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Scorched Earth

Chapter Text

'What would you undertake
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?'

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VII

 

Prologue: Rakantha Province, Bajor; April 2368

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv'd only to discover sights of woe...

Milton, Paradise Lost

From this height, it was clear where the ground stopped being green and became black. Even the smoke from the fires could not obscure this line, the border between civilization and chaos.

Glinn Talat dropped the flyer's altitude, relieved to be able to focus on a task which would distract him from the oppressive presence of his passenger. As they came in a little closer, it became clear that the border was itself crossed by many lines, scratch marks scoring the land, moving inexorably from black to green - the trails of the departing Cardassian forces.

'Land here.'

Talat jumped at the sudden order and glanced at the co-ordinates the man showed him. His heart sank. 'Sir, I must warn you that it's extremely dangerous on the ground. Our men could leave that area at any moment and I couldn't guarantee your safety...'

'Thank you, Talat, but I believe that I am quite able to manage. Perhaps you would be happier if I guaranteed your safety?' There was a pause, which Talat did not dare to fill. 'Then let us land.'

Talat, a Cardassian to the tips of his scales and thus uninterested in the cosmologies of alien cultures, was not able to compare the situation that met them on the ground with Hell; his passenger, however, was considerably better informed. Despite it being the middle of the day, they had to squint through the gloom at the scene. Malatta had once been a prosperous agricultural settlement. After the Cardassians occupied the province it had degenerated into a shantytown. And now it was on fire.

The air was almost solid with ash, gagging both men. Through the smoke they could make out the charred ruins of little homes and barns. Faintly, through what remained of blackened windows, they could just glimpse the ghostly faces of the Bajoran locals, looking on helplessly as their already meagre livelihoods were completely obliterated.

'Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace and rest can never dwell, hope never comes...' muttered the other man.

'I beg your pardon, sir?' coughed Talat in confusion. The military didn't, in general, speak highly of Obsidian Order officers, considering them undisciplined and soft. Talat hadn't, however, expected them also to spout garbage at the drop of a hat.

'Never mind,' the man responded, clearing his throat. 'Now, which particular star of the military firmament do we have here?' This was at the approach of an irate-looking gul, who addressed Talat, ignoring the other man.

'What are you doing bringing civilians here?' he yelled. 'This whole area is off limits. Explain yourself immediately!'

Talat swallowed, 'Sir, I...'

The Order man cut through his babbling, addressing the gul directly. 'What's your name, soldier?'

The gul stared at him in amazement, as if a worm had suddenly looked up and spoken to him. 'Just who do you think you...?' he started to exclaim.

Again the man cut through. 'Perhaps you'd better check my identification,' he said smoothly, and held out his left wrist, offering the implant for inspection. Confusion was the dominant expression on the gul's face as he pulled out the requisite equipment and scanned the chip. He read the results and alarm replaced confusion. 'My sincere apologies, sir,' he gulped. 'I'd no idea you were in the area...' He pulled himself together. 'Gul Temeny, Second Battalion, Fourth Order, sir. What do you need from us?'

The man smiled at him. 'A few minutes of your time, Temeny, that's all. I want to know how the evacuation is proceeding.'

Temeny relaxed. Asking a Cardassian soldier to recite his orders was by far the best way to put him at ease. 'The first priority was to prepare all equipment for removal from the area, sir. This took thirteen hours - the fastest time for any battalion in this province, sir,' he preened, 'and we completed this yesterday evening...'

The man held up a hand to stop him. 'So why are you still here?'

'I'm sorry, sir?'

'If all your equipment is packed, why are you still here, nearly a day later?'

Temeny blinked from a momentary confusion but took the question at face value. Talat, who had spent more than a week now in the company of the Order agent, recognized the tone of voice, and winced slightly in anticipation of the onslaught that was bound to come.

'Our orders are to cleanse the town and treat the soil before withdrawing, sir,' Temeny answered.

'Is that right?' said the man with evident distaste at the series of euphemisms he had just heard.

'It's not as if they don't deserve it, sir,' Temeny added, a little defensively. 'The Resistance has been ambushing our troop convoys as they're leaving.'

The agent appeared to have stopped listening, but was watching the battalion carrying out their instructions about him. Then he turned back to face the soldier and spoke very quietly. 'Gul Temeny, this is a direct order. I want you and your men away from here within an hour. Stop what you're doing and get out.'

Temeny cleared his throat. The man was clearly angry, for some reason Temeny couldn't quite grasp. 'Sir, can I ask why?'

Elim Garak turned to look at him, his pale blue eyes making his gaze cold. 'Why?' He looked back at the blackened, poisoned town. 'Because this is an obscenity.'

 

ONE: After This Our Exile

The Defiant bridge; Stardate 48724.3 [September 2371]

'I'm picking up a high concentration of tetryon particles again, Benjamin,' Dax said, her voice cutting calmly through the tension which had gripped the bridge of the Defiant for hours since they had entered the Gamma Quadrant in pursuit of Odo, Garak - and Tain's fleet.

'Is it what we think it is, Lieutenant?' Sisko queried, grateful for her quiet composure, and doing his best to match it.

There was a pause. 'Yes. It's Tain's fleet. There don't appear to be any ships missing.' She turned to her commanding officer. 'Benjamin, that can only mean one thing...'

Sisko nodded. 'That Tain has succeeded in his attack on the Founder's homeworld, and that very soon we are going to be in the middle of a war zone...'

Bashir sucked in a breath. 'Are you sure?'

'Doctor, I don't for a moment believe that the Dominion are going to sit back and allow the destruction of their gods to pass unpunished. Very soon, I think we'll see a Jem'Hadar fleet passing through the wormhole on its way to Cardassia. Dax, it's time for us to go home.'

She nodded her agreement. 'Setting course for the wormhole, Benjamin.'

Kira left her position and came to speak quietly to Sisko, trying to keep her voice calm. 'Commander, if that fleet has survived, it means that there's still a good chance that Odo is alive...'

Sisko looked back at her gravely. 'I know, Major. But there's very little we can do right now. Once this situation has played itself out, then we can request information about the Constable...'

Kira burnt with fierce frustration. 'Commander, they could be doing anything to him...'

'I'm sure Garak would do all he could to prevent that,' Bashir said confidently.

Kira turned on him in disbelief. 'You have got to be joking... Don't tell me you trust that conniving, murderous liar?'

Bashir flushed slightly. 'When I met Tain, he left me with the distinct impression that Garak was no longer in favour. I think that perhaps we should be worrying about both of them, that's all.'

Before Kira could respond, Sisko raised a hand; his voice was quiet but firm. 'This is a discussion that can wait until we're back at the station. For the moment we'll assume that both Odo and Garak are being held by Tain. Our priority at the moment is to get back to the Alpha quadrant. We have a station, the wormhole, and Bajor to think about.'

Dax spoke again. 'Benjamin, we're intercepting a transmission from Cardassia Prime. Tain is being instructed to present himself before the Detepa Council and explain his actions.'

'Well, I bet that'll fill him with dread,' muttered Kira.

'Don't underestimate the Central Command, Major,' Sisko responded. 'If the Jem'Hadar really do come through the wormhole, Cardassia is going to need all the firepower it can get. I doubt Tain's fleet is strong enough to swing the Council behind him. It's the military that Cardassia will need right now.'

 

Detepa Council Chamber, Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; Stardate 48727.0

There are still thirty-three steps up to the entrance of the Council building, Garak marvelled, as he reached the top a split second after Tain. Cardassia really hasn't changed at all while I've been away. She's just as beautiful as I remember...

He held open the broad wooden doors, each carved with the symbol of the Union, allowed Tain to pass through, then strode after him along the main entrance hall towards the Council Chamber. It was a familiar walk, one they had done together on many occasions. The white walls were lined with stone tablets, row upon row of names of those who had served the Union across her glorious history. It was good to walk this way again. He could feel himself energized by every step, could feel the rush of power returning to him, revitalizing him. This is where I should be - at the heart of Cardassian politics. Not rotting away on a Bajoran space station, toadying to third-rate Federation lieutenants...

They entered the Chamber, a wide sun-drenched room with rows of dark wood benches opposing each other. A frenzy of voices greeted them. The Council was in special session, debating the legality of the Order's recent actions. Tain made his way to his usual seat. Across the floor, the Cardassian military brayed for his blood.

Covert operations and open council meetings did not, as a rule, mix. Tain attended meetings of the Detepa Council in his capacity as a Legate, but his real status was an open secret. For the three or four years prior to his exile, at the height of his influence, Garak had also attended regularly as one of Tain's 'advisers': another well-known euphemism. Everyone had known who he was, just how much power he held. They had gleefully watched his spectacular fall from grace. And now they could see that he was back, as if he had never been away. A force to be reckoned with, gentlemen, and don't you forget it, he thought, as he smirked at the assembled ranks from Central Command, who glared back with naked hatred. I've outmanoeuvred you before; I'll do it again.

He took his old seat to the right of Tain, leaned back as he had done time and time before, stretching out his legs and looking up through the glass ceiling. The sunlight streamed through, baking the Chamber, and he exulted in every single ray of light. I'd forgotten it was possible to feel so warm.

He realized he could hear several people behind him trying to attract his attention. He twisted in his chair and saw three or four Order members he had known before his exile, each clamouring his name and wanting to be the first to shake his hand and welcome him back. I remember you were my friends once - and then suddenly you all disappeared. It's funny how popular a man becomes when he sits right next to Enabran Tain.

Another voice overrode the bleating of the sycophants. Garak turned and smiled to see Erak Brun. The only man who had stayed in touch during his exile; the only one who had always somehow managed to leave open a channel that Garak could use. 'Garak,' he said. 'Should've known the next time I saw you you'd be masterminding a coup.'

He took Brun's hand warmly. 'It's good to see you again, Brun.'

Brun's grasp was just as affectionate. 'Welcome back.' He nodded at Tain. 'Back where you belong.' And they both laughed.

The Presider hammered for order, trying to calm down the assembly so that the proceedings could begin. Brun glanced over to the rows of legates and guls who represented the core of the Central Command. 'We'll get those in-bred bastards this time. I know we will.'

Garak looked across at the anxious, sweating faces of the cream of the Cardassian military. 'D'you know, I think this time you may be right...'

 

Obsidian Command, Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; Stardate 48727.3

'This is a disaster!' Tain raged later that evening. 'I should throw the lot of you to the military and let them shoot you as the bunch of worthless traitors you are!'

Tain's inner circle sat in silence around the table, waiting fearfully for his wrath to dissipate, each hoping that he or she would not somehow merit special attention. At the centre of the table, where Mila had left them, stood four open bottles of kanar, daring someone to make a move and pour from them.

Fifteen minutes in, the Council meeting had been interrupted by the arrival of a communiqué from listening posts along the Bajoran border. They reported that a massive Jem'Hadar fleet had passed through the wormhole into the Alpha Quadrant and was heading towards Cardassian space. Four minutes later, a transmission had been received from the commander of the fleet, a Vorta named Weyoun, declaring war on the Cardassian Union and Romulan Empire, demanding the return of the hostage Odo, and promising the Cardassians and Romulans that they were facing complete annihilation. Within minutes, the Romulan Senate had issued a statement offering to hand over all those Tal Shiar officers involved in the attack. There had, as yet, been no response from the Vorta, and the fleet was approaching Cardassian space at a terrifying rate. The Detepa Council looked close to making the same offer themselves.

Tain had initially downplayed all the news to the Council, giving his intelligence on the likely size of the Jem'Hadar fleet. The military was briefly placated. Then another transmission from the listening posts came in. The fleet was about seven times the size of Tain's prediction. The Council Chamber had exploded. Somewhere along the line, there had been a serious blunder in the Order. Garak simply could not believe what he was hearing. Cardassia was facing a major war that she was in no position to fight.

He leaned round the back of Tain, hiding his furious expression from the raucous ranks of the military. 'What have you part-timers been doing?' he snarled at Korinas.

'Now is neither the time nor the place for one-upmanship, Garak,' she hissed back.

Tain leaned back into his seat, breaking up their conversation, his face seemingly benign. He spoke very quietly through gritted teeth. 'I would prefer it if you two quarrelled on your own time. I want a way out of this, and I want it now.'

Thus the Council meeting had, indeed, been a complete disaster. Only a substantial amount of persuasion on Tain's part, with Garak whispering urgently in one ear and Korinas in the other, got them out of the Chamber without being placed under arrest. And now the highest level of the Obsidian Order was engaged in some healthy bloodletting. Garak had watched with mild amusement as Korinas managed to evade responsibility, and even implicate a nervous and sweating Surjak. People never change, Garak thought. Some remain snakes, and some remain victims. Brun wisely kept his head down. Although he had no responsibility for the débâcle, this would not prevent him from being a target for Tain's fury. It was better to stay quiet and avoid attention. Garak himself had been languishing on Deep Space Nine when the whole operation had been put in motion - at least this was something for which he could not possibly be blamed.

They were always all useless, Garak thought, looking away. Self-important mediocrities jockeying for position, incapable of implementing anything beyond the simplest strategy. This would never have been allowed to get past me. Tain, you really should have brought me back sooner...

He stood by the window, looking out across the garden. They were at Tain's town house, where these strategy meetings had always been conducted, in the library. The room was wood-panelled, heavy and dark; outside the evening was turning into a still, warm night. The garden was lush and green; the strong scent of the alamanth flowers wafted through the open window. It was a perfect Cardassian dusk. Garak breathed in the perfumed air, feeling a deep sense of joy, then turned back to the room.

The Jem'Hadar fleet was now eight hours from Cardassia Prime. But Garak didn't feel like dying quite yet. He'd only just got home - and it was too beautiful a night.

He walked over to the table, reached for a glass, and poured himself some kanar. There was an agonized hush. Tain was wound up as tightly as a spring. 'Garak, have you been listening to a single word I've been saying?' he whispered.

Garak gazed at him and smiled. As happened so often when he looked at Tain, it seemed that the room became empty. Everything else was inconsequential. When he spoke, it was to Tain alone, and it was with pure, incontestable confidence.

'I can solve this, Enabran, and I'll have the Order in power within two days. I promise.'

 

Obsidian task force flagship; four hours from Cardassia Prime; Stardate 48728.4

Odo was starting to admit to himself the possibility that perhaps he was afraid. It was now three days since Garak had wrenched out of him the admission that he wanted to go home. Since then, Odo had neither spoken to, nor seen, anyone. He had thought that he had felt the ship come into dock at one point, and had expected someone to come and kill him shortly afterwards. But there had been nothing. Then, maybe four hours ago, he had felt the ship leaving dock again. He fidgeted. It would soon be time for him to regenerate, but he did not want to leave himself vulnerable.

The door opened. Odo stood up and watched the entourage that entered with growing unease. First came three Cardassians, two male, one female, none of whom he recognized. He saw that one of them carried the device which Garak had used to torture him. This did not bode well. Next came a Vorta, followed by two Jem-Hadar soldiers. The Vorta bowed deeply.

'Founder,' he breathed, the word a prayer and a sigh of relief. 'I am relieved to see that you are well. I promise that this will soon be over. We will take our revenge on these murderers for their terrible, terrible crime.'

Odo felt a sudden stab of grief. So the attack had been successful after all. His eye fell bitterly on the final two people to enter - Enabran Tain, followed closely by...

'Garak,' Odo said, accusingly. 'What have you done?'

At the sound of his name, Garak looked sharply at him, eyes glinting. Odo frowned. The Cardassian was almost unrecognizable. There was something feverish about him, an intensity and focus that had transformed him. Odo remembered with sudden insight that he had seen a glimpse of this before, on the bridge of the Defiant when they had taken Garak with them to Cardassia Prime to rescue Kira from the Obsidian Order. Garak had got them past a Cardassian ship through nothing more than sheer force of personality. I was troubled by that, Odo reflected, but I don't think we ever really realized just how close it was to the truth.

Garak was looking at Odo now as if the shapeshifter were a complete stranger. There'll be no help from there, Odo thought, but it may well be my only chance...

'Start the device,' Garak murmured to the glinn who had carried it in. 'Ambassador Weyoun,' he said to the Vorta, 'if you step round here, you'll be able to see more clearly.'

'Garak,' Odo said, speaking loudly and clearly, in the hope that he could make some sort of contact. 'Don't do this. There's nothing that I can tell you, you know that. Whatever you think this can achieve, it will only be disastrous in the end...' He stopped speaking as he sensed his body lock again, felt the ripple of panic go through him as his metabolism struggled against the unnatural constraint.

Garak was speaking now, calmly, almost as if giving a public lecture. 'The device prevents the body from changing shape,' he was explaining to Weyoun. 'Very rapidly, we begin to see deterioration...'

A small piece flaked away from Odo's arm.

'Ah, there we are!' said Garak, as if with satisfaction that his point had been proven so quickly. 'The speed of the decline increases really rather rapidly.'

'Garak...' Odo tried again, but Garak started to talk over him.

'We imagine that the degeneration would lead eventually to death - of course, it's not an entirely pleasant way to die. As we watch, I think you'll see that Odo will start to feel more and more pain...'

The face of the Vorta had gone very white. More and more pieces started to fall away from Odo's body. Odo shuddered as he was suddenly wracked with pain. Weyoun shivered in sympathy. One of the Jem'Hadar soldiers stepped up beside him. 'The Founder...?' he said. Weyoun raised a hand, stopping the interruption. He didn't speak, and appeared to be weighing his options.

It seemed to go on for an age. Odo's condition worsened, more and more of his body peeling away. The Jem'Hadar soldiers were ever more agitated, the Vorta's face grew paler and his body tauter. Garak increased in intensity, his eyes locked on Weyoun's face. The three Cardassians grew more troubled as the tension in the room rose unbearably. Only Tain seemed unruffled, his face bearing an expression of slight amusement, his gaze flickering backwards and forwards, from Odo, to Weyoun, to Garak.

Odo shuddered again, worse than he had done yet. His face was now a hideous travesty of its usual composed self.

'We are not going to release him, Weyoun,' Garak said very quietly. 'We can stop and start this over and over again. Odo will be in almost permanent torture. Is that really what you want to happen to your one remaining god?'

There was a dreadful pause. Then Odo went into spasm again, more flakes crumbling from his agonized face and body.

Weyoun suddenly spoke. 'Please, stop this!' he whispered. His blanched face was traumatized. 'Please! We'll do whatever you ask!'

Garak hesitated for a moment then nodded to the glinn, who stepped forward and pressed the buttons on the stasis device. In an instant, Odo started to dissolve, his shredded body released from the field, and collapsing into its natural gelatinous state, fragments returning to the shattered whole. He seemed to sigh, but the sound was so slight it was impossible to be sure. As Odo melted, the tension seemed simultaneously to dissolve from Weyoun's body, to be replaced with defeat.

'Glinn Rolat,' Garak murmured. 'Please escort Ambassador Weyoun to his quarters. Legate Tain and I shall join him shortly to... assist him draft his instructions to the Jem'Hadar fleet.'

The four Order officers watched the broken Vorta depart, then Garak turned to Tain, a broad smile covering his face. 'Almost too easy, isn't it?'

Tain started to laugh. 'For you, Garak, at any rate! Sheer brilliance, as ever, my friend!' He moved forward and grasped Garak's hand warmly. Garak returned the gesture, taking hold of Tain's arm. The two men beamed at each other. 'Brilliance,' repeated Tain. 'Wouldn't you agree, Korinas, Surjak?' He glanced sharply at the other members of his high command.

'Absolutely,' said Korinas smoothly.

Surjak nodded slowly. 'Brilliance,' he echoed a little faintly, then added, 'And what, precisely, happens next?'

Garak answered him immediately. 'Control of Odo gives us control of the Dominion fleets. And with those behind us, Central Command is no longer a serious threat to us. Nonetheless, I suggest that we make sure we have completely secured control of the Council.' He smiled broadly at his colleagues, and clapped his hands together. 'I don't know about you, but there are a number of guls that I, at least, would like to see dead by the end of the week.'

 

West Central District, Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; Stardate 48730.4

There are few sounds as universally terrifying as a knock on the door in the middle of the night. The maid opened the door fearfully, and her eyes widened to see a man in civilian clothes flanked by two large, armed troopers on the step.

'Ralenda, who is it?' A tall man came up behind her, and she dived back into the house. The man looked out and his face was suddenly filled with rage. 'You!'

The man on the step smiled. 'Dukat. I might have known you'd be the sort of man who wore his uniform at home.'

'At least I have a uniform to wear. I'm not some upstart who weasels his way past the chain of command...'

Garak cut him off with a short laugh. 'Wake up, Dukat! The world's changing!'

A woman in a red-patterned robe came to the door from a room off the hallway, her long black hair loose around her shoulders, her eyes bright with fear. 'What's happening?' A boy of about twelve followed close behind her. Her eye fell on Garak. 'I know who you are...' she whispered.

Garak smiled broadly and inclined his head politely. 'Madam, please forgive the intrusion. I'm here to escort your husband to answer a few questions regarding his association with a number of undesirable elements.'

'What?' Dukat looked incredulous. His wife raised one hand to her mouth, the other reaching out urgently to clutch her son.

Garak continued to address the woman very softly. 'I once told your husband that I was quite prepared to remove two generations of his family. I'm not a needlessly vindictive man, but might I suggest, madam, that to prevent that tally reaching three,' and here he looked at the boy, 'you remove yourself and your children from the capital by the morning.'

