Dax took another sip. "The replimat raktajino is really getting better," she noted.
Worf narrowed his eyes. "I think you are trying to sidestep my question, Jadzia."
Dax sighed. "Okay, maybe I am. All right, I'll tell you what I really think. I think it's a terrible opera."
Worf frowned. "It is a brilliant opera. You are simply being uncultured. The aria where Rogaine mourns the loss of her children is very moving."
"You mean the aria sung by an Orion slave girl?" Dax demanded. "Come on! That whole character is simply offensive, the way she never seems to have a thought of her own. What does she do, anyway, besides gaze longingly at Kethas and die?"
Worf scowled. "That was a long time ago, and the composer is simply being true to the time period. Admiral Kethas really did have an Orion consort."
Dax said, exasperated, "Just because Kethas was a great admiral does not automatically make an opera about him a great work of art. That whole bit where Kethas' son swears to take down the Federation in revenge for his father's death? Totally over-the-top and completely historically inaccurate!"
"Poetic liberty," Worf replied firmly. "Great art demands great sacrifices. Sometimes of the truth."
"You just said the composer was-- "
Bashir rushed up to their table. "Jadzia, I need your advice; do you have a moment?"
Dax ignored the muttering from across the table of people who can't seem to notice when other people are having an important conversation, and smiled at Bashir. "Sure, Julian, pull up a chair. What would you like to talk about?"
Bashir pulled over a chair and straddled it. "I found out it's Garak's birthday this week, and I just think someone ought to do something for him."
Dax said gravely, "I suppose you're probably his closest friend on the station, so that means it's probably up to you."
Bashir nodded. "That's what I thought! And maybe that then he would notice -- well, anyway, I suppose I probably don't know him as well as I would like, I mean, all that well, but --"
Dax laughed. "Okay, Julian, what do you want help with?"
Thirty minutes later, Bashir, still oblivious to the growing frustration of Worf on the other side of the table, bid the other two a cheery goodbye. Worf exhaled. "That one," he growled, "is getting out of hand."
"Ah, Worf," Dax said fondly, "he just needs to get laid, clearly, and he'll be just fine. Speaking of which... perhaps it's time to go back to my quarters."
Worf's grimace subtly changed into a baring of teeth. "That's more like it," he rumbled.
"Time?" Odo queried, and the computer replied, "Oh-seven fifty-nine hours." He nodded, satisfied. He adjusted the second chair in the office, positioning it to within a micrometer. He started walking towards the replicator, but stopped halfway, shaking his head, and sat down again.
Kira entered and smiled at Odo. "Seems just like old times, with the Criminal Activity Reports," she said, as she slid into the chair he'd positioned.
Odo cleared his throat. "We don't, of course, have to go over the whole thing," he said. "There's just one item I wanted you to look at -- I wanted to know whether you thought Sisko should know about it."
Kira scanned the padd Odo put into her hands. "Hm. Taltos in trouble again? I just don't know what's going to become of that young man! He's either going to become a folk hero or an assassin, I swear. What is it this time?" She read on. "Detained for impersonating a chief of security --" She stifled a laugh. "I didn't even know that was a criminal offense!"
"Section 17. It's important for security that the identification of security officers be unambiguous at all times -- " Odo started.
Kira waved a hand, smiling. "Yes, yes, all right, I understand. But how did he, er, impersonate you?"
Odo rose and started to pace, his hands behind his back. "The amateur thespian group that was putting on Final Reflection had some putty makeup they were using to mimic the interspecies fused characters in the first act. Taltos absconded with some of this putty, and --"
"-- and molded it to his own purposes," Kira finished. She grinned. "Well, I suppose it's really a compliment, Odo, that he looked up to you enough to make you the target."
"I suppose," Odo said dubiously. "It might just be easier to form my face than another's."
"Was anyone fooled?" Kira asked, amused.
Odo harrumphed. "No. But perhaps if he learned how to apply the putty with a little more finesse -- " Kira choked on another laugh -- "it might be possible. I let him off with a stern warning not to do it again, and confiscated the putty." He made a throat-clearing noise. "In any case, that's not the item I wanted you to look at. Take a look at item thirteen."
Kira frowned at the padd, suddenly sober. "Unauthorized hacking into Garak's shop security routines; caught with standard sweep; perpetrator currently unknown. Yes, that does seem like it could be a... larger problem. On the other hand, if, say, the Obsidian Order were involved, I'd be surprised we picked it up at all with the standard sweep. Seems more likely to be an internal petty criminal who just picked the wrong target."
