Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


By Gabrielle Lawson

Winner: Best Deep Space Nine Story, .Creative Awards 1998; Honorable Mention, Fan Q 1999

Audio copy: You can listen to this story on my podcast: There Are Three of Me. It is read in Eps25-41 S2E5-21. You can find There Are Three of Me on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and .

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and all the characters and settings thereof, are the property of Paramount Pictures. However, the situation and all new characters in this novel are completely of my own creation. Any resemblance to any persons living or deceased is unintended. You are welcome to download the story and share it with others but it must include this disclaimer. Please drop me a line at to tell me what you think.


I wish to thank first my translators. Dominika Trudgett, and occasionally her mother, put up with me and medical school for over a year while I wrote this story. All the Polish in this story is because of her. Christian Strauf tirelessly e-mailed German translations to me from his university in Münster, Germany. And Petr Šidlof provided much needed assistance when my knowledge of Czech grew inadequate for the project at hand. The French and English are my own and I take full responsibility for any mistakes or typos in either one. Also thanks to Tatjana Svizensky who helped me with the German when Christian was on vacation.

Secondly I must thank my test readers. Valerie Shearer has enthusiastically looked forward to every chapter I sent her. She also helped me to find errors and clarify sections of the story. Jo Burgess (as her e-mail address references her) has also read every line and valiantly searched for typos. She's also tried really hard to break me of my habit of starting sentences with "and." You'll see that she was not entirely successful. :-) Scott Morningstar has also been very helpful, and also understanding. And I thank him for not visiting and so giving me the time to write. I'm done now, Scott. You can visit again!

There have been a few other readers over the year this story has been initially completed and I don't want them to feel left out.

And lastly I thank Gene Roddenberry, for thinking up Trek in the first place; Paramount Pictures for putting it back on the air so that a younger generation could be introduced to this phenomenon that is Trek; the producers and writers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for putting together a wonderful show week after week; and of course, Siddig El Fadil, for without his portrayal to bring Dr. Julian Bashir to life, I would never have starting writing science fiction in the first place.

Děkuji! Merci! Danke! Dziękuje!


"Where did they come from?" Dax exclaimed. Just then the proximity klaxon began to blare.

"Yellow alert!" Captain Sisko ordered. "Report!"

Dax took only a second to check her readings. "Klingon cruiser just decloaked. They're coming in at three quarters impulse. One thousand kilometers out. They're coming right for us."

"Hail them, Commander," Sisko said. He walked to the center of the room where he could face the main viewscreen. "Remind them, if necessary, that we're allies again. And put them on screen."

The viewscreen instantly switched and showed the last shimmering of the cloak as the Klingon ship came into solid view.

"Five hundred kilometers and closing," Dax reported. "No response to our hails."

"That's a Cardassian registry," Kira stated, with obvious surprise.

"Benjamin," Dax added, "they're coming in way too fast. Three hundred fifty kilometers. They're headed right for the upper pylons. Two hundred kilometers."

Something tickled inside Sisko's stomach. There was a pressure growing in the room. He could feel it, slow and insidious, like a mist rising from the floor around their ankles. The proximity klaxons seemed deafening. "Raise shields."

O'Brien shook his head. "They're too close."

"Benjamin," Dax began. He didn't like the tone she was using. She struggled with her console a bit more and then looked up. "They've increased speed."

On the screen the ship shot forward right toward the upper pylons. Sisko shouted to be heard over the klaxons. "Red alert! Target phasers."

At just that moment, the ship flew over the docking ring. It banked once to avoid hitting a pylon and began to ripple and fade, leaving nothing but a quickly dying white streak of energy in its wake. And then it was gone.

"Dax?" She would know what he wanted.

"They're gone, Benjamin," Dax answered without looking up. Her fingers flew over her console, trying to pull more information from the sensors. "I've got an ion trail. They've gone into warp."

"And they've gone cloaked," O'Brien added from the engineering station where he'd been watching the whole thing.

That tickle wasn't just a tickle anymore. It was a full blown stomachache. But Dax wasn't through yet. "I'm picking up a transporter trace. It's faint, but it's there."

Sisko's stomachache vanished as quickly as the cloaked ship had. He had a job to do. "There's an intruder on the station." He turned to his science officer and old friend. "Dax, do we have a heading?"

"Last known heading was 141 mark 312 at warp 5 and accelerating."

That was toward Earth. "Contact Starfleet Command. Send out a general alert to all ships and starbases along that heading. I don't think that was the Klingons."

Chapter One

Julie was enjoying the dream. It was one she'd had several times during her childhood. It had returned to her occasionally through the years when she slept, and when it did, it felt like an old friend, gone too long, but, at once, welcomed again. It was the house that she remembered most, though the reason for the dream was more the ghost. The house was old, Victorian in architecture, but mysterious and beautiful. Inside was a hidden staircase, a labyrinth in itself, for she and her sister could never seem to find the way to the balcony twice in a row.

They were in the room now, on the west side of the house. The little cabinet was there too, the one she remembered even after waking. It sat in the corner and was rounded in front. Even though she was a child whenever she visited the house, she still had to stoop down to crawl through the cabinet door. In the back was a panel. Her body blocked the light from the room behind her, though, to tell the truth, there was little light there either. It was nearing midnight after all. She had to feel around with her hands, disregarding the spider webs that would in real life have terrified her. But this was a dream, and magnificent things could happen in dreams. The panel was there and it swung open revealing a soft glow from the constantly burning candles that lined the secret staircase.

