This is a story of what could happen if the 'Changeling-hype' is to continue... As always, Paramount owns all the regular DS9 characters. Julie, Sabi and these specific events are mine. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org Note: This story was written after 'Indiscretion' but before the first spoilers on 'Return to Grace' were out. Major Changes. by Myranya. Sisko looked at Dukat sitting in his office. He was working with the Cardassian in trying to prevent a war between Cardassia and the Federation. Tensions had risen the last few months. Ever since the failed invasion of the Klingons, the Maquis had grown bolder and bolder. They had been quiet for a long time, but now they were feeling they would have some support from the Klingons if the Cardassians would enter the Demilitarized Zone. On Cardassia itself, the newly installed civilian government was under heavy pressure of conservative groups. Extreme conservative groups, who did not only disapprove of the Klingons holding planets so close to Cardassian space, or of the Maquis, but of the treaty with the Federation as well. Rumors of Founder infiltration were running wild. No one had uncovered a Founder spy in the Cardassian government or its military, but the same conservative groups, among them a remnant of the Obsidian Order, saw spies everywhere. And the worst of it all, the people of Cardassia were listening. They, too, had gone through a lot of changes in the last few months, and were willing prey to the 'changeling-hype'. The media were only too happy to help -mass hysteria sells well. "The Federation does not control the Maquis. I can do little to stop their raids.", Sisko said. "Oh, come on, Captain. I know the Federation does not control them, although I can not convince a large number of the Cardassian Central Command of that, but at least they take your messages. Talk to them! Tell them that if these incursions in Cardassian space continue, the Order and the Sach Ba will take over at next month's elections." "And if that happens, the first free elections will also be the last ones on Cardassia." Sisko stated. "Not only that.", Dukat added. "It is almost certain that if they win the elections, they will move in on the Demilitarized Zone, and perhaps even on Bajor, immediately." "And we would be at war." Sisko said. "We have to prevent that at all cost." "I will do what I can on Cardassia. You stop those raids.", Dukat said. Sisko sighed. He knew Dukat was right about the need, but he thought the Cardassian over-estimated his influence with the Maquis. While he had sent out several messages to the Maquis, trying to establish contact, none had received any response. And there was more he was not ready to tell the Cardassian yet. He had asked Starfleet to send some ships out, hoping to dampen some of the enthusiasm of the more war-minded groups on Cardassia. If they did not have the impression they could walk right in, they might at least take some more time to prepare. The long-term implications would probably be war, if those radical groups gained power, but having a show of force out here might slow them down. Starfleet agreed his reasoning was solid. Unfortunately, there were reports of Romulan activity along the Neutral Zone. 'So you will understand, that in the light of the situation, we can really not send any ships in response to a threat that might not even be real.' They had sent an old Constellation Class to patrol the Demilitarized Zone, and told Sisko he still had the Defiant. Right. She was a fine warship, but they were dealing with the very real possibility of an invasion here. Starfleet, too, was getting pulled into the vicious circle of spy reports, war threats, and xenophobic paranoia. But Sisko told none of this to Dukat. While they were working on a common goal this time, there were too many occasions they had stood on opposite sides. "I will do what I can.", Sisko said. "Let's hope it is enough." With that, Dukat stood. Sisko let him out of the office and watched him leave. Then he went back inside, sat down, and tried once again to establish contact with the Maquis. It was crowded at Quark's. Julie had waited a long time to place an order for a drink, and she had finally gone up to the bar to get one. Of course, her seat was taken as soon as she had gotten up, and she did not see another one. She looked around. There, those Zaldons were leaving. She tried to make her way over there quickly, but bumped into someone. When Dukat left the Captain's office, he had gone over to Quark's. Not that he particularly liked the bar, or the Ferengi who ran it, but it was a place where he might pick up some of the news and rumors from the Federation. The place was filled up to the notch. Obviously Quark was running one of his games in the back room and currently held a break there. He glanced around for a table and saw a couple of Zaldons leave. When he made for the table, he bumped into someone. "Sorry.", Julie said, out of habit, before she even looked up at who she had bumped into. Then, when she saw the Cardassian, she started. *Could he know who she was?* "Pardon me.", Dukat said. "But it is rather full in here today. Is this seat taken?" He indicated the second chair. Julie thought quickly. Nothing in the Cardassian's manner indicated he had placed her, and if she refused it might rise suspicion. "No, it's free.", she said. Dukat took the seat and introduced himself. "Gul Dukat." "Julie Barnards.", Julie said, using the last name she had gone by on every mission to DS9 or Cardassia. As she extended her hand in greeting, Dukat's eye fell on the drink she had gotten. She cursed inwardly. How had she gotten herself into this? "Remarkable. I have not met many humans who drink Kanar. Have you ever been to Cardassia?", Dukat asked her. There was no use in denying it. Maybe if she could steer this conversation in the right direction from here on, she might actually get something good out of this. She just hated doing spy-work unprepared -it was treading on dangerous grounds at best. "I am Captain of the Thalys. It is a small, unaligned trader, it docks at Cardassia quite frequently.", Julie said. "Ah, yes. I know of the ship, of course. There are few enough unaligned traders who frequent Cardassia." Dukat said. "You know the capital, then?" "Yes, the space port district, and of course the city center." Julie said. "It is very impressive." Dukat looked at the petite human sitting at the table with him. It pleased him to talk to someone who had actually been to Cardassia, and knew the capital. Most people outside the Cardassian Union did not have the faintest idea of how anything Cardassian looked, except perhaps a warship. He liked his home, and he was away from it often enough to miss it. "You have seen the Town Hall, then?", he asked. Julie nodded. She had seen it, several times, and could easily describe it without saying anything she should not. She hadn't lied when she had said it was impressive -the Cardassian capital really was a sight to see. Before she knew it they were talking Cardassian architecture, music, and the best places to eat in the city. She was still on her guard, but she didn't feel as if Dukat was leading her to reveal anything about her encounters or activities. When she got back to her temporary quarters on DS9, she had not learned a great deal, but as it had been a chance encounter, she had not set out to do so. And knowing a Gul could always come in handy. Sabi was waiting for her as she entered. "We just received a communication from home." Sabi called it home, but she was the only one for whom it really was. Julie had not been born in the Demilitarized Zone at all. "Captain Sisko called them again?", Julie asked. Sabi nodded. "Yes. I don't know that we should go to Cardassia this time. According to these messages the situation there is less than stable." "That is exactly why we have to go. If we can show them just how unstable the situation really is, and who will be in power if it all collapses, the council might finally listen to us." Julie was not at all sure they could make them listen with all the proof in the world. She and Sabi had been on Cardassia. They had seen more than just the military. They had talked, laughed and gambled with Cardassian traders and workmen at the bars in the spaceport district, they had met civilian store owners and merchants. They knew it _did_ make a difference which Cardassian group was in charge. For too many of the Maquis, however, a Cardassian was a Cardassian and that was it. When the first of Sisko's messages had come in, Julie had pleaded to listen. They did not agree to the terms of the treaty, but she was convinced the Captain was right about the Cardassians moving in immediately if the right-wing groups would gain power. She had followed the Federation newscasts. The Cardassians weren't the only ones stirring, and she was not at all certain the Federation would send ships in time to meet the Cardassians. A few of the others had shared her concern. Most had not. They had barely agreed to letting her and Sabi take on another mission. She looked at the transmissions, found nothing she had not already extrapolated, and shut down the terminal. It was late and she wanted to rest, but she still took the time to quickly fill Sabi in on her encounter with Dukat. Their mission to Cardassia was quite uneventful. They collected propaganda, taped election tri-vid broadcasts, and gathered intelligence. They did not manage to meet with any of the more important contacts they had made over the last year but they still agreed the mission had gone well. Back in Maquis territory, they landed the small vessel and went into the building where the council met. Well over an hour later, Julie was getting frustrated. "They are using these raids in their propaganda, and the people of Cardassia are listening! The elections are only one and a half months off. If the Order and the Sach Ba gain power we _will_ have a war." "And we won't have this treaty anymore. That is what we wanted.", Rainor, a tall man with half-long, brown hair said. "No. Not now, and not like this. They won't just break the treaty, they will move in right away." Julie let out another frustrated sigh. "Look, you were Starfleet. You have followed the news. The situation with the Klingons is shaky at best. There are reports of Romulan activity. There are rumors that even the Tholians are stirring again. Starfleet has sent one single, out-dated, Constellation Class Starship to patrol the border. Their main forces are at least 24 hours further from the Zone than the Cardassians. We can not hold off a full invasion force for that long." Sabi was the only one who really agreed with her, a few others looked doubtful. "Perhaps we should at least answer Captain Sisko's messages." Ro said. The Bajoran hated Cardassians with all her heart, but her Starfleet training had taught her about strategy, and she was not too biased to use it. Or at least, to talk about it. Julie wouldn't bet on anything more. Julie knew it wasn't going to be enough. The way this was going, even if they would eventually agree to suspend or even stop the raids, it would be too little, too late. She had come here over a year ago, joining up as a diplomatic advisor and political spy. She'd had experience on many planets, most of