CHAPTER FOUR

Commander Tembak paced the length and breadth of the bridge of the Cardassian vessel. He was nervous with excitement. Acquiring the services of a Cardassian ship and its crew had not been an easy task. Fortunately, the Cardassian government had about as much affection for the Federation as the Romulans and so in the end, the ship became his to command.

Tembak noticed the gnarled faces of the bridge officers watching him with curiosity as he strode the bridge. Their quizzical looks were bottommost on Tembak's current list of priorities. Within moments, he would have the infamous Jack Bairnson in his custody. Soon he would take him home to Romulus where, no doubt, the grateful Romulan people would give him a hero's welcome.

He began picturing himself riding victoriously through the streets of the Romulan capitol, his prisoner in tow with a thick chain collared around his neck, struggling to keep pace behind Tembak's hover vehicle. The throngs of people cheering for him, calling out his name in a kind of euphoric ecstasy. The young women throwing bouquets of exotically colored and fragranced flowers in expression of their admiration to him.

With pride, he would stride the grand stairwell of the capitol building towards the Praetor, standing there casting an approving smile in his direction. He would then present his prisoner to the Praetor who would then bestow the medal of the highest honor around his neck. Tembak smiled. It would be a glorious day for so young an officer.

A call from one of the Cardassian officers snapped Tembak's attention back to the here and now. Tembak asked for a report. The officer informed him that the Admiral from Deep Space Nine was calling back. Tembak smiled inwardly to himself. At last, the moment had come!

Tembak demanded a visual and within moments, the main view screen in the extreme front of the bridge came alive with the image of the aged admiral standing in the station's Ops room. Tembak smiled with contentment as he addressed the old man.

He queried the Admiral as to whether or not he had the man that he wanted. The Admiral acknowledged that he had and that he was in the Ops room awaiting transport. Tembak naturally demanded to see the man for himself. The Admiral directed the vision of the viewers to the upper level of the Ops room.

There, standing before the transporter, flanked on either side by a Bajoran constable, was Captain Jack Bairnson.

Tembak let out a contented sigh. The man looked exactly the way he was supposed to. Approximately forty years old, stocky build, auburn colored hair and beard. He even wore the tattered remains of an old-style Starfleet uniform which sharply contrasted the crisp ones currently worn by Starfleet personnel.

Tembak could just picture the victory parade as he demanded that the Captain be placed in the transporter. The Admiral motioned the two Bajoran constables to place their captive onto the transporter's pad. The Captain offered no resistance as the two sinewy officers escorted him onto the transporter. Seconds later, the constables stepped off the transporter pad, leaving the Captain standing silently.

The Admiral then glanced in the direction of a pretty, young Bajoran ensign, whose Starfleet uniform differed slightly from the others, standing at the transporter console. The look was all the indication she required and she moved her hands along the top of the console. Within moments, the Captain's body slowly faded out of existence in a sparkling orange aura.

Tembak's pulse began racing when he heard the report that the Captain was on board his ship. He commanded the two on-duty security officers to take the Captain to the brig. Tembak was about to sever communications with the station without a further word when he heard the Admiral call out to him.

"What about Commander Sisko?" the old man demanded.

"When I have reached the safety of the Neutral Zone," said Tembak. "The Cardassian ship will return with your precious commander. I only hope that he's still in one piece when you get him back!"

Tembak immediately cut the transmission before the Admiral had any chance to protest. He ordered the conn officer to take the ship away from the station and head towards the Neutral Zone.

The officers on duty in the Ops room of Deep Space Nine watched the main view screen dumbfounded, as the Cardassian ship performed an elegant 180 degree rotation before sprinting smoothly and speedily away from the station. Only the Admiral's face remained impassive.

"Well, what did that accomplish?" demanded Major Kira vehemently.

"Phase one," said the Admiral simply.

"So what's phase two?" Kira wondered.

"We wait."

"Wait for what?" said the Major exasperatingly. "And who was that we transported over anyway?"

The Admiral's mischievous grin was Kira's only reply.


