Stardate 53842.3 – 2376 (17 years after)
Garak strode through the streets, heading for the docks. A new shipment of industrial replicators was due from the Federation and, while there were others perfectly capable of taking delivery, he did like to greet the officers personally. While it was arrogant to recognise the fact, and unseemly besides, the truth was that his name and the part he had played in the war were well known among the Starfleet officers. He preferred that the humiliating task of accepting Federation aid not be undertaken by a nameless Cardassian, a mere hapless victim of the Dominion and their puppet government. Maybe that would lessen the pity in their eyes.
He heard running footsteps behind him, and a small hand plucked at his pocket as a child passed him. He batted it away without looking. There was a time when he might have broken the child’s hand but now he considered that unnecessarily cruel. There were thousands of children living on the streets now, war orphans in a world where everyone was too focused on their own survival to worry about a stranger’s child. Family was all, so having no family made you nothing. The very few pre-existing orphanages had simply been overwhelmed. Cardassian society had prided itself on not needing such institutions.
A figure picked its way across the masonry-strewn square ahead. There was nothing of value left there, anything usable having been carted away for use in the rebuilding months ago. All that was left was the dust, which clung to everything, and the largest chunks of stone, immovable by non-mechanical force. The children sometimes scavenged there in the hope of finding some small item overlooked by adults or, failing that, a sheltered space to sleep, but there was no reason for such a well-dressed man to be crossing the square, looking around curiously. A conspicuously well-dressed man, with none of the exhaustion that marked Cardassians these days evident in his movements. He stopped, turning to address the child, obligingly presenting his profile. Garak’s eyes widened in recognition.
Stardate 36490.8 – 2359 (6 hours before)
“Fala’s information is good, but, even so, it’s too heavily guarded, Edon.”
“So we wait for them to bring it out to the skimmer.”
“And hope the guards don’t notice the gunfire? We won’t exactly be able to make a quick escape lugging an Orb.”
“Lupaza and I surveyed the area. The nearest landing site they’ll be able to use is a good three minutes away. That should be more than enough.”
“I take it you’re volunteering, Nerys.”
“Yes, Rahl, I am.”
Stardate 46968.6 – 2369 (10)
“Of course I’d like to help you out, Morn, but as Rule of Acquisition twenty-one states, ‘Never place friendship above profit.’ I’d have to check with my contacts first. I don’t want another load of cargo not worth the crates it’s shipped in. I’ve still got those three cases of Kanar, and it’s not like Garak throws that many parties.” Quark leaned across the bar and topped up Morn’s glass. “I don’t suppose we could agree on a trade?”
Stardate 46968.6 – 2369 (10 years)
“Of course I’d like to help you out, Morn, but -” A Boslic woman sauntered into the bar, caught Quark’s eye, and made her way down to the other end of the bar. “Excuse me.”
“I take it you had a successful trip.”
“I was wondering how long it would take you to notice me.”
“Oh, you’re still as noticeable as ever. I didn’t think you’d be here for another six hours.”
“I’m a little ahead of schedule.”
“Maybe.” She smiled slowly.
“So,” Quark pulled two glasses out from under the counter and placed them on the bar, “what’s your pleasure?”
“Mmm, Aldebaran whiskey.”
“I’ll join you in that.” He poured the drinks and lifted his glass. “To business.”
Stardate 46968.6 – 2369 (10 years after)
“So,” Quark pulled two glasses out from under the counter and placed them on the bar, “what’s your pleasure?”
“Mmm.” Rionoj considered. “Aldebaran whiskey. No, a Stardrifter.”
“An excellent choice.” He poured two measures of the green spirit and lifted his glass. “To business.”
“To business,” she echoed. She leaned forward. “Cargo Bay Nine.”
“I’ll meet you there after I close the bar. One hundred hours?”
Stardate 48585.0 – 2371 (12 years after)
“Ah, but Preloc is indeed aware of this and in fact uses it in his work, as can plainly be seen in...Garak, is something happening on the Promenade?”
Garak’s attention snapped back to him.
“Nothing of import, Doctor. You were saying?”
“I was saying that Meditations on a Crimson Shadow is clearly influenced by -”
Garak stared past him. Julian Bashir twisted round in his seat and saw nothing but the usual bustle of inhabitants and visitors on their way somewhere else.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, maybe we could continue this later. I have a delivery of silk due from Kraus Four.”
“Of course,” Bashir said. He watched Garak walk out and stared into the crowds, searching for anything unusual.
