The Orb of Truth
by Temis the Vorta
Timing – between Sound of Her Voice and Tears of the Prophets
All this stuff belongs to Paramount except the original ideas of the Temis the Vorta!

Rising early never bothered Kira, but rising early for an assignment like this one did. She straightened her uniform as she waited at the airlock for the delegation. At least Odo, who was now standing alongside her, would have to suffer along with her. Sisko had assigned both of them to escort the ministers from Bajor to the site of the recent “sacred events.”

As the ministers exited the airlock, Kira tried to suppress her annoyance. Minister Hoven Tan was the head of the delegation. Hoven, she knew, was a genuinely pious man who had once been a vedek. But Kira suspected the others were more interested in the political uses of this visit – particularly Minister Ralen Delone, a woman known for her ruthless ambition. The three other ministers in the delegation very likely had similar motives.

Still, Kira thought, when the ministers returned with their report, there would be no doubt that Kai Winn had defied the will of the Prophets. The Kai would probably be deposed for this. About time, Kira thought grimly.

As the ministers emerged from the airlock, Kira greeted them warmly. “Welcome to Deep Space Nine,” she said. “You honor us with your presence.” Hoven replied with equal warmth, but Ralen cut the pleasantries short. “Our report is needed in the Chamber of Ministers as soon as possible,” Ralen said. “Show us where the Battle occurred between the paghwraith and the Sacred Resident of the Celestial Temple.”

Kira winced at this formal term for “Prophet.” It was commonly used in temple services, but spoken in the corridors of DS9, it simply sounded pretentious.

Ralen obviously felt she had the right to lead the delegation, and strode off down the corridor. Odo and Kira rushed to catch up, and steered the delegation into a turbolift.

As Kira and Odo led the ministers along the promenade to the site of the battle, Kira felt increasingly annoyed. The ministers’ questions seemed foolish and irrelevant. At the site of the battle, the ministers poked in every corner, yet there was nothing to see – no trace of the battle had remained. They questioned Kira about what it was like to be the host for a Prophet. But to Kira, the event was a total blank. Yet, they persisted in their questions even after it was obvious that Kira recalled nothing.

Odo’s responses were much more useful to the ministers. As security chief, he gave an expert account of Winn’s actions that led to the Prophet being pulled away from Kira, just as victory over the paghwraith seemed assured.

“That’s what they’re really here to find out,” thought Kira. “Why do I have to be here at all?”

Finally, after Minister Ardo asked Kira for the third time, “why do you suppose the Prophet’s energies were blue, while the wraith’s were red?” Kira decided she had heard enough fatuous questions. Her deliverance came with the chirp of a combadge.

It was Captain Sisko. “When you’re free, could you report to Ops, Major? I have some news that I think you’ll find interesting.”

With Sisko’s habit for understatement, it will be more than interesting, Kira thought. “I’ll be right there,” she responded.

Kira pulled Odo aside and said, “You’ll have handle the rest of the visit yourself. Emergency in Ops.”

Then she hurried in the down the promenade. As she glanced back, she realized she would have no trouble sneaking away. The delegation had paused near Quark’s, and the Ferengi proprietor of the bar was plying them with offers of a free spin at the Dabo table. The ministers were too distracted trying to get away from the ever-tenacious Quark to notice she was gone.

As the turbolift doors opened, Kira started to enter and stopped – Garak, the station’s mysterious Cardassian “tailor” was on it. To Kira’s dismay, Garak looked like he wanted to say something. Then apparently he thought better of it, and moved off the lift so Kira could enter. But before Kira could instruct the computer to take her to Ops, Garak made good on his threat and started talking.

In his usual unctuous way that Kira found especially irritating, Garak said, “I hope you don’t think it too forward of me, Major – but it’s just occurred to me that we’ve never had a real conversation – amazing, considering that this isn’t really such a large station, and we have both lived here for many years.”

Kira gritted her teeth and responded, “I suppose that until I have lunch with you, my life won’t be complete.”

Shocked by her sarcasm – or at least acting shocked – Garak said, “I hope, Major, you don’t resent me because I’m Cardassian! Really, I have many Bajoran customers who could vouch for me…”

“That won’t be necessary…” Kira replied. Then, realizing she was being unfair, Kira smiled. “I’m sorry, Garak, I didn’t mean that. I guess I’m just snappy. I’ve had a tough day.”

Garak nodded and said, “I understand perfectly,” giving his usual impression that he really did understand far more than anyone suspected. This was one part of Garak’s personality that always gave Kira the creeps.

 “And now I really do have to go,” Kira said, and speaking to the computer, added, “Ops.”

 “Of course, we don’t want to keep Captain Sisko waiting,” Garak said.

Startled, Kira started to say, “How did you know…?” But Garak just smiled and waved goodbye as the doors closed. Kira grimaced and hoped it would be several more years until their next conversation.

Kira got off the turbolift at her destination. She noticed Bashir at a medical terminal and remembered this was his shift in Ops. She reflected that he had certainly changed from the arrogant young blabbermouth he had once been. Kira thought that she should be relieved by the change, but had to admit that in a way it was sad.

But in one regard, Bashir hadn’t changed at all. With his usual keen intuition, he immediately noticed Kira was upset.

“Kira, is something wrong?” the doctor said.

Kira waved her hand dismissively. “It’s nothing – I just had a little talk with your tailor friend.”

“You mean Garak? He didn’t say something to upset you…”

“No, no, it’s just…I don’t know, I guess I just don’t like talking with him.”

“Well, it’s understandable, I suppose …” Bashir started to say, but Kira interrupted him.

“I don’t want you to think I resent all Cardassians!” Kira said. “No, no, no! I’ve met many Cardassians who are decent people.” Kira paused, and then said, “I just don’t like that one in particular.”

“Why Garak in particular?”

“I can’t put my finger on it,” Kira said. “And that’s just the problem! I like straightforward, easy-to-understand people.”

Bashir smiled. “Well that certainly does not describe our Mr. Garak.”

Noticing Kira in Ops, Sisko emerged from his office and interrupted the conversation. “Ah, Major, I’m glad you’re here. Come into my office.”

In the privacy of his office, Sisko gave Kira some startling news. “I’ve just received a message from Starfleet. The location of one of the stolen Orbs has been uncovered in an outlying sector of Cardassian space. I want you to lead an expedition to recover it.”

Kira’s knees suddenly felt weak, and she sat down quickly. This was truly momentous. Of the eight sacred Bajoran Orbs stolen by the Cardassians during their withdrawal, only three had been recovered. The Orbs were more than just revered religious artifacts. They were a means for Bajorans to speak directly to the Prophets, and thereby gain wisdom and insight into their own lives.

If I succeed in returning an Orb to its rightful place on Bajor, Kira thought, it could be the most important thing I ever do in my life.

Sisko cleared his throat, and Kira returned her attention to him. “We received this report from our Klingon allies. They found an Orb on a remote world. Apparently it was being studied at an institute located there.”