Commander Benjamin Sisko sat on the lone, hard cot which furnished his cell. It had been over an hour since he had been abducted from the Ops room and left on his own in the sparsely-furnished, grey room. His demands for any kind of an explanation had fallen on deaf ears, and after nearly fifteen minutes of shouting as loudly as he could, he decided to spare his vocal cords any more unnecessary wear and tear. He sat back on his cot, his ego, for the moment, deflated.

There was little else to do but sit there and think.

The thoughts raced through his mind like the 90-mile-an-hour fastballs Nolan Ryan had once been famous for. What would happen to Deep Space Nine with him gone? What did the Romulans have to do with the Cardassians? Could this be the prelude to the invasion which Admiral Bairnson and he had discussed not long ago?

Whatever other thoughts crossed his mind, they always returned to his son, Jake. If he was never coming back to the station, then Jake was totally alone now. Losing his mother to the Borg was one thing, but how would he handle his own father's death as well? Sisko knew that he might never know the answer. He thought about never seeing his son grow into the fine man he knew he would become, and that made him angry. Angrier than he had ever been at Jean-Luc Picard for the part he had played in Jennifer's death. Angrier than when he had first been given the lousy assignment of commanding of the then-run-down space station.

Fortunately, all his pondering and being angry had caused Sisko to become unaware of the passage of time, and it seemed to him that he had not been in the cell for very long when two Cardassian security officers entered the brig area. They had a third man seemingly wedged in between them, whose arms they gripped with vice-like tightness.

At first Sisko could not make out the appearance of the man in the dimly-lit corridor, but he would have plenty of time to study his features as the two Cardassians de-activated the force field entrance barrier, and thrust the man into the cell along with him. Within seconds, the force field was activated once again, and the two Cardassians turned and together began to walk away from the cell containing their two prisoners.

Sisko then directed his attention to his new cell mate. He stood there in the corner of the cell shivering. Was it because he was cold? Afraid? Sisko couldn't tell. But then he noticed something peculiar about the man. Something familiar, in fact.

He was wearing an older-style, maroon Starfleet jacket uniform that was dirty from sweat and grime and torn and tattered in places. Sisko carefully studied the man's face. His pained expression was curious enough, but it was his features that were truly alarming. Fiery auburn hair, hazel eyes, a beard whose color was identical to the thick mane atop his head. Sisko couldn't explain how or why, but he looked exactly like a more youthful version of the...

"Admiral?" he said with some puzzlement.

"Difficult... to maintain," said the man shivering violently through clenched teeth.

"Sir, are you alright?" queried Sisko, uncertain of what else to say.

His cellmate's shivering began to ease slightly. He stood erect now with more resolution and confidence.

"Relax Sisko," he said. "It's me."

The Commander was taken aback slightly. That time his cellmate spoke in a different voice! Different, but reassuringly familiar. Sisko then noticed the man's appearance began to slowly melt away. Little by little, the familiar features of a younger Jack Bairnson disappeared. The shape maintained a bipedal form as it gave way first to an orange, fluid-like substance and finally to the familiar, surreal visage of Deep Space Nine's chief of security.

Sisko smiled as his friend's appearance stabilized into the one everyone aboard the station knew so well. Sisko then demanded an explanation as to what was happening from the constable. Odo said that he had little time and dashed towards the entrance to the cell. From the pocket of his uniform, Odo produced a small, black box-shaped device with what appeared to be Klingon lettering on top of it.

Odo held the device up in front of the force field and flicked a tiny switch on the side of it. Tiny red and green triangular lights flashed on and off a tiny panel as Odo moved the device in a circular pattern around the perimeter of the entranceway. Within moments, the force field barrier blinked out with a tiny flash of orange light.

Odo motioned Sisko out of the cell hurriedly, explaining that the field would only be down temporarily. Sisko followed Odo out into the dimly-lit corridor where he asked the Constable about his next move.

"First, we take this to the engine room," explained the Constable indicating the tiny box-like device. "Then we pay a visit to the bridge."

Odo dashed off down the corridor with Sisko following closely at his heels.


