“Quark.” Odo’s voice rattled through the bar like a disrupter blast.
Quark froze. What could he have done this time? Was it the smuggling of the Tarcailian water crystals? That was weeks ago, and was only barely illegal. The sale of them was only restricted by the Tarcailian government, not forbidden. Odo wouldn’t be on him for that. Was it the Cardassian Vole Fights he’d been conducting after hours? He had to do something with the damn voles, after all. Every time someone found one on the station, he just made sure it fought in the ring against his brother’s prizewinner, the burly, battle-worn vole Rom had made a pet of months ago. That wasn’t illegal, was it?
“I want to talk to you.”
Quark didn’t detect any real stress in Odo’s voice. Quark wasn’t particularly worried. Odo always wanted to talk to him. Sometimes Quark suspected that Odo came in to make trouble just because he was feeling lonely, but far be it for Quark to ever say such a thing aloud. He finished pouring three glasses and set them on a tray. “Bar’s closed.”
“I’m aware of that,” Odo said, his voice taking in the whole of Quark’s emptying bar.
“Aren’t you off duty?” Quark asked conversationally. “If I thought you’d take one, I’d offer you a drink to relax your nerves after a long day.”
“And I’d have to pay for it, I suppose?”
“For all you drink here, I may as well pay your tab,” Quark said. “Now. I don’t exactly have time for this just at the moment, Odo. What have I done wrong this time?”
“Do you have some pressing engagement?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Quark pointed his chin at Dax, who had entered the bar at the upper level, and was climbing down the spiral stairs.
“I thought the bar was closed,” Odo said. He turned to see Dax, who carried what looked like a pile of latinum slips and wore a cheery grin. When she saw that Quark was busy, she went to chat with Rom and one of the Ferengi waiters.
“This is a private party,” Quark pointed out, lightly picking up the tray. “And you’re not invited.” Quark paused as the seedy Bajoran man at the end of the bar caught his eye. “And neither is he,” he added, setting the tray down with an audible click.
“Excuse me,” Quark said, leaning in toward the man. “I hate to discourage a customer, but the bar is closed.” Quark didn’t hate it too much, in this case. This guy was not a big spender.
The haggard Bajoran man glanced over at Quark, his shoulders hunched as he bent over his glass. “Can I finish my drink first?” he asked.
Quark looked up at the chronometer over the bar. “Make it fast. You got two minutes.”
The man nodded and turned back to his synth-ale. Quark couldn’t understand being that attached to a glass of synth-ale. That waste of space had been nursing that synth-ale half the night. He’d been coming to the bar for the last three days, sitting in shadows, nursing minuscule amounts of synthahol. Quark had never managed to coax his name out of him, or find out why he was on the station. They’d been busy that night, so Quark had barely noticed his presence. Now, huddled on the last seat at the bar, against the wall, half in shadow, he was the last customer.
Save Morn, of course, who knew exactly how much time he had before he had to leave the bar. Quark shouldn’t have had to remind Morn when closing time was. All the same, he patted Morn’s shoulder and nodded at the chronometer. Morn looked mournful. He always did when it came to closing time. He opened his mouth to protest. “Don’t say it,” Quark said. “You know the rules.” Morn slumped back in his chair and set about finishing his drink, not wasting his mouth on words.
Quark went back to his tray and picked up a glass. “Now,” he said to Odo. “You have my undivided attention for the next thirty seconds. What’s the story?”
Odo glared down at Quark. “You, ah, neglected to get an import license for a box of Tholian silk worms.”
“I don’t need a license to import Tholian silk,” Quark said. “Been doing it for years. Take this suit. Wonderful, isn’t it? Had the silk imported myself. And can you deny the workmanship? The fineness of the weft creating the subtle shimmer? Soft as a song and twice as strong.”
“Don’t give me those advertising jingles, Quark. These are live worms, as you well know.”
“And worth quite a tidy sum,” Quark pointed out.
Odo wasn’t distracted. “And according to station regulations, all live animals must show a record of good heath, or be placed in quarantine for a duration of no less than six weeks.”
“Odo. That’s simply not fair. You know very well that a Tholian silk worm only has a life span of four weeks. If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to relay them to my customer. And my supplier would be heartbroken. Hakenjak loves those worms.”
“Well, next time, Hakenjak will have to send a certificate of health from a licensed veterinarian. Your worms have been placed in quarantine, and you are susceptible to a fine of up to– ”
“Now wait a minute,” Quark interrupted. “How could anyone even find a veterinarian for Tholian silk worms?”
“That’s not my problem, Quark.”
Quark shook his head in mock disbelief. “You’re going to take my worms, and subject me to a fine for relaying them? They aren’t even really my worms! I was just ordering them for someone.”
