After The Tribunal
Not all universes were equally kind to Miles O’Brien, following his ordeal with the Cardassian Tribunal. Several of them had minor variations of this:
O’Brien certainly didn’t expect the two visitors that arrived at the door to his quarters. In all of these years, Garak had never before paid a call on him, and Dukat most certainly had not.
He regarded them warily. “What do you want?” He hadn’t meant to make it sound quite that rude, but they didn’t seem to take offense.
“Information,” Garak said, with a friendly smile that belied their occasionally uneasy relationship.
His brow deepened in suspicion. “What kind of information?”
“No Starfleet secrets, nothing like that,” Dukat reassured him knowingly.
“All right, come in then.” He stood aside, but made no pretense of being glad to see them.
Unruffled, they took seats on the sofa.
Garak said enthusiastically, almost excitedly, “We’ve just heard about your recent expedition to Cardassia Prime.”
Dukat appeared eager as well.
But O’Brien was instantly annoyed, bordering on angry. “I’d hardly call it an expedition!” He rose from the chair across from them into which he’d only just sat, and began pacing resentfully, restlessly around the room. “That makes it sound planned, like some kind of safari. No, my wife and I were supposedly going on vacation….” He saw Garak’s expression, and emphasized, “And no, that was not our destination; I’d’ve gone anywhere else before there!” He didn’t like Garak’s resultant amusement, and it began to show in his tone and in his word choice. “Anyway, those bastards kidnapped me right off of our runabout, and scared poor Keiko half out of her mind!” Even his insulting term for members of their species didn’t wipe off the smug grins that were now on both of their faces.
Dukat teased, “Oh, but you weren’t scared at all, were you, Chief?”
O’Brien stared at him with loathing and contempt. He knew that they surely knew the truth, but he’d be damned if he’d give them the satisfaction by saying it. Their smirks made him want to knock them somewhere, but he resisted because he knew where that would lead. So instead, he demanded resentfully, “Why do you want to hear about this?! No, let me guess: you’re a pair of bloody sadists who’re hoping to be entertained by stories of your people’s cruelty!”
“Never mind our reason for now, go on, tell us,” Garak encouraged tolerantly.
Dukat asked deceptively pleasantly, “What did they do to you?”
O’Brien muttered something under his breath, and paced away from them. He was really beginning to hate their tolerant unflappability.
“What was that, Chief?” Garak urged mildly.
“I said that I don’t want to talk about it! I just want to try to forget! Leave me alone! Keiko will be home soon, and I don’t want you here scaring her…!” He stopped. Both Cardassians had risen, and they’d circled around at him from opposite directions. O’Brien’s eyes flicked quickly to the door, but no, he’d never make it. If only he were still in uniform, he could hit his communicator badge, but he’d changed into his lounging robe when he’d gone off duty. Well, he’d wanted to remove the smug grins from their faces. Now that he’d done so, he wasn’t so sure that it was an improvement.
Garak’s voice was calm, but chilling, and all pretense of friendliness was gone. “Believe me, Chief, we don’t want to scare…Mrs. O’Brien, either.” His hesitation revealed that he’d very deliberately not said, “We don’t want to scare you,” because by all appearances, they did want to, and definitely knew how. His emphasis on the human’s wife’s name made it brutally clear that, as far as the two Cardassians were concerned, O’Brien had all along been using the concept of scaring his wife simply as a euphemism for scaring him.
O’Brien resented that, but this time, instead of parading his resentment, he did his best to conceal it, so as not to worsen his apparently already precarious situation.
Dukat said just as coldly, “If you’ll sit back down, Chief, we won’t need to…scare her at all.” The former prefect’s steely gaze continued to bore into him.
O’Brien slowly lowered his gaze and sat, knowing that it was the only prudent thing to do. After all, he had nothing to gain by provoking them. However, he still felt the need to protest, “I still don’t feel like talking about that.”
Garak returned to his seat as well, but Dukat went and stood behind O’Brien’s chair. Seeing that, O’Brien looked wide-eyed at Garak, across from him. He felt a bit more trust toward Garak, since that alien had lived among the Starfleeters for a long time, and everyone had grown used to him. The human’s eyes appealed to him silently.