the time in conflicts between governments on one planet, in one system. Some called her a simple mercenary, and in a way she was. But she only fought for those causes she could identify with, not for the highest bidder. As a matter of fact, she hadn't been paid for months. She kept half of what she earned on the trading missions she covered her travels with, and the Thalys was her own. Her payment wasn't her highest concern, though. She saw what was happening in the Quadrant, and although the Maquis had not joined in the changeling-hype, they would be pulled along if they could not stop the Cardassians from overrunning the entire Zone. Slowly, others nodded, and agreed to a meeting with Captain Sisko. A week after her return to Maquis space, a meeting was arranged. Julie met the Captain in his office. She saw the Station's security chief, Odo, as she walked through Ops. Good. If he was here, he was not disguised as anything in Sisko's office. She came in and introduced herself as Julie Barnards, again. She had many aliases, but preferred to use her own first name as much as possible. Last names, she could not remember how many she had used. She had seen the Captain several times before, when she had put in with the Thalys, but this was the first time she spoke with him. The meeting did not go very well. Oh, she and Sisko agreed the raids had to stop, and that a war right now would be disastrous, but she did not get a lot of new information that would convince the others of that. She spent the next three weeks flying frequently up and down between the Maquis headquarters and Deep Space Nine. Finally, only another three weeks from the Cardassian elections, she booked results. The council reluctantly agreed to at least suspend the incursions on Cardassian territory. Julie and Sabi went to DS9, and Julie met with Sisko. "They've finally agreed to stop the raids, but I am afraid it is too late. There's only three weeks left. By the time the Cardassians believe the raids have really stopped, the elections will be over.", Julie said. Sisko had no better news. He had been even less successful in convincing Starfleet to sent more ships. He has gotten to the point where he was half-and-half expecting orders to return the Defiant, as well. If the Cardassians were to move now, they would probably gain control of Bajor, the Wormhole, and the Demilitarized Zone. Then, the Federation would finally wake up to their problems, and move in. It was quite possible the Romulans would take the opportunity to attack the Federation in the back, causing war all over the Quadrant. "And that is exactly what the Founders want. With all of us at war there will be no missions through the Wormhole. In the end, no one in the Alpha Quadrant will win this one.", Julie said. Sisko knew the Maquis woman had the same goals as he; to prevent war and to stop the Founder's scheme. He had never directly told her he had worked toward the same goals with Dukat, and he was not entirely sure how she would react, but he needed her. Dukat had not been able to come to the Station for the last two weeks, and neither had Sisko dared to send any important information through subspace. He had considered going to Cardassia Prime himself, or to send one of his staff, but a Starfleet officer would stand out on Cardassia in the best of times. He knew Julie and Sabi regularly docked at Cardassia, and he had even been able to find out Julie had spoken with Dukat at Quark's. But he was far from certain she would agree to go into hostile territory and actually work with the Cardassian. "I have been working with someone in the Cardassian Union who thinks the same way. I can not contact him directly, and have been thinking of sending someone to work with him in person. You would be a good choice, if you are willing to work with a Cardassian.", he finally told her. "I have worked with many races in my life. If he can help stop this changeling-hype madness, I will do it." Julie answered. "Will the rest of the Maquis let you?" Sisko asked. Julie shrugged. "If I go back to the council, they will spent the next three weeks discussing it. By the time they decide either way, it will be too late. The Thalys is mine. I'll declare it an emergency, and deal with the council when I get back. If it still matters by then." "Good.", Sisko said. "I know you have met Dukat, that should make it easier to contact him on Cardassia." "Dukat, eh?" Julie didn't sound surprised. Sisko would bet she knew the Cardassian had been visiting the Station regularly. "So you know I have spoken with him.", she continued. It was a statement, not a question. "We might be working together on some things, we still keep an eye on him.", Sisko said. The double meaning of his words was not lost on Julie, but she showed none of this to Sisko. Inwardly, she laughed. Not all of the security personnel that had watched her since they knew she was Maquis, had been able to stay hidden from her experienced eye. To the Captain, she showed only a little irony. "I'll remember that." Going over the details and making flight preparations did not take long, and the Thalys took off only a few hours later. At the Cardassian border, the patrols were much heavier than normal. But Julie had flown the Thalys through on a regular basis, and most ships patrolling the border knew her. Besides, what threat could a tiny, two-person trader pose? On Cardassia's space port Julie took her time. She was careful not to show more impatience in getting her ship unloaded, refueled, and all the paperwork taken care off than any other trader would. This was a place where everyone would be observing everyone. Sabi remained behind to purchase new cargo, and Julie went into town. She followed the directions she had gotten from Sisko, and soon met Dukat, who recognized her. "I was not told it would be you who would come here.", he said. He didn't seem to be surprised. The message he had received had told him someone would come in person, someone who was Maquis, who worked with Sisko on this one. It made sense Julie would be more than a simple trader. Few other crafts as small as hers had traded on Cardassia, and even those had stopped coming when the situation got more tense. The Thalys had come in more often. They walked as they talked, avoiding crowded places or staying in any one spot where they could be overheard. Julie told Dukat the Maquis raids were finally stopped. "I am glad to hear that, but it is a little late for that now.", the Cardassian said. Julie sighed. She'd gone over this more times than she cared to remember. She looked at the billboards that were put up, the flyers posted all over town, and the headlines of the news-clips on display at the vendor. It did not look good. "You think they can still be stopped?", she asked. Dukat almost automatically replied with one of his brush-off answers, but something compelled him to be honest to this human. "I don't know. But we have to try." When they finished talking, Julie made as if to go to one of the space port hotels. Dukat stopped her. "There has been trouble in the Port district almost every day. You are welcome to stay at my place.", Dukat said. For a moment, Julie did not know what to say. Her first reaction was to refuse, as it would make it impossible to hide their contact. Then she realized it would be a better cover than anything -while talking to someone regularly and going separate ways was a sure indication of some kind of business relation, staying with Dukat would give a quite different impression. And not the kind of impression any political party or intelligence agency would be interested in. So she agreed. She realized she did not even know if he was married -not that that would matter on Cardassia, where different values reigned than on most Federation worlds- and she asked him. "I was married.", Dukat replied. "My wife left me when I brought home a daughter from another relation, some months ago. Ziyal is half Bajoran. I have eight children, the oldest lives on her own, the three youngest ones live with their mother. Ziyal runs the house now, and takes care of the other three. Mikor is twelve, Balet ten, and Zeno is almost nine." "I look forward to meeting them.", Julie said. Dukat smiled ruefully. "They might not all be too happy to meet you. Mikor and I... We do not always agree on certain things." That statement turned out to be quite accurate. Mikor scowled at her all through dinner. The other boys didn't seem to mind her too much, and Ziyal was quite friendly. The next day, Julie had eaten alone as she had been in late for lunch, she put her plate in the kitchen and in the cleaner. Ziyal looked at her in surprise. Julie saw her expression. She knew on Cardassia most people had housekeepers who took care of everything. She certainly wasn't expected to lend a hand. But she'd seen Ziyal had her hands full with the three boys and keeping the house up. "You don't have to do everything for me. Don't you have a housekeeper?" "She went with Leya and the younger children. In these times, it is hard to find a housekeeper who can be trusted.", Ziyal said. "So you have to do it all." Julie said. She felt sorry for the young woman. She was young, barely more than a girl herself, and being half-Bajoran must be hard, too. Especially now. Ziyal nodded. "Sometimes I think it would've been better if I never came back here. I love my dad, but I am the reason his family broke up." Julie inwardly cringed. She knew that if they could not stop the right-wing movement it would only get worse, for everyone. But as she did not know exactly how much Dukat had told his daughter, she merely said, "You're here now. You're doing a great job with the boys, and I'll give you a hand when ever I can." And she would, just sometimes not in any way Ziyal would know of. During the next week, reports of increased support for the right-wing factions kept coming in. Dukat met with various people all day. Julie went out for some of the time, checking in with her connections, but many she could not reach. She told Sabi to load the Thalys and head back for Deep Space Nine. Whatever was going to happen, it was nothing to get caught in with a tiny vessel like that. One afternoon Julie returned from another futile mission in search of information. Dukat was out, and would be for several hours. Mikor was sitting at the table, eating a snack while reading something. As she hadn't eaten yet either, Julie went and got herself some larish pie from the kitchen. "Mind if I sit down?", she asked the boy. "Hrm." Mikor grunted and pointed with one hand to another chair. He did not stop reading. Julie sat down and looked at what the boy was reading. It wasn't 'Mein Kampf', but it was close. 