Odo nearly laughed. “You expect me to believe that Vedek Talson has engaged you to deliver five dozen Tholian silk worms? To keep him company at the Vedek Assembly, I suppose?”
Quark held his hands up in innocence. “Don’t ask me, I just placed the order. If a Bajoran Vedek asks me for Tholian silk worms, I don’t ask questions. Frankly, I don’t want to know what he wants them for. And if you had any decency, you’d be asking Vedek Talson to pay the fine.”
“Vedek Talson doesn’t live on the station. He is not accountable to Station Rules and Regulations.” Odo leaned in close to Quark. “You are.”
“I am also an innocent victim of a basic misunderstanding,” Quark said. “The gagh for the Klingon restaurant doesn’t have to go through quarantine. Those are worms. You don’t fine me for importing Ferengi tube grubs, either.”
Odo leaned back. “Those are both run through the health and food administrations for the Klingons and the Ferengi.” He was enjoying himself far too much. “That qualifies as a bill of good health.”
Quark shrugged, his arms wide in defeat. “Odo, if you want to steal my silk worms, I can’t stop you,” he said. “I leave this to your own conscience. This is theft, plain and simple. I thought you were above such things.”
“I won’t lose any sleep over it,” Odo said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You don’t sleep.”
Odo nodded with a smirk, and left the bar.
Quark shook his head and turned to the Bajoran man at the bar. “I’m afraid time’s up, my friend.”
The man’s eyes were fixed past Quark at Odo’s retreating back.
“Excuse me,” Quark said, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I said time’s up.”
The man stood suddenly and threw the glass in Quark’s face, breaking it against the cartilage in his forehead. “It is for you!” he snarled. With his right hand he knuckle punched Quark’s left ear lobe. Quark began to scream loudly, the high pitched warble that he’d been taught as a lobeling to issue at pain. If there was no way to stop a school-yard beating, the best thing to do was to make it as unpleasant as possible for the assailants. Rom had had to utilize it more often, but Quark knew it well enough. All Ferengi children learned the skill, sooner or later.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a chance to be irritating to the Bajoran, who kneed him in the stomach and knocked the breath from Quark’s chest. Once, twice; dark shadows welled up in Quark’s vison.
He heard Dax crying out to him from across the room, just as the Bajoran’s doubled fists knocked Quark on the back of the neck, and he fell into total darkness.
Quark woke in the infirmary, Nurse Bandy leaning over him with a dermal regenerator.
“Where is Dr. Bashir?” he asked.
“Asleep,” said Nurse Bandy, a no-nonsense Bajoran woman with hair greying on her temples and kindly eyes. “It’s 02:00. There was no need to wake him. Your wounds were superficial.”
“Superficial!” Quark cried. “My ear is still ringing.”
Nurse Bandy took an otoscope and checked inside Quark’s ear. “I don’t see any damage, but there’s always some concern over any trauma to a Ferengi’s ear. I’ve already made an appointment for Dr. Bashir to see you tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow morning?” Quark whined. “Just goes to show you how much I’m valued around here.” He pointed an accusing finger at Nurse Bandy. “If I go deaf between now and tomorrow morning, I’m holding you financially responsible!”
“Leave her alone, Quark,” said Dax. She had entered the room followed by Rom, who looked worried. They came to Quark’s exam table. “She means later this morning. And she’s just kept you from developing a nasty V shaped scar on your forehead.”
Quark was grateful for that, but he sat up angrily anyway, glaring at Nurse Bandy’s back. “Might have made me look distinguished.”
Bandy shook her head, ignoring him. “As you were knocked out, I don’t want you to sleep until after Dr. Bashir sees you,” she said. “It shouldn’t be hard, that’s only a few hours away.”
“Speak for yourself. I’m exhausted,” he added pathetically to Dax, hoping to get a little sympathy.
He was not disappointed. Dax put an arm around him and patted his shoulder. He used the opportunity to snuggle a little closer than he thought she’d ordinarily let him. She laughed. “I guess our Tongo game is postponed. Will you be all right?”
“A little oomox would make everything perfect.”
Dax squeezed him once and let him go. “Don’t push your luck,” she said with a grin.
Quark didn’t mind. He knew roughly how far Dax would let him go, and he’d just about pushed it there. “I assume that scoundrel that hit me is waiting in a holding cell?”
“No,” Dax said. “He ran out of there before anyone could catch him.”
“Is Odo out looking for him?”
“Stopped the active search already. His fingerprints and DNA are on the glass he smashed on your head, but with the number of people coming and going on the station–”
“You mean that they haven’t stopped all ships from leaving?” Quark asked, indignant.
“For a barroom brawl?”
Quark had to concede. “Fine. But I still think Odo should be out looking for him. He could attack someone else for no reason.”
