by Henrietta Wotton
The Cardassian who called himself Geron Tangar gratefully left the swirling dust of Caspia behind him as he entered the airlock of his dormitory. He stripped off his protective suit, gloves, and shoes and tossed them into the recycler. Then he placed his goggles and filter mask on the shelf with the others. He was pleased to see that both sonic showers were unoccupied. Quite the expert now in suctioning every speck of dust out of his hair, his scales and every bodily orifice and crevice, he cleaned himself rapidly. Reflexively shaking himself like an animal emerging from the water, he walked through the opposite airlock and into the changing room. Plucking his faded tunic and trousers from their hooks, he inserted his mouthpiece into the water dispenser and took three swallows. The display cautioned him that he only had a half liter ration remaining. He frowned. That wasn't much "casual hydration" to last the day and a half until the ration chips were renewed. Not on dry, dusty Caspia. He'd have to find out who was nursing a surplus and charm them into sharing. He was very good at charm.
He slipped into his clothes and padded down to his cubicle in order to catch a couple of hours sleep before the communal meal. When he entered, he found that his cot was occupied. It was Faba, lying face down, apparently naked, the sheet covering her only from the waist down. This was odd. It was true that she had still been asleep when he left before dawn for his shift harvesting the Bolian barley crop. But her own shift began three hours later, and she always went back to her dormitory to eat and dress for the day's labors.
He spoke her name softly, but she didn't stir. Regarding her more closely, he noticed that her skin was a rosy pink, not the sallow dust-grey that made the Bajorans in this farming commune almost indistinguishable in complexion from their Cardassian friends. He also saw that her hair was damp and curling at the neckline. Perhaps she awoke feverish and decided not to work her shift. Gently he put his palm on her bare back, but it wasn't warm. If anything, the skin was colder than normal, and clammy. His touch did nothing to rouse her, and worry overtook curiosity. He lifted her, turned her onto her back, and then he saw the truth, the blue around her lips, the fixed stare in her brown eyes. He shook her violently, even though he knew it could do nothing to bring her back to life. "Faba, Faba!" he wailed.
Then he heard footsteps and looked up to see several of his dormitory mates staring at him with horrified expressions. "I'll soon be as dead as she is," he realized.
Colonel Kira Nerys had barely entered Ops before Lieutenant Baj Narela cornered her. "Isn't it horrible about what happened on Caspia?" she said breathlessly. Her face was flushed, and her eyes showed the combined ravages of tears and little sleep.
"It is," Kira nodded. "All those who've believed that a true Cardassian-Bajoran community could never survive are going to be demanding we evacuate our citizens. The Council of Ministers is in close communication with our embassy on Cardassia Prime, and the Cardassian ambassador here has promised to keep them fully informed of the progress of the investigation. First Minister Shakaar assures me they won't act hastily." The look on the woman's face told Kira that it wasn't the political ramifications which had so upset her. Of course, Nerys, you idiot! She has family there. "I know you must be terribly worried about your sister's safety, Lt. Baj," she added, "but everything is being done to protect the colonists."
"A little late for Faba," Baj replied. "I spent a lot of time with her the last time I visited Salu. She was so beautiful. I've never known a girl with so much spirit and energy. And to think of the meals the three of us shared with that awful Cardassian Tangar, the one that they say has killed her." The lieutenant picked up a photo from her workstation. "There we all are, outside Salu's dormitory. That's Faba," she said, pointing to a smiling young Bajoran.
Kira knew what Faba looked like. Her image had been transmitted to the Bajoran authorities along with the notice of her murder. Nevertheless, Kira's eyes remained fixed on the picture, scanning the sharp features of the Cardassian who had his arm around Faba's shoulder. "This man here," she jabbed at the photograph with her finger, "this is Tangar, the murder suspect?"
"Yes, that's what Salu told me on the comm last night. I can hardly believe it. He was so charming," Baj said.
"Oh, he's charming all right. And I can't believe it either. I'm sure as hell going to get to the bottom of this." Kira's expression was grim, her jaw muscles taut. Ignoring Baj's befuddled expression, she spoke into the comm. "Nog, get a shuttle ready. I'm taking a trip to Caspia."
"Thank you for coming, Councillor Garak," Inspector Dapok said as he ushered him into his office. "You can be assured that I have treated this matter with the utmost discretion. I've not filed any official reports on the incident, no not a word, once Mr. Tangar. mentioned your name."
Garak had no idea what the incident could be; Dapok's discretion was such that he had not risked going into specifics over the comm link. But if "Tangar" had told the authorities to contact him, then it was sure to be an extremely dangerous and delicate situation. He had to tread carefully, not give in to his impatience-and to the dread that he made a terrible mistake in exiling the man here to Caspia three years before. "Did Tangar tell you why it was necessary for you to consult me?" he asked in as neutral a tone as he could muster.
The inspector regarded him with surprise, nervously pulling at the neckline of his ridiculous uniform. Caspia was under Cardassian sovereignty, but the Cardassian and Bajoran colonists who worked the agricultural commune had insisted on becoming a law unto themselves, operating under a charter worked out by all the founding members of the colony and freely adopted and assented to by any new arrivals. They had their own residents' council, their own treasury, and their own police force, whose members wore shapeless olive drab fatigues bearing the insignia of the colony, three sheaves of grain in varying shades of yellow-gold, surrounded by the letters CAC in both Kardasi and Bajoran. The outfit gave the man about as much authority as a sanitation engineer at Central Waste Extraction. Garak acknowledged that the extreme state-centrism of the Cardassia in which he had grown to power required modification, but these ultra-democrats had gone quite ridiculously to the opposite extreme.
"Needless to say he didn't exactly ask me to contact you," Dapok hastily replied. "When I brought him in for questioning, and it turned out he had no identity chip or any other way to prove who he was-well I was very concerned how he could have been allowed to settle here. He just smiled and said, 'You'll have to take that up with Garak.' So then I realized this is probably some top secret operation he's involved in and I should bring you in to assess the situation."
"Why would you think I would be involved in any 'top secret' dealings with this man?" Garak asked with carefully calculated bafflement.
The inspector cocked his head and chuckled. "I'm not one of our fresh-faced youngsters, councillor. I'm quite old enough to remember the name of Elim Garak, and what it stood for. Besides, I was deputy to Ashky Rhamdar for ten years."
Rhamdar had headed the Agricultural Ministry, charged with eradicating unsafe food-processing practices and confiscating diseased animals and dangerous plants. Some of the latter had proved quite useful to an Obsidian Order assassin looking to make unnatural deaths appear natural. "It was my understanding that Minister Rhamdar kept our transactions confidential," Garak said evenly.
"He didn't tell me much, but it was enough. I'm assuming that Caspia is not without potential in that regard, thus the mysterious presence of Mr. Tangar?"
Garak studied the man. It seemed safe to let him continue in his assumption that Garak had single-handedly resurrected the Order. "Since you earned Rhamdar's trust, Inspector Dapok, you may have mine," he said with a slight conspiratorial air. "Tangar is not here on assignment, but for his own protection. He was a valuable operative in Damar's campaign to overthrow the Dominion yoke. He occupied a very high position in the puppet regime, and did much to undermine it from within,. However, to avoid exposure and retain the trust of the Dominion, he had to authorize a number of atrocities against the Cardassian people. After the holocaust, it was not assured that evidence of his rebel allegiance would be believed, or even if believed, would spare him execution for war crimes. So I assisted him in faking his death and helped him find safety here on Caspia."
Not a bad story, all in all. Except for some crucial omissions, almost the truth. Through his arrogant blundering Gul Dukat had helped to undermine the Dominion. The inspector seemed to swallow it readily enough. "Are you telling me that I should conceal his involvement in this crime, then?" Dapok asked.
So, it was a crime. Garak needed the facts of the case immediately. "Not at all. Men who enter this line of work aren't the most scrupulous sort," he said. "I must advise you that disclosure of his true identity, which must come if he is convicted of this offense, will mean his death. Has his conduct warranted such a penalty?"
"The murder of a young woman? And a Bajoran at that? I should certainly think so, Councillor Garak."
This was even worse than Garak had imagined. Dukat and his women! The man was a perfect fool about them. To the incredulous inspector, however, Garak was all composure. "I believe you have forgotten that you have not yet informed me of the nature of the crime. Top secret, and so forth."
Dapok flushed. "What a bumbler I am. It's just that we're ill prepared to investigate a murder. The Caspians wouldn't have anyone from Cardassian State Security-too many bad memories left over from the Occupation of Bajor. So we have three other agricultural inspectors like me, obvious choices for a farming commune I suppose. Then there are two regulators from the Controlled Substances division-most of the infractions we see here come under their area of expertise. And finally there's Morain, from the Ministry of Architecture-he used to go around assuring office buildings were up to code" He made a gesture of helplessness. "I've called in a criminal forensics team from Prime, but they won't be here for several more hours."
"Murder is perhaps more in my line, than yours, Inspector," Garak said. "Why don't you tell me what you know so far."
"The woman, Faba Eres, and Tangar were having an intimate relationship--he doesn't deny that. She had shared his bed that night. He claims that when he left, she was alive, but still sleeping, and when he returned from his shift six hours later, he found her still in his bed, but dead. The problem is, no one ever saw her leave, and he was the last of his dormitory mates to go to work. The station where tools and protective gear are issued is right outside the only exit from the dormitory. All the residents picked up their equipment and checked in at the fields on schedule. No one accessed the airlock to the dormitory during the shift. So we're working on the hypothesis that they had some sort of lovers' quarrel, and he either killed her right before he left or when he returned. The commune doctor is a bit puzzled about the time of death, so we'll wait for the experts."
"Has she any idea as to the cause?"
"Her initial finding is suffocation, but Faba also had first degree burns over her entire body, as if she had been lying in the sun with no clothing on. That doesn't square at all with the other facts in the case."
Garak rose from his chair. "Inspector Dapok, I'm officially taking charge of this investigation, on behalf of the Ruling Council. The forensics team will report directly to me, and no one will be allowed to meet or question the prisoner without my direct authorization."
"Whatever you say, Councillor," Dapok replied, sounding decidedly relieved.
"I'll conduct a preliminary interrogation of Mr. Tangar. In the meantime, you should concentrate on seeing that as little as possible about this murder goes beyond the Caspia Agricultural Commune."
Dapok pulled at his collar again. "I did, of course, inform the Bajoran government about the death of their citizen on Cardassian soil. Was that a mistake?" he said.
"Not exactly a mistake," Garak replied, suppressing a sigh,"but definitely a complication."
There wasn't actually a jail for the colony. The few perpetrators of serious crimes would be immediately deported to Cardassia or Bajor. The rest would be assigned extra work duties and forgiven. Garak wondered how so many trusting fools could ever have been gathered in one place.
They were holding "Tangar" in the one place equipped with any decent force-field security, the isolation ward of the clinic. One of the nurses dropped the field to permit Garak to enter and then diplomatically retreated. The prisoner was seated cross-legged on his cot, barefoot, in an attitude of meditation. He was wearing the same tunic and trousers in which Garak had sent him into exile, although their color had faded almost to white from repeated washings. If it hadn't been for the clothes, Garak wasn't sure he would have recognized him. He'd let his hair grow long, as long as Commander Worf's had been. It flowed freely down his back. And he was sporting a mustache and goatee, an eerie echo of his nemesis Sisko's. He didn't acknowledge Garak's entrance. Garak stood observing him silently. He wasn't about to make the first move.
Finally Dukat's eyes darted right, and without moving he said, "I see Dapok got my message. I don't think the authorities will entrust my execution to you this time, Garak. At least I'll die knowing I've made the citizens of Cardassia aware that their respected councillor hasn't abandoned his duplicitous Obsidian Order roots. I'll have the satisfaction of bringing you down with me."
Garak walked over to a chair opposite the bed and sat down. "You can hardly think I wouldn't take precautions against your revealing my little deception in order to take revenge, even at the cost of your own life. Suicide comes easy to exiles, particularly suicide that entails collateral damage to enemies. I assure you that my position will not suffer, should your true identity be revealed."
Dukat studied his old adversary. "You're bluffing," he said.
"Think what you like. It doesn't affect the current situation," Garak said. "Or do you harbor some hope that I can hush this all up before the forensics team send off your DNA to Prime? that I'd do it to save my own skin?"
"Not a far-fetched scenario. More believable than most of the tales you spin, Garak."
"Did you kill that girl?"
"Irrelevant question, isn't it." Dukat got up and filled a small cup with water. "I've already been condemned to death for the crime of -" He took a few sips. "-for the crime of being Gul Dukat, Cardassian patriot. An hereditary offense in the eyes of Enabran Tain and his pet razorcat."
Garak sprang up like the animal in question and put both his hands around Dukat's neck. "If you are innocent of this murder, I can protect you. If you are guilty, I'll not hesitate to kill you with these bare hands. Dapok believes you're part of some deep covert ops conspiracy and he's more than happy to entrust the investigation and disposition of this case to me-and to let me control the flow of information." He pushed Dukat down into the chair he had just vacated. "Now, I'm going to ask you some questions, and you will answer them truthfully."
"Where's your thug Lonor and his shock rod? Where are your drugs and instruments, agent Garak? It's going to be a tough interrogation without them," Dukat said mockingly.
Garak fixed him with the stare that had broken Dr. Parmak and dozens like him. "I don't need any of that to get the truth out of a prisoner. I never did." Dukat looked away and had no reply.
Garak started to circle Dukat's chair, eyes fixed on him, treating the man as his prey. "Now, once again, did you kill Faba Eres-yes or no?"
"No," snarled Dukat. It was more an act of defiance than a profession of innocence.
"She left the communal dining hall with you at 1900 hours and was seen by no-one until you were discovered holding her corpse at 1200 hours the next day. How much of that time was she with you?"
"We took a walk through the greenhouses and returned to my cubicle. We made love. Several times. We slept. I left for my shift at 540. She was still sleeping, but I kissed her good-bye and she shifted her position. Between then and my return she either went somewhere and was killed, or someone came into the dormitory and killed her. Unless it was a sudden illness, or poison administered with her meal. You'd know more about such things than I would."
Garak continued firing questions. "How long had your relationship been going on?"
"We had been friends almost since the day she arrived, last planting season. We'd been lovers for four planetary rotations."
"Was this relationship exclusive?"
Dukat laughed. "You've not done your homework about the way we live on Caspia, have you?"
"I know your reputation for fidelity quite well," Garak snorted.
Dukat ignored him. "Caspia is communal in every sense. We share everything. If people want to make love, they make love. No one owns the other. I also shared my bed with two Cardassian women and another Bajoran during the time that Faba and I were intimate. I think she was planning to sleep with every Cardassian male in the commune. I don't know how far she had gotten."
"And that made you jealous?" Garak said, noting that Faba did not have any Bajoran lovers, if Dukat could be believed.
"Not at all. We gave each other pleasure and wished each other more with other partners. Jealousy is as obsolete on Caspia as the Obsidian Order."
"Then perhaps she had realized your true identity," Garak shot back. "That revelation would be enough to make you kill her while she shared your bed. Her life or yours."
"I would then leave her in my quarters, making me the prime suspect?" Dukat said, extending his leg to stop Garak's predatory circling.