Garak disappointed him. He simply looked past him and told Dukat, “You have his attention. He’s frightened.”
With effort, O’Brien bit back a retort of flustered betrayal, and said instead, “You know, Garak, you and I have a friend in common who would be upset if you got rough with me.”
Garak grinned. “I wondered how soon you would bring Doctor Bashir into this.” He seemed completely unconcerned about their mutual friend’s feelings.
Something that had been nagging at O’Brien’s subconscious finally began to register. He pointed, and said, “Is that why you’re wearing a uniform just like his?” He indicated Dukat over his shoulder. “To intimidate me?” he guessed bitterly.
Garak gave him a slight nod in appreciation of his deduction. “It’s always a very effective tool. Mammalian men are made uneasy by the sight of the Cardassian military uniform, and most mammalian women find it…sexy, we have discovered.”
“So you came here intending to…to what?…torture me???” His tone held semi-disbelief.
“To persuade you,” Garak answered easily. “We anticipated your reluctance to discuss your ordeal, particularly with us.”
The human was only barely resisting the urge to sit forward in the chair, to try to make himself a less easy target for Dukat. He knew that it would be pointless; he had no hope of getting out of range. But he definitely did not like not knowing what the dangerous Cardassian was up to behind him. He was beginning to realize how in-over-his-head he was, and that he’d better concentrate his efforts on not getting into serious trouble. He sighed angrily and swallowed hard. “I’ll answer your questions.”
Dukat was smiling unpleasantly as he went to resume his seat by Garak, saying, “Now, see? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
The fight had gone out of O’Brien, but not the resentment. “And the fact that I’m unwilling and you’re bullying me doesn’t faze you?”
Dukat produced a quick, meaningless smile, and asked again what their fellow Cardassians had done to him.
He stared at them bitterly. He desperately did not want to discuss this part with them; he felt so humiliated and abused, and he dreaded the smirks that he was convinced would follow. He stalled. “I’ll bet that you know what they did, as well as I! It’s probably some kind of standard procedure!”
“Indulge us,” instructed Dukat.
He leaned his head on his hand, wanting to hide the turmoil, the shame, and muttered the first atrocity inaudibly.
“What was that, Chief?” prompted Garak.
He blushed crimson as he admitted, at a slightly higher volume, that they’d stripped him. Neither listener looked surprised. Slightly amused, yes, but O’Brien would’ve bet a lot that their amusement stemmed more from his embarrassed reaction now, than from any genuine humor in what, to them, must have been a routine process. He felt a flare of anger at their finding any entertainment in his discomfort and misfortune, and before he could restrain himself, he erupted, “Well, why the hell do you-all do that, anyway?! Are your people some kind of sick perverts?!”
Unruffled, Garak said, “It’s psychological torture. We do it to make you feel humiliated, vulnerable, exposed, unprotected. And as you see, it worked on you, too.”
Galled, O’Brien muttered, “Bloody savages!”
Dukat said sternly, “I’ll choose to ignore that in the interest of expediency. Go on, what next?”
Unhappily, the human told them of the cut-off lock of hair, and the tooth extraction.
Garak nodded. “DNA identification.”
O’Brien was rueful. “Haven’t you primitives ever heard of anesthetic?”
Despite the insult, Garak was amused, and deadpanned, “I see, so you would have expected us to torture painlessly.”
Dukat shared his amusement.
O’Brien shot them a venomous look, and fumed, “Christ A’mighty, they even managed to make the retinal scan painful! In the Federation, you don’t even feel it. I’ll bet some of your scientists worked overtime, just to figure out how to make it hurt!”
Both smiled, in clear enjoyment of his tantrum.
Their adversary actually growled. “You think that this is funny!! Why are you like this?!”
Garak’s smile dropped away, and he said sarcastically, “Because we’re just nasty Cardies, Chief.”
O’Brien’s own rage evaporated, and his uncertainty returned. “Why…did you use that term…right now?”
“That’s what you call us, isn’t it? When you think that none of us can hear you.”
“When I…think…that none of you can hear me! Now wait a minute!” O’Brien most decidedly did not like the diabolical look in Dukat’s eyes.
