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The Crimson Shadow

Year:
2013
Language:
english
ISBN 13:
978-1-4767-2228-3
File:
MOBI , 2.35 MB
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The Way Through the Woods

Language:
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File:
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The Crimson Shadow

Year:
2013
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 2.70 MB
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To Jenny, for guidance





Historian’s Note


The main events in this story take place just after the castellan arrives for the dedication of the new Deep Space 9 (Star Trek: The Fall—Revelation and Dust) on August 24 to September 4, 2385 (CE).





Part One


The Emotion

“Earth is the goal. She stands at the end of all things.”

—Preloc,

Meditations on a Crimson Shadow,

Vol. III (Earth), 3, iv





One


My dear Doctor,

I was sorry not to see you on your last trip home, but by all accounts it was a hasty visit, and my own availability was also sadly limited at that time. The ambassadorial life proves more hectic than that of a tailor, and these days my lunches are neither as lengthy nor as entertaining as those we once enjoyed in the Replimat.

I left your world ten days ago and am now en route home—and upon the Enterprise, no less! To gain admission to your flagship is surely a great honor. As you know, my spirits lift merely at the thought of returning to Cardassia, a luxury denied me for so long. And while I must admit that your world fascinates me more and more as I grow to know it better, the desire to be surrounded by my own people, to feel the hot sun of my own world upon me once again, is as strong as ever. You asked me in your last letter whether I had considered returning home again for good, and it is true that this thought is never far from the back of my mind. But the alliance between our civilizations remains still uncertain, and I believe that there is more that I can do yet. Duty to Cardassia will always drive me—never, I hope, to the excesses of the past. . . .

We will be welcoming your president to our world. Is this the first time that a serving president of yours has visited us? I’; m sure that your brilliant brain would be able to answer that question in an instant. Whether or not she is actually the first, I hope that she will find herself most welcome. I have seen a great deal of Nan Bacco in the past few months as we negotiated the terms under which Starfleet would finally remove its personnel from our world. I respect her vision for our peoples and admire her breadth of literary learning. She has proven an acceptable substitute lunch partner in your absence.

Keep well, Doctor. And do keep an eye upon your news services. Very soon the eyes of the whole quadrant will be able to see your president standing alongside our castellan, and, while you will not catch a glimpse of me (I am, after all, in the habit of living in the shadows), you can rest assured that they have been brought together, in part, by the hand of:

Your affectionate friend,

Elim Garak

* * *

Before the fire, before the fall that destroyed the Cardassian empire and all but obliterated that clever, subtle, proud people, their capital city was a sight to behold. Coming down from lower orbit in a shuttlecraft (as this world’s most forgiving, most forgiven son—Elim Garak—often had cause to do in the course of his long career), you could see the whole of the city rising up before you. Here, on the south side, nestled by the river and harassed day and night by the screech and roar of shuttles, lay the Torr district where ordinary lives were lived out in tenement blocks crammed close together, and the bittersweet scent of gelat drifted irresistibly from the corner houses.

Beyond rose up the steel-and-glass towers of Barvonok, gilt-edged and glitzy, where the money acquired from empire was transmuted by some strange alchemy into more wealth for the district’s financiers. If you turned your head to look west, you could spy the long, low lines of the warehouses and factories of Munda’ar, receiving goods and materials from client planets, distributing them throughout the homeworld. In Akleen, long coppery lines of well-kept ithian trees signaled the avenues along which the Cardassian military had so proudly paraded for many long years. And, last of all, there, to the north, on the high ground, far above the city, was Coranum, where the rich and (thus) the powerful watched from their mansions distantly but assiduously over the great empire that was their chief possession. All this you could see as your shuttle made its descent; and if, like Elim Garak, you loved this place—your home—so deeply that you would oppress the best part of yourself in its service, then your heart would quake at the sight, because it was everything to you.

The city was gone now, long gone. The fire had taken it all and not discriminated. Old or new, rich or poor, building or person, the occupiers had not cared. As long as you were Cardassian, you were to be destroyed. You were to be wiped out, as if you had never existed. And so it was that all the tenements and towers, all the mansions and counting houses—they all came tumbling down.

Yet there is something indestructible about the Cardassian spirit (as that people’s most unquenchable son, Elim Garak, can tell you). And from the bones and the cinders a new city was coming into being: bravely, and uncertainly, and not without setbacks. New towers were being raised, and between them ran new alleys, leading to new opportunities and new bolt-holes. Yet something of the old remained, haunting the half-formed city like a revenant.

Take the northern part of Torr (not chosen at random, for some of this story concerns that district closely). Once this had been an area of densely populated tenements, whose inhabitants traveled daily by tram out to the munitions works in Munda’ar. At the end of the Dominion War, when the Jem’Hadar came calling, they found many to murder here, and the narrow dead-end streets did not facilitate escape. In a few short days, this busy life-filled district was reduced to rubble and ashes and corpses. Then the Federation arrived, their hands open, offering shelter, food, and medical assistance. When the rubble was shifted, and what remained of the corpses was buried, new buildings popped up, little prefab affairs, gray and functional and uniform. The survivors clustered gratefully within them. And slowly, slowly, they began to put their mark upon them.

Something of the old was imprinted upon the new. The prefabs somehow arranged themselves in memory of the old streets and walkways, and the old murals reappeared on the sides of the new buildings. The survivors brought back with them what was left of their old friendships and rivalries, their tattered possessions all the more prized for having almost been lost for good. This new corner house was where you went because it stood on the rubble of your old haunts; this walkway ran along a route that had been out of bounds for you and your family for time immemorial, so you did not cross that space. And above all, the old ethos survived—the old belief: that to be Cardassian was to be (despite all evidence to the contrary) the very best that there was. The old way of life—with its reliable work, steady patterns, and close-knit groups—was largely gone, but the northerners did their best to re-create it.

North Torr was militant too—always had been. Northerners were different from the peaceniks that clustered around the east side of the district, and they held these people largely in contempt. North Torr supplied the soldier boys who served the Union—not the legates but the ranks—and had done so proudly for generations. Northerners couldn’t understand why it was these days that talk about their service wasn’t so welcome, why the military didn’t seem to want their sons anymore. Hurt pride, dispossession—this was rich soil for demagogues in search of a constituency. There were plenty in the new Cardassia with their eye on this opportunity.

North Torr was never the easiest place on Cardassia Prime for a newcomer trying to find a home, and that had not changed much. Yet it was here, nonetheless, that a young man by the name of Rakhat Blok had, for the last couple of months, been trying to make such a home for himself.

Blok had the tired and bewildered look shared by many Cardassians of his generation that resulted from the early and savage extermination of a deeply inculcated romanticism about his culture. If anyone had asked (and nobody did), Blok would tell them that he had been born on one of the empire’s agricultural worlds and, desperate to get away from a life of boring and backbreaking work, joined up during the first recruitment drive that took place when Skrain Dukat seized power and handed over the empire and its people to the Dominion.

Blok had taken to soldiering. Although he was only a foot soldier, he was used to repetitive tasks and doing what he was told. Blok could say (if he’d been asked) how he’d liked the company, and the sense of purpose, and having more money in his pocket than ever before. He’d liked feeling part of something bigger than himself. In fact, he’d liked the whole business right up until he’d been deployed to the Romulan front. He hadn’t liked that at all, and by the time the war was over, the question of likes and dislikes seemed something from a different age. The war ended in the blink of an eye, and in the space of a few hours—Blok could tell you—he went from proud servant of the Union to refugee from the Jem’Hadar to Romulan prisoner of war. When the Romulans finally released him, he went home, where it turned out that everyone was dead. He’d liked that least of all.

A story countless Cardassians of his generation could tell, if anyone asked. And, like many of them, the man called Blok had not wanted to drift around the ruins of his old home among the ghosts of so many dead families, so somehow he’d ended up on Cardassia Prime, in the capital, looking for work. The locals pegged him immediately as an outsider (there were enough of them about these days, taking the jobs), and proceeded with caution.

He found digs in a block built from old Cardassian stones and new Federation plasticrete. This space he shared with an old woman who muttered constantly under her breath and a male of indeterminate age who stank of kanar and didn’t say a word, but could be heard most nights through the flimsy walls yelling in his sleep about choking, choking, choking. . . . Blok took to staying out late, pounding the alleys and walkways, and sleeping through the day. The dust that lay on the city wasn’t so bad at night.

Every night he passed a geleta house on the corner of his street. He didn’t at first dare to enter, but at last, late one long and lonely evening, he went inside. The regulars took one look at him, moved closer together, lowered their voices, and ignored him. But Blok went back every night and sat by himself on the periphery, listening to the camaraderie of their tight circle, building up a picture of their connections, and wondering how he could get inside.

They talked a lot, these people, more freely than they ever had under the old regimes, and more freely than they realized. They talked about the hound racing, and what they’d heard on the day’s ’casts, and how you couldn’t get decent kanar anymore. They talked a great deal about how things weren’t as good as they used to be. They talked about the new young politician who understood how they felt and said things they liked to hear. They talked about the trouble last week in the southern city of Cemet, and how those students didn’t know how lucky they were.

One night, about four weeks after his arrival on Prime, Blok sat listening to them, silently counting the coins lined up in front of him. If asked, he could have described how an army pension wasn’t anywhere near enough to cover the cost of living in the capital these days, and how he couldn’t find work. Doors seemed to shut in his face. Sitting and counting coins and listening to the unfriendly company complain how you could only get four days’ work in five at the moment, Blok decided not to hold his tongue any longer.

“Four days out of five!” His accent, off-world and rural, sounded clumsy and out of place among these fast-talking locals. “What I’d do for that, eh! I haven’t worked since I got here. Nothing! There’s nothing for me. What’s someone like me supposed to do, eh?”

There was a silence. Blok could tell what they were thinking: If you don’t like it here, son, you can always go back to where you came from.

“It’s not like there’s anything back home. I don’t just mean work. There’s no people. No buildings. Do you know what it’s like on some of the client worlds, eh? Do you have any idea? I fought the Romulans for the Union—”

That got a reaction. “Everyone’s had hard times,” said a man at the back, who had a thin white scar cutting down sharply through one of his eye-ridges. He was cradling a heavy glass in both hands and looking down into it, as if contemplating what other uses he might make of it.

“And I don’t see why we should put up with it any longer,” said Blok. His voice got shriller as he strove to convince his audience that he meant every word of what he was saying. “There’d be work for everyone, if it went to Cardassians. But it doesn’t. The government is at the mercy of Starfleet officers and Federation officials! They don’t want us to get the jobs. They’d have nothing to do. If we did what they were all doing, they’d have nothing to do. We’re becoming dependent on them. Like servants. Like slaves. You know the worst of it? The other day, I saw a Bajoran, strutting around as if she owned the place! A Bajoran!”