"If she was there when she told you what she knew, you were safer not to try to dispose of the body. The fact that leaving her there would be extremely foolish could be turned into an exculpatory detail. As you have just pointed out."
"Not everyone's mind runs in such devious patterns as yours, Garak," Dukat replied.
Garak had to agree that Dukat was much more the type to act rashly than to hatch some convoluted plan. He had assumed that something happened overnight that caused Dukat to kill the girl in a fit of rage or necessity, leaving him with no plausible way to cover up the crime. Yet, in the unlikely event that Dukat was not guilty, some very devious mind was indeed at work. Garak sat down on the bed, opposite Dukat. "If you are not Faba's murderer, then the real target of this crime was you and not her," he said thoughtfully. "The murderer has taken a good deal of trouble and risk to frame you. You never had trouble attracting enemies, Dukat. Who here on Caspia wants you dead?"
"Only you, Garak," Dukat said wryly. "If you question the other workers, you'll realize that all the old hatreds between Cardassian and Bajoran, all the intrigues among Cardassians have no place here."
"Are you still deluding yourself about being universally loved? It's your life at stake. Think hard. Who here might have a motive for doing this."
Dukat leaned forward. "No one. I'm sure of it."
Garak shook his head. "I will question the other colonists. You'd better hope someone has noticed some hostility toward you that your own self-regard has blinded you to."
"They will all tell you what I have. We live and work as one here. I didn't think such a thing was possible when you condemned me to live here, but these past three years have shown me it is no illusion."
"That must be your Hebitian forebears talking," Garak said, brushing a finger over the other man's chin. "I had no idea that the great Dukat family's Kardasi blood wasn't entirely pure. What possessed you to let the beard grow?"
"I didn't have much choice. I had no more access to the hair suppressant inoculations, and a Cardassian asking for a razor would have given it away anyhow" Dukat said. "Besides, growing out my hair and beard put a stop to having to deflect comments about my strong resemblance to the late, unlamented traitor Dukat. Like you, no one could imagine any such genetic defilement in a family of our stature. It came in through my mother, passed down through her maternal line. She had only sisters and didn't realize the contamination herself, until I sprouted facial hair at the onset of puberty."
"All things Hebitian are quite the rage on Prime these days," Garak said. "Many see the destruction of our people as a judgment on the crimes of the Kardasi, and conversions to Hebitian spirituality are rampant."
"Nearly every Cardassian on Caspia worships in the Hebitian way. Because of my heritage I was chosen to lead the services," Dukat said. "You shouldn't mock our beliefs, Garak."
"I'm just waiting for the religious war to break out between the followers of the Hebitian path and the worshipers of the Prophets," Garak replied.
"On the contrary, Bajorans and Cardassians hold joint study meetings where we peruse our sacred texts. We're convinced that many centuries ago, Bajorans and Hebitians were one people, and their beliefs had a common source." Dukat rose, and placed both hands on Garak's shoulders. "You ought to spend a half year with us," he said earnestly. "It might cure you of all that bitterness and cynicism."
Garak angrily threw off his touch, got up, and put some distance between them. "Faba's murder has amply demonstrated that my bitterness and cynicism are well warranted., however much you regale me with sanctimonious platitudes." He turned and left, fuming at how much Dukat reveled in playing the unjustly accused martyr.
The morgue where the postmortem was taking place was at the opposite end of the colony's medical complex from the ward where Dukat was confined. As he walked through a maze of self-contained structures joined by connecting airlocks, Garak tried to think of another motive for the Bajoran woman's death unconnected to her, or someone else's, realization of Dukat's true identity. He did have a contingency plan to explain his failure to carry out the mandated execution, but he was frankly quite embarrassed at the prospect of anyone discovering that he had spared the life of his oldest enemy for any reason other than his own self-preservation. If he could somehow solve this case without bringing up the issue, his life would be far easier in the coming months.
He reached the morgue and entered the laboratory adjoined to it. In addition to the forensics technicians, the room was occupied by inspector Dapok-and Colonel Kira Nerys. She wasted no time on greetings. "Garak, is it him? How can he still be alive, when you shot him three years ago?" she said angrily. So much for his hopes of concealing Dukat's survival. What was she doing here? How much had she told the inspector of her suspicions? What had he told her in return? Hadn't he given Dapok strict orders to keep everyone away from the investigation?
He pushed his speculations aside. Bringing the inspector into line would have to wait. The pressing task was to confine the information spread as tightly as possible. "Colonel Kira, how delightful to see you, despite the sad occasion," he said. "The matter you speak of is a delicate one. You and I will find some quiet corner in which to discuss it, after we have a better idea of how this unfortunate young woman died."
"We are going to discuss it now," she replied. Her icy tone made her tense confrontations with Rosot sound like idle pleasantries.
"Inspector, could you kindly let us have some privacy?" Garak said. "Discretion is paramount."
"Of course." Dapok motioned the technicians back into the morgue. "I hope it's nothing I've done that has caused this disagreement between two such close friends," he said as he followed them through the door.
Kira's face was already flushed with anger, but now several other layers of crimson passed over it. "What did he mean by that remark?" she asked.
"I'm sure he was referring to our comradeship during the Cardassian uprising against the Dominion," he placated her.
She wasn't buying it. "I'm surprised at you, Garak. You've always maintained such mystery about your private life. How many people have you told about your successful experiment in seducing me?"
"No one, I assure you, my dear colonel!" he exclaimed, his righteous indignation for once wholly unfeigned. He judged from her expression that his absolute veracity in this regard was not going to convince her. This seemed to be an occasion when Dr. Bashir's homily about "crying wolf" had more validity than he had credited it with. Had Dukat been spreading the tale, despite the dangerous questions it might raise? He'd make sure to turn him over for execution if that were the case. Of course it was hardly feasible for him to try to return to the colonel's good graces by offering her the example of Dukat's enforced voyeurism as an alternate explanation. "It saddens me to hear that you consider our moments of intimacy some sort of 'experiment' on my part," he said instead.
"Whatever I consider it, it's something that should never have happened," she said. "Like Dukat living and breathing instead of rotting in the ground these three years. I've seen a picture of this Tangar they're holding. It is Dukat, isn't it?"
"Yes," Garak said. He'd considered trying to convince her otherwise, but the minute Kira and Dukat were in the same room together, she would know. And his long acquaintance with the colonel left him sure there was no way he could keep her from getting in to see the prisoner.
At least his candor had the value of throwing her off guard. She just stared at him for a full minute, waiting for a smooth evasion that never came. "That's it? Yes?" she eventually sputtered.
"You did ask me a yes or no question, I believe."
This made her smile a little, in spite of her anger. "Then let me follow it up with a how and why question."
"'How' is quite simple, colonel. Instead of killing Dukat after I'd had my fill of tormenting him, I smuggled him into permanent exile on this dust-covered rock. As for why-" Here Garak paused. He'd never really believed his deception could remain forever undiscovered. So he had many different answers to this question ready to hand. More versions even than explanations for his exile from Cardassia. Some of them were out and out fabrications, some the reasons he had given to Dukat, some the ones he'd used to convince himself to take the step in the first place. This far after the event, he had no idea whether any of them described his true motivation. He selected one that might strike the colonel as plausible. "I thought death was too easy an escape for him. An interminable exile in hell seemed the more fitting punishment."
"From what I've heard about Caspia, it's more like an arid version of Risa." Kira said. "You've put Dukat in a position to indulge the worst of his inclinations, and this tragedy is the result."
"He has apparently accumulated quite the adoring harem," Garak agreed, "but I'm not sure that he's killed anyone."
"He's killed millions, and he deserves to die, whatever the truth of this particular case. Are you going to ship him back to Cardassia Prime in restraints, or am I, Garak?"
Garak placed his fingertips together and tapped them against his lips. "Colonel, if Dukat is not guilty of this crime, and we simply make him the convenient scapegoat, we risk leaving a killer at large. I'll make a bargain with you. Help me investigate Miss Faba's death, and say nothing about Dukat's identity until we're sure we've apprehended the murderer. Once the Caspians know who he is, they won't be able to imagine anyone else as the killer. Other suspicions that might lead to the truth will be buried or forgotten. Once the case is resolved, I won't stop you from pursuing Dukat's extradition and execution."
"Why do I have the feeling that you're playing me, Garak?" Kira said.
"I have no idea, colonel. You simply must get over all your unfounded suspicions of me."
"They are about as unfounded as my suspicions that Bajor revolves around its sun. And I will see to it that Dukat doesn't escape justice again, whatever delaying tactics you try. For now, however," she inhaled sharply, "I won't say anything till we prove he's the killer."
"Such an open mind you bring to the investigation, my dear Kira," Garak smiled, "It will be like old times on Cardassia again. Now, let's find out what the physical evidence has to tell us."
"She died of suffocation all right," said Forensics Chief Kalya Topak. "But there's nothing to tell us what was used to block the airways. You see, the body was submerged in very hot water for a considerable time after her death. That's what caused the burns to the skin . It washed away all the trace evidence. The only thing we found were fibers from the bed and blanket where the body was lying, and DNA from this Tangar. He was holding the body when the others discovered them, so that doesn't necessarily prove anything."
"You're telling us that she was killed somewhere else, boiled, and then returned to the dormitory, despite the fact that no one ever saw her leave?" Garak asked, his tone making clear the unlikeliness of the scenario.
"She could have been killed there, taken to the water source and then returned, but it seems a lot of trouble and unnecessary risk."
"Where on a dried up moon like Caspia would the killer find a large enough body of water, and the privacy to do this terrible thing?" Kira interjected.
"That in itself is no problem, Colonel," Inspector Dapok said. "There are boiling mineral springs all over, just beneath the surface. We tap into them to irrigate the crops, although we've got to filter out the inert elements-and even the best filters can't make it drinkable. So we bring in the drinking water from Prime. But the springs are all well outside this habitat dome. Even if the killer washed the body clean in one of them, how could he carry the body back to the dormitory without its being covered with dust?"
"A sonic shower would remove the dust, but not DNA traces," Topak said. "If the killer is Tangar, why would he go to all this trouble to destroy the physical evidence only to take the body back to his bed and then put his hands all over it again?"
"It does seem far more likely that there is another killer who is attempting to frame Tangar," Garak said, casting a meaningful glance in Kira's direction. "Although he is going about it in a highly improbable way. Assuming for the moment that Tangar's account is accurate, the killer would have to have spirited her living out of the dormitory to the vicinity of one of the underground springs, killed and soaked her, and brought the body back to the dormitory, unobserved by anyone-- in the light of day and at the height of the community's labors."
"Or, Tangar took her out to the springs last night, killed her and brought her back while everyone slept-and putting the body in the water was a ruse to suggest that he might have been framed," Kira shot back. "Could Faba have died that early?"
"The submersion makes it more difficult to pinpoint the time of death-"
"Another reason for Tangar to have done it, to give himself an alibi," Kira noted triumphantly.
"Perhaps," Topak acknowledged. "I'd estimate that she died any time from two hours before Tangar checked in at his work detail to three hours before he was discovered with the body."
Dapok got up from his seat, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. "So after all your scientific investigations, you can't really get us any nearer the truth than we were before!"
Before Topak could answer, Garak said quietly, "We now know that the killer used a transporter. All these other reconstructions of the crime can't bear up to serious scrutiny."
"That was the first thing we thought of," Dapok protested. "There's only one transporter on Caspia, and its logs show no activity within the hours during which the murder might have been committed. There were no ships orbiting the colony within transporter range. It may be the logical explanation, but it's an impossible one."
"We shall see," Garak replied. So many of the assassinations he had carried out had been passed off as accidents because of just such limited imaginations as Dapok's. "Too often we conclude a thing to be impossible merely because we lack the wit to understand how it could be possible." He rose also. "Even knowing how won't necessarily tell us who. I'll need to question all the colonists, starting tomorrow morning."
"Before you go, there's one more thing," Topak said. "Faba was pregnant. The baby was Tangar's."
"It's all starting again. Just like the time he set himself up as the emissary to the pagh wraiths for those misguided Bajorans on Empok Nor," Kira said, shaking her head and keeping her voice low. She and Garak were eating dinner in a corner off to themselves in the communal dining hall, but she caught the colonists' furtive glances and imagined their ears straining to hear what the two representatives from the homeworlds had concluded about the killer in their midst. "His life is rolled back two years, he's put in radically different circumstances, and yet history repeats itself."
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that, Colonel," Garak cautioned, also sotto voce. "The Hebitian rites have nothing of the demonic about them, and judging from the number of bi-species infants in the nursery, there's no great fuss made here if a Cardassian and a Bajoran produce a baby."
"Look, Garak, I can understand how you might feel responsible for what Dukat has done, and so need to believe him innocent, but please spare me your rationalizations," she said.
"I am not offering rationalizations, merely taking a more objective view of the facts in the case than you apparently are capable of doing."
She stirred the contents of her plate in annoyance, and then raised a forkful to eliminate the need to reply. Unfortunately, as Julian had so often remarked, there was no such thing as sharing a quiet meal with Garak. Receiving no answer from her, he continued the conversation himself. "Let's forget about Dukat and catch up on each other," he said. "I haven't seen you for almost a year, at the trade talks on Bajor. Whenever my duties bring me to Deep Space Nine, you always seem to be elsewhere. I might almost suspect that you've been avoiding me. I can scarcely remember when we last met socially."
His mock forgetfulness further infuriated her. "We last met socially in your cozy dungeon hideaway, where you used the Prophets know what of your infernal Obsidian Order tricks to get me into your bed. I'm disappointed that you found the experience so forgettable," she replied icily. "Oh, wait, you can't have forgotten entirely, since you seem to have shared the joke with Inspector Dapok."
Garak leaned forward and captured her attention with his intense gaze. "I told you that I have spoken of our evening together with no one. Believe me or not. But this can have no bearing on your irrational desire to punish me for an evening's pleasure we both freely consented to, with no intention that it should go beyond that."
Kira reflected on how long she had known Garak, as the proprietor of the station's tailor shop for seven years, her fellow soldier in the battle to free Cardassia for two intense months, as a representative of the planet's new government for three more years. Yet his true self remained inaccessible to her. That moment of intimacy to which she had so unwisely succumbed--it had been a masterful performance, but it had never seemed genuine to her. Not even as he was bringing her to ever-renewing pulsations of exquisite satisfaction, and certainly not upon calmer reflection. That's what had renewed her instinctive fear and distrust of the dangerous Cardassian. His deception regarding Dukat's execution told her those instincts were right. At this moment he was feigning dismay at her anger and suspicion, but she sensed no real emotion, no aching wounds to the heart. He was carefully stage managing this investigation for his own purposes and his only interest in her feelings regarding him was in how they impacted his ability to manage her. She also realized that she had to put them aside if she were to resist his manipulations.
"Let's just drop it, Garak," she said. "It was a mistake, but it happened. Nothing's going to change that. I'm perfectly capable of helping you bring this investigation to its logical conclusion as quickly as possible. Just stop pretending that we're friends. When we were dodging the Jem'Hadar, it may have seemed so, but that's only an illusion created by our shared desperation."
Garak bowed his head stiffly, "Very well, Colonel." He returned attention to his meal, a collection of fruits and vegetables grown on Caspia, and two thick slices of bread made from the grains that rippled in its fields. Kira followed suit, and the two finished eating without further conversation.