Dukat lunged towards Garak. 'You filthy, murderous...' He was cut off as one of the troopers smashed him across the face, knocking him to the ground. The boy began to sob.

Garak pursed his lips in distaste. 'Get him in the flyer,' he said to the troopers, nodding at Dukat. Each grabbed Dukat by an arm, pulled him up and bundled him into the back of the waiting flyer. As Garak turned to go, he felt a hand on him. The woman was in tears.

'My husband..?' she asked faintly.

'Will not be coming back. Good night, madam.' As he got into the front of the flyer, Dukat was mid-bluster in the back.

'You won't get away with this, Garak. Central Command won't allow this to go unchecked...'

'Save your breath, Dukat. There won't be much left of the Central Command by the time the night's over.'

'This is an abomination...'

Garak smiled. 'You and your colleagues always did underestimate the Order. We've always outclassed you. That is - ' he smiled, '- that was the perennial problem for the military. Amateurism. An obsession with social standing.'

'It all still rankles, doesn't it, Garak?' sneered Dukat.

'Rankles? On the contrary, Dukat. This is the most satisfying night of my life.' He turned to one of the troopers. 'I think we're far enough away now. You can order the squad in to collect the rest of them.'

A tragic realization dawned on Dukat's face. He started to struggle against the troopers. 'My family! Leave them alone, you butcher - they've done nothing to you!'

Garak looked back at him scornfully. 'I've already had one vengeful Dukat scion plaguing me for twenty years. Did you really think I was going to allow another one to grow up to be an irritation?' He smiled to get the reaction he had wanted, as Dukat howled in impotent rage and struggled against his restraints.

'Yes, Dukat,' he repeated, 'This really is the most satisfying night of my life.'

It was a pattern repeated across the city, across the whole nation - old scores were settled, old enemies removed. At first light the following morning, the cull over, the Obsidian high command went back to the Chamber, dissolved the Detepa Council and, as Garak had promised, took control of the Cardassian government.

 

North Western District; Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; Stardate 48732.8

He had forgotten how much he owned.

He passed through the house as if in a dream, touching objects he had suppressed all memory of; peering into room after room, unable to believe that all this space was his. How had he ever accustomed himself to such a truncated and straitened life on DS9? How had he been able to bear it? The answer, of course, was that he had not, and that being away from his home, no matter how hard he had tried to forget it, had almost killed him.

He sat for a time in his study, a warm and tasteful room stacked with his books. How tired he was of reading from padds, how pleasant it was to handle a real book again. He had fallen asleep for a little while on his own bed, exhausted from the events of the previous week and completely relaxed for the first time in four years. He had delighted at rediscovering the cellar with his fine collection of vintage kanar. He knew he would spend weeks rediscovering his home, so familiar, and yet so new.

Now he stood in his garden, sipping an impeccable '59. He set down the glass and traced a finger along the low wall that acted as protection against the drop below. The house was perched on the mountainside, the city busy in the valley below. The terrace he stood on caught the sun in the day, stayed warm into the late evening. It had been his favourite spot for reflection in the past; he would come here and watch the city that he loved so much teeming below. A week ago I was stuck in that accursed shop. I can't believe I'm really here again...

He had always travelled a great deal - had not, of course, been here at the villa for years now - but this place, this city, had always been home. He knew its alleyways, its people - its secrets. It was the heart of the Union, the symbol of everything he had worked for. He loved it like nothing else.

As a young man, Garak had lived deep in the north side of the city, an unfashionable area inhabited by prostitutes, drug addicts, the illegitimate - all the dregs of Cardassian society. It was the home of those homeless, drifting people who spend their sad, splintered days on the periphery of real life. He had loved it there, had been at complete ease in this fractured, alienated community of the lost (never admitting to himself why). In time, all of polite society would pass through, and when they did, Garak was waiting - watching the legates who slept with whores, the guls who kept their boyfriends in attic rooms, the senior civil servants twitching and desperate for a fix. Out on the fringe - but admitted to the centre as it suited Tain - only Garak saw the whole picture of Cardassian life, and he used the knowledge mercilessly, in the interrogation room, for blackmail, furthering Tain's power and, by extension, his own. When his career progressed, he was often away from Cardassia Prime and, when he was back, he would retreat to this new home: distanced from the city but somehow still intimate, still watching. At his zenith, Tain's unquestioned successor, he had inevitably been pulled back into the city, directing it from the centre, surveying it from here, its edge. The starscape which for four years had supplanted this view had been no match for it; it had offered no insight, only silence and cold.

He heard a footfall behind him and looked round to see his wife. The night had become chilly, he noticed.

'Welcome home,' she said.

He turned away from her, back to his one true love, Cardassia Prime. She came up beside him, resting a glass next to his, and looked at him expectantly. He sighed. 'You didn't waste much time coming back, Lyssa. But then you always had a keen eye for opportunity.'

'Please let's not argue. It's good to see you again. The house is just as you left it.'

He cast a sideways glance at her. He didn't for a moment believe that had anything to do with her, suspecting Mila's hand in the preservation of the haven that lay behind him. 'I thought you'd been living in the country,' he said coolly.

'It was easier for the girls. After you went away... we couldn't stay in the city. We were ostracized. It was hard. None of their friends would talk to them. None of ours would talk to me. I was so angry, so alone...'

He felt a stab of shame. It was not what she could have expected when she had agreed to marry him. Lyssa had been bred to be a society wife, a bargaining chip in the marketplace that was Cardassian family politics. Tain himself had wanted the marriage. Lyssa's family had been unsure - there had been whispers about Garak's uncertain parentage, about his reputation for unorthodoxy... But his star was so obviously in the ascendant. Garak knew Tain wanted it and, therefore, there was no question as to whether he would consent.

In many respects, it was an ideal partnership. She gloried in her role and watched his meteoric career progression with rapture. With the arrival of their children, he was finally part of the family unit he had craved all his life. But their temperaments were irreconcilable. Her humourless ambition he found distasteful, and she was no match for his wit. She, in turn, was frustrated, frightened even, by his open contempt for whole swathes of Cardassian high society; his brilliance, dependent on a flaunted individuality, made her insecure. In time, the only thing they had in common was a profound passion for their children. They lived in uneasy compromise: she effectively ignoring him, he restraining himself from insulting her at every turn. In public, they shone: the beautiful, brilliant wife; the charming, powerful husband; the pretty little girls; the perfect example of Cardassian family life. And then his exile had exploded it all.

'What did you do?' he asked, guilt lacing his voice with much more warmth than he actually felt.

'It was Tain, of all people, who helped. He contacted me, asked me to come to see him. He'd found me a house, close to my parents' retirement home in Bratassa. We went out there, lived very quietly. And then I heard you were back...' She paused. 'We were married a long time, you know. Perhaps we could pick up where we left off.' She reached out a hand, and he jerked his own away. Friends reappear when you stand next to Tain. And wives, it transpires...

'As I recall,' he replied, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice, 'where we left off was you swearing at me and calling me - what was it now? Oh yes - a 'filthy traitor'. Precisely which part of our marriage are you interested in recreating? The mutual contempt? Or perhaps the stony silences. You have to admit, my dear, it's not the most tempting of offers.' He looked away in disdain, then added, muffling his voice slightly to disguise any shaking, 'Where are the girls?'

She didn't answer straight away. It was her final hold over him. Eventually she shook her head. 'In the living room.'

He started, his face a picture of disbelief. 'They're here? And you seriously thought I wanted to talk to you rather than to them? Your capacity for self-delusion remains incomparable, Lyssa!'

She flushed angrily. 'And you are as arrogant and as hateful as... as...' She floundered, tears springing into her eyes.

He sneered. 'My dear wife - razor-sharp as ever. Excuse me, Lyssa, there are people I'd much rather be talking to.' He headed back towards the house, trying to control himself, but eventually breaking into a run which took him in seconds to the room where his daughters were and the happiest moment of his entire life.

 

Deep Space Nine; Stardate 48733.9

The mood in the ward room was grave. The sudden and inexplicable news had just been received that the Dominion had signed a peace treaty with the Cardassian Union, and that the entire Jem'Hadar fleet was under the authority of the new head of the Cardassian government, Enabran Tain. Starfleet Intelligence had also just cracked a Cardassian internal communication which noted the appointment to Legate of one Elim Garak.

Without a word, Sisko cut the communication from Starfleet Intelligence. Silence fell, as each of the senior officers tried to wrestle with the ramifications of this news.

'Well,' said Kira. 'At least we now know which side Garak is on.'

'Sir,' Bashir interjected, somewhat uncertainly, 'Is this all bad? Perhaps with a shift in power, the Cardassians will be too caught up in internal affairs to cause the rest of us trouble...?'

Dax shook her head. 'I don't think so, Julian. What we're looking at now is a newly invigorated Cardassian Union. And a powerful Cardassia tends to have only one thing on its mind - conquest.'

Kira paled. 'This is not good news for Bajor,' she said.

Sisko nodded. 'You're right, Major. There's only one natural target for a revitalized Cardassia.' He stood up. 'I think we need to start preparing for war.'

Interlude: Cardassia Prime; April 2368

To sit in darkness here
Hatching vain empires.

Milton, Paradise Lost

 

It had been a heated argument, lasting well into the evening, and they were all privately glad to have stopped for a while. When they reconvened, it proved to be a very brief session. Tain thanked them all for their contributions and told them his decision - that the Obsidian Order would continue to support the military's current evacuation policy on Bajor. And then he invited them all to move to the dining room.

The library emptied quickly. Korinas had a broad smile across her face. Brun hesitated for a moment, glancing back at Garak, before shaking his head slightly and leaving. Garak himself stayed in his seat, tapping one finger against the side of his glass. Tain, halfway through the door, saw him, and moved back into the room, closing the door behind him.

'You seem unhappy, Elim,' he said.

Garak looked up at him bitterly. 'If you had already made up your mind, why did you bring me back from Bajor? It seems rather a waste of time for all concerned.' He turned his attention back to drumming the glass.

Tain raised an eye ridge. 'You are unhappy.' He moved closer to the other man's seat. 'You had the chance to put your case, like everyone else. Korinas did a better job of it.'

'Korinas,' Garak snorted. 'If her ambition were any more palpable we'd be wading in it.'

Tain chuckled. 'That's a little disingenuous coming from you, wouldn't you say?'

Garak's eyes flashed. 'You know very well that my first priority is always what's best for Cardassia - '

'Well, make sure you keep it that way,' Tain cut through.

Garak looked up at him sharply. 'What precisely do you mean by that?'

'What you did on Bajor vastly exceeded your authority - which, by the way, is why I brought you back. I don't like having to face the Central Command and explain away lapses of judgement on the part of my senior officers.'

Garak laughed shortly and without humour. 'A 'lapse of judgement' - is that how you see it?'

'It's preferable to seeing it as a question of your loyalty,' Tain said coolly.

'A question of my loyalty..?' Garak pushed back his chair and stood up, facing the older man in astonishment. 'Enabran, my loyalty is to Cardassia, the same it's always been!'

There was a chilly pause. 'I was rather hoping you'd say it was to me,' Tain answered mildly.

Garak stiffened. 'That goes without saying.'

'I see.'

Garak leaned in towards Tain, gripping the table hard with both hands, his voice low and urgent. 'Please, Enabran, listen to me. This is a bad mistake. If we reduce Bajor to rubble, the Federation will step in and take over. A stable, independent Bajor means less Federation influence on our borders. That can only be good for Cardassia.'

'It's very odd to hear an Obsidian Order agent arguing the case for an independent Bajor,' Tain replied, his voice again deceptively calm.

Garak knew the other man too well to be fooled, but he kept on talking. It was too important not to. 'Bajor is lost. This is pointless revenge. Every day we delay the Resistance takes the chance to attack another troop convoy. We should get those men back home as soon and as safely as we can and leave them to it. The Bajorans aren't the enemy any more. The sector's changing - we have the Federation to think about.'

'And what sort of message does it send the Federation, if we pull out of Bajor without a fight?' Tain responded, his anger clearly mounting. 'That Cardassia is weak, perhaps? That we can't even defeat an inferior race..?'

'Perhaps they'll see that we're shrewd enough to leave behind a defiantly independent nation that will react very badly to any suggestion of Federation influence!' Garak calmed down, shook his head. 'This problem has been waiting for us since day one. We were already over-extended when we went into Bajor. We should never have invaded in the first place, and now we should just get out.'

'You might do well to recall that it was I who orchestrated the annexation of Bajor, Garak,' Tain said softly.

There was a long silence. Garak rubbed his hand across his forehead. He breathed deeply, and made to reply, his hands raising in a placatory gesture. Before he could say anything, Tain spoke, his voice still soft.

'We lost - are still losing - countless lives thanks to that ridiculous Resistance of theirs. And you want that to go unpunished?' His voice was rising with his temper. 'How does this constitute patriotism? How can this be 'good for Cardassia'? And when did you develop such grossly sentimental opinions about our colonies? Do I now have to suffer listening to officers that I nurtured spouting treason?'

Garak didn't answer, just looked down at the table, and Tain calmed himself down slightly. 'Since you appear not to have understood what I said only five minutes ago, let me repeat myself in plain language. The withdrawal from Bajor will continue as the Central Command has planned - with the backing of the Obsidian Order. You will stop this misguided and bizarre one-man crusade and fall back into line with this policy. Is that clear?'

Garak swallowed then nodded. 'Yes, Tain.' He turned to go, rather shaken. It had been a very long time since he had received such an unequivocal reprimand. As he reached out to touch the door handle, Tain spoke again.

'Don't do anything you might regret, Garak.'

He turned back to look directly at him and smiled. 'Have I ever?' he replied, trying to lighten the mood between them.

Tain came towards him, and Garak could see the glittering of the old man's eyes. 'After today, I rather suspect I wouldn't know.'

Garak opened the door and, as always, stepped back to let Tain through first.

Chapter Text

TWO: The Crimson Shadow

Obsidian Command, Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; October 2371

'I seem to recall that we have had this discussion before,' Korinas said with pointed sarcasm. 'You always were sentimental about the Bajorans, Garak. Your time amongst them has made you even more starry-eyed.'

Garak stared back at her coldly. Brun looked up at the ceiling, and Surjak shifted nervously in his seat. Tain just smiled. Garak's exile, and the circumstances surrounding it, had, since his return, been a taboo subject amongst the Order elite. If Tain was now happy to have Garak back, the unspoken theory went, then everyone else was too.

Eventually, Brun cleared his throat. 'That was uncalled-for, Amela,' he said mildly.

She scowled at him. 'And your tendency towards hero-worship was always revolting, Erak.'

Brun was a famously equable man, but it was clear that even his easy temper was not going to stand for that. Garak put a hand on his arm. 'Let it pass, Erak,' he said and turned to address Korinas. 'While I find your appetite for revenge laudable, Korinas, may I remind you that we have more immediate problems than retaking Bajor? I take it you have bothered to acquaint yourself with the contents of the communication from Starfleet requesting the immediate surrender of Odo to the Bajorans? And how about this one from the Romulan Senate, with much the same request, but with a threat of war attached to it?' He threw the two files across the table at her.

'All the more reason for us to make a show of strength immediately.' She stopped addressing Garak, making her appeal directly to Tain. 'Withdrawing from Bajor was the greatest humiliation Cardassia has ever experienced.' She glanced at Garak briefly, as if to imply his culpability in this. 'This is our chance to demonstrate just how strong we are again.'

Tain, as usual, had been completely silent during the proceedings, although they were all constantly conscious of his brooding presence. He remained as he had been throughout, eyes half-closed, leaning back in his chair.

'Korinas,' Garak said, with the voice of a man who would soon start speaking in words of one syllable, 'We now have at our disposal the largest military fleet ever assembled. We have control of the resources of two major empires. And you want our first priority to be annexing Bajor?' His voice dripped scorn. 'That's not a show of strength - it's a temper tantrum.'

Tain burst out laughing. They all watched him warily, uncertain how to handle this particular piece of unpredictable behaviour. None of them tried to speak, and when Tain calmed himself down, he said, wiping his eyes, 'Well, Elim, stop keeping us guessing. What have you got in mind?'

Garak turned to Tain. 'Our biggest fear has to be that the Romulans sign some sort of treaty with the Federation in an attempt to match our strength. It's by no means a natural alliance, and it's one that will take time to emerge. So I want to get in first.'

Surjak frowned. 'But diplomatic relations with Romulus have been getting more and more tense since we refused to give them Odo and the stasis technology. Surely you're not going to hand that over?'

Garak gave him an irritated look. 'Don't be ridiculous - it's only through Odo that we control the Dominion fleets. We're going to give the Romulans something else to worry about, and then - magnanimous as we are - we're going to offer them all the help they need from the combined fleets.'

'And what exactly are we giving the Romulans to worry about?' prompted Brun quietly, one finger rubbing an eye ridge.

'A war, Brun. Against a serious opponent. Which we enter - and the conquests of which we share.'

Brun raised his eyes upwards and sighed. 'Come on, Garak, stop being so coy.'

Garak beamed around the room. 'How do you all feel about controlling half of the Klingon Empire?'

 

Akreth Memorial Grounds, North Western District, Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; October 2371

Garak sat on a park bench, legs stretched out in front of him, completely relaxed, reading. Across the park his younger daughter Carissa was playing with some other children. Next to him sat his older daughter, Peyta, legs curled under her, completely engrossed in the enigma tale Dereliction, which he had bought for her that morning. He put down his own reading, a report of the interrogation of a gul from the old military that one of his juniors had just completed, and peered over her shoulder to see how far she was in the plot. The main character, having spent most of the book covering up a crime his wife had committed, was about to get a rather nasty comeuppance.

Garak smiled in anticipation and looked to see how Carissa was doing. She seemed to be happy, having found four other children to organize. Not for the first time, he reflected how much like her mother she was becoming.

'Ouch,' said Peyta, under her breath.

Garak looked back down at her. 'Have you reached the bit with the..?' he asked.

'Yes,' she said emphatically.

'And the..? He gestured.

'Oh yes.' She looked up at him, caught his expression, and they both laughed. She rested her head against him and turned back to the book. He put his arm fondly around her and carried on watching what was going on around him.

The park they were in was very close to the University and was a popular haunt for students. At one point, as a young, newly-recruited agent, Garak had spent a lot of time here, around people still immature enough to be indiscreet about their opinions in public places. For one highly profitable, unexpectedly enjoyable term, he had even gone undercover as a student. These days he came here because he liked the spot, and it was close to his home. He still occasionally overheard something worth knowing.

The people passed him by, and he watched them with the practiced eye of an expert observer, not distracted but only comforted by the presence of his daughter at his side. He cast his gaze farther afield, past his other daughter's campaign to bring order to this small part of the Union, and saw that a small crowd was gathering at the far end of the park.

I should take a look at that, he thought. Regretfully, he tapped Peyta's arm and she shifted away.

'Keep an eye on your sister for a moment,' he murmured. 'I want to see what's so interesting over there.' He stood up but took the time to bend down and plant a kiss on the top of her head.

He passed Carissa and hesitated, but she waved him on impatiently, so he carried on his way towards the group of people. Someone was giving some sort of public lecture. The crowd around listened politely but did not interrupt or heckle. There was not much of a tradition of open-air debate on Cardassia Prime.

The talk turned out to be a curious mixture of anti-military ranting and somewhat restrained remarks about the Obsidian Order. As he listened, Garak realized that something about the speaker was familiar. Where have I heard that voice before? he thought and shifted through the crowd to get a better look at the speaker, who turned out to be a young woman in her early twenties. Well, well, well. Now, what can she be doing back on Cardassia Prime, I wonder?

The speaker came to the end of her talk. After a polite smattering of applause, the crowd quietly dispersed. Garak moved forwards and came to a stop right in front of the speaker, who was pulling together her notes.

'Tela Rekelen,' he said.

The woman's head shot up. 'You!' she said when she recognized him. 'So you made it back home after all. I am glad.'

'And you also, I see.' He smiled.

She nodded. 'Once the military went out of power, we thought it was time to come back and make our opinions heard.'

'And are you having much success?' They began to walk together.

'Surprisingly, yes. I'd thought that with Tain in charge we'd soon find ourselves muzzled, but it doesn't seem to have happened. Maybe Tain doesn't fear a civilian opposition as much as the military did.'

Believe me, my dear, we have the situation well under control, Garak thought dryly. 'Maybe not,' was all he said.

'Well, he has no need to. All we want is some serious debate, some real discussion about civilian rights; a genuine change in the way our government operates...'

Change? Well, there's the rub. 'Tell me, my dear, whatever happened to your friend Hogue and the estimable Dr Lang?'

'Hogue is back home too - he has a teaching post at the University.' Garak filed that one away for investigation. 'Doctor Lang isn't back yet, but we hope she'll feel safe enough to return soon. She's rather more suspicious of the new regime.'

Sensible woman. They stopped walking, it becoming clear that they were heading in different directions. A girl of about eleven came running up. 'Father!' she hissed. 'You're standing in the way!'

Garak raised his hands in contrition and smiled ruefully at Rekelen. 'My younger daughter Carissa,' he explained, 'merely tolerates me.'

Rekelen laughed. 'I didn't know you were a family man,' she said as they withdrew slightly from Carissa's territory.

