The stench was still there, but it had long since ceased to bother Garak.
In the weeks following the destruction of Cardassia by the Dominion, Garak had wandered in a daze amid the rubble of the former capitol. It took him a few days to identify the remains of the house where he had grown up. It took another week for him to dig through the fallen beams and brick.
He had only his bare hands at first. Then he thought to use a small beam as a lever, and the work went faster. A massive slab of jevonite – formerly, part of the dining room – blocked his way. Slowly but with determination, he inched it aside, to reveal his goal: the steps leading down to the basement
Mila was still there, at the bottom of the stairs, where they had left her. There had been no time during those last, frantic days to give her corpse a proper burial.
Seeing the shape the corpse was in, Garak knew that it should have smelled horrible in the basement. But for countless kilometers all along the street, and all along all the other streets of the city, there was nothing but rubble. People had taken refuge in their own basements during the destruction, and very few had survived. Garak’s nose had simply become accustomed to the smell.
Garak wrapped Mila carefully in a green blanket and carried her up the stairs. After many days with no food and little sleep, he was so exhausted that he could hardly carry his burden. On the street, two passing Cardassians offered to help. They mumbled something about not being able to find their own homes or families. They led Garak to the pit.
A major building had collapsed into itself, leaving a vast gash in the ground. The gash was now being filled, little by little, by bodies. Mila was just one of the multitude as she tumbled into the pit. The green shroud was visible for a few minutes. Then a tired man arrived with a makeshift cart piled high with corpses. They went into the pit, and Mila was gone.
Garak turned around. The view was the same, regardless of which direction you looked. Cardassian architecture had once been the envy of the quadrant. Even those who hated Cardassians agreed that the graceful, organic forms of their buildings held a unique combination of beauty and power. Now it was nothing but charred rubble.
“It used to be so lovely,” Garak’s companion said. “By the way, my name is Avo Jokan. What’s yours?”
“I killed the Vorta who did this,” Garak said, as though he hadn’t heard the man.
“What?” Jokan said. “How could one Vorta do all this?”
“He gave the order. And do you want to know why he did that?”
“Because of the rebellion, wasn’t it?”
Garak turned and looked at Jokan. “No. It’s because Vortas have no concept of beauty. I think it’s about time they learned, don’t you?”
Jokan shifted his eyes nervously. This person seemed a little unbalanced. It was understandable, but it could be dangerous. He signaled to his friend, and they turned to go.
“My name is Garak! Elim Garak.”
Jokan and his friend stopped. “I’ve heard of you,” Jokan said.
“I was with Damar and his resistance cell,” Garak said.
“Damar,” the other Cardassian said. “He was a great man. We should do something to honor his memory.”
“I agree,” Garak said. After the shock of the last several days, he had not been able to think clearly, or focus on anything but digging Mila out of the basement. But now his mind was regaining focus. A terrible, clear focus.
Jake Sisko plopped down on the sofa and stretched his long legs over the coffee table. He immediately felt a twinge of sadness as he realized two things: that his father would have never allowed him to put his feet on the coffee table; and that it didn’t matter anymore.***
Benjamin Sisko, the former commander of Deep Space Nine, was now “one with the Prophets.” Not dead, exactly.
But you can’t just get on the comlink and talk with a Prophet, Jake thought morosely. In some ways, he might as well be dead.
At the tender age of 21, Jake was effectively an orphan. He had an extended
family of sorts on DS9, and his natural optimism and good humor saved him
from descending into depression. He also had a burgeoning career that he
loved, as a reporter for the Federation News Service. He took every assignment
he could get, partly to keep busy and partly because he was ambitious and
wanted to test the limits of what he could do with his life.
Jake had moved into his father’s former quarters, liking the familiarity of his childhood home. Like he did on many evenings, he listened to his father’s personal logs. Starfleet had removed a few of them, the ones that contained classified information. But hundreds of logs were left, in which his father discussed mundane things that meant nothing to anyone besides Jake.
That evening he was replaying a favorite log: A rambling comparison of Ben Sisko’s two favorite baseball players, Willie Mays and Buck Bokai. For the hundredth time, Jake wished that any of his friends on DS9 – Nog, Dr. Julian Bashir, or Ezri Dax – were the least bit interested in baseball. Even people from Earth barely knew anything about the antiquated game nowadays.
Jake had been surprised when Kira Nerys, the station’s new Bajoran commander, had asked him some questions about baseball. Jake suspected that she was concerned about him, and was trying to fill the role of a surrogate parent. She certainly hadn’t seemed to like baseball much, that one time his father had gotten everyone to play a holosuite game.