The room was quiet for a moment, and then a low rumble of agreement rose up, ending on a growl of discontent. That old enmity had not been forgotten, not here in North Torr. Many of its old boys had lost their lives to the Resistance, trying to protect the Bajoran people from themselves.

The boundaries shifted and—suddenly, dizzyingly—Blok knew he’d been admitted. He’d put the key in the lock and this time it had turned. He looked down into his glass, which had been filled, and then people asked for his story. So he told them a version of it, and his glass got filled again and again, and Blok was admitted into the brotherhood of North Torr. At the end of the evening, when they all reluctantly left the warm little space for their less than satisfactory homes, Blok stood on the step of the geleta house, wavering slightly from side to side, and felt a steady hand upon his shoulder.

Turning, he found himself face-to-face with a male he’d noticed now and again throughout the evening, who hadn’t spoken but who had been listening to everything closely. His grip was firm, Blok noticed, and he didn’t smell of drink.

“You’re a man who deserves better,” he said to Blok.

“I am,” Blok said, firmly, if with some slurring. “I do.”

The man pushed a data card into Blok’s hand. “You go home,” he said, “and have a good sleep, and contact me tomorrow. I can put work your way. Good work, steady work. Work I think you’ll like.” He smiled, all teeth, and winked, and then turned and walked down the street, leaving Blok to weave his way unsteadily home, back to his cot and another man’s nightmares. But he did what he was told, and slept well, and the next afternoon the data card was still there, so he thought he might as well use it.

* * *

Captain Jean-Luc Picard was not accustomed to realizing that the person he was addressing was no longer paying him attention. Particularly not when the person was sitting in the captain’s own damn ready room.

“Ambassador,” Picard said, “is something the matter?”

The Cardassian ambassador to the Federation, who hitherto had been a most conscientious audience, started and drew in a soft breath. Opening a palm, the ambassador gestured toward the observation window. Picard, turning to see what sight could possibly have proven so riveting, saw a pale brown disc, pocked and marked with dark shadows, around which two moons were suspended like weights hanging heavily upon a scale.

Cardassia Prime.

A prickle of apprehension ran along Picard’s spine. The ambassador, however, was looking tenderly at this hard bare world, as if he would take hold of the whole planet with both hands and caress it, if he could. Would I look at Earth in the same way? Picard wondered. With love, yes, and with longing—but with a devotion as fervent as this? I hope not. I hope I am not so intemperate.

Garak, perhaps sensing the other man’s disapprobation, gave a self-deprecating smile. “Forgive me, Captain,” he said. “But the sight never fails to move me. There have been times when I thought I would never see it again.”

Exile might do that to a man, Picard reflected, not to mention the attempted extinction of one’s species. “Quite,” he said gently. “I understand.”

“And now you have my undivided attention,” Garak said, with a smile. Picard was in no doubt of the truth of that. The ambassador’s bright blue eyes, when turned upon you, seemed to pin you to your chair. But Picard was an old hand at this game too, and he had suffered Cardassian scrutiny in the past, and he had come out intact.

“All the documentation concerning Starfleet’s withdrawal from Cardassia is now with the president’s office,” Picard said. “They assure me that this is simply a matter of looking over the final wording of the agreement, and they don’t see any particular problems arising.”

“Nor do we,” Garak said. “Our news organizations have been instructed to keep the details under wraps until after the event.”

“As have ours. We understand the political significance of this event for the castellan, and we wish to . . .” Picard pondered his wording. He could hardly say outright that the Federation wanted to assist Rakena Garan in her reelection in any way that it could, but that was the bottom line. The current castellan was by far the friendliest option.

Garak was watching him, a twinkle in his eye. “Quite,” he said, obviating any need for Picard to say any more. The two men smiled at each other. It was helpful, Picard thought, how well the ambassador understood subtext.

“By the time she and our president join us here on Cardassia Prime,” Picard said, “we should, I hope, be able simply to enjoy the moment of watching them sign the agreement.”

Garak let out a deep breath and relaxed into his chair; he was a man about to see months of work come to fruition.

“This has been a remarkably smooth process, Ambassador,” Picard said. “You and your staff are to be commended.”

Garak waved a nonchalant hand. “Impossible to have achieved any of this without the goodwill of your president, Captain. Nan Bacco is a remarkable woman. A force to be reckoned with, as my memoirs will assuredly one day record. I know there were many within the council who believed that Starfleet was unwise not to keep one foot upon our soil, despite our much closer relationship these days.”

“Indeed,” said Picard, who had had his own private reservations about Starfleet’s complete withdrawal from Cardassian space. Were these allies as solid as hope made them? The ambassador himself had not at first been an unequivocal supporter of the Union’s entry into the Khitomer Accords. How long would his support remain? As long as it was expedient? And on Prime itself, how long would the will to continue as friends last? The experiment with an open society was still in its early days on Cardassia: its expression unconventional and its outcomes unpredictable. Cardassia was stony soil for such a graft, and there was no guarantee that it would flourish. And if it failed, what would grow in its place? Would these new allies remain allies?

“I believe,” Garak said, “that only Nan Bacco could have persuaded her opponents that not only was it the right thing to do, it was also the most efficient use of your resources.” He smiled. “Expediency combined with morality is, as ever, an unbeatable argument.”

And that, really, was the truth of it. No matter how much Picard, and many others, might prefer to keep a small presence in Cardassian space, Starfleet needed the people back. The Dominion War and the Borg Invasion had taken an inevitable toll. There weren’t enough experienced officers around these days. And, whatever the past, their two civilizations were now allied. One couldn’t police one’s allies, not on a permanent basis. Eventually you had simply to trust that they weren’t, in fact, going to stab you in the back.

Garak was looking at him steadily. “This alliance is as new to us as it is to you, Captain,” he said. “We have not been in the habit of thinking of the Federation as friends. But . . . our habits have not served us well.” His mask slipped for a second, and Picard glimpsed the weary man behind the polish. “Quite simply,” Garak went on, “we are tired of war—and I believe that to be true of you also. Therefore, we must endeavor to break the habits of a lifetime and make peace with each other.” He smiled. “Friendship may take a little longer, but I remain hopeful. And I remain hopeful because, despite everything”—he turned his head once more to look at his home—“I live to see Cardassia yet again.”

Rising from his chair, the ambassador offered Picard his hand to shake. Picard, gripping it, felt the rough scales upon un-human fingers. So very, very different. Garak, smiling, released his hold, and then something seemed to occur to him. “Ah, yes, I mustn’t forget . . .” Reaching, he drew out a small parcel, neatly wrapped. He pushed it across the desk. “For you, Captain,” he said.

Picard, frowning slightly, picked up the parcel. Unwrapping it, he found a small red book, about the length of his hand and the thickness of his thumb, bound in the hide of some animal he did not know and covered in small spots—burn marks, he realized. This book had once had a brush with fire.

“A small token of my appreciation for your hospitality on this journey,” Garak said, “and for all that signifies for our alliance.” Looking straight at Picard, he said, “I believe that my previous career leads you to hold me in some suspicion. I do not blame you for such sentiments. My past was not a pretty one. Therefore—” He pointed at the book, letting it say the rest.

Picard examined the volume more closely. Was the ambassador trying to charm him? Certainly this kind of gift was a sure means of attracting his attention, at least. Although he was by no means a collector of Cardassian first editions, his eye was experienced enough to see at once that this was an object of some provenance. “I would guess this has some history behind it.”

“It was from my father’s library,” Garak said. “Although I doubt Tain ever read it.”

Picard ran his hands slowly over the supple binding. “Not much of that library must exist now.”

“Not much,” Garak agreed.

“How did it survive?”

“I was reading it in the basement of my father’s house while the Jem’Hadar destroyed the city. Everything in the upper levels of the house burned, but the cellar, in the main, survived. You, as an archaeologist, will know that burial has saved the fragments of many civilizations in the past. This was no different.”

Picard put the book back down on his desk, resting his fingertips lightly on the cover. “Ambassador, I am honored by this gesture, but this is clearly an item of great significance, both personal and cultural.” He pushed the book slightly back toward its owner. “I cannot accept—”

Garak held up both hands to silence him, and, to his own surprise, Picard acquiesced.

“I insist,” Garak said. “Whatever our history, Captain, I believe that the future of our peoples is tightly bound together. We cannot stand alone. We must be friends—somehow. More and more I am certain that if we do not secure our friendship, if we do not make a habit of it, we will surely fall alone.”

So the gift could not be refused. It really was very beautiful, all the more so for being rare and damaged. “Then I accept. Thank you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” Garak said, and Picard found he was prepared to believe him. Once again, he opened the book, but the close-printed characters inside were undecipherable. Picard gave a short bark of laughter. “I can’t read it yet, of course. Not even the title!”

Garak smiled. “It’s called Meditations on a Crimson Shadow,” he said, “by Eleta Preloc.” He gathered up his padds and papers. “I think that when you begin your researches you’ll learn that it’s a rare example of a Cardassian speculative novel. Our literature has tended toward the historical—one might even say the nostalgic. And indeed Preloc wrote many superb books of that kind. The tetralogy set during the fall of the Second Republic is surely the most exquisite of its type. Your own Tolstoy or Mantel would recognize those works. But with this book, she broke the mold.” He smiled. “Preloc was a visionary, not to mention a genius. And if Preloc could see a future for our civilizations, who am I to deny genius?”

“I am extremely honored by this gift, Ambassador.”

“It is by no means as grand a gesture as I would wish.” Garak’s padds and papers were now neatly stacked. “Our capital city is hardly the center of sophistication that it once was, Captain, but I hope that you and your excellent wife will join me for dinner at my home.” He glanced around covertly, and Picard instinctively leaned inward. “The castellan’s cook,” Garak whispered, as if handing over a state secret, “is not a man of great talent.”

Picard laughed. He might doubt the veracity of that statement, but he did not doubt that the invitation would be accepted.

“And when this agreement is signed,” Garak said, “and the beaming faces of our leaders have been transmitted across the quadrant for all to see—allies and enemies alike—come again, and we will toast our alliance. Our friendship.”