“Why didn’t the Klingons retrieve it?” Kira asked.

“Well, the commander in that sector didn’t know what an Orb is.” Sisko smiled. “Klingons don’t usually pay too much attention to the cultures of other races. The report finally got to someone in the High Council who recognized that they had located an Orb, and realized its importance to Bajor.”

“And, I imagine, its importance to maintaining good relations with the Federation,” Kira said dryly.

“Exactly. The Klingons have moved their forces to another sector. They aren’t interested in sending an expedition to retrieve the Orb, but they won’t interfere if we do.”

“Fine. Is there likely to be any interference from Cardassians?"

“Not very likely. The Klingons are generally…thorough…when they take over a planet. I doubt you’ll find anyone alive there at all. But that sector is still in the war zone. If the Klingons suffer reverses, the Cardassians could be back, and we’ll lose our chance to retrieve the Orb.”

“Then I’ll leave right away! Just give me a few minutes to say goodbye to Odo…”

“Wait a minute, Major! You don’t think I’m sending you into a war zone alone, do you?”

“Of course. Worf would be good for an assignment like this. Or how about O’Brien? He has plenty of experience dealing with Cardassians…”

“The person I have in mind has far more experience with Cardassians than even O’Brien has. I’m sending Garak with you. I just informed him a few minutes ago. He’s closing his shop right now, and he’ll meet you at Airlock 5.”

“Garak!?! You can’t be serious…” Kira sputtered.

Having his decisions questioned always annoyed Sisko, and he raised his voice a notch. “The outpost is certainly going to be booby-trapped, Major! Garak is the only person on the station who knows how to disarm Cardassian security systems.”

“Yes, like he did on Empok Nor! Look how that turned out!”

Sisko expression turned hard. “That’s right! The mission succeeded because of Garak!” Then his voice softened. “Listen, Major, I know you don’t like him. But you need him on this mission. And that’s my final decision.”

After six years working with Sisko, Kira knew that “final” meant “final.” “All right, Captain. I trust your judgement, even if I don’t trust Garak.”

Sisko leaned over his desk and folded his hands. “I don’t like sending people into danger when they don’t trust each other. What exactly is it about Garak that you don’t trust, Major?”

“I don’t know enough about him to know why! I just do. It’s just a gut instinct. I mean, what do we really know about him besides that he was in the Obsidian Order…and he hates Dukat….”

“Which to me means, one, he’s effective, and two, he has a reason to work for us. Right?”

“I guess so.” Kira leaned across the desk. “But can you honestly say that you trust him?”

Sisko sighed, and to Kira’s surprise, responded, “yes, I do.” Before she could say anything more, Sisko held up his hand. “But you’ll just have to take my word for it. He’s proven his loyalty…to me, anyway.”

Kira noticed Sisko’s troubled expression and a stab of fear shot through her. It isn’t possible…Garak isn’t holding something over the captain, is he? But the conversation was obviously over. Kira simply nodded. “That’s good enough for me. I may not like Garak, but it won’t get in the way of the mission. We’ll come back with that Orb, or not at all.”

Sisko winced. “Don’t take any unnecessary risks, Kira. I expect you both to return, is that understood?”

But Kira was already out of the office and on her way to Airlock 5.

The Rio Grande had covered five light years, during which Kira had spoken a grand total of two words. She seemed determined to make the entire rest of the trip in silence.

Sitting in the runabout cockpit next to Kira, Garak squirmed and fiddled uselessly with the disengaged controls on his side. He was trained to resist the worst forms of torture the Obsidian Order was capable of imagining, but several more hours of silence was more than the garrulous Cardassian could bear.

For the tenth time, he tried to initiate a conversation with Kira. This time, he finally met with success.

“I believe we’re just a few hours away from our destination,” Garak began hopefully.

“And how would you know that?” Kira snapped. “You can’t see the navigation readouts.”

“And I don’t know where we’re going in any case! Really, Major, don’t you think you should brief me on our mission at some point before it’s over?”

“Sisko told you we’re going into Cardassian territory. That’s all you need to know until I decide to tell you more.”

It wasn’t difficult for Garak to guess that their mission would be dangerous. The runabout had been passing more and more debris – most of it chunks of unidentifiable metal. But occasionally, a piece of space junk floated into view, bearing the unmistakable markings of a Cardassian cruiser or Klingon bird-of-prey.

It was obvious that the Rio Grande, and its two passengers, were entering recently-disputed space. Kira knew that recent disputes have a way of flaring up again. So she felt real relief when the runabout sensors detected their destination, with no other vessels within sensor range.

Even without the help of sensors other than his eyes, Garak recognized the star system they had entered. A double-star system with an arid, moonless planet bearing two small oceans, Garak thought. We’re heading for the fifth planet in the Nerva system.

However, Garak was still puzzled about their mission. Nerva was an insignificant system, a backwater of Cardassian space. As far as he knew, none of its twelve planets were even inhabited. He had heard something about a scientific research institute being established in the system, but the institute had no strategic or political importance, and he knew little else about it.

As the runabout fell into orbit around Nerva V, Kira downloaded the latest intelligence maps of Cardassian space. These maps showed the last known positions of the Federation, Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian and Dominion fleets.

The war zone was a confusing, constantly-shifting and dangerous mosaic of military might. The Nerva system seemed quiet for now, but that could change at any time. And Cardassians weren’t the only threat. The Klingon and Romulan forces were nominally Federation allies, but Kira didn’t want to put that to the test. Not in a small vessel, far from the nearest Federation outpost.

“Well, here’s that briefing you wanted,” she said. “On that planet is a Cardassian science institute. And in it is one of the Orbs of the Prophets – that’s what we’re here for. We beam down, get it, and get back to DS9 as fast as possible. Got it?”

“Absolutely! But won’t the Cardassians on the planet be irritated at our…unexpected arrival?”

“Don’t worry, Garak. You’re the only Cardassian in this system.”

“If you don’t mind my asking…how can you be so sure?”

“Because a Klingon fleet was through here a few days ago. Nerva is weeks away from the Klingon border, so they’re probably all out of blood wine, and in a worse mood than usual. I really doubt they left anyone alive.”

Kira and Garak approached the collection of low buildings cautiously. Before beaming down from the Rio Grande, Kira had scanned the surface, and found no life signs. A scan for the specific energy signature of an Orb similarly turned up nothing. This had worried Kira, but Garak told her it would be standard procedure to put a damping field around an important artifact like an Orb, to keep it safe from prying eyes.

Nerva V was a desert world, with sandy hills rolling gently to the horizon in all directions. With little vegetation on the surface, the white buildings of the institute were easily visible from their beam-down point on a hill a few hundred meters away.

It was Garak who had insisted beaming down at this distance. “Even if the institute is abandoned, the automatic security systems will still be in place,” he said. “With the damping field active, our sensors are useless. Anything could be in those buildings. I recommend approaching with extreme caution.”

