Hogan vs. Quark
It was fortunate, Odo decided, that changelings had better hearing than most humanoids. He had just enough time to assume a benign - yet not terribly convenient - form before General Hogan entered the bridge area of the ship once more.
Despite the circumstances the constable had to admit that General Hogan was, for lack of a better word, impressive. The Ferengi, despite their odious reputation, were quite skilled in negotiating complex deals. Even so, watching the utter desperation on Quark's face as he tried to consummate this particular bargain with General Hogan had proved to be rather amusing.
All of that was, as the humans liked to say, 'before the other shoe dropped.'
The human had quickly seen through Quark's facade. Even more, he was planning on turning the tables against the conniving bartender. Nog's missing dataPADD had only confirmed the man's suspicions. Fortunately, he had been able to retrieve the device once Hogan had left it in a supposedly 'secure' location.
Despite the abhorrent 'payment' General Hogan offered – and one, the security chief highly suspected, would never be honored - Odo was content to let the situation resolve itself. At least for now. If nothing else the human was sharp. He could have almost sworn the man had sensed his presence on the bridge earlier.
I'll have to research his name once we return to DS9, Odo mused, his investigative curiosity aroused. In a way, he reminds of a Garak with morals.
He watched Hogan pace around the small bridge while seemingly lost in thought. As he rounded the far pedestal he suddenly kneeled down. Presumably to 'tie a shoelace', Odo decided. He supposed footwear, like humanity, needed time to evolve.
What he didn't expect was to see the General rise up, Ferengi weapon in hand, before pointing the emitter in his direction.
Specifically, straight at Odo's hidden form.
A small part of the shocked changeling's mind belatedly remembered that the Ferengi, being somewhat overly paranoid about their ship's vault, had small storage compartments built into the control pedestals of their ships. The medical device and phaser they had used for the demonstration earlier had come from one of those compartments.
Something Hogan, given the earlier test, had obviously remembered. He wasn't sure if the human actually knew how to use the weapon but he wasn't particularly eager to find out. Reluctantly, he shifted into his humanoid form. To his credit the human's face only showed a trace of bare shock at seeing the inanimate console face reform into a living being.
"How did you know?" Odo pointedly asked, breaking the deathly silence. General Hogan shrugged, then lowered his weapon slightly.
"I didn't," he lamely replied, stunned by what he had just witnessed. "I just..." After a moment, he shrugged. "I used to be a POW...a prisoner of war," he quietly explained to the alien's inquiring look. "There's just some feelings you don't lose." Hogan then cocked his head inquiringly. "You were here earlier," he challenged.
The shapeshifter nodded once, his earlier suspicion confirmed. "Yes," he said before his eyes glanced upward. "One of the ceiling decorations."
"Nice," the human nodded admiringly. "Must come in handy." Hogan pursed his lips before he turned to business. "I assume you're acquainted with Quark?"
"Unfortunately, you're correct," the alien sighed before he introduced himself. "My name is Odo," he explained. "Head of security for Deep Space Nine. You might think of me as a police officer on a space station...so to speak."
Hogan nodded. "And I take it my guest isn't what he says he is on this...space station?"
"Only when it comes to drinks," the alien said. "He runs the bar."
"Figures." The General laid the weapon on the top of the console and stepped back. He cocked his head slightly, eyeing the otherworldly being, before he turned to business. "So, two things," he began. "The first is that we have to get you back to wherever you came from. I know you're from the future."
The constable nodded in acknowledgment. "That might prove to be difficult," he truthfully admitted. "Quark was on his way to Earth to deliver Rom to Starfleet Academy." He paused upon seeing the American's expression.
"The kid is a cadet?" Hogan said incredulously, the title of the book finally making sense. "I don't know what 'Starfleet' is but they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel."
A deep harumph emanated from Odo's throat. "You might be surprised," he dryly commented. "For the most part, Starfleet does have some very talented individuals. Then again, given Nog's history, I wonder if the Federation knows what it's in for."
The officer shrugged but didn't comment further. Someone must have thought the kid had some potential, he reluctantly allowed, thinking of his own West Point days. More than a few of his own classmates had their own quirks before they wised up.
Maybe he'll make a good officer. At least it's not my problem.