* * *

To police a city, one must know it: know its walkways and alleyways, its hidden corners and dim back streets. Once upon a time Arati Mhevet, senior investigator in the city constabulary, had known her capital as well as a Bajoran kai knew the prophecies. Born in North Torr’s free hospital, she grew up in one of its tenements, playing along the walkways and in the tiny stone gardens set between the residential blocks. She knew the shortcuts down to the river, raced along the narrow footpaths that ran beside the tram tracks, and, with her playmates, kept open the gaps in the fences that let them slip into the industrial estates of Munda’ar, or gawp at the distant, radiant heights of Coranum. As she grew older, the city broke her heart again and again. But when the battle came to its streets, she stood and fought the Jem’Hadar building by building, alley by alley, as they razed her city to the ground, because to know a place so well is to love it, despite all, and to wish to keep it alive.

Now, like everyone else, Mhevet was learning this city again. She’d been a quick study. Crime doesn’t wait for the police to catch up. It finds its niches and sets up its stall. Black market medicines lifted from the clinics? Certainly we can do that for you. Plasticrete panels to add another room to your new shelter? As it happens, Starfleet has left one or two lying unattended on the back of a transporter. Something to ease the pain, the particular acute pain of survival? We would be glad, so very glad to supply. No, no—there is no need to pay now. We can come and collect later. We know where you live.

All of this Mhevet was prepared to learn again, because her love for her city was undimmed, however little it resembled the place where she had grown up. The geography might have altered, but something of its spirit had remained, however shell-shocked and bewildered—as if the Cardassian people, looking around at the destruction, called upon the strength that had always let them survive on this dry world, and said to themselves: Never again. Meya lilies, so the old saying went, can flower in the stoniest of ground. But they need nurture—and they need someone to stop the spread of weeds.

Mhevet, leaving Constabulary HQ, felt the grit in the air coat her eyes and nose, and she slid gladly into her skimmer. A wave of clear air and the babble of a newscast hit her the moment she started the machine. She lifted the skimmer up and out onto the boulevard and relaxed back into her seat. She was a confident driver, comfortable with the machine, swinging it easily into the fast lane. On the ’cast, two voices quarreled over the significance of last night’s political missive from Cardassia First.

“What you have to understand,” said one, “is that Cardassia First represents a new voice in our democracy, one that hasn’t really ever been heard before—”

“And this is where you’re fooling yourself!” replied the other. “Cardassia First is nothing more than the old chauvinism masquerading as something new. Evek Temet’s a young man, but he’s telling the same old story.”

“Yet I’m willing to bet that when the election cycle begins next month, he’ll give Rakena Garan a run for her money—”

“He hasn’t put his name on the ballot yet—”

“He will.”

Mhevet shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Everyone watched or listened to the newscasts these days. Everyone wanted to talk about them all the time. But doing so made Mhevet feel guilty. Her father (murdered when the Jem’Hadar walked into their tenement shooting anything that moved) wouldn’t have approved, nor would he have approved of the political missives that were ubiquitous these days, and becoming more so as the deadline came closer for candidates to put their names on the ballot for castellan.

Her father would have hated all this: not because he didn’t put Cardassia first, but because the whole idea of free elections would have terrified him. Why would I want to choose? Mhevet’s father had said once to a friend (quietly, one didn’t know what the Order might take exception to). What do I know about running an empire? I’m a builder. It’s good work, honest work, and I do it well. So long as those fellows up there keep the work coming in, I don’t mind what they’re doing, because they’re doing right by me.

Little good all his hard work and loyalty had done him in the end. The Jem’Hadar couldn’t have cared less. To be Cardassian was enough. Brushing her fingertip across the companel, Mhevet found a different ’cast. Music this time, something catchy and mindless that had been a summer favorite. Love! the singer advised her confidently. It’s what we want! It’s what we need! It’s all we need! Mhevet was mumbling mindlessly along when the ’cast cut out and the request came for someone to head out to Munda’ar. Calling in to say she was on her way, she swung the skimmer around expertly and set the klaxon blaring. The traffic peeled away to let her through unhindered. Her compatriots were still Cardassian enough to obey that instruction from authority without question.

* * *

The Munda’ar sector was hardly the bustling area it had once been. Gone were the huge silos and warehouses, the big cargo skimmers carrying in materials and goods from the spaceport. Cardassia was nowhere near the industrial powerhouse it had once been, although the green shoots of recovery could be glimpsed here and there: some new light units; the distinctive thump of a reconditioned industrial replicator. Immediately after the war, all you could see in Munda’ar were a few small buildings thrown up wherever the rubble had been cleared and centers for distributing charity to the survivors. All she remembered of the exhausted time directly after the war was standing in lines outside those distribution centers. That, and the burials.

The new buildings here were more in the Cardassian style: a touch extravagant, although nothing like the swagger of the Union in its heyday, but distinctively indigenous nonetheless with their curves and spires and spikes. The materials were not from here: these buildings were Federation beige and gray. Living in the Cardassian capital was like inhabiting two cities at the same time: one a ruin, the ghost of the past; the other new, half-formed and fragile, but growing. Laying foundations; setting down roots.

The southeast quarter of the Munda’ar sector was still as flat as the Jem’Hadar had left it, however, and here Mhevet stopped her skimmer next to the single remaining wall of what had, from the look of it, once been a vast grain store. The presence of a couple of other constabulary skimmers told her that she’d come to the right place. Tret Fereny, another investigator, much junior to Mhevet, emerged from the shadow of the wall.

“Hi, Ari,” he said. Mhevet didn’t bother much with formalities like titles as long as people did what she said, when she said it. Fereny glanced back over his shoulder. “You’re not going to like this.”

Behind the ruined wall a familiar, depressing scene was unfolding. A handful of forensic officers were beetling around what was presumably the corpse, while a couple of constables, uniformed and impassive, stood by. On the ground near them sat two small girls.

“Those two found the body?” Mhevet asked, nodding at the girls. “What were they doing down here?”

“They’d been playing—playing here!—and stumbled over it.” Fereny tutted his disapproval. “They should be in school. Kids these days are practically feral! I blame the parents. Gone soft, living on Federation handouts.”

Mhevet smiled to herself. Fereny couldn’t be more than twenty-five. He would have grown up on Federation handouts. There hadn’t been much else to live off for the best part of a decade. She gave the two girls a quick look-over. One was pale gray and shivering—not so adventurous now. The other was looking around with dark, inquisitive eyes. They’d have to be questioned, of course, and that would be a nuisance. Not so easy to question children these days. Not so easy to question anyone these days.

“All right,” she said, heading over to where the body lay, hidden beneath a gray covering. “What have we got?”

One of the forensic team bent down to reveal a gray uniform beneath the cover. A distinctive uniform, recognized across several quadrants, with a bright blue stripe across the top. Mhevet closed her eyes for a moment and cursed her luck. If only she’d left HQ a little later. . . . If only she’d taken the slow lane. . . . Right now, this could be somebody else’s problem.

“Is that a Starfleet uniform?”

One of the little girls, the nosy one, not the shaky one, was standing at Mhevet’s elbow, peering at the corpse with a keen interest unsavory in one so young.

“It is, isn’t it?” the girl asked. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” She all but licked her lips. “My dad says the only good Starfleet officer is a dead Starfleet officer—”

“Yes, well, your dad is an idiot,” said Mhevet.

“I know that,” the girl said scornfully. She nodded at the corpse. “How did he die? Did someone whack him? I bet someone whacked him. What did they whack him with?” She looked around hopefully, perhaps to see whether there was something she could use to experiment.

Mhevet gestured to one of the officers to cover the body again. “Isn’t anyone here taking care of these kids? Don’t we have a counselor on call or something?”

“If you want a counselor,” said Fereny, “you’ll need to get in touch with Starfleet. You ready to do that yet, Ari?”

She was not, and therefore the pair would have to remain uncounseled a while longer. Nonetheless, they did not need to remain so close to the cooling corpse of a Starfleet officer who had, by the look of things, most certainly been whacked several times around the head and shot in the back for good measure.

“Someone put them in the skimmer and give them a padd to play with,” she said. “And get their parents’ names.”

“I’m not telling you any names,” said the girl firmly. “My dad’ll kill me if he finds out I’ve been down here—”

“We’ve already established your dad is an idiot,” said Mhevet. “So get in that skimmer with my nice friend Fereny, and don’t let me hear another squeak from you.” She looked across at the other girl, still sitting on the floor and trembling, and said to Fereny in a low voice, “Get the pair of them back to HQ and rustle up some parents as soon as possible, please.”

Fereny nodded. Putting his arm around the little girl, he tried to maneuver her away from the barrier and in the direction of the skimmer. The kid dug in her heels. She grabbed hold of a nearby strut and hung on for dear life. One of the constables who had been minding her friend walked over, picked her up, and tucked her under his arm. “Consider it done, ma’am.”

“Thanks,” said Mhevet, and turned her attention back to the corpse. Behind her, she heard the kid yell, “You’ll never take me alive!” before the constable bundled her into the skimmer.

With some semblance of order now restored, Mhevet nodded to the forensic team. Again, the covering was taken off, and one of the officers rolled the body over. She groaned at the sight of the face: the ridge across the nose and the long earring.

Marvelous, Mhevet thought. That’s all we need.





Two


My dear Doctor,

I am home.

I will never tire of writing those words, and I hope you can continue to indulge me each time that I write them.

I am home.

Autumn is coming to our capital. Only last week one would not have been able to walk about in the midday sun and would keep to the shadows, while the dust rolling in from the plain would be a permanent plague. Now the heat is bearable throughout the day, and in the evening people must go long-sleeved. The rain comes sometimes—a few showers here and there, the storms will not come until autumn proper—but enough to clear the air now and then so that one might on occasion breathe freely. Autumn proper will bring respite from the harshness of our seasons—but only briefly. In a few weeks’ time the first cold wind will come down from the mountains, and the city will begin the long freeze. Spring and autumn are short here. We exist, in the main, in the glare of summer or the bite of winter.

As ever, on returning to my city after an absence, I am conscious of all that has changed. And although the ghost of the place that this once was still lingers, I see more new buildings lifted, more new homes, more tramlines connecting the outer districts. I can see the end of the bad times and the promise of better times. But I still see poverty, alas; and here and there I catch glimpses of suffering—and its bedfellow, despair. For all the growth and renewal, much about my home has not changed. We must watch for this. It may threaten us if we allow it to take root, for disparity causes envy, and envy causes hate. It is not enough for only some of us to prosper. We all came through the fire. And I have seen much of your world now, and I desire some of that peace and prosperity for all my people.

If you take, as I believe you do, a passing interest in our politics, you will know that very soon elections will open for the office of castellan. We all know that Rakena Garan will stand again as the most progressive candidate, and the friendliest toward our alliance. She has enjoyed an unprecedented run of popular support, and there is no candidate among her coalition that commands the respect she does. But now that I am home, and can watch the newscasts and read the broadsheets firsthand, I cannot help thinking that there is more than a rumble of discontent being sounded about our castellan. Perhaps it is simply that familiarity breeds if not contempt, then certainly displeasure—and our castellan is the subject of the disappointment that any politician earns after a while in the public eye.