Stardate 50618.2 – 2373 (14 years after)
Bashir stepped out of the infirmary. “You are the Sisko.”
“You are not linear,” the Kira prophet said, standing in Ops.
“What do you mean?”
Garak stood beside Bashir. “What was is no longer lost.”
“What is to come is no longer hidden.”
“The consequences are known.”
“The game is played.”
“Your existence is disrupted.”
Sisko opened his eyes in Ops.
“Dax, run a scan for temporal anomalies. Major, search the records.”
Stardate 48620.3 – 2371 (echo)
“Someone should do a study.”
“To try and figure out why some people can't bring themselves to trust anyone, even if it's in their own best interest.”
“Why is it no one ever believes me, even when I'm telling the truth?”
“Have you ever heard the story about the boy who cried wolf?”
Stardate 48585.9 – 2371 (12 years after)
Approaching Garak’s shop at the close of business, Bashir was just close enough to catch a glimpse of grey before the figure disappeared into the shadows on the Promenade.
“I didn’t know there were any other Cardassians aboard the station. A friend?”
“Just an old associate of mine.”
“What's his name?”
“Very funny, Garak.”
“I fail to see what you find amusing, Doctor.”
“If you don't want to tell me, don't tell me. I'm sure Constable Odo will be able to obtain his name should any trouble arise.”
“My dear Doctor, flattered as I am by your conviction of my singular nature, I really must point out that Elim is a common Cardassian name. Why is it no-one believes me, even when I'm telling the truth?”
“Have you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?”
“No. Do tell me over dinner.”
Stardate 46969.6 – 2369 (10 years after)
Reviewing the list of docked ships and their passenger manifests, Odo discovered an oddity. The system was set to flag up any known associates of Quark’s, previous convictees, and general undesirables upon their entry of the station. The Boslic freighter captain Rionoj, fulfilling all those criteria, had been flagged in such a manner upon her ship docking at twelve hundred hours. And again, when they docked at eighteen hundred hours. There was no record of the ship leaving the station in between, and both times they submitted a request for the station’s maintenance crew to adjust their antimatter converter.
Odo opened his security recordings of Quark’s bar. He was twenty minutes in before Rionoj appeared. No, nineteen. The timestamp was quite definite about that. Odo rewound and watched Quark and Morn negotiate. There was a jump on the tape.
“Of course I’d like to help you out, Morn –” Quark repeated, then moved away from Morn as Rionoj walked in. A minute later – the same minute – the scene played out again, with the same customers taking a slightly different route through the room and Rionoj ordering a Stardrifter.
“The time is twenty-one forty-one hours.”
Three hours before Quark and Rionoj’s planned meeting. Time enough.
“Odo to Ops.”
Stardate 50618.2 – 2373 (14 years after)
“Benjamin, I’m picking up unusual levels of chroniton radiation.”
Kira frowned. “Well, to narrow it down, there’s a record of a temporal disturbance four years ago that I don’t remember at all. Minor timeline alterations around stardate 46968.6. Do you...”
Sisko shook his head.
Dax paused. “No.”
“And there was an odd sensor reading a few days ago, here.” Kira pointed to the screen. Sisko leaned in to look, then moved to the side to allow Dax to look. “I checked, and this seems to have been reoccurring every year. Just a few minutes each time, except for two years ago.”
Stardate 50629.6 – 2373 (14 years after)
“What’s this?” Kira said, looking down at the PADD Sisko slid across the replimat table to her.
“Zocal’s sixth prophecy. “ Sisko took a sip of raktajino. “I tried to send it to you, but I’ve no idea where it ended up.”
Kira set her mug down. “Zocal only wrote five prophecies.”
Sisko quirked an eyebrow. “I know. This is the sixth.”
“‘In tears shall the Prophet’s tear be taken and in tears shall it be used. The order shall end, till the artists of the wheel in the sky begin again and ensure the order shall end.’” She looked up. “The Orb of Time? You think this is what’s happening?”
“It certainly fits. Keep reading.”
Stardate 48587.3 – 2371 (12 57 18 7 years after after after before/now)
“Docking port four is clear for approach.”
“Thank you, Major. Dalsaur out.”
“At last!” Bashir enthused. “I’ve been waiting for these supplies for days. This formula has shown...”
Sisko’s hearing faded and the room swam in front of him.
“...it’s really quite remarkable!”
“Maybe you should get down there then, Doctor,” Kira said, straight-faced. “You don’t want them getting lost on their way to the infirmary, do you? After all this...”