The staircase was large and seemingly inviting, but it guarded its secrets well. She and Jennie had already traversed the stairs twice-there were only nights in this dream, never the days that separated them-yet they continually opened the doors only to be shown another area of the house. It almost seemed as if the staircase moved, changing the path so that it was always an adventure to find the elusive balcony.

But they'd seen it once this dream, and it left her hungry to see it again. She couldn't explain, even when she awoke and she could think more rationally, why the balcony couldn't be seen from the outside of the house. But it could only be approached via the staircase. Once there, if they arrived just before midnight, they would see her.

She was beautiful, with long, white, flowing gowns. She glowed with an incandescent whiteness, standing out starkly against the black sky. They knew her to be a ghost, but they were not afraid. She wasn't frightening, just sad. It was a deep sadness, and it beckoned them to stand perfectly still, scarcely breathing, as they watched her leap from the balcony. And it drew them back again night after night until the dream ended.

It was close to time, she knew, even if she didn't have a watch. She was too young to tell time anyway. They opened another small door, hoping that this was the one, but near-total darkness greeted them. The attic. Discouraged, but not despairing, they closed the door and continued on. The next door perhaps? No, this led to a closet, full of musty coats and scarves.

"Shh," Jennie said, putting a finger to her lips. "Listen."

Julie froze and listened. The house was silent, but then she could hear it, like a soft wind floating down the staircase. Crying. More than crying, it was grieving. They could almost feel the heart that was breaking to cause those tears. They were too late. She was gone. Still, they were compelled to find the balcony. They rushed on, following the sound.

The door was larger than the others, a proper door leading to what should have been a proper place, but the balcony itself was ghostly. Perhaps that was why it couldn't be seen from outside the house. They opened the door and stepped quickly through. The cool breeze lifted their long hair and brushed their nightgowns across their legs. It was too late. She was gone. But he was there. He stood back against the house and didn't seem to notice them at all. He was wearing black, a suit with tails. But he himself glowed with the same incandescence as the woman. The sound of the crying had stopped, but tears flowed freely from the dark places where his eyes would have been. He stared forward, toward the balcony from which she had just moments before leaped. He'd lost her again. He closed his eyes and bowed his head sadly. And then he was gone.

She was awakened by the klaxon. She sat up quickly and wasn't surprised to find a tear running down her own cheek. She'd lost the dream again, and she knew it would be a long time before she'd get to visit the house again. But she was a Starfleet officer, not a child, and a klaxon meant something was wrong. She brushed the tear away as she heard the call for security. There was an intruder on the station.

"Lights," she called as she threw her legs over the side of the bed. But there was something on the floor, something wet and squishy, like jelly. The lights obeyed and she saw the golden ooze surrounding the toes on her right foot. It stood like a column before her. Her first thought was Odo, but she knew the Chief of Security wouldn't be in her quarters. Instinctively she began to pull back, thinking she could roll over across the bed to have a more defensible position. At the same time, she knew she had to call for help.

But the thing, the shapeshifter, had latched onto her foot, and she couldn't get across the bed. Before she could open her mouth a stream of the gelatin-like liquid shot out and wrapped itself around her neck. Instantly, the liquid against her skin changed to a solid. She could feel the firmness of it, and the strength. She raised her hands to claw at the stream and break it, but the changeling was too fast. There was a cracking sound just before Julie's arms flopped down onto her lap. Her head lolled back in the shapeshifter's grip. Her eyes stared blindly at the ceiling. The stream of liquid recoiled back into the larger column, and Julie's body fell back across the bed.

There was a silence on the station. It had never seemed this silent before, not even at night. There was always something going on, a hum of activity somewhere. But this was different. Sisko was surprised by how calm everyone seemed after the intruder alert sounded. They had rehearsed this before, and while none of those rehearsals had ever turned out well, everyone was playing his or her part as if they had vanquished the enemy every time.

Odo had responded almost instantly to confirm the alert. His security teams were ready. Once the transport location was ascertained they had been sent on their way. Sisko could watch the progress from Ops. But he didn't want to watch. He felt uneasy just standing still. What he really wanted to do was jump into the Defiant and head out after that ship. But his duty was to take care of the station. There were other ships to chase after the Klingon transport. He hoped.

"Sisko to Bashir," he barked quickly.

"Bashir here." The doctor had seemed just as quick to answer.

"Doctor," Sisko began, "are your teams ready to screen the station?"

"Yes, sir," Bashir replied. "I've already blood-screened all of them." Despite the gravity of the situation, his smooth English accent seemed again to carry the lightness he had before his stay with the Jem'Hadar. "And they've screened me," he added. Sisko could almost see the doctor's grin when he said it. "I'm sending them out right now."

So far, the play was working perfectly. He didn't need to watch the consoles and computer readouts in Ops. He could see it all in his mind. Bashir's people would blood-screen everyone they came in contact with. Even though some of the changelings had found a way to fool the test, blood screenings were still the most reliable way known to detect a shapeshifter that had been impersonating a humanoid. The medical teams were joining up with the security teams. But there weren't really enough of them to go around. The station's inhabitants were prepared for that as well. On each deck one crewman on each shift was ready with the necessary equipment to begin blood screenings. Ensign LeFett was already at work in Ops.

