admiral2's on his own when it comes to summarising the April challenge!
Not a problem.
It's the Cold War in the Alpha Quadrant, and our heroes attempt to gain strategic advantage without triggering a quadrant-wide conflict!
The Winning Entry:
Salus Populi Suprema Est Lex
He’d been back on Cardassia several months, but still hadn’t gotten over the thrill of being home.
Yes home was still a burned out wreck of a planet since the end of the war, with more hungry children on every street corner than even Starfleet replicators seemed capable of feeding, but still…
It may have looked Cardassian, but DS9’s architecture was illusionary, a painful torture designed to remind him of home, whilst never letting him forget he was an exile.
The lack of fellow Cardassians was disturbing enough, but the cold only amplified his pain. Even turning the heat up in his quarters hadn’t helped; it had merely left him a choice of tortures. Stay in the warmth of solitude, or mingle in the cold comfort of alien company.
None of that mattered now. He was home, and the naturally warm Cardassian air was something Garak never tired of.
The park was his favourite haunt. He liked the Prekem plumage that grew in purple clumps by the lake, and the mathematically precise walkways that ran through the park, testament to the rationality of the Cardassian heart.
It was unlike a human park. There was more stone here than grass, although since the end of the war he’d noted many of the statues dedicated to the unity of society had been toppled. A brave new Cardassia, though one that still needed heroes it seemed. A new statue stood by the entrance. It showed Damar, charging towards his fate, the inscription simple, yet powerful.
Garak smiled, Damar had been such a dour individual, but he had to hand it to him, the man knew how to make an exit.
All the heroes in the galaxy wouldn’t be enough to save Cardassia now though, which was why Garak needed the help of men like the one waiting by the lake’s edge. An alien, but a good man, one who’d made those years of exile more bearable.
‘My dear Doctor, I’m sorry I’m late.’
Julian Bashir was stood by a pair of stone chairs, leaning nonchalantly against one of them. Behind him was the murky water of Lake Lomak. On the opposite shore a group of three silhouettes stood by identical seats.
‘Garak,’ said Bashir. ‘I have to admit, I was disappointed when you didn’t meet me at the spaceport, but this,’ and he gestured around him ‘is so much more Cold War.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Should I ask you about the weather on Cardassia?’
‘Ah, Doctor, still seeing spies everywhere, trying to turn even the most innocent of meetings into an espionage drama.’
Bashir smiled. ‘I’m sorry, but can you blame me after all those years of you dangling titbits of intrigue before my eyes?’
‘I suppose not,’ said Garak. ‘You know, some of them even had a grain of truth to them,’ he nodded innocently.
‘So, what was so important that I had to miss attending the Levinson symposium with Ezri?’
‘Ah the delightful Miss Dax, you know I’m so glad you two finally got together…’
‘Garak…’ Bashir was playfully stern now.
‘Does there have to be a reason for friends to meet and reminisce about old times?’
Bashir was about to reply, but instead his body stiffened as two Romulan soldiers, disrupters at their hips, walked by with the practiced arrogance of an occupying power.
‘Pay them no heed, Doctor. They are no threat to us.’
‘You seem awfully glib about having them here?’
Garak shrugged. ‘Irrespective of my people’s change of heart, we were still the enemy, and technically we were on the losing side. It was inevitable that we would be occupied, and Romulan troops,’ he face darkened, ‘like their Federation brethren, are a part of everyday life now.’
‘Not for too much longer, if the reports are right.’
‘Ah yes. Coalition troops will start to evacuate Cardassia within the next six months, and the planet will be returned to our control.’
‘You don’t sound too hopeful.’
‘Oh I am, Doctor, believe me I am. But Cardassia, beautiful though it is,’ and he gestured to the greyness about him, ‘was merely the hub of a much larger entity.’
‘You mean the Union?’
‘Exactly.’ Garak smiled. ‘You always were quick to pick things up, perhaps a quirk of your genetic manipulation,’ he looked wistfully off to one side.
‘I’m sorry. Perhaps it’s the onset of old age, but my mind does seem to wander more and more of late.’ It was a lie of course, but he liked keeping Bashir off balance.
Bashir turned to the lake. ‘Garak, you can’t expect us to just return the Cardassian Union to its former glory.’ Now he turned to look him in the eye. ‘I’m sorry, but there was always going to be a price for siding with the Dominion.’
‘I realise that, Doctor, and I for one am happy for Cardassia to pay, but almost fifty percent of our former colonies divided up amongst the allies?’ His grey skin paled. ‘Some of them are planets we will need if we want to rebuild our society,’ he paused. ‘Like Kelliss.’