Maybe I should challenge Kira to springball, Jake thought. That’s more her game.
The com-system beeped, and Jake answered. It was his editor at the FNS.
“Hey, Laris!” Jake said. “I know, I know. I should have finished that piece on the election of the new Kai on Bajor. I’ll file it tomorrow.”
“That’s not what I called about, Jake,” Laris said. Jake saw that her antennae were twitching – a sure sign that she was onto another hot story. Jake was always amused as how easy it was to read Andorians’ emotions. Just like a cat’s tail.
“I want you to go to Cardassia Prime, and check out a lead,” Laris said. “Some kind of ‘self-help’ organization, called the ‘New Order,’ has sprung up there. I’ve heard some interesting rumors about it.”
“For one, it’s not a charitable organization, and it’s been gaining recruits at an incredible rate. The rumor is, it’s dedicated to seeking revenge against anyone who had anything to do with the Dominion.”
Jake whistled. “That could undermine the treaty the Federation signed
at the end of the war.”
“Exactly! This could be a great story, Jake. You’ve been doing a good job, and I think you’re ready for something like this. It will take serious detective work, and I don’t have to tell you that nosing around a bunch of angry Cardassians is not the safest assignment in the quadrant. But you have an advantage no other reporter has. The New Order is apparently being run by someone you know – a Cardassian named Elim Garak.”
Jake talked his way onto the next transport leaving for Cardassia. As luck would have it, it was the Defiant, which had been making regular runs to Cardassia, mainly carrying sorely needed medical supplies.***
Kira was in command of the Defiant, and as always, Dr. Bashir oversaw the transport of the supplies. In return for passage, Jake was dragooned into helping the doctor in sickbay. The Federation was short on the type of dermal regeneration plasma that was compatible with Cardassian physiology.
During the trip, Bashir used the sickbay replicators on a continuous basis to create more of the plasma, and Jake stacked the plasma packets into containers. Every inch of the vessel was taken up by supplies, with just enough room for people to squeeze past the stacks.
“How bad are things on Cardassia?” Jake asked.
“I can’t really describe it, Jake,” Bashir said, as he kept replicating the plasma. “All the major cities were destroyed by the Dominion, some of them totally. Millions were killed, and thousands more are dying every day from hunger and disease. Operations like this one are just a drop in the bucket, I’m afraid.”
Jake nodded. Usually, the doctor was indefatigably happy. Running these missions had left him pretty grim.
“Have you been in touch with Garak at all?” Jake asked.
“Communication on Cardassia is difficult now. But I did get a message from Garak a week ago.”
“Really? What did he say? Did he say what he’s doing, or where he is?”
“I…really, Jake, I’m not sure what Garak’s message meant. It was very odd. To tell you the truth, I’m a little worried about him. His sanity, I mean.”
“Oh. But did he say where he’s living now?”
Bashir stopped replicating plasma and looked straight at Jake. “Why do you want to know where Garak is? You’re not going to Cardassia to interview him, are you?”
Jake fidgeted. “Well, yeah, I am. My editor wants me to do a story on that new organization Garak is running.”
“The New Order. He mentioned it in his message. Jake, I don’t really know what Garak’s up to, but I think you should stay away from him.”
Jake grinned. “Come on, Doc. You don’t think Garak is dangerous, do you?”
Bashir nodded. “Yes. I do. You never knew him as well as I did. He’s always been an enigma. When he was on DS9, he just seemed…like one of us. But he’s a chameleon. He blends in, wherever he is. And he’s not on DS9 anymore. He’s among Cardassians now, and after what’s happened, the Cardassians are more dangerous than they’ve ever been. Stay away from him, Jake.”
“Doc, listen. I know everyone on DS9 thinks of me as a little kid. But look at me! I’m a grown man now, aren’t I? I’m not dumb enough to think that this assignment is going to be a trip to the holosuite. Being a reporter can be a dangerous job, but it goes with the territory. After all, when Dad was my age, he was an ensign in Starfleet, and facing all kinds of danger.”
Bashir smiled. “You’re right, Jake. I should stop trying to mother-hen you. But just be careful on Cardassia, all right?”
If it had been anyone but Jake who asked, Kira probably wouldn’t have done it. It took too much time, and Bashir needed help unloading supplies. But it was important to Jake, so Kira left the unloading operation, and led Jake through the streets of Cardassia’s capitol.***
Without the global location device that Kira held, finding Mila’s house would have been impossible. Even with it, the task took two hours. Kira kept the device in one hand, and her other hand on the phaser at her belt. Offworlders were not especially welcome on Cardassia anymore.
