Time seemed to have stretched indefinitely for the people - mostly civilians - on board the Trillius Prime-bound passenger transport: the assault had sprung out of nowhere, or so it had seemed to them, and from one moment to the next they had found themselves in mortal danger with no idea how to react to the threat they were facing. Now, the scant 100 or so passengers who had boarded the
Hikawa Maru from Deep Space 9 had quickly assembled, assisted by the crew, in the mess hall, as required by safety protocols.

The emergency lights blinked incessantly, their reddish shadows turning on and off in an unnerving, nonstop manner. Behind one of the tables shifted against the outer bulkheads, near the wall where the replicators were located, was a young Ktarian boy, clutching his father's chest and trembling with fear, he was trying at all costs to show courage in the face of a situation he did not fully understand, simultaneously attempting, probably on an unconscious level, to align the flashing of the red lights with his father's heartbeat.

For his part, his father's heart continued to increase its frantic pace with each passing moment, to the point that, at a certain moment, the child no longer knew whether it was the beating in his parent's chest or the light that insisted on going on and off that got the better of him. Cognition of time was lost as the attack progressed, waiting for something to change, for someone to announce that they were all safe, that help had arrived. At one point, there was a jolt so powerful that fears began to spread among the passengers that the hull had inexorably torn apart under the relentless onslaught of the unknown assailants. In an instinctive gesture, the child clung tighter to his father and began to cry, overwhelmed by fear, seeking comfort from his parent.

Suddenly, the lights went out. Only moments later the young Ktarian realised that all the power, even that reserved for the emergency lights, had been diverted to support the shields, and even the alarm lights were no longer flashing. Perhaps the retired engineer who claimed to be able to boost the ship's defences really knew what he was doing down in the engine room.
In the pitch blackness the ship was now plunged in, the child distinctly recognized the blows unleashed by the enemy ship as they shattered on the shields boosted by the last remnants of energy that the passenger transport seemed to be clinging to. The father shuddered, and although he still tried to reassure his son, his heart seemed to betray him by wanting to speed up further from fear: «It will be alright, my son! Help will come.»

A shot went over the shields and hit the tritanium plates that made up the ship's outer shell. Tension rose wildly and children began to cry, too frightened to be silenced by their parents or other adults trying to console and calm them. Another burst of explosions hit the vessel, briefly illuminating the cramped spaces where the civilians were standing.
The brief flash of light had shown a few bodies scattered on the floor of the mess hall, but had not allowed the Ktarian boy to tell if anyone was simply unconscious, injured or worse. Near him and his father were grouped three Trill, or so, the only woman in said group had told him as she tried to keep him calm while waiting for his father to find him during the first salvo of the Breen.

In her attempt to distract him, the Trill had told him how she and her colleagues were scientists working for the Trill Science Institute and how they cooperated with Starfleet aboard Deep Space 9, the space station from where the transport had departed a few hours earlier, for a research about artificial and stable wormholes. She had told him how it had been two Starfleet officers, one a compatriot of hers and someone she cared a great deal about judging by the tears that had rolled down her cheeks, who had accidentally discovered the Bajoran wormhole, which led to another sector of their galaxy, but which was now off limits to all types of vessels due to the recent tensions between the Federation and the Dominion.
She had continued to comfort him, noting that they would be rescued at any moment by those same officers who had discovered the Celestial Temple, as it was called by the Bajorians; as she had told them, she knew them well and trusted that they had somehow received the distress call that their transport had managed to send before their communication system was rendered useless by a blow from their assailants.

Then, just as suddenly all the lights had gone out, the fierce and constant shaking of the ship ceased; the people, even more frightened than before, had no idea what was happening. Had rescue finally arrived? Or had the attackers inexorably succeeded in overcoming the defences increasingly weakened by the constant attacks? And if so, what would happen?
For long still moments nothing happened. Then, a flash of light illuminated the space where the civilians were standing.

The U.S.S.
Europa (NCC-1648-E), an imposing Sovereign-class vessel under the command of Captain T'Vok, emerged in all its majesty from the Bajorian tunnel, a space phenomenon more unique than rare, as it is a stable and natural link between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants.

Although originally the mission was to spend a full 18 months in the Gamma Quadrant, with the dual objective of exploring a region of the Milky Way so remote that it could only be accessed through the wormhole and gathering as much information on the Dominion as possible, the crew had been urgently called back due to the increasing number of incursions into Federation territories at the hands of the Dominion. This was causing Starfleet's exploration plans to be revised, forcing the vessel's relocation.

The order to return to the Alpha Quadrant had come directly from Starfleet Command, and had reached the Europa during the final stages of initial contact. It was Lieutenant Commander Leeda Sevek, who was in command at the time, who had contacted Captain T'Vok while she, along with First Officer R'Mau, Security Officer Moq and Lieutenant Lon Sonoda, a science officer specialising in interfacing with new cultures, were on the planet, informing her of the new orders from Earth.
To be honest, the Europa was not the only ship to be recalled from its mission: precisely because of the growing threat from the Dominion, most of the vessels sent to explore deep space had to be returned to the Federation and Starfleet as soon as possible, thus allowing the Federation Command and Presidency to have as many resources as possible at their disposal to deploy before a further escalation between the two powers at play.

As soon as the Europa delegation was able to disengage from the festivities organised by the planet's government following their success in the negotiations, Captain T'Vok ordered a course to be set for the Celestial Temple and the Alpha Quadrant, for a journey that would take no longer than a few days before they were able to reach the entrance to the Bajoran tunnel. Once they reached the Alpha Quadrant, they were to make their way to Deep Space 9, where they would be docked for a handful of days to await their next assignment; this would then allow the crew to take some time off before returning to operations, as well as providing a valuable opportunity for the ship's quartermaster to replenish the ship's stores.

The crewman at the helm, a very young Bolian who had been recruited into Starfleet right when the Europa was commissioned, announced: «We have cleared the event horizon: we are once again in the Alpha Quadrant.» Settling herself upright in the Captain's chair and looking up from the report she was reviewing, Eva Ferrari, commanding the Gamma shift for that night, did not have time to order to set course to Deep Space 9 when a series of pings caused her to look questioningly towards the Ops console to the helmsman's left, where a woman with a very slight french accent notified: «Incoming transmission from Deep Space 9, Lieutenant.»
Arching an eyebrow, Ferrari straightened and, setting aside the PADD from which she was reading, ordered: «On screen, Ensign.»

The faces of Captain Benjamin Sisko, the station's commanding officer for the UFP and Starfleet Command, and Major Kira Nerys, the first officer and Bajoran Liaison Officer for the Bajoran Provisional Government, replaced the screen otherwise occupied by the continuous sensor feed superimposed on a pitch-black sky characterised with glowing dots. If, at first the two officers seemed surprised to see a mere second Lieutenant in charge, it didn't take them long to recover from their astonishment. In fact it gave the impression that there was something else going on that wasn't as it should be.
«Europa, it's good to see you again,» were the first words spoken by Sisko as a greeting, while at his side Kira seemed to be analysing some data from a PADD she held in her hand, twisting her lips with her left hand. Even from a distance, it was possible to feel the tension emanating from her body: whatever was written on the device she was so eagerly analysing, clearly did not bode well with her. It was only when Ferrari replied - «The pleasure is ours, sir. We were just about to head for Deep Space 9, is there a problem?» - the Bajoran looked up, resting her gaze on Europa's command deck and, perhaps, really seeing it for the first time. However, it was Sisko who took the floor again: «We have just received a distress call from the BDR-1940 Hikawa Maru, a passenger transport heading for the Trill system under attack by a group of Breen privateers.»
Kira interjected: «Our runabouts are not equipped to deal with them and the Defiant is still under repair, Chief O'Brien won't be able to complete them before the next 48 hours. We need you to intervene, Europa
Ferrari, listening to their deepening report, nodded to herself. «Send us the coordinates, Deep Space 9. We'll take care of it,» the woman answered, before taking her leave, «Europa out.»

The image on the screen switched from the Captain's office aboard Deep Space 9 to the star field that had welcomed Europa once the event horizon of the Celestial Temple had been cleared. Ferrari activated the intercom located to her right: «Captain T'Vok report to the Bridge.»


A few minutes later, Captain T'Vok entered the Bridge from one of the turbolifts located at the rear of the command bridge, behind both the tactical and medical-scientific consoles and, in turn, immediately behind the chairs reserved for the trio of officers consisting of the Captain, XO and Counselor.
Ferrari, as soon as she had heard the turbolift doors open, had risen from the centre seat and made way for the Vulcan, simultaneously turning to face the woman so she could look her in the eyes: «We have been contacted by Deep Space 9: they have received a distress call from a passenger transport en route to Trillius Prime. They say they are under attack by Breen privateers.»
Continuing to her own station, at which she took her seat shortly afterwards, T'Vok asked: «Did DS9 send the coordinates?»
«Yes, ma'am,» Ferrari replied, after receiving confirmation from the Ensign at Ops.
«Very well, Lieutenant,» T'Vok commented, before continuing, «Red alert. All hands to battle stations. Helm, warp 3. Engage.» The Bolian at the helm obeyed immediately, responding with a very simple «Yes, Ma'am,» before taking the Europa to warp.

The red alert scenario, in a starship, involved dim, reddish lighting, dimly lit corridors, a frantic bustle of people, the sound of alarm claxons and, normally, all command and Alpha shift personnel at their stations, with security teams deployed to safeguard the ship and other personnel. In this situation, as evidenced by the empty seat to T'Vok's right, that was not exactly the case.
Protocol also called for the XO to lead an intervention team to go into action once they had arrived in support of the passenger transport, but the Caitian Officer, Commander R'Mau, was still recovering in Sickbay after a close encounter with the Dominion during their last first contact in the Gamma Quadrant. On the other hand, the possible clash with the Breen required Lieutenant Moq, the Klingon Tactical and Security Officer, to be on board and at his post, to better coordinate the defence of the ship and the reconnaissance teams sent into the field.

Since she had not been ordered to resume her usual position at the helm, Ferrari had moved further to the right. This way she could directly monitor the constant sensor feed running continuously on the tactical screen located at the position usually occupied by R'Mau. As was the case aboard all UFP vessels, the officers serving on them had to be able to adapt as needed, in cases of extreme necessity. They needed to be ready to step out of their comfort zone, and take control. It was essential if they wanted to advance their careers or simply explore new possibilities for their future within the ranks of Starfleet.

