In which some of the stage directions are perfect, I do Forbidden Research, and the lesson, while blunt, is paced just subtly enough to be done.
When last we left our heroes, they were rapidly descending into a security state nightmare, and just as they were considering pumping the brakes an attack occurred so they hat to mobilize martial law. And everything seemed so reasonable until you stepped back to consider the bigger picture.
After the fact, it’s unclear whether there was any actual damage, and if not whether that was because the troop mobilization prevented an attack or because the panic was the attack. These things are now Ben Sisko’s job to think of. Odo also sees a transporter log demobilizing Red Squad, the Elite Cadet group, but them mobilizing all the cadets later. It’s four days later and Joe Sisko is reopening the restaurant, specifically for the Starfleet security forces still patrolling the fleet, while Ben is still tracking down the Red Squad situation.
One of the admirals Sisko is talking to is really, really worried that the Red Squad record is official, and tells Sisko to erase it. Layton is in on whatever they were doing, and it was a covert operation. Sisko plays along like a champ, too.
Joe Sisko is now resigned to getting blood drawn on the regular now. It may be because now he’s got security customers and tense people don’t eat much (and his little tirade about how he’d fool the tests as a changeling hasn’t gotten around) or it might be because the attack legitimately scared him into compliance. Wouldn’t it be terrible if we found out that the Red Squad covert mission was a false flag operation on the power distribution net? Ben is disquieted about the attitude change.
As such, he’s interviewing Nog about the Red Squad activity. Red Squad ain’t afraid of no Dominion, and they idolize Ben Sisko. Red Squad membership is apparently secret, but Nog knows and Sisko is ordering him to spill. Soon Sisko is interviewing Cadet James Reilly Aldrin about the record of the power outage. He was told by the mission briefing officer (who had no name) that there would be no record of their actions. Sisko plays the ‘I am angry about your performance because you messed up so no prove to me that you didn’t by giving me the full debriefing’ gambit, and when the guy who punched a god gives you the angry voice, you listen.
Red Squadron assembled, beamed aboard the Lakota, deployed to the Department of Planetary Operations, and sabotaged the power relays and the restart sequencers. Planetary Power Outage was an inside job. Warp Plasma can’t melt EPS sequencers, etc. Seems obvious now that Starfleet (under the aegis of Admiral Layton) sabotaged Earth’s power to militarize Earth.
Thus, Sisko is having a deep crisis of conscience, but Odo says some words to him which may be important down the line. If Sisko is loyal to the Federation, and a few of his Siblings-In-Arms have turned against the Federation, then exposing them isn’t betrayal. They are the betrayers.
Sisko takes this to the President, who refuses to believe it at first. Odo gives the background about the Changeling infiltration and Layton’s subsequent proposal of a sweeping set of security reforms. Layton brought the reforms again after the bombing, but the President’s half-measures weren’t sufficient, so they ran the false-flag operation. The President remains skeptical, as he should when Sisko has offered no proof or even his sources. Time to go get some.
Nog has been unable to get a hold of any members of Red Squad, since they’re all out on training. Layton sent them away because he knows Sisko’s been sniffing around. They make some small talk, dancing around the issue by talking about how replicated coffee is never quite as good. Layton starts it off with an apology for keeping Sisko in the dark, but not an apology for the operation. Layton doesn’t even deny trying to place Earth under martial law, and thinks back to some of their adventures on the Okinawa as a parable about the Chain of Command, but now Ben understands what command is like and refuses to Only Follow Orders. As such, he’s relieved of duty. It’s not like Layton can actually bring formal insubordination charges though.
Time for a pep talk from the Folksy Stereotype version of O’Brien, whose sudden and unexpected presence on a planet under lockdown when he’s supposed to be on the Station isn’t a sure sign of a changeling. Well that, and “O’Brien’s” confession and Affiable Evil villain monologue. The Founders are apparently so secure in their victory that they feel comfortable disclosing that there are only four changelings on Earth. Which is, of course, a lie.
Ben Sisko gets some advice on taking action from Ole Dad, using inside knowledge about Ben’s childhood, and soon after Sisko beams back to the station to start setting up dominoes. Next, he and Odo sneak into Federation Security HQ, do some hacking, and find that Layton is still leaning heavily on his old crew from the Okinawa, and is planning something for just before the President is going to make a speech.
Benteen walks in and they have one of those “I know you know I know you know I know” conversations. When next they meet, it’s in the president’s office, Sisko getting a blood screening that turns up changeling-positive despite Benteen setting down the vial. This would be shocking if we didn’t know that Changelings can alter not just their volume but their mass. Still, it looks pretty bad.
But don’t worry. Layton and Starfleet will only hold on to their illegitimately-grabbed power for ‘as long as it takes’ to resolve the crisis. Speaking of desperate times and desperate measures, here comes Odo with a jailbreak. What, do they not phaser-sweep all the equipment going to sensitive areas?
The Defiant is on its way with new evidence, coming barely in time to save the day from Layton with an Officer Aryaga, and the parlor scene is coming. Aryaga attached a doodad to the beacon on the Gamma Quadrant side of the wormhole to make it look like a cloaked Dominion fleet could be coming through. Once you start thinking in false flags everything makes sense. Nucleonic Beams can’t melt paranoia fuel.
Sadly, Benteen has been dispatched to stop the Defiant on the pretense that everyone on board is a shapeshifter. ‘Cause that’s not going to fall apart immediately. Additionally, there’s what the rest of the Federation worlds are going to think about a military coup on Earth and the opening salvos of a Starfleet civil war.
The Lakota, an Excelsior-class ship, has been upgraded to pose a threat to the Defiant, and Worf makes the call to target the Lakota weapons, while Layton and Sisko keep calmly talking about the philosophical future of the Federation. Well, Layton’s calm. Sisko’s full of righteous and wounded fury. Benteen calls in for directions, and Layton gives the “by any means necessary” speech. Like issuing an ultimatum in a relationship, this never works out quite the way the issuer wants it to and for much the same reasons.
During the exchange, there have been at least two fatalities and up to 33 total casualties, and it’s too late for Layton to rescue his plan. He’s refusing to accept that his plan is over and well on his way to a villainous breakdown. Once confronted, though, he remains, at heart, a loyal Starfleet officer. Resigns, gets in one last parting shot, and walks out. Cue the long slow fadeout on the Moral of the Story: don’t do the enemy’s work for them. Which was, pacing-wise, basically perfect.