“Yeah,” said Rom. “Next time, he might hit someone important.”
Quark stared at Rom.
“More important,” Rom quickly amended.
That didn’t make it better.
“Someone who helps run the station,” he added.
“I do run this station,” Quark snapped. “Without me, this place would run to a grinding halt. What would this station be without Quark’s?”
“It wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun,” Dax said with a grin.
“Oh, speaking of which,” Rom said, with an air of someone who realized he’s left an airlock open. “I’d better go close up the bar.”
“It’s still open?”
“Everyone left when Morn carried you here,” Rom said. “He wouldn’t stop yelling at everyone to get you to a doctor. You know how carried away he can get. We’ve been so worried.”
Quark scowled. “Take that idiot look off your face and go close up the bar. And hurry!” As Rom left, Quark muttered, “If anyone’s stolen any of my vintage Saurian Brandy, I hope Odo will bother to look for the thief.”
“Odo is keeping an eye out, Quark,” Dax said. “Don’t take it so personally.”
Quark humphed. “Taking it personally. I’m not taking it personally.”
“I’m beginning to take this personally!” he snapped at Odo. “You don’t want to catch this particular criminal, because the only person he’s hurt was me.”
“Now what could possibly have given you that impression?” Odo sat cooly behind his desk, his hand on a data padd, and his eyebrow, or reasonable facsimile thereof, raised.
Quark had just gotten out of the infirmary, and in vile spirits. Dr. Bashir had just informed him that he needed a temporary stasis nanoid in his ear for the next three days, to prevent permanent damage to the tympanic membrane. The blow had hit Quark just wrong. After the impact, for the next few days the vibrations from sound could cause slight damage, which would result in an edge, just an edge, off of Quark’s hearing. For a Ferengi, such a loss was simply not acceptable. Surgery was an option, but there was a ten percent risk of permanent hearing loss, and it wasn’t a risk Quark was willing to take. A hundred years ago, they’d have wrapped his head with an earplug and a bandage, but now there were the stasis nanoids. They created a selective stasis field, which prevented all vibration, but allowed the natural healing process to take place. So Quark was putting up with three days of deafness, and complete numbness, in one ear, in exchange for that edge of hearing. He couldn’t lose that.
But hearing from only one ear made Quark feel like only half a man. This was a serious problem! And Odo should have been trying to avenge him. When he saw Odo in his office, taking his ease, he lost his temper and stormed in.
“A vicious man attacks me in cold blood, destroying my property, causing havoc on the promenade, not to mention nearly taking my life,” Quark snapped, “and is the station’s Security Chief out, leaving no floor panel unturned, no crawlway unscanned, looking for the assailant? No, he is not. The station’s Security Chief is sitting blithely in his office, looking over criminal activities reports from last week!”
“Could it have occurred to you that I’m looking for a pattern, Quark?” Odo said.
“Could it have occurred to you that he nearly ruined my suit! Look at this!” he pointed at his lapel. Between cleaning up the bar and checking on his business deals, he hadn’t had time to change. “Blood stains! Blood stains! On my Tholian silk! I need restitution!”
“My heart bleeds for you.”
“You don’t have a heart, and you don’t bleed. Nor do you care! Not about me, or even about justice, in this case!”
Odo ignored this, stood up and perched on the arm of his chair. Quark was always curious at how often Odo did that. It seemed almost humanoid, as if he couldn’t bring himself to sit down, anxious to get out and get to work. “Could you describe your attacker for me?”
“You saw him,” Quark said. “The guy at the bar, the Bajoran. Wasn’t even a good patron. I shouldn’t have let him stay at the bar! Buying only one drink a night, lurking in shadows. Bad for business.”
“Ah, yes. Bajoran, brown hair. Eyes?”
“I didn’t gaze deeply into his eyes, Odo. He wasn’t offering a mud bath and a sordid evening of passionate oomox. Not that I’d have accepted if he was.”
Odo didn’t react to Quark’s sarcasm. “Is there anything you can tell me about your attacker? Anything that stood out?”
“Yes, he was a lousy customer.”
“Important as that may seem to you, Quark, that’s not going to help me find or identify the man. Anything he ever did, or said?”
Quark turned his head back and thought. “Well. He did seem a bit jittery. As if he didn’t want to be seen, though by who, I couldn’t tell.”
“Did he ever talk to you? Give you his name, his business on the station?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. Outside of asking for a drink, the only thing he ever did say to me was to ask if you came into the bar a lot.”
“Yes. That was a little odd, come to think of it. Could he be a criminal? Someone you’d recognize?”
“Possibly. What did you tell him?”
“The truth,” Quark said. “That you’re in there constantly.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Odo said, turning his head with a scoff. “I never patronize your bar.”