Bashir’s face creased with concern, and kept on creasing, his hair greying. Dax was suddenly shorter next to him, her face rounder and younger, then different again, wearing the familiar body of Curzon. Odo was a sickening blur. Sisko tore his gaze away. Kira’s hair was long and her face was pale. She crumpled to the ground, and he shut his eyes.
He opened them a second later to find the world in focus. Bashir’s hair was dark, Dax was Jadzia and Odo was humanoid. Kira was still lying pale on the floor.
Stardate 36491.6 – 2359 (now)
Entek waited till the Bajorans had dispatched the guards and stepped out into the open to collect their prize. Then he nodded. The terrorists were dead before they hit the ground. All except one.
They made their way over to the bodies. Glin and Hassask lifted the Orb while he knelt down beside her. She was obviously trying to struggle, but the more the subject fought the paralytic, the more it took hold.
“Hello, Selita. I just wanted to thank you personally. This is a great day for Cardassia, and we couldn’t have done it without you.” Her eyes widened. “Yes, you fed them the information, and it all went perfectly. I just hope that the next time we meet, you are more pleased to see me.”
Rahl’s eyes closed as the soporific effects of the drug finally took hold.
Entek stood. “Take her. Leave the rest, there isn’t time.”
Stardate 48587.5 – 2371 (12 years after/2 hours after)
Bashir met Sisko as he entered the infirmary. “The Chief and I have managed to set up a chroniton-neutral semi-stasis field, and the Major seems to have stabilised, but the field is degrading at a rate of zero point eight per cent.”
“Yes. I think you better read this.”
When he had finished, Sisko looked up. “Can you do anything about the degradation?”
“Nature abhors a vacuum, Commander. The only real solution here is to go to the root of the problem.”
“I need to talk to her.”
Bashir nodded. “She’s regained consciousness.”
Sisko made his way through. “Hello, Major. How are you feeling?”
“Surprisingly well for a dead woman.”
“Do you remember what you were doing at the time? Any idea what might have changed?”
Kira shook her head. “We carried out so many missions. Any one of them could have gone wrong.”
“There’s something I think you should read. A message from the future; it’s dated as being sent two years from now.” Tapping the console, Sisko sent it through to the screen nearest her.
“At least it’ll give me something to do.” Kira scanned the first few lines and looked up. “Zocal’s sixth prophecy? But he only made five.”
“Apparently. I’ll see you later.”
“I’ll be here.”
“Ah, Commander,” Garak called, as Sisko left the infirmary. “May I speak with you? Thank you,” he added, as Sisko fell in step with him. “Might I say how very sorry I was to hear of the Major’s illness?”
Sisko held his tongue till the doors closed behind him.
“What do you know about this, Garak?”
“Well, this has all been most inconvenient. My accounts are showing entirely different transactions to those I remember undertaking, and I have several finished garments which apparently were never ordered.”
“Apparently, the Obsidian Order has gained control of the Bajoran Orb of Time, the key to time if you will, and are attempting to change history to the betterment of Cardassia. If true, I applaud the spirit of the idea, but I’m not sure how much credence to give my contact. If the Obsidian Order was to attempt to change history, I’d like to think they’d do a better job of it. This all seems decidedly sloppy, most unlike them.”
Sisko started for the door, and paused. “Mr Garak, please meet me in the infirmary in an hour.”
“Certainly, Commander. May I ask why?”
The door closed behind Sisko.
Stardate 48587.6 – 2371 (12 years after/3 hours after)
“Ah, Commander. Major. Doctor. Chief. Constable. May I repeat my earlier enquiry as to the purpose of this meeting?”
“Mr Garak, we need the Orb of Time.”
“A most lamentable state of affairs, Commander, but I fail to see what relevance that has to me.”
“You are going to get it for us.”
“The Orb of Time is being held by the Obsidian Order.”
“They don’t just mislay things. What good do you think I can do? What makes you think I have any friends left in the Order?”
“You were most helpful in the matter of Major Kira’s kidnapping four months ago,” Odo said.
Garak sighed. “It’s true what the Ferengi say: no good deed ever goes unpunished.”
“Zocal’s Sixth Prophecy speaks of a time of great confusion. He talks of a mirrored serpent, one of the artists on the wheel in the sky. Who else could it be?”
“Why, Major, I do believe that was almost a compliment. I’m afraid, though, that I’m not going to risk my life on the word of a Bajoran prophecy. Not to impugn your security measures, Constable.”