Garak led the way, with a hand-held scanner. “I’ve modified this so that we’ll be able to tell if we’re nearing any active sensors. Believe me, we don’t want to trip any alarms!”

“Don’t worry, Garak. I know all about Cardassian security systems. I’ve gotten around a few in my time…”

“Believe it or not, Major, so have I.”

Kira laughed. “Well, of course. When you were spying for the Obsidian Order, right?”

“The Order? I don’t know what you’re…”

 “Oh come on, Garak, you’re not fooling anyone!”

“Well, I will admit I have had a past…association with the Order…”

“A little more than an ‘association,’ I’d say!”

“…It’s just that, as a matter of principle, I prefer not to discuss the subject. I’ve always been taught that being too direct in one’s conversation is…impolite.”

“If that’s the way you want it. But you don’t have to be coy with me! I don’t care if you were in the Order or not.”

Garak was surprised. “That seems to be a very…liberal…attitude, coming from you.” He added quickly, “If you don’t mind my saying so.”

“I guess I should explain. In the resistance, we thought of the Order as being…well, kind of on our side! After all, the Cardassian military was terrified of you guys. When you were in town, the military was so distracted that we could do pretty much as we pleased. We called you the ‘Obsidian Resistance Cell.’ Sort of a grim joke….”

“Those were grim days.”

“You’re not kidding. Listen, Garak, I really meant it when I said I didn’t resent you for being Cardassian. Even if you won’t admit it, I know you did things in the past that you regret. So did I. The past is the past, and there’s no sense dragging it up now.”

“I completely agree. Why re-fight old wars when you have a nice, fresh, new one right in front of you?”

“And speaking of fighting new wars…what in the name of the Prophets happened here?”

As Kira and Garak came over the crest of a hill, they got a better look at the institute’s grounds. There were bodies everywhere. As they neared the buildings, they realized the bodies were all Cardassian.

Kira looked at Garak. If he was shaken by the carnage, he covered it well. “Look at the buildings,” he said. “They’ve been damaged by phaser fire.” A quick pass of the scanner revealed interesting news. “It’s from Klingon disruptors. Strange, none of the damage patterns match Cardassian weapons.”

“It was Klingons, all right,” Kira said, bending over one of the bodies. “This man was killed by a blade. Only Klingons do that.”

“And only Klingons kill helpless civilians,” Garak said bitterly. “They’re scientists. The institute wasn’t defended at all!”

Kira saw what he meant. None of the bodies were wearing the familiar armor of the Cardassian military, and none appeared to have been armed.

Garak continued to stare at the dead scientists. Kira didn’t want to interrupt. These are probably the first Cardassian civilians he’s seen in years. What a homecoming for him. Kira also found herself remembering scenes like this from the occupation – the sight of Cardassian blood, a strange, yellow color that seemed to glow on their pale skin, brought back memories better left forgotten.

Finally, Kira realized they should get on with their mission quickly. There was no telling how far away the Klingons were – or, whether the scientists had sent a distress call that would soon bring Cardassian warships to the planet.

“We should search the buildings, Garak. The Orb is probably in there – if the Klingons didn’t take it.”

“Oh, it’s still there. Klingons are great warriors, after all – slaughtering unarmed scientists! Why would they bother with research equipment? No glory in that, is there!”

Kira started to say something, but Garak abruptly turned towards the first building. The door was open, and appeared to be broken. The interior was dark – the power was probably off. Kira and Garak approached the threshold warily, and peered in, scanning for trouble.

“Now I’m picking up traces of Klingon DNA,” Garak said. “Some of them were probably wounded in here.”

“By the scientists?”

“More likely, by the automated security system. It must have been activated when the Klingons stormed the building. The system here is probably outmoded and primitive. Science institutes aren’t a high priority in the eyes of Central Command. With any luck, the system will be easy to bypass. But it still can be deadly. Stay back, and I’ll disarm it.”

Garak weaved around the room in a strange pattern. As Kira watched, she couldn’t tell what he was up to. But after he reached the control panel and punched in a few codes, it became apparent. There had been an invisible detection grid in the room. The grid’s beams of light briefly became visible, hovering a meter or so off the floor, then flickered away.

“It’s safe to search for the Orb now,” Garak said.

Kira and Garak searched the first floor and found nothing. Climbing down a turbolift shaft, they descended to a lower floor.

And there it was, in the middle of the room, still in its ornate, jeweled box, and placed on some kind of large, mechanical apparatus, seemingly unguarded.

“Hmmm,” Garak said. “This must have been where the scientists were studying it.”

“The Orb of Truth.”

Garak was preoccupied, scanning for any other security systems. “How can you be so sure?”

“I just know. Any Bajoran would, just by being in its presence.” She walked over to the Orb and touched it, before Garak could stop her.

Shocked, Garak said, “Wait! We don’t know…”

Kira turned. “It’s safe. Don’t worry!”

“Well, I suppose it is. Inasmuch as you are still alive. Next time you do something like that, tell me first so that I can have my heart attack quietly, in a corner.”

Kira gazed in awe at the Orb. “I can’t believe I’m here. I’m going to return an Orb to the Bajoran people. And not just any Orb! The Orb of Truth.”

“Is there something special about this Orb, in particular?”

“They’re all special in their own way. But I’ve heard amazing stories about this Orb.” She stopped smiling. “An Orb of Truth vision is not always a pleasant experience. Its purpose is to make you understand something about yourself – something you may not want to know.”

Garak nodded. “The truth can be painful. Sometimes it really is better not to know.”

Kira turned to look at Garak, and a look of shock came over her face. She ducked behind the apparatus as phaser fire hit the Orb pedestal. Garak ducked and turned to see where the blasts were coming from. In an adjacent room, he saw the shadowy shape of a Cardassian.

“Murderers!” he screamed. “You won’t get away now. I’ll kill you!”

Garak realized that he must be one of the scientists – the sole survivor of the attack. He crawled around to where Kira was hiding, crouched behind the Orb pedestal.

Kira had also sized the situation up correctly. “Stop firing! We won’t hurt you!”

“I’m more worried about him hurting us!” Garak said. “He’s in no mood to discuss anything. I suggest we call the runabout for a beam-out.”

“Can we beam out the Orb, too?”

“No – with the dampening field still in place, the runabout won’t be able to lock onto the Orb.”

“Then one of us will have to beam-out holding the Orb!”

“I’m sorry Major, that’s not a good idea, as long as our agitated friend keeps firing at us.”

“We can’t leave the Orb! It’s right up there, within arm’s reach!”

“Well, I’m not putting my arm up there!”

“Then I am!” With one swift movement, Kira stood and pulled the Orb off the pedestal. But not swiftly enough. A blast hit her arm, and she fell back to the floor with the Orb in her arms.

Garak slapped his combadge. “Emergency beam-out!” In a moment, they were back on the Rio Grande. Kira’s arm was bleeding badly, but she still hung onto the Orb. She seemed disoriented and in considerable pain.