“Here it is,” Kira said. “Just like I said. Nothing left of it.”
“Someone’s been digging here!” Jake ran through the rubble to the dark hole in the ground.
Kira caught up with him. “Don’t move so fast, Jake. The ground isn’t stable – and it’s a long ways down to the basement.”
“Is that it?” Jake said, pointing. “Is that the basement where you, Damar and Garak plotted the rebellion against the Dominion?”
Kira nodded. “Not very ‘historic’ looking, is it?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Jake said, taking his holovid recorder from its pouch. He took a few shots and descended into the darkness.
“Be careful,” Kira called after him.
“Don’t worry!” he yelled back. “Pee-yew. It stinks down here.”
“Everything stinks,” Kira muttered. Then she remembered, and scrambled down the stairs.
“Mila,” Kira said. “Look for Mila.”
“Who?” Jake said, still taking holovids in the gloom.
“The woman who owned this house. She helped us, and was killed. Her body must still be here.”
They searched the basement but found nothing. “Well, it’s obvious,” Kira said. “Whoever dug down here removed the body.”
“Most likely. Let’s get back to the Defiant. They’ll be wanting to leave soon, and there’s nothing here left to see.”
Kira had put up the fight of her life, but she lost. And she wasn’t used to losing. But she couldn’t force Jake to return to DS9 with the Defiant. If he wanted to stay on this Prophet-forsaken planet and search for Garak, it was his choice, and his neck to risk.***
Jake decided that the direct approach would be the best. He simply started asking people in the streets where he could find Elim Garak and the New Order. Fortunately, Jake’s size dissuaded any would-be muggers – he was large for a human, bigger than most Cardassians, even. But he got no cooperation, only several startled looks and the occasional admonition to mind his own business.
“This is my business!” Jake said, in frustration. He sat down on the remains of someone's doorstep. The light was fading fast, and he had nowhere to stay.
He heard the click before he felt the pressure on the back of his head. He didn’t recognize the sound, but knew it was nothing good.
“Get up,” said the owner of the disruptor aimed at Jake’s head.
Jake tried to comply, but it wasn’t necessary. Another Cardassian yanked him to his feet. Before he knew what was happening, he was being halfway-thrown down a dark stairway. Then he was dragged down a long corridor. Jake marveled that the Cardassians could see where they were going in the darkness. The brief and exciting trip ended with him being shoved in a small, unfurnished room. He didn’t need to try the door to know it was locked.
An hour passed. Then Jake heard muffled voices outside the door. “Sisko,” “Jokan, I’m sure…,” and “He’s harmless – but your vigilance is admirable.”
The door opened. Jake was relieved to see Garak walk in.
“Am I glad to see you! How have you been?”
Garak smiled. “Never better. I hear you’ve been asking about me.”
“Yeah, well…” Jake began. “You look different. What is it?” Then Jake noticed that Garak didn’t seem to be wearing his usual sort of clothes. It was difficult to tell in the gloom, but he seemed to be wearing something dark gray or black.
“Is that a new suit?” Jake asked. “Keeping up with the tailoring?”
Garak looked at his clothes, apparently puzzled, and laughed slightly. “No, I’m afraid my current activities leave little time for tailoring.”
“Yeah, I was meaning to ask about that. What have you been up to, lately? Who were those guys who brought me here?”
“Just some of my colleagues. Cardassians have a heightened regard for security these days.”
“I’ll say. For a ‘self-help organization,’ this all seems pretty secretive.”
“We Cardassians like to do things in our own way. Why exactly are you here?”
“Well, Mr. Garak…”
“Just Garak. Plain, simple…”
“Okay, Garak. It’s just kind of strange to be so familiar with, you know, my dad’s friends.”
“Ah yes, but you’re hardly a child any more. No need to be so formal. I heard about the strange events surrounding your father. I’m not sure if condolences are in order, but he was a great man. The Federation could use more people like him.”
“In what way?”
“He was practical. I doubt he would have agreed with the Federation’s overly-charitable policy towards the Dominion.”
“Well, he did agree with it – if you mean the treaty that ended the war. But I take it that you object to it? Is that what the ‘New Order’ is all about?”
“Oh dear. This is an interview for the Federation News Service, isn’t it? I should have guessed it wasn’t a social call.”
“No doubt you’ve heard that the New Order is going to mount and attack on the Founders’ homeworld and kill all the shapeshifters once and for all. And you’d like me to confirm these suspicions, correct?”
