Above and Beyond
I suppose that every Cardassian fan has envisioned what it would be like to be their captive, their prisoner; it would certainly be the most exhilarating and horrifying thought imaginable!
Before someone points this out: yes, I know that it’s impossible for all of these characters to be alive together in the time frame that I’ve clearly chosen, so I guess that this will have to be another AU story because of that. But I do wish that the powers-that-be had not killed off a lot of these people and made me say this; I’d rather hope that they could all show up in a DS9 theatrical movie sometime soon!
Representative Nivea Hollister struggled to quell her trembling as she hastened to smooth her hair before opening and entering the door into the reception hall in Starfleet Headquarters. Then, abruptly, she pulled off her earrings, remembering what Admiral Nechayev had told her: “It’s diplomatically awkward and politically unfortunate that we humans just happen to bear such a strong resemblance to the Bajorans; the last thing that we want to do is to encourage that comparison in the minds of the Cardassians. Therefore, although our earrings are worn in both ears, only by women, and for purely decorative purposes, we will always refrain from doing so at any functions where Cardassians are present.”
Nivea took a deep breath, gave up any hope of slowing her hammering heart, and pushed through the door. Instantly, the eyes of at least a dozen male Cardassians fixed upon her dispassionately. Somehow, she still found her voice.
“Hello. First, let me apologize for the inexcusable but unavoidable tardiness of our negotiating team. I assure you that all possible measures are being taken to expedite its arrival.”
One of her listeners addressed her coldly. “You, then, are not a member of that team?”
“No, …sir, I’m not.” Ignorant of the rank of any of the individuals before her, Nivea opted for the most respectful greeting, hesitating only minutely, hoping that she merely sounded polite, not meek, remembering that Cardassians exploited any opportunity to intimidate others. “I am…the only diplomat available on short notice; all others are on assignment.”
Another spoke. “What is delaying the negotiating team?”
She couldn’t quite suppress a slight wince of embarrassment. “Engine trouble.”
Brow ridges rose.
“The starship assigned to bring them? Engine trouble?” The soldier who asked didn’t even bother to hide his contempt and amusement.
She colored. “I’m afraid so.”
Another man smirked. “Do we need to send one of our own ships to rescue them?”
Fighting to keep her voice steady and her tone even, she said, “That will not be necessary. I am told that it won’t be much longer. I was merely sent to reassure you, and to see to your comfort.” Immediately, Nivea mentally kicked herself for her choice of words: the Bajoran women exploited by Cardassian men during the infamous Occupation had been referred to as “comfort women.”
But they seemed not to notice her slip. One Cardassian eyed her shrewdly. “We have never before met you. What is your usual function?”
“Federation representative to Bolius.”
That drew mixed reactions. One man, puzzled, asked, “But the Bolians are members of your Federation. Why do they need an ambassador?”
Nivea shook her head. “No, not an ambassador. Just a means of keeping a constant official presence on each member world, to act as a reassuring contact to each local government, and to keep mutual information current.”
The one that she’d pegged as the shrewd Cardassian frowned thoughtfully at that, but made no comment. The human was unnerved by his look, but had no time to ponder its significance, when a few of the others laughed openly derisively.
“A planet of placid sheep!”
“Almost comically cowardly creatures!”
As Nivea worked to suppress her naturally-offended reaction, another spoke more kindly. “A people more opposite to ours than can be found anywhere else. I’m sure that you are quite unaccustomed to our form of bluster and swagger.”
Her gratitude was plain as she allowed herself to shake her head in agreement.
Another smiled kindly as well. “You are not used to dealing with our sort at all; your superiors should not have placed you in this uncomfortable position.”
His eyes were so caring that she allowed herself to blurt honestly, in nearly-shaky relief, “That’s what I told them.”
Her candor was appreciated, and brought a round of almost sympathetic laughter.
It broke the ice at least somewhat, and allowed her to remember that she had not yet even given her name. She apologized for the omission and introduced herself with a slight curtsey.
The one with the caring eyes (or were they manipulative?) took her hand gallantly. “I am delighted to meet you, my dear. And I am Gul Dukat.”
Nivea’s gasp escaped before she could catch it. “The former Prefect of Bajor!” she said in a hushed voice. “I am honored.” She curtseyed a bit deeper.
He seemed quite pleased with himself, as well as with her awe of him.
Courteously, she inquired, “And may I know who the rest of you are as well?” She was intensely curious by now, and besides, it would help to pass the time of this awkward encounter.
The next to step forward was the astute one who had wondered why the Bolians had needed an apparent ambassador. “Legate Damar,” he presented himself.