'First: Cardassia', by Gul Bukel. She wasn't sure what to say, or if she should say anything. But as Mikor read on, she couldn't just sit there. "You really believe that stuff?", she asked. Mikor looked up. "This guy is pretty good, you know. He says we can move in and take Bajor _and_ a large part of the Federation any time we want to." He did not, of course, know any details of why she was here. She and Dukat had kept their political discussions private, talking only about neutral subjects during dinner, with the children present. "That would mean war.", Julie said. Mikor nodded enthusiastically. Julie got the impression he was so wrapped up in his enthusiasm he barely noticed whom he was talking to, as usually he gave her one-word answers only. "Yes. War is great. It can make Cardassia great." Julie did not know much about children. She liked them, but she had never had the time for them, and most places where she came in the line of her duties, there were none. She had heard many times about teenagers rebelling against their parents, holding opposite views and different opinions. She felt sad Mikor was so taken in by this propaganda she and his father were trying to stop. She looked at the boy as she answered, "No. War is not great. In the end, war can only destroy. In a war everybody looses." It sounded strange, coming from her, who had fought in so many wars. Still, that was precisely what had taught her that while war can not always be avoided, the statement she had just made was still true. Mikor did not see it that way. He looked at her as if he just now noticed her for who she was. "I wouldn't expect a human to understand.", he said. He picked up his book and left, leaving Julie at the table. It was almost a week later. The elections were approaching fast; they only had three more days. It was evening. Ziyal and the boys had long since gone to bed, but Julie and Dukat were still going over prognoses, reviewing tri-vision reports of demonstrations and small skirmishes near the Central Command, and trying to make sense of various Fleet movements. Dukat threw the PADD on the table with a frustrated sigh. Julie looked up from hers, then put it down, too. She studied the Gul's face. *It's easy for me*, she thought. *But this is his planet. His home.* And he did not have a lot of support here, not even from his own son. She got up and walked around the table, to stand behind the Cardassian. She started to massage his broad shoulders. For a moment, Dukat started, surprised, but as she kneaded the scaly chords running down his neck, he relaxed. "Enough work for today.", Julie said softly. Dukat hesitated. "Are you saying what I think you are saying?" "What do you think I am saying?", Julie asked, teasingly. Dukat had to warn her, although he thought she already knew. "Cardassian sex would be rather... rough, by human standards." Julie dug her nails in his back. Hard. "Some humans like it like that.", she said, as he had expected she would. As an answer, he pulled her around and bit her. The next morning, Julie woke up with more than a few scratch and bite marks. Turning, she could see she had left her share on him, as well. She smiled. Then she slowly remembered why she was here, and her smile disappeared. She took a just few more moments to relax, then slipped out of bed. As she came out of the sonic shower, Dukat just got up, too. They both quickly dressed and ate breakfast. There was no time for playing around today. The right-wing parties had planned a big march for this morning. They went out early, and found a place near the big square in front of the Central Command building. The place quickly filled up, many of the crowd screaming chants against the Founders, and for war. Suddenly, just before the leaders of the Sach Ba would speak to the crowd, someone fired a weapon. A statue in front of the building, quite close to where Dukat and Julie were standing, collapsed into an orange heap. "Founder!", someone screamed. Julie looked at the puddle on the ground. "That is _not_ a Founder.", she said. "It's a set-up." Dukat agreed. It had collapsed too quickly, to much like a thin liquid; not shimmery and slowly like he had seen Odo morph. But there was no way anyone was going to listen to them. Within seconds, people everywhere produced weapons. Many pulled disruptors, others pulled disruptor rifles from hiding places, and Julie even spotted a couple of phaser cannons. "It's a coup!", she yelled over the noise. She pulled a small phaser from a hidden holster on her side. The armed people surged into the Government building. Julie saw Dukat hesitating, as if to go in. He, too, had drawn his weapon. "You can't stop them. There are too many of them. We gotta get out of here!" She pulled him around. As his gaze at the violent coup broke, he came back to his senses. They ran through the streets, but every road or alley toward the residential quarters was blocked. "We must get to the ship, it is our last chance.", Dukat said. They made it to the transporter booths and beamed up to Dukat's ship. They arrived just in time to hear the first message from Gul Bukel. Not surprisingly, he was one of the main leaders of the coup. "We, the true leaders of Cardassia, have taken back the command we are entitled to. We will now take back those regions of space the Federation and the Bajorans have so rudely taken from us, and at the same time gain control of the wormhole. We will stop the Founders once and for all." At the same time, orders were transmitted for all warships to gather and start moving in formation to Bajoran space. Julie cursed. "Dammit. They really did it." Dukat watched as another Galor class ship started slowly in the direction of Bajor. They would not go to warp until all ships were in formation, but as far as they were from any known sensors the Cardassians deemed it safe to gather their fleet while moving on impulse. He gave a quick order and the warship followed, overtook the other one, and came to rest exactly on its course. Immediately, the warship hailed them. "This is Gul Vanas, what are you doing?", the Cardassian on the viewscreen asked, irritated. "Vanas, don't go along with this.", Gul Dukat told the man. "Attacking the Federation, the Bajorans, and the Maquis all at the same time is madness. It is exactly what the Founders would want us to do." At that moment the tactical officer called Dukat. "Two ships decloaking. They are Keldan class warships, Obsidian Order configuration." *Where had the Order gotten new ships so fast?* Well, that didn't really matter now. Two more screens sprang to life. "Defying orders, Dukat?", the Gul of one of the Keldan Class ships inquired. Dukat recognized him, although he did not know him well. Horet had always supported the Order. Horet spotted Julie on the Bara'Tra's bridge. "Did she get you to do this? I wonder if she is a changeling." "Or perhaps you are.", the third Gul said to Dukat. As an answer, Julie stepped forward. In one move she pulled a dagger from her sleeve. She cut herself, and showed the blood to the Guls on the screen. Wordlessly, she handed the dagger to Dukat, who did the same. "Don't you see?", Julie said, as they seemed satisfied that far. "You are seeing Changelings everywhere. They don't even have to be here! We all mistrust each other, and that is exactly what they want." "We don't take advise from a human.", Horet said. Dukat cursed again. "Dammit, Horet. You should listen to her. She is right. You are all being led by the Founders' scheme, and you are too blind to see it." Horet cut him off. "You are holding up the invasion. You will return your ship to the Base, and relinquish command if you are not willing to take part in the attack." Dukat did not budge. "Ready disruptors.", Horet said. Dukat looked at him. "Are you saying that you will fire on another Cardassian ship?" He recalled a time, over a year ago, when he had asked that same question. At that time he had not been on board of one of the ships himself, but had watched from Central Command. The Obsidian Order ships had hung in space for a long moment, then turned around and left. Not this time. "Fire.", Horet ordered, and at the same moment, the ship shook. The two other ships used only partial strength disruptors, feeling somewhat uncertain about firing on one of their own. Horet had no such restraints. The disruptors of the Keldan Class hit them full, at point-blank range. A panel at the weapons station overloaded, and the tactical officer screamed. "Return fire.", Dukat snapped. "Get us out of here. Heading 2-3-5 mark 8-3-0." Julie saw the officer at tactical had severely burned both his hands when the shields overloaded. She was over at the station in a flash. Fortunately, the auxiliary shields had automatically come on line. She'd never been on the bridge of a Galor Class warship before, but she had seen many ships of all different kinds and types, and this wasn't the first time the manual wasn't included. She hit one button to get the main shields back on line -at 40%, but it was better than nothing-, another to get a status display on the attacking ships. The Keldan class ships were powering up torpedoes. Good. She knew a little trick with those. Her timing was perfect. As the sensors showed the power buildup in the tubes was on maximum, she hit the disruptors. The torpedo from Horet's ship exploded exactly as it passed through the shields of the Keldan Class. Sensors showed the shields blew completely, the shockwave even throwing the ship off a bit. The other torpedo was hit just a little too late, exploding harmlessly in open space. Still, she had created an opening. The helm officer needed no prompting to make use of it. Julie fired the aft disruptors as they went into warp, but as she had hoped, the other ships were too shocked for an immediate pursuit. As she looked up from the tactical station, she found Dukat looking at her. "You continue to amaze me.", he said. "Just a little trick I picked up somewhere.", Julie shrugged. Sisko sat in his office when the call came. "Dax to Sisko." "Go ahead." "Sir, we have a Cardassian ship approaching at high warp." The Trill paused, then as new information appeared on her screen she added, "It is Dukat's ship." Sisko was already halfway to the door as he acknowledged. "On my way." This did not bode well, he thought. He stepped out of his office into the busy Ops center. "Hail them." The image of the Cardassian bridge came on the screen immediately -it had hailed the station at the same time. Dukat was not alone. Julie, standing beside him confirmed what Sisko already knew. "You were unsuccessful.", he stated. "Yes.", Dukat said. "Worse, there was a coup d'etat this morning. I expect a fleet will be following us shortly." He nodded to Julie, who transmitted the orders they had gotten and ignored to the Station's Operations Center. "Damn." Sisko said. He turned to his officers. "Dax, call Starfleet Command. Kira, tell Bajor to prepare for an invasion. Take the Station to yellow alert. All hands, invasion procedures. This is not a drill." He turned back to Dukat. "What is your eta at the Station?" "We will be there in thirty minutes.", Dukat said. "Come to Ops as soon as you get here. Sisko out." He wanted to hear more about what had happened to quicken the coup, but he had a station to prepare. "Start evacuating as many civilians to Bajor as we can. Do we have ships docked that can be of any use?" O'Brien answered, as Dax was busy contacting Starfleet. "We have a Ferengi Trader and a few small vessels." "Tell them to work with us in the evacuations." "Captain, Starfleet Command on subspace.", Dax reported. Sisko switched the screen in front of him to the Starfleet channel. A harried-looking admiral appeared on the viewer. "Captain, we are rather busy right now.", he said. An icy feeling crept up Sisko's stomach. He controlled it and told the Admiral about their predicament. The Admiral looked apologetic as he