"The ship was sabotaged," Odo continued bluntly, returning to the topic at hand. "It seems that one of Quark's cousins gave him the ship as a way to repay his debt and get rid of Quark. Permanently."
A faint grin tugged at the general's lips as he glanced around the bridge. "Must've been one heck of a monkey wrench to get you here," he observed. The changeling didn't know what, exactly, a 'monkey wrench' was but he understood the inference.
"True," he acknowledged. "Fortunately, I was able to control the crash into what I thought was an unpopulated area. Unfortunately, the sensors were damaged and I didn't detect your Army unit until just before we crashed. After that...". He spread his hands helplessly.
"Yeah," General Hogan said sympathetically, meaning it. "Been there. Done that." He paused. "Is there anything we can do to help?" the officer asked, his tone sincere. "Or are you stuck here for good?"
The shapeshifter merely cocked his head as if in thought. "I'm sure, given time, Rom could send us back to the future," he conceded, though his voice seemed doubtful. "He's a bit odd for a Ferengi but he does have a mind for that sort of thing."
The American smiled. "Strangely enough, I know what you mean," he said quietly. Odo noticed an almost indefinable - he would have said sad - gleam as he looked into the human's brown eyes.
"My main goal is to get Quark away from Earth before he can cause any more damage to the timeline." The sound of his sigh echoed around the bridge. "I suppose, after that, I will 'play it by ear' as you humans say.
For a moment, Hogan felt a wave of sadness wash through his soul as he thought about the alien's last words. To be trapped in time with nowhere to go…
It was an unpleasant thought.
If his plan worked - and that was a big if - Odo and the Ferengi might have a chance to return to the future. The 'if' portion depended on more variables than the General wanted to count. In all honesty he had no idea if they could go back to the future...or even how they would do do.
But I have a hunch they'll make it back.
Without thinking, he withdrew an object from his pocket and tossed it toward the stranger. Odo deftly caught the flying item with his right hand and curiously studied the worn figures etched into the flat metal disc.
"My lucky half dollar," the senior officer explained. "Carried it during the war." He cocked his head and smiled. "I figure if it was lucky enough to get me home it might do the same for you."
The changeling, at a loss for words, let a small smile slip onto his stern face. "Thank you," he said simply.
"No problem," The General then cocked his head as another thought occurred to him. "I take it you and Quark have a personal history?" he innocently inquired.
An almost predatory grin tugged at Odo's stern features as he caught Hogan's meaning.
"What would you like to know?"
"How could you tell him about me?!" The Ferengi nearly shrieked. "After all, I thought we were friends!"
"Whatever gave you that idea, Quark?" the head of security retorted. "However, I'm sure you'll be comforted to know that you'll make plenty of friends where you're going." He started to drag Quark away to the security office and the holding cell but his charge wrenched free from his grasp.
"Wait!" he cried out. "I still have one card left!" His frantic eyes quickly searched the room before finding a female target. By coincidence - or just plain unlucky fate - that person happened to be Major Kira Nerys, DS9's second-in-command. "Major," he said breathlessly, almost jumping up and down in excitement. "Ask me what the ultimate answer is to life, the universe and everything!"
Kira, true to form, was not amused.
"Is this some kind of joke, Quark?" the Bajoran officer growled, leaning menacingly forward to meet the Ferengi's suddenly terrified face. "Because if it is-"
"You'd better humor him, Major," Odo's dry voice, tinged with amusement, interrupted. "He won't have many laughs where he's going."
Kira gritted her teeth, then relented. "All right, Quark," she hissed. "What is the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything?"
"Forty-two!" Quark announced triumphantly. He then leaned forward and puckered his lips...
...only to be rocked backward on his heels as a roundhouse slap painfully flew across his expectant face. The Ferengi opened his eyes in stunned surprise just in time to see the Bajoran's famed glare of death.
"You asked me," Kira began, enunciating each word loudly and clearly for everyone to hear, "to ask you the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything..."
"Uh..." Quark's suddenly dry voice refused to respond.
"...AND YOU HAVE THE NERVE TO TELL ME THE ANSWER IS FORTY-TWO?!" she finished, shouting to one and all.
At that, every woman within earshot on the promenade - human and alien - stood up.