This time, Nivea struggled not to fall to her knees in adoration. She whispered, “The hero of the Dominion War! The Savior of the entire Alpha Quadrant! Oh, sir, we are all in your debt!” She watched him in wide-eyed reverence as he took her hand. This one seemed not to be pompous at all, perhaps even modest.
Then, the man who had gently described his people and the Bolians as opposites took her hand carefully in turn. “I am Elim Garak.”
At that, she broke into a face-splitting smile of relief and actual joy. “The one who has lived among my people for years, even befriended a few of us! Sir, it is a genuine pleasure to meet you!”
The snide one who had condescendingly offered his ship to rescue the Federation negotiating team said cruelly, “And years before that, he routinely tortured your people and others, as a member of the Obsidian Order.”
Nivea’s heart nearly stopped, but determined not to give the nasty reptilian the satisfaction of seeing her flustered, and buoyed by the expression of irritation that Garak flashed at the rude one, she hastily said, “After so many years of living on that station, you undoubtedly understand my people better than anyone else here, and I still welcome you with sincere joy!”
There was a momentary lull in which Garak’s detractor tried not to look too disappointed that she had not recoiled in terror from Garak, or even withdrawn her hand from his, and in which Garak’s eyes sparkled at her, pleased and appreciative that she had not fallen for the calculated attempt to make her fear him.
Then, consumed with curiosity, her eyes flicked to the man who had, more than once, questioned her shrewdly or observed her uncomfortably pensively. “And you are, sir?” she inquired humbly.
Unassumingly offhandedly, and without even approaching her, he said simply, “Enabran Tain.”
Nivea felt all of the color drain from her face. “You’re the head of the…oh my god!” She struggled not to look at Garak, still standing close to her.
Tain smiled in slight humor. “I must admit, I’ve never before heard it put quite that way.”
Faintly sheepishly, she said, “I suppose not.” Casting about for something to say, she managed, “I just had no idea when I came in here that I’d be in the presence of such…famous personages!” Her eyes included all of the ones who had thus far introduced themselves. “All of you!” Then, her eyes fell on the still-unknowns. “At least, those of you I’ve met so far.”
The unbearably smug one who’d called the Bolians “comically cowardly creatures” lifted one side of his mouth in a humorless grin, and quietly, ominously, announced, “Gul Madred.”
At this, Nivea did recoil, and stared at him wordlessly.
He said arrogantly, “You’ve heard of me.”
“You could say that.” She was slightly breathless.
“In what connection?”
Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Captain Picard.”
His self-satisfied smile increased. “Ah, yes. The good captain was my guest for several days.”
Resentfully, she dared, “You want better manners in how to treat a guest, sir.” Her tone was stiff and semi-belligerent. She struggled to both hold her head high, and keep from glancing self-consciously at either Garak or Tain.
“Be that as it may, I very much enjoyed his company.”
Refusing to be baited further, Nivea silently glowered at him.
The one who had tactlessly referred to Garak’s having tortured in the past, said sadistically, with relish, “I only wish that I could have been there with Madred and Picard, for more than just at the end. Gul Lemec,” he presented himself with a gloating flourish, and a rictus smile like a grinning skull.
She was already nodding. “Of course, the one who so enjoyed telling Picard’s crew that you-all had him.” Her contempt was barely in check.
Like Madred, he seemed aggravatingly impossible to shame, even appearing to take her accusations as compliments, instead of criticisms.
Once again just for something to say, Nivea looked to the remaining unintroduced Cardassians. “And you?”
“Just our guards.” Lemec was still grinning.
Now completely at a loss, she said lamely, “I suppose I’d better go check on the progress of our negotiating team.”
Tain spoke up abruptly. “That won’t be necessary.” He efficiently withdrew a communicator and said quickly, “Transport all within this room and warp out immediately.”
Nivea Hollister’s scream echoed in the fading transporter beam.
Once aboard their ship, she could scarcely keep her panic in check, but even through it, she noticed that the other Cardassians were as surprised as she was.
Tain said calmly, “I’m afraid that we’ll have to postpone our negotiations for another time. We’ve come upon a completely unexpected prize, and I don’t intend to let it slip away from us.”
“Wha…. What??” she stammered.
“You, my dear.”
“What???” Nivea was both horrified and incredulous.
Apparently, the other Cardassians were as bewildered as she.
“The Bolian representative??” Lemec nearly guffawed.
Tain was unruffled. “The representative to any member world of the Federation.”
The eyes of a number of them narrowed now as they studied her; a few even appeared to expect her to know to what Tain referred.
She shook her head desperately, defensively. “What??!”
Tain explained, “Your Section 31 uses you representatives as couriers.”
“Section…?? Who???” Her terror was constantly growing, and she still did not understand.