“True. But you’re in there constantly nevertheless. Wish you wouldn’t. It’s bad for business. You just stare at people. Makes them nervous.”
“Really?” Odo said, staring at Quark.
“Yes,” Quark snapped.
Wirr. Beep. Clink. Wirrr. Beep. Clink. Bright colors flashed and tiny lights lit up on the side of the Tongo table.
Wirr. Beep. Clink.
Quark looked at the cards in his hand. Favorable. Most favorable.
Tongo was the best of games. Involving both skill, savvy, and a hefty dosage of luck. The cards were shuffled and the hands dealt. The betting started, and that’s when the fun began.
That wheel of fortune in the center could suddenly cause a winning hand to crumble into dust. Climbing to the top of the ladder, earning slip after slip of latinum, and then, suddenly, crashing into virtual bankruptcy, the curse of Debtors Hall, a Ferengi version of the hew-mon’s garish hell.
He just wished that damn stasis nanoid wasn’t causing him so much trouble.
“Confront!” said Dax, showing all her cards.
The Ferengi waiters groaned. It was a little irritating how good Dax was at the game. She didn’t play often with them, but when she did, watch out. Frunz looked like he wanted to leave, and Breel seemed irritated. “That’s the fourth hand tonight,” he said. “Why do we have to let this female play?”
Dax sighed. “Do we have to go through this again?”
“What’s the matter, Breel? Can’t stand the competition?” Quark asked.
“You should talk,” Breel replied. “You haven’t won a single hand!”
Quark scratched his head and took a sip of his drink. “I was nearly killed at the hands of a vicious assailant.” Well, that might be stretching a point, but still. “I’m still out of sorts.” This was true. The stasis nanoid was starting to hurt him on occasion. Bashir hadn’t said it would do that. It was more of a pulsing ache than an acute pain, but it still hurt. He didn’t want to tell any of the Ferengi waiters about the nanoid. It would be like admitting you were impotent; it just wasn’t something you discussed in polite conversation. But he did wish it would stop hurting him.
He felt more than a little out of sorts anyway. He’d managed to pick up a few hours nap in the back room at the bar, but he still hadn’t had time to change, or take a sonic shower. He was tired, sore, and felt dirty. And every time he’d started to relax, maybe check on the stock exchange on Bajor, or keep in touch with his contacts on Ferenginar, his ear started hurting again. But he couldn’t cancel the Tongo game. It was a point of pride. You’re barely a Ferengi if you don’t have time for oomox, an opportunity, or Tongo. It was one of the unwritten rules.
“My deal,” Dax said. She passed out the cards and tossed in some slips. Then she spun the dial, and the throb of pain started again.
“Brother?” Rom asked from beside him. “Are you all right?”
“Shut up, you idiot. I’m fine.” He threw in his latinum and spun the wheel. As the wheel stopped again, he closed his eyes in pain. He looked at the wheel. Well, that was it. He was out anyway. He put his cards down and stood up. “I’m out. I’m going to get another drink.”
“I’ll go with you,” Dax said.
“Can’t,” Breel said. “You’ve already placed your bet!”
Dax handed her cards to Rom and put his cards back in the deck. “If you win, you keep it,” she said, and followed Quark to the bar.
“What are you following me?” Quark asked, trying to distract himself by pouring a drink. “You placed your bet.”
“Gave the hand to Rom,” Dax informed him, though he’d known already. Even with only one working ear, he could still hear anything that happened across an empty bar. “He should be happy, it’s a good hand.”
“He’ll lose it,” Quark said, glancing at the Tongo table. Rom spun the wheel, and Quark pulsed with pain.
Dax took his arm. “Quark, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Quark said. “Why do you all keep asking me that?”
“Because every time someone spins the wheel, you tense up like you’re in pain.”
“Every time someone spins the wheel? Are you sure?”
Dax shrugged. “That’s what it seems like.”
Quark pushed the bottle into Dax’s hand and went over to the table. “Stop a minute,” he said. Ignoring the cries of “hey” and “no fair”, he spun the wheel on the portable Tongo table. As the wheel stopped, the tiny computer beeped. Pulse of pain. He tried it again. Spin, beep, pain. “Hang on a second,” he said, and he picked up the game itself, dumping the latinum onto the table.
“Hey!” said Breel.
“We can pick up the game again when he brings it back,” said Rom. “You are bringing it back, aren’t you Brother?”
“Of course I am, you fool. I just have to fix something.”
“Fixing it so it’ll win for you?” said Breel.
“If you want to lose your job, you keep talking, Breel,” Quark snapped, and carried the Tongo wheel to the bar. “Do you have a tricorder?” he asked Dax.
Dax grinned. “Always.”
