"I know you're planning something."
Odo stands in the doorway of Garak's Clothiers with his arms crossed, frowning. Garak favors him with a welcoming smile and goes back to adjusting the collar of a mannequin's three-piece suit. "Of course I am, Constable. I have a wonderful event in the works to commemorate the grand re-opening of my shop. I'll be certain to send you an invitation."
Odo scoffs - a sound Garak has become all too familiar with over the years. "You know that's not what I mean, Garak. Don't think I've taken my eye off you just because we've shared a few pleasant meals lately. To begin with, I've noticed that you've been spending quite a bit of time with our visitor. I ignore an association like that at my own peril."
"Ah, thank you so much for the reminder. It has been some time since our last lunch together, hasn't it? I'll have to make room in my schedule. After all, I still need to bring you that copy of The Never-Ending Sacrifice."
"I'll pass. I've read enough Cardassian novels know that I share Dr. Bashir's opinion about their merits. And you are trying to change the subject."
"Me? Change the subject? Constable, you're the one who came into my shop during business hours to make wild insinuations out of nowhere. And while I have a customer in the fitting room, too." Garak gestures at a nearby curtained booth, where Odo can see a pair of black-booted feet in the gap between the bottom of the drape and the floor. "Unless you are here to supplement your wardrobe - an endeavor that I would gladly support - I'll have to ask that we continue this conversation at another time."
Odo's frown deepens. "Very well, Garak." He begins to walk away, then turns back. "But don't forget - I'm watching you."
"I wouldn't dream of it," says Garak to Odo's retreating back. After Odo disappears into the crowd on the Promenade, Garak returns to the mannequin and the suit's recalcitrant collar until he hears the rustle of the fitting room curtain being drawn back. The alien who emerges wears a leather outfit wholly unlike anything Garak's Clothiers has ever offered for sale and a scowl even more profound than Odo's.
"Are we quite finished with this farce?" Scorpius says in a low growl.
Garak responds with a slight nod. "I believe so. All of my tasks in preparation for tonight have been completed. And your own?"
"I am ready."
"Then all that remains is to wait. It won't be long now. Try to be patient."
Scorpius glances toward the shop's door even though Odo is now long gone. "A challenging proposition when I appear to be wearing out my welcome on your station. Your security chief certainly suspects something already."
"Of course he suspects something. Suspicion is in his nature. I would only become truly concerned if Constable Odo appeared to suspect nothing. That's how I would know he was on to us." Before Scorpius can reply, Garak quickly rests a comforting hand on his shoulder and continues, "I really wouldn't worry about it. Just remember that very soon it won't matter. Both of us will have all the information we've been looking for." But Scorpius pulls away, baring sharp teeth, and Garak wonders for neither the first nor the last time if this partnership is a good idea after all.
Deep Space Nine never really sleeps. The shops and restaurants on the Promenade, and even Quark's, close down for the artificial night at an arbitrarily agreed-upon hour, and the habitat ring goes quiet as the constant rush of station life calms for a few hours to allow DS9's inhabitants to get some rest. Even Constable Odo needs to revert to his liquid state eventually - but somewhere, other eyes are always watching. Starfleet and Bajoran officers keep Ops running nonstop, medical personnel remain on call for any emergency, engineers and custodians repair and clean the station's millions of moving parts, and civilian dockworkers are always on hand to manage the constant stream of traffic to and from the docking ring. Yet in the midst of one of these waves of routine late-night ship departures that keep up the steady flow of people and goods between quadrants of the galaxy, a small, strange shuttle lifts off unnoticed from its landing pad, approaches the opening wormhole, and swirls down into that blue vortex just before it snaps shut again in a blink of white light.