“Section 31,” Tain repeated patiently. “Your Federation’s counterpart to our Obsidian Order, the Romulan Tal Shiar, and Klingon Imperial Intelligence.”
She was shaking her head vigorously now. “We have no organization like that! We’re not like that!!” She was peripherally aware that she didn’t sound very diplomatic anymore, but she was scared beyond caring. Whatever he did or didn’t know, this man was placing her in an exceedingly dangerous predicament, in regard to all of these men. And how could she prove her sincerity and veracity, in any case?
Tain just smiled at her mildly, not believing her for a moment. “Come now. You representatives are frequently given top secret information to reveal only to the planetary governor of your assigned world.”
“No!! You’re mistaken!!” Her eyes grew wide at the predatory, eager smiles of Madred and Lemec as they moved closer to her. She let loose a piercing shriek, and automatically retreated closer to Garak. Even as she did so, she realized how absurd that was, given what Lemec had revealed about him earlier, but she just couldn’t help herself; she trusted him the most.
For his part, Garak seemed charmed by her gesture, if a bit subdued by awareness of its illogical folly and irony, and looked almost tempted to reach out to the naďve, stricken girl.
But it was Tain himself who halted their advance. “That won’t do any good. According to our intelligence reports, she and the other representatives don’t consciously have the information. They possess it subconsciously, and are not even aware of what they know.”
Madred and Lemec stopped their approach, but continued to look at her like vultures waiting to pounce on the helpless.
Trembling uncontrollably now, and not even bothering to try to hide it, Nivea told Tain, “Thank you…for admitting that I know nothing of this! I can’t tell you what I don’t know!!” Her eyes clouded as she regarded Madred and Lemec in dread. “I’d tell you if I could! I wish I did know!! I’d shout it to you eagerly!! I’m not stubborn and brave like Picard!” Her tone became tearful. “This is way more than what I signed up for, in my career! I’m used to the Bolians!!!”
Now, Garak did reach out to her, and laid a tender hand on her arm. In response, she sidled even closer, and almost laid her head on his shoulder, as she watched the others fearfully.
Damar was practical, matter-of-fact. “Well then. How can we extract this implanted data, if she’s unable to recall it?”
Tain regarded her thoughtfully. “There is a coded phrase that the planetary governor speaks to the representative, unleashing the memories. The representative then blurts them automatically. The post-hypnotic suggestion is so complete, that afterward, the carrier doesn’t even know what he has said, nor recall that he even spoke.”
Dukat’s brow ridges rose. “Do you know this coded phrase?”
“No.” Tain sighed. “And of course, by definition, she doesn’t know it. Her subconscious could only recognize it, spoken by another.”
“Then how do you plan to retrieve this data?” Dukat sounded peevish, tedious, slightly impatient.
Tain was still studying the girl. “Perhaps a threat.”
Nivea blanched; Madred and Lemec grinned ferally.
“I mean, a threat to her government.” Tain promptly opened a frequency to Starfleet Command, and demanded to speak to a high-ranking official. His name obviously getting him preferential treatment, he didn’t have long to wait.
Nivea saw the speaker on his screen; it was Nechayev herself! The Admiral could see her as well; Tain saw to that, and the girl fervently hoped that the older woman could accurately read in her eyes, “You got me into this! Now get me out, please!”
Apparently, that subtlety was not sufficiently potentially convincing for Tain’s taste; at his signal, Madred and Lemec moved to grip her arms tightly, in obviously threatening manner, predictably coaxing a shrill scream as further incentive for Nechayev to take Tain seriously.
Even an admiral had to consult a superior on an issue this grave, and they all had to wait in front of a newly-blanked screen excruciatingly awkwardly.
The human’s eyes pleaded with Tain. “Are you really going to, sir? If the Admiral refuses to give you the coded phrase, are you actually going to kill me?!”
Tain’s tone was almost bland. “Our opponents have to know that we mean what we say. That we don’t make empty threats.”
Nivea gave up all pretense, and allowed herself to cry softly, openly. Garak tolerantly encouraged her to lean on him, and she did for a while, until it became uncomfortable for both of them. Then she straightened and eyed Dukat uncertainly. She knew, as everyone did, of his legendary reputation as a ladies’-man, especially toward Bajoran women, and she again recalled Nechayev’s grudging admission of the strong similarity of humans to that species. She gingerly, slowly, approached Dukat, and he watched her, openly intrigued. Everyone else watched curiously as well, which was quite uncomfortable; Nivea felt as if she were onstage. The closer to him she got, the more timid she felt. She did not wish to speak boldly, but she also realized that time might be short, and she’d better speak quickly.