It would only be a matter of mere moments, thought Tembak contentedly to himself. Soon they would reach the Neutral Zone where Tembak and his prisoner would board a waiting Warbird for transportation back to Romulus. The parade Tembak had envisioned was becoming clearer and more defined in his mind.

"Sir!" Tembak heard one of the Cardassian officers call out. He turned to face the officer whose expression, if such a one were possible in any of his race, would have been described as worried.

"We've just dropped down to Warp 4!" said the officer. He then turned back to his station and ran further checks of the information displayed on his console. His panicked expression only grew greater. With increasing distress, he reported the ship's steadily-dropping warp speed. Tembak refused to believe the information he was hearing as the officer finally reported that the ship was now cruising on impulse power alone. And even that was dropping!

Tembak, concerned that his victory parade was steadily moving further and further away from his grasp with each report, ordered a diagnostic of the ship's drive systems. When they turned out to be functioning normally, he ordered a sensor sweep for any unusual phenomena in the area of interstellar space which the ship currently occupied.

Suddenly, the main doors to the bridge opened. There was a flurry of activity as two humanoid men rushed onto the bridge. Several Cardassain officers rose to apprehend the two strangers, but were knocked down by the Cardassain phasers which the strangers brandished in their hands. Any further thoughts of attempting to subdue the two humanoids were quickly forgotten by the other Cardassian officers.

Tembak immediately recognized the man approaching his command chair, phaser pointed directly at his head, as the human commander from the space station. The other one, the one with the almost unreal humanoid face, was a complete mystery to Tembak.

"I suppose you have something to do with the energy drain my ship is experiencing?" said Tembak, attempting to maintain his facade of control.

"Me and a little piece of Klingon technology," said Sisko proudly.

"How did you escape?" spat the annoyed Romulan.

"That was my pleasure," replied the surreal humanoid, who then bent over one of the seated Cardassian officers. He made certain that the Cardassian was aware of the phaser pointed directly at his temple, and commanded him to open a communications channel. The Cardassian nervously moved his fingers across his console panel and when the channel was open, he looked up into the horrifyingly unreal face of the man.

"Admiral?" Odo called out. "Admiral, are you there?"

"Indeed I am, Constable," Bairnson's disembodied voice replied.

Tembak directed his attention to the main view screen, where the image of a star field had been replaced by that of the old man who seemed to command Deep Space Nine. He was now seated at the controls of a Runabout, and reported that he would be rendezvousing with the Cardassian ship in about fifteen minutes. He complimented Odo on a job well done.

"I should have known you would deceive me," said Tembak to the Admiral.

"No, Tembak," replied the Admiral simply. "You deceived yourself."

"But I had the Captain aboard my ship! In my prison cell!"

"I'm afraid that was me," said the strange-looking man whom the Admiral had called Odo. Of course! Tembak thought. He had completely written off the reports of a shape-shifter aboard Deep Space Nine as the mere hearsay of drunken space scavengers. It was a costly mistake.

"How long has it been," Tembak heard the Admiral say, "since you actually checked the Romulan list of most-wanted fugitives?"

"What does it matter to you?" demanded Tembak defiantly.

"Quite a lot, seeing as it pertains to me."

Tembak's defiant expression changed. He became noticeably confused.

"My orders pertain to the capture of Captain Jack Bairnson!" said Tembak.

"Ben, why don't you tell him who I am?" said the Admiral.

Sisko did. Tembak became even more confused.

"I believe that if you check with Romulan central records, you'll find that the orders for my capture were deleted five months ago," said the Admiral.

Tembak lowered his head ashamedly. He had been so driven in the past few months to capture Jack Bairnson, that he hadn't actually checked the Romulan central net computer to see whether or not he still topped the most-wanted list. The way things were looking now, he would probably not be receiving a medal from the Praetor. He'd probably be lucky if got command of a garbage scow after this.

"I'm within transporter range now, Ben," reported the Admiral.

"Ready to beam off," said Sisko. "And I assume that you'll be able to explain all of this to me when we get back?"

The Admiral smiled back at Sisko before activating the Runabout's on-board transporter.