Reasoning that the experience the Lieutenant had gained immediately after graduating from the Academy, during her years at the Zefram Cochrane Space Flight Center as a pilot and test pilot (both in the holosuite and in the field), would certainly be useful should there be a need to evacuate the passenger transport without employing the transporter but, rather, one of the shuttles aboard the Europa, T'Vok issued a further set of orders, this time in Ferrari's direction: «Assemble a team, Lieutenant, and go to Transporter Room 3: after engaging the Breen, you will be beamed aboard the Hikawa Maru to assess the damage and casualties sustained. Should the situation not allow you to lower your shields long enough to teleport down, you will be forced to take a shuttle to complete the mission. In any case, we will have your backs.»
Ferrari, who had looked up from the tactical feed she had been studying until a moment before, offered a simple nod, before leaving the command deck and heading to prepare for her rescue mission.


Within a relatively short time, the Europa would be coming out of warp with shields up and weapons at the ready, prepared to deal with any threat the Breen might pose should they attempt to offer more resistance than anticipated. All crew members had reached their stations, with Transporter Room Three and the Shuttle Bay on standby, ready to respond as needed, depending on how events would unfold in front of them.
In the Shuttle Bay a team of engineers had prepared a shuttle in case the team assembled by Ferrari could not be transported. The members of said team had assembled and were awaiting orders from the Bridge to proceed. Lieutenant Ferrari, who had found herself in charge of the entire operation, had assembled a group of six people. In addition to herself, there were three Security Officers, the Chief Engineer and the Chief Medical Officer.

Leaving Security and Lieutenant Commander Cartier to make a final check of their equipment, Ferrari walked over to Dr. Katherine Pulaski, who’s eyes stared out, uncaring of the events unfolding around her, focused on the Transporter Platform: «Doctor, is everything all right?»
The middle-aged woman seemed to be torn from her musings at the words of the Lieutenant, turning to look at her with a wry smile on her face: «I used to hate this damn technology. Hell,» she shrugged, «I still hate beam tech, every single little megabyte of it.» She returned her gaze to the platform in front of her for a moment, before continuing: «But, a few years ago, I was forced to reconsider some of my attitudes towards the matter.»
Ferrari arched an eyebrow, ready to ask where the other woman was going with this, but was beaten to it: «If it wasn't for Data and beam technology, I wouldn't be here right now. Wondering if it's really worth trusting or not.»

«Well, Doctor,» Ferrari observed, «Beam accidents are not as common as you think. It's not like it was a century ago, during the five-year mission of Kirk's Enterprise: you have nothing to be afraid of.»
The Doctor tightened her mouth, but before the conversation could continue any further, the intracom activated and the voice of the second officer, Lieutenant Commander Leeda Sevek, filled the air: «Transporter Room Three, this is the Bridge: we will be out of warp in less than thirty seconds.»
With one last glance at her own team, who were now arranging themselves on the Transporter dais, Ferrari raised her voice in answer: «We are ready, Bridge. At your discretion. Ferrari out.» Both she and Dr Pulaski were the last to take their posts, with the three from Security and Ferrari herself armed and ready, in case things went worse than expected.


The Bridge brimmed with a contradicting mix calmness, expectation and anticipation: the Bolian at the helm stood ready to bring the massive vessel out of warp and, at the same time, prepared for the eventuality that evasive manoeuvres might have to be taken to disengage the Breen.
At his left side, Commander Leeda, who was also standing in for the first officer at that juncture, informed them that they were «...exiting warp in 15 seconds.» The words were immediately followed by a change of mood around him: in a matter of nanoseconds, in fact, all the officers present on the bridge went from absolute stillness to growing excitement, while the ever-impassive T'Vok imperceptibly shifted her weight in the Captain's chair, trusting her crew would be able to carry out their duties without further input from her.
At his station, located behind the triptych of command chairs, Lieutenant Moq had just finished reconfiguring part of his terminal to function as a communications display. Thereby, allowing constant contact between the ship and the landing party, in coordination with Leeda, with whom he shared the duties of Communications Officer.

The Bajoran began counting down to warp out, reaching zero while the starry sky shown on the main viewer by the external sensors slowed to a stop on a more static view of the area of space in which the Europa was located. A moment later, the sensors registered, relatively close to the Sovereign-class vessel, the passenger transport that had sent the distress call, an old Clipper-class ship, little more than a large four-tier shuttle with two oversized nacelles, and its assailant Breen.
The sensor feed soon began to be enriched with information from the medium and long-range sensors, with Commander Leeda reporting, «The Breen ship has its shields down, Captain.» He checked his terminal again: «Sensors have identified a transporter beam in progress from the pirate ship to the passenger transport: they are sending boarding parties.»

The Captain promptly issued a series of specific orders to her officers who, with proven efficiency, started to efficiently carry out her commands: «Conn, ¾ impulse, get us in. Tactical, target their weapons, shields, engines and communications, to disable them. Coordinate with Operations and Transporter Room Three: we need our people on that transport immediately.»
A chorus of «Yes, Ma'am,» filled the air and the massive vessel was deployed in no time at all. In Transporter Room Three, the NCO on duty reported that everything was ready and that the team was just waiting to be beamed aboard the civilian transport. Despite the fact that the Hikawa Maru's command deck was protected by a low-intensity transporter inhibitor, powerful enough not to allow stable docking, they could circumnavigate this issue by teleporting Ferrari and her team to the area closest to the deck.

In record time Lieutenant Moq disabled not only the shield emitters, but also the communication arrays, weapons and engines, leaving the Breen pirates unprotected; with the same kind of efficiency, the Transporter Room, coordinating with the Bridge, teleported the rescue team aboard the passenger transport in a flash. Moments later, Moq had once again raised its shields, while Europa prepared to secure as much time as possible for Ferrari and her men, in case the Breen managed to fix the communications system to send a distress call to their fellows before communications were cut.

On board the Hikawa Maru, the situation seemed to have worsened dramatically: the flash of light that had momentarily pierced the pressing darkness of the mess hall had deposited a group of masked Breen aboard the transport, weapons at the ready and torches illuminating the environment.
The Ktarian boy was still clinging to his father, while the Trill scientist had managed to get just close enough to the pair to place a hand on the youngling's back, in a probably futile attempt to reassure him further. The moment the assailants had appeared, weapons drawn, the man had not hesitated to pull his son closer to him, placing himself between him and the Breen, clearly intending to protect him at any cost. It was obvious that he had no wish for his son to be targeted in the event of things escalating.

Catching the movement out of the corner of his eye, one of the assailants gestured with his own weapon and, still wearing the characteristic mask of the Breen Confederacy, ordered: «Nobody move!». In the same second,  orders were given to the other soldiers to scatter, with the aim of finding the quickest way to the Command Bridge.
Just then, all eyes were inevitably drawn to the distinctive noise of a second transporter, this time a strictly Federation one, which deposited a group of six individuals clad in Starfleet uniforms, also armed and ready to fire, not far from the privateers.

While one of the new arrivals wore the distinctive uniform of the medical/scientific section, the other five wore the red and yellow relating to the command and operation/tactical departments. However there was little chance of identifying further details with chaos erupting with identification of the other’s opponent. Passengers, and staff alike reacted out of desperation, trying to get out of range of the immediate ensuing firefight.
Some shots went wild, reaching the crowd and finding targets among the civilians: before the young Ktarian's eyes, his father died in a desperate attempt to protect him, without a groan or a sound except for a dull thud on the floor as his body fell to the ground following a stray shot.

Despite the attempts of one of her colleagues to stop her and keep her safe, Lenara could not help but approach the child and hold him close, protecting him as his father had just done; the next few moments proceeded at such a speed that no one could tell what had happened.


In the darkness interrupted by the military torches, and in the silence that had followed the brief but bloody clash between Breen and Federation, everything seemed unnaturally still. Lieutenant Ferrari, with her phaser rifle held firmly in her hands and in an attack position, was still nothing but a bundle of nerves, ready to snap at the slightest sign of danger.
Both Dr. Pulaski and Chief Cartier had immediately gone to work as soon as the fighting was over, with the security personnel spread around them to provide protection from any problems that had not yet materialised.
In the darkness, only the lights placed on their weapons and the torches attached to their wrists gave them the minimum of illumination required to see their surroundings, allowing the team to move with a little more ease. Nonetheless, Ferrari fervently hoped that Cartier would be able to restore the lighting system as soon as possible: as well as greatly helping the team, it would also allow the civilians on board to calm down once and for all.

A thin, strained voice reached Ferrari's ears, coming from a few metres away from the woman. The Lieutenant looked very carefully around, turning around, cleaving through the darkness with the light fixed on her wrist, until she found the source of the voice. It was a child, Ktarian judging by the characteristic ridges of the species placed between his eyes, barely discernible, crouched as it was under a shapeless mass of bodies, still indistinguishable from each other despite the beam of light aimed at them.
Slowly, moving a few tables and chairs in the canteen, Ferrari approached him, trying not to startle the other people she came across.

Just before reaching the youngling, the ship's lights came back on almost abruptly, a success immediately followed by a whistle of satisfaction from Cartier, who immediately focused her attention on the damage report feed that the console in front of her was displaying. After a quick word with Ferrari, the engineer contacted Europa to have additional personnel sent to her, which would allow her to better manage the repairs and get the passenger transport back on course as soon as possible.
Turning and resuming, this time with more agility, to walk towards the child, Ferrari spotted Dr. Pulaski, assisted by one of the security men, busy tending to a pair of aliens who did not appear to have suffered more than a few scrapes and bruises, due mainly to having been bumped, during the Breen attack, by some bulkhead that had collapsed from the ceiling.

When she finally reached the Ktarian, the situation that presented itself before her struck her in all its force and tragedy. The child found himself between kneeling and crouching next to a wounded trill woman (if the spots visible on the sides of her face were any indication), very pale and almost on the verge of fainting - only the attempts of one of his compatriots, rather young by Trill standards and looking very much like the woman, seemed to succeed in keeping her semi-conscious - and that of another Ktarian, this time clearly dead, probably from a blow that had struck him in the chest. The Trill was bleeding profusely from the side, a sign that he too was not doing well, although he was trying hard to ignore his condition in favour of the woman.
The training Ferrari had undergone immediately took over, leading the woman to kneel beside them, phaser rifle momentarily forgotten to one side, tricorder in hand and reconfigured for basic medical tricorder functionality, analysing the two Trills in front of her. A moment later, the woman activated her communicator to call Dr. Pulaski: «Ferrari to Pulaski, I need you urgently. The situation’s escalated»
«I understand your inability to perform any kind of surgical operation, Lieutenant...» the physician began to grumble and scold.
But Ferrari was in no mood to put on a good face to the Doctor's usual scurvy demeanour, which is why she cut her off with a blunt reply: «These people don't just have a few bruises, Doctor, they're in pretty critical condition! I need you here, NOW!»