In theory, all of their precautions should flush out the shapeshifter fairly easily, leaving him no place to stand. But they had run drills for this many times with Odo as their target. And he'd always managed to get away. This time it was for real. It needed to work.

"Sir," Worf protested, or at least his tone implied that he was about to protest, "the Venture and Lakota are four and six days out respectively. And the Rotarron's engines are still offline for repairs. The Defiant is still the closest vessel with the ability to give chase to the enemy."

A Klingon ship with Cardassian registry. Logical or not, every fiber of Sisko's being suspected that ship carried the Founders themselves. But at least, this meant he didn't have to just stand there watching the action around him. He could act.

O'Brien had left Ops as soon as the ship vanished and the red alert was sounded. The Defiant would be prepared for launch by the time Sisko and his officers were aboard.

"Major, Dax, Mr. Worf," Sisko ordered, "you're with me." Each of them nodded in turn and then headed for the turbolift. Ensign LeFett tested them as they did. Kira paused at the step though. She was waiting for him. No one was to go anywhere without a partner. It was part of the drill. Sisko nodded to her, holding up a finger. There were still things to do.

The Klingon ship would have quite a head start. Each second let them get farther ahead. They'd be hard enough to find as it was. But he still had a few calls to make. And he wanted to talk to Jake. He didn't know what he'd say to Jake, really. He couldn't take him with them, but he hated to leave him here-again-with an intruder, most likely a shapeshifter, on board. But there was no time for that. He had more people to think about than his own son. It was times like this that being captain was a weight perhaps too heavy.

He touched his comm badge. "Sisko to Bashir."

"Yes, Captain." Bashir sounded a bit out of breath.

"We're going after them, Doctor. Meet us aboard the Defiant."

"Understood. Bashir out."

"Sisko to Odo." This would be his last call.

"I'm a bit busy, Captain," Odo acknowledged impatiently.

"I realize that, Constable." Sisko didn't bother getting annoyed at Odo's tone. It was just Odo. "Keep it up. I'm leaving the station in your hands, Odo. Take care of it." And take care of my son, he wanted to say.

"It'll still be here when you get back," Odo's rough voice responded.

While Odo's words carried a cynical tone, Sisko had worked with him long enough to know that the Constable would take this responsibility very seriously. LeFett walked over and drew blood from his arm. "I'm counting on it," he said. "Sisko out."

Kira stepped onto the turbolift and Sisko joined her. The turbolift lowered into the floor and they began the trip to the Defiant.

"Take care of things while I'm gone," Doctor Bashir told his nurse. Jabara had been with him from the beginning here on the station. She was a good nurse, and he knew he could trust her with the blood screenings and everything else during this emergency. He turned to the two others with them. "You're all a threesome now. Partners. Don't lose sight of each other."

He waited there at the airlock door for their assurance. "Good hunting, Doctor," one of the Bajoran med-techs said.

"You, too," Bashir said. He was joined at the door by a Starfleet nurse also waiting to board the Defiant. She would be Bashir's new partner in place of Jabara who would remain on the station. Bashir turned back to his people. "Now get back to work." He added a slight smile to show his confidence in them.

They nodded and turned to leave, rushing back down the corridor to pick up where they'd left off. He turned with the nurse and pressed his palm onto the scanner. The scanner verified his identity, and he was allowed to pass through the airlock door. The nurse did the same.

"I was kind of hoping," the nurse said as they waited their turn to be blood-screened, "that we could just stick to drills." Two Security officers stood at either side of the airlock door screening everyone who came aboard. Two others stood just beyond them with phaser rifles in hand. A human woman in the gold-trimmed uniform of Security brushed her long brown hair from her right shoulder so that the officers could take blood from her arm. When they were satisfied, she walked briskly down the corridor trying to tie her hair up as she went.

"I know what you mean," Bashir agreed. They'd been running these drills for over three years. That was the first time a shapeshifter had infiltrated the crew of the Defiant. He'd even replaced Bashir himself, not once, but twice, the second time, locking him up in the brig so no one would notice. Bashir still hadn't figured out why the shapeshifter hadn't just killed him then, or for that matter, why they had left him alive in the Jem'Hadar prison for over a month. He didn't relish the idea that another was loose on the station, or perhaps the Defiant.

"Good to see you, Doctor," the Security officer greeted him as he placed the instrument to Bashir's arm. He held up the vial of blood he'd drawn and watched for a change. When there wasn't one, he said, "They're all yours."

"Thank you," Bashir replied. "You were the first on board?"

"Yes, sir," the officer reported. "Eighteen crewmen have checked in and all of them checked out as being who they appeared to be. My partner included."

"Mine, too," the other chimed in from across the corridor. Bashir looked to the ones with the rifles. They nodded their agreement as well.

"Fine," Bashir decided. "The two of you are dismissed. See to your duties. We'll take over here." The two security officers packed their equipment back into the wall and set off down the corridor. The other two stayed ready with their rifles for the first person who didn't pass the blood screening. The nurse and Bashir took up their positions on the ship's side of the airlock.

Other crewmembers began streaming on board. Each of them stopped to be blood screened. For some it was their second test, as it had been for the doctor. They might have been stopped on their way to the docking ring and screened before they could make it to the ship. But they all knew the necessity of it. They had to be sure that no shapeshifter made it onboard the Defiant in the guise of one of her crewmembers. In just a few minutes, nearly her whole complement was on the ship. Dax and Worf showed up at the airlock and stopped to be tested as well.

