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What You Can't Save, What You Can't Bury

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His target is Elia Prin, a second-year film and literature student in the Verkoun Women’s College at the Central University. The Prins themselves appear to be a perfectly ordinary family, grain farmers from the Hazak Region. Tavor Prin, father, Elta Prin, mother and five (five!) younger brothers, including (revoltingly) a roly-poly baby Skrain. Upon his birth, the good Mrs. Prin had been awarded the Moon of the Mother for her outstanding work producing new Cardassian citizens.

Order intelligence has it that Elia is a contact point for dissident recruitment at Verkoun, and a highly successful one.

As soon as Garak lays eyes on her, he can understand why. She glistens with charisma.

Bronok is the groundskeeper hired by college at the start of the term, an elderly deaf-mute from a lower caste. Kindly, crooked, missing no small number of teeth and some scales, perhaps a little touched in the head.

Most afternoons, Elia and her classmates spread themselves out on the University grounds, pretending to study, basking in the sun. A whole flock of laughing girls in gauzy dresses, sprawling out on top of one another, shoving each other in jest, fiddling with each other’s hair. They drink government-issue kanar in opaque sweetfizz bottles. Garak can smell it from the other side of the yard. It’s swill. Groundskeeper Bronok could just as easily use it to take the tarnish off the statue in the courtyard nearby of Wisdom, and her many wings.

Elia always waves him an enthusiastic hello, recognizing a fellow manual laborer in a sea of privileged city folk. He bows deferentially in return, head tucked tight against his shoulders.

On Loyalty Day, Elia dresses in blood green with everybody else. It's unusually stunning against her exotic, ash-violet coloring. She even goes through the extra trouble of weaving white ribbons into her dark hair. She’s exactly the kind of young woman who could smile bravely at passengers on the transit from a video poster. A long-necked young glinn at her side, a spear in his hand, a bundle of grain in hers. "COURAGE, CARDASSIA: The Union of Our Mother Land And Father State Brings Victory.” The facade is commendable, suspicious only in the unnatural degree of its perfection.

A worn hound-hide satchel flapping awkwardly against her side, she scampers over to him with a trio of powdery, citrus-flavored Loyalty Day cakes and an easy smile. She signs, haltingly.

Hello ! These for you. Thank you for service to our campus and keeping it beautiful and clean!

Elia presses the cakes into his outstretched hands, her kind, round face searching his with honest concern for whether or not he’ll like them.

Come on! Elim Garak seethes. Figure it out! A clever thing like you? Haven’t any of your comrades taught you yet how not to trust?  

With no little difficulty, Groundskeeper Bronok takes a bite of cake, and grins through his broken teeth. He cuts Elia a white bloom from the flowery vine creeping around one of Wisdom’s wings, and tucks it in her braided hair.

They spend the rest of the summer term like this, Elia waving, Bronok bowing, Elia taking note of how his flesh hangs around his bones and passing him what soft foods she can from the dining hall. One late afternoon, sunset glaring off the columns, she finds him and asks in increasingly-confident sign if she can practice her final film presentation on him while he trims the hedges. Poor old Bronok nods, and goes back to his work, and hears nothing, understands nothing, and delights solely in her company.

Elim Garak, on their other hand, makes a mental note to revisit The Tilting of the Moons for its color symbolism once he (once he comes out of deep cover, once the mission is complete). He had never thought to notice it before.

In the groundskeeper’s quarters, tucked under one of the old lecture halls, he monitors Elia’s subspace communications. Her mother writes long letters full of love for her and the boys, full of worries about too much sunshine or not enough, too much rain or not enough, about the fear of blight, about all the beautiful things they are all sure Elia is going to accomplish for herself in the big city, about how very, very proud of her they all are.

Elia lives alone, in a neat one-room apartment on the fifth floor of an old tenement house popular with university students in the city. On the night Garak is to kill her, she, dear child, has left the window open to the summer night’s air.

By the time Elia stumbles down the stairs and through her door, still humming a popular love song, tottering a little in her tall shoes, it is nearly dawn. Garak is waiting for her between the replicator and her single yellow chair.

“Groundskeeper,” she says, her voice tinted only faintly with surprise. “You’ve come to kill me.”

“Yes, child,” Garak replies. “I’m afraid I have.”