As if reading the human’s shock and fear with uncanny accuracy, Dukat leaned forward in the chair, looking for all the world like a cobra about to strike. Involuntarily, O’Brien sat back farther in his own chair.
Frigidly, Dukat demanded, “Why are you bewildered at our using that term now?”
“Well, it’s…just a coincidence.”
“Then tell us the coincidence.”
Nonplussed, he stammered, “Well, um, …in the trial…or tribunal or whatever, the, uh, …magistrate…asked me if I had ever said…that.”
Garak gave him a look of mild incredulity. “Come now, Chief. Since when are you reluctant to say…that?” His emphasis and sarcasm almost dared O’Brien to say it.
The latter fumbled, “Well, I can’t just blurt it out, right in front of you like this!”
Dangerously quietly, Dukat ordered, “Tell us what she accused you of having said.”
O’Brien gulped, intuitively realizing that Dukat’s attack was imminent if the human gave him any more aggravation. His voice quavered in shame at the quote, as well as in fright. “She…asked me if I’d ever said…‘The bloody Cardies can’t be trusted.’” He looked down at his lap and avoided their eyes.
Dukat asked evenly, “And what was your reply to the magistrate?”
“I said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’”
They studied him, and he forced himself not to squirm under their scrutiny.
Garak deceptively quietly dropped the next bombshell. “And didn’t you also once say, ‘We can’t let the bloody Cardies have the wormhole’?”
O’Brien’s jaw dropped.
Dukat ominously delivered the next zinger. “And didn’t you once say, ‘“Gentle” was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago’?”
Their uncomfortable victim stared open-mouthed, shook himself, tried to swallow, and briefly choked. Horror overtook his embarrassment. “How in hell did you hear about that?? The only person with me when I made either of those remarks was Keiko, and she wouldn’t’ve…!” He went white as he realized the only possible answer. He said in a hushed voice, “You’ve bloody bugged this place!!” His eyes frantically scanned his quarters, as if expecting a listening device to jump out at him. Then he went even paler. “You’ve bugged every place on the station!!” He was shaking; the implications were staggering. He looked at Dukat. “You had every opportunity when you were the prefect here for years!” He turned to Garak. “Or that damned Obsidian Order got you to do it! Oh my god!!” He put his face in his hands.
They both wore self-satisfied smiles.
Yet another revelation struck him. He whispered, “That’s why they picked me, isn’t it? Sisko figured out that the whole arrest-and-tribunal set-up was a plot to discredit the Federation, by making it look like we were in cahoots with the Maquis. But any Starfleet officer would’ve done, if that were their only motive. They used me for it, instead of anyone else, because I’d made those remarks. It was revenge!”
“Or justice,” Garak said matter-of-factly. “It’s all in how you look at it.”
“They must be doubly furious that I got out of it!” He stared off into space.
Dukat seemed to concur. “Acquittal is not the desired resolution of a Cardassian Tribunal.”
“Look, I really am sorry for saying those things!” O’Brien said earnestly, sitting forward in his chair as if it would help them to see his sincerity. But then it registered that Dukat was still doing so himself, and this put the human uncomfortably close to the reptilian. He sat back again abruptly. He saw Dukat suppress a smile, fully aware of his diabolical effect on the human. Slightly rattled, O’Brien forced himself to go on, “Of course it’s wrong to call people things like that, and I do feel guilty about it; I wasn’t raised that way! In our culture, we’re raised to be decent and kind, but then we meet up with you-all, and some of your people are so vicious; and then we get disillusioned, and do things that we’d never thought that we’d do! It all gets so complicated!”
Garak said skeptically, “So our people are to blame for your development?”
Dukat said flatly, “It’s not our responsibility to help to keep you innocent.”
Exasperated, O’Brien said, “I didn’t say that it was! I guess what I’m saying is that your people bring out the worst in everybody!”
“We’re predators. That’s our background,” said Dukat.
“Well, there’s plenty of savagery in our background, too: in evolution and in our history. But we’re not proud of it, and we work to overcome it. You Cardassians seem to revel in yours! Hell, even the Vulcans, if you go back far enough, some five thousand years or so, used to be warlike barbarians, but look at them now!”