Having broken off communication, the woman focused on the Ktarian at her side, trying somehow to reassure him, well aware that her hasty manner just before had obviously had no soothing effect on the child: «Hey, young man. You were very, very brave. What's your name?» She tried to smile at him, but she highly doubted that her own efforts would really pay off, considering what the boy had just experienced. She didn’t doubt the trauma that’d likely scarred the brain, and the consequences of it. It would only be with the help of skilled specialists would he come out of it and time.
«Drenkteg,» the child replied, clearly frightened, but the conversation had no chance to develop further as it was interrupted by a male voice coming from behind Ferrari, which forced itself on the woman's attention: «We thought we were doomed, what took you so long?»
The words, spoken with particular harshness, caused Ferrari to stand up, after smiling reassuringly at the Ktarian and picking up his weapon, and turn towards the individual who had so rudely addressed her.
He was a Trill in his fifties, with a stern frown on his face, evidently used to commanding and being obeyed without hesitation by those with whom he collaborated. He did not appear to be injured in any way, although he clearly wore the shock of what had happened on his face, and Ferrari thought it best not to give him an annoyed reply, although he probably deserved it: «We arrived as soon as we received your distress call, Mr...?»
«Pren. Dr. Hanor Pren, of the Trill Science Institute,» the Trill answered her, retaining that arrogant conceit look that grated her nerves..

Pulaski chose that very moment to make her appearance. She looked down at Pren and, without bothering to use the medical tricorder, interrupted him just as rudely: «You look great, what are you still doing here? Get out of my way!» After that, her attention shifted entirely to the individuals at her feet, forgetting in no time who was surrounding her, she left Ferrari to pick up little Drenkteg with some difficulty and move a few steps away, motioning to Pren to follow her.
The scientist made way for Pulaski, but remained as close as possible to the pair of compatriots now under the doctor's care, who, a few moments later, waved Ferrari back: «Lieutenant. I cannot take care of them here, they are both in critical condition, especially the woman. I'll beam back to Europa with both of them. In Sickbay I should have a better chance of being able to stabilise them.»

Ferrari nodded, before asking: «And the other passengers? What are their conditions?»
«I will send a medical team to take care of the injured who are still there. From what I've seen, I can say that no one else should be injured so badly as to require the use of the medical equipment aboard the Europa,» Pulaski replied before contacting Europa to be beamed immediately to Sickbay; she disappeared moments later, leaving behind Ferrari, the passenger transport, and the various teams of engineers dedicated to repairing the Hikawa Maru.


«Live long and prosper, Captain,» greeted T'Vok for the last time, from the Europa's bridge, before the link with the passenger transport and its commanding officer was severed and the two ships finally took different paths.
On the main screen, the sensor feed showed the other vessel, smaller than the Sovereign-class, entering warp, heading towards Trillius Prime. From his station at Operations, Leeda said: «Ready to resume previous course, Captain. In Sickbay, Dr. Pulaski reports that, at least for now, the patients are stable, but that it would be best to arrive as soon as possible on Deep Space 9
Ferrari added: «Course laid in, Captain. DS9 has confirmed our last report and informs us that they are ready for our imminent arrival with wounded aboard: they will have a medical team ready as soon as we are on site.»
«Engage,» was T'Vok's simple reply, and the Europa jumped to warp.

The Europa had been moored to one of Deep Space 9's upper pylons since its arrival at the station. Despite the minimal damage sustained during the skirmish against the Breen, Commander Cartier had not stopped grumbling about the condition in which she had found the vessel on its return from the hell that had been the Hikawa Maru, making a few minor interventions while en route to the Cardassian starbase.
Once they had arrived at their destination, the first thing she had done was to put her staff to work restoring the ship to maximum efficiency, aided by Miles O'Brien, Deep Space 9's Chief of Operations, and the station's engineers. It was only once the ship was back to perfection again that she allowed them to enjoy the well-deserved rest that their other colleagues had already begun to enjoy.

On board Deep Space 9, not far from the station's Infirmary, Benjamin Sisko and Kira Nerys were talking in hushed tones with two officers wearing the typical uniforms of those who served aboard the Federation vessels, one Vulcan and one Human, who had beamed over from Europa some time before to discuss reports on passenger transport.
It had to be said that, in fact, at this particular moment they were simply passing the time with as much small talk as one could make with a Vulcan, while waiting for Drs. Bashir and Pulaski, who were operating on one of the patients who had been beamed directly into Deep Space 9 Sickbay.

Ferrari's attention, which until that moment had been totally absorbed in observing the main entrance to the Infirmary, was caught by a few words from Major Kira, likely addressed to her: «Dr. Bashir is one of the greatest experts when it comes to Trill physiology: he will surely be able to save both the symbiont Kahn and its host, Lenara.»
Ferrari turned to the three superiors, barely shrugging at the Bajoran's comment: «I am not so much concerned about the surgery applied to Dr. Kahn, Major. Rather, who I'm really worried about is the boy, Drenkteg. It will take some time before he is able to cope with what has happened to him and, above all, before he is able to accept and understand his father's death, right in front of his eyes.»
«His mother will arrive soon,» Sisko observed, «after all the journey from Bajor is not that long and she took the first available transport to Deep Space 9
«From Bajor?» Ferrari seemed genuinely intrigued by this fact, despite it being a relatively minor detail.
«Yes, she works on the planet as a civilian botanist,» Kira replied, before continuing: «A few years ago she joined an agrobiological expedition led by Keiko O'Brien.»
«I know her,» for the first time since the conversation had begun, T'Vok had taken up the floor, «For some time Ms. O'Brien has been aboard the Enterprise, so it is logical to assume that she was one of the most suitable candidates to be considered to coordinate it when the need to choose one arose.» In response, Ferrari merely asked when the woman would arrive.
«The next transport from Bajor is scheduled to arrive in a few hours,» Kira answered her, «So it won't be long.»

«Captain, Major,» for a Vulcan, T'Vok gave the impression of being a little too annoyed, «we have a meeting to look forward to.» The remark led Sisko to a slight nod, anticipating her response: «Please, this way.»
The three officers walked towards the nearest turbolift, but a discreet cough from Ferrari caused them to stop and turn towards her, with questioning expressions - or neutral, in T'Vok's case: «I'd prefer to stay here, if that's alright with you. With the fact that Drenkteg's mother will be on board in a few hours, perhaps it would be better for the boy, when he wakes up, to find at his bedside someone he sort of knows. Besides,» she added. «The order to take a few days' rest applies to everyone. Perhaps, by staying close to him, I can somehow help him until his mother arrives on board.»
«If Captain Sisko agrees,» T'Vok observed placidly, «you have my permission, Lieutenant.» The man merely gave Ferrari a nod, before resuming his way back to his office.


Once in Sickbay, she was directed by a nurse to the bed where the young Ktarian was sleeping placidly thanks to a series of mild sedatives given to him by Dr. Bashir, Deep Space 9's Chief Medical Officer. A glance at the vital signs on the Cardassian machine immediately above Drenkteg's head informed her that everything was normal.
On an adjacent bed, equally asleep, was one of the two Trills teleported from Europa as soon as they arrived on Deep Space 9. His condition appeared to be far less critical than that of the woman Ferrari had found with him both aboard the Hikawa Maru, but nonetheless serious enough that it could not be fully resolved aboard the Europa, even though Dr. Pulaski had managed to stabilise him, effectively saving his life and leaving little for his colleague aboard the station to do. Although she had also managed to stabilise Dr. Kahn, in Trill's case, further intervention by Dr. Bashir had proved necessary. Dr. Bashir had been joined by Pulaski herself, as she had made it clear that she still considered both patients under her care.

Before she could return to her study of the still sleeping youngling, however, a slight movement of the man led her to approach him, contacting the nurse who had greeted her at the entrance in case it became necessary to intervene.
Gently, since the Trill seemed quite agitated, the woman placed a hand on his shoulder and one on his arm, well aware of how being in a seemingly unfamiliar place could be a source of profound stress.
«Hey,» Ferrari tried to reassure him, «It's okay, you're safe and sound now.»
«Safe? Safe where? What happened?»
«Easy, easy,» Ferrari had found herself applying slightly more pressure the moment the man had shown signs of wanting to get up from his cot. «You are aboard Deep Space 9, under the care of Dr. Bashir. I am Eva Ferrari, from the Europa. We received your distress call and arrived just in time to remove you from the breen pirates, by whom you were under attack.»
«Deep Space 9? What am I doing back on Deep Space 9?» Although he seemed more lucid than moments before, the Trill did not seem to have understood what Ferrari had told him, but neither did he seem to have any memory of what had happened aboard the passenger transport. A few moments later, however, something seemed to click in him, as he firmly grasped the woman's left arm with his free hand and asked agitatedly: «What about my sister? How are she and her symbiont?»
«Calm down,» Ferrari gently urged him, as a nurse finally reached her, hypospray in hand. It took only a moment and the Trill found himself asleep again. Ferrari relaxed, dropping his arms along his sides, asking the nurse: «Will he be okay?»
The man nodded, confident: «Absolutely, Lieutenant. He just needs time, like any other patient in his condition. Dr. Bashir is convinced that he will recover soon, since he arrived on board in a much better condition than Dr. Kahn.»

The two’s conversation interrupted, as the sliding doors of the operating room opened, letting a self-propelled cot, on which lay an apparently inanimate body, and a small group of four people into the rehabilitation area. Katherine Pulaski, still dressed in the surgeon's typical red scrubs, cast a surprised glance at her colleague, not expecting Ferrari to be there, before following Dr. Bashir, also still in his scrubs, to make the final checks on the newly operated patient.
When, at last, the two doctors returned, Dr. Bashir motioned the two women to follow him to his office, where they could talk to each other without being too disturbed.
«How is she?»
«She's going to be fine,» Dr. Bashir replied to her, sitting down behind his own desk and, at the same time, placing the PADD he was finishing checking on its shelf. «We were able to stabilise both Lenara and her symbiote, Kahn, by operating on both simultaneously, despite the fact that at one point we were in serious danger of losing her. I worried that we would be forced to remove the symbiote in order to at least preserve her life.»
«Fortunately, we were not forced to resort to this extreme gesture,» Pulaski observed before asking, addressing Ferrari, «By the way, Lieutenant, what are you doing here? I thought the crew had been granted leave, albeit brief.»
«I asked permission to be on hand in case Drenkteg,» she gave a brief nod towards the young Ktarian, «woke up before his mother arrived. A friendly face,» she continued, «could help him calm down in a totally unfamiliar environment until the parent arrives.»

The next day, Drenkteg's mother was escorted to the Infirmary by a security officer belonging to the company stationed on Deep Space 9, clearly in a state of shock after receiving the devastating news of her husband's death and the risk her only son was in.

Next to what must have been the Chief Medical Officer's office, a pair of Starfleet officers flanked Drenkteg, pale and worn from his traumatic experience aboard the Hikawa Maru, but otherwise apparently healthy. The boy, who up to that point had remained close to the young woman in the red uniform, ran towards his mother with outstretched arms, ready to be picked up by the woman, who held him close, crying with relief and immense pain.