Bashir’s nose wrinkled. ‘Kelliss,’ he muttered. ‘I know the name…’ He snapped his fingers. ‘Of course, we passed it on our way in. Fifth planet of a binary system, fifteen point four light years away from Cardassia. The planet is just one big ocean but it used to supply Cardassia with the Leocite necessary for the construction of navigational deflectors. If I recall correctly fifty percent of your Leocite came from Kelliss.’
‘You are indeed correct. Your memory for facts and figures is as astonishing as ever,’ said Garak.
Bashir shrugged. ‘Ezri says I remember too many dumb facts.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Garak with a nod. ‘But you are a talkative fellow, Doctor, and as such you need to have a lot of facts close to hand, dumb or not. What?’
Bashir was grinning. ‘I just realised why you invited me here.’
Garak played the innocent. ‘You have? Please do enlighten me.’
‘You want me to use my influence to ensure that Kelliss remains a part of the Cardassian Union.’
‘Can you do that?’ Garak tried to inject surprise into the question.
Bashir chuckled. ‘I’m afraid your opinion of my importance is over inflated. I can put a good word in,’ he smile grew sadder, ‘but I doubt I will be listened too.’
‘Perhaps Admiral Ross could be of help?’ asked Garak.
Bashir shook his head. ‘We’re not really on speaking terms anymore.’
‘Really? Why ever not?’
‘I can’t say.’
‘Ah,’ said Garak. ‘Secrets are so very addictive, aren’t they?’
Bashir sidestepped the comment. ‘What’s so important about Kelliss anyway?’
‘As you yourself so adroitly pointed out, it was our greatest source of Leocite. If Cardassia is to prosper once again, under more amenable leadership of course, then we’ll need ships capable of defending us.’
Bashir shrugged. ‘But with a smaller Empire you won’t need as many. Besides, part of the treaty stipulates that the powers in control of all your former colonies are duty bound to ensure that necessary supplies reach Cardassia.’
Garak snorted. ‘Perhaps, but such supplies could be cut off in an instant if the Cardassian government did not “play ball”, as you humans put it. Already many of my fellow Cardassians are forecasting a bleak future, one where we are held at the mercy of the major powers, punished for our actions for centuries to come.’
Bashir frowned. ‘You don’t really believe that.’
Garak’s mood darkened. ‘I believe that we should learn from history. The military originally rose to power on Cardassia because the people were starving. Hunger and fear can be powerful recruiting sergeants for the more radical of voices.’
‘Are you saying that if Cardassians go hungry…’
‘Then we might see the rise of another Dukat, yes.’
Bashir looked glum. ‘I can’t help. I can try, but men like us,’ he shrugged, ‘they aren’t really listened too anymore. ‘
‘Of course,’ said Garak, allowing a smile to brighten his face. ‘Decisions like these are always made by people of power, men and women with no concept of the realities on the ground.’
‘Do you really think there’s another Dukat out there?’ Bashir was genuinely concerned now. Garak almost felt guilty.
‘There are rumours of groups forming, insurgents who want to accelerate the coalition pull out, but they’ve little support. I was merely speaking hypothetically. You are, as always, quite right. With a smaller empire our space fleet must, by necessity, be smaller too. Although…I really do like the Limum fish from Kelliss.’
‘I’m sure there’ll still be plenty of Limum fish to go around.’
Garak checked his chronometer. ‘Doctor, I am afraid another appointment beckons, perhaps we can continue this delightful conversation over supper?’
‘That would be nice, yes. The Director of the local field hospital was a lecturer of mine, I promised I’d stop by and see him.’
‘Just so long as I’m not leaving you to wander the streets of Cardassia alone, I would hate for something bad to happen to you.’
‘I’ll be fine.’
‘Excellent. Shall we say nine?’ Bashir nodded. ‘Very well, until then.’ He let Bashir turn away before he spoke again. ‘There was one other thing, before you go.’
‘I was hoping you could clear up a rumour I’d heard, you know how soldiers like to prattle.’
Bashir nodded. ‘If I can.’
‘I have heard that, during your visit to Romulus, you became embroiled in real life espionage. Some people even say you know the identity of a Federation spy at the very pinnacle of the Romulan government.’
Bashir’s expression never wavered. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Garak.’
For the first time now, Garak felt a twinge of doubt. Could he have been wrong? There was only one trick left up his sleeve. ‘Why Doctor, I never knew you could be so duplicitous, it’s nice to know not all my lessons were wasted.’
