A Different Kind Of Relaunch



            The Pah-Wraiths of the Bajoran fire caves released Dukat at the same time that the Prophets liberated Benjamin Sisko. But whereas Sisko was called home to the Celestial Temple, Dukat was free to wander the galaxy at will.

            The first thing that Dukat realized was that he was lonely. He was lonely for a friend. Having terrorized most Cardassians, Bajorans, humans, etc. with whom he had come into contact, his selection was not large. But instantly he thought of his friend Damar. Effortlessly, Dukat’s mind and essence winged its way to Cardassia, and put out its senses to find its friend. But Damar was not there. Further investigation revealed that Damar had been killed at the end of the Dominion War, just as he, Garak, and Kira were breaking into the stronghold to capture Weyoun and the female Changeling. Hmm, Garak? Interesting, thought Dukat. Garak had been helping Damar. Dukat had long despised Garak, but this was, he admitted, an interesting development. Further, Dukat saw that, upon entering the inner sanctum of the stronghold, Garak had shot Weyoun dead in cold blood. Dukat was gratified despite himself; he had long wanted to dispose of that simpering, whining, obsequious fool Weyoun himself. Well, he supposed that even Garak could please him now and then.

            Damar’s death was most unfortunate. But stubbornly, Dukat was not deterred. Like the Prophets, the Pah-Wraiths were nonlinear. Dukat had only to regress to shortly before the end of the Dominion War to see Damar alive again. Thereupon, Dukat exchanged the phaser that had killed his friend – thus leaving a corpse – with a disruptor that would leave no trace, and dematerialized Damar a fraction of a second before the fatal shot, thus creating the impression of his friend’s demise while simultaneously saving him.

            On a deserted hillside, Dukat materialized them both, and stood grinning smugly at the startled Damar. For an instant, Damar seemed about to ask a thousand questions, until Dukat effortlessly imparted all of the information from mind to mind, thanks to the power of the Pah-Wraiths.

            Damar stood looking at Dukat for a moment. “So, we won, then, for Cardassia. That is fine news indeed. But what of you and me? Are we now incorporeal, invisible to all but our own eyes?”

            “We can manifest as solidly as we wish. As visible, or as invisible, as we choose at any given moment.”

            Just beginning to realize the possibilities, his newly-resurrected friend nodded slowly. “I thank you for including me, in this new opportunity for existence.”

            “Not at all. I’m pleased to have your company. But now tell me: Garak? And Kira?? They were your accomplices at the end? Things must’ve been dire indeed.” His sarcasm accompanied his smile.

            “They proved worthy allies,” Damar replied sincerely. “In fact, indispensable. Garak provided the means for us to ‘go to ground’ as it were, in Tain’s former housekeeper’s basement, or we would not have survived to win the revolt. And Kira was invaluable, for her advice on how to conduct a resistance movement,” he finished ruefully. The irony was not lost on either of them.

            After only a brief roll of his eyes, Dukat shrugged elaborately. “I’m surprised that you were able to convince all of your men to accept her advice and leadership.”

            “I wasn’t. There was dissension.”

            “I can well imagine.”

            “Rusot, in particular, kept provoking her, taunting her, threatening her. I was finally obliged to kill him, to keep him from killing Kira.”

            Dukat stared. “You killed one of your own men??”

            “If I hadn’t, Garak would have. We were both aiming phasers at Rusot, while he was aiming one at Kira. She was unarmed and helpless, kneeling on the floor by Odo’s side as he lay dying of the Founders’ disease. We needed her,” he finished flatly. “And she had been loyal to us, generous, devoted. I wasn’t going to see her repaid with death.”

            “You surprise me, Damar. You sound almost fond.”

            “She was able to put her prejudices aside. We owed it to her to do the same. Besides….” He quirked a grin. “I seem to recall that you were fond enough of her yourself, when we briefly retook Terok Nor. You were always flirting with her, trying to get her alone in your office, inviting her to dinner, and even gifting her with an evening gown, which you had me deliver.”

            Dukat looked irked. “She didn’t accept it. She returned it to me, and refused to attend the party.”

            “Oh. I’m sorry.”

            Dukat forced a smile. “I may yet achieve my goal with the lovely but stubborn Nerys, especially given my newfound abilities. But first things first. You and I are now uniquely qualified to aid in the restoration of our beloved Cardassia. You possess the power of the Pah-Wraiths, too now, my friend.”

            “Excellent. Where shall we begin?”

            Dukat made a face. “Ordinarily, I would suggest that we work closely with the current head of our government, but since I have learned that that is Garak….” He shook his head. “I do not think that I could ally myself with him as successfully as you did.”

            Damar put a reassuring hand on Dukat’s shoulder – and found himself inordinately pleased that he was still solid enough to do so – and said, “Dukat, listen to me. I know the grudge that you bear for Garak. I know that he killed your father. But you have somehow forgiven me for having killed your daughter. Is that any different?”

            Dukat looked frustrated. “But that is different; you continued to be my friend, which he had never been. When I desired surgical alteration to Bajoran form, to fool Kai Winn, you made the arrangements to make it possible, despite your burden at the time of the War, and Weyoun.” He pronounced the Vorta’s name with a sneer.

            Undeterred, Damar said, “And Garak stood with us, side-by-side, much earlier, when we were in exile aboard DS9 at Sisko’s generosity, and the Klingons were attacking. In fact, Garak called you, while we were still on Cardassia, to warn of the Klingon attack.”

            Dukat looked impressed at the reminder, but still reluctant to admit that Damar was right. He made an unpleasant face. “It’s still hard to believe that the man we left behind in exile on Terok Nor is now one of the heads of our government.”

            “He’s one of the few Cardassians left with any leadership qualities, as well as the only surviving member of the former Obsidian Order.” He shrugged.

            Dukat shook his head. “It’s still nearly unimaginable that the cunning, powerful Enabran Tain managed to get himself, every other member of the Order, and the entire Romulan Tal Shiar killed in a Dominion trap.”

            Damar nodded his agreement. “And then died pitifully in a Jem’Hadar prison, I know. How the mighty have fallen.”

            “And how the lowly have risen. Garak! Oh well. You’re right. It does seem that I rather owe him a debt after all. Shall we repair to his headquarters?”


            The two materialized soundlessly to see Garak hard at work at his desk. The former agent’s instincts hadn’t lost their honed edge. Despite their presence out of his sight, and despite their noiseless arrival, Garak instantly whirled, saw them, and smiled widely, surprising them both. “Never attempt to sneak up on a spy, gentlemen. To what do I owe the honor? No, let me guess: you wish to assist me in this nearly impossible task: the restoration of an utterly devastated Cardassia.”

            Their expressions confirmed his supposition. Before either could utter a word, he went on, “Damar! I am especially delighted to see you! After all, I saw you die!”

            Damar returned Garak’s smile. “As they say, the reports of my death seem to have been exaggerated.”

