by Henrietta Wotton
The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Edward Fitzgerald, "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"
Dukat held onto the sides of the desk, steadying himself. His heart pounded as he struggled to breathe regularly. The sensation had been like nothing he had ever experienced, as if the entire universe had winked out, leaving him a disembodied consciousness in an infinite darkness. But he was back in his body now, and he eventually raised his head and saw the expected surroundings. His office in Ops, Sisko's desk, the defiant baseball left behind. He searched his memory. What had he been doing before everything vanished?
For several seconds he couldn't remember. Then he glanced at a number of Bajoran PADDs scattered about the desk. That's right, accusatory messages from the First Minister, the Kai, and assorted other luminaries demanding an explanation of Vedek Yassim's suicide - he'd been drafting a reply. When he looked at the computer screen, however, the characters weren't Kardasi, and the subject matter dealt with inventory reports rather than political protest. More strangely still, they were written in Federation standard. Were these intercepted coded messages he was to send to cryptography? He didn't recall them.
He was distracted from his puzzlement by the sound of the door sliding open. Looking up, he saw Major Kira . . . and yet not Major Kira. Her hair was much longer than it had been at the staff meeting this morning, there was something different about the uniform, and she was staring at him as if he were the world-devouring M'rentagh of Hebitian legend.
Dukat rose shakily from his chair, "Major, I think we may have experienced . . ." Before he could say "some temporal distortion" she had tapped her commbadge and barked, "Security to my office. Immediately."
"Your office?" he shot back. "This is most definitely not your office." He took a step toward her.
She pulled a phaser on him. "Don't move, Dukat, or whoever you are," she said. As he froze, two Bajoran deputies and two Starfleet security officers rushed in with their weapons trained on him also. What was going on? Had the winking out effect been part of a Federation attack? Instinctively Dukat reached for his own weapon, but he never even touched it before the world went black again, this time taking all his consciousness with it.
Kira ran both hands through her hair and then used them to prop up her chin. She stared hard at the four officers sitting opposite her in the briefing room: Julian and Ezri, the Vulcan, Stapek, from Starfleet intelligence, and Chief Counsel Aharonov from Federation judicial. "All right. Let's see if I've got this straight. The man we've been holding for three and a half weeks is Dukat, a Dukat who claims that it's two years ago. After your combined teams of experts have been at him for days on end, they've concluded that he is neither pretending to have forgotten the missing years, nor that he actually has forgotten them, but that he never lived them?"
"Right," said Bashir. "All living beings undergo a regular and measurable cell deterioration throughout their lives. Every time I examine a patient, I routinely take cellular decay readings. So did the Cardassian doctors that treated him here after the Dominion seized Terok Nor. This man's readings match very closely with those taken when Dukat received his annual physical about a month before the date he claims it to be. There is decidedly less deterioration than in the samples Starfleet medical obtained when they treated Dukat after his breakdown, and far too little to belong to a Dukat who had lived through all the days between his escape from the Honshu and now. The Cardassian medical team that came here to consult independently reached the same conclusion as I did, working from their own data. I'm convinced that there's no mistake."
"Except that this is totally impossible," Kira replied with a sigh.
"Improbable, yes, but not impossible," Stapek interposed. "Our investigation into the disappearance of Captain Sisko tracked him to the Bajoran fire caves, where DNA from Gul Dukat and Kai Winn was also discovered." The Vulcan nodded his head toward her respectfully, "If, as your people believe, Colonel, the atemporal aliens you call Prophets imprisoned others of their kind there, and if Dukat fell into their midst, then he could have been expelled by these beings at any point along the time continuum they chose. We haven't come up with a logical explanation as to why he should have returned to two years ago while all the rest of us haven't."
"Or to why I'm still Dax, instead of Jadzia," Ezri added.
"Or why Captain Sisko and Kai Winn aren't still among us, or why a million other things that ought to have happened to the timeline if Dukat vanished from it two years ago haven't happened," Kira said, throwing her hands in the air in frustration.
"The fact is that we don't understand exactly how the wormhole aliens relate to time and space. We've picked up rumors from the Gamma Quadrant that a scattering of Vorta and Jem'Hadar who vanished when the Dominion fleet tried to come through the wormhole have recently reappeared in a similarly regressed state and with a similar lack of effect on the timeline," Stapek replied.
Kira clicked off the PADD that held all the files the various experts had compiled during their examinations of Dukat. "I suppose the how and the why of it don't really matter in the long run. We've got to decide what to do with him. Mr. Aharonov, what does the Federation recommend?"
The adjudicator shrugged his broad shoulders. "That you release him from custody and let him get on with his life."
The Vulcan nodded his agreement, while Bashir and Dax exchanged startled looks. "You can't be serious," Kira exclaimed. "The man killed Jadzia Dax and Benjamin Sisko, two Starfleet officers."
"The man who committed those actions may be floating around in some noncorporeal, atemporal limbo, but the Dukat you've got in a holding cell never killed either of them, because his life stopped two years ago and only resumed the day you found him in your office," Aharonov said. "He's not broken any Federation laws, and we won't be filing any charges."
"Starting a war that's left most of the Alpha Quadrant in ruins doesn't count?" Bashir asked hotly, his nostrils flaring.
"If you want to be technical, Starfleet started the war by mining the wormhole," Stapek observed, directing a disapproving look at the doctor. He raised his hand to forestall any counter-argument. "But that's neither here nor there. When great powers wage war, their leaders' fates are decided on the battlefield, not in the courtroom."
"Well, if the Federation isn't interested in making Dukat pay for his crimes, you can be sure that we Bajorans have long memories and documentation of hundreds of atrocities he authorized as Prefect during the Occupation," Kira said.
"There's no doubt Bajor has jurisdiction, and I can't speak for a Bajoran court," Aharonov replied carefully. "However, when Bajor signed its treaty with Cardassia, it agreed that all pending war crimes indictments would be handed down within a year following implementation of the treaty. I don't recall that any indictment pertaining to Dukat was ever processed."
"Your Federation prevailed on us not to charge him, on the grounds that he was your 'most valuable unofficial contact on Cardassia'," Kira retorted.
Aharonov lowered his eyes, acknowledging her point. "I suppose one might argue that the government that made that treaty was overthrown when Dukat made his deal with the Dominion. It's not a foolproof strategy, but one your legal people might want to pursue . . ."
"'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers'-- one of the few sensible things Doctor Bashir's friend Shakespeare ever wrote, wouldn't you agree?"
They all turned toward the door where Garak was standing, wearing his customary enigmatic smile. Bashir jumped up and shook his hand. "It's good to see you again, Garak," he enthused. "The station hasn't been the same without you."
"Or without Benjamin, Worf, Miles, Odo, Rom and Leeta," Ezri added quietly.
"Ah, well, counselor, on the other hand you have been blessed with the presence of the errant Gul Dukat these past weeks," Garak replied. "Assuming that you haven't found that a fair exchange, I am here to relieve you of such a puzzling legal conundrum." Garak handed a PADD to Kira. "Colonel, Dukat used the Dominion to overthrow our legitimate government and install himself as leader of Cardassia. Neither the Detepa Council, the Central Command, nor the Obsidian Order ever endorsed our alliance with the Dominion according to the protocols spelled out in Cardassian law. I would point out to our Federation friends that these illegal actions occurred well before this curious erasure of his recent personal history. Therefore, the new ruling council has asked the chief archon to indict Dukat for high treason. The death sentence has been pronounced, and I'm here to take him back to Cardassia for trial and execution. Since neither Bajor nor the Federation seems to have a foolproof plan for bringing him to justice for his many crimes, I trust you'll have no objections, Colonel."
For the first time that morning, Kira unclenched her teeth. She leaned back in her chair with relief. "Thank you for your opinions, people. You're all dismissed. I believe that Garak and I have some arrangements to make."
How long has it been? Dukat wondered, lying on his back on his cot, staring up at the too-bright lights in the ceiling of his cell. It was the first time since the Federation took him into custody that they'd given him any peace during his waking hours. Medical scans and more medical scans. Interviews by seven different counselors. And the endless questions by revolving teams of interrogators from Starfleet intelligence. Then, yesterday, three Cardassian doctors arrived, performed their own medical tests, and administered three different truth drugs, after which his interrogators appeared and asked their questions all over again . Yet not once in all that time would any of them answer a single one of his questions.
Finally left alone, he tried to piece together some explanations. He'd clearly lost time, a lot of it. Time enough for Starfleet to retake Terok Nor, perhaps to win the war. How else would they have obtained Cardassian cooperation? Then again, there were some traitors who had disapproved of his alliance with the Dominion and had escaped the purges. Nevertheless, given that his questioners asked him nothing about Dominion and Cardassian strategies and troop deployments, he leaned to the conclusion that the war was over.
He could make little sense of the questions, truth be told. Some aimed at establishing the chronology of the winking out, but most concentrated on his interactions with all sorts of people. When had he last seen Damar, Ziyal, even the Kai of Bajor, whom, as far as he could recall, he had never met in his life? And again and again they pressed him about the whereabouts of Benjamin Sisko. That must have been why Major Kira had laid claim to the Captain's office. Sisko was missing. Dukat had the strong impression that Starfleet suspected he had something to do with Benjamin's disappearance. It was absurd. Sisko had been light years away, commanding the Defiant, when Dukat's universe went black.
Crowded as the universe to which he awoke had been, in a fundamental sense it was as empty as the blackness, for it was peopled almost entirely by people unfamiliar to him. The young human CMO, Bashir, he had met in passing, but they had no history together. Occasionally Dukat would spot Kira standing in the doorway to the holding cells, fixing him with a decidedly malevolent stare, but if Dukat looked beyond his interrogators and hailed her, she always turned and left. He was surprised they hadn't sent Odo in to question him. The shapeshifter was a far shrewder investigator than all the rest of these fools put together . Hadn't he, the commander of Terok Nor, been the one to recognize that before anyone else?
"Well, well, Dukat, these are hardly your usual sybaritic surroundings."
He'd wished for a familiar voice and face, and now his wish was granted, although this voice and face belonged to the last person he would have chosen. Still, there was perverse comfort in encountering an old enemy amid the swarm of strangers. He got up and walked to the limit of the force field. "So, Garak, have they finally sent someone competent to interrogate me? You do know that the Federation won't let you use your favorite methods, the ones you used on my father."
"You'd be surprised what the Federation will permit, under the right circumstances," Garak said.
He's bluffing, Dukat told himself, although he felt his stomach muscles tighten. "As their tame Cardassian, you would be better informed on such subjects than I," he replied casually.
"I'm no one's Cardassian but my own. I am also a member of the new ruling council on our homeworld."