Quark wasn’t so sure about that, with the all but skin tight uniforms the Federation wore. Not that he was complaining, but if she always had a tricorder, she was carrying it in a pretty peculiar place. Quark glanced at Jadzia’s long body. Not that there wasn’t room in a few places, he noted.
This time, however, she had one on her hip. She pulled it out. “What do you need?”
“Do you think you could use that thing to figure out a way of fixing the game so it doesn’t beep when it lands on a square?” he asked.
“I think I can do that,” Dax said, opening the tricorder. “Why do you need it?”
Quark couldn’t have admitted it to a Ferengi, he would even have felt uncomfortable admitting it to Rom, but– “Dr. Bashir is afraid I’ll go deaf if I use my left ear for a few days. He put in some sort of stasis nanoid, and it seems to be reacting to the computer in the Tongo table.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Dax said, pressing a few buttons on the tricorder. She stopped. “That’s strange,” she said. She turned and pointed the tricorder at the bar. “I’m reading an explosive compound inside your bar.”
Quark jumped. “Explosive? In my bar?”
“Yes.” Dax went behind the bar and started pointing her tricorder at various shelves. “Right about... here,” she said.
It was at the edge, at the corner of the bar closest to the door. That was the shelf where Quark kept his real root beer, next to the few bottles of kanar he still had stored away from his days with the Cardassians. “Why would anyone put an explosive in there?” he asked, and he bent to examine it.
“Careful,” Dax said, reading the tricorder. “It doesn’t seem ready to react, but careful what you touch.”
“I think it might be the kanar,” Quark said. “The Great Exchequer only knows what the Cardassians put in that stuff. Who knows what happens to it when it goes bad?”
Dax laughed a little, but she was scanning seriously. “It seems to have a short range subspace link,” she said, but Quark was busy carefully moving bottles to the top of the bar.
At the back of the shelf in the bar, a strange box with lights on it blinked. It didn’t belong to Quark. “Uh, Dax!” Quark backed away. “Could this be it?”
Dax bent down to scan the box. “That’s it.” She pressed a few buttons on her tricorder. It beeped. Quark’s ear pulsed with pain. Damn. It wasn’t just the Tongo table. Well, he’d known it was hurting before he’d started the Tongo game. Was any beeping computer going to hurt him for the next three days? On a space station, that was bound to be a lot of discomfort. No wonder he’d been in pain most of the day.
“It doesn’t seem to be connected here,” she said. “This is just the power source for something else.”
“You mean it was never meant to go off?” Quark asked.
“Not unless you tamper with it,” Dax said. “It’s a twofold system, the explosive and the power source. The explosive is designed to hurt whoever tried to turn it off, but not to damage the power source when it does. Hoping that whoever found it would be too distracted to dismantle it, I guess. No, it has a subspace link to something...” As Quark winced, she followed the tricorder’s beeping up until it pointed at the door. “Something over there.”
They both went to the door. “I’ve opened and closed this door at least three times since closing,” Quark said. “Once to let you in, and twice when Rom went to get his latinum, such as it is. Think it’ll be safe to open it again?”
“I think so. I’m not reading any active explosives here, though I’m getting something strange.” Her mood had changed entirely. She was now the determined scientist, not the fun loving, Tongo playing, Ferengi friendly Jadzia that Quark had quite a crush on. He pressed the opening pad.
The door rolled open. All doors on a starship, or a space station, were designed to be air tight in case of a hull breach. As a result, there was a deep hollow around the doorframe, where the door could seal. Inside that hollow, a strip of something metallic with a rainbow shimmer arched the door. Along it was a thin blue wire that seemed to glow slightly. It reminded Quark of a tiny warp core.
Dax pressed her combadge. “Dax to Security.”
“Odo here,” came the immediate reply. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“Someone’s put an explosive in Quark’s,” Dax said. “We don’t know its purpose.”
“I’m in my quarters,” Odo said, to explain why he wasn’t popping over the promenade in thirty seconds. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Quark turned and walked back to the Ferengi still waiting for the Tongo game to continue. “There’s an explosive,” he told his staff.
Before he had time to suggest it, all the Ferengi at the table except Rom had vanished, and were up the stairs and out the upper exit without so much as a by-your-leave.
“Wait!” called Rom.
“Don’t,” said Quark. “They left their latinum.”
Rom looked at the table, realized this was true, and laughed with Quark. “Leave Dax’s, and take the rest,” Quark said. “Put it in the safe.”
“Can’t I have some, Brother?”
“I’m feeling generous, so you can have fifteen percent.”
“Fifty,” said Rom.
Quark was impressed. He didn’t think Rom had it in him. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Thirty. Take it,” Quark added.
“Done,” said Rom, and scooped the latinum into his shirt.