            Garak’s eyes shifted smoothly to Dukat. “Your doing, I presume?”

            Dukat studied him with interest. “How did you know?”

            Garak smiled demurely. “The last time that I saw red eyes like that was when Jake Sisko was taken over by the Pah-Wraiths for some event that they called the ‘Reckoning.’”

            Dukat looked both perplexed and annoyed, as he willed his eyes back to their normal blue. “I’ll have to watch that in the future. I didn’t mean to reveal myself like that. I’ll count on both of you to remind me in case of any further slip-ups.”

            Astutely, Garak observed, “Then I gather that it is indeed your intention that the three of us will be spending a great deal of time together.”

            Dukat smiled in spite of himself. “I have to hand it to you, Garak. Given our past enmity, I would have expected you to assume hostile intentions on my part. And yet you seem to welcome us enthusiastically.”

            Without missing a beat, Garak explained, “The three of us, at one time or another, have either covertly or overtly been some of our world’s greatest leaders. With our help now, how can Cardassia lose?”

            Damar looked pleased. “What is our first task, then, in the restoration?”

            “Actually, I was about to go on a little excursion to Deep Space 9,” replied Garak.

            Dukat frowned. “How can that help our world?”

            Garak produced an enigmatic smile that seemed to say that he was inordinately pleased with himself. “Rather more than you might imagine, actually.”

            “How so?” demanded Dukat.

            Garak was enjoying his little secret. “There is someone there who has been directly interfering with my efforts toward Cardassia’s recovery.”

            “Who?” said Dukat.

            “Why?” said Damar.

            Garak chose to answer Damar’s question first. “For profit.”

            Dukat and Damar exchanged looks, and chorused, “Quark!”

            Quickly, Garak outlined how the Ferengi bartender had worked with a Cardassian named Deru to unscrupulously and cheaply buy up land from land-rich, cash-poor, Cardassian upper class, and resell it at an exorbitant price.

            Both listeners’ eyes darkened dangerously.

            “We must deal with this Deru first,” Dukat insisted.

            Garak smiled sweetly. “I have already done so.”

            Damar quirked a half-grin. “Let me guess: they’ll never find the body, and in any case, Deru will never again trouble anyone.”

            “Quite correct.” Garak’s smile remained.

            Dukat tried to keep the admiration out of his tone and expression. “And the Bajorans said that I killed indiscriminately.”

            Garak shrugged, unruffled.

            Damar surmised, “So now we go to kill Quark.”

            Garak hesitated. “I do not suppose that that will be necessary. I’m sure that we need only frighten him.”

            Damar frowned. “You’re going to go soft on that little toad? We even suspect that he took part in the sabotage of Terok Nor which helped the Federation recapture the station during the war. He deserves death twice over.”

            Dukat looked shrewd. “Is it possible, Garak, that you have feelings for the people aboard that station? After all, you spent a great many years there.”

            Garak refused to be baited. “It’s also more than possible that I therefore know those people far better than either of you do, and that I’m therefore better cognizant of what methods would be most persuasive with each of them. Kill Quark, and someone else, probably equally unprincipled, will take over that bar, getting into who-knows-what mischief. Intimidate Quark, and exercise some control over what goes on there.”

            Reluctantly, his two listeners agreed.

            “All right,” Damar yielded. “What ‘method’ would work best with Quark?”

            “As it happens, I’ve been giving that a great deal of thought.” Garak seemed positively gleeful.

            “Of that I have no doubt,” Dukat said almost appreciatively.

            Garak reminisced, “I recall a time when Quark was in trouble with the government of Ferenginar, and in despair, hired me to kill him.”

            Both of the other men blinked. “Then, how…?”

            “How is it that he is still alive? I’m getting to that. He was very particular about how I should go about it: it had to be painless, bloodless, and nothing that would trigger his squeamish sensibilities.”

            Both listeners smirked in disdain.

            Garak finished, “Well, quite plainly, we couldn’t find a method that he would agree to, so he backed out of it. But you see, now I know what method of execution frightens him the most. I can simply go through the motions, and stop just in time. I can just pretend that I’m going to…break his neck.”

            “That is what he fears?? But that is so quick,” protested Dukat.

            “But it put him to no end of terror. When I programmed one of his holosuites to preview this approach for him, he nearly choked in panic, claiming that he could hear the neck crack.”

            Damar stared. “And somehow this little coward managed to work against us during the second Occupation??”

            Garak shrugged.

            “Come on,” said Dukat. “Let’s go terrorize our troublesome little troll.”


            Quark’s Bar was closed and dark as Quark did his final straightening-up for the next day, before retiring. His waiters had already returned to their quarters, as had his dabo girls. The only light shone harshly from directly above, right where he was still working. He was like an actor, spotlighted starkly on an otherwise dark and empty stage.

            Even his Ferengi ears heard not a sound as three figures stealthily materialized from out of the gloom. Only his eyes revealed the small-scale invasion.

            Quark gasped loudly and dramatically, and let slip a glass that crashed jarringly to the floor.

            “Dukat! Kasidy said that you were dead! Damar! Kira said that you were dead! Garak!! Oh god, I’m dead!!” The diminutive victim tried to back away from them.

            Dukat smiled in amusement, but was puzzled. “Kasidy?”

            Garak supplied, “Formerly Yates, now Sisko. Benjamin married her. But Quark, how did she know about Dukat?”

            He stammered, “She…she was…briefly…with the Captain…with the Prophets….”

            “Indeed?” prompted Dukat.


            Unruffled, Dukat revealed, “Actually, Benjamin tackled me into the fire caves, but no matter; I was toying with him, as a prelude to killing him.”


            “Am I alive?” Dukat finished for him. Effortlessly, he let his eyes glow red, like the hot coals at the remains of a bonfire.

            Quark screamed. “The last time that I saw eyes like that, Jake…!”

             “Yes, we know,” Garak concluded smoothly.

            All of this time, Quark was easing himself awkwardly backward, trying to maintain his distance, as the three glided slowly forward.

            Quark looked at Damar. “But you…you…!”

            “He brought me back.” Damar hooked a thumb at Dukat.

            “Oh, great,” Quark muttered glumly. Then quickly realizing how offensive that might sound, feigned sincerity and enthusiasm. “I mean, great! That’s great!!”

            Damar was not fooled.

            Shrewdly, Dukat said, “Now Quark, about Garak. When you saw him, you said that you are dead. What makes you say that?” Dukat clearly enjoyed toying with this one, too.

            “He’s…mad at me.” Quark sounded like a young child, and met Garak’s eyes only from below lowered lids, in extreme trepidation.

            Garak smiled the cold leer of a snake, and Quark began to whimper. He had seen what the hew-mons called snakes, and this was no less fearsome, especially given Cardassians’ reptilian nature.

            But Damar had a question for Garak. “How did he already know that you knew what he’d done, and were angry?”