'Very much so,' said Garak. 'My older daughter,' he added, pointing at the bench where Peyta was still absorbed in her book. 'Well, Miss Rekelen, it was very good to see you again.'

'I'm glad you're back with your family,' she said warmly.

'Thank you,' he replied, then drew out a small chip from his pocket. 'And here - if there's anything you think I can do to help, please contact me.'

She took the chip then looked at him guardedly. 'What precisely is it that you do, Mister Garak?'

He smiled. 'I'm a civil servant,' he said, 'At the Ministry of Information.' He caught her slight frown; well, she recognizes that euphemism at least, he thought. Perhaps she's sharper than I'd thought. She may be useful.

She pocketed the chip. 'Thank you,' she said. 'That might be very useful.' And then she went off towards the University. Garak went and sat back down next to his daughter.

'Who was that?' said Peyta, not looking up from her book.

'And I thought you were engrossed in your reading,' he replied.

'You asked me to keep an eye on Carissa. I couldn't help but keep an eye on you too.' She closed the book and smiled up at him. 'Finished,' she said. 'And I liked it more than Collusion.'

'That's something we'll have to discuss later,' he said, feigning displeasure.

'So who was that woman, then?'

'Just someone I knew on Deep Space Nine,' he answered. She seemed to be satisfied.

The sun began to set. 'Come on,' he said, 'It's time to go. I think you'll have more success persuading Carissa to come than I will.'

As they walked towards Carissa, Peyta took his arm. 'I'm glad you're back,' she said quietly but fiercely. Very, very few people had said that to him, but somehow Peyta managed to say it every day.

'And I'm glad to be back with you,' he replied, squeezing her arm tightly in return.

 

Deep Space Nine; Stardate 49011.4 [January 2372]

It had been an uncertain and confusing day, one that they had only been able to observe and not alter. Around them the universe was changing, as if the strings were being pulled by some powerful puppeteer, and they could do nothing about it. At 02.41, a report had come in from Starfleet Intelligence.

'Do I really need to know this, Dax?' Sisko muttered into his pillow.

'I think you do, Benjamin,' she said through the com. 'It seems the Klingons have assassinated a Romulan senator.'

He was out of bed in seconds, down in Ops in minutes. 'What the hell's happened, old man?' he demanded.

She glanced up from the report she was monitoring. 'It appears that a Senator Meral had been meeting her opposite number from the Klingon government on Qo'Nos. Just as her shuttle left Klingon space, it exploded.'

'Meral was one of the most pro-Klingon voices in the Romulan senate,' Sisko mused. 'Do we know yet if it was sabotage?'

'The Klingons are flatly denying any involvement,' Kira answered. 'There's been no response as yet from the Romulans. I'm guessing the Tal Shiar are investigating.'

At 16.26 the Romulans' ominous silence was broken. They confirmed that the cause of the explosion had been sabotage, that the device used bore the unmistakeable mark of Klingon technology and that, as a result, they were formally declaring war on the Klingon Empire.

'I don't understand this,' said Dax. 'Why would the Klingons assassinate a Romulan senator? Why plunge the Empire into war? And why are the Romulans so ready to accept that it's sabotage?'

It was only as the afternoon wore into evening that Starfleet Intelligence picked up enough information to put together the whole story. Apart from the incriminating evidence of the explosive, Tal Shiar investigations of the wreckage had also discovered the remains of official, and highly secret, Klingon state documents outlining the plans for an invasion of Romulan space.

'Meral must have got her hands on those documents somehow, so they blew up the ship to get rid of the evidence.' Kira shook her head. 'Bit of a risky game. They must have been desperate.'

'It still doesn't make sense,' Dax repeated determinedly. 'Why would the Empire want a war against the Romulans?'

'Come on, old man,' Sisko said. 'Their mutual loathing is the stuff of legend. Why would the Empire not want a war against the Romulans? With the Cardassian Union so much stronger, perhaps they felt they needed to consolidate some territory. And if I was in their shoes, I wouldn't try to take it from the Cardassians. Not now.'

She sighed, only half-convinced, and they went back to monitoring the transmissions from Starfleet Intelligence, who were tracking the mobilization of both fleets.

At 25.13, the final inexplicable event of the whole incomprehensible day happened. A report came in that the combined Cardassian and Jem'Hadar fleet appeared also to be preparing for war. Just after this, Kira picked up an official transmission from Cardassia Prime. Enabran Tain was addressing his people.

'Since this morning's ignominious events, my colleagues and I have been in close contact with the Romulan Senate to offer our condolences and our support...'

'There's your explanation why the Romulans have been so ready to accept it was sabotage, Dax,' said Kira. 'They've had Tain and Garak whispering sweet nothings in their collective ear all day.'

Sisko raised a hand to quieten her.

'...and bearing in mind our recent successful combined operation in the Gamma Quadrant and the close ties forged between our two nations as a result,' Tain was saying, 'The Cardassian Union has pledged to assist the Romulan Empire in its pursuit of justice. Such blatant aggression as has been shown today cannot pass unchecked. This is a glorious day for our empire, as we forge a new alliance based on co-operation, as we demonstrate to all in the quadrant that the Cardassian nation...'

Sisko cut the transmission as it degenerated into the usual bombast. 'So the Klingons find themselves facing an attack from the combined strength of three nations,' he murmured.

'At least it isn't Bajor,' said Kira passionately.

'No,' agreed Sisko thoughtfully. 'It isn't. But it should have been.'

'I'm not complaining!' she answered.

'Neither am I, Major. But why do I get the feeling that this entire day has been choreographed from start to finish?'

'Who cares?' she answered frankly. 'Bajor has some breathing space - and the Federation no longer have to worry about just how much protection you'd give us. We're all of us a little bit safer tonight.'

Dax spoke at last. 'Unless we're Klingons,' she pointed out quietly.

 

Special Ops Section, Ministry of Information, Central District, Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; February 2372

Garak had personally, and with great care, designed the specifications for this set of rooms, but this was the first time he had come to see them. Security had, of course, been his prime consideration, but he had attempted to make the area as pleasant as possible for its unusual resident. Two rooms were private, but the third was exposed to visitors - with a force field firmly providing a fourth wall. The new tenant had moved in a few days earlier and Garak addressed him now through the force field.

'Odo!' he said warmly. 'I'm sorry I've not been a more attentive host. I trust your new accommodation is to your liking?'

Odo stared back at him with revulsion. 'Please don't feel too bad about neglecting me, Garak. I can imagine just how easily genocide, coups, and bloodbaths can fill the day. And with your sideline in torturing friends, I can't think how you manage to sleep at night at all.'

Garak smiled. 'Well, when the days are so busy, it's never a problem dropping off. I had the reverse problem on the station, of course. So yes, Odo, I'm very happy to be home - thank you for asking.'

'I can't imagine a ticket home that has ever been so bloodstained. What's the tally now, Garak? Are you counting the Great Link as one murder, or would you feel that didn't do justice to your achievement?'

Garak raised his hands. 'Please, Odo, you're becoming hysterical. I simply came by to make sure that you were comfortable here.'

'Comfortable?'

'I've tried my best, but it's difficult to judge what someone else would like. I'll be away for a little while, but do request anything from one of my aides - they'll be glad to oblige.'

'How about your head on a spike and return passage to Deep Space Nine?'

'Daytrips are out of the question, I'm afraid, and I rather suspect there's a queue for your first request.' He paused. 'I'll be visiting the station at the end of the week. I'll pass on your regards to the crew, if you'd like.'

Odo stared at him in disbelief, and it was a little while before he could contain his rage enough to answer. 'Get out of here, Garak. And don't come near me again.'

 

Deep Space Nine; February 2372

'I swear, if he smirks just once, I'll punch him.' Dax's normally serene face was livid, and she pulled viciously at her dress uniform.

'Get in line,' muttered Kira.

'When I think what the Cardassians are doing to the Klingon colonies...' Dax continued.

Bashir frowned. 'That's hardly Garak's fault, is it? I mean, the Klingons did start this war.'

Dax looked at him in amazement. 'Julian, that's hardly the point! The counter-offensive has been merciless. You've seen what's been happening - we all have. You know full well that the Jem'Hadar are slaughtering anybody they capture! You're a doctor, for pity's sake - how can you defend that?'

'Jadzia, I'm not defending anybody. I just don't think you can blame one man for the military policy of an entire empire. And the Romulans are involved in this war too.'

Kira exploded. 'How can you talk like this! What about Odo - a colleague, someone you worked with! Garak is directly responsible for what's happened to him...'

Sisko cut through the debate, speaking softly. 'This conversation ends now. You'll all welcome Garak as you would welcome the representative of any other foreign government. Whatever you - or I, for that matter - think of him, or his government's conduct of the war, you keep that to yourselves. Do I make myself clear?'

His senior officers subsided just in time. The airlock opened, and their guest arrived, flanked by bodyguards, and with his arm linked through that of a Cardassian girl of about sixteen. He exuded power, Sisko thought, and it suited him.

'Legate Garak,' he said. 'Welcome back to Deep Space Nine.'

'Captain Sisko! It's good to see you again. May I congratulate you on your promotion?'

Sisko nodded slightly in acknowledgement, shaking the offered hand and only just suppressing the shudder the contact engendered. 'And may I congratulate you on yours, Legate?'

Garak gestured a little dismissively. 'Merely a resumption of prior responsibilities.'

Sisko didn't show his surprise at this revelation but frowned inwardly. We had an Obsidian Order legate on this station for three years, and Starfleet Intelligence didn't know? Why the hell do we even bother?

'Allow me to introduce my daughter Peyta, Captain,' Garak was saying. 'This is Peyta's first trip outside of Cardassian space.'

Nor did I know he had a family, Sisko reflected, realizing acutely just how little they had managed to find out about their erstwhile resident Cardassian. She looks about Jake's age. Just think, all that time, and we could have been swapping baby stories.

'Delighted to meet you,' he said to the girl.

She smiled back a little nervously and answered, 'Thank you. It's good to be here.'

Garak greeted Dax and Kira, both of whom spoke to him through gritted teeth, but his hand hadn't left his daughter's arm, Sisko noticed. And now Garak's attention turned to Doctor Bashir.

'My dear Doctor,' he said, grasping the man's hand warmly. 'It really is a great pleasure to see you again.'

'It's good to see you again, Garak - oops, Legate, I should say,' Julian answered.

'Plain, simple 'Garak' is just fine, Doctor,' he replied, and they both laughed.

Sisko watched this exchange through narrowed eyes. He had never been keen on their familiarity, even when he was able to exert some control over an exiled Garak anxious for protection. The thought of his youngest and most inexperienced officer still apparently fascinated by a powerful and probably inimical Garak was more than displeasing - it was damn disturbing.

He broke up the little reunion. 'Legate,' he murmured, 'Allow me to escort you to your quarters...' He manoeuvred himself between Garak and the doctor, forcing Bashir to walk with Peyta, who now formed a barrier between them and Kira and Dax. He focused on trying to make small talk in what he was finding fairly bizarre circumstances. Damn it, most men don't end up talking galactic politics with their tailor - at least, not on a professional basis...

***

Garak appeared to thrive on all this, Sisko noted, as he glanced at the time and thought longingly of dinner. What other diplomat would meet with three officers from other governments by himself? There was meant to be some sort of psychological gain in fielding more personnel than your opposite number. Garak didn't appear to have noticed he was supposed to feel disadvantaged.

Not that he needed any support, Sisko thought grudgingly. Garak's grasp of detail had been formidable, his negotiation skills redoubtable. He was light years ahead of any of the lackeys from Central Command that had been Sisko's former points of contact with the Cardassian government. He had none of Dukat's tendency to try to threaten his way out of corners, none of the intransigence of the other guls that it had previously been Sisko's lot to deal with. It baffled Sisko that someone of such manifest ability had been left to languish on DS9 - based on his experiences with other Cardassian officials, it was clear that Cardassia did not produce people like Garak as a matter of course.

Whatever it was that you did to get yourself kicked out, Sisko thought, it must really have pissed off a lot of very powerful people. This he found very easy to believe. Garak had a tendency to irritate him within minutes.

He was now, interminably as it seemed to Sisko, reading through the final draft of an agreement over trade routes through two Federation systems bordering Cardassian space. He had already forced several concessions from the Federation on this issue - never mind his successes earlier that morning over joint action against Maquis activity. From trade negotiations to military policy to questions of diplomatic protocol, Garak had spent the last two days outclassing Sisko, Kira and Dax at every turn.

And he's not even head of state, thought Sisko. What the hell must Tain be like?

Garak's face creased into a frown as he read part of the document extremely closely. Come on, Garak, I'm starving, thought Sisko, raising his eyebrows at Dax, who grimaced in return. We've given you everything you want. Just sign the damn thing and we can all get out of here.

Garak finally put down the document. 'I'm satisfied this is all in order,' he murmured, appending his authorization. Sisko and his team sighed in relief. 'There's just one more thing I'd like to discuss, Captain.'

Three sets of shoulders slumped. 'Please, Legate,' Sisko said wearily. 'Do go ahead.'

He glanced at each of them in turn, and smiled infuriatingly. 'Captain, so far relations between the Federation and our new government on Cardassia have been nothing but cordial. But I need to advise you that you and your allies,' he nodded at Kira, 'are seriously jeopardizing this happy state of affairs.' He paused.

'In what way, Legate?' Sisko rumbled.

'On a weekly basis now, we receive communiqués from the Bajoran government - supported by the Federation - requesting the return of Constable Odo.' He shook his head. 'Really, Captain, I don't understand what these are all about. As I said, our government has been nothing but friendly towards yours. Today, for example, has been most profitable on all sides. But this constant repetition of a single theme is beginning to prove most irritating - offensive, even. This could so easily all degenerate into an unpleasant game of tit-for-tat; you demand the return of something from us - we demand the return of something from you. This station, for example.'

'That sounds very much like a threat, Legate,' Sisko replied. 'We stop requesting the return of Odo, you don't bother DS9.'

'There's no threat, Captain. There isn't one I can realistically offer. And that's the point: there really is nothing we can do. Odo is with us of his own free will. If he wanted to come back, he would do so.'

'Then why haven't you let us talk to him?' Kira demanded.

Garak was genuinely surprised. 'Has he not been in touch?' He looked at each of the three officers in turn. 'Well, that is something of a puzzle, I must say. He always seemed quite at home here on the station. Again, Major, all I can do is to assure you there have been no restrictions whatsoever on Odo's activities. He's free to come and go, contact - or ignore - whomsoever he chooses. If he's decided he wants no communication with the station or the Bajoran authorities, well...' He shrugged. 'I'm very sorry for you all, but that's really Odo's affair.'

Kira's jaw had dropped open. 'You seriously expect us to believe that?' she said.

'Odo worked for the Cardassian Union long before he did for the Bajorans, Major. Maybe he's decided he prefers our way of working after all. I must emphasize - Odo is very happy on Cardassia Prime. Besides, as the one remaining Founder, he has responsibilities of a...' he paused, trying to think of the right word, 'theological nature to the Vorta and the Jem'Hadar. His new role is keeping him very busy. Perhaps that's why you've had no contact from him?'

Kira's anger grew throughout this little speech. 'You murdered his entire race, and now you're holding him hostage - that's the truth of all this, Garak! Odo would never desert his post...'

Garak stood up. 'Thankfully, I am no longer obliged to listen to you rant, Major. As far as the Cardassian Union is concerned, this matter is now closed.'

Kira stood up to face him, clearly not in agreement at all, but as she opened her mouth to speak, the com chimed and Bashir's voice sounded through the room. 'Captain, I think you'd better come to the infirmary. I have Garak's daughter here.'

***

Bashir looked up from the tissue regenerator as Garak burst into the infirmary. He came to a screeching halt next to his daughter and grabbed her hand. Sisko and Kira were close behind.

'Peyta, what happened?' Garak cried softly, touching her cheek. 'Are you all right? I'll never forgive myself...'

Peyta shook him off gently. 'It's all right,' she said sturdily. 'I just got a couple of bruises.'

Garak glanced up at Bashir. 'Doctor, what happened?'

Bashir put the final touches to Peyta's arm. 'It appears some Klingon refugees decided to take out their frustrations on a passing Cardassian just outside the Replimat,' he said quietly.

'I'm really all right, father,' Peyta said putting her hand on his arm. 'My bodyguard had it under control in seconds. I just got jostled and tripped up, that's all...'

Garak's eyes blazed and he turned on Sisko. 'My daughter was attacked on the Promenade..? Captain, this is disgraceful!'

Sisko nodded. 'You're quite right, Legate, I can't apologize enough,' he said, in what he hoped was a soothing voice.

'Still,' Kira added pointedly, 'You can sympathize with these people lashing out at a Cardassian. And security on the Promenade just isn't what it used to be.'

Sisko waited for the explosion, but it didn't come. I must remember this man isn't Dukat, he reflected. Garak simply turned back to his daughter. 'If you go back to our quarters, my dear, I'll be with you in about five minutes,' he murmured. She nodded; he kissed her very gently on her cheek, then she disappeared, with a smile back at him.

Garak turned to Kira and said very calmly, 'Major, if you ever attempt to discuss politics in front of my daughter again, I shall cause a diplomatic incident the scale of which this sector has never seen. Do you understand?'

Kira's eyes blazed and she rounded on him. 'I guess you don't want her to hear the truth, do you? That you and your Obsidian Order colleagues are just a bunch of gangsters...'

'Of course, the Bajorans always were happy to put children in the front line...' Garak said coolly.

'Garak!' exclaimed Bashir.

Sisko cut in, raising his hand. This wasn't a diplomatic incident yet, but it would be one within seconds at this rate. 'Major, you're way out of line.'

Kira glanced at Sisko's hardened face and swallowed. She turned back to Garak, jutting out her chin. 'Please accept my apologies, Legate,' she ground out.

Garak smiled silkily. 'Naturally, Major.'

Somehow she managed not to take a swing at him. Thank God, thought Sisko fervently, that he's leaving tomorrow.

***

Sisko wasn't entirely happy until the Cardassian ship had passed out of sensor range. He breathed out a very long sigh and then turned to speak to Kira. Out of the frying pan...

'Major, could you join me in my ready room for a moment?' he said quietly.

She exchanged a puzzled look with Dax, then followed him. 'What is it, Captain?'

She wasn't going to like this, not one bit. 'Starfleet informed me this morning that we will no longer be adding our support to the Bajoran government's requests for the return of Odo.'

Her eyes widened in shock. 'You've got to be joking...'

'I wish I was. They've accepted that Odo has made the decision to work again for his old masters - '

'Odo would never do that!'

'You and I know that, Major, but we're not the ones that need convincing. Whatever we may think, any further requests will have to come from Bajor alone. And that isn't something I would recommend, bearing in mind Cardassia's current military strength.'

She shook her head in disgust. 'So Starfleet just bowed to his threats after all. Well, I guess Bajor can sleep soundly tonight, knowing we have such powerful protectors watching over us. You know that this is just the start? How long do you think it'll be before the Cardassians decide to settle some old scores against Bajor? Just how much leeway is the Federation prepared to give them?'

His eyes glittered. 'If I had my way, Major, we'd be in there now. But the sad fact is, the powers that be don't think one man is worth going to war over. We'll just have to live with that - for the moment.'

 

Ministry of Information; Central District; Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; May 2372

Give Korinas her due, Garak reflected, she had faced the executioner resolutely. Surjak on the other hand - well, he'd never really had any nerve. Garak hadn't expected him to weep so much, however. It had been rather embarrassing.

'No doubt who ran the show in that particular love nest,' Brun had murmured to Garak, as the duo fell to the ground dead. 'You've got to wonder what Korinas was doing with the little runt.'

'Have you seen her husband?' Garak sniffed.

'Not yet,' Brun said. 'He's up next.' Cuckoldry was a capital offence on Cardassia Prime these days. The family was an important part of Tain's personal political philosophy, and threatening the framework of marriage, whether through infidelity or failure to retain the loyalty of one's spouse, was a serious misdemeanour in his eyes, striking, as it did, at the heart of Cardassian society. And for Order officers who did not live up to these standards, there certainly could be no mercy.

The night was poised to turn into day; the air held its breath in anticipation of dawn. They waited so that Brun could take a look at the unfortunate husband then headed back inside, not even bothering to stay to see his fate. They strode along the nondescript corridors of the Ministry, junior staff pressing against the walls to let them pass, and discussed the latest successes on the front. The fleets of the three empires had pushed past the Klingon forces as if they were nothing more than children's toys, entering and securing system after system.

'At this rate we'll reach Qo'Nos before the end of the year,' Garak said with satisfaction.

'And our plans when we get there?' Brun asked as they stepped into the lift.

Garak shrugged. 'The pleasure is in the hunt and not the kill, Brun,' he murmured.

'I've missed your particular brand of evasiveness and affectation.'

'And I've missed your admiration.' Garak pushed his hand against the security panel outside his office. 'I've been meaning to ask you,' he continued, as they entered his office, 'However did you find out about Korinas and Surjak? I would have thought that she at least would have had the sense to be discreet.'

Brun paused a moment before replying, waiting for Garak to perform a sweep for monitoring devices. People who became complacent about their offices had a tendency to end up like Korinas and Surjak. 'Excellent agent called Memad,' he finally said, when Garak nodded the all-clear. 'First-rate operative - always seems to prise out that extra detail that makes all the difference.'

