave his mother-in-law a puzzled look. "What about it?"
"Do you really think it's wise for Molly to go?" she asked, a hand on his forearm. "The girl's so young; don't you think it'll confuse her?"
"I think she'll be fine," he assured her. "Of course I'm not going to keep her there for all four hours, but I think it would be good for her to see how adults celebrate a lost life."
Aoife was still distressed. "But with her father, what's happened," she pleaded, her voice dropping to a whisper, "won't she think it's for him?"
He sighed as a little voice in the back of his head whispered 'Round One'. "Aoife," he said, keeping his voice low, "she's my daughter and she's going with me. We won't be there for very long anyway. And Miles has been away on missions for longer than this before; Molly doesn't have any idea where he's-"
Just then Molly emerged from the bathroom, skipping back to the main room. "Ready to go, honey?" he said in a bright voice. "Did you sanitize your hands?"
The girl nodded her head. "We have to go say bye-bye to Ziyal and the baby, Granda," she told Michael, who had reached over to stroke her hair. "They got hurt really badly and even Papa couldn't help."
"Your pa's a clever man," he replied. "If he couldn't help, I venture nobody could."
Aoife picked Fiona up from the floor, sighing as she gave him a disapproving look. "If that's what you think is best," she said to Julian, "we'll see you when you return."
It had only been thirty minutes, but he suspected Molly had already set the pan-galactic record for fidgeting.
Ziyal's funeral was for the most part a typical Bajoran affair. It had begun with an emotional eulogy by Vedek Halan that had most of the attendants (including Julian and Molly) shedding tears, followed by a short reminiscence from Colonel Kira that had almost everyone laughing. The vedek of the Capital Temple, whom Julian was surprised to recognize as the woman who had laughed at him earlier, was now at the altar pronouncing a prayer in classical Bajoran.
"Rakaja ut shala morala," the vedek intoned, her voice clear and strong. "Emaboru kana uranak. Ralanon Sisko det Tora Ziyal en Sisko den Tora Deborah propeh va..."
So Jake had named the baby after his grandmother, he thought. He'd known they were planning to keep the child; he'd found traces of the standard Bajoran medicinal herbs in Ziyal's bloodstream during the autopsy, and the very fact that they'd eloped had spoken to their intentions. Julian only hoped that the act of giving the child a name helped the young man deal with his loss. It was all too easy for well-meaning friends and family to ignore the loss of a child in instances like this. Perhaps having the name on the program and in the vedek's prayers would remind them that Jake had lost more than just his bride of four days.
As the vedek droned on, Julian took the opportunity to sneak a look around the chapel. Most of the Bajoran attendees were either staring into the lamp at the front of the room or were sitting quietly, eyes closed, hands clasped in their laps. At the back of the room, Admiral Ross and his aide stood, separated from the rest of the mourners by at least two metres. Nobody would stand near them: Ross was being shunned. He wished he could join in the sentiment, but he had to spend most of the next morning with the man going over various Starfleet-related matters.
Molly squirmed again; he lay a gentle hand on her shoulder to calm her and turned his gaze back to the front of the chapel. Jake was, of course, the principal mourner, and had been treated with the utmost respect by everyone from the lowliest prylar up to First Minister Shakaar, but for all Julian could tell the young man might as well be dead himself. He didn't cry, didn't look around, didn't scream and shout. He just sat between his grandfather and Kasidy, his eyes closed, not moving a muscle. Only once did Julian catch him expressing some emotion: at one point during Vedek Merel's prayer he had opened his eyes, just for a second, and had given the dark Orb a hard stare, his eyes full of unspoken rage. Julian still remembered the young boy whom he'd first seen hanging off the top level of the Promenade flicking sand peas onto the heads of unsuspecting station residents, but now he also saw a man older than his tender years, bent and bowed with grief, unable to accept the worst thing a man could face.
The worst, he thought.
He suddenly imagined himself at the front of the chapel, with Miles's parents on either side of him and his children on their laps. Would I look like Jake does right now? he thought. Would I just sit there, without moving a muscle? Would I cry? Would I scream? Would I try to pick up the vedek and hurl her through the bloody-
He took a deep breath and willed himself to remain calm. He had Molly, he had Fiona, and he had the very real possibility that the wormhole would open at any time and bring Miles home.
Molly wiggled again as the prylars assembled for the death chant. Julian suspected she'd had enough and quietly led her out of the chapel and into the antechamber. "How are you doing?" he asked her once the door closed behind them.
She stuck her lower lip out. "Everybody's sad again."
"That's right," he replied. "They're all sad because they'll never see Ziyal again. Are you sad?"
She nodded as she clung to him.
"Why don't we go home?" he suggested. "You can ask Granny to replicate you some cookies."
As they left the temple, he looked around the deserted Promenade. The shops were closed, the corridors empty - fitting for a desolate day like this one, he thought. There had been a time when this place had been an exciting new frontier to him, full of mystery and intrigue and new experiences. He'd relished the charm of the unfamiliar language and ideas, but he hadn't paid a bit of attention to the people behind that superficial charm. Exoticism, he thought, his mind spiralling back to the art classes he'd taken at Harrow: the representation of a culture as nothing more than entertainment or spectacle for another. The Cardassians had exploited the Bajoran culture (or what they'd left of it) in that way, seeing it as a simpler, more naive society than their own. He'd been guilty of the same offence. In fact, it had only been in the past year that he'd begun to appreciate Bajoran society as a synthetic whole and not merely a collection of oddities. The station and Bajor had somehow become home, and the prayers of the vedek he'd heard today had seemed no more simple and naive (or exotic and mysterious for that matter) than the calls of the East London muezzin or the bells of Bow Church. Maybe Kira was right: maybe he was going native.
They entered the turbolift, and an obviously sleepy Molly held her arms up to him. He lifted her up, and within seconds she had drifted off, her head on his shoulder.
He thought again about Ziyal's death as the turbolift door opened. It hadn't just devastated her loved ones; it had been a deliberate act of cruelty meant to cause pain to every resident of the station. But what could you expect from someone like-
And as he entered his quarters, and as his eyes suddenly took in the transformed front room, the little voice in the back of his head suddenly whispered 'Round Two'.
The walls of the main room had been recoloured a bright red, while the side cabinets had become an almost painfully intense shade of blue. An enormous pointillist portrait of Miles's face - at least 1.5 metres wide, he estimated - adorned the far wall. Over a dozen garish papier-mache birds hung from the ceiling; they were surrounded by a festoon of glittery, translucent green fabric that was draped around the top of the walls. The sofa and loveseat had been covered by the type of pseudo-Persian blankets he usually associated with tacky old holovids of the Arabian Nights, while the chair had some kind of slinky black fabric thrown haphazardly over it. Strangest of all was the glowing, writhing fluorescent gold sculpture - if he could even call it that; for all he knew it could be a new life form - adorning his coffee table.
He looked down; at least she hadn't changed the rug.
In the corner he spotted Michael standing near the replicator shaking with laughter. "She's just in the fresher," Michael said, chortling. "If you could see the prize expression on your face, lad..."
He didn't reply; he just stood there, his mind racing. How could she do this? And how could she do this in less than an hour?
Just then Aoife returned to the living room. "Julian!" she cried, waking up Molly, who looked around and instantly stiffened in his grasp. "So what do you think of-"
"AIEEEEE! AIEEEEE! NO!!!!!" Molly jumped out of Julian's arms and ran to her room.
He chased after her only to find her bedroom similarly transformed and Molly under the bed. "Bunny, what's-"
Odo? But of course, he thought with a sigh, as two and two suddenly collided to make five. "It's the birds," he said, looking up at Aoife, who was standing in the doorway giving him a puzzled look. "She's afraid of them."
"Birds?" Aoife repeated, disbelieving, as Michael began to pull down the papier-mache creations. "Now who would be afraid of pretty little birds?"
Molly was by now merely sobbing in blind terror. Julian checked her again, realizing from the smell that he'd have to get the carpet under the bed cleaned, and suppressed a sigh of frustration. "Our chief of security is a shapeshifter," he explained. "One day he apprehended a suspect by turning himself into a bird and swooping down on him. Unfortunately, he flew right over Molly's head and it spooked her. Since then, she's been terrified of birds or of anything that looks like one."
"They're all gone," Michael called from the front room. "Threw 'em in the recycler."
"You hear that?" he said lightly, reaching between Molly and the bed to rub her back. "All gone."
She gave him a look of misery and fear, then, almost before Julian could hold his arms out, she scooted into his grasp, burying her face in his shoulder as she continued to cry. He carefully inspected her bedroom for any other sign of avian invasion before carrying her out and down the hallway toward the bathroom. He snuck a look into Fiona's room to make sure-
-and the painting of Keiko and the original Molly was gone.
He spun on his heels. "The painting," he gasped, "the one of the mother and daughter! Where is it?"
Aoife rolled her eyes. "That piece of kitsch? I hadn't got around to recycling it yet-"
"Oh, thank God!" Julian cried, almost falling to his knees in relief.
Michael gave him a worried look. "What's wrong?"
He glared at Aoife. "That 'piece of kitsch', as you call it, is the only image in existence of - of two old friends of Miles's. They died last year. He would have been dev-" and he stopped himself, clamping his mouth shut: he really didn't want to give either of them the wrong, or in this case the right, idea.
Aoife's face paled. "I - I didn't realize. Sweet Mary! Michael, where's that painting?"
"Right here," he said, pulling it out from behind the sofa. "I put all of it back there," he told Julian with a knowing look. "I didn't know what you wanted to keep."
He took the painting from him with his free hand and propped it up near the door of the nursery, then carried Molly off to the bathroom. Before he began to remove her now-filthy dress, slip, tights, and underwear, he took a moment to catch his breath. How could she-
And then he snorted at his own idiocy. How could you, he asked himself. How could you yell at someone who had spent three days on a crowded shuttle just to help you out? And her adventure in decorating hadn't even been that bad.
Well, all right, he conceded; it had been that bad. And they were his quarters, his and Miles's, not theirs. But still...
"Papa?" Molly said, tugging at his sleeve.
"Sorry, bunny," he said. "I was just thinking." He helped Molly undress, then started the sonic shower for her and threw her sodden clothes into the recycler.
But his mind kept going back to that incident. He certainly had over- reacted, he told himself. Even if he had been in the right about his and Miles's personal property, he shouldn't have yelled at her.
If there was anything he did know about families, it was that sometimes you had to apologize even if you were in the right, and this was one of those times.
He helped Molly change into fresh clothing and put her down for her nap, then returned to the main room, which (and again he didn't know how) had been returned to its original colours, although the painting and the pulsating yellow sculpture hadn't been moved. "Aoife," he started, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so adamant. It's just-"
"No," she interrupted him, waving a hand as Michael watched her expectantly. "I'm the one who should apologize. I got so enthused with the idea of fillin' up a blank space that I forgot they were *your* rooms. I shouldn't have tried to throw out your possessions, and I should have asked you first. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," Julian said.