            Not deflecting his ominous stare from the fearful Ferengi eyes in the least, or pausing in his smooth, steady pursuit, Garak replied, “I called him. I wanted to give him time to think about it for a while.”

            Now Dukat smiled at Garak in frank admiration. “We should have been allies from the beginning. We make an excellent team.”

            As if to prove his point, Dukat abruptly disappeared, taking Damar with him, and rematerialized both of them directly behind Quark, allowing the Ferengi to bump into the solidity of them both. Quark trivialized the volume of his previous scream with this new one. Each thin, Ferengi arm was seized by a pair of powerful Cardassian hands, and he was held, quickly allowing the completion of Garak’s thus far gradual approach.

            “Delightful.” Garak beamed his approval to Dukat and Damar.

            Now, Quark was openly sobbing. “Please, Garak! I’ll do anything! I’ll make it right! I’ll give you the bar! Please!!”

            Fortunately for the Cardassians, Quark was cringing away in deference and fright, and therefore did not see the expression of surprised interest that Garak flashed to his two henchmen. Control, indeed. They had discussed controlling the bar through Quark’s fear and obedience, but this potential of actual ownership posed a fascinating new wrinkle.

            Still, not wanting to let Quark off too easily, nor risk frightening him too little to leave a lasting impression, Garak proceeded with his plan of taking hold of the Ferengi’s shoulders, and turning Quark’s back to him, letting him face the just-as-terrifying Dukat and Damar, while Garak’s arms automatically slid into the appropriate positions.

            Quark wailed in horror.

            “Recognize this position, Quark?” Garak teased. “You’ve previously seen me do this? To you, perhaps? But then, it was only a hologram of you. This time, it’s the real you.” His tone was almost playful. He tightened his grip.

            “No!!! Moogie!!! No!!! Help!!! Garak, please!! I’ll give you anything!! Everything!! Please, Garak, spare me!! Moogieeeeeeeee!!!”

            Still holding his position, Garak grinned at Dukat and Damar, unseen by Quark.

            Damar queried, “Moogie?”

            Garak could see that Dukat was about to pose the same question. Still grinning, he said, “Our poor, frightened little friend is crying out for his mother.”

            Dukat and Damar both looked revolted.

            Garak prompted, “Quark, tell me again what you offer, in exchange for your life.” He tightened his grip again, minutely.

            “Anything!!!” Quark shrieked. “Everything I have!!! The bar!! And latinum!! Rom’s the Grand Nagus now! I can get him to give you latinum! A lot of latinum!! Mercy, Garak, mercy!!!”

            Dukat’s and Damar’s brow ridges rose at Garak, missed by the oblivious, shrieking Quark.

            Carefully, Garak loosened his grip just a trifle. “You interest me, Quark. The bar, you say. You’ll manage it, and I’ll own it? And you’ll obey my wishes?”

            “Yes!!! Yes, anything!!! Yes, sir!!! There’s nothing I’ll refuse you!!! I’ll kiss your feet if you want!!! Please, Garak; I’m afraid!!!”

            “Hmm. And latinum, you say? Enough to pay back all of those Cardassians that you and Deru swindled?”

            “Yes!!! Yes!!! Twice as much!!! I’ll pay ‘em back twice!!! Please let go; it hurts!!!”

            Dukat and Damar could hardly contain their interest, or their disgust.

            Garak prodded, “And perhaps even a bit more, hmm? To help in Cardassia’s recovery efforts?”

            Dukat’s and Damar’s brow ridges rose in admiration.

            “Yes!!! Absolutely!!! Rom’ll do it; he’s filthy rich!! Oh please, let me go!!!”

            Garak did so. And Quark instantly crumpled to the floor in a dead faint.

            Damar blinked. “Are you sure that you didn’t kill him?”

            “Quite sure.” Garak smiled, as he absently wiped his hands and arms on his trousers; both were soaked with Ferengi tears.


            Quark sat at one of his tables, leaning his forehead heavily on one hand, as the attached elbow propped wearily on the tabletop, with Damar laughing and intermittently pouring foul kanar down him, “to revive him.” Dukat and Garak chuckled appreciatively. Although one would wonder how “revived” Quark could feel when he so detested the favorite Cardassian liquor. The only other time that he’d let himself imbibe any appreciable quantity of the beverage, he’d been sharing “kanar with Damar” as he’d gleefully rhymingly put it, in the name of pumping the unsuspecting Cardassian for military information, in one of the Ferengi’s rare, reckless, selfless moments. He wondered with a shudder whether he’d now get his neck broken for real, if Damar were to discover the truth of that past event. Dried tears stained both sides of Quark’s face, from his eyes to his chin, and he still whimpered and sniffled in misery. He had been spared, but the cowardly Ferengi would need time to recover from the shock of his near demise, and the traumatic, sadistic way that it had been performed, at such cruel hands.

            Pretending to misunderstand the reason for Quark’s continued blubbering, Garak said brightly, “It won’t be so bad, Quark. I’ll be a mostly absentee and reasonably enlightened despot, ruling over you.”

            Quark waved it away in exhaustion. “I don’t care. I’ll be glad to obey you. Just don’t hurt me.”

            Garak’s eyes twinkled. “And we won’t completely obliterate Ferenginar’s treasury in the rebuilding of Cardassia. Your brother should still have a little left.”

            Quark dismissed it as insignificant. “It doesn’t matter. He’s got it. And even if he didn’t, Zek still has plenty. He’d help, for Moogie’s sake. They’ll save me. I’ll simply make them understand what you can still do to me, if they fail you.”

            Dukat and Damar were highly amused. Garak had the small fellow so completely cowed, that Quark was subconsciously, automatically now making Garak’s further threats for him; their ally had no need to make any more, himself.

            As if to further prove their realization, Quark babbled on in the same vein, “And I already know that there’s nowhere in the galaxy that I could hide, if I even had the nerve to try to run; you’d find me anywhere, and meanwhile I’d have to live in terror, every minute of every day.” He blew his nose noisily, thus missing Damar’s brief snort of laughter. “It would almost be better to be killed today, than to have to go through that! Almost,” he added quickly, eyeing Garak with sudden, renewed wariness.

            Garak was still playing with him. “Do you mean, we’d find you because of my Obsidian Order skills, or due to Dukat’s pah-wraith powers?”

            The Ferengi’s head rose bleakly. “I meant your skills actually, but now, I guess that I should’ve been thinking of both, I suppose.” He shook his head helplessly, hopelessly. “What was I thinking? I had to go and antagonize some of the most dangerous people in the galaxy. Gee, why didn’t I just pick a fight with the Borg?”

            Despite their acquaintance with Quark, Dukat and Damar were amazed. They’d known that Garak hadn’t intended to kill the miserable little fellow anyway. All he’d had to do to buy his life was cry and beg, and promise not to interfere with Cardassia’s economy anymore. But he’d done all of that and solved their world’s financial disaster to boot. All out of fear of Garak. Their respect for their comrade only grew.