“Come on, Garak. I know you probably don’t want anything getting into the press. But think of it this way. This is your chance to tell your side of the story. You know, you’re not the only person in the quadrant who didn’t like the treaty. Advocate T’Poan of Vulcan called the treaty ‘illogical.’ The Romulans were mad as hornets about it.”
“Ah, Romulans. I’ve always admired them. Such intelligent people.”
“So does that mean you do oppose the treaty?”
“And why shouldn’t I? To my knowledge, only the female changeling has been punished for war crimes. Starfleet allowed the Dominion to take all their personnel, weapons, and vessels, and return to their quadrant. Are those the actions of the victorious side in a war? Sounds to me more like the policies of the defeated.”
“Well, the Federation wants to ensure that nothing happens that might start another war.”
“Such as an attack on the Founders’ world, I suppose.”
“And why do you suppose the Federation insists on protecting the Vorta and Jem’Hadar as well?
“The Federation isn’t ‘protecting’ them, Garak. Those Gamma Quadrant worlds are under strict quarantine. Starfleet has patrols in the area to ensure that no outside contact is possible.”
“And why did the Federation feel a need to resettle them at all?”
“Garak, the war was over. Part of the peace treaty stipulated that the Founders could have no further contact with the Vorta or Jem’Hadar.”
“A very wise precaution, of course.”
“So what would you have done with the Vorta and Jem’Hadar, rather than resettle them on quarantined worlds?”
“I don’t think you want to hear the answer to that question.”
“Oh, come on, Garak. I can understand why you’re bitter about the Dominion. But still, you can’t take it out on the Vorta and Jem’Hadar. They were only….”
“Following orders? Strange, I know little of Earth history, but there is something about that phrase that rings a bell. Perhaps you could enlighten me?”
“I’m supposed to be the one asking questions! So are you going to take me up on my offer or not? If you have a point of view, why not let everyone know it? The FNS is fair and impartial, and it’s a better way to affect the political situation than….”
“Than what?” Garak said, sharply.
“Than whatever it is you’re planning. Garak, it’s impossible anyway. No one can get past the quarantine.”
“On the contrary, my young friend. It’s already been ‘gotten past.’ The Dominion still has friends in this quadrant, you know.”
“Who? You don’t mean the Breen?”
“No, no. ‘Friends’ who stand to gain if the quadrant operated under Dominion rule, rather than the rather more restrictive laws of the Federation.”
“Restrictive? I don’t see what you….”
“It’s been nice chatting with you, Jake. I wish you the best in your career. But it’s really time for you to go, now.”
Just as quickly as he had been brought to see Garak, Jake was now out on the street.
“Great,” Jake said. “Leris is gonna kill me.”
Leris didn’t kill Jake. When he got back to DS9, he contacted her and reported the only bit of information he had gleaned from his interview with Garak. The New Order suspected that the quarantine had been broken by mysterious Dominion allies from the Alpha Quadrant, who chafed at the “restrictive” rule of the Federation.***
Leris’ antennae waved slowly back and forth as she pondered this news.
“Who would find the Federation oppressive?” Jake said.
“The Syndicate!” Leris said, suddenly. “Jake, the Dominion had made extensive contacts in the Orion Syndicate before the war ended. And wouldn’t the Syndicate just love it if they no longer had to worry about Starfleet patrols boarding their vessels in Federation space?”
Jake saw what she meant. The Syndicate was left to its own devices in its own space. But the massive Federation represented a tempting source of profit, and Starfleet’s presence made things difficult for Syndicate and its illegal activities.
“The Syndicate supports the Dominion because they have a common interest – they both want the Federation out of the way,” Jake said.
“Do you have any contacts in the Syndicate?” Leris said.
Jake’s eyes got big. “The Syndicate? No, of course not!”
“Maybe you do. There are a lot of Ferengis in the Syndicate, and you have a Ferengi friend, don’t you? Start there and tell me what you find.”
“One warp core breech and one Slug-o cola with Regulan gin,” Quark said as he set the drinks on the table with a loud clatter.***
“Thanks, Uncle!” Nog said cheerfully. “Put it on my account.”
“I still can’t believe you kids are old enough to drink in here now,” Quark groused as he wandered off.
“He’s just annoyed because I always order Slug-o cola, instead of that stuff from Earth,” Nog said.
“Why should that annoy him?” Jake said, as he waved away the smoke billowing out of his drink. “Isn’t Slug-o a Ferengi brand?”
“Yeah, but he hates Slug-o cola,” Nog said. “It reminds him of something…embarrassing.”