"Julian, I'm beginning to feel like a blood bank," Dax teased.

"And we thank you for your contribution, Jadzia," Bashir replied in kind.

"See you on the bridge, Julian," she said when Bashir dropped her vial into the bag beside him on the floor. "And do try to stay out of the brig this time." Worf waited for her, glaring impatiently and doing all but rolling his eyes.

"Only if you promise to stay off the sedatives," he quipped. She'd been drugged by his shapeshifter replacement while he was locked in the brig. He didn't know why the changeling had let her live either. He was glad he had though.

"You have my word." She smiled and headed toward the turbolift with Worf right on her heels.

A few more crewmembers came on board, engineers and security mostly. Sisko and Kira arrived a few seconds later. "You're the last," Bashir said as he tested the captain.

"Everyone checks out?" Kira asked. The nurse was just holding up the vial of her blood.

"Yes, Ensigns Cronenberg and Martinelli checked the first eighteen, as well as Nurse Baines and myself. We've done everyone else."

"Alright, then," the captain said, straightening his uniform, "seal that airlock. We've got a ship to catch."

"Aye, sir." The two security officers shouldered their weapons and strode forward to secure the airlock door. Sisko stepped past them and entered the turbolift with Major Kira.

"Stow your gear and come to the bridge, Doctor," he added before the doors closed.

Julian had been putting his instruments away. He looked up when Sisko addressed him and nodded. He lifted the bag of vials from the floor and waited for the nurse to join him.

The Defiant was small compared to most starships, but she more than lived up to her name. Her Federation design afforded her a cleanliness, a brightness, but her countenance whispered defiance, a sturdiness that wouldn't be easily shaken. She'd stood up to ships several times her size and stood her ground even when outnumbered. She was sleek and quick. She could maneuver in and out of places the larger ships could not. And her ablative armor and weapons gave her a toughness to match her name.

And just in case all that wasn't good enough, she was equipped with a cloaking device, courtesy of the Romulans. They had agreed to the use of the cloak against the common threat of the Dominion. By treaty, the cloak was not to be used in the Alpha Quadrant, but there had been occasions when that rule had had to be bent. And now that there was a war on, such details were often left alone.

The cloak allowed for secrecy. To sensors and the naked eye, a cloaked ship was invisible, just as the Klingon vessel was when it slipped into warp. But it wasn't perfect. And this was what the crew of the Defiant was counting on. A cloaked ship could be tracked if you knew what to look for.

Dax knew what to look for. "I picked up an ion trail, just before they warped," she said as she slipped into her seat at the helm. "We should be able to catch them."

"Good." Sisko's eyes were on the main viewscreen. The huge gray mass of the station stood before them. He remembered the first time he'd seen it. He hadn't wanted to come. The sight of it hadn't helped. It was a broken, old, Cardassian monstrosity, nearly falling apart at the seams, sabotaged by her previous inhabitants. But in the five years he'd lived there, it had changed. It was a vibrant place, full of life, booming businesses, familiar faces. And he had changed. He'd found his life again. He'd found his home.

He knew that even more when he'd been forced to leave it. It was a sacrifice that had to be taken. But it had been a hard step, leaving the Bajorans behind with the Cardassian and Dominion forces who had taken it. It had felt good to take it back. And it had still felt very much like home.

But a man can have more than one home. And the Klingon cruiser was a threat to the other one, Earth. "Disengage docking clamps," he ordered. Fingers flew to obey. "Aft thrusters at one quarter impulse."

The ship began to move, and, small though she was, Benjamin Sisko could feel her power as she pulled away from the hulking station. "Dax," he added, "keep scanning that ion trail. Set course to follow. Maximum warp. Just don't lose them."

"Aye, sir," the Trill answered and the Defiant swung wide away from the station. There was a brief hesitation and then she jumped into warp, sending the stars streaking past the main viewer.

Lieutenant Whaley looked down at her right arm impassively. It was beginning to turn blue. She flexed the fingers. It didn't help. It was time.

"We're partners," someone said from behind her. She resisted the urge to turn and attack. It was her partner, a security officer like herself. "We've got deck five for starters. You ready to move?" He stood waiting for her, his phaser rifle slung over his shoulders. She searched her memory. Barker was his name. They were supposed to be friends.

"In a minute," she replied. She smiled what she hoped was a sheepish smile. "I need to use the head."

Barker looked a little disapproving. But there wasn't much use arguing with nature. He also looked worried. And Whaley understood that. "Make it quick," was all he said.

But she was surprised when he followed her to the door.

"If I have to let you out of my sight, I'm gonna check the room first." He lifted his phaser rifle and checked its setting. "Don't want a shapeshifter to replace you while I'm not looking," he quipped.

Whaley swallowed a moment of panic. She forced a smile, "Right," she said and stepped out of the way. Barker pressed the trigger, and a bolt of light leapt from the rifle and hit the ceiling where it spread to the walls and slipped to the floor. Nothing was damaged and nothing moved.

"Looks alright to me," Whaley remarked and pushed past the man. "Now if I could just have a little privacy."

"I'll be right outside the door. I'll talk the entire time. Then if you can't see me, you can at least hear me."

