By Rocky and Seema

Author's note: Set fourth season DS9. Thanks to m.c. moose for looking this over.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns all the nouns; we just lay claim to the rest.


"Smile," Jadzia Dax said in a low voice. "It's not every day we get to play host for such an auspicious occasion."

Kira would have snorted if they'd been alone. Instead, she glanced quickly at Captain Sisko standing patiently by the airlock, awaiting the dignitaries' imminent arrival.

"Auspicious for *whom*? Starfleet, proudly proclaiming, 'see how well we can work with our new allies?' Or the chance to see Dukat smirking over--"

Sisko turned around and gave her a stern look. "Major, I don't need to remind you how important this joint venture to explore the Gamma Quadrant is to both the Federation and the Cardassians."

"I'm aware of that, sir," Kira said. "I just have my doubts as to the trustworthiness of some of the parties involved."

"Like it or not, the Cardassians are our allies now," Sisko said firmly.

Kira nodded but couldn't help saying, "Based on our past experiences--"

"The Federation's, or your own during the Occupation, Major?" Sisko's eyes narrowed as he evaluated his second-in-command. "One of the secondary topics at this week's conference is the Maquis situation. I'd like there to be no question of whose side you're on."

Kira flinched, but it was a fair statement. "Some of it is a knee-jerk reaction, I'll grant you that. I can't forget--let alone forgive--what they did to Bajor. Nor do I think the Cardassians have changed--not if their recent actions in the Demilitarized Zone are any indication." She met Sisko's gaze squarely. "But I can assure you despite all that, I'm not sympathetic to the Maquis cause. You can count on me to do my job."

Sisko smiled briefly. "Just so we're both clear on that, Major."

"Which delegation is due to arrive first?" Dax said, perhaps diplomatically trying to change the subject. "The Federation, right? Shouldn't they be here by now?"

"Yes," Sisko said, frowning slightly. "Admiral Nechayev and her party were due to arrive by 1400, followed by Gul Dukat at 14:30."

"That doesn't give us much leeway," Dax said, consulting a PADD. "The conference is scheduled to begin at 1700 hours. I'll check with Odo see if--" she paused as Sisko's comm badge chirped.

"Sisko here."

"Captain." Odo's unmistakable gravelly tones came over the comm. "We have a situation."

Sisko frowned. "A situation?"

"We've just intercepted a transmission containing information about a threat to the conference." Odo sounded unperturbed, but Kira knew beneath that calm exterior, Odo was already sifting through the evidence and making deductions regarding any possible dangers.

"What kind of threat?" Sisko asked, his voice rising in concern. "Constable, where did the transmission originate from?"

"We don't have many details yet. The transmission appears to have come from somewhere on the station," Odo said. "We're attempting to trace it now. However, based on the preliminary evidence, this is not something to take lightly."

"Can you be more specific, Odo?" Kira asked. The term 'threat' was vague enough to encompass a variety of things: a riot on the Promenade, tainted food and drink, a delay in scheduling.

"A significant possibility exists an attempt will be made to assassinate one or more of the attendees. The identity of the assassin, however, is unclear." Odo paused briefly and Kira could hear conversation in the background -- she identified the other voice as Commander Eddington's -- but their words were indistinct.

"Odo?" she asked sharply.

"My apologies, Major," Odo said. "Commander Eddington made a suggestion as to how to proceed."

"Constable, I assume you've already taken precautions to beef up security?" Sisko took a few steps, deep in thought, before turning to face Kira and Dax again. "Are you running continuous scans of the conference room suite?"

"Yes, sir," Odo said. "Commander Eddington and I are coordinating our efforts. Captain, if it doesn't disturb your plans too much, we could use the Major's help."

"Good. I'll remain here and monitor the situation. Keep me apprised. Sisko out." Sisko then gestured in Kira's direction. "Major, go to Ops and assist Odo and the Commander." She nodded. "I'll convey your regrets to Admiral Nechayev." Sisko looked grimly at Kira. "I don't need to remind you how important it is this conference goes well."

"No, sir," Kira said, already backing away. After Sisko's curt nod in response, she turned and picked up her pace as she headed towards the turbo lift. Halfway there, her comm badge crackled to life.

"Odo to Kira. Where are you, Major?"

"Heading towards the turbo lift now. I'll meet you in Ops."

"Belay that, Major. I'm on my way to cargo bay two."