“So, what’s new in Starfleet?” Jake asked.
Nog sighed. “I wish the Chief hadn’t gone back to Earth. The new Chief of Operations is a Vulcan, and she’s a nightmare!”
“Yeah, Vulcans can be tough to work for,” Jake said.
“And what’s going on with you?” Nog said. “I heard that you’re doing a story on Garak and his Cardassian ‘New Order.’”
“I talked with him. But I didn’t learn much.”
“If I know Garak, it will be just like the Obsidian Order. I think you should avoid him. He’s dangerous.”
“Yeah, I know. Everyone keeps telling me that.”
“Don’t you believe me? Jake, he tried to kill me once!”
“You mean, on Empok Nor? Oh, come on, Nog. He was under the influence of a drug.”
“It wasn’t just the drug! I could see it in his eyes. He’s always had that in him, you know. He scares me out of my lobes, and if you had any sense, he’d scare you, too.”
“I can take care of myself,” Jake said, and leaned closer. “What I wanted to ask you about is – do you have any contacts in the Orion Syndicate?”
“What?” Nog said, offended. “What makes you think I’d know anything about them?”
“Because you’re a Ferengi.”
“And that automatically makes me a lawbreaker, is that it? Jake, I would have thought by now….”
“Don’t fly off the handle, Nog. Everyone knows that now that your dad is Grand Nagus, well…some Ferengis are leaving for ‘other opportunities.’”
“You’re right. His reforms aren’t very popular. And the Syndicate is the ‘last outpost of pure capitalism’ in the quadrant. At least, that’s what Uncle Quark says.”
Jake’s eyes lit up. “So you do know people in the Syndicate.”
“I shouldn’t tell you this, but…yes. My dad’s cousin, Gaila. He’s pretty high up in the organization, now. He hates my dad and uncle, but for some reason, he’s always liked me. I’ll arrange for you to meet him.”
Jake immediately knew one thing about “Cousin Gaila.” He was immensely rich. He had to be, to own his own moon.***
And from the gantlet of security systems he had to pass through, Jake deduced another piece of information. Gaila liked to be left alone. Voiceprints, retinal scans, DNA analyses – by the time Jake got to Gaila’s ornate, solid-latinum front door, he’d had his identity confirmed in every conceivable way.
Jake waited patiently for the door to open. With a pneumatic whoosh, the door disappeared, and Jake was confronted with the ugliest thing he’d ever seen wearing a bikini.
“Hello miss…umm,” Jake said, cautiously. He warily regarded the muscular, furry torso and the fanged face of the female Nausicaan who met him at the door. She was as tall as Jake, and three times as massive.
The Nausicaan grunted. Her kind were not known for their sparkling conversation. She gestured for him to step through the door. As he did so, another female Nausicaan, even beefier, followed behind.
Jake gawked at the loot of several star systems that glutted Gaila’s mansion. But there was no time for the guided tour. The Nausicaans left him at an interior door, which opened onto Gaila’s private sanctum.
Gaila himself trotted out to meet Jake. He was middling-sized for a Ferengi, which meant that his head roughly reached mid-chest on Jake. He was attired in a golden robe, and on his feet were anti-grav slippers that allowed him to glide around without touching the floor. Jake could only imagine what they cost.
Gaila waved the Nausicaans away. As they left, Gaila sighed. “Aren’t they gorgeous?”
Jake looked at Gaila and realized he wasn’t kidding. “I guess. Those two make Klingon women look like dabo girls.”
Gaila huffed. “Well, I can’t expect you to appreciate the finer points of lady Nausicaans. After all, with your tiny lobes, I doubt oo-mox would work on a human at all. I’ve always felt sorry for your poor, stunted species.”
Jake smiled. “Mr. Gaila, can we start the interview now?”
“Did you bring the latinum?”
Jake reached into his shoulder pack and set the strips of latinum, one by one, on Gaila’s desk. The FNS frowned on “latinum journalism” – buying interviews – but in this case, Jake suspected that the story would be worth it. Leris had grudgingly approved the rather large amount of latinum that Gaila had insisted on.
Gaila counted the strips, and satisfied, sat down. “So, kid, what did you want to know?”
Jake set his palm recorder on the desk and turned it on. Gaila scowled at it, but didn’t object to its presence.
Leaning on Gaila’s desk, Jake asked his one and only question. “What’s the connection between Elim Garak, the Syndicate and the exiled Vortas?”