            Suddenly, Quark’s front door crashed open, and Ezri Dax entered at a run. “Quark, are you all right?! I heard screaming…and….” She faded out as she noticed who else was in the bar.

            “Where were you ten minutes ago?” Quark whined feebly, but by then, she wasn’t even paying attention to him.

            Her eyes were fixed on Dukat. She murmured faintly, “You…killed…me. I mean, Jadzia.”

            Dukat stared back at her. “You possess the Dax symbiont,” he realized in awe. Then he deflated. “Look, I told you that I was sorry. I mean, I told her.” He shook himself slightly, momentarily confused, owing to the peculiar Trill lifestyle. He began again, “I never wanted to harm Jadzia; she was a sweet girl, and very lovely, but she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

            Ezri suppressed a shiver; Dukat had indeed found Jadzia lovely; she saw Dax’s memories of a time when Dukat had summoned Jadzia to be his “companion,” when Odo had unwittingly regressed several of them to the Occupation, with Thrax in charge of security.

            But Dukat was still speaking. “All I’d wanted was access to the Orb in the Temple; and Jadzia…just…got in the way.” If a Cardassian could look shamefaced, Dukat did. “What is your name?” he asked softly.

            “Ezri,” she whispered.

            He stepped closer to her, mesmerized, and put out a hand as if to touch her, and then let it drop resignedly at his side. For a moment, he looked desolate, but then his eyes hardened in resolve. “Enough of this,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “I needn’t endure any regrets of the past.” He shot a look at Garak and Damar, and said, “If you’ll pardon me for a moment.” He vanished, and then instantly reappeared, with a staggering, disoriented Jadzia in tow.

            She eyed Dukat in horror, and then lurched unsteadily back away from him, in fear and loathing.

            Her killer insisted on helping her. “Easy,” he soothed, as he gripped her shoulders, and maneuvered her into a chair. “Relax. I’ll take care of you. Garak, bring a drink.”

            Garak grabbed the first bottle that he saw, and crossed the room to give it to Dukat for Jadzia. It was a credit to his Obsidian Order training that he was able to retain his composure as he did so, given the shocking circumstances.

            Damar was even more at ease with the unexpected appearance, having been reanimated, himself, by Dukat in the same way. Even so, he was sufficiently entranced by her arrival, that he missed the soft thud of Quark’s head on the tabletop, at the sight of the resurrected Trill.

            Dukat, the perpetrator of the miracle, took the proffered bottle in one hand, as his other hand supported a nearly-fainting Jadzia. “Here. Drink this. Easy, take it easy.”

            She accepted, and then straightened rather abruptly and eyed him. “Lucky thing for you that I actually like bloodwine.”

            All three Cardassians wrinkled their noses at the mention of the revolting Klingon drink, and Dukat hastily set the bottle on the table, glancing sharply at Garak in disbelief. For one of the few times in his life, Garak actually looked sheepish.

            It was then that all three Cardassians noticed the statue standing near the door. Frozen into immobility, Ezri hadn’t moved since Dukat had reappeared with his startling retrieval. Now, with all of their eyes on her, she seemed to come back to life.

            “Jadzia!” she cried, her hand automatically protectively covering her abdomen, and the symbiont.

            Jadzia whirled, and her eyes locked with Ezri’s. She stared at this girl whom she’d never seen before, and in mere instants, she knew. Her hand went to her own abdomen.

            “You…have…my…. But so do I!”

            “You both do,” explained Dukat. He looked at Ezri. “I didn’t want to kill you, either, Ezri, or erase your history here, so I whisked away Jadzia only a moment before I saw my earlier self destroy her.”

            Jadzia said in confusion, “But I can’t be in two places at once! If I remained there, for the symbiont to be removed, then I can’t have been taken before I was killed!”   

            “I dematerialized exactly half of your cells, yours and the symbiont’s. I left half of each of you behind: one to die and the other to be transplanted. Believe me, it doesn’t matter; you have plenty of cells.”

            Ezri was still badly confused. “But, Jadzia, we can’t both have the same symbiont! Dax can’t be in two places at once!” Her head almost visibly reeled.

            “Actually, it can,” Jadzia explained sympathetically. This part, she clearly understood. “I saw it happen one other time. We crashed on a planet that was full of our own descendants, because we’d previously been thrown back in time, and crashed there centuries before that. My descendant had my symbiont. I scanned him, and Dax was within both of us.” She was beginning to recover her strength, and had stopped resisting Dukat’s help, becoming more tolerant of him. After all, she’d gotten along well enough with him before he’d killed her. And now, it wasn’t as if she was really dead anymore anyway. Besides, he had rescued her, restored her to life.

            Ezri was nodding her understanding; through the symbiont, she recognized the story that Jadzia related.

            Meanwhile, Garak was now easing Ezri into a chair. He teased gently, “Bloodwine, my dear?”


            He grinned broader. “Kanar, perhaps?”


            At the reminder of kanar, Damar finally remembered his helpless charge, and glanced down at a still out-cold Quark. Damar sighed.

            “Worf! Where’s Worf?” Jadzia demanded suddenly.

            “He’s not here anymore. He’s now the Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire,” Ezri said sympathetically.

            Jadzia sagged. “I suppose that I should go be with him. But my life is here. Or at least, it was.” She eyed Ezri uncertainly.

            “It still is! Jadzia, I have not taken your place here. You are still needed as head of sciences. I’m a counselor.”

            But Jadzia’s sharp attentiveness had caught the word “here.” “Ezri, have you taken my place elsewhere?” She was earnest and intent upon her question, but not accusing nor hostile.

            Ezri steeled herself. “I’m not going to lie to you. Never to you. Worf and I had a brief affair. It didn’t work,” she said bluntly.

            Jadzia studied her counterpart, obviously appreciating her candor.

            Garak interjected, “This situation gives rise to a whole new meaning to the term ‘reassociation.’ And as I understand it, that is forbidden in your culture.”

            His reminder served only to cement their resolve.

            Jadzia said firmly, “There is a place here for us both; we’ve always lacked a counselor, and I’m glad that that need is filled by you.”

            Ezri nodded casually. “And I’ve been disobeying that rule since I was joined; I’m not going to start obeying it now. Besides, I never asked to be joined, anyway.”

            At that moment, Julian Bashir burst into the bar, and stopped short. All of the color drained from his face as he stared at the two women. “Both of you!” he murmured faintly.

            Ezri exclaimed, “Oh, Julian! I’m sorry! I forgot that I’d called you! I’d heard Quark screaming, and…! But so much has happened since!”

            Bashir’s eyes rose to Dukat, who obligingly reddened his own. “You did this,” the doctor realized.

            “That’s our Julian,” Garak announced cheerfully. “His genetically-enhanced brain has already reasoned out all of the implications.”