But you know me—I always imagine the worst, because the worst has happened to Cardassia. I see a new face on the political scene, Evek Temet, and a new party, Cardassia First, arising from the ruin of the old Directorate. Certainly they speak smoothly, sounding all the right notes about free speech and democracy—but when I listen closely, I’m sure that right on the edge of my hearing, like the high-pitched whistle that one uses to train a riding hound, I catch some notes that trouble me. Let us hope this is not some kind of signal. Let us hope this does not mean trouble for our castellan, and that the visit from your president will boost support for her. The alternatives could alarm me, should I let them.

Coming home is, therefore, as ever, bittersweet—because I cannot forget what has been lost, and I cannot stop myself hoping for more, and I cannot help fearing that we are not yet free from the past.

I still hope too that one day you visit Cardassia Prime, Julian. Come in the spring, or in the autumn, when my home is at its most forgiving. You will be welcomed here by:

Your friend,

Elim Garak

* * *

“Bajoran?”

Guessing that her direct superior, Reta Kalanis, was not going to like the news she was bringing, Arati Mhevet had stopped on the way back to HQ to collect some ikri buns as a peace offering. She’d stopped too at a small eatery near the Starfleet compound that served its homesick officers food and drink from home. Kalanis and Mhevet, like many Cardassians since the Federation had arrived, had acquired a taste for coffee. The achingly long hours both had by necessity worked directly after the war, trying to set up a functioning police force in a post-apocalyptic city, had been enough to turn a taste into a habit.

For now the buns sat forgotten in their box and the coffee cooled in the cups.

“I’m afraid so,” said Mhevet.

“A Bajoran Starfleet officer?”

“A lieutenant, to be precise.”

“In the Munda’ar sector?”

Mhevet held up her hands. “I wish I could make this go away, Reta, but it won’t. His name is Aleyni Cam, and he was part of the Civilian Outreach Program at HARF.”

“Civilian Outreach?”

“You know the kind of thing. Help set up schools. Smile at children so that they don’t think Starfleet officers are monsters.”

Turning her attention to the buns, Kalanis ate one slowly and meticulously, with small, precise bites. She was a steady woman who did not let much rattle her. She made decisions calmly and then lived with the consequences.

“Well, then,” she said. “A dead Bajoran Starfleet officer it is.” She picked up another bun, demolishing that one in exactly the same way, biting around the outside before finishing up the center in two quick bites. She dusted the icing sugar off her desk and wiped clean sticky fingers. Picking up her coffee, she wrinkled her nose. “Cold,” she said.

Mhevet reached for an ikri bun of her own, licking the sugar from the top and biting straight into the fruit at the center. “I had to go past the Starfleet compound to get it,” she said. “For some reason they’re not serving it in the canteen anymore.”

“No?” Kalanis raised an eye-ridge. “How unhelpful.”

Mhevet agreed. Almost everyone on Cardassia Prime was used to human food and drinks now. Would it all disappear once Starfleet left? She didn’t want to have to ship this stuff in.

Kalanis put aside her misgivings about the coffee and drank it nonetheless. “I’m going to have to ask you to do something you’re not going to like, Ari.”

Mhevet sighed. She had seen this coming. Someone was going to have to head the murder investigation, and given the potential sensitivities that might arise with the Federation president’s visit, she feared it was going to be her.

Kalanis and Mhevet went back years. Mhevet had served under Kalanis at the very start of her career, during the reforms of the police under Meya Rejal’s ill-fated civilian administration. She’d been inspired by Kalanis’s firm refusal to allow the politicians to use the constabularies to suppress unrest. Both had watched with horror when Rejal finally asked Skrain Dukat to use the military instead. Kalanis had stayed after, but it had been too much for Mhevet, and she had quit. Kalanis had never blamed her for that and they’d stayed in touch. After Rejal’s fall— when the Dominion, by Dukat’s invitation, occupied Cardassia—Kalanis, like many senior Cardassian police, was sidelined in favor of Vorta supervisors brought in to run the police. Mhevet became her eyes on the ground. She’d brought Kalanis advance warning of the Jem’Hadar massacre, and they’d both defended the people of their city when the death squads finally went on the march.

Later, after the war, when Cardassia was in chaos, Kalanis asked Mhevet to come back, to help her in the creation of the new constabulary. This was the time that had cemented their friendship, working together to satisfy the Allies that they were free of the kind of extremists that had been willing to carry out Dukat’s orders and flourished under the Vorta. Under Kalanis’s guidance, and with Mhevet’s loyal support, this city’s constabularies had been rebuilt from the ground up.

Mhevet didn’t like to dwell much on this time. It had been tough: removing people whose loyalties were uncertain, recruiting people whose reputations were unblemished. By necessity they’d worked closely with the personnel of the Allied reconstruction forces, leaving Mhevet with many friends at Allied headquarters, HARF, and a reputation for being Federation-friendly. These days that reputation was becoming something of a double-edged sword. Being known to be pro-Federation didn’t sit well with those of her colleagues who were starting to tire of Federation overseers. It also meant that sometimes Mhevet got stuck with sensitive investigations, particularly if there might be tensions between Starfleet personnel and the Cardassians whose reconstruction they were overseeing. There had been many such cases over the years. And now there was this one.

But Mhevet had other work on her mind. “Reta, this isn’t a great time to move me to something new. I’ve got someone embedded in North Torr right now, and we’re building up a clear picture of the extremists operating there. We’ve got to press on with this—they’re getting out of control. Some people are too scared to walk around North Torr these days. They had Cemet in flames last week.”

“I know how hard you’ve been working in North Torr. I know how much it means to you to get these people, but I also know that it’s going to be a long, slow process. In the meantime, we have a dead Starfleet officer and frankly, Ari, you’re the one person I trust in this department to investigate this murder properly. Tell me, what do you think is behind it?”

“First instincts? Racially motivated, surely. All the anti-Federation sentiment that’s being stirred up these days, a Bajoran officer is an obvious target.”

“I agree entirely. And so you see already that putting you on this case isn’t really taking you off your current one at all. You’re investigating extremist activity in North Torr. All I’m asking you to do is come to them from a different angle. If they’re guilty of this, you’ll connect them to it.” She lowered her voice. “If you can stick something on those bastards from Cardassia First while you’re at it, you’ll have my undying gratitude.”

Mhevet looked back over her shoulder, making sure the door was shut. She lowered her voice nonetheless. Directive 964 of the charter of the reconstituted Cardassian constabularies stated: Political affinity has no place in the work of the reconstituted constabularies. Political discussion is not appropriate within constabulary buildings or between constabulary members. The idea had been to prevent partisan disputes dividing the organization as they had done in the past.

“The problem is,” said Mhevet, “I’m not sure who to trust to look after what’s happening in Torr. You know there are CF sympathizers in the department?”

“Unfortunately, Ari, that’s their democratic right, however much it shows them up to be idiots of the first order. If it makes you feel any better, I’m going to ask Istek to take over the investigation in North Torr.”

“Istek?” It wasn’t that Mhevet didn’t like the man, and she knew that he shared her dislike of the nationalists in North Torr, and suspected them of much more than the usual troublemaking. But while there was no doubting his good intentions, he was not blessed with much in the way of subtlety. Mhevet could see months of painstaking work being ruined.

“I’ll keep an eye on him, Ari. But this murder case is important. I can’t afford any mistakes.”

Reluctantly, and with a fair few misgivings, Mhevet agreed.

“Thank you,” Kalanis said. “All right, off you go. I’ve got to tell the people at the top. We’ve got the Starfleet flagship here already and the president herself due to arrive soon to sign this agreement. Imagine how well it’s going to go down with the castellan’s staff when I tell them someone’s going around killing Starfleet officers.”

“Only one, Reta.”

Kalanis claimed the last bun. “So far.”

* * *

Afternoon settled upon the Cardassian capital. The red sun was hidden by gray dust. In the private office of the Cardassian ambassador to the Federation, the lamps had been lit since lunchtime. The ambassador’s secretary knew how her superior preferred things slightly brighter than most, as if all that time spent amongst humans had made his eyes adapt.

Shadows quietly lengthened across the room. Everything was still. Elim Garak, sitting at his desk, listened to the quiet and was at peace. His desk was, as ever by this point in the day, fastidiously neat. To his left a pile of padds—contents thoroughly read, digested, and responded to—sat in a tidy stack. To his right, a cup of red leaf tea gently cooled. Before him was a flat, square parcel, still wrapped in packaging from the long journey from Earth. Garak’s hands rested protectively upon the parcel. He had two more calls today, after which he would open the parcel and carry out the usual ritual. Then he could go home and see how his garden had fared in the time he had been away.

The comm on his desk chimed.

“Put him through, Akret,” Garak said to his chief aide.

But Akret herself came on the line. “I’m sorry, sir, but Director Crell’s office says that he regretfully must postpone your call.”

“Postpone?” Garak drummed his fingertips against his desk. Prynok Crell was the current head of the Cardassian Intelligence Bureau, and Garak had numerous questions to ask him in advance of the arrival of Bacco and her team. This call had been arranged for more than a week. “Did he give any reason why?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. He said he would get back to you as soon as he could. He said he was sure you understood how busy he must be in the run-up to Bacco’s visit.”

“Well, yes, that was rather by way of being the point of the conversation!” Garak tidied up the pile of padds, which now seemed slightly in disarray. “I suppose I’ll have to wait for our diaries to be in alignment once again. Perhaps you could reopen negotiations with Crell’s office before you go, Akret.”

“Consider it done, sir.”

Garak cut the comm. This was tremendously frustrating. As well as the arrangements for the upcoming presidential visit, he also wanted to discuss the possibility of increasing his own security. Some of the anti-Federation noises he’d been hearing since his arrival home had alarmed him rather more than he’d indicated in his letter to the doctor. Not that there was anything directed toward him specifically—the castellan was the chief target—but Garak was long past the days of taking risks with his own safety. Crell, however, while not openly hostile, was not the friendliest of colleagues. Whenever Garak spoke to the man, there was, beneath the conversation, the dislike that many in the CIB held for their predecessors in the Obsidian Order. And then there was the question of territoriality. Keep out, Crell seemed to be saying whenever Garak appeared to be coming too close. This isn’t your business. He wasn’t the only high-ranking official on Cardassia that did this.