«Well,» grumbled Ferrari, intending not to be heard by anyone except Dr. Bashir, still at her side. «That settles it once and for all. Doctor...» she smiled furtively at him, clear intent to leave the Infirmary by stealth, «'s been a pleasure meeting you, but...I really must be going.» She had hoped in vain, all things considered, taking a few steps to discreetly leave the Sickbay, before she found herself confronted by mother and son, disentangled from their previous embrace and waiting for the two humans to conclude their subdued conversation.
«Yes?» Ferrari looked at them puzzled for a moment, certainly not expecting to see them still there, but rather heading towards the woman's assigned quarters or, alternatively, heading for the first transport bound for Bajor. «I wanted to thank you - both of you - for what you did for my son. I really don't know what I would have done if I had lost him too.» The look she gave her son said it all, as did the smile, which stretched his face painstakingly, spoke more than anything she could say: they were going to have a tough time ahead of them.

Ferrari gave her an encouraging smile, before crouching down at the same level as Drenkteg: «Everything will be fine, Drenkteg, okay?» The two exchanged a quick hug, then turned to his mother: «If he is safe and sound, he owes it to his father, who protected him at the cost of his life, and to Dr. Kahn, who put not only her life, but also that of her own symbiont, at risk.»
The Ktarian woman tried to compose herself, although the effort was clearly immense: «Can we see her?» Dr. Bashir nodded: «I will accompany you, but I need you to be very quiet: she is still unconscious, it will take time for her to fully recover, we have undertaken a demanding procedure. It would be best not to disturb her rest and recovery too much.»
The woman nodded: «If it is possible, I would really like to see at least her face. Just a few minutes, I promise.»


Lenara Kahn had never felt so happy to find herself surrounded by Cardassian architecture as she did at that moment. For a long time, she had done nothing but recall pain and more pain, coupled with an indefinitely protracted state of abstraction, until she had gradually regained consciousness, finding herself in strangely familiar surroundings.
When Dr. Bashir had appeared at her side, with his affable manner and thoughtful attention, the Trill had finally put all the pieces of the puzzle in place, realising she was on Deep Space 9. Although he was not particularly inclined to dispense information of any kind, probably to avoid further pressure, Bashir had explained the situation to her as quickly as possible, before pointing out: «You need rest and time to recover properly, Lenara. You and your symbiont have been through hell and the procedure I was forced to subject you to was certainly not the easiest...»

With a final smile and a reassuring squeeze, Bashir made to move away from the cot where Lenara had been placed, but the Trill had stopped him with a question: «Jadzia...?» and, at the man's questioning glance at her, Kahn had elaborated better: «Does she know... that I'm here?» Bashir had shaken his head: «No, she knows nothing.»
At that point, returning to her bedside, he had explained to her that the other Trill had become increasingly withdrawn into herself since her departure from the station, limiting herself to doing the bare minimum during her shifts, but otherwise staying on her own, no longer participating in shipboard life as she once did. She no longer interacted with her close friends, no longer spent hours playing tongo with Quark... she couldn't be said to be herself, in fact.
Lenara had begged Bashir to be allowed to talk to Jadzia, certain that she would be able to shake the other woman out of the apathy she had fallen into once and for all, but the doctor had vehemently refused to do so, for numerous reasons, not least of which was the emotional reaction of both women, particularly Dax's, clearly still shaken and hurt.
«Doctor,» an exasperated Bashir had at one point remarked, through gritted teeth, «what I am concerned with, as my patient, is that you recover from the stress you and the symbiont have been subjected to. Secondly,» he added, preventing her from intervening and interrupting him, «I am not convinced that Jadzia would let anyone get close to her for more than just a report. Now,» - and the firmness in his tone suggested that he would not accept any excuses, - «let's focus on healing. In the meantime, I'll find a way to... help her on that front as well, alright?»

A few hours later, Lieutenant Ferrari found herself back in the Infirmary, having been summoned there by Dr. Bashir, who had provided little information via intercom. As soon as she spotted the doctor, busy comparing some analyses with one of his subordinates, she approached him and asked: «You wished to see me, Doctor?»
«Give me a moment, Lieutenant, and I'll be right with you,» Bashir replied absent-mindedly, without looking up from the device on which he was studying some graphs, probably related to one of the many experiments being conducted in the base's medical labs. All in all he was quick, considering how far the scientist could lose track of their surroundings when left too much to his research.

«Follow me,» he said, shortly afterwards, leaving the DataPADD with the medical technician he had been talking to, motioning for Ferrari to follow him. Unlike the last time they had seen each other, the woman was wearing a typical martial arts uniform, red on red, he’d likely pulled the woman away from some activity in the Holosuite.
«I hope I didn't disturb you too much,» he told her, as they made their way to a quieter, less busy area of the infirmary. The woman merely shrugged, «Lieutenant Commander Worf has made himself available for Klingon martial arts training sessions. When you contacted me, we had just run out of time. It was no trouble, Doctor.»

Arriving, finally, in his office area, Bashir motioned for her to sit down, taking his own chair himself: «I realise that what I'm about to ask you may seem inappropriate, Lieutenant, but I really need to ask you a favour. At the moment, I see no alternative.» Ferrari motioned for him to continue, settling herself in her chair and crossing her legs, hands resting on her lap: «What can I do, Doctor?»
«I guess you don't know much about it, given Europa's stay in the Gamma Quadrant until a few days ago, but the Trill scientists we got to rescue have been aboard Deep Space 9 for a few weeks, intending to conduct more in-depth studies of the Bajoran wormhole - the Celestial Temple.» This earned him a slight nod from the interlocutor: «Yes, I may have heard about it while I was still aboard that civilian transport. As far as I know, there was a group of three Trills. Prime, the only one left on board the Hikawa Maru, kept reminding us that we had two of the most important scientists on the subject in custody. I gather he was also part of the staff.»

«Dr. Hanor Pren,» nodded Bashir, «one of the team members, yes. The project leader, however, was the Trill woman we managed to rescue a few days ago, Dr. Lenara Kahn. Now, although I'm sure it's not public knowledge, I think you need to know, before I make my request.» Ferrari sat forward, leaning onto the desk. «She had been having a romantic relationship with a member of our crew.»
Briefly, the doctor gave Ferrari an account of what had happened during their time on the station, accompanied by a couple of quick references to Trill legislation regarding re-association: after previous hosts had been married, it was strongly discouraged for symbionts to continue the relationship in new bodies. It would not give them the desired variety of experiences.
«Let me get this straight, please,» Ferrari intervened, «Dax and Kahn were married when the two were inside a previous host couple. According to the legislation of their homeworld, it is forbidden to re-associate with the previous partner in a new host, right? How does one determine who is really responsible for these emotions, exactly?» The question hung in the air, waiting for an answer that Bashir found difficult, if not impossible, to provide. Although his studies had made him one of the leading experts in Trill physiology, thanks to the stable presence of a Starfleet trill officer aboard the base he served on, he was not as well versed in how the link between the two minds worked, the two beings that, from a certain moment on, went to make up the one.

«I'm not sure I have satisfactory answers to give you, Lieutenant,» Bashir admitted, adding: «Just as I'm not particularly sure they can be found on Trillius Prime. In their culture, it is more important to give the symbiont as many experiences as possible, so anything that deviates from that directive is forbidden.»
The other officer merely nodded: «I guess there's no easy or right answer. Or for that matter, a correct answer.» Ferrari brought attention back to the matter, asking the doctor the next question: «How can I help? Our oath requires us not to interfere with other cultures, even if they are capable of warp drive and are at an evolutionary stage comparable to ours.» She didn't quite understand where the conversation was going, why Bashir needed her, but she hoped the man would give her a straight answer as soon as possible.
It also had to be said that she did not personally know the people involved: she was clearly the least likely individual to make such an intervention. Bashir, on the other hand, seemed to think otherwise: «I would say leave the Trill cultural matters in the hands of the Trills, Lieutenant. Otherwise, we will open a debate in which neither of us will be able to come up with a justification that is satisfactory, not only for us, but also and especially for them. Now, what I would like is to avoid giving Dax the chance to be tempted into breaking reassociating, by talking to Lenara. Let's just say she's got it pretty bad...»
Gesturing with his right hand and continuing to speak, Bashir motioned Ferrari to get up and follow him, preceding her to the recovery area, where the long-term patients were, followed by the woman, who still had a sceptical expression on her face.

Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax, Deep Space 9's Chief Science Officer, was sitting alone at one of Quark's table, a strange fact in itself, considering the long hours she spent there. The Quarks was often blessed with her patronage, and she did not suffer from lack of tablemates, frequently finding herself gambling with the owner and other patrons, in fact having given the bar her patronage just days before. Even Quark, who usually wasted no opportunity to butt in and make a few too many jokes, had preferred to leave the woman to her drink that day without making any comments, not even a sly remark here or there.

The events of the past few days, running through her head on loop, uninterruptedly, had shaken her to the core and driven her away from everything and everyone, unaware of what she was doing. She had hoped from the deepest part of her heart that Lenara would choose to remain aboard Deep Space 9 with her instead of returning to Trillius Prime, but the other scientist remained firm in her initial decision to return home, along with her two colleagues, effectively nullifying any chance between the two. Assuming, however, that there was a chance at all.

Staring, through the glass in front of her, more as a focal point for her gaze than an object of interest, Jadzia remembered the despair that had gripped her when, having remained on the second level of the Promenade for what had seemed like an eternity, she had seen her hopes completely shattered.  When Kahn, after exchanging a few words with Worf and casting a brief glance towards her, had then entered the gangway that would allow her to board the Hikawa Maru. The sense of emptiness that had accompanied her since that moment had led her to push away all those closest to her, indifferent to their attempts to break down the wall she had built to protect herself and her feelings, not realising that, in doing so, her friends' concern for her only increased.

A discreet cough brought her back to reality. Looking up, she found herself facing Julian Bashir, flanked by a woman unknown to her, wearing the uniform worn by officers serving aboard a vessel command section. On her collar she was wearing the identifying rank of Lieutenant, while in her hand she held a glass of what seemed dangerously like prune juice, Lieutenant Commander Worf's favourite.
Both appeared to be rather tense and not quite at ease, but out of the two, Bashir’s expression betrayed the most of all the tension he was feeling at that moment. After all, on more than a few occasions he had found himself dealing with the worst side of Trill, basically being thrown a metaphorical fish in the face and driven away in every possible way by the woman's ever-increasing temper.