Kira quickened her step, stopping just briefly at a security station to retrieve a phaser, and then continued on her way. She approached the cargo bay just seconds after Odo and his squad of security officers. Two officers stationed themselves on either side of the door while Odo entered the override security code. Kira kept her hand securely on the butt of her phaser. The doors swished open and Odo entered cautiously, Kira right behind him. The other officers quickly fanned out. Cargo bay two wasn't particularly large and within minutes, Kira knew no one was hiding here. Nevertheless, Odo and the other security officers proceeded to examine the cargo bay centimeter by centimeter.

"It'd help if I knew what we were looking for," Kira said, striving to rein in her impatience.

"We traced the transmission to this area," Odo said, his eyes scanning the room intently. "Not much of a chance the perpetrator would still be present, but we were hoping at the very least to find his transmitter." As if to emphasize his words, the security officers were already prying open several large containers.

"Want to fill me in from the beginning?"

"We intercepted the transmission about twenty minutes ago. It was en route to the alpha communications array; we're still trying to determine its final destination and recipient. We presume the operative was simply informing his superiors he was in position." Odo tapped a control on his tricorder and moved to a large steel bin, rapping its side carefully. "The signal was on a rarely used frequency, and powerful enough it's highly unlikely the operator used a portable transmitter. It must still be here someplace." Odo aimed his tricorder at the bin in front of him and grunted. "Rusted phase couplings." He moved on to the next.

"What about the message?" Kira peeked behind some storage containers; nothing but some mothballs and the carcass of a long-dead vole lay behind them.

"Encrypted, of course, but the code wasn't complicated and it was deciphered in a matter of minutes," Odo said. He shook his head as the tricorder beeped negative at him. "However, the last part of the transmission was somewhat garbled--there's a reason that particular frequency isn't commonly used--so we weren't able to decipher it entirely. All we know is there's going to be an assassination attempt, but we don't know by whom, or who the intended victim or victims will be."

"I see." Kira pressed her lips together thoughtfully. "We can assume the victim is someone important, most likely the head of one of the delegations. Or both of them, for that matter. Admiral Nechayev was one of the principal architects of the Federation-Cardassian Treaty. And Gul Dukat, well…" she took a deep breath. "The logical suspect would be--"

"--someone working for or in sympathy with the Maquis."

Kira offered Odo a strained smile. "You read my mind."

"The honor of the deduction, Major," Odo said, "belongs to Commander Eddington." Odo's tone was carefully neutral, but Kira knew her old friend still smarted at Starfleet's decision to assign Michael Eddington to security detail on Deep Space Nine. "I intercepted the message, but the Commander insisted on analyzing it himself. According to his hypothesis, Ro Laren is involved." Kira's eyes widened at the mention of the famous --or infamous-- Bajoran former Starfleet officer. Odo nodded at Kira's response. "Eddington has already initiated a bio-filter search for Ro Laren. I offered to do it, but--" Odo gave a fluid shrug of his shoulders.

"Eddington wanted to do it himself, because he doesn't trust you." Kira found it difficult to keep a note of bitterness from creeping into her voice. "It's amazing Starfleet trusts anyone not wearing the wearing their uniform."

"Even wearing the uniform doesn't necessarily mean an officer is trustworthy," Odo said gently. "Ro's reputation precedes her-- a promising officer who turned rogue and joined the Maquis. Starfleet has been after Ro for years now and you have to admit, Nerys, her knowledge of Starfleet methods makes her ideally suited to carry out this assignment. Eddington is adamant she is on the station."

Kira scowled at the comment. "Do you really think someone as prominent and as wanted by Starfleet would come aboard DS9? It would draw a lot of unwanted attention to a plan whose success depends on secrecy." Kira shook her head. "I have no love for the Maquis, but one thing I can say: their operatives aren't stupid." She jerked her head in the direction of the storage bins. "We're wasting our time. There's nothing here." She strode toward the door. "I want to find Eddington and see this intelligence for myself," she said. "Two can play this game, Odo. He may not trust you entirely, but I don't know that I trust him. How can you be sure this isn't his way of ensuring he receives all the credit?"

Odo considered for a moment and then said, "I'll go with you." He ordered his men to continue the search and then joined Kira out in the corridor. Odo matched his stride with Kira and she felt a certain comfort in having him by her side. After a moment though, she was aware he kept sneaking glances in her direction.

"What?" she asked, somewhat impatiently.

"It's not just Eddington who's bothering you, is it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You never wanted this conference on DS9," Odo said carefully. "You protested at the staff meeting when Sisko announced it. Why? Is it because of the Cardassians?"

"How I feel about the Cardassians is old news, Odo."

"You're not especially fond of the Federation either."