            Ezri was uncomfortable. “Jadzia, I have another confession.”

            “You slept with Julian,” Jadzia realized.

            “And I even admitted to him that you had had feelings for him, too, that if it hadn’t been for Worf, it would’ve been him. Oh, Jadzia, I’m so sorry! You and Julian deserve a chance together. I’ll step aside for a while, until Julian can decide which one of us he really wants. It’s only fair.”

            Julian and Jadzia stared at each other, dumbfounded by the possibilities, and by Ezri’s generosity.

            “Both of them!” blurted Quark. No one had even noticed that he had slowly awakened, and had sat up woozily, until he saw the two Daxes and had his outburst.

            “Yes, Quark, we’re both here,” Jadzia assured him that he wasn’t hallucinating.

            “I’ve died and gone to heaven!” Quark was in awe.

            But Garak grinned nastily at him for the reference to having died, and couldn’t resist needling, “Not quite, but you almost did.”

            Quark cringed, and his eyes left the two Daxes for the three Cardassians, and he shivered.

            “What is going on here?” Bashir demanded, looking from his friend, Garak, to Quark.

            “Oh, nothing at all, my dear doctor.” Garak smiled.

            “Nothing!” sputtered Quark. “You should’ve been here! They tortured me!”

            Instantly, all three pairs of Cardassian eyes were on the Ferengi, and all three reptilian men approached him ominously, unappreciative of his exaggeration.

            Suddenly flustered and alarmed, Quark sank lower in his chair.

            Smoothly, Garak said, “Well now, actually, Quark, Cardassians are known for our exquisite talents in that area; we can even out-torture Romulans. But the fact is, we did not give you any such treatment.”

            “But we still could.” Dukat’s eyes flashed dangerously.

            Damar grinned without humor. “Believe me, Quark, if we had tortured you, you would know the difference. And as Garak says, we’re experts.”

            Quark sagged lower. “But…you…did! You…terrified…me!”

            “Ah!” Dukat’s finger rose. “But there’s the difference. We only frightened you. Torture implies pain.”

            Timidly, Quark eyed Garak. “But it did hurt a little.”

            Garak chuckled dryly. “I assure you, Quark, if I ever mean to torture you, it won’t just hurt a little.” He looked eager to begin.

            The Ferengi’s eyes fled to Dukat and Damar. “When you held my arms, it hurt. I bet I’ll have bruises.”

            “Aw!” Dukat tsked sarcastically.

            Damar laughed grimly. “Poor you.”

            The three were still having fun advancing.

            “Doctor Bashir! Help!!” Quark slid the rest of the way off of his chair to land on the floor, absurdly trying to hide under the table.

            “Garak, please,” Bashir said tiredly. “Must you torment the noisy little fellow?”

            His Cardassian friend turned to him and sighed. “Doctor, must you always spoil my fun?” He regarded his intended victim wistfully, and his two cohorts resignedly. “Ah, well, it was entertaining while it lasted.”

            When it was clear that the three were regretfully breaking off their advance, Quark clambered laboriously to his feet. He said somberly, in defeat, “If everyone will please excuse me for just a moment, I have to go put in a call to my brother Rom. This won’t take long,” he unnecessarily assured Garak, who wasn’t concerned in the least that Quark would futilely try to escape.

            Indeed, his absence was brief, and when he returned, he was carrying a satchel. Quark gingerly approached Garak, clearly fearful even now that there would still be an attack. The smaller man, trembling, extended the case toward the reptilian, letting go the instant that it was accepted, as if afraid to even accidentally touch the Cardassian’s hand.

            At Garak’s questioning look, Quark said, “Latinum. All that I have. If you don’t believe me, you can search the storeroom.”

            “That won’t be necessary, Quark,” Garak said almost kindly.

            Quark went on as if the taller man hadn’t spoken. “Rom said to tell you that his first huge…er…donation…will already be waiting for you on Cardassia, before you even get back, and he said that there will be many more in the future, as long as I’m not harmed.” He eyed Garak hopefully at that last part. “Rom’s also calling Moogie and Zek at this very moment. He’s sure that they’ll…donate…as well. Um…Garak?”

            “Yes, Quark?” he said gently.

            “One other thing that Rom wanted me to tell you. Remember the time that I stupidly hired you to kill me, and Rom objected in the strongest terms?”


            “He said to tell you: ‘Same speech now.’”

            Garak nodded, trying to suppress his not unkind amusement.


            Kira Nerys was asleep, and having the most wondrous dream. Odo was back, and caressing her everywhere, as only a shapeshifter could uniquely do. He could produce at will any number of arms…and hands…and fingers, to explore every crack and crevice. He was doing so now, expertly, and she was enraptured.

            As her arousal grew, she came more and more awake, and began to suspect that this was not a dream, that she was really being probed and fondled.

            “Odo?” she murmured joyously, reaching up to touch a smooth face.

            And encountered a ridged brow.

            Kira came fully awake in an instant, and shrieked. “Computer, lights!”

            Gul Dukat’s face was bending near hers and smiling broadly. Legate Damar and Elim Garak were to his immediate right. All three were leaning over her, in her bed. Her covers were gone, and she was…nude.

            “No! What the hell?!”

            “Amazing what six hands can do, isn’t it, Nerys?” Dukat said smoothly.

            To add to her humiliation, now that the lights were on, by her own bidding, the three could see her as well as touch her, and they were doing so automatically, appreciatively, and voraciously.

            “Get away from me!” She drew back her hand to slap Dukat’s face.

            Damar was quicker. He seized the arm to prevent the strike, and maneuvered to the head of the bed, pinning both arms above her head.

            Kira kicked furiously, cursing them in vivid Bajoran.

            Garak pinned her legs effortlessly, saying, “Now my dear, let’s have none of that.”

            “Such language,” Dukat said, still smiling. “Of course, I’ve been called all of those things before, many times.”

            By this time, she had run out of foul Bajoran words, and switched to some Cardassian curses that she’d picked up during the Occupation.

            Dukat laughed heartily. “Very creative. You are indeed quite the linguist, Nerys.”

            Damar teased, “I had no idea that you were so fluent in our language. And so shockingly foul, for such a young lady.”

            Garak agreed. “On Cardassia, a young lady saying such things would create quite a stir.”

            Running out of Cardassian curses, Kira switched to human. She used ones that she’d heard the time that Miles O’Brien had almost electrocuted himself, followed by the ones that Benjamin Sisko had reserved for whenever there was an impending visit from Kai Winn.

            She finally finished up with Klingonese. “Patahk!” she hurled at them.

            Dukat laughed again. “Now is that any way to talk when we’ve been so kind to you?”

            “Kind?! You have no right to touch me, you…you…filthy…!”

            “All right, all right,” Dukat reluctantly agreed. He pulled the blanket back up over her. “But you must admit that we made you feel good, better than you probably have in quite some time, with Odo gone.”