"That's a lie," Dukat spluttered. "Unless . . ." A disconcerting possibility occurred to him, "unless the Federation and its allies have conquered us and installed a puppet government, as we did on Bajor. A traitorous collaborator-that's just your style, isn't it, Garak?"
Garak smiled one of those infuriating smiles of his. "I'm afraid you have that backwards, Dukat. You are the traitor, and I'm here to take you back to Cardassia Prime for trial. The death sentence has already been pronounced."
Dukat stared at him open-mouthed for a few seconds, then sat down on his cot and started to laugh. "You interrogators and your mind games! Well, I'm very tired at present, so if you'll just leave, please, I'm going to take a nap."
"Lonor, come here," Garak called over his shoulder. "Our prisoner is proving recalcitrant." From the shadows in the doorway where Major Kira used to stand and glare at him, a young Cardassian came forward. He wore a glinn's uniform insignia, although he looked scarcely old enough to be a soldier at all.
Garak turned back to Dukat. "Now, I'm not having any more of your nonsense, Dukat. Lonor is going to come in there and handcuff you, and then we will escort you to the brig of a transport bound for Cardassia Prime. I've issued him a shock rod, one of the kind you had the Occupation troops use to encourage productivity in our Bajoran laborers. I've given him strict instructions to use it only if you don't behave yourself, so let's have no more trouble, shall we?"
Garak turned off the force field to permit his aide to enter the cell, and the dumbfounded Dukat stood limply as Lonor pulled his arms behind his back, fastened wrist restraints, and pushed him from the cell. The rough treatment roused Dukat from his torpor. "I demand to see Odo or Major Kira," he shouted. "You can't just kidnap me from a Bajoran station."
"Kidnap you, Dukat? I wouldn't dream of it. All the paperwork necessary to extradite you to Cardassia from Bajoran jurisdiction is in perfect order and on file in triplicate," Garak said soothingly. "Come along now. Our people are eager for your trial to begin. Oh, and there is one thing I need to prepare you for. You will find that Prime is not quite as you remember it."
No, not quite as he had remembered it. First there was the dense cloud cover that obscured any view of the larger geographical features that instantly identified Prime to any Cardassian returning home. When Garak and Lonor beamed down with him through those clouds, the sight staggered him. There was nothing there but twisted metal, broken glass, crushed stone, collected in great heaps every few meters. For the first time he was glad that Ziyal had defied his order to return with him to Cardassia on the eve of the coup. She was doubtless still living safely on Bajor, not amid this forbidding desolation. A faint odor of decay was in the damp, sooty air. The cloud cover seemed to begin about two meters above the ground, making the few people who had braved the outside appear to be disembodied spirits. If Dukat had felt his existence to be oddly dreamlike ever since the universe had winked out, it was now entering a nightmare phase. The only intact structures were tents and prefabricated housing units, all bearing the insignia of the Federation.
So, we lost the war, and the Federation's in control, he concluded. But all this devastation - the Federation was not a power that crushed its enemies utterly. What had been done to Cardassia exceeded even what he imagined Klingons to be capable of. "What happened?" he said numbly to Garak.
"You'll find out in due course," Garak replied, grim-faced. "I doubt you recognize the place, but we're in Kharamka Square, facing the Great Hall of State Justice, or rather the six stones of its foundation which remain."
"Kharamka Square . . . this?" Dukat said in disbelief.
"Sadly, yes. Since we cannot hold your tribunal in the Great Hall, this useful Federation structure to the right will have to suffice. Lonor," Garak called to the young soldier, "go clear the way of Dukat's many admirers."
Indeed a number of people had crowded about the entrance to the building. As he approached, Dukat heard his name on many lips, repeated notes in a muttered symphony of anger. Several men spat on the ground as he passed, and one woman rushed forward and spat in his face before Lonor could hold her back. "Traitor!" she shouted as she struggled in Lonor's grasp, and soon the whole crowd was chanting, "Traitor, traitor." Dukat walked on with his head held high, even as the spittle dripped down his eye-ridge.
Such scenes were not new to him. When he used to tour the refugee camps on Bajor, assuring the people that he had their best interests at heart, a few of them always cursed or spat at him. He took it all in stride and prevented his guards from apprehending and punishing the offenders. He wanted his subjects to see that he was a magnanimous guardian of their welfare. Of course, there was the time that a young man angrily confronted him, waving his fist not six centimeters from Dukat's nose. "You spoonhead bastard, you took my sister away and turned her into a whore," his antagonist bellowed. Then he pulled down his pants and directed a stream of urine at the Prefect's crotch. Dukat had him shot on the spot. There were boundaries even the most magnanimous of protectors couldn't permit to be transgressed.
The trial moved by in a blur. His conservator had won the archon's permission for the condemned man to delay his confession until the entire case was laid out, due to the "memory defects" from which he was suffering. So Dukat sat there, surrounded by a sea of Central Command officers, a few Cardassian civilians, and observers wearing the uniforms of the Federation, the Klingon empire, and even the Romulan empire. Hour upon hour the precise chronology of the ouster of the legitimate government by the Dominion and the installation of Dukat as the Dominion's "puppet ruler" of Cardassia was established. More briefly, a series of maimed Cardassians recounted the horrors of the Jem'Hadar's extermination campaign, and then one of the most eminent legal historians on the planet explained that, the holocaust having been perpetrated by an enemy to whom Dukat had voluntarily surrendered his homeworld, the billion casualties it had produced could also be laid at his feet. Dukat kept shaking his head in disbelief at the statistics of Cardassia's ruin and the gall of the assembled luminaries in assigning guilt for the catastrophe to him.
Then it was time for him to make his confession. He knew what was expected. He was to declare that his ambition had blinded him to what his loyalty to the Cardassian state demanded. That's what his father had said, at his trial. Yet Dukat bridled at what was expected of him. The state to which both he and his father had sworn loyalty was gone. He was damned if he'd admit a guilt he did not accept to this hall full of hand-picked stooges of the victorious Alpha Quadrant Alliance. "What I did, I did for Cardassia, to restore her to glory, to keep her from becoming a beggar nation. I cannot be held responsible for what the Dominion did when I was no longer the leader of our people, and I will not say that I should be," he proclaimed, shaking off his conservator's persistent attempts to silence him.
A disapproving murmur went through the courtroom. "Let it be recorded that the accused refuses to acknowledge his guilt," the archon said sternly. "Let him now face the assembled accusers and witnesses as I confirm his sentence. You, Gul Dukat, have betrayed the state and people of Cardassia, and contributed to their near obliteration. I hereby declare that this tribunal has demonstrated the correctness of the sentence passed upon you. No longer shall you be considered an officer of the second order, nor a citizen of the Cardassian Union. Because of the heinousness of your crimes, and their overwhelming consequences, you shall die, but your manner of death shall be left to the discretion of your court-appointed executioner, one of the few surviving heroes of Damar's resistance, Elim Garak."
Dukat staggered forward and gripped the base of the archon's dais. "You can't do that," he screamed. "I accept the right of the state to take my life, but I won't be handed over to that lying, sadistic spy and collaborator for his perverted amusement."
"The sentence has been pronounced, Dukat," said the archon, "and it will not be changed. Glinn Lonor, you may take the condemned away." As Lonor started toward him, manacles in hand, pure animal reflex took hold of Dukat, and he ran. He had made it only halfway to the door when what had become an annoyingly regular occurrence these past weeks happened again, and everything went black around him.
Dukat snapped back to consciousness abruptly, his eyes coming to focus on Garak, sitting in a chair about 1.5 meters in front of him. His peripheral vision revealed Lonor, walking away from behind him, with a hypospray in his hand. A prickle of discomfort between his fourth and fifth neck vertebrae confirmed his suspicion that he had been sedated before recovering from the disruptor stun, and that some sort of drug had been used to bring him around as well. His first two impulses, to get as far away from Garak as possible, and to tell him just what he thought of him, were, however, thwarted. He couldn't move his arms and legs away from the chair, and something was holding his lips tightly shut.
Garak was regarding his struggles with a patronizing expression. Not wanting to provide his captor further cause for amusement, Dukat sat very still and gave him as defiant a look as he could muster. "Yes, that's much better," Garak said approvingly after several seconds. "You will try not to repeat the regrettable behavior we all witnessed at the trial. And I'm going to help you, by supplying you with a little information. In my experience, it's not knowing what lies ahead that produces these outbursts of irrational panic. Don't you agree?"
Dukat continued to glower and managed to make a loud grunt heard through whatever material was holding his mouth shut.
"Good," Garak beamed. "Now first, look about you, because you'll want to know where you are. Do you recognize the place?"
Dukat craned his neck around. It was a small, windowless room, about four meters square. Everything -- floors, walls, scant furnishings -- was covered in the same gray synthetic material that vaguely resembled an animal's hide. He started having trouble catching his breath. Oh, yes, he recognized the place.
Garak must have concluded as much from his labored breathing. "Ah, you do, good," he said. "The rooms where the Obsidian Order housed its long term guests are at the lowest level of our subterranean installation. All the Dominion's firepower couldn't penetrate this deep. Since we are going to spend a considerable amount of time together, I prefer to do it in what are for me very familiar surroundings." Garak paused and studied his prisoner. Dukat hoped he didn't look as terrified as he felt.
"Now, as you are aware, the archon acceded to my request that she leave the manner and timing of your execution to my discretion," Garak went on. "My primary concern in determining these matters is that you should not leave us while still in your state of mental confusion. So, for the first phase of your stay here, I'm going to borrow an idea from a story Doctor Bashir once shared with me. It is a very ancient story, first told in the lands where certain of his ancestors lived. It seems that there was a great ruler, called a sultan, whose consort betrayed him. He became so disillusioned by the faithlessness of women that he decreed that every lover he would take from that day forward would pleasure him for a night, and be strangled in the morning."
Dukat's eyes grew wide, as he continued to gasp for breath.
"One night he took to his bed a beautiful princess, and after they had done with their lovemaking, she began to tell him a marvelous story, full of strange and magical happenings. When the sun rose, she had not completed her tale. It so fascinated the sultan that he granted her a night's reprieve so that she might finish it. Yet every night she finished one tale only to begin another, and her reprieves lasted for one thousand and one nights.
"Now, it is necessary to make a few modifications to this story, for our own purposes," Garak said with a smile. "It won't take one thousand and one nights for me to tell you the tale of all your strange and marvelous adventures during the two years you have so conveniently lost. But, however long it takes, that is how long you will be reprieved from the start of your punishment."
Dukat strained once more to move and made a series of muffled grunts, nodding toward his immobilized arms with a questioning look.