"Uh, oh..." the barkeeper muttered nervously as numerous female eyes targeted him with laser precision. Kira, for her part, had the look of an angry Klingon about to go on a planetary killing spree. The expressions on the faces of the other women were not too far behind.
"Brother..." said Rom.
"Yeah?" Quark muttered, warily backing up in self-preservation.
"You'd better run," his brother finished.
At that sound advice the bar owner turned tail and began running like hell.
"GET HIM!" Kira roared. As one, the crowd of women began to surge after the retreating Ferengi.
"Ladies!" Odo began, holding up his hands. "Please..." He got no further than that before the female wave knocked him to the deck. The male personnel, deciding discretion was the safer part of valor, ducked into various shops and hiding places in a mostly successful effort to avoid the oncoming juggernaut.
Moments later, when the crowd cleared, a small pool of pockmarked golden goo wearing a misshapen security uniform lay motionless in the middle of the deserted Promenade. Suddenly a hand, along with a set of lips, pushed themselves upward from the mostly limp puddle and paused momentarily before the index finger swiveled in the direction of the mob.
"He went that-a-way," Odo's disembodied voice announced.
Meanwhile, Quark ran for his very life. Granted, it had always been a dream of his to be pursued by women, but this...
This is insane!
He was barely aware of the high pitched, and decidedly girlish, scream that emanated from his throat as he successfully evaded another female's attempt to bring him down. A burst of speed, powered by fear, was the only thing that saved him as he rounded yet another corner.
If I can just get to the bar... he desperately, if not irrationally, thought. Bitterly, he cursed not carrying any of the numerous station security overrides he had illegally obtained over the years.
Quark then yelled in fright as an orange phaser blast singed the shoulder of his tailored vest. He twisted his head just enough to see Major Kira, weapon in hand, carefully lining up for another shot.
Odo, where are you when I need you?
A group of Starfleet officers, their faces registering surprise, scrambled out of the way as the Ferengi barreled around yet another corner. Dimly, he heard the distinctive sound of a phased beam as it sliced through the air where he had just been.
You missed! he thought triumphantly.
The rest of the female mob was temporarily stymied when he ducked into a maintenance hatchway before keying the lock switch. Quark, in a surprising show of strength, picked up the heavy tool case next to the door and smashed it down on the lock, destroying it. For a brief moment the Ferengi's heaving lungs paused to recover before he laid eyes on the sparking remains with a sense of satisfaction.
Granted, he might have only a minute before one of the creative females bypassed the temporary barrier.
But as long as I can get to the bar, who cares? he thought with a plan in mind. From there, I'll grab one of the overrides to transport to a cargo ship. Better yet, a Runabout! His breathing slowed as the ad hoc plan came into focus.
I'll have to disable the tractor beam, he reasoned. They'll probably send one or two of their own runabouts to track me down but with a little bit of luck I'll be able to lock their mooring clamps for a few minutes. If I'm even luckier there won't be a Federation Starship around.
Once I'm out of the system I'll head for Orion. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to sell the ship and pocket some latinum before heading to Ferenginar...
He was already a third of the way through the first crawlspace before his disjointed mind realized something odd:
Why hadn't the Major – or anyone else, for that matter – used a transporter to beam him out of the maintenance shafts?
Odo had told him earlier that Captain Sisko was on Bajor. This left the Bajoran second-in-command…in command. There was something else…something about how she had aimed her phaser at him earlier...
…and then, in a moment of stunned clarity, he finally realized the brutal truth.
The former resistance fighter had deliberately missed. Even now, she was toying with him much as an animal did with its prey.
And when he finally gave out...
That last epiphany was almost enough to send him over the edge...if he wasn't totally focused on trying to survive.
"I gave her the answer!" he plaintively wailed as the distinct sounds of scraping – namely, boots against solid metal – echoed down the long shaft. It was enough to propel him to a breathless crawling lightspeed. "I gave it! It should have worked!" he yelled in frustration even as he mentally cursed the long dead General. "What went wrong?"
Meanwhile, Quark's unread letter - discarded in the hasty flight of terror - lay on the floor of the empty Promenade. Had anyone chanced to open the paper fold they would have seen a simple message written in neat Palmer script:
I've got your number.