“I can’t say I’m keen to repeat the experience, but we could try something based on radiation. Desperate times and all that.”
“That killed you, Chief,” Bashir pointed out.
“The prophecy specifies ‘the Prophet’s tear’,” Kira added. “Orb experiences aren’t always pleasant, but they’re usually less fatal.”
“That,” Garak said, “is a point for discussion.”
“The sensors recorded the strangest thing yesterday,” Sisko began conversationally. “At twelve thirty hours, a second Cardassian was on the station. At twenty thirty hours, he disappeared. Those times don’t correspond to any ship movements, so we ran a bio scan. And you know what, Mr Garak, it turned out it was you.”
Garak smiled. “Predestination paradoxes are terribly frustrating things. Now, the Orb is currently in transit. Rather than the Order staffing a ship of their own, which they seem to be short on at the moment for some reason, the Orb is being carried on a standard military ship with Order supervisors. Now, the crew won’t be officially told this, but they’ll know. Not a time for a ship to operate at anything less than peak efficiency. When they develop unexpected engine trouble in the Bajoran system, they will, to their great dismay, be forced to dock here. Either that or blow up in space. They should be arriving in about fourteen hours time, after which I trust my part in arranging this little trip will be over.”
“Then what was that all about?” Kira exclaimed.
“I dislike being trapped. Don’t begrudge me a few minutes of the illusion of free will. Now, if there’s nothing more, I will bid you all good day, and good health, Major.”
“Garak,” Bashir said.
Garak nodded to them, and walked out of the room.
“It was the Orb of Time,” Kira said suddenly, and elaborated, “Once, when I was sixteen, the Shakaar planned an ambush to rescue an Orb; we didn’t know which. We had good information and it was being moved off Bajor, so it was our last chance. Edon suddenly changed his mind, insisted it was too risky. He wouldn’t let any of us go. I was so angry, I thought about going all on my own. Rahl did, and we never saw her again. He just let an Orb go, and I never understood why. That would have been around the right time.”
“So the Shakaar take the Orb from the Cardassians -” O’Brien said.
“-and the Obsidian Order take it from the Shakaar!” Bashir completed. “So much better for them if it just disappears, if not even Central Command knows they have it. So much more scope.”
“So,” Sisko said, “we have to go back in time, interact with the people of that time, and actually convince them to change their course of action. I suppose it’s too much to hope that Temporal Investigations will somehow overlook this?”
“In our defence,” Bashir said, “we will be restoring the original course of events.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll be sure to mention it.”
“You need me there, Commander,” Kira said. “I know the terrain, I know the time, and I know the Shakaar. They’re more likely to trust me than you.”
“Kira, I really don’t recommend leaving the force field. You may well vanish in a matter of minutes, and you certainly won’t be in any shape to be going anywhere!”
“I don’t disagree, Major, you would be invaluable. Chief, would it be possible to create a portable version?”
O’Brien rubbed his hand across his face. “Theoretically, but this type of field is very power intensive. And the degradation we’re seeing here is against these levels of chronitons. Once you’re in the past, you’ll all be out of place, so I’d say two officers, maximum. Then using the Orb of Time to get there, flooding it with chroniton radiation...I can’t guarantee it would even survive the trip there.”
“Better quick than slow. I don’t want to fade.”
“Alright, Major. I don’t see that we have much choice. Chief, how soon can you have it ready?”
Stardate 48589.2 – 2371 (12 years after)
At twenty-five twenty-two hours, a Cardassian ship limped into docking port six. The crew insisted on carrying out their own repairs, and only those gathering the necessary materials left the ship. No one noticed a rat scurrying along the corridors, darting first into the room where the Orb was under guard, then the unmanned transporter room.
Stardate 48589.2 – 2371 (12 years after/17 hours after)
“Good luck, Major, Doctor. How’s the shield?”
“Fine, Commander. We won’t waste time.”
“I’ll take care of her, Commander. If she lets me.”
“Don’t worry, Doctor, if something goes wrong, I’ll be relying on you to save my life. Both of my lives.”
Stardate 48589.2 – 2371 (12 years after/17 hours after)
With the door shut behind him, Odo took on the more recognisable form of the station’s Chief of Security and manipulated the controls. Kira and Bashir, both in civilian clothes, materialised on the platform.
“The Orb is down this corridor. Three guards. I’ll go ahead.”
The rat darted down the corridor. Kira and Bashir followed quickly.