shook his head. "I am sorry, Captain. The Romulans have just crossed the Neutral Zone, and our full Fleet is tied up. We will divert a ship as soon as we can spare one." Sisko moved a little closer to the screen. "Look, I don't think you understand. We have a Cardassian invasion force coming this way. We need ships, _several_ ships, and we need them now." "I am sorry. We will send them as soon as the Romulans are driven back into their own space. Until then, hold them at bay with the Defiant and the Gettysburg." He turned as if someone off screen called him, and quickly signed off before Sisko could say another word. For just a moment, it was dead quiet in Ops. The activities at the stations along the sides continued, but all Senior Officers just looked at the Starfleet symbol that had replaced the Admiral's face on the viewscreen. Then Kira burst into action. She had just called the Bajoran Administration and told them to prepare for the invasion. Now she got back on line to tell them Starfleet would not come to help. Sisko knew she was steaming, but she held it tightly under control. The Bajoran Council listened to Kira, then cut transmission to discuss the situation amongst themselves. Sisko had to inform the Maquis, too, for as far as Julie had not done so yet. He called Sabi to Ops. Not much later Dukat and Julie arrived in the turbolift. The Cardassian ship had just docked, and Dukat had left his officers to take care of the docking procedures and any repairs that needed to be made. Just as they stepped off the lift, a call came in from Bajor. The Council informed them that they had send a message to Starfleet Command, recalling their ambassador. "We feel betrayed by Starfleet. If they will not honor our treaty, it is worthless.", the Bajoran said. "We have an incoming message from Starfleet Command.", Dax announced. Sisko took it on another channel, leaving the channel with Bajor open. He thought he knew what the message would be, and he knew his answer. The same Admiral from before came on the viewer, looking even more harried. "Captain. The Bajorans have just informed us they have broken their ties with the Federation. You are therefor ordered to hand the Station over to the Bajorans..." "No." "...and proceed with the Defiant to the Neutral Zone, maximum warp." It took a moment for Sisko's interruption to sink in. "What?", the Admiral asked, at the end of his order. "I said no. I am not leaving the Bajorans here with an undermanned station and a few runabouts." "This was not a suggestion. Those are your orders.", the Admiral said. "You can court-martial me later. _If_ you can spare a ship to come and get me. Sisko out." He cut the transmission. He looked at his officers. "Anyone who wants to fight the Romulans can board the Gettysburg. I can use each and every one of you here, but we are defying orders in doing so. I will not hold it against anyone who wants to leave." "I am with you.", Dax said. Bashir and O'Brien nodded. Worf, who had not been on Deep Space Nine as long as the others, was the last to answer. "To leave now would be dishonorable.", he said. Sisko nodded briskly. He had not really expected anything different, but he had to give them the opportunity to back out. "Now then. We have an invasion to stop. We will coordinate it from here, with auxiliary command centers on Bajor and in the Maquis Headquarters." Sisko nodded at Sabi. She had managed to open a channel to the Maquis council, and although some there seemed skeptical, most were listening closely. Especially as they heard the Federation was no longer involved as such. "I will take the Defiant, Dax, you're with me. Kira, you have the Station. Worf, contact the Klingons on the Cardassian/ Federation border and try to get them to work with us. I do not think they will just get up and offer the Cardassians their planets back, but if they work in sync with our efforts we will both be more effective." Finally, Sisko looked at Dukat. "I will fight on your side.", Dukat finally said. Julie knew how hard it must be for the Cardassian. She wondered where Mikor was -probably joining in the coup, on the other side. She was glad he wasn't old enough yet to actually be on one of the ships that would be coming in soon, but she knew it was not unlikely that one day he would be there. Dukat had just closed the door on his home system, and his family. Kira did not object, but she did ask, "Can your crew be trusted to cooperate?" "I have had months to select the crew of my ship.", the Gul said. "They think no better of the so-called new government than I do." Kira nodded. She had been in the Bajoran resistance, and she knew they needed anyone they could get. Worf returned from one of the other communications consoles with the news from the Klingons. "Kulak will coordinate his attack with ours. He, also, has been unsuccessful in recruiting help from Qonos. But he has been told to defend the planets they hold here." "We will keep an open relay channel at all times, to coordinate our defense. Are there any more questions or suggestions before we all go to our ships?", Sisko asked. Julie stepped forward. She specifically addressed Sisko, Dukat, and the Klingons on the view screen, but she made sure the others heard her, too. "You are used to being backed up by a large Fleet. But unless we can do some _major_ diplomatic patching up here, most of us aren't anymore. In the Maquis, capturing ships and salvaging weapons is sometimes deemed worthwhile, even if it means an additional risk. Considering the current situation, that objective could turn out to be quite important if we do not re-establish political relations with any of the Fleets." Kira immediately showed her support. The Bajoran had fought in the Bajoran resistance long enough to know how important supplies and equipment were. There were no shipyards in the territories controlled by Bajor, Deep Space Nine, or the Demilitarized Zone, but there were several repair facilities on Bajor. And probably in Maquis territory as well -Kira had seen a runabout on long-range sensors that the Federation had given up as lost in one of the skirmishes. "She is right. Anything that floats can be fixed, but we do not have the resources to build anything from scratch." The Starfleet officers and Dukat nodded. "Agreed." Sisko said. "Any other comments?" There were none, so everyone got ready to go to their vessels. Dukat stopped Julie. "Kerahn's hands will not be much use at tactical yet. I would like you to man that station." He had other officers who could take over, but he had been impressed by her quick actions earlier. On the bridge of a warship she could do much more than on a small ship like her own. And, he admitted to himself, he did not want her fighting Cardassian warships in the tiny vessel of hers. Julie had been on her way to the Thalys, but she immediately agreed. "I'ld be honored.", she said. She turned to Sabi. "You have the Thalys. Pick someone as a second, Tuli or Cencoloh if either one of them is still on the station -grab one of the runabout pilots if they are not. Safe skies." "Safe skies.", Sabi answered as they split up. By the time the massive Galor Class ship undocked from DS9, the area of space around the station was full of ships. Most were small -runabouts, shuttles, trader vessels, but Julie knew some of those packed much more punch than they appeared to. The Klingons would be the first to meet the Cardassians as they came in, and were not in sight. The only other warship that was here was the Defiant. Not long after they were in position, the Klingons sent the message they spotted the first Cardassian ships on long-range sensors. Much too soon after that initial warning, the attack came as five Keldan Class ships decloaked right in front of a Klingon cruiser. As they kept the Klingons busy, several Galor Class ships came through to the Station. Dukat moved the Bara'Tra to engage the Keldan Class ships. Two of the ships turned away from the Klingons and attacked them. They used disruptors only, so Julie could not use her torpedo trick. She aimed at the exact spots where the enemy disruptor beams ran, and got some results, but nothing as spectacular. As the helm officer worked miracles trying to avoid fire and at the same time give her the best shots, she got an idea. "Can this ship handle a Picard manoeuver?", she asked Dukat. He looked at her in surprise. Galor Class ships were build on fire power more than maneuverability. "I don't know. I don't think it has ever been tried with a Cardassian warship." "Good. Then they won't be expecting it." Julie said. Dukat looked at his helm officer. "Do it." "Yes sir!" The helm officer sounded confident. Julie felt secure he would manage -she would not have suggested the tactic with this ship if she had not felt the helm officer knew his job. The big ship strained as it made the warp jump, but it worked -Julie got a clear shot at the lead Keldan Class ship's bridge as they sailed in. The shields buckled and a bulkhead blew. Immediately, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey used the opening to deposit a torpedo in the engineering section, and the ship exploded. Three Klingon ships and a small Maquis vessel had disposed of another Keldan Class; there were three left, and they had barely taken a hit yet. Still, they knew that would not remain that way. Kira held on to the panel in front of her as the station shook. She fired several volleys of photon torpedoes, and the phasers were firing as fast as they could re-charge. There weren't as many Cardassian ships out there as there had been Klingons, only about six months earlier. But this time there would be no back-up coming. She shouted orders as the station shook again. The Defiant cut through the shields of one of the Galor Class ships. Bulkheads blew, and a part of the right wing blew clear off. The ship veered off to deal with the next invader, as this one started to slowly spin out of control. Dukat saw the tiny distortions in subspace on his screen. The warship's sensors were calibrated to pick up any and all signs of a cloaked ship, however inconclusive. He checked the tactical display. The Defiant was between Bajoran and Maquis space, battling another ship. He hailed Kulak. "Do you have any other cloaked ships in the area?", he asked. "All our ships are engaged in the battle.", the Klingon answered. "To stay in hiding would not be honorable." Dukat broadened the hail, so all ships in the force would hear him. "More Keldan Class coming in. Four or five ships under cloak, heading 2-4-1 mark 4-6-5." He gave orders to turn about, and with Kulak's ship, they charged in on the distortions. The warships decloaked, and they found themselves under heavy fire from five of the large ships. Several other ships came in to help, but not before they had taken a bad hit on the navigational array. They could stay in the fight, but any of those fancy-flying tricks would be out. Dukat was surprised to find the Ferengi vessel among the forces. Obviously, it had been caught in the invasion while evacuating Deep Space Nine. He couldn't imagine the Ferengi taking so much interest in anyone's affairs as to stay around voluntarily. Well, whatever their motives, they could sure use them. Ferengi vessels were rather heavily armed for the peaceful traders they claimed to be. He