Garak watches Scorpius pilot his shuttle through the long blue tunnel of the wormhole. Scorpius's attention is fixed upon the kaleidoscopic fabric of folded space around the ship with a slight and almost feral smile glinting on his face. I understand why Constable Odo is so wary around him, Garak thinks. A type of being no one has ever seen before bursts out of the wormhole in a type of ship no one had ever seen before, and tells a wild tale about being unexpectedly pulled here from another galaxy - maybe even another time - while escaping from his own disintegrating command carrier? Hardly a believable story, even if the humans claim that truth is stranger than fiction. Any rational individual would have been on their guard immediately. Leave it to Starfleet to always give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I suppose. Captain Sisko had allowed Scorpius to remain on the station, and to work with Dax and the science team to find a way to return home - and so, without realizing it, the captain has also allowed for this fruitful collaboration.
Soon the shuttle emerges into the dark, starry expanse of the Gamma Quadrant, rapidly and stealthily drawing away from the other ships that had provided camouflage for Scorpius and Garak's flight from Deep Space Nine. Garak checks their current coordinates on the PADD he's brought along and says, "We've arrived. Start broadcasting our distress call on the frequencies I provided to you."
"Yes." Scorpius moves his gloved fingers over the shuttle's controls, then observes, "It appears that our departure has gone unnoticed."
Garak inclines his head in a slight bow of gratitude. "You doubted that it would?"
"I merely wish to observe that the majority of the elements that comprise this plan have been readily and unconditionally provided by you - the suggestion of how to leave the station undetected, the method by which we can identify our prey, the quantum stasis field that will prevent it from changing shape or escaping, the venue on Cardassia Prime where you say we can analyze our target's capabilities. It could be argued that by giving you so much control over the details of our activities, I leave myself too open to betrayal."
"And I agree that you would be a fool not to consider that possibility. Rest assured, our plan forces me to rely upon you just as much as you must rely upon me. The use of your shuttle alone, and my unfamiliarity with all but its most basic functions, puts me at an immense disadvantage - as does the crucial role you play once our target is on board. A Cardassian in a Cardassian ship could never implement this strategy. It would be just as easy for you to betray me at the most critical moment. I can only hope that you value our shared goal more highly than that."
Scorpius's facial expression is impossible to read. "I will admit, it is refreshing to be able to express my thoughts frankly without having it taken as malice," he muses.
"I would never deny you that right. I may never be able to entirely set your mind at ease, but I can assure you that I do place the capture and thorough examination of a Founder above any and all personal concerns. The Obsidian Order has been vanquished. Our government is in turmoil. Understanding the Founders' nature and their full capabilities has never been more essential to the survival of my people. And from what you have told me about your own circumstances, the ability to duplicate their shapeshifting abilities would be of great value to you in achieving your own goals. In the end, both Cardassians and Peacekeepers can only benefit from this. How could my actions cause harm to your people when they don't even inhabit the same galaxy as mine?" Garak leans closer to Scorpius and grins in excitement. "Now, shall we see if the Dominion takes our bait?"
Scorpius's only response is a curt nod - which tells Garak everything he needs to know. He still doesn't trust me. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Garak allows his mind to wander as the shuttle meanders through the Gamma Quadrant, sending out a distress call carefully worded to attract the ideal target. Scorpius, on the other hand, seems incapable of abandoning his focus on the task for even a moment, so he is the first to react when a low chime announces that their message has been answered. He slides his hand over the console and the gruff voice of a Jem'Hadar soldier fills the air. "Unidentified craft, do you require assistance? Please respond."
The Dominion vessel comes into view on the sensors, sleek and menacing and drawing ever nearer. "Does this ship meet with our specifications?" Scorpius asks.
Garak examines the readings closely before he speaks. "According to the intelligence I...liberated...from Enabran Tain, yes. Vessels of this class generally travel with a Founder on board, though the Dominion would never stoop to having their revered leaders answer the comms. Now we simply have to lure him here. Please, continue."
Scorpius opens a channel to the Dominion ship and runs through the agreed-upon script. The cover story depicts him as an independent trader transporting a cargo of raw materials for Ketracel-white to a refinery who has encountered potentially crippling engine trouble far from inhabited space. "It's quite fortunate that you came along. I fear our ship may be irreparable, and it would be a shame to lose this cargo." Garak half-listens to the thankfully predictable conversation as he sets up the quantum stasis field. Eventually, Scorpius ends the transmission. "It is as you said. They are sending a boarding party to render aid."