Gaila leaned back. “Whoo, kid, your lobes are bigger than they look. All I know is this: about a year, maybe a year and a half ago, the Syndicate got its hands on a lot of biomimetic gel. You know how much that stuff is worth, right? Well, Garak was the person who arranged the deal. And he cut a very fair deal, a very good price indeed.”
“Why was he so generous?”
Gaila shrugged. “He wanted to establish ‘good relations’ with the Syndicate. In case he ever wanted to do business with us again.”
“And what do the exile Vortas have to do with this?”
“You probably know the Syndicate has continued its dealings with the exiles, right?”
“I’ve heard rumors. Stolen Klingon cloaks that let Syndicate vessels get around the quarantine. That sort of thing.”
“That’s no big secret. But the link is this. That Garak fellow wants to help the Vorta re-establish the Dominion.”
Jake’s jaw dropped. “What? You’ve got to be kidding! Garak wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
“I’m the one telling this story, aren’t I? Garak kept a small supply of the biomimetic gel himself. He and some scientists on Cardassia have come up with an…interesting use for it.”
“A virus, some sort of disease, right? I think you’ve got this all wrong, Gaila. Garak must be cooking up a virus, to wipe out the Founders, or the Vorta, or the Jem’Hadar, or all of them. He’s after revenge. The last thing he wants is for the Dominion to be revived.”
“Listen, kid! I’m telling you what I know! Garak gave us the formula for using the gel to create a gelatinous fluid that looks and acts just like those Founders in their Great Link. You mix the gel with a little deoxyribose solution, and a lot of water, and you can make a whole ocean of the stuff.”
“That’s interesting. But what good is it?”
Despite the fact that they were alone in the room, Gaila started to whisper. “The Syndicate has been talking with some Vorta, and we’ve come up with a plan. We’ll run the quarantine and get a few of the Vorta – the ones in charge – to the Founder homeworld. We can’t get down to the planet. Starfleet patrols would spot us immediately. So we’ll beam the adapted gel down in small quantities, and beam back up an equal quantity of the Link. By the time the Starfleet catches on to what we’re doing, we’ll have rescued enough of the Founders to re-establish the Dominion. We might even be able to steal the whole Link right out from under Starfleet’s nose! I’d love to see the look on their faces when they realize they’re guarding an ocean made up of a little biomimetic gel and a whole lot of water.”
“Wow,” Jake said. “That’s a pretty ambitious plan. But why are you telling me all this? If I expose this plan, the Federation will be able to stop it.”
Gaila’s eyes darted around nervously. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful. The Syndicate has been very profitable for me. But I think I speak for all the Ferengi when I say that the last thing I want is more Vorta running around the Alpha Quadrant! They’re disgusting, annoying little cretins….”
Jake laughed. “Wait a minute, Gaila. Now I get it. Keevan.”
Gaila make a great show of being confused. “What? Keevan? Who’s that?”
“You’ve forgotten about the prisoner exchange on Empok Nor?”
“Oh. That Keevan. Well, I don’t know him personally…”
“Nog told me all about it. Didn’t you kill him?”
“That was purely accidental! I was aiming for Brunt.”
“And if his clone is still around – and on the quarantine world – he might be a little annoyed about it.”
“I doubt he even remembers the incident!”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Gaila. I’ll do my best to prevent the resurgence of the Dominion and keep Keevan from coming after you.”
“Hah! I’d like to see him get past Orna and Balukie.”
“Yeah. Now I understand what you see in Nausicaan women. But he’d probably send Jem’Hadar, rather than coming himself.”
Gaila looked nervous. “Maybe I should upgrade my security system.”
When Jake got back to DS9, he knew the first place he had to go. There was no way he could file a story with Gaila’s implausible tale without first checking it out. And there was only one person in the sector who would have access to a highly dangerous medical substance like biomimetic gel.***
Jake went right to Dr. Bashir’s infirmary. He was lucky, and caught the doctor between trips to Cardassia. When Jake told him Gaila’s story, Bashir dropped everything and agreed to test the formula.
Bashir squinted at the padd that Jake had given him. “This is it? Minute portions of deoxyribose solution and biomimetic gel, mixed with water?”
Jake was concerned. He was hoping Gaila’s claims weren’t entirely fabrications. He needed to file some sort of story, and soon.
“Don’t you think it would pass as Founder goo?” Jake said.
“It might,” Bashir said. “After all, biomimetic gel works by mimicking biological forms. That’s what ‘biomimetic’ means. It can be used to create viruses, but there are a lot of other things you can do with it. It’s just that…how could Garak have gone insane enough to help the Dominion?”
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t believe that, either.”
“First things first. Let’s see what this concoction does.”