«May we sit at your table for a moment, Commander?»
In spite of the discomfort, and the not-so-light air that had been created, the Lieutenant seemed to have every intention of completing what the Doctor had asked for her help with. All this made it quite evident, regardless of whether or not the Trill might be sympathetic to having her solitude disturbed by anyone, friend or foe that she needed help.
Despite the determination with which the question had been asked, Dax tried somewhat to hold off their attention, stalling: «I would really prefer to be alone, Lieutenant...?» She did not hesitate to spare an icy glance at Julian, who made no move  to retreat. There was also the fact that she had no idea who the woman in front of her was, bearing in mind that the officer was definitely not part of the complement stationed on board the base. On the contrary, it was plausible that she was part of the crew of one of the Starfleet vessels that, at various intervals, docked at Deep Space 9 for refuelling, personnel replacement or for some brief staff leave.

«Lieutenant Eva Ferrari, helmswoman of the U.S.S. Europa,» the woman replied, unphased at the dry answer Jadzia offered her. After all, from what Bashir had told her, the Trill in front of her was not looking for company and support, so one dry answer was as good as another, as far as she was concerned. Ignoring the outraged look of the officer in front of her, Ferrari took a seat on the only vacant chair at the table, Bashir doing the same snatching one from an empty table nearby, placing his own drinks in front of them - a Ferengi waiter had just left some Tarkalian tea, his favourite, in Bashir's hands.
«Starfleet Command has recalled us prematurely from our mission in the Gamma Quadrant,» Ferrari added briefly, by way of explanation, «basically because of the Dominion and the ever-increasing threat of the Federation being involved in a possible future military confrontation.»

The tone used was particularly nonchalant, as if they had all the time in the world at their disposal, and seemed to disregard the rather grumpy expression on the face of the Trill in front of her who of no means of the definition, particularly willing to be overly patient especially with a stranger.
Before Dax could make any venomous remarks, so typical of her in recent times, Bashir intervened: «Jadzia, now is not the time. I understand what you’re going through, just as I realise how you don't particularly want to talk to me or anyone else right now but, please, it is important that you listen to what we have to tell you.» Bashir looked her in the eye, before adding, «You see, I'd rather you didn't find out from a sterile report. Let us talk, please...?»

With an exasperated sigh, Dax nodded her head to continue, and it was Ferrari, setting her glass down on the table after taking a sip, who picked up the thread of the conversation, with Bashir leaning back in his own chair with a still rather tense expression on his face: «I will try to be as brief and succinct as possible, Commander.» Ferrari paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts, after which she resumed speaking in a calm and measured tone: «I understand that a few days ago a group of scientists from Trillius Prime boarded the Hikawa Maru to return to your home planet following a failed experiment concerning the creation of an artificial tunnel that could, upon further study, become stable. One of these scientists is Dr. Lenara Kahn, the new host of the Kahn symbiont, who from what I understand (and correct me if I'm wrong) in a previous incarnation was your wife. Or rather, Nilani - the then host of Kahn - was the wife of Torias - the then host of Dax - before the latter died in an accident.»

«Lieutenant...» Jadzia's low growl promised imminent danger, but it didn't seem to particularly faze Ferrari. Who instead continued: «Now, I could simply point out to you how, on a space station such as this, rumours spread rather... quickly, even among those just passing through, such as myself; but that would not be an honest observation on my part, given everything that has happened in recent days.» Huffing, almost annoyed, she took another sip from her own glass before moving on: «As I was saying, the ship where I currently serve, the Europa, was recalled from the Gamma Quadrant earlier than originally planned. Before we were able to set course for DS9, where we were scheduled to dock to fix a number of things, including refuelling, we were contacted by Captain Sisko and Major Kira regarding an incident involving a passenger transport leaving the base. For a whole host of reasons that I will refrain from listing, we were literally their only hope, which is why we promptly intervened. Fortunately, there were relatively few injured passengers, although some of them unfortunately died as a result of a skirmish on board. Our engineering staff had no trouble repairing the damage inflicted on the vessel, but we were forced to bring aboard a couple of the more seriously injured, who were then transferred to DS9's sickbay once we docked. They're obviously much better off now than they were a few days ago.»

Ferrari was forced to take another sip before continuing. Now it had come to the most complex and delicate part of the conversation, the one in which the fact that among the wounded in question was none other than Kahn herself. Taking a deep breath - underneath, she was not exactly at ease and had expressed her misgivings to Bashir on the matter - Ferrari continued: «To get straight to the point, the details we can leave for later... Dr. Kahn is currently on the station, under the care of Dr. Bashir.»
For a few moments, Dax merely stared at both of them with a seemingly vacant gaze, as if she had not understood or heard what she had just been told. Then, the almost inevitable explosion: «WHAT THE...?» Several customers seated at the surrounding tables turned towards them, with questioning and alarmed looks, before returning to their hushed conversations and consumption after seeing Ferrari and Bashir's gestures of dismissal and embarrassed smiles.

Jadzia, equally embarrassed, lowered her voice, but the impetus remained the same as she turned to Bashir, asking him why he had not informed her sooner, whether Lenara was all right and how long she had been aboard Deep Space 9, in a torrent of words that seemed to be unstoppable. Finally Julian was able to intervene, taking advantage of a moment when Dax found herself forced to catch her breath: «I don't know if you've noticed, Jadzia, but you've hardly been approachable lately. Even a little while ago, if it hadn't been for Eva's presence, you probably wouldn't have wanted to hear us out and would have found an excuse to leave me time to deal with it.»
Jadzia huffed, but was still forced to agree with him: if Bashir hadn't brought Ferrari, or any other stranger for that matter, there’s no way she would talk to Dax about anything In fact, on second thought, she had definitely tried, automatically and practically without realising it, to push them away despite their being a stranger, as indeed she had done up to that point with all her friends and colleagues on the base.

«I'm sorry to have forced you into such subterfuge, Julian,» Jadzia finally said, with evident regret and after a few moments, slumping slightly in her chair. Looking at her carefully, it was possible to see how the last period had particularly exhausted her, although she had still tried, in every way, not to give it particularly much away.
«I guess it was the only way you were able to corner me,» she added, with a bitter smile, looking up at them and, perhaps, really seeing them for the first time. Ferrari merely emptied her glass, while Bashir smiled sweetly: «Yes, indeed. I wanted to make sure I had your attention, at least for the little that I would need to address it. The Lieutenant here with us witnessed first hand the events that forced Lenara and her brother, Dr. Otner, back onto Deep Space 9. And I needed an excuse to talk to you and be heard without being kicked out.»

Ferrari coughed, drawing attention to herself for a moment, and Bashir grimaced, knowing full well where the woman was going with this. «Jadzia,» he began, uncertainly, before gathering his courage and continuing, «I was forced to operate on Lenara and her symbiont...» and he explained in full detail what had happened and why, at one point, he had found himself fearing the need to resort to explanting the Kahn symbiont, in deference to the Trill tradition of always placing the life of the symbiont above that of the host.
They both hastened to reassure Jadzia, as soon as they noticed the almost cadaverous pallor that had covered her face, making her look even more haggard than she actually was: «Lenara has recovered from the operation and with each passing day saw her strength returns. The danger, at least for the moment, is averted: there has been no relapse.»

Dax finally breathed a deep sigh of relief, her shoulders seeming to relax more than they had been up to that point, although she didn't seem to have lost her acidity entirely: «And now... what exactly? What do you expect to happen? That the Lenara of this time decides to throw away the convictions of a lifetime to stay here with me? Already once, not so long ago, I made the mistake of hoping for the impossible... I don't want to risk shattering baseless hopes.»
Despite the tone, a different sentiment had crackled in the words spoken, as if Jadzia, in defiance of what had just been expressed, truly hoped that there was another chance to be taken and played out, perhaps better than the previous one.
«Commander...» she tried, at that point, to intervene Ferrari, hoping perhaps to be able to say something that might somehow lift the other woman's spirits or, again, to add some detail relating to the rescue operation, but was interrupted by another, familiar, slightly fatigued and somewhat breathless voice: «Maybe, Jadzia, it’s time you let yourself hope for once more.»

All three looked  up with dismay at the sight of Lenara Kahn, who had approached their table unnoticed. The scientist was, if possible, paler and more frail than she had been in the Infirmary just that morning, where Bashir and Ferrari had left her to rest under the care of one of the doctors on duty on Deep Space 9. He was a member of Dr. Bashir's staff, under strict orders to keep Dr. Bashirt informed of her condition even when he was off duty.
On their part, Ferrari and Bashir recovered rather quickly - and Ferrari ceded, without a breath, her own seat to the Trill - Jadzia seemed to have momentarily lost the use of speech, her gaze following Lenara as the woman accepted graciously, and perhaps even with a trace of relief on her face, the chair offered to her by the young Human.

Kahn's gaze lingered briefly on the room around her, as chaotic and full of customers as the first time she had dined there with Jadzia, with Julian having volunteered to hold the candle for them so as not to arouse suspicion in his colleagues, his brother Bejal and Dr. Pren. Compared to then, she felt much less uncomfortable, perhaps because she no longer felt the scrutinising and probing gaze of curious or fearful eyes on her being with Jadzia and the possible consequences of their dating.
When she stood over Ferrari, moving to the side of Bashir, who had also stood up, she noticed something different from the last time they had seen each other: the uniform was now the same as the one used on board the station, with a grey turtleneck shirt under a black jumpsuit with a band of colour encompassing the shoulders, indicating the section to which she belonged, in her case the command section; on the grey collar, to the right, the rank now identified her as Lieutenant.

Noticing Trill's inquiring gaze, Ferrari merely arched an eyebrow, questioningly, and Kahn, with a faint smile, told her: «I remember you in a different uniform, Lieutenant.»
«Fashion is evolutionary, it likes to change, Doctor,» Ferrari replied to her, jokingly, before adding: «I'd definitely say it's time to head off. Doctor I think the time has come  to leave. I'd say the two need a moment to talk to each other without further outside interference... and so we are in the way. I'm sure Dr. Kahn knows what her limits are,» she added, seeing that Bashir didn't exactly look comfortable losing sight of the woman, «and in case of need, Commander Dax will call for help promptly.»
Nodding reluctantly, Bashir made to follow Ferrari, but both were stopped by Lenara's words: «Thank you, both of you.» At their quizzical look, she added: «Thank you for... everything. For saving my life and for everything else, without you I wouldn’t be here.»
«We are Starfleet Officers, Doctor,» Ferrari observed, «besides, Dr. Bashir has taken the Hippocratic Oath. It's just not in our way not to save a life.» She hid a hint of a smile, before adding: «If there is nothing else that I can help with, Doctor...? Commander...?»
«Thank you, Lieutenant, I'll take it from here,» Kahn replied to her, and the two officers left them to chat, beginning to talk to each other concerned out of hearing distance.

Completely unaware of the previous noticeable hustle and bustle of the bar,  Jadzia Dax could not believe her eyes. There was no way a pale, flesh-and-blood Lenara Kahn was standing in front of her, just as she had wished for it to happen since her departure. Almost unconsciously, her hands moved and went to clasp those of the woman, as if to assure herself that she was really there; reflexively, Lenara returned the squeeze, smiling sweetly: «Yes, Dax, I'm here... I'm really here.»