Whaley thought he seemed a bit too overcautious. But then he was probably just following orders. "What will you talk about?" she asked.

"I'll recite the alphabet, if I have to. Hey, you like poetry, don't you?"

Whaley let the door close on him and listened as he began the first poem. She looked in the small mirror. The reflection was perfect. She hadn't missed a single detail. She had put her hair up now in the proper fashion. She scanned the walls. The Defiant was a practical ship, without all the amenities that even that Cardassian station seemed willing to provide. The head contained only the basics. She decided she was lucky to even have a mirror. There were no cabinets, no large waste reclamators, just the toilet facilities and a sink for washing. Time was wasting. It would have to be enough.

Whaley lifted her arm again and felt the hand with her left. Flesh. Solid flesh. It was cold and lifeless. How could it be otherwise? She released it and gripped the arm above the elbow. Then slowly she slipped the arm from her shoulder. As she did another grew in its place, a replica of the first, but clear, liquid gold in color. As the last thread of her real substance pulled itself from the center of the bone, it reformed into a hand with all the color and solidity of the severed limb she'd removed.

Julian Bashir and the nurse stepped out of turbolift just as the ship went into warp. O'Brien arrived just after him with an accompanying security officer. No one went anywhere without a partner. The Founders were shapeshifters. And, while Odo hadn't mastered the ability to accurately impersonate a humanoid, the Founders had proven very adept at it. But in order to make it work, they had to take away the original person. They couldn't to do that if someone was always watching.

"It looks," Sisko began after a glance around the bridge, "like we could be out here awhile. How's the Defiant, Chief?"

"Like she was just commissioned yesterday, Captain," O'Brien replied, taking his seat at the Engineering station. "We've got full power."

"Shields?" Sisko asked.

"One hundred percent."

"Weapons?" There was a hard set to Sisko's face when he asked that question.

Bashir felt it, too. They all did. Even just last year, he could say that he would never welcome war. None of them could. Not even Kira. But since the threat had been brought to them, they would fight, if that was what was it took to defend their lives, their freedom, and their homes. It didn't matter that it was Earth and not everyone was from Earth. They knew that if the Founders succeeded in capturing one planet, they'd go on to another and another. They had already proven that. Everything the Federation had worked and fought for-peace, cooperation, freedom, and partnership among so many of the worlds in this quadrant of the galaxy-was in danger.

"We're fully stocked on torpedoes, photon and quantum. And phasers are online as well," O'Brien answered evenly.

"According to the blood screenings, there are no shapeshifters among the crew." Sisko looked to Bashir for confirmation. Bashir nodded and Sisko continued, "Security is combing the ship as well with phasers. If there's one here, we should find him." He turned to the helm. "How are we doing on your end, Old Man?"

"I've still got them, Benjamin." Dax's eyes flitted back and forth from her console to the main viewer. The stars out there shot past the ship at such speeds that they were no longer distinct points in space but long streaks of light. "They've changed course twice already, but they're still heading deep into Federation space."


Dax turned back to look at him. "I think so, Benjamin."

"What we have to decide now is what we're going to do when we catch them." Sisko steepled his fingers in thought.

"We destroy them." That was Worf.

Sisko didn't agree or disagree. He just sat there thinking for a moment.

Normally, Bashir would protest immediately. Starfleet personnel did not just decide to destroy another ship. Firing weapons was supposed to be the last choice. But that was before the war. And this time, he really felt at a loss. The Founders, if it was really them-and there was no reason to doubt that it was-wouldn't just be talked out of whatever they were up to. And whatever they were up to wasn't any good for the Federation. Besides, he'd had more than one occasion to dislike the Dominion.

"I think," Sisko began again, "we need to be more specific."

"We need to know why they're here," Bashir ventured.

"They're here," Worf said impatiently, as if he were talking to a stupid child, "to take over the Alpha Quadrant."

"With just one ship?" Sisko's voice was still calm. "The doctor's right. What are they here for?"

"Maybe they're trying a more forthright approach," O'Brien suggested. "Scaring us into killing ourselves didn't seem to work."

"Possible," Kira conceded, "but why the Klingon ship? Why not one of their own? And why wouldn't they try somewhere else? I mean, Earth is ready for something like this."

"Not exactly," Dax answered. "This is still a cloaked vessel. Cloaks wouldn't be much good if everyone could still see you. Starfleet Command will be scanning every inch of space within range, but they still might miss this one. We could lose it."

"Let's not," Sisko interjected. "If it is an outright attack, why is it only one ship? Where are the Jem'Hadar?"

"It's got to be something deeper than that," Bashir thought out loud. He had a bad feeling about it, truth be told. He didn't think it was an attack or invasion. That Earth could deal with. One ship against Earth's defenses? They wouldn't have a chance. The Founders didn't seem to do things straight out, not unless they had a fleet of Jem'Hadar to back them up. The Founders were more secretive. They snuck in and showed up where you least expected it-if they showed up at all.

"Well," Sisko turned back to the main viewscreen, "we've got a week before they reach Earth. That gives us awhile to figure it out."

Julian Bashir sat at the main console in the cramped sickbay aboard the Defiant. Each blood sample had to be logged before they were destroyed. There wasn't much else to do with them. Forty-seven of those little vials just took up too much space, and they were hardly needed once the tests were over. But since the samples had been taken anyway, Bashir had decided to give them each a quick scan for known diseases. Two of them so far scanned positive for minor problems, anemia and low blood sugar. They could be easily treated. He set them aside and called for the crewmen to come in for a more thorough exam as soon as they had a moment.