"Or so they claim," says Garak. "More than likely, they plan to take our cargo and run, and expect us to consider it a charitable donation to the cause of Dominion expansion. No matter, so long as they send their Founder in person - which they're sure to do with that much of the white on the line."
Scorpius rises from the pilot's chair. "They will arrive at any moment now. Hide before they see you and wait for my signal."
Garak moves to the stern of the shuttle and crouches behind a pile of crates. For comfort's sake, he draws the phaser he's concealed under his jacket, hoping the stasis field works and he won't have to use it. They may not know what to make of Scorpius, but at least his people aren't seen as a confirmed enemy of the Dominion. After what happened in the Omarion Nebula, this plan is doomed to failure if they realize a Cardassian is involved.
Soon, Garak hears the shimmer of transporter beams, then heavy, booted footfalls on the deck. "The cargo," barks a Jem'Hadar. "Show it to me."
Though Scorpius's voice remains even and calm, Garak can tell from the brief hesitation before he speaks that something has gone wrong. "I won't hand it over for free. I am a businessman, and I expect to be compensated for my labor."
Garak risks a quick glance around the crates and sees three Jem'Hadar soldiers surrounding Scorpius - and no Founder anywhere in sight. He bites back a curse and withdraws to his hiding place. The footsteps resume, drawing ever closer, and nothing that Scorpius says can dissuade the Jem'Hadar from their course. His shuttle is small enough that their search for the non-existent cargo can only take them behind the crates and face to face with Garak. He cringes and silently wills Scorpius to come up with something, anything to say that will explain the presence of a likely enemy of the Dominion on the ship.
But when the Jem'Hadar reach the shuttle's stern and spot Garak, just as they inevitably must, Scorpius looks away. Scorpius's lips pull back in disappointment and disgust, and he says nothing. Perhaps that's for the best. After all, he could just as easily sell me out now and try to save himself. Interesting that he doesn't. In his position, I would certainly have considered it.
The Jem'Hadar regard Garak in silence for one of those interminable moments that invariably precede violence or betrayal. Then one of them says, "Kill the Cardassian, but keep the other one alive for questioning."
The soldier has barely finished speaking when Garak levels his phaser and shoots. The beam strikes the Jem'Hadar in the chest and knocks him backwards into another stack of crates. Garak has no time to determine whether the shot has killed or simply wounded his adversary - and at the moment, he doesn't especially care, not when the other two Jem'Hadar are already reaching for their phaser rifles. They open fire. Garak dives out of the way, flattens himself on the floor, and belly-crawls behind a nearby pillar as phaser fire spatters off the walls and deck plates around him.
The Jem'Hadar are so focused on attacking Garak that, for the moment, they've forgotten entirely about Scorpius. When Garak leans around the pillar to return fire (not that I have much chance of hitting them with the element of surprise removed and without their backs turned, he thinks), he sees that Scorpius has realized this too. Scorpius grabs one of the remaining Jem'Hadar from behind and lifts him off his feet with unexpected strength. One hand snakes up to the side of the Jem'Hadar's face. With an abrupt, almost casual twist of his wrists, Scorpius snaps the soldier's neck.
Hissing, Scorpius turns toward the final Jem'Hadar, whose loyalty to the Founders appears to be tempered with just enough wisdom to recognize when a battle is lost. "It was a trap. Beam us up," the Jem'Hadar shouts into his communicator. He and the prone forms of his companions vanish in the sudden sparkle of the Dominion ship's transporters. Scorpius lets out a snarl of frustration. He stalks back to the shuttle's controls, scanning each panel as if searching for the button that could wind back time and undo what just occurred. Garak tucks his phaser away again and follows. He suspects that if he had been able to see himself in a mirror during certain unforgettable moments of his own life, his own face would have worn the same expression that Scorpius currently displays - the look of a mind ferociously churning through contingencies and backup plans and worst-case scenarios, searching for the escape hatch that he must have set into place when the plan was new and the idea of things going this wrong was a vague fear rather than a certainty.