            Kira snugged the blanket protectively, defensively around her. “Why, Dukat?! Why this?! Why now?!”

            He answered her coldly, “For years, I have attempted to seduce you, like a proper gentleman. I grew weary of your constant barrage of refusals and insults. I prefer to persuade a woman; I do not like to rape, unlike some of my fellow Cardassians.”

            “Unlike most of your fellow Cardassians,” interjected Damar.

            Dukat went on as if not interrupted, “But for all of my kindness, my reward was to be labeled an evil, despicable man, not only by you, but by Sisko as well. Now listen to me, Nerys: if I were purely evil, I wouldn’t’ve spent so much effort in trying to convince both you and your pompous, self-righteous, former captain that I had valid reasons for all that I did, and that I’d tried to make things better for the Bajorans. If I were truly evil, I wouldn’t’ve given a damn what you thought!” In growing anger, he was leaning closer, and Kira was reflexively drawing backward, her eyes widening in dismay. “And finally, if I were genuinely evil, I wouldn’t’ve spent years complimenting and attempting to woo you into my bed; I would’ve simply taken you and been done with it!”

            “As I repeatedly urged him to do,” Damar added.

            Kira’s eyes slid to Damar’s, if only to get away from Dukat’s. “Damar,” she said in a hushed voice. “You?? But we were allies. We….”

            “We worked well together toward the end of the Dominion War, yes. And I appreciated your help and came to admire your talents. But, during the earlier years of our acquaintance, I hated you. In particular, I was disgusted at the way that Dukat fawned over you, and I despised the way that you dared to spurn him.”

            “So you advised him to rape me?!”

            He nodded. “A fitting punishment which I felt that you richly deserved. For a mere Bajoran woman to dare to scorn the advances of the former Prefect of Terok Nor, the all-too-polite advances, I might add.”

            “A mere Bajoran woman?! Damar! Were you a rapist during the Occupation?!”

            He nodded again. “Like many of the Cardassian underlings on Bajor. We worked hard all day, …and we prowled the Bajoran countrysides by night, in gangs, watching for lone, vulnerable Bajoran girls.”

            Kira shuddered violently, unable to suppress it. She now found herself unwilling to meet Damar’s eyes, either. Bleakly, she looked up at Garak. “You surprise me the most of all. All of those years that we worked together on DS9!” She shook her head. “Now I suppose that you’re going to tell me that you were a rapist during the Occupation, too??”

            “Not by choice. But rape was considered to be one of the acceptable, one of the most effective means of torture, of the Obsidian Order. When I raped, it was professional.”

            She stared at him, utterly shocked by the callousness.

            His tone softened. “But as you pointed out, we worked together a long time on the station. Very gradually, I began to find myself attracted to you. It started when I saw you surgically-altered to Cardassian.”

            Her hand automatically went to her face.

            “You’ll recall that I told you that I’d never before seen you look so ravishing. I wasn’t just being flippant. I began to have…thoughts about you later. But I knew that you’d never accept a Cardassian. Your background as a Bajoran terrorist during the Occupation precluded it. Besides, I’d seen the continual byplay between you and Dukat for years, and I had no interest in being the next to chase after you, only to be rejected.”

            She struggled not to look irrationally contrite, and then berated herself for her baseless feelings of remorse.

            Garak went on, “But when we were holed up in Mila’s basement for so long, I was…tempted. But I didn’t know what to do about Damar. I could hardly suggest that he just…go for a walk in the middle of a war zone, to leave us alone so that I could try with you. And I couldn’t suggest a threesome; I had known that you two had been antagonistic during the joint Cardassian-Dominion Occupation of the station, and I did not yet know how he felt about you and Dukat, and that his preference for your punishment would turn out to parallel my own desires for you, and thus make him willing to join us. I only just learned those things during this…renewed acquaintance.” He smiled in satisfaction at his two relatively new cohorts.

            She was trembling again, but this time with rage. “Garak! You of all people should know better!”

            His pleasant smile remained in place. “How so?”

            “You have claustrophobia, right?!”

            Garak frowned slightly. “What has that to do with this?”

            “You know how horrifying a phobia can be, how paralyzing and cruel! And surely you can guess that this is my phobia!”

            Garak looked genuinely startled, revolutionized.

            Her eyes pleaded for him to understand. “Think of the men that I’ve chosen: Bareil, Shakaar, Odo. All Bajoran, except for Odo, who can become as Bajoran as I need him to be.” Her lips quirked fondly for a moment, and then sagged again. “I’ve never been with an alien before, of any sort! Not human, not Vulcan, not Klingon, …not any of them. Now consider how I grew up: fearful of your people as a tiny child, and then a hate-filled freedom fighter as an adult. Am I likely to choose any of you Cardassians as my first alien lover?”

            His gaze softened slightly in comprehension.

            But Damar was frowning in puzzlement. “You were never raped during the Occupation? By any of our people??”

            She was shaking her head, wide-eyed. “No, but I had some narrow escapes.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Very narrow. And I heard things…from other Bajoran women….” Her gaze was very far away from them for an instant. “Things that I wish that I’d never heard.” She forced herself to look from Dukat to Damar to Garak. “Are you going to?” Her voice was filled with dread.

            The three Cardassian men looked at each other, each decidedly indecisive.

            “I don’t want you to; it would be cruel for you to force my phobia on me.” Kira did not beg aloud, but her eyes did it for her. She knew that she had no hope of fighting off three of them, if they decided to go through with it.

            All three hesitated.

            “Don’t,” she said softly.

            They reached a decision. Dukat spoke for them. “Not now. As for the future, we’ll see. But not tonight.”

            Kira sagged with the release of tension, and nearly sobbed with relief, only partially suppressing it.

            They looked at her for a moment, and then walked out of her quarters.


            “Are you telling me that the bloody Cardies…?!”

            “Shhh! Keep your voice down!”

            Miles O’Brien was back for a visit from Earth, and his best friend Julian Bashir was confiding in him because of O’Brien’s close relationship with Kira, since she’d carried his child; the Irishman would want to know, and would be concerned for her. Bashir knew of the Cardassians’ assault on her because he’d noticed the bruises on her arms from Damar’s restraining grip, had treated them, and had persuaded her to confide in him, both about the bruises, and about the jumpiness that she’d exhibited since that night.

            “I’ll kill ‘em!”

            “No, you won’t! In fact, if you let on that I’ve told you, we may both be in trouble; the Cardassians don’t even know that I know about this!”

            “I’ll take my chances!”


            “Am I interrupting anything?” Garak stood smiling innocently.

            “You’re damned right you are!” O’Brien’s chair screeched on the floor as he quickly rose.

            “Sit down, right now!” Bashir hissed, dragging on his arm.

            “Doctor, have you been telling ‘tales out of school,’ as the human expression has it?” Garak’s smile remained on his lips, but there was a look in his eyes that Bashir didn’t like.