Garak nodded his recognition at the name. 'Yes, I remember him. He's mostly internal affairs, isn't he? Hasn't done much off-world?'

Brun shook his head. 'He got a lot of experience while you were away. Took on a lot of the Romulan business. He brokered the deal with the Tal Shiar.'

'Well,' said Garak bitterly, 'I'm glad to hear someone benefited from my absence.' He reached into the cabinet for a bottle and two glasses, placing them on his desk with a rather peevish clatter.

Brun looked at him affectionately. 'Doesn't have anything like your flair, though, does he? That whole scheme was full of holes. If you hadn't popped up with that Changeling we'd be fried.'

Garak smiled broadly. 'I was brilliant, wasn't I?'

'Course you were. Now stop preening and get that bottle open. It's not every day we purge the Order. I need a drink.'

Grinning, Garak poured a glass of kanar and handed the bottle to Brun, who poured one in return. Then they swapped glasses, the traditional gesture of trust and comradeship, and each man drank deeply.

Garak poured them each a refill then raised his glass. 'To friendship, Erak,' he said.

His old partner in crime looked confused. 'What are you talking about now?'

Garak smiled. 'It's an Earth custom I learnt on DS9, from a friend I made there. It's called a toast. You lift up your glass, like this,' he guided Brun's hand, 'And then we tap our glasses together like this - and then you say what the drink is honouring. So - to friendship.'

'I'll go with that,' said Brun easily, tapping his glass against Garak's. 'To friendship, Elim. And an enduringly successful partnership.'

They drank deeply again. Brun's mouth twitched. 'Close friend, was he, Elim?'

Garak sighed. 'Alas, not close enough.'

'Well,' said Brun comfortingly, topping up their glasses. 'You know, sometimes you just have to live with disappointment.'

The sun rose in that second, pouring white light into the room. Elim Garak and Erak Brun, who had been friends for over thirty years and were now, after Enabran Tain, the two most powerful men in the quadrant, took one look at each other and dissolved into laughter.

 

Interlude: Terok Nor; July 2368

To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.

Shaw, Man and Superman

 

Belar Marel woke with a start and panicked. It was not until she had checked the time and reassured herself that she was not late that her breathing steadied, and she calmed down. A critical mission, she had been told. The future of Bajor depended on it. It would be typical of me to sleep through the end of the occupation.

She slid out of her hidey-hole, one of many such places the Resistance were able to use to their advantage on Terok Nor, and started to make her slow way down into the bowels of the station to the rendezvous point. She was first there. She wrapped her ragged jacket around her more tightly, shivering. Down here, where the spoonheads never came, the station was bitterly cold. Two levels up and the heat was stifling. You were either freezing or boiling. Just part of the joy of Terok Nor.

She heard a noise behind her and swung round, reaching for her ancient phaser. Old gear, shipped in for a fortune from Tzenketh, and used and reused across decades in the struggle to free Bajor.

Too late. Two Cardassian soldiers - a glinn and a cadet, both with weapons trained on her. 'Put it down, and kick it away,' ordered the glinn.

She did as she was told, tears forming in her eyes. A critical mission... They should never have trusted it to me... But how did these two know I'd be here...?

A shadow moved and a figure stepped forward, a disruptor trained on her. She recognized him from the description she'd been given. Her contact. 'You set me up, you bastard!' she hissed.

He ignored her. The glinn and the cadet had seemed to recognize the other man also and were almost standing to attention. They kept her covered, she noticed. No chance of getting away and letting her superior know it had been a fiasco.

Her contact spoke to the two soldiers. 'You can put those weapons away. I have it all under control.'

They did as they were told.

'Do you have the data rod, Glinn Toran?' the man asked.

'Yes sir.'

'Then put it on the ground where I can see it.'

Toran did as instructed, putting it down about a yard away from the Order officer. 'Very good.' Then with one fluid movement, he trained his weapon on the two soldiers. 'Now drop your weapons.'

In stunned silence, the other three people in the room tried to take in their sudden change of fortunes. The cadet grasped it first and made a movement for his weapon. Garak's arm swung round to aim the disruptor directly at him. The two Cardassians stared at him in horrified silence.

'You're not going to kill one of your own people for a Bajoran woman, Garak,' Toran finally hissed.

Garak fired and the cadet fell to the ground dead. 'Does that make you believe I'm serious, Toran?'

The glinn blanched then threw aside his own weapon. Garak aimed his disruptor back at him, kicking the data rod towards Marel. 'Take that, and get out of here,' he said to her, his eye firmly on Toran.

Marel stared at him in confusion then whispered, 'Thank you.'

He spared her a swift, contemptuous look. 'My dear, you overestimate your appeal. I didn't do this for you. I did it for Cardassia.'

She couldn't quite bring herself to go. 'What's going to happen to you?'

'Something very unpleasant, I should imagine, not that it's any of your concern.' He jerked his head towards the exit. 'Get out of here while you still have the chance.'

Marel didn't need telling twice. She grabbed the data rod and fled. Garak sighed and turned back to Toran. 'I'm afraid I'm going to have to keep you here a while longer. That young lady needs some time to get back to her associates.' He waved his weapon at the ground. 'Why don't you sit down and make yourself comfortable? We'll be here a while yet.'

Toran looked back at him in astonishment. 'Don't toy with me! You're going to kill me, and we both know it.'

Garak pursed his lips in frustration. 'The Cardassian military suffers from the twin handicaps of no imagination and gross stupidity. I'm amazed we ever took Bajor in the first place. The fact that we've lost it is no real surprise. No, Toran, I won't kill you. I need you to inform your superiors of the breach in their security. Otherwise that young lady will cause the deaths of countless Cardassian soldiers and civilians.'

Toran looked back in confusion. 'Isn't that what you want?'

Garak's eyes blazed in genuine fury. 'What do you take me for - a traitor?'

'From where I'm standing, that's exactly what you are,' Toran shot back.

'Which just proves my point: the military never could understand anything more subtle than a weapon in the face. No, Toran: once I let you go, you'll be able to let Central Command know that their lunatic evacuation plans have been leaked to the Bajoran resistance. They'll have to devise an entirely new operation. I suspect they'll come up with one that's somewhat more directed and rather less bloody.'

'Who cares?' Toran snapped. 'They're Bajorans. Who cares if we wipe out the entire damn planet?'

Garak shot him a murderous look. 'I care,' he hissed back. He frowned. 'Because it affects Cardassia,' he added. He waved the disruptor again. 'Now sit down and shut up.'

Toran did as he was told, sitting down warily as Garak positioned himself opposite, the disruptor trained on him. He tried not to move, conscious of Garak's basilisk stare keeping him pinned down. After two long hours, Garak seemed to come to a decision. He nodded, stood up, and gestured with his weapon. 'You're free to go, Toran.'

Toran stood up stiffly, freezing cold, and sore from both lack of movement and the damage done to his pride. The Bajoran girl would be miles away by now, he thought bitterly, not caring to think through the implications of this for the Cardassian army. He stared in revulsion at the traitor opposite him, whose face remained as composed as it had been for the last two hours.

'You'll never set foot on Cardassia again,' snarled Toran and, before his eyes, Garak seemed to become old.

'I know,' Garak murmured. 'I know.'

Chapter Text

THREE: Look On My Works

Deep Space Nine; November 2372

Bashir stumbled into the ward room, yawning. The rest of the command level staff was already there. 'So sorry I'm late,' he said apologetically. 'I just couldn't get away from the Infirmary any sooner...'

'That's all right, doctor,' Sisko answered, watching with concern as the young man half-sat, half-collapsed into a seat and reached out desperately for some coffee.

'Christ, Julian, you look done in,' O'Brien exclaimed, saying what they had all been thinking.

'I haven't been able to get off duty since yesterday morning,' Bashir mumbled through a mouthful of something caffeinated.

'Perhaps you'd better think about getting some sleep,' suggested Dax.

Bashir looked at her in exasperation. 'Well, strange as it may seem, I'd like to get some sleep, but it's not really an option at the moment,' he retorted, then sighed. 'I'm sorry, Jadzia. It's just chaos down there, not even remotely under control. The state of some of the new arrivals...' His voice trailed off. 'Terrible, just terrible.'

Dax looked with distress at Sisko. 'Benjamin, this is indefensible. When is Starfleet going to do something about this?'

He looked at her and shook his head. 'There's nothing we can do, old man. Chancellor Gowron has refused all offers of assistance in removing refugees, insisting that they are involved in no more than 'temporary setbacks'. And the combined fleet is the most powerful the quadrant has ever seen - do we really want to get involved in a war with them?'

'So we just sit back and watch while the Cardassians and the Romulans carve up Klingon space, leaving millions of people homeless?' Dax said bitterly.

'Some of us don't have the luxury of watching,' Bashir pointed out very quietly.

Into the awkward silence, O'Brien cleared his throat. 'Strikes me we're making a mistake. After the Cardies have taken Qo'Nos, who're they going to turn on next? Us. Seems we should have been doing something about that months ago.'

Sisko shook his head. 'The Federation is in no position to take on the combined fleet...'

And so the debate went on. The Federation, thought Kira, wisely keeping her contempt to herself. In the name of the Prophets, they really do make lousy allies.

***

'Commander, I have to speak to you privately.'

Bashir's voice was quiet but urgent; his face, when Sisko looked up, was tired and a little sad. Sisko watched the rest of the command staff leave, and then turned to his CMO.

'What is it, Doctor?'

'I'm resigning my commission,' Bashir replied without preamble. 'I'm leaving Starfleet.' He offered a padd which Sisko took slowly and read the resignation, simple and final.

He gestured to Bashir to sit down and eventually was able to answer. 'Doctor, you've left me speechless. I imagine this decision has not been taken lightly, but - why?'

Bashir looked down. 'You're right; it's not been an easy decision.' He sighed. 'Over the past few months, you know that most of my time has been spent working with refugees.'

'You've done an remarkable job,' Sisko said urgently. 'You've been faced with an extraordinary challenge and you've met it courageously.'

Bashir shook his head. 'I've done a limited job. And I've been constrained in what I can do because of Starfleet regulations. Each refugee we receive carries with him or her an enormous burden of paperwork - alien resettlement forms, permission to treat forms, you name it. If we could reduce that just a small amount, we could help more than double the number of people we're doing now.'

'Julian, you know that we're in an awkward position. We have to respect the wishes of the Klingon government. But if you want, I'll find ways that we can work round that bureaucracy. If it will keep you here on DS9, in Starfleet, I'll cut every piece of red tape between here and Earth.'

'It's more than that, I'm afraid.' He looked Sisko directly in the eye. ' I just don't believe any more.'

'I don't think I understand you, Julian.'

'What we're looking at is the worst crisis the quadrant has ever faced. And Starfleet is failing to rise to the challenge. We should be out there, Commander, protecting these people - fighting to help them, if necessary. Instead we make sympathetic noises and use the excuse of not wanting to offend Klingon honour to avoid committing troops.' He shook his head. 'I didn't join Starfleet to hide behind regulations. I joined so that I could practice medicine where it was needed.'

Sisko didn't answer. If the truth be told, he agreed. 'Have you talked to Dax about this?'

'She's been rather sympathetic,' Bashir said quietly.

'I bet she has.' There was a pause. Sisko looked at the tired but determined face of the younger man and knew that he would not be able to persuade Bashir to stay since it was unlikely he could summon up sufficient conviction on his own part. 'Well, then, what are your plans?'

'I've approached a charity that puts medical personnel into crisis areas. They're anxious to have my services. I want to be out in the field by the end of the month.'

Sisko sighed deeply. 'We worked so hard to keep you here, Julian. After all you went through - all your parents have gone through - I can't believe you can give up your commission so easily.'

Bashir flushed. 'I've been given unique gifts, Commander. And this is a unique time. I'd be failing myself if I didn't put them to their best use. And Starfleet isn't the place to do that any more.'

There was no more to say. Sisko rose and offered his hand. Bashir stood up and took it.

'Good luck, Julian.'

 

Victory Square; Qo'Nos; January 2373

Today he had stepped out irrevocably from the shadows. He had walked out behind Tain into the full glare of publicity. For years, he had kept his identity as secret as he could; after today the whole of the Cardassian Union would know his name and his face. This speech was going into every home in the Union, because this was no ordinary day, and this was no ordinary speech. They stood looking down on the main square of the capital, on Qo'Nos. The Klingon Empire was no more. This was now Cardassian territory.

It was a good speech, Garak thought with satisfaction. Rich in historical allusion, well-phrased - and Tain delivered it with his usual brilliant showmanship. He and Brun had worked on it for the best part of a fortnight. It was one of their finest.

He frowned slightly, suddenly puzzled. Tain had wandered off topic.

'A new dawn has arisen for our people...'

He groaned to himself. What were these dreadful platitudes? Tain, he thought, there is a very good reason why Brun and I do this for you. From the corner of his eye, to his left, he saw Brun sigh very slightly. Garak knew what he was thinking. The old man's off again.

'I see a new age for Cardassian society...'

Absolutely abysmal. He stopped listening, knowing from years of listening to debates from the Council Chamber that he would pick up again when Tain got back on message. He looked out across the Square, at the ranks upon ranks of Cardassian and Jem'Hadar squads, the smaller number of civilians brought in for the occasion. Then, perfectly attuned to his old friend, he noticed that Brun had stiffened almost imperceptibly. He began listening again.

'... a new project for our people, with the family at its heart...'

This was nothing new. What was Erak fretting about?

'... with no place for deviancy, for the type of moral decay which has left our society so fatally weakened in the past...'

Again, platitudes. Politicians had been spouting this sort of cant on Cardassia for time immemorial. It was true that Tain had more of an obsession about the Cardassian family than most, but -

'... a concerted effort to eradicate these elements from our society. Illegitimates, sexual deviants, those whose actions strike at the very fabric of our society - we have tolerated their presence among us for too long; we have allowed them to grow like a tumour at the hub of our nation...'

This was most certainly not in the script, and not just because of the mixed metaphors.

'... today I swear to the people of Cardassia that we shall stand for it no longer. We shall remove these abominations; Cardassia will be pure again...'

Et cetera, et cetera. And then rapturous applause. The speech was over, the ovation interminable. Eventually, Tain retreated inside, his court clamouring at him what a success it had been, what a truly marvellous speech, how he had absolutely captured the mood of the nation...

Brun and Garak drew to one side, shared a sideways glance. 'So,' said Garak eventually, his face a complete blank. 'I think that went well.'

Brun gave him a look that might have been concerned. 'It could have been worse...'

They stopped talking as they realized Tain was approaching them, the flock of sycophants still trotting and bleating behind him. Tain was bright-eyed, flushed with success. 'Where are my two lieutenants?' he roared above the mêlée. Brun raised an eye ridge; Garak gave a tight smile.

'Not talking to me, gentlemen?' Tain said in mock annoyance. 'And I only changed a few words of your splendid speech...' He grabbed each one by an arm. 'Come and have a drink with me, my friends. Today is the day we've worked towards all our lives.'

***

Garak refused a glass of kanar from the offered tray and continued watching the people in the room, twisting the fingers of one hand round and round as he studied the party. Across from him he could see his wife talking happily to Tain, who laughed as she spoke. He became aware that someone had come to stand next to him and turned to see Brun. 'Since when did you give up drinking?' Brun said, swigging from his own glass.

'Headache,' he muttered curtly.

Brun cleared his throat, lowered his voice. 'Well, the old man did go on a bit.'

Garak didn't answer. Across the room, Tain nodded at something Lyssa said and glanced over at his two deputies.

'Surprised to see you here with Lyssa,' Brun murmured.

'We've had a reconciliation,' Garak replied dryly, looking sideways at his old friend.

Brun nodded his understanding. 'I imagine Tain's pleased. Bit conspicuous his chief lieutenant was sorely lacking a wife, I suppose.'

'I suppose so,' Garak said noncommittally, knowing that Brun would read between the lines. It had, indeed, been Tain's idea that he and Lyssa get back together.

Brun didn't comment. His mind seemed to be somewhere else. Garak glanced back across the room and realized what the distraction was. Memad had joined Tain and Lyssa in their conversation, his striking face a picture of attentiveness towards Garak's wife; suddenly it creased in laughter at something she said.

'You think very highly of him, don't you?' Garak said, nodding towards their new colleague in Command.

Brun smiled into his glass. 'I most certainly do. I think his... intelligence is a great asset to the Order.' He laughed, but Garak didn't join in. He looked at their new associate through half-closed eyes. Suddenly Memad turned to look towards him and Brun. He smiled, raised his glass, and jerked his head at Brun, clearly suggesting that he join them.

As they made to go across, Garak touched his arm. 'Just... be careful, Erak,' he whispered, his voice laced with concern. 'Be discreet.'

Brun smiled his large, handsome smile. 'Always have been, always will be. No need to worry about me.'

'Times have changed.'

'So I'll change with them. Done it before, I'll do it again.' He smiled. 'Relax, Elim! You worry too much!'

'Somebody has to,' Garak muttered as they went across the room; and even when he placed a distant kiss on Lyssa's offered cheek, he watched anxiously as Brun approached Memad, all under Tain's attentive eye.

 

Ministry of Information; Cardassia City; Cardassia Prime; June 2373

It was a bitterly cold evening, when the wind from the plains cut through the Keteral Pass and sliced through the city like a knife. Garak wrapped his coat more tightly around him, shivering slightly, only partly from the cold. They stood - he, Tain, Memad, and about ten members of the upper echelons of the Obsidian Order - in a grey yard. The Ministry building stood behind - offices where power was wielded at the top, interrogation rooms where lives were broken in the basements. They had just watched the execution of a young man of twenty-three, a junior Order agent.

Two soldiers, followed by an official, now pulled out another, older man, who could barely walk. Garak could see that the man's once handsome face was ravaged. As they drew near, the prisoner looked up directly at him, his expression one of agony and betrayal.

'Garak...' he whispered desperately. One of the guards promptly hit him across the face and his mouth started bleeding. 'Fucking faggot,' the guard said, and he landed a blow to Brun's stomach.

Garak felt Tain stir slightly at his side, and he fixed his gaze on a small point on the wall opposite, away from Brun's desperate face. After a few moments, his nerve returned and he watched as Brun was dragged across the yard and tied to a chair, his arms pulled behind him. His eyes didn't leave Garak's face. Garak looked back at him unflinchingly.

'Erak Brun,' the official said, 'You have been found guilty of deviancy, gross personal misconduct, repeated corruption of other citizens, and attempting to undermine the Cardassian state. You have been sentenced to death.'

There was no more ceremony. One of the soldiers stepped back and, with a single disruptor blast, took out most of Brun's chest. Garak remained motionless. Tain gave a murmur of satisfaction. Memad smiled. Behind them, the sun set, bleeding crimson across a burnt sky.

They turned to go back into the building, Memad leading the way. Tain waited to walk with Garak and started talking. The sound seemed to be muffled, Garak noticed faintly, and then realized that he was trembling, and that his chest had constricted. The building ahead of him seemed to loom menacingly, the red rays of the sun fading behind it as his vision blurred. Oh no - not here, not now...

'Dreadful business, wouldn't you agree, Elim?' Tain said.

'Indeed,' he managed.

'And at such a level in the Order. It just goes to show one can never be sure. Wouldn't you say?'

Garak was conscious that Tain was observing him closely. 'Oh, absolutely,' he murmured, feeling sweat on his brow. I think I'm either going to faint or be sick. I wonder which is more likely to get me shot?

'Are you all right, Elim?' Tain asked, touching his arm. Memad had turned back to wait for them and looked keenly at Garak, the faint smile still flickering across his mouth.

Normally Garak would stop and take deep breaths until he had controlled himself. This wasn't an option. There were far too many people watching to show even a flicker of vulnerability - particularly not here and now. Legate Garak collapses after watching the execution of his lifelong friend and convicted homosexual Erak Brun. Precisely how long do you think you could survive that, Garak?

It was a supreme effort of will and perhaps the greatest performance he ever delivered. Within a split second, Garak turned to face Tain, all smiles, a model of self-possession. 'I'm absolutely fine, Enabran,' he replied, his voice completely even. He glanced at his other colleague. If I went for your throat now, would I have managed to throttle you before someone shot me? I'll kill you for this, Memad - I won't rest until I've seen you screaming for mercy... All he said was, 'You're shivering, Memad. Shall we go inside? It is a little cold out here.'

***

Sleep was an impossibility. Brun's tortured, begging face haunted him; it was constantly in front of his eyes, whether open or closed. Worse, old memories came back but tarnished now with a sickly patina from the events of the day.

I was nineteen, he was twenty. We lay on our backs on the bed in my loft; the heat of a summer night drenching us with sweat, his hand playing through my hair, mine stroking his chest. We were both still tingling from the delicious knowledge that we were now lost, beyond the pale, more outcast than we had ever been... exhilarated by the frightening but wonderful fact that we were now inextricably bound up together...

'Well,' he said eventually, breathing out contentedly. 'We're fucked.'

I snorted, and then we were both in fits of laughter. It was five minutes before either of us could hope to speak. Then I turned to face him.

'How did you end up here, Brun?'

He smirked at me, tugged my hair. 'I threw myself at you, and you just couldn't resist my charm.'

I shook my head, suddenly serious. 'That's not what I meant. In the Order - how did you end up in the Order?'

'Time for confidences, is it, Garak? And what makes you think I'd tell you anything?'

