Originally published in Allegiance: The New Breed (A fanzine of the Drakmärian Alliance International Fan Club) No. 3–4, Vol. 3, Fall/Winter 1993.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE]: This story—which takes place during season 1 of Deep Space Nine—is intended as a prelude to "futurelife," the second novel of THE ENTERPRISE-B CHRONICLES, which will answer many of the questions this story raises.

PROLOGUE


Operations Chief Miles Edward O'Brien was feeling remarkably good.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, everything on the station was functioning properly. The replicators were processing the correct food requests, the power grids were stable, and even those damn Cardassian transporters appeared to be operating within the bounds of normality.

Even O'Brien's wife Kieko, had been unbelievably chipper recently.

Word of Kieko's "school" had spread throughout DS9 and even managed to reach the surface of Bajor itself. More parents were coming forward in the hopes of placing their children into Keiko's classes. "If this keeps up," she had happily reported. "I may have to actually hire a teaching staff!"

Yes, things were indeed going well for the former Enterprise officer as he surveyed the Ops room of his newfound home, Deep Space Nine. When O'Brien had first arrived on the Cardassian-built space station orbiting the planet Bajor, he had had his doubts about whether or not it could be converted from the shambolic mess he had found into a viable community. Well, the discovery of the first stable wormhole known to exist had certainly helped to change that.

Deep Space Nine had become a stopping-off point for travelers heading to and from the unexplored Gamma quadrant. The happy result of this was that the station had also become a major center of commerce, trade, and cultural exchange. It was the place to be.

"Chief?"

O'Brien was snapped from his musings by the voice of the station's science officer Lieutenant Jadzia Dax. O'Brien glanced across the Ops room to the science station, where the attractive young Trill was concentrating on the information readout displayed on her console. A curious frown curled her lips and her deep blue eyes narrowed in bemusement.

"What is it Lieutenant?" queried O'Brien.

Dax shook her head. "I'm picking up the communications beacon of a ship entering the sector."

O'Brien stepped down from his station and approached the science console. "I take it by that look on your face," O'Brien continued, "that it's not one scheduled to arrive here?"

"Affirmative."

Dax then pressed several of the colored panels on her console, coordinating her readings. Her befuddlement only increased.

"That's strange," she commented. O'Brien glanced down at her console unsure of what she meant. She then clarified her findings to the Chief. "The ship appears to be a Federation Runabout."

O'Brien glanced up from Dax's console. "Could it be the Commander returning?"

"Negative. The ship's markings are inconsistent with any of the station's craft," reported Dax. She then stated that the ship was coming into visual range. O'Brien ordered a visual.

The control room's main view screen, which hung several feet above the floor of the Ops room glowed to life. The familiar image of the Runabout class ship came into view. O'Brien knew the sleek design of the modified Federation shuttlecraft very well. They had been designed to cover short distances quickly yet be equipped to handle longer voyages should they become necessary. Although DS9 had three Runabouts at their disposal, O'Brien did not recognize this as being one of them.

"Chief," called Dax. O'Brien turned as the science officer made her report. "The ship is hailing us."

"Visual, Lieutenant," ordered O'Brien. He was anxious to find out who was piloting the ship.

The image on the view screen changed from the exterior view of the ship floating in space to its interior. An attractive, young brunette woman sat at the controls of the ship. She was wearing a standard, red Starfleet uniform and possessed ridges on the bridge of her nose indicating that she was a Bajoran national. It was a face O'Brien knew very well.

"Ensign Ro!" said O'Brien excitedly.

"Hello Chief," said Ro returning his smile. "It's good to see you again. Requesting docking instructions."

"Of course, of course," said O'Brien indicating to Dax to send a docking sequence to the ship. "I'll meet you at bay fourteen myself."

"Good," smiled Ro. "Because there's someone else on board interested in seeing you as well."

"Really?" said O'Brien with some surprise.

He then noticed a man stoop down into view on the screen. He had apparently been standing behind Ro's chair all this time. The older man smiled warmly at the Chief. "Miles, my friend. It is so good to see you again."

O'Brien looked curiously at the man. Despite being lined with age, the man's face still possessed a rugged handsomeness. Remarkably, the man still had a full head of hair. Snow white on the sides but gradually becoming a dullish auburn on top. O'Brien guessed that the man's hair had once been a fiery shade of the same color. O'Brien was flattered that this man who wore the uniform of a Starfleet admiral recognized him. However, O'Brien could not say the same about him.

"Have you forgotten me already, Miles?" asked the Admiral disappointedly. O'Brien said nothing but the look on his face spoke volumes to the Admiral. The man glanced over at Ro who merely shrugged her shoulders.

"Well I suppose it has been a while hasn't it?"

O'Brien nodded slightly.

"Alright, I'll give you a hint. You last saw me five months ago on the Enterprise."

O'Brien thought a moment. Nothing came.

"Of course, I looked a little different then," the Admiral continued. "I had a beard and looked about forty years younger."