            To his credit, the still-seated human didn’t lie to Garak, but neither did he confess. He simply met his Cardassian friend’s eyes with as little expression as possible.

            Garak turned smoothly to O’Brien. “Or is the hero of Setlek 3 just spouting off again about ‘Cardies’ as part of his normal course?”

            O’Brien’s eyes burned. But he glanced around at the busy Promenade, acutely aware that Starfleet personnel were not supposed to initiate brawls in public places.

            Garak read him accurately. “Why don’t you meet me and my cohorts later in a more private place?”

            “Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Three against one!” O’Brien was bitter.

            “I’ll see if I can arrange it,” Garak said pleasantly.

            “You mean jump me! Whether I agree or not! At a time and place of your choosing!”

            Garak didn’t bother to deny O’Brien’s accusation. He simply turned back to Bashir again, and said, “Doctor, you disappoint me. Spreading vicious gossip about my compatriots and me to a man who already despises us. And I know that Dukat and Damar won’t be any happier with you than I. Good day, gentlemen.” He left.

            O’Brien sank reluctantly back into his chair with a growl.

            Bashir’s head was in his hands. “Oh, Miles, we’re in a lot of trouble!”


            The staff meeting was singularly uncomfortable.

            As visiting dignitaries from another culture, the three Cardassians had the right to attend; it would have been a tremendous gaffe to tell them that they were not welcome.

            But as Colonel Kira Nerys charged her way through the agenda, her reckless haste, her uncharacteristic stiffness, and her unaccustomed unwillingness to meet anyone’s eyes were a mystery to some, a misery to others, and a source of amusement to those same three dignitaries.

            Quark was ghostly pale; his eyes never left the tabletop, and he appeared to be whispering inaudibly to himself in barely-controlled panic. He was failing abysmally to fulfill his role as the head of the Merchants’ Association.

            Bashir’s eyes kept drifting in trepidation to Garak, Dukat, and Damar; he was clearly wondering just how angry the three were at him, and whether he could count on his long friendship with Garak to soften whatever retaliation they might be contemplating. His worst fears were realized when Dukat deliberately reddened his eyes at the human, and then grinned monstrously.

            Bashir’s resulting coughing fit startled the terrified Quark all out of proportion; the Ferengi jumped and yelped, startling the already ill-at-ease Kira into forgetting where she was in her presentation. As she fumbled with her notes, Quark put his head in his hands, and Bashir sank lower in his chair with doom written all over his fresh young face.

            For his part, O’Brien glared steely at Garak, Dukat, and Damar, even more so after the brief disruption that they’d caused, none of the details of which had he missed, and they eyed him back ominously in return.

            Jake Sisko looked around at everyone in confusion, clearly nonplussed at being apparently almost the only one left out of a major situation, ironic and embarrassing in the extreme for a journalist.

            Only Jadzia and Ezri appeared completely comfortable and relaxed; sitting side-by-side, they seemed almost of one mind, like Vulcans or Betazoids, or as schoolgirls sharing secrets after hours.

            Like a racehorse, Kira blasted through the final announcements, abruptly stated that the meeting was concluded, and fled to her office.

            “What is going on here?” demanded Jake Sisko.

            “Oh, Jake, please!” Quark moaned. “I have a screaming headache!” He rose and departed without another word, and without looking anyone in the eye.

            Bewildered, Jake watched a sheet-white Bashir and a red-faced O’Brien rise and leave together. As he stared at them, he missed Jadzia’s and Ezri’s oblivious departure.

            Alone with only the three Cardassians, he blurted to them, “Do you know what’s going on around here??”

            “Haven’t a clue,” Dukat deadpanned with perfect composure.


            Precisely because they were in a public place, Julian Bashir felt relatively safe approaching the three Cardassians where they sat together at a table in Quark’s that evening. He was deliberately tentative and humble. They watched him in varying levels of amusement.

            “Please pardon me. May I join you briefly? If you don’t mind, that is.”

            “Of course, Doctor.” Garak gestured to a chair, his normal, friendly smile belying his full awareness of his friend’s concerns.

            “Thank you.” Bashir sat, seeming to feel just as uncomfortable as he had the very first time that Garak had joined him.

            “I owe you an apology. I had absolutely no right to speak of such private matters. I had asked Kira about the bruises on her arms, and about her jumpiness. At first, she didn’t want to tell me, but I persuaded her to confide in me. I told Miles because of the close relationship that had developed between him and Kira when she’d carried his child. He thinks of her as family. He’s always concerned about her, and wants to know how she’s doing. But I assure you that for her sake he would never tell anyone….”

            Garak interrupted, “Not even his wife, when he returns to Earth?” His usual disarming smile was fully in place.

            Bashir deflated instantly. He stammered, “I…I…I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of that.”

            “Anyway, go on; you were saying?” Garak was evidently fully aware of the effect that he was having on the human. He knew his friend all too well, and was taking full advantage of his resulting ability to rattle him.

            Slightly derailed, Bashir fumbled, “Oh, uh, well…anyway, Miles and I have also been such good friends for years that it just seemed natural to….”

            “To choose him for your gossip?” Damar interjected, and he was not smiling.

            Bashir was stunned silent for a moment, and then said, “Well, I wasn’t going to put it that way. I just needed someone to confide in; I was upset, too, on Kira’s behalf. I was concerned for her.”

            “So you chose to tell the hero of Setlek 3?” Dukat said coldly.

            Bashir sagged and sighed. “He really does hate to be called that. He tries to forget about that period of his life; he’s not proud of it.”

            “Not proud of killing us ‘Cardies’?” Damar’s lip curled.

            “Don’t all of you, deep down, hate us ‘spoonheads’?” Dukat was rigid with accusation.

            Bashir swallowed an uneasy lump in his throat. He was already shaking his head before he could manage to speak. “No,” he added for additional emphasis. “He told me once: it’s not Cardassians that he hates, it’s what he feels that he became, because of you.”

            “And what might that be?” Garak seemed genuinely curious.

            “A killer,” he answered softly. “He had never killed before, had never killed anyone, or even anything. He’d always hoped never to have to kill.”

            A snide expression crossed Damar’s face. “And be in Starfleet? Unrealistic.”

            “Perhaps. But he’s an engineer, not a soldier, not a security officer.”

            “So he blames us because he got into a battle.” Garak was visibly unimpressed.

            “‘Blame’ is the wrong word.” Bashir struggled to make them understand. “He feels that a lot of your people are cruel, and enjoy your cruelty. And he can’t understand it; it’s so opposite from the way that he is….”

            Dukat was sour-faced. “So, we’re sadistic monsters, and Mr. O’Brien is a paragon of virtue, is that it?” His sarcasm stung.

            Bashir shook his head miserably. “No. He doesn’t think of himself as any paragon.”

            Garak observed shrewdly, “But the first part of what Dukat said, O’Brien would agree with, wholeheartedly.”