'Because you want to,' I said urgently. 'Because despite everything, you actually trust me.'

He sighed, stroked my face. 'Yes, I'm afraid I do,' he said. His face was more transparent than I had ever seen before. 'Usual story, I suppose. No father. Mother threw me out when I was seven. Got caught pickpocketing on the streets when I was twelve. Morning after I was picked up, two men from the Order arrived, gave me a bunch of tests... Next thing I knew I was packed off to a boarding school.' He laughed shortly. 'They certainly know how to make you loyal. Well, the Order's family, isn't it?' he said dryly, looking at me sideways.

'Some of us more than others,' I whispered to myself.

He hadn't heard. His voice had gone very quiet. 'That night in custody, the two officers on duty fucked me - twice each. I was terrified. When those men from the Order arrived, I'd have done anything for them. Which is what they want, isn't it?' He gulped for air. 'I've never told anyone that, you know.' He drew my face round to look at him, a smile playing on his lips. 'You've had my secrets, Elim. How about you tell me yours?'

I dropped my gaze. What he had told me was a great secret, something that could ruin him in years to come. We don't have victims of rape on Cardassia, just accessories. I swallowed, and my mouth opened slightly. Then I couldn't bring myself to say it and tried to move my head away from his clasp.

He spoke again, quietly but passionately. 'We're both alone, Elim, and that's the way it's always going to be. This life we lead - that we're going to lead for the next thirty, forty years - we can either face it by ourselves or with allies. I know I'll be able to count on you when it matters, Elim. And I'm telling you now - you can count on me.'

Against my better judgement it came out, almost a sigh. 'Tain's my father,' I whispered and looked deep into his eyes. It was the first time I had ever said it out loud.

He blinked, couldn't answer me straightaway. 'Well,' he said eventually. 'Now that's really screwed up.'

We were both idiots, of course; inexperienced children who thought they were worldly-wise, but who didn't yet have the sense not to tell the truth to lovers; who could each have ruined the other as a result of that night - but who somehow got away with it. We chose the right person to trust, and it was as Brun said: that trust gave us the edge over all our enemies - as we knifed our way up to the top of the Order, we both always knew there was someone who, when it mattered most, would help us. But, in truth, it was the hollow alliance of two essentially disconnected people. We may have loved each other, but it was a reduced love - not shallow, but damaged. We gave each other all that we were able, but it wasn't complete. Neither of us was capable of that. Later that night we shared a final confidence.

'I'll never be faithful,' he said, looking up at the ceiling.

I nodded. I'd already guessed that. 'And I'll always pick Tain over you.'

He looked at me a little sadly. 'Yeah,' he said. 'I'd worked that one out.'

Garak gave up on sleep. At least I told you the truth, Brun, he thought as he sat on the side of the bed with his head in his hands. Not many people got that from me. But I doubt it's much of a consolation.

He got dressed and went across the city to see Odo.

The shapeshifter sat in his usual seat, reading, and looked up in surprise through the force field when Garak came in. 'What brings you here so late?' he said warily.

'An old friend died today,' he said, looking at the wall behind Odo's ear.

The shapeshifter didn't answer immediately, then said quietly, 'Was it your fault?'

'No!' he said - too quickly - but his face betrayed a massive internal struggle. 'Yes... No... Oh, I don't know any more,' he finally admitted, shaking his head.

Odo got up and came closer to the force field. 'Why are you telling me this, Garak?'

He shrugged. 'Because there's no-one else to tell.'

Odo nodded. 'I see.' They looked directly at each other, face to face, the force field between them. 'It's not proven to be a happy homecoming after all, has it, Garak?' he said softly.

Garak breathed in very sharply.

'How long before you're asked to murder another of your friends? How much guilt can you really bear?'

'I didn't come here for guidance, Odo. Nor for absolution,' Garak said heatedly.

'And I am neither your counsellor nor your nestor. I am your prisoner, you may recall.' Odo said, equally angry, hitting his hand against the force field to reinforce his point, and Garak flinched as if the blow had actually touched him. 'Why did you come here?'

Garak turned from him, walked a few steps away. 'I wanted to let you know that I'll be spending some time away from Prime,' he replied eventually. 'Inspecting our newest colonies. Security on many of them has been problematic.'

'Given how defeated peoples tend to feel towards their conquerors, I'm not entirely surprised. Have you learnt nothing from the occupation of Bajor?'

'If you have nothing to offer but blame, I had better leave.'

'You have given me no chance to offer you anything else. I rather think it's what you came for.'

They stared again at each other through the force field, each man struck at the absurdity of the conversation, that Garak could speak reproachfully, that Odo could speak generously.

Garak dropped his eyes first. 'I should be back in about three months. I'll come to see you on my return.' He turned to go.

'Garak,' Odo said, and the man looked back at him. 'Unless you have something to say to me - don't come back.'

Garak nodded slowly and left. Odo watched him leave and sank into his chair in despair. I don't believe this will ever end...

 

Cardassia City; Cardassia Prime; June 2373

From below the bridge, Garak watched the lights along the embankment thread down the curve of the river towards the distant glow of Parnassa on the coast. The river sweated oil and tar; it was the strong brown god at the heart of the city. He watched its sinewed course silently, patiently. The old clock above the Council building rang the hour, a dead sound on the final stroke. A water vole caught his eye; it blinked at him, then slid into the river with a quiet splash. Garak stayed motionless, listening to the sounds of the night, watching as the reflection of the moon's light flickered and broke on the ripples of the river.

After ten minutes, he was content and moved out of the shelter of the bridge. The second he had stepped outside of the Ministry building, he had been aware that Memad was having him followed. He had shaken off three footpads between the Tozhat Memorial and the Veterans' Bridge; a fourth had proven more competent, forcing him to weave through the little alleys crowding around this part of the river. In the end, Garak's instinct for the city and its shadows had given him the edge he needed.

He climbed the steps up the bridge two at a time. She was already there, as still as one of the statues that lined the bridge. They stood straight, proud of their achievements and sacrifices. She leaned on the railings, shoulders down. It was a good meeting place, one he had used on many occasions; just outside of the city centre, deserted. The barges crept along the other bank, close to the main landing points. Over here on the south bank, the docks were mostly derelict, the buildings of a long-gone way of life empty and crumbling.

'Miss Rekelen,' he said, his voice low, but carrying.

She turned with a gasp, and pointed a disruptor at him. He raised an eye ridge.

'I do hope you're not planning to use that,' he said. 'It would be a distressingly messy end to a beautiful friendship.'

'I know who you are!' she hissed.

'That's not information I'm going to find useful.'

'I saw you on the broadcast from Qo'Nos! You were standing right next to that monster!'

He raised his hands to placate her, to show that he was unarmed. Her face contorted with anger, her hand holding the disruptor at him unwaveringly. 'That would be because I'm his right-hand man.'

'You betrayed us. All that time, we thought you were on our side!'

'I am on your side. I want what's best for Cardassia.'

'Don't try that one! Is that why you work for that butcher? For the good of Cardassia? Do you know how many civilians he's put in front of firing squads, how many of my friends?'

'Miss Rekelen,' he cut through, impatience creeping into his voice, 'We have been aware of your activities and your organization at the highest level of the Order for years. Have you not stopped to consider why you have never been arrested? Why your little group has never been simply wiped out? We could do it like this,' and he snapped his fingers to emphasize the point. 'Only last month, the Order removed eighteen members of staff from the University on charges of treason. Your friend Hogue is still there. Does this not suggest to you that someone, at a very high level, has been shielding you?' He let the implication hang in the still night air. She was sharp enough to work out what he meant.

After a pause, she said rather uncertainly, 'Are you saying that you have been protecting us?'

He nodded.

'Why?'

'Because if you want to destroy something, you first have to control it from within. That's all I've been doing.' He put his hand to the side of the disruptor. 'I wonder if you could put that down. It is making me uncomfortable.'

Her hand wavered and then the weapon dropped. She was on the brink now. He spoke very softly. 'I have risked a lot to come here and see you, Miss Rekelen. Every time we make contact, I put my life on the line, and in your hands. Have you ever suffered from my association with you? Has it ever brought you anything but safety? Surely you can trust me?'

She nodded very slowly. 'All right,' she said.

He kept watching her face closely. 'Shall we get down to business, then? What do you have to tell me?'

She hesitated, conscious that this information was now going straight back to the heart of the Order. He breathed out in annoyance. 'Let me say it again, Miss Rekelen - I am risking a lot more being here than you are. Whatever the Order interrogators might find to do to you, can you imagine how much worse it would be for one of their own that they found out was a traitor?'

She licked her lips. When she did speak, she would not look from him, but gazed out east to the lights of the port at Parnassa. 'I've made contact with a man who was a glinn in the old military. His name is Damar. He and some former colleagues have formed a resistance outfit. They're short on people and on weapons, but they're very angry and very committed. They're looking to regroup and regain at least some of the military's former power. They hate the Order, and they want you all dead.'

Garak's mind was already working on overdrive. 'Damar... I remember him... He was an associate of Dukat's.' Another swaggering thug. Just the sort of mindless brute I wanted out of power... Now what am I going to do about this...? 'Thank you, Tela,' he said a little absently, staring down at the ripples on the water, lost in thought.

'What are you going to do with this information?' she asked wretchedly.

He pulled his gaze away from the river and smiled at her warmly. 'For the moment, absolutely nothing.'

'Nothing?' She was puzzled.

'That's right.' He roused himself. 'I'm going away, Miss Rekelen, so I'm afraid our little meetings will have to cease for a while. But a colleague of mine is going to make contact,' he threw her the little data file containing Memad's details. 'You can trust him - work with him as you've worked with me.'

She nodded.

'But don't discuss this Damar with him. That's serious, and it's my responsibility. If Damar feels so confident, it's likely he has allies on the inside of the Order. I'll want to make contact with these people myself. It's too dangerous for anyone else in the Order. Do you understand?'

Again, she nodded her agreement.

'Then goodbye, Miss Rekelen. No doubt we'll be in touch on my return.' He slid off into the night, turning back to look at her briefly before climbing down from the bridge. She had her head in her hands. I have corrupted her, and she knows it. Poor Tela; cursed with sufficient intelligence to see that she is now on the side of her enemies. It comes to us all, in time, he thought.

He walked softly along the river's edge, reaching the next bridge down. He crossed the river here, to head to the north side, towards home. As he cut along through the city centre, he spied Memad's more capable footpad blundering along the old plains road and let him pick up his trail again. He took a malicious pleasure in leading the man through some of the more colourful parts of the north side, before turning west and heading home, walking up the foothills rather than taking the transporter, savouring his city and its warm, still night.

 

Ministry of Information; Cardassia City; Cardassia Prime; June 2373

They sat facing each other, each lizard gaze matching the other, blink for blink. Suddenly Garak smiled and relaxed back into his chair. 'Thank you for coming to see me, Memad.'

'You are my superior officer, Legate.' He smiled back. 'So I turn up when you request it.'

'I'm glad to see you're so concerned with maintaining the chain of command. Such humility becomes you.'

'Naturally I respect those of my superiors who deserve it, Legate.'

'Then I shall sleep easy in my bed.' They glared at each other across the desk in loathing. Garak pulled himself up and reached out for a file. 'No doubt your sources have already told you of my imminent trip to the new colonies,' he continued.

'I had imagined you would be going.' Memad responded calmly. 'You always had an affinity with the races we conquered. I can think of no-one else better suited to deal with the losing side.'

Garak held out the file just a small amount, forcing Memad to lean forward. 'Whilst I am away, I want someone to continue monitoring the civilian dissident movement here on Prime. Needing someone both duplicitous and savage, my thoughts naturally turned to you.'

'You flatter me, Legate.'

'I'm aware of that, Memad,' Garak said softly.

The younger man resisted the urge to swallow. 'What do you want me to do?'

'Nothing.'

Memad looked up sharply. 'I'm sorry?'

'Leave them alone. They come in very useful. Just keep on watching them.'

Memad frowned. 'Legate Garak, am I to understand that you are the architect of the civilian dissident movement on Prime?'

'Well done!.' Garak gazed at him, recognizing the younger man's obvious good looks, but inwardly recoiling from them. You are rotten to the core, and Brun should have caught your stench before you came within miles of him... 'You look concerned,' was all he said. 'Surely I don't have to explain to you the benefits of such an arrangement?'

'I don't understand why the Order is propping up an organization which spreads anti-Order and un-Cardassian lies.'

'As I said, they're very useful.'

Memad didn't answer immediately; then: 'May I speak freely?'

'I hope that you will always feel you have that luxury with me.'

'Your association with this organization is very... courageous. Your, er, somewhat atypical track record would make it very easy for someone to blacken your name with the material contained in this.' He waved the file at Garak.

Garak leaned in across the desk. 'Are you threatening me?' he asked, sounding fascinated at such a notion.

'Of course I'm not.'

'Of course you're not.'

They stared at each other across the desk again, separated by rank, fifteen years - and the death of Erak Brun.

'Was there anything else you wanted?'

'No. You may go.' Garak watched the man stand before adding, 'Don't get any clever ideas while I'm away.'

Memad's lip curled in contempt as he left the office. Yes, it's unimaginable that anyone in the Order should prove himself cleverer than you, Garak. But it's going to be easy, nonetheless.

 

Resettlement Camp 962; Cardassian New Territories; September 2373

Across sector after sector of space he wandered, in the limbo of a self-inflicted exile, removed again from his home, this time by choice. Each night he would speak to Peyta, and sometimes Carissa, and promise he would be back quickly, but he was not sure how soon he could stand again on Cardassia Prime without feeling sick from sorrow, without thinking of nothing but Brun.

Instead, he watched from the bridges of ships as the combined fleet wiped out the last, sorry remnants of the once proud Klingon fleet. He signed orders authorizing the execution of all able-bodied Klingon adults; other orders enabling the removal of the remaining population from their homeworlds into resettlement camps, overseen by the Jem'Hadar. He visited some of these camps: sad collections of children, old men and women, the crippled and the infirm. He remembered that Klingons deprived of all hope of entering Stov'okor could become dangerously desperate; he noted this in one of his reports to Tain as worth consideration. He himself would recall mainly the sad, subjugated faces, the sickly smell of defeat.

Turning away in disgust, he visited instead new settlements of Cardassian civilians; robust, healthy people in little townships, some even veterans of the Bajoran settlement; farmers and herders. He met them in tiny town halls, beneath the portrait of Tain, styled as the Father of the Nation, that was displayed, by law, in every public space in Cardassian territory. He joined in as they recited the Precepts of Our United Society, as they were required to, by law, before every public meeting, even (especially) here on the edge of the Empire. He listened to their concerns about raids from the displaced but not yet captured former residents, authorized the placement of Jem'Hadar troops to protect the fragile little communities and round up the resistors. Three months away from Cardassia Prime, he still dreamt of Brun and woke sweating and shaking as his ship touched down at his latest destination. It was in this unsteady frame of mind that Garak at last made the final journey from limbo straight into hell.

He had been asked by Tain to report on new security arrangements at a resettlement camp which had been implemented since his first visit there at the start of his odyssey. He recalled the camp only vaguely from the dozens he had seen but was struck as he arrived by the difference. The air crackled with a strange anticipation; the place seemed energized. He commented on this to Deyos, the Vorta administrator of the camp.

'The new regulations have certainly made a great deal of difference,' the Vorta agreed.

'I would like to see them in action,' Garak replied, impressed once again at the administrative capabilities of the Vorta - even if unable to overcome his visceral dislike of these strange, antiseptic creatures. Deyos nodded and gestured Garak to follow him along a corridor.

They came out into a large hall, the centre of which was given over to what appeared to be some sort of arena. Gathered round, in a circle, were about twenty Jem'Hadar soldiers. Garak strained to see past them and Deyos gestured to two of them to get out of their way.

Inside the arena, an ancient Klingon wrestled pathetically with a Jem'Hadar who threw him away as if he were no more than a mild irritation. Within two minutes the old man had been flung against the wall. His back clearly broken, he gasped, spluttered, and died.

'Bring in the next challenger,' Deyos called out.

Very slowly, Garak turned to face him. 'Can you tell me what is happening here?' he murmured.

Deyos looked slightly surprised. 'Of course, Legate. We offer all prisoners the opportunity to be released, if they can win in combat against our best Jem'Hadar fighters.'

'And if someone wins?'

'Then we give them what they want - and release them to Stov'okor, of course,' Deyos answered.

'Of course.'

'Although with such sorry specimens as these, this rarely happens,' Deyos added.

'Indeed,' said Garak dryly, 'As I recall, we have executed most able-bodied Klingons of fighting age.'

They turned their attention back to the arena. A teenage boy with a bad limp hobbled in. They watched dispassionately as the Jem'Hadar took just under four minutes to kill him.

'You seem to have no shortage of willing victims,' Garak said quietly. 'Is no-one refused?'

Deyos shook his head. 'Of course not! These Klingons appear to consider it a matter of honour. For us to refuse a challenge would apparently be a great source of shame for the challenger.'

Garak watched as a little girl of about eight entered the arena. She shook like a leaf, but her face was set in determination. The Jem'Hadar soldier was at least twice her height.

'Dying with honour is of great importance to these people,' Deyos said. 'And the system has proven a great success from the point of view of our security. Since we have offered the prisoners the chance to fight and die honourably, we have had no escape attempts. The Klingons have devoted themselves entirely to fighting our soldiers. It's been a most successful distraction.'

The little girl was on the floor now. Garak turned his face away but still heard the crack of her skull as the Jem'Hadar soldier brought down his boot on her head. 'I think I've seen quite enough,' he said and started to leave the hall.

Deyos followed him, his face showing mild confusion. 'You seem dissatisfied with the arrangement, Legate. Is there a problem?'

Garak turned on the Vorta, his eyes flashing. 'Your soldiers are systematically slaughtering the injured, the old, and children! Yes, Deyos, there is a problem! This 'arrangement' is an obscenity!'

The Vorta now looked completely mystified. 'Legate, I don't understand. The orders for this came directly from your own office.'

Garak's eyes widened. 'What did you say?'

'These orders came from your office. When I confirmed the instructions with Legate Tain, he assured me that this was your idea, that he trusted your judgement in this respect, and that all queries should be directed to your staff in future.'

'Did he...?' whispered Garak. He realized that the Vorta was looking at him keenly. I must remember that these people are only our allies under duress, Garak thought. He looked back with cool composure. 'That will be all, Deyos. I recognize the efficacy of this system from a security point of view, but the casualty rate is unacceptably high. I shall be back on Cardassia Prime within seven days - on my arrival I expect to have from you a report on the new system you intend to introduce.'

He could contain himself no longer. He turned and went back to his ship, ordered its immediate return to Cardassia Prime, fled to his cabin - and spent the first part of the journey retching uncontrollably until exhaustion and grief finally allowed him to collapse into sleep.

 

Bridge of the Pelosa; en route to Cardassia Prime; September 2373

I feel as if I have dropped into a pit, and that I am still falling... He felt his breath shortening, his chest tightening, and pressed his fingers against his temples, forcing himself to breathe out slowly.

'Sir? Are you all right?'

He started. The glinn who had brought him the reports looked at him anxiously. I shouldn't imagine he wants me to collapse on his watch.

'I'm fine, thank you. Perhaps you could get me another bottle of kanar?'

The glinn glanced uncertainly at the two empty bottles that already stood by Garak's left arm.

'Don't offer any comment, just bring me another bottle,' Garak said in a low voice and the glinn fled.

I should be happy. Memad was dead, had proven a trivial challenge after all, had risen to the bait that access to the dissidents was, and had performed just as Garak had predicted. Attempting to trap Garak, Memad had immersed himself in the dissidents' activities and left himself so badly implicated as a result that when Garak, from one of the colonies, had ordered an apparently impulsive (actually long planned) investigation into the movement, Memad was so deeply entrenched that he was under arrest within hours. The civilian dissident movement had been shattered, its main leaders brought in for interrogation.

Garak played back the first interrogation report. Even after three weeks, Memad had continued to plead innocence, had begged for mercy. Garak watched the final few moments of the recording with a growing sense of foreboding. These days it seemed even victory tasted like defeat.

The glinn arrived with the new bottle of kanar. Garak eyed it thoughtfully then opened it, poured, and drank very deeply. Then, with a trembling hand, he put the glass down, and started the second recording. Unlike Memad, Rekelen had accepted her guilt with pride. They had both been shot the previous day.

Her voice was coming through clearly, her eyes feverishly bright, her face lividly bruised. 'I have done nothing to harm Cardassia. I have only worked to protect her. You can do what you want to me... You'll never destroy us...'

The recording ended, and Garak found himself looking straight into Rekelen's eyes. Shining, fearless, unyielding - and it seemed that her reproach hung heavy in the air between them. I stand accused...

Shivering suddenly, Garak reached out clumsily to turn the image off. His hand, shaking wildly, knocked the glass of kanar to the floor, its contents spilled. He ignored it as he fumbled desperately to switch off the recording. Then he brushed his hand across his eyes. What have I done?

You used Rekelen as a means to carry out your revenge. This was not for the good of Cardassia. Finally you prove that you are no better than any of those avaricious, murderous guls who nearly strangled the life out of the Union. You are no better than Dukat.

Memad was a menace, he pleaded with himself. His ambition was limitless and his appetite for power insatiable. He would have destroyed the Union. And he murdered Brun.