ordered the ship about, attacking the Keldan ships from behind. The aft disruptor banks were less powerful than the front ones and here, the ships would be most vulnerable to Julie's weapon's fire. The Keldan Class ships were heavily shielded, and it took a lot to punch through. With Kulak's Vor'Cha class, they picked off one ship, but were still under heavy fire from the other four when the Defiant came in. It launched a volley of torpedoes and phaser fire that the Keldan Class' shields could not stand, and blew one almost immediately. A third went as it tried to turn into the Defiant with number four, exposing its back side, which had already taken several hits from the Bara'Tra, to the Ferengi vessel. One of the remaining vessels turned and fled. The last one had no chance, and as the shields went down under the heavy weapons of the Defiant, Julie used precision phaser fire to disable all engines and weapons. With luck, they could pick this one up later. Later turned out to be almost immediately. The Cardassians had obviously not counted with coordinated resistance this heavy, even though they had known Dukat would warn the Station. When they turned back to where the Galor Class ships had been, most were drifting, or clouds of space dust altogether. A few had turned around and fled, as the Keldan Class had done, the others limped off when they saw the warships coming in. Kulak escorted them out with the other Klingon ships, to make sure they went back all the way to Cardassian space. The others returned to Deep Space Nine. The station had taken several hits, as well, but in Ops everyone was working hard to clear the mess. Several panels had blown out and one work station still trailed smoke, but most of Ops was in working order. "Report.", Sisko said, as he stepped off the turbolift. "Small hull breach in docking pylon two, three casualties. I do not have a number on the injuries -between 50 and 60 according to the last reports from Julian. The Bajorans lost four runabouts, the Maquis report three small vessels lost and heavy damage on some others. They request help from the Infirmary, the first vessels are on their way. Dukat has six deaths and 83 injured -no reports from the Ferengi or from the Klingons.", Kira summed up. "Good." Sisko said. Actually, that was much better than he had hoped. If he hadn't had the warning of the attack... He took his thoughts back to the current situation. The whole battle had only taken hours. He wanted to hold a conference with all parties involved before calling it a day. They might have won the battle; the war was far from over. He wondered if there was any chance the Cardassian extremists could be beaten by this defeat, but he was afraid it would not be so. Cardassia itself had not sustained any damage. Perhaps the Klingons would be for moving in again, but he did not see that as a valid option. He looked around, saw all his officers had their hands full, and made the calls to invite the various parties himself. Julie had stayed at her post at tactical, even though the invasion seemed to be repelled for now. The officer at communications called her attention. "Call from the Thalys. I will route it through to you." "Thanks, Ulek.", Julie said. Saying thanks when someone did their duty might not be Cardassian protocol, but she did not pretend to be a Cardassian. She worked with them as a human, and kept her human habits. Sabi appeared on the screen. "Julie. Thought you'ld like to know we pulled through.", Sabi said. "We sustained some damage, but she held up beautifully. Say, is that a Keldan you're towing?" Julie grinned. "Sure is." She looked up as Sisko came on the main viewer. As Sisko asked them to attend the meeting at Deep Space Nine, Julie quickly conferred with Dukat. Then she turned to Sabi again. "We've been asked to attend a conference at the Station. I would like you to be there, too." Sabi nodded. "We're on our way." Actually, the little vessel docked before the Bara'Tra did, as they still had to turn about and dock the Keldan class at one of the lower docking pylons, where the repair facilities were. They could use some repairs too, but the first priority would be to make all ships space-worthy again. As they all gathered on Deep Space Nine, Sisko surveyed the room. He had chosen the large conference room, and he was glad he had done so. The room filled with his Senior staff. He counted several members of the Maquis, including Julie and Sabi, the Ferengi Daimon was present, the Bajorans were represented by Kai Winn and two Council members, Terfa Sen and Oryan Pasoi. Both stayed as far as they could from Dukat. Kulak came in last, as he had seen the invaders off into Cardassian space. Sisko addressed them all. "Today, we beat off a Cardassian invasion. I thank all of you -good work. But we have won just one battle in a much greater war. The Cardassians might be back, the next time it might be the Romulans, or anyone else. If we can not stop the Founders stirring up the Quadrant, this is going to be just one battle in a long line of them. The group we have here today", he looked around the room, "is unprecedented. I hope we can continue to work together to stop this war before it spreads any further." Oryan looked at Dukat, then at Sisko. "Work together? With a Cardassian? We fought all our lives to get rid of them!" Rainor, one of the Maquis, agreed. "We will not work with the Federation or the Cardassians.", he said. Julie looked at him, but as she spoke, she addressed everyone. "In case you had not noticed, since this afternoon no one here is supported by 'the Federation' or 'the Cardassians' anymore. Look, you have to remember what we are fighting for. We did not start to fight the Federation, or the Cardassians. We started to fight to keep the Zone safe. Two years ago, that meant fighting the Federation and Cardassia. Now the Founders are a much greater threat. Don't confuse the methods to reach your goal with the goal itself. That goes for you, too.", she addressed the Bajorans. "We can all fight one another. But don't you see? That is exactly what the Founders want. They _want_ us to fight each other. If we all fight each other, we are too busy to bother with the Gamma Quadrant. Then, when we've all decimated our forces fighting amongst ourselves, they come in and pick up the pieces. Or perhaps they'll just sit back and expand their influence in their own Quadrant, not bothered by ships coming through the wormhole. "The major powers are in no shape to take action. The Klingons invaded Cardassia, the Romulans are attacking the Federation as we speak, the Federation is too busy holding the Romulans at bay, every last chance of the Cardassian Empire listening to reason collapsed this morning. We are the only ones who have a chance of stopping this madness." Kira surprised Sisko by supporting the Maquis woman. Only a few years ago she had been in the Kohn Ma, but since then she had seen on many occasions that the issues generally weren't so black-and-white, and she had worked with Cardassians and some surprising others during the last years on Deep Space Nine. "She is right. The Founders are trying to stir up the Quadrant, and the very fact they are doing it suggest that we _are_ a threat to them if we work together. I don't know how we can ever get this point across to the Councils of the Federation, Cardassia, Romulus, or anyone. But if we split up our little group again, we will be crushed in the middle." One by one, the Bajorans nodded. They still did not like it, but they reluctantly agreed. Rainor indicated his assent, as well. The only Maquis who had not spoken, a Bolian named Tre'Vore, added his support to Julie and Sabi. Dukat had known since this morning that he would not be going home again. Sisko was surprised by the ease with which Julie had talked the Bajorans and the Maquis into accepting him. Or perhaps accepting was too big a word. There would be conflict, but at least they had seen the necessity. Kulak agreed to stay with his troops, but was not ready to break with his government. He made it clear that if he received orders to do otherwise, he would follow those orders. The Ferengi Daimon did not agree to stay, but he saw no problem with trading with them. From the way Julie looked at the Ferengi, she was planning on ways she could use the Ferengi and his vessel in her intelligence work. Sisko had watched as Julie expertly pulled the others together. He knew he did not have any place to return to, either. If anyone had told him this morning he would turn his back on Starfleet, he would have laughed. He had taken the decision in a split second, but he knew that if he had had an hour or even days to think about it the result would have been the same. In other times Starfleet might have sent a reprimand, and left him alone after that. These, however, were not normal times. The Federation had declared official war with the Romulans, and disobeying orders in war time counted much heavier than in peace time. An order to inform him he was suspended from his command, computer generated, had been waiting for him when he had docked the Defiant. He recalled the time almost two years ago, when he had faced his former comrade who had joined the Maquis, and how he had tried to pull him back to Starfleet. He smiled a grim smile, wondering to himself if he still would be in the Maquis. Soon, they broke up the meeting to get some sleep. A time was set for the next afternoon to continue talks and plan a strategy to stop the Founders. Early the next morning, Julie met with Garen Telel, her contact in the Bajoran intelligence. She relied on information from Bajor in between her own missions, and with the history of Bajor it had not been difficult to find someone willing to help the Maquis. Even though the situation had changed, she still kept the meeting hidden from the other parties -she would wait and see for a while before playing out in the open. "What do you have on Cardassia?", she asked. "Nothing good. Horet was killed in the attack, but Bukel and several other people high up never left the planet. Their support dwindled somewhat after their defeat, but they have gained other followers because of it. People who see it as a confirmation that Cardassia should take these areas of space back, who don't like the threat of a strong force this close to Cardassia." That was not what Julie had wanted to hear. She had hoped Bukel's faction would be hurt by the defeat, allowing the civilian government to re-gain control. But she was not really surprised it had not happened. From what she had seen on that morning -was it only yesterday?