She blinks once, deliberately, as though adjusting her eyes to a blinding light. “I expected to be arrested.” A shaky laugh. “Execution, not assasination.”

“You’re a very popular girl,” Garak says. "There were concerns of creating another martyr.”

Elia nods. “Like Professor Evek last year.”

“Yes.” Order intelligence had it that his execution had sparked a threefold increase in dissident recruitment. A student uprising in one of the outer colonies had left 37 dead. It wasn’t on any of the official news outlets, naturally. But word of things like that had a way of getting around.

Elia’s soft violet face has gone nearly white. "I’ve prayed for you,” she says. “For the person who would kill me. I prayed against the damage that would be done to your soul.”

This startles him. Elia’s file made no mention of religion. Order intelligence had it that her radicalization had occurred independently, that the family had no knowledge of her subversive activity. A religious motivation indicated otherwise. Garak thinks of the Moon pinned to the collar of Elta’s dress, the boys playing in endless waves of silver grain, baby Skrain trying to fit his fist in his mouth. Their records would have to be updated.

The night breeze through the window causes Elia’s dress to flutter again around her knees. Garak’s inner eye, unwelcome, takes him back to her laughing with her friends at the start of the term, all of them in their summer dresses, she and another young woman clutching at each other's arms to keep from falling over.

“There’s no such thing as a soul,” he says. She should be dead already. He is furious with himself for hesitating. He loathes her, loathes her, for making him care enough to hesitate. “I’d expect an educated woman like yourself not to indulge in superstition.”

She smiles-- it’s a look he’s seen on her before, arguing with her favorite lecturers, with her friends. “Oh, you don’t believe that any more than I do. Why else would you ask for my forgiveness?”

It seems useless to deny it. Why else would he have stepped forward, when he should have grabbed her from behind in the dark? It’s a shameful dereliction of duty, this weakness, treachery, even, this lack of faith in the wisdom of the State. The catechism he learned at Mila’s feet rattles around in his head, treasonously hollow: “A single body does no crime to trim its own hair or claws.”

But the only other person who knows of his transgression will be dead within five minutes. It seems harmless enough to confess.

“Well,”  Elia says. She squares her jaw. Her voice is trembling with fear, her round face shining with tears. (An entirely different strain of guilt, like a kick in the stomach -- it would have been kinder not to reveal himself. There was no need for her to suffer.) “I do,” she insists, and she seems to draw courage from it. “I do forgive you.”

She steps towards him, and her knees nearly buckle. Elia Prin takes Elim Garak’s surgically weathered face in her hands, and it’s agony, his knees twisted together against the closet walls, the apathetic tilt of Tain’s back, the fifth hour of waiting alone in the dark, and she kisses him, lips soft against his forehead, the dwelling place, as some of the old ways would have it, of his soul, and he presses the hypo against her neck.

There are some small mercies in this world. She doesn’t feel a thing.

It will look like a suicide.

Garak left the hypo at the scene, curled up in her fingers, still warm from the afternoon sun. He has fabricated entries in her diary, and they will sound like her even to her family; he has studied her syntax for weeks. The media will be instructed to report on it along with a series of several similar incidents. The rest will all be genuine, student suicide at the Central University being so routine as to not ordinarily merit mention in the news. This week’s cycle will be different. Who can say why?

The university president will issue an address. Three student newspapers across Cardassia, including the Central University’s satirical Vole , will run opinion pieces arguing against the program’s punishing workload. A senseless burden on Cardassia’s young people that results in the shameful waste of some of Her brightest young minds, they’ll argue. Garak wrote that line himself.

With any luck, even her little comrades will argue about it. Whispering amongst themselves between classes, casting their eyes around the grand stone halls of the University in doubt. With any luck, the death of Elia Prin will seed chaos amongst them, disunity as well as fear.

Garak cannot sleep, afterwards, not even with the aid of the little capsules from the infirmary. Food settles in his mouth like ash. During his debriefing, Tain smiles, and touches his hand, and even this, delight of all delights, runs through him like a sickly chill.

His records of the incident make no mention of religion. Along with the families of rest of the suicides, the surviving Prins are gifted a small settlement from the Educational Ministry, and left alone with their grief.

Elia’s kiss is still white-hot against his forehead. He is surprised, when he looks into the mirror, not to see a scar.