Kira gasped, “Bet you didn’t think I’d do that!”

 “Certainly not! If I’d known you were insane, I’d never have agreed to come on this mission with you. Now put down the Orb – where is the medical kit stored?”

Garak turned away for a moment. “Better hurry…I’m feeling dizzy.”

Before she knew what happened, she passed out. The Orb hit the floor and the jeweled case opened. A dazzling green light filled the runabout. Garak stooped to help Kira to her feet.

As Kira regained consciousness, she said, “Look – the Orb is open…” They both gazed at the Orb. And then, nothing.

Kira opened her eyes. Above her, heavy mist swirled in the few shafts of light that penetrated the gloom. The atmosphere was hot and oppressive. She raised herself on her arms, then stood on the hard, metallic floor. She knew where she was instantly. The corridors of Terok Nor were familiar to her.

Yet there were subtle differences between this place, and the Terok Nor she knew from her resistance years. The Cardassian guards wore different uniforms. Some of the promenade shops were still being constructed, awaiting their occupants. For reasons known only to themselves, the Prophets had brought her to the Terok Nor of twenty years ago.

Kira looked around. Dejected groups of Bajoran slaves in ragged clothes trudged along the corridors. The recently-constructed station itself was scrupulously clean. Just how Cardassians like it, Kira thought.

Nearby, two Bajoran slaves worked on a communications station. The device had been taken apart and pieces were strewn on the floor. Curiosity got the better of Kira.

She looked over their shoulders and said in amazement, “The com stations use hyperbolic transtators!”

One of the Bajorans looked up and said, “do you know anything about fixing these? Some guards assigned us to this duty. The station hasn’t been able to communicate with Losos province on Bajor for a week now, and we’re supposed to fix it.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not an engineer. I’ve only seen these types of transtators in museums….”

The Bajoran gave her a puzzled look. Kira remembered where she was. “Never mind. I hope you fix it.”

“So do we,” said the other slave. “The guards are withholding our rations until we’ve finished the repairs!”

Two Cardassian guards passed close by to Kira, and she stared back at them for a moment before she remembered to lower their eyes. But the guards didn’t seem annoyed by an “impertinent Bajoran” – as they glanced back at her, Kira thought they looked confused. The two slaves working on the com station were also looking at her strangely now.

Kira moved away and collected her thoughts. The Prophets brought me here for a reason. They will reveal their purpose to me when it suits them.

But until the Prophets revealed their purpose, Kira thought it best to keep a low profile. Several Bajorans were clustered at the far end of the promenade. As Kira walked closer, she saw the slaves were getting their meager rations of watery soup. Kira sat down at a table among the Bajorans, hoping that the Cardassians would not notice her.

But the Bajorans sitting next to her did. With looks of pure disgust, they picked up their bowls and moved away.

Kira stood up. “What did I do wrong?”

 “It’s not what you’ve done – it’s who you are,” a sweet voice said behind her.

Kira turned and saw – Ziyal! Kira’s joy at seeing her dead friend again was cut off by the realization that this Ziyal was simply an image created by the Prophets.

“Look at yourself, and you will understand,” the phantom Ziyal said.

Kira turned to where the phantom was pointing – a reflective panel of the wall. The image was warped and indistinct, but also unmistakable. Kira realized that all those around her saw her as her traitorous mother, Meru! Her hair was elaborately coifed, and her clothes were made of expensive fabric. No wonder the guards had wondered what she was doing, wandering around the promenade. No wonder the Bajorans had reacted to her with disgust – the same disgust that Kira now felt for the woman in the reflection.

Kira turned to the phantom Ziyal. “Why am I here? What do I need to learn?”

Even as she spoke, Kira knew that the phantom would not respond. Orb visions were never straightforward, and the truths they held would only be revealed by the viewer’s own experience.

The phantom Ziyal smiled and turned, disappearing into a crowd. A sense of foreboding came over Kira. In an Orb of Truth vision, she knew, the viewer could not affect the events she saw, nor be harmed by them. But she had read descriptions in the ancient texts of encounters with this particular Orb, and knew she must prepare herself for a wrenching experience.

I’m ready for whatever occurs, Kira thought. But she far from ready for what happened next.

“There you are!” said a voice, behind her.

Kira turned around, and someone kissed her. She pulled away and saw – Dukat!

“I know you like the promenade, but I’ve told you many times, it isn’t safe here,” he chided her. “It’s a good thing Glinn Kyarps informed me that he saw you here, while making his rounds! I wouldn’t put it past one of these scum to stick a knife in your ribs.” Dukat glared at the Bajorans, who turned their sullen faces away. “Besides, have you forgotten that we’re expecting a visitor? Really, I’m hurt by your inattentiveness,” Dukat said, while smiling in a way that made it clear he was far from hurt.

Dukat took Kira’s arm, and before she knew what was happening, they were walking in the direction of a turbolift. Kira repressed her personal loathing for Dukat. She did not know what lay ahead, but she trusted in the Prophets, and their purpose for her.

Dukat squeezed her arm. “I know you’re probably nervous. But don’t worry! The rest of my family wouldn’t understand about…us. But he isn’t like the rest of them.”

They were standing at one of Terok Nor’s many airlocks. Kira couldn’t begin to count the number of times she had done the same thing – waiting for some official delegation or another to arrive at DS9. Here, the honor guard was comprised of Cardassians, but otherwise, the scene was very familiar. She recalled the Bajoran ministers’ visit, and how glad she had been for an excuse to escape.

Kira wondered if the Prophets were in an ironic humor. Perhaps they’re trying to tell me that Dukat had to do the same tedious jobs on this station that I do now. Well, if they want me to feel sorry for Dukat, they’re going to have to do better than that.

She looked into Dukat’s smug face, and since he obviously expected her to, she smiled. Too stupid even to notice the daggers behind my smile. Everything about he filled her with disgust. His strutting arrogance, his casual brutality…but those traits made him just another, typical, Cardassian.

No, she thought, there was something about him that made his worse than the average Cardassian. Most of his kind accepted that they were brutes, and left it as that. Dukat…put on the airs of a gentleman! It was his self-delusion, more than anything else, that infuriated Kira. I don’t know what the Prophets think I’m supposed to learn here. But I hope they make it fast! I don’t know how long I can last before strangling him…

The airlock opened and the guards snapped to attention. But instead of a legate or council member, the person who emerged was an ordinary civilian, an old man, tall, with a friendly, open manner.

“Josa! It’s good to see you again,” the old man said.

Kira looked around to see who he was talking to. To her surprise, he embraced Dukat.

“It’s good to see you, too, father,” said Dukat.

Before Kira knew what was happening, Dukat brought his father over to her.

“Father, this is Meru.”

Dukat’s father hugged her and said, “I bless the woman that has brought my son such happiness.” Then he added, acidly, “unlike some others I could name…”

“Father, there’s no need to drag up unpleasant things on such a happy occasion,” Dukat said.