She was the first to rise from the table. "I'm beaming back up to my runabout for the evening," she said. There was no way she wanted to sleep under the same habitat dome that housed both Dukat and Garak.
"I've arranged with Dapok for us to interview all the colonists who shared a dormitory or work detail with either Tangar or Faba. We'll start before the first shift, at 0500, and we should be through by moon dark. I assume you want to participate in the questioning? My presence will not be too disturbing?" Garak raised a quizzical eye-ridge.
He certainly knew how to get at a person, she reflected. It had been his profession, after all, and would probably serve them admirably in ferreting out the details of the crime. "Garak, I know you'd rather be on your own in this, maybe just having Lonor standing by to intimidate the less forthcoming ones-"
"Lonor is commanding a unit of the Third Order security forces and would have been unavailable in any event," Garak said.
"Really?" Kira said, surprised. She let herself be led away from her point by his calculated diversion, even though she saw it for what it was. "The way he worshiped you, I figured you were stuck with him for life."
Garak rearranged the cutlery on his food tray. "Lonor was little more than a boy when he threw in with the Cardassian Resistance. The bonds forged in that fight to regain our homeworld were understandably strong, especially since his whole family had died at Dominion hands. He's grown into his own manhood now. It was time for him to move on." The Cardassian's expression was elusive. Was it pride, regret, resignation, or something else? "As for your implication that I would rather handle this without you, I would say in my turn that you are probably thinking that if Odo were here, the whole mystery would already be solved."
Kira flushed. Talking about Odo's abandonment of her had been how he'd started his previous seduction. She'd have none of that on the present occasion. "Like Lonor, it was time for him to move on," she said curtly and beamed herself up to her runabout.
The first round of questioning was devoted to establishing the facts of the case: searching for any discrepancies in the colonists' accounts of when and where Faba and Tangar had been seen between the time they left the dining hall and the discovery of the body, compiling a reliable list of all the victim's friends, lovers, and rejected suitors, seeking for any evidence of hostility toward her or Tangar or their relationship. Garak drew up the list of questions which were to be asked of all colonists, and he, Kira, Dapok and his men, and Topak and her team interviewed twenty colonists each. The uniformity of the responses was astonishing. No one had seen Faba outside Tangar's cubicle after 21:00 hours. Everyone noted that she sought out Cardassian lovers and rejected Bajorans. All remembered a lively, laughing young woman whom everyone liked. Tangar too was much admired. To the mostly youthful colonists he was an elder statesman of sorts. They trusted his advice and believed his Hebitian spirituality to be sincere and profound. The women who had shared his bed expressed no jealousy over his involvement with Faba, any more than her previous lovers begrudged him his turn with her. The responses seemed to bear out Dukat's portrait of Caspia as a paradise of rampant sexuality minus the usual tensions that come along with such uninhibited surrender to the promptings of lust.
Poring over the interview transcripts, Garak suspended his distaste for the colonists' complete lack of discretion and searched for individuals who merited more detailed questioning. He settled upon four. Mak Sidan was a Bajoran who had persisted in pressing his attentions on Faba despite her equally persistent rejections. The Cardassian Limyal Tarkheta had maintained her relationship with Tangar longer than any other woman on Caspia, but he had spent less and less time with her as his commitment to Faba deepened. Baj Salu, the sister of Kira's colleague in Ops, was friendly with both Faba and Tangar and had in fact introduced them to each other. Nera Falama, a Bajoran-Cardassian hybrid, had been Faba's closest confidante. Garak informed the others that he would conduct the questioning, with Dapok present to provide his detailed knowledge of the workings of the colony and Kira, no doubt scowling in a corner, to serve as Bajoran observer.
They called in Mak Sidan first. He eased himself into the lone chair in the center of the Inspector's office. He appeared confident and relaxed, not at all intimidated by being singled out for further questioning. Tall, with light hair and blue eyes, he no doubt had considerable success with the women. No wonder he doubted the sincerity of Faba's repeated rejections.
"So, Mr. Mak," Garak began, "I understand that you were unwilling to accept the fact that Miss Faba did not desire an intimate relationship with you."
He smiled the smile of someone used to leaving others dazzled. Garak anticipated him justifying his skepticism about the sincerity of Fabas's refusal by remarking that the circumstance had never arisen in all his previous experience. Instead Mak replied, "It's not so much that she didn't want a relationship with me as that she rejected the idea of any Bajoran lover out of hand. It was an absolutely ridiculous notion, so I suppose I kept pressing because once she got to know Bajoran men, she wasn't going to be so determined to limit herself to Cardassians."
"You disapprove of interspecies love affairs, then?" Garak asked.
"Not at all. She was the one who was prejudiced. We Caspians are dedicated to making this a sector where Cardassians and Bajorans can heal the wounds of the past and live as one people. I would have been just as appalled if she had refused on principle to sleep with Cardassians."
"You then have had Cardassian lovers?"
"Oh yes," he said with the same confident smile. "I'm with Gheria Evar right now. We're planning to have a baby together. Hybrids are the culmination of the Caspian ideal."
Garak heard Kira behind him suck in her breath in disapproval. He found the idea the height of foolishness too, but he was much better in masking his reaction. "Really?" he said. "Perhaps that was Faba's rationale for being intimate only with Cardassians."
This clearly had not occurred to Mak. Garak suspected that brains had not been apportioned to him in equal parts with beauty. "She was very upset that none of her lovers had made her pregnant," he mused. "There's a fairly large proportion of both populations that are genetically incapable of conceiving with each other."
"She was afraid she might be one of them?" Garak prodded.
"No, I think she'd been tested before she came to the colony."
"Tested for interspecies fertility?" Kira blurted out.
For the first time Mak displayed a trace of unease. "During the Occupation, the Cardassians developed ways to determine interspecies fertility in the comfort women they selected. It was a way to screen out those who might complicate matters by becoming pregnant," he said. "The procedure is simple, and lots of the women who emigrate to Caspia have it done. Faba was afraid that she had the bad luck of choosing Cardassians who were incapable of breeding with Bajorans. Needless to say, there weren't physicians on Cardassia who felt it necessary to develop such a test for their men."
"Let me get this straight. Do you mean that there's some kind of movement here to breed bi-species children?" Garak asked.
Mak shifted his position slightly. "It's not a movement," he said earnestly, "just something that a lot of us believe will make for a better future. There are so many bad memories about the circumstances that produced such children in the past, so it's a private decision that we don't talk about to our families on the homeworlds."
"Yet you're talking about it to us," Garak said, raising an eye-ridge.
"It's something we discuss endlessly here on Caspia. There's no way you wouldn't have heard about it eventually," Mak said. "I don't mean to suggest that it's the majority opinion, because it isn't, but Cardassians and Bajorans who believe as we do know that they'll not be ostracized for their behavior here on Caspia. That's what has drawn some of the newer settlers. I know it's what drew Faba."
"It's a good thing the Bajoran and Cardassian governments haven't been informed. They might abandon the whole experiment," Kira put in disapprovingly.
Mak turned to her with a puzzled expression. "Surely you of all people understand, Colonel Kira, as close as you and Councillor Garak are."
"You have the gall to suggest that Garak and I are intent on breeding babies?" Kira exploded, rising from her chair. Garak realized he needed to take control of the situation quickly.
"Colonel, this discussion is better left for a time and place that do not constitute an official interrogation into a murder," he said. He noticed that Mak and Dapok had exchanged knowing glances. Apparently knowledge that he and Kira had been lovers was widespread on Caspia. Fortunately, Kira's attention was at the moment focused on him. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, "When we get to that time and place, Garak, you'd better have yourself surrounded by a force field."
They had pressed Mak hard on whether any of those Caspians more averse to interspecies breeding might have been moved to murder a woman like Faba, who was so invested in the idea. He insisted that the disagreements were strictly theoretical, that all Caspians did agree that the terrible violence that had marked nearly a century of Cardassian-Bajoran relations must be overcome and left behind.
Excusing the handsome young man at last, Garak turned to Dapok. "What have you heard about these divisions among the colonists, Inspector?"
"I wouldn't call them divisions, Councillor Garak. Nothing happens on Caspia without hours of debate. I can't say minds are always changed or ideal compromises reached, but those who don't get their way usually head back to work without ill feelings."
"Still, there are always people who draw the line at mixing their species' DNA with another's," Garak said. "I'm not willing to discount it as a motive for Faba's murder. I intend to question our other subjects closely on the matter." Behind him, Kira gave an impatient sigh. She wouldn't say it in front of Dapok, of course, but she was interested in no questioning that didn't seek to establish Dukat's guilt.
"Which one do you want to see next?" Dapok asked.
"I think a Cardassian perspective would be timely," Garak said. "Have your man send in Miss Tarkheta."
Knowing Dukat's predilections where women were concerned, Garak was surprised to see that Tarkheta was middle-aged and plain, her hair devoid of elaborate styling, her figure running to fat. Her sharp-ridged countenance bore an expression of extreme hostility. When Garak rose and gestured her to the chair, she circled it warily, like an animal in the wild, before she sat.
She did not seem the type of person to be mollified by initial pleasantries, so Garak got immediately to the point. "Miss Tarkheta, I understand that you have been . . . involved . . . with Geron Tangar for nearly three years."
"He didn't kill her," she said emphatically.
"Did you?" The best way to deal with confrontational people, he always believed, was in their own register.
"What? Of course not," Tarkheta said. "You think I'm some pathetic jealous female who won't tolerate losing her man to a younger woman?"
It was precisely what Garak thought. "It's happened many times," he replied.
"I don't know what he's told you," she said, pointing to Dapok, "but Tangar and I weren't conducting some torrid love affair. Certainly we slept together, but he always had other women, and he always will. I've had my share of other men. There isn't that much social activity on Caspia except having sex, unless you're interested in marathon games of kotra."
"So you don't then consider yourself particularly close to Tangar?"
"I'm closer to him than to anyone else here, but not because we are lovers," she replied. "We are good comrades, and we're realists. We know what the importance of Caspia is to Cardassia's future. We aren't starry-eyed children looking for utopia."
"I gather you didn't come to the colony to establish a unified Bajoran-Cardassian society and to breed a new race of Bajora-Kardasi?" Garak asked with a slight smile.
Tarkheta let out a grunt of disapproval. "I came to Caspia to grow crops to keep my people from starvation," she said. "I've been screaming at the Detepa Council for thirty years about the need for a viable agriculture within the Cardassian system. Replicators are fine for starships and space stations. No people could amass the wealth and power reserves necessary to feed a populace in the billions with them alone. It's not easy to grow food crops on our planets, but the government never even tried to find a way. They believed that we'd forever have occupied worlds to fill our larders. Now that we don't, I'm finally getting some respect."
She sounded like a political agitator, Garak thought. If she had been, he should know the name, and it wasn't familiar to him. "The Council had a tendency to ignore the suggestions of private citizens," he said, hoping the understatement would push her to further revelations.
"I wasn't just a private citizen," she shot back indignantly, "I was the chancellor of the Cardassian Agricultural Institute. Granted, they situated us on the dismal third moon of Prime and made us beg for every groat of funding, so the position is less impressive than the title. You don't want to ask me how many times I've heard, 'I wasn't aware that Cardassia had an Agricultural Institute.'"
That was it, she wasn't just a humble colonist, she was one of the people in charge. No wonder Dukat had cultivated her. "I do apologize for being unaware of your distinguished career," Garak said.
Her mouth twisted up in a sour smile. "That's all right. I've never felt it a disadvantage to pass under the sensors of the Obsidian Order. You see, I am aware of your distinguished career, Councillor Garak."
"I am of course retired from that occupation," he replied. "You, on the other hand, finally have a living laboratory in which to do your work."
"Isn't there some phrase the Terrans use, 'better late than never?' It would be more satisfying if I had ever been able to get more than a dozen of our advanced students to specialize in indigenous crop cultivation," she said with a sigh. "And six of them perished under the Dominion. So I've had no choice but to accept the Bajorans and their supposedly superior expertise."
Tarkheta had looked straight at Kira when she made her last disparaging comment, and the Colonel rose immediately to the challenge. "You don't like Bajorans then, I gather," she said in a low monotone with whose dangers Garak was well acquainted.
"I like them just fine when they stay on Bajor. I don't find them desirable contributors to the rebuilding of Cardassia."
"Whereas Cardassians were indispensable in guiding the poor contemplative Bajorans to the development of a more progressive culture, even if the guidance cost millions of lives," Kira said sarcastically, no doubt recalling one of Dukat's many desperate rationalizations for his conduct as Prefect. Garak had read variations of it many times in the self-justifying reports he had sent back to Prime during the Occupation. Really, if people were not prepared to acknowledge that expediency and the welfare of one's own species were sufficient grounds to kill and enslave subject populations, then they had no business taking up colonial governance.
"No, I always opposed our reliance on colonization." Tarkheta might have been reading his mind. "One mistake doesn't justify a second. Cardassians should have become self-sustaining centuries ago. A dependence on Bajorans as either slaves or advisers is equally undesirable."
"You said that you were not concerned with breeding these hybrid children. Does their existence offend you?" Garak asked.
"It offends me most as a farmer," she said. "You shouldn't join an agricultural colony when you don't even know that most hybrids are sterile."
"I got the impression that some of these young people had looked into the genetics of interspecies mating quite thoroughly."
"I suppose they have," she grudgingly acknowledged. "They probably imagine future breakthroughs that will give them hybrid grandchildren, or maybe they'll just clone the subsequent generations like so many Vorta."
"Were you aware that Miss Faba was pregnant with Tangar's child?" Garak asked, the ambush carefully calibrated.
For once, she didn't have a sharp reply at the ready. She leaned back in the chair and then devoted a few seconds' attention to brushing some granules of the omnipresent Caspian dust from her sleeve. Finally she met Garak's gaze once again and muttered, "No."
"If Tangar was aware of the fact, would this change your certainty that he is not guilty of her murder?" he asked.
"On the contrary. It would be the final piece of evidence to clinch the case for his innocence. Geron lost all his children in the catastrophe. He wanted to start a new family in the worst way." She paused and stared off into space. A hold on him she could never use, not at her age, Garak thought. And perhaps never in her youth, either. That might explain the obsession with growing things. Barrenness was a terrible stigma in Cardassian families. For the first time, he didn't thoroughly dislike her.
"Are you sure he didn't want Cardassian children," Garak said.
"It wouldn't matter at all to him," she replied, with a mixture of contempt and amusement. "It was the one thing we always quarreled about. He adored Bajorans. He was stationed there for years during the Occupation, I think in one of the agricultural labor camps. His father was a farmer, so he had the expertise. Frankly, he went absolutely native, as far as I can tell. Countless Bajoran mistresses. Probably a score of hybrid bastards. He'd have doubtless stayed when the Occupation ended if he hadn't had the good sense to realize the Resistance would string him up by his testicles."
"Indeed they would have," Kira put in, stifling a laugh.
"And now Caspia is giving him what he couldn't have then," Garak said.
"I'm sure that's why he settled here," Tarkheta confirmed. "I can't imagine any reason that he'd commit such a horrible crime when he'd found his heart's desire at last."