The three of them shared a look of mutual understanding; obviously Michael had had a word with her while he'd been looking after Molly. "Listen," he said, changing the topic, "I'm sure you'd like to have a rest, so why don't you unpack and the five of us will go out for dinner tonight?"
"You mean Bajoran food?" Michael asked suspiciously. "Is that spicy?"
"Michael can't have anything too spicy," Aoife explained. "It gives him gas."
Oh wonderful. "We'll go to Quark's," he said. "He has an extensive selection of Earth-style food on his menu. How does 1900 sound?"
"That'll give us time to get a few winks in," Michael said, nodding as they headed to the spare room. "I could sure use it after today."
So could I, Julian thought as his gaze returned to the writhing yellow sculpture: so could I.
Julian returned to the Infirmary after his leave to find it as deserted as it had been before he left. He suspected Kira simply hadn't wanted him to break down on the job, but since the bulk of the station's civilian population had decamped there wasn't really a need for a fully manned Infirmary. He hadn't even had to squire around Ross: the admiral, shocked (and, Julian suspected, a little offended) by the Bajorans' attitude toward him, had fled the station after the funeral. An Admiral Somar was arriving in four days' time from Earth in what Kira sneeringly called 'an attempt to placate the locals'. He wished the man luck.
On the medical side of things, the researchers at Starbase 375 had cobbled together a treatment regimen for the meningitis consisting of eight different drugs. It wasn't a cure and it wouldn't work as a vaccine, but Admiral Quinn had told him that her team thought it would at the very least stop the spread of the virus and reduce the death rate. Julian had instantly relayed the good news to the Bajoran Health Ministry, and in the past 48 hours the fatality rate had shrunk from 35% to less than 1%. He still considered that too high, though. If he could only locate the source of the virus, he thought as he took a seat at one of the main Infirmary terminals, he might be able to devise a quick and dirty vaccine.
Try as he might, though, he couldn't remember where he'd seen that blasted xanthine molecule before. He cursed his apparently malfunctioning eidetic memory and began another search in the database, widening the search parameters to look for any instances of uracil- xanthine combinations in RNA.
As the search ran, his mind wandered back to his in-laws. Michael O'Brien hadn't given him much trouble, but that was mainly because it virtually took a tri-cobalt bomb to get him to do anything at all. He was content to carry out his wife's orders (and orders they were, he had found), but he also took the frequent opportunity to complain about her behind her back. Julian wasn't sure if he liked that. He did, however, appreciate that unlike many men of his age and culture, Michael didn't seem to mind that his son had married a man. Of course, that had been explained after he'd brought out a wad of family holos for Molly to look at and Julian had discovered that Michael and his five sisters were themselves the children of two men, a heavy spaceship mechanic and a classical pianist, who had just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary with a week's vacation on Risa.
Aoife was a different story. There was no doubt that she was a good- hearted woman, but Julian suspected she had got so much into the habit of running the show that she forgot that it wasn't always her show to run. Or perhaps, he mused, she had always been that way, and she and Michael were simply perfectly matched. In either event, Julian had spent the better part of the past three days in the most polite and mutually respectful territorial struggle he'd ever been in. She moved Fiona's crib to Molly's room 'so the girls would learn to love one another'; he moved it back 'so Molly could sleep'. He gave Molly cherries for dinner; Aoife worried out loud that she might accidentally swallow a pit (in replicated cherries, at that). She voiced a concern about the cleanliness of the front room rug, so he ordered the cleaning bot to shampoo it - but of course the bot 'didn't really do a proper job'. And so on, and so on ad nauseam.
And then at 0300 that morning he'd awoken to the sound of their bed rhythmically banging against the connecting wall. He supposed he couldn't fault them for actually expressing their love; he just wished they hadn't felt the need to express it thirty centimetres away from him.
He had just got up from his chair and was about to replicate himself a cup of tea when his terminal beeped to advise the search was complete. He sat back down and brought up the four samples the search had located. One, from a virus that normally infected fungi, had been collected on Nimbus IV, a planet in the Romulan Neutral Zone, but as the planet's ecosystem had been destroyed by a collision with an asteroid 50 years earlier he put that possibility aside for now. The second was common to Kostolain mosaic viruses, but the other features of that virus family made it different enough from his sample that he dismissed the possibility. The third, from a virus that affected Pycan space moths, was much closer. He saved that file, then opened the fourth sample.
And his eyes flew open.
It was from a pneumonia virus found on the Vorta home world, and it was almost identical. The only difference was a single oxygen atom.
Hell and damnation.
He messaged Admiral Quinn and Colonel Kira before saving his work not just in the database but also on an isolinear rod which he pocketed. If the epidemic had been initiated by Dominion operatives, they could be anywhere, even on the station.
His thoughts were interrupted by a voice. "Doctor, I'm wondering if I could ask for your help with something."
He looked up to find Joseph Sisko standing beside the nearest biobed rubbing his left shoulder, a look of worry on his face. "Of course, sir," he said as he grabbed a tricorder and hurried to his side. "What seems to be the problem?"
"It's the strangest thing," he said. "I was just in the Replimat having lunch and suddenly I felt this shooting pain down my left arm. It felt just like that angina attack I had a few months ago, but the surgeon back on Earth told me that getting a new heart would clear that right up."
Julian frowned as he ran the scanner over Joseph's upper body. "Have you been carrying heavy items around recently, sir?" he asked after he'd read the results.
"No, not really," Joseph replied with a shrug, "but I did help Jake get to bed last night. That sedative your Dr. Girani gave him put him out like a light and he could barely stand up. Not to say it didn't help," he added. "He finally got a few hours' sleep."
"I asked because you've strained a muscle in your shoulder, and that muscle is pinching one of the nerves that runs down your arm, which is what's causing the pain." Julian turned to Okuna. "Can you get me the myoregenerator and 0.5 ccs of methedesamine, please?"
She nodded. "Right away."
"Methedesamine?" Joseph said, his tongue tripping over the word as he eased himself onto the biobed. "What's that?"
"A skeletal muscle relaxant. Once it begins to work and the muscle fibres relax, I'll use the regenerator to fix the strain and you should be as good as new." He lowered his voice. "I received your medical records from Dr. Woo in New Orleans, by the way; this won't interfere with any of the medications you're taking."
"Thanks." As Julian injected him and switched the regenerator on, he sighed. "No news, I take it?"
He shook his head as he began to run the regenerator over Joseph's shoulder. "I've gone out there with a shuttlecraft," he said, unable to curb the frustration in his voice, "I've examined the readings we've taken with the station sensors four times, I've even asked my father-in- law to go over them, but - nothing. To tell you the truth I'm considering going after Dukat myself. With a hatchet, preferably."
Joseph snorted. "Colonel Kira mentioned last night that she was considering more or less the same thing. I can't help but wonder, though, if everyone's looking at this from the wrong angle."
"What do you mean? Hold up your arm, please."
"I was talking to a ranjen," he continued, raising his left arm, "or at least I think that's what his title was, last night. I went to the Temple to see if the vedek could talk to Jake, help him - well, not get over it, but..." He shook his head. "You know, having to make a decision like that is about the worst thing that can happen to a man, and him being so young - I can't even begin to imagine what's going on in his mind. Anyway, the ranjen showed me the orb Ziyal had been standing in front of when her father killed her. He mentioned that all nine of the orbs went dark right at that exact moment."
Julian looked up. "I hadn't realized that."
"I don't think they did either at first." He gave Julian a puzzled look. "What are these orbs anyway?"
"They're mainly composed of dailenium, but other than that I don't think anyone knows what they actually are," he replied as he ran the regenerator over the anterior section of the deltoid. "The Bajorans haven't allowed our scientists to study them, and even if they did I suspect they're far beyond our understanding. They're somewhat like communications devices in that they allow users to connect with the Prophets, at least when they're working. Most of them cause visions or hallucinations in the people using them."
"Like a - what do they call that damn thing - an akoonah, right? One of those hallucinogenic devices the Navajo Indians use out in Arizona."
"They're like akoonahs in a way, but they have other powers as well. Some of them have the ability to transport matter through time and space." He lowered the regenerator. "You can put your arm down now."
"Well, couldn't we use one of those to go back before...but they've gone dark. Damn." He scowled at his hand as he flexed it, then looked back up at Julian. "You know, I'm seriously thinking of taking Jake down to Bajor. Everything on this station reminds him of her, and he needs something to occupy his mind."
"What are you planning?" Julian asked, wondering privately if Jake was in any shape to have his mind occupied, or if the elder Sisko was in any shape to accompany him alone.
"That ranjen - he said he managed the Capital Temple down in Dakhur. Owin Grea, I think was his name. He seemed to take my questions pretty well, and he said the Temple had a library. Maybe if I took Jake down there and did a little research on these orbs, we might find something."
"It wouldn't hurt to try," Julian replied. "The Capital Temple is one of the centres of the Bajoran progressive movement; they're pro-Federation so I suspect they'd welcome you with open arms, especially considering your connection with Captain Sisko."
"There is that," Joseph said. "It isn't a bad idea, if I do say so myself." He gave Julian an appraising look. "Listen, why don't you come down with us? Jake would probably - but you've got those girls, don't you?"
He grinned; he'd been debating volunteering. "Actually, my in-laws have been here since Sunday," he said, "so I could probably arrange to take an evening off, if only to monitor Jake. Perhaps you're right: if he weren't constantly reminded of her-"
"-he might get out of this damned funk he's in," Joseph finished. "And then somebody *could* help him."
Julian walked Joseph to the front door. "If you have any further pain, don't hesitate to contact the Infirmary, all right?"
Joseph nodded. "I'll let you know after I've contacted this Ranjen Owin and found out when he can fit us in. I don't know how long it'll take, but if you can get one of those runabouts - how long does it take to travel to Bajor?"
"With the new propulsion systems, no more than a few minutes," he replied, smiling faintly. His late-night search through his personal logs in search of an explanation for Fig's knowledge of his enhancements had revealed that Miles had been the one to figure out the Jem'Hadar warp system and apply it to Federation technology. "Comm me when you've made an appointment and I'll do my best to be there."
"I'll do that. Now I have to go make sure that Jake gets off that skinny ass of his and comes along with us."
Joseph nodded. "I'll probably need it."
As he returned to his office to continue his research into the virus, Julian shook his head. Luck was probably the one thing they were all desperately short of at the moment.
Julian arrived the next afternoon at the docking ring to find Joseph and Jake waiting for him. "I'm sorry I'm late," he said. "I forgot to check in my in-laws with the daycare, and it took longer than I'd expected."
"We just got here a minute ago ourselves," Joseph said as they entered the runabout. He turned to Jake. "Did you bring the padds?"