"It's been four years, Odo. I've adjusted." She paused to signal for the turbolift. "Granted, I wish we -- Bajor -- could have gone through reconstruction without aid from the Federation. I'm not the only one who feels that way, Odo." She offered him a slight smile as the turbolift doors opened. "In the refugee camps, we thought if we could just get rid of the Cardassians, we could rebuild Bajor on our own." Kira shook her head ruefully. "Yes, we *were* naive. Circumstances dictated we accept help from the Federation, but that was before we had any inkling the Federation would also extend an olive branch to the Cardassians."

"The Federation has agreed from the outset to share any information gathered with Bajor," Odo said. "And remember, Bajor still controls the wormhole and thus, access to the Gamma Quadrant; the two powers cannot possibly launch this expedition without Bajoran approval." Odo looked seriously at Kira. "I have no doubt Bajor will be an equal partner in this endeavor even if no Bajoran representatives were officially invited."

"You could be right," Kira said softly, "but surprisingly, I find it easier to trust the Cardassians compared to the Federation. At least I know where Bajor stands with Cardassia." She tipped her head to the side to eye Odo sharply. "The Federation brought their own security officer aboard the station to second-guess you. What does that tell you about their motivations?"

Neither spoke the rest of the way to Ops.

Eddington looked up from his console as the turbolift arrived. "Constable, what did you find in the cargo bay?"

"Nothing, not even a set of dusty footprints," Kira said brusquely. "You may want to re-check your intelligence, Commander. It seems we were sent on, as the Terran saying goes, 'a wild goose chase'."

"That's odd," Eddington said, "unless the signal was 'bounced' from a different location in order to throw us off." He quickly tapped a few controls and muttered under his breath. "Possible, but unlikely; the transmission didn't seem that sophisticated. Constable, are you sure you didn't miss anything?"

Kira opened her mouth, but Odo stepped in smoothly. "Commander, why don't you fill Major Kira in on what we know so far?"

"Yes, for starters, what exactly did the transmission say?" Kira said, folding her arms across her chest.

"Some kind of incendiary device has been planted somewhere on DS9, most likely in or near the conference room, with intent to assassinate the participants," Eddington said bluntly.

Kira stiffened. "Presumably the conference room has been swept?" she demanded

"As well as the surrounding corridors. Major, we are very aware of the importance of this conference, the status of those involved. You can be assured we took every precaution," Eddington said.

"But you *still* haven't found the bomb?" Kira found it next to impossible to keep the incredulity out of her voice.

"No, we haven't--yet," Eddington said, the corners of his mouth turning down. "It's possible the saboteur hasn't gotten into position yet, which means we can still find Ro before she carries out her plan."

"Deep Space Nine was chosen as the site of the conference to begin with as a 'neutral territory', so we could avoid trouble," Chief O'Brien said. Kira hadn't noticed him earlier, focused as she was on Eddington. "So much for that theory."

"The Cardassians still appear rather proprietary toward the station," Worf said, joining in the discussion. "They've never quite reconciled themselves to giving up Terek Nor."

Kira gave Worf a grateful look before seizing the opportunity to advance another theory. "Yes, how do we know it's not the Cardassians themselves plotting to disrupt the conference?"

Eddington shook his head. "The Cardassians have nothing to gain by doing that, Major. As a matter of fact, they have a great deal more to lose. Disrupting this conference-- and by extension, the joint venture-- plays into the hands of the Maquis who want to drive a wedge between the Cardassians and the Federation."

"Assuming that's the case, why are you so sure Ro Laren is involved? What evidence do you have that points to her?" Kira said.

"Here." Eddington pointed at his monitor, where the text of the transmission was displayed. "That segment in particular, which we believe is the operative's codename. It's a phrase in Old Bajoran: boged halah, metaken shafa, 'betrayer of those who travel the stars, she herself has been betrayed, and now seeks justice.'"

Kira leaned over to get a better look. "The turn of phrase you think is so conclusive has several possible meanings. It can also refer to a holy man, someone who receives a calling, or one who repairs that which is broken. It's a stretch to assume it's referring specifically to Ro."

Odo cleared his throat. "That's a good point. It may be another Maquis member or perhaps even someone who is working on his or her own. We shouldn't limit our search."

"I know how the Maquis work, Constable," Eddington said sharply. "Intelligence in the past has indicated this conference would be a perfect opportunity for them to vent their anger at both the Federation and the Cardassians in one fell swoop. I wouldn't discount the possibility so quickly." Eddington narrowed his gaze as he looked Odo. "I believe Ro Laren is our assassin and we should concentrate on locating her as soon as possible."