"Well, then, can you think of anyone who might want to make the authorities take him for a murderer?" Garak said, ruefully pondering how his carefully calculated punishment for his old enemy had somehow transformed itself into the man's "heart's desire."
Tarkheta considered for a moment, balancing her chin on the tips of her two index fingers. "I won't say that everyone loved him," she acknowledged. "But I know of no one who would murder that young girl in order to avenge some personal slight at Geron's hands."
"If you do think of someone who might have killed her, for whatever motive, you will let Inspector Dapok know, I trust."
"Certainly," she replied. "The sooner this mess is cleared up, the sooner we can get back to the harvest."
Garak rose again and escorted her to the door. She had no sooner left than Kira said. "She'd kill a Bajoran as soon as look at one. She's certainly capable of getting rid of her rival for this . . . Tangar's affections."
"I agree," said Garak. "She obviously had no love for Faba. But two things she does love, this colony and Tangar. The murder imperils both. This is a woman who is pragmatic and calculating enough to have planned this but also pragmatic and calculating enough to decide that the negative consequences outweigh the personal satisfaction." He rubbed his temples as the first throbbings of the headaches he always got from unsatisfying interrogations manifested themselves. He was fast running out of plausible suspects, and he included Dukat in that number. The method of the crime and the potential motivations for it simply didn't match. The headache intensified. "I don't know about you," he said, turning to Kira and Dapok, "but I need some time to put everything we've learned thus far into perspective. Inspector, tell the other two we won't need to see them until 15:00."
Kira took advantage of the break to use Dapok's comm and get a briefing from the station. When Nog asked her about how long she'd be away, she couldn't give him an answer. Garak appeared capable of extending the investigation indefinitely. She was sorely tempted to reveal Dukat's survival to the Cardassian government and so ensure his execution no matter whether he had killed Faba or not. It would put Garak in a sticky situation, but now that he'd apparently told everyone about their evening of intimacy, neither loyalty to him nor blackmail by him had any power over her. She touched the comm panel lightly but raised her hand again before opening the channel to Prime. It wouldn't hurt to wait until the questioning was done, she supposed. She could indulge him to that extent.
The habitat dome was practically deserted. Work shifts went out on a staggered schedule, and this was apparently the hour of greatest overlap. She entered the dining hall and took a Rigellian boka fruit from one of the many bowls overflowing with the bounties of the Caspian harvest. The blue skin had a velvety texture that made an unexpected but satisfying contrast with the fruit's almost nutlike, crunchy flesh. Caspia truly was a miracle of Bajoran and Cardassian cooperation and yet the place unsettled her. Listening to the Bajoran young man who wanted to forget that the Occupation ever happened and the bitter Cardassian woman who (whatever her denials) would have been happy to play it out again had equally depressed her. The two peoples needed to move forward, and doing so in harmony was far preferable to doing so in strife. Yet there was no forgetting the past, it would always divide them. She realized that she found the idea of trying to bridge that divide through interspecies breeding thoroughly distasteful. It was a prejudice, she acknowledged, but a prejudice she felt. Thinking of Dukat in bed with this young Bajoran girl revolted her. Remembering herself intimate with Garak had the same effect. She picked up the half-eaten fruit and hurled it at the far wall.
When they returned to Dapok's office, Garak took Kira aside. "Since our primary objective with these final interviewees is to obtain more information about the relationship between Faba and Tangar, and because they aren't potential suspects, perhaps you would like to question them, Colonel? Bajorans may be more forthcoming to a Bajoran interrogator. And I wouldn't want to deny you a chance to strengthen the case against our friend Tangar."
Kira eyed him suspiciously. What was the ulterior motive this time? "This isn't exactly what I do best, Garak," she said.
"I realize that you are more of the 'shoot first, ask questions later' persuasion, Colonel, but if I think you have neglected to elicit any vital information, I can always follow up with my own inquiries."
Failing to think of any compelling reason to refuse him, Kira nodded her assent. When one of Dapok's deputies ushered in Baj Salu, she realized that whether she had agreed with Garak or not, she could not have avoided being in charge of this distraught young woman's interview. Salu's eyes were swollen from recent tears, and they began flowing anew as she ran over to Kira and embraced her. "Oh, Colonel Kira, please forgive me," she sobbed. "It's all my fault that Faba is dead. She never would have been mixed up with Tangar if I hadn't brought them together."
Kira gently pried the girl away. "Salu, we don't know for certain that Tangar did kill Faba.."
"But she was dead in his cot. Everyone says it had to have been him."
"There aren't any stronger suspects yet, but there are still some details that don't add up," Kira said. "Even if he is guilty, you can't have foreseen this when you introduced them, but I do need to know why and when you did that."
Salu reluctantly sat down, fidgeting in apparent misery as she gave her account. "Tangar and I came to Caspia in the same week, and we were shiftmates from the beginning. There wasn't any shift that was more productive than ours, and it was all his doing. He knew how to organize things efficiently, how to get the maximum effort out of everyone. We all looked up to him. It was a little hard for him to make friends outside the work cycle though. He was, well, so much older than most of us."
"Yet you clearly became closer to him than as a shiftmate. Were you lovers?"
"No! Of course not." The apparent absurdity of the suggestion seemed to lift the dark cloud from Baj Salu's spirits. "I came here with my husband. Tangar and I didn't sleep together, but we did find out we had something in common: Terok Nor-I mean Deep Space Nine."
"What did Tangar have to do with Terok Nor?" Kira asked, amazed that Dukat would take the risk of mentioning the place he had ruled for so many years when his life depended on concealing his true identity.
"He served there during the Occupation, with the security forces, I think."
"According to Lemyal Tarkheta, Tangar had supervised an agricultural labor camp on Bajor. How do you explain the contradiction?"
Salu looked puzzled. "I don't know. Perhaps he was assigned to Terok Nor after the labor camp. I've no doubt he was there. He knows everything about the station. When he found out that my sister was an officer in Ops, he couldn't stop talking to me about his old times there, playing dabo at Quark's, watching Constable Odo patrol the Promenade. He was interested in keeping up to date, too. When Narela visited, he made a point of meeting her. He wanted to hear about all the new personnel. He asked a lot about her opinion of you as commanding officer, Colonel, as a matter of fact."
I just bet he did, Kira grumbled to herself. Aloud she said, "Do you have any explanation for this intense interest of his?"
"I had the impression that he was, well, homesick, that the happiest days of his life were spent on Terok Nor. Caspia was the next best thing, but not really a substitute."
"Faba had no connection to Terok Nor, did she? Why did you think she would be a good match with Tangar?" Kira said.
Salu looked slightly embarrassed. "She wanted very much to have a child with a Cardassian father-has anyone told you that?" Kira nodded. "Well, one of the things Tangar had confided to me about his time on Bajor was that he had been in love with a Bajoran woman, and they'd had a child, who was lost to him when the Cardassians pulled out. Eres was wracking her brains about how to find a Cardassian who would be fertile with Bajorans, and since I knew Tangar had been, it seemed a good idea to get them together. They really did connect, too, not just because of the baby issue. In my opinion, Eres had fallen in love with him. If the baby came, she would have wanted to marry him."
"Salu, the baby had come. The autopsy revealed that Faba was pregnant. Did she tell you that?"
"No. And I'm sure she would have told me. She'd have told everyone. It was all she ever talked about. She must not have known," Salu said.
"If Tangar did indeed kill Faba Eres, can you think of any motive he might have had?" Kira asked.
"None at all," replied Baj Salu, shaking her head in bewilderment.
Ziyal was the only Cardassian-Bajoran hybrid Kira had ever known well, and she tended to imagine them as in general resembling her much mourned friend, as Cardassians with their edges blunted and their complexions sallow rather than ashen. This mental picture hardly anticipated the reality of Nera Falama. The tall young woman had wavy, light brown hair streaked golden by her labors under the Caspian sun. She wore it at shoulder length, simply parted in the middle. Her eyes were large and brown, with generous flecks of green. Her skin was pale but in no way grayish. Indeed, her cheeks were rosy, and a band of freckles crossed her nose, a nose that, however, showed no sign of the usual Bajoran indentations. Instead, from her pronounced eye ridges and deep dimpled spoon to the scales lining her long, graceful neck, her features were every centimeter a Cardassian's. She herself was a striking beauty.
She sat down in the interview chair with an air of deliberation. She displayed none of Mak's near arrogance, Tarkheta's defensive anger, or Baj Salu's guilt and grief. If Kira had been pressed to describe her demeanor in one word, it would have been "grave."
"Nera, we understand that you were Faba's closest friend here," Kira began.
"Yes, I'm sure I was," Nera said thoughtfully. "You've probably heard how fascinated she was with Cardassians, and that's true. But she was still a Bajoran, still a follower of the Prophets, and there were things her Cardassian friends didn't really understand about her. As a Cardassian who is also a Bajoran, I could."
"Where did Faba come by this fascination with Cardassians?" Kira asked. It was a question that had vexed her during the whole investigation.
"That's a complicated story," Nera said. "I suppose you want to hear it all."
"Yes, we do," Garak interposed.
The young woman collected herself, as if preparing to give a recitation at school. "Faba's father was taken off to the mines before she was born, and he died there when she was two. Her mother got work in the kitchen of Dokon Branar. He was the private secretary to the colonial governor of Rekantha province. He lived in the capital with his wife and his children. They intended to spend the rest of their lives on Bajor. I believe that he was one of the leaders in the effort to bring civilian colonists to the planet. Faba grew up in his house. The Branars only left when the government ordered all Cardassians home. She was thirteen then, and Dokon Branar was the closest thing to a father she had ever known. From what she's told me, he was a good and generous man, rather than the monster Cardassians most Bajorans remember from the Occupation. Not that he didn't think he had the right to take our land and our resources for his own, he wasn't a dissident or anything like that. Still, he didn't treat Bajorans as slaves and inferiors. He paid her mother a fair wage and provided her and Faba food, clothing and shelter in his home on top of that. She played with his three little girls and was included in many of the family occasions. He was deeply in love with his wife and never exploited her mother or any of the other Bajoran women who worked in the house."
"All the while on the staff of the cruelest of the provincial governors, no doubt drafting the orders to execute over a thousand Resistance fighters," Kira interrupted.
Nera nodded her head slightly. "I make no excuses for him, Colonel. But Faba was a child, and she saw him outside his public life, saw him as the man who always had a kind word and a big smile for her. And then there was Rikon, the oldest son who was at school on Cardassia Prime. He was five years older than Faba, and when he came to Bajor on his school holidays, he made a pet of his "little Bajoran sister" as he called her. He'd bring her presents and tell her long stories about the history of Cardassia. By the time she was ten, she had developed a mad crush on him. I'm not sure it wouldn't have led to something if the Occupation hadn't ended."
She paused a minute, as if imagining this alternative future, then regained her focus and continued. "It did end, though, and poor Faba was left in a world where being a 'Cardie lover' would get a rock through your window, if not worse. There was no hope of going to Cardassia those seven years, and then she heard about the Caspia colony. Her mother was dead set against it. I suppose she saw her 'benefactor' in a more realistic light. There wasn't any stopping Faba, By this time she wasn't just obsessed with Cardassians but with having a Cardassian lover and bearing his children. The first time we met, she told me how lucky I had been, to have a Cardassian father; she was going to do that for her child. She was sure that I would have wonderful stories to tell her about what it was like to be a hybrid. I was sorry to disappoint her."
"I can't believe she could have been so naive. Certainly she was taught in school about what the Cardassians did to our women," Kira exclaimed.
"Those lessons were so at odds with what she had experienced that she simply could not believe them," Nera said. "I didn't even try to change her mind. I only told her that I never knew my father and left it at that. She would probably have insisted that the stories my mother told me were lies."
"If I may ask," Garak said, "What were those stories, Miss Nera?"
The young woman's solemn demeanor grew even more solemn. "When my mother was seventeen, she found a case of kanar in the street. It had been left behind by mistake when a Cardassian cargo vehicle was being loaded. She knew someone with ties to the black market and got him to sell it for her. One of his customers turned out to be an undercover Cardassian security trooper. They didn't have much trouble persuading her friend to name her as his supplier. She was sentenced to five years in a labor camp. At her camp, the gul in charge encouraged the guards to indulge themselves freely with the prisoners. My mother was very beautiful, and she was very . . . popular. She said that she only got through it by not keeping count, by not remembering their names or their faces. Every time it happened, she would tell herself it was the first and the last time." She paused as her eyes began to fill with tears.
"I had heard that any Bajoran slave laborer who became pregnant was summarily executed," Kira said, wanting to know the truth yet feeling ashamed to be seeking it.
Nera contracted her brows in puzzlement. "I don't know about the other places," she said. "At her camp they only terminated the pregnancies. No use wasting good workers I suppose. They took three children from my mother. I was conceived only a week or two before her release, or the same thing would have happened to me. When mother returned to her village and realized she was carrying me, her family insisted that she do something about it. When she wouldn't, they threw her out, even though she had been punished for stealing in order to make their lives easier."
The room was quiet for several moments. Finally Kira asked hesitantly, "If it's too hard for you to speak of this I understand, but -"
"Why would she keep me?" Nera finished the sentence for her.
"Mother said that it was very hard for Bajoran men to be with a woman who had serviced Cardassians for that length of time. They knew it wasn't the women's fault, but still they couldn't bear to touch someone the spoonheads had used for their pleasures. She figured she might never get another chance to have a child, and she was going to take it."
"You should have told Faba that story," Kira said. "Perhaps it would have made her warier around Cardassians."
The incipient tears now began making streams down Nera's lower eye-ridges. "Oh, please, don't say that. I would never have done anything to bring her harm." She stopped and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "You see, Eres wanted her fantasies to become reality so badly, that people couldn't bear to point out that they were fantasies. She just had this way of convincing you that you should make her happy. Everyone felt it."
"Did Faba tell you that Tangar had indeed impregnated her?" Kira assumed that Nera would be privy to this information if anyone was.
"It was true then?" Nera said. She brought her fist down hard on the arm of the chair. "Damn! To be killed at that moment." The young woman passed her other hand over her eyes and steadied herself. "I'm sorry. It's just so ironic, so sad. To answer your question, she suspected she might be carrying Tangar's child. But she'd had her hopes raised so many times before. She was nervous about having the test done and had decided to wait another week or two."
"Might she have confided her hopes to Tangar?" Garak asked.
Nera considered. "Perhaps, but I doubt it. She seemed to be terrified of letting herself believe her dream was finally coming true. She feared that to speak of it might destroy it."
Garak asked, "You said that you had to disappoint her about your own story. Did you have any other stories that made her happy?"
She turned and measured him with her grave, now tear-swollen, brown eyes. "Yes," she said at length. "I told her stories about how the Prefect of Bajor, the man that every Bajoran hated, himself had a hybrid daughter whom he loved very much."
"The prefect of Bajor? As in Gul Dukat?" Kira asked incredulously. "How would you have known about that. He kept her existence well hidden."
"Colonel," Garak said, "Ziyal once told me that her father occasionally had other hybrid children brought to Terok Nor to play with her. I suspect that Miss Nera was one of them."