The young man nodded apathetically, gesturing to the messenger bag slung over one shoulder. Julian couldn't help but wince at the lack of affect in his eyes; he'd seen people mourn like this before, of course, but not for so long or with such an obvious disdain for the world around them. His instinct to counsel the young man had to wait, though: he was in no shape to listen.
He instead checked that Joseph and Jake were strapped securely into their seats, then initiated the runabout's takeoff sequence and steered the little vessel off the docking pad. "Hold on," he told them. "Going to warp."
"Holy mother of God!" Joseph blurted out as the planet went from a tiny dot to an enormous green and white ball in the span of a split second.
Julian adjusted the descent to bring them safely to the surface. "Fast, isn't it?" he said to the elder Sisko.
"Fast doesn't even begin to describe it," Joseph murmured. "The planet just popped up."
He grinned as he connected to Bajor's net and accessed the local map server. "We're about 20 kilometres from the Capital Temple-"
Jake made a sound of irritation.
"-and there it is," he said, pointing it out to them as they swooped down on the northern sector of the city of Dakhur.
The Capital Temple was one of the few buildings the Cardassians had left intact in the city during the pullout, but they hadn't done it out of religious awe or respect: they simply hadn't cared enough by that point to expend the energy needed to destroy a building with two-metre-thick lead-reinforced stone walls. The main problem the caretakers of the temple had faced upon regaining control of it hadn't been repairing any damage as much as it had been handling the significant pollution that had been allowed to accumulate over the Occupation. Before the Cardassians had arrived the rock had been treated yearly with a sealant that prevented the lead embedded in the rocks from leaching out, but of course such a luxury hadn't been available during the latter years of the Occupation when the temple had sat empty. It had taken two years for the temple maintenance crew to get rid of all the lead dust. The only bright side of the entire mess had been that the lead deposits had served as a preservation agent, preventing the fragile ancient paper records from deteriorating.
Starfleet had sent a number of document specialists in (after the building had been declared safe) to catalogue and copy the library's contents, but even after five years they'd only got about halfway through. Now he and Joseph had to somehow plough through the millions of books, scrolls, and threaded manuscripts and hope that whatever fragment of text held the clue they were looking for had been catalogued - if it was even there in the first place.
They parked the runabout in a community lot about 500 metres south of the Temple and hopped aboard a hover-tram for the rest of the trip, Jake two steps behind him and Joseph.
"Owin Grea said he'd be waiting for us," Joseph told Julian as the tram deposited them across the street from the temple. "We're lucky Dakhur is six hours behind the station; it's only late morning here, so we should have at least five hours until the library closes."
They entered the temple and, after bowing respectfully to the Flame of Kooemba, they took the stairs down to the library located (as all temple libraries were) on the lowest level of the building.
As they entered the vast, low-ceilinged room that smelled like every library Julian had ever visited, a tall, dignified man glided up to them, his close-cropped grey hair and reserved demeanour giving him the air of a butler in an old holovid. "Gentlemen," he said, his voice low but pleasant, "welcome. I hope you're able to locate the wisdom you seek."
"Thank you for allowing us to use your facilities, Ranjen Owin," Joseph said in return. "I looked through your catalogue last night, and there are some books I'd like to check first..."
As he and the ranjen went off to discuss the matter, Julian turned to Jake. "How are you doing?"
He shrugged, then turned away. Julian considered scanning him, but decided against it.
"Dr. O'Brien, Jake!" Joseph called from the far end of the room. "Come on over."
They followed him into a separate room containing a large study table. Ranjen Owin, who was standing by the table, had opened a heavy paper book and was searching through it.
Joseph gestured to a large pile of books standing on the side table. "Mr. Owin says here that the Orbs are mentioned about a hundred times in the Prophecies, maybe even more. I thought we'd start by going through these ones first."
"The relevant pages are bookmarked," Owin added as he carefully placed the open book on the table. "I understand you have a translator? Or do you require one?"
"We have a device that can translate from Forrian to modern Bajoran and Standard Earth English," Julian said, "and both Jake and I can read the modern script." He looked over at Jake, unsure if he was up to reading anything.
"Excellent," Owin said. "If you require anything or if you have any questions, just press this button." He gestured to the comm panel. "It's connected directly to my office."
As he left, Julian reached for one of the books, but stopped when he saw the look on Joseph's face. "What?" he asked in a low voice.
Joseph's gaze moved to the book Owin had opened and placed on the table. "The Ranjen doesn't strike me as the kind of man to just open a book and put it down in front of us for no reason," he said, looking up at Julian again. "Do you think he's trying to tell us something?"
"Let's find out. Jake, could I-" he began, but by then Jake had already fished the padds out of his bag and was handing them over. "Thank you."
He scanned the page the book was open to with one padd; as the first lines of the translation came up, Joseph reading it along with him over his shoulder, he frowned at the screen. "The text seems to be identical to the translations I've read on the station," he said. "Zocol's prophecies aren't nearly as straightforward as Horran's, though, so we might have to go through them with a fine-toothed comb."
"What do you mean?"
"Horran was very literal," he replied. "When he prophesied that grey men and black rain would fall from the sky, that was likely a reference to the Cardassian invasion. Cardassians have a greyish cast to their skin, and they used chemical weapons as well as conventional ones during the first stage of the invasion. Incidentally, he also predicted that Captain Sisko would have another child."
"Oh, really?" Joseph said, a lilt in his voice as he raised an eyebrow. "Does Kasidy know about this Horran?"
He grinned. "I don't know and I'm not prepared to tell her. But Zocol's prophecies aren't anywhere near as clear as Horran's. Take this one," he said as he tapped the padd, "the 342nd: 'The eaglet orb will be found on the furthest Derna; the blessed one will choke in the grit.' None of the corollaries I've read have been able to explain what he could have meant by that."
The padd beeped, signalling that the translation was complete; Julian beamed the English translation of the prophecy to Joseph's padd and they both went to work.
After they'd spent over half an hour hunched over their respective padds, Joseph looked up at Julian, the line between his eyes deepening in apparent frustration. "I don't get it," he said. "Zocol might be obscure but when it comes to actual style he was as sharp as a laser. Everything makes perfect sense *except* that prophecy you mentioned. What in flaming he-" and he stopped himself, looking around guiltily at the temple walls, then started again. "What is an 'eaglet orb'? And what do they mean by 'the furthest Derna'?"
"The word 'Derna' is sometimes used in Bajoran to allude to a desert in the way that we sometimes use the word 'Sahara'," Julian replied. "I haven't a clue about the eaglet orb, though. Let me see if the translation program knows. It could be in another ancient language."
They both looked up at Jake, who was sitting on a chair in the corner, his knees drawn up to his chest. "Son," Joseph said, "I don't think the Bajorans knew Hebrew."
"That isn't what he means," Julian cut in, mentally giving himself a kick in the backside for not thinking of it himself. "He means that the Hebrew script uses letters to represent numbers, and so did the language Zocol originally wrote in. But the originals of his prophecies were lost thousands of years ago. If the person who put this into Forrian was working from an earlier translation and didn't realize that 'eaglet' stood for a number, he'd simply translate it as a word."
"But if we don't know what number 'eaglet' stands for, that's not much help, is it?" Joseph said.
"I suppose not," he muttered. Something was whispering at the edge of his memory, though...he suddenly looked up. "Then again, perhaps we do."
Joseph followed his gaze to the far wall, where a series of fifteen ancient bronze plaques hung above the bookcases. "Well, for the love of God, would you beat that. Right above our heads."
"The first etching," Julian said as he examined the plaque furthest to the right, "is a kava bird, and it's shown having one talon. The next is a mantor, if I'm not mistaken, and it has two talons." He ran his gaze along the row of plaques until he found one featuring a young Bajoran eagle. "But that can't be," he muttered. "There are only..."
"What is it?" "It's the tenth one," he said, pointing at the plaque. "The eaglet is the tenth bird, and it has ten talons."
Joseph frowned at him. "But there are only nine orbs."
They exchanged a look; Julian rose to his feet and punched the red button on the comm panel.
Owin Grea's voice came through the speaker. "Yes?"
"Ranjen Owin," Julian said, "I wonder if we could talk to you about something in person."
"I'll be right there." His voice carried a slight but unmistakeable hint of relief.
As Owin entered the room, Joseph rose and joined him and Julian by the door. "Ranjen," he said, "I'm a bit confused and I'd like some clarification about something. Might I ask, how many orbs are there?"
"Nine, of course," he replied with an almost unnoticeable catch to his voice.
"You're certain of that?" Julian asked.
At that question, the ranjen silently held a finger to his lips. "It has been written for thousands of years that the Prophets have given us nine orbs," he said. "To say otherwise has recently been declared heresy." He crooked his finger at them as he left the room.
The three of them silently followed Owin down a long hallway and into a dusty, claustrophobic room located next to the building's heating plant. As the pipes groaned around them, Owin pulled out a filthy file folder covered with a whitish dust Julian recognized as lead particles from an old bookcase in the corner. Wonderful, he thought: they'd have to go through decon once they arrived back at the station.
Owin handed Julian the folder and left them, but not before touching his finger to his lips again. Julian and Joseph shared another look as he opened up the file on the minuscule desk in the corner of the room.
There were only two sheets of paper in the file. The first, a rubbery, flexible sheet of the type the vedeks normally used to publish official edicts, contained a diagram. The centre of the diagram contained a green circle surrounded by four yellow stars. Around the circle and the stars wound a spiral in black ink studded with over a dozen thick black spots. The line circled the central drawing fourteen times, passing through another yellow star before ending in a blue circle slightly larger than the green one. A brown circle surrounded by five stars had been hastily pencilled into the upper left-hand corner.
The other sheet contained a short text hand-written in modern Bajoran. Julian scanned both sheets and translated the text, then took a moment to read the original while Joseph looked over the translation.
'My fellow vedeks have told me how dangerous it is to set my words down on paper,' the text began. 'If the Cardassians knew about the existence of a tenth Tear of the Prophets, they would rip apart the planet to find it. How fortunate that it is out of their reach. The Prophets have shown me the Derna on which it rests and the face of the blessed man who will bring it back to the people.
The Emissary's time is surely nigh. I have seen his face and that of his blessed son, who will one day calm the whirlpool of time and protect the ebb and flow from those who seek to pollute it. May peace be on them and may they open the heavens to the Prophets once again. Roshon M.'
With a last look at the diagram, he replaced both sheets in the folder and silently slid it back into the bookcase. Joseph powered down the padds and handed them back to Jake.
As they left, they met Owin Grea. "Did you find what you were looking for?" he said as he gave them a significant look.
"I'm afraid not," Julian replied, returning his look. "But thank you anyway."
"Even though we struck out," Joseph added, "we'd like to thank you for your hospitality. It was a pleasure meeting you."
As they left the temple, Joseph shook his head. "Damned priests," he said, a twinkle in his eye. "Can't get a plain answer out of any of 'em."
"Looks more like the wormhole to me than anything else," Joseph grumbled. "Except that it spirals the wrong way."