- there would not be many left alive from the civilian government, and it would take time for the few who escaped to build back up again. "How is the situation planet-side?", she asked. "State of emergency, most opposition killed or imprisoned. The borders are closed, aliens either imprisoned or shipped off the planet. Civilian life continues normally, but the military remains in a state of alert. That is all we know as of yet.", Garen reported. Julie thanked him, and went off to find Dukat. She found him on the bridge of the Keldan Class, which had been renamed the Unity by popular vote, checking the logs. She told him what she had just heard. He had not expected anything different, but he had hoped for better news. He stared at the viewscreen for a long time. After a while, Julie said, "You are worried about Ziyal." "Yes.", Dukat answered. "Life on Cardassia has not been easy for her. I should not have taken her to Cardassia with me." Julie thoughts raced. She'd been thinking of this ever since they left Cardassia, ever since they had failed to reach the residential area. "We'll go in and get her. And the boys.", she said. Dukat looked at her. "The Maquis will never agree to such a mission." "The Thalys is mine. The Maquis work differently than the military. I can take on any mission of my own, as long as it does not interfere with Maquis duties. It's the only way I will work for anyone.", Julie told him. "You can not risk everything. You are too valuable to the Maquis, and you know too much to risk getting caught.", Dukat said. "Nobody is so important that they can not be missed. Yeah, I can't allow myself to get captured, but that's nothing new. Comes with this line of work." She saw Dukat wasn't convinced. "Look, I would not be suggesting this if I didn't think it would work. See me on the Thalys tonight, after the meeting, I will show you how we can get in." Dukat had seen her in action on his bridge, but he just did not see how she could possibly take that tiny ship of hers to Cardassia Prime through all the defense lines Gul Bukel would have set up. He wanted to believe she could. Ziyal would be in a very difficult position if she were to remain on Cardassia. The boys could probably live with their mother; hell, Mikor might not even want to leave Cardassia. But Ziyal had no place to go. He would see what she had in mind. "I will be there.", he said. The meeting that afternoon was attended by the same people who had met the day before, except for the Daimon, who had taken his ship away from the Station. He would be returning with parts, normal Ferengi trade items, and, Julie hoped, information. The meeting started somewhat unruly. Everyone had their own priorities. "I would like to contact the Federation and try to negotiate with them. They are the most reasonable group out there, we should at least make an attempt to talk to them.", Sisko said. "The Klingons will fight whoever attacks the planets we are holding. They will help us defend them if necessary.", Kulak claimed. "They sure sent us a lot of ships yesterday.", Terfa, one of the Bajorans, retorted. "The Federation can not be trusted. They did not defend us yesterday, who says they will the next time?", Rainor said. "Cardassia will not talk to us as long as the current leadership is in place.", Dukat stated. "We could talk to the Romulans,", Tre'Vore suggested. "They at least know the Founders are to blame for this, that's why they went through the Wormhole." He was immediately interrupted from several sides by people who did absolutely not agree to working with the Romulans. Julie watched it all in silence. Then, she held up her hand. "Hold it. We are not addressing the real issue here. Yes, we have to talk to the Councils of the major powers. Probably to _all_ of them, even if they might not listen, we have to try to make them see. But until we stop the Founders, none of it will make a difference. If we don't stop them from coming through the Wormhole, every time when we make any progress here, _one_ new infiltrant in the right place can bring us back to where we started. We stop the Founders first, then we can start working on restoring relations in this Quadrant." Sisko looked at the human woman. She would have been a good Starfleet officer if she hadn't been a mercenary, he thought. She knew strategy as well as anyone, and she knew how to lead people too. "Julie is right.", he said. "We should concentrate our efforts on the Founders if we want anything we accomplish to have a lasting effect." "We can send an envoy through the Wormhole to talk to them.", Kai Winn said. Dukat waved his hand dismissively. "They are not going to be interested in talking to us. Why would they? Everything is going their way. If we want to stop the Founders, we have to destroy the Wormhole." Kira jumped up. She couldn't believe it. Each time she started to think Dukat was a reasonable person, he would say something totally ridiculous again. "Destroy the Wormhole? The Wormhole is the future for Bajor. Without the Wormhole Bajor will never be able to built itself up again." Sisko sat back in his chair. "Sit down, Major." He waited for her to sit again, not knowing how long she would stay seated. He didn't like what he was going to say either, but he saw no other options. "I agree with Dukat.", Sisko said. Kira was so stunned she forgot to jump up again. "We have dealt with them before. You have dealt with them before, Major. They have no reason to listen to us. All of their plans are working. Every faction in this Quadrant is falling for it, except for our little group, and we are not big enough to stop them with the Wormhole open." Julie nodded. So did the rest of the Maquis, Sisko's staff, and Kulak. Only the Bajorans and Kira looked appalled. Kira stood up again, but Julie took the floor. "Look, I don't like it either. But this is not just Bajor we are talking about, this is the whole Quadrant.", Julie said. "And with every faction in this Quadrant at war with each other, there won't _be_ traffic through the Wormhole. All of our planets will suffer in a war of that magnitude, and none of them will be doing any building up. Wormhole or not." She finished her plea and looked at the others. "Odo, what do you think?", she asked the shapeshifter. Odo hesitated. He looked at the Bajoran council members, and then for a long time at Kira. From the time it took him to speak, and his expression, Kira knew what he was going to say. "My people will not negotiate with us, or with any other faction in this Quadrant. I see no other option than to close the Wormhole.", he said eventually. "I am sorry, Major." Kira looked at him, then finally put her hands on the table and let out a long sigh. She bit her lip before she straightened and said, "Alright." The other Bajorans sat in their chairs, looking stunned. Kai Winn slowly shook her head, but remained silent. None of them had any arguments to keep the Wormhole open. Perhaps they had kept it open too long. Maybe if they had collapsed it months ago, when the Founders started to come through, the Quadrant would not be at war right now. But the Wormhole was also the place of the Prophets. They would lose their Prophets for sake of a Quadrant that had shown little care for their interests in the past. There was nothing they could say. For a short while, nobody spoke. Then Dax got an idea. "We might not have to destroy it. If we can convince the Prophets to close the Wormhole it can remain there, closed. Perhaps some day, when relations in the Quadrant are more stable, it can be safely opened again.", she suggested. "Too dangerous.", Dukat said. "The Founders could find a way to open it again, or they could coerce the Prophets into doing so." This time, opinions were split more equally. While Kulak, Worf, O'Brien, Bashir, Tre'Vore and Rainor agreed, the others thought it was worth a try to talk to the Prophets, at least. "The Bajorans have always held a special relation with the Prophets. From what we know, it is unlikely the Founders will be able to either infiltrate or otherwise influence them. We should at least give Dax's plan a try.", Sisko said. They finally called a vote. Dax's plan won by eight against seven, with Odo withholding. It was decided that Sisko, Dax and Kai Winn would go into the Wormhole by runabout the next morning, and the meeting was called to an end. Julie and Dukat went over to the Thalys. It was fully repaired. Crews had worked hard on the little vessel, and Julie had done a major part of it herself. As they entered, Julie switched on the power to the panels. All normal systems came on line. She then entered a long string of codes, and several more systems appeared on the boards. Dukat's eyes widened. "You have more sensors here than I have on my ship." Julie grinned. "It is a spy ship. Now I don't have a cloak yet -perhaps with the Defiant and the Unity on hand I can figure out a way to cloak her in the future- but with these sensors I can see anything before it sees me. Only the Voterons have this kind of sensor range. That's where I got this." Dukat glanced around and saw several other systems he had not expected on a vessel this size, and even some he had no idea as to what they did. Julie called several schematics on the viewscreen. One of the whole area of space, including Deep Space Nine and Cardassia, one showing the Capital, and several more detailed maps. "Now this is my plan...", she started. Early the next morning, the small vessel left the docking pylon of Deep Space Nine. Julie was in full Cardassian make-up, and she had taken care to disguise Dukat as well. The Thalys flew under a different name and registry, but she did not pretend it to be a different vessel. During her visits to Cardassia in the past months, she had set it up for a Cardassian trader to show interest in purchasing the ship, never quite managing to get a hold of the human trader who owned it. Understandable, since she was both. She swung wide around, finally entering Cardassian space from the direction of Ferengal. She made sure she was not seen until they were well within Cardassian space, and nothing indicated their point of origin. As they approached the space port, they were hailed. "Space port flight control to trader vessel -I do not recognize your registration." Julie smiled. She knew the port official on the screen, and he was one who had met her as a Cardassian before. Perfect. She opened a channel. "That is because I just purchased this vessel. I will gladly transmit the transfer and registration documents to you.", she said, in fluent Kardasi. The port official recognized her. "I see you got her." He grinned. "Won me a bottle of Kanar, too -Paleh bet me the human would not sell." Julie laughed. "Prices of traders have dropped, now that there will be no more trading with the Feds. If you want to buy a vessel, now is the time." The official gave a short laugh in return. "No, thanks. I will remain a planet crawler, and let you risk your skins out in the cold of space.", he said. "Don't worry about those documents, just drop them by the office some time when you get in." He checked something on his screen. "You're cleared for pad C-7-a. Over and out." "C-7-a it is. Over and out." Julie switched off. She turned to Dukat. "Be sure to watch where the pad is. It isn't anywhere near the military section of the port, and we might have to leave in a hurry. Take her through the docking procedures while I set up the surveillance systems.", she ordered. She didn't hesitate one moment to give him orders here. She had followed his orders on the bridge of his ship, but this was her mission, her territory they were on, even if it were Cardassia. Dukat immediately complied, as she had known. Had she not been certain he would follow her lead on this mission, she would never have suggested it. They landed the Thalys, or the Namos as she was called now, and soon walked into the city. Signs of the coup where visible, but normal life had resumed. While near the Government buildings some damage could be seen, most of the