"Yes, I was." Nera replied. She looked just as surprised that Kira and Garak knew of Ziyal as they were astonished that she did. "Her father didn't want any of the Cardassians on the station to know about her, and he was afraid that any Bajoran children might smuggle in a bomb. Find a woman with her Cardie bastard, though, shunned by her neighbors and close to starvation-that woman was more than willing to send her child to play, especially when the child returned each time with a bag full of food and medicines." Kira couldn't tell whether Nera was bitter at being used in this fashion or grateful at the opportunity to be other than a hardship to her mother. However, her next comment indicated that she at least had felt no resentment toward the girl with whom she was forced to play. "You know Tora Ziyal, then, Colonel Kira, Councillor Garak? I stopped going to the station when I was twelve, and I never learned what happened to her when the Occupation ended. You must tell me how I can get in touch with her."
"Ziyal was a very dear friend to me, and to Colonel Kira as well," Garak said softly. "Unfortunately, she was killed during the War with the Dominion."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Nera said, the tears welling up again. "She was a very loving person, and she idolized her father."
"Did you ever meet her father?" Kira asked, attempting to sound casual.
Nera hesitated, her eyes darting from Dapok to Garak to Kira. Prophets, she knows! Kira thought. She stole a glance at Garak and saw that he had reached the same conclusion. "It's not a difficult question, surely?" he said to the young woman, with just a hint of menace.
"Yes, I saw him several times," Nera finally answered in a subdued and tentative manner. "He was always having to leave the station to go back to Cardassia, and he would come into the play room and tell her good-bye. They were very . . . tender together."
"I've heard some Caspians say that the suspect Tangar bears a strong resemblance to Dukat," Garak said, still with the threatening edge to his voice.
Nera sat up straighter in the chair, and her expression hardened. "I assume you've met Gul Dukat also, Councillor Garak, and could judge for yourself. To me, yes, the resemblance is quite remarkable. Indeed, when Eres began her relationship with Tangar, I told her it might be a good omen, that he looked like someone who had fathered and loved a hybrid child."
"Seeing this man's face didn't bring back painful memories to you, Miss Nera, didn't make you uneasy?" Garak pressed.
For the first time in their interview, a small smile curved Nera's lips upward. "Councillor Garak, my face has made Bajorans uneasy ever since I can remember. They would turn away when my mother led me through the streets. Colonel Kira is right now having difficulties looking me in the eye. But here, on Caspia, my face is the face of a desired utopian future. I came here with my lover. She's full Bajoran and couldn't stand the dust after two weeks. She went home and wants me to come back, too, but as much as I love her, I don't know if I can give up this very special place, where faces can have very different meanings than they do on Bajor . Here Geron Tangar is merely a Cardassian who understands more of what happened in the past between his people and Bajor's than anyone else-and who wants to build a future that atones for that. It makes no difference who he looks like."
"Then you don't believe that he murdered your friend?" Kira said.
Nera leaned forward, and a sincere urgency animated her words, "No, I don't. And I don't think anyone else in the colony killed her either, even though of course someone must have. I'm not the idealist Faba was, I know what hatred can be. From what I've heard, this was a crime of hatred. I've done nothing since she died but try to think who here is hiding that kind of hatred, and I really can't think of anyone. We hybrids don't trust easily. I've always had to be careful about people. I believe I read them well. How can someone have fooled me so thoroughly? It frightens me, it truly does."
There was a tower in the middle of the habitat complex where visitors could ascend and have a good view of the fields beyond. Kira suggested that they go up and get a wider perspective on the colony. Garak knew that her real purpose was to gloat about the way Nera Felama's statement confirmed "Geron Tangar's" guilt. As soon as they stood alone looking through the transparent tower walls, as he had anticipated, she said. "Now we know Dukat's motive. Nera recognized him. She must have said something to Faba, and Faba let it slip. He had no choice but to kill her and then try to make it look like someone else did."
"It is a definite possibility," Garak admitted.
"Possibility? It explains everything. We can declare the investigation closed and ship Dukat back to Cardassia for trial."
Garak didn't respond, as he continued to stare out onto the dusty landscape and the workers moving about at their various tasks. In their brown hooded coveralls, black boots, and goggles they looked like a swarm of alien insects. He realized that the proper investigation had not even begun.
"Colonel, you were right about us needing a wider perspective on this case," he said. "And we're not going to get it in this controlled environment. We need to experience the reality of life on Caspia, and that life is lived out there. I'm getting suited up and going for a walk outside. Join me if you're so inclined."
Kira was not so inclined. "I've had enough of your delays, Garak," she fumed. "I'll tell you what. I'm going back to the station and take care of my responsibilities. You amuse yourself slogging through the crops or whatever else pops into your head, and I'll be back tomorrow evening. Either you'll declare the case closed then, or I will -by telling them who Geron Tangar really is."
Outfitted in the required coveralls, gloves, boots, goggles and air filtration mask, Garak emerged onto the lunar surface. Every step stirred up puffs of the gray-brown dust, and the swirling winds blew them into fantastic patterns before dispersing them. The landscape itself presented other fantastic patterns. The Caspians were growing anything that would grow, in a jumble of artificially constructed ecosystems. From above, the place would look like the pattern of a Ferengi jacket. The pathways that snaked between the plots twisted and turned like the winds. Nothing was squared off, and the transitions from one cropland to the other could be astonishing. Garak passed, in succession, a field of waving quadrotricale grain from the Federation, a hothouse filled with Andorian luthu vines, Earth tomatoes, and Vulcan climbing taka beans, and an orchard where Cardassian larish trees and Bajoran moba bushes touched leaves.
It makes no more sense than this murder, Garak thought. Perhaps with Colonel Kira gone, he could concentrate more effectively in puzzling it out. He found wearying in the extreme her unwillingness to look at the facts with an open mind, and her unremitting hostility towards him because of the liaison she had freely consented to and only latterly regretted. And she doesn't even know the real reason I seduced her. He shuddered to think what she'd do if she ever found out about that.
He readjusted his gaze to focus on the people, not the crops. It was almost impossible to separate Cardassians from Bajorans under the protective clothing, all of it mimicking the red-brown of the soil, as it the workers were indulging in adaptive camouflage. But then, a few hundred meters in the distance, he saw something different, shapes clothed in deep navy, and others in gold. Approaching them, he saw that they were gathered around several pieces of farming machinery, obviously making repairs. Their coveralls sported insignia belonging to several heavy machinery contractors on Cardassia. "Excuse me," Garak said to one man who appeared to be taking a break, "Are you one of the colonists here?"
"You must be new to be asking that," the mechanic replied. "These dirt-stirrers wouldn't know how to recalibrate a drive unit, let alone fix a major breakdown. All the repair and maintenance for the equipment is contracted out to us and to StateTechno. HydroHaulers out of Bajor keep up the irrigation system, and that's a full-time job, let me tell you."
"Do you have special quarters in the dome?"
"Nah, never been invited in. Work with machines, you must be a curse on nature, at least that's the way a lot of them think. We do our nine hours a day and go home. Come back the next day, or else send another crew, depending on what needs repair or cleaning."
A whole new realm of possibilities opened before Garak expanding the pool of suspects exponentially. As daunting as that development might seem, however, it did at least lead to a different sort of investigation that wasn't doomed to end up where it began with no one the wiser for the journey. "Thank you very much, sir," he said. "Your information has proved most enlightening." Even through all the protective gear, Garak could see the man's befuddled expression.
It wasn't until the next afternoon that Garak was able to assemble Faba's and Tangar's shiftmates in the dining hall in order to let them work collaboratively on solving the puzzle for him. "You've all insisted in your initial interviews that no member of the CAC would have murdered Faba Eres," he began. "I've come to the conclusion that you are right. So I want to talk to you now about people who've visited Caspia in the past few months without being members of the colony."
A Bajoran woman raised her hand. "There weren't any visitors here the night she died, nor any ships in orbit either," she said.
"That is apparently the case," Garak conceded, "but let's just put that objection to one side at the moment. What I want to know is if there were any of the repair technicians who worked here repeatedly and who might have made Faba's acquaintance."
Garak saw faces contort with the efforts at recollection and heard the buzz of conversation as they conferred with each other, but no one had a name for him. Finally Mak took it upon himself to serve as group spokesperson. "We really don't mix with them much, Councillor Garak. Most of them think we're crazy to be here from what I've overheard."
"That's right," said a young Cardassian man. "We sometimes are at the watering stations at the same time, and they never do more than grunt if one of us strikes up a conversation."
"So there wasn't even one instance when a tech approached any of you and introduced himself, made small talk?" Garak asked.
"There was that fellow from State Techno, Timot's brother," said a Cardassian woman, Brinnia Devek, who had been on Faba's shift. "But that's understandable, because he'd had family that lived here."
"Oh, yes, I vaguely remember him," Mak conceded. Garak doubted that he paid much attention to anyone who wasn't female. "I think he might have exchanged a few words with Faba, while he was talking to the rest of us."
"His brother, Timot, where is he?"
"He wasn't on our shift, and I didn't know him very well," said Mak. "Didn't he leave the colony?"
"That's right, the life wasn't for him," said a Bajoran man. "I was on his shift while he was here, and then I switched to Tangar's."
"Did this brother of his ever talk to Tangar?" Garak asked.
"No, I've never even heard of the brother, only Timot."
Garak pressed the group for all their recollections of the StateTechno worker. None could recall him giving a name other than to identify himself as Timot's brother, nor recall him saying anything that seemed out of the ordinary. A consensus developed that the brother had first made himself known only after Timot left Caspia, a fact that immediately rang alarms with Garak. Leaving the colonists to continue to brainstorm for useful memories of the suspicious technician, he went to Dapok's office and checked the rosters for all StateTechno personnel who had logged in to the colony for the past year. There was no Timot on the list. A cross-check of colonist Timot's personnel file revealed that he was the only son among four children. Whoever this imposter might be, there was a high probability that he was the killer.
Garak returned to the dining hall. "Ladies and gentlemen, this so-called brother of Mr. Timot gave a false name; he is now the prime suspect in the murder. I need you to tell me everything about him that you remember. No detail is insignificant."
None of them had ever seen him without his gear, so a physical description was hard to come by. A little under two meters in height, Mak thought, neither particularly thin not particularly stocky. Definitely Cardassian. His job had something to do with polishing the engine coils in the harvesters, keeping the dust from clogging them. Or perhaps recalibrating their engines. He'd been both vague and contradictory when describing his expertise. Garak found his initial elation dimming fast. Since the man probably didn't work for StateTechno at all, it was going to be nearly impossible to find him based on such a sketchy profile.
Then Devek raised her hand. "Oh, I remember one odd thing about him. He often was around right before the shift ended, and when we'd head back to the dome, he'd say, every time, 'Be sure to get yourselves good and clean before you eat anything.' Something about the way he said it-it was kind of creepy."
The facts about this puzzling case had been scattered about Garak's mind like an intricate dress pattern missing several vital pieces. Devek's comment provided them, and suddenly transformed the dress into a completely different style altogether. Faba's body hadn't been immersed in scalding water only to efface the killer's traces; he had also meant it as a signature, a signature Garak now read clearly. It told him he had to move quickly to avoid even more murders.
Garak tapped his communicator as he hurried toward the clinic. "Dapok, I want you to double the guard on Geron Tangar. Put someone inside as well as outside the door."
"Don't worry, Councillor, it's already taken care of," the inspector replied, sounding extremely satisfied with himself.
A man less experienced at eluding danger would have stopped in his tracks, but Garak simply started to run. "What do you mean, taken care of?" he asked, although he was sure he knew the answer.
"One of the security officers just came by and said he was under orders from you to guard the prisoner from within the room. I gave the other guards clearance to let him in."
"Was he an officer you'd seen before?"
"I'm not sure," Dapok reflected. "But his credentials were definitely in order."
"Do you remember his name, by any chance?" Garak asked, even though suspecting that the inspector's memory would fail on this particular as well. Various inarticulate grunts confirmed the correctness of his hypothesis.
Garak reached the ward where Dukat was being held and ordered the guards to open the door. They verified that they had let another officer in a few minutes before, and that he hadn't come out. When the door responded to the access codes, however, it revealed a totally empty room. All his Obsidian Order discipline returned to Garak's faculties. His anger at Dapok's idiocy, the temptation to inform the incompetent agricultural inspector how completely unsuited he was for a career in security, immediately migrated to another compartment of his brain. He was calm, focused and without emotion. He spoke into his communicator once more. "Dapok, where on this moon could someone hide and survive, outside the habitat dome?"
"Why do you need to know that? What's happening?"
"There's no time for explanations, Inspector," he said icily. "Answer my question."
"Uh, well, there are quite a few underground caverns, where the irrigation pipes go down, and places we store old equipment and . . ."
"Upload the diagrams for every single one of these caverns to the computers on my shuttle," Garak said. "And do it now." It might already be too late to save Dukat, he reflected as he activated his transporter, but unless he located the killer quickly it was certain to be.
Garak had his disruptor drawn before he beamed down to the abandoned underground laundry complex. Of the locations described in Dapok's files, it met all the requirements for the killer's secret lair. The air was heavy with the steam rising from a churning round pool about three meters from where he stood on a floor of black rock made artificially smooth by laser shaping. Someone had brought in a portable fusion generator and rigged it up to the lights and to the power hoses that had been designed to blast the hot water from the underground springs onto the clothing that traveled via a moving maze of criss-crossed clotheslines. They were motionless now, and only one had anything hanging from it. Dukat's wrists were bound just above the rope, and his naked form dangled from it about half a meter above the pool. He was gagged, but he managed to make some urgent bleats heard above the roar of the boiling spring. His eyes showed a relief at Garak's arrival that did not totally drive out his fear and pain.
"Every time I think I've rid myself of you for good, you get into more trouble, Dukat," Garak said. "Now where are the controls so I can get you over solid ground and off the dirty clothes conveyor?" Scanning to make sure that no one was hiding nearby, Garak simultaneously looked around the area for something resembling a keypad. He never saw one. However, half concealed by shadows against one of the cavern walls was a casing that housed four ancient devices called levers. He bent down and pulled one of them toward him cautiously and saw the weave of clothesline begin to move. But then a hand suddenly gripped his and pushed the lever back into place, while at the same time he felt the tip of a disruptor barrel pressed against his spine.
"Now, Garak, you'll drop your weapon and turn around very slowly."
Garak complied, coming face to face with his former aide. "Lonor," he said without surprise. "I thought your Dominion transporter would set off the alarm on my scanner."
The young man raised his wrist. "I remember when you taught us all to adapt our scanners to detect incoming Jem'Hadar," he said. "It wasn't very difficult for me to adapt my transporter to avoid your scanner."
"I clearly underestimated your technical skills." Garak bowed his head in mock apology. "I am nevertheless disappointed with you," he continued in the same vein.. "The treaty with the Dominion made it very clear that we would destroy any of their technology left behind after their retreat to the Gamma Quadrant."
"And I have, sir. You have no idea how many caches of arms we've found that Jem'Hadar patrols who never returned to base left behind. My unit has vaporized kilotons of it. But one little Dominion transporter out of all that? I don't think it's a cause for disciplinary action. There's so much souvenir hunting among the security patrols these days. Now," Lonor continued, "you will seat yourself here." He pressed the control on the transporter and a standard Cardassian security prisoner interrogation chair appeared, square and functional, with a manacle dangling from each arm and leg. When Garak didn't immediately move toward it, Lonor aimed the disruptor at the center of his spoon. "I told you to sit down," he said. Garak complied, never taking his eyes off Lonor. "Put the manacles around your ankles and left wrist," he said. With his prisoner reasonably secured, Lonor walked over and fastened the remaining manacle to his right wrist.