The three of them had returned to the station over an hour ago. After completing the decon procedure, Julian had sent Jake home with Kasidy, but he and Joseph had remained in the quiet Infirmary trying to figure out what the diagram was meant to tell them. They had taken over the empty ICU, the largest room in the Infirmary and the one with the largest viewscreen - and the most comfortable seats.
Julian frowned at the image on the screen, absentmindedly scratching at the rough patch the decon procedure had left on his wrist before reaching over to the control panel and enlarging the diagram. "If Roshon was affiliated with the temple, it could be a schematic of the Orb of Contemplation," he suggested.
"I don't think so," Joseph said authoritatively. "Anything as powerful as those orbs are has to be a hell of a lot more complex than that." He thought for a moment. "I wonder who this Roshon was," he said. "Maybe his name's the clue. Some kind of code."
"It's possible. Computer," Julian said, "search the Bajoran biographical directory for anyone associated with the Capital Temple during the Occupation having the surname Roshon."
Roshon Mur was appointed assistant vedek of the Capital Temple on or around Stardate 9060.0. She was killed by Cardassian forces on Stardate 12660.14.
"They killed the clergy?" Joseph asked incredulously.
"By the thousands," Julian replied. "Some were executed for working for the Resistance, some for stealing a loaf of bread; some died simply because they were walking down the wrong street at the wrong time." He examined the diagram again, his gaze wandering over the spiral structure.
"Here's one thing I don't understand," Joseph said as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Why would Roshon use paper for such a thing? One fire and it'd be gone. Why not store it the normal way?"
Julian shrugged. "Most Bajorans weren't allowed access to computers. The question I have is, why did she use two sheets?"
"What do you mean?"
"Colonel Kira once mentioned that paper was as rare as dailenium during the Occupation," he said. "The Cardassians restricted its availability as a way of making sure the next generation of Bajorans grew up illiterate."
"If you can't read, you can't learn, and it's easier for the authorities to keep you stupid," Joseph said. "I have more than a few ancestors who could relate to that lunacy."
"But Vedek Roshon used two clean unused pieces of havara paper," Julian continued. "Havara paper is rare and expensive even now; then it would have been worth a thousand times its weight in latinum. It would be like a slave in ancient Babylon carving a message meant for his fellow slaves on a bar of 24 karat gold, then using a new bar of gold for the second half. Why not just use both sides of one sheet?"
"Havara paper?" Joseph exclaimed. "It reminded me of rubber. You could almost cut it apart and-" He paused, stared at the diagram for a moment, then slumped back in his chair. "Dr. O'Brien," he said, a look of pure self-disgust on his face, "we are by far the two most useless idiots in the quadrant if not the entire goddamned galaxy." He gestured towards the screen. "How many stars are there on that diagram?"
"Ten, and - oh my God." He sat straight up in his seat. "He used a different sheet so that whoever found it could cut the diagram apart..."
"-and stretch it out into a single long map without losing the text."
"And if the green sphere is Bajor and the brown sphere is Cardassia, then the blue planet is..."
"Computer," Julian said as he moved toward the viewscreen, "compare the diagram currently on screen with a standard direct-line map between Bajor and Earth. Assume the green sphere is Bajor, the blue sphere is Earth, and the black line a straight line between the two planets."
Joseph let out a low whistle as Roshon's line map was displayed superimposed on a map of the space between Earth and Bajor. "Will you look at that," he said as he rose to his feet. "The black dots parallel the major star systems along the route."
"And the yellow star is just over the Federation border," Julian added. "Computer, list any Class L or M planets within five light-years of this position," he asked as he touched the screen.
Karlon V, Class L. Karlon VI, Class M. Tyree, Class M. Ravindra, Class M.
They exchanged a look. "That prophecy," Joseph said, "what did it say? Something about Derna?"
"The eaglet orb will be found on the furthest Derna," Julian replied as he leant against the back of one of the ICU chairs. "The tenth orb will be found on the furthest desert. Computer, are any of these planets desert worlds?"
Affirmative. Tyree has an average annual rainfall of less than-
"Enough. Show Tyree on screen."
A blue icon lit up almost immediately under the yellow star from Roshon's map.
"Are there any Class L or M desert planets between Tyree and Bajor?" he asked the computer.
He turned to Joseph. "The furthest desert planet on the way from Earth to Bajor. The furthest Derna."
"And the blessed man will find it. The blessed son, in fact, if I remember right. Which, if Roshon meant what I think she did, means Jake."
"Which means we have to take him there," Julian said. "The problem is, if I ask Colonel Kira for a runabout, she might get caught between the various factions and..." His voice trailed off as he leaned against the back of the chair. "Listen," he finally said, "it may take me a day or two, but let me see what I can do. If all else fails, you and Jake can take a commercial shuttle to Ravindra and arrange for passage from there, but I'd really like to see this out myself."
"I bet you do," he said. "If you don't mind my asking, how long have the two of you been married?"
"Four years last month. We've known each other for - it's coming up on six years now." He looked up at the chrono. "Which reminds me; I should get back before Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien resort to kidnapping me to get me home."
Joseph grinned. "I'm pretty well stove in myself. Comm me when you have news."
As Joseph left, Julian took a moment to shut down the terminal and stow the viewscreen, palming off the light to the ICU before stopping to check in with Girani. He had a lot of favours to call in if he was going to pull this one off.
Julian entered the turbolift. "Level 3."
As the glass car carried him to the upper level of the Promenade, he ran a hand down the glass wall of the lift and held back a yawn. He'd spent half the night lying in bed staring at the ceiling, pondering the events of the previous evening. Why had Owin been so secretive with them? Why not just tell them about the tenth orb? Why make it into a puzzle?
He'd finally given up on sleep and instead powered up the terminal in the front room. After an hour of raktajino-fuelled research, he'd been able to confirm his suspicions: Kai Winn had been the one to unilaterally decree four months earlier that belief in or even discussion of a tenth orb was heretical. Her edict had surprised the members of the Vedek Assembly, most of whom had never considered the possibility of a tenth orb. Only Vedek Merel had stood up in opposition. Julian suspected she was the only member of the Assembly who knew a tenth orb existed.
But he had to ask himself: why would the Kai try to hide the existence of the tenth orb? And why did the ranjen of the Capital Temple think he was being spied upon?
There was no doubt about it: he was stepping into a quagmire, but from what he could tell it was the only way to reach his destination.
Kira was waiting for him when he reached Sisko's office. "You've put me in a very difficult position, you know that?" she said as he walked through the doors and took a seat.
He frowned at her. "In what way?"
"I've been led to understand that you and Mr. Sisko are planning to leave the station with Jake," she said, her eyes on Sisko's baseball. "Is that correct?"
"Well, yes..." Apparently Ranjen Owin had been right, he thought; someone was spying on the Capital Temple.
She picked up the ball and held it in her hand, examining it while she spoke. "Somebody on the planet surface isn't very happy about it," she said. "In fact, I've been informed that if I approve your application for leave or provide you with transportation so you can reach your destination, wherever that is, I'll be recalled from the station. I could even be excommunicated." She lifted her gaze to meet his.
He was about to reply, but something in her eyes made him stop. She wanted an out, he suddenly realized. If she didn't know where he was going, she couldn't stop him; if she didn't make the choice to let him go, she wouldn't be responsible.
"It's fortunate, then," he said, "that you don't have to do either of those things. Admiral Quinn is my immediate superior at Starfleet Medical and is therefore able to authorize my application for leave in Captain Sisko's absence. And, of course, a member of the Bajoran Militia doesn't have the power to bar a Starfleet officer from operating a Starfleet vessel."
"I only have limited powers, you're right." She held his gaze; her words were deliberate. "There's only so much I can do."
He paused, dropping his gaze to the desk between them as the full meaning of her words hit him. "I've arranged with Admiral Quinn for seven days' leave," he finally said. "Captain Figueiredo has agreed to provide me with transportation. If an emergency arises, she can give you the necessary communications codes." He looked back up at her. "If I'm not back by this time next week..."
She nodded. "Good luck."
As he reached the turbolift to return to the Habitat Ring, he looked back at her. She was staring out the viewport, her eyes unfocussed, her face as grim as he felt. Her expression made Julian wonder if Kai Winn had ever heard of the Golden Rule. Or maybe she had: she wore the gold, she made the rules.
"Now you're sure about this?" Aoife asked for the thousandth time. "I mean, it seems pretty dodgy, going halfway to the Breen Confederacy just for a chunk of crystal."
"The lad knows what he's doing, love," Michael said as they arrived at the airlock that led to the Venture. "Dozaria isn't even all that far away - I looked it up on the terminal this morning. He'll be back in a few days."
Julian kissed Fiona one last time, breathing in her clean baby scent before passing her over to Michael. "Don't worry, Aoife," he said, keeping his tone light. "I'm not even certain that the Eye of Balkur is still there, and if it is I'll probably be able to beam it up from the shuttlecraft."
He hated to lie to her but the last thing he wanted to do was to put her or his children in any danger. After his conversation with Colonel Kira the day before he'd realized that whoever was spying on Owin Grea might also be spying on him and his family. If they were, it would be dangerous for his family (and especially for Aoife, whose ability to dissimulate he seriously doubted) to know where he was going, so he and Michael had concocted a story about Julian going off to Dozaria to find a magic jewel that had been mentioned in some obscure book of sermons. Joseph and Jake had made a show of leaving the station the previous afternoon, supposedly to take a well-deserved vacation on the planet surface.
Molly looked up at him. "Are you gonna try and help Daddy fix the wormhole again, Papa?"
He knelt down and gave her a big hug and a kiss her on the cheek. "You bet I am. Are you going to be a good girl for your Granny and Granda?"
She pouted. "Can I go with you?"
He suddenly felt something inside him shatter. "Not this time, bunny," he told her, "but I'll be back before you know it." He gave her another hug as he looked up at Michael. "I've left everything with Colonel Kira," he said in a voice meant for his ears alone.
Michael nodded. "We won't need it," he replied in a similar tone.
"I'll be home soon." He stood, ruffled Molly's hair again, kissed Fiona again, and did the most difficult thing he'd ever done: leave his girls behind with no guarantee they'd ever see either of their parents again.
Since Fiona had been born, he and Miles had tried to arrange it so that one of them was always on station if the other was on a mission. It hadn't been that difficult: the sector had been relatively quiet since the signing of the Federation-Vorta peace accords, and even when something did pop up there weren't many missions that required both an engineer and a physician. It also helped that Sisko didn't much care who manned the Defiant's sickbay as long as the sickbay was in fact manned, or that his new locum, Eva Perreira, was so eager to build up her on- ship hours that she usually volunteered before he could even assign her.
The Venture's airlock closed behind him; he glanced back for a moment, then headed off to find a turbolift that would take him to the shuttle bay.
"Are you this late all the time?" Fig asked as she met him at the door to the bay. "I should tell Ben about you."
