Especially the Lies
It takes days to corner her properly.
She's aware of my fascination, I'm quite certain. She doesn't like it. In fact, she has sidestepped two separate attempts to maneuver her into private conversation. She would be wise to realize how useful I could be to her. I believe she does. If there is a spark of truth behind her infamous reputation, she is probably waiting to approach me on her own terms.
Unfortunately for her, avoiding me is not a thing so easily done, even among hundreds. Especially among hundreds. Eventually, I pin you. When I do, you will squirm under my lens all the more uncomfortably for making me work for it.
She will squirm with grace, I believe. Rarely have I encountered any creature so fascinated with truths and yet so dependent upon lies. Such a specimen is a rare find indeed. I don't intend to let the opportunity to engage her slip through my fingers. The elusive bottles of kanar I had to part with to arrange a seat directly across from her tonight will be sorely missed. There is nothing like the bite of a decent kanar after a hard day's work to remind you of your roots. After the Dominion War, it's scarcer than my people are.
I do hope she proves worth it.
I'm civilized enough to wait for her to force down a few bites of the banquet food which she so valiantly pretends to enjoy, but that courtesy is more selfish than not. She has eaten nothing today. Considering the heavy work in a climate warmer than she is used to, sustenance is something her human body must need. Calling my restraint kindness would be overly generous. After years of suffering cold and bright light living among her kind, empathy does not extend itself so easily. Her circumstances add to my interest, perhaps, but little more.
However, I do prefer a half aware opponent.
Bite five is an excellent marker. Clearing my throat would warn her prematurely, allow her to swallow too swiftly, so I dispense with it. "I must say, I admire your dedication to those almighty Federation principles."
The low lighting in the half-finished meeting hall obscures the falsity of her politeness. "I'm sorry?" she pretends to mishear.
It amuses me. The ridges around my eyes stretch approvingly. "My dear admiral," I croon softly across our shared section of table, "if there is one thing I know, it's how to read people. And you are a person who would much rather be anywhere other than here. I can only hazard the guess that it's your love of Starfleet ideals that keeps you here in spite of that distaste for your surroundings."
"On the contrary," she denies immediately. Politely and firmly. "The rebuilding of Cardassia Prime is a humanitarian cause I'm happy to lend a hand to. Your delegation has been welcoming. You've made us feel quite at home here."
The latter may even be half true.
Leaning in serves several purposes, not least of which is to allow me to lower my voice to a most conspiratorial volume. "Like a true diplomat, your lips can be seen forming the words. On the surface, you even appear to mean them. Bravo, Admiral. And yet, for some reason, the sentiment somehow rings…hollow."
The smile is forced, the slant of her blue, ridgeless eyes one degree cooler. "I have nothing against your people, if that's what you're implying."
"A sweet lie," I permit. "One kindly meant, I'm sure. Yet a lie it is, nonetheless."
"You seem unduly convinced of that." She eyes me closely, an intensity in her scrutiny that strikes a familiar chord. "Have I given you some cause to feel this way?"
A server approaches our position, an intrusion which could not have been more ill-timed. He's one of Enok's boys: a gangly little nobody lacking the discernment to conceal his contempt for serving a human woman as though she were visiting royalty. She pretends not to notice, politely takes one small slice from the tray of steaming meats her own people replicated, and I send an acidic smile several places down the long table to Enok, whose beady eyes are upon us. His warning glower insults me.
As if I'd do anything to make our illustrious guest uncomfortable. Really, what does he take me for?
For dear Enok, I have only the warmest of regards. It isn't my fault that something as polite as smiling incenses him further. Even so, waiting for the boy to leave is an exercise in patience. Enok clearly instructed him to be as obtrusive as Cardassianly possible.
Finally, he moves on, and my inquisition can continue.
"In answer to your question, Admiral, of course not. You're far too accomplished a diplomat to give any indication of your discomfort among us. At least to the untrained eye." She regards me warily now, pretending to pick at her food and I smile another smile entirely. "Perhaps it's your personal history that makes me sensitive to what you cannot entirely hide."
The small lines a full life has put into her fascinatingly pale face tighten almost imperceptibly. She certainly stiffens in her seat. "If you're implying that the members of my former crew have anything do with–"
"Oh no, Admiral." My hand touches my chest, testifies to my sincerity. "That's what they think. I meant nothing so insultingly obtuse, I assure you."
Another shift. Another swift appraisal, this one deeper, and she melts back into her overly large chair. "Of course not," she finally drawls with less focused disdain than I'd intended to elicit.
It catches my attention.