Every few seconds he'd check the reflection of his nurse in the console's display. He didn't want to take any chances until they were sure there were no shapeshifters on board the ship. It had been three hours since they left the station. The security teams were being thorough.

"Attention all hands," Sisko's voice echoed through the ship. "All security teams have reported in. No intruders have been found aboard this vessel."

Julian involuntarily breathed a sigh of relief. Something had been gnawing at his stomach since they left the station. He was sure now that it must have been the thought of carrying a shapeshifter away with them. Better that than leaving one on the station, he chided himself. There were fewer people to endanger aboard this ship, and none of them were civilians. And there was less area to search. It had taken many more hours in their drills aboard the station to actually sweep every inch of it with phaser bursts. But that knot in his stomach still hadn't gone away.

"It's about time," Nurse Baines said aloud. "All that tends to make me paranoid. I mean, shapeshifters can be absolutely anything. Do we even know for sure that phasers work on them?"

"Yes, they work," Bashir answered, placing another vial under the scanner. "Odo tested them out."

She didn't seem convinced. "But what if we had to kill one? It would be hard to just hold one prisoner, you know. Has anyone ever killed one of them?"

"I did." The scan was normal. Ensign Stehlikova appeared to be in perfect health.

"You did?"

Bashir turned to face his nurse and almost laughed at her expression. Her head was slightly bowed but she was looking up at him from under her eyebrows. All she needed were a pair of old spectacles sitting at the end of her nose. But really, it wasn't a laughing matter. "Don't you have a Hippocratic Oath to think about?" she asked.

"Believe me, it was self-defense." Bashir felt the heat building up in his face. "Odo was going to kill me anyway. There was an explosion, and the opportunity just presented itself."

Now she was the one to nearly laugh. "Odo? If you killed Odo, who's in charge of the station?"

"Not that Odo," Bashir said, the frustration was now becoming obvious. "Look, it was a mirror universe. Odo wasn't Security Chief there. He was an overseer, and the slaves were humans. It's a very different place."

"Mirror universe?" she asked, still doubtful, but now she was patronizing a bit as well. "Are you making all this up to kill time?"

"You can ask Major Kira, if you don't believe me. She was there, too."

"Well, of course, she was," the nurse teased. "If Odo was there, she'd have to be. Was Captain Sisko there, too?"

"No, I mean yes," Bashir answered, still just a bit flustered, though he realized she was just playing with him. "But that's not it at all. Our Major Kira was there, with me. Their Kira was worse than Odo."

The door opened and the conversation was dropped. Lieutenant Tirn, stepped inside and stood at attention. "You wanted to see me, sir?" she snapped.

"You can stand at ease," Bashir said, directing the young woman to a biobed. "Your blood sample shows that you're a bit anemic. It's nothing dangerous at this point but still something we should take care of."

"And me, Doctor?"

Bashir turned and saw another crewman waiting by the door. "Low blood sugar. Have a seat and I'll be right with you in a moment."

Lieutenant Whaley heard the chirp beside her. Actually, she didn't so much hear it as sense its vibrations. After all she had no ears. Someone was at her door. Forming a mouth and the vocal cords necessary to answer in Whaley's voice, she lifted the device with a jelly-like appendage and spoke into it. "Who is it?"

"It's me, Barker," came the reply, slightly muffled by the door itself. "I was wondering if you wanted something to eat. Sopok, Romero, Armand, and I were heading down to the mess for lunch."

Solids. They had to put foreign objects into their bodies to sustain themselves. It was really rather revolting. "Well, that sounds great," she said, "but I already ate, and I'm trying to catch up on some reading. I have a friend who writes novels, and I promised her I'd read her latest."

"Well, maybe we can get together later, then." He didn't sound too hopeful.

Perhaps because he thinks we are talking through a door, she decided. He had no way of knowing that she was nowhere near her quarters. She wasn't even on that deck. But she didn't want him to become suspicious. "Maybe," she replied cheerfully.

The device she held stopped pulsing so she knew he'd gone away. She pulled back the appendage and let the mouth drop back into her natural state. Now she could continue her work.

One of the blood samples had him stumped. Dr. Julian Bashir had graduated second in his class and had proven himself to be not only a competent doctor, but an excellent one. It didn't hurt that his IQ had been enhanced at the age of six along with the rest of him. So, naturally, it bothered him when he couldn't quite catch what was wrong with the sample.

It was dinner time and O'Brien and Dax were chatting about something. Bashir tried to pay attention but for some reason, that one sample kept springing back to his mind. It had belonged to a human female, Lieutenant Julie Whaley. And at first glance it scanned as normal, healthy blood. But it just wasn't as oxygen-rich as the others. It appeared to be a bit more congealed as well, by about point-three percent. Bringing up Lieutenant Whaley's medical records on the computer, he found that she was asthmatic. This might have accounted for the lesser amounts of oxygen. The congealing was a little more difficult. Of course, it was a negligible difference from the other samples and could have been a problem of not getting the vial to fit securely into the instrument before drawing the blood. It didn't seem to be anything to worry about.