He gave her a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I had to brief my locum and..." and he sighed. "And say goodbye to my children. Does it ever get easier?"
She gave him a sympathetic smile. "I don't think it's supposed to."
He shook his head as they entered the bay where the Al-Khwarizmi, the shuttle Fig was lending him, was docked.
"Can you believe," Fig said, "that this tiny thing can go at Warp 9.98? Ablative armour, level eight phasers, and get this: a cloaking device. Miles is going to be in heaven when he sees what they've done with his ideas."
He looked up at the silver ship, privately grateful for her confidence in Miles's return. "It looks like she's never been out of dock."
"We just picked her up at Utopia Planetia," she replied, more than a hint of pride in her voice. "Did I tell you we were supposed to undergo a full refit? We'd only been there three days when the Gryphon's phase inducers went offline and Command suddenly ordered us out here. Twenty- four hours longer and the entire ship would have been torn down." She suddenly raised an eyebrow. "You did hear about the Gryphon."
"Constable Odo filled me in last night," he said. "I had thought it was quite the coincidence that the only starship in the sector other than the Defiant happened to be in the repair dock right when the Lemna V relay went out."
"An astounding coincidence, if you ask me."
Their eyes met.
"Anyway," she continued, "my chief engineer took her out for a test run to Jeraddo and back. She said she handles like a ship half her size, so I don't think you'll have any problems with her. Just try to bring her back to me in one piece, all right?"
He grinned at her. "Will do. And thanks again."
"Hey, what are friends for?" she replied as she drew him into a hug. "Just get that man of yours back for us."
He watched her leave, then pressed the door control and entered the craft. "So how-" and he looked around. "This isn't bad."
Joseph Sisko grinned at him from one of the passenger seats. "It might not be as spacious as the quarters Fig put us up in last night, but I can't complain; I've had apartments that were smaller and less convenient than this." He cocked a thumb towards the aft cabin. "We've got a separate fresher room, a foldout dining area, a decent place to lie out, and," he said, lowering his voice, "I even got fried plantains and couche couche out of the replicator this morning. Not as good as my own maybe, but still. By the way, Jake's in the fresher." He grimaced. "I had to send him in to take a sonic."
He shared a sympathetic look with Joseph. "Sometimes it's necessary to remind people who are grieving to take care of themselves," he said. "They forget to clean themselves, they forget to eat: either that or they end up eating too much."
"In his case I'm going to have to sit him down and make him finish a meal as well. Two forkfuls of rice, well..." He frowned. "You couldn't keep a langouste alive with that."
Julian sat down at the pilot's station and began his pre-departure checks. "It should take us about 20 hours to get to Tyree," he said to Joseph as Jake emerged from the fresher. "If we'd had to take a runabout we could have spent a week in transit."
Joseph harrumphed, then looked up at his grandson. "Sit down, Jake, and strap yourself in."
The young man dropped into a chair, barely bothering to secure his safety harness before closing his eyes.
"Anything yet?" he asked Joseph.
The man shook his head. "Nothing."
They had reached the uninhabited planet of Tyree a little over an hour ago. Julian had been impressed by how smoothly the Al-Khwarizmi's engines ran; unfortunately, her navigational console hadn't functioned anywhere near as flawlessly. He'd spent the first six light-years making dozens of fiddly little course corrections while the navigational computer tried in vain to align itself to non-existent Federation beacons in neutral space. It was only when they reached a shipping lane that the console began to operate normally and Julian had been able to catch a few hours' sleep. He'd also taken the opportunity to teach Joseph how to read sensor results, since he knew he'd need his help to locate the orb.
That was, if the orb was still on the planet surface after over forty years, which wasn't looking too likely at the moment. They'd scanned for all nineteen isotopes of dailenium, but with no success.
"If the sensors can't find the mineral itself," Joseph said, breaking into his thoughts, "maybe they can find whatever it is that makes a chunk of dailenium into an orb."
He leaned back in his seat. "Dax told me once that she thought the orbs were made out of dailenium because they could communicate with it using the mineral's resonant frequency."
"Like an old crystal communications receiver."
"Exactly. I don't know which specific isotopes the orbs would contain, but perhaps if we transmit on those frequencies we could create a resonance."
"Couldn't that cause the orb to shatter?" Joseph asked.
"No. That's why dailenium is so valuable; it won't shatter under normal circumstances. Computer," he said as he took the shuttlecraft below the ionosphere, "broadcast a tone that will be audible on the surface on all known resonant frequencies of dailenium isotopes. Scan for signs of resonance."
"Half the planet surface just lit up," Joseph said after a moment.
Julian punched a command into the console. "Some isotopes of dailenium share resonant frequencies with other thallium-based minerals," he told Joseph. "If we can weed those out we can likely narrow down the possibilities. Computer, scan the planet surface for thallium-based minerals other than dailenium. Eliminate resonance from those sources and display any other sources."
"I'm not seeing anything...hold on!" Joseph magnified one section of the map. "Here, in the northern plateau. The signal's damned faint, though, and I can't pinpoint the location."
Julian leaned over to give the map a look. "I'll take us lower."
"It's starting to clear up," Joseph said as the shuttlecraft hovered directly overhead the signal. "Almost there...we've got it: 51.0227 North, 114.1146 West."
As Julian steered the shuttlecraft toward the location, he snuck a look at Jake out of the corner of his eye. The young man had barely moved a muscle in the last 12 hours. His grandfather had urged a glass of juice and a cup of coffee on him and he had used the facilities, but other than that he'd just sat staring out the side viewport or with his eyes closed. If he didn't come out of it soon, Julian thought, he'd have to intervene.
The source of the resonance was located near the centre of a vast sandy desert studded with massive outcrops of rock. Julian didn't want to cover the orb (or whatever they'd located) with sand, so he took the shuttlecraft into a low, slow landing pattern, bringing it down gently to the east of a tall sand dune. "It should be either on top of the dune or just on the other side," he told Joseph as he powered down the thrusters and set the brake. "Shall we go?"
They opened the door and stepped out into the hot wind, the three of them squinting against the grit that flew up into their faces. Julian was just about to begin climbing the dune when a disembodied voice rang out from behind the crest. "Jake!"
The young man froze in mid-stride, his eyes suddenly as wide as Julian had ever seen them. "ZEE?" he shouted, running towards the sound, his feet slipping in the sand as he made his way up the hill. The other two followed him, Julian ignoring the shiver that had run up his spine the moment he heard that all-too-familiar voice.
As Julian and Jake reached the top of the dune, a breath of air flickered and coalesced into a shimmering light; the swirling colours then settled into an image of Ziyal.
"Jake," she said as the young man dropped to his knees and began to sob. "Priya anorah, it's all right. I'm with the Prophets. Don't mourn me."
The tears ran down his cheeks. "Zee, no..."
"Don't cry, love," she continued. "I'm happy and so is Deborah. But Jake, you have to listen to me. Father's started a war and the Prophets need you to stop it."
By then Joseph had reached them. "A war?" he asked, panting in the thin air.
She flickered again, just for an instant, and at that moment Julian noticed a battered metal box lying in the sand below her spectre.
Ziyal spoke again, her eyes never leaving Jake's face. "Father is the Emissary to the Pah-wraiths. He released a pah-wraith into the Orb of Contemplation, and that act started a war between the pah-wraiths and the Prophets. Jake, you have to take the orb back to the Celestial Temple."
"The one in the box?" Julian asked, as Joseph knelt down beside his grandson.
Ziyal ignored him. "Take the box to the Temple and open it there," she told Jake, reaching out to caress his cheek with a ghostly hand. "You have to do this: if you fail, the pah-wraiths will win and the whirlpool of time will dissolve into the chasm of the past."
But Jake didn't appear to be listening. "Zee!" he sobbed as he raised his hand to try to touch hers, "I love you! Come back...or take me with you...please..."
"Jake, you have to do this. It's your destiny." Her face grew soft. "If you succeed, some day we will be together, all three of us."
She stepped back; beside her, another whisper of wind coalesced into the image of a young girl about Molly's age whose long wavy black hair and enormous dark eyes contrasted with her faint but unmistakeable Cardassian and Bajoran facial ridges. She smiled up at Jake as she held out her arms to him and mouthed the word 'daddy'.
Jake looked back and forth between the two of them, then gave a strangled cry as the two ghosts faded into the wind. "NO!!!" he screamed as he reached out to grasp the air where the visions of Ziyal and Deborah had been, losing his balance and falling to the ground beside the box. "NO, ZEE! COME BACK! NO!"
As Joseph tried to comfort his screaming, flailing grandson, Julian carefully picked up the box containing the Orb and carried it back to the shuttlecraft, making sure the straps wrapped around it were tight before securing it in one of the aft storage bays. He glanced back to where his medkit was stowed for just a moment, but left without it. The last thing Jake needed was to be sedated, not when he was finally beginning to let out all the anger and grief and desperation he'd felt over the past eleven days.
As he reached the crest of the dune again, he found Jake still on the ground sobbing uncontrollably, Joseph trying to gather him in his arms. He knelt down beside the two of them and placed a gentle hand on Jake's shoulder.
Jake's head suddenly whipped up. "You bastard!" he shouted at Julian. "You goddamn fucking BASTARD!"
He frowned at the young man. "Jake, I'm-"
And without another word Jake launched himself at him.
It was all but over in seconds. Julian had been half-expecting the attack; his intuition had given him the split second he needed to fall back just before Jake reached him. He grabbed Jake around the shoulders in a tight bear hug, holding on as he landed a flurry of kicks on his shins and shouted a stream of insults into his ear. Eventually, after an eternity of struggling, Jake wore out, slumping in his arms.
"You let her die!" Jake ground out as he fell to the sand again, his arms wrapped around his waist. "You made me let her die! Why didn't you save her? Why didn't you-"
"Jake," Julian replied, "Jake, when I performed the autopsy-"
He clapped his hands over his ears. "I DON'T WANT TO HEAR THIS!" he shouted through his tears.
"Jake! You have to listen to me!" Julian hauled him up by the shoulders and shook him until he dropped his hands; he knew the young man had to hear this if he had any chance of understanding. "When I performed the autopsy, I found that her brain had been injured far worse than we - than I had realized. She had no chance! If you had put her on a respirator she would have never opened her eyes again, she would have never heard your voice again, or seen your face! The only thing she would have known was pain!"
"NO! GET THE HELL AWAY-"
"You didn't kill her, Jake!" he shouted over the young man's screams of savage rage. "Her father did! You only made sure she didn't die slowly or in pain. You saved her from so much suffering. You did the right thing!"
Jake tore himself out of Julian's arms and dropped to the ground again, howling incoherently as if he were expelling every demon in the pantheon from his soul. He clawed and kicked and punched the ground, flailing in rage and agony and despair. Eventually, his screams turned into heaving, gasping sobs as he began to cough in the cloud of dust he'd kicked up. Joseph silently knelt by him, rubbing his back between the shoulder blades until he finally calmed down enough to sit up.