"Why do I have you restrained and silenced if your punishment has yet to begin?" Garak translated. "You have such a love of the sound of your own voice, Dukat, that the only way I can make sure you listen to me is to keep you from speaking. The adhesive silencer you're wearing is a new technology kindly shared with us by the Romulans. Moisten it, and it bonds to skin instantly. It can only be removed by application of a special solvent, of which Lonor, be assured, has a plentiful supply. As effective as a traditional gag, yet far more comfortable. As for restraining you to your chair, I do know better than to have you loose within striking distance of me.
"My time with you will have to be very limited, and when I'm absent, you will be free of these encumbrances. Lonor will insist that you stick to a strict regimen, but not an unbearable one. He will tell you what you need to know, and what you are to do, but I have instructed him not to engage you in conversation or respond to any of your questions. I'm going to leave you with him now, and I'll return tomorrow to begin my tale." Garak bowed deeply, as if taking leave of a gracious host, pressed the control panel on the door, and disappeared.
The young Cardassian approached Dukat, with his shock rod drawn. From a small bottle in his other hand he applied the solvent to the material that covered his mouth. Then he stepped on a button on the floor, and the force field holding down the prisoner's limbs flickered off. "Get up, Dukat," he ordered. "I will acquaint you with your new surroundings."
"I've seen their like before," Dukat said, rising slowly.
Lonor ignored the comment. "This is your bed," he said, gesturing to a flat shelf attached to the rear wall, bare of pillow or bedclothes. "Here, the hygiene facilities, here, the waste extracter. Within this cabinet here -" he slid open a panel that covered a recessed area over the bed, "are PADDs that Councillor Garak recommends you access to prepare you for your fate."
"He's 'Councillor' Garak now, is he?" Dukat snorted.
"You will maintain the following routine while you remain here," Lonor continued, as if deaf to anything Dukat might say. "A siren will awaken you each morning. You will have five minutes to clean and dry yourself before I enter with your first meal and clothing. You will be alotted a quarter hour to dress and eat. You will then be left to your thoughts until I return with your second meal. After you have consumed it, you will be made ready for your audience with Councillor Garak. When he has completed his session with you, you will surrender your clothing, the lights will be dimmed, and you will sleep until the wake-up siren sounds. It is a very simple schedule to remember," he added condescendingly.
"Those aren't the kinds of memory problems I'm having," Dukat thundered.
"I will now loosen the security belt so you can surrender your garment," Lonor said. He pointed a device at the clasp which held a drawstring tightly cinched around Dukat's waist. It was only now that Dukat realized his uniform had been taken during his period of unconsciousness and he had been dressed in the one-piece, long robe that was the standard prison uniform on Cardassia. He pulled it off over his head and handed it to Lonor.
His guard touched a control panel on the wall and the lights dimmed, without going to full dark. "Now you will sleep, Dukat," he said on his way out.
Shaken and exhausted by the day's unexpectedly dire reversal of fortune, Dukat did, almost immediately.
The siren was shrill enough to wake the soundest sleeper. Dukat stretched his limbs and ambled over to the hygiene station, where he rubbed himself clean as best he could under two cycles of soapy water and two of clear. He was still drying under the lamp when Lonor entered with a uniform draped over his arm and a covered tray in his hands. Setting the tray down on the bed, he pulled out the shock rod and applied a brief, painful burst to Dukat's forearm. "You were told to complete your cleansing requirements within five minutes," he said.
It's not as if you provided me with a chronometer! Dukat thought angrily as he stepped away from the lamp and put on his robe. Lonor pulled the belt tight and locked the clasp. He pointed to the tray. "Eat."
Dukat sat down on the bed and lifted the lid of the tray. He was rather surprised to see that it did not contain the liquid nutrient solution usually provided to prisoners. This was real food, not ample in quantity, but not starvation rations either. There was a slice of kevaberry bread, a small mug of hot fish juice, a regova egg, and a bowl of stewed larishes, along with a liter canteen of water. No implements were provided. Dukat poured down his throat what he could, and picked up the rest with his fingers. Lonor stood impassively at a distance and watched him. Before he had quite finished, the guard announced that the "nutrition interval" had expired and took the dishes and canteen away. "You may wash your hands," he said, "then the hygiene station will be deactivated for the day."
And now Dukat was "left to his thoughts," as the infuriating young man had put it. The first thing he did was pace the perimeter of the room, admiring the perfection of its design, for the Obsidian Order's nefarious purposes. The basic parameters hadn't changed in the thirty years since he'd been given a "guided tour."
He'd just been assigned to Bajor, as the supervisor of the big duranium mining operation at Tal Belan. Central Command was fretting that the amount of ore produced per lunar cycle had been slipping for nine straight cycles. His orders were to stop the decline and return output at least to its level of a year ago. It hadn't taken long to figure out the problem. Starved and working twelve hour shifts, the Bajoran conscript laborers were dying like engorna flies. There was always a lag of several days in getting replacement workers in from the labor camps, with the result that the place was chronically understaffed. Dukat increased rations, brought in native physicians, and cut hours per shift. Within three cycles, output had surpassed that of a year before by 10%. Instead of getting a commendation, however, he received a sharp reprimand informing him that his "shameful indulgence" of his Bajoran subjects had raised the cost per ton of mining the duranium by 20%, and that was not what his superiors considered an acceptable rise in productivity. In a reckless burst of anger, he had fired back a sarcastic memo stating that he didn't personally care whether they worked the entire population of Bajor to death, but that dead workers were not the most productive.
That memo did not get a direct response. Instead, the next day he received a summons to assist the Obsidian Order with its interrogation of a supposed Bajoran collaborator who was in fact a double agent for the Resistance. The man had been whisked back to Prime to cover up the security breach, and they said they needed Dukat, as someone familiar with the planet, to interpret the information they wrung out of him. Dukat didn't believe that for a nanosecond, but he knew he must go to Prime and pretend that he did. By the time he arrived, the collaborator had already told the interrogators everything he knew. Dukat was asked to read over the transcripts of his answers and invited to watch his execution the following day. He pleaded his duties on Bajor as reason for a swift departure, but the chief Order interrogator took his arm and insisted, "since you have come all this way," on giving him a tour of the interrogation facilities. Their first stop had been a room very much like the one in which he was now confined.
"These are the quarters assigned to prisoners whose interrogations are apt to be prolonged," said the agent, Entek, sounding for all the world like the property broker who had sold Dukat and his wife their first house. "Such prisoners will search for any possible means to end their lives quickly, so our first priority is to make the rooms suicide proof. All surfaces are covered in a soft, insulated fabric. There are no hard surfaces or sharp angles or spaces into which one might wedge one's head and so snap the neck. All furniture is magnetically sealed to the floor or wall. The water from the shower falls directly to the floor and is instantly absorbed into the draining level beneath. We allow no place where even a few centimeters of liquid might collect and so facilitate a drowning. Nor do we allow any bedclothes, towels, napkins and the like, which the very enterprising might employ for hanging themselves. And of course no clothing."
Then Entek had pressed various keypads, revealing all manner of interrogation instruments, drugs, and restraints that were stored within the floor and walls, inaccessible to the prisoner, but never far away. "How very efficient," Dukat had choked out.
At the end of the tour, which had included a variety of grisly sights Dukat had immediately repressed, Entek gripped Dukat's hand in one of his and grabbed his forearm painfully with the other. "Let me give you some friendly advice, Dukat," he said. "Central Command may amuse itself by sending the sons of traitors to control the natives on colony worlds, but the opinions of such men count for nothing here on Prime. Do I make myself clear?" Dukat had only nodded.
When he returned to Tal Belan, he arranged to have the inmates of every labor and refugee camp in the province transferred to a large encampment adjacent to the mine. With it taking less than half an hour to replace a dead worker, he was soon able to maintain his current level of productivity while cutting rations below the previous, bare subsistence level. The next summons he received from headquarters offered him command of the new ore processing facilities being constructed on the space station Terok Nor.
And despite my cunning, I've ended up here after all. Dukat sighed. At least prisoners were now permitted to wear clothing during waking hours, although clothing designed so as not to be usable in any attempt at self-immolation. He toyed with the security clasp. Perhaps this was a change engineered by the tailor.
He once more surveyed the four gray walls and the gray floor. Now what? If that odd young man could be believed, there would be nothing to occupy his time for hours to come. He began to pace, and his gaze fell on the collection of PADDs over the bed. They were supposed to prepare him for his fate. That didn't sound at all promising. They were probably detailed accountings of everything Cardassia had lost in the war, or recordings of the interrogations of previous occupants of his cell. Well, he could always turn them off. He might at least look them over, having absolutely nothing else to do. He reached up and took down five at random.
The contents surprised him. Each was filled with works of art, literature and music, all by Cardassians, all contemporary. He took down the rest and checked their opening menus - more of the same. Dukat had never had much use for culture, nor for the solitary pleasures of reading or listening. When not absorbed in his work, he enjoyed swapping stories with his subordinates over a few bottles of kanar, sharpening his wits at the kotra board or a game of kalevian montar, and, most of all, taking his pleasures with an attractive young woman. Since none of those pastimes seemed likely to become available in his present circumstances, he searched the PADDs for any title that had a familiar sound to it. Ah yes, Meditations on a Crimson Shadow; there'd been quite a fuss about it when the Klingon War broke out. He clicked on the first chapter and began to read.
He was on the penultimate chapter when Lonor came in with his second meal, two slices of bread, a large bowl of semmel stew, and another liter of water. He marveled at how quickly the day had passed and felt a twinge of regret that the regimen would not allow him to finish the novel until tomorrow.
The regimen was as Garak had described it, strict, but not unbearable. The food was adequate, tasty even, although it turned out that each meal was to be an exact duplicate of the one served the day before and the day before that. He could have done without Lonor's obsessions with promptness, obedience, and hand washing, but soon his yearning for the all too infrequent presence of another sentient being overcame any objections to his guard's eccentricities. Exploring the riches contained in the PADDs continued to fill the hours admirably. He identified three favorite symphonies and two concertos that he played in the same order every day. One afternoon he selected a PADD that contained the catalogues of the past three years' exhibitions at the Cardassian Institute of Art. One of the pieces in the "new artist" show, a breathtaking sketch of a single flower, was credited to Tora Ziyal. Dukat checked the date. The show had occurred several months after the last date he remembered before the winking out. Ziyal had always been drawing as a child, he recalled, and hadn't Kira said something about her studying art at one of the Bajoran universities? He was troubled to think that Ziyal might have returned to Cardassia and fallen victim to the holocaust, as he feared had been the fate of his wife and other children. Several of the witnesses at his trial had given accounts of the Jem'Hadar first targeting the families of any Cardassians who were known allies of Damar. Perhaps Garak eventually would tell him what had happened to them, although he had little confidence in the veracity of what Garak had told him so far.
