In which Sisko fights some Jem’Hadar and Kira fights her conscience.
When last we left our heroes, they had destroyed the Dominion’s main Ketracel White facility in the Alpha quadrant, but were horribly maimed in the process and on a 17-year journey back to friendly space. O’Brien estimated three days to get main power back, but things are rather more urgent than that, as they’re about to be challenged for credentials. Rather than face a helpful repair crew and turn it into an omnicidal assault crew, Sisko guides them to hide in an uncharted dark-matter nebula. Since the Jem’Hadar don’t seem interested in talking, they make a break for it, and their pursuers break off. In the attack, Jadzia gets injured badly, as does Dax. Garak gets the viewer back up and running just in time to watch a planet crash into them.
This planet is a Jem’Hadar-held planet, or at least, there are some Jem’Hadar on it. They appear to be a fading force with a dying Vorta and both First and Second squad leaders dead. They’re out of communication with the rest of the Dominion, but will hold it until they contact or die. This is likely going to make trouble for the Federation crew which survived the crash but had to swim to shore. They’ve managed to salvage some supplies from the wrecked ship, including a stretcher-raft for Jadzia. Hopefully, this time fighting over a scrap of dirt against Jem’Hadar will allow for more diplomacy than the last one.
Back on the station, Kira wakes up, screws up her courage, and faces the lift full of Dominion and Jem’Hadar who run Terok Nor once more. A Cardassian gets her coffee, she thanks him, there is no banter. Everything is perfectly civil and totally isolated.
The dying Vorta really seems to hate his charges, but fortunately he probably won’t have to live with them much longer. He’s in rough shape and it’s obvious something bad is happening to the supply of Ketracel White. The Vorta institutes rationing, since they have at least ten days until they can get comms up. Meanwhile, the Federation crew banter over some heated rocks about Miles’ torn pants. Bashir’s managed to stabilize Jadzia and probably save both her and the Symbiote, but she’ll be bedridden for a while.
Nog and Garak are out scouting, and evidently Nog has learned enough from the Academy to never stand in front. He also doesn’t trust Garak at all. As always, Garak passes off ‘not being trusted’ as a great compliment. Moments later, they’re captured by Jem’Hadar and brought to the Vorta. The Vorta is not as immediately hostile as one might expect, and asks whether they have a doctor. When Garak confirms, he sends his Third to assess the Starfleet unit.
Jake has amassed some sources aboard Terok Nor, and is using them as background to grill Kira and Odo on an upcoming deployment of Dominion Vorta to Bajor. Since Bajor has no outside trade, they depend on the Dominion for the technical assistance the Federation, so the Dominion are helping. Odo isn’t worried about ‘validating’ the Dominion by his presence on the ruling council because they don’t need to care about it, and there’s a protest scheduled in honor of the Vorta presence of Bajor that’s going to cause a Cardassian security crackdown for little benefit because the Dominion don’t believe in Freedom of the Press. Kira and Odo are approaching this from the standpoint of people trying to appease the fascist government into not grinding so hard with their boots.
The Starfleet crew are setting up a transmitter that can punch through the nebula, but don’t have a power source to run it. Any bets as to whether the part that the Dominion crash survivors have is the power cell, and they have to work together to signal out? Here’s where we find that Garak and Nog are missing. When the crew goes looking, they detect the life signs of Jem’hadar watching them from an embankment, and subtly make their way to cover before the ambush starts. The Jem’hadar are on-edge and jump the gun, starting the shooting war. Third comes in to impose some discipline on his troops, but it’s too late, and they have to sacrifice two soldiers who can’t cloak (‘shroud’ in their parlance, because that’s a universal metaphor) to get the rest back to base camp. There’s a nifty little aesop in here just for the Jem’Hadar – disobedience caused problems. Obedience brings Victory. Back at base camp, we find that while the Vorta can order around the unit leader, only the unit leader disciplines the troops.
Vedek Yazim gets her meeting with Kira, asking how she can oppose the evil of the Dominion. Kira seems fully defeated by the Dominion, and Yazim points out that based on their history with the Cardassians and the direction that things are steadily proceeding, there’s no reason to expect things to be different this time. Fortunately, this is all just far-fetched fiction with no applicability to the real world, right? Right? Yazim’s final question is how she can help Kira stop normalizing the fascist oppresion.
Planetside, Lt. Neeley has gotten the entreaty from the Jem’Hadar Third, a request for parlay. Third delivers the request for a trade of Nog and Garak for Sisko and Bashir – a terrible deal for Sisko, and the Third agrees. He’s straightforward, while Sisko talks about their mission to the Iconian outpost, where the Jem’Hadar First killed their Vorta for treachery. Sisko won’t take the Vorta’s word for his safe passage, but he will take Third’s – one warrior to another. It’s been said before – Picard was primarily a diplomat and representative of the Federation government whenever possible. Sisko… is not Picard. But he’s stick trying for diplomacy. From the bottom up.
The prisoner exchange goes forth without a hitch, and the tension also heightens on Terok Nor, as Kira and Odo wait for Vedek Yazim. Jake shows up just in time to see Yazim make her point… the most important and last one she’ll ever make. And while Kira is being shocked into action, Bashir treats Kivan the Vorta, starting with immediate surgery.
The next morning, Kira wasn’t sleeping when the alarm goes off. The goes through the routine again, but now she’s really, finally awake. Bashir seems to have saved the Vorta, and he dismisses his soldiers so they can talk. The problem is that there’s one vial of White for the ten soldiers down here. Without it, they’ll go into a violent, berserker rage and kill everything on the planet, ending with each other. To forestall this, the Kivan will order them to attack Sisko in the morning, and offers to give Sisko the attack plan so that it will be a suicide mission. Once they’re gone, he’ll give the Starfleet crew the comm system and surrender to them. And he’s not offering a choice, just an update. This is horribly offensive to the Federation troops. Garak’s fine with it, and SIsko’s not going to let his crew get killed, but still. If we needed a reminder of just how evil (according to Federation morality) the Dominion is, it’s there.
Kira and Odo meet where Yazim hung herself from the balcony, and she despises herself for being a collaborator, the kind of person she hated when she was in the Resistance. She has to start fighting back, however she can, and of course Odo will help. And on the topic of lost causes, the ten unshrouded and tweaked-out Jem’Hadar approach the site of their last stand, and Sisko offers a chance to the Third. There’s not much of one, with only the one vial, but who knows. He offers to sedate the Jem’Hadar until rescue, he explains that Kivan betrayed them. But such is not the Order of Things. Third already knew, and he’s going to take it down to the slaughter. The Starfleet squad loses an ensign, but prevails. The Vorta has no remorse and no regrets, and the war continues.