Garak will never know whether Scorpius would ever have arrived at the conclusion he seeks. Before either of them can propose a new strategy, the shuttle shakes abruptly and violently, nearly knocking both of them to the floor, and a tremendous boom reverberates through the hull. A wide variety of problematic-looking lights blink to life on the console and a high-pitched alarm begins to blare. "We've been hit," says Scorpius, checking some readouts. "A graze, nothing more."
"The next one won't be," says Garak.
Garak and Scorpius lock eyes, neither one wanting to state what's already obvious to both of them: This plan has failed. But Garak figures he's already characterized himself as the bearer of bad news, so he adds, "I think we should leave."
Scorpius continues to hold Garak's gaze, long enough that Garak begins to wonder if he has given up on reason altogether. He growls again, quieter and lower in his throat this time, then smoothly and rapidly manipulates the shuttle's controls. The stars wheel wildly through the viewscreen as the shuttle spins around and accelerates away from the Dominion ship. As it dwindles behind them, Scorpius looks back and a brief trace of regret crosses his face. In this, too, we are united. Then the moment passes as quickly as it came and there is no time left for anything but speed.
They lose the Dominion vessel somewhere in the fringes of a nebula. Scorpius is by no means a poor pilot, but Garak has a feeling that their successful evasion has less to do with the skill of anyone involved in the chase, and more to do with apathy on the part of the Jem'Hadar. Interesting. They don't seem to care enough about some strange Cardassian's inexplicable schemes to work very hard at hunting us down - which means they've been given more important orders. Garak files that idea away in his mind, alongside all of the other potentially useful bits of information that he's waiting for the perfect moment to deploy.
At first, Garak worries that Scorpius will argue for staying in the Gamma Quadrant to make another attempt at capturing a Founder, but Scorpius doesn't object when Garak suggests returning to Deep Space Nine to regroup. In fact, the shuttle is almost halfway back through the wormhole before Scorpius really speaks again. "Tell me truthfully, Garak," he says without shifting his focus from the PADD on which he is consulting star charts, his voice seeming to come from far away. "You knew there would never be a Founder aboard that ship, didn't you?"
"Whatever makes you think that?" says Garak, keeping his tone carefully neutral.
"Several pieces of evidence. The zeal with which you protected the secrecy of your supposed sources. Your all-consuming focus on self-preservation throughout the operation. Your total lack of interest in refining the plan after our first attempt failed." Scorpius looks at Garak again. This time, the eye contact is pointed and withering, a gaze as blue as the wormhole's insides, intent on making Garak feel like a specimen under examination. "But mainly, it was the fact that your energy signature has easily revealed every lie you've ever told to me. It's fascinating, really. You lie with greater frequency than any sentient being I have ever encountered. You even lie when you derive no apparent benefit from doing so." He stands up, looming over the chair in which Garak is seated. "Which kind of lie was this, Garak? Was there a purpose behind it, or was it strictly for your own enjoyment?"
Garak smiles in spite of himself. "I honestly never thought I would say this, Scorpius, but you mustn't think so little of yourself. I assure you that when I lie to you, it is always with a purpose."
"Strange. That time, you actually told me the truth." All emotion has vanished from Scorpius's face and voice - a far more hazardous state, Garak realizes, than any degree of rage or humiliation. "And what was your purpose this time?"
"You displayed a healthy suspicion of me before. Surely it hasn't vanished so soon? You could never have possibly believed that I would allow an individual of unknown allegiances and untested loyalties to acquire so much information about anything in this galaxy - even about my enemies. Consider this a test of sorts, to see how you would behave under pressure." Garak stands up, his face now only centimeters from Scorpius's, in defiance of every instinct that screams at him to get far away. "And a test that, as far as I'm concerned, you passed." Without breaking eye contact, he reaches out to touch Scorpius's gloved hand, which is still clutched tightly around the PADD. "In fact, I still believe that you and I could share a productive partnership."
Scorpius recoils from Garak's hand. "I disagree."