            Bashir looked helpless, frantically trying to think of a reply to defend his friend.

            Damar leaned forward and regarded the human intently, unnervingly. “We’re discussing the man who said to his wife, ‘“Gentle” was bred out of these Cardassians long ago,’ and ‘We can’t let the bloody “Cardies” have the wormhole!’”

            Bashir paled dramatically. “How could you possibly know about any private conversations between Miles and Keiko???”

            Dukat was smug even in his anger. “It’s a matter of public record; remarks like those were used in his trial on Cardassia, when he was suspected of being a member of the Maquis.” He hadn’t really answered Bashir’s question, but as he spoke, the truth hit the human like a sledgehammer, and he went even whiter.

            “You have this whole placed bugged,” he whispered, the horror just beginning to sink in on him. “You must’ve done it during the Occupation, or at least right before you left.” He looked as if his head were reeling. “Do any of us have any secrets??”

            “Not many,” Dukat admitted without shame.

            The implications were still hitting him. “No wonder you always seemed to know everything that went on here, sometimes even before some of us did!”

            All three Cardassians grinned enigmatically. It was a chilling sight.

            Thoroughly rattled, Bashir evidently decided that he had to get out of there before he disgraced himself. Rising too quickly, he nearly stumbled. “Well, anyway, please accept my apology of earlier, and please try to forgive Miles, too.” He hastily retreated.


            “Julian! You didn’t!” O’Brien was embarrassed and exasperated.

            “I had to try, Miles!”

            “You went to them and begged…!!”

            “I didn’t beg…exactly, …I just asked….”

             “Same thing! Don’t you have any pride?!”

            “I’m a doctor, not a fighter. And I don’t want either of us getting hurt.”

            O’Brien growled unintelligibly, and stormed away from their lunch table. And nearly collided with the three Cardassians under discussion.

            He growled louder, and pushed carelessly past them, irrationally blaming them for the humiliation that Bashir had bestowed upon him.

            “Chief O’Brien.” Garak’s ominous tone brought him up short.

            “What?!” He whirled and demanded, unrepentant.

            “Are you being deliberately provocational or merely reckless?”

            “Look, I’m in no mood for…!”

            “You appear to be in exactly the right mood,” Damar contradicted meaningfully.

            O’Brien stared. “If you think that I’m going to just meekly accompany you into some ‘dark alley’ somewhere…!”

            Calculatedly, Dukat said, “Oh, we know where all of the ‘dark alleys’ are on this station even better than you do, I assure you, having used them often in the past. And don’t worry; we won’t need your cooperation; we can arrange the circumstances whenever we like.” He let his eyes glow red.

            Remembering what Bashir had told him about people appearing and disappearing at Dukat’s will, O’Brien suppressed a shiver.

            He spun abruptly away from them, muttering, “Damn cobra-necks!”

            “What did you say?!” demanded Damar dangerously.

            “Nothing!” he hurled over his shoulder, and stomped away from them.


            Minutes later, the three encountered Kira in the replimat. She didn’t manage to completely suppress her gasp, but she did cut it admirably short, and then demanded irritably, “Why are you still here? Don’t you have a planet to go save?”

            “And we soon will do so.” Dukat was unruffled. “But we have unfinished business here.”

            “Meaning me?” she asked tightly.

            “Among a few others,” he responded carefully and evenly.

            She studied each of them in turn, wondering what else they were up to on this station.


            Many hours later, O’Brien had the strange sensation of being transported, but without a transporter. His heart sank when he saw where he was, and with whom.

            “Oh my,” he murmured, gritting his teeth.

            “Is this ‘dark alley’ enough for you, human?” Dukat taunted. They were in one of the least-traveled areas of the station’s core.

            Their victim looked uneasily from one potential tormentor to another, but fought to appear outwardly calm.

            “Are there any other foul insults you’d like to call us right now?” Damar demanded.

            “Not really.” His heart pounded loudly in his ears.

            “Can’t think of anything even nastier than what you said today on the Promenade?”

            O’Brien looked startled.

            “We heard you, of course,” Damar sneered. “Cardassians have exceptional hearing.”

            “But then, why did you ask me what I’d said?”

            Dukat told him, “We wanted to see if you’d have the nerve to say it while facing us.” He produced a self-satisfied smile. “You didn’t.”

            “I’m sorry for what I said.” He lowered his eyes.

            “Yes, I’m sure that you are.” Garak smiled unkindly, making it clear that he believed that O’Brien was only sorry because now he was caught.

            O’Brien genuinely did regret the remark, even though in his heart he knew that Garak’s assumption was correct as well, but he realized that he had no chance of convincing any of them of any sincere remorse.

            “Garak….” The human hesitated.

            “Yes, I know. You’re hoping that I’ll want to be lenient with you for Doctor Bashir’s sake.”

            He nodded mutely. “I’d also like to remind you that I have a wife and two small children who need me.”

            “Maybe you should have thought of that before you provoked us.”

            “Yes, I should have,” he mumbled humbly. “What are you going to do?”

            Dukat made a game of it. “Well, let’s see. We could torture you, or beat you, or cut your vocal cords so that you’ll never say such things again.”

            Despite his resolve, O’Brien shuddered and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the Cardassians were smirking at him.

            “What do you want from me???” he asked miserably.

            Dukat’s eyes alit as if that were the question for which the reptilians had been waiting. He went closer, and O’Brien willed himself not to flinch.

            “I want you to admit that you fear us.”

            The human stared, and then forced himself to reply honestly, “Of course I’m afraid of you; any sane person would be.”

            Dukat smiled in satisfaction, and Damar approached as well. “I want you to beg for mercy.”

            O’Brien managed not to cringe from his nearness, or from his heartless demand. The human had never particularly thought himself a coward, but he certainly wasn’t a masochist, either. He was perfectly willing to take on one of them in a fair fight, but this way would be less a fight and more a massacre. He told himself to be man enough to admit to his feelings, and get out of this hopeless cause as intact as possible. With downcast eyes, he forced out the words, “Please have mercy on me.” He was deeply ashamed, but he realized that the more cooperative he was, the easier they would be on him.

            Sure enough, Damar looked quite pleased with him as well.

            Lastly, Garak went to him, and O’Brien searched his eyes. His sometimes-colleague and sometimes-foe said, “And I want you to carry messages for me to Bashir and Kira.”

            Amazed that Garak’s requirement was so mild, O’Brien nodded readily.

            “I want you to tell the good doctor that his humble pleas on your behalf, as well as yours just now, are all that saved you from a gruesome fate, and that we’ll be this lenient only once.”

            His intimidation renewed, the human listener nodded mutely and swallowed hard.

            “And I want you to give Kira our best regards, and tell her that right now we have a planet to go save, but that we’ll be….” He paused for effect, and with a twinkle in his eye, finished, “…seeing her again soon.” 




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