With a little time now on his hands, and feeling a need to be soothed, Garak turned his attention to the parcel in front of him on the desk. Slowly, with great care, Garak began to remove the packaging. Eventually, the contents were revealed. He raised it in front of him at arm’s length to admire it: an abstract painting, combining elements of Cardassian and Bajoran design, created by a young woman at the start of a promising career. In the bottom left-hand corner, a single initial acted as the artist’s signature: Z. Tora Ziyal had painted this. It was the only relic of her that Garak possessed, and it traveled with him between Earth and Cardassia Prime every time he made the journey.

With a sigh, Garak stood up from his chair and, carrying the painting carefully between both hands, went over to the wall opposite his desk. There, in a little alcove, stood a small table upon which, at his instruction, there was a vase of freshly cut perek flowers, scarlet bright. Leaning over the table, Garak hung the painting on the wall. Sitting at his desk, he would be able to look up and see it, and take courage from it. He stood for a while studying it. Focusing on the detail, he picked out delicate meya lilies, and mekla, and long winding elta, and copper ithian leaves, narrow and elegant. There were Edosian orchids too, for him, and from Bajor there were lilacs for Colonel Kira, and leaves from the moba tree, and spiny twists of basil. When Garak moved his head back to capture the whole, the intricate pattern of flowers and leaves swirled and intertwined.

“You’re remembered,” he said to her, as he did every time he performed this quiet ceremony. He often talked to Ziyal. “As long as I live, you’ll be remembered.”

Returning to his desk, Garak pondered his next call. He was waiting to speak to the castellan, currently visiting Deep Space 9 for the dedication of the new station. As ever, the promise of a conversation with the castellan weighed heavily upon him.

Garak did not understand why he and the castellan had never quite become friends. Their goals for Cardassia were in alignment; he respected her dedication, her common sense, and particularly her political longevity. Yet there was nothing of the camaraderie that had marked his relationships with other leaders. Even Damar, whom he’d had good reason to hate, Garak had eventually come to respect—to like, even. But then one had to get on with someone with whom one was stuck in a cellar; otherwise one would simply murder him. . . . Alon Ghemor Garak had served willingly as friend and confidante, and he missed that time profoundly. Perhaps this was what colored his relationship with Rakena Garan? Regret that she was neither Corat Damar nor Alon Ghemor? But Garak also sensed a hesitation on the castellan’s part. If he didn’t know better, he might think that the castellan didn’t like him.

“Really,” Garak muttered, “whatever is there not to like?”

But there it was: The castellan did not like him, and Garak doubted very much that she trusted him either. When the castellan looked at her ambassador to her people’s closest ally, Garak was under the unhappy impression that she did not see the patriot and the servant of the people—she saw the liar, the torturer, the killer, the man without boundaries. No wonder she kept him as far away from Cardassia as she could.

And this, really, Garak knew, was the source of his sense of injury. The post of ambassador to the Federation had been an obvious one for him, offered to him by Ghemor and taken gladly, because he knew how much Cardassia depended on the Federation’s goodwill, and he knew how well he could do it. The job played to his strengths: his charm, his sociability, his taste for intrigue. He had developed an excellent relationship with Bacco, and being on Earth allowed him to continue his long love affair with Bashir’s civilization. But, at the back of his mind, and as the years rolled on, Garak could not shake off the feeling that the position was, in some way, another exile. Sometimes, on Earth, staring out of the window at the gloss, the profusion, and the too-bright sun, Garak was filled with a profound sense of dislocation that was crushingly familiar. Perhaps it was time to come home. Perhaps it was time to retire to his garden.

The comm on his desk chimed.

“Ambassador,” Akret said, “the castellan is on the line.”

Garak steeled himself. “Do put her through.”

The screen blinked, and then the castellan appeared.

She was a small woman, with graying hair, wearing a beautiful set of amber reta beads that could only be an heirloom. Even at a distance, she conveyed a great deal of personal strength and courage. And she didn’t like him, and she didn’t trust him, and she was totally immune to his charm.

“Madam Castellan,” Garak said with a tilt of the head. “I trust you’re well?”

“As well as ever, Ambassador. How was your journey home?”

“Very pleasant. The Enterprise is a most hospitable environment.” He glanced beyond her, trying to get a glimpse of the place that had, once upon a time, been his unwelcome home. Cheerfully, he said, “And how is the old place?”

The castellan gave him a puzzled look. “It’s brand new.”

Garak sighed. Ah, yes, that was the other problem. They did not share a sense of humor. Oh, to be talking to Bacco. She at least knows how to spar. . . . “Well, it certainly looks very comfortable.”

“It is, but I’m on the Trager.”

There was a pause. They had no small talk. “How can I help, Rakena?”

“I wanted to check how the final stages of the negotiations were going.”

Garak felt his impatience rise. He had been sending her, twice daily, meticulous and—though he said so himself—very elegant summaries of all that was happening. Not that anything was happening. Everything was proceeding like clockwork toward the withdrawal. All the castellan had to do was turn up, write her name, and hand the stylus over to Bacco. And all Bacco had to do was turn up, take the stylus, and use it.

“It really is a done deal—”

“A deal isn’t done until it’s done. I know you’ve only recently arrived home, but I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures from Cemet.”

“I’ve seen them.” A sudden explosion of violent emotion between nationalists and radical progressives that could surely please nobody except the perpetrators.

“And I imagine you’ve heard Evek Temet on the ’casts about them. ‘That the castellan should choose to go away at such a time reflects badly upon her judgment.’ ” She did a fair impression of her young opponent’s voice—slick, but with a breathy urgency behind it. “ ‘She cares more for the alliance than for her own people.’ I don’t like not being there to counter it.”

“Aren’t your people here on top of that?”

“I hope I’m not going to have to make some kind of gesture to prove my credentials as a tough negotiator.”

“Such as?” Garak said, uneasily.

“Such as asking Bacco for concessions.”

Garak listened with some alarm. Surely she didn’t mean this? At this late stage, it would be outrageous to have to go back to the Federation team and reopen discussions on the withdrawal agreement. Just in time, Garak stopped himself from retorting that if she wanted to ask for concessions, she could find herself a new ambassador to ask for them. He didn’t want to retire just yet.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have gone away. Maybe I should simply have sent Vorat. I wonder if I should return home. There are parts of the agreement that are going to take some careful explaining—”

That was certainly true, and they’d been gambling on being able to do that. “The full details won’t be available until Bacco is here. With any luck our estimable press will be so busy gossiping about the president that they won’t be bothered with the minutiae. It’s a long document, after all, and they have short attention spans, and I know I’m certainly more interested in what colors Nan Bacco is wearing this season.” He saw her eyes narrowing, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Emerald is very good on her, but I think she’s been wearing it too often in recent months. I’d like to see some signs of blue in her repertoire. Nothing navy—that would be far too dull! I mean something more on the lines of electric blue. Mark my words, Rakena, that will be next season’s color. My advice to you, as well as to remain where you are, is to start wearing electric blue.”

She was looking at him as if face-to-face with a blithering idiot. The only person who Garak could think of who had been this immune to his patter was Worf. Even Kira had laughed occasionally, although probably more for Ziyal’s sake than his.

“What I am trying to say,” Garak said, in a steadier tone, “is that I think your being on DS9 is a unique opportunity for you. Stand in a line with all those other heads of state and think of the images appearing on every screen across the Union. Evek Temet can’t manage anything like it. And when you return home, you’ll be there to oversee the last Starfleet personnel leave Cardassia Prime. You’ll be the star of the show. Temet will look amateur beside you: a parochial man clamoring for an agenda that you have delivered. You’ll be the castellan who oversaw the final liberation of Cardassia.”

That earned the makings of a smile. “Very well. Thank you for your time, Garak. I know you think I’m bothering you over details, but we’ve both put a great deal of work into this, and I don’t want to see us fail at the last hurdle.”

“On that we are entirely in agreement.”

There was no more mention of concessions or her return and, when the conversation finally ended, Garak leaned back in his chair and sighed with relief. Now, he hoped, the withdrawal could continue as planned, and the castellan of the Cardassian Union and the president of the United Federation of Planets could shake hands and smile at each other like the allies they must be and the friends they might be.

The comm chimed again. “What is it, Akret?”

“Reta Kalanis on the line for you, sir.”

“Who?” he asked, starting his own quick researches via the companel.

“She’s the director of the city constabulary. She says she needs to speak to you. Urgently.”

His garden, it seemed, would be waiting for him a while longer.

* * *

Lieutenant Aneta Šmrhová had come to Cardassia Prime without preconceptions. Yes, there had been the war, but that was a long time ago now, and the Cardassian people had suffered unimaginably, and, as far as Šmrhová could tell, had then taken seriously the task of understanding what had brought them so close to the brink of self-annihilation. Besides, Šmrhová didn’t like to generalize. She only knew one Cardassian well, and she liked and admired him. Glinn Ravel Dygan had served on the Enterprise with distinction and even turned out to be good company beneath the seriousness. When it came to Cardassians, Aneta Šmrhová had a data point of exactly one—but it was on the credit side.

Her immediate impression of Dygan’s homeworld was admittedly less positive. She and Commander Worf beamed down in front of the main building on the Starfleet compound in the capital city and both immediately began to cough. The air was full of dust. A spare woman in Starfleet uniform, wearing the pips of a commander, strode over to meet them, palm raised in greeting Cardassian style. She wore a face mask. Clearly this was someone who knew the place well.

“Margaret Fry,” the woman said when she reached them. “Commander, Allied Reconstruction Force, Cardassia Prime. You’re our visitors from the Enterprise, yes?”

Worf, still coughing, nodded. Fry gave a wry smile and offered a couple of masks. “You’ll need these on the tour of the base.”

The compound that comprised the Headquarters of the Allied Reconstruction Force on Cardassia Prime (or HARF, as this mission was more generally known) housed a mixture of Starfleet personnel, Federation relief workers, and their opposite numbers from the Cardassian military and civil service. Commander Fry, driving them around quickly in a small open-topped skimmer, gave them a brisk history of HARF’s operations on Prime.

“Obviously there was a substantial military presence here directly after the Dominion War,” Fry said, “but over the years, the balance has shifted significantly toward the relief and reconstruction work. Most of the personnel still stationed here have expertise in medicine, construction, scientific research, education, health policy, and so on.”

“The base is much bigger than I would have guessed,” Šmrhová said as the skimmer reached the perimeter. They were up in the hills of what had once been the prestigious residential area of Coranum. Šmrhová, looking out, saw the sprawl of the new city: the low buildings, the haphazard spiderweb of the tramlines, the sudden patches of devastation. She rubbed her eyes, which were full of grit.