“Ah, yes, the Vulcans,” Garak said tiredly. “Those noble paragons. As unrealistic and idealistic a bunch as you’re ever likely to find.”
“Nobody said that they were paragons, least of all the Vulcans themselves. But they’re peaceful, and, …well, …logical.” He shrugged sheepishly, at his use of the Vulcans’ favorite term. “Most humans admire them greatly!” he added defensively.
“Oh, yes, I’m sure that you do.” Garak couldn’t have been any less impressed.
“Are you going to quote the famous Sarek of Vulcan, or Spock of Vulcan, now?” asked a sardonic Dukat.
“No.” He was flustered. “What good would it do?” He sagged.
Unexpectedly, both visitors rose. Garak said, “Well, Chief, we’ll bid you a good evening.”
O’Brien was stunned. “Now wait a minute! After all this, I get to ask you a question or two!”
“You may ask.” Garak smiled gently.
“First, Garak, when I reminded you that Julian would be upset with you if you did anything to me, why did you just blithely dismiss him as unimportant?”
“Not unimportant, my dear Chief, just an unnecessary reference. You see, Dukat and I were reasonably sure that you’d give in, that you wouldn’t make us hurt you.”
O’Brien was visibly nonplussed, not at all sure how to take that. “Because you were assuming that I was sensible? Or because you were assuming that I was a coward??”
Garak smiled enigmatically. “We’ll let you puzzle that one out by yourself.”
They turned to go.
“Wait! Just one more!”
They paused tolerantly.
“I’m still asking why? Why all this??”
Garak and Dukat exchanged a long-considering look.
Dukat answered carefully, “We knew of your incident with our people, but we were missing some of the facts. We were hoping that talking to you would help to illuminate some…discrepancies.”
“Sorry.” Dukat shook his head firmly.
Frustrated, the human pursued, “Well, did it help to illuminate anything???”
“Not sure,” Dukat hedged. “Garak and I will need to sort things out privately.”
Genuinely beginning to feel vaguely alarmed, O’Brien pleaded, “Are your people going to try something else on me, now that their first attempt failed?? What are they planning???”
Garak actually spoke kindly, compassionately. “We truly don’t know yet.”
Even Dukat had lost his harshness. “Likely as not, they haven’t yet decided.”
Now O’Brien didn’t even try to hide the fear that he knew was showing in his face, because suddenly these two came across almost as friends by comparison. “Don’t let…! Help…!” He bit his lower lip.
Garak winced in sympathy, and Dukat looked away uncomfortably.
Keiko walked in, and her eyes went wide and wild with alarm. She was skittish now, too, due to her husband’s recent abuse. Her gaze quickly sought him out in his chair, and saw that he was forlorn, but apparently intact. “Miles…?!”
“It’s all right, Keiko. They…didn’t….”
She understood his meaning, but just the same, her eyes worriedly searched those of the two Cardassians.
They looked back at her patiently, without malice. “Goodnight, Mrs. O’Brien.” They left.
“I hardly know where to begin.”
The next day, Julian Bashir was fairly bursting with news when he met Garak for lunch. “Garak, the damnedest thing has happened! Have you heard?! The O’Briens have disappeared!”
Garak froze with his drink halfway to his lips.
Bashir plopped into his seat, too worked up to notice his friend’s slightly odd reaction. He continued to babble at him. “I must admit, I’m rather hurt that Miles didn’t say goodbye, or tell me where he was going; this is so unlike him! And I’ve asked around all over the place, but no one seems to know anything! Garak, you always seem to be uncannily in touch with things: do you know what’s going on??”
Garak had long since regained what little composure he had lost. “No, Doctor, I’m afraid that I don’t.”
“I certainly will miss him; I hope that he doesn’t stay away too long.”
Garak was careful to retain a pleasant, neutral expression as he nodded.
Later, in the replimat, Dukat casually approached Kira. “What’s going on with the O’Briens?”
“I don’t know. I figure that it’s just another one of those things that the Starfleeters don’t tell the rest of us.”
“Why are you asking me?” Jadzia Dax said in the lab the next morning.
Dukat said nonchalantly, “You’re usually Sisko’s confidante.”