“And then,” Quark added, “get out of here yourself.”
“But Brother,” Rom started. “You’re staying.”
“This is my bar. And you get it if I get blown up. So get out of here.”
Rom hesitated. “Oookay. But, I don’t want you to get blown up, Brother.”
“I don’t plan on it. Now get moving!”
As Rom skittered over to the safe, Quark went back to Dax.
“This strip is more dangerous than the explosive,” she said as Quark got back. “It’s a minute strip of ionized plasma with a gaseous reaction retarded by a stasis clip.”
“Which means?” Quark asked.
“Which means, whatever triggers this strip is going to be instantly jolted by a wall of superheated plasma. Enough to peel the flesh from your bones,” said Dax. “It would be a very unpleasant way to die. Watching it would be the stuff of nightmares. I can’t imagine why it hasn’t gone off yet. I’m still trying to isolate the trigger. The strip is a scanner, the contained plasma is in that little tube.”
“You mean a few millimeters of plastic is all that’s kept me, and all my customers for today from becoming a klingon barbecue?”
“Well, it’s actually a few millimeters of transparent aluminum with a coroto-carbon casing, but, basically, yes.”
Quark shivered. “And why hasn’t it gone off yet?”
“I’ve almost got it,” Dax said, pressing buttons, beep, beep, beep, “though I don’t think I understand it. It has a trigger set to a very specific pattern.”
Quark saw Odo approaching through the empty promenade. “Odo’s here. He’ll figure this out.” He was certain of this.
“This pattern doesn’t make any sense,” Dax said. “Though it does look rather familiar...”
“I wish you’d stop poking that tricorder,” Quark muttered, crouching onto the ground. His head was beginning to hurt with all that beeping.
“No. I’ve almost got it.”
“All right,” said Odo, coming into speaking range. “What seems to be the trouble here?”
“I’ve got it,” said Dax. “It’s triggered only to an unstable organic molecule. Have you any idea what that could be?”
At the words “unstable organic molecule,” a piece in Quark’s head fell into place. At the word ‘what’, Odo began to step through the door. By the word ‘be’ Quark had launched himself through the door that was beginning to fire, and hurtled himself into Odo, knocking both of them away from the brief burst of superheated plasma that had been set to ignite the moment Odo stepped into Quark’s.
Pain, screaming, faces, voices, more screaming, more pain, a hypospray and darkness.
Quark awoke in the infirmary, again. This time, he had some beeping machine attached to his arm, dermal bandages wrapped round his hands, and he hurt all over. Two hundred and eighty-fifth rule he kept repeating to himself. Two hundred and eighty-fifth rule. No Good Deed Ever Goes Unpunished. Exchequer, but this was a punishment.
“Don’t move, Quark,” said Bashir, his distinct accent making Quark feel a little better. At least he knew the right man was on the job. Quark couldn’t see very well, but he figured that was only due to the pain. His eyes were one of the few parts of his body that didn’t hurt. “You have first and second degree burns over most of your body. Some third degree burns on your ankles, and the back of your legs. That’s what caught most of the plasma.”
Quark couldn’t take it. He didn’t want to think about it. He found something else to focus on. “Then I guess my suit’s completely ruined now.”
“Ah, yes. Your clothes went up in flames the moment you leapt through the plasma. In fact, many of the burns came from that.” Quark winced as a stab of pain hit him from his legs. He nearly cried. Quark wasn’t a crying sort of man, but this really hurt! Bashir’s voice was gentle. “I’ve already performed a dermal transfer. There won’t be any scarring. I’ve given you something to make you more comfortable, but you’re going to have a bad few days.”
“So I suppose Orion slave girls and a glass of snail juice is out of the question?” Quark asked.
“Not unless you just want to watch,” Bashir said.
“I’m not a spectator,” Quark muttered.
Quark closed his eyes and went back to sleep again. When he woke, he felt marginally better. He also heard voices in the next room. They sounded muffled. Quark realized that only one ear was working. He hoped it was only that the nanoid was still in place. “But he is going to be all right?” That was Odo. He sounded remarkably worried.
“Yes,” said Bashir, “I have no questions on how to heal him. I’m more worried about you. I don’t have much information on your physiology.”
“It only caught a piece of me,” Odo said. “I seem to be healing. I move the parts that hurt around to keep them from getting too much stress. They don’t hurt so much any more.”
“Well, that’s good. You tell me if it begins to hurt worse, and I’ll see what I can do. If any more of you had been caught by the plasma – ”
“I would have boiled to death, I know,” said Odo. “Can I see him?”
“He’s been asleep for most of the day.”
“And bored out of my mind!” Quark called out. “Where’s that slave girl you promised me?” he added as they came into the room.