Don't try to justify yourself, said his other voice scornfully. You've never needed to justify your actions before. At the very least you can avoid being a hypocrite. You went after Memad and you murdered Rekelen as a result.

It was the best choice... A civilian resistance could never succeed - but a military resistance...

His other voice was shocked into silence. Garak blinked.

Did I just think that?

 

Cardassia City, Cardassia Prime; October 2373

He took the transporter into the city, watching the familiar villas and gardens of the western district flit by. His mood was perversely buoyant. He sat in his usual spot, at the rear with his back protected but his view of the rest of the carriage unimpaired. The other passengers were mainly civilians, but four stops from the city centre two Order officers got on and began checking identification chips. He monitored their slow approach towards him through half-closed eyes. They seemed very young, he thought, and very taken with the authority which their uniforms and status afforded them.

They stopped for a long time with one passenger. He could not quite hear their conversation but from their persistent questioning and the young woman's anxious deference, he suspected that her identification chip marked her as an illegitimate. He could imagine the questions. Why are you travelling alone? Do you have permission to travel alone? Where are you working? Where are you being housed? The other passengers in the carriage were looking away with careful indifference, at the floor, out of the window, anywhere but at the girl and her two questioners.

The episode was beginning to depress him. He got up and walked forward, coming to a halt at the elbow of one of the officers and continued watching the proceedings. The studied disregard of the other passengers had turned into a muted curiosity.

The young man eventually noticed him and turned round. 'What do you want?' he said impatiently. 'Don't you know it's an offence to interfere with an Obsidian investigation...?'

Garak folded his arms and looked back at him.

'Don't be an idiot, Lokor,' the other man hissed. 'Don't you know who this is?'

'I'd listen to your colleague if I were you,' Garak advised conspiratorially.

The young man licked his lips and frowned. He obviously had no idea who Garak was.

'Are either of you going to salute me?' Garak enquired.

They both snapped out a prompt salute. 'Legate Garak,' said the second officer pointedly. A murmur, hastily suppressed, went through the carriage. The first officer's eyes widened in shock. Garak smiled at him, then reached out to straighten his collar.

'Do make the effort to look smart when you're in uniform, Lokor,' he murmured and then glanced down at girl, who was trying to be inconspicuous. 'And don't terrorize the powerless,' he added. 'There's really no need.'

The transporter came to a halt. 'My stop,' he said and smiled pleasantly at the girl. She smiled back weakly. 'Carry on, gentlemen,' he called over his shoulder as he stepped out onto the platform. He could feel his good mood returning.

Cutting along a back street, he entered the Ministry by a side door. He took a turbolift down four levels and came out in front of a solid security door. The chip implant in his wrist gave him access and he passed through into a well-lit, antiseptic corridor. As he reached the far end, the two security guards stationed there saluted him and he nodded in acknowledgement. They opened the final door, and he went into the Special Operations Section.

Behind the force field Odo watched as Garak approached but he stayed deliberately seated in his chair. 'I see you’ve made your decision then,' he said, when Garak finally came into earshot.

Garak looked back at him in amazement. 'What makes you say that?'

Odo nodded at his jacket. 'It's the first time you've worn something other than black in nearly a year.'

A faint smile crossed Garak's mouth. 'I do believe you're right, Odo. Whoever would have expected you to notice that?'

'I have far too little to occupy my time.'

Garak dropped his eyes. His voice, when he spoke, was hushed and urgent. 'Odo, I hope you will accept my sincere apologies for all this...'

Odo blinked. 'A bit late, isn't it?'

'Nevertheless.'

Odo looked at Garak's earnest expression. I do believe he means it. It's ridiculous, obscene even... but I do believe he means it.

'It isn't over yet, Garak. Not by a long way,' was all he could say.

Garak nodded, even seemed satisfied with the reply. 'Then it's a good thing I'm expert at bringing things to a satisfactory conclusion, isn't it?' he said with something approaching his old levity.

'That remains to be seen,' said Odo dourly, firmly suppressing the hope which was suddenly rising in him.

Garak caught his eye and held it. 'Yes,' he said quietly. 'It does.' He turned to go. 'I'll be in touch, Odo. Soon.'

Garak walked slowly down through the main corridors of the Ministry, nodding automatically at juniors as they saluted him. He left through the large front doors, the sudden midday sun blinding him for a moment, and he hesitated on the steps of the building to gaze round Obsidian Square. It was a scene so familiar he barely noticed it any more, but today he stood and looked at it as if for the last time. To the left, the elegant curves of the Union Gallery stretched gracefully up to the sky, banners advertising an exhibition of late Hebitian artifacts that he would not now have time to see. Behind him he could feel the weight of the Ministry; without turning to look he could picture its white stone facade, inlaid with obsidian panels that glinted sharply in sunlight, making passersby avert their eyes as if in deference to the power the building contained. Around the other two sides of the square lay row after row of office buildings, spilling out their workers into the noon heat, their conversation and laughter carrying up to him. Already the benches in the square were full; some people were sitting on the steps of the statue of Tain that now dominated the centre of the plaza. And directly ahead lay Victory on Qo'Nos Boulevard, its broad straight line slicing through the city to the river.

Watching this scene he felt wash over him again the deep love for his home that had both sustained and tormented him throughout the times he had been compelled away. He closed his eyes, as if to take a snapshot of this moment - of Cardassia City as he would always remember it - then opened them and sighed.

Where shall I go?

He walked down the steps and into one of the side streets.

 

Interlude: Terok Nor; July 2368

The lower still I fall, only supreme
in misery; such joy ambition finds.

Milton, Paradise Lost

 

The chief of security of Terok Nor glanced up at the Cardassian sitting silently across from him. He had walked into Odo's office two hours earlier and, despite his civilian clothes, had produced a maximum security clearance pass and requested to be taken to see the Prefect immediately. Odo informed him Dukat was off the station but was expected back later in the day. The man had said that he would wait and simply shook his head at Odo's suggestion that perhaps he, as chief of security, could help. He had been mildly irritated when it became apparent that Odo was going to stay with him, but under no circumstances could Odo allow someone to wait for Dukat unattended. He had no intention of allowing another attempt on the Prefect's life.

Odo had tried briefly to engage the stranger in conversation, hoping to probe for information, but the man had deflected him expertly, withholding even his name, and increasing Odo's suspicions that here was a member of Cardassian intelligence. Now they sat in silence, as they had done for more than an hour. Throughout this time the stranger had been almost motionless, except for a relentless, circular twisting of his thumbs.

Odo cleared his throat. The man's head jolted up, clear blue eyes glinting at him. 'Dukat may well be a while yet,' Odo said. 'Are you sure that I can't help you?'

'Quite sure. This is a purely internal matter.' The man's tones were measured and his smile smooth, but Odo could sense that beneath the cool there was an underlying disquiet. Odo thought briefly about arguing the point that he was also internal security then sighed and leaned back in the chair, arms folded. Fifteen minutes passed, during which time the Cardassian, in turn, sighed deeply, closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands.

The door opened. Odo watched in astonishment at the speed with which the Cardassian leapt to his feet, regained his poise, and pulled the same smile onto his face.

The Prefect of Bajor entered the room. He saw the visitor and his face dissolved into pure hate. 'What are you doing here?' He took a menacing step forwards.

The other man continued smiling. 'I have good news for you, Dukat.' Then the Prefect and his chief of security watched open-mouthed as the man started to empty his jacket pockets onto Dukat's desk. Two knives. Security passes. Identification chip. A disruptor. The ritual complete, the man raised an eye ridge. 'I believe you're meant to be placing me under arrest,' he prompted helpfully.

Dukat's mouth opened even further. 'What?'

The stranger looked exasperated. 'For pity's sake, Dukat - do you really have no idea what's happening on your own station? You are quite pathetically incompetent.'

The Prefect looked as if he were on the verge of committing murder. Then the communicator on the desk made a sudden noise. Dukat jumped. 'What is it?' he yelled.

A nervous voice came through the channel. 'Sir, we're receiving a priority communication from Cardassia Prime. It's Legate Tain, sir. He's demanding to speak to you immediately.'

Dukat turned to Odo. 'Get out,' he said.

Odo began to protest. 'If this concerns station security...'

Dukat's eyes blazed. 'I told you to get out!'

Odo gazed back blankly for a moment, then nodded. The last thing he saw as he left the room was the face of the stranger, blue eyes wide and filled with what could only be described as dread.

Chapter Text

FOUR: Despatches

Journal entry; Reketh Colony; Cardassian New Territories; December 2373

When I started to write this journal and told my father what I was doing, he laughed and said that diaries weren't a very Cardassian form of literature.

'They're the expression of individual aspirations and identity. Their very nature is private and secretive. They're geared towards the formation of one's own distinctive standpoint rather than encouraging adherence to communal perspectives.'

'Should I stop writing it, then?'

He smiled. 'I don't think so.'

I was puzzled. 'Why would you encourage me to think in an un-Cardassian manner?'

He shrugged. 'Why should I not? It never did me any harm.' He stroked my hair. 'I want you to love Cardassia for what she is. I want you to understand how other societies think and work, and still prefer your own. And if the day ever comes that you live away from her - like I did - I want you to remember what's of value about your home, remember it and treasure it.'

When we had that conversation, living away from Cardassia seemed very unlikely. It looks like I'm going to experience it a lot sooner than I ever expected.

 

The Defiant bridge; near Cardassian space; December 2373

How quickly you become an outsider, Julian Bashir reflected as he stood a little self-consciously to one side of the bridge of the Defiant and watched his former colleagues go about their duties. It was only twelve months since he had been part of this team, but watching their seamless interactions now, he wondered how he had ever fitted in at all. He sighed a little.

Sisko looked at him. 'I think we should expect contact pretty soon,' he murmured.

Kira turned. 'Are you going to tell us why we're out here, Captain?'

He shook his head. 'Not quite yet.'

'We're very close to the Cardassian border, Benjamin,' Dax pointed out.

'And I ask for your patience just a little longer, old man,' he replied evenly.

'I imagine that's when I'll find out why you wanted me here too,' Bashir murmured.

Sisko didn't answer and just nodded slowly.

'Captain,' O'Brien interjected, 'There's a craft registering on the forward sensors. Some sort of Cardassian shuttle. Perhaps it's time to go.'

'Wait,' said Sisko.

'Benjamin,' said Dax, 'We're taking a real risk this close to the border...'

'Wait.'

'The shuttle's transmitting a coded signal, Captain,' O'Brien said. Sisko came across to check it.

'That's what I was waiting for. Mister O'Brien, there are two to beam aboard from that ship.'

O'Brien gave Dax an uncertain look then operated the controls. Before the crew's eyes materialized two Cardassian girls, one a few years older than the other.

Bashir started. 'Peyta?'

The older girl looked at him. 'Doctor Bashir. How very nice to see you again,' she said a little faintly and looked round anxiously at the startled bridge crew. The younger girl took her hand.

Sisko stepped forward. 'Welcome aboard. I believe you have something for me?'

Peyta reached into her pocket and pulled out a small data chip. She offered it to Sisko.

As Sisko reached out to retrieve it, his hand brushing against hers very briefly. He caught her gaze: blue, unwavering, guarded. 'You are safe here,' he murmured. She only blinked in response.

He turned to speak to Bashir. 'Doctor, I wonder if you would mind taking our new arrivals to their quarters and waiting with them there?'

Bashir nodded wordlessly then herded the two girls off the bridge.

Sisko turned to Dax. 'Set a course for these co-ordinates.' He handed her a padd. 'We have one more rendezvous to make.'

Kira left her seat and went up to Sisko. 'Captain, are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?'

 

Journal entry; the Defiant; December 2373

Doctor Bashir ('Call me Julian') says we've had an unusual amount of stress, and that we shouldn't worry if we're feeling upset, or if we want to cry a lot. And now I'm worrying because I'm not doing either. In actual fact, I feel fine. A little lost, but fine. People are being very nice, even though I know we're very close to being at war. Well, some of the people are nice. Julian spends a lot of time with us and Jadzia seems very pleasant too, if a little more guarded. Captain Sisko talks at my left ear. Colonel Kira doesn't talk to me at all.

Julian and Jadzia couldn't quite believe our story of how we'd got out of Cardassian space. I said I just did everything he'd told me to. Before we reached Reketh Colony, Carissa and I both thought we were just going on holiday. Mother packed us on the shuttle and, when we landed, we went up to the villa. He had said he would join us after a couple of days. But when we got there, he had left me a message. I'd never read anything like that from him before, so it didn't take much to grasp that he was serious. He told me to follow his instructions to the letter - you can tell instantly when he really means something - so I did. The shuttle had its flight path pre-programmed, and we didn't really have to do anything but sit there. He probably hasn't overlooked a detail in his life. I certainly don't think he'd leave our safety to chance.

Still, I was very nervous by the time the Defiant approached us. When we left Cardassian space, I had a good idea of what was going on. He hasn't looked happy for a while. But I knew that if he'd felt the need to take us away, then something extremely serious was happening. I didn't say any of this to Carissa, as I was quite terrified enough for us both. And I still am. I don't know what's going to happen next.

Carissa cries constantly and I, dry-eyed, feign control.

 

The Defiant bridge; near Cardassian space; December 2373

'There's another shuttlecraft registering on the sensors, Captain,' O'Brien said. 'And we're receiving yet another coded signal.' He frowned. 'They're requesting we confirm collection of our 'package', Captain.'

Sisko checked over his shoulder. 'Transmit this in response.' He handed over the data chip which he had received from Peyta. Then he tapped his communicator, 'I want a security team down here immediately.' Within minutes four security officers were stationed on the bridge.

Sisko turned his attention back to O'Brien. 'Two to beam aboard again.' He glanced over at Kira. She seemed to be close to tears. He moved across and put a hand on her arm for a brief moment.

'If this is who I think it is...' she whispered in a shaking voice.

Sisko nodded, and they both watched as the dematerialization effect subsided. Two figures appeared on the bridge.

'Odo!' she cried softly and ran forward to greet him.

Within moments, the shapeshifter was surrounded by a circle of friends, each greeting him warmly, welcoming him back at last to freedom.

While all this had been going on, the four-man security team had fallen into place around the other figure.

'Legate Garak,' Sisko said quietly. 'Welcome aboard the Defiant.'

The Cardassian had been looking at the floor. He raised his head slowly. 'Captain Sisko,' he replied, and a bitter smile crept across his face. 'I would like formally to request asylum from the Federation.'

'You have got to be joking - ' O'Brien began.

Sisko spoke over him. 'I've been authorized to grant that request,' he said, 'And transfer you to Starbase 375 for...' he hesitated.

'For debriefing,' Garak finished with a wry face. 'I confess I have never defected before, but I can make some conjectures as to the protocol. In the meantime, perhaps you would allow me to confirm with my own eyes that Starfleet has kept their side of the bargain...?'

Sisko nodded to the security team. 'Escort Legate Garak to see his daughters. Then...' he hesitated again.

Garak smiled a little more savagely. 'Such delicacy, Captain. You'll make a diplomat yet. I believe you'll then want to confine me to my quarters.'

'I swear,' said O'Brien, 'I'm going to punch your fucking lights out.'

Garak's brittle humour disappeared in an instant and he looked at O'Brien wearily. 'That, Chief,' he murmured, 'Is quite possibly the very least of my worries.' He turned to the security team. 'Shall we go?' They headed towards the exit.

'Garak.'

The Cardassian turned round sharply at the sound of Odo's voice and looked straight across the bridge at him.

'Thank you,' said the shapeshifter.

Garak was momentarily lost for words. ''Thank you'? Whatever for?'

'For bringing me back,' Odo said. 'Eventually.'

Garak sighed and closed his eyes for a brief moment. 'Finish it, Odo,' he said. 'Please.'

 

Journal entry; the Defiant; December 2373

Fifteen minutes isn't very long but it was all we got. Two security guards came in with him, another two waited outside. Julian was here as well, and they shook hands and said how glad they were to see each other.

He asked me how the journey from Reketh had gone but he looked distracted. 'I can't stay long, Peyta, so we need to talk quickly. I want you to trust Doctor Bashir, of whom I am about ask a very large favour.'

He turned to the doctor, who raised his eyebrows. 'What is it you want, Garak?'

'It's going to be long time before I'll be... able to leave Starbase 375 - ' he paused and Julian's eyes narrowed. 'I want you to take Peyta and Carissa to Earth and look after them.' He shook his head. 'There's no-one else that I can ask, doctor,' he apologized.

Julian rubbed a hand across his eyes. 'Of course I will, Garak,' he said quietly. 'I'm surprised you think I might not.'

He gave the doctor a brilliant smile of gratitude, then turned back to me. 'How does a trip to Earth sound, Peyta?'

I looked back at him bleakly. 'You always said travel broadened the mind,' I eventually managed.

And that was it. The two security guards said that it was time for him to go. He kissed me very quickly on the top of my head and said that he was very proud of me - and then he was gone.

Earth. I hadn't even been outside Cardassian space until last year. And I think the Federation are about to go to war with us. I'd be a liar if I claimed that going straight to the heart of the Federation at a time like this didn't terrify me. Just how welcome can Cardassians be there?

 

The Defiant; eight hours from Starbase 375; December 2373

Two officers and one defector watched as Odo opened the communication channel to Weyoun.

'Founder... '

Odo's orders were crisp and to the point. Jem'Hadar troops currently stationed in the former Klingon territories were to take no more orders from their erstwhile Obsidian Order superiors - and these superiors were to be put under immediate arrest.

Sisko watched as Garak put a hand to his face and he knew that Garak was thinking of the Cardassian settlers in those territories, now completely vulnerable and open to reprisals.

Odo caught Garak's movement too. On no account, he added pointedly, and to Weyoun's obvious disappointment, were the Jem'Hadar to take any action against Cardassian civilians.

'Starfleet will be sending in troops to secure those areas and return them to Klingon control,' Sisko put in. It was meant to reassure Garak, so he was not prepared for the contempt in the look Garak gave him.

'How typical of Starfleet to come to the aid of their allies only when all their enemies have disappeared,' Garak said in disgust. 'The Obsidian Order may be opportunistic, but at least we aren't hypocrites.'

Kira lost her temper, all her doubts about the Federation suddenly vanished. 'You really think you can compare Starfleet to your gang of murderers? It's only Starfleet that's kept your hands away from Bajor's throat over the past few years.'

'Oh please.'

'And what do you mean by that?'

'Colonel Kira, you must have been aware that Bajor was a natural first target for a newly powerful Cardassian Union. Did you never once stop to consider who it was at Obsidian Command that was protecting you?'

Kira looked at him with incredulity. 'Oh, so now we're supposed to feel grateful to you?'

Garak's eyes blazed in fury. 'I have sacrificed everything...!'

'You're a butcher, Garak,' Kira cut in viciously. 'The Obsidian Order has caused the death of millions upon millions of people!'

There was a pause as Garak prepared himself for an angry response but, into the gap, another voice quavered a single question: 'Father?'

All four adults swung round to see Carissa standing at the entrance to the ready room. It was clear from her expression that she had heard the bulk of the exchange.

Garak exploded. 'Carissa, get out of here at once!' There was a brief hesitation and then the girl fled.

Silence descended on the room and the two officers and Odo looked at Garak in amazement. His self-control suddenly crumbled and he put a hand to his face.

'I think that this is something I need to go and fix,' he murmured.

'I think you're right,' Sisko answered.

Garak turned to go, moving slowly. Then he turned back, and spoke quietly. 'I know that it is of little consequence to you, but I have done all that I can to end this war - even endangering the lives of my children...' He stopped, breathed deeply, then shrugged. 'That doesn't count for very much, I should imagine. But - please - don't throw away the chance I've given you. Put an end to all of this.'

 

Starbase 375; December 2374

Benjamin Sisko stood behind a force-field, able to watch the proceedings going on in the room beyond, but himself obscured from view. He heard a noise beside him and turned to see Admiral Ross.

'How's it going?' Ross asked, by way of greeting.

'Much better than I imagined,' Sisko confessed.

'Gregor Blok's a good man.'

'But I still didn't think Garak would offer information so easily.' Sisko gazed back inside the briefing room. 'There's still a part of me that suspects this is a very elaborate scheme.'

'Having read the file on him, it's tempting to agree.' Ross looked at Sisko carefully. 'Are you genuinely worried, Ben?'

Sisko frowned. 'I'm just not clear why he's defected. The man's a patriot - he's committed just about every crime in the book in the name of protecting Cardassia. Why the hell would he sell Cardassia out now, at the height of its influence?'

'Maybe he's discovered he has a conscience after all,' Ross said dryly.

Sisko looked less than convinced.

Ross sighed. 'Has Blok told him the news yet?'

'Not yet.' They both looked back at the interview going on in front of them.

Inside the briefing room, Garak sat with his arms folded, waiting patiently while Blok made sure that he had recorded full details of Cardassian forces around Qo'Nos. Not much, was the brief summary. Without the military infrastructure provided by the Jem'Hadar, the lines of control stretching out to the furthest reaches of Tain's empire was destined to crumble very quickly.

Eventually Blok looked up. 'I have some news for you, Legate,' he said. 'The Romulans signed a non-aggression treaty with the Federation this morning. We need to know how Tain will react.'