Odo considered for a moment and then said, "If what you're saying is true, then Ro must have come aboard the station under an alias; our watch-lists would have flagged her otherwise. Do you have the roster of recent visitors to the station? Perhaps we can narrow her whereabouts that way."

"What time frame do you want?" Eddington said. "For all you know the operative has been here for a while, simply biding her time."

"Or *his* time," Kira said.

"As the conference only was announced two weeks ago, we'll start from there," Odo said.

Eddington quickly downloaded the list of names into a PADD, which he then handed to Odo. "There are over two hundred names."

"We can eliminate the ones who have already departed," Odo said, already reading rapidly.

"Sisko to Ops."

Kira flicked a switch. "Has Admiral Nechayev arrived, Captain?"

"Yes, a few moments ago. Dax is conducting her to quarters to freshen up before the conference. I understand Gul Dukat has been delayed due to a class four ion storm in the Arnona system, but should be arriving shortly. Any progress on your investigation?"

Kira glanced briefly at Odo and he shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry, sir, we haven't come up with much yet."

"That's not *entirely* accurate," Eddington said hurriedly and reported his findings.

Kira tuned him out and reached for the PADD Odo had been reading earlier of the all of the station's visitors.

"But you haven't been able to locate it yet, have you, Commander?" Sisko asked,
his tone sharp.

"No, sir."

"Nor have you found whoever sent that transmission?"

"No, sir," Eddington said again. A hint of color rose in his face.

"Then in the absence of anything more than some vague threats, I'm not going to suggest calling off the conference -- yet," Sisko said decisively. "Keep digging and let me know as soon as you find something. I'll reach Ops shortly. Sisko out."

"See anything interesting, Major?" Eddington leaned over. "Perhaps you'd rather check the contents of the intercepted transmission?"

"I'm not finished examining this list, Commander," Kira said.

"You're indulging in an exercise of futility, Major, with all due respect." Eddington waved his hand dismissively. "Ro could hardly be expected to give her real name. She undoubtedly is trying to conceal herself until the moment comes to strike."

"If she's here," Kira said.

"Why don't you turn over that list to me? I'm sure you would prefer heading to the conference room area to search for the bomb yourself. Perhaps *you* will find it. Meanwhile, I'll continue checking all Bajoran nationals on the station," Eddington said.

Odo tipped his head in her direction and Kira sighed in resignation, before turning over the PADD to Eddington. "You do that--" but before she could finish her statement, Odo's comm badge chirped.

"Constable, this is Hanto." Tension was clearly evident in the lieutenant's voice.

"Go ahead," Odo said. "Where are you?"

"I'm in the lowest level, by the old ore refinery. We've found a body, sir, at the bottom of the turbolift shaft."

Kira and Odo exchanged looks. Before Eddington could speak, Odo said, "Hanto, I'm on my way. Odo out."

Odo exchanged a few terse words with Eddington before heading to the 'lift. Kira joined him.

"What do you suppose this is all about? Do you think it's related to our mystery saboteur?" she asked.

"It could be a coincidence--or not," Odo said. "We won't know until we investigate further."

Hanto was waiting for them just outside the entrance to the abandoned refinery.

"Well?" Kira asked, pausing to catch her breath. Hanto pointed at the turbolift; the doors were open, revealing the dark shaft.

"Down there," he said. "The body came to light when some maintenance workers decided to move up the schedule and re-certify this turbolift today rather than late next week."

"I'd like to talk to the maintenance workers who made the discovery," Odo said. "See that they remain behind for questioning."

Kira walked to the edge of the turbolift and gripping the edge of the wall, she peered down into the darkness. "Is the body still down there?" she asked.

"No, it's been recovered," Hanto answered, and pointed a short distance away where Doctor Bashir was bending over something on the floor. "It, uh, was snagged on the bottom of the 'lift--" He took a deep breath. "The turbolift should be operational again in a few minutes, if you'd like to take a look at the shaft."

Odo looked around carefully. "No signs of a struggle. It could be the victim simply fell--or was pushed." He nodded briefly at her. "I'm going down." He immediately shifted to his natural form and oozed down the turbolift shaft.

Hanto excused himself, leaving Kira to pace. She turned sharply when she heard Bashir calling her name. She strode in the doctor's direction just as two medics carried out a long silver bag, which presumably contained the body.

"Go to the Infirmary and start running tests," Bashir said to the orderlies. "I'll meet you there shortly."