Dukat’s father turned to Kira. “He thinks I talk too much. Well, I suppose I do. What of it? I've served the state long and well.” He looked around, purposefully staring at each of the guards. “So if I want to say publicly that I never cared much for my son’s choice in a wife, then I’ll say it. And if I want to say…other…things, I’ll say them, too.”

Dukat hurriedly grabbed his father’s arm. “That’s enough for now, father. We can discuss these things over dinner. I’ve opened up a case of Lemasan kanar, just for this occasion.”

The old man linked his other arm with Kira’s. “Well, well, my favorite vintage. I suppose Josa thinks that getting me drunk might shut me up! Faint hope of that. After all, what better place to express my unorthodox opinions than in the quarters of Terok Nor’s prefect – the one place there’s sure to be no listening devices, eh Meru?”

Dukat tugged on his father’s arm, and the three of the walked down the corridor. Kira still couldn’t get over her amazement. She might not think much of the son, but she was already beginning to like the father.

They left Dukat’s father at the quarters he’d been assigned – the best on the station, Kira realized – and good-naturedly “ordered” him to get some rest before meeting them later for dinner.

As soon as they were out of earshot of the guards stationed at the old man’s quarters, Dukat said “I can’t believe he’s being so cavalier about this.”

“About what?”

Dukat started, as if he had forgotten he wasn’t alone. “This isn’t a social call. You see, a few years ago my brother Ion – a war hero and the youngest legate in the Cardassian military – was arrested by the Obsidian Order for complaining about their interference in military affairs. He disappeared and never was heard from again.”

“And your father wants those who are responsible punished?”

“Oh, no, no. That would be suicide! No one challenges the Order directly. All he wanted was to see Ion…” then Dukat’s face grew bitter. “Or at least, to have his…body… returned to us. Burial rites are very important to Cardassians, you know. And the Order knows that too. They make sure their victims are never even given that much dignity.”

“So he’s here for his own safety.”

“Very good, Meru! You really are starting to learn how Cardassians think. Yes, my poor father has finally gone too far. He’s always been unconventional. That’s probably why he accepts you. But this time, his lack of discretion will get him killed. Fortunately, I still have powerful friends on Cardassia, and they arranged for his safe passage to Terok Nor.”

“But can you protect him here?” Kira felt genuinely concerned for the old man’s safety. If there had been more 'unconventional' Cardassians like Dukat’s father, willing to speak out against injustice, the occupation might never have happened.

Dukat laughed. “Of course. The Order would never dare come here. That would be a direct challenge to my authority. They wouldn’t risk it.”

A device at Dukat’s side chirped, and he picked it up. It was a call from Ops. A voice said, “Sorry to disturb you, prefect. But we have…distinguished guests.”

From the quaver in the man’s voice, Kira realized the phrase “distinguished guests” was some sort of code, which meant more than it seemed. A look at Dukat’s face confirmed her suspicion. She had never before seen Dukat afraid. She wasn’t sure if that’s what she was seeing now, but he didn’t look pleased at the news.

“Meru, this is something important. It would be best for you to go to your quarters now, and stay there until I call for you.” His voice was deliberately calm. Then, without a backwards glance, he strode off.

Kira was momentarily confused. My quarters. Where are they?

She dimly recalled where Meru lived, from her recent encounter with the Orb of Time. Kira could only hope her quarters had not been changed.

When she arrived at the correct door, she saw more guards stationed there. She approached cautiously. Seeing her, one of the guards punched in the security code, and the door opened. Obviously, I’m in the right place. She breathed a sigh of relief and stepped into a room with the mottled lighting and vaguely reptilian ornamentation characteristic of Cardassian habitats, just like her own quarters on DS9. But this apartment was much more lavishly furnished.

She walked over to a low table and picked up a statuette made of jevonite – a rare and breathtakingly beautiful Cardassian mineral. She picked it up and admired its silky darkness, flecked with silver and gold points of light. It looked amazingly like the night sky, solidified into stone.

She walked over to a box made of the same material, and opened it. It was filled with jewelry and hair decorations, some of jevonite, others from gems native to Bajor. Kira was momentarily dazzled by the treasure. Then she happened to look up and see Meru’s face reflected in a mirror.

Within moments, all of Dukat’s gifts had been hurled around the room, as if by a violent storm. Kira was about to finish the job by smashing the priceless statue against the bulkhead when a call came in from Dukat, summoning her to Ops.

It would be such a waste to smash this lovely statue. I should use it to smash Dukat’s skull, instead!

The guards outside her door tried to escort her to Ops, but she waved them away. In Dukat’s office, she found Enebrain Tain, who she recognized instantly from his security file, back on DS9. And, standing next to him was Garak.

Tain turned around and leveled his searching gaze at Kira. “Are you the Bajoran woman who witnessed the criminal enter the station?” he said.

“I told you, she didn’t see anyone!” Dukat protested.

But Kira was staring at Garak, who seemed uncomfortable. He must have been here, on Terok Nor, twenty years ago, Kira thought. Working for Tain…I wonder what evil schemes those two hatched.

“Woman!” Tain bellowed. “I asked you a question. You will answer!”

Kira looked at Tain, who reminded her of a bloated toad.

“An old man, a Cardassian!” Tain said. “Did you see this escaped criminal, entering the station recently? He was dressed as a civilian…”

“I’m sorry,” Kira said calmly. “I’ve seen a lot of Cardassian criminals lately, but they’ve all been wearing military uniforms. At least most of them have been….” She looked pointedly at Tain, who, like Garak, was dressed in the garb of the Obsidian Order.

Dukat stared at her, dumfounded at her rudeness. “Meru!” Then to Tain: “She’s not feeling well. I think she should leave now!”

Tain smiled. “No, she’s very amusing. Very witty! And I do think she should leave – so she can be properly interrogated. Garak, why don’t you…Garak! Are you listening to me?”

Startled, Garak looked up. “Yes. What?”

“I was saying – this Bajoran has seen the criminal. It’s your job to find out from her where he is. You know where the security office is, don’t you?” Tain glowered at Garak.

“Yes, of course I do. On the promenade….”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Tain scoffed. “Why would the security office be on the promenade? So the prisoners can go shopping after their interrogation? The layout of Terok Nor is the same as on all the other stations. The security office is on Level 5, Section 3, of course. Now, go. And I expect results!”

Moments later, Kira and Garak were in a turbolift on their way to Level 5, Section 3.

“Why did you think the security office was on the promenade?” Kira said.

“Because that’s where it’s always been!” Garak babbled. “At least it has been for years…it was so long ago…I forgot it was in a different location then….”

Suddenly, Kira understood. “By the Prophets! You’re Garak!”

“Of course I am. Or maybe I’ve changed, too. Like the security office.”

“No, I mean – Garak from Deep Space Nine!”

Garak stared at her. “Now I know I’ve gone mad. Deep Space Nine won’t exist for another twenty years.”