Nivea looked into Dukat’s questioning eyes. “I have no particular faith in the admiral. I’m not her close friend, and I’m not that vital of an official. Whatever this…information,” she pronounced the word bitterly, “is, she might decide that it’s far more valuable than I.”
Pity flickered in his eyes, with perhaps just a trace of a suspicion that he was beginning to guess where this might be leading.
“If…. If she won’t help me….” Her voice broke momentarily, and now she saw unmistakable sympathy in Dukat’s eyes. She took a deep breath and finished in a rush, “You wouldn’t have to let them kill me….” She gestured directly at Madred and Lemec; she knew instinctively that Tain wouldn’t bother to dirty his own hands, and that he’d be complacent about handing her over to those who would enjoy doing the job; nor did she have any illusions that they’d be merciful and quick. “You could take me with you.” Her eyes never wavered from his, and she watched his growing amusement, admiration, lechery, and intrigue, while feeling her own increasing fright, embarrassment, and even slight titillation. A reptilian? She wondered. What would it be like? She bit her lip, trying to avoid the thought that she might be all-too-close to finding out, and continued, “Starfleet would never have to know…where you took me or what became of me. They’d assume that I was dead.” She was beginning to find Dukat’s sly smile rather dashing.
He said slowly, cautiously, “It would be a waste…to just turn you over to….” He gestured vaguely at Madred and Lemec in turn, confirming her suspicion of who would do the dirty work, or at least, demonstrating that he’d drawn the same conclusion that she had.
“Especially when you can put her to such better use.” Damar smiled supportively at Dukat, and Nivea suddenly remembered that the two were reputed to be good friends. He went on, “You clearly have quite a well-known reputation with the ladies.”
So do you! Nivea thought without saying. But Damar’s reputation was in regard to Cardassian women; rumors gave no hint of how he felt about mammalian females.
Dukat glanced at Tain, saw no opposition, and grinned broadly. “If your admiral betrays you, I will commute your sentence.”
Nivea was instantly giddy with relief; she refused to even consider yet the potential pitfalls of his type of reprieve, steadfastly ignoring the little voice in the back of her head that was chanting, “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.” She regarded Garak worriedly, inexplicably concerned over his opinion of her, fearing that he would be disgusted with her, disappointed in her. But instead, she saw pride and admiration for her spunk. In fact, the only ones who appeared disappointed were Madred and Lemec, and for that she was tremendously relieved and even smugly, perversely pleased.
Dukat smoothly slid a too-possessive, too-presumptuous arm around her, but she could hardly call it unexpected or improper after she had blatantly invited his attention, so she tolerated it without flinching, and even leaned into his not unwelcome support. She saw him flash an even broader smile at that.
Tain was intellectually curious. “And if your admiral does provide for your return?”
The crystal clear answer hit Nivea shockingly instantly, and she knew it to be the truth. “I will resign my commission.”
Brow ridges rose in unison all around the room.
She explained, “Like I said, I never signed on for all this; Bolius, as you-all have pointed out, is a much safer assignment, and I am no heroine. Besides….” She glanced up at Dukat. “You were more correct than you knew in your word-choice when you referred to the admiral’s having betrayed me. I have apparently been used and abused by my own people, if they have truly used me as some sort of courier. I will not knowingly work for such an organization.”
Tain was shaking his head. “You idealistic humans.”
“Well, at least most of us keep trying to live our ideals.”
Garak commented, “In our culture, the individual nobly self-sacrifices for the state. Everything is for Cardassia.”
“A cog in a machine?” Nivea shook her head. “No, thanks. I greatly respect your opinion, Mr. Garak, sir, but in my view, the state is only a huge number of individuals. If their lives are rendered meaningless, then what’s the point of anything?”
Garak studied her contemplatively, as did all but her two sadistic nemeses, who merely regarded her sullenly.
The communications panel crackled to life.
The next half-hour was a blur to Nivea in which she felt constantly close to blacking out altogether. When she finally came back to herself, she was sitting comfortably, being smiled at gently by Garak, Dukat, Damar, and even Tain slightly.
Instantly panicked, Nivea blubbered, “Well?? What happened? I must’ve fainted for a moment! Did Admiral Nechayev give you the code?!” She felt as if she tottered on the brink of a precipice, and the unspoken question ran through her head: am I the property of a virtually-unknown, possibly-dangerous alien, or a free woman with a bright new as-yet-unveiled future?
Tain chuckled tolerantly. “She gave us the code; we already used it; and to borrow a somewhat vulgar human expression, you ‘spilled your guts’ for over twenty minutes.”
She stared at him, blinking.Just before she was beamed home, Dukat kissed her hand and gallantly bowed over it, and said, “Congratulations, my dear. But it would’ve been enchanting."
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