Kira watched them for a moment and then asked, "Am I correct in assuming the victim broke his neck when he fell?"

Bashir hesitated. "There are injuries consistent with a fifty meter drop," he said cautiously. "However, until I perform a full autopsy, it will be impossible to determine the true cause of death."

At that moment, Odo oozed up out of a crack and a second later, reformed. Bashir quickly gave Odo the information he'd just related to Kira. Odo nodded. "I concur. It's most likely he was killed elsewhere and the body simply brought here to be disposed of."

"Not enough blood present," Bashir said, nodding.

Kira repressed a shudder. "Anything else?"

Bashir nodded. "From my best guess, this individual was an Andorian male. When I get back to the infirmary I'll run a check on the DNA and see what and who I come up with."

Odo gestured at the dusty floor around them. "We'll continue to investigate. I've left Hanto in charge for now and have sealed off this area--" His comm badge beeped.

"Sisko to Odo. The Cardassian delegation has arrived."

"Understood, sir."

"Has the route to the conference rooms been secured?"

"Commander Eddington has ordered continuous sweeps of the area."

"Excellent. Keep me informed. Sisko out."

Odo left at once for his office and Bashir for the infirmary. Kira decided to head for the conference area to check on the security measures in place as well as make sure everything the delegates had requested was on hand; while she wasn't necessarily thrilled about the conference, she wanted to make sure it was a success. As she made her way along the upper level of the Promenade, she caught sight of the swirling effect of the wormhole opening. A small ship emerged, too far away to observe its markings or even what type of vessel it was. She quickened her pace. Kira stepped into a thinly trafficked corridor just off the Promenade and was so deep in thought, she didn't notice the gray-robed man coming towards her until he bumped into her.

"Hey!" she exclaimed.

The man stopped and Kira felt the heat rise in her face, realizing it was a vedek, albeit one she'd never seen before.

"Vedek, I'm so--" Kira began, and then stopped. She knew that face, from the aristocratic nose to the sharp curve of jaw to the deep-set black eyes. Even the dark unruly hair, flopping over the high forehead was just as she remembered. "Elias? Sareit Elias, is that really you?"

The man nodded. "And you are--" he squinted in the dim light. "Kira Nerys, right? From the Singha refugee camp?"

"Yes," Kira said, feeling a tinge of bittersweet nostalgia when remembering those days. She was never under the delusion life at Singha had been easy, but many of her ideas -- the person she would become -- had been formed then. And of course, it was also where she had met -- and lost -- some of her closest friends. "Elias, what are you doing on DS9?" Her genuine pleasure at seeing her old friend was reflected in her voice.

Elias smiled warmly at her. "I recently arrived to serve in the Temple, and I'm on my way to tend a young gentleman who has had some hard times over the last few days." Some of Kira's confusion must have been evident, because he added, "You did know I took holy orders right after the end of the Occupation--"

"No, I hadn't heard," Kira said. As much as she appreciated her new life, a part of her remained still firmly lodged in the past; to reunite unexpectedly with a person whom she'd once shared a connection was a coincidence she welcomed wholeheartedly. "But I'd love to have a chance to catch up with you sometime. Perhaps we could meet for dinner at the Replimat tonight."

"I would also like that, Nerys, but as of yet, my plans are uncertain. I have an appointment, and in fact I'm already running late--"

"I understand. I have my own duties to attend to at the moment, but I really would like to spend some time with you, hear what you've been up to."

"Come see me soon, Nerys. I can sense the conflict within you and I would like to help you." Elias' voice was smooth and calming. He touched her ear gently before bowing his head slightly and gave her an appraising look. "Still the same strong pagh. It's good to know some things never change." Kira watched Elias' retreating back for a few seconds and then continued on her way.

Her route took her by the Infirmary. On impulse, she entered.

"Major," Bashir said, rising to greet her. "I was just about to contact Odo. I can put a name to our deceased friend."

"That was fast," Kira said.

"I ran a check of the victim's DNA against the files of station personnel, on the off chance I'd find a match," Bashir said. A picture appeared on the monitor. "Shree Thelev, age 25 Standard years. Native of Andor. He arrived on the station about three months ago to work in Maintenance."

Kira nodded, her feeling of tension subsiding somewhat at the ease with which this mystery had been solved, and a sudden thought struck her. Likely it was just a random crime--and for all Odo's vigilance, such things did occur occasionally on the station--and had nothing to do with the upcoming conference. She inwardly cursed Eddington's mysterious transmission that had them all running around like tamim cats chasing their tails. Kira was so deep in thought, she almost missed Bashir's next words.