EPILOGUE

Commander Benjamin Sisko sat at one of the many stools situated before the bar at Quark's on the Promenade. He was but one of the many officers from the Ops room whom the Admiral had insisted attend a celebration he was holding at the club. Sisko's mind was racing yet again.

The Admiral had attempted to explain the complex details that had led up to the events of the past few hours. His explanation had not furthered Sisko's dim understanding. Unfortunately, the Admiral had acquired the one condition which comes with old age that young people so-often found annoying: long-windedness.

After the Admiral had been explaining the details of what had happened to him five months ago, embellished it seemed with larger-than-life descriptions of terrible, ravenous, salivating beasts and hardships fought and won single-handedly by the old man, Sisko had given up paying attention and decided to sleep the remainder of the trip back.

Now he sat alongside his compatriots from the Ops room, gazing intently as the Admiral stood behind the bar next to Quark. For the past several minutes, the Admiral had been pouring a plethora of differently-colored liquids into a large shaker, and explaining to Quark the precise measurements. Though admittedly, the Admiral wasn't following them too closely himself.

At last, the pouring of the liquids seemed to cease. The Admiral then placed a domed lid over the top of the shaker. He held the top and bottom of the shaker in either of his wrinkled hands and with violently jerky movements, shook the container.

Several seconds later, he ceased. The Admiral then removed the lid from the canister and poured the bluish liquid inside it into five tall, clear glasses. When each glass was filled almost to the rim, the Admiral handed them to each of his friends, old and new. He then invited them to take a sip of the liquid. Almost simultaneously, the assembled officers raised the glasses to their lips and allowed several drops of the bluish liquid to trickle down their throats and into their stomachs.

Quark's reaction to the liquid was a repeat of Bairnson's initial taste of Quark's imported Australian lager. After a sip, Quark moved the glass away from his mouth and inhaled deeply.

"Not too strong, is it?" asked the Admiral worryingly.

"Strong?" said Quark in-between gasps. "It's absolutely wonderful!"

Sisko and Ro Laren shared a smile. It wasn't often that a human got the upper hand with a Ferengi.

"What did you say it was called?" said Quark excitedly.

Bairnson's face contorted in thought for a moment.

"I'm afraid you couldn't pronounce it," he finally said.

"Why not?" demanded Quark.

"Because even I can't pronounce it!"

The Admiral and the assembled officers, including Quark, shared a deep-bellied laugh. It had been a long time since anyone aboard Deep Space Nine had enjoyed themselves so much. And never together. After a few moments, the novelty of the joke faded, and Quark turned to the Admiral once again.

"Where does it come from?" he wondered.

"Yarzon," said the Admiral, still chuckling slightly. "My first officer turned me on to it years ago."

"Well, what am I supposed to call it?"

Bairnson was silent a moment as he attempted to access the name from the dark recesses of his memory. Finally, he remembered the correct term.

"Its translation is 'Water of Life,'" said the Admiral.

Quark could see why. It certainly added life to the usually-glum bunch who administrated the space station. An idea came to his mind, and he politely excused himself from the others in the group. He then disappeared into the mass of people gathered in his club, calling out Odo's name as he went.


The next day, Admiral Jack Bairnson and Ensign Ro Laren were loading their gear back onto the refueled Runabout in which they had arrived days ago. They were about finished and preparing to leave when, to their mutual surprise, Commander Sisko and the others from the Ops room entered the docking pylon. The Admiral and his young companion stepped out into the airlock to greet them.

"We all just wanted to say 'goodbye,'" said Sisko simply.

The Commander extended his hand to the Admiral who graciously took it in his own and pumped it vigorously. The Admiral and the Ensign exchanged goodbye hugs and handshakes with the O'Briens, Dax, Doctor Bashir, and Major Kira. After a few moments, the airlock emptied except for Major Kira, who stood talking to Ensign Ro and Commander Sisko, who was addressing the Admiral.

The Admiral at first didn't understand why Sisko was hanging around, but then, as Sisko talked, he realized.

"About that report you wanted me to give to Starfleet," Sisko began.

"I'm sorry Commander," said the Admiral. "What report was that?"

"The report on the possible invasion from the Gamma Quadrant," said Sisko not taking the Admiral's meaning.

