CHAPTER THREE

Negotiations were a kind of a game. Each player would give and take something from their opponent, offering something else in return. If the opponent didn't like what was offered, he refused, causing the first player to come up with something better. This would go on, back and forth, until finally the two players reached a point upon which they could both agree. It was usually a hard-fought mental battle, the outcome of which was that both players won.

In his time, Admiral Jack Bairnson had been involved in some pretty intense negotiations. He had always enjoyed the challenge which came with these, and other types of games ever since he was executive officer of the U.S.S. Excelsior under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu.

However, the negotiations he found himself currently involved in, had taken a sudden and peculiar turn in a direction which he had not foreseen.

It had come down to a simple choice: hand over one man to the Romulan Commander Tembak, or face the destruction of Deep Space Nine. This would have been a simple matter for Bairnson to resolve. All he had to do was find the man and bring him up here to the Ops room, where Tembak could see him, and then begin to negotiate for the release of the abducted Commander Benjamin Sisko. However, when the name of the individual was revealed, and it turned out to be his own, Jack Bairnson began to rethink his strategy.

Admiral Bairnson stood there, facing the Romulan on the screen. His face was impassive, betraying none of the shock and confusion he felt in the pit of his stomach. So, they were after him. His years of service in Starfleet as executive officer of the Excelsior, captain of the Enterprise-B, and an admiral known for his quick wit and prowess at negotiations, were going to end here. On a station near the homeworld of the woman he loved. Well, there were worse ways to go.

But something wasn't quite right.

Tembak's request was sincere and he was determined to capture his quarry, Bairnson didn't need a telepath like Deanna Troi to tell him that. But there was something odd about who he was looking for, and Bairnson couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Time.

He needed time to figure it out.

"You realize," the Admiral began. "That just by being here, you're in violation of the treaty between the Federation and the Romulan Empire?"

Tembak smiled. "But Admiral, only you and I will ever know that. That is why it was decided to use a Cardassian vessel, so as not to arouse suspicions."

"What has this man done to make you risk an interplanetary incident by coming here to find him?"

"That is not your concern!" spat Tembak defensively. "The Romulan Empire has sole jurisdiction in this matter. Turn Captain Bairnson over to me at once!"

Bairnson thought a moment. It was still bothering him.

"We need time to locate him," he said simply.

"I give you one hour Admiral," Tembak replied. "And do not attempt to deceive me!"

Bairnson bowed his head slightly in compliance. Tembak closed the channel and the image on the viewer was replaced by an exterior view of the Cardassain Galor class warship sitting motionless amongst a field of stars. Bairnson turned away from the screen and began to pace the spacious breadth of the Ops room. He tried to make small talk with on-duty officers by asking them for damage reports, station status, the usual things.

He glanced up momentarily and noticed that Jadzia Dax and Ro Laren were staring wide-eyed at him. He said nothing. He knew what those expressions on their faces meant, and under normal circumstances he would be more than prepared to do the honorable thing.

But these were not normal circumstances. And somehow, he found that the words which would adequately express his thoughts would not come to him. Even if they did, would the others understand?

"It seems we have no choice," a voice said.

Bairnson turned and noticed Major Kira, an aqua-colored bandage wrapped around her forehead, standing in the far turbolift. She stepped out of the elevator and slowly and purposely began to approach the Admiral.

"There's always a choice Major," the Admiral replied, though he wasn't at the moment certain whether or not he believed it himself.

"Not for us there isn't," said the Major flatly, now staring slightly upward into his eyes. "You heard him. If you don't turn yourself over to him in one hour, he's going to destroy this station."

"I know what he said, Major."

"And you still haven't decided?" Kira snapped. "I would remind you Admiral, that there are other lives at stake here besides your own. Not only the civilians and personnel aboard this station, but the entire population of Bajor as well."

"You can't just ask him to surrender to that vlash!" blurted Ro Laren from her station.

"I'm afraid that I can Ensign," replied Kira coldly. "As ranking officer of this station I am ordering you to give yourself up to Commander Tembak."