rest of the city looked almost as usual. More security officers perhaps, and no aliens even in the Port quarter. Julie went to a small hotel in a back street of a back alley. She greeted the owner, Sentek, who immediately gave her a room, even though the sign outside had said 'no vacancy'. She signed in as Rhyanna, her Cardassian name. Up in the small room, she tossed her pack on the only rickety chair in the room. "I know it doesn't look like much, but it is the one place where it's okay to talk. This room is almost as secure as the Namos.", she explained. Still, she used the Cardassian name for the vessel, and spoke in Kardasi. It was too easy to make a slip if she tried to switch in and out of her role too often. "Your command of our language is remarkable.", Dukat observed. "Did I not know any better, I would not have guessed you were not born here. Last week you spoke with an accent." "Of course.", Julie explained. "Languages and accents are an important part of undercover missions. I need to be able to speak any language fluently if I want to pass as a member of the race which speaks it, and it helps to _not_ be so fluent when I am simply human. As long as everyone who met me as Julie will think I speak with an accent, no one will not suspect I am Rhyanna now." She checked her chronometer. Taking the long way around to Cardassia had taken a lot of time. "It is too late to check out the residential area now. There won't be many people on the streets this late, and we can not risk attracting attention. I am going to see what I can learn in the bar downstairs. Sentek is one of my contacts, he is the only one besides us who knows who I really am. He does not know who you are, and there is no need for him to know." Dukat nodded. He was no stranger to the scheming and dealing that was part of normal Cardassian society, but undercover work had always strictly been done by the Obsidian Order. He would have preferred to stay here in the room, but that would be more suspicious than joining Julie -Rhyanna, he said to himself- in the bar. Meanwhile, Sisko, Dax and Kai Winn were doing their best to convince the Prophets of the need to close the Wormhole. So far, without success. It had taken three passes through the Wormhole before the Prophets had let them land. As they got out of the runabout, Jennifer's image appeared. She addressed Sisko. "Why have you come here?" "We need your help.", Sisko explained. He introduced the others, then went on to explain the situation with the Founders. 'Jennifer' listened intently. "We have come to ask you to close the Wormhole, so the Founders can no longer infiltrate in the Alpha Quadrant, and so we will have a chance to stop this war." 'Jennifer' seemed to think this over. Sisko wondered if she was conferring with the others. Or perhaps she was all of them at once. "Why would you stop this war from happening?", she finally asked. "Because war is wrong. Many people die in a war. We do not want that to happen." Sisko tried to explain as well as he could, but he knew they might be in for a hard time. "This war, it has not happened yet in your linear time?", 'Jennifer' asked. "It has started. We might still be able to stop it, if we can stop the Founders." 'Jennifer' remained silent for another long moment. When she spoke, it was slowly and deliberately. "What has happened, has happened. What will happen, will happen. What is the difference?" Sisko sighed. Linear time remained a difficult concept to grasp for these beings who lived outside it. "The difference is that what will happen has not happened yet. We can still change it. We can not change the past, but we can shape the future." "We can not do that.", 'Jennifer' said. "We can not interfere with your time any more than you can interfere with other people's worlds." "You mean you have some sort of Prime Directive?", Dax asked. "If that is what you call it.", the alien replied. "We are here, the Wormhole is open, and who ever wants to pass through, we can not stop them. We may not stop them. Not now." "Not now?", Kai Winn asked, wondering about the cryptic explanation the Prophets gave. "In your linear time, you might try to shape the future. But you can not change the past. In our own ways, we can change some things, and we can not change others. We can not close the Wormhole." Sisko did not know if it was a good idea to tell them this, since he still did not know where he was or on what he was standing, and he was not sure it, whatever it was, would still exist if the Prophets got angry with them. But he had to warn them. "Some of us will advocate the use of force to close the Wormhole. Some were in favor even before we came here to talk to you, more will be if you refuse to close it voluntarily." 'Jennifer' did not look in the least disturbed. "The Wormhole will not close. It can not be destroyed by any means you have if we do not want it to. Goodbye, Emissary." With that, she disappeared. The only thing left was the runabout. All three tried to call back the aliens, but they got no response. Finally, Sisko gave up. "Well, there seems to be nothing more we can do here. Let's get back to the Station." Dax and Kai Winn followed him to the runabout. As soon as it lifted off, the ground, or whatever it had been sitting on, disappeared, and they emerged from the Wormhole in the Alpha Quadrant. Sisko put the aft view on the screen. The Wormhole seemed to flare even bigger and brighter than before. "Do you think we will try to destroy it?", Dax said. Sisko knew she hated the idea, but they all knew sometimes things of great beauty and purpose had to be destroyed. If the war in the Quadrant was allowed to continue to escalate much more destruction would follow. "I don't know that we can.", Sisko said. He went over the people of their little 'council' in his mind. The vote the previous day had been close, and now the talks with the Prophets had proved unsuccessful. "But I think we will end up trying." They docked the runabout at the Station in silence. Julie went to check the housing area by herself. She noticed immediately the house was watched, but as the boys came out to go to school they were not followed. Neither did anyone follow Ziyal when she went out to go to the store. On Cardassia, as on many planets where real meat was preferred over replicated matter, there were stores in addition to the replicators. Julie stayed around to make sure the agents only watched the house. She could not distinguish any other activity. Obviously they were not interested in Ziyal or the kids. She wondered if they really thought Dukat would try to come back to the house. She sure wasn't planning on it. She checked out the school the boys attended, and the surrounding neighborhood. They would have to time it pretty close, as the agents at the house did take note of the time Ziyal left, and when the boys came home they checked their chronometers as well. *So if they don't come back when expected, they'll probably go out and look for them*, Julie thought. They must not have enough personnel to keep tabs on everyone all the time. These guys looked young and inexperienced to her, probably came right out of training, or were not even finished when the coup pulled them into real duty. She'd spotted them with no trouble at all. But she would not make the mistake of underestimating them. Young security personnel could be really thorough at times. The next day she approached Ziyal in the store. She stood behind her as she selected a cut of meat. "Ziyal? Don't look around. It's Julie. When you get out of the store, go around to the back. I'll be waiting for you.", she said softly but urgently. Ziyal recognized Julie's voice, as she had spoken with the same accent she had used during her previous stay on the planet. She did not question the instructions. She tried not to hurry as she paid for the meat and the eggs. A few minutes later she walked into the alley behind the store. Julie emerged from in between some containers. Ziyal, of course, did not recognize her. "Julie?", she asked. "Here? Is... is my father here, too?" Dukat had never discussed politics at home, but she had a pretty good idea of what he had been working on, and when he had not come home after the coup she had worried. No one had come to tell her anything, and she had not been able to find out. Julie nodded, but also held her hand up to her lips in the universal sign for 'quiet'. She moved to the mouth of the alley and cautiously looked around. After a few moments, she was satisfied. She stepped back from the alley entrance and motioned to Ziyal to come along. As they moved through the small back streets of the town, she briefed Ziyal. "Yeah, he's here,", Julie answered Ziyal's question. "We're getting you out of here. Don't call me Julie -I'm Rhyanna until we're off the planet. Your father goes by Enek." She swiftly wound her way through town, to a storage shed close to the boys' school. Dukat was waiting for them. Even though he was disguised as well, Julie had vetoed his offer to come along. The port district was one thing, the neighborhood where many people knew him was another. She grinned when father and daughter fell into each others arms. Moments like these were why she kept taking on these hare-brained missions. But she did not allow herself to relax just yet. She had taken a simple make-up kit for Ziyal, as there were not many half-Bajorans on Cardassia Prime. "Just make sure I find two Cardassians when I get back.", she said as she went off in the direction of the school. She checked her chronometer, and the sensors on the ship. Good. Nobody had touched or scanned the Thalys since they came in. She also liked the timing. About half an hour before school got out. Much more, and she would think the agents at the house would get suspicious; much less, and there would be no time for Ziyal to put the disguise on. Not that half an hour was much to do a good make-up job, but it would only have to hold to the Port, not for several days like hers and Dukat's. The school went out right on time. She knew she could not approach the boys without being seen, but she did pick a place a couple of blocks away from the school. This time, she did not drop her accent, she simply walked up to them and said someone wanted to see them. On many planets, kids are warned not to go with strangers, or to speak to them on the streets. But whatever you want to say about Cardassia, its streets are safe. So the boys shrugged. "Sure.", Mikor said, half curious, half irritated. By the time they got to the shed, Julie was checking for activity from the direction of the house. Ziyal had been gone for well over an hour, and while that would not be unreasonably long for a trip to the store, she thought the agents would notice when the boys did not return after school either. The kids blinked in surprise, but they did recognize their father. Julie was glad she had decided to make him stay out of the residential area. While Balet and Zeno would be sure to return with them, Dukat had decided to talk to Mikor and see if the boy wanted to come along. He was twelve, after all, and he frequently disagreed with his father on political issues. Julie remained outside the storage shed, where she had a good view of the road leading to the school and beyond that, the house. The alley they were in was