She shrugged. “Not this time. Even I don’t get to hear all of Benjamin’s secrets. Excuse me, Garak; can I get by? Thanks.”
Even as he moved aside, Garak asked in feigned concern, “Who’s going to keep this station running??”
“The Chief has plenty of assistants whom he has trained very well. Pardon me, Dukat; sorry I have to keep moving you guys.”
Huge Ferengi ears were delicate, and not meant to be twisted and distorted. Of course, Quark was torturing Garak and Dukat right back with his ear-splitting screeches. And then the nearest table dissolved into Odo. The shapeshifter smiled at all three.
“Much as I enjoy seeing Quark tortured, gentlemen, I’m afraid that you might as well let him go. Although he is the station busybody, he really doesn’t know what’s going on with O’Brien. And before you ask, neither do I.” Odo was clearly disgruntled. “It’s not the first time that I’ve been left out-of-the-loop around here. Hmph!”
“So your contacts in the Obsidian Order really don’t know what’s going on this time?”
“No. Yours in Central Command?”
“Not a thing. How can a family just disappear without a trace?? Could it be the dissidents? We don’t have contacts there, but what would they want with him?? Do you suppose that the Federation could be behind this?? But subterfuge is not generally how that institution operates.”
Garak was extremely skeptical. “If Starfleet has made a move completely undetected by any Cardassian organization, it will be the first time ever.”
“Well, now that we have our assignment, we’d better figure out something.”
Only the direct approach was left.
“Commander Sisko,” Dukat confronted him. “Where is Chief O’Brien?”
Sisko favored his two visitors with a fiendish smile, and said boldly, carelessly, “I don’t know.”
Dukat’s patience had worn very thin in the last few days. “Commander, let’s not play games. Do you actually expect us to believe that you don’t know the whereabouts of your own chief-of-operations?”
Sisko tossed his baseball up and down casually. “Frankly, Dukat, I don’t give one flying damn what you believe.”
Garak could see that Dukat’s temper was beginning to fray. He took over smoothly. “Now, Commander, surely you must see that the meager…‘evidence’…is completely nonsensical. According to the departure records for the date in question, a family of three fitting the description of the O’Briens boarded no fewer than seven different out-bound ships, all within a four-hour time frame, and each headed for a different destination. The O’Briens apparently left for Earth; they supposedly went to Vulcan; they seem to have gone to Trill; they appear to have headed for Risa; they might have traveled to Pacifica; they could have journeyed to Betazed; or maybe they took off for Andor.”
Sisko grinned broadly. Now he tossed the ball back and forth between hands. “Then I guess that that’s where they went.” He was enjoying this. He was flagrantly demonstrating that he could not be intimidated. Dukat’s eyes blazed. Even Garak’s narrowed.
Dukat reached and aggressively snatched the baseball from the air. “Enough, Commander! Which one of those places?!”
The human shrugged helplessly. “I guess that we lost track of them. Oops!” He did his best to look sheepish.
“Oops?! You just…misplaced…one of your officers?? And his family??”
Sisko gave up the pretense, and his eyes sparkled. “Admit it. We out-maneuvered you this time! You may be the biggest bullies and sneaks in the quadrant, but we won this round! We sneaked them right out from under you, even while you were right here on the station!” He didn’t even try to conceal his gloating pride.
Dukat gritted his teeth, barely under control.
Sisko’s smile was diabolical. “I guess that you could say that I ‘disappeared’ him before you-all could.” Suddenly, his smile vanished as abruptly as the O’Briens had. He slammed both hands on the desk and leaned forward as if he might actually vault over it at them. “One thing that I will make very clear: Jake…knows…nothing…of this! If either of you so much as touches him, or frightens him by so much as swatting a fly near him, I’ll serve your head on a platter to the Starfleet admiralty for Thanksgiving dinner; do I make myself clear??!!”
Dukat, although practically steaming with his own fury, carelessly pitched Sisko’s ball back to him, and said, “Benjamin, this gets tiresome! I have told you that I will never hurt your son!”
The commander’s eyes slid to his other visitor. “Mr. Garak! I need to hear from you on this, too!”