Suddenly, a look of shocked realization crossed O'Brien's features. He simply could not believe his ears!

"Jack Bairnson?" said O'Brien excitedly.

The Admiral's constant smile widened. "You got it!" he said proudly.

"I don't believe it! We all thought we'd never see you again!"

"Well, it just goes to show you, Miles. In this universe, you never know."


CHAPTER ONE

O'Brien's pulse was racing as a young girl in anticipation of her first date's would as he hurriedly strode the spider's web of corridors towards the docking area. He could hardly believe that Jack Bairnson was coming aboard Deep Space Nine, let alone that he even knew the Chief's name.

He had remembered that time five months ago when he had briefly met the former captain of the Enterprise-B. He had remembered wishing that he could have had the opportunity to talk more with him then, but circumstances did not permit it. Now it seemed that fate was dealing O'Brien with the second chance that so few people ever received. O'Brien had so much that he wanted to talk with the Admiral about that he wasn't sure where to begin.

O'Brien watched as the seal around bay fourteen pressurized. After several seconds, the hissing of the pressurizing units ceased and the huge, gear-shaped door rolled back to allow access to the narrow partition separating the docking bay from the rest of the station. O'Brien tensed with nervous excitement as the second wheel-like door a few feet in front of him rolled away.

Ensign Ro Laren was the first to step out of the docked Runabout. She looked as marvelous as ever. It occurred to O'Brien how few people on the Enterprise ever noticed how extraordinarily attractive she was. Perhaps that gruff emotional front she always seemed to project had done something to taint the image most men on the Enterprise had of her.

O'Brien had never really considered her looks or how passionate she might really be until now when, to his astonishment, Ro smiled warmly at the Chief and rushed over to embrace him. She wrapped her arms tightly around the Chief and clung closely to him for several seconds. Despite his surprise, O'Brien managed to gratefully return Ro's embrace.

"I've heard what a ladies' man you are Miles, but really, can't you let some of the rest of us have half a chance?"

Ro broke off from O'Brien's arms with a chuckle. The Chief straightened out his uniform as he glanced towards the hatchway and saw the still-grinning Admiral leaning up against the right side of the arch. Bairnson joined Ro in her chuckle as O'Brien tried desperately to straighten himself to attention. Bairnson dismissed the Chief's vain attempts with a wave of his hand.

"At ease Chief," said the Admiral. "I'm sure Keiko's kept that passionate Irish nature of yours more than satisfied."

O'Brien stepped forward and heartily accepted Bairnson's extended hand and pumped it vigorously. The Admiral's deep-bellied laugh helped to put O'Brien at ease. O'Brien then led the Admiral and the young Bajoran Ensign out of the docking area and into a corridor. As they strode the corridor's length, O'Brien noticed the Admiral looking over the station as though he were on an inspection tour.

"So this is where they sent you is it?" said Bairnson.

"Not exactly the garden spot of the universe," Ro commented.

"Now Ensign," scolded Bairnson. "You wouldn't hear another officer make fun of your assignment."

"Only a Romulan would bad-mouth the Enterprise sir," said O'Brien.

"True," chuckled the Admiral. "But can you drop the 'sir' business, Miles? Officially, I'm not here."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I mean that Ensign Ro and I are on vacation," the Admiral announced proudly.

"Vacation?"

"Yes. It's not so strange for officers to take vacations after long assignments, is it?" said Ro.

"Not at all," replied O'Brien. "It's just that...well, this isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind when choosing where to go on holiday."

"Nonsense!" snapped the Admiral. "I'm quite fascinated by your little station, here."

"Not to mention he wanted to see Bajor as well," added Ro.

"Well, yes, there was that."

O'Brien was somewhat surprised. "You've never been to Bajor, sir?"

"The Alpha Quardrant is a big place," Bairnson sighed. "And while the Enterprise-B did help to map out a fair-sized chunk of it, I'm afraid we overlooked Bajor."

"Well sir," said O'Brien. "It would seem only fitting then to begin your vacation with a visit to the Ops room." He then extended his arm in a presentation gesture of the turbolift elevator the three were now standing before.

Bairnson glanced at his young Bajoran companion with a grin. He then motioned her to step onto the lift herself first. She curtsied slightly as she stepped onto the lift closely followed by the Admiral and Chief O'Brien. Within seconds, the lift began to rise.

After a few moments of rising steadily through metal-meshed floors and girdered walls, the turbolift came to a soft halt. Admiral Bairnson glanced about the room while still in the lift. Seconds later, O'Brien led the Admiral and Ensign Ro out onto the floor of the Ops room.

Bairnson marveled at the size of the room, a similar feeling he had when he first stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise-D five months ago. The Ops room was a bustle of activity. Officers in differently styled uniforms paced back and forth from every console, alight with power, in the room. Bairnson noticed the one or two officers who wore station uniforms similar to O'Brien's stiffen slightly as he passed. He had almost forgotten his own uniform.