“We’ve been here a long time,” Fry said, swinging the skimmer around and down one of the compound’s main streets. “As well as offices and residential blocks, we have our own shops, our own mess, and we can keep ourselves entertained if we choose. To all intents and purposes, this is a city within a city.”

“Probably wise,” said Šmrhová.

Worf, however, frowned. “Have you limited all contact with the Cardassians?”

“Absolutely not,” said Fry. “This isn’t a fortress and the intent is certainly not to divide the peacekeepers from the locals. If you walked into any building on the compound you’d find Cardassians working closely alongside Starfleet or Federation personnel. Even in the early days, the security risk was minimal. The Cardassian people were simply too exhausted. There was no fight left in them. All people wanted was shelter, something to eat, and, most of all, a reliable source of clean water. We supplied that as quickly and as fairly as we could. But we knew that that wasn’t the whole story.”

They were driving past a playground and the children ran across to watch them go past. Šmrhová waved, and laughed at the roar she got in return.

“There are Cardassian kids there,” Šmrhová said, in surprise. She’d assumed the schools would be for the Federation families.

“School exchange,” Fry replied. “And some of them will be the children of Cardassians who work here. We’ve had an integration policy since we arrived. There are young adults on Cardassia Prime who will have been entirely educated in mixed schools. You see, we’ve understood reconstruction in the broadest terms possible,” Fry explained. “It’s not just about putting up buildings and installing infrastructure. It’s about revitalizing Cardassian institutions—the civil service, the constabularies, the military. We’ve had experts on hand to assist the Cardassians in creating these organizations from scratch. How do you inspire trust in institutions that have brought a civilization to the edge of destruction? How do you create new organizations to replace the old ones? This is as significant a part of our work here as getting the water running and the clinics out there. Not as desperate a task, perhaps, but with the long term in mind.”

Reaching their starting point outside the main command center, Fry stopped the skimmer and led them inside. Šmrhová was relieved to find that reconstruction had got as far as full scrubbers. The security officer took off her mask and breathed deeply. Her hair, when she ran her hand through it, was coated with dust, even after so short a time outside.

“Then there are the civilian projects,” Fry said, leading them through the busy building. “New farming and irrigation initiatives, R&D, bringing scientific colleagues together to work toward a common goal, whether Federation or Cardassian. Bear in mind that HARF has bases like this across the whole of the Union—not just across Prime, but pretty much on every client world, if the need was there. It’s my dearest hope that there’s not a single citizen of the Union who has not had a positive encounter with a Starfleet officer.”

“Your work here is a byword for success, Commander,” Worf said. “Do the military exchange programs originate here too?”

“The military is one of the great success stories,” Fry said, “when you think how the Central Command was organized and operated before it was contained by the Rejal administration, and think of the alacrity with which it got behind Dukat. But of course, there were elements in the military that never supported entry into the Dominion, and personnel who joined Damar’s resistance as soon as they could. These are the traditions that have been built on to create the new Guard.”

“If Dygan’s anything to go by,” Šmrhová said, “the Cardassian military is in safe hands.”

They entered Fry’s office, a comfortable but not ostentatious space that already showed signs of being cleared; packing cases stood around, and some of the shelves had been emptied.

“How long have you been here?” Šmrhová asked.

“Ten years,” Fry said, with a smile. “I came here with the second wave of forces assigned to the reconstruction.”

“Will you find it hard to leave?” asked Worf. Šmrhová, rubbing at the grit in her eyes, thought that she would never have unpacked. With all respect to Ravel Dygan, his home planet was a dump.

“I don’t think I’ll ever do work as meaningful as this again,” Fry said frankly. “It’s an amazing world, and the Cardassians have been courageous and tireless. It’s been a privilege to help them rebuild their world.”

The office, on the third floor, offered a view marred by the reddish haze that hovered over the city.

“What’s with the dust?” Šmrhová asked.

Fry offered them both bottles of water, which they gratefully received. “Cardassia Prime’s most distinguishing feature,” Fry said. “Prime was aggressively over-farmed, Lieutenant, generations ago. Famine was a problem here right up to the Dominion Occupation. That’s what drove their expansion and the conquest of Bajor. What you see is, in part, the ecological effects of such farming practices.”

“Dust bowl,” said Worf.

“Exactly that. This city stands right on the edge of the northwest plains. The wind blows across them, collects the dust, and dumps it here. You should have been here earlier in the summer. You can’t get your hair clean. When the rains start, you’ll know autumn has arrived.”

“You said ecological ‘in part,’ ” said Šmrhová. “And the rest?”

Fry looked sadly through the haze at the piecemeal city. “The rest? The rest is what the Jem’Hadar left behind. You can’t destroy a civilization without leaving some trace.”

Šmrhová shuddered, and swallowed some water gratefully.

“Preparations for departure look well under control, Commander,” Worf said. “But are you quite sure that the Cardassian Union is ready for us to depart?”

“You’re thinking of the recent trouble over in Cemet, I think?” Fry asked.

“A city on fire was our impression.”

The commander took a sip of water. She seemed unperturbed. “Cardassian newscasts can be fairly melodramatic, and civilian unrest makes people here jumpy. Not surprising, given recent history. It reminds people of the period before Dukat seized power. I don’t want to downplay what happened in Cemet, which was certainly a breakdown in order, but it was by no means as bad as the ’casts made out.”

The Enterprise’s first officer pressed on. “Our understanding is that at least one politician is attempting to gain from it.”

Fry gave a dry laugh. “Ah, you’ve come across Evek Temet, have you? A nasty piece of work, but clever. He’s good at saying what people want to hear. That’s propelled him to a seat in the Assembly and leadership of his party.”

“But is he a serious threat to the castellan?” Šmrhová asked. “Could Rakena Garan lose an election to him?”

“I don’t think so,” Fry said. “Temet makes a lot of noise, of a particular type, but I don’t think there are enough people here prepared to listen.” She looked out lovingly across the city. “I know this seems counterintuitive, but you have to see these debates as a positive aspect of Cardassian democracy. I’d rather a hundred Temets than the whole Union back under the heel of the old Central Command or, worse, the Obsidian Order. These voices may sound strident to us, but they do provide an outlet for certain sentiments that still have a hold in some parts of Cardassia.”

Worf rumbled his concern.

“I have a great deal of faith in the Cardassian people,” Fry said. “I don’t believe for a moment that they want someone like Temet in power. Finally, after so many years of instability, Cardassia is really beginning to feel stable once again. Think about where they once were, and think about where they are now. A castellan who has actually survived long enough to seek reelection. Admission into the Khitomer Accords. And now we at HARF are saying: ‘We trust you. We believe you’re ready to mind your own affairs again.’ ” She smiled slowly. It transformed her from someone rather brisk and sparse to someone with great warmth. “The Cardassian people are different now. They aren’t going to elect Evek Temet. They’re wise to what he’s peddling.”

Worf’s frown wasn’t doing too great a job disguising his doubts. Šmrhová took a swig of water. Perhaps Fry was being optimistic, but she had been here a long time, and presumably knew what she was talking about. Still, Šmrhová picked out the boundaries of the compound, took into account the surrounding terrain, and mused upon how it might be defended.

The comm on Fry’s desk chimed. Excusing herself, the commander took the message. Šmrhová watched her expression turn grim. “Bad news?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Fry. “One of our officers has been found dead—murdered, in fact. Lieutenant Aleyni Cam.”

Worf’s frown deepened further. “The name sounds Bajoran.”

“Yes, Cam was Bajoran. He’d only been here eighteen months. Recently married too. Poor Zeya. . . .” Fry headed toward the door. “My apologies, we’ll have to continue our discussions later. I should be the one to inform his wife.”

“Of course,” Worf replied.

“Our facilities are at your disposal. Do speak to my staff if there’s anything you need.” And with that, she strode out of her office.

“Not such a smooth departure after all,” Worf remarked.

Šmrhová noted her commander’s concern. “We don’t know the circumstances,” she said. “He could simply have been walking down the wrong street at the wrong time.”

“We’ll see, Lieutenant. But I fear that Commander Fry has spent too long here. She may be blind to the obvious.”

“The obvious, sir?”

“That under the surface, perhaps Cardassia has not changed.”

* * *

Garak, having spoken to Reta Kalanis, stiffened the sinews and summoned up the blood to inform Picard of the death of Aleyni Cam.

“Of course I understand that this has nothing to do with our current mission,” Picard said. “We have no desire to make any capital from this—that would be an insult to the family of the young man concerned. Rest assured, Ambassador, Starfleet has no interest in delaying the withdrawal from Prime any longer. Your city constabulary is surely best placed to investigate a murder, and we shall of course give every assistance needed to bring the guilty party to justice.”

The conversation concluded with the usual mutual assurances of friendship and support, and when the comm cut, Garak leaned back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief.

The door opened, but Akret, ominously, stood on the threshold and didn’t come any closer. “You’re not going to like this,” she said.

“What now?”

“The text of the withdrawal agreement has been leaked.” Akret took a step back. “I hate it when you do that face,” she said. “It makes you look like you want to kill someone.”

“Oh, Akret.” Garak gave a heartfelt sigh. “Let us not even joke about that. . . . How much of the text exactly has been leaked?”

“The full document.”

Garak put his head in his hands.

“Do you want to see how the ’casts are handling it, sir?”

“No, Akret, I want to go home, where I have not been for months. But do what you must.”

Akret switched on the screen at the far end of the room. Garak’s jaw clenched as the ’cast blared out with its brash presenters and garish colors. Garak’s heart quailed at the thought of all that uncontrolled information flooding past. He thought longingly of the productions overseen by the Order’s Office of Vision. They had been stately affairs, authoritative, soothing, and largely devoid of anything approaching the truth. Whereas this . . .

On the screen, a fresh-faced young man wearing a Cardassia First badge was letting his opinion of Garak’s carefully wrought agreement be known: “What I can’t believe is this section here! A limit on military spending for the next ten years! The Dominion War was a decade ago! We’re signatories of the Khitomer Accords! Are we really still being made to pay for the actions of one dead madman? Haven’t we suffered enough? Lifting that clause alone would put hundreds of jobs directly into North Torr. No wonder the castellan has tried to conceal this. The people of North Torr will be rightly furious to hear about this, and no doubt will want to make their opinion heard—”

“Who,” Garak muttered, “will rid me of these turbulent priests?”

Akret, who took the time to read whatever her boss happened to be reading, asked, “Is that an instruction, sir?”

“No. Or, at least, not yet. First, I want to speak to whoever produces this excuse for a news broadcast. Immediately.”