Stardate 36490.4 – 2359 (11 hours before)
They appeared on a darkened Bajoran mountainside. As her eyes adjusted, Kira picked out familiar features of the landscape.
“I think I dented my medkit.”
“Cardassians have very hard skulls.”
“How’s your shield, Major?”
“It seems fine, Doctor. Now, this is Kola Mountain. If we’ve arrived at the right time, I think it’s this way.” Kira led the way.
They had been moving over the mountainside for twenty minutes or so when Kira stopped. There was a soft sound, such as a last footfall from someone who had stopped as quickly as they had.
“Prophets be my guide,” Kira said clearly.
“Edon.” Kira stepped forward.
A darker shadow became a shape as he moved towards them. “You and Lupaza are back quick-”
He stopped. The moonlight glinted on his phaser. “Who are you?”
“Shakaar Edon, I am Kira Nerys, and this is my friend, Julian Bashir.”
“I would say it’s nice to meet you, but I’m not sure yet.”
“A man called Lorit Akrem brought me to you. I have the heart of a sinoraptor, I am big enough to carry a phaser rifle, and I wear the earring Lupaza made for me. In the winter we tried sucking stones to stave off the hunger. And if you’re as stubborn as I remember, that won’t convince you.”
There was a pause. “Nerys. Where are you from?”
“A long way away, Edon. And -” Kira smiled “- I bring a message from the Prophets.”
Shakaar huffed a short laugh. “In that case, you better come sit down. I’m sorry there isn’t a fire; I wasn’t expecting company down here.”
Stardate 36491.6 – 2359
Entek watched as the guards carrying the Orb approached the skimmer. The terrorists’ window of opportunity was rapidly closing and they were nowhere to be seen. They were either much more accomplished masters of camouflage and subterfuge than he had given them credit for, or were simply absent. They had defied his expectations, which was mildly intriguing and very irritating. The skimmer closed its doors. He had lost both the chance to quietly obtain the Orb and the chance to destroy a terrorist cell.
Ah. There she was. One had had to be there. He had planted the instruction in her head himself, so deep she wouldn’t even have been aware of it till the time came. No doubt she had applied reasoning and ascribed motivations to her sudden compulsion to carry out this mission, even without her colleagues. The humanoid psyche was a wonderful thing, particularly those artificially constructed. The mission wouldn’t be a complete loss. He loosed a single silent shot. The skimmer took off unawares, leaving Entek to collect his agent.
Stardate 46970.0 – 2369
“Seven,” Quark offered as he and Rionoj navigated the stacked crates of Cargo Bay Nine.
“You’ll be selling them for fifteen. Ten.”
“There’s overheads, advertising, storage. I’ll be lucky to make a profit at all. Eight.”
“Eight bars and four strips.” Quark shook his head. “Generosity has always been a fault of mine.”
Rionoj stopped beside a crate. “Done.”
“Is this it? Open it up then, I want to see what I’m paying for.”
She did so. It was then that an identical crate in the next row turned liquid and reformed into a humanoid shape.
“Odo!” Quark yelped, and recovered. “What good timing, I was just going to call you. Someone hid these crates on Rionoj’s ship and she didn’t know what to do.”
“Let’s go, both of you.”
“You can’t think this has anything to do with us? Odo, we’re innocent. We’ve been framed.”
“Tell it to the magistrate.”
Rionoj merely scowled.
Stardate 48585.0 – 2371
“Ah,” Bashir said, and waved his fork for emphasis, “but Preloc is indeed aware of this and in fact uses it in his work, as can plainly be seen in Meditations on a Crimson Shadow, particularly the first scene between Asha and Goris.”
“I quite disagree, Doctor. That is a purely Federation viewpoint. Preloc is a master of Cardassian literature. Cardassian literature, as you might have noticed, has little time for such melodramatic self-indulgence.”
The usual bustle of inhabitants and visitors passed by on the Promenade, entirely ignored by both of them.
Stardate 53842.3 – 2376 (rewind and press play)
“Thank you, you’ve been most helpful.” Voice lowered, he added, “I should try the docks today if I were you.”
The child went in the vague direction of the docks, though Garak had no idea whether he would follow his advice or not. Hopefully it should prove immaterial.
A few more careful steps brought him to the edge of the ruined square. He made an attempt at brushing himself off – the dust was everywhere – before looking up to meet Garak’s eyes.
“Good morning, Elim.” He smiled. “Let’s try this again, shall we?”