"It's amazing the body was discovered in the first place," Bashir was saying.

"What do you mean?" Kira said, puzzled.

"Thelev had no close family or friends on the station and so no one reported him missing." Bashir shook his head. "Coupled with the body secreted in such an out of the way place--"

"What about his shift supervisor? Wouldn't he have noticed when Thelev didn't show up for work?"

"I already contacted the supervisor. Apparently Thelev wasn't terribly reliable. He had a habit of showing up late, or even skipping shifts altogether. The supervisor was on the verge of dismissing him." Kira opened her mouth to ask another question just as Bashir said, "As I was saying, the deceased might have been there for days before anyone would have come across it."

"How long was the body there?"

"It was more than 24 hours," Bashir said. "Based on when Thelev failed to report for his shift, and the rate of tissue degradation, I'd put the time of death somewhere between 36-72 hours ago."

"Three days ago," Kira said thoughtfully. "And so far, no apparent motive. But it was murder?"

"No doubt about it," Bashir said grimly. "A disrupter blast to the back of his head. The poor man probably had no idea what hit him."

She tipped her head to the side, considering Bashir's comment, when her comm badge beeped. "That's my reminder," she said, already striding to the door. "The conference is due to begin in just a few minutes.

"Good luck, Major," Bashir said. "Tell Odo I'll have a full report on his desk in the morning."

She nodded briefly in response and left the infirmary, making quick time to the area where the conference was scheduled to occur. The section had already been sealed off, but the security guard let her pass with little trouble. As she turned the corner into the room, she saw Odo and Eddington standing at the far end, deep in conversation. Meanwhile, a security detail was running scans of the interior.

"I don't agree--" Odo broke off as he saw Kira. "Major, it's a good thing you're here."

"What's going on?"

"I decided to run a final security sweep of the conference room," Eddington said, "just to be on the safe side. None of the previous scans picked up anything, but this one did." He pointed at an exposed panel on the far wall, and handed her his tricorder. "Take a look at these energy readings."

Kira took the proffered instrument. A single glance was all she needed. "It's a plasma bomb," she said flatly. The intelligence Eddington had intercepted was correct after all. "Why hasn't it been removed yet?"

"As I'm sure you're well aware, removal is a tricky process," Eddington said. "Due to the risk of accidental detonation if removal or disarmament is attempted in a hasty or careless manner."

"I'm no expert," Kira said.

Eddington's voice took on a sharper edge. "Aren't you? Plasma bombs were very popular in the Resistance, the incendiary device of choice. And I hear the Maquis use them as well."

Kira chose to ignore Eddington and instead, addressed Odo. "I thought you said the conference room had already been swept. How was this missed?"

"We suspect it was either beamed into conference room or transported in manually," Eddington answered. "Or--" he shot a glance in Odo's direction "-- our security protocols aren't quite as air-tight as they need to be."

"Commander, you personally reviewed the protocols," Odo said testily.

"Well, *obviously*, something was overlooked. Either the device was somehow missed during the earlier sweeps or it was carried in more recently. Frankly, I'm leaning towards the latter."

"Who had access to this room?" Kira asked.

"No one," Eddington said. "We ordered the area sealed."

"No one?" Kira said, persisting. "Cleaning crew, someone setting up?"

"No one," Eddington said again.

"I'm checking security logs," Odo said. "Ah. Shree Thelev, department of maintenance, was the last person to enter this room." He paused. "Time stamp about forty minutes ago."

Kira looked at him in shock. "That's impossible," she said. "Are you sure about the name? Shree Thelev?"

"Why?" asked Odo, even as Eddington asked, "Do you know him, Major?"

"Because Dr. Bashir just identified Thelev's body." She turned to Odo. "Your murder victim in the turbolift shaft. The doctor estimates he's been dead for days."

"The killer must have used Thelev's identification to gain access to this room," Odo said.

"It certainly appears that way," Kira said grimly.

"Lieutenant." Eddington turned to a young woman standing just to his right. "Download station logs, see if you can pinpoint where 'Thelev' has been working in the last--" he looked questioningly at Kira.

"During the last 72 hours up to the present," Kira said.

Odo moved over to the wall panel where the bomb was located. "What's the status, Merrick?" he asked the officer who was working on the disarmament.

"I've just gotten the cover off, sir," Merrick said, his faced screwed up in concentration. "I'm sorry, it's a delicate procedure that can't be rushed--"

"I understand," Odo said quietly. "Carry on."