Their fingers intertwined gently, palm against palm. Lenara rubbed her thumbs over the backs of the other woman's hands in an attempt to lessen the tension that she knew pestered her and still didn't seem to want to leave her for any reason.

Kahn longed deeply to talk to Jadzia, she had a tremendous need to make amends for the way they had parted, for the way she had behaved towards her, for how she had failed to realise that she was driven by her fear, more than anything else. Suddenly Quark's Bar seemed far too crowded and too noisy to sustain the conversation necessary. A more intimate and quiet place, more respectful of their privacy, that could welcome them and put them at ease would be required: «Do you mind if we get out of here? I don't feel particularly comfortable at the moment, among all these people, and... Jadzia, I really, really need to be alone with you... just with you...»

«No, of course not...» Jadzia finally seemed to find her voice again, a shy, hopeful smile appearing on her face, although her eyes betrayed the tension and fear of being cast aside once more, of not being once again a good enough reason for the woman she loved to stay. Lenara's stomach clenched as she read all this in Jadzia's eyes, and once more she regretted having left the station a few days earlier. She thanked fate for giving her the chance to return to Deep Space 9 to make amends, even though she had perhaps preferred to avoid risking her life.
«Where would you prefer to go?» asked Jadzia, leaving Lenara's hands just long enough to rise to her feet, then hurrying to help her up in turn, driven by a protective instinct so powerful it almost hurt: although the woman seemed fine, in her eyes she was fragile and in danger of breaking at any moment.
«Are you okay with going to one of the holosuites Quark is so proud of? I'm sure he has a programme available that faithfully replicates Trillius Prime and there are definitely...» Jadzia was stopped by the ghost of a kiss on the lips.
Lenara took the opportunity to intervene: «Your quarters will be fine, Jadzia... they're much more intimate and we'll run less risk of being interrupted.»


Ferrari and Bashir continued talking long after they left Quark's Bar, walking along the Promenade without paying too much attention to the people who, like them, populated the Promenade. They were both surprised by Lenara's appearance, considering her recovery was still a long way off and how unfit she still seemed to be, despite the important steps forward she had made so far.

Their conversation was interrupted by Ferrari's communicator, who signalled a call from Ensign Rebim Nyra, the Beta shift's operations officer: «Europa to Lieutenant Ferrari.»
With an apologetic glance at Bashir, Ferrari activated the communication on his own end: «Lieutenant Ferrari here. What is it, Ensign?»
«Captain T'Vok requests your presence on board as soon as possible.»
«Stand by for a moment, Europa.» Ferrari turned to Bashir, who waved a hand dismissively, intending to imply that he wasn't worried: «Duty calls, no need to keep him waiting, especially if it has the face of a Vulcan.» The woman sneered, but a moment later her face was serious again, as always: «Let me know if there is any development, Doctor.» He nodded, smiling in turn. Before she could ask the Europa to be beamed aboard, he added: «Congratulations again on your promotion, Lieutenant.» Ferrari, with a slight smile of thanks and a wave of his hand, got back in touch with Europa and, a few moments later, vanished to the ship's transporter.


«Are you sure this is a good idea, Lenara?» Jadzia found herself asking for the umpteenth time after letting the other woman into her quarters, who gave her an exasperated look before answering: «Yes, Jadzia, I told you that I am not only sure, but certain, that this is a good idea! How many more times do you have to ask me the same question to be absolutely certain yourself?»
Dax's living quarters, like all those on Deep Space 9, were large and spacious, opening into an airy living area, normally decorated and furnished differently according to the tastes of the occupants, and tended to feature not simply the standard Cardassian-style furniture that characterised the base, but also a whole range of items that screamed out who owned those flats. In Jadzia's case, it was possible to see typical elements of Trill culture juxtaposed with some Klingon objects, of which she was a great admirer, and Human or Bajoran objects, also demonstrating the multifaceted nature of the friendships maintained by one's past - remote or otherwise.

Immediately next to the entrance, to the right, was a large grey sofa on which even a Kzinti would be comfortable, and behind it were some plants. Lenara, aided by Jadzia, carefully took a seat on it; the other woman, after muttering a «Sorry,» made to turn towards the replicator, asking Kahn if she would like anything.
«An herbal tea will do,» Lenara replied, «thank you.» But when Jadzia returned with the herbal tea and a cup of Raktajino, Kahn took both drinks from Jadzia's hands and placed them on the small table in front of them. She turned back to Dax, extending a hand to her: «Come sit here next to me, Jadzia. Please.» After an initial hesitation - Jadzia seemed torn by doubt as to what to do and how to move - she grabbed Kahn's hand and sat down beside her, the fingers of the two women instinctively intertwining, as if not wanting to run the risk of losing each other, their knees touching.

«Jadzia, please, don't be like this,» Lenara begged her, gently massaging one of the woman's knees with her other hand, before continuing, «don't be so tense, please... trust me, you really have no reason, really... I'm not going to let you go.» Although she understood, deep down, Jadzia's reluctance, Kahn was beginning to be exasperated by her erratic behaviour: if at certain moments she seemed to want to approach her, with almost intimate glances and gestures, at others she seemed to close in on herself, guarded and circumspect.
For her part, Dax realised that she was overwhelmed by conflicting feelings, but had not yet found a way out of them... and this put her in serious difficulty, as she realised that she could not let herself be carried away by a situation she had fervently hoped would happen.
Still clutching Lenara's hand spasmodically, Dax gave her a look so hurt that the other woman found herself swallowing, so strong was the pain that could be read in it: «Lenara... I love you. But I can't, maybe I can't, forget the fact that you decided to leave... and that hurt so, very much. It hurts even now, in truth.»

For a moment, Jadzia's gaze showed a vulnerability that almost frightened Lenara, who never imagined she would see such an expression on the face of the other woman, who had always been strong: «It was never my intention to hurt you, Jadzia. Please forgive me... I was so scared - to be honest, I still am now - paralysed by my fears, that I took what was, what felt like, the easiest path to protect myself.» Her eyes were now clouded with a veil of tears as she continued: «I have always been a dutiful person, even when that entailed setting myself aside for the greater good... it's why I made it through the final stages of the Symbiosis Programme with very little difficulty: I would hardly have been overpowered by my symbiont, whatever it was. I always valued my symbiont's life, but for the first time... Kahn was no longer the most important thing, because you were. And I didn't want it to be that way. I couldn’t allow it, it would have destroyed all my beliefs, it would have destroyed myself.»
Lenara took a deep, shuddering breath, before continuing, «The truth, Jadzia, is that you are more important. And I would rather sacrifice Kahn than lose you, because you.» She grasps Jadzia’s hands firmly. «You and only you, are the most important to me. And I am sure - no, I am certain - that I am not influenced by my symbiont, because... because I remember a moment of total abstraction, as if I was no longer in my body... my consciousness was separate even from Kahn's - I assume it was during the surgery conducted by your doctor and the one from Europa - and the feeling of emptiness was exacerbated by not knowing you by my side.»

For a few long moments, Jadzia merely stared at the other woman almost as if she did not see her: the words Lenara had spoken undeniably touched her heart, those were the words she wanted to hear from the very beginning, just as she would have liked to have had her by her side from the very beginning, instead of seeing her leave with the certainty of never seeing her again. But at the same time, something else was making its way inside her, dictated by the insane fear of not being as honest in her feelings towards Lenara as Lenara was proving to be towards her. The risk of being overwhelmed by one's symbiote was quite high - the main reason why would-be new hosts were usually subjected to a whole series of high-level psychological and psychiatric tests - especially if the symbiote, like Dax, had a temper of its own and previous hosts with their own particular history, but Jadzia had never thought about that until now. Now, however, the fear that her feelings were not as pure as Lenara's came overpowering to her, making her fear the very influence she had always felt she could keep at bay.

She freed herself, as gently as possible, from Kahn's grasp and then stood up and, passing the small table placed nearby, went to stand in front of one of the large portholes that cut a window on the surrounding universe, arms crossed under her breasts, almost as if to embrace herself. She was visibly trembling, uncontrollably. Lenara watched her for a while, before venturing to speak and say something to her - «Jadzia...?» - but she interrupted herself almost immediately, realising she didn't quite know what to say and seeing, however, the other woman took a deep breath, before turning to her.

They looked into each other's eyes for a long time, unable to let go of each other's gaze. Jadzia maintained the pride that had always distinguished her, and would not move an eyelid, even though unspeakable uncertainties were clashing in her chest and mind. Lenara was finally sure of herself, of what she wanted, of what she felt: she wanted the woman she loved to see this confidence, which was what Jadzia herself had tried to bring out in the days they had spent together before her departure, without wanting to show herself weak in any way.

Lenara got up from the sofa moving towards Jadzia, still looking the other woman in the eyes. They were now facing each other, but dared not even touch: the fear that something would break between them was palpable. Jadzia felt a tear roll down her cheek. Lenara saw it run down to the corner of her lips and worried: she did not want to show it yet, she lifted an arm imperceptibly, she wanted to wipe away the tear and kiss those lips, but she restrained herself. She didn't understand how far she could go, and Dax wasn't encouraging her.

«Lenara...» tried Jadzia again, inhaling and closing her eyes for a moment, «… I don't want to deny that I love you. I loved you before and I love you now. But what would have happened if your transport hadn't had that horrible accident that forced Europa to come to your aid and bring you and Bejal back here for extensive medical care? You would never have been able to discover that your love for me existed without Kahn. And you would not have returned to me.»
Lenara found herself confirming once again what she had already said: «My love for you is - she searched for the best word - mine. It does not depend on the echo of a past history between Kahn and Dax.» She did not understand why this concept bothered Jadzia. What was wrong with letting herself be loved, when she had first declared her love for her?

The two Trills were facing each other, now close enough to embrace, but they did not. Jadzia, for the first time since she had met Lenara, felt that she was the one out of place, the one at fault; Lenara had begun to fear that Jadzia would back off, that the situation between them, now that she could have finally smoothed it out, would instead be reversed.
Once again Jadzia inhaled, squinting her eyes, as if preparing her words before saying: «I can never love you as you love me. Can you understand that?» Lenara's breath caught in her throat, yet she mustered all the breath she had to say, in a tone that was perhaps too high, what her heart and the many lives of the symbiont she carried with her had insinuated into her mind: «You rekindled the love between Dax and Kahn, you spurred me on to break the laws,» she raised her voice again, «you took me in your arms, and now that I finally run to you... you come to tell me that you don't love me enough?»
Jadzia raised her hands as if to defend herself against the aggressiveness of the accusations she was receiving: «You told me that Kahn is not influencing you, that the desire you feel is yours. But how do I know that my desire has not been influenced by Dax?» And she pointed to the symbiont in her belly: «Tell me, how can I» now exasperated she continued, «guarantee that it is I, myself, who loves you and not it?»