It took three hours for the ‘concoction’ to set. But when it did, the results were amazing. The beaker on Bashir’s desk was filled with a thick golden substance that seemed neither liquid nor solid, but something else entirely.***
“It certainly looks just like the Great Link,” Bashir said.
He put the beaker under a tricorder station and read the results. “It’s not actually a living substance, of course. But many of the readings match those you’d find if you scanned a changeling. Unless someone suspected that the switch had been made, it wouldn’t be obvious.”
“This looks bad, doesn’t it?” Jake said. “Maybe we were wrong. Maybe Garak…”
Bashir shook his head. “I really don’t know what’s going on with him, Jake. But this is hard to believe. I’m amazed that Garak would even have any biomimetic gel. To my knowledge, the Cardassians haven’t been able to synthesize the substance.”
“Oh, that’s simple,” Jake said. “I don’t think Garak got the gel from Cardassians. Gaila said he had it a little over a year ago. Garak was living on DS9 then.”
Bashir continued staring at the tricorder readout. After a minute of silence, Jake wondered if someone was wrong.
“Doc?” Jake said. “Are you okay?”
Bashir looked like he’d been hit by a phaser on heavy stun. But his voice was quite calm. “Jake…did Gaila say exactly when Garak obtained the gel?”
“Umm, let’s see. I think his exact words were, ‘a year, a year and a half ago.’”
Bashir shook his head. “It can’t just be a coincidence! Gaila didn’t say anything about someone from Starfleet being involved, did he?”
“No, of course not. Doc, what are you worried about?”
“A little over a year ago, your father demanded that I give him some biomimetic gel. It was entirely against Starfleet’s medical protocol. He wouldn’t say what he wanted it for, and I never found out where it went.”
“Oh come on, Doc. Dad wouldn’t have given that stuff to Garak. To sell to the Syndicate?”
“None of this makes sense. But we may be onto something stranger than either of us realizes. I think we better check out the other part of Gaila’s story.”
Bashir and Jake used the infirmary’s emergency transporters. That way, they didn’t have to field any questions about what they were doing.***
The doctor still had a sample of Odo’s “goo,” left over from medical exams. The experiment would be simple. He set the beaker of Odo’s sample on the transport pad next to the beaker of “fake Link.” Then he set the transporter controls to instantaneously switch the samples in the beakers, to see if the Syndicate’s substitution scheme would work.
The seemingly identical golden liquids dissolved into swirls of light, then reappeared.
“Were they switched?” Jake asked.
“We’ll have to scan them to find out,” Bashir replied.
Bashir set one beaker under the tricorder station. “This should be the biomimetic gel solution.” The doctor read the controls and made the diagnosis. “And it is. The switch worked, and the solution is unaffected.”
“What about the other sample?”
Bashir sighed and put it under the tricorder. “It looks entirely nor….”
“What is it?”
“Jake. Odo’s sample is dead.”
“What do you mean, ‘dead’?”
“It no longer exhibits the kind of molecular changes a normal, living sample does. Something in the transport process must have killed it.”
“But Odo’s used transporters in the past, hasn’t he? He’s never been harmed by them.”
“He hasn’t, that’s right. It must have been the switch. When the fake sample beams in as the real sample is beaming out, their atoms briefly intermingle – they would have to, if you’re trying to keep anyone from suspecting the switch. The gel somehow poisons the changelings, and they rematerialize – dead.”
Jake understood. “So Garak is trying to kill the Founders! But wouldn’t the Vorta realize what’s going on right away?”
“I don’t think they would. To them, the Founders are gods. They probably wouldn’t start running them through tests in a lab. As long as the Link looks like it’s healthy, they wouldn’t know that anything is wrong. They might transport the entire Great Link away from the Founder homeworld before they the realize that they’ve killed the entire Link.”
Jake leaned back on Bashir’s desk, stunned. “Well. At least this proves that Garak isn’t insane.”
“No, he isn’t,” Bashir replied. “I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Compared with the first time, Jake’s second interview with Garak was a bit easier to arrange. For one thing, Garak had been expecting the return visit.***
“You are your father’s son, after all,” Garak said.
“What does that mean?” Jake inquired politely. He shifted his weight on the small chair.
This time, Jake hadn’t ended up in an interrogation chamber. But whatever this New Order was, it didn’t have a very comfortable headquarters. Garak’s “office” was a subterranean room packed with salvaged equipment and lit only by shafts of light coming from somewhere very far above.
