“Ah, the Romulan Black Chilopoda,” Garak said, leaning towards the tank to smile at the iridescent coil of legs inside. A glint, and the centipede skittered down a hole in the soil and out of sight. “Quite common, actually. You’ll find them crawling all over the place.
Bashir very pointedly kept his attention on the information scrolling through his tricorder. “An expert on Romulan Entomology now, are we?”
“More of an enthusiast, really,” Garak said. “That is why I’m down here after all. Apparently Starfleet’s knowledge on Romulan fauna is a bit lacking. Lucky for you, I’m here.”
“Yes, lucky us.”
“Resilient insects you’ve got back on DS9. A nasty infestation. It’s a shame you couldn’t stop the infected ship before she left. I don’t think its circuitry will last until the next star system.” Garak straightened up to watch Bashir over the top of the insect’s tank. His eyes tracked Bashir as he went from enclosure to enclosure of the insect museum, scanning each specimen, a slight knit in his brow as he read the results off the tricorder before moving onto the next one. All the while, he kept his back to Garak. But Garak was nothing if not patient.
“Of course, they’re fairly harmless compared to some of the other insects here,” Garak said. And, in a moment of weakness, Bashir’s eyes flashed up to his, and that was all Garak needed. Like a predator, he flashed even more teeth in his smile and descended upon Bashir and the insect he was scanning now.
“Oh, a species of hornet. They’re colored almost identically to a similar species. Though this one is special.” Bashir only watched from the corner of his eye, a facade of disinterest, as Garak leaned forward as if to share a secret. “I’ve used it many times in my career.”
“Because its sting is paraplegic,” Bashir supplied all too quickly.
“Because they’re great pollinators. They do wonders in a garden. Really now, Doctor, where did you get an answer like that?”
Bashir rolled his eyes, caught in the line of fire of one of Garak’s familiar, self-satisfied smiles. “I read it on the exhibit’s plague,” he said, leaving Garak behind to scan the next insect. But it wasn’t long before his second shadow followed him there too.
“Vulcan sand ants. This one was an invasive species on Romulus, I’m afraid.”
“Is that so?”
Garak hummed. “Quite devastating for the local bee populations. Even worse for the Romulans, though.”
Bashir tapped his foot, giving one last effort to the tantalizing silence Garak left dangling before giving in.
“Infestations?” he ventured.
Garak shook his head.
“Structural damage to their homes?”
Another solemn head shake.
“Deadly allergic reactions to their bite?”
And with the reappearance of that smile Bashir knew he’d been caught again.
“No, no. Nothing like that, Doctor. But the bees are vital to growing a certain Romulan fruit. No other insect pollinates it. There were quite a lot of upset Romulans when that fruit started disappearing.”
By the time Bashir reached the next tank, he simply looked up from his tricorder, eyebrow raised. “Well?”
“Just a harmless butterfly species, I’m afraid. They loved the lavender species on Romulus.”
This time Bashir met Garak’s pleasant, smiling face with narrowed eyes.
“So what was cover story this time? You were a gardener?”
“Very good, Doctor.” Garak’s face lit up approvingly, and he leaned in conspiratorially.
“Though, not a cover story. It’s the truth.”
Bashir smirked back. “And I suppose the fact that all the insects you pointed out to me actually are fatal to Romulans is just a coincidence.”
“Why, Doctor, I have no idea what you’re implying.”
“Of course not,” Bashir said, drawing their familiar game to a close, a smile on his face like he was one step closer to winning it. “You’re a man of many interesting hobbies. Now, do you actually know which one of these insects has the pheromone we need to drive out the infestation?”
“Of course. The bug you’re looking for is the Romulan Black Chilopoda,” Garak said, hands folded behind his back, and an innocent arch to his lips. “But you’ll want to be quite careful handling that one.”
“Let me guess. It’s another garden pest and will eat my tomatoes?”
“Oh no, this one is highly venomous.”