Bashir smiled, obviously pleased that Quark was in such a good mood. “I’ll get right on that.” He took a glance at Quark’s vital signs, nodded, and left Odo alone with Quark.
“So,” said Quark, moving nothing but his lips. “I suppose you’re here to tell me how brave and selfless I was. How I unthinkingly risked my life to save my arch nemesis. How from now on you’re going to be nicer to me, to stop looking over my shoulder, hounding me for minor infractions of policy, and holding me accountable to the failings of others?”
“No, I’m here to tell you we caught the man who assaulted you.”
Quark wanted to laugh, but even tensing to do so hurt too much. “Oh, really? And you were finally eager to do so, since I’m sure you figured out he was also the man who tried to assassinate you?”
“And how did you manage figure that out?”
“You’re very glad I did. The moment I heard Dax say that the plasma was triggered to an unstable organic molecule, I tried to think about what organic molecules we have coming through that door that were unstable. The only one I could think of was you. Unfortunately, by that time, you’d already recklessly wandered into a trap, even after we’d told you there was a bomb.”
“Very foolish of me,” Odo said. It sounded like everything else he ever said to Quark, mildly annoyed and a bit sardonic, but Quark could hear something else in it too. Odo meant that.
“Very. I should have just let you die. I would have, if I’d had a moment to think.” This was true too. If he’d thought about it, he would have been much too scared.
“And how do you figure it was the same man?” Odo asked.
“If you really need me to do your job for you, fine. He came to the station hoping to kill you. Don’t know why. I should have been the one doing that.”
Odo humphed, but Quark continued anyway. “He couldn’t get to you at your quarters, or the Security Office. Too well guarded, I suppose. Or maybe he wanted the irony of attacking where you least expected it. Maybe he wanted witnesses. Maybe he intended to lurk on the promenade and watch the fireworks. I don’t know. He saw you in the bar and asked if you came there often. When I told him that you did, he arranged to beat me up just at closing, before everything was locked up. Pointless, really. Any man who could arrange an explosion like that could have picked a lock.”
“I’m sure he probably knew,” said Odo, “that you have listening devices and hidden theft protection devices all over, and he couldn’t know where they all were.”
“And I suppose you do,” said Quark. “Even I’ve forgotten most of them, they’re all Rom’s handiwork. Knowing that Rom would be too imbecilic to bother locking the bar, he utilized the time to set up the trap. Then, all he had to do was wait until you came to spy on me again.” That was odd, come to think of it. Odo hadn’t set foot in his bar that day. Quark couldn’t remember a day when Odo hadn’t come breathing down his neck at least once.
Odo gazed down at Quark. “You seem to have sorted the matter out very thoroughly.”
“Have you any questions you haven’t already answered yourself?”
“The only thing I don’t understand, is why he decided to kill you in the first place. He certainly didn’t have my reasons.”
Odo seemed a little embarrassed, but he relayed the story anyway. “His, ah... his name was Darlin Toriel. He and his younger sister were members of the Bajoran resistance. When Darlin Erial set up a bomb on the station, I had her arrested. Apparently, the Cardassians, ah... shamed... and tortured her in public on Bajor. Toriel blamed the Cardassians, and spent the rest of the occupation hunting them down and assassinating them. But he also blamed me.”
“He had a point.” Quark couldn’t help but say it.
Odo looked at the computer that displayed Quark’s vital signs. “What the Cardassians did to the prisoners I captured, I had no control over!” he snapped. “Erial set off a bomb that killed four Cardassians and seven Bajorans, wounding several more! I couldn’t just let her – ”
“No. You don’t need to defend your behavior during the occupation to me, I’m not Kira. He had a point to make. He was a killer, and needed to kill another. His sister may have sent him over the edge, but by now he’s just using her as an excuse.” He turned his head just slightly to look at Odo. Even that hurt. “I know the type.”
“I work with ‘em. Know your enemies. But do business with them, always.”
“Rule of Acquisition one hundred and seventy-six?”
“One seventy-seven, actually, you need to study harder. Well. You must be pretty proud of yourself. Finally catching the man. I heard Bashir. The plasma caught you too. Don’t you wish you’d have looked for him before?”
“Of course I caught him.” Odo paused a moment, then bent down a little to whisper in Quark’s good ear. “I’d been looking for him all day.”
Quark let that sink in a moment. Odo would rather have gone searching for Quark’s assailant than peer over Quark’s shoulder, trying to figure out what nefarious scheme he was concocting next. It didn’t really mean that much. And it meant everything.