Dukat hated himself for how much he looked forward to the tale of his own future that Garak spun out in brief snippets every night. He hung on every word of a Cardassian voice that wasn't simply barking orders at him. His further hopes that his missing years would be restored to him through this narrative died a quick death, however. Though highly entertaining, the story was quite as fantastical as the ones the ancient earth princess must have told her keeper. Garak asked him to believe that, despite the reopening of the wormhole, the Federation would retake Terok Nor because Sisko's Prophets whisked an entire fleet of Dominion reinforcements into oblivion while sabotage carried out by the Ferengi bartender's idiot brother simultaneously left the station defenseless. Dukat enjoyed hearing of his escape from Federation captors, while overpowering and outwitting Sisko in the process, but later installments of his saga were absolutely preposterous. Could anyone seriously imagine that he, Dukat, would become lost in the dark arts of the Bajoran pagh-wraith cult, murder the attractive Commander Dax while tampering with an Orb of the Prophets, establish a colony of pagh-wraith worshipers, have himself surgically altered to resemble a Bajoran, and seduce Kai Winn, all in some ridiculously superstitious plan to become a sort of anti-Emissary. Nor were Garak's stories concerning the outcome of the war any less laughable. Supposedly a covert operations wing of the hopelessly idealistic Federation had developed a virus intended to wipe out every single Founder, and its carrier, Odo, cured by Doctor Bashir, had returned to the Great Link to cure the others, in return for peace. Along the way, Odo had contrived a brief but passionate liaison with Major Kira and had also joined her, Garak, and Damar in leading the Cardassian uprising against the Dominion. Was that right after you and I had a charming picnic together on Lake Mekassa, Garak?
During the twenty-seventh story session - for Dukat had been keeping a careful mental tally - Garak informed him that he, Benjamin Sisko, and Kai Winn had apparently been involved in some apocalyptic confrontation on a precipice above the Bajoran fire caves. All three had disappeared six lunar cycles previously. The other two were still among the missing, but he had been "regurgitated" from the incorporeal realms as a man who had yet to live any of this tale.
"So that's what you were up to these past years, Dukat," Garak said, leaning back in his chair. "Quite an exciting time, don't you think?"
Dukat grunted what he hoped sounded like complete skepticism.
"Now that you've had to listen to the story without opportunities to interrupt, I am going to allow you some time to ask for clarifications of any points you don't completely comprehend. Lonor, bring me the solvent." The young man walked over from his post near the door and handed the bottle to Garak. He moistened the silencer and removed it from Dukat's mouth.
After all this time deprived of conversation, Dukat was eager to start talking, but he also didn't want to give his captor the impression of being too eager. He waited a full ten seconds before saying, in what he hoped was a tone of profound boredom, "I never expected you to tell me the real story, Garak, but I also didn't expect you to offer me an explanation so obviously false. You always had the reputation of being a very plausible liar. No Cardassian above the age of three would swallow such a preposterous fairy tale."
"The humans have a saying, 'truth is stranger than fiction,'" Garak replied evenly. "So it is in this case."
"Giving myself over to pagh wraiths -- if such mythical creatures even exist -- and seducing the Kai of Bajor? - I'd have to be out of my mind to do such things!" Dukat exclaimed.
"That was the official diagnosis," Garak replied.
"What, that I was insane?"
"It is incontrovertible that when the Federation retook Terok Nor you were suffering from a severe mental collapse, complete with delusions. After a course of treatment in one of their facilities, the Starfleet psychiatrists pronounced you sane. They have such a charming faith in their curative powers," Garak smirked. "However, Captain Sisko reported that during his time marooned with you, you were suffering from hallucinations, talking to, and shooting at, people who existed only in your mind. Of course, he was recovering from a severe beating at your hands, so his perceptions might have been clouded. No one else ever observed this sort of behavior from you. Nevertheless, there is no way conclusively to dismiss the possibility that you were insane right up to the moment that you fell over that cliff."
Dukat looked at him, flabbergasted. "You are asking me to believe that I lost my mind just because I lost Terok Nor?"
"There was one other complication." The mocking grin left Garak's face. "As the Dominion was retreating from the station, you went in search of Ziyal, to take her with you back to Cardassia. You had reconciled, you see, and brought her there to be with you."
"I was thinking of trying to contact her, right before I . . . got lost in time," Dukat reflected, speaking almost as if to himself.
"When you found her, she refused to go with you. And she told you that she had helped Major Kira and the Ferengi escape custody and sabotage the station defenses."
Dukat stared at Garak, open-mouthed.
"To give you credit," the other man continued, "you didn't disown her for her loyalty to Kira, as you had when she told you of her feelings for me. You told her that you still loved her. Unfortunately," Garak inhaled sharply, "Damar overheard the conversation, and, devoted Cardassian that he was, shot your traitorous daughter dead."
"No, it can't be, you're only saying this to torment me," Dukat cried out.
"Dukat, do you know why Ziyal's drawings appear in one of these PADDs I've allowed you to use to pass the time?"
Dukat shook his head, puzzled.
"Because every writer, artist, composer and performer whose works they contain is dead, a civilian casualty of the Dominion War that you brought to the Alpha Quadrant."
"It's a lie, it's all a lie," Dukat screamed. "I don't accept a word of it."
Garak got up and shook his head with an expression of regret. "Then I've wasted your time and mine with this account. I might as well have killed you the day sentence was pronounced. Your punishment commences tomorrow. Prepare yourself."
The only part of the prison regimen Dukat found truly uncomfortable was sleeping naked on the flat shelf bed. The cell's temperature was just low enough that a blanket would have been greatly welcome. Still, he'd been able to get sufficient sleep, even if the nights were often restless. But not tonight. In the back of his mind he'd always known what would follow the end of Garak's storytelling, but he'd let that unsettling knowledge stay buried until now. He laid awake on his back, staring up at the ceiling in sheer terror.
It wasn't just fear of the agonies he'd have to endure, but fear as well of humiliating himself before Garak. He'd never been any good at dealing with pain. The few times he'd had severely painful injuries he had repeatedly fainted until painkillers could be administered. Not that being able to pass out from pain was a handicap to one undergoing the ministrations of the Obsidian Order, but they had drugs that prevented such an easy escape into oblivion.
Even much more minor pain, however, made him a fretful complainer. Well into his upper teens a sprained wrist on the athletic field or a snagged scale while rock climbing could bring tears to his eyes. The youngest of his siblings used to taunt him mercilessly, "You are such a baby, big brother." He recalled ruefully the time he'd sat on the sand spine when he and Major Kira were on their way to find the Ravinok survivors. He'd laughed about it then, but when he thought back on his behavior, he could well imagine her also thinking, "Dukat, you are such a baby." Tomorrow he'd scream and make a pitiable spectacle of himself, he was sure of it. I won't beg him for mercy though, no matter how bad it is, he vowed. He kept repeating that to himself over and over as the night dragged on endlessly.
Finally the siren sounded. He showered and dried and waited nervously. Lonor entered on cue, but without his robe or his breakfast. "Your punishment will begin immediately," he said. He exuded a palpable air of excitement. Yes, he's the type to enjoy these things, as long as they don't get too messy, Dukat concluded.
Lonor entered some numbers onto the keypad on the wall. From the center of the ceiling a bar a little more than a meter in length descended on two cables. At either end was a manacle. From the floor directly beneath it, an identical bar surfaced. Lonor grabbed Dukat's right arm and dragged him to the spot. He proceeded to attach the four manacles to Dukat's wrists and ankles. Then he raised the upper bar until only the anchorage of the ankle restraints kept the prisoner's feet on the ground. Dukat did not struggle. He'd embarrassed himself enough in the courtroom, and was likely to embarrass himself again shortly. In the meantime, he resolved to maintain a brave front.
As soon as Dukat had been secured, Garak came in. He entered his own set of codes at the keypad, and a portion of the wall to his right slid back, revealing the tools of the interrogator's trade - hyposprays, hand-held power generators with numerous interchangeable attachments, other oddly shaped devices that Dukat didn't recognize. Garak pondered the assortment for a few seconds and then selected a hypospray, filled it and approached his prisoner. Dukat began trembling uncontrollably as Garak injected him.
"This takes a while to achieve its full effect," Garak explained. "I'll be back in an hour or so." Gesturing to Lonor to follow, he left.
Dukat gritted his teeth, waiting for some kind of awful agony to take hold. As more and more beats of his pounding heart passed by, however, there was no pain except that caused by his strained posture and taut muscles. Eventually he noticed, to his chagrin, that his member was stirring to life. It was not an unheard of development under these conditions, or so he'd been led to believe. He found the development irritating nonetheless, and gyrated as best he could, seeking to make his erection subside. When that didn't work, he filled his thoughts with images of the least attractive alien females he had ever encountered. Still his member stiffened, engorged, and began throbbing urgently for a relief he was powerless to bring about. There was something damned unnatural about the sensations in his loins, in fact, and it finally dawned upon him that this was the torture Garak's injection was designed to commence. Dukat twisted his hips to the full extent his restraints would allow and thrust his pelvis forward vigorously, again and again, until he was exhausted and his body limp-except for the stubbornly stiffened cock.
He bowed his head and closed his eyes, breathing heavily, until the sound of the cell door sliding open caused him to jerk up into wariness. Garak entered alone, his face the picture of amusement. "Ah, Dukat, if the state had ever erected the monument to your achievements on Bajor that you always insisted was your due, this is the pose they would have had you strike for the sculptor," he chuckled.
"Very funny," Dukat hissed. "What are you going to do now, cut it off?"
"Please give me some credit for subtlety," Garak replied disdainfully. "I might just wait for the drug to leave your system. It shouldn't be more than five or six hours now. This isn't an Order invention, by the way. They use it in the brothels that employ young men to pleasure the clientele. It accelerates arousal while it paralyzes the nerves that signal the penis to ejaculate. The ordinary frictions don't have any effect, but a vigorous manual manipulation of the proper muscles will bring relief. Just to show you that I'm not the epitome of cruelty you believe me to be, I will be happy to undertake just such manipulations at this moment. I only require one thing of you in return."
"What?" Dukat asked wearily.
"That you ask me to do it - nicely."
"I'd rather you cut it off than put your hands on it," Dukat growled.
"That is of course up to you," Garak said sweetly. "If you don't object, I'll stay here for a while, just in case you change your mind." He sauntered over to the cabinet above Dukat's bed, took out a PADD, and sat down to read it.