“Garak! You don’t understand. I’m Kira!”

“Kira? You’re not Kira! You’re some other woman – Dukat’s mistress – she was named Meera or something….”

“Meru! I just look like her. But I’m Kira. Don’t you know where we are?”

“In a lunatic asylum, I hope. Where I can get proper treatment and go back to my tailor shop someday. When this delusion leaves me…”

“It’s not a delusion. It’s an Orb Vision.”

 “Computer, halt!” Garak said. The turbolift stopped. “You mean to tell me that all this…came from that Orb?”

“Yes! We are in an Orb Vision.”

Garak leaned against the turbolift wall. “Well, that’s a relief! I thought I had gone insane. Either that, or I had died and was condemned to spend eternity reliving my past. You Bajorans certainly have inconvenient religious practices.”

“You should feel honored to be here. An Orb of Truth vision is a chance to gain remarkable insights into your life.”

“The last thing I need, Major, are insights into my life. Your Prophets made a mistake bringing me here. I’ve already lived through all this. What can I learn from going through it again?”

“I can’t tell you that. Only the Prophets know. You’ll have to be patient and just wait. But in the meantime, the best thing for us to do is to go where the vision guides us. Computer, resume transport to security office.”

The turbolift started moving again. Kira smiled ironically and said, “After all, I wouldn’t want to be late for my interrogation!’

The room on Level 5, Section 3 was dark and entirely bare of furniture except for the interrogator’s desk. As Kira and Garak entered the room, their footfalls echoed on the metallic floor.

Kira broke the silence. “So, Garak. What’s going on? Why are you and Tain here? Just to hound that poor old man?”

“Really, Major, this is quite improper.” Garak smiled at the irony of their situation. “I’m the one who’s supposed to ask the questions.”

“I guess I’m just not familiar with the proper etiquette. I was lucky enough never to have seen the inside of one of these places. But many of my friends in the resistance did – and most of them didn’t live to tell about it.”

Garak fidgeted.  “Well, yes…I’ll tell you why Tain and I came here. The Obsidian Order suspected that some Cardassians on Terok Nor were disloyal. Perhaps even covertly aiding the Bajoran resistance. Anyone with a grudge against the Obsidian Order was suspect. And we were well aware that Gul Dukat…”

Kira burst out laughing. “You suspected Dukat? Of helping the resistance?”

Garak was annoyed. “It wasn’t as ludicrous then as it appears now. The evidence was all there. The unfortunate incident with his brother…that eccentric father of his! And a Bajoran mistress, really, it seemed like he was flaunting his disloyalty!”

Kira wiped her eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, Garak. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. But it’s pretty hard to believe. Come on, it was twenty years ago! You wouldn’t have even been old enough then to have been working for Tain."

Garak says, “You flatter me, Major. I do like to think I take care of myself. But really, the credit has to go to Cardassian physiology. We simply age slower than Bajorans.” Then Garak looked wistful. “But I was quite young then. It was my first assignment. And, as I recall, I was very eager to prove to Tain that his faith in me was not misplaced. So it’s possible that my enthusiasm to find evidence against Dukat may have exceeded my good judgement…”

“Well that’s understandable. I mean, it’s no secret that you two have never exactly liked one another.”

“Oh, I had nothing against Dukat personally. But I knew he was dangerous. Tain told me that. He had gained too much power, too fast. It made him arrogant. Like his brother, and look what happened to him! You may not believe this, Major, but Tain and I were doing him a favor. Helping him mend his ways – before it was too late!”

“Oh, I see. I never realized the Obsidian Order was a charitable institution.”

“Well, scoff if you want. But I believed in my work. And I believed…” Garak was interrupted by an incoming message, on the desk’s viewscreen. Impatiently, he hit the button.

Tain’s voice echoed around the room. “Garak! This has to be the longest interrogation in Cardassian history! Haven’t you gotten anything yet?”

Garak started to blurt out an answer, but Tain cut him off, in an apoplectic rage.

“Report back to Ops immediately. And bring the prisoner. While you’ve been dawdling, Dukat has managed to sneak the criminal off the station!”

Kira looked at Garak and shrugged. “Back to Ops, I guess.”

But Garak was still looking at the now-blank viewscreen. “I don’t think…I don’t think we should go there. No, I’m certain. We should not go to Ops.”

“What do you mean? Do you want to stay in this miserable, dark hole until the Prophets decide to end the vision?”

Garak looked around the room, gazing at the walls and ceiling as though he hoped they would open up and let him fly free into the void of space. Panic was creeping into his voice. “And why don’t these, these Prophets of yours, let us out of this nightmare? What possible purpose could it serve to…to go through all this, again?”

Kira narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, Garak. But I have a feeling both of us will learn the purpose, very soon. Come on!” She strode over to the door. “Whatever it is that you’re afraid of, Garak, it’s time to face it, now.”

Back in the prefect’s office, Tain wasted no time in getting to the point. “It seems that a shuttle just left for Bajor.”

“A common enough occurrence on a busy station,” Dukat replied

“And does every shuttle get a warship escort, like this one did?”

Dukat leaned back in his chair. “I won’t insult your intelligence with pretense. Of course my father was on that shuttle. You won’t get your hands on him ever, now. Bajor’s a big planet, and the Order isn’t very popular there. You’ll get no help from any Cardassians stationed the planet.”

Tain put his beefy hands down on the desk and thrust his face close to Dukat’s. “Hah! Why would loyal Cardassians hide that traitor? We know the truth – you’ve sent him to your friends in the Bajoran resistance, haven’t you?”

Dukat was momentarily speechless. Then he sneered. “Tain, I think you’re overdue for a vacation – or retirement! This obsession to find me guilty of something seems to have affected your mind."

“And this station, filled with Bajoran filth,” Tain gestured towards Kira, “has affected your mind. Oh, I don’t care about your father – a poor, deluded old fool who no one listens to. But you, Dukat! You’re a different story, now aren’t you? If the prefect of Terok Nor calls for less harsh treatment towards Bajorans – people may listen to your dangerous ideas!”

“And what’s so dangerous about my ideas?” Dukat ton was menacing, quavering. “Starving the workers just leads to lower production….”

“Do you expect me to believe you simply want to raise production levels? You have been corrupted by these scum. No loyal Cardassian could ever advocate compassion towards Bajorans – they are inferior! It’s obvious that you are not competent to run as important an installation as Terok Nor. I’ve taken it upon myself to either bring you back into the fold, or see to it that you are removed from your post.”

Dukat stared at Tain icily. “You don’t have the power to do that.”

“I do now, thanks to my able assistant, here! Garak uncovered evidence that your Bajoran woman, here, is working in the resistance! And how could she have done that, right under your nose – unless you were a sympathizer?”

This news was jolted Kira, and her thoughts raced. Meru was in the resistance? I was wrong about her all along – she stayed with Dukat because it was the best place for a Bajoran spy!

“That’s ridiculous,” Dukat said. “I know Meru better than anyone, and she would never betray me like that.”