"Whose side are you on Kira?" exclaimed Dax.

"But you aren't the ranking officer here, Major," said Bairnson evenly. "I am. And besides, you were injured and taken to sickbay where, as far as I'm concerned, you still are."

Ro and Dax shared a smile between them, silently cheering on the aged Admiral. Kira backed down slightly, but was still insistent upon her concerns. The Admiral told her that her concerns would be noted in the station log.

Bairnson then turned to Jadzia Dax and asked her for a playback of Tembak's message. The pretty brunette rushed back to her own station and ran her fingers across the multi-colored console. In a matter of moments, Bairnson and the other officers in the Ops room, including Major Kira, were watching a replay of the previous few moments on the gigantic viewer.

Bairnson ordered the replay to cut at the moment the Romulan ceased transmission. He paced the floor of the Ops room in a circle, pondering what he had just seen. Trying to find something to link it to the unease he felt. Major Kira was not helping him to concentrate.

"So what?" she said bitterly. "We were all here. We heard what he said. We know what he wants."

Bairnson shot an evil glance at her before ordering Dax to play it again. He watched the screen much more intently this time, his eyes, ears, and mind now completely focused upon finding the incongruity. Suddenly, he heard it! And with the swiftness and intensity of bear trap closing on its helpless prey, he ordered Dax to freeze the playback.

"However many times you play it Admiral, it's still the same tune," said Kira, shaking her head. "He wants YOU!"

Finally, Bairnson had the ace with which to call Kira out. "Does he?" he asked her with a wistful look in his eyes.

"Dax," he continued, "playback only the last eight seconds."

The Trill moved her dexterous fingers across the panel, instructing the computer playback to conform to the Admiral request. Bairnson watched the image on the screen. He first heard his own voice, off-shot.

"...risk an interplanetary incident by coming here to find him?"

"That is not your concern! The Romulan Empire has sole jurisdiction in this matter. Turn Captain Bairnson over to me at once!"

Bairnson ordered Dax to pause the playback. Kira was still unconvinced. Her voice took on a patronizing tone.

"We've all heard it Admiral," she snidely stated. "It's you that he's after."

"No it isn't!" Ro Laren suddenly blurted out. All eyes focused on the Bajoran ensign from the Enterprise. Bairnson was smiling. At last, she had figured it out!

Kira demanded an explanation for the ensign's outburst. Ro swallowed uncomfortably, uncertain as to whether or not she could properly express the knowledge which she and the Admiral seemed to share.

"He didn't say that he wanted Jack Bairnson, the Starfleet admiral," she began, glancing hopefully in Bairnson's direction. His smile indicated that at least she was on the right track.

"He said he wanted Jack Bairnson, the captain of the Enterprise-B," Ro concluded.

The Admiral beamed proudly at his star pupil. She had earned her "A" for the day. Kira on the other hand, stood with a look of bemusement across her otherwise lovely face, her arms folded. She hadn't the faintest idea of the ensign was blurting on about, and said as much.

"So what?" Kira spat. "You were once the captain of the Enterprise-B. What does that have to do with what's happening now?"

"Quite a lot, Major," said the Admiral, dashing up the small series of steps to Ro Laren's side. "Everything, in fact!" he added.

"He wants you!" Kira insisted.

"Then why didn't he recognize the Admiral?"

Bairnson glanced over to the science station where Jadzia Dax had posed the last question. His smile widened, she was catching on as well!

Kira had moved over to Dax's science station, the look in her eyes demanding an explanation of the last remark.

"Well," Dax began, "presumably Tembak knew who he was looking for. Would it not be reasonable to assume that he would recognize Jack Bairnson if and when he found him?"

"I suppose," replied the Major. "But his information could be inaccurate."

"I doubt that," said the Admiral humbly. "I'm too well-known."

"Outdated, then."

"Exactly!" exclaimed the Admiral, snapping his fingers.

"If he were any kind of intelligence officer," Kira said, returning to face the Admiral. "Surely he could have projected your current appearance."