While Akret busied herself arranging this, Garak sat at his desk and fumed. This, he thought, would never have gotten past the Obsidian Order. Nobody would have dared to transmit something like this; no, nobody would even have dared to know something like this. . . . And so soon after the trouble in Cemet? So much for Crell and the CIB.

The face of a young woman appeared on the screen in front of him. “Ista Nemeny for you, Ambassador,” Akret said smoothly. Garak launched straight in. “Young woman, do you have even the slightest idea how much damage you’re causing right now?”

“Sir, if you could give me a moment—”

“Months of work have gone into this agreement! Months. On both sides. Months of delicate negotiation—!”

“Sir, if I could speak—”

“In a few days’ time, the president of the Federation will be here to sign an agreement that will send her people home. I would be happy, she would be happy, and the chances are that the entire population of the Union would have been happy. But, no. You couldn’t wait. You couldn’t resist the bait offered by those third-rate hooligans in Cardassia First—”

“Sir, I insist you listen to me!”

“You insist, do you?”

“Yes, I insist!”

All of a sudden, Garak wasn’t angry any longer. He was very tired, and he was desperate to go home. “Well,” he said, opening a palm, “if you insist. I shall, at your insistence, endeavor to listen.”

The woman took one deep, shuddering breath. She pressed her thumb into the concavity at the center of her forehead. “You do know your reputation, don’t you, sir?”

“I wonder,” Garak purred, “what you could possibly mean by that?”

“Ambassador to the Federation? Adviser to Alon Ghemor? Last man standing with Corat Damar? Not to mention your previous career. . . .”

Softly, Garak asked, “What about my previous career?”

“Let me just say that having you on the screen there makes me want to run home and hold my children.”

Garak closed his eyes. “Young woman—”

“If you didn’t want a free press, Ambassador, you shouldn’t have let Alon Ghemor set one up.”

There was a pause. Then: “I must apologize,” Garak said, more calmly. “You are entirely correct. This . . . debacle is of course exactly what I have been trying to achieve for the best part of a decade. I suppose now I have to live with the consequences. You are naturally well within your rights to inform the Cardassian people of the full details of the withdrawal agreement.”

“Thank you.”

“If I may, however—you might have considered some of the potential consequences.”

“I’m sure the castellan’s media team will cope,” Nemeny said.

“That’s not what I’m worrying about,” Garak said. “It’s what the public response might be. None of us wants a repeat of what happened in Cemet.”

Nemeny blinked. She looked as if she hadn’t thought about that. “I suppose,” she said slowly, “that in fairness I should tell you that we’re inviting Evek Temet from Cardassia First onto the program tomorrow morning to debate this. You might want to warn your friends in the administration. Assuming you have friends in the administration? I’ve been hearing rumors that the relationship between you and the castellan is strained—”

The woman’s nerve was incredible. “Your concern for my popularity is touching. The castellan and I are in perfect accord when it comes to the benefits of this agreement for the Cardassian people. Forgive me, but I need to attend to clearing up the mess that you are currently creating for me—and I would so hate to keep you from making further mischief.”

“A pleasure to speak to you too, Ambassador,” she said.

Garak cut the comm. Then he braced himself to speak once again to the castellan.

She was, as expected, horrified. “Where has this leak come from, Garak?”

“Who knows? A disgruntled underling at Foreign Affairs? A young hopeful trying to curry favor with the press? An enemy set upon doing us harm? The head of the CIB himself?”

“There are significant differences between all those! Some are considerably more alarming prospects than others!”

“My team is being interviewed—” He surreptitiously tapped out a message to Akret to tell her to get onto it. “I suggest you conduct a similar investigation of your own.” Sweetly, he added, “Or ask Crell to do it.”

The castellan glared at him. Garak was not the only one out of favor with the head of the CIB. Crell’s son had died in the forgotten war with the Klingons, and he was not well disposed to that particular alliance.

“Is there a problem?” Garak asked. “I only ask because, as I’m sure you know, a castellan at odds with the head of her intelligence service could end up facing difficult questions in the Assembly—”

“Therefore you can be sure that I’m very much in control of that situation.” The castellan shook her head. “Really, Garak, I wish you would stop trying to make every single aspect of government your business. Your responsibilities as an ambassador are quite clear and are surely enough to tax even the most energetic of men. Worrying about the governance of the entire Union will probably kill you.”

There was a pause while Garak tried to determine whether that was an expression of concern, a brush-off, or a threat. Unable to come to a conclusion, he pressed on with all of his bad news. “Rest assured that I’m in excellent health. But if I might trouble myself with domestic politics a little longer, you might like to know that Evek Temet intends to make as much political capital out of this as he possibly can. Starting with a debate on Edek Mayrat’s newscast tomorrow morning—”

“That’s it,” said the castellan. “I’m coming home.”

“That . . . strikes me as an overreaction. It’s not as if you’d be back in time to debate with him. All you’ll be doing is signaling that you believe matters really are spiraling out of control. Better to sail serenely above all this and return home on your own terms and according to your own timetable—”

“While Evek Temet takes to the airwaves to stir up who knows what kind of trouble? No, Garak, this really is getting out of control. I’m coming home.”

“The other signal that will send,” said Garak quietly, “is that you do not have faith in your ambassador to the Federation to handle this affair.”

She hesitated. “Your responsibility is the diplomatic fallout, not the political fallout. That’s my business—”

“You have a deputy to handle that.”

She sighed. Garak sympathized. Her second in the Assembly, Enevek Vorat, delivered a number of significant critical rural client worlds, but he was not fast on his feet in debate. “No, Garak, I need to be there. Evek Temet is not going to hold back.”

“Who,” Garak murmured, “will rid me of this turbulent priest . . . ?”

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Perhaps you’re right. . . . Very well, I’ll expect you home. But while you’re en route Evek Temet will be taking to the airwaves to call you and your administration craven and under Bacco’s heel. May I ask what you intend to do in the meantime? Put Vorat out there?”

The castellan shook her head. “I’ll be asking Vorat to come here to take my place. Besides, this is not a partisan issue, and we should try to prevent Temet from making it a partisan issue.” She looked him straight in the eye. “I think you should debate with him.”

“Oh, no! Under no circumstances—!”

She spoke quickly. “Think about it. You’re not allied to any political group and you know this treaty better than anyone. Who else can convincingly argue that this withdrawal is good for all Cardassians, regardless of their political allegiance—?”

“You know I prefer not to be in the public eye—”

“If you didn’t want to be a public figure, Garak, you shouldn’t have become a public figure.”

This was turning out to be a revelatory day on that score. Garak had the unpleasant feeling of having suddenly discovered that there was a huge target painted on his back.

“You say that my returning home sends a signal that I don’t have faith in my ambassador. So let me demonstrate my faith in you. You’re the one I want out there defending this treaty.” The ghost of a smile passed over the castellan’s face. “Temet won’t know what’s hit him.”

Despite himself, Garak found his own lips twitching. “Oh, very well,” he said. “I suppose it can’t do any more harm.”

“Excellent. That’s decided. I know you’ll do a marvelous job.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll assign one of my aides to assist you.”

So not that marvelous a job, then, Garak thought.

“There’s nobody who understands the terms of this agreement better than you.”

And nobody better placed to take the flak in such a way that the castellan’s administration was not implicated. I’m a fool to let myself be persuaded to do this, Garak thought. But somebody has to. . . . With a sigh, Garak conceded that he had been outmaneuvered. Perhaps it really was time to retire. “You realize one of us has to speak to Captain Picard?”

There was a pause.

“I’ve not really worked with him,” said the castellan.

“Oh, very well. . . . I suppose it won’t be the first difficult conversation that I’ve had with the captain today.”

“I appreciate this, Garak.”

Garak cut the comm, took a deep breath, and prepared himself, for the second time that day, to speak to Picard. Outside, the daylight was quickly fading, and his garden would soon be covered in darkness.





Three


My dear Doctor,

In one way my home does not change: she never fails to surprise me. What was meant to be a smooth path to the signing of our agreement has now become fraught with complication. And suddenly I find myself in the limelight—surely no greater service has Cardassia ever requested! I do not know how closely you follow our news, but you may wish to keep an eye upon it tomorrow. You may see something to amuse you, not least:

Your friend,

Elim Garak

* * *

As he waited in his ready room for the call from Admiral Akaar to come through, Picard leafed through the book that Garak had given him. He had read two-thirds already and wanted to be finished by the time that he and Beverly went to the ambassador’s home that evening. The story was fast-moving, like a glancing blow in fact, following events as a future Cardassian Union swept through the quadrant, conquering all that lay in its path. The second act (where Picard had put the book aside the previous night) had ended with a critical defeat of Starfleet. Now the armies of the Union were poised to occupy Federation space and set foot on Earth.

Where was this going? Picard wondered, as he flicked back through the pages, reviewing what had happened so far. Why had Garak given him this particular book? The ambassador was a subtle man: there must be meaning to this gift-giving somewhere, if Picard could only decipher what it was. A story in which the Cardassians conquered all? Not a warning, Picard was sure; that was far too obvious an interpretation and incongruent with the man’s actions over recent years. So what else? Of course, he hadn’t finished reading yet. The story might have a completely different meaning once he had come to the end.

On the inside front page, a name had been inscribed. Only a part of the signature remained now: scorch marks and other damage accrued during the fall of a civilization had obliterated the rest. Still, there was enough left that when Picard put the thin translator film in front of the page, he could see clearly who had once owned this book.

—bran Ta—

It sent a shiver up Picard’s spine. Even though Garak had told him who had owned this book, there was something frighteningly immediate about seeing the man’s own handwriting, thick-stroked and blocky, impressed upon the page. Enabran Tain: the most ruthless and successful head of the now defunct Obsidian Order, and the man whose unprovoked and genocidal assault on the Founders’ homeworld had been the opening move in the game that ended with the near destruction of his own people. Garak had played a part in that too, Picard recalled. Underneath what was left of his father’s mark, Garak had written, in a precise and elegant hand (in Federation Standard too; Picard had not needed the translator to read this):

To Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in the hope that while past deeds cannot be forgotten, future acts may in time outnumber them.

With respect, Elim Garak.

A relic from a burned civilization. A fragment of a name. An offer of friendship from a duplicitous man. A story in which Picard’s own civilization stood on the brink of ruin. How did one decipher all this? The chime of the comm saved him from further reflection.

The Commanding Officer of Starfleet Command did not waste time. “This leak of the text of the agreement is very unfortunate, Jean-Luc. Any idea where it came from?”

“None as yet.”

“Just as long as it wasn’t one of our people.”

“We’re conducting a thorough investigation. But you know as well as I do, Admiral, that these leaks are almost impossible to pin down to a single source.”