By this point, Garak was also angry enough that his tone was icy. “While I don’t share Dukat’s determination to always spare children, I believe you when you say that your son doesn’t know. You would’ve been an extraordinary fool to tell him, and you, Commander, are no fool. Therefore, I will not waste time harming your son.”
The human’s eyes burned. “You two have been ordered to grab O’Brien, haven’t you?” His tone was bitter. “Your government just can’t bear that he got out of that trumped-up conspiracy.” Their lack of response and unrelenting expressions answered his question as well as any words could have. “Tell me, Garak, if your government told you to snatch your friend Bashir, would you do that, too??”
Garak replied dispassionately, “I hope that that never happens, because you know the answer as well as I.”
“You would take your friend to die just so that you could try to worm your way back into the good graces of your leaders?!” Sisko was so furious that he was trembling with rage.
“If I didn’t, someone else would, and take the credit.”
Finally losing control, Sisko threw caution out of the airlock, and rounded his desk so that it no longer isolated or protected him, graphically illustrating that he was not afraid of them.
Taking full advantage of that not-well-thought-out human macho display, Dukat’s hand shot up like a striking snake to seize Sisko’s neck just below the jaw, and squeezed like a constrictor with thumb and index finger. The human’s eyes bulged. Instantly insecure, he gestured for release. Dukat slowly, leisurely complied, making it clear through his expression that he was being unnecessarily merciful, and that his generosity had better be appreciated. Throughout the procedure, Garak was looking vaguely amused, pleased, and even downright smug.
The two Cardassians watched Sisko suffer in the way that they’d known that he would. His bewildered eyes showed his confusion at his failure to make an immediate recovery. He was clearly weak and disoriented. He tried to speak, and found his voice too raspy to cooperate. His hand rose to his throat as if trying to help, and then fell away uselessly. His eyes rolled up and he tilted, clutching at the desk for support. His alarmed eyes searched Dukat’s face, and he barely managed to whisper, “What did you do to me???” By force of will, his hand rose and slapped desperately at his communicator badge, and he rasped, “Sisko to Bashir.” He tumbled to the deck, staring up wildly at his completely unsympathetic tormentors.
“Bashir here…. Commander? What’s going on; what’s wrong?”
On the floor, the human’s expression was stricken with shock at his helplessness.
Garak casually leaned down so that he would be heard, and answered, “Doctor?”
“Garak?? What is going on up there???”
“Your commander is in minor difficulty, although he will be perfectly fine. However, right now he’s not too convinced of that, so I think that he’d like it if you’d come up and reassure him.”
“On my way.”
Bashir squatted by the conscious but prone form, and stared at his tricorder. “Somehow the blood supply to his brain was completely cut off, but only for an instant.” He looked up from the floor at the predator standing over him. “How did you do that???”
Dukat’s smirking eyes gleamed down at him, and he invited smoothly, “Stand up and I’ll show you.”
Bashir eyed him warily. “No thanks.”
Garak said kindly, “Julian, I’ll show you later without hurting you.” His human friend nodded brief gratitude, almost without any hesitation.
At Dukat’s questioning look, Garak explained, “As a doctor, he’ll appreciate knowing, and besides, what harm can it do? Knowing how we achieve our methods won’t enable anyone to stop us from employing them.”
Dukat nodded a brief unruffled acknowledgement.
The doctor injected his patient with triox, but said, “You’re right, Garak, he would’ve recovered fine on his own, but this will make it a little easier.”
With Bashir’s assistance, the victim sat up woozily, and muttered roughly, “What the hell??!!”
“It’s one of the gentlest things that we can do,” Garak said in that smooth, sophisticated tone of his. “It causes absolutely no real damage, and only moderate pain, but generally frightens the victim quite satisfactorily. We’re all taught the technique quite young, although for us, the instructor doesn’t demonstrate the procedure harmlessly, like I will do for Julian. We’re forced to endure its full effects, so that we’ll know precisely how our victim will feel: possibly vital information in some cases.”
Sisko glared bitterly up at both smug men. He was still quite hoarse, but he growled, “It won’t do you any good. No matter what you do to me, I won’t tell you where O’Brien went!”
Fully recovered from his own rage, Dukat was now unflappable. “It doesn’t matter, Commander. We have seven places to look. We’ll find him. It will just take a little longer. We have resources beyond your imagining.”