Odo nodded. "My thoughts exactly. That's why I wanted you to look at it."
"I'll definitely have to inform Sisko, but I'll also give him my recommendation that it's not a matter for his personal concern." Kira sat still, thinking, while Odo watched her. She glanced up at him. "And the detailed sweep didn't pick up any clues?"
"I'm still following up some loose ends," Odo said, "but none so far, except that it appears to have been done from within the station, not from an outside source, as you've already hypothesized."
Bashir walked into the room and nodded at both Odo and Kira. "Ah, both of you. Good. I'll only have to do this once."
Kira leaned back and crossed her arms. "Okay, now I'm intrigued. Spill."
Bashir grimaced. "So... you might have seen some traces of hacking into Garak's shop security routines. That, er, was me."
Both Odo and Kira said, "What?" at the same time.
Bashir said quickly, "It's for his birthday party. I'm planning a surprise party for him, Dax is helping, and I thought it would be funny if we all were waiting for him in his shop, but of course he doesn't give out the code, even to me, so --"
Kira shook her head. "Oh, Julian. You could have asked us, you know, for permission, or even for help with plans." Odo made a faint strangled noise, and Kira hurried on, "Which might not include breaking into someone else's private space, but could include, say, adjacent public areas."
Bashir looked abashed. "I know. I didn't think about it, though, and then as I was getting into the cryptographic routines I realized the security flag had gone off, and that you'd see it, so..."
Kira was frowning, but the corner of her mouth twitched. "And would you have come to confess to us if the security flag hadn't gone off?"
Bashir opened his mouth, thought better of it, and closed it again.
"I thought so," Kira said. "Well. For future reference, because of Garak's, ahem, connections, we do run extra security checks on him, and that would have picked up your activities even if the standard check didn't. And at that point we'd probably have had to assume we had some sort of Cardassian conspiracy going on. Ask us next time, okay, Julian? I'll have to inform Sisko, but I won't lodge a formal complaint. This time."
Bashir mumbled, "Thanks. I appreciate it."
Kira grinned. "So are we invited?"
Bashir brightened a bit. "Of course! Anyone who knows him is invited. The more the merrier! I just want him to know how much we all appreciate and care about him -- hopefully he'll see how much trouble I've gone to, how much I --"
"Uh, okay," Kira said, cutting Bashir off. "Yes. Appreciate. Well. Let us know when the party is."
"Of course!" Bashir said with a sunny smile as he walked out.
Kira chuckled. "He's got it bad, hasn't he?"
There was a pause. "I don't see that it's something to mock," Odo said stiffly.
Kira looked at him, surprised. "I didn't mean to make fun of him, Odo. I think it's sweet, really, even if I don't trust Garak as far as I can throw him. It's just... well, so Julian, if you know what I mean, to go overboard like this."
Odo frowned, but in a faintly mollified fashion. "I suppose it is."
O'Brien had hoped that whining would at least impair Bashir's darts performance, but no such luck. Which meant he had to listen to Bashir go on and on about the party and lose at darts.
"And it's got to be perfect," Bashir went on. "I want Garak to be wowed by the whole thing."
O'Brien frowned. "Why do you want to impress him so much, anyway?"
Bashir leaned forward. "It's not about impressing him, Miles. It's about showing him human customs so he can appreciate them. It's about letting him know that Cardassians and humans have things they can learn from one another."
O'Brien nodded. "So it is about impressing him." He sighed. "You know, Julian, for someone who is so super-smart, you certainly are transparent."
Bashir blinked at him. "I don't know what you mean."
O'Brien rolled his eyes. "And stupid, too. For a super-smart person."
Bashir said, "Whatever. Do you want another game? Two out of three?"
O'Brien sighed again. "Okay, fine," he said, and knocked back a whisky. He figured that as long as he was going to lose, he might as well try to get drunk while he was at it.
As Dax and Kira walked into the holodeck suite, Dax said, "I must admit, Nerys, I am very curious -- you've never dragged me on a holodeck adventure before; it's always the other way around!"
Kira grinned with suppressed excitement. "I really like this one, Jadzia," she said. "I think you will too. Ah -- here we go."