Quark went back to the bar moving slowly. He didn’t hurt anymore, and his ear was perfect, but his skin felt new, tender, and he could feel every single prick in his clothing. He really wished his Tholian silk suit hadn’t burned up with his skin. That was his favorite suit. That was one of the reasons he was helping Vedek Talson’s gardener start a cottage worm farm on Bajor. Or what he’d been intending to do. To have a local source for Tholian silk would have been a nice touch. So much for that.
“Brother!” Rom cried, rushing forward to hug Quark. “We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“Off!” he told his brother, as an errant dog. “I couldn’t stay in that infirmary another minute. It’s dull as a hew-mon’s holosuite program.”
“We’re so glad you’re back!”
“I’m glad too; what is Morn doing behind my bar?”
Rom glanced at Morn and looked stupid for a moment. “Uuhh, heee said he wanted to help!”
“He’s helping himself to my Saurian Brandy!” Quark could see he’d gotten back just in time. He slapped his brother on the back of the head. “Get back behind that bar and keep Morn away from my stock. Idiot.”
“I’m sorry, Brother,” Rom said, directing Morn back into his seat.
Morn glanced at Quark as if he wanted to say he was glad he was back, but wasn’t going to give Quark the satisfaction. Quark was relieved. He could use a bit of the silent treatment from Morn. He’d been afraid he was going to be subjected to a Morn’s eye view of all the station gossip, and Morn wasn’t very reliable in that arena.
“Don’t be sorry, just get me my holosuite program, Zephyr III.”
Rom opened one of the holosuite program boxes and pulled out the appropriate rod. “Excellent choice. Do you want me to reprogram the masseuse, or do you want the wind-surfing option?”
“Just give me the rod!” Quark grabbed it from Rom’s hand. “I just want to lie in the shade with a light breeze, can you get that through your thick skull!”
Rom stepped back. “There’s someone here to see you.”
“Me,” said Odo from behind him.
Quark whirled. He passed the rod back to Rom. “You can have nothing on me now. I haven’t been able to do a thing from a bed in the infirmary.”
This wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. He’d managed to pull off a couple of deals through sub-space, and he had also snuck a little bit of classified information into his head from the infirmary computer, but Odo couldn’t be on at him about any of that.
“You have a bit of a problem, Quark. While you were in the infirmary, I performed a review of the regulations for station quarantine policies,” Odo said. “It seems that the rules state that insects are under the classification of infesting creatures, not livestock. This means that any through passage is to be performed at the fastest possible speed. Your Tholian silk worms have to be off this station before the day is out.”
Quark’s eyes opened wide. He could get the worms to Talson’s gardener within six hours, well within the stated delivery time. “Ah. Well. Terribly sorry. I’ll see if I can get that sorted out quickly.”
“You’d better,” Odo said. He paused. “And by the way.” He seemed embarrassed. “I wouldn’t have mentioned this if you hadn’t been so keen on the subject recently. I intercepted a cargo load of Tholian silk, first grade. The captain is under investigation, and can’t perform business in Bajoran space. Some bureaucratic nonsense. I’m not permitted to resell it, of course. Station policy. It’s just cluttering up half of cargo-bay twelve. Frustrating, isn’t it?” At Quark’s amazed stare, Odo added, “I’m just going to have to have a security detail throw it into waste extraction. Dreadful waste of personnel.”
“First grade?” Quark asked. He thought he could see where this was going. The story of the Bajorans having a problem with a Tholian silk trader was ludicrous. They were desperate to increase trade, they put up with practically anything. “How many bolts?”
“Twenty-five,” Odo said. “Multiple colors. I don’t know how he thought he could get away with smuggling it all in.”
Quark nodded grudgingly. “I think I could get my boys to clean out that cargo-bay for you. Save some time for your personnel,” said Quark. “As a favor, mind you. You owe me one.”
“Of course,” Odo said. He turned on his heel and left the bar.
“Hey Odo!” Quark called.
“What is it, Quark?” Odo looked like he really wanted to leave.
Quark stared at him a moment. Thanks, I’m glad you’re okay, Nice to know you care. “You’re not a bad liar,” he said.
Odo scoffed, and turned his back on Quark.
Quark watched him go. He shook his head. That Odo.
Mr. Garak came into the bar. As always, Garak seemed a little seedy, but he focused on Quark instantly. “Ah, there you are,” he said to Quark. “You’re late.”
“For your fitting. You did have an appointment at fifteen hundred this afternoon? Your new suit?”
“New suit?” Well, he certainly needed one. “And, ah, who set this appointment?”
“I was under the impression that you did,” Garak said, “though one of the security deputies set it for you, as you were in the infirmary. Do you still want to come, or shall I just write off your appointment? Needless to say, as per your own policy, there are no refunds.”
It was already paid for. That Odo. Quark swallowed. “Of course not,” he said. “I need that new suit. Tholian silk. Soft as a song, and twice as strong.”