Akaar grunted his agreement. “Still, I have to say that from where I’m sitting I’m getting mixed messages about Cardassian enthusiasm for this withdrawal—”

“Starfleet’s withdrawal from Cardassian soil is by no means unpopular,” Picard said. “At least according to our experts at HARF. It’s the specific terms of the withdrawal that are causing complaint. What concerns me, sir, is the effect this might have on popular support for the alliance.”

“Not to mention the danger faced by our personnel in the meantime. Is there any news from the constabulary on the death of Lieutenant Aleyni?”

Picard shook his head. The death of the officer was preying on his mind and he could only hope that this was not a sign of deeper trouble. The young man’s death was tragedy enough. “None as yet.”

Akaar frowned. “Should we be pressing to carry out our own investigation?”

“I understand why that’s tempting,” Picard replied. “Nevertheless, Commander Fry insists it’s vital at this point that we signal our trust that the Cardassian constabularies will investigate this murder fully. I agree with her. What message would it send if we indicated that we don’t believe they are either willing or able to find Aleyni’s killer? Fry tells me that she knows the investigator assigned to the case and trusts her to get a result.”

“Then your advice is to leave well enough alone?”

“Yes, for the time being. Everyone—Federation and Cardassian alike—has put a great deal of work into rebuilding Cardassian institutions, Admiral. Let’s see how well they’ve done their job.”

“Very well. And in the meantime—should I be concerned about what I hear about this new political party? Cardassia . . . What are they called?”

“Cardassia First.”

“Cardassia First.” Akaar sighed. “Where do they find these names? Hardly subtle, is it? Should I be worrying?”

“Not according to Fry.”

“So clashes between rival groups of political activists on the streets of Cemet—”

“Are, according to Fry, a signal of the strength of Cardassian democracy, rather than the other way around.”

“That wasn’t the case under Meya Rejal.”

Picard shook his head slowly. Meya Rejal had been the civilian leader of Cardassia after the collapse of the Obsidian Order. Fearing electoral defeat at the hands of her rival, the beloved Tekeny Ghemor, she had delayed elections so long that the Cardassian people took to the streets to demonstrate their disapproval. When Rejal tasked Skrain Dukat to deal with the demonstrators, the result had been a massacre. “Cardassia is a different place now, Admiral. I can’t see any leader opening fire on civilians.”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Not Rakena Garan.”

“But someone else might?” Akaar frowned. “Evek Temet, is that who you’re thinking of?”

“Certainly Evek Temet stirs up people’s passions. And the trouble for the castellan is that all this unrest undermines people’s belief that she is in control. This suits Temet’s purpose. The more clashes there are between these extreme groups, the more people will lose confidence in the castellan as a leader who brings stability. And it’s stability that the Cardassian people want—understandably.”

“Stability, of course, is not the same as democracy. Look at the Tzenkethi.”

“No, although ideally the two are aligned.”

There was a pause. Eventually, Akaar said, “We don’t want Temet as castellan.”

“We most certainly do not. He’s not said it in as many words as yet, but he’s surely anti-Alliance.”

The admiral was instantly alert. “Pro-Pact?”

“It’s hard to tell. He might simply be an isolationist. Nationalists of his type often are.”

“Isolationist or pro-Pact, he’s not who we want.”

Ultimately, however, it was not their choice. It was the choice of the Cardassian people, and both men knew this.

“My strong sense is that it won’t come to that. Temet has enjoyed plenty of publicity while the castellan has been away, and he’ll enjoy more until she returns, particularly if the castellan’s spin doctors continue to fail to control the fallout from this leak. But the castellan will be home shortly, and then President Bacco will be here. Nothing makes a politician look more serious than standing next to a colleague from another power. Temet will sound provincial by comparison.”

“Let’s hope that’s the case. Give my regards to the ambassador when you see him.”

“I will. He’s invited us to dinner. And he gave me a book.”

“Dinner and a book?” Akaar began to laugh. “Garak must be thinking of you as a friend, Jean-Luc. Watch your back. Akaar out.”

* * *

Lieutenant Aleyni Cam had been quartered in the residential blocks that formed most of the eastern part of the HARF compound. Parking her skimmer, Mhevet saw a handful of children playing in a nearby yard. Family quarters. She sighed. Speaking to the widow was bad enough. She hadn’t thought there might be children. . . .

She knocked at the door of Aleyni’s small, single-story house. After a few moments, the door was opened by a young Cardassian woman who looked as if she hadn’t slept for a while.

“Aleyni Zeya?” Mhevet said, uncertainly.

When the woman nodded, Mhevet had to conceal her surprise. She’d assumed that Aleyni would be married to a Bajoran or, at least, would have chosen a partner from one of the diverse species that made up the Federation. But a Cardassian wife? That, sadly, only supported Mhevet’s instinct that the murder was racially motivated. An ugly crime; amongst the ugliest. Hateful and irrational. Such a waste.

At the woman’s invitation, Mhevet stepped inside. The narrow hallway was lined with perek flowers, traditional after a death, and their perfume took Mhevet back at once to the small funeral service she had performed for her parents after the war. She’d found a single flower somehow, crushing its petals over the rubble that had been her childhood home, cutting into her hand to let the blood drop upon them, chanting the names of her dead all the while. Her fingers had held the heavy scent of the flower for days afterward, and her hand still bore the scar.

Aleyni Zeya led her to a small room that served as both kitchen and living quarters. She made red leaf tea. “I’m not what you were expecting, am I?”

Mhevet breathed in the pungent steam. “I have to admit that you aren’t.”

“Your expression . . .” Zeya gave a wan smile. “That’s how everyone always looks. They try to cover it, but they’re never quick enough.”

“I’m sorry. Rude of me.”

“It’s all right. I know it’s a surprise. A Cardassian and a Bajoran. People still aren’t quite ready for it. Do you think that’s why he died?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know much yet.”

That was true enough. Mhevet had been trying to track Aleyni’s last movements. She knew his shift had ended late afternoon, and that shortly after leaving the HARF compound, he had taken a tram down into Torr. After that he slipped off the sensors until his reappearance the next day, dead, in a broken-down warehouse in the Munda’ar sector. Mhevet had put in a request for surveillance footage before leaving the department, but coverage was patchy, and the form filling complicated. The Federation (who had, after all, put in the infrastructure) didn’t like to see it used routinely to monitor their personnel, or even Cardassian citizens, but Mhevet had a friend in the CIB who came in handy for this kind of thing.

“I was always afraid this would happen,” Zeya said. “That I would be the reason that he died. He didn’t think it was a risk, but I wasn’t so sure. It hasn’t been a problem. Not here on the compound. Not really.” Her tea stood by, completely forgotten. Mhevet hoped she was not forgetting to eat. She remembered this period of vagueness, of numbness, when nothing seemed safe to concentrate on for too long. All Cardassians knew and recognized this state.

“What about your family?” Mhevet asked. Perhaps somebody there had not liked to see her marry a Bajoran.

“Family?” said Zeya. “There’s nobody.”

“And his?”

“His family on Bajor knows nothing about me.”

“Really?”

“His mother is a prominent vedek. Very traditional. I think she may have been active in the resistance as a young woman.” Zeya pointed to a picture on a far wall: a family group, all Bajoran, with a stern woman at the center. “That’s her. Scary, isn’t she? She’s getting old now. Cam never said, but I think it would have killed her if she’d known he married a Cardassian. You know, the Occupation.” She sighed. “It never seems to end, does it? They kill us and we kill them, and for good measure, we kill each other.”

“It’s not as bad as it was.”

“No? I’m not so sure. Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with us. Something wrong with the Cardassian soul. There’s something cruel about us. We nearly destroyed ourselves once. I think it will happen again. Maybe not in my lifetime, but one day.”

“I don’t believe that,” Mhevet said, gently. “I don’t believe our nature is fixed in that way. I believe that we can choose to change.”

Zeya didn’t reply. Instead, opening the drawer on the table, she drew out a stack of papers. Mhevet looked through these with increasing disgust: a pile of graphic and violent images depicting what might happen to a Bajoran man and a Cardassian woman that got too close.

“Any idea who might have sent these?”

Zeya shook her head.

“Do you mind if I take them?”

Zeya shrugged.

Mhevet took a swig of tea. “Did you notice any changes in Cam’s behavior recently?”

“Well, he was worried. We both were.”

“Worried?”

“About the withdrawal. About where he would be sent next. I couldn’t go to Bajor . . .”

No, Mhevet thought, that wouldn’t work. “Have you eaten anything today?”

Zeya hadn’t. Mhevet poked around the kitchen and found some flatbreads and some cold terik stew. She warmed this up and sat watching Zeya, murmuring encouragingly each time the young woman put a forkful in her mouth.

“I have to ask about his job,” she said, once Zeya had eaten most of the bowl of stew. “Cultural outreach? What did that involve?”

“He went into schools! He went round schools and explained what HARF did, why they were here, how they were trying to help. He organized exchange programs between students at our universities and universities across the Federation. The last time we spoke, he was excited because he had thought he had persuaded a Klingon medical student to come and work on a study into children’s health . . .”

Zeya began to cry. Mhevet took her hand. “Cam wanted children,” Zeya said. “But I’m glad we didn’t. We should never have married. This was only ever going to end in grief.”

Mhevet stayed with her until the crying stopped, then helped clear away the plates. Offering her condolences, she left and made her way back to her skimmer. She was relieved to get away from this sad, broken home. Back in her skimmer, she saw a message from her friend Erelya Fhret at the CIB. It contained the footage she was after, and a short message: You still owe me lunch.

She watched Aleyni Cam board the tram. She watched him sit motionless for the time it took him to get to North Torr. She watched him leave the tram and disappear into the warrens of that explosive district. A Bajoran, walking around North Torr, as the day ended. Insanity. What had Aleyni been thinking? What had he expected would happen to him there?

* * *

Doctor Beverly Crusher was an old hand at diplomacy and familiar with the residences (official and private) of a large number of dignitaries across the quadrant. So the modesty of the home of the Cardassian ambassador to the Federation surprised her. But then most private homes on Cardassia Prime must be this way, she reflected, with resources rightly poured into public housing, as well as hospitals, schools, and roads.

Garak’s home was jury-rigged from a combination of Federation materials and whatever rubble had been left behind by the Jem’Hadar. The building consequently had a ramshackle feel, but the area in front was surprisingly beautiful. Here, a series of small monuments had been built, piles of dry stone formations, none of them higher than shoulder height. Around these, a garden had been planted: small, but surprisingly verdant, and very well tended. Crusher wondered who took care of this, given how much time the ambassador spent away from his homeworld.