Picking up right from The Homecoming, Sisko and Kira are pissed.
Sisko can barely contain his rage as Minister Jaro explains Kira isn't being replaced. She's being "promoted". And that Li Nalas, what with all the Circle violence on Bajor, will be safer on DS9. And as if his day isn't going swell enough already, Jake calls him to their quarters to reveal that the mark of The Circle has been painted on their door.
Kira meanwhile has begrudgingly accepted her "promotion". Odo hasn't. He lectures her on how accepting this mockery is basically giving up, something he'd never expect out of her. They are soon joined by Dax, then by Bashir as well. Then O'Brien. And then Quark. In the middle of the numerous, confusing discussions, they get another visitor: Vedek Bareil. He's heard about Kira being replaced by Li Nalas, so he invites her to visit his monastery on Bajor before beginning her new job. With not much else to do, she accepts. As she takes one last solemn stroll around Ops, Sisko promises to get her back as she departs.
Not surprisingly, the slow life of the monastery isn't really agreeing with her, as Bareil discovers when he sees her adjusting a random stepping stone for the umpteenth time. She tells her she doesn't always need to worry about being "useful", and takes her to see something special: an Orb. The third one, specifically, the Orb of Prophecy and Change. What follows is a bizarre (and naked) vision of Kira being mocked by the council, and ends as she and Bareil are about to bang.
Back on DS9, Odo discusses the worsening situation on Bajor. The military is imposing martial law, and descending upon the capital to apparently destroy The Circle. After hanging up, Quark drops by, naturally concerned about the situation after the attack he suffered. This whole situation has him advising Odo that they need to beat it and quick. Odo is dismissive of his whining, but Quark also has information - specifically, on who has been supplying The Circle with weapons. To Odo's surprise, he implicates the Kressari, a race of botanical DNA traders who don't even have a military. And it just so happens that they have a ship due in 36 hours. With not much else to go on, Odo deputizes Quark (with a little blackmail of course) and orders him to track where the weapons are going.
On Bajor, Kira is keeping quiet about the true contents of her Orb vision. And to compound things, she runs across the crooked Vedek Winn while she and Bareil walk. The woman who got away with plotting to assassinate Bareil tells Kira, in the most passive-aggressive way she can, that she's not welcome there.
While Sisko visits the Bajoran military command and Odo stows away on the Kressari ship as a rat, Kira is kidnapped by several masked Circle members. Coming to in their headquarters, their leader is revealed: Minister Jaro. He wanted Li Nalas off Bajor when he launched a coup against the government, so he had him stuck on DS9. And he tells Kira he has methods to make her talk while she's here.
Word of the kidnapping has reached Sisko and crew. As they discuss what to do, "Deputy" Quark enters with more info. He's tracked the headquarters of The Circle to a series of caverns under the Parrichian Peninsula. Gathering Bashir, Dax, Li, and two Red Shirt security members, they launch a successful rescue mission.
Odo returns not long after the rescue with shocking news. While disguised on the Kressari ship, he discovered the true suppliers of the Circle: Cardassia. Yes, The Circle are being armed by their mortal enemy. With the xenophobic Circle potentially driving the Federation out, it would leave Bajor open for the Cardassians to occupy again.
The info appears to have arrived too late. All communication to Bajor has been cut off, and two assault vessels are headed for Deep Space 9, giving all non-Bajoran personnel seven hours to scram. Or else.
Sisko contacts Admiral Chekote (not Chakotay, despite sounding alike) and the news isn't good: This is an internal Bajoran matter. The Prime Directive requires Starfleet stay out of it. With that, he orders Sisko to evacuate the station.
The time it would take to evacuate the station? A few hours. The time for a complete evacuation of all Federation members and technology? A few days. And the vessels are drawing close.
- Sisko: Then I guess some of us won't be gone by the time they get here...
- Big Damn Heroes: Sisko and his team rescuing Kira.
- Blackmail: As per usual, this is how Odo gets Quark to be useful.
- Bothering by the Book / Exact Words: Sisko is ordered to evacuate the station by his Starfleet superiors, but they forget to specify that he has to complete the evacuation within the timeframe the Bajorans have given them. He orders that every single piece of Starfleet equipment be painstakingly removed, which of course can't be done before the Bajorans arrive.
- I Am the Trope: Minister Jaro clarifies that he is the Circle.
- Instant Sedation: Kira's kidnappers use the off-button hypospray on her.
- The Oner: The scene where Kira's friends try to persuade her to stay was filmed this way, though intercut on screen.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Odo is pissed with Kira for simply accepting her fate and not living up to her Chaotic Good persona.
- Planet of Hats: Lampshaded by Odo, who says that it doesn't make sense that the Kressari would be supplying the Circle because they're botanical DNA traders.
- Plot Hole: In the previous episode, O'Brien and Kira couldn't just beam up every Bajoran in the labor camp, because DS9's runabouts were said to be capable of teleporting only two people at a time. But in this episode the five-men rescue team for Kira, plus Kira herself, are all beamed to a runabout simultaneously.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: With the Bajoran government on the brink of collapse, Quark decides his next move is to put as much distance between himself and Bajor as possible.
- That's an Order!: Admiral Chekote orders Sisko to evacuate all Starfleet personnel. Naturally, he doesn't.
- Unwitting Pawn: The Circle are playing right into Cardassia's hands, even being supplied by them.