“I have evidence that Meru used her privileged position to work for the resistance. Several days ago, she contacted the Kathorn resistance cell on Bajor and gave them sensitive information that only the prefect of Terok Nor would know. My ship was orbiting one of Bajor’s moons and Garak intercepted the transmission. I have it right here!” Tain tossed an isolinear data rod onto the desk. “You can play it back, if you like….”

“There’s no need. I know the evidence will sound plausible. The Order’s evidence always is...plausible.”

“So, you admit your guilt.”

Dukat turned his chair and looked out the window at a field of stars, and then turned back to Tain. “I admit that you have a slight advantage over me. Now, what do you want?”

Tain waved his hand, indicating that he was feeling magnanimous. “Nothing, really. A trifle. Just some small proof of your loyalty. Kill the Bajoran woman.” Tain waved his hand at Kira, not even looking at her.

“I’ll do no such thing.”

“Then prove your loyalty by telling me where your father is hiding!”

 “What if I refuse to do either?” Dukat’s voice was low, but with a dangerous edge.

“Then, you will be convicted of treason. And you know the penalty! You will be executed, along with all relatives on Cardassia. I believe you have a mother and a wife living there? Oh, and a young son, as well.”

Dukat looked away. “Empal. He’s four years old, now.”

“Oh, and you haven’t seen him since his birth, have you? Because your duty is here, and that must always come first. And I think you know what your duty is now. You’ve always served the state well. Don’t throw it all away now. For a Bajoran!”

Dukat’s self-confident façade fell away, as he fully realized that he was caught in a terrible bind. Slowly, he picked up a disrupter and leveled it at Kira.

Kira glanced at Garak, who refused to meet her eyes. This is how my mother died! Executed as a resistance fighter – because of Garak! No wonder he didn’t want me to see this.

“Meru,” Dukat said sadly, “I’m sorry, really. But I have no other choice.”

The last thing Kira remembered was the sound of the disrupter being fired.

The next moment, she was back in the runabout. The purpose of the vision had been fulfilled, and the Prophets had released her. At her feet was the Orb, still open, but no longer aglow. And on the other side of the runabout’s small cockpit was Garak.

The soft beeps and chirps of the control panel were the only sound in the runabout for a full minute. Then Garak started to speak, but Kira interrupted him.

“Save it,” she said, and wrapped a bandage crudely around her still-injured arm. Then she sat down at the runabout controls. “Let’s go home.”

The truce only lasted a few minutes after the Rio Grande had left the Nerva system. Kira reached her boiling point.

“I don’t know why I’m so surprised!” she said. “I should have known. How many Bajorans did you kill, anyway, Garak?”

“You may not believe this, but – none!”

“Oh, right. You and Tain arranged it so others would have to do your dirty work.”

“I’m telling the truth, Major. This – unfortunate incident – was out of the ordinary. Bajorans weren’t Tain’s main interest.”

“That’s right. Twisting the knife in Dukat was obviously the point of that little drama.”

“I really don’t understand your attitude, Major. Why are you so upset about this incident? The only people who were harmed were Dukat – who you don’t like any better than I do – and a traitorous Bajoran woman! I would think you’d be happy to see a collaborator like Meru get what she deserves!”

This stopped Kira cold. “I thought so, once. But…Meru was my mother! And I did want her dead, but….”

“Your mother? I…I’m really sorry. I don’t know what to say….”

“Don’t worry, Garak. I’m being ridiculous. This all happened twenty years ago! How could you have known?”

The runabout was silent for a few moments more.

“How could I be so blind!” Kira exclaimed. “The Prophets wanted me to see this. It was no accident. I had thought my mother was a traitor. But she died working for the resistance – as a hero, not a traitor. Thank the Prophets, they have shown me the truth.”

“So – you’re not going to have me arrested as a war criminal when we get back to DS9?”

Kira sighed. “No, Garak. You just uncovered the evidence that she was working for the resistance. If you hadn’t done it, someone else probably would have. Dukat was the one who actually killed her! Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me. Just one more crime to add to the list. I’ll tell you, Garak, one day… I’ll make him pay for everything he’s done.”

“Well, when that day comes, you can count on me for any help you need.”

The two of them fell silent again. They both had a lot to think about.

After returning to DS9, Kira immediately went to Bajor for the ceremony welcoming the Orb of Truth back to its home. The mood among the vedeks was buoyant. This Orb was the fourth to be retrieved from Cardassia. Five of the eight Orbs now resided in the holy grotto, which seemed to the Bajorans to be a sign that the other three would soon return.

Kira’s mood was buoyant as well. While she had been away, the investigation into Kai Winn’s heresy had progressed. It seemed more and more certain that she would be deposed for opposing the will of the Prophets, in their battle with the paghwraith.

After two days on Bajor, Kira was happy to return to DS9, and join Odo back in their quarters. But that evening, Kira sensed something was wrong.

“Odo, you’ve been walking on eggshells all evening. Are you worried about something?”

“Well, uh…Dr. Bashir told me you might want to…talk about what happened. In the Orb vision, I mean. I told him I’m not very good at this kind of thing!”

“Talk about it? Why would I want to talk about it? I’d rather just forget it!

“Forget that your mother was murdered?”

Kira smiled. “I’ve known that for a long time, Odo. Listen, my mother left us when I was too small to remember. I was always told she was in the resistance, so all my life, I’ve seen Meru as a heroic fighter, who eventually was killed by some Cardassian or other. And then, for a time, I thought that was all a lie! Now the Prophets have set things right. You don’t know how relieved I am to know the truth!”

“I wondered why you’ve been in such a good mood!”

“I’m in a great mood. Come on, bet I can beat you at a game of springball!” Kira jumped up. “I reserved the holosuite.”

“Oh, no! You know you’re much better than I.”

“Come on, Odo. I’ll let you use your shapeshifting abilities this time.”

“Hmm. That should improve my reach a bit.”

Later, after an exhausting game, Kira and Odo were asleep in their quarters. Since Odo didn’t sleep, he simply put himself into a meditative state – one of the many concessions he had made to the customs of the “solids” over the years.

But Kira wasn’t sleeping much more soundly than Odo. She was disturbed by strange dreams. In her dream, she was once again sitting at the controls of the Rio Grande. But instead of Garak, the co-pilot’s position was occupied by Ziyal.

“Why are you here?” Kira said. “The Orb vision has served its purpose.”

Ziyal said nothing. She simply pointed behind her, where the Orb sat on the floor, again open and glowing.

Confused, Kira looked back at Ziyal. But she was gone, replaced by Garak. He leaned close to Kira and spoke. “I would think you’d be happy to see a collaborator like Meru get what she deserves!”

Kira woke up with a jolt. “Odo, Odo. Are you awake?”

“Mmmm. What? Yes, I am. What’s wrong?”

“I’ve experienced an Orb shadow….”

“You were asleep. Are you sure it wasn’t simply a dream?”