"Come on, Jake-o," Joseph said to him in a low, soothing voice as he helped him to his feet. "Let's get back to Bajor. You need to look after your father now."
As they returned to the shuttlecraft, Jake supported by Julian as the three of them slid down the steep slope, Joseph silently looked back up toward the crest, then met Julian's eyes. "If I live a thousand lifetimes," he said, "I'll never understand how that son-of-a-bitch could do it."
"...maybe if I do what she said, maybe she'll come back. Then we can be together again. Dammit, how could Dukat kill his own daughter..."
Julian held back a sigh. Jake had been babbling to himself, and to them, for the past sixteen hours straight, bouncing around the five stages of grief like a springball and inventing a few new stages of his own along the way. He wasn't sure if it was healthy; then again, nothing about grief was. But there was no cure for it other than a tincture of time, one of the least palatable medicines known.
He'd finally fixed the navigational console and set the transponder to pick up the Bajor beacon, but was debating whether he wanted tea or coffee when Joseph returned to the main cabin. "Where are we at now?" he asked Julian as he ordered two servings of red beans and rice from the replicator, handing one to Jake as he leaned against the bulkhead.
"We're about four hours away," he replied. "I just hope this works."
"You and me both." He put down his bowl and rubbed the back of his neck. "I've been wondering. Don't you think it's strange that Dukat would close the wormhole right when the Defiant was in the Gamma Quadrant? I don't know, it seems like..." He shrugged. "I don't know, too good to be a coincidence."
The communications panel suddenly beeped; it was a subspace message from Deep Space Nine. "On screen," he called as he turned back to face the monitor and Joseph sat down beside him.
Kira's face materialized on the screen. "Julian, tell me that ship of yours has a cloaking device."
"I think it does," he said with a frown. "Why are you asking?"
She looked away for a moment, then turned back to the screen. "About eight hours ago, the Bajoran News Service received evidence that a vedek who died during the Occupation predicted the discovery of a tenth orb somewhere between here and Earth. According to an anonymous source, someone has gone to bring it back."
"How interesting," he said in an even tone. Owin Grea was upping the stakes, it seemed.
"The Kai's office apparently tried to suppress the report," she continued, "but the opposition got hold of it and now everyone's asking questions - where is the orb, when will it be here, who's bringing it. I also have to inform you that you've received orders directly from Kai Winn. Would you like me to read them to you?"
"Go ahead," he said as he reached for the subspace modulation control.
"You are to return to Bajor with the...directly...Kai's...avoid the worm...further delay."
"I'm sorry," he shouted as he suddenly switched off visuals, "your signal's breaking up! I can't hear you!"
" - by 23...Militia members will be auth...detained indefini..."
He gave the control a final twist; the comm went silent.
Joseph glared at him. "What the flaming hell was that trick?" he asked.
"Unfortunate, isn't it?" he replied innocently as he engaged the cloaking device. "Brand new shuttlecraft and nobody bothered to check whether the comm system worked properly before sending it out on a mission. I couldn't make heads nor tails out of that order, could you?"
He snorted. "It's your ass, not mine," he said, shaking his head as he went back to his red beans and rice.
Julian checked the navigational console again, holding back an indignant grunt. He would be damned if he'd take orders from Kai Winn.
He checked the chrono again, then sat back and pulled out a sheaf of journals he'd been meaning to read. Somewhere between the announcement of a new species of mycobacterium discovered on Ferenginar and the final report of the Third Annual Conference on Vinodian Plague, his mind wandered back to the meningitis virus, the sabotage to the Gryphon, the failure of the Lemna facility, Dukat's escape and subsequent misdeeds (and his disappearance afterwards), and the unwillingness of the Bajoran government to accept the existence of the tenth orb. There were too many things going on, he thought, for them to be coincidental.
The nav console chimed; they were ten minutes away. Julian sat up and stretched, then swivelled in his seat to face Jake, who was once again staring out the window. "Are you ready?" he asked him.
Jake blinked. "So what do I do again?" he said in a small voice.
"I'll bring us in as close to the location of the wormhole as I can. When I signal you, all you have to do is open the box. Once that happens, if the wormhole reopens we'll return to the station."
"And if it doesn't?"
"If it doesn't," he said, taking a deep breath, "we go back to the drawing board. But I doubt this has all been a wild goose chase. With all the prophecies and-"
The communications system suddenly beeped a warning; he turned around. "Damn."
"What is it?" Joseph asked as he returned to the main cabin with the dusty box, handing it to Jake as he sat.
Julian frowned. "It's a general broadcast to all ships in the vicinity. Visuals, audio, and text. I'll bring up the audio." He readjusted the subspace modulation control.
"-authorized to take all necessary steps to apprehend those responsible." The voice paused. "This is a Priority One announcement from the Government of Bajor. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of three Federation citizens wanted for the-"
"So it is my ass after all," Joseph said after Julian muted the audio again, "and Jake's. Sounds like they're gunning for us. Problem is, they don't know we're cloaked."
"Let's hope not," Julian said. "Although even if they do know, there's not much they can do to stop us."
The minutes ticked off as the three men sat in silence, Julian sneaking looks every minute or so at Jake as he clutched the box containing the orb.
The ship suddenly dropped down to Warp 4, then to impulse as they reached the Denorios Belt. "Almost there," he said to Jake. "Stand by."
Jake undid the straps holding the box closed, then grasped the lid.
"Hold on," he murmured, steering the ship towards the point where the wormhole should have been. "Not yet...now!"
Jake opened the box: a ball of blazing light erupted from the box, almost blinding the three men. Julian raised his arms to cover his face, but before he could do so the ball of light swept out of the viewport and lit up the heavens. A split second later, the wormhole burst into view mere metres from their position.
The shuttlecraft suddenly began to shake violently. "What's happening?" Joseph shouted over the sound of creaking metal.
"I don't know!" Julian yelled back. "I'm reading an immense graviton surge that - there's a ship coming out of the wormhole!"
He tried to navigate away, but he found himself knocked from the console as the emerging ship slammed into theirs, flinging the three men against the far wall of the craft as it spun and twisted --
-- and they suddenly found themselves lying on the transporter pad on the bridge of the Defiant, Captain Sisko staring down at them.
"Jake, what are you - Dad?!" he said, his eyebrows stratospheric. "How did you get here so soon!"
They stared at him, then at each other. "He's been here for a week and a half," Jake said as he and Julian rose to their feet.
The captain opened his mouth to say something when Joseph suddenly cried out in pain. Julian crouched back down and checked his pulse as the captain jumped onto the pad. "D'Abruzzo!" he shouted. "Four to beam directly to Sickbay!"
As the bridge faded out, Julian lifted his head to look for Miles, but Jake and the captain were blocking his line of sight.
They rematerialized in the trauma bay, Joseph on a biobed, the other three surrounding it. Julian grabbed a medical tricorder from the nurse and scanned him. "His right femur is broken," Julian said to Sisko as Perreira reached the biobed. "It's a simple break; he should be fine."
He stepped back from the biobed as Perreira and her team took over and turned to Jake, who was still holding the box containing the orb. "Listen, are you going to be all right-"
Suddenly a voice called from the doorway. "Hey, is anyone free? I've got a helluva-"
Julian spun around, his heart in his throat. "MILES!"
"Doctor-" Sisko began, but Julian didn't hear the rest as he leapt across the sickbay. He was alive, he was all right, he was-
"Whoa!" Miles shouted, jumping back half a metre as he held out his left arm. "Plasma burn!" He suddenly frowned. "What're you doing on the Defiant?"
Julian didn't answer him, but grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him in for a crushing kiss.
He pulled away from Miles and spun around. "Sorry, sir," he said to an obviously fuming Sisko. "It's just that-"
His eyes were hard. "Perhaps, Lieutenant, if you're finished with your touching display of connubial bliss, you could take a moment to tell me exactly what the HELL is going on!"
Just then the comm system sprung to life. "D'Abruzzo to Sisko."
He glowered at the ceiling. "Yes?"
"Captain, the station's just contacted us. Colonel Kira said that we've been gone for over eleven days-"
"Eleven-" Miles sputtered.
"-and that the Kai has ordered Constable Odo to take Dr. O'Brien, Joseph Sisko, and Jake Sisko into custody upon our arrival to the station. She's charging them with...heresy."
"She - she WHAT?!?" Sisko exclaimed.
"That's what the colonel said, sir."
Sisko gave the ceiling another astonished look, then glared at Julian. "Have the three of you converted to the Bajoran faith in our absence, Doctor?" he asked.
"Then why is the Kai charging you with heresy?"
"It's a long story, sir."
Sisko ran a hand over his head. "I'm sure it is, and you can fill me in as soon as we get back." He looked up at the ceiling again. "Thank you, D'Abruzzo. Sisko out."
Miles waited until the captain took Jake aside, then asked Julian, "D'you have a minute to look at this?" he said, holding up his forearm.
Julian kissed him again, then led him over to the free biobed. "Hop up."
"So what happened?" Miles asked as he sat on the biobed. "And why in the name of all things holy do you keep kissing me?"
He injected Miles with an analgesic and switched on the subdermal regenerator. "Because," he said as he began to run the regenerator over Miles's burn, "I didn't know for eleven days whether you were alive or dead, or if I'd ever see you again."
Miles huffed. "You'll not get rid of me that easily. But eleven days? We left yesterday evening."
Julian looked up from the wound. "You-"
A sudden loud noise made them turn their heads: Jake Sisko had just collapsed sobbing into his father's arms, the box containing the orb falling to the floor with a crash.
Miles turned back to Julian. "What's that all about?" he asked. "Did something happen with Ziyal?"
He took Miles's hand. "I'm afraid so."
"-then, after Ziyal's and Deborah's - djinnis, I suppose you could call them - disappeared, we left Tyree for Bajor," Julian continued. "Once we arrived at the wormhole, Jake opened the box, allowing the entity to depart the orb and flow towards the wormhole. We had expected the wormhole would open, but we didn't know the Defiant was right on the event horizon. We couldn't get away in time, and the Defiant struck the shuttlecraft."
"My God," Sisko groaned as he rubbed the bridge of his nose and leaned back in his chair. "How the hell - how did Dukat get into the temple in the first place?" he asked Odo.
"My working hypothesis is that he beamed himself into the Temple in order to release the wraith into the Orb of Contemplation," he replied. "When he arrived, however, Ziyal was in his way. He pushed her aside, but in doing so he subjected her to a burst of an unknown form of energy."
"We did our best to save her," Julian added, "but the damage to her cerebral cortex was too great. If it's any consolation, I don't think she suffered much."
"It's not much of a consolation, I'm afraid, but..." Sisko turned to Dax with a sigh. "Have you been able to discover how we lost almost eleven and a half days?"
"From what we can tell," she said, "the Defiant was inside the wormhole when it collapsed."