O'Brien led the two visitors over to a console at the far end of the room where a pretty young brunette girl in a blue uniform sat. As she turned her head to glance towards O'Brien and the visitors, Bairnson noticed the dark brown spots which ran from her forehead down the sides of her face. Bairnson had always had a taste for women with unique features, his presence with Ro Laren indicated this, and he found this young woman's features very pleasing indeed.

"Admiral," announced O'Brien. "I'd like you to meet our science officer, Lieutenant Jadzia Dax."

Bairnson extended his hand to greet the young woman who rose from her seat. As he shook her hand, he heard O'Brien attempt to introduce him to her. However, the young woman stopped him in mid-sentence.

"Admiral Jack Bairnson," Dax said. "I'm well aware of your illustrious career in Starfleet. It's an honor to meet you at last."

Bairnson smiled as O'Brien introduced Dax to Ensign Ro. He then glanced around the rest of the room as the pair became acquainted with one another. At the other end of the room, another Turbolift was rising. It came to a halt just as Bairnson's had, in the Ops room. From it stepped an exquisite creature dressed in the red uniform of the Bajoran military. She glided onto the floor of the Ops room carefully studying the information on the PADD she held in her right hand.

She was as striking as Ro even though she was slightly older than the Bajoran ensign. Bairnson heard O'Brien call out to her and she glanced up from her PADD. O'Brien motioned her to come over their way which she did.

"This is our second-in-command," stated O'Brien. "Major Kira Nerys."

Kira graciously extended her hand to the Admiral which he took in his own, and to her great surprise, delicately kissed the back of it. "A great pleasure indeed," said the Admiral.

"Indeed," Kira replied somewhat stiffly.

It became obvious to Bairnson that she wasn't used to this type of display as she moved quickly to the Chief's side. Kira then nervously discussed the information on her padd with him.

Bairnson turned his attention back to the science station. He noticed Ro standing there, almost as stiffly as Kira. Ro had seen Bairnson kiss hundreds women on their hands and understood that the gesture was just the Admiral's rather eccentric way of greeting attractive women. But for some reason, Bairnson kissing Kira Nerys's hand had unnerved the ensign somewhat. He decided to try and switch topics.

"What about your commander?" he asked. "I don't see him anywhere."

"Oh," O'Brien realized. "He and Doctor Bashir went to Bajor for a conference. They should be back tonight."

Bairnson nodded.

He then glanced back in the direction of the science station. Ro Laren noticed that the Admiral was staring at her and she smiled back at him. It was the kind of awkward smile one usually wore after running into an ex-lover at a party. In her quiet way, Ro was begging the Admiral to take her away from the Ops room. He decided it was for the best to do so. At least he could find out what was bothering her.

"Well, I can see you're busy here Miles," said the Admiral motioning Ro to join him. He draped his arm over her shoulders when she came to his side.

"I'll tell you what," the Admiral continued. "Why don't you and Keiko meet us for dinner? Know a good restaurant?"

"Well, there's Quark's on the Promenade," suggested O'Brien hurriedly, quickly returning his attention to the Bajoran Major.

"Fine. We'll meet you there about eight."

Bairnson then led Ro to the turbolift. Within moments, they were descending to the lower levels of the station.


Several hours later, Admiral Jack Bairnson was busy primping himself before his reflection in a mirror. He and Ro Laren had found their guest quarters very easily. Being an admiral in Starfleet did have its advantages.

Bairnson pondered the smile lines on the sides of his mouth, crow's feet on his eyes, and the slight paunch of his abdomen which even his long black topcoat could not conceal. He sighed disappointedly. Although he was nearly 120 years old—the twilight of his prime by 24th century standards—he longed to appear not so worn and battered.

"Jack, stop fussing. You look fine."

Bairnson turned his head and saw his younger Bajoran companion had entered the room. She was looking marvelous as usual, dressed in a red, low-cut V-neck gown which the Admiral had purchased on Delta many years ago. The Admiral sighed again; this time with slight arousal.

"Oh Laren," he said. "Why do you continue to put up with an old man like me?"

"You know why," answered Ro, walking towards him.

"There are so many young, handsome men here and on the Enterprise."

"None of them could give me all that you have."

Ro reached up and loving stroked the back of the Admiral's head. With an ever so slight nudge, she pulled his face to hers. Their lips met and remained together for a moment before the Admiral broke off. He stared down into her dark eyes. Ro closed them and sighed heavily as the Admiral ran his finger down the ridges of her nose. Ro inhaled heavily through nearly clenched teeth.

"You know, it's funny," said the Admiral. "When I lost Janet, I didn't mourn very long. Because I knew that, eventually, I'd find you."

"I knew you'd come back. You always did."

Bairnson leaned down and kissed her again briefly.

"Should we go, or do you wanna just stay here all night?" asked Ro coyly.

"Oh, I suppose we should," sighed the Admiral. "Wouldn't want to keep them waiting too long."