Garak shrugs and sinks back into his chair, sliding his hands into his pockets. "This is it, then. When we return to the station, we'll both go our separate ways."
"You know this will make it much harder for either of us to understand the Dominion's full capabilities, however."
"Yes. Which is why it's a good thing I was never really interested in capturing a Founder anyway."
The punch that follows connects firmly with the side of Garak's head and knocks him halfway out of his seat. Through the ringing in his ears and the sudden taste of blood in his mouth, he tries to scramble away, but Scorpius shoves him roughly to the deck. He feels Scorpius reaching inside his jacket, pulling out the phaser. "Wait -" A deafening blast of energy is the only response. Darkness follows shortly thereafter.
Garak wakes up to a splitting headache and a nagging sense of confinement - his breath fogging a visor in front of his face, his peripheral vision cut off by the sides of a helmet he doesn't remember putting on. Slowly, painfully, he pulls himself to his feet with an involuntary groan. His breathing quickens as he realizes that not only is he now wearing a full spacesuit (the interior of which reeks of someone else's blood and vomit), but that he is trapped within the shuttle's cramped airlock. Garak closes his eyes and tries to will his pounding heart to slow down, tries to forget the nearness of the walls that surround him. Maybe I should just be grateful that at least Scorpius knew how to set the phaser to stun.
When he's regained enough control of himself to feel comfortable opening his eyes, Garak looks out a porthole in one of the airlock hatches and sees Deep Space Nine coming into view. Through the other porthole, he sees Scorpius stalking around the interior of the shuttle with Garak's PADD in his hands and a manic, triumphant grimace on his face. "Now who's the liar?" Garak says, unsure of whether he wants his voice to carry through the airlock's thick door.
But it must, because Scorpius crosses to the hatch without hesitation. His pale face fills the small window. "Let me make something perfectly clear. The petty politics of your galaxy and the pathetic aspirations of your Dominion are of no concern to me. Nor are the capabilities of its Founders. If I should ever require the capabilities of a shapeshifter, I would simply hire a Colarta to carry out the task. So do what you will, Garak; I will neither help nor hinder you.
"You see, I have no reason to remain in your galaxy any longer. I could have left at any time. Your science team's research was more thorough and efficient than I allowed them to know. And with your help, I have finally acquired everything I need to return." Scorpius steps away from the window and brandishes the PADD like a weapon - which it just might be, Garak realizes. "I now possess all of the data needed to understand the mechanics of a stable wormhole." The announcement has the gravity and tone of a judge passing down a verdict, or the final sentence of a particularly ominous work of literature. Scorpius closes his eyes and throws his head back as ecstasy steals across his face. His fists open and close in a seemingly involuntary response to the evident delight shivering up and down his spine. I'm not entirely sure what that's all about, Garak thinks, but it's safe to assume it's not good.
"Honestly, I'm hurt," says Garak.
That seems to bring Scorpius back to reality. "No, you're not," he sneers.
"Perhaps. But I do regret that our working relationship must come to such an explosive end. When you told me about your circumstances, it amazed me how much we had in common - both of us rejected and misunderstood by our people, yet still wanting nothing more than to protect them from the forces that would cast everything and everyone around us into chaos. It doesn't have to be this way, Scorpius. We could be colleagues - friends, even. I have no idea what I could have done to make you despise me so."
The sneer twists into a smirk. "Despise you? Garak, this is nothing personal. If I truly despised you, I wouldn't have put you in a spacesuit before I did this." Scorpius's hand moves on the other side of the hatch. An alarm blares, a bright red light begins to flash, and Garak feels more than hears the airlock unseal behind him. He holds Scorpius's face in view for a moment longer, that victorious expression searing itself into his memory, before the outer hatch opens and the airlock decompresses and he is somersaulting out into space. Now all he can see is Deep Space Nine and the opening wormhole and the rapidly vanishing shuttle and the stars, all dizzy and mixed-up and ultimately indistinguishable from each other. Garak closes his eyes. Nothing to do now but wait for rescue. If you can call it that.