I will not give in to him, Dukat kept telling himself, as the pressure in his member continued to build. The throbbing was so incessant and so painful that he seriously considered the possibility that the organ would simply explode. He couldn't feel his hands and feet any more, every muscle in his body ached. Garak finished one PADD and picked up another. Dukat tried again to thrust forward and find relief, but the effort only brought forth a loud groan. Garak looked up and shook his head. "You really should let me help you," he said. The prisoner made no response.
Dukat held out until Garak was on his fourth PADD. Then he could bear no more. "Go ahead, do it," he gasped.
"Nicely?" Garak prompted.
"Please help me come, Garak," the other man pleaded in a hoarse whisper.
Garak smiled and took out a pair of surgical gloves from among the interrogation supplies. After pulling them on, he began to knead the muscles at the base of Dukat's penis, rather as if he were milking a herd animal. The pressure increased rather than lessened the pain, and Dukat cried out repeatedly. After what seemed an eternity, his seed spilled out in a copious rush, and he sagged against his bonds in relief.
Garak removed the gloves and tossed them in a recycling chute at the bottom of the supply cabinet. Then he walked to the hygiene station and made a great show of washing and rewashing his hands. Dukat turned his head to watch him and grimaced. "You hardly need pretend I've contaminated you," he panted. "It's not as if a man's never come in your hands before. I'll bet you're not so fastidious when it's the pretty human doctor's cum all over them, or in your mouth, or up your ass."
Dukat saw Garak tense, like an animal preparing to spring. He gazed at his captive with pure hatred. Dukat kept goading him. "Did you think I wouldn't have guessed? He's completely your type. Tone down that florid complexion, add the ridges and scales, and he'd look rather like our young friend Lonor, wouldn't -- oomph!"
Angry as Garak clearly was, the blow was precisely executed. A hard fist two centimeters below the breast ridge, leaving Dukat struggling to breathe. "You deserve no mercy,"Garak said. He walked deliberately back to the supply cabinet.
The voice of caution in Dukat's head told him not to say anything further, as he was hardly in a position to defend himself against Garak's building rage. However, Dukat rarely listened to the voice of caution, and if he could make his tormentor angry enough to kill him sooner than he intended, all the better. "When Ziyal first went to live on Terok Nor, and I cautioned her about the kind of man you were, she wrote back to me that you seemed on very friendly terms with Doctor Bashir, and since Doctor Bashir was a man of the highest ideals, perhaps you were not quite as bad as I said, or he wouldn't be your friend." As Garak approached him with a hypospray in either hand, Dukat managed a laugh. "Poor Ziyal, she was always such an innocent."
Garak had one of the hyposprays at Dukat's neck, but he slowly lowered his arm without injecting it. "Yes," he said softly. "She was." He turned and put the hyposprays back in their allotted places.
Dukat continued to push his antagonist, hoping to prompt a single murderous blow. "What's wrong, Garak? Aren't you ready to kill me yet? I guess you haven't humiliated me sufficiently to satisfy your twisted desires. Are you going to fuck me now, or will you give that task to Lonor? The rumors always did say that you liked being on the bottom."
Garak stared at him incredulously, and then he grinned. He went to the door and summoned his aide. "Lonor, my boy," he said, "Dukat here has evidently been nursing fantasies about you. He is ever so eager for you to fuck him."
"I am not," Dukat protested, regretting that he sounded like a petulant six-year-old.
"It is well known that prisoners in solitary confinement often grow unnaturally attached to their jailers," Lonor said matter-of-factly. "Is it your wish that I should oblige him, sir?"
Garak looked Dukat up and down, tapping his chin-ridge with the first two fingers of his right hand. "I think not," he said, after concluding his apparent deliberations. "It goes against the whole concept of punishment to grant the criminal's wishes. But I do believe that our friend Dukat is no longer in the correct frame of mind for his continued punishment to have the proper effect." Garak pressed a spot on the wall panel, and Dukat's restraints flew open. His legs promptly buckled underneath him, and he sank to the floor in a heap. "Put him to bed, Lonor," Garak said.
The young man stepped over to Dukat. "Get up," he ordered.
Dukat made a futile effort to move his numbed limbs. "I can't," he responded.
"Get up," Lonor repeated, his hand traveling to the hilt of the shock rod. Garak put a restraining grasp on his arm. "Carry him to the bed, then, and bring him his meal." He patted the young man on the shoulder and left.
Lonor grabbed Dukat under his arms and dragged him none too gently onto his bed. He went out the door and returned a moment later with the food tray. Slamming it down next to his charge, he said, "Councillor Garak is much too lenient with you."
Dukat struggled to reach the food with a rubbery arm that wouldn't stop shaking. "I have some friendly advice for you, my lad. You need to relax. Even at his most ruthless, Garak is a playful man. He'll soon tire of you if you remain so deadly serious." The shock rod was instantly on his balls, but even as he yelped in pain, Dukat felt immensely satisfied to have disturbed the annoying composure of both his warders on a single day.
Dukat fell into a deep, exhausted sleep, but awoke remarkably refreshed, as if he'd slept hours longer than usual. The siren still hadn't sounded. When it did, and Lonor appeared, the old routine of clothing and breakfast was reinstated. As he pulled the garment over his head, Dukat muttered, "Hardly seems worth the trouble. I'll just be taking it off again when Garak arrives."
"Punishment will commence later this day," Lonor replied, then flushed as he realized that he had slipped and responded to one of Dukat's remarks. He retreated hurriedly to the opposite side of the cell and glowered as the prisoner ate his meal. He then rushed to gather up the dishes, not even stopping to tell Dukat to wash his hands. As the flustered young man bustled out, Dukat chuckled. I may die a happy man after all, he reflected.
His perception that the routine was off schedule was confirmed when Lonor brought in his second meal. The final piece of music on Dukat's program had yet to play. Usually it concluded in time for him to sample something new before the guard's appearance. As soon as he had finished his food, Lonor unsealed the legs of the restraining chair and moved it to face one of the side walls. He told Dukat to sit down and activated the force field. A touch to the keypad turned the wall from opaque to transparent. On the other side was an identical cell, although one more lavishly appointed than this one, almost, well, "homey," Dukat thought.
"You can see them but they cannot see you. Your punishment for today is to sit here and watch," Lonor announced cryptically as he left.
Dukat turned his attention back to the room. Almost immediately, Garak entered, accompanied by Colonel Kira Nerys.
Kira sat at the table watching Garak wash their dinner dishes in a stream of soapy liquid and then spread them out to dry on a cloth placed on the floor underneath a heat lamp. He'd managed to adapt the cell to domestic life rather well. There was a bed, table and chairs, computer console, one of the clothes racks from his shop (she'd shipped it to him personally), and a small basic food replicator donated by Federation relief. Since the lower levels of the Ministry of Information interrogation complex had survived the Dominion bombardments, it only made sense, Garak had explained, that they should be utilized as shelters for the many homeless on Cardassia Prime. Because of the building's fearsome reputation, which had initially discouraged occupancy, he was living here himself to provide a good example. Kira could understand people's reluctance to move in, even considering the deplorable conditions on the surface; it would be creepy living in a dungeon that had been the scene of so many horrors. She shivered involuntarily.
"Are you cold, Colonel?" Garak inquired, as he returned to the table bearing two glasses and a bottle of kanar. "There's insufficient power to warm the place to Cardassian norms, but I'd think the temperature would be quite comfortable for a Bajoran."
She shook her head. "It's fine." She adopted a mood of calculated cheerfulness. "It's very kind of you to invite me here, and to cook me such a lovely meal."
"It's very kind of you to have brought me the food, and this lovely kanar," Garak said, matching her insincere pleasantry with one of his own. "Our standard ration these days grows a bit monotonous. The least I could do was share your bounty with you." He filled each of the glasses with kanar, and raised his own in a toast. "To better days."
"Better days," she replied, taking a very small sip of the liquor. She had always found it vile, as she found most of the products of Cardassian culture. She set her glass down and reached under the table for a shiny metallic box adorned with ribbons, which she set in the middle of the table. "These are for you, from Julian," she said.
"Why, how kind of the dear doctor! Be sure to thank him for me," Garak purred as he fumbled at the clasp. At last the box popped open, revealing layer upon layer of Delavian chocolates molded into the likenesses of tiny people. "But what puzzling shapes these are."
"He had them custom made. He noticed that my visit to Caspia with the group from the Bajoran agricultural ministry was scheduled for the day before your winter solstice holiday and he insisted that I stop off here and bring these to you. He said that he didn't know a lot about the rituals associated with Gh'peter-, Gh'petro - I'm sorry. All those years living under the Occupation, and my Kardasi is still lousy."
"The linguistic version of the Resistance, I'm sure," Garak remarked with a smile. "The name of the day is Gh'pakt'rodak."
"Uh, right, th- that's it," she stammered. The place was getting to her, that must be why she was talking to Garak as if he were a foreign dignitary she needed to impress, rather than someone she'd fought beside for months and with whom she'd shared an underground hideout not unlike this room. "Anyway," she took a deep breath to calm herself, "Julian did remember that it was customary for Cardassians to buy and exchange small humanoid figures as gifts."
Garak laughed, and he kept on laughing, until tears were running down his cheeks, and the laughter had taken on an edge of hysteria. Finally it subsided, and he said to Kira, as he struggled to catch his breath, "Excuse me, Colonel, but that is just too, too funny, although it is exactly the kind of wrong conclusion to which Doctor Bashir would jump."
"Wrong? In what way?"
"Unlike the many human solstice celebrations that Doctor Bashir has described to me, Gh'pakt'rodak does not involve giving gifts and lighting candles and preparing festive meals. It is a day of fasting and relinquishment as we petition the dying sun to turn from his descent into darkness and give us back the daylight, minute by minute, for the next eight cycles of the moon. The orbits of planetary bodies being what they are, our petitions have a miraculous rate of success. Although this year is likely to be an exception." He drained the last of the kanar in his glass and refilled it.
"Then how did Julian get the idea about the little humanoid figures?" Kira asked.
"Ah, a fascinating case of the evolution of religious ritual. You see, the holiday originated at the time when decades of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions had wiped out the Hebitian civilization, and the Kardasi tribes they had driven to the northern continent were trying desperately to survive in an age of unusual cold and constant scarcity. The Gh'pakt tribe grew so desperate that their chief decreed that each family must choose one member to die on the darkest day of the year, so that those who remained might survive on the meager food stores that, if shared among all the living, would doom all to death by starvation before the spring. Somehow the idea caught on, and, for over two centuries, every family on Cardassia annually offered up one of its own as Gh' pakt' rodak, "the sacrifice of the Gh'pakt."