"Why are you doing this, Lonor?" Garak asked. In situations like this, you needed to project an air of confidence.
"Have patience, Garak. There will be plenty of time for explanations," Lonor said. "Right now, you just need to sit quietly and watch this filthy traitor get what he deserves."
Lonor walked over to the console with the levers. Behind it, Garak now saw, was a pile of discarded farming tools. The laundry had apparently been on the way to becoming the colony's junk pile before it was sealed off. Lonor selected a hand tiller, consisting of a revolving cylinder studded with spiked teeth on a long handle. He then operated the levers until Dukat hung over the rock that bordered the pool. Turning to Garak, Lonor said, "When a Cardassian has so completely befouled himself and his people, the only fitting end for him is to scrub all his sins away. And that means scrubbing deeper than the skin."
First seeing the look on his face when he strangled a Jem'Hadar sentry during a raid on an armory, Garak had known that Lonor was a sadist. A lifelong career in the Obsidian Order had taught him to recognize the signs immediately. Properly governed, however, sadism was a useful tool in security work. That was why it had troubled him to step back and let Lonor go his own way when the tensions began between them. But even his worst imaginings had failed to predict the gruesome scenario in which he found himself ensnared.
Lonor slowly ran the tiller over the front and back of Dukat's torso. He didn't put much pressure on the instrument, obviously not wishing for excessive blood loss that would rob him of the desired duration of his captive's sufferings. The oozing red furrows couldn't have been more than half a centimeter deep, but their infliction was painful enough to provoke desperate contortions and muffled groans and satisfy the tormentor's desires. Lonor laid down the tiller, moved the dangling Dukat once more over the pool, and turned a hose full force upon him. The screams were quite audible despite the gag and the noise of the water. That would be the mineral salts hitting the open wounds, Garak knew. The prisoner twisted and writhed and gasped for breath as the blast of water was run methodically over him, front and back, head to toe, for several minutes. Then Lonor turned the hose off and studied his prey intently. As soon as Dukat had caught his breath and calmed his agonized movements, the young man repeated the process for several more minutes. When he once again stopped, he laid down the hose and walked back to Garak's chair. "Eventually he'll suffocate from the pressure on his lungs and diaphragm, if his struggles don't induce heart failure first. That's why I have to restrain myself as regards the water torture," Lonor said. "Although I don't know why I'm telling you. Elim Garak is well versed in the mechanics of slow and painful deaths."
"I must admit that I've never seen this particular combination of methods employed," Garak replied. The longer he played the disinterested observer of Lonor's madness, the more time he would gain before his erstwhile protégé started in on him. To show fear would be like pouring fuel upon a fire. Garak's old survival instincts had kicked in, and horror at Dukat's sufferings were a luxury he couldn't at the moment afford.
"Ah, well, the good student must finally surpass the master. Wasn't that something your teacher, Enabran Tain, used to say?"
Tain had characteristically said that no worthy master was ever surpassed by his pupils, but Garak had long credited the obverse of that sentiment to him, in order to inspire the young operatives he had trained to sharpen their skills by trying to outsmart him. Garak confirmed Lonor's recollection with the most ambiguous of nods. "Is this how you killed Faba Eres?" he asked.
"Oh, no, not that the little Bajoran slut didn't deserve it," Lonor said, as if discussing his choice to forego regova eggs at breakfast. "I was on a tight schedule. Dukat's dormitory would only be empty for so long. So I beamed her in, sat her down in that chair, and taped up her nose and mouth. It was over in a few minutes. Most of the time I spent on cleaning all the trace evidence off the body."
Lonor's apparent lack of interest in Faba's death confirmed Garak's suspicions that she had only been his means to getting at Dukat, but he still didn't understand why his former aide's methods had been so convoluted. Not that mania runs on logic, he thought. Still, hearing the rationale articulated might prove useful. "Wouldn't it have been less risky just to come in as a Cardassian security officer and arrest Geron Tangar for being the escaped, condemned criminal Gul Dukat?"
Lonor permitted himself a brief, tight smile. "That was my intention, as soon as I'd done some reconnaissance to make sure that the stories I was hearing of a Dukat look alike on Caspia confirmed my doubts about whether you'd actually killed him. I always thought you went too easy on him, given what we both know you're capable of, and I found it odd you wouldn't let me witness the execution. I'd earned that, having to fetch and carry for him those many weeks." There was no smile on Lonor's face now. For the first time, Garak saw raw hatred engraved on it. "While I was nosing around, however, I started to hear all this talk about you and Colonel Kira, that you were lovers."
"I don't know where those rumors started, but they aren't true," Garak interrupted. He had half supposed that Lonor himself was responsible for spreading them.
"Don't think your lies can work on me, Garak," he said with barely contained rage. "I know you bedded the bitch. I helped you set it up."
"But you know that was part of my tormenting of Dukat. I had no feelings of that nature for Colonel Kira, nor she for me."
"So you told me. See, I never objected to using one of the whores from the Resistance to help us get rid of the shapeshifters, just like there was nothing wrong with pleasuring ourselves on them and casting the garbage aside when we were finished. But they have other ideas here on Caspia. The more I listened to the fools and traitors who live on this moon, the more I discovered that it was a hotbed of sick conspiracies about merging the Cardassian and Bajoran races. And, again and again, they'd talk about you and Colonel Kira becoming lovers during the fight for Cardassian freedom as a model for their filthy cause."
If the situation were not so desperate, Garak would have laughed out loud at the absurdity of this rumor. Could Dukat really have come to this conclusion from watching the seduction Garak had staged for his benefit? Even if he had, why would he be spreading the tale all about Caspia, as he must have been? Garak couldn't believe how recklessly the man had behaved, telling his fellow colonists about long years of service on Bajor, revealing his intimate familiarity with Terok Nor, confessing to a Bajoran mistress and hybrid child. Perhaps everyone on Caspia realized who he was and forgave him for his past sins. It was the sort of place where such things happened, from what Garak could gather. But Dukat's careless talk had also summoned up his apparently inevitable doom, and Garak's too, if he weren't very careful.
"So, if you want to blame someone for that slut's death, blame yourself, Garak." Lonor said scornfully. "I knew that if I framed Dukat, you'd come running, and Colonel Kira would likely come running too. She's bound to blunder in here eventually, and you can watch her die after I've finished with him. Only then will we have our own fun together. Think about that while I scrub another layer of contamination from the esteemed former prefect of Bajor.."
Lonor's words made Garak curse himself for his stupidity. The boy had always shown intense hostility toward Dukat, extending well beyond that required to participate in Garak's torment and humiliation of his old enemy. Therefore Garak had assumed that this intricate plot had Dukat as its main object. Now he saw the truth. Lonor felt trebly betrayed by Garak, for sparing Dukat's life, for supposedly having a love affair with Kira, and primarily, Garak was certain, for releasing him from his service when Lonor's intense devotion to him exceeded his comfort level.
Dismaying as this revelation was, Garak saw some signs for optimism. Lonor had yet to lay a finger on him. For all his rage, the old loyalty was holding him back, making him attack his mentor through surrogates. If nothing was planned for him before Kira was apprehended and killed, then he had breathing room. If Kira figured out where he had disappeared to, she was too much the paranoid guerilla fighter to beam into the trap. If Lonor proposed to entice her there by some other means, he'd have to leave Garak unattended. Plenty of time to get yourself out of this mess, Elim. Stay calm and keep him talking. That's your strong suit.
"No, not so soon!" This half-shouted, half-growled exclamation was voiced by Lonor as Dukat's body went limp under the blast of the water. Lonor pulled out his scanner and then turned to Garak, looking relieved. "He's not dead, just unconscious. After I planned so carefully, I forgot to bring stimulants, so we'll just have to wait for him to come round." He approached Garak's chair and sat down cross-legged in front of him.
Garak started a conversation immediately, before Lonor could get notions of working him over to pass the time. "You really do hate him, don't you, Lonor?" he said. "I think you're the only Cardassian I've ever met who hates him more than I do."
"He led our people to the brink of annihilation. I'm sure that many Cardassians hate him as much as I do."
"But not in the same way. For me, it's a personal loathing of the man, based on long, infuriating acquaintance. I'd venture to say that it's personal with you, too, although not based on personal acquaintance. Something personal to you for which you blame him, perhaps?"
Lonor was dressed in the full uniform of a security trooper on an assault mission, save for the helmet, which he must have left behind on his ship. But he was wearing the thick padded leather gloves. At Garak's question, he took off the left one with intense deliberation and began to strike it against his bare palm. "Don't try those tricks on me, Garak," he said coldly as the leather continued its slap-slap beat.
That's right, Lonor. You know you mustn't tell. It will give the whole game away. And yet you do so long to tell. How many have I brought to this point. Just a little more gentle pressure, and your resistance will crumble. "What tricks?" he said.
"The ones where you get me to talk about my past so you can find a weakness to help you defeat me. Don't play innocent. I know how you operate."
"And I know you well enough to realize that you don't have any weaknesses you can't overcome."
"That's right," the young man said triumphantly. "He always underestimated me, but I showed him."
"Dukat was never the best judge of character," Garak said, knowing full well that Lonor was not talking about Dukat.
"He might never have done it if it weren't for Dukat." The glove was no longer in motion, but crushed tightly in Lonor's right hand. "The Prefect brought in Bajoran comfort women for their amusement, but he encouraged them to be respectful, to invest their emotions in the relationships. He had plenty of his own whores, but he kept them around for years, gave them flowers and gifts. And when one of them bore his child he doted on the hybrid bastard instead of strangling it in the cradle. It's no wonder the men who served under him got ideas."
"And your father was one of the men who got these ideas?" Garak spoke softly, lovingly.
Lonor turned on him, eyes hard. For a moment Garak feared the spell was broken. But then the eyes moistened, and Lonor looked away and continued talking. "He left for Bajor when I was two, and it seemed that every year his leaves home were shorter and shorter. My mother pressed him to let us come visit him on Terok Nor, but he always said it was 'too dangerous.' We found out the real reason when the Occupation ended. Her name was Tann Belen. He'd been sleeping with her for six years, and they had two little boys, five and three. He let them call themselves Lonor, and he brought them and their bitch mother back with him to Prime. He told my mother that they'd all be killed as collaborators if he left them behind. He made up some story for the neighbors, that she was his housekeeper and the boys were another Cardassian's. At home he didn't even pretend. He said that he intended to do his duty to mother and to me, but that he considered Tann and her sons just as much his family as we were. Mother couldn't bear the disgrace of walking out on him, so she stayed and endured that creature taking her place in Father's bed while she cried herself to sleep every night. A half year after he brought them home, they decided to go back to Terok Nor on a visit to see her parents. The Federation would protect them, she said. Father was taking them in his shuttle and would pick them up again when they were ready to come 'home.'" Once more Lonor looked straight into Garak's eyes, and another of his tight smiles played on his lips. "It wasn't very hard to sabotage the stabilizers. The shuttle crashed into the Bekorda mountains twenty minutes after take-off."
"You were how old then?" Garak managed to breathe out.
So, people had begun fatally underestimating Lonor much earlier than even Garak could have imagined.
"I told my mother all about it. I thought she'd be so proud of me, that she'd realize how much I loved her, even if Father didn't. But all she did was look at me like I was a stranger, and the next day she sent me away to boarding school. Just like you did, Garak. I would have done anything for you, too, and you knew I desired you. Why, Garak?"
Garak wondered if there was anything he could say that wouldn't make his situation more dangerous. He was sure that mere silence wouldn't suffice. "We wouldn't have been right for each other," he ventured.
Lonor seemed to notice for the first time that he was grasping his crumpled glove in his fist. He smoothed it out and put it back on. Rising slowly to his feet, he reached out and grabbed Garak's head in both leather-clad hands. "Before you die, see how right we would have been," he said. He bent down and kissed Garak, a long, passionate kiss with an eager, thrusting tongue. When he broke it off, he spat on the ground and wiped his lips vigorously on his sleeve. For once, Garak had nothing to say.
Fortuitously, at that moment, several spasmodic twitches of his legs and a loud groan revealed that Dukat had snapped back into agonizing consciousness. "Ah," said Lonor, once more all business, "time for another hosing."
"He left! What do you mean, he left? Where did he go?" Kira was leaning over Dapok's desk, her nose about a centimeter from his.
"To his shuttle, I think," Dapok said, sliding his chair back to give himself some distance. "He didn't really say, just rushed off muttering about finding Tangar before it was too late." He ducked his head, as if to avoid the verbal assault this additional intelligence was bound to provoke in her.
Instead, Kira's mouth dropped in disbelief. "Let me get this straight. Tangar is missing, too?"
Dapok nodded as his heart rate climbed.
"That's just wonderful!" Kira exploded. "Garak can't prove the man innocent so he abducts him and takes him out of harm's way."
"I'm sure Councillor Garak has his reasons," Dapok said.
"I'm sure he has, too, but I can't for the love of the Prophets figure them out. When did his shuttle leave orbit?"
"As for as I know, it's still in orbit." To Kira's inquiring glance, he continued, "My impression was that he wanted to use the ship's sensors to locate Tangar and the Cardassian who took him out of custody."
"Wait, let's back up here. Another Cardassian is involved?"
Dapok calmed himself sufficiently to convey the events involving the security officer who had claimed to be acting on Garak's instructions.
"Have you spoken to Garak since he beamed aboard the shuttle?" Kira asked.
Dapok shook his head. "I was waiting for him to report back with anything he discovered."
You were more likely waiting for him to get over the impulse to shoot you on the spot, Kira thought. "Open a frequency to him."
No answer was forthcoming from Garak's ship, despite repeated hails. "All right, I'm going to transport up there and find out what's going on," Kira said, turning in the direction of the transporter station.
"Colonel Kira, I wouldn't advise that. I'm sure that Councillor Garak has measures in place to assure that nothing or no one beams aboard his vessel without authorization."
Kira picked up one of the calimelons that was sitting in a fruit bowl on a side table. The bounties of Caspia were everywhere in the habitat dome. "Let's send this up first," she said.
The melon was beamed aboard Garak's shuttle and retrieved undamaged five times in succession. Kira decided it was safe to go, although she had her phaser out and ready. When she materialized, a quick search of the shuttle confirmed that Garak was not there and no one else was either. The pilot's chair was turned away from the navigation console and toward the main computer. She touched the keypad. There was no way she'd ever be able to hack into one of Garak's security programs, but he'd left his internal defenses off, so perhaps his computer's access wasn't protected either.
Indeed it wasn't. Garak had in fact never logged off. Once the screen came on, she was staring at the last programs he had accessed. They contained schematics for all the underground caverns on Caspia. As she started to scroll through them, the computer advanced to the fifth in the queue and refused to advance any further. The area it mapped was designated by a series of letters and numbers, but an overlay message had been pinned to it: OLD LAUNDRY!. She downloaded the whole file to a PADD. Garak had clearly intended for people to be able to track him if he didn't return in a timely fashion. Of course he could have just left a clear and unequivocal message, but then he wouldn't have been Garak. Kira moved over to the transporter controls and downloaded the last set of coordinates to which it had beamed someone. That had happened a little over two hours ago. Kira programmed in the coordinates to Dapok's office and returned with what she had found.