Hours later, Odo steeples his fingers and leans back in his desk chair, the very picture of an impartial observer sent to mete out justice. Garak sits across from Odo with his wrists cuffed in front of him. A quite understandable hush has fallen over Odo's office following Garak's confession of everything that occurred in the Gamma Quadrant. He seemed so disappointed when he realized I was going to cooperate with the interrogation. Maybe I should have put up more of a struggle so he could enjoy himself a little.
Garak couldn't possibly say anything more than he has already said, so of course Odo is the first to speak. "This time, Garak, you have finally gone too far. Captain Sisko and I agree that you're to be confined to the brig until further notice."
"I fully understand your position, Constable," says Garak. "But could I ask you for one small favor before I am incarcerated?"
"That depends on the favor."
"It would mean so much to me if you would give The Never-Ending Sacrifice a fair chance. I can't help but feel that your reluctance to read it is based mainly on false impressions and gross misconceptions. I find that to be particularly troublesome, since I have been led to believe that a good detective must always keep an open mind."
Odo rolls his eyes. "Oh, come off it, Garak -"
"No, I'm quite serious. In fact, I happen to have a copy of it with me right now. Would you mind retrieving it from my jacket? As usual, you have me at a disadvantage." Garak lifts his cuffed hands and shrugs helplessly.
Odo complies and pulls a data crystal out of Garak's pocket. He opens one of his desk drawers and prepares to drop the crystal to the bottom. "I'm sure I'll find it fascinating."
"Constable, I'd really suggest that you start reading it right now. At least the first page."
Odo's mouth opens in disbelief. "I insist," Garak adds, pasting on the most innocent and charming smile he can muster under the circumstances. Odo sighs and slaps the crystal into the terminal on his desk. Garak's smile cannot help becoming genuine as Odo begins to read.
Odo's astonishment grows with every line over which his eyes pass. "This is the telemetry from your trips through the wormhole."
Garak thinks, That must be just how the detectives in Dr. Bashir's novels sound when they finally put the pieces of those completely obvious human mysteries together, but all he says is, "Indeed."
"Somehow you switched out his data crystal. You made sure he would leave empty-handed."
"Oh, never empty-handed, Constable. At the very least, I made sure to send him back to his own galaxy with the greatest work of Cardassian literature ever written. Although a clever little program installed on the PADD he took from me will ensure he doesn't get away with any other data of real value, I'm certain that his culture will still benefit immensely from being introduced to The Never-Ending Sacrifice. As would you."
"In that case, I need to bring this data crystal to Captain Sisko immediately."
"Of course. Is it safe to say, then, that a visit to the brig need not necessarily be in my future? If so, I'd appreciate being released from these restraints. They chafe, you know."
Odo crosses to Garak's side of the desk and opens the handcuffs. Garak nods in gratitude and rubs at his own wrists. As Odo returns to his chair, he says, to himself as much as to Garak, "Scorpius never once expressed any unusual degree of interest about the wormhole to anyone on the command staff. How did you know his real goal?"
"Why, Constable, it was quite simple. A law enforcement official such as yourself is trained to follow the evidence - to see what is present at the scene and discover the 'how' and 'why' of what happened. You look for clues, question the witnesses, investigate the victim's background, discern the suspects' motives, and so forth. But someone such as myself is trained to look for something very different. Owing to what I am, I know that you can understand even more about a person through what they don't reveal."
"Did you learn that from being a spy?"
"No. I learned that from being a tailor."
"Of course you did."
"Your skepticism, as always, is boundless. But does it really matter? It has always been my theory that when you learn to identify those things that a person does not say yet cannot conceal, no matter how hard they try, their real motivations become nothing more than a repetitive epic. Or, as the humans would say, an open book."
Odo turns back to his terminal and stares at the scrolling lines of data that simultaneously describe so much and so little of what makes up the wormhole. "So does this theory of yours apply to yourself as well, Garak?" he says. But when he lifts his head to check for the reaction he's hoping his question will elicit, even though he knows it will still never receive a clear answer, the door to his office is sliding shut and Garak is already gone.