So he thought he'd solved it. And yet he couldn't get it off his mind.

"Right, Julian?"

"Huh? What?" Bashir stammered, lifting his eyes from his plate to see who had spoken.

"I said," Dax began, a teasing gleam in her eye, "'Julian's ignoring us. Right, Julian?'"

"Oh. I'm sorry." Now he felt terrible. He hadn't meant to ignore his friends. It appeared that he hadn't heard anything they'd said. "I didn't mean to. I was just thinking. . . ."

"Don't worry about it, Julian." Chief O'Brien seemed to sense his friend's guilt. "It's not like we were discussing the fate of the universe. Well, actually we were."

Jadzia ignored O'Brien's comment and directed her attention to Julian. "What were you thinking about that was so much more interesting than us?"

Julian forgot his faux pas immediately at the prospect of sharing his dilemma. "I can't stop thinking about one of the samples we took this morning."

"Samples?" O'Brien's eyebrows were raised and his mouth just slightly turned. "You aren't going to talk about blood at the dinner table, are you, Julian?"

Julian glanced down at the Irishman's plate. "What does it matter? You're finished eating."

Jadzia tried to reign them both back in to the subject at hand. "What about the samples, Julian?"

"Well, I figured as long as I had them, I should run some tests. I found a few problems. Low blood sugar. That sort of thing. Nothing major. But there was one vial that just didn't seem right."

"Anything wrong with mine, Doctor?" a deep voice floated its way down into the conversation.

Julian looked up to see the dark face of the ship's commander. Worf stood just behind him. "No, Captain," he answered. "Your blood was quite healthy. Would you care to join us?"

Sisko shook his head, but he was smiling. "Not if the topic of conversation is 'blood.' I'm afraid that just might ruin my appetite."

"What's wrong with blood?" Worf asked, dropping down into the empty chair.

"I'm with you, Captain." O'Brien stood up. "If you'll all excuse me."

Jadzia just smiled and shook her head. "Well, I guess we know who the 'real' men-and women-are."

"Watch it, Old Man," Sisko threw back from where he'd sat down. But it only made her laugh.

"Good ears," Bashir commented.

Dax took a deep breath and then turned to Bashir, her composure regained. "Now, Julian, what was it you were saying about the sample?"

"Well, I'm not sure really. I mean it was just different. It had less oxygen than the others and had congealed just slightly. The medical history showed a minor case of asthma, so if the subject had had an attack prior to the screening, that might show up. And there are a lot of reasons for it to congeal. All it needs is just a little bit of exposure to air for the blood to begin to dry out."

"So what's the problem?"

"There isn't one," Bashir admitted. "But I just can't stop thinking that there should be."

Whaley was annoyed. The doctor was fouling up her plans. But she was more annoyed at herself. She'd studied his psychographic profile, just as she studied the profiles of every member of the bridge crew. She should have known that the doctor would not just throw out the samples. He would study them, run tests, make sure that everyone was healthy. She should have known that.

But she wouldn't have known if Novak hadn't told her that he'd been called to sickbay because of low blood sugar. Now she would likely fall behind schedule.

Whaley waited for the nurse to leave the room and then silently poured herself to the floor. Once she was on the floor, she formed herself again into the guise of the human woman. All except for the feet. She kept them soft, not quite solid, so they'd make no sound when she walked across the room.

The vials were all lined up in five rows on one counter. She found the information she needed on a PADD just beside them. Scanning the information quickly, she looked for Whaley's name to find which vial was hers. She knew she didn't have much time. That doctor took his job too seriously and would probably return to sickbay after dinner.

"Can I help you?"

Whaley jumped. Straining against her instincts, she forced herself to turn as a human would. The nurse was standing behind her, holding a box and a few instruments in her hands. Whaley's mind raced to find an excuse to cover her real intentions.

"I, uh, I wasn't feeling very well," she said finally and put her hand to where her stomach would have been. "No one was here when I came in. I was just looking around."

"I'm sorry," the nurse said. "I hadn't heard you call out. Why don't you have a seat there on the biobed." She indicated the bed with a tilt of her head as her hands were full. "I'll run a preliminary scan, and then we'll call the doctor."

The nurse was walking toward her. She looked like she was going to set the box down on the counter. Whaley just smiled as if she hadn't understood. At least that's what she would have appeared to be doing on the side the nurse was facing. Behind her back, Whaley was melting. Something like a snake formed from her back and opened a drawer. Whaley's own body shielded her actions from the busy nurse. Inside the drawer was a hypospray and several different vials of drugs. There was a slight hesitation as the appendage tried to determine which one was appropriate.

The nurse looked up and realized that Whaley was still standing beside her. Putting the last of the instruments away, she straightened and then reached an arm out to touch Whaley's shoulder. "Right this way." And then she froze.

Whaley's eyes were cold and lifeless staring straight into the nurse's. In an instant they came to life again, and before the nurse could react, Whaley reached up with one hand to cup her mouth closed. The other held her by the neck so that she couldn't pull away.

The nurse's eyes widened in terror, but she couldn't cry out. Her voice was muffled by the hand that covered her mouth. She clawed at the arms that held her and tried to kick her attacker.