Dax frowned as she looked around. "It... looks like a blank holodeck suite, with a slightly different background and a pit in the middle," Dax said. "Or maybe a test chamber. Are you sure you --"
"Here it is," Kira said, picking up a large phaser-like object Dax hadn't noticed until that moment. "This is a portal phaser; it shoots something that's like the two ends of a mini-wormhole." She shot at the wall and at the ceiling, and Dax saw a blue-edged hole and an orange-edged hole appear. Dax went over to investigate. Looking into the blue hole in the wall, she saw the top of Kira's head. "Whoa. What -- ah. Wormhole. I see. So if I walk through this --"
"Wait!" Kira cried, but it was too late; Dax landed on the ground with a thump, knocking the wind out of her. Once she got her breath back, she started to laugh. "Okay, I get it; I came out of the ceiling. That's pretty nifty. I guess you retain the momentum you have going in."
"Yep. Don't run through one of those holes if the other end opens up on the ceiling -- unless you know you're going to land on something soft." Kira held out some boots. "These have special springs in them, so they're fine to land on as well."
"Okay," Dax said, peering around. "So what's the adventure? Are there secret spies? Do we ride on conveyor belts through a factory to destroy our enemies or something?"
"No," Kira said happily, "we just have to get to the other side of the room -- this room is pretty easy -- and then there's another test chamber beyond this that's a little harder, and so on. It's a puzzle game! None of that weird imagination holodeck stuff. And as a bonus it's target practice too -- some of the puzzles require careful aim."
Dax looked unconvinced. "I don't know what I think about a holodeck adventure that doesn't have an actual adventure component. But I guess I'm willing to give it a shot." She considered. "No pun intended."
There was a rustle behind them, and both of them turned around to see Bashir. "Ah -- I'm sorry, Jadzia, Nerys; Quark must have made a mistake when he told me this holodeck was free."
"Yes," Kira said, "we have this one for the next hour, but I don't think there's anyone after us. You can come back then."
"That sounds fine," Bashir agreed. "I'm just running some simulations of different party sizes to make sure the space outside Garak's shop isn't too small or too big for the party."
Kira and Dax exchanged a look. "Um, Julian," Dax said gently, "I don't think that's really necessary. As long as there aren't enough people in the area to violate space density codes, you'll be fine."
"Oh, do you really think so?" Bashir asked.
"Yes," Kira said with emphasis, and Dax nodded assent.
They waited until Bashir had left to dissolve into laughter. "Oh my," Kira said. "He's even more into this than I thought."
Dax shook her head, still laughing. "He comes to talk to me every day about it. Ah well. Where were we, anyway?"
A pleasant female computerized voice spoke from around them. "Greetings, test subjects."
Kira frowned. "That's the subroutine that gives instructions on how to operate the portal phaser. I thought I turned that off, since I already know how it works. I wonder if Julian messed with something in the holodeck routines?"
The computerized voice said, "Cake, and grief counseling, will be available at the conclusion of the test."
Dax said uneasily, "I'm not sure I like the sound of that."
Jake yawned. "I'm just saying, Dad, that this whole brunch thing is not the stylish thing to do!"
Benjamin Sisko, whipping up a bowl of batter, looked over to where Jake was setting out plates. He said mildly, "You don't have to have pancakes if you'd rather not, son."
"I didn't mean that. I just meant that having brunch parties instead of dinner parties is not what the cool kids do."
"If you're just now realizing I'm not one of the cool kids, I'm ahead of the game," Sisko returned, grinning, and Jake grinned back. The door chimed, and Jake was still smiling as he walked to the door.
Kira, Odo, Dax, and Worf stepped in. Kira and Dax looked bright-eyed and chipper, Odo looked surly, and Worf looked like he had just woken up. Dax was holding a large bright blue bottle that made Jake blink. "Here," she said, extending the bottle to Jake. "A present for you and your dad; we can drink it now or not, as you wish."
Jake hefted it. "What is this?" The only drink he knew that came in that electric-blue color was Romulan ale, and he didn't really think Dax would have brought contraband hard liquor to a brunch party. Also, he didn't think Romulan ale needed to be refrigerated; the bottle was absurdly cold.
He glanced at his father, whose eyes were wide. "Old man," Sisko said, "is that Diredi orange juice you have there?"
"The very best!" Dax confirmed. She smiled at Jake. "They've engineered the oranges to be this color -- I don't know whether it's a psychological effect or a real taste effect, but it does taste a little different than Terran oranges."
Jake wrinkled his nose. "Blue orange juice... okay." He wrested off the bottle's cap as the door chimed again and O'Brien walked in, looking tired. "Stayed up late recalibrating the holodeck and overslept," he grumbled.