Garak gave an involuntary and rather manic burst of laughter. 'How Tain will react?' He rubbed his eyes. 'My apologies. Perhaps if you had once sat in on an Obsidian Command strategy meeting, you might find the thought of Tain's reaction as... disquieting as I do.' He breathed deeply. 'Leaving aside the fit of rage which will grip him for about a day, the simple answer is that despite losing both the bulk of his army and his major ally, Tain will not surrender a single one of the New Territories without a fight. If you want back any of the systems taken from the Klingons by the combined fleets, you're going to have to take them.'

'Take them? Do you really believe he'll fight?'

'Without a doubt.' Garak leaned forward. 'Commander Blok, Starfleet must understand what it's dealing with. Tain identifies himself with the Cardassian nation. He cannot accept a military reversal, since it is the equivalent of a personal defeat.'

'So war is unavoidable?'

'Unless you're prepared to allow Tain to consolidate his troops in substantial parts of the New Territories.' He sighed. 'The Obsidian Order was not, and never has been, a significant military strength. When we came into power, we replaced the old military, because they were our enemies, and because we had a new military base - the Jem'Hadar.'

Blok frowned. 'But that left your entire military capability dependent on continuing to control the Dominion fleet,' he said somewhat incredulously.

'Believe me when I say that I thought it very unlikely that Odo would ever be removed from Cardassia Prime.' He shifted in his seat. 'Anyway, I'm not an idiot. We replaced the senior military officials with Order men. A large proportion of the current Cardassian military is Order trained and personally devoted to Tain. Our intention was to replace the Jem'Hadar forces with this army as time went on. But I... we...' He stopped and looked at his hands, placed flat on the table in front of him. 'Not enough time has elapsed. There are enough men out there loyal to Tain to give you a fight if you encroach on the New Territories. And - believe me - these men are fanatically loyal. And their numbers will increase as time goes on.'

'So if we want to stop Tain, we have to act now?'

'That's correct.' He sighed. 'Your other option is to undermine Tain from within. When I left Cardassia, a resistance movement was beginning to coalesce around a member of the old military called Damar.'

Blok grasped the significance immediately. 'Would this resistance really fight against Tain? This would be tantamount to a civil war.'

'The old military detest the Obsidian Order, always has done. After the Order... purged the military, that rivalry became even more bitter. Of course, until now, they were no real threat.'

'But it could have significant impact if we arm them and deploy them well?'

Garak nodded.

'Is there a civilian resistance movement we could draw into this?'

'No,' Garak answered quietly. 'There is no civilian resistance left on Cardassia Prime.'

'Are you sure?'

'Oh, I'm quite sure.'

Behind the force field, Sisko shivered a little. We met some of those people, he thought. Talked to them, helped them.

Inside, Blok had not missed the meaning of Garak's words, but suppressed his distaste. Instead, he spoke in measured tones. 'As you know, Legate, Starfleet is not holding you by force. Nonetheless - and given what you've just said about the certainty of war - we very much hope that you will accept our offer to transport you to Starfleet Command on Earth.'

Garak narrowed his eyes slightly and did not answer.

'We want to continue to use your expertise and intelligence in the conduct of the war.'

Garak swallowed. Blok - as capable an inquisitor as Ross had said - recognized this tiny movement for the manifestation of great stress that it was, and merely waited for the response which he believed was inevitable.

Garak's voice, when he finally spoke, was rather faint. 'That arrangement would be... acceptable, Commander.'

Blok nodded and stood up. 'Thank you for your time, Legate. I'll ask a security team to escort you back to your quarters. If you could prepare to leave for Earth within five hours, I'd be most grateful.'

Outside, Ross greeted Blok with a nod of the head. 'Can we trust him, Gregor?'

Blok shrugged. 'At the moment, I doubt he knows that himself. But he's delivered us control of the Dominion fleets, and I suspect this intelligence on the Cardassian military will prove solid. We have a war to fight - and I think we've been handed the means to win it.'

 

Journal entry; Hertfordshire, Earth; March 2374

Julian's mother ('Call me Amsha') has a house on Earth just outside London, and that's where we're staying. The house is stuffed, and I mean stuffed, with pictures of Julian - Julian aged 10; Julian aged 12; Julian as a teenager; Julian in his tennis gear; Julian graduating; Julian graduating again; Julian's first Starfleet uniform; Julian as the Best Doctor Ever... When his mother wasn't there I teased him mercilessly and he had the decency to look embarrassed. I think he was pleased to get a smile out of me at last.

Julian has said he's going to be around for a few weeks to keep an eye on us and make sure we settle in all right. There are a lot of people who'd very much like to talk to us - press, mainly - and Julian's trying to keep them at bay. He's upbeat about it, says they'll soon get bored and find someone else to plague. But I think they're going to be around for a long time.

The Federation has declared war on the Cardassian Union, in order to fulfil its treaty commitments to the Klingon government-in-exile. They want to regain the New Territories. Our Dominion allies have mysteriously changed sides. The Cardassian forces are being pushed back towards our old borders. Amsha and Julian discuss this as good news, which I suppose it is. I seem to have changed sides too.

I understand that there is fighting back on Cardassia Prime, but it is difficult to get word from home. I think of mother rattling around alone in our big house in the city. I want this all to be over so that we can go back.

 

Starfleet Command; San Francisco, Earth; June 2374

Sisko threw down the padd that he had been reading and rubbed his eyes. To his left, Ross yawned as he reached for his mug of coffee. Even the usually imperturbable Blok looked weary and had gone so far as to open the fastenings on his jacket.

Sisko pushed his shirt sleeves up further and looked down at the far end of briefing room, where Garak was poring over a set of reports from Cardassia Prime.

I really believe he doesn't need to sleep, thought Sisko. Or maybe it's that he can't. Well, damn it - I do. He opened his mouth to suggest they call it a day, but Garak spoke first.

'I continue to be most concerned about the resistance on Cardassia Prime,' he said.

Sisko's shoulders slumped. 'It's your damned security service we're fighting,' he pointed out.

'And I was very good at my job,' Garak countered sharply. 'No wonder barely any of our weapons shipments are getting through. The Obsidian Order puts Starfleet Intelligence to shame.'

Blok rolled his eyes, having heard this many times before.

'Do you really think it's so bad?' Ross said, his main concern, as ever, the conduct of the war. 'Myself, I've been impressed with the way the resistance is operating - it's keeping a large number of troops away from the front, and they've made some effective raids on communications facilities, troop transporters and the like... Damar's proving something of a natural rebel.'

'Admiral, while I too have been astonished at Damar's aptitude for covert operations, the resistance simply does not stand a chance.' Garak tapped his forehead, laughed. 'I can picture just how it's been infiltrated - I can even guess some of the agents and where they're placed. What Damar needs is someone on the ground who knows how to counter all this.'

Blok looked up sharply. 'I think I know who you're about to suggest.'

'And why not? My talents will be of more use in the thick of things there than stuck here.'

The three Starfleet officers gave each other quick glances.

Ross cleared his throat. 'Garak, the first priority is bringing the war to a conclusion. While Starfleet is happy to assist the Cardassian resistance, it is only a means to an end - '

'Regardless of your priorities - Admiral - mine are, and always have been, the protection and preservation of Cardassia.'

There was a silence. 'Legate,' Blok said calmly, 'We appreciate that your agenda differs in many important respects from Starfleet's, but since your defection, you have had access to our most sensitive intelligence about our conduct of the war. You of all people must understand that it would be impossible for us to allow you to return to Cardassian space. If you were captured - '

'I don't believe,' Garak cut through coldly, 'that you have the authority to hold me against my wishes. I intend to return to Cardassia and no-one in Starfleet will stop me.'

 

Bashir's journal; June 2374

I was coming back from three months in the field and went via San Francisco to see him. When he told me his plans... Well, I exploded.

'Are you insane?'

'You're over-reacting, doctor.'

'You're going back? What in God's name for?'

'To help her, of course. Why else? I'm intending to assist Damar with the resistance.'

'Who do you think you're fooling, Garak? Just how long do you think you could sit there on Cardassia Prime 'assisting' Damar before your hands were covered in blood again?'

'Since when have you been concerned with my moral well-being, doctor?'

'Since always.'

'One day, you'll finally understand that morality has nothing to do with it - '

'And one day you'll grasp that it does. Why the hell else did you leave, Garak? Whatever lies you're telling yourself in the still hours of the night, the fact remains you left because you decided what you were doing was wrong. And now suddenly you want to waltz back to your old life and pick it up again - '

'Hardly! My life will be in a significant amount of danger - '

I gave a short laugh. 'That doesn't cut it as atonement I'm afraid.'

'Atonement?' Garak in turn laughed long and hard at that. 'Precisely when do you think I began concerning myself with 'atonement'?'

'Round about the time you defected I should guess.' I shook my head. 'I'm not here to fight, Garak.'

'Indeed, given our respective career choices, there's something a little grotesque in the spectacle of you and I arguing about morality.'

I let it pass. 'But I'm telling you that if you go back, you're making the biggest mistake of your life. You may as well not have bothered leaving in the first place.'

He was hurt by that. 'I would have thought you'd understand. You saw how it was for me the first time I was exiled... having to sit and watch from so far away, and be unable to do anything to protect Cardassia. And this time it's worse, since it is all my fault - '

'You've done as much as anyone - you're as much a hero of the resistance as Damar. So what if it's been from far away? If anything, I'm glad you're at a distance. Because whenever you're on Cardassia, Garak, all that's good in you is destroyed.'

'That is possibly the most ludicrous thing you have ever said.'

I smiled at him. 'I'm sure if we tried hard enough we could think of something else.'

He laughed, a softer and less bitter sound, and that defused the argument. But it was not an acceptable conclusion to me.

My new job takes me to a lot of different places. I see many things, meet many people. Some of them find my talents... of interest to them. And this means I can make deals with them.

 

Starfleet Command; San Francisco, Earth; June 2374

The door opened and Garak put down the padd he was reading. In came Blok and, with him, a smallish, sandy-haired man Garak did not recognize. The solemnity of both men's expressions impressed itself on him and he stood up to greet them.

Blok spoke first, as precise and formal as ever, still continuing to use the rank which Garak had left behind. 'Legate, please allow me to introduce Deputy Director Sloan, of the Special Operations Division in Starfleet Intelligence.'

Garak looked at Blok closely. The man's tones were more clipped than usual and Garak detected something beneath - displeasure, frustration? He was not sure.

He looked again at Sloan. Special Operations? Perhaps I do know you after all. You - or your kind.

Sloan seated himself at the table and gestured to Garak. 'Please, sit down.' Garak looked quickly at Blok, who had seated himself next to Sloan, and was clearly waiting to be called upon.

Garak sat down slowly.

Sloan began to speak. 'It's been brought to the attention of my division that you are intending to return to Cardassian space.'

'That's correct.'

'Let me disabuse you of that notion straight away. There's no way you're leaving our custody.'

There was a brief pause as Garak collected himself. 'Custody? Forgive me if I'm operating under a misapprehension, Deputy Director - '

'Mister Sloan will do.'

' - 'Mister Sloan', but I was not aware that I was under arrest. I came to Federation space seeking asylum. Unless - and I find this most unlikely - you are intending to violate the rights I hold under Federation law, I am free to leave whenever I choose. Much as I hate to... disabuse you of the notion, I am not Starfleet's prisoner.'

'From today you are.' He held up a padd. 'As of this moment, you're charged under the section of the War Crimes Act concerned with our inter-governmental obligations.'

Garak blinked and swallowed. 'Let me see that,' he whispered, gesturing towards the padd.

Sloan handed it over and watched impassively as Garak read, with increasing disbelief, through the data. 'As you can see, these are the relevant subsections from a treaty with our Klingon allies - the legitimacy of whose government the Federation has continued to recognize throughout the Cardassian occupation. The Federation is obliged to charge and hold all those suspected of war crimes and then investigate those charges. Consequently, you are to be held pending investigations into Cardassian activities in the occupied Klingon territories.'

Garak threw the padd down on the table with a clatter. 'And this is my reward, is it?' he said bitterly.

Sloan didn't blink. 'You've been in the confidence of Starfleet Intelligence for almost a year. You didn't really think we'd let you go back to Cardassia, did you?'

'I would have thought that the Federation would prefer Damar in power and Tain out,' Garak shot back. 'Any administration Damar heads will be much more well-disposed towards the Federation than the current regime.'

'I don't deny we have common goals,' Sloan replied calmly. 'Yes, we both want Tain dead. But there's no way you're going back to Cardassia to orchestrate that. You're a security risk a mile wide.'

'Sloan, I'm telling you that Damar's resistance is no match for the Obsidian Order,' Garak said urgently. 'If you really want Tain dead, you'll let me go back and make sure it happens.'

Sloan smiled, shook his head. 'I'm afraid you've got that the wrong way round. You're not running this show any more. If you really want Tain dead, you'll come up with something substantial we can use to destroy him. Otherwise... well, that's the end of the resistance.'

Garak stared back at him, all his bluffs well and truly called.

'There must have been a good reason why you left,' Sloan persisted softly. 'Something about Tain's regime you just couldn't stand any more. Are you sure you can bear to leave Cardassia at his mercy?'

Garak put his head in his hands.

'Can we finish him off, Garak?'

There was a long, heavy silence.

'There is a way,' Garak said eventually, his voice muffled.

Sloan gave the tiniest smile. 'Fire ahead.'

Garak raised his head and, as he spoke, his gaze locked onto Sloan's and it did not waver.

'Tain, you must understand, is very popular with the civilian population. He appeals to their deepest prejudices and fears, and he has exploited these ruthlessly. The Cardassian people are now firmly of the opinion that their greatest source of stability is the family, and that threats to the family must be removed.'

'Carry on.'

'Over the past few years, Tain has proven himself the protector of the people by systematically taking the rights and, in many cases, the lives of those undesirable, threatening elements in Cardassian society - homosexuals, the illegitimate... you get the idea.'

'Yes I do, and your society revolts me, but how does this work in our favour, Garak?'

'I'd say most families on Cardassia Prime have lost someone to Tain's crusade. But they've tried to ignore it, because they believe it's for the good of Cardassia. But what if...' he stopped and swallowed. 'What if it were to be found out that Tain himself were... not without sin?'

Sloan frowned for a moment, then said, 'Are you telling me - '

'I'm telling you that Tain has an illegitimate son, and that when the Cardassian people find out this fact - and who this son is - well, I wouldn't hold out much hope for the Father of the Nation.'

 

Journal entry; Hertfordshire, Earth; July 2374

Cardassia City burns. From this great distance, I watch the societal pyre which is the climax of our own domestic drama; the family of Tain topples, and takes the whole of Cardassia with it. On Cardassia Prime, the cities are on fire because there is civil war in the streets, friend against friend, brother against brother - father against son.

Both we and the Cardassian people learned last week of our grand connections. I would say the Cardassian people took it rather worse than we did. Three years ago they made a deal with the Father of the Nation: Deliver us, Tain, from all our evils - our dirty little secrets, our bastards hidden away from our wives, our pervert sons who will never give us grandchildren. We will sacrifice them all, because you have promised us purity and a better way of life. And so it came to pass that their children were stripped of their rights and then slaughtered - not on the battlefield, but in shootings and beatings, after late-night arrests and week-long interrogations. But the people closed their hearts to their furtive grief, since they believed in the greater good, in a nation that would be made stronger through such dedication and sacrifice. And they tried to rejoice, since they now looked out across the greatest Empire that had ever been seen.

Then it transpired that the most exalted amongst them himself had a dirty little secret, and that this secret had lived and prospered when others had been murdered, and then had turned his back on the great community which we all should serve and had betrayed it. And the people saw that there was civil war on the streets, and that their enemies were lining up at their borders, and they decided that this was no longer good.

Things fall apart, the centre does not hold. I did not know that we were the centre, although I should have guessed. I am devoted to my father - I hear him and obey him - and he, in turn, did the same. We are the line through to the interior, the dark heart of Cardassian society. I wonder what role was planned for me, and I do not regret that the centre did not hold.

I think, after all, I have read too many human books.

In Obsidian Square, the rebels have torn down the statue of Tain and, just outside the Ministry of Information, with the help of the city's civilians, they have built a gallows. And from it swings my grandfather, guilty of every crime imaginable, and my grandmother, guilty of nothing more than coming within his orbit. Guilty by association. As are we all.

 

Rangipo Maximum Security Prison; New Zealand, Earth; September 1st 2375

It was a cold, bright, antiseptic room. As Bashir approached, Garak smiled and stood to greet him.

They shook hands across the table. 'My dear doctor, it really is very kind of you to come.'

They sat down. 'Of course I'd come, today of all days.'

Garak checked the time. 'The constitution came into force at midnight. Cardassia has been a new republic for just over ten hours.'

'With Damar as President.'

Garak gestured around him. 'I was unavoidably prevented from offering myself as a candidate for that particular job,' he said dryly.

Bashir looked down at the table. 'I have to say that of all the fates I anticipated for you, this was not one I had in mind,' he apologized.

'Incarceration is the occupational hazard of the spy, doctor,' Garak replied with a wry smile.

Bashir nodded in recognition of both the forgiveness and the admonition.

'Besides,' Garak continued quietly, 'Not even I foresaw all the consequences of my decisions. Giving Damar the means to win the propaganda war on Cardassia Prime did not just cost me my father.'

Bashir did not reply, knowing that Mila was never very far from Garak's thoughts.

Garak gave a small laugh. 'Anyway, now I get to watch galactic events unfold from a distance. It's strange not be directing them any more.'

'It's the life most people lead,' Bashir pointed out.

'I'm sure the experience will be salutary,' Garak murmured, looking round at the prison walls.

'The terms of the surrender were very fair. Withdrawal behind pre-war boundaries, limits on remilitarization, restructuring of government to remove Obsidian influence - '

'And occupation by the Dominion,' Garak added bitterly.

'You know as well as I do that they're a peace-keeping force. Odo's answerable to no-one, neither the Federation nor the Klingons. I don't believe he would ever act out of vengeance.'

'Which is more than I deserve.' Garak sighed. 'But I still believe that if I could have gone back, Cardassia would be better placed to face the future...'

'And there would have been no real attempt to understand what happened in the past,' Bashir said passionately. 'Garak, surely you can't still think that Tain's administration was anything other than a catastrophe for Cardassia? Not just militarily, but at home. What we know now about his internal policies...'

'I of all people do not need to be reminded of that,' Garak said softly. 'I can only be grateful I'm not facing a separate set of charges from the new government on that account. I have the distinct impression that I'm someone they'd rather forget.'

'It's ironic, isn't it? Given it was your actions that put that government in place.'

'Well, I didn't really expect a reward. I shall have to be content with an indictment for war crimes.'

'What do you think will happen at the hearings?'

'Given what the weight of the evidence against me is likely to be, I think I'm going to be in prison for a very long time.' His mouth twisted into a smile. 'But as I told you, doctor, it's - '

'An occupational hazard? I hope to God it's more than that, Garak.'

 

Bashir's journal; January 2376

There are some events that are burned into the collective consciousness, that we all refer back to as cornerstones of our lives. When people are together and the conversation turns to these moments, we look back on them and say, 'Where were you when it happened? Who were you with?'

In this particular case, I tend to shrug my shoulders. 'I don't really remember,' I answer.

'You must remember where you were,' acquaintances say. 'Everyone remembers.' Friends change the subject, pointing out that my job at the time took me outside the Federation a great deal.

In fact, there are particular reasons why I know exactly where I was when I watched Garak's address to the War Crimes Commission. I was at my mother's with his two daughters. Carissa left the room when he stood up to speak. Mother followed her out. I sat and watched both the screen - and Peyta, out of the corner of my eye. She sat motionless, eyes fixed intently on the screen. I thought again how I didn't know which troubled me more: Carissa's obvious distress or Peyta's silent watchfulness.

'I welcome the chance to address to this tribunal and I thank the Commission for the opportunity to speak. What I have to say I shall attempt to keep short and to the point. Contrary to the denunciations which my former colleagues have offered, I welcome this Commission, its investigations, and the forthcoming hearings. Contrary to their defences, I offer my plea of guilty as charged.'

I remember every detail of how he looked. He stood at the end of the row, at the front of the three lines of defendants, and the eyes of every single one of them bored into him with loathing for the whole time that he spoke.

'When I chose to serve the Cardassian nation, it was a choice made out of love. I did not want to kill; I did not want to go to war. I did not want my nation's name to become a byword for cruelty and mindless violence. Yet those things have happened and I have played no small part in them. As a result of this, what I hope will emerge from this Commission is the truth; what I hope to learn is how my beloved country allowed itself to become an instrument of such hate and brutality.'

And I remember every word of the speech; not just because of my memory but because I defy most people not to be able to recall at least some of that speech, which has seared itself into our minds. Garak, we should never forget, was the chief author of Tain's regime. Tain may have said the words - and said them well - but they were all Garak's. Tain may have had the gift for oratory, but Garak had the passion, the commitment, the real love for Cardassia.

'It is not enough for us to say that we loved Cardassia, because we have destroyed Cardassia. We rotted her soul, so that even at its height her greatness was illusory. We seized power - and mistook our actions for patriotism. We were opportunists - and mistook our drive for purpose. We brutalized and murdered and killed, and yet we have the audacity to claim that this was in some way connected to love?'