Whaley forced her body to become solid, more so than the human's were. The nurse's fingers met steel rather than flesh. Again the eyes of her attacker went blank as Whaley's focus returned to what was behind her. She had to have just the right thing. She couldn't kill the nurse as she'd done to the woman whose appearance she had taken on. The body was too big to destroy without leaving traces behind, and she couldn't risk being discovered just yet. Otherwise she wouldn't have bothered with coming to sickbay at all.

Then she had it. Behind her, the appendage placed the vial into the end of the hypospray and pulled itself back into Lieutenant Whaley's body. Coming out again the other side, the appendage reformed from Whaley's stomach and reached out toward the struggling nurse's neck. The nurse, for her part, made things easier. She froze in utter terror. Whaley pressed the hypospray to her neck and let her sink to the floor.

Standing over the unconscious nurse, Whaley cursed. "More complications," she said. She knelt down to be closer to the nurse's face. Whaley's own features began to slowly fade only to be replaced by those of the nurse on the floor. Getting the eyes right was easy. The shapeshifter had gotten quite a good view of them as she held the nurse. All there was left was a simple change in uniform color . . . and getting rid of the nurse.

Doctor Bashir returned to sickbay and wondered why the lights had been turned down. But then, it was late and there were no patients to worry about. Bashir, himself, was only stopping by to check on things before he returned to his quarters for the night. He just couldn't seem to go to sleep without making a final check on the Infirmary, or in this case, the sickbay.

Nurse Hausmann looked up and smiled as he entered. "Shouldn't you be in bed by now?" she asked.

"Of course I should," Bashir replied coming to stand beside her. She was sitting at the diagnostics console reviewing the crew's medical records by the looks of it. She was newer than most of the Defiant's crew, so Bashir was glad to see she was taking the opportunity to get to know the needs of the crew. Of course, there were some records she did not have clearance for, things that had to be cleared with him, but at the moment, this was not the case. "I just wanted to make sure that everything was fine here. Close up shop, so to speak."

He turned and looked around the room. It was small, even for a ship this size. There were only three biobeds and all the diagnostic equipment was packed around the walls so tightly that there seemed little room for anything else. He had overhauled it a bit though, made it a little more functional, since their first meeting with the Dominion's Founders nearly three years before.

Everything seemed to be in order. He stepped into the next room and gave everything there a careful scan as well. Nothing seemed amiss. Everything was put in its place. No work lying about.

"Well," he said, returning to the main room, "you seem to have things well under control."

"Yes, Doctor," the nurse said. She got out of the chair and walked with him to the door.

No work lying about. It was a strange thought to have, but it stuck with him and he just couldn't step out the door.

"Is there something wrong, Doctor?" Hausmann asked, her brow furrowed in concern.

Bashir didn't answer. Instead he turned quickly back into the room and walked over to the counter where he'd been working before his shift ended. No work was lying about. The counter was empty.


"Yes, Doctor?" Hausmann had come to the counter, too, and was standing directly behind him.

He looked up at the nurse. "Where are the blood samples that were taken this morning?"

"I disposed of them like you asked," she answered evenly.

Bashir stood up straighter and looked at the prim woman in front of him. He stood nearly a head taller than she did, and she had to look up to meet his gaze. "I asked you," he began firmly, "not to dispose of them. I asked you to not to touch them, to leave them as they were until tomorrow."

Nurse Hausmann lowered her eyes to the ground. She looked stricken, and Bashir almost regretted his harshness. He pushed that thought away. He hadn't been harsh, besides, when it came to medicine, he wanted his orders carried out exactly. He never asked for anything unreasonable, and he tried never to be unkind. But he also relied on his staff. There were there to assist him, to be extensions of himself at times. But in the end, everything that happened in this room was his responsibility. He didn't take it lightly.

"I'm sorry, Doctor," the nurse apologized. "I must have misunderstood. I thought you'd finished with them earlier this evening. They'd all been logged. I checked."

"Yes, but I still had some research to do on one of them."

Hausmann seemed sincerely sorry. "If I could get them back, I would. Maybe we could replicate another sample from the scans." She returned to the console and began to call up the information.

"No, that won't help." Bashir stood with his arms crossed there in the middle of the room and tried to decide what to do. He tried to tell himself that it really wasn't important. There was really nothing too far out of the ordinary with Whaley's sample.

"We could call that crewman in for another sample."

"Why?" Bashir mumbled.

"Excuse me?"

"Why?" he asked a little louder. "She'll want to know why we're taking more of her blood. Shall I tell her that I had a funny feeling about her previous sample? It's hardly a good enough excuse."

Hausmann opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again.

Bashir sighed and then walked over to her. "Nurse Hausmann, there's really nothing to be done about this now. But I expect my orders to be carried out, especially when I'm off duty. I haven't had any complaints yet about being a sadistic slave-monger, so I don't believe I'm out of order here. People's lives often depend on what happens in this room. If I can't trust my staff to carry out my orders, there could be a lot more serious consequences in the future. If you don't understand those orders, you should ask me to clarify them. If you didn't hear them properly, you should ask me to speak up. I'd rather repeat them ten times than have my work thrown out before I am done."

"It won't happen again, Doctor." She still couldn't look up at him. "I give you my word."

"Good." He'd have to leave it at that for now. It really wasn't a major problem this time, and it wouldn't be fair to be too harsh. The point was made. He hoped it was enough. "Goodnight."

Nurse Hausmann watched him leave and then straightened, staring at the door as it closed. The corners of her lips turned up in the slightest hint of a smile.