“I know the difference between a dream and an Orb shadow! This means I’ve ignored the true message of the vision.” Kira’s voice was angry. “But I think I know now what the Prophets were trying to tell me. And if I’m right….”

Despite having been back on DS9 for several days, Garak was still swamped with a backlog of orders for dresses and suits. Worse still, a shipload of Kelvans had recently docked, and several of them had come into his shop that morning to order clothes. They paid well, but the fact that each of them had a hundred tentacles of various shapes and sizes made the fittings a challenge. So Garak wasn’t in the best of moods when Kira came storming into his shop.

“Why, Major! What a pleasant surprise,” Garak said, hiding his annoyance well.

Kira got right to the point. “You called my mother a ‘collaborator.’ Why? You knew she wasn’t. You were the one who got the evidence she was working for the resistance!”

“Really, Major. Clearly, I meant you thought of her as a traitor. My whole point was that you should be happy now that you've learned the truth. And I really have to get back to my tailoring. I’ve been gone from my shop for a week, and you know how the work piles up….”

Exasperated, Kira left the shop. She was sure Garak was lying – but how could she prove it? She paced around the promenade for almost an hour before the answer came to her.

She walked quickly to the Security Office. Odo was out, but Kira knew the access codes. It took her another hour to locate the person she needed to reach on Bajor – a resistance colleague named Anchus. When his face appeared on the viewscreen, Kira noted that he had put on a lot of weight since she had seen him last, years ago.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Anchus, but I need your help,” Kira said.

“It isn’t a bother, believe me. I still owe you from the old days. Remember when we booby-trapped that shipment of fish-juice, going to the spoonheads? And it exploded too soon! Good thing you pushed me down before the shrapnel got me – although the fish juice got us, good. Hah, remember how we stunk for days?”

“We were lucky we just ended up smelly, and not dead! I don’t have time now to reminisce. I need some information. Your uncle fought in the Kathorn resistance cell 20 years ago, right?”

“Yes, that’s right…

“And that resistance cell was based in Losos province, correct?”


“That’s all I wanted to know!”

Kira ended the transmission and headed back to Garak’s shop. The tailor was hemming a multi-armed garment with a hand-held device, which used sonic energy to neatly meld the garment’s fibers together at the seams.

“Well, Major. Visiting my humble shop twice in the same day. This has to be some kind of record.”

“You’re lying, Garak!”

“No, I’m certain – you’ve never visited my shop twice in one day before, so this is a record.”

“Stop making jokes! You said you knew Meru was in the resistance because she contacted the Kathorn resistance cell from Terok Nor, right?”

Garak was momentarily confused. “Yes. What is this…?”

“She couldn’t have done that! Communication between Terok Nor and Losos province was down that week. I met two Bajorans fixing the com station, who told me so. And the Kathorn cell was based in Losos province. But there was no reason you would have know that…it was a small enough detail that even an Obsidian Order agent might have overlooked it.”

Garak put down the garment and hemming device. He seemed to be deep in thought.

“Well?” Kira said, impatiently.

“You seem determined to dredge up painful memories – memories, I should add, far more painful for you than for me. But since you insist, far be it from me to keep you in the dark any longer! You’re right. I didn’t intercept a transmission from Meru to the Kathorn resistance cell. In fact, despite all of my hard work, I never found any evidence that Meru was other than she seemed – the faithful and docile mistress of the prefect of Terok Nor. Now, Major. Does knowing the truth make you happy?”

“I know what would make me happy! To see you get what you deserve, you murderer!”

Kira felt for her sidearm, and realized she didn’t have it. Then she lunged and the table, and grabbed the hemming device. Although she couldn’t have known it, the hemmer wasn’t powerful enough to be lethal, but Garak wasn’t in the mood to receive a nasty burn. He kept at arm’s length from Kira.

“You call these Prophets gods, but they seem more like devils!” Garak said, dodging the hemmer. “You were happy thinking that your mother died heroically for Bajor. But the Prophets can’t have that…oh no, they’d rather torment you…and incidentally, me as well…by revealing the truth! What is the point of that?”

“Because it is the truth!”

Odo and two Bajoran deputies rushed into the shop. Odo said, “We heard there was a disturbance,” and stopped short at the sight of Kira seemingly intent on maiming Garak with a sonic hemmer.

 “You’re just in time, Constable,” Garak said. “I believe the Major is upset at me for some reason. Perhaps you could reason with her?”

Kira turned to Odo. “You don’t understand! He killed, he killed my mother!”

Odo looked grave. “Kira,” he said softly, “You said you weren’t…I mean…I think you should see Dr. Bashir. This obviously has upset you more than you realized.”

“I don’t need a doctor! I need to see Captain Sisko. In the meantime, make sure that that Cardassian does not leave the station.”

Kira could not believe it. No matter what she said, she couldn’t convince Sisko to have Garak placed under arrest.

“I read your report, Major. And frankly, the Bajoran government has known about Garak’s past – and the probability that he committed many crimes – for years. I’m sorry that this has become personal.”

“But it’s not personal! I was perfectly willing to accept things, as long as I thought my mother had been in the resistance. It was wartime. A lot of people died. On both sides.”

“So, how is this different?”

“Meru wasn’t in the fight! Garak framed her. That’s what he did! When he couldn’t find the evidence, he manufactured it. And an innocent person died, so that his little plot could succeed. It just infuriates me!”

As Kira vented, she noticed a troubled expression steal over Sisko’s face. She recalled their meeting, less than a week ago, and had the same disturbing thoughts. What is going on with him? He looks like he’s going to be sick. “Garak has proven his loyalty”…what does that mean? Has that Cardassian gotten his hooks into Sisko somehow?

Finally, Kira gave up trying to make Sisko see things her way. But inwardly she swore that one way or the other, Garak would pay for what he did.

Later that evening, after the night shift had taken over in Ops, Sisko visited Garak’s shop. The Cardassian was just closing up.

“Kira came to see me,” Sisko said.

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry to cause such trouble.”

Sisko sighed. “Play innocent if you like, Garak. I had a hard time convincing Kira to lay off you. I had a hard time convincing myself, in fact.”

“Oh dear. Starfleet ethics again. If your conscience is troubling you so much, why don’t you just throw me to the Bajoran hounds and have done with it?”

For a moment, it looked like Sisko’s famous temper would flare up. But he simply said, “You know very well I can’t do that.”

“Because I’m too useful to you, and to Starfleet! And there’s no place else for me to go. You can’t get much more loyal than that, can you?”

“No, you can’t. And be careful that you stay loyal. I’ll protect you from Kira’s wrath – because we both know she won’t give up – just as long as you stay useful.” Sisko walked out of the shop without another word.

Garak watched him leave. The lights started to dim. It didn't surprise him. The lights were on an automatic timer, and they went out every evening at 23:00 hours.

The lights went out entirely, but still Garak did not move. It didn’t bother him. Cardassians see well in the dark.