As Bashir helped Sisko to rise, they both self-consciously but cautiously veered away from reptilian striking range, much to the continued amusement of both Cardassians.
Miles and Keiko tried to relax in their beach chairs as they watched Molly play in the sand. They had never been to Pacifica before; it was idyllic, making it even more of a pity that they couldn’t really enjoy it now. But they weren’t on vacation; they were in hiding. The beach was private, secluded, supposedly uninhabited, except for the O’Briens. But they weren’t really completely alone, and they knew it.
“Those guards make me nervous,” said Keiko.
“Not me,” her husband replied. “After you and Molly, they’re the most beautiful sight on the beach.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Of course I’m glad that they’re there; we need them! I just wish that we didn’t need them.”
“I guess that it’s just that the presence of the guards reminds me that we have something to fear.”
“Well, I’ll tell you: if I never again see scaled skin and double spinal columns, that’ll be fine with me.”
“Same here! And to think, Miles, I once fussed at you for making an ugly remark about them, and now I’m thinking the same kinds of thoughts, myself.”
“They do seem to have that effect on a lot of people.”
As the sun lowered and the air cooled, they went back to the room. A message was waiting.
Keiko watched uneasily as her husband accessed it.
“It’s from Sisko,” he said. “It’s encrypted.”
“Well, decrypt it!”
“Hold on; I’m working on it!”
“Sorry. I guess that we’re both jumpy.”
Miles wasn’t listening to her. His face went white as he read.
She was instantly frantic again. “Tell me!”
He read aloud, “Keep your head down; gulls are flying low.”
“He doesn’t mean seagulls, does he, Miles?!” She was near tears.
Instantly bitter, she shouted, “He should only have to mean seagulls! This is a beach!” In terror and despair, she made an inarticulate sound, and smashed a vase.
“Hey, hey, hey, take it easy!” He rose quickly and went and held her.
She was nearly hysterical. “So they’re on their way here?!”
“No. They still don’t know which planet, but they’re searching the seven.”
“How can you be sure that they don’t know which planet??”
Miles gave her a faint attempt at a smile. “Sisko would’ve said, ‘Duck!’” He pantomimed lowering his head.
“This is a nightmare!”
“I know, Sweetheart.”
“Did the message say anything else??”
“Well, yeah,” he admitted reluctantly.
“‘A finely-tailored outfit would be perfect.’”
He broke the code for her. “Perfect = Prefect = Dukat. Tailor = Garak. The two of them are hunting me personally.”
“No!!! They’re supposed to be…well, not really our friends, but not our enemies either, not exactly!”
“They follow the orders of their government.” His voice sounded far away; he was staring off into space.
A new horror struck Keiko. “What if they trace where Sisko sent the message?!! What if they find us because of the message?!!!” Her eyes were wild, and impossibly wide.
“No, no, no, he’s smarter than that. He sends every message to all seven planets. We planned this.”
She sobbed for a long time, while Miles shushed and soothed her.
When he saw the next message two days later, all of the color drained from his face.
“What does it say?!” Keiko’s hysteria was already returning.
Miles stared at her, unseeing. “Just one word. ‘Duck.’”
She let loose a horrendous scream, and he ran to her. Even as he held her, his mind was running at warp. He yanked his communicator from his pocket, and worked at it frantically for a moment, and then softly muttered an oath.
“Now what???” she panicked.
“I can’t contact the guards.”
She stared at him.
“Something must’ve happened to them.” He dropped the useless device to the floor.
“We’ve got to get out of here!!!”
“Keiko,” he said sadly. “Where would we go??”
“You’re just going to stay here and wait for them??!”
“Darling, those two are experts. And they’ve already, systematically, eliminated all of our defenses. Oh, they’re good; I’ve got to admit.”
“Now you admire them?!!”
“No, of course not. Keiko, Sweetheart, we don’t have much time.” Miles kissed her lovingly, tragically. He put all of the love that he had into that one last kiss.