"Inside?" Miles asked. "You mean we were collapsed too?"
"In a way. Lenara - Dr. Kahn - thinks the wormhole was pulled into hyperspace at the moment the pah-wraith entered the orb. Since we were inside the wormhole at the time, we were also pulled into hyperspace and experienced temporal suspension. When Jake released the entity, it was somehow able to pull the wormhole back into subspace."
"Could we deliberately conceal the wormhole in the same manner?" Worf asked.
"Dr. Kahn is studying that," she replied. "It might give us a way to protect Bajor if the Vorta and Jem'Hadar break the treaty."
"I'd like you to keep me updated on Dr. Kahn's progress," Sisko said. "Colonel," he said, turning to Kira, "I understand the Bajoran government has changed its mind about charging Dr. O'Brien, my father, and my son?"
"They have," she said, somewhat shamefaced; Julian wasn't sure why, since none of it had been her idea. "Shakaar has also asked me to pass on his personal apology to you, Julian, and to Jake and Mr. Sisko; apparently the information he received about your intentions was inaccurate. The Kai has also advised the First Minister that she regrets issuing a warrant without due cause."
"Tell Shakaar I accept his apology," Julian said, carefully not referring to the Kai's words. Winn could express her 'regret', as she described it, all she wanted, but until she expressed remorse he wasn't about to forgive her.
Heresy, he grumbled to himself. What had she been planning to do: stretch him on the rack?
Sisko rose to his feet. "I think we've all had a long enough day as it is: you're dismissed. Constable, if I could speak with you for a moment first?"
The rest of them filed out of the conference room. Julian stuck close to Miles as they headed down the corridor to the turbolift.
"Eleven and a half days," Miles said. "How's Molly taking it?"
Julian gave him a dry look. "She's perfectly fine. She thinks you're off 'fixing the wormhole'. *I'm* the one who didn't take it well. I had a crying fit in my office."
Miles's mouth dropped open. "You - you cried?"
"Yes, and don't rub it in. Worst of all, I yelled at your stepmother."
"Well, she can take it, and she's 50 light-years away so-"
"No, she isn't," Julian said as they reached the turbolifts and he pressed the down button. "She's here, and I - what?"
Miles looked at him out of the corner of his eye. "She's here."
"Here on the station."
"She and Michael are looking after the girls right now," he said.
"Here on Deep Space Nine."
Julian sighed. "Yes, Miles, they're here. Get over it."
"It's not that," Miles said. "It's just...when I almost died that time on T'Lani? They didn't come."
Julian looked at him. "No?"
"When the Cardies arrested me?" He shook his head. "They didn't come."
"When I got away from Argratha? They didn't come."
"I didn't realize that."
They entered the turbolift. "So why did they - mmmmf!"
Julian threw Miles back against the far wall of the empty turbolift, plundering his mouth as if they hadn't touched in ten years as the doors closed behind them.
"I don't know why they're here," Julian said innocently as he stepped back, leaving Miles sprawled against the back wall trying to catch his breath. "I called them to tell them you were missing and three hours later they were on their way. It might be because your stepmother is convinced I'm completely useless-"
"That's because she's never kissed you," Miles panted. "Holy Aine."
"-and your father worships the ground I walk on. Habitat level 14."
Miles gave him a menacing look as he tugged at his tunic. "Well, thank you so bloody much. Now I have to go meet them *and* our children looking like some kind of out-of-control sex maniac."
"Kai Winn," Julian said, his tone even. "Latex. Fishnets. Bent over a-"
"ALL RIGHT!" Miles shouted. He stewed for a moment, his eyes on the turbolift doors, then gave Julian a low, hard look. "Arse."
"Love you too, dear." The turbolift doors opened.
On their way to their quarters, Miles turned to Julian. "Do you think they've put the girls to bed yet?"
"I doubt it," he replied. "It's only 1430."
He frowned, then his face cleared. "That's right. I'm going to be bollixed up for the next week. And not that way!" he said at Julian's sly, slow smile.
They entered their quarters; Julian took a look around, thanking Holy Aine himself that the room had been spared further adventures in interior design. "Hello!" he called out.
"Papa!" Molly emerged from the side corridor and ran toward them, followed by Michael. "Did you - DADDY!!"
Miles swept her up. "So how's my little girl?" he asked.
"I missed you!" she cried as she kissed him on the cheek. "Did you fix the wormhole?"
"No, sweetie," he said, nodding at Julian. "Papa fixed the wormhole."
She gave him a cross look. "Papa doesn't fix things, he fixes people!"
Miles grinned at her. "Well, this time he fixed something, and I didn't even help. Hello, Da."
"It's good to see you, son," Michael said, clapping Miles on the shoulder. "Aoife's just off changin' Fiona. Your Colonel Kira called us, let us know what happened. She said you didn't even know you'd gone missing?"
He leaned back against the wall as Molly wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him. "Didn't have a clue. On our side the entire thing didn't take much longer than eighteen hours, and to tell the truth it wasn't even worth sending a starship out there for. Some nit-brain had disconnected the amplifier; it took us about ten minutes to fix it. About ten seconds after we passed through the wormhole on the way back, Ichabod here," and he nodded at Julian, "and his two partners in crime crashed their shuttle into our starboard nacelle." He gave Julian a look. "You know, Fig's going to give you hell over that."
"Oh, I'm sure she will," he answered.
"And then," he said, turning back to Michael, "we ended up getting hauled in-" Miles suddenly froze, his eyes on the enormous pointillist image of his face spread across the far wall. "What the f...what is that?" he said, walking over to it, Molly still in his arms. He turned back and glared at Julian. "Where - who-"
"It's you, Daddy!" Molly said, interrupting him with a giggle. "Granny put it up and I helped!"
"You did?" He gave it another look. "Well, you...um, you did a very good job of, um, of helping Granny," he said, nodding at her.
"I'd thought you'd like it," Aoife said as she emerged from the nursery, Fiona in her arms and a large bag slung over her right shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't bring Fi out before but she needed to be changed."
Michael held out his arms to Molly. "C'mere, love." She hopped into his grasp and Michael carried her down the hallway. "Just need to get something," he called out over his shoulder.
Aoife handed Fiona to Miles. "She's a bright little thing, you know," she said as father and daughter shared a smile. "I showed her your holo and she said 'dada'."
"Now come on," Michael called from the far room. "At that age she'd probably say 'dada' to a holo of the Ha'penny Bridge." He emerged with Molly in one arm and a suitcase in the other. "We thought you'd like some time alone," he explained, "so we booked passage for ourselves and the girls on the Jeraddo cruise leaving this afternoon. Just an overnight excursion; we should be back by 1300 tomorrow."
"You-" Miles started.
"When we get back should we drop the girls off at the daycare or here?" Aoife asked.
"No, that's all right," Julian said before Miles could get a word in. "I'll meet you at the airlock, I'm on leave for the next three days."
Aoife gently took Fiona back. "Miles," she said, "I don't think I've ever been so happy to see anybody in my life as I am to see you. You can't imagine how worried I was - well, both of us. In fact, I was planning to ask Father Browne to say a-"
"Aoife!" Michael said, "we'll have to be lively or we'll miss the ship!"
"I know, I know," she said, giving Julian a roll of her eyes. "If we're not there twenty minutes too early we'll be late. We'll be back tomorrow."
"Have a good time," he said.
Miles watched them leave in silence, then stared at the door for ten full seconds before he spoke. "She used to hate me."
"She likes you now," Julian said as he moved behind Miles and wrapped his arms around him.
"She likes *you* now, you mean," he said, looking back at the painting. "And why would she-"
Julian rolled his eyes, then grabbed Miles's arm and dragged him into the bedroom.
"But I was going to-"
Julian shoved Miles onto the bed, crawling on top of him and holding his shoulders down. "I have spent the last *eleven* days poring over sensor logs," he growled, his face mere centimetres from Miles's, "muddling through Bajoran holy texts, wrangling with clerics, escorting Jake and his father to bloody Tyree and back and almost getting both pulverized to atoms by the Defiant *and* arrested for *heresy* in the process, and if that wasn't bad enough I had to stand by while your stepmother tried to turn my living room into a technicolor aviary! Don't. Get. Lost. AGAIN!"
"Because if you DO," he said, his face softening, "it - it'll break my heart." And he descended onto Miles, kissing him tenderly. "I love you," he said. "I love you and I don't want to lose you again."
Miles opened his mouth to speak, but Julian drowned out his words with another kiss, this one far more passionate than tender. He reached between them and unzipped Miles's jacket, pushing it down off his arms and throwing it aside before removing his own jacket and then the rest of his clothing.
Miles pulled off his turtleneck and tossed it into the corner. "You're right-" he began to say, but Julian hushed him with a touch of a finger to his lips.
He kissed Miles again, then licked and sucked his way down his throat, his broad chest and his flat belly, peeling off his trousers and underwear and at last breathing in the dark, musky scent of the blond curls that surrounded his long, thick cock.
All I've ever wanted, he thought, kissing and licking up the rock-hard shaft. All I've ever needed, he thought as he swallowed him whole, running his tongue over and around the glans as Miles moaned and writhed.
He pulled away, kissing the tip before leaning over to retrieve the bottle of oil from the night stand. "I want you," he moaned seductively, his eyes locked on Miles's as he knelt between his legs. "And I know what you want."
Miles was almost incoherent with lust. "...fuck, love, just..."
Julian knew that Miles thought of himself as a rough, macho, two-fisted man, and most of the time he was. But there were nights when Julian would lay him down on soft sheets and be the one who made passionate love to him.
Miles O'Brien was the most desirable man in the galaxy, and Julian burned for him.
Julian poured a healthy portion of the slick liquid into his palm to warm it, then used one hand to stroke himself while he slid a finger into Miles, letting the tip of his finger brush against his most sensitive flesh. "Do you like this?" he asked as he added another finger, sliding them in and out as he stroked Miles's cock with his other hand. "Do you want more?"
"Please...please..." Miles begged as he bucked against Julian's hand. "Now - for fuck's sake..."
He positioned himself at Miles's opening and entered him slowly, allowing him to adjust to his girth. "So tight," he moaned as he pushed all the way inside, then began to fuck Miles with smooth strokes as he grasped his cock.
Words left him and he started to pound inside of his lover and all of it began to disappear. All of the frustration, all of the doubt, all of the days and nights of loneliness and uncertainty and fear and anger, it all melted away with every thrust until there were only the two of them locked together in a dance as old as man itself. He felt Miles' strong hands grip his forearms and he looked down.
Their eyes locked, and that was enough: Miles came with a roar, his orgasm splashing against their bellies as he tightened around Julian, who thrust one more time, then followed him over the brink with a strangled cry.
He collapsed onto Miles, rolling to his side as he drew in great lungfuls of air. "You..."
Miles turned to him. "What?" he gasped, the shudders still running through him.
"You, Miles Edward O'Brien," he said, catching his breath, "are the best damn thing to ever happen to me."