Bashir laughed. ‘Now who’s seeing spy stories everywhere?’
Garak laughed. ‘That is the trouble with rumours; they are so often mere flights of fancy. I shall see you later.’
He watched him go. Bashir had indeed learned to hide his true feelings, but not completely. Before he laughed there was a moment; a flicker of pride as Garak stroked his ego. Many men would have missed it, but not Garak.
* * *
He walked slowly around the lake, giving his second visitor time to ponder what he’d seen. If the three Romulans were annoyed at this delay, they didn’t show it. Not that Garak cared about the bodyguards; it was the man in the centre he was concerned with, the man whose visage betrayed less emotion than the average Vulcan’s.
‘Chairman Koval,’ he said brightly, extending a hand that was ignored. ‘I’m glad you could come.’
Koval, Chairman of the Tal Shiar, newly elected member of the Continuing Committee sneered. ‘Spare me your pleasantries. What do you want?’
‘That’s the trouble with our business,’ said Garak. ‘No one takes the trouble to observe the niceties anymore.’
Koval’s eyes narrowed. There was a rumour he was dying, but Garak saw no hint of weakness. ‘Garak,’ he said, the word spat like an epithet. ‘I came here because of a disagreeable scrap of information you possessed about me, now I find I have cause to regret that decision. In truth the information you had was of no real threat to my position, I suppose it was curiosity that drew me here. Curiosity at meeting the fabled Elim Garak. Legend held that you were the best agent Cardassia ever possessed. Now that I stand before you, however, I can see that that doesn’t mean very much.’ He flicked a glance to his guards. ‘We will be leaving now.’
‘So soon?’ said Garak. ‘We haven’t even discussed the price of my silence.’
Koval was unmoved. ‘Garak, the information you have is worthless. Before I left I informed the Praetor about my mistake on Tevane. It was a long time ago, and Romulans can be most forgiving.’
‘I wasn’t talking about Tevane,’ said Garak. ‘You saw who I was talking to didn’t you?’ There were binoculars slung around Koval’s neck.
‘Yes. Doctor Julian Bashir. What of it?’
‘I believe you two are old friends.’
Koval looked bored. ‘I met with the Doctor on Romulus. But I do not have any human friends.’ He sounded disgusted at even the suggestion.
Garak smiled smugly. ‘Only human paymasters?’
‘I see that minor infringements are not the only hold you feel you have over me. Now you are inventing imagined betrayals.’
‘Am I?’ said Garak. ‘Doctor Bashir seemed quite specific.’
Koval smiled as if addressing a child. ‘Garak, we have both lived and worked in the shadows. Do you really believe that if this ludicrous accusation were true, I would have allowed Bashir to live? ’He didn’t wait for an answer. ‘Now I will be leaving this cess pool of a planet.’ He made to barge past Garak.
‘I am sure Admiral Ross ensured the good Doctor’s survival as part of the price for his complicity.’
Koval froze. He sneered at Garak, but he made no further attempt to move past him. Instead he flicked a glance at his guards; they moved away. ‘You have a theory, nothing more,’ he said, his voice cold.
‘If you say so,’ said Garak. In truth he had no proof, just the hunch that the most obvious spy was always the least obvious, and who was less obvious than the head of the Tal Shiar? The fact that they were still talking suggested he was right.
They stared at each other for a minute. In the end Koval broke first. ‘If this were true, you realise you have signed your death warrant, and Bashir’s.’
‘Of course, but should anything happen to either of us, I have made arrangements. What I know will reach the Praetor’s ears. Posthumous revenge is never as sweet, but it can still be quite potent.’
Seconds passed. The wind coming off the lake sheared through them, but neither man faltered.
‘What would your price be for keeping this disagreeable falsehood a secret?’ Koval said at last.
Garak’s eyes sparkled. ‘Kelliss.’
There was no bargaining, no negotiation. Koval merely nodded, then spun on his heels and stalked after his men.
Garak watched him go. If Cardassia were to rebuild it would need the deflectors Kelliss would provide- not to mention the dilithium deposits buried deep and unseen beneath the oceans.
Koval was a problem though; one who served multiple masters was never a reliable long term asset. Garak decided he would have to kill him, always assuming Koval didn’t see though Garak’s flimsy hold over him, and kill both he and Julian first of course. Garak felt guilt for putting the Doctor in danger, but, as Cicero had said, the welfare of the people was the ultimate law, and above even friendship.