But what I will never forget about that speech is that as I watched, I knew that perhaps for the first time in our friendship, I had no lingering doubts about a single word he said; that all the lies and the justifications and the excuses had at last become meaningless to him, and that what mattered most was that the truth should be heard and should never be forgotten. Garak crossed a bridge that day; he broke with the person he had once been, since that person was no longer enough. Many people have commented how convenient this sudden bout of remorse was, how it saved him from a much longer sentence, or how it served to increase his stock with the Federation. But I, who am his friend, say that he always had the capacity for goodness, that he never lacked morality, all he lacked was the chance to live his life according to it. Again and again he chose love - for Tain - as his benchmark in life. When it became clear that this was not the best choice, he picked again - and this time he chose to live according to what was best about himself. And so what I will remember most about that speech is the sorrow - and the regret.

 

Interlude: Terok Nor/Deep Space Nine; April 2369

Hell is oneself; hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

Eliot, The Cocktail Party

 

Garak awoke regretfully from a dreamless, drug-induced sleep, eyes bleary and mind hazy. You're being stupid, he berated himself. Weak and foolish. You should be keeping your wits about you, especially now. But it was too much effort. Much easier to take another hit from the wire and coast through the next few hours.

He checked the time. As far as he could tell, it had been quiet outside now for more than twenty hours. He stretched cramped arms behind his neck and decided it was probably as safe as it was going to get. Four days was quite long enough to have been cooped up in this tiny hidey-hole, even with the implant to cushion his anxiety. He slowly released the panel in the wall and squeezed through into the shop.

Or what remained of it. He looked round the devastation, would have felt dismay if the wire had allowed it. Instead he just felt numb. Nearly ten months' work. He had guessed that Dukat would send someone for him before leaving the station and he had heard the visitors. He had hidden himself away knowing that, given the opportunity, Dukat would not just stop at destroying the shop. It was only to be expected, Garak thought. He had, after all, been the one responsible for the end of Dukat's career as Prefect - to add to his litany of sins.

He put his head round the door and looked at the wreckage on the Promenade. His fellow countrymen appeared to have been most efficient here as well. There was a barely-suppressed excitement buzzing round the station. People were rushing about and many appeared to be preparing to leave. Garak stood motionless in the doorway and watched them with a dull absorption - they seemed to flicker past, their urgent movements very unlike his own lethargy.

'What are you doing here?' a voice rasped. He turned and saw Odo striding towards him. Something seemed different about him, Garak mused, without interest.

'This is my shop,' Garak pointed out. That was it, he suddenly realized. Odo appeared to be wearing some sort of new uniform. You should have noticed that sooner, Garak, he thought to himself dryly. You are a tailor, after all.

'That's not what I mean and you know it,' replied Odo.

'What then do you mean, Constable?' He managed a bright smile.

Odo pursed his lips, irritated that Garak was trying to manipulate the conversation so that Odo had to let him know the state of affairs on the station. Well, it was all pretty much settled now. Perhaps the sooner he brought the tailor up-to-date, the sooner he would leave. He was a loose end, a nagging complication to an already complex situation. Odo would be glad to see the back of him. 'The Cardassians evacuated twenty-four hours ago. I'd have thought you'd be keen to go with them.'

'And why would I want to leave, Constable?' Garak asked, all innocence. 'This is my livelihood we're standing in front of.'

Odo peered into the shop. 'Such as it is,' he said pointedly. 'Dukat appears to have paid you special attention. You should feel honoured.'

Garak smiled again. 'A mere inconvenience. I'll have it back to normal in no time,' he said, with rather more confidence than he felt.

'I suspect the incoming Bajoran personnel will not feel much like patronizing a Cardassian-owned establishment. You might have better luck back home.'

I sincerely doubt that, Garak thought.

'This isn't exactly a safe place for Cardassians at the moment. I'd hate to have to investigate a lynching.' Odo added. 'When do you think you'll be leaving?'

'I won't,' Garak said shortly.

Odo frowned. It appeared this particular complication was here to stay. 'We'll see what the Provisional Government has to say about that,' he said and started to move away, then added deliberately, 'Perhaps you'll have better luck building a Federation clientele.'

Garak received this piece of information with a nod of gratitude and a flicker of interest. So the Federation were coming in, as he'd anticipated. He looked dispassionately again at the vandalized and smoking Promenade, the hurried movements of those planning to leave. It's not a situation I'd like to inherit...

So this was it: the grand finale, the culmination of all his schemes. What a great success. Bajor is independent and intact. The Federation are no more than observers. Cardassia is free from an occupation that was costing us far too many lives. And I... He rested his head back against the door frame, his gaze flicking listlessly between his smashed-up shop and the burnt-out Promenade. I'm ruined.

Chapter Text

FIVE: Father, Can't You See I'm Burning?

'I'm not doing Garak any favours. He doesn't deserve a quick death... I want him to live a long, miserable life. I want him to grow old surrounded by people who hate him, knowing that he'll never come home again.'

Tain in The Wire

 

April 2396; Onekaka Lodge, Taupo, New Zealand

My dear doctor,

Your letter arrived at a most appropriate time, finding me in low spirits and raising them immensely. For this, another of the many gifts your friendship has brought, I thank you.

As you anticipated in your letter, it has, indeed, been a most disconcerting two weeks. I had not expected the level of media attention which surrounded my release; it is a long time now since the war - and the trial. This proved somewhat naive: what greeted me on stepping outside of Rangipo prison was a blinding flash of lights, a barrage of questions, and the ferocious chanting of a large band of demonstrators. To the demanding reporters, I murmured something fatuous about finding the scenery around Tongariro very reminiscent of Cardassia Prime and that I'd probably settle here, and then I began to flounder quite badly. Peyta, however, had been more perspicacious; she and her husband bundled me into a flyer and brought me here to their home in Taupo on the other side of the lake. After twenty years, it's odd not to be able to look out of my window and see the volcanoes any more, but I am getting used to my new surroundings. I do, however, keep forgetting the bedroom door isn't locked.

It took the press about ten hours to track us down, and Peyta has been resolute in her mission of preventing them from gaining access to me. They have proven a dogged and creative set of individuals. I haven't left the grounds since arriving here, but that isn't always enough. Last week we were taken aback to find a photographer and his hack sidekick had clambered across three miles of wilderness to get into the back of our property, and had made it as far as the garden at the rear of the house. Peyta's husband Nick, a man of few words but much physical presence, removed them promptly, 'accidentally' standing on the recorder as he bundled them out.

I have tremendous respect for my son-in-law, who has been steadfastly and generously loyal, and who has offered me genuine friendship. He is a local man, and we benefit from this; Peyta tells me gleeful stories of how hotels and businesses in the area have been most unhelpful to the visiting journalistic vultures. We have been greatly supported by the community in this respect. I say we, but Peyta has, of course, lived here for nearly fifteen years and is as much a local now as Nick. I do not believe that in general Cardassians find much of a welcome across the Quadrant; it astonishes me that someone related to me can have been made to feel so at home here on Earth.

I spend much of the day reading, a habit I acquired to fill the time as a young boy, and which stood me in good stead during my sentence. Boredom truly was my worst enemy there, doctor, boredom and isolation. When we were not working (and I still retain enough of a sense of humour to be amused by the fact that I have spent a substantial part of the past two decades sewing - penance indeed), I was effectively ostracized by the other inmates. Those who had been more junior in the regime held the senior officers responsible for their disgrace. My more immediate colleagues could not forgive my treason or, more particularly, my remorse, since it served to highlight their own deficiencies in that respect. Reading, then, helped pass the hours. I also spent a lot of time looking at the view from the window in my cell, which helped my terrible homesickness. The view from Rangipo across Tongariro is very like Cardassia Prime (how odd to end up in a place so similar to home): the ochre tufts of grasses, with rough bits of green battling for life; the hills of grey ash and black stone with threads of sulphur yellow and, looming behind, the volcanoes, three dark cones pushing out from the ground into over-vivid skies, making their own weather, threatening explosion. Most humans find this an oppressive place, doctor, but it reminds me piercingly of home. Only colder - much colder.

My other main pastime now is talking to my daughter. It is my dearest wish that we can build some sort of relationship between us. Of all my regrets, perhaps the one which causes me the most sorrow is my failure as a father. I have been absent for most of her life: first during my exile on Deep Space Nine, then the vagaries of my 'career' in Tain's government - and then twenty years in jail. After she came to New Zealand, she visited me fortnightly, and we were in constant communication by letter. But to spend so much time in her company - it is both exhilarating and terrifying.

I don't think you've heard yet, but Peyta has just received a promotion. She is now Professor of Comparative Political Theory at Otago University, specializing in the ascendancy of liberalism in human culture and that of communitarianism in Cardassian culture. She has a brilliant mind, doctor, and her intelligence is based on compassion and integrity. I marvel that she is my child. But then, whatever she has created from her life has been her own achievement, whatever identity she has forged has been her own construction: it is despite rather than because of me - a damning indictment of any parent. Still, to hear her talk fills my heart with pride.

'Most theoretical innovations in political thought on Earth came from attempts to assert the rights of the individual against those of the collective, and vice versa. But it's not a debate that ever happened on Cardassia: somewhere along the line this whole argument became atrophied. You see templates of Cardassian society in many examples of totalitarianism on Earth, but totalitarianism never became the defining ideology on Earth as it did on Cardassia. How did that happen?'

'Cardassia is a much harsher environment than Earth, Peyta,' I offer. 'Individuality was sacrificed because it didn't lead to survival.' I don't imagine I am ever suggesting anything she has not heard before, and I know that she does not condemn Cardassia; I believe my daughter incapable of being either judgemental or condemnatory. But she loves the thrill of intellectual debate (in this, at any rate, proving herself Cardassian), and it is something, at least, that I can offer.

'Earth went through a similarly disastrous period after atomic war, father. The society which emerged has raised liberalism almost to the status of a religion. What I believe is that the intellectual heritage was already there: like a scientific discovery - the ideas couldn't be lost or unthought. When human society was in a position to think again about such frivolities as political theory, the liberal tradition was waiting in the wings to make a grand comeback. Cardassia never had that option.'

It is difficult to take on an academic on her own ground, but I try my best. Despite all, it pains me to see Cardassia maligned, if only because a criticism of Cardassian society is implicitly a criticism of me. Ours is, or was, a subtle society, layered and intricate, but I still believe that at its heart was love - for the family, for tradition, for a civilization which had endured the test of its environment, and which was all the more precious because of it. We didn't have to look far to see the ruins of a culture which had not survived.

'Peyta, at many points in our history you could characterize Cardassian society as co-operative, as mutually supportive. From that perspective, our culture is one of preservation: of maintaining the integrity of social structures and traditions which were always under threat of annihilation...' I could see her eyes widening and stopped.

'You sound like one of Tain's speeches.'

'That's because I wrote most of them. But the difference is that I believed them.'

This is, of course, unfair to Tain, who loved Cardassia as much as any of us. But for Tain, Cardassia was exemplified by the Obsidian Order, and the Order personified in himself. In Tain's hands, an ideology based on social preservation became the paranoid strategy of a beleaguered ego: it saw the potential for extinction at every turn and it fought back with deadly aggression. Tain's love for Cardassia was narcissistic. Mine was pure.

I have heard nothing from Carissa, which is to be expected, but which remains a source of great grief. Peyta received a letter from her last week, which she did not let me read. Apparently, Carissa has spent much of the time since the war working for an organization which reunites Klingon refugees with members of their families. I understand (obliquely) from Peyta that she has had surgery to remove her Cardassian features, and that she now appears human. I cannot bear to think of the anguish that would drive someone to such an extreme negation of her own identity. I know that I am substantially at the root of it.

One of the psychologists who insisted on bedevilling me throughout my time at Rangipo once said that he believed that a rift between a parent and a child could only ever be the fault of the parent. He got no argument from me. But I didn't see the point either in drawing his attention to the corollary of the remark, that a child who continues to try to please his parent beyond all that is rational has no-one to blame but himself.

I have already received a communication from the Cardassian Embassy here on Earth that they are prepared to meet to discuss the possibility of a pre-arranged, brief, and highly choreographed visit home. The offer terrifies me. More than anything, I want to see my home again, learn what has happened in our twenty year separation, see first-hand the changes about which I have heard so much. I long to replace this cold substitute with the real heat of my home. But - and this has been the hardest decision of all - I shall not go back to Cardassia. I understand now what you forced me to accept so long ago - that Cardassia, my first and fiercest love - is the price I must pay for all I have done. This is not simply an act of contrition: life is crueller than that. The truth is that Cardassia and I destroy each other, doctor. Working for her interests corrupts me - and then I, in turn, corrupt her. I fear for both of us if I go back. Cardassia deserves better. She does not deserve me.

I know that I will have to write. I hold an exceptional place in history - there are not many men whose single decisions altered the course of galactic events. I do not say this out of pride; I am more acutely aware than anyone of the cost of some of those decisions. But my viewpoint is unique: only I am left to tell the story of what it was like at that time, in that place, when Enabran Tain was the most powerful man alive. I have been reading the many, many histories which have emerged: our administration seems to hold a strange fascination for the human mind, doctor, and books on the subject are numerous. Some of them are decent enough. But at the heart you can see the confusion - why did a society gorge on war and murder until it had nothing left to devour but itself? And the reason they fail to understand this is that they do not really grasp the core of our Empire. They cannot comprehend Enabran Tain.

I, of course, made it my life's work to understand Tain. My entire reason for existence was to anticipate and implement his desires. It is no secret now that Tain was my father. The explanations that I read in the history books as to why I was, for so long, Tain's willing lieutenant are entirely accurate. Where they fail is in their conjectures as to why I defected. This is not surprising, as it is something of which I myself have only recently begun to have the barest comprehension. I want to try to explain this to you, doctor, as best I can. Beyond any possibility of personal gain; indeed, I believe, often earning the abuse of many, you have steadfastly continued to offer me friendship. I do feel that I owe you some sort of explanation, or whatever explanation I am capable of giving. There is still, you see, a final story left to be told about Tain and me, a story which I think explains much about us both. It is something I have not yet told anyone else, even Peyta: I always did cling to my secrets, doctor.

The evening before I left Cardassia Prime to meet the Defiant, I received a summons to meet Tain at his office. My immediate thought was that he had discovered my plans. Despite all my careful preparation, there are always weak links in any operation. To remove my daughters from Cardassian space and to manage the escape of Odo and myself was not a small undertaking. I went into Tain's office suspecting that I wouldn't come out alive; or, at least, that I would be dead shortly afterwards. Given what followed in our meeting, I still wonder if, on some level, Tain hadn't sensed my growing disaffection, hadn't also heard the whispering of my conscience, and was trying to prevent me acting on it.

He was standing with his back to the door when I entered his office, looking out across his capital. How typical of Tain to have a vantage point which placed him above his empire. He turned, and smiled when he saw me, but I, so attuned to all his moods, detected an unease in him. 'Garak,' he said warmly. 'Please sit down.'

I did as I was told, trying to stay calm as I waited for the onslaught that would lead to my exposure, again, as a traitor. I noticed that he did not keep eye contact with me, something very unusual for Tain. His gaze was legendary.

'I have something to show you.' He reached onto his desk and handed me a sheet of paper. I started to glance through it, my eyes widening in sheer disbelief.

'This is a draft of a brief which will be going to my lawyer. I intend to formally acknowledge you as my son.'

'Oh...' It was like a physical blow. I do believe I doubled over.

'Come here, Elim.'

I stood up, somewhat shakily, and made my way towards him. He guided me towards the window and we looked out across our glorious, beautiful capital which, together, we had put at the centre of an empire unmatched in the whole of history. 'All this is mine,' he murmured. 'And in time it will be yours.' I bowed my head and leaned in to rest it on his shoulder. His hand touched the back of my hair, almost in a caress. I sighed very deeply, expelling the pent-up frustration of over fifty years of denial. I would be an even greater liar than is commonly believed if I denied that for one second, longer perhaps, my resolve wavered, and I thought that I would stay. I felt the tears start to roll down my face. Tain took it to be joy or gratitude, but really it was sorrow that, against all expectation, I would be adding patricide to the long, long list of my crimes.

Do we all have the luxury of having these choices presented to us in such stark terms, doctor? My choice was very clearly delineated. So why did I reject the one thing I had wanted more than anything for my entire life - to be Tain's son? There's a simple answer. Either I could be what I had always wanted to be - or I could retain the last spark of decency that remained within me, the last piece of myself that Tain had not perverted. His offer could only be rejected. Acceptance would have destroyed me completely. And I am the survivor par excellence.

Like many leaders, Tain could give the impression of strategic ability, but his true genius was in delegation. He could spot those of us who could further his cause and he coaxed us into giving the best of ourselves for him. Everything I did was my own choice - Tain just provided the context for my talents to find full flight. This is what your historians and writers fail to understand, doctor, that for all his stupidity, his bigotry, his bombast and his vanity, Tain inspired people. And he inspired them, because you looked at Tain and you saw power. And those of us who worked for him, who had been sidelined and rejected and dismissed by the rest of society, we wanted a piece of that. Tain would ask and we would do because you knew that his will was such that nothing would stop him from succeeding. And you wanted to be part of that success.

I may have largely blinded myself to Tain's faults, but I was no idiot. Tain saw me as no more than a tool; his best tool, admittedly, but no more than an extension of that indomitable will, to be used and put aside when necessary. His offer to legitimize me was to secure the succession and his empire. It was not a gesture of love. Love between Tain and me could only run one way. It had taken me a terribly long time to learn that, but once I had, there was no going back.

Twice now, I have murdered my way to the peak of Cardassian society - and then voluntarily exiled myself from it. The psychologist at Rangipo did not find this difficult to interpret. Under Tain's tutelage, I learnt that what it meant to be Cardassian was what I could never be; that Cardassian society had no place for me. I was outside of the family, outside marriage. I had constructed a society from which I could only be excluded. Even worse, I had a conscience. And, ultimately, I loved Cardassia more than I loved Tain.

Do you remember borrowing a book called The Never-Ending Sacrifice? You hated it, as I recall, but it contains so much truth about what it means - what it meant - to be Cardassian, to be willing to give up your life on her behalf, generation after generation. Sometimes it seems that my whole life has been the negative image: to love and to sacrifice Cardassia again and again. I would gladly have died for Cardassia, if it had been necessary. Instead, I got to live for her; for her and without her. I don't think it was the easier part.

Often, in the early morning, I watch the sun rise and I reflect on the remarkable ability of natural phenomena to soothe the most troubled thoughts. It is at moments like this that I believe I may, one day, forgive myself; it is when I dream, and I see Brun, and that little Klingon girl, and Cardassia City, my beautiful home, on fire, that I know that this is one lie that, no matter how often it is retold, will never gain the numinous sheen of truth. But I will remain hopeful. Most of all, I will remain, doctor, your most affectionate friend,

Elim Garak.

 

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

Milton, Paradise Lost

Chapter Text

Acknowledgements

This piece would not exist at all without the generosity of Ina Hark, who brainstormed this story with me at a very early stage when I was feeling extremely despondent, beta-read at breakneck speed beyond the call of duty, whose encouragement and persistence kept me writing, and who provided high-speed trans-Atlantic ego massages in the difficult final stages. All the best plot twists are hers, all the clumsy ones mine. Thank you, Ina. Let's hope there'll be more co-productions!

Big 'thank yous' to: Laura Taylor, who reined in my verbs, cleansed the story of British colloquialisms and did a first-rate editing job; Victoria Meredith for enthusiasm, deftness with commas, and demanding I make a better job of the end; Matt Edwards for beta-reading so quickly (considering I owed him a reciprocal read!) and then helping me break the deadlock on chapter 4; and Kay Oulds, who provided feedback, encouragement and demands for the next installment.

Many thanks to the Psi Phi DS9 community, particularly Lord Garth and KRAD, who patiently supplied advice on stardates and continuity information.

It would be impossible for someone as slapdash about detail as I am to be able to write a DS9 story without constant reference to Tracy Hemenover's magnificent DS9 Encyclopedia and Lexicon. Timeframes, plot synopses, details of Cardassian society and culture - it's all there.

 

Background

The seeds of this story lie in Gitta Sereny's remarkable biography Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth. Speer, originally Hitler's architect, went on to become Minister of Armaments and War Production and, by 1942, was the second most powerful man in the Reich. A man of perception and intelligence who also apparently lacked anything beyond a rudimentary capability for moral judgement, he denied ever being aware of what was happening to the Jews; his articulate - and much disputed - contrition at Nuremberg saved him from the hangman. Sereny, one of the most outstanding journalists of this century, chronicles his life with insight, courage and unflinching integrity, and untangles the 'Great Lie' of Speer's life. I would urge people to read this important book, in which Sereny demonstrates not only her skill as a journalist, but also that she is an historian of awe-inspiring talent.

The New Zealand place names are, I hope, accurate. 'Onekaka' is a Maori word meaning red-hot or burning sand. There is a prison at Rangipo, south of Lake Taupo (pronounced 'toe-paw'). The volcanoes are there in Tongariro National Park; the whole area is one of intense volcanic activity, with mud pools, bright blue lakes, geysers, and a strong smell of sulphur (is it any wonder this is where they filmed Mordor?). George Bernard Shaw, visiting Rotorua, just north of Taupo, famously quipped that the area 'reminds me too vividly of the fate theologians have promised me'.

Hope you liked it.

Written March 2000 - January 2001