«I did not ask you that!» Lenara tried to interrupt Jadzia's stream of words, but she showed no sign of wanting to interrupt herself for any reason. «Must I also have a near-death experience? Must I be separated from Dax? Tell me, how can I look you in the eye and say 'I love you' and be sure I am the one to say it? How can I tell you that it is me?»
«I didn't ask you that, Jadzia,» she repeated exasperatedly.
«But I am the one asking, Lenara! I don't know if I'm your equal any more, it used to be different, I used to be the one who...»
Lenara was unable to restrain herself and slapped the cheek of the woman in front of her, a gesture she immediately regretted in the next instant: the same hand with which she had just struck Jadzia immediately ran in front of her own face, as if to hold back a sob.
«First it was you... what? Was it you who had a bloody little Curzon in your stomach that made you the bold one, the one who courted me, who wanted to defy everything and everyone? Now that I'm in that role, and without Kahn telling me what to do, you're no longer OK with it?»
The tears on Jadzia's face came one after the other. She was dumbfounded: she had not expected such an action from the other Trill. Lenara stood for a few seconds looking at her: despite the harshness of the moment she still felt the desire to embrace the other woman, but Kahn had now taken over and the lucidity of the symbiont, until now excluded from this game of feelings, forced her to move away, to protect herself: «I'm going back to Sickbay.»
The last thing Jadzia saw, before she collapsed on herself sobbing, was the doors of her quarters close behind Lenara.


Once she materialised in one of the Europa transporter rooms, Ferrari made her way briskly to the bridge and Captain T'Vok's office, alerted of her arrival by the transporter officer on duty. In the turmoil of the previous days, the young woman had found herself unexpectedly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, making her a candidate for certain key roles within the crew hierarchy, especially considering how some of her colleagues had agreed to transfer to other vessels. Of necessity virtue.

When she arrived on the bridge, she found the Bajoran, Leeda Sevek coordinating activities and the station occupied by First Officer R'Mau, Captain T'Vok's faithful right-hand man since well before Europa, absence. She took no immediate notice at the time, considering that the Caitian had been admitted to the Infirmary following some clashes against the Dominion immediately prior to entering the Bajoran Tunnel to return to the Alpha Quadrant, sustaining some rather serious injuries. Despite being scheduled to depart a few days later, the bridge and the rest of the ship still had a small number of crew members on duty, to allow everyone to fully enjoy their granted leave.
Ferrari's attention did not linger too long on her surroundings, failing to notice that Leeda was no longer wearing the typical uniform of the operations department, replaced by one in the colours of the command, and that the full rank of Commander was displayed on his collar.

Arriving at the entrance to the Captain's ready room, she announced her presence by ringing the bell and, a moment later, T'Vok's voice gave her permission to enter. The room, with its understated furniture, was dominated by a minimal desk, behind which sat T'Vok, Captain of the Europa since the vessel's launch a few months earlier in 2372. Also present in the room was R'Mau, who barely turned towards Ferrari when he heard her enter, greeting her with an imperceptible nod, before turning back to the Vulcan - Ferrari discreetly stood aside, imperceptibly arching an eyebrow: «The Leonidas is almost at rendezvous point, Captain. Request permission to disembark."»
The Vulcan nodded: «Permission granted... Captain. Live long and prosper.»
«Peace and long life,» R'Mau replied, before turning and, for the last time, walking out of her former commanding officer's office. Passing by Ferrari, he paused for a moment - «Congratulations again on your promotion, Lieutenant. Keep it up and you will have a rewarding and successful career ahead of you.» - After which he walked away, stride determined and head held high, towards his first command, an Ares-class vessel belonging to a line of starships mainly created for war.

Once the entrance was sealed again, Ferrari turned to the Vulcan woman, taking a few discreet steps forward and asking: «You wanted to see me?» The other woman nodded: «Yes, Lieutenant. It is my intention to assign you as the new Operations Officer for the Europa. Now that Commander Leeda holds the position of XO, we are lacking someone to hold the position of Operations Officer for Alpha Shift and its department - Commander Cartier has agreed to hold that of Second Officer. The most suitable person to take that position, also on the advice of Captain R'Mau and Commander Leeda himself, is you.»

Ferrari arched an eyebrow: «I am honoured that you have put in a good word for me, Captain, however, I am a pilot... holding such a position also requires other skills, all things considered.» The Vulcan arched an eyebrow: «All things considered, Lieutenant, I believe you are the most logical choice for the role I am asking you to fill from now on. You have proven to be efficient and effective in managing and coordinating the department you have referred to up to this point and have received much praise from your subordinates and colleagues. I believe you will be perfectly capable of taking on new responsibilities, Lieutenant. This is an excellent boost for your career in Starfleet.»
Ferrari merely nodded, thoughtful: she hadn't - yet at least - thought about making a career of it, definitely not so quickly, but it would never do to miss an opportunity when it presented itself in front of her, even without having looked for it it would be wrong to not taken it. It was ironic, she thought: all the last opportunities had been in front of her practically 'by accident', with her having stumbled upon them or with someone who had served her the right opportunities. It was time for her to take her own destiny into her own hands, directing it towards a specific path.

Before dismissing the Lieutenant, Captain T'Vok added a few words, almost absent-mindedly, as well as 'absent-mindedly' as one could for a Vulcan: «You will also be part of the command staff from now on. The first meeting will be tomorrow morning, 0700 hours: I expect you to arrive on time.»

«Doctor, I really don't think I am, in any way, shape or capacity,  even remotely suitable  to talk to Commander Dax nor Dr. Kahn about their love lives. As far as I am concerned, I have already done more than enough...»

Ferrari and Dr. Bashir were seated at one of the Promenade's tables, with two half-full cups of Raktajino in front of them, accompanied by some traditional Bajoran pastries previously unknown to the woman, who had found herself appreciating them, despite the fact that in some cases they had totally different - and unexpected - flavours from what she was used to.

They had met almost by chance that morning, despite the fact that Bashir had confessed to her his wish to contact her once his shift in the Infirmary was over - the doctor had almost missed her entirely, considering that Ferrari had come down to the station later than usual, having been forced to attend her first meeting with the command staff. Dr. Kahn, in fact, had returned so furious from her own chat with Jadzia that even her brother, who had been discharged that very evening and had been waiting for her to return, had not ventured to approach her, preferring instead to go to his assigned quarters in the base housing area. He would return to Sickbay for a further check-up in the afternoon, but otherwise should have no further problems.

«Apart from the fact that I'm a pilot, not Cupid,» the woman continued, «I think the situation should be handled by you, Doctor, or someone equally close to the two women, not by me. My intervention was already something of a stretch the first time, now it would be seen as an interference, and I would be risking if not a court martial, then something similar or very close. Considering,» she added, emptying her cup in front of her, «that I have just been promoted, as you can plainly see, I would prefer to avoid it.»
Bashir leaned back in his seat sighing,, even though he already knew he could not lean on the woman any further to try and settle the situation: if he had managed to pull her into it the first time by virtue of the leading role she had played during the rescue of the passenger transport, on this occasion she had no reason to get involved in a situation that did not concern her.

He shook his head, thoughtful: «I will admit that while this is a situation I never expected to have to face. I'm surprised at Jadzia's reaction: in the past, she has never questioned whether or not she was influenced by her symbiont, not even when, a couple of years ago, she left the station to fulfil an old blood pact that Curzon, Dax's previous host, had made with some Klingons, following the death of their first-born sons.»
«Doctor, we have already once broached the subject of Trill customs,» Ferrari observed, «and your advice was to leave Trill culture to the Trills, considering that it would be difficult to be able to satisfactorily answer some of their taboos.» Bashir nodded: he remembered that conversation, albeit he only contributed briefly, before he persuaded her to intervene with Jadzia at Quark's. Ferrari continued: «All things considered, Doctor, the question I asked you at the time is the same one I'm asking you now: how can we be sure that Commander Dax's emotions are not purely of the person Jadzia, not influenced by her symbiont's previous memories? Of course,» she raised a hand to call out to one of the waiters, to whom she asked for soda, to wash down the strong taste of the Raktajino they had served her, «one can always make a way to endanger the two lives and, in this way, momentarily separate the two entities, as was done with Lenara and Kahn, but I seriously doubt it is a recommended procedure.»

The soda arrived at that moment and Bashir waited for the waiter, a usually very chatty Bolian, to go off to get new orders and serve other tables, before replying: «I remember we touched on the subject, Lieutenant. And my words are the same as they were then: I cannot give you a satisfactory answer, because I don't have one. Although I am acknowledged to be highly competent in the field of Trill physiology, I am not so well versed in the questions more closely related to the relationship between symbiont and host, nor how the host's brain chemistry changes.»
«What does it matter, factually? Does it change the feelings felt by Commander Dax? Does it change Dr. Kahn's feelings? Is it really so necessary that, in order for Dax to be safe, there must be a trauma equal to that experienced by Kahn? I don't think so, Doctor. If you must know, I believe that, even in the case of your colleague, the symbiont may have had a negligible influence, precisely because the host is strong enough not to allow such a situation. But, - she added, before Bashir could intrude, - all this I cannot tell the person concerned.»

Both of them left the table, having finished their breakfast and being on the doorstep of the morning shift. Ferrari went a little way with Bashir, as she had to go to one of the hologram rooms at Quark's: she had set aside a couple of hours to devote herself to a whole series of programmes which, in the preceding days, she had had the opportunity to learn about and go over with Worf.
«I'll leave you here, Doctor.» Ferrari began, in front of Quark's Bar, «Keep me updated on developments. I will, however, make sure to stop by the Infirmary before returning to duty, to coincide with the departure of the Europa scheduled in a few days' time.»


Once in Sickbay, Bashir found a nervous Jadzia Dax waiting for him: if possible, the woman was even paler and tighter than the last time they had seen each other, the day before, and seemed not to have slept a wink during the night. And so, Julian found himself thinking, it was up to him to do the thankless task of making her see reason. And to think that, once upon a time, he would have done anything to get a similar reaction from her.
«Jadzia,» he called her, by way of greeting, «What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be on duty?»

Dax jerked - she hadn't heard him coming, engrossed as she was in her own thoughts - and delayed her own reply by a fraction: «I asked for the day off, Benjamin granted it to me without objecting much. Listen,» she continued, «I need to ask you a very big favour.» Bashir bent his head slightly to the side, curious: «What can I help you with?»
Jadzia took a deep, almost shuddering breath before asking, all in one breath: «I need you to find a way, possibly safely, to inhibit my symbiont for a few hours. I... I need to understand something that would otherwise be impossible for me to comprehend.»