Then Miles O’Brien pulled from his pocket the item that he’d fervently hoped that he wouldn’t have to use, and injected her with it. Keiko collapsed soundlessly in his arms, all of the terror and despair sliding from her features. He placed her gently on the bed, and laid the hypo next to her, so that she would understand what he had done. He hoped that she would also understand why. He murmured, “Goodbye, my love. I’m so sorry to have dragged you into all of this, but you’re not going to get into any more trouble because of me.” He turned and caressed the cheek of his naturally-sleeping Molly.
And then he went for a walk on the beach. It didn’t take long.
“Don’t move, Chief O’Brien.”
He stood perfectly still, hands limp at his sides. “I’m not resisting you anymore. And I’m not armed.”
Skilled hands quickly confirmed empty pockets.
“You can turn around now.”
“Where are your wife and daughter?” asked Dukat.
“Fine where they are. Please leave them there. They’ve been through enough.”
Garak was surprised. “Don’t you want us to return them to the station? We won’t mistreat them; you needn’t worry about that. We’re not after them. And it would give you a bit more time together.”
O’Brien laughed humorlessly. “No. I’ve said my goodbyes. And I doubt if they’ll ever want to go to that station again.” He didn’t even try to mask his feelings. His breathing was unsteady, he was trembling, and he kept biting at his bottom lip. “I’m at your mercy. And you have none. So shall we go?” He regarded them bleakly.
Once aboard their sleek, fast, Obsidian Order-issue craft, Garak told the prisoner, “You were wrong, you know. About us being merciless. We truly are sorry. I know that you and I have not often seen eye-to-eye, but I hold no real animosity toward you. And you were right before: I will almost certainly lose Julian’s friendship for this, and that’s not a loss that I take lightly.”
O’Brien looked back at him numbly. He was still shivering out of control. He realized, with a touch of gallows humor, that he would be shaking for the rest of his life.
Garak eyed him with genuine compassion. “Would you like something to calm you?”
O’Brien shook his head spasmodically.
“It would make it easier.”
Dukat joined them. “We’re on autopilot.” He turned to O’Brien. “How are you holding up, Chief?”
O’Brien stared at him in mild disbelief. It had struck him as the strangest question that he had ever heard.
Dukat insisted, “We do care. We bear you no particular malice.”
“I told him that,” Garak agreed.
Dukat went on, “In fact, if there’s anything that we can do to….”
“You mean, like a last request?” he managed to stammer.
They both nodded.
“No.” A terrible spasm of shuddering wracked him that bent him double and was visibly painful in its intensity. His own arms hugged him tightly, his features distorted, and he mumbled, “Oh…damn.”
Dukat watched in consternation. “Well, we can at least do something about that!”
Garak told him, “I already offered. He said no.”
Dukat frowned and shook his head.
O’Brien’s face crumpled, he lost control briefly, and he screamed, “Nooo!!!” from the depth of his being. His head dropped to his folded arms. “No, no, no!!”
Garak asked very gently, “Do you wish to be alone, …Miles?”
His head came back up quickly. “No, …no. I’m…trying to find the nerve to…to.…”
“Take your time.” Dukat also spoke gently.
The human closed his eyes and gathered his last bit of strength. When he opened his eyes again, he still had to fight to get out the words. “I’m…sure…that I already…know the answer to this, …but…just as a…final check, …they are definitely…going to kill me, …right?”
Both nodded solemnly.
He had to steel himself worse than ever, looking the two of them in the eyes, back and forth repeatedly, until they were clearly both wondering where he was going with this. Finally, at almost no volume, he managed, “Do…they…care…if you…take me back…alive or dead??” Vicious shuddering assailed him once again as he watched the eyes of both listeners widen in comprehension.
“No,” Garak revealed. “They don’t care.”
“You said that…you are merciful. Now’s your…chance…to…prove it. I’m betting that you’re both experts.” He looked from one to the other. “I’ll bet that you can do it so fast….”
“That you’ll hardly feel a thing,” Garak finished for him.
He nodded slightly, and then flinched. Tears formed. “Don’t take me back alive, please!!! Don’t make me face their unfeeling cruelty again!!!” His eyes implored them piteously.
“Turn around and hold still,” Garak instructed solemnly.
Weeping and whimpering, the human obeyed. He felt an ever-so-slight touch at his neck. He only barely began to scream….
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