"How horrible!" Kira said.
"But necessary," Garak retorted coolly. "As we settled into villages and towns, it became customary for the victims to be executed collectively, and their bodies burned in a giant bonfire. Eventually, as the planet became more capable of sustaining our population, the sacrifices ended, but the celebration remained. Instead of giving up one of their family members, each Cardassian was expected to bring a treasured possession to throw into the bonfire. Over the years, the less devout opted instead for buying little humanoid figures made out of various materials, as long as they were rare and expensive - for we never totally lost the concept of sacrifice - and tossing them on the fire instead. However, one vestige of the old ways has remained. It is customary that all criminals condemned to death during the lunar cycle leading up to the winter solstice be executed collectively on Gh' pakt' rodak, and their bodies burned instead of buried."
"I'm surprised you didn't delay Dukat's execution till tomorrow, then."
"A tempting thought, Colonel, but the people were screaming for his blood. A delay would have been out of the question." Garak had an odd smirk on his face, an expression that didn't quite match his words.
"I had hoped you'd invite me to witness his death," Kira said. She had been very unhappy when Garak had failed to respond to her requests for information about the time and manner of Dukat's execution until he sent a message notifying her that the event had already taken place.
"When we Cardassians kill each other, we treat the occasions with utmost solemnity. Death is as integral to our culture as life, and we prefer not to open the rites that surround it to aliens." Holding up one of the chocolate people, he contemplated it attentively for a few seconds. Then he popped it into his mouth and swallowed it in one gulp.
"Shouldn't you be saving that for the bonfire?" Kira asked, only half joking.
"The ruling council has issued an edict that Gh'pakt'rodak not be celebrated at the coming solstice." Garak's jocular mood was gone. "It was felt that Cardassia had made more than her share of sacrifices this year." He poured his third glass of kanar, but stopped short of putting it to his lips. Instead he held it up to the light and studied it as if were an Orb of the Prophets. "Doctor Bashir could never understand how 'cold-blooded' we Cardassians can be about asking people to give up their lives for the state. This parochial attitude of his completely destroyed his ability to appreciate one of the greatest works of our literature, 'The Never-Ending Sacrifice.' But I'll share a little secret with you, Colonel. Even I can't accept as endless a sacrifice as has been demanded of Cardassia this time." He set the glass down, cradling it in both hands.
Instinctively, Kira covered one of his hands with hers. "I know how you feel, Garak. I felt it every day of the Occupation. But peoples do endure, they do recover."
Garak patted her hand with his other one. "Ah, yes, the Bajorans, enslaved, starved and butchered mercilessly for over fifty years, find themselves strong enough, a mere eight years after the end of Cardassian oppression, to help us rebuild, just as you so nobly helped Damar to free us from the Dominion yoke." He clasped her hand, and didn't release it.
She'd never been much good at reading Garak, but his words smacked of sarcasm. "Are you saying you'd rather Bajor left Cardassia to its misery?" she bristled. "Because there are plenty of members of the Council of Ministers and the Vedek Assembly who would be more than happy to do just that."
"I'm sorry, Colonel, if I sound ungrateful," Garak said. "It is wearing on the spirit for a proud people to be beholden to others for everything. Let us speak of more cheerful matters. All is well on the station?" He still had her hand in his, and he had begun softly stroking each of her fingers with his own.
"Yes, as well as can be expected. There've been so many changes, it takes some getting used to." Kira could hardly concentrate on an answer, so distracted was she by his touch. How insulted will he be if I just pull my hand away? she thought.
"Any messages from the Great Link?" Garak asked casually, as one of his fingers traced the lines on her palm. She drew her hand back swiftly at that question, no longer caring if she insulted him.
"W-we agreed that a complete break was the only possible option," she said stiffly. "It will likely be decades, if not centuries, before Odo's work in the Link can be completed. He's too unselfish a person to ask me to wait."
"And yet, you do wait, don't you, Colonel? Believe me I know what that's like, the hopeless yearning that something you've lost forever might somehow be regained. There's no worse place than Terok Nor for us exiles of the heart. All those people bustling around, eating, drinking, shopping, going to the holosuites, and you know that you can't ever reach out intimately to any of them, without feeling you've betrayed that which you've lost."
She'd never heard Garak talk like that before. It was uncanny how perfectly he turned into words what had been to her a jumble of inarticulate, numb grief. "You did at least find one person to reach out to, in your exile," she said.
"Wh- who are you referring to, Colonel?" It was Garak's turn to stammer and look flustered. Kira couldn't fathom why the comment had upset his always formidable composure.
"Ziyal, of course."
Garak lowered his eyes affectingly. "Ah, Ziyal, yes, my one bright light. Yet we had so little time together before she too was taken from me. Strange isn't it, Colonel? We've never really liked each other, yet we shared such a deep affection for poor Ziyal, despite our mutual deep hatred for that arrogant tyrant, her father. Perhaps we have more in common than we realize."
Kira stared at him through narrowed eyes. "Garak, are you trying to make a pass at me?"
His face assumed that expression of wounded innocence that only appeared when he'd been caught out at something. "Would it be so . . . outrageous . . . if I were?"
"Frankly, yes," Kira replied. She was half amused and half befuddled by the turn the conversation had taken. She wondered if it was the kanar talking.
"It doesn't seem so to me." Garak paused, choosing his words carefully. "Here we are, two comrades in arms who've each lain down in an empty bed for far too many nights. I'm not suggesting that we begin some long term love affair, only that we conclude a companionable evening by giving each other a little physical pleasure."
"No, Garak, that would be impossible."
"You find me that unattractive?" He didn't look hurt, only curious.
"It's not you, personally, it's just that I could- I could never make love to a Cardassian."
"You find us repulsive as a species then?" He voice was still unemotional, that of the patient questioner, not the scorned suitor.
"Yes, I mean no, not, uh, physically repulsive, necessarily, but, well, Garak, you have to know what the Occupation was like for Bajoran women. All you Cardassians considered us fair game. One of the reasons I ran off to join the Resistance when I was thirteen was because I'd just developed a woman's body. I could tell from the way the guards in the camp looked at me that I'd soon be hauled off by one of them and raped. I've always considered it a special grace from the Prophets that I escaped that fate.
"Even after the Occupation ended, though, there was Dukat, always ogling me in that same way, claiming that we were somehow made for each other. And then to find out that the mother I believed a martyr to Cardassian cruelty instead had lived with him as his lover -" she shook her head vigorously. "As I said, you and I, it would be impossible."
"Not every Cardassian preyed upon Bajoran women, Colonel. Dukat was a pathological case even among those who did. You judge us unfairly if you use him as your model. I for one can assure you that I never sexually exploited a single Bajoran."
"No, you were too busy torturing them."
Prophets! Nerys, did you just say that out loud? she berated herself. But in a way she was glad she had finally said it, because every time she had ever looked at Garak, whether he was adjusting a garment on a customer in his shop, or chatting with Julian in the replimat, or walking down the Promenade with Ziyal, or covering her back on a raid with Damar, she had only seen one thing: the torturer of her people.
She cast a furtive glance his way. Now hurt was everywhere on his face. "I actually specialized in internal Cardassian security," he said, every syllable clipped and angry. "However, when a Bajoran had committed a particularly grievous offense against the Cardassian state, for instance, the five members of the Colbera cell who assassinated Governor Rendak, I might be called in to interrogate them and administer fitting punishment afterward. Two of the Colbera terrorists died in this very room, if memory serves. Now, if you'll excuse me for a moment, the kanar is having the usual effect." He gestured toward the folding screen that obscured the waste extraction facilities.
Kira stretched out her arms on the table and laid her cheek down on them. She'd certainly made a hash of that. It wasn't like she didn't have experience giving unwanted lovers the brush-off. Oh, well, she'd done Julian the favor he'd asked, so she was free to say her good-byes and get the hell out of there when Garak returned.
He emerged from behind the screen and washed his hands, then held them under the lamp to dry. As he stood there with his back turned to her, he asked, "Colonel, what did Odo tell you about the time when he and I were captured by Enabran Tain during his ill-fated offensive against the Founders?"
Kira got up and walked over to him. "Not very much," she said cautiously, wondering what this further shift in conversational topics might portend. "He said that he spent the whole time confined to his quarters, and that Tain and the Romulans kept trying to get him to tell them some great secrets about his people that they imagined he possessed. It was a generally unpleasant experience, I gather."
"Oh, 'unpleasant' would be quite the understatement, Colonel. The Obsidian Order had developed a device that was very effective in neutralizing a Changeling's shapeshifting powers and inducing suffering of a significant kind. What he went through was on the level of his worst hours while infected with the Founders' disease."
"He never let on," she said, almost to herself.
"Tain required me to witness this suffering. Had I tried to intervene on Odo's behalf, or even refused to watch, he would have killed us both. Be that as it may, I did sit there as Odo writhed in agony and did nothing to stop it. Yet a remarkable thing happened afterwards, Colonel."
Kira looked at him sharply. "And what was that, Garak?"
"Odo forgave me, completely. In fact, he asked me to have breakfast with him. After what I'd done to him."
"He was always able to see past those things, even personal betrayals, if he could wrap his mind around the reasons for them. Otherwise, he could never have-"
"Loved you?" Garak interrupted.
She nodded but said nothing, biting down hard on her lips, because she knew that this talk of Odo had put her on the knife edge of tears.
"You know, Colonel, I don't think he really saw himself for the upright, compassionate man he was. All he saw was the sins of his people, and the guilt he felt must belong to him, simply because he was one of them. Don't you think that's what drove him to leave you and stay with them, because only when all the Founders have become as good as Odo will Odo be able to count himself a good man." All this Garak said with the utmost conviction, his blue eyes seeming to penetrate her anger and defensiveness and carry his meaning straight to her heart.
Kira lost the battle with her grief. The tears flowed, and the sobs shook her. She ran to the opposite wall and leaned against it, but it was a room designed to give one no place to hide. She felt his hands on her shoulders, a very light pressure at first, as he massaged knotted muscles and stroked the hair at the nape of her neck. She wanted to throw him off, but something stopped her. Perhaps she was ashamed at being so brutally honest about her opinion of him, perhaps she had wound herself up so tightly since Odo left that the skilled hands kneading her muscles brought a relief so necessary that she couldn't bear for it to stop.