"He could have. But I don't think he has!" replied the Admiral. "I think he knows exactly who he's looking for, and it's Captain Jack Bairnson!"

The Admiral stepped down from the console to the main floor of the Ops room, his right hand clenched in an excited fist.

"We've got an advantage!" he said excitedly to noone in particular. The Admiral then turned in the direction of the turbolift. With the excitement of a young boy heading for the playground, he stepped sprightly towards the elevator.

Major Kira called out to him, "I don't understand! Where are you going?"

The Admiral whirled around and stepped back towards her partially, "I don't have time to explain it all now. If Tembak calls again, keep him busy until I get back."

"Get back from where?"

"The Promenade," said the Admiral simply. "I just might have a way to get us out of this mess."

The Admiral turned back towards the turbolift. Once again he stepped excitedly towards the open-aired elevator.

"I can't allow you to do this!" called out Kira desperately.

Bairnson stopped dead in his tracks. He huffed once with audible exasperation and turned around slowly to face Kira once again. Yes, she was pretty, but she beginning to get on his nerves.

"Major," the Admiral said evenly. "If you are incapable of following my orders… I suggest you return to sickbay and allow someone else—who is—to take your place."

With that, the Admiral turned on his heel and stepped with a drilled, rhythmically precise pace towards the turbolift. No words of protest stopped him as he stepped onto the metal base of the elevator and activated the lift mechanism. No further words came as the turbolift slowly lowered Jack Bairnson towards the Promenade on one of the lower levels of the station.

Admiral Bairnson stepped off the turbolift and onto the more ornately-decorated floor of the Promenade. He quickly glanced around and noticed that the entire area was deserted. Not surprising since the station had been subjected to a barrage of photon torpedo fire only fifteen minutes before.

Bairnson began walking. Evenly and with purpose, he knew precisely where he was going. He just hoped that the person he was looking for was there also.

A few moments later, he arrived at the entrance to Quark's establishment. The main door was open, but as with the exterior surroundings of the Promenade, the interior of the club was devoid of people. Except for one person, that was.

Just as Bairnson had thought, Quark was standing behind the bar, like any good businessmen, Ferengi or otherwise, would. He stood wiping the water spots off of a clear wine glass with a white towel, glancing up from his task only for a moment when the Admiral entered. He smiled, displaying his tiny, pointed teeth as the Admiral came right up to the bar.

"Business a little slow today?" said the Admiral jokingly.

Quark chuckled briefly and returned to his task.

"The station's been attacked," Bairnson stated.

"Yes," replied the Ferengi. "I'd sort of gathered that."

Satisfied that the glass was clean enough to fill a myopic man's prescription, Quark placed it on the shelf below the level of the bar alongside other similar glasses.

Bairnson could see that Quark wasn't up for small talk at the moment. Who could blame him? Business had been interrupted and to the Ferengi mind, losing profit was like losing a loved one. He decided to get to the point of why he had come.

"I need something," said the Admiral simply.

"Why come to me?" queried the Ferengi.

"Well, a Klingon energy leech isn't exactly standard equipment aboard a Bajoran space station."

Quark sniffed humorously to himself. "And what makes you think I would have such a device...?"

"Please, Mister Quark!" the Admiral interrupted firmly. "I don't have time for these games. Commander Sisko's life could depend on how deeply your hand is dipped in the black market on this station."

Quark turned away from the Admiral and paced the length of the bar. He wasn't sure how to react. Odo had tried to bust him too many times for black market smuggling and he was suspicious of anyone he didn't know very well asking him about it. On the other hand, this was a Starfleet admiral, a famous one at that, who was asking him. The opportunity, it seemed, far outweighed any risk.

"If I could supply you with such a device," Quark began slowly. "And I'm not saying that I can! What's in it for me?"

Bairnson leaned conspiratorially across the bar, easing closer to Quark's oversized ears. He wanted to make absolutely certain the Ferengi could hear him.

"If you give me what I want," said the Admiral, almost at a whisper. "I will give you the recipe for a drink that will make your bar famous throughout this star system. And perhaps one or two more."