somewhat higher, giving her a good vantage point, but also, she thought, the first place the agents would come look for someone if they decided to find out why the boys were late coming home. She would start to check here if the situation were reversed. Mikor was glad to see his father, but Julie did not think he would come with them to Deep Space Nine. "Father, why are you here? They are looking for you.", Mikor exclaimed. "I came to get Ziyal, and Balet, and Zeno. And you, if you want to come.", Dukat said. Mikor looked puzzled. "Come to where?" "To Deep Space Nine, and Bajor.", Dukat answered. "Bajor?", the boy echoed. "Dad, why did you do this? Why did you fight against Gul Bukel, why are you against war?" Julie tried not to listen -she felt like an eavesdropper. But she could not help but hear all that was said on the other side of the thin wall. She checked her chronometer again. "War destroys more than it is worth. Especially an all-out war against every other power in the Quadrant.", Dukat explained. "Oh, I was like you once. When I was your age, I thought war was this glorious thing. To conquer other worlds would make Cardassia bigger and stronger than any other planet. But a conquered world never stops fighting. It will never support you, and if you turn it will stab you in the back. And what the Founders are trying to do now is to make everybody fight one another. With the whole Quadrant at war, there will be no glory, no conquest. There will only be destruction and hatred." Julie spotted some movement in the direction of the housing area. She fingered her disruptor. Were that the agents, or just normal people going about their business? No, it was the agents alright, she'd seen that shuttle vehicle this morning. It was headed for the school. She rested with her back against the shed, where she could see around the corner without being seen herself, and waited. She'ld give Dukat and Mikor as much time as she could. "That's what Julie said. You sound just like her.", Mikor said. "Julie?", Dukat asked. She'd never told him about the conversation she had with Mikor that one afternoon. "Yeah. I was reading 'First: Cardassia', and she commented on it. My teacher saw I was reading it today. He was really impressed, asked me to do my next essay about it.", Mikor said enthusiastically. Then his face fell. "Dad? Will you ever be able to come back?" Dukat sadly shook his head. "Not as long as Bukel rules." And probably not ever, as many people from other factions would look upon Dukat's actions of the past few days as betrayal, not just Bukel's people. Julie glanced around the corner of the shed. The agents came out of the school and walked toward their shuttle. She could not wait much longer. Mikor looked at his father. "I can not come with you. I will stay here with mother. I'm sorry, dad." The agents closed the shuttle vehicle's doors and it started to move. This was it -there was no more time. Julie had her disruptor out. She slunk back to the door of the shed and pushed it partially open. "We gotta go _now_.", she said urgently. Dukat immediately rose from the crates he had been sitting on. "If you ever change your mind, you will always be welcome. Greet your mother from me.", he told his son. The boy nodded. He threw his arms around his father. "I love you, dad." Dukat held the boy close. "I love you too, son." Julie glanced nervously at the road. She hated to break this up, but... Fortunately, Dukat and Mikor broke their hug themselves. As they left the shed, Mikor went one way, they went another. Neither looked back again. Julie led them through a few small streets, suddenly emerging on a slidewalk near the city center. From there they walked, outwardly calm, to the space port. As they approached the port she checked her equipment. It would tell her instantly if the Thalys had been scanned or was held under surveillance by any electronic means. Everything checked out clear. To avoid being too obviously together, they went onto the landing pad in two groups. Julie took the two boys ahead -she'd let slip 'Rhyanna' had two little nephews, for anyone who was interested- and Dukat followed with Ziyal. She started up the ship's systems, filed a flight plan, and was cleared for take-off within minutes. She lifted off, and they took in the same direction they had come in from, heading for Ferengal. Nothing gave any indication the agents on the ground had made the connection between Dukat's missing family and the Thalys, but Julie did not let her guard down until they were well outside Cardassian space, on a new course for Deep Space Nine. Finally, with the Station on long-range sensors, she relaxed. Although it was late night, Station time, when they docked, there was still quite a bit of activity going on in the docking bay. One of Dukat's officers who was working on some repairs jumped up from where he had been working on an open panel. "Captain Sisko has requested to speak with you both as soon as you came in.", he reported. Dukat and Julie looked at each other. "I bet the Prophets didn't want to close the Wormhole.", Julie speculated. "That could be it.", Dukat agreed. Dukat walked over to a wall panel. None of them wore any communicators yet. They were all still in make-up, too. Julie could help Ziyal out of hers in minutes, but the full disguises of Dukat and her would take well over an hour, and sickbay's facilities. Oh well, at least they had taken care to arrange for quarters on the Station before they left. The ships were not pleasant to stay on while being repaired, and no place at all for the boys and Ziyal. "Dukat to Sisko." "Sisko here.", the reply came immediately. Obviously, Sisko was not asleep, either. "Glad you made it back. Did you bring your family with you?" "Ziyal and two of my boys are here.", Dukat told him. "You wanted to speak with us -I take it the Prophets did not offer their assistance in closing the Wormhole?" "That's right. I want a new meeting as soon as possible. Can you both be there at 0700?", Sisko asked. He assumed correctly Julie was there, as well. A quick calculation in her head made Julie estimate they'ld actually get about one hour of sleep that way, but it wouldn't be the first time that happened, and she'ld feel better the sooner this Wormhole matter was resolved. She shrugged. "I suppose." "We'll be there.", Dukat told Sisko. "Dukat out." "Well, let's get to Sickbay and get this off," Julie suggested. "I'll ask Sabi to give you a hand.", she said to Ziyal. Julian was in sickbay as they came in and Sabi came in after only a few minutes. Didn't anyone on the Station ever sleep? Balet and Zeno looked at the station with wide eyes. They had never been off Cardassia, and even though Deep Space Nine was a Cardassian built station over the years quite a few changes had been made. Also, there were lots of people from races they had never seen. Even before the coup not many aliens had visited Cardassia, and those who did usually stayed in the Port district. Actually, removing the disguises went pretty quickly. As Julie and Dukat came out of Sickbay, they ran into Garak on the Promenade. "Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.", Garak said as a greeting. "Of course, you crawled in here all by yourself. No cat would touch you.", Dukat retorted. Garak looked at Ziyal, and then at Julie. "There is no accounting for taste.", he said, pointedly. "Actually, I am kind of surprised to find you're still here.", Julie said in a sweet voice. She smiled and added, "I had expected that now your friends Bukel and Nerel are in charge, you would be back on Cardassia by now." Garak blinked. "Nerel?", he said, before he could stop himself. How had she found out the name of one of his contacts? "No really, I am just a plain and simple tailor, and I have no interests in politics." "Of course not. And voles don't bite.", Dukat said. Now if you'll excuse us, we really have no time to be chatting with a mere tailor." "Of course.", Garak said, and bowed. As they walked on, Julie looked back over her shoulder at Garak, who stood watching them with that typical slight smile on his lips. "I can't seem to figure him out. I really hate that.", she said, frustrated. "This Nerel, I take it he was one of Garak's contacts?", Dukat asked. Julie nodded. "The one I have been able to find. He was killed in the invasion, that is why I let his name slip. I wanted to see Garak's reaction as I told him I knew one of his contacts. I only wish I knew more. I still do not know whose side he really is on, or who he supports." "Garak is on Garak's side. It might not always be clear what side that is -maybe sometimes he doesn't even know himself. But that's where he stands, always.", Dukat said. "Yeah," Julie agreed. "You're probably right. I just hate it when I can't put my finger on someone." They walked on to where the guest quarters were located, and managed to get almost an hour's worth of rest before the meeting started. Everyone who had been at the previous meeting was there. Sisko started with a quick briefing of their visit with the Prophets, for Julie's and Dukat's sake, as they had not heard of it yet. Sisko ended with the Prophet's statement that the Wormhole would prove indestructible. "Still, we have to try. They could tell us anything.", Kulak said. "I have no reason not to believe them.", Sisko said. "But we will vote on this again. We can either leave the wormhole open, and have the Founders come through, or we can make an attempt to make it collapse." This time, only the Bajorans voted against closing the Wormhole. Even Kira, after a long pause, added her vote to those in favor of the collapse. She had been in the resistance long enough to know sometimes sacrifices had to be made, and she did not see how else they could stop the Founders. An hour later, the Defiant swung around the Station and headed for the entrance of the Wormhole. Sisko, Dax, Kira and O'Brien were on board, while the others watched from Ops. As the Defiant came close to the Wormhole it flared open. All those in Ops and on the Defiant's bridge held their breath. Two torpedoes streaked out from the Defiant's bow and disappeared into the Wormhole. For a long moment everyone was silent. "Torpedoes have no effect.", Worf reported in Ops, while Dax said the same thing simultaneously on the bridge of the Defiant. "Prepare to beam antimatter charge into the Wormhole.", Sisko said. "Ready for transport.", O'Brien said. "Energize." There followed only a small flash of light, far into the Wormhole. "No effect. It appears as if the charge went through to the Gamma Quadrant, and exploded in open space.", Dax reported. "We're not gonna be able to destroy it.", Kira stated, feeling somewhat relieved, but at the same time anxious about the future of Bajor on what could easily become the front line if the war between the Quadrants really broke loose. "Take her back to her docking pylon.", Sisko told the helm officer. "Everybody, we meet again in an hour." In Ops, they saw the Defiant turn back toward the Station. The Wormhole closed in its normal manner when the ship moved away from its mouth, but everyone knew it would open as soon as another vessel approached it. "Now what do we do?", Tre'Vore asked Julie. "Now, we dig in.", she answered. The End -for now.
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