There is something more behind her resentment than there should be at my preliminary needling: some intangible element I hadn't expected. Her pursed lips chide me silently, but the slight frown as she studies me is more than annoyance. I'm forced to search my memory of human expression extensively to find some comparable image, some analogous response.
Hmm. Perhaps I remind her of someone else. Perhaps unconsciously?
With practiced patience, she asks almost evenly, "And just what exactly did you mean, Ambassador?"
I'm not one. She would know it. The position I bought myself – now that my most prominent enemies have met their grisly ends at the hands of the Founders – was only high enough to rank attaché, and my pinnings tell her this. The deliberate promotion, albeit in that grave warning tone, is an invitation to circumvent the malice she begins to sense in my intent.
"Duty alone keeps you here."
"What gives you that impression?"
"For one thing, you've done all you can to avoid deep conversation with our delegates. Either you're well aware that none of them has any intention of conveying meaningful information for you to take back to Starfleet Headquarters, or you simply don't like them. Which is it, I wonder?"
Her laugh is self-deprecating and superior all at once: two qualities I admire when properly channeled. I do admit she has done so now as she claims, "I'm afraid that's exhaustion, not reluctance. It's been a while since I've been given anything remotely physical to do."
And I'm suddenly reminded why Starfleet had stopped just short at boring the life out of me. They circle endlessly, with so much less skill than they proudly attribute to themselves. Every point of conversation worth having with any of them has to be drawn out with rajitak pincers. To pry into the deepest workings and weaknesses of her mind, they'll certainly be needed, I can see.
Fortunately, mine are always kept sharp and in good working order. A good tailor is never without properly maintained tools, after all.
That she tries at all does hearten me, I'll admit. At least she's astute enough to realize that engaging me might have benefit to her in the long run. It won't, but it could, in some alternate universe of mes. As hard as she's tried to avoid me, I'd begun to despair of her ability to recognize useful persons entirely.
"A plausible excuse. And yet I believe I sense a deeper causality behind your lack of enthusiasm." Pretending to think about the words I've so painstakingly rehearsed is a natural talent. "Something…intensely personal in that aggression you're striving so hard to keep reigned in this very moment."
"If there's any aggression being reigned in, at this point it's situational, not racial," she returns archly, tearing apart her small slice of bread with her fingers.
I smile behind a prong of hasperat, the Bajoran dish many of us have developed a taste for – and a cheap one, most importantly. "Ah, then it's only me you find unpleasant. Is that it?" The thought delights me. Anger will rip so many unintentional morsels from those angry red lips.
The wine swirls choppily in her glass before she sips deeply from it – a cheap tactic I allow her, since she has so few at her disposal, considering her surroundings. I watch her swallow, the muscles in her white throat moving rhythmically, and I do confess it's a more hypnotic sight than I'd anticipated.
"I didn't say that," the ingrained diplomat in her rises to deny.
My eyes track back up to her face. In this lighting, her eyes are not the clear blue I thought I'd observed earlier. They're more a murky grey, studying me almost like a predator I see now as I note, "But you haven't corrected my saying it."
She still doesn't. Those thin, stained lips purse almost disdainfully. Perhaps the diplomat is not strong enough to still the independent streak the Delta Quadrant has honed in her.
I chuckle appreciatively. "Is it possible then that I remind you of someone, Admiral?" She almost chokes on the second sip of wine but controls herself at the last moment. "Judging from the intensity of your reaction, I'd say someone you've tried very hard to forget?"
I could hazard several guesses as to whom it might be. I might do so aloud and watch the betraying emotion play across those bare Terran features. I might watch her lose composure right here at the banquet table, for all to see.
And yet that would end the dance far too soon.
She did make me wait to pin her, after all.
The information she must know that I and I alone may impart to her isn't enough to keep her in the hot seat, it seems. Not yet. I allow her to pretend Enok's constant strivings to secure her attention have just become noticeable. That will not serve her in her attempt to avoid me. As a gesture of goodwill, all security details were left outside the hall – Starfleet and Cardassian both. The only people she knows in this hall are those two of lesser rank in her own delegation. They are not great personal friends of hers, I have noticed. Mere colleagues. She is isolated here.
In some respects, it's probably that which draws me to her as much as the lies. Her exile may be temporary but it is no less acutely felt. It's something I understand, and I already know what her next moves will be. Essentially alone in a small space with strangers she does not care for, charged with a mission that was based on an ignorant and faulty premise to begin with, eventually she will seek solitude in an effort to recharge. To reconcile duty with superior knowledge of circumstance.
I doubt I will have to wait and watch for that moment for very long.