Quark's smile widened. He could feel that peculiar tingling sensation in his lobes. He gazed like a hypnotized idiot into the Admiral's eyes. The pair enjoyed a sinister snicker between them.

Quark had turned out to be most agreeable after all. Admittedly, it had taken Bairnson a little time to stop the Ferengi from drooling. Quark had even attempted to pester the Admiral into revealing the recipe before he had actually received what he was looking for. Bairnson had not fallen for the ploy.

In the end, Quark grumpily went into the dark recesses behind the club, and after several moments, emerged with the Klingon energy leech. Bairnson thanked Quark for his services. Quark asked the Admiral if he had ever once considered becoming Damon of a Ferengi freighter. The Admiral laughed, but promised he would return with the recipe at the appropriate time.

He was now roaming the empty and at the moment spacious corridors of the Promenade once again. He had one more person he needed to see before he could put his plan into operation. This was the one that was really bothering him.

He had heard the stories, but he still wasn't quite certain of whether the tales told by drunken aliens over the loud music and busy happenings at Quark's were actual accounts or hallucinogenic fantasies. At last, he had arrived at the clear-glass door of the person he sought.

The doors parted with their familiar hiss and Bairnson stepped through the now-opened archway and into the sparsely-decorated office. He obviously didn't require surroundings that in human circles would have been known as comfortable. But did he actually live here? It was only one room, big enough to be furnished only by the desk which sat in the dead center of the room.

The room had all of the usual amenities: a food replicator lodged in the side of the wall behind the desk, a chair behind the desk upon which to sit, and a tiny computer terminal atop the desk. But that was it, nothing else. No pictures of loved ones or familiar or relaxing scenes decorated the walls. No plants or animals in tiny containments added life to the room. It was by far, the dreariest room Bairnson had encountered on the whole station.

What was more, the person he was looking for didn't appear to be there as well. This struck the Admiral as being slightly odd, because only a moment ago, the main computer had told him that this was exactly where he was.

"Odo?" the Admiral called out hopefully, not really expecting a reply.

To his great astonishment, however, he did receive one. It was not quite what he had expected.

It began as a kind of swishing sound, like a washing machine filled with clothes in the early stages of its cycle. Bairnson slowly turned, his eyes scanning for the source of the sound. Then he noticed it, the only other piece of furniture in the entire office: a silvery, metallic bucket.

Something was coming out of it.

A shimmering, orange liquid slowly rose from the bucket seemingly of its own accord. Bairnson's eyes widened as he watched the liquid rise higher and higher out of the pale, until it was nearly the size of a man. The liquid then began to mold itself like the clay on the wheel under a potter's skillful touch. It started getting some color in it. Color other than orange.

Bairnson did not, could not avert his gaze. He did not even blink as he observed the sickening, yet fascinating display. First, the uniform was completed, followed closely by the hands, the comm badge on the upper right portion of the uniform, and ultimately, the surreal humanoid face. Odo inclined his, Bairnson guessed he could call it his head as he greeted the Admiral.

"Is there something I can do for you sir?" queried the constable.

Bairnson's expression quickly changed from dumbfounded bemusement to an excited, ever-widening smile.

"Oh Odo," sighed the Admiral. "It is true. You are a shape-shifter!"

Odo cocked his head humbly.

"Able to become anything?" Bairnson asked hopefully.

"Anything I choose."

Bairnson's smile widened again. Odo knew this expression from watching the other humanoids aboard the station. He had even begun to use it himself upon occasion and always knew its meaning. Bairnson's smile disturbed him slightly. It was certainly happy enough, but appeared to be more the kind of happiness one experienced when one had had too much to drink. Or was experiencing paranoid schizophrenia, he couldn't tell which was more fitting.

Odo began to think that perhaps it was the latter when the Admiral asked his next question.

"Or any one?"

Now it was Odo's turn to be bemused. He cocked his head again, quizzically. Not really certain what the Admiral had in mind as he came closer.