"Yes, the transporter coordinates are those to the old laundry complex," the inspector said. "When the colony first started, they didn't want to rely on technology more than could be helped. With all the natural hot springs underground, it seemed logical to use them to clean the clothes. Problem was, once they were carried from the laundry to the habitat dome, they were dirty again. Seemed counter to the purpose to use most of our transporter resources beaming bundles of clothing around, and as filthy as people get every time they step outside, we just had to have a more efficient system. So we've got 50 thousand-kilo sonic washers over in wing 10, and they run day and night."
"Then this laundry area is abandoned?" Kira asked.
"Abandoned and blockaded It became a popular place for romantic trysts, there being so little privacy here in the dome. But it's pitch black down there now that there's no power on, and slippery from the mist, with steep pathways. After all manner of skull fractures, broken arms and broken legs, we sealed the entrance before someone got killed."
"Then the only access is by transporter," Kira said. "I wonder if Garak sent Tangar and this mysterious security officer there himself. As far as you know, no one has used your transporter, and the entrance to the cavern hasn't been opened."
"I'll double-check on that immediately," Dapok said.
A quarter hour later Dapok was able to confirm that the entrance to the old laundry hadn't been breached, and that the colony's transporters hadn't beamed any one there. "The sensors showed some erratic life signs, but Caspian rock is pretty hard to scan through, lots of thalium sulphide deposits. It could just as easily be one dust rat as three Cardassians."
"Until we know what's down there, I don't think it's safe to beam in a security detail," Kira said. "During the Occupation, the Cardassians had some very effective reduced visibility goggles that also double as binoculars. Many a Resistance cell holed up in the caves of Dahkur province were captured because of them. I don't suppose you'd have any around here?"
"With all our underground water, of course we do," Dapok said, grinning. "I'll get to work unsealing the entrance and have my men suited up."
Kira shook her head. "Too much noise. Get me a pair of the goggles, and a disruptor rifle with a long-distance scope. Then cut a hole in the seal just big enough for me to slide in."
"But, Colonel, I must protest. You're here as an observer as a courtesy to the Bajoran government, but this is a Cardassian colony, and it's my jurisdiction."
"Listen, Dapok," she said, putting both hands on his shoulders with a grip that made him squirm, "This is not something you're going to get done with a bunch of lumbering poultry inspectors who've never looked down the barrel of rifle in their lives. Whoever's behind this has special operations experience, and that's just a name for being a terrorist on behalf of an established government. I'm going in to evaluate the situation without exposing myself. If I need you to beam some of your people down, I'll call you."
Even with the goggles, Kira found the pathway into the laundry difficult to negotiate. Stairs had been cut into the rock, and some of the wooden handrails had not yet rotted away. The ever present mist coated all surfaces however. The footholds were slippery and treacherous, the sweating walls offering no secure handgrips. She made her way one step at a time, pausing every meter or so to listen for sounds of humanoid activity above the roar of the waters to which the path led. Only when she had traversed about 120 of the 150 meters Dapok had told her was the distance to the laundry room did she see a flicker of light around a sharp turn in the path and hear an unintelligible murmur of voices. Dropping to her belly to crawl around the corner, she found herself on a ledge above the underground spring from which a frayed rope ladder descended to the cavern floor. Dapok, you idiot, you might have told me the last thirty meters were straight down, she cursed. Even on the dubious possibility that it would hold, there was no way to use the ladder without her presence being detected.
Kira adjusted her goggles to binocular mode and peered down. There were three Cardassians by the pool. One of them was suspended over it, naked and bleeding, with his head bowed. The other two had their backs toward her. One was handcuffed to a chair and the other was holding a hose from which he intermittently sprayed streams of water on the hanging man. Kira could not make out any faces, but it was clear that this was not a situation that could wait for her to return to the dome and deliver a report. Whoever's to be trusted among these I don't know, but the two bound ones can't hurt me, she considered. She set the rifle on stun, got the man with the hose between the cross-hairs on her scope and fired.
Lonor toppled forward like a man losing his footing on ice. The hose, pinned beneath him except for a few centimeters at its tip, writhed spasmodically as the water flow was cut off by his weight. Garak craned his neck behind him and saw a figure up on the ledge, a weapon still in firing position. "Ah, Colonel Kira to the rescue. I'm glad you found my directions," he called up to her.
"You might have made them a little clearer," she replied, but from in front of him, where she had materialized a minute later. Her eyes swept the bizarre scene. "Who did I shoot, and what has he been doing to you and Dukat?"
"It's Lonor," said Garak, "and we need to restrain him before he wakes up. The control to these cuffs is on his belt. Let me loose, and I'll help you put him in my place." Kira complied, asking for an explanation as they struggled to move the unconscious Cardassian into the chair.
"Lonor killed Faba Eres, as part of an unnecessarily byzantine plot to wreak revenge on Dukat for a long-held grievance," Garak said. "I can fill you in on the more sordid details later, but now is not the time."
"Is Dukat dead?" Kira asked. Garak wasn't sure which answer she wanted to hear.
"Help me get him down, and we'll find out," Garak replied, tight-lipped.
He went over to the control box and moved the ropes so that Dukat hung over solid ground, then stood beneath him to cushion the fall as Kira phasered him free.
"Prophets! that must have been some grievance Lonor was nursing," Kira exclaimed, staring at Dukat's lacerated and blistered skin. "Even I wouldn't have wished this on him."
"That's because you have rational grounds for hating Dukat, Colonel. Lonor is unfortunately a psychopath, and a far more dangerous one than I ever supposed." Kira gave him an incredulous look, but Garak ignored it. He completed a check for signs of heartbeat and respiration and then pronounced, "He's unconscious but alive-barely."
"When I had Dapok beam me down from the ledge, he was going to assemble a medical team under security escort. I'll tell him to transport them in immediately," Kira said.
Garak caught her hand as she went to tap her comm badge. "I think it would be best if you asked him to beam you and Mr. Tangar directly to the clinic, given the gravity of his condition. Perhaps you should say that you found him like this and don't know where I and this mysterious Cardassian security officer have gone. Should others hear Lonor going on about how Gul Dukat escaped justice, we might as well put him out of his misery right now."
"Don't tempt me." Kira made a show of removing his hand from hers. "But it's only delaying the inevitable. If Lonor did indeed commit murder because he hated Dukat, exonerating Tangar will only serve to put the noose around Dukat's neck."
"Colonel, simply get this man the medical attention he needs. Leave me to take care of the other details."
"Garak-" she said sharply. He knew that she knew what he had to do.
"You must decide. Either pick up Lonor's disrupter on the ground there and shoot Dukat through the head, or take him to the clinic and don't contradict whatever I tell Inspector Dapok when I'm ready for him to beam his men in here."
They stared at each other for nearly a minute, and Garak thought she was going to call his bluff. Finally she turned away from him, knelt on the rocks close to Dukat, and tapped her communicator. "Inspector, I've found Tangar very gravely injured. Transport both of us to your medical facility right away." The transporter shimmer hadn't faded completely when Lonor began to stir. Garak picked up his weapon and stunned him again. He needed time to think himself out of this.
There was a bucket among the detritus that had found its way into the corners of the laundry. Garak filled it with water from the spring and poured it onto Lonor. Then he slapped the young man hard. "Wake up," he commanded.
Lonor snapped to consciousness, trying to rise and flee, but constrained by the manacles. He twisted around, seeking an explanation for how he and Garak had changed places. When his eyes scanned the empty clothesline, he slumped back into the chair like a razorcat making its quills go flat. "I hope it was too late when you cut him down," Lonor hissed.
"It may have been, but he's not dead yet," Garak replied.
Lonor mumbled a few curses, the ones that always went around barracks. No one could say that the boy had much of a flair for language, whatever the imagination he had poured into his sadism. "That bitch Kira shot me?" he asked at length. Garak nodded. More curses followed. "I didn't think anyone could get in here on foot," he said mournfully, rather like a child astonished that a careful deception had been penetrated.
"You're hardly the first Cardassian to be caught off-guard by Bajoran stealth," Garak said. "It's amazing what primitive people manage to do when faced with a technologically superior enemy."
"Why haven't you killed me yet, Garak? You are going to kill me, aren't you, to keep me from telling everyone that Gul Dukat is still alive." Lonor's face betrayed no fear, only curiosity.
"I'm afraid I have no choice," Garak said. "But first there's the matter of closing the case on Miss Faba's death." He held up Lonor's security log PADD in a hand which was encased in Lonor's glove. "I've taken the liberty of writing your confession. It's quite accurate, talks about your hatred of Bajorans and Cardassians who conceive children together, mentions your unfortunate childhood-I only omit the little detail about Geron Tangar being the former Prefect of Bajor and your father's commanding officer." He pried Lonor's right thumb up and affixed its print to the authentication screen.
"It also is a suicide note. You express your unwillingness to be tried and sentenced for acts that only served to cleanse the Cardassian people of Bajoran corruption. That's not too far off the mark either, is it Lonor?"
"If I had finished the job and rid us of Dukat, Kira and yourself, it was my plan," Lonor acknowledged. "Now I'll make you contrive something you can try to pass off as suicide, Garak. Our forensics experts aren't fools. Of course you have the power to compel them to agreement, as you did in the Obsidian Order days. I never for once believed in your resolve to create a new Cardassia where power wouldn't trump truth."
"Progress is gradual, my dear boy. However, you will kill yourself. The evidence of that won't be a fabrication."
Lonor shook his head. He almost smiled, as if some shred of victory was still his to grasp. "I don't think so, Garak."
Garak walked several paces toward him. "You're right. There is another way we can play this. I apprehended you before you could complete the task. Upon reading the confession, I suspected that you were quite insane. A psychiatric examination confirms this. There is no trial, no opportunity for public denunciations of a humble Caspian colonist whom your delusions tell you is the long-dead Gul Dukat. With all the diseases haunting Cardassia, the facilities allotted for the care of the mentally defective have dwindled. You won't have any privacy there Lonor, and I can't speak much for the hygiene, so many of the unfortunates are not in the best control of their bodily functions-"
"You can't do that! I'm not insane!"
"Oh, you most certainly are, my dear boy, and you don't even know how to hide it."
Lonor slumped in the chair, broken. "Not a filthy place like that, Garak," he pleaded. "I'd rather die."
"Precisely." Garak walked away and leaned up against the gear box. It would take the young man a while to work himself up to the inevitable. Garak would provide him time, and space, and silence.
Lonor had planned his crowning exit in the same meticulous detail as his various murders. There was pride as well as resignation in his voice as he eventually described it to Garak and asked permission to end his life in the way he had wished. His mentor agreed. Making sure that all transporter controls and weapons were in his possession, Garak pressed the button to release Lonor from the restraints. Garak had the disrupter aimed at him, but the young man didn't appear inclined to make a break for freedom. He walked with measured pace to the edge of the pool and began to take off his clothing, folding each piece methodically and laying it atop the others in a neat pile. When he was completely naked, he turned toward Garak. "See what you missed," he said. "You promise me that no degenerates from this colony will touch my body, that my own xth order security comrades will retrieve me and conduct the funerary rites?"
"I promise you that," Garak said solemnly.
"Will you give me my weapon now."
Garak slid Lonor's disrupter along the rock floor where it came to rest less than a meter from his bare feet. He kept his aim on Lonor's head as Lonor picked up the weapon and stepped back to the very edge of the pool. "You taught me that a shot just under the jaw line is the most instantly fatal to our species at close range. That wasn't a lie, was it ?" Lonor said, demonstrating the disrupter's placement.
"It wasn't a lie."
Lonor gave the slightest nod of his head and fired. His body tumbled backwards into the roiling spring. Sprays of mist shot up like damp solar flares and then subsided. Garak came to the edge and peered down, standing motionless for nearly a minute. Then he placed the PADD and Lonor's gloves atop the pile of clothing and tapped his communicator. "Inspector Dapok, I've located Faba's killer. He's dead."
The solution to the murder of Faba Eres was hardly the solution to the strain the crime had put upon relations between Bajor and Cardassia. While the utopian pretensions of the colonists remained intact, the ease with which a member of the Cardassian Third Order security forces could abduct and murder a defenseless Bajoran troubled the Council of Ministers greatly. As the woman on the spot, Kira ended up shuttling back and forth from the station to Cardassia Prime for over a week. In the end, the Bajoran government forbade any further immigration by its citizens to Caspia for the next half year, the lifting of this sanction to occur only if the Cardassians and the Caspians could work out a better security arrangement that all parties could trust. Poor Dapok would no doubt be the first casualty, Kira thought. He'd probably end up in one of the temporary housing units for the many jobless back on Prime, living on Federation handouts. Yet he appeared no more flustered than usual when she beamed back down to Caspia to ask permission to complete one last bit of unfinished business.
Officially, she was required to get a statement from Geron Tangar, now that he was well enough to see her. Officially she would walk in today, speak with him, and in a few days the statement would be filed with Bajoran security. Unofficially, Garak was even now crafting the contents of the statement, to make sure that it matched the details of Lonor's confession and that it did nothing to make anyone on either Cardassia or Bajor suspect Tangar's true identity . The ruse would however allow Kira the opportunity finally to speak to Dukat after she had twice now been confronted with the miraculous resurrection of a man she had for decades devoutly wished out of her life.
She asked a nurse to see if Tangar was ready for her, and the woman soon came back to announce that he was. Entering, she saw that he was not alone. Limyal Tarkheta sat by the bedside with the fierce stare of a gerhawk guarding its nest. Dukat looked much better than the last time she had seen him, but he was hardly restored to health. The injuries inflicted upon him had been severe and would be some time in healing. The doctors had barely started evaluating his condition when he had gone into respiratory failure. Only three days weaned from the breathing machine, he still had a mild case of pneumonia and a tri-ox drip fed into his left arm. That limb, like the right, rested immobile on banks of pillows. Hanging suspended as he had while buffeted by the force of the water had dislocated both shoulders, elbows and wrists. There were countless torn ligaments, sprained muscles, and damaged nerves. Surgery to repair them had been successful, Dapok had informed Kira, but it would be a while before mobility returned to either arm.
Nevertheless, the expression on the face that turned toward her was all too familiar, despite the hollow eyes and the unexpected facial hair. "Ah, Colonel Kira, is it?" he said. "I'm glad to have this opportunity to express my thanks. Limyal, this is my rescuer, the commander of Terok Nor."
"We've met," Tarkheta said sharply. Apparently any gratitude she had for the restoration of her lover was not sufficient to outweigh her disdain for Bajoran meddlers.
"We call it Deep Space Nine now, Mr. Tangar," Kira replied, almost as sharply as Tarkheta.
"Of course you do-old habits die hard," said Dukat with that same ironic edge that always accompanied his attempts to sound sincere.
Some awkward seconds passed in silence until Tarkheta took charge of the situation. "I'll leave you two alone for the interrogation," she said. "Watch that you don't let her overtire you, Geron."