“Oh, it’s a compliment, of course. You may have taken a different path in life from the one Captain Sisko chose, but it’s obvious that you’re just as dedicated to the truth as he ever was.”
“I should have known I couldn’t fool you,” Jake said cheerfully. “How much do you know?”
“Hmm, let’s see. A visit to Gaila, no doubt to find out about my nefarious pro-Dominion work. And a few days on DS9, working on some sort of project with Dr. Bashir. I can imagine what you two discovered. What I cannot understand is why you would object to it.”
“Come on, Garak. For one thing, it’s genocide.”
“Deicide, actually. But the Vorta would be committing the crime, not me. If they violate the treaty they themselves signed, and disaster befalls them because of it…well, it would be their own fault, wouldn’t it?”
Jake shook his head. “To trick the Vorta into killing their own gods. That’s a pretty harsh way to treat anyone.”
“They simply would have to live with the ruins of everything they hold dear. Precisely the same fate as they’ve condemned my people to. It’s really too bad the Vorta have no sense of aesthetics. They’ll never be able to appreciate the beauty of my plan.”
“I understand why you’re bitter….”
“Who’s bitter? I never let my feelings get in the way of my work. This quadrant won’t be safe until the shapeshifters are dead. Everyone knows it. I fail to see why the Federation chooses to pretend otherwise.”
“You’re playing with antimatter, Garak. The Federation has already ensured
the peace – with the treaty. Your plan will destroy that treaty, and probably
cause another war.”
Garak smiled slyly. “Oh, now we must depend on the Federation and its treaties to maintain the peace and security of the quadrant. Well, Jake, there is something you should know. If we had followed Federation rules all the time, the Dominion probably would have won.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You obviously did quite a detective job in finding out about the biomimetic gel. What else did you learn about it?”
Jake frowned. “Just that it can be used to create the ‘fake Link’ and kill the Founders. Nothing else.”
“But there’s so much more to the story! You should really dig deeper, my young friend. Did you know that your own father helped me obtain the gel in the first place?”
“Well, yes. Dr. Bashir mentioned that he might have been involved. But it doesn’t make any sense. Besides, what does that have to do with your scheme to destroy the Founders?”
“It has nothing to do with it. But it relates to a larger issue. You seem to have unquestioned belief that the Federation won the war through its upstanding qualities and fair play. And that these qualities alone will save the Federation – and all of us – in the future. And there is no place in the scheme of things for my way of doing things. You are obviously intelligent, and you have a fierce hunger for the truth. I will make a deal with you. I will allow you to walk out that door, rather than killing you like I really should, and let you expose my little ‘plot’ to wreak vengeance on the murderers of Cardassia. I only ask for one thing in return.”
Jake smiled nervously. He couldn’t tell whether he should take Garak’s nonchalant remark about ‘killing’ him seriously. “So what do you want?”
“When you file your story, don’t stop your investigation. Keep digging until you uncover the whole truth about the biomimetic gel. I’ll give you a little hint – it has green blood and pointed ears, but it isn’t very logical. I’m sure a bright young man like you can figure out the rest.”
Jake Sisko’s exposé of the New Order on Cardassia, and its efforts to undermine the Federation treaty with the Dominion, made him an instant celebrity. His byline was recognized throughout the quadrant, and he was becoming almost as famous as his father was. He even overheard someone in Quark’s say, “This station used to be commanded by Ben Sisko? Is he related to the reporter, Jake?”
But, unexpectedly, Jake found himself unable to enjoy his fame. He was bothered by Garak’s challenge. Bashir couldn’t tell him any more about the gel than he already had – his father had demanded that Bashir turn over a certain amount to him. That was all he knew about the matter. Jake had learned of its ultimate destination, but still had no idea why his father would do business with Garak or the Syndicate, or what he would have exchanged the gel for. He wished he could simply ask his father, but of course that was not possible now.
It haunted him for days. He didn’t have the first idea where to start looking. Then he ran across something strange that piqued his curiosity.
One evening, Jake decided to listen to his father’s personal logs again. He punched up the log list, scanning his father’s recipes for gumbo and jambalaya. Jake was tired of eating replicator food. The next time he visited New Orleans, he wanted to surprise his grandfather by proving that he, at long last, had learned to do something other than “burn water” in the kitchen.
Jake saw that the list had timestamps, indicating the length of each log. He noticed that an hour-long log had been recorded, then entirely erased. That wasn’t like his dad. If he committed his thoughts to a log, he might have it classified for security reasons. But why would he erase an entire log?
The newshound in Jake came out again. He had a friend who had a friend who was an expert in reconstructing even the most securely-deleted files….