Her tears at length exhausted themselves. She had dammed them up for too long, she realized. Letting them go felt like the breaking of a chronic fever. But there was another emotion she had dammed up: desire. Now she felt it too welling up inside her, stimulated by the touch of those hands, Cardassian hands, a torturer's hands. It was not Garak she desired, to be sure, but the object of that desire was far away, unreachable, an undifferentiated drop in a golden sea. Garak was here, now, and aware that she did not desire him, yet perfectly willing to take the burden of that desire from her. Kira pushed herself back from the wall, pressing up against him. Slowly she rubbed her buttocks against his crotch, until she felt him begin to grow hard. At the same time, the skilled hands gently caressed her throat, then unfastened the clasps on her tunic and moved down to encircle and brush her breasts. Her body shuddered, and she reached back and clutched his hips. Then she felt his tongue exploring the contours of her right ear with agile, darting motions. She moaned and thrust violently backward, feeling his growing erection inside her cleft. His lips paused in nibbling at her ear and formed whispered words. "Do I take it this means you are saying yes to my offer of a night's pleasure, Colonel?"
Kira laughed and spun around, kissing the Cardassian fiercely on the lips. "Yes, Garak, I'm saying yes." She kissed him again and again. They weren't lingering, romantic kisses but quick and hard, like a round of disruptor fire. She reached her arms around his neck and clawed at the scales on his back. Meanwhile, the tailor's expert fingers got her out of her clothing altogether, and after a brief return to her breasts, they nimbly traversed her torso and dove between her thighs.
Dukat watched Garak's seduction of Kira with horrified fascination. The scene was quite as unbelievable as all the fantastic stories his captor had spun about Dukat's behavior during the two years he had lost. He'd never heard of wooing a woman with tales of humanoid sacrifice and one's own memoirs as a torturer. It was preposterous that someone like Kira Nerys would succumb to such twisted overtures. Then Dukat remembered her reference to Meru having been his lover. There was no way Kira should know that. He'd been very careful in altering the records. However, no amount of care could fool the Obsidian Order. Garak had surely told her about his relationship with her mother and used her anger over it to persuade her to go through with a charade aimed at taking revenge on him. This conclusion comforted him, although he couldn't dispel nagging doubts as to its accuracy. Would Kira really prostitute herself for the sake of petty vengeance? She was not one for dissembling, nor was she very good at it. Her lovemaking with Garak appeared genuine. It was prolonged and passionate.
For six years Dukat had dreamed of luring Kira to his bed, yet none of his fantasies resembled the woman he saw before him, a woman possessed by raw sexual heat. He'd imagined she would be like her mother, yielding, compliant, all soft moans and whispers. Not this writhing, aggressive female with her loud animal cries, whose love bites drew blood. Perhaps this extreme behavior was Garak's fault. He didn't seem to know the first thing about mastering a woman. His approach to sex was as circuitous and evasive as everything else about him. Why, he'd brought her to orgasm the first time before he even took off his trousers, and for his own pleasuring he'd lain on his back and pulled her down on top of him. Dukat's theory of lovemaking made no room for such convoluted gymnastics. You did whatever it took to get both parties to arousal quickly, you opened the door, entered, and got out when you'd been sufficiently satisfied. That was the way it was meant to be between men and women. This spectacle before him was perverse. A disturbing thought struck him. Had Garak played out such spectacles with Ziyal? The very idea sickened him.
Yet disgusted as he was with what his tormentor was forcing him to watch, he was also powerfully aroused by it. From the second Kira turned and peppered Garak with those bruising kisses, Dukat's neck ridges had begun to throb, his scales to ruffle, and his erection to complete itself more rapidly than with the help of Garak's drug. Fortunately today's painful condition, unlike yesterday's, managed to relieve itself with only the slightest rubbing on the seat of the chair. This was especially fortunate because it also managed to renew itself two more times before Kira and Garak at last lay panting beside each other, all passion spent.
After a few minutes of silence, she got up, conveniently turning her beautiful, flushed body directly toward the wall behind which he was sitting. At least I finally got to see her naked, Dukat reflected philosophically. She ran a hand enticingly between her breasts and across her belly, which was drenched in Garak's seed. "If you don't mind, Garak, I could use a shower," she said.
"Take all the time you need, my dear," he replied. Regrettably, she pulled the screen in front of the hygiene unit, depriving Dukat of his view.
Instead he got a full view of a naked Garak, who leaned directly against the wall and whispered, "I hope you've enjoyed the show, Dukat. Now it's time for Lonor to put you to bed." With that, the wall reassumed its opaque texture.
Lonor entered the cell not thirty seconds later. He released the chair's restraining field and the security belt on Dukat's robe and asked him to take it off, as he did before every sleep interval. Only the disapproving glance he cast at the robe's wet and stained appearance marked any deviation from the routine. Does he know what I've been forced to watch? Has he been watching? Dukat wondered.
"You will be permitted to wash yourself for two minutes, before going to sleep," the young man said, with the same look of disapproval.
"Thank my ancestors the lad has a cleanliness fetish, Dukat thought as he stood under the stream of water. I'm still desperately in need of a cold shower.
He awoke in the half light to see he had a visitor. It was Ziyal, looking as he remembered her, except for the charred circle of fabric that ringed the large disruptor wound in her chest. "Are you really dead, then, my dear girl?" he asked.
"Yes, Father, I am dead," she replied.
"In the way that Garak described?"
"Yes, Father, everything Elim has told you is the truth."
"But that cannot be. The stories he has told me are strange beyond belief," Dukat protested.
"Nevertheless, they are true," she insisted.
His breath caught in his throat. "Ziyal, it haunts me that we parted so bitterly. I always loved you, and I never got to tell you so."
She stepped close to him. "I know that you always loved me, Father," she said with a sad smile. "It was you who used to forget it sometimes." She bent down and kissed him in the center of his spoon, just as he used to do to her when she was a little girl. "And I have always loved you. Good-bye, father."
Then she vanished as he awoke, trembling. It was just a dream, he told himself . It doesn't mean she's really dead, or that you need to believe any of those wild tales of Garak's. Yet he was seized with a terrible certainty, that despite his conscious mind's battle to deny the insane things he had done during the time he had lost, deep in his heart he now believed the whole sordid narrative. For the first time since the universe had winked out around him, he wept.
Dukat drifted back to sleep among his tears and remained dreamless until the siren awakened him. Yesterday had been the first day since he had become Garak's captive that his tormentor had not briefed him as to what the next interaction between them would entail. And today was Gh'pakt'rodak, the day for the dispatching of those who had sinned. This made him nervous as he waited for Lonor. His unease only increased when the usual appearance of the young man in his cell minutes after the alarm sounded did not occur. Dukat paced, washed his face and hands, paced some more, went back to the hygiene station and enjoyed the luxury of standing under the water for seven wash and rinse cycles, then the heat lamp till he was truly warmed. Next he lay down and tried in vain to go back to sleep, got up and played about a minute of each of ten different Cardassian symphonies, pounded on the door until his knuckles were raw, swept all the PADDs on each of the shelves to the floor, and threw himself panting back on his shelf. Words hammered his brain to the rhythm of his pounding heart: There's nothing to keep him from just leaving you here to die.
But then the door opened, and Lonor entered as he always did, sparing the briefest sidelong glance at the PADDs littering the floor. "Dress yourself, prisoner," he said, handing Dukat his clothes. Again, however, something was out of order. This was not a prison uniform but civilian clothing, a tunic and trousers in the sort of vulgar multi-color pattern favored by the despicable tailor. Nor did they come equipped with a security belt. "Is Garak finally giving me the opportunity to hang myself?" he asked Lonor.
As with every question he put to Garak's lackey, this one received no answer. Lonor instead took out a pair of manacles. "You will place your hands behind your back," he commanded.
"And if I'd rather not?" Dukat countered with the recklessness that complete loss of hope often inspires. Lonor's shock rod had him writhing on the floor almost before the words were uttered. "Get up and place your hands behind your back, prisoner," he repeated.
Dukat's surge of rebellion evaporated. He stood and meekly allowed himself to be handcuffed. Then Lonor did another surprising thing. He opened the door and left it open. "Turn left and keep walking until I tell you to stop," he said, pressing the nose of a disruptor into Dukat's back. "You won't be returning to this cell."
As he walked down the long corridor, Dukat wondered whether Lonor had been ordered to pull the trigger on the disruptor whenever he had tired of toying with him. No, that's too easy a death, he concluded. And, besides, Garak will want to kill me himself.
At the end of the corridor was a turbolift, its outer door blackened and pitted by weapons' fire. Lonor pressed the call pad, and the car descended noisily, as if the shaft had been bent out of shape to the extent that the lift could barely scrape through. The doors slid jerkily open with an even more grating sound of metal on metal. Lonor jabbed him with the disruptor. "Get in."
They stood side by side in the lift as the door clanged shut. Dukat jumped at the noise. His guard smiled for the first time in their association. "It's safer than it sounds," he said in a tone almost conversational.
When the doors struggled open, Dukat saw that he was still ten meters or so below ground, standing on the first subterranean level not to crumble under the Jem'Hadar torpedo barrage. No attempt had been made to remove the shattered stone and twisted metal, and the dust came up to his ankles. A dreary place to die, he thought.
Lonor came around to face him, holstering his weapon. "Good-bye, Dukat," he said. "We won't meet again. I can't say I'm sorry to see the last of you."
"I can promise you that the feeling is mutual," Dukat replied with a growl.
Lonor gave him a curt nod and disappeared into the turbolift. Dukat regretted that he hadn't come back with a more withering response. These long days of solitude and enforced silence had seriously impaired his conversational skills. As if dead men required glib tongues, he chided himself.
He looked around the desolate rubble. He doubted that a firing squad and a crowd of witnesses would suddenly materialize. It was bad enough that there would never be a monument honoring him for everything he had done for Cardassia. Now even his execution for treason would lack any of the solemn grandeur that accompanied the eradication of state criminals on the planet. After such a disaster it wasn't surprising that ceremonies and rituals would fall by the wayside, but he felt perversely cheated that his people would never acknowledge either his achievements or his failures with the respect he felt was his due. A fleeting thought of escape rushed through his brain, but how could he even get out of this crater with its high walls and jagged debris, when he couldn't use his hands and his feet were bare. Why couldn't that damned Garak just come and get it over with? Because men couldn't change their natures, that was why. The first rule of torturers was always to make you wait.
With a sigh of resignation Dukat steadied himself against a large slab of rock, cleared his mind of thoughts of the detestable tailor, and worked to prepare himself to die with as much dignity as he might. He retreated within himself sufficiently that, when Garak transported within two meters of him, he didn't even notice until his captor spoke his name. The tailor was holding something in his hand. At first Dukat thought it was the weapon that would dispatch him, but on closer observation it turned out to be a pair of those thick-soled, backless shoes worn by the Bajoran peasants in the agricultural highlands of Rakantha province. Covering their tops was the same garish fabric that Dukat's tunic and trousers were made of. Garak placed them on the ground in front of his prisoner. "Step into these, please," he said in that insincerely charming manner that had set Dukat's teeth on edge since the first day they met.