Bashir gave her a look that bordered on the scandalised: «I hope you're joking, Jadzia. Mark my words: there is no remotely safe way to do such a thing. And,» he added, preventing the woman from intruding, «if you're going to tell me that Lenara was, briefly, separated from Kahn... believe me, I'm the best person to tell you that that was not safe and that I was forced to do it only because every other conventional treatment wouldn’t have succeeded. That was a calculated risk, a risk that would have weighed on my conscience if it had failed.»
The very fact, however, that she had found the courage to ask him such a thing, according to Bashir, denoted such desperation that she was willing to risk anything in order to remove the doubts that now gripped her deep inside.

For a moment Jadzia merely stared at him, as if she had not heard what had just been said, then, defeated, she slumped against the wall, face in her hands and sobs shaking her shoulders. Gently, Bashir sat beside her, hugging her and somehow trying to console her. He didn't say a word: during his studies at the Academy, he had been able to take some specific courses in psychology, useful for his career as a councillor, so he knew how to behave in certain situations. Moreover, he knew Jadzia: he knew when it was appropriate to goad her and when to let her off the hook before saying anything.
Finally Jadzia seemed to calm down enough to stand up straight, leaning fully against the wall behind her, allowing Bashir to hazard a question: «This is about Dr. Kahn, isn't it?» After a moment, which seemed to the doctor to be never-ending, Trill replied with a nod: «When you and Lieutenant Ferrari,» she gave him a questioning look, to check that she had not made a mistake, «left our table, at Quark's, Lenara asked me to go somewhere quieter to talk, 'secluded' I would say.» She took a deep breath, then continued: «We went to my quarters, despite the fact that I had suggested other, probably more 'suitable' places to her, considering everything. She... declared her feelings to me. In a way that caught me off guard.»

Bashir took a few moments: «Jadzia, whatever way Lenara declared herself to you, I don't think suspending contact with the symbiont even momentarily will help you resolve the issue.»
«Julian... it is Lenara who has those feelings, her symbiote has nothing to do with it.»
«And you,» he told her in a tone somewhere between question and statement, «are afraid that your own feelings are less true, possibly influenced by Dax.»
Jadzia barely nodded, her head still leaning against the wall behind her, her eyes closed. Neither of them noticed that Lenara, leaning against the same wall but in the next room where she was an inpatient, was listening to the exchange of banter.
«You know, it's ironic,» Bashir observed, «but this talk has been coming up a lot lately. Yes,» he smiled at the questioning look Jadzia gave him, «You see, it just came up with Lieutenant Ferrari, who wondered what the significance of having a symbiont was. We discussed how one could be sure that the host was influenced by the symbiont. Of course, she first admitted that she didn't understand much about Trill culture and your physiology, especially about the relationship a host has with its symbiont, but it got me thinking.»
«About what?» Jadzia was genuinely curious: Bashir was, by necessity, one of the most knowledgeable on the subject, despite not being a Trill, precisely by virtue of the fact that he had found himself dealing with Jadzia herself and her symbiont on several occasions.

«About you. You are an incredibly strong-willed and talented woman. It’s also the reason why you went through the whole rigmarole to become a possible host and why you were assigned Dax, despite the fact that Curzon had removed you from the programme. If you hadn't shown tremendous willpower, Jadzia, not only would you not have gotten Dax, but you wouldn't have even finished the programme: you wouldn't have been picked up at all, regardless of the fact that Curzon had removed you for personal reasons.»
Bashir smiled at her: «Assuming and not conceding that Dax had an influence on you, Jadzia, I don't believe that the feelings you had are any less true or any less yours. I know you, and I know how you think, your feelings are yours, there’s no doubting that. And nothing can ever make them less so.»

Lenara inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment: the slap she had given Jadzia stung her more than the other Trill. She looked at the hand with which she had made that gesture and regretted using it. Jadzia's suffering was no different from what she had felt only a few days before: Lenara did not want to betray her own culture, Jadzia did not want to betray herself. But by continuing to chase each other without finding each other, they were betraying the love they felt for each other. She decided to step through the door separating the two rooms, ready to do whatever it would take to convince Jadzia, even though she thought, with all her heart, that a single embrace would be enough to solve everything. She took a first step, then was stopped by another voice.

«Lieutenant, what happened to you?» Eva Ferrari had appeared at the door of Sickbay, before an astonished Bashir and an uncaring Dax. The woman, harnessed in training vestments for one of a variety of Klingon martial disciplines, limped forward a few paces clutching her right shoulder with her hand, her arm dangling down her side: the Klingon training must have taken a rather spirited turn.
With a grimace of pain, Ferrari replied: «On the fourth attempt I managed to land Fek'lhr, but I think I dislocated my shoulder.»
At the word 'Fek'lhr' Jadzia, still leaning against the wall, looked up at the Lieutenant, with a glimmer of interest in her eyes, asking in a hushed voice, «One of Worf's programs?»

As Bashir checked her limb with a medical tricorder, Ferrari replied to Dax - also now standing by the duo's side: «Yes, the one about rescuing some soul from the Gre'thor.»
It was only at that moment that Ferrari realised she had interrupted something between the two officers: Dax still had a vaguely distant look on her face, despite her interest in the Klingon programme, and Bashir had left the stack of PADDs with the night shift reports still untouched on his office desk. She backed off: «I think I can solve the problem by myself, after all: all things considered, I'm not in such a dire situation, I'm sure I can make it to Europa Sickbay...»
Was it that the Doctor was finally talking to the Trill to try and smooth over the sentimental complications from which she so ardently wanted to stay out?
Bashir looked quizzically at Jadzia. Implicitly he was asking her if he could talk to her about the situation, even though in reality Ferrari herself knew as much about it as they did: Dax waved him on.
«I need to have you laid out on a biobed, Lieutenant, and the shoulder isn't the only thing that needs treating.» Trying to support her without touching her aching limb, Bashir escorted her towards the door to the recovery area. But before the sensor made it open he stopped, suddenly aware that Lenara was on the other side: «On second thought,» he said, «I might as well give you the first treatment here.»

Ferrari protested slightly and Bashir tried, with just a glance, to make her understand what they were both getting themselves into: were they really ready for the two Trills to meet?
Ferrari gained one of the chairs in front of the doctor's desk and, while waiting for the latter to adjust a hypospray, launched into an uncomfortable question: «Commander Dax, were you able to clarify with Dr. Kahn?»
«That is precisely what we were talking about,» Julian interjected, «Though we had not reached a conclusion, yet.»
«I take it that things didn't go well...» In addition to the practical and decisive nature, the pain in her shoulder made Ferrari rather blunt. Not that, usually, the woman was less direct... generally, though, she used more tact. Or, at least, she tried to be tactful.

«The problem here, Lieutenant,» Dax walked from the wall and wiped away the last of her tears with the palm of his hands, «Is that Dr. Kahn has discovered that she loves me, sure that she has not been influenced by her symbiont,» Jadzia paced slowly and grimly, almost menacingly, «Which, as far as I am concerned, I cannot vouch for myself.»
Dr. Bashir, having injected a painkiller into Ferrari's shoulder, was preparing to make a drastic manoeuvre that would put the joint back in place.
«I really don't understand this reasoning, Commander.»
«Lieutenant!» Bashir half-whispered her back, speaking close to her ear: «Try to be tactful, if you can.»
Ferrari looked at him crookedly and, in response, got a sudden rotation of her arm and a worrying clatter of jarring bones: she gritted her teeth, that the pain, though dulled by the drugs, was still there, to the point that a few tears escaped from the side of her eyes.
«Done!.» - Bashir looked particularly pleased with himself - «The rest of the treatment can be finished, later.»

Ferrari held his breath for a few seconds. Jadzia, meanwhile, had moved closer to the two, to the point where she found herself facing the other woman and not so much further away than Bashir: «What don't you understand, Lieutenant?»
«I do not understand the importance you Trills give to who feels what and who does not.» Ferrari made to get up from her chair, but the Doctor kept her seated: despite everything, despite the safety protocols activated in all holosuites by regulation, the woman seemed to have walked into a steamroller. That didn't stop her from proceeding: «You boast of the perfect blend of memories from so many lifetimes, of respect for the will of the host and the uniqueness of each of you, but I have seen people, Trill, change tastes, learn to do new things overnight, and forget others since receiving a symbiont.»
Dax and Bashir exchanged a puzzled look, and the doctor released his grip on the Lieutenant, who took the opportunity to rise to her feet, despite her exertion and pain, but continued to speak: «I don't care if all this is right or wrong, it's your culture, it's fine. But then you should accept that feelings can also be altered, that the love you are talking about between you and Dr. Kahn can indiscriminately come from Lenara, from Jadzia, but also from Kahn or Dax.»
Jadzia tried to protest, «But...», but Ferrari wouldn't let her speak - when it was too much, it was too much. «Celebrate it instead of opposing it. You both have the good fortune to feel it for each other, and your symbionts agree... or say nothing... I mean, it's fine. You have already risked losing everything once. Don't make the same mistake again.»
At that moment, the doors to the medical area opened: Ferrari looked up, attracted by the sliding of the doors, and Bashir turned as well. Jadzia was the last to turn towards the entrance and the first to meet Lenara Kahn's eyes.


Three days later, the Europa left Deep Space 9 with new orders from Starfleet Command: utilising the space base for future resupply, it was to provide protection to an area of space a few light years from it. Captain T'Vok had agreed to make a small diversion to take Dr. Bejal Otner to Trillius Prime: the scientist had almost risked a heart attack and intensive care when his sister had told him that she would not be returning with him home.

After a heated discussion, in which words had been exchanged, thrown across the room in anger and concern, the Trill had left rather furiously, narrowly missing Jadzia's return from her shift. Which, all things considered, was fortunate for both of them: it would certainly have ended badly for him and, by virtue of that, Dax would have found himself facing a court martial. When, however, Lenara had told Jadzia about her conversation with her brother, the other Trill had been remarkably clear-headed and had pointed out to Kahn that Otner's reaction was not so out of the ordinary. She had even offered to go and find him before he boarded the Europa to try and talk some sense into him, but Lenara had talked her out of it, telling her that her intervention would probably only make things worse.

Ferrari had resumed duty the day after the incident in the holosuite, coordinating with the various departments for last-minute needs and, from the outset, had proved herself equal to the task and promotion, just as R'Mau and Leeda had predicted would happen. She was one of the last people to leave the base on the day of departure, and it was not only the commitments of her new job that held her back. When she arrived at the boarding gate located along the lower ring of the Promenade she found Worf doing the final paperwork: they exchanged a few words and a few thanks for the time they had spent together training in Quark's holosuites. Before turning into the connecting tunnel, Ferrari allowed herself one last glance at Deep Space 9 and, lifting her gaze, found Jadzia and Lenara standing on the upper level balustrade. The three women exchanged a smile and the two Trills smugly raised their intertwined hands, showing how well everything was proceeding. Ferrari nodded at them and then walked towards Europa.