"Limyal, my dear, before you go, could you give me some water," Dukat asked, with a slight wheeze. His companion nodded, filled a glass from a bedside pitcher, and put it to his lips. When he had finished, she kissed him on his forehead and brushed away a stray lock of hair, then left the room.
"She loves you," Kira said.
"I am well aware of that," Dukat responded with his customary self-satisfaction.
"You ought to marry her and stop chasing after Bajoran girls. It only leads to misery."
He laughed. "You never change, do you, Nerys? It is comforting in the midst of all these distressing revolutions in my life that you feel exactly about me as you always have."
She winced at his use of her first name and ignored the comment. "I'm not really here to ask you about what happened with Lonor. Garak is going to work out a statement that will satisfy the authorities without compromising your identity."
"Garak, on the other hand, has changed quite perplexingly," he mused.. "He seems obsessed with my continued existence. And I suppose if you are going along with him then your attitude toward me isn't as unchanging after all. Not that he hasn't got a powerful hold on you now, eh?" He winked at her.
Kira blushed. "Are you talking about those ridiculous rumors that have us in some torrid affair?"
Dukat tilted his head and raised a quizzical brow-ridge. "They are hardly just rumors, are they?"
"Of course they are-" She broke off and leaned close to him, "Are you the one that started them?"
"No! I'm hardly suicidal. There's no way that Geron Tangar could know what Gul Dukat knows. I admit I was surprised to find all of Caspia abuzz about you two from the minute I arrived. I thought that little performance was strictly for my benefit."
It was Kira's turn to look puzzled. "Performance? I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Don't be so coy, Colonel. I'm sure Garak couldn't have brought all that off without letting you in on his plan." As Kira continued to stare at him without comprehension, he continued, "Surely you haven't forgotten, that cozy dungeon room on the eve of Gh'pakt'rodak?"
Kira sat down in the chair Tarkheta had abandoned. She suddenly felt light-headed. "You knew about that?" she asked in a voice that was none too steady.
Dukat leaned forward and studied her face. A mocking grin took up residence on his. "Well, well, the tailor still isn't above taking advantage of his peculiar attractiveness to some people. I wasn't sure he could put anything by someone as suspicious as you are, Colonel."
Kira grabbed the collar of his night shirt and looked him straight in the eye. "You are going to tell me right now what you're talking about, Dukat, or I'm going to tell the Cardassian authorities where they can find you."
"No need for threats, Nerys," he said. "I will take great pleasure in letting you in on Garak's little scheme. It's very simple. He wanted to punish me by showing that he could get you into bed while I, despite all my best efforts, never could. I was confined in the cell next to his . . . apartment, and the walls in Obsidian Order facilities can always be turned into two-way mirrors. I was watching from the moment you came in the door."
Kira's fist clenched instinctively. What kind of cover story could she fabricate to account for making the Cardassian's obscenely grinning face undergo complete re-arrangement? Maybe she could claim he'd had a seizure and struck himself on the bedrail. She took a couple of deep breaths to quell her anger. After all it wasn't Dukat who was truly guilty here, and as much as she hated him on general principles, beating up a man who literally couldn't raise a finger in his own defense violated even a terrorist's code of ethics. There was a proper target for her rage, and no principles to stop her from directing it in his direction. She rose and turned toward the door. "I am going to kill Garak," she said through clenched teeth.
"Nothing could please me more," Dukat chuckled. "Unless you'd be willing to repeat your performance with me. You were so much more, ah, energetic than I would have imagined from the time I spent with your dear mother."
This time Kira actually had to clasp her hands behind her back to keep them from landing several well placed blows. "Dukat," she hissed. "If I ever hear you speak of my mother again, I will knock every one of your teeth out."
Kira arrived at Garak's door at the time they'd agreed on. She was wearing her phaser, and after he invited her in, she shot him with it, point blank in the chest. One-quarter stun didn't cause a target to lose consciousness, but it reduced physical coordination to the point that the person stunned could do little besides flail about spasmodically like a dakoset beetle on its back. Kira stood over the supine Cardassian and enjoyed the look of utter shock on his face. "Cron'l . . . you . . . lst mind?" he managed to get out despite paralyzed jaw and tongue.
"Just shut up, you bastard, or I'll set this thing on maximum," she said. She walked over to a table that stood next to a sofa, picked up the vase of flowers it held, and smashed them on the floor. Three other ornaments she hurled against the wall before sitting down in a chair within his field of vision. "I have never felt so used by someone I trusted, so defiled, never. To humiliate me like that, getting me into your bed while Dukat played voyeur. And all to further some twisted Cardassian mind game. You could have had any revenge on him you wanted, and you had to fuck me for the punishment to be complete?"
By this time the effects of the phaser had worn off enough for Garak to struggle to a sitting position. "I gave you ample opportunity to say no," he said.
"But you knew I wouldn't. That's been your life's work, manipulating people into doing what you want them to, damn the cost. Prophets, when I think back on it, you pushed all the right buttons-what an obscenity."
"My dear Colonel Kira," Garak began cautiously. "It only appears obscene to you now because that fool Dukat can't keep his mouth shut. Before it was a moment of intimacy you later came to regret, but nothing more. Believe me that I never imagined you would learn the truth."
She aimed the phaser right at his spoon. "And this is supposed to justify what you did? For all intents and purposes raping me just so you could enjoy a little private vengeance." Then, afraid that she might really kill him, she hurled it across the room, too.
She heard Garak let out his breath. He rose slowly and more or less collapsed into the chair next to her. "Colonel, do you remember a Bajoran woman named Gai Polami?"
Gai Polami. It had been a long time since Kira had heard that name, and she would have been happy never to hear it again. "Yes, I believe that she was the mistress of some Cardassian glinn in Dahkur Province. She poisoned him, and was executed. The authorities wanted to pin the blame on the Resistance, and it gave Dukat an excuse to send half her village to labor camps. We had nothing to do with her. She probably just got tired of being exploited by him." Kira hoped she sounded convincingly matter-of-fact.
"I think that 'mistress' would be overstating the case. Glinn Bakal's regiment was stationed near her home. There was an attraction, they walked through the hills holding hands and exchanged furtive kisses. Nothing more. The interrogation proved her a virgin. She baked him a cake for his name day, egg and butter flavor, with tulaberry filling, The flour had been cut with trachyzine. He died within five minutes of finishing the first piece. She hadn't shared it with him, claiming an allergy to the tulaberries he adored. So you can see why we didn't believe her claims that she wasn't the murderer."
"It does sound like an open and shut case," Kira said, her mouth suddenly very dry.
"Indeed, that was the conclusion of Central Command security. But the Order always reviewed completed cases involving attacks on our soldiers on Bajor," Garak said. "I happened to be assigned to the Gai file. There were some troubling details. The interrogators had of course not told her how the poison got into the cake, or what poison was used. It would have proved her guilt conclusively if she had been able to tell them. After two days of torture during which she made wild guesses at everything from the tulaberries to the water, she never got it right. There was no reason to conceal that information and continue to suffer. I could only conclude that she had no idea."
"Garak, what is the point? This has nothing to do with what you did to me."
"Patience, my dear Colonel. There is a connection. I'm sure its precise nature is even now forming in your mind," Garak said.
Yes. Revenge, and not worrying about using another to get it. But the situations were totally different. We were justified. I was justified.
"Your silence tells me that you see it," he continued. "Gai was merely a tool for someone who wanted to destroy Glinn Bakal. I thought it prudent to discover who that was. I charged one of our Bajoran operatives with asking questions of Gai's family and acquaintances. One of her closest friends was not to be found. It seems she disappeared the day after Gai was apprehended. They had only known each other a month, but they had been nearly inseparable since this other woman, Luma, moved to the village from the capital and set up a bakery. She had all sorts of black market ingredients, and since Gai loved to bake, the shop was a magnet for her. Luma even managed to obtain from her contacts some finely milled flour that the Cardassians usually appropriated for themselves. She gave it without charge to her friend so that her lover's nameday cake would be a truly special confection."
Garak paused. Kira only stared at him, tight-lipped.
"The operative obtained detailed descriptions of this Luma," he went on. "The computer identified four known terrorists who most closely matched them. Then I delved into all the operations Glinn Bakal and his unit had been involved in over the past year. Three months before his death, he and his men had been enforcing Bajoran resettlement orders. There was an obstreperous old man who refused to cooperate because he was worried about his garden. Eventually Bakal had to order him shot. His name was Kira Taban. Had we ever tried you, Kira Nerys of the Shakaar resistance cell, the murder of Glinn Bakal would have been added to your lengthy list of crimes against the Cardassian state."
It would be futile to protest her innocence, Kira realized. "We had every right to involve Gai Palami in our plan to execute Bakal," she insisted, feeling the color rise to her cheeks. "She was a collaborator."
"She was a silly Bajoran girl who imagined herself in love with a Cardassian, no different from poor Faba Eres!" Garak shot back. It was one of the few times Kira remembered him raising his voice. "You come here and point a weapon at me because I maneuvered you into nakedness to Dukat's gaze. Well, let me assure you, Colonel, that your 'humiliation' is nothing to what Gai Palami faced when she stood naked before her interrogators."
Kira hoped he would have the decency not to go into the details. They had informed too many nightmares over the years, causing her to awake weeping. "We had no idea she wouldn't eat the cake. She was supposed to die with him. We never intended for her to be captured and tortured."
"And this is supposed to justify what you did?" Garak asked, parroting her accusation back at her. "Let's be clear; it was you, my dear Kira. Let's not hide behind this 'we.' The Resistance would never have bothered to target such a minor functionary if you hadn't insisted on avenging your father's death. You were the one who ingratiated yourself with Miss Gai, and you were the one who betrayed her, which is more than she ever did to you. Not once during the entire interrogation did she reveal that her dear friend Luma provided the central ingredient for the cake."
Kira felt overcome by an intense weariness. "All right, Garak, you win the argument," she sighed. "My betrayal of Gai was worse than your betrayal of me. It still doesn't mean that I'll ever forgive you."
Garak rose. "There are many who never will," he said. "One more does not concern me." He walked over to a desk, punched an access code into the keypad on a secure drawer, and withdrew a Bajoran PADD. "Here is the statement for your superiors that you purportedly gleaned from Geron Tangar. Now take it and get out of my house."
Back behind her desk in Ops, Kira looked over the stack of reports and requests that had accumulated while she was working on the Faba Eres murder case. She usually hated paperwork, but its mind-numbing qualities were welcome after the emotional upheavals of the past weeks. She had only been at work about half an hour when the door chime sounded and Baj Narela entered. Kira felt a headache coming on. No doubt Narela wanted to compare Kira's views on the murder with the breathless accounts she had received from her sister. There was nothing Kira felt less like doing. So she let her subordinate get no further than "Colonel, if you could spare a moment-" before she cut her off. "Lt. Baj, if this is about the Caspia mess, I really don't feel like talking about it right now."
Baj looked crestfallen, but her eyes swept over the cluttered desk and she saved face by observing, "You've got so much work, I'm sorry to have intruded."
"In a few days, when I'm caught up, we'll go for a drink on the Promenade, and I'll tell you all about it," Kira said, softening.
Baj smiled, "Thank you, that would be wonderful."
She turned to go, but Kira called her back, "Just one thing about Caspia still puzzles me, Everyone there was under the impression that Councillor Garak and I were having a passionate love affair. Has your sister ever given you any indication how such a ridiculous story got started?"
The other woman's face went pale; she looked terror-stricken. She also appeared incapable of speech.
"Lieutenant, what's wrong?"
"The story . . . it got started . . . that is . . . the first Salu and I knew of it . . . well , we heard it from you."
"From me?" Kira asked, totally flabbergasted.
"My sister and I were at Quark's a few weeks before she was to set out for Caspia," Baj began, as tears started running down her cheeks. "You, Dr. Bashir and Lt. Dax were sitting at the table next to us, and, well, we kind of overheard some of the conversation. Dr. Bashir was saying that he still couldn't imagine you, Councillor Garak, and Legate Damar having to hide out together in a basement, and not killing each other in the process. And then Lt. Dax asked if perhaps you spent the time making love. And you said that yes, you did it like a round robin, two in the bed and one watching. Then Dr. Bashir said that must be why you took all those official trips to Cardassia and you told him that you and Garak had kept it up for old times' sake."
"Prophets, Lt. Baj! We were joking. Even if we weren't, you shouldn't have been eavesdropping. And you certainly shouldn't be repeating the story. I suppose you've told everyone on the station, too?"
"I swear I never repeated it to anyone, Colonel Kira, but Salu was so thrilled at the idea of the great Resistance hero Kira Nerys being lovers with a Cardassian. It showed that the Caspia colony wasn't a foolish and dangerous idea, like our parents and so many other Bajorans thought. I guess she told all the colonists as soon as she got there."
"You never warned her that it might not be true?"
Baj bowed her head, "No, sir," she muttered. "I thought it was true."
Not until almost a month later, when I made the stupidest mistake of my life. "Lt. Baj," she said. "I'm going to put you in charge of docking operations at upper pylon three, effective tomorrow."
"Please, Colonel, don't transfer me," Baj sobbed. "I didn't mean any harm."
"It's not a punishment, it's a promotion. It won't compromise your service record at all. I just don't think I can have you under my direct command in Ops any more. It wouldn't be fair to you. And I'm afraid we won't be having that drink any time soon either."
Baj nodded and fled the office, and Ops, with her hands covering her face. Kira leaned back in her chair and started laughing. So the joke was on her, after all. This gossip that had so vexed and mystified her had its origins in one of Dax's risqué fantasies to which she had unwisely given mock serious assent. But it was a bitter, joyless laughter. After his rescue Garak had told her that hearing of their supposed love affair had been the final stimulus to Lonor's deranged and murderous actions. Didn't she have enough blood on her hands already? If I only I'd never slept with Garak . . .
Bajor and Cardassia were friendly neighbors now, at least according to the diplomats and the bureaucrats. Why shouldn't their citizens find love together, or if not love, pleasure? Yet all she could think of was the pall of death that haunted so many of those unions in the past-and the present. Gai Palama. Tora Naprem. Faba Eres. Her own mother. She could hardly wish her dear Ziyal out of existence but truly, it would have been better if Naprem had never met Dukat, had never conceived a child with him.
Remembering Ziyal made her think of Ziyal's one-time playmate. Kira punched up her comm messages and re-read a note that she had received that morning from Nera Falama. "I must thank you, Colonel Kira, with all my heart," it said. "By proving that Eres's murderer was not one of us but one who clung to the vile prejudices of the past, you have saved the Caspian community. I'm more certain than ever that we can forge a future of unity and cooperation among both my people. I hope my lover comes to see this too, but if she doesn't, Caspia is still the only place I'll ever feel at home. Nothing will make me leave it now. We Caspians are in your debt forever."
Kira hoped that the future history of these Cardassians and Bajorans would indeed be as wondrous as Nera and her colleagues believed it would. The past had a long reach, though, and she feared that more generations than one would have to pass before its accumulated clouds of violence and hatred would dissipate and allow the sun to shine.
Kira looked down at the PADDs before her and knew that she would do no more work today. She called in her first officer and told him that she wasn't feeling well and would be in her quarters if anything out of the ordinary should arise.
As she waited for the turbolift she thought, What I need is a nice, long, hot shower.
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