Kira said, "We've got to alert the Captain." She tapped her comm badge. "Kira to Sisko."

There was a burst of static, but no response.

"Kira to Sisko," she said once more. "Captain, come in please."

Odo tapped his comm badge as well. "Mine does not appear to be working either."

"It could be interference from the radiation leaking from the bomb," Eddington said. "I suggest we evacuate the area immediately."

Kira made a snap decision. "The delegates should be on their way here right now. We've got to stop them." She turned to Odo. "Is there another conference room we can divert them to?"

Odo nodded. "Deck eight. I'll go ahead and secure that area." He shot a look in Kira's direction. "I'll also try to get out of range of the interference and contact Captain Sisko. At the very least, warn them off before they get here. Commander--"

"I'll stay here and oversee the disarming," Eddington said firmly. Kira bristled at the tone of his voice, but said nothing. Kira watched Odo leave and then turned her attention to Merrick.

"Almost there," the officer said, as he carefully manipulated a wire. Kira held her breath. She'd only disarmed a plasma bomb once before and that had been under Shakaar's guidance.

Merrick looked up from his work, a frown crossing his face. "This can't be right."

"What are you saying?" Eddington asked briskly. "Is there a problem? You can't disarm it?"

"It's not that," Merrick said. "Watch." He glanced at his tricorder once more, as if for reassurance, then touched the side of the bomb.

Kira gaped as the bomb disappeared, leaving a small holo-projecter in its place. "What the hell?"

"It was a holographic projection," Merrick said, pointing at the mechanism, now clearly exposed. "Designed to mimic a plasma bomb, right down to the energy readings."

"But why--" Kira began, but Eddington cut her off.

"It's a decoy! Damn it, Ro must have planted this, hoping we'd find it and overlook the real threat."

"Lull us into a false sense of complacency, thinking the danger was past," Kira said slowly. "There's probably another bomb hidden somewhere in this room!"

"Yes. We're going to keep looking, but in the meantime it's not safe for anyone to remain," Eddington said. "Major, the delegates will be arriving any moment now--"

"And we've got to divert them," Kira said, already running into the corridor. Rounding a corner, she saw Sisko and Dax leading the delegations straight towards her.

"Captain!" she called out.

"What is it, Major?" Sisko asked, halting in surprise.

Kira quickly filled them in on the situation. "Security has uncovered a decoy incendiary device in the conference room. There may be others--real ones, which could detonate any moment. We've got to clear the area immediately!"

Cries of shock and outrage immediately rose from the delegates. "What is the meaning of this?" Admiral Nechayev said imperiously. "Captain Sisko, I demand an explanation. What kind of incendiary device?"

Dukat smiled slowly, a smug expression that made Kira clench her fists. "So much for the vaunted Federation security--or promises."

The Admiral flushed. "Gul Dukat, I can assure you--"

Unable to restrain herself, Kira said, "We're wasting time! We have to move now!"

Sisko said sharply, "I suggest we do as the Major suggests." Sisko took Nechayev firmly by the arm, and begin to steer her in the opposite direction. Grateful for Sisko's intervention, Kira said, "Odo secured a different location on deck eight. I suggest we escort the participants there now."

"Good thinking," Sisko said. Raising his voice to be heard over the babble, he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you everything is under control. We just need to move out of this area and let the security forces do their work."

"Like they've been doing up till now?" Dukat asked silkily.

"Yes," Kira said shortly. "Please, everyone, we have to evacuate this corridor now." To her dismay, the diplomats continued to argue--she couldn't help but notice the Cardassians in particular were acting rather recalcitrant--and some of the civilians appeared to be on the verge of panic.

"I thought you said the bomb was a decoy?" said Nechayev's aide, a middle-aged man whose name Kira couldn't recall. "What's all the fuss about?"

Kira glanced at Sisko, who gave her a level look in return. "We are not yet convinced the person or persons responsible have left the area, that they still have plans to undermine the conference," she said finally.

"Seems to me you're doing a good job of that all by yourself," the aide said nastily. "Of course, it's common knowledge Bajor doesn't really want--"

Kira forced herself not to reply, instead concentrating on shepherding the delegation down the corridor as quickly as possible.

She tapped her comm badge urgently. "Kira to Odo." There was no answer. She frowned. "Comm signals are still being jammed."

"Really, I must say this doesn't appear to be a very auspicious beginning," Dukat said. "My government will be most displeased at this latest display of Starfleet incompetence."

Kira's temper boiled over. "We're doing the best--"

Suddenly, a phaser blast arced out from above. Instinctively, Kira threw herself at Dukat, knocking him to the floor.