"So, you're allowing me to die without doing it in my bare feet?" Dukat sneered as he maneuvered into the shoes. "Your mercies know no bounds."
"I certainly wouldn't dream of designing an ensemble for a colleague of so long acquaintance and then omit a necessary accessory like proper footwear," Garak replied. "However, my dear Dukat," he continued, moving closer and placing his hand on the other man's shoulder, "whatever gave you the impression that you were going to die?" Before Dukat could answer, a transporter beam whisked them away.
They materialized in some kind of office, furnished with a desk and a couple of chairs on either side of it. "Sit down and make yourself comfortable," Garak invited, as he settled in behind the desk. "We won't have to wait too long."
"Wait for what?" Dukat asked impatiently. "How many more rounds of this infernal game of yours do I have to play?"
"No more, I assure you. This is the security office at the new space port the Federation so kindly constructed for Cardassia Prime. Right now a transport is boarding for Caspia, do you know it?"
"Of course I know it-the third moon of Cardassia six, characterized by a breathable atmosphere and six meters deep of dust covering subterranean springs. They've got, what, a long range weather station and a couple of research laboratories there? But what's this have to do with you and me?"
"With me, nothing, with you, quite a lot," Garak purred. "Caspia is going to be your new home, Dukat, for the rest of your life."
"You're marooning me there?" Dukat exclaimed.
"I wouldn't phrase it so harshly. Caspia is one of the few places in our system that the Jem'Hadar left untouched. Cardassia needs to make every inch of habitable territory productive, if we're not all to starve. The Bajorans are very adept at terraforming moons and growing crops on them. Half the people on that transport are eager Bajoran agricultural experts, prepared to forget the injustices of the Occupation and teach the other half, young, would-be Cardassian farmers, how to turn Caspia into a garden. Once everyone else has boarded, and the departure lounge has cleared, you're going to join them. Think of it as a labor camp where all the inmates are volunteers."
Dukat sat silent for a moment, processing the fact that Garak wasn't going to kill him after all, along with the less pleasant fact that he was going to be expected to do manual labor alongside Bajoran peasants. Finally he leaned forward and asked Garak, "If it's voluntary, what's to stop me from leaving?"
"For one thing, you'll have no identity chip, so no interplanetary vessel will permit you to board. That's why I'm sneaking you onto the transport like this, with the connivance of its captain. I've let it be believed that you died a slow agonizing death in my underground lair, but if I hear you've tried to escape from Caspia, everyone in the quadrant will be looking to carry out your death sentence. In fact, if I were you, I'd fabricate some new identity for myself. No one in a colony of Cardassians and Bajorans is going to have any warm feelings toward the infamous Gul Dukat."
"But they'll all recognize me," Dukat protested.
"I wouldn't be so sure. They've only seen you as a uniformed figure making self-justifying speeches on giant public screens. I doubt they'll associate that man with the unpretentiously dressed fellow laborer in their midst. Believe me, a tailor knows these things."
Dukat settled back in the chair, making himself as comfortable as his bound hands would allow. He studied Garak intensely for a moment. "Why, Garak?" he asked quietly.
"Why haven't I killed you?" Garak replied. Dukat nodded. "There are many reasons. First of all, you didn't deserve a quick death. I know from bitter experience that exile is a far more painful punishment than dying." Then Garak smiled. "And I didn't want to depart completely from the plot set out in the story Doctor Bashir's ancestors told."
"You mean the ruler didn't strangle that woman once she ran out of stories?"
"Oh, no. He fell in love with her charming conversation, and they lived together blissfully to the end of their days. This is a human story, after all - none of the inexorable rigor of our best Cardassian folk tales."
"Still, you've hardly used 'inexorable rigor' in your dealings with me," Dukat persisted. "Even if you intended to stop short of killing me, you had the means at your disposal to make me far more . . . uncomfortable . . . than you did."
"I can't imagine a torture that could have been more excruciating than watching me with Colonel Kira last night," Garak smirked.
Dukat could feel his scales start to tingle at the memory, but he feigned indifference. "I'm hardly likely to waste much annoyance on what was so obviously a little drama you and the maj- the colonel concocted together for my benefit."
"I assure you that the colonel was not acting," Garak said.
Dukat's impulse was to argue the issue, but then he realized that he'd had his initial question deflected in that infuriating manner at which Garak was so expert. "Whatever the case may be, you've shown me more mercy than you think I deserve, and if you're going to ship me off to some blighted moon filled with self-sacrificing idealists, you at least owe me an explanation," he thundered.
"I don't owe you anything!" Garak shouted back. "And don't think I wasn't tempted to show you the impressive range and diversity of my powers of persuasion. But I knew that she would have never forgiven me if I made you suffer too much."
"Forgiven you? Colonel Kira would have happily helped you along," Dukat said.
"Not Colonel Kira," Garak replied in a much softer tone. "Ziyal."
Their eyes met, and each could see the pain of his loss mirrored in the other's gaze. Dukat was the first to turn away. Then the images of the previous night came back to him, and his sorrow turned to anger. "Garak, did you defile my daughter?"
His captor slammed both hands down on the desk and threw back his head with a gutteral "Hah!" "A fine one you are to ask me that," he hissed, "after what you did to her mother, and Colonel Kira's mother, and half the mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts on Bajor, if the tales are to be believed."
Dukat flushed, the tips of his scales darkening. "I never forced myself on any of them," he retorted.
"Never forced yourself? Can you really be so deluded? Do you think you needed to strike them or point a weapon at them when you held their lives and those of their families in the palm of your hand? Let's see how your vaunted charms fare with the Bajoran women on Caspia, when you're only a fellow worker instead of the prefect of the Occupation."
He'd heard the charge before, but the words stung, coming from a fellow Cardassian rather than some whining vedek. "All right," he muttered, "but you're doing your usual trick of evading questions. Did you seduce Ziyal in order to hurt me, just as you seduced Colonel Kira last night?"
"Believe me, if anyone was doing the seducing, it was Ziyal and not me. She never took 'no' for an answer. I suppose she inherited that trait from you."
"Liar!" Dukat shouted, rising and wishing that he could get his bound hands around Garak's neck.
"Sit down," the other man commanded, pointing a disruptor at him. "There's no need to lose our calm." Dukat reluctantly sat, glowering. Garak holstered the weapon and folded his hands on the desk. "Ziyal was a lovely, generous-spirited girl who for totally inexplicable reasons decided that she was in love with me. I had great affection for her as well, but her virtue was absolutely safe with me. My feelings for her were strictly paternal."
"Paternal? What would you know about how fathers feel for their children? You've never been one -- or had one. Ziyal did have a father, and she didn't need another."
"Oh, yes, she had a father," Garak returned, "a father who loved her when it suited his purposes but who was quite willing to see her dead if she defied him or became an inconvenience to him." The disruptor was immediately in his hand again as Dukat lunged forward. "However, the point is not worth quarreling over. Would it be agreeable to say that my feelings were . . . avuncular?"
Dukat subsided in his chair. He suddenly felt drained, and he feared that he would weep for Ziyal once more. Yet something compelled him to keep talking about her. "Her death, the account of it you gave me, swear it's not one of your lies. You couldn't have witnessed it, after all." He hated himself for pleading thus to his enemy, but he wanted some kind of assurance that the ghost in his dream had spoken the truth.
"I wasn't there, but Damar was. The guilt of killing her gnawed at him till the day he died. He talked about it endlessly down there in Mila's cellar. I swear to you that I have altered nothing from his retelling."
"Thank you," Dukat said solemnly. He felt the tears rising and sought to deflect them by changing the subject. "You, Damar, and Kira as comrades in arms. It's quite unimaginable. I'm surprised you didn't end up killing each other."
Garak leaned back and relaxed his posture. "We nearly did, on several occasions. Particularly if the topic of conversation turned to you," he grinned. "Fortunately for the outcome of the war, we hated the Dominion more than we hated each other."
"Not so fortunate for Cardassia was it?" Dukat said, sensing a vulnerable spot. "If your Resistance had died a speedy death, our world wouldn't be this blighted pebble, I suspect. Had I remained ruler of Cardassia, I would never have been so foolish as to turn on the Dominion until I had consolidated sufficient forces to neutralize them in one lightning strike - no time for revenge. That had always been my plan from the moment I invited them in."
Garak looked at him hard. "As usual your opinion of your abilities to defeat an enemy is much inflated beyond your consistent record of defeats." Then his shoulders slumped, and he ran both hands through his hair. "Nevertheless, you're right that the chain reaction that consumed Cardassia began with Damar, Kira and me. Perhaps that's the final reason I chose not to exact the ultimate penalty for your treason," he sighed.
Garak's communicator chirped. "All is clear for the loading of the special cargo," a voice said. Garak grabbed Dukat's arm and steered him out into a now deserted boarding lounge. When they reached the airlock, he took out the control to Dukat's manacles and released them. Dukat flexed his cramped arms as Garak gathered up the restraints. "I don't suppose you want to shake hands on parting," the tailor teased.
"Certainly not!" Dukat moved to open the airlock, then paused and turned around. "Garak, why do you think the Prophets . . . rolled back . . . these final years of my life?"
"My personal theory is that it was the pagh-wraiths, who'd been driven mad by your non-stop monologues down there in the Fire Caves," he said.
"Never a straight answer. Are you even capable of one?"
"There are no straight answers to that question," Garak replied in a more serious tone. "All I know is that some of the worst of us get second chances, while many of the best are struck down and never return."
Dukat pressed the control panel and the airlock rolled open. "Have a long, miserable life," Garak called to him, chuckling softly at some private joke, as he waved a mocking good-bye with the manacles in his hand. "Try to make yourself useful for a change."
"No matter how hard my exile is, at least I'll never have to see you again. That's one comfort," Dukat shot back, stepping inside.
"Don't be so sure, Dukat," Garak shouted as the door began to roll shut. "Sometimes there's nothing quite so comforting as hatred, and plotting revenge on those who've wronged you. That's one of the greatest sacrifices I've had to make for the good of Cardassia, letting go of hatred. I imagine you'll have many nights, lying on your dusty cot in the communal sleeping quarters, when you'll miss me." With that the door's pressure seals activated as the transport's hatch and gangway opened opposite him.
Damn that conniving bastard. He always gets the last word, Dukat said to himself as he walked onto the ship and embarked upon his mysteriously granted second chance at a future.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount Pictures owns these characters and situations, except for the ones I made up.
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