"I do appreciate it, Miles," Kira said with some fervor; "Jadzia and I will be very glad to use the holodeck tutorial module without being told it's going to flood the holodeck with deadly neurotoxin if we don't disarm it." O'Brien made a noncommittal noise, but looked slightly less disgruntled.
"I thought it was kind of fun, actually, running through the back end of the testing facility to destroy the rogue module," Dax said sotto voce, and Kira returned equally quietly, "You would."
Sisko banged a spoon on the mixing bowl, effectively getting everyone's attention. "The pancakes are almost ready, so you should all sit down and start eating the fruit at the table, and I'll start dishing up the pancakes when you're done!"
Jake made sure everyone was comfortable and started pouring the juice. Sisko flipped the pancakes with flair, obviously conscious of the fact he had an audience, and dished them out when they'd cooked all through. He hesitated at the empty place. "Where's Julian? He's usually the first one here!"
"Oh, him," O'Brien said. "He's probably still working on planning that party for Garak. He's a little obsessed."
Near-simultaneously, Kira said, "I'll say"; Odo said, "And what if he is?"; Dax said "Ah, it's cute"; and Worf said, "It is unbecoming." Kira, Dax, Jake, O'Brien, and Sisko promptly burst out laughing, while Odo folded his arms and Worf scowled.
Bashir walked in. "Sorry to be late, everyone; I was just putting the finishing touches on the invitations to Garak's party. It's the day after tomorrow, and of course you're all invited." Kira and Dax looked at each other and spluttered with laughter again. "Um," Bashir said. "Did I miss something?"
"Surprise!" everyone yelled, and then stopped in dead silence.
This was because Garak had drawn a knife from his belt and was pointing it menacingly at the crowd.
"What are you doing?" Bashir cried.
Garak kept his eyes on the crowd and his knife pointed in their direction. "I'd like to know what everyone is doing here. How they got past my security measures to monitor the areas surrounding my shop. Why they were waiting here, in the dark --"
Sisko stepped forward. "Calm down, Garak, and what are you doing with a knife, anyway? That's got to be against station regulations."
"It's not," Garak said. "I can't have a blaster or a phaser in my shop, no. Being a simple tailor, and all. But a knife? That's just a piece of sharp steel. I use sharper things to cut cloth, thank you very much."
"Anyway," Sisko said, "it's a birthday party. For you. It was a surprise. A successful one, I guess."
Garak lowered his arm. "Ah. This is one of Dax's 'surprise parties' I've heard so much about?"
Dax cleared her throat. "Actually, it was Julian's idea."
Garak turned to Julian. "Doctor, you were involved in this?"
"Oh yes. Julian masterminded the whole thing," Sisko said helpfully, not seeming to understand Bashir's frantic head-shaking and backing away. "He even got Security to help him with the party."
Garak said slowly, "Doctor, you were the instigator of a stationwide conspiracy to intentionally trick me?"
"Well, er, I suppose you could look at it like that--" Bashir stammered.
Garak went on, "And involving misleading me and purposely lying about certain things, and forcing other people to lie to me?"
Bashir said miserably, "Sort of. Well. Yes."
Garak took a slow step closer. "And so, to sum up, you were being deliberately and unashamedly nefarious and underhanded. To me. Though we've known one another for five years."
Bashir swallowed. "...Yes?"
Garak smiled widely and gripped Bashir's shoulders. "That's so perfectly Cardassian, Julian. I didn't realize you could be so romantic!" Garak drew Bashir close, and Bashir leaned into him with his lips parted slightly. Garak then glanced at all the others, who had crowded around and were looking at the two of them expectantly, and paused. He said, "I, er, am very grateful to all of you for coming, but the Doctor and I have an urgent appointment. Right now. That he must have forgotten about. So we will have to leave. Goodbye!"
"An appointment?" Bashir asked, looked at Garak, blinked, and said hastily, "Oh, yes, yes, an appointment. So sorry." And they were gone.
Dax heaved a happy sigh. "Such a cute couple!" she said.
Odo said doubtfully, "Well, I hope they are very happy."
Kira looked thoughtful. "You know, I think Garak has a point about surprise parties. I hope no one's thinking of planning one for my birthday."
Sisko glanced at Dax, who suddenly seemed to contract a violent case of coughing. His lips quirked. "I'm sure that would be the furthest thing from anyone's mind," he said.
O'Brien knit his brow as he waved at the copious decorations and food around him. "So... what do we do with all this?"
Worf, meanwhile, was absently munching on some krada legs. "This krada is delicious," Worf observed blandly. "I must say, Julian certainly does know how to throw a good party."