Miles drew him into his arms roughly, kissing him with a smug grin. "Of course I am."
He snorted. "God, you are such an arse."
"Yeah," he said, hugging Julian tightly as he drifted away, "but I'm your arse."
"You know, I still can't believe you did all that to get me back."
Julian blinked himself awake. "Wha - what?" he asked.
"Going against the Kai," Miles said as he propped himself up on an elbow, "rooting around Bajoran temples, shepherding Sisko's father around the quadrant..." He waved a hand. "You didn't even think twice about it, did you?"
"Well, no," he replied, sitting up in bed. "I love you, I'm your husband, I'm the father of your children; of course I'd go after you."
Miles stole a glance at him, then looked down. "Guess I had the wrong impression."
"What do you mean?"
Miles shrugged, his face reddening. "Well...I always thought that maybe you, um...you were with me out of guilt more than anything."
His eyes flew wide open. "Out of - Miles, why would you think that?"
He huffed. "Remember that day - you know the one, when, um..." He waved his hand in the air.
Julian nodded, prompting him to continue.
"We were standing in the turbolift and you said you'd always be my friend. Then a few months later on you told me you'd stay with me no matter what, unless I didn't want you, because you felt you owed me because of what you'd done."
"I meant it, you know."
"I know, but...I guess I assumed that's all this was," he said, gesturing to them in bed. "I mean on your side. I didn't expect you to take on the entire Bajoran government for me."
Julian opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself. Hadn't he thought the same of Miles? "I'm really no better," he confessed with a shrug. "I've always assumed I was just a replacement to you. Second best. A substitute for what you really wanted but couldn't have."
Their eyes met. "You might be second," Miles said, "but you're not second-best. Don't ever think that." He suddenly grinned. "What a pair of idiots we are."
Julian snickered as he pulled Miles into his arms. "You know," he said, "there's one thing I've been wondering about ever since the Venture arrived."
"Gabriela Figueiredo and you seem close in this timeline. I mean as friends. I don't remember you mentioning her before."
"That's because I didn't," Miles said as he pillowed his head on Julian's chest. "We weren't that close. I mean, we knew each other from the Rutledge, but-" and he harrumphed. "Another thing you and I mucked up. The first officer of the Enterprise in the old timeline, Will Riker, you remember him?" He gave Julian a guilty look. "In this timeline, he died almost eight years ago."
He shrugged. "He caught some kind of plant virus. Maybe in the old timeline Keiko discovered it before it mutated or whatever, but at any rate, in this timeline Riker died and Command sent Figueiredo to be acting first officer until Martinson retired and she could take over on the Venture. She was pregnant at the time. About three months after she got there the ship hit that quantum filament."
"The same one as in our timeline?"
"The same one, but in this timeline Fig and I were the ones stuck in Ten Forward and I delivered her baby."
Julian hugged Miles a little tighter; in their original timeline, it had been Keiko who had been stuck in Ten Forward and Worf who had delivered their child. "Go on."
Miles blew out a breath, his eyes on the far wall. "After we ended up in this timeline I went through my logs, and I found a personal entry from three years ago, just after Molly was born. Fig must have commed me to tell me that she and Al were thinking of taking Eddy - you know in this timeline they named him after me?"
"I guessed." It'd have been difficult not to, he thought, especially after he'd looked the boy up and learned his name was Eduardo Miles Figueiredo.
"Well, anyway," Miles said, "according to the log, she told me that they were planning to take him to a place where he could 'get more help than he could in the Federation'. I guess she meant Adigeon Prime or some such place. At that point I must have known about you, so I warned them. I think I might have felt guilty because I thought Eddy's problems were my fault."
Julian kissed the top of his head. "You do know that even the most accomplished obstetrician can't guarantee a safe delivery, and especially without the right equipment?"
"I know that," he replied with an impatient snort. "Go tell the old Miles that. In any event, she and Al decided not to go through with it. You must've found out that I told her, because I found a whole string of log entries where you were threatenin' to leave me." He sighed. "Don't worry, she promised not to say anything. I did say that out straight in the log."
"I'm glad to hear that," he murmured softly into Miles's hair, "although I don't know whether to feel badly for the boy or not. On one hand he wouldn't have been the same person afterwards, but on the other he'd have a chance at a successful life. And I doubt his parents are anything like mine were." He looked down into Miles's face. "Did I tell you that in this timeline I actually won the Carrington Award?"
"Oh, Christ," Miles grumbled. "You were struttin' around like a peacock there when you were nominated. You must have been right insufferable in this timeline."
He grinned; if anyone was more of an expert at deflating his ego than Miles O'Brien, he didn't know it. "In this timeline I was apparently too sick to strut," he said. "I was four months...it was five months before Molly was born."
"The word you're looking for there is 'pregnant', boyo."
"Fuck you very much."
"Been there, done that, got the sore arse, or did you already forget?" Miles said with a chuckle before looking up at him again. "Was it really that bad?" he asked, a concerned look on his face.
He thought for a moment. "Not 'bad' per se," he finally said, "although Kira made a joke last month that with Molly I threw up at the opening of a subspace channel. I'm glad I don't remember that."
"It's just - I suppose 'weird' is the best word to describe it. You've got this alien wriggling inside you, kicking the hell out of you, tiring you out and making you sick to your stomach, and then there are all the hormones you have to take every day. Do you know what it's like to be starved for affection and completely impotent at the same time?" he asked. "And then there's having your body and your ankles swell up like a Denobulan puffbird, half the men on board looking at you as if you were some kind of monster or, worse, traitor to manhood, half the women on board thinking you're 'cute' and wanting to coddle you as if you were about to break-"
"Guess I can't talk you into goin' through it again?"
Julian snorted. "You already talked me into it twice."
"At least that's what I said in my logs. When you were gone, I found a whole series of logs I'd recorded just before we changed the timeline, and all of them had to do with you nagging me to have another child."
"It was my idea?" Miles asked, a guilty look suddenly stealing over his face.
"You wanted another child but you were apparently worried that everyone would laugh at you if you gestated a child. On the other hand you didn't want us to go ex vivo or hire a surrogate."
"Well, I wouldn't want ex vivo here, would you?" he asked with a shudder. "What if we had to evacuate and leave the child behind? And a surrogate..." His face suddenly turned beet red.
"Well...you won't like hearin' this, but I, um, I sort of liked the idea of you bein' pregnant. When you were."
He frowned. "Liked."
Miles had the decency to look away.
"I can't help it," he explained. "It's just - when you were lyin' there, your belly full of my child, it just - it did something for me."
"Your kink is my being fat, swollen, exhausted, impotent, needy, and nauseated." He lay back and stared at the ceiling. "Wonderful. I am a man, you know."
At that Miles chuckled. "Trust me," he said, "it's pretty damn hard to forget that at the moment." He suddenly yawned. "Listen, just - sleep on the idea, all right? I'm going to try to get some sleep."
He sighed as Miles rolled over, then finally closed his eyes and tried to rest.
But sleep wouldn't come. It wasn't Miles's snoring that was keeping him awake or even what he'd said to Julian earlier; he simply couldn't stop thinking about the events of the past three weeks. He was starting to see a pattern.
Okay, he told himself: let's imagine that the Dominion was behind all of it. The virus was Vorta, so it wasn't an outlandish suggestion. Their first salvo would have been to introduce the meningitis virus to Bajor, a simple task given that the virus could be spread through casual contact. Then, when the disease reached epidemic status in Lonar, they helped Dukat to escape, then (and this was the tricky part) arranged for him to be possessed by a pah-wraith. They then made sure that the Defiant was in the Gamma Quadrant before having Dukat release the wraith into the Orb of Contemplation, sealing the wormhole and separating the Bajoran people from both the Prophets and their Emissary.
But the Defiant was only in the Gamma Quadrant because the Bajoran government had asked Starfleet to investigate the Lemna outage on an emergency basis despite the fact that it had only been out of service for three hours. If they had agreed to wait for the Venture to arrive (or if the Gryphon's phase inducers hadn't been sabotaged), the Defiant would have still been in the Alpha Quadrant and Deep Space Nine wouldn't have been undermanned.
And then there was that edict of Winn's calling Starfleet's use of the station an occupation...
Was somebody in the Bajoran government behind this?
It made sense, he thought; why otherwise would Bajor have been so much against them retrieving the tenth orb? Why would-
And a sudden realization brought him to his feet in an instant.
He threw on a clean T-shirt and a pair of trousers and tiptoed out to the main room, switching on the terminal as he sat at the desk. "Computer," he said in a low voice, "display the blood screening records for members of the Vedek Assembly and the Bajoran executive branch over the last six months."
The data seemed to be in order, he thought, as he skimmed over the long lists of names, dates, and results from the monthly screenings mandated by the Bajoran government. Shakaar's name was first on the executive list, followed by the leader of the official opposition, Krath Milnar, and the speaker of the legislature, Mikar Elian. The list of vedeks included Halan and Merel, but there was no record for Kai Winn. He wondered if her records were stored elsewhere. "Computer, locate and display blood screening records for the Office of the Kai."
The figures came up. Winn had been scrupulous in having her blood tests done by the physician attached to the Vedek Assembly - until five months ago. Since that date, nothing.
He noted the date of the last blood screening. "Display a list of all official enactments issued by the Office of the Kai from stardate 51325.0 to the present day."
There were 232 proclamations, edicts, decrees, and orders on the list, including a series on Advice to Vedeks in Foreign Parts, proclamations of holy days, announcements of visits by the Kai to various shrines, and even the decree proscribing belief in a tenth orb (with a corresponding retraction). He didn't see anything...hold on, he thought: what did 'sacrosanctity of the Kai's person' mean?
He downloaded the edict.
'Upon receiving news of the recovery of the Prophecies of Ranel, in which is it written in the First Prophecy that 'the Kai's blood shall not be shed', and after consultations with the First Minister, after being briefed by members of the Vedek Assembly, and after conversations with members of the Legislative Assembly and with the Emissary to the Prophets and other officials, I have come to the conclusion that it is the will of the Prophets that the person of the Kai is sacrosanct. Let it be enacted that from this day forward, no individual, group, or entity shall injure or harm the Kai or disrupt his or her bodily integrity, whatsoever be the reason. Dated this 14th day of Misara, A.R. 6.'
Five days before the proclamation about the tenth orb, and eight days before the announcement that the Kai intended to make a pilgrimage to the Shanadar Temple at Marala in Lonar Province on the 15th of Kelar - Ground Zero of the epidemic, nine days before the first case of meningitis was diagnosed.
He erased all traces of his searches, deleted the files he'd downloaded, and switched off his terminal before returning to bed. As he slid back between the covers and lay his head on the pillow beside Miles's, his mind on what he would tell Sisko the following morning and the blood tests he intended to give Miles, the rest of the Defiant crew, and even his own daughters, the words of the female Founder came back to him: the Dominion is everywhere.