"Ben," said the Admiral, putting his arm around Sisko's shoulders. "You have to understand something. I'm getting old. I don't remember things like I used to. And as far as I'm concerned, I never asked you about an invasion from the Gamma Quadrant."

"But, what about Starfleet?" said a confused Sisko.

"What about 'em?"

"You said that it was important for them to know."

"Then let 'em come here and ask you themselves! I'm too old to be somebody else's damned messenger boy!"

Sisko's confusion was replaced by a joyful smile as the Admiral winked playfully at him. Sisko had to admit, despite all the trouble he had caused since he had arrived on Deep Space Nine, he liked this old man. And he invited him to come and visit any time. The Admiral said he certainly would.

Sisko then stood next to Major Kira and together they watched the old admiral and the young Bajoran ensign enter their spacecraft. Seconds later, the doors closed. Sisko and Kira stepped out of the airlock as the huge, gear-like doors rolled closed behind them with a hiss of escaping pressurization.

Kira and Sisko strolled the expansive corridors of the once-again active Promenade, pausing only once to watch a lone Runabout zoom past one of the windows and disappear into the endless black void.


On board the Runabout, Ensign Ro Laren finished punching in the information on her flight console. She turned in the direction of the other seat in the Runabout's flight deck where Admiral Jack Bairnson sat; his feet propped up onto his own flight console, his hands placed behind his head and his eyes closed.

"Course plotted," Ro reported, uncertain as to whether or not the Admiral was still conscious. "We'll rendezvous with the Enterprise in approximately eight hours."

She turned back to her console with a smile as the Admiral sighed contentedly. A moment of silence passed between them before Ro heard the Admiral call out her name. She turned her back to him. The Admiral's position had not changed but his lips were now moving.

"What did Kira have to say to you?" he wondered.

Ro smiled to herself.

"She wanted to apologize for the way she'd been acting around me. She said that we all have to make choices and live with the consequences of them."

"So she forgave you for not coming aboard DS9?"

Ro nodded. She then turned her attention back to the flight console. Another silent moment passed between them.

"Do you really want to go back?" asked the Admiral suddenly.

Ro glanced over in his direction yet again. The look on her face slightly quizzical.

"To the Enterprise, I mean," said the Admiral.

"Well," began Ro hesitantly. "We have to, don't we? I mean we were only loaned this ship until we finished our vacation."

Bairnson shifted his position and faced his young companion with eyes wide open.

"I don't know about you," he said. "But I don't consider stopping a Romulan incursion and rescuing Starfleet personnel to be much of a vacation."

Ro nodded comprehendingly. It really hadn't been how they had planned to spend their vacation aboard Deep Space Nine. She asked the Admiral what he suggested they do.

"Well," the Admiral began. "There is the Gamma Quadrant."

Ro's jaw dropped in shock. "You are absolutely incorrigible, you know that?"

"Oh come on!" snapped the Admiral playfully. "Aren't you the least bit curious as to what lies on the other side of that wormhole?"

"Starfleet would skin us alive if we went in there!"

"What ever happened to that rebellious nature of yours that I loved so much?" said the Admiral disappointedly. He sighed sadly to himself, reclining back into the plush cushions of his seat.

"It's just that in all likelihood, I'm probably going to be stuck behind a desk for the rest of my life. Never to command a starship voyaging to discover the wonders of the universe again."

Ro hated it when he did this to her! Even though he was considerably older, he was just like a little baby when he didn't get his way. If she didn't concede to his request, he would pout the entire voyage back to the Enterprise, and love him though she did, she was not about to put up with that again! She shook her head and sighed grumpily to herself.

"Just one little adventure," she stated firmly. "And then we go back to the Enterprise. Promise?"

The Admiral perked up considerably. He nodded excitedly, "Promise!"

Maybe it was his childlike nature that she loved so much. Maybe it was the way his laughter made her heart warm. Maybe it was the authority and respect which he commanded. Ro Laren would never know for certain and it really didn't matter much. She was just glad, as she changed the Runabout's coordinates to head for the wormhole, that he felt the same way about her.