"Major, what--" the Gul protested.

Kira punched him as hard as she could. "Stay down!" she hissed, as another phaser blast struck the floor just a few centimeters away from her head. Sisko grunted. Kira rolled slightly and saw him lying near Admiral Nechayev; he'd clearly forced her down as Kira had Dukat. She couldn't see Dax or tell if anyone had been hit.

"If Starfleet hadn't forbidden my men to carry any weapons, we'd have taken care of this situation already," Dukat said.

"Quiet," Sisko said. He cocked his head. "I think the shooting has stopped." No sooner had he finished speaking, than they heard a loud cry followed by the splintering of metal and a resounding thud. Kira raised her head just in time to see Odo crashing to the floor, a figure in a grimy gray maintenance uniform landing next to him.

A phaser rifle landed with a clunk a few meters away, just within Sisko's grasp.

Kira scrambled to her feet. "Odo! What happened! Are you all right?"

Odo rolled to one side, and with difficulty got to his feet. "I surprised our would-be assassin here on the upper level," he said. "I managed to tackle him and distract his aim before he could do any damage." He winced slightly. "I'm fine, Nerys, but I'm sure our 'friend' here could use some time in the infirmary."

Kira looked down at the shooter, who was lying with his leg bent in an unnatural position. He raised his head to look at her and she gasped.

It was Sareit Elias.

Less than an hour later, Elias sat in Odo's office, arms crossed against his chest. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the trio of Eddington, Kira and Odo. Odo tapped a PADD lightly.

"We've built a convincing case against you, Mr. Sareit. Everything from falsifying identification papers to murder, both attempted and successful," Odo said. Elias just stared sullenly back at Odo.

Despite herself, Kira marveled at the man's composure. Fleetingly, she thought perhaps Elias had tempered those steel nerves at Singha.

"Who sent you?" Eddington asked. "Who planned this operation? Was it Ro Laren?"

Elias gave him a disdainful look.

"Let me try," Kira said. She rounded to the front of the desk to look Elias directly in the eye. "Why? Elias, what did you hope to gain by any of this?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Elias said, angrily.

"No, it's not," Kira said, keeping her voice at an even pitch. "The war is over, Elias. We *won*. It's over."

Elias glared at her, color staining his cheeks. "Because someone has to carry on for a free Bajor, to strike back against those who have harmed us in the past and who will harm us in the future." He jabbed a finger in Eddington's direction. "You, of all people, Nerys, conspiring with the Federation against Bajor, the world we've fought so hard for. How dare *you*? You saved the Butcher! I had Dukat in my sights, but you saved him!" His lips curled up and Kira thought for a moment he would actually spit at her. "*Yours* is the real crime. You are one of them now. You've given up the fight, the ideals, all of those things we talked at Singha. You've become a pet of the Federation and Cardassia." Elias took in a deep breath. "You've betrayed Bajor, Nerys."

Kira recoiled at the venom in his words. She recovered her composure enough to say, "What would you have me do? Turn the Federation away when they come in friendship? When they can offer Bajor the only hope we have?"

"Then you don't believe in Bajor strongly enough," Elias said. "You should be more careful in choosing your allies." He transferred his contemptuous gaze to

Eddington grabbed the man roughly by the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. "That's enough out of you," he said. He nodded at the two security officers standing just inside Odo's officer door. "Take the prisoner to a holding cell."

With Elias gone, Eddington turned to Kira and Odo. Clearing his throat, he said, "I guess an apology is an order. I misinterpreted the data; I was so sure Ro was involved." He offered them a rueful smile. "Wishful thinking on my part, perhaps. Capturing one of the most prominent Maquis--well, perhaps next time."

Kira didn't answer. Something about this whole business still bothered her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. "We walked right into a trap," she said finally. "We did exactly what Elias wanted us to do." She looked first at Odo and then towards Eddington. "How easily we let ourselves be deceived." She wove her fingers together. "He couldn't have been working alone, I refuse to believe he could come so far by himself. He must have an accomplice on board the station."

"Major, I know he was a friend of yours," Eddington said softly. "But we've found no evidence of any other Maquis operatives on DS9. I'm sorry, Major." He tipped his head in her direction, before turning and leaving the office.

"Are you all right, Nerys?" Odo said, tentatively laying his hand on her shoulder.

She nodded. "Yeah," she said softly, "other than the fact I understand exactly where Elias was coming from